Location: Gryon, Switzerland Stayed: Chalet Martin Swiss Alps Retreat

Thursday 16 August 2007

Bex impressions – man with ‘big’ moustache. Go 70’s fashion.

Achingly beautiful mountains. Yesterday I arrived mid-afternoon, after travelling since 5.30am, to a blue sky shining on the rocky crags of Gryon, lighting up the green forests and abundant flowers. From Bex you take the ‘Red Train’ for 25 minutes to get to Gryon. We came round one corner and I was forced from my seat to press against the glass across the carriage to soak in the stunning beauty of what spread out before us.

The Chalet is lovely, entirely wooden interior – carved pine, branches and trunks used for supports. Comforting and welcoming. My room has its own balcony and a view I can only dream of waking to every day for the rest of my life.

Lake Geneva warrants a holiday of its own. Inviting blue waters with swimmers and boats, lined with charming residences right up to the water’s edge. It brings home again how much I miss being near expanses of water. The Thames is good but for some reason rivers are not the same.

Gryon has a small stone church with a steeple and a clock that chimes the hour for us. I went inside and began to sing, began my homage. So long unused, it was croaky to start but I found my way. I think my time of silence is over now.

This morning, after deep and satisfying sleep, I drew the curtains to mountains and valley shrouded in clouds and a gentle rain. Cloud moving and changing like a living thing, rolling itself over everything like a blind man might caress a woman. Now, this afternoon, we are fully shrouded and enveloped. Perhaps later when it lifts the peaks might be left with their own snowy shroud.

Saturday 18 August 2007

I have this relaxation thing cracked.

Yesterday I bought my “Free” Access Pass with a day on the slopes in mind. Coffee and a chocolate croissant – not as good as I recall in Cran-Montana… oh well.

Walked to Villars – all hotels with restaurants, and expensive shops. All old style wooden buildings of course, very charming. Managed to find the cable car and ascended to the snowless ski slopes. Quite cold with banks of cloud travelling over the peaks every so often.

The unexpected was that the ski slopes are used as pasture in the off-season, and are also covered in a variety of flowers (dotted with cow pats – watch out!). The best part was the sound – the Swiss still give each cow a bell, creating an exquisite highland symphony that either wafts up to you like fairy music or plays its parts clearly, depending how far from the herd you stray.

With not a little foolhardiness I decided to explore the overland route down the mountain. I could see some lakes and buildings and figured there must be a way. So you could say I broke in my mountain legs the hard way! All at once!

Below, the buildings were in fact the township of Bretaye – truly old world Swiss. Small dark timber structures with roofs of beautifully overlaid shingle. The doors were so low as to require stooping, shuttered windows small to help keep the winter cold at bay. Beyond the village another lake, then panoramic countryside as far as the eye could see. I could only imagine it is a national park.

Fortunately, as my legs were starting to refuse to cooperate, the train goes to Bretaye, so I rode in comfort back to Villars in order to do a shop. The supermarket there is supposed to be cheaper than those around Gryon, but it didn’t seem to be. And the fruit and veg left a lot to be desired. The French nectarines though – wow what flavour! I didn’t know they could taste so good.

Being a Friday the hostel was fairly deserted that evening. I was exhausted after preparing a whole trout for dinner (very delicious!) and was asleep by 10.30pm.

The night brought a very vivid and disturbing dream, which woke me at 4am. Maybe I shouldn’t have put on that extra doona…

I dreamt the Mornington Peninsula was consumed by a massive bushfire. I was with Mum and when we heard about it we left immediately, thinking it wouldn’t have reached Mt Eliza yet. When we got to the hightway though we could see the wall of flames and smoke proceeding well past Mornington and realised we were in trouble. Mum put the foot down and we went to get Nanna. I called to her to hurry, to run, as the smoke billowed behind the trees. We got Aunty Sue then drove down to the base of Oliver’s Hill where, as often happens in dreams, there were two thin sand breaks that don’t actually exist. The second further out had trees growing on it and was already crowded with people. We waded out and watched the burning.

After a long time I realised it was raining and after a while longer we went back to the car to see if our house had been devoured or not. We drove up Canadian Bay Road and there tops of (non-existent) hedges were burnt and wide streaks in the fields blackened. We pulled into ‘our’ street and Mum had turned into a tall large man who I knew well in the dream but have no knowledge of awake. Most of the street had survived. ‘Our’ house was made of two parts. We went to the door of the righthand part where Nadine lived – Brendan’s ex (how strange!). We knocked, hoping she was there and OK, and she was, along with a little black dog which was wet. We all hugged in the entryway alcove and then I woke up. Wondering what on earth a dream like that meant. Writing of it now I can see it all still so clearly, and it still makes no sense.

