This week is winter sports holiday week at Malmö International School which means that the students get a week off to enjoy time with their families and go skiing before the season ends. What that meant for us is that we got a full week off to explore Europe. Last Friday we packed our bags and left Camp Malmö for an adventure!
Last summer KayLeigh, Chandler and I got the wonderful opportunity to visit Paris with the TCU College of Education. Once we learned about the sports holidays, we knew we wanted to go back. I truly think Paris is one of those cities that I could visit time and time again and never get tired of it; the magic never stops.
We started our day by walking around the Louvre and the Royal Palace. The Louvre, one of Paris’ famous museums, houses some of the most amazing pieces of art in the world. The Mona Lisa is among these masterpieces. When we visited last summer we spent time exploring the exhibits in the Louvre so we decided to forgo the admission fee this time and just wander around the gardens that surround it. We also wandered over to the Royal Palace area and took a few pictures there. We found some fun black and white striped pillars and realized they were a popular spot. That is one of the things I love about Paris, you never know when you are going to stumble upon something unique and fun like this.
After wandering for a while, we spotted a Ferris wheel. We quickly decided that it would be worth however many euros it was. To our surprise it was only 10. Let me tell you that was hands down the best 10 euros we have spent the entire trip. From the Ferris wheel you could see all of Paris and it was truly a wonderful view that I will remember for a long time. It was so serene and calm up there which is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city streets down below.
Next we wondered over to the Musée de l’Orangerie, which was right at the foot of the Ferris wheel. We really had only one mission in going into this museum—to see Monet’s famous Water Lilies painting. Mission accomplished and they did not disappoint! There are two bare white rooms with the paintings all over the walls and they are beautiful. I’m not much of an art gal but I could look at these all day.
After a quick bite to eat we headed to Notre Dame. This medieval catholic cathedral is an iconic Paris sight. The cathedral towers above the sidewalk below making you feel like a tiny little ant. You can’t help but notice the intricate architecture and wonder how it was built so long ago without the technology we have today. We had all been inside before so we briefly went in again but then decided to go to the top. We entered a winding staircase and 387 steps later we were overlooking the city. All of the steps were worth it for the spectacular view.
Next up on the agenda was Galleries Lafayette, one of Paris’ largest upscale shopping malls. Everything was wayyyyy out of our college student budgets but it was fun to look around. There is a rooftop restaurant at the top where we had dinner. The sun was just setting and you could see the whole city (in case you haven’t realized, we are suckers for a good view). The way the light hit the buildings was enchanting.
Ever since I was little I have loved the magic of cities at night. The way the lights stand out in total darkness and the way you can see the silhouettes of buildings has always amazed me. I used to ask my dad if we could drive around at night just so I could look at the city skyline all lit up. Because of this there is no surprise that my absolute favorite part of Paris is seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. As if the lights weren’t amazing enough, every hour they sparkle for five minutes. It was 9:52pm. We were sitting in our hotel room (which was about 3 blocks from the tower) and contemplating whether we could make the 10pm sparkle. It would be tight but we all love it so much that we hopped out of bed and sprinted down the street to get there in time. Boy oh boy was it worth it! I think I could watch the tower sparkle every night for the rest of my life and still be mesmerized every single time. Once the sparkle was over we walked underneath the tower to the crepe stand on the other side. We walked back to the hotel admiring the tower with fresh crepes in hand—the perfect Parisian night.
The next day was full of wandering around the city and just seeing where they day took us. We went to Champs Elysees, a street with more fancy shops (lots of window shopping took place). We stopped in Ladurée, a Parisian shop known for their macaroons, and grabbed a snack. I had a raspberry macaroon and a chocolate one and they both tasted like heaven. At the end of Champs Elysees is the Arc de Triomphe. The arc stands at the junction of twelve different streets and was built to honor those who died for France in the French Revolution. We made our way over to see the Eiffel Tower in the daylight after this. I think it is a littttttle more magical at night, as you know, but it was still pretty spectacular.
Next was one of my favorite areas of Paris, Montmartre. This vibrant area is full of interesting shops and wonderful art markets. At the top of a hill here is the majestic Sacré Cœur. It looks like a temple in the clouds and doesn’t really match the architecture of any other sight in Paris, which may be why I enjoy it so much. It is truly unique amongst its surroundings.
