Monday, 24 December 2007

Les Pléiades

Yesterday was Linda's birthday. It is generally not a good idea to plan anything too ambitious on such a day as many hours are taken up with present opening, cake eating, and more present opening. As a result we planned only to make the relatively straightforward day-trip up the hill from Vevey, to Les Pléiades.

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We didn't actually head out until the afternoon, and the weather in Vevey was overcast and cold so we weren't exactly filled with hope for the conditions at the top of the hill (technically the pre-alps so not really 'mountains'). As we rode the little train up the hill, however, we broke through the haze and into bright clear weather. The view was spectacular, with snow-covered mountains and trees all around.

When we eventually arrived at Les Pléiades we were amazed how clear and still the day was, with blue skies and air that actually seemed warmer than in Vevey. The snow was incredibly crisp and dry and although we kept finding ourselves knee-deep in powder we somehow managed to stay dry.

We had made some tentative plans for tabogganing, or snowshoeing, but in the end we happily wandered around for hours in the snow taking photos and making snow-angels (with various degrees of success).

We even had a little picnic of Baci chocolates on one of the chairs conveniently set up on the top of the hill.

We stayed on the mountain until the sun went down across the valley (hard to believe there was a lake down there under the clouds) and then took ourselves into the little restaurant that overlooks the valley for a mug of hot chocolate. On the train down the hill we watched all the houses and trees go by, decorated with Christmas lights.

All my photos from Les Pleiades are here and Linda's are here (Linda also has some great video, which I will try to upload).

Saturday, 22 December 2007


Last Saturday Linda and I caught the train up to Gruyeres. It will tell you something that, even within Switzerland (the land of cheese), Gruyeres is renowned for its cheese.

Aside from the cheese, we had heard Gruyeres was a beautiful spot to visit, and we also really felt like getting into the mountains to see how everything looked after the snow we've been having.

We caught the panoramic train up from Montreaux, once again getting amazing views from above the lake, but also the mountains and trees were covered with snow. We spent most of the train ride staring fixedly out the windows at the incredible scenery.

Once in Gruyeres we took the short walk up the hill into the old town, which is perched on top of a hill. We walked through the snow, taking a few moments to stamp around in it a bit like the tragic tourists we are.

Gruyeres is actually quite a small town, and the main street is lined with restaurants and shops but somehow it still manages not to seem like a ridiculous tourist trap. I think this may have been helped by the fact we were visiting in Winter rather than in peak season, and on the cusp of Christmas with all the lights on display (Switzerland is exceptional at Christmas-related activities and decorations).

After playing around in the snow a bit we decided a Fondue was in order. We picked a little restaurant that was recommended in our guide book and had an amazing moitie moitie (half 'n' half Gruyère and Fribourg Fondue). We'd had a fondue before, near home in Vevey, but this one was somehow so much better.

We then made our way up to the Chateau de Gruyeres, an 11th century castle at the top of the town. We wandered around a bit outside taking copious numbers of photos until our hands became so numb we had to move ourselves inside.

Afterwards I felt compelled to check out the HR Gieger Museum, who is famous from his work on the Alien movies. Well lets just say if you've seen the movies you've probably seen all you want to of HR Gieger - I have no idea why this museum is in Gruyeres, which hardly strikes you as the sort of place to house this somewhat weird bio-mechanical art museum.

Anyway we moved on to walk around the town some more, now that it was dark and the Christmas lights had come on. After taking some photos and checking out the shops (we bought part-1 of what will surely become the ultimate of all home fondue kits) we found ourselves another restaurant to warm ourselves up in.

For an early dinner Linda had an amazingly thick soup, while I treated myself to a Bernois Rosti, which is like a giant hash brown topped with thick slices of ham and then a fried egg. This is probably not the healthiest of meals but when it is freezing cold outside there is nothing like a hot meal packed with carbohydrates and protein to warm you up.

After this, it is sad to say, we were so cold and tired we decided it was time to catch the train home. It's amazing how late it feels when it gets dark before 6pm at night, and how much you just want to curl up inside on the couch when it is sub-zero outside.

Anyway I can see us going back to Gruyeres many times as there is much more to see and do (and eat) around this area, and from Vevey it is only a quick train ride away.

Monday, 10 December 2007

Geneva Fête de l'Escalade

On Saturday we went to Geneva for L'Escalade, which is pretty much the biggest event in the Geneva calendar. The event celebrates the defeat of troops sent by the Duke of Savoy, who tried to enter the city by climbing the walls using ladders (hence the name).

I had never been to Geneva, unless you count passing through on the train on the way to the Easyjet terminal. Linda had been a couple of times before, but only for job interviews so she too had not seen the city properly. Everywhere you read about Geneva makes it sound like a big disappointment, but we were both pleasantly surprised by its lively atmosphere and shops.

