Our final week in Europe involved a few more adventures in Switzerland and a lot of travelling as we eventually made our way back to Paris, California, and then back home to Oregon….
Sunday, July 14th– We awoke early in Teufen, Switzerland on Sunday morning and drove an hour southward along the border with Liechtenstein to the town of Chur. There we found our platform for the Bernina Express scenic train. The Bernina express is one of the 4 scenic trains that run through Switzerland. We boarded our carriage toward the back of the train. Since we are an odd-numbered family, there were some times on trains that someone would sit next to us. A young Swiss lady in her mid to later 20s sat in her reserved seat next to us and we soon were engaged in a very nice conversation with her that continued off and on for the next 4 hours on our way to Tirano, Italy where the train ended. It was a lot of fun talking with her about Swiss and American culture. At one point she was curious to see that we were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which is of course very common in the United States. She has never heard of that combination in a sandwich before. On our way southward we travelled over some amazing scenery. This train takes you to a very high elevation and then descends just across the Italian border into Tirano. Unfortunately, I had left all my Euros back at the apartment and an ATM was hard to find so we only got ice cream for the kids here with the few Euros we could dig up. Soon it was time to head back over the same line. It was a total of 8 hours of riding in the train over beautiful country, but perhaps a bit too much for the kids to handle as they became bored and restless. We then returned to our van and drove northward until the Vaduz exit where we then crossed over the Rhine River and officially into a new country, one of the smallest in the world, Liechtenstein! We drove into Vaduz just as a torrential downpour began. We made a quick stop at the foot of the castle, took a few pictures, and promptly returned to the car. In all we were in the country for about 30-40 minutes but it was nice to say we officially made it there. Then it was back to our home for a nice dinner and then to sleep for a slightly less eventful day the next day.
· Song of the day:Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills, and Nash
· Weather:Sunny and then really rainy in Liechtenstein
· Morale:8 – Things went pretty well this day. But being cooped up in a train for so long and then having to drive made this about 10 hours of travel!
Monday, July 15th– We awoke on Monday and travelled to Ebenalp about 30 minutes from our apartment. On the way down our kids spotted a red fox by the road. We then arrived to the Ebenalp cable car and it whisked us up to the top. The day was very cloudy so my expectation of breathtaking views was not too high. But there was a nice misty and mystical feeling going up into the clouds. When we arrived at the top we then hiked down to a cave, then to Wildkirchli, and finally to Guesthaus Aescher. This place is featured in a lot of travel magazines and is the main reason I wanted to stay in this part of Switzerland. When reading about it several months ago I was saddened to see that the family who used to run the restaurant and lodge had closed the place at the end of 2018. However, to our surprise, the restaurant was open and we got to see it in all its glory. Not only was the restaurant open but there were also goats and cows around. We spent several minutes watching a boy about Beckham's age do his daily chores of feeding and milking the goats. Then we ate in the restaurant and had some very delicious goulash. We concluded our day by stopping at a car wash and using the vacuum to clean out the car. Then it was back to our apartment to pack up and get to sleep early.
· Song of the day:Counting Stars by One Republic
· Weather:Mostly cloudy
· Morale:9 – Everything went really well this day. Plus, there wasn’t quite as much travelling to do.
Tuesday, July 16th– We awoke early once more to get a good jump on our trip to Munich. The route we were travelling required a quick trip through Austria and then into Germany. Even though we were only spending less than an hour in Austria we still needed a vignette to avoid getting fined. So, then our first order of business was finding a gas station before the Austria border to buy the vignette and then to use up our remaining Swiss Francs. I spent all my coins in a vending machine getting all sorts of little snacks for the ride ahead. Then we travelled on toward Neuschwanstein Castle. I didn't care much to go inside the castle and that was a good thing because the line to buy tickets for it was very long. When I checked online before the trip it said that tickets had to be purchased in person so there was really no good way to do it. My intention though was to go up to the suspension bridge above the castle and get a nice picture looking down. It was a real struggle walking uphill with the kids for about 45 minutes. But finally, we were there and got the picture and wonderful view that we wanted. We grabbed some ice cream on the way down and then got back into the car en route to the Munich airport. After dropping off the van we were now back to towing our luggage everywhere by hand, and now it was heavier with additional souvenirs we'd picked up over the past month. We got onto the train at the airport and took that to the Munich train station. This part of the trip was a little screwy. Our night train was scheduled to depart from Innsbruck on the way to Munich and then to Cologne, our final destination. We had the option of waiting for the train for 5 hours in Munich or getting on a train to Innsbruck to get on the train almost immediately before it came back to Munich! We chose the latter option which allowed us to see Innsbruck and all the surrounding castles. We boarded our night train couchette that had 6 bunks total. It worked perfectly for our family of 7 because Breza fell in love with the luggage compartment and ended up sleeping there. We stowed our luggage under the bottom bunks and were all set for the evening. One odd thing that happened was someone knocked on our door in the middle of the night. We ignored it thinking it was some wild college age kids next door. But then to our surprise the door slid open and there were two police officers who clearly had the wrong door. They promptly apologized and closed the door!
· Song of the day:Beautiful Day by U2
· Morale:8 – This was a mostly pleasant day but turning the car in and making train connections with a bunch of luggage in tow was exhausting!
Wednesday, July 17th– We awoke early and began preparing for our early departure from the train. We were now in northwestern Germany coming up on Cologne. We got all our stuff ready to go and then disembarked. In Cologne we had a 3 hour wait for our next train. We spent this time by getting some breakfast and then touring the Cologne Cathedral that is probably only about 100 feet from the outside of the train station. We then boarded our train from Cologne to Brussels, Belgium. This was a new country for everyone but me since I previously visited Belgium in 1999 with my brother. When we arrived in Brussels, we still had about 1/2 mile to walk to our apartment near the Grand Place. This was a bit more difficult than I thought it would be because the streets were a bit packed and the roads were all cobble stone and hard to pull our luggage on. But soon we were at our apartment about 100 feet from the Grand Place. We were very happy with this rental. That evening we walked around the Grand Place area a bit, had some Chinese food, and then settled in for the night for yet another early departure the next day.
· Song of the day:Drive by The Cars
· Morale:8 – I surprisingly had a nice night of sleep and things went according to plan. We all felt much better after arriving to our place and settling in.
Thursday July 18th– On our last full day in Europe we departed Brussels for a day in Amsterdam. When we finally crossed over the Netherlands border, we were in country 11 of this trip. A 3-hour ride brought us to Amsterdam Central where we quickly got onto another train for a short ride to Haarlem. In Haarlem we had a reservation to visit the Corrie Ten Boom House. When I was planning this trip in the past year, I was originally thinking of spending more time in Italy but because Brooklyn and Candice were so interested in Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom, I altered the trip to allow for a visit to the two museums. I'm glad I did because the Corrie Ten Boom house was a highlight for us all on the trip. Our host was a really good story teller and made it interactive for the kids. The hour-long tour kept the kids' interest. After this we made a quick trip back to Amsterdam and then walked to the Anne Frank house just in time for our reserved entry to the museum. I was really impressed with how well the museum had transformed the house to allow for good interaction. After this tour we walked to the Pancake Bakery where we had thin pancakes with a lot of candy and sugary substances all over them. I left there feeling similar to how I feel before bed on Halloween night! Each kid ordered a kid's pancake and received a little toy. Breza and Brinley both got similar stuffed animals. A sad side note is that later in the day Breza, when embarking the train, dropped her stuffed animal onto the tracks below the train. There was absolutely no way to get it even though we could see it about 5 feet away. She took the loss well and Brinley was nice enough to comfort her little sister by sharing her stuffed animal. After the Pancake Bakery we walked through Amsterdam a bit and got some nice pictures. When we returned back to Brussels it wasn't too late so we had a good amount of time to pack up really well for a very big travel day coming up.
· Song of the day:Amsterdam by Van Halen
· Morale:9 – The train ride was actually quite pleasant. Our time at each museum was really nice and we got back to our place at a decent time to prepare for the next day’s departure.
Friday July 19th– After getting all of our stuff ready to go, we walked through the Grand Place to a place that makes Belgian Waffles. We ate breakfast there, returned to our apartment to get our luggage, and then hauled that luggage up the cobble-stoned hill to the train station. As I look back, I am impressed with certain times during this trip where our kids buckled down and took on some tough challenges. We found our trains and soon we were travelling on a really fast train to Paris North Station. Upon arriving we met up with our shuttle driver. We had a nice conversation with him as he drove us to the Orly Airport, showing us some sights along the way. As I reflect on this trip, I think of all the more-than-a-moment encounters with strangers throughout the countries we visited. I am thankful for these interactions and how they've helped our family better understand and view the world. This man dropped us off at the airport and we wished each other well. We had 6 hours until our flight departed and I was glad to be where we needed to be even if that was so far ahead of time. We rested in the airport waiting for our time to check in.
