An Ode to Bordeaux.

Last week, a group of three of us packed our backpacks

and at 9am, jumped in S’s car, inputted Bordeaux, and got on track.

Our route

We were venturing through France on “Girls Trip”.

We figured we’d give the ole’ wine tasting a rip.

 

About four hours into our journey,

S’s car rumbled and smoked, like it needed a gurney.

Puy du Dome

As luck would have it, we were near an Aire

which is a “rest stop” in French, if you didn’t know where.

 

 

That part was quite lucky.  But since highways in French are privately owned,

just any tow truck couldn’t come help, with the way it was zoned.

 

To see what was the matter, the gals looked under the hood

they got an audience, a few men, who just stood.  (apparently this isn’t common in France)

A and I bided our time by taking advantage of the rest stop buffet

It included quarters of chicken, ratatouille, wine, – quite an array!

 

Wine machine at the rest stop. We didn’t partake. We wanted to.

Having fun with the coffee machine

 

After an hour, help did arrive.

In a big blue tow truck, he did drive.

 

He took a look, and I thought he said “Bon Voyage”

but really he said, “C’est la embrayage” (the clutch)

 

Thank goodness S spoke fluent French.

Without her, A & I would have been in quite a pinch.

 

We loaded up the car onto the tow truck bed

And drove along Puy de Dome, with concerns of Bordeaux in our head.

S, on the phone, in the tow truck.

 

 

In the little town, we waited and sat.

It took four hours to arrange a car, and to wait for a taxi at that.

The dog’s name was Festine. We stayed so long, we got to see her birth certificate.

Sick of waiting

 

 

The lady on the phone said the rental car location would be 4 kilometers.

After an hour backtracking and 100 euro, the error was hers.

 

We were at the airport of Clermont Ferrand

More waiting we did do, at the mercy of Europcar’s hand.

The airport we didn’t fly into

Finally, we jumped into our new car,

stopping at a Q-stop (like McDonald’s) before we got too far.

Yes, we’ll take a round of “Classique” meals

We drove again past the scene of the breakdown, the exact site,

and continued 5 hours to our destination, arriving at midnight.

Saint-Émilion at midnight. Thank goodness.

 

Before it was time to lay our heads down,

S bought us a bottle of wine, to have a “We finally arrived” round.

 

 

 

Clouds Don’t Ruin The Golden Pass

When E-dawg was here, it rained a lot.   I tried to brainstorm ideas for activities in the clouds and rain and one we considered was a scenic train.    However, I wasn’t sure how this would be.    On one hand, you don’t have to get wet at all in order to see the magnificent Swiss countryside.    On the other hand, would the rain ruin the view & visibility?

I Googled it, but didn’t get much information.  Luckily, when we took the Golden Pass, the sun came out for E-dawg and I.   Unfortunately, I never found out the answer.

Twin & Solid knew they wanted to take a scenic train, so I recommended we take The Golden Pass back from Lauterbrunnen, since Gabe had to return earlier to Geneva to get back to work.   That way, we could take our time going back and stop in towns that looked intriguing.   However, the forecast was dreary.   Rain was predicted in every town we were to pass through.   The scenic trains aren’t cheap, so  I posed it as an option to them that we could all ride back with Gabe if they preferred.  The downside would be a 5am departure to go back in the car with him vs. a relaxing and leisurely wake-up.

They decided to roll the dice on the weather.   And, remarkably, we had a great day.   So, for those traveling on Golden Pass, worried about the weather, I’d recommend you just go for it.

Here is a recap of our journey, starting from Lauterbrunnen–>Interlacken Ost–>Spiez–>Zweissimen–>Montreux–>Geneva:

Lauterbrunnen valley. Not promising.

Thunersee….still ominous

Solid admiring the view after Zweisimen

Twin checking out the view before our stop in Château D’Oex

Clouds over Lake Geneva, but still pretty

Wow.  The cloud cover showcases varying blues in Lake Geneva.   Maybe the clouds were a good thing after all?

