2019.04.07


Map of travel plans.


The plan started way back in September-ish, when Josh found a hot deal on flights to Geneva. We booked those and decided to fill in the trip casually over the next few months. Fast-forward to March and we really hadn't done anything beyond buying and doing some light reading on Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

We did a day-long brainstorm of places we were really interested in seeing, then formulated a general idea of a loop that would start and end in Geneva. I created a map that would give us an idea of how things landed geographically, and this served as an anchor for the entire planning process.

I very much wanted to have the trip planned out before departure. Sometimes looking for hotels and trains can be an adventure, but I preferred to reduce the stress level and didn't want to spend, say, half of Tuesday looking for a hotel for Tuesday night. So we gradually worked out car and train schedules, knowing that we could then come back and figure out accommodations, restaurants, and sightseeing.
Offline maps

Google maps offline screenshot size

I had decent cell service the entire trip, but it made sense to download offline maps prior to departure.
Translate

Google translate image camera

We downloaded Google translate and the offline language packs. It had the usual type/speak translation functionality, but Jes and I were most impressed by the photo translation feature.

Google translate OCR image highlight
Bills

Europe trip preparation money ice cream weimaraner

We brought 2k in euro and 1k in Swiss francs and returned with 800 euro. Cash was especially helpful for avoiding out-of-country card charges.


2019.04.08

Selfie flight sadness but really kind of happy

Our departure was out of LAX so we had the option of driving and leaving a car or taking the train to Union Station and then Lyfting to the airport. Neither was a very exciting option but since we were looking at many hours of airplanes it seemed like the train would be them most free range option.

Amtrak train station

Of course the train was late - actually the train before our train was late for our departure time. Ours did eventually come along and we had a relaxing ride up the coast with a slight delay from a train/big rig incident on the track ahead. We arrived at union station with five hours until takeoff.

Los Angeles metro from Union Station to Airport

A map check showed the Los Angeles Metro ran from LAX (train) to LAX (plane) with a mere three changeovers. Given the time we had and traffic around downtown, it seemed like the metro would be better than a Lyft. We took the red line two stops and made it to the dark blue line (not the light blue line, mind you). We intended to ride down to the green line which would take us close enough to LAX to catch their connection shuttle. Simple. Except when we get on the dark blue line, a sign in the train indicated construction left the track closed a few stops short of the green line. So we rode the dark blue line to its end, which happened to be Watts Towers, and then took a Lyft for the final stretch. The freeway part wasn't too bad, but it took us a solid thirty minutes to get from the airport entrance to the departures.

Check-in went easy, and we breezed through security since I guess not many international travelers have precheck. An early (07:30) departure and constant travel since had left us both fairly hungry. We went for calories since the airplane meal/time was a bit of an unknown, and Chang's noodles and honey chicked did the job.

Boarding was super smooth since the A380 had three doors open and we were in the upper deck. Naturally, they served us dinner as soon as we got to altitude, so we at what we could put down.

Airbus plane tail camera

Okay, the coolest obvious idea ever: have cameras mounted on the nose, tail, and underbelly and let people watch the feed from their seats.


2019.04.09

Charles De Gaulle airport layover

Despite illness and loading up on all downers imaginable, I didn't get any sleep on the eleven hour trip from LAX to CDG. Jessica got ten minute dozes in, but wasn't able to get comfortable. What did wake us up was getting struck by lightning on the initial descent into Paris. The plane lit up and everything shook very briefly.


Geneva to Lyon.


France motorway Geneva Lyon Citroen

We had a brief layover at De Gaulle before we boarded another AirFrance flight to Geneva where we eventually found the France side Alamo car rental and headed down the motorway toward Lyon.

France Rhone River Lyon bridge

Our hotel was on the Rhone right by the city park. The park was a great place to stroll and contemplate flowers and geese and jet lag.

France Lyon Terasse St Clair wine menu dining

For dinner we walked across the Rhone to Terasse St Clair for a great bistro dinner and my favorite wine from the entire trip, the Crozes-Hermitage from Cave de Tain.


2019.04.10

Citroen lime green white Gigondas car

After hitting the hay at 20:00 the night before, Jes and I both woke up at midnight - which I don't think was morning in any time zone we crossed the previous day. Getting adjusted to local time seemed rather critical, so we downed a melatonin and slept for... eleven hours. Whoops. Happily, France doesn't do any of that 11:00 checkout nonsense.

Halles De Lyon Paul Bocuse cheese shop wine

The first/nearest item on Jes's list was a large market called Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. We were getting a late start, but it seemed like a reasonable place to get breakfast, drive provisions...

Halles De Lyon Paul Bocuse coffee cappucino travel

... and coffee.

