Monday, February 29, 2016

Two Stops Not to Miss in Montreux, Switzerland

Several earlier posts explored my Thanksgiving week visit to Geneva, Switzerland. I had a wonderful time exploring the city and visiting the Christmas Market as well as making day trips to Monteux and Lausanne.

I've also already written about the fantastic Christmas market that takes places in Montreux over the holidays. 500 booths right on Lake Geneva. Picturesque is an understatement.

A short, scenic train ride from Geneva, I spent roughly 10 hours in Monteux and definitely made the most of it.

Home of the famous Montreux Jazz and Comedy festivals, this charming city is positioned between a mountain and Lake Geneva. Chocolate shops, cafes, clothing boutiques and tourist shops line the streets. 

The contrast between the palm trees and the snow capped mountains is stunning. 

Montreux is a beautiful and easy city to walk around. Lots of parks and outdoor spaces.

No shortage of  beautiful buildings either.

However, I chose to spend my day with royalty.

Both the ancient and the rock-n-roll kind.

When I arrived in the morning, I headed over to the Chillon Castle and spent the entire morning climbing around this medieval stunner. 

After paying the 12,50 Swiss Franc entrance fee, I walked the bridge over the moat and entered the Castle's ancient stone walls. It felt like an instant time warp. The castle dates back to the 1150 and contains may fascinating layers of history which cover the Savoy, Bernese and Vaudois periods.

The rocky island upon which the castle is built was both a natural protection and a strategic location to control the passage between northern and southern Europe.

The first stop is actually underneath the castle. On the way down, you pass by the barrels of wine the Castle makes and sells.

The first place to explore is actually the Castle's prison. 

Nice view for a pokey.

This charcoal sketch on the wall dates back to the 15th century.

On the way out of the prison area, there is a dark room with projections on the wall. 

Set to music, ghosts of inhabitants past in period costume walk through this space. cool and spooky.

The castle contained an exhibit of gorgeously reconstructed armor. Divided by rank and class, it was fascinating to see who wore what. Designed first as protection, armor also was decorated to impress.

For example, the get up on the top left was called The Hussar and was worn by the light cavalry. Fitted with large wings, animal skins were worn over the shoulder. The entire ensemble was decorated with semi-precious stones.

The fluted armor in the picture below was design for combat on horseback with a lance. 

I especially loved visiting the banquet halls. So many beautiful details still intact.

Tables back then were set with a long communal napkin running down the center of the table. All of the guests sat on one side of the table so they could be served food from the other and also have a good view of whatever entertainment was provided. Some of these banquets lasted for days. 

Not sure but this looks like it could be a kitchen.

Here's a peek into a bedroom.

And a bathroom. Not exactly a spa and yep, those are the latrines.

Because it's Switzerland, of course, there's a clock. An ancient one. This one dates back to the 1600s.

There are several buildings, towers and walkways to explore at Chillon. You need about two hours to see everything. 

If you rush, you will miss the details.

Afer a few hours, unfortunately, it was time to tear myself away from the castle.

View of Montreux from Chillon
I hopped the local bus for the 10-minute ride to my second stop of the day. 

Queen's recording studio, Mountain Studios,  bizarrely or appropriately (depends on how you look at it) is housed within a Casino situated right on Lake Geneva.

The recording space in the casino has been turned into a free museum called The Queen Studio Experience. The place itself has a bit of crazy rock and roll history. In 1971, the casino burned down. The fire was started by a fan with a flare gun at a Frank Zappa Concert during the Jazz festival. This inspired Deep Purple's song, "Smoke on te Water" which was written and recorded in Montreux. 

Fun fact: The 1981 hit song "under Pressure" came out of a jam session David Bowie had with Queen in Montreux at this recording studio.

Queen owned the studio between 1979 and 1993.

From the website:

"Queen recorded a total of seven albums at Mountain Studios, including their final album Made In Heaven - an album that Freddie Mercury would never hear in its finished state.

Mountain Studios, designed and built by the legendary American studio designer Tom Hidley, was a recording destination of some of the biggest names in music: AC/DC, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Chris Rea, The Rolling Stones, Yes, Rick Wakeman, Led Zeppelin, Brian Ferry, Stan Getz and Nina Simone, not to mention the many Montreux Jazz Festival concerts and the Rose d'Or de Montreux television festival galas.

Queen - The Studio Experience is located in the original Mountain Studios, part of the Casino Barrière de Montreux, and charts the band's association with the studios, their personal relationship with the Swiss town, and the albums that were written and recorded there."

Upon entering the exhibit, you are greeted with glowing cases stuffed with Queen memorabilia of all types from all corners of the world.

Several of Freddie Mercury's stage outfits are on display.

As well as hand written lyrics from Freddie and other members of the band.

The back wall represents a jam session in progress encased in glass.

There is a small movie theater where a short Queen documentary runs on a loop. 

The main interactive part of the exhibit is sitting down at the control board and re- mixing a classic Queen song yourself. The equipment features an original Studer A80 analog 24 track recorder. The studio had 2 of them until a digital upgrade was made in 1988.

The studio was one of the first in the world to have two 24 track tape machines.

When re-mixing, you do get some professional help, though.

From the website:

The control room has not been changed since the days when Queen worked there. The only thing that has been replaced is the original Neve desk. In its place is a reproduction of the original.

Before leaving there is a huge wall signed by visitors and fans from all over the world. Each visitor is encouraged to write on it. The Mercury Phoenix Trust asks guests to tweet pictures of themselves in front of the wall. 

Even though the museum is free to visit, it's nice if you can leave some money in the collection box for the trust.

The Mercury Phoenix Trust was founded by Brian May, Roger Taylor and their manager Jim Beach in memory of rock band Queen’s iconic lead singer FREDDIE MERCURY who died in 1991 from AIDS.

In the last 21 years, the Trust has given away over 15 million dollars in his name and funded over 700 projects in the global battle against HIV/AIDS.

When I left I was inspired to take a walk along the shore of Lake Geneva and visit the beautiful tribute statue to Freddie.

It's a beautiful sculpture of Freddie frozen, microphone in hand in a rock and roll stage performance stance facing the stunning lake and mountain scenery he loved. 

Fans often leave tributes, flowers and messages for him.

Never forgotten.

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