Saturday, September 18, 2004

Hippos and the Danish Queen

The most exciting news today is that my boss is currently in Copenhagen and has seen the first ten pieces of the hippo porcelain service that have already been produced. He is attending a ceremony at the opening of the new Royal Copenhagen Factory and will be
meeting with the Danish Queen
who has taken a personal interest in the hippos!! The Queen!

Olten, Switzerland—Karlsruhe, Germany—Stuttgart, Germany—Day 231

Today I took the train up from Olten to Karlruhe, where I stopped to go to the zoo before heading to Stuttgart for the night. I checked out of the hotel, walked to the train station and took just any train to Basel, knowing that something would connect out of there to where I needed to go. I got off in Basel, looked around and saw a train going to Frankfurt. Knowing that this was probably m train, but not quite really knowing, I went in search of an information desk and when I found out that it was my train, I had just missed.

An hour later I was on the same train heading to Karlsruhe. It was a really nice train—super fast and huge, with its own restaurant and information booth in it! I was impressed. I had a bizarre encounter with a man who asked me (of course in German) to save him a seat near me—he kept wanting to take my jacket away from me and I was so confused. I kept sort of looking at him like he was nuts, then going back to reading my new book. When this didn’t work, I finally realized that he wanted me to drape my jacket on the seats to save them for him.

Ohhh, ok. So I did and he was happy. Came back a few minutes later, sat down and then was asked to move by the train conductor who told him that it was for people with disabilities only.

My stop finally came and I got off, found a storage locker and set off for the zoo. I went to the information desk for the trams and asked for the zoo and she pointed across the street. Why, there is was! Right across the street! Perfect!

I walked up and sure enough, there was the zoo. They even had a hippo feeding time scheduled for 4:30pm. I was set. I got a leisurely lunch at the restaurant just outside the zoo, paid my bill and went in. I found the hippos after a big of a confusion reading the map and had to push my way through people just to get a view. I made my initial assessment (number of hippos, where the good viewing areas are, etc.) and then went to the inside hippo enclosure to take pictures of it while I waited. I then got a crepe and read my book until about 4:15. I got up, got my camera together and went over to the hippos.

I noticed at this point that there weren’t any people around the hippo enclosure like before so I thought it must have just been a slow time, but then I approached, watched for a bit and realized that the hippos weren’t even in there! Did they go inside? How did I miss this?

Sure enough, they did. How I missed this I don’t know—considering I was RIGHT there the entire time. I guess stopping for a crepe was my downfall. Anyways, I took pictures while the hippos munched on their hay and was happy that the elephants were also indoors in the same enclosure. People were more interested in watching the elephants than the hippos which meant that I didn’t have to block too many people’s view.

Their indoor enclosure as small, but both had a pool each. They were separated and one hippo had two bit bottom teeth sticking out. I watched them both until the very last second—until the first hippo fell asleep on the ground behind a pole (not good for me!) and the other one casually made it into the water, disappearing from sight. I guess the “hippo feeding time” really was just that they brought them in and fed them hay.

It was going on 5:30 by this time and the zoo was soon going to close. I walked back out of the zoo and to the front entrance where I inquired about the hippos names. The woman working thought I was totally ridiculous but finally scribbled down some names and thrust my paper back at me. I could make out one name “Nema” but the other…it remains a mystery and even as I tried to clarify with her, I still was confused. I will just have to go back in the next few days and ask someone else to help me.

I went back into the train station, got my things (and had a random man tell me “Thank you come again” in English when I got my things out—very strange) and got on a train to Stuttgart, where my hotel is. The train is an express service so I read my book without having to transfer trains, sitting next to an older man who literally chugged a small bottle of wine in about two minutes and proceeded to fall asleep. He then woke up and realized I spoke English and when his stop arrived he told me “Thank you and goodnight.”

I got to Stuttgart and got a taxi to my hotel—another hotel that was deceivingly close to the train station however I couldn’t have walked this time around, and dropped off my stuff. I then walked around the area that my hotel is in and found a kebab shop for dinner, then walked down and watched the most acrobatic family do some street performing that was quite impressive—I don’t’ know if I was more impressed by their gymnastics or by their sparkly matching spandex costumes.

