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Trip report: Paris, Switzerland, and Germany with 12 and 14 yr old girls + husband

Trip report: Paris, Switzerland, and Germany with 12 and 14 yr old girls + husband

Aug 5th, 2007, 07:16 AM
  #1  
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Trip report: Paris, Switzerland, and Germany with 12 and 14 yr old girls + husband

Since my paternal grandparents both came to the United States from Germany, my family is in contact with my dad's cousin and his daughter, who live in Germany. We were invited by my Dad's cousin's daughter to visit her and her family at their home near Frankfurt am Main. We needed to coordinate our two week vacation with their vacation. Because of this, we decided to spend our first week in Paris and Switzerland on our own and then the second week in Germany taking day trips from Barbara and Volker's house.

Pre-trip planning involved reading this forum and Trip Advisor, as well as books. We purchased 24 inch upright rolling suitcases, one for each person, as well as a pac-safe backpack for hubby, pac-safe totes for the girls, and a pac-safe purse for myself. I put polka-dots on the girls' totes with fabric paint to personalize them.

Day 1 - July 22. Travel from Norfolk, Virginia: Our plane was late leaving Norfolk, so we had to really race through Newark's airport to get to our connecting flight. When we got to the right terminal, there was a long line for security and we were sure we were going to miss the flight, but a TSA guy who we had met on the train between terminals put us through the handicapped line. My barrette set off the metal detector and I was very flustered. The security guy threatened not to let me through if I didn't calm down. I got through and then we ran to meet our plane, which we just barely made. They shut the doors right behind us. We were not able to sleep on the plane despite the medications we took (hubby - Ambien, me - Ativan). Upon arrival in Paris the next day at 8 am, we picked up our bags and headed for the train station. Turns out that the train station was on the other end of the airport. Once there, I had to figure out how to validate our Eurail Selectpass and get on line B into central Paris. This was accomplished with great difficulty, but we got there and that's all that counts. RER line B runs through some very ragged looking areas of Paris. We had to transfer at Gare du Nord to another train line to get to Saint-Lazare, another ordeal since not only did we need to find the right train, it had to be going the right direction. My four years of high school french came in handy even though I had forgotten quite a bit. The French people were very nice and got us pointed in the right direction. We found a cab to take us from gare St.Lazare to our hotel near the Palais de l'Elysee, but not before getting drenched in the Paris rain. It took us three hours to travel from the airport to the hotel.

The Hotel de l'Elysee was everything I imagined - a small hotel, very Parisian, and obviously far from new. It was elegant. We were able to leave our luggage in the one room that they had available for us. We had booked two rooms - one for the girls and one for ourselves. Our room had a balcony and it was small, but it suited us quite well. So far there weren't too many complaints from the kids and everyone was in good spirits despite the lack of sleep.

A short walk to the Avenue des Champs Elysees led us to a little sandwich place called Pain aux Pommes (or something similar) where we got a bite to eat and then we were off to Sephora. We were immediately whisked off for makeup at Sephora. They did a good job, but we did not buy the makeup they used. The girls found some bath beads and perfume there that they liked.

We wanted to get back to our hotel without walking a lot, so we took the Metro. The problem with the Metro is that we had to walk a long way underground to get to the correct train and even after getting to our stop at Miromesnil, we had to walk a decent way to the hotel. The kids did NOT like the Metro. I think if I were to go there again, I'd pick a hotel on a main bus line.

Back at the hotel we were given keys to our other room and we set an alarm and had a one hour nap. It was VERY difficult to awaken from this, but we needed it and it did help us overcome jet lag. After the nap, we headed off on a walk along Rue du Faubourg St.Honore where my 12 year old got her fill of designer shops but didn't buy anything. We walked around Place de Madeleine and my 15 year old was VERY impressed by Fauchon (super fancy gourmet food shop). I think that's the thing she liked best about Paris. My hubby and 15 year old then headed off in another direction, while Heather (12) and I went to Laduree for some heavenly pastries. You haven't been to heaven until you've had a pistachio eclair from Laduree.

Across from our hotel was a little restaurant owned by an American and that was where we had our first dinner in Paris. It was very good...a little Parisian, but also a little American. Just enough to break us in gently. The kids enjoyed it. Then it was off to bed.

