Weekend en suisse

So, last weekend spent in Switzerland in the company of stellar people from the Archers newsgroup. Fab time had by all: started off in Geneva with a lovely soiree on a balcony on a warm summer’s night. Excellent food, plenty of time for discussion and getting-to-know-you. I think I share elements of the same sense of humour with Gumrat which lead to some hilarity.

BearSaturday we all got in the car and headed right across Switzerland to Basel taking in some sights of lakes and mountains and fountains and so on. We stopped in Bern for lunch (I had authentic roesti, and failed utterly to understand Swiss German being spoken to me, although the waiter seemed to understand me. Also usual problem of knowing enough for a chat, and yet knowing very little about words for food on menus.)

Before leaving Bern we drove around it taking in some sights of old Bern, the Swiss Parliament (outside thereof) and a bear pit. Photos of bears here. Many of them came out like photos you see of abused animals in street stalls, but these bears looked quite happy, if a little hot under all that fur. There was plenty of space in the pit, and vegetation, and water. About four bears in total, I think, three of which just wanted to sleep and a fourth was prepared to play tricks for the people above who were dropping vegetables straight into the hungry bear’s mouth.

On to Basel, where we met up with further umrats including one who lives in Basel, and a group who’d flown in specially. Basel was celebrating something, not quite sure what, but included football team having won something. Small groups of about 30 men in various different mediaeval costumes were marching around with familiar but different tunes on pipes and drums that others identitified as the tunes for Scotland the Brave and British Grenadiers that probably have different words in Swiss German (like the French kids in Reims who seemed to be singing My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean). Some over excited naked drunk men were playing in a fountain and our host felt she vaguely recognised one of them.

At a pre-ordained time, we went to wave banners at a webcam for our newsgroup-reading friends stuck at home: two pics to show what we looked like on the ground and what the webcam saw…

(us in huddle in bottom left hand corner.)

After webcam, home to supper, and a good six hours of drinking, before crashing at a friend of a friend’s lavishly decorated Mackensie-style duplex apartment minutes away from the Rhone (or possibly the Rhine, I get confused). Walking home via this statue of Helvetica waiting for a boat to pic her up for her hols (Note suitcase, and spear and shield relaxed). Apparently, she has rugby socks on in season.

swiss chalet in mountains The following day we headed off en masse to Ballenberg, a museum of rustic Swiss life where they have dismantled houses from old Switzerland and put them in in a large rural park. There were fantastic pics to be had from all over, just Swiss chalets, snow covered alps, livestock with cowbells, a lake with huge leeches in it. A park full of postcard views waiting to be taken. And they also had fire pits and free bits of wood — for a barbecue, all you had to provide the meat and matches.

After the barbecue we wandered around the park a bit taking in the sites, before it was eventually time to go our separate ways, half back to Basel, half back to Geneva.

The following day, I bid fond farewell to my generous hosts, took a tram in to see bits of Geneva (an overcast day, so not great pics) then headed off in the Alps.

We all know what Frogs say

Apparently,

We all know that Frogs go la-di-da-di-dah
We all know that Frogs go la-di-da-di-dah
We all know that Frogs go la-di-da-di-dah
They don’t go glompf glompf glompf.

… which seems slightly counter-intuitive to me.

However, we also know that Frogs say ‘Non’ to the European Constitution, which wasn’t a huge surprise given how many ‘Non’ posters there are all over the place. It was still a pretty close-run thing.

I missed the vote in France, having been having a lovely time in Switzerland instead. In the Canton of Geneva, next weekend they’re having a cantonal referendum to check what the citizens think about Schengen and also a gay marriage bill.

Where I’ve been

So far, Boulogne, Hardelot, le Touquet (Paris-plage) then on to Arras, Cambrai, then down the motorway to Reims (a visit round Taittinger), then Epernay, then Troyes (gorgeous). More on that later, when I’ve uploaded the photos.

I’ve just spent two days at the Camping du Lac at Dijon without actually visiting either the lake or Dijon (I got bogged down in a series of good books and barely left the campsite except occasionally to get utterly, utterly lost in Dijon’s syteme sens-unique. Including spending some time facing in the wrong direction on a one way street being honked at by French drivers waiting patiently for me to sort myself out and get out of their way.)

Now I’m in Switzerland planning to do Alp-y things for the next few days before heading down slowly to the Med. Then I’ll come back up via the Prynees and Brittany before picking P up at Dinard and heading over to Normandy and Paris.

