Week Ten: Trains, Planes, and ... Buses

     Early Friday morning (I'm talking 4:23 AM), my friend and I hopped on a train to the Amsterdam Schiphol airport ready to begin our long weekend of European travel. Due to early morning construction on the rails, however, we had to hop off in Leiden and take a bus the rest of the way to the airport. On the plus side, we didn't have to pay the full fare to the airport, since the train company provided the buses for free. Getting a minor freebie was actually pretty exciting because the cost of the train ride to the airport, which is inflated compared to other locations in the Netherlands, usually runs about 8.50 one way, but we only had to pay about 2.00. For someone who is running low on cash, any small surprise like that is welcome. We made it through security in record time and then had the opportunity to sit in an airport terminal for an hour and a half with nothing to do but eat plain yogurt and wish we were asleep. It was a great start to the morning, of course. Our flight to Geneva eventually took off at 7:25; we landed barely an hour later and began our day in Switzerland, a country that I have been wanting to visit for years.

Some Thoughts on Switzerland:

     It is as beautiful as I had imagined. It is also very expensive. As in, $25 for a small bag of chocolate-covered almonds. We still bought them because they were made by one of the best and most recommended chocolate shops in Geneva, but my wallet felt the pain of losing out on a possible meal down the line (just kidding, I'm not that broke yet). The chocolates are as good as the reviews claim, by the way. If you're ever in Geneva, be on the lookout for Auer Chocolates; it's a small shop run by French speaking Swiss people, who let you try the chocolate before you dutifully hand over your hard-earned francs. I'm sure the other chocolates (beyond the almonds) are good too; we saw a couple purchasing a kilo (a kilo!) sized box (we're talking approximately $200 worth of chocolate). We didn't spend our whole day oogling candy, though. We also walked through the city, had some delicious savory crepes for lunch at a corner restaurant, and climbed a few hundred steps to the top of a cathedral to see the lake and surrounding homes from above. That was probably one of the most worthwhile tourist activities that I've done since I've been here: it was only 5 euro per person and the view was indescribable. Something about being up above everything makes the world feel both immense and graspable at the same time. We finished our time in Geneva by searching for more, less expensive chocolate, so that I could bring some more affordable treats home for my family (it was a success).

Later that day, we took a train to Zurich and saw some awe inspiring views of Lake Geneva and the surrounding mountains along the way. We spent the evening following a walking tour laid out for us by our generous AirBnB hostess. Zurich is just as beautiful as Geneva, although less hilly, which my legs appreciated. One thing I truly enjoyed that day overall was seeing how the language in Switzerland changes so drastically as you travel from west to east. We began our day surrounded by French speakers and ended it surrounded by German speakers. It reminded me of how badly I would like to become bilingual; I have an intermediate knowledge of French and an elementary knowledge of German, but I would love to keep learning more of each language. We ended our night by eating three different ice creams; we had bought two small containers at a local grocery store to bring back to our apartment, but happened to stumble upon an Eiscafé on our way home. No worries, though, due to the price per scoop (of 3.50 euro), we could only afford a small taste; while watching the Swiss celebrate the weekend from our hostess' balcony, we were able to valiantly finish all of the ice cream we had purchased.

Some Thoughts on Germany as well: 

     Western Germany is just as fun of a place to visit as Eastern Germany, where I lived for four months during my junior year of college. On Saturday morning, I returned to the country for the first time since the end of my study abroad experience.  We took a short bus ride across the border from Zurich into Konstanz, a German town that borders Lake Constance (also called Konstanz in German). We had some German hot chocolate and a bratwurst (not at the same time) and spent some time relaxing by the edge of the lake. Since we didn't have any more ambitious plans, we then took a train to Frankfurt. After that train ride, I can confidently say that the German countryside rivals that in Switzerland in regards to beauty; we spent the next four hours marveling at the view while traveling through the Black Forest. I also spent some time marveling at the magic that is German engineering; the train passed through mountains and edged around cliffs at remarkable elevations without any sort of apparent effort. When we arrived in Frankfurt, we sought out some local food (I can recommend spätzle to anyone and everyone), braved (and were beaten by) a rainstorm, and gave directions to a British person searching for the train station, making up for our earlier failed attempts at ordering coffee in German by serving as a helpful, English speaking guides. 

     On Sunday, we went full-tourist again and took a hop-on hop-off bus tour through Frankfurt, in order to see as much as possible before our train back to the Hague. Although it felt a little silly to drive through the city on the top of a blue double-decker bus, it was a great way to see a lot of things for not a lot of money. Plus, we made a few friends with other tourists who seemed to trust our picture-taking skills. Although I was a little sad to board the train back to the Hague that afternoon, I am grateful for the time I was able to spend traveling this weekend, as well as throughout my time in Europe this summer. I begin my last (short) week of work tomorrow and head to the airport on Wednesday to begin my journey back to Buffalo. Cheers to a wonderful experience; be on the look out for my last post later this week.