Halles De Lyon Paul Bocuse pastry pastries cute

The Halles did not disappoint. Meats, cheeses, breads, fish, pastries, cheeses, cheeses. Everything looked like it had been prepared for a travel brochure and tasted like it had been served in a nice restaurant. The vendors were friendly, spoke varying amounts of English, and seemed entertained by our wide eyes. We had cappucinos and filled a bag with edibles, then pushed on down the road.

Halles De Lyon Paul Bocuse meat shop France

I'm sure there are similar markets elsewhere, but none were close enough to our route to visit. In retrospect, it's a massive disappointment we didn't have one of these places to hit a half-dozen times, trying new things each day.


Lyon to Gigondas.


After eighty minutes' drive down the motorway - being wary of speed camera scaffolding - we headed into the vineyards of the Rhone. It felt quite a bit like Sonoma/Napa, but with stone buildings and frequent small towns. Being April, the vines were trimmed back and bare, so it wasn't the visual glory of a summer or fall visit.

France travel Gigondas wine country town

Our destination, Gigondas, is a town perched on a hillside that Jessica found simply by looking for a wine country midpoint between Lyon and the Med.

Chambres LOustalet room view street Gigondas

We were staying at the Chambres L'Oustalet, a family business with a wine cellar, handful of hotel rooms, and Michelin restaurant. The room was a nice, updated apartment and included local wine and a great selection of coffee and tea.

Gigondas France garden

It was early evening when we checked in, so we used the remaining daylight to walk up to the medieval ruins and gardens just above town.

Gigondas France abbey wine country

We circled back through the abbey and had a charcuterie plate at the tasting room.


2019.04.11

France travel Avignon Palais de Papes

The unconventional sleep schedule from the first night worked, we woke up at 0830 and enjoyed a huge breakfast in the tasting room. We had a few options for places to visit on our drive to Rayol Canadel Sur Mer.
We settled on aiming for Avignon since it was just off the motorway, from there we could decide on whether to tour the Palais de Papes and/or eat lunch and keep going. We swung by the south end of the wine road, though it didn't look too different from our inbound drive.
Avignon

France travel Avignon Pont

On arriving at Avignon, Jessica grabbed the wheel and plunged us into a parking garage, saying something to the effect of "omg it's like a huge castle". Indeed, without even seeing the palace, Avignon has a rather impressive city wall and interior.

France travel Avignon Palais de Papes

We walked through the medieval city to the palace exterior and decided to take the self-guided audio/tablet tour.

France travel Avignon Palais de Papes audio tour courtyard

The tablets had some cool features, like an augmented reality display that showed a rendering of various rooms from their better days.

France travel Avignon Palais de Papes interior panorama

The sheer magnitude of some of the rooms was the most impressive part of the palace...

France travel Avignon Palais de Papes medieval tile kinda amateurish tbqh

... particularly when the engineering feat was juxtaposed with where interior decorating was in the 1300s.

France travel Avignon Palais de Papes rooftop view

Right? The other best part of the tour was standing on the tower, admiring the view, and realizing that you were ten stories up on 700 year old construction.

France travel Avignon Pont Rhone river

The palais tour had a small upsell to add on a walk to the pont. It was worth it.

France travel Avignon Pont panorama Rhone river
Aix-en-Provence


Gigondas to Rayol Canadel sur Mer via Avignon and Aix en Provence.


Spending a couple hours in Avignon meant we needed to push on to the coast, but stopped in Aix for lunch. Driving through town felt like the running of the bulls, so we eventually peeled off and found parking with just a short walk into the town center.

France travel Aix en Provence street

The narrow, carless streets made for a nice walk to absorb the atmosphere and get "tacos" (panini-grilled pitas).
Rayol Canadel Sur Mer

France travel Mediterranean riviera Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Terrasses Baille patio view

After a bit more driving in the light rain, we found our hotel on the Med. About the size of Gigondas, this town consisted of coastal villas rather than dense tenements. Our accomodations were just up the hill from the beach and featured a nice view.

The concierge looked in to scuba options, but being the offseason the only option was an upcoming boat trip the day we needed to leave for Paris.

thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer main street thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer beach panorama thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer flowers

We walked up the hill to take stock of the restaurant and market options. Not having the appetite for a full dinner, we grabbed some instant noodles and other snacks. And we checked out the beach situation. Crystal clear water in the low 60s and dreary conditions.


2019.04.12

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera hike Sentier Fenouillet

Friday morning we had pastries and coffee at the town's boulangerie and decided to start the day with a hike. Gmaps told us there was a natural park, Sentier Fenouillet just a few km east.

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera hike Sentier Fenouillet view

There was off-road parking and trails that ran to the cliffs and down to the beach. The chill weather was nice for hiking, and since it was April everything was in bloom.

thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer Sentier Fenouillet panorama thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer Sentier Fenouillet flowers

The coast view was nice, we checked that out and then headed down to the beach.

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera Plage Fenouillet beach

The beach had road access, but we only had to share the sandy shore with a family that was leaving and a few teenagers that were arriving.

