The Best Days of Their Lives

The everyday stories of family life, told with love and joy

Tag: geneva (page 1 of 2)

the right time, the right place

Not quite believing that yesterday’s Black Stork was a Black Stork, I had dropped an email to B, who knows about these things. In part of his reply he said that the Black Stork is “a rare migrant that is flying through Switzerland every year, but hard to see. That’s some being in the right time at the right place.”

Seeing the Black Stork was a highlight of the walk yesterday, a bit of wow in an otherwise pleasant day. But it was just a few seconds, as B says, of being at the right time in the right place.

And so to today, when Mtoto and I went for what turned out to be a 12-mile hike in the Geneva countryside. It was a good walk, taking up a great chunk of the day. And we had another few seconds of wow, of being in the right time at the right place.

We saw a Black Woodpecker. I’ve seen Green Woodpeckers and Greater Spotted Woodpeckers before. I might even have seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker now and then, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it. I had never seen a Black Woodpecker. Until today. I was walking along a track, pushing the buggy. A bird, which at first I thought was a crow, in a hedgerow to our right was disturbed by our presence and made a fuss. It flew out almost in front of us and I immediately realised it was a Black Woodpecker. I only just had presence of mind to take a couple of photos in its general direction as it flew away from us. Undeniably, though, this was my first Black Woodpecker spot.

Keeping up the Black- theme, we also saw a Black Necked Grebe today, as well as a Little Grebe, young Great Crested Grebes, an Oystercatcher and several birds that I haven’t identified yet. We talked a lot Mtoto and I. We sang a lot too. We played word games and we worked on our counting. Today it was the right time and the right place.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.

Oystercatcher on the Rhone.



Five ways that teaching the alphabet is harder than you think

Mtoto invented a game this week. We call it “J Jar of Jam” from the Sesame Street Alphabet Song:

At some point this week Mtoto started adapting “J Jar of Jam” into “J Jar of Something else”. It doesn’t have to be a word beginning with J.

We were going up our street, me pushing the buggy and Mtoto in it. I heard him saying “J Jar of Motorbike”, then “J Jar of Bike” and “J Jar of Window”. At first I repeated each one, giving him some affirmation, but soon I was doing my own ones and we took it in turns, all the way home and carried on once we were inside. Since then we’ve played several times. I realised pretty soon that I could help Mtoto to widen the things he was looking at and what he was naming, as well as affirming his choices. So he might say “J Jar of T-Shirt” and then I would use my next turns to say “J Jar of Sleeve” and “J Jar of Label” to show him the different details in my T-Shirt. He often repeats the ones that I’ve introduced him to, too.

I don’t know that this is going to have much appeal to anyone else, since it has come from our own viewing of the Sesame Street Alphabet song several months ago (and which we haven’t watched for at least a couple of months), but you might have your own version or think how to adapt it.

It reminds me though, that the world of teaching your child the letters of the alphabet isn’t as straight forward as you think it could be. Here are my 5 favourite ways that I’ve discovered so far that the alphabet is tricky to learn.

1. J Jar of…

As you’ve just learned, we don’t just put jam in jars in our household. Anything goes. Though one of my favourites was Mtoto’s “J Jar of Jar of Figs” when there was a jar of figs on the table in front of him.

2. Y is for Boat

In one of Mtoto’s A-Z books or puzzles, there’s a picture of a boat for the letter Y. Of course, we adults know that “Y is for Yacht” but Mtoto didn’t know that so “Y is for Boat”. We have since told him about yachts and he knows the word now, but it is confusing for all concerned.

3. A is for Alligator, no Apple

L was reading an alphabet to Mtoto recently. “A is for Alligator” she read. “No, Mama,” came the reply, “A is for Apple”. L explained that A is the beginning letter for lots of words, but Mtoto wasn’t having it. “A is for Apple,” he said again and again. If you’re only two, maybe you need some certainty in your life?

4. G is for Ruitar

Mtoto is getting good at naming the sounds of each letter. But he doesn’t always follow through with the following word. A great example is G. He gets the “ger” sound perfectly, but guitar? No, It’s more like “Ruitar” at the moment!

5. Letters are numbers

This might be local to Geneva… One of the first places that Mtoto regularly started recognising numbers was on the front of buses and trams. “Pappa, what number is it?” he would ask. “It’s the 12” I might say, if we were on the tram to Carouge. But if we were going out to Meinier again, it would be the Bus A. And the bus to Hermance is the E and the other bus (other than the E that goes through there) to Vessanaz is the G.

