Europe Journal

Saturday, October 10th, 1998 - London - Paris (Pierrelaye)

Here we go again. I seem to always be going somewhere. I have often been accused of being unable to stand still – perhaps this is to overcome any thoughts of my lack of any personal life (read: relationship). Regardless of the reason, I am on the road again, this time with the excuse that my friend, Victor, has come to visit me in my flat in Guildford (Surrey, yes, England). He has never really left his home province in Canada so this is an opportunity for him to see many new areas and experience a bit of the European culture. We shall see. “Culture” is an interesting word, perhaps a bit too much “culture” is not such a good thing.

He has been spending a bit of his time in Guildford but much else of it in London which is about 45 minutes or so north-east by train. He seems to have picked up pretty quick on how to get around. I made an effort to show him quickly around London when he first arrived; general orientation, how to use the underground and buses. I did also get to take him to a few of my favourite restaurants – which tend towards the Asian side. It seems that my tastes are somewhat more exotic than the local favourites of lager/fish & chips.

It was quite a week though, leaving him alone to fend for himself to getting in and out of the city. I have suggested a few places to visit, which he has been fortunate enough to see though we did also organize a few situations to meet at night (after work was finished for me) to go to a show and to go to dinner with another friend that also happened to be visiting this week also. The show was interesting in that I have seen it about 4 times now, it is one that is 1) british 2) a musical and 3) extremely unusual. Three things that are a big draw and really helped decide it. I have also taken my mother and sister to see it when they were in town (ok, it is Starlight Express – a musical on rollerskates, in a nutshell). It has also made it interesting to drive a fair bit into the city before catching the train to meet Victor at a designated area, but it has worked out (with my being late every single time).

A long time ago, Victor suggested coming to visit. Initially he had thought to take various trains around Europe to see a bit of the mainland. He always planned to visit for a month so a lot of time was available to him. As soon as I heard about that I suggested that perhaps I could take the car that was provided to me by my company over and drive him around, thereby also allowing me to see the area also. I have never actually been to europe except for a brief day trip from London to Paris a few years ago when I first visited (quite amusing – woke up extremely early to catch the Eurostar channel train to Paris for a one hour bus tour of the city and then a few hours to run around before returning – during which time I had a meal at a cafe and a brief trip to the Louvre – saw Mona and David).

The biggest problem I had to face was of course the car – I had to make sure I had the correct documentation and insurance cover. I am also very paranoid about the whole thing, want to make sure everything is just right, small things can have a severe effect on a trip like the one we have planned. We did only a little bit of research on the trip itself, basically, enough to figure out a general route including the areas we most want to see (we were also able to use a piece of software that aids in route planning throughout Europe. It just so happens that I was also able to install it on my laptop computer which I am also bringing along, along with a portable CD player to handle the disk the software is stored on.

The first day was a bit worrying, we actually ended up starting off by travelling into Guildford and walking around taking care of a few things, including picking up some pictures I had developed and a kit for the car that contains various equipment required on the roads in some European coutries (things like a first aid kit, hazard triangle and “GB” sticker). I knew we needed it but had not had time to pick it up but Victor figured that since I had paid for our trip across the channel he could spend the quite significantly less amount on a kit to even things out a bit. I had actually arranged the crossing a few days before. Originally, I had thought to use the ferry to cross the channel but it seems that the rates they were charging were very high, though why is unclear, perhaps because it was a weekend and during the day, but again, we do not know. Since these rates were pretty considerable we decided to spend the then not too much more money to travel on the Eurotunnel across the channel. So, off we went…

Zipping down the motorways in England is not thrilling at the best of times, but with someone in the car who had not been through the areas and who could actually afford to spend the time looking out the window, it was not so bad. He did catch a glimpse of Leeds Castle as we passed by, ok, going fairly quickly but he got the picture. When we arrived at Folkstone it was getting fairly close to the scheduled departure but not close enough to be too concerned but we thought there would be something to do at the terminal itself so we proceeded directly to the station. I say directly but, it seems that Victor is worse at making decision than I am sometimes so it was sort of my turning off the road that eventually made the decision for us. What greeted us was unbelievable – a massive delay of hours facing any departure. Many people had arrived that day to cross (not booking ahead like us). We had figured that because of the bad weather we had been receiving taking the tunnel would also be a good idea to avoid the waves on the boats. We were not the only ones, it seems.

After picking up our reserved tickets and given a boarding letter we proceeded, as instructed, to the duty free shopping area to wait until our number was called. It was so crowded they were only allowing cars into the car park when spaces were available. We waiting all told about half an hour to forty- five minutes before we were able to stop and get out of the car. We fought our way into the terminal, looked around for a bit (just a small little mall really), grabbed something to eat and took it easy, generally. It turns out after we did that, the backlog had cleared and we were just able to walk out and drive right onto the train. Easy. More than an hour after we were supposed to leave, but not too bad. At least there was no queue.

Anyhow, the trains themselves are very modern with a lower and upper stage to them, they have you drive parallel with the carriages before turning into either the upper or lower stage and driving along the train until you reach the other side (or hit the car in front of you – whichever comes first). Oh, did I mention passport control? No? Oh well, nothing to mention really, just a glance and “OK” (nope, no stamp). Anyhow, we eventually stopped, they sealed us into a carriage, we stopped the car with the hand brake and in gear and we were off minutes later. Victor and I got out of the car to look around and to also avoid sitting all the time. Not much really to see out of the windows, no seats, no music, no food, no nothing (ok, they had toilets, or, one toilet, in our car). The trip was about half an hour long and was very smooth, very easy.