I then walked back to the hotel and called it a night.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Photo--That's me and the Matterhorn!!

Olten, Switzerland—Zermatt, Switzerland—Olten, Switzerland—Day 230

I woke up early and was on a train by 7:30am. If it took me all day, I was going to go to the Matterhorn. I was determined. I set off for a two and a half hour train ride to Brig, where I then transferred to an hour long ride from Brig to Zermatt.

The first train ride was fine—I was too distracted by things to finish my book and listened to music instead. I seemed to be the only person on the train who wasn’t carrying walking sticks or wearing big boots for hiking.

The scenery is absolutely phenomenal. I spent most of the trip just looking out of the window at the gorgeous blue sky, huge mountains and delightful little villages that lay in them. All of my friends know that I am New Zealand obsessed (I spent several months living and studying there) and I have to say that Switzerland ranks up there.

I transferred trains in Brig—which meant walking the “seven minutes” to the other platform (which really took only a few) and hopped on a slower train to Zermatt. The view kept coming but unfortunately my seat on the train wasn’t that great. I had to strain around to see the passing landscapes, but I didn’t really mind.

We pulled into Zermatt which turns out to be a much larger town than I thought—but what was I thinking? Its at the Matterhorn, of course it would be touristy. Trains are banned in Zermatt (to “preserve the Alpine air”) and the whole town was just cute. Little electric carts passed off as taxis and there were loads of people there. I walked around for a bit looking at little shops (albeit tourist shops) before finding the Gornergrat train, which is a separate smaller train that takes you up the mountains—not up the Matterhorn, but up passed the tree lines to several great hikes and viewing points.

The train ascended the mountains and cheesy commentary piped through the loudspeakers but the view was stunning. The day was absolutely gorgeous—and was turning out to get better and better. I got off at the top stop where there is the highest hotel in Europe (highest in altitude and I am sure high in price!) and I stopped to take photos. It was hard to believe that so much snow accumulates here in the winter (since everywhere around me was dirt) but then easy when you looked at the year-round snow capped peaks.

Five hours after I started off this morning, I was sitting on a rock looking down into the great valley that lead to the Matterhorn. I was happy.

After taking photos, buying postcards and getting something to drink, I started walking down the mountain, along with several other people. I didn’t really have any hiking stuff with me but walking down was fine. I passed several people walking up the mountain who looked a little exhausted. I made it down to the sort of mid way point down the mountain before stopping to catch the train the rest of the way down, since time was running tight and I had to get back to Olten as some point that evening!

At the mid-way point there is this small church which is quite remarkable. I boarded the train down and we made it back to the bottom. I walked around a bit more in Zermatt—finding the local cemetery with several extraordinary graves of people from all over the world who have died on the Matterhorn. It was quite something to see. I then got on a train back to Brig and was accosted by the train conductor about my Eurorail pass—he claimed it wasn’t valid despite the fact that I had gotten to the Matterhorn on it. He told me that the Zermatt company was a private company and that I would have to pay.

I couldn’t argue with him of course so I got out my wallet, only to find that I had about 20 Swiss francs and 10 Euros. He was demanding 30 francs. So he took my Euros and my Swiss Francs, did some calculations and gave me back 50 cents in change, feeling most please with himself.

I just shook my head, got my new ticket and sat back for the rest of the ride out of the valley. In Brig I transferred to the train to Olten and finished my book on the way back—still annoyed with it at the end as I was throughout. I made it back to Olten, walked back to my hotel and called it a night.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Photo--Basel, Switzerland

Geneva, Switzerland—Basel, Switzerland—Olten, Switzerland—Day 229

I woke up this morning with the Matterhorn in mind. I packed up my bags and checked out of the hotel, got a taxi to the train station (at the taxi stand where they were supposed to be the other day) and was soon on a train to Lausanne, where I was to connect to Zermatt (where the Matterhorn is!).

Well, I thought it would be that easy. I got to Lausanne and discovered that trains connect in Brig, not Lausanne, so I would have to get a train to Brig and then on to Zermatt. On top of this, the train that I needed left like 10 minutes before I showed up. The next one wasn’t for two more hours. My timing has not been good these past few days.

