VOYAGE TO SWITZERLAND
Thursday - Friday 10/23-24
The joys of last minute travel! We thought about going to Zurich on Swiss Air for a couple of days because the fares were "reasonable" meaning they were about $400 with an additional $300 in tariffs. Not bad - they were having this unbelievable sale to Europe. We decided it was a crazy idea and we should go to New Orleans instead. The pendulum swung back and forth so many times that we decided to sleep on it. This was the night before thanksgiving and there was a 14 pound frozen turkey in the freezer that we needed to do something about. Also, we had an open invitation to Sherrie's home for TG dinner at her San Diego home. It was proving to be the decision that nearly shattered our post Café Del Rey bliss so we decided in our one joint act for the evening to sleep on it.
About the turkey, John decided to buy a 14 pound turkey a few days ago because it was on sale. It was a great sale mind you a turkey that size for $7 - really really hard to resist. But if you were in Janet's shoes you would have resisted because 14lbs of meat between 2 people is insane. Well, you say, you will have leftovers for days and you will not need to cook anything substantial for a week - quel est le probleme? Good answer but John hates, no scratch that, mom said never to use the word hate, he strongly dislikes leftovers. So, when we go out to dinner I bring home a doggy bag, which he sniffs at in European disdain because it is hardly the thing to do for people of our station in life but he has no issue digging in when hunger pains gnaw at his tender insides. That said, 2 days later is about the limit to which he would touch leftovers. All of my tirade does not really matter because it does not negate the fact there is a huge turkey taking up a third of the freezer and obscuring the light.
Well, thanksgiving morning was leisurely and we lounged around content and giving thanks for what we had and the subject of travel came up again. We bantered back and forth about it and John bought a ticket to Geneva that was leaving at 7:30pm. You know there is that one minute after you have done something crazy when every thing goes in slow motion and then it hits you (one commentator has described this as the "ohnosecond" - JBR). In a moment the should we or shouldn't we debate became rather concrete, a solid mass in the room. Eek! We are going to Geneva in 9.5 hours - do something!
The Briginshaw-Jato became a flurry of activity; we needed a place to stay, money, a car, closing down our home for holiday procedures. About noon to 1 pm we settled on a hotel, Hotel Warwick, and we headed to Starbucks for coffee, lunch, and the ATM. Once our business was concluded there, went home to do some laundry and pack. We were out of the house at 5:30pm tearing up the 405 highway in hot pursuit of our next travel adventure. Half of me wonders if we will come close to pulling something like this off when we have children.
During the flights all the announcements were made in English, French, and Swiss German (hate to think what the Italian and Romance speakers (the other two of four Swiss official languages) thought of that! - JBR). The flight to Zurich was the first leg which was a 10.5 hour flight - we got there 45 minutes early and the next flight to Geneva about a little over an hour. The airline gives you a camera view of the take off and landing, now how cool is that! The only discomfort was the seat - the arm rest did not go all the way up so it was hard to get comfortable. I noticed we did not fill out any landing papers and when we landed in Zurich the passport control took an almost cursory glance at my passport.
At the Zurich airport we started the futile search for the sim card. We found an adapter, but no sim card. What a pain. Anyway, these are small worries. While hunting for the SIM card, there was this little girl about 7 years old who was just not buying the nonsense her mom was feeding her. She finally rebelled by laying on the floor and increasing the decibel of her screams while her mom tried to speak to her softly and coak her to get up. Her mom had this look that seemed to say normally she is not like this and she is a total charmer - now, I just have to remind myself over and over again that I love her. Poor mom. At the sight of this, I take a deep breath and pray that we have few instances of this during our appointed time. The train ride into central Geneva took a whopping 5 minutes (if you have taken the train from Heathrow to Central London you know why this is such a big deal). After a few tries going out the wrong doors and asking around we were at our hotel. Hotel Warwick is a five minute walk from the Cornavin train station and that is including waiting for the crossing lights to be in your favor. It turns out we are in a great location.
We checked in, it is a room guaranteed in US dollars which is unusual, cleaned up and headed out to dinner. It is now 7:30pm and we head out to dinner. We got some directions to old town and we were off to where John spent some of his young adult hood. We walked down one of the shopping streets and it was filled to the gills with watch shops - I should have known. They are known for their watches aren't they. We took one of the bridges that crosses Lake Geneva and links old town to new town. Right before we crossed, there was this gathering of swans I have never seen so many white swans in one place before. They are such graceful birds with long white necks and light right heads. They are almost demure in behavior. My nickname for Lake Geneva is Swan Lake.
We walked along the shopping area to the toy store where the favorite stuffed animal in our household was bought: Franz Karl Weber. Then we headed up the hill walking by Jardin Anglais which has a beautiful fountain and the well known cathedral St. Pierre. I did not know John had a destination in mind so at this point I began to complain about walking aimlessly. John called me a wimp and led me to this wonderful little restaurant called Café du Bourg-de-Four (Geneva habitués may know this as "The Yugo". Yes it's still there! - JBR). He had the beef with poivre sauce while I had the pork with an onion sauce - Yum yum! It was totally worth the 15 minute wait.
I was in decidedly better spirits when we headed down the hill past the armory (Les Armures) which has these beautiful tile mosaics on the wall in the courtyard and some very ornate canons which are simply lovely when you don't account for the fact there were quite deadly at one point.
John has been angling for a while for me to buy him this unbelievably expensive watch, a Patek Philippe, we walked by the shop so he could show me. Imagine my relief when we discovered the store front was closed and completely covered. We walked some more and caught the tram back to the hotel at a little after 11pm. Not a bad outing for folks who got here at 7:30pm. By the way, the even cooler thing about the hotel is they give you a free public transportation pass for the day.
Saturday we plan to explore a bit of Geneva and the next couple of days we plan to go to the mountains. We'll see how that goes.
A close friend of ours visited this morning: jet lag. We slept till 11am grudgingly waking up after a number of knocks from the housekeeping crew sounding more and more irritated that we had not been good guests to put up the sign indicating we should not be disturbed. I had another go at the tub. I forgot to mention the tub during my last message. The bathroom in the Warwick has beautiful beige and black tile and the tub is any woman's (and man's) dream. It is deep enough to have a decent soak. I rave about the tub because on a recent trip to Hawaii for John's birthday (did not write any missives about that trip) we stayed at the Outrigger in Honolulu. The first room we got was not what I wanted at all - it had 2 beds which I don't like and the straw that broke Janet's back was it had what looked like a half tub. A half tub! You could barely sit in the thing forget putting water in it and getting a good dunk. I asked the reception to put us in another room - not having a decent tub is just uncivilized! If you see the tub in our house you would understand why I am spoiled and this is quite important.
No breakfast for us which was fine because dinner stayed with us for a good part of the morning. At sometime noon we set out to find lunch - first the SIM card then lunch. We stopped at the front desk for today's public transport pass. Next, we went to one of the shops we found the night before to get a card. We went into one phone store that seemed so popular that you needed a printed number to get served. We did not stay there long. At the next store we were waited on pretty much immediately. The guy asked us for a passport - which seemed odd. John did not have his so I gave him mine. He must have seen the looks on our faces so he explained that since 9/11 they are required to get a copy of the passport or identity card for phone registration. Who knew? A few minutes later we had a SIM card and we were on to find lunch. We also stopped at an ATM because wouldn't you know Swiss 100 francs bills tend to fly out of your hands or disappear on exposure to sunlight.
One thing I forgot to mention is the weather here is lovely, lovely, lovely. It is almost surprising that folks have their heavy coats on with closed buttons! I was so warm in my coat that I nearly took it off but I was not considering this when we set off because I was sleeveless and there was no way I was showing my arms to the world. John gave up on his coat sometime during our walk. Simply splendid weather for November! It gets a little cool in the evening but nothing like what I expected.
We walked down Rue de la Paix (Peace Road) for a few blocks on the hunt for food we passed by a few places one which looked good since we were not sure we walked on and we ran into this strange building. It was a round peach marble ball for the building base with deep-set windows surrounded by flowing water. It almost looked like the building was rising out of the water. The other side of the building looked like something out a scifi movie it was silver semi circle of a structure. To our immense surprise it was actually a Roman Catholic Church!
We went back to the restaurant we spotted a little while back which had lunch for 19 francs (the current exchange rate is 1.2 Swiss Fr to $1). We had a lovely lunch being served by a waiter who must have gone to the French school of rude waiters. The only time he actually smiled was when I asked for the check. It was good food though. John had the lamb and I had the Chicken "Piri Piri". We both remembered "piri piri" meaning spicy from our trip to Madagascar. It was not as spicy as I would normally like but it was good. We finished lunch off with coffee - which was as close as you can get to an expresso without getting one. I have to remember that when you order a coffee in Europe they normally bring you the tiny demitasse which is not nearly enough coffee to keep your engine going especially if you are working through jet lag. When you order Café Americain (American coffee) then you get a good sized coffee cup the problem with this is it is basically the coffee they normally serve watered down with hot water to fill a larger tea cup. Humph! The best thing to do then is just order more coffee.
After a dessert of some divine crème chocolat (tasted like fresh made chocolate pudding), Yukiko you would have loved it, I was fueled enough to have the inspiration to go to the United Nations and have a look-see. By the way, the coffee came with little packets of sugar which said over the Swiss eat 714kg of chocolate during their lifetimes! I've got some catching up to do! The other said of the packet said "les statistiques adoucissent la vie" - statistics make life easier hear hear! A shout out to all the statisticians and aspiring statisticians in my life! The last time we had coffee the sugar packets were advertising space for one of the running candidates in a local election!
