Aug 24, 2009

Lost Diaries 8

Friday, June 24, 2005

Damon’s first summer school final was due today, so we did not leave Lyon until about 17:30. We had originally planned to visit Lucern and Interlaken, but since we only had 2 days, we decided to stay in Interlaken the whole time. We took the train from Lyon to Geneva, Switzerland, and went through customs there. Every time we go through customs Damon is subjected to increasingly serious scrutiny, since he sweated through his passport and it is hard to read now. We were only in Geneva for about 30 minutes and we were starving, so we followed signs out of the train station to a nearby McDonalds where we enjoyed chicken nuggets and a hamburger. I am normally not a big nugget fan, but I decided that it was better than picking onions off of my cheeseburger, since they are so small you can never get them all. Fast food joints over here have woefully never heard of “your way, right away.” To get anything unusual, like a hamburger with no pickles and onions, takes at least 10 minutes. So I choked down the nuggets and we made the train in time. The next leg was from Geneva to Bern, and the train tracks wound around Lake Geneva, which was just spectacular. You can see the mountains in the distance and from the train tracks the little Swiss houses lead all the way down to the water. The water is the most beautiful blue; it looks more like Disneyland than a real lake. Switzerland in real life looks exactly like it does in your imagination. You just expect Heidi to step out of one of the houses and offer you a Riccola at any moment. Well, as we were chugging along on this train, it stopped in the middle of the tracks and they made an announcement in several languages, none of which we spoke. Turned out the train was broken down, and they were working on it. We had a connection to catch in Bern, so the conductor came through and asked everyone about their destinations, and we told him. The man with the drink cart came by and gave us our pick off the cart for free since the train was stalled. He was from Egypt, and very nice. He spoke Arab, French and English. Damon asked him if he had ever seen the pyramids, and he looked at him like he was crazy and asked what kind of an Egyptian would he be if he had never seen the pyramids? So we were living the good life drinking free orange juice and eating free gummy bears when the train started up again. It was too late for us to make our connection, so the conductor came by and told us to check with the information booth when we got off the train for the next available train to Interlaken, and he also gave us two vouchers worth 15 francs of free rail food each. So we were totally pumped that our train had been delayed, and marveled at how wonderful the Swiss are on customer service compared to the French who have never heard of it. Also, you may have noticed that crossing the border into Switzerland marked the first time that we have been in a country that is not overly fond of the Euro. They will take paper Euros, but no coin Euros, and they always give your change in Swiss francs. The nice thing was that the Franc is weaker than the Euro, so at least we had something going for us there. When we detrained in Bern, there were booths on every train track with people in them to help passengers find their next train. It was amazing. In all the other countries we have traveled to, you are basically on your own in the train station. You can go to the main desk and wait in line forever to ask a question, but it is hit and miss if they even speak English and they are not what you would call “there to serve.” But Switzerland was refreshingly different with customer service people on every track, short lines to ask questions, and plenty of good information given in a friendly manner. Swiss trains get two thumbs up and it must just kill them to work with the rest of these unpredictable yahoos in the other parts of Europe. The Italians are late, the French are rude, the Dutch make their own schedule and don’t let anyone else know about it, but the Swiss are awesome. Too bad it is such a small country.

Okay, so we had to wait a little while to hop our Interlaken train, but we were in such a good mood from the freebies and being treated like human beings that we were not phased at all. We wandered around the train station/shopping mall for a while, but most of it was closed, so we mostly waited. We would be in Interlaken a little after midnight, and we were originally supposed to be there around 23:30. The only thing that I was a little concerned about at this point was the fact that we did not have hotel reservations. Rick Steves was disappointingly short on Switzerland info in the book that we have, basically telling you to skip Interlaken and adventure sports and head to some mountain town with one street and sleep in hay. This is decidedly not our style, so we thought we would just wing this one and see what happened. So of course, I was having a nervous breakdown thinking that I would be sleeping on a park bench in the rain or who knows what. There are 2 Interlaken train stations – West and Ost (East) – so we decided that we would get off at the first one that we came to and that way we would be able to walk through the whole town (which takes 20 minutes) looking for a hotel. When we got off the train, the first hotel was a Best Western, but they had a sign up saying, “No Vacancies,” so that made me a little tense, but the next hotel was Hotel Krebs, and when we walked into the lobby it was the cutest thing I had ever seen, so I thought of course they would want way too much to stay there. Damon asked about the price, and it was at the top of our limit, but then the man said breakfast was included, which is rare here and worth at least 20 Euros, so we were sold. The room was delightful. It had a normal sized bathroom with a shower that functioned in the American style. Plus, washcloths, which they NEVER have over here. The bed was one actual double sized mattress, no top sheet, but a lovely down comforter, and no air, but it was cool enough to open the windows and shutters and enjoy the delicious alpine breeze. We slept like babies, and got to cover up for the first time in weeks. We were happy as pigs in mud.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

