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 European Vacation - 6/22/04 - 7/9/04

Italy | Switzerland | Germany | The Netherlands | Belgium | France

Zermatt - Wednesday 6/30/04 (My 27th Bday!):

This morning I had planned to wake up early and get some pictures of the Materhorn from our room, but I was too tired and ended up hitting snooze a few too many times. But once I dragged myself out of bed and got ready we found a wonderful breakfast awaiting us upstairs in the hotel restaurant. Their croissants were SO good and they had a cheese plate with fresh brie and a fruit salad with nectarines, peaches, pears, oranges, apples, pineapple and grapes in it. YUM!

After breakfast we ran down to the cog-rail for a train ride up to the Garnergraut. This was a long trip up to about 10,000 feet and a wonderful view of the surrounding mountains. When we got up to the top we took our group photo, as well as family and couple pictures with a couple of Saint Bernard's named Bennie and Minnie. They were so cute! I think we might have a Christmas card picture already!

The weather was cold up there, but it was crystal clear. We have been so lucky with the weather on this trip so far. Terry and I decided that we would hike back to Zermatt from the top of the Garnergraut. We had to be back into town by 3 but we knew that we could get on the train to go down at any of the stops.

The hike was amazing… I have never seen so many perfect views! The Materhorn was right in front of us almost the whole way, and there was still snow everywhere. Well, we got on a roll and actually ended up hiking down the whole thing. All in all it was only about a 5 mile hike, but it was a rather steep trek so it certainly felt like we went at least 10 miles.

When we got back into town we quickly freshened up, went to an ATM to get some Swiss Franks (they are not on the Euro like the other countries) and grabbed a couple of warm open-faced sandwiches. Terry got pineapple, tomato and cheese and I just got tuna, tomato and cheese, but they were both very good (and very different from the way we would serve them in the US!)

After our fast lunch we ran over to meet a small group of us who wanted to go on a helicopter ride through the Alps and around the Materhorn. It was a little expensive, but hey, it was my birthday and when else would I get this opportunity? Mom, Dad, Terry and I all hopped into this little chopper (which had Plexiglas all the way around it) and were off. I had never been in one before so I was a little nervous, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.

Our pilots name was Gerry (which he pronounced Cherry) and he was extremely good at his profession. He first took us through the valley and then up into the mountains to show us some of the melting glaciers. Up until this time we were staying fairly close to the sides and edges and then we came over the top of this ridge where we were suddenly thousands and thousands of feet off of the ground. WHOA… my tummy was in my throat and I was clenching the small leather strap which was attached to the Plexiglas on my right side (like that was going to do anything if we were to go down).

From here we were heading straight towards the Materhorn. Gerry showed us the "paths" that people hiked when going up the Materhorn. They were insane… I can't believe that roughly 200 people climb this mountain every day!! It was so steep and rocky and icy… I was scared just looking at it! Gerry continued toward the mountain until we were only a few meters from it. From here he just began to follow the ridge up to the top before making a right turn to go around the peak counter-clockwise. I had no clue we would be this close! After flying around it he went over the top of it very closely… apparently a couple days prior he had to place a news person on the top of it for a story… he said the guy was so nervous he couldn't stand up. I could understand that! It didn't even look like there was enough room for someone to stand on the peak… it was like a knife blade.

Gerry said that they make about 1500 helicopter rescues every year, and that they have had several deaths as well from people trying to climb the mountain. He said that they were not able to locate the bodies of 20 people because they have either been buried in an avalanche or fallen into a crevice. CRAZY… he said they have several interventions every year from skiers and snowboarders who go off the paths and fall into crevices… though unfortunately many of the crevices are hundreds of feet deep and the people are never found. Anyhow, on to happier things! The helicopter ride was a wee bit nerve racking for me at times, but it was so incredible. I am definitely glad that I did it! What a birthday huh??

After the helicopter ride we had a few minutes to freshen up before dinner. The six of us met on the patio of our hotel for a quick beer before heading over to the other hotel for dinner. Tonight we had spring rolls, some cream of vegetable soup, and veal stew over rice. For desert we all got this melon sorbet over fresh fruit, and I got a special apricot cake for my bday. YAY!

