Christine's Travel Journal
Thursday, May 13, 2004
from cousin Donald's near Montpellier, now 14 May
Nine countries in seven days, well not so ridiculous in Europe, if you think of Liechtenstein, Monaco to name two of them. That 'boast' also includes Mexico, USA and Germany(transit), Switzerland, Austria three times :) Italy, France.
You could have knocked me down with a snowflake when I woke on my last day in Switzerland: snow covered all the roofs and was falling steadily. Did it hold up the transport system? Not on your Nellie. I took an earlier train from the mountain, just in case the route over San Bernadino had problems. There were a good eight inches on the pass but the road was clear. The bonus for the early train was a pleasant hour over coffee in Thusis with an enthusiastic pair from Brisbane who had seen all of Switzerland and gave me lots of reasons to come back..after all I had only had a glimpse of her many splendours.
Did I tell about Marcel and Claudia's home aged ?350 years in a most traditional village, wow. Ground floor has storage for hay and even below that are sheep... it is still used for sheep, I saw some in the dimness. Inside has lots of new wood panelling and floors.
Much as I would have been thrilled to go on the river --- Marcel's natural home where he teaches kayaking and rafting --- it was pretty rainy and soggy so we all went to their shopping town Chur for the afternoon. Saw a lot of country including confluence of two Rhines ---oooh fabulous lunch.
On to Nice by train, a 12 hour journey, absolutely fine except for about four hours south of Milan when it was packed. The coast part was a dream as the sun descended on one lovely town after another. Mind you there was a lot of ugly utilitarian stuff as well. Beaulieu sur mer just after Monaco was the prettiest. The railway is right by the sea for a lot of miles.
Big thrill to meet Margaret at Nice airport next morning and pick up our car. Scary scary scary setting off north hitting the right road but not into top gear for a day or two! Less traffic as we turned off for the mountains but narrow winding roads and about every third car towards us taking up ALL the road.
Rain, even loud thunder at St Martin Vesubie. Overcast, quite cold. Maybe we made a mistake, we thought, maybe we should have stayed at the coast. But next morning, ahhh the deep blue of a mountain sky in spring. Great! Upwards we climbed, right into the snow. More high peaks ahead: Italy! Time to turn round--- on small roads towards an area west of Cannes, called Esterel. It too has hills - right by the coast. You can imagine, the coast road is a traffic nightmare, Margaret was the driver again and coped beautifully in spite of my squirming. I DID try to look at the sea instead.
The peaks of the Esterel massif gave a wonderful view of the Cannes coast, it was great to have a Sunday walk in the hills, all sorts of wild flowers to quiz ourselves over, chirruping birdsong too.
Two days in Forcalquier area with Margaret's sister in law were a delight of laughter, great landscape, brilliant food and copious excellent wine. Oh and Far from traffic! Vicky and Simon are living the Provencal dream, and have created a marvellous arty characterful colourful home over the last seven years. They have a guest wing for hire so like us have a variety of visitors.
It was a glimpse into a lifestyle adapted to the French way which places so much importance on fresh food and careful preparation, and sociable enjoyment of eating together.
Gosh this holiday lark is such hard work but one has to push on, :)
Margaret had to get to London for the Opera - more Wagner - on Tuesday, so it was an early start on Tuesday, plenty of time. My moment of truth came when she was suddenly gone and it was only me, the car, and the roadmap.
Out of the airport, got off the motorway OK then ran slap into a weekly market day in the first town. Not so good. roads closed. Round a bit, round again, then ahhh, found it. No more troubles, I was launched.
Arles was the destination, Pat Cook had enjoyed a coffee on the main street, that was recommendation enough. Plenty to see there, very old stuff incl a Roman amphitheatre still used for bullfights and concerts. Van Gogh stuff everywhere of course. It was pretty busy with mostly German visitors.
Across the Camargue, famous swampy haunt of wild white horse, black fighting bulls and flamingoes. Now also of rice paddies. I saw samples of all four icons, without hardly a stop.
Big challenge facing me was getting across Montpellier, a sizable city. Well, I just followed the traffic and by chance got out the other side, fortunately not on the road to Spain.
