Lausanne's new Olympic Museum offers great art and great memories on the shore of Lake Geneva.

A panoramic wall of 32 giant TV screens, connected like huge tiles, curves in a 180-degree arc around the Summer Games gallery of Lausanne's new Olympic Museum. Playing continuously on this video kaleidoscope are great moments in modern Olympic history. On one section of the wall, multiple images of Abebe Bikila run barefoot in the dark through the streets of Rome to win the marathon in 1960; on another it's 1956 again and the great Russian distance runner, Vladimir Kuts (pronounced COOTS, thus the couplet, "Vladimir, Vladimir, Vladimir Kuts, nature's attempt at a machine in boots") pounds relentlessly to another medal. There is no narration but the images are backed by a dramatic Chariots of Fire-style musical score.

Approximately every 20 minutes, on an identical wall over in the Winter Gallery, Austrian Franz Klammer plummets down the mountain in his heart-stopping 1976 gold medal run at Innsbruck. The pictures are too numerous and too fast; too much to absorb at one time. You sink down on a cushioned stool, surrounded by the Games of the past. There's Oregon State's Dick Fosbury winning the high jump by going over the bar backwards, of all things; and now, in the center of the wall, that's Ohioan Dave Wottle coming from way behind in a funny little hat to win the 800 meters at the wire in Munich in 1972. Apple pie American kids, a long way from home, beating the world. What memories.

It is this multiple image, black and white film-show that is the centerpiece and main goose bump provider in Lausanne's marvelous new Olympic Museum. For mainstream sports fans it's a must-see, but even the casual Olympic watcher will consider the two or three hours needed for a fairly thorough museum browse as time well spent.

Open since 1993, the museum occupies a choice hillside site overlooking Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). Approach it from the lake, take the winding path (said to measure 1,363 Greek feet, the length of an Olympic stadium) that begins at the fountain, up the gentle slope, through the formal gardens dotted with sport-theme sculptures, and finally past the eight Greek columns flanking the museum entrance. (Among the sculptures, note the giant metal torso with "washboard" stomach entitled Citius, Altius, Fortius - faster, higher, stronger - and Olympia, a tight group of three bronze bicycle racers.)

Inside, the building's top three levels are connected by a wide stainless steel and glass ramp that spirals to a skylit dome. In the spirals center is a black, blue and red Joan Miró sculpture.

Each visitor is issued an attractive plastic card with an Olympic logo on one side (mine featured the jagged Dolomites and the logo of the 1956 winter games at Cortina d'Ampezzo) and an electronic strip on the other. When inserted into the turnstiles, the card allows entry to the various exhibits.

The museum has been described as "interactive" and we had visions of flinging ourselves into a long jump pit or sliding down a luge run, but the only interactive items we saw were computer terminals which, in several languages, provide additional information about the exhibits and the Games. Under consideration is a "simulation room," where visitors will be able to better "appreciate the athletes' exploits by measuring their own performance against those of champions."

If not interactive, the presentation is definitely multimedia. Though there are many static displays, the best and most moving exhibits - especially the film panoramas - incorporate video, sophisticated lighting and music.

A temporary exhibition, recalling the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1992 Albertville winter games, sounded uninteresting but turned out to be a dazzler. Dream-like, surreal figures danced and flew in an extraordinary show of music and light.

The main floor gallery, which retraces the history of the Olympic Movement, was interesting but not so exciting as what was to come later in the Winter and Summer Games galleries. Here is more prosaic "museum stuff": ancient Greek vases, a collection of Olympic torches, flags (great sculpture of the Olympic flag), and, ho hum, a life-size diorama of the office of Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Games.

Even though the Olympic Museum displays some first-rate modern art, it is essentially still a collection of athletic memorabilia, mementos of the Games are everywhere; a shiny four-man bobsled hangs here, a varnished rowing shell there. And, of course, there is a substantial collection of things like the shoes Jessie Owens wore to win four gold medals in 1936 and lots of medals, old skis, hockey sticks and javelins.

One exhibition room is reserved for philately and numismatics and displays thousands of stamps and coins linked to the history of the Games. There is also a "donors wall," inscribed with such names as Coca Cola and IBM, and a corner is devoted to the next scheduled games.

But old stamps and Greek vases, even Baron de Coubertin and the wealthy men who support the Games, must take a back seat to the athletes and their performances. And no collection of skates, running shorts, basketballs or hockey pucks, can recall the great moments as well as film. It is the effective use of this medium that puts the Olympic Museum over the top.

There is a restaurant on museum premises and a souvenir shop where one can buy Olympic branded items priced from about $25 (posters), to $1500 (cashmere shawl).

On our way out we took a last look at Citius, Altius, Fortius, that torso with the washboard belly, and considered the Olympic motto: "You who wish to excel, forge your body and soul to discover the best in yourself, always aim one degree higher than the goal you have set for yourself: faster, higher, stronger." Suitably inspired to aim that one degree higher, I decided to have an extra beer at lunch.

Musee Olympique Inquiries

Olympic Museum Lausanne Quai d'Ouchy 1, CH-1001, Lausanne

* Phone: 021/621 6511
* Fax: 021/621 6512

Admission: Adults (age 19 & over) 14 Sfr. ($12); ages10-18, 6 Sfr. ($5); Students 9 Sfr. ($8); Children under 9 are free. No cameras allowed.

Hotels

Lausanne Palace

(Editor's Choice)

Lausanne's finest hotel and possibly, in our view, the best in Switzerland, is the Beau Rivage Palace in Ouchy, near the lake.

