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Baden-Baden Germany, Colmar France, Zurich Switzerland: I was tired of traveling, so I went to bed early. It was just too much, too much. I couldn't stand being alone in Germany, and I'd been isolated at work, but the driving alone was also becoming a chore. The peace was very nice that night, but before I fell asleep, I had still not yet decided if/where I’d go the next day. Should I just stay there? Unthinkable. I gave it up to the Lord, cleared my mind, and drifted off. I woke at 6:45 am and prepared to do laundry. Then I thought to myself, “Myself, am I going somewhere today?” and a voice in my head said,” Zurich, Switzerland,”and I asked the voice,”Why not Heidelberg?” and the annoying voice said,”You’ve never been to Switzerland, and Heidelberg is too close”. So I replied,”Yes Master” to the voice. I killed breakfast, devoured it, and left for Zurich.

I drove an Audi A3 turbo-diesel hatchback. It was smaller than the Passat I drove to Salzburg, Austria, and fit me better. Minutes outside of Kaiserslautern, Germany, while trying to clear the fast lane on autobahn A-6, I reached 207 kph (129 miles an hour). I grew to love driving turbo diesels in Europe, and I wonder why more car companies don't make them here. This Audi had even more kick and better gas mileage (36.3 mpg average) than the Passat. But the wind was roaring that day, and I only went for top speed twice.

German drivers drove fast on the autobahns, but unlike the drivers in Virginia, where I lived in the states, Germans were polite, and I don't recall ever seeing any road rage or feeling threatened. I never felt like I was being introduced to the backsides of its citizens. In Hampton Roads, it's like the world has left the back of their hospital gowns open.

I was driving south on autobahn A-5, parallel to the French border, and E-35 was on the French side. I wanted to drive on the French side and come back on the German side, since I'd seen quite a lot of Germany already. That was the plan. I was making it up as I went along, but that was what I came up with. That seemed to be the best way to travel in an area I was not familiar with. The road signs even listed ‘A-5/E-35’ but gave no instructions on reaching the French side of the border. I stopped at Baden-Baden (pronounced Bodden Bodden), which is where, I suspect, my great-great Grandmother, Theresa Wenzel is from. She married Franz Paul, they moved to the U.S., and now I am back in Germany. Some people never learn. Again, I strongly suspect one or both sides of my family have roots in France. Besides my great-great grandmother, Baden-Baden is known for its hot springs (and I don't mean worn-out beds) and was a favorite summer leisure spot for Roman Emperors. It climbs sub-2000 foot mountains of the Black Forest, which I believe is famous for Coo Coo Clocks, and is very picturesque, as are most European towns I saw.

There’s a nice little canal running down the center of town with a powerful current, and when you get near it sounds like a peaceful waterfall. I think I want to live here. I ran up a hill, past a large pink church, past a hot-springs bathing area full of Germans (couldn’t see if they were naked) and then back down. I saw no cemeteries, no one said, “Michael! Wow, I haven’t seen you in 150 years!” There is a town near my home town in Evansville, Indiana called New Baden, which again supports my theory that a bunch of Germans got together and decided to travel the group rate on some beat-up ship, settle in Indiana, and recreate Germany in Indiana. It's just too bad they didn't bring their polite ways with them. The parallels can be shocking--Indiana has a north/south border with Illinois, Algonquin for “tribe of superior men”, and Germany has a north/south border with France. Need I say more? And if I drive directly south of my hometown, I hit Kentucky, which is south of both Indiana and Illinois.

Baden Baden, Germany

Baden Baden, Germany

Baden Baden, Germany

The rain was heavy, so I returned to my Audi. A few miles down the road, near Freiburg, Germany, I chased the largest black cat I’d ever seen, through a muddy field. It looked like a black leopard, and I never found out if it was. It was probably between two and three feet long. I returned from the muddy field, scraped my shoes, and headed out again. I really wanted to see some of France, so when I saw a sign for Colmar, France, I followed it across the border. My two quick visits to Paris and that little jaunt to Strasbourg were not enough for me to 'feel' what the French feel. After 40 minutes of winding country roads, trying to get around painfully slow drivers, I reached Colmar.

Colmar is famous for being the birthplace of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, and for its many canals. I drove through the little town twice, tried following signs to the city center, stopped once and looked around, but I found nothing more than a few mildly attractive buildings and no 'notable' canals. I left without shooting a single photo (this was before I had a digital camera) or seeing anything of note. There must've been something good there, but I didn't have time to look for it. But now I was on the French side of the border and flying my Audi south towards Basel, Switzerland. The wind was extremely strong, even for my much-heavier Audi, and it was raining. I had to keep close control of my driving because I was breaking wind all day. It was like riding a wet noodle down the drain.

