Saturday, August 31, 2013

More Chamonix - More Mountains - More Pics...

August 16, 2013 - More Chamonix

So we're on our way back to Chamonix. We were quite taken with the town, and we thought that, since we're on the back end of our trip (we leave on the 18th to go back home), it would be nice to putter around the town. 

Art in the Square
Hubby thought it would be a great idea to get a day-pass so that we could take in some of the mountains, perhaps ride the tramways and gondolas and generally get up in the air. For you wags and wits: The caption of the first picture is "Art in the Square" and NO, I don't think this man is not to my knowledge named Art...

1:15 p.m. -- I'm half-way up to the top of one of the highest peaks. I'm stopping and waiting for Hubby, who has decided to go higher. 

In true disclosure, I meant to get more fit for this trip. Really, I did. I lost a lot of weight, and that was good. But I didn't really exercise as much as I should have. Hubby tried to encourage me, but in all honesty: it didn't happen. My stamina wasn't where it should have been and it's my own darned fault. 

However, we're here. I just refuse to berate myself for it. It is what it is. I have to acknowledge that I didn't do what I thought I should have, and also -- I have to listen to my own body. I tell my yoga students that all the time: Honor what your body is telling you.

And mine, today, was telling me to wait for Hubby; I have had some trouble with stairs and the thin air. It was just more comfortable for me to perch myself on the handy boulder next to the steps and acknowledge that my legs were shaking. I'm sitting here watching clouds float by my face. There's glacier training and crevasse training going on below me. This stop was our alternate because the lot at Aiguille du Midi was packed. This is approximately the spot from which Hubby did his Leap. 

Walking down the street
Interesting: the sun is quite bright, but the breeze is very chilly. I can see a peak where, at the very top, it's split into 3 borders. Will have to ask Hubby what it is; Caroline, his pilot, told him. I forgot what he told me.

These people are all over the glacier like ants! It's so bright that I don't even feel like I'm wearing my sunglasses. The snow reflects the light and the thinner air just makes it all feel more "crisp" and shiny. 

Head in the clouds...
BIG cloud passing through where I'm perched. Now, I suppose, I can say that "my head was in the clouds!" and mean it. I asked the person in one of the tourist info booths what our altitude was. He said we were about 10,800 feet up at this point. 

4:05 p.m. -- Hubby is higher up on Aiguille du Midi -- I'm about as far as I'm comfortable with. I'm at the mouth of a small tunnel which you can go through to grab yet another lift to the ultimate destination: Pointe Helbronner - and the Italian border is right there. Women are coming out of the gondola area in ballet flats and mini-skirts! I'm freezing. They're walking alongside climbers (or "Alpiners" as the guide calls them) who are bundled up like crazy. I got some video on my camera and we'll head back down to Chamonix and the long walk to Mildred at about 5:30 p.m. When you get up on this part of the mountain, they give you a ticket and you get called to come down to the departure area at a certain time. 
Aiguille du Midi

When we were in the staging area down on the ground, we ran into an entirely OBNOXIOUS family. The matriarch of this family asked us to move so that her family could all be in one place. Fine; no problem. But then a couple of the teenage boys were lagging. She kept giving us kind of a stink-eye and acting as if we were cutting in. No, we weren't. Then she got into a pretty loud confrontation with their tour guide. I have no idea what she was asking for, but apparently they solved their differences. But it was just uncomfortable because they were very pushy and I don't mean just verbally. Take a number, people. We all had to do the same thing.

So we are far above the clouds and I can see the tops of the thunderheads. My pen is either seizing up because of the altitude or freezing up because of the temperature! Hubby checks on his GPS app for our altitude and info. We went up even more steps, at this point, and I'm ensconced on a bench in the inevitable souvenir shop. Hubby went higher...  I am not afraid of heights, but I'm feeling wiped out and slightly dizzy. He says that's not uncommon. Good. I'm not a wimp.

4:40 p.m. -- Twenty more steps, Hubby convincing me to come sit in the cafe. Even HE is winded and feeling the altitude. Now, according to the information posted, we are at 12,605 FEET UP IN THE AIR. The air is so thin, I'm having trouble keeping my bearings. He was trying to text, and had a hard time hitting the right keys. I have my usual knitting with me, and I'm just staring at it. He asked me what was wrong, and I said, "I can't remember how to purl." Seriously... 

Busy street
We'll be going down to the cable area to catch the gondola back to the bottom. Frankly, I'm kind of happy we are BOTH feeling weird. There's a tight band around my head (not my hat) and my ears are plugged. I have finally managed to knit 2 rows of the scarf but it was like I was 7 years old and had only barely started to knit. 

7:05 p.m. -- Getting back off the mountain was a huge cattle-call. Some folks didn't have their tickets; there were Alpiners coming off the slope; people were ignoring the fact that the guy in charge was calling "Ticket 35" and were shoving and trying to get on the cars. I admire him - he didn't threaten to shove someone off the mountain! They were letting the Alpiners on the gondolas, but only a few at a time - the equipment they had, ice axes, etc. and the fact that they were packing the cars to their limit - it was a way to get everyone down safely. 

Hanging out at the take-off spot
We're back down in Chamonix and at Bar Brasserie Pizzeria -- not uncommon to see a dozen pizza places. Then we find Mildred and head to the hotel.

Totals for today: 6 lifts - 3 of them doubles. Three different mountains: Brevent (8,284 feet), Grand Montets (this one is at 10,700 feet) and the grand-daddy (aside from Mt. Blanc, but it's right next to it) Aiguille du Midi (at 12, 605 feet) -- and strangely, we tackled them "small, medium, large" in order. Rick Steves said that Midi should be the first, but truly, I'm glad we did it our own way. 

As we descended, we felt our brains getting back to normal. I wish I would have taken a picture of my water bottle! It was a little squished.