Eventually we arrived in France, left the train and that was it – driving on the right side of the car on the right side of the road – very odd. I will hopefully be able to get use to it – it is the counter-clockwise roundabouts which really freak me out though. I have not had too many problems yet. But, I am getting ahead of myself. We had managed to get a good idea of where the computer was telling us to go but we unfortunately took the wrong turning (I followed the big signs to Paris but it seems there was another faster way to go, less “scenic”). We picked up a toll road that we eventually followed all the way to Paris (having to stop briefly in the rain – not good weather as I mentioned earlier – to fit beam deflectors on the headlights to prevent cars in the left lane from being blinded by my headlights adapted to aim left for English driving). Eventually, due to the time change (which I did not realise until Victor mentioned it) we arrived about 9:00 pm. Very late. We went to the first hotel we knew about in Paris (actually, pretty much by accident since I turned at the first familiar name from the pamphlet – one I had picked up in London at the France tourist information building). It was listed as having reasonable costs and relatively clean. The first hotel in the chain that we found turned out to be full – relatively easy to determine since we were lucky enough to find someone at the front desk who spoke english. She was very helpful though and found us another in the chain and made us a reservation. She gave us what I am sure she thought was clear instructions but did not seem to make things any easier for us.

It is one thing to get lost in a city where you can at least read the signs it is something completely different when even the simplest signs are confusing and/or next to impossible to read. By pure luck we ended up stopping at a petrol station on a motorway to look at the map, I having sent Victor into the station to buy one of Paris particularly (we only had a general route map for Europe since I had not anticipated having to actually enter major cities by car), we found were we to go, ended up seeing it straight after leaving the motorway (incidently, I read the french instructions and realised that one set of instructions to get to the hotel was refering to the motorway we were on, ok, we were one stop past where we should have been but that was easy enough to fix by just turning ourselves around (a bit dangerous on the highway, but not so bad after an exit) and back-tracking).

It was interesting getting the room organized but much easier with a reservation since the front person did not speak english very well (or, at all, to be completely honest – about as bad as I figure I speak french). The place was rather cheapish looking but extremely clean and very new. The room is very small, with a large double bed and a bunk bed above it (at right angles to the double below – sort of like going to camp all over again). The bathroom is very interesting, no seat on the toilet, a big button above the toilet to flush and a curtainless (or even enclosureless) shower with a level floor to the toilet which should make showers interesting. Don't mind me, just fascinated with how some things are handled in different countries.

After figuring out how the TV worked (a priority, believe me) we sauntered down pass the main desk only to be stopped by the front desk man who was talking on a cellular phone. He wanted me to talk to the person on the other end who was making a half-hearted attempt to speak english (though it was obviously not his first language – most likely german or something like that) and to help him make a reservation. Victor mentioned that perhaps the front desk had thought since I had handled our reservation so well I could handle this other persons. Anyway, it was a long drawn out process involving writing of numbers on papers (including credit card information) and much gnashing of teeth. The gentleman on the phone wanted to be assigned a room and get the access code for it over the phone (there are no keys for the rooms, just a code you enter on a pad outside it, way cool) BUT the front desk insisted that he just came to the hotel and entered his name and reservation number on the computer outside the door which would give him this information. The man on the phone did not seem to like that idea but there was not much I could do but simply just keep repeating. Anyway, he finally relented after I had described looking at the machine to him and assuring him that all was well.

After that, we headed off to find somewhere to eat, ending up in a “Victoria Pizza Pub” next door (we had the choice of that, two other pubs, a McDonald's or a authentic cuisine place that was packed to the rafters with a party). We waited for a few minutes in front of this rather serious looking gentleman who was just standing there (not saying anything but looking like he meant business if we even THOUGHT of passing him without a waitress). Eventually, we ended up ordering pizzas and cokes (the easiest thing to order on the drinks menu), watching the american programs on the various TVs throughout. It was quite fun, trying to have yourself understood. I know enough French to get us by. Thank goodness.

We had a good time and retired after taking a short walk up the street to look around (not much to see, the highlight of the conversation was a discussion of the format of telephone numbers many of which we saw on advertisements along the route). We did manage also to look at the menu at a McDonald's to see if it was any different than what we were used to (not much - different names and the organization is strange – there is the name of “McDrive” used to refer to drive-thru though…).

Sunday, October 11th - Paris (Pierrelaye)

The day started interestingly enough by first determining how the shower worked. The room is very tidy and clean – everything in it's place – it makes moving around and using it quite an experience. Since the shower is a single unit with the toilet, when you use the shower it gets anything you have on the floor anywhere in the unit wet. Oh well.

We made our way down to have our breakfast in the hotel. The room included the price for the meal which took place in the main “lobby” of the hotel which had small stools on which to sit at narrow counters lining the walls. Had to use a bit of french to let them know who we were and our room number. Good enough food though, fresh bread, normandy butter, jam, orange juice and coffee. All on a “help yourself” basis.

After the meal we attempted to determine where to go to catch the train into Paris, after all, we were about 10 miles out of the city. After attempting to get instructions from the front desk, we ended up taking the wrong turn and walked for about fifteen minutes before getting disgusted and heading back to the hotel, finally determining that right across the roundabout was a train track – a sure sign of a train in my books. Not quite the directions we were given, but that is all right. Anyway, on the way to the station it did start raining and we were both soaked to the skin before arriving at the station, again, having fun trying to order our tickets.

