Monday, August 16, 2010

Talloires Time

Written 08.01.10

Welcome to my first post of my new travel blog. While this post is about France, the rest will be about my 2-3 years in China. I hope you enjoy.

Also, you can now view the rest of my pictures from Talloires here.

Well, my last few weeks in Talloires flew by and now it’s been a week since I said goodbye to the Tufts European Center and the French Alps. As I write I’m on a plane headed to Singapore, where the next leg of my travels begin. Before this I spent about five days at home in Maine, spending time with family and friends and repacking for my move to China. I’m starting to get that strong feeling that I suspect often comes to most people who spend years traveling around the world – a feeling of being uprooted and adrift. I’m setting sail into somewhat familiar waters, but without a clear idea of where I will end up…

So here are a few highlights from my last few weeks in France:
The sound of cowbells will forever remind me of Talloires
One Friday evening, Gabriella took John, Dave and me to visit a man named Francois, who lives in a house on a ridge above St. Germain, and close to a mountain called the ‘Don de Lanfon.’ Before we left, Gabby cautioned us to bring warm cloths; even though it was not more than a 15 minute drive and only about 800 feet higher than Talloires, the area below the Don has a completely different climate. While Talloires is almost subtropical (there are actually a few palm trees growing near the hotels), Francois’s house sits in an alpine meadow. We arrived as the sun was starting to set behind the mountains on the opposite side of the lake, and were stunned by the amazing view of the lake and mountains from Francois’s house. The house itself is also pretty cool: completely off grid (with only a few solar panels to provide electricity), the house is more of a log cabin with only a fireplace for heat, but the entire Southwest side is covered in windows, bathing the house in sunlight for most of the day. The rooms were very compact: the master bed is lofted above the bathroom, and

As we watched the sunset and the moonrise, Francois and two of his lady friends served us a delicious dinner of sausage, cheese and sautéed wild mushrooms he had picked himself that morning (a week later, John and I would go forging for wild mushrooms early in the morning, but with no success). Francois is a big, friendly, but crass Frenchman, who loves to tell stories (most of them about women) and make dirty jokes. Over the course of the night he also promise to set all of us (Dave, John and me) up with French girlfriends. He talked completely in French, but between his hand motions and Dave’s interpreting, I was able to grasp most of the meaning. As the night went on, Francois continued to bring out bottle after bottle of wine, and the conversation got more and more boisterous. By 1:00am we had consumed seven or eight bottles of wine between about five of us. We finally stumbled back down to Talloires, were I immediately crashed in my bed.

The next night Dave, John and I went with Emmanuel (John’s old host sister) and her friend to a foam party at Macumba, the largest club in Europe. Located on the outskirts of Geneva just before the Swiss border, the building is the size of a small mall, and boasts six distinct clubs/ dance rooms, several restaurants and other attractions. As we entered the complex, we saw people emerging from one of the rooms soaking wet and covered in soapy looking bubbles. We’d been given some coupons for the event a few days earlier, which had pictures of swimming suits, scuba masks and flippers under “dress code,” but we’d taken this as a joke. Now, dressed in clubbing cloths, we felt a little naive. But we continued on into the room where house music, strobe lights, and a waterfall of foam poring from the center of the ceiling greeted us. There were also several cannons shooting foam from the sidelines. After a few hours we were completely soaked with soap, and there was about two feet of foam on the floor. It was a lot of fun, but every time I managed to wipe the soap out of my eyes I’d get another blast of foam in the face. Next time I’ll bring my scuba mask.

During the last week John and I went for a final, two-hour sail on a Hobie Cat 15. It was a windy day and the middle of the lake was covered in white caps. We managed to get one of the pontoons slightly out of the water, but the boat we had that day was an older model and we instead ended up getting a lot of water in the face every time we went over a big wave. Still, we made good time and managed to zip half way across the like in the first hour. We had a close call where a large cruise boat approached in our blind spot and we only realized it was there as it sounded it’s horn a few hundred feet in front of us. On the way back we skirted a high cliff where people were jumping off into the water, and we slid around the peninsula opposite Talloires where a large castle stands guard over the lake. We also saw another Hobie Cat capsize twice in the middle of the lake not far from us, and we realized that could have been us if we’d gotten the newer model that day. I was actually a little disappointed that we didn’t capsize, as I think it’s an experience all sailors should have. Better luck next time.

Finally, a few days before I left I managed to hike up to the top of the Don de Lanfon. This is one of the mountains clearly visible from Talloires, and the name means “child’s teeth,” because of the 2 mile long, 300+ foot tall rocky outcrop jutting up in the center of the peak. I set out around 4pm from Talloires one cloudless afternoon, first hiking to St. Germain, and then following the road behind it up to the alpine meadow where Francois’s house sits. From there I entered the forest on what I thought was a trail that Olivia, John and I had discovered a few weeks earlier. It turned out there were many trails however, branching out in different directions, and as I continued and the mountain got steeper and steeper, I began to realize I was no longer on a trail.

Soon I came to a small clearing with felled trees across my “trail,” which had turned into a ravine heading straight up the mountain. Not wanting to lose time by going back however, I decided to press on. I figured it wouldn’t be that hard to find my way if I just headed straight up the mountain. In hindsight this was a good assessment, however I sourly underestimated how steep and difficult to climb the mountain would become. As I continued up the ravine the incline reached 45 degrees or more, and with the ground covered in leaves and pine needles, it became very slippery. I found two sticks to help dig into the ground and pull myself up the mountain, and grabbed onto trees wherever I could. It was hot and humid in the thick underbrush, and flies and mosquitoes began to swarm around me. Just as it was beginning to get unbearable and I thought I’d never reach the top, I saw a clearing up ahead. I emerged from the woods onto a field of small rocks overshadowed by the Don (the big rock itself), and climbed gingerly across, trying not to start a rock slide with me at the front. Finally I reached the foot of this colossal rock, and found a trail that appeared to circumnavigate its base. I followed it in the direction where I thought the real trail was, and finally came around to a grassy meadow where the trail continued upward. As I reached the top of a grassy ridge right next to the Don, I realized that there was no way to summit the rock from this side. The cliffs jutted straight upward hundreds of feet with no passable route that wouldn’t require climbing gear. From the ridge however I had perhaps the best view yet of the lake and La Tournet. It was a great way to end two months of hiking in France.
Reaching the Don at last
It's strange the way time passes in Talloires. You'd think, like most fun experiences, the time would move by fast and before you know it your time in this beautiful place would be done. While I think I will always feel like I didn't have enough time in Talloires, time passed in a way that makes you feel like you've been there for decades. At the end of each day, I would say "wow, did I really do that this morning? it feels like so long ago." I think this is partly because the pace of life in Talloires is much slower than the fast world of Tufts in Medford/ Boston. But the area also has an enchanting characteristic to it that you can only understand by going there (if you are planning a trip to France anytime soon, I wouldn't recommend anywhere else). I will forever be reminded of Talloires when I hear the sound of cowbells ringing in the distance, or see the moon rise over a lake. I feel very grateful that I had the opportunity to spend two months in this wonderful place, and I hope everyone reading this has had, or will someday have, an experience that makes you feel the same way.


  1. Nice piece Daniel. Did you ever find the real trail back? I look forward to the stories coming up too. I will start my own blog from Saudi Arabia. take care of yourself!

  2. trying to figure out how to use this

  3. wrote a big message to you and now gone?????

  4. will write again - have run out of time - love you