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Posts tagged ‘Switzerland’

 Overland to Zurich

So this is our situation: We need to cover 1,200km to reach Zürich, and six days to do it in. There are also four people we’d like to catch-up with en route.

The first night we stop in the small town of Nieburg, Germany. There is nothing outstanding to write home about, it was simply a suitable way-point to end our first day of travel southwards.

Dinner reminds us that we are back in Germany; the land of beer, schnitzel and sauerkraut. I make the mistake of ordering a salad, only to end up with an extra serve of cabbage!

Next stop is Dortmund. This town probably wouldn’t feature much in tourist guides, however the attraction for us was to catch-up with Inga, who we met on our Mexican adventures.

Inga has grown up in the area and also spent some time in Australia with her studies. She works in wind-turbine energy, which is huge in this part of Europe. She kindly offered us a bed, generously taking the couch and vacating her own comfy bed for us. It was a quick visit, as Inga was off early the next day, to holiday in Kenya.

We head out to dinner and see a snippet of Dortmund. As brief as it was, it was lovely to see Inga and get a locals perspective into what living in Germany is like. Inga, we hope you come and visit soon, so we can repay the hospitality.

Following the Rhine, our next stop is the town of Boppard. I wouldn’t rate the river as scenic as the Danube had been, though it could make a nice cycle trip one day.

Driving on a German autobahn is not for the faint-hearted. Impatient drivers weaving in and out of lanes at high-speed (there are no limits enforced), is a recipe for catastrophic accidents.

If you dare sit on the recommended 130km/hr, you are constantly watching your rear vision mirror for cars and trucks descending upon you at much greater speeds; blaring horns and flashing headlights at you to move right.

The right lane is full of heavily laden trucks and older cars struggling along. Without warning, one of these will also pull out in front of you, to overtake the slower vehicle in its lane. This is no place (or time) for being indecisive, it’s ‘pedal to the metal’, work the gears hard and keep-up!

After not seeing Sue Haviland for 15 years, this is the second rendezvous in a year! Sue and John, along with their dog Bailey, have moved to Oberursal, teaching at the Frankfurt International School.

We have two nights with them, taking the opportunity to wash, re-pack and get ourselves ready to change continents.

Our last night in Europe is at the Zurich Airport Radisson, practical and reasonably priced. We’re back in Switzerland, so ‘reasonably priced’ is a relative term.

Birgit is another traveling companion, this time from our South American adventures, who lives in Zürich. She makes the effort to trek out to our hotel in torrential rain and have dinner with us. The rain is so heavy, we don’t even venture outside the hotel to eat.

We really appreciate the effort to come and see us Birgit and it was great to have one last hurrah on our final night on your continent!

Our little Renault has served us well and we head to the airport with a whiff of petrol in the tank.

There is no obligation in a lease agreement to return your car with a full-tank, given the price for petrol in Switzerland is extortionate (or US$2 per/L) – Don can push the car if needed!

We drive up to departures, meet the agent and hand over the keys in a hurry to give him possession before it dies, we warn him that he won’t get far.

Next stop Beijing. Unfortunately there was no business upgrade on offer this time!

One night Layover in Switzerland

We know this great B&B in Lausanne.  It’s well located and the bed and shower are among (if not ‘the’) best we’ve had in Europe. Our host is warm and welcoming, she makes you feel like one of the family and it’s a great family.

They are an ‘Ozrish’ blend that we fondly know as the Ryan clan.  We couldn’t resist the chance to spend one last night catching-up with them.

We take our time, driving up from Lake Maggiore through the dramatically scenic Simplon Pass into Switzerland. At the highest point we are over 2000m above sea level and on this particular day, sitting in fog.

We stop off for a morning coffee at a non descript town (OK, it probably is worthy of a description, I just don’t remember the name). Based on the price for an average, yet expensive coffee (I miss Italy already) and pastry, we are clearly in Switzerland.

In preparation for a picnic lunch, we detour to a supermarket to buy ham, cheese and baguettes. We arrive at Lake Geneva at the town of Montreux, where we stop for our picnic and enjoy the vista across the lake.

On our last trip we had been surprised to discover that Switzerland produces a considerable amount of wine (on a per capita basis) running along the steep slopes leading into the lake, there are over 15,000 hectares of vines.

Switzerland produces around 1.1 mhl (million hectoliters) per year. To put it into perspectives; Australia in comparison produces about 13.5 mhl. The swiss love their wine, only exporting 1.5% of what they produce and importing considerably more.

Australia (based on the varying statistics I came across), exports somewhere between 40%-60% of what it produces. Just under 17% of wine consumed in Australia is imported.

Our plan was to visit some of the Swiss wine makers along our journey, but being harvest time, they are all busy picking.

We arrive at the Ryan’s late in the afternoon, just in time to do a load of washing before a pre-dinner drink. Penny as usual is running around with kids sporting commitments, ensuring homework is done and planning the logistics for the following day. Just observing is exhausting.

