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France & Switzerland Visit August 2005 Evian, Lausanne, Geneva, Montreux, Vivey

If arriving Geneva, don’t exit on the French side looking for a French taxi to save money. Ask your French taxi to meet you on the Swiss side. When you exit on the French side, there is no ATM or taxi stand. Instead, you pick up a courtesy phone and walk to the end of a parking garage and hope for the best. Evian is a 120 Euro ride away and 1:15; there is no public transport there worth speaking of. Had the hotel ordered my taxi from Evian, it would have been 90 Euro. Swiss airlines has cut back; they no longer offer all the frills they use to, such as buffet of snacks on board. Equipment is OK but not flat-bed and entertainment system is not on-demand. No hot breakfast. Lounge at JFK was lovely and great food; lounge at Geneva was pretty awful. Now that the US carriers are upgrading their business class, Swiss may not have that much of an advantage, especially as Lufthansa bean-counters take hold of it. I saw 7 week old baby with parents in business class. Evidently, it can be done and little boo-boo was no trouble at all. Many families in the resorts right now this August and I see quite a few dads on business trips with children in tow. Pretty expensive to feed those tots in Evian at 60 Euro per head per dinner in the coffee shop, but I’m told many are on meal plans. 

Royal Parc Evian has a beautiful hotel overlooking the lake with lovely grounds and good food. Also a state of the art spa. Funicular takes you to town for free; nice little town with a shopping street and casino and promenade along the lake. No big deal and you can see it in an hour. For dinner, the starter and dessert are buffet and the main course you order. Sat in lobby with a electronics chainstore operator in the Middle East and chatted. Next morning awoke to watch BBC from my bed as Gaza settlements were being cleared out for the first time. A bit of a show on the BBC with the reporter going “Look, here’s a scuffle…(then you see 20 cameras aiming at a guy taking on a policeman)…OK, now look here.” The hotel also had Israeli TV (as well as a few Arab stations) on its system and that was also useful. Spent the day with a friend from Saudi Arabia. Breakfast at the hotel was quite good with some of the best orange juice I’ve ever had. Fruits here are really good. In Geneva I had a white peach that was heavenly. We walked around a little town called Thonnon which is worth seeing if you are passing through it. A 35 minute ferry takes you across the lake from Evian to Lausanne, Switzerland, which is good for a few hours of shopping and walking around but no real reason to go there. 

Some discussion points re Saudi Arabia this paragraph: Admits it’s hard to discuss things over the phone or via e-mail from there. Saudis complained of political restrictions getting oil money out of American banks (I checked this out and was told there are none). Getting more payments in Euro; thinks the currency will appreciate. High oil is good for the country but not too high. Admits he can’t figure out Saudi policy viz. terror and America (whether the country says what it means and whether Bush is really in bed with the royal family or rankling them). New king doesn’t have to rule by consensus as much as before and he has real power whereas before he was an undertaker who ruled by consent of the family. Wishes Saddam could have been subdued without using the whole American army to do it. Israel-Palestine is an issue but not that important. I wonder if Saudi with a bomb from Pakistan after a revolution is the next big ultimate threat…no one else seems to agree.

Dinner at L’Emeritage, the hotel’s little sister up the hill a bit. Very pretty setting for dinner with lots of fish dishes. Pianist in lobby was superb; works Badrutt’s Palace in January. Teamed up with a NY cabaret singer and a jazz pianist for a duet and an impromptu trio — this hotel draws all kinds of good people. Nice property; good staff and a real resort with lots of activities.

Geneva — Taxied to Geneva in time for lunch; this is my 3rd visit. Viewed 3 hotels along the same one block area: Beau Rivage, La Richemond and D’Angleterre, and stayed at the latter overnight. Of the 3 properties, Richemond is most anxious for business but they are closing later this year for a renovation. I found its rooms dark and mostly small except for the suites which are not realistic for most of us. D’Angleterre is a nice boutique hotel but, of the 3, I found the rooms at the Beau Rivage to be the most charming and deluxe level rooms on top floors are in certain ways even better than the Prestige rooms on the second floor. They also have a full staff and at certain hours during the day at the D’Angleterre you might not have a concierge around while the Beau Rivage has 2 on call. They are all quite pricey. Strolled the city; Globus is the only real department store and it ain’t much. Hard to find an ATM in this town; all the banks are private and hidden away. Small city center. Dinner at Mortimer, no big deal, despite the guidebooks. Frankly, Geneva is boring and you can do it in all of 3 hours. Lots of Chador-wearing Arabs all over town; I have never seen anything like this outside of an Arab country. It also wasn’t this year a few years ago; people have driven their wives and daughters to bundling up like Darth Vaders.