In out previous Europe blog I mentioned that our worst occurrence of the trip was on the last day in Europe. That is where this day's story picks up again. When the 3-hour window to check in had begun we got into the wrong line. Apparently, our airline French Bee had 2 separate counters at each end of the terminal to check in, something I've never seen before at an airport. We got to the correct line 2.5 hours before our flight and then when trying to check in ran into a major issue. I booked our flight in November and for some reason the tickets were never processed, even though I had also booked reserved seats. I was sent to the customer service counter that moved extremely slow. I had Candice stay by the check in counter on the other end of the terminal as she was trying to call the customer service to no avail. I had a very sick feeling in my stomach. This was the worst moment of the trip and I began thinking that we would have to reschedule another flight which probably meant spending another night in Paris. But then a glimmer of hope...finally about 10 minutes before the check in window was closed, I spoke up from the middle of the line to ask the representative if this was the correct line to be in. Surprisingly she asked me at that moment where I was headed and when I said San Francisco, she fast tracked me to the front of the line to the great dismay of others ahead of me, knowing that the check in time was quickly closing. She felt the urgency even more when I explained I was with my family of seven. She then explained to me that for some strange reason, even though the airline 1) confirmed our flight reservation and 2) confirmed our seat reservation with actual seat numbers, they had not actually charged our credit card and released the tickets. I wasn't aware of my card not being charged for reasons I won't go into here, but I was really surprised to hear this. Even more odd is that I was never notified beyond that initial reservation of the need to take any other action. She promptly charged the card and printed the tickets. Meanwhile Candice was at the check in counter with our passports (that I had to have Brooklyn run back and forth between us). But soon we were through security and in line for our flight. We had originally planned to easily get through security with time to spare to get a nice dinner. Instead we got right onto the plane. Of course, our original seat reservations weren't available so our family was scattered across the plane. A nice steward on the flight talked to several people asking to switch seats and this eventually got us all together, except for Brooklyn but she was only about 10 feet away. What a crazy last few hours in Europe for us! The lesson here I guess is that when booking a reservation that you can't afford to miss, take the time to read through the fine details! We settled into our seats and prepared for our 10-hour flight. When we landed in San Francisco things went much more smoothly. We found our luggage and then our shuttle back to our car. We had parked our vehicle at a hotel for a month and I had genuine concern that it wouldn't start up. It started with no problem and soon we were on our way back to Oregon. We were all craving Mexican food so we made a stop at the Del Taco drive thru and continued on. Keep in mind this was still the 19th! It was a very long day for us and we still had a 9-hour drive ahead of us.
· Song of the day:Get Back by the Beatles
· Weather:Mostly sunny
· Morale:7 – A big day of travel isn’t exactly fun and the scare at the airport didn’t help things. But other than this, many details of the day went well and we enjoyed the down time.
Saturday, July 20th– Sometime in the early hours of Saturday morning we crossed over the Oregon border. We played Coming Home (Oregon) by Mat Kearny, a fitting song for how we all felt. At 6 we stopped at a Dutch Brothers coffee stand. By 9AM we pulled into our driveway. Our trip was now over. Next up…our friends wedding 4hr later.
· Song of the day:Coming Home (Oregon) by Mat Kearney
· Morale:10 – We watched the sun rising as we came back into Oregon. It felt great to be home, the weather was nice, and there was a realization that we had made it! All of the planning and dreaming of this trip had become a reality and we had made it back in one piece. We were excited for a few days to relax and recover.
As I type this, it has now been 2 months since we left from home. I remember the great excitement leading up to this trip and all the preparations that went into it. Now that we are back and have had time to process it more, we have found that we now understand more about our society because we see where it originated from. We experienced historically significant places first hand and that has given us a lasting impression that the events of the past and some of these amazing locations are really there and we experienced them in our own unique way. Together as a family we shared times of sadness, joy, comedy, frustration, and many other emotions. We will always have those memories we will hold onto the rest of our lives. Our kids have learned to cope in difficult situations. They have been forced out of their comfort zones and have come out more confident in themselves and what they can accomplish. As I've previously quoted, Steve Irwin said that "education is all about being excited for something". I know that this has had, and will continue to have, a big impact on our lives as we are excited to know even more about this world we live in.