We have been having not very good luck so far. It turns out that our train was about 20 minutes late. We took the train all the way to Gare Nord in Paris. It was interesting to see the various houses and businesses on the way into the city – a lot like the train ride into London from Guildford, but a few notable differences – everything seems to be in french – go figure. After arriving at the station, Victor suggested checking to see when the last train returned so that we could plan our day accordingly. It turns out that the trains are on strike and the station only had schedules up to 2 that afternoon and could not gaurantee any other service – it was already around about 1 pm any way. Our luck not holding again – and not for the last time.

We figured out the metro and travelled directly to the Louvre. It was raining but I managed to remember the side entrance I had been told about those number of years ago I visited. It actually goes through a large mall under the museum. There are a lot of very nice shops in there, and it was very crowded and, as it turns out, at the entrance itself. The line was long enough that we figured it was just as well to head out to Notre Dame to see that and so we walked along the Seine. It was quite a nice walk, the road immediately adjacent to the banks of the Seine (at the same level) was closed to vehicle traffic on Sunday so it was quite quiet. The rain was a bit upsetting though. Many of the buildings I did not recognize but it was interesting nonetheless, had many oportunities to take pictures, maybe some- one else can recognize them.

We made our way to Notre Dame only to see that the front was all covered in a tarpallin for restoration work so we headed into the church itself – which happened to be free of charge. The church itself was crowded – to be expected though. Very impressive, very old. It impressed me by being very consistent within itself, that being, many of the cathedrals I have been in seem to be an eclectic mix of various styles and including massive numbers of monuments and other such “clutter”. Notre Dame was very much as originally desiged with little deviation (so it seemed to me) – a notable exception is the modern altar they have chosen to install. The paintings were quite nice also. They had the portion of the church beyond the altar closed (it was Sunday).

We proceeded around the corner to do the walk up one of the towers. We had to pay and it was quite a walk up the stairs (briefly stopping at a bookstore they had on the way up). The first stop was at the top of the main portion of the church between the two front towers. They allowed us to walk around a narrow area with the outside separated by a wide wire mesh (very strong). It was nice to see the view from this height though, we were able to see most of the city to the east (not towards the Tour Eiffel). Quite nice. Not raining really at that point. The area to see the biggest bell was not open though Victor and I managed to peer through a small window to see a bit of the area (they figured that the rain might make the bell tower dangerous).

We next made our way around to make the final ascent to the top of one of the towers (the north tower). I made my way around and was sharply told to go to the back of a “line” to make our way up. It was quite a walk up, the stairs were barely able to let two people pass (with back to each wall). While we climbed, people were heading down at the same time. It was an extremely dangerous situation and we saw at least one man making his way down very slowly, putting grabbing on the railing behind our backs as he made his way down. I can hardly blame him, the steps were also pretty narrow and walking down, they were on the inside so the steps were even more narrow. After making our way to the top, we were able to walk all the way around the four sides of the top and saw a great deal of the city. It was quite a view (again, not too cold).

After making our way down the tower we walked over to the north side of the Ile de la Citie (the Island of the City) which is the island on which the church is located. We decided to catch a boat trip to the Tour Eiffel which is on the other side of the city. A very interesting trip, no commentary, but a different way to see the city. We saw quite a bit, though the rain did come in through the windows we had open in order to get various pictures.

Eventually arriving at the tower, we wandered around a bit, eventually back across the Seine to the Palais de Chailot to grab something to eat from a local vendor. Victor tried a fresh crepe of ham and cheese, I had a fresh baguette with sausage and cheese (which they pressed in a hot grill so it was melted quite a bit). For desert we had fresh waffles with massive toppings of melted Nutella (chocolate/hazelnut spread) and whip cream (yes, it was disgusting – even messier to eat).

We then proceeded up the Avenue de Kleber to the Arc de Triomphe. It was an interesting walk past quite a number of cafes and various rather expensive looking stores. The street itself was interesting in that it had a center four lanes for travel with two outside lanes on each side separated from the middle by a tree-lined median. It allowed parking in the separated lanes (which, as with everything I have heard about it, was very scary – tightly packed and basically everywhere there was space – on the road, sidewalk, parks, etc).

The Arc de Triomphe was jammed with people. We had to first get to it by walking around the massive roundabout that surrounds it to a pedestrian underpass to the center. Lord knows you would not want to walk across that road. I swear, about 10 lanes of roundabout with no lines. Complete anarchy as far as I can tell. As we were making our way to the underpass we even witnessed an accident involving I suppose a tourist who could not keep his eyes on the road (but on the monument instead) and hit the car in front of him which in turn hit the car in front of them. Messy. No one was hurt though.

We figured since we had already climbed Notre Dame we would continue by climbing the Arc also. So we purchased our tickets and made our way up. It is quite good up in the Arc, they have a small museum which was currently under construction and a short video (in English!) which was quite interesting about the history. There was a lot covered in the video that I was not familiar with including the history around the monument itself (though it did confuse things by moving backwards and forwards quite an amount). It took quite a long time to complete, remaining only less than half done for quite a number of years. Long after the victories it celebrates were over. I was interested to also note that they are building a newer Arc down the Champs- Elysees. Quite an interesting thing to see – which we did when we finished the climb to the top. It was dark by then but we managed to see quite a lot, did not manage to get any pictures (well, Victor did). The Champs-Elysees was quite something with all the cars on it, lots of lights. The city is really the city of lights.