Dinner with Alex who flew in from Moscow to meet up. Ukraine’s new leader is more corrupt than his predecessor, but somehow got the US seal of approval. New Georgian leader is a disaster and giving too much refuge to Chechens. High oil price preserves Putin who is personally corrupt. Russia is “free” if you pay your taxes and stay on the “right side” of things, although the difference between the right and wrong side of things is slippery at best. Banks here will kiss your ass for money; lots of competition and for all the talk, they don’t care where it comes from. If you contest your fees, they will reduce them. Banks are hiring staff to increase service after recessionary layoffs a few years ago. Late night meeting with Thomas: Israel Channel 2 available here on satellite shows more context. They first sent older officers to talk with settlers. Chirac walks around like nothing is wrong in France. Europe has learned over the past year that terrorism is not an American issue or a matter of pulling out of Iraq; it is a global problem that threatens all. 

From the Geneva hotels, it is a few minutes by taxi to the railroad station. From the railroad station, there is a 6 minute railroad to the airport. Most trains continue to the airport. From Geneva, one hour train ride to Montreux.  (45 minutes will get you to Lausanne.) Sleepy town. Raffles Hotel is a bit cold and boring. Small rooms until you get to the junior suites. Feels a bit English and Asian, which is a bit funny here. Walked along the lakefront; there is some shopping but much more in Lausanne. Old city is not worth walking up the hill. Saw the historical museum there, you can skip it. Chillon Castle is a 10 minute bus ride away (take the #1 bus from the lakefront) and very photogenic. Be prepared to walk up steps while inside the castle. The chocolate train runs once or twice a week during the summer season and is an 8 hour train in a first-class pullman through the surrounding countryside and includes visits to chocolate and cheese factories. French Swiss ain’t the same as the Germans, be it in Geneva or elsewhere. It is more relaxed and not as sophisticated. Lots of people don’t speak English. I waited 20 minutes for a bus that was supposed to come every 10 minutes. Thomas says it’s better this way — in Zurich the police drive you crazy over every little thing; here they let you live a bit and you can get away with small infractions such as not stopping for a pedestrian crossing the street in a pedestrian walkway. Taxis weren’t at the railway station in Montreux for almost a half an hour, so I went to a nearby hotel and had them call me one. La Mirador Hotel is 800 meters up a mountain (2,500 feet) with a grand view over the city of Vevey and the lake. To put this in context, Evian is on one side of the lake; Montreux, Vivey and Lausanne are on the other side in a row facing Evian, and Geneva is at the end of the lake. It’s a bit boring here; Evian’s hotel was better. This one has no grounds; the spa is smaller; food and beverage is not nearly as plentiful and the rooms are OK but not worth the price. They only had one bath towel in the bathroom, for example. Feels chain-run by the Kempinski chain and it’s just plain boring, or did I already say that? They have a bunch of statues here of 2 people together. I guess it just substitutes for the lack of real life around here.

There is a funicular to the city of Vevey below the hotel and then you take a bus to the main area and just walk around. It is a charming little city. Street festival with all kinds of performers and people drinking wine and eating fruit in the main square. Saw the food museum sponsored by Nestle, which has its headquarters in this city. By the lake behind city hall and the food museum is a statue of Charlie Chaplan who used to live here. Now his relatives live in that house and they are turning it into a museum. Dinner at the hotel’s gourmet room could be skipped; lots of money with hardly any food on the plate. The maitre’d brought me a salad to supplement the meager entree. Nothing to do here at night either.

They want 300 francs (about $250) to take a taxi for one hour’s drive to the airport; here there is a train for 30 francs so I will take it and it got me to the airport in 75 minutes. It cost 40 francs to take a taxi to the train station; they told me to allow 25 minutes but the driver did it in 6. Gas here is $6.50 a gallon though which helps explain why, but taxis in Switzerland are just nuts and they’ve always been this way. I remember paying $200 for a taxi transfer to the airport in Geneva with a little excursion along the way back in 1999.

Anyway, a nice little trip but I wouldn’t recommend running to these areas unless you have low expectations for fun. The Royal Parc in Evian is a good hotel but nothing to do in Evian; I went there because I had a friend to meet. I’ve found other places in this region to have better food and more zest such as St. Moritz and Como.

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