Greg was here to hike for a week. It’s Game On!

My friend Greg came for a visit, and he came with just one objective. To better the record of my other friend Pat M. who was here a couple months back and hiked about 50 miles with me on his 6 day visit. Greg told me that he had been training for this week by hiking up and down stairs near his house along the nearby Mississippi River, which is the closest thing they’ve got to the Swiss alps.

So, here we go. Two physically fit, adventure seeking, hiking enthusiasts going mano a mano (albeit a month or so apart) for the undisputed title of “Top Visiting Swiss Sojourner Hiking Partner”.

Greg’s Day 1: When they are up for it, our go to first day activity is a walk around Geneva, which is a little challenging on the same day you spent 9 of the last 11 hours on an airplane flying from seven time zones away. Greg and I headed down to Lake Geneva, strolled a long the shore for four kilometers, then circled back past the old League of Nations building, the American and Russian Mission compounds, the United Nations building and back to our apartment. [Pat’s comparable day: same thing.] Advantage: Even.

Day 2: Greg specifically requested a hike in Chamonix, and I’ve had in mind the idea of hiking from the floor of the valley all the way up to the Plan d’Aguille, then heading across to Montenvers Mer de Glace (a hike I’ve done 3 or 4 times now) before heading back down to Chamonix on the cog train. So that’s what we did! The hike up to Plan d’Aguille climbs by 1,375 meters, which is why 99% of the people take the 7 minute gondola ride up. Here’s a photo that I’m rather proud of that I snapped of the gondola most people take up the mountain.

Chamonix Gondola

Chris, what do you think of this photo?

At one point in the hike Greg and I came to a fork in the road, one prong of which I knew well having taken it on every previous hike along this stretch. We had the following conversation, with my fellow hiker’s final assertion becoming our mantra for the rest of the week:

Me: “Which way should we go? I usually go THAT way.”
Fellow Hiker: “Then you should go THIS way.”
Me: “Why?”
Fellow Hiker: “Because you’ve never done it before!”

Greg doesn’t have a fancy app on his phone like Pat did that told us exactly how far we went and how many flights-of-stairs equivalents we climbed, but we estimated that this hike was about 13 kilometers. We know we climbed 1,300 meters vertical. Then we rode a choo-choo train back down to Chamonix. You’ll get enough hiking photos in the remainder of this post. I like this photo of Greg that illustrates one of the cool features of the town of Chamonix.

Greg in Chamonix

The Arve river flows right through town.

[Pat’s comparable day: Le Balcon Hike in Chamonix] Advantage: Greg.

Day 3: Gstaad
Here’s a little known fact: Greg spent 6th grade in the town of Gstaad, when his parents very wisely concluded that living in Switzerland for a year would be a great thing for their family. So on Day 3, the first night of our overnight road trip, we climbed in the car and headed up the north shore of Lac Geneva, around Montreux and up the valley toward Greg’s old stomping grounds in Gstaad. It was real fun to see his old house, school (John F. Kennedy International School, which was still there!), the mountains he used to ski on, and other childhood haunts. Then we walked up about a 500 meter tall mountain, right under the cable car which we had considered taking up to hike at the top of the mountain but refused when the lift operator informed us that it would cost CHF 45, which is too much. And by “too much” I mean WAY too much.

Pissed off Greg and me.

Our reaction to the high asking price for a lift.

And here’s a fun video I shot of part of our hike back down. This video is dedicated to Greg’s mom.

[Pat’s comparable day: Hike along the Simplon Pass] Advantage: Pat.

Day 4: Kleine Schadegg to First in the Bernise Oberland region
This day was the crown jewel of our week hiking, and one of the best hikes I’ve taken in Europe in these last 4-plus years. It was unbelievable! Just check out this photo I took. (Click on it to make it bigger.)

First

On our way to First, in the Bernise-Oberland mountains!

The hike is billed as a six hour hike, and I mention in the video below that I thought we could do it in five, except its so darn beautiful up there, we decided to take our sweet time. It was a 17 kilometer hike, gradually uphill for the first 12 or so kilometers and then steep downhill for the remaining five. Now check out this short video I took.

[Pat’s comparable day: 5-Lakes Hike w/ view of the Matterhorn] Advantage: Greg.

