Sunday, May 6

Geneva, Day Two: Illegal Immigration

We were already aware of the atrocious weather conditions we were going to get over the weekend, but it was still a bit depressing to witness it first hand. Going for walks and the like was no longer an option. Adding to that the late start and how we didn't have any kind of game plan, we decided to rent a car instead. And so, we headed over to the airport.

The kind lady at the rental place advised us on where to go in order to see some mountains, and which roads to take in order to get there. It seemed pretty easy enough, and we laughed when we were told to make sure we didn't enter Italy accidentally, as if that was even possible. We did however find it odd when asked if we had valid Schengen Visas.

We went on our way. We were warned that we'd be driving on toll roads and so were expecting the kiosks that had greeted us after ten minutes of driving. Realising we had no change between us, we stopped at the small CHANGE shop directly preceding the gates where we thought we had to pay; I jumped out and handed the lady behind the counter 100 Francs to make smaller. I stopped her as I realised she was in fact giving me Euros, explaining that I only needed toll money and didn't plan on leaving Switzerland at all. At that point, I had no idea why she was pointing down the road shouting "France" as if I was stupid, so I left, hoping we could pay by debit or something instead.

Returning to the car and explaining the strange turn of events to my companion we carried on past the toll booth. All of a sudden we noticed all the French flags and road signs around us. It finally clicked with us what had happened and everything finally made sense - the questions about visas, the Euros, everything. We didn't pass a toll booth; no, we had in fact passed a border crossing and were now in France. Whoops.

Now ordinarily this would have been funny. However there was one big problem - that of passports. My friend had rented the car and so had his with him; I was big and clever and sensible and decided to leave mine secure in the hotel safe. That's right folks: I had crossed a European border without a passport.

We decided to carry on with the trip; we had to eventually tackle re-entry into Switzerland anyway and so it made sense to make the most of France while we were already there. After an hour or so of driving (even deeper into France), we arrived at our intended destination of Chamonix Mont Blanc, where we stopped for a while in order to grab some lunch.

Chamonix Mont Blanc is the kinda place Bollywood goes in order to shoot those songs, so if you've seen any Indian movies in the past ten years or so you'll know what it was like. The weather was still crappy so visibility was poor; so much so that we didn't even see Mont Blanc itself. Still, the village itself was nice and picturesque enough.

We got back in the car. The aim now was to leave the main roads and find something a bit more "windy and off the beaten track", and so we headed towards the smallest roads we could see on the map we had. The inclines were a bit of a struggle for our mighty Toyota Yaris, but it turned out to be a good idea anyway: we found some of the most striking views even with the poor visibility. Most of the smaller towns were deserted due to it no longer being the peak ski season, but that gave the place a good sense of isolated calm anyway.

By that point we were kinda done with France. The next stop was Montreux and then on to Vevey for dinner, aiming to get home via the far side of Lake Leman. This of course meant another border crossing, but we were confident; if it was anything like the Swiss-Franco border we had crossed before we wouldn't have any trouble.

Except, of course, it wasn't. Vallorcine was the name of the border town, and as we approached the queue of cars being checked by the armed attendant at the gate... well we started to wonder what exactly we were going to do. The only thing I had was my "European Union Health Card", which looked as pathetic as it sounds. Needless to say, the guard returned this and asked where my passport was. We explained the situation in our finest English accents but to no avail; referring to us as "artistes" we were asked to pull up on the side while it was figured out what to do with us.

The attendant returned after a few minutes, requesting that we get out of the car and stand well clear of it. After checking it through thoroughly he let us go with a smile, advising us to consider travelling with a passport in future. I'm still not sure on what technical ground he had let us continue - he hadn't taken my name or anything so it was probably just luck or procedure to stop those without the proper documents.

But we were back in Switzerland now and decided not to question that fact too much, and headed toward Montreux with good speed. The heavens had opened up again and the rain was steady when we arrived at the lake-side town. We parked up and got out for a while, but quickly decided to move on after realising we didn't actually want to leave the parking lot on foot.

My friend had learned of an Iraqi restaurant situated in the nearby town of Vevey. We had given ourselves an hour to get there but had found it much sooner; the rain had stopped by then so we explored the surroundings before settling to eat at Aladdin. I must admit that it was pretty odd finding such a place in the relative middle of nowhere (they even allowed us to pray), but I guess that just testifies to my friend's resourcefulness - I'm not sure how many of you will ever go to Vevey, but if you do, make sure you check it out.

As it had since begun to rain again we spent the rest of the evening chilling out in Aladdin, me with my ice cream and my friend with his Shisha. But it finally got late and so we started the final drive home. Apart from the odd wrong turning or two it was pretty uneventful - but I had a feeling we both had had enough by that point anyway. All in all we were on the road for around twelve hours (I've plotted the route on Google Maps, here) and we got a lot done for a half day's work. I'm still not quite sure how we had managed it really.

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