Monday, 28 December 2009

Raquetting in Chamonix

Immediately following Christmas we headed off to Chamonix in France. This was somewhat as the result of our holiday plans being thwarted by our malfunctioning car, but anyway we really enjoyed Chamonix last time we visited and were happy to go back.

The plan this time was to do some snow-shoeing; for the first time this season since the snow has been a bit disappointing so far in Switzerland, or at least it has been in the part where we live now. We bought car chains along the way, upon reading that the town had received heavy snowfalls recently (and anyway it is nice to have chains as a contingency against getting stuck in a snow-storm again!).

So we were a bit disappointed, on arriving in Chamonix, that the town was not a snow-covered winter wonderland, but actually a bit bare. Most of the Raquette paths listed were at about the same altitude of the town and so would be more of a slushy stroll than a snowy hike. To counter this, I found a listed snow-shoe track at around 2000m not far from Chamonix in Les Houches, where we were more likely to find some decent snow.

At the top of the lift station at Les Houches we couldn't readily identify the track, but spotted some others with Raquettes on and took this to be the starting point. Indeed, once we reached the spot where the others had been, we could see plenty of raquette tracks leading off into the forest and so we just followed them in.

This turned out to be a very good start to the walk, as it took us through snow-covered pine trees to the top of a few vantage points from which we could see all around us.

We continued our walk through the forest for some time, having snow fights and sliding down some of the steeper sections, before eventually making our way back to the starting point as the snow started to fall.

The snow continued into the night, finally turning Chamonix town white overnight. We had to race home, however, as we'd booked the car in to fix the heater so we can finally start our Christmas Holidays in earnest!

I'm sure we'll be back to Chamonix: it is not far from where we live, the town is really nice and french, and the Mont Blanc setting hard to resist!

Les Rousses

For Linda's birthday this year we planned to head up the hill to play in the snow like we had in previous years. However, depite an earlier dump of snow, we found ourselves potentially snowless. So we went a bit further up the hill, just into France at Les Rousses (which, oddly, translates to The Redheads).

At Les Rousses we found a somewhat incongruous Canadian shop where we ate pancakes and bought some cranberry sauce (in preparation for Christmas Turkey dinner). Then we took ourselves off to find a path to go for a walk, the snow being insufficient for snow-shoeing.

We found a path down to the Lac des Rousses (which doesn't translate to Lake of the Redheads), and set off. When we reached the lake we found it was almost completely covered in ice, and we wandered around it taking photos of the lake and snow around it.
We finished up quite late, having started quite late, but found a little supermarket in which to buy some interesting French food to take home with us.

On the way home, in the dark, in a newly arrived snowstorm, we spotted a hill that Linda insisted was a good place to go tobogganning on the little plastic thing we bought to shovel our car out of the snow in an emergency.

After this we made our way down the snow-covered, windy, roads, in our car with no heating, and narrowly avoided sliding into the back of another car that had stopped unexpectedly. Once again we wished ourselves better prepared for the winter weather.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Bulle Christmas Markets

On Sunday we jumped in the car and headed out to Bulle to see the Christmas markets there.

In Bulle is the usual mix of chalets with crafts and foods in the Place du Marche, but also a bonus undercover Artisinal markets.

We got to Bulle with no trouble, and enjoyed the markets and wandering around the town, but the trouble began when we decided (a) to go onto the Montreux markets (b) to take the scenic route.

This was compounded by our GPS taking us in a rather more round-about route than we would have liked, and the unfortunate onset of a snowstorm.

The snowstorm would have been manageable if it had not been for the fact that the heater in the car was non-functioning, and our breath was freezing on the inside of the windscreen. We quite simply couldn't see the road in front of us in the end.

After a couple of rounds of deciding whether we could make it through the storm, we elected instead to stay the night in Les Mosses resort. This was actually quite nice - we had some good solid swiss food for dinner, and for breakfast in the morning, before heading outside to dig out our car.

So it wasn't terrific planning on our part, but we had our adventure and got home safe in the end. Next time we'll be better prepared!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Snow comes to Nyon

Last year I remember there being a lot of snow already before Christmas, but this year it has been unusually warm until quite recently, and even when it got really cold the snow failed to materialise.

However in the last few days we saw first a few snowflakes making a brave appearance, and then on Thursday and Friday we got quite a lot of snow.

Since we've moved to Nyon we're now slightly higher altitude than the lake, where we were living in Vevey, and we've also got our own balcony, which is exposed to the open sky. As a consequence we got more snow at our apartment in Nyon than we ever really experienced in Vevey.

Looking at the snow on the balcony it almost seemed feasible to build a snowman, so we donned our gloves (Linda went further and put on her new ski jacket) and went outside to give it a shot.

It would have been a complete success if the snow had not been so dry that it wouldn't stick together, so we resorted to having a snowball fight and making three miniature versions of snowmen to put on the balcony table.

