Wrong turns, wrong roads, even wrong countries were all ingredients in our memorable road trip through Switzerland.
We love road trips. They are a fun way to see a destination at your own pace. We’ve driven the PCH through California and spent seven days on the road in Namibia without a guide. We are normally pretty handy with an old-school paper map. However, Switzerland was an exception. We began and ended our road trip through Switzerland in Zürich, but we got completely lost, literally and figuratively, during the week in between.
We landed in Zürich, picked up our rental car and were off. Our first over night stop was in Geneva. We navigated our way out of the Zürich traffic along Highway 1. The lush Swiss countryside was mesmerizing: churches on the hillside, fields of sunflowers and cows chewing bright green grass. We wanted to see more than our view from the highway so we tempted fate, and our map reading skills, by exiting the highway.
Why, you might ask? Why not? Switzerland is a safe country with paved roads, but above all, we were curious. That was enough reason for us. Admittedly, we did get lost. However, what we found was better – Berne!
Berne, Switzerland was our first taste of a European city. Yes, we landed in Zürich, but we raced out of the city limits before having done any exploring. Berne had the cobblestone streets, large open squares, small green parks and historic cathedrals that we anticipated seeing while in Europe. Getting lost was fun!
We made a few wrongs turns trying to read foreign road signs before leaving Berne to get back on the highway and head towards Geneva. Once we arrived, we dropped our bags in our hotel room and were off to explore Geneva by foot. While we did not have to worry about driving the wrong way on a one-way road, we still managed to get lost in Geneva. However, this time it was in the figurative sense. We got lost in the history of Geneva, the retails store windows and rich creamy gelato. This kind of “getting lost” is way better.
We were back on the road after one night in Geneva and on our way to Zermatt. Instead of retracing our route and driving along the northern side of Lake Geneva we decided to go around the southern side of the lake. A cursory glance at the road map let us know that there was a road for us to take. The road that snaked along the southern border of the lake is D1005. It is a French highway. Here is where that whole “wrong countries” part of the trip comes into play.
We drove into France without knowing it. Imagine our surprise when we discovered were in France only when we were leaving! That’s right. We drove into France without so much as a passport check, a rent-a-cop security guard or sign (well, one that we saw at least). It is like driving from Florida into Georgia here in the States. What looked like a road toll actually was actually a checkpoint to get back into Switzerland. Otherwise, we night not have even realized we left. This was our first time in Europe and we had no clue border crossings were this easy. Clearly, a rookie mistake. Getting lost was not as fun this time around!
Here is why this is a big deal to me. I dream of one day sipping Champagne in the Champagne region of France, (seriously, it’s on my Travel Bucket List), walking along the French Riviera, sipping wine in Bordeaux, getting goosebumps on the beaches of Normandy and climbing the Eiffel Tower. I want to spend weeks in France, not hours.
I do not even count our drive through as an actual visit. But, none the less, here is our cheesy picture of drinking Evian water in Evian, France to prove just how lost we really were.
Now that we were back in the right country, we continued on to Zermatt. The drive was absolutely incredible and unforgettable. It is very easy to get lost in the beauty and grandeur of the Swiss Alps.
Research prior to arriving in Switzerland told me that one must take a train into the small mountain village of Zermatt. But, being the stubborn Americans we are, we decided to drive as far as possible – just to see. Can you guess how confused and excited we were to drive all the way into Zermatt and find a parking spot? The quiet voice saying “but other bloggers said to take the train” was silent as we strolled into the hotel to check in. Psshhh! Why would you waste your money on a train ticket when you can drive into town?
We signed for our hotel room and casually asked if we needed a parking permit while in town. Silence. Crickets chirping. Stares. Mike and I looked at each other with quizzical looks. Did she understand what we said? Is she offended?
I began to repeat our question when the employee broke her stare. She incredulously asked “You drove into town?” We confirmed our method of transportation and things got real, really fast. She rattled off the many reasons visitors did not drive into town. I am pretty sure that we looked like scorned puppies as she warned us of pricey fines. Let’s just say this much. She did not even drive into Zermatt. She advised us to walk straight back to our car (do not pass “go and do not collect $200!) and drive to the train station in Tasch.
Well, crap. Those bloggers, travel guides and Google were all right. Hmm, maybe we should have listened. Duly noted, Zermatt. We get it.
Our two days and one night in Zermatt were pretty darn spectacular. We ate fondue, people watched during the Swiss national Day street party and rode a train up the mountain to marvel at The Matterhorn. Before we knew it, it was time to make our way to lower elevations.
Surprisingly, our last three nights in the country went off without a hitch. We spent one night in Lucerne and two nights in Zürich without getting lost, in the literal sense at least.