Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tour de France 2009 in Verbier

We are lucky enough to be in Switzerland for the Tour de France to pay a visit. Two legs (15 and 16) of the race are in Switzerland, and we decided it would be fun to go to Verbier to watch the finish of leg 15 as they raced up the hill.
Of course this is a big event, so we abandoned the idea of driving there in favour of public transport, but even this was a bit of a challenge as the cable car up the mountain to Verbier couldn't keep up with the volume of people arriving to watch the race.
Since we were already catching a cable car, and the race wasn't due to start for several hours, we decided we might as well continue all the way to the top of Verbier, to Mont Fort (3300m).
Several cable cars later we were at the top. The view from Mont Fort was pretty amazing, and we could see two alpine lakes and some glaciers between breaks in the clouds.
We then headed back down the mountain and although we were tempted to spend more time walking around the alpine fields, we also didn't want to miss the race we had come to watch!
We got back down to the village of Verbier and walked down the hill towards the road where the riders would be finishing. We eventually found a really good spot near a hair-pin bend and camped out waiting for the racers to come past.
Needless to say I took many hundreds of photos of the riders. You can just click through the ones shown here to find a whole bunch more.
Of course it all happened quite quickly for the first few riders in the lead, but then the straggling groups kept on coming and while the leaders were cruising back down the hill after the race there was still some riders on the way up. We spotted Lance Armstrong only because he was the only rider with a bodyguard.
After the race we decided to walk down the hill to Le Châble where the train leaves from, since we figured the cablecar would be overloaded again, but the walk was a little longer than we anticipated and by the time we got to the bottom we were quite tired!
We just missed one train, since we were off buying racing memorabilia, and ended up sitting around a good long time before the next one departed. We got home tired but very satisfied with a day of mountains and bike racing.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Grottes de Naye

This weekend I went back to Rochers de Nayes to climb up the route which, thanks to the clouds and 'helpful' directions of other walkers, I had missed on my last visit.

Instead of hiking up from Caux like I did last time, I took the soft route and took the train higher up the mountain to the Jaman stop. From here you hike towards the base of the climb up past the Grottes de Naye (a network of caves inside the cliffs).

I wasn't too interested in climbing inside the caves, not only because I didn't have a headlamp but also because some reports I've read hadn't been too positive. Instead I took the stairs that have been thoughtfully built up along the cliff face.

Of course it is really steep and the climb was quite exhausting. It was even raining lightly for most of the climb! Despite this the views you get along the climb are amazing, and once you get to the top and make your way along the ridge towards Rochers de Nayes, they only become more incredible.

Also along the ridge I found the exit points of the Via Ferrata, which are climbing routes with pre-laid cables and rungs in the rocks to assist climbers. Despite the fact that the route is so well established, I found the view from the top terrifying and I'm not sure how comfortable doing the climb myself.

Anyway this was only meant to be a quick walk, and I caught the train back down the mountain rather than walk back. However, it was really good to be up there again seeing the amazing views, flora and fauna (I saw some birds). There are plenty more paths at Rochers de Naye to be hiked!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Alsace - Strasbourg

On Sunday we drove up to Strasbourg, which is only a little North of Colmar.

We had done very little research (which is unusual especially for Linda), and were late getting started because we'd both been sick leading up to the trip and had nevertheless had big working weeks. As a result we arrived in Strasbourg around lunch time and plonked ourselves down in the nearest decent looking restaurant for lunch.

I had a Choucroute, which is the Alsacian version of a Sauerkraut. As you can imagine this is quite a heavy dish and I didn't manage to finish this, or the triple-decker chocolate mouse I ordered for desert. Both were delicious, if rich, although I have to say I'm definitely more a fan of the French-style cooking than German.

After washing this down with a digestive espresso, we headed into Petite France (I'm not sure how they claim to have distilled all of France into a neighbourhood), which has many fine examples of the timber-framed houses that the Alsace is famous for.

Next we walked further along the river into the old town, with its obvious centre of the cathedral with its enormous tower (a planned second tower was never completed). We bought some delicious nougat at a sweets shop - vanilla, caramel and mocha flavours.

Since it was hot, we stopped for a sorbet before wandering back through the town, via a different route, towards our car.

Despite our poor research, we did manage to inform ourselves about the wine route that runs to the West of Strasbourg and Colmar, and we drove out that way to follow it at least part of the distance back towards Colmar.

We didn't really stop - you never feel like stopping when you're on the home stretch - but we passed through many really pretty towns and vineyards and I can imagine it would be easy to spend a week travelling along the route. Something for the future perhaps..

Alsace - Colmar

On the weekend we headed up to the Alsace area of France. We started in Colmar which is around an hour closer to where we live than Strasbourg, and is meant to be a very pretty town in its own right.

We drove up on Friday night to make the most of weekend, and managed to arrive just before dark and in time for dinner.

The region is a really interesting part of France, being so close to the German border, and actually being part of Germany for a few periods around various wars. Although French is the official language, it has a Germanic dialect and its food has a distinctly Germanic side.

We spent Saturday wandering the streets of Colmar, visiting its various neighbourhoods, including the Petite Venice neighbourhood, which has the most attractive and characteristic houses.

We also visited the Unterlinden museum, which houses an impressive collection of medieval religious artwork, but most importantly the Isenheim Altarpiece, which originally folded out in several stages but now has been separated into a number of separate pieces for display. This piece really is very impressive, for its size, colours and imagery.

Of course we also ate well in Colmar. We ate local specialities of Tarte Flambée (a thin pizza like dish), and since Alsace is right next to Lorraine, we had to have a Quiche Lorraine.