A long overdue visit to Phil's college friend Al and his wife Julie in Geneva proved cheaper to organise if it included a stop in the Czech capital, Prague. What better excuse to visit one of central Europe's most picturesque cities?
The snow started falling as our taxi deposited us outside the K+K Hotel
Central. It is a tastefully renovated Art Nouveau building - formerly a
theatre - just outside Prague's old town. On our first night, we only
ventured as far as a nearby Lebanese restaurant (a choice made partly
because of the Czech Republic's own cuisine not being famous for being veggy-friendly!)
When we ventured along to Wenceslas Square the next morning, the snow was indeed 'deep and crisp and even'. Interestingly, the Czechs themselves have never heard of the English carol. We opted for the 'Ultimate' tour, which was six hours (mostly) walking with a guide around the beautiful old town. The tour also included a riverboat trip, lunch in a cafe and a tram trip up to Prague Castle. The snow continued to fall all day, but the only downside was the lack of visibility. That evening - exhausted by our efforts - we opted to eat in the hotel bar.
On our last full day in Prague, we spent the morning wandering at will around the compact city centre, then for the afternoon chose a couple of museums to visit. The first was the Museum of Communism, which showed life in the former Czechoslovakia in the years between WWII and the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Our second choice was the Museum of Modern Art. While (unsurprisingly) the focus was on Czech art, a large section was devoted the French masters.
We finally had a real Czech meal on our final night in a place opposite the hotel. And are happy to report that - despite the Czech liqueurs - we felt fine the next morning for our trip back to the airport!
We had a couple of hours between our arrival at Geneva Airport and Al
picking us up, so we caught a bus into town. We had a brief from Julie
on how to 'do' the city in such a short time. We trawled the main
shopping streets, walked down to the lake (disappointingly the famous
waterspout was turned off) and raced through the old town to find what Julie
had promised was the world's longest bench! Back to the airport, where
we met up with Al who took us back to their out-of-town house. Here,
plans for the weekend were made and we tried on apparel suitable for the
snowy conditions - the first there had been that season.
Geneva's position as a Swiss city bordered on three sides by France means that the easiest access to the surrounding mountains was to cross the border. On Saturday morning we headed south into the French Alps, where Al and Julie bravely attempted to teach us the rudiments of skiing - neither of us having ever tried the sport before. Limited progress was made before we let our hosts head off towards the pistes for the more experienced skiers. In the meantime, we took a cable car up to where a perfect view of Mont Blanc was complemented by a freezing cold beer. But even as the sun set behind the Alps, the ski boots were being exchanged for sledges and other sliding devices, the size of which turned out to be in inverse relation to their ability to create adrenalin.
For Sunday brunch we drove back to a theatre cafe the centre of Geneva. After a quick dash back to the lakeside (the waterspout was now working), we headed back to the French border. Today however the direction was north into the French Jura range of mountains. The first of today's sports involved us going up in a ski lift and then putting tennis rackets (or similar) on our feet for a troll around on the rapidly melting snow. The inelegant means of getting around was however made up for the views over Geneva to the Alps.
Back down the cable car, Al drove us against the early evening traffic further into the mountains to an impossibly pretty resort in a valley. First stop was the ice skating rink. While Al and Julie had done this a few times in the five years since the moved to this part of the world, neither of us had worn ice-skates since a couple of childhood attempts. Steve however seemed to have kept some of the knack but Phil -whose childhood had preceded Steve's by (a couple of) years - never got far from the handrail!
The day's excitement was far from over however. Another few minutes further up a mountain, and Al pulled the car into the side of the road. Julie makes a call on her mobile and, a minute later, from over a nearby mound of snow out of the darkness roars... a Skidoo!!! We climbed aboard, and the journey - a minute or two of speeding blindly into the dark - dropped us at a mountain-side restaurant, otherwise inaccessible during the Winter months. Simple mountain food and plentiful local wine (plus some complementary eau-de-vie - served with snow!) made the return journey on the skidoo even less easy on the stomach!
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