And our dog count rose by 2: a little rat terrier on Brevent who allowed me to scratch his head, and a Great Pyr as we got to the pizza place. 

Soooooooooo - pizza place was a dud. Our waitress must've been on her first day. I had a 4-cheese pizza and Hubby had a Hawaiian. Two tables who came later than we did got served before we did. My pizza sat in the window a good 10 minutes - she had to have the cook stick it under the broiler again... She also set down a Spaghetti Carbonara at the table next to us - and the person wasn't even seated. Spaghetti Carbonara is basically "eggs and bacon with spaghetti." Quite good, actually, and they serve the egg still in the shell, so you stir it directly into the (when you do it right) hot spaghetti. This sat. And sat. And sat. The guy finally showed up (it was a large group) and he just ate it. Ick. The egg wasn't going to scramble properly in nearly-cold pasta. I wouldn't have eaten it.

Chapel in Chamonix
At least 3 tables came, sat and then left when they weren't served. One of the servers was running her butt off, but ours? Not so much. 

Ok, so the pizza was pretty good, but we had to flag her down to get the check. She took our money, and disappeared. Hubby had to go find her. 

You know you've been in one place too long when you start recognizing the landmarks! We retrieved Mildred and started back.

Tomorrow will be a very laid-back day. We leave on Sunday, and honestly, while this has been a fantastic trip, I'll be glad to get back home. 

Tragedy of massive proportions... This morning, Hubby's laptop died. Well, it wouldn't re-start, but we figured he'd deal with it when we got back tonight. Dead. As. A. Doornail. 

Arches on the highway
I asked him if, please by the grace of God, he had kept all the pictures ON the memory cards! He said that he had "briefly" considered wiping them after each day, but remember - we brought lots of them. So he didn't clear any of them off, even though he downloaded them to the computer each day. Whew. Just -- WHEW. I'd have cried. 

We discussed our day and figured yeah, we probably could have gone on a few more lifts, but at the first stop (Brevent) we hung around and got lots of nice pictures of the paragliding folks and just took our time. 

As I'm finishing this up back in the hotel, I figure it was the altitude that got to my pen. I see by the ink marks, the ink is now flowing normally. There you go...

PARAGLIDING = when you're sitting in a harness. PARASAILING = when your legs are stretched back of you and the frame is more fixed. So we were actually GLIDING. 

Tomorrow, we decided, would be Annecy. It's close and the weather is still forecasted to be a little dicey. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Leap of Faith - With Pics...

August 15, 2013 - Chamonix

Today, we head to Chamonix, while keeping our base here in Geneva. Breakfast, then "on the road again." (Go ahead, have the earworm for a while.)

I'm very, very nervous about my Leap...
Street in Chamonix

1:20 p.m. -- Well, I just saw Hubby off on his Leap. AND I SURVIVED MY OWN!! My pilot was Aaron (I think Caroline said that - I heard "Erin" but I don't know the actual spelling) and he is not only quite a dishy French guy, but very calm and capable. The entire journey lasted about an hour, and we walked off a 7,000 foot ledge. Soared up to somewhere near 10,000 feet and then landed in an athletic field. 

It was very scary. We took a gondola ride to the area where I was to jump, and as we're going up in the gondola, I'm sitting there with this pilot I just met. All the equipment is in the gondola with us. I looked down, and thought, "Holy Crap." 
Gondolas up to jump site

I had a 20-lb. backpack with my harness and seat. He had the rest of the gear. I got caught in the turnstile of the gondola, because I hadn't known to tuck the "seat" part up under the strap. But we got me loose and off we went. We hiked about 75 feet from the gondola (going up, of course) to the launch area. There were about 15 other parasailing folks up there in various stages of "going." Some of them were singles, but most of them were tandem.

Our sail was yellow, trimmed in orange. Caroline, the woman who runs the company, told Hubby what to watch for (wait, it gets good...). I got my instructions from Aaron, which were thus (imagine this with a lovely French accent and really quite good English): "Walk until I tell you to sit and keep looking forward. You will have a lovely surprise." He then straps me into the contraption, straps himself onto my back, and works the sail. 

The sail fills immediately - there's a great whack of updraft, so we've got the thing inflated before we even start walking. You walk forward (he's speaking softly into my ear: walk, walk, walk, walk) and you feel a slight tug. Then "sit back" and you're aloft. We dipped slightly before we caught another updraft and then flew up. He told me "it might be a little bumpy" but seriously - there was more turbulence in the airplane. We went off the ledge to the right, along a rocky ridge studded with trees. 
My pilot

It was quiet. The noise of the wind and the sail were just about all we heard. There were a number of others sailing that day, but in spite of the traffic, it all felt very safe. 

Aaron pointed out Mont Blanc, and I fulfilled Kid #2's request of a photo. Took quite a few shots of the other gliders and the fantastic views. He was very good about warning me as to turbulence and didn't chat overly-much. He'd been paragliding since he was 13 and was in his 30s. He told me the best place in the US to do it was Utah, and that nobody does it in the Rockies in Montana because "it's too wild - not enough places to launch or land." That makes sense. 
My shot of Mt. Blanc

(NOTE: I wrote this journal entry sitting at a small sidewalk cafe, and I have in my notes: "I wonder how long I can hold my breath - the second-hand smoke is killing me!")

Hubby took a look at my shots afterward and there were a few klunkers, but that's when we caught a bobble or skewed in another direction. We circled the Mt. Blanc side for most of the trip, then the town, and then headed to the landing area. 
Part of my route

I didn't get to steer, which was fine with me. And we didn't opt for the GoPro shots, which was also fine. I like what I did and I'm happy with it. Aaron says, as we're preparing to land, "We either land on our feet or on the butt." And apparently, we have no control over that... It's all up to how the wind acts. We got VERY lucky, and I did a standing stop. 

