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?

Route Blanche and The Mt Blanc Tunnel

Mt. Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps.   For us, its easiest to access via Chamonix, France.   This adorable ski village is only an hour from Geneva and has a cable car you can take to reach the top.

However, this majestic mountain is not just a French treasure.   Mt. Blanc straddles France and Italy, so it is shared.   It is titled Monte Bianco in Italian.   In fact, people can leave Chamonix, take a cable car, and ski down into Italy.  We have some friends who skied this side, in Coumayeur, and loved it.  I can’t imagine how much better skiing is if your mid-day break includes Italian food….a la dolce vita!

However, when it comes to every day life, usually you don’t want to climb Mt. Blanc but to simply get around it or through it by means of getting to nearby Italy.    And so what did they do?

Build a tunnel.

Image courtesy of “Skiing the Pacific Rim of Fire”

It is amazing to think about the effort it takes to build a highway of this magnitude.  France doesn’t let you forget it when you enter the autoroute.  They remind you that they have spent millions of euros on the highway.

When you see the infrastructure required to build the roads, you don’t mind paying the few euro toll to drive on the side of the French Alps.

…that is just leading up to the tunnel, not the tunnel itself.

The tunnel itself takes about 17 minutes to get through, and costs about $60 USD additional than just the Autoroute Blanche.    And what choice do you have if you want to get to Italy?  The alternative is to take a 2-3 hour detour around the other side of Lake Geneva.

Image courtesy of Alice in Wonderlands

It was completed in 1965.    It shut down for 3 years in 1999 due to a horrific accident, killing 39.  They reopened in 2001 after making significant  safety modifications.

 

And thus, they are serious. Here are the safety rules:

1- Maintain speed of 70 km/hour.   If everyone isn’t maintaining speed consistently, they’ll come on the radio and warn everyone.

2- Yield control of your radio to them.   Even if you have an iPod in, it redirects you to the radio station of the tunnel so they can communicate.  They do so in French, Italian and English.

3- Stay 2 blue lights away from the person in front of you, to ensure there is significant stopping space.   You can see the blue lights in the picture above.

We are thankful for the ability to use tunnels to make our trips shorter.

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog – Gratitude Friday: Witnessing Something Truly Majestic

Schwingen in Switzerland – Mt. Blanc – the Tallest Mountain in the Alps 

The Swiss Watch Blog – In Winter Wonder with Pascal and Giselle

Don’t go chasing waterfalls….

And I continue with my cheesy song title post names.

We mentioned that it was pretty neat to see the castles while driving on our road trip to Lake Como.   Now that is is Spring, the glacial runoff has started and there is a surplus of waterfalls to be found while driving on France, Italy and Switzerland’s Alpine highways.

Here are just a few of the ones we spotted in our short car ride:

And my personal favorite, driving in Valais, there is waterfall spewing out of the base of a house.

Castles in the Sky

We took a road trip this past weekend to Lake Como.       When we used to live in the US, you could count Waffle Houses on any given drive on I-95 or similar Southern highway.   Here in the heart of Europe, we can count castles.

Castles are typically on hills.   This is for two main reasons:   1 – so that they could watch over the valleys and know about any incoming intruders and 2 – it is harder to overtake a castle while having to climb a big mountain to do so.

I find it incredible to drive through these valleys and see the castles still towering above.   It is eery to think about what must have happened over the course of the hundreds of years of each castles’ lifetime….the battles, the deaths, the prisoners, the changes in lives that happened.

I thought I’d share a cross section of castles we saw.  Mind you that this is in just one weekend trip!

And of course, had to include our favorite, in Sion:

Related links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Castles of Sion

The Swiss Watch Blog: Chateau Chillon

Geneva International Motor Show

Gabe went to the International Motor Show when it was in Geneva a few weeks ago.  There is nothing that seemed worse to me than being handicapped amongst massive swarms of people either in a wheelchair or on crutches.   Thus, he went solo after work one day.  Maybe next year for me.

