Sunday, August 23, 2009

First to Zurich, Switzerland (June 2005)

If you've never been to the Zurich Airport, you're missing something. After a 20-hour flight from Honolulu to Zurich (the airport of choice for our trek to the Alps), we regained consciousness the moment we stepped foot from tarmac to terminal. Spotless, modern, well-lighted are just a few words that came to mind. I should also note that this was our first big European adventure and I admit to being a novice at the time. As an example, we had packed two huge suitcases each with everything we could find in our closets! After a few train rides during our stay, we learned what not to do. Now we each travel with one small train friendly four-wheeled Samsonite suitcase and our laptop carry-on. Not to worry, the Zurich airport administrators had encountered travelers like us before. We were delighted to find an abundance of no-charge large easy-rolling luggage carts just inside the terminal and large spacious elevators that dumped you to all conveniently located service areas within the terminal.

We readily found our way to the car rental station a short roll and elevator ride inside the terminal. To our delight, the Swiss not only spoke fluent French but also perfect English. Rental agents were dressed in attractive well-tailored dark business suits and the office was spacious, clean and well-lighted. There were no long lines of weary travelers either. With remarkable efficiency we were processed, given directions and sent to another level (using the same elevator) and we were inside the rental parking garage. No lugging suitcases to yet another stop to be transported by a ground vehicle to an off-site pick-up point. Just like that we were on our way to the Autoroute for the French Alps. We were impressed by it, but apparently some of the locals are not so impressed. When the airport built new terminals, trains and runways, they rerouted their aircraft and they fly over the rooftops of some local very unhappy people. (This we heard straight from the mouth of one of those citizens after he heard us admiring the place. Oops!)

We found the Autoroute toward Geneva, which would take us to our destination in the French Alps. By the way, the term "Autoroute" (pronounced o-toe-root) is the name for the freeway in France (although it's certainly not free!), just as the Italians call their major highways the "Autostrada" and Germany calls their highway the "Autobahn." Since the highest speed limit on Hawaii freeways is 50 mph, we felt like we were flying at about 75-80 mph and perhaps higher. We became alert while on highways because the French, we noted, have an unusual mannerism while driving. We believe they don't like to waste time, so may not yield or even stop at controlled intersections if they feel it's safe to proceed. Indeed we found the French to be exceptionally efficient in all matters.

The Swiss countryside was just as we had pictured it would be. The backdrop was of pointy, craggy alps (some with patchy fields of melting snow still visible), yielding to rolling velvety variations of green hills and dales dotted with dairy cattle lazily grazing in the warm morning sun and the stretch we traveled seemed to be suitable for farming. Sparsely populated, an occasional farm house sprang into view with its brightly colored sculptured eaves, neatly trimmed lawns and shiny barns and outbuildings.

After driving for what seemed like a long while (after traveling through so many time zones, it's so difficult to predict time), relaxed by the tranquility of our surroundings, we stopped at one of the French restaurants along the Autoroute just over the Swiss/French border. The restaurant was buzzing with French people who stopped for the noon hour rest period. We noted tables full of people with tiny cups of espresso, packs of cigarettes (the French still smoke a lot) and deep in conversations with family or friends. We ordered our first French croissant, buttery and tender, along with our first rich robust French "espress" then settled onto the huge open-air terrace that offered a view of a small lake at the base of rolling green hills. We are quite certain this moment in time was the beginning of our love affair with France.

Autoroute Rest Site

Zurich International Airport

Next post: Megève.

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