I’m not really talking to many people, spending a lot of time alone in my tent or my car in silence. Which is OK. I’m wondering if it might have been better to do the big trip by rail and hostel rather than tent and car, because that way I’d have met more people to talk to. The campings are mostly full of elderly Germans who show no sign of wanting to talk. I expect if I’d chosen to do that, I’d be moaning about the lack of personal space and being squashed all the time. And this is a road trip after all! (Flickr keyword vadrouille)

Where I've been

So far, Boulogne, Hardelot, le Touquet (Paris-plage) then on to Arras, Cambrai, then down the motorway to Reims (a visit round Taittinger), then Epernay, then Troyes (gorgeous). More on that later, when I’ve uploaded the photos.

I’ve just spent two days at the Camping du Lac at Dijon without actually visiting either the lake or Dijon (I got bogged down in a series of good books and barely left the campsite except occasionally to get utterly, utterly lost in Dijon’s syteme sens-unique. Including spending some time facing in the wrong direction on a one way street being honked at by French drivers waiting patiently for me to sort myself out and get out of their way.)

Now I’m in Switzerland planning to do Alp-y things for the next few days before heading down slowly to the Med. Then I’ll come back up via the Prynees and Brittany before picking P up at Dinard and heading over to Normandy and Paris.

I’m not really talking to many people, spending a lot of time alone in my tent or my car in silence. Which is OK. I’m wondering if it might have been better to do the big trip by rail and hostel rather than tent and car, because that way I’d have met more people to talk to. The campings are mostly full of elderly Germans who show no sign of wanting to talk. I expect if I’d chosen to do that, I’d be moaning about the lack of personal space and being squashed all the time. And this is a road trip after all! (Flickr keyword vadrouille)

Speed limits

Here is my understanding of French speed limits

  • 50 km/h is basic urban speed limit, in force from when you see a town’s nameplate.
  • 30km/h applies in front of schools and in really twisty streets.
  • 70km/h is for country roads, up to 90km/h unless roundabouts, steep bends, etc approach.
  • Dual carriageways get to 110km/h and on the autoroute, if you’re in a car, have been driving more than a year, it’s not raining and you’re not not towing anything, you can get up to 130km/h (about 82mph).

Now, if I’ve got this right, why are the French always overtaking me? Driving aggressively behind me and flashing? I thought I was a bit of a speed demon, but I’m glad to see that obviously I’m not!

Switzerland

Have arrived en Suisse for the UMRA bbq in Switzerland — I’m the guest of Gumrat Anne who is apologetic about slight piles of things in her house. If she only knew what my house looked like…

The road here was amazing — the “White Motorway” that takes you round and over and under the Jura mountains, before it eventually takes you on to Alps, although I’m not sure I’ve actually seen an Alp yet.

Sudden lakes, and huge viaducts are all par for the course, and it’s been tricky concentrating on the road when there’s such amazing scenery around.

Whistlestop tour of Switzerland planned for the weekend, through Geneva, Bern and Basel, and we’re having our barbecue at Ballenberg. At some point, massed ranks of umrats (people who read the Archers newsgroup) will be waving at the Basel webcams.

And I’ll upload new photos soon!

Reims

Reims is very nice. A cracking gothic cathedral, lots of champagne, some beautiful streets and squares and some interesting public art.

I spent a few hours hidden in a cinema watching the latest Star Wars in a gorgeous old building which boasted of a screen of 14m, and must have had a ceiling height of 20m, topped off in an old style wreaths-and-angels type carvings. The huge room had about 20 of us in there for the 17h30 showing, and boy, was the film terrible.

After that, I wandered a bit trying to find the big champagne houses to save myself time in the morning, took a few snaps, and then settled on Les 3 Brasseurs for some dinner. They had a special menu of 2 flammekueches (one savoury and one sweet) and I tried to drink my way through as many of their home brewed beers as possible.

I’d settled on a table just inside the brasserie because it was getting a bit cold to spend the night on the terrace, and I hadn’t been there an hour when the skies opened and it tipped it down. I had a very amusing half an hour watching totally unprepared thin young pretty French people run around and duck for cover, then a bit later watched the staff go outside to recover the wreckage from the tables. It really did rain pretty damn hard: ashtrays were full to brimming and even pint glasses were half full.

Condette / Hardelot

Drive from Nottingham to Dover took just over four hours with only a few wrong turns on the way. Arrive finally at the docks to find an enormous great Czech lorry has rear-ended a tiny little car, and in the process almost totally blocked off vehicular access to the ferry port. I’m still in the first hour of the long possible check-in time, so there’s no problem.

