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Brian's Diary
Life in Geneva and other places
Sunday, the last day of 2017, in contrast to recent days was forecast to be sunny and a relatively balmy 11C. And so it proved to be. Tino and I (Kevin was feeling unwell) decided to make the journey to Solothurn, reputedly 'the finest Baroque town in Switzerland, where Italian grandeur is combined with French charm and German practicality'. The drive took a little over 2 hours.


The town also which also gives its name to the surrounding canton remained Catholic in the aftermath of the Reformation and throughout the religious conflicts that divided Switzerland in the centuries that followed. For this reason from the 16th to the 18th centuries, it was the residence of the French king’s ambassador. The town contains many Baroque and Renaissance buildings, including several renowned religious buildings especially St.Urs Cathedral and the nearby Jesuit church.

St Urs cathedral

Interior of the cathedral

Interior of Jesuit church

We wandered through the medieval part of the town. Main sights included a couple of the original town gates and sections of the original town walls, the 13th century clock tower, the many fountains, each with its distinctive statue, the town hall (Rathaus) and the promenade along the Aare river.

Biel gate

13th century clock tower - the oldest building in Solothurn

Typical statue atop one of the many fountains found throughout the old town

Rathaus (Town hall)

After a lunch, (a kebab and drink), we returned to the car and drove to the carpark on the outskirts of the town from where we could walk to the Hermitage which is situated in the Verena gorge. The hermitage is named after the 3rd-century St. Verena, a Coptic Christian who was born in Egypt but is believed to have joined the Theban Legion’s mission to the Roman province of Rhaetia (partly located in modern-day Switzerland) and eventually came to live in a cave near the site of the hermitage, helping fellow young girls in the area. This mystical gorge and romantic streamside hermitage continues to be maintained by a real live hermit who was hired by the town in 2016 and whom Tino spoke with briefly!

Walking path to the Hermitage

It was a pleasant 20 min walk following a winding path through the forest alongside a gushing stream. It was obviously a very popular walk to judge by the number of young families and elderly 'pilgrims' whom we encountered along the way.

The Hermitage

Time did not permit a visit to one of the several museums or galleries. It may be worth a return visit - perhaps in the summer with the bicycles when we could explore the neighbouring countryside and villages as well.
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The break between Christmas and the New Year provides an opportunity to do a little more sightseeing - subject to the limitations of weather and limited hours of daylight of course!

The forecast for the week was not particularly promising however, except for Boxing Day which was predicted to be fine after some early rain. The forecast proved accurate. We left Gaillard at 8:30am in steady rain which persisted as we drove through the mountains past Bellegarde and Nantua, but which began to clear as we descended and entered the Dombes region, between the Rhone and Saone rivers, north of Lyon.

Our first destination was the village of Ars-sur-Formans. This was an obscure, remote village of 320 people in 1818 when John Vianney was assigned to the village as its priest (Curé). Born to a peasant family in Dardilly near Lyon in 1786, he aspired to be a priest. However his lack of education, due in large part to the disruptions of the French Revolution and its aftermath, proved to be a serious obstacle to his acceptance into a seminary. He persevered and was accepted, but his studies were interrupted when he was conscripted into the army. Instead he joined a group of deserters and remained hidden in a remote village for 14 months until an amnesty granted to all deserters allowed him to resume his studies. No great scholar, Vianney's piety was great enough to compensate for his ignorance and persuaded the bishop to ordain him in 1815.

Assigned to Ars, he became lost trying to find the town and had to be pointed in the right direction by a shepherd boy, Antoine Givre. A statue commemorating this meeting is to be found on the outskirts of the town. One of the inscriptions on the base of statue is an alleged quote from the curé: "You have shown me the way to Ars, I will show you the way to heaven".

Statue of the meeting of the Curé d'Ars and the shepherd Antoine Givre

The statue also records that Antoine died 5 days after the curé on 9th August 1859, and an additional plaque records a gathering of his descendants at the spot on the 150th anniversary of his death on 9th August 2009.