So cutting my losses, I decided that I would make it up to Basel where there is a zoo that I am going to. I found a train going to Olten (where I am staying—about 20 minutes south on the train from Basel) and headed towards Olten.

We arrived about an hour later in some place (I can’t remember now for the life of me) where this very smart train that I was on (one of these trains that talks to you at each stop in several different languages) told me that in order to connect to Basel, I should get off and get on the adjacent train.

I pondered this idea for a bit and decided it was a good idea. I would store my things in a luggage compartment in Basel at the train station, go to the zoo, come back, get my stuff and then go to Olten.

This plan worked—I found the luggage storage compartments, watched a man store his luggage and then followed his lead about paying and shutting the door, and was soon off to the zoo. After going outside and trying to make sense of the complex tram system Basel has, I decided to seek help. I went in and found the information desk and tourist office. The woman working there told me that I could find the Basel zoo if I just started walking out to the left for nine minutes.

Nine minutes! Ok! Thinking this time frame was funny, I set my stop watch and started walking to the left. At one point during these nine minutes the road veered to the left of the left, but I kept going on the main left street instead of veering. I soon saw signs for the zoo, headed down the stairs, passed a power plant, and was at the zoo.

I made it in under nine minutes. I wonder if I should have told the woman that it didn’t take me that long.

I bought my ticket and headed into the zoo, finding the hippos with no problem. There were three of them—again, the goldilocks combination of big, medium and small. The small hippo was lying on the beach area of their enclosure trying to sleep while the other two spent a good deal of time grunting and moving about their enclosure. I took pictures but it was so hard to see them through the tall grasses that hadn’t been cut in a while (or that were there for effect) and so there were just a few spots that I could stand in to get a good picture. And with the hippos moving in every direction, I had to keep following them.

After a while, I decided to find out their names and wandered into the hippo’s indoor enclosure where not only did I find a keeper who I asked, but found their names posted on the wall, along with the zebra’s names. What luck! I jotted them down and went out to find Asita (the baby), Helvetia (the middle one) and Wilhelm der Grosse (the big one). What a proud name to have! WILHELM DER GROSSE! I have no idea what it means (William something I am sure) but I thought now THAT is a name for a hippo.

Eventually the hippos moved in my favor and I was able to get some great pictures of them—that is while I pushed through the crowds as well as another eager photographer who had firmly planted himself in MY spot. I couldn’t believe it—he stood there almost as long as I did, stealing some of the good moments I didn’t despair, and just when he got impatient waiting, I took over and lo and behold, got some great shots of them.

I went in search of an ice cream throughout this (a critical necessity really) and found the gift shop after I was through taking pictures—and before the zoo closed! I walked out of the zoo, back up over the pedestrian crossing, past the power plant and back to the train station (I didn’t time myself this time). I then decided that I would see where the central part of Basel was so I bought a ticket for the “Marktplatz” and hopped on a tram. It dropped me off down in the “Marktplatz” and I walked around a bit, then walked up back towards the train station. After I had enough, I got back on a tram back to the train station, collected my things from the locker and got on the next train to Olten.

The train conductor came by to check my tickets (I have a Eurorail pass which has been quite handy since I am on a train everyday and thus don’t have to buy point-to-point tickets) and he was wondering where I was going. I told him Olten and when we finally approached he came through the car shouting “Next stop, Olten!” as if I didn’t know. I got the point, and got off.

I got a taxi to the hotel—big mistake, my hotel was like just up the road. Ten Euros later—and like 100 feet—I was at the hotel. I checked in, unloaded my bags and went in search of something to eat. I was surprised at the number of food options in Olten—mostly Chinese and Italian where I was walking, but nonetheless there were a few places open. I chose an Italian restaurant and walked in, obviously the only person that wasn’t a regular.

I sat down, ordered my food in German (well, ok, it WAS Italian food—but I understood what she was saying to me in German!) and read my book (the one that I am still annoyed with) while I waited for my food. The food was good and I was soon full and on my way back to the hotel, which I found with no problem in the dark, although I was a little nervous walking around trying not to get lost.

