My sister and her family decided to spend Spring Break in France this year. I was overjoyed to spend a little over a week with them on their vacation. Neal, however, opted out. For one thing, he has had his fill of travel over the past year, and we are getting ready to go on an epic voyage lasting a month (or so). For another thing, there were just too many people involved in this trip for him to travel sanely.
The participants in this vacation included the following: my sister, Chris, her husband, Dave, their 13-year-old son, Ben, 16-year-old daughter, Katherine, and me. I went on vacation with 2 teenagers you ask? Me? Yes, and I made it out alive and even enjoyed myself. Allow me to elaborate…
First stop, Paris – bien sûr (of course). We saw (or at least tried to see) it all. Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomph, Versailles, Jardin du Luxembourg, Musée du Louvre and the adjoining Tuileries Garden, Musée d’Orsay, Musée de l’Orangerie…to name a few. I’m not saying it was exactly like the Griswolds, but…
After an early morning visit to Notre-Dame Cathedral we went in search of breakfast. Et voila! There on the bar of a charming café just a few blocks away from the cathedral, sat a cat welcoming us in for le petit dejeuner. Did we choose the restaurant solely because we all fell in love with le petit chat? Peut être (maybe). While we munched on fresh warm croissants, bread with confiture et beurre (jam and butter) sipping café au lait et chocolat chaud (coffee with milk and hot chocolate), our adorable furry new friend joined us at our table and welcomed us to Paris.
We could not truly experience France without sampling sausages, cheeses, and fresh bread from the shops in Paris. OK, we might have also indulged in some of the pastries – it’s vacation, after all! For dinner we feasted upon fish, beef, duck, more fresh bread, wine, moelleux au chocolat, tarte aux pommes. Luckily all the walking helped balance all the food.
One restaurant that we especially enjoyed was recommended to Chris by a friend. Le Christine, in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, served typical and delectable French cuisine. They started our evening with a tiny amuse-bouche of creamy vegetable soup and then proceeded on to l’entrée (appetizer), le plat (main course), de fromage (cheese course) and le dessert (you guessed it, dessert). Ben even got to try out his newly acquired French language skills (the waiter forced him).
During our stay in Paris we perused the bouquinistes along the banks of the Seine selling books and trinkets. Who could possibly leave without a tiny Eiffel Tower to remind them of their visit? We wandered in and out of chocolate shops, visited amazing parks just getting ready for Spring, and meandered past some gorgeous flower markets setting up for the morning. In the course of it all, we mastered the Metro to find these treasures scattered around the city. After four days, we said au revoir to Paris.
A train ride took us from Paris, across the Vosges mountain range, to Colmar. It is a town near the border with Germany, in the Alsace region of northeastern France. An absolutely picturesque town, there are cobblestone streets lined with colorful half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings, with canals winding throughout.
The next morning we took a wine tour with Ophorus along the Alsace Wine Route, visiting Gueberschwihr ville and the Domaine Ernest Burn winery, and then Eguisheim ville for the Wolfberger winery. Eguisheim was the most enchanting village, providing not only a gorgeous setting, but also samples of duck sausage, Munster cheese (the strongest cheese I have ever tasted – and I LOVE strong cheese), and Gugelhupf (an Alsatian cake with almonds and raisins).
The Alsace region was such a charming, relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of Paris. But after two days there, it was time for our next destination.
3 trains later and we arrived in Lausanne, Switzerland perched on breathtaking Lake Geneva. Ahh, the land of cheese and chocolate…and ridiculously overpriced restaurants.
One of our excursions was to Château de Chillon on the banks of Lake Geneva near the town of Montreaux. I think by this point everyone was getting tired. Vacationing is hard work! As I look back at the pictures I realize how striking the setting was – overlooking the lake with the majestic snow-capped Alps rising up behind. But that day, I just snapped pictures and then moved on to the next task – finding reasonably priced dinner.
We settled on a find from the internet, which seems to be how restaurants are selected these days. An odd little place serving a variety of options from pizza, to kebabs and falafels. Neal and I have noticed the kebab restaurants in France, with the revolving stick of meat under a heat lamp all day, that the restauranteur slices upon request. We do not find this an appetizing concept, and apparently the Corsettis agreed – we stuck with pizza. But after a long day of traveling, some fresh pizzas, wine, and sodas seemed like the perfect meal.
Our last day of vacation was a train journey into the Alps for a visit to Gruyères. Are you thinking, “hey that sounds awfully familiar”? That’s because it is a common type of cheese that is consumed all over the world. Yep. We journeyed to a town known for its cheese.
Of course, cheese is made with milk. Milk comes from cows. When you make a lot of cheese, you need a lot of cows. And cows produce something other than milk. Are you following me? Although a picturesque medieval town at the foot of the Alps, it was hard not to notice the distinctive odor in town. I quickly moved past it, on my way to lunch at the fondue restaurant, Le Chalet.
It didn’t disappoint. A pot full of delicious melted cheese, served with yummy tiny potatoes, cornichons, and bread. We took the liberty of ordering some charcuterie, which the waitress (in French and pantomime) indicated that she would dip in the fondue pot. Which we did.
The next day it was off to the train station for me, and off to the airport for the family.
What an amazing adventure across France and Switzerland. Thank you Corsetti family for inviting me along. I hope you enjoyed the bread, conversation, wine, trains, exhaustion, rain, monuments, sunshine, museums, charming villages, and cheese as much as I did!