Lake Geneva/Lac Léman with friends …

John had had problems with eyes (a detached retina) and ears over the past year but he was mainly recovered – although age doesn’t let that happen so quickly or easily. When a colleague and friend of his invited us to stay with him in Nyon it couldn’t have come at a better time – and it’s a favourite part of the world for me too!

On our way

Switzerland lived up to its reputation – it’s just so easy to hop on an efficient, clean and comfortable train (take note British Rail) to Nyon from Geneva airport. We were there in less than half an hour. It was warm and sunny and Pavan was waiting to meet us. He lives five minutes from the station – his terrace looks out over the lake with a view of Mont Blanc on the opposite (French) side.

view of Mont Blanc from the terrace

I must put in this little ‘hitch’ in case it helps another traveller. Searching through a drawer at home I was delighted to come upon a little hoard of Swiss francs, left over from a holiday long gone. At Geneva airport there are machines where you can buy your train tickets. I view machines with suspicion – they have frustrating limitations. No social interaction for one. John is fine about machines – he understands how they work – until they don’t.

I insisted on finding a a ticket office with a human being in charge and luckily there was one. Lucky too, because my Swiss francs were so old as to be out of date and I was told you could only change them at a bank or a Post Office. ‘But I will change them for you’, said the human being. Human being 1 – Ticket machine 0. This is the problem with automation – you can’t go ‘off piste’ with an individual problem. Take note!

But we were here. Somewhat like opening a new book with all the anticipation that brings, a new place was waiting to be discovered.

Nyon is a small town right on the edge of the lake with its own impressive château, which we reached by steep and narrow cobbled streets leading down to the lakeside. Lac Léman – how can I describe it – you need to go and experience it for yourself in all its moods. I hope you will feel like I do!

dramatic view of the château – like a fortress
Nyon – old town
old town with post box
on our way to supper
someone ‘up there’ is checking us out!

The Hotel Le Rive is right on the lakeside and the outdoor terrace was packed full of people already enjoying dinner. We joined them and were given a warm welcome … excellent food on offer, including perch from the lake.

Nyon – lake view – summer evening

As we later made our way home the sky and the water mingled into shades of blue. I thought of the book I had brought with me – ‘The World According to Colour’ by James Fox. He’s a great discovery. Here is a quote from the colour blue in his book.

The Earth is known as the ‘Blue Planet’. This is how astronauts saw it from space. Here is JF’s last paragraph on the colour blue. ‘For most of history, blue was the quintessential colour of other worlds; distant mountains, unfathomable oceans, unreachable skies, the uncharted territory of the soul. But when we finally escaped our world and voyaged beyond its horizons, we discovered all along that blue was the colour of home’.

I have always been drawn to shades of blue.

time to sleep

As we breakfasted on the terrace next morning with the sun sparkling on the water, the air clean and fresh, I was also delighted with the arrival of a posse of sharp shooting wasps who were very much attracted by Pavan’s mother’s (delicious) marmalade. You may raise an eyebrow here but John and I noticed that the number of wasps has declined in London in recent years. As a child in Scotland, I remember sitting on the beach having picnics, surrounded by wasps. The best way to fend them off was to walk into the sea up to my neck to eat my sandwich.

But despite the downsides, wasps do a good job in the garden, killing many pests and they are also pollinators, although not as good as bees. They build beautiful nests which look like ghostly footballs in shape – but beautifully ethereal. I like their bands of yellow and black too – chic and snappy. They are called ‘guêpes’ in French – onomatopoeic! Wasps are territorial and can be very aggressive but they are also an important part of the ecosystem. They love sweetness – fruit and jam – but they don’t like the smell of peppermint or citrus and they don’t live very long. I was happy to see them buzzing about here. There are more fascinating facts about them on the Internet. (I don’t feel the same aboout flies but they are useful as prey).

European wasp – with thanks to Fir0002 via Wikipedia

Next – a visit to the château, which is beautifully restored inside.

not at the château but he would look good on the battlements!
ghost in the biscuit box …
climbing the stairs in the château
part of a painted historical storyboard surrounding the walls …
Yes please!
a poster for Swiss grape juice

I love these strong colours.

a glass of this would go down well
in her element!
Tintin memories

We have all the Tintin books at home, lovingly gnawed around the edges by our children. Blistering barnacles!!

The ground floor of the château is full of many posters like this – advertising local aperitifs, exhibitions and concerts. Vineyards abound along the lake. Later on Pavan introduces us to the owner of one.

On the next floor is the most exquisite wooden chess table inlaid with marquetry. I know how to play chess but I don’t know how to win …

exquisitely inlaid chess table
I’d like to take this home and fill it with flowers
drinking fountain

On the way back we stopped here and watched the sparrows drinking. Another pleasing thing to see, as there is a dearth of sparrows at home.

The yellow crossing on the road breaks up into yellow stars. It leads appropriately to a circus school!

extraordinary and fun

Pavan has organised a trip across the lake to Yvoire, a picturesque village on the French side. I told him about our daughter who was making a huge installation, creating a giant spider engulfed in flowers. He seemed quite intrigued and I was about to find out why!

Nyon – waiting for the steamer
the castle at Yvoire – privately owned
Yvoire – waiting for John and Pavan

I’m not sure how I took this photo of myself but I was in a reflective mood. Yvoire is just so picturesque and it was a joy to be on the steamer with the breeze ruffling my hair.