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera Plage Fenouillet swimming

I wasn't going to leave the Med without a short swim, so I waded a bit and then dove into the clear water.

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera Plage Fenouillet beer

After the kids down the beach did the same, Jessica decided that with a little Belgian courage she would too.

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera Plage Fenouillet

The beach felt quite a bit warmer after that. We hung out some and finished the not-too-undrinkable Belgian.


Rayol Canadel sur Mer to Cavalaire sur Mer.


After a short hike back to the car, we drove the nearby Cavalaire Sur Mer embarcadero and stopped in at the popular-looking Petite Creperie. We were not disappointed.


Back at the hotel, I looked into kayak rentals from the restaurant/shop on the beach. The staff told me that they didn't have any boats pulled out of storage, but would have them the following day.

France Rayol Canadel Sur Mer Mediterranean riviera Hotel Terrasses Dubailli room

We rounded out the evening with a stroll down Le Battier and dinner at Maurin des Maures.


2019.04.13

France travel Mediterranean riviera view of St Tropez
Rayol Canadel Sur Mer

France travel Mediterranean riviera kayak rental beach in April Rayol Canadel Sur Mer

Saturday morning Boukarou Beach delivered on the kayak rental and we paddled around the coves for an hour. The weather was nice, the water was nice.

thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer kayaking Mediterranean thumbnail France Rayol Canadel sur Mer kayaking Mediterranean
Drive to Nice

France travel Mediterranean riviera driving

Getting to Nice for our 14:00 car return and 16:00 TGV departure meant we could take the coast through St. Tropez, but then had to cut up to the motorway for the last stretch.


Drive from Rayol Canadel Sur Mer to Nice.


France travel Mediterranean riviera Golfe de Saint Tropez panorama

We stopped across from St. Tropez to check out the bay view.

France travel Mediterranean riviera road hills twisties

The backroad into the motorway was great, reminiscent of the California central coast.
Nice

thumbnail France Nice road bus thumbnail France Nice train station thumbnail France Nice train station yellow vests thumbnail France Nice train station platform
thumbnail France Nice train station gare

After returning the car, we caught a city bus to the Gare de Ville where we had a couple hours to grab a pizza and check out the yellow vest(?) protest going on outside the station.
TGV

France travel Mediterranean riviera TGV train Nice Paris

The TGV was a super relaxing way to cross France. We did backtrack through to Marseille at normal train speed, so maybe it wasn't especially worth doing the drive and brief stop in Nice.


TGV from Nice to Paris.


Selfie goofy sunglasses
Paris

France Paris late night eats Le Royal Opera quarter pounder

On arriving in paris at ~22:00, we had an easy yellow line metro trip from Gare Nice to Tuileries, which was across the street from the Hotel St. James Albany. After a quick shower, we walked a few blocks to get some late night eats at Le Royal Opera.


2019.04.14

Paris France travel Place de la Concorde fountain
Illness

Paris France travel illness cold

Of absolute course our arrival in Paris meant Jessica would come down with the cold that resulted from hours next to me on a plane. But her mind was set on loading up on meds and pushing through it.

Paris France travel marathon 2019 opera

The first thing to do was to find medicine at a pharmacy. This proved difficult, as it was Sunday and we were at kilometer two of the Paris Marathon. I found a shop listed as open, but after crossing the marathon route found that it was in fact closed.

Paris walking metro loop
Scenic Paris walking/metro loop, from Google Maps.

I returned to the room empty-handed, but hopeful that we could find meds elsewhere. Our route for the day was a big loop (depicted above, but not showing the metro segments) - metro to the catacombs and then to Arc de Triomphe, where we would take the scenic walk back to the hotel. The original plan called for a stop at Notre Dame, where we'd just walk around the outside and head on our way. This caught the chopping block, and it seemed the Champs walk might have to turn into a metro ride.
Catacombs

Paris France travel catacombs skull

We found an open pharmacy near the catacombs metro stop. Jes dosed up and prepared herself for what must have been a very rough day. The catacombs had a long line for the prebook people and a huge line for the day-of suckers, but we got in after ten minutes or so.

The self-guided audio tour consisted of a short walk wayyy below the city. It included history from a quarry era, various (gulp) collapses, and then its famous role as corpse storage.
Champs Elysees

thumbnail France Paris Arc de Triomphe thumbnail France Paris Arc de Triomphe

Another metro ride took us to the Arc de Triomphe.

Paris France travel Champs Elysees closed marathon

The marathon had apparently started on the Champs Elysees, so not only did we have the rare benefit of the road being closed to vehicular traffic, all of the marathon people had pretty well cleared out as well. So we walked down the center of the Las Vegas Blvd of Paris, somewhat disappointed that the shops are just name brand designer boutiques on repeat.

