Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day 6 - Parallel Worlds

Tonight we're staying at the Formule 1 Genève Aéroport Ferney Voltaire, which is actually in France, not Switzerland. Like most Formule 1's, this is 100% low rent - Clare says even on the scale of Formule 1's this is especially low rent, as she's never had to share the bathroom with prostitutes before. Yes, this is the sort of place where you just come to rest your head, and if you see crime scene tape outside a room, you just walk past quickly - you see nothing, hear nothing. More on that later. We'd started the day with breakfast at our lovely hotel in Zermatt, before checking out, taking the train back down the valley to Täsch with a load of noisy kids, then driving west along the Valais (the central Rhône Valley in Switzerland). The temperatures in the valley hit -7c along the way, so we didn't stop much except to take a few photos, then to pick up some snacks at the Migros "MMM" Supermarket at Aigle/Chablais Centre. Migros Supermarkets come in 3 sizes - M, MM & MMM, so this was one of the big ones! It had the most incredible setting on the valley floor between the Chablais & Bernese Alps. Then we drove along the attractive southern shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), over the French border, via Évian-les-Bains, back over the Swiss Border, into Geneva past all the expensive design houses, shops & banks, past the United Nations and WTO, etc, etc. Finally past the airport and back over the French border again to this 'less than salubrious' location on the edge of respectability in Geneva!
Somewhere, deep below our location right here are the tunnels of the CERN Large Hadron Collider, where they hope to recreate the big bang. Along the street here, we went to the Buffalo Grill, first observed in Lausanne Crissier (on the first day of our trip), and something akin to the Lonestar Steakhouse in Australia. Not bad, but not brilliant either. We shouldn't have expected much from a cocktail that was only 2 Euros more than a Coke... And back here at the F1, this other business is being conducted... which brings us to the subject of parallel worlds, and how these worlds might intersect or even collide at some stage, when the scientists, far below ground, come up for a steak, or engage in some other business here at the F1. Yes, parallel worlds exist here...
In the early hours of Friday morning, we fly to Portugal...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 5 – Zermatt, Hotel Mirabeau, alpine residence, wellness & spa

Today was pretty slothful. Clare had a massage and read the Guardian. I took a train ride up to Gornergrat for even better views of the Matterhorn. Staff were buzzing around preparing the ski slopes for the season opening that coming weekend. We used the spa in the late afternoon, although I couldn’t stand the steam room for more than a couple of minutes, and you won’t get me in the sauna. Still, it was fun. We had a rum & coke at the bar before dinner. Colonel Mustard was there again, with his waxed moustache, and his well groomed wife dripping with jewellery. We guessed they were German. Sepp Julen was schmoozing with a French group before dinner and all was good with the world (well, in Zermatt anyway). Clare got 2 chocolates on her pillow. Zzz...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Day 4 – Zermatt, Hotel Mirabeau, alpine residence, wellness & spa

The Swiss do amazing tunnels, and bridges, and trains, etc, etc. Some of the tunnels were being done around 1890, before WW1, in times of global mass migration. Yes, the Swiss were having a jolly good time opening up their health resorts, and making fondue, while many places on our planet were quite inhospitable. Today we took the Lötschbergtunnel from Kandersteg to Goppenstein (towards Zermatt). This was a drive-on, drive-off car tunnel that took about 20 minutes. You sit in your car, and plunge into darkness at high speed which is quite disconcerting at first, but moves you under the Alps with incredible efficiency. Of course now, they’ve recently completed another tunnel (the Lötschberg-Basistunnel), right under the Lötschbergtunnel, which is even longer and even more efficient. How very Swiss.
Zermatt is a car free town, so you park your car at Täsch, just down the valley, and take a shuttle train up. You can even park your trolley full of luggage on the train. Again, incredibly efficient. Something about all this efficiency reminded me of Disneyland – I get the feeling Walt modelled the whole thing on Switzerland!
Now, the "Hotel Mirabeau, alpine residence, wellness & spa". Quite a mouthful that. This was the biggest treat on this “End of Europe” fling. I’d booked a package with room, breakfast, dinner and spa treatments included. This was the sort of place where there were slippers & robes in the cupboard, lovely white doonahs, a well stocked mini-bar and a full view of the Matterhorn. Even candles in the bathroom. They call themselves 4 star, but I might even call it 5. Clare had a facial in the spa while I took some snaps of the Matterhorn. The dinner was 5 course – rather superb. The hotel owner, Sepp Julen came to our table to ask how things were, which was a nice touch. When we returned to our room our bed had been turned down with chocolates on the pillows. Zermatt twinkled like a fairy tale town under a blanket of thick snow. Nice...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 3 – Interlaken, Chalet Swiss Hotel

The snow was pretty thick and still falling in the morning as we made our way to the train station for our trip to the Jungfraujoch (Top of Europe). I’d done this journey twice before (in the late 80’s), so there was a sense of nostalgia I suppose. The front desk clerk at our hotel thought we were mad with the snowy conditions and tried to warn me off, but there was no use wasting the day. You take 3 trains to the top. The valleys were pure Ansell Adams pictures with cloud hanging over grey snow-laden trees and sheer rock walls. At the top, we ventured out into the snow. It was -17.5c. We felt like polar explorers. Then we went inside… quickly! We took a picnic lunch of bread, cheese & salami to save money. If we’d ever thought Ireland was expensive, it ain’t got nothin’ on Switzerland. We came back via Grindelwald where kids were people were snowblowing driveways and kids were playing with toboggans. Darkness was falling and the snow was turning slushy as our train pulled back into Interlaken...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 2 – Interlaken, Chalet Swiss Hotel

