Category Archives: holidays

last gasp

For our last day we decided to go to Finhaut for one last visit, to have a beer in Beau Soleil and say goodbye to Heléne. We walked the normal rural road on the way over but traffic is so quiet due to the outbreak we were able to come back by the main road. It was great to see the valley and villages from a completely different angle as well as have an easier, less hilly walk home. We extended the walk into Frontière for a final drink before heading back to Le Châtelard.

Tomorrow is an early start with the train to Geneva leaving at 625am and hopefully not too much of an adventure getting home with Covid-19 on the loose.

click the image to view on strava

going loco

Today we headed across the border into France once again. This time we were going by train instead of on foot and a little further afield to Chamonix Mont Blanc.

Chamonix is situated at the foot of Mont Blanc and is the oldest ski resort in France. It should be a busy town but felt very quiet today. Possibly a result of the Coronavirus but maybe just be too late in the ski season.

We wandered around the town which is dominated by bars and restaurants with sports shops taking up the next spot on the street. It’s a nice town and I’d expect it to be quite a buzz when filled with ski holiday makers enjoying the aprés ski.

Despite the commercialism the town still shows a lot of its traditional side and there were sights to see rather than just the inside of the bars.

The weather was against us today with persistent low cloud. We had hoped for views of the surrounding mountainside and Mont Blanc in particular but despite tantalising glimpses we were denied all day

this guy sits facing mont blanc but just cloud today

As well as exploring the town our other draw today was to visit Poco Loco and to have one of their fantastic burgers. Jim knows this place from previous visits and highly recommended it for both the food and atmosphere.

The place is tiny. It’s built in a space that used to be an alley and the small sitting area upstairs still shows signs of that. I loved it! The decor is great, as is the atmosphere and the food was fantastic. Living in a vegetarian house all week made it even more so 😊

On the way home we stopped in Argentière for another look around and to assist Pierre with his grocery shopping.

down the valais

We woke up this morning to the sound of the snow plough and glorious sunshine.

morning view of the valley
charging the battery packs

The plan today was to head down the valley. We took the train to Trétein which is a beautiful village built on the side of a very steep hill. Once you step off the train you’re looking right down onto the village.

looking from the train station

We went down through the village past the gorge and down the valley further to Les Marécottes. This village had a lot of very nice buildings with lots of newer ones as it also has a cable car terminus for the ski slopes above. Quite a few people heading up today despite it being a Wednesday and with the snow beginning to melt.

Part of the road runs under an avalanche barrier. For some reason it has lots of holes and with a rapid snow melt we were rained on quite heavily on the way through both times

if you look carefully you can see the drops hitting the road and leaving the roof

After a wander around we went to the zoo(!) for a beer by the swimming pool. We sat outside in the sunshine and it really was baking hot.

i wouldn’t fancy a dip ❄

Afterwards we walked back to Trétein and caught the train back as far as Finhaut. Both bars were closed so we bought bread, smoked meat and beer and had a picnic along the road where we had a great view of Mont Blanc before continuing on to Le Châtelard.

finhaut station
up the valley from finhaut
chalet du glacier with triente glacier in the background
triente glacier on the left
lunch with mont blanc in the far distance above my bottle

12km total walking today and the legs feeling all the hills we climbed! Hoping for more sunshine tomorrow 🤞

click the image to view on strava

horses for courses

We only had a very basic plan for today as we wanted a reasonably restful day to recover and the weather forecast was for rain. Woke up to more snow instead of rain!

pierre’s garden table. all this snow fell since thursday!

After breakfast we channelled our inner lumberjack and cut and split wood for the stove.

fried eggs in the wood burning stove

On my last visit 6 years ago we had a drink in this recently opened bar. Sometime after Pierre discovered it was a brothel for the construction workers at the dam! I guess the red curtains should have been a clue 😊

i wonder what exactly is “a vendre“?

We caught the train into Finhaut for a wander around with a plan to then walk the 4km back to Le Châtelard.

We tried to get lunch in Finhaut but picked a bad time as Heléne in Beau Soleil was busy…….having her lunch. She advised the café next door with a great cook and very cheap 😆

We didn’t really like it in there and as the snow was getting wet and threatening to turn to rain we decided to take the train to Frontiére, have lunch there and walk back. We ended up having a huge and very tasty lunch of Quiche (spinach and goat’s cheese), horse steak and chips followed by a fruit salad. Horse was a first for me and in French/Swiss style almost rare. It was very nice but the quiche was really delicious, something I wouldn’t have tried if I was at home.

if you listen carefully you may hear it neigh!

