Monday, September 10, 2007

Days 13-14 Oberammergau, Germany

On Day 13 we drove from Chamonix, France to Oberammergau, Germany. It was not a very eventful day. We spent 10 hours driving in the car. For lunch we stopped in Salzburg, Austria. We had a yummy lunch (Kim had warm feta cheese wrapped in bacon on top of a salad). It was a pretty uneventful day.
Day 14 was our only full day in Oberammergau. We woke up early so we could get to Neuschwanstein castle for our scheduled tour time. The castle is the one that they modeled Sleeping Beauty's castle after for Disneyland. It is only one-third finished since King Ludwig died before he could complete it. We only saw the parts that are finished. It is beautiful. Buckingham Palace was more impressive, though. The views of the castle are beautiful. There is a bridge close by where you can get a great view of the castle. After our tour we ate lunch at a restaurant where we had a view of the castle. We ate sausages, sauerkraut and apple strudel. By this time the castle area was getting very crowded and we were glad we were leaving.
We left the castle and went to the nearby Tegelberg summer luge. Here's a video I found on YouTube that shows what the luge is like. The luge was a lot of fun. The first time we took it kind of easy. The second time we tried not to brake at all. We got going pretty fast. Micah and Justin went a third time. We think Disneyland should build one of these. It was a blast!
We spent the rest of the day in Oberammergau. We went shopping and just walked around the town. It was a Catholic holiday so a lot of places were closed.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Day 12

Our first full day in Chamonix. We woke up early to catch the lift up to the top of the nearest mountain to get some up close views of Mt. Blanc. We had to take two lifts/gondolas to get to 10,000 feet. At this point it was freezing and of course we packed for summer so we were very cold. I was wearing as many clothes as I could put on, and was still freezing. There were people ice climbing, rock climbing and getting ready to trek to the top of Mt. Blanc.
It was kind of surreal to be at the top of a mountain and it took less than 15 minutes. And there was a building with a cafe and bathrooms, and it had ice caves too.
When we were on top we walked around, looked at the views, snapped pictures and then warmed up with some hot chocolate/coffee. When we thawed out we hopped on the gondola and took it to the halfway point. We took a little hike to Lac Bleu. I was glad we took this 30 minute hike instead of the 2 and a half hour hike down the mountain some of my other family members were thinking about doing.At the bottom of the mountain Mom bought a painting by a local artist. We spent the rest of the day having a picnic lunch, shopping and exploring the town. For dinner we went La Dru. We ate outside and had an amazing view of the mountains around us. We ate cheese fondue, soup, salad, the guys had a bar-b-que on their table that they used to grill raw meat. We finished with creme brulee and coffee.

Day 11-Chamonix

This morning we left our hotel, got on the Metro and walked to the car rental place. We picked up our Alfa Romeo and headed out of Paris, unfortunately we didn't find the freeway that circles Paris. We ended up driving an hour out of our way before we eventually found the right road. And did I mention the car seats five and there are five of us adults? It was not the most comfortable car trip, but it was cheaper than taking a train for us.
We stopped in a small town for lunch, but everything was closed since it was Sunday. It was nice to see that things just shut down for Sunday and most people go to church. But since everything was closed we ended up eating lunch at a McDonalds. It's pretty much the same as at home. Then we got back on the road and then stopped in Beaune to get an ice cream cone and just look at the cute little city. We finally arrived in Chamonix over eight hours after we left Paris.
Chamonix is a cute alpine town. It reminded us of Leavenworth, WA. It is set in the French Alps close to the base of Mt. Blanc (the highest peak in Europe, it is over 15,700 feet). The mountains are all around the town and they are beautiful. We spent the evening walking around the town and eating some dinner before we went to bed.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Day 10

