Lausanne, Switzerland: Yesterday I ticked another item from my bucket list* and celebrated America’s Independence Day in the company of some fellow Yanks: Quincy Jones, George Benson, the guitarist Lee Ritenour, the amazing pianist/composer Dave Grusin, and many others. I refer to the Montreux Jazz Festival, and as jazz events go, Montreux occupies a special spot in the stratosphere. Montreux attracts the best talent and an appreciative audience in a magical setting on Lake Leman, where mountains meet water. I’ve wanted to attend the jazz event here for at least a couple of decades, and I never wildly imagined that I would pedal from Portugal to get here.
I’ll start from where I last left off, in Monthieux, France.
My last cycling day in France involved a long, hard push into Switzerland on a Sunday. I cycled through more small towns and farmland on D (Departement) back roads, which have served me so well in France. In many of these towns, church-going was the major activity on this Sunday morning. Most restaurants and shops were closed which made it rather difficult finding a place to eat for lunch. What a horror: closed restaurants in France!
Two conversations and several Uh Oh moments stand out.
The first conversation was in front of a patisserie. The shop was very popular because it was one of the few open places. An elderly lady looked at my bike and asked whether I’m going on a trip. At first I thought it may be a sarcastic comment – my French is so wobbly I couldn’t immediately tell – as she looked at an overstuffed Bubba Too. But she was genuinely interested in where I am going and what I am doing. I realized it’s the first time in days anyone in France had expressed an interest in my ride. A child overheard the conversation and later came up to me and said, “Monsieur, bonne chance a Istanbul.” Those few, simple words from a young boy were precious.
The second memorable conversation was with a Dutch couple who were sitting by a glacial lake in Port, enjoying some wine and cheese early in the afternoon. They asked whether I am with a cycling group which they’re expecting, explaining to me that a 36-year old cyclist is dying and he’s on a farewell ride with his friends. I didn’t ask about the details, but the fatalistic story about a person I have never met deflated me for the rest of the day. I counted my blessings going to Switzerland.
I had one major mountain to climb on my way to Geneva and I attacked the mountain under the noon sun with gusto. I haven’t had so much energy in weeks. Maybe it was the sugar rush from the chocolate éclair I had back at the patisserie, or maybe it was my giddiness in finally leaving France. Whatever the impetus, I made it up and over the mountain in good time.
On my descent, about 30 kilometers west of Geneva, the sight of the Alps produced a major Uh Oh moment. I gasped at snow-covered Mont Blanc and those magnificent mountains. I’ve experienced the Alps on many occasions and in many ways, but never from the perspective of a bike saddle. ‘Am I really sure I want to do this?’, I wondered, remembering how hard the climbing was in France. A tunnel produced a second Uh Oh moment. It was only a third of a kilometer long and cyclists are permitted, but it’s beyond my comfort zone so I dismounted and walked Bubba Too through an old French Fort-turned-park to get around the tunnel. The third Uh Oh moment was a big one. Turns out cycling is not permitted on the final stretch of the “D” road I planned to take into Geneva. That was a major surprise. So the cycling rule-of-thumb on the “D” roads in France is: you can, unless you can’t. Got it.
I had not planned any alternative route into Geneva and relied on GPS to bring me in. The GPS path had some curious routings – on some gravel, unmarked roads, for example, which I rejected – so in a trial-and-error process I just followed my nose and the paved roads through some farmland and tiny towns (which don’t appear on my map) and across another invisible border. While there was no actual signage indicating a border, I realized I was in Switzerland at the town of Chancy when I passed an abandoned customs post and saw a Swiss flag flying from a home. I cycled until I spotted an Ibis hotel and decided I had gone far enough. The Ibis has about as much personality as a tube of toothpaste but it’s clean and functional and good value; the room reminds me of a stateroom on a cruise ship. I’m a convert, in Switzerland at least.
Cycling in Switzerland is near-paradise. There are many dedicated bike paths and bike lanes, including nine national bike routes, and drivers are highly respectful. All of this comes at a price, though. I have sticker shock in Switzerland after acclimating to the good value of my Euro-denominated needs in France and Spain. For a change in taste I had Chinese for dinner on Sunday and the cost of my mediocre meal could buy a great dinner for four in Hong Kong. I had forgotten how expensive Switzerland is. Ouch.
Yesterday I had a 6am radio interview with RTHK Hong Kong. It was a casual conversation mostly about my ride, but Phil Whelan, the host, also asked me about this career pause. I had just rolled out of bed and I haven’t thought about the philosophy of the career pause in weeks. So I stammered through the answer, simply saying that I hope this break helps make me a better and more interesting person. You can listen to the radio interview here:-
Yesterday’s ride into Lausanne from Geneva was a real pleasure; nearly effortless and mostly on bike paths or lanes. After the interview and some carb loading I cycled to the city center in Geneva a little before rush hour. As city cycling goes, this is as easy as it gets. Navigating to Lausanne was a cinch: Hang a left at Lake Leman and just follow the lake. I’ve always wanted to cycle around Lake Leman, and I really enjoyed yesterday’s ride at a leisurely pace. I was in Lausanne by lunchtime.
In the afternoon I took the train to Montreux. It was my first motorized transport in a month, and hopping on a train in Europe reminded me so much about my college days and roaming around Europe. The jazz festival was mellow when I arrived. Montreux, I’ve learned, is very much a late-night place. At Parc Vernex I enjoyed a series of eclectic acts under the banner ‘Music in the Park.’ The acts – Tenzin’s Airbow Collective, The Jazz Messengers, The Funk Ensemble – were all Swiss and all very good. It was fun to hear a variety of jazz styles and interpretations from groups I had never heard of before. By 6pm the place was hopping, with plenty of food and drink and music and merry-making all around. Many of the events at Montreux are free, but for the headline acts you pay through the nose, which I did to see Lee Ritenour, Dave Grusin, and George Benson, who was powered by a full orchestra. I had to catch an 11:54pm train back to Lausanne but the music program went on for hours after that.
Today is a rest day. I will return to Montreux in the late afternoon for another infusion of jazz. Tomorrow I start the push to Munich. I will cycle for about five days across Switzerland, to Lake Constance, and then figure out a path to Munich.
*I am a big believer in Bucket Lists, in identifying and pursuing experiences or accomplishments which give fullness to life. I am not content with deferring action on the Bucket List. Why wait? I have over 80 items on my Bucket List, and the list expands every year. Each time I tick an item off the list I replace it with one or two more aspirations. For me, it keeps life interesting and forward-moving. Visiting Antarctica with my family is another bucket list item which I will tackle later this year.
Daily and Trip summaries:
Days 29 – 31 (Sunday – Tuesday, July 3 – 5): Friday and Saturday, July 1 – 2): Monthieux, France – Geneva – Lausanne, Switzerland
Distances: 135.54 km (Day 29) and 64.8 km (Day 30)
Ascent: 1,084 m (Day 29) according to cyclemeter, but 1400 m according to Garmin. I think Garmin is correct but for consistency I will use the cyclemeter number. 424 m (Day 30).
Weather: Just right.
Terrain: Mountainous tapering to hills
Distance: 2,386.48 km
Climbing: 17564.28 meters
Rest days: 5
Police interactions: 1