Monday, September 7, 2009

High in the hills sat a lonely goatherd

Sunday 6 September

Its Sunday morning and we (Helen and I) had toyed with the idea of Mass in French. But the morning got the better of us and one last meal (breakfast) in the square won out. We leave the hotel early - like 9 am - and walk around to the Place des Ducs. The sun is bright and the marble and sandstone of the Plaza are positively gleaming. So much so that there is no way we can sit outside! We find only a few of the cafes open this early on a Sunday morning and head for the Brasserie des Ducs on the far side of the plaza.

Sitting inside, but still within the reach of the warming sun, we order brekky - I'm not really hungry and just have a coffee and croissant but the Helen and Michael opt for omlettes that look and smell wonderful. The tables here are stunning - all different representations of the medieval period during which this town obviously flourished. One last walk past the Palais before we head back to the Hôtel des Ducs to finish packing and hit the road.

We realise that there was only such a small part of the town that we saw. But that is the lot of the short-stay tourist - you see a little but miss so much. Can't dwell on that or we could be caught in some sort of a tourist time-warp in many of the places we see. I know so many people thought that a year in Europe was the ultimate, but believe me, a lifetime in Europe would never be enough to really see this continent well!

We say a final goodbye to the reception staff in the hotel - Latifa and her counterparts have been wonderful ambassadors not only for the hotel, but for the City. They are vibrant, confident, beautiful young women who were a joy to know - even if for such a short time! Thank you ladies.

As we are leaving Dijon, we pass beautiful gardens, the remains of the City Gates and part of the City Wall, realising that although we have spent one and a half days wandering through the old town, that there was so much more to see. As I said, one of the downfalls of staying in really interesting old towns that are jam packed with history and interesting communities! And we can never stay long enough to see all of it - what bummer in a way!

Soon we are again out in the French countryside and there are times when we compare it to the back of Gympie, the Lockyer Valley and sometimes even the Atherton Tablelands. And yet it is different too. The sky is big - lots of open space. Many of the fields lie fallow at the moment, having recently been harvested. The last of the sunflowers are hanging their tired heads on drooping necks, too old now to be bothered with following the sun god they so worship.

One big difference though are the avenues of trees that are planted along the edge of the highways - particularly coming in to and out of the towns. They create the coolest, shadiest tunnels of dappled light that immediately drop the temperature by a couple of degrees. Now, you all know how much Helen is in to light and shadows, so you can just imagine the oohing and aahing and trying to capture every one on camera. She used to laugh when I told her the number of photos that we were taking in a day - well, today she wins with 731!

And then there are the little towns like Ville d'Auxonne here, with their ties back to history like this portal gate that, once part of walls helped to fortify the town and keep it safe from the maraurders that crossed the continent in search of conquests. We see aquaducts, and lots of public art in the form of sculptured gardens on roundabouts.

When we were planning the route I asked Helen if she preferred to go via the French Riviera which she had previously mentioned) or the Alps. She ummed and aghed a bit, but finally decided that as she had never seen really high mountains or snow, and so the vote went to the Alps. We had previously stayed in the French Alps and know now that it is more affordable than Switzerland, so we searched for somewhere in the French Alps. To get there, we will go through Switzerland, down along Lake Geneva before turning back in to France.

We are headed for a small town called Cordon. We had previously spent a wonderful week a little further to the west from there, but as we are ultimately headed south east to Italy, we have booked a room in a winter ski chalet for a night that attracts lots of summer walkers.

Travelling along the winding highway we chance our first glimpse of Lake Geneva. However, as we negotiate the steep inline we pass, on either side of us, Herculian cyclists straining at their cranks to provide the necessary energy to reach their lofty destinations!
Hang about...?

We're being passed by bikers, (..again on either side,) hunched over their screaming steeds hurtling towards their destinations. Are we seeing things - Dolpengangers, maybe? We sharing the road with the same bikers...oh, shades of Mt Glorious! 'Here he comes again', or 'There he goes again'. These blokes mustn't have anything better to do than shatter the peace and quiet we have attained after stopping at our viewpoint - and what a view!

