Daniela, her husband Marcel, and seven year old son live out in the countryside close to the Swiss-German border with their fish, three cats, two dogs, two horses, and one mini-horse. We were royally welcomed as guests into their home, and are greatly enjoying our stay.
We have managed to pack in a lot of adventures into the short time we have been here. We've spent a day in Zurich, gone on a hike with a view of the Alps, seen the Rhine Falls, swam in thermal baths, gone horseback riding (twice), seen 8 castles, and toured the beautiful city of Lucerne. We've also eaten some fantastic food, most of which Daniela made herself.
Needless to say, we are excited to see what next week will bring.
On our first day in Switzerland, Jacob and I took the train into Zurich to spend the day exploring the city. We enjoyed our time, but mostly found ourselves in "sticker shock" over the prices of... everything. People in Switzerland have famously high salaries, but it is matched by high living costs. In the end, it all evens out for the residents of Switzerland. For those of us with an American bank account however, the prices can be a little appalling. Lunch at an averagely nice restaurant can easily be $40 per person. It has become our game to see how much money we can save while spending a day out on our own. (Hint: The prepared food section of grocery stores).
On our second day, I lived out a long deferred childhood dream and went horseback riding. Daniela keeps two horses in a stable close by and goes riding whenever time permits. I might have known a lot about horses back when I was 8, but that was a while ago. It gives me a little thrill to be able to say, with sophisticated nonchalance, "Oh yes, I rode frequently during my time in Switzerland". Truth be told, I don't make horseback riding look remotely glamorous, but I love it nonetheless. (Jacob was a good sport and came along one morning, even though he refuses to ride a horse.)
In the afternoon Daniela took us and her son Jannik to go see the Rhine Falls, the biggest waterfall in Europe. (I think it is the largest by liter of water per second, not by height.) It was breathtakingly beautiful. We spent several hours climbing up and around the falls.
After our visit to the Rhine Falls we stopped by a town that perfectly embodies "idyllic Swiss town on the Rhine River" as we have experienced it so far. The town of Schaffhausen has a medieval fortress with a tower that we could climb for a view of the surroundings. We got to the tower just as the clouds were parting and the sunset was beginning.
Picturesque, isn't it?
A day or two later Jacob and I were able to borrow a car for some exploring on our own. Our first stop was Baden, an innocuous town about 15 minutes away that just so happens (yet again - this seems typical of Switzerland) to be stunning.
Our climb to the top of the ruined castle over Baden whetted our taste for more castle hunting. We jumped in the car, took our roadmap, and started planning a route that included as many castles as possible. Fifteen minutes later we were in a town that had a massive castle looming over the city. We parked the car, ran around the castle like giddy children, and jumped back in the car to find another one. Thirty minutes later we were in another town with a castle that sat on the edge of a lake. And that castle had a moat. Castle heaven. Once again we ran around the castle, then took off for the next one. Another two castles later, we drove back home - we had a dinner reservation for Daniela's birthday.
Guess what? Our dinner was at a castle. Six castles in one day. We sat in a long diningroom decorated like it belonged in Versailles and ate fondue followed by a decadent dessert buffet.
It was here that I had one of the strangest and coolest desserts I've ever tried. It was called "Snowballs". We watched as the chef put a mixture of whipped cream and sweetened cream cheese into a ladle, placed a fresh berry sauce into the center, put more cream on top, then dunked the whole thing into a vat of liquid nitrogen. After about 30 seconds of "cooking", the chef pulled the now frozen ball out of the liquid nitrogen, and doused it in Grand Marnier. Delicious.
On Friday Jacob and I took a morning train to Lucern. Although it was sleeting and snowing on us for the majority of the day, and the clouds obscured any view of the mountains, it was easy to see that Lucern was a beautiful place. We cannot wait to come back one day in summer.
In the afternoon Daniela and Jannik met us in Lucern to go visit the Museum of Swiss Transportation. Under normal circumstances, this subject would not make for a terribly thrilling museum. But I suppose Switzerland does not operate under normal circumstances, because this museum was awesome. Four hours flew by, and we could have easily been there much longer. The museum was made up of a series of buildings each dedicated to a different form of transportation: trains, planes and space ships, cars, and boats. Every section was filled with interactive games and activities, like train-driving and helicopter-flying simulators, that taught you about the history and physics of each vehicle.
In the car building there was a gigantic wall of vehicles that ranged from old classics to motorcycles to Formula 1 race-cars. In a small arena you could vote game-show style on what car you wanted to see exhibited. The winning car would be brought down by a giant machine, and placed on a revolving plate in the arena while you learned facts about the car.
Even for someone who doesn't like cars all that much, that is super cool.
As we reluctantly left the museum, we saw that the sky over Lucerne had cleared, granting us a glimpse of the mountains.
The mountains were incredibly beautiful, even from so far away. Jacob and I have been dreaming of the day we would get to see the Alps up close. Tomorrow is the day - we are going to see the Matterhorn!