Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Au Revoir and Guten Tag

With blue skies and a balmy 17C, we chose to spend our last morning in Paris in Saint Germain and the Jardins du Luxembourg.

Spread over 23 acres, the gardens are a special corner of calm and tranquility in the middle of a bustling city. There are no hawkers, scammers or beggars here, just hundreds of Parisians, ex pats and tourists, sun baking, reading or conversing quietly in the many green metal chairs scattered throughout the park.

At one end is a children's playground where Taine spent a happy hour joining in the games with the local kids. How intriguing to hear hide and seek being counted down; un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq!

On the way back to the Metro we browsed the many bookshops lining the streets near the Odeon theatre before catching our last 2 connections back to Gare de Lyon to get on the train the Zurich.

The TVG fast train travels at 300 km per hour and is way more comfortable than any plane I've ever been on. We whizzed through the French countryside and into Switzerland in just 4 hours!

Last year we were lucky enough to have three wonderful exchange students at our school. When we mentioned to them that we were traveling to Europe this year, Pascale, the Swiss student, quipped, 'Well, if you're traveling to Paris, why wouldn't you come and visit me in Zurich?' When she said that I'm not sure that any of us believed it to be a possibility and yet, less than 12 months later, there she was waiting for us on the platform when we arrived.

Visiting Switzerland was always going to be a highlight of this trip, but doing so while being hosted by an amazingly friendly and welcoming family like the Toblers has turned it into something very special.

Today we traveled to Engelberg, a stunning Swiss alpine village at the base of Mount Titlis in the Swiss Alps. Taine became the owner of his very first Swiss army knife, courtesy of his Swiss hosts and Geoff found himself a beautiful new carving knife. We made a quick visit to the old Benedictine Abbey, finding ourselves awestruck ( once again) at the magnificence of the paintings, the pipe organ and the sheer magnitude of the interior. The local cheese factory gave us the chance to see how the milk from the alpine cows is turned into the finest cheese in the world.

Then it was time to make our mountain ascent. This took place in 3 stages. From ground level (1000 metres) we took a small 6 seat gondola to the middle level. Then we transferred to another cable car, a large box type structure that held about 20 people standing up. Just when I thought we couldn't go any higher, we moved once again to another gondola, this time one that rotated and had a 360 degree view of the ski runs below and the Alps spreading out as far as the eye can see. And then we were on top of the world!

Titlis is 3020 metres high. That's 800 metres higher than the highest point in Australia! For an acrophobic like me just getting to the top was a pretty big challenge but the best was yet to come. A suspension bridge at the very top of the mountain allows you to walk across the chasm below. Yikes. Not only did I walk across, I made it back again. It was a day of surreal experiences, including a walk through a glacier cave.

On the way home we stopped in Lucerne. We walked over the Chapel Bridge and wandered through streets filled with buildings with painted walls that were first erected in the 1400s. Overwhelming history overload!

For dinner we ate a kind of Swiss BBQ meets fondue. It's cooked in an oven called a raclette and involves all sorts of yumminess on top of swiss cheese , melted and poured over potatoes. Oh, it was delicious.
I think we're in love with Switzerland.

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