We spend a lovely night chatting with Ed, Olivia, Jack and Steph, as well as Penny of course. Donal, unfortunately had work commitment and he departs

The next morning we again bid farewell, we have left departing gifts, or should I say; offloaded our excess: two bike helmets, some food provisions and a french GPS for the car. Hopefully Ed (having just got his learners) will make use of the GPS in the future.

Our European adventure is nearing an end – one more stop, Lyon.

PS: Not many photos, I can’t seem to locate the file.

Lausanne

For this entry I need to introduce Penny Ryan, nee King.  The key ‘Penny’ facts are:

  • grew up in Melbourne,
  • close school friend of Kay’s (Don’s Sister),
  • went to work in London,
  • married Donal (Irish, but we won’t hold that against him).
  • Penny and Donal have four children; Ed, Jack, Olivia and Stephanie,
  • they have been living in Switzerland for the past four years.

We arrive on their doorstep with offerings of cheese, chocolates and wine. In return, Penny and Co, are generously putting us up for three nights and loaning me her washing machine.

It’s a full house.  Eighteen year old Ed returns the same day from touring around northern Italy with his mate Dave.  Penny is collecting Jack the next day from Ireland, where he has been at a rugby camp with his mate Peter.

It happens that Dave and Peter are brothers.  So, in total there are 10 of us in the house.

Penny is a no fuss sort of person.  Someone who immediately makes you feel at home and one of the family.  She takes it all in her stride and masterfully coordinates the hectic household.

It should also be noted how impressed we are with the Ryan children and friends who all pitch in. That’s once you interrupted their chatter – online chatter.

I think they are the generation that is using whatever the hottest app is; whether it be texts, tweets or facebooking each other rather than talking!

Besides hanging out with the Ryan’s and catching up on a few loads of washing, we did also get out to explore a bit of Lausanne and surrounds. 

Gruyère is a small medieval town perched on a hill and of course with a castle.  It’s a very charming town.  Alps in the background and lush rolling hills dotted with cows. No doubt the same cows that provide the essential ingredient for the cheese.  Perfect place for a Gruyère cheese fondue.

Cheese and chocolate are two of my favourite foods. Where else, but in Switzerland can you sample both in the same region?  This is quickly becoming my favourite country.

Down the road from Gruyère is Maison Cailler, the chocolate factory for Cailler chocolates.  The local Gruyère cows also supply the chocolate factory (busy cows).  It’s chocolate is renowned for being rich and creamy, due to the use of sweetened condensed milk, rather than milk powder.

The Cailler history dates back to the early 1800’s.  The brand formed a relationship with Nestle in the early 1900’s, becoming part of the group in 1929.

You can tour the factory and at the end, sample all the chocolates you want.  Sounds like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory; but all that chocolate quickly becomes a little too rich.  We did however purchase a couple of blocks for our travels.

My recommendation to anyone going to Lausanne is to visit the Olympic Museum.  It’s located in the well-to-do suburb of Ouchy, on the shores of Lake Geneva, which is worth a visit to enjoy the splendid ornate architecture.

The Museum gardens include an impressive sculpture garden and an outdoor running track, where you can race against Usain Bolt – Don didn’t even get out of the blocks!

Inside is very well done; interactive and informative displays take you through the history of both the summer and winter games.  It is a bit exhausting with so much to see, read and watch.

And you can’t avoid the Olympic Marketing machine, Visa has it all sewn-up.  You can only pay by Cash or Visa, no MasterCard accepted here!  They will accept any currency, with an in-their-favour exchange rate!

After several hours of immersing ourselves in the olympic spirit, we head back to the Ryan’s for the Saturday night ritual of homemade pizza, just scrumptious!

Don has known Penny since childhood and has previously met the Ryan clan (well at least those who were born at the time), but I am a new introduction, who quickly feels like I have known them forever.

We spend our time swapping stories about people and places we share in common.  For us, feeling part of a family for a few days was just what we needed after 5 months on the road. These are the simple things we miss.   

We love the Ryan’s and thank them all so much for having us.  Olivia, thank you for giving up your comfortable bed for us as well.

Watch out, we may be back!

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PS: The Ryan’s also have a fantastic shower, it rates up among the best we have had!

Lucerne

We have been steering ourselves towards Lucerne for this one particular night, just because James Blunt is playing in town.

It’s not because we are James Blunt fans, though I may be able to claim ‘groupie’ status, having now seen his shows and met him at least 4 times – not that he would remember.

The sound engineer for Blunt has become a good friend of Don’s, they bonded over a mutual love of golf.

Mike Hornby lives a nomadic life traveling with Blunt on his current world tour.  Hornby is a highly respected veteran (some even say legend), in the music industry, having worked with the likes of Radiohead, Supergrass, Lloyd Cole, John Cale and Joe Strummer. Those who know me, know that most of those names mean nothing to me!

