Wednesday, September 2, 2009

From Paris to Basel, Switzerland and Beyond (July 2005)

All good things eventually move on and out, and that's exactly what we did as we continued our journey. Sadly, we were on our way from Paris to Basel by train and then our itinerary would take us to Hinterzarten, Germany for our next vacation exchange.

As you can see by the photographs below, July isn't always hot and sunny. In fact, we had to wear jackets in order to keep ourselves warm. We were baffled about what to wear, actually. It only took one week of temperatures at 90 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris before we found ourselves shopping at the Gap on rue du Commerce near the big Monoprix store where we found some inexpensive lightweight summer things. We mailed four small boxes of too-warm clothing we'd brought with us back to our home in Hawaii--I mean, if our clothes were too heavy for wearing during summer in Paris, we couldn't see carrying them around in a suitcase. Right? Perhaps. However, in less than a week it turned cold again. Go figure! The lesson is: layered clothing. And, next time we plan to be better prepared for any type of weather. Fortunately this time, we did keep a couple of warmer pieces in our luggage or we would have been out shopping again! As luck would have it, the worst part of mailing boxes home turned out to be that one of the boxes--it contained some cashmere sweaters (of course) and my leather gloves, silk scarves and a travel iron (someone got lucky)--never made it and the French post office could never find it despite our receipt. C'est le vie. Another lesson learned--better to carry heavy luggage than to give away expensive clothing! Oh, yes, and never declare what's in the box. "Old clothing" would have been a much better description in hindsight.

We bid a fond farewell to our cozy Paris apartment, lugged our suitcases, carry-ons and backpacks down a flight of stairs to the Metro and boarded the Metro railcar to Gare de l'Est, a beautiful old train station. This station, one of several in Paris, that sends trains northeast toward Strasbourg. The train also stopped in Basel, which was our destination and the place where our rental car had been reserved.

Before boarding, we bought some tasty Parisian ham and cheese sandwiches with butter on freshly baked baguettes, some bottled water and, of course, some delicious pastry. We hadn't yet eaten breakfast and knew we'd be hungry for lunch later. We'd not only heard the food wasn't great on the train, but we weren't about to leave our things for even a minute for fear we might lose another camera. We enjoyed a quick coffee (Doug's a café au lait and mine a café noisette, which is an espresso with a touch of cream--not for the faint of heart as it's very strong, dark and delicious for coffee lovers like moi).

The further north we traveled, the darker the sky--although we had encountered rain the morning we left and all along the way. We were not on the TGV, so our train from Gare de l'Est moved much slower, and we were able to enjoy the beautiful countryside and many canals with locks where supplies are delivered to tiny villages that dot the countryside. Most of the land appeared to be suitable for farming and we indeed noted farm crops and domestic herds of sheep, goats and cattle--no doubt producing milk for the delicious artisan cheeses we so enjoy.

We thought it was interesting how some trains we passed along the way carried advertisements of products splashed along the entire length of a train car. We caught one (photo below) for Coca Cola, but we have to warn you to leave your taste for "coca" (French name for it) at home or you'll find yourself paying 14 euro for two cokes like we did. We had no idea it was so expensive. In fact, stay away from Champs Ellysée restaurants all together or at least ask for "le menu" for a fixe prix meal! We had two burgers and two bottles of coke, actually we split a third because we were so thirsty after a long walk, and it came to 60 euro. It wasn't that great either. Lesson learned. Don't get me wrong, there certainly are many fine bistros, brasseries, cafés and restaurants that do not rip you off, just be aware that certain areas will take advantage of you as a tourist. Our worst experience on Champs Ellysée was going to one of the 5-star hotels for a cocktail one night while we were walking. The cocktail list did not have prices (should have been alert to that!) and we ordered a gin martini each. The tab was 60 euros. See what I mean? Bad area for dining or apéro. Doesn't it seem like everything is 60 euros for tourists? On the other hand, when we shopped at Champion super market we had three huge plastic recycled bags full of groceries and we had to stop outside the market to check our receipt because in comparison to Hawaii we felt there must have been a mistake. The price was about a third of what we would have spent at home. There was no mistake, healthy organic fresh food was indeed very inexpensive. A kitchenette is worth every penny (or euro). By the way, the dollar to euro ratio was $1.26 at the time. So shopping wasn't too bad.

Our first-class train compartment was very comfortable and before long we were in Basel.

Basel was a delightful city, from what we could see, with few cars and an excellent light rail transportation system. The train station was conveniently located so that we only had to walk a short distance to the car rental agency. However, when we arrived, we were disappointed to find that they had reserved for us the smallest no-fluff Ford Focus we'd ever seen. The two of us and our luggage filled it up and we weren't happy with leaving our luggage in plain sight if we stopped for a coffee on our drive. They, unfortunately, had no other cars available unless we drove to the airport. We rented the car, drove to the airport Avis company (the car was very uncomfortable, not at all like the Renault we'd rented earlier), drove it to the airport, turned it in and rented another. It was literally the shortest car rental contract we'd ever entered into. Fortunately, there was no charge for that short trip and they also upgraded us into a Mercedes after we told them that we were driving to Hinterzarten and then clear across Germany to Berlin in the north and that we'd be driving on the Autobahn. They knew that would be an eight-hour drive at high speed and that it would be best to have more comfort and safety. We gladly paid the slight upgrade and before long we were on our way. After the compact of Megève and the momentary prospect of having to drive the Ford, Doug was thrilled to be driving a C Class Mercedes!

A Mercedes Kind-A Smile

Basel Countryside Home in the Thick Forest on a cold July Morning

Sunflower Farms Create Bright Color Spots

Dairy Cows, French Country Setting

Typical Small French Village in the Countryside

Paris Suburbs Whirl By

Arrival at Basel, Switzerland (July 2005)

Train Advertising? Go Figure!

Romantic Paris Also Has Major City Blight
Graffiti Artists Deface Public Property @ Train Station

Ok, I'm Caught! Love that French Pastry! (Our Comfy Train Compartment)

Contrast of Old with New (Right side: Sleek Fast TGV)

Café in the Interior of Gare de l'Est

Gare de l'Est Outer Lobby

Next post: Hinterzarten, Germany

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