Leaving Grenoble we wanted to visit the Swiss cities of Geneva and Lausanne both on Lake Geneva. As I mentioned in an earlier post, we ended up camping on the French side of the lake but there was no real border driving between the two countries. The picture here was taken in the middle of the main street in Saint-Gingolph. The border goes right through the centre of the street. Mike and I crossed this border a few times. The first few times no-one was there. The next couple of times we saw agents but we were just waved through. Remember that Switzerland isn’t in the EU although it is part of the single market which allows the Swiss to work in other European countries and European citizens to work in Switzerland.
Locally in France and Switzerland, what we know as Lake Geneva is known as Lac Léman. The Celts called it “Large Water” or “Lem an”, and to this day it is called Lac Léman in French. I really don’t understand why Britain and North America would choose to change the name of a lake when both countries that the lake sits in have one perfectly good name for it. Lake Geneva is 73 km long and about 14 km wide at its widest point.
On our first half day in Switzerland we discovered that yes it is more expensive but it is so much nicer. The people on the street, in the restaurants and even the workers at McDonalds were friendlier, more helpful and smiled more. And the great news, I can switch back from wine to my cappuccinos. I have only had two so far, one in a nice café and one in a McDonald’s and both were considerably better than any I have had in France in months. I will willingly spend the money. More about Switzerland in my next post, back to France for now.
We are camped in the town of Thonon-les-Bains. Some things are lovely, like sitting in a café in France and looking out over Lake Geneva and seeing Switzerland on the other side. Other things are not so great. French drivers exist throughout France which is really too bad. Do you think that this sign taken near Thonon, says that if you stop at a red light you will get hit? Well we were stopped at a red light in Thonon and our car was rammed from behind. It was a guy riding on one of those very fast stand-up electric scooters. He slammed into the back of our car, fell off his scooter, got back up, picked up the scooter and drove away before Mike could even get out of the car. People who watched just shrugged their shoulders, basically saying “what can you do?”. Much of the good work that was just done on our temporary repair was broken. We hear other campers complaining all the time about how the French drive right on their tails. It is a real turn-off. I cannot believe the accidents we have had in France, none when we were even moving!
I couldn’t not include a church. This is just one of a few lovely churches in Thonon. Next to Thonon-les-Bains is Evian-les-Bains and yes you will all recognize the name Evian. This is the headquarters for Evian water. My guess is that the water company named themselves after the town and now the town name is recognized because of the water company. A few years ago the town won the award for the best resort in France. Evian is nice but I wouldn’t have guessed first prize. Evian had one of the petit tourist trains that we took through the old town. It was really nice.
Both Thonon and Evian have funiculars from the waterfront up to the old towns, neither of which we had a chance to use. We really miss our bikes being so close to many different towns on the lake.
One day we again drove up into the mountains but the weather was awful up there and we didn’t take any pictures at all. I had hoped to take the Mont Blanc panoramic cable car tour but it is very expensive ($140 Cdn per person) and the weather has been poor in the mountains every afternoon. It is hard to tell what the weather is like at the various altitudes. There are some “live” web cams and when I looked at them on the internet I saw pictures from 5 hours ago which didn’t really tell me much. Instead of going to Mont Blanc we visited a couple of alpine villages. Since the summer tourist season hasn’t officially started yet and the winter skiing season is over most of the restaurants were closed. It poured rain while we were driving in the mountains and through the villages. When we got back to our campground we found out that they had heard a little thunder but never saw any rain at all.
On Friday, our second last day in France, we went to visit the “Eagles of Lake Geneva” the largest aviary of birds of prey in the world. The ticket seller didn’t speak much English but he did manage to sell us our tickets and show us on the map where the educational show, due to start in a few minutes and the main spectacle, were located. Luckily a fully bilingual woman from the back office overheard us and came out to tell us that the shows that were posted on the internet and in front of the ticket booth weren’t really running that day. They were only on 3 days a week and Friday wasn’t one of those days. She did give us our money back and told us to come back on Saturday for the main show which we did. As you enter there are signs in French and English trying to sell you optional tours once you are in the park. Now remember that this is a major tourist attraction with a lovely English website, English advertising signs and an employee who told us in English about the show on Saturday. She knew that we didn’t speak French. We sat down for the 40 minute show and not a word of English was spoken. Now I am not someone who expects people in foreign countries to speak English. After all, I don’t speak their language and I am the visitor. I do expect to be told that there is no English when the person selling me the ticket knows that I don’t speak French and where the advertising signs are all bilingual. Even all the education and informational signs about the birds throughout the park were just in French. We had no idea what birds we were looking at. The Eagles of Lake Geneva is a major tourist attraction. I was very disappointed. I will admit that I am also not keen on cages for large birds of prey. They need room for their huge wing spans and the capability to fly distances much larger than where they were kept.
As some of you know we have been visiting a lot of villages with the Beaux Village designation while we have been in France. There was one Beaux Village near us on Lake Geneva called Yvoire so of course we had to go and see it. It a really lovely medieval village with lots of flowers. Mike walked out onto a dock and took the picture at the very top of this post. I am actually a speck sitting on a bench in the picture. After walking through the town, I sat on a bench overlooking the water while Mike continued his walking.
We plan on visiting some towns near the French – German border in a few weeks. We may end up camping again in France this trip or we may not. Our plans have changed three times in this last week so obviously nothing is cast in stone. We do know for sure that when we leave France we will be staying in Switzerland about half an hour from Zurich.