Thursday, July 2, 2009

So, Italy or Switzerland?

Now I know Dad got his phobia about flies in Europe! We have noticed more here than anywhere else since we left home. Last night there were a couple in the apartment bothering about us all night - we thought we had got them! Ha ha. Early this morning there was a particularly bothersome one who wouldn't leave me alone so I was up before the alarm. Then the bloody thing came into the bathroom with me. Aha gotcha! With a deft flick of the wrist he was gone. What??? Another one? B***** hell. Got it too, only to find that when I got out of the shower there was yet another - how fast can these things breed? Surely not that fast. Seems that last night he invited the rest of his gang over - the only window open is the 1 foot square bathroom one. So I walk around with the fly swat - I will not resort to the spray can (yet).

We had looked at Turin and Geneva on the net last night. Due to a G8 meeting in Italy, they have suspended the Schengen Convention and all entry into Italy requires checks at the border crossings - this will cause some delays according to their website. So we decide against Turin today and will instead go to Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland. Then as we say goodbye to Chris and Mike who are returning to the UK for a specialist appointment re her knee operation, Mike suggests that we look at going over the mountains to Evian, further around on Lake Geneva. So, in the car we head initially for La Clusaz and then with map out, we plan an itinerary that takes us high into the alps follwing the Route Des Grandes Alpes and down to Lake Geneva and Evian (yes, as in the water!) Which actually doesn't even see us leaving France!

From Manigod we cross the Aravis Range to La Clusaz through the Col de la Croix-Fry and the Col des Avaris and on through St-Jean-de-Sixt and le Grand-Bornand and then through the Col de la Colombière to Cluses on the Arve River. Then it is almost due north through Taninges, then Montriond, Saint-Jean-d'Aulps and Le Biot all on the River Danse and the outskirts of Thonon-les-Bains before finally reaching Evian-les-Bains on the shores of Lake Geneva and opposite Lausanne in Switzerland. Oh, what is a Col? That is a mountain pass! Up steep climbs with lots and lots of hairpin bends and then down the same on the other side. You would not want to be prone to being car-sick in this sort of country. For weeks we have seen deer warning signs (like the kangaroo ones back home) but until today, had not seen any deer. Then, right before our eyes, a doe and her fawn take their lives into their hooves and dash across. I guess we were pretty lucky really, god knows that most Australians will never encounter a kangaroo on the road either!

The mountains in summer are a magic place. The air is crisp and much cooler than in the valleys and up close, the colours are very vibrant. But there is a haze that builds very quickly so that by early afternoon, when you look out across the valleys from a height, you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking through a piece of gauze. There must be some sort of annual floral competition run in France. All the small mountain communities are ablaze with colour - flowering plants are to be found in every container and crevice, with signs proudly declaring that their town was a winner in 2008, 2007, 1981 or some other time! The most vibrant pots contain a mix of pink and red geraniums and tuberous begonias. And the daily life of many a village is on show for all to see, with bedding airing out the windows and washing on verandahs.

And so to Evian. Not surprisingly, the roundabouts coming through the town display water features, as do many of the parks. Evian water fountains - well what else would you expect! The town certainly makes the most of it's link with the famous mineral water and every cafe or bar has tables covered with Evian umbrellas. We didn't actually go to any of the spring outlets! Gosh, didn't even think of it. But we did go and have a look at the Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption church just across the road from the visitor centre with its imposing panels of 'the way of the cross'.

But Evian's best link to water has to be the amazing location sitting on the banks of Europe's largest lake - Lake Geneva. This is such a picturesque setting and the lake itself is stunning. The water is so clean and clear that not only can you see patterned little fishes swimming, you can actually see the rocks at the base of the lake. Lake Geneva straddles France and Switzerland so that the ferries and other commercial traffic fly both the Swiss and French flags. The water is busy with a ferry cruise (solar powered), a Paddlewheeler boat, water skiers, pleasure craft and even one of the 50 or so remaining professional fishermen were all out on the water. And there were airforce jets flying by, low over the water that was absorbing quite a bit of their noise.

We go to visit the tourist information centre but ... you guessed it - lunchtime! So we went further down town and on the water opposite the Evian Casino there is a small ferry doing cruises. Very economical too. So on we hop. Turns out this is the first solar powered ferry on French waters. It operates almost totally noiselessly and the captain is happy to explain to the other passengers all about it. He has given Michael and I an A4 book with the same information translated into English. Guess that saves him having to say everything twice, even though his English is quite good. We are the only two non-French speaking passengers.

