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.

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

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