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Pain aux raisins to be cheerful Cheese us, christ

This is part 3 of the diary for the trip my girlfriend Helen and I took to Annecy, in December 2019. It might be the last part, I guess we’ll all find out in a few paragraphs and photos time.

We start on Sunday morning. Having eyed up a good looking bakery on Saturday, Helen duly went out to fetch pastries while I wrote the previous diary entry. Turns out the pastries are every bit as massive as they appeared through the glass: my pain aux raisin is the size of my iPad Pro. And it is DELICIOUS.

Also a Coke Zero, hurrah! Accordingly, I was in fine form for when we came to leave the hotel and go visit the market. No, not the Christmas market we’ve already gone through about 7 times in the prior day and a half: the big Sunday market that was taking up pretty much all space in the entirety of Annecy old town. Holy shit!

It’s insanely crowded, more so than any big sporting event or whatever that I’ve been to in the past. There are many, many, many stalls selling cheeses and meats.

Accordingly, the whole town now smells fucking delicious. The stalls that aren’t selling cheese or meat appear to be selling either clothing, bags, or – strangely, given the menu of every restaurant we’ve seen – fruit and vegetables. We have no idea what people are doing with such things.

Because the streets of the old town get progressively narrower as the canals and river reach the lake, the market gets progressively more crowded. So much so, we can’t even examine the stalls on one side because it’s just too much of a crush to get through. Basically it’s just a couple of giant, slow queues and we’ve no choice but to follow ours over a bridge, to where further stalls are mercifully less busy. Thus, we stop to buy cheese and meat before carrying on alongside the water, beyond the nice floral displays we’d not seen before.

Now heading away from the lake again, we end up at another bridge with more stalls selling other goods - crafts, owl statues, lighters, hats, mattresses, sets of lounge chairs. Y’know, the kinds of things you go to a crowded market in a pedestrianised zone to buy.

Realising we could do with some cash, we turn right into the more permanent shopping area in order to hunt for an ATM. My interest is immediately piqued by the shop selling all kinds of weaponry, that offers discount firearms once a week.

At this point we’re somewhat lacking in a plan. There’s a boat we want to catch at 3pm, but we’re done with the market at, like, 11:30am or something. Having had breakfast we’re not that bothered by ensuring we can get seated for lunch at midday. So, sod it, as with Saturday we’ll exploit the good weather and go look at the lake. We want to be sure of where to catch the boat anyway.

Mind you, we’d found the “port” the day before, so it was pretty easy to find. But hey, there’s another path around the lake in the opposite direction to yesterday, so let’s get some more exercise. It’s spectacular, again, and today there are plenty of people out for a run or a cycle too. After 20 minutes or so we get to the private marina with slightly posher boats than the little row boats in town. The setting is alright...

Here, we take a quick look at Google maps to see if it’s worth carrying on. It’s kinda not, at least next to the water, but apparently directly behind us there’s a free animal park. Hey, we like animals! But...hmm... why does the walking route cross what appears to be a road with 3 hairpin bends? OK, so there’s a hill, but can it really be that steep?

Turns out the answer is yes. A very steep street gives way to a set of stairs, at the top of which we’re only about 25% of the way there. Across the road is another, even steeper street. We’ve no appetite for doing this, and likely not enough time either. So screw it, we’ll enjoy the views from here before walking back – a less steep route – into town.

OK so the view from this height is worse than all the views by the lake. Great. The locals don’t appear to agree with us though, given their bench placement.

Right. Anyway. Back into town and by now we’re a little hungry. Obviously, having missed midday we’re now doomed to walk past full restaurant after full restaurant, while weaving between all the market stall workers packing their stuff up into white vans.

Pretty much the furthest eatery away from us is actually one we’d put on a shortlist the previous day, and when we reach it we notice through the door that a two women are imminently leaving. Stealing a march on another couple who’ve just consulted the external menu too, we go through the door and a woman barks at us a l’etage. Pretty sure that means “go upstairs”, so we go upstairs where a man immediately points us towards the only empty table. Huzzah!

The reason we’d earmarked this place is because of one speciality they pimp on the blackboard outside: Mont D’or. The menu finds it necessary to explicitly point out that this will involve 200 grams of cheese per person. That’s fine, fromagez moi, garçon! Drinks wise Helen asks for a half bottle of white, and after some interrogation I opt for a bottled French beer.

He comes back with a bottle of Heineken with the word Allemagne on it. Uh, what? A Dutch beer with the French word for Germany written on the bottle? He apologises without me even saying anything, and seems quite surprise that I’m OK drinking it. But anyway, where’s our food?

Aha! Here’s our food. 400 grams of melted cheese – which is outrageously gorgeous – accompanied by a plate full of three kinds of meat, some big potatoes, and a bit of leafy salad with gherkins. I still don’t like the thin ham that’s like prosciutto, but everything else is cracking.

I’m never offered another beer, which irks me a little but whatever. I don’t have the most space left anyway. We ask for the bill and he says OK, then doesn’t bring it. A few minutes later he explains we need to go downstairs to pay, so we do.

At this point, we are the fullest, most bloated people on earth. Helen adds “a bit pissed” to this feeling too, what with that half bottle. Neither of us feel like we might ever eat again. Thankfully, it’s about 2.20pm by this time and since we’ve a 3pm appointment with a boat it’s a requirement of our itinerary that we go for a bit of a walk.

