Strolling the terraces Levou; Cycling in Sion; Snow comparing Chamonix

Day two in Geneva brought us yet another beautiful spring day and Pierre and I set out for the station, caught a train to Montreaux where we walked around the market while waiting for the ferry, and what a ferry it was – I must say I thought it rather grand compared to the old ferry to Ellis Island in the USA .
Montreaux
Montreaux
From Montreaux we took the ferry to Veytaux-Chillon where you get to see the Chillon Castle, an island castle located on Lake Geneva, which began as a Roman outpost guarding the strategic road through the Alpine passes. The station at Veytaux is quaint and one can wander down to the edge of the Lake below where we ate our apples and sandwiches while waiting for the train…which of course arrived right on time, cause, Swiss.
Chillon Castle
Chillon Castle
Veytaux Station
Veytaux Station
We started the Lavaux trail at the medieval town of St Saphorin. With it’s old winegrowers stone houses dated between 16th and 19th century, the narrow, cobbled roads and the vines clinging precariously to the hillside sloping down towards the water the town makes you feel as though you have been transported back in time .  The actual vine terraces can be traced back to the 11th century, when Cistercian and Benedictine monasteries controlled the area.  It covers 800 hectares and as of 2007 has been protected by UNESCO.
Lavaux Vineyard Terraces _ St Saphorin
Lavaux Vineyard Terraces _ St Saphorin
Levaux Terraces
Levaux Terraces
The morning chill had worn off and the sun reflected off the lake and soon of the sheen of sweat on myself. However, there are shaded benches thoughtfully placed along the steep winding paths allowed us to stop and admire the view, with a glass of chilled wine of course.
Wine on the Levaux Terrace
Wine on the Levaux Terrace
The views are breathtaking no matter where you look and offers a constant delight for the eyes. We wandered along the trails for about 11km before Sara kindly picked us up in Lutry.  We stopped here to wait for traffic to die down and enjoy a bite to eat alongside the lake. Later that evening Randall, Sara and ourselves went down to the local food festival and indeed between the 4 of us it was indeed festive and before we knew it, it was the following day!
Day three I got to do something I’d never done before; I got to see a stage of the Tour de Romandie which marks the end of the spring one-day Classics and the beginning of the stage races that dominate the summer months of the World Tour calendar. Randall is insanely fit and active and wanted to use part of the road race as a training ride of about 60km.  We drove him to a starting point near the town of Sion and grabbed some lunch – sympathy carbo loading – before setting off to find a path to the ruins we could see on one of the nearby hills.
Randall Chinchilla and bike
Randall Chinchilla and bike
The town of Sion is flanked by the hills of Valeria and Tourbillon and the ruins we saw at the top were that of the cathedral of Valeria it was the 13th century summer residence of the bishops of Sion and is a mix of Romanesque and Gothic styles, sadly it was destroyed by a fire in 1788. There is also a beautiful chapel, The All Saints Chapel from the 14th century and we enjoyed reviving our scanty knowledge of the saints with the help of a lovely young woman who worked there.
Cathedral of Valeria
Cathedral of Valeria

Then we set off once more to meet our intrepid cyclist at the top of the mountain at a place called Vex.  Some well earned refreshment for Randall and then we got to watch the official riders come past climbing the hill in various stages of exhaustion before they sped down back into the town of Sion.

Snow place like Chamonix
From Sion we went onwards to Chamonix and this was possibly the most exciting part for myself and Pierre because we got to see, touch and stand in real snow!  I’ve seen snow flakes falling outside a train window as we whizzed past, and I’ve seen slushy bits of leftover ice in Leadville but this was the real deal…mounds and mounds of white, crusty snow. Here we behaved …well just like people who’ve never seen snow before.

Saffers see Snow!
Saffers see Snow!

The first ski town I was ever in was Aspen which is absolutely lovely but very ‘exclusive’ and made me feel uncomfortable because, as weird as this sounds, I saw no beggars and very, very few non whites – and those I did see were in service positions.  Now, while I wish no person ever had to beg, the fact is that a town with no sign of poverty can only be that way because the poor are kept out. A place where the rich can set aside their social conscience and be with ‘people like them.’ Chamonix felt far more inclusive and less snooty, though make no mistake ski-ing is clearly not a cheap sport.  There were lots of families and groups of friends and a pretty laid back attitude, a gent sitting on the side walk asked for change first in French, then switching to English when he realised we were not from around there.  So, vastly different to Aspen in that regard. In Geneva I’d noticed it was a very dog friendly place, here in the village there were some lovely, large canines – making me feel a mixture of home sick and feeling at home.

