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The Filthy Lucre Tour
Kiki in the snow
12th May 2006 - 14th May 2006
Some hiking; wedding in Reims; continuing car saga

As it became apparent that we were unlikely to get to Reims by car, we bought a train ticket instead. It involved getting the last train from Lungern to Luzern, then another from Luzern to Basel and then the sleeper from Basel to Paris. As we'd pledged to pick up Vassili, Anna and Ioana in Paris, we opted instead to hire a car at the Gare du Nord as they had no other means of getting to Reims on time for the wedding. Our return journey was on the TGV to Berne, a night there and then back to Lungern via Interlaken - I'm sitting writing this on the train to Interlaken.

As our first train didn't leave until after 9pm on the Friday, we decided it would be rude not to take the cable car up the mountain directly next to our campsite. It's a rise of about 900m to Turren, at about 1600m, and then a chairlift ride up another 400m to the summit of Schoenbüel. The lady at the booking office assured us that the large restaurant at the top of Schoenbüel was indeed open, despite us being distinctly out of the skiing and hiking seasons. When we got to the bottom they started the cable car especially for us and we shared the ride up with some mechanics, who in turn started the chairlift for us and plopped us onto it. As we approached the top of Schoenbüel we'd seen a grand total of zero other tourists, and as we alighted from the chairlift the only people there appeared to be a very nice elderly German couple sitting looking at the view. We found a restaurant employee who answered "no" to our "sprichen zie Eenglish" question, and "non" to our "Francais?" followup. The jolly German tourist weighed in to help us - he knew no English other than "I eem seeventee seeven!", but this certainly beat us not knowing the German for "food". He and Kiki managed to establish that the restaurant was willing to serve us either "chicken nuggets" or "fish nuggets". We got the feeling that we ought to be thankful for even that, so we opted to have a plate of each. We admired the truly splendid view for about ten minutes before the lady in the restaurant put on some sort of nineties pop compilation CD, which sadly you could also hear if you were sitting outside.

We'd not paid for the chairlift ride back to Turren, so we headed down to look for the "road" that the woman at the bottom insisted would lead us nicely back to the cable car. As there was still a reasonable snow covering in a lot of places, we ended up on a rather more novel route to the cable car, which I like to think of as Kiki's Swiss mountaineering baptism. I suspect she likes to think of it more as Chris failing to find the proper way back.

In the evening, our two Swiss trains arrived with Swiss precision and the French sleeper from Basel to Paris was predictably difficult to sleep in. If anyone has any ideas about how to actually sleep on a train, plane or ferry I'd be delighted to hear them. Earplugs don't help me much and either drinking beer or taking sleeping tablets just serve to up the ante, because if you don't manage to sleep you'll be even worse off the next day. My idea of going for a run shortly before we left seemed to help a bit, but I still got the feeling that if anyone whispered my name during the journey I'd have heard it.

The wedding went well - Reims is in the heart of the Champagne region, and whilst driving around you go past the gates of many of the famous champagne houses. The reception was held inside the Ruinard grounds, and so naturally the only thing you could drink all night was Ruinard champagne. This sounds good on paper and it certainly was rather splendid, but once you've had a few pints of expensive champagne it has a slightly syrupy feel to it and at 4am I couldn't help finding myself imagining that the drink in front of me had magically transformed into Stella. After a fairly long and quite involved service of an hour or so in a quite magnificent church, followed by a transfer to the champagne house for some drinks. This was a somewhat welcome interlude for us, because we hadn't got changed yet. Our original plan was to arrive in Reims on the Friday and, no doubt after a couple of drinks with other wedding guests, get into our finery on Saturday morning and then head to Paris to meet Vassili and Anna off the Eurostar and whisk them back down to Reims for the service. As our car was sitting in Switzerland with its legs in the air, the plan now required considerably more time for us all to get to our hotel in Reims, get changed and _then_ head to the service. Eurostar weren't very keen to bring their timetable back an hour, so what happened instead was that we completely ran out of time to get changed and instead arrived at the reception just as it started, wearing our civvies. We hid fairly successfully at the back; at the end of the service the guests wait outside the church to greet the bride and groom and as they approached the groom looked at me with a horrified expression. "Where's the kilt?" he said nervously, as I looked at my trainers and muttered some humble excuses. I discovered subsequently that he wasn't so much offended by my lack of vestigial deference to his nuptuals, but concerned as he'd promised the French contingent at the wedding the spectacle of a man in a skirt with no pants.

Once at the champagne house we didn't start eating until around nine, and the food carried on coming until the two (French and English) wedding cakes were dished out at what must have been about 2am. There are no speeches at French weddings, so the bride's father was doubly impressive by not only making a very good one but making it whilst seamlessly switching between French and English. Roger, one of the two best men, has to be congratulated for making his whole speech in le very finest English schoolboy French, which je understoode particularlement well as ca est what je can parlez aussi.

Whilst others danced, I spent most of the time at the reception avoiding a progressively more drunk French gentleman who was insisting that I sung him Flower of Scotland, and showed his wife what I had underneath my kilt. He kept telling me that he was okay with me showing his wife my undercarriage, but I had difficulty getting him to understand that his acquiesence wasn't really the obstacle. Whilst attempting to get out of the singing part of the deal, I mistakely used the phrase "maybe later", and he came and found me every half hour to remind me. At about 3am I was cajoled into singing the first two lines and then decided that if I wasn't drunk enough now to solo the whole thing, it was unlikely to happen. As I made my customary one trip to the dance floor to sway incompetently for two minutes, the gentleman seized his opportunity, whooshed onto his knees and took a rather good flash photo of my hirsuit posterior and the rearward portion of my testicles. Delighted that I had turned out to be wearing everything he hoped, he ran around the dance floor to show the snapshot to his delighted wife, and then continued to proudly show it to the great majority of the guests on the dance floor, who peered at it with quite an interesting variety of reactions. It's the first time I've ever had a critical public appraisal of my testicles, and personally I don't think it went too badly.

Compared to Switzerland, I couldn't help not being bowled over by France. A lot of the place is somewhat disorganised, the streets are just a bit dirty and a disappointing proportion of people working in the service industry are either rude, incompetent or both. Perhaps our view was coloured somewhat by the fact that we spent a couple of hours hanging around the Gare du Nord railway station, which I'd imagine most French people wouldn't count as their most appealing tourist attraction, and perhaps it was because we'd been staying in a particularly attractive part of Switzerland.

Ah yes, and the continuation of the car saga. The chap phoned me on Friday to say that the car would be ready to pick up on Saturday, and that there was actually a problem with something as well as the radiator. He told me what the part was in German, but that didn't help very much. I got the impression that he meant the radiator issue had been caused by this other thing, whatever it is. We'll hopefully pick the car up and get the no doubt sizeable bill this afternoon - perhaps I'll have more of an idea then of what else was wrong with it, or perhaps I'll never know.

Distance travelled: 4872km car, 1115km train
Books read: C:2, K:5
Bottles of wine remaining: 5
Countries visited: 5 (UK, France, Switzerland, Austria, Lichtenstein)

Next: Conclusion of the car stuff
Previous: Car explodes into fireball, we barely survive

Diary Photos

Kiki in the snow

Kiki mountaineering

Where we were stranded

In Reims

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