"What number is it Pappa?" "Errr, it's the S"

“What number is it Pappa?” “Errr, it’s the S”

Of course, all of this is fairly light-hearted and we’re not worried about any of these developments. He’s got plenty of time to learn letters and numbers and we’re only ploughing ahead with it now because he has shown such great interest in both.

One of my favourite moments this week was when I was showing him his new Thomas the Tank Engine Brio toy. On the bottom it says “THOMAS” and I read the letters to him several times. Then, suddenly, he exclaimed “look Pappa, it’s got A is for Apple in it!”

So what challenges have you faced teaching the alphabet to your kids? I would love to hear about your experiences!

"This bus, my son, is the A to Gy"

“This bus, my son, is the A to Gy”

(While we’re here, for the 2015 daily blog continued themes paragraph: Janathon exercise was a 2 mile walk to get Mtoto to sleep and I saw a Common Buzzard and lots of Blue Tits while visiting friends in Bellvue, then did a quick bird count at Baby Plage, but that was all.)

Walks with a toddler: La Plaine to Russin

A Blue Tit in flight at the lake

A Blue Tit in flight at the lake

“I’m doing a poo!”

It was a cold and largely solitary walk for Mtoto and me today, from La Plaine to Russin. It took just under 3 hours, as we idled along the way. The only point in the whole walk that we encountered another person was in our second hide of the day. A woman had just come in, when Mtoto announced loudly and proudly that he was doing a poo. If he hadn’t said anything, we would have known anyway because it was one of the more smelly ones. The woman left immediately.

There are advantages to having a toddler with you when you go on a walk. You have to think about their needs and communicate what’s going to happen so that they can understand and can enjoy it. Being with a toddler can force you to stay in one place for longer than you might otherwise have done. And when they’re talking, like Mtoto is, you can have great conversations. Today we talked a lot about bitterns and about trains. We didn’t see any bitterns, but Mtoto was hopeful. The idea to do this walk had come to us from B, who we met at La Bise, the day before. He said that when the lakes ice over, it is easier to see bitterns, especially at the hides near La Plaine. Great, I thought, we’ll go there. Mtoto and me had been once before, last month, with Edward. It had been a nice walk and longer too. But we had seen hardly anything from the hides. And certainly nothing new.

Mtoto had been most excited about going on a train. He loves Thomas the Tank Engine at the moment. Edward has an old wind-up train set and Thomas, as far as Mtoto is concerned, is the star attraction. On last week’s walk with Edward, Mtoto kept asking if we could go to Edward’s apartment afterwards. Sadly for him, the answer was no, because Edward was doing a longer walk than us. Mtoto was very disappointed. Mtoto knows all about Thomas. He knows that Thomas is blue and has a smiley face on the front. And he knows that there’s a yellow number one on the side. This part is particularly exciting for everyone, as Mtoto is just starting to know some numbers and letters.

La Plaine station

La Plaine station

La Plaine is the destination for a cantonal train from Gare Cornavin, running every half an hour during the week. The journey takes about 20 minutes and is presumably popular with commuters as it accesses villages/towns such as La Plaine, Russin, Satigny, Meyrin and the Vernier stop behind IKEA. It also serves the Zimeysa industrial estate, where a lot of luxury British cars are parked during the day. The village of La Plaine has little going for it as far as I can see. There’s a single bakery/cafe, a post office, a school, a dog care shop and that’s all we’ve seen in two visits, except for some industry and lots of homes. The playground was not much of a hit with Mtoto today, though he did enjoy the swing and the football court and thankfully someone had left a ball for us to use. Though Mtoto was really more interested in swinging the gate open and closed than anything else.

A Kingfisher among the trees by the lake

A Kingfisher among the trees by the lake

Then we were off to the hides. At the first, Mtoto was fairly patient, and enjoyed climbing from the ground to the bench to the table and back again. We saw a Kingfisher there for a few minutes, then a Blue Tit and Little Brown Job, but that was all, except some coots in the distance. At the second hide, where Mtoto did a poo and had a nappy change, we saw Great Crested Grebes, Coots, Goosander, Pochards, Crows and a Jay. At the third we saw nothing new and by the fourth, Mtoto was impatient to leave. Looking at the time, I realised that there were about 12 minutes to the next train from Russin to Cornavin or we would have to wait an extra half an hour. Not only that, but we needed to get to the station before the level crossing closed too. We covered the distance in good time, let’s say, including a 400 metres or so sprint at the end, making it over the crossing with seconds to spare. Result! And a nice little bit of exercise to count as my Janathon effort for the day.

View from one of the hides

View from one of the hides

On the way home we stopped off in the Cornavin shopping centre for Mtoto to ride the 1 CHF Thomas Tank Engine ride. He loved it, but it was over almost as soon as it had begun. Then we were off to Manor to find a Brio Thomas the Tank Engine and that was 11.90 CHF well spent!

