In my week in Switzerland, I took practically every mode of transportation known to man?except a car. This was a nice change of pace for a road-weary Angeleno like myself. I didn't even take a taxi from the airport to my hotel. I took a train, using my versatile and highly recommended Swiss Pass, which gives you unlimited rail, bus and boat travel as well as free entry to 450 museums.
The most offbeat modes of transport occurred on my first full day in the country, when I took the 'Golden Round Trip' up one side of the majestic Mt. Pilatus and down the other. The outing began with a relaxing boat ride on beautiful Lake Lucerne from downtown Lucerne to a town at the foot of Pilatus called Alpnachstad. From there, my fellow journalists and I hopped on the world's steepest cogwheel train -- which happened to be celebrating its 120th birthday that very day -- and climbed up through the clouds to Kulm peak, 2132 meters above sea level.
There's not a while lot up top; just a few gray, older buildings -- restaurants, hotels, a screening room -- and trails and terraces for taking in the spectacular 360-degree views. It struck me as the kind of spot a James Bond villain would choose for a lair; pretty to look at, a little foreboding and complicated to get to.
After enjoying a tasty fondue lunch and a video presentation about the mythology of the mountain, which involves Pontius Pilate, friendly dragons and a lost barrel-maker, we were serenaded by an old man playing a wooden instrument called an alphorn. This thing is so long and heavy that one end has to rest on the ground. It's the Jeff Stryker of woodwinds, basically.
The journey down started with an aerial cable car ride similar to attractions I've tried in Palm Springs and Vancouver. We disembarked halfway down the hill at Krienseregg, a picnic and recreation area where you can harness up and explore a rope park or, if you're feeling a need for speed, you can try out Switzerland's longest summertime toboggan run. I opted for the latter and it was silly, speedy fun.
The final rush was still to come; a smooth as ice and pleasantly unnerving ride down the lower half of Pilatus in a small, bubble-like, panorama gondola. After disembarking in Kriens, I took a short bus ride back to Lucerne using my trusty Swiss Pass. All in all, Mount Pilatus offered a magic mix of adventure and spectacle. It's not to be missed.
Watch Dennis's YouTube video of Mount Pilatus:
THE ROSENGART COLLECTION
The Rosengart Collection is a 3-story art museum in Lucerne that until the late 1990's was actually a branch of the Swiss National Bank. Its founder, Angela Rosengart, is a longtime collector who inherited her love of art from her father, Siegfried, an art dealer and friend of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973). As a young woman, Angela actually sat for the Spanish master several times. These portraits are on display in the Rosengart's ground floor, which consists entirely of Picassos, most from his later periods. I had to smile when I entered one particular room and discovered that paintings of two of Picasso's mistresses were facing each other on opposite walls. All these years later and those poor women are still competing with each other for attention.
Apart from Picasso, the Museum's most featured artist is Paul Klee (1879-1940), one of the most versatile figures in modern art, and a personal favorite of Angela Rosengart's. Other masters with works on display include Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Henri Matisse.
For me, the Rosengart is an ideal size for a museum; large enough to feel substantial yet small and casual enough as to not overwhelm. After a rich 90 minutes of perusing the galleries, I took a short walk back to my hotel, the starkly, stylish Astoria. Nearly everything in the place is white, including the hanging light fixtures in the lobby, which--I'm not going to lie--look like sperms. They just do; Swiss sperms, which I have no problem with.
Watch Dennis's YouTube video of the Rosengart Collection:
In Lausanne, Switzerland near Lake Geneva, the hottest club night of the week for the local gays is Sunday when Club Trixx opens its doors in the basement of the massive Mad nightclub. While many gay bars I've visited, at home and abroad, seem to be hidden away like dirty little secrets, Mad, with it's bright, AIDS prevention-themed murals, is impossible to miss. Yes, that is a giant plastic condom attached to the side of the building. Since Mad's opening two decades ago, this onetime warehouse has watched one of Lausanne's hippest neighborhoods, known as Flon, sprout up around it.