Next day...Bus tour, a grouchy Heather, chocolate, and some Pshytt. More to come
KatherineAM is offline  
Aug 5th, 2007, 09:04 AM
  #2  
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Tuesday, day 2 in Paris: We decided to get tickets for l'OpenTour tour bus rather than walking around Paris, but first went to the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs first. I don't care for designer names because of the expense, but Heather enjoys dreaming. After the LV store, we tried to go to the Arc de Triumph, but couldn't find the underpass. It was crowded anyway, so we got on the tour bus and saw the city. It was a relief to be off of our feet for a while. We decided that we would definitely need to get to the Eiffel tower early the next morning to have any chance of avoiding the huge line. We got off the bus at the Latin Quarter because I had heard of some good restaurants there and I needed some chocolate. We made it to Jeff de Brugges, a chocolate store that I had read here had some of the best chocolate for reasonable prices. It is good chocolate, and the price was nice too. My family ran out of steam before we made it to the restaurant, so we ate at a cafe I've never heard of and they did not have an English menu. My menu interpretation guide was not very helpful, so we ended up getting some food that was somewhat mediocre. I ordered limonade and was given a kind of lemon-lime mineral water called "Psychitt", which was actually quite good. The waitress looked really confused when I told her that I liked the bottle and wanted to keep it, or maybe it was my horrible French that confused her. Hubby went downstairs to use the facilities afterward and the girls and I went to the front of the cafe to wait for him. A different waitress was there and she tried to seat us. It was very difficult for me to communicate to her that we had already eaten and were waiting for my husband. She finally got the manager, who spoke English to interpret.

After a scenic bus trip back to the bus stop that was closest to our hotel, we got a recommendation for dinner from the guy at our hotel. We walked to the Place de la Madeleine, where it was supposed to be, but ended up having to walk around the whole Madeleine twice before we found it. There was an English menu at L'Ecluse, but we didn't see much we liked. We got their gourmet sampler platters, which consisted of cold unseasoned chicken, proscuttio on lettuce, gaspacho, and raw radishes. It was not very good.

After dinner, my family followed me around while I looked for Monoprix. By the time I found it, we were grouchy and it was closed anyway. Then it was back to the hotel.

KatherineAM is offline  
Aug 5th, 2007, 10:06 AM
  #3  
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First I need to correct a few errors. First, my oldest is 15, not 14 as is stated in the title to this thread. I have no excuse for this except that we just got back last night, so I am not thinking very well. Second, the chocolate place is Jeff de Bruges. I added an extra 'g'.

Okay, now we are on to Wednesday day 3 and our last day in Paris. We got up early and checked out of the hotel but left our bags there while we spent the day sightseeing. First was the Eiffel tower, where the wait was about 1 hour and we did get to the top. It was very cold up there, but the view was nice. By the time we were done, it was about 2:30 in the afternoon. I really wanted to get to one of the restaurants I had so painstakenly researched, so we went to Au bon Accuil just in time for them to close. Darn. We walked up the street and got some very good Italian food instead.

Heather was having back problems all day, so our next stop (the Louvre) was going to be difficult. Before the museum, I conned everyone into going to Jean Paul Hevin where we got some excellent chocolate desserts. When we got to the Louvre around 4 p.m. Heather was really complaining. The line was short to nonexistant to get in. I went off and got a wheelchair for Heather. When I brought it to Heather she thought I'd lost my mind. I told her that we were going to walk a lot and that she'd better sit down because I was not going to have her complaining for the rest of the day. She reluctantly sat down and we were all able to enjoy the museum. I was surprised at how much my daughters liked the Louvre. They really were impressed by the paintings. There was a short line for the Mona Lisa. After waiting about 5 minutes, the museum attendants noticed Heather and pushed her to right in front of the painting - closer than anyone else was able to get. The topmost floor of the Louvre was very difficult negotiate with the wheelchair. There are short flights of steps up and down all over the place and you have to use very slow lifts if you are in a wheelchair.

After the Louvre, we took the Metro back to our hotel, retrieved our luggage, and took a cab to gare l'Est. I had tickets for two deluxe sleeper cars with private showers and bathrooms. This train was due to leave at 22:45 and arrive in Munich at about 8 a.m. We found the right train, were pointed to the correct car, and escorted to what we thought were going to be our cabins. Instead we were guided to a little room with six upright seats in it. Not at all what we paid for. We pointed out the obvious discrepancy, but were told that the sleeper train was 'broken' and that this was all they could offer us. We would have rather spent the night in a Paris hotel than sitting up on a train, but by the time we found out that there was no sleeper train for us, the train was 3-4 minutes into the journey to Munich. There was no way out. Other people were angry too...the people in the next room were on their honeymoon. We were told that our money would be refunded. Great, but that doesn't give us back a night of sleep and a vacation day alert and refreshed. We made the best of it and Sarah was actually able to sleep quite well. We were brought boxed breakfasts in the train before arriving in Munich.

