Alpine Adventures

It’s a busy week in Toulouse. Not only did the first Starbucks in the city open this morning (complete with people lined up well outside the door for hours to be the “first in”), it’s also a week marked by ongoing protests over changes to France’s labor laws. The reform under debate makes it easier for companies to hire and fire people.

On Sunday as we posed for photos for our maternity shoot (more on that later), we saw a huge crowd gathered in front of the Capitole de Toulouse for a performance/protest. This week, many roads have been blocked as protesters parade up and down them rallying the public for their cause. The trains and airport are expected to have major delays the next couple of days due to the ongoing strikes. Not such a good week if you have to travel or get to a job on anything other than foot or a bicycle, but definitely interesting to see a part of the French culture played out on such a massive scale.

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Image from a protest at the end of April.

Matt unfortunately may have a long drive to and from work tomorrow if the strike disrupts traffic near the airport like the taxi strike earlier this year did, but we’re otherwise sticking pretty close to home this week. That makes it a perfect time to reminisce about a trip we took to Switzerland a little over a month ago while living in Germany.

When we moved to Germany, we immediately looked at a map to see what places we could squeeze in a visit to over that next month and a half. We only had a couple of free weekends to travel, but we did manage to check three more countries off our list: Luxembourg, Switzerland and Lichtenstein.

We ended up taking our trip to Switzerland on one of our last weekends in Germany. Just a four-hour drive from Frankfurt, Zurich appeared to be a promising spot for a fun weekend. Plus, we’d been to pretty much all the border countries to Switzerland, so we couldn’t risk ending our time in Europe without checking it out.

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Did you know the Swiss use their own currency called the Swiss Franc?

We left early on a Saturday morning and were able to make it to the city by lunchtime. We checked in at Hotel Adler and went to grab a bite at the Rheinfelder Bierhalle. The restaurant got good reviews on TripAdvisor, noting that it appeals to both tourists and locals alike.

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Matt ordered some Swiss beer and I happily found an alcohol-free Apfelwein. I also ordered a traditional Swiss dish called a Rösti, which basically consisted of shredded potatoes smothered in cheese and ham. Waffle House ain’t got nothing on that dish!

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Following lunch, we headed to the Hauptbahnhof where we met up with the English-language city walking tour. Our group wandered through the streets learning how the city grew up to become a global center for banking and finance. The city was beautiful and clean and the Limmatquai River running through it only added to the city’s charm.

Following our tour, we made our way back to Hotel Adler to get ready for dinner. We booked reservations at Swiss Chuchi, the restaurant attached to the hotel specializing in Swiss cuisine. We were looking forward to a true, Swiss fondue experience—and we got it!

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We started with a steamy, gooey pot of melted cheese into which we dunked chunks of fresh bread. We accompanied this with a pot of hot oil, in which we cooked tender pieces of chicken, beef and vegetables. Everything was absolutely delicious and our server ensured we didn’t skip out on one of the best parts—the toasted cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot.

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We couldn’t just stop there—especially when our server recommended a dessert that wasn’t even on the menu: chocolate fondue. Yep, we rounded out our meal (and bellies) with a pot of creamy, melted Swiss chocolate into which we dipped chopped fruit (okay, we also scooped plain spoonfuls of the sweet stuff directly into our mouths).

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I’m honestly not sure how we slept that night, but somehow we managed to squeeze in a few hours of shut-eye. Good thing, too, because we booked a full-day tour to the Swiss countryside for Sunday.

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Zurich at night.

The next morning, bright and early, we got up and made our way to the meeting point for our “Heidiland” tour. The Zurich tourism office offers numerous awesome tours, from hiking up into the Alps to trekking out to the Rheinfalls (Europe’s largest waterfall). We opted for the Heidiland tour because we could not only get a chance to see some of the beautiful Swiss countryside, we could also check another country off our list: Lichtenstein.

Our first stop outside of the city was Rapperswil-Jona, also known as the “town of roses.” Located on the upper end of the stunning and massive Lake Zurich, this little town features a medieval castle, a Polish Museum and panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and lake.

We had time for a short tour through Altstadt before we grabbed lunch at the Café Conditerei Rosenstädter. Matt had cordon bleu and I sampled the Rosenstädter Käsekuchen, which was essentially a very cheesy and rich quiche.

From Rapperswil-Jona our tour took us deeper into the countryside, past snow-capped mountains, waterfalls and peaceful lakes to Heidiland. Located in Eastern Switzerland between Lake Walen and Sargansen, this area gets its name from Johanna Spyri’s book of the same name, Heidi.

Though definitely a tourist trap, Heidi’s village (Heididorf) is a cute place to visit especially if you have young children. You can see Heidi’s house and the feed goats and chickens happily strutting around the grounds. Even if the touristy stuff doesn’t get you going, the views of the surrounding mountains and countryside and the peaceful breezes playing through the trees provide a perfect setting to break from a busy life.

Our final destination on the trip was Vaduz, Liechtenstein. Never heard of Liechtenstein or heard of it but can’t place where it is? You’re probably in good company. So here’s your geography lesson for the day. Liechtenstein is a 62-square-mile principality sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria. It has an estimated population of 37,000 and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world.

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Castle of the royal family of Liechtenstein.

The country has a constitutional monarchy as Head of State and an elected parliament to enact law. The Prince of Liechtenstein and his family have a castle that overlooks the capital of Vaduz. We didn’t have a ton of time here, but that suited us just fine. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday, but the city was pretty dead. We decided to just pop into a café for a quick snack and to chill out until it was time to meet back up with our tour.

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Vaduz Town Hall

Our drive back was pretty uneventful and I think both of us dozed off at some point. It was a long day, but so worth it to get to see more of Switzerland and add another new country to our list.

Later that evening we went to the Restaurant Zeughauskeller, which was recommended to us by a friend (mostly for the flaming beer drink which, of course, Matt had to try). The food was simple, but plentiful and delicious (including a choice of more than a dozen different types of sausage). Once again, we left stuffed and practically had to roll ourselves back to the hotel.

Monday morning it was time to get up and head back to reality in Frankfurt. Along our drive home, though, we noticed signs for the Rheinfall and discovered it was just minutes off of our travel route. So we figured, what the heck! Might as well.

I think Matt’s expectations were pretty low driving up to the falls because the land was a bit flatter there and he didn’t believe a waterfall there could be that impressive. What we found, though, pretty much knocked both our socks off.

As I previously mentioned, Rheinfall the largest plain waterfall in Europe. It is located on the High Rhine in northern Switzerland and it stretches some 450 feet wide and 75 feet high. The sheer power of the water cascading down the falls is breathtaking and there are multiple viewing platforms that let you get so close you could almost reach out and stick your hand in the flowing water.

We both agreed the Rheinfall was a surprisingly wonderful way to end our trip to Switzerland. I think lyrical poet, Eduard Mörike, sums up the experience of witnessing the falls perfectly:

“Hold your heart, oh traveler, tightly in mighty hands! Mine nearly descended, shivering with pleasure. Restless thundering masses thrown upon masses, ear and eye, whither can they save themselves in such an uproar?” (Translated from German)

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