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Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Annecy is another picturesque town on a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. That seems to be the theme this week. As is renting a bike to explore the lakefront. I took the easy flat trail, but there are also much more ambitious trails for people like Carol and Gary.

I stopped to watch people playing chess in a public park

And even though it was a Monday afternoon, there were plenty of people in the parks and in the water.

The historic center of Annecy is especially picturesque with its ancient buildings, narrow pedestrian streets, canals, and boats for lake cruises.

This is perhaps the most photographed spot of all - the "Palais de l'Isle" a prison built in the twelfth century.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I arrived in Geneva on Sunday morning which is a great time to visit parks, and not a great time if you want to go shopping. The normally bustling city streets were completely empty.

Everyone was playing in the water or in the parks. This platform in the lake serves as a "beach"

Complete with changing rooms and a diving platform:

Now that I've gotten the hang of renting bikes, it's a great way to explore the town. Especially the lake fronts which are nice and flat. No work required. The bikes are even free for the first four hours, and I had to wait around a bit for one to be available. Geneva is a major UN headquarters and there were some very evocative exhibits regarding the peace process as well as a series of globes with messages promoting concern for earth's fragile environment.

I also explored the lake in a boat. The boat is a regular shuttle taking people back and forth across the lake and the price was included in the free transport ticket given out by the hotel. There is a huge fountain in the middle of the lake. It's ~460ft high and one the largest in the world. I didn't realize how lucky I was to see it as it wasn't working on Monday morning when I left.

What a great way to pass a Sunday!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


There are steamboats on Lac Léman too. I was in Montreux exploring when a steamboat bound for Vevey pulled up and I hopped on.

I was fascinated by the workings of the steam engine and paddle mechanism.

They stop and reverse the engine using mechanical controls. It was amazing to watch.

So why did I want to go to Vevey? That is where the "Alimentarium" or "Museum of Food" is located and you all know how I feel about food!

The building was quite beautiful.

With a cool sculpture in front.

The gardens all around the building were a veritable potager with hundreds of different vegetables and culinary herbs. There were even vegetables planted in the walkway that runs along the lakefront through the town of Vevey.

The museum itself had all kinds of educational exhibits about food, nutrition, digestion, eating habits and food history from around the world. It also had a kitchen with demonstrations and a cafe with a three course swiss lunch.

I was well into my visit before I realized that the building was the former world headquarters for the Nestle corporation which is based in Vevey. Nestle is the largest food company in the world with ~$100B in revenue per year. I suddenly had a sinking feeling as I remembered the Nestle boycott which started in the late 1970's due to promotion of infant formulas over breastfeeding in the third world. The controversy continues and I noticed in hindsight that there was no mention of infant formulas or breastfeeding in any of the exhibits.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


After the visit with Charles and his family I am slowly making my way west towards Paris where I'll move into a new apartment on July 1st. Until then I'm traveling au pif and checking out some places that I've never seen.

Montreux is one of those places that I'd heard of and it's at the end of a scenic trainride from Thun. I'm sure all of you jazz lovers have heard of Montreux and its Jazz Festival, and you're probably thinking that I was crazy to be there just one week before the festival is to begin and not hang around for at least a tiny bit of music. The town was empty and I could find a hotel room without any trouble. Workmen are busy setting up stages and tents near the Montreux Palace Hotel in the center of town.

Here's Miles Davis Hall, the main concert venue, although there will be free outdoor concerts scattered throughout the area.

I noticed that there were bikes for rent along the lake. This was a great way to explore the flowered walkways along the lakefront.

The bike also allowed me to check out this castle a few kilometers away:

I waited for the full moon to rise over the mountaintops. I haven't quite mastered the focus on the point-and-shoot, but I'm having fun.

Friday, June 25, 2010


As much as I enjoyed the view from Charles' backyard, I had no idea what lay just up the valley.

On Thursday morning we left early to catch the train at Lauterbrunnen but I didn't really know anything about our destination. You can imagine my surprise as the train, a narrow gauge cog railway climbed higher and higher culminating the world famous Jungfraujoch, Europe's highest cog railway or the "Top of Europe" as it's also called. Here is the view looking down from one of the stops along the way:

The cog railway was was first opened in 1905 and now in addition to tourism, hikers and climbers, it supports a high altitude research laboratory housed in the building known as the Sphinx. Can you see the dome of the observatory on top?

Underneath the building is an Ice Palace carved into the permafrost. At first the floors looked really slippery and my first few steps inside the ice tunnel were quite tentative. Silly me! Of course they weren't as slippery as they looked and I enjoyed the ice sculptures inside.

Needless to say, the views from the top of Europe were absolutely breathtaking. This is the view to the south and the glacier flowing 23 kilometers down to the Rhone valley.

The view to the north and the tracks that we ascended is equally stunning.

This is the Jungfrau peak behind me:

The peaks around here are a haven for hikers and serious climbers. I don't think you can see the climbers on the very top of this peak:

Every peak, every waterfall, every charming village took my breath away. I felt like I must have awakened on the set of the Sound of Music. I wanted to open my arms, twirl around, and pretend to be Julie Andrews singing "The hills are alive . . ." at the top of my voice.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Oberhofen, Switzerland

"I have a cousin in Switzerland whom I've never met. Would you be willing to go and meet him and bring back pictures?" Sonia asked.

