Nine- eleven, 2010; Jura Mountains

Mont Blanc

It’s been nine years since the New York and Washington attacks and today the headlines and news banners appear fairly low key in regards to terrorism. The payback is still going on in Iraq and Osama Bin Laden is probably resting up in some penthouse of his own hotel chain watching replays of the planes slicing death through the twin towers and changing how the rest of the world would live life forever. Not that my understanding of French news banners is quite perfected yet. However, in the the town of Oyonnax (pronounce oy-on-ack) in the French province of Franche-Comte , just south of the Jura mountains, all the attention today is on their local Rugby Union team who are hosting a game in the French second division competition. So how did we end up in Oyonnax on such a fateful day?
Well the coincidence of 9/11 for me is that nine years ago on this day I turned forty nine. While the twin towers were burning Jo and I were eating pizza on the beach at Mooloolaba. On the first anniversary of America’s ‘own worst enemy coming to town’ (Bruce Sprinsteen) Jo and I celebrated my fiftieth in Kathmandu, Nepal. Don’t ask me what has happened to the intervening time but I can honestly say moss has not had any opportunity to cover this crusty piece of God’s art work. 
This morning we set off with the idea of driving to Dijon (the home of mustard) in France for lunch. By the time I bought croissants and we ate them with butter and local fruit jam and did a couple of Skype phone calls it was mid morning. After consulting  our Navigator Europe road atlas and the ever faithful and reliable Tomtom once we had crossed the Swiss-French border west of Geneve we made an executive decision to head to Lyon instead. This was based on the fact that Lyon was one hundred kilometres closer than Dijon and the Dijon lunch might have been closer to afternoon tea by the time we got there. The motorways in France are pretty good to drive on. The speed limit is 130 k.p.h. which means that the little Alfa can show off her grunts and spurts and stick with the bigger Beemers and Audis if she wants to. But at 130 we’re both pretty satisfied. Like I said the motorways in France are pretty good, that is unless there are roadworks where kilometre after kilometre of lanes are closed off to traffic and never a workman or a piece of equipment is seen or there is a crash in one of the many tunnels. Today, after forty five minutes of happy zooming and adjusting our Lyon eta we encountered both of these pieces of roadway mayhem. It took us one and a half hours to travel eight kilometres in first gear. The road signs were flashing messages to ‘ralentir’ (slow down) but it was difficult to go any slower. Important announcements broke in over our music on the car radio. It took us a while to get the gist of these messages that there must have been an accident in a tunnel and to seek an alternate route if heading to Lyon or Paris. We opted to head back towards our home in Rolle. Using the Tomtom and Navigator Europe we turned onto a motorway that headed to Oyonnax, then onto a provincial road, St Claud, Mijoux and then down the hill to Geneva and home to Rolle. Did I say hill?
Oyonnax is an old village now kept alive by a light industrial pursuits that according to the billboards has made it the ‘plastique’ centre of this small universe. We eventually found the old town hub around 12:30 hours which made it pretty quiet because of the European two hour lunch break. We chose one of the few cafes catering for people who need to eat in town and after all the locals were served and we were mainly ignored because I asked for an English written menu (which has the name of the dishes in English but not always what the dish comprises of in English), we had a pretty good feed. I felt like a steak and had their house specialty which was barbecued. The steak was tender and tasty but funnily enough it came served on on a black cutting board with the salad sitting free range beside it. Jo settled for the goat’s cheese salad which she has come to enjoy in France. By the time we wandered back up into the main street of the town it was beginning to wake up. To commemorate the day I claimed a local rugby union poster for the days game from a hairdressing salon. Then we both took part in a bit of retail therapy for the heck of it. French fashion is so much more interesting than Swiss.  You find brands and styles that we don’t get across the border and they are much better value for money. I went back to the car with a another pair of jeans and t-shirt to add to my growing collection and Jo picked up some casual t’s and a groovy purple piece of on-board luggage for her Rome trip on Monday.
For the next twenty kilometres we followed the Tomtoms advice back to Rolle until we came to a halt because a bridge was completely blocked off by roadworks (and again not a machine or person to be seen). We switched back to the road atlas and backtracked our way to Oyonnax and then headed north to St. Claude,
St. Claude is an interesting little place. Founded by some monks in the fifth century. The monks were out walking in the mountain forests one day, came to a clearing where two river gorges met and thought “This would be a great place to build an abbey”. So they did and it is still standing on the edge of this bustling mountain crossroad. The town started it’s original development by making and selling religious artifacts and now it is a bustling tourism hub all year round but especially in the ski season. The main retail area is built between the two river gorges and consists of one long crooked street with small wall to wall shops. We also found a hidden away section comprising of an art house cinema, a bar and cafe  with it’s own out of the main stream courtyard.
On leaving St. Claude we continued to wind our way up through the Juras towards home. All the time I was thinking that eventually we will need to start heading down the hill. Our journey took us through some interesting small villages with empty bars that were obviously waiting for the winter crowd and some very narrow roads that tightly ground their way even to even greater heights. It wasn’t until we came to an open clearing at the top of a pass and had a clear view of Mont Blanc in front of us that we realised our exact location and how high we’d climbed. From lakeside at Rolle, Mont Blanc is a snow-capped peak. From 1700 metres up in the Juras it is an awe inspiring, white craggy giant opening it’s arms along the length of the French Alps many millennia of metres above Lake Geneva. After photos and before heading down the hill to Geneva we raided the adjacent patisserie for coffee and home made blueberry slice. There were several other photo opportunities on the way down out of the mountains. We eventually passed through the historic old town of Gex and crossed the Swiss border a few minutes north of Geneva.
It had been a perfect fun day. Totally nothing happened according to the original plan but there is an old saying that goes ‘If you want to make God laugh tell him what your plans are.’ The experiences Jo and I had had today were priceless and now firmly etched in our memory banks. The places, the people, the scenery and Mont Blanc putting it’s face into the centre of our windscreen. Now that was something special. Thanks Jo for sharing another one with me.

Oyonnax 1
Oyonnax 2

St Claude

St Claude arts centre

The Abbey

Jodie's photo
Mont Blanc over lake Geneva

The giant's bike


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