A view from the fourth hide on the walk

A view from the fourth hide on the walk

To do the La Plaine to Russin walk: At La Plaine station, follow the road eastward towards the village. You’ll go past the bakery/cafe. Take the left turning at the junction. The playground is on the left, opposite the school and contains two swings, a springy aparatus (a ladybird) and a pirate’s ship in three parts with prow, mast and the deck. The football court is just next to it. To get back on the walk turn left back onto the road (or if not going to the playground just continue straight ahead). Walk on the pavement on the right.

After the houses is an industrial site on both sides of the road. Then the pavement ends just after the road bends to the left and you’ll need to be on the road for two or three metres so check that no traffic is coming first. Immediately before the bridge is a path to the right, which you go down. As you come towards the river take the path that branches off and up towards the left. This takes you across the Allondon river and under the railway. At the far end take the steps up (about 10, slightly uneven and with a bicycle wheel chute) and turn right. Follow the path round (don’t take the single step to the right) and eventually the lakes will open up on the left behind a hedge. Keep going along here to come to the first hide, on your left.

Leaving the hide, turn left out of it, then the path soon bends round to the left. Straight along here, the next 2 hides are on your left. Keep along the path to eventually come to the left turn, then follow this up (ignoring a turn to the right, although if you want to go straight to Russin and miss the fourth hide, turn right here), until you reach the end and the fourth hide is on your left. To get to Russin station from here retrace your steps until you reach the path (now on the left) that you ignored on the way up. Take it for a few hundred metres until you reach a road where you turn sharp left. Russin station is now in view and you can keep going on this road until you reach it. If going for a particular train, get there at least 5 minutes before departure time, to get safely across before the barriers come down.

Russin station

Russin station

If you came to La Plaine by car you can either retrace your steps at any point, or take a train back to La Plaine from Russin.

Geneva’s best sandpit

Today Mtoto and I had a brilliant play at Geneva’s best sandpit. And no, we weren’t in Park de la Grange, Parc Bertrand or any of the other fine parks that offers sand play. We were at Baby Plage.

Two plastic cups and a ball from Migros consist of our portable play equipment

Two plastic cups and a ball from Migros consist of our portable play equipment

Baby Plage is so called because it is a beach reserved for babies and children and their families and it has been so since 2007. It is a free beach and the amenities, or lack of them, reflect this. But, in theory at least, it is a place where families can go to hang out and enjoy being lakeside for a while. There are places that do the whole beaches experience better, like Geneve Plage and Bains de Paquis. At Geneve Plage you get changing rooms, water slides and eateries, life guards and a secure compound for your money. At Bains de Paquis you only pay two Francs at the height of summer (or you can buy a membership) and at this community-run venue you get a simple beach (stony rather than sandy), good-value food, changing rooms and life guards. At Baby Plage you get a sandy beach and some play equipment in the trees. That’s really it, there aren’t even accessible toilets (the only ones are just outside the grounds and are underground, accessible only by steep steps).

Play equipment (right), sandcastles and the Mountain Buggy with Lake Geneva behind.

Play equipment (right), sandcastles and the Mountain Buggy with Lake Geneva behind.

Despite its limited attractions Baby Plage is still where it is at for us, a Dad and a toddler. Take today, for example. It was pouring with rain. So much so, that I was willing to go home if Mtoto didn’t want to get out of the buggy. But get out he did and he got on with playing with some gusto. We started with the sand cups (two cheap Migros-bought plastic cups that are easily packed into any day out). I built the sandcastles and Mtoto kicked them over. But he also got into building them, which is something that he has only recently shown interest in doing. Then we got the ball out and we kicked it around the beach. The only rules are that he’s not allowed to go past the fences (including one near the water) and he’s not allowed to kick the ball in the water. Then Mtoto got into kicking the ball into the sandcastles.

Eventually, tiring of the ball and the sandcastles, Mtoto got back into travel play. A train, a bus, a crane and a ticket office later, we had a lovely game going, where Mtoto would buy tickets from me and then go on journeys. There were less materials to choose tickets from than at the park, so Mtoto had to make do with leaves or sticks until I found a bit of bark with lichen on it. Mtoto liked it so much that at the end of the game he put the lichen bark in the buggy to take home.

The Baby Plage trees at Lake Geneva that house the swinging play equipment.

The Baby Plage trees at Lake Geneva that house the swinging play equipment.

