Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Nyon, Switzerland


Nyon (population 21,000) lies about a dozen miles from Geneva and fronts the shore of Lake Geneva. That's Nyon Castle up on the hill. 
Remember my last blog from Geneva where I crossed the border into France to visit one of my favorite patisseries (Sebastien Brocard)? Well, I found out he opened an outpost here in downtown Nyon. It's Sunday morning and to my big disappointment the store is closed! Jeez, I'm such an idiot, I assumed this store would be open on Sundays just like the one in France. Pickings are slim so I catch a couple pastries from this place. 
Sweets on display.
This is the front of Nyon Castle. It dates back to the 1200's. The town has owned the castle since 1804 and currently houses a museum as well as municipal offices. 
View from the castle wall looking down to garden area which in the old days would have been a formal garden.
This is a view from the lakefront looking up toward the castle. At the top you can see the remains of a structure from Roman times.
Spiffy looking soldier standing guard over the water fountain.
From the road near the lake one can see there's something impressive up on the hill.
This is Prangins Castle. There has been a castle on this site since 1096 but, this current structure dates to 1732.  From 1929-1962 it was owned by Katherine McCormick, an American and heir to the International Harvester fortune. A one point the US government owned the property and was to be used to house the UN Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. 
No formal gardens here as produce is now being grown. In 1974 the Swiss government was given the castle and it's now a Swiss National Museum.  
View from Prangins Castle to Lake Geneva. 
On the outskirts of Prangins stands the Toblerone line. Though Switzerland was neutral during World War II it didn't trust the Germans. Each of these concrete blocks weighs nine tons and were to stop the advancement of tanks. Normally you find these near the border but, this six mile long line (over 2,700 blocks!) was put here to protect the main road running from Geneva to Bern. 

Other countries used these and were known as Dragon's Teeth. In Switzerland they took on a different name as they look remarkably like their famous Toblerone chocolate bar. It's now a hiking trail that starts at the Lake Geneva lakefront and ends near the base of the Jura mountains.  

Picturesque town gate entry to the old town area of St. Prex, population 5,600.
View of main street in St. Prex's old town. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Geneva, Switzerland (more chocolate & Sex and the City shoes), Part 2


So, I'm almost back in Geneva and come to this roundabout in the suburbs. This sculpture is amazing. Count the number of animals you see.
I walk to the other side of this sculpture and see more animals. 
I'm in downtown Geneva near the financial center and like to fill up my water bottle with the ice cold water coming out of this fountain. See the building behind? That's the head office of Lombard Odier Group, one of the world's largest private banks. 
Lombard Odier Group can trace its roots back to 1796. I visited this place during my 20 plus years traveling around the world visiting corporate headquarters (www.corporatetrivia.com). As with other secretive private Swiss banks visited the exterior is very low key with usually only a discreet plaque announcing the inhabitants. When entering these banks I recall being immediately ushered into a small conference room off to the side of the lobby. Why? Probably because they didn't want me seeing any of their clients walking in lugging a briefcase. Pray tell what was in the briefcases? Maybe moola from a corrupt African government or some Middle East dictator? All five private Swiss banks visited (including Edmond de Rothschild around the corner) in Geneva said they never received my letter of introduction mailed from Lausanne--only 35 miles away yet, other companies visited in Geneva received the letter of introduction. These banks have zero credibility with me. 
So, I'm standing at the fountain filling my water bottle and turn around to see the name Manolo Blahnik on this shoe store. I say to myself, "where have I seen that name?" Whoa, the day before I read an obituary in the New York Times for George Malkemus. Manolo Blahnik and George Malkemus partnered up and ended up creating a global shoe empire. Business soared when actress Sarah Jessica Parker's character in Sex and the City had a thing for their stilettos. Having never watched an episode of the hit series I had no clue about the shoes so, I walk into the store for a look/see. 
Oh my god, some of those heels must be six inches! How do women walk in those? 
Prices? One to two thousand dollars a pair. 
This is a favorite patisserie of mine in Geneva.
See the brown round sweet on the extreme left (you can see one and half)? That's what I bought. Cookie part on the bottom is crispy and top has caramel filling. 
Nothing here looked good after the "cookie". 

Geneva, Switzerland (World Wide Web, chocolate) Part 1


I have a hankering for some pastries from one of my favorite patisseries. That means cycling into France. So today I start in Geneva and will do a 35 mile loop crossing into France then following the border and returning to Geneva. I'm out near Geneva's airport---what's with this brown building? It's the visitor center for CERN.
And what's with this new construction?
Well, these cylinder-shaped tubes will help tourists and workers cross the busy road. Why the cylinder-shape you ask and what is CERN? 
CERN is a European research organization that operates the largest particle physics laboratory in the world. Formed in 1952, CERN is an acronym for Council European for Research Nuclear. In 1954 the name was changed to European Organization for Nuclear Research (EONR). However, the powers that be decided that EONR was awkward and continued to use CERN. So, I still haven't answered why are they building cylinder-shaped tubes for crossing the road. Well, keep reading.  

Over 2,500 scientists, technicians and administrative staff work here. Twenty-three European countries contribute money--last year they gave over $1.1 billion. How come the USA isn't involved? Well, we have our own physics laboratory (Fermilab) outside of Chicago with over 1,750 employees and $545 million in funding. 

