July 21, 2014

European Adventure 2014: Air Canada Fails, Geneva Awaits

In an attempt to at least begin a trip report about our recent journey to Switzerland and the south of France, I'll start with the easy basics as an introduction.

Due to the nature of my work, I can travel several times a year to places most people do not visit or visit easily- and in doing so, rack up a zillion miles getting to these out of the way destinations. We had two free airline tickets to anywhere we wanted to go and no restrictions to speak of aside from cash on hand. Thanks to a lovely gift from my in-laws, we had enough for twelve days. Hawaii was calling me as I envisioned a tropical rest, but the lure of Europe was too hard to resist. My wife was in full agreement, so Europe it would be. (Even though we hadn't been to Walt Disney World since 2009, nothing drew us there. No, the New Fantasyland wasn't enough.)

Going to Geneva, Switzerland from the States offered the most flexibility with many cheap connections to other destinations which interested us. It's incredibly inexpensive to city hop as it were once you are over on the other side of the pond. 

Our desire was to explore something new including a new country as part of the itinerary. We had not been to Switzerland and were told of its beauty, cleanliness, and friendly people. Two countries per visit was our goal. This time we would bypass our beloved Paris and opt for the south of France, which we had never seen. Provence and its vineyards and lavender fields and the gorgeously famous southern coastline would comprise the last two thirds of our trip. Some beach time would come on the Mediterranean instead of the Pacific. I found that a valid trade off. Although we labored in planning in exactly what places to visit and also where to stay, we would not regret this decision. 

For the most part, our research uncovered that what we had heard about Geneva was that it was basically a "business destination" without much to draw in tourists. In reality, this kept the tourist count low, and we found the city had much old school charm along the beautiful lake its built on.

Our children were happily envious and got us to the airport early morning of our departure. One of our newer traditions is a stop at Caribou Coffee, now gone for the most part from where we live but still at the airport. A nice way to start the trip before the adventure began. And it began upon arrival in Geneva via Toronto.

No luggage. Air Canada was not scoring any points for losing my wife's luggage for two days and mine for five. Such is travel. We rolled with the delay, and once we found our stop, a quick trip into H&M brought a new shirt or two and some other necessities. (The end of our trip, however, would bring much bigger problems in travel- something never expected or experienced. More on that at the end of this series.)

Do you see the famous Jet d'Eau? 450ft water fountain.

We were only a few blocks from the lake itself, so off we went, exploring the entire city by foot or later by its very easy, clean, and inexpensive bus system. Lake Geneva straddles the borders of both Switzerland and France, with the French side being undeveloped countryside, the Swiss side being home to some marvelous small towns and world famous cities.

The landmark of the lake on the Geneva waterfront is the famous fountain Jet d'Eau. When it operation, it shoots upwards of 400 feet into the air. We would not see it our entire visit. It was very windy, keeping it very temperate, and the waves on the lake felt more like the ocean than we expected. It did not stop the sunbathers of all shapes and sizes to be found on both sides of the path to the lighthouse. 

I'm going to stop now before we begin touring the city since I've run out of time. However, as a "public service announcement" for those of you considering Europe, please enlarge the photo above. 

Since we were very tired from flying but wanted to stay up until normal bedtime to adjust to the time change, we felt a coffee break at Starbucks was just what we needed for a quick boost. It's become kind of a fun game to compare prices for a latte in each city as we travel. This is the only exception we make. Otherwise, we eat and drink like the locals.

Feel free to compare the prices. It's the only part of traveling Europe (aside from gasoline costs and highway tolls) where it is very expensive to travel. The lesson: if you "Go American", you'll pay for the familiarity. 

More to come.

(Photos copyright Mark Taft.)

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