Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

James bond and gingerbread houses

Monday, August 11th, 2008

After Montreaux, we decided to take the motorway to Interlaken rather than the shorter route to avoid stressing the van, but the motorway had it’s steep sections as well. It took us on a loopy sort of route past cheesy Gruyere and through Bern, the very pretty capital where we stopped for lunch and had a wander. We were now in the German speaking part of Switzerland, and the shop signs had turned into real mouthfuls. We made some sandwiches in a square next to some hobos getting pissed, and watched some old guys play giant chess (one was hopeless). My Sarth Efrican (actualy his accent is fairly mild) mate Andrew had recommended Interlaken to us, and while I wont vouch for his choice of rugby and cricket teams, in this area his judgement was spot on.

Interlaken as the names suggest, is a town between two big lakes, one draining into the other. To the north, up a narrow valley the north face of the Eiger, the Munch. and the Jungfrau can be seen poking their snowy peaks at the horizon. We spent the night in a campground and gave the van a scrub. The next day we rode to the station and a caught the train up the valley to Lauterbraunen, where the scenery becomes so biscuit tin beautiful it’s scarcely creditable. The Tummelbach waterfall launches itself off a high cliff and bearded farmers rake hay in green pastures with jingling cows against a backdrop of enormous peaks. We walked up the valley under a line of cliffs to the base of the Jungfrau, and there took a cable car up to Gimmelwald, that with it’s clutch of half-timbered house huddled on top of a precipice, and panoramic view of the Eiger, somehow manages to up the ante on picturesqueness.

From Gimmelwald we went up to the ski town of Murren, underneath the peak that the restaurant Piz Gloria clings to. Piz Gloria was the one in the Bond flick, “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, starring the widely recognised as the best James Bond, George Lazenby. I thought about going up and taking a look but 70 euros each was even steeper than the cable car, and I didn’t want to risk encountering Blofeld until I’d visited Q. Instead we took the ‘flower trail’ walk that leads along the ridge for a couple of hours before descending down sharply to where we left the bikes. The bike trip down the valley to Interlaken was a high speed bit of fun with the road tracking the line of the winding river gorge

After Interlaken we followed the north shore of the Thunsee lake, stopping for coffee early in the morning while a magical mist still hung on the still waters. Again trying to avoid stressing the van we took a roundabout route around Luzern before turning back south through a series of very long road tunnels, some 20 kms long of listening to our muffler reverberate off the tunnel walls. Eventually we emerged on the Italian side of the alps and down and endless slope that several cars had broken down or overheated trying to make there way up. We had been tossing up between going to Locarno or Lugano, both swiss towns on the northern edge of their respective lakes they share with italy. The choice was made for us when I missed what turned out to be final turn off to Locarno, so we spent the day in italian-looking lugano. On a baking day, I went for a swim in the lake where an ice-cold stream met the lake shore, and found a small eddy that wasnt covered in floating flotsam and duckshit.


Saturday, July 26th, 2008

As we entered Geneve I had already been watching the black stormclouds pile higher and higher in the sky. Karina was sleeping in the back of the  van,  and the Swiss border guards didnt seem too interested in my people smuggling. I found a parking spot in the centre right on the lake promenade, the nearby 120m high waterjet fountain near the lakes western end a handy reference point. I woke Karina up and we made our way to a lakeside van cafe just as the storm unleashed in torrential downpour of rain wind and lightning that the cafe’s canvas annexe couldnt hold back.

I’d been to Geneve a few times before, the first time when my Easyjet flight was predictibly late causing me to miss my bus to the ski field and forcing me to spend the night there. I remember walking the streets on a Friday night thinking, “what a quiet, dull town” as I searched in vain for a busy bar. However, on subsequent trips friends have shown us a different side to the town, of bars run by squatters and upmarket eateries. We caught up with our good friend Ernst, a longtime Geneve resident, UN worker(IT at UNHCR), and effortlessly multi-lingual, who has been a knowlegable guide for us in the past on all things Swiss. The lucky dog had a charming new girlfriend, Florence, and seemed in good spirits when we met him for some lebanese food in the Paquis district. We were also joined by our friend Soli, who we shared a chaotic flat with in London way back in 2000.  Another annoying multilinguist, she had moved there from Genoa a year and a half ago on a company transfer and seemed to be really enjoying it. In fact, a lot of the people we talked to, americans italians and french, all seemed to like Geneve so I reckon the city must have something going for it. Great skiing on your doorstep doen’t hurt either. We were all a little hungover so it was a relatively early night, though on a sunny morning the next day we caught up Soli and some of her shipping brokerage mates for coffee at a nearby cafe.

Geneve doesnt tend to dub it’s movies as often as they do in France, so Karina and I went to see Sex & the City.  Like an extra long tv episode, it managed to take product placement to levels not seen since the Pokemon movie.  That evening was the day of the Lake Parade, a techno parade and party similar to Zurich or Berlin’s Love Parade. We had a cycle down to have a look at it, following the trail of empty beer cans to the lake’s southern shore where there were about 2 dozen floats anchored along a road playing different sorts of dance music. Some people had taken the trouble to put the full rave gear on, and there were a few big trannys around that were hard on the eyes. It seemed a little bit incoherent, with more people walking in search of god knows what instead of stopping and dancing. Karina and I had a dance for a whil, but her legs were a bit tired after carting the bikes down the mountain in Chamonix, so we left early. We caught up with Ernst and Florence at a traditional Brasserie and sunk beer from 5 litre dispensers. Ernst noticed some arab looking bloke leaning back in his chair and fishing around suspiciously near Florence’s handbag. Upon being noticed he cheekily got up and sat near a group of americans and started doing the same thing. I wasn’t having this and yelled at him from across the restaurant to piss off, which he did but his smile revealed that it want before snatching one of their wallets. In hindsight, I wouldnt be surprised if the waiter was in on it too.

The next day Ernst invited us to the Montreaux Jazz Festival, on at the time about 80km around on the north side of the lake.  Leading us at our usual 85kmh all the way must have been a new experience for him. Rain and low cloud persisted, and pretty Montreux wasnt at it’s best as we cruised in singing Smoke on the Water. Herbie Hancock was playing that night and we splashed out as an English bloke was selling his excess tickets, and I really wanted to take the chance to see one of the greats. Herbie had played piano in one of Mile’s legendary quintets. It was a cookin’ show, mixing some of his classics with some Joni Mitchell song, and he had two exellent female singers in the band and Beninese guitarist who did some beat box stuff as well. Ersnt has thoughtfully brought along a bottle champagne to kick things off. After Herbie, Chaka Khan was next on the bill. She had turned into a big, slightly scary-looking soul mama. Her band was really tight as she belted out her big numbers, though her voice what it had lost in range seemed to compensate in volume. We moved off to the wings, and had a dance with Florence and Ernst before retiring for the night, Ersnt back to Geneve and us in the local carpark.