Monday, March 1, 2010

"Spring" Break in the Alps

Just after buying out little Lune Rousse (our car, in case you weren't paying attention), we decided to put her to the test. The initial plan was a 7-day trip around the Alps in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Italy and involved something like 36 hours of driving. While we didn't end up being quite that adventurous (we realized when we got on the road that our GPS didn't include Slovakia or Slovenia) but we did have a wonderful time and got to see some incredible scenery through the Alps.

We set off on our journey two Saturdays ago with a cooler (nearly impossible to find...and don't even get me started on ice) full of car snacking goodies and our tiny trunk full to the brim with clothes and blankets. We drove first through the Vosges Mountains -- which run a little south of us here in Metz -- where we encountered our first crazy long (over 8 mile) tunnel. We then crossed into Switzerland with all of it's charm. I soon began to notice the stark resemblance that US ski resorts bear to Swiss architecture, which I know, should be a given, but I had never really thought the concept through. Every town we drove through felt like a ski resort in the Rockies. We did quick drive-throughs of Basel and Luzerne before crossing the border into the tiny country of Liechtenstein. We had told the GPS to take us to a must-see point-of-interest near the capital city of Vaduz so what else could it do but take us up as high as we could go (on tiny, tiny switchback roads) to give us this incredible sunset view of the Alps.

After a quick drive through of the capital city, we crossed yet another border into Austria. We did another quick drive through of Innsbruck and their Olympic Village left over from 1964 and 1976 winter Olympic games. Not long after Innsbruck, we stopped for the night at a well-lit rest stop just before the German border and after some sandwiches and chocolate milk we settled into our tiny car for the night. Unfortunately, sleeping in a tiny car in the Alps in February proved to be not as good of an idea as we might have hoped. At about 1:30, Michael woke me up because he was cold. We tried to start the car but with the cold and our teeny tiny engine (at least, we're hoping that was the problem), we couldn't get it to start. Defeated, we set in for one of the coldest nights of our lives (even colder than Denmark). We officially woke at 6:30 (the car still wouldn't start), had some coffee in the rest station, and watched a beautiful sunrise over the Alps. We took our time and finally, at about 8, the car started, thawed out and after nice warm showers, we were on our way.

Back on the road, we passed briefly through Germany on the Autobahn (on which I was too scared for our safety and the car's abilities to actually go over
130km/h), then popped back into Austria for a stop in Salzburg. After parking our car in a cave at the base of a mountain, we spent the day hiking up and down mountains, through new town and old town, showing our dorky colors while seeking out Mozart's homes and scenes from The Sound of Music. In fact, here I am on the steps made famous by the song "do re mi". We also did the usual: looked in all the churches, had sausages for lunch, and witnessed a strange festival/parade the purpose for which we have yet to figure out, here is a video, perhaps someone reading this will have some insight.

That afternoon we got back in the car and drove another 3 hours or so to Vienna, Austria. After a quick (and scary) jaunt downtown, we quickly drove back to the outskirts to find a cheap hotel where we spent the evening eating more sandwiches and watching the Olympics in German.

The next morning we took a quick subway ride into the city where we spent the morning on the grounds of the Hapsburg Palace. We ate lunch at a lovely Beisl (restaurant on every block) including Wiener Schnitzel, goulash, and huge beers. We were seated at a table with two women conversing in French (they probably thought they were being sly, and that we wouldn't understand them) and after a bit we began talking. They were very sweet and told us they were sisters. I can't remember all of the details but they had lived all over the germanic world. One lives currently in Vienna while the other lives in Geneva (her husband is in the UN and they also lived for a bit in Westchester County, NY). They both spoke English well (although the one from Geneva was much better) along with German, French, and possibly Italian? After spending half a year in France and slowly learning the language, I can hardly believe how people fit so many languages into their brain. That afternoon we did a tour of the outer "ring" of the city where we came across many things but none so important as Beethoven's former house (Michael was very excited) and the really incredible ice skating rink set up outside of the beautiful City Hall building.

 After our loop we went to see this incredible Monument Against War and Fascism. It is quite graphic (disclaimer: this photo shows graphic content, not suitable for young eyes), showing a woman giving birth to a soldier and the head of another soldier.

We then went to the ritzy Sacher Hotel to indulge in a little before-dinner decadence that is the Sacher Torte. This chocolate layer cake with apricot filling was a requirement for my Basic and Classical Cakes class back at the CIA and I was excited to have it in it's original venue. We enjoyed our shared slice with two espressos and lots of whipped cream, then went on our merry way. After our sweet appetizer, we made two dinner stops: the first was at the sausage cart down the street where we shared one huge sausage and the second at a fancy grocery store where we picked up 3 salads (beet, egg, and ham) and beers to take back to the hotel. We enjoyed said salads that night while watching more German Olympics.

The next morning (I guess we're on to Tuesday by now) we hopped in the car and drove the 6 or so hours south through the Alps and thanks to tunnels and relatively warm weather, we had no snow troubles in our tiny car. After passing over the Italian border we stopped at a grocery store for necessities --  olive bread and more cheese -- which we enjoyed immensely as we neared our destination for the night. After a long day of driving (and quite stressful driving I might add, Italians are crazy on the road) we managed to make it to the outskirts of Venice before deciding to stay at a nice hotel (more expensive than our cheap hotels but doable with off season rates).

Wednesday morning, after an amazing spread at the breakfast buffet, we took the hotel shuttle into the city (a little sketchy in an unmarked van...we though he might take us to some warehouse). There weren't many "sights" to see in the city and even those that were open banned photography. So we happily strolled the city for the morning, crossing over hundreds (well, maybe not hundreds, but a lot) of bridges and taking pictures.

I'm sure it's been said before but it is essentially impossible to take a bad picture in Venice. I fell in love with the brightly colored houses propped precariously over the teal water, looking like they might fall in at any moment. For lunch we stopped in a little pizzeria and enjoyed some of the best pizza I've ever had in my life, topped with pepperoni and peppers along with some red wine. We continued to stroll the streets and explore churches after lunch with a quick pit stop for gelato (meringue for me and tiramisu for Michael). Before we knew it, it was time to grab a quick slice of pizza for the road and head back to the hotel on the shuttle.

Initially we had planned to take our time driving home from Venice but since we had spent a little extra on our hotel the night before, we decided to make a marathon drive of it an get home that night. So after arriving back at the hotel at 7pm, we hopped in the car and made the fairly uneventful 10 hour drive back to Metz, arriving home at about 4:30am.

After reading my essay on the subject, I'm sure you want to see more. To view the entire 159 photo album, simply click HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing pictures, Lauren! And what incredible adventures, I think I might be living vicariously through your blog...