Part of the reason France hasn’t been high on my list of places to visit since we moved to Europe two years ago was its reputation for rudeness to foreigners (I admit it — I prejudged…sorry France). We certainly haven’t seen any of that this trip. Sarah explained to me that I was confusing Paris with the rest of the country (we haven’t seen any of Paris this trip, either). Here’s where we’ve been (note that these route depictions are not necessarily the actual routes we took):
Leg 1 – Regensburg, Germany to Evian-les-Bains, France. The navigation system in our rental car misled us a bit, until we figured out that it was trying to save us some tolls by routing us through Stuttgart. We came to the conclusion that navigation systems are great for getting to exact addresses when you’re already pretty close and just want to zero in, but for general city-to-city or inter-regional navigation, you’re probably better off just looking at the map. Driving through Switzerland was really anti-climactic. That just shows how little we know about the country’s geography. We’d expected glorious alpine splendor on the route between Bern and Zürich and found the drive to be pleasant, but not exciting. Not at all like what was in store for us as we approached Geneva. We stayed a delightful place called Hotel Les Cygnes — click that link to see our review of it. Sarah scored a real find here. Charming, elegant, and cheap.
Leg 2 – Evian-les-Bains to Chamonix. Lots of narrow mountain passes and switchbacks galore. Previous experience with the BMW 3-series made us thankful that we never got high enough to encounter any snow (Hi, Mom). But our ears popped more times that we could count, going up, down and around towns like Annemasse and Bonneville. Chamonix turned out to be a cute little ski resort town. According to Frommer’s, it’s not recommended for beginners or timid intermediate skiers, so it may be a while before we return (by contrast, Les Houches right nearby should be great). Still, it was cute. Check out especially the pic with the flowers.
Leg 3 – Chamonix to Avignon. Have you been to the seat of the papacy? We have, sort of. Avignon was the HQ of the Roman Catholic church for about seventy years in the 1300s. After the papacy returned to Rome, the grounds were even used at times as military barracks! The night we arrived, we strolled around the old walled city, thankful to get away from our horrid hotel and happy to stretch our legs a bit. We happened upon a great restaurant and had a fantastic North African meal (spot the trend of Good Eats *á France*?). Note for future reference: trying to park here made us *irrité*. We had a great audio tour of the grounds before heading further south.
Leg 4 – Avignon to Marseilles. You can really tell when you’ve left the French Alps and have entered another region; in this case the Riviera. The greenery changes and the breezes are warmer. We popped down from Avignon to Marseilles just for lunch because we could. It was a nice day, we had a nice car and a tank of gas at our disposal, so we said, “why not?” — and we are sure glad we did. Frommer’s led us to a fabulous restaurant in the *Port Vieux* of Marseilles where Sarah had the best beef ever and we both really enjoyed our *sorbets maison* for dessert.
Leg 5 – Marseilles to Lyon. The next leg took us back up North a ways to France’s second largest city. We stayed in a somewhat fancier hotel one night, found dinner by strolling around and left the next morning. We weren’t quite sure if we were all travelled out, or could stand another night on the road. In the end, we decided to do a drive through the *Schwarzwald* and stayed one night in Villingen.
Leg 6 – Lyon, France to Villingen, Germany. Villingen? Cute town, but with no night life whatsoever we could detect. Seriously, this place was **dead** last Saturday night. We managed to find a couple of open restaurants. At the one we chose, we sat inside a giant beer barrel turned on its side and had a couple of Schnitzels (I had a *Zigeuner*, Sarah went with the traditional). Our hotel was just fine (nice and cheap), but I was annoyed that the WLAN connection advertised on the web wasn’t functional. That was the major reason we decided to go with that place. Still, the room was clean and the price was low, and best of all, the shower was nice and powerful.
Leg 7 – Villingen to Regensburg. Had a pretty nice drive home this morning from Villingen. There were a couple of traffic accidents (caused most likely by Bavarians returning home from a long weekend) which caused some delays, but once we got back into Bavaria, it was smooth sailing.
All in all — great trip. Great planning by Sarah, great luck on the parts we didn’t plan, and great fun being on a road trip again. A parting gem:
You know what the hardest part about working in Germany is? That’s right — the **working.** There was so much stuff that I had to catch up on after our three-week jaunt back to North America last month, that I’m all burnt out, and more importantly, my overtime bank is bursting at the seams. Fortunately, the Bavarian state holiday system (in collaboration with the Catholic church) provides well for our physical and emotional well-being. Thursday of this week is the Feast of the Ascension and you know what that means…bridge day!
Sarah’s mom Susie gave us a set of Frommer’s books for Christmas a while back and we’ve now managed to make very good use of all but
two one of them. So I guess Ireland will have to wait until I need to recover from the work overload resulting from this hopefully relaxing jaunt in a rented car through the Swiss Alps to the wine regions of France.