Sion

Week 7

Sion and its Castles

Planning

Even worse than last week, Reza and I had stalled on travel plans until the last minute. I wasn't clear where we should go after our trip to Montreux. Farther maybe? Or maybe we should stay closer and try to see more of Geneva or visit Lausanne.

Helmut was talking about a trip to relatively distant lands; a whirlwind tour of mighty organs and the churches that house them. Though I don't have a distinct interest in organs I certainly wouldn't mind seeing a few and doing some other touring in the process. If a group of us where going a car rental might be ideal, more flexibility at a reasonable cost. But, as we found earlier such things are hard to come by, the trains are very convenient, and it wasn't certain we would have a substantial group. (Reza and I were waffling.)

Helmut wanted to visit Muri as well as one other town. His trip was sounding like it might get a bit expensive. There was a good chance it would require an overnight stay, and the only two hotels in town weren't terribly cheap. Plus, he wanted to get up at a painfully early hour to allow enough time for the trip. Reza and I gave it some serious thought, but our research didn't immediately indicate any other attractions and the cost was a concern.

I have no idea how I began considering Sion. I'm sure I found reference to it somewhere online, maybe here. I knew there were some interesting castles capping some hills but little else. Helmut was enthusiastic when the Sion option was mentioned. He recommended it highly. It has the oldest playable organ in the world (dating from 1390)! In addition to the curious hills and castles that sounded very cool. We might not escape a visit to an organ yet. We would leave in the morning for Sion and Helmut would go on his own to Muri.

view_of_mountains_from_train
39 kB - 27 Feb 2004 11:07

A view as we zoom past farms and mountains heading toward Monthey shortly after leaving Lake Geneva behind.

Getting There

The trip isn't any more involved than the last one. The hardest part is peeling yourself out of bed. Once that is done there is a bike ride, no more than 10 minutes long, to the bus stop. Busses leave CERN heading for Geneva every 20 minutes or so all throughout the day. Trains to Sion are also quite regular. Every hour two trains leave in the direction of Sion, one requires a transfer.

lausanne
57 kB - 27 Feb 2004 10:32

A peak of Lausanne from the edge of the train platform.

We had been hoping to catch a direct train, but unfortunately we arrived just as it was leaving. So, a transfer in Lausanne was necessary. It wasn't really a bad thing. Our wait in Lausanne wasn't long, but we did try to catch a few views from the train platform. We also wandered out onto the streets just uphill the platform, but we didn't want to stray too far, we only had a little over 15 minutes. Lausanne is on a substantial hill dropping down toward the lake. The train platform is almost at the roof-height of the downhill buildings, but they are solid enough to block your view down to the lake. The action around the train station was certainly not as great as that in Geneva, but more so than Montreux; probably fitting the relative size of the city.

waterway
57 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:08

I liked how the water cascaded down a series of steps along the edge of this watercourse, though it is hard to see. The water runs out of old Sion and the castle looms almost straight above to the right.

I didn't know until later that Lausanne is the home of the International Olympic Committee. My impression is that this is one of the major points by which Lausanne sells it self to the world. They have a an Olympic museum, but at least one of my guide books says it's not something worth getting excited about.

The entry for Lausanne in the Rough Guide to Switzerland is interesting. They claim that "in a country of spectacular natural beauty it is the most beautiful of cities, Switzerland's San Francisco..." And, that it is the "European blading and skate-boarding capital." In addition, it is home of the largest university in Switzerland.

A little unsatisfied with our quick view of Lausanne we hop on our train to Sion. It is right on time. We return, for a brief moment, to our old friend Montreux and flash past Chillon Castle. The train tracks curving with the lake-shore we were provided a slightly new view of the castle from the south, but it was distant and fleeting. More interesting is what is to come.

alley_way
39 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:13

Looking back along a passage cutting up the hill toward the castle. I would love to have that balcony you can barely see high on the right.

