Returning to the scene of the crime


Day Two: Vevey to Aigle 25.4 km (15.8 miles)

I need to get something off my chest. About ten years ago while visiting this same area in Switzerland I jumped over the turnstiles at Chateau Chillon and toured the castle without paying the entry fee.

I know. There’s no excuse. It shouldn’t matter that the castle had closed early, before its posted closing time. It shouldn’t matter that I was certain I’d never come this way again and I felt like they’d robbed me of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit a carefully restored 12th century castle. It should matter that I knew that French (or French speaking) tourist sites post as their closing times the point as which the final visitors must leave, rather than the time the final visitors must arrive. I had frustratingly arrived in between those two times. Slightly outraged at the custom that had once also cost me a view of the Bayeux Tapestry, I hopped the gate when no one was looking and took a self-guided tour of the castle’s musty but fascinating interior.

Beautiful but unforgiving.

Turned out it hadn’t been a one-in-a-lifetime visit after all. The official Via Francigena leads right past this fairy tale pile and as I walked by it today I was smugly and (mostly) unrepentantly satisfied I didn’t need to pay the admission. I’d already seen the inside.

My return to the scene of the crime took place after I’d rolled out of bed in my stifling room across from the noisy bell tower in Lausanne. It was after I stopped for breakfast at what I’m sure will be my last Starbucks in two months. It was after my train ride to Vevey where I’d finished yesterday and certainly was after the gorgeous 10 km walk on the lakeside trail through Vevey and then Montreux. But it was before I finally made it to the end of the lake, before I had lunch on a pier and before I said a sad goodbye to the gorgeous lake and turned left for the first part of the days long climb up the Rhône River Valley toward Italy.

Seeing me go by, I now believe the Castle called upon the Universe to pay me back for my crime by getting me lost for half an hour, by making the sun exceptionally hot, by making the air humid, and by making the trail straight, flat, paved and dreary. Except the beauty of the mountains on both sides could not be spoiled by the Castle’s revenge.

As an aspiring pipe organist, I couldn’t believe my good fortune in stumbling, right there on the trail, upon the Museum of the Swiss Organ. Sadly it was closed and locked. No entry even for turnstile jumpers like me.

After arriving at my destination at 4:00 I showered and fell asleep on the bed until 9:00, my best sleep so far, but a jet lagged one coming at the wrong time of day. Aigle has a nice, central commercial district complete with shops and restaurants. I caught a pizza there before returning to my room for a hopefully long and restful snooze.

Hiker’s notes: Vevey to Villaneuve, except for a couple of km on the road, is a lakefront promenade paradise. Enjoy it while you can. After the turn up the valley the stage is mostly alongside either a small canal or the train track, so pray for a cool day. Before Rôche the GPS tracks keep you to the left of the canal and forsake the well marked bridge crossing to the other side. Believe the signs, not the GPS tracks. The GPS way was literally impossible due to the inadvertent presence of a giant mountain and clearly must’ve been drawn from someone’s desktop rather than by a real walker. After Rôche, stick to the road alongside the tracks all the way to the Aigle (pronounced “EGG-luh”) station. It’s dreary, yes, but far shorter than the wandering track to the left that adds little but distance to the stage. Note that the price at Hotel le Suisse has increased from cf70 to cf100. Though I had a reservation there I cancelled it at checkin and opted for a nearby B&B at cf60 where the kind owner is thoughtfully doing my laundry.

Leaving Vevey.

Outdoor market in Montreux.

Elegance of past years in Montreux.

Realizing now that the VF is marked as route 70 here.

Lunch on a pier on the lake in Villaneuve.


Rails, sun, corn and asphalt for miles.

Wherever you go, there you are

Day One: Lausanne to Vevey — 26 km (16.2 miles)

I arrived in Lausanne after midnight last night, and had earlier decided I’d see how I felt before choosing whether or not to walk today. I had booked my Lausanne hotel for two nights and figured I’d either stay and enjoy a restful day or walk to Vevey and take the train back.

As usual after a long flight I awoke last night at 2:00, then 3:00, then again at 4:00. Each time I awoke I would calculate, in my jet lagged mental fog, how many hours until a cafe would be open and I could get something to eat and drink. Finally at 6:00 I decided I’d had enough of that and figured, if I started walking now I could be back at my hotel by around 2:00. That’d give me time to tour or relax after my walk.

So I headed up to the cathedral since that’s the official starting place in Lausanne, then back down past my hotel, under the train station and out to The Lake, my companion to the right all day long.

Terraced vineyards overlooking Lac Leman

At the train station I caught myself doing some automatic but unintended behavior. Every time I saw someone with a backpack I began to fantasize about them being fellow Via Francigena pilgrims. I would wonder where they were from, whether we’d hit it off, whether they’d be good pilgrim friends. Then I’d shake myself out of my reverie — they’re just backpackers, they’re not pilgrims, I’d finally realize.

I know this little mind game is an expression of my aloneness, my yearning for company. Yes, I set out on this long walk fully intending to be solo, welcoming the quiet of my own thoughts. But the reality takes some adjustment. Except when I’m driving to and from work I’m seldom alone.

My pilgrim friend, Erinn, is so right in suggesting we should welcome alone time as an opportunity to struggle with our inner demons, rather than try to fill it with conversation or distractions.

I’m ready for that. It’s just that wherever I go, there I am. My demons show up, ready to get to work. The most powerful one? The demon who tells me to push beyond my physical limits of endurance, nutrition and hydration and just keep walking.

That’s what happened in a long, sunny stretch today. I should’ve stopped and rested. Eaten a little. By the time I arrived in Vevey I was so hungry, hot and tired that I would eat anyplace with air-conditioning and cold drinks. And I did! Lunch was at the local Ronald McDonald’s near the Vevey train station.

I’ll do better next time. Tomorrow it’s off to that same Vevey train station. I’ll head out from there through Montreux, by Chillon Castle, past Villaneuve and then up the first steps into the pass at Aigle.

Walking notes: A lovely day spent deciding just which of the fabulous lake views was actually the most fabulous. After walking downhill through urban Lausanne the beauty began along the lakefront. Several hours of beaches and marinas gave way to breathtaking views on a vineyard road traversing the hills as they made their shadeless way to gritty Vevey. As so often happens the designers of the walk opt for views and greenery rather than workaday necessities like cafes and grocery shops.

Panorama from the overlook at Lausanne Cathedral

Way mark for the Camino de Santiago a few steps from the Lausanne Cathedral.

Looking from the historic plaza in Lausanne up to its cathedral.

One of two historic ferries that play the waters of Lac Leman.

Olympics headquarters are near here and this Olympics museum is open to the public.

Across from the Olympics museum.

The track follows lakeside paths like this.

I’m picturing Juliet here. Or maybe Rapunzel?

Entry to Vevey.