Monday, 31 August 2009

Paragliding into Villeneuve

Last year Linda gave me a gift voucher for a paragliding flight into Villeneuve. Since we've been so busy, and reluctant to give up a good-weather weekend, we hadn't yet got around to doing the flight.
We were spurred into action by the fact that we will soon be moving away from Villeneuve, so we found a spare few hours in between packing boxes to drive over to Villeneuve for the flight.

We picked a perfect day for it, with only a light breeze and clear skies resulting in some thermals for us to ride on. The paragliding company drove us up the hill to Sonchaux, which has an amazing view over the lake.

Our 'pilots' waited for a nice bit of breeze and we ran down the hill and were soon up in the air. It was really cool because Linda and I were flying at the same time, so were able to spot each other and take photos and some video.

Despite being really high up, you really feel quite safe; although the spins certainly make you feel a little queezy!

We landed after a really fun ride, which left us feeling like we should do it again some time, maybe over some different scenery!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Camping in Zermatt

Last weekend we packed the car for our first weekend of camping in Switzerland. To reach this point we'd invested quite a bit of money in equipment: a new 4-man tent, camping stove, cook set, head lamps... all for one night of camping!

Actually the plan is to do quite a bit of camping around Europe, it's cheap and it's fun and you get to see some interesting parts of the countryside.

Anyway the decision was made quite late to go to Zermatt - the rationalle being that we were going to be leaving Vevey soon and so it made sense to go somewhere we would be significantly further from in the near future. Plus Linda hadn't seen Zermatt properly last time we went (with my parents) since she was stuck in the hotel room working the whole time!

Anyway, we drove up to Randa, which is one of the last towns you can drive to before car-free Zermatt, and found ourselves a nice patch of grass to set up our tent.

We headed into Zermatt, and spent a bit of time wandering around the town and shops, but since we'd had a relatively slow start we headed back to our campground before it got too late.

We made ourselves a delicious dinner of pesto pasta on our camp stove and read our books by headlamp before crashing for the night. We were caught a bit surprised by the cold at night, since it had been a scorcher of a weekend and the day-time temperature was actually really hot. Anyway, we survived our night of camping quite unharmed.

(above: view from the front of the tent)

(below: view from the side of the tent)

Another delicious camp-stove breakfast of tea, boiled eggs and caramelised apricots (they're in season!) and we were ready for a day of hiking. The sun rising on the mountains around the campsite was amazing.

From Zermatt, we caught a lift up the mountain to Rothorn Paradise, at an altitude of around 3100m, with amazing views of the Matterhorn and the Findelglescher.

We also saw lots of flowers and butterflies, and got quite distracted taking lots of photos. As a consequence it took us quite a long time to progress on our hike, and it was a long time before we reached Stellisee, a lake that looks over the Matterhorn.

Since we were running behind our schedule, we cut our hike short, heading back down the mountain to Zermatt, and caught the train up to Gornergrat.

From there we hiked down the mountain to some more of the mountain lakes - we were on a mission to capture an image of the Matterhorn reflected in a lake! This is actually quite difficult to achieve however, since even a slight breeze will kick up ripples on the lakes. In the end, we did manage to capture some decent pictures.

In fact we took so many photos of the Matterhorn I'm quite sure our pictures will be quite boring, but you can't escape the sight of the Matterhorn looming over the other mountains, and its distinctive triangular shape is really incredible.

By the end of the weekend we'd hiked ourselves out. We bought ourselves souvenir SIGG bottles and headed home after a very successful first camping expedition in Switzerland!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Cow Fighting in Saas-Fee

On Sunday we drove far up the Valais to Saas-Fee, which is 'one valley up' from Zermatt, to see the summer cow fighting.

"Cow fighting" conjours up images of bull fighting, or cock fighting, but it is not quite so brutal a practice as that. The story goes that, in the movement of stock between the summer and winter pastures, the dominant cow must be identified, as it is this cow who will lead the herd from one place to another.

The cows are turned to face each other to match up, and then lock horns and push each other until the loser turns and runs and the winner is called.

Clearly today the event could be driven more by tourism than anything else, but certainly there was still some locals very seriously watching the matches, ticking off the victors on their game cards.

We watched this for a while, but while there is plenty of action there is also a fair amount of waiting for the cows to get interested in wrestling, and actually we aren't that into cows to start with.

So we wandered off into the wilds of Saas-Fee, or at least a small way into the woods, where we took photos of the running water and surrounding mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers above us.

We took note to return in Winter when the whole town is surrounded by snow-covered 4000m mountains.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Swiss National Day 2009

The 1st of August is Swiss National Day. It is a public holiday, but unfortunately this year it fell on a Saturday so we were deprived of a day off work. We were woken up, with mixed feelings, to the sound of a free breakfast being held in our square for the inhabitants of Vevey (there's only such much a free croissant can make up for).

Anyway the exciting thing about Swiss National Day is you get to go around eating cheese and sausages and not feel guilty but also, and most importantly, fireworks!

We were careful to buy up a batch of fireworks in the lead-up, knowing that last year the stocks started to dry up a day or so before actual event. Also, we didn't really know what we were buying since the fireworks themselves were described by vague graphics and even vaguer German or Chinese language.

In Switzerland the fireworks are graded by dangerousness - the highest level of 3 just means you have to be 18 years old to buy them. However, what you can buy as an 18 year old seems practically unbounded. As a consequence we ended up with far more (and far more powerful) fireworks than we had imagined. We had a box full of rockets, roman candles, and things that go bang and flash.

Since our BBQ refused too cook our dinner in under 3 hours, we spent our time setting off our fireworks, with a great deal of caution, on the rocks by the lake, so the rockets and flames went harmlessly over the water. Apparently those parts of Switzerland where they do not have lakes (it's a small part) often experience injuries as a consequence.

The highlight of the night was setting off the racecar fireworks we had discovered last year, which make a lot of noise and smoke but it does not result in much actual racing. [The photos are of the official fireworks].

We stumbled home tired and with burnt fingertips, but very satisfied with our relaxed day and fun with fireworks.

Col de Jaman

Well the last couple of weeks have been really busy. We signed up for a new apartment in Nyon, and have been trying to prepare our old apartment to show prospective tenants, and during this both of our jobs have kept us incredibly busy. Despite this we've determinedly managed to enjoy ourselves on the weekends.

Two weeks ago we went up to the Col de Jaman, which is part of the Rochers de Nayes area above Montreux. "Col" means "saddle", and the Col de Jaman is in the saddle between the Dent de Jaman and Cape au Moine. The benefit of Col de Jaman is you drive all the way up there, and then it is a short walk to a train stop to take you higher up the mountain, from where you can walk back to your car without killing yourself in the process (the drive back down is another matter).

The weather was excellent so it was a perfect time to be up in the mountains, and you could see for miles around. We had lunch at the Jaman train stop - suitably solid Swiss food to sustain our modest hiking - and explored the area.

Really there's not much more to say about the day other than we had a fantastic time out and about in the Swiss countryside! Click through any of the photos to see more of our adventures.