Paris

I have lost track of the weeks we’ve been back in Australia, at some point I stopped counting. It was probably the point at which our life here hit its rhythm, and we started to feel as though this was normal, as though we hadn’t lived anywhere else. Hearing a Swedish accent, seeing birch trees, even the nonsensical names at IKEA, all bring the last few years back with a jolt. I remember that routine, those people I saw everyday, the changes faces of the lake and when that life was the normal one.

It’s sinking in. Until it does completely, here’s the next part of our trip across Europe.

***

What can you say about Paris? Glamour, selfies at the Eiffel Tower, fashion, monuments, cafes chairs on the sunny pavements, rarefied sense of culture. All true, and you’d think enough to make it cringey, but Paris can really pull being Paris off. With aplomb.

Paris in clouds

Paris in clouds

We had both been to Paris before, though not together, so there was no rush from either of us to head to the main sites. I had spent 9 hours in the Louvre, which was enough for this decade, so instead we caught the subway to the Opera stop and let our feet lead us from there. At Gallery Lafayette I bought a beautiful jar of salt, mixed with rose petals and herbs, and soaked in the luxurious smells of chocolate, pastry, tea and other delicacies.

Salt in Gallery Lafayette

Salt in Gallery Lafayette

Then the Madeleine, the gold tip of the obelisk on Place de la Concorde, a glimpse of the Tower over the river and a traipse up Champs-Élysées. There were still tourists overloaded with shopping bags from Louis Vuitton, and Parisians buying everyday clothes from H&M, and the mad chaos of the Arc du Triomphe roundabout.

The high level of the streams and multitude of puddles we’d seen on the train through France came back to us as we crossed the Seine. The river had overflowed the lower embankments, straining the ropes tying boats to shore and climbing steadily up the shins of the bridges. The next day it would pass the knees, and after we left our host was evacuated from her workplace as the water continued to rise. For us it was a novelty of a sort, something to remark on and worry about on behalf of our friend, but for those who didn’t know if tomorrow would wash away their livelihoods, it was a very different reality. On the news were families whose houses were flooded, but here in Paris the shops were selling little Eiffel Towers and the outward face of the city was unchanged, if dampened.

The Seine rising

The Seine rising

Leaving the rising river behind us, we made our way to the tower, where we found that the queues were much too long. In particular, the queue for the lift. Well then, we thought, we’re in decent condition and have all four of our legs working, so what’s stopping us from joining the much shorter queue for the stairs? We found out about halfway up, as my vertigo peaked and our knees liquefied. We did make it though, and were rewarded with the spectacle of Paris spread out around us. Somehow we made it back to our host’s apartment after that, knees a’knockin’, and enjoyed a wonderful Parisian picnic and at least one glass of wine each.

On the second day I finally fulfilled my wish to visit Cafe des Deux Moulins, which will be instantly recognisable to those who have seen the 2001 film Amélie. It was pretty much like in the film, and the owners weren’t shy about capitalising on that, so among the locals were tourists taking subtle or not so subtle selfies with the film poster or the familiar bar. I restrained myself out of shyness, and instead took a parting shot as we left, trying to avoid the crowds.

Sacré-Cœur from the Eiffel Tower

Sacré-Cœur from the Eiffel Tower

While in Montmartre we climbed up to Sacré-Cœur, and were accosted by intimidating groups of men trying to scam tourists. We had to be pushy to avoid them, and even then were frightened. Hakuna matata: not so much. I worry about those who weren’t able to get away. It put a stain on the morning, which was added to by a meeting with an eccentric man in the Marais. He was no doubt trying to help, but his directions and help were so insistent that when we did finally escape, we backtracked down a side street so he didn’t see we’d gone the opposite way, and so run after us.

After the extreme tourism of Montmartre, with the endless knick-knack stores, fake luxury handbags, overpriced cafes and packs of tour groups, the relative quiet and polish of the Marais was a relief. We had a meal at a New York style diner (truffled mac and cheese, mmmm) and very pleasant looking French waiters. Then the rain started to set in, and with dashes from cover to cover, a peek at Notre Dame and ducking around puddles, we got to the stonily serene building that houses the Musée national du Moyen Âge, that used to be known as Musée de Cluny.

A medieval saint, being wistful

A medieval saint, being wistful

I’m not a big fan of medieval history, but the collection here was lovely, from the Roman bath house, ancient stain glass windows with saints and exquisitely carved ornaments.

Stained glass

Stained glass

The highlight was the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Despite their age, they are alight with colour and movement, each detail so beautifully done that you could get lost in each tapestry for hours. Each one represents a sense, from touch to sight, and one that is still a mystery. Who made them, why and what were they trying to tell us?