We decided at this point that it would be a bad idea to go to the Tour Eiffel since it was already getting late so we walked down the Champs-Elysees. There were a lot of people in that area and it seemed that everything was also open even though it was getting pretty late on a Sunday night. Eventually we found a restaurant that specialized in Swiss cuisine. It was a very nice restaurant, obviously catering to tourists, be we managed to order some particularly pleasant dishes. I ordered fois gras and steak tartar (both of which I had never tried before and both of which were absolutely incredible – that is, great) and Victor had onion soup (french of course) followed by Steak, Normandy Style which was a pork steak smothered in a Normandy cream sauce.

Eventually, we made our way back to the avenue, and walked down to the Metro station to make our way back to the Gare Nord to return back to the hotel. This is where the merde hit the fan, so to speak. The rain strike struck. We got there only to see that there were signs around indicating that there was delayed service (at least, that is as much as I could determine). We walked around for quite sometime, Victor suggesting at one point to talk to a janitor in the hopes of figuring out what to do. It turned out we found some- one and determined that the next train we could catch was at 12:50 (am) so we had about two hours to wait. It could have been worse though, the next train was at 5 the next morning. So, we wandered down to find somewhere to visit the, er, facilities only to have a bit of a suprise.

Victor drinks a lot. So, we visit various facilities, if you get my meaning. The station was one such place. In the morning when we arrived, it is the first place we looked for. It turns out that the toilets are right near the metro entrance and they charge some miniscule amount of money to get in. The tricky bit is that you have to obtain a token from an attendant first. We also suggested that perhaps they could gauge the entrance based upon, ah, how MUCH you make use of the facilities. I took adantage to dry out my coat at the time. Anyway, at the time of our delay at night, this area was closed so we walked outside and distracted ourselves by going for a drink at a local cafe (and paying an absolutely enormous amount of money – 78 french frances, about 12 pounds for two cokes – I was disgusted but we managed to sit there for quite some time so we got our money worth). By the way, even the street- side pay toilets were ferme.

The train home was relatively uneventful except for the rather rude group of young men who insisted on attempting to talk to us even though I insisted that “je ne parles pas francais” (in order to keep life simple). They were extremely drunk and looking to just bug someone. We basically ignored them though I did give the game away a bit by laughing a few times when they said something I recognised. They were being, lets just say, extremely rude.

After finally reaching our stop, we excuse-moi'd our way out of the train. I joked that perhaps I should have shouted something back at them, but that would have been stupid. Anyway, easier to find our way back to the hotel, even though it was dark. It was about 2 in the morning before we got back and asleep at around 3. A very long day.

Monday, October 12th - Paris (Pierrelaye) - Geneva

We started the day with our normal breakfast and managed to grab all of our things even though we had very few hours of sleep last night. It turns out that Victor's Normandy Steak must have had sour milk in it because he got up in the middle of the night and made extensive use of the toilet. Not a good thing. So that, in combination with the late arrival, made the night a very bad one. Not a good way to start the [next] day.

Anyway, we proceeded with our drive. Basically, we determined to drive down to Geneva that day. It was a long distance to cover. First we had to get past Paris. This turned out to be much more difficult than you might think. There is no one road we could travel on and the map we picked up a few days ago when we first arrived (and were lost then also, I recall) was not terribly good at labelling various roads never mind the fact that many of the roads we were on were not labelled also. What really irritated was that the number of the road was only displayed on the exit itself so if you did not know what possible locations the road visited but the number, it would not help. I took out much of my frustration on the incredibly patient Victor. Eventually it took us about an hour just to get out of Paris and on the road we needed to take.

This road took us through many interesting areas, many farms and older towns. Very pretty and relaxing. Of course, today was the day the weather choose to improve and the sun was with us most of the day. I tried to travel the speed limit but it is incredibly fast in France – the road I was on had a limit of 130 km/hour but many people travelled much faster. I am a “wuss” as they say at work – I drive like a grandmother (their words).

We managed to hit another pay road on the way. Picked up a ticket and passed it in to an attendant before leaving the road at Dijon (I wanted to get some mustard – don't laugh – it was a break also). Eventually we stopped at a local corner store and picked some up (along with some Fois Gras in a can which looked good and some cookies that Victor saw). Language has not really been a problem. My french is passable enough that we do not get in any trouble, Victor is a bit hesitant about using what little he knows. It turns out that he had a bad time with it in high school, being forced into an advanced class after never having taken it in the past. Needless to say, his knowledge of the language is somewhat limited. I am suprised how much mine has come out while here. It is the nouns that are easiest, I will know what people are refering to in their conversation even if I do not follow all the words. Anyway, it was worked so far.

After Dijon and rejoining the motorway (what they are called here – just like England except for fee) we stopped fairly shortly at one of the “Aire…” places that are all along the route. Grabbed a bit to eat (and more mustard and fois gras…) and petrol before heading out once again.

Almost Switzerland

Before getting into Switzerland we passed through a couple of extremely long tunnels (3 point something km and 1 point something were the two largest) which were interesting to travel through. Quite something to see the engineering involved. They also had massive bridges around the tunnels to cross the narrow valleys on either sides of the tunnel. It was quite fascinating, especially with the people passing by me so quickly. Anyway, it was getting dark by then when we finally passed off of the motorway and paid our fees. The next gate was the border with Switzerland at which they just asked us to pull to the side to get a motorway sticker that we pay for which allows us to use the motorways in Switzerland for a year. Victor was disappointed – he wanted a stamp in his passport.

