Friday, September 13, 2013

Back to the Trip...

August 17, 2013 -- Annecy, France
Swans on the lake

So we're back to our regularly scheduled travel blog... Sorry for the detours, but sometimes they happen.

Here's the link, just in case you're all about spoilers, and you want to look at EVERYTHING. Be advised: it's a LOT. I mean ginormous, humongous, over-the-top, etc. So if you want MORE, MORE, MORE, that's where you'll find it.

Today was a trip that was kind of extemporaneous. We knew we weren't going to make it to Eiger, given the dicey weather and all. So we looked to Rick Steves for inspiration. His suggestion was Annecy - pronounced, AHN-szee. We'd passed the off ramps for the town several times; one is for the tourist area and one's for the "downtown business" area. Rick Steves suggested the tourist exit and gave us a general idea of the town.

But it was not what I expected on several levels. We kind of guessed at where to park, got Mildred in a very tight spot, and then started walking. We followed the curve of Lake Annecy till we came to somewhere that looked appropriate.  Here's what the journal had to say:
View of downtown Annecy

10:15 a.m. - Waiting to depart on a 2-hour lake tour. Practically empty boat, which is fine with me! The park in Annecy is beautiful and we did a little side trip down through some streets. After our trip 'round the lake, we'll see what's next. 

As it's our last day (the 18th will be the Big Travel Day), we're trying not to "do" a lot. I could spend most of the day here (as I recall, I was perched on a park bench) and head back in the afternoon. We'll see what the weather holds, too. 

We're at a dock, and the tour boats leave regularly. The town is more than picturesque. The park is lovely and we got some lovely shots of the birds, etc. 

We're on the boat now, and traveling at about 13 knots. The water is so clear! More green than blue; the guide says it's a natural lake, formed from the last Ice Age. I'll be transcribing lots of factoids, so this will be a long-ish entry...but I hope it intrigues you. 

The lake is 27 sq. km. long, 3.5 km wide and 82 m deep. Water skiing is the thing, apparently. There's a slight haze by the hills across the lake; very smooth ride. On the eastern side of the lake is a mountain that's 1300 m up. It's a bird's eye view of the lake and Mt. Blanc, which is a pretty big deal. 

We briefly pull up at various stops; this tour boat is also rather like the city bus system. If nobody is at the stop waiting to get on, and nobody needs to get off, we just keep breezing by. 

Being on the water is so peaceful. Gorgeous breeze keeps you cool & you don't feel the sun. When it's been about an hour, I'll duck into the shady area...You almost don't know which way to turn your head as the taped guided tour starts up.

Have to get a city map...

Coming toward Mt. St. Bernard. There are 3 peaks and a 12th century chateau in the foothills. Tons of paragliders! This chateau has been in the same family since the 12th century. We're infants... There are some beautiful gardens as we pull up to the pier. Tons of lavender and just BUCKETS of petunias in window boxes. 

In so many places, we see familiar flowers, but they're huge. The climate is perfect to truly grow dahlias to dinner-plate-size. I've seen them in catalogs, but now - there's a 9" dahlia sitting right in front of me! The lavender is easily 5 feet high. My lavender at home barely tops 1.5 feet and has sparse blossoms. This stuff is covered in the blossoms. As we're docked, you can look off the side of the boat and see the bottom of the lake. It's crystal clear. 
The Palace Hotel

As we round the lake, we see an old hotel, which our taped guide says is The Palace. It's right on the lake - no yard; you just have a small patio and then the water. It was very popular in the 1920s-30s and has been totally renovated. The guide says it's "exquisite" in terms of the quality of the hotel and restaurant. 
Roc du Chere

We're coming up on a building that looks like it grew up out of the lake - a nature area, if I'm making out the French right: Roc du Chere - a nature preserve since 1977. Over 560 species of flora and fauna live there because of the micro-climate of the island. Among the animals are black kites and peregrine falcons. There are 2 caves - one of which goes 30m into the rock. The rock goes into the lake and down about 48m. It's sheer rock walls from the side we're on. I'm not sure how exactly you GET on this island, but from what it sounds like, it's not for the casual tourist. It looks like one might have to be air-lifted in and out. The caves are interesting, and there are boats and jet ski folks around it. 

Our next view is of the Abbey of Talloires - from the 18th century. Apparently, the artist Cezane stayed here. Looking at the dock, many of the boats appear to be hand-crafted - they're small and beautiful. Hubby is taking video and pics - these pictures are all him for the lake tour. 

