Day Tripping In Switzerland

Switzerland is such a cool place to visit. We’ve been twice before (here and here), and we always see something different. This last time was a little different because I decided to be brave and go adventuring without my husband, who was working in Amsterdam during the week. He generally plans all of our outings whenever we travel, so I was very nervous having to do it without him. However, with the help of my brother-in-law, and my sisters-in-law, we managed to squeeze in two different day trips while we were visiting in February.

Our first trip was to the Chateau de Chillon in Montreux, Switzerland. We got to go with Essie’s Uncle, and his puppy George, so naturally she was thrilled. She made lots of friends on the train ride over, making sure to say ‘hi’ to every single person she passed, (something that was repeated with every trip we made to the bathroom, and back again).

The weather that day was spectacular. I mean, we were there in the middle of winter, and that day we almost didn’t even need our coats. It was so nice that we decided to walk from the train station to the castle instead of taking the bus. It was only a 20-30 minute walk any how, so we didn’t mind in the least. Especially as the walk was this pretty little path that bordered Lake Geneva the whole way there.

I knew that Montreux is considered the French side of Switzerland, but I was still surprised by how much the city reminded me of France. It was still very Swiss…pristine turquoise water, beautiful homes, well-kept, clean streets (there is seriously not a single piece of litter anywhere), but the style and the colors of the homes that we saw were all very French. Even the language had changed! In Zurich, where we were staying, everyone speaks Swiss German. In Montreux, everyone speaks French. It was such an interesting experience because as you are riding on the train, at a certain point, the overhead automated voice literally changes languages from German to French.

Side note- the mountains in the picture above are actually where Evian water comes from! You can look up Evian-les-Bains on Google maps, and see how close we were to them. I thought that was very cool to see.

Not surprisingly, once there Esmé could have cared less about seeing the castle. All she wanted to do was climb on the bike rack and find really cool sticks to play with that were not to share with George, but Georgie ended up stealing anyway.

We didn’t get a chance to go inside as we were short on time, but we still got to see quite a bit of the castle from the outside. Then that was it for our first trip! We walked back to the train station, hopped on our train and headed back to Zurich. All in all it went pretty smoothly, for traveling without the husband. We only had two hangups:

First- I was nearly eaten up by the escalator at the train station. I was standing too close to the stroller going down, and kind of fell backwards on the step behind me. With my backpack on and the stroller right in front of me, almost on top of me, I couldn’t get back up again. Fortunately Emile’s brother was standing behind me, and helped me get out from under the stroller before the escalator ended.

Second- Esmé decided to a back dive onto the cement. In the picture that is second from the top of this post, you can see her sitting next to some pretty flowers. Well, she decided to pick said flowers which happened to grow, very securely, on a sturdy stem. She pulled so hard to pick it that the momentum carried her backwards off the platform, where her head met the sidewalk behind her. Fortunately, the hood of her jacket was very poofy, so it cushioned the blow, and the only thing hurt was her pride.

Our second trip was to Lugano, the Italian side of Switzerland, and it was every bit as beautiful as the French side.

The weather was, obviously, more winter-y than when we were in Montreux, but I actually think we enjoyed this trip a little bit more.

Because the train ride to Lugano wasn’t as long as the one to Montreux, we actually had time to let Esmé run around enjoy herself a bit more.

And run we did… we had races in between the trees, climbed all over statues and benches, and fed the swans half our cereal.

I will say that Italian swans seem to be much nicer than any other that I’ve met. At least from what we’ve experienced, swans are actually very aggressive, mean birds. But these guys were super chill to have a toddler in their midst. Even Esmé seemed to like them a lot more than the others. She actually said as we were leaving “Bye my swans! Bye!” It was quite cute.

What I loved most about Lugano was how close the mountains were to you. Even with all the morning mist covering the tops, I still had this feeling of being so small, surrounded by these great looming giants all crowding around the lake.

After we finished exploring, we sat and had ourselves some pizza by the lake for lunch (when in the Italian side of Switzerland!). Then we headed back home to Zurich, where our cranky, territorial, Swiss German swans awaited us.

Both of these places were so spectacular in their own right that I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Montreux is the perfect combination of French and Swiss…charming and practically perfect. Lugano is this gorgeous, pastel-colored city that is folded into the hills surrounding the lake. Honestly, I just feel lucky to have seen both while we were there.

Enchanté France

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Our first trip to France was a last minute decision to take a weekend and drive north. We decided to stay at a hotel in a tiny town called Bélesta, for Saturday night, and then we would spend Sunday exploring a medieval city nearby. It ended up being one of my favorite trips out of everything we saw in Europe.

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When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted so enthusiastically. They brought out an ice-cold fancy bottle of french water, escorted us to our room, provided us with complimentary wine and treats, then let us know someone would be by shortly to set up the baby cot (it’s what they call a crib in Europe). I was flabbergasted.

Since my husband and I eloped to Las Vegas, we never really went on an actual honeymoon, but I told him that this must be what it’s like for people who actually do. Well, minus the someone setting up your baby cot part.