The play equipment in the trees that I referred to earlier are an interesting project, which I hope Mtoto will enjoy when he’s older. They’re made from recycled materials such as old bicycle tires and were first set up by a local resident, Jean Georges Ernst, and are now being managed by a local association that looks after the condition of the beach. Their website makes for some slightly hilarious (if you don’t use the equipment) reading. As well as stating that the equipment doesn’t reach European standards for outdoor play equipment, they state that on questions concerning the safety of the equipment:

“If your question concerns the reliability of materials and method of assembly we can not give you an absolute guarantee, but we can reassure you by saying no accidents due to the technique has happened to Baby Beach so far. By cons, if you mean the risk to users, in theory, they are innumerable.”

What they’re basically saying is that no one that they know of has had an accident so far, but they rely on people to use their common sense. And the best people who make use of their common sense are children, they say.

A Mute Swan (left) with two Red-crested Pochards

A Mute Swan (left) with two Red-crested Pochards

Mtoto didn’t want to leave but I was getting cold. I didn’t have the advantage of the all-in-one winter suit that he has. As we reached the exit, Mtoto spotted some puddles and launched right in. I’ve learned quickly enough that as long as Mtoto isn’t falling over or worse, he can do what he likes in the puddles. So he splashed and he ran and he got me involved, demanding a stand over the puddles with legs apart so he could go under my bridge, as he puts it. Such joy!

By the time we left, the rain had eased off, but it was time for lunch anyway, so off we went.

2015 birds

At Baby Plage we saw the usual Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Coots, Mallard Ducks (including two males in a vicious fight where they appeared to be trying to drown each other), House Sparrows, Red-crested Pochards, Walking along the lakeside, we also saw two moorhens, who are much less common on the lake at the moment.

Two male Mallards fighting off Baby Plage in Lake Geneva.

Two male Mallards fighting off Baby Plage in Lake Geneva.


A quick walk to get Mtoto off to sleep in the rain this afternoon, 1km in around 12 minutes. I did my core stretches in Mtoto’s bedroom today. While doing a 1-minute plank Mtoto decided to climb on me. It was funny, but meant that I was carrying his weight as well as my own. Eventually I collapsed on the floor laughing, with Mtoto laughing too and asking his catchphrase question “what happened?”

All-in-one-suit and snow boots = fun in puddles

All-in-one-suit and snow boots = fun in puddles

Geneva Castle

We arrived early at Geneva Castle, around 1320. The year, not the time of day. It is an imposing structure. At each corner a round tower, though only three are fully constructed, and at the front an imposing gate. People could walk along the ramparts between the towers. Those standing guard had fine views towards Lake Geneva, across to the mountains and over the plains. The castle was built on a marshland, so had waters all around it, but with secure paths for entry and two fine moats. We imagined it bustling with activity and life. And just then, we heard a bugle and the gates began to open. We were being beckoned in. Mtoto climbed out of the buggy and onto my shoulders. We two travellers strode into the castle.

Inside, we were greeted by Hugues Dauphin, sire de Faucigny, and his servants. They took our horses and while Hugues Dauphin gave us a guided tour of his domain. As well as the grand walls, there was a house-like structure in the centre, stables and chickens ran freely around our feet. We wandered over to the walls, climbed up and enjoyed the splendid view, squinting in the bright sunshine, but still able to enjoy the sight of the mountains and the unspoilt plains. This will forever be how I will remember Geneva Castle.

No entry

No entry

The trudging reality was rather different. I took a wrong turning on our walk down the hill and to avoid a busier road we had to take paths right round the outside of the castle before we could get quietly to the front. And even then, one of the paths we took, was being used by several cars as a shortcut in their journeys, meaning extra time stood on the muddy banks waiting for them to pass. A couple passed with a big dog, which stuck its nose into the bottom of the buggy and came out with a biscuit and then spat it out. Both Mtoto and I regretted first that we had not realised that the biscuit was there and second that it was now inedible.

We passed a small playground outside a restaurant at the Rouelbeau sports centre, but it looked too challenging for Mtoto. The only point of relief was a pleasant wood carving of lots of local animals such as wild boar, a hare and various birds. It was early, still not 9am, and the light was poor. Much greyer than I was expecting. We spotted the beavers’ dam, but didn’t spot any beavers. If they had any sense they were inside somewhere, trying to keep warm.

The castle is a desperate ruin, falling into deep decay over several centuries but is listed as a site of historical national importance. According to various Geneva authority webpages there have systematic archaeological digs and several years ago there were plans for an educational trail and walk, but there was nothing like that that we could see.