Paris France travel Place de la Concorde fountain again

The route runs by all sorts of neat sights - the Place de la Concorde, palaces large and small, and the Tuileries gardens.

Paris France travel Rue Rivoli walk selfie

Eventually we made it to the hotel, where Jes promptly zonked out.

Paris France travel hotel St James Albany lounge wine

I made myself scarce and found a bottle of wine at Le Bar.
Moulin Rouge

Paris France travel Moulin Rouge stage dining

My surprise for Jes that night was dinner and a show at Moulin Rouge (recommended by Santos and Dan). She rallied for it and we took the metro north a few stops to the colorful part of Paris where we walked past live shows and misshapen Eiffel towers to the theater.

The line to get seated wasn't great, but dinner was good. On account of early booking or maybe just luck, we had front row/table seats.

The show was entertaining and varied, dance routines, real and lip synched singing, circus acts, even some small horses and large snakes.

thumbnail France Paris Moulin Rouge entrance thumbnail France Paris Moulin Rouge dinner thumbnail France Paris Moulin Rouge champagne


2019.04.15

Paris France boat tour Eiffel Tower strobes
Saturne

Paris France Michelin restaurant Saturne lunch view

After the late night at Moulin Rouge, we slept in until it was time to walk a few blocks to our lunch reservation at Saturne. I'm purposefully keeping the food talk/photos in a separate post, but suffice it to say the lunch was delicious.
Louvre

Paris France Louvre Lime scooter

Since the evening activity was a bike tour, the plan was to get Jessica back to sleep. But I did take us back via a short detour through the Palais Royal and Louvre courtyard. In spite of her frequent Lime/Bird-related ICU patients, I talked Jes into scooting.

Paris France Louvre Lime scooter selfie havoc

When we arrived at the car-free Louvre courtyard, we did a tandem ride. I'm fairly certain scooters will be banned there very soon.
Bike tour


Fit Tire bike tour route.


A few hours later it was time to take the metro down to Grenelle for the Fat Tire bike tour that the Cooleys had recommended. Right away it felt like a great way to see the city - you can move along fairly quickly and have the relative safety (from traffic) of a group.

Paris France Fat Tire bike tour Eiffel Tower

The first stop was the Ecole Militaire. We paused to get a little history, and then moved on to run into a few delays when someone dropped a phone and another person's pedal came off.

Paris France smoke Notre Dame fire 2019

When things got back on track, there was a dark plume of smoke rising directly ahead of us. I asked our guide, Michael, if that was perhaps the direction of the airport, he said he wasn't sure and continued on. At the next stoplight as I was unlocking my phone for a photo, Ryan had sent me the answer.

Paris France Fat Tire bike tour Sainte Clotilde

Soon after, everyone was getting alerts of some form, so we stopped at the nearby St. Clotilde to take stock. After some discussions with the office, our guide decided we'd stop by Les Invalides and head over to the Seine cruise portion of the tour.

Paris France Fat Tire bike tour Invalides smoke Notre Dame fire 2019

Naturally, everyone was distracted by video feeds, fire trucks, and people gazing in the direction of the disaster. We did our best to put that aside and enjoy the city.

Paris France Seine boat tour people gathered watching Notre Dame fire 2019

The cruise was the usual deal - a lap of the important parts of the city, even catching the Eiffel Tower for the few minutes that it flashes its neat strobe lights. Micheal even had a pack full of wine for us.

thumbnail Eiffel tower thumbnail Paris cathedral thumbnail Paris fat tire bike tour street panorama
thumbnail Paris fat tire bike tour Eiffel tower night
thumbnail Paris fat tire bike tour thumbnail Paris fat tire bike tour Eiffel tower night

After riding back from the boat dock, we returned our bikes, grabbed some chinese takeout, and caught the metro back to the hotel.


2019.04.16

Train France Paris Brussels Belgium Thalys

Tuesday we caught the 10:00 Thalys train from Gare Nord up to Brussels. The pleasant two hour journey meant we had some time to kill before check in. One option was to check the bags and find something to do, but as I was down to my last pair of underwear, inside out, round two, we decide to find a laundromat between the station and the hotel.


Train station to hotel.


Brussels Belgium backpacking walk cafe

We were pleasantly surprised that, after dodging cars in Paris, the town center was more-or-less pedestrians only.

Brussels Belgium comic shop Tintin rocket Snowy

What's more, while Paris was rife with clothing boutiques, Brussels had a bit more variety. Bandes-dessinnees shops featured local heroes as well as international ones, there were cafes with Belgian brews and pastry shops that didn't expect you to order three-course meals. There was charming street art as well.

thumbnail Brussels Belgium graffiti people riding cats thumbnail Brussels Belgium cartoon smurf Tintin Houtsiplou Brasserie

We snuck a glimpse of the famed Grand Place, but focused on the laundry task. After a small snafu with being extremely used to doors opening outward, we navigated the detergent dispenser and washing machines. Well, Jes did. I snuck away to get a Tintin book, a coffee mug, and a Jupiler.

