Great Drive Series – A Switzerland Sampler

When I worked in Paris many moons ago for 6 months, one of the neat weekend trips I took was a rather rushed visit to Switzerland.  More than anything, we just wanted to leave France.  Having visited Heidelberg and worked in The Netherlands during that period, we opted to go south:  Switzerland (or Schweiz or Suisse, depending on which language you prefer).

We left work, grabbed our backpacks, and rode to the car rental offices in Paris to get our car.  We decided all this within i a day or two from leaving so had no big plans nor hotel reservations anywhere.  All we had identified was some target cities based on the easiest drive-around route.  This was when the Internet was not yet matured so even if we had had the time we would  not have gotten too much info on what to see and do.  So drive we did.

That Friday night, we overnighted in a French town named Besançon, a town of about 200,000+ residents, somewhat east of Dijon, and not far from the Swiss border for all practical purposes.  The town had an old casino which we thought we’d check out except it was all very smoky and we pretty  much just walked right back out, opting for dinner at some non-descript café before going to our small hotel to rest for the night.

The next morning we crossed the Swiss border where we had to buy a permit to drive in Switzerland.  I am not sure if that is still needed but make sure you find out before driving into the country.  We felt that to aim for Geneva would put us to far west and that we would have to backtrack on the same road to head eastward so we opted for passing on Geneva (much as it is definitely worth the visit).  We drove straight into Lausanne as our first stop though we made it a quick one to get info on the roads (i.e., get maps).  We spied the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee facing Lake Geneva, no doubt paid for by money the sponsors of the Olympics pay the IOC for their monopoly.  It looked like quite a pleasant city to live in, I must say.

Lausanne, switzerland, city, lake Geneva, travel, photo, Canon EOS Rebel

Sitting on the northern shores of Lake Geneva is Lausanne

Since we learned that Bern (Berne) and Interlaken were really the must-sees in the western half of Switzerland (we were not going to have enough time to explore the other half in one weekend AND return to Paris on time to show up at work Monday AM), we decided to not spend more time in Lausanne. The map below highlights in yellow the route we decided out which would take us close to Zurich but with no time to spend there, and would have us exit Switzerland at Basel, thereby minimizing backtracking in our route.

Switzerland, map, route, driving, Bern, Lausanne, Interlaken, travel, tourism

Instead we took off and decided the best route was along Lake Geneva (instead of heading back north of Lausanne and along Lake Neuchatel) where we were rewarded with views of the lake on one side and views of vineyards on the other (who knew!) before turning inland to head to Switzerland’s capital, Bern.  The weather, as you may notice, was not the best for awe-inspiring photography (as you can tell) but the sights were still beautiful.

Swiss, vineyards, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Some of the many vineyards we drove by along Lake Geneva

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

THE narrowest steps I have seen, right by the road and NO handrail!

clock tower, Switzerland, Swiss architecture, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Clock tower

Swiss architecture, Switzerland, Alps, drive, driving, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Typical Swiss home along the shores of Lake Geneva

We arrived in Bern and sought the tourist information office – which you could count to be well-organized being a Swiss operation.  And it was!  The young woman helped us find a place to stay in the center of town – nothing fancy needed, just a clean bed and bathroom.  We checked in but immediately took off to our main target:  Interlaken.

The drive to Interlaken (“between lakes”), as the name alludes, requires you to drive along a lake.  The road was curvy and fun to drive.  We arrived at Interlaken and walked around, admiring the beautiful town and setting, with the ice blue waters flowing between Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienxersee) going right through town.  We found a neat spot to eat at and enjoyed a great late lunch admiring the view.

Interlaken, Switzerland, travel, tourism, Alps, ice cold blue, Canon EOS Rebel

Beautiful part of Interlaken

After some more walking, we headed back to Bern (wishing we had not found a hotel yet in Bern so we could stay at Interlaken instead… ) to have dinner and see some of the town.

Bern, Berne, Switzerland, view, vista, photo, travel, tourism, Canon EOS Rebel

Looking back towards Bern on the road towards Interlaken

The next morning we continued our drive (which took us back past Interlaken; the dreaded re-tracing of a route…) on our way to Lucerne, another Swiss town on the shores of the same-named lake.  We parked, walked around town, had lunch and started the long drive back to Paris.

One thing about driving in Switzerland is that there are never ending things to admire whether they be structures, lake, our mountains. You could say we barely scratched the surface on this beautiful country – clearly there are other great driving routes awaiting but for one weekend’s worth of sampling, I am pretty pleased!


Safari on Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park

After our climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro, some of the group had signed up for a safari in Tanzania taking advantage of having spent the time and money to travel so far from home already.  I had been to the Serengeti six years before on a day trip in from the west side since I had been working in Mwanza and only had one day off.  I remember how neat it had been but also how rushed it had been.  I only got to see a lion perched atop a large rock.  I had also done a one day trip into the Pilanesberg Game Reserve close to Pretoria, South Africa after attending a work conference in Johannesburg.