Chamonix
Chamonix

 

The town itself is in fact a ski resort at the intersection of Italy, Switzerland and France a resort area charming but, as mentioned unpretentious it nestles between some pretty impressive mountains not least of which is Mont Blanc the highest summit in the Alps.  The next morning while Randall and Sara set off for a hike myself and Pierre caught the ski-lift up to Aigulle Du Midi  3842 metres.  Now given that one can begin to feel the effects of altitude at 3000 metres it was interesting to experience it given that the lift takes you up quite swiftly.  Granted this was nothing dramatic but rather a slight light headedness and feeling a bit like you took a shot of tequila on an empty stomach.

It was icy, freezing and exhilarating out in the snow.  We saw real glaciers, something I never thought I’d ever be able to say and I felt a bit like a kid and Pierre even more so.  It was decided then and there  – we were definitely going to come back again to play in the snow, a few ski-ing lessons perhaps maybe some snow-boarding.   Below us we watched the brave / deranged folk who were braving the back mountains – puny little humans set against the huge backdrop of mountain and snow.  A visit to the little museum for real Alpiners show various ways to die..I mean climb, abseil, base jump etc on the mountain.  It makes boxing look like a sensible sport with minimal chance of injury and thats’ not even taking in the possibility of hypoxia and frostbite.  Nonetheless we were now converted to the joys of snow and the vibe of Chamonix in particular and on the trip back to Geneva mulled over the kind of ‘ski-ing’ suitable for non-skiers.

Back in Geneva Randall mentioned he knew this girl who was in a punk band and who was playing that night – so off we set off to go and watch  The Mighty Bombs a punk band boasting two lasses and a lad…This was totally cool for so many reasons, not least of which was it kicked off at 5:30 pm …a very reasonable time for someone like me who turns into a pumpkin at midnight.   I wish all music events began at such a reasonable hour for oldies like me who like to rock out but also be in bed with their vitamins and a good book by 11pm.  Secondly, they’re small, not (yet?) famous and were playing in a small funky record store which gave it all a very authentic feel. Finally, because it was early, at least 5 of the fans were under the age of 11.  All responsibly wearing noise-cancelling headphones of course, the preteens got bored fast and stepped out but next to me was a little lass of about 5 who, even when her mom asked, preferred to stay.  She was totally focused on the band, watching, thumb occasionally in mouth, no smiles – the toughest, cutest critic I’ve ever seen.

The Mighty Bombs
The Mighty Bombs Punk Band playing in Geneva

 

Geneva was nothing like I expected to find, no doubt there is a bustling, modern city however where our friends live is quaint, with lots of old architecture and nearly everything in easy walking distance.  Furthermore though marijuanna isn’t legal to buy there it is legal to smoke it and, my nose can confirm, very popular.  All in all it offered so many great experiences and we really felt that we’d done and enjoyed so much and having ‘locals’ who shared our interests and who were such great hosts just added a whole new level to the fun had.

Geneva

The best part about travelling are the experiences and the people you meet along the way. We are now travelling to Geneva, somewhere we haven’t been before, so plenty of new experiences await, and we’ll be staying with a couple we met in Morocco, Sara and Randall .

We land in a very chilly Amsterdam and make our connecting flight easily, it may help that the flight itself has been delayed.  A further delay when upon landing in Geneva Dot recalls she has left her passport on the plane…!  They find it easily though it takes awhile and then we are finally on our way.

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Magnificent Mountains of Springdale Utah and # Vegas Strong in Nevada

What to say about about Springdale, Utah? A small town in the shadow of the giant mountain ranges of Zion National Park it was originally settled in 1862 by Mormon farming communities fleeing flooding in nearby Northrop. It was they who named the canyon Zion.  At last count (2016) it had a population of 570.  Continue reading “Magnificent Mountains of Springdale Utah and # Vegas Strong in Nevada”

Colorado: Alpine Perfection and Dining in Denver

This part of the world couldn’t be more different to New York! The people are chatty and friendly, joshing one another and new arrivals equally. It all started with the train ride from the plane to luggage collection…yes, this airport is so huge you have to take a bus to get to luggage collection, and then, if you are hiring a car you get another bus that takes you put to the car hire section. In terms of size it’s the largest in the States 33,531 acres to be exact. It also has some cool conspiracy theories attached to it https://www.buzzfeed.com/rickysans/the-mysterious-conspiracy-theories-surrounding-the-denver-ai?utm_term=.bc0KA1pRw#.ahzZal2Bq  but sadly I didn’t get to see any of the creepy murals.