Reza was distinctly unsatisfied with my description of Lake Geneva as just a wide spot in the Rhône River. Maybe that doesn't offer the biggest lake in Switzerland enough respect, but I think the river itself deserves a little recognition. We are now in the southern region of Switzerland called Valais. At the region's heart is the Rhône valley, and all the major cities lie along the river. The most famous feature, though, is the mountains, most especially the Matterhorn to the south almost to Italy.

Leaving the lake behind the valley narrows a bit and the train crosses to the other side. Along the way you can a few waterfalls dropping from cliffs on either side. Farming takes up the majority of the valley area, with vineyards making up a small fraction than along the lake. One notable feature of geography is the deep and narrow chasms radiating out from the hills. The train passes at least one quite closely, not far from the where the valley makes its bend, and it is very impressive. Further down the valley I notice interesting hills jutting out of the valley floor. They seem to be formed by layered rock slanting steeply up toward the north. A convenient collection of these hills, ripe for the building of castles, is what gives Sion its distinction.

road_to_castles
67 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:15

The view back down the winding road that leads up to the castle. I was surprised to discover that the Sion tourism web site has this exact same photograph, labeled Rue du Vieux-Collège.

Château de Valère

After close to two hours we arrived in Sion. The first thing we did was to find the tourism office. When we arrived it was closed, but a sign said they would be back in five minutes. Reza lingered around the door while I wandered down the street. By the time I returned it had reopened, Reza had acquired a map, and he was heading my way. (Hmmm, was that cute girl who passed me in the street a few moments before the one who worked there? Maybe I should have lingered around the office longer.)

Sion has some nifty tunnels under the major intersections in downtown. No street crossing required, pedestrians just head down ramps and cross under the center of the intersection. There are also a variety of gift shops, snack stores, and even the all pervasive McDonalds. This is one of the many ways in which they get things done right in Europe, thinking three dimensionally. It may be more expensive, but good city design demands tunnels. Tunnels get highways out of the way of local traffic and past mountains. They put parking garages where they rightfully should be. They shuttle pedestrians safely across traffic and sell them French fries at the same time! Do your part for the city nearest you, dig a hole.

side_chapel
57 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:22

A small chapel on the way up to Valère castle. Tourbillon is high on the hill in the background.

Even though the hills on which the two castles sit quite substantial in size, the slope of the terrain and the density of the buildings around us in town kept them out of view. But, a glance at the map indicates the general direction one needs to head, and so we started walking. The city was moderately busy, maybe not teaming metropolis but certainly not dead. As you approach the lower castle, Valère, you enter the old center of town. The buildings become a bit more interesting, more ornate, and denser. We walked a little too far to the east and found ourselves directly below a cliff rising straight up to the castle. Clearly we had to circle the hill a bit to find a way up. Heading to the northwest back into the heart of the old city we squeezed between buildings, followed the main street for a moment, and then found some promising steps heading up hill.

door_to_valere
77 kB - 27 Feb 2004 14:23

I love how this door has a small sub-door built in. What was it used for? This is the entrance to Château de Valère.

I think that if you get yourself roughly in the right area it is pretty hard not to find your way up to the castle. This is despite an almost arbitrary choice of routes up cobblestone roads or twisty passages. Just find the old town and follow the hill up. Our route brought us to a trail with the hill rising to the right and the entry ways of lower homes on the left. You arrive first at a small building, a satellite chapel it seems, on the way up the entrance to Château de Valère. It looked as if were weren't quite on the main route to the castles because we were now looking down on a nice paved trail passing in front of this building. The other castle, Tourbillon, was visible high in the distance. Climbing to the right the way makes a hairpin bend and arrives at the castle doors on the northeast corner.

circling_birds
55 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:32

This huge swarm of birds were circling noisily in an updraft high above Sion.

There is a zig and a zag and then the door, all the better to foil battering rams and drunks. The door certainly looked liked it had been around a while. Nothing fancy, but it did have a nifty little sub-door for jumping midgets or cake deliveries. The uses are limitless, and I will be looking into getting one for my next house.