We slept in Saturday morning and got downstairs in time to take advantage of our free breakfast. Then we asked a few questions at the front desk and set out to find a company to go white water rafting with. The temperature was great, warm enough for shorts and t-shirts but with a nice cool breeze blowing that gave you chills every once in a while. The sun was out when we started off, and we were so happy to not be sweating in France. We stopped at a few places and asked about their activities, schedules, and prices, and Damon basically decided that he not only wanted to white water raft, but he also wanted to go canyoning, which is strange and I will explain later. Only one company still had spots available and had trips that fit our train schedule, so we decided to go rafting Saturday at 16:00 and canyoning Sunday at 10:30. We rented some mountain bikes and did some quick postcard and souvenir shopping before it started raining, so we stopped by the hotel to pick up our raincoats, and kept peddling. When you are only in Switzerland for 2 days you can’t let the rain mess up your schedule. We asked a few people about mountain bike trails, and the basic response was, “See the mountain you want to ride up? Go to it.” Apparently mountain biking in Switzerland is not quite the same as in the U.S. By just heading toward one of the mountains that we could see, we ended up stumbling across the ruins of a medieval castle. We parked the bikes and climbed all over the castle, which had a historical marker thoughtfully displayed in English among other languages, and said the castle had been built sometime around the year 1200. It was very neat, much smaller than you would think, and very tall and steep. The steps were narrow and would wind right on the edge of the mountain. They had installed all kinds of handrails and stuff, so it was not too dangerous, so chill out, Tonie and Clara. From where we were at the castle, we could see a long way, and we saw a huge tent set up and heard music coming from it. I remembered that Interlaken was having a huge concert/festival thing and that tons of bands would be there, like Green Day and Queens of the Stone Age, and stuff like that, so we decided to go there. It took a while to figure out how to get there, and when we did it cost too much to go in when we were not sure who was playing right then and we only had about 2 hours left before rafting, so we listened for a minute at the gate and headed for another mountain. We ended up riding the bikes through a meadow of knee high grass, crossing two sets of railroad tracks, and lifting them over a fence before discovering that we would have to cross a big river to get where we were trying to go, so we had to do all of that in reverse and find a bridge. We then road up something called Bike Trail D, which was really a narrow paved road, through the mountain village to the top of the mountain. We could look out and see the castle that we had explored and even see another castle above it, and we were so high on the new mountain that we were looking down on both of them. We saw mountain goats, and it was so steep I had to get off and push if that tells you anything about the ride. Damon loved it, but I had finally had enough peddling and being rained on, so we coasted to the bottom and made our way back to the hotel in time to change into our swimsuits, return the bikes, and grab a bite before rafting.

