86: Purgatory Found.

This sign is on a small unassuming stone church building that faces a pub, a lingerie store called "Agent Provocateur" and a chocolate shop. The place ripples with temptation for a wide range of weakness (mine being the chocolate shop).

We found purgatory. It’s in Geneva and wouldn’t you know it, it has a chocolate shop, a bar and a lingerie store.

Switzerland is the first place I’ve walked down Purgatory, but the place-name occurs in the U.S. as well. According to Google Maps there is a Purgatory Falls (New Hampshire), Purgatory Chasm (Rhode Island) and at least five Purgatory Roads, none of which are near the West Coast, which is as expected because everyone  knows that is Paradise.

Canada appears to have only one Purgatory Road on the Bruce Peninsula in southern Ontario, but there is a Purgatory Trail on British Columbia’s Hornby Island and another in Vancouver Island’s Strathcona Park.  Both are in the middle of cougar-and-wolf-infested forests, and therefore not likely to ever be visited by me as I am worried that some of my friends may be right to believe I am a wildlife attractant. One observed that she has canoed in the North West Territories, strung herself across canyons in the wilds of the U.S. Southwest and hiked coast-to-coast without glimpsing a bear, but when she is anywhere near me, the things just pop out of the forest. We had a bear hang around my car at the cottage to the point where we thought we should just name the thing, strap on a leash and take it in to the vet for shots.

In this case, however, familiarity breeds caution: Bears are omnivores and therefore only 50% likely to view me as lunch, whereas cougars and wolves lean toward a steady meat diet, which means I am a walking prime rib roast. No sense taking chances. I had two cougar sightings on my roster within five years of moving to Vancouver Island and a third in our 12th year, whereas acquaintances who had lived there for 30+ years had never come close – that tells me all I need to know.

But to get back to Purgatory: There is no purgatory in England, which is as expected what with their bitter Anglican/Catholic history where both sides appeared to tell the other to go to Hell. “Go to Purgatory,” just doesn’t carry the same oomph.

As far as my Google Maps search is concerned, Geneva’s rue de Purgatoire may be the only one in Europe. Belgium has a “purgatory” at 4860 Pepinster, but it appears to be an unassuming two-story brown-brick building. We don’t know what to make of that.

Caveat: I don’t know why Google turns up so few Purgatory place names – it may be part of their algorithm – so there could be more of them.

The view down rue de Purgatoire includes a lingerie shop. Hmm, that seems out-of-place.

93: Biel’s Alstadt – Worth Another Look

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Biel/Bienne, our small town in the heart of Switzerland’s watchmaking district, home to Rolex, Swatch, Swiss Timing and a bunch of other timepieces I can’t afford, has a lovely old-town, unique in Europe for this one fact: It has not succumbed to franchise retailers.

The street-level storefronts in many European medieval districts are jammed with H & M clothing, Bata shoes and Ochsner sporting  shops. It makes for a lively people-packed tourist quarter, but it does take something away. Biel has tiny little shops with not a single franchise name in sight, which I find more charming than I would have expected, being a such a devotee of the expected and ordinary as that I am.

The downside is that this part of town is really most vibrant on Saturdays when a huge farmers market takes up the main courtyard and the little chocolatiers, butchers and flea-market stores are open. The upside is it feels more real than the brand-name endowed and much-populated avenues of Lucerne and Zürich – although both those cities are amazing and must-see stops here. I’m not trying to deride any urban council’s attempts at revitalization, just making an observation.

Take a look in the slideshow above. See if you can find a McDonalds.