The overcast Golden Pass train ended up being one of our guest’s favorite days.

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Alpine Views in Zweissimen & Chateau D’Oex

The Swiss Watch Blog:   The Golden Pass

The Swiss Watch Blog:  A Springtime ride on the Glacier Express

The Swiss Watch Blog:   All Aboard the Glacier Express

Schwingen In Switzerland:  A Gorge-ous Panoramic Train Ride

Luzern: Switzerland’s Loveliest City

We hadn’t been to Luzern yet, but have had it on our list the entire time we’ve lived in Switzerland.   I almost got to go for Carnival with my girlfriends but when my surgery got moved to an earlier date, it fell through.

However, I knew I’d get a chance to reschedule a visit when Twin was to visit.   Because my mom loves flowers, I knew she’d goo-goo- gaga over the lovely flower bridge in Luzern. I was right.

First glimpse of the wooden flower bridge

Checking out the bridge

Historical stories than pan the entire bridge

Exploring the waterfront of Luzern

After walking around awhile, we settled at Rathaus Brauerei

Rathaus Brauerei

Solid & Gabe had local beers and Twin & I had some local red wine.   We got seats right on the water so ended up staying for awhile and ordering traditional Swiss German dishes – bratwursts, pretzels, frites, and some filet de perche since we were on the water. After dinner, we took a stroll through old town.

Lovely waterfront

Clock tower

Old town – beautiful squares and buildings

Loved the detail on some of the buildings….quintessential Swiss

My map showed a cool view if we ascended so we kept going.

The old city ramparts

Panoramic view of Luzern from the ramparts

After walking the ramparts, we descended to the other old bridge.

The old bridge

The water flow in the river was so powerful.  The poor swans had to work hard not to be swept away!

We learned that Luzern has to control the water flow to keep nearby lakefront towns from flooding.  In the Spring, as alpine melt rushes the lake, they must really take heed of the flow.  As summer progresses, the control can be tweaked to keep lake levels up.

Checking out the river / dam system that Luzern uses to control Alpine water flow

The next day we set a meet-up time of 1pm, so everyone could have free time.    Twin & Solid visited The Lion Monument dedicated to the Swiss mercenaries protecting the French king.

Luzern Lion Monument – Image courtesy of Walkaboutphil.com

Gabe & I opted for a old-fashioned Lake Lucerne cruise to fill our morning.

Boat ride around Luzern’s lakes

Boats on Luzern’s beautiful lakes

Sailboats on the lake

We left for Interlacken very content from our awesome experience in this lovely Swiss city.

Lake Geneva Nautical Adventures

On Twin & Solid’s second day in town, we took a boat trip around Lake Geneva.   There are multiple options for boat trips.   Since Twin is a flower lover, we selected the medieval village of Yvoire.

Image courtesy of CGN.ch

Geneva boats are operated by the CGN.   On their website, you can see the possibilities.   Our particular boat left Mt. Blanc at 10:15, stopping in Versoix, Coppet, and Nyon before crossing the lake to the French side and anchoring in Yvoire at noon.  Full fare ride to Yvoire costs about 40 CHF, but you can use your half-fare card to get a reduction.

Lake Geneva CGN boat – a few are classical steamboats like this one

Pulling away from Geneva

Approaching Nyon, Switzerland

Docking in Yvoire, France

Enjoying the flowers

Pretty window box

We had authentic French lake cuisine: filets de perche

We caught the 4:20pm boat back to Geneva.  It is the only option in the Springtime, and our visit was the last day of the Spring schedule. During the summer, there are more options for coming and going as the tourist traffic picks up.

On the way home, we had stunning views of Mt. Blanc.   It is only visible a small percentage of time, so we were lucky to get the view we did:

Mt. Blanc looks surreal in the summer….it never loses its snow

It was a lovely day with the CGN!

