To Switzerland

Trip Start Apr 10, 2008
Trip End May 12, 2008

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Today I drove up to Geneva and then 20 km farther north to the Vernauds' house in the little village of Trelex. As neared the border, I decided to avoid buying the vignette, the highway toll sticker. To use the highways (autoroutes) in Switzerland one must buy and display the annual vignette on the windshield. It costs 40 Swiss Francs (the Franc is almost up to the value of the US dollar now.) It's good for a whole year, so for Swiss citizens it's a good deal. One could easily spend that much on a single trip from Strasbourg to Paris in France, where tolls are high and are paid per section and per trip. But I was just going to drive a few miles into Switzerland Friday, and a few miles back out on Saturday evening. 40 Francs seemed quite steep for that. So I took back roads and drove through the center of Geneva to avoid the highways. I've been happy to have the GPS system in the car on this trip, but here it let me down. I instructed it to find my route without using toll roads, but it didn't recognize the autoroutes as toll roads. So leaving the technology for two days, I used the tried and true method of driving in the general direction I wanted to go until I found anything familiar to guide me. It took me an hour to get through Geneva, which really isn't that large a city, but Friday afteroon traffic was stop and go all the way through town. Once through Geneva, I took the lake road that winds along the shore of what is often called Lake Geneva, but whose name is actually Lake Leman.
It was a beautiful, clear day with a dazzling blue sky. Across the lake I could see the Alps, still snow-capped. From some higher areas I could even make out the summit of Mount Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe. Even on my side of the lake, some of the summits of the Jura range still had snow on them. Very clear days such as this are not that common, so this was a treat; the natural beauty was stunning. I drove past signs for the French-border town of Ferney, whose full name is Ferney-Voltaire. It has that name because the philosopher Voltaire elected it as his residence for many years. Hi liked Ferney for the important reason that it was right on the Swiss border. If and when his writings put him in ill-favor with the French monarchy, which might order his arrest and incarceration in the Bastille for an undetermined period of time, he could quickly skip across the border to the realative safety of Geneva.
His contemporary Jean-Jacques Rousseau was born in Geneva and spent much of his life theorizing and writing in French-speaking Switzerland. He didn't practice what he preached, abandoning his own illegitimate children to the poorhouse while he wrote his famous Emile which taught that children needed to be nurtured with loving attention. Paul Johnson's Intellectuals tells that sad but fascinating story of hypocrisy.
I arrived at the Vernauds' old farmhouse around 5:30 and moved into one of the rooms that they usually rent as a bed-and-breakfast lodging. They don't do that during UB, though, to avoid problems with clients bringing various products into the house. Mr. Vernaud and I had a pleasant walk through the adjoining vineyards and fields, enjoying the view of the Alps and catching up on all the news.
 Their sons returned from work and school about 7:00 pm at which time we had dinner. We talked about many things until nearly 10:00 before calling it a night.
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