Ever since he went, he’s been asking me what color Tesla we are going to get.

Most recently, he has starting thinking about how we can build a new garage on our house in Charlotte so it can fit this Tesla.   If you have been to our house in Dilworth, you know our little shed won’t do and there really isn’t space for garage access with our teeny lot.   He has even been pondering about the alley way behind our property.

I thought I would share some of the eye candy from his camera with you:

This is the Tesla booth - Gabe's favorite. If you aren't familiar: it is an expensive electric sports car.

 

More futuristic cars!

 

A highlight on some of the non - Tesla electric cars

Gratitude Friday: Introducing Frau Hilda

This Friday, we wanted to express our gratitude for our car, Frau Hilda.   While we use the public transport quite a bit, it has been super nice to have a set of wheels during our time in Geneva for weekend trips.    Also, we are lucky enough to get the option to rent a parking spot near our building which is quite a luxury in Geneva.  We are very appreciative of this benefit.

What happens if you don’t have a spot near your building?    You have to buy what is called a macaroon.  No, it is not a tasty baked treat by Lady J, it is a 180 franc yearly pass to park on the street in certain blue zones.   You can only park in the particular zone  that correlates to your neighborhood.  However, this macaroon parking is not guaranteed.  We know people who have searched for over 45 minutes and not been able to find one remotely close to their house.   Yuck.

Why?   Geneva is not car friendly.  They are proactively trying to reduce spaces and convert people to use public transport.  For more on this and the hierarchy of who and what is important, check out Switzerland Hughes.

So how did Frau Hilda come about?   When Gabe accepted his job, they let us know we would have a company car in Geneva. We got to pick it out from three models: sedan, minivan and SUV.  We picked the only SUV option, swayed by the proximity to ski resorts.  We selected it in March, before we left.   We were notified that even though it was a BMW, a German brand, it was actually made in South Carolina.  About an hour from our house in Charlotte.  So it would take 9 months to make it to Europe.  Our furniture only took 2 months.

We like to name cars.  Gabe wanted it to be female.  We were debating whether to name her a South Carolina name or a German name.  We went German….Frau Hilda.

Has Frau Hilda ever starred in a film? Why, yes. Since her arrival in December,  we have made a video about her adventures entitled “BMW 007”.   Our favorite part is Frau Hilda “escaping” from the Monte Carlo Casino.Check out her film debut!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bon weekend, everyone!

Rolling….

Post by Lauren

Because of the limited mobility of my feet, it was much easier to ride in a wheelchair for the longer distances when traveling with Gabe’s family.  I have gotten permission to walk up to 30 minutes at a time (at a snails pace) but I am supposed to keep them elevated the rest of the day if I walk that much.  By riding in a chaise roulant (French for “wheelchair”), we didn’t have to stop and take 1000 breaks.  It is also easier for Mama Mia when doing long long days of tours and exploration to ride in the same style.

Hanging out in the courtyard of the hospital where Van Gogh lived / painted.

However, wheelchairs are not common in Europe.  Or so we are guessing by the stares we received while riding in them in the three countries we visited.   Not kidding that people would stop in their tracks and look.  For extended amounts of time.

In Zermatt, we guessed that maybe thought it had something to do with the thought of ski accidents since it is a huge winter sports town.  Maybe it scared them for what was ahead on the slopes the next day.   I joked with Gabe that if someone asked, I was going to tell them that it was a result of heli-skiing on the Matterhorn.

Attracting curiousity in Zermatt

In Milan, as Gabe pushed me along the streets of the fashion capital, we realized that this particular accessory also garnished a lot of looks.

In Nice, an 8 year old girl rollerbladed backwards for an entire minute so she could continue to gawk as we strolled/rolled down the Promenade d’Anglais.  I was worried she might collide and need one herself by the time the viewing was over.

I wonder why wheelchairs aren’t as common in Europe?   Maybe its the difficulty of cobblestones or lack of access to elevators & handicapped bathrooms due to older buildings?

Anyhow, just another culture difference we are learning about.