Eating…we had seen a little café near our rafting place so we decided to try it out. This turned out to be a very bad decision. They were not serving lunch anymore, but had the proverbial sandwiches still available, so we ordered two and a large bottle of water and had a seat. The man asked us if we wanted cheese, or bacon, or both, so we asked for both, with visions of lovely tostis floating in our imaginations. Well, our first hint of trouble was when the water came out and it said mineral spring water on the outside, but was in fact the dreaded sparkling water of Europe. We were so thirsty we choked some down anyway and hoped for better things to come with the food. Wrong again. We were served sandwiches composed of 2 slices of really thick homemade wheat bread with very hard crust and slices of fatty ham in the middle with two thick rectangles of some type of pail yellow cheese with a hard white rind all around it and a white spread full of pickle bits and onion pieces. Disgusting. I nearly puked after the first bite, and eventually resorted to eating the dry piece of bread on top, giving Damon my ham, and scraping the white spread off of the remaining bread to make Damon a makeshift sandwich of ham. It was another adventure in really bad European food, so with a few minutes left we set off to find a place that had some Pringles. We found some at a nearby youth hostel, and also purchased some Swiss chocolate, since that seemed to be the thing to do, and a large “real” water. We were sitting on a bench savoring these items when a few of the girls that Damon goes to school with came by and we realized that we were on the same rafting trip. We all boarded a van together headed for the Outdoor Interlaken supply tent. When we got there, they told us to strip down to our swimsuits and use the restroom, then hit the gear room to get ready for rafting. To go rafting, you have to wear a wetsuit, wetsuit jacket, wetsuit booties, life jacket, and snazzy yellow helmet. The most delightful part of this sexy ensemble is that these are the same suits used by everyone of every nationality that comes to Outdoor Interlaken to raft, so you can imagine the smell and general concerns about communicable diseases that were now swirling through my head. Plus, everything was still wet from its previous inhabitant, so I was totally grossed out, but suited up anyway. All the helmets had different names on the front, so Damon’s said “Starfish” and mine said “Luke.” You can imagine that after putting on all this getup, we both felt dead sexy. We were herded into vans and taken to the river. On the way the guides revealed the fact that the river that we would be rafting in is fed by a glacier, and the point where we would be starting at was about 3 miles away from the aforementioned glacier. So basically, the water we would be getting into had been ice a mere 3 miles before rushing down to the boat launch. The temperature of the water? Oh, about 4 degree Celsius, or for you Americans, about 37 degrees Fahrenheit! So basically a very small step above FREEZING. Those of you who know me well probably know that I have been cold literally since birth. I once went to a water park during a tropical depression and got so cold that not only my lips, but my entire nose and lower face turned blue. Cold is not my thing, and I was not too pumped to hear these new revelations. When we got to the launching point, the guides gave us a mini tutorial, or what I like to call, the “Don’t Do This of You Could Die” talk that usually precedes any adventure activity. There was a pretty long list, and my nerves began to fray even more. One of the tips was that if you did fall out of the raft, you should assume the “white water swimming” position, which basically means curling into the fetal postion and letting the angry river wash you downstream. We were separated into groups, and we decided to go with the 3 LSU girls and these 2 other random girls; our assigned guide was Pete from South Africa. Pete had a huge scab across his nose from a recent bungee accident, so that really set my mind at ease about Pete’s level of sanity and professionalism. We had practice there in the parking lot, and learned all of Pete’s commands, which consisted of “Hard forward,” “Backward,” “Jump left,” “Jump right,” and my personal favorite, “Get down.” Practice made it apparent that this was to be a hopeless journey, and we headed for the water feeling very ill-prepared. When we approached the water, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees. The water was so cold that the mist off of it was enough to take your breath away. We took our places in the raft within 10 feet of our first rapid, and they shoved us off with Pete in the back and little warning. The first thing that I did was whack myself hard in the face with my paddle to break the ice. I am not sure how I managed this, but I hit myself in the upper lip/nose area and basically busted my lip and I am pretty sure displaced my nasal cartilage for about the 5th time in my life. But the river was moving fast and there was no time to cry about it, because Pete was screaming commands at us, and we had to row and get soaked with tons of freezing water. It literally took your breath away every time the water hit you. They had cautioned us about not letting go of the T-bar ends of our paddles. This was not a problem for me, because within seconds my hands were frozen into the claw position, the left around my T-bar, and the right around the rope on the side of the raft. Basically the first rapid that they put you into is the worst one, and then you get a few breaks on the way down, including long stretches where you pose for pictures and talk to your guide about his homeland, which I rather enjoyed. Also, one of the other guides got his raft close to ours and grabbed a girl out of our boat and dragged her into his. Pete retaliated by snatching a Korean girl, almost dropping her, and dragging her in the water for about 10 seconds before pulling a very wet and terrified hostage into our raft. They switched back pretty quickly after that. There was also a point in the river where they told us we could get in if we wanted to, so Damon’s bright self bails off in the water, like any of us girls can help him back into the raft. He had to work his way around to Pete to get pulled back in. Peanut Butter (Amanda) also jumped in, and quickly saw the error of her ways and begged us to pull her back in. She is much smaller than Damon, so we were able to help her out. At the end of the river we paddled into one of the Interlaken lakes, and it was just beautiful. (Interlaken means “between the lakes”) The water was clear and blue and the lake was surrounded by snowcapped peaks and Swiss Chalets. The water was supposedly much warmer here, so close to shore I jumped out, but it was actually pretty cold there too, so I lived to regret that decision. When we were back on the shore, one of the guides took one look at my blue face and shoved me into the heated van, promising me a hot shower at the base. I think he thought I had hypothermia or something. Anyway, we went back to the base, stowed our gear, and headed back to the hotel to rest and shower before eating Mexican food with our rafting buddies. The Mexican joint was called El Azteca, and it was a 2 on the 1-10 Mexican scale, but still MUCH better than lunch, since it was edible. We were exhausted after supper, so we crashed at the Hotel Krebs and set the alarm for canyoning in the morning.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

