A Travellerspoint blog

Cogwheels and Cocktails

I remember my mum once telling me about a conversation she'd had with her lifelong friend Audrey. She said "We've done things we never dreamed". That's how I feel after today, and that's what reduced me to tears at Rochers de Naye this afternoon. We'll come back to the tears, but we've a bit to get through first!
We've been watching the weather forecasts with interest, aiming to time our activities correctly, as you do. The forecast for our last day in Montreux was for cloud in the morning, clearing by noon. Those Swiss with their precision - spot on!
One of the great things about our apartment is the view. To get a view like that you need to be high in the town, which means climbing hills to get home. After wandering to the old town of Montreux I decided I had little to complain about. To say there are houses perched on hills is an understatement. It makes for a very picturesque outlook both for inhabitant and tourist, but boy it must be maddening carrying the shopping home!
Our plan for the day was to catch the train to Rochers de Naye, one of the Alps, at just over 2000 metres elevation. This is no ordinary train, but one that runs on cogwheels. IMG_3877.jpgThere was a sign up in the station saying there was a restriction to the service, with capacity reduced to only 60 passengers per service. We got our tickets (numbers 40-42) and headed to the platform. Two tiny carriages came into view, and we were jostled by those I will politely call the eager beavers as they raced to get a seat. IMG_3873.jpgIMG_3943.jpg
The take-off was slow, and we wondered when the famed panoramic views would be in evidence. It didn't take long! We'd only been climbing for about 15 minutes when the train stopped at a station where 2 buses were waiting. We were told to get off the train and onto a bus. Not happy! We didn't pay 64 francs to stand on a bus on a very winding road! Thankfully we were deposited at another station and able to reboard the train. We have no idea why the journey was interrupted, but were very glad the bus journey only took about a quarter of the time.
We climbed higher and moved through the clouds. The jeweller we met in Vevey said it would be very clear at Rochers de Nays. There's that precision again. I hope the watch he sold me is as precise! As we got closer to our destination the vista that opened up was extraordinary. IMG_3889.jpgAlighting from the train we were keen to look around, and keen too to find the restaurant Plein Roc, famed both for being built into the cliff face and for its panoramic views. I'd read it was accessed via a tunnel, but we struggled to even find that. Finally a more knowledgable visitor took pity on us and pointed us in the right direction. Not the most inspiring of approaches to a dining experience, but thankfully worth it for both the food and the astonishing views. IMG_2503.jpgIMG_3928.jpg
As we were in the Swiss Alps it seemed only right that we should partake of fondue. Chris and I decided to share, and the bubbling pot of cheesy goodness was delivered with bread, potatoes, gherkins, and tiny onions. IMG_3919.jpg
Unfortunately after I'd paid the bill I realised they'd charged us for 2 serves of fondue. At 25 francs a serve we weren't too happy about that and Barbara and Chris queried it. The waitress indicated they'd given us 2 serves, despite us having asked for one to share. She pretty quickly refunded us the extra cost, so our worst dining experience still remains the debacle that was Flash Pizza!
We had some time before our return train was to depart, so we continued to marvel at the extraordinary views. I found myself overwhelmed with the beauty surrounding me. I can honestly say I have never been in a more spectacular location and would never have dreamed of being in such awe-inspiring surroundings. This is where the tears came in. I could have explained it away as the sun being in my eyes, I suppose! I'm actually struggling to find words to express it, so I'll stop trying. Suffice to say it's an experience I know I will never forget. IMG_2502.jpgIMG_2506.jpg
Having returned to Montreux via train, bus, and train, we walked our way back to our apartment and prepared for our last night in Montreux. We'd decided on Funky Claude's Bar for our evening. Claude Nobs was the founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and clearly revered here. The bar is located at the Montreux Palace Hotel which is very fancy! From the moment we set foot in Funky Claude's we were smiling. It was very quiet when we arrived at 7:30, after stopping by the lake to view a last spectacular sunset. IMG_2514.jpgThe service was impeccable, and the cocktails delicious, not to mention the food. IMG_2532.jpgAdd in a couple of guys providing live music, and our last night was a hit. The walls of the bar are decorated with photos of Claude with many of the musical luminaries who have played at Montreux over the years, from Aretha Franklin to Neil Young and Miles Davis. Funky Claude's was a great way to farewell Montreux. We got to see how the other half live, although to be fair, they were probably recklessly ordering the 350 franc cocktail rather than secreting the leftovers in their handbag!

