Year Abroad: Lausanne

When I was a student, I spent a year living in Neuchâtel, a French-speaking town in western Switzerland. Lausanne is only three quarters of an hour away by two fast trains – well, there are two trains an hour, one to Geneva and one to Lausanne but they run one right behind the other and you can change at Yverdon-les-Bains, so you… ok, it’s one fast train an hour, and a second slow local one you can change to at Yverdon.

I don’t have any particular tale of a day out in Lausanne because we went there quite regularly. Neuchâtel is a city – not just a city, it’s also a republic – but it’s more of a small town. Lausanne, with three times the population, has more a big city feel but it’s not big like London or even Manchester. Even Zurich doesn’t have a real big city feel, it’s not a Swiss thing. But Lausanne nonethless is noticeably more metropolitan than Neuchâtel. Often when we were travelling as a trio in the south or the west of Switzerland, we had to change trains at Lausanne and we’d often break our journey there, pausing for snacks or drinks or even running up the hill to our favourite arcade to play games. Angela was particularly fond of the basketball game but Jemma was actually better at it due to years spent paying netball at school.

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The first time we went there, we did go with the aim of simply sightseeing and we sightsaw. We went and saw the cathedral, we ambled around and saw the view, we saw a weird frog sculpture with green glowing eyes and apparently I stood up and made some kind of speech.

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Lausanne was also the place to go for shopping expeditions. When Angela wanted a DVD player – although I don’t remember her having a TV to go with it – we decided the best place to go was MediaMarkt and there’s no such thing in Neuchâtel, so off we went to Lausanne and took a bus out to the industrial estates where big warehouse-style shops like MediaMarkt reside. And we successfully bought a DVD player and conveyed it home by train

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Lausanne was the place I bought my orange jelly Swatch watch and it was also the place I bought a real genuinely Swiss Swiss Army Knife – a wee little Classic SD in the correct shade of red. I think it was my second one, having lost the first one which I bought in Gruyeres. It was also where Jemma bought a particularly distinctive pair of felt slippers. I went back later to buy some slippers in that shop but I was never able to find it by myself. Neuchâtel was fine for day-to-day shopping but if you wanted anything big or unusual or special, Lausanne was the place to go.

And when Angela had to pop back to the States, Jemma and I went to Lausanne to drink in a bar and watch England v Sweden in the group stages of the 2006 World Cup. Jemma, quite clearly, is more into it than I was.

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Neuchâtel may have been my home in Switzerland but what with one thing and another, Lausanne became something of a second home and although I haven’t been back there in nearly eleven years, I still feel fondly towards it.