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.  They spend a minute or so tuning up, and I start thinking to myself, “this is different… I wonder what these guys are gonna play?”  Next thing I know, they start in on a classic tune from my favorite 1970s rock band, Lynyrd Skynyrd.  (Not to be confused with the current, fraudulent version of Lynyrd Skynyrd.)

As they played the opening riff and as the tune’s first lyric, “Big wheels keep on turnin…'” wafted down the length of the tram, I said to myself “Hey, that’s Lynyrd Skynyrd!” So I jumped up, started my phone’s video, and made my way down the aisle to get a front row, standing room only view that was only temporarily obstructed by some dude walking to his seat on the tram. And I coughed up a full 5 francs for the privilege!


Note: This post is dedicated to my friend Ed, and my son Pat, fellow lovers of classic Lynyrd Skynyrd.


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.

Pat M. and me

That’s Pat and me… and The Matterhorn over Pat’s head.
(More on that in a minute.)

When we receive guests, I generally try to design an itinerary to suit each individual or family. This time for Pat, I knew he would enjoy spending as much time as possible in the great outdoors, seeing the natural beauty of the mountains surrounding Geneva. And while I enjoy sharing the trail with any and all of our visitors, Pat is an especially enjoyable hiking companion because he knows so much about many of the natural features that one encounters along the way, especially on high alpine wetland trails which characterized many of the hikes we took together this week.

One more thing about Pat: he’s a tad competitive. When I told him of the adventures I’ve had with others who’ve come to visit us and have also enjoyed hiking, he was interested to know how far and how strenuous those hikes were. Pat came determined to best the previous standard bearer, who I believe to be Greg, for the “Most Miles Hiked By a Friend of the Swiss Sojourner During a Visit”. And because he’s a scientist, he came armed with a phone app that measures his total mileage, number of steps, and if it can be trusted, the equivalent number of “floors climbed” during a given hike.

Here is a rundown of our week’s hiking, according to Pat’s phone (which incidentally takes pretty good pictures and video, too!)

Day 1 – Walk around Geneva; 6.6 miles
Pat arrived from Ireland, where he had spent the previous week working and visiting friends, at about 3:00 PM on a Sunday. We checked him in at our place, then proceeded to take our regular “walking tour of Geneva”. The walk takes us over to the United Nations European headquarters, then down through the Botanical Garden, a particular favorite spot for an environmental scientist like Pat, or anyone that enjoys looking at and learning about interesting plants, like me. Then the walk goes through a pedestrian tunnel where one emerges on the other side of the busy roadway Route de Lausanne at the shoreline of Lake Geneva. We planned to take the “mouette” taxi boat across to the other side of the lake to continue walking from there, but we were denied a spot because too many other people had arrived before us with the same idea, so we continued down the shoreline walkway toward the heart of town. A mile or so further on, we turned away from the lake, walked uphill to the train station and on back to our place. We all agreed that it was a good warm-up for what was to come the rest of the week.

Here is a fun photo from the botanical garden.

Bird sculpture in botanical garden

One of their many cool “tree branch” sculptures in the botanical garden. I think this is supposed to be a bird.








Day 2- Chamonix – 8.4 miles, 140 floors
A favorable weather report for the Mount Blanc area led us to Chamonix on Day 2, just a little over an hour from Geneva. Our original plan was to repeat a hike I’ve taken three or four times along a ridge in the shadow of Europe’s highest peak, Mount Blanc, but the gondola that carries one up to the trail head was out of service, so we had to devise a Plan B. A shopkeeper recommended a trail called “Le Petit Balcon” on the opposite side of the valley. This hike offered a magnificent view of Mount Blanc and the 7.5 kilometer long Bossons Glacier, which has the largest altitudinal drop of all the alpine glaciers in Europe, and is approximately 7.5 km long (and shrinking, sadly), with a surface area of approximately 10 square kilometers.

If you look closely of the photo below (click on it to make it bigger), you can clearly see the “snout” or terminus of the glacier. We both thought it resembled a snake’s head.

Pat M photographing Bossons glacier

Pat gives seminars on glaciers, so he took lots of pictures!

We celebrated the hike by enjoying a cold beer (or two) and a hamburger in Chamonix.

Day 3 – “Easy Salève” – 5.8 miles, 220 floors
Regular followers of this blog will recognize this hike, which I have previously chronicled here. I have since discovered a longer and steeper way up the Salève, a route called “La Grande Gorge, but since the week was young, I opted to lead Pat up what I have come to call the “Easy Salève” hike, which involves an 800 meter vertical climb. This photo sort of sums up the vibe of the “Easy Salève” hike.

Saleve stairs

112 stone stairs cut right into the mountain, about a third of the way up.

We celebrated our successful ascent of the Salève by visiting Philippe and Linda at ArtyGlaces and enjoying the world’s greatest ice cream.










Day 4 – Lauterbrunnen 11.1 miles, 160 floors
Regular followers of this blog will also recognize Lauterbrunnen from this post detailing my snowy ascent with son Patrick last year all the way to Piz Gloria, and this post where I announce that anyone who comes to visit us will be taken to Lauterbrunnen, whether they like it or not. Fortunately, my friend Pat was all in. We rode the gondola up to Grütschalp, then hiked along the ridge with the spectacular views of Jungfrau, Monch, and the Eiger to the town of Mürren. After arriving in Mürren, we took the Mountain View Trail, a three hour circuit through alpine pastures. Returning to Mürren, we rode the gondola down to Stechelberg, and walked back along the Weisse Lütschine river.

