Detroit - Geneva
Travel horrors: I arrived at Detroit Metropolitan Airport at around 3:30 PM for a 5:40 PM departure. As usual, the the Northwest lines were horrendous and I was over-packed: 2 duffels and a boxed bicycle. The line formed behind the baggage x-ray machine. At first it appeared that my bicycle box was too big to fit through the x-ray machine and the attendant said she had a knife to open it up, but amazingly it fit with about 1" to spare (this is a big advantage to using new bike boxes from a bicycle store instead of the larger bicycle boxes the airlines furnish). When I got the the counter with 2 bags and a bike box, the agent indicated that I would be required to pay an additional $110 each way; that I was allowed only 2 bags, including the bicycle--but she looked at them and noted that my duffels and bicycle box were rather small, so she would waive the charge--whew!
I have not been following the news, but was told that there was a labor slowdown by Northwest personnel. Everything seemed fine and the airplane boarded on schedule, but then we sat, and sat, not actually pulling out from the gate until about an hour late. This was a huge Boeing 747-300 with every one of the more than 400 seats occupied. I had an aisle seat.
My seat mates were a student from Kennesaw State College in Marietta, Georgia (left), who was heading home to Sweden, and a student from the University of Tulsa law school (right), who was heading to Amsterdam for a summer of studying international law.We conversed for most of the flight, but I did get some much needed sleep.
I was supposed to arrive in Amsterdam, Holland at 7:10 AM for a connection to Geneva on KLM at 8:05 AM. We did not arrive in Amsterdam until around 8:00 AM. KLM/NW personnel at the gate informed me that I had been rebooked for a 10:20 AM flight to Geneva. I was hungry and wondered about eating to occupy the 2 hours I had to wait, but proceeded to Gate G-20, where my plane was scheduled to depart from, only to discover a very very slow security screening. After watching the flow of passengers to the gate G-20 holding area, I concluded that screening would consume all my available time, so I skipped breakfast. They seemed serious about security at Amsterdam--there were folks dressed in military clothing carrying automatic weapons roaming the terminal.
Clearing the security screening (x-ray) was surprisingly fast, but there was just a huge transfer area at the other side and no food. I was told that a bus would carry us to our airplane at 9:35 AM. At 9:35 AM, therewere only 2 of us waiting for the Geneva flight. I struck up a conversation with the other passenger--Luca, a Web programmer from Geneva. We were transferred over to the waiting 737 at about 10:00 and we waited. At around 10:00 another bus load of passengers arrived. At around 10:45, we were informed that since we were running late, we had missed our departure slot and would have to wait 40 minutes for another one. The day was becoming messy.
When I got to Geneva, I proceeded directly to the baggage area and obtained a luggage cart (free). I looked for my bicycle in the "Special Baggage" area, but not seeing it, proceeded to the luggage carrel. One of my duffels showed up quickly, but the other didn't. I watched the special baggage area and waited at the luggage carrel until all but a handful of passengers had departed, then walked around the carrel, only to discover that my other duffel had managed to become perched on the island in the center of the rotating carrel at the other end. I climbed over the conveyor belts and retrieved it. There was still no sign of my bike box, so I went to the lost baggage office and reported it lost. The agent walked with me through the luggage area and then completed a lost baggage report. She said that the bicycle was probably in Amsterdam, that there were 3 more flights from Amsterdam and that the box would be delivered by taxi to my hotel.
As of 4:00 AM on 3 July, I had not received my bicycle and was becoming quite anxious. I even wondered whether I would be wise to fly back home and cut my losses.
I was supposed to arrive in Geneva 20 minutes before my friend Bill and his daughter Karrie. We expected to get to the hotel around 10:00 AM. I actually arrived at the hotel in Ferney-Voltaire, France (right on the border) at 2:00 PM, only to discover that Bill and Karrie had not checked in. They did not arrive until around 5:00 PM. Their Lufthansa flight from Chicago to Frankfort was delayed by a tire blowout. Bill's bicycle did not make it either.
Kären was a participant on the Cyclevents ride from Bordeaux, France which preceded this one, so she arrived before us at the Geneva Airport.
We went in Bill & Kären's van to the village of Ferney-Voltaireand all had a very nice poached salmon (saumon) dish for dinner. Dinner for 4 was expensive ($540 FF--about $100).
I failed in repeated tries to access AT&T to call home from the hotel phone. At 3:00 AM on 3 July, I finally gave up on the hotel phone system and walked a block to a pay phone, where, using the AT&T access code furnished to me by Kären, I finally got through. I did not have an adaptor for the phone system, so could not connect my Macintosh modem to the telephone system to access the Web. My European AC adaptor worked fine for the computer, which is flexible in the voltage it can handle, but I couldn't use the AC charger for the camera batteries without a voltage adaptor. I planned to try to buy those items the next day for France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. In the meantime--no web updates.
It is now 4:30 AM, and I have not yet seen my bicycle or Bill's. If the bike does not show up, I will probably head home. I am particularly intolerant to changes in frame geometry, and unless I can replace the bicycle with another Cannondale (with Shimano SPDs), I doubt I could handle the tough ride ahead. I do not relish the thought of riding sag through the Alps and feel the cost of continuing without the bicycle to be ridiculously prohibitive. Oh well, maybe things will brighten up in the morrow.
