France, Switzerland, and a little more Italy

Here’s a schedule of what we’ve been up to.

July 13 – Bordeaux, France
July 14 & 15 – Paris, France
July 16 – Lyon, France
July 17 – Geneva and Lake Lucerne, Switzerland
July 18 – Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen, and Oberwald, Switzerland
July 19 – Zermatt, Switzerland
July 20 – Milan, Italy
July 21 – Venice, Italy

Spain was a great country to visit, full of surprises and deliciousness. The plan for heading back into to France was to visit Bordeaux for some wine tasting on a vineyard. We would need a bite to eat to start off the day so we decided to go with these kouignettes. I’m not even sure if I’m allowed to distribute this image as kouignettes are apparently registered in France, which to me is absurd. You sell good pastries based on how they taste, not registering the name kouignette. Regardless, they were delicious.

Kouignettes, registered
Kouignettes, registered

We were waiting for our ride to show up to take us to the vineyard. We waited for a while and looked all over but couldn’t find it. Eventually I checked my email and found out the vineyard tour was cancelled because they needed at least three people due to “certain regulations” which weren’t detailed in the email. If anyone ends up booking the Saint Emilion tour with Rustic Vines you might want to double verify your verified tour. Oh well, it was a rainy day anyway so it was just as fine.

We found a restaurant called L’Autre Petit Bois that had wines from Bordeaux, explained our situation, and the bar tender hooked us up with an awesome tasting. We tried three different wines that he recommended before he included a fourth glass for free at the end. As you can see, the pour for a free glass is robust. Restaurants in Europe will often give out free drinks or desserts after the meal and they usually are impressive. Some of the Italian places will even drop off a whole bottle of limoncello and allow you to pour as many shots as you want. It’s a nice gesture that I think American restaurants can learn from (I think a bottle of limoncello is 6 euros).

Wine tasting in Bordeaux
Wine tasting in Bordeaux

I ordered a foie souffle type of thing for dinner during our wine tasting. It came with some raw yolk. It came with four breads that each had a different seasoning. You’ll see nice attention to detail like this all over the place.

Foie souffle at L'Autre Petit Bois
Foie souffle at L’Autre Petit Bois

We spent the rest of the night moving from place to place watching the World Cup final. Argentina fought a tough game and almost was able to force penalties before a brilliant finish by the Germans to claim the cup. I missed a decent amount of the World Cup traveling around so it will be fun to rewatch some games and see highlights that I haven’t seen.

The next day we ventured off to Paris. We decided to stop at the Palace of Versailles on the way. The inside was closed on Mondays, which was a bummer. The outside grounds were open and it took us two hours just to see a small portion of it. The palace has to be the most incredible property in the world. The palace itself is massive. It doesn’t even fit in this picture. You can choose to enjoy or disregard that rounded arc. It was part of some art exhibit that involved putting random aluminum pieces around the grounds.

Palace of Versailles, now with art
Palace of Versailles, now with art

The grounds are incredibly big. From the top steps you can look at a pool of water that stretches almost until the horizon. The grounds extend to both the right and left of the picture. Much of the green that you see in this picture is manicured shrubbery. There are fountains and statues everywhere. It would take you days to walk all of the grounds and see all of the rooms. I can’t really explain the size of the place but it is incredible and one day I hope to be back to check out the interior.

Keeping up with the Joneses
Keeping up with the Joneses

After checking out the palace we took a short ride to Paris. Paris was very crowded. Streets were closed off and the police presence was unusually high. I was wondering what was going on in the city. Turns out it was Bastille Day, which is similar to Independence Day in America. There were concerts and fireworks and all sorts of festivities. The streets were packed with people watching the fireworks show. I scored a couple sweet pictures of the event but I think this picture with the Eiffel Tower is the best of the lot.

Bastille Day 2014 in Paris
Bastille Day 2014 in Paris

That’s how these big trips seem to go. You might miss out on a wine tasting or seeing the inside of the Palace of Versailles, but you happen to be in Paris during Bastille Day. It all evens out.

