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April 2006

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The third leg of this trip was Switzerland, Geneva to be exact, where I was welcomed and shown around by my son.
I took the TGV (speed train) from Paris. It is a pleasant 3 hour ride amid vineyards and mountains. I was cheap and got a second class tickets but it is a far cry from the trains I remember as a young backpacker. These are modern, clean and quiet, with large picture windows. Although I did not check it out, there is food and drink available.
We started my visit with a leisurely stroll around the lake. This is Lac Leman, the largest freshwater lake in Western Europe, holding some 89 trillion litres. It’s really just a big bulge in the course of the River Rhône. Its water takes an estimated seventeen years to cover the 73km to Geneva before flowing on through France to an outlet into the Mediterranean near Marseille. Although the lake is only 14km wide at its broadest point, it plunges to 310m maximum depth and is subject to heavy winds which rip across the surface, causing stormy conditions not unlike an inland sea. Geneva is positioned at its western tip. The water jet is a land mark of the city, and shoots up some 140 meters up in the air. It is lit up at night and only gets shut down in very windy weather.

The lake is surrounded with jewellery stores offering incredibly expensive merchandise. There had been a watchmakers conference during the previous week so there were billboards depicting beautiful timepieces all over the city.

Along the walk we see gardens and stately homes, sculptures and monuments.

One of them remembers Empress Elizabeth (known as Sissi) who was murdered here.

Jean Jacques Rousseau, who lived in Geneva, is also remembered with a statue. Rumor has it that because there were mixed feelings about him, his statue was placed in an isolated spot on the small island in the middle of the lake, but when a bridge was built he was suddenly very much in view.


Small yellow taxi boats called "mouettes" (sea gulls) carry people across the lake, for the price of a bus ticket.


We stopped by the flower clock that is a favorite photo spot with tourists.


The next day we visited the old city. We stopped at an open air market along the way to pick up some local produce.

There are wonderful gardens hidden behind gates and walls. I could not stop photographing houses, their shutters, doors, tiled roofs.

But the main attraction is the church: Cathédrale Saint Pierre. From the outside there are three visible styles to it. It started as a catholic church but was then transformed into a protestant once and was stripped of all its ornaments save for the stained glass windows....and, of course, Calvin's chair!


The main body of the church is rather austere, but there is an adjoining chapel in a totally different style that is much more colourful.

There is an archeological museum underneath the church. And at the other extreme you can climb up 135 steps to get to the top of the bell towers, where you have a breathtaking view of the city.

The stairs are so small that there are red and green lights to indicate when to start climbing or when to wait.

Next we visited the Maison Tavel which is the oldest house in Geneva. It has been transformed into a museum. The first exhibit is a hand made scale model of Geneva as it stood in 1850. It is made of copper and brass every little detail has been reproduced.


Then we walked to the wall of the reform. There are sculptures depicting all the important contributors to the reform movement. It is located in a beautiful park, where I spot these unusual flowers.

After a tram ride we end up in the United Nations vicinity. We cannot get very close to the buildings but did catch a glimpse of the grand entrance. Close by is a house with an interesting pool...


I noticed these signs on some buildings. They indicate the way for pilgrims walking to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.


The following day we rent a car and head out to the village of Raron for the Ringkunhkampf, known in French as Le combat des Reines. It is a cow contest to decide who will be queen of the herd. There are categories according to age. The prizes are new bells hanging from ornate leather collars.


I am still not clear on what criteria are used to disqualify the loosers but what we did see was that the cows are brought in in groups of eight, untied and then are expected to butt heads. These are strong animals and you could feel the ground shake when two of them hit each other.

The announcements were made in German and French but the food served there was definitely German.

After we leave Raron we drive to the village of Grimentz. It is a scary drive up, along steep cliffs but well worth it, as it is a very picturesque village! I am told that in summer time there are red geraniums everywhere.

Buildings that held grain were built on stilts to keep mice out.


The following day, which is my last day, we drive over to the village of Chamonix in France to go up to Mont Blanc. This is the highest summit in western Europe. Although we were concerned about the weather as it was cloudy in the valley, once we got there we were rewarded with glorious sunshine and sparkling blue skies. We rode two gondolas up to the Aiguille du Midi and then had a variety of terraces to look out from, each one, one more flight of stairs up.

We went up to 3842 meters, which is 12 605 feet. I did get dizzy but was not scared. All that I needed to do was sit down for a few minutes and breathe a couple of deep breath before ascending higher. Need less to say the view is breathtaking. We could see snowy peaks in every direction, we could see the valley below through fluffy clouds,

We saw skiers, hikers, climbers and gliders...each one of them a thousand times braver than I will ever be. Notice the tiny yellow parachute on the last photo.

I had a hard time leaving this picturesque country where everyone is so polite, everything is so clean and mostly, everything runs on time! Waking up in my bedroom was a letdown after having awakened to the sight of snow covered mountains for the last few days. Oh! YES we did have swiss fondue and it was lovely! Another taste discovery, which was not typically Swiss but very nice nonetheless was a pineapple and basil sherbet. The only downside to all this is that the cost of living is exhorbitant....
Coming back, I got a nice treat at the airport. As I was very early, the Lufthansa employe offered me to use the executive lounge. They always told us in school to dress neatly when we travel, it enhances our chances of getting upgrades...I guess they were right...