Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Escalade Geneve 2009 (Briefing)

Here I am in Hungary, full of holiday spirit -- and my aunt's wonderful creations (think cheese rolls and pumpkin pie, bejgli and mákos guba). So in keeping with the above mentioned spirit and also because for the first time in days I have a couple of quiet minutes, I'll write a short review, as promised a long long time ago.

In short: it was amazing. I'm really really (really) crazy about festivals but I'd never had so much fun in my life. Despite the (incredibly) cold weather the Escalade topped St Stephen's Day (August 20, also the anniversary of the Hungarian state) and the Carnival of Nice.

The "trick" I guess is quite obvious. It's very well done. Lots of programs; lots of sights to see (including a secret medieval passage open only during the festival) and lots of things to do. Also, the Compagnie (de 1602) makes sure that the whole thing is as authentic as could be and they keep things rolling (and rocking).

So the whole thing started with us eating part of our marmite, a delicious little cauldron made of dark chocolate and stuffed with nougats and marzipan fruit. Then we set out for the Old Town. The fun usually starts on Saturday afternoon and lasts till Sunday evening. I can't really tell you about all the events first of all because it was extremely cold and second because there were so many we just couldn't attend all.

What I enjoyed most was the stalls selling mulled wine and locally made (and thus special) sweets, the tour of the Cathedral and the marches with all the musicians. Medieval muskets were fired during the performances of the Compagnie and groups of drummers and pipers were marching the streets of the Old Town all Sunday (it was amazing how those little children managed to be walking up and down the whole day!).

The festival offers some special treats as well. Besides selling some specialties only available during the festival season, members of the Compagnie offered a special tour of the Cathedral and its towers. I was told that normally only part of the towers is open for visitors but on Sunday afternoon we could even ring the (huge) bells. I had so much fun looking down from those heights and jumping a little every time a bell (rang by some visitor) shook the wooden top of the tower.

On Sunday we had lunch at the Armures. I loved their fondue (one of the best in Geneva) and the atmosphere of the place. Members of the Compagnie coming ad going only added to it.

The festival ended with the huge bonfire in Court St Pierre being lit and the crowd cheering to the old song Ce qu'e Laino. By that time we felt frozen and were happy to march home following the drummers and pipers through the little streets only to get home and go through the hundreds of pictures we'd taken, drinking tea and thinking of the next Escalade de Geneve -- something we'd never miss.

This post does no credit to the festival. I couldn't put it into words how cool it was and how much fun we had. So I won't even try. But I do remember that before deciding to participate I was browsing the web for days and couldn't find any decent account of the events. Whether it's worth visiting or not, etc. Now I can tell you: if you're wondering whether to participate, stop. It's totally worth it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Escalade Geneve 2009 (Videos)

As I'm leaving for Hungary tomorrow at dawn, I can't really comment on the weekend's fun. But I'll definitely do so as soon as I can. Till then: I've uploaded the videos we've made (of the different muskets being fired and the marches and the bonfire).

Enjoy! ;)

Thanx for reading! ;)


Friday, December 11, 2009

French language & culture =) Part II.

Season 1 Episode 2:
And then...

French language & culture =)

I've had lots of comments on the facebook thread I started with these pics. I'll just post them here for fun. With only adding that it's the third unit of a beginner's French coursebook. Enjoy! ;D

Escalade de Geneve -- It Begins Tonight

According to the official website the first march is tonight. It's the "Hommage aux Victimes" so it's more like a commemoration. As I have nothing better to do (thesis? well... XD) I'll go and see what it's all about. I can still go Christmas shopping if I don't like it that much (or feel too cold :D).

I have to stress the point that I love festivals no matter what the occasion is. And I simply adore the Swiss attitude to such things and life in general. I really do, I guess my posts can only confirm it. But I can't help my Hungarian sarcasm from surfacing here.

The basis of all the fun is actually a battle that took place during the night of December 11-12, in 1602. It was a long long time ago and as we all know the fighting style of the time didn't really lead to losses we're sadly used to today. Although I do understand (and am of the opinion) that one life lost is one too many and I can see the importance of this very battle, I still feel that there's something ironic about this festival.

As Switzerland was lucky(/smart/lazy/mean -- opinions vary) enough not to participate in the wars that shook much of the world to its core during the course of the last 100 years (well as a matter of fact we can go way back before that), this event is really something to remember and celebrate. Coming from Hungary, I'm used to much sadder commemorations, much longer lists of the dead. I don't mean to say that's any better =). I hate sadness as much as I hate war. (I hate hatred for that matter so I can't really get out of the paradigms...) But still, something about this "huge battle" here feels... too much ado for nothing.

On the other hand, if one takes a step back and puts facts and figures aside, it's easy to see the importance of this event. It's not really about a bunch of men in shining armor and women pouring their supper over the enemy's head. It's about freedom. And that's a totally different issue.

Everything we (wrongly or not) associate with Switzerland today has been built on this freedom. It wouldn't have meant much for Geneva to be lost that night, there were such skirmishes all around the border at the time. It would have been gained back. But what that night symbolizes is the constant struggle of the Swiss against various forces that have been trying to shred their exceptional freedom. I say they're right to defend it and celebrate its victory.