We slept in again and got up in time to pack up our things, eat breakfast, check out, and wait for Outdoor Interlaken to pick us up. Kacey picked us up at 10:30, and we headed back to the base to grab some gear. Since you have an hour van ride to the canyoning location, you only pack your gear, and do not have to put it on yet, which was a relief. The gear situation was much the same as the day before, communal and wet, but the suits were thicker and there was an additional top layer. Sleeping through the night had revealed that the swelling had gone down from my paddle injury, but my nose was very sore, and apparently I had also jammed my finger somehow, so it was a little swollen. Our canyoning group consisted of us, three American guys, and 6 Frenchmen, plus 2 guides: Kacey from New Zealand and some other guy. The mountain views on the ride to the canyon were spectacular. Waterfalls cutting their way down mountains from snow-capped peaks. Breathtaking. We really wished we had brought the camera, but thought it would be safer in the lockers back at the base, so sorry about that. We arrived without incident and suited up. After we had all of our gear on, Kacey drove us to the top of the mountain, and we got ready for our first obstacle…the 200 foot repel down the side of a vertical rock wall into the canyon. Needless to say, neither of us volunteered to go first. After Damon went, there was just me and 3 Frenchies left at the top with the guides. One of the French guys asked me, “Aren’t you afraid?” I said, “Yes, a little. Are you?” He was VERY afraid. When my turn came and the guide hooked the rope to my karabiner, I told him I was kind of scared, so he went easy on me. I made it without incident, but I did NOT look down. Once we were down in the canyon the Frenchies started running around and splashing each other and jumping on rocks, which is exactly what Kacey told us NOT to do, so when the other guide came down there he chewed them out, and that made me feel better, since at least he was serious about safety while guiding us in this very unsafe activity. The first obstacle was a huge rock waterfall that you jump off of about 15 feet to the pool below. Kacey would throw a rock to show you where to land. I was a little nervous about landing in the right spot, but I did alright. The water was cold, but not nearly as cold as the rafting water, and we had so many layers on that it was not too bad. My hands weren’t even cold, because I stayed out of the water most of the time. We made our way down the canyon sliding down rocks on our backs, “rock grinding” – which is basically throwing your weight onto a slick rock surface and riding down on your life jacket like a sled, and jumping off of rocks. At the end was a zip line. They would fix a releasable rope from the pulley to your karabiner, and then when you swung out over the water Kacey would yell, “Let go!” when you needed to release. Damon tried to coach me on how to land, but the guide told me to lay back and I did, which resulted in my third injury of the adventure weekend, falling from at least 25 feet in the air and landing in the water flat on my back. It knocked the wind out of me and made me a little sore today. I kept having flashbacks to that time I jumped off of Jamie and Tres’ roof onto the trampoline and nearly killed myself the entire time we were in the canyon, because if you land wrong you are out of luck. I definitely landed wrong on this one, but I survived. The last slide we went down headfirst superman style, and I took that opportunity to bruise and scrape my hip bone on the rock. But I made it out of the canyon alive, and at the bottom after we changed all our gear they had “sandwiches” and beers for us. You all know I am a lady and though very thirsty, drank no beer I am glad to report. The sandwiches consisted of the same kind of bread we had at the worst café ever on Saturday, as well as cheese that is derived from the cows in the adjacent pasture that were roaming by when we arrived. The cows were a trip, because they all had bells on. It sounded like a high school football game. The cheese was like most cheese in Europe, dry and weird tasting. I tried a small piece, but stuck with the bread for the most part. After we made it back down to the base we changed into dry clothes and asked if there were any pictures or video that we could buy from the trip. We bought a CD of rafting photos Saturday, but for some reason there was no photographer on Sunday, so we don’t have any pictures from that adventure, but there are some random canyoning pictures on the CD we have so you can all see that when we get home. Kacey drove us back to train station and we were there in plenty of time.

