Arlesheim, Basel-Landschaft (BL), Schweiz/Suisse/Svizzera/Switzerland

[1984 Nikon FE2 SLR 35-mm roll film camera, s/n 1816483, with Nikkor AI 50-mm f/1.8 lens, s/n 2336591, and 52-mm polarizing filter;
Kodak Ektar 125 (Kodak 5101 | Ektar 125-1) 36-exposure colour negative film]

© Copyright photograph by Stephan Alexander Scharnberg, November 1991

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Dents de Morcles, Vaud et Valais, Suisse

On the weekend du visite, Saturday, September 13, 1986, Jean-Frédéric Rosselet and I aimed for the Dent de Morcles, in fact two summits—our destination, the Grande Dent de Morcles at 2968 metres, and the Petite Dent de Morcles at 2929 metres.
We travelled by train to Bex, from there ascending with a yellow-with-red-stripe PTT Swiss post bus up through le Bévieux and Frenières to les Plans at 1101 metres, the turnaround point for the bus.
We commenced our hike turning right, up four hairpin bends in the trail, then levelling out for a bit, a little north of and below Pointe des Savolaires, 2294 metres, passing through a few wire gates, over wood stiles, across meadows, meeting two milk jerseys with bells clang-clanging as they munched on grass.
Soon we passed through the hamlet of Javerne, 1666 metres, and turning south for a now steeper ascent for the Croix de Javerne at 2097 metres, marked with an approximate two metre wood cross with carved lettering. We were rewarded with a magnificent, albeit overcast, view of the region.
Somewhere a little further along we stopped in on a hiking refuge, the overcast sky clearing for mostly blue, clotted with cloud here and there. We each purchased a bowl of tea to go with our pain de Vaud, jambon fumé, and soft stinky cheese known as Tomme.
Satisfied and rested up, packs hoisted, and away we went, soon coming upon the Grand Vire, a horizontal path across two steep combs, the path thinner and less secure with some loose shale and rock in numerous places, even erased by erosion in a few spots, picking our way along until we met the foot path at the base of a chimney.
Now it was a very steep and narrow climb, yellow painted arrows showing the way up on a very tiny path, zig-zagging up the very steep, rocky couloir. It was built by the Swiss Army many years ago. On occasion rocks the size of grapefruits accompanied by plentiful smaller stuff would come down, necessitating gymnastics, forcing us to duck under overhangs or pull our full backpacks up over our heads. Luckily we could usually hear the tumbling well in advance. The sun was receding westward, with it a significant temperature drop, still no summit in sight through the top of the chimney quite far up.
In the half dark we finally came out on a crest and quickly and easily to the left for the awesome summit, somewhat level in places. Our reward was a magnificient 360° view in the evening glow. The morning was to reward us with even better.
Supper was heated on a primus burner—freeze-dried pasta with white cream sauce, buttered bread, a shot of white wine each, then black coffee.
It was necessary to sleep fully clothed despite the sleeping bags rated -15° and all-season, it was so cold at that altitude.
We were greeted early with a glorious sunrise over the Alps, the rose and orange colours sweeping westward peak by peak. At this height one could see pretty much all the Swiss ranges, the northern Italian, and probably even some western Austrian peaks, too.
After a breakfast of black coffee and oatmeal porridge, we packed up and decided to head northeast a little, checking out the ridge toward the Dent Favre, 2917 metres, and a somewhat closer view the Petit and Grand Muveran, 2820 and 3051 metres respectively.
By now we had slowly warming sun, the cloud shreds increasingly scattered.
Now we made down the northern slope and curving westward over the ridge leading to the Pointe des Martinets, 2638 metres, eventually coming upon yesterday’s Grande Vire and turning right to a crest and then down a grassy comb to a marked path soon passing the old military barracks of Rionda. Jean-Frédéric told me of a network of tunnels throughout these mountains, constructed in the name of national defense, all as a result of the famous “Reduit Concept” developed by General Henri Guisan in the summer of 1940. Recently I read that it was about 23 kilometres of tunnels! Some tunnels and fortifications throughout the country were abandoned in the 1990s.
It was another good hour until we reached the La Tourche hut with its beautiful view. From here we descended the old military trail to Le Crêtelet and the path to Les Martinaux, followed by about twenty bends in the road down to the hamlet of Morcles and another thirty tight hairpin bends leaving this little mountain road at Lavey les Bains for the road to St-Maurice.
At the train station we rested about 40 minutes for the next local train. The only others waiting for the same train was an old farm couple, leather-faced from decades outdoors in all weather, sporting traditional costumes from their village, wherever that was—Jean-Frédéric said they were in the Valaisan style with subtle variations in the details, specific to their village and valley. They must have been off to some special event or celebration because one did not see anyone wearing regional costume in daily life anymore.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain, Christmas 1986 and New Year’s Day 1987

For my 1986 Christmas vacation I decided to travel to Barcelona with Roser Ylla Janer, a Perceval co-worker with us for a one-year practicum, staying with her family on their rural estate winery several kilometres south of Vic, Osona, and in her absent friends’ flat in the city.

Not being a citizen of the EEC, I needed a visa for travel through France, obtained with some difficulty at the French consulate in Genève—much paper work and a 24-hour wait—because of a new French law in reaction to fears of terrorism, France having a terrorist movement of French nationalists working closely with the German RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion), an increasingly growing and complex problem.

Across the lake and around Genève, the French Army now had extra soldiers stationed near and at the border—machine guns, bazookas, jeeps, barb wire, and road blocks much in evidence at the main border posts and at all the small village crossings, nightly 20:00 to 7:00, seven days a week.

Certain elements in France were becoming fearful and untrusting toward foreigners, with growing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. Added to this the student protests against the Chirac government, in Paris and the other big French cities.

On the periphery of all this, the Swiss felt quite smug and secure in their little country, and as we heard more than once, “La Suisse, elle en a raison d’être comme elle est dans un monde pareil” (Switzerland has good reason to be as she is in such a world as this).

Nonetheless, we took the opportunity to travel, despite the striking SNCF (Société Nationale de Chemin du Fer) since Monday the 22nd, arranging to drive down with a Spanish friend working in Camphill Beitenwil in Berne, via Genève, Lyon, Montpellier, and Perpignan to the border, there boarding the famous RENFE Tialgo [sic] at Port-Bou just before dawn. The train runs on a different gauge of track from the French and most European systems. Our friend was on a mad dash for Madrid, but willing to bend his route for this detour.

We passed Girona at about eight, arriving in the winter sunlight Sunday, December 28, 1986. Cataluña was to be the only region of Spain I have visited to this day. This region is basically its own country, a people proud of their language and culture, with a strong, quite evident separatist movement popular with the young, many of them university students.

We were abundantly blessed with sun and blue skies. We walked Las Ramblas, passed the Casa Gaudi, extensively visited La Sagrada Familia, walked the port area and many back streets.

The first evening we met three of her longtime female friends on Las Ramblas, treating us to a high-class Chinese dinner in a pricey, exclusive establishment on a nearby side street—not the kind of Chinese cuisine you would traditionally find in North America. This was Mandarin-style exuding an aura of some past royal dynasty. I can not remember exactly what we ate, but I do remember it was many entrées and much variety, delicious, and very clearly I do recall that we five worked our way through several bottles of a strong, clear alcohol much like sake, likely a Chinese rice spirit, and in each bottle of probably a litre in volume was preserved a scaly, grey baby dragon much like an iguana, ugly as sin, but we pickled ourselves with the stuff, becoming increasingly lively, boisterous, and wildly talkative as the night progressed.

As best as I can remember, her family’s masia (Catalan villa) and vineyard was just west of route C-17, Autovia de l’Ametlla, across from the commune of El Hostalets de Balenyà, a municipality in the comarca of Osona, part of a small but traditional wine-making region, a mix of small family-owned wineries and some larger cooperatives, predominately growing the native red grapes Garnatxa (Grenache) and Ull de Llebre (Tempranillo), and the white grape Picapoll.

Their masia was a typical farmhouse for the region, of considerable size under a pan-tiled roof, evenly square in dimension, originally meant to house several branches of the family, having held three daughters and two sons before they all married and moved out—except for Roser. The living quarters were all on the upper floor, as the ground floor sheltered the animals at one time, the rising body heat keeping the human inhabitants warm in winter, now exclusively used for their winery. A large sun room was furnished with wicker chairs and what we North Americans would consider love seats, and as the show piece a large portrait, oil on canvas, about 3 x 2 metres, of Roser a few years younger. Its colours were vibrant and modern, and I believe she had posed in what resembled typical woman’s attire of ancient Greece.

Catalunya is an autonomous region since 1979, made up of the four provinces of Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona, with its institution of self-government, Govern de la Generalitat, that ties itself to old, traditional forms of Law and Government, enforcing the Catalan Civil Law system although most of the justice system does remain under Spanish authority. It consists of a Parliament, an Executive Council, and a President. But some want complete separation from Spain.

The evening of the 28th we attended a sold-out concert in Vic, Lluis Llach, a popular singer and songwriter on the piano, whom I have enjoyed and admired ever since, although I do not understand a word of Catalan.

Upon hearing Roser was visiting with a Canadian friend, her friends had got us into the show, front and centre, despite no more available tickets. And the separatists made up a large part of the crowd, the hall packed to the rafters, Catalan flags waving, much singing, cheering, and shouting of political slogans—Lluis in favour of the cause. Several of them, some translated by Roser, asked me about Québec separatism and René Lévesque—seemed quite knowledgeable on this subject. The Catalan anthem Els Segadors” (The Reapers) was repeated a few times that evening.

We ate with her family several times, the memorable one being New Year’s Day—half the day eating and drinking, a variety of sophisticated, flavoursome foods each accompanied by select wines and sweeter ones between courses—some from their winery, others locally and foreign, and probably some Penedès or Alella too—with all her siblings and their families present.

Looking at my remaining, hurried, pencil-scribbled notes on loose tattered graphing paper, I will attempt to recall some of the foods.

We started with entremesos (hors d’oeuvres) of tasty cold plates of prime quality smoked and cured sausages and meats such as fuet (a salami) and longaniza (local spiced sausage), slices of cheese and olives, asparagus, and anchovies. Then several amanides (salads) including potato salad with olives, esqueixada (a salad of raw desalted cod), escalivada (roast aubergines, onions, and red peppers), and xató (curly endive lettuce, cod, and anchovies). This was followed by sopes (soups). Finally la carta (the menu) of various courses like butifarra amb mongetes (a stew of Catalan sausage with white beans), bacalla a la llauna (salt cod with tomato, garlic, and parsley) and various other fish and seafood dishes, the special Catalan stew escudella i carn d’olla, more salads and some vegetable sides including espinacs a la catalana (spinach sauteed with raisins and pine nuts), slices of bread rubbed with tomato known as pa amb tomàquet. Hours later dessert wines, coffee, some kind of cake, and a variation of my favourite dessert, crema catalana (cinnamon and lemon-flavoured Catalan crème brûlée).

Later in the evening, after Roser and I circled the farmhouse holding hands, we listened to a cassette of Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the spaghetti western, Once Upon a Time in the West. We sat on her large brass bed, plump with many pillows and an eider duvet, all in white, first sipping some dessert wine, kissing and cuddling, but the night ending in some long-forgotten disagreement, possibly something to do with our future and her parents’ hopes and wishes, revealed piece by piece. Like the night before, with bedtime very late again, I was quickly off in deep slumber in a guest bed a few doors down the hall from Roser.

A few days earlier I had already been warmly welcomed with open arms and soon I had the distinct impression, later officially confirmed, that they hoped to marry Roser off on me, even though I was definitely not Catholic nor Catalan. Roser had always been the rebellious one, the black sheep, but nonetheless loved. They were irritated and somewhat shamed she was not yet married.

I almost took the bait after a wonderful ten days there, but in early January, soon after our return to Perceval, upon serious, objective reflection, decided against this. By then our Libra-Scorpio incompatibilities were overshadowing our friendship.

In the meantime, we also spent much time in the city, highlights for me seeing again La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell with its thousands of mosaic tiles and pieces, both by Antonio Gaudi, also his Casa Gaudi. And the Catedral Santa Cruz in the old part of the city.

One evening we also rode the local train a little down the coast to Sitges, enjoying a sunset stroll on the beach. Roser said this village is a favourite of the gay tourism trade, some moneyed gays even settling down here, buying up some of the pricier real estate.

One noonday meal down in the harbour out past the Monumento de Colón (tall column with a statue of Christopher Columbus), at a tiny sidewalk restaurant specializing in seafood, we had something with mussels, clams, scallops, and calamari along with a bottle of white wine between us, then a long dockside walk out along the quais.

All the wonderful weather disappeared the day of our departure, buffeted by heavy rains and fierce winds by the time we crossed into France, easier travelling, we initially thought, by bus from Barcelona due to the Tialgo [sic] [kindly corrected by the comment below. Thank you] being booked full as the French railway strike was still in full effect.

But the buses were many and full too, and so it was a long crowded bus ride back to Genève—long delays at the Spanish-French border with the French authorities fine-tooth combing over every traveller’s passport. It was a luxury getting back on the trains, the efficent Swiss trains, for the last bit into St-Prex.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Queyras, Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France

On October 15, 1984, each house in Perceval started their annual two weeks relâche (vacation).

This year saw Maison François heading into the Queyras region, part of the Hautes-Alpes, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Our roadtrip took us through Genève, crossing into France just before St-Julien-en-Genevois, then edging past Annecy on its western shoulder, past Aix-les-Bains, through Chambéry and Grenoble, then eastward at le-Pont-de-Claix and onward by way of le Bourg-d’Oisans just southwest of l’Alpe-d’Huez, la Grave, the Col du Lautaret, le Monêtier-les-Bains, Chantemerle, Briançon, Cervières, Château-Queyras, Ville-Vieille, Molines-en-Queyras, and slightly east of Pierre Grosse, up the hill to le Coin, halfway between Pierre Grosse and Fontgillarde, on the road to the Col Agnel on the French-Italian border, in an old chalet at about 2000 metres altitude.

Le Coin sits roughly three kilometres north of St-Véran, the highest permanently-inhabitated village in France.

During the break, I penned three short poems, having taken a stab at three separate little verses in the few months prior. The lengthiest example has long been lost in Claudia’s estate, but “In the Wind” is still in my possession,

I’ve my house in the wind of no memory
And I’ve my knowledge in the Book of Winds.
I’ve my glory in the wind of freedom
And I’ll have my end in the Wind of the Spirits.
and so is “Down by the river”,
I was walking down by the river one day
when I met a beautiful girl.
And she asked me from where I came
And I said:
I am from the stars, skies, sun, and moon.
And she asked me where I was going
And I said:
To the mountains, forests, rivers, and ocean.
I am a creation of our Father in heaven
And you, beautiful girl, are too.
Everyone received some short personal time off. I used my 1½ days for a solo hike, Wednesday, October 17th, up behind the village to the Crête de Batailler, turning right at the Pas du Chai at 2660 metres, the easterly footpath to the Sommet de Batailler at 2748 metres (photo of red backpack) and the altitude markers at 2779 and 2862 metres, at about 15.00 taking a self-portrait with the Kodak Retina IIIS on a tripod at 2805 metres, reaching the 2890-metre point where the short southwesterly Crête de Peyre Nière branches off in a mild descent, onward over some rough and narrow footholds to the 2912-metre Pic du Fond de Peyhin, squeezing through a tight spot between jagged rock and stepping into near-tragedy when I slid and tumbled just shy of 300 metres, judging by the map contour lines, southwesterly down a steep slope of shale, rocks, and old snow, landing in a playful mountain stream, the Riou des Rousses, my Royal Canadian Army fatigues torn, coming to rest on my back, padded by the full red backpack.
That night saw me sleeping on a footpath, through browned grasses, in the Pra Soubeyran at about 2500 metres, the few hours fog replaced by a crisp, cold starry sky. The infinite count of stars all seemed to be within hand reach—it is the rare occasion I have seen as many filling the heavens as on that night. The moon made its appearance around 4.00, then a gorgeous sunrise about 2½ hours later, suddenly awakening me in a bright burst cresting over the crête, the first cow bells of jerseys tolling far below in Fontgillarde, the backpack and all-season sleeping bag rimed white with hoar frost. Sleeping fully-clothed had kept me warm. I just wish I still had that first lengthy poem I wrote.
The weather was superbly graced by blue skies every day, fog building up just about every evening, and crowned with a dusting of snow one day before our return.
We sought our road home by a somewhat roundabout, longer route—the D 205 to Molines-en-Queyras, the D 5 to Ville-Vieille, the D 947 through Château-Queyras, then the D 902 southwest from Château-Queyras along the river Guil into Guillestre and on southward through Vars and the Cols de Vars at 2111 metres, St-Paul, then soon the D 900 westward along the Ubaye, past Barcelonnette, which feeds the Lac de Serre-Ponçon just beyond le Lauzet-Ubaye, where we turned south for Digne in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, then the N 85 westerly along the Bléone, northerly again where it joins the Durance, and still the N 85 through Sisteron, Gap, into Grenoble, then the Autoroute via Chambéry, Aix-les-Bains, and Annecy, and the N 201 through St-Julien-en-Genevois again, into Genève, and home to St-Prex.

Monday, October 5, 2009

In the Suisse Romande on moped and bicycle


1983 Peugeot PX 8 L ten-speed touring bicycle. My Peugeot was the same year and model, identical to this one in the photo, in silver-grey, plastered by me with thumbnail-size decals of the 26 cantonal shields of Switzerland. I purchased mine in Morges, taking my time to browse through a large selection at a bicycle shop on one of the main streets, a few doors east of a small department store (Migros, Coop, Innovation?). The sales brochure gave the technical details in French:

Cadre homme/Hauteur 60 cm/Fourche demi-chromée/Guidon dural/Roues de 700 C/Jautes dural/Blocages rapides/Pédalier dural 40 x 50/Pédales dural, cale-pieds, courroies/Roue libre 5 vitesses/Dérailleurs Simplex/Freins dural à tirage central/Garde-boue et porte-bagages AR Esge/Éclairage 

The bike came with the accessories of headlight, rear-end reflector, bike pump, tool and tire kit, rear rat trap, and kick stand.

It cost me sFr. 515,00, plus sFr. 10,00 for the annual bicycle licence, and a little credit card-sized aluminum plate in silver and red with “VD” and “1985” in white lettering, numbered “54540”. It is mandatory in this country, canton by canton. I rode home in pouring rain, thoroughly soaked.


Typical Swiss bicycle licence plate. Every Swiss cyclist, in every Canton, had one of these mounted somewhere at the rear of their vélo, usually either on the rear fender or on the tail end of a bike rack. I purchased a licence plate each year just like this one, at a reasonable cost, slightly narrower than a cigarette pack. My moped sported a larger yellow licence plate, for which I had a moped operators permit.

* * *

It was the first days of September 1985. Catherine Doucet’s family had a used moped sitting at home up in Mauborget on the Massif du Chasseron in the Jura. They ran the Hôtel de la Croix Fédérale there.

It was a late 1970s Kreidler MF 21 Florett 50-cc, silver and apple green, which we purchased from her brother for sFr. 500,00 with a full tank of gas, new tires (the rear a snow), thorough maintenance and tune-up, the muffler retarded to a maximum of 32 km/h. This became law in 1981 to curb youth injuries and deaths, riding at excessive speeds—making this one also a vélomoteur, necessitating only a yellow Vaudois moped licence, sFr. 50,00, not difficult to obtain in Lausanne with my B.C. Driver’s Licence after writing a small exam. Remove the retarder, get caught, and lose your moped to the metal crusher, sent back as a shoebox-size cube of metal in the mail, billed sFr. 40,00 for the trouble.

I now had an expedient way to get into Perceval for courses and work. I also delivered the monthly allowances to my co-workers and séminaristes in the various group homes, riding from the Morges branch of the UBS (Union Banque Suisse), carrying thousands of Swiss francs every month, on two occasions as much as 60,000 sFr. of annual vacation funds. On occasion Elke Sixt borrowed the Kreidler, too. I frequently drove into Morges, St-Sulpice, and Lausanne on my free days—easy and cheap on gas—and even on occasion ventured further afield into Rolle, Nyon, Genève, and into the villages further inland from the lake—Etoy, Lavigny, Aubonne, Apples, Ballens, Bière, Berolle, Montricher, l’Isle, and Romainmôtier.

I purchased a motorcycle helmet to go with my thick, heavy, genuine black biker’s leather jacket and blue and white Palestinian scarf (foulard)—the latest in moped fashion at the time.

* * *

Late May 1986, we received a lengthy dose of hot, muggy weather. About twice a week the elevated barometer pressure would release with an evening of thunderstorms passing over the Léman region. By morning everything was fresh and wet with a cool breeze, but soon the sunshine hazed over again.

On this weekend du visite, Margit, a young woman from Denmark, Raymond, and myself decided to bike around Lac Léman, about 180 kilometres in two days.

She borrowed a bronze three-speed, Raymond rode his semi-matte black vintage Swiss Army bicycle, and I my trustworthy 1983 Peugeot PX 8 L ten-speed. The Swiss Army bike was the MO-05 model, the production year and the Swiss cross stamped on the seatpost lug. These bikes were produced in the country by the renowned top-quality Swiss bicycle manufacturer Condor SA. I seem to recall the year 1938, which does not quite make sense as the bike appears to have been a post-war Militärvelo, judging by the details I noted in the 1980s and list here. Maybe it had been retrofitted by the military at some point in it’s long career. It was a basic model, stripped down of all its non-essential fittings for use as a messenger transport, single-speed with rod-operated front spoon brake, cable-operated rear drum brake on left side, and rear coaster brake, wide leather seat, weighing a hefty 52 lbs.! It had strong, straight rear drop-outs, oversized frame tubes, spokes and front hub nickel plated, the saddle numbered and stamped with the Swiss cross, big, black pedals with big treads. I bought the bike from him the following autumn, using it myself or lending it out, but unfortunate that it was rather impractical and expensive to export home to Canada. At the time the Swiss were more protective of their national icons leaving the country than they are today. I gave it to one of the Byrde family sons, which I now rue as it was then already a cool collector’s item and today it would make an awesome single-speed bike. One day I would love to import a vintage specimen straight from Switzerland. It would cost well over $1,600.00 for purchase and shipping.

We left late Friday afternoon, the route du lac no 1 and sometimes smaller local roads west from St-Prex, cycling through Buchillon on a secondary road, Allaman, Rolle, slight detour through Bursinel and Dully, Prangins, Nyon, then hit by a strong, sudden shower drenching us through before we could pull out some protective wear. But it was still warm from the bouts of mugginess. This alternating weather would continue throughout the two day tour.

About two kilometres past Nyon we pedaled into the TCS (Touring Club Suisse) campground, run by a bilingual Canadian woman from Montréal. We pitched our tents during a short rainless moment and the proprietress let us cook our supper in her kitchen. The tents did their job keeping us dry.

We were on our way just before seven, now having pulled out our rain ponchos, doffing them again around noon when we felt the increasing constriction, sweating with the returning mugginess.

Many other times, riding moped, one of my bikes, or hitchhiking in the other direction, the shoreline west of Nyon that I remember being depicted in Hergé’s The Calculus Affair, when Tintin, Captain Haddock, and Snowy heading for Nyon in a taxi are cut off, forced to swerve, and plunge into the lake.

Our secondary route through Crans was soon behind us, then the pocket of Céligny/GE, Founex, back on the main road with Pré-Claudy, Coppet, “à bientôt” Vaud and “bonjour” Genève with Versoix-la-Ville, Versoix, and Bellevue feeling our rubber, here the route no 1 now known as the Route de Lausanne after merging with the Autoroute N 1.

At the Jardin Botanique and behind it the Palais des Nations on our right, the Avenue de la Paix met us at the Place A. Thomas, the G.A.T.T. on the lake side. Here our road became the Rue de Lausanne with the beautiful grounds of the Parc Villa Barton in La Perle du Lac, the Villa Bartholoni occupied by the Musée des Sciences and the Parc Mon Repos with the Mont aux Morts memorial between us and the lake, then left along the Avenue de France becoming the Quai Woodrow Wilson along the lakeshore and the Quai du Mont-Blanc at the Jetée and Bains des Pâquis, left onto the Pont du Mont-Blanc, here passing a couple in Australian bushman hats walking two tall horses packed with western saddles and side bags going the other way—when I greeted them in English he responded with a “g’day mate!”—the bridge crossing the last tip of the lake rushing into the Rhône at the prow of the little Île J.-J.-Rousseau.

Then across the Place du Port we met the Quai Général Guisan at a 45° angle, bordering the south edge of the Jardin Anglais, then another 45° left along the Quai Gustave Ador and past the causeway to the Jet d’Eau playing in the summer, at up to 150 metres the highest fountain in the world.

At the Place de Traînant, just past the Parc de la Grange and the Parc des Eaux-Vives, the road bent a mild bit to become the Quai de Cologny, passing Genève-Plage, through Cologny, then at Vésenaz leaving the main road for the lakeshore route through Collonge-Bellerive and past Anières.

We were on our way to the border. We entered France at Hermance, the three French officers with just a “Passports, s’il vous plaît” and a quick glance—I asked for and received a stamp in mine for souvenir purposes.