As parish priest, Vianney realized that the Revolution's aftermath had resulted in religious ignorance and indifference, due to the devastation wrought on the Catholic Church in France. At the time, Sundays in rural areas were spent working in the fields, or dancing and drinking in taverns. Over time he brought about a radical spiritual transformation of the community and its surroundings through his saintly life, mortification, his persevering ministry in the sacrament of confession, and his ardent devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Vianney came to be known internationally, and people from distant places began traveling to consult him as early as 1827. By 1855, the number of pilgrims had reached 20,000 a year. During the last ten years of his life, he spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional.

He died in 1859, and in 1925 John Mary Vianney was canonized by Pope Pius XI who in 1929 named him as patron saint of parish priests. His body is preserved in the basilica that erected after his death. The building incorporates the structure of the original parish church. Adjacent to the church is the house where the Curé d'Ars lived which displays its original furnishings and personal objects associated with him.

View of the basilica in Ars which incorporates the original church

Preserved body of John Vianney in a side chapel in the basilica at Ars

After visiting the basilica where we viewed his body, the curés house and the visitor centre and following a stroll around the town, we decided to head for Chatillon-sur-Challarone, a much bigger town about 20 minutes drive away where we planned to have some lunch. (Very little was on offer in Ars nor in Chatillon as it turned out, many businesses were closed for the period between Christmas and new Year). Eventually we found a rather 'up-market' restaurant in a hotel in a converted 14th century building. We ordered the 'plat de jour' (plate of the day) which was reasonably priced. Everything else on the menu seemed very expensive! Following lunch we set off to explore the town.

Chatillon-sur-Challarone has some well preserved medieval buildings, the ruins of a fort on a hill overlooking the town and also has an association with St Vincent de Paul.

Example of a medieval house in Chatillon-sur-Challarone


Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) was a French priest famous for his dedication to serving the poor. He was declared a saint in 1737. After his ordination he continued his studies but was captured and sold as a slave in North Africa in 1605. After two years as a slave he managed to escape and returned to France where he served as a priest first in Clichy, then in Paris where he first became concerned at the plight of the poor.

In 1817 he was assigned to Chatillon and it was here that the need of organization in work for the poor suggested to de Paul the forming of a confraternity among the women of his parish. It was so successful that it spread from the rural districts to Paris, where noble ladies often found it hard to give personal care to the needs of the poor. The confraternity still exists today and I met a couple of representatives at the recent meeting I attended in Rome.

Church of St-Andre in Chatillon-sur-Challarone

In walking the streets we visited the church where Vincent de Paul served as priest and saw the nearby house where he lived as well as the old market and the only surviving gateway to the town.

Vincent later returned to Paris where he founded a separate religious congregation known as the Daughters of Charity. By 1789 France had 426 houses and the sisters numbered about 6000 in Europe. In 2017, 18,000 sisters serve in ninety-four countries, addressing needs of food, water, sanitation and shelter; and through their sustaining works including health care, HIV/AIDS, migrant and refugee assistance, and education.

House in which St Vincent de Paul lived. Now a convent.

Vincent was also zealous in conducting retreats for clergy at a time when there was great laxity, abuse, and ignorance among them. He was a pioneer in clerical training and was instrumental in establishing seminaries.

Around 200 years later, in 1833, Frederic Ozanam founded a global network of charity, inseparable from the ideal of justice and based on Catholic social doctrine. He named his society after St Vincent de Paul and the society has since spread throughout the world continuing its original mission of reaching out to the poor in a spirit of respect and brotherhood.

I also walked up to the ramparts of the ruined castle which dates from the year 1000. Access to the ruins castle itself was restricted so I had to be content with admiring it from its lower ramparts.