Day 5: 35K bike ride along the Rhône River valley

Greg is an avid cyclist, so we had to squeeze in a bike ride. We chose one about an hour away on a “rails to trails” route along the Rhône. Nice and easy ride. All was going well, until about the last few kilometers, where Greg failed to successfully navigate a steep downhill, 90-degree right hand turn. Yep, he wiped out, and nope, sorry, but I didn’t have the video rolling at the time.

Matt and Greg biking

This photo was taken 10 minutes before Greg’s spill.

[Pat’s comparable day: None] Advantage: Pat (Even though Pat didn’t participate in a comparable day to Greg’s bike ride, and because Greg wiped out, I’m going to add insult to his minor elbow injury and award this day to Pat.).

Day 6: “Hard” Salève
Although Greg is a Salève veteran having gone up the easy way when he visited me two years ago, I persuaded him to hike up the Salève the hard way, citing our “…because you’ve never done it before” credo. It’s a much harder hike than the easy Saleve, an estimated nine kilometers rather than the “Easy Saleve’s” eight, and Greg was my first friend to hike it with me. (Sons Pat and Chris have both done it.)

Matt and Greg on the Saleve.

This photo was poorly staged.

[Pat’s comparable day: Easy Salève] Advantage: Greg.

Day 7: Les Cascades du Hérisson
This is a hike in the beautiful Jura Mountains, which afford a fantastic view of the Alps if you’re along its high ridge, which we were not. This is an easy 7 kilometer hike that’s best in the springtime when there are actually waterfalls. And one last thing: since this hike is very easy and easily accessed at both ends, that’s a recipe for overcrowding. Only at an over-hiked area would you see the scene pictured below. That’s Greg getting ready to do a silly pose with all the little stacks of rocks. (Click on it to see the stacks of rocks, and also Greg’s bandaged elbow.) Can you tell I was a little underwhelmed by this hike?

Rock stacks.

People who aren’t really there for a day of hiking like to make these neat little stacks of rocks.

Day 8: Stroll along the “Route du Vignobles” from Lutry
On Greg’s last day, which like all the others was beautiful and clear, we ventured north along the lake for an hour and parked the car at Lutry. Then we walked along the terraced vineyards of the Vevey region, for a total of about 8 kilometers, finishing at the same picnic spot in Aran, that I took Pat M., and nearly all our other guests to.

[Pat’s comparable day to Greg’s Day 7 and Day 8: Mountain View Trail and Lauterbrunnen hike] Advantage: Pat.

So the results are in: three days for Pat, three days for Greg, and one day a draw. A wise man once said, “a tie is like kissing your sister.” So go find her, and pucker up, guys.

Think you can find a more beautiful country than this?? Norway, José!!

One of the things we like to do when the whole family is here visiting is to take advantage of Geneva’s proximity to other fun European destinations and to go there for a few days. One time it was Berlin. Another time it was Paris and Amsterdam. Last Christmas, Pat suggested that we spend part of our summer together in Norway. So in early August, the four of us boarded a plane to Oslo for a week in that beautiful country.

After a late arrival in Oslo which required that our first night be spent near the airport, we headed north in our rental car, our destination: the town of Stryn. Our route planner wisely included a ferry ride through the Norwegian fjords for one segment of the trip.

Further on up the road, we encountered an architectural feature unique to Norway: the stave church. A stave church is an elaborately carved wooden church. It gets its name from the wooden “staves” that are the wooden corner posts that support the “stave walls” made from a framework of timber with wall planks standing on sills. My research indicates that these wooden churches were a byproduct from the Vikings woodworking craftsmanship in ship building.
We turned off the main road just to get out and take a closer look at this smaller one.

Norway wooden church

These wooden “stave” churches are a thing in Norway

Regular followers of the Swiss Sojourner, know I like to hike. So when we embark on an adventure to a place like Norway, there will be hiking. And if you are going to hike in Norway, it’s best to take advantage of all that Norway hiking has to offer. For instance, why not combine a hike with two of Norway’s coolest natural features, fjords and glaciers! So we arranged a guided day trip that involved kayaking 5 kilometers to a great big glacier, having lunch, then strapping on the crampons, guide ropes, and harnesses and hiking along a glacier, pictured below. Then we had to paddle all the way back in the rain and into a headwind, and even that was fun, sort of.

