On being an independent author

As promised, the new novella, Eye of the Mother, #3 in the Dryden Universe series, is finally out there, a little paper boat struggling for room in the Amazon Sea. It’s available through Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and (eventually) Kobo as well. I’m not comfortable with an all the eggs in one basket scenario and I don’t much care for monopolies. So here are the links, if you’d care to take a look. And if you want to find out what this Dryden Universe thing is all about (and the other two titles in the series) please click here.

Eye of the Mother at Amazon Nook Kobo iTunes

This book has been a loooong time coming. Part of the reason is life. You know the one. Travel, health, that sort of thing. And the other is simple lack of confidence. There are so many books out there, so many writers jumping up and down yelling ‘pick me, pick me’. So much noise. So many people telling little old independent author me why I won’t succeed unless I do this, that and (payment please) the other. The way the system works reviews are an important part of how well a book does, but not many people are prepared to take the time. Then there are the internet trolls, brave humans (at least I think they’re humans) who hide behind the cloak of anonymity to heap scorn and destroy. And there’s piracy. People who steal your work and give it away – or even worse, sell it without paying any sort of royalty. Or other bottom-dwelling scum who steal a story, change a few words here and there, then publish it as their own work.

Even if it hasn’t happened to me (and mostw have), I know authors who have experienced all those circumstances. It all piles up, feather by feather, until the weight is suffocating and you wonder why you do this thing? Why bother to spend months writing and editing? Why bother to pay for a cover, and professional editing? Nobody cares, nobody reads the books, and if nobody reads them, there is no point. Which leads to ‘maybe I’m not very good at this; maybe I should stop.’

And yet the sales never dry up completely. For me, it’s a hobby; something to keep my mind ticking over and my fingers flexed. Sure, maybe a miracle will occur and one of my titles will ignite the internet world. But I’m not holding my breath. I’ve come to accept that I write space opera with a dollop of romance. Which, as I’ve mulled on before, tends to mean either not enough sex/romance or not enough science. Well, dudes, it is what it is. These days I do it for me. Rather like my traveller’s tales. I’m delighted that some people enjoyed the read, and like the photos, but for me it’s a personal history – places I’ve been, things that happened.

So I’ll keep writing. Admiral Jackson Prentiss’s story has passed twenty thousand words. It will be a full novel, and I’m having fun crafting my stories set in space, imagining new worlds. As usual, I’ve borrowed from history. I have a pretty good idea of what happens next, but one can never be certain. That’s part of the attraction of doing it.

If you’ve bought one of my books, thank you, most sincerely. I hope you enjoyed the read, which is the ultimate aim of any story teller.

And I couldn’t let the week go by without mentioning Brexit. If were a Brit I would have voted to leave. In fact, if I were given the opportunity to do so, I would vote to leave the UN. I believe both of these organisations were a great idea at the time. The original European Economic Community worked pretty well. The UN was always a toothless tiger with its veto component. The best recent illustration is the Syrian situation. The EU is a haven for overpaid bureaucrats in Brussels where people sitting in shiny office chairs make up regulations for situations they never experience. The cost to the member organisations (at least, those with any money, such as UK and Germany) is enormous.

A united Europe is a lovely idea. But I think everybody needs to take a backward step and work out how it could really work for everyone, instead of the top-heavy, non-democratic monolith the EU has become.

Oh – and all the economic fuss? That’s a nonsense. Right now NOTHING has happened, and isn’t likely to for quite some time. Go buy up the blue chip shares while they’re cheap. It’ll be a great investment.

 

 

New Release coming soon…

supernovae and extrasolar planetMy latest Dryden Universe story is nearly there, folks.

When fate throws Brent Walker and Tian Axmar together, it’s strictly a business arrangement. She’s an Imperial agent with a problem to solve, he’s a space jockey with an empty bank balance and a tramp freighter for hire.

