Chamonix-Mont-Blanc and the Aiguille du Midi cable car

Looking back at Chamonix, France, from the Aiguille du Midi cable car as it ascends

Decades ago, I was intrigued to learn it is possible to take a cable car over the Alps from Chamonix, France, to Italy. I’d wanted to make the trip ever since, but I learned that weather was a huge factor. The Aiguille du Midi (“Needle of the Midi”) is a 12,606ft mountain peak in the Mont Blanc massif. The Aiguille du Midi cable car is the highest cable car in France and the closest you can get to the summit of Mont Blanc without climbing. Weather can turn bad quickly at such high altitudes and the cable car can be halted without notice. Losing visibility is also a risk if clouds form on the mountain peaks. Even when living in Paris, a dash for the Chamonix cable car (a 6+ hour drive or multi-stage train trip) on a day forecast to be sunny just never made sense. With two summer weeks to spend house- and cat-sitting near Geneva, I realized we were only an hour and twenty minute drive away from Chamonix. My time might finally have come to visit the famous ski town and the Aiguille du Midi cable car! read more

Château de Voltaire at Ferney-Voltaire

The Château de Voltaire at Ferney-Voltaire

Wanting to take full advantage of our time house- and cat-sitting in Thoiry, France, I avidly browsed local websites and scanned any tourist brochures I came across. I was excited when I discovered that Voltaire’s home-in-exile-from-Paris for 20+ years was in nearby Ferney-Voltaire, France, only 15 minutes away. I’m a fan of the famous, witty and irreverent French philospher and writer. We had to go!

Banished from Paris by Louix XV, Voltaire (né François-Marie Arouet) lived at Ferney (later Ferney-Voltaire) from 1758 to 1778. Among other well-known works, Voltaire wrote Candide at the château in Ferney in 1759. read more

Annecy: a picturesque city on an Alpine lake bustles in the summer sun

The Palais de l’Isle in the middle of the Thiou River dates to the 12th century.

I’ve known several people from Annecy, heard about it for years, but had never had the opportunity to visit. With Annecy just under an hour drive away from our house- and cat-sit in Thoiry, now was the perfect time.

The route took us over the Rhône River and through the Haute-Savoie region of France. We arrived on a warm, sunny June holiday (Lundi de Pentecôte) to find Annecy absolutely buzzing with people. Despite the hordes and lack of street parking, we found ample cheap parking in the château parking lot just a short walk up the hill from the city center. I was worried about the crowds at first, but the city absorbed them well and the atmosphere was festive rather than claustrophobic. For lunch, we surprisingly had no wait for an outdoor table in the shade at the café of our choice, Café Bichette. We enjoyed trying award-winning local beers – a blonde for me and a triple for David – from Brasseurs Savoyards. read more

House- and cat-sitting in a little village near Geneva

Swans on Lake Geneva at Vevey, hoping to share our lunch

It had been awhile since David and I did a pet- and housesitting gig for someone new, but we had a couple of weeks to fill between our latest cat-sit in Antwerp and the time I’d set aside for a long-wished-for trip to Corsica. On whim, I searched Trustedhousesitters.com for something that might work. (See my earlier posts on pet- and housesitting here and here.) I was intrigued to find a two-week cat- and housesit in Thoiry, France, a small village nestled against the Jura Mountains just outside of Geneva, Switzerland. I wrote the owner, Lydia, right away; we had a great video chat and it was a done deal. Her tomcat, Leo, turned out to be the easiest cat-sit ever. He roamed at night and came home in the morning for breakfast and to socialize and nap. He never even used his litterbox during our stay. Lydia’s home was cute, comfortable and modern and a breeze to maintain with techy touches including a robot lawn mower and big, retractable awning over the patio. read more

Qatar Airways Qsuites: 26+ hours of luxury flying

Excellent Qsuites lobster Thermador

The last hurrah of my big birthday trip was a two-flight return journey from Cape Town to Dallas via Doha on Qatar Airways Qsuites. I’d been wanting try Qsuites for awhile, but it just never worked into our plans. With American Airlines offering this pair of flights on partner Qatar Airways for a super-reasonable 70,000 miles, now was the time!