Posted by apostrophewoman 12:48 Archived in Switzerland Comments (2)

Montreux est magnifique

Following the fiasco that was our meal at Flash Pizza, we were keen to see what else Montreux had to offer. The weather forecast looked promising for Tuesday, so we decided on a cruise on Lac Leman (aka Lake Geneva). 90_IMG_2417.jpgBefore embarking we visited one of Montreux's favoured residents, Freddie Mercury. IMG_3733.jpgWe then headed to Chateau de Chillon, mentioned in a document from 1150, so it's been around a year or two. E127F204C893659E00166D5C7C9E4360.jpgOur vessel was the Vevey, and we were asked if we wanted first class (upstairs) or second class (surely in the bowels of the boat with the riff raff). We opted for first, and scoped out a likely spot from our vantage point on the dock. We headed up the stairs clearly marked as first class passengers only, and settled in for our two hour cruise. There weren't many passengers, but we were surprised to see no evidence of restricting either the riff or the raff from entering our domain, and suspect we could have saved ourselves the extra 15 Swiss francs.

It was a glorious day and the air was full of oohs and aahs as we made our way around just a small portion of this 580 sq km lake. For those boat aficionados among you, the SS Vevey was built in 1907 and has been restored to its Belle Epoque glory. IMG_3769.jpgIMG_3770.jpgIt uses an electrically powered paddle wheel.
It was a wonderful way to get our bearings as we called at various small towns on the lake's edge, and we were interested to see the border between France and Switzerland runs through the middle of the lake. IMG_3752.jpgIMG_3745.jpgE13DA7929076A83293C8297D13C987B2.jpgE137644BCBD96A56AF4EA35F9E9A87B5.jpg

Having disembarked it was time to stock up on provisions so Chris could display his cooking prowess in our well-appointed kitchen. We were pleasantly surprised at the prices in the supermarket, and headed home for the evening.

Wednesday looked like being the cloudiest day of our visit, so we decided on a drive to Les Terasses de Lavaux and Vevey. Les Terasses are an extraordinary UNESCO world heritage site. These vineyard terraces were man made in the 12th century to produce highly reputed wines. We couldn't help but feel for the workers having to negotiate the highs and lows of the terraces as they harvest the grapes. IMG_2462.jpg90_IMG_2456.jpg

Time for lunch and Chris skilfully negotiated the narrow streets to find us a spot to park in the village of Cully. We made our way to Cafe de la Poste where we snaffled the last remaining table. I opted for Rillettes de sanglier ( made from wild boar!). I figure if you can't have boar in Switzerland, when can you? It tasted much better than it looked, which is just as well, given it looked an awful lot like poo. IMG_3819.jpgIMG_2469.jpgMy choice of meal prompted an abundance of suggestions for the title of this post: Going the whole hog; Doing the hog (Chris tells me that's a dance from the 60s); High on the hog; Hog tied. Sounds like a whole lot of hogwash if you ask me!

Our route home took us through Vevey, where we parked the car and strolled the streets by the lake. I'd decided I wanted to buy a watch from Switzerland, and today was the day. The jeweller was very gracious as I managed the transaction in French, especially given I wasn't choosing from the selection in excess of 1000 Swiss francs! 90_IMG_2490.jpg90_IMG_2485.jpg

The other notable occurrence for the day was collectively completing a crossword in French, although I have to admit I only contributed a couple of answers!