Broad steps lead past a long building on the right which turns out to be a museum and up through an arch-way. You get your choice of directions at this point, to the museum or up to the church. Anxious to sample the goods we head up to the left toward the church. Along the way you are treated to a spectacular view down on Sion. Scaffolding and barriers signaled reconstruction work underway on the west side of the church. That, and our visit's timing early in the year, meant that some parts would be inaccessible. A somewhat unfortunate situation, but we can't just wait and visit all of Switzerland in the summer.

Sion_from_castle
121 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:32

A 180 degree view of Sion from Château de Valère looking mostly west.

From the viewpoint you can see down the valley a bit. The most prominent feature is the pointy hill much like the one we were standing on rising from the opposite side of the city. I'm not sure if there is anything notable on the top of it. There are only so many castles a city can produce, blessed with pointy hills or not. In the distance are the snow topped mountains which are most prominent to the northwest. They may be a bit higher than the Jura, but neither are they the craggy alpine peaks which can be so dramatic. And, high above all this, circling noisily was a huge flock of birds. What kind I don't know, maybe crows. They seemed to be catching some nice thermals and convening high above the city in a cyclone of squawking. After many minutes a shifting of weather conditions or maybe an adjournment of the meeting sent most of them gliding off into the distance.

door_of_valere
75 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:56

A view of the entrance to the Valère church (at least the only one accessible at the time). This is north face of the church.

After absorbing the view we turned around and continued on up the stairs to a door on the side of the cathedral. It looked as if this was not as things usually are. Clearly some of the entrances were blocked because of the construction. I believe I saw signs indicating tours and admission fees, but that may only happen during peak season or when the building is not under construction. Also, there was mention of organ concerts (recall, it is the oldest playable organ in the world). They are every Saturday during the summer. I don't know if they will happen this summer considering the construction, the signs were dated 2003 as I recall.

inside_valere_to_left
79 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:50

Inside the Church of Valère, the northern wall, pillars close to the outer walls blend with high arching stone work. The wooden door blocks access to the front of the church.

It is quite dim inside the building. There are only a few stained glass and high windows to let light in. The location is incredible, the view looking out the door was so delightful Reza stopped to take a picture looking out the door. But, a nice lady we would meet again later, had to point out that there was a prominent sign inside asking you to please keep the door closed. I can understand, I suppose it can get mighty drafty when your castle is perched on the top of a hill with the door wide open.

altar_in_valere
82 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:50

Inside the Church of Valère, an ornate display set against one of the pillars.

The ceiling is high, with mostly light colored masonry formed into various arches and a little bit of wood crossing just below the highest arches. The space available to us was quite small, just a few small rows of pews and a low wall blocking both ends. Unfortunately there was little that could be seen of the ancient organ at the back. The best view we got was in the photos on the posters attached to the wall blocking access back toward the organ. You could see over the walls, but around the organ mostly scaffolding was visible. (By the way, I know there are a few CDs of music played on this organ but the only one I could find on Amazon was this one. It would be very nice to return and hear it played. I know very little about organ music, but it would be intriguing to hear how it has held up over the last six and half centuries. (Of course there have been many repairs, so it isn't entirely original.)

stacked_stones
52 kB - 27 Feb 2004 12:52

Rarely do you see the likes of simple pieces of rock treated so delicately. I could use my skills honed in crane training to estimate the mass of these stones, but instead I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

On the wall opposite the door there was a large mural featuring a disturbing scene of a many tied to post being used for bow and arrow target practice. Being god-fearing is not enough in this church, you also need to be archer-fearing. Below that painting was what looked like the rendering of a man in a tomb (or maybe just a very "cozy" bed?) as well as a painted section of the floor about person sized which was fenced off with an iron railing. I can only guess that someone is buried down there, but I never found out more.

up_at_valere
110 kB - 27 Feb 2004 13:01

The front (east side) of the church of Valère. We could not get on the other side of that wall running to foreground left. That octagonal portion of the church wall is the most classically castle-like the the whole building.

