I settled into a routine here: I had a fun, though busy day out traveling and then I was in bed and asleep by 10:30. Thursday was no exception as Ed and I headed over to the ski resort town of Chamonix in France. About a 90 minute drive from Nyon, Chamonix is perched at the base of some breathtaking French Alps, most notably Mont Blanc which is the highest peak in the Alps.
On the drive to Chamonix we had the mountains in front of us the entire trip, which reaffirmed that we were headed in the right direction. We arrived in Chamonix around 2:00 and stopped at La Petite Kitchen for lunch where I had a steak onion and cheese sandwich with frites and hot lemon tea, very French. On our way to the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car Ed and I stopped at a bakery to pick up a pastry with the generic name delicieux--a name so generic in fact that Google images did not find anything that looked remotely like it. You're going to have to take my word that delicieux is a pastry made from filo dough, sliced almonds and raspberries and what tasted like mountains of butter.
A pastry in one hand and a camera in the other, Ed and I wandered through Chamonix in the direction of the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car, eventually finding the base station and ticket booth. Soon after, we were in a large 60-person gondola and assented the first 2354 meters up to Plan de l'Aiguille in about 10 minutes. We transferred gondolas and in another 10 minutes climbed to Aiguille du Midi at 3800 meters.
Once we departed the cable car, Ed and I had to get used to the fact that we were a couple miles above sea level. I'm not sure if you've heard but there's a lot less oxygen up there. Huffing and light headed we climbed several sets of stairs until we reached the bottom observation decks. A turn around the corner revealed the enormity of what we had just climbed; the mountains chained their way outward as far as we could see. Other than breathtaking (see what I did there?), the panorama of mountains flexed the raw power of nature and showed how small man really is. But then it got better.
Down the stairs, through a couple of convoluted hallways and across a bridge brought us to the base of an elevator carved into the rock. By 4:00 Ed and I were in one of the last groups to ride the elevator up those final meters to the 3482 meter observation deck. Up there we had a closer vantage point to the glacial peak of Mont Blanc. Though the sun was still up it was beginning its descent into the west, making the glacier and snow capped peaks shine and sparkle. I experimented taking a combination of various angles, panorama shots and videos on my camera but nothing really compares--this view must be seen in person.
Ed thought we might be able to see the Matterhorn on a clear day, but no dice. According to the various maps up there, Switzerland's most famous mountain wasn't visible from France's tallest. Not that it really mattered though as we saw a ton of other impressive peaks, both snow capped and not
After not long enough, we were ushered back down the elevator, through another convoluted set of stairs, bridges and hallways. We boarded the last departing gondola of the day back down the mountain. Going up may have been fast but going back down was faster. We transferred gondolas again at Plan de l'Aiguille and began our final descent. There were three cable towers along the route and after passing over each one the gondola would begin to descend a bit quicker which put us passengers in a temporary free fall; it was great.
When we reached the bottom a souvenir magnet and gelato were in order: banana's foster for me and rum raisin for Ed. The drive back to Nyon down a tight mountain road and through various mountain passes was traffic and border-stop free.
What a busy couple of days so far, let me fill you in.
My flight from Washington to Geneva landed on time, right around 7:00 AM local time, so that was good. Ed picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to Nyon where he lives--in a very Swiss feeling house up a narrow lane. A lane so narrow in fact that he must retract the side view mirrors on his borrowed car to drive up the lane, otherwise they would scrape on the walls and homes that line the driveway.
After settling in with a shower and large cup of delicious coffee that Shirley made for me, we headed off to the Geneva Motor Show. After I woke up on Sunday, stayed up the entire day, headed to the airport at 3:00 AM and then flew to Geneva (via IAD) without really sleeping in between, the Geneva Motor Show was perhaps the most effective stimulant imaginable for keeping me awake.
So far in my life I've attended a couple seasons of both the New York and Los Angeles auto shows, but Geneva's easily blew both of those out of the water. It's gigantic and filled every one of Palexpo's 102,000 square meters. The show features automakers, both high and low volume, that cater to every market in Europe so there were roughly 50-75% more exhibitors than at any U.S. auto show. To make the most of my time at the show, I limited myself to only looking at exotic cars, concepts and makes and models that I knew I would never see in the U.S. I'll try and write up my impressions in a later post when I post pictures from the show.