Ruins of Castle and fortress at Chatillon-sur-Challarone

Fortunately the weather had remained fine and there was even weak sunshine for much of the day. We began our return journey a little before 4:00pm and reached Gaillard at around 5:15pm. A successful day.
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My return flight to Geneva was not until the evening so in the morning I decided to visit one place i had not visited previously - Castel St Angelo. The building was initially commissioned by the Roman Emperor Hadrian as a mausoleum for himself and his family. It was later used by the popes as a fortress and castle, and is now a museum. It was once the tallest building in Rome.

The visit took a couple of hours. Urns containing the ashes of Hadrian (d138 AD) and his family and several emperors who succeeded him. The room where the ashes were probably located, deep in the heart of the building, could be visited but the urns and ashes were scattered by Visigoth looters during Alaric's sacking of Rome in 410, and the original decorative bronze and stone statuary were thrown down upon the attacking Goths when they besieged Rome in 537.

The building was converted to a military fortress in 401, with the central mausoleum being surrounded by walls and towers. The popes converted the structure into a castle, beginning in the 14th century; Pope Nicholas III connected the castle to St Peter's Basilica by a covered fortified corridor called the Passetto di Borgo. The fortress was the refuge of Pope Clement VII from the siege of Charles V's Landsknechte during the Sack of Rome (1527). The Papal state also used Sant'Angelo as a prison; Giordano Bruno, for example, was imprisoned there for six years.

The castle became a museum in 1901.

Castel St Angelo

View from ramparts Castel St Angelo

View from ramparts Castel St Angelo

Ponte Sant'Angelo. Bridge used by pilgrims visiting St Peters and where they were blessed en route by the Pope who was living in the castle

Papal bedchamber Castel St Angelo

Interior Castel St Angelo

Interior Castel St Angelo

Interior Castel St Angelo
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I have visited Rome a number of times previously and it is one of my favourite cities.
After my attendance at the papal audience I returned to the Brothers residence at Marcantonio Colonna for some lunch before setting off for a walk around Rome.

One of the good things about Rome is that the main sites are within walking distance. I had no set plan but just wandered happy to mingle with the crowds and soak up the atmosphere. Inevitably I ended up visiting some of the key sites all of which I had seen several times before, but it was still enjoyable to revisit them.

Rome - Spanish Steps

Rome - Trevi Fountain

Rome - Victor Emmanuel monument

Rome - Forum

Rome - Colosseum

Rome - Arch of Constantine

Rome - Parthenon

Rome - Piazza Navona
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A couple of days after my return to Geneva I set off again to attend a meeting of Catholic-inspired NGOs in Rome. I stayed with the Brothers community in Rome and walked to and from the conference venue each day. The journey took about 50 mins. The temperature was relatively mild but I was caught in a heavy downpour of rain on one night, still it provided good exercise after being indoors all day. As the conference day concluded with an evening meal at 8pm it was after 9.30pm when I made my way back to where I was staying. My route took me through St Peter's Square which was not particularly crowded at that hour of the night.

St Peter's Square at night showing the nativity scene and Christmas tree

At the conclusion of the two day meeting it was arranged that participants would attend the weekly audience with Pope Francis. Although there were several thousand pilgrims in the audience hall, our group was allocated seats in a session close to the front and close to where the pope made his entrance down a central aisle. I managed to get a close-up view of the pope even if i was unable to shake his hand or greet him personally.

Papal audience

This was about as close as I got to the Pope

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It has been a busy six weeks which has limited my opportunity to post here. Another of our Geneva training courses was scheduled for the first part of November. At the conclusion of the training I tripped and fell in the house damaging the tendons in my shoulder. Having my arm in a sling for three weeks limited my activities somewhat - certainly no cycling was possible.

I was still able to travel to Ireland for a Board meeting in early December and I also took the opportunity to visit friends in Cork for a few days. Here are some photos from that time.

