Friday, May 29, 2009

Back in Minnesota

Grant and I had an awesome trip to Germany and Switzerland! Now we're getting settled back in to life in Minnesota. The week since we got back has been a blur getting everything situated again at home and at work. We took over 1200 pictures on our trip so I am still going through them and narrowing them down before I post them! I should have them up hopefully by early next week :)

Our flights back to the states were all on time and we actually got in to Minneapolis 20 minutes earlier than we were scheduled. Mom and Dad picked us up and we headed back to Sartell. One funny thing while on our flights happened when we flew into Madrid, Spain for one of our layovers. We were sitting next to a guy that was living in Madrid at the time (he was originally from Denver, Co) so he told us where we had to go in the airport to get to our gate. When we got off the plane we saw the sign for our gate and the arrow pointed down. So, we looked all over for some stairs, an elevator, an escalator or anything to get us down to the lower level but we couldn't find anything. Then the guy we had been sitting by came up behind us and said to follow him. We were like, hey, wait, the sign for the gate you told us to go to says it's downstairs. He just chuckled and said actually in Madrid arrows pointing down mean to walk straight ahead. hehe. So, we followed him and found our gate and then made it the rest of the way on the long flight back to the states!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dachau Concentration Camp

Today was a rainy day in Munich. We got up around 8 and got ready and found our way onto a train headed for Dachau just outside of Munich.

Dachau was the first concentration camp set up by Hitler during his attempt to exterminate the Jews. I'm not going to be able to describe in words what you feel when you visit this place but it was interesting, sad, overwhelming, puzzling, and many other emotions all at once. We went on the self guided hand held audio tour to save some money. It was just 3 euro to rent the audio machine instead of 19 euro each to go on a tour. They gave us a map and we were on our way.

Some of the buildings are in use for police functions so you can only go in some but it was enough for us.

Here's what we saw:
The bunker (this went around the outside of the camp - there were watch towers that housed guards and then there was barbed wire and electric fence outside of that).

Some of the rebuilt barracks (a lot of buildings were destroyed during or right after the war so they rebuilt some of it).

The huge area they had to gather every morning and night to do role call

The crematorium and more.

It was crazy to walk around and hear the stories and descriptions of what went on in the camp.

The words on the door read 'Works sets you free'

Once we had heard enough we headed back for the train station to Munich. We wandered around and checked out some shops and now we're back and going to pack up to fly back to the states tomorrow. Mom and Dad it looks like our flights are on time so far :) we will be getting on a train at 5am here because our flight leaves Munich at 7:50am and it's a 40 minute train ride to the airport. We should be back to MSP at 6:40pm. I'll text or call when we get to Chicago and when we land in MSP. I think that's it for our trip to Germany and Switzerland. Can't wait to see all of you when we get back! We'll be planning our next trip soon ;)

Chur, Switzerland back to Munich, Germany

Yesterday we hopped on a train leaving Chur at 9:30am. So far during our trip most of the trains we've ridden have been very empty because it's not quite summer tourist season yet. Since it was some sort of holiday yesterday the train from Chur to Munich was packed! No lie it was literally packed and we had to stand for about an hour and a half. Finally some people headed for the restaurant on board the train and said we could sit in their seats. Luckily they stayed in the restaurant for most of the rest of the 4 hour ride so we could sit until we were just about to Munich :) I don't think I would have made it standing for the entire time and Grant probably wouldn't have wanted to deal with me ... hehe. Once we were back to Munich we checked into the Euro Youth Hostel again and then went out to check out more of the town. We headed south of our hostel this time to see where they do Oktoberfest. Right now it was just a huge empty parking lot but I can imagine what it's like in October!

On our way we saw a huge cathedral called St. Paul's I think.

There was also a big statue of a lady and a lion symbolizing something with Bavaria that was pretty cool to look at.

It was really hot outside and we were walking in the sun and didn't have any water with so went searching for some. All we could find was McDonalds so we ordered two waters. I didn't even think about it until I took the first sip but for some reason here everyone drinks carbonated water or water with gas as they say. Bummer ... our water had gas ... and it wasn't my favorite ... hehe. But we walked to a park and they had a water fountain so I got some non gas water from that.

Grant climbed this fun toy at the park ;)

Check out this gigantic chess set!

Nothing else too exciting happened yesterday. We just went back to our hostel and had a beer in the bar downstairs.

Enjoying some truffles left from Switzerland :)

A little game of checkers for the evening

Again people were partying until 4am but our ear plugs blocked out most of the noise so we could sleep a little!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Glacier Express Zermatt to Chur

Last night in Chur we didn't have internet so I'm a day behind in posting! The Glacier Express was awesome yesterday! We had another clear day so we could see all the sights. The temperature has been anywhere from 40 to 70 fahrenheit depending on where we are. Yesterday it was really nice and probably 60 to 70. It was very warm when we got to the end of the train ride in Chur.

The Glacier Express train was really nice. It was fancier than the other trains we've ridden probably because it's operated by a private company.

It even had snacks and supper but it was spendy so we brought our own cheaper bread, wine and cheese :) The wine was even made in the Valais which is the part of Switzerland Zermatt is in!

We saw a lot of cute little mountain villages, a mountain goat, rivers, mountains, the Rhine River Gorge that they call the Grand Canyon of Switzerland and lots more!

We rode on the train from Zermatt to Chur but you can ride it all the way to a place called St. Moritz in southern Switzerland. We didn't since we would have just had to come back north today to get back to Munich.

Our train left Zermatt at 10am and we got to Chur at about 3;30pm. When we arrived in Chur, we left the train station to find our hostel and after walking a little ways realised we were on the wrong side of the train station so had to go back ;) Eventually we found the JBN hostel and checked in. They told us they were having a party so we were like oh ok and didn't think much of it. We left the hostel to find some supper and then walked around the old part of town.