Toward the front is another low wall essentially splitting the church in two. It had a few arches to spiff it up and a door through the center. I would be very curious to learn what the purpose of this wall was. It seemed to be a permanent feature, yet I have never seen a church or cathedral with such a wall. To the side of this wall was a temporary plywood wall with another door. Together they blocked access to the front of the church. Above the wall you could catch glimpses of a wonderfully painted ceiling where the arches radiated out to form a dome of sorts. I wish we could have wandered down that direction and got a better look at it. As it was we were restricted to this small square patch of the building, with just some paintings on each side and a few photographs of what were missing. I need to make a visit when the construction is finished.

stairs_in_valere
103 kB - 27 Feb 2004 14:23

Just past the entrance to Château Valère, a climb up past the museum on the right and through the arch to further steps to the church high on left.

After stepping out the door and back down the way we came a bit we found another path wrapping around toward the east side of the building. It lead us to a locked door and a dead end. There was no way to get around to the other side of the church. Again, I wish we could have seen more. The front of the church towers over you here, but there is very little to see.

sod_in_museum
43 kB - 27 Feb 2004 13:14

Odd "artifacts" in the first room of the museum. They were meant to demonstrate that people collected a wide variety of things as artifacts, not just the intricate, shiny, or precious. I'm not sure what this sod is supposed to signify, but I love the idea of keeping a piece of sod on the mantel for good luck.

Finally, as we were about to leave I reminded Reza of the museum. The layout seemed a bit strange at first. The building you walk into doesn't contain any of the museum. It is just the reception desk, a small gift desk, and some stairs leading down to a lower level that is largely empty. Here is where we met that lady again. She apologized for her poor English, but we communicated just fine and could only feel more guilty for our almost nonexistent French knowledge.

The museum is really in a different building connected to the reception building via a courtyard on the lower level. It is tightly packed, winding you through many small rooms on two floors. You exit the way you came in. The displays were quite interesting. I've included a picture of only the very first display, one that was a bit fanciful, and not really representative. In many of the rooms there were fun little games related to the more serious displays. For example one room had a box with a large selection of keys. Using the correct three simultaneously opens the box and gives you a bit of a surprise. Much like joint bank accounts requiring co-signers on checks, in the good old days they used a chest with many locks so that agreement had to be reached before it could be opened. The descriptive plaques had English translations which I greatly appreciated. They were often a bit humorously worded, clearly not the product of a skilled translator. A couple times I couldn't figure out what they were trying to get at, but this was when the writer was clearly trying to engage in some serious social commentary or philosophy, something that is understandably tricky to translate. I enjoyed the touch of light heartedness through out. There was clearly an effort made to keep people of all ages entertained and to make the artifacts you were looking at somehow relevant to the present day. It could have been hokey, but somehow I liked it.

vines_below_tourbillon
99 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:16

The vineyard planted on the Tourbillon side of the saddle between the two castles

Château de Tourbillon

Outside the door of Valère we decided to take a moment to eat lunch. We explored the eastern side of the hill and found some rocks on the leeward side of the castle. It was a cold day, but very tolerable when we could avoid the wind. Obviously the view was great. Downtown Sion wasn't visible, but instead we looked toward the southern hills and up the valley to the east. Sion's sprawl, football stadium, train tracks, and industrial buildings, wasn't the most scenic; but the snowy mountains and winding river made up for it. Even with the seemingly hostile location and wintery conditions there were signs of spring sprouting. Crocuses poked up here and there between the rocks and the grass was greening. The castle must provide some valuable shelter to the plants as well as us. While I finished my lunch Reza scrambled over some rocks around the castle. I don't recall asking him if he was able to infiltrate the fortress. It's for the best, as these things go, after telling me he would probably have to kill me.

reza_through_arch
96 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:20

Reza climbing through an archway, part of a wall roughly 2/3 of the way up to Château de Tourbillon from the saddle between the two castles.

Next, obviously, was the other castle, Château de Tourbillon. We didn't hold out much hope of an interesting vist; from a distance Reza had noticed people were walking to the doors and then almost immediately turning around. It also didn't look to contain much, there were no buildings or towers visible, just a high outer wall. Later I would read that it is no more than ruins. Much of what might have been there was destroyed in a fire during the 1700s.

view_of_tourbillon_cliff
74 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:35

From here it was almost straight down to the base of the hills and the outskirts of Sion. The wall in the top left is part of the remains of Chateau de Tourbillon, which obviously didn't need to be guarded terribly well on this side.