Christmas lights, Oliver Plunkett St, Cork

Enjoying a drink in a Cork pub

Ballycotton cliff walk, Co. Cork

Ballycotton cliff walk, Co. Cork
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I am not sure how long this beautiful autumn weather will last, but with a suuny day in prospect and a forecast temperature of 22C I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass of doing some more cycling - even though it was on my own and had to be cut short due to the need to transport some of the participants in our recently completed training to the bus stop in order to travel to the airport.

I drove 45 mins to Pringy near Annecy, unloaded the bike and set off about 13:00. My route took me through Epagny, Chaumontet, Sillingy, Nonglard and Hauteville-sur-Fier to Vallieres where I sat in a park and ate a late lunch (sandwich and fruit).

View from near Epagny


I continued on through Sion to Saint André where I crossed the Fier river and made my way to Rumilly via Lornay, cycling along the opposite bank of the Fier. From Rumilly I returned to Hauteville-sur-Fier and retraced my original route back to the car at Prigny. A total journey time of just over 4 hours.

View from near Saint-André

River Fier near Hautville sur Fier

River Fier near Rumilly

The ride was enjoyable and scenic but more challenging than expected. It involved much climbing and descending, some of it quite steep. I was certainly tired by the end of it but satisfied nevertheless.
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Another weekend of fine weather enabled Tino and I to proceed with the planned ride to Albertville. We had hoped Enka our colleague from Franciscans International would be able to join us, but a family situation that arose prevented that from happening. As it seemed too ambitious to attempt the ride from Annecy, and as I was already familiar with the cycle path along the lake, we made our way to Duingt from where we planned to commence the ride.

Duingt on lake Annecy, the starting and finishing point for the ride

Our plans were thrown into confusion initially when we found the cycle path was closed due to a cycling race. After explaining our intention of riding to Albertville to the officials, we were advised to follow the main road for 3-4 kilometres to Doussard where we would again be able to pick up the cycle path. Accordingly we set off around 10:30am and despite a bit of traffic on the road, it didn't prove to be a significant problem.

The cycle trail proved to be very flat which made for a relaxed and enjoyable ride while surrounded by beautiful mountain scenery. Signs of autumn with the red, brown and gold beginning to appear in the leaves of the trees, added to the enjoyment.

After passing through the town of Ugine, the path merged onto a quiet minor road which ran parallel to the busy highway and beside the L'Arly river. A few kilometres from Albertville the cycle path resumed.


L'Arly river

We arrived in Albertville around 12:30 and ascended the hill to the medieval village of Conflans which provided a panoramic view of Albertville. We also discovered that being the first Sunday of the month the Art and History museum was open for free! I could never resist a bargain like that, so we spent an enjoyable and interesting hour in the museum assisted by a free audio guide in English. The museum contained items from Roman times through to the 19th century, with a particular focus on the region's religious heritage and everyday life.


Ancient tower, Conflans

View of Albertville from Conflans

Emperor for a day - Conflans museum of Art and History

While waiting for the museum to open we also visited the local church which provided a guide in English for visitors explaining the history of the church and its various features of interest, statues, paintings etc.

Interior of Conflans Church

After visiting the museum we made our way into the centre of town to buy a sandwich for lunch. Then as we ended up staying longer in Albertville than planned, we set a brisk pace to return to our car only to discover that the cycle path was deceptively flat. We were pushing slightly uphill for most of the return journey. We hadn't noticed that as we cruised along on our outward journey! The head wind also meant that we had to work hard on the 34 km to return to our starting point. That didn't prevent us from stopping to admire the view from time to time however.


Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy
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The prospect of beautiful weather for the weekend and the need to be at home on Sunday due to the arrival of a visitor, meant that I planned a ride for Saturday, and Tino agreed to accompany me.

We set off around 9:15 and drove to Montmélian which was about an hour away, just beyond Chambery from where we started the ride. The plan was to follow a suggested cycle route along the valley of the Isere river towards Albertville, cross the river and return via the suggested route on the opposite bank.

