The Best Days of Their Lives

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

Tag: janathon (page 1 of 3)

Parlez-vous Francais?

Parlez-vous Francais? Un peu, mais est-ce que c’est bien? Je ne pense pas.

When I first went to a beer-drinking Dads’ social in Geneva I learned that from a range of time spent in Geneva from one year to five, none of the guys I met had managed to get fluent in French. Admittedly it was a small group to generalise the data from, but I feel that I can say with authority that a lot of people who move to Geneva don’t end up with fluency in French. I was determined not to be like that. But that was then.

The thing is, you can get by in Geneva without speaking French. Lots of people who say that they only speak a tiny bit of English turn out to be better at English than I am at French. At a bird hide on Sunday, I chatted with B who said he spoke only a little English. He knew the names of the birds in English as well as French. His English was very good. I have the same experience again and again in shops. I fall into the easy position of using English and it works. I, at least, am on safe ground.

But I didn’t come to Geneva to always stay on safe ground. I came here with the intention to be a little bit vulnerable and to test myself and my abilities. I came here to continue learning in the journey of life. And sure, I’m doing that in lots of ways. But not really in French.

Of course, I started well. I learned about, and installed, an app on my phone called Duolingo. I did a lot of practice early on. Almost every day. I took test after test on phrases, adjectives, plurals, adjectives, pronouns and so on. And somewhere along the way I stopped. I couldn’t even tell you exactly when, but I suspect it was as early as mid-September. And four months passed and I told myself that I was very busy and it was okay. I was still practising. Once in a while I would do some Duolingo. Occasionally I look at the headlines and pictures in the free 20 minutes newspaper. I read the odd sign. I speak French occasionally in the shop or Post Office and someone says my French is very good, especially as I’ve only been here such a short time. Of course, I’m kidding them, I knew all that French before I got here. At the weekend, I realised that soon we will have been here for six months. And what will I have to show for it? Nothing.

Red-crested Pochards in flight over Lake Geneva

Red-crested Pochards in flight over Lake Geneva

So what to do? Today, I had a trial lesson with Maria at Le Français en Famille. Maria set up this school in 2008 to teach parents who wish to take French classes and have their children in the same premises at the same time. I took part in an intermediate lesson. The cost is only ever so slightly more than we have been quoted for private tuition per person (so little difference that it is effectively the same). The key benefit for me is that I can do it in the day, in time that is already at our leisure and Mtoto is in the same place. The class was of five students including me, but only three of us were in attendance today. We practised speaking, understanding and listening and the whole class was conducted in French.

The class takes place in Carouge, close to the centre, so it was easy to get to. Mtoto managed in the creche reasonably well, but did come crying to me with around ten minutes left to go. But he said that he would go again, which was good. Also, us three students went for coffee/play afterwards, which meant that Mtoto got that all-important getting-to-know-you time with at least one of the other children who were there.

In particular, I think that the benefit I can gain from doing a class is the discipline of doing an hour a week, plus homework, so I’ve got a small foundation. Then, if I am committed I can do some Duolingo too and carry on with the small things like practising speaking French with people I meet day-to-day and with family and friends who speak French, like Edward and my mother! It’s got to be done! C’est necessaire!

2015 birds: Thanks to B, mentioned a few days ago, I’ve learned about some birds that I spotted in the past few weeks but hadn’t identified. Yellow bunting and White-cheeked Pintail have been added to my 2015 list, while the Common Reed Bunting was there already.

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A Gull, at Lake Geneva.

A Gull, at Lake Geneva.

I saw a couple of Gulls today. Did you know that there’s no such thing as a Sea Gull? I learned this on the Guardian Weekly football podcast of all places. Apparently, there are lots of different types of Gulls, but none of them are Sea Gulls. A Black-headed Gull, I can tell you that one. In the summer it has a black head. In the winter it has a black spot behind its eye. But what the other Gulls are, well, they continue to all look the same to me, no matter how many times I look in my bird book. Nonetheless, I saw a couple of different ones today, I just don’t know what they are!

