LAKE GENEVA, Switzerland, June 11, 2016 – Had it not been for a friendly competition near Geneva, Switzerland, 200 years ago, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi might never have had careers. That’s when the Frankenstein monster and vampires were created, and the world of horror fiction has not been the same since.
Mary Godwin was only 19 years old when she dreamed up the idea of a scientist who created human life from the body parts of corpses. It was the result of a challenge by Mary’s future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and John Polidori to see who could come up with the best horror story.
It happened on an unseasonably cold and dreary June weekend at Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva. To pass the time a group of literary minded friends invented stories which resulted in the creation of Frankenstein, published in 1818 as “The Modern Prometheus,” and Polidori’s 1819 Gothic horror story “The Vampyre.”
At first it was believed that Lord Byron was responsible for the genesis of vampire literature. Byron attested to the fact that Polidori, who was also the poet’s personal physician, was the author of the now infamous bloodthirsty creatures.
Though Villa Diodati is a private residence today and inaccessible to visitors, it can be seen by boat from the lake.
A site that spawned horror that can be visited, however, nestles it the eastern end of Lake Geneva, and it is here that Lord Byron attained his literary credentials in the region with his 392-line narrative poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon.”
The Castle of Chillon was originally a Roman outpost along the main road through strategic Alpine passes to the east and south. The first written accounts of the castle date to 1005, but it was Byron’s poem in 1816 detailing the imprisonment of a Genevois monk, Francois Bonivard, that captured the imagination.
Bonivard was held prisoner at the castle from 1532 to 1536, and the imprints of his footsteps are still visible in the dungeon floor where he was chained.
Because Switzerland has been a democracy since the 13th century, it has never had any royalty, so castles are not as common as in other parts of Europe.
Even so, Chillon remains one of the most popular attractions in Switzerland.
Travelers to Lake Geneva who have no interest in castles or monsters can still enjoy the essence of Swiss culture. With vineyards creating a carpet of grapes from the highest hill to the water’s edge, it is one of the most productive wine regions in Switzerland.
Never heard of Swiss wine? That’s because the Swiss drink it themselves and very little is exported. Better to export fictional fiends and savor the wrath of grapes than vice versa.
Teetotalers can still indulge in another well-known Swiss tradition, however, as Nestle celebrates its 170th anniversary in 2016. The world-famous chocolate company came into existence in 1866 in the village of Vevey as a milk-based baby food manufacturer.
In 1879, Nestle merged with the inventor of milk chocolate, Daniel Peter, and in 1905 it joined forces with the Anglo-Swiss Milk company in what may have been the sweetest business deal in history.
Henri Nestle was the founder of the business, but the word “nestle” in French also means nest or finding comfort in a nest, and who could dispute such a claim when they “nestle with a chocolate concoction” originally created on the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland?
For the ultimate grand finale, visit Geneva in August and catch the last night of the Fete de Geneve or Festival of Geneva. If you think you have seen fireworks before, you probably haven’t until you witness the hour-long display of pyrotechnics that bring down the curtain on Geneva’s festival.
Using the north shore of the lake as a backdrop, the southern banks are reserved as a viewing area. The fireworks are synchronized to a musical theme, and once they begin, they, indeed, are linked to the music with Swiss precision.
It’s a skyshow that is not to be missed. Everything else pales in comparison.
Thus, the fireworks began on the southern shores of Lake Geneva in 1816, and two centuries later Frankenstein and his vampire friends are still enjoying the show.
Although, truthfully, they don’t look a day older than 150.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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