Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Eric's Uninformed Travel Tips: Switzerland (and France) Edition

No excuses this time, I haven't blogged in 6+ months...I'm lazy, non-committal, and scatterbrained...I'm trying to look for a "but" in this statement...I'm...funny (see desperate attempt at humor below)...I hope...
There's your Butt...
Locations visited in July, 2012: Geneva and Zermatt, Switzerland and Chamonix, France

Dates of trip: August, 23rd-26th, 2012
How did we get there: Train, about 2.5 hrs from Paris to Geneva on TGV, as always, European train travel never fails to amaze me...  Got the tickets on rediculous sale prices for about 45 Euros return per person!  We also took a train to Zermatt as its the only way to get there (more on that later), and rented a car in Geneva for the rest of our travels.
Where did we stay: 
In Geneva:  Here we went simple and stayed at the Best Western Hotel Strasbourg in Geneva...I know the name makes no sense but work with me ok...What can I say?  It was a Best Western...it was ok, and it was cheap(ish).
In Chamonix: In this lovely little mountain village we stayed at a Logis called the Hotel Aiguille du Midi.  If you are not aware of Logis and are planning to do any amount of travelling in the French countryside you need to do yourself a favour and look them up (www.logishotels.com).  They are a French chain known for great food in interesting locations and they seriously live up to the statement.  We have stayed several and they were all excellent. As with all Logis it was cheap for the level of service and accommodation, but it was still a mid level price.
In Zermatt:  We stayed at the Hotel Continental in this expensive tourist town...needless to say I was a bit dissapointed that "The Continental" wasn't staying at the Hotel Continental...Ah well they did have Cham-pag-na.  This area was very tourist-y think the Banff of Europe, and so the prices reflected that...not cheap.
 
So how did we spend our time you ask...? Yodelling in the Alps...?  Read on I say...!
We arrived in Geneva early'ish and so had some time to spend exploring the city which was great...For those of you who have been loyally reading my blog since it's inception, you should already know that this is was actually my second time in Geneva...My first being the day I started my European adventures as it is where I signed for my VISA.  Also, if you have really been reading my blog since the beginning...I am sorry...something horrible must have happened in your life and for that I am really, truly, very, sorry...Anyway...back to Geneva.
It was actually good that we came back because I can honestly say that the culture shock in my first trip was too much for me and I really hadn't explored the city at all.  En gros, as the French would say, the city has some beautiful skylines, but the only real reason I could recommend it would be to get out on the lake, it really is magnificent!  You can actually rent "speedboats" by the hour (about 40 Euros) and take them out on the lake, which we did, and we even went swimming...or at least one of us did.  BTW, "speedboats" is in quotes because depending on your definition of speed you may have a different name for them...AKA, they're not fast...