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Once we got ourselves settled in, we decided to go for a walk in the little town, before the sun set. It was the most enchanting little scene. The majority of the village is made up of these ancient cobble stone buildings and walls. The streets are all paved with little square stone tiles.  It was so peaceful and quiet that the only sound to be heard, besides the squeak of our stroller, and our footsteps on the paths, was that of the wind whistling up from the vineyards and through the old cobblestone buildings. We only saw a handful of people on our walk, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves to explore.

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Once Esmé was all tucked in her little bed, we went and sat outside to enjoy our spoils in the fading evening light. Our room had a little patio that faced the town church, so we got to hear the church bells chiming the time, and see the neighborhood cat scale the building on his nightly prowl.

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Before we packed up and headed off on our drive to our medieval castle adventure, we had a spectacular breakfast overlooking the vineyards in the morning sunshine.

IMG_4827The drive up to the city of Carcassonne was the second best part of our weekend adventure. We wound our way in and out of vineyards that led to narrow mountain roads for what felt like forever. All of a sudden the view would open up, and there would be a little village tucked away in the hills. As we drove through I was amazed at all the golden yellows, pinks, and orange colored buildings with their sun-baked, red-tile roofs.

I so wished that we had more time to explore these tiny gems, and I did try, multiple times, to get my husband to stop the car so we could get out and take pictures. Alas, we were on a tight time schedule, and he did not give in to my pleas. Before I knew it we were lost in the woodsy mountain roads again.

As we got closer to the medieval city, we saw less mountains and sunny villages, more tree-lined roads bordering vineyards and fields of sunflowers. We were starting to wonder if we were ever going to get there when all of a sudden this sprawling castle-walled-city appeared before us as we crested a hill. I may or may not have let out a shriek of excitement in the car and woken up our sleeping child.

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My husband said that this place is like Disneyland, but better, because it’s the real deal, and he’s right! As you walk in through the entrance, you are immediately funneled into these tiny, cobble-stoned streets that are lined with shops so full of goodies, that their merchandise spills out onto the streets. I imagine that it’s probably what it’s like to go shopping in Diagon Alley.

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There is also a castle within the castle, if that makes any sense at all. It’s inside here that you can learn all about the history of this city and the fortress it once was.

IMG_3747You also get treated to some pretty phenomenal views of the grounds from the upstairs windows inside the castle, as you can see from the picture above.

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This was seriously one of the coolest experiences ever. It wasn’t castle ruins, or a tour of a gutted, nearly crumbling old building, it was a living, thriving, still in tact medieval village.

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We got to take a walk back in time through a castle with our daughter, and we found hidden treasures in the charming villages tucked away in the hills.

I’ve already told my husband that we have to go back. Even if it’s many, many years from now, I have to go back, and soak it in all over again.

When Traveling With A Toddler Works, And When It Doesn’t

Traveling with a toddler is always a bit of a schlep, but we tend to think that it’s worth it. We love getting to show Esmé new places, and having her try new things. It can also be a risk. It’s easy to look at all the nice photos on Instagram and think that it’s all picture perfect. The truth is that sometimes it works out, and everyone has an amazing time. Other times you question your sanity for trying to satisfy your sense of wanderlust with a child in tow.

Generally we land somewhere in the middle, but in the past couple weeks, we experienced two situations that were so polar opposite of each other, I thought I would share. That way you can get an idea of what’s really going on behind those photos. Let’s start with Monaco:

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Monaco was a destination that my husband had been particularly excited to see. He loves Formula 1 racing, and was intrigued about all the hype of it being the world’s wealthy playground. I had a few reservations because I knew that it was a smaller place that a lot of people come to visit, and I’m not crazy about crowded cramped areas. However, I also was curious about this glamorous place I had always seen in movies.

The first hurdle was traffic. We were staying only a half an hour away in Saint-Paul, so we thought we would just make a morning of it, but what should have only taken a half an hour, ended up tripling due to traffic. We weren’t off to a great start because it was late morning, almost afternoon by the time we arrived.

Our moods improved once we found parking, and walked out to take in the views near the harbor. We were in a beautiful, new city, and we were excited to go explore!

IMG_4548Our next hurdle was finding a place to sit and eat, and a bathroom. The unexpected traffic made for very full bladders, and very empty tummies. We had brought our lunch with us, we just needed to find a place that was somewhat child friendly.

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This was a very fancy place and I was wary of letting loose our little monkey too near the nice shops and cars that were parked in front of the Monte Carlo Casino.

I tried asking a couple of people where the nearest bathroom was. The first man actually rolled his eyes at me, then looked away when he responded with mumbled directions (that weren’t correct). Obviously I was a serious waste of his time.

We split up then, so that my husband could get us settled in a park that we found, while I continued my hunt for a bathroom. The second man I asked worked at a very fancy jewelry store, and didn’t speak English, so I said ‘WC?’ ( which is what bathrooms are referred to quite a bit over here). He said ‘Ah, oi!’ and happily moved me to a window where there were very beautiful watches of a brand called IWC. I shook my head no, and then guessed ‘toilettes?’ to which he then pointed me, nicely, in the right direction.

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The park was actually a lovely reprieve from the crowds and craziness that is in Casino Square. Esmé toddled all around chasing after birds, only stopping to come back for a bite or two of food