Brussels Belgium Stella beer too fruity

We moved on to the hotel where we still had a little time to kill, so we grabbed some local brews. Belgians really aren't my thing. After dumping our bags and freshly-laundered clothes, we headed back toward the town center in search of sights and late lunch.

thumbnail Brussels Belgium Saint Michael cathedral thumbnail Brussels Belgium Saint Michael cathedral butresses thumbnail Brussels Belgium cafe
thumbnail Brussels Belgium Saint Michael cathedral interior

We stumbled upon the impressive St. Michael cathedral and toured its perimeter and inside, then found a convenient greek restaurant.

thumbnail Brussels Belgium Au Brasseur thumbnail Brussels Belgium grand place panorama thumbnail Brussels Belgium street thumbnail Brussels Belgium grand place panorama
thumbnail Brussels Belgium grand place

The walk back to the hotel passed through the Grand Place. After taking in the breathtaking architecture, Jessica crashed early. She was still on the tail end of her illness.

Brussels Belgium waffles night life

I returned to the town center and watched the ManU/Barca and Ajax/Juve matches at a local pub.


2019.04.17

Bacharach Germany architecture street
Brussels

Brussels Belgium Galeries St Hubert

The thing we'd missed out on the previous day was, of course, Belgian waffles.

Brussels Belgium Galeries St Hubert shop weimaraner pillow

En route to the cafe, I found some couch cushions that I would have bought on the spot. Alas it was too early.

thumbnail Train thumbnail Train station

Soon it was time to catch the train to Bacharach, with a transfer in Cologne. The local line that runs down the Rhine offered some impressive views; the river is dotted with villages, towers, churches, and burgs. Being a local train, it also stopped frequently, but by early evening we arrived at the picturesque town of Bacharach.
Bacharach

Bacharach Germany riesling vineyard hillside steep

Postcard German architecture and riesling vineyards made for nice scenery and a change of pace from the large cities. After checking in to the Rheinhotel, which was more like a large B&B, we took an hourlong hike up into the hills to catch sunset.

Bacharach Germany panaorama vineyards Rhein

Like in France, the riesling grapes weren't doing too much, but the panoramas were still picturesque.

Bacharach Germany riesling vineyards Rhein river panorama

The grapes grow on rather steep slopes.

Bacharach Germany Rheinhotel dinner reservation wine glasses

Then a three course dinner from the very friendly and enthusiastic Chef, who also owns and runs the hotel.


2019.04.18

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach cafe beer

Two nights in Bacharach meant we could daytrip to one of a few options we had listed. After some breakfast in bed, we decided on the hour-ish train trip to Rick Steves's favoritest castle, Burg Eltz. This barely edged out seeing Katz and Maus castles.

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach train route

We'd done all our intercity bookings in advance, this would be our first platform purchase. As you'd expect, the train arrived and left from the opposite platform as we were buying our tickets, but it'd only be an hour til the next one.

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach walk from station

The burg was a pleasant hour-ish hike upstream from the Moselkern train station.

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach walk forest trail

The cottages gave way to a forest that had trees and flowers beginning to bloom and lots of bright green moss.

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach entrance

The castle was a neat, vertical affair built into a natural rock spire. As it is full of unrestored and original-but-restored stuff, the only way to see the interior was a guided tour. The tour was brief and interesting, and punctuated with a viewing of some beautifully-crafted muskets, swords, and jewelry in the treasury.

thumbnail Burg Eltz courtyard panorama thumbnail Burg Eltz window thumbnail Pretzel

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach picnic forest wine girl camera

Rheinhotel had offered a picnic pack that was perfect for our return trip through the forest.

Germany Burg Eltz Bacharach train snafu

We'd scouted the return trips from Moselkern and there'd been hourly trains listed. When we arrived at the station, however, the ticket machine said we might not make the connection to Bacharach. Gmaps also said we would miss the last train from Koblenz to Bacharach. Uh oh.


Burg Eltz to Bacharach on foot.


We took the first leg anyway, it would at least put us just ten hours' walk from our hotel. As we got closer to Koblenz, I pulled up the DeutscheBahn website and found that there were still trains making the trip from Koblenz to Bacharach.

After a quick shower, we were happy to see a few Bacharach restaurants open on the eve of the Good Friday holiday. A full day capped with pizza and beer left us ready to zonk out.


2019.04.19

Switzerland travel Interlaken green paragliders hotel

We didn't want to risk transport issues on a holiday, going from a small town to a small town far away in another country, so we hit the train platform early for our local train into Mainz to catch our direct (with stops) train to Interlaken. Pulling up the web site, it appeared the last ten miles of our commuter segment was replaced with a bus ride that was projected to arrive just twelve minutes before departure.