Our last day in Paris. We were sad to leave, but excited for the rest of our trip. On our last day we went to the Louvre museum. We just got a 2 hour glimpse at the massive collection. Of course we saw the Mona Lisa, although we did not get very close since there were so many people in the room. We also saw the French crown jewels, many Greek statues, paintings by Da Vinci, and many other beautiful paintings. And the building itself is beautiful to look at; it was the palace before the royalty moved to Versailles.
From the Louvre we walked to the Champs-Elysees and enjoyed doing some window shopping, there are even car dealerships! At the end of the Champs-Elysees is the Arc de Triomphe. We walked up to the top of the Arc and loved the views of Paris. (And added another 284 steps to our monument climbing, see the picture.) It was also fun to watch the cars in the massive roundabout below us.We left the Arc to walk to the Eiffel Tower. When we got to the tower we realized we would not be able to take the elevator up, since it was a 2 hour wait. So we got in the line for the stairs, which was still 30 min. long. (Here's another 700 stairs.) It was fun to be able to go up the stairs, we got to enjoy the view longer and now we get to say we have climbed up the three major monuments in Paris. :) The views were amazing. We also sent a postcard to Micah's work and to Kayla who was housesitting for us. They have a little postoffice on the first floor of the tower. While we were on the second floor we got seperated from Mom, Dad and Justin, but we had agreed to meet on the grass. It wasn't until we climbed down that we wondered what green grass they meant. We looked around the parks at the base of the tower and waited, but didn't find them so we got an ice cream cone and a crepe to eat while we waited. We didn't find them until we got to the hotel, and found out they had meant the fake green grass on the first floor of the tower, oh well.
For our last night in Paris we had a group dinner at Le Grand Coulbert. We enjoyed talking with the other members of our group and eating the wonderful food. The tour has been a lot of fun, and it has been nice to have a guide give us information on the places and things we were seeing. We had a great group and a wonderful guide. We hope we will get to go on another Rick Steves tour in the future.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Day 9

This day we went on a walking tour of Montmartre. We met our tour guide in front of the Moulin Rouge. We learned that moulin means windmill. This is also the neighborhood where the French film Amelie was filmed. On our tour we saw where Picasso and Van Gogh once lived and worked. We learned how the artists lived and what restaurants and bars they went to. It was interesting to be there and see what the artists lived like.
At the top of the hill we came to the church of Sacre Coeur. We spent some time looking around the church. Mom got a bee sting while we were standing on the steps. Then we went to a square where there were artists painting and selling their wares. We wanted to buy a painting as a reminder of our time in Paris so we walked around to look at the paintings. Kim picked out one of the Eiffel Tower. After we bought our painting we went to get some lunch; we had yummy quiche.
Later in the day we went to the Impressionism museum, the Musee d'Orsay where we saw paintings by some of the artists who worked in Montmartre along with others by Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, etc. We loved seeing paintings we have only seen prints of. They are beautiful. Then we walked over to the Orangerie musuem that has some of Monet's waterlily paintings. The paintings are huge. There are two circular rooms that have four paintings each. Each painting takes up one large wall. The paintings were done at different times of the day so some are dark, while others are light. They are amazing.
We headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before dinner. For dinner we went to a restaurant our tour guide recommended. It is one of the restaurants the artists went to and instead of paying for their food with money, they painted the inside of the restaurant. We went to La Coupole, it has pillars that were painted by Monet, Picasso and others. Micah got to try steak tartare. We also ate oysters, salmon, creme brulee, and a rasberry tart. It was a wonderful dinner, the best we had on our trip. Our waiters were a lot of fun and we had fun trying to speak French to them.
After our dinner we went on a river cruise on the Seine. It was beautiful to see Paris all lite up at night. We had great views from the boat. We watched the Eiffel Tower sparkle, saw Notre Dame, people dancing in a park, and other sites along the way. This was a perfect day.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Day 8

The first thing we did on day 8 was take the Metro to the Ile de la Cite where Paris started. We went to the Saint Chapelle church first. This was a church built by a French king to be a jewelry box for the crown of thorns Jesus wore when he was crucified. It has amazing stained glass windows that reach up towards the sky. Each large panel has stories from a certain part of the Bible (ex. the Resurrection, the book of Joshua, etc.) We enjoyed gazing up at the windows and marveling at their beauty. Next, we walked to Notre Dame. One of the cardinals of the Catholic church had passed away so they had a memorial set up for him inside the cathedral; so it was very busy when we were there. We had just enough time to go in and have an hour inside. It is amazing how big it is, it took over one hundred years to build it.
After our quick tour of Notre Dame we walked to our lunch at a restaurant where we ate in the wine cellar. Afterwards we walked through the Latin Quarter to get to the Cluny Museum. It is a museum of things from the Middle Ages. We saw stained glass windows, beautiful tapestries and lots of weapons. This is where our tour ended and we had some free time. We decided to walk back to Notre Dame to go to the top. We stood in line for two hours to get the chance to walk up the 400 stairs to get to the amazing views. We even got to see the huge bell, gargoyles, and the long line to get into the cathedral.
That evening we went to a concert at Saint Chapelle (the same church we went to in the morning). It was a concert with two violins, two violas, one cello, one bass and one harpischord. They did Adagios, and they also did Canon in D. It was beautiful to listen to the music in such an amazing setting. The acoustics were really good, too. There were only about 40 people in attendance, it was a very intimate setting. This ended up being one of our favorite things we got to do on our trip.