The Jura and Geneva

Week 3

Gex and Beyond

59kB - 25 Jan 2004

Looking up the street heading into Gex

Reza wanted to check out a ski area and I wanted to get up on a mountain so on Sunday we hoped in our CERN issue Peugeot Partner and headed toward the Jura Mountains. We didn't actually have directions or even a good map, the best way-finding device we could muster was a fist-full of ski resort pamphlets that Reza had snatched from bld. 500. We headed off in roughly the direction we thought appropriate and without too much trouble we found ourselves in Gex.

Building in the middle of Gex 42kB - 25 Jan 2004

In the middle of old Gex.

Gex looks to be a nice town. The town center clambers up the gently sloping toes of the Jura. Arriving, iron-railed terraces and brick borders loom above. A large building of unknown function at the apex of the first stretch sports a clock tower. In our quest to travel up into the mountains we had selected a route that cut off the main road and went straight up through the center of town. The fact that we soon found ourselves back on the main road was pure luck. But, flaunting our luck, we made a second turn off the main road as it left town, once again in an effort to always being climbing up toward a valley coming down out of the mountains. Magically, it suddenly began to snow.

Snow sprinkled trees in Jura valley 47kB - 25 Jan 2004

From the viewpoint next to the Jura park map, shortly before we turned around.

I thought the turn was suspicious at the time, but I'm not sure if I was aware we were leaving the main road. (The main road isn't that big to begin with.) Our route took us up through a more rural area, past some nice houses, and to a fork in the road. At the fork there was a nice overlook of the valley and a park map. This seemed to be beginning of two park roads, poetically, one high and one low. This also seemed to be the end of regular road maintenance; the roads become snow covered. Despite careful examination of the map we still weren't sure how we had gone astray. It was clear that we were not on our way to the ski area, but I was up for a little exploration so we crept down the low road. It became immediately clear that our car was not designed for for such winter travel, but it also become immediately clear that we were not alone.

Buildings and snow on hills along road above Gex 45kB - 25 Jan 2004

A view to the northeast along the road above Gex.

A man stumbling over the rutted snow on the road came toward us pushing a stroller. It was never certain that the stroller actually contained a baby. The man seemed to jostle it around a little too much for what a baby would tolerate or would be reasonable considering the weight. Nevertheless, when we approached and talked to him, I caught sight of what looked to be a sleeping baby. He spoke extremely good English so it was not clear if he was a French native or not. He informed us that, yes, we were indeed not going the right way, and that we needed to backtrack to a point that I remembered as being a suspicious turn. Turning around our poor car was not making much better time than he was with the stroller. After getting stuck on an icy hill for a few moments he almost embarrassingly overtook us.

Returning to the main road the way became obvious. The road winds up the hillside with ever improving views. Unfortunately there was light fog lingering over the whole area and the views toward Geneva and certainly the Alps were obscured. It wasn't entirely cloudy so on the way down we stopped and I was able to make a panorama of most of the valley. (To the left, down the lake away from Geneva, a tree blocked my view.)

Panorama above Gex 207kB - 25 Jan 2004

Looking toward Geneva from the road above Gex. Lake Geneva is on the left with a bit of the Alps above it. Geneva is partially hidden behind a hill and faintly visible are the airport, Meyrin, and CERN. The locations are are sketched on my locator image.

La Faucille

Candy by kiddy slopes 53kB - 25 Jan 2004

Location, location, location. In the parking lot right next to the kiddy slopes.

The road switch-backs it's way up the mountains and quickly reaches the pass. We were surprised by how many people were willing to brave the unknown oncoming traffic around each bend to pass us; driving is a little "braver" around here, most notable with passing. The ski area is just at the top of the pass, and as expected it was quite busy. In the wrong-turn area just above Gex there was a healthy snow coming down, but here all the snow was on the ground. We weren't picky about the destination so we immediately turned in and parked. Getting out of the car the first thing I noticed was the incredible quantities of kids around. I at first thought we had just parked near a sledding area, and indeed there were a few kids sledding right near the cars, but it turns out the whole area had a preponderance of kids. There certainly were many adults around, but maybe half of them were with very young kids. Walking toward the buildings we passed a small hill right next to the parking area swarming with kids. In the parking area, very strategically located, there was a long stand selling bulk candy. We returned to the care much later I was very tempted to buy some, but knowing I had some Lindt chocolate with pear liqueur in the car I couldn't quite justify the purchase.

Young kids learning to ski 87kB - 25 Jan 2004

Right next to the regular slopes was a good sized area designated for the instruction of young kids. Everything was just too cute and colorful.

