Day 19: SWISS SQUEEZE
When both Julie and I awoke at 6:30am, it was raining pretty hard outside. This was not unexpected as we had been expecting continued bad weather for days since we had seen the foul forecasts following our departure from Provence.
We left Yvoire at 7:10am and followed the GPS’s directions once again as we weren’t quite sure what was the best route to take to get us all the way to Saut du Doubs – the first waterfall of the day.
The significance of this waterfall was that it was a transnational waterfall between France and Switzerlan. You don’t get those too often.
Moreover, we were also hoping to bag another pair of Swiss waterfalls within the Nozon Gorge between Romainmotier and La Sarraz.
Anyways, as we were following the GPS’s direction, it intended to lead us right through the heart of Geneva as it was trying to swing us around Lake Geneva before heading north and rejoining the A1 to go further north towards Lausanne.
Unfortunately, we started to hit traffic at around 7:45am and we didn’t even get towards Geneva!
After several minutes of hardly moving an inch, we were looking for ways to avoid going deeper into the traffic jam which was obviously Geneva’s rush hour. But that led us on a bit of a goose chase through local roads looking for a way to backtrack and go towards the autoroute.
It wasn’t until another 20 or 30 minutes later did we finally regain the autoroute A40 heading towards Lyon, Annecy, and Paris. We then connected with the A41 heading north at which point we ran into more traffic!
The traffic continued to get worse as we inched past the customs kiosks, which seemed to be an open border, and it wasn’t until 9:15am when traffic finally started to move again. By then, we were slowly moving faster until we finally got onto the A1 well north of Geneva.
This morning’s delay was on the order of 90 minutes. It was a costly 90 minutes as we knew we still had another couple hours of driving to even get all the way up to Les Brenets, which was where the GPS had us go to access Saut du Doubs.
So far, the whole driving experience in Switzerland was a bit nightmarish. The traffic was unexpected, the speed limits were unusually different than what we were used to in France, and even the autoroutes (although they weren’t collecting tolls) exhibited the type of congestion and lack of order similar to LA’s traffic. Maybe having tolls on the autoroutes like in France meant fewer cars as well as the respect of the fast lane. There was none of that in Switzerland’s western side.
It wasn’t until 11:05am that we finally made it to the car park at Les Brenets on the Swiss side. It involved quite a bit of mountain driving between the autoroute and this remote town on the outskirts of the French Franche-Comte district and Switzerland’s Neuchatel Canton.
When we arrived at the car park, it was still raining pretty hard. Complicating the matter was that we weren’t quite sure where we were supposed to go. We did see that the hike to the falls was an hour each way, but it didn’t seem terribly appealing to walk an hour each way just to even get to the falls and not counting the additional time needed to explore and experience the falls.
Plus, we saw that there was a boat leaving at 11:30am.
By the time we finally figured out where we were supposed to go, we barely had less than 5 minutes to spare when we ran to the ticket window, paid for the boat ride (about 28 Sfr per person for return trip), and got on just as the boat was about to leave.
It’s interesting to see how the Swiss work like clockwork as the boat left at exactly 11:30am as scheduled. It was also a good thing that I knew enough French to get by since no one here spoke English and I didn’t know German.
In any case, we enjoyed the quiet boat ride, which lasted about 20 minutes.
So Julie and I got moving.
We’d eventually reach the newly built “friendship bridge” which crossed the river and went onto the French side. And from there, we followed the walking path past another couple of closed cafes en route to the upper panorama of Saut du Doubs.
The paved walkway was sloped and slippery in the rain so we had to be careful of our steps. But once we got up to the overlook, all the stress and worries momentarily went away as we enjoyed our top down view of the falls.
The rain also seemed to be letting up a bit as we were up here. I don’t know if it was coincidence or not, but like our Cascade d’Angon experience, the foul weather seemed to subside when we were at waterfalls.
We spent quite a bit of time up here before we eventually exhausted all the possible ways of capturing the falls in pictures and movies from the same overlook. So we descended a separate path that led to the brink of the falls on the France side, getting there at 12:25pm.
Once we seeing this perspective of the falls, it was very apparent that there was no way anyone could get to the base of the falls given the steep terrain surrounding the gorge. We also saw another person on this trail, which was the first time we saw someone other than ourselves on the trails here.
