After spending almost a week in decadent Paris, we traipsed through the Swiss Alps, Boppard in Germany, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, and Bruges in Belgium. As we travelled by coach through all these places, the trip was convenient albeit long, with mandatory stops every two hours.*
Currency exchange loss
Prior to this trip I had to exchange Philippine currency to Euros and submit myself to the reality of losing money from the currency exchange rate loss. Plainly speaking, a large value from my money was shaved off due to the difference in the exchange rate. I was unprepared though to suffer currency exchange loss twice when I had to obtain Swiss Francs in Switzerland. As this was in the Schengen area, I had erroneously assumed that Euros may be acceptable (also I blame Google!). Upon arriving in Switzerland, which uses Swiss Francs as its currency,** I had some Euros changed to Francs. Francs are a bit more expensive than Euros so in hindsight, it would have been cheaper to just directly buy Francs back home with Philippine Peso rather than suffer exchange rate loss twice. Or, the other option would be not to buy or spend in Switzerland (impossible).
We stayed at a traditional Swiss chalet in the picturesque town of Wilderswil, Switzerland. Switzerland is an odd country with people speaking various languages like Swiss German, French, Italian and English as this land-locked country is surrounded by such countries that speak these languages. The town where we stayed at mostly spoke Swiss German. We had our fill of bratwurst, cheese fondue, cold cuts and some food I couldn’t identify. I’m not a big fan of cheese so I don’t understand the fascination. Frugal husband is fond of cheese though so I had to partake, eager to report back to him. My favorite part of the Swiss is the Rugenbrau but then, I enjoy beer or mostly any type of alcohol (while typing this, I’m incidentally drinking an ice-cold bottle of beer with frugal husband).
The early morning after we arrived we set off for the train heading up the mountains of the Alps, where ice and snow remain for all parts of the year, whatever the season. The train ride was a novelty as it is said to be the highest-altitude train in the world. I guess it should be as we headed up the highest point in Europe—the Jungfraujoch. The train reaches so high up the glaciers in the mountains and upon reaching the observatory there are lots of excursions to do—hiking (only possible in the summer), snow sledding, walking through the ice palace and mountain cave. The observatory also houses the highest Lindt chocolate store in the world.
The reality of hanging out in high-altitudes is that it gets really tough to breathe. This, coupled with negative / freezing temperature (for a tropical girl unaccustomed to the same), is a combination for potential travel hazard. I wouldn’t recommend this excursion for someone with heart, respiratory or high blood pressure issues. I’m a fairly fit person but upon arrival at the top, I felt my chest tighten and I had to loosen some clothing. I felt my heart rate speed up and quicken at the slightest form of physical exertion. There was no way for me to run around or quicken my pace without feeling short of breath. On a lighter note, I was less worried as I had travel insurance! Haha.
Cruising towards Boppard, Germany
After a long drive, we arrived at the quiet town of St. Goar, Germany, home to the world’s largest free-hanging cuckoo clock. I have no prior interest in clocks but it was certainly interesting to learn how cuckoo clocks are made and how they work. Germans take pride in their invention of the cuckoo clocks (not invented by the Swiss despite their reputation for quality watches). Quality cuckoo clocks are mechanical and require no batteries—they only need to be wound every so often for them to continue working, much like automatic watches. The bird cuckoo sound? It is produced by a certain material (I can’t recall offhand) that is part of the clock.
We cruised down the Rhine Valley river (which traverses about five countries) and saw several castles not only along the banks or mountains but also in the middle of the river. Apparently the barons of old Germany used castles to block the river and extort passers-by to pay toll fees.
The cruise took us to the town of Boppard where we were welcomed with a wine-tasting. Noteworthy was the ice wine made only from grapes grown and picked at -2 degrees Celsius temperature. As I said above, I’m a fairly big fan of alcohol (what lawyer isn’t). We also had a taste of the Radeberger.
In the morning, we drove towards Amsterdam, a city in the province of Holland in the Netherlands. Our first stop was a windmill of course. Immediately we were warned of certain traffic laws particularly the bike lane—in that bikes have priority over people. If you’re in the bike lane and there’s a person riding a bike, he/she most probably will run you over with it.
Most, if not all transport here consists of bikes, in all forms. Modified bikes are common, to accommodate a number of kids or a large bag of groceries. It’s a pretty ideal form of transport for the cold climate.
After the windmill we dropped by a dairy farm and were treated to a clog-making demo and cheese-making demo. Cheese-tasting then followed where we tried some exotic flavored cheeses such as herb-flavored cheeses and some spicy cheese, followed by Dutch cookies and drinks.
In the afternoon, we cruised through the canals of Amsterdam. In the evening, we walked through the red light district.
By evening, I’ve pretty much had enough of Europe! It’s been a hectic few days but a feast for the senses and a marvel for the eyes. Apart from our self-made itinerary, we appreciated booking a tour as it allowed us to see and experience all the foregoing things for minimal time and effort. In the morning, we headed to Bruges, Belgium.
We spent only a few minutes in Bruges before heading to Brussels, Belgium to catch our plane to Rome, Italy. That’s a story for another day.
*Coaches are apparently required by law to stop every two hours at the services or convenience stores to allow passengers to stretch their legs and use the restroom. While our bus had a toilet, its capacity is limited, tends to get stinky and inconvenient to use on the road.
** Switzerland is not part of the European Union and does not use the Euro.