Stunning Switzerland then onto London!
This international tattoo convention trip required a significant amount of planning on my end! I coordinated flights for 5 people to Switzerland, numerous train schedules, 3 different lodging locations, flights again, this time over to London, transportation upon arrival, AirBnb for 6 adults in central London and of course 2 different tattoo conventions headliner agreements in different countries. (This blog is going to contain MANY photos!)
This tour was extended over 14+ days arriving in Switzerland and eventually departing from London. I accompanied James Vaughn, Mark Longnecker and his wife Raelene on this trek. During our layover in Dublin, Ireland we found each at our gate for a proper Guinness pint, which is the perfect way to start this excursion together. After catching a slight buzz, we then had a short flight into Geneva, Switzerland, which is right on the border of France. We continued our journey traveling by train to meet the organizer, Monique in the town of Conthey. We made our way downstairs to the train station and awkwardly loaded ALL our luggage onto a train of commuters. While walking to the train station, we saw a unique way the Swiss charge their electronics. People were pedaling stationary bikes to charge their phones! Do we have this in the states? Geneva TRAVEL TIP: When you arrive at Geneva International Airport by a plane, before you exit the gates there is a kiosk that allows you to travel by public transportation for free throughout Geneva. Just click a button and you are entitled to receive a personal and non transferable Geneva Transport Card for free, for the length of your stay in Geneva.
Train Geneva to medieval Sion
After a stunning hour and a half train ride along the entire northern side of the crescent shaped Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman) through the city Lausanne, past the iconic Jura mountains which are also known as the French Alps we arrived at our stop, Conthey. Monique was there to meet us and we walked with her a town over to our lodging in Sion. Sion is a small, medieval town in the Rhône basin known as the most sun-blessed town of Switzerland.
Monique Roh-Roduit is the organizer of Alchemy Tattoo Expo, “Inkings the Alps” A popular tattoo convention since 1995. I approached Monique because of the longevity of her very successful tattoo convention. We quickly settled into our lodging, which is home for the next 5 days, Hôtel-Restaurant Elite and met Monique in the lobby for drinks.
Stunning Sion Switzerland
It was spring when we visited, and I found Switzerland to be beyond stunning. Everywhere you looked you could observe either snow-capped mountains, sprawling green hills sprinkled with quaint villages and cows, towering castles.. it is everything you think Switzerland would be … a majestic beauty. That evening we walked with Monique through the medieval streets to a fondue restaurant. “The cheese in Switzerland is incredible, and there’s such a history of cheese-making here” we are told by Monique “Switzerland produces more than 450 varieties of cheese”. We had a rich, savory, hot and chewy dinner of Fondue at Cave de Tous Vents . During our communal feast tasting of cheese and beef we learned more about the Swiss cheeses and the Swiss Cows they come from. Every spring, dairy farmers walk their cows up the Swiss mountainside, encouraging cattle to graze on the grasses and natural pastures. In doing so, cows trim and fertilize the fields, keeping the Swiss countryside as vibrant and green as a postcard. Cows wear Bells around their necks, as symbols of traditional folklore. “By using bells with religious motifs, farmers are protecting their cattle through faith, as though each bell were a prayer”
After dinner we all were still very jet lagged and not ready for sleep. Our brains and bodies thought it was only 6pm and Switzerland is 7 hours ahead of us. We stumbled into what we later termed the “floosie bar” officially named, Bar Le Club (yes, there is no website or mention of this bar on trip adviser.. the BEST kind lol) When we arrived it was sparse of patrons and they were playing French music. Of course we closed the bar. We were privy to a nightly routine of a tiny older lady, wearing a blond wig, dressed head to toe in leopard AND zebra stripes come by to collect the money and close the place down. She was the owner we were later told.
Hiking the Castles of Sion
The following day we set off to explore Sion and hike up to those looming castles! Sion has ancient castles placed on two rocky hills, opposite to each other, surrounded by the Rhone valley, Rhone river, vineyards, and mountain peaks in the background. You can see the castles day and night from just about anywhere in town. While making our way to the castles walking through town, I was struck by the sheer size of the Roses in bloom everywhere. When measuring them they are bigger than your hand with outstretched fingers!
Walking through the town we saw all history symbols creating coat of arms painted on walls and on flags hanging over the streets everywhere. We hiked up to Tourbillon Castle (French: Château de Tourbillon) which is a castle in Sion in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. It is situated on a hill and faces the Basilique de Valère, located on the opposite hill. Built 1290-1308 by the Bishop of Sion, Boniface de Challant, as his principal residence. After descending down the crumbling stairs (which is always more treacherous than going up) we made a pit stop at bottom of the castles for some food and wine. We then hiked up the facing castle Basilique de Valère which was far less difficult. Upon returning back into town we stared in awe at a Driver-less mini bus. These are “self-driving” electric minibuses guided by GPS and radars. They stop and honk if they spot an obstacle and can accommodate eleven passengers.
