Category Archives: Around Europe with a Camera:

Discovering Evasion Mont Blanc and evasive buses

One of the added bonuses of a Chamonix Season Lift Pass, is the chance to discover three other winter resorts in Haute-Savoie. The next big winter station down the valley is  Evasion Mont Blanc, a series of linked resorts including St Gervais, Megeve, Combloux and La Giettaz. In all 445 km of pistes. This is a photo essay of Evasion Mont Blanc. The photos are all from the ski area, not the story of the journey there and back. If you are not interested in bus journeys that don’t turn out as planned, just skip the text and enjoy the photos. I will be submitting this post for #MonPics on Twitter as they were all taken this weekend.

At the booking office in Chamonix, I booked a return bus ticket to Megeve, leaving Chamonix station at 7am the following day. Unfortunately the girl who issued my ticket got a lot of things wrong, as I would find out as the discovery day progressed.

Panorama from Mont Joux
Panorama from Mont Joux

Amazingly, I managed to get up at 6am and drag myself to the station for 6h45. Boarding the bus for Chamonix, I was told that I’d have to change at Le Fayet which sounded reasonable, as the destination matrix on the bus indicated that it was bound for Geneva Airport.  The bus departed on time and 5 minutes later, stopped at the Bus Stop outside my apartment. I could have saved a 15 minute walk if only I’d asked!

Piste with Mont Blanc backdrop
Piste with Mont Blanc backdrop

Arriving at Le Fayet, the lady in the ticket office pointed out that there was no service to Megeve on Saturdays. I asked if the bus passed the Télécabine at St Gervais and was told no. She explained that I could get there though. So unconcerned, I boarded the 8h30 bus to Les Contamines. At St Gervais I caught the free ski bus to the lift. I presented my documentation at the cash desk and my  pass was activated for Evasion Mont Blanc, or so I thought.

Mont Blanc from Mont Joux
Mont Blanc from Mont Joux

I boarded the lift and started exploring the area. It was bitterly cold with tiny ice crystals floating in the air and glistening in the sun like diamonds. Certainly no hidden gems that day. Up on the top of the mountains the view over the cloud filled valleys was magnificent.

Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois
Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois

Throughout the day, I stopped more than is usual for me, to get some photos of the views. Many had Mont Blanc and the rest of the peak of the Mont Blanc Massif as a backdrop, but the Aravis and other mountain chains also figured. From here the lofty heights of the summit of Mont Blanc can be appreciated more than in Chamonix, where the closer, lower peaks look much taller  from the bottom of the Chamonix Valley.

Moguls at Megeve
Moguls at Megeve

Managing to time my lunch with my arrival at Megeve, so that I could eat it on the resort ski bus, I made my way to Jaillet.  At Jaillet Télécabine, the electronic pass reader rejected my pass and so I enquired at the cash desk about what the problem was. The cashier informed me that my pass had only been activated for the St Gervais ski area. She could do nothing about it as a different lift company operated this sector of Evasion Mont Blanc. I chose to return to Megeve and keep exploring the St Gervais area.

Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois
Mont Blanc from Mont Arbois

After a day of riding, I caught the 17h30 bus back to Le Fayet. This was exactly the time the bus to Chamonix called at Le Fayet. I managed by catching the train to Chamonix,  but had to pay 5.10 euros for a train ticket. Sometimes though, travel plans going wrong don’t spoil your day, or am I just speaking for myself?

There are more photos of Evasion Mont Blanc (minus Combloux and La Giettaz obviously) in the gallery. Some are 3D anaglyphs requiring Red / Cyan glasses to appreciate the 3D. Click on the thumbnails to see a larger photo size.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Deserted beaches, an ancient settlement and islands

This photo essay accompanies my latest post for the Visit Britain Superblog. “In the footsteps of Monty Halls on North Uist“. The Udal Peninsula was one of Monty Halls favourite spots in the Uists in Scotland’s magnificent Western Isles.

View from Udal Peninsula across Harris Sound

View across Harris Sound to the mountainous Isle of Harris.

boat

A boat moored a long way from the nearest habitation.

Pebbles on beach somewhere near elusive cross on wall

Pebbles on the beach near the elusive “Cross on the wall”.

Good sign. Yellow moss on rock

Yellow moss apparently only grows in unpolluted environments.