He said, "Raise your legs" as we went down, and then he said, "Step down" and within 4 steps, I was down. The sail was down behind us. 

Bird's eye view of Chamonix - my flight
Unfortunately, I couldn't share this bliss with Hubby, because he was apparently directed to the wrong landing site... So he missed it. Crud. I ended up going back to the gondola area, told Aaron that he was flying with Caroline, and since I hadn't a franc on me, Hubby would take care of BOTH flights in the afternoon, then Aaron left to get his next passenger. 

I took a side trip to where I thought we left Mildred. She wasn't was a VW. Was getting a little more than annoyed, and then spotted Hubby on the steps by the gondola. The "farmer's whistle" came in handy and we were able to meet up. 

He subsequently met up with Caroline, and I told him I'd go to the little cafe next to the gondolas for a bite to eat and he could meet me there. 

Hubby's pilot in pink jacket
It's a wonder that half of these people here aren't dead of lung cancer...Bleagh!!! And why, in one of the best culinary climates in the world, do you get canned Lipton PEACH iced tea?? Hey, I was thirsty, so I drank it anyway. I sat at the Cafe Kimbo, right by the lift/gondola area, just a block over. I was shooting for the little hotel lunchroom, but they were closed. I tried to get upwind of the smoke, but I was foiled by new customers coming in. 

Hubby's flight path
I ate salad cheve chaud and had the iced tea. I was sooooooooooo nervous that morning that I could barely gag down some hot tea and yogurt. The cafe is on top of the street - as in you have to cross the street to get to it and it is completely next to the street; no sidewalk. Hubby got all turned around downtown looking for me, so we figured this little spot was the best place for me to be while I waited for him. Again, a nice leisurely lunch. Not rushed, not glared at. Lunch came in a large-ish red melamine bowl, consists of the following: butter lettuce, red onion (I picked it off), fresh tomato. Of course, basket of crunchy bread. On top of the salad was a sliced baguette (about 4" long) with a total of 4 very generous rounds of fresh goat cheese - this had herbs on it and was slid under a broiler just for a tiny moment to crisp up the bread and warm the cheese. After removing the offensive onions (sorry, don't like 'em), the salad was lovely; light and refreshing - and filling. And the cheese-bread combo? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. It was nice to just sit and people-watch for a while. Looks like lots of locals gather here. I'm at a high-top table under the awning with a pink and white geranium in an ancient clay pot for a centerpiece. 
Close to the rocks...

I'm watching cars go up and down this extremely narrow street. They park tight to the buildings, but still have to "pull their ears in" (move the mirrors close to the doors of the cars) to keep from obstructing traffic. Drivers barely leave 2 coats of paint as they go past! 

So I actually went back to the gondola area; the smoke got to me. I briefly thought about a short walk into town, till I took about a dozen steps down a very steep sidewalk. "Down" would mean a walk "UP" and it was warming up quickly! It's so steep! So I have my knitting, my Kindle and the journal. A bottle of water is handy. Time to find a seat. 

There are small-ish wisps of clouds crossing Mt. Blanc now. And I don't see as many gliders, though I'm sitting in a niche next to the ticket counter, so I'm not facing the mountain we jumped from this morning. I did get the keys to Mildred and Hubby showed me where she was parked, so if it gets terribly warm, I'll go hang out with her. The breeze is great right now and the sun is strong; glad I'm in the shade. I've got on jeans, hiking boots, my hand-knit wool hiking socks and a light jacket (which got shed quickly). 
Clouds - Hubby's flight

A number of people have come to the gondolas to ride up for a hike down. I see an elderly gent with his family. One cane and 1 walking stick. He's got his hat and backpack and looks ready to go. The paths are little goat-width ruts. You'd have to train for a year (in altitude, not on the flatlands here in IL) to attempt the 8-hour hike up to the top of Le Brevent, 2,525 m up. The stop where I jumped off was 2,000 m up - the updraft got us to 3,000 m up... 

Hubby's Leap is a lot higher and involves quite a hike. He takes off from a glacier. Caroline, the pilot for his flight, is about 100 lbs. soaking wet. She's very no-nonsense and direct as to whether she thinks you'll be ok on the flight. He could, though - he's been training for a while and is quite fit. I know, however, that I wouldn't be able to do the flight he chose. I'm quite happy with what I did, and glad that I ignored a very strong inclination to just not go. 

Chamonix street
2:41 p.m. -- Just saw some gliders in the area Hubby said he would be jumping. I wonder if one of them is him? I heard someone say that you could take the gondola to the first jump point "and walk down - about an hour." Now, DOWN I could do, but probably not UP. I had considered bringing my walking poles, since it looks like they're standard equipment here, but I didn't and that's fine. Maybe if we come back! 

3:10 p.m. -- Glad I had the 11 a.m. flight. That wisp of cloud got bigger and bigger, and looks to obscure Mt. Blanc soon. It clouded over a bit, but there's still lots of blue in the sky. The spot where Hubby jumped (I think it's that spot - not sure) does have more clouds. Not sure I'm happy with that, but we're in the mountains...conditions change at the drop of a hat. The gondola stopped a couple of times while I was writing this and the silence was a blessing. I had tuned out the constant motor noise, but I realized when it was stopped that it was quite peaceful! There are houses packed right up next to the gondolas, and I'm sure these folks are happy to go to work, since I doubt they run at night. 

We were sitting and talking about his trip, and he's saying how "safe" parasailing is, and we see a guy go horizontal and start spinning down. As I recover my breath, I see a few more doing that, and we realize that these single flyers are probably practicing emergency moves. Whew... The spirals look particularly scary, but I know we did a few - they were just gradual on my flight so it's not as bad when you're actually up there. 