We took the tram using the lovely passes to the UN. Unfortunately, it was closed for the weekend but it was grand enough to see the 3 columns of national flags going all the way from the gate to entrance to the main building deep into the ground of the complex. I was in awe because this is place my Mom has talked about several times before but it does not come home till you see it for yourself.
We walked the grounds a bit because I wanted to see the bust of Michelangelo and came upon "La Cloche de Shinagawa" (The Shinagawa Bell) which was a remembrance of a historical bell restituted by Geneva in 1930. The cool thing was you could ring the bell which John proceeded to do - it gives off this deep and sonorous sound which reminds one of a call to worship. I gave it a bit of a ring as well because John can't be the only one having fun. We continued to walk the grounds and came upon the bust which impressed me less since I got to interact with the bell. Also, usually the likeness of the artist, any artist, does not impress as much once you see their work.
Next up, and luckily for us, was the Ariana Museum, which is a museum of ceramics and glass. The entrance was free: my favorite expense. When I asked the lady at information for exhibit material she offered to give me the French card and I asked for the English instead. She said my accent was so good that she thought I was French. Needless to say I was pleased as punch for her to say that. The museum was a rather impressive place with 3 floors of items. The stained glass on large panels of the main window was just beautiful - I have always loved the blues and the reds used in stained glass. Also, the fact that the artists could etch people's expressions in glass is amazing.
We took the tram back to the train station and went on to look for a map for our trip to mountains the next day. John ran off to the mobile store to figure out what the corresponding phone number for the SIM card was. When he got back he said the phone number was on the contract. We had the bloody thing all along. I remember receiving it at the phone store but I promptly put it away for safe keeping without looking at it - all this time we had been wondering what the phone number was.
We looked in one of the book stands in the train station for a map or guide book. The prices for books here are totally outrageous! The price of the cheapest guide book was 30 francs ($25) while the most expensive was 44 francs ($37). A map was 15 francs ($12). No way! This how Americans get in trouble when they travel abroad because they are always comparing! Previously I was quite glad the exchange rate was favorable but I was feeling gypped because the costs were not equally low or at very least "normal". Now it makes sense why I can't seem to hold on to those 100 fr notes for long!
As I write this, we are back at the hotel and John is taking a little nap in preparation for the evening.
After John's small nap we headed out to dinner at the Au Carnivore for a 9pm reservation. We decided to take the bus which may not have been the best idea. Well it said Rive which at least guaranteed we would make it over the river to old town. We did cross the river but we stayed on the bus a tad longer than we should have and did not recognize where it was going to! After a few more stops we got off and decided to look for a tram (the one transportation we seemed sure of) to get us closer to where we needed to be. We finally found one that seemed to be going our way and breathed a huge sigh of relief when we got the area we recognized from last night.
A quick schlep up the hill and we were at Au Carnivore in no time but 20 minutes late for our reservation. Another of John's old haunts. As you may have figured out by now the name is a hail to meat eaters and I ordered the fish. After tasting dinner, I did not think this was my best choice of food so far. John's dish "chicken supreme" tasted heavenly. We ordered the café alongé and dessert to finish off. When the coffee came I did not recognize it - he brought us the café irlandais - irish coffee (with whiskey). I don't think so! He hovered a bit I think he hoped we would drink them anyway and I told him in a rather dry voice that I did not drink and considering that John had a half bottle of wine and an after dinner pear liquor (eau de vie de poire Williams - pear water of life (I don't particular agree with its claim of being the water of life but then again I don't drink the stuff so I am no authority)) there was no way he was going to drink all of the stuff and still remain standing. The waiter simply had to cart them away. A bit later we hear him upstairs grousing to someone about the order. We were apologetic when we left and gave him a good tip for his trouble.
After dinner, we walked around old Geneva for a while and those who know me would be proud because this time I wore sensible shoes. I actually bought a pair of sneakers! I am usually all about wearing heels and looking cute but I have learned my lesson because I am always the one complaining about how much my feet hurt and looking for the nearest cab or bus. I don't care for the tennis shoes but I am not complaining! Which reminds me, every woman I see here wears heels, everyone! And, you can tell all the heel caps are gone because they go click click click down the street. The last time I heard so many shoes make that sound I was in New Orleans where all the ladies, including me, thought it was her duty to wear heels and stockings. Ugh! I really really dislike stockings! Thank god California got me out of the habit in a hurry!
We could not find the bar John was looking for, he finally told why we were kind of roaming around aimlessly. Since we could not find the bar we took up roaming around aimlessly in earnest. Old town looks lovely at night. We discovered the school of art history which has an exhibit by Henri Matisse - maybe we'll see that tomorrow. A building with a huge red horn sticking out of it - I think that signified a rhino, though there was no indication as to why it was relevant. There are other interesting buildings here and there but it was getting late. Somehow, we managed to find the tram line again and made it back to the hotel.
Tomorrow the mountain adventure begins. We have not decided where we are going to stay yet... We pick up a car from Hertz and drive to Interlaken. Or we might head off southeast into France. This ought to be interesting. Good night!
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