Thursday, March 31, 2011

A walk along Lake Geneva: Days 1 and 2

I was born without the map-reading gene, so the first two days of my walk from Nyon to Villeneuve, along Lake Geneva, have been interesting! Very little of the route is beside the lake. Instead, I've walked through woods and fields, through a golf course and a cemetery, beside a river, through vineyards, up and down hills, and along small lanes and main roads. I've had to backtrack many times, found myself back where I started after following the walking man sign, and in some places I've missed seeing where the lake path resumes. I've seen lots of dogs out walking, a fair number of swans, and a squirrel. I'm feeling surprisingly stiff and sore. But I'm having a fabulous time...

I walked from Nyon to Rolle yesterday (about 25 km) and about the same distance today (I'm guessing) to Morges. Tomorrow I'll reach Lausanne (which is visible from Morges) and then continue on to Lutry. Apparently, this next stage is all on lakeside path.

There are small villages scattered everywhere over the hillsides that rise from the lake, so I'm only skimming the surface. Views across the lake are to the French Alps.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

An alpine weekend

Liliane and I spent three days over last weekend seeing quite a large part of Switzerland by train. On Friday we went to Zermatt, which sits at the foot of the Matterhorn – a truly stunning mountain. Zermatt is very user-friendly for skiers, who can take the ski lifts right in town. There’s a flow of foot traffic to and from the lifts at the start and end of the day, and a vibrant après-ski scene. We had apple strudel at a café looking up at the Matterhorn, and dinner at La Dolce Vita on the main drag.

Saturday we took the Glacier Express train from Zermatt to St Moritz. We apparently crossed 291 bridges and went through 91 tunnels. Gorgeous views. Lots of snow. Interesting history. Some fun people in our carriage, including a bunch of gregarious Italians and a lovely Japanese couple.

In St Moritz we stayed in Dorf, the upper part of town, where there is a leaning tower. (The lower part of town, at the end of the lake, is called “Bad”.) One of my clients is from here, and I’ve just remembered that I used to smoke St Moritz cigarettes!

The highlight of the trip for me was our walk around St Moritz Lake on Sunday morning. On the shady side of the lake, which was still frozen, the path was covered in crunchy snow and occasional ice. Very beautiful.

From St Moritz we took the train to Zurich. I was last there in 2007 just before I joined my friend Wisty from Oz on the Mont Blanc Circuit trek. Liliane and I transferred here to the Lausanne train, which went through Bern. On the spur of the moment I decided to spend the night there. I stayed at La Belle Epoque, which I had noticed when I was there a few weeks ago. I took a walk around the part of the city that overlooks the river, got some work done and ate dinner, then finished a job yesterday morning before heading back to Lausanne at lunchtime.

Dinner at Jacques’ last night, where we planned some of my last Swiss adventure…

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Last pain de raisin in Paris

March has been an INTENSE month. My work schedule has been very demanding, but I'm also in a beautiful part of the world and I want to see as much as I can while I'm here.

A week ago tomorrow, my friend Jacques and I saw an exhibition in Lausanne of black-and-white photographs by Hans Steiner, one of Switzerland's most prominent photographers from the 1930s through to the 1960s. It was really interesting to hear Jacques talk about some of the subjects covered in the works. I bought a print (one of ten printed from the original negative) to add to my collection of works bought during my travels.

Jacques then took me to lunch at a lovely place on the slopes above the vineyards in the area that's known as the "Swiss Riviera". We sat on the terrace that looks out over the lake and ate locally caught perch. In Montreux I checked into my hotel (the Fairmont Montreux Palace) before Jacques dropped me at the railway station.

I took the two-carriage train that goes up the steep slopes behind Montreux, past finishing schools and private clinics, to the ski slopes at Rochers de Naye. Very dramatic. It wasn’t perfectly clear weather, but it was the best I was going to get.

Back at lakeside I went to see the statue of Freddie Mercury, which wasn’t on public display when my niece Chloe and I were in Montreux almost exactly ten years ago.