After a while I managed to sleep again but woke feeling tired and more understandably, sore. The day outside was glorious – perfect for a day spent soaking up the sun with a book and the stupendous views for company. After about three and a half hours of this I finally got a little sunburnt on my chest and figured some sunscreen could be useful.

Had some nice chats with one of the new arrivals, Jeremy. He’s from Laguna Beach and is one of those that the TV show ‘Laguna Beach’ tries to faithfully depict. He went to the school that was in series one and knows some of the kids on the current series. Quite surreal. He seems pretty well adjusted though and intelligent. Having six months off after graduating from college. Travelling a bit before going back to Paris for the rest of the year. Nice for some!

So it’s finally clouding over more and the sun has lost its battle with terrestrial elements. The bells have started chiming raucously again – must be a Saturday thing. Time to go indoors, shower off the sunscreen and think of something tasty to cook.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

The days are passing fast now, even though the clouds have descended and rained on us for the past two days. So…

Sunday started low-key. I agreed to go to Villars with Lucas to play ice hockey. !!!

Got there early and the Jazz Bar had a band with a singer so I sat on a seat on the street and listened while reading my book. Lucas turned up, we went to the centre and I enjoyed the rooftop view and had a nap while he had a swim.

Skating, how weird. I had hockey skates on, they feel very unstable at first. I almost decided to stick to going round in circles but Lucas knows how to encourage in just the right way. Pretty soon I found my ‘ice legs’ and he taught me some ice hockey basics. Really good fun. After a while Lucas got everyone together to have a game. A group of girls who’d learned to skate that day joined in too so I wasn’t the only girl – whew. Ended up being hugely satisfying. I did OK, got a goal, defended well. Lucas said I got the hang of the basics really quickly. Maybe, maybe not!

Tagged along afterwards a little further up the mountain so Lucas could see a woman about a winter job. Half way up to Bretaye, I enjoyed the view in the sunshine. Back to Gryon, both hungry! Watched a movie, cookies, peanut M&Ms. Good company. During the afternoon I got the whole story of his Irish girlfriend who he met in his first week living in Ireland. They’re both travelling separately at the moment. I think he enjoys telling the story – I’ve heard him tell it with slightly different details to two other people since…

Monday we were submerged in cloud. The plan was to go climbing, but the weather had other ideas. I still had a bit of a sore throat following Saturday night’s fire and sing along (note to self – the cold night air ALWAYS does that to you!) so didn’t mind a day at the hostel relaxing. My sore muscles also needed a rest……

We had wine tasting to look forward to in the evening though. Had a long nap in the afternoon. Joined Jeremy for some early evening music making. Encouraged him to make up some music with me as he always just plays songs he knows. It was lots of fun in the end. I made up silly lyrics, kept everyone entertained.

Wine tasting was fun. Good stories from Matt, tasty wines, good company. Jeremy was hysterical – telling us about the packaging industry which was his minor at uni. Good laughs all round. Bed at 2am!

Today I woke at 6.45am in typical morning after style. Saw the end of the sunrise though which was a treat.

Back to sleep and then a bit of a long day. Book getting very tedious – quite disappointed in Umberto Eco this time with ‘The Island of the Day Before’. Gave up early afternoon and started a jigsaw – scraping the bottom of the barrel 🙂 Took a walk for an hour in the rain. Discovered a caravan park – maybe an option for next time – only there wouldn’t be the excellent company of the hostel hosts and guests.

Friday 24 August 2007

Well Wednesday turned out to be a stupendous day. It dawned blue with a spattering of cloud. I took the cable car from Barboleuse with the aim of walking from the top to Solalex down in the valley. When I reached the top the hill was surrounded by cloud that parted for the occasional glimpse of the valley. The sign pointing to Solalex seemed to refer to a barely there cow trail so I set off down it. What a wonderful walk, through forest and pasture, rocky crags ascending steeply left and right. It was quite moist underfoot due to two days of rain but entirely manageable….. until…..

I arrived at an open stretch of pastures, complete with a herd of musical cattle. The hill was pretty steep with lots of vegetation including thistles and prickle bushes, so no shortcuts an option. The cattle had completely churned up the trail, very muddy, wet and pitted from their hooves.

Going downhill all the way it was a huge struggle not to fall over into the mud and cowpats or even end up tumbling down the hill! At least three times I slipped, but managed to do some classy lunges and avoided getting muddy. My left leg though didn’t avoid being traumatised – two days later the thigh muscle is still very stiff and sore.

I was certainly better off than a group ahead though. Two women with two toddlers, a baby and a stroller in tow had given up and simply dragged the stroller through the mud. They seemed to be in good spirits though.

Eventually I cleared the danger zone, entering another sublime section of forest. Magnifique! The sun came out often so I finally had the opportunity to take some photos of the beautiful flowers.

