The past few weeks have been a true whirlwind of adventure. Saying good-bye to my twenties is truly turning out to be the adventure of a lifetime. While I am still not okay with the fact that I am about to turn 30, having so much fun in my final months as a twenty-something is making the inevitable at least enjoyable.
About two weeks ago, my friend Chris came to visit me. We had planned a ridiculous road-trip through Western Europe, and it shaped up to be much more eventful than either of us could have imagined. Chris arrived in France on a Saturday, and we set off on Sunday morning. Our trip included the following destinations:
- Loire Valley: Château de Chenonceau and Chaumont-sur-Loire
- Munich, Germany: dinner and to see the glockenspiel
- Salzburg, Austria: Sound of Music Tour and architecture
- Liechtenstein: originally, renting and riding bikes, but mother nature had other plans, wine tasting
- Zermatt, Switzerland: go to Glacier Paradise to see the Matterhorn
- Lausanne, Switzerland: wine tasting
- Bourgogne, France (region): wine tasting
- Tours: cathedral, le Petit Atelier (coffee shop), Château de Langeais (not technically Tours), wine tasting
- Paris: le Panthéon, l’Arc de Triomphe, champagne
I’m going to write a very brief synopsis of the adventures that ensued for each of these destinations. In order to get the full story, you will have to ask Chris or me personally. Let’s just say a lot happened in a very short period of time.
Munich had been on my list for several years, and still remains there. Unfortunately, we only had time for a short stop in Munich, but I quickly realized how much I wanted to visit for real. Munich was a big city, but very different from the other big European cities I have visited. In my opinion, Munich was the first BIG European city I had driven in, and it was not as terrifying as I had anticipated. We were able to find parking with relative ease and found the Old Town Hall and glockenspiel without much problem as well. We ate in one of the oldest beer halls in Munich, and it was mediocre at best. It didn’t help that we were in a hurry, but the atmosphere was fun and I think I would have enjoyed it much more if I could have had a few glasses of wine.
One of my favorite memories from our short visit to Munich was being able to drive on the Autobahn. First of all, I love driving in general. Secondly, anyone who has driven with me knows that I like to drive really, really fast. Thirdly, the Autobahn combined these two loves. At my fastest, I made it to 180kmph (112mph). It was awesome!
We arrived very late at night, so it was difficult to form a true opinion about Salzburg, as our hotel was at the top of a winding road going through a mountain. We check in and pretty much went straight to bed. The next morning was something Chris was really looking forward to–the Sound of Music Tour. In all honesty, this was probably the activity I was least looking forward to on this entire trip. I hate tours, especially bus tours. I hate being part of tour groups. Also, I’ve only seen “The Sound of Music” once so I’m just not that interested in it. It ended up only being somewhat awful. The one part of the tour I really enjoyed was the view of the glacier lakes. However, I think I would have liked it even more if we had our car and could have stopped whenever we wanted. We also passed several awesome hiking trails that I would have loved to visit.
After the Sound of Music Tour we explored Old Town and some of the architecture (the part of Salzburg I was not interested in). I love the Baroque style of architecture, and seeing as so many influential composers are from Salzburg, I found it fascinating to walk around and imagine the inspiration for some of the pieces I have performed throughout my musical career. This was our only day in Austria, as the next morning we were getting up bright and early to drive to Liechtenstein.
Let’s begin the story with an explanation that we had one idea and mother nature had another. The sole purpose of our visiting Liechtenstein was to rent and ride bikes the length of the country. I checked the weather before we left and there was a 100% chance of heavy showers. We managed to make it to Liechtenstein with the hope that it would clear up. It definitely did not. Our first stop was the Office of Tourism. Liechtenstein is one of the few countries in the Schengen Zone where it is possible to get a stamp in your passport (if you are willing to pay 3€). Next, we had lunch at an Asian Fusion restaurant. It was the best Thai food I’ve had since leaving the states. It was actually a little bit spicy and cooked perfectly.
By this point, we had realized the rain was not going to stop. It was also around this time that I discovered there was a winery in Liechtenstein. Since we couldn’t rent bikes, we decided to go wine tasting instead! It was one of (if not) the best wine tastings I’ve done in my life. We sampled three wines–a red, rosé, and white. The ‘samples’ were practically full glasses. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t able to finish all of my samples, as I had to drive us to Täsch, which was a route through the mountains and I wanted to be safe. It was also a seated tasting in one of the cellars, so it was extremely calm and relaxing. We left Liechtenstein and began the crazy drive to Täsch. Let me preface this story by saying that during the planning stages of this trip, I was under the impression that Chris was going to be splitting the driving responsibilities with me. Had I known that I was going to be doing all of the driving, I would have gone into this adventure with a different mentality.
That being said, the drive from Liechtenstein to Täsch was one of the most terrifyingly awful drives of my life. Prior to leaving for this vacation I had purchased a GPS, as it was cheaper for me to buy one than to pay for one with the rental car. I had been careful to avoid all toll roads, but what I wasn’t careful to avoid were ferries. Silly me, the possibility of a ferry was something that did not cross my mind. When we left Liechtenstein, the GPS said our drive would take just over 4 hours, which wasn’t terrible. About 2 hours into the drive, it had us deviate from the main road and begin zigzagging through these back roads, and ended by telling us to ‘proceed to the ferry.’ (Which we did not see.) We then reprogrammed the GPS telling it to avoid toll roads AND ferries. Our new route would take just over 5 hours. I literally could have cried at hearing this. I was tired, it was raining, and we were driving through the Swiss Alps, none of which made the drive especially easy or enjoyable.
I sucked it up, put on some Sara Bareilles and forged through this disaster. We continued driving through the Swiss Alps and countless ghost towns. Just when things seemed to be becoming almost normal, in terms of the road, we suddenly crossed into Italy! In comparison to the Swiss Alps, the Italian Alps were astronomically worse. The roads were even narrower, twisting, and up/downhill. My nightmare was multiplied. And on top of all of this, we were now driving through dense fog. The posted speed limit was 90kmph (HA! On my best of days, in perfect weather, I would not have gotten close to this speed!). My actual speed was between 30-40kmph. Given as I was going less than half of the posted speed limit, our drive time also lengthened. Each time we got a break from the winding mountain roads, I was dealing with equally insane village roads and deer. Honestly, if there had been a hotel, we would have stopped for the night. I was at my breaking point with only 1.5 hours of the drive remaining. Just when I thought I was done and had survived driving through the Alps, I had one final push to get to the hotel. All uphill on winding road, still in the rain and fog. It was after 1am by the time we rolled into our hotel, which was locked. I sat in the car and had a meltdown while Chris tried to get us into the hotel.
After another 30-45 minutes, we were in our hotel room, which thankfully had a bathtub. I ended my hellacious drive with the most relaxing bath of my entire life. Then I took a nap.
After a short nap, we were up and ready to go again. Because no cars are allowed in Zermatt, we had to take the train from Täsch to Zermatt. One of the reasons we chose our hotel was because of its proximity to the train station (literally across the street). The train ride was stunning and when it ended you were in a typical ski town, but so much cuter than any I had ever visited before. There was still a very Bavarian feel to the town itself, which I really enjoyed and appreciated. Our first destination was to get tickets for Glacier Paradise. We got our tickets and began the walk to the first cable car/gondola. Back story to this adventure. I hate cable cars/anything suspended by a wire that I have to get on. HATE. When I was a child my family took a vacation to Disney World and my mother made all of us go on the cable cars across the park. Heights are one of my biggest fears in life. Actually, I think heights are my biggest fear, and one that unfortunately debilitates me from time to time. My fear of heights seems to be getting worse as I get older, but I am really trying to work through it. As a child, I sat on the floor of the cable car screaming and crying the length of Disney World. I was afraid a similar situation was going to happen on my way to the Matterhorn. Needless to say, I managed to keep it together for all three, that’s right THREE gondolas.
By the time we reached the top, we went to one of the lookout points to see all of the mountains. It was stunning. Honestly, words and pictures do not do this experience justice. If you ever have the opportunity, you MUST go to Glacier Paradise. We then found the restaurant/bar at the top, where I promptly rewarded my bravery with a few glasses of wine. We then explored all of the parts, including an ice cave, and a few more lookout points. Everything was so clear and calm. It inspired me to visit the French Alps within the next year. I’ve also decided to give snowboarding another shot!
We spent the rest of the day exploring Zermatt. We had a small snack from a bakery and then did a bit of shopping in town. After, it was too early for dinner, so I found a cool bar for us to stop at and have a few drinks. Because we were in Switzerland (wow is it expensive!) we stuck with wine. We also had some quality conversation over our wine and just enjoyed being where we were and not having anything pressing to do. For dinner we had cheese fondue. I have had cheese fondue in France, and it was quite different in Switzerland. The cheese was much thinner and not as flavorful, in my opinion. I’m glad we were able to experience cheese fondue in Switzerland, but it is not something I feel the need to do again.
Jeannette (my best friend) and I are slightly crazy, especially when it comes to lists and trying to accomplish everything. In all honesty, it is probably my insanity that drives us most of the time, but nonetheless, she seems to have jumped on board with finding lists. One list she found was “Europe’s 11 Most Underrated Small Cities.” Lausanne was one of the cities on the list, so when I discovered how close we were going to be, I immediately added it as a ‘must-see’ during our visit. At first, it seemed very industrial and I couldn’t understand how it made the list. It turns out there are several parts of Lausanne, and we happened to stumble upon the right part, eventually. Lake Geneva was gorgeous and the surrounding area was so peaceful. We also discovered that we were in the wine-region of Switzerland, so we had to go wine tasting. It turns out, that the ‘tasting room’ was actually more of a wine bar. It was nice, but not quite what we were looking for.
Prior to this vacation, I watched a documentary on Netflix called ‘A Year in Burgundy.’ I have a dear friend who is from this region and he talks about how amazing it is all the time. I had never visited, but it has been on my list for a few years now. After viewing the documentary, it was another addition to the ‘must-see’ list. I was not disappointed! The wines were amazing and the scenery was beautiful. I hope to return within the year to spend a few days exploring this region.
We had only one day in Tours, so I decided to show Chris some of the ‘must sees.’ The cathedral is down the road from my apartment, so that was our first stop. We also did the cloister tour, which I had never done before. It was truly an interesting experience, and one that I would recommend to anyone visiting Tours. We then went to my favorite coffee shop, le Petit Atelier. It’s a relatively new coffee shop, but i have gotten to know the owners relatively well. We smile and wave when we see each other, and they know my order now. We had a relaxing coffee and cookie before beginning our adventure to Langeais. This was one of the remaining castles I had to visit in the Loire Valley. It was interesting, but not as memorable as the other castles I have visited. On the way home, we stopped to do some wine tasting in Montlouis-sur-Loire. It was interesting for me as I had never done wine tasting here. I usually go to Vouvray when I have people visiting. It was nice, but not something I feel the need to repeat (however, if it happened, I wouldn’t be disappointed).
We ended our night at Matt and Benoït’s for apéro. As always, Matt and Ben were extremely gracious hosts and welcomed Chris into their home as though they had known him for years. For the rest of our trip, Chris talked about how awesome it was to meet Matt and Ben and how much fun he had hanging out with them.
The final stop on my vacation with Chris. Chris really wanted to visit the Panthéon, which I have only visited once before. However, when we arrived, we discovered that it was closed the entire week, in preparation for a special event. Since we couldn’t visit the Panthéon, we decided to stop and have a glass of wine instead. (I’m beginning to think that I am a bad influence on my friends…) After, we walked around Paris for a bit and got some gelato. Our final official stop of the night was a visit to the top of l’Arc de Triomphe. Again, something I have done several times, but always at a different time of day. It was, as always, a beautiful view. Chris then suggested that we stop in a café on the Champs-Élysées for a drink and light snack. We decided to have a few glasses of wine and some cheese in an excellent restaurant, George V. After, we decided to get take-out to eat in our hotel. I found a small Chinese place just off the Champs-Élysées, which was very reasonably priced, and surprisingly spicy. This food definitely gave the Thai food from Liechtenstein a run for its money.
We took our food back to the hotel room, which was excellently located, just off the Champs-Élysées. On the walk back to the hotel, I wasn’t paying attention and managed to miss a curb and crash to the ground, along with our dinners. I ended up twisting my ankle and scraping one knee pretty bad. The sad thing is, I was completely sober when all of this happened, so I have nothing to blame other than my clumsy nature. I got some ice and cleaned up my knee and pushed through the injuries. To conclude our vacation, we went out for a glass of champagne. The atmosphere at the bar was perfect, the service impeccable, and the champagne perfectly refreshing.
The next morning, we had to be out of the hotel bright and early, as Chris had a flight back to the states and I had a flight to Edinburgh, Scotland.
While this vacation did not go exactly as planned, in the end it all worked out and I have countless memories and stories. In the end, I drove almost 2,000 miles in less than one week, visited 7 different countries, and conquered many fears. Knowing what I do now, I would do it all over again, with only slight modifications along the way.