Jetlag was not a good friend last night I slept between 3:30 and 4 am. Since we were checking out at noon, that would prove to be a slight problem. Weary from looking for a hotel and not sleeping I finally crashed. John had no trouble falling asleep. It is amazing how he can sleep almost on command.
Anyway, we decided to do breakfast the European way this morning, we went to the train station got a cheese sandwich and a ham sandwich some coffee and some juice. Would you believe they ran out of the ham and cheese which is one of the staples you would think they would get innovative and combine the cheese and ham sandwiches since that is quite popular. No, you just have to resort to buying 2 sandwiches - I guess that is the ultimate point. We take out stuff outside and eat on a bench outside the station.
Once breakfast is done we hurry to the building I mentioned from the day before to attend mass - the interesting peach marble building. It turns out it is not really peach marble just painted to look like marble. We were right on time at 10 am and we happened on a confirmation ceremony! What luck! There was no room downstairs so we climbed up the stairs and were able to see the service looking down at the audience. The service was in French which was even better. Pretty neat.
Next, John and I split ways. I went back to the hotel to finish packing and John went to pick up the car from Hertz. Everything is going as planned. By the time he gets back I am all done and we check out. The car is a Fiat Multipla which is a Van/suv looking thing. Not sure what to make of it but ok, at least it will take us from point a to point b.
We still do not have a guide book or hotel so under some duress we break down and decide to buy one of the expensive guide books we saw the day before. Since practically everything is closed on Sunday, we drive around the block back to the hotel so I can go back into the train station and buy that bloody expensive guide book. Considering how I hate spending money unnecessarily, I was huffing on the way to the station. I did get the 29 fr book. As we were driving along and I was looking through it I discovered the book was very discriminating in the hotels and restaurants it covered. Only 2 hotels in Interlaken only featured on the last pages as honorable mention - they were not good enough to be included in the main part of the book! I was thoroughly miffed.
We are on our way to Interlaken and life is somewhat good as I am calming down from my upset state. John asks me to make some calls about the hotel. In my haste, I must have left the Interlaken hotel list I wrote in Geneva because it nowhere to be found. Now I am upset again - John points out he has some hotels saved on the computer last night at another town called Murren and I begin to call these hotels. Strike two is after calling a number of hotels they refer me to the only hotel in Murren is open at this time because it is low season and the price the receptionist quotes is just not right but I can understand because at this point they are the only game in town. We then come to this uneasy agreement that when we get to Interlaken we will look in earnest. John is trying not to get mad at me because he secretly thinks that I forgot my hotel list on purpose.
We continue to drive along and John states that the gauge on one of the fuel tanks in the car is at 60%. This is an issue because what I did not mention before is the car we rented is a dual fuel car - meaning the car takes both natural gas and gasoline. Cool you say. Yes, it is cool until you realize you are not sure what fuel gauge is reading 50% and you are screwed if it is the natural gas tank because the guy at the car rental agency specifically said there is no way to fill up the natural gas tank that he knows of at the moment. What happens when we give back the car? How do we explain that we did not know how to switch gas types?
We are now in a bit of a panic because the gauge reads 60% yet we don't know what kind of gas the car is using. The guy at the counter was pretty sure (pretty sure should already give you an indication) that the car was set to gasoline. The car's users manual is of no help -- it has great drawings of the gauges but all the written text is in Swiss German. The last time I read regular German with any fluency was in secondary school when the English speaking sector of the school decided it would be cool to offer German and my friends and I though it was cool to take it. We had this really nice Cameroonian instructor who had studied in Germany and was quite impressed with how well we were getting along in a language where even saying "I love you" sounds brutal.
I digress. All that to say my reading german is much better than my spoken german and all I could decipher was maybe one out of 6 words and were totally unhelpful in helping us understand what type of gas we are using. In short, we are in trouble. I call up the Hertz line to ask for some help, mind you the car rental agency in downtown Geneva where we rented the car closed at noon. The hotline transfers us to the Geneva airport Hertz office. My French is good but not good enough to explain succinctly in technical terms what is going on with the car luckily we get English speaking Louise. Our momentary relief is swept away by the strong winds of full blown panic when she says they do not recognize the type of car. I go on to explain there are 2 fuel gauges in the car and the car runs on 2 types of fuel. She is at a loss and confers with a guy next to her. I can hear them chatting through the hand-covered mouthpiece. When she gets back on she explains why they had a tête-à-tête. No one in their office knew that these cars were in circulation and they were not even told that the downtown office had them so they have no clue as to how to help.
John asks Louise about the offices in Bern and Interlaken but it is a Sunday and alas everything is closed but we are welcome to drive back to Geneva to exchange the car Louise says sweetly. Bless her heart but it is the wrong response because we are now 1.5 hrs into a 2hr drive. John's impatience and/or anger is rising dangerously by the second because he can't believe that is the only solution. Louise, probably sensing the threat level, signs off asking for our phone number and promises to call back with some form of an answer. Thank goodness for the SIM card! We keep on driving and I suggest that we should go to a gas station and see if we can fill the gasoline tank with any substantial amount of petrol. If we can then we know we are using the gasoline tank. If not, we might be using the natural gas. The other option was to press the button that had a fuel tank on it to turn in on because it was not lit.
John like suggestion #1, we went to the closest gas station to fill the fuel tank it only took about 2-3 frs worth of gasoline - very promising. On the way out of the gas station we pressed the button that has a gas pump on it. The car made a few funny noises as if it was switching and we got back on the highway but the car sounded funny so we got off at the next rest stop and decided to call Louise again since she had not yet called. I called and this rather pleasant guy answered saying he could speak English and how could he help - John, not in the mood to repeat the story again firmly asked for Louise. Pleasant Louise got back on the phone again and we explained what we had done. She did not like the idea that we pushed the button and asked to return the gas pump button to its original position and said to keep on driving to our destination. She mentioned that another guy who knew more about these cars was coming on at 3pm and could assist us. She called him to let him know the situation. We said we would like to return the car for something simpler once the occasion arose (meaning sometime Monday in Interlaken). For now, we were in truce territory and our trip could go on.
As we reached the outskirts of Interlaken you could see the snow capped mountains in the distance. How grand. It is almost as impressive as driving into Big Sur with the mountain on one side and the water on the other. This part of the drive goes on for quite a while and you realize you are only driving on the bank of the first lake. Some context, the city is called Interlaken because it is actually between two lakes. The water is a beautiful cloudy blue like you expect from mountain runoff and the town is bustling with locals and tourists. We got a little lost on our way into town because there are so many highway signs to Interlaken and you are not sure which one to take. We drive by this little area called Mystery Expo - very strange - there was a replica of an Egyptian pyramid, an Aztec pyramid, and some space age looking bubble that looked like it was about to head into orbit. Could not quite figure out what it was but I plan to find out in the next day or so - for right now there are more pressing matters so I will not dwell.
The more pressing matter is finding a hotel. We are now in town it is early to mid afternoon and the hotel search is on. John is quite exasperated now because he can't really handle the drama of no hotel room after just dealing with the what-fuel-is-the-car-using thing. He drops me off at the first hotel we see: Stella Hotel. He parks the car while I go in and ask about the room. When he gets in, we go take a look and are not too impressed. We head down the street to Hotel Savoy which is closed, Hotel Toscana which closed as well and another down the way which is unimpressive. The joys of low season in the mountains! A good number of the hotels are closed. We also look at Hotel Metropole which is too expensive for what it is and the Victoria Grand hotel. At all the open hotels we were able to take a look at the rooms which was cool. The Victoria Grand hotel was the most majestic and simply the best but the price was enough to send any hard working person to the bar for a drink to shore up courage. Anyway, the entryway reminds one of the grand hotels of old good ole butler at the door and we were greeted and shown to the reception by this lovely lady who must have been the official greeter. As we were inquiring in politely quite tones about the hotel options with receptionist, she walked up with some heated face towels to refresh ourselves (like you sometimes get on long haul flights). Then she proceeded to mention there was a full service spa available to cater to all our travel aches and pains (I was sorely tempted). That's what I am talking about - serious service! The receptionist showed us 3 types of rooms each more splendid that the last with wood floors, a bathroom that could fit most kitchens in San Francisco, with some marvelous views of the park. It really hurt my feelings to walk away from that one - between the straight back receptionist with the highly polished shoes (I would not be surprised if he has been in the army) and the spa lady downstairs I was sold. They offered us a reduced room rate and we said we would think about it. We walked for a short while and decided to go back to bargain the guy down a bit more but there were too many people in line - there was no way he was going to give us a really good rate with that many spectators.