Germany trains delay reroute scheduling

I have nothing but confidence in the European train system, but not twelve minutes of confidence in our ability to find the right platform. So when an earlier train showed up, we audibled and got on, hoping to give us more options and time - especially if we needed to cab it. After boarding, a quick look showed that this train's destination was Mainz, but a different station. Still, closer than Budenheim, the new end of the line for our original train. But comparing the current train to the original, this one had many more stops and would get to Mainz much, much later.

In Bingen, we hopped off at what was thankfully one of the few stops for our original train, then waited an agonizing 20 minutes for it to arrive. The train's station list crawler still showed Mainz Hbf, but between the DB web site, a long monologue (in German) by the conductor, and finally a nice dude overhearing our conversation and translating, we knew that we had to risk the bus.

Thankfully, the bus was a dedicated coach (not a city bus) and made it to the Mainz station on time. With a little distress, we found the bridge and platform for our train. Whew. Obligatory American traveler train crisis averted.


Bacharach, Germany to Interlaken, Switzerland by train.


Europe travel train beer wine

As usual, we were thankful to have palatable and not-overpriced food available on the train. It was a relaxing ride.

Switzerland travel Interlaken Thunersee train

Interlaken was intended to be a stopover on the way up to the mountains - we couldn't get a car on Good Friday - but I was optimistic after rave reviews from J and Derrick. The Hotel Lotschberg was just a couple blocks from the train station and had an awesome host and excellent free breakfast. The rooms were comfortable but not recently renovated, but it was a very good deal for the price.

Switzerland travel Interlaken chocolate shop bag goodies

After dropping the bags, we took a lap around a nice but very touristy downtown. There was a stop at a chocolatier and some gawking at the paragliders landing in the field in the middle of town. The real goal here was to have fondue, and we certainly did. It did not disappoint; flavor was cranked to 11. Oh wait, I have a separate food post. No more writing about tasty fondue.


2019.04.20

Switzerland travel alps Lauterbrunnen grass barns view

Saturday morning I strolled over to the Hotel Metropole to get the rental from Europcar. The drive back to the hotel was a bit circuitous due to one way streets, construction, and pedestrian areas. Navigating + following unfamiliar road rules + avoiding vehicular 187 is a lot to do at once. But outside of town, driving was easy.


Short drive from Interlaken to Stechelberg.


Switzerland travel alps Lauterbrunnen grass barns view

The short drive from Interlaken to the Stechelberg gondola was simply breathtaking, I could see why we saw so many bikers the day before. We had planned to do a hike on the valley floor, but the trail was nowhere to be found, so we just took the gondola up. The wait wasn't too bad, but it looked like the station could get pretty crowded.

Switzerland travel alps Lauterbrunnen view Schiltorn gondola

The gondola ride to Murren was as scenic as it was frightening.

Switzerland travel alps Lauterbrunnen Schilthorn gondola cable

I neglected to mention to Jes that our return from Murren would be the last day before the cables were scheduled to be replaced.

Switzerland travel alps Hotel Jungfrau April view mountains

Hotel Jungfrau was on the opposite side of Murren from the gondola, so a four minute walk. After dropping our bags, we decided to hike 1000' down to the town Jes had originally been most interested in, the Car Free Town of Gimmelwald. Wait, is it really called the Car Free Town of Gimmelwald? Yes and no. It's simply Gimmelwald, but in Rick Steves and elsewhere, this factoid pops up frequently. And it's something that I really didn't believe based on the road shown below and general unsuitability of gondolas and helicopters to support entire towns. Okay, yes there is a train as well.


Some dashed line from the valley to the Car-Free Town of Gimmelwald.


But sure enough. Rick was right. There are simply no cars in CFToG:

Switzerland travel alps Gimmelwald car free no cars at all unreachable by car

Misnomers aside, the entire Murren/CFToG scene is spectacular, whether you're hiking the car free roads or having a campari on the patio. The alpine panorama is simply majestic.

Switzerland travel alps Gimmelwald horses view

Being (just) off season and a holiday, CFToG was completely shuttered, save for the gondola station and probably the hostel we didn't check out. Jes had envisioned a town-size farmers' market with cows roaming freely, wearing large bells. Alas, there were just some closed shops and a horse that didn't like her. Oh and I guess in the low season they spray the hillsides with rather pungent manure.

Switzerland travel alps Gimmelwald grass mountains

Still, even without alpcheese vendors or cows, the area has a lot going for it.