Chur is either the oldest city in Switzerland or the oldest city in just southern Switzerland. I can't remember what they said now but the buildings, church and cathedral were really cool.

After we had enough we headed back to the hostel to get ready for bed. That's when we realized they weren't kidding when they said they were having a party. We were on the third floor and we could hear the music coming all the way from the first floor! They partied until about 4am. Luckily we had ear plugs with! Today we found out it's some kind of holiday in Germany and Switzerland so that's why they were partying.

We can't believe our vacation is almost over already. It seems like we just got here and are now getting the hang of everything. Today waiting for the trains we could even pick out words they were announcing and figure out what they were saying in German! How exciting except that we're leaving soon. sad ;( We are excited to see everyone when we get back though! I'll post more about today later!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Zermatt and the Matterhorn

Woo hoo! We love it when the sun shines - and we love the Matterhorn!! We had a great day but first I want to tell you about last night. After I posted we headed out for a walk to find somewhere to eat. Most of the restaurants have their menus posted outside so even though we don't know what some of the food is at least we know how expensive it is :) We found one little place that said sandwiches 6.50CHF so we thought that sounded pretty good. (I can't remember the name now but will update that when we look at our pics at home).

Once inside we remembered that people can smoke anywhere around here so it was a very smoky place but cute. We asked about the sandwiches and the lady was like - you want ham and cheese? Grant said sure and I was like well what else is there and she gave me a puzzled look. So I asked if there was a menu and she said - you want ham and cheese sandwich? So I said yeah sure ham and cheese would be great :) heh heh Then Grant ordered a dark beer and I ordered a Diet Coke. She came back with a Coca-Cola Light and a beer that was pretty light colored - we had a slight language barrier but it was all good!

A little bit later she brought out our sandwiches and they were really good. They have tons of fancy bread around here and the stuff our sandwiches were made on was excellent.
The cheese must have been homemade somewhere here too - it was good.

We meant to get cash before eating but forgot so when Grant was done eating he went to find an ATM since they didn't take cards at the restaurant. While he was gone the lady went outside and came back in with a big wheel of cheese so they must make it around here - or maybe they buy it like that? Grant came back and paid for the sandwiches and then we walked through the old part of town to check out the cool buildings.

Some buildings were still being used - see the little sheep in the door?

Afterwards we went and hung out at the hostel and chatted with some of the people that were staying here.

Today we woke up and were excited to see the sun shining outside! I immediately got dressed, grabbed my camera and ran outside and, sure enough, I could see the Matterhorn from our street - it was awesome!

I snapped some pics and then went in to get ready for our hike. We left the hostel around 8:45am and made our way up the valley towards the Matterhorn and had some really great views.

There was quite a bit of snow off the path but the path was fine for the most part. We went through a few old towns that had the cool houses built up on stilts with the flat stone roofs like they used to live in back in the day around here when they farmed.

Actually, some of the houses were still occupied because we saw sheep in the yards of some and also a guy spreading manure farther up the valley. The sheep here have bells on too :) And they are white fuzzy sheep with black faces - very cute.

We saw several little animals that we're pretty sure are marmots - they were cute furry guys running around (I got a couple pics but they were kinda far away so not sure how good they are).

Some of the old buildings were restaurants that looked like they must get used a lot in the winter when all the ski runs are open. We had planned to make our way to a spot called Schwarzsee Paradise where we thought we'd get a good view but as we made our way up, the plowed trail ended and it was all snow. We tried to walk on it but I fell through up to my knees and we decided to turn around :) We took a slightly different path back so we could see some new views and made it back to Zermatt around 1pm after stopping for a picnic lunch on the trail.

Shortly before we got to the end of the no-snow path ;) That's me and the Matterhorn.

Grant and the Matterhorn.

Cool view of Zermatt.

On our way back down to Zermatt.

Once we were back to town we decided we'd head over to the train station to see how much it would cost to go up some of the mountain trains. We wanted to get a view of the Matterhorn from farther away since we'd been right under it all morning. The one train we wanted to go on wasn't open yet because of snow so we took a different one to a spot called the Gornergrat.
It was a great ride with amazing views!

We could see all up and down the valley and had a different view of the Matterhorn that we hadn't seen from down below. The train ride itself was really cool too - it seemed like we were going straight up the mountain - crazy how they build all the rails around here.

Grant enjoying the ride.

It seemed so steep - the pictures don't do it justice. I was amazed a train went up here!

We hung out at the top for awhile and took pictures from all the different angles.

St. Bernard dogs posing for pictures.

Check out the glaciers and the cool aqua colored glacier water!

We even saw a mountain goat thing with big horns - so cool!

Grant looking over at the tallest peak in this area (nope it's not the Matterhorn!).

Huge snowbanks.

Us and the Matterhorn!

Then we got on the train to head back down to Zermatt around 3:30pm. Once we were down we checked out some shops in town but everything is really expensive. We were hungry by then so found a little build-your-own sandwich shop to get some food at.
Of course Grant had to have a piece of chocolate cake which was actually called Black Forest Cake :) We took our sandwiches as take-away (that's what they call it here instead of to go) and went and sat on a bench to eat.

After that we wandered towards the river where we had a good view of the Matterhorn and sat on a bench there for awhile and relaxed. Now we're back at the hostel just getting our stuff together since we head out tomorrow morning on the Glacier Express. It was a good day in Zermatt and we were excited to be able to see the Matterhorn!! Tomorrow we'll be staying in a town called Chur, Switzerland near the end of the Glacier Express train route.
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