And on an even greater scale, this celebration of freedom can also mean something particularly personal to everyone. I'm not Swiss. Not yet =D But I do find my own struggles parallel to theirs. And I guess we all can in a way. Every day offers something to threaten our freedom and integrity. But we fight on. So although the whole issue might seem superficial and ridiculous at first sight -- think out of the... cauldron!

Celebrate (your) freedom!

OK, I'm off now. I have lots of things to do. And then I'll go and... escalate! =D

Nice weekend, guys! ;)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yuletide Spirit

It's not strictly connected to any geographical location. I can't even put a tag on it. :) But Christmas songs have put me in the mood so

Merry Christmas Everyone and spend these days, weeks, hours doing what you love with whom you love to do it. ;)

In a week I'm going back to Hungary to celebrate with my friends and family. I'll be back in January and I'll update all my adventures here. I'll be looking for a job so plenty of chances of those XD

Thinking of wearing a costume?

Actually I'm not planning to wear a costume at the Escalade but -- according to the videos on youtube -- lots of people do. I was looking for stuff for a New Year's party and found this great shop mentioned on some forum. It's in Passage de Terraillet (Geneva). I've forgot the name of the shop XD but if you're looking for masks, wigs, ears, noses, body paint -- or anything even remotely like these -- this is the place to go.
Have fun! ;)

Monday, December 7, 2009

De Sion á Nax

I've always been shocked by the unavailability of data on hikes in the region. I have absolutely no idea what's wrong with all the sites but somehow normal hikes are just overlooked in general. OK, I do get that if you live next to Mont Blanc and can put on your ski shoes an mittens 30 minutes after leaving home, you're not particularla interested in taking a walk in the forest/countryside/mountains. But some people are. I'm one, my BF another.

So we were looking for hikes around Sion like crazy. We'd been invited to a friend's chalet in Nax village for the weekend but we wanted to look around first. Upon finding a small amount of misleading information on the web (if you're for the famous big hikes you'll have plenty of info, though!) we just set out for Sion, the region's capital.

The train took us to Sion (in pic) in like 1h45 minutes, which was reeeeaaaally fast. On arrival we found the tourist office closed (closes at 12.30 on Saturdays, we got there at 12.40) so we just looked through one of their little leaflets. And there it was. La bisse de Clavau.

Actually les bisses are aqueducts used for the irrigation of vineyards in the region. The Valais is a special place and I was amazed by the magic that made this valley a sunny wine growing place in the midst of the huge snowy peaks. In summer this hike is a tour of different vineyards, which offer their products to be tasted, accompanied by a traditional meal. In winter you can gape at the mountain peaks, enjoy the view -- and reach smaller villages, following the aqueduct.

So that's exactly what we did. Sion has a lot to offer so we chose one of the four castles and visited the Chateau de Valere (the pic shows the view from there). Here we saw the magnificent chapel, an old old thing the like of which I'd never seen before. It hosts the world's oldest working organ, an amazing thing to see.

From the Chateau we got to the aqueduct (Rue des Chateau-Rue du Tunnel-Rue de Loeche-Rue du Mont-Chemin du Mont) and began walking and gazing =). Actually, the route is part of Regional Route 36. The waterproof hiking map available in bookstores is a must if you want to hike in Switzerland. Although routes are well signposted in general.

We soon got to St-Léonard (around 2 hours including stops and pictures =D), from where a small yellow marked route leaves for the mountain villages. (It's not hard to find, just cross the Rhone and walk straight towards the mountains till you get to the signposts.) According to the signpost we were supposed to get to Nax in 50 minutes but after like 30-40 minutes the path disappeared. As walking along the motor road would have been a nightmare (and it was getting darker) we hitchhiked the rest of the way up. However, later the guy who picked us up showed us that a couple of minutes later the trail continues upwards. You just have to walk a bit along the road.

As this was the first time I saw mountains like this and the first time since my childhood that I saw so much snow, you can imagine how much I enjoyed the weekend. My love for this country has only deepened and those icy peaks have given me the courage to stay determined and fight my way through whatever I have to. I simply feel at home here. I feel I've finally arrived.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

L'Escalade de Geneve (a MUST DO if you're around!)

I won't go on about the background and the program, both available here.
But I have to say I'm pretty excited! XD
I've already bought our Chocolate Cauldron from Auer (CHF26, yes I know!) an am looking forward to smashing it. I looked around for the best quality and this was the one I liked the best. I bought a really tiny one (size 3 I think) but as it's filled with marzipan thingies and as we're not that into sweets, it's enough for us.

Anyway, if in/around Geneva, don't miss this magnificent festival next weekend (starting Friday!).

I have to go & buy my ticket to Sion for Saturday. Coming back with all the details on the trip & hike! ;)


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Trees and Lights (Festival Arbres et Lumieres) UPDATE

It was marvelous! (It's still going on as far as I know so anyone interested can plunge into this magical world any night till January 3!) It was worth risking my health. I was struggling with a cold and due to this two-hour walk in the icy wind it turned into a full time flu :( But now I'm feeling better -- and ready to share with you the fruits of ... well, my craziness...