Wednesday, July 2 (Valencia, Spain) – Time for some funnies!! This time from Austria, Switzerland and Germany!
Monday, June 23 (Zurich & Santiago de Compostela, Spain) – Yesterday was supposed to be a quiet, relaxing day. We (Jacqueline, Martin and I) were going to sleep in, sit on the patio, have a leisurely brunch, and maybe go for a casual bike ride. Somehow that escalated quickly into one of the scariest but best days of my entire trip!
After a lovely traditional Swiss brunch of bread, meats and cheeses, Jacqueline suggested a bike ride. Being Sunday, the shops are closed and we needed to purchase cheese for the fondue dinner we were planning. So a nice ride to buy the cheese sounded like a good idea to me. Just a few minutes into the ride, my legs (already sore from yesterday’s hike) were burning with a seemingly never-ending hill. We reached the top and cruised downhill a bit, passing horse farms, fruit trees, quaint houses, and plenty of green land. Then we pulled into the ‘store’ for cheese. Not a store. A vending machine. Just for fondue cheese!!!
I had a good laugh about our means of cheese-buying and then we hopped back on the bikes to continue our ride. Martin pointed out a low-flying airplane and explained that it has no engine, but simply glides through the sky. I didn’t quite understand how that works so we watched as it landed smoothly in a grass field, and then another one took off. There are two ways for these planes to take off since they have no motor of their own. Either another plane (with an engine) pulls it with a rope and then detaches the rope once airborne, or a machine attaches a long cord to the plane and slingshots it up into the sky. It was insane to watch these one and two-seater planes circle in the sky.
As we were leaving the area, Martin recognized a friend of his who happens to be a pilot and instructor of these planes. They start speaking in German and before I knew it, I was being told they are going to take ME up in a plane! I’ve flown a Cessna once before (literally, I flew it in a lesson!), but that was years ago... with an engine... and very scary.
Soon I was putting a parachute on my back (just in case…) and sitting in the front seat with al the controls in front of me. When the top door closed, I started getting nervous and hot and realized I had no idea what I was in for. But it was too late. The cord in front of the plane was getting pulled taut and all of a sudden we were moving forward and getting slingshotted into the sky!
Above: View from the outside. Below: View from inside. (I'm in the front seat!)
It felt like I was taking off in a rocket ship, with the nose of the plane pointing up and the 2G of force pushing me into my seat. I was screaming and laughing all at once (as you probably heard in that video), and I think I loved it. The pilot sitting behind me asked if I wanted to steer and at first I said no because my hands were shaking from take-off and I didn’t want to crash the plane, but then I said okay and I took us around for a few minutes. He asked me if I was ready for some speed and all of a sudden we were on our side (I think) and it felt like a crazy roller coaster. I can’t even describe the feeling but it was petrifying and awesome all at once.
We landed safely and I somehow got my shaky body out of the tiny plane and couldn’t stop laughing. What a completely random, fun, scary, incredible experience!
The three of us biked back to the house and then went for a (much needed) beer at the local brewery (Brauhaus Frauenfeld). Interestingly, this particular brewery is known for their bagels (it’s even part of their logo), so this New Yorker had to have a taste. The bread was like that of a soft pretzel, but instead of salt on top there were sesame seeds. Very tasty – but not a real NYC bagel! I really enjoyed the blonde beer, which is their staple. It was light, smooth, refreshing, and just a tiny bit sweet.
Back at the house after a momentous day, Jacqueline and Martin prepared a traditional Swiss dinner – fondue! I watched as Martin stirred the cheese + cherry schnapps + white wine mixture that we purchased in the vending machine until it was the perfect consistency. Then we brought it outside and the fun of dipping, twirling and eating began. We dipped bread first in a little bit of cherry schnapps, then swirled it around in the cheese and took a first bite – delicious! We also dipped mushrooms and potatoes, but the bread was my favorite.
I couldn’t have asked for a better time in Switzerland. I was active, I relaxed, I tried new foods and activities, and I laughed a lot. I can’t wait for Jacqueline and Martin to come to NYC so I can try to show them as good of a time as they showed me!
Sunday, June 22 (Outside Zurich, Switzerland) – You may have seen my 21-photo Facebook post (on my personal page) documenting this wonderful hike. I try not to over-post about my trip, but it was just so beautiful I had to share.
Jacqueline and I woke up early yesterday and picked up her sister and sister’s boyfriend on the way to the mountain. We drove about an hour and then arrived at the Alpstein mountains where we took a 10-minute funicular to the top and began our 5-hour hike. When we began, we were in and above the clouds! It was a cool (literally) feeling, and made for a couple of interesting photos.
As the hike continued, the clouds and fog eventually disappeared and we were able to see gorgeous views of the countryside, mountains and a lake.
The route we selected had some hills but was primarily downhill – which isn’t necessarily easier! (My sore legs today prove it!) We saw some of the most beautiful wildflowers along the way, and it felt like we were in someone’s garden versus a mountain!
After two hours of hiking, the clouds had come in and the temperature dropped, so we were thrilled to finally see the little restaurant in the distance where we were going to stop for a snack and a warm beverage.
Another 1.5 hours led us down through fields and farmland where I got to meet some lovely goats and cows.
And finally we arrived at the second restaurant where we enjoyed an Appenzeller (local cordial? Liquor? made of miscellaneous herbs that kind of smells and tastes like medicine, but is also somehow quite good.)
After one more hour of walking, passing below dozens of paragliders enjoying the sun that came back out, we made it back to the car safe and sound and invigorated from the day of nature and beauty.
Hiking in the Swiss Alps was definitely one of the best hikes I have been on in my life, and it was barely scratching the surface of what the mountains here in Switzerland have to offer!