Black-headed Gulls in the foreground and A N Other at the top

Black-headed Gulls in the foreground and A N Other at the top

Janathon: Still walking, a couple more miles today, but my knee is still tender so I’m still resting it as much as possible.

It's all Greek, I mean French, to me

It’s all Greek, I mean French, to me

Snowman!

It started snowing last night. When we woke up in the morning it was snowing (still?). But all the views from our apartment suggested that it hadn’t settled. There was hardly any on the ground and car tops were hardly covered. Oh well, we thought, maybe next time. We had a slow morning doing laundry and playing. Eventually I took Mtoto out and boom!

Mountain Buggy in the snowy park

Mountain Buggy in the snowy park

 

There was a lot of snow in the park. Okay, not lots, but enough to have a good time. Mtoto and I went to the tunnel slide playground in Park de la Grange and built two snowmen. Luckily we had a spare carrot in the buggy so we could give them both carrot noses. Then disaster struck. One of the snowmen fell off the slide that we had built them on and fell face first into the puddle at the bottom of the slide. I rescued the snowman and then moved the other one so we could take photos of them and so they wouldn’t suffer more slide disasters.

Snowman #1

Snowman #1

Afterwards, I took Mtoto on a Quiet Time walk and I counted the birds at Baby Plage and Eaux Vives marina. For the second day in a row I saw Common Goldeneyes at Baby Plage. I knew what they were yesterday thanks to my Collins Gem Guides to Birds, which my parents gave to me in December 1984. Somehow it has survived with me this long and yesterday was the first day that I had started carrying it around in my pocket.

Two Goldeneyes on Lake Geneva

Two Goldeneyes on Lake Geneva

I got a bit carried away with recording the birds that I see and yesterday recorded sightings on the Jet D’eau jetty as well as Eaux Vives marina, the Baby Plage and Parc de la Grange. Today, I was much more restrained, only checking out the birds at Baby Plage and at the marina.

Snowman #2

Snowman #2

I have recorded all of my sightings over the past couple of days on ornitho.ch. The benefit of using this site is that it keeps a record of all the species that I see, as well as where and I can add photos to my sightings if I wish. At a stroke I’m able to replace the Excel spreadsheet that I was making and my records will be added to the databases that various Swiss ornithological and nature-related organisations are using, as well as ones abroad if I record sightings in other countries. And all this from my striking up a conversation with a birdwatcher in a hide in La Bise on Sunday!

Baby Plage with a dusting of snow

Baby Plage with a dusting of snow

Janathon: another walking day today, plus plenty of stretching exercises while playing with Mtoto. “Pappa, don’t do your stretches. Play!”

The view over Lake Geneva from Baby Plage

The view over Lake Geneva from Baby Plage

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.

Birding exchange

Today we went down to the Pro Natura nature reserve at Point de la Bise. It’s about 4 miles from us but still within the canton of Geneva, on the lake. La Bise is the name of one of the local winds, so La Bise is a place where you can go and experience it! The reserve opens at 10 and we were there about 9:30am so we had time to mess about in the neighbouring campsite. Mtoto made good use of the small playground and we also went for a walk around the site, particularly to reach the lake. Mtoto wanted to throw stones in the lake but, unfortunately, some ducks decided that people throwing things in the water were probably throwing food so came to investigate. So no stone throwing any more Mtoto!

A Grey Heron on top of a caravan at La Bise

A Grey Heron on top of a caravan at La Bise

We enjoyed seeing herons in trees and one that flew off and landed on a caravan. Mtoto and L saw a kingfisher at the campsite when they were there on a walk last week, but we didn’t see it today. It was probably next door in the nature reserve until we got there. We have plans to use the campsite for Mtoto’s first outdoor camping adventure later this year, as it is close to home but is a beautiful setting.

