Friday, July 05, 2013

The Cleanliness of Public Toilets

As far as I'm concerned, using public toilets is a nuisance. First off, finding one can be a challenge. Then there is the condition of the facility once it is found.

Two years ago, my cousin came for a visit. When she returned to Canada she announced she did not plan to return until she could place the toilet paper in the toilet instead of in a container beside the toilet. Furthermore, she wanted all the toilets in public bathrooms to have toilet seats, and an ample supply of toilet paper and soap.

Even though the public municipal bathrooms in Mexico are inadequate, most of the time there's a charge to use one. Usually a woman sits outside the bathroom collects money and hands out toilet paper. Sometimes the toilets do not flush, generally toilet seats are lacking and soap is of assorted quality, if there is any.  Seldom will there be hot and cold running water.

I’m currently in Vancouver, Canada. I spent five hours walking around Stanley Park. I used two city park washrooms, free of charge, spotless, with toilet seats and plenty of supplies.

Northern climates appear to have cleaner facilities than southern. I have visited Switzerland and Iceland. Both countries keep their public washrooms spotless. Mexico, Cuba and Italy all neglect public facilities. In my travels, Belize was the worst offender.

If I need to use a toilet, I can't afford to be picky. I'll use whatever facility is provided and pay whatever cost. However, I've come to appreciate public bathrooms provided by the wealthier northern countries with their healthier tax base.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Basel, Switzerland September 13 and 14, 2012

View from my Hotel Jenny terrace
I'm on my way to a small village in Alsace, France, and will be staying at Hotel Jenny.

To reach the hotel I take the train from Lucerne to Basel, Switzerland, my plan is to take a taxi from the Basel train station to the hotel; I was told the taxi fare would be approximately 20 Euro.

Forest path close to Hotel Jenny
When I reach the Basel train station, I discover the fare will be 60 Euros. I do not want to pay that much, and look for the tourist office in the train station to find out what alternatives I have.

 The tourist office is busy and noisy. This complicates my ability to find an alternative way to reach Alsace. Two women, obviously charged with the responsibility of assisting tourists who arrive via train, stand behind the counter.  While I'm talking to one of the women, the other woman is standing next to her, speaking to other travelers. It's difficult to hear and difficult to be heard. The woman I'm not talking to tells me to not talk so loud, but I've been raising my voice so that I can be overheard over her voice, at least that's what I think.

It takes a long time to get the information I'm seeking. Eventually I discover that it is not difficult to get from the train station to the airport. Swiss buses easily accommodate travelers with suitcases, and the bus fare is reasonable. Switzerland and France share the airport. On the French side, for 20 Euros a taxi takes me to the hotel.

Rine River - Basel, Switzerland
After I settle into my room, I embark on a journey that will take me on the most charming walk I've ever experienced. I go up a hill toward the French village of Hagenthal-le-Bas and turn right at a point where I see a gate that can be lowered. It looks like a checkpoint, but it isn't, and I have no idea why it is there. The turn right leads me to the edge of a cornfield. I walk alongside the cornfield then around it, and through a small forest. On the other side of the forest there are fields once more, and a hill to climb.

At the top of the hill I see another village. I walk toward and into the village. All the signs are in German. I stop at a restaurant for lunch and ask what country I'm in. I'm in Switzerland.

I get to thinking, and ask the restaurant proprietor if it was this easy to traverse the border during WW 11. He tells me that his father told him the German's erected barbed wire to prevent travel, and that three-quarters of the village borders France.

September 14, 2012

I once more take the delightful path that leads into the Swiss village, but extend my journey all the way to Basel. When I reach Basel, I look for and find the Rhine River, and wander along its banks for a long time.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Lucerne, Switzerland - September 11 and 12, 2012

Montreaux to Lucerne is a little less than three hours, again with one change.  I arrive to miserable, damp and cold weather. I'm wearing sandals, a light blouse, and no sweater.

Footbridge across Reuss River
The walk from the train station to my hotel is full of fairy tale magic. Swans, ducks and other birds enjoy the waters of Lucerne. A covered, wooden footbridge angles its way across the Reuss River.  I've been instructed to walk across the third footbridge.

My room in the Best Western Hotel Krone is in the attic, the sloped roof does not bother me and the view out my window is magical. Lucerne is Swiss German. The buildings are reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel's gingerbread house, and I instantly have a greater appreciation for Swiss German architecture.

Since the weather is terrible, I decide my best choice for tomorrow will be the Golden Round Trip that begins with a cruise around Lake Lucerne, then a ride to the top of Mount Pilatus (where it is rumored Pontius Pilot is buried), on what is touted to be the world's steepest cogwheel train. To descend the mountain travelers ride a cable car, take a short walk to a bus stop, and a bus ride back to Lucerne finishes the journey. It takes a half day.