After fireworks we were able to score some dinner. The best dish was this crayfish and caviar on bread. Europe has no standard for what they call shrimp, prawns, or crayfish so you never really know what size or type of crustacean you will be getting. In the States crawfish come from the South, prawns are big and probably have a head on them, and shrimp are usually going to be normal size or those crappy small things you sometimes get.

Crayfish and caviar
Crayfish and caviar

We grabbed some sleep for the night and the next day went exploring. The Louvre Museum was closed on Tuesdays, which was just as well as it has 35,000 pieces of art (650,000 square feet) and you could never see the whole thing unless you spent about a month at the place. Just another thing I can look forward to if I make my way back here.

Louvre, now with handstands
Louvre, now with handstands

One thing that Megan really wanted to do was to get a lock so that we could add it to the lock bridge. The lock symbolizes your love. A lot of people have done this, so much so that pieces of the fence of the bridge are collapsing under the weight of the locks. You can see it happening a little in this picture with the holes at the top of the fence. If you ever find a place such as a bridge or some other nice place and you see a random lock attached to it then this is where that trend originated. I’ve seen locks in many places that we visited.

Love locked down
Love locked down

We grabbed a lock and tried out some magic marker, which was pretty ineffective. I spent a couple minutes etching our love into the lock so that it could be forever. If you ever end up in Paris and want to look for the lock then let me know and I’ll let you know where to find it. We put it in a location that we thought had the highest chance of survival. I tried applying what I learned in engineering in my Statics class so hopefully it holds true, lol.

J + M forever
J + M forever

After visiting the lock bridge we ventured off to the Notre Dame cathedral. If you like churches or architecture I really suggest you come to Europe. There are incredible churches everywhere. I wish I were here for that scene in Man on Wire when Philippe, the tightrope walker, walks across the top of the cathedral.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

After all that walking we needed to fuel up on something. We grabbed some dinner at the Michelin star awarded Rech, which is a seafood restaurant. They served up several dishes that looked as fancy as this before surprisingly serving up the best desert I think I’ve ever had. It was this strawberry and ice cream with this cinnamon toastish thing. I’m not really one for desert but that was amazing. The whole dinner was great.

Tasting at Rech in Paris
Tasting at Rech in Paris

After dinner we continued to walk further around Paris. We passed the Arc de Triomphe. The circle that goes around the arc is pretty calm in this picture, but not when we drove around it to get to our hotel the day before. I think there are ten lanes and a dozen exits, so if you are not careful you will end up with an accident or getting too close to the arc where you will spend forever trying to get out of the circle.

Arc de Triomphe
Arc de Triomphe

We caught glimpses of the Eiffel Tower throughout the town before the view opened up. The Eiffel Tower is one of those tremendous pieces of architecture that fits the city perfectly. The lighting system on the tower is patented so if you take a picture of the tower when it is illuminated then you cannot redistribute that image without permission from the Societe d’exploitation de la tour Eiffel (SETE) within the country of France. The tower itself is open to public domain but the lighting system is not. At least I think that’s how it goes. But I’m not currently in France so I think I can legally post these pictures. The whole thing is completely absurd but I’ll let you know if I get an email from SETE asking me to take down these pictures.

Eiffel Tower with night approaching
Eiffel Tower with night approaching

It was late so we couldn’t take a ride all the way to the top but we got to the second floor. It was a nice view of Paris from that height. I snapped a couple pictures. You can see the Ferris wheel by the Louvre which is where our hotel was and where we walked from and would end up walking back to. The Sacre Couer church is in the center in the far distance. The Arc of Triomphe is off to the left a little out of frame of the picture. Paris is a gorgeous city at any angle.