Ducks among the reeds at La Bise

Ducks among the reeds at La Bise

After the nature reserve opened we went straight to Mtoto’s favourite feature, the tree house, which is really a hide. But what a hide! It’s got two storeys. On the first level all the windows are permanently open. On the second floor there’s a child gate and there are openings at adult level and at toddler level. It’s simply a brilliant idea and is the only hide that I’ve come across so far that has been designed with toddlers in mind as well as adults or older children.

A Mute Swan landing in Lake Geneva at Baby Plage

A Mute Swan landing in Lake Geneva at Baby Plage

While we were in the hide there was a chap, B, there with a telescope. I asked what he had been looking at and he said there was possibly an unusual gull because of its tail markings and beak. From there we got talking and he recommended another place to go looking at birds on the lake and a website to check out which birds have been recorded where. The birding exchange site, ornitho.ch, allows registered users to record what birds they’ve seen, how many, and where they’ve seen them. It looks like a great resource for Mtoto and me as we’ll be able to see what birds we might expect to see in a place, rather than just knowing what sort of things might be seen in a given season.

Goosander arriving at Baby Plage at Lake Geneva

Goosander arriving at Baby Plage at Lake Geneva

This afternoon we were back on Baby Plage and while Mtoto and L played transport games in the sand, I was off getting in some practice at counting birds so I can contribute to Ornitho! I have made my first entry and even this was a learning experience. I entered my sighting of a Pied Wagtail, only to discover that this would be reported to the “Swiss Rarities Committee”. I deleted my entry and revisited my bird book. There, I learned that the Pied Wagtail shares an entry with the White Wagtail. And it is the latter that I have been seeing around Geneva, including today. As they say, every day’s a school day!

Janathon: Another resting day, with a cold hour-long walk in Mtoto’s quiet time.

Hide and Seek

As Mtoto gets older, he’s developing his capacity to play games. He struggles to get to grips with card and board games but he’s developing some ability to play physical games, such as throwing or kicking a ball and best of all, Hide and Seek.

I stayed at home this morning to work on a voluntary project while Mtoto and L went off to the Ludotheque (toy library). After lunch we set off together to Parc Stagni in Chene Bougeries. Parc Stagni is a beautiful and tranquil place, set away from the main road and 12 tram route. There are many evergreen trees, which provide a pleasant backdrop for the deciduous trees whose leaves change colour and fall in autumn. This was our first visit for a couple of months and after the heavy rainfall we were the only users of the park this afternoon. The park is home to one of Geneva’s disc golf courses, with five large baskets dotted around the park providing capacity for a 12-hole course. I used to play disc golf many years ago but gave up after realising that I really hated the sport. It was amusing to find a course here but I was glad that no one was playing today!

View of the Saleve in France after the snow line almost came down to Geneva

View of the Saleve in France after the snow line almost came down to Geneva

After Mtoto had tried out every single one of the apparatus in the park, we played Hide and Seek among the trees. Mtoto is in a very enjoyable stage of playing Hide and Seek where he cannot contain his excitement when we play. “Pappa, I’m hiding in the tree cave” he shouts at the top of his voice as I come to look for him. He shrieks with laughter and joy and comes to hug me when I announce that I have found him. Another time, I tried to hide him while L was looking for us. I told him to be quiet but the joy was too great and he let out an incredible whoop of excitement as L came to look for us. When it’s Mtoto’s turn to look for us he watches as we hide and he counts to five out loud, then shouts as loud as he can: “Ready or not, here I come”. And he comes running over. It’s impossible not to smile and enjoy his approach. When we play Hide and Seek at home we tend to play across two bedrooms and the bathroom. Mtoto always shouts out which room he’s in when he’s hiding. I have tried to deceive him by hiding under the bedcovers and when he calls “Pappa, where are you?” I answer “I’m hiding in the cupboard”. But I can’t keep up the pretense as I can’t stop laughing. Hide and Seek with a toddler is a lot of fun!

After finishing with Hide and Seek we were off to engage with some of the public art in the park. There’s a lot of art on display in Geneva and this park is no exception. Mtoto loved hugging the statue of a cat and playing peekabo games with L in a sliced up rock. He also found a large stick in it, much to his delight, though he made sure to return it before we left the park. Finally we were off to another park down the hill, where Mtoto rode down the big slide on the hill several times and I had an enjoyable time watching birds.