Montmélian. Starting point for our ride

Our route initially took us through numerous small villages, among them were Arbin, La Chappelle, Cruet and Saint-Jean-de-la-Porte to Saint Pierre de Albigny. The weather was perfect, sunny and mild with no wind, the roads quiet and the scenery beautiful.

View from near La Chappelle

Church at Cruet

Looking towards Saint-Pierre-d'Albigny from near Saint-Jean-de-la-Porte

A little beyond Saint-Pierre-d'Albigny we passed the Chateau de Miolans, a former fortress prison. The site, which has been occupied since the fourth century AD, strategically controlled the route across the junction of the Isere and Arc rivers. The fortress was converted into a prison by the Counts of Savoy in the mid-16th century. Its notoriety led it to be compared to the Bastille in Paris. Its dungeons were called Hell, Purgatory, Paradise, Treasury, and little and great hope. Among the notable persons imprisoned at Miolins were:
Pietro Giannone, 1736–1738, historian.
Vincent Rene Lavin, 1767–1786, forger of banknotes.
François-Marie's Alée, Baron Songy, 1772
and the infamous Marquis de Sade, who was imprisoned here for several months in 1772 before making an escape.

All prisoners were released following the French revolution. The fortress prison was abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin as a symbol of the system of the Ancien Régime.

In 1869, Eugene Alexander Guiter, Prefect of Savoy, privately bought the fortress from the French state and began its restoration. Castle Miolans was classified as a historical monument in May 1944.

Chateau de Miolans

Countryside near Saint-Pierre-d'Albigny

Chateau de Miolans

After passing through Freterive we reached Grésy-sur-Isere where we detoured to visit the old church of Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens. Built on the site of a Roman temple, it was one of the first churches in the valley. After many transformations over the centuries, it was decided to build a new church in the village square after the French Revolution and the old one was deconsecrated in the middle of the 19th century. The old church gradually fell into ruin until 1991 when the decision was made to preserve it.

Near Freterive

Near Freterive

In front of the old church was an ancient stele dating from Roman times. The accompanying explanatory notice explained that a Gallo-Roman village was located on the great Roman Milan-Vienne road its presence attested by the discovery of numerous ancient references. The stele of grey limestone which has been incorporated into a fountain was discovered in the cemetery in the sixteenth century. It was an honorary monument placed during his lifetime by Titus Marcias Taurinus, an official who undoubtedly exercised municipal functions. His name is known through other inscriptions of 1st century Grésy.

Roman inscription at Grésy sur Isere

We departed from the cycle route at Grésy as the next stage seemed to involve a stiff uphill climb. In retrospect it may not have been a great idea as we ended up on a rough stony track which made me anxious about the possibility of a puncture! Eventually we made it to the main road then travelled via Frontenex to Albertville which we reached around 2pm. As we were planning a future ride to Albertville and the afternoon was already well advanced, we decided not to spend and time there so we had a sandwich and drink for lunch then commenced our return journey, initially via a cycle path along the riverbank to Saint Helene-sur-Isere.

Isere river near Albertville

Again we made a navigation error by not entering the village where we would have found signs to Aiton, the next village on our route. Instead we again found ourselves on an unpaved road and took a further wrong turn into a forest while trying to extract ourselves. Eventually we found the main road and made good time despite a stiff head wind. After further indecision at Aiton (helped by some friendly advice from another passing cyclist) we continued on through Chamousset, Chateauneuf, Bourgneuf, Maltaverne, Coise, Saint-Jean-Pied-Gauthier, Planaise and La Chavanne. The route was undulating but not especially demanding, but after more than six hours on the bike I was starting to feel tired.

View of Chateau de Miolans from near Chateauneuf


We re-crossed the river into Montmélian then had the frustration of not being able to locate where we had parked the vehicle! Eventually we worked out that there were two parallel roads from Chambery into Montmélian and we had been looking for the vehicle on the wrong one! We loaded up the bicycles and began the return journey at around 5:30pm.