Tomorrow its off to the Matterhorn. Once and for all.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Photo--Versailles, France

Photo--Versailles, France

Thoiry France—Geneva, Switzerland—Day 228

I woke up this morning pretty late—catching up on some sleep that I didn’t know I had missed. I went to be at like 9:30 or something (out of lacking other things to do) and woke up around 8:45 since the zoo didn’t’ even open until 10am and I had nothing to do before that. And driving around didn’t really make sense since I was so close to topping my 100 kilometer mark and ever kilometer over adds up in fees.

So I got up, put on my same clothes from yesterday (I obviously hadn’t brought anything with me) and made myself look as best I could considering. I locked up the room, went downstairs and paid my bill. This time there were several people in the restaurant area of the hotel—all smoking and drinking coffee and looking like they’ve done this every day for the past 15 years.

A woman helped me this time and I paid for my room and left. I backed up car out of the parking lot amidst several young teenagers obviously waiting for their school bus and obviously wondering who the heck I was.

I went back into Thoiry and got two croissants and the local bread shop, drove over to the Thoiry zoo parking lot and sat there, waiting for time to pass, listening to different Euro-pop stations on the car radio. At one point I thought I had run the battery out of the car since all of a sudden the music went off, but then I realized it was my car going into “saver” mode or something which is does when its been left for too long.

I waited and waited and ate my croissants, taking a picture of my small car in the huge parking lot, alone. I watched employees arrive until it was finally time for the zoo to almost open. I pulled my car up to the entrance of the animal reserve area (where the hippos are), waited while the gates were opened, and then waited a bit for the employee to get back to the ticket booth before I pulled up, first in line.

I bought my ticket and couldn’t remember if it was the same guy from last night. Deciding that it wasn’t, I thanked him and drove off to the hippos. The hippos are on the sort of end bit of the driving path so I had to cautiously speed past all of the other animals. This takes some skill because you have to look as if you are interested in the other animals and drive fast but not too fast to scare them, or to get booted from the zoo. I had to do this because there was an official zoo car driving in front of me (going somewhat fast) and so I eventually overtook this car and drove past trying not to make it look like I was a madwoman.

But I guess in a sense, I was. I was just anxious about getting to the hippos.

I finally pulled up to them and to my complete and utter joy they were all out of the water, feeding on some hay right near the road. Thank god. I counted five hippos, as I had thought before which meant that I was missing one hippos’ name. I would worry about that later.

For the next two or so hours I spent getting pictures of the five hippos, which is difficult when its raining and when they are all chewing at different speeds. This may sound silly, but its actually hard to get a good picture “mid-chew,” especially with five of them. Plus the rain was coming and going and cars kept driving up behind me and inching up closer and closer, I guess testing to see if I was really going to move. When they realized I wasn’t, they would then back up and swerve around me, the parents shooting me dirty looks for taking up the best view and their children in the back looking at me with big eager eyes.

Oh the guilt! I could take it though. I just kept my place and watched as the hippos finished their infinite mound of hay and eventually made their way back into the water. Luckily no keepers came by to make me move (you’re really not supposed to stop) but unfortunately no one came by for me to ask about the fifth hippos’ name.

I watched until the last moment—until the last hippo gave up eating and waddled into the water. He was obviously the male hippo since he took a great amount of time getting in and then spreading his scent. Satisfied, I rolled up my window, climbed back into the driver’s side and headed to find someone to help me.

I pulled back up to the ticket counter and the guy seemed surprised to see me again. I handed over my notebook with the hippos names and tried to explain to him what I wanted. I was certain that the baby hippos’ name was missing from my list—or that the baby didn’t have a name. He thought I was nuts. Absolutely and completely nuts. He said, “what are these? What do I do with this? Who is Paulo? I do not know” and I was tried to explain to him that I had gotten the names from someone else. He just looked at me.

Finally I pulled out my translation (the “I love hippos” schpeel) and he read it out loud (almost as if to mock me in a good natured way) and then got on his walkie talking. He then told me that the baby hippos’ name was Dominique, the father Paulo and the mother Martine. I thanked him, pulled a U-turn again and headed out of the zoo, feeling that embarrassed yet completely satisfied feeling I always get.