There's a nice beach here and several restaurants. The Royal Family (of England) has also visited here. As I write this, a tandem glider goes right over the boat and lands in a little park area. Not sure I'd be good with gliding over the water, even if it is clear and not too deep. It's that whole not-being-able-to-swim thing...
Church in the canal in downtown

We stopped at Angon and took on more passengers. Hint to self: if you don't know where you're at, you might want to look at the dock - the name of the stop is pretty clear!! I noticed a lot of people wearing Birkenstocks, and a wide variety of outfits on women of every generation. Yep, some "mutton dressed as lamb" but I'm assuming they've either got great self-confidence or a Magic Mirror stashed somewhere. People watching...

We now leave the Big Lake and go to the Small Lake. There's a gorgeous jump-off for gliders and you can see the entire lake from that vantage point. I moved in out of the sun for now; I was right - it was about an hour and I started to feel really warm. I must be nuts, because as I watch, I'm thinking, "Oh yeah - I'd parasail from here!!" Oy. 

People bring their bikes on the boat, as well as luggage, strollers, etc. Rick Steves says Annecy is a great place to bike, and I can see that. Biking around the lake would be cool. Annecy is located right next to Albertville, the site of the 1992 Winter Olympics. 

Our next stop is Bout du lac. Tons of people to get on here. We're back on the near side of the small lake and we have about 1 more hour to tour. The air smells of water and mountains. That sounds silly till you've inhaled here. Odd combo, but it's at the same time crisp and most, clean and spicy - all in one breath. Hubby's still out in the sun snapping away and using the GoPro. 
Looking back on the big lake

There's an ancient-looking cottage on the lake with a satellite dish sticking out the side - an anachronism, right? The houses here are a mix of "really old," along with "slightly old," and "built new to LOOK old." 

On the little lake, the water is more blue green. Some houses are so close, you wonder how much water they get if the lake gets really wild. Or doesn't it get wild? It's breezy on this side of the lake. The houses are either timber or in creamy shades of stucco - the shutters are pops of color, in primary shades. One white ultra-modern Mies-like box is right above a more traditional chalet! 

As a side note, my Lewis pen apparently did freeze on the mountain. It's working just fine now! I look up from my journal to see a church tucked up the hill behind houses. 

Coming up on Duingt (not sure of that spelling) - the place Rick Steves suggests that you rent a bike from and drive back to the main parking area. Heck, we're not sure we parked in the main parking area!

Parent and 3 little girls at the dock. All the little girls are remarkably uninhibited, considering they're just in bathing-suit bottoms. They're all quite tan, and I sense a little hesitation from the oldest girl, kind of like she knows that pretty soon, she'll be a "big girl" and lose some of that freedom. 
15th century castle

The water at this pier is absolutely crystal clear. No hint of color, and you can see the sandy bottom. People enjoying swimming and playing in the water. As we move on, I see an old castle and buildings - the camera is running but our taped guide is quiet. Hang on, she's started up again... We're going back on the big lake. The castle was actually the subject of a painting by Cezane. The castle is from the 18th century; the peninsula on which it sits is privately owned. The tower (and you can almost hear the taped guide sniff disdainfully) is only from the 19th century. 

The guide tells us that there's a pennant on the water marking the site of a small island, but I don't see it. 

I do, however, see ANOTHER castle. This one is from the 15th century; and this section of the lake is the most "ancient." It used to be a fishing village; a very small town, the smallest of the towns ringing the lake. 

Wowza... The boat lurched and the engine gunned. And now I see why. Some idiot in a speed boat cut our big tour boat off. This boat is 50' long... I'm not sure how you don't see that at nearly noon. The horn was blown, the captain was quick to swerve and the idiot speedboat driver survived. 

Along the western side of the lake you see acres of reed beds. They're ecologically important, not only for the lake itself, but also for the fish and fowl who lay their eggs and hide their young in those beds. 

They have paddle boats you can rent, and the boats have slides - of course, you'd want to slide into a hugely deep lake... It would probably make more sense if either of us could swim. 

Next stop is St. Jorioz (pronounced San JOR-EE-OH) - a beach area. It would've been nice to have brought our bathing suits, now that I think of it. But we had no idea, Rick Steves included, that we should have done that. Clouds are starting to build at the north end of the lake, but so far, they're merely "pretty" and not "threatening." 

We're coming toward the oldest beach, where the river joins the lake. The town is one that goes pretty far inland. I could totally come here for a week. The water changes color dramatically as we near the beach. Oh, our taped guide says the guy who invented bleach lived here. Also, she mentions that this is a big downhill and cross-country ski area. Olympians train here. 

We're coming into Sevrier (Sev-REE-Ay). Very green water. The color of peridot. The first mate, a small stocky woman, heaves the gangplank at every pier and shoves the ropes around as if they're no more than clothesline. 

Once again, Notre Dame is not just in Paris or Indiana. From Lyon to Annecy, there's a Notre Dame somewhere in town. 