Eye-of-the-Mother-ebookSomebody’s murdering Yrmaks and Humans, and leaving a mysterious calling card. Somebody wants interspecies war. Tian hires Brent to help her investigate, delving into Yrmak customs and beliefs to understand what’s going on. It’s an increasingly dangerous game, with more than just lives at stake. Before it’s over Brent and Tian will be faced with choices which will change both of them forever.

 

 

 

 

Stop off in Singapore – exploring

Singapore harbour still attracts a lot of shipping

Singapore harbour still attracts a lot of shipping

Today after breakfast on the 38th floor of the Mandarin Orchard hotel we went for a walk, seeking out the old parts of Singapore, and the garden by the bay. We had a long day to kill. Our flight to Australia was due to take off at 12:45am, so we planned on eating enough to tide us over in the lounge at the airport, then sleep our way home.

Singapore national museum on Stamford Rd.

Singapore national museum on Stamford Rd.

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce building

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce building

A brochure we found offered a river cruise on a bum boat – it seemed a good deal to me. The feet were starting to get rebellious, and the damp heat doesn’t encourage activity. Map in hand, we strolled up Orchard Road, (ducking into buildings now and then for a cool-down) then around to the river. Old buildings are still there if you look for them. So are the new towers of the financial district, around Raffles and Stamford, and some very interesting modern architecture.

Quay St

Clarke Quay

Lunch - mostly eaten

Lunch – mostly eaten

Anyway, almost by accident we found Clarke Quay, an old part of Singapore hanging on. Eateries lined the street, awning-covered platforms with tables and chairs on the river bank, the kitchens in the ramshackle buildings over the road. Spruikers stopped us at every establishment, showing us their fresh seafood in fish

Hi-tech sound and air con - with peacock feather

Hi-tech sound and air con – with peacock feather

tanks, ready to be picked and killed. But the prices were too high for us for a lunchtime nibble. Besides, I’m a bit squeamish about that sort of thing. Yes, I know it’s daft.

We ended up at an Indian place offering a curry, rice, Naan, and a couple of condiments and a drink for $10. Sounded good to us. We ordered water to drink, buttered chicken and lamb tikka masala. The meal was delicious – not too spicy and very filling. We never did go on the boat trip. We needed cash and we didn’t have any, so we strolled on to find an ATM. We ended up near a new development by the bay, and decided to find a train to get us to the garden, and certainly back to the hotel.  Unlike the London tube, the Singapore train network is not intuitive. We were looking for Stamford station and must have gone up and down escalators a dozen times, passing hundreds of shops. Eventually we ended up at Raffles station. It seemed we were just a couple of stops from the garden. One station on this line, then change to another line for one more stop.

Part of the garden by the bay

Part of the garden by the bay

Giant dragonfly

Giant dragonfly

These giant pseudo trees are used for the light show

These giant pseudo trees are used for the light show

The gardens are beautiful and they have their own website here, and there’s a Youtube video of the light show here. I wish my feet were up to the task of doing them justice but they weren’t. So we took the train back to the nearest station to the hotel and made our weary way back to the foyer to await our airport shuttle.

It was a long night before we finally settled on the plane. This was a smaller, older aircraft so the seats didn’t lie completely flat. It took me a while to get to sleep, despite being dog-tired. But eventually a nice little flight attendant woke me to offer me breakfast. The plane wasn’t full, and we sped through customs and immigration. Our best guess at where we’d left our car in the long term carpark turned out to be right, and we headed for home.

Stop-off in Singapore – meeting the locals

Singapore, looking along Orchard Road

Singapore, looking along Orchard Road

We had decided to spend a night in Singapore instead of going straight home. We didn’t fancy landing at 7:30 in the evening, getting through customs etc and then be faced with a four hour drive home. So we took an airport shuttle to the Mandarin Orchard. Here’s a tip. The airport shuttle services most of the large hotels, at the cost of S$9 each (ie S$18 – the Singapore dollar is the same as the AU$). A taxi would have cost us around S$60. They’ll pick you up, too. You just have to ring and book a time.