To get there you walk down a bit from Valère into a saddle between the hills. The hill rises steeply to cliffs under Tourbillon. A vineyard, which must be very scenic in the summer, sits in the saddle under the cliffs. The path heads straight up the edge of the cliffs and passes through an archway in the remains of wall partway up the hill. By the time you reach the top you are well above Valère and everything else in Sion. The views can be nothing but spectacular.

valere_from_tourbillon
99 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:36

The view of Château de Valère from Tourbillon. The right side partially facing away (west end) is covered with scaffolding and plastic for the restoration. The entrance is on the lower left, the museum in the structure along the low outer wall in front. The old center of Sion is off to the right.

The door was indeed locked. I don't recall what the notice said, but the ruins may be open in the summer. You can, though, walk around three sides of the building. We first went left staying close to the wall, until we hit a very sheer cliff. On the south side the cliffs only drop down to the height of the lower castle, but on the north side the cliffs drop straight down to the valley floor. Here the wall simply ends, and if you lean out over the cliff you can peek inside the ruins a bit. A really brave person might be able to get in, either from this side or the other.

houses_on_ridge
70 kB - 27 Feb 2004 14:58

These buildings must have an incredible view. They overlook Sion, and behind them looms Mt. Gond (if I'm reading my map correctly)

Here was a great place to stop and take a panorama. As you can see, I did. People, they love those panoramas. Reza wandered down the hill as it drops in lumpy steps toward Sion. I just hung around up high by the castle and succesfully avoided falling to my doom.

The mountain to the northwest of the city was the most spectacular. I am thankful the brilliant whiteness of snow, for otherwise winters would be so sickly brown, the short days despressingly dim. A hill between us and the mountains sported a row of buildings along it's ridge. Many looked larger, like hotels or apartments, and certainly had choice views that I would pay extra to wake up to. It was also pleasing to note that the hillsides were still largely agriculture, no cul-de-sacs or rows of two-and-a-half bath spec homes. The scene can only get better in the summer.

from_tourbillon
137 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:33

Looking roughly west covering about 120 degrees, Valère castle is on the left, Sion below, and an example of the hill underfoot is in the distance.

tourbillon_field
111 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:56

The lawn to the east of Tourbillon looking back toward the castle. This area was nicely green, in contrast to the rest of the more desolate castle surroundings.

When Reza returned we walked around to the other side, which surprised me a little. There was a substantial green lawn with rows of trees on this side. The grass was definitely greener (I assume because it is sheltered from the wind by the castle just like where we stopped for lunch). The hill went a good distance to the east before the cliffs on each side came to a point. Again, the views were incredible. Standing at the point you can see in every direction but back toward downtown Sion. The usual ant-like humans, carrying nowhere near 10 times their body weight, strolled across the bridges over the Rhône. A good amount of traffic disappeared into the hillside below us, one of Switzerland's many tunnels.

view_east
67 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:31

The view to the east from the edge of the cliff on the north side of Chateau de Tourbillion. That is the Rhône flowing toward us. It is very hard to see but a tunnel enters the hillside just under the lower road skirting the hill.

Teetering on the prow of this substantial hill I took a moment to not raise my hands and yell "I'm king of the world!" But there was picture made recording my presence. You might notice the bits and pieces of walls along the edge of the cliff. Some parts of the walls even had the defensive vertical slots which flare out on the inside. But, from what they were defending I'm not sure. It seemed like the cliffs were a plenty good obstacle, though maybe there were spots where a climb wasn't out of the question.

alan_on_point
84 kB - 27 Feb 2004 15:54

There I am, on the eastern prow of Tourbillon's high rocky hill. Continuing up the valley the next major stop is Visp, the turn off for Zermatt and the Matterhorn, and then further Brig, the turnoff for Milan or alternatively further up into the mountains toward Austria.