The rides from Interlaken to Bern and Bern to Geneva were without incident. We spent our 30 free francs at the dining car, so that was a free meal and we were excited about that. We had about an hour and a half layover in Geneva, so we stored our luggage and set out with the camera to do Geneva freestyle – no map, no plan, no problem. Saw some cool things including Cow Parade cows, which I love and Damon photographed me with. Were back on the train in plenty of time, but that is where it got complicated. We have a first class Eurail pass, but when I booked the tickets (by myself for the first time) the lady told me there were no first class seats available and we would have to go second class. It was only one train, and we needed to be on it, so I took it. Well Damon just had a Pourciau fit over this. He had first class tickets and WOULD NOT ride in second class under any circumstances. But, the only first class car was a sleeper car. So Damon found a cabin with no one in it and a “Not Reserved” sign on the outside and we set up shop in there. This was really nice for 15 minutes until the VERY irate French conductor came in and proceeded to scream at us about being in the wrong place, and needing reservations even to get a seat on this train, and that it was not possible for us to sit in first class, regardless of our Eurail pass, and all these cabins were reserved, and we must leave NOW. So that of course really embarrassed me, because it made a huge scene, and it did not phase Damon at all, but we were banished back to second class where our reservations were for and Damon vowed that he will make the reservations next time and it is no more mister nice guy at the reservation counter. I feel sorry for the next person who waits on him there. We made it home fine though, and arrived a little before midnight, were able to catch one of the last buses back to the hot apartment, where at least the elevator was finally fixed, so we did not have to climb 6 flights of stairs to sweat, but could do it gradually after entering our apartment/sauna. Mom and Damon’s family were all on line when we got home so we both got to chat with family. That was a nice way to end the weekend. Sweaty…I mean sweet dreams.

Monday, June 27, 2005
This morning was Damon’s first day of class for the second summer term, so his schedule changed and he had to leave a little earlier and stay gone a little longer. I was so exhausted from the weekend that I did not get up with Damon but slept in. (which I never do) When I finally got up I checked email and celebrity gossip, and went downstairs to ask about moving. Today was supposed to be the day we got moved to an air conditioned apartment. You may remember that we were supposed to be in one from the beginning, and then were promised one after two weeks, and then after two weeks were told it would be today. Today when I went downstairs and inquired, they told me it might not be possible today, and might be tomorrow. I said, “Well, I would just like to warn you that my husband is at school now, but he will be back at 13:30, and if we don’t have air conditioning he will be VERY, VERY UNHAPPY.” They said they would check it out and call me. That must have done the trick, because an hour later they called and said I could come get a key to the apartment across the hall and move. When I picked up the key, our second package from the Pourciau’s had arrived, so it was indeed the best day yet in France. We got air conditioning and American foodstuffs all in one fell swoop, and the two of us could hardly contain our excitement. We are now living in a semi-civilized fashion, (there is still no dishwasher, which we all know is a required item for the truly genteel) and the prospects for the next 5 weeks away from home seem decidedly brighter. Thanks for your prayers and thoughts. More on the journey soon. We are in Germany next weekend!


Grandma Tonie said...

I had totally forgotten the Switzerland story----It was like reading it for the first time.

Unknown said...

Apparently, I should go to Europe to lose weight. :)
And yes, we would love another munchkin for the race. I'll have Mrs. Dixie, Brittany, and Laurie Lopez...are the Pourciaus coming??

sarahsavage253 said...

slacker. let's get to the good know, your child!!