Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paris: The Grande Finale

Our departure for Bern was scheduled for 5:00 AM. Everyone was warned to pack their bags, shower and get ready the night before. Thankfully, everyone listened!! We had a 4:15 wake-up call but there was a communication problem and the calls were never made. I was relying on my alarm clock so didn't take notice of the missing call. At 4:30 Jeff knocked on our door and told me that no one had received a wake-up call. Quickly we went from room to room, knocking on doors and telling everyone to hurry. In record time all the group was downstairs and ready to load the bus. The train ride was an experience for all. Some of us were fortunate to be seated in 1st class and were served breakfast. We arrived in Paris at noon. A bus was waiting to take us to our hotel. There was heavy traffic due to the Paris Marathon taking place, but it gave us our first glimpse of Paris. Our hotel was located in the business district therefore there wasn't much to see on a Sunday afternoon...the streets and sidewalks were deserted. Not all the rooms were ready so we stored our luggage in rooms that were available and then headed to the nearby Metro station. We stepped out of the underground Metro station in front of the Paris Opera. We took time for a group photo and then Tom led us to a nearby Fragonard Perfume Museum. Our tour guide explained the history and the process for making perfume and then we went to a show room and enjoyed the scents of various perfumes. Our first dinner in Paris was at a Flammkuchen Restaurant. Flammkuchen is similar to pizza and a traditional dish from Alsace Lorraine district. The crust is rolled very thin and then covered with cheese, cream and toppings such as onions, mushrooms, and meat. The dessert was on the same crust but covered with apples, cinnamon and chocolate. After dinner we walked from Place de Concorde, along the Champs-Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe. Some stopped at crepe stands along the way, others checked out the shopping. Tom took the rest of our tour group back to the hotel and the Eatonia Marengo group took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. It was dark when we arrived so our first view of the magnificent tower was when it was fully lit!! We weren't able to get tickets to go to the top of the tower because the elevators are undergoing renovations. We jumped back onto the Metro to head home and as we looked back at the tower the 20,000 flash bulbs gave the tower a sparkly appearance.
The next morning we had breakfast in the adjacent building and then headed to the Louvre, one of the oldest and most famous museums in the world. We had three hours to find Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, perhaps the most famous painting in the world. There are 35,000 works of art on display in the Louvre. One person has been reported to have estimated that if you devoted 30 seconds to each and ignored the time taken to walk from one work to the next, it would take about thirteen 24 hour days to see each piece. There was time to grab a bite to eat (some found another McDonalds) and check out the Apple store next to the museum entrance.
In the afternoon we walked to to Notre Dame Cathedral. And guess who met us there?? Bayne and Deb Assmus had made arrangements to surprise Carson. I think Richard was even more surprised than Carson!! The group was given time to view the interior of the Cathedral and shop for souvenirs. Doug led us on a walking tour. We saw a bridge that was covered with locks, it seems it is a common thing in some European cities.
We went on a tour of the Latin Quarter and we met up with the rest of our group and headed to dinner at one of the oldest restaurants in Montmartre.
In the evening we walked up the hill to Sacre Coeur and Place du Tertre. There were street artists, souvenir shops, crepe stands and lots of time for people watching. Not to mention a fabulous view of Paris from the steps of Sacre Coeur!!
Our last day in Paris began with a city tour. A bus picked us up and we drove through the narrow streets of Paris while Pierre Marie, our city guide, pointed out boutique shopping at places such as Chanel, historical buildings such as Les Invalides and the Elysees Palace, home to the President of France. Our final stop of the morning was at Place du Trocodaro for a view of the Eiffel Tower. Our group walked to the base of the tower, stopping along the way to ride the double decker carousel. It started to rain so we took the Metro to the Latin Quarter and found a place to eat lunch. Our next stop was the Galerie Lafayette, a huge department store near the Paris Opera. We had some free time to shop or just drool over the very expensive items for sale. It was very crowded, we weren't the only ones who decided to go shopping and get out of the rain!! The sun finally broke through as we finished dinner, so we decided to have one last look at Paris from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. The view from the top was worth the long climb up the stairs!! We headed back to the hotel and everyone packed their bags, organized their receipts and then joined some of their new friends from Regina at an Italian Restaurant close to the hotel. There were lots of photos, plenty of laughs and promises to keep in touch. Our European adventure has come to an end!!