In 1989 an English scientist (Tim Berners-Lee) at CERN was working on how to allow scientists from around the world to access all the data CERN was spewing out. He invented the World Wide Web (WWW) commonly known as the Web.

On the left is the huge CERN campus with more than 50 buildings. Up ahead that's the Swiss/France border crossing in the photo. It wasn't manned this morning. The CERN campus lies partially in Switzerland and partially in France. That's the beginning of the Jura mountains in the background. 
So, I still haven't answered why the new pedestrian bridge being built is cylinder-shaped. Over 320 feet underground here is a cylinder-shaped tunnel (accelerator ring) housing Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world's largest and highest-energy particle collider. This underground circular sucker is 18 miles around. In the photo above I'm about five miles from CERN and unbeknownst to the grazing cows and horses there's a tunnel 320 feet down. I'm six feet tall--if you stack 53 of me on top of each other--that's how deep below ground the tunnel lies!

Are all those scientists at CERN helping make life better for us? I don't know but, I have an idea. Divert the billion dollars in funding for one year, gather all those smartie-pants scientists and technicians and have them work on two much more important projects:

1). Do something about computer hacking.

2). Do something about the never-ending phone calls I get with the caller telling me that they can see from their location that there's something wrong with Microsoft on my computer and they can help me fix it. From the scammers voices it sounds like they're calling from the Philippines. I used to hang-up after angrily telling them it isn't possible because I use an Apple. Now, I let them go on for a few minutes with their spiel before telling them I use Apple. The last time, the woman hung-up after calling me obscenities. 

Here's the outside of Sebastien Brocard's patisserie in Saint-Genis-Pouilly, France (population 12,000).   
The chocolate almond croissants here are magnificent. So, I took one chocolate almond croissant and, the round dark chocolate dessert to the right. It's filled with chocolate mousse with the center filled with Gruyere double cream. Yummy!
I also took a three chocolate dessert--it's the second round dessert from the left (there're seven of them in the row). It has white chocolate, dark chocolate and milk chocolate. 
Took several macaroons.
Came across the geese farm. What caught my attention was the scarecrow in the back.
Closer inspection with my zoom camera shows the scarecrow has a companion made out of wood. 
I'm on a backroad with vineyards for miles around. This sign says to slow down or else you'll have to deal with an angry momma!
Water fountain with flowers. 

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Sion, Switzerland


This is the downhill part of of my day trip visit to Crans-Montana. Instead of cycling back to Sierre (an hour downhill bike ride without having to pedal!) I'm taking another route that'll take me down the mountain but bring me a further six miles up the valley floor to Sion. What's with this picture of grass? Here it is the end of September and these wild pink flowers are blooming. Actually, this photo was taken right across the street from the chalet in the next photo that I'll be talking about.

This recently built chalet lies on the outskirts of Crans-Montana and probably couldn't be built if it was in the town limits. Why? Thank Russian oligarchs. Years ago Russian oligarchs pretty much invaded Switzerland buying up big bucks properties in the high-end ski resorts like St. Moritz, Gstaad and Crans-Montana. Alarmed by this invasion, laws were enacted severely restricting where and what foreigners could purchase. Many properties would be used for a month (usually over Christmas) and sit empty the rest of the year. Laws were passed saying the properties had to be available for rent when not in use.    

Stopped to check out this large indoor/outdoor sports park. Skateboarders rule here. 
Lots of villages dot the landscape.
This cow and farmer's hut greets visitors to Lens, population 4,100. The hut dates back to 1818. In the summer farmers would bring their cows up the mountain to graze and the farmer's lodging was definitely no-frills. 
Church in Lens. 
Water fountain in Lens. Definitely had to stop and fill my water bottle here. Why? Crans-Montana has several water fountains but signs say the water is "non potable". That means it isn't safe to drink. In Crans-Montana I went to the tourist center and asked why. Usually it means there's something wrong with the groundwater but, how can that be the case way up here in the mountains? The young guy manning the counter at the visitor center had no answer. 
Lots of vineyards dot the mountain sides as I near Sion (population 34,000). Back around 2016, officials in Crans-Montana and Sion were contemplating putting in a joint bid to host the 2022 Winter Olympics. With the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee in nearby Lausanne it seemed they would have the inside track. However, locals put it to a vote and the result was "no way Jose". 
Here's my buddy outside a patisserie. Haven't figured out how he manages to be outside multiple shops at once. By the way, I peeked in the shop and nothing looked good. 
I'm in Sion and up on the hill stands the ruins of Tourbillon Castle. 
In medieval times Sion was walled-in with multiple towers. This is the last surviving tower. Known as the Sorcerer's or Witches' Tower. Why? Doesn't the roof remind you of a witches hat? Used as a prison for many years. 
Lunch time crowd in Sion.
More lunch time crowd in Sion. 
In the background you see two complexes. On the one hill is Valere Basilica, a fortified church. To the right are the ruins of Tourbillon Castle, which I showed you in an earlier photo. It's a pain in the rear getting up to those two places-with no paved road. Both were built in the 1200's. Who resided in Tourbillon Castle? Why, the most powerful and richest man in the valley--the Bishop of Sion. Years ago I went up to check out both places--locking my bike at the church and then hiked along a narrow trail to the castle ruins. My thoughts? How the heck did they lug all the material up there 800 years ago? Amazing. Also, what a pain it must have been for locals on Sunday to have to hike up there for Sunday service.