Having a week's holiday at home, I decided to use the time to its best and do a few things that I usually don't have the time to - at least not on a weekday.
Top of my list was the Monet exhibition at the Fondation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny. It's a 3-hour train ride here from Zurich, so usually the only time to go is on a weekend. The problem is just, with the high-profile exhibitions they like to mount, publicity for them is everywhere, and everybody goes. Especially if our national train company also puts up a specials including fare and entrance fees. I admit, they get some of the best things down there, but I know what it is like when it gets crowded, so any way to avoid that is good. Leaving the grey, foggy Mittelland behind me, the sun came out just before the train went through the new Lötschberg tunnel, and was out in full force when the train left the tunnel after 34 kilometers and almost 20 minutes in the dark (what an experience, by the way). I arrived in Martigny just before 10 a.m. - and not a minute too late to see the exhibition without too big a crowd. With 70 works from the Musée Marmottan in Paris, from private collections (that is almost the most interesting, because these are a rare sight to be seen in public) and from Swiss museums in Zurich, Basel, Berne, Lausanne and Geneva, this was quite a show. It was beautifully lit, bringing out the incredibly brilliant colors in the vibrant paintings, and also showing the less colorful scenes to their best. My problem with the exhibition is just - the exhibition space they have is actually not enough for 70 paintings this size! It's a simple square inside this 70s building, with tiny niches in the corners. These niches get crowded when there's 3 people in there, and barely give one enough space to step away far enough to really see the paintings, unless they're very small. Monet paintings are best viewed from a distance, and the people at this museum should know that - it's not their first Monet/impressionist exhibition by far! In some places, there are also short walls opposite the all-around all where most of the paintings hang. These walls were hung with paintings too (they were generally hung extremely tightly - never seen quite anything like this before!), so there to is not enough space to step away from them. So, basically, with a good crowd, there is no way to really appreciate these paintings, because there will always be someone standing in your way! It really is too bad, because the paintings are spectacular. I have definitely found some new favourites. One certainly was "La neige à Argenteuil" with its pale glowing winter sun (that glow seriously reminded me of some Turner paintings that have the same quality). Another one was his "Route près de Giverny" (colors are much more brilliant in the original - he actually used a lot of pinks in this one), as well as two paintings of cliffs in foggy weather - "Falaises, temps gris" and "Mauvais temps, Pourville". The effect of the last two is just stunning. The colors are so delicate, and it feels so "real" looking at them. Sadly, and reproduction in print or on the internet can never do these justice. The second and third from top on the exhibition's web page are also absolutely gorgeous in reality. There were also some nymphéas or river theme paintings that I hadn't seen before and which seemed different from the best-known ones, which I thought were fascinating, like this one. I am definitely very glad to have gone there, and somehome I feel I have had a "fresh" look at Monet, seeing not just well-known paintings but to the best part ones that I had never seen before. What really struck me was the brilliance of the colors, and the light in some them. Again and again these are things that draw me to certain painters and paintings.
There was also a small side exhibition with japanese wood block prints from Monet's personal collection. They were just gorgeous too.
So I finished just before noon, having even take the time on the stroll through town to the museum, to visit the roman amphitheater.
The Fondation Gianadda also holds a permanent exhibition of roman artefacts and the roman history of the place. Ruins that have been excavated can be seen all over the town. Situated in a small sunny plain surrounded by mountains, and at a crossroads (which it still is today - the roads south of Martigny lead either to the Great St. Bernhard and Aosta/Italy or to Chamonix/France and the region of the Mont Blanc), it was probably seen as the ideal place to build a fort and and all that went with it.
Anyway, as the weather was still as sunny and beautiful and the air was just getting warmer, I decided that I had rather spend my time exploring some more and putting my day-ticket to full use, which I could use on almost every train in this country for a whole day. Only Martigny isn't quite the place to be... lots of architectural sins from the 60s and 70s and a general feeling of drabness in most places... except a short stretch on its main street, which really is pleasant:
Ater asking at the train station for suggestions, where they looked at me as if I had asked for the moon, I finally figured the solution out myself. On I went by regional train to Montreux, which is a different from the region that I had just come from as it could possibly be... glamourous, also a bit touristy, and that feeling as if one was on the French Riviera somewhere (the temperatures were like that too!). I had some time to spare for a walk along the promenade on Lake Geneva, and to have an ice cream.
And then, I was off on the GoldenPass train from Montreux to Zweisimmen. They have modern panoramic wagons, but also one Classic Train, which has older wagons done up in 1930s Pullman-style - just gorgeous:
... and this is "only" second class! Anyway, this narrow gauge train first winds up along the mountain above Montreux (which you see on the right side on the picture above), through countless vineyards and giving an incredible view of Montreux and the lake. Then it passes through a tunnel, and comes out in what seems to be a wholly different world! First it's the Pays d'Enhaut, green, mountainous, with sleepy small villages, and then passing on to a wider valley, the language changes from French to German from one village to another, in Saanen there seems to be a cow-auction or something like that near the train station (and these cows all still have their respect-inducing horns - not like down here!), and soon follows glamorous Gstaad and the small villages that belong to it, and again the train climbs up and dips down again into Zweisimmen, where the train has to be changed. From here on, the trains run on normal gauge again, towards Spiez and on to Interlaken. There's a whiff of manure in the air at the train station there, making sure you won't forget that you're still "in the country". From here, the ride was one flash-back after another from me. The new seats in the wagon couldn't hide how antiquated it actually was - one visit to the bathroom assured that. They used to have these funny containers with soap powder, and you had to turn a wheel at the bottom so the powder would drizzle in your hand. Once, as a small kid, me and an older girl once probably emptied one of those more or less on another regional train up another mountain valley. Our game was to "clean the sink"... Then there were the church towers, all built in the same distinctive way which seems to be particular to this region. It looked the same like the one in Spiez, where my grandparents once lived and which I remember well from the times I stayed with them on holidays. Only I had never noticed before that this must be a regional tradition. Of course you don't notice this as a kid (and the last time that I think I did this train ride, I was too small to remember it even now). And the scenery - I then remembered that this must have been where my grandparents once took me up by car - just a sunny summer afternoon excursion. Only we didn't take grandpa's usual car (a then already unusual 1970's Triumph that looked harmless but had quite a motor), but "Hueschti", the car that coughed. No kidding. It might have been a Triumph too, can't say for sure, it was white too, but it didn't have dowdy black and beige fabric seat covers of his usual car, but the seats were covered in dark red leather! It usually stayed in the garage and rarely got an outing. I can't remember why we took it on that particular day - but we did, and that just added to the fun. As I said, the car "coughed", hence it's name. I can't possibly say what it's problem was, but every now and then it would make a move and a sound that would feel like it coughed. Maybe it wasn't overly save even to drive a car like that, but to me as a kid it was just plain fun. And we certainly didn't take it very far.
So that's for the trip down memory lane. In Spiez, the intercity train back to Zurich already waited on the other side of the platform, and so I was off on the way back home. What an enjoyable day! If it hadn't been for the trees already turning colors, one could have though it was still summer. But like this, it felt a little bit "Indian Summer"-like, at least after leaving Montreux.
And if you feel like the Indian Summer too now, check out the VFG's latest Etsy treasury, which also features this theme!