Earlier in the day we stumbled upon the Paris Opera House by accident when we came up onto street level from the metro. We wandered inside just to see if we could catch a peek at the stage and ended up getting tickets to the famous Paris Opera Ballet for only 10 euros! I don’t know much about ballet, but for that price we thought it would be a cool experience. So after Montmartre we headed back to the Opera House to watch Oneguine by Alexander Pushkin. The dancers were amazing and captivated my attention for the full two hours. Even though it wasn’t on the agenda at the beginning of the trip, I am glad we went because it is an experience I will never forget.
We ended the night with…can you guess?? The Eiffel Tower of course! We were pretty tired so we just walked by and took in the view without waiting for the sparkle but it was magical nonetheless. Back at the hotel we packed our bags to head to the next destination the following morning. With full hearts, we left Paris grateful for the opportunity to see and experience so much of the world.
A short train ride took us across the border from France to Switzerland, a place I have wanted to visit for as long as I can remember. Maybe it’s because my family is Swiss and I have vivid memories of growing up with my grandma having all of the grandkids try fancy Swiss cheeses but I have always been fascinated with the idea of exploring this part of Europe. We hopped off the train in Geneva and dropped our stuff at our hotel. We really aren’t sure how but we ended up being in a two story suite at our hotel, by far the most fancy place I have ever stayed at. When we made the reservation it was the cheapest place we could find in the city so it still baffles us how we got so lucky. We dropped off our bags at the Bungalow (which we decided to call the room because it was somewhat like a treehouse) and headed off to explore.
A little bit of a hike brought us to a point in Geneva called The Junction. It is where the rivers Rhone and Arve meet. What’s so cool about the point where two rivers meet? Well, normally not much but this point is a little different. The rivers Rhone and Arve are two different colors—the Rhone is a clear blue and the Arve is more of a milky white thanks the amount of sand it carries in it. When the two meet at The Junction, you can see the distinctness of their coloring. If you are ever in Geneva I would say this view is 100% worth the small hike to get there.
We wandered around the quaint streets of Geneva after this and came to Saint Peter’s Chapel in the old town square. It’s hard to compete with Notre Dame in Paris but St. Peter’s was still beautiful. Geneva is famous for their fountain that comes out of Lake Geneva, so we headed there next. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on. We found out that in the winter they only turn it on when special guests come into town…I guess KayLeigh, Chandler, and I didn’t make the list of important enough people, maybe next time. :) The view along the lake as the buildings began to light up was still worth the walk over there though so it wasn’t a complete bust.
That night we indulged in a traditional Swiss meal—cheese fondue. The concierge at the hotel recommended a place called Les Armures to us so we took their advice and made a reservation. Turns out that this is a very famous fondue restaurant where many dignitaries and celebrities have eaten (had we known this ahead of time we may have chosen to forgo this and find something for a few less Swiss Francs but it was a cool experience). We ate as much as we possibly could before heading back to the Bungalow for the night.
When you think of Switzerland you probably think of the Swiss Alps, at least we did. So on Monday morning we loaded a bus to head to Chamonix, which is a ski village in the Alps. It is actually in France but it is closer to Geneva than any Swiss ski resorts. My mountain heart was so happy when we made it to the town and were surrounded by beautiful snowcapped peaks. We went to the top of Mont Blanc via a cable car and all I can say is WOW. The view is really indescribable. You can see miles and miles of mountains and it is truly spectacular. I always miss the mountains in Texas, being from Colorado where they are right in my own backyard, so this was just what I needed.
Once we made our way back down Mont Blanc, we grabbed some lunch and shopped around some of the little shops in the village. Our bus back to Geneva didn’t leave until 5 so we had some time to kill. We ended up discovering an adventure park near the ski slopes and decided to wander there to see what it was all about. There we discovered an luge alpine coaster and couldn’t say no. KayLeigh, Chandler, and I love a good adrenaline rush so we bought tickets and headed to the start. The luge is like a small single rider roller coaster that you get to control the speed for yourself. It was a blast! It would have been amazing anyways but the fact that as we rode down we got an amazing view of the Alps made it even better.
The next morning we had some time before we headed to the airport. Geneva is home to the Palace of Nations, one of the headquarters for the UN. The other main headquarter buildings for the UN are in New York City, Vienna, and Nairobi. There was a special counsel meeting and conference happening so we didn’t get to see as much of the buildings as they normally show on tours but it was still very interesting. We got to actually sit in some of the main assembly halls in the seats where some of the world’s most prominent leaders have sat. After our tour we walked around to the front of the Palace of Nations where there are flags of all the UN’s 193 member countries. It is amazing to think about how even during times when our world seems so different and divided, that 193 countries can come together to try and create peace and harmony for the greater good.
