Europe 2016 diary: day 3

Monday, 31 October, 2016. 17:56

We are in our room at the Ibis Hotel in Fribourg, after a drive from Lyon. We’re waiting until about 18:30 before we go out to meet Jason at his place to go out for dinner together.

We got up at a bit past 07:00 this morning, and had a leisurely morning since we didn’t really want to do much other than get breakfast, check out of the hotel, and pick up our hire car at midday. M. wanted to try the Slake Coffee House for breakfast, which opened at 08:00. I did some stretches to ease muscles tired from yesterday’s walking, then got dressed in time for us to head out.

Unfortunately, a handwritten sign on the door of Slake said they weren’t opening until 09:00! Since that was a bit of a wait, we walked the short distance over to Grand Café des Négociants to have the continental breakfast there again. This time it was clearly open, with several people already inside having coffee and croissants and so on. The woman who’d served us yesterday wasn’t there, but the supervisor lady was and recognised us. We ordered the same combinations as yesterday, except M. chose a pain au chocolat instead of a croissant. This time the jams included a peach one, but no raspberry. And the waiter brought two glasses of orange juice before stopping and realising M. had asked for the lemon.

Monkey at Slake
Slake Coffeehouse

After breakfast, we returned to our room briefly to pick up our iPads, and then went over to Slake to get a coffee for M. It was open by the time we got there, with a few people inside. We sat at a table near the front of the cafe, and I wrote some of yesterday’s diary while M. read a book on her iPad. The decorations were a bit funky, with the lampshade above us being a wire cage with perches inside it and fake birds sitting on them. There was also a seat for two people made from an old claw bathtub with one side removed. All the furniture was unique and mismatched.

We stayed about an hour and then went back to pack our bags and check out of the hotel. We decided to walk all the way to Perrache, the main railway station of Lyon, where the hire car pick up was, rather than take the metro the two stops to get there. Dragging our luggage we walked towards Place Bellecour, passing Place Andre Ampère along the way, where I took some photos of the statue of the famous physicist. Crossing Place Bellecour we entered Rue Victor-Hugo, yet another pedestrian mall lined with shops. This took us to a park in front of the Perrache railway station. This contained a large bronze statue of a woman representing the spirit of the French Republic, and an even more impressively large stone statue of a seated woman, whose significance I didn’t catch from a distance.

Place André-Marie Ampère
Place Andre Ampère

The train station was huge, and we walked a fair way to get through it. Stopping at an information desk, the lady there told us the Hertz car hire office was out the southern side of the station and in a park on the left. We saw a Hertz sign on a glass lift building which gave access to some underground area, but the lift and the adjoining stairs were both locked. M. buzzed the intercom at the lift and a woman answered in French. I tried to explain that we were looking for the Hertz car rental office, but the voice said something in French and cut the line. We were looking around hopelessly when another woman approached and tried using a security card to swipe herself in. This failed, and she buzzed the intercom after we explained that we were looking for the Hertz office. She spoke with the voice on the intercom and then told us that the place was locked and would open in ten minutes to let both her and us in.

This was rather odd, but we had nothing else to do so waited with her. After just a couple of minutes the door to the stairs buzzed and she opened it, letting us in with her. We went down a short flight of stairs and the Hertz office was right there, adjacent to an underground car park. A woman there processed our reservation for us, handing us the key to a small diesel car. I asked for directions to get us onto the motorway to Geneva, and she drew a route on a map for us, negotiating the first few city streets until we could get on the main road running north along the bank of the Rhône, which would take us to the motorway.

Lyon to Geneva
Driving through France towards Switzerland

This turned out to be slightly tricky, as that route split a few times, going into underpass tunnels and off-ramps. We accidentally took the first off-ramp, but fortunately we could just cross over the intersecting street and back onto an on-ramp on the other side. The next time we were more careful and managed to take the underpass. The road took us to an exit that did a cloverleaf loop onto the motorway heading east. We passed a toll plaza where we stopped and a machine gave us a ticket after a few seconds when I tried to figure out what to do. It turned out to be an entrance ticket that needed to be put into another toll gate at the exit we took later on, so it could work out how much we needed to pay. That turned out to be €11 when we exited at a small town called Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, just before the Swiss border.

Along the way there, the motorway first passed through fairly flat fields, all veiled with the same overcast sky as in Lyon. But slowly the landscape changed, becoming hilly and then quite rugged, with cliffs of folded stone strata poking through forests of pine trees and deciduous trees, the latter beginning to go golden with the late autumn. We climbed a steep hill for several kilometres, and suddenly the overcast gave way to bright blue sky. Then we descended into a valley and had wonderful scenery and views for a while with steep hills and valleys across our path as we drove along elevated viaducts.

