In May Mr. Wild Dingo, a friend and I all visited Chateau Gruyères (entry to the chateau above photo) in the canton Fribourg. I expected a very long drive so I took my iphone for entertainment. About 30 minutes into the drive, I looked up and saw the beautiful rolling green hills and blue skies. "Damn! I feel like I'm in Switzerland." Oh yes I did say that out loud! What's worse is exactly five minutes after that, we arrived at the chateau. Not exactly the long drive I envisioned. I cannot get over how close things are in Switzerland. That, and how easy it is to type French accents on my keyboard.
In the midst of green alpine hills, Chateau Gruyères, one of Switzerland's most prestigious castles, sits majestically above a medieval town. The photo above shows the town really is that cute. Since we went on a Sunday in May, it was still low-tourist season. But I've heard this place goes medieval-on-your-ass in the summer time. Villagers dress up and all sorts of medieval events, sword fights and the like go on. But on our day, it was quiet, sleepy and just the way I like it.
To say that the village stunk is an understatement. Literally. You couldn't go into one restaurant without gagging from the thick aroma of stinky feet, err, I mean cheese. Nobody, but Mr. Wild Dingo who unlike me actually likes cheese, seemed to care. After running out of three different restaurants, we chose one with the least offensive smell. For lunch, the boys ordered the raclette. Me? I ordered vegetable soup.
The crane (French word "grue") inspired the name Gruyères. Don't ask me why.
The castles beginnings are mysterious. Nineteen counts held the chateau between the 11th and 16th centuries. The last of them, Michel, had financial trouble and eventually went bankrupt in 1554. (If you ask me, I'll bet he went broke paying Swiss taxes.) His creditors, the cantons Fribourg and Bern (now do you believe me?) shared his earldom and the chateau was used by the cantons for residence for the bailiffs and prefects.
Above: View of the church bell tower from the village walk toward the castle.
In 1849, the castle was sold to the Bovy and Balland families who used the castle during summertime and restored it. In 1938, it was bought back by the canton of Fribourg and turned into a museum.
One of the nice things about this chateau is that it combines other forms of entertainment and exhibits. Like this severed hand.
The castle had plenty of other exhibits, including art and various impressive garb worn by the counts. But me? I take a picture of the severed hand. I'm not well.
The hand has been with the castle from the beginning and there are many legends over it's origins. Some legends include it being brought back from the Holy Land during the crusades, or that it was a trophy from a battle fought and won against Burgendy, or that it was the hand of Count Louis killed in a fire, then found and given to his beloved widow.
The reality (as told by some Anthropologist dude) is that it's the right hand of an Egyptian mummy as its bandage and mummification methods indicate. Somehow the hand was severed later from the body exposing the bone and dried muscle tissue. In the middle ages, mummified bodies were thought to have healing powers for all sorts of illnesses and were often seen on the art market bought by museums and passionate collectors. This is likely how it ended up in Switzerland. When the Bovy and Ballands families had the castle, they built a display room for many of its curious objects, including the severed hand, which has been with the castle from the beginning and remains with it today.
So now you know the story of the severed hand. You have to admit, the Swiss sure have a strange concept of art.
But seriously, one of the things I absolutely love about Gruyères is its art exhibits. I was lucky enough to visit the castle on the last day of the exhibit of Chantel Michel, who's photography and video installations were shown throughout the castle.
Michel's work is haunting, muddling the lines between fiction and reality, fantasy in a historic setting. Her imaginary stories and collection of characters are set in a baroque dreamlike world, posed in standard yet bold fashion.
She puts herself on stage as a model in her large images, playing both feminine and masculine roles. Her technique blurs the line between traditional painting and digital photography as she reinterprets famous paintings.
A Swiss artist, born the same year as me, her work is ironic and creepy. But the kind of creepy that's oh-so cool. And you could swear her work was painted but it's all photography.
I especially love the the photos that had several characters where she was the model for all the characters in different poses. I would love to know how she processed these, either digitally in the camera or post digitally.
I would seriously love to hang any of her pieces in my house, if I could afford them. Check out Chantel Michel's web site for more.
Inspired by such interesting photos, Mr. Wild Dingo tries for his own dreamlike photo. I don't know. A tad more make up and maybe it could pass as one of the photos above. No?
I guess it's time to show you a little of the actual castle, huh? Above is the dining hall and, as castles usually have, frescoes all over the walls.
And no visit would be complete without at least one window photo. Nothing like a beautiful landscape to gaze at while contemplating bankruptcy.
Much to my delight, the weather turned frightful and the skies threatened us with a sudden down pour. The boys hurried through the castle while I ran around the grounds and quickly took as many photos as I could. I couldn't make lighting like this if I tried.
It was just stunning. On one side, bright sunny light. On the other, menacing skies. Yin and yang.
It's actually quite difficult to get a full shot of the chateau but later as we strolled through the village, I hiked in back of the homes and found a small vista where I could get this shot above. I didn't get nearly enough time at the castle due to the weather. I didn't even explore the gardens seeen to the right in the smaller building in the shot above. I'll be back for certain, possibly in the fall. By far, Chateau Gruyères and Chateau d'Aigle are my favorite places.
Later, two suspicious-looking characters showed up to inconspicuously storm the castle.
"I can't take you anywhere," said the quietly disguised Husky to the yipping Formosan announcing his own entrance.