After Clare slept for 12 hours, we got back on the road. We stopped for some breakfast in Montreux, where I used my limited French skills to order some coffee and sandwiches, although pointing to the delicious cakes in the little patisserie was easier by far. Montreux has a faded charm that speaks of Arab money and bad 1970’s architecture mixed in with grand old palace hotels. Nothing special really. The snow was falling heavily as we headed out towards Interlaken. The mountain road via Les Mosses had been freshly ploughed, but the snow got thicker as we rose in altitude – lucky our car had snow tyres fitted. We stopped at a small village to buy some cheese and lunch stuff, while Clare spotted some huskies going back into their trailer after a morning of mushing.
The Chalet Swiss Hotel in Interlaken gave us our first taste of many hotels on this trip – almost completely empty at this time of year. Some might call us mad, but you get the pick of rooms! As per the weather forecast, the snow was falling very heavily (but silently) in the evening as we went for pizza and rosti at a strange little restaurant adorned in Marilyn Monroe paraphernalia. We had to tread really carefully, but it was quite magical. Won’t get many nights like this in Brisbane...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 1 - We've left the Green Isle!

We left Ireland today. At first light, this seemed unlikely considering the amount of luggage we still had in our possession (even after sending our cargo shipment). But Aer Lingus were considerate, and we made it through ok... We got the bond deposit back from our landlord in Annagassan - we'd cleaned it up pretty nicely and everything was perfect. We definitely had some mixed feelings as we drove out of Annagassan for the last time, but we knew this day would come. At some stage, we'll do a Top 10 (Good AND Bad!) of living in Ireland. We'd known all along that Annagassan was the best thing about Ireland. Well, for us anyway. So we were sad to leave.
There were some snowflakes as we landed in Geneva - quite exciting. Our rental car from Alamo/National was a great little Renault Clio hatchback/station wagon - really great for an "economy" car rental as we always do. Drove to Lausanne and stayed at the Ibis Crissier, located near motorways, but the Garmin lady guided us without too much fuss or driving into lakes, etc. You always know what you're gonna get with Ibis - not too nasty and not too posh either - something in-between, and this was no different. We took a walk around the old town and had an early dinner. The snow was coming down quite heavily as we drove back to the Ibis and zzz...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Goodbye Annagassan


Über Dusseldorf

NOW I know where Jerry Springer got his tv studio set from :)
Landschaftspark, Duisburg-Nord, Rhineland.
Post-industrial, apocalyptic Disneyland, without the rides. Or the cheesy grins.

flickr photo link: <Dusseldorf, 08-09 Nov 08>
08 Nov 08 FR2177 DUB/NRN 0915/1200
10 Nov 08 FR2176 NRN/DUB 0700/0745
As far as I can remember, I've never driven a Mini Cooper before. Especially not the new Mini Cooper, now lovingly crafted by BMW but faithful to the original British designs including the huge round dashboard instruments, etc. The boot is still tiny, but the Mini goes very fast on the Autobahn, although I was too gutless to take it much beyond 140kph. Especially when overtaking trucks full of chemicals as we headed south through the industrial Ruhr/North Rhine area towards Dusseldorf. Damn, it even has a 6 speed gearbox! The Garmin lady was onboard too, telling us to "exit left and stay left", or even "exit left, keep left and turn right"... Huh? She was also of no help when a small deer darted across the road near the airport, with shooters in hi-vis jackets in hot pursuit. Maybe that deer lived another day. And on Monday morning, Clare seemed almost willing to follow the Garmin lady into a 4 lane section of one way Autobahn traffic, the wrong way. Lucky I was driving :)
So we had a quick weekend in Germany to see our friends Gerald & Sandra, before we leave Europe (we'll have to call this "Clare & Joe's Farewell Europe Tour 2008"). Faultless & UBER CHEAP flights from Dublin to Dusseldorf-Weeze with Ryanair, Mini Cooper from Sixt Rentals, Uber German design at every turn, and of course brillliant food. Dusseldorf is a great city - smart & stylish, incredibly liveable, reasonably priced in many respects, nice places to walk & visit, and in the heart of Europe. On Saturday afternoon we checked out Landschaftspark, Duisberg-Nord - 200 hectares of industrial wasteland (ex chemical plant, glassworks, ironworks, etc.) We have some photos on flickr, and will add more when we get time. The Ruhr area is still dotted with massive industrial plants and smokestacks, both abandoned and active. Pretty amazing landscape. Back into town for the evening - a few local "Alt" beers in the very lively "Altstadt" (old town) and excellent food. Great cocktail bars. All far, far cheaper than Ireland of course. Dusseldorf is definitely a party town.
Had a great German breakfast on Sunday - bread rolls, meats & cheeses (definitely Clare's favourite), then checked out the "Media Harbour" area of renovated Rhine docklands - very funky architecture & design stores with €12,000 black & white leather chairs. Go wild! Yeah, right... New apartments & hotels are still going up here. Not sure when then slowdown will hit. Apart from the incredible interior design of Gerald & Sandra's apartment (think lots of glass & steel) and our Mini Cooper, our favourite design fitting of the weekend was the "Campari Light" in our little hotel room in Gerald & Sandra's apartment building. Very nice. Possibly Italian. But we're sure this could be easily recreated with a little imagination. Sounds like a challenge!
We were up again in the wee hours of Monday morning. Flew back to Dublin, temperature 5c, and straight into the M50 Motorway traffic for my last few days of work. Next report after our leaving party this weekend...