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8 January 2010
by
Dave Clingman

We are back home again in Guadalajara, Mexico after our two and a half weeks exploring a bit of Europe.  The trip was wonderful, the best trip I have ever had anywhere.  We briefly visited eight towns in five countries:  Amsterdam in The Netherlands, Montabaur near the Rhine River in Germany, Lucerne and Bern in Switzerland, Brugge in Belgium, and Lyon, Paris, and Rouen in France.  Well, we actually visited more places than that, but those are the places we stayed overnight.

The entire cost for accommodations for this trip was ten Swiss Francs (a little less than ten dollars US), and that was merely the hotel tax for our free hotel room for our two nights in Bern.  We got those two free nights plus one more free hotel room night in Amsterdam from "points" I was given when I signed up for a free credit card a couple years ago.  Our other fifteen nights in Europe, we were hosted in people's homes whom we found through the
Couch Surfing Website.  All of our hosts were wonderful people who did more than merely provide us a place to sleep.  They showed us around or told us of places that are worth seeing.  They told us about or even prepared and served us foods that are traditional or specialties for their area of the world.  They shared their own lives with us and asked about us and our lives.  I think this type of sharing is part of what made this trip so special.

Besides learning a bit more about the world in which we live, Andrew and I each learned more about ourselves, as well.  Andrew came to realize that he likes large cities, but not HUGE cities.  Paris, he says, is too big for him to enjoy, and even Guadalajara is bigger than he prefers.  I learned that when I am with my husband, traveling is more fun, and I can endure the rigors and problems of travel for a longer period of time.  Previously, I would have been longing to get home after less than two weeks.

Problems on this trip were remarkably few and not unbearable, though they weren't much fun at the time.  Two stand out. 
The first was when we decided at the last moment to visit Mont Blanc and Chamonix in the French Alps.  The drive was amazing, but as we traveled downhill in deepening snow, I quietly became concerned about getting back up out of the valley.  Sure enough, when it came time to head uphill, our light weight car with front wheel drive spun out.  We simply could not get up the hill.  We returned to the nearest town and inquired about snow chains.

We were told by two different people that we would have to ride the train into the next town to buy them, oh, and the train departs in five minutes.  We ran to the station and jumped on just in time, only to realize we had no idea what size tires our car had.  We debarked the train in the next town and then found out that it wasn't the town the people meant.  They meant the next town down the road, but the train track burrows under a mountain to arrive at a different town before heading to the correct town.  We hitched a ride down the hill to the correct town and found the place that sells chains, hoping he might have a book that tells what tires each make of car has.  No such luck.

So, back on the train (after unsuccessfully trying to hitch a ride and then riding a bus that also didn't go where we wanted), back to the car, and then back onto the train yet again, this time with the necessary information.  NINETY FIVE EUROS!!  (about $140 US)  yikes.  Oh, well, no choice but to get them and then head out.  All of this took us about four hours (the trains only travel each direction once per hour), traveling through some of the most beautiful mountains in the world, making us late to see Geneva and arriving at our hosts' house in Lyon, France a bit after 10 pm.

Our other problem wasn't even as bad as this.  We were unable to get to the Trocadero in Paris from which we could have watched the special New Year's Eve light show on the Eiffel Tower.  The metro was so badly packed that we couldn't even turn around, and then when we arrived at the transfer point to get to the next metro route, we realized we couldn't possibly get onto the metro and expect to arrive at the Trocadero in time.  So, we exited the metro (a feat that took about fifteen minutes because of the crowds) onto the famous Champs Elysees, and there we welcomed 2010.

People shot off hand held fireworks (sky rockets and Roman candles and such) at midnight.  There were dozens, maybe hundreds, of police standing around, but none interfered with the partying while we were there.  We think they were there only in case of riot, which was a very scary thought with the thousands of people all crowded into the streets.  It was fun watching the people celebrate and seeing the fireworks.

When we headed back to the metro to return to our host's house shortly after midnight, we discovered that we could not get into the station.  The crowds were simply too large, pushing this way and that.  Quite scary.  So, we headed back into the streets where there was slightly less press from the crowds, and then decided to walk to the far side of the Arc d' Triomphe to get to a different metro station that wasn't as crowded.  There we took a train to the far side of Paris and then worked our way back by metro to our host home.  The first metro broke down after three or four stops, and so we had to calculate a new route.  The next metro route was quite crowded, though not nearly as bad as the one we took downtown a couple hours earlier.  We finally arrived at our host's house a bit before the 2 am metro shut down time.

Other than these two things, our trip was wonderfully unproblematic, thank you, God.

During our travels, people everywhere wanted to know what were our favorite places.  Of course, we enjoyed every single place we visited, but if we have to narrow it down to just one or two places, my response was always the
Swiss Alps.  This trip, I finally got to see the mountains and valleys.  On my prior two trips, it was always cloudy, so that I couldn't see far.  It was wonderful sitting outside a small cafe in Murren (we were the only ones sitting outside, everyone else was inside by the fires) sipping hot cocoa and munching our chocolate muffins with an amazing backdrop of the Swiss Alps.

Andrew's answer was always
Amsterdam, but now that we have had a chance to view some of our 3,800 photos from the trip, he realizes that he liked many places.  When I push him for his favorite one place, he says, "If I could go back to visit only one place, I think . . . I think it would probably still be Amsterdam.  Amsterdam for the city, and Murren for the mountainscape, for the beautiful mountains.  Murren was really quite wonderful."  When I ask what he likes about Amsterdam, he says, "I liked the people and the transportation and the museums and the cool architecture and the canals and the snow and the food that we enjoyed and the people that we hung out with."  As I mentioned earlier, the people really do make the trip wonderful.

Thanks for all your prayers and thoughts for us while we were on vacation.

 

The following links are to text files of our progress which I sent while we were travelling, sort of like my Weekly Logs, but a bit less formal perhaps:

Greetings from Amsterdam
Greetings from Bern, Swtizerland
Safe in Lyon
Paris in the winter
New Year's Eve in Paris, France
Happy New Year 2010 in France
Rouen, France, January 2, 2010

 

Read update 12 December 2009

Read update 21 January 2010

Return to Weekly Logs Listing

 

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