After the show Ed and I headed off to the home of one of his friends to have dinner. This friend had a 16-year-old daughter whose nickname was pronounced in a similar way as my last name, so that was kind of a "small world" experience. After staying awake for roughly 50 hours straight, I finally headed to bed around 10 PM local time.
On Wednesday, after I slept in and caught up with the time difference, Ed and I headed off on an a day trip around lake Geneva. Driving along the lake's north shore, our first stop was in Lausanne to have lunch at a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards we toured the halls and basked in the sun shining through the stained glass of the Lausanne Cathedral. Then we got back in the car and headed towards Château de Chillon via a quick detour to quickly see the the sculpted gardens along Montreux's shore with Lake Geneva.
Once at Château de Chillon Ed and I toured as much as we could of the old castle in the 90 minutes before it closed for the day. I saw dungeons, the crypt, a dining hall, various bedrooms, a bathing room, latrines, court yards, turrets, ammunition and weapons storage rooms among many others not listed here. The view of the Alps and Lake Geneva out of the castle were brilliant and quintessentially Swiss. As the sun was setting, the light was dancing off the lake and the snowy mountain peaks which made for some excellent photos--that I will share later once they're edited.
Ed and I got back to Nyon around 7:30 that night where Shirley, who had stayed home for the day, prepared a savory dinner experience that appealed to all senses. We started out with a cheese plate featuring Gruyère, Sbrinz, Appenzeller and Saint Agur Blue. I typically don't care for blue cheese but this double cream Saint Agur Blue was quite good and was easily the surprise of the bunch. Following the cheese plate was a salad of avocado, sweet bell peppers and blueberries topped with an apple cider and maple vinaigrette. The main course was an expertly roasted rack of lamb complemented by a current and berry sauce, rice with onion and bacon, and a medley of Taiwanese mushrooms and vegetables. The meal ended with some rich vanilla and caramel Swiss ice cream paired with dessert wines.
A long day followed by an excellent meal left no reason for me to continue to stay away, I was asleep by 10 PM.
For logistical purposes, I've been here at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok Airport for the past seven hours and will need to wait another two before I am scheduled to board my flight back home. This is really weird for a variety of reasons.
- I've observed that Chek Lap Kok has this eerie slowdown that occurs between 2 and 5 AM. Most of the terminal is motionless because it is either vacant or there is the occasional sleeping traveler sprawled out across some seats. So I can see somepeople--but they're not moving. This also seems to be a peak time for the cleaning staff, who have dawned their vacuums and ride-along shampoo machines.
The airport has most of its restaurants concentrated in one centralized food court. The only ones open between 2 and 5 AM are the fast-food restaurants that in fact never close, and they offer a pretty limited menu during those hours. One restaurant, a Hong Kong based chain called Cafe de Coral, had an empty menu boardand its monitor menus were switched off. That didn't seem to stop about 10 people from queuing and ordering food. How strange.
- Being stuck here for a total of nine hours is strange and sad because I am in this limbo between the country that I'll called home for the past four months and the country that my passport says that I belong to. I really love Hong Kong, I'm going to miss the city a lot and I can't wait to come back. However this feels a little bit like a tease as I am technically still in Hong Kong, though I'm trapped in its (admittedly nicely designed) glass airport.
Ok, so I know that I haven't written a post in about a week--but I've been compiling a (mental) list of things I want to write about and will slowly start chopping away at it over the next few days.
I am a car guru and am keenly observant of my surroundings. These two things have led me to notice that predictably, a majority of the cars on the road in Hong Kong are form local makes: Toyota, Honda, Nissan etc. With the abundance of wealth in Hong Kong there is also a healthy supply of executive and luxury cars from the Germans (Audi, BMW, Mercedes).
It's expensive to have a car in Hong Kong, so most of the cars I see on the road look to be good value for money. Toyota, Honda and Nissan dominate the streets with 5-door hatchbacks, station wagons, boxy minivans and crossovers--likely due to the fact that Hong Kongers can pack a lot of people and stuff into their conservative footprints. As far as Scandanavia is from Hong Kong, I have found that there are a disproportionately high number of Volvos here, particularly Volvo XC90s. And I guess it makes sense,: the XC90 is a large crossover which will seat 5 people with loads of luggage or 7 people in a pinch. It's luxurious, safe and will shuttle the kids to and from their private school without fuss. I expect that their popularity may grow after the Chinese acquisition of Volvo. The picture above is one that I saw parked on campus, but I see them out and about off campus every day.