It had been a long days ride (7 hours from the time of our departure to our return and over 80 km) but a very satisfying day.
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After much uncertainty due to the weather forecast Tino and I decided to proceed with our plan for a cycle ride from Yverdo les Bains to Ins. The plan involved transporting the cikes on the back of the car to Yverdon, cycling to Ins(about 4 hours) then catching the train back to Yverdon. The uncertainty with the weather arose from the threatened thunderstorms and rain that were forecast from a study of the reports earlier in the week. The final forecast for Yverdon and Neuchatel predicted cloudy and overcast conditions with sunny breaks in the morning, some possible thunderstorms and isolated showers between 1:00pm and 2:00pm in the afternoon before a return to cloudy conditions until around 5:00pm when more rain was due to set in. We decided to risk it and set off around 8:30am to arrive at Yverdon a little before 10:00am

Lake Neuchatel at Yverdon. Starting point for our ride.

The first part of the journey was along a cycle path through flat but forested terrain. It also passed through several nature reserves. Along the way I was rewarded with the sight of a small herd of wild deer. We also detoured to the lake shore where there was an observation point for migratory birds that nested on the shoreline. It was amusing to see the warning signs abour sitting under a tree as the beavers were active in chewing through the trunks of the trees making them vulnerable to falling and crushing the unwary traveller! We certainly saw considerable evidence of the beavers activity!

View of Lake Neuchatel from nature reserve near Yvonand

A couple of deer in a nature reserve near Cheyres

A highlight for me was the town of Estavayer-le-Lac with its medieval buildings, including a church, Dominican Convent and Chateau, and its ancient ramparts.


Congregation leaving the Collegiate church of St Laurent on Sunday morning at Estavayer-le-Lac

Estavayer-le-Lac. Note the frogs decorating the main street. Probably related to the the fact that the town has a frog museum which houses 150-year-old satirical tableaus made from stuffed frogs! (which we did not visit)

Dominican convent Estavayer-le-Lac

Gate and rampparts at Estavayer-le-Lac

The Chateau d'Estavayer-le-Lac was built from 1392 by the knight Pierre and his brother Guillaume d'Estavayer. In 1432, the castle was acquired by Humbert, the illegitimate son of Amadeus VII, Count of Savoy, who completed the defensive structure. Humbert (1377 - 1443) was known as 'the Bastard of Savoy'and he died in the castle. During the Burgundian war, the castle was set on fire. It is thanks to the reconstruction work carried out after 1476 that the castle obtained its present profile. Today, the castle serves as the seat of the prefecture of the Broye district.

Chateau d'Estavayer-le-Lac

Ancient gateway to the medieval town

View from the Chateau

We continued our ride through farmland, forests and small villages. The apples which were in season looked very tempting but the orchards were always fenced off which made it a little difficult for access.

The route was along quiet roads and occasionally unsealed, forest tracks. generally it was quite flat with a couple of hilly sections, only one which caused me to dismount and walk the bike for about 100m. The weather forecast proved very accurate. It was generally overcast, cool to mild with some sunny periods. Importantly there was no wind and we made good time. The predicted storm clouds gradually began to gather as we neared our destination. We almost made it to Ins before it rained but it was not to be. the last 15 mins were spent in light rain.

Looking across the lake to Neuchatel

At Ins we purchased a roll and drink for a late lunch and bought our train tickets back to Yverdon. By the time the train arrived the rain had ceased and we were bathed in sunshine. The weather forecast had proved very accurate. The train journey took over an hour with two changes of train at Murten and Payerne. As we headed back to Geneva, light rain began to fall intermittently. Our return was delayed by an accident on the Motorway which meant we arrived at gaillard a little after 6pm. Another satisfying day.

Journey's end. Waiting for the train at Ins
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