I found the village of Grabels, teensy streets again so I found an offroad park and asked an elderly gent with a handsome dog, where the street 'rue de chateau' might be. Well he was just Donald's father in law wasn't he, and he was keeping a lookout for me. I was right outside the house.
Donald is my first cousin but we had not met for 30+ years. His wife Sylvie belongs here - she speaks beautiful English with a Scottish accent - and there are two gorgeous teenagers Chloe and Sophie... both seriously into womens basketball, train five nights a week.
There is a lot to catch up on and we have made a very good start! Plus, Raphael from Paris came down on the fast train for the day.. we did Montpellier on foot and found several spacious squares, esp one which Donald says is the biggest pedestrian square in Europe. Full of people! All sizes and colours. Yet another fabulous old town with twists and turns, a million restaurants among the aged pink walls and carved wooden doors.
Today we have been into the hills, as far as St Guilhem an old town on a famous pilgrims' route to N Spain. Lots of pilgrims, none on their knees thank goodness. This is an area where Donald cycles a lot at weekends, so he knows all the side roads. Some pretty teensy!
Yes Donald cycles all the time, into town for work: it's highly dangerous. They do have some cycle tracks but not well thought out eg they cross very busy roundabouts and go too close to the tramway and are often blind, narrow and two-way, he says. It's not like I saw in Switzerland where motorists seem to take a lot of care and there are many cyclists and children.
Hasta luego baby.
Monday, May 03, 2004
3 May in Widnau Switzerland
Just for this day or two I am inevitably comparing Mexico with Switzerland. I am amazed at the children playing everywhere in open gardens, biking down the road to school by themselves. Indeed the houses are open to each other and to the road, so modern, immaculate and just oozing domestic bliss and a sense of security. . Each enclave of houses seems like a village within a village, within a larger town, with a lot of green spaces but on a one-acre scale at most. Every tree is in blossom and the perfumes are wonderful as one coasts along on a push-bike. Small herds of cows and sheep intersperse the more scattered houses.
Yes I have been practising driving on the right, following Hanna as we did some little errands this afternoon. She did 5000km on bikes in her pre-married days, (in NZ and from Vancouver to San Francisco)and is still enjoying using it every day. In fact she has a wonderful little chariot behind her bike, in which three children under 7 were carried home from school today.
Car drivers are so used to children and bikes everywhere they seem to behave much better than NZ. The modern European car seems to have plenty of room inside but takes up very little room on the pavement.
Husband Rene works for UBS Bank, I think he controls three branches locally. Yeah, I know a Swiss banker!
The children are perfectly gorgeous and full of energy at four and six. We visited Roland, with whom Hanna was biking in NZ back in 1991. He too has a lovely family and an immaculate home. Everyone works long hours through the week, but seems to have time for the family too.
The contrast between Los Angeles airport and Munich airport has to be a telling one. It was a dream to alight in transit to an enormous, quiet, shining acreage, with onward flights clearly marked, friendly people in the shops. I won't tell you how many pointless queues we stood in at LAX, it's all over now and I don't have to do it again.
Customs in Zurich was no issue, and today we drove across the Rhine to Austria, were waved through and back. Hanna took me up a cable car (Karren) to see the town from above. There is a big mountain opposite, called Sentis but we didn't do that because of a bit of cloud coming in. We have seen four countries from here. (Liechtenstein being the fourth).
Yesterday the family took me for a drive across about four cantons including the last one to give women the vote in 1980. They all still vote by acclamation in the main square. (If it works, don't knock it!). Saw two old town centres, fabulous buildings going back centuries, an enormous cathedral. Statues, boutique shops, nothing but the best. A small piece of evidence of reputed immigration problems were some out-of-place loungers around the bus depot.
Oh, Colin we watched grass skiing, real speedy stuff. Remember that?
On to Versam tomorrow. It's less than an hour away. I have my ticket for the train to Nice. Finally posted some cards - yes LAX does not have a stamp or a postbox in the entire airport. I checked with 3 persons.
hasta la vista baby for another week or so.