Rouelbeau Castle



However, I came over all Tony Robinson and got into the swing of things telling the story of the castle to Mtoto and imagining that we were there when it was at its best. Sadly, Mtoto didn’t get the vision, not like the sandpit of yesterday. We went up the thick mud slope into the castle keep, or what was left of it. Not enough to satisfy Mtoto though. “I want to go in the castle” he kept crying, “over there”. Over there was beyond a long fence with big warning signs telling us that we weren’t allowed to enter. A lone workman was on site too, forlornly battling with the wind, trying to tie down plastic sheeting that covers the last remaining stone walls and that had come undone and been torn. “We are in the castle” I repeatedly said, but Mtoto wasn’t having it. I wouldn’t let him throw stones in the moat, which annoyed him further and his complaining largely drowned out the sound of the woodpeckers drilling in the trees above our heads. He did at least stop to listen to them for a few seconds.

We probably saw around a dozen Greater Spotted Woodpeckers at the castle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place. We also saw Mallard ducks and a Kestrel, as well as a Coot in the lagoon opposite. Our plan was to move onto the Sionnet marsh and spend some time looking for birds, splashing in puddles and throwing stones in the water but just then a bright light in the distance caught my eye. I looked up and saw the ominous dark clouds above our heads and realised that the wind had picked up. Then came the first rumble of thunder.

We headed for the village of Meinier via Essert, a pretty hamlet. We saw some decaying 1980s cars, plus a very old tractor with a smiley face. There were also a haggle of chickens and Mtoto took delight in telling me the colours of their heads (red) and legs (yellow), as well as their bodies (white), when I asked him what colour they were. Heading out of Essert, we also saw a buzzard and then that was it before the rain came. And when it came, it was hellish. Hail and rain. Hard and intense. Thankfully we weren’t far from Meinier and miraculously we saw a bus, though my face fell when I realised that it was sans voyageurs. But my spirit was quickly raised by ducking into the Pommier Garni cafe, where Mtoto and I enjoyed an apple muffin and a hot apple juices, before catching the next bus back into town. We even had time for an hour in the ludotheque before lunch.

Grey clouds over Geneva

Grey clouds over Geneva


Note: The castle is really called Rouelbeau Castle, but since it is in the Canton of Geneva I took the liberty of calling it Geneva Castle so that Mtoto might enjoy it more. As it was, on the bus ride home we passed a house that had been built to look a bit like a castle. “There’s a castle, Pappa”, said Mtoto. “A real castle. I want to go in it. In the real castle.”


Apart from the rain, around 2-3 miles walk, over an hour and a half.

2015 birds

As well as the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Buzzard, Kestrel, Coot and Mallards, we also saw a couple of Grey Herons, a Wren, Great Tits, Robins, Blue Tits, Wood Pigeons, House Sparrows, Blackbirds and one new bird for the year, a Collared Dove. We saw one bird that I couldn’t identify in flight, but in the low light my photo was completely inconclusive.


Sans voyageurs


The postman cometh after the rain

The postman cometh after the rain




Man friends

Probably for the first time since I went to an all-boys secondary school, most of my friends are men. I didn’t expect this when I first knew that I was going to become a stay-at-home Dad. Rather, I thought that I would be friends with more women, since there are more women than men looking after children day-to-day. But the world of caring for children in the day is a strange place and is drawn up, it seems to me, along gender lines.

Making friends with women is harder than I thought it would be. But I can’t say that I wasn’t warned. In his book Men Can Do It – the real reason Dads don’t do childcare and what men and women can do about it, Gideon Burrows describes the problems he faced as a father sharing parenting 50:50 with his wife. He described trying to go to parenting and baby groups and discovering that they were for mothers only and seeing signs that welcomed mothers and babies to cafes and by omission not fathers.

Most fancifully, I thought at the time, Gideon Burrows suggests that women didn’t want to meet up with him for playdates because they feared that he may want to have sex with them. How I laughed at this at the time. I would have laughed still if I had thought of it, until I joined a group on, which was suggesting playdates for parents (not specifically mothers) and their children in our local park. A couple of days later I received a message from the group administrator querying why I had joined the group as she saw that I am a man and she was concerned in case I was trying to hit on any of the mothers in the group. Suffice to say, I haven’t been invited to any playdates in that group and plenty of others state that they are WOMEN ONLY.

Another time a friend  put me in contact with a woman who had also moved from south-east London to Geneva around the same time as us and with a child of similar age to Mtoto. We arranged to meet at a park. I described myself in my last email as ‘a tall man’. The reply came back: I didn’t realise you were a man. We still met, but just the once.

There are other instances, I won’t bore you with all the stories. Ultimately, of course, the real loser in all of this is Mtoto, since he’s losing out on opportunities to play with other children, simply because he’s with me.