At both castles the flow of people was fairly steady, but not heavy at all. At times in Valère, the museum, or around Tourbillon you could easily find yourself alone. Most of the visitors were speaking German and many were families with young children. Of course this observation may be biased by the promimence with which children can place themselves in the scenery. Plus, the chilly air just carries their screaming further. On the whole though, the cold weather imparted a very sedate feeling to everything. There was much time to meditate on the ruins, if that is possible with wind whistling past your frost-bitten ears.

Speaking of language (most visitors speaking German). One of the few specifics I recall from the museum was a map indicating the movement of cultures and languages down the valley. Sion is right on the boundary between German and French. A few centuries ago German was slowly moving down the valley from the east, and it was in the 1700s if I recall correctly that it reached its farthest extent, around Sion. Going further up the valley, as I will talk about in next week's entry, you definitely move into a mostly German speaking part of Switzerland. In most other places, though, I'm told the boundaries between German and French speakers is more distinct, being deliniated by natural boundaries like mountain ranges.

down_trail_from_tourbillon
81 kB - 27 Feb 2004 16:05

The trail winds down the hill from Tourbillon and toward Sion. The Cathedral is just left of center with a steep cone shaped steeple. To the left of the cathedral and slightly closer, the large building is the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts which was closed at the time. I'm not sure if there is much of anything at the top of the distant hill. Why not a third castle?

Dinner and the Return

Employing the magic of gravity we made quick work of the walk down. The way is actually a bit on the steep side. I wonder why they even bothered to put steps in the path since they have only a little rise, a very long run, and each slants almost as much as the hill. Whereas stairs usually make a hill locally flat, these stairs simply make the hill a tiny bit less steep.

Near the bend in the trail down from Tourbillon Reza and I became curious about what looked to be chimneys coming out of the ground. You can barely see them in the photograph looking down the trail toward Sion. We never could figure out what they connected to, an underground building or just some buried equipment for utilities?

inside_cathedral
62 kB - 27 Feb 2004 16:44

Sion's Cathedral "Notre-Dame du Glarier", looking toward the front from the rear pew.

On the way down we passed the entrance to a prominent museum, the Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts. Unfortunately it was closed. We would have liked to have visited. Wandering off the road at the museum and crossing a courtyard we discovered that our route had no outlet except down some private stairs. We headed the threatening signs (at least they seemed threatening, they were in French) and doubled back. On the way down we inspected the menus of a couple restaraunts but the prices were leaning a bit toward the scary side. There was one relatively cheap place just as we arrived on the main road through the old town, Reza seemed interested but it didn't interest me much, a little too far in the other direction, simple and cheap.

organ_in_cathedral
47 kB - 27 Feb 2004 16:36

The nicely lit organ in the rear of Sion's Cathedral "Notre-Dame du Glarier". It was being played, but the cathedral was otherwise empty, when we visited.

The only other site we planned to visit besides the castles was the cathedral. It is conveniently located straight ahead as you come down the hill. The back ways through the old town are lovely. We passed a couple fancy restaurants as we headed toward the cathedral. Groups of well dress folks came and went. A few poked their heads or some music out their small apartment window. Along the alleyways the old doorways to the apartment buildings seemed disproprotionatly large and elaborate compared to the tiny windows and terraces dotting the wall above. All down the main streets there was the suggestion of a substantial tourism industry, but the quantity and quality of our fellow pedestrians made tourist season feel a long way off.

The cathedral was unspectacular from the outside, kind of plain and flat with a high bell tower in the back. The plaza behind it was also a bit drab. This at least is in contrast to the inside which is certainly impressive enough. The organ was being played. The music was a simple piece that sounded familiar, sort of church organ elevator music, though there is no hope of me identifying it with my nonexistant musical knowledge. It's pipes, high in the back, were lit to show off all their shiny glory. We saw no one in the main hall, but there was at least one person praying in the side chapel. I was not nearby to cringe along with him, but Reza told me he accidently took a picture with the flash and startled the poor person. This was despite his very deliberate efforts to keep the flash off. I can understand, with the way the buttons are located I find I often accidently switch into macro mode or change the flash setting when I'm using my digital camera.

sorcerers_tower
85 kB - 27 Feb 2004 17:25

Sorcerers' Tower, the northwest corner and only remaining part of the old city wall. There was just a tiny bit of broken wall visible on two sides.