Take a fine glass of rose and our leftovers from last night to consume, add a French Jazz Spotify playlist on the iPad and some delicious Swiss pâtisserie, and you have the makings of a marvellous night in Montreux. IMG_2494.jpg

Posted by apostrophewoman 13:33 Archived in Switzerland Comments (1)

From the sublime to the ridiculous

An uneventful train ride to Paris saw me arrive in Montparnasse mid afternoon on Sunday. Having spent three weeks here when I visited two years ago, it felt good to be home. That sense of familiarity was like lolling on the couch under a quilt on a chilly Melbourne day! As my hotel was literally around the corner from my first apartment, I knew exactly where I was headed. I could walk there down Edgar Quinet Blvd, through the artists' market, and onto Blvd Raspail, where I would find Hotel de la Paix. I always start a conversation in French, and most times I can get through without resorting to English. I did ok with the chirpy young fellow behind the hotel desk, getting through where my room was, whether I wanted breakfast, and what time it could be had. He pointed me towards the smallest lift in the world and then I realised I had no idea what he was saying next! After apologising that I didn't understand he switched to English in a trice and explained I should go up in the lift and he would bring my bag as there were a few steps to carry it up. Very kind, thank you, and well worth resorting to English for. IMG_3676.jpg
I'd arranged to meet Barbara and Chris at the entrance to Montparnasse Tower at 6:30 pm. This particular tower is not much to look at, but that's not why you go there. It offers unparalleled views of Paris and we'd timed our visit to allow us to view the city at sunset. It's breathtaking, and not because of the three flights of stairs you have to climb to get from the 56th to 59th floors after the lift stops! IMG_2374.jpgIMG_2372.jpgIMG_2398.jpgIMG_2404.jpg
We had decided that as we were in Montparnasse we would take the opportunity to dine at La Coupole, a legendary Parisian restaurant frequented by others more famous than ourselves. The long list of past patrons includes artists (Picasso, Chagall), authors (Camus, Hemingway), singers (Piaf, Jagger), and now us (Welton, Forehan)! We were escorted to our table and marvelled at the Art Deco masterpiece in which we found ourselves. Kir Royals for three and we were away. We were enjoying our meal when the lights dimmed. A few moments passed and then a chorus of waiters carried a three tiered cake to a table in the middle of the restaurant, singing Joyeux Anniversaire as they went. Everyone applauded, the lights came back up, and we wondered how important you needed to be to be part of that spectacle. Given we witnessed the parade of singing waiters twice more, it seemed a tradition for those celebrating birthdays here, and we decided perhaps a further visit to mark our combined birthdays might be in order! IMG_2408.jpg
We'd had two different waiters attending us, and when it was sadly time to depart we asked the younger of the two for the bill. We placed our money on the table and prepared to leave. The other waiter, unaware we'd received the bill, clearly thought we were about to do a runner and waved our printed bill at us in the politest of manners. We indicated the money on our table and he embarrassedly realised his error. Do we look like people who'd do a runner?!
We rendezvoused at Orly Airport the next morning to pick up our hire car. Despite the best efforts of the Europcar attendant we did not swap our Renault Captur for a VW cabriolet at an extra 40 euro a day! He showed us pictures of it, then moved on to trying to upsell us on an Audi. No dice, monsieur!
We knew we had a long day of driving ahead, but didn't think it would take us the 7 hours the GPS was indicating. Luckily we realised we had selected a town in France with the same name as the one we were heading to in Switzerland. Crisis and misdirection averted, Chris took the wheel and we hit the road. We were expecting it to take around 5 and a half hours, but hadn't reckoned on the number of roadworks we would encounter. Actually, there was little sign of work going on, just an abundance of witches hats. We encountered a small snag when we came to a roadblock (route barrée) but managed to fool the GPS and found ourselves an alternate route. We left Orly at 11:15 and arrived at 6:45 - so much for it not taking 7 hours!
There was a moment when the Alps came into view when we collectively gasped. Extraordinary is an understatement. The snow capped peaks looked perfectly drawn and cloud-like. We made it to Montreux and set about finding our way to our apartment. This was my first AirBnb of the trip, and it's certainly lived up to expectations. It's huge! Barbara and Chris say their London apartment would fit into the kitchen. There are balconies aplenty and the most amazing views. It is impossibly picturesque! IMG_3716.jpgIMG_3721.jpg
Having unloaded our gear we were desperate for something to eat. Often finding something open on a Monday night can be a challenge, and this night was no exception. We wearily made our way to Flash Pizza and ordered pizza and salad to share. The pizza came on a board and the salad in a bowl. We were given knives and forks. Ummm, where are the plates? Pizza dispatched, Barbara headed off to ask for three plates for the salad. It seemed to take a long time, and we joked that he may not have understood her and would return with three party hats! Finally he appeared, and I could tell from from the look on Barbara's face we were about to receive something we hadn't asked for! Sure enough, we were presented with another three plates...of salad! We tried to explain and he seemed to understand. A few minute passed and his colleague came and said "He doesn't understand, what is it that you want?" We explained again, he left, and then returned with...ONE plate. By this stage we were hysterical: tired, in a pizza place with just two kinds of pizza, and aware that if the rumoured cost of visiting Switzerland were true, we'd be parted from many Swiss francs for a less than sterling meal. The contrast in our two dining experiences couldn't have been more stark, and we still had the 1km trek uphill back to the apartment to go!
The weather for the next two days is looking delightful, so we're hoping to cruise the lake this afternoon. It's a tough gig, this grand touring.