Thankfully there are other Dads around though. Most of the stay-at-home Dads I have met have been through the Geneva Dads’ Beer Night Facebook group and through other social networking sites, such as Glocals and one who I met in a ludotheque very early on. The group was set up a few years ago, apparently, when some mothers objected to having fathers in their Facebook group, so a couple of guys branched off on their own. Although I haven’t met up loads of times with these guys and their kids, I’ve got on well with every stay-at-home Dad that I’ve met and it’s good to know that they’re around. As a work comparison, we’re like freelancers working alone and it’s good to have those doing the same role to network with. Our latest get together was last night and there were 9 of us out and 5 of us were current stay-at-home Dads. It was a good craic and I laughed often and hard with the others. They’re good guys.

Which brings me onto today’s adventure. Today I met up with P, who is a father on paternity leave. Our contact was set up by my friend A, who after all this above is a mother on maternity leave who is a friend of mine. She’s a friend of some 13-years standing, so preceding either of us being in Geneva. So A set me up to meet P, though P has never met A, but P’s wife has. Got that? P’s son is just under a year old, so it was very much a case of the kids being near each other in the park rather than actively engaging, although we did have a lovely game of blowing raspberries at one point. P was very jolly and has been making the most of having 2 months paternity leave after his wife went back to work and before they get external childcare. After Mtoto had worn himself out making sandcastles in the sandpit and launching himself down the superfast tunnel slide, tumbling along the wibbly-wobbly bridge and the rope bridge, he went for his quiet time and P and I had time to walk and chat. P’s on maternity leave, so he’ll be going back to work soon, but he said that it had been a brilliant experience that he was very glad to have had the opportunity to do and he felt that he had insights from this period that he would take back to his work.

I didn’t take any recording devices out today, so I have no stats for Janathon. I’d imagine it was a 2-3km walk. I should have done a run today, but Mtoto didn’t want to go in the buggy this morning and my heart wasn’t in it, so I’ll be off tomorrow instead.

Perly to Grand Lancy

Today we went for a walk with our friend Edward, like we do most Thursdays. Thursdays with Edward have pretty much become the mainstay of our daytime in Geneva for Mtoto and me. Edward moved to Geneva when he was about nine years old, because his mother got a job in Geneva. So he’s an earlier version of Mtoto in that regard. Edward is a librarian by trade and is also in some demand on the theatre circuit as a lighting guy. But on Thursdays he’s our getting to know Geneva buddy. And I mean Geneva in the canton sense, rather than the city, as we’re often to be found out in the countryside.

Edward and I share some interests, in particular photography and birds. He’s also very good with Mtoto, which helps, and on days like today he’ll happily push the Mountain Buggy along the whole of our route, which today was just under 10km. On these walks of ours the three of us are often to be seen with our cameras. Mtoto points his at anything that takes his interest. Edward and I generally point ours at birds and very occasionally, other stuff.

Today we had arranged to meet in the village of Perly in south-west Geneva, with a view to walking round to Grand Lancy. We met in Grand Lancy to get on the 42 to Lully. There was little of note on the short journey except perhaps for going through the ZIPLO industrial estate and seeing some expensive car showrooms such as for Ferrari and Maserati. We got off at Perly-Marie to be as far through the village as possible. From there, we followed the route of the bus and where it went round the bend to the right, we went straight on. Just outside the village is P+R Perly (the park and ride stop), which is one end of the 4 route, and is basically just a giant car park. But ignoring the car park and the ugly housing estate just over the border in France, the view to Saleve on the left and the Jura on the right is quite wonderful and well worth being in the presence of. Walking past some Gamay and Pinot Noir vineyards we were soon under the cover of trees and pretty much from here on we were in a birdwatching paradise. As well as the plentiful Blue and Great Tits, Robins and Blackbirds, we were treated fairly quickly to a close up of a long-tailed tit, followed by a Treecreeper. The path goes downhill, then becomes a u-bend to the right (past a small playground on the left) and then joins up with the River L’Aire.

For the next mile or so the path goes straight alongside the river, crossing over one road until getting to a remarkable wooden bridge. We saw lots of birds, mostly Mallards in the river as well as a couple of pairs of Goosanders. In the trees and all around we saw the usual melange of birds as well as some nuthatches and a hawfinch. Along the River L’Aire, some major renovation works are taking place and later on we had to abandon walking near the river because the paths are closed. But up this end the works have finished and the wooden bridge marks the start of those works. Just before we got to the bridge, we took Mtoto down to the river’s edge so that he could throw some stones. He loves throwing stones into water and since I love skimming stones on the river I have figured that I can’t ban him from doing the same. Some of the water was frozen so Mtoto shrieked with delight as his stones varied so wildly, some plopping straight into the water, some smashing through the ice and some coming to rest on top of the ice. My favourite was the stone that hit the ice, slid along the ice and eventually dropped through a hole into the water, which we hadn’t been expecting.