Switzerland travel alps beer liter view

Back up in Murren, we settled down to a pint at Jungfrau and met an interesting local and his dog. Dinner that night was at one of the few open establishments, the Hotel Eidelweiss.

thumbnail Swiss Alps Lauterbrunnen mountains fields barns thumbnail Swiss Alps Lauterbrunnen Schilthorn gondola thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren lens flare thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren town
thumbnail Swiss Alps Lauterbrunnen Schilthorn lift gondola
thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren liter beers thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren Hotel Eidelweiss room view thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren view thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren liter beer thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren evening view
thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren view thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren view Hotel Eidelweiss panorama thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren liter beer


2019.04.21

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe bunny snowman mountain view
Morning hike

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe hike view snow mountain

We started Easter Sunday at 0800, enjoying the Jungfrau's great continental breakfast. The options were a big day hike or a pricey but scenic gondola ride up to the Schilthorn peak. We decided on the former, since standing at a summit and looking around sounded less awesome than hiking the mountain and looking for goats. Actually the ideal would have been both (gondola up, hike down), but the concierge told us the snow was still pretty deep at the peak.

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe map hike April loop slopes

There was actually a chance of both (gondola up, hike down), but the concierge told us it was snowshoe-depth up there. She instead drew out a loop around the area that covered about 1500' elevation.

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe hike mountain road snow

The route started on single-lane maintenance roads, but once we reached the valley south of the Car Free Town of Gimmelwald, it curled up into ski pistes with the 'trail' simply following the gentlest grade.

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe hike panorama lift mountains

The snow was mostly well-packed and mostly thin, but the hike was neither easy nor completely free of knee-deep sections. With some effort, we made it to the cutover just under Schiltalp and swung back into the big bowl above Murren.

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe hike mountain gondola Schilthorn

The descent was pretty spectacular, we traded looking down on the Birg gondola for looking up at it.


Crossing the bowl, we climbed another rise and circled the backside to return to the northern tip of town. No goats, but lots of exercise and views.

thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike view thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike yoga pose thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike view
thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike view thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike thumbnail Swiss Alps Murren ski slope hike view
Piz Gloria

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe Schilthron Piz Gloria James Bond gondola

We made good enough time on the hike that we were back at the hotel just after noon, so we decided to execute on the second of our options. The summit featured an all-you-can-eat-brunch in a rotating restaurant, so that seemed like as good a lunch plan as any.

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe Schilthron Piz Gloria gondola mountain

The summit gondola - from Murren - was of course $80 apiece. It was a two-segment ride (via Berg) to what was used as Blofeld's lair in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. They really milk that fact. Everything is 007 branded, especially the brunch.

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe Schilthron Piz Gloria James Bond

The experience was just about worth the price tag. There were 360 views of the other peaks and then down toward Interlaken and Bern. The buffet was good enough and included prosecco. And there were two attractions that didn't cost extra - the mini 007 museum and the cliffside scaffolding walk.


The touristy summit experience combined with the holiday crowd and people trying to get the last bit of skiing in meant that there were hundreds of people waiting for a single gondola down.

thumbnail Swiss Alps Piz Gloria scaffolding thumbnail Swiss Alps Piz Gloria James Bond posters thumbnail Swiss Alps Piz Gloria James Bond kilt thumbnail Swiss Alps Piz Gloria James Bond mens room
thumbnail Swiss Alps Piz Gloria Schilthorn gondola Murren
Evening hike

Switzerland Murren alps trip Europe hike train mountains

After some relaxing back at the hotel, we took a sunset stroll down the tracks that run along the cliffs.


2019.04.22

Lac Leman Switzerland boat trip vineyards

Part of the Switzerland choice was to visit Jes's bff Jocelyn in Lausanne. Joce had an afternoon planned out for us, so we hit the buffet at 0800 again and headed down the gondola to the car. It's hard for any drive to measure up to the one we'd just done, but the more 'normal' part of Switzerland was still rather impressive. Miles of green pastures set against snowcapped mountains, then a huge blue lake.

Driving wasn't the worst. Of course the speed limits are rather pessimistic and there are supposed to be speed cameras all over the place. Even in sightseeing mode, 80 kph feels slow. Parking, however, was the worst. No spots, everything in Lausanne seemed to require neighborhood permits. It was lucky Joce (and fam) had a garage space for us.

Lausanne Switzerland harbor Lac Leman Aperol

Joce took us on a walk and metro ride down to the harbor where everyone was out enjoying the holiday and weather in the high 70s.

Chateau Chillon Switzerland Lac Leman motorway

We took a legit paddle steamer (complete with gorgeous engines) down the Lake Geneva shore that offered views of towns, vineyards, and a castle. We disembarked near Montreax and walked the promenade that features miles of floral arrangements. After a short train ride back, we continued into Geneva to get souvenir chocolate and sleep.


2019.04.23

Layover airport 3DS waiting Nintendo

Tuesday we returned the rental car and had a bunch of time to kill in the not-super-comfortable Geneva airport.

KLM sky high magazine really

Our return journey started with a short flight to Amsterdam. KLM seems to really embrace the dutch thing. The international depatures terminal at AMS was quite a bit less pleasant than even GVA.