We’d upgraded our stay for a few worthwhile perks, like getting up to the 38th floor for free drinks and nibbles and breakfast, and the clerk found an empty room so we didn’t have to mooch around until the usual check-in time of 2pm. We showered, changed into Singapore clothes, and went out for a look around hoping to keep the jet lag at bay. We were in Orchard Road, which is just shopping, so we ducked in and out of air-conditioned edifices, generally pootling around. Inevitably, we ended up in a camera shop. The proprietor had the gift of the gab and persuaded me I had enough lenses – but this converter can double the magnification, and it’s much cheaper than a new lens, too. It sounded like a good idea at the time, and Pete drove him down to a reasonable price.

It being lunchtime we looked around for somewhere to eat and ended up in a basement offering hawker type food. We settled on ‘chicken rice’, which seemed to be a favourite staple. It turned out to be (um) chicken and a bowl of rice. We sat at long bench tables open for anybody. A lady came to sit opposite us, intent on her bowl of food. Pete nudged me and pointed out a poster. “That doesn’t look anything like the carrot cake you make.” It didn’t. It looked like fried up mince. What could I say? “No, it doesn’t.”

The lady sharing our space said, “It’s not cake.” She then described how it’s made. I won’t even try to remember. Read about it here.  That instigated a conversation. She told us we should be having soy sauce and/or chile sauce with our chicken rice, and went herself to fetch a couple of little bowls from the vendor for us. We chatted with this lady for several hours, talking about food and cooking. She was a real estate agent, taking a lunch break. We learned nobody buys land in Singapore (unless they’re very rich). But they buy their apartments. When she went off to work we emerged into the humid heat.

What now? We dithered and a local approached us. What did we want to do? We asked about the satay markets Pete remembered from his visits here thirty or forty years ago. Our new best friend explained they were now in the gardens by the bay. Very nice place, they have a light show after seven, then you can eat. Was there anything else? We asked if there were any computer shops around. “Oh not here, shopping space is too expensive. I can show you a place. I’m not due for work a while yet.” So he escorted us down to a building a few blocks away, took me firmly by the arm, and led us into a shop where he introduced Patrick, who would look after us. Patrick tried to sell me a lens – a converter that would double my telephotos, and would also enable wide-angle shots. I’ve got a prime wide angle lens, and we’d just bought the converter, but we listened. We were told the lens was worth $3,000 – but you can have it for $2,500, plus you get your GST back. Every time we tried to leave, the price dropped. We said we’d think about it and come back tomorrow and we finally backed away at $500. The smell of rat was becoming increasingly pungent.

Interestingly, our new best friend was hanging around outside the building, apparently almost off to catch his train to work. Maybe he hoped for a commission from his work for Patrick.

Having sore feet, we went back to the room and I looked up the lens on the internet. Nobody else seemed to have such a device. And the moral of the story is yes, you can great some great gear in Singapore at a great price. But do your homework before you go shopping. Know what you want and what it should cost. These dudes are masters at the selling game.

We had intended to go to the garden by the bay for light show and satay, but jet lag got the better of us. After an unintended nap of a couple of hours we went up the hotel’s 38th floor for drinks and to admire the sunset. A storm was rolling in. We decided to order room service and have an early night.

Sunset between the apartment blocks

Sunset between the apartment blocks

Day 18 – Luzern and Zurich

Lake Luzern, swans, mountains

Lake Luzern, swans, mountains

Luzern is a lovely city. I’d been there before, around twenty-five years ago. I suppose it must have changed, but not in the bits we saw in a brief stopover. The mountains tower over the lake, the white swans fight for bragging rights and food, and the neat houses along the foreshore of the old town still reflect nicely in the water.

The view from the covered bridge

The view from the covered bridge

The old bridge

The old bridge

One of the panels set in the roof rafters of the covered bridge

One of the panels set in the roof rafters of the covered bridge

The old covered bridge across the river burnt down a year or so after I was there before. Luckily not all the lovely medieval illustrations in the rafters were destroyed and they were put back when the bridge was rebuilt.

