A Glimpse of Annecy

Annecy is one of the villages at the Rhône-Alpes region in south-eastern France and it is known for its lake, Lac d’Annecy. Together with our very own Taal Lake in the Philippines, Lake Annecy has also been featured as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world at Budget Travel magazine.

Tell me, who would ever contend?

From the city proper, there’s a beautiful green park and a very charming canal, alluring us to walk a few steps more; and there you will find where the water is coming from. At the foot of a majestic mountain lies the equally bewitching lake of Annecy.

We found ourselves very lucky, since the weather turned out to be warmer than we expected. The bright, sunny day added to the beauty of the lake. The water’s captivatingly clear that I really felt like going for a good plunge, just like the ducks here that were not shy to show off their butts!

I'm standing here at the picturesque Bridge of Love (Pont des Amours). Where's my Romeo? He might be there, sinking.

There’s a cruise that gives tourists a wonderful way to appreciate the lake.  There’s lunch and dinner options for a 2-hour cruise ride. For short tour, say thirty minutes, there are also small wooden boats around.

Annecy is a nice place to walk around. As you pass by the European Gardens, there’s a bigger canal that somewhat welcomes you to the old town of Annecy.

The most recognizable landmark in this part of Annecy is the Palais de I’lle that sits on a small island in the middle of the river canal. It’s also known to be a prison-castle because it was originally built as a home to a lord until it was used as a prison at later time. Now it serves as a museum showing the history of the building and the city.

I got caught up by the little castle in the middle that I didn’t realize that we went inside the Church of St Maurice, which is apparently known for a 15th century mural of a decomposing corpse for a noble, which is also thought to be a reflection of the anxieties over the 100 years war.

If only I knew, I wouldn't miss that creepy mural.

Along the emerald green Thiou River you’ll find the rustic establishments with traditional architecture in the old town. It’s a rather nice stroll at a cobblestone street on a bright, sunny Friday. As my colleague’s mom summed up this quick, fancy tour, “what else can you complain, iha?”

So Swiss: Genève et Moi, in Retrospect

WOW. I didn’t imagine I would ever reach a year. I can still vividly remember the time I first came here. With me were thoughts of a global city. For one, Geneva is dubbed as an important financial district in Europe, next to London and Zurich. Also, Geneva hosts many international organizations; that includes headquarters of the agencies of the United Nations and the Red Cross. Geneva as one of the most expensive cities with the highest quality of life to boot, would I be blamed for expecting too much?

Unlike the more sophisticated airports of Hong Kong and of Heathrow in London, the arrival area in Geneva airport is an unwelcoming sight. It’s like a plain, boring waiting hall for visitors like me to see, c’est tout. I arrived on a Sunday and Geneva appeared to be a ghost town that day. I came across the train station (gare Cornavin) and met rather peculiar strangers along the way. It was an eerie, to the extent, disheartening experience for a first day.

I came to realize that it’s an entirely different place, and that my life would change dramatically; in a good way or not, at that time then, it’s hard to figure. A greenhorn I was, I struggled with speaking and understanding the language (it’s French, people!), knowing where and how to go (it’s a different way of commuting, only better, I admit now), handling my finances (it’s all shockingly expensive I must say), finding my kind of coffee (even this, yes!), trusting people I meet, among many others.  I thought I was already adventurous, open-minded and strong-spirited enough.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t. I got overwhelmed, “This isn’t my place, not the kind of life I wanted.”  During my first two months, all I was ever thinking of is going home.  I’m officially away from the usual comforts of home with my family, and so I began to similarly feel what others had also felt in this same moment.

Obviously, Geneva and I didn’t mesh perfectly well at first, but it is in this city my life in Switzerland began to unravel. Luck found its way for me. I feel grateful that I found good Samaritans who helped me achieve what I wished for.  As opportunities start coming along, Geneva has become an indispensable lot. My views towards this city have gradually changed and I begin to appreciate what it has in store.

I still couldn’t entirely say that Geneva is the right place for me, but at least, it is in Geneva I truly started living a life on my own – a life in Europe, away from home. I’m beginning to blend in.

apartments in Geneva

My first stay in an apartment in Geneva, I was unaware then that I had a nice view of Salève and Mont Blanc from afar. No skycrapers around, most of the apartment/office buildings here don’t go beyond 10 floors. Some are even a hundred years old and more. This apartment I first stayed in is situated in a pretty quiet spot. The grannies were the neighbors. Everyone’s expected to speak in hush tones, not to make any noise. Hush.

the flower clock in the English Garden

Time can be such a drag for someone impatiently waiting. Time can be felt too short when one is having fun. Oh sorry, I digress. This must be the flower clock in Jardin Anglais (English Garden), symbolizing the prolific watch industry of Switzerland. Right in front of it are the high-end stores and one of which are for the watches. Rolex? Mont Blanc? Patek Philippe? Jaeger-LeCoultre? Hublot? Cartier? Franck Muller? Breitling? If you are a diehard, Geneva must be a watch haven for you.