At the Munich train station, we stored our luggage in lockers and went to the Eurail aid office. Here, we made seat reservations for two other train trips and we informed them about what had happened the previous night. It turns out that they (the French rail company) knew the cars were out of service a few days before our trip, but never bothered to tell people about it. Oh well, what's done is done and we wanted to get on with our 'vacation of a lifetime'. We located the correct train and went to central Munich, where we saw the glockenspiel - a non-event, not very exciting. We got some Weisswurst, which was good but we didn't know what was in it. Later I looked in my guide book, which said that in Munich, Weisswurst is made of sheeps brains. Hmmm....Don't know what to think of that. It was pretty good sausage, but I don't relish the thought that I might have eaten brains.

After a few hours in Munich, we retrieved our luggage and got on a train bound for Fuessen. The ride was beautiful. We had almost the entire first class car to ourselves and we were able to stick our heads out of the windows to enjoy the scenery. Heather was still a bit grouchy and her back still hurt but we got through that. We were able to find our Fuessen hotel very easily, as it was visable from the train station. Hotel Kurcafe was nice and we were given a large room overlooking the street.

We had reservations for a 6 pm tour of Neuschwanstein Castle. We took the bus so that we would have plenty of time to get the tickets, but I did not realize just how long it would take to get from the ticket office to the castle. We really had to hustle to make it. Heather was complaining very loudly and it did not help that we had to climb so many steps once in the castle. Sarah was enthralled with the castle, so that was good. She overheard some guys speaking badly of Americans in the gift store (they were speaking in German, but since she has studied the language for two years, she knew what they were saying). That got her very angry.

I thought it would be easier to walk down to Hohenschwangau than back up to where the bus had left us, so we took the long and very steep walk down the mountain. By then, Heather was in better spirits, thank goodness. We had dinner back at the hotel. The food was good and the ice cream treats were humongous - even the kids' ones.

Next up - train day and a mean Swiss guy.
KatherineAM is offline  
Aug 5th, 2007, 11:43 AM
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Day 5 - Fuessen to Wengen by train.

We had breakfast at the hotel in Fuessen and discussed staying there rather than going to Switzerland. We decided that we would go with the original plan despite the amount of travel involved. I'm glad we did because Switzerland was the highlight of our trip.

We had our train trip all printed out and seats reserved for one of the trains, so it was just a matter of following the schedule. Everything went fine, no problems except the following: 1) Our printout said there would be food available on a few of the trains. Wrong. There was food available on the train from Buchloe to Bern, but we the guy with the food cart refused to let us buy food because Sarah could not pronounce what she wanted correctly in German. The guy went on and on in German to the people seating around us that people who come to the country ought to speak the language. After he left, suddenly all of the people around us started speaking in English about how rude the guy was. The lady beside me, who was from Munich, was especially concerned about the impression we got about Germans. No problem, there are people who are unfriendly all over the place. I gave her some money and she purchased drinks for us, but we were still not able to eat until around 7 pm since our transfer times were so short.

Problem #2: We got on the wrong train from Zurich to Interlaken. We went to the right platform at the right time going the right place, but didn't find out until much later that we were on the train that was not non-stop and took 30 minutes longer than the one we intended to get on. This only slowed us down by about an hour since we were able to take the other trains at slightly later times.

In Interlaken, we were able to get some Swiss francs and some food (finally!). Everyone was happy again and the scenery was unbelievable. What was next was beyond my dreams.

The train that went up from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen was packed. Sarah and I squeezed in beside some nice Japanese ladies who tried desparately to carry on a conversation with us. We were ready to give up since we don't know Japanese at all and they knew a little English, but the ladies were persistant. We were actually able to communicate quite well with hand gestures and a few words.

We arrived in Wengen around 9 pm and it was just starting to get dark.

Wengen...what can I say. It is the most beautiful place I've seen in my life. Pictures do not do it justice. We stayed at the Hotel Eiger, which is right next to the train station and we had a large room with a balcony that looks out towards the Jungfrau and the Lauterbrunnen valley.

The girls got into a fight about who got which bed and Heather was extremely unreasonable. She said that she was not part of our family anymore and alternated fits with sulking until past midnight. I think it was mainly due to lack of sleep and too much travel.

Next...cable cars, long walks, fondue, and lots of fun.
KatherineAM is offline  
Aug 7th, 2007, 01:59 PM
  #5  
JN
 
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Katherine,
I'm enjoying your trip report. One question I just have to ask: does it end with you strangling Heather, or were you a stronger person than I think I'd be and were able to avoid that? :=)
JN is offline  
Aug 8th, 2007, 05:24 AM
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Looking forward to the next Switzerland installment - love Switzerland!
Melnq8 is online now  
Aug 8th, 2007, 05:44 AM
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We honeymooned in the Interlaken area and hoped we can take our kids there some day. It IS just beautiful.
missypie is offline  
Aug 8th, 2007, 08:18 AM
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Katherine, don't worry about Weisswurst. It isn't made from sheep's brain but from veal with some bacon and herbs.
Hans is offline  
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