Switzerland, Italy and France
In May 2006, Sidney and I took a trip to Geneva and Lausanne in Switzerland.
Geneva is a cosmopolitan city, but we were surprised to see 21st century graffiti on 15th century buildings. Why don't they clean it off? It is the founding city of the United Nations and the Red Cross.
In the museum of the worldwide Red Cross headquarters we saw the Red Cross archive of every prisoner, Allied and German, in World War one. We saw an actual Red Cross food parcel from World War II, something I have never seen before. One whole room was dedicated to 'The Maze' prison in Northern Ireland. Surprising that they might think that is the one prison in the world to single out.
In Lausanne we stayed at the beautiful Beau-Rivage Palace, on the shore of Lake Geneva.
Next door to the hotel, there is the world headquarters of the International Olympic Society. (There are a lot of world headquarters in Switzerland!) We visited their museum. (No photos allowed inside).
One day we went on the scenic train to Gstaad, an hour and a half from Lausanne. Swiss trains are very smooth, clean and punctual. We were carefully directed to specially reserved seats, even though the train was mostly empty in the off-season. In the winter high season, Gstaad is a busy ski resort.
The residents of Geneva and Lausanne speak French, but the people of Gstaad speak German. Fortunately, many people in tourist areas and businesses also speak English. The Swiss idea of casual wear is a suit and tie! Swiss prices are among the highest in the world - $12 cups of coffee take a bit of getting used to!
In July 2003, we took a trip to France. We stayed at the very nice Hotel Regina at Place Des Pyramides in Paris (over the road from the Louvre), and found some fun local restaurants. We met up with our Abercrombie & Kent group there, and took the high-speed TGV electric train to Dijon. Nearby on the Burgundy Canal we joined the barge 'Lafayette' for a week. Lots of wine and cheese tasting, and we also visited several wineries. All of the barge crew were from England, including the excellent chef. An American couple on the barge lost their luggage, and had to wear the same clothes for a week! The barge manipulated many locks on the canal, and you could walk or bike on the towpath, and wait for the barge to catch up! We visited Beaune, Burgundy's wine capital, and the famous 15th century charity hospital, Hotel Dieu. Another day we visited Clos de Vougeot, a wine-making center since the 12th century.
In July 2004, we took a driving trip to France. We drove from Rangemore to the Channel Tunnel, where we exchanged the British satellite navigation disk for a French navigation disk. This worked very well, and guided us to anywhere we wanted to go in France. In Reims (champagne area) we stayed at Boyer Les Crayeres, and near Lyon at the Chateau de Bagnols, in castle-like rooms (interesting wooden toilet!) Then Le Byblos in St Tropez for a few days. On the way back to England we stayed at the Hostellerie de Levernois, a hotel in a park, known for their signature dish, escargot in pastry. Then finally at the small Grand Hotel des Templiers in the center of Reims. French roads are excellent, and their toll roads (freeways) are a pleasure to drive.
Chateau de Bagnols is a 13th century castle, near Lyon in the scenic Beaujolais region of France. It is built of local stone, and has a 17th century moat. Owner Lady Helen Hamlyn discovered the chateau in 1987, extensively refurbished it, and furnished it with antiques. www.bagnols.com
St Tropez and Cote D'azur
We have been to St Tropez several times, and usually stay at the hotel Le Byblos, which is like a small French village. Life in St Tropez revolves around the port - sidewalk cafes, art galleries, and big white yachts. Monaco and it's casino is an hour away. Between Nice and Monaco is the mountain village of Eze (population 15), where we had lunch at the Chateau D'Eze. We also stayed one time in Cap Ferat, near Nice, at the very traditional Grand Hotel du Cap Ferat. Sidney arrived after me, and met Sophia Loren at the airport! Somerset Maugham used to live nearby, and the bar is named after him.
Le Byblos has some interesting hidden rooms with an Arab theme, like this one. Nearby are many good restaurants in the town - this one is Thai/Vietnamese.
Italy, Lake Garda and Venice
In August 2005 we went to Lake Garda in Italy. The Grand Hotel de Lake Garda is right on the lake, and next to the ferry terminal - using the ferry is the easiest way to get around the lake. Every day we would take the ferry to a different little town.
We visited Venice, walked around a lot, and took a ride in a gondola. We found the nice hotel where Sidney and Sophie had stayed on a previous trip. Then we went to Harry's Bar for a drink. We asked the bartender what Ernest Hemingway would have ordered when he was often there. He said, "A beer!" Sidney says that I gasped when they gave me the bill at Harry's Bar. I don't believe it of course, but how much can two drinks cost?