As we roamed around town to find a hotel I discovered this hotel information machine, instead of an internet café, which let you know what hotels were in the vicinity and had an attached phone you could use, at no charge, to call the hotel of your choice. I love when the stars align and things begin to work themselves out! I am a total believer in "it'll all work out". Well, all the stars did quite align yet because we still did not have a hotel. Interestingly, the Victoria Grand was not even featured in the machine because it was above a 5-star hotel. I read that it is part of the leading hotels of the world. Go figure! We looked at one more hotel I found in the machine a 5-star hotel called Grand Hotel Beau Rivage. It was not as nice as the Victoria but was head and shoulders above everything else we had seen otherwise. John with his bargaining skills got us a good rate on the 5th floor of the 6-floor hotel and we set about to getting our stuff to the room and reserving a table at the hotel restaurant for dinner.
Between driving to Interlaken, car issues, and hotel hunting we were beat - it was 5:30pm and dinner was at 7pm. We took a short nap -I decided to nap on the couch in the room because if I slept on the bed that would have been it till the next morning. Like a civilized couple, we dressed for dinner and went down to restaurant. Since I had had a couple of good dinners over the past few days I was expecting more of the same. I was a little disappointed. The menu was rather limited and most of the items were sandwiches even though it was a very formal seating and service restaurant. The bread was very very tasty though - it was a sun-dried tomato bread with some fennel and a touch of garlic - yum yum!
John loved the duck dinner he had and I was not very happy with the baked sandwich I got. I was expecting something like the Italian panini but … oh well. I was wondering if the limited selection was due to what the locals like to eat. Hmmm. In all, dinner was lovely made even more so because John told me some of his as-a-young-man-in-Geneva stories. With dinner taken care of, it was time for our nightly constitutional to settle dinner and John's secret motive, to find somewhere to have a drink. As fate would have it, we strolled our way back to the Victoria. We should at very least have a drink there even if we weren't going to stay the night.
The bar seating was very comfortable; I ordered coffee while John had a beer. A pianist began to play and my coffee turned into a second with water and John's beer doubled and was chased by an Eau de vie de Poire. The pianist was so good that we bought him a drink and we clapped after every song - he played Rhapsody in Blue, Rag time, Barry White, Rod Stewart, etc. He was really good. John asked whether he was Australian he said he was further right. John then guessed New Zealand. He said John's geography needed some help and that he was from South Africa. John proudly mentioned I was Cameroonian at which he seemed impressed and asked me if I had been to his home country. Unfortunately, no, but it is on the list. He later came over to thank us for the drink and he and John began talking about rugby and cricket. I don't understand how men can latch on to any sport and have a serious conversation about it like their lives depended on it! My attitude towards conversing about sports is there was a winner and a loser - end of conversation. I may get a tad excited about soccer and even American football sometimes if I see some truly beautiful plays but nothing that would actually goad me into having a full blown conversation. I like semi following women's teams on principle but I am not even close to 1/3 rd of a sports fan. Ok, I need to remember that this is about John and Mr. South Africa talking about rugby and not my strong views about sports!
The evening ended splendidly with us totally forgetting about the trying day we had and walking back to the hotel with John doing a pretty impressive imitation of the German-accented English of the receptionist at our hotel. Can I tell you, it took me a bit to understand what he was saying and I only realized how little I had understood when John did a wonderfully funny imitation of him. When he was showing us the rooms, he had been going on about visiting Jungfrau which is one of the must-see places in this area. Lord only knows what my brain had been processing and I had a rich conversation with him! By the way, the other thing I noticed about our gentle German-accented receptionist was he had the same shoes including the high polished shine that the receptionist at the Victoria Grand had. I wonder if they shop at the same place. Hmmm… He was not as straight-backed but he walked and talked with efficiency - maybe they went to the same hotel training school.
I am up again at 2am working on my jetlag and staring out the window at the Christmas decorations hanging off the balcony. Since we are on the 5th floor and our hotel room and balcony overlook the grand entrance, our room had the privilege of being chosen as the hanging point of one of a pair of shooting star Christmas lights. It I want to sleep I need to close the curtains. John promptly went to sleep after we watch the tail end of "Face Off" with Nicholas Cage and John Travolta dubbed in French. It was hilarious. He is now blissfully sleeping off the evening's drinks. I turned him over to his side a couple of times to stop his snoring - I was successful but I can hear the guy next door peeling off the upholstery on the walls with his snore. I shudder to think what he would have sounded like if the walls were not upholstered. Pity I can't go next door and turn him over. If he keeps it up I might start banging on the wall!
It is from the edge of back-ache soft bed that I say good night hoping that our neighbor would be so kind as to wake himself up with the sound of his snoring and adjust accordingly!!! Guten nacht!
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