I spent the evening at the movies seeing the Coen Bros film “True Grit”.

At dawn I had a run in light drizzle to Chateau de Chillon, a medieval castle on the edge of the lake. The pathway is beautifully landscaped and there are occasional outdoor artworks. I'll be back here towards the end of the month.

From Montreux I took the train back to Lausanne for one night before heading to Paris last Sunday.

I’m staying in the St-Germain area of the Latin Quarter, on the Left Bank of the Seine, at Relais Hotel de Vieux Paris. In an earlier incarnation the hotel was the “Beat Hotel”, home to William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg and other Beat poets and bohemians.

The streets are very busy, though it’s still off-season. Remy, who runs the hotel, calls the people who hang out in the neighbourhood “BoBos”: bohemian bourgeoisie.

The day I arrived I had time to see a couple of exhibitions (including Mondrian) and some of the permanent displays at The Pompidou Centre, but I’ve had little free time since then. Each morning I’ve been for a 90-minute exploratory run, which I’ve really enjoyed. The first morning I ran to the Eiffel Tower along the Seine and back to Notre Dame Cathedral. I popped in for a quick sit-down and to check out morning mass. Yesterday I ran via Pont Neuf and the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe and back via the Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde. And today I went via the Bastille to an elevated planted promenade that’s a similar concept to the High Line in New York, but longer.

The weather has been beautiful here. I’ve made headway with work. And I’ve had three runs and used them to have my own experience of Paris, even if I couldn’t do most of what I had hoped. The woman in the patisserie around the corner now expects me to call in at about eight o'clock in the morning for a pain de raisin after my run. I like that.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

One night in Neuchatel...

I had planned to stay for two nights, but the place was too quiet.

Liliane and I drove from Lausanne up to Lac de Neuchatel on Saturday, where we had a bit of a look around Colombier/Cortaillod (where I was entered to run a half marathon on the Sunday), Auvernier (where there are some very old vineyards), and Neuchatel. I had already decided to pull out of the race, but it was a good opportunity for an outing and to spend some time with Liliane. We had afternoon tea at a very grand hotel on the lakeshore, then Liliane headed off and I started looking for a hotel for the night. It turned out to be the last night of the World Championship Figure Skating competition and accommodation was hard to find. I was referred to Hotel Touring, which must have been filled otherwise with figure skaters who partied hard after the end of competition, judging by all the noise.

I ate dinner at a small brasserie but failed to include either chocolate or cheese, both of which Neuchatel is famous for, apparently.

The town dates back to the Middle Ages, and there are lots of beautiful old buildings and fountains, cobbled squares, grand public buildings (I visited the art gallery), quirky steps and funky window treatments. I loved the colours. It's all very well looked after, but on a late winter Sunday it was too quiet to keep me after I'd walked everywhere I was going to walk and had lunch at Les Halles. The big place on the hill in the centre of town that looked like a cathedral was shrouded in scaffolding, and none of the interesting-looking shops were open. Best to visit these places during the week, I think.

I took the train back to Lausanne, though I was very tempted to take the one to Bern when it pulled up at the next platform.

Squeezed in around all of this has been work, of course.

I have lots of excursions coming up over the next two weeks, and there is an end in sight to the full-on workload, at least for a few days, towards the end of the month.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The beat goes on...

Today I had just a tiny taste of what's in store during my walk across the northern shore of Lake Geneva (c. 80 kilometres), which I'm hoping to do over four days in the last week of March when the winter haze should have fully lifted. I took the train just a little way east of Lausanne to Pully, then walked down to Lutry, a medieval village on the lake shore. Above this part of Lake Geneva are steep hillsides planted with wine grapes.

From Lutry I walked back to Ouchy, which is like Lausanne's toe in the lake. It's so beautiful: swans on the water, the French Alps just across the way, lots of dogs out for walks, wonderful buildings. I'm fully aware of how lucky I am to be spending time in this beautiful part of the world. If only I could speak French...!

