Saturday, March 12, 2011

Road Trip: Part Four: Switzerland

We leave France, finally, and enter french Suisse, drive into german Schweiz, pass by italian Svizzera, and visit romansh Svizra, all in Switzerland. The land of chocolate, army knives, watches, mountains and tunnels - but all at a price!

After arriving in Paris, I had no plans for the remainder of the trip. The idea was to allow for all four of us to weigh the options of the last week of the trip. The boys, with their usual immunity to decision, said that they were "easy going". Which is about the least helpful suggestion out there. With my own lassitude in regards to direction, Vicki picked up the burden of planning. A joint hope of visiting a hot springs bath in our hearts, we headed to the aptly named Yverdon-les-Bains. 

Yverdon has the best rated hot springs in Switzerland. Arriving in the dark, and without a map of the location was perhaps not the smartest decision. The first hotel encountered was built around the hot springs and had a full service spa. It also cost 350 CHF (270€ or $365 CA) per night, per room. Um. No. The next hotel we tried was nearer the train station, and a 2-star (which is the type we'd been staying in through France). It also came with a hefty price tag of 170 CHF per room, per night. It seemed that Yverdon-les-Bains was out of our price range. Driving about, we found a motel-type that was still over 100 CHF for a double room. At that point, the boys made a decision to drive to Lausanne. Switzerland being small, it was only a half-hour drive. 

Lausanne's suburbs provided us with an Ibis hotel. The internet was frustrating/entertaining as only one section of one room really got signal. At one point, somebody looked out the window and began giggling. There was an act of intimacy between two people occurring inside a car. During the performance, another couple and a dog walked by. The dog ran up to the car and started barking and generally being annoying. The lady grabbed the dog and proceeded to drag him away. The man repeated the actions of the dog. Later on, everybody and the dog in the story piled into the car and drove off… presumably content. 

Terraced Wine Op.
Day 7 was to be our first proper day in Switzerland. The morning was spent in a Swiss indoor mall, breaking our fasts and having a general look-see. Finding a gas station, we bought a required Highway Sticker. Then there was another epic battle with the iPhone Nagivator. Eventually, we got to the other side of Lausanne and headed on a route that took us past the cloudy foothills of the Alps, along the coast of Lake Geneva (like much of Switzerland, is also has another name: Lac Lèman). Here, we found a series of terraced vineyards, and a wine caveau that was due to open the day after! Matt and I offered cash for a bottle, but were rejected. Other Matt and Vicki explored along a waterfall down to the lake shore and train tracks. I think the trains held equal interest as the landscape for certain members of our party. 

Train and Wine
A late lunch, of Mexican, was had in the town of Interlaken, where I had hoped to have a gorgeous view, and an opportunity to go up a funicular mountain train. The whole day had been grey and cloudy though, and the mountains seen from the car were a better view than from this tourist town. After a quick walk, our journey continued onto Luzern (Lucerne, Lucerna, Lozärn!). 

Driving at Night, in a Tunnel
Again arriving in the dark, but with the advantage of having an Ibis Hotel guidebook. The first hotel we hit was the suburban Ibis, which only had one room available in the whole hotel. Gathering the stuff that we'd hauled up the stairs, we trudged back to the car to re-pack and re-assess. We next headed to an Etap - which is a crappier Ibis - and they only had one room available. After having the receptionist call a variety of other hotels, in Luzern and outside, one room in the Etap was taken, and the last room in the Ibis was booked. Matt and Vicki took the car to the Ibis (it had free parking), while Matt and I went into our "family sized" room of three single beds. We went out for a walk, out to the Swiss Life Arena, and turned out because of Matty's foot and the creepy silent dudes across the street.

Covered Bridge, Luzern
Matt and Vicki picked us up on the morning of Day 8. Some time and research the night before had booked a hotel for that night (so we wouldn't have the same problem). The internet had also explained the attraction of Luzern's centre. So Luzern was to be our major Switzerland stop. To get from the parked car to the centre, we had to cross a wooden bridge (built in 1333). Spending the morning in a lovely cafe for breakfast, shopping for gifts/souvenirs, and generally enjoying the area. There were some intricate fountains, as well as beautifully painted and decorated half-timber buildings. On the way back to the parked car, I saw a beautiful bike in a store window. I went in to look at it, and talk to the guy behind the counter. The others were less enthused, and wanted to head out and on. In fact, we headed on a little too fast, and coming out of a tunnel on a Swiss highway a flash confused our driver. Going 5km/h over the speed limit, another speeding ticket!

Driving in the fog, up a mountain.
This drive was not at the foothills, but instead ran through the passes of the eastern end of the Alps. Going up the passes, the weather went from mild and foggy to cloud and snow covered. Even though this is the Alps in February, snow coverage was spotty and grass poked through the ski runs. It seemed to be near the end of the outdoor snow season in this region. I'm fairly certain in other sections of the Alps, skiing is still ongoing, even now (March). The spotty snow still had a load of people enjoying the outdoors, and these people seemed to stay in Swiss cottages. Built anytime from the 1600s until right now, every cottage followed the same style. Unlike France, there were building dates above cottage doors between 1939 and 1945. This revelation brought about some choice comments regarding the neutrality of the Swiss during WW2. 

View from Pizol
During the afternoon, we headed towards another town with a thermal bath. However, before we arrived, there was a small road sign pointing up to a gondola. Taking the cue from the gods, we followed. Fearing this to be our last opportunity, and ignoring the less than ideal conditions, gondola tickets were purchased. Sweeping out of the valley, up past the clouds and fog, we were awarded with a lovely view of the Pizol Alps.

There was a bar, in which we were served by another non-ironic mullet (this time blonde) and had our picture taken by the local Chalet Patrol. A brief discussion on Canada, snow sports and beer occurred. What else! Near the end of the beer and fries, a couple of us went into the back room, to see the decorations... that was a bad idea.

Say "Pictures are Stupid!"
Back in the Kia, pointed northward, we braced ourselves for the entrance into Lichtenstein. 

Photo of the Moment:

I have Tonsils!

Next Installment: Liechtenstein. Do we see the Prince? How far into this tiny country do we go? Do we even touch Lichtensteinian soil with our feet, or only the car? These exceedingly important questions will possibly answered, if I remember!

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