{Sat 30 June 2007}   Learning at Lac Leman, cycling around Lake Constance

Peacock and Roses on Mainau Island

Well, I don’t usually blog about cycling or holidays, but that’s possibly because I don’t do enough of either! A recent experience has renewed my desire to use muscles other than the grey one and to go to wonderful faraway places in the real world rather than just in Cyberspace! We recently returned from a lovely holiday that I would highly recommend to anyone.

First, I spent ten days with friends in the beautiful city of Lausanne on Lac Leman, Switzerland. They live in a large-windowed, spacious and gracious apartment where they made me very comfortable while I attended a French refresher course at the Institut Richelieu. More of that later.

Actually, we spent the first night at my friends’ wooden chalet apartment in the old village of Evolène. Within an hour or so of our arrival, during a walk around the village, I was privileged to see the fairly disturbing ritual of “Le Combat des Reines”, literally, “The Battle of the Queens”. This is an orchestrated contest between cows to establish leadership of the herd prior to the climb to summer pastures. I was told that it was developed by farmers who observed the natural instinct among this breed of cows to establish hierarchy with a show of force in spring every year. Although they don’t usually hurt each other too badly, on occasion the damage can be severe. Thus, it is thought better to get the battle over with in a controlled situation rather than when the cows are already up the mountain and further away from assistance. I was doubtful about this, until I saw that one of the cows that had recently been headbutting with the best of them actually had a stream of blood pumping from her nostril. Obviously, her opponent’s horn had more than just grazed her. It was rather weird to see blood spurting over the green field grass and to sense the aggro in the air amongst these large female bovine beasties. My comfy stereotype of plump and placid Daisy patiently chewing her way through a peaceful field of buttercups was challenged, to say the least. There’s more background at http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/H%C3%A9rens_(race_bovine) and http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combats_de_reines. Anyway, this was a very visceral reminder that I was in a different place and a great way to start a holiday full of things that I don’t usually do!

The following morning, we walked up to the Ferpècle Glacier. Well, we walked up to a point on the mountain where we could see where the glacier used to be. It was as far as the trail went and my friend told me that in her youth that was where the ice began. Now, one can see in the distance, higher up, the walls of the two separate glaciers that used to join at this point. Definitely a moment for some global warming pondering, amidst the beauty and the silence.

We lunched on steaming fondue in the sun outside a village restaurant, alongside several locals tucking into the same or raclette. This capacity to down a large meal of rich hot cheese and bread in the middle of the day amazed me! We then drove back to the station at Sion to leave the Mobility car (brilliant car sharing scheme) and take the sleek and silent train along the lake back to Lausanne. I could eulogize for a week on the trains: clean, comfortable, silent, well-designed… what is a normal journey to work or wherever for a Swiss person is a blissful highlight for me after the the UK train experience!

I joined an ongoing French course at the Institut Richelieu. A short test on arrival and a brief interview with the director established my level (pretty accurately, as it turned out) and I joined an existing month-long course just for five days. I enjoyed the course and my co-students very much (a very diverse bunch we were, from Turkey, Japan, Slovenia, Germany, the USA and South Africa), and did start to speak some French again, which was the goal.

On one afternoon, I drove with another student to Martigny to see the Picasso and the Circus exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Giannada. This is one of my favourite galleries in all the world. I go back there every time I’m in Switzerland. It’s intimate, but large enough to contain a meaningful collection, and every exhibition I’ve seen there has always been impeccably curated. This one contained Picasso’s acrobats, harlequins and circus folk from many different galleries around the world, skillfully showing the progression in his thought and style. I loved it and wished I could return for the next one: Chagall. Go, if you can!

My husband joined me for the weekend after my course. We had a happy day with my friends on the Saturday, somehow managing to fit in exploring the Musee Zoologique in the Palais de Rumine, lunch on the Place de la Riponne, driving to the magnificent abbey of Romainmotier for tea, stopping on the way back to pick fresh strawberries on a farm, visiting the farm zoo around Le Lac de Sauvabelin and finally climbing the 35 metre high solid wooden Tour de Sauvabelin on the top of a hill for a 360 degree view of Lausanne and environs, before walking back through forest and city for a home-cooked dinner.

On the Sunday morning we accompanied my friend to Bern, where she ran the 10km Frauenlauf through the centre of the city which was closed for the event. We were awed by the incredible Swiss German precision with which 12000 runners and Nordic walkers, and their droves of friends and family, were marshalled and looked after. After that, we swam and had lunch with her family at the highly civilised Bern public pool and then bade them farewell.

From Bern, we took a train to Konstanz in Germany to join my mother and her Cape Town Recyclers Club for a week of cycling around Lake Constance (the Bodensee, in German).

We stayed in the Don Bosco youth hostel in Konstanz, and rode every day between 30 and 70 km to visit inspiring and picturesque venues like the immense garden project of Mainau Island, the ancient but now very spruced up town of Meersburg, Friedrichshafen which has risen from the ashes of WWII and Lindau, famous as a meeting place of Nobel Laureates. Meersburg castle, known for its eclectic architecture, its awful dungeon and its role as the last home of poetess Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (1797-1848) was a highlight, as was the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen, and the baroque St. Mary’s Pilgrimage Church at Birnau where we were fortunate to stumble upon a choir singing a capella. We used the ferry or the catamaran to cross Lake Constance back to Konstanz every night. There are fantastic cycle tracks everywhere – through beautiful towns, villages, farms and vineyards, and every facility for the thousands and thousands of cyclists (aged two to ninety-two, it seemed) – parking facilities, cycle accommodation on all trains and ferries, bike shops everywhere – a true cyclists’ paradise!

Oh, did I mention that the weather was gorgeous? Blue skies and sun every day. Yachts on the water. Lots of sun cream. Ice cream sundaes. Dinners in the open air. Bliss.

Cycling Bliss

Delene says:

What a lovely description of your holiday. I wanted to go back and cycle this track again to Mainau.
In fact I would like to go and do it all again.
Where can you speak French? do they speak it in Israel?

Tia says:

Hello Delene! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It really was a lovely holiday. Re French – well the two places I’m most likely to use it are Switzerland and France. I also have quite a few French books to read, and I like French poetry. It used to be one of Israel’s diplomatic languages, but I don’t think anyone uses it any more (besides French immigrants, of course!). There’s an interesting article here on languages of Israel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Israel

standing ovation on these two beautiful photos; i very much like the peacock. i want to live there forever. ;-)

Tia says:

ARA – that’s high praise indeed, from you, thank you. Credits to my hubby, Eyal, who took the pics. Glad you liked them.

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