Un autre jour en Suisse

Marie-Françoise had suggested a plan for another quiet day in the local area. That did not require an early start so we had arranged to go to meet her at 10 am. Majella and I had breakfast as usual but allowed Callum to sleep until after 8:30 am. He wanted to try Swiss McDonalds and our plan was to let him have breakfast there before we started the day.

We were in the car soon after 9 am heading for McDonalds in Sierre. We arrived at McDonalds to find that it opened at 10 am – too late for us today. We entered a nearby variety store where we browsed some interesting aisles and Callum managed to buy a gift but there was no food there.

A nearby shopping centre had a small general market where Callum managed to find something to eat for breakfast. By then it was approaching 10 am and we headed for Salamins’ with a short deviation past our apartment to ensure we had all we needed for the day.

When we left them yesterday evening the plan had been for Roland and Michel to stay at home today and rest while Marie-Françoise escorted us. However, Michele had decided that he would come with us and generously pay for the activities of the day. Roland would have a quiet day at home.

Our first stop was at Lac Souterrain, an underground lake, at St Leonard just over 10 km down the valley. We parked and walked up the gentle hill to the entrance to the lake. Once Marie-Françoise had arranged admission we browsed the souvenir store while we waited for our turn.

The lake is in a cave at the foot of a hillside and was discovered following an earthquake in the 1940s. It is 300 m long, 20 m wide and 12 m deep in places with the top of the cave a similar distance above. Access was down some steps and onto a boat which our multi-lingual guide rowed slowly to the far end and back offering commentary along the way. The temperature in the cave is a constant 15ºC and the water is cooler at 11ºC. We were glad we were wearing light jackets. The lake water is crystal clear and is home to some large fish that know where and when to appear for food tossed by the guide.

From St Leonard we drove on to Sion, the capital and largest city of Valais, where we parked and walked into the old city. Marie-Françoise led us to a street with several restaurants and, after a brief inspection, she selected one in which we ate lunch. Callum and Michel had pizzas with cheese and ham. Majella, Marie-Françoise and I had tarte flambée, which is a local dish of pastry covered with cream, onion, cheese, and ham. The pizzas were served first and shared and then 3 tartes flambée were served in succession and shared. By the time we were done we had all eaten amply.

The afternoon was spent exploring the Valere museum and basilica. That required a walk up the hill which we did slowly after lunch. The museum had 27 rooms with small themed exhibits in each tracing the history of the region from prehistoric times to the present day. There were devices with audio commentary in French and English to explain what we were seeing.

We were able to visit 12 rooms in the museum before it was time to walk further up the hill to the basilica where we were booked for a guided tour for just our group. The young man who was our guide spoke good English and was able to describe the history of the building and the artworks on its walls. The first parts of the church were built from 1100 in Romanesque style and later additions were in Gothic style. It contains the oldest working organ in the world, installed in the 1400s and modified slightly in the 1700s. The frescos, paintings, and fine detailed wood carvings were all interesting to see and learn about. Then it was back to the museum to complete the remaining rooms.

Once we had completed our tour of the museum we walked back down to the old town where we paused at a cafe for cold drinks – tonic water, apple juice, or coke. Then it was time to go back to the cars and drive toward Sierre.

Navigation was set for the McDonalds that we had tried earlier in the day so that Callum could get his taste comparison. As we approached McDonalds we saw a convenient service station where we filled up with fuel. I asked about a motorway vignette but drew another blank. As best i could tell with my limited French I need to find a more typical service station as this one was attached to a car dealership.

Callum bought his McDonalds as take-away and managed to consume much of it on the way back to our apartment. There we had some time to relax before going back to Salamins’ at 7 pm for dinner.

Dinner prepared by Marie-Françoise was cous-cous with a mix of cooked vegetables and pieces of beef and chicken enlivened by salsa or Tabasco sauce. Callum struggled to eat his and explained that was due to our having taken him to McDonalds which he rated as a pretty average 7 compared to what he had tasted elsewhere. The Swiss have suggested we have McDonalds tomorrow evening after our day of activity. We think national pride is at stake.

Dessert was icecream with chocolate mousse and whipped cream. Wine, red and white, was served with dinner alongside water enlivened by mint and other herbs. Once dinner was done, Michel fetched medicaments in the form of a variety of fruit flavoured schnapps.

Sometime after 9 pm we helped clear up and then headed back to our apartment. We have another relaxed 10 am start tomorrow.