The end of the last couple of months of intense work pressure is in sight, and so to celebrate I'm going to Paris for five days at the end of next week. I got my train tickets today. I'm booked into a hotel in the Latin Quarter that has associations with the Beat poets.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bern, baby... Bern!

How come no one told me about Bern?

What a fabulous city! It's the capital of Switzerland but has a population of only about 130,000. It's about 500 years old, gorgeously situated on the Aare River, has stunning buildings (it's a UNESCO World Heritage site), and there are very funky shops in the lanes of the old town and along cobblestoned, colonnaded Marktgrasse. I went by train from Lausanne this afternoon when I created a window of opportunity for an excursion by starting work at 4.45 am. I didn't know anything about Bern and considered going only as far as Fribourg, which I thought would be more accessible for a visit of a couple of hours than a bigger city. So glad I went with Bern! I seemed to walk instinctively in the right direction, and then I couldn't believe my luck. I also found a great little cinema. I think a return visit for a night or two is on the cards.

Bern is very "German", where Lausanne is very "French".

Yesterday, I took the ferry across to Evian-les-Bains, on the French side of Lake Geneva. It's the old spa town where Evian water originates. There's a small old town area, a majestic former spa that now houses an art gallery and conference centre (I saw an exhibition of works showing daily life in 19th-century Paris), a casino and a marina. It's late winter and the town was very sleepy, but I had lunch and walked along the shoreline checking out the dogs.

Friday, March 4, 2011

From Lampang to Lausanne sur Lac Leman (Lake Geneva)

If anyone actually reads this blog, I feel I should apologise for the lack of frequent updates. I had hoped to update it every few days, but pressure of work has made it difficult to see and do as much as I might have if my time had been freer, and so there hasn't been much to recount. But it just goes to show that I'm not on a perpetual holiday. I do have some time blocked out for a break in May; the rest of the time it's what I'm calling "business as unusual", where I take my breaks where and when I can find them, just like everyone else.

Having said that, I did spend a couple of days in Lampang, a town two hours by rail south of Chiang Mai, last weekend. I ran a half marathon on the Sunday morning and placed second in the Female 50+ category. It was a fundraiser for the Lampang Pony Welfare Foundation, which was started by a Danish woman, Nana, whom I spent some time chatting with on the Saturday when I registered and again before and after the race.

There was a small field for the half; maybe 70 or so runners. We started at 5.30, in the dark. By 6.30 it was starting to become light, with people and monks heading for temples, and temple music playing. Lots of people spoke to me, or gave me a thumbs-up, or put their hands together and slightly bowed their head, as in the traditional Thai greeting. It was lovely.

I received a trophy at the awards ceremony, which I presented to Dom back in Chiang Mai at breakfast on Monday morning in thanks for his training company. I took him and Mike, and Peter and Jiab, to dinner on Sunday night after I returned to Chiang Mai. I felt quite sad saying goodbye to them.

Flew to Bangkok on Monday, where I mostly worked in my hotel room until it was time to head to the airport on Tuesday afternoon. I took time out for dinner at the Shangri-La Hotel, on the Chao Praya River, where I had stayed with my niece Jaye 20 years ago.

Flew via Doha to Geneva overnight on Tuesday, and then took the train to Lausanne. I was last in this neck of the woods in 2007, when I walked the Mont Blanc Circuit with my friend Wisty and a bunch of people on an Exodus trip. Before that, I was here with my niece Chloe in 2001, when we made a side trip to Lausanne and Montreux (and London) from our base in the Marais district in Paris. It would be fun to go to Paris for a couple of days while I'm here, but work pressure may knock that idea on the head. Hopefully, I'll be able to do a few things closer to home. I'm staying in the apartment owned by the people I rent the apartment in New York from. Their friend Liliane met me in a bistro at Lausanne Gare yesterday and brought me to the apartment. People are so nice :-)) On a clear day there are views from where I'm sitting across the lake to the Alps and France, but it's been very white/grey since I arrived.