Our charming wait person

Our charming wait person

You already know about the old town – cobble-stoned squares, outdoor furniture, people, coffee, food. We picked a small café for lunch and enjoyed a bit of back and forth with one of the girls who worked there. She said she didn’t mind if her photo was on Facebook.

The fabulous lion monument

The fabulous lion monument

Of course we visited the lion monument. It brought me to tears the first time I saw it, and did so again this time. The dying lion is a tribute to the Swiss mercenaries who died trying to defend Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, against the mob who came for them at the Tuileries Palace in 1792. That’s why there’s a fleur de lys on the shield under the lion’s paw. Here’s the Wiki version of the story.

There comes in point in every tour where your mind knows it’s going home. That’s what happened here. We bought a few souvenirs for friends back home. Then on to Zurich.

The Zurich railway station from our hotel room

The Zurich railway station from our hotel room

Detail of paintwork above the window arches in the museum

Detail of paintwork above the window arches in the museum

We stayed in another Schweizerhof hotel in Zurich.  The restaurant manager welcomed the whole group with a glass of champagne or orange juice if that took your fancy. Once again, the hotel was in the heart of town, opposite the railway station. Once again, we elected to meander around on our own. You guessed it – cobble-stoned squares, chairs and tables out on the pavement, food, coffee, wine. Of course there are a number of historic buildings. One which attracted our notice was the Swiss national museum. It’s not specially old, dating back to 1898, but it is rather splendid. We took special note of the art work under the eaves.

Taking note of our success in finding a reasonably priced meal in the railway station at Bern, we went across to the railway station to see what was on offer there. We found a shop which was part of the Nordsee chain, offering fish for sale, as well as a cafeteria style eatery. Yes, we could buy alcohol. So we came back at the appropriate hour. Pete had a swordfish steak with new potatoes, and I ordered fish (species unknown) with white asparagus and new potatoes. It was certainly our cheapest dinner in Switzerland and one of the nicest.

Breakfast turned out to be more along the lines we expected – buffet style, with options such as poached eggs available by order. And they made the toast for you! The restaurant manager, a little man who reminded me a bit of Hercule Poirot with a sense of humour, entertained everybody with a bit of lively repartee.

And that was that. We were off to Zurich airport, and on our way home.

Day 17 – Through the mountains to Bern

I'll bet the ghost of Nabokov site here an gazes at the mountains

I’ll bet the ghost of Nabokov sits here and gazes at the mountains

I can see why Montreux has captivated people over the centuries. Every day the lake and its guardian mountains look a little bit different. This morning the sky was cloudless and the peaks were etched against the blue sky. I wanted pictures but we had breakfast first. Even as I ate, a first wisp of misty cloud materialised above the snow. It was as if the mountains made their own climate. And over there along the lake fingers of grey were advancing.

Calling, “I’ll see you downstairs,” over my shoulder, I raced off to grab the camera and run across the road to the lakeside.

One last look, and we were on the bus for the drive to Bern. We headed along the Rhone valley, then started up into the mountains. It’s a two lane road, steep and winding, with quite a few hairpin bends. Those sitting on the cliff side of the coach got an eyeful of precipitous cliffs and rushing water. And everybody got to see the awesome alpine scenery. Once again, I kept the camera out of action until I just couldn’t stand it any longer. I would have LOVED to have stopped for ten minutes in one of the tiny villages in the valleys for a photo stop, but it didn’t happen until we got to Glacier 3000, a large lodge with a cable car running up to the top of the range. A few skiers were taking advantage of the recent snow for a few last runs down the mountain. As a photo opportunity I could have passed. But this was also a toilet stop, with lots of room for coaches. Among them were two RAF buses. I don’t know why. It’s just interesting.

We stopped for lunch at Gstaad, a ski village for the rich and famous. It seemed every person who ever got on the cover of Woman’s Weekly had stayed there. The shops were all designer label, with attendant price tags. Me, I’m a Philistine. I can see no point in paying thousands of dollars for a watch that will tell the time no better than my mobile phone. Worse, actually, because you have to work out where the big hand and the little hand are. As for paying thousands for a dress… let’s not go there.