After dinner Terry and I played a couple games of pool with Kelly and Mark. Kelly made a bet with us that he wouldn't be able to make a certain shot. So of course he made it and Terry and I had to hold hands and hop 5 times on one foot. Hehehe… so then the next game of pool we said double or nothing! Terry and I ended up winning that time and so Kelly and Mark had to hold hands and jumped on one foot ten times! Quite the site to see in a Swiss bar I'm tellin' you!

When we got to the hotel we didn't even have the energy to soak in the Jacuzzi like we wanted to. Instead we just crashed out.

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Gruyere and Stein on Rhine - Thursday 7/1/04:

This morning I got up at 5:50am and stumbled out of bed on my way to take a picture of the morning lit Materhorn. My muscles were SO sore!!! Wow, I guess I didn't realize just what a five mile hike down a steep mountain was gonna do to me! I also had wonderful sunburn on my shoulders. OUCH.

Breakfast again was very good. Terry and I munched on some fresh croissants and then head down to the train station where we would take a ride back to our coach. Goodbye Zermatt!! We were now on our way to a small walled town called Gruyere. This place had a population of 3500 and was famous for its cheese and fondue. So naturally we all stopped to have some fondue for lunch. We dipped bread and small potatoes in the melted cheese sauce. It was so good!!

After this quick stop to Gueyer we were on our way to Stein on Rhine, but first we made a short stop at the Rhien Falls for a walk and some lunch. The falls were very pretty and you could actually take a boat ride out to the middle of the falls to climb up a rock that was in the middle of them! Though we decided not to do this. After walking for about a half hour we headed back to the little cafe where we had some braut and fries... not too bad! We finished up and were off to the next hotel.

Stein on Rhine was a very small town of about 3500 people. Our hotel was very nice. Terry and I had a suite with a separate bedroom and bath. Another thing I loved about Switzerland was the feather ticks they put on your bed. Very very comfy!

We just kicked back when we got there, waited for our luggage (mine always ended up with mom and dad for some reason) and then got dressed for dinner. The dining room was lovely and the meal was very good. We started out with a very good salad that had corn and tomatos in it, and then ended up with some kind of beef with gravy, noodles and green beans. It was very good and I actually liked these noodles to my surprise. For dessert we had some kind of weird apple pie… it didn't go over too well and most of the plates went back with the whole slice still there. I ended up eating the apples off of the top, but that was it.

After dinner some people took a walk around (in the rain) and others (like Al) went down to the bar. Apparently our hotel bar was quite the hot spot for locals at night. But as you can probably guess Terry and I just went back up to our room where we got ready for bed.

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Stein on Rhine (Switzerland) and Rothenburg (Germany) - Friday 7/2/04:

The next morning we were up at about 7:30 or 8am… finally another day without a wake-up call! We took this time to munch on some breakfast (yes yes… fruit salad and a croissant for me!) then we went out side for a walk around the town. This town was extremely cute, and very small. The streets were cobblestone and the outside of the houses and shops were covered with frescos. Apparently this was a way for the towns people to show their wealth. There was really just one main street so it only took us about 10 minutes to walk it. We also had to spend the rest of our Franks here so mom and I went into a little candy shop to grab a few cookies. After this we walked around the back of the shops and along the Rhine river. It was a neat little town, but at 11am we were off again. This time to Rothenburg Germany!

We arrived in Rothenburg, this cute little walled city, around 6pm. The hotel was very old and we all had different style and shaped rooms. Terry and I happened to have a bathroom that was slightly bigger then a porta-potty and mom and dad had one the size of the Pantheon… ahhh well, what are ya gonna do?

Dinner tonight was delicious and the dinning room had a great atmosphere. We started off with a cream of mushroom soup, and followed with breaded veal, steamed vegi's and these little fried potato cakes. For dessert we had the best apple strudel I've ever had… served with whipped cream and vanilla ice cream. MMMMMM!

After dinner we followed Joe all around the city for a small tour of the town. It was very cold out side (silly me had knickers and nice shoes on - of course excellent for walking on cobblestone) but I managed. We walked to the town square and into the gardens and listened to the stories of the town. It was a great walk and lecture.

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