Saturday, October 9, 2010

Annecy, France

This is my third visit to Annecy and I'm back for a reason. The first two times I couldn't soak up the old town area because it was packed wall to wall with people. Why? Mountain views every where you look and picturesque Lake Annecy, the second largest lake in France pull in tourists and families on vacation. I’ve cycled around the lake (about 20 miles) and it’s a real beaut. Matter of fact, it’s been rated Europe’s cleanest lake. Annecy has made a formal bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. France has hosted it three times before (Chamonix 1924, Grenoble 1968, Albertville 1992).
So, Mr. Smart Guy (that’s me) came up with this brilliant plan—come to Annecy on a Sunday morning when everything is closed and I won’t have to deal with shoppers, tourists, truck deliveries and so on. Unlike in the USA, stores (including supermarkets) in Europe close on Sundays. The big downside to this plan? It means the pastry shops will also be closed.
So, upon arriving in Annecy imagine my horror in finding the old town area already packed with hordes of people! Why? Sunday is farmer’s market day and (of course!) it’s held in the old town with its narrow streets!
This first picture shows Palais de I‘Isle. Built in 1132 on an island in a canal, it’s been a home, a money mint, in medieval times & World War II a prison and now, a history museum. It’s reportedly one of the most photographed monuments in France. It’s a real beaut.

So, you think I exaggerate about the crowds?
This is a shot away from the old town area.
Canals like this zig-zag through the city center.
That's Chateau d'Annecy (Annecy Castle) atop the hill. It was built in stages between 1100 and 1500 and in 1953 the town acquired it. It's now a museum and after making my way up there I find most of it is under scaffolding as it's undergoing renovation. Jeez, the castle has been around for what? a thousand years and they wait for me to show up to begin doing repairs.
This is a canal view as it heads out to the lake.
Lots of people enjoying the glorious weather.

Look at the clear water.
Can't even cycle on the walkway with all those pedestrians!
This bridge, located about 20 miles from Annecy, was built in 1838 and until 1988 was the way across the deep gorge for motorized vehicles.
Here's the view midway across.
On the left you can see the new bridge spanning the gorge. Now, the old bridge is restricted to walkers, cyclists and suicide jumpers.
Still in France, and only a few miles from the Swiss border I come across a new indoor/outdoor water park complex. Some impressive looking slides here.

There's a huge enclosed dome, I'm guessing for the not so summer-like weather.
A view inside the dome.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Lons-le-Saunier & Bourg-en-Bresse, France

This photo hails from a small farming village near Lausanne, Switzerland where I caught this white labrador taking a quick dip. The Jura Mountains are a small mountain range forming a nautural barrier and border between part of Switzerland and France. The tiny village of La Cure, Switzerland sits atop the Jura Mountains about 100 feet from the Swiss/French border. Passing the village post office (pictured here) I had this feeling I was being watched.
Yep, closer inspection reveals I was right.
The French side of the Jura Mountains is a designated regional natural park. In the summer it's swarming with campers, hikers, bikers, fishermen (lots of small lakes) and cyclists. There's skiing in the winter with lots of mom and pop operated lifts in small towns. Not many roads go through the area and you really get the feeling of being isolated. I pass through Morez (population 5,000) and in the center of town stands an impressive fountain.
Here's another angle from the same fountain.

This is the city hall building for Morez. Why such an impressive building for this seemingly sleepy isolated mountain town? Opposite the city hall stands a modern glass structure housing the Museum of the Telescope. Whoa, it turns out this town has quite the history. In the late 1700's farmers converted their barns into workshops and started manufacturing spectacles (the kind Benjamin Franklin wore). A hundred years later this place was cranking out eyewear by the millions. Last year over 10 million pairs of glasses were manufactured here and shipped around the globe--which means those glasses, sunglasses and reading glasses your sporting on the end of your nose might have come from here!
The village of Morbier (population 2,000) lies just up the road from Morez and this roundabout pretty much tells visitors what the village is known for. If you guessed cheese you would be right.
If you guessed antique clocks you would be right. Winters in the Jura Mountains were known for being long and harsh. In the late 1700's farmers converted their barns in the winter to workshops (just like in neighboring Morez) but here they started making parts for clocks instead of eye glasses. Instead of mass produced factory-made clocks these were unique. Morbier clocks were made until World War I. Now days antique Morbier clocks are worth megabucks.
It's a steep abrupt drop out of the mountains into Lons-le-Saunier. I haven't heard much about this place but am curious to see why 18,000 inhabitants live here.
The coolest structure in town is the old hospital (built between 1735-1744). The wrought iron gate in front is magnificent.
This is Lons-le-Saunier's prime shopping street. Can't see any shops? That's because there's a centuries-old covered arcade on both sides of the street which is great on a hot summer day or cold blistery winter's day. It was initially made of wood but after a fire in 1637 it was entirely rebuilt with stones and the roofs were tiled.
Not impressed with Bourg-en-Bresse but had to see why 40,000 people live here. I give the city hall building the two thumbs up. Why? On the left and right sides of the front door you'll see a fountain spewing out ice cold water--I'm always on the lookout for these to fill up my water bottle.