We had an excellent lunch, well cooked and served promptly. It’s not an easy task to feed forty people at one sitting. Oh – if you’re into that sort of thing, the formation of the Alps is fascinating. Read all about it here.

The road through the mountains

The road through the mountains. The bus had  steering in the rear wheels as well as the front, so it could negotiate the many hairpin bends

More scenery from the bus

More scenery from the bus

An interesting gaggle of cows doing... something

An interesting gaggle of cows doing… something

Lowlands with mountains from the bus

Lowlands with mountains from the bus

Glacier 3000

Glacier 3000, with enormous parking area

Then on to Bern, admiring more mountains as we drove.

We were to overnight in Bern, but before we reached the hotel we stopped at a beautiful garden above the city. It’s a gorgeous place, with many, many people enjoying the sunshine.

Bern's beautiful public gardens

Bern’s beautiful public gardens

The old city of Bern from the gardens on the hill

The old city of Bern from the gardens on the hill. All the rivers had that aqua colour. Chalk in the water? Snow melt?

Our guide took those interested for a walk through the old city. We weren’t the only ones who didn’t join her. It’s not fair on the cities, but you do tend to suffer from city overload. Pete and I wandered around by ourselves. It was late afternoon and the tables and chairs were out in the cobble-stoned squares, with people eating and drinking. And a LOT were smoking. The fact we noticed shows how successful we’ve been in Australia, cutting back that nasty habit. We were looking for somewhere to have dinner. Our driver had recommended a place in Bern, but the online reviews (quite a few) suggested the place was very anti-foreigner, so we decided not to bother. Instead, we checked out the central railway station, opposite the hotel, where we found a bar and eatery offering simple food at a reasonable price. (Don’t translate to AU$) I’m just about all pizza’ed out after this tour.

The hotel was the Schweizerhof, an old building which had been gutted and rebuilt as a swish hotel with modern design. So modern I didn’t realise there was a drawer in the bathroom vanity. I found out when I rang reception to ask where the hairdryer was. Hmph. I’m old.

Some of the high tech needed some adjustment, too. After we went to bed the hall light came on every half hour. After he’d turned it off three times, at 11:30 Pete rang reception. He wasn’t impressed when the clerk found it funny. We also think it was a known fault because when he came up to our room he had the right tool and knew exactly where to look. He told us the bathroom light wouldn’t work now – but hey, it was nearly midnight. Travelling throws up some unexpected experiences.

In fact, the next unexpected experience was at breakfast, which was included in the tariff everywhere we stayed. The usual thing in most hotels is a buffet offering cereal, fruit, pastries, cheese, cold meats, and a few hot dishes in warmers – sausages, bacon, and scrambled eggs etc. This had been our experience so far. But not in the Schweizerhof, Bern. We arrived in the restaurant, waiting to give our room number. A flustered young woman took one look at us, muttered something in German, and plunged off to parts unknown. When we’d finished looking at each other (we’d showered and everything) someone else from our group crooked a finger at us. “Take a seat,” he said. “She’ll come back and fix things.”

This hotel, it seems, did al la carte breakfast for everything. And they didn’t have enough staff. We watched that same young woman charging around as though she had a firecracker up her arse, taking orders, putting out dishes and generally getting things done. Cereal, fruit and what-have-you arrived on one of those silver towers they use to serve high tea. We ordered poached eggs with bacon and tomato, which arrived in due course, freshly cooked and just as it should be.

And then we climbed onto the coach to travel to the lovely old city of Luzern, then Zurich before we head on home.

 

Day 16-2 – the view from the top

The Rhone Valley

The Rhone Valley

The weather here is positively mercurial. The clouds rolled on just about when we left Chillon Castle, although strands hung around. This afternoon promised a high for me. We were going to take a funicular railway train up the mountain behind the hotel to Rochers de Nayes, at an altitude of 1,968 metres. Pete and I killed some time in the local mall looking for lunch before the trip. We found a lunchbar that served sandwiches and coffee at a reasonable price (if you didn’t convert the Euros to AU$). Whatever. It was one of the cheaper meals we ate in Switzerland.