Amtrak Los Angeles travel

After a long day of travel we were at last back in the States, where it was a simple rush hour Lyft to get to a train that arrived forty minutes late.


2019.04.24

Taverne Interlaken Switzerland soup

I'm not really a fan of photographing food, but as this was a food/wine tour, I figured I'd at least aggregate food photos/commentary to a single, skippable post.

Picnic lunch Gigondas cheese baguette wine

The picnicing was top notch, particularly after stopping by the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse.

Chambres LOustalet cheese wine Gigondas cafe

Still adjusting to the time/dinner zone, Jes and I had a cheese platter at the Oustalet tasting room. It was enough food for 4-6 people.

King Kebab Aix en Provence

We hit King Kebab in Aix for some quick eats.

Petite Creperie Cavalaire Sur Mer crepe beer French Mediterranean

The Petite Creperie served incredible meat/cheese crepes as well as a fantastic dessert crepe. Perfect after a day of hiking and swimming in the cold Med.

Pizza DOr pizza Nice beer soda meat

Pizza D'Or served up some hearty eats between our cote d'azure drive and TGV trip to Paris.

thumbnail Paris Saturne lunch dish thumbnail Paris Saturne white asparagus thumbnail Paris Saturne lunch dish fish

Our Michelin experience was provided by Saturne in Paris. Everything was very good, but I must say my mind was blown by the white asparagus in a broth that seemed to have bamboo and szechuan peppers. Three courses, dessert, a table with a view - very good for a $50/person carte lunch menu.

Chinese food Paris

After a long bike tour, Jes and I were very happy to catch a fast-casual Chinese place on the walk back to the metro.

Bakery dessert Brussels pastry

On arriving into Brussels, we had to stop in at the first treat shop we saw.

Maison Dandoy Brussels Belgian waffle or they call it just waffle

The other obligatory Belgian experience is the light and flaky waffles that we ordered from Maison Dandoy.

thumbnail Rheinhotel salad thumbnail Rheinhotel soup thumbnail Rheinhotel charcuterie

At the Rheinhotel, we enjoyed a hearty three course meal. I was pleasantly surprised by the miso soup.

Fondue pot Taverne Interlaken Switzerland cheese

Swiss fondue, what more needs to be said? There were a few options in Interlaken, but Taverne did not disappoint. I was intrigued by the potatoes they served with the fondue, but found them skippable. But the cheese was beyond compare.

Eidelweiss Murren Switzerland lamb chops beer liter

Lamb chops at the Eidelweiss weren't anything to write home about. The sizzling platter (complete with bib) was an amusing presentation, though it left me covered in grease. Their beer, however, was superb.

Buffet Piz Gloria Switzerland rotating restaurant

The buffet at the Schilthorn summit was pretty typical fare. But the view was hard to beat.


2019.04.24

Childs map of Europe flags colored from Reddit
Driving

French motorway Bentley

I drove in France and Switzerland. Germany would have been fun, but train travel there made more sense. It all went pretty smoothly, though as you'd expect the streets can get pretty narrow in towns. The motorways are great - a generally high speed limit and people are very good about driving in the right lane, leaving the left open for passing. Roundabouts beat the hell out of stop signs and lights. The French motorways seem to be pretty much all toll roads, we ended up spending about $60 getting from Geneva to Nice.

I didn't drive in Paris, but Aix felt like a mini-Paris. I quickly learned that in France, cars have the (de facto?) right of way. As a driver, I learned the courteous thing to do is to drive directly at pedestrians because if they smell fear or weakness it breaks the whole system down.
Coffee

France espresso

Nestle owns basically all of Europe, and so espresso pulls have regressed from beautiful Italian metalworks to little Nespresso machines. You can occasionally find a real cappucino, but it's rare.
Socializing

As is commonly noted by American tourists, passing people on the street you don't make eye contact, you don't exchange half-smiles. The French glared at us, the Germans glared in German. I guess you get used to it, but in the States that brief eye contact is the interpersonal cue where someone might, say, ask about train information. That said, when we did force questions upon random strangers, they were almost always very happy to help.

Much to Jessica's chagrin, in Europe people don't socialize their pets with strangers. Her only success was an off-leash dog on a trail that came around a bend in advance of its family. She greeted the animal as she always does, and judging by the panicked looks on the family's faces when they came around the bend, they may have thought their dog had attacked someone.


2019.04.24

Monument hats

Arc De Triomphe hat

Eiffel Tower hat
Cats

thumbnail Swiss alps Gimmelwald sledding sign cat thumbnail Swiss alps Gimmelwald cat thumbnail Brussels shop cat
thumbnail Swiss alps Gimmelwald cat
Signs

thumbnail Graffiti in dude we trust thumbnail Speed bump sign thumbnail Donkey sign
thumbnail Radfahrer biker sign Germany
thumbnail Murren ski slope sign thumbnail Darth Vader flag Germany