Sure! I have no plans and I've never really visited Switzerland, so why not? Besides I'm in between apartments right now. I had a quick visit to Paris to finalize plans for a new apartment then did some laundry and swapped my beach clothes for mountain clothes.

Little did I know what pleasures and surprises awaited me.

I corresponded with Sonia's cousin Charles and we decided on a date: June 23-25. I took the train from Paris to Thun in Switzerland where Charles met me at the station. After a 10 minute drive we arrived at his house:

I couldn't believe my eyes as his house sits right on a lake. Check out the view from the backyard!

The lake is dotted with sailboats, and a swan and some ducks swam by for a visit. The lake is also home to a steam-driven paddleboat that chugs past each evening at 5 pm and again at 7 pm:

The weather was gorgeous and we were able to sit outside on the deck to have dinner. We were joined by Charles' daughter Barbara and her two daughters 2 and a half year old Angelina and 10 month old Elena.

Here is Charles' daughter Barbara with Elena:

And Charles with Elena:

This is Angelina's favorite perch:

Grandchildren can be so much fun! And NO, Philippe and Eric, there is no hurry! I'm not ready to be a grandmother or to come back yet . . .

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fête de la Musique

June 21st, the summer solstice, is celebrated all over France as the Fête de la Musique. There were hundreds of musical groups giving free outdoor concerts all over Paris. The music ranges from classical to ethnic to rock and everything in between. Here are just a few of the groups that I saw walking home after dinner in the half mile between the restaurant and the apartment in Passage d'Enfer.

Notice how light it still is - even at 10 pm.

The groups varied from small rock bands on street corners:

To intimate trios in front of cafes:

There were thousands of people gathered here in the place Denfert-Rochereau just down the street.

I didn't hang around very long at this last one - I felt really old. BTW, there was a lot of smoke in the air - but only cigarette smoke ;-) There was also a lot of trash since the party had been going on all day and many people brought picnics. (Yes, those are McDonald's sacks.) By Tuesday morning everything was all gone and completely clean.

Brief return to Paris

I've returned to Paris just long enough to do some laundry, get a haircut, find another apartment, and repack before leaving again.

I'll be leaving tomorrow morning to travel to Switzerland. That should be quite a contrast after Corsica!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I enjoyed the lovely island of Corsica which has retained much of its original culture and language. When I mention "original culture" my Mom mentioned that she associates Corsica with pirates. Is that true? she asked. Well, here is the unofficial Corsican flag which you see everywhere:

Corsican history also includes words such as "vendetta" and "maquis" and there is still a perceptible current of antiestablishmentarianism. (Thank you Sonia)

Corsica has its own language which looks a little like Italian, but is NOT Italian. The language has seen a resurgence in the last several years and is now taught in schools. It was quite common to hear the language spoken in the streets. Incidentally, there are different dialects spoken in the north of the country (Bastia) vs the south (Ajaccio). The differences in culture and language from north to south and between mainland France and the island of Corsica are not dissimilar to the differences between northern and southern Italy and the Italian islands of Sardinia and Sicily.

Tourism represents a major source of revenue for Corsica and has spared the island from the impact of the recent recession. You see very little of the tourist development that defines resorts like Cancun. In fact, the locals go to great lengths to inhibit residents from "selling out" to developers. Bombings and intimidation are not unknown! That said, I always felt very safe there. There are many advantages when traveling as a gray-haired female. I am usually not seen as a threat or as a target of unwelcome attention.

Finally, I cannot leave Corsica without talking a little bit more about the food.
Corsica is known for its cured meats and cheeses. Here are a couple of photos of just two of the courses featured in a 5 course fixed price meal that I had one evening. This was the first course including local cured meats and homemade terrine de sanglier:

The cheese plate with fig jam was the fourth course. It followed the charcuterie, the tarte au brocciu, and the main course - a delicious but heavy veal stew with polenta. The cheese was followed by dessert - ice cream with chestnut sauce. Everything was good, but too copious and too heavy before bed!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Scandola Nature Reserve

I woke up early to take a boat excursion to the Scandola Nature Reserve up the west coast from Ajaccio. When we first set out, I was second guessing myself again. Why didn't I go yesterday when the weather was better? This morning, the sky is gray. At least I remembered a coat, a hat, and good sunscreen.

It's obvious that I don't normally live near the sea; otherwise, I might understand the variable weather conditions. It wasn't too long before the sun peeked through and the beauties of the Scandola Nature Reserve started to reveal themselves. Scandola is part of the Corsican National Park system and a World Heritage Site. It was created through the process of several volcanic eruptions over the last 50 to 150 million years. Here are just a few of the 120 photos I took today:

The waters are protected too. There is no fishing or diving allowed, and this water is much deeper than it looks.

We stopped for lunch in a tiny village called Girolata.

Here's a reminder that small babies needn't hamper your travel plans. This little 4 month old and her mother were having a wonderful time.

The only way to get to Girolata is by boat - unless you want to hike 7 km to the nearest road. This trail is called "La Route du Facteur" because that's how the mail carrier (facteur) brings mail every day.

The Scandola Nature Reserve also serves as protection for all plant and animal life native to the area. They have had success in encouraging the osprey population to recover. Our guides were great in pointing out several nests with fledgling chicks. Here is one of the nests with mom (or dad?) flying overhead just above the nest on the left.

A day like today is a great reminder of the beauty all around us.