The railway itself is a triumph of engineering when you discover it was opened in 1892. Here’s a link telling you all about it. You might want to read it after you’ve looked at the photos, and thought about how all that was achieved in the 1890’s. Bear in mind this train runs from Montreux railway station. It’s just another commuter service that stops half a dozen times on the way up. People live up there, in little villages. There’s also a famous hospitality school halfway up the mountain. Imagine this as your commuter trip to and from the office every weekday.

The views were spectacular, looking over Lake Geneva as the train rose up the mountainside, crossing over people’s backyards. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them.

Chillon from above

The castle of Chillon from above

The lake and the city far below

The lake and the city far below. We’re up to the snow line

A dusting of snow has settled on the pine trees

A dusting of snow has settled on the pine trees

The railway line

The railway line

One of the many tunnels

One of the many tunnels. The train doesn’t turn around – it has controls at both ends. I’m looking back at where we’ve been.

The train has its own snow-cutting apparatus. This one had evidently been up to the summit earlier - you can still see the snow.

They have snow-clearing engines to clear the tracks. This one had evidently been up to the summit earlier – you can still see the snow.

A hole in the clouds

A hole in the clouds

Snowfields

Snowfields

The view at the top

The view at the top

 

Day 16 – 1 – not just another bloody castle

The weather's on its way

The weather’s on its way

The temperature had dropped, the tops of the mountains were wreathed in cloud and it had clearly snowed overnight on the higher slopes. Weather was on the way. A dark mass of cloud had gathered at the far end of Lake Geneva, gradually coming closer. But you can’t change the weather – just adapt to suit. Part of touring in Europe involves visiting castles and I’m sure everyone gets to the point where it’s ‘seen one, seen ’em all’. So I’ll admit to some eye-rolling at the prospect of visiting a castle today. However, getting there involved a short journey by boat on the lake, which should be fun. Besides, it was going to rain, so we might as well be indoors.

The local ferry speeds off down the lake

The local ferry speeds off down the lake

We caught a local ferry – a paddle steamer – for the short ride to Chillon – the castle on the rock. It sits on a rocky island just off the lake’s shore, a genuine, no nonsense castle, with no flowery turrets and unnecessary frills. A working castle.

The young woman who escorted our group knew her stuff, and loved it. She explained to us straight away that the intention of the tour was to give us a glimpse of Medieval life, how this castle actually worked. Chillon was owned at the time by the Duke of Savoy, a major power in the area. This was just one of his many castles and he came here for only a few weeks a year in the summer. For the rest of the time an official lived here with a garrison and they collected tolls from travellers.

The courtyard

The courtyard

The dining hall, with the guide standing in front of the fireplace where food was cooked

The dining hall, with the guide standing in front of the fireplace where food was cooked

20160519_111550We started in the main hall, where our guide explained the duke would host feasts which would extend over days, eating, drinking and sleeping. The whole idea of his visit to the castle was to display his wealth and power to the locals, so everything was intended to impress. The class system was rigidly adhered to. Nobles and peasants didn’t mix. While peasants ate vegetables and animals like rabbits – lower to the earth, you see – nobles would eat the higher animals like beef, or lamb, or birds like swans. Animals were roasted whole on spits.

From the dining hall we went up to a bedroom. The castle’s living apartments are on the lake side of the castle, less open to attack. Our guide stressed the point that privacy was a non-existent notion in those times. Sleeping many to a bed was the norm. I was fascinated to learn that people slept sitting up, which is why the beds were so short. The reason? When you’re lying down asleep you look like you’re dead, and death was always there, just on the other side of the veil. No need to encourage it.

The bedroom. We were told 5 people could expect to share this bed

The bedroom. We were told 5 people could expect to share this bed. The square boxes on the other side of the bed contained heat to warm the whole room much longer than just a fire.