Queueing on the tarmac waiting for the ferry gives me the opportunity to fix my headlights. The ferry itself, SpeedFerries One is tiny. Driving on is a bit of an endeavour: it’s like a multistory carpark only tighter than the Nottingham Arndale! And not only that, but the staff want me to reverse into a spot. Happily, they’re used to helping useless manoeuverers into tight spots and give detailed instructions on how to do. Full lock right, mate, no, not that much full lock. Don’t worry about the noise, it’s just your ariel scraping on the roof.

The crossing is quick and uneventful, and before you know it, you’re disembarked onto the roads of Boulogne. French border police have an office in Dover, so there’s no need to stop again. There’s barely a minute between leaving the ferry and and hitting the centre-ville.

A few fraught minutes later and I’m more or less used to the new rules of the road. Erm, but actually, still haven’t made any plans about where to overnight. So I pull off into the carpark of a supermarket and choose Camping le Chateau d’Hardelot as not being too far away. Whilst I’m at the supermarket, I stock up on provisions: reduced BBQ stuff and a lettuce. There’s a hardware shop next door, Bricomarche, so I go round to try and find some bbq charcoal and a rubber mallet (camping on sand at Shell Island, you can stamp on tent pegs to get them into the ground, but on baked soil strewn with stones, you need a real mallet).

In my mind, I’m trying to sort out a translation of mallet, so that if I have to, I can ask the staff where to find one, and dredging my memory for vocabulary I come up with ‘marteau en cuir’. Happily I found what I was looking for almost immediately, labelled ‘un maillet en caoutchouc pour les piquets de camping.’ It wasn’t til I was leaving the shop that I remembered my initial stab at it made ‘leather hammer’ when I was aiming for ‘rubber hammer’…

Vive la difference

Even cheap French barbecue charcoal tells you what wood it was initially made from (oak, in this case) and the instructions tell you not only how to set it on fire, but include useful tips like “Don’t forget the bay leaf and thyme when grilling fish.’ The picture includes a jolly chap grilling away, and in the background there’s a bikini-clad beauty reclining on a sun-lounger just waiting for her portion of sausage.

After grilling up my turkey kebabs with various different coloured turkey sausage (un pack mini-grill de M. Coq) I went for a wander around Condette. The campsite details included a suggested walk taking in the village high street, the mediaeval castle and the Mirrored Lake. All very pretty. In amongst the suburbs, I was a bit taken aback suddenly to find a cow poking its head out of a grill. And it’s interesting to see that nearly everyone had large stocks of wood around their houses. You can certainly smell the wood burning.

NB, French words etc in posts have to be stripped of accents, because Blogger doesn’t like them.

All set?

Erm, not quite. Various bits of kit are strewn around the dining room floor ready to be loaded into the car first thing tomorrow morning. Then drive to Dover, then get on ferry, then France for next few weeks. Hooray!

Over the weekend, had a trial run camping in Shell Island with the guys from the Out website. Fun was had by all, photos are at www.flickr.com/photos/niles/tags/shellout10

The Death of Wildfire was reported on In Touch on Radio 4 this evening, too.

Goodbye Wildfire

I’ve been using Wildfire as my mobile answering service for the last six years, but I got a letter last week to tell me that the service is being withdrawn very soon. Since I’ll be away when the final switch off happens, I’ve had to change to their standard answerphone sooner, so I’ve uttered the logoff command for the last time.

“Goodbye Wildfire.”

“Thank you. Goodbye.”

This is very sad. The system was clever, intuitive, and it did things that simply aren’t available with any other answerphone. Now, if I’m checking my messages when someone calls, they won’t be put through to me, just asked to leave a message. I can’t use hands-free dialling any more. I can’t demonstrate the silly side of the system by asking her to ‘Do me a favour’.

It’s not the first time that Orange have scrapped a useful system. They used to have a wonderful service where you could forward incoming calls to a real person who would take a message and text it to you. That was scrapped, they told us, because of the cost. Now Wildfire goes the same way. How expensive can it possibly have been to keep one box running?

There are several groups of people on the internet who are not happy, with savewildfire.com and a site concentrating on the impact on people with visual impairment. There’s also a petition, although so far, only a tiny fraction of the 10,000 remaining Wildfire users have signed it.

The sad thing is, Orange are really killing this project. In 2000, they bought the company that made it for €148m. So if Orange aren’t doing anything with it, who will?

This suggests there are some other networks with the system still running, and something I read suggests that Orange in the US is still offering it.