While down there I saw the sudden flash of blue that I have come to know is a kingfisher. It was my first of the year but was gone in a flash. Now hopeful we went up onto the big wooden bridge that also seems to be able to act as a two-way hide. Looking down the river we saw what I at first thought was a moorhen but soon realised was quite different and we now reckon was a water rail. There was a pair and they were having a good splash about in the streams. I saw the kingfisher again, flying along and then under us. I photographed one bird in midflight over the river. Excited by a flash of orange I quickly looked at my photos only to find a robin in my shots!

Now on the other side of the river we saw many more Mallards, a couple of Moorhens, Tree Sparrows, Reed Buntings and a Yellow Wagtail. We followed the river until we had to turn off, then wound back to Grand Lancy via Confignon, mostly walking on country roads with a bit of traffic. The final highlight of the walk was going through a petting farm where we saw pigs, goats, horses and rabbits, prompting Mtoto to claim that Rebecca Rabbit was in his hand and there she remained for the rest of the journey. At one point he said that Rebecca Rabbit wanted a leaf, so I plucked one from a tree and gave it to him/her and it was much appreciated by both, apparently.

For the Janathon followers, we walked 9.67km in 2 hours 51 minutes. Average speed 3.4km/h and top speed 8.2km/h.

the birds list will be updated here.

Geneva Runners

When I was leaving London my parkrun friends mostly said “will you start a parkrun in Geneva?” The answer was always “no”. I love my parkrun community but I could easily see that I wanted to start a parkrun, forgetting that I’d need to work my way through all the administrative and insurance issues, I would be doing it because I would be willing to do a lot race directing and volunteering. And just now I’m still in the stage where all I really want to do is run.

I was lucky, before we left London, to discover the Geneva Runners. They’re not so hard to find. They’re on Facebook and on Glocals, the social website for many things Geneva. It took me about six weeks to get around to running with Geneva Runners. But since then I’ve hardly looked back. I ran once a week with them for about 2 months, then have missed a few now and then, but Geneva Runners is very much where I’m at.

It’s very different to parkrun. It’s not a formal group. Really it’s just some friends who meet up three times a week to go running. At the core are some dedicated people who make sure that those three times a week always have familiar faces. And when I say friends, I mean a group that ostensibly has around 500 people connected to it, though the number of active participants is much smaller. They organise socials. They organise ski trips and all sorts of other things. When I say they, I really mean H, a woman who greeted me on first appearance, learned my name and has greeted me by name ever since. She does it with everyone. She remembers the details of our short conversations in a way that makes you feel connected. And it’s easy to get into the same sort of process, greeting everyone when you arrive at the start point and greeting everyone else who arrives. They do socials too, heading out after runs to the Clubhouse pub.

And then, a few minutes after seven, we’re off. I’ve run with Russians, Poles, Canadians, Americans, Australians, Turks, Swiss, Germans and French people as well as more whose nationalities I haven’t found out. It’s always the same route, unless you want to do more. Along the lake to the park, up to Rue de Lausanne, along to the botanical gardens, up Imperatrice, right to Pregny, left at the cafe, left on the brow of the hill, right by the church and down, then left at the road, immediately right, then right again until you reach Place de Nations. Diagonally across there, down France, across Lausanne and back to the lake. Phew! You got that? I only ask, because there’s only one thing we don’t seem to do at Geneva Runners and that’s directions or maps. But as long as you run with someone who has been before, you should be okay! And there are lots of variations on it that you can do and many do.

Today was my first time with the Garmin watch and it felt good. I pushed myself all the way, helped by a German guy who I know I’ve not kept up with before. Afterwards he was apologising for not having been able to go faster, whereas I was amazed that I kept up with him and two other guys who we ran with. Back home, checking over my stats, cross-posted to the Strava app, I can see that I did the Geneva Runners course in 39:48, which is several minutes faster than I’ve ever done it before. Woo!

For the Janathon stats, I include my runs from home and back too, giving me a lovely 7.24 miles in 1:02:10 at 8:35 minutes per mile.  I ran 5k in 25:02, faster than my best ever parkrun time (though helped by some downhill) and I ran 10k in 52:35. Good times.