Switzerland proved to be a place I would visit again. Who knows maybe I stepped foot at some of the same places my ancestors did many years ago. Even if I didn’t, I am glad Geneva and Chamonix were places we chose to travel and that I got a little taste of home through the mountains.
We got into Prague pretty late on Tuesday night, which turned out to be fine because we shortly realized that Prague is one of those cities that never really sleeps. We were missing home a bit so we grabbed a late night dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and boy did that hit the spot! Who knew that the Czech Republic would have some of the best guacamole I have ever tasted.
The next morning we set out early to accomplish everything on our list that we wanted to see. We only had one full day in Prague so we had to jam it all in. We started off heading to the astronomical clock in the old town square. As we turned the corner we were bummed to see that you couldn’t actually see it thanks to scaffolding and shields that had been added due to renovations. Fortunately even though the outside was under construction, the inside wasn’t! We made our way to the top of the clock tower via a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory type elevator. The views of Prague from the top were phenomenal. You’ve probably heard that phrase about 800 times now in this post but what can I say, we just really like cities from above.
From here we headed across the famous Charles Bridge to check out the other side of Prague. Once we crossed the bridge we found the somewhat hidden John Lennon Wall. John Lennon was one of the founding members of The Beatles and now there is a small wall devoted to him in Prague. There was a man playing some of the Beatles most famous tunes there. He played one of my favorites, “Here Comes the Sun.” It was so peaceful to stand there and listen while looking at the wall. At first glance the wall looks like a lot of graffiti but if you look at it long enough you will actually be able to see some pretty meaningful messages that people have left throughout the years.
If we thought the hike to the top of Notre Dame in Paris was brutal then we were in for a world of hurt when we came across the steps to the Prague Castle. The steps, as they prove to always be, were worth what we found at the top. The castle is the largest in Europe and although most of it doesn’t look like much from the outside, there is a stunning cathedral, St. Vitus’ Cathedral, in the middle that takes your breath away. The president of the Czech Republic still lives in the castle today and passes from building to building via underground tunnels as to not be seen by the general public. At night, when we went back to the Charles Bridge to see the castle from a distance, it looked like something out of a movie. It’s been a while since I’ve seen Harry Potter but it gave off some pretty strong Hogwarts vibes if you ask me.
After our adventure at the castle we had to try one of the Czech Republic’s famous snacks, the Tredlnk. It’s kind of a mix between an ice cream cone and a churro covered in nuts. I got mine with chocolate inside too. One bite and it’s easy to tell why there are Tredlnk stands all over the city…they are so good! We’ve already made plans to contact the city of Fort Worth to see what we have to do to get a Tredlnk stand put it…I’ll keep you posted on how our efforts turn out.
After wandering around that afternoon going into various souvenir shops and waiting till dark to see the city at night (my favorite), we decided we needed to try some traditional Czech cuisine. We headed to a restaurant called Lokal (10/10 recommend if you’re ever in Prague) and realized it was a favorite spot among both locals and tourists. It was filled to the brim with people! They told us it would be a thirty-minute wait, which we decided was worth it because it had to be good if there were that many people there. While we were waiting we met a couple from California. The man was a chef and told us all about some of the best places to eat in Prague (if only we had met him before our last night there!). It was fun to hear a familiar American accent in the midst of people from all over the world. One of my biggest tips when traveling is to be friendly with everyone around you and get to know both locals and other tourists. You never know when you will meet people like our new friends from California and end up having a great conversation with them. We finally got a seat and ordered traditional Czech food—fried cheesed, sausage, and beef goulash with dumplings. This might have been my favorite meal so far. Our next ten meals probably need to be composed of only vegetables to make up for the abundance of carbs we consumed but it was delicious nonetheless. One last walk through the old town square on our way back for the night and it was early to bed to get ready to head out and travel again the next day.
Three countries in seven days was a whirlwind. I never imagined being able to experience so much of the world at only 22 years old but I am beyond grateful for the memories I have made and all of the things I have learned so far. I’m writing this on our plane back to Sweden where we will explore Stockholm before heading back to Malmö to complete our last week of student teaching. Time has flown by and I wish it would slow down a bit so I can savor every last minute of this wonderful exploration.