Le Jet d'eau

The iconic symbol of Geneva is originally a simple security valve at an hydraulic factory and was moved to this area to make it a tourist attraction. You can dupe the kids by telling them (that) the Geneva lake does not dry up because the city is pumping up more water onto it.

Priceless.

Half slice of salami baguette, 6.00chf (270php).
Nice natural ice tea, 1.95chf (87.75php).
My very first surprise, priceless (or maybe it is worth 357.75php, just for a snack!).

Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Genève

The St. Pierre Cathedral is the known church situated in the Old Town of Geneva. It is also popular as the adopted church of John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

green belfry of the cathedral

Without me knowing that people before me knew about this interesting spot, this green belfry was such an eyecatcher I took a shot of it. Et voila!

around the Old Town

I could say that the Old Town is the most tourist-friendly spot in Geneva. There are other interesting sights (the cathedral is already one) like boutiques, cafés and restaurants that you can find as you pass by.

Brunswick monument

Genuflecting in front of this monument is not required, but you might feel a bit compelled. It is because Charles d’Este-Guelph, Duke of Brunswick lies here. Mind you, he is not quite an ordinary guy. This duke left Geneva with a tidy sum of money and one of the terms he asked for in return is to build “a mausoleum in an eminent and worthy location, executed according to the established concept by the finest artists of the time, without consideration of cost.” The monument is also an exact replica of the Scaligeri family tomb in Verona, Italy, work of the 14th century. As the cityfolks put it, this (vain) man owns Geneva.

Pont du Mont Blanc

Out of the four bridges in Geneva, this is the only bridge exclusive for road-traffic, and the quickest way heading to  Geneva from the expressway and back. That’s why this bridge is quite notorious for backlogs during rush hours.

United Nations Office of Geneva

J’ai été une étudiante when I first visited the United Nations in the heart of Europe. I look a year younger on these photos, don’t I? Oh, this monumental wood sculpture right behind me, another tourist attraction, is the Broken Chair, signifying the support for an international treaty on a ban on cluster bombs, which was signed in 2008.

Comité international de la Croix-Rouge

In English, it is The International Committee of the Red Cross. I just quickly passed by. I didn’t intend to donate blood. I heard there’s a museum inside, but it is temporarily closed for renovation until 2013 *sigh*.

Le musée Ariana

This very exquisite structure houses 20,000 ceramics and glass objects from 12 centuries.  Built in neo-classical and new baroque architectural style, this edifice was built only to house the private art collections of a tremendously rich man from Geneva. Named after his mother, this architectural beauty, along with his other real estates and assets, was eventually bequeathed to the city of Geneva.

white swan

They’re the ballerinas in Lac Léman.

quiche and tart

During my first few days of stay, I got addicted to quiches and tarts. These were my daily fix, apart from coffee.

a lamb kebab rice meal

My penchant for Middle Eastern food as well, there are many Arab restaurants in Geneva.

You-and-I moments

It was during those times when I still didn’t know how to order my kind of coffee in regular coffee shops yet. If I’d say café, they’d give me a strong-brewed espresso. Starbucks coffee in Geneva was my refuge until I found a solution to my supposedly petit problem. Café creme is long espresso; café noissette, espresso with a dash of cream ; and café au lait, coffee light with heated, frothed milk. At any rate, there’s also Nescafé Gold instant coffee at home to save the day. Or shout, cappuccino or café latte in an Italian-owned coffee shop and they’d understand.  D’accord!

my first pals in Geneva (another one, Pia, she's not on this photo though)

I first met them in my French class and we became friends since then. I only recognized Elena as Filipina. Bootsie looks like an Indian mestiza for me but when she started to speak I counted her as another. Well, Paola told everyone in the class that she is Americaine and for me she looks like a Latina who was brought up in the States. But Elena could smell Pinay blood from her and she’s not mistakened afterall. It takes a Pinay like Elena to know one, bravo!

Parc des Eaux-Vives

When I visited the park in Eaux-Vives, it made me realize that Geneva ain’t that bad at all.

Genève plage

The more I enjoyed the look of Geneva when Elena invited me for a very early breakfast by the lake on a Sunday. Here, for the first time, I began to appreciate the Swiss steamboat that passed by, and the lake itself. Elena’s such a very nice tour guide, and a true confidante as well.