When you’re not gazing up at the snowy mountains, there is plenty of beauty to behold right at your feet. Alpine pastures this time of year are filled with colorful wildflowers. Acres and acres of them. Or maybe they’re called hectors in Europe, I’m not sure. Here’s a shot of a little bouquet I collected for someone close to me. (Not Pat.)

Wildflower bouquet

Dang! All its missing is a dandelion, and there were plenty of those.

We celebrated the hike by stopping in Bern on the way home and enjoying a cold beer.

Day 5 -Simplon Pass 8.2 miles, 160 floors
On Day 5, our strategy was to venture a little further afield and overnight in the Sion Valley, which extends into the Swiss Alps along the Rhone River, east of Lake Geneva/Lac Léman. Because we arrived mid-afternoon, we only planned a short hike, an “out-and-back” of maybe 4 or 5 miles, originating at Simplon Pass and heading gradually downhill toward Simplon Dorf. As we hiked along, though, we changed our plan, figuring that there was really no point in stopping and turning around when it was clear we could easily hitchhike back along the main mountain pass that parallels the hiking trail. (Pat and I have a history as hitchhiking partners.) Or worse case scenario, catch a bus that runs each half-hour back to Simplon Pass.

But as fate would have it, neither of those options panned out. The last bus passed 20 minutes before we got there, and our hitchiking efforts were met with many sympathetic expressions, but no takers. Then we attempted to bribe a family who was gathering for a small soirée to drive us back, but our 10 swiss francs wasn’t enough to persuade them to change their plans. Undeterred, we turned around, and reversed our course back uphill the three or so miles to our starting point.

Pat M at Simplon Pass

Pat leads the way back the way we came. (Note the nearby highway.)

We celebrated the hike with a cold beer and some pasta at the restaurant in Simplon Pass.






Day 6 – Zermatt/Matterhorn 7.5 miles, 130 floors
Pat’s last day in Switzerland, so we were going out with a bang: Switzerland’s most iconic mountain, the Matterhorn. Just 15 minutes or so from our hotel, we climbed aboard a cog train in the town of Visp (“2007 Alps Town of the Year!” according to a tourist sign) and began the hour-long ride up to Zermatt. We sat across from a young couple (from San Francisco), who suggested we take the “5 Lakes” hike, which offers an awesome view of the Matterhorn and other incredible peaks, the names of which I did not bother to learn. The hike passes by lakes called Stellisee, Grindjisee, Grünsee, Moosjisee and Leisee, each with its own unique characteristics.

Incidentally, during this hike, some of the other people we made brief friendships with included the following: An older couple from Great Britain who once had a 20 minute conversation with the Queen; A young couple on vacation from Madison, Wisconsin; A young man from Great Britain wearing a Washington Redskins hat (like Pat and me, a lifelong fan, having attended 13 games in his life!); and a woman from Melrose, in my home state of Minnesota, who humorously expressed her displeasure that there was someone from Wisconsin on the same mountain.

The Matterhorn is reportedly the world’s most photographed mountain, and we did our part to widen it’s lead over #2.

The Matterhorn

The Matterhorn juts up proudly to a height of 4,810 meters above sea level.








To provide a better sense of the view from up there, here is a short video of Pat and me on the trail.

We celebrated the hike with a picnic on the way back home, along the vineyards of Vevey on Lake Geneva’s northern shoreline which included grocery store sushi, some Gruyere cheese, and some really nice red wine.

I accompanied Pat to the airport the following day, a Saturday. As we discussed the week’s activities, I told him that I was pretty sure that we covered more ground in six days than I’ve covered with any other guest. I did mention that my friend Greg is returning in September, and he also likes to hike every bit as much as Pat, so we’ll see what happens. Pat’s message to Greg: “Bring it on!”

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

Our friends Philippe and Linda at ArtyGlaces make the best ice cream in Geneva… no, make that Switzerland… no wait, Europe… scratch that, ON THE ENTIRE PLANET!

One hot summer day a couple years ago shortly after arriving in Geneva, we were wandering around town and had a hankering for some good ice cream. So we googled: “best ice cream shop in Geneva” seeking hints on where we might go to find some. Up came a place called “ArtyGlaces”, located right in town, a few blocks away from the junction of the Rhone and Arve rivers. We put away our phones and made our way there.

Three years and much incredibly delicious ice cream later, I can honestly say that it was the best recommendation I’ve ever received from Google. This is a fun story about friendship and making delicious ice cream. Continue reading

Para-gliding looks like fun. Sort of.

Setting aside for the moment the fact that I am pretty scared of heights, I have recently found myself thinking that if I had my life to live over again, I might go ahead and get my high school degree because I might need something to fall back on, but then move to Switzerland and become a para-glider guide. From my vantage point, those dudes seem to lead a pretty good life.

Paragliding is that sport where you rely on updrafts to lift you (and a partner, for a tandem flight) up off the earth as you basically run off a cliff. Continue reading

The Swiss “Désalpes” Festival is a celebration of cows like no udder!

Every year in the early fall, festivals are held across Switzerland’s alpine villages that feature herds of cows wearing silly hats and large cowbells parading down village streets, marking the end of the cattle’s summer grazing in the high alpine pastures. This is a custom that has been taking place across Switzerland for generations, and we recently attended a festival in L’Étivaz to take in this iconic Swiss celebration. Continue reading