After the cathedral. We looked inside the church right next door, Église St. Théodule. It's a bit smaller but with a some interesting paintings and sculpture along the walls. The stained glass and dome were also notably nice. Two men were setting up a display of breads in the front. After a quick and quite look around we slipped back out into the cold.

town_hall
59 kB - 27 Feb 2004 17:38

This is the hôtel de ville, the town hall. I like its clock as well as the metal designs hanging along the sidewalk seen in the top left of the frame.

After this we lacked much of a plan. There was definitely the desire to find a good place for dinner, but as yet it wasn't pressing. We headed east, past a fenced in garden and across a plaza. After heading down under the intersection of a major street on which we hoped to find food I noticed the Sorcerer's Tower, Tour des Sorciers, on the map. It's the only remaining piece of the old city wall. I was able to convince Reza to double back and find it. We spent only a few minutes admiring it, but I appreciated the opportunity to picture the wall squashing a parking lot of cars which has replaced it. There is almost nothing of the wall beyond the tower, just the broken connections on two sides. Architecturally the tower stuck out quite a bit because of its cylindrical shape. Nothing else in town is quite that Disney-fairytale.

fancy_door
68 kB - 27 Feb 2004 16:25

I believe this was one of the side doors of Sion's town hall.

It was getting late and food was finally a major priority. It is good to explore the city, but Reza and I spent too much time considering all the options. There were a couple places which we took note of and planned to come back to if we didn't find anything better. But, as these things go, we ended up searching too far afield to return. In our travels I recall noting to myself "half the stores here seem to sell either lingerie or ______" Of course I have forgotten what went in the blank. So, the undoubtably highly inaccurate synoposis of Sion is this; old stuff, good views, lingerie. They're tourism office might give it a try.

I thought I had seen some cheap and interesting restuarants a little bit to south as we walked from the train station so we headed that way. That turned out to be very unsucessful. We found ourselves leaving downtown and our hopes of food, so we swung around back toward the train station. There were some restaruants around there and our desperation made the decision go fast once we found a reasonable one.

train_at_station
30 kB - 27 Feb 2004 20:43

Another train stopping in Sion

It was a pizzaria again, like last week in Montreux. Displayed outside was an array of seafood, an octopus on ice among other things. Reza vowed never to eat such a thing, but then moments later told me he was considering an item on the menu that I could only guess calimari. I was able to help him dodge that bullet. The food was exteremly good. I don't recall how expensive it was, but not bad. I had a three-things-in-one sort of plate (lasagna, tortelini, and something else). We had some local wine, but the best part was probably the apéritif. It was really tasty. As I recall it involved pieces of pear which had been marinating in the liquor for a good time. Instead of wine Reza just wanted more of that, and I agree it was very good, but I thought it would be a bit weird (and I think the waiter did too).

alan_on_train
61 kB - 27 Feb 2004 22:34

A contemplative moment on the train from Sion back to Geneva

The train station wasn't far off and we had the schedule so we didn't have to wait too long the cold platform. The trip back was uneventful, it was too dark to see anything. We caught one of the direct trains so there was no transfer required.

On the whole I consider the journey highly successful. We wandered further up the valley on a relatively easy train trip. The surroundings were incredibly dramatic. The castles were intriguing and the museum surprisingly fun. Poking our head into the churches provided some additional dramatic sights. The whole of the old city was fun to explore, and our food was great. On the down side, we didn't see much of the famous organ or all of the church of Valère. The weather was dry but the freezing temperatures were punctuated by a biting wind. The lush green of early summer is still a ways off. In an ideal scenario the town would have gotten a sprinkling of snow to liven up the dormant brown hills just before we arrived. Thankfully I don't demand ideal, and I may yet return.

'Times.