We lingered around in the area between the buildings while Reza acquired information on ski rental and lessons. I'm sure skiing is fun, but I'm not entirely sure I want to learn to ski. I'm more of a wanderer than an active sport kind of guy, plus I don't need another expensive hobby. While we lingered I noticed that a good fraction of the people who passed us going up the path wore no ski paraphernalia, so when Reza was done I proposed we head up and explore. Passing the base of the lift and heading up and around the bend we found the bottom of another hill. There was a small, individual tow that went part way of up the hill and right next to it was an area designated for children's instruction. People really start their kids off early here, though in may not have enough experience with other ski areas to do a fair comparison. I don't know what exactly was going on, but the entire time we lingered a row of kids (mostly) stood at the top of their little hill waiting. I didn't see any instruction or skiing, but I suspect they can ski better than I can. They certainly stood waiting at the top of the hill with more patience than I would have.

Snowy trees and buildings in the valley below 70kB - 25 Jan 2004

The view, not far from the ski lifts, down toward Mijoux, on the other side of Mont Rond from CERN and Geneva.

Following the wide trail further, the number of people started to decline. The ski area is on the opposite side of the mountain ridge from CERN and Geneva, and in many spots the trees cleared and you could see down into the valley below. The undulating peaks were spread as far as you could see in that direction. And the trees all had a delightfully light sprinkling of snow. Everything was snowy, but there was texture from the underlying green of the pine trees.

Reza climbing toward Mont Rond 38kB - 25 Jan 2004

Reza climbing toward Mont Rond along a snowshow trail, close to half way to the top. The clouds linger low and the summit remains obscured.

We broke off the wide trail and headed up hill following a marked snowshoe trail. The trail zig-zagged across, and sometimes turned straight up, an active ski/snowboard route through the woods. At times we were forced to hug the deep snow keep out of the way, and care had to be taken when approaching a bend since I'm sure someone appearing around the bend would not be able to avoid us in time. Reza complained that he had not worn appropriate shoes, but I was lucky to be wearing my heavier shoes, and so far the snow wasn't a problem. We saw a few people with snow shoes, but probably equally many without. In this lower area the snowshoes were mostly unnecessary, but on the last half of the trail they would have been very nice to have.

Snow shoe trail to Mont Rond 33kB - 25 Jan 2004

As the trail to the summit of Mont Rond breaks out of the woods it roughly parallels an old fence for a time. The peak is well off to the left.

About half they way up we passed a sign indicating the time to the summit. We had started late and hadn't planned to be doing so much climbing, so time was becoming an issue. If the trail was too long or we went astray we could be stuck in the middle of large, featureless snow fields at night. Given the sign, the summit was doable, so we pressed ahead. From here we travelled away from the ski trails into increasingly higher and more open areas. At times we could see what may be the area around the peak, but it was mostly obscured by clouds. The slick patches along the ski trails were gone, but now the snow become deeper. Stepping carefully you could mostly stay on the surface, but it wasn't long until our pant cuffs were caked with snow and I glared at the snowshoe tracks with growing envy.

Sunset on snowy trees 53kB - 25 Jan 2004

As we return to our car the sun sets on the snowy hills.

We saw fewer people at the higher altitudes. Shortly before the final climb as we passed a boarded up building, there was one couple who were making quite a racket. They had come down from the top via a more direct route and seemed to be mired in the snow a short distance from the trail. Even with snowshoes, trudging through virgin snow looked to be more effort than it is worth. We stuck to the trail, indirect though it was, and soon found a sign indicating a turn to the left and the final climb.

Reza and a dog
27kB - 25 Jan 2004

Reza, a dog bite victim, and this nice dog had a slightly tense relationship at first. It seems as if more people own dogs around here than in the US, and more often they are not leashed.

We almost didn't make it to the top. No more than 100m from the top Reza almost convinced me to turn back. Our time was running out and it was hard to tell how far we had to go. It was hard to judge distances surrounded by just snow and cloud. I insisted we keep going, and even I was surprised how close we were to the top. Unfortunately the views only provided the suggestion of impressiveness. The clouds obscured most everything. We were on their lower edge and so the view improved now and again in various directions as the clouds shifted. The edge facing Geneva was lined with a fence which we took as a warning. The mountain drops off dramatically on that side, and with the snow it was hard to tell where the edge was.

With sunset approaching we figured we had to turn around immediately. So, we spent only about 5 minutes at the top. It was a shame we hadn't arrived earlier so we could have waited for a possible clearing in the clouds. (Though it looked like the clouds might have been rising throughout the afternoon, so there may have been even fewer views earlier.) The return trip went quickly. With my feet coated in snow and gravity helping me along, I didn't bother to step as delicately. We passed some people who must have come from a different direction and their energetic, Santa's Little Helper like dog passed us repeatedly as it pressed ahead with us.

Like Bats in Our Belfry

Bird who visited us in Bld 184 23kb - 30 Jan 2004

Two shots of the bird(s) who visited us in bld. 184 on Friday. Their twittering was lovely, but they seem to find their way out by the end of the afternoon.