Posted by apostrophewoman 02:12 Archived in France Comments (1)

There be pirates!

I arrived in France via a flight to Dinard from Nottingham. Queuing up for the security check I spotted this "bride" and his attendants. Seeing him again later, they had clearly requested he remove his hoop! 90_29727FE2BB71F910A84BF268374B163D.jpg
It seemed the majority of passengers on the flight were Brits with property in the area who picked up their cars from the car park, followed closely by those lining up at the car hire desk. By the time i made it to the taxi rank, a couple and another solo traveller were in the queue, but we were soon joined by another two. No taxis in evidence, one of our number went back inside to enquire about calling one. He was told there was no point as the first wave had departed and we would just have to wait. I suspect from the size of the airport that to call it a wave may have been a bit of an overstatement . Undeterred, he decided he would call his hotel and ask them to order one for him and his companions. After about 5 minutes one appeared, but sadly, despite him rushing to get in, it was not his! The remaining couple and I decided to share it and we each proffered the names of our hotels. They said they had stayed in the centre of Saint-Malo on their previous visit but this time had decided to stay further out. They seemed a bit dismayed when the driver informed them they were 10 minutes by car from the centre. Only after my visit would I understand what a disadvantage that was.
There were a few farcical moments when I was trying to explain the name of my hotel to the driver. I resorted to showing her the piece of paper with the address on it, and she kept asking me what the name of the hotel was. It's a new hotel, unknown to her, and happens to go by the name Hotel L'Adresse. So when I kept repeating that, she clearly thought I was a numbskull who had no idea. That may be true on occasion, but not this time. Confusion sorted, we laughed and were on our way.
I knew I wanted to visit the North of France on this trip, but it took a while to decide just where. I ended up choosing Saint -Malo in Brittany, and I'm so glad I did. I've just spent three nights in this remarkably beautiful place, and I will be sad to leave. I've walked the beach and the ramparts, and strolled the winding streets where there is seemingly a crêperie on every corner.
First, some history. Saint-Malo was founded in the 1st century BC (yep, that's not a misprint!) a short distance from where it now stands. It was fortified further by the Romans and in the 6th century the Irish monks Brendan and Aaron established a monastery here. The corsairs of the 17th/18th centuries acted as official pirates. The King of France granted them licence to go "coursing" after enemy vessels in return for a percentage of the profit from captured ships, hence the name corsairs. Jacques Cartier, credited with discovering Canada in the 16th century, is one of Saint-Malo's most famous sailors. IMG_2322.jpgThe town was almost completely destroyed during WWII, and there have been years of painstaking restoration to bring it back to its former glory.
The old town is surrounded by walls, with this part of the city known as Intra Muros. IMG_3589.jpgIMG_3549.jpgIMG_3473.jpgThere are cafés aplenty, and stores selling the traditional Breton stripes. Cider and salted caramel (not together!) are among the specialities here. It would surely be wrong to leave without a souvenir of each.
I am amazed by the tides here. On my first evening I turned right out of my hotel and found myself at the seafront with waves crashing against the wall, at times lashing those foolish enough to ignore the warning signs. IMG_3488.jpgThe next morning the vista was completely changed: the waves were no more, and in their place lay an expanse of yellow sand and gently lapping water. There was nothing for it but to take off my shoes, roll up the purple pants, and paddle! IMG_3491.jpgIMG_2301.jpgIMG_3534.jpg
At low tide it's possible to walk to Fort National, built in 1689 to protect Saint-Malo's port. At certain times it's possible to enter, but unfortunately for me, not this week. I had to content myself with looking at it from every other possible angle. IMG_2360.jpg
Having walked the beach on Friday, I decided to head for the ramparts on Saturday.90_IMG_3587.jpgIMG_3555.jpgIMG_3562.jpg I enjoyed it so much, I did it twice: at low and high tides! It's possible to walk all the way around the old town, glimpsing life inside the walls. It was a glorious day, and incredibly interesting to see the contrast between the tides.IMG_3581.jpgIMG_2344.jpgIMG_3572.jpg There is an outdoor swimming pool where the only thing visible at high tide is the very top of the diving board!
Speaking of swimming, I witnessed a rather strange ritual on my afternoon walk. I saw a man striding purposefully towards the water's edge. He stopped near a rocky outcrop, and removed his shorts to reveal his togs. Having left his t-shirt on, he walked to the water and went in about ankle deep. I assume he was testing the temperature, as he returned to the rocks and removed his shirt to reveal...another t-shirt. Back to the water, this time to probably knee-height, and then again he returns to the rocks. This time the second shirt is removed, and he heads back to the water. At this stage I decided it was time to move on, lest he return to the rocks and remove his final piece of clothing!
I have been fortunate with the weather as the days have generally been bright and sunny. When rain has briefly fallen I've contented myself with a visit to the hotel lounge and waited it out. 90_IMG_2291.jpgIt was a wee but blustery on the ramparts at sunset, but so worth it for the splendid sights. IMG_2343.jpgThe day is grey for my final morning here, but my spirits will not be dampened.IMG_3547.jpg I may be leaving Saint-Malo, but I'm heading for Paris!