Swiss steamboat

This steamboat travels along the lake end-to-end, from Geneva all the way to Montreux and back.

Le Parc des Bastions

Bastions Park is a former botanical garden and site of the first university in Geneva. You will also see the Reformation Wall commemorating four of the Protestant founders of the reformation.

I'm still loving it!

I must say, there’s Swiss quality in McDo. My favorite McChicken burger tastes way better here! They’ve got unlimited wifi, too. So when I was scrimping back then, I used to hang out more often here, together with middle school dudes and dudettes.

my very first classic Swiss experience

I cuddled with a big Saint Bernard stuff toy I’d like to bring back home, watched performers play with traditional Swiss music instruments like the alphorn, and relished cheese fondue and raclette. All in one at Hotel Edelweiss.

my first "formal" rendezvous

It’s my first teeny-bop birthday I attended in Geneva. Cute and fun.

moi at Les Automnales 2010

It is a yearly trade show at Geneva Palexpo featuring all products of Switzerland. This event occurs every November, which is quite timely for the early holiday shopping.

snow comes...Bootsie's take

It is my first experience of snow. I like the view but it’s the terrible freeze that I don’t like, especially when the snow starts to melt away.

....and spring goes. still from Bootsie.

I enjoy spring, next to summer.

So Swiss: Visit these Swiss Places, Lonely Planet says

Click on the image to see more of Switzerland, courtesy of Lonely Planet.

Benazir Bhutto expresses her distrust when she said, “I’ve never had a bank account in Switzerland since 1984. Why would the Swiss do this to me? Maybe the Swiss are trying to divert attention from the Holocaust gold scandal. ” Gertrude Stein nonetheless shows her confidence, “In a war everybody always knows all about Switzerland, in peace times it is just Switzerland but in war time it is the only country that everybody has confidence in, everybody.”

Graham Greene is being sarcastic afterall, “In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock! ” Larry David follows suit, “Switzerland is a place where they don’t like to fight, so they get people to do their fighting for them while they ski and eat chocolate. ” Ernest Hemingway takes Greene rather seriously and replies in an artsy manner, “Switzerland is a small, steep country, much more up and down than sideways, and is all stuck over with large brown hotels built on the cuckoo clock style of architecture.”

Billy Connolly is curious, and so he blurted out, “I’ve always wanted to go to Switzerland to see what the army does with those wee red knives.” Herman Hesse is a convincing chap, “Until 1914 I loved to travel; I often went to Italy and once spent a few months in India. Since then I have almost entirely abandoned travelling, and I have not been outside of Switzerland for over ten years.” But Geraldine Chaplin partly dissuades, “It’s the change of rhythm which I think is what keeps me alive. In Spain I hear so much noise from my window that can’t stand it. In Switzerland it’s the lack of noise that drives me crazy. ”

But I guess, F. Scott Fitzgerald said the most fitting statement the Swiss deserves, “Switzerland is a country where very few things begin, but many things end.”

These famous people might have said it all. Experiencing the life in Switzerland is really something else.

As Lonely Planet puts it, “If you could travel only one European country, which might you choose? Italy? France? Germany? How about a taste of three in one? That can only mean Switzerland!” True enough, Switzerland is a “complex country of cohabiting cultures.” I have been around the French side of the country for quite a long while now, so hopefully soon I could visit the rest. It must be easier to rely on this list of travel places in Switzerland from Lonely Planet. Let’s do a roll call.

These are the places that I have not visited yet:

  1. Basel
  2. Bern
  3. Central Switzerland & Berner Oberland
  4. Fribourg (Gruyères)
  5. Graubünden (Davos, Vals, Zuoz, Scuol and Guarda, Müstair)
  6. Interlaken
  7. Locarno
  8. Lucerne
  9. Lugano
  10. Northern Switzerland
  11. Neuchâtel
  12. St Moritz
  13. Swiss National Park
  14. Ticino (Val Bavona, Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore)
  15. Zermatt
  16. Zurich

While I have been to:

  1. Geneva
  2. Jura
  3. Lake Geneva Region (Vaud, Nyon, except Les Diablerets)
  4. Lausanne
  5. Montreux
  6. Valais (Sion, Leukerbad, except Matterhorn and Val d’Hérens)

I’d feature more about these places on my next blog posts.

Or better yet, Lonely Planet’s top 15 picks for Switzerland can do the trick. Out of this list I have visited 3 out of 15 interesting places so far. Let’s revisit this list soon! Gosh, good luck for me then!