I drove back to Versailles and pulled up to the car rental agency to bring back my car but hadn’t filled it up with gas since I wanted to show them that I hadn’t used up all of the gas. Based on my mileage and the gas reading, you could easily see that my 100 or so kilometers had not used up over half of the gas tank. It mathematically wasn’t possible. I pulled in and found the agency to be closed from 12-2:00 for lunch. Who takes a two hour lunch break? The girl who I rented the car from was inside, she came out and in her very broken English said that I could return the car even though it was past 12:00 and so I tried to point out to her the gas thing.

It was no use, she just looked at me like I was nuts so I decided what the heck, I’ll come back at 2:00.

So I spent the time walking around finding some lunch and then biting my time sitting down near the Chateau of Versailles, which ended up being a big waste of time. Not the castle, but the sitting. I realized later that I should have visited the gardens of Versailles while I waited, then the rooms later. Let me back up, I had decided that I would visit Versailles while I was, well, in Versailles (it’s the old royal palace) because at the rate I was going I might as well get back to Geneva late since everything would be closed by the time I would get there. So I wasted two hours waiting for the rental agency to open when I could have been wandering around the grounds, but I had thought to myself, there is no point starting the tour without having to do all of it.

Oh well—these past two days have seemed like a lot of wasted time. At two o’clock I went back to the rental agency, got the woman who spoke more English, tried to explain my problem, and she just looked at me. So fill it up, she says. But no, I didn’t use this gas...I try to explain, even draw pictures and point to the gas. She doesn’t get it.

Frustrated, I take the car and find a gas station and fill it up to the top. It only turned out to be like 20 Euros which in hindsight seemed worth it to just pay instead of wait and deal with the Hertz people. But out of principle, I didn’t want to pay it. In the end, I just gave up.

I returned the car back to Hertz, walked over to the Chateau of Versailles and spent a few hours on the grounds—seeing the hall of mirrors (which is undergoing renovations, by the way, which won’t be done until 2007 if you are planning on going), seeing the gardens and the state rooms. I then got a train back to Paris, a subway back to the Gare de Lyon, and just about rain to catch the train to Geneva.

I got on, found a seat in the no-smoking area and found just two. I sat down and felt relieved that I had made it on time (on an earlier train than I had planned) and a guy came and sort of awkwardly sat down next to me. I then realized crap, I didn’t get a reservation. The reason the train was so full was because all of these people had reservations—I was probably sitting in this guys seat! That is why he looked at me like I was weird. I then excused myself to get off and literally as I got off the doors closed and it left.

So much for getting back to Geneva early!

I then went and stood in line for a reservation, which took a long time but I eventually got it, all for 3 Euros. I had a brief lapse in line where I thought I saw someone I knew from Macalester (and literally bolted out of line to chase him down only to find that it wasn’t him but completely taken aback at the similarity) and then had about an hour and a half to wait for my train. I bought a book at the English bookstore in the train station and bided my time people watching.
Finally, finally I was on the train and on my way to Geneva. The train ride back was slow because my new book is much more boring than what I just finished. I was getting impatient with the characters and couldn’t get into it. We made it back to Geneva just before 11 o’clock at night—I was tired and ready for bed. I got a taxi and after being ridiculously overcharged, I was dropped off at my hotel. I climbed into bed—tired but in the end glad that I had gone back to Thoiry.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Geneva, Switzerland—Paris, France—Thoiry, France—Day 227

Rolling over this morning at 5:45am to check my watch, I was sure it wasn’t time to get up. And it wasn’t but I had been awakened by furious thundering and flashes of lightning coming from outside. There seemed to be a huge storm going on but my semi-conscious state just checked my watch, noticed the storm, and fell back asleep.

I woke up again around 7:00 this time ready to get up. I got ready and decided that today I would either go to the Matterhorn (which is in Zermatt which meant taking a train to Lausanne and then to down to Zermatt—according to my guidebook) or try and go back to the zoo in Thoiry.

Now if you remember, my trip to the Thoiry zoo was unsuccessful. The hippos were a fair distance away and I couldn’t find anyone to help me. I decided that it was critical for me to make the effort to go back to the zoo and I would get the pictures there. Damn it.