Back at the lake, the boat is there waiting. The ticket office is shut, so we assume we pay when boarding – if we board at all, that is. The timetable says they’ll leave at 3pm “minimum 10 persons”, and given how few others there are waiting we think it’s a real possibility that it won’t run.

Our fears are unfounded. A couple of people on benches are waiting for the boat, and a proper queue starts when a group of around 25 rowdy English women turn up and loiter by the ramp. That in turns causes a bunch of other, mostly English, people to join said queue.

At 2.45pm, on schedule, two fellas emerge from the boat and start to board people. Turns out you need tickets in advance, you don’t just hand over cash. Oh. So I’m directed to the boat company’s office, just over the street, where a woman behind a desk is selling tickets to all those folk who didn’t understand the rules. Weirdly, this happens to be mostly French folk rather than any of the other English passengers. In fact, when I get back with our tickets, Helen tells me another French woman had a bit of a go at the guy on the boat: why aren’t there signs? Why is the ticket office shut? How were were supposed to know? Etc etc.

Anyway, no drama - I return with tickets in plenty of time, and we grab a couple of seats out front on the bottom deck. Without anything approaching a safety announcement, we depart, prompting the two of us to very quickly swap the windy and cold front of the boat to the shielded rear, watching Annecy disappear into the distance.

We’re under no illusion what this boat trip is going to mostly involve: incredible views, the same as the ones from the walk yesterday, just closer up. And so it is.

A bit more wind today has brought out a few more sailors, though still barely any.

There’s an audio guide over the tannoy in both French and English. They tell us stuff like the width and length and depth of the lake, and what altitude we’re at, before spending most of the rest of the trip pointing out hotels and restaurants on the waterfront.

I do love me a mountain.

The top deck is mostly full, occupied almost exclusively by old women jostling for position to take photos of landscape and/or themselves.

Because it’s winter, the boat just does a short 1hr circuit of only part of the lake. The tannoy announces the names of some of the mountains and stuff. One of them used to have a cable car up to the top, where there was a restaurant (of course), but due to safety standards they had to close it all. Shame, because these mountains are cool.

At the turning point, we go past this building. I’ve actually forgotten what it is, I think it’s privately owned but used to be a monastery or something. To be honest I’m not that arsed, I just know it’s yet another spectacular setting in a slew of spectacular settings.

The route back is alongside a far more boring coast, however. We’re told that due to its location, one village is the windiest place in the vicinity; they also point out a water treatment work to us, while explaining there’s a sewage pipe all the way round the lake’s border. Laws have, since the 60s or something(?), kept the lake free of pollution and they claim it’s one of the purest and cleanest in the whole of Europe. It certainly does seem very nice.

An hour is about enough for the tour, truth told, and a 2 hour one might have got very boring - especially since the onboard drinks offering is soft only.

By the time we get off we’re still not hungry and still need to walk off the earlier cheese gluttony, so decide to head to the bit of the market where the ice rink and stuff are. Next to it is a modern shopping centre, which we go in so Helen can go queue up for a piss only to be queue jumped by Santa. Oi! Santa! What you bloody playing at?

Outside we attempt, several times, to buy a drink at one of the many drinks stalls. It’s difficult, it’s way too crowded, and we’re put off by the “band” playing above one of the bars. Accordions and very-much-sub-Edith-Piaf singing. No thanks. So y’know what, let’s walk back to the other market again and get a couple of mulled wines, which we drink near one of the “We <heart> Annecy” cable cars you can sit in.

Actually though, Helen fancies some cold wine in one of the wine caves we’ve seen around the city. So we walk, and walk, past many closed wine caves until reaching Beer o’Clock. Come on then. Misunderstanding the reload offer, I get €33 of credit (10% extra) rather than the €30 for €27 (10% discount) I’d expected. Oh well, I guess we need to drink €33 worth of beer...

The place is virtually empty so we can get more comfortable seats than the previous day, and the credit is easily drunk because I upgrade to some of the more expensive double IPAs and stuff. God I love Beer o’Clock.

When time comes to leave there, I am comfortably drunk. In fact, I could do with some food. Helen is still convinced she might never eat again, and we are definitely not going to tick off raclette from her list. Well, fine, but I’m going to at least have a raclette pretzel – and it’s bloody lovely.

There is slight drizzle now, and it’s, what, 7.30pm or so I guess. Helen does manage to find space for a sausage sandwich (diot) and we get our final mulled wine of the trip. There are very few people around by now, by far the fewest we’ve seen at any time and in fact a bunch of the stalls are closing. While debating where to visit in December 2020, I move the discussion to when: how about we avoid weekends, which are horrifically crowded? It’s much better to have all this space.

Anyway, the mulled wine. I have a skieur, the €4 variant which got Helen instantly pissed on Saturday and we’d not managed to figure out why. Well, this time we watch the guy pour some genepi into it. That’s that stuff that’s from the same plant as absinthe, and was responsible for the greenness of my green beer “The Green” on Friday. Cheers!

Annecy has been and is wonderful. This was an EXCELLENT trip, we’d both loved it, and topped off here on Sunday evening by me getting that kind of joyfully-pissed – rather than rowdy pissed or angry pissed or sleepy pissed.

Not sure I needed the nightcap in the hotel bar though. Nor the beer in the room, nor half of Helen’s maple flavour beer she was too tired to drink. Oops. Still, starting a journey home with a hangover is hardly virgin territory...

Created By
Darren Foreman
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