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

Two months in Europe and Africa: A quick overview of Covid requirements

Covid testing tents are everywhere in Paris now.

This post is not as fun as some, but I wanted to share practical travel-during-Covid info that took me awhile to pull together for our recent travels to Belgium (via the UK), France, Kenya and South Africa.

This year was a big birthday for me, so I was hoping we’d be able to do something special after last year’s pandemic isolation. We were thrilled when Europe opened up to (non-essential) American travelers again after we’d been banned for so long during the pandemic. When Antwerp friends asked us back for a favorite house- and cat-sit in September, we decided to launch my birthday trip there. I came up with a 2-month/4-trips-in-1 birthday trip that included Belgium, Paris, Kenya and South Africa. I made plans with the understanding that any portion of our travels could be canceled at any time given the vagaries of ever-changing Covid restrictions. I researched travel requirements throughout the summer, thinking early on that South Africa might be out when that country raised its Covid Level from 2 to 3 to 4. A ban on all alcohol sales and the closing of many venues would make our planned Garden Route exploration and wine tasting impossible. Fortunately, South Africa was back to Level 2 by the time we traveled there. When –just prior to our September 2 departure– the EU recommended member nations consider banning Americans as our Covid numbers spiked, we started to wonder if we’d even make it to our first stop in Belgium. I decided each and every step of the trip would be a gift. As each portion of our trip materialized, we counted ourselves lucky and crossed our fingers for the next. In the end, all four portions of our trip worked out and we had a wonderful time: We spent three weeks in Antwerp, two weeks in an apartment in my beloved Paris, a week on safari in Kenya, and 15 days in the Western Cape of South Africa. read more

A favorite (and mostly downhill) walk through Paris’ colorful Montmartre neighborhood

I recently sent the following to a family member. I can’t count how many times I’ve forwarded this to friends and family and it occurred to me (finally) that I ought to just post it on Wanderwiles. Et, voilà!:

Basilica of Sacré-Coeur

A MONTMARTRE WALK

I always tell people that Montmartre is worth a visit and makes a great walk. A lot of people skip Montmartre because it’s more down-scale and crowded and has some steep walks, but it does have some of the best views and most classically Parisian locales and can be done mostly downhill if you follow the route I’ll set out. It’s not unsafe (I have a friend who owned a jewelry store there and loved the area), picturesque (beyond a certain grunginess) and charming in its own way. There is a large immigrant population in Montmartre, it’s the bustling fabric district of Paris, and it’s full of tourists and a fair amount of party-minded types in addition to merchants and the like, so expect bustling activity, noise and a colorful international vibe going in. Here’s my favorite route: read more

Back in Antwerp for 6 weeks and a preview of travels to come

David and I are happily back in Antwerp, Belgium, for 6 weeks once again cat- and house-sitting for some of our favorite people and cats in one of our favorite cities. As always when in Belgium, we’ll be exploring this beautiful country and scouting great beer. We’ll spend a month in Paris when we leave here, just to touch base in my old home and enjoy the holiday season before heading back stateside.

Coming up in the spring [March-June]: Another Korean Air First Class mega-flight from DFW to Seoul to Singapore(!), a few weeks in Indonesia (Bali, Java, etc.), then back to Singapore to catch a month cruise to Europe (via Sri Lanka, India (Cochin, Goa, Mumbai), Oman, UAE (Dubai, Abu Dhabi), Suez Canal, Jordan (Petra), Greece, Italy). When we get off the ship in Italy, we’ll spend a couple of weeks in Umbria (in an agrotourism farm) and Tuscany (at a small-town apartment) before flying from Florence back to Antwerp.

If any of these interest you, check back in. I’m also always open to suggestions!