Nights in Paris
Nights in Paris

After the ride up we strolled through the grounds outside of the tower. There was a bunch of people hanging out on the lawns drinking wine. It’s common in a lot of European cities to grab a beer or wine and drink it wherever you please. Everyone seems to be pretty under control with the whole concept, which is very different from back home where if you have a cup with some alcohol you get fined for it. After heading back to the hotel we grabbed some sleep to get ready for our trip to Lyon.

Eiffel Tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night

Lyon is a nice town. It’s known for some of the best food in France, but you have to make sure you go to one of the bouchons. Most of them had outdoor seating like these.

Bouchons in Lyon
Bouchons in Lyon

We saw a pretty cool looking bouchon named Le Tire Bouchon with no outside seating that had a gritty New York City feel to it. We pulled up the reviews on Yelp and Google Maps and that’s the one that it suggested so we ventured inside. The wallpaper was just slightly peeling. The paint had a worn tarnish on it. It was well used but very cute. The food was incredible; probably the best well rounded meal of the trip. I had foie and toast again and Megan had a bruschetta that sat on top of greens. For the entree I went with duck and she went Risotto Saint Jacques, which is a risotto dish with scallops. She went with creme brulee and she laughed when my desert was brought out. I ordered La Charlotte, which is this weird, rose colored pie with yellow sauce and a pastry siding. It’s the perfect looking desert if you’re a five year old girl. It was very delicious and she admitted the first impression did not fit the delicious taste.

La Charlotte
La Charlotte

After dinner we strolled a little through town, making our way back to the hotel. I liked this statue of some guy carrying another guy, who looks like it could be his friend who needs carrying. The name of the piece is The weight of oneself by Elmgreen & Dragset, so really it’s just the guy carrying himself which is a little less romantic. I’m not really sure why neither have clothes but the acceptance of nudity is much more relaxed in Europe than it is at home. Back home we freak out and laugh like little kids when we see a naked body part but in Europe people are much more accepting. We got to the hotel and grabbed our last night of sleep in France, before heading into the gorgeous country of Switzerland.

Carry yourself lightly
Carry yourself lightly

The original plan in Switzerland for the first day was to go from Geneva to Basel and finally Zurich. We were a little tired of all the towns we had been seeing and decided to go for some more nature. We dropped Basel and Zurich to give ourselves more time in the mountains, deciding to stay at Lake Lucerne on the first night. We still ventured in to Geneva because it was directly on the way. Geneva is a nice town with a lake of it’s own. It was busy with people enjoying the nice weather.

Lake Geneva
Lake Geneva

We made our way to the Swiss Chalet near Lake Lucerne for our hotel. It was a very nice Swiss hotel, which had red flowers and Swiss flags decorating the outside.

The Swiss Chalet
The Swiss Chalet

The receptionist decided to hook us up with a big suite for no charge. It was a great stay at this place.

Like a fairy tale
Like a fairy tale

The hotel came with it’s own beach with views of the surrounding mountains. I got about as close to these swans as their mom would allow.

Baby swans
Baby swans

After hanging out around Lake Lucerne for a little we grabbed some dinner. Swiss food seems pretty expensive as most of the restaurants. I’m not exactly sure why but it’s pretty pricey. I went with calf liver for my meal and it was very good. We ventured off to bed for an early night to catch up on all of the traveling that we had been doing.

The next we ventured off to check out Interlaken. We stopped along the way to take in the views. It’s gorgeous driving through Switzerland.

Switzerland is gorgeous
Switzerland is gorgeous

Interlaken seemed like a nice place. I think they wanted around $40 per person to take the funicular to the Harder Klum, which takes you pretty high up on one of the mountains. It seemed a little steep and would have been repetitive as we had the Matterhorn on schedule for the next day. We decided to skip the ride and ventured off in the direction of Wengen. We looked into the Top of Europe railway tour, which takes you to the Jungfrau mountain. It was a little late in the day to go on that and the ride takes a couple hours so we proceeded further to Wengen. Wengen is a car free area and you have to take the train from Lauterbrunnen to get there. Since it was a little late and we weren’t staying the night we decided to stroll around Lauterbrunnen. We hiked around the Staubbach Falls.

Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen
Staubbach Falls in Lauterbrunnen

We continued the drive through the glorious Swiss mountains. We drove through the Grimsel Pass, which is one of those roads that wind back and forth a bunch of times both going up and coming down the mountain. It’s similar to and right next to the more famous Furka Pass which was used in the James Bond movie Goldfinger. I don’t have a great picture of the winding road as I was more focused on safely getting through all the bends, but here’s a picture of the at the top.

Looking out over the Totensee
Looking out over the Totensee

We got to our hotel in Oberwald, which I though was a lot closer to Andermatt. I wanted to check out Andermatt but the hotel I booked somehow ended up in the small mountain town of Oberwald. No big deal because Oberwald was a great little mountain town. We grabbed some Thai food. It might be surprising to think of Thai food in Switzerland but they seem to love it. After dinner we ventured back to the hotel. It was pretty hot and the rooms often don’t come with air conditioning as they just expect you to open the windows, which we did. In general air conditioning is used maybe 10% as much as back in America. In the US, every place will be air-conditioned. In the countries in Europe there is very little air conditioning used, even in places in hot summer heat in the cities. But the lack of air conditioning was fine for this night. It was an amazing night to look out at the stars.

The next day we were set to venture to Zermatt. Zermatt is another car-free town. You have to drive in to Tasch and take a train or taxi over. We hopped on a short train ride and made our way straight for the Gornergrat Bahn, which takes you up to the Gornergrat mountain. The ride up is around half hour with a few stops if you don’t want to go all the way up to the top. From the top you can see almost 30 4,000-meter (13,100 feet) peaks and a bunch of glaciers. It was supposed to thunderstorm but we were able to catch the Matterhorn with relatively few clouds.

Matterhorn over Zermatt
Matterhorn over Zermatt

The train up the mountain is great. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who visits Zermatt. The views are nice the whole way up and down the mountain.

Riding the Gornergrat Bahn
Riding the Gornergrat Bahn

Here’s another picture of the Matterhorn with even less clouds. From this moment on the storm clouds started to slowly roll in over the mountains, but it was tame and only resulted in some drizzles.

Matterhorn almost cloudless
Matterhorn almost cloudless

We decided to stack some rocks at the top of the Gornergrat. We stacked all of these rocks to make a tranquil setting high in the mountains for people to enjoy.

Stacking rocks
Stacking rocks

Actually, we didn’t stack any of those, but we didn’t knock any over, so I think that’s fair enough. We made our way back down the mountain into town. We had been trying to get some Swiss chocolate on the trip but it is pretty difficult to find. The store we went to was closed at 7 PM so we decided to head back the next morning.

Shopping in Zermatt
Shopping in Zermatt

The next morning we got to the chocolate shop and it didn’t open until 2 PM. The next stop on the trip was Milan so it looked like we were out of luck for real Swiss chocolate, outside of the mass-produced stuff they were selling at the convenience stores. We decided to add about an hour of driving onto the trip and venture off to what we thought was as chocolatier. All we had was the address for this place with 1 Google review from a year ago. The website that was listed wasn’t functioning. It was risky to drive all the way out to the middle of nowhere but we were fiending for some Swiss chocolate. We got to the place and it looked like someone’s driveway. Wasn’t looking good for chocolate. But we were on the wrong road. A quick U-turn got us onto a much wider street that had Chocorama Chocolatier Moreillon. We scored some awesome Swiss chocolate. Some of it looked like this, but they had chocolate in all different kinds. The chocolate was delicious and I would recommend it to anyone near the town of Sierre.

Finally Swiss chocolates
Finally Swiss chocolates

We ventured off to Milan, Italy for the final day together. We were both starting to feel a little bummed about leaving each other for two and a half weeks, but we still had another day of exploring so we set our sights on Milan. When we got into town we grabbed another espresso and cappuccino, something that is not very well made outside of Italy. There were some places that had good espresso and cappuccino but in Italy everywhere including the gas station and the convenience store has amazing coffee. I certainly will miss that when I am back home drinking Americanos.

