Tuesday, March 19, 2013

France, Switzerland & Germany

In the first week of October of 2012, my husband & I traveled to France, Switzerland & Germany for ten days. Paris was our first stop for two and a half days. I have been to the Paris airport & flown over the Eiffel tower several times but I had never been outside the airport before this trip. Unfortunately I had not heard the best things about Paris but I was pleasantly surprised how much I liked Paris & how much we enjoyed ourselves.

We left Thursday night & arrived Friday morning. With my always traveling curse, my luggage somehow did not show up when we went to collect ours. Long story short, they thought someone picked up my bag by accident. I was assured that they would find it & they would deliver it to our hotel. I was not very comfortable with that but I wasn't really left with another choice. We grabbed a cab and headed into town to our hotel, Hotel Pratic. It was a cool little hotel that was just a block off of the main street & our room had a nice view over the square below. We were on the fifth floor which was great but there was not an elevator in the hotel which was not so great part, haha.  

We were exhausted after the traveling so we checked into our hotel & went in search of some coffee. We found a nice little place down the street called L'etincelle & sat down to have a croissant & coffee. After hanging out there & waking up for a bit we then decided to wonder around & check somethings out.
We started out by walking along the famous river, Le Seine. The first place we decided to check out was the Notre Dame. Unfortunately the line was extremely long to get in because it was a Friday afternoon so we decided not to go it but even from the outside, it just looked beautiful.

We then decided to walk down some side streets & find some lunch. We came upon this fantastic coffee shop & we had probably the best chocolate/fudge dessert, it was called Malongo. I believe they are throughout France & have some really great espresso too.

We then went to check out the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and then the Louvre. Unfortunately that line was extremely long too and they were getting ready to close once we got there. It was really neat just to sit there and people watch and see what everyone else was doing around there. I was still in the same clothes that I flew in so I was desperately hoping that my suitcase would be waiting for me when we got back to the hotel.
After hanging out for a bit, we decided to head towards the Eiffel Tower. We walked along Ave des Champs-Elysées checking out the scenery & then some stores along the way. There was a lot of the higher end shopping for the stores but cool to check out.
We walked past the Arc de Triomphe and probably just stood there for over thirty minutes watching everyone drive. This was one of the craziest intersections I have ever seen! If you want to drive on this, you need to be able to drive aggressive. It made me think of vacation when Clark gets stuck driving in the round about and can't get out. We hung out there until sunset and headed to the Eiffel Tower.  
As we were walking over the bridge above the Le Seine river, a random guy pretty much came out of no where and ran up the railing of the bridge with a flame in his hand. He then proceeded to do acrobatic moves on the rails & hanging from the rails. He did it for a couple of minutes while we & others that had gathered watched this guy. Then he ran back down the rail & ran off, probably before the cops came. It was totally random & crazy, not sure if he just liked to do crazy things or what! 
We then headed to the Eiffel Tower & hung out for about an hour. It is in the middle of the park so you can just hang out with this beautiful tower in your view. The line was really long to go up to the top but we weren't really tying to do that & liked it more with just hanging out with a few beers, looking at this beautiful view. About every hour the tower would flicker the lights so it looked like thousands of flashes were going off on it at a time. We grabbed a couple beers from a vendor & layed in the grass in the park, just looking up at the tower & hanging out. It was perfect. If you're gonna grab some beers, get them before you get there. The closer you get, the more they charge for beers or anything at all.

We went to a tapas restaurant that night called Casa San Pablo, it was a block over from our hotel. We had some small bites & two bottles of wine. The food we awesome here. After we were finished, we decided to walk around & check out what other places were around there.

While walking around we stumbled upon a seafood place called Lebara Huitres. It was almost midnight so it was one of the few places still serving food. Which whether other places around there were still opened or not, I'm sure we would have decided to go in there. Their menus were on i-pads & had a great selection of seafood. Since we had already eaten & drank some, we got the seafood platter. Hmmm, it was so delicious! I believe there are four in Paris, so if you pass one, definitely check it out.
The next morning we got up & headed to the local market called Le Marche des Enfants Rouges. This place is almost hidden from the outside, so if you don't have the location or know what you are looking for, you could probably walk right by it. There they had tons of fresh veggies, seafood, meats, etc of all kinds that were very well priced. This is not one of the big touristy markets but more of a local market where you can find where the locals are hanging out & eating. They make pretty much everything in front of you & it was continuously busy.

We walked around for about twenty minutes just checking all of the options out. First we got a pita sandwich & then found a little restaurant within the market. We sat down & had some wine along with some meats, cheese & veggies. We will both always try anything but we were a little hesitant when we smelled the andouille sausage that literally smelled & tasted like feet. This meat looks like it was swirled around, almost looking like the rings of a trunk of a tree. We tried to be polite but we honestly could not even finish it. Definitely not a food I'd suggest trying ;) But it was really neat how the worked in such a small space & made everything work & tasty.
The most common & easiest form of transportation around Europe is typically the metro. We've used it every time we've been to Europe & obviously used it a lot in Paris. Well we had been walking around a lot & a lot. My weird self only wears flip flops & have since, bought a pair of walking shoes for from now on. My feet were hurting so bad, that I could barely walk. 
Long story short, we walked into the station and the train was getting ready to leave. We decided to run to try to catch the train and I couldn't keep up. Somehow Christian got in the train and I did not. There is the door to the train itself and then a separate door to protect you from the train. Well, I decided to keep following Christian and the door between myself & the train slammed on my arm so freaking hard. You'd think it'd be something like an elevator & open back up if it senses something is there; not this door and I guess that is why there is a second door so you don't get caught and drug away by the train. Anyways, I literally had to pry my arm out of the door and in that time, I looked at Christian horrified as he was riding away and there was nothing that we could do. He tried to mouth something to me and I thought he said stay here.
I don't know if I've ever been so freaked out in my entire life. I was standing there alone, in a metro in Paris. I do not speak French, had no cell phone & I had no clue what the name of the hotel was that we were staying at! I sat there and waited for over twenty minutes and just got more and more nervous with every second that went by. If he was coming right back why was it taking so long?
Finally, I saw him walking across on the other side of the platform. Apparently he was trying to tell me the name of the stop to get off at, so he had gotten off and was waiting for me there. So he finally had enough sense to come back to where we got separated. We can laugh about it now but I was so freaked out at the time. He now knows he better never do that again ;)
After re-grouping, we then headed over to the Orsay Museum. It was raining & the line was pretty long here too but we decided to wait. Because of the weather, I guess the line was shorter than normal. As we moved a little bit in line, they announced they would not be letting anyone else in after thirty minutes because they were closing. Score! A lot of people left the line, so we decided to wait and risk it. I think we still had like five or ten more minutes when we got inside. They luckily still give the people that make the cut off plenty of time to check everything out. I believe we were in the museum for over an hour and a half.

You obviously can not take pictures in the museum so below is the only one that I have to share. We wondered around and saw lots and lots of amazing things there. The coolest ones to see were the Degas & Monet. It's one thing to see all of these beautiful works of art in books & in pictures but to see them first hand is just a whole other thing.

That night we tried to go to two different restaurants that we had heard about but they both ended up being closed. We had an interesting experience getting to the place we had dinner that night called Julien. First we got in a cab and told the driver where we were trying to go and he had no clue where it was and then told us to get out of his cab because he didn't like that, lol. So we moved on to the next cab and he drove us to one place and we discovered they were closed. He waited for us because he thought they were maybe not open. Sunday was not a great day to try to go to these places because the second one was closed too. At this point, we kinda gave up and just told the cab driver we'd stay in the area we were. We paid him and wondered around and came upon Julien.
This place was very pretty inside & we only had to wait for a seat for a few minutes. They had a set meal where you can pick what you want for each course and includes a bottle of wine. We ordered a bottle a wine, I started with crab meat in a mille-feuille of mango and avocado & Christian started with Duck Foie Gras with fig and grape chutney and brioche bread.
Then for the main course we had the Large prawns and Norwegian salmon with baby seasonal vegetables in a lime and ginger sauce and Grilled Chateaubriand beef, Béarnaise sauce, French fries and French beans. Hmmm, it was delicious.
After we were already stuffed and a little tipsy we still ordered dessert. He had the Crêpes Suzette flambéed with Grand Marnier and I had the Soft-cooked “Guanaja” chocolate cake, caramel “à la fleur de sel” ice cream.

We took a cab back to the neighborhood that we were staying in since we were kinda far away. We bought some beers on the street (there are always little stands where you can buy beer, water, snacks, etc) and hung out for a while at a local bar.

The next morning we got early up to drive to Magny Cours to watch the world Superbike races. So we went to Europcar at the train station & picked up our WV CC rental car & exchanged some more euros. This was a nice car except for you could not see out the back window at all. And totally forget about it if it was raining or dark. It was pointless to have a car in Paris so we waited until we were leaving to get the car.

 If you've never heard of the World Superbike races before, it's one of the top leagues for sport bike racing along with MotoGP. The only place World Superbike races in the United States is Texas so we had never been to a race. We figured if we are this close, there is no way that we would miss it.

We arrived in the afternoon and it had been raining, which always makes for some interesting races with the crashes. Most of the seats were open to anyone so we sat in a few different places to get all of the views. Not really sure what they heck the food is that we found there. I'm guessing it was a hot dog with a casing on it. We were hungover & starving so that had to do.

The last place we picked to sit was one of the best spots on the track because you could view a lot of the turns. The final race was the main event which was pretty exciting. Max Biaggi won the race which ended up being his last since he retired after that. So that was pretty cool to see.
The only thing that stunk about the races is they let every single motorcycle leave the track before they let any cars out. Obviously we were in a car so we sat in one place for over two hours, waiting to get out. I see their idea but it was the worst parking direction I have ever witnessed.
Eventually we got out & got on the road headed towards the freeway to Lyon. Because of the traffic, the police shut down the roads going both ways, which allowed everyone to drive on both sides of the road. I've never seen that before in such a high traffic area but it was nice they at least helped get you out once you left the track grounds.
About two hours later we found our way to Lyon. Unfortunately it was dark by then, so we took a few detours around Lyon before finally arriving at our hotel Best Western Saint Antoine. There was not a parking lot for the hotel but there was a public one right across the street that we easily found a spot in. We got our luggage, got checked in and headed out to find some dinner.  
Because it was a Sunday night, there were a lot of places that were closed but we found a place called Le Bistrot de Lyon. This was just the start to prove of how amazing the food is in Lyon. We started off with a salad and a bottle of wine. For dinner Christian had the duck thigh & I had pork cheek. It was so freaking yummy!   

The bistro started to clear out & it ended up just being one other couple & us sitting next to each other. We started talking with them & they had drove down from Paris just to have dinner there. Since they had to drive back, they did not want to drink their entire bottle of wine so they gave us like half of theirs. We thought that was very nice.

After we finished dinner, we walked around Lyon & checked out the bridges. I believe there are three in the main part that connect you from one side to the other. The way they have the bridges and the church up on the hill lit up at night was very pretty. They even light up the TV tour by the church that kind of looks like a mini Eiffel Tower.

Since we had not seen Lyon in the daylight yet we decided to get up & check the city out. There are random tunnels in buildings I guess throughout the city but all of the ones that we found, were closed. We walked around & just kinda checked out everything & then headed to find some lunch.

There are bouchons all over Lyon that are just simply amazing (you could probably go to any one there and it would awesome). Christian had done some research & Cafe des Federations was one that really stood out to him and he wanted to check out.

We walked into the bouchon & they were busy but we only waited a few minutes & were seated. We started out with some wine, lyon sausage, wild boar terrine & caviar de la croix Rousse. Hmmmmm, yummy!
Next our meals arrived. He got the stewed pork cheek with potatoes and I got the Nantua sauce dumplings with crayfish. Oh my gosh, just amazing. The stew was just delicious and the dumpling were to die for. It was so rich that I would barely finish it, but I did ;)  
After we were completely stuffed, we wondered around the other side of Lyon. We just walked around for hours, just checking everything out and trying to walk off the lunch.  

There are little trains that'll take you to higher part of Lyon on the outskirts. We didn't really know where we were going so we checked out the map & saw that it would take you to the church on top of the hill that you can see lit up at night. This little train still worked the old school way & was pulled by huge pulleys.

When you get to the top, you come right out at the cathedral. This beautiful cathedral was called Cathedral Saint Jean-Baptiste & it overlooked the city of Lyon. We went inside first & checked it out. It was really beautiful & cool to see.  
After checking out the inside, we walked around the exterior of the cathedral. It had a view of the entire city of Lyon. It was a little cloudy that day but still a really cool view.

After that we took another train that went to another part of the city. This one took us up to some ancient ruins, which were just in the middle of the city. It was raining, so there weren't a ton of people out. It was pretty neat to see how there were ruins just in the middle of everything.

That night we went to meet one of our friends that lives in France for a few drinks & dinner. She had heard wonderful things about Au Petit Bouchon "Chez Georges" from her husband so we went there for dinner. This place probably only had six tables so you definitely want to have a reservation if you go there (or probably any of the bouchons) for dinner.

We were seated & ordered a bottle of wine. Thank goodness Barbara speaks French so she so nicely ordered everything for us & communicated to the guys that worked there. We ordered some appetizers & each got an entree.
For dessert, which got some cheese. It sounded good at the time & it was pretty yummy. Because the bouchon is pretty small, the restroom is out the side door and down the dark alley. Make sure to ask for the key & be prepared for just a hole in the floor ;) We ended up closing down the place, headed to another bar for a few drinks & had a wonderful time there. It was so much fun to hang out with Barbara & eat such kick ass food!
The next morning we got up to drive to Switzerland but had to check out the local farmers market first. They had so many fresh fruits, veggies, meats, cheeses, breads, etc out for everyone to buy. We checked everything out, bought some meat & cheese for a snack later & hopped into the car to head out to Switzerland.


As we got closer to Switzerland, you could tell because the scenery changed. Everything got greener & mountainess. We stopped a couple times before we got to the border just to view the amazing views. Most of our drive was in the Jura Mountains Regional National Park. If you are near the border, you have to drive through these mountains.

It's kinda funny because back in the day I believe that you had to stop at every border. Now you cross into a different country just like you are crossing into a different state with just merely a sign. In Switzerland, they are still old school with stopping you and they care very, very much who is coming into their county.

We had assumed that all of Switzerland was German speaking, which would have been a nice change because neither of us speak French but Christian can speak German. The guards at the border didn't really speak German but we got through the border just fine. We stopped at a station to grab some more cheese & snacks. We found a cool spot to stop and had our own little picnic. Then we continued on to find our B&B.

There were several reasons we chose to go to Switzerland; the scenery, the wine & the food. We had read a very cool article in Afar magazine about Lake Geneva & the wine scene that they have going on there. The thing that makes Lavaux Terraces area on Lake Geneva so unique is there are three different forms of sunlight that help the vines grow to make some freaking amazing wine: the sun itself, the sunlight reflected off of the lake & the sunlight that is absorbed by the stone walls on the steep cliffs, which give off their heat in the evening.

Most people don't think of Switzerland when they think of wine and that's because 98% of what they produce there, stays there and is drunk there. They only export 2% of their wine but I'll tell you, they are making a lot of wine there.
We stayed at the Auberge de la Gare in the Grandvaux on Lake Geneva. It was a cute little B&B that had on five rooms. It is owned by a couple who stays on the top floor and amazingly one of them was working in the kitchen or around there the entire time. They were very nice & work their butts off & they had a wonderful place there.  
We checked in and got the last room on the left side of the picture with a view of the garden. It was a great location, the only not so good thing is the above ground metro rail is across the street and it runs twenty-four/seven. It wasn't extremely loud but did wake me up just a few times.

That night we were recommend a local restaurant in Cully called Le Bistrot. We arrived kinda late so there were only a few other tables occupied. We ordered the beef tartare & the Fried Perch Lake Geneva, home fries and tartar sauce. I had the perch & it was just delicious. We asked our waitress to recommend at nice bottle of wine & she gave us Grand Cru Villette la combe. This was probably one the best bottles of wine that we've ever had. It ended up that the bottle she suggested was her boyfriends, family's winery, which was one of the largest wineries around Lake Geneva. Thank goodness we were able to purchase a bottle before coming back home!

The next morning we got up & decided to take a nice walk around the town. Unfortunately it rained on & off almost the entire time that we were in Switzerland but this still one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been to! Pretty much any where you walked in the entire town, there was an amazing view. We were there during harvest so all of the grapes were in the process of being picked, so everyone was very busy. In the last picture we did find some guys that wanted to be in our picture while they were hard at work ;)


We decided to check out a local winery called Testuz. Most of the wineries didn't have tasting rooms, just a few of the larger ones did.We came in and were the only people in there until another couple was coming in as we were leaving. It was cool to try the wine instead of having to get an entire bottle but we did end up purchasing three of the bottles we sampled ;) Unfortunately one of our bottles broken in our drive to Germany so we only got to bring two of those home.

The really amazing thing they do about making the wine there is they do it the old school way for most of the wineries. Instead of machines, the people go out & hand pick the grapes. Then put it in large tubs & walk it on their back all of the way down cliffs. Some of the places have little tracks with carts that will fit on the track to send down to the bottom of the hill. A few of the larger ones hire a helicopter to come take the grapes off of the top of the cliff to take to turn them into wine.
Since this is a such a small area & the tourism has picked up a little, they opened a tasting bar called Vinorama. You can purchase (and taste) a lot of the local wines as well. We went in, tried some wines & then watched a documentary on the Lavaux area (they have a nice little theatre downstairs to watch this on). After the movie, we went back upstairs & had some more wine. We purchased some more bottles of wine here & actually found the first bottle of wine that we absolutely loved here. It's definitely a little Americanized but it was cool to have all of that in one place.
Another neat thing about this place is it had a pretty cool waterfall behind the Vinorama with a little path down to the lake. We walked down the walkway, made our way through some grape trees & ended up down on the water. There were lots of locals fishing & it was a pretty view. You have to be careful walking down the path because during certain parts of the day, the water can rise & you can be stuck in the path. 
 Another place we had read about in the Afar article was a place by the name of L'Auberge de l'Onde in Saint-Saphorin. This place is famous because Charlie Chapline dined there once a week when he lived in a neighboring village. It is obviously well known for its food & wine selection as well. They are kinda going for the culinary imagination thing which was cool for such a small town. We didn't really know how to make a reservation there so after driving around for a while, we eventually found the place & walked in during the day to see if we could make one. Luckily, they did have one available for later that night.
The food & the wine were both very good! Since it was during the week, they were not very packed. We had a fixed menu, so we both had the same things.
The next morning we got up to head to Germany. Christian's cousin is stationed there so we figured it'd be a great way to end vacation by going to Oktoberfest in Stuttgart with him. Also, Christian's cousin decided come meet us over there too with her boyfriend (became her fiance while over there!) as well.
We took the longer (more scenic) route to get to Stuttgart through the Black Forrest. First, somehow we ended up in the middle of no where surrounded by cows, lol. They all kinda stopped what they were doing & looked at us like who the heck are you. We found our way out & continued on. Randomly passed a nuclear power plant too.
As we got higher up in the mountains, it became more secluded. We randomly found a stand in the middle of no where that was selling black Forrest ham & liquor. The Forrest was very thick & beautiful.
With taking the longer route, we did not get there until later in the evening. Christian had lived in Stuttgart for eighteen months before he met me so it was really neat for him to see the city about ten years later. We found our way to Josh's kick-ass apartment & got settled. Everyone was hungry after a bit so we decided to go to the traditional German place right down the street, called the Funzel. Oh my gosh, I could eat here everyday of my life! But think I'd suffer from a heart attach first ;)
This place has every traditional German food that you can think of & oh, it is so flippin good! Unfortunately I could tell that I was getting sick & started to not feel well so I did not make it late that night. We were going to the Oktoberfest the next night & I wanted to be well for it.
The next day we hung out the morning & then got ready to head down the Fest in the afternoon. Josh had gotten tickets ahead of time for us & everyone in the Navy that was going. I was feeling like complete crap by the time we left but I kept popping garlic & vitamin c & it helped me a little bit.
We got down to the festival & it was a full on festival! Unfortunately it was raining on & off but we were going to be inside most of the night so wanted to check everything out before going in the tent. Josh, Heidi & Mike all had gone the year before so they were already familiar where all of the the good stuff was. In the tents, you have to purchase tickets to have seats for the evening. So up until like 4PM, anyone can sit anywhere.
Our tickets were in the Furstenberg tent & we headed in a little before the night switch. We walked in & it as packed! Josh had gotten some kick-ass seats. They were all up in the front, near the stage where the band was playing. We found our seats & ordered some beers. Your ticket comes with a bunch of beer tickets & one whole chicken ticket (which you can use for a beer as well, which we did). Also, remember to bring one euro coins to tip the ladies that bring you the beer. These ladies are some hard asses & will kick your butt if you are out of line. We watched some kid break his glass & acting like a jackass & we thought she was gonna pick him up & through him out. But they are very, very busy, so make sure to tip them at least a euro on every beer so they remember to come back to you ;)
As the night went on it gets a little fuzzy but we had an kick-ass awesome time! The band was awesome and everyone was singing & dancing. There were many benches flipped by standing on one end & a couple fights. We had so much fun & it was great people watching! By the time we left, I had completely lost my voice & my husband was asleep on the table.
The festival ends around 11PM and everyone slowly makes their way to the metro station. We got some food, I got an Oktoberfest cookie & we made our way out. Surprisingly, I carried my cookie as one of my carry ons all of the way back to the US & it made it without getting broken!
When thousands of drunk people are trying to get in the metro all at once, you are bound to have some issues. When a new one pulls up, everyone pushes on & my intoxicated husband somehow got his heel stepped on as we were getting on. He went flying forward, head first in the train. Also, somehow his shoe came off & dropped down, below the train. There was absolutely no way to get it. It was so crazy at that moment, all we could do was laugh at him & pick him put off of the floor!  
After we got off the train, we tried to find a cab but no luck. Unfortunately we thought we were going to have to walk all of the way back to Josh's apartment but I managed to wave a cab down (pretty much ran out in the street & chased him down, lol). All in all, it was one of the most fun nights that we've had in a really long time. The Germans know how to party and how to have a good time!

 It is hard to compare different countries in Europe because they are all so different & unique in their own ways. I am so glad that we went to France. I had honestly heard mostly bad things about France (pretty much mostly Paris) & we loved it! Everyone that we interacted with was very nice & friendly. You just can't go walking around, acting like a dumb tourist. It's like going to New York city & expecting everyone to be smiling the entire time. They have a lot of tourists coming in, that can't speak their language & just act stupid. I would get annoyed with that too.
We had such an amazing time in Switzerland even though the weather wasn't that great when we were there. Lake Geneva was one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been too. We could have spent another week there at least. I really hope that we go back one day.
This was my second time to Germany and I think I had just as much fun as the first. This time was more just having fun & hanging out instead of doing mostly site seeing. I wish that I was a little healthier when I was there but still had a blast! Unfortunately I ended up loosing my voice for over six days. But it was so worth it!


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