Switzerland: Breaking Laws and Hearts

Saturday my “handsome brother” and I hopped on a plane from Paris to Nice where he and his girlfriend recently moved. The promise of the warmth and sun of the French Riviera was not fulfilled, but, sometimes you’ve gotta bring your own sunshine. Am I right or am I right?

We spent the next few days galloping along to Côte d’Azur. Dinner in Antibes, long walks along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, another dinner in Villefranche, a long, rocky hike in the Cap Roux and spending a wonderful last day in Monaco, where the sun made an appearance. I’ve not spent much time in the south of France, but can see why it’s such a hot spot. Blue water, (usually) sunny skies, with the mountains as a backdrop- how can you not love it? I look forward to coming back when I can swim in the warm Mediterranean and I’m so lucky to have family who graciously opens their home to me, making it quite affordable.

The beach in Antibes

Cloudy Nice

Hiking Cap Roux

Monaco

Wednesday it was off to Geneva to see one of my favorite people on the planet. Lara and I grew up across the street from each other and spent our twenties having a blast together under the same roof. If St. Cyr en Val is my 3rd home, wherever Lara is is my 4th.

She had to work Thursday, so I went into Geneva alone to do touristy things. I started at the Red Cross Museum, which was just ok. After an insanely overpriced sandwich (Switzerland is crazy expensive), I went to the United Nations for their afternoon guided tour. I arrived early, so I sat on a bench eating an apple and taking pictures. I asked the security guard if I could throw the core in his trash. First, he wouldn’t even acknowledge me, but I was literally standing right in front of him and asked again. He said, “no,” and waved his finger at me. Really?!?! Lara had warned me about the probability of rudeness. So, in an act of revenge, (and because I couldn’t find a bin) I littered my apple core in the flower bed. Take that United Nations! Stacie -1. World – 0.

The scene of the apple crime

Once it was time for the tour, I handed over my passport, was asked several questions (none of which had to do with littering, thank God) and went through security. They gave me a visitor badge and then I was free to move around the campus as I wished. I found this very strange.

The tour was pretty awesome though. Our guide Pablo (Spain), lead our group through several rooms, shared what historical events took place there and told us fun facts about the UN, world leaders, art work, procedures and policies. It was really interesting and I highly recommend if you’re ever in Geneva.

My next plan was to take the bus to Old Town. After a little searching, I found the stop and was 99% sure I was going the right way. I prepared my fare and when the bus driver pulled up, I asked (in French and English), “Does this bus go to Old Town?” The driver, looked at me after I asked nearly four times and refused to respond. Then, he started driving, as I was still standing, knowing that I was not 100% confident of my direction. Really?!?!? What was even more surprising is that no one around acknowledged this or tried to intervene. And they say French people are rude. So, in my second act of retaliation against the Swiss, I did not pay the fare. Take that, Switzerland!

Fortunately, I was on the right bus. I got off in Old Town, visited the cathedral and stopped in a cafe to rest and have a coffee. I then walked to Lake Geneva and spent the next couple hours walking along the water admiring the Jet d’eau, birds and beautifully manicured spring gardens. I made a couple creepy, but harmless “friends” who offered to show me around Geneva. I said, “Sure, my name’s Lara,” and shared her number with them. Haha! I’m kidding, but it was fun seeing her face when I told her she should be anticipating some calls. All kidding aside, it feels good to have my pretty back, even though it’s only my husband’s opinion that I care about.

And can I just add that I have greatly overestimated my ability to be away from said husband – missing him!

Lake Geneva and Jet d’eau

Flower Clock

Swans and such

In the early evening, Lara picked me up and we went to an adorable little village for a drink before heading home for dinner and hours of great conversation. The kind of long talks that you can only share with your nearest and dearest. Love her and excited to begin our 36th year together this weekend.

Appreciating France

The last days in Paris were really fun. I dragged JB around to several tourist traps he avoids like the plague. 
JB: “What is that? It’s so nice.”

Me: “Um, that’s the Eiffel Tower, JB.”

Ok, I’m exaggerating, but not too much. 

JB being a tourist

But more than anything, we laughed and joked around a lot. Blessed with beautiful weather, we made my Fitbit happy by walking everywhere, checking off Parc Buttes Chaumont, Jardin du Luxembourg, Notre Dame, Montparnasse Tower, the Louvre, Jardin de Tuileries, the Eiffel Tour and I’m sure I’m missing some stuff. 

Parc Buttes Chaurmont

Busting out the selfie stick at Notre Dame

The Louvre

Springtime in Paris

My last day in Paris was spent kicking around alone where I visited the National Library (nerd), Shakespeare and Company, the Grand Mosque and Jardin des Plantes. 

Jardin des Plantes

In the afternoon, it was time to head to Orleans to see the “belle famille” (translation, beautiful family), which is so much nicer to say than “in-laws”. On the train, I rested my forehead against the glass and watched Paris transform into the countryside. Spring is such a beautiful time in France as many of the fields resemble a fluorescent yellow and green quilt. I spent the entire train ride with the sun in my face, taking mental pictures. I also took some time to appreciate my fun, busy days in Paris and the fact that I’m here after I wasn’t sure I’d ever be again while I was sick. I was bursting with happiness, appreciation and gratitude. 

Orleans, and specifically the adorable little village of St. Cyr en Val, is a third home for me. All the neighbors are brothers and sisters of my “beautiful mother”, so the moment they heard the car coming down the path, there was a non-stop stream of visitors. 