The tour lasts 30 minutes and just travels up a couple of kms along the French side of the lake only. There is quite a bit of history though along here and some very impressive real estate including the home that once belonged to the founder of DMC tapestry threads (my favourite) Jean-Henri Dollfus, a former home of the Lumière family - famous for the roles they played in cinematography (see our post for Lyon in February when we visited their museum) and the former Spa Baths that are now the cultural centre.

Cruise done we find a seat in the shade overlooking the lake and have our lunch. We have brough ham and chicken, cheese, tomato and lettuce with us and this morning in La Clusaz Michael bought 2 'small' (not) bagettes. We make up sandwiches and just bask in the scenery and air off the water. Gosh, this is very hard to take - right!! NOT. It is now after 3 pm, so we decide to turn for home. Now the decision needs to be made re the route. Do we go into Switzerland around the Lake through Lausanne and then Geneva before we turn south for Manigod (192 kms and just under 3 hours)? Or should we head for Mont Blanc and go across the other passes we have not seen (205 kms and 4½ hours)? No, no points for correctly guessing the longer route!

So I program Kate to take us via the Valley of Abondance (no, not a spelling mistake) then Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, Saint-Gervias-Les-Bains, Flumet and back trugh La Clusaz to Manigod. We stop at La-Chappelle d'Abondance and admire the church murals and I take the opportunity to have a refreshing drink from the town spring - with water coming straight off the mountain, clean and clear and sweet and cool.
This route takes us through the Col de la Forclaz and up through Morzine and into an even more twisting and climbing area through the Pass de Morgins. I was amazed at Morzine - high in this pristine environment, lying down in the valley, this sizeable city is complete with heavy industry bellowing out the detrius that is associated with it. And around the outskirts of the city are agricultural fields! Hope the locals know what they are eating with their fruit. Our next stop is in Morgins in Switzerland with its very unique bell tower. Now, the Swiss have a unique way of funding some of their road costs. It is compulsory to purchase a road tax vingette to travel on the motorways - even if you are only on it for ten minutes! So when we arrive in Morgins Michael goes to find one and eventually gets it at the Post Office. It is valid for a year and was €30 - pretty good considering that I think this was what we paid in 2006. And now we have it so there won't be any hassles going into Switzerland next week or when Hels gets here. From Morgins its back onto the Route Des Grandes Alpes to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc.

Now, this is where Michael got really excited. He got to see his first glacier in the wild. And then in quick succession, got to see three more! The Bionnassay glacier, the Mer de Glace glacier, the Bossons glacier and the Argentière glacier. Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest mountain however, continued to shield her face from us with clouds. But the views were nonetheless impressive and breath-catching. And we saw many of the other mountains in the Chablais Alps that run along the border between France and Switzerland. And we even got a light bit of snow as we were travelling through here - not enough to settle, but there were flakes on the windscreen! So we now turn north west slightly and head back for Flumet where we came through the other day and then we retraced our steps into La Clusaz and finally Manigod. With our photo stops, we pull into the drive at the chalet just after 8 pm.

The last hour of the trip is interesting. We have been having a Cow kind of day with bells, models, cutouts all on the agenda. We watch as a young man moves his cows higher onto the hills after milking. It is incredible that they can even lift their heads as they are all sporting HUGE bells on wide leather belts around their necks. We pass at least five apricot vans - produce from farms along the route, but don't stop - we are pushing for home now. And as we come back over the Avaris Mountains we experience a fantastic
sunderstorm! Yes, although there was some thin cloud, it was still sunny. Thunder and lightening, not very frightening, but I'm telling you the torrential downpour that accompanied it added a new dimension to driving these already hairy roads!! Once over the top though, there were clear skies and dry roads - they had not had a drop, but with the weather predicted to get wet, the farmers were taking no chances in getting their grass crops off quickly.

To finish the post for today, how is this for a picture? Taken out the car window from up in the mountains once we had passed through the storm that was still soaking the valley below!

As I write this, the forecast storms are hitting here. Lots of lightening and a good amount of rain. Guess that grass will be growing quickly again if it is sunny again tomorrow!

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