2015 birds

A kingfisher landing on a fence in Parc Stagni

A kingfisher landing on a fence in Parc Stagni

Walking between the two parks I saw my first Green Woodpecker and Song Thrush of the year, my 52nd and 53rd birds of 2015. But the real highlights were to come back in Parc Stagni while we were walking Mtoto for his Quiet Time. First of all we had the pleasure of watching a Kingfisher for a couple of minutes at the tiny marsh and pond area in the park.

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Kingfisher in flight in Parc Stagni

Then a moment after it had gone, a Hawfinch dropped by.

Hawfinch in Parc Stagni

Hawfinch in Parc Stagni

Janathon

Today I dropped out of my marathon training schedule for the first time. Yesterday my knees were feeling a little tender and I don’t want to risk aggravating them. I did some stretches instead and enjoyed the walks around and between the parks.

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.

Janathon

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

Birds on Lake Geneva

Tufted Duck on Lake Geneva

Tufted Duck on Lake Geneva

There are some great places to go to see birds around Geneva at Lake Geneva. Point de la Bise is one of our favourites. There Pro Natura runs a nature reserve with a two-storey bird hide (including child gates) and a great education centre. Round the other side, Versoix has some great spots, especially where the river meets the lake. If you’re willing to further afield, you can take the train to Prangins and spot birds from the marina. Or take the train to Nyon and then take the boat to Yvoire, on the other side of the lake, in France.

Sometimes all you need to do is go down to the lake at Eaux-Vives. This afternoon, it took a long while to settle Mtoto down for his afternoon nap, but as soon as he was asleep I went for a saunter by the lake. All the usual birds were there, including some Mute Swans, Mallard Ducks, Black-headed Gulls and Coots. And just now there’s a great number of Tufted Ducks and Goosander there too as well as the occasional Ferruginous Duck.

Little Grebes at Eaux Vives on Lake Geneva

Little Grebes at Eaux Vives on Lake Geneva

Having thought I had spotted one earlier in the week, but not being sure enough to note it down, today I saw about a dozen Little Grebes. I only saw these because I walked along one of the pontoons in the marina, so if you fancy seeing something different, I wholly recommend walking among the boats. There are a couple of places like this that you can go to get a different view to the usual tourist view of the Jet D’eau or the Cathedral or perhaps both together, so it is well worth taking the extra few minutes walk if you have time.

Finally, there was one bird that I didn’t recognise and haven’t been able to identify from my bird book. It looks like a bit of several things, but not definitely something. If you know what it is, please do say! Edit: (21/01/2015) I have learned from a birdwatcher (merci!) that the unknown bird is likely to be a White-cheeked Pintail. It is a rare or scarcely seen bird in Switzerland, though already this year over 100 sightings have been recorded in Geneva canton.

The not-so-accessible bird hide on the Rhone

The not-so-accessible bird hide on the Rhone

Janathon

Today, we went for a 4 hours + hike from Tours Lignon to Aire de la Ville with Edward. There’s a lovely hide on the rive gauche just west of Passerelle de Chevres. It isn’t wholly accessible – Mtoto couldn’t get in on his own and needed to be carried or have someone hold his hand.

2015 birds

49. Starling

50. Little Grebe

White-cheeked Pintails on Lake Geneva

White-cheeked Pintail

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

Mud

 

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.”

Janathon

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.

IMG_8432

Sans voyageurs

 

The postman cometh after the rain

The postman cometh after the rain

 

 

 

All you need is a sandpit

We played a fabulous game today, Mtoto and me. All we needed was a sandpit and our imagination.

Following on from yesterday’s good day, this was another one. Different, but special too. We were up early doors and we played garage and telescopes (poster tubes) until it was time to go out for our playdate. Contrary to the impression I’ve given so far, this was set up with a female friend and her son. She had invited along another female friend with another son. The three boys have about 6 months between them and will be in the same school year. They played well together and at times, I dare say, they really played together rather than just along side each other, as Mtoto tends to do at present. We stayed there for about 3 hours, including lunch together and lots of Duplo train set, cars, books and the like.

