Thursday, September 21, 2017

Variant Venues: Mont Blanc To Montreux

From our base in Geneva, we experienced everything from the high altitudes in the Alps to the subtropical climes of the Swiss Riviera, and many points in between. As with other European cities, the churches provide the best perspectives (once you scale a tall, narrow steeple) like this view from St. Peter’s Cathedral (above).

A short drive south and we were in Chamonix, France (above). The town resembles Aspen, Colorado: popular in the summer and even more popular during ski season. With the pearly white peak of Mont Blanc as backdrop, this epic playground attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all stripes with a propensity to party.

In addition to the cable cars, funiculars and a rack-and-pinion railway line, Chamonix offers myriad hiking trails and paragliding opportunities, and breathtaking views of suspended glaciers and shimmering ice fields of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps from the jagged needle of rock known as Aiguille du Midi.

Gruyères, the medieval village, was choked with tourists when we visited in high season. However, the Callier factory in nearby Broc, one of the country’s oldest chocolate manufacturers, and adjacent cheese dairies that reveal the magic of fondue, along with a few glasses of white wine, are “can’t miss” tour opportunities.

In a country filled with spectacular scenery, the Swiss Riviera stands out.  From Lausanne, headquarters of the Nestlè Corporation, to Montreux, home of the world renowned jazz festival, the views will captivate. In between is those two is Vevey, where Charlie Chaplin chose to live after leaving the United States for good.

In Switzerland, it’s really hard to find sketchy neighborhoods, but we tend to find them anyway; in fact, our hotel was situated in the Les Pâques, which is about close you’ll find to urban grit in this sleek, urban metropolis. Yet, we were still only two blocks from the fancy hotels on upscale Quai du Mont-Blanc along Lake Geneva.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Swissfolk: Eclectic And Egalitarian

Landing in Geneva early on Sunday, our hosts at the Edelweiss Hotel explained that our room wasn’t quite ready, so we had time to peruse the Lake Geneva waterfront (above and below). We almost had the place to ourselves, which was great because we had arrived during the biggest summer party of the year: the Fêtes de Genève.

With most locals still in a state of slumber, we had the opportunity to examine this sleek, cosmopolitan city up close and unfettered.

The people here chatter in every language under the sun, though French predominates, and Geneva has an international flair represented by the presence of the United Nations, International Red Cross and other organizations.

As we circled the promenades lining the sparkling shores of Europe’s largest Alpine lake for two hours, the denizens of Gevena arose slowly but surely from their slumber and activity gradually blossomed in the summer sun. Returning to the Edelweiss Hotel, we focused on rest and recuperation so we could party with the locals at the evening’s festivities on the final day of the Fêtes De Genève.

Located on quiet residential square, the Hotel Edelweiss featured charming Swiss décor with well appointed rooms, just two blocks from Lake Geneva and an easy stroll to old town. Our hosts Pierre, Fanny and Maximillian were eager to help and facilitated our far-flung tours. This three star hotel could easily pass for a four star facility.

We took advantage of walking tours through the old town (right) and the United Nations complex, including the headquarters for the International Red Cross (below), provided by volunteer guides. The tours are free but tips are always welcomed, and most participants, virtually all of us tourists, accommodated our gracious and well-informed guides at the end of each tour. All had day jobs but gave tours on the side. One was a social media manager, the other a draftsman at a local architectural firm.

The old town featured a number of street vendors like Allan (below) who make their living selling exotic exports, in his case mostly women’s clothing, and I became a regular customer. A native of Geneva, Allan peddles his colorful wares locally in the summer, then sets up shop in India during the winter.

The festival was a hoot: the waterfront pulsated with a party atmosphere that was infectious. The two-week event features daily parades, open-air concerts, lakeside amusement rides and fireworks displays. Ran into a buddy of mine trying to make a few Swiss francs at the party (below). Disney would not be pleased, I’m sure.