The Lady and the Unicorn: Taste

The Lady and the Unicorn: Taste

After a brief visit to Shakespeare and Co we went home, and then out again for dinner at a huge hall, which had formerly been a diner for workers wanting something quick and filling. It still served simple food well done, but now fed crowds of locals and tourists who lined up for hours for a seat. We only just made it in, and after the hearty food, company and warmth and vibrancy of the setting, we raised our glasses to our Parisian holiday. Until next time.

Paris rooftops

Paris rooftops

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A few days in a Swiss valley

The second country on our little European jaunt is a neighbour to Germany, and one that people sometimes have trouble distinguishing from Sweden: Switzerland. Rather than check out the big cities and big name places, we were headed for the little town of Boppelsen, with a population just over 1000.

The vineyard next door

The vineyard next door

We were staying there because we were lucky enough to have a family friend who had very enthusiastically welcomed us to his home, which sits on the upper edge of a valley next to a vineyard. From the verandah you have a view over the town, with the village to the left and fields to the right, with forests sweeping up behind the house. It was extremely picturesque, and I never got sick of staring out of the windows at the rolling hills beyond and the glimpses of the alps in the distance.

Boppelsen

The night of our arrival coincided with an annual village party, which we trooped along to, following the sound of the music all across town. Long tables had been set up and a little bar was serving cheap beers and cocktails, so we mingled and smiled, being introduced to locals and taking in the close-knit party goers and the strange feeling of a foreign language that we couldn’t understand. Exhausted from our hours on the trains that day, we called it a night and left our hosts to have fun into the wee hours.

For the next two days, we caught up with friends who had moved to Switzerland or were passing through, having lunch at their houses and walks around a lake as well as a roadtrip to another country. This other country is not the largest or most impressive, but it does have the distinction of being the last remnant of the Holy Roman Empire, which is something.

A bit of Lichtenstein

A bit of Lichtenstein

Upon our arrival in Vaduz, the capital of Lichtenstein, we were a little but underwhelmed but charmed. As it was a sunday there was very little open, and even fewer places with food, but before we got too far into our search we went for a walk up a hill. Along the way we saw the legendary Blue Sheep, gave our legs a workout and in the end were treated to a close view of the residence of the Prince of Lichtenstein. Originally a castle, then a tavern and then renovated for the Prince and his family, it’s very nice, and has a lovely view over the town and the rest of the valley.

The residence of the Prince of Lichtenstein

The residence of the Prince of Lichtenstein

From there we went back down the hill and explored with food in mind, eventually settling on a supermarket for snackfood. After a final glance around and mentally ticking it off our lists, we left for a Swiss brewery.
The brewery sadly had no tastings, but it did have an educational video every half an hour about the history of the place. It featured a sickly queen and two dwarves who set out to find her cure, inevitably finding their way to the brewery, and salvation in the form of one of the beers. There was even a joke about Germans. It was ridiculous and I loved it. Then as rain fell we navigated the steep mountain sides and forest paths to our village and had dinner at a mostly vegan restaurant, which was one of the best meals we had during our holiday. Spinach strudel. Strawberries, Pernod and pepper.

After all the time we’d spent on our own adventures and seeing friends, we spent our last full day in Switzerland with our hosts. The day started with a walk in the forest, our host pushing the off-road pram up 45 degree slopes at times, and demonstrating how it is he’s done so many triathlons. The trail swung back and forth up the hill, among trees of all different kinds and the murmurings of birds.

In the forest

In the forest

Once at the top we had a view across the top of the other side of the valley, away to the alps. Using a diagram, I think I was even able to spot Jungfrau among the other points, a mountain that I’d visited during my first visit to Europe in 2008. In the foreground we could see the grey shapes around a lake that was Zurich and here and there villages and towns among the fields and forests. If not for the thick trees, turning around we could have seen Germany.

Zurich and the alps

Zurich and the alps

On the way down, the 3 year old son of our host, who had been very shy around us, raced along a side path, popping in and out of view and testing how far he could go from his dad. Once he’d pushed far enough, he joined us again, a little bit of energy worn away, and we were lucky enough to get to hold his hand as we walked down tricky paths. Even though we couldn’t understand each other, and that he probably thought we were rather stupid, we were able to speak a language of avoiding roots and slippery patches, and playing chasey.

That night we shared a lovely dinner, and the next morning we had a final walk in the forest before we caught a train away from the vineyards, oaks and summer flowers and towards our next destination.