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Serendipity and Heaven

We woke early on the morning of the chimp trek because ideally one wants to be on the trail early, around 6am. Unlike Gorilla’s, whose sheer size and weight makes spending the night in a tree unlikely if not fatal (we heard of one Silverback who’d died falling out of a tree) the chimps build themselves nests high up in the branches and spend the afternoons in the tree tops sunning themselves, so the best time to see them closer to the ground is in the mornings when they come down to forage. We’d just got on the road when our guides Sam and Moses got a call to say the Chimp guide, a gent by the lofty name of Everest, was stuck. He’d been going to ride with another two tourists but he’d just discovered that their car had broken down the night before. We turned around immediately and about half a mile down the road we picked up Everest, Cyril and Yang.  Everest was born and raised in Rwanda, Cyril was from the States now working for a few months in Rwanda and Yang is Chinese but studying and working in the States for the last couple of years.

So we set out, 3 couples in the group, following Everest who was talking to trackers ahead. We’d come to find chimp’s in the trees but, what we didn’t expect was the sheer colour and variety of the flora and fauna that nestled beneath the tree canopy.  Brilliantly coloured fungi clung to rocks, beautiful orchids peeped between branches or nestled in valleys, butterflies flitted past while we stepped carefully around dark streams of giant ants…I felt like Alice through the looking glass, peering at one rather bold caterpillar I found myself looking for his pipe.  Everest had to plead with us “come, we need to find the chimps. Pictures later.”

 

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Rwanda : no easy answers

Before this trip all I knew about Rwanda was that there had been a horrendous genocide years ago and, they had silver back gorillas. I vividly recall watching with horror the “ethnic civil war” that erupted in this beautiful country. The simplified media view at the time was ethnic tensions that had exploded….I thought to myself , how can a country or its people ever recover from this ??? Impossible!

The scale of the genocide, the way in which ordinary people,  neighbours, co workers and even friends slaughtered one another was (and remains largely) inconceivable to me. So when our guide collected us from Kigali airport around 1pm and suggested we first stop at The Memorial Remembrance and Learning Centre in Kigali I jumped at the opportunity to try to better understand what happened in 1994. http://www.kgm.rw

It’s a beautiful memorial reminiscent of the Holocaust Museum in Nuremberg in that it serves not only to show respect for those murdered but also implores us not to forget, to learn from our past atrocities. Entrance is free and they offer audio tours, books etc, the cost of which goes towards maintaining the centre and of course they welcome donations.  Interned here are the bodies of 250 000 victims of the genocide, allowing them a final resting place and those who mourn them a place to find what solace they can.  The children’s room tries to pay its respects by giving a personal face to some of the children slaughtered placing their photos above information such as name, age, favourite foods and playthings. The Memorial rightly places this atrocity in the greater context of world events and shares other acts of genocide and politicides that have occurred in history. Continue reading “Rwanda : no easy answers”

Berlin: Sony Centre, The Berlin Wall and The Tiergarten

3 days is definitely not long enough to really experience a city with as much history and as complex and cosmopolitan as Berlin but it was enough time to make me keen to go back for more. Our accommodation was perfect. We were staying in Potsdamer Platz on the 12th floor (an elevator, no stairs thank goodness!) in one of seven blocks making up the Sony Centre with its beautifully designed buildings, a mix of residential apartments and offices tower above with The Sony store; Starbucks etc below along with a plethora of pubs and restaurants their table and chairs spilling out to encircle a little fountain.   This is all enclosed with a domed roof of steel and glass, open above the buildings and on the sides but covering the centre courtyard itself. Continue reading “Berlin: Sony Centre, The Berlin Wall and The Tiergarten”

Cologne: Cathedrals and Chocolate

A 5 hour trip by train transports us from Munich to Cologne. This time our apartment was far more what I am familiar with when staying in Europe. An old building with a narrow winding staircase. Puff puff, pant pant, we lugged our luggage up, assisted by some kindly German chap who noticed us struggling to get into, as it turns out, the wrong apartment. Continue reading “Cologne: Cathedrals and Chocolate”

The English Gardens and Mullings on Munich

Saturday in Munich dawned bright and beautiful, perfect for a run through The English Gardens. Created in 1789 and with an area of 3.7 km2 it is larger than Central Park ! Continue reading “The English Gardens and Mullings on Munich”

Salzburg is so pretty, oh so pretty ….

Some of us have to work even while travelling. Lucky for us not Ann nor I. So we left Pierre to his business meeting and set out to find the Radius Tour office at the station. Our group was large so we were divided between 2 tour guides; an Aussie, with a loud voice and a dog called Bernie and a lovely Spanish lass called Lucia. I was hoping we would be in Bernies group. Ann, having just realised that Salzburg was in another country  (Austria,…but you knew that of course), was hoping that the fact she had left her passport back at the apartment wasn’t going to be a problem. It wasn’t. And, while we ended up in Lucia’s group, she turned out to be warm, funny and very well informed. ..plus Bernie travelled on the same train so I  got to scratch him behind his silky little ears anyway.

Continue reading “Salzburg is so pretty, oh so pretty ….”