The park we found the sandpit in, Place de jeux du parc des Franchises, was a new one on us. We found little for toddlers, just some swings and a sandpit, but boy, what a sandpit. It’s big, with two tables in and it merges with the grass banks. As there was just Mtoto and me, it was a lot of space to play in.

We started as we often do, playing with our sand cups and making mini-castles. We both built them, but Mtoto enjoys knocking them down more. Eventually he tired of this game and asked me to build a boat. I suggested a train instead and he agreed. After marking out an engine and two cars, we were away. To the casual observer, our train looks nothing like a train but with a little imagination you can see the edges, the seats and the funnel. Instead of the usual steering wheel that we use for a boat we had levers. We went on several journeys and then Mtoto asked for a bus. In the summer we mostly made boats, plus the occasional plane or car but this project grew and grew.

The sand bus from the rear.

The sand bus from the rear.

Within about three quarters of an hour as well as the train we had a bus, a helicopter, a Mouette (a Genevois public transport boat), a helicopter and a postman’s bike with post-filled trailer. We also had two ticket offices and a post office. Mtoto went to buy tickets and I was the ticket vendor, selling tickets (leaves, sticks and pine cones) that Mtoto asked for. As well as tickets for Geneva, London and Annecy, he also bought yes/no tickets, yes/yes tickets and a travel pass. At the post office he bought stamps. I was the vendor there too. At the post office he picked up a ticket (number 8), so he could be called to the kiosk when it was his turn. Thankfully I was serving customer number 6 when he arrived, so he didn’t have long to wait.

The imagination play was brilliant. Mtoto also drove most of the vehicles that he had tickets for and the journey only took a few seconds. I sat where requested, which included next to him, in another car, or at his favourite bus seat, across from the driver at the front. I also had the honour or driving the bus (the number 8 again) and the train. We were in the park for almost 2 hours before I called on Quiet Time and despite mild initial protests he was asleep in just a few minutes, no doubt dreaming of public transport adventures.

 

Janathon

I walked to the playdate and back again, enjoying it without logging time or distance. It was at least 4 miles for the round trip, probably a bit longer.

2015 birds

I saw another wren today, this time in Parc des Delices, plus plenty of cormorants, swans, goosander, coots and pochard down by the lake but nothing new.

Observations

We found a painful bus stop in Geneva today.

Les Ouches

Les Ouches

On the way home I stopped off at Rue de St-Jean to take in the views. The apartments there are built on a hill and offer super views over Geneva.

Looking to the Alps from St Jean, over Geneva.

Looking to the Alps from St Jean, over Geneva.

View from Geneva looking out along the Rhone towards the confluence with the Arve.

View from Geneva looking out along the Rhone towards the confluence with the Arve.

 

 

Laconnex

In the pub with the Geneva Dads drinking beer last week, a cry went round the tables that 2015 is the year. The year of what? Someone replied. The year! It came back. Today was the Monday of the year. The start of how I mean to go on. Monday has usually been jobs day. I do the weekly clothes washing in the evening and have been filling the day with food shopping and crashing. We lie in bed and watch videos. Or I fall asleep playing with Duplo in Mtoto’s room. I’ve had a lot of Mondays like that in the past five months.

Learning about the Groupe Ornithologique du Bassin Genevois on Saturday helped me find a focus for this week. On the GOBG website is a list of 21 places in Geneva canton which are recommended as spots to watch birds from. Planning our week, I simply set the first place on the list for Monday, the second for Tuesday and so on. Of course, it won’t be as simple as this. We’ve been to some of the places already and a playdate (whose parent is a mother!) for Mtoto on Tuesday means the second place is postponed and so on. But still, it’s a start.