Moving along at 13 knots, my hair is getting a "styling" and we can see the swans and ducks along the shore. We're in the Savoy area of France. They drink the lake water; and our taped guide says this is the cleanest lake in France, if not Europe. Given the clarity of the water, I'd have to agree. The drinking water is drawn from below the 27m depth. And they have an active fish-breeding program; the building is ugly, but the science is apparently good and doing good work in the area. 

As the tour ends, our guide points out the Cathedral of Visitation - the steeple, at 72m  - is the highest point in town. The contemplative order which founded this cathedral still exists and the area is not open to the public. But the presence of the cathedral gives you a sense of timelessness and security. To know the Good Sisters are praying must be comforting to the residents. 

We disembark and start walking. We decide to have lunch at La Bastille - truly a hole-in-the wall along a street where, if you're not careful, you'll be at one restaurant and your table-mate is at another - that's how close the businesses are! You're all crammed in together. This place has regional food and frantic waiters... who use their cell phones to take orders, since they apparently have a state-of-the-art point-of-sale software program! We're stuck at a table which is in the main traffic lane for the servers; we can see the dessert station, the gal whacking at loaves of bread; the outside; the counter where they place the orders...It's a beehive of coordinated chaos. There are SINFUL dessert plates, the inevitable peach iced tea, and local cheese plates. Hubby has the local perch and I have a Savoy dish that's basically potatoes au gratin with ham. The cheese they use is the local stuff. I did take a pic with his phone of the menu so I could recall what the dish was called, but I do remember laughing and saying, "You realize we're paying tourist prices for what is most likely a peasant dish they ate when there was nothing else!" It was delicious. 

As we walked around the town, we saw an ice cream shop called Glaces Perriere and a sign on the street called  Pont de Perriere - I mentioned that it might be a regional difference in spelling of our last name. On this bridge, we not only saw shining-clean canals, but we also saw an awesome street musician. Looked like he needed a bath, but everyone actually stopped and listened as he pulled out his guitar and played the most amazing classical guitar music. Too late, I noted that he had CDs for sale for 10 euro... Like an idiot - I should have gone back to get a couple. 
Street musician

3:05 p.m. - we started back. We were warm and ready to just head back to chill out a bit. Only 2 wrong turns and 1 u-turn - we took a quieter drive back to the hotel. Hubby took Mildred to get gassed up prior to turning her back in. We were alarmed to note in the parking lot that she acquired a ding in her headlight on the passenger side and a small scrape! Yikes! WE didn't hit anyone, but they're crammed so closely in these parking spots, it wouldn't surprise us if she got clipped. People don't seem to have the possessiveness of their cars that Americans do. A car is just a way to get somewhere. 

We get to the BBC channel in the hotel and watch the mess in Egypt. Hopefully, we'll let them sort out their own mess. We're not the world's conscience (given our own situation), nor the police. 

I'm in the Bar Express of the Holiday Inn Geneva, because the room isn't ready yet (we're on the 5th floor, and they hadn't gotten there yet). We have to print our boarding passes for tomorrow. 

On consideration, I could split a vacation between both Annecy and Chamonix. Oh, and (a) we should have worn shorts!; (b) it hasn't rained, though the clouds are building; and (c) I think I have a little windburn from the boat. Hubby's face is a bit more red, too. 

View of a row of restaurants
On the way back to Mildred, I stopped and put my hand into Lake Annecy, and it was lovely! It would have been great for a short dip. Also, during our walk through town, a very rare occurrence happened.  A bully-breed dog took on an Akita. They were both walking down the street, on leashes, coming toward each other, and the bully tore into the Akita. Who didn't back down. It was swift; the Akita retaliated, and no blood was drawn. The bully's owner didn't have good control of his dog. The Akita owner did. Both dogs were separated, and several of us went to the Akita to ask if he was hurt. Give credit where it was due: the bully's owner was VERY upset and asked if he needed to give the Akita his information so that he could pay for vet bills if necessary. Thankfully, nobody was hurt, and the bully got a mouthful of fur... That is the only altercation we ever witnessed between dogs in the entire trip. In Annecy, there are more northern breeds; obviously the weather is more conducive, because the other dogs we saw were "pocket" dogs... Oh, and there was a gorgeous Irish Wolfhound strolling along one of the bridges in Annecy. Lovely gent. I suppose that since they actually get winter here, the northern breeds make sense. I just wonder, in these tight quarters, where one would be stashing either an Irish Wolfhound or a 120-lb red and white Akita!

4:50 p.m.: Packing up. Hubby's working on how to pack some of the art work we have that we'll be bringing home. Several lovely prints from Provence and Mt. Blanc, and we don't want them smooshed. I've got just about everything packed, and my clothing for the morning laid out. Now, just chilling and watching TV. 

(You should go on the link for the pics of the cathedral and even more of our trip...)

No comments: