JUNE 4

A travel day. We said good bye to our little apartment in Varenna on Lake Como in Italy and headed for Annecy on Lake Annecy in the Savoie (south-east) region of France via Switzerland.

Our first stop was Milano (right). Not time enough for a tour of the city, but long enough to leave the train station, have a bit to eat and do some window shopping.

Back on the train we were prepared this time for the Swiss border crossing. The Swiss guards came onboard but before Terry could reach for our passports one poked his head into the compartment and asked, "What nationality?" We said in unison "Canadian". He smiled, said "thank you" and closed the compartment door. Remembering our last Italy-Switzerland border crossing, we smiled and chuckled quietly ... not to be overheard.
Looking out the window of the train, we marveled at the neat and complete land use of the Swiss farms. Row upon row of plantings made the sloped land look like it had been draped with a patchwork quilt made of corduroy materials.
We like train travel and find it a wonderful way to traverse Europe. We can nibble on picnic supplies, read, do some journaling, take our shoes off and just watch the scenery drift by. Terry does the planning, buys the tickets on days we are not using our Eurail Pass and organizes the train schedules and stopovers. Sherrie follows blindly, asking only "How long is the trip?" "How long is the stopover?" and "Do I have enough time to use the bathroom?" Terry is seldom caught off guard, but this day we had a surprise.

The train wound it's way through the valleys stopping for only a minute or two at little villages along the way. There was not a stop list posted as with some trains and Terry had only the expected time of arrival ... which had been written out in an itinerary format supplied to him by an information officer.

We had a while yet, about fifteen minutes, before the time of our stop at Martigny. Terry was just repacking the day bag with various items we had out during the trip, and Sherrie was just packing up the computer and keyboard from journaling ... but no hurry ... there was plenty of time for Terry to get his shoes on and for Sherrie to go to the bathroom when our train pulled into another small village station. Terry glanced up and saw the sign "Martigny".
Our first reaction was panic. Terry's next reaction was to run to the nearest door and open it in hopes that such a move would prevent the train from leaving. We grabbed bags plus bits and pieces of what was not yet packed and threw ourselves onto the station platform. Chancing another few seconds, Terry, ran back on board to see if we had left anything behind and got off again just as the doors all closed automatically.

We stood on the Martigny station platform laughing out loud at ourselves as the train pulled away and on-board passengers looked down at these silly fools ... one standing there in his stocking feet.

Once we had put our bits and pieces into the day bag and Terry had shoes once more tied to his feet, he went and looked for the schedule of our next train's departure. It was then that he noticed the time of the departure coincided with the time written on the supplied itinerary.

Crossing from Switzerland into France went smoothly and we arrived in Annecy in the late afternoon. We used a telephone booth outside the train station to call about getting a room and were successful with the first call.

We took some time to look around the medieval town. Anncey's history goes back farther than almost any other town in the French Alps. Remains of "lake settlements" trace communities in the area before 4000 B.C..
We settled into our B&B, up high above the medieval town and right beside the Chateau's main entrance. The only room they had available was a small room on the ground floor. The room itself really wasn't that small with the exception of the low ceilings. Terry managed to move around with about four inches to spare overhead. The bathroom was tiny ... really tiny. A little alcove at one end of the room was as wide as the windows that opened to the rose garden. We unpacked and then went on a hunt for dinner.

As we strolled along the river that forms a centre spine through the old city we were treated to an mini concert of five alpine-horns. We saw them bring these ten foot long horns (often associated with the Swiss Alps) and set them up in the square where they proceeded to play three pieces of music before inviting on-lookers to hear more by attending that night's concert.
Roman's were part of Anncey's history around 50 BC. The Count of Geneva made Annecy his seat in the 13th century and it became the judicial centre in the 15th century. When St Francois de Sales became Bishop the town's religious and intellectual importance grew again; and in the 16th and 17th centuries "Annessi" became known as "the Rome of Savoy". In the 18th century Annecy turned into a bustling manufacturing centre. Growing tourism with visitors appreciating the history and natural beauty of the area also played a part in the continuing development of Annecy. Today outside the historic town, Annecy is continuing to grow at a rapid pace and is a centre for hi-tech industries.
As soon as they went inside the concert hall rock music began close by and a young girl dress like a hard-rock singer started dancing to the music while twirling lengths of flaming material around herself.
One of our favourite television shows (we haven't watched tv since coming to Europe) is Law and Order - a detective-courtroom drama based in New York. Most often when the characters on this show are having an in-office meal they are eating Chinese food from those little white containers that are narrower at the bottom than at the top and have fold down lids. We have always thought it would be fun to try eating with chopsticks from those little white containers with the fold down lids. When we were in New York we missed the opportunity to eat from the little white containers. But as we passed restaurant after restaurant in Annecy ... not really in the mood for a restaurant meal ... we happened by a little take-out joint that advertised different stir-fry noodle dishes ... and they served them in the little white containers with the fold down lids. The idea of comfort food noodles with stir-fry vegetables to take back to our room hit the spot and the fact that we would finally be able to experience eating with chopsticks from those little white containers with the fold down lids cinched the decision ... even if we were doing it in Annecy, France.
JUNE 5

After breakfast in the rose garden and talking with our host Jean-Paul we caught a bus to a little town 2 km down the lake. 

There we rented bikes and found our way past the big church and down the hill to the pedestrian road. This road, similar to the bike and walk paths in Stanley Park has two lanes similar to a car roadway. Bikers and roller bladers share the paved lane closest to the centre line, while walkers and runners are encouraged to use the dirt path on the side and car traffic is only encountered at periodic intersections. The design makes riding for novices much less stressful.
We rode 18km to the end of the lake stopping once for refreshments and a bathroom break.
I remember Wendy telling us of a man on their bus tour through Great Britain who was always taking pictures of toilets. We can understand someone becoming fascinated with this daily appliance as there are so many variations in Europe and as many ways to flush the contraption. Take for example the toilet at the rest stop. On the floor within a low concrete platform is a basin of sorts about 65cm x 65cm (2ft x 2ft) and about 12cm (5 inches) in depth. Within this white smooth surfaced basin are two raised platforms that rise up about 5cm (2 inches) and are ridged on the top. Centered but slightly further back than the two raised portions is a hole ... a fairly sizeable hole into which the bottom of the basin is funneled. At the back of the platform is a pipe that runs up the wall into a tank ... also suspended on the wall. The method of use is to put your shoed feet on the two raised platforms within the white basin ... men facing towards the pipe on the wall (or backward as needed) and women the other way around and squat. When the task is complete step off and onto the floor and pull out, push in, pull up or push down the mechanism that makes it flush. Water comes from the tank, through the pipe and with considerable force flushes out the whole basin splashing up onto the foot platforms and sometimes onto the floor where the user is standing.
A bathroom in an Annecy park goes further. Outside the door there is a red light, yellow light, and green light. As you wait for the person inside to use the facility, the red light is on. When they exit they close the door behind them and the yellow light goes on; while the next person in line waits the bathroom undergoes a full hosing down with disinfectant; when the green light goes on the person in line goes into a freshly cleaned space ... walls, sink, mirror, toilet and floor. You might think for such high-tech cleanliness that there would be a price (as in so many ordinary European public facilities) but this one was free.
The bike trip itself was mostly level and even had a long curved tunnel to keep the ride cool and interesting.
Sherrie's bike riding during the past thirty-five years has been limited to one trial run around Stanley Park just before leaving on this trip in April, so the ride to the end of the lake was plenty for one day. Terry, on the otherhand, felt that the trip down was a good warm up.
With help we found one of the little ferry wharves (complete with swan) and Terry waited and helped Sherrie put her bike on board. We would meet back at the bike shop (Sherrie would most likely beat Terry back.)
The ferry ride was smooth and picturesque for Sherrie, stopping in at two other docks on the way up the west side of the lake.
For Terry the trip was much more challenging. One of the reasons for our smooth trip down the lake was because we were being helped along by a wind blowing southward. Now that Terry was pedaling northward, he had the wind working against him. The tunnel gave him a real workout as it channeled the wind and made the even grade feel like a steep uphill climb.

As the ferry neared the little town Sherrie took note of the church's location and deduced that once she found the bicycle path she would turn right. As the ferry pulled closer into shore Sherrie wondered if she should head right up to the bike shop and wait for Terry there or perhaps wait for him at the bottom of the hill where he would eventually turn to go up past the church. She took her bike from the open space of the tourist deck and positioned it on the stairs which would have to be maneuvered before crossing the movable gang plank. Looking out the window she was shocked to see Terry standing near the dock with his bike. He had beat the ferry ... even with the strong headwinds. Sherrie was flabbergasted and laughed out loud and waved enthusiastically for his accomplishment.

Riding along the path to the church Terry explained that he didn't know where the dock was in this little town and had ridden past it and had to double back.
After arriving back in Annecy we shopped for picnic supplies. Then back in the room we washed and cut and uncorked a bottle of wine. Passing dishes out through the window we were, without any difficulty, able to set up a table in the rose garden for a romantic and leisurely dinner.
JUNE 6

Market day in Annecy.

We had asked our hosts Annemarie and Jean-Paul if they could accommodate us for two more nights. They could if we would change rooms to an upstairs room with a small balcony.

After breakfast in the rose garden we pack and piled our bags. While waiting for our new room to be vacated and cleaned, we went down the hill into town and wandered through the market. The clothing, knick-knack part of the market did not hold much interest for us but the produce section was colourful, tasty, and hummed as people crowded around their favourite merchants with baskets and bags displaying the purchases they had already managed to make. Many booths entice buyers with tastes and some, like the sausage man in his red shirt passing tidbits at the end of his sharp knife liven up the market with bits of conversation or proclamations of the quality and value of the sausages he offered. It worked, we bought some sausage.  At an olive booth a young man worked his English to tell us of his offerings and even invited us to sample and select our own. He told us where the "sweet olives" were when we told him we did not want anything too spicy. We filled the container he provided with a variety of olives; some with pits and others without, some soaked in wine, some black, some green. They were so good.

Armed with our shopping goodies, wishing we too had a basket to carry over our arms like the locals, we climbed back up to the Chateau and our B&B.
Marianne (left), the college girl who helps serve breakfast and clean rooms told us our new room was ready so we took our bags up and got settled in.
The rest of the day was spent exploring Annecy. It is a very photogenic town, and "oh look at this", "gee, isn't that beautiful" and "got to take a picture of that" made us thankful once more for the value of a digital camera. 
We popped our heads into the Chateau and admired the massive Queen's Tower which has walls 4.5 meters thick and dates from the 12th century. The castle square was formerly a cemetery surrounding the parish church of Saint Maurice -- destroyed in 1794 (a commemorative iron cross now hangs on the wall).

We walked through narrow lanes in awe of the narrow houses, many which are only a small room wide.

We tried to envision the sounds and sights within these streets as they might have been shortly after they were built and before the walls began to bow. Were their doors and windows as crooked then as now or had centuries of settling and numerous adjustments with plane and saw make them so?

We strolled back along the river on the Promenade Sainte-Therese du Quebec (left) (Annecy has a friendship association with Quebec City).

 It was once the town's prison and still has barred windows. Today it is the Centre d'Interpretation Urbain.
The most photographed site in Annecy is the Palais de I'lle. This stone stronghold looks like a ship at anchor in the Thiou river, which winds its way through the town. This impressive structure, well situated along a walkway most frequented by tourists, splits the river.
We walked along the river's edge and outside the old town's walls to  Isle Saint-Joseph. It once was the location of a textile mill using the river as a power source. Today it is a park with a children's playground and aviaries, complete with an apartment for wild birds.

A little farther downstream we thought we saw a duck who seemed to be guarding a hidden nest in the stone wall. Terry went to investigate and the mother duck was doing everything to divert our attention, she had done a great job in hiding them ... if they were there at all.
JUNE 7

After another light (remembering we are on the Continent) breakfast in the rose garden we conferred with our hostess, Annmarie, about our plans for the day.

Down in town we were surprised to see a crew of men had stopped or diverted the Thiou River and were water blasting the area around the Palais d I'lle. We walked through town to the lake where we caught a ferry to the east side. Leaving Annecy on the boat gave us an appreciation of what a dominate feature the Chateau is on Annecy's skyline.
From the little ferry landing on the east side we made our way along the lakeshore towards Roc de Chere which looked like a huge treed box as we watch the ferry begin its trip around it.
Floating on the lake we noticed a bird ... a funny looking bird ... obviously well designed for its water habitat.
It has a long slim beak, a long slim head, a long slim neck that blends into a long sleek body (a different word that means slim) and large webbed feet protruding out the back of its body. It followed along the shoreline watching us carefully. When it came to one of the small private boat docks that lined the shore it, with the greatest of ease, dive down into the water, moved its legs and webbed feet like a frog, zip under the dock and back up on the other side.

We were fascinated.

We got ahead of this strange streamlined bird and noticed a sizable school of fish coming our way. What would the bird do with this encounter. Well, to our delight, it did what comes naturally and went after lunch. With speed we had not yet witnessed he went towards the school of small fish and they, in turn did what comes naturally, they schooled together. The bird with a kick of its legs and large webbed feet swam through the center of the schooled fish and caught one. Still underwater it maneuvered its catch and swallowed. A gasp of air and down it went for a second and third catch. It was like watching a wild life show ... but this one was happening right before our eyes. The fish moved out to deeper waters and we lost sight of our fisher-bird so continued on our way.
Directional arrows and a park map with yellow route markings confirmed the route to Roc de Chere.

The climb was gentle in most parts, gave us glimpses of Annecy Lake and wound through forests that reminded us of home.
We reached the summit of "Roc de Chere" and Sherrie proclaimed it "Roc de Sherrie".

The climb down was a little more challenging ... steep and rocky. We wished we had brought the walking poles that Jean-Paul had offered to lend us.

On the edge of a little village, we enjoyed a picnic (within feet of a bare-breasted sunbather - a common sight near water everywhere we have been on this trip). At the little dock we waited for the ferry.

 

The ferry ride up the west side was most enjoyable (the second time for Sherrie and a first for Terry who had ridden his bike both ways). An attractive piece of the trip was viewing a Chateau which sits on a peninsula and which has probably caught the eye of many artists.

 

 

 

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