Eventually we made it into Geneva but finding a hotel was an extremely difficult exercise – we drove around for about an hour and a half. One hotel was something like 360 swiss francs a night (about 180 pounds), a few others were located very close to the middle of the city and had no parking available (not too badly priced but no parking, so no good). By no parking, I mean, no parking for the hotel, no parking available on any side street within quite a few blocks – believe me, we looked. We eventually ended up staying at a hotel that was NOT cheap (about 180 a night – believe it or not, reasonable for the area – oh, that is about 90 pounds). I had to park on a funny angle up against another car and overlapping the sidewalk (slightly less than legal in my books). The hotel was older and (in my opinion) not as nice as the MUCH cheaper place in Paris. This one seems to be falling apart, not as clean, ok, it is a bit bigger but not as “new” as the other.

At this point we were both extremely tired and we argued back and forth a bit about what exactly we were going to do the next day. We finally agreed to basically “wing it”, deciding on the fly where to go and what to do (whatever looks interesting, basically). We had been on the road and go for about 12 hours or so. Not a very good thing.

Tuesday, October 13th - Geneva - Moudon (Switzerland)

It was a much better day today. We started the day by going upstairs to the breakfast room and grabbing some fresh orange juice, buns and normandy butter (there is that name again…). Nice view out the window also, to the west towards some distance mountains – though not really that high.

After cleaning out the room, we determined from the front desk that we could actually drive into the middle of Geneva and park the car at a reasonable cost so we did so, travelling through the newer areas and across a bridge over Lake Geneva towards the old city. The car park was neat – it had lights above each space you could see that indicated if the spot was used or not so you could drive along and instantly see where to go. Each level also told you how many spots were available. A good use of technology. We made our way up the four floors to the street and wandered across to take a look at the massive water fountain on the lake. It was incredible – must be about two hundred feet in the air the water is shot up to. Quite a view.

We had acquired a map the night before so we made our way to the old city and wandered up the narrow cobble streets to the top of a hill where there is the city hall and other older buildings. It was quite something, a lot of small little shops selling various things, that area seems to specialize in older antiques (baroque in particular it seems). A lot of such shops which never seemed to have anyone in them (customers OR attendants). Many cafés also.

Eventually, we made our way back down to the bridge we passed earlier and made our way along the lake, passing someone practising water-skiing on the lake (it was fairly cool today – could not have been above 15, but it was nice and sunny – he was also wearing a wet suit so I can imagine he did not feel the cold). Before I leave the bridge though, it was quite fascinating to us to see how clear the water is here, we could easily see down a good 30-40 feet to the bottom at any point along the bridge – seeing a few bicycles that had been sent to their watery graves there. It was quite something. Lots of birds along there also, looking for handouts it seems. Can't imagine how cold the water is, must have numb feet.

We made our way along, passing through a couple nice parks and eventually around to the Palais de Nations which is the former home of the League of Nations and now houses the United Nations in Geneva. We both agreed last night that it would be a good place to visit. Lots of things to see. We had to clear through security (they kept my passport to make sure we left I suppose).

The tour was quite something, taking us through the new areas of the Palais as well as the original buildings. We visited a few of the main auditoriums which is interesting to think of what has happened in some of them. Much of the space, of course, is devoted to the various offices but also smaller sessions for working groups. I found this interesting as I have been part of an organization that worked like that so I could understand a bit more how it all works. The tour guide also gave us a bit of a talk on the organization of the UN which was also interesting to see how many different areas of expertise are involved, not only diplomats. The video he showed at the beginning about the highlights of the year 1997 for the UN was also very good, really, it is easy to forget how much has actually been done. The gifts from the various countries were also something to see. The UN currently represents something like 90% of the earth's population which was really quite something to learn. The tour ended in the main auditorium in the older section of the Palais. Oh, tremendous views of the lake also.

At this point we were pretty tired since we had been walking for quite some time so we grabbed a taxi back into the old city and walked around looking for somewhere to eat, the place we wanted to go was closed (we were going to try a fondue) so we went to a place just down the way and had the super-deluxe gourmet dinner which was composed of local specialities (and was extremely expensive). Six courses of fairly small portions but extremely good. It had many different things but notable was the use of local cheeses (extremely strong for my sensitive cheese palate) and local sausages (I can imagine we will experience much more of that in this country as well as Germany later on). The “piece de la resistance” was a pear tart with pear liquor and a spun- sugar cage which must have been about 8 inches high. It was quite good.

We then returned to the car and started our drive around the lake eastward. We had no specific goal in mind, it was already late and we were just looking to get out of Geneva to something perhaps a little cheaper and different. We eventually took a turn off of the road and ascended up an extremely steep road with rock walls on either side (and cars coming down) and travelled along the top of some “high hills” until we stopped at one place that was advertising a hotel but the owner indicated that he no longer used the place as a hotel (only a restaurant and a bar for about a year now. He should take down his sign.

Eventually, we just pulled off the road to this hotel, just near Moudon towards Bern (which we are heading towards tomorrow). It is MUCH cheaper than yesterday and as far as I am concerned, much nicer for the price.

Wednesday, October 14th - Moudon (Switzerland) - Vaduz (Liechtenstein)

Today was another travel day. Busy taking a look at all of the scenery along the way.

We proceeded through Switzerland, actively searching out the side roads so that we could see a bit of the countryside. It was another miserable day, raining off and on all day, but it did manage to remain clear (if not sunny) must of the time so driving was not that difficult.

