Switzerland: Geneva, Lausanne and the Bernese Oberland

Blog, Destinations, Switzerland, Travel

Geneva, in Switzerland,  is a short flight from Heathrow, and consequently, is easily accessible from the United Kingdom or anywhere in Europe. It was my first time exploring this beautiful country, and I was not disappointed at all. Geneva itself, hugging the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), is a fairly cosmopolitan place by all accounts. But then, what would you expect from the city that is home to both the Red Cross and the United Nations? The Jura mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this lakeside metropolis, and the city itself is interesting enough with plenty of areas to explore.

Like in any city, street cafés abound where you can unreservedly indulge in a spot of people watching. Witness meetings between businessmen, couples enjoying each other’s company or maybe a pair of Swiss girls chatting excitedly in French in between cigarettes and food. To me, this is travel. It’s not just the places that you see but the people you meet.

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Before you go anywhere though, pop into the Swiss tourism office in downtown Geneva. I found the staff, especially Anna who just paid a visit to London herself, very pleasant and helpful. Bulk up on useful local info about this city on a lake, grab yourself a city pass which will discount a number of activities for you, and of course a free map on which the staff will indicate key places though the useful application of a biro. Chris, my travel buddy, and I emerged ready to explore Geneva’s altogether lovely and engaging tourist offering.

OUT & ABOUT

Bus Tour: No city break would be complete without the ubiquitous bus tour. This particular bus tour was informative and interesting but sadly not open-topped. C’est la vie… can’t have it all I guess. The bus will whisk you around various points of interest, including of course the UN quarter of the city, home to various wings of this world-famous organisation: UNESCO, UNICEF, UNHCR and of course the UN building itself. The final part of the tour is conducted, rather uniquely, on a land train down some of the more narrow streets.

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The Saleve: If you fancy something a little different, why not try a mini excursion up to The Saleve. A mini massif, just over the border in France, it affords amazing views across Lake Geneva and the city itself. Take a bus to the terminus, walk across the French border and ascend via a cable car to enjoy unparalleled views of the landscape below. It is well worth the effort indeed.

Boat Tour: No visit to Geneva is complete without taking a boat across, or around Lac Leman. It will certainly give you a different perspective on the city, and the boat tour I took was included in the price of the city pass.

Walking Tour of the Old City: This is also well worth doing. Old Geneva is fascinating, interesting and of course historic. You can wander around the old streets of Geneva, and in fact you should do – it’s immensely satisfying and relaxing. Strolling at your own pace, you can simply take in the sights and sounds of the old city. This is what holidaying is all about surely? We opted for the walking tour with an audio guide which was great. All the info you need right there in your hand and you can take things at your own pace. Perfect.

THE DAY WE WENT TO LAUSANNE

Well, it had to be done didn’t it? Hopped on a train we did and headed for that ultra-Swiss town of Lausanne. A train ride along the shores of sparkling Lac Leman on one side with row after row of vineyards on the other will bring you to this mini metropolis by the water. Like Geneva, Lausanne is interesting, historic and engaging. A climb up to the cathedral is well worth it (for the cathedral itself and the panoramic views across the city itself), so make sure that you include that in your tour, however brief.

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We even found time for a jaunty boat ride across to Evian, the home of spring water, on the French side of the lake. We didn’t really have the time to disembark, but the journey was worthwhile nonetheless. As we headed back, Lausanne loomed large on the horizon. Soon enough we found ourselves sat outside café & bar drinking a local brew. Like I say, travelling is all about the people that you meet and soon enough we found ourselves chatting to Pete and his buddies.

Turns out that Pete was from Cardiff, but had found himself in Lausanne some twenty years ago, met a girl and never left. Well there’s a story that has been repeated a few times around the world I should imagine. Pete seemed quite content with his life as an English teacher who regularly topped up his wages by busking on the street. Well, Switzerland is an expensive country you know. Soon, we were joined by his friend Christine and I somehow managed to end up paying for her drink. A chance encounter with the locals (ex-pats included); now that is travel.

