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!
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).