I left Bordeaux heading in the direction of Geneva, driving for hours for an adequate camp site. The corridor between Lyon and Paris is quite industrial (especially relative to the rural villages where I’d been camping). Finally I noted that the palid orange of industrial lights had diminished and I was climbing into the mountains. I saw a sign for Annecy and knew I was in friendly territory. I decided to take the next exit and caught a glimpse of a lovely stone castle on a small lake. I was still in France and had planned to camp on this side of the border as my last experience camping in Switzerland left me less than enthused (getting yelled at and threatened to have the police called at 7:30am). I drove up into the mountains and pulled off on a logging road and found a quiet place to park under the trees. Fourth night in a row for car camping. But it couldn’t be helped. It was a very wet night and I didn’t want another deluge. Even though I knew now that my tent could withstand it.
June 3. I awoke to birds singing and had a nice walk down the road, trying to catch a glimpse of the lake down below. I decided to drive through the mountains rather than take the auto route and saw some nice villages and forests. I was wrong about France not having big trees. They have huge conifers, firs and pines, which I saw near Brive in central France and now here in Haute Savoie. It rained intermittently as I wound my way on tiny one lane roads through fields and forests, occasionally meeting oncoming traffic as it was Saturday in the late morning. I spied a carload of people waiting for others and told them I’d seen their friends down the road, which they appreciated. I was glad to be able to speak French! I took a photo of a gravestone honoring young men from the nearby village who had died in the 1st and 2nd world wars. I saw these all over France, but this one was striking as it was not near a village. I’m guessing that the inhabitants were killed during the war. In WWII, much of the resistance movement in every country seemed to be in rural areas like this. So I wouldn’t be surprised.
Eventually I made my way down the mountain. I didn’t want to go over some tiny pass and not be able to find my way back, so I headed down and stopped for hot cocoa. I had had great chocolate chaud in another part of France and expected the same but was disappointed. This came from a machine and was too sweet and not real. Alas, not all France was the same! I got on the freeway and braced myself for the Swiss border. I wasn’t sure the speeding camera tickets I got in Zurich were on file, but feared that I’d be stopped and questioned. They waved me over, but only to have me pay for a vignette, a sticker which allows you to drive on the highway. 40 Euros for a year-long pass. Not bad. Unlike Czech republic and Austria where it was about that for one day! Breathing a sigh of relief, I headed to Geneva. The outskirts were quite ugly. I was surprised because all of the places in Switzerland I’d been thus far (Annecy, the Alps, Lucerne, Bern, Innsbrook, and Zurich) were quite lovely. This must be the industrial sector of the country, such as it is. It turns out that there are some lovely villas on the lake, but I wasn’t able to see them until I left Geneva for Lausanne, heading along the lake front.
I parked and found a special coffee shop with good coffee. I met a nice couple there (she was Italian, he was Egyptian) and we talked about many things, including the state of US politics. They let me talk their ear off about election fraud in the US and other fun topics. He works for the UN and is currently getting trained about security issues, including how to deal with land mines. I mentioned that my mom worked as the chair of the UNA in San Francisco and he had the deepest respect for her. They said this is the only good coffee in town. I asked her how it compared to Italian coffee and she said it was okay, but that much of Switzerland was not. I mentioned the lovely cafe I’d happened upon in Mulebach where I met the gold medalist in woman’s slalom in 2012 and how she was such a lover of coffee that she brought an Italian espresso machine. She and her parents started a lovely cafe and I recommended it to the couple. They said they’d love to explore that area. I bid them farewell and wandered off to the lake front. It was a pretty day and the lake was lovely. I was tempted to swim as it was another hot day, but didn’t have a lot of time. I went into a few churches and marveled at the lack of decor, especially compared to some baroque catholic churches I’d seen in France. In general, though, French churches are not well kept up. Anne (American living in Germany since 1974) tells me it’s because of the extreme separation between church and state in France. In Germany, the government apparently pays to have churches kept up.