Saturday, June 21 (Frauenfeld, Switzerland near Zurich) – If I’m not going to be in Brazil (with my brother) watching the World Cup live, the next best thing is watching a country play, while I am in that country. And for two days in a row, I was in two different countries to watch the patriotism and excitement of their teams fighting for the title.
I’m a pretty big sports fan (go Mets, go Islanders!) and I love going to games even if it is a sport I don’t normally follow. But for soccer (or ‘futbol’ as I’ve learned to call it in Europe), I just never got the ‘bug’. I played a bit in middle school, and I’ve been to one professional game (the Red Bulls) in the States, but I’ve never gone out of my way to watch a game. Until now!
The World Cup is one of those things like the Olympics or World’s Fairs / Expos that I love to support as I love to see different cultures and communities come together over a common connection, in this case: futbol. So when I had the opportunity to see Switzerland play at a house party in Switzerland, and then see Germany play at a public viewing in Germany, how could I possibly say no!?
In Switzerland I am staying with an amazing couple who I met when I was in Italy – we had just started chatting at a restaurant one night, and the next thing I knew, I was invited to stay with them if I made it to Zurich. And I did. Jacqueline and Martin were hosting a small get-together with some family and friends to watch the game, so I brought little soccer ball-shaped chocolates from the local, delicious Swiss brand Teuscher to add to the atmosphere.
We had a delicious BBQ with bratwurst, chicken, and (Mom, Rena, horse-friends you may not want to read this: I tasted a teeny-tiny piece of horsemeat, a specialty here. I felt awful and only had a small taste but it is one of those things that is common and special here so I wanted to experience it. Lean, tasted like beef, not bad at all, but I will never be eating that again).
After dinner we all sat and watched the game, where Switzerland unfortunately lost pretty badly, but it was still a lot of fun and a great experience to feel the patriotism and root for the home team.
The following day, Jacqueline and Martin had the great idea of taking me over the German border, about 20 minutes away, to a town called Konstanz. It is a cute, quaint town, and easier to get to than Zurich, so it is a place they go to often. There was another reason for us to go, aside from me checking off another country on my list: it was Germany’s turn to play in the World Cup, and there would be plenty of big screens set up by the lake for public viewing.
We drove up to Lake Konstanz from the town of Frauenfeld where I am staying, and casually parked and walked over the border into Germany. No passport control (no stamp, boo), and no questions.
When we arrived, the harbor town was packed with people who were finishing their dinners so they could get a good spot to watch the game. In fact, when we finished a local beer and went down to a restaurant to sit for dinner, we were told the kitchen was closed for the game! We then had to walk into the town, through eerily empty streets (everyone was parked in front of a screen), and try a few other places before we found a restaurant with an open kitchen, not too long of a wait for food, and with tables available!
Finally, we found a table at a delicious Italian restaurant called il Boccone. We enjoyed the leisurely meal upstairs where we didn’t have a screen to watch the whole game, but we could hear the score from the cheers outside and downstairs. Finally, the game ended in a tie with Ghana and the face-painted, jersey-wearing Germans went home, and so did we.
Friday, June 20 (Salzburg, Austria & Zurich, Switzerland) – I decided to make a three-day stop in Switzerland after hearing how beautiful it is. I have been twice before, but only in Zermatt and Lake Lucerne, and not in a long long time. Zurich was only a 5.5 hour train ride from Salzburg and I had met a really nice couple from there when I was in Italy who had graciously invited me to stay with them, so it seemed like a perfect time and place to visit.
I arrived at the train station in the early afternoon, left my luggage in a locker and started walking into the city center. I had done a little research and found a free walking tour that started at three o’clock, so I had a little bit of time to explore and get lunch before then.
When I was still at the train station and was asked to pay two Swiss Francs (a little more than $2) to use the bathroom, I knew I was in for a bit of a shock. Zurich is the world’s 4th most expensive city (New York is the 5th) according to a study from Expatistan.com. My delicious but relatively simple vegetarian salad cost a whopping 23 Francs!
So I was pretty excited that I had found a free walking tour to even out the cost of lunch, and get an overview of the city before heading to the suburban town of Frauenfeld where I was to stay for the weekend.
Just before the tour began, I happened to walk by a very familiar logo. The Swiss version of my gym, New York Sports Club! I walked in to take a quick look but on the main floor all I could see were squash courts, a check-in desk, and a mini gift shop where you could buy apparel that says the famous NYSC on it (vs. LSC for Luxor Sports Clubs!).
On the walking tour, Tim walked us through the Paradeplatz where the headquarters for many international banks are situated. We explored some of the main churches like the Fraumunster, and learned about the history of the country. We even made a brief stop at the café where the art genre Dadaism was founded!
I didn’t realize Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Interestingly, the written German is more professional and official, but Swiss German is what is spoken day to day in many parts of the country. There is no written language for Swiss German and there are different dialects depending where you live. Luckily, English is a very commonly spoken language, so I could get by, although I wish I understood more than a word or two of German!
One thing that I really loved about Zurich was that there are tons of water fountains with fresh, drinkable water throughout the city. But they aren’t like normal water fountains back home. Instead, they are all creative sculptures that to me look like fountains for show, but are in fact for drinking. I thought it was a bit of a waste of water at first to see the constant flow of water (instead of pushing a button to get a drink), but apparently there is an endless supply of water in Switzerland so this doesn’t pose the slightest bit of a problem.
Overall, I only saw a small part of the city, but I found Zurich to be really beautiful and one of the most similar to New York cities I’ve come across. There were many shops and restaurants I would have loved to check out if I had more time, although the prices would have held me back a bit. I definitely recommend the free walking tour to at least kick-off your stay in Zurich, so you have an idea of the layout and the culture and so you know where you would like to return to to spend your time (and money).