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Monday, June 27, 2005

Our trip to Switzerland...

On Friday, June 24, we loaded up the Peugot and headed toward
Switzerland. By 5:00 in the afternoon we had picked up Jim at
Michelin and headed out on the road. The weather was threatening
rain and the forecast called for rain during the whole trip. Of
course, we the heat we had faced the last couple of days, rain would
actually be welcome.

Sure enough, we pulled over into an aire - a rest area - for a quick
picnic dinner and the rain sent us scurrying beneath the open door of
the van to finish our baggettes and yogurt. Then we were back on the
road in a pretty driving rain.

The rain followed us to our first stop in Annecy. However, when we
arrived, the rain lifted. It did not return until we prepared to
leave. That set the stage for most of the rest of our weekend. Not
once did we have a delay or get wet because of the rain. By Sunday,
the rain was completely lifted and we enjoyed the last day of our
trip under blue skies.

Annecy was beautiful at night. We walked the streets in the cool
evening. It is amazing to me how narrow the streets are in all of
these cities. And flowers, though hardly any dirt could be seen -
the cobble stone streets connect directly to narrow sidewalks or to
the walls of the shops and restaurants - flowers were everywhere in
window boxes and planters.

We then headed to the lake - Le Lac de Annecy - though it was not
very impressive due to the fact that the sun was beginning to set and
the clouds were moving back in. Just as I was filming my family
walking along the shore, the rain returned. We headed for the
parking garage and began our search for the hotel.

The exchange rate hurt us on this trip. Not to mention that
everything is expensive over here anyway. To stay in a hotel
comparable to a Holiday Inn or even a Hampton Inn would set you back
quite a bit. So, we had gotten reservations at an Etap. I don’t
even know what hotel to compare it with - it doesn’t even have as
much to offer as a Motel 6. However, the price was nearly three
times that of the place the leaves the light on for you.

We didn’t know where the hotel was so we just started heading in the
direction we thought it might be. Finally, we pulled into a gas
station and asked a man putting fuel into his BMW if he knew where
the hotel might be. “Sure,” he said in French, “I am heading that
way. Just follow me.” Sure enough, he lead us right to the front door.

Inside we discovered a very small room with a bed that two people
could not go around. Above the bed was a loft. My wife and I slept
in the bed and our little seven year-old slept in the loft above us.
There was no air conditioning and we slept with the window open.

The next day we loaded up and headed to Switzerland.

I really enjoyed the drive almost more than anything else. Through
valleys and tunnels and over long stretches of road that ran along
the mountain side, you could look out and see small villages
clustered along the rail lines and narrow country roads. It struck
me that a way that Europe is different from America is that
EVERYTHING has been touched by humans. In America you can drive
through sections of country where it is completely wild. Here, you
can look up at the top of a mountain where you are certain no one
would be and see a cultivated terrace.

Our first stop in Switzerland was Interlaken. My wife says it was
her favorite city in Switzerland. It really reminded me of some of
the places back home such as the Highlands in North Carolina.
Though, don’t get me wrong - any place in America is simply a copy of
what you will find here. Even our oldest buildings in the states
seem like cheap imitations of what you will find here.

Interlaken gets its name because the city is a connector between two
lakes. There is the east and west lakes. There is a waterway
connecting between the lakes and Interlaken is built along that
waterway and around the edges of the two lakes. The water of the
upper lake and the waterway was an odd color - or I should say that
the water was clear as could be, but whatever was on the bottom
caused the water to appear a powdery green. It was very odd.

We saw lots of other cool things there including a couple of stunt
flyers in jets. I had always heard that flying was a big deal in
Switzerland and you could tell these were not military jets. We
watched them fly into our area and then complete a loop right above
one of the lakes. We also made sure we bought some chocolate. From
Interlaken, we headed off to Lucerne. This was another neat drive as
it took us off of the autoroute and into the back roads of the
country. Boy, it would have been cool to have had my BMW on those

Lucerne was somewhat of a disappointment because we arrived during a
big festival that ended clogging the entire downtown area. As we
jostled our way through the streets every alley seemed to have a band
playing. We finally headed away from what was a very grand city
toward the lake. There the noise of the concerts faded into the
background and we enjoyed the beauty of the lake with the high snow
capped mountains in the distance.

Oh, one cool thing about Lurcerne was an old bridge that crossed the
river feeding the lake. I really think it would have been a neat
city to visit had it not been so crowded. I couldn’t help but think
I was at an amusement park. All I needed was some cotton candy.

Then it was off to Bern - the capitol of Switzerland. We were not
there very long. Basically we arrived in time to get checked into
our Etap (a rather nice one this time - the rooms were the same size,
but it was newer and, more importantly, cooler). The next morning
(Sunday) we drove around the city for a bit. Where Lucerne was
crowded, Sunday morning in Bern was almost like a ghost town.
However, I loved the architecture and orderliness of the city. I
think I would have liked to have stayed awhile longer, but we needed
to get to Geneve.

It was there we spent the rest of our day. Again, the city is built
around a lake - and what a lake! It is huge. Also, there is a
geyser in one spot that sends water up hundreds of feet in the air.
I am certain that the pressure coming out of there would tear your
hand off if you tried to stick it in there.

Of course, for me, one of the neat things was seeing all the cars.
Ferrari, Mazarati, Lotus, Astin Martin, Roles Royce - yes, I also saw
a Viper GTS - were all there. Geneve is quite the money place. The
hotels were grand and you could tell the wealthy liked to come to the
strip along the lake. However, walking just three blocks away from
the shore would bring you back to reality. That is where the “real
people” lived.

We left the lake to walk to the church where John Calvin and John
Knox preached. Again, it was so old. How neat to think that right
there those men had spoken... We then climbed the stairs to the bell
tower. We had opportunity then to look out over the city from the
spire. Wow, what a perspective. Pictures really couldn’t capture
the view - I know my words couldn’t.

Leaving the church we went to see a monument to the reformation and
also stopped to play chess and checkers on some oversized playing
boards. You could walk around and move the pieces they were so
large. This is the kind of thing I think would be really cool to add
to Greenville’s downtown. There was a great sense of community as
groups of people gathered a tables and benches to play the games

Finally, we headed back to France. It was a long drive and we
arrived back in Cournon about 10:45 PM. Oddly, it was still dusk.
You could see that the sun had just slipped beneath the horizon.
Every day so far when we were sure it was about 6 in the evening, it
has actually been 9 in the evening. Of course, jet lag helps with
the impression.

All in all it was a very enjoyable weekend. We are now regrouping
here at my sister’s house. This week we plan to spend more time
going to the less tourist traveled places. That is what I have
wanted to see. How does the average Frenchman live? I’m looking
forward to the days ahead.


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