Before heading to Trixx, I enjoyed my favorite meal that I had in Switzerland; an imaginative and delicious Asian chicken and rice bowl at Pur, a popular fusion restaurant right next to Mad. My dining companion was the charming Alex Herkommer, who has been one of the promoters of Mad for nearly twenty years and he has the crazy club stories to prove it. Mad is also the home of Mousse, a hugely popular foam party, which happens every summer and according to Alex, isn't as hard to clean up after as one would imagine. Alex is also involved in the upcoming Swiss Gay Ski Week, which is happening in Arosa from January 9 to the 16, 2010.
I found the crowd at Trixx plenty cute and attitude-free but they all smoked, every single one of them. The same was true at the clubs I hit in Zurich. I'm surprised at how much this didn?t agree with me, in terms of my eyes, throat and overall constitution. California may not get a lot right -- like the state budget and The Hills, for example -- but I love that you can't smoke in nightclubs. Call me a killjoy curmudgeon, but it's hard to get into to Lady Gaga when you're gagging.
Watch Dennis's YouTube video interview with Alex Herkommer outside Mad:
THE OLYMPIC MUSEUM
Not to boast but I've done something related to the Olympic games that Michael Phelps has never done in his life; visit the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Though lovingly depicted, sans bong, in a sand sculpture in the Museum's garden, Phelps himself has yet to come for a visit.
If he did, he'd discover a wealth of fascinating information and artifacts related to the Olympic games; from Ancient Greece to today. Torches, medals, logos and mascots from the different games are all on display, along with offbeat merchandising items like multicolored matchbooks with those iconic stick-figure athletes that we all remember on them. I saw Sonja Henie's ice skates, Katarina Witt's skating costume and Phelps' swimming tights. But my favorite item was a Speedo belonging to the slowest swimmer in Olympic history to ever win a race?because two of his competitors got disqualified. He's Eric Moussambani from Equatorial Guinea and he only started swimming the year he competed and had never swam in an Olympic-sized pool until the games. Now that?s gumption?Forrest Gumption.
While being shown around by a gracious and in-the-know guide, one of the gays in my group asked about the controversy back in the 1980s when the Olympics refused to let the Gay Games organizers call their event the "Gay Olympics." Our guide claimed that the Olympics have a blanket policy to protect their brand from everyone, not just gays. Fair enough, I thought. Then a few weeks later, I saw an excellent documentary at the Frameline gay film festival in San Francisco called Claiming the Title: Gay Olympics on Trial, which told a totally different story. By the way, did you know that the lawsuit that arose from that controversy was the first gay-related case to make it to the Supreme Court? I didn't. Fascinating stuff.
But back to the Olympic Museum. There's a reason it's the best-known museum in Switzerland. Walking through its halls and exhibits is like revisiting your own personal history, reliving the triumphs and tribulations of your favorite athletes, remembering where you were in your life when happened and tapping back into what it all meant to you at the time.
Watch Dennis's YouTube video of the Olympic Museum:
JUNOD WATCH SHOP AND MUSEUM
Ever wonder why the Swiss are so good at making watches? I found out when I visited the Junod Watch Shop and Museum in the heart of Lausanne, just a short walk from my hotel, the uber-luxe Lausanne Palace & Spa overlooking Lake Geneva. The museum, which is housed on the second floor over the shop that's been here since 1889, was the brainchild of Lionel and Nicolas Goei-Junod, whose family has been in the watch business for generations. It's Nicolas who showed me around the museum and Nicolas is, um, what's the word? Dreamy. He also has an intense passion for and knowledge of watches?and a longtime boyfriend. Oh, well.
When I interviewed him on video, Nicolas offered a special discount to readers of this site and answered my question, 'Why are the Swiss so good at making watches?' See the interview: