27th June – 7th July
My time in Lausanne.
Initially I’d planned to stay with my friend Luke for four or five days, possibly going back to Seté for a festival, coming back to Switzerland, then leaving. I had decided against the festival and instead organised to get my new bank cards sent to Luke’s address and leave, which was the determining factor that kept me there for so long. Swiss post.
Now for the first time since Barcelona, I would have a place to stay for more than three days, to recoup, catchup with a friend and enjoy being off the bike for a while.
The lack of sleep I’d experienced on the road from San Sebastien to Lausanne had started to turn me crazy, remedied by a bed in Marseille and Geneva. I think If I’d continued as I’d planned beyond Marseille, I would’ve gone beyond some threshold and would’ve become incomprehensibly impatient and rude. Not intentionally, but this is what cycling and travelling does to you.
I’d also become (as I described it to myself at the time) ‘wild’, like a domestic creature set free, then becoming lost abandoning common decency and manners.
This happened before Barcelona too, where I’d been travelling alone for so long without a base or home that things start to lose their meaning and you become primarily focused on the task at hand, while consuming a lot of coffee.
While in Barcelona, I’d become domesticated and began to fear going back out but had to do it. Now I looked forward to becoming domesticated again in Lausanne and having some routine for a few days, getting some sleep and some good meals.
Coffee had become something of a love affair for me. I couldn’t make it on the road so I could only ever buy it at places (where the national standards were low in France) or have it at guests homes. Now I was with a friend I had the rare luxury of having coffee whenever I liked. I loved everything about it. The process of preparing the stove-top coffee-maker, the time it took to boil the water, the smell of it brewing and cleaning it afterwards.
If I could, I would’ve sat around, taking in the morning sun and drinking coffee all day, constantly making, cleaning and boiling. Naturally I could only muster two cups due the espresso strength, but I really cherished having this process as part of my day and hoped that I would take this into professional life later on. The time to make coffee well and appreciate it.
My friend Luke worked at the college he had graduated from, so he was there in the day-time most of the time, leaving me free to write and explore parts of the city. I went to the Rolex centre to write under his recommendation. It was a huge centre for study that was part of the University there, designed by Japanese architects and funded by Rolex.
It was free to go in and there were desks full of students working. I went there a few times to fill out my journal.
I had arrived in Lausanne at a good time. It was the end of the academic year for students, hand-in was complete and lots of people were starting to relax after a hard two-years studying. There were parties, exhibitions and lots of barbecues on the lake going on for the next few days.
As Luke knew the students and still had many friends through the college there (he was a mentor and graduate) I was invited to everything.
On the first Friday there, there was a photography exhibition held at a museum in the east part of town on the lake. We had a few beers and got there late. I shared the bus with Luke’s Icelandic flatmate Brynjar, who told me about the heroin problem in Lausanne and that it had one of the highest percentages of heroin addiction in Switzerland. This came as quite a shock to me, as I had assumed Switzerland was some kind of modern utopia, where people worked hard, paid the bills and didn’t complain, benefiting everyone.
When you add heroin addicts, you start to see a harsh reality that grounds it and makes it more like a few places closer to home.
When we got there, it was the opening night of the exhibition, so it was free and the launch was big with marquees, beer tents, screenings of documentaries and a gig space by the entrance. The exhibition was inside the museum there.
We looked around and then regrouped outside. It was dark by now and we started to drink a bit more as I was doing my best to memorise all of the people’s names I was meeting. There was quite a mix, French, German, Canadian, Luxembourg and very few Swiss, given that they were from the college, Écal.
It was an exciting night with a lot of cultural offerings and people wanting to talk about the trip.
I looked down over the exhibition tents and screens and out onto the lake. You could see land on the other side and a city lit up at night. One of the people from the group I was with pointed it out and told me it was the city of Evian, where the water comes from.
I thought about the odds that I would be with Luke and his friends at this time, coming to an exhibition like this at this time of year. It was one of the rare moments on the trip where I felt very happy and fortunate to be doing what I was doing and I took in the views and atmosphere and knew that I had made the right decision to give in to wild abandon and come out here and do this.