Friday we arrived at work to the sound of birds. The sound seemed too clear to be coming from the outside, but it was a while before I spotted one of them inside the building. There were two birds in our building. They most hung around near the roof on the crane gantry and other high beams, but on at least one occasion the male of the pair came all the way down to the floor and hopped around on our tool boxes right next to me before flying off into the storage area. There seemed to be some activity behind a beam above the clean room in the back. A few days later I was standing under that spot and a downy feather fell down on me. I was epoxying most of the day, so for entertainment I spent some time trying to record their singing. I made a short compilation of their sounds though the noise of the ventilation system makes it less satisfying. I worried that they birds would not be able to find their way out, but those worries were unfounded. They left sometime in the afternoon and I went back to listening to music and the rush of the ventilation.

Geneva

Sex Center 34kb - 30 Jan 2004

Around the block from where we parked, this describes the area well. In addition to many other fields of study, English seems to be the international language of sex. Mmmmmmmm, blue light.

Our weekly phone conference with the UM Atlas group is Friday evening. It often goes quite long and I wanted to go see an apartment at 7pm in Geneva. I held out to the end and luckily it ended just in time for Reza and I to zip out the door. The traffic was heavy, but we found the area fairly quickly and so were not late at all. Inexplicably and to our dismay, we could not find the apartment. The lady I had spoken with had given me the building and floor number. I had also confirmed the street name (which was listed in the ad). She was showing the place to a number of people and so she had repeatedly told me "just look for the open door, there will be many people coming and going." There was no open door. The building was locked, we had no idea what code to use call on the intercom, and when we finally sneaked in as a resident was leaving we couldn't find her name listed for any of the apartments. We walked up and down the street to look for signs of visitors in case I had got the building number wrong, but without luck. (Two weeks later Reza had the same thing happen to him when he went to look at another apartment.)

Outside of Turkish restaurant 26kb - 30 Jan 2004

A simple Turkish restaurant were we decided to have dinner. Behind the counter on the left you can see their spinning logs of meat. Mmmmmmm, spinning logs of meat.

Confused, we hopped in the car and drove further into Geneva to find some food and wander around. The area around the missing apartment had a few restaurants and many bars, but mostly they were uninviting little places, empty except for the bartender chatting with a friend. We headed for an area we hadn't visited yet, in part because I had seen an ad for an apartment there and I wanted check out the neighborhood. There seemed to be a good number of mid-priced restaurants and more people on the street than in the area of Geneva we visited last week. Parking involved pulling the car up on the sidewalk; people seem to park by any means necessary around here. Why so much more activity here? Just on the opposite corner of the block an answer: the Sex Center. Noticing more establishments in the same genre it became clear the name was apt and reason for the "elaborately" dressed women lingering on the corner came into focus. Despite the proliferation of windowless establishments, the area wasn't nearly as seedy as you would expect in an American city. There were quite a few respectable restaurants and stores mixed in.

The moon over a church 18kb - 30 Jan 2004

The moon over the Holy Trinity Church only a block away from the lake on Rue du Mont Blanc. Mmmmmm, moon.

In search of food we walked back toward the main road. We passed an open bakery that I was interested in, but Reza was looking for something less dessert-ish and more dinner-ish. We settled on a Turkish place that looked reasonably cheap (for Geneva). Our kabobs were quite good and plenty filling. My picture doesn't show the name and of course I have forgotten, but I think the place was called something like "Turkish Kabob 2", which of course begs the question: where is "Turkish Kabob 1"? We passed it later. I still don't know if there is a "Turkish Kabob 3" but I like the orderliness of it all.

After dinner we walked down toward the lake and across the Pont du Mont-Blanc, the bridge closest to the lake. On the other side of the river we passed the sailboats docked at what must be incredibly expensive moorage, only steps from downtown Geneva. We headed inland into Les Eaux-Vives, an area with some very nice looking apartments: old and sturdy buildings that looked well maintained. Strangely, even the nicest of buildings in Geneva is guaranteed to have a large, bright "Pepsi" or "Canon" sign atop it if the building borders the lake. It makes for a colorful, but not entirely distinguished skyline. Speaking of slight annoyances, I don't like the string of lights that outlines the entire end of the lake. I think it looks tacky and, along with the glowing roof ads, is not very flattering to the architecture.

Panorama of Geneva at night 87kb - 30 Jan 2004

At night around the lake Geneva is mostly lit up with colors from the ads mounted above nearly every building. Looking closely you can see some ducks in the water here at the head of the Rhône.

Charley's Pub

Reza in Charley's Pub 44kb - 30 Jan 2004

Reza in Charley's Pub, the only place we've found open reasonably late in our area in France.

Alan in Charley's Pub 62kb - 30 Jan 2004

Alan relaxing in Charley's and enjoying the extreme snowboarding action playing on the many TVs. Don't worry, I'm not deranged and the guy behind me hasn't stolen my inflated head, he has his own.

After leaving Geneva Reza and I headed back into France toward home. But, before heading home, we headed to Charley's Pub in St. Genis. It's one of the few places open late on the French side of things. I had a beer which was surprisingly expensive. Everything on tap was about €6.20, whereas Reza's wine was only €1.20 or so. There was a video of snowboarding outtakes playing on the monitors and a moderate number of people. After our clothes had soaked up enough smoke to keep us sufficiently annoyed for the rest of the week, we left.