Norway Glacier

We kayaked to this glacier, then hiked on it!

On another day, the four of us began a day of hiking by riding a gondola part of the way up a big mountain just outside of Stryn, comforted by the thought that it wasn’t going to be too demanding a hike since we were taking the gondola most of the way up, right? Well guess what, we wound up hiking uphill another 600 or so meters (vertical ascent, I mean… the whole hike was probably 7 or 8 kilometers round trip) to the summit of the mountain. From way up there, we had a glorious 360 degree view of the whole region.  Here’s a shot I took as we were just getting started.

Fjord view

We rode a gondola, to this level, and started our hike here.

On our last full day in Norway, Pat and I decided it would be fun to test ourselves against what the tourism brochures describe as “the longest/highest uphill hike in all of Norway”, that being the hike from Loen all the way to the top of Mt. Skala, a vertical ascent of 1,848 meters, which for those of you unfamiliar with the metric to feet conversion, is over 6,000 feet. What makes this such a challenging hike is that it’s a mere 8 kilometers from Loen to the summit, which means the hike consists of an average grade of 23%! That’s very steep! And then you have to hike back down, once you get up there. But Pat and I agreed that one of the things we like best about extreme hiking is the pain, and how good it feels when its over, so we were all in. Here we are about to head up.

Mt Skala

Sadly, due to poor pre-hike planning on my part, my camera ran out of juice on the way up. But I did find this 2 minute video on the Norway Tourism website that shows a very well produced video of some of the highlights of this hike. Seriously, its worth checking out to get a sense of this hike and this amazing country.

What’s the best place to watch a French victory in the World Cup? A French bar!

As you may or may not know, there was just a month long soccer tournament hosted by Russia called the World Cup, in which the 32 best national soccer teams compete every four years for the world championship.  This tournament is a huge deal over here. Geneva is an international city, so there are die-hard fans for virtually all of the European teams, and many of the South American teams.  Continue reading

I rock to classic Lynyrd Skynyrd on the city tram!

I ride public transportation in Geneva virtually every day.  One of the things that users of the system soon learn is that they will frequently be “entertained” and subsequently solicited for donations by a variety of musical acts while riding the trams (Geneva’s light rail network). These acts typically involve some combination of guitars, accordions and/or stand-up bass fiddles, along with some vocal accompaniment.  I’ll be honest, when I see a group filing onto the tram with their musical instruments, I generally groan, but I do reach into my pocket for a franc or two figuring that if someone has the stones to wake up in the morning and decide they’re going to spend the day riding around town on the city tram playing an accordion for donations, that’s worthy of a small donation.

So I’m riding the tram to work last week, and two guys climb on board, one with an acoustic guitar, the other with an electric guitar.  Now I’m somewhat intrigued.  Continue reading

My friend Pat throws down the hiking gauntlet on all future visitors.

Meet my good friend and notoriously-slow-Snickers-candy-bar-eater Pat M. He was just here for six days. I’ve known Pat since we were teammates on a powerhouse third grade boys soccer team back in the late ’60s. These days, Pat spends much of his time working outdoors as a wetlands scientist so I knew he would be up for a solid week of hiking and exploring in the Swiss and French Alps. He did not disappoint. Continue reading

Wintertime in Switzerland means cross country skiing in the Jura Mountains!

Winter weather in Geneva can be a little depressing. With the alps to the south and the Jura mountain range to the north sandwiching Lake Geneva and the city, it’s not uncommon to go two or three weeks without seeing the sun as a thick, impenetrable fog settles in over the city.

Clouds over Geneva

It’s beautiful… at 4,000 feet!

So what can one to do to escape the dreariness? Throw some skis into the “boot” (that’s what they call car trunks over here) and head up into the mountains! Continue reading

The World Economics Forum welcomes the American president. Here’s how the Swiss feel about that.

The Swiss Sojourner generally avoids political commentary, but with world leaders gathering right here in Davos for the World Economics Forum, I’ve decided to include a brief post on an event that took place here in Geneva as the meetings in Davos were getting underway. (Similar events were held across Switzerland in Lausanne, Zurich, Basel, and Bern.)

My friend Rabea told me that there was going to be a demonstration at 7:00 PM in the commercial district of Geneva along the Place du Molard. Continue reading