Because of the thunderstorm this morning, I decided in my subconscious sleep that I would go to Thoiry today since there was no sense in seeing the Matterhorn on a cloudy and rainy day (even though the Matterhorn is a far distance from Geneva—who knew if it was raining there?). So I headed out of the hotel and tried to find a taxi.

I couldn’t find one at the taxi stand that I had seen earlier near my hotel so I started to walk in the general direction of the train station, which wasn’t far but a good distance across the lake from my hotel. I kept walking and walking and couldn’t’ find a tax stand anywhere. OF course there would be the odd taxi zooming by me, but they all seemed to be taken or on the other side of the road which was difficult to cross due to fencing and trams and such.

So just kept walking and walking and made it to the train station with just barely any time to spare to get the three hour train back to Paris. At this point I started to run and went up the steps and down the passage to the international trains to France. I ran up to the entrance to the platforms and found them closed. Because you have to go through customs to go into France you cannot just simply hop on the train with minutes to spare.

I had missed it. And the next train was not until 10am. So, exhausted and overheated, I sat down in a smoky café, got some breakfast and started reading my book to kill two hours.

Looking back on this, I guess I really should have scrapped my plans for France and headed to the Matterhorn anyways since I wasn’t’ going to get into Paris until 1:30 at this rate, let alone into Versailles where I needed to rent a car, let alone the zoo in Thoiry which is a good drive from Versailles. But I was stubborn and had set my mind to it.

I will get those pictures.

So I read my book and when the smoke got too much in the café I wandered and found an internet café in the train station. I had gotten a reservation for this 10 o’clock train to Paris so I wasn’t worried about missing it. When it was time, I headed to customs, was checked through (I don’t think they even looked at my passport) and soon I was sitting on the train heading to Paris.

I was absorbed in my book “Fast Food Nation” and sped through a good chunk of it before reaching Paris around 1:30—and any one who has ever read it will know, in three hours I was put off of meat—for good? Who knows. For now at least.

We pulled into the Gare de Lyon train station and I set about finding the subway station and getting the subway to the Invalides station, where I would then get the commuter train to Versailles. I felt like an old pro and walked with confidence to where I needed to go, getting on the subway and train like a real Parisian—reading my book the whole way.

I couldn’t believe that I was back in Paris—it almost felt like a time warp or something, even though I had just been here just a few days ago. I got off at Invalides and bought my ticket to Versailles and hopped on the next train.

Twenty-odd minutes later, I was in Versailles. Phew! I had made it this far. By this time however, it was going on 3 o’clock—due to all of the walking, switching trains, commuting on the subway, waiting in line, buying tickets, etc. etc. I just had a few hours before the zoo would even close, so I had to get my car and get on my way.

So I walked up to the trusty Avis counter where I had rented the car before but there was a couple ahead of me in line. They seemed to be renting a car (I know this sounds obvious but they could have been returning it) but I couldn’t really tell because the office was so small that I had to wait outside of it since the two of them were taking up most of the waiting area. I waited while the couple and the woman behind the desk (the same one I had before) laughed and laughed. They seemed to be sharing stories and just yapping away. It didn’t take long for me to get antsy.

While they talked on and on about god knows what (I decided at this point that they weren’t talking about renting cars) I grew more and more anxious. Time was ticking away and I knew that I needed o get a car quickly. If only I knew French I could speak out to the girl and ask her, but I had to just stand there and wait in line. Gradually I moved closer and closer to them, despite the lack of space, and they eventually realized I was there and said something along the lines of oh, we should go, she’s waiting. Then they started to fill out the frequent user card to get points for their rentals. The man was writing out his phone number (or address—something with numbers was all I gathered) and was exclaiming each number enthusiastically—taking precise care with each one as his wife and the Avis woman were laughing.

I couldn’t take it. I was just about to leave when finally, finally, finally they were done. They left and I almost collided with them as they went out of the office and I tried my best to dash in. I asked the girl if there were any cars available and she told me no.


I looked at my watch—almost 25 minutes had passed—what was I doing? It was now going on 3:25 pm and I needed to get a car and make it to the zoo. I glanced across the road and saw a Hertz rental agency and ran across it.