 

Related posts:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Monday Funday in Lausanne and Evian

The Swiss Watch Blog:    Route Blanche and the Mt Blanc Tunnel

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Yvoire, France

Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

We rented a car so we could see Ireland’s magnificent countryside.  However, in Ireland, they drive on the left side of the road.    Gabe was a bit apprehensive…mainly about driving a stick.   The worries went away once he discovered the operations for the manual worked the same way, that he wouldn’t have to do that in reverse.  Just remember to drive on the opposite.

He did a remarkable job.  Not that it was easy.

First, the roads were narrow.  Our friend A in Geneva lived in Ireland a few years.  He called them the “sweaty palm roads”.

Yes, this road is for both directions

In addition, you had to watch out for oncoming traffic.  And random farm animals.

Not enough room for two

Watch out…cows!

Kudos to Gabe for keeping us alive!

Traversing Swiss Mountains

After our trip to Lake Como, I am a lot more educated on how to get through, around, and over a mountain.

I remember when we first moved here, when we looked at a map, we were stupefied why there wasn’t a direct route.   It didn’t take long to find out that the reason the roads can’t go straight here is because of the big freakin’ mountains, otherwise known as “the Alps”.

Within our year, we learned about the wonderful Mt. Blanc Tunnel, which can save you a lot of time getting to Italy (and also adding a big dent to your wallet, around $60 USD).   We had used this tunnel to get back from the South of France, and also planned to use it to get to Lake Como.

However, I wanted to stop in Lugano and Bellinzona on our way home, putting us in the South of Switzerland, far from the Mt. Blanc tunnel.   I saw on Google Maps that there appeared to be two ways though.  They took longer but it was worth seeing a few cities in the Ticino canton.  No biggie.

The little yellow circle is where we came into Italy via Mt. Blanc. The other two were the ways we considered coming back into Swizterland.

The week before we left, I mentioned to my PT that we were going to holiday in Lake Como and return through Ticino.

“Are you sure the passes are open yet”?  he inquired.

No I wasn’t sure.   Anytime we’d gone that direction before, we were in a train.   This was to be our first time taking the car and it never occurred to me that in mid May some roads wouldn’t be open.

So, that week, I tried to research this.  Key word – “tried”.   Google Maps would still let me do directions home through the alternative ways.  It hinted that “some roads would be seasonally closed”.   No problem…i’ll just Google it.    Surely they’ll be a key like there is during ski season showing whats open and not.

I found a few message boards but nothing definitive that suggested if passes were open or not.   I did find a map showing that going up from Domodolossa there was a station in Iselle that you could put your car on a train to go through the Simplon Tunnel if the Simplon Pass wasn’t open.

See the little happy car on the dotted line? That means underground car on rail transportation.

I noted this would be a plan that could work.  Although, no information about the cost, schedule, etc.  Do these car trains go every hour?  Only once a day?  Once a weekend?

More research also found that the Gottard Pass was likely closed  since it usually is open until June, but the Gottard Tunnel was open year round.  A few message boards added that the wait could be up to 2 hours on a holiday weekend, creating a queue of traffic on the freeway for 10-15 km back.  Curses!!!

I’ll stop and interject with some basic vocabulary.  I actually didn’t really know this until our adventure this weekend.

Pass = a road that goes over an Alp.  It is likely curvy, amazingly beautiful, and will make you marvel at the wonder of Swiss civil engineering.  It can only be passable when the snow is gone or can be scraped.  During winter, its simply not possible based on snowfall.  Some passes, like Gottard, are only open 2-3 months a year.

Tunnel = a road that goes through a mountain, usually in a direct way, and will make you marvel at the wonder of Swiss civil engineering.  The benefit is that they can stay open regardless of snowfall.  If it is not in Switzerland, its costly.  If you live in Switzerland, you have a 40 CHF highway pass that allows you to do it for free.  If you don’t live in Switzerland and want to use said tunnel, guess what?  40 CHF.

