Monday, June 13, 2005

A trip to Switzerland (part 1)

I've been itching for an overseas holiday for a looong time. Something about being in a different environment and seeing new things revitalises me. That's why I love this European 'tradition' of going on holiday at least once a year. It does your body and spirit good to relax and wind down. Resting, relaxing and being 'away from it all' really do decrease stress levels.

I haven't blogged for sometime partly because of being very busy and partly because we went on a driving holiday to Switzerland. As soon as I heard that my sister C, is moving to Geneva and calculated that we had enough funds, nothing can stop me from planning this. :)

We chose to drive because there's five people in the family plus a family friend who wanted to come. With these numbers in mind, the cheapest way to go is by car. It may be slower and tiring but we've got time and we get to see more sights along the way. For me the holiday starts with the journey and not just when you get to the intended destination. Something about the adventure and the discovery of new places/things during the travel itself that appeals to me.

[Click on the pictures for a bigger view]


Of course we started off on a cross English Channel crossing from Dover, Kent. I made certain that we left the house early to give ample time for the 1.5-2 hour travel from our house to the coast. I DO NOT want to repeat our escapade fiasco of 3 years ago to Belgium where we had to queue in the road to Dover for 7 hours !!! We joined the queue at around 9:30 AM and got on a ferry at 4PM. Imagine we were barely 1.5 miles away from the ferry.

After packing our old Toyota van to the rafters, we left early and found the traffic thankfully light. We were so early that we were one of the first ones on the queue. Yehey we're early for once! Our ferry was Norfolk Lines which left the white cliffs of Dover at 5:30PM then disembarking in Dunkirk, France at 8PM instead of the usual Calais. It was only about 30 minutes drive from Calais.

From there we drove towards Reims, France and spent the night there. Hotel Ibis at the city centre was quite good for its price and very clean. Early next morning after buying breakfast at a kiosk at the nearby train station we set off to see the old part of the city briefly.


The centre-piece of this medieval city is its glorious Cathedral of Notre Dame. Being the place where most monarchs of France were crowned, it had a major role in France's history. As you can see the soaring gothic structure still retains its aura of grandeur and magnificence that rightly deserved its UNESCO World Heritage Site award.

Now, Reims is not in the champagne region for nothing. Almost every other shops are champagne houses and we could not resist buying a few. I was already homing in on several well-known well-packaged brands in a shop when we happen to ask the sales clerk on his recommendations which we direly need because we're wine nincompoops! Very interesting to note that he did not recommend *any* of the well known brands saying that most of them were actually terrible. One exception was Krug, which he said still retained its excellent quality but at an average of £100 a bottle it was not good value for money. He recommended several to us which were actually cheaper than the famous brands. At this point I trust his opinion already since if he only wanted money from us he would have pushed the more expensive famous ones in our hands which in our ignorance we would gladly take. Confirmation of this came when we gave the champages to wine loving friends who heartily approved of 'our' choice. (I think I should be blogging this in my food blog!)

After a brief tour of Reims, we reluctantly went back on the road. It was one of the hottest day of the year (so far) as it reached 32C and probably more on the road. I'm always lucky in having nice weather when holidaying. Unfortunately for us, our old van's airconditioning system seems to have a timer. After an hour it promptly turns itself off. So we have to roll down the windows and bear the heat. :(


One pleasure in driving on French motorways (highways), besides the fact that the roads are very smooth, is that they have a lot of 'aire' or rest areas where you can get off the road, rest, go to the bathroom, or have something to eat and drink. As you can see above left, they have a very pleasant tree-lined park-like atmosphere. Some even have children's playgrounds or picnic areas. I couldn't resist taking a picture of one of their toilets in the Jura region (not all are like this). It's not often that I see these 'hole in the ground' types (above right). But they are clean and stink free.

People could argue that it's just right that French motorways should be good since we have to pay to use most of them. Why, our total road fee for the onward trip was 57 Euros! It can be a shock in the system to pay this much since our British motorways are all free.

[To be continued ...]

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