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from … Tuesday May 11

Then down to our final stay in France (before flying off to Vienna), Annecy.

During this drive, we have our first view of the Alps, and it’s gob-smacking. We stop the car, leap out with the camera and fling ourselves under the wheels of much on-coming traffic in order to get to a better position from which to commit it to our camera’s memory — and I think it’s worth it.   :-)   Even though we get much closer to them, later, this is still a seminal experience for us: there simply has to be a record of it !

Annecy is just … superb. It has one, and only one !, drawback: you must park in the Hôtel de Ville carpark — unless you arrive there at the crack of dawn (meaning, before the workers, all of whom are looking for free car-parking) — and that will cost you about €12.50 for every day you don’t take your car out. Other than which, there’s simply nothing negative to be said about this gorgeous little town.

We stay at the Hôtel du Palais de l’Isle, in a really terrific, semi-attic room that has a big window onto the canal and the eponymous Palais, and two small ones down onto the Place François — a win/win situation (forgive pun) !

Memory: the totally knockout telephone shower in our hotel room’s bathroom — its head rotates freely on a smooth metallic ‘flexible’, as the French call the hand-held shower’s cord. Wondering how long I could stay in the shower without feeling guilty …

One unimportant but noteworthy point is that, after we've returned to Oz, I write to this hotel to ask for the name of the manufacturer of their bathroom fittings, and they do not reply to any of my e-mails. I find this rather strange; they should be expecting that we will return, for we make it very clear how much we like Annecy ...

And, of course, we drive east to see the Alps, and we take photos of Mont Blanc, and we discover the wonderful Aiguilles de Varan … our mountain discoveries are stupefying. There is a town called Sallanches, for instance, where you can stand on the bridge over a most attractive waterway and look in either direction to see mountains, huge and wonderful. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand how it is that people can go to and fro below, immune in their busy-ness to the majesty looming above them … (Sallanches is also remarkable for having an absolutely unadorned and forgettable-looking pub in which you can get a totally wonderful entrecôte !)

Memory: meeting, at last ! — after nine years of corresponding on-line — our Swiss mate, who drives down for the purpose. It is as if we had met him right away, all those years ago; he is as familiar as most of our families.

Driving back to Annecy from a Big Day Out, on a busy red road along the side of which, in the distance, the mountains continue, we suddenly espy a huge plume of water falling from an impossibly high and invisible place in a rock face, bent and twisted, billions of years ago, by unimagineable forces. The drama of this sight is only comprehensible to those who have seen it; and they number not so many, for the Cascade d’Arpenaz is not even signposted (deo gratias !) …

Memory: collecting a huge pile of washing from le pressing, and each of us carrying one handle of the bag as we lug it back to the hotel, smugly, through the pretty streets …

We somewhat dutifully trudge up the hill to explore the Château Ribaille, Annecy’s most familiar landmark. Whilst looking out over the rooftops, I realise that one of the five huge flags overhead, having been wind-thrashed for heaven knows how long, has come adrift at the bottom, and is in the process of being ripped to bits. This is too much of a test for my French: I’m able to produce “le drapeau”, but ‘flagpole’ has me beat, as does trying to describe the silk’s destruction to a woman behind a counter. After five fruitless minutes of bad verb conjugation and worse vocab., the woman says, only slightly impatiently, “Then let us go and look at it !”.   :-|

And then, coming back downhill very quickly (not from choice !), we watch an elderly woman in front of us who’s having to be helped in a major way by a young relative; for she’s wearing shoes with very high heels, and is thus virtually unable to put one foot in front of the other. The slope must be at least 15° — or, as CS says, you could easily ski down it on a wet day !

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  Our first view of the Alps: just past La Balme de Sillingy
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