First Garmin run

Tonight was my first run with my new Garmin watch and heart rate monitor. I’m currently using the London Marathon website beginner 17 week training plan and this was my last run of week one. I had meant to go earlier but fell asleep soon after Mtoto had gone for his afternoon nap, only waking after he did. By then it was raining, as forecast. I wasn’t pleased when I realised this but my disgruntlement at the weather was tempered by recalling that this would be my first opportunity to use my new Garmin kit.

I ran/walked for 55 minutes with a 5 minute warm up walk, 30 minutes running, 5 minutes walking, 10 minutes more running and a final 5 minutes walk. Total distance covered: 5.58 miles. This is a good place to be right now and I decided to count it as my Janathon run for today. Counting the first 50 minutes I covered exactly 5 miles, meaning that I was on 10 minutes a mile including walking. Using the Running For Fitness marathon calculator, I came up with a time 4:48:40 to complete the marathon, averaging 11 minutes a mile. In my head I would like to hit 4:22 and therefore complete at 10 minutes per mile, but I would very happily settle for 4:48:40 to complete my first marathon and be injury-free.

Tonight I ran along the lake from Eaux-Vives towards Vesenaz. I got as far as the beginning of the hill on Route de Thonon before turning back and eventually wiggling through Eaux-Vives to use up a few more minutes that I had. I like this part of the lake, it is relatively quiet as there are practically no tourists there and apart from the general hum of traffic from the dual carriage way a couple of yards away and the occasional other runner I like to think that I’m completely alone.

As well as the training run, we also had our annual New Year’s Walk today. It was our eighth year in a row, but our first in Geneva. Three other families came out, being another seven adults and two children. I called it the Heron Walk, since I was about certain as I could be that we would see at least one heron and most people, though perhaps not the toddler who slept almost all the way round. We took the “A” bus from Geneva to Carre-d’Amont and then walked a circuit round to Meinier. The distance was 5.47km in 1:44:19. Highlights included the toddlers dancing on ice and watching a great egret and a kestrel in a tree together.

18. Teal

19. Great Egret

20. Kestrel

21. Jay

22. Moorhen

23. Greater spotted woodpecker

After the walk several of our friends came back to ours for lunch. I enjoyed their company and the opportunity to share my favourite beer and wine of the moment with them, as well as our homemade mince pies. The beer is Murailles from Meinier and the wine is the merlot from Le Clos de Celigny, which, coincidentally, has a greater spotted woodpecker on the label. The only downside being that we’re now out of beer and we’ve hardly got any wine left.

Clos de Celigny's lovely Merlot

Clos de Celigny’s lovely Merlot. Photo: Clos de Celigny

From playground to playground

Today was the day that I received my Christmas present, a Garmin GPS watch. So from here on in I hope to have some useful measurements of my training runs. But until then, well I didn’t even have my cell phone with me today as I decided to switch it off and leave it at home. Consequently, I have no records of the time we took or the distance I walked. But it was a good one.

First up a walk across Geneva, skirting the lake from Jardin Anglais and over Pont Mont Blanc, then through Cornavin and up to see friends in St Jean, around 35 minutes walking and about 2 miles. They live on the seventh floor of their block, with fabulous views of Saleve and other mountains in France, as well as the top of Jet D’eau and other parts of Geneva’s horizon in profile. Fuelled by mince pies, banana bread and muffins we played in a nearby playground for over half an hour, then snaked our way down to the playground at Seujet with the forest graffiti walkway. After about a quarter of an hour there we went over the bridge to Stand then got the tram two stops to Plainpalais.

Planpalais is pretty much dominated at present by the Cirque de Noel but we were there for the toddlers’ playground, which is a funny new place. Next to the skate park, it ought to be rammed but it somehow doesn’t quite deliver. The gravel doesn’t help and it always seems cold there. We stayed for quite a while and lots of people came and went. It’s a good playground though, with two discrete areas for different ages and the toddler section is pretty demanding for Mtoto, but he loves a challenge, so it keeps him busy.

Then we went over to Bastions and up into Place Bourg-Four, just because we can. There’s something special about old Geneva on the hill.

Finally home via some shops to knock out a mushroom and broccoli quiche and make mince pies ahead of our fun tomorrow. I was meant to run today but didn’t fit it in. Thankfully I’ve got a day’s grace in the schedule so I’ll have to fit it in on Saturday instead. So something in that can be my Janathon contribution. Maybe the walk from home to our friends first thing, since it was a straight stretch of exercise, punctuated only by stopping to look at the birds, waiting at traffic lights and popping into the Tourist Information to pick up some spare maps for tomorrow.

The birds continued to come come today, not least because we were by the lake:

10. Blue tit

11. Cormorant

12. Mute swan

13. Pochard

14. Coot

15. Tufted duck

16. Black-headed gull

17. Magpie

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