A Day in The Swiss Alps

After a typical European breakfast of meat, cheese, bread and yogurt we hopped on the bus and headed to Lucerne. Our first stop was the Lion of Lucerne. The sculpture is to commemorate the Swiss Guards who lost their lives in the French Revolution. What a beautiful monument!!
Then the bus dropped us off in the old town at the Bucherer, a high end Swiss watch store. Tom took us on a walking tour of the old town. There are many old and beautifully painted buildings surrounding the old town squares. We saw the Chapel Bridge, a famous covered bridge built in the 1300's. It burned down in 1993 but was rebuilt. Some of the famous painting were destroyed, but we were still able to see a few of them. We also saw the old Mill Bridge which is also very beautiful. We went on a quick tour of the Church of St. Leodegar,one of the oldest churches in Lucerne. The farmers' market was a very busy place and we were able to see the fresh vegetables, meats, baking and flowers that the locals were purchasing on a Saturday morning.
As we were walking along the river we noticed a restaurant that provided its guests with fur coats if they chose to sit outside and enjoy the view. There were a few people drinking coffee and enjoying the warmth of these coats. We also saw a St. Bernard rescue dog. Many of our group stopped to visit and have their photos taken with the beautiful animal.After the walking tour some of the group continued shopping and others went for lunch or a snack. Doug and I found a cafeteria in a local department store and enjoyed a croissant and cafe au lait while we caught up on emails and I updated my travel journal. We also discovered how many Eatonia Marengo students fit in a Swiss phone booth....13!!!In the afternoon Doug led us on a walk up to the old city walls. There was a long climb up the hillside and then most of the group climbed up into the second tower for a beautiful view of the city and lake. Then we walked along the old city wall, past a few more towers and finally climbed down to a beautiful garden and sitting area. Some of the group are not fond of heights and should have a t-shirt made saying "I Survived the Walls of Lucerne"!! We ended our day in Lucerne at the local grocery buying fruit, water and other snacks for our train ride the next morning.
After dinner Doug and I heard music coming from the basement bar and went to investigate. There was a Swiss Folk music group entertaining the guests. We sat down to enjoy the music and were soon joined by the rest of the adults. The group played traditional folk music. They had a contest to see who could play the Swiss Alpine Horn. Yvette and I were invite up to the stage and although we did get some sound out of the horn, we didn't win the contest!! There was also singing, yodeling and our group joined in on a dance around the room. What a great way to end our visit to Switzerland!

Four Countries in a Day

Our trip to Lucerne involved traveling through four countries: Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. It was a long day on the bus so everyone had a chance to visit, catch a few winks as well as enjoy the scenery. Our first stop was at Neuschwanstein Castle. It was too bad that it was drizzling and foggy. We all took the long hike up to the castle, even though the view was not as beautiful as it would have been on a clear day.
Our next stop was Innsbruck, Austria. We stopped for lunch and to do some shopping. Many of the group found some bargains at the Swarovski Jewelry Store. And guess what else they found...another McDonalds!! Doug and I found a little bakery and sampled some of the apple strudel.
Liechtenstein was our last stop before Lucerne. We stopped at Vaduz, Liechtenstein. We had time to use the washrooms, buy some souvenirs and snacks and have our passports stamped.
We finally arrived at the Hotel Loewen in Lungern, about 25 minutes from Lucerne, Switzerland. The hotel was very old, built in the late 1800's. There were various levels and one very small elevator. some of the brave ones carried their luggage up 4 floors instead of waiting on the elevator. Dinner was served in a large dining room. It was served family style, large platters of meat and rice were placed on the tables and people served themselves.

Much Fun In Munich

Our first stop in Munich was a huge bier haus near the grounds of the famous Oktoberfest. We were served a traditional German meal of mashed potatoes, sauerkraut and bratwurst sausage. The servers were dressed in traditional clothing, including dirndl dresses and lederhosen. After dinner Marco took us to our hotel for check-in. We said our last farewells to Stephanie, our tour director, who had announced to the group that she was leaving us due to health reasons.
After check-in we headed to the S Bahn station and into Munich to the Hofbrau Haus. We were very lucky to get seats close to the stage so we could watch the band and listen to the traditional music. Some of the group sampled the beer (it was discovered when we arrived that after 9:00 PM you must be 18 to be served alcohol) and others tried the apple strudel. We also discovered that the subways don't run as frequently and we had a long wait to catch the S Bahn back to our hotel.
We had an early morning wake-up call and then we were on the bus to meet our new tour director Tom. Our city guide joined us on the bus and took us on a bus tour of the city. We saw the old city gates, museums, churches, and the Olympic stadium. We stopped at Nymphenburg Castle. We had enough time to take some photos and watch the swans as well as hear about the beautiful castle. Our next stop was the BMW Museum and Showroom. there were lots of oohs and aahs over the cars and motorcycles. We finished our tour with a walk to the Marienplatz where the famous Glockenspeil is. Some of the group headed to the Viktualienmarkt for a traditional lunch and stroll around the outdoor market, while others sampled German food at McDonalds!!
Our afternoon was spent at Dachau. Tom, our new Tour Director, is trained as a tour guide at Dachau. He led the group through the main building and grounds. It was a very moving experience for the group. The photos below are of the Jewish, Catholic and Protestant Memorials at Dachau.
When we arrived back in Munich we went to the Galeria Kaufhof. it is a large department store and we had dinner in the cafeteria on the upper floor. This was a very popular place with the students because they could choose from a wide variety of items and refill their plates if they wished. After dinner some of the group went shopping while others went back to the Hofbrau Haus for their last sample of German beer and to browse in the gift shop.