Along the road in Switzerland

We wound our way through Bern and across to Luzern through the relatively small hills there. The scenery was getting fairly interesting but still simply hills. The road wound up and down the sides of some of the various places. We stopped at a small place, Langnau, on the side of a rather high, I suppose we can call it a mountain, overlooking a large valley. Quite a view while we had our schnitzel (mine with pickled beets and carrots while Victor had potates-frites). It has begun to got interesting since the language has switched from French to German since we have started out in Geneva. Very odd, and subtle. It has meant that Victor is now the “expert” at linguistic studies though he only got as far as 2 counting in German tonight…oh dear. I have been trying a bit of French of people and it seems to be acceptable, we shall see in Austria.

Next we continued and eventually stopped at Rapperswil which we saw from quite a distance because of an old place that looked like a fort overlooking the town. We needed to stop to find a post box to mail our postcards and we also needed to pick up some groceries since we were running low on fluids (Victor really needs to cut down – also made a stop at the local gare so he could visit the “facilities” so I also picked up some more “marrons” (roasted chestnuts – were not as good as in London).

I have tried to stop at local shops in every country – it is surprising how much the local culture is revealed in their cuisine. For example, in Rapperswil there was the obvious swiss chocolate (and associated bars – many of which are not familiar) but also a great variety of cheeses and less of a concentration on faster foods – for example, frozen dinners – that seem to be the norm in England. A much healthier lifestyle I would think.

We climbed up to see the building we had seen from a distance which turned out to be a few museums and a restaurant. Quite a view from the top. We also found a few deer being kept at the top who seemed to enjoy some of our marrons. Did not want to scare them away too much (actually, they were not THAT bad).

By this time it was getting dark so we decided to stop and since we were fairly close we decided on Liechtenstein since it was quite close and since Victor had done a write-up on it a few years ago. We found an hotel just outside of Vaduz and had fun talking to the lady to organize the room. It worked out alright though (the French seemed to help). It is not a fancy hotel but it is clean and cheaper even than last night (it is Victor's turn tonight).

We walked down the road to find something to eat and passed right under the castle (I understand the prince lives there) and found a, I suppose, Italian place. It was a good meal, I tried the mushroom-noodle dish and Victor had Spaghetti Bolognaise. We were laughing about the lack of any decent service but really it is not too bad at all here, perhaps it has been the worse in Paris, but I find that they are ruder in London (and in England in general).

Managed to make our way back to the hotel. On the way we had stopped at a local petrol station (for Victor again) and I picked up an Internet magazine (in German of course). It was quite interesting to see what passes as acceptable in local magazines (and television for that matter – tv last night was quite, ah, interesting), even computer magazines. Anyway, gave to Victor to add to his Internet magazine collection that I have been helping him out with.


Thursday, October 15th - Vaduz (Liechtenstein) - Klais (near Mittenwald; Germany)

Another busy day. Do seem to be getting our monies worth on this trip…

Began the day with the fun of finding a shower in the hotel to use (they were shared – most of the rooms we have been assigned are en-suite, thank goodness, makes things easier). It was quite a view out of the window towards Switzerland, a few mountains were also nice to look at. We had a room with a balcony though we were only on the first floor – that is, one floor up from the street-level entrance.

Managed to get through our breakfast of two fresh rolls each and orange juice (though Victor had tea). This seems to be a typical breakfast since we have arrived, with the exception of Paris and the unlimited bready products.

Before heading out of Vaduz (and Liechtenstein) we stopped briefly at the local tourist shop. Victor picked up a few things that he wanted, including some badges of the various countries we have visited.

After leaving Liechtenstein and entering Switzerland again for our trip today in the direction of Austria. We concentrated on taking back roads as much as possible in order to see some of the countryside. It was interesting in that it reminded me a lot of the Rockies in Canada except there are far more houses and roads than there. There are quite a few ways, it seems, of getting from place to place here. As we drove along I had indicated previously that I wanted to go up a mountain so we took for the opportunity where we saw a cable- car to travel up. This was at Davos (specifically Pischa) where the cable- car took us up a fair distance and we got out and walked around. There was a fair bit of snow on the ground there but we decided it would be interesting to walk around a bit. They actually had a series of trails around there and a large number of people were taking advantage of it (most with serious walking gear like walking sticks and walking boots). We proceeded up a trail to the nearest peak and walked along the top of a ridge for a bit (slugging through the snow) and made our way back to the top of the cable-car where there was a restaurant which we were now more than ready for (we had been walking for at least an hour). It was really good as there was a chef there that spoke English in the little self-serve food area they had who gave us tremendous (and delicious) portions. We ate looking out onto the valley up which we would eventually be heading by car.

Travelling up and over a mountain pass (yes, with snow) we stopped quite a number of times for pictures. We actually ended up being very high up and managed to catch a few magnificent views.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving along these minor roads up and down and around, many times the road switching back which made driving interesting to say the least, must have seemed to Victor like a roller- coaster ride. The trees are all changing colour and the day was extremely clear and very warm (we both have sunburns from our walk in the snow). Also stopped by the side of the road just before the Austrian border and filled up some plastic bottles with water from a snow-fed stream. It was quite a walk down but the water was very good and extremely cold.

The Austrian border was, as seems to be the norm, very easy to cross, we were just waved across I suppose after they saw the number plates they figured they did not want the hassle of stopping us. At least this border had people at it when we later crossed into Germany, there was no one even there (I did slow down and look, but, oh well). We did not do much in Austria, decided it would be simpler to avoid Innsbruck and just head up to Berlin directly so we did that. Neither of us had any particular desire to go to Innsbruck.

