Gallery of Geneva, Yvoire and Nyons
Swiss Alps Gallery
I felt so guilty leaving Paris. It's as if Paris was a beautiful woman I'd met, wined, dined, and then left early in the morning to flee to the Swiss border. Not only had I left, but I'd done do despite sharing her taste in film, music and art. What was I thinking? Why did I leave? I resolve to return some day soon to atone for my Cassanovian behaviour, and er...do Paris properly.
But I didn't have time for metaphorical women - I had to get to Challex, a little town on the border between France and Switzerland, where I was to be kindly hosted by Edouard (a colleague from Pop Health) and his family. And what a welcome - Roast Lamb as soon as I walk in the door! It's been far too many months between roasts.
It was great to be back in a home again - and not *just* because I had breakfast, dinner and lunch prepared - it probably had a lot to do with the lack of bunk beds, having my own room, and the warmth and company that comes with being in a family home. Edouard and Kate were great hosts - the very first day I was there they whisked me off to Gruyeres, a tiny French village nestled within a ring of imposing mountains. Yeah, it's got a beautiful castle, breathtaking scenery (it's quite high up - ha! Sorry.), and the local culture is meticulously preserved and exhibited. But it's really all about the cheese. As soon as we got up there, we were straight into the cheese tarts and fondue. Lovely, oily, dripping, fatty cheese, at eleven in the morning. It's how life is meant to be lived.
My life now newly defined by cheese, the next day I boarded the ferry to sail the low seas (er...not even! -Ed) of Lake Geneva. It was a perfect sunny day (I really need to figure out how I'm doing that) and incredibly meditative and relaxing. Well, until I got frisked by two customs officers, anyway. You see, Lake Geneva is actually half Swiss, half French - a fact hitherto unknown to me. So when I was asked to produce my passport and then everything in my bag and pockets, I was a little nervous. I figured the beard made me look like a drug dealer or something. Then I noticed that they didn't seem to ask anyone else on the ferry for THEIR passports...my experience touring Spain kicked in, and for the rest of the ferry I was convinced I was going to get rolled as soon as I set foot on land - a mental state not exactly helped when they disembarked at the same port. I ran and hid around the corner - a solid covert tactic that would surely have been effective had they not seen me poking my head around the corner to check whether I'd been followed. Yep, I'm double agent material.
My weaving, erratic walk away from the port must have been sufficient, because pretty soon I lost my presumed "tail", and was therefore free to enjoy the charm of the quintessential french town of Yvoire. Cottages by the lake, row-boats whimsically pulled up on the shore, million dollar yachts not so charmingly but just as impressively moored on the piers. The lunch prices were equally as impressive - expensive even by Swiss standards, but can you really put a price on enjoying good french wine in a cottage restaurant by the lakeside...in France? Well, I guess you can, as my bank balance attests.
To my mind, gallivanting around greater Geneva couldn't top the generous hospitality of Edouard, Kate, and their family. As if they needed to prove themselves, they put on a typical Aussie barbie for dinner! It had been far too long. Well, I say typical Aussie barbie, but the beer was german, the wine was french (from the vinyard next door, no less), the meats and cheeses were from the local market and we were enjoying our dinner surrounded by the Jura Mountains on one side and the Swiss Alps on the other. Thanks guys - I thoroughly enjoyed it and it was one of the highlights of my entire European trip.
Reluctantly leaving behind the comfortable life to which I'd become accustomed over the previous two weeks, I left Geneva and headed for the world famous winter resort town of Zermatt, notably situated at the foot of one of Europe's most famous mountains, The Matterhorn. Many people die every year attempting to climb the Matterhorn, so I figured I'd leave those of surer foot than I to give it a go. I took the more stately option of a steep train trip to the nearby summit of Gornergrat in the hope of a decent photo. Mother Nature had other ideas and all I really got was a shot of the foot of a potentially impressive mountain and a quaint little hut. I doubt I'll be getting the Nature Photographer of the Year Award for that one. There's always next year.