We were approaching Switzerland and knew we needed to get a Swiss motorway vignette sticker for the car, in order to drive legally on the Swiss motorways. It was also getting after 13:00 and we were getting hungry for some lunch. So we took an exit and ended up in the small town of Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Here we found a parking lot next to a big supermarket, and got out to walk down the main street in search of some food. We passed a small patisserie called Le Fournil and poked our noses in to see what they had. There were a selection of quiches plus tarts and pastries. A lady appeared out of the back room just as we were exiting to go looking further afield, and we basically just said goodbye and left, not knowing how to say much of anything else in French.

Ivy and shutters

Walking further down the street showed most of the shops and food places closed, so we walked back to the patisserie, where the same lady saw us return. I asked for a quiche trois fromages for M. and a quiche lorraine for me. She said something in French which I was struggling to understand, but M. realised she was pointing at a microwave oven and correctly deduced that she was asking if we wanted them heated up, so we said, “oui, s’il vous plait.” We also got one of the delicious looking almondine tarts each, a chocolate one. The lady pointed out the special, €5 for a quiche, a tart, and a drink. So we decided to get a bottle of water each as well to take advantage of the deal.

We sat at a small table on the narrow footpath outside to eat. I think that table might have actually been for the neighbouring bar, but since it was closed nobody was there to shoo us away. The quiches were delicious, as were the almond chocolate tarts, which had a pastry shell with a chocolate filing covered with almond paste and flaked almonds. It was a bit chilly sitting there though, as the table was in the shade of the building on the other side of the narrow street.

Returning to the car, we decided to check the supermarket and get a packet of wet wipes for cleaning our hands when necessary, as the one we’d brought had nearly run out. I also looked for a toilet anywhere, but there wasn’t any. A nearby petrol station seemed to be only fully automated pumps with no attendants or buildings whatsoever.

We continued driving, following a sign that said Genève. This led us onto a smaller road which went parallel to the motorway for the 30 or so kilometres to Geneva. This was okay, as we still needed to find a place to buy a vignette before using the Swiss motorways. Soon the sun vanished behind a screen of overcast cloud again. We came across a border crossing, which had a large customs station by the road, but it was closed and completely deserted, so our passports remained uninspected. Nearby was a booth where a bored looking man sat with currency to exchange euros into Swiss francs. I changed 50 euros and asked if he could sell us a vignette. He said no, but if we continued driving there was a petrol station where we could buy one.

A man of his word, we came across the petrol station not 50 metres further down the road (it was hidden from us earlier by a large hedge). We stopped and bought the vignette and also used the toilet at the station. After sticking the vignette to the car windscreen, we continued on, and suddenly there were petrol stations everywhere, at least a dozen of them, lining both sides of the road. It was really quite surreal. Now in Geneva, we found a way onto the motorway to take us in the direction of Lausanne, around the north side of Lake Geneva.

Lake Geneva view
Driving along the shore of Lake Geneva

With M. navigating using the GPS on my iPad, we successfully took the appropriate turn offs to take us in the direction of Fribourg. After leaving the shores of Lake Geneva, the road ran through farmland with lots of cows, and a light fog descended. It made it impossible to see anything to the sides of the road, and only the road extending in front of us provided any features. Visibility along the road was still a couple of hundred metres and the traffic didn’t slow down at all, belting along at 120 to 130 km/hr. The road was engineered very well and in excellent condition, so seemed pretty safe.

Written later

We reached Fribourg around 17:00 and went straight to the Ibis Hotel at the north end of town, where we got a room for the night. The hotel is in an industrial looking area, and right next to a small, old, and very run down looking casino. M. messaged Jason to say we’d arrived and arrange to meet at his place a little earlier than the 19:30 we’d suggested before we left Australia. He agreed to meeting at 18:30, so we freshened up a bit before driving out to pick him up from his student accommodation. It was easy to get to and he showed us around his digs briefly before guiding us on a drive into the centre of town to get dinner.

We parked in a car park close to the university and walked a short way to a place that did good hamburgers called Les Trentenaires. The staff were all dressed up for Halloween and a vampire served us, taking our orders for a cheeseburger each for me and Jason and a veggie burger for M. Jason also recommended a local Fribourg beer called Barbe Blanche, a wheat beer, which I tried. He ordered for us in rapid fire French, obviously having learnt the language quite well in his time here. The burgers were excellent, coming with a small serve of chips and a salad, on a rectangular slab of slate.

Burgers at Les Trentenaires
Burger at Les Trentenaires, Fribourg

M. and Jason said one of the waiters had weird ice blue eyes, which must have been coloured contacts because they looked so weird and unreal, but I didn’t see them. We also saw some other people outside dressed up in costumes, probably headed to a party. Jason said he was thinking of going to a party himself after our dinner. We all chatted a lot over our burgers, catching up on things since we last saw each other several months ago. We were full after the burgers so didn’t think about dessert. We arranged to meet Jason at 10:00 tomorrow morning in front of the cathedral of Fribourg, which was the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of the city.

We drove Jason back to his place and then went back to our hotel. There we showered and wound down a bit before hitting the sack.

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