Luckily they did have cars available but it took some time filling out paperwork, getting the car ready, before they handed me the keys. The woman obviously couldn’t tell from the pleading look on my face or the stamping of my foot to realize that I was in a hurry. Oh! She says, you are from America! Ohhh….she talks enthusiastically with her coworker. I didn’t have time for this, I just needed a car.

Finally I was handed keys, given the car and was heading out of the parking lot. Only when I got on the main road did I realize that the tank to the car wasn’t full—it was only ¾ full which was annoying. How was I going to explain this to them when I returned the car—I didn’t want to pay for gas I didn’t use.

I didn’t have time to go back and sort this out so I kept driving and made it on to the freeway, double backed and was soon heading towards Thoiry. Funny that I actually remembered how to get there and also funny that I didn’t bring with me (due to forgetfulness) the maps to the zoo OR the street maps and also funny that the Hertz agency didn’t’ have any of these.

I followed the signs again, just when I got to that point of wondering where on earth the zoo was, I saw signs for Thoiry. I turned off of the main road, went through some small villages, and coasted down to the entrance to the zoo.

Glancing at my watch it read 4:45—perfect. Now I have at least an hour to get some pictures of the hippos and to get their names.

I pulled up to the ticket window, thrust out my credit card (for lack of cash—which I had also forgot) and the guy just looked at me. He took my card, went to swipe it and then said (in good but broken English) I can’t use this and hands the card back to me.

Good god, why?? I looked at him desperately and asked. Well, he says, the zoo closes in 15 minutes.

Oh man. The zoo closes at five?? Not six?? I looked at the times and sure enough, closes at 5pm on week days during September. Great. Just great. I took my card back and heaved a great big sigh but then decided, well, at least I will get their names. So I handed over my prepared and in French statement, “I love hippos—what are their names?” over to the guy.

He took it and thought it was hilarious. There was another guy in the booth with him and they both just shook their heads, but thankfully wrote down some names: Paulo, Paloma, Martine and Junior. I took the pad of paper back and thanked them, clarifying with them the names and the fact that there were just four hippos—which was weird cause I could have sworn that I saw five.

Never mind, at least I go their names. So I pulled a U-turn and headed back to—well, where? What was I going to do? According to my contact for the car, I was allowed only 100 kilometers to drive (which is like an hour’s worth of driving which is nothing-but I couldn’t’ refuse it since the rental was so last minute) and already I have put on something along the lines of 65 kilometers. There was no use me driving all the way back to Versailles to get a hotel—or to call it quits and go back to Geneva.

I needed to find a hotel in the area.

So I drove around more (adding more kilometers to the car) and eventually found a sign that read “Hotel, Restaurant.” So I pulled up, went in and completely took the owner by surprise in the fact that they probably hadn’t had anyone in a long time check into the hotel. There was a larger man behind the counter was like, are you sure? The hotel? And I was like, umm, yes, please.

A younger guy was sitting on a bar stool up at the bar and he just whistled—whatever that meant, I don’t know. I was shown to my room with the big man and his equally big dog who came up to my hips and the room turned out to be quite nice—two small beds, a bathroom and the peachy painted walls that I have been accustomed to in hotel rooms. He asked me if I wanted dinner (I said no thank you before I even thought which I regretted later) and he left me.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was just about 5:30 now so not only did I have time to kill but needed to now find some dinner. I finished up my book but only had about a chapter left anyways so this didn’t take long, tried to take a nap and then around 7 o’clock went in search of food.

I drove up to the main village of Thoiry, parked my car and set about finding dinner. There were three or so “restaurants” in the little main area bit—a pizzeria which was closed—another hotel that I must have passed by earlier that I didn’t see who refused to feed me since I wasn’t a hotel guest—and another bar which looked way too local for me to even approach without getting some good stares. I got back in the car and drove around a bit more—eventually finding another small town with its own grocery store where I bought a package of cookies, two sandwiches and pre-made salad. I bought my things, headed to my car (ignoring the stares and whistles) and drove back to my hotel where I ate my dinner in bed, fiddled with the TV that didn’t work, and eventually fell asleep.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Photo--Geneva, Switzerland

Lyon, France—Geneva, Switzerland—Day 226

After packing up my things this morning, walking my things down to the post office that I needed to mail home and mailing things home (much to the amusement of the postal worker for all that I was sending back), I then checked out of the hotel in Lyon and walked over to the train station near my hotel, heading for Geneva.

