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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

5 November 2012

In the mountains

25th October 2012

Bern was drizzly, the rest of Switzerland was covered in damp mist and low cloud, but as soon as we rounded the end of Lake Geneva and crossed into France the sun came out!

I would also like to put our last Swiss stopover, Lausanne, into the same bucket as Fribourg; it’s a somewhat grey city with a handful of little corners where old architecture and steep lanes contrive to look pleasant, but they are few and far between. Being built on a tangle of hills does often help a city look beautiful, but it doesn’t guarantee it. As with Fribourg, if you’ve visited Bern then in my view there’s nothing much to recommend Lausanne. Although the mysterious church of St Francis might warrant a look… as we approached the front, the door opened… all by itself… and once inside the majestic organ was playing eerie… cheery… music… all by itself. Spooky.

Annecy on the other hand is an almost idyllic lakeside town on the edge of the Alps. There probably aren’t any cities in the world which make as much of a mountain lake setting as Queenstown in New Zealand, but Annecy has a good attempt. I think this is going to largely be a food and booze holiday (in case that isn’t already obvious). For lunch I had local sausage in a white wine sauce and Maureen continued her potato-and-cheese theme into a third day with “tartiflette”. This turns out to be the same as rösti, but with bigger chunks of potato and no sausage.

To reach Grenoble we left main roads and took a winding drive through the Massif de la Chartreuse, a chunk of forest-clad Alps where the famous Chartreuse monastery lurks (out of sight to us). The autumnal colours among the peaks knocked the golden aspens of Yellowstone into a cocked hat and the mountains surrounded us on all sides so that it became hard to guess how the road was going to escape, or how the little villages ever got there.

As we finally descended, Grenoble appeared as if by magic in the dusk. A sprawling city on a miraculously flat piece of lowland with mountains on all sides, made pastel and tranquil by the haze of a late afternoon. The haze is almost certainly the same pollution that dogs most modern cities built in natural bowls, like Santiago and Kathmandu, but that fact didn’t detract from the view.

We strolled Grenoble’s old town in the dark, after dinner at a cheery little place called Mes Vins Amis where ‘steak tartare Bangkok’ was the surprise winner on the menu – must remember to experiment with fried garlic and raw steak back home. The friendly old streets were noisy with students singing and being a bit drunk, and our rambling led by accident to the cablecar which hauls people up in small plastic balls over the river Isère and to the 19th century bastille 240m above the city. Our guidebook had said that it finished at 7pm in winter, but it was still running at nearly 10pm so of course we had a go. The automatic door on our little plastic ball was a bit shonky and failed to fully close, which added an extra frisson to the ride! The twinkling lights of the nighttime city spread out below us were even prettier than the afternoon view.

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