We grabbed some Sicilian style food when we got there. I ordered some grilled crayfish, which to me look like prawns. It was a dish that I got on my first night in Italy and it’s what I wanted to have again. I tried ordering it the night before in Zermatt but I ended up getting this below average salad. Oh well. Win some, lose some.

Crayfish, but they look like prawns
Crayfish, but they look like prawns

We strolled around town a little in Milan, grabbing a final gelato outside of the Milan Cathedral, or the Duomo as they call it. There’s pretty much been a church at the site since forever (there is a baptistery under the church that you can visit that was built in 335), but building of the cathedral officially started in 1386 and didn’t end until 1965. I know everything can’t be built as fast as the Colosseum (6-8 years) but it just seems like almost 600 years is a long time to build something. They may have taken their time but they got it right.

Milan Cathedral, the Duomo
Milan Cathedral, the Duomo

I especially like this carving of David slaying Goliath. Underdogs for the win.

Underdog lifestyle
Underdog lifestyle

After we got back to the hotel we grabbed one final night of sleep together. We woke up early in the morning to take Megan to Milan airport. It was a sad ride.

Just stay with meaaa
Just stay with meaaa

We said goodbyes at the airport.

It’s so empty without her. I miss her bundles. I cried a little after getting on my way. I was bummed. I was heading to Venice, but I was alone.

So empty now
So empty now

I ended up pulling over to grab a nap at a rest stop. I couldn’t sleep the night before and needed a quick nap. Eventually I got to Venice and took a one-way boat ride to the San Marco stop. It was a very nice ride along the way.

Nice views helped cheer me up a little
Nice views helped cheer me up a little

When I got off I strolled around, eventually making it to the southeastern part of Venice. Who would have thought that Venice looked like this? The Park of Remembrance is a nice park where you can quickly get away from the tourists. From the end of the island I was determined to make my way back to the parking deck by walking. Everyone says you need to take boats to get around Venice, but I wasn’t having that. I plotted out what looked like an hour walk and got on my way.

It's Venice, I promise
It’s Venice, I promise

I stopped for a pizza and a spritz and used some Wi-Fi to plan my trip a little. I haven’t really thought too much about where I was headed ever since I planned my initial itinerary back before I started the trip. I decided on Innsbruck, Austria for my first stop after Venice. With that I got up from the restaurant and got back to my walk. I strolled through Piazza San Marco.

Much people at Piazza San Marco
Much people at Piazza San Marco

Further and further I went, passed the many canals and gondola rides, across a bunch of bridges. Eventually I made it all the way back to the car at the parking garage.

Crossing the many bridges
Crossing the many bridges

The rates at the garage were 21 euro for anything from five to 24 hours. I was only there for maybe seven hours or so and decided to sleep the night in the car, as it didn’t cost me anything. I kind of want to take the final leg of this trip thriftier than the others. The Michelin star restaurants and four-star hotels should make way for occasional sleeping in the car if the opportunity allows it. I’m thinking parking decks should provide decent safety and cover from weather, and I’ll alternate nights in pretty nice hotels. If anything looks sketchy I have no problems bailing.

Well, that sums up most of the trip. I’m currently in Innsbruck, Austria. Salzburg, Austria and Munich, Germany are up for tomorrow.

I miss everyone back home and I’ll be seeing y’all soon enough!

4 thoughts on “France, Switzerland, and a little more Italy”

  1. Hey man this is awesome. Great pictures, and love your detailed updates. Enjoy the rest of your trip, and have a safe return! See you soon buddy.

  2. Hey Brother! Absolutely amazing pictures! Very lucky you get this experience! I haven’t seen one horse in any of your photos 🙂 Have fun!!! Miss you lots! Love you!

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