Just saw a large bird riding the same thermals we took. There are at least 2 gliders ABOVE the bird. Hubby's video will be awesome, but I'm still glad I didn't take the GoPro. Hubby's top altitude was about 12,000 feet up. 

7:40 p.m. -- Walked around Chamonix and did a tiny bit of shopping (some beautiful posters of the mountain ranges). We stopped for ice cream and gave a belly rub to a beautiful female Siberian Husky. She didn't understand a word of English, but she knew from "belly rub." 

We drove back to the Holiday In Express - and I'm sorry, the driving still freaks me out here. But before we left, we stopped at a little sandwich shop and picked up a "hotel room dinner." 

My hand-knit socks kept my feet nicely warm up in the chilly air, but being wool - they are a little heavy and now that we're at the hotel, off they come! Not bad for hand-knitted socks! Must remember to NOT wash them in the washing machine at home. 

We'll be "round-about" geniuses by the time we get home. Here, it's all about the round-about. And for the most part, drivers are observant and mostly courteous (except in Italy...). The highways constantly monitor speed via radar and they can change speed signs on the fly. They tell you to keep space between vehicles (especially in the tunnels) and 90% of the drivers do that. When they merge into the right lane onto the highway, they don't try to automatically whip over to the far lane. They stay there for a bit. Refreshing, even though my brain is having a hard time translating m.p.h. from km/hr...On exit ramps, they give you a speed, then they slow you down, then they do it again: THREE speed changes. Lots of toll roads, though. I used the "Holy Crap" handle liberally today as we took a mountain-side road and there were a few newbies to driving on those curves...Good thing Hubby knows how to do it. 

And I also observed that in this part of the country, graffiti is apparently an art form... As well, with the public art? The kids are climbing all over it! There was a very tall statue of the man who "found" Mt. Blanc with his guide pointing to it -- and kids were on top of that, next to the 2 figures. About 6 - 8' off the ground, and nobody was having a heart attack. The other thing I noticed while waiting for Hubby were the number of people who came off the mountain clutching handfuls of either Linden or wild Chammomile. I'm very used to the US system where you don't remove anything from a park. But perhaps they allow foraging here, as long as they're not stripping the area bare. 

The sandwich was great (ham and cheese on fresh baguette) and Hubby is reviewing his video (he took our GoPro and had theirs, too). Almost makes me wish I had done it, but nonetheless, I'm proud of "doing one thing each day that scares me."  

Only 6 tunnels today. Lightweight!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Reichenbach Falls - With Pics!

The Museum!!
August 14, 2013 - Reichenbach Falls  (while we leave Lugano today, all pics here are of Meringen)

Well, you know we talked about the Bucket List you want, and perhaps the Bucket List you've been handed? 

The trip today was something that WAS on my original Bucket List. 

I am a Sherlock Holmes fanatic. In the true meaning of the word "fanatic." I've read The Canon several times. Well, more than several times. I've watched everything that Basil Rathbone was in. I've watched the Holmes vignettes with one of the Howard brothers - even earlier than Rathbone. I've read alternatives to the The Canon. I've read histories of Conan Doyle. I've seen the movies (except for the crap Guy Ritchie is putting out. Sorry - love Robert Downey, Jr. for the role, but can't abide Guy as a director!).

My dream, as a kid, was to "someday" get to Reichenbach Falls. Any Sherlockian worth her salt will want to see The Place He Died. (Well, the place Conan Doyle said he died...we all know he was resurrected in deference to public opinion.)

To say that we would get this close and NOT go to Reichenbach? You'd have to shoot me. 

So this morning, Hubby is checking the map, even though we trust our faithful Mildred to get us there. 

Definitely not cut out for these European breakfasts, but glad there was tea! Will fill the water bottles before we go so we have them handy. Both of us are sniffling - probably all the beautiful flowers and trees that are blooming. 

Most of what follows is a commentary on our trip out to Meringen as we head toward our destination. Some of the comments are about the hotel in Lugano, as well, so try to stick with me here. 

Look for "Baker Street" here
Sky is a brilliant blue with a few puffy clouds. I have a slight headache: likely a combo of little sleep, altitude, and a pillow the size of a cotton swab. Maxalt is handy just in case. If I get sick on the way to Sherlock Holmes' "Final Chapter" I am NOT going to be happy!

Outside our Lugano hotel room, to the left is an old building, tile roof, shutters, tall windows, the walls the color of butter. There are palm trees in front of it. In the center is a red-brick modern building which seems to be offices; when we checked in last night, there was a man in one of the windows at a desk, and this morning, the shades are still down. Next to that building, and set back a bit, is a narrow older white building with a dark tile roof, a black Lab in the large front yard. There are a mix of palm trees and pine trees. Behind these buildings, the next street over, the buildings resemble apartments, and there are more houses as you look up the mountain.

6:10 p.m. - OK, what a LONG day! Got to Meringen, thanks to Mildred. Found nice public parking and then found the tram to Reichenbach!!! Of course MORE walking to get to the very top, but this was DEFINITELY a Bucket List item I had only dreamed about. 

Staying here if we come back!
I got sprayed by the falls that "killed" Sherlock Holmes! There was a star on the far side of the falls - it's on a pole, and it marks The Ledge where Holmes and Moriarty had their last battle. I didn't go there, but Hubby did. He says it was a good thing, because there was a lot of loose gravel and the trail was "sketchy." He had a bit of a time navigating it himself, and he's sure-footed as a goat. 

It was beautiful. Very tall, but not the "raging river" that Conan Doyle wrote about. Then again, it's August. Probably a bit more dry than in the spring with the run-off. There is a lovely view of the town, and it even impressed Hubby, who said he'd definitely come back and that the mountains were "amazing." High praise indeed from someone who grew up in the Rockies. 