Ancient wheelhouse

One of the best examples of a wheelhouse in North Uist. This spot was occupied for over 5000 years.

Crop or wild flowers?

Never managed to find out if these were grown as a crop or were natural. They completely covered a crofter’s field.

All photos by author.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Exploring Brussels’ Winter Wonders

It is the overhead snippets of conversation, that tells me that Winter Wonders or Plaisirs d’Hiver in French, is popular with visitors. “I was like…” the repeated “like” in twenty something females’ conversations. The oral version of a Facebook Wall. Or “I am lucky, as I can catch a train and be here in less than two hours” uttered by a fifty something male, identifies them as having English as a first language. You will often find English spoken in conversations in Brussels, but away from the main visitor attractions. It is a common means of communication between speakers whose first language is differs, such as between the Flemish and the Finnish.So having established that the Winter Wonders attracts lots of travellers from outside Belgium, let me give a brief overview of what is on offer. The event opened on the last Saturday in November and runs until January 1st.

Christmas Market at place Sainte Catherine, Brussel
Starting from Central Station, head towards the Bourse and you should find a blue trailer (caravan in UK), this is the Information Centre for the Winter Wonders Festival. I suggest you pick up the Winter Wonders brochure / map published before proceeding. Notice the smell of Brussels waffles and mulled wine from the nearby stalls and perhaps listen to the musicians on the corner.

There is an abundance food stalls around the Bourse. I tried some Vin Chaud (Mulled Wine) from the Belgian wines stand, but there is abundant alternative warming drinks on offer nearby. If you are visiting Brussels for the first time, you could sample a Geuze at Á la Becasse or Le Cirio, which are both very close to here.

Steam Punk Roundabout
Across the other side of Boulevard Anspach,  light frame human figures float over rue Paul Devaux. These are “Les Voyageurs de Cédric Le Borgne” which have toured the world for about five years. A night their wire framed bodies are illuminated like ghosts watching the revellers at Winter Wonders.

Continuing on to Place Sainte Catherine you will probably encounter the Greek Zone, in the small square by the entrance to Saint Catherine’s church. Here a number of stalls sell Greek produce under the lines of blue and white flags. Greece is the guest of honour at this year’s festival, last year it was Morocco.  You will also find the first of the two Steam Punk carousels by Andrea’s Magic roundabouts.

You will need to walk to the centre of Place Saint Catherine to find the second children’s roundabout. You will find most of the Christmas Market stalls here as well as more refreshment stands. The Big Wheel is the most striking feature  found at the opposite end of the square to the Church forms a striking backdrop.  The Ice Skating Rink is one of the most popular attractions is in front of the wheel. There is also the perennial Ice Monster, which I find tempting me to enter its opening and closing mouth. Shame it is for children, but I’ll go looking for my Ice Monsters in Chamonix. The children’s sledding run for children is also found down this end.
Piste groomer, Brussels
From 10 December until 25 December snow will hide the street of Mont Des Arts and the only way down will be on skis or a snowboard.  The surprise for me when I visited yesterday was seeing a piste groomer  and a team of men building a magic carpet ski uplift.

Finally, the attraction marked number one on the Winter Wonders brochure is Electrabel Nights.  Using environmentally sensitive technology, light is projected onto the Hotel de Ville and all over Grand Place, while beams reach up into the sky in time with classical music, but look out for an orchestra and choir performing AI.  Even the Christmas Tree lights are synchronised with the music. Don’t leave without taking a look at the realistic Nativity Scene in the full size stable.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Daily photo: Val-Dieu, Belgium

The abbey of Val-Dieu was founded in 1216 by Cistercian monks. Surviving wars, floods and moral crises, it was temporarily dissolved by the French Revolution. Then in 1844 with the aid of the church and the last surviving monk, it was re-established and flourished again for another 150 years. The last monks departed in the spring of 2001, but were replaced by a thriving Christian community. It is now a place of pilgrimage for Christians and tourists alike. The Val-Dieu cheese and beer is still produced here.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Can Street Art improve a city?

Street art

Bonon spider, Brussels
Last week I visited the Ixelles Museum here in Brussels before their exhibition on Street Art closed and is replaced by a Dubuffet exhibition. Bonom was featured heavily, with insights into how he plans his pieces. The photo above shows a spider on a concrete building by Chapelle in Brussels. I think it adds an organic touch to an otherwise clinically cold concrete building.