It was a slow walk back to Le Châtelard with full bellies,stopping in one of the shops to view the tourist trap displays.

fantastic cowbell

On the way back I stopped at the little Church just above the village. It’s dedicated to St Theresa of the Infant Jesus and is really nicely decorated with icons and stained glass with a fantastic carved front door. For some reason there’s a small statue of a marmot just outside the front door on a raised rock.

Yesterday afternoon we started building an igloo for Jim’s birthday. We almost finished it but the cold beat us and we were running out of light. The plan was to finish it this afternoon but the rain killed that idea. This evening, after dark we decided to decorate and christen it despite its unfinished state and before it melted away on us.

border hopping

Today we decided that a trip to France was in order so the plan was to walk across the border to the ski resort of Vallorcine. Overnight it had snowed quite heavily and was still snowing this morning.

All the fresh snow combined with the little use the path receives at this time of the year created a very beautiful walking environment but tough walking conditions with the snow knee deep for much of the walk. We were following in the tracks of a deer and also saw a red deer doe and stag along the way. Both much too quick for photography.

After approximately 1.5 hrs we reached the edge of Vallorcine. It was busy with cable cars heading up and down the mountain and skiirs having a break in the bars. I was surprised to see it so busy on a Monday afternoon. We had a beer to celebrate Jim’s birthday and lunch in the restaurant attached to the railway station. Lunch was well timed as the waitress turned away a couple of groups not long after we started eating.

Post lunch we headed back the way we came. Just before we left Vallorcine it started to snow again, quite heavily and stayed like that pretty much all the way back to Le Châtelard. The walking was much easier with the path broken by our journey up and also being mostly downhill again.

All in all just under 12km and definitely feeling it this evening.

click the image to view on strava

planes, trains and automobiles

Early start Saturday for my trip to Switzerland with Jim to visit Pierre’s. I was a bit nervous about travelling due to the recent Coronavirus outbreak and blanket news coverage but decided to go anyway. I wasn’t sure what to expect but apart from signage in the airports and trains and queues in the toilets to wash hands I didn’t see much different. Another passenger in Belfast International thought the airport was very quiet but I didn’t see much difference to when we went to Prague last year and my flight to Geneva seemed full.

The flight from Belfast was really good. We were flying above the clouds with very sunny conditions and breaks in the cloud gave tantalising views of the English and French countryside below. On the approach to Geneva the Alps were poking majestically above the clouds.

In an attempt to get a discounted train fare to Le Châtelard I had a 4 hour wait in Geneva. It was clear and dry but very cold and as I had a heavy bag I only walked down to the lake to see the view and then back to the train station with a stop at McDonald’s for something to eat. Even that short walk gave an indication of the sights of Geneva although I was mildly disappointed that “Le Jet D’Eau” wasn’t in operation today.

After food was the long wait in the train station followed by the train journeys to Martigny and then change to Le Châtelard. Slight stress out at Martigny as the incoming train was 4min late and I only have 9min to make the change from Platform 1 to 40. Panic subsided when I realised this was simply a matter of crossing the tracks via the subway!

busy train to martigny

Arrived in Le Châtelard at 21:55, bang on time and greeted at the train station by a barrage of snowballs! Made it 😊

every day is a school day

Some things we learned from our trip to London:

