Switzerland and France

We visited the countries of Switzerland and France in May 2006. First going to Switzerland and then ending up in Paris France traveling via train in a 3 leg journey.

The languages were interesting. Switzerland has no less than 4 official national languages. Swiss-German, French, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic and many of them speak good English too. So while American's call it Switzerland, the local names range from Schweiz, Suisse, Svizzera but you start loosing track after a while!  We really enjoyed the country. Besides the gorgeous scenery, it was super easy to get around and had great history.

At the end we were in Paris for 3 days.  An excellent city stuffed with culture, tons of history and world renown art. 

As for the photo on the left, what would a trip to the Alps be without visiting some St. Bernards with their little kegs ready to save a weary lost hiker?!


Map of France

Map of Switzerland


We flew into Zurich Switzerland 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.  Merci!

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 original inhabitants.

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 225 degrees.



Coming from the U.S. 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.


After the 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 Peak.

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 vintage Switzerland 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.

There are 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.

Panorama from 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 down.  Gornergrat



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.

After coming 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.

Every hour, 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.

Walmart seems 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 afternoon.

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

A manicured 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 outside.

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 around Paris 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 day, Sharon 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. 

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