Tuesday, April 26, 2011

#6 Paris and my love/hate relationship with it

the city of lights, the city of love

I have visited Paris quite a few times, and this time sealed the deal for my relationship with it.

It truly is an amazing city with grandeur, history, beauty and love...

but I can't get myself to ever want to be there again once I have visited. I know you are asking why, but it is just my feeling of forever being a stranger. And I know "stranger"...I have lived in and visited many countries in this world, and I always feel like a stranger, a visitor...or better yet, someone that does not belong in Paris.

The Louvre is wonderful and stimulating for the eye and hearty discussion ensued after my children visited for the first time. My daughter was not sure she was comfortable calling naked bodies art, and she voiced her dislikes like a true critic! Both of our children surprised my husband and I when they truly enjoyed searching the map and finding the path to our next statue or painting that one of us wanted to see. We ended up wandering amongst all the amazing (and not so amazing) halls for about 3 hours! This was much more than I expected and pleased me to no end to give our children this opportunity.

The Eiffel Tower was another highlight. Luckily the lines were bearable in the morning when we went and the view from the top is always spectacular.

The Arc de Triomphe had a special event that involved what looked like military and dignitaries involved, so we only passed and admired the Arc while continuing our walk down the Champs de Elysee.

The stores had their eye candy concept cars,
brand names and fancy clothes, but we found the restaurant where my children tried escargot! My son liked it and my daughter, who never eats fish, actually took up the courage to try it. She declared it was alright with a little jump in her seat to help it go down her throat...precious moment for my husband and I!

The beautiful buildings, lovely streets to walk, the Tuileries to stroll and have lunch...it all really makes for a romantic, lovely city to visit.

But for me, I just feel like a stranger in the crowd...in the throng of many other strangers...

I can not complain too much though...because I always seem to go back!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

#5 The rest of the days in Switzerland

We spent the night at the same place our son was for camp. They happened to be the only school there...all 9 students and two teachers, at the time, so there was plenty of room. This camp holds up to 180 students at its peak time. My children will go there for summer camp this year also!
The views the camp rooms had out their windows was spectacular...mountains capped in snow, valleys turning green with spring.

After breakfast we started out again as a whole family. It felt good to have our son back with us, though it was a special time to be with just our daughter also. Our son is not one to give many details, but throughout the rest of the trip, he kept coming up with little bits and pieces of what happened on his trip, so that's when I know it made an impression and that it was good!

Our first stop was to go to Interlaken. The roads were windy up and down the mountains, with beautiful villages along the way. As we arrived in Interlaken, the sun was shining and the hotel was perfect.
Above is the view from our hotel room...just so pretty, isn't it?!

We strolled around the cute, quaint streets while looking in shop windows and admiring the scenery all the while. The snow had melted down in the valleys, but there was still quite a bit up the mountains. We took a train ride up to Grindewald First and strolled there amongst the skiers, snowboarders, shops and restaurants. We went to one of the mountain top stops on the cable car and had a beautiful lunch with the sun shining brightly but still snow all around!

The next day, though we didn't want to leave, we had reservations for 2 nights in Luzern. So, off we loaded the car again, and drove through the winding roads of Switzerland, looking for our next location. Funny thing is...when we got there, I had booked the room for 2 nights...but the wrong 2 nights! They seemed a bit upset, but relaxed when I said, in my so relaxed vacation mood voice... Well, if you need to charge me, that's fine. Just let me know if our room is still available and we can stay in it until Saturday! They relaxed a little...and even gave us an upgraded room with a river view! Wow, I need to remember to stay calm a little more!
Here is our hotel

and a few views of The Chapel Bridge from our room.

Luzern was pretty, and a much bigger city than Interlaken. It was bustling with workers and what seemed like mostly locals, though there were quite a few hotels, so I'm sure there must have been some tourists mixed in. We decided to go to another mountain top experience and rode a train and ski lift up to Mount Titlis.

The snow was deep and seemed a little more solid here than at Grindewald, and there were, again, a load of skiers and snowboarders trying to cram their last days of winter bliss into their schedules! Check out this guy with a baby on his back! I used to walk with our son in a backpack like this...but skiing down a huge mountain? Wow, impressive!
One of the funny highlights I have from Luzern was a place called La Spaghetteria. Now, my daughter spotted this Italian restaurant right outside our hotel. I thought, well...the name is a bit off, but by the time our stomachs were grumbling and evening was upon us, we said, why not, let's give it a try! Well...
it turned out to be a small family run business that had the best gnocchi pesto, minestrone soup, rucula salad with delicious parmesan cheese slices, lamb, panna cotta, etc...
The parents were from Italy and Portugal, the daughter was one of the waitresses...
and we ended up going there both nights in Luzern! It was such a find, and we are all so happy that our daughter spotted the sign for it, and trusted her!

so, after three days together as a family, driving around for a total of 7 days,
we headed to Zurich to drop off the car, and start on our train journeys.
Coming next, Paris!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

#4 On the way to pick up our son in Leysin, Switzerland

We left Genoa after taking a few rooftop pictures from our hotel on this sunny, glorious day.

Once again, the magnificent views of the Alps, the roadside towns and churches and the green pastures surrounded us.

We stopped at a lake town called Lago Maggiore for lunch.

It was definitely low season seeing as the first restaurant we stopped at was not even open for another few days; and the town square we found had only a few locals lunching with us. I loved the little stores with these spices and Pinnochio's!

They even had a tea named after my Father :)

Once again, I can not stress enough the beauty of every turn we drove around. We were very lucky to have such beautiful weather, also!
As we climbed the mountain road, which is sometimes closed to traffic because of weather related issues, we found ourselves at the tippy top of the peaks of the Alps. The air was so fresh, crisp and clean. This was a nice refresher from the smoky, pollution filled smells we have around our camp in Atyrau! The snow was glistening....

and check out these ski tracks?! They either hiked up this mountain to ski down, or they were dropped from a helicopter and then started their descent. Either way, it was quite impressive!
As we reached our next stop in picking up our son at his camp, (and spending the night there), we felt like the luckiest people to have this opportunity to be surrounded by pure, natural beauty and how lucky these people were to live amongst it every day of their lives!

Funny google maps driving notes:
We took our driving directions from google maps, and at one point it said, board train?
What, board train with a car?! Yup...that was what we were supposed to do. This is where we started climbing the mountain road that is often closed due to weather conditions. So, for those that need to take their car to the other side of the mountain during these times, they have "car" trains...kinda like a ferry where you can take your car across a river!
We were so glad we didn't follow the directions!