Lake Geneva is glistening like a lapis lazuli jewel, it is indeed a breath taking sight. We're in awe, although, there is a faint haze it only adds to the lakes beauty....and here goes another biker. As they round the bends, we hold our breaths wondering whether we'll be witnesses to a tragedy. Anyhow, back to our reverie - from our vantage point, the surrounding mountain ranges appear like mantles, surrounding the lake and its environment like a watchful sentinel and today's glorious warmth is certainly reflected in the vision before us.

Though transfixed, we still have our own destination to reach. Returning to our car we make our way along the highway, and as we reach its lower slopes we notice on our right a group of bikers. These lads are obviously the same riders we had seen screaming up and down the highways incline. They stand in a group around their steeds appearing to be in deep discussions over their conquest of the mountain. If their is one saving grace with these riders, is at least their leathers are dense unlike the sheerness of their cycling bretheren?

We reach Switzerland, passing through the former border control with the bored look of experienced travellers - oh, that is all but Helen! This is the first land 'border' she has crossed since joining us in France. We travel through Geneva, along the shores of the lake, negotiating the Sunday afternoon traffic - it seems that almost everyone is out on the roads, ready to see and be seen.

The quite quickly, we are again crossing back in to France and climbing back into the maountains. We finally arrive at Cordon (the Balcony of Mont Blanc) and a quaint village indeed it is - but where in the hell is the hotel. All the residential dwellings and hotels appear in to built in the same 'Alpine' design. Kate leads us the way which is barred by the ubiquitous barricades...groan....another detour. The detour is a result of a 'Bread Festival'...yes, you read correctly...a bread festival. What a sight as there are folk dressed in traditional Lederhosen combined with 'Oompa-pah' music. We see a horse-drawn wagon gaily decorated with revellers calling out jibes of good cheer.

Kate has tizzy fit in an attempt to redirect our route, however, we are almost going in circles - not quite, but almost. We decide to draw upon local knowledge, so Michael ventures forth with the trusty phrase book to seek help. He returns frustrated, he will need to search further to find someone who can speak some English. Success, Michael finds a tavern whereby after some gesticulating, smiles and phrases he obtains the necessary directions to 'Les Rhodos', our accommodation for tonight.

The hotel is perched high up a slope which provides a gob-smacking view. If anything, today has been a day of vistas! Our room is located on the first floor with a panoramic window, allowing us to absorb the view before us! Words at this point are just superfluous....

Settled into our room - which combines a rather unusual arrangement for ablutions? The bathroom at one side of the room and the WC on the other - next to one of the beds. (A description of sound effects is not provided....)

Before we make a move towards having dinner, we just watch the light change across the alps as the afternoon slowly descends into twilight. The only accompanying sound is the dangs and dongs of the distant cow bells. And we wonder about that lonely goatherd, or cow shepherd!

Dinner...hmm...just what Herr Doktor ordered:
Club Sandwich au saumon fumé et sorbet tomate basilic (Club Sandwich with smoked salmon and tomato basil sorbet) Helen
Ravioles du Dauphiné au Beaufort (Ravioli Dauphine in Beaufort cheese) Michael and Maria
Fondue Savoyarde - servie avec assiette de charcuteries et salade verte (Cheese fondue - served with sausage and salad) Maria and Helen
Souris de a'gneau confite au miel de citron et épices (Lamb shank with honey, lemon and spices) Michael
Creme Catalan (Rich creme brulee) Helen and Maria
Profiteroles au chocolat au beurre (Profiterole with chocolate butter) Michael

Once dinner was done, we got talking with Chef owner Pascal who runs this busy little hotel with his wife Valerie and their adorable little boy Titoeun (sorry guys if I have the spelling wrong - let me know and I will correct it!). He explains that he studied for 6 years to get qualified as a cook and then worked in various restaurants for another 5 years before coming to Cordon. It has paid off - his food is fabulous!

Eventually we head back up to our room and admire the moon rising behind Mont Blanc - my god what a majestic sight. It is at times like this that you sit, in awe of the beauty of the nature around us.

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