I had been left wanting a proper safari.  However, as I had at least been to these places, a proper safari was not at the top of my bucket list.  The opportunity to return to Tanzania for the Kili climb set up my chance to do a safari proper.

Our safari began with our departure from our hotel in Moshi, Tanzania (just east of Arusha) with all our belongings since we would not return to that town prior to our departure back home days later.  And the first target for our safari was the Lake Manyara National Park in the Great Rift Valley area of Tanzania.

Getting to Lake Manyara NP

As you can see in the first map below, it neighbors the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area to the southeast.  You can also see how much smaller it is than those two, making it quite doable in a short afternoon.  I cannot recall exactly how long it took us from Moshi but I want to say about 3 hours.

Tanzania Map Serengeti Lake Manyara

Map showing Lake Manyara in relation to the rest of the country (Source:

As you can see on the next map, the park mainly sits on the western side of Lake Manyara.  We entered from the north and traveled along the main road until we exited to head to the town of Karatu where we were going to stay for the night before heading into the Serengeti.  The road to Lake Manyara NP is mostly paved or in the process of being paved.  The latter made for a dusty ride but mercifully it was only in certain places.  And, hopefully, it will be completely paved in the near future.  Good job, Tanzania, on investing in the infrastructure that will support your tourism industry!

Map of Lake Manyara Tanzania in relation to Ngorongoro

Detail of the Lake Manyara National Park (Source:

Baboon welcome to Lake Manyara NP

Lake Manyara felt very different to what I remembered of the Serengeti.  Of course, entering the Serengeti the next day confirmed for me that it was not just a matter of me forgetting how the Serengeti had looked on my visit 6 years before.  The Lake Manyara NP, which occupies about 127 sq miles (330 sq km) of which 60% is the lake itself, is very lush with trees providing a different setting for the animals than the Serengeti.  It is compact yet offers a microcosm of what the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro area will later offer us.  The lake seemed to be on the dry side when we were there.  In the following picture, you can barely even see the lake from a slightly higher vantage point on the road out of the park.

Lake Manyara in Tanzania

Baboons quickly makes themselves the first animals we see.

Baboons in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

They are everywhere eating grasses, picking lice or something off each other, and mainly looking at us quizzically but unperturbed.  You can’t help but stare at them and notice their hairless behind.  I respected their privacy and minded their feelings by not taking a picture of said-behinds 🙂

Baboon in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

Baboon in Lake Manyara, Tanzania during safari

And the rest of the wildlife…

…  No, no, not the people in my vehicle!  Moving from the road towards the lake offers different animals to view.  However, I do not know if visitors are taken on vehicle towards the lake – at least we did not.   Regardless here are some of the other local denizens who allowed us into their space.

Dwarf kingfisher bird

Colorful dwarf kingfisher

One of many giraffes we encountered

One of many giraffes we encountered

Zebras under a dark sky in Lake Manyara

A good dark sky is always a good backdrop!

Young and adult zebra in Lake Manyara

A young and an adult zebra wondering who we are

OK, I will NOT take this as a welcome gesture…

We also saw some elephants on this first day…

Elephant in Lake Manyara

The elephant was walking away. We thought that was the end of the show…

… This one in particular seemed to be preparing something for us…  and I use the least graphic of the picture series 🙂

Elephant pooping in Lake Manyara

… but it had something in store for us… a welcome gift? We declined…

Lake Manyara is definitely a small piece of what Tanzania offers its visitors for animal-watching.  But it is a unique ecosystem worth the drive through.  My advice:  see it before the Serengeti or Ngorongoro or, else, it could underwhelm you!

For more info on Tanzania’s many national parks, check their well-designed website at

Where Have I Been? My Countries Visited Map

So here is my countries-visited map as of today…  Filling out a part of the map seems a possible criteria to determine my next set of destinations.  Well, I would not pick probably based on that but it sure is tempting!

For example, Ireland and Portugal would close up a good part of Europe.  Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica would close up Central America – and so close to home!  South America looks more daunting with the 3 “Guianas/Guyanas” and Venezuela being part of what is left…  Africa, well filling out a part of the map quickly would not be possible.  But the map shows that perhaps I need to put some red in western Africa…  I also see a big pocket in southern Asia where I need to paint red…

I seem to have been hitting the Balkan area in the last 2 years by serendipity really:  a wedding in Bulgaria, a wedding party in Greece, hopping from Italy to nearby Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Montenegro, and -soon- a hike in Romania for an orphanage.  I think God wants me to cover the Balkans so I may add Serbia or Moldova when I head to Romania!  (I realize I am stretching the definition of the Balkan peninsula!)

In the end, it will boil down to when I can travel, the local season (for example, Greenland in January would not be my choice), cost, possibility of traveling with someone, etc.  I love the uncertainty because all options are open!

As of May 2012 :  (added Caribbean islands and Balkan countries)

As of June 2011 :

The Key Places to See in Patagonia – On a Map!

As I sit to write about my trip, I thought a map of the Chilean Patagonia would be helpful to illustrate the different places I will  be writing about!



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