I found a fancy hotel, Hotel President Truman, and used the facilities. Lucky it was there because I didn’t think I could hold it any longer. The bathroom was so elegant. I’d gotten used to bathrooms where the town drunks peed and smoked to their heart’s content. Most public toilets in France don’t have a seat. You have to squat over the bowl (only if you’re female, I suppose). I took photos of elegant buildings and made my way back to the car. There were a lot of Pakistanis (I assumed – they had stores starting with the word Paki) and it seemed that most of the residents were struggling to make it and definitely foreigners. I heard a lot of Arabic as I walked through the neighborhoods.
On to Lausanne. A friend had recently visited the town and I thought I’d do the same. But time was precious and I was on a tortuously slow road running along the lake. I saws some pretty villas but it wasn’t worth the stress. And it was already 3:30. I wanted to see Basel and decided to abort my mission and head to Basel directly. Well it wasn’t that direct. I ended up going through several mountain passes and passed quaint villages on narrow two lane roads. I was glad I’d decided to go this way as it was very scenic. I arrived in Basel around 7pm, which gave me a couple of hours to explore before it got dark. I parked (which is always a challenge in any city) and made my way to a church. My habit was to visit the interior of as many churches as possible, as the Church for centuries was the prime patron of the arts (they were the only ones with the money). This church was being used for a marriage, and I’d never heard such a caucaphony emanating from a church before. There were tubas and accordians, probably French horns – maybe this was the way the Swiss celebrated a wedding. A cook was working over a couple of hot skillets in the side entrance. I later found another wedding party in a church, more subdued, with a hot skillet firing off crepes outside the hall. I asked a nice girl how to get to the center of the town and she told me. I headed in that direction,
I happened to arrive just as the town was celebrating a big win by the local soccer team, and I had the feeling I’d stumbled onto a Nazi party rally in the early 1930s. There was rhythmic chanting in Swiss German, fire crackers, lots of beer drinking, and a general hubub. I tried to avoid the crowd but didn’t know how to cross without going through the square. I asked someone and they didn’t speak English or French. So I followed some other people and happened upon a narrow passage, steeply winding, to a cobblestone street. From there I wandered here and there, taking photos and trying to explore the old part of town. Basel didn’t have as much old town as Bern, or perhaps it just didn’t seem like it. I’d been told there were great artists who had lived and worked there, and I was sorry it was a Sunday evening. I resolved to go back another day and explore the art scene and museums. On my wanderings I saw a synagogue, some catholic and protestant churches, and a lovely Rathaus (town hall). People were eating in the main square. It was threatening rain but they seemed undaunted. The old town was lovely. Ancient sloped roofs crowded the immediate skyline, though in the background industrial plants loomed, monstrous shapes in the fog.
It was raining and my both big toes were lined with blisters (I’d been hiking in flip flops in the rain). I decided I’d had enough and found my way back to the car. On the way I looked out at the view of the river and the continuation of town on the other side. I wanted to explore more and decided I would do so at another time. It was already 9:30pm, and I headed off toward Germany, having decided that I’d go to my friend’s house in Kaufering via the Rhine River and Black Forest. I drove along, crossing the German border which was uneventful. I guess it’s because I had French license plates thanks to the Shengin agreement. I was no longer trapped on an auto route as I’d been in France. Germany doesn’t require a vignette to use their highways, nor do they charge as in toll road. How nice. I looked at my GPS and saw that I was about to hit the exit for a small village called Bad Bellingen and decided to find a place for the night. Fifth night in the car! I found a place to park at the base of a large granite cliff. It turned out that there had been a tremendous amount of history there. I was parked in the cemetery parking area. Unlike most countries, the cemeteries in Germany are remarkably well maintained. People come regularly to water – there are watering cans neatly laid out, and each plot has a flower bed on it. Remarkable how lovely they are! And the chosen site is often very lovely, overlooking a river or in this case a large rocky cliff which had housed a castle in former times. I had a good sleep and was glad to be in the car. Another rainy night.