Cruisin'...at about 5km/hr
 After the first day and the morning of the second we were all boated and Geneva'd out, so we picked up our rental car and headed to our next location, which was actually back in France.  We set off for Chamonix, France, which is actually only about 45 minutes from Geneva.  If you are like me, you will have never heard of this place before, but you have likely heard of the famous mountain that it is known for...Mont Blanc.  As the closest village to the tallest mountain in the Alps, Chamonix is a bit of a tourist trap in the same way Banff is in Canada, but also in the same way as Banff, Chamonix oozes charm and is an outdoorsmans dream!  If you are at all interested in hiking, skiing, paragliding, mountain biking, rock climbing, rafting etc. make this place a part of your plans.  Unfortunately, I should inject that because we were literally there for about a 18 hour span, and during that span Julia got quite sick and had to go to the hospital (just outpatients, no worries), we got to do none of these things...I do however know they are there and recommend them, just book more time than we did.
Finally, on our third day we set off from Chamonix in France for Zermatt in Switzerland...I must admit it was kind of cool to be going from one of the worlds most famous mountains, to another, in the same day, by car...Who'da thunk you can drive from Mont Blanc to The Matterhorn in a few hours...That shit cray!  Also, the roads through the Alps (especially on the Swiss side) are absolutely spectacular!  If you are a driver, and like road trips, these roads should be must-drive's for you.  Where the roads on the French side cut through valleys and tend to stay on the bottom, the roads on the swiss side are much less efficient and more beautiful...For anyone who has done it, I would compare it to the difference between driving the TransCanada in AB versus BC...except inject a couple gallons of old world charm.
It took us a few well spent hours to reach our destination...which was actually not Zermatt, but a town called Visp, which is where you need to park your car and take the train to Zermatt...Oh, did I not mention?  There are no cars (with the exception of service vehicles) in Zermatt...to get there, you have the train, or an 8 hour hike up a mountain! I have been to many a mountain town having lived in AB for 5 years, but I must admit that for me, Zermatt is the pinnicle of these tiny mountainside villages...I could go on about this place for hours, but instead I will list what I thought separated it from other mountain towns I have been to:
1.  You can actually go inside a glacier on top of one of the mountains...it was literally and figuratively cold at the same time...encroyable!.
2.  You can take a gondola to 5,000 meters up...they sold oxygen cannisters at the souvenir shop!
3.  Summer skiing...at 5,000 meters up, snow don't melt.
4.  Running down the Matterhorn, apparently this is what they do, they literally run down the mountains...Crazy Swiss...
5.  Seeing one of the most perfect mountain peaks closeup.

Breathtaking...
When we had finally finished our Fondu-ing and running around on mountains, we hopped on the train, then in our car, then on another train...and headed back to Paris...Swiss family Atkinson, out!
 So what were my top 5:
1.  Renting a boat and going for a cruise on Lake Geneva...awesome!  Wish I had brought my trunks.
2.  Driving the Swiss Alps, intense!  They know how to make an entertaining drive.
3.  Going inside an actual glacier...such a crazy experience.
4.  Hiking DOWN the Matterhorn...emphasis on down...
5.  Gondola to the top of a mountain (the mountain next to the Matterhorn to be more exact).  lets just say it beat the hell out of Sunshine in Banff...And yes I did buy an oxygen canister...and no I didn't need it...but you never know...

The hills are alive...and really high...
Geneva:

Affordability: 7/10 If you want to shop you can spend some serious dough, but hotels and entertainment were reasonable.Entertainment: 7/10, the lake is magnificent, but in all I would say you are best to give this city 2 days max.
Ease of Travel:  10/10, Direct, short and cheap train from Paris...my favorite kind!
Overall:  6/10 It is a good doorway into the Swiss Alps, and for that I rate it 7 but really, judged on its own, its a pretty forgettable city by European standards.

Chamonix:

Affordability: 7/10 in summer, 4/10 in winter, seriously I have heard it is insane in winter. Entertainment: 9/10 if you like outdoor activities in winter and/or summer. 
Ease of Travel:  6/10, you can get there by train though it takes several connections, otherwise its car or bust.
Overall:  8/10 I love me some mountain towns so I have to rate it reletively high.

Zermatt:

Affordability: 6/10 in summer, 3/10 in winter, they know what they've got here and they make you pay for it. 

Entertainment: 10/10, See my notes for Chamonix and then take them up a notch.
Ease of Travel:  4/10, you can't just show up to this one...you will at the very least have to take 2 trains or a train and a car.
Overall:  10/10 if you can afford it, 8/10 if you are pinching pennies. (in that case I recommend staying in Chamonix).

Hello from inside a glacier!
 Wow!  I am almost as surprised I finished a post as you surely are...let's keep this rolling...Nah, I probably wont...But if I do, it will be the All things London post!

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It would probably be important to mention that the Gondola in Zermatt does not run 24/7 and that one should check into the closing time before "running" down the mountain, otherwise one could be in for a 13km hike back down to Zermatt.....just saying:)

ericinparis said...

You enjoyed it and you know it...

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