So Swiss: 10 Things I’m Loving About Switzerland Now

How ironic it is for me that I haven’t written anything much in detail about my stay in Switzerland for the past 11 months since I arrived. Yes, few more days to go and it’s going to be my first year. There are supposed to be so many stories to tell, as a matter of fact, but then again, the daily run of my life couldn’t seem to accommodate this another new idea in mind.

Until one day, someone asked me this question, “Do you feel your Swissness growing in you?” I couldn’t say the magic word that I ended up replying, “Maybe I’m getting there.”

It could be nice to look back, reflect and write about the events and experiences so I can better appreciate the life I have here and assimilate well into the Swiss culture (before it’s too late?).

I won’t be painting a rosy picture for Switzerland all the time because I’m equally eager to share the rest of the Swiss quirks too! Everything that is Swiss from a Pinay POV, and that Pinay must be, me.

For now though, it’s better to create a good impression first. So here are the ten things I like about Switzerland.

1. Swiss time is really gold.

What time is it, Swiss?

Switzerland is well-known as a watchmaking country. Most of the top-of-the-line, luxurious watch brands in the world originated from here. The Swiss are legendaries for their dedication to detail and accuracy. A luxurious watch for one, comprises of more than 300 precision parts and long hours of meticulous craftsmanship. As Switzerland has a reputation to uphold, it appears to me that everything here has to be in sync and everyone’s wired to be on-time.

Public transportation is one good example. I have always been an avid commuter ever since in the Philippines. Most of the time, I find pleasure in going through the Amazon-like traffic of Manila. Of course, since Manila traffic is very unpredictable, making (valid?) excuses for being late had become a part of the morning routine.

On a side note, I couldn’t entirely blame Christopher Lao for speaking out loud that he should have been informed (that the flooded road is impassable for a car like his) but when you particularly drive around Manila in torrential downpour that day, common sense is a must; and unfortunately his lack thereof, as well as his lame excuses, being seen on national TV has made him become a laughing matter (and lately, an Internet quick sensation).  However here in Switzerland, it’s au contraire. Waking up late can be the only reason for being so, and should foreseen circumstances ever occur, believe me, the Swiss will also inform you beforehand.

Unless there’s a traffic jam, technical problems, bad weather, life emergencies or any uncontrollable situations along the way, which also seldom happen, the buses, trams and trains in Switzerland arrive on-the-dot, and even earlier than usual.  Undoubtedly it’s good I left my Filipino time behind.

A very funny, creative satire on Lao, but, WTH is Christopher Lao? Here’s one for you in YouTube. This ain’t funny if you can’t read/understand Tagalog, so better skip this video. Definitely, in German, Hitler’s expressing seriousness here.

NEXT: The hills are alive.

10 Things I’m Loving Now – i amsterdam

In Amsterdam the water is the mistress and the land the vassal. Throughout the city there are as many canals and drawbridges as bracelets on a Gypsy’s bronzed arms.

– Felix Marti-Ibanez

From life’s simple stuff to grandiose pleasures, bring it on!

Whenever I am off for vacation, days before the trip I’d normally google and read articles about my next destination. This time however, I didn’t do much. I was less excited. I only had few expectations. Perhaps I was influenced by what I heard (about the Dutch) and what the trip is primarily intended (for a conference).

Four days hence in Amsterdam, all I can just say is, “Bitin!” Amsterdam, I haven’t had enough of you. I involuntarily stucked myself in the hotel for two days, and understandably, enjoying the city overnight was not enough. It was a one-night stand but you left me hanging and it’s actually, my fault. Wow, this does sound like a heart break alright. Well, most especially, it is undeniably tough for me to move on when I failed to visit Van Gogh museum (sigh).

To know more about visiting Amsterdam, check out the city’s official travel site, www.iamsterdam.com.

1. Canal Cruise

In Amsterdam, the best way to enjoy the city (quickly) is not through a tour bus, but a canal cruise.

No visitor should miss out on a water-borne tour of the splendid canals of Amsterdam. The canals, which were declared a UNESCO monument in 2010, aren’t just a picturesque attraction, but were essential to defense and transport in 17th-century Amsterdam. With the arrival of the automobile, hundreds of canals were filled in nationwide to accommodate the new mode of transport, but Amsterdam has retained 165 of its historic canals, more than any other Dutch city. Definitely a canal tour makes for a wonderful first impression, as the tour boats take in much of the monumental architecture that lines the Canal Belt, the four concentric semi-circles that loop around the the historic Center (reference: goamsterdam.about.com).

NEXT: Amsterdam architecture