Local tourist office touts Notre Dame Church (built 1505) as a "must see". Can't miss it as it's the tallest structure in town.

Champery, Switzerland

Just to refresh your memory. Several summers ago my bicycle and I got on this kick to visit ski resorts in Europe. Was there any rhyme or reason to this? The idea being if I was fortunate to ever have the opportunity to spend a summer in a ski resort which one would it be? Further explanation on the project and postings of resorts visited can be seen on my website: I visited Champery (population 1,200) in 2002 and I’m back in 2010 to size-up this small ski resort after now having visitied 50 others.

The well preserved main street is very colorful.

Can't beat the mountain backdrop.

This is the ski lift---located right next to train station and a block from main street.

Old and new ski chalets are mixed in.
This water fountain is a good place to fill up my water bottle and evidently also a good place to play with floatable toys.

This is the public pool. A pool with a view.

View from above the village.
Valley view.
Flower display in tiny village cycling down the mountain.

View across Lake Geneva of famous Chillon Castle in Montreux.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Baden-Baden, Germany

Rankings spa towns visited so far Baden-Baden (population 50,000) easily tops the list. The resort boast multiple five star hotels, a casino, nearby airport (convenient for jet-setters), is awash in big name luxury boutiques (clothing, jewlery, watches), sports a nearby golf course and of course, impressive homes.
Many call Baden-Baden the grand dame of spa towns. Through the centuries (from Roman times) European royalty (including that little fellow Napolean) have dipped their toes in the thermal waters and relaxed with walks through the famous Black Forest (a heavily wooded mountain range--not a forest ).

The first thing this cyclist does upon reaching the city center 8:30 AM on a rainy morning is find a butcher shop. Why? I'm hungry and butcher shops in Germany usually open at 8AM with hot tasty sausages, breaded pork, a meatloaf-like concoction of bologna, chicken legs and pork roast normally on the menu. My favorite? Sliced pork roast on a bun with mustard is not to be believed and Germans know how do do it right (don't get me started on this stuff as it's suppose to be about sweets).
The second thing I do is locate Cafe Koenig. Why? Remember four posts back when I visited the patisserie in Wissembourg, France with the fantastic macarons? The cashier gave me several articles about the store and one was a write-up in a trade publication. Though in French, the publication contained an article which seem to be profiles on top pastry shops in the Alsace region and one was Cafe King in Baden-Baden. The photo above shows the exterior of Cafe King and the photo below the window display.

I love Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte (Black Forest cake to us Americans) and the slice I have here is historic! Unlike the American version, in Europe alcohol is normally added to the mix. The cake is pictured above and below (minus the piece eaten by yours truly).
Some of the other goodies look good but I'm saving myself for more Black Forest cake later in the day as it's only 930 in the morning.
It rained the whole day--drizzle at times followed by heavy downpours. Most of the photos were taken from the cover of awnings or trees. This is an entrance to the extensive pedestrian-only shopping area.

Tour bus groups are everywhere and are easy to spot as they march along in herds.

The building to the left of the chapel is the entrance to the thermal spa complex.

White building is part of casino complex.

Theater building in distance.
Yep, that's a metal 20 foot tall rose stem you see on the grounds of a villa. I was intrigued by the various works of art on the grounds as well as the villa as there're no signs or even a name on the mailbox. Was it someone's home or an office? German companies can be very secretive. I stopped an older gentlemen walking by and asked if he spoke English. He does and said it's an office for Burda, the German media company. Hmm, that interests me even more. Back in 1999 I attempted to visit the head office of Burda in Munich back in 1999 and nobody would give me the time of day. Burda, a family-owned, privately-held conglomerate with interests in commerical printing, magazine publishing and assortment of other businesses had revenues last year of over $2.5 billion.
So, who's hanging their hat in this villa. Probably avid art collector Frieder Burda, the 74 year old son of Franz Burda, who founded the company back in 1898. I'm guessing Frieder Burda lives in Baden-Baden since he coughed up $25 million to build the Freider Burda Museum here in 2004.

Was able to catch a photo of the cascading water during a lull in the rain.
Look closely on the upper right side of photo and you see a castle--though it looks more like a monastery.
I cycle over to check it out when it starts pouring down rain...for the next few hours. So the photo of the castle wall taken under cover of a large tree is the best I can do. The castle is undergoing a three-year renovation to be turned into a luxury hotel.