THEN WE WENT TO GSTAAD…

On the final day of our trip, we decided to leave the sparkling shores of Lake Geneva, and head on up to the majesty that is the Bernese Oberland. We skirted by Lausanne, heading purposefully for Montreux where we would change trains and start the long climb through the beautiful Alpine meadows that are so typical of this part of the world. One Swiss chalet after another seemed to float by, as the train carried us inexorably up and up towards our destination. Eventually we arrived in Gstaad which according to my learned friend was an uber-posh Ski resort. However, since it was early April, it was a deserted uber-posh ski resort.

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After a quick visit to the tourist information centre, we were directed to the PostBus nearby that would transport us to the Aerial Cableway (very large cable car). The cable car runs every 20 minutes and takes approximately 15 minutes to reach the snowy peaks and ski runs of Glacier 3000. Halfway up, we stopped briefly only to be joined by a horde a skiers and snowboarders (unsurprisingly) and we were suddenly feeling very under-dressed.

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Actually, as we emerged at the top of Glacier 3000 Snowpark, I definitely was under-dressed because I was, well, basically freezing. However, the views are simply stunning and literally take your breath away (sorry about the cliché). Prepared to be dazzled by an array of no less than 24 x 4000m peaks including the Eiger, the Matterhorn and Mont Blanc. If you’re feeling daring and not afraid of heights, navigate the spectacular Peak Walk by Tissot between two summits – it is stunning. For more information on all this, check out the Swiss tourism website: https://www.myswitzerland.com/en-gb/destinations/glacier-3000/

No doubt there is much more you can do in this wonderful country, but I don’t think that is half bad as a starter for 10, don’t you? I invite you to come and explore Geneva, Lausanne, Lac Leman, Gstaad and the beautiful, stunning, incomparable Bernese Oberland. You’ll definitely be coming back for more!

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Hickory’s Smokehouse, Chester

Blog, Destinations, Food, UK

Well here’s a thing. How about sitting by the river, drinking in the local vibe and enjoying some scrumptious food to boot? If that appeals, then I advise you to head for Hickory’s Smokehouse sat on the banks of the serene River Dee in historic Chester.

So, new to the city and feeling hungry, I left my hotel and followed the signs down to the river, and duly discovered Hickory’s. And for a Tuesday night, the place was buzzing with young and old alike; which is always a good sign methinks.

The menu is varied, interesting and quite frankly – very appetising. Yeah they have ribs, pulled pork (of course), Texas Style Brisket, steaks, skewers, waffles, burgers and if you’re feeling really hungry – the truly awesome Smokehouse Platter. This dish cleverly enables you to try all their classics in one go. I however, went for the XXXL burger.

Inside the 2 creaking halves of your burger bun (skewered to keep everything together), you will find the following: 2 burgers, pulled pork, streaky bacon, gherkins, cajun onion rings, lettuce, tomato, their rather tasty house sauce and American cheese. This fullsome tribute to some kind of American culinary dream is accompanied by fries served in a mug and their very own coleslaw. This of course can be washed down with a refreshing chilled beer. Perfect.

Not content with dinner, I returned the following morning for breakfast and swerved around the usual temptation to go for the full English (I was still full from the night before), and choose instead the pancakes. Not just any pancakes though, but the Hickory Pancake Stack complete with Blueberry compote and cream.

This comes with a pot of maple sauce, the contents of which I used to saturate and envelop my pancakes with a sweet, sticky sheen. Anyway, the result was absolute deliciousness, and since they are served all day, there is no excuse not to try them. Of course you can always come back later and go for the lunch menu which advertises 2 courses for £10.

So, if haven’t cottoned on yet, I’m recommending you come here when you’re next in Chester, or anywhere nearby for that matter. The location is great and the staff are real friendly too, which all adds up to a winning combination. Great for the food scene and great for Chester.

