If you have not read the first part of our report, you can do it here. Otherwise, read on.
The first full day in Switzerland met us with springtime-like weather, warm and sunny. Internet reports told of very little snow on lower mountains, and since our family – Becky excepted – is made of mediocre skiers, we decided not to try going to higher skill slopes.
Instead, we went to a spa.
The road took us along the shore of Lake Leman, on a motorway high above it. The skies were blue, the sun was shining, but the lake below us was covered by dense fog. We were literally driving above the fog, which was a pretty cool sight.
Located at the foot of a mountain, the spa is made of a large pool with hot mineral water under open skies, plus several saunas, steam rooms and another pool inside the building. There are different hydro-massage areas in various parts of the main pool, and a strong-current circular enclosure in the middle (hands down the kids’ favorite).
Saturday, warm weather, little snow on the mountains – it all conspired to bring way too many people to this place, for my taste. But the girls were very pleased, and Natasha expressed a desire to spend the rest of her life in that spa…
Relaxed and happy, we drove up the mountain. This drive was even better than the one on the way from France, since we now were truly in the Alps, and each new turn in the road opened fascinating vistas. I have to admit that driving on a mountain road with breathtaking views after a couple of hours in a spa is probably not entirely advisable – keeping focused on the narrow twisting road was a struggle. But the visuals were clearly worth it.
We then took in the skiing resort atmosphere in Villars. Main street, lined with chalets, shops and restaurants, was quite busy (have I mentioned the absence of snow yet?), and we idly partook in aimless strolling around, as well as had a nice lunch at a local restaurant. Very festive and pleasant, crisp air and surrounding views adding to the overall enjoyment. Someday, it would be interesting to spend some time at such a resort, skiing ineptitude be damned.
The snow did not fall on the next day either, and we decided to explore the local environs. Nyon, a sleepy little town less than 20 miles away from Geneva, is located on the shore of the same lake, Leman. It is very picturesque, especially the waterfront, which also provides magnificent views on the Alps (Mont Blanc included) beyond the lake. The town was also probably even sleepier than usual, Sunday and New Year’s Eve being the major reasons, most likely. Barely a car passing by every other minute…
Walking the streets of Nyon, Natasha at one point exclaimed: “Now, this is what I call Europe! And where we live in London – that’s just Queens!”
Nika and Lenya, whom we were staying with, have a very nice apartment on the top floor of a seven-story building, with sweeping views towards mountains and surrounding areas. Several times during our stay, one of us would stand on the balcony or at a window, enthralled by the landscape…
New Year night came. Nika prepared a fantastic banquet. As we were watching Russian television all night long, we first celebrated the arrival of 2007 at 10 o’clock, when it struck midnight in Moscow. We then proceeded to celebrate the New Year in Ukrainian time zone (Nika is originally from L’viv) at 11, in Switzerland at 12, and in London at 1. The last one was already subdued, on the account of the amount of consumed alcohol and general tiredness. My joking suggestion about waiting to celebrate the Eastern time zone New Year (at 6am local time) was quickly dismissed and we retired to bed around 3.
It was quite different – after so many years of largely staying away from it – to watch Russian television non-stop for several hours. The shows were all pretty well staged, but we definitely had a recognition problem (both regarding young performers whom we have never seen before and some old ones who had gone overboard with plastic surgery). Plus, the shows morphed into one another, and the same performers kept popping up in all of them. I can swear that Задорнов was even wearing the same suit twice…
The New Year day started with driving rain, which lasted through early afternoon. Skiing was completely out. It’s a shame to spend several days in Switzerland in winter and never ski! Oh, well, there is always next time, I guess.
As soon as the sun peeked out from behind the clouds, we drove to Geneva and spent a brief time in the old city center. It is quite attractive and enjoyable, with many nice buildings and quaint streets. Somehow, on the first of January, it was overrun with Russian-speaking excursions. The tourists kept throwing curious glances in our direction, upon hearing our mix of Russian and English in communicating with the kids.
Later, we followed Nika and Lenya to their friends, who live in Geneva proper. Cool guys. We very much enjoyed getting to meet them. The man of the house is a wine connoisseur, and while my qualifications in the field are markedly modest, at least I freely express my enjoyment at tasting a good wine, and that was an immediate ice-breaker. We will surely make an effort to cultivate this new friendship…
The morning of our departure came… with a snowfall!! Would you believe that? Becky was especially crestfallen, but what can you do!? It was a whole different adventure to drive the mountain portion of our trip back in the heavy snow – one area where my car is definitely lacking is traction in snow – but we went very slow, avoided getting stuck, and eventually crossed into France (nobody stopped us this time either), where the snow turned into heavy rain. I was still able to maintain 80 m/h all the way back to Calais, and we arrived at the train terminal with plenty of time to spare.
British authorities were checking all passports before train boarding, which caused a small hold-up when I pulled up to the window. It surely looks as if not too many American citizens use the Channel train daily.