The area around Chapelle Station is covered in Street Art and graffiti. I’m not sure that all of it has a positive effect. I can’t see much artistic expression in some of the tags in this next photo.
Street Art and graffiti, Chapelle, Brussels
The monster series of officially sanctioned Street Art appears to me to have been semi defaced by other taggers wanting to make their presence felt.
On my cycle trips around Brussels looking for pieces I often end up speaking to locals who have been at the receiving end of these artists / taggers. One I spoke to felt nothing but contempt for the artist who placed a monster on the side of his house. I could see his point as well.
Do you have any views on the subject?

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Daily Photo: The Sequence by Arne Quinze in winter

The Sequence by Arne Quinze

The Sequence
The art of Arne Quinze involves a lot of timber nailed together from an aerial platform. This piece is in the government quarter of Brussels. It is built above the street so that it is possible to cycle or even drive a car underneath. This photo was taken in December 2010 when Brussels had a good coating of fresh snow. Missing the snow right now.

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

A Scottish Magical Mystery

A Scottish Magical Mystery

 

Coach @ North Uist
Mystery coach, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland


You come across the strangest things while walking in the Outer Hebrides. You can walk all day and not meet another soul, but then, parked up in the middle of the croft is a coach; I immediately start wondering how it got there.

My theory is that a party of tourists from St Albans came to the islands one July and parked up in a grassy field for a picnic. Little did they know that it wasn’t to be their picnic, but that they would be eaten alive by the locals, in a plot lifted from a low budget horror movie. It is a known fact that the midges are at their most bloodthirsty in July. 😉

If you had to think up a story of how these coaches end up empty in the middle of nowhere, what would you come up with? I will not accept answers like: “The crofter saw the old coach on ebay for £4.99 and couldn’t resist it, so bought it and put it there until he thought of a use for it.” Does placing a coach in places like these benefit or degrade the environment?

 

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Daily Photo: Newgrange, Ireland

Newgrange Passage tomb, Ireland


I was bowled over by the Newgrange site. Not just the rock carvings or the way the light illuminates the inner chamber on the winter solstice. No, I was impressed by the fact that even though it was older than Stonehenge at over 5000 years old, it was still weatherproof inside. Now think for a minute of the structures we build today. Will they keep out the Irish rain in 5000 years time?

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Daily photo: Mont des Arts in the Brussels Summer Festival

Mont des Arts, Brussels

Mont des Arts
The Brussels Summer Festival is on this week, it closes with Stromae on Sunday night. Earlier this year I uploaded a guide to Belgian Music Festival. I have been busy enjoying some of my favourite Belgian groups and discovering some new ones, even missing #TogChat on Twitter to do so (well what would you do in my shoes?).
This year there is a new venue on Mont des Arts. The road has been closed in front of the equestrian statue of Albert 1 and a stage set up past the statue of Elizabeth. I am blessed that I can walk to the concerts from our apartment as it entails a very low carbon footprint and allows me to down some Belgain beers if I wish. This was the view as I returned home from watching Great Mountain Fire, last night.
The stage is in the background behind the avenue of trees on the right of the picture. For more photos from the Brussels Summer Festival, have a look at my Flickr Collection.

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.

Photo essay: A walk from Dalbeag beach to Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

A walk from Dalbeag beach to Shawbost, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Dalmor beach

Instead of a single daily photo, today I have uploaded a number from a short walk along the coast on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. There is a waymarked trail. Just look up the information boards and follow the waymark posts. It is possible to walk from Gearannan to Bragar (10 miles in all). That’s enough writing for now. I hope you enjoy the photos.

DalbeagCoast walk, Isle of LewisCoast walk, Isle of LewisCoast walk, Isle of LewisOf course as we were walking on an August weekend the beaches were busier than usual as you can see from the first photo. I enjoyed watching the sea birds and discovering the numerous natural arches.

 

 

 

About John Williams

John Williams looks at travel from a responsible consumer's perspective. He is doesn't accept hosted trips, so don't expect gushing reports of experiences that neither he, you, nor our planet can afford. He, is the first to acknowledge that when it comes to sustainable travel, he has a lot to learn. TravelCrunch is a platform for sharing his learning, but if you have any tips or disagreements feel free to air them in the comments.