Almost right away you could sense this was not Switzerland. The villages were almost entirely grey, lacking the colour and brightness of painted shutters, window boxes in full bloom, and life outdoors evident on the other side. Here things appeared to be a little forlorn, a little decayed around the edges, an unspoken sadness on the edge of awareness. This feeling I was to have almost every time, wherever and whenever I crossed into rural France during overcast weather. Even in coldest, greyest, windiest winter, Switzerland seemed livelier and brighter. Strange how subtle tugs at the senses could tell of such differences. We were at the same lake, the same silvery-grey and mirror smoothness when hazy and windless, but here it felt like the villages were almost abandoned despite parked cars about and prowling cats. And when we saw two old sidewheelers tied up, rotting on the water, later at Tourronde and Meillerie, the feeling was confirmed—I almost expected spectres to coming sailing in, rising from the lake depths. Despite a green countryside, only Yvoire and Evian-les-Bains appeared to have colour and life.

It was two and a half kilometres along the D 25 to the village of Véreitre, another two to Chens-sur-Léman, three for Messery, and three and a half into the medieval town Yvoire for a somewhat expensive midday dinner in a restaurant near the medieval fortress. Yvoire, sitting at the tip of the Léman peninsula, more or less straight across from Nyon, that delimits the two principal sections of Lake Geneva, the petit lac and the grand lac (small lake and large lake), is deemed one of the most beautiful villages in France. It teems and overflows with bright flowers, the colours sating the senses.

We needed to get some major kilometres behind us, so after a quick half hour walk around after the filling meal, off we were again, three kilometres to Excenevex on the Golfe de Coudrée and another three and a half to join with the main road again, the N 5 at Sciez, and non-stop onward through Jussy and Marclaz into Thonon-les-Bains, with only a quick pause for water from an open public spring in town.

Then Vongy and into Amphion-les-Bains, now the road following the lakeshore, the famous Evian-les-Bains for another spring water drink, then onward through Grande Rive, Maxilly-Petite Rive, Tourronde, Meillerie, Locum, Bret, and suddenly the French-Swiss frontier at St-Gingolph, waved through with barely a second glance and four klicks along the now-named route no 21 for le Bouveret, passing Le Fenalet and La Clesette hugging the shore, the forest leading up to the Pointe de la Chaumeny, 2067,3 metres, and Le Grammont, 2171,8 metres, just behind.

We were back on the cheerier side. At the south end of town we left the main road turning left, passing a campground on the bank of the little Le Tové, crossing it and moments later the rail line and a small canal into the fields of La Praille to cross the Rhône on a foot bridge.

Now it was paths and lanes through the leafy woodlands of the river delta crossing the Vieux Rhône, passing the farmstead Chaux Rossa, a small lake and three small fields, the farm La Praille and over another foot bridge at the Grand Canal.

Here we turned left a short bit and through a tiny wooded area in marshy ground for the shoreline campground at Les Grangettes. It was early evening and we were about two and a half kilometres west of Villeneuve.

Margit and Raymond decided to tent the night here. It was a pleasant site but for some reason I put it in my head that I would continue with quite a few more kilometres and hours back to St-Prex. And I was under the impression those two were a little flirtatious and amorous. I decided to give them their space.

I continued along the shoreline path and a farm road across the Eau Froide into Villeneuve, making Montreux my goal for supper, leaning and locking my bike against the train station railing for a meal in the Restaurant de la Gare—a succulent saucisse aux choux correctly paired as is customary with its distinctly different mate the saucisson de Payerne, washed down with a glass of local red.

Back on the pedals, along the route du lac through La Tour-de-Peilz, Vevey, all the little villages to Lausanne-Ouchy—this route from Villeneuve to St-Prex as familiar cycling territory for me.

Soon the sun was down. On came my headlight powered by a tire-mounted dynamo, growing tired, sore butt and legs, the single goal on my mind—Perceval. St-Sulpice, Morges, and St-Prex, up the narrow, winding road in the dark, so fatigued I was starting to hallucinate, and like a broken record with the mantra, “you’re almost there, you’re almost there!” I was feeling wobbly on the bike, shots of pain from the long hours on the narrow seat. My fingers and hands felt big and fat, my legs like lead.

I arrived a few minutes before midnight and crawled straight to bed.