While the route might see ridiculously out-of-the-way on first glance, it was actually perfect and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The first flight was overnight, Cape Town to Doha, so I chose two interior seats (Qsuites are in a 1-2-1 configuration) so that David and I could merge our seat cubicles. We shared dinner, then had our seats reconfigured to have a private double bed in the sky. We loved it! read more

South Africa finale: A gorgeous hotel in a former Constantia vineyard

Although the room we stayed in listed online at over $700/night, our stay at The Cellars-Hohenort was completely free thanks to Hyatt credit card “annual” certificates which David had accumulated over the pandemic as Hyatt and other hotel chains extended the validity of such certificates during the worldwide shut-down. (We used my three certificates for our stay at The Marine Hermanus.) The Cellars-Hohenort is part of the Liz McGrath collection of three 5-star hotels which, along with The Marine Hermanus, had just come under the Hyatt umbrella. We couldn’t have been happier with this use of the certificates! read more

An Afrikaner ostrich farm

Skeiding ostriches were as curious about us as we were about them.

I’m behind on blogging having been distracted by the holidays and then the heartbreaking last weeks with my beloved, nearly 18-year old dog, so am finishing up the end of our South Africa trip while on a transAtlantic cruise from Florida back to Europe. I’ll keep it brief, but I hated to let two favorite South African stays (and a pair of awesome Qatar Airways Qsuites flights home) go unreported.

Looking for something different after our time driving South Africa’s Garden Route, I was intrigued to find Skeiding Guest Farm, billed as a working ostrich farm. How fun!) Turning inland from the Garden Route, the drive to Skeiding took us through dramatic mountain passes into the Little Karoo, a rugged high plains area. We stopped for lunch at a funky little roadside café and gift shop called Bella de Karoo and descended back through the mountains to the ostrich farm at the end of some miles of unpaved road. (Bella de Karoo apparently has guest rooms elsewhere, but we didn’t check those out.) read more

South Africa: The Garden Route

The Indian Ocean at The Heads, Knysna, South Africa

The famed Garden Route along the southern coast of the Western Cape of South Africa stretches from Mossel Bay to Storms River. I’d planned our first two nights officially on the Garden Route at an AirBnB apartment in Mossel Bay. The drive from Hermanus was just under 3 ½ hours along an inland stretch of the N2 highway. It wasn’t the gorgeous coastline we’d enjoyed en route from Cape Town to Hermanus via the Cape Peninsula, but it had had its own rugged vastness with mountains looming beyond plains off to our left. We loved a lunch stop at Ou Meul Bakkery in Riviersonderend where kudu venison meat pies and sweet pastries were delicious and cheap. read more

Hermanus, South Africa: coastal charm, whales and wine

Hermanus, South Africa

Six free-annual-night Hyatt certificates first put Hermanus, South Africa, on my radar screen. David and I each had accumulated lots of hotel certificates over the pandemic and we each had three Hyatt nights that we needed to use. We get one certificate/year with certain credit cards and, although they usually expire within a year, Hyatt had extended the expiration due to the pandemic. This created a great opportunity to use those certificates for an extended stay. We often use these certificates for a 2-night stay, using each of our 1-night certificates, then calling the hotel to make sure we can stay in the same room, rather than checking out and then in again as the booking switches from one of our names to the other. So, we could have lumped our nights together for a 6-night free stay somewhere, but that really didn’t suit our plans on this trip. read more

South Africa, the Beginning: Cape Town and Cape Peninsula

A final view of Mt. Kilimajaro as we leave Kenya, the Zambezi River just above Victoria Falls
on a refueling stop in Zambia… and Cape Town, South Africa, here we come!

After our Kenya safari, it was time for 15 days/14 nights in South Africa. I wanted to spend the entire time in the Western Cape, exploring Cape Town, driving the famous Garden Route at leisure and doing a little wine tasting. We also wanted to make use of Hyatt anniversary night certificates that had been piling up during the pandemic but that would be expiring before too long. With Hyatt and Small Luxury Hotels having recently added the 3-hotel Liz McGrath boutique hotel chain in South Africa to its lineup, we had a great opportunity to get max value from those certificates. read more