Good timing and weather were on my side again because Thursday was Ascension Day, which is a day of prayer that also exists on the US (but without the day off work). The whole family came over and showered me with desserts, gifts, kisses and proclamations of joy for my good health. Fabien’s grandmother and grandfather spent several minutes telling me how they and the priest of the church in St. Cyr en Val pray for me constantly. The priest has even spoken of me at mass, which is very moving to hear. I appreciate so much everyone who has prayed and thought of me during the last couple of years. 

Friday evening, the “beautiful family” and I headed to Chartres for dinner and to view the illuminated cathedral. I’ve become a bit immune to European cathedrals because they start to look the same. However, I think this one will stand out in my memory forever.

Of course, without saying, the architecture is incredible. But, what I found most impressive was the stained glass, which houses the largest 13th century collection in the world. I can see why it was one of the world’s first UNESCO sites. The glass is so important to the French that it was removed and hidden during both World Wars. Just next to the cathedral is home to an international school of stained glass. Who knew such a place existed. This made me think of my grandfather whose stained glass creations were the source battle when he passed away. He would’ve loved Notre Dame de Chartres. 

Before the illumination began, I spotted my first sign of the Camino on the sidewalk and shortly after, some English speakers in hiking clothes. As it turns out, they were Canadians who are walking from Paris to Santiago via Chartres. That’s a long way. To put it in perspective, they won’t even be in Spain by the time I arrive in Santiago around June 2nd. 

When it became dark, the cathedral was lit up with mesmerizing animated images set to music. I tried to snap some pictures but then stopped knowing the photos would be unjustifiable. Plus, like many things on this voyage, this was something to be appreciated and experienced in the moment and not behind a smartphone screen. 

Pro-Tips from Paris

Returning from a wonderful few days in NYC, followed by my family coming into town for the My 2nd Act reading and the final day of my writing workshop, it seemed like I only had a few hours to get everything in order to leave for 6 weeks.

I’ve impressed myself with the logistics of this trip.

First, packing was a challenge. Simplicity is they key to the El Camino, but I would also be spending three weeks in France and Switzerland where perhaps something nicer than hiking pants and a t-shirt would be in order. But I didn’t want to bring anything too nice since once I get to Spain, I’ll be sending my “fancy” clothes forward to Santiago. I’m still a little skeptical of the postal system and whether my stuff will actually arrive. I also didn’t want to trust the airline with the Camino gear I’ve spent months planning and buying. So, I carried on a backpack with my un-loseable Camino supplies and checked an old small suitcase that will be shipped forward in Spain.

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Here’s the pin I used

Pro-tip #1 (for the ladies): check out Pinterest for pins that illustrate weeks worth of outfits with a few basic clothing items. 

I finished packing with a whole ten minutes to spare before I had to leave for the airport. Other than being on the world’s coldest plane to Paris, the flight was uneventful. Upon landing, I was unsure I took the correct plane because the sky was blue and I saw the sun. Strange because every time I come to Paris it’s cold and gray. Fortunately, when I exited the airport, the old Paris I know and love appeared. It was freezing. Don’t they know it’s almost May here?!?!?

After I collected my bag (yippee, it arrived), I bought my metro tickets (in French) and got on the train to the city. I had to switch trains at my Parisian nemesis, Gare du Nord. I only got lost five times, instead of ten. Then I got to Les Chatlets, which is the evil sister of Gare du Nord. I think I went in circles five more times.

Pro-tip #2: Just plan on getting lost and adding 15 minutes to your trip if you have to travel through Gare du Nord.

Four hours after my plane landed, I met my friend JB at his office to get the keys to his apartment. He gave me great directions and other than not being able to open the door for about ten minutes, that journey was uneventful.

I just wanted a shower and a little rest at this point. But, my dreamy, steamy, long hot shower was cut short by the little hot water heaters in Parisian apartments. Rookie move. Of course, this occurred when I was just about to rinse. I jumped out, layered up and then curled up on the couch for a glorious hour-long nap.

Pro-tip #3: When traveling to a foreign country, don’t count on unlimited hot water (or sometimes, hot water at all). This is an American luxury.

I woke up when JB arrived home and we went for a nice dinner. Hot camembert, duck, potatoes. I might need to walk to Spain to burn all the calories from this meal. With a full belly and jetlag in full effecy, it took me negative 30 seconds to fall asleep.

Pro-tip #4: When traveling to Europe try to select a flight arriving as late as possible. Most arrive early in the morning. Try to stay up all day and you’ll fail miserably (or just be completely miserable). I landed at 2:00 p.m., where I only had to stay up a few hours, before I crashed.  A couple days here and my sleep schedule is completely onboard with Europe.

Friday, JB and I spent the day walking around his typical Parisian neighborhood (Montmartre) and Parc Monceau, having lunch with some of his friends, going to Musee d’Orsay and then going to a show I’ve been wanting to see for years, How to Become Parisian in One Hour. Definitely check it out if you’re in the city:

Then today, I went to the George Pompidou Musee, had a nice vegetarian lunch and visited with one of my favorite friends, who happened to live just a couple blocks from the Eiffel Tour, where I stopped by on my way home to snap a quick pic.

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From Paru du Champs de Mars

Walking back to the apartment, I was thinking about this post and feeling so grateful for how far I’ve come – health- and life-wise. The first time I ever came to Paris, my suitcase was stolen out of the car and I was scared to go shopping for replacement clothes alone while Fabien was at work. Now here I am, walking around with city like an old pro, speaking french and everything.  I also thought about how different both Paris and I are since my last visit here, nearly two years ago. Most definitely, we are forever changed.  Both of us a bit traumatized, but still here, stronger, wiser and beautiful.