Anyway, we have stopped for the night at a little place just inside the German border. It was interesting in that they do not accept plastic here – we have been relying on it to pay for petrol and the hotels. So, we sat down to have something to eat at their restaurant and found this out so had to head to the local town and pick up some money from a bank machine. We are lucky that they are fairly understanding at the hotel. It was interesting to see that in the local village they had a open air hot spring pool. In use even at 9 at night. Have not been in one for quite some time.

Dinner was (eventually) very good – I had the schnitzel (which was very good) and Victor had the local sampler including sourkraut and bratwurst. It was quite relaxed. Still trying to figure out what time it is though, we think we have passed through another time zone to get here. Another interesting thing is trying to figure out the speed limit which changes from country to country. Do have a few books to help though.

Friday, October 16th - Klais (near Mittenwald; Germany) - Berlin (Germany)

Had a difficult time sleeping last night, tossing and turning for most of the time. We have been getting a simple bed cover of a douvet which is incredibly warm which caused me to sleep less than soundly, waking up quite a number of times. Victor even tried sleeping on the floor for a few seconds before I told him to go back to bed. We opened the window which helped but it was quite noisy being located right on the highway. It did help though. Was a nice view out the window of a few mountains…

Made our way down to the main floor for breakfast held in their main dining room which was decorated in a alpine-style with exposed beams on the ceiling, uneven plaster walls, tile floor, and simulated antiques hanging from the walls and ceiling. It is quite nice though it is obvious that the place was renovated fairly recently or built that way in the first place.

The breakfast was one of the best yet with corn flakes (and rolled oats), yoghurt, fresh fruit, fresh cold-cuts, buns, orange and apple juice (never mind the normal tea and coffee, if wanted). Quite a nice meal, ate our full (like to get our money's worth).

Headed out shortly afterwards, along the highway which eventually turned into an Autobaun. The day pretty much proceeded with driving all day. We did talk a fair amount along the way though. The other drivers here drive extremely fast (when the can – it seems that when speed limits are imposed they only exceed them by the narrowest of margins) but seem to always be in control. I did manage to get the car up to 115 mph to see what it would do but the road was a bit windy so I did not want to press it too much. We did keep the speed fairly quick but there were quite a number of stoppages along the road due to construction. Quite a few of them caused us to come to a standstill – and suddenly.

We did pull off briefly in a search for a castle (which we identified as something to do when we were here in Germany) but we did not find it. Don't know how we missed something like that…but we did. Anyway, should have looked for such information before we left (where castles are, for example).

We arrived in Berlin fairly late, around about 9. We figured that we would just drive in and stop at the nearest hotel. But, against all odds, we could not find a single one. We gave up about 45 minutes later (after driving around pretty much lost – we did not have a detailed map of the city) and stopped at a petrol station to get a map and directions to a hotel. During our drive around though I was quite surprised at how clean the residential and main streets were. It was also easy to get around with wide, clear streets. Oh yes, the petrol station sold some very interesting magazines and pottery. I will leave it at that though.

Eventually, after trying the one we were pointed to, we determined that there is a circus in town which has filled most hotels in the city. Eventually we found a room at a hotel chain in the west end of the city (near enough to downtown). Managed to get dinner at a small restaurant right beside the hotel where they served steak which was done in exceptional style. I tried the mixed grill which was made in an unusual manner but extremely good. Victor stuck with the special of the day which was a fillet.

Victor has been having a bit of trouble I think with the cuisine and tonight it caught up with him – again. He was sick almost immediately after eating dinner and we think it had something to do with some snack food we ate in the car earlier today. The first time though was in Paris after his meal there. I don't know if my constitution is any stronger but I do seem to be able to take the various things we have been eating in good stride. I do try to keep even my day to day diet very varied to avoid getting into a rut and also to try new things as much as I can. Anyway, he is asleep now – snoring. Evidently I also snore though who snores louder is a topic of debate. I think I have always snored because of the problems I have breathing through my nose what with my asthma and all of that.

Saturday, October 17th - Berlin (Germany) - Hengelo (Holland)

…And so it began. Well, let's just say my night was not exactly restful. Whatever Victor had I had it also so my night was frequently interrupted with trips to the toilet to empty every major orifice I have (sorry about the explicitness). Needless to say, at the end of the night neither of us was really ready to eat or even get up since we had very little sleep but we managed to make it up to the 8th floor of the hotel to grab a bit of orange juice and a banana from their truly amazing display of dishes. We were both in no situation to take advantage. Nice view over the city though. Hard to recognize a lot from there though it is easy to see the “core” area. This hotel is right beside the Berlin Museum and what I take to be the tower from a world exposition (Expo).

After returning to our room we dragged our luggage across the road. It was incredibly annoying that the parking for the hotel was across the street (a VERY busy one). I suppose the good thing is that there is an underpass that allows you to get on an escalator to go up and down. Very helpful for those of us that are the walking dead.

Anyway. Made our way to the car, but we were darned if we were going to not see anything so we drove into the main area of Berlin and across into the former East Berlin, passing by the Brandenburg gate. I might be seeing things but it really seemed that as soon as you passed from one side to the other, simply using a through road now, the East side is no where near as nice as the West. West is cleaner, the buildings are newer, there are more businesses and many other more subtle changes.