Posted by apostrophewoman 23:39 Archived in France Comments (2)

Play Up Sky Blues!

Remember I said I'd only post again before I got to France if something more exciting than doing my washing happened? I think a night out at the football with three generations of Welton men fits the bill. It wasn't just the football either; there are preliminary activities and post game rituals, all of which added up to a fine night out.
Let's go back to the night before the game, when we were discussing my attendance. I was lucky enough to have scored a free ticket, but I was informed I would be impersonating Roger, or was it Brian? I got a bit confused about who I was supposed to be in the end. We settled on calling me Broger. "It will be ok"' says Chris, in a way that reminded me of Greg :"You could pass for Roger in a certain light". Charming!
We arranged to meet Vincent at the Gas Club pre-match, where I warmed up for the proceedings with a half of cider. I felt ever so slightly out of place as the only woman there, but that didn't last long. Drinks consumed, we headed to Ricoh Arena to watch Coventry City (the Sky Blues) at home to AFC Wimbledon (the Wombles). It's not been the best of seasons for City, in 24th (last) place on the ladder with no wins. At least we could be assured that this match wouldn't be as bad as Richmond's last round - there would be no defeat by over 100 points! I did my best Broger impression as we went through the turnstiles, and we were soon in our seats.
Excitement aplenty: Coventry scored inside the first two minutes! Unfortunately Wimbledon equalised and then went 1 ahead. Vincent headed off just before the 90 minute mark to get the post-match drinks in, and we then moved into 9 minutes of extra time. Yep, 9 minutes - there had been a couple of fearsome head clashes that held up play! Coventry scored again in the fourth minute of extra time to snatch a draw, to at least remain unbeaten at home for the season.
We headed back to the Gas Club for the post-mortem and then for home via the chippy. The night could of course have been improved by a win, although I was a bit worried because Vincent said if that happened they would have to kidnap me and make me go to all the games!
I forgot to take my phone to capture the match highlights, so will have to make do with some from the match coverage. IMG_2284.jpgIMG_2285.jpg

I'm now in France, having flown from Nottingham to Dinard today in a thankfully larger plane than the one from Inverness! I had time for a quick stroll around Saint-Malo (my home for the next three days) late this afternoon, so here are a couple of shots to be going on with until I start exploring in earnest tomorrow. IMG_3473.jpgIMG_3488.jpgIMG_3491.jpg

Posted by apostrophewoman 12:03 Archived in England Comments (5)

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