Saturday, March 03, 2007

Polar Dog in Pontarlier

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Bound for Geneva today, the road out of Besançon climbs swiftly, putting us at least another 400m higher into the Jura. I am a little reminded of the drive from Sydney to Newcastle, as I pass the “Dino Zoo" - not a world away from the Gosford Reptile Park I visited frequently as a kid, especially drawn to the giant replica of a brontosaurus out the front. The mountains we're travelling through gave the Jurassic Period its name, so this park is not a total surprise: at least they resisted calling it Jura Park.

Pontarlier

At some point we surface into a high wide glacial valley (or cluse as they are known here) with Pontarlier not far away. My main interest here is the former absinthe distillery of Armand Guy. For most of the last century it has been devoted to distilling green anis to produce Ponsec, plus an assortment of brandies and related spirits. I only managed to sample one rather heady anis-flavoured drink, being elbowed out of the way by a group of old Frenchfolk determined to try one of each product on offer.

Bondi @ Armand Guy

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IMG_0071Returning to the road, following the winding edge of Lac de Remoray, a nature reserve backed by snow-tipped mountains. After Mouche, more and more snow is visible by the road here after missing a turn at Petit Chaux, the satnav sends me up a forest-trail which suddenly turns into a white wonderland. There a tracks on the road where snow has cleared, but after a few hundred metres it's clear I'm not going to get further. Turning back is not so straightforward as the wheels spin on slush. I thought that the trip was going to go all snowman-shaped at this point, but I kick out some of the muck from under the wheels and reverse down the tracks.
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This is more snow than Bondi has seen in 4 years, so I let him out to canter through the white and the woods and then into a mountain stream. So many memories of taking him up into the Cascade Mountains when he was not more than a pup.

20070302 - 4 Parc du Chien Polaire
A sign for the Parc du Chien Polaire cannot be ignored, and turning off into another mountain road, I find an "experience park" for people to learn about and meet malamutes, huskies, samoyeds and even a few reindeer. It's like bringing a coal seam to Newcastle, but I let Bondi out to come up to the main building, where he is swamped with children - one authoritatively stating that here is an Alaskan Malamute, for the benefit of his classmates.
The main attraction is out the back where about 12-15 chiens polaires roam a hectare enclosure. A large white fluffy thing does its best to control the pack, standing on its doggy version of Pride Rock and bleating impressively. When it gets down I realise that it's not more than 2/3 of Bondi's size. As the crowd of kids and adults mills around the dogs, half paying attention to each of the two guides, the dogs alternately seek human attention or snip at each other to maintain their pack hierarchy. Despite all the teeth baring and other posturing, there's still never any bad intention displayed toward the humans. Some of them sniff Bondi on me and are extremely intrigued, a couple fall before me and roll on their backs submissively: I am the new pack leader.

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The visitors are now being led over to the reindeer field, but I don't need that. I have been the great polar reindeer hunter, hurling pink plastic ropes at dopey deer, and I am above all this.

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The road goes through several ski-fields now, and then drops into a hairpin bend around Morez tucked into a deep narrow valley like a village in a model trainset. Pretty soon we're at the French-Swiss border. Quickly through, the satnav does one of its occasional little dances and sends me back towards the border. Before I can back up, a different border official beckons me over, and I try to explain that I have already crossed the border - less than 2 minutes before - and just want to get to Geneva. She won't have this and sends me back to France, so I return to border guy #1 and we're waved through and I ignore the satnav till we're well on our way.

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Besançon - Geneva mapNow we have a steep descent towards Nyon, but stop to admire the stupendous view of Lake Geneva. The remaining drive towards Geneva is less interesting, and I must admit my first impressions of the city are not great. Obviously it needs a chien polaire to lend it some class...

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