At last I neared Solalex, and exiting the last patch of forest had my ‘Sound of Music’ moment. The hills truly were alive……..! Rolling fields of wildflowers, cowbells tinkling in the distance, mountains rising up dramatically to either side. I took photos of course but there’s no way they’ll do the moment any justice.

Solalex is a very small cluster of chalets offering accommodation and restaurants. I had a surprisingly satisfying ‘sandwich’ comprised of two thick slices of bread smeared generously with butter and mustard with salami arrayed creatively on top. Some gherkins and pickled onions completed the dish and I actually ate them, well worth it too!

With a couple of hours to fill before the bus back to civilisation arrived I headed further up the valley into more forest. Just as the slope’s gradient and my tiredness started to make me think twice I rounded on the river. In winter it must be a massive raging torrent. Now it still raged but just through the middle of the riverbed. I picked my way over the rocks to drink of the clearest water I’ve seen for a very long time. Cool, fresh, I just managed to restrain myself from stripping off for a soak. I’d hardly seen a soul all day, but the carpark below was pretty busy 🙂

With about an hour left I had a fantastic time making my way back along the river. One close shave saw me with wet feet, but not too wet luckily! I found myself a walking stick of my very own which made a huge difference. I can see now why so many hikers take walking sticks. Hopefully I can get it through UK customs!

Felt very satisfied on the bus. Stopped off at Villars to go to the bank and pick up a few more things to eat for the rest of the week. Met some other hostel guests on the way back which was nice. Felt like I’d earned my dinner well and truly that evening. Quite a lot of us in the lounge chatting with our hosts. Finished a bit more of the jigsaw with Kim (she’s addicted to them apparently). She’s married to Joshua who is studying to become a priest. They’re both 23 – South Australian. He looks right for the part too, weird how they usually do.

Thursday also dawned beautifully but I was well and truly exhausted by this stage. I decided I’d enjoy the good weather on the deck under an umbrella – sunburn from Saturday still very bad, red under the peeling bits, I’d severely underestimated the power of the Swiss sun.

I was into ‘Critical Mass’ (Philip Ball) again, having finished the other three books I brought for the trip, and it was becoming very interesting again after a slightly tedious middle section that made me put it aside for a few months. It explores the physics of society and it seems there really is an equation of life we are all bound to. Fascinating stuff. Had thought of doing one last walk to Villars via the forest but 2.30pm arrived and I didn’t have it in me. Popped down to the stop in Gryon for a last block of chocolate, some chicken for dinner and some creative photography. Had a few chats with people and was in bed by 9.30pm reading about the rise of private equity investment.

So to today, my last day. Another gorgeous day in paradise. I managed to just miss the train, not realising I could have bought a ticket on board. Got it in my head I could walk the 10kms to Bex – why not! It was OK for a while but was pretty foolish really. No footpaths, tight curves, switchbacks and some very fast drivers! Eventually I came to one of the train stops – luckily. Oh, the reason I missed the train was the four planes practising their formation flying in readiness for an airshow on the weekend. Black one side, red on the other – what a sight!

Got off the train at Lausanne determined to spend some time by that beautiful expanse of water and perhaps even get my feet wet. Lausanne is lovely, quite large, but a place I’d like to return to. Walked past the marina and where the tour boats pick up passengers and managed to catch the eye of Qerim and Mirsad! I found a shady spot to read my newspaper and it was not long before Qerim came over to say hello and ask if I’d like to join them for a drink. Turned out they really only spoke French though! Qerim had a tiny bit of English and Italian and so we managed. He was trying very hard to hook me and Mirsad up! Very funny, they were sweet though. I think I’ve got this right: Mirsad, 29, from Albania, lives and works in Lausanne and has been in Switzerland for 15 years; Qerim, 27, from Kosovo, lives and works in Lausanne. They met 10 years ago in a park.

We strolled along the foreshore and found some steps leading to the water so I could take my shoes off and paddle. Bliss! Qerim stripped off to his undies and went for a swim. Eek! They very graciously took me back to the station after trying to convince me to stay another night. Emails exchanged…..

(as a cautionary aside… Qerim turned out to be quite the stalker, sending me indecipherable texts with very decipherable kisses in them, calling at all hours saying I love you in pidgin English and goodness knows what else in whatever language he speaks. After a few months of this he seemed to get the message not to contact me anymore.)

So I’ve been at the airport a good while now. Plane running late of course. I think the same girl guides on my flight here are back again to irritate us on the way home too! No, that’s an exaggeration, they were fine.

The sun is getting low and taking on that golden quality I love so much. Leaving here is like a tearing of my soul. I can see Acre Lane and Brixton in my mind, the dirty streets of London, and I don’t want it. This trip has reminded me, like a blow to the head, just how beautiful our planet can be and how it is our choice entirely how we spend our time upon it. Decision time again.


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