Spring Break 2007 - Brandts in Europe : 2007-04-07
Joanna and I traveled to Europe over her March 2007 spring break to visit our daughter Erika in Switzerland. Our oldest daughter Heather and her husband Josh ended up traveling in Europe for March and April, so they met us as well, making it a wonderful trip. We justified it as an early silver anniversary trip, as our 25th will be next year. We had a blast!
Click the picture links to see our photos for each day. Don't worry, although I took about 800 pictures altogether, these galleries only include about 160 total. I inserted "(pic)" in the text at a few places to indicate related photos.
: March 17 Photos
The alarm went off far too early on the morning of Friday, March 17, but we got to Denver International Airport in plenty of time. The first surprise was running into Joanna's former student Marcia at the gate as we waited for our flight from Denver to Chicago. We discovered that she was traveling to Ireland with her brother and mother. Joanna told them we were in row 27. Amazingly enough, so were they! Joanna had a nice flight catching up with Marcia's mom about the four years since second grade (pic). I got started reading a novel.
After some great smoothies and Chinese orange chicken in O'Hare airport, we left Chicago for the trans-Atlantic leg of our trip. I heard that dehydration was a major contributor to jet lag, so we drank lots of juice and attempted to stay awake. Joanna slept a bit, but I kept busy proofing and editing the first 100 pages of the novel I'm trying to write.
After eight hours in the air, we got to the huge Brussels Airport in Belgium. Originally built by Nazi invaders during World War II, it has been greatly expanded and upgraded in the past few decades. We were rather exhausted when we arrived, as it was about 7:00 AM local time, but 1:00 AM for us. The first person I saw in Europe wearing a sports jersey had on a Ottawa Renegades (CFL) shirt. Who would have guessed?
We were disappointed to find that we had to go through security again to get to our new gate for the flight to Geneva. That meant our water and juice had to be consumed or tossed, as liquids over three ounces don't get through inspection. Despite some odd looks from the security personnel, we sat just outside their X-ray machines until we finished the juice. The unopened water bottle had to go in trash.
After getting through security, we had a lengthy journey to our new gate, both hiking and using moving walkways. The main terminal seemed to be at least half a mile long, but eventually we arrived. We had a three-hour layover before our next flight, so we decided to nap in shifts (pics). Joanna slept first, and I went back to reading a novel. The gate next to ours was full of mostly older Turkish Muslims waiting for their flight to Ankara. One elderly (60s-70s) man sat down a few seats away from me as I was reading. I glanced up to see him frantically pushing buttons on his cell phone, playing a video game. Who knew?
The flight to Geneva was 80 minutes, just long enough for a tasty breakfast and a little more reading when we weren't looking at the view. Stepping into the airport, we were thrilled to spot our lovely 20-year-old daughter waiting for us. The increased confidence and maturity over the teen who had left home many months ago was obvious as she hustled us to the train station. A Swiss gentlemen offered to help us use the ticket machine, but Erika had everything under control. Still, it was nice to see the people being so friendly the moment we arrived in Geneva.
We traveled by train (pic) to the station closest to Hotel Admiral, where they allowed us to check in early. With a home base established, we were off to start sightseeing more than 24 hours and a couple of short naps after leaving home. Thanks to my friendship with horologist Jack Freedman, we decided to visit a stunning watch museum. We walked over to the Patek Philippe Museum
in time for their 2:30 English tour. They have one floor dedicated to ancient timepieces from 1500 to 1840, and another full of Patek Philippe watches from 1839-2000. Security was tight, as many of the timepieces were worth millions of dollars, including one that sold for $11 million. We saw Marie Antoinette's ring watch, music boxes made for Chinese emperors, and incredible enamel watch portraits from the 1600s, painted with one-hair brushes, their colors still vibrant after three and a half centuries.
Next up was the area near the University of Geneva, founded by John Calvin in the 16th century (pics). That area included giant chess/checker boards in a park, and the imposing Reformation Wall with its giant statues of leading Reformers built almost a century ago. Guillaume Farel was the first to preach the Reformation in Geneva, John Calvin is the legendary Reformation scholar and preacher, Theodore Beza was Calvin's successor, and John Knox was a Scottish preacher, a friend of Calvin, and the founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland. The wall also includes the Mayflower compact and small statues of the pilgrims, but Luther and Zwingli get no more than commemorative rocks with no statues.
The next major stop was St. Peter's Cathedral. A cool brick rock tunnel led us from our ice cream shop to the cathedral plaza. Construction began in 1160, and eventually St. Peter's became a Protestant church and center of the Reformation as Calvin preached there from 1536 to 1564. The religious history of the site is much older, however. In the past three decades archaeologists have discovered layers of history, including the remains of two 4th century Christian sanctuaries, mosaics from the late Roman empire, and more. The giant neo-classical pillars in the picture of Erika and Joanna dates back to the 18th century, long after Calvin, but the area to the right of the pillars is in the original Gothic style. We returned to St. Peter's on Sunday, so there are more pictures in the Europe 2 gallery.
Continuing our hike, we headed down to Lac Leman, known as Lake Geneva to residents of Geneva. The rest of Europe seems to prefer Lac Leman, but it's one and the same lake, fed by glacier melt into the Rhone River. The day was beautiful, albeit a little chilly as we got near the lake. The historical flower clock was a must visit, and the impressive Jet d'eau fountain could not be missed, being visible from almost anywhere in Geneva that has a view of the lake.
Heading home after a very long day, I had to get a photo of the IranAir office, as it was the first Muslim airline office I had ever seen. Before the 1979 Islamic revolution, IranAir was the fastest-growing airline in the world.
After watching a little Swiss hockey while Joanna read, we relaxed a little and soon fell asleep, getting our first solid sleep in over 30 hours.
: March 18 Photos
We awoke refreshed, acclimated to the time in Geneva. The Hotel Admiral free breakfast was wonderful, with lots of fruit, delicious pastries and orange juice. Did I mention cheese? The Swiss always have plenty of that around. Joanna met a lady from Czech Republic and enjoyed chatting with her.
Erika soon arrived and we were on our way hiking through Geneva again (pics). Drinking from public fountains, checking out old artillery, visiting city hall and stopping by the Reformation Museum kept us busy. We returned to St. Peter's to climb the tower, getting a great view of the city. After a little more sightseeing along the way, we returned to get our luggage and depart for Nyon. The countryside was full of homes with vineyards and great views of the lake and the mountains.
We arrived in Nyon and met Erika's fellow au pair, Sarah, who is from Stratford, England. We were eager for pizza, but they didn't serve pizza before church was scheduled to start, so we decided to eat afterwards. Many dining establishments in Switzerland are open limited hours, or have drastically limited menus at non-meal times. The church was celebrating their 20th anniversary, so we enjoyed some cake after an enjoyable service. We met several people from Erika's au pair group, including the lady who leads it. From there, it was off to the pizza place (pic). We were supposed to meet Heather & Josh, but they didn't show up, so we enjoyed some tasty food without them.
When we got to the train station, the Van Wynens were there, so Sarah left for her place, and the four of us traveled to Lausanne to find the hotel that would be our only multi-night home of the trip. We bought some grocery store food for dinner and set off to find our new home. The hike to the hotel was arduously steep, but when we arrived we knew it would be a wonderful stay. I opened the window and was amazed by the gorgeous view of the Lausanne cathedral, seen in my photo taken on day 4. After we ate and chatted, the kids left for Bussigny and Erika's place, while Joanna and I relaxed by reading a little and settling in for a good night's rest.
: March 19 Photos
The cathedral and the Castle of Chillon (immortalized by Lord Byron's poem, "The Prisoner of Chillon") were the chosen destinations of the day after we realized the weather would not favor our planned trip to Chamonix, France. The kids showed up at our hotel and we were off and hiking once again. The cathedral was only a five-minute walk from our hotel, so we went there first. (pics) The climb to the top of the tower took longer (I think Joanna counted 253 steps) but we all made it up and enjoyed the great view. It is truly an amazing edifice. Officially dedicated by the pope in the 13th century, it became a Protestant church in the Reformation era.
The train arrived in Montreux. We decided to picnic on the way to Chillon, supposedly a beautiful mile or so, so we set out, admiring the music-oriented sculptures along the lakeshore. Soon, a cold drizzle began, but we bravely hiked on, stopping for a somewhat soggy meal. Eventually the rain turned to snow, and when we finally arrived at the castle, we asked an employee how far the walk was to the train station. He laughed, and said, "You don't want to do that! It's snowing." We informed that we had just completed the walk, and he told us it was four miles. No wonder we were tired!
The castle perked us up, though, as it was simply magnificent, everything one would imagine a medieval castle should be. Designed to guard the road to Italy, the castle has a written history going back to the 1100s. Entering some of the great rooms, one could envision roaring fires and knights pounding their tankards on the table, demanding more to drink. Interestingly enough, we were completely alone most of our time in the castle. Apparently the goodwill of visitors is assumed. The dungeon featured a pillar covered in graffiti etchings, including Byron's name, covered for protection. Mark Twain was less impressed when he visited over a century ago. In A Tramp Abroad
I had always had a deep and reverent compassion for the sufferings of the "prisoner of Chillon," whose story Byron had told in such moving verse; so I took the steamer and made pilgrimage to the dungeons of the Castle of Chillon, to see the place where poor Bonnivard endured his dreary captivity three hundred years ago. I am glad I did that, for it took away some of the pain I was feeling on the prisoner's account. His dungeon was a nice, cool, roomy place, and I cannot see why he should have been dissatisfied with it. If he had been imprisoned in a St. Nicholas private dwelling, where the fertilizer prevails, and the goat sleeps with the guest, and the chickens roost on him and the cow comes in and bothers him when he wants to muse, it would have been another matter altogether; but he surely could not have had a very cheerless time of it in that pretty dungeon. It has romantic window-slits that let in generous bars of light, and it has tall, noble columns, carved apparently from the living rock; and what is more, they are written all over with thousands of names; some of them--like Byron's and Victor Hugo's--of the first celebrity. Why didn't he amuse himself reading these names? Then there are the couriers and tourists--swarms of them every day--what was to hinder him from having a good time with them? I think Bonnivard's sufferings have been overrated.
I've always loved Twain's wry humor. In fact, now that I've been to Italy, I need to dig up The Innocents Abroad
and read it again to compare our experiences.
Needless to say, we took the bus back to the train station rather than hiking again. After another grocery store meal, I headed down to the hotel lobby to check email. I ended up spending over an hour because there was a problem at work and thanks to GMail Chat, I was able to troubleshoot the problem. Because of the time difference, it was only 1:00 PM in Colorado although it was 8:00 PM in Lausanne when I got on the computer. Eventually I got back to the room. Joanna soon went to sleep and I read an entire book
that Erika had given me.
: March 20 Photos
We had planned to meet Heather & Josh at the train station. When we showed up, they informed us we were late. It turns out Joanna's clock was about an hour slow. I thought I'd read until 1:00 AM, but I had been up until 2:00 AM. In any case, it was time to finally see Erika's converted-pigeon-coop apartment, so we took the train to Bussigny. After hanging out there for awhile, all of us took the train to Aigle, followed by a spectacular bus trip up through the Rhone Valley to Huemoz, the home of L'Abri
. Founded by Francis & Edith Schaeffer in 1955, "The Shelter" has been a study center and retreat for Christians and seekers for half a century. When I was reading the complete works of Schaeffer in the 70s, I never dreamed that I would visit L'Abri some day. Then four years ago, Heather and Josh met there, so returning for the first time as a married couple was special for them. It was Erika's first visit to L'Abri.
We were greeted by the staff and invited to join everyone for tea and cookies. After a nice chat, we were considering leaving when John Sandri showed up. Married to the Schaeffer's daughter Prisca, John has been part of L'Abri since coming as a student in the 50s. John delighted us with stories about Edith Schaeffer, who at 92 years old, still spends a couple of days a week with Prisca. We visited the library (down a literal slippery slope) and then left. Heather and Josh will return in mid-April for several days at L'Abri.
After the bus trip back down to Aigle and a train to Lausanne, we went out for a traditional dinner--Chinese. The kids headed back for Bussigny and we hiked up to our hotel for a well-deserved rest. I took one quick night walk over to the cathedral to verify some geographical facts for my novel, and then it was bed time.
: March 21 Photos
It was time to say goodbye to our temporary home and head back to Lausanne on our first day without Erika (she had to work). First, we had a little more cathedral sightseeing in mind. I met Heather & Josh at the train station while Joanna stayed at the hotel. After buying some breakfast, on the hike back (about 10 or 15 minutes), I bought flowers for Heather and Joanna (see pic). We ate our breakfast in our room, and then Josh and I hiked to the cathedral for more photos. Some things had been moved, and we finally had proper access to the tomb of medieval knight Otto de Grandson, who looked to be about 5 foot nothing.
We returned to the hotel and checked out. I purchased our train tickets to Geneva in French, feeling quite proud of myself although I certainly sounded like a foreigner. We had a great time traveling with Heather & Josh, and this time we got to be the guides as we knew Geneva better than they did. The one new attraction for us was a quick visit to the Museum of Art & History. It was full of ancient artifacts and paintings, and well worth our stop.
Riding the bus in Geneva, we spotted an American store. Their store window boasted two signs: "Hip Hop" and "Women's Jeans: Big Sizes," thereby summing up the Swiss view of America.
For our final real meal in Switzerland, we wanted to go more "native" than Chinese, so Josh and I had fondue while Heather and Joanna split lasagna. The Van Wynens returned to Bussigny and we settled in at our Holiday Inn near the airport, ready to get up very early for the Italian leg of our adventure. The children decided we were trained enough to finally be on our own in Europe.
: March 22 Photos
We were up bright and early, meeting the taxi at 5:00 AM for the half-mile or so trip. The meter was approaching $12 before we even left the hotel parking lot. Too bad the free airport shuttle started one hour after we had to be at the airport. Despite a bit of confusion, everything went well, and our flight touched down in Rome about 8:30 AM. We changed some money to Euros, and decided to take a nice bus to Termini station, terrified of pickpockets and thieves on the cheaper public buses. In retrospect, we would have saved the money and taken the public transportation, but our bus ride was very pleasant. Not knowing our way around, we consulted the map and decided to hike to Hotel Golden. After a good 45-minute or so workout and several historic sites, we eventually found our destination and checked in. It was time to explore the Eternal City!
We signed up for a bus tour, and were soon on the open top of a bus, listening to headphones describing the various stops like the Colosseum and Palatine Hill. We didn't spend the money to go in the Colosseum, but when we discovered that a Palatine Hill pass would also get us into the Colosseum the next day, we purchased those passes and enjoyed walking in the parks where the Caesars had walked. It was a little mind-boggling to think that the center of power for the dreaded Roman Empire in the time of Christ was on that very hill. When we decided to move on (buses every 15 minutes!) we had to wait closer to 45 minutes before the next bus showed up to continue our journey; I guess they run on Italian time.
The Pantheon left us amazed at its size, age and craftsmanship. We also found Pizzeria 'Il Cappricio just around the corner from the Pantheon and got hooked on spicy tomato pizza. The pepper pizza was good as well, but Joanna and I agreed that nothing beat those sun-dried tomatoes. The lady serving us was wonderful, making us feel like we had a friend in Rome. Piazza del Popolo offered an impressive Egyptian obelisk and spectacular fountain, not to mention a bizarre art exhibit of people made from trash. Trevi Fountain was the next famous stop after seeing a few lesser known sites. The Trevi Fountain was full of street hustlers. When I declined to buy a rose for Joanna, one of them jammed it under her arm (she was carrying something and couldn't reject it) and then tried to get me to pay for it. When I refused, he said, "No love?" and I responded, "No love." Joanna knew better, though, and he retrieved his flower. From there, we walked to the Spanish Steps, followed by deep underground escalators and tunnels that got us near our hotel. An underground grocery store on the way provided some good food and were ready for a good night's sleep with one full day to go.
Here's the difference between Italy and the rest of Europe. Click here to enjoy
: March 23 Photos
We were up bright and early...oops, that was the day before. Actually, we planned
to be up bright and early, but didn't make it down to the free breakfast until 9:00 AM. The kitchen lady, who pretty much just spoke Italian, was coming into the hallway and told us, "Five minutes for breakfast!" We were stunned. We thought they served until 10:00 AM, but at least we hadn't missed it. We rushed in and started grabbing pastries and juice as the second lady came out and said, "Five minutes for breakfast!" We nodded and responded, "Yes, the other lady told us. Five minutes!" We looked around the full dining room and realized we'd probably have to eat in our room. I saw a lady who appeared to be American and said, "I thought they served until 10, not 9." She responded, "They're serving until 10:30 today." Then it clicked. The kitchen ladies wanted us to wait
five minutes until some people were done and tables were freed up. And that's how legends of rude Americans get started (they had no way of knowing I was actually a rude Canadian). We told the bilingual clerk to apologize to the ladies and explain that we thought we were being given a 5-minute deadline to be finished breakfast, not to start it. In any case, we got filled up and checked out of the hotel, leaving our luggage to be picked up that evening.
Now we knew our way around the train system, so we bought a couple of day passes and set out to see the Colosseum from the inside. The weather was beautiful--our warmest day in Europe. After an amazing time at the Flavian Amphitheatre, we headed back to Termini Station to catch a train to the Vatican, as we didn't want to keep the Pope waiting for our scheduled private audience. It was a longer hike than we expected along the Vatican walls, but very entertaining. Street salesman, mostly black, offered cardboard racks of sunglasses, tiny camera tripods, or fake designer purses. They were set up every 20 feet or so on the sidewalk, pestering tourists. I couldn't figure out how they expected me to buy a purse after I had just refused to buy anything from half a dozen other guys selling the exact same junk in the prior 120 feet of sidewalk. Some salesman had cardboard tables with foldup bases, stacked with knick knacks on top. Suddenly one folded up his table and headed across the street, glancing back furtively. Joanna pointed up the street to an oncoming police officer. About fifty feet ahead of the officer, a wave of salesman packed up and headed across the street, while about a dozen feet behind him, salesmen were coming back across the street and setting up again. They were usually fully set up and ready to sell again before he was thirty feet past their location. He never looked back. A few minutes later a pair of officers came by, and the whole cycle repeated.
Eventually we got past the hundreds of sunglasses and purses and arrived at the Vatican Museum. After waiting in line a few minutes, we realized that we barely had enough money to get in, and not really enough time to make it worthwhile. Only a few feet from the inside entrance to the museums and Sistine Chapel, we headed back to the bookstore/gift shop to look at prints and replicas of famous works of art within a few hundred yards of where we stood. Maybe some other time. We decided to hike over to St. Peter's Square. A few minutes later we were awed by the 100+ huge sculptures held up by gigantic pillars, much of the rock having been quarried from the Colosseum. After a tedious wait, we got through security and entered the largest church in Christendom (5.7 acres, capacity 60,000).
We visited the catacombs level where the popes are interred, and saw many mourners at John Paul II's tomb. Then we spent some time walking around the main floor of the massive building. The sheer immensity of the building and the quantity of priceless art was beyond comprehension.
After a hike to the nearest train station, our next stop was Piazza del Popolo, home of an incredible obelisk, famous fountains, and a Trash People art exhibit. Our long hike was underway. We walked past a sidewalk art exhibit and some fountains, and finally got to Pizzeria 'Il Cappricio where Judy remembered that we preferred the spicy tomato pizza. Once we ate our fill, we bought some more for later consumption. Another stop at the Pantheon, and then it was on to Trevi Fountain. First, we walked through Piazza Colonna, considered the true center of Rome. It's the site of the Italian government headquarters, and features a 2nd century column dedicated to Marcus Aurelius. Joanna spotted the giant memorial to Italy's first king, Vittorio Emanuele II, on a nearby street, so we detoured up to it and took a few pictures before heading back to Trevi Fountain, where we dodged street vendors and paused for gelato (ice cream) at a shop recommended by my boss, Mike Grillo. We appreciated his suggestion and enjoyed every bite even though the temperature was dropping.
Our final sightseeing stop was a return to the Spanish Steps, close to the train station which allowed us to hike to our hotel through our underground tunnel. We retrieved our luggage and walked down to Barberini station where we boarded a full train. SO full, in fact, that I couldn't actually see my suitcase due to the three or four people crowded on top of it and me. However, we safely detrained at Termini station with everything intact, and purchased tickets to the Fiumicino Leonardo da Vinci airport train station.
We missed our train by about two minutes due to the Italian lack of clear information, but enjoyed our pizza picnic while waiting for the next train about an hour later. After a pleasant ride through the dark Italian countryside, we were at the airport. The hotel shuttle never arrived, but a kind shuttle driver for another hotel gave us a ride anyway. It turned out that he worked for another hotel owned by the same company. We settled in for another short night with 24 Euros left to our name. The one-mile taxi ride cost us 20, leaving just enough for a breakfast muffin each before heading to our gate and the flight to Belgium. After another long hike through the Brussels airport and a long customs line, we made it to our gate in plenty of time for the flight to Chicago.
Our seats were in different rows, putting a damper on the trip home, although I was directly behind Joanna. She had lively gentlemen on each side of her, but I had two sleepers, so when we flew over Iceland, she got to see the view while I was stuck in my seat. I finished my last novel early in the flight, leaving me feeling somewhat desperate, so when I saw a college-age girl a few seats away set down a paperback to watch the in-flight movie, I begged to borrow it. She let me read the rest of the flight, and I got to page 400 or so by Chicago, making my trip much more bearable. Landing in Chicago was a big relief, because we were back in the good old US of A. We enjoyed some more orange chicken, where we met two wonderful retired couples heading out on a cruise. One woman had a handful of paperbacks and gave me one for the Chicago to Denver flight (I finished it). Getting to Denver wrapped up our adventure, as my dad and Michael picked us up. Sleeping in our bed that night was heavenly. Our trip was worth every penny, but it was time to get home. I don't think I could handle a three-week trip, but I'm ready for another week or two in Europe as soon as we get the chance!
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