Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Route Napoleon

We left our lovely hotel in Leysin and the hosts there recommended that since we had two days to get to Nice we should travel via the "Route Napoleon" as it was very scenic.  It goes from Cannes up to Grenoble, following the route that Napoleon took in 1815 on his return from exile in Elba.  

It was a long drive the first day. We drove along Lake Geneva and then passed into France quite early. After that most of the time we were either stuck in tailbacks due to roadworks, trying to make it through congested cities, or driving through unattractive little villages. When I toured France with my parents nearly 25 years ago, we came to the conclusion that paint salesmen would not make much of a living in France.  So many of the buildings looked old and dilapidated,  with peeling paint and cracked render. Nothing has changed in the intervening years.

Castle near Lake Geneva

Vineyards near the Lake

Route Napoleon found us accommodation up the top of a deserted mountain track in a place call Corps. The Boustigue Hotel was rather disappointing.  The view was good, certainly, and the fact that the staff only spoke French shouldn't have been a problem, but it was a bit difficult due to the heavy local accent. The room was pretty average. Dinner, though, was definitely a French meal.  Very nice.

Next day was more of the Route Napoleon, including a stop at Sisteron which is a pre-Roman town situated by a river in an amazing gorge. Because of this were are some spectacular geological formations surrounding the town. Apparently Napoleon stopped here for lunch on his way up north and as the town was fiercely Royalist the local population largely ignored him.  

Route Napoleon



Rocher de la baume in Sisteron

We found a lovely place to stop for lunch, with a very friendly host who couldn't believe we had come all the way from Australia!

In general, having seen some spectacular scenery in the Dolomites, Austria and Switzerland, we found the Route Napoleon a bit of a let down.  We also found the French drivers very rude and aggressive. Heaven help you if you need to change lanes at any time! 

We spent the night in an airport hotel in Nice. Not exciting, but very convenient since we had to return the lease car at 9am the following day and then fly back to England.

Monday, December 29, 2014

More of Switzerland

After coming back down from Mt Pilatus, we headed off west in the general direction of Interlaken, passing the Sarner See (Lake) and the Lugerer See. Then we drove up over the Brünigpass. While doing so the weather changed from the scorching hot (see previous blog post) to overcast and threatening. 

A storm threatening over the mountains

We drove into Brienz on the northern shore of the Breinzer See, which is one of the two lakes that Interlaken is ... well ... inter. The rain started coming down with a vengeance.  It had always been my plan to stay in Brienz as I had found it delightful when I was there in 1990. Driving through the main street of the town nothing much accommodation-wise jumped out at us.  Then we reached what appeared to be almost the end of the town, and there was an Inn right on the lake.  We parked in the carpark right next to it and went to ask whether they had any vacancies. Sadly, the answer was no. But as we were coming out a man who had just parked a motor bike asked us if we were looking for somewhere to stay, we said yes, and he took us over the road, where his family ran the Hotel Brienzerburli.  I was a little apprehensive at first that we'd be landed with some awful cheap hotel, but it was lovely, and the view of the lake from our room was an added bonus.

Storm over the Brienzer See

Restaurant in the hotel

View from our room the next morning
By the next morning the weather had cleared and we took a walk through the town of Brienz.  It's a picturesque place, famous for its wooden buildings and wood carving school, bordered by the lake on one side and the mountains on the other. With all the wooden buildings one thing I shouldn't have been surprised to see where the signs forbidding smoking outside when a strong wind was blowing.

Carved wooden cow - very tasteful

Wooden sign pointing the way to the local scenic mountain
After stopping for a cuppa in a lovely spot overlooking the lake, we stumbled across a man making guitars.  We watched through the window for a while and then he invited us in and talked to us about his craft and how the steps he had taken to achieve his dream of being a renowned guitar maker.  Andy was suspicious at first that we were going to be talked into to buying one (not that Andy normally needs much persuasion to buy another guitar) but in fact all of this guy's guitars are made to commission and he had plenty of orders to keep him busy. In fact, he had something like a three year waiting list to get one of his guitars.


The Lake

Andy trying out a guitar

The Lake and boadwalk

After our walk around town we decided to head off to Grindelwald.  Andy had an image in his mind from his childhood trip to Switzerland of a view of three peaks - the Eiger, Mönch and the Jungfrau - and thought it might have been Grindlewald from where he saw that view.  After a brief drive around a very un-picturesque town, where road and building works stopped any access to a tourist bureau, and where we couldn't find any access to cable cars or trains up to the top of a mountain, we decided to give up and follow the advice of our luthier friend and go up to the top of the Neiderhorn on the other side of the lakes.