While there are no hippos in Geneva, I figured it would be a nice place to stop for a few days on my way up to Basel. I took the train over to the second train station in Lyon (literally called “Part Dieu”) and soon was heading to Geneva on a TGV express train.

The train ride to Geneva went really quickly—I was absorbed in my book “Fast Food Nation” and sped through a good chunk of it before reaching Geneva around three o’clock—and any one who has ever read it will know, in two hours I was put off of meat—for good? Who knows. For now at least. I found a taxi and went to my hotel, checked in and had to change my reservation to get a non-smoking room (despite protests from the receptionist who claimed that I didn’t request one but then found out that I actually did) and put my things down.

I then headed back out on the town, so to speak. I walked around, map in my bag just in case. I first headed down to Lake Geneva and walked along the water front in the Jardin Anglais and the famous floral clock. I then walked up the hill to the vielle Ville (the old quarter) and the beautiful Catedrale de St. Pierre. I climbed up the stairs of the north tower which has a great view over Geneva and the old town. I headed back down, purchased some postcards from the nice guy sitting at the small desk at the bottom of the stairs and avoided listening in on conversations in English.

I walked back down the hill and meandered in some shops for a bit before finding dinner at an Italian place which just so happened to be right next to a strip club. I didn’t notice this until I had ordered. In fact, you hardly realized it was there. Perhaps the most ironic thing was that there was a huge children’s carousel just down the street a ways, just feet from the restaurant and the club. No one seemed to really care that a children’s carousel and a strip club were just feet from one another. In America, this would be an outrage—a shocking scandal—a protest. But here in Geneva no one seemed bothered by it.

So while I dined on my spaghetti amongst the other tourists, children gleefully went around on their shining horses as their parents watched and only occasionally were you reminded of the club’s presence—when its thump thump thumping music briefly escaping during one’s entrance or exit through the huge black door. Everyone was just going about their own business.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Lyon, France—Day 225

Today I got up with the full intention of returning my rental car and going back up to Paris to get in the zoo at Thoiry for a second time. Unfortunately the rental agreement only allowed me 750 miles for three days and I had already driven that much. So I got up and worked on my photos before heading down to the train station. Two funny things about this hotel: in the lobby, the woman that has been working at the desk always brings her little dog in to work with her. The dog spends most of the day lounging in one area of the lobby to the next, always in a different place when I come down. When I came down this time, the dog was under this small table and the woman was drawing the curtains for the dog, so that the sun didn’t shine directly on it. I came down just as she was doing this (the dog is so small it looked like she wasn’t really talking to anything if you couldn’t see it) and she was sort of embarrassed that I caught her talking to her dog.

The other funny thing is that the door to the hotel is one of these automatic doors. I didn’t really know that you were supposed to press a button for it to open or close, so I have been walking up to it this whole time trying to get out and sometimes it opened and some times it wouldn’t. Other people would come and go and each time it would just open for them but for me it was like this struggle to stand in the right place (perhaps the sensor wasn’t working right) and part luck on my part to get it open. That is until a guy pointed out to me that there was a button to push.


I went to return my car (a day early) I found the office to be closed on Sunday! Plus the offices for the rental agencies in Versailles were also closed.


So it seemed like I just had to spend the day in Lyon. I ended up getting some lunch, going to the nice museum in town, finishing up my book, walking up to the Basilica and the overlooking view onto Lyon which was quite nice and meeting these two French ladies (one of whom lives in England near my grandparents) who were quite funny. They asked me if I had seen the pottery fair going on and I had no idea what they were talking about. Turned out that there were like 150 pottery stalls and a fair going on in the town and I didn’t even know it! So after the basilica I went down and wandered amongst the fair. I then went and saw a movie and had dinner at a Creperie before going back to the hotel.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.