After having our fill of this perspective of the falls, we then walked back towards the Friendship Bridge and proceeded to walk towards the brink of the falls from the Swiss side.
This was the only view of the falls from the Swiss side, and I could easily see why previous visitors have said on their blogs that the French side was way better than the Swiss side. We’d have to concur. However, I could only imagine how disappointing this excursion would’ve been had that Friendship Bridge not been there!
We weren’t sure where we could wait for the boat so we actually decided to chill out in an open cafe area that seemed desserted. However, about five minutes later, a guy from the kitchen noticed us and came over to take our order.
We didn’t know what to get so we just each asked for a scoop of ice cream. But just as the guy went to the kitchen to make our ice cream, we saw the boat just arrive at the dock.
So that caused us to ask him (in French) to takeaway the ice cream and pay in Euros immediately. Fortunately, he obliged, but he didn’t give us ice cream in a cone as we had hoped. Instead, he gave each of us a scoop of ice cream in a plastic drinking cup. The cost was just under 5 euros, but we knew we weren’t going to get Euros back as change so the lady who took our petite monaie just kept the change.
Sure enough at 1:20pm, the boat took off as we boarded; just like clockwork. The boat driver gave us a printed guide in English so we could better appreciate what we were seeing on the short boat ride.
Among the things of interest along this lake was a cave of the King of Prussia, a rock with the French and European Union flag, and some geological rock formations and patterns attesting to the history of this gorge and lake.
We were back at the car at 1:45pm. We saw another pair of women heading to the ticket booth so perhaps we weren’t in the Twilight Zone after all – there really were visitors to these parts!
Next, we drove under the suddenly improved weather as we backtracked over the narrow and winding mountain roads back towards the A1. Then, we headed south on the autoroute before following the GPS waypoints towards the sleepy town of Romainmotier.
We found ourselves driving on narrow local roads aimlessly in both Romainmotier and Croy. After several minutes of aimless meandering, I decided to call the Nozon Gorge a loss and so we wouldn’t be bagging neither Cascade du Dard nor La Tine de Conflens.
I had fancied doing both falls from opposite ends of the gorge, but perhaps that was just wishful thinking. We would’ve needed more time and somehow arrange for a shuttle unless there was a train that connected the two towns.
Whatever the case, we didn’t have the time to do them. So we proceeded to drive south past La Serraz and eventually regain the autoroute A1.
Today felt like a waste as we had hoped this Swiss day would’ve allowed us to augment our Swiss waterfall collection. While Saut du Doubs was nice, the Nozon Gorge waterfalls would’ve also been good to experience as well. But poor signage, a less than stellar driving experience (especially the Geneva traffic and the relative lack of autoroute etiquette compared to France’s tolled autoroutes), and seemingly less charm in this part of Switzerland than what we had been used to in France made this part of the trip not very memorable.
In fact, I immediately started to feel better the moment we crossed back over to the French side of the border where I was used to the traffic lights (I still find it funky to see the lights go yellow before going green), the signage, and even the driving etiquette. It was strange, but I guess being in France for almost three weeks made me appreciate the ways they do things in this country. Perhaps I needed a similar adjustment period for Switzerland that I was afforded in France (as trivial as that might sound).
It wasn’t until 4:20pm when we finally arrived at our appartment-like motel/hotel in the French town of Prevessin-Moens. We knew the next two nights would be more like a motel stay in which we picked this spot for its strategic location by the waterfalls of the Jura Mountains (as well as avoiding both the traffic and the exhorbitant prices of Geneva accommodations).
Even though the weather still looked threatening, we still had more falls to bag tomorrow – especially the Herrisson Waterfalls. Rain or shine or anything in between.
At 7pm, we drove around looking for something quick to eat. We ended up finding this obscure Vietnamese place, which provided quite a change of pace from the heavy French fare we had been used to the past three weeks. Of course given the strength of the Euro compared to US Dollars, the meal costed more than any of the best Little Saigon joints we’re used to having, but at least the portions were right and we didn’t feel overstuffed nor ripped off for the most part after the meal.
We were back at our room before 8:30pm where we spent the rest of the evening Skyping family while also watching some French TV (something we hadn’t done all trip until now)…