But up the hill on a bluff, with a fine lake view, is the town's other five-star hotel, the Lausanne Palace.

It appears to cater a bit more to business travelers (President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, maintains a suite there) but its excellent service, comfortable rooms and central location near Lausanne's old town recommend it.

One has high expectations of a five-star Swiss hotel and the Palace more than lived up to ours. Perhaps it helped that we spent the Easter weekend there when the hotel had only a few guests. We were a party of four and each morning beneath the glittering chandeliers of the soaring lobby/breakfast room we had the gigantic buffet breakfast spread virtually to ourselves. Hovering nearby, of course, were at least two young servers ready to fulfill our every whim.

Service was top class, especially that provided by the charming and helpful concierge. If, as someone once suggested, we conduct a "concierge-of-year" balloting, this fellow (we failed to record his name but he is the man whose picture is on the cover of the hotel's brochure) would get our vote so far in 1995.

Like so many of Europe's grandest hotels, the Palace was built early in the century, 1915 to be exact. It thus has the broad halls, high ceilings and spacious rooms characteristic of that period. Our two guestrooms, normal doubles, were furnished and decorated with a restrained but comfortable elegance. The almost opulent bathrooms were equipped, of course, with heated towel racks, oversize terrycloth robes and an array of toiletries.

The Palace offers many guest services including two hair salons, six boutiques, a night club, a fine French restaurant, limousine service, workout facilities and a cozy bar with live music.

Its restaurant, Le Relais, is good but very expensive. During our stay, the six-course fixed-price dinner menu was 125 Sfr. ($109) per person. A celebratory dinner for two couples cost - take a deep breath - 675 Sfr. ($587). Most astounding - and here's a great reason to drink tap water - the mineral water alone cost 32.50 Sfr. ($28). But such is the reality of five-star travel in Switzerland in 1995.

Address: Lausanne Palace Rue Grand Chne 7-9, CH-1002 Lausanne.
Phone: 21/331 3131
Fax: 21/323 2571
Location: Central
Rooms: 199 total
Proprietor: Evangelos Vyzas, Director
Price Category: 5
Meals: All available
Facilities: Outdoor terraces, exercise room, sauna, restaurants, hair salons
Credit Cards: All
Disabled Access: Yes
Closed: Never
Parking: 14 Sfr. ($12) per day
Rating: Excellent 16/20

Food

In the aftermath of our meal at the Lausanne Palace, something had to be done about the budget deficit and we began a diligent search for less expensive sustenance. Our success can best be termed moderate.

Café du Vieil-Ouchy

The best prepared meals we found on our search were at Max and Julia Suters hole-in-the-wall Café du Vieil-Ouchy on the lakefront. We ate in the lower room, which is about three steps down from street level and very small. Most chairs had no backs, the wooden tables were tiny and bare and the floors brick.

But what we chose from the simple, short menu was excellent. Salads were crisp and fresh and the Rösti, around which most of the dishes were built, was perfection. "Forest" mushrooms served with Rösti (hash brown-style potatoes) turned out to be very fresh, delicious morels a terrific dish costing 20 Sfr. ($17). Rösti with ham, cheese and roasted onion was 17.5 Sfr. ($15) and Rösti with sausage pieces cost 13.5 Sfr. ($12). There was also an excellent chick pea soup and a flawless house salad that included bits of bacon, onion, tomatoes and walnuts.

In summary: very plain surroundings, limited menu, simple food but well prepared from the freshest ingredients. Dinner for four including ample flagons of local wine was 117 Sfr. ($102).

Café du Vieil-Ouchy Place du Port 3, CH-1006 Lausanne, phone 021/616 2194. Inexpensive to moderate. No credit cards.
Rating: 14/20 Above Average $

Brasserie Lavaux

This restaurant, in the center of Lausanne, has the feel of an authentic Paris Brasserie, with half lace curtains, tile floors and walls and a few disreputable types peering at each other through clouds of tobacco smoke at the regular's table.

The bistro-style food was pretty good on its own but tasted even better when we remembered the prices at the Palace. Main courses included pâte, pommes frites or rice and salad or vegetable. Our meal began with a freebie from the kitchen: a small plate of olives, slices of salami and a few tomato wedges. Pork steak with mushroom sauce (19Sfr./$17) was better than average as was scallopini with morels (30 Sfr./$26). The Lavaux poured Cardinal Beer on draught and 5DL bottles of Dôle St. Pierre, an ordinary red wine of the region, cost 18 Sfr. ($16).

The Lavaux is hardly stylish but the food is decent and so are the prices. Dinner for four, including wine and beer, was 174 Sfr. ($151).

Restaurant Lavaux, Rue Neuve 2, CH-1003 Lausanne, telephone 021/3233640. Moderate. Credit cards o.k.
Rating: Above Average 12/20

Brasserie Bavaria

Since two knowledgeable locals pointed us toward the Brasserie Bavaria, we were not only disappointed but surprised at this failed attempt to emulate a Munich beer hall/restaurant. The smoky ambiance was authentic enough but the quality of the Bavarian-style food among the dishes we ordered ranged from o.k. to barely edible. For what its worth, main courses cost from about 22 to 30 Sfr. ($19-$26) and tall glasses of Warsteiner beer are 4.1 Sfr. ($3.50). We won't be back.

Brasserie Bavaria Rue Petit-Chne #10, CH-1002, phone 021/3233913. Moderate. No credit cards.
Rating: Adequate 7/20

Those who share this writer's enthusiasm for the Czech beer, Budvar the original and true Budweiser can find it at Café du Grütli Escaliers du March #4, CH-1003 Lausanne. RHB

June 1995