  • London is noisy. There’s a constant background hum, even at night. It was Owen that first mentioned it but it was only when we got home that I realised how much.
  • When you ask people for advice (Simon and the Oyster Card! ) then you should pay heed and follow that advice
  • Following on from the above, if you need to clarify your previously received advice ask someone for help.
  • The Underground is a really good way to get around and there are specific apps to help you plan journeys as well as the overland trains. However, don’t forget about Google Maps. It covers trains and buses as well as pedestrian journeys.
  • The Oyster Card is the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to pay for the Underground.
  • There are very few convenience type shops in the centre of London. Bring snacks and drinks with you as they are expensive in the attractions. Boots is an alternative as the bigger ones do sandwich meal deals.
  • Kids (ie. our boys) get hungry and very hungry way before adults do.
  • Book attractions online in advance of your trip and look for multi buy options as the more you book the more value you get.
  • Allow time for queues. All 3 attractions we did had a 30min queue to get in.
  • Saturday mornings are mega busy at attractions and best avoided.
  • There are lots of very helpful people to assist you at the Underground (Blue Hi-Viz vests) and along the streets, mainly at attractions (Pink T-shirts and/or Hi-Viz vests).
  • Despite the rumours not everyone will step over you if you were dying. There are many lovely people that will help a stranger.
  • There are quite a few homeless people around but they tend to keep themselves to themselves except when begging on the Underground – or throwing beer at me 🙈
  • It’s worth getting off the Underground and wandering around by foot. However, the distances do mount up quite easily as the main sights are quite spread out – London is BIG.
  • London is expensive to get around but food and drink are reasonably good value if you take time to look around.
  • It’s a great place to visit – plan ahead and get the most from your trip.

I feel like Baz Lurhmann after writing that!

all good things come to an end

When we booked our flights we chose a later flight for Saturday to allow us to have an extra day to explore. However, we didn’t have a plan for how to spend this last day.

On our last trip to England (August 2014) we made a day trip from Catriona’s brother’s in Bracknell to London mainly to visit the Natural History Museum. The boys enjoyed it and as Conor couldn’t remember it much (he was 6 then) he asked to go back today.

Today was not a good day to visit the museum! We should have realised that a Saturday in the middle of the school holidays would be busy but it was jammed! The galleries were packed, really uncomfortably so, very warm and stuffy, incredibly noisy and generally an unpleasant place to be.

We had a look around at a few things but after an hour decide to give up. Thankfully we had such a good week that this experience didn’t spoil our trip as we were already taking home some great memories.

dippy has been replaced by hope

I was really disappointed by the dinosaur display. It was fantastic in 2014 but much reduced now. Too many display boards and many fewer dinosaur displays.

One full gallery was given over to this huge Moon sculpture. It was impressive but I couldn’t help wondering if the room could have been put to a more interesting use? On the plus side it was air conditioned ✅

was there a moon version of atlas?

We consoled ourselves with a trip to McDonald’s for lunch using the vouchers we saved from yesterday before catching the tube and overland trains to London Luton Airport and our flight home.

We were a few hours early so we had time to relax in the bar and listen to the Highland Radio commentary of Donegal unfortunately getting beaten by Mayo 😭

relaxing at the airport bar

last photo in england

After the dodgy start to our trip it was a relief to take off on time, arrive 10min early, get away efficiently from the hotel parking and get back home to our comfortable beds before 1am.

A great trip with great memories. Very different to our trip to Majorca last year but one we will all remember.

banged up abroad

Friday was definitely our best day in London. Our 3rd pre-booked activity was London Dungeons. This is totally in darkness and photography was forbidden so I’ve no photos to show. It’s a mixture of live actors, props, noises, spooky music and two rides covering the dungeons in Henry VIII’s time, the torturer, Guy Fawkes, Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, The Black Plague, The Great Fire, a mock court and jailhouse and a ride to simulate a hanging. Really well done and scared the bejeebus out of Conor. Definitely wouldn’t advise it for u10s but we all had a ball, even Conor!

Afterwards it was food time. We had vouchers for McDonald’s so headed for the nearest one in Leicester Square. As we got nearer we spotted a Pizza Hut. It’s our favourite place to eat and very rare we get an opportunity to visit one so we ditched McD’s for the “all you can eat” buffet.

Outside we took in the atmosphere of Leicester Square which has to be the coolest place in London. I could have sat there all day listening to the music and watching the world go by.

leicester square

Next stop was Catriona’s choice – Harrods. We decided to walk this time and really glad we did as the route took us by the M&M store, The Apollo Theatre, Piccadilly Circus, The Wellington Monument, Hyde Park Corner and Kensington with all it’s very fancy car dealerships and stores.

this place was mental

entrance to chinatown

even the side streets are decorated and colourful

apollo theatre

eros

picadilly screens

wellington monument

hyde park corner

Harrods was crazy, even more than the M&M store but for very different reasons! It was equally as busy but only about half of the people there were spending any money, probably about 10% spending serious money. The wealth on display from this 10% and the disregard for cost was eye opening.

even the escalator area was extravagant

While Catriona and the boys looked around the sweet hall for something small to take home I went looking for the beds department just to see what the other half buy. It was amazing although I was seriously unimpressed by the sales guy I could overhear showing a customer around. If he works on commission it didn’t show! I considered leaving my CV 😆

that’s correct, a kingsize mattress costs almost £17k and the display is over £31k!