Ferney-Voltaire, France and Geneva, Switzerland
Good news! The bikes arrived this morning. While I was in the hotel lobby near the front desk with Bill and Kären after breakfast, French Customs called me (via the desk clerk) to ask if my bicycle was new--I guess because it was in a new box. I noted that it was not new at all. Within 5 minutes a taxicab arrived with both my bike and Bill's. Both boxes had been opened--probably by customs. My bicycle seemed fine, but my rear Vista light, which was attached to my rear rack, had been broken open and one of the two AA batteries was missing. The box containing my pedals and other takeoff equipment was dislodged and open, so until I undertake to assemble the bike, I will not know if anything is missing. The arrival of the bicycle changed our moods positively.
We decided to head to Geneva for the day, sightseeing and shopping.
There is a distinctly French look to the women here:
Geneva is a vibrant and interesting city.
The high point of the day was a tour of a really old church. The huge cathedral has been jacked up and an archaeological excavation has taken place underneath. Each of the layers is color coded by Century.
Much of the structure uncovered dates back to the first 50-75 years after the birth of Christ.
It was amazing how much the neighborhood evolved over 2,000 years.
There was a nearly intact Roman tile floor mosaic dating back to the First Century AD.
The entire multi-level subterranean archaeological site was under this gigantic church building which is supported by huge steel I-beams and pilings.
From the layers under the church we climbed hundreds of steps up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the church. The view of Geneva was spectacular. We also saw that the original roof had been built over with another roof structure about 10' higher. I felt like Quasi Moto as I climbed through the upper reaches of the cathedral. It was a fascinating experience. Other than the Anasasi Ruins near Santa Fe, we have nothing as old as Christ in the US. It is hard to comprehend such antiquity. I find myself awestruck complete with goose bumps.
We saw everything from Ferraris to Lamborghinis (sp), but parking is at a premium here so most cars were small:
I loved the narrow streets.
There seemed to be incredible food everywhere (albeit very expensive):Wehad fabulous food today; salmon tortellini (saumon) for lunch and veal ina mushroom sauce with an apricot torte for dessert at dinner.
Carrie's lunch - salmon
My lunch - tortellini & salmon
The Swiss are really big on gadgets. This self-washing toilet is one of the best I've ever seen.
When you flush it, the toilet seat is rotated through a wash mechanism that pops out from the tank and the seat is quickly dried.
We attempted unsuccessfully to find an AC voltage adapter for my digital camera --a 240 v to 110 v transformer. I also sought to purchase a phone converter from RJ-11 to the Swiss type, but had no luck finding either. We'll try the airport tomorrow (after we reassemble and test the bicycles). Maybe I'll ride my bicycle to the airport.
Before dinner we found a bicycle shop where Kären purchased some new gloves and then spent about 3 hours sitting in a bar watching the WorldCup quarter-final football ("soccer" to us Americans) match between France and Italy. The score was 0-0, until France won in one-on-one shots in the second overtime. It was a fantastic game. Italy had superb defense and no offense; while France controlled the game. France won when an Italian player hit the crossbar with the ball and it was deflected away from the net. I had never watched a soccer game before and found it surprisingly similar in organization and strategy to hockey. I prefer this style of football over the American game and on a world scale, this is by far the biggest sport there is.
Prices are higher here than in the US (supposedly second only to Japan). Dinner for 4 cost about $100 at Mövenpick (one of my favorite chain restaurants--I love the ones in Toronto), but then again we did have wine and dessert.
Hopefully, I will be able to buy the necessary high-tech connectors at the airport tomorrow. I don't know what else we plan to do. We were not able to locate Power Bars®, Gatorade® or any sort of sports food today. We hope to find something tomorrow.
I spent the morning reassembling my bicycle in the hotel room.
Al--my Swiss mechanic in Michigan, who must have wanted to come along--broke my bicycle down a bit further than I wanted this time, but I was able to put it back together without any serious difficulty. I rode it around the hotel parking lot and all seemed fine.
After we got our bicycles reassembled, we headed to the airport to try to find a 220 to 110 volt AC adaptor--but failed. I did buy a Swiss phone system to FCC RJ-11 adaptor there though. We then walked around Geneva again, eating lunch at a sidewalk cafe--very very pleasant.
We came across a mosaic of Julius Caesar in Geneva:
Then Bill and I watched a Peruvian band play pan flutes (almost identical music to that played by another Peruvian band I've seen in Ann Arbor, Michigan) while Kären and Karrie shopped.
I walked over to a Kodak camera store and purchased a European Olympus NiMH AA battery charger and 4 more NiMH batteries for my digital camera--thus solving my AC power problem.
Being Saturday, it was more crowded in the Geneva city center today.
In honor of the 4th of July, we ate at the Buffalo Grill, an American-style restaurant in Ferney-Voltaire. I had a buffalo burger--not very good (with no bun)--but good fries (des pomme frite) and an excellent banana split. The waitress warned us that the desserts were huge, but she's never seen the real thing. It was an average banana split, but we've come to expect such concepts as "super size," "biggie," "big gulp,"etc. Americans eat much bigger portions of food than Europeans.
We watched a number of custom cars drive into the restaurant parking lot, including everything from a Renault, to a VW to a Lambo Diablo and tried to figure out the French greeting custom in all its forms:
|handshake||the weakest form of greeting-first contact?|
|one kiss on the cheek||an acquaintance?|
|a kiss on each cheek||close friend?|
|three kisses||the best of friends?|
I took French in college, but have not had occasion to speak it for many years. It is coming back to me though. I can actually communicate in French if I take my time to form phrases. My vocabulary is still very limited, but the French (and Swiss) seem to appreciate my effort.