There’s a garden here which is built around outdoor rooms, each one adding up to the five senses. It’s a lovely idea. We spent some time identifying flowers and plants using John’s app on his phone.

Yvoire – in the garden of the Five Senses
a well camouflaged cat in the garden

I wanted to give Pavan something to remember our visit. We finally found something quite original.

scarab beetle ? + campari

There is a shop, La Cristallerie, selling everything made of blown glass and it’s here that Pavan reveals his interest in Gaia’s spider installation. A French man makes a small number of glass spiders every year to sell in the shop and they have just arrived. They look both intimidating and super fragile. In the end, I choose one and it’s packed up very carefully – but I’m sure I won’t get it home in one piece. (I did!).

Yvoire spider – apologies to those who are freaked out by spiders – it is made of glass!

Time to leave. Here’s a ‘chocolate box’ photo I took of one of the Belle Epoque steamers.

a great way to travel!

Pavan has a beautiful lamp which reminds me of one of my favourite books. It’s called ‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton and is a much recommended read! Written in 1933.

‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton (1933)

John has just found out that he knows somebody else in Nyon – an explorer called Paul Rose, who lives above the town in St. Cergue. Next morning we take a small train about forty minutes up the mountain where he and his Swiss wife, Joëlle, welcome us.

They had a walk in mind through the forest and above. A field of cows reminded me of the time in Switzerland when a bold cow came up to me unawares. I was holding my sandwich in a brown paper bag and just about to sit down and eat it. Bad move. The cow swiped it and ate it, paper bag and all! I am quite anxious of meeting cows now! But we loved seeing Paul and Joëlle’s rural retreat and had the good luck to see a chamois nearby.

Next day Pavan has a treat for us. A trip on a Belle Epoque steamer to Lausanne with lunch on board.

Belle Epoque steamer – this one is the ‘Savoie’
a special treat!
castle at Morges, Lac Léman
yachtsman with heavy clouds gathering
going fishing anyway …

I don’t know how many castles there are around the lake – but it’s a lot in a small space! Cézanne painted one of them which is in the Courtauld Art Gallery in London.

On the way back we were intrigued by a boat that passed close to us …

I don’t know much about boats but this one was very elegant and out of the ordinary.

lovely lines

As we docked once more in Nyon the grey clouds had dispersed and the evening promised a great sunset … one day I will see ‘Le Rayon Vert’ – from the film by Eric Rohmer … when the sun dips below the horizon …

back in Nyon – leaving the boat

That evening we went out to a lively dinner with Pavan’s friend and her husband, who is a serious ‘vigneron’. He even brought his own special wine glasses with him – unfortunately, the waiter broke one of them …

a mythical beast at the steamer port – what is it? what does it signify – I don’t know… one can’t know everything …

On the way back John was delighted to see some bats as we were making our way through the medieval alleys in the twilight. Suddenly, somebody called his name. ‘John – are you John Elkington?’ It was a young woman who had worked with him for a short time in London over ten years ago. And even later, just as we were about to leave for home he got an email from someone else, who also now lives here in Nyon – a visit for another time. I’d really like to come back. But there’s still more to come, another treat in the offing …

Gosh, I’m so tired – but in a good way. I leave John and Pavan to their discussions over a glass of whisky.

remains of a lovely day …

I had been telling Pavan how much I loved the Marché aux Puces in Bordeaux. ‘Oh, we have one here all the way along the lakeside on the last Sunday of the month’, he said. Tomorrow! What serendipity! We invited Paul and Joëlle to join us. Exciting.

There are a lot of jazz concerts here in the summer – Montreux is just a steamer ride away. I remember seeing a statue of Freddie Mercury there. He truly was a phenomenon … and not forgotten.

down by the lakeside – Nyon
under a beautiful tree – waiting for me – always slow!
delights of the past … Marché aux Puces
a kind of harp? – intriguing – a snip at 85 euros …
cradle of the dolls

I didn’t buy any of these things but I could have explored the stalls all day.

I found three French plates for two euros each. They are from the south of France with the name ‘Varages’ on the back. And another plate for five euros shows an interesting way to shred garlic (ail).

We don’t particularly love cars but for some reason we have collected various ones over the years and they zoom around in our glass cupboard. The one thing is – they have to be a shade of yellow.

a French ‘Varages’ plate – perfect for strawberries and cream
an old deux chevaux – ready for ‘les grandes vacances’!
I can imagine going to stay at ‘Hotel du Lac’ driving this car

Another of my favourite authors is Anita Brookner, who was also an art historian. Her book, ‘Hotel du Lac’, was made into a very good film. It’s about a woman whose love affair ends and she flees to Switzerland. A quiet, reflective but memorable story with an intriguing twist or two – just the sort of thing to read when staying on Lake Geneva! ‘Bonjour Tristesse’ by the French writer, Françoise Sagan, is another novel to be read by the lake – and a way to keep up my French.

!always a favourite!

Time was catching up with us and we were soon at the train station, waving goodbye to our friends on the platform. Thank you, Pavan, for a very restorative few days. it was a lot of fun and very relaxing.

Nyon with the sun sparkling on the water – Au Revoir …

PS I have just read an article in the paper about the invasion of Asian hornets into Europe. They kill lots of insects, including bees and wasps and are a menace. They look like a very large wasp but don’t be deceived. They can also be dangerous to humans if you are stung. I’m still holding up a flag for wasps though!

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