After Harrods it was back on the tube and back to the apartment. All the way home I couldn’t help but wonder what all those mega wealthy people were doing right now.

wax on, wax off

The pre-booked attraction for our 3rd day was Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. It wasn’t until 1230 which gave us the chance to have a bit of a lie in after all our walking the day before.

I’d done a bit of research on the Oyster Card before going to London and despite excellent advice from Simon I’d decided it still seemed expensive, was going to cost us £20 (4 x £5) to buy and not save us much. Plus we were going to walk everywhere. Basically we* got it all wrong! A very friendly and helpful information guy at Tower Hill took the time to explain the card properly, explain how the £20 was refundable and would save us at least 50% on payg tickets. So carded up and happier to be walking a lot less** we took a wander around the outside of the Tower and down to the Tower Bridge viewpoint before getting the Underground to Baker Street.

*we = me of course 🙈

**we still managed almost 11km of walking despite using the tube quite a bit today.

tower of london – poppies all removed since our last visit

tower bridge

celebs in london 😆

As we still had some time to spare and I’m a big fan of Elementary I dragged everyone to see 221b Baker Street which isn’t actually 221b Baker Street!

sherlock holmes museum which claims the location

the famous address

I didn’t really think that they had used the actual address in S7 of Elementary but was still slightly disappointed it didn’t match the show

actual location was bloomsbury

Then it was back to our favourite thing to do in London – queue. Madame Tussauds was very busy but good queue management and efficient security meant we weren’t waiting too long and it wasn’t jammed once we got inside. I didn’t know what to expect so was surprised by the layout. There were less exhibits than I expected, less older celebrities but overall I was very impressed. All 4 of us really enjoyed the full experience and although the time flew past we felt that we experienced the whole thing. Some of my favourite photos are below but we took a lot throughout the exhibition’s many floors.

helen mirren

the most lifelike of the whole day

less smiley version of elliott

i want your boots, your clothes and your motorcycle

conor’s favourite of the day

thankfully not our air bnb

ronaldo

bolt

meeting the royals

trying to explain the backstop

he doesn’t look pleased to see me

but owen may have got there before me

a real president

smarter than the average bear

bob marley lost in the moment

madame tussaud herself

she looks like i goosed her!

definitely not my father no matter what he says

robin williams at the exit door to say goodbye

My only complaint with the museum was bringing everyone together for the 4D movie show (which was excellent). The queue starts in the Marvel gallery (which means you can’t get space to see the Marvel exhibition unless you wait for everyone to leave as the next queue gathers) and as everyone leaves the movie together the next Star Wars exhibition is jam packed and difficult to view.

After Madame Tussauds we headed to the Science Museum and this is where we (me again!) got it wrong again. We should have eaten before going. There wasn’t anything handy to Madame Tussauds but there was nothing at either Baker Street or South Kensington tube stations and once at the Science Museum, nothing within reasonable distance. Our only option was the Science Museum cafe which wasn’t geared towards kids at all. Far too many silly options of food that can only be described as “notions“. Kids want plain, ordinary and usually deep fried and breaded food. We really struggled to get something plain that the boys (and ourselves) could enjoy and be filled. It was way overpriced too! They would be better with a small entry fee, say £2 each, and charge more reasonable prices for food. They would probably make more profit that way.

The science museum itself was just OK. The ground floor had some interesting displays. The boys particularly enjoyed the space displays and the old stuff – mostly things I remember from my childhood! Upstairs there were galleries about the body, mind, climate and the future. We enjoyed it but it wasn’t gripping. I don’t know what I expected and although we spent about an hour and a half exploring and enjoyed it I don’t see how families can spend the day here as I’ve heard before. I think I expected something more similar to W5 in Belfast. Our experience could have been tainted by tiredness and not being properly fed though?

old enough to have stuff from my childhood in a museum!

The really good thing about South Kensington was that the underground took us straight back to Tower Hill with no stops! It was packed and very hot though so we were glad to be released back to the regular air conditioned train to go back to Grays. A trip to the chipper on the way home and normal service was soon resumed.