The best thing I love about Mike are his stories (because I don’t love golf that much).  He’s always got an amusing story to share about the antics that go on ‘on tour’, surprisingly they generally consist of innocent good fun.  Like removing all the furniture out of his hotel room.

We are sworn to secrecy and cannot divulge anymore.  We all know the adage; “what goes on tour stays on tour!”

Mike generously provides us tickets for the show.  Lucky for us he is touring with Blunt and not Supergrass, I don’t think I could sit through a Supergrass concert.  We catch-up with Mike for a few hours after the show, swapping tales – his are much funnier than ours.

We bid him farewell with the hope to catch-up again somewhere around the world.  Mike  boards his luxury coach, one of two that shuttle Blunt and his entourage around Europe.  It’s an overnight drive to his next destination.  The coaches might be all luxurious, fitted out with beds and lounges, but I don’t think I would enjoy the lifestyle.

By the way; Lucerne also happens to be a beautiful city.  I could say picture-perfect, but I think that phrase is heading into over use.  However, it is true.  Situated on Lake Lucerne and surrounded by the swiss alps, the medieval old town is well preserved with some gorgeous architecture sweeping around the lake.

The Chapel bridge forms the centerpiece of the townscape.  The covered wooden bridge is one of the oldest in Europe, though it was damaged in a fire in 1993, it has since been fully restored.

The one purchase we make in Lucerne is a Bodum coffee plunger.  We pass a Bodum store with a sale.  The price of coffee is becoming exorbitant, so the idea of making our own brew is a good one.   We quickly calculate the payback – about 6 cups of coffee, after you buy the coffee.  We are now the proud owners of a bright yellow Bodum coffee plunger.

Switzerland being as expensive as it is, we booked a room in the Youth Hostel.  Not having done the backpacking thing in his youth, Don has never stayed in a youth hostel before.

It’s a basic set-up; simple room, communal kitchen and the biggest bonus is that it’s walking distance to concert venue.  The one downside was the shared bathrooms, the first time we have had to actually share.  Our room is opposite the shower and after listening to several people take one, we decided we could skip one that morning.

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Zürich

Magit words rang true – Switzerland is one very expensive country. In searching for accommodation, we quickly realised this was going to be a costly detour.

But, so be it; we had been reminded of late, that this a not ‘if only…’ tour; we don’t want to end up back in Australia saying “If only we’d gone there, seen that, done that…”

We stretch our budget to $150 a night. For Zürich, that’s still on the cheap side. However, Casa Heindrich, turns out to be a lovely place to stay. The young woman (wow, I feel old using age as an adjective), also sorts us out with a parking permit for the car. Our room comes with a little kitchenette. This will be very useful; we are going to be doing a lot of eating in!

Our daily luxury is purchasing coffee, the CPI spikes to AUS$5.40 each. It’s good coffee but small cups! Magit was right – just being here costs you money. We check-out the prices in McDonalds, always a good benchmak, AUS $12 for a Big Mac. I couldn’t actually tell you how much one is in Australia, I’m guessing around $5? Can one of you closet MacD addicts report back?

It’s about a 2km walk into the centre of town. Walking shoes on and umbrella in hand we set off to explore Zürich (the umbrella was acquired by Don in Istanbul, but that’s another story!). My pangs of guilt for the forgetful tourist are long gone, the umbrella has come in handy of late.

The old parts of Zürich display a majestic city dripping in wealth. Grand boulevards lined with every designer brand you can think off. The luxury retail market is dominated by watches; Rolex, Rado, Tag Heuer are well know names.  Then there are the even more prestigious; Patek Philip, Chopard or Blancpain (never heard of the later, but they’ve been making watches since 1735).

OK, we know the swiss are famous for watches, but how many watches can you sell in a day? Alongside the designer watch shops are designer chocolates. But, the best find of the day was Calanda beer, so of course Don had to sample it.

We decide we should educate ourselves in the Swiss cultural heritage and visit the Swiss National Museum. It was also pouring with rain and it was a good place to stay dry. We manage to fill in a few hours learning about Swiss history. I’d always thought the swiss had it easy, playing the neutrality card in every war; not so. Basically, they managed to alienate themselves from both sides!

As we are leaving Zürich we asked a local policeman; there are several conducting some sort of spot check in our street – “do we need a Vignette?” To which he replies “yes”. It was a slightly longer conversation in pigeon english/french, but I won’t bore you with the details.

We had been mislead in Austria, as we had asked about the Vignette just before the border. When driving is Switzerland you need a Vignette to drive on the national roads, it’s almost impossible to avoid driving on the national roads. A Vignette is simply a road tax. You buy a sticker and place it on your windshield. The cost a Vignette is SF$40 (AUS$50), they are valid for a year, but are non transferable (impossible to peel off).

Great, we need one for 5-6 days, We might be back, but we will be in a different car. The risk of not buying one and getting a fine is SF$100. We buy a Vignette before we leave Zürich.

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