We headed into town to end the night, where I met more people, mostly German and some Norwegian, all students and graduates, some other friends from Germany here for the weekend of celebrations.
We went to a club that was notorious for mixtures of both good and bad nights out, but was the favourite given Lausanne’s limited appeal.
The centre of town was full of life and people all getting drunk as you might expect on a friday night. Although I had expected people to be well-behaved and decent while drinking, purely because it was Switzerland and my naive stereotypes were yet to be destroyed. As it happens, it was just like any English town centre on a friday night, but with nicer buildings.
While in Geneva, I had managed to pull a muscle around my chest and shoulder while pulling my bike up and down stairs. I didn’t know at the time but it became apparent in Lausanne, making deep breathing painful and causing periods of discomfort in the morning.
After about four days I plucked up the courage to see a doctor and pay whatever bill might come out of it. The offices were extremely clean and modern, all kitted out with Vitsoe furniture. I’d been told to expect a bill of about 90CHF to see the Doctor and prescribed drugs would be more.
He thought it was a muscular strain and would heal with time and rest and prescribed three different drugs to help with recovery and the pain.
Through fear of obscene expense and realising I didn’t need the drugs, I never found out how much it would’ve costed. Suffice to say, Swiss pharmacies are not like our pharmacies.
There were still plenty more parties and people to meet during my stay there. Most of the time was spent between barbecues on the lake, house parties, clubs and exhibitions, particularly the Écal end of year exhibition which was open to the public.
On the night of the Écal show, there was a house party in stall. This one was further out-of-town in a house that was fairly isolated and inhabited by students making it ideal for parties. I met more people from the group/groups and talked a lot about what I was doing as well as meeting some interesting characters.
The house was run like a club, selling drinks upstairs from the kitchen and two rooms in the basement for different techno. Despite the mixture of people and cultures, most people spoke English to each other, which is common around Switzerland. In a country that has four native languages; French, Swiss-German, Italian and Romanian (the unique Swiss language, nothing to do with Romania) people tend to converse in English.
While I was there the Wimbledon began. I was able to followed some of it on radio before finding live coverage streamed through the internet via a sport subscription of a flatmate. This accompanied some of the days writing and I stayed long enough to witness the final with Murray and Djokovic.
By this stage I had stayed ten days or so against plans and had not received the post I was waiting on due to the fact it wasn’t addressed to someone who lived in the flat (me). Luke kindly let me stay long enough to watch the final, then I’d be back on the bike across Switzerland.
But I was very grateful I got to witness the final where a Brit won Wimbledon after a 77 year hiatus. Being a big Tennis fan and seeing Murray get close in 2012 against Federer, this was a huge luxury for me and a big deal for British Tennis, Murray, his team and a lot of British Tennis fans.
I figured it would get coverage in the press, but I had no idea it would turn into the Murray glory that followed. Days and days of Murray’s face in the headlines and a nation becoming obsessed on all fronts of the news, leading to Murray receiving an OBE in October and being highly tipped by Downing street for a knighthood.
After the Tennis had finished, I ate and went out for one last walk in the city that had been home for twelve days. It was night as I went down through the streets of Lausanne, around and into the city centre and then heading back to the flat.
On the way back I was taking in the air, the city and the friends I had made here that I would miss when it came to leaving. Enjoying the evening humidity, I noticed a group of prostitutes working in a car park on the other side of the street. One of them was squatting in her corner of concrete parking space, completely exposed to anyone nearby, I.e. me. I pretended not to see and went about my business, hoping it would stir anything in them. I was surprised to see such blatant prostitution going on, combined with the sex shops of Geneva, revealing a dark side to Switzerland I hadn’t expected to find.
Before getting onto Luke’s road I came across a group of Asian drag Queens. One of them took a liking to me and asked me to go with her in a rather crude fashion, which I declined as politely as I could. My guess was that they were from Thailand given the country’s history of lady-boys. But how they ended up here I didn’t know. I was glad to get back to Luke’s flat for one last night of blissful sleep.