Expatriate Tales: Living in Lausanne, Switzerland
When Daniel Gibbs traveled one summer to a small town near Geneva, Switzerland to work at an international day camp for children, he fell in love with the region. He visited Lausanne thinking one day he could live there. Eight years later, he made his dream come true. We caught up with Daniel, originally from upstate New York, on living in Lausanne...six years and counting!
What was your impression of Lausanne (and Switzerland) before moving, and what is your impression now?
Before I first visited Switzerland in 2001, I only knew typical things like cheeses and chocolates. I also read a book about "culture shock" to Switzerland which taught me some things about how private the Swiss are, how efficient things can be and also about the cleanliness.
My impression of Lausanne and Switzerland in general now is that it is one of the most scenic places in the world (of the 30 countries I've visited since moving here). There is just something about the view over Lake Geneva, the view to Evian, France across the lake (famous for the mineral water of course), and the majestic Alps.
What are some challenges of living in Lausanne?
I always tell my family and friends a few things before they come. One: Practice walking uphill! Lausanne is on a hillside. There is the lakefront, then further up the train station, then further up the town center, then further up the cathedral and still more areas further up. Two: Be forewarned that Switzerland is expensive. I can't say this enough and people are still shocked after my warning. Eating out and buying nice clothes are particularly expensive.
Others might say that the small size of Lausanne (I think around 150,000 maximum depending on which areas you are counting) is boring in comparison to larger cities. However I am a firm believer in making the most out of an experience and you get out what you put into it.
What are some things you've discovered about Lausanne that others wouldn't know?
Lausanne has many opportunities to enjoy are like museums, an opera house, and the internationally known Bejart Ballet at Salle Metropole. The first Saturday of each month many of the museums are free. Don't miss Collection de L'Art Brut, Musée Fondation LÂ´Hermitage, and Musée d'Élysée. The Olympic Museum is under renovation (much needed in my opinion), so hopefully that will be noteworthy again too. Lausanne is where the International Olympic Committee is based. They also host international track meets.
What are some great attractions tourists seem to miss?
What is it like dining out?
Expensive. But there are some really great restaurants to try. My favourite lately is Petit Boeuf where the entrecote is just to die for! There is a Lebanese restaurant I quite like too. And I have to make my appearances at Holy Cow! for burgers and Sweet Dreams for cupcakes.
Of course there are many cheeses to try: fondue, raclette, Malakoff. They also like their meat (beef like entrecote and tartare de boeuf, as well as chicken). Stuffed sausages with cabbage inside was new to me.
What are some striking cultural differences in Lausanne?
Stores often close at 6 pm or 7 pm and it can be frustrating sometimes to not have the easy access to products like we do in the states.
Anything new and noteworthy that's on your radar?
I always enjoy the festivals and special days they have here and nearby like Route Gourmande, Lutry Wine Festival, Night of the Museums, Fete de la Cite, and Swiss Day (August 1st). There are also many music festivals in Switzerland. Locally the Montreux Jazz Festival and Paleo Festival are best known. There are still many festivals I would like to see like when the cows are decorated when they come off the mountains before winter.
If there was one thing you could change about Lausanne, what would it be?
The one thing I would change is having the stores close later. I love when I go to another country (like Spain) and see a bookstore open late at night (the nerd in me). But I also love how alive some cities can be late at night. There is a nightlife in Lausanne, but hard to compare to larger European cities.
What are the best souvenir tourists should bring back?
Swiss army knife, hands down. Fondue pots are large and expensive. Swiss watches are beautiful but often pricey for the nicest ones. Of course there is always Swatch. There are some different flavors of Lindt chocolate, but I would say go for Cailler with real milk, which is lesser known outside of Switzerland. Swiss white wines can be nice, but I am not a big fan of the reds except those from the Ticino region. Hard to have a Swiss red when the Italian and French ones are so close.
Do you plan on staying in Lausanne for longer? Why or why not?
That is the million-dollar question. It depends on many things really in a person's life. Job, relationships, happiness... Right now I am content. I do love Europe, Switzerland, and Lausanne. But there are also times I think about being in the US again to see my family and friends, have the conveniences I remember and in some way the ease of things.
Jimmy Im is a freelance travel writer based in LA. He's hosted programs on the Travel Channel and LOGO, and makes regular appearances on morning news shows as a "travel expert." Follow him on Twitter: @dieselmad.
Photo credits: Lausanne cityscape via Shutterstock; Audioslave at Montreaux Jazz Festival via Wikimedia Commons/Simon Jacquier; Daniel Gibbs portrait courtesy of Daniel Gibbs
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