We parked in a parkade and dragged ourselves to the mall in front of the gate, along with the rest of all the tourists in Berlin, and took a few pictures, passing by the Russian Federation Embassy. It was quite interesting to see the number of people. The weather was a bit cool, the leaves were falling from the trees but it was not too bad for a walk. We, of course, were also incredibly tired.

From there, we drove directly out of the city passing through the gate. We got out of the city much easier than we got into it, driving for only about 45 minutes before I was just too exhausted to continue so we pulled off to a roadside turnout for a break. I tried to sleep, lord knows, but it did not come and we eventually gave up trying. It did not help that, with our upset stomachs, a fast-food van had parked close by and was selling all sorts of smelling fried food. Oh dear. Did I mention the stainless steel loo? Hum. Made the experience…hopefully…forgettable.

I took a couple of Tylenols and had a Coke and was ready to get going. Believe it or not, I survived the day that way and we made good time, feeling much better after the pills and drink.

We drove quite a distance, able to get into Holland before stopping for the evening. As you might expect, neither of us was hungry. We found a very nice hotel just inside Holland, one of the best we have visited on this journey.

It seemed to be party to a few of them. Parties that is. As we walked across the lobby to our rooms in an adjoining building we noticed a child entertainer in the basement entertaining quite a number of small children (complete with “bouncy castle”). Nice. Hope they keep quite during the night.

Boring evening though, just watched a bit of television then went to bed. Amazingly, many of the channels were in English, so we could watch the news as well as cartoons from the states (very adapt considering our state of mind and body). It has been very interesting watching the various channels as we have been staying at these hotels. Many of them carried the various big news channels such as CNN or BBC World but some even did not have those so we were stuck to watching American shows in German/Dutch or French.

Sunday, October 18th - Hengelo (Holland) - Home (Guildford, Surrey, England)

The day started very well after a very healthy sleep for both of us (no unpleasant awakenings in the middle of the night). We made our way to the breakfast we paid for in conjunction with the room. This was the best break- fast of all the hotels we have visited – fantastic spread. Included were various cereals (including toppings like chocolate and peanuts!), fresh fruit, salad, massive selections of break and crackers, eggs, bacon, various juices, meats and cheeses. Of course, this was all as much as you could eat so we were feeling better and helped ourselves. Except of course for the enormous number of people (had to have been 50 or 60 eating when we arrived late into the breakfast hours), the only thing that was unfortunate was that the milk was sour and so spoiled our cereal selections. Oh well, can't have everything. Felt a bit better after being fed.


Soon after we headed out and decided to take a bit of time and go to Amsterdam before continuing on our final way off of the continent home. We drove through from the main train station dogging massive quantities of cars, pedestrians and bicycles (they really do use them a LOT in Holland we noticed)…the occasional street tram also. The city itself is quite fascinating, we drove along a few of the channels which seems to cross-cross the city in many different directions. We passed by Anne Frank's house but did not know it at the time and later, attempting to go back, we could not get any closer. The houses seemed to all be pretty old and smaller.

We did manage to get out and take a few pictures, but did not do much else (other than drive). The street traffic was quite something essentially parting for us to pass, very non-committal.

After Amsterdam we decided it might be a good idea to drive along the coast essentially all the way to Calais to catch the ferry after we had passed by Antwerpe and Gent in Belgium. We continued only to realize that the motorway we were following did not continue despite what was in the road atlas, which has served us well to this point. We eventually made it to Belgium and had trouble trying to go around Antwerpe since the road we wanted to take had a toll on it but we did not have any change in Belgium Francs (or Francs for that matter). We eventually had to head into Antwerpe and attempt to find our way to the road we needed to catch to reach the coast.

As we travelled it again became very apparent the dependence Holland and Belgium has on agriculture with the number of fields full of corn and cows, all separated by channels in regular patterns. It seems nothing has been left to nature here. The road to the coast was basically a major farm road so we were continuously speeding up and slowing down for traffic.

Unfortunately, we soon realized that there were serious road constructions that forced us to head south again, but not before having to wait for a lift bridge to close. The only way we could continue was to head south again and catch a major road which seemed built to provide quite transport for many British tourists that holiday on the coast.

We were eventually really travelling quickly and passed uneventfully into France and once again to Calais to return by the channel. We had to wait only briefly to catch our train and had to suffer through another meal of Burger King (just as on the trip out) since there were really no better options.

Other than that, a straightforward trip home. Only hope my stomach ache goes away shortly.

Travelling in Europe: Lessons Learned

  • Do not eat anything if you do not know what it is.
  • If you are travelling into a city, have a map. Do not rely on being able to find a hotel in any simple manner.
  • Hotels work really well if travelling a great deal. B & Bs work better when more time is available.
  • Expect delays. We encountered a LOT of construction and general congestion, even in the middle of no where.
  • Have someone in the car reading a map. Do NOT read the map if you are the driver – too distracting.
  • Stop as often as you can – enjoy it, you are in a new and different place!
  • Do the unusual in addition to the normal tourist stuff.
  • Attempt to speak the language – should be no problem.
  • Do not kill yourself – try to take it easy. Do NOT try to do more than one country in a day, or even two. Sure, they are small, but you will miss too much, unless, as us, you are planning on returning to see what you missed the first time.
  • Most hotels and petrol stations will accept plastic BUT DO NOT COUNT ON IT. Always try to have at least a small portion of cash in the local currency on you before you enter the country or immediately upon arriving. This should, if possible, include coinage to handle those nasty toll roads.