On the wings of an eagle…

Blog, News

DSC_4751North Devon is the home of a farm that is helping to rescue men from the iron grip of addiction and homelessness.

Eagle Community is a Christian 2nd stage rehab situated at Ovis Farm in North Devon, on the edge of Exmoor. They take prison offenders, and those who have struggled with drug addiction, alcoholism and street homelessness. The work is enormously varied, and no two days are ever the same as the residents tend to present different issues and problems on a regular basis.

Carole Jones, founding trustee and a director of Eagle Community, explained how she became involved in work here. Carole had lived in Zimbabwe for most of her life and returned to the UK in 2003. Eventually, she got a job working as an administrator at Ovis Farm which was then being run as the ‘House of Heroes’ drug and alcohol rehab. She said: “I worked there for seven years and then I retired. After a while Ovis Farm became vacant, the previous tenants left and the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November wanted the farm to be used for used for Christian purposes.

“So a group of us met regularly to try and think of a way forward and eventually in November 2014 I got a phone call from a woman who I had been supporting for some time who had previously been at the women’s rehab and she said, ‘My son is coming out of prison and he wants to get himself sorted out. What is happening about Ovis Farm?”

Carole went on to relay how in that very moment she felt a divine calling to carry on this work and start up the rehab again at Ovis Farm. “I immediately spoke to the owners of the farm, David and Margaret November, and within a week I had actually got two men and moved out to the farm and started Eagle Community at that point which was early December 2014.”

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The community can now accommodate ten men, and seeks to rehabilitate them through a program of practical work, the learning of life-skills, working with local tradespeople, training providers and offering valuable assistance with form filling, debt issues, and family and relationship problems. Counselling is available to those who want it, and the staff are always on hand to chat and pray with the residents. The work can often be long and arduous, but the rewards are immense when the men are able to really move forward with their lives.

Carole talked about some of the pitfalls and problems that she has faced over the years. She said, “The main problem has been the lack of finance. To start of with, the owners of property funded us until we could become viable which took about six months. Starting a thing from scratch, it’s quite heavy going particularly when you’re battling on your own. I did have various volunteers who worked with me over a period of time, but for the first two years, I lived in the house with the men and we went from there. The biggest thing was trying to cope with all the different aspects of the work; it was quite comprehensive.”

Thankfully, Carole is no longer alone in this work and has gathered a small but effective team around her. A key member of that team is Jason Huxtable, Projects Manager for Eagle Community. Jason described what he does on a day to day basis at the rehab: “My role is simply to try and organise a plan for each day, to make sure the house is in a fit and organised order and to listen to the men on a daily basis, not so much give advice but just be someone that can walk alongside them, chat with them, befriend them, and introduce them to God. It’s the last stage of people’s recovery where they can basically start to piece their life together before they move on. It’s a place where people can push the pause button. A place where they can meet God and start a new journey.”

It is very evident that the work that Carole and her team do here at Eagle Community is highly valued by both local authorities, clergy, the police and also the prison and probation service, as applications for prospective clients land on her desk regularly. I asked Carole about her motivation, and what was it that kept her going in such a difficult and challenging line of work. Without any hesitation she cited her God given passion to work with the men saying: “In this kind of of environment I just thrive, I really enjoy it, and that’s why I do it.”

If you would like to find out more about Eagle Community, including how to apply for a place here, please visit: https://eaglecommunity.co.uk/, email: eaglecommunityinfo@gmail.com or phone 01598 710726

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Shakespeare Outside…?

Blog, Travel, UK

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Now we all like a bit of Shakespeare, don’t we? Well, what about some Shakespeare outside then? That is exactly what you’ll get if you turn up at Shakespeare’s birthplace in super Stratford-upon-Avon, and wander through to the enclosed garden and courtyard at the rear of the property. Just call out your favourite play by the legendary bard, and the two or three assembled Shakespearean actors, suitably attired in period costume, will enact a pithy scene for your listening and viewing pleasure.

