Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Scheming Our Way Across the Border

So I realized that my post-by-post account of Europe is taking longer than the actual trip. So I promise to wrap this stuff up soon. A few more posts and I'm out. Promise.

Switzerland came highly recommended by many people. The problem was that most of these rec's came from our parents and friends' parents. Figuring that the old folk would be more into the strictly tourist thing, we kept out stay in Switzerland to a day and half. Little did we know that everything we had heard about the country was true...and more. Seriously, the place looked surreal. Just too perfect. Every city seems to be situated on a lake and the vistas are just unbelievable.

Of course, things are always too good to be perfect so here's the deal: Save up before you go to Switzerland. We're talking US$20 for a medium Pizza Hut pizza. We're talking US$10 for a value meal. And believe it or not, we're talking an extra 10 cents for every ketchup package. And that's just the fast food! Sticket shock doesn't even describe how all of our jaws dropped when we saw how much everything costs. But we were there for a short time so we dealt with it. We found a great place which is also found in Canada and on the East Coast: Marché. Great buffet with a wide range of items to let us get a feel for swiss cooking.

So the thing that's too good to be perfect? Border Crossings.

As I mentioned earlier, we had a Mercedes M-Class rental. Now, this SUV is a phat ride and fun to drive, but it's a 5-seater. And there were six of us. We had originally requested a "people mover" (that's what they call our mini-vans over there) which could seat 7. That would leave more than enough room for us and our voluminous luggage. Even though we had confirmed this people-mover the day before, we ended up with this Mercedes. We managed to fit luggage and bodies into the car and got moving. While crowded, the luxury and the slightly-more-space-than-expected made it manageable. We realized that our SUV even had a text-based navigation system. Sweet!

Until we reached the Swiss border in Geneva.

The border patrol agents immediately pulled us over and asked for our passports. At first it seemed like a cursory check since we didn't speak French very well and our SUV was packed. But then they asked for the car's registration. Uh Oh. Luckily we found the registration. But then agent immediately honed in on the fact that our car was meant for only 5 people, not 6. I didn't even think that car registration listed that information. But in Germany, cars come with that info. And in Switzerland it matters.

So Gustaf (or Pierre or whatever the dude's name was) asks his boss about this. They go into the office and in the meantime, we start scheming about what to do. The whole time, the apprentice agent is standing right next to the car listening in. Anyways, Pierre tells us we can't pass, we try to make him understand that it wasn't out fault that we got a 5-seater, yada, yada. End result, he makes us turn back and we're worried.

We wander around town for a while trying to find the local rental office as well as the tram to cross the border on foot. We figured we'd fool the agents by having two of us cross the border on foot then following behind in the car. Then we'd meet in Geneva proper. Even though the border agent had suggested two people stepping out from the car and going by train, we still felt like we'd be getting away from something by just meeting up in Geneva and driving illegally with 6.

So the whole maneuver took 2 hours of planning and it turns out the border agents didn't really care too much. They asked the walkers a few questions. They looked inside the car a couple of times to make sure there were no more than 5 inside. And that's it. No running for safety across the border. No arguing. No bullets. No worries.

Our only remaing worry: Getting back across the border into France on our way back to Paris! We figured we'd scheme our way back into France, but it turns out that our lovely Mercedes lead the way. The nav system in the car was so perfect (most of the time) that we even named the girl: Sophie.

We figured out that Basel would be a good city to cross back into the border since the city itself exists in France, Switzerland, and Germany. And if there's any walking across the border, it would be better to do so in a town rather than on the freeway. After programming Sophie to find a border crossing she not only found one for us, she found a tiny one where there were no agents. No agents=no fuss. Good stuff.

So even though I promised to wrap things up quickly, I've written a hell of a lot...really, I'm trying. I'm just to wordy!

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