We flew into Zurich
after an overnight flight from the States. Marc, who was a Swiss
exchange student and a senior year classmate of Chris, was very gracious
along with his fiancée Alex to give us a GREAT tour and introduction to the
beautiful city of Zurich.
Zurich is full of history and medieval
architecture. It is the business capital of Switzerland and is thriving and
busy. Fine European luxury cars zip around.
Zurich was originally a Roman settlement and
even the bridge shown below stands after 2000 years as a testament of the
It is even
home to the largest clock in Europe which
adorns the steeple of a large church.
We took a
short train ride up to the top of a hill overlooking the city to gain an
appreciation of the lovely setting of the city on the shore
of Lake Zurich. This panorama picture is about
with its Humvees and big SUVs, it was fun to see lots of these little buggers
called Smart cars. There were quite a few in Switzerland
and tons later in Paris.
Marc had helped with the initial development of these cute cars in one
of his projects at his company. They work great on the narrow European
city streets and tight parking spots.
quick visit in Zurich and a good night sleep
to set our bio clock to Swiss o'clock, we hopped on a train towards the Alps. We stopped over in Luzern for a couple hours and
walked around the center of this scenic small city.
We climbed up
to an ancient wall that use to circle and protect the city from
invaders. It provided a nice aerial view of the lake and mountains of
the Luzern area.
There is a
monument here dedicated to the Swiss guard. It is called Löwendenkmal
or commonly as the "Dying Lion". The guard are infamous for their
fierce bravery and still are stationed in the Vatican providing their
services. We saw a platoon of new military recruits starting a march
from here to the capital of Bern
100 kilometers away. All Swiss men must serve in the military so their
country is well protected even though they are a small nation.
We stayed 2
nights in the resort town of Interlaken
in the central part of the country. From there we took a short train trip up
into the valleys of the big Jungfrau
mountain and its sister peaks the Eiger and Monck. There were several
ski resorts here and we took a cable car up to the summit of a peak called
the Schilthorn which provided us good views of the Lauterbrunnen Valley
as we climbed up to the first cable car station on a cliff 2000 feet above
the valley floor.
We then took 2
more cable cars way up to the summit of the Schilthorn. Unfortunately, as we
ascended, thick clouds moved in and the views were erased. Here is the
best we saw the famed Eiger
On the ride
down we saw one of the other cable cars along with a paraglider who had
jumped off the 2000 foot cliff.
We hiked back
through the Lautenbrunnen
Valley. This was prime
with green pastures, flowers, and dairy cows with huge bells which you could
hear chiming up and down the valley. It was a very pleasant place for a
stroll back to a tranquil mountain hamlet where we hopped back on the
train. Listen to the Cow Bells.
We saw several
high water falls plunging off the cliffs.
walking paths and trails throughout the country and they mark the way with
signs like this. This one even marks the route of a mountain running
race up the Jungfrau.
After Interlaken, we took a series of trains through valleys
and tunnels over to the southern resort town of Zermatt
which is on the border with Italy
and home of the Matterhorn. It was
another beautiful trip showcasing excellent Swiss engineering of their superb
train network. There is no need for a car when visiting the resorts.
Below, the Matterhorn towers 8000 feet above Zermatt
which provides inspiring photo ops.
The next day,
was clear so we hopped on a train that goes high up to the ski slopes and to
the middle section of this ski area. The high station is called The
Gornergrat and has great views of the Matterhorn,
several 15000+ foot peaks and some glaciers which pour off of them.
Here's a shot of a fun group of men that were playing some traditional music
way up there.
the Gornergrat Station. About 180 degrees. Notice the glacier pouring
off the mountain. Here's a video clip from the train on the way back
Zermatt is a car-free town and fun to walk around and check out the
restaurants and shops. For such a world class resort, it still had a quaint
feel to it.
down off the mountain on the train, we decided to hike up the other side of
the valley which gave us great views of town and peaks. Just as we got
back down into town, church bells rang and filled the valley. Zermatt Bells
This area of Switzerland
has the interesting architectural curiosity of having stone slabs as
"shingles" on most of the buildings.
The next leg
of our journey had us traveling on a lovely day toward western Switzerland.
