You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.
The Belle Epoque steamers and their aquatic ballet on Lake Geneva (Lac Léman)
This is what we're here for: every year, the opening of the summer season for the elegant steamers on Lake Geneva is celebrated with a naval ballet off the quais of Morges, near Lausanne.
Not to be utterly vegetative, we've walked down the course of the Boiron "river" to the lake, and then along the lakeshore path to Morges, where we find the great ships already assembling as we're still a few kilometres away.
Kristin on the Lake Geneva shore, 20 May 2012, watching the line of steamers processing on towards Morges. There are eight ships in the Swiss fleet of Belle Epoque paddle-wheelers on Lake Geneva (Lac Léman), all constructed between 1904 and 1927. There is a rota of necessary renovations (to which one contributes small sums as one can), and presently the Italie, the Vevey, and the Helvétie are out of service awaiting technical assistance.
We've marched along the shore past the Restaurant du Tennis and the Restaurant du Piscine (swimming pool), and the parking lots and football pitches, and here we are in beautiful Morges . . .
. . . just as a tourist road-train ding-dings and cruises past us serenely. We need to catch up with that thing later.
The castle of Morges on the lakeside, built in the 1280s by Louis I of Vaud, a cadet branch of the Savoie counts across the lake. It's now a military museum, specializing in dioramas of little tin soldiers re-enacting famous battles.
The marina of Morges, leading on to the lakeside park
The castle of Morges
There was a village here in prehistoric lake-dweller times, but that declined and it was the lakeside bandits' territory until Louis built the castle in the late 13th century, which then attracted a town around it.
The Belle Epoque steamers have arrived before us and headed out across the lake to form up their ballet. The crowd has gathered and is presently pigging out on sausages and risotto de gambas, as . . .
. . . the Venoge and a small sailing sloop pass back and forth firing off cannons and fireworks. (The Venoge is a cargo ship built in 1905 that's now based in Ouchy, Lausanne, and chiefly used for repairs and maintenance of the lakeside infrastructure, and today for festive larking-about.)
There's the tourist train again -- it's obviously NOT a Dotto Train!
Every European city worth visiting has a beautiful tourist train, the vast majority of which are manufactured by Dotto Trains from the Veneto region in Italy, and most of the rest of them by Road Trains "Tschu-Tschu" (as in "choo choo") in Neumarkt in der Oberpfalz, Bavaria, Germany. This is NOT a Dotto Train, so . . .
It's a Tschu-Tschu!
An impressive T120 or T180 model, named "William"
The Venoge is making another pass, and the two-master is firing off its cannons again, as the spectators begin to become restive, and a gruff voice over the loudspeakers entertains them with a synopsis of the history of Morges.
On the far side of the lake, the fleet is assembling -- four ships in good order, and the fifth coming up behind them on the right. Soon, the show will begin. A boat from the gendarmerie is clearing the pleasure boats out of the fleet's path.
Food concessions are everywhere, of course, and that one's for risotto (10 Swiss francs [= $11], 15 francs with prawns/shrimps in it). (I opted for the saucisse de veau, as always, whilst Kristin had a go at a "saucisse rouge", topped off by a bucket of fresh strawberries.)
Kristin is checking out the boat timetables for a birthday cruise in June; the casino is across the street.
Wait! Who's that on the roof?
Oh god, it's the NSA!! Here!!
Or are we just becoming more paranoid?
Death dealers. The concession for Rouleaux de printemps ("spring rolls") -- that's okay -- and Malakoffs! Enormous deep-fried cheese balls. At 2 p.m. on a hot afternoon! The fans couldn't get enough of them. (Kristin's wisely passing it by.)
The ships are coming in, en file indienne. Our mountains of Leysin (Tour de Mayen and Tour d'Aï) appear as dark blobs on the horizon above the snowfields.
The flagship, La Suisse, makes its cumbersome turn at the last moment.
La file indienne
La Suisse is leading the charge
This is La Suisse, built in 1910, 78 metres long, with red biodegradable balloons
La Suisse parading past, with the others lined up in a stately promenade, and the patriotic drapeau behind. (Think how agitated you become when you see the US flag flapping defiantly in your face everywhere Stateside, but this is heartwarmingly folklorique. It all has to do with military pretensions, I suspect.)
The Simplon making the turn
The Simplon, with number 3, the Savoie trying to edge past it
The Simplon, built 1915-1920, renovated in 2005, 78m long (yellow biodegradable balloons)
The Savoie (the area of France across the lake), with green biodegradable balloons
The Savoie, built in 1914, only 67.8 metres long
The embarrassingly small SS Montreux, also only 67.8m long, but the oldest of the lot, built in 1904 but renovated in 2001
And finally -- the Rhône (blue balloons)(all biodegradable)(with little mail-back messages on them).
The Rhône, the new kid on the block, built in 1927, also 67.8m long
The Rhône follows in line back out to form up for the finale.
And the pesky Venoge follows along behind again.
Masses of (from left) blue, yellow, red, green, and pink biodegradable balloons set up in a line and communicate amongst themselves for a synchronized festive balloon-release.
HCE / "Here Comes Everybody"
(or "Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker")
These things must have enormous momentum in the water. We're stepping back from the shore a little.
Yellow balloons (that would be the Simplon), poised
La Suisse and the red ones
The Rhône (blues)
Green and Pink also poised. The quaiside crowd is going crazy, and we can hear loudspeakers on the ships whipping the passengers into a frenzy.
Relâchement des ballons
You can't imagine the excitement along the Morges lakeside now, as many of those biodegradable balloon messages take off for -- who knows what recipients? And the rest of them hang up on the ships' cables.
Perhaps one of those biodegradable balloons, with its message, will land in our yard, and we can read it. Or rather, in our attic dormer window, as we don't have a yard.
They're all backing out now, in an orderly way of course, and we can perceive that the aquatic ballet of Belle Epoque behemoths is over for this year, except for the merry ballooneers now resuming their sumptuous (fairly expensive) lunches on board as they're ferried back to their home ports along the lake.
The fanfare, or brass band, strikes up a rousing tune to see the ships off. Conducted by a nice lady of Chinese extraction.
The lakeside crowd is dispersing in a homeward rout, and we're getting round it by detouring to the Morges High Street.
Kristin and Louis I's castle (and present military museum), as we prepare to outrace the rain to the mouth of the Boiron and hike back up the river to the sewage purification plant, where Üli the Volkswagen awaits us.
We're departing from Morges along the lake. Thanks for that, Morges and CGN.