Following this accomplishment we sat down with some hot tea and bread and jam for a little picnic on our balcony. We're hoping this will last until a white Christmas!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Geneve - Mont Saleve

Above Geneva is a breadloaf-shaped mountain called Mont Saleve. Apparently it is a popular destination for Les Genevois for healthful hikes, picnics, mountain biking and the like.

So I decided I would check it out, catching the train and then a bus to the base of the mountain, from where I caught a telepherique to the top.

After my hike at St. Cergue the previous day I was a bit disappointed, especially since the sky had clouded over, and the exposed top of the mountain was windy and very cold. I imagine it would be much more interesting in Summer for picnics, or in Winter for snow-shoeing, but in the half-way point of Autumn it was just a bit grey.

You could, however, see across the mountains as far as Dents de Midi, Mont Blanc, and Lac Annecy in France (in fact Mont Saleve itself is in France).

After my big hike the previous day my legs were quite tired and I decided not to push myself too much, but I did decide to walk down the mountain which I imagined would be quite simple. This was a big mistake as it was really steep, and the leaves on the path made it really slippery.

I made it back without any great dramas in the end, although my legs were quite dead and the next day quite sore. I think I'll take Linda back there when there is proper snow on the top, but I don't think I'll walk either up or down the mountain again!

St. Cergue - La Dole

On the weekend I took myself for a couple of walks around Nyon to explore the area - something I've not done as much as I'd hoped until now.

So I drove up to St. Cergue to wander around without really having any plan. In the end I just parked the car and started walking.

I'd already done some research on the area and found that the highest point around, with a small ski field, was La Dole. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it all the way up because I started late and it would have gotten dark before I could return, but I figured I would just walk until 4pm and then come back.

It was actually quite a difficult walk, despite it being a "pedestrian path", since all the leaves had fallen from the trees and there was some snow on the ground making the path difficult to follow and quite slippery. It was also really cold with quite a strong wind.

After climbing a big stretch of hill I reached a plateau and saw that if I walked a bit further I would find a good spot to look out towards the lake. I was quite tired and cold by this stage so I was hoping it would be a good view.

As it happens the view was amazing, with clear blue skies looking over Nyon, Lac Leman, and through to the French Alps. I stayed a little while and took some photos, until it reached 4pm and I decided it was time to head back.

I went back via a different route that turned out to be a bit quicker, and I was back in St. Cergue before dark. I was really pleased to have done the walk and have explored the area above Nyon - I can see a lot of potential for snow-shoeing and some easy skiing just up the hill from where we live!

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Visiting Family in England

Ages ago now, in October, I flew across to England to visit my niece and nephew, Oliver and Imogen, where they were visiting brother-in-law Jono's family.

It was all quite last-minute, as I only just found myself with enough time on my hands to take leave from work at quite short notice. So I booked flights and headed off without really much planning and almost didn't make it through border control in England when I didn't know the address of where I was staying.

Anyway it all worked out quite well and I spent a nice couple of days with Jono's family, who very nicely put up with my self-invitation.

Being in Europe we've missed so much of the children of friends and families, and it was really good to catch up with Oliver and Imogen and see how much they have grown.

The flights in and back were so cheap and - now that we live so near Geneva - easy, that I think Linda and I will have to make plans to visit England some more before we finish our time in Europe!

A walk in the woods

One of the great things about living in Switzerland is that you are seldom more than a short distance away from some patch of nature.

Both at home in Nyon or at work in Renens, I am only about 5 minutes walk from a nice bit of forest, and we often take advantage of this to go for a walk, run, or bike-ride through them.

This has become especially true this Autumn since we haven't been heading out as often as we normally do because of the weather, but also because the Autumn colours are really amazing!

Of course being Switzerland also means that these patches of nature are not exactly wild - normally you will find the yellow-signposted paths winding their way through any patch of nature - making the whole expedition very safe and easy.

We are looking forward to Winter proper when we can take our snowshoes up the hill behind us into the Jura mountains for some winter walks through the snow up there!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Portugal - Vila Nova de Milefontes

Our last night in Portugal was at Vila Nova de Milefontes.

Our stay got off to an excellent start with an amazing dinner at a local restaurant, followed by an equally amazing breakfast served in our B&B.

The town of Milefontes was quite quiet - being outside of tourist season meant a lot of the shops had shut down - but it was really nice just wandering around the town looking at the white and blue (and sometimes yellow) buildings.

From there we continued up the coast to Porto Covo, which our host at the B&B recommended to us. This was another really nice town, just as model village-like as Milefontes.

We spent more time wandering around the streets of the town and the cliffs facing onto the ocean.

Finally we had one last meal in Portugal, another delicious seafood affair, before hopping back in the car for the drive up to the airport.

We had a fantastic trip and we're both quite motivated to return to Portugal for its good food, cheap prices, friendly people, and interesting countryside.