I was definitely in Zermatt during the wrong season, but I can't ski or snowboard anyway so just trekking around the peaks and secluded valleys was enough for me. And anyway, the real reason I was in Zermatt wasn't to see the "Mighty" (shy!) Matterhorn, it was to experience one of the world's premier train journeys, the Glacier Express. In one fell swoop I would cross the breadth of Switzerland in eight hours, passing directly through the Swiss Alps over nearly 300 bridges, through 91 tunnels, and reaching a high point of just over 2,033m. Yep, all that from memory - definitely not Wikipedia, no sir. There's something to be said for sipping mochas and red wine alternately as one gazes out the window at the Alps, sedately transported by the slowest express train in the world.
The Glacier Express links the two ski resorts of Zermatt and St. Moritz, so naturally I arrived and yet another ghost town. St. Moritz is completely dead at this time of year - the summer crowd hasn't yet arrived, and the winter crowd is long, long gone, arthritic knees and all. Actually, there were quite a lot of arthritic knees around, and I'm not including mine. It was definitely not a young crowd, but I nevertheless managed to pass the days with a German 747 pilot and a salon manager from Minnesota, walking around during the day, drinking and losing pool during the evenings (er...all part of the social graces).
A last minute train booking saw me in Lucerne a few days later, solely on the strength of having it described to me as "the real Switzerland". I don't know what I'd been seeing for the previous two weeks, but I wasn't going to miss out in case I'd mistakenly been seeing Germany or Italy instead. I do have a bad sense of direction, after all.
Upon arrival, I'm inclined to agree with whoever provided that description. A beautiful lake, surrounding mountains shaped just as you'd imagine them, a small town with various points of interest but large enough to have good bars and clubbing - something I'd been missing from the last three weeks of traveling. The best way to see Lucerne is by taking the "golden roundtrip" - a cruise between the mountains, alighting at the foot of Mt. Pilatus where you take the world's steepest railway to the summit (a 48 degree incline in places!) and then hike around the peaks for a few hours. Once you get tired of hiking, what better way to utterly run yourself ragged than a few toboggan runs and tree-suspended rope obstacle courses? Great ideas. Followed by a few beers overlooking the valley below? Even better. To complete the roundtrip, sleep your way down the mountainside in gondolas, then miss your bus stop on the way home just to extend the round-trip a bit and really get your moneys-worth.
In yet another surprise, I didn't realise I'd be staying in an exclusively Korean hostel. I probably should have read the HostelWorld description a little more carefully rather than clicking "Submit" after reading "Free, Fast Wifi". Not that I minded, I just wasn't expecting to have to wear slippers inside - it reminded me of being in Japan! I also wasn't expecting a vegetarian rice dish for breakfast every morning, but it was the best breakfast I've had my entire trip. Tasty, and it kept me going until dinner - I doubt I could have climbed Mt. Pilatus without it. Staying up late and drinking fine red wine with the old guy in the other room and talking football was the real treat, though.
Well, dear Reader, it's been a priviledge to have you along as this entry marks the end of my freewheeling travels for a few months. I write this entry from Zurich, in a sun-dappled courtyard as the gentle murmur of the other caffeine addicts is subtly overlaid by a spanish saxophone and guitar duo, and it all makes me a bit reflective. I've been travelling for just four months, but I feel as if the itch has barely been scratched. I've found Traveling to be intoxicating - sometimes it's the perfect sunrise, or a touching sunset, or the perfect alignment of weather and scenery. A lot of the time, though, it's the people I've met. I haven't even written about most of them - the conversations in bars over football and a beer, the bravely initiated chats over breakfast in hostels, meeting fellow travelers and eschewing previous plans to spend the day with them. This trip has impressed upon me the rewards of a simple "hello", the karma of helping a stranger, and the unexpected delights of an utter lack of planning. I mean, the only planned section of this trip was the first month in Germany! I've made firm friends, enjoyed the transient company of others, and developed an appreciation for the beauty of my home in Australia - both for the place and the the people. It takes getting away to appreciate what you have.
Yes, I realise this almost reads like an Eulogy. I'm not sure what died, but it certainly isn't my desire to travel. I'll be spending the next few months in London, begging for work and saving pennies (actual pennies!) for the next leg of my journey. My girlfriend Krysty will be joining me, and together we'll surely be getting lost twice as often, but enjoying it twice as much all the same. So expect a lull in updates, but I'll be back in full force in a few months. Thanks for reading - but please, go find something more substantial, like a good book.