We declined the offer of paying for breakfast at Austin’s Hotel and instead went into Cafe Leonard, and learned two things. Firstly that a tartine is a small half baguette, and, because the Cafe Cremes were over 4 euros each, it is often false economy to try to save a couple of euro by eating out. Taking the Metro a few stops to Chatelet, we enjoyed more moments of confusion before finding the Seine and the Pont Neuf bridge. The walk took us past the iconic Samaritaine department store which is now closed. Then back to the Rue de Rivoli behind the Louvre, walked the arcades admiring the mixture of tourist tat and expensive furniture, before we entered the Louvre to emerge in the main square with the glass pyramid.
The need for refreshment sent us across the Seine to the Rive Gauche and St Germain. We paused at a cafe and took coffees at the bar, where our neighbour at the zinc top was reading L’Equipe and last night’s football results. At first I took him for a Frenchman, but he was another Rosbif . Afterwards, we walked along the Rue Jacob admiring the fine boutiques selling either beautiful macaroons or collectible letters, including examples from Proust, Hemingway, Picasso and Buster Keaton. ( Letters of course, as far as I know Buster Keaton was no baker!)
I learned today about Baron Haussmann, the 19th century prefect of Paris who was responsible for so much of the ‘Grand Boulevards’ architecture made up of blocks of buildings of typically six storeys. These include a ground floor usually given over to cafes and shops, a lower mezzanine floor, the balconied grand second floor and so on in declining importance to the 6th floor garrets and attics in the sloping mansard roofs. Here though, on the left bank, the narrow streets, haphazard alleys and the less structured buildings represent what medieval Paris must have looked liked. Back across the Seine, we walked on to the Ile de la Cite to look at Notre Dame. Marring the approach view of the famous frontage is a strange structure apparently built to help people look at the building. I am not sure it works. We caught the Metro back to the hotel in order to quickly pack, check out and then get over to the Gare de Lyon for our afternoon journey to Zurich on the 320km per hour TGV Lyria.
I had researched Tripadvisor to find somewhere to have a good lunch before spending over 5 hours on the train to Zurich and then on to Chur. The most famous place to do this is The Train Bleu, a restaurant in the station, but although the interior is a spectacular vision of Fin de Siècle Paris, the prices are as high as the painted ceilings, the staff indifferent and the general online consensus is that it is now a tourist trap of the worst kind. We settled on the Duc de Richelieu, a family run bistro on the Rue Parrot. Again there were mixed reviews but very few suggested the food was a problem.
We were shown to a table for two in a dining room already well populated at 12.20pm. Madame la patron was keen to upsell to her suggestions menu offering Turbot, Lobster and 13 euro starters but we held our nerve and insisted on a choice from the 14 Euro Menu Formule for the OH, Salade de giesers confit followed by Poulet Fermier Roti, whilst I went a bit off-piste and chose the Rillettes d’Oie ( duck pâté ) followed by a Pave steak with a pepper sauce and frites. I asked for the meat to be cooked A Point on the recommendation of YS. We also asked for Un Demi (50Cl) of a white Macon wine.A carafe of tap water was provided as a matter of course.The food was great, just ignore the blatant attempts to persuade you to spend more. The locals all did.
Into the Gare de Lyon and Hall One with its line of TGV’s facing the waiting passengers ready to whisk them away to Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the South of France. The train was very well appointed including interiors and seats designed by Christian Lacroix, the only problem was that I was facing the back again. After 30 mins we realised that there were a pair of spare seats facing the right way just behind and so we changed. Visited the bar for a tea and a wheat bear at Mulhouse, recalling my last time on that station was in 1966 on a school walking holiday to Austria .
After 4 hours, we reached Zurich, and then had an hours wait to take Intercity train to Chur. The barman on the TGV had changed a few Euros for Swiss Francs so we had enough for drinks on the concourse. There was a strange vibe, the station seems to be a meeting place for young teenagers, those that managed to avoid being swept up by constant patrols of cleaning machines. Just before boarding we walked to the edge of the station to take a brief look at Zurich town centre and saw some trams. Zurich – done.
Boarding the train, we reflected on how pleasant Swiss Intercity trains were. Wide, comfy seats and a general feeling of luxury. That notion lasted through 45 minutes of the remaining evening light and the most spectacular part of the journey with views over Lake Zurich before the ticket inspector disabused us , announcing we were in First Class and could either decamp to Second or pay more. This was an easy decision and Second Class was still good. One observation that says a great deal about the Swiss and their attitudes was that in second class were the usual numbers of young people lost to the outside world on their Ipods and phones, many with their feet on the empty seats opposite. Without exception, each had removed their shoes or, in one case, placed a sheet of paper on the seat to rest their feet on.
We reached Chur after dark at around 9pm. We decided to check in to the Comfort Post hotel without delay and then find somewhere for a quick bite to eat. I knew the hotel was an easy walk from the station but was unprepared for the ‘Stepford Wives’, deserted streets feel of the town centre. Lots of closed, expensive shops with lit displays but no people and no sign of life. Ahead, I noticed a drunk starting an argument with himself over a dropped and broken bottle. As we passed, I watched him carefully and sure enough after we passed he chose to run directly at us, heading for the non-existent space between us. , My initial adrenaline driven response was to advise him of his similarity to the male member perched on his shoulders in a loud voice and a brief stand off followed before he dropped more of his pointless possessions, started to weep and we continued to the hotel. Wilkommen am Chur!
We checked in, asked about eating only to be told everywhere closed at 10. So we hurriedly dropped the bags into the well appointed room before venturing out into dark, depopulated Mittel Europa . The churches, Rathaus (town hall) and other medieval buildings were all proving a bit too Teutonic for OH. I was simply living in some episode of Tales From Europe. I neglected to tell her that Chur is situated on the Rhine river. We were both defeated by the menus which were all uncompromisingly German. Bill Bryson compares German to Italian in the language of food and asks you to draw your own conclusions: Schweinefleisch mit kartoffeln or Vitello alla Milanese.
After a number of nearlies we settled on the Drei Bunde, which promised pork in many varieties to be served by Eva Braun’s granddaughter complete in dirndl-like outfit and leather waistcoat. The wooden panelling, tiled stove and pictures of local scenes were a bit disconcerting but in reality the family owned place was friendly enough and the food quite good. I had breaded Pork Cordon Bleu, ham and cheese in an escalope with my second lot of chips in the day, OH went for breaded pork, as above but without the ham and cheese, with noodles. These were substantial portions. Back to the Post hotel with everything very correct and efficient, although as I rapidly dropped off to sleep under a warm Swiss duvet, I imagined I heard several people being dragged away from the street outside for thinking about dropping litter or staring too long into shop windows. And perhaps from some closing Bierhaus:
The branch on the linden is leafy and green
The Rhine gives its gold to the sea
But somewhere a glory awaits unseen
Tomorrow belongs to me
Tomorrow , our Alpine crossing on the Bernina Express over to Italy. Von Ryan is waiting!
Take the last train to Clarksville,
And I’ll meet you at the station.
You can be be there by four thirty,
‘Cause I made your reservation.