For the past five days, my room mate and I have been off traveling!! We’ve had the most amazing trip so for anyone interested, here’s the somewhat concise excerpts from my daily journal. Sorry for the horrible English (it’s become quite a struggle!) and pictures to come!
Saturday: Today was the kind of day I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We got up in Aix at 4:30 and took a bus to the TGV station. We boarded our train to Lyon, which was both my first experience on the TGV (the fastest train in Europe) and on a train at all. It was really cool but I honestly slept through that first ride. We then met up with my room mate Emma’s extended family, George and Marcia, at the station in Lyon. They’re an older couple from Devon, England. They were so adorably quintessential British! They even gave me a hug when we met them, which was quite lovely because hugs are quite rare here in France! We drove in their car (which I’m pretty sure was the first car I’ve ever been in with the steering wheel on the right) and headed to Annecy where we saw the “Retour des Alpages”. It’s the traditional festival/parade that celebrates the return of the cows from the Alps. Guys, can that even sound more alpine?? There were stalls set up and crowds everywhere buying cheese, meat, hand-weaved baskets, and even cowbells. We saw cows in their huge, traditional bells strapped under their necks and adorned with flowers. We drank hand-cranked apple juice in bowls from a traditional hand-pressed barrel system and ate powdered beignets à la pomme. We ate a lunch of tartiflette (which was potatoes and cheese made in a HUGE wrought-iron tureen) and diots (sausage soaked in white wine). We then lined up to watch the procession just as it started to drizzle. There were people in lovely traditional costumes (complete with wooden clogs!) leading around donkeys, horses, mountain goats. There were flower carts, tractors, chickens, drummers, accordion players, St. Bernard dogs. They even herded small flocks of animals through the streets literally less than a foot in front of us; there were sheep, geese, and of course, cows. One certainly cool part was when men started playing the alpine horns, which were so huge! We got some coffee and then headed to George and Marcia’s chalet in the French Alps. When we got there it was snowing!! I don’t really know what I excepted from the French Alps but it was certainly surpassed. In our warm little mountain home surrounded by huge, austere mountains with snow-covered pines, I was very much in the mood for Christmas in October.
Sunday: Today, again, was another unforgettable day! (I sense a pattern developing!) We got to have a bit of a lie-in and woke up to a hot cup of tea. (George and Marcia are extremely well-travelled so we bonded a bit over breakfast when they said that they’ve visited Sanibel. Small world!) We explored a bit of their tiny village, Crest-Valond, which is literally just one store, two restaurants, and a ski-lift. We drove around the equally tiny villages of Belcombe and Flumet. We stopped at a cheese store that sold random saucissons like donkey and wild boar. We then drove to Chamonix and on the way, due to a random lucky chance in visibility, got to see Mont Blanc, the highest peak in all of Europe. It was incredible! The drive through the Alps was almost other-worldly. They have a very austere beauty; they’re so deadly and unforgiving. In Chamonix, we walked around for a little but it was so blustery, we soon decided to get lunch. I call this the “Infamous Cheese Incident”. We had regional red wine, cheese fondue, and on top of that, we had this coolest regional dish called “raclette”. It was half a wheel of cheese that came out on some strange-looking metal heater. The top of the cheese bubbled under the heat and then you pulled it out, tipped it over, and used a wooden spoon to scrape off the liquidy goodness. You then ate that with meats or potatoes. We stuffed ourselves with so much cheese, that I was essentially not hungry for the rest of that trip! In Chamonix there’s a nearby glacier called “la Mer de Glace” (Ice Sea) that is now on my bucket list to visit. We then headed to Magève which was once the most popular place to go skiing in the French Alps. It’s now covered in high-end, luxury boutiques. Who knew this luxury skiing culture existed? We then went back to the chalet, got warm, and called it a day.
Monday: Today we got up early and left the chalet after a quick breakfast. George and Marcia drove us to Annecy and there we said goodbye. It was pretty sad leaving them; they were the absolute greatest! (Maybe a trip to Devon is in the future?) We found our hotel and miraculously our room was ready early. We stayed in the Grand Central Hotel which was wonderfully located and even better, the cheapest in the city. I was rather hesitant because I was certain that Emma had found some horrible dump but was pleasantly surprised by our lovely, colorful little room with its own little balcony overlooking a canal. We dropped off our stuff and headed back over to “Le Pêche Mignon” (The Cute Peach) for coffee and day planning. We walked around “la vieille villa” or the old town, took a billion pictures of lovely canals and churches, looked into some shops. About an hour later we discovered that we had experienced about all there was! We ate some “tomme” cheese that Marcia had given us with some bread by the lake and then discovered that we had invaded the territory of some quite frightening swans. We promenaded the lakeside and then went to the Musée-Château. There was quite a bit of everything: modern art, pottery, statues, alpine historic furniture, Annecy local art, and even the famous “Sirenes d’Annecy” (speculated bones of mermaids). The castle itself was quite spectacular; a lot of it was open so it was like a giant playground. We kept stumbling on nearly 1,000 year old private bathrooms; I guess some things just extend time and space like a good, private bathroom. We enjoyed some “vin chaud” which was hot wine with sugar and cinnamon, a perfect cold night drink! We then had a nice dinner out and went to bed early!
Tuesday: So today I went to another country. Why yes, I did accomplish a major life goal! We got up early after a great night’s sleep and caught the bus to Geneva (or Genève to the French). As soon as we left the gare I realized that I had forgotten my passport and panicked the entire ride only to discover that literally no one stopped you from doing anything upon arrival. We crossed the river and saw the famous Jet d’Eau, which is a massive shoot of water in the middle of the river and the tallest fountain of the world. To say the least, I loved it! We first went to the Cathedral de Saint-Pierre, the centre of the Protestant reformation in Geneva and Calvin’s church. Not only was it absolutely breathtaking, it was also so cool to see the real live place we’re studying in our course with Monsieur Berteau. We got hot chocolate and went to the Tavel House, which is the oldest private residence in Geneva and a converted museum. It turned out to be quite fun. We then returned to Saint-Pierre and bought tickets to climb up the twisting, tiny staircase to see the bell tower and the panoramic view. It was amazing! It reminded me of climbing the Arc du Triomphe in Paris. Not even the cold, wet weather detracted from the experience! From there we went to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire which was a happy surprise to find it a free day. We saw many cool works: modern, classic, and of course, Cezanne. Our afternoon was spent walking along, ducking into shops to avoid the rain and steal some samples, getting coffee, then buying ourselves Swiss chocolate. We found ourselves in a lovely, quirky place called “Le Théière qui Rit” (or The Laughing Teapot). We took our bus back, hung up our wet socks, and turned in. Overall opinion of Geneva is that it’s a lovely mixture of old and new, steeped in fascinating history, and has certain parts that are really lovely. on a whole, I would only return if I was fabulously wealthy because it was so luxe and expensive. Also, on the whole, I didn’t find it an overall beautiful city. But hey!! I can now say I’ve visited another country besides France and the US.
Wednesday: Bus to Lyon, train to Aix, bus to Aix. A full day of weary travel but very worth it!