We make an early start from Giswil, through alpine scenery and more tunnels. Shortly after we get going, Steve does his usual trick for ironing clothes: he removes his jumper. He figures if he wears a jumper for the first part of the day, his body heat will iron out the creases in his shirt. He assures me it works, at least that it looks better than it did when he first put it on, but it doesn’t exactly look freshly pressed.
When we make a pee stop, Ashley explains the system: you pay one franc or euro and go through a turnstile, where you are given a ticket. After you use the loo, you can spend the value of the ticket on something in the shop. At the first stop, I buy some chocolate and use the ticket (plus more money) to pay. At the second stop, Rafael, Aurora’s brother-in-law, stands outside the turnstiles collecting the tickets as we leave. I then see him on the bus eating a wrap he’d bought with the proceeds.
Since we are passing close to the area where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Ashley offers us a diversion into Colmar, a town in the Alsace region of France. He hasn’t been there before, so he’s not certain about parking and toilets, but we agree to take the risk and go for it. This area has been untouched by wars, unlike most other areas of France.
Arriving in Colmar, we circle the block a few times to locate a spot, then pull up next to a lovely park. We hop out and go walking up a cobblestone alley to a square, where Ashley gives us an orientation. He points out an area called “Little Venice” and the shopping streets, and gives us a meeting time.
Steve and I and a few others hotfoot it towards “Little Venice.” By now we’ve given up trying to round up the other girls for sightseeing. All they seem to want to do is shop. (I hope no one is expecting presents. I don’t seem to have the stomach for shopping.) The houses are gorgeous Tudor style timber and masonry, painted bright colours, all of them with flower boxes in bloom. None of them are perfectly straight, and many seem to lean into the street.
We come to a picturesque canal, lined with restaurants and outdoor tables and chairs. We explore a little further, but it seems there is only one canal, though we maybe didn’t go far enough. We pick out a cafe and sit down next to the canal. A petite energetic young french woman comes to take our order.
“Do you speak English?” we ask.
“I speak just a leetle bit of Eengleesh,” she tells us.
Steve had seen a pizza-looking thing that people at another table were eating and we decided on that before we even saw the menu. We asked about it and she said it was bread with cream, spec, and cheese. Steve has a beer and I order a water.
“Do you want it wiz gas, or wizout gas?” she asks.
“Wiz gas,” I tell her, thinking I’m speaking French, but suddenly realising I’m not.
The food is delicious, the bread very thin and crisp. While we are eating, Aurora, her sister (I still don’t know her name) and Rafael wander by. I press them to have a slice of my “pizza” but only Rafael accepts before they walk on.
Steve points out the large fish in the canal. While I’m looking at the water, suddenly an animal like a very big rat swims past. I point it out to Steve and we rush to take a photo. It is way too big to actually be a rat and seems to have a wider, less pointy face. Later, when we ask Ashley about it, he suggests it could be a marmot.
We check the time and still have 15 minutes, so don’t stress when we have to wait a while for the bill. On the way back to the meeting place, when Steve wants to have a quick look in a souvenir shop, I say I don’t think we have time. He looks at his watch and realises we should be at the meeting place already. They are all there waiting for us, when we arrive. I say we’re late because Steve led me astray.
We return to the bus, via a walk-through fountain. Rafael is now wearing a peaked Swiss hat. He strides straight through the fountain, emerging dry on the other side.
We travel some more, out of France and into Germany. I’ve tried to learn some German while we were in Austria and Switzerland, but I’m a lost case. About all I can manage is guten morgen and danke schon. I just can’t get the accent and nothing I pronounce sounds right. It’s lovely to be back in France, where I feel more confident with the language, albeit clumsy.
Our next stop is Heidelberg, a student town, with, as usual, a castle perched above it. By now we all have sensory overload. The girls want to browse the shops again, so Steve and I go for a halfhearted wander. One interesting thing we see is a church that has stalls all around it against the outside walls. The Church, originally a Catholic Church, changed hands a few times over the centuries between Catholic and Protestant, at one stage even belonging to both of them, with a wall down the centre. We wander back via the river, looking across at expensive houses. We find when we return to the meeting place that most of the group have simply taken up residence at the pub rather than going sightseeing.
We continue to our hotel in Hockenheim. Tonight our dinner is supplied and it’s at a local pub a couple of minutes’ walk away. Ashley advises us that he’s asked for water for the tables but they told him we have to book that 2 weeks in advance. Nonetheless, it arrives at the tables 10 minutes later. We are also told we need to order drinks before the food comes.
Looking around, it really is a lovely decor. There are 3 large copper kettles (or tanks) at one end, and 4 large stainless steel ones at the other, in which they brew their own beer. Myra tells us there’s a cat and a dog in the restaurant, so I go in search of the cat, which is sitting on a cushion by the fireplace. It’s a grey striped moggie and condescends to let me stroke its head. When I rub its tummy, it gently fights me, but soon becomes rough, and I return to the table.
Ros goes to the kitchen and tells them she’s starving and can we have some bread, but they tell her the dinner won’t be long. She tells them she doesn’t want to know how long dinner will be, she wants bread. When she tells me I must look horrified.
“You think I’m terrible now, don’t you?” she asks.
“Ahm, no, I just think you should probably go through Ashley.”
“Yes, you’re right,” she says. “I feel terrible now.”
Ashley comes to tell us that the main meal is pork schnitzel and those who don’t eat pork will be given turkey. Ros is one of those people.
“Ros, that means you get served last,” I tell her.
A huge grin splits her face as she says “I feel like hitting you.” (I heard someone say they call Ros “the smiling assassin.”)
Entree is a plate of mixed lettuce with french dressing (and nothing else). Ros’s dinner actually arrives first, and looks better than what we were given: a dry schnitzel with a thin slice of lemon, and potato chips. Everyone asks for sauce, and packets of tomato sauce and I drown mine in mayonnaise. Dessert is strawberries and cream – yum!
Almost everyone gets up together and walks out, leaving me, Aurora, Ros and Merv to talk and joke a little longer.
As we stroll back to the hotel, we pass several well-dressed people, a church, and little boys kicking a ball around. Somehow Rafael has found a Spanish-speaking family with a cute baby in a pram and he chats to them in Spanish, like they are old friends meeting on an afternoon walk.
My room has 2 single beds and overlooks a courtyard, from which I hear voices and revelry. But I pay no attention to them, check emails and facebook and go to bed.
So this day we had breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in France and dinner in Germany.
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