I even prepared the buggy beforehand. I was on it yesterday. I looked up the times and knew we needed to get the 9:22 from Bel Air to get to Croisee de Confignon to get the L to Laconnex. Yeah, I know, Laconnex. Where? I can’t tell you much about Laconnex the village. There’s a playground, a cafe, a shop, a farm and a garage selling old American cars. There’s all the usual stuff that a village in Geneva canton has. To be fair to the people of Laconnex, we didn’t poke about today in their village. We were on a mission. We were on our way to the Pro Natura Reserve Naturelle de Laconnex.

 

Winter's morning at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

Winter’s morning at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

We got off at the L stop after Stand Laconnex, turned first right into Rue des Rupettes, then left at the roundabout onto La Vy Neuve. Then we turned right at the next junction, just after the American car dealership onto Chemin-de-la-Loi. The reserve is about 200 yards up on the left. It’s on the site of an old gravel pit and has ponds, reed beds and lots of trees around the edges. It has a noticeboard and a path for visitors around the edge. What it doesn’t have is an entrance that is suitable for buggies, not even Mountain Buggies. I first tried pushing the buggy up the steep path over the bordering mound of soil that serves as entrance but we got stuck part way up. So we went back down and then I went up, pulling the buggy behind me. Which was fine but for the slope down the other side being steeper, longer and narrower. We made it, but only just. Afterwards I went back up the slope to pick up the things that had come out of the buggy on the way over.

Winter's greys at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

Winter’s greys at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

Unfortunately, Mtoto took an immediate dislike to Reserve Naturelle de Laconnex. Which was a real pain, because it was one of the most peaceful, tranquil and simply beautiful places I have been in a while. And there were lots of birds flitting around in the trees. “Pappi, I don’t want  this path, I want the big path” he shrieked. “I don’t like it, I want to go home” he cried. I tried him in the buggy, I tried him walking, I tried him on my shoulders. Nothing worked. We only reached harmony when we were on the way out and he knew it. Still, we saw Goldfinches (the first of the year), Reed Buntings, Blackbirds, Kestrels, Crows, Robins, Blue Tits and Long-tailed Tits. Not bad considering we were a bright red and blue seven feet high two-headed giant, wielding two cameras and in constant dialogue about leaving. As we were about to take on the entrance/exit again I asked Mtoto how he wanted to tackle it. He suggested that he went in the buggy, which was when we discovered that somewhere along the way we had lost Hippo. She’s a nondescript blankety thing, of little sentimental value except that she’s been with the buggies since day dot. So we trekked back along the path until we found Hippo and brought her back.

Droplets at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

From the reserve, we continued on Chemin-de-la-Loi, stopping to see various birds including some buzzards, then turned left down Route des Allues, where we saw our first hare of the year. Cutting a quick left took us on a path that eventually led back onto Chemin-de-la-Loi and back to the village, where caught a bus back, an hour-and-a-half after we had arrived. It was a beautiful morning, cold and crisp. The mountains were clear and had fresh snow on top. We made dragon breaths all the way round, picked up sticks and went fishing from the buggy. We rode mud, ice and roads. We saw one other person in the whole trip, a guy with a large lens on his camera, keeping still and watching the woods. This was the day and this is the year.

Janathon stats

I ran tonight with the Geneva Runners, 9.9km in 52:53 at 5.21 per km. Then I joined the runners for their weekly social – burgers at the Clubhouse and ran home afterwards.

2015 birds

46. Goldfinch

47. Great Crested Grebe

There were more, but I don’t know yet what they are. Edit: (21/01/2015) A Yellow Bunting and a Common Reed Bunting, with thanks to the Swiss birdwatcher, B, who got in touch with his suggestions.

Raptor (I presume it's a buzzard) in flight at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

Raptor (I presume it’s a buzzard) in flight at Laconnex. Photo: Jez Smith

 

yellow bird. Any idea what it is?

Yellow Bunting

More yellow bird. Any i/d?

Yellow Bunting

Little Brown Job. But what is it?

Common Reed Bunting

Little Brown Job on its way.

Common Reed Bunting

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