One thing I was learning about traveling with Mark Longnecker is he loves to work out. No elevators allowed on this trip, stairs only! Each morning I would be coming down for coffee and he would just be returning to the hotel after a run up to one of the castles.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday is Convention time!
The 23rd or th (inside joke) edition of the Alchemy Tattoo Convention takes place in the town of Conthey, Switzerland. It is an intimate, family and friends convention with 140 tattoo artists, pierces, shops and plenty of food trucks. They had tattoo competitions that Mark and James judged. As well as a children’s drawing contest and face painting. James won Tattoo of the Day for a beautiful phoenix rising tattoo he completed. One of Monique’s closest female friend was of constant help to us. Plus, lots of bikers in attendance. Can you imagine biking around Switzerland?? I would love to go back to do that! I have been to many tattoo conventions and was excited about experiencing a women run tattoo convention! It embraced a completely different atmosphere than I had never experienced before or since.
Maybe Monique’s description could help explain, before arriving Monique emailed me, “We are a very warm and welcoming local population. Mostly tattoo bikers, but none in MCs- ok. We are a all long time friends, have BBQ and parties throughout the year. Simple people, no jet set here. More of a family. The convention is also very family welcome. Loads of kids with parents. We have to local art school girl that comes and draws on the kids with felt pens both afternoons. The kids cannot wait for this every year. We have a contest for them in the afternoons and of course, they all win candies.”
Once the convention began, we met some talented traveling tattoo artists who frequent this convention each year because of the mood of the convention. It was great to meet Boris Bianci who splits time between Miami and Scotland and Penny Boy from Italy.
This is where I also met for the first time, The Angel of Death (and his girlfriend), the “real Colombian vampire” who I later saw in Medellin, Colombia.
Some of the food served were the classic, Raclette which is a dish indigenous to parts of Switzerland. The raclette cheese round is heated, either in front of a fire or by a special machine, then scraped onto diners’ plates or bread.
After Tattoo Convention Thermal Spas
The day after the convention the tattoo artists are typically exhausted. We decided to treat our bodies by going to the top of a mountain to experience Swiss thermal spas. We climbed our way all squished together in a very small taxi up the mountain to Hotel des Bains d’Ovronnaz. This gorgeous establishment had 3 indoor and outdoor swimming pools, facing the grandiose alpine mountain’s views where we all could recharge our batteries in the beauty of Swiss nature.
Town of Gruyères
The following day Monique picked us up in a mini bus to show us around her beautiful country and to meet the tattoo legend Filip Leu . We drove up, over and down numerous hillsides and mountains through beautiful fields to a tiny, walled, medieval town named Gruyères. We stopped for lunch then were led up the dead end road to the one and only HG Giger Museum.
Chances are you are familiar with his best-known creation; he is the artist behind the monsters from the Alien movie franchise. Swiss-born, Giger fell in love with the village at an exhibition there in the 1990s, and now the town’s medieval walls house his museum dedicated to his art and contains the world’s largest collection of his works. No photos or videos are allowed in the museum. NOT TO BE MISSED is his bar across from the museum. The ceiling is like the inside of one his creature’s ribcage, with vertebrae twisting along its vaulted ceiling and dead baby heads. An absolute must do after viewing his creator creations to now enjoy a cocktail inside one of his creatures.
Meeting Filip Leu the legend
It was time to get back onto the mini bus because we had plans to visit Filip Leu, owner of The Leu Family’s Family Iron over an hour away in Ste-Croix Switzerland. Filip is third-generation artist and second-generation tattooer, Filip Leu is a pioneer and master of tattooing, now specializing in Japanese tattooing. Both James Vaughn and Mark Longenecker also specialize in Japanese tattooing and were excited to meet this legend. You could consider Filip Leu as one of the founding fathers of modern tattooing. He has trained and influenced many of his contemporaries and is an inspiration to the upcoming generation. Filip received his first tattoo from his father at the age of 10 and had been taught the art of tattooing by age 12. We were greeted by Titine Leu and shown around the studio which was packed with books, sketches, and visual inspiration. They both graciously spent time with us and Filip discussed passionately the art of drawing waves with James and Mark. You can see more in his book “Waves by Filip Leu”.
Thank you Monique epic Switzerland Experience
This was such a fantastic amazing day none of us will ever forget and we still cannot thank Monique for going so completely out of her way to show us such beautiful moments in Switzerland. As you likely know it takes years to successfully organize a tattoo convention and typically organizers are beyond exhausted after they are over. Monique truly made our trip to Switzerland very special and we all are so thankful to her for this.
She then dropped us off in the city Lausanne for the night. We stayed in such quaint and super affordable lodging Hôtel AlaGare close to the train station. We ate breakfast the next morning sitting in a room with a motorized toy train that ran throughout the glass floor.
We set off to the airport by train to board our flights to London to attend the Skin Deep UK tattoo convention the following weekend.
Next blog post LONDON!