In route we passed through the Swiss wine region of Valais. There were
miles and miles and miles of vineyards that stretched up to terraced
hillsides. It was pretty and it would be neat to visit this area
sometime in the future.
In the western
Swiss city of Lausanne which sits on the
shores of Lake Geneva, we hoped on a TGV bullet train bound for Paris. We
traveled at 175 mph through the lovely French countryside and forests.
We arrived in late afternoon in the bustling metropolis and made our way on
the Metro subway to downtown where our hotel was. The city was a buzz
with activity and thousands of visitors from around the globe. That
evening we checked out the Eiffel
Tower which was only
about a half mile from where we were staying. We skipped the long lines for
the elevators and took the stairs up to the second deck which is about half
way up the tower. Even there, the view of the city is impressive.
the tower ignites with probably 10 thousand strobe lights. It is a spectacle
unlike anything we've ever imagined. It was stunningly beautiful. Check out a
movie which shows this amazing sight. Tower Lights
Here is the
view down the street where our little hotel, Saint Dominique, was
located. Its close to the tower, the Seine
was a few blocks away, along with many other major sights. The Metro
train station is also close by allowing easy access to anywhere in Paris.
The next day
we visited the north side area called Montmartre
which has the beautiful Sacred Heart Basillica. A must see. There
was also the Moulin Rouge near by and nice Parisian streets lined with cafes,
markets, and boutiques. A great slice of Paris.
far from here, thank goodness. Paris
is still alive with markets in every neighborhood. We loved browsing
through the various markets which specialized in produce, bakery, meat, fish,
wine, floral, or treats etc. High quality food was easy to find and as
far from corporate as you can get. After that we visited Musee
Marmottan which is also known as the "Monet Museum".
This was a notch off the typical tourist track into a nice west side
neighborhood. The museum has the most Monet paintings anywhere, along
with some other famous artists all housed in an ornate old mansion. We
liked the slower pace here compared to the busy other sites and took a nice
break in a park being enjoyed by the local families on a pleasant Saturday
On Sunday, we
headed out to the expansive Chateau of Versailles which is in the
suburbs. Wow, there were thousands of people out here! But the place is
so big it can handle it. We didn't go inside the famed Chateau.
Although the opulence of the monarchy of France
would be impressive, we just wanted to gawk at the gardens, statues and
fountains in the park grounds behind the world's largest palace.
The gardens cover a very large area that takes several hours to walk through.
It is like a maze and a map is necessary. There are lots of hidden
fountains. This one below is in the main center area and has horses and other
beasts emerging from the depths. At 3:30, "Musicale" fires up
which includes a live renaissance concert broadcast throughout the
complex. This is accompanied by most of the fountains coming
alive. It was pretty cool and here is a video clip. Musicale
garden area just off the back stoop of the palace.
Back in Paris early that
evening, we visited Notre Dame. I was struck by how massive this
building was. To think they built it about 800 years ago. The gothic
architecture and skyscraper like towers were very interesting to see on the
But inside is
where it is most beautiful. Gigantic stained glass windows and probably one
of the highest cathedral ceilings was awe inspiring. There was a mass
going on but they allowed tourist to come into the side aisles. The
music from the giant organ filed the cavernous building. Here is
a little clip. Notre Dame
We then walked
as darkness fell (which is after 10PM here!!!) Here is a shot of
Concorde which is a monument to the French Revolution. The walk along the
Seine was beautiful with the city of lights
being true to its nick name.
On our final
visited some shops while Chris took on the Louvre. The undisputed king
of art museums. Below is the entrance to the big complex which
resides in a historic palace that the royalty and Napoleon lived in.
Wasn't that what Versailles
was? So many palaces and only so much time! The art collection is
amazing and stretched from ancient Egyptian to modern paintings and literally
everything in between. Crown jewels. Sculptures like the Venus de
Milo. Paintings (by the thousands) including the Mona Lisa.
Everything on a vast scale and detail second to none.
It also has
preserved Napoleon's apartment with its unbelievably exquisite furnishings
and decor. No wonder the French revolted after their leaders spent all
of their money this way! Amazing decadent living. From there we
headed out to the airport for an afternoon flight back to the states.