Thursday, July 16, 2009

EU trip (Switzerland), Days 8,9

All Swiss
Switzerland has been a fairytale country for me since my childhood and this was the first time we got a chance to visit it. Therefore I made sure that we were having a few days secured for Switzerland to admire its beauty. Name Alps has developed a repo of being a fairytale place with all those green mountains and cows grazing in the meadows. A big chunk of Switzerland is covered with Alps and the same range of mountains is shared with France and Austria. The most popular areas remain with the Swiss not only because these are more beautiful but also the way these have been developed and marketed in the world. Swiss remains one the most expensive places to visit due to the influx of the people visiting it. I found Swiss people generally very helpful with a few exceptions during our trip.
We were staying at Formula 1 hotel closer to Disneyland after leaving Disney very late in the evening yesterday. This place was a small village with some basic facilities. We took shower early morning to leave by 8am for our long drive to Geneva. For that we would be crossing a big chunk of France to enter into Switzerland. There are not many cities in this side of France. The drive took us about 7 hours to complete. We crossed many picturesque areas including the French Alps. The drive was a pleasure and not hectic at all. Highways are very well maintained in France and also in the Swiss, probably the best in Europe.

We had booked another Formula 1 hotel for the night on the French side. Geneva is at the border of France and Switzerland and their sister cities really merge into each other and it is difficult to identify whether you are in France or Swiss. We drove straight to the hotel but then thought of changing our booking to another hotel on Swiss side. We tried but couldn’t get a hold of the hotel reception as it kept going on the answering machine. So we thought we would go to Geneva and then will try from there, otherwise we will come back to this hotel for the night. Geneva was about 20 minutes drive from here through very beautiful green fields and low hills. Once in Geneva, we could only make out that we were in Geneva by their tram system and the number plates on the cars. One thing we noticed as soon as we entered the Swiss side is that people love the bicycles and generally are very healthy. You hardly saw any obesity in Swiss people – a very admirable thing.
We drove around to find the Tourist Info Center and got a good parking spot as well, which was a hard to find thing in this city. We parked right at the river coming from Geneva Lake and on just a 5 minutes walk from the main station and the info center. We walked up to the center and got all the info required for our trip. The girl was very nice and polite, no wonder their tourism is really developed. Those people really care about their country and promote it well. After getting info the Starbucks coffee and usage of their well-maintained washrooms was the highlight. Everyone was fresh and charged up with the Starbucks coffee when we finally came out of the cafĂ©. Once we were done we started the city tour. First of all, their famous fountain in the Lake Geneva that you find in many of Geneva post cards and a walk on the shores of the lake. It is a nice city with many historic buildings and some modern areas. Being birds and animal lovers this place was heaven for the kids as there were several types of birds on the lake including the graceful Swans, ducks and off course the Seagulls. Kids loved them and didn’t want to move away from there. Next we saw some of their old monuments and the flower clock on one bank of the river just next to the park. I don’t need to mention again and again that this country is lush green. The old town tour was also very pleasant through narrow streets going up and down. After a couple of hours of old city tour we came back to the river and started our walk towards the car. It was time to find some grocery store, as we were short on some supplies. It was just 6 ‘o clock but in Europe this remained a big problem that everything closed by this time and you could only see some petrol pump convenience stores or a few others open. So as expected we found most of the city closed. At one gas station some gentleman gave us directions to one Asian store and we made it straight to that place. In the mean time Wasim realized that he left the gas lid cover and one set of spare keys at the station, so we quickly drove back and found them waiting for us at the counter. We drove back again to the Asian store to purchase some supplies that we did, and started driving back to the hotel.

Hotel was clean and was good enough for us to spend the night. Though we had some challenge finding something to eat in the evening as everything was shut down and the places those were open, were not meeting our criteria of food. Hence we had to take some French bread with honey and jam for dinner to call it a day.

Alps Waiting
We were planning to reach Tasche today, which is just below Zermatt (one of the most beautiful car free town). Tasche is the last drivable town in this area of Swiss Alps. But we would be covering Lausanne and Montreux on the way. And also would drive through Geneva to have a driving tour of the city area that we did not cover the day before.

We took the car for a wash in the outskirts of Geneva and then drove towards Lausanne. The road was very nice with some views of Lake Geneva and on the left the baby Alps, as I would call them, but with very green grape wines very beautifully lined up on the slopes of the hills in straight lines. Green color was looking very bright in the sunny day.  Lausanne is at only 45 minutes and the drive was along the Geneva Lake only, we stopped at the lake, received some information and the kids got a chance to play in the garden. They enjoyed playing in the wooden big play gym. Coop was just in front of the park so we bought some bread for the camping starting tonight. It was a nice little town on lake Geneva.

From here the highway started climbing a bit and you could see Montreux from the highway itself. Pretty views of the city but we didn’t have time to stop here as we were running late to reach our campsite in Tasche to secure one spot for us. So we continued driving up into the Alps. Spectacular scenery started from here and the mountains really showed off their beauty. Green carpeted slopes with jungles on some. Waterfalls welcomed us at many corners. Soon we were driving on the side of a river with mountains on both sides. The scenery was so absorbing that one would not notice and reached the destination in no time without tiring out. That’s exactly what happened in our case and we reached the small village of Tasche in no time. There were rivers and waterfalls around this area. The most famous mountain of Europe i.e. The Matterhorn is just above Zermatt. We finished formalities at the counter and proceeded to find a good spot to camp.

Let me fill-in for people who are like us and used to camping in North America. People may think that camping is same everywhere, however I found camping different everywhere. The camping in North America is entirely different from the one in Europe. The main difference is the privacy provided and the secludedness offered in America and Canada while camping. You could get sites with less privacy if you book late or with total privacy if you book early. A fire pit is a must at the campsite and a campfire or bonfire is a tradition if you camp. Camping in North America offers a feel of away from the city even if the sites are very close to the town, however camping in EU is like camping in each other’s garden. There are flat green patches on which everyone camps. There are no defined boundaries or numbers for each campsite. So you choose where you would like to camp and that’s it. There is no privacy or even a concept of it. So while camping here you are in the middle of a big gathering. But everyone is interested in his or her own stuff and no one bothers what’s going on under their nose in or around the next camp.

So here we were looking at green patches almost full but according to the reception there was room for many more camps amongst the others. So we found a good enough spot for us and pitched our tent. It was a green and pretty place all the more when we came from the desert city of Dubai where it’s hard to find greenery. After putting up our tent we setup beds for everyone and then the dinner preparations started. Today was the first day we were trying our butane gas stove bought from the UK. It worked very well and proved its worth, food got ready quickly and timely. Wasim went to the only village store and brought some delicious cherries and a couple of other things. Everyone enjoyed the meal thoroughly. 

We went for a stroll in the village and saw some nice old farmhouses and fruit trees. We also visited the station and came back to our camp. It was time to go to sleep now. Night was chilly and we also tried out the butane heater that Waseem purchased in UK before our arrival, it worked really well and helped us keeping our tent warm. I tucked up kids into their sleeping bags and jumped into mine to get some rest and to warm up as my hands were freezing by now.

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