The evening before we left Como, we tried to inquire about the best way home.  Our sweet apartment proprietor even knocked on the door of her neighbor to inquire since he knew more about Switzerland.  They said they’d think we’d be okay on the passes around Lugano and Locarno.  Okay, then…didn’t even know those were in contention to worry about either.    She gave us an internet password and we continued to look into it the evening before dinner. Nothing else was definitive.  Thus, we decided to get to Bellinzona and see how the GPS acted.

During our awesome lunch in a UNESCO castle, we inquired at the desk about how to get back to Geneva.  We mentioned what we knew.   When we said Gottard Tunnel and the phrase, “but we weren’t sure because it is a holiday weekend”, she immediately blurted, “that’s a terrible idea!!”.

So, we were off to the Simplon Pass or Simplon Tunnel   We entered “Iselle, Italy” into the GPS so that we could decide and evaluate the pass.

Gabe hadn’t had Ticino, Lugano or Bellinzona on his list.  He found Lugano average, Bellinzona cool because of the architecture and castles, but driving through the Ticino a 10.    We found ourselves curving around lush tropical mountains, feeling like we were in the Amazon.  Were we really still in Switzerland?      It was exhilarating for me to be in the car.  Luckily, Gabe is an excellent driver, but it was still a bit scary.

I made a little movie to show you what driving on these roads was like. Mom, please don’t watch this.

We crossed back into Italy.   And, two hours later, we reached Iselle.  We weren’t really sure what was happening as it wasn’t evident where to put your car on a train, but there were three cars with Canton of Geneva plates and we decided to follow them.   Crossing back into Switzerland, we saw this sign.

All green.  Thanks, Switzerland.  Would have been really nice to have this information online somewhere instead of having to drive here to verify it.

And again, we were in wonder.

Misty Alps

Lush fields with stone fence property lines

There’s still snow up here. The temperature had dropped from 20 C in Bellinzona to 2 C at the top of the Simplon Pass.

The hubby is a good driver. Thank goodness.

Driving over the Simplon Pass

Descending into the valley on the other side of the Alps

A view of Brig coming down from the Simplon Pass.

We had talked with some friends on the way home who warned us about the Gottard traffic.  We didn’t know they were returning to Geneva back through Ticino or we should have shared our information or lack thereof about the roads.

So, this post was to inform any folks trying to drive from Italy back to Switzerland.   It’s not so easy!!

Frau Hilda rides a ferry

When we went to Lake Como, Frau Hilda got to ride her first ferry.   It is not her first time on a boat…she was ironically imported from South Carolina.

Because Lake Como is long and twisty (it resembles the body of a man), they have a network of boats and ferries so it is easy to traverse between towns on opposite coasts, saving time.

Bellagio is located where the legs meet.   Apparently there is a catchy Italian poem about this, but we didn’t hear it when we were there.

When we drove in, it was no big deal – we just passed through Como and continued up the left leg until we reached the village.    However, the drive was super hair raising and we didn’t necessarily want to repeat it.  Also, our destination was Lake Lugano which was due-west of Bellagio.    Luckily for us, they had car ferries between Bellagio and Cadenabbia (left side of mid lake) every 20 minutes.

Image courtesy of Owners Direct from Home Away

It only cost 19 euro for Frau Hilda, Gabe and I to ride.   We thought that was a smokin’ deal.    The ride was only about 15 minutes but saves us about an hour or two in driving time for where we were going.

Goodbye, adorable Bellagio

Frau Hilda was joined by a fancy car.   I guess these folks didn’t want to risk driving their antique Bentley on the curvy roads, either!

 

I am a ferry veteran.  We used to take the Cape May-Lewes one each summer to travel between New Jersey down to the beaches of Delaware.  However, this was Gabe’s first time.   He loved it.

What do you think of ferries?