The Ducal bathtub, filled with hot water by servants

The Ducal bathtub, filled with hot water by servants

I guess everyone is aware that sanitation wasn’t a huge consideration back in the olden days. But I think these things can be over-dramatised. Most castles had rudimentary toilet facilities of the sort you’ll still see in outback Australia; a recess in the outer wall, which was fitted with a plank with a hole sited above a long drop. In this case, the drop went into the lake. This fun site tells a little more about garde robes, with pictures.

The duke bathed, too. And like everything else, bathing was a social occasion. It was a great honour to be invited to watch the duke bathe – not many people could afford such luxury. There would probably be musicians in attendance to provide entertainment.

And from here we wended our way down the steep spiral staircases to the dungeon. Most of the space would have been used for storing wine and goods, but it was also a prison. We were told up to three hundred people – men and women – would have been crowded into this space. There is no sanitation and no light. Although the guards would sometimes wash the effluent into the lake via a narrow slit at the base of a wall.

The dungeon, built on the bones of the rock. These beautiful arches support the whole castle

The dungeon, built on the bones of the rock. These beautiful arches support the whole castle

This is supposed to be the Prisoner of Chillon

This is supposed to be the Prisoner of Chillon

Which brings us to Lord Byron’s poem, ‘The Prisoner of Chillon‘. (It’s okay – I’d never heard of it either.) The inspiration for the poem came from the ordeals of François Bonivard, son of a noble family who sided with Geneva against the Duke of Savoy. The story goes that he was imprisoned in Chillon’s dungeon, chained to a stone pillar, for six years until he was freed by Bernese troops who took over the castle.

Or so the story goes.

Our guide assured us we could believe the tale if we wished. But she pointed out that Bonivard was a nobleman, and reminded us of the rigid social class distinction. She had no doubt that Bonivard was imprisoned – but possibly in one of the more comfortable rooms upstairs. When I read his life story it occurred to me he hadn’t suffered at all from his incarceration. There’s also a suggestion that Byron’s name scratched into the stone in the dungeon was placed there by some other hand. That would never happen, would it? /sarcasm

I really enjoyed this fascinating glimpse into lives long past and so different from our own. Five stars to our lovely guide.

Oh, and if you were wondering, yes, it’s the same family who owns the Savoy chain of hotels.

Day 15 – Montreux, playground of the rich and famous

Sunlight on the poppies with the mountains in the background

Sunlight on the poppies with the mountains in the background

Charlie Chaplin

Charlie Chaplin

We were scheduled to spend two days at Montreux on the banks of Lake Geneva, staying in the Montreux Palace, now a five star hotel. We arrived at the lakeside at the town of Vevey, where Charlie Chaplin spent his last years. There’s a statue of him here and several people took photos.

The promenade at Vevey

The promenade at Vevey – picture by PT

Then back on the coach for the short trip to our hotel.

The views over the lake are breathtaking. The mountains rear above the lake, sketching a line between France and Switzerland. The lake shore is a long promenade, encouraging visitors to walk along and admire the view. It seems quite a few artistic types were drawn to this place, like Freddie Mercury. In fact Montreux hosts a music festival. Statues of a number of top performers can be seen in a garden near the lake – Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King, Ray Charles. And for some reason known only to the Swiss, Vladimir Nabokov. He did live here, and died in Montreux. But I don’t think he was noted for his music.

Needless to say the local shops boast all the top brands – Armani, Rolex, Givenchy etc etc. We didn’t go shopping. After a quick look around the local restaurants we decided to eat at one of the hotel restaurants, since it wasn’t much more expensive than everywhere else. We would have liked to have pork knuckle with sauerkraut, but the server returned to the table to tell us it wasn’t available, so we had chicken. Beautifully cooked, far too much (but we should have realised) and served with nothing. If you wanted vegetables, that was extra. We had a main course with one ‘extra’ each, Pete had 2 beers and I had 2 glasses of local wine. That turned out to be something like AU$170. But hey -we’re on holiday. The following day we ate at an Italian restaurant – lasagne for me, pretty ordinary spaghetti marinara for him, a glass of wine, a beer. AU$120. Switzerland is a very expensive place.

