Veneto Ventures #7: Xenomorphs and fondue

Veneto Ventures #7:

Thursday 6th October 2022

We had a stressful start to our journey to Gruyères as Robert received an alert that the train we had booked would not be stopping at Montreux where we were due to change to catch an onward connection.

However we decided to board the train we had booked to go at least part of the way. The on-board announcements also made no mention of our scheduled stop but fortunately when Robert went to check with the guard he was told that all would be fine and we would be able to make our connection as planned.

The route from Milan to Montreux passes along side Lake Maggiore . . .

. . .and through beautiful mountain scenery. 

From Montreux we travelled to Montbovon and then on to Gruyères where we were greeted at the station by the potent and mouthwatering smell of chocolate and the prospect of a long uphill walk [below right]. 

The main purpose of our visit to Gruyères was to visit the HR Giger Museum and Bar. Hans Ruedi Giger was born in 1940 in Chur in Switzerland and there is another ‘Alien Bar’ in Chur which was closed when we tried to visit it back in 2016

In Gruyères thankfully both the museum and the bar were open.

Museum HR Giger in the Château St. Germain, Gruyères

HR Giger bought the Château St Germain in 1997 and opened his museum there in June 1998. The Château St Germain which houses the museum seems to be the gatehouse to the main Château de Gruyères but they are now operated separately.

Giger attended the Applied Arts School in Zurich and went on to study interior architecture and industrial design and structure plays an important role in his art. One account claims that he started painting as a form of art therapy. He is now renowned for his distinctive, highly-detailed, airbrushed, biomechanical images which combine robotic elements with the human form.

His design for the album cover for the Emerson Lake and Palmer album, Brain Salad Surgery is typical of his style but probably his most famous creation is the eponymous xenomorph from the ‘Alien’ film franchise, one of which is disconcertingly suspended from the ceiling at the beginning of the exhibition.

Alien suspended

The displays also include sketches for the various stages of Alien development, including the deceptively benignly named Face Hugger [below left].

Giger painted a xenomorph in a work entitled Necronom IV, which provided the inspiration for Ridley Scott’s on-screen Alien and Giger was an influential member of the Oscar winning visual effects team on the 1979 film.

Necronom IV [right] – the inspiration for ‘Alien’ was first published in the book Necromicon

The museum comprises three floors displaying a wide selection of paintings, sculptures and furniture.

A dining table and chairs feature the skeletal structures of the Alien, giving us a taste of what was to come in the Giger Bar.

There is one room which is curtained off and visitors are warned about the sexually explicit images. There are no photographs included here obviously but HR Giger [below, centre] was undoubtedly a provocative [and probably deeply disturbed] artist.

We were both quite taken by the feline, looking a little like a shocked version of the Cheshire Cat which had lost its smile.

The museum includes a gateway and spans both sides of the road. It also provides a splendid view of the city square beyond.

Some of Giger’s private collection is on display on the third floor and even the doors are works of art.

The detail of the pieces both inside and outside the museum is incredible.

Even more incredible is the juxtaposition of Giger’s futuristic and surreal vision with a small mediaeval town. From the HR Giger Museum we strolled on up the hill to the Château de Gruyères.

It was built in the 13th century as a fortified castle and the main home of the Counts of Gruyères. Later alterations transformed it into a more comfortable and stately residence.

From 1555 it became the home of the bailiffs who represented the government of Fribourg. In 1848 the administrative centre for the region was moved to Bulle and the castle was bought by the Bovy brothers – Daniel and Antoine. The family were medallists and engravers and Antoine Bovy engraved the original plates for the Swiss half, one and two francs coins in 1874.

There are views across the French garden to the mountains beyond.

There is also a peaceful, galleried courtyard.

You can take a short walk along the ramparts to view the garden and look back towards the castle itself. . .

. . .which is in an imposing position.

Having confronted the past and the future we walked back towards the square and the Giger Bar. This is said to be his last grand creation.

The swivel chairs were surprisingly comfortable and incredibly well designed with a movement so smooth that just a gentle push allowed you to rotate effortlessly several times [see Video of the day].

This Gothic style bar feels almost like a cathedral where the fan vaulting is made from vertebrae.

Robert has been waiting many years to visit and he was not disappointed. Since we were in Gruyères, we indulged in a fondue but were so hungry by this time that we forgot to take a photograph of what was obviously the Dish of the day.

Waking early the following morning to catch a train we were greeted by a picturesque low lying mist.

The square was almost deserted as we waited for our taxi.

Initially we had booked to go to the local train station but decided that we would ask the taxi driver to carry on to Bulle where we would have had to change trains to take one stage out of our journey home via Zurich airport.

Video of the day:

Selfie of the day:

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