Christmas Eve was a quick trip down to le Vieux Ville de Annecy in the coach, which took longer than walking but I suppose the old crones needed the ride. There we met a local guide - when she bothered to turn up - and walked in the falling snow around the Old Town and into the Château d'Annecy.
Sometimes called the Castle, the Chateau dates back to the 12th century, although most of what you see dates only to the 1950s restoration. The Chateau suffered years of desecration and finally a fire in the 1940s when refugees from the Second World War who were living in it let their cooking fires out of control in the Grand Salon. Disappointing, but it looks nice.
Then back down to the town with its pretty narrow streets and ancient arcades. Finally to the Palais de l'Isle which is the Flat Iron shaped building you will see on EVERY picture of Annecy. It was built as a Prison and a Courthouse, and served the Nazis well in World War Two, and served the Nazis somewhat less well once Annecy was liberated and the Resistance were able to settle a few scores. The pointed building its actually the Prison Chapel.
Then free time, and I latched onto Meredith (of more later) and we headed straight into a tiny restaurant in an arcade for un repas A Savoyyard. Meredith recommended Tartiflett, a true dish of the Savoy region, and this was duly ordered including a vegetarian version (sans Lardons). Basically sliced potatoes baked in a cheese sauce, and of course in this part of the Savoy it was Reblochon cheese. Very tasty, but it was only later I realised that I had paid fifteen pounds for it; don't tell Juris he'll never forgive me spending that on a small lunch. But the company was good and I will describe Mildred and Samuel later.
After lunch, brief time to buy gifts for 'Secret Santa', and then back to the coach. We then made a rather pointless circuit of Lac d'Annecy, about 40 Km, but the falling snow ensured no views across the water, and the driver didn't pause anywhere to give us photo opportunities. Back to the hotel for a rather long afternoon in the hotel.
Biddi has asked me about the hotel, and I will say I don't have any complaints, but there aren't any cute waiters. "Best Western", as we have discovered on previous trips, operate hotels after they have become some other chain's WORST western hotels; they are a little out of date and a little tired looking, but the room is warm and my toilet at least works.
Christmas Eve dinner was the main meal, and I found it rather disappointing, certainly so after several gorgeous and engorging Italian Christmas dinners, Pate Foie Gras (Salmon Pate for me), Venison (local fish for me), local cheeses then Christmas Log and Coffee. There was no razamatazz or performance at all. This hotel probably deals mainly with business men from companies that pay small expense accounts.
After a pause I walked a few colleagues back through the snow to the old town for midnight Mass. Roberta is a Firemen, but is otherwise fairly feminine if you don't look too closely. We reached the Cathedrale in good time and so I lit a candle to my father at the shrine to St Francois de Sale. Earlier in the day I had lit a similar candle in St Mary's which I illustrated in the Xmas light sequence. The midnight service was fairly jolly in a half filled church, and I enjoyed the small choir even though they were mostly teenage girls. However when they sang 'Silent Night' (in French), I knew Christmas had come. Magical. I left the service soon after and walked slowly through several streets of the old town to soak up CHRISTMAS in capital letters. Ahh, I so love Christmas. It was a further hour before the religious ones were released from the service and I was in bed by then.
However, before I went to my seventh floor room, I joined the bar folk in time to see Samuel make an exit. Samuel is the traveller who I told about his interest in the macabre; but he also has a great knowledge - not necessarily accurate - about a great number of quasi scientific or technological subjects. In other words he is a bore. When he had joined us for lunch there was some disquiet about his presence, and whilst I was at church he had attempted to hold court with many of the travellers. They had tried to sideline him or shut him up, but even being directly rude to him didn't knock him off track. However he had now left for bed, and reappeared at breakfast rather less chatty.
Mildred is a large Welsh lady who had amused one of the Christmas Market stallholders by responding to his French Christmas greeting with the same in Welsh. The stall-holder then asked her to recite the name of the longest Welsh town name, and she barked out "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch" without any hesitation - and I never thought I would find myself writing that in a email (thanks Google). I spent Christmas Day with Mildred because she was quite amusing, and she wanted to tell me about having half her face removed due to skin cancer, and how she sometimes dribbles because she doesn't have the right muscles anymore. She has a large fur coat which leaves me convinced that either there is a naked Womble somewhere in Wimbledon, or else a dead skinned one!
Meredith is a farmer aged about 70 who has told several people in my hearing about his 'messy divorce' five years ago which cost him one point five million pounds. Apparently he had a farm in France for about 15 years milking 2000 cows, 3000 sheep and 4000 goats every day - probably by Meredith himself I have no doubt. Anyway the wife did a line with the accountant and siphoned off the funds and had to be divorced. There is another side to this story, but I don't think we'll ever hear it. A clue is given by a relationship with a woman he 'helped' on returning to the UK and then proposed to; she suddenly disappeared and when he tracked her down she had fled the country and married someone else. Meredith had returned to UK with 50 quid in his pocket, he's now salted away 250,000 and crows about the fact that he is the first Englishman to have ever got his French cheese accepted by the French!
Christmas Day was cancelled, or at least the planned excursion to La Clusaz was because the French Police were not going to allow coaches up there in the snowy conditions. We headed instead to Evian (where they make the bottled water), pausing at delightful Yvoire en route. When we got to Evian you couldn't stand up because of ice (not snow) everywhere. So we parked on the shore of Lac Leman whilst Catherine ran a relay into the only cafe found to be open and brought back dozens of Croque Monsieur for 5 Euros each.
Evian done, we drove back to Annecy stopping for 15 minutes in Thones ! Pointless. But nothing was open, however the Col d'Aravis was quite spectacular, and the ice covered trees on the flanks of the steep rocky chasms a fairy vista. All too quickly the coach was returning to Annecy. I walked back to the Old Town determined not to waste daylight hours sitting in a hotel room.
Boxing Day dinner was an attempt at a 'traditional English Turkey dinner', which my vegetarianism spared me. The chef did produce three "Christmas Cakes" thickly coated in PINK (!!!) icing. Inside was a pale 'sponge' with many brightly coloured candied fruits; quite strange but tasty.
This Blog continues after the photos