To get there we had to drive through Interlaken. As we were doing so, Andy saw a bridge that he recognised.  He said "just around the corner there will be a little shop" and there was. Then we came across "Manor Farm" - the camp/caravan site where his family had stayed many, many years ago (not sure that the name really fits a Swiss location). That was a real buzz for Andy, rediscovering the site.

Then we moved onto the location from where the funicular railway goes up towards the Neiderhorn.  We caught the funicular and then a cable car to get to the top of the Neiderhorn.  It was a beautiful trip up (with lots of cows to see) and lovely views from the top.  The advice to visit this instead of the more crowded mountains near Grindelwald was definitely correct. While we were up there, looking across to the Eiger and Jungfrau, our Australian friends whom we had met up with in Lucerne, were up the top of the Jungfrau looking across at us!

Funicular going up the Neiderhorn
View across to the Eiger and Jungfrau
Cable cars, which always travelled in groups of three
The valley down the other side
Alps with a little paraglider
Alpine meadow

After we got back to the car we headed off towards Lake Geneva. Andy, of course, was inspired by the lyrics of Smoke on the Water to visit Montreaux.  The problem was that it was again bucketing down, and Montreaux is a big city, with no parking, and very expensive hotels.  We decided not to stay there, or even get out of the car.  

We were looking for accommodation in, and were directed south of Montreaux to a mountain resort.  Sadie the sadistic satnav obviously didn't want us to get there, because she kept directing us through dead ends and expected us to drive along pedestrian tracks, but eventually we found the place, which was called Hotel le Grand Chalet in Leysin.  From the outside Andy wasn't impressed, but inside it was lovely family run hotel, and the hosts were very welcoming.  Our room had another marvellous view. It's a hard life.  We were now in the French speaking part of Switzerland, so dinner was a very different meal from the Germanic food we had been eating - a sort of mixture - neither pure French or typical German.

Our room
View from our room
Hotel restaurant
View just after sunrise
View during breakfast

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Lucerne and Mt Pilatus

Having settled into our hotel in Lucerne, we made our way out to find something for dinner. 

On the way we crossed over the old covered bridge with the painted medieval panels. This made me very sad, as I had seen the bridge back in 1990, but since then a major fire had destroyed much of the old bridge. The bridge had been rebuilt, of course, but much of the artwork has been lost.
Lucerne's covered bridge and water tower
One of the remaining panels
And another
Remains of a scorced one
Inside the bridge, with the panels overhead
We settled down for dinner in the Rathaus Brauerie alongside the river, and Andy did his usual facebook check-in, saying that we were in Lucerne.  Minutes later he got a facebook message from friends of ours who had also been touring around Europe saying that they were also in Lucerne, about 5 minutes away on a the other side of the river. We were sitting at a table for 4, so naturally said they should join us. We all had a very enjoyable evening, which wouldn't have happened if we'd been able to find accommodation in Altdorf as originally planned.
The restaurant location by the river
Our friends, Sarah and Louise
Next morning we had a better look around Lucerne.
We woke up to this view of the lake
We wandered around looking at the painted murals on many of the buildings and interesting fountains.
Along the river
Along the river
Ornamental water fountain
Painted building
Another painted building
Yet another painted building

Then went up to see the Lion Monument.  It is a sculpture of a dying lion carved into the cliff which commemorates the members of the Swiss Guard who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.

After that we went to see the Glacier Garden, which is located right next to the monument. It is a showcase for some glacial potholes, created  during the last ice age when Lucerne was covered with glaciers. Sand and small stones were ground around by the movement of the glacier, creating great holes in the rock. It was discovered by accident in 1872 when the land owner was building a wine cellar on the site.
The Glacier Garden

The deepest pot hole

Glacier Garden
 At about midday we left Lucerne and headed off to Alpnachstad, where the rack railway goes up to the top of Mt Pilatus. It is the steepest rack railway in the world, with a maxiumum gradient of 48%. It was originally opened in 1889, and is the second highest railway in Central Switzerland.

The heat was stiffling, and when we bought our tickets we had about an hour and a half to wait until our allocated time. We found the only place we could where we didn't have to sit outside in the heat and blazing sun and had some lunch. Eventually it was time to queue up for the train. We boarded and then headed up the mountain.

Going up, passing a carriage coming down
I have to say, this was my least favourite mountain top (though the scenery on the way up was very impressive). There were enormous crowds, and the areas is dominated by an (in my opinion) ugly 1950s visitor centre and hotel.  There is a much more attractive older hotel,  but you kept seeing the horrible one. Also, the "view" back down where we had come from was not as impressive as other views, because you could only see a short distance.

View on the way up

View on the way up

View on the way up

Old hotel at the top

View from the top - not as impressive as others

View down the other side

Old Hotel

New hotel and visitors' centre

Lovely hut on the way down

Look at all the wild flowers

After we came back down, it was time to go off and find some accommodation.