These guys (and girls), are real pro’s. Making it look so effortless and easy, the impromptu audience are lavishly entertained with scenes from ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ ‘The Taming of the Shrew,’ ‘The Tempest,’ ‘Romeo and Juliet’ – and everything in between. To be quite honest, I could have sat there all day and lapped up this eloquent street theatre (or courtyard theatre if you want to be pedantic), and that would have constituted a perfectly acceptable day out, with time well spent.

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Give my regards to Broadway!

Blog, Travel, UK

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Nestling on the western edge of the Cotswolds, Broadway is a must-visit destination if you are in the area. Why? Because it’s beautiful, and it simply oozes English village charm. In fact, it’s almost too perfect and too twee for its own good, but I just love it. It’s got lots of those lovely, unique kind of shops that magnetically draw you inside, inviting you to part with large sums of money for no real good reason at all – except for pure self-indulgence of course.

We came across a chocolate shop, a sweetie shop (selling a seemingly endless variety of sweets), and a lovely wine and gin store tucked away up a side street. A visit here was required of course, and after much chat with a chap called Dan around various drink related topics, we succumbed to the temptation to sample some of the shops wares. The whole experience proved to be immensely satisfying.

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Broadway is a little gem, of that there is no doubt. One look inside the estate agent’s window will solidly conform this fact. So if you should find yourself meandering towards Stratford-upon-Avon, as we were, I would encourage you to pop in and have a jolly good look around. You are bound to find something that takes your fancy!

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The Dunster Show

Blog, Food, News

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On Friday 18th August, the 171st Dunster Show will be held once again in the fields nestling behind Dunster Castle. Always a great success and highly enjoyable, this annual Somerset country fair is set to attract thousands of visitors once again. And there will of course be a cookery demonstration organised and led by Chefs Andrew Dixon and Olivier Certain. Joining them this year for the second year now will be Ed Heard along with newcomers to the cookery demo, Ellis Pannell and Barrie Tucker. See you there!

http://www.thedunstershow.co.uk/

Download the John Raby’s Food & Travel flyer here

On track for the exotic

Blog, India, Published Works, Travel

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John Raby is on the Howrah Mail, one of India’s most iconic trains. During his six-hour train journey, he meets genial Ravi from Kolkata, attempts to order lunch from the Telegu-speaking pantry wallah and encounters a slightly annoying railway official

I’m sat on a train going to Srikakulam in Andhra Pradesh; the Howrah Mail to be precise. I boarded this morning and will get off in six hours time, but this train actually left Chennai yesterday and will ultimately travel the 1040 miles to Kolkata, arriving early tomorrow morning…

Read the rest of this published travel feature here at the Western Morning News

 

Painting the Picture

Blog, News, Published Works

JOHN RABY meets Anna Fitzgerald, an artist with a unique & refreshing style who is making a real impact on the art scene in Exmouth.

Anna Fitzgerald is a prolific and successful artist living and working in Exmouth. I caught up with her at a seafront exhibition, organised by the Exmouth Art Group, where she had four pieces on sale and by the time I had arrived she had already sold three of them. Anna, it turns out, is quite the leading light on the art scene in Exmouth.

Read the rest of this article on the Devon Life website.

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The only way is forward.

Blog, Travel

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Standing at a crowded Euston Station today, it made me think that life is a succession of journeys. Some literal and geographical, and some metaphysical and emotional.

I guess our direction of travel is really important – it should always be ultimately forward. Today, I literally travelled to the post-industrial town of Blackburn. I discovered it is most definitely a place of opportunity.

In travelling, not only do we discover new places, but we discover ourselves too. You often hear the phrase, ‘enjoy the journey,’ and that is certainly true. We should always do that, wherever we are going in life.

For me, the travelling is as important as the arriving. It’s all about never missing the moment, because life is made up of moments such as these.

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