Sunday, 16 October 2011

Fête des Vendanges

So I have this friend named Chris. Chris is from Simi Valley, but he lives in the small city of Neuchâtel, 
 in Switzerland. Chris has visited me in Edinburgh three times since I moved here. Not specifically to see me, but because he loves Edinburgh. And after meeting his girlfriend Stephanie in Edinburgh on New Years Day 2009, the city continues to hold special a sentimental spot in his heart. Anywho, Chris has been asking Adam and I (who he also met New Years 2008/2009 through me) to come visit for aaaaaages. So this year we finally did! 

Over the last weekend of September, Adam, Emma and I flew to Geneva on Friday afternoon and spent a few hours walking around there before heading to the Neuch. A giant jet of water spewing up in Lake Geneva is the city's only claim to fame. The excitement was palpable. not really. Geneva is the quietest city I've ever been to. And as I later found, the Swiss in general are a quiet people. 

Trying to be excited about the Geneva Jet, as I like to call it. Adam isn't feeling it. 

After a while we jumped on a train and headed for the Neuch. Trains in Switzerland, like clocks, are efficient and always on time! It was a nice change from the UK where random breakdowns and delays occur far too often. 

Every year Neuchâtel hosts the Fête des Vendanges, or the Wine Festival. It's a huge event, people come from all over to drink wine, eat food from street stalls, buy random souvenirs, listen to live music, and dance the night away under a shower of confetti in the middle of the street. For the stoic Swiss, this is the time to let their hair down. And indeed, they do. 


 People fill the streets from 8 pm until 3-5 am on Friday and Saturday nights. Wine is sold in plastic cups, and what with all the people around and the random confetti-bombings, you better drink fast or else your drink will be either 1) all over you or 2) filled with confetti. Neither option was desirable, so we just drank fast.  Chris here demonstrates the only way to save one's drink:

Chris, Adam, Stephanie, me, Emma (and top of random guy's head)

Once the confetti started raining down we got down to some serious dancing. It was an insane, hilarious, magical event. Confetti falling everywhere, people moving everywhere, the beat of the music defying anyone to not dance-it was like taking a step out of reality into a universe where rain was made of paper and glitter.

Once morning dawned, the Neuch was a different place. Quiet and sleepy streets winding across the landscape, butting up into Lake Neuchâtel. The buildings are quintessentially continental European. Rising taller than they are wide, painted in vivid colours with eaves and shingling that you would expect to only find on a gingerbread house. 

This part of Europe has given the world so many images of a time and way of living through literature and art. I still love seeing it for myself. 

On Saturday, while the other Fête revellers slept, we toured the town, breakfasting at a cafe in the square with delicious pastries and visiting the castle, a lovely church, and generally taking in the view.
Pondering my ethnographic future...

View of the Neuch from the Castle
 What a happy building! 

Saturday night, we had a traditional Swiss dinner at Chris' flat-Raclette!  Raclette is a type of cheese, and also a dish indigenous to parts of Switzerland. The way it is often served involves an electric table-top grill with small pans, known as coupelles, to heat slices of raclette cheese in. Generally the grill is surmounted by a hot plate or griddle. The cheese is sliced, accompanied by platters of boiled or steamed potatoes, other vegetables and meats. These are mixed with potatoes and topped with cheese in the coupelles that are placed under the grill to melt and brown the cheese. It was AMAZING! And a really enjoyable way to start the night! 
 Ready for Raclette!

On Sunday we went hiking in the Jura Mountains to the Creux du Van, a beautiful natural rock formation. The mountains lie between France and Switzerland and although the Jura aren't as high as the Alps, that hike was HARD! Probably the steepest hike I've done, and slippery ground to boot! But there were little amusements along the way...
 Goats just chillin' on the trail
 Creux du Van
 Doing ballet on top of the Creux du Van
 France is over there

After a the hike, and a filling but delicious dinner of fondue, I was well and truly wine and cheese-d out. After a relaxed last night, Adam, Emma and I headed back to the UK on Monday. As we walked through the town, vestiges of the festival were still present, slowly being torn down for another year. 
 As Stephanie and Adam waved us off (he left a few hours later) Emma and I settled in for another efficient train ride back to the airport. 
One more vacation over, summer behind us, and good memories to hold onto until Christmas! Viva la Suisse! 

<3 Kim

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