Located at the footsteps of the Alps, on Lake Geneva, Montreux is a dream destination. I’ve always wanted to visit Montreux, ever since I read Lord Byron’s “Prisoner of Chillon”. Back in 2005, Ms. Sally Devdas introduced us to the poem, which fuelled my dreams of visiting this beautiful castle turned prison built under Lake Geneva. My dream finally came true in 2012, when my friend Daphne booked me a ticket from Geneva to Montreux.
Off I went, on a train ride to Montreux, not knowing how much to expect. Would it be as magical as I had imagined? Or would it be an old castle in ruins? I would soon find out. It was a beautiful train journey of an hour, painted by the typical picture perfect scenery you would expect of Switzerland. It ended all too soon, and I had reached Montreux. I got off at Montreux and took a local bus to the Chateau de Chillon. The bus dropped me right in front of the castle. I walked in, all the while replaying Lord Byron’s words in my mind:
There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,
In Chillon’s dungeons deep and old,
There are seven columns, massy and grey,
Dim with a dull imprison’d ray,
A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And through the crevice and the cleft
Of the thick wall is fallen and left;
Creeping o’er the floor so damp,
Like a marsh’s meteor lamp:
I bought my ticket and walked in for a recorded audio tour of the Chateau de Chillon. It was a truly magical experience. Especially for the lovers of “Prisoner of Chillon”, this experience is a heaven sent gift. I walked through all the rooms a bit quickly, waiting to see the basement dungeon where Francois Bonivard was imprisoned, and the cellar which Byron brought to life. I stood in the cellar and soaked it all in. There is a pillar which has Byron’s name engraved on it, and of course I had to take a picture, standing right there. The cellar is half submerged in Lake Leman, and there are open windows through which the icy cold water keeps sprinkling in. I could only imagine how cold and miserable the prisoners were! And then the lines of the poem haunted me again. The amazement that Bonivard wasn’t dying to be set free…
At last men came to set me free;
I ask’d not why, and reck’d not where;
It was at length the same to me,
Fetter’d or fetterless to be,
I learn’d to love despair.
And thus when they appear’d at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage—and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
He had become accustomed to and dependent on the very walls and chains that tied him there, and he did not immediately embrace his freedom. “It was at length the same to me, Fetter’d or fetterless to be” – This line had haunted me since I had heard it first, but now after all these years I think I understand it a little better. Freedom is in your mind and your thoughts. If you’re free in your mind, nothing can imprison you, but if your mind isn’t free – it doesn’t matter whether you are fetter’d or fetterless and you will regain your ‘freedom’ with a sigh!
I had my fill at the dungeon and finished the rest of the tour of the castle. I then went into the souvenir shop to find some unique gift for my mother, as a remembrance of Montreux. I found an Edelweiss soap, which smelt heavenly and sent me spiralling back to another sweet childhood memory – The Sound Of Music. Very happy and excited with my experience, I took a bus back toward the station to catch my evening train back to Geneva. I was a little early, and so I got off two stops early to find some great bargains at H&M. I walked along the town which is built on the shore of Lake Leman, which is the French name for Lake Geneva. Filled with the typical cosy shopping of a European small town, and the quaint cafes on cobbled streets, it was a beautiful place to spend a February afternoon in.
I got onto my train on time and day dreamed all the way back to Geneva. It was a reiteration of my belief that Europe is a travellers’ delight.