Anyway, let’s get on with the photos.

Lake Geneva with swan

Lake Geneva with swan

Swan

Swan

They provided chairs set into the rocks so you can enjoy the view in comfort

They provided chairs set into the rocks so you can enjoy the view in comfort

Montreux Palace with statue of Nabokov in the foreground

Montreux Palace with statue of Nabokov in the foreground

IMG_3856

Lounge

IMG_3899

Dining room

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald

Freddie Mercury - his statue isn't with the jazz singers, it's down on the water's edge

Freddie Mercury – his statue isn’t with the jazz singers, it’s down on the water’s edge.

Tomorrow we’re going on two fabulous visits. Come and join us. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them as much as we did.

 

 

Day 14 – Gruyere – mountains, cows and cheese

Gruyere from the bus - before we drove up the hill

Gruyere from the bus – before we drove up the hill

Ah, mountains. And scenery. And grass and animals. There’s no doubt where my heart is happier. We hopped on a bus with thirty-four other passengers and headed for the hills as fast as we could make it. Maybe there are sights to see in Basel, but we didn’t see them.

For me, I couldn’t wait to see the mountains, and I resisted the temptation to take pictures through the windows for quite a while. Pete didn’t, snapping away at every opportunity. I did eventually cave, but really, there’s no point unless the bus is stationary. Even then you’re just as likely to get reflections in your shots. Like that one at the top.

The weather was perfect, the snow-capped peaks glittering in the sun, and the meadows so green they hardly seemed real. We made our first stop around 11am, an impromptu visit to the fortified town of Gruyere, where the cheese comes from. Apparently we were scheduled to visit there the following day, but the guide and driver decided the weather was so good it would be a shame to risk the forecast rain for tomorrow.

The village is gorgeous, perched up in the foothills with a dramatic backdrop of beautiful mountains, Cows came out of their barns to enjoy the lush grass. In the village women dressed in their local costumes made their way to work in the coffee shops and restaurants. And we found a free toilet. (Don’t laugh. You could expect to pay CHF0.50 to use a public loo – that’s 75c Australian)

The view from the ramparts - cows and mountain and spectacular green

The view from the ramparts – cows and mountain and spectacular green

The cobble-stoned central square

The cobble-stoned central square

Towards the town gate

Towards the town gate

Gruyere means 'crane'. We saw them everywhere on the houses

Gruyere means ‘crane’. We saw them everywhere on the houses

The inevitable church perched at the end of the village

The inevitable castle perched at the end of the village

Two churches, two styles

Castle and church

AltIMG_3783hough it was early, we’d been told this would be a lunch stop, so we selected one of the many restaurants and tried to order a meal. It was too early. Lunch orders would not be taken until 11:30. OK. We had a cup of coffee, instead. They serve it black, with a side of cream that comes in a chocolate container, which you then eat. Saves washing up.

When we’d finished the coffee the woman came to us with her money bag for payment. Pete asked if we could order lunch now (11:20) and was told that this was a different person, she only did coffee. Fine. We paid for the coffee and waited for a wait person to appear. We’d cruised through the menu, looking for a sandwich or something. Eventually we decided upon half a quiche with salad, an entry in the starters menu. We were due to leave at 12:30, and the food did take a looong time to arrive, but it was worth it, fresh and delicious, with a Swiss version of a salad.

Serving sizes are HUGE in Switzerland. So pleased we didn’t ask for a main course.

Half a gruyere quiche with salad. It was delicious.

Half a gruyere quiche with salad. It was delicious. The salad is fine sliced curly cabbage, red and yellow capsicum, a radish, cubed beetroot and lettuce wrapped in a thin slice of zucchini

From Gruyere we drove down to Lake Geneva to Montreux, a haunt of the rich and famous. I’ll write about that in the next post.

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