When I reached the Swiss border, I was questioned by border guards about my intentions, for the first time since I’ve been in Europe. I told them I just wanted to be loved. Awww--then they coldly told me I needed to buy a motorway pass (40 Swiss Francs). I was hoping for a body cavity search, because I found an interesting use for a snake-in-a-can. I also had some Ricola cough drop jokes that I was ready to spring on them during the search, but no.

Switzerland sure loves tunnels. Anytime something got in their way, they bore a hole through it. The drive to Zurich was one tunnel after another--in, out, in, out--I felt like a Swiss porn star. I was concerned over being low on fuel (remember, I'd been breaking wind all day) and I hadn’t bought any Swiss Francs at the border, so I couldn’t purchase anything in Switzerland without my credit card. Zurich was 79 kilometers southeast of the French/German/Swiss border, in a huge valley on Lake Zurich. It's famous for being the largest city in Switzerland and also has been rated with the highest quality of life of any city in the world! Lake Zurich is about 20 miles long, and visible at the other end of the lake are the Swiss Alps, ranging from the 8212 ft Santis to the 11857 ft Todi. Just over 100 miles south is the Matterhorn and 40 miles west of that is the 15771 ft Mount Blanc, the highest peak in Europe, but they were both well outside the mileage limit imposed by my unit. I'd hoped my bicycle would show up in the mail soon and I could use my end-of-deployment vacation time I'd scheduled to drive down there and ride up and down those monsters. The $2500 bicycle was two months late in arriving.

With no map, I tried to follow signs to the city center of Zurich, but ended up on a high hill overlooking Zurich. I climbed out of my Audi in heavy rain, the wind opening my door for me (dunke schoen). I shot three marginal photos and here I've pieced them together (click on the photo for full-size panorama of Zurich).

Zurich, Switzerland, overlook

Conditions were very nasty, and I was concerned about my gas situation. I'd driven through half of Zurich and not seen a single gas station. Now my whole purpose in life became finding diesel fuel for my Audi. He was hungry. I found two gas stations, neither of which accepted VISA, and I regretted not having filled up back near Manheim, Germany or, duh, buying Swiss Francs at the border. I've been afraid of committment for a long time, and Switzerland was one of three countries in Europe that didn't switch to the Euro currency (of which I had plenty) on January 1, 2002.

I’d have to make a run for the border to buy gas in Germany, but just a mile down the road I found a station that accepted VISA! I was saved and did my happy dance before passing gas. One more gas joke to go...I bought lunch there (peanut M&M’s) and asked the lady at the station how to find ‘tourist areas’ (I had to be very careful how I said that, just five months after the World Trade Center attacks). I had been on the right road all along, and the sign ‘City See’ actually meant City Sea, or, Lake Zurich, which was the cool area of town where all the confused, frightened people (tourists) hung out, those people with the eternally wrinkled brows and foreheads and temples bleeding from all the scratching. I thought City See meant ‘scenic overlook’ of the city since that’s how I ended up at the top of that blustery hill earlier. Boy, I am so un-Swiss.

Lake Zurich, Switzerland

Lake Zurich, Switzerland

I passed through heavy stop-start traffic, getting impatient with drivers and pedestrians. I parked illegally near the castle-like train station, in a taxi spot (with four other cars) and walked the Limmat River to Lake Zurich. I visited Gross Munster, the resident big-church. These big cities always had some big, fancy church.

It was handsome but small for Germany (but this wasn’t Germany!) and there was nothing inside worth photographing. After visiting Strausbourg, Cologne, Trier, and Ulm, this was small fries. I watched sea gulls and ducks on Lake Zurich and helped two Swiss dudes feed them. Then I ran back past St. Peters cathedral, which has the largest clock face in Europe--8.7 meters diameter (28.5 feet - photo below, green steeple).

That’s about it--it was purty and nice. Just take a little Baden-Baden, mix with Luxembourg, a dab of Salzburg, make two servings, add horse meat, spread evenly over Gilgen, Austria, and you have Zurich. I LOVED Europe--I felt like I could LIVE here and be happy. I just needed to make sure, and this is no joke, that I picked a country where the ladies shaved their armpits and legs.

I changed my return route four times as I drove out of Zurich, and crossed into Germany where the farewell sign read ‘Gute Fahrt!’ I blushed and replied,"Thank you". The long stay in Europe had gotten very, very tiring. It was cold. I felt really cold.
Duck, in Lake Zurich, Switzerland

Gross Munster Cathedral, Zurich, Switzerland

St. Peters, Zurich, Switzerland

Parking Lot, Zurich, SwitzerlandMe, at Lake Zurich, Switzerland

Train Station, Zurich, Switzerland