Top on my list of priorities was the jet d'eau, which is a giant jet of water (the world's tallest, apparently), which we could see all the way from Nyon when we lived there. I made an obligatory dash through the spray, despite the weather being somewhat chilly. In fact I only made it a short way in before deciding perhaps it wasn't a great idea to start the day off soaking wet.

Afterwards we wandered in towards the old town where the celebrations were being held. We didn't have to wait long before we found some of the events; the town was full of locals in traditional dress (and some in not-so-traditional dress).

The traditional food (always of primary importance) during l'escalade was ham off the bone (yummy), vin chaud (spicy hot red wine), and, to commemorate the old lady who offed an enemy soldier by pouring a pot of hot soup over his head, there was also pots made of chocolate and plenty of hot soup on offer. We bought a thick chunk of cheese on a slice of bread, which may not have been related to the events but was still appreciated in the cold weather.

We had a really fun day and night in Geneva, and I can see us going back for more visits. On top of everything else, I discovered the joy of taking fire photographs.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Sleepy Sunday in Vevey

This Sunday we stayed inside most of the day. It was cold and rainy outside and we had a very long to-do list leading up to Christmas that warranted our attentions.

During a lull in the rain I wandered outside for some (very) fresh air, and made the brief walk down to the lake. I didn't take my camera but couldn't resist snapping off a few photos on my phone.

I even took a video of the dramatic looking lake. The sun briefly peaked out between the clouds and I took in about 10 seconds of actual sunlight (I cast a shadow!) before it disappeared again.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Chateau d'Oex

This weekend (yes, actually posting close to the date we actually did something) we randomly chose to catch the train to Chateau d'Oex, 'inland' (if such a thing exists in a land-locked country) from Montreux.

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We decided on Chateau d'Oex (we still have no idea how to pronounce this) based on the fact that there was some markets there that were only on for 3 days each year and, well, it was there.

We bought our tickets in Vevey and, upon arriving in Montreux, were pleasantly surprised to find we were on the Golden Pass Line rail line in a panoramic carriage which gave us an amazing view of the lake and mountains as we went up the hill above Montreux (no photos, sorry)

Anyway it was a little cold and rainy, and when we got to Chateau d'Oex we discovered the markets were actually one stop earlier. We took the time to walk to the top of the hill where the church is located, however, which offered a fantastic view over the village and inside the church provided us with a spot of warmth and dry.

We didn't feel too compelled to stay in Chateau d'Oex, not the least because we are sure we will come back in January when the main event of the Chateau d'Oex calendar is held, the balloon festival.

In the end we caught the little train back down towards the town of Rossinière where the markets were being held. We really loved Rossinière, it was actually more attractive than Chateau d'Oex and many of the houses were open for you to wander in and browse the arts and crafts on offer. I didn't take any more photos because I was worried about the rain, and it was getting quite dark, but we were very glad to have visited this little town at this time of year.

Once we returned to Vevey we attended a presentation by a couple from Villeneuve (just around the corner from us on Lake Léman) who had spent 8 years cycling around the world. This made for a very interesting story, even if I couldn't understand the French it was told in. All told a very successful day out and we felt very satisfied.

Montreux Christmas Markets

Last weekend we visited the Montreux Christmas Markets, Marché de Noël Montreux. These are some of the biggest Christmas markets in the area, having more than 100 stalls with arts, crafts, food and dogs.

Being more of a food person than an arts and crafts person, I think I may have focussed more on that aspect of the markets. We had cinnamon waffles and roast chestnuts - two new favorites for the cold weather.

We spent quite some time wandering around all the stalls, and Linda bought a few presents for her family.

But it was also quite cold, and for some time we retreated into the food hall for some pleasantly hot and stodgy chicken and mushroom with Bernese Rosti, served from comically large saucepans.

One last thing to mention is Montreux is where Freddie Mercury lived out his last years. (The Swiss are notoriously generous in respecting the privacy of others, and are particularly welcoming if you have lots of money.) Anyway, November 21st is the anniversary of his death, which is recognised in Montreux by visitors to his memorial statue.

Foire de la St-Martin

Each year on the second Tuesday of November, the Foire de la St-Martin is held in Vevey.

[view from our apartment]

This is a big event in town, as Vevey is the home of St-Martin (there is a 10th century church here bearing his name). The festival started at dawn with the stalls setting up and 'soldiers' marching through our square.

Apparently this festival has been going on for many hundreds of years (I think this was the 538th), which added a sense of history to the event. This is one of Switzerland’s oldest fairs with the traditional dish papet vaudois and mulled wine. It was cool to have this all happening on our doorstep, and I deferred going to work by a couple of hours to make a quick dash through the stalls.

Linda took a lot more photos than me.

All of Linda's photos around the markets are here.