Museum is in the basement of this church
We didn't go into the museum because of time constraints. However, Hubby did try on a deerstalker cap, and I bought a tape measure with the imprint of "Sherlock Holmes Museum." Kitsch of course, but I don't care. I'll use it and I'll remember where I got it! 

There's a picture of me (in amongst the thousands we took) sitting next to the Sherlock Holmes bronze statue outside the museum. (sigh)

As we walked up to the top of the trail, we stopped and visited with some very woolly cows, who looked at us as if we were alien beings. Which, given that they were on top of a mountain, we probably were! 

On the way out of Meringen, we found another beautiful waterfall. The power and beauty of waterfalls - it's just something that captivates me every time. Anyway, we saw this one, it was on the other side of a roundabout, so we took a short detour, drove across an airport runway (legally - it was closed to airplanes that day) and got some shots. 

We saw lakes with that green-blue glacier water. Several hours down the road we pulled off to get more pics, and Hubby went down to the rocks to dip his hands into the water. He said it was about 80* so it was very much "swimming temperature" if we were inclined! 
Tramway up to falls 

After a VERY long drive and a small misunderstanding with Mildred, we got to our "home" for the next 4 days: the Holiday Inn Express at the Geneva Airport. 

The paragliding lady called, and due to clouds, Hubby may have to change where he flies from. Rain is in the forecast, so we're not sure what will happen. We have not gotten to Eiger, but that can be a day trip in itself, and it's also weather-dependent. If the mountain is socked in, you can't see it anyway, so it would be a wasted trip there and back. 

We finally turned on the TV and found a BBC channel with news of the Egyptian mess. 

As we checked in, the gal at the front desk hands Hubby a FedEx --- MY MEDS ARRIVED! Happy Day!! The bottle was broken, but all capsules intact. 

Reichenbach Falls
Geneva, at least what we see of it, is congested and confusing. We'll stay close to the hotel for the rest of today; it's been a long and stressful drive. As we got closer to Geneva, traffic got more frantic. Mildred's vocal cues were a little ahead of her graphic clues, and we missed a couple of turns. She stuck with us in spite of Hubby calling her a few names I won't repeat here... 

Can't figure out what's close by yet - if anything is close by and worth the walk. The view out the hotel window is only inspired by the mountain in the distance and Hubby is having a time with the WiFi. 

Oh, we stopped after Meringen to stretch and I thought I'd take a little potty break. Only to have to walk all the way back to the car to get 2 Francs - that was a first: a pay toilet. And yes, if you have to go bad enough, it certainly is worth it! 

Back on the road, more strong language for motorcyclists with death wishes. Make lanes where there aren't any and see how that works out for you. 

Close up of one section
Oh, before we leave Reichenbach: As Hubby went to The Ledge, I came down to a meeting spot. I did miss him waving at me from The Ledge, because it was just a matter of how long it took me to get down to the one spot. I sat with an Italian couple. The gent complimented me on my Eddie Bauer floppy hat and wanted to know where I got it. We talked about Conan Doyle & Sherlock - the wife spoke better English and I don't know enough Italian to fake it. As I left, I should at least have said good-bye or something - that much I do remember!

And --- 90% of the people on the trail were very polite. Heck, there were even women with brand-new babies hiking that trail. The other 10% must have all been the same family. No idea of the actual origin of the family, but they were not speaking English - not that that matters, but just giving you a context. The one kid - probably 12 or so? - was a total jerk! He cut me off a few times and blocked the way of a couple of other hikers, and it was just really annoying. And one of the guys (older than the kid, but not older than me) blocked a walk-bridge completely from a German couple - who let them know they didn't appreciate their rudeness. He was trying to photograph, which is fine, but take your stupid camera OFF the tripod - don't block the entire walkway with the tripod!! I couldn't wait to get away from them!
The Ledge

Anyway, the Italian lady and I had a lovely chat, and she showed me pictures. Turns out she lives in Rome and was a singer in the Gregorian Chant choir during Pope Francis' installation and she had some lovely photos of him right up next to the choir. Music and Holmes - universal languages! 

Dinner tonight was at the neighboring hotel - very expensive, but you don't get dinner at a Holiday Inn Express... They gave an appetizer of a salmon paste with bread. Hubby actually liked it! Again, a culinary adventure for him. I had a lobster roll and fries. He had a Swiss beef burger. Stuffed and tired - no dessert this night. 

Tomorrow is The Leap of Faith... Today, we had 54 tunnels on our way. One was 15 km long or so. I felt like a mole.

The Reichenbach trail was actually in 6 separate segments. A steep trolley ride up. A short hop to the view. Three more progressive climbs to the top then the option to go down and out onto The Ledge and back. 

Sherlock Holmes...
These are the last few days of our trip. Hubby's catching up on the computer. I picked up a USA Today but I'm kind of liking being in a news hole. My brain needs to absorb this moment and be uncluttered. I want to think about what we've seen and what we've experienced. To me, that is what this trip is about. It's very free-feeling. I don't even have my cell phone! 

I leave this post with a picture of my literary crush. It was a beautiful town. I would come back here for more exploration, for a base if we chose to explore the greater area, and to just enjoy the countryside. 

Someone asked me if this was a "special trip" -- second honeymoon? Special anniversary? Any particular reason to go half-way around the globe to see a country that I never really had a particular urge to visit? 

This trip, in a way, was a fluke. We started with one object, ended up with a totally different itinerary, and got to spend a long span of time with each other. Yeah - it was special. And I'd do it all over again.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

On to Lake Lugano - with more Pics!

August 13, 2013 - Destination Lake Lugano

Up at 6:45 a.m. -- wayyyyyyyyy early, considering we stayed up till nearly midnight. The saga of the "night sky pictures" was made a little more complex by the fact that Hubby wasn't familiar with my camera. But he did get it to do timed exposures. 

