Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Geneva & Istanbul

For the 3rd time in 6 months I find myself back in Istanbul. How is it that I find myself here? A reasonable question since last I wrote I was in on a cycling tour of Central Asia with latest etape ending in Bishkek.

I've just finished a marvelous 2 week break from the trip in & around Geneva with my girlfriend Freddie. As the trip had progressed it became clear that we couldn't wait until I'd finished cycling. So I flew from Bishkek to Geneva which like the rest of Europe was in the midst of very hot weather. We spent the first couple of days at her digs then went camping for a week in France, which starts within the suburb agglomeration of Geneva. In my last days there we went for a couple of day walks.

We got ourselves a pair cheap rented bicycles to which a minimal collection of gear was strapped on with bungie cords. We had a puncture repair kit & pump but no tool kit & thus no way of repairing all but the smallest of mechanical problems. After several months of hyper-prepared cycle-camping that one could set of like this caused me much amusement as well as thought about my other trip.

We set off with great optimism for France, in particular the telepherique that went from just outside Geneva to the Saleve. I picked a route to avoid doing too much climbing but unfortunately I didn't read the map too well, the telepherique didn't go to the top of the Saleve & before we would drop down to the valley below we'd need to climb a bit. For Freddie it was her first time to tackle a real climb & she was coming down with a stomach bug that I think I brought back from Bishkek. In spite of this she did well. The work to climb up was worthwhile for the great views of the Alps in the direction of Chamonix & of lake Annecy. Neither of us carried a watch nor a cell phone to tell us the time & we were caught by surprise when we saw a village clock saying 7pm. It turned out that it had stopped running but was nevertheless correct when we first saw it. We hurried through a pizza & went off to find a campsite. By the time we got through the maze of country lanes to it the Sun was nearly setting.

The next day after getting a bit lost in the lanes, which was fine as it was nice cycling & we took it very easy, we made it to a lovely little town of Seyssel on the Rhone. We weren't carrying much rain gear & had counted on the continuation of the sunny heatwave. Unfortunately the weather was on the way to changing & the following morning it rained a little, but at the right time that we could find shelter quite quickly & easily. It was certainly not enough to spoil what was becoming a wonderful little holiday.

On day 3 we wound our way around & sometimes over the pleasant hilly country between the Saleve & Lake Annecy. Unfortunately Freddie felt quite bad & rather than push on to a campsite we camped in a field. We were very pleased that after putting up the tent it poured with rain. Our little 32 Euro tent held up very well.

We spent the last 3 days at a nice little campsite on Lake Annecy which the local tourist office tried to discourage us to go to by saying it was rather basic. This had the opposite effect, we figured that basic probably meant less manicured. It was a nice place with no pool, restaurant or any of the amenities that inevitably destroy a campsite's charm.

On one of our stationary days we took a bus with bikes to the top of Mount Semnoz, which is South of Annecy & forms the Western side of its lake. The views from the top were great. We took a short exploratory walk along a path that crossed the road. Freddie was feeling much better & had to be restrained from time to time to stop her skipping away in the delight of having energy again. In the evening we ate a huge fondue. All in all it was a great day.

The following day was for reading in our spacious tent as it rained on & off all day. From that evening on it rained solidly. Our cheap 1-season tent started to show its limitations under the constant rain. Without adequate rain gear & not wanting to be stuck in the tent for another day we decided to head back to Geneva.

During the last couple of days went for a couple of nice day walks around Geneva. One started off poorly as we found that the bus service wouldn't get us to where we wanted to go & left us stranded in an unlikely spot for a walk. However we found the local tourist office who pointed us to the beginning of a walking path which we followed more or less until quite late. We were both quite surprised how nice a long walk was together. For the second we worked the transportation scheduled better, heading on a long circular walk from the Swiss village of St-Cergue. This one was more challenging than the first as we had to go up quite a bit. The weather was near enough to perfect & again we had a great time.

In between pursuing these healthy outdoor activities we went on a cultural visit to Lausanne at the other end of Lake Geneva. The city itself wasn't terribly exciting but one art museum we visited was. La Musee de l'Arte Brute was a collection of pieces by odd unbalanced artists who produced work without any interest in success, many were committed to psychiatric institutions, none were classically trained in their chosen field of expression. It contained some striking work.

For the non-camping part of the break I stayed in Freddie's room at the hostel for 'jeunes filles'. It was all above board, she'd gained permission that I stay. However it was clear that many of the other 'jeunes filles' didn't really appreciate a man about the house. I tried to keep as discrete a presence as possible but it wasn't enough for some as a silly complaint was made to the management which they had the sense to ignore.

It was a wrench to leave Geneva but not like the last parting in Istanbul. Then the time that I was to be away seemed almost without end. This time it is clear that I'll be in Geneva in October or November. Even so I'm finding it hard to enthuse myself with the journey. I suppose this will pass.

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