September 12, 2012
Lucerne - View from my hotel

It's still raining. However, at the top of the mountain there is snow. This is the first time I've seen snow since the winter of 2008, and I do not like it much. Luckily I'm inside and don't plan to stay on top the mountain for long. The train ride up was not as interesting as it would have been had it been a sunny day.

The clouds thin out as I ride the cable car. Cows in the pasture serenade with their cowbells. Switzerland is the first country I've been in where dairy farmers put bells on the cows. It is interesting music that comes to full life when all, or most, of the cows are grazing.

In the afternoon, I study a list of attractions and decide to walk to the Robert Wagner museum. Wagner spent six years living on Lake Lucerne. I might add he didn't pay his rent. Wagner, snob, racist and generally pain in the backside is a good example of how being talented does not necessarily mean you are a good person.

Basel Switzerland and the Alsace area of France are calling. I'll answer the call tomorrow.

Montreaux, Switzerland -September 9 and 10, 2012

Fountain - Lake Geneva
 It takes approximately three hours to travel from Zermatt to Montreaux; with a transfer in Brig. Zermatt was German Swiss. Montreaux is French Swiss. The difference between the two places is palatable.

I thought I could walk to my hotel.  I'm wrong. Tourist office staff tell me I should take a cab because it is a steep uphill walk. I take their advice, and I'm glad for it.

Walkway - Lake Geneva
I'm early; my room at the Tralala Hotel is not quite ready. I'm offered a glass of wine and within about five minutes I'm told I can go to my room. Glad to be relieved of my suitcase, I leave the hotel to venture down to beautiful Lake Geneva. I hang loose over an expensive lunch in a first-class restaurant that overlooks the lake. Tomorrow, I'm off to see Chateau Chillon.

September 10, 2012

The day stretches out before me and I take my time. Instead of heading immediately to the lake, I wander streets that will guide me through the center of Montreaux. After a breakfast that lacks substances, coffee and pastry is all that is available, a French breakfast is similar to that of an Italian, and I cannot find the simple, yet hardy, breakfasts offered in Zermatt.

Chateau Chillon - Lake Geneva
I walk for what seems like miles and still no sign of the castle. The manicured gardens that border the lake are so classy, charming, and French that my wanderings are not aggravating, but pleasurable. Eventually, I ask and learn I have been walking for a long time in the opposite direction of the castle.

I turn around and continue to walk. I do not want to run out of camera battery power. Finding a store that sells batteries proves a challenge. I ask around, batteries are not sold in hotel gift shops or in pharmacies. People working in these places explain I need to go to the commercial center. Eventually I discover that what they call a commercial center, I call a shopping center. In the shopping center I need to find a camera shop. (My camera does not need specialized batteries; regular AA is all that is required.) With a sufficient supply of batteries, I return to the lake and continue my walk. This time I head in the direction of the castle.

This castle is very different than Malaspina castle. It does not sit on top a mountain, but is situated on a rock rising out of Lake Geneva. It is somehow less imposing, friendlier. The cone shaped roofs of the chateau add fairytale elegance, a famous place, occupied since the Bronze Age.

From the 12th Century until 1536 Chillon was in the hands of the Savoy family.  The Savoys conquered most of the area that is now French speaking Switzerland. They controlled major trade routes linking Italy to northwestern Europe. In 1214, Thomas 1 of Savoy founded Villeneuve, two kilometers from Chillon. There he constructed a tollbooth and warehouses, and Chillon became an important governing center.

Since the Savoys governed such an expansive region, in order to maintain control, it was necessary to travel among castles within their territory, occasionally staying at Chillon. However, because of Chillon's strategic position a castellan (governor of the castle) maintained permanent residence. By the end of the 15th Century, until the Bernese conquered the area, the castle was generally neglected because the Savoys preferred other locations.

In 1536 the Swiss, more accurately the Bernese, occupied Chillon. For over 260 years it maintained is position as fortress, arsenal and prison.

In 1798 the Bernese left the castle and in 1803 it became the property of the Canton of Vaud, which was founded that same year. In the 1800s, Romantic intellectuals rediscovered the middle ages. 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote La Nouvelle Heloise in Chillon. Chillon also inspired Gustave Flaubert and Victor Hugo. However, it was Lord Byron's poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, that above all other writings brought tourists by the thousands to see the castle.

Although tourists flocked, the Vaud government paid no heed, and altered the castle to make it better suited for the storage of war weapons. However, eventually, at some point near the end of the 19th Century, the castle officially became a tourist attraction.