Lake Lugano
Trouble was, the tripod we brought along was wobbly. Nothing really turned out, and we didn't have a trip switch (I have no idea of its real name, but it's the thingy you attach to the camera and press so that you don't jostle the camera itself). 

Hubby said that if he had known how spectacular the scenery was, he'd have brought along the medium-format camera (which is HUGE and weighs a TON) and paid the extra for having to pretty much buy it its own seat on the plane. 

Again, shocked at how late the kids stayed up - but again, it's August. Nobody's in school yet. My "provincial" side is showing!

To leave the hotel, we go UP the tight spiral which we navigated DOWN. Our trip to Lake Lugano will take us via a little piece of Italy. That ought to be interesting. 

Hubby decided Italian drivers have the same death wish as motorcyclists... They're nuts right outside Milan. Mildred did her best work again and got us where we needed to go. I do have a picture of her. Hubby took the photo from her backside, and I told him NO woman likes a picture of her rump!

12:40 p.m. - arrived at Lake Lugano, driving straight through, which was a little over 4 hours. Seemed to be about 100 tunnels! I did take some pics of the tight turns we had to navigate to get back on the motorway. 

Imagine the wedding shots here...
The lake is gorgeous. Another Novotel - the Novotel Paradiso, but this one is newer. Great view of the town from the window; we didn't get a lake view. But we're seriously 2 blocks from the lakefront, so it's not a big deal. 

The room is gorgeous, and there's an interesting feature: you can see through the window wall in the shower to the commode!! Seriously. Don't quite know why they bother with a bathroom DOOR when you have a relatively unrestricted view of the potty through a window, but what do I know about architecture?

This area will be nicer to walk in than we had in Provence. It's all concentrated in a central place. Hubby took some laundry down. As soon as he gets his internet connection running, we'll go for a walk and have lunch.

We drove straight through Italy on the outskirts of Milan. Traffic flowed so smoothly (for the most part) and Mildred has such great gas mileage that we didn't even need to stop for gas. We'll have to fill up tomorrow, though. Also, on arrival in Geneva, the Heart Medicine Incident should be solved. Must also strategically re-pack everything, too. It got a little disorganized in the travel.

Going up the tram
5:30 p.m. - Hubby is trying to kill me. Seriously. The lovely young woman at the reception desk gave us another local map and said, "You should see Mt. Bre." So we got to the correct spot to catch the tram; it's a closed train that goes straight up the mountain. But once you're up there, it's another 15-minute walk down - yes, DOWN - to the better view. Of course, "down" isn't the specific issue. It's the coming "UP" to get to the tram that takes you back DOWN to street-level that's the problem. I thought the Swiss were logical... 

It was a total of 760 steps. I'm beat. And today I went without sunscreen but I did have my floppy hat. Shower. Then dinner.

OK, the Swiss believe in wash cloths, thank goodness. And they're really clever!! Walked into the relatively large bathroom and noticed a button. Well, being human, I pushed it.

Well -- whaddaya know??? It "clouds" the picture window on the side of the shower so that you CAN'T see into the toilet area. Cool. You can see OUT when you're in there, but the person in the room can't see IN. Whew!

Dinner at the hotel and then walk to the lake and perhaps coffee/tea at one of the little cafes. 

Chiesa di Loreto
On our walk today, we found Chiesa di Loreto, a lovely old church. Took pics, lit 2 candles, so between the Cathedral in Lyon and the church here, the entire family should be covered! We could have spent 2 days here easily. Still would have loved to have seen Mt. San Salvatore and the very old village of Gandria.

Gandria is only available by walking or by a boat across the lake. 

The Park
As it is, though, I ran out of steam and we ran out of time to get to both places. Must say, Hubby is, as usual "mission driven" on these trips. He has places he wants to see, whereas sometimes I just want to "be" and relax and take it easier. But that's ok. What usually happens is that we find gems that aren't mentioned on maps, so it all works out. We are, however, having trouble staying hydrated, even though we're carrying (and drinking) water. 

"Lunch" turned out to be ice cream on our way through a lovely park and to the tram up the mountain. I had a pistachio cone and Hubby had a little cup of chocolate -- so chocolate that it looked like black coffee. He gave me a taste, and it was just a total "chocolate experience." 

Washington memorial in Lugano
As we walked toward the park, we saw a memorial. I thought, "Gosh that bust looks familiar." And it was. It was George Washington. A memorial to George Washington in Lake Lugano. I couldn't make this up! So of course we took a picture of it. 

There appears to be a lot of building going on, which should be a good sign. There were people all over, lots of bikers and lots of people using scooters - the ones you use your one leg to run, not the motorized ones. And the dogs. Of course. 

I think if we had timed it differently, we would have taken the boat trip, but we just missed it, so we chose the walk. Got some postcards and a keychain. 

The park was lovely, too, as you can tell from just the few pictures. There was art all along the lakefront, and there were paddle-boats you could rent, but we weren't comfortable with that idea. There were several pavilions and plenty of places to sit. Lots of people out for a Tuesday! The picture of the gate? Can you just imagine the brides and grooms in front of that? I can. 

There were swans in the water and they came boldly up toward the people because they knew someone would feed them! Saw a "Fresh Orange Juice" vending machine - you can put your Euros in there and watch it squeeze fresh oranges for a cup of juice. That was just sitting there along the waterfront. There were a few public water fountains that you could drink from, and lots of cafes to stop at if you wanted to do so. 

Turns out we didn't go to the hotel for dinner. We had a half-hour and scoped out some places on the main drag. We realized quickly that even though we're on the Swiss side of Lake Lugano, most of what's close is Italian. Ate at La Terrazza delle Stelle - down the main street and attached to the Hotel Victoria. It was buzzing, and like I told Hubby - if there are people there, it must be ok! He had a Neapolitan pizza - 4-cheese, and I think it's the only time I've seen him actually eat gorgonzola... and I had spaghetti with clams. In the Med, you eat the seafood! Unfortunately, on the first go-round, there was a short black hair in my pasta. Not mine. Got a re-do (what is it with me and food this trip??) and ate it all. I've never had it prepared with red chilies before. A little spicy, but the clams were lovely. For dessert, Hubby had a 3-scoop ice cream of 2 choc + 1 rasp sorbet. I had a creme caramel, kind of toning down the fire of the red chilies. 
View from Mt. Bre

Lake Lugano is basically 2 lakes connected. Mt. Bre is on the north lake. We're on the main lake. Hubby said "I could live here." Astounding... it's Mediterranean. Hot. Humid. Yes, mountains, but I was shocked. I don't think I could live here, but I could come back. 

Hubby was trying to improve my photo-taking skills; he had me using manual focus and re-learning how to take "a proper head shot." The pics here are a combo of mine and his; I really can't remember, except the night shot is his. 

The sunset happened quickly, while we were at dinner. Does that in the mountains. The clouds were glorious in the rose, red, orange and yellow of the setting sun. We lingered over dinner with no feeling that, despite people coming in, we were being "rushed out." I really do like that, because in the US, it's like they're shoving the check at you while you're still chewing... 

Late dinners are an adjustment, but the portion size and restful attitude of the servers makes it easier. 

View of the town at night
All the fountains lit up. There are several, and one big jet on the lake. We waited about 1/2 hour or so (YIKES - up and OUT of our hotel room at 9:30 P.M.??? Who are we???) and wanted to see if Mt. Bre lit up what with the houses up the side of the mountain. 

Hubby was able to get his long exposures here, because he could put the camera on the seawall or on a bench. 

Tomorrow's destination is Geneva with two side trips: Reichenbach Falls and Mt. Eiger. It's hard to believe we're on the downside of our trip; the last 4 days will be in Geneva.

The Great Prescription Dilemma -- OK, so remember that I screwed up my heart Rx and didn't discover it till somewhere near Greenland?? Well, my sister managed to get the correct Rx FedEx'd to me in Geneva. And I have an after-story to tell about that one...

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

On The Road Again... Eze

August 12, 2013 - Eze

(note: all pics are at the hotel)

OK, so last night, the twin beds were actually twin slabs of limestone covered with sheets... Urgh! And the pillows were two small cotton balls... 

Travel today: beautiful blue sky with towering poplar trees along the route. The room had somewhat cooled off overnight and we were able to appreciate the area a bit more. 

View from the 2-lane highway

Breakfast buffet again. Poor Hubby wasn't able to get "American" coffee so he drank espresso. Not exactly the caffeine jolt he wanted, but it was what it was. I had some lovely loose English Breakfast tea. Croissants were lovely; the marmalade was tart. I watched as folks went back and forth with their plates. The bread! I mean, seriously: a 6" chunk of baguette, 2 croissants and a sweet roll. That was someone's breakfast. I can't imagine that much bread for one meal, though it is delicious! The fruit is also gorgeous when you can get it fresh in the hotels. Of course, lots of it fresh in the market stalls, but staying in the hotel means a "mini-bar" and the thing is keyed to the front desk: every time you open it, they figure you've eaten something. Which we didn't. We did, however, put our "nature bread" in there last night so that we could either eat it for lunch or have an on-the-road snack.

What we've been doing is eating breakfast, having a snack late-afternoon and then attempting the "more civilized" dinner around 7 - 7:30 p.m. The ice cream has been sinful. And delicious. I may actually LOSE weight on this trip because we're also walking a lot more than I'm used to. 

I'm using my sunscreen and my floppy hat regularly! Still amazed at the sun-bakers of all ages. I am a tad bit "less pale" but not tan. And I'm fine with that. 

11:40 a.m. - Gas stop on the way to Nice. Motorcycle drivers either have a vision of immortality or a death wish. They zip in and out of traffic, making their own lanes, using the shoulders. I don't care that the greater majority DO wear helmets. A helmet won't help you if you whack into a great big truck! 

We couldn't get gas at the first stop; we actually had trouble getting to the pumps! The lanes were confusing and we ended up zipping IN and then zipping OUT with nary a pump in sight that we could actually get close to. 

At the second stop, we made it to the pumps. But the choices were confusing, and we weren't sure what Mildred took, though we knew she wasn't a diesel. We did figure it out and got her all topped off. 

We passed through loads of vineyards and the buildings were lovely. Peach or tan stucco, or even the bare, aged brick. Almost always tile roofs in various patinas - rust, terracotta, lichen green and pale tan. I wish I could paint! I ate it up with my eyes, and will have to rely on memory.

We are still trying to figure out how to get Mildred to speak up! 

We didn't see olive groves in Provence, but the sunflowers and grapes made up for that. I think it was just the area in which we were traveling. 

Missed a photo-op of the Mediterranean as we passed through Grasse, Cote d'Azure, Antibes - very "To Catch a Thief" in the whole vibe. I recognized a lot of the scenery from the movies. 

View from the parking deck
1:20 p.m. - arrived at Hotel Les Terrasses d'Eze. And it's completely built into the mountain. I mean, our room, #414, is actually on the -4 level. BELOW ground. However, it does have a terrace, and we're sitting here with a view of the Med out the window. It's just as blue as I remember it. The cicadas are really loud! They're loving the heat. The room contains a double bed, a sofa bed, a desk and TV. There's a separate shower/sink and a room for the commode with a bidet! There's a trail from the terraces down somewhere. The breeze is wonderful; a different quality of sunshine. Clean and crisp while maintaining that "Mediterranean" almost tropical feel. "Tropical" isn't quite the word I'm looking for, but what I mean is a sense that you are in a climate that's totally different from what you may be used to in the States, even if you do travel to our south. 

Here's how you get in. You pull off on a small lane. I mean a TINY lane. You wait till the light turns green, and then you go in a very tight spiral, down, down, down, till you reach the parking lots. The deck is built into a structure that looks like a lighthouse, and it's just about that tight! Mildred was a tight squeeze; I can't imagine even my mom's Honda making that without a scratch. 

The hotel is a set of terraced suites in the mountain. If all we do is explore the immediate area, I'm happy. The pool is on -1 level and has an "infinity edge" that overlooks the Mediterranean. I never really thought I'd be on the Riviera. 

When you walk out onto your terrace the entire row of terraces on your level is open to view. Thus, the info sheet says: "To ensure your terrace privacy, we would like to recommend you to use the corridors inside the hotel when you leaving your room instead of using the terraces. Be sure to close the windows of your room when you leave to avoid any risk of intrusion. Thank you to take knowledge of the emergency exits plan behind the door..." (exact wording). 

Carmie was right: no washcloths! Glad we brought our own. Did a little "sink laundry" and will flip the shirts over the chairs on the terrace if it's not drying well on the rack in the bathroom. There was no patio umbrella, and after asking for one, I realized there WERE no patio umbrellas - someone just put one there. However, the staff was nice enough to just retrieve one from the pool area for us. 

2:30 p.m. - Hubby convinced me to take a walk up a 2-lane highway on the mountain. Of course, to get UP to the street level, he got me in an elevator even SMALLER than the Dead Nun Elevator. I was seriously claustrophobic, and the elevator was very warm. Good thing I trust him!! But still, I was scared. Following the dictum of "do one thing a day that scares you" -- well, I'm good there! Drivers probably thought we were crazy tourists. Well, yeah, we were. But Hubby was amazed at the colors and the "quality of the air" - that lightness that pervades the area and gives it its own glow and sparkle. He's been uploading pics to Facebook every day and while part of me doesn't like that, the other part is happy that he's enjoying the trip!

Will get to the pool then a late dinner. He wants to get some video, too. This IS the French Riviera - and most likely our only chance to visit this locale. 

Can't get Grace Kelly and Cary Grant off my mind! The one perfect touch would have been if there were fireworks over the Med!! 

Panorama (click to enlarge for best view)
Sometimes, you have a Bucket List. You've planned it and you know what you want to do. And sometimes, if you're very lucky and open to things, the Bucket List consists of things that are presented to you. Let's call it "the Bucket List you didn't know you wanted." You wouldn't have planned for this list in a million years, or even in your wildest dreams, but here it is. This trip is definitely the "Alt Bucket List" if you will. I never thought I'd take a dip in an infinity pool on the French Riviera, then sit on a terrace surrounded by a mild breeze, rhododendrons, 3 good-sized poplars, and an olive tree. Background noise includes traffic, a police siren far below, boat and jet-ski noise, the ever-present cicadas and a howling Doberman we met down the path, who is objecting to the police siren. 

The wild rosemary is amazing. The scent is so different, and I didn't know it flowered with tiny lilac-colored buds. Ours barely winters over, much less flowers. This also has smaller leaves, more dusty colored, and the scent is milder - not so much "pine resin" as "rosemary" - what you would think it would smell like. Both pungent and soft at the same time. I wish I could stick a stalk in my journal, but somehow, the customs folks wouldn't like that. I did do a lot of "feeling" and I was pretty well scented by the time we had made our way down the hotel trail and then back up. 

Unfortunately, it looks as if a large part of the original development just wasn't kept up. There were 2 tennis courts, which were pretty shabby, and it looks like the original concept was to have had 2 pools. But there was only the one, which was just fine with me. You can get an idea of it in the panoramic pic above. 

After we got back to our room, I grabbed my knitting and dragged Hubby away from the computer to do what they do best here: sit and be still. We just sat on the terrace, chatted and enjoyed being there. Sometimes, you don't have to be "doing." You just have to "be." 

7:10 p.m. - probably THE BEST dinner we've had so far at a hotel restaurant - Restaurant Les Princes. Our table was at the edge of the terrace, so we fought off our share of bees. And we had a stunning view of the harbor. My dinner was prawns with tagliatelle. Hubby had steak with garlic parsley butter. He also had a half-bottle of wine - note higher alcohol content. He did say it was "quite the buzz." For dessert, we both had Warm Chocolate Cake. 

Prawns: Nice portion of tagliatelle with a creamy tomato sauce and chunks of prawn. The centerpiece was a huge prawn which I had to dismantle to eat. 

Steak: Flank steak with fries and roasted veggie combo. 

Warm Chocolate Cake: Fresh-made cupcake-sized cake with a scoop of caramel ice cream, raspberry sauce and 3 large fresh berries. You cut into the cake to reveal a molten chocolate center, which oozes over the caramel ice cream and meshes with the berry sauce. Yep. Food porn. Yum. Yum. YUM.  Only thing was, one of my berries had a touch of mold on it, which yes, I pointed out to the waiter. 

We watched a quick sunset, Hubby had coffee. Nobody rushed us. Nobody cared if we sat there till 10 p.m. (which we didn't, but just noticing). Very enjoyable meal.

The light on our terrace was out - we tried all the switches and determined it was probably a blown bulb. It's a pity there's no screen on the terrace door, because we'd open it for the night (there's a "burglar stop" on the door, which only allows it to be open 6" or so). So far, the most pleasant, temperate weather we have had. 

We did lose our internet connection, which frustrated Hubby. Instead, he concentrated on how to make my camera take timed shots, we went back to the bar area and tried to get some night-views of the Med. We thought we could perhaps see the Milky Way but it was slightly overcast. Didn't get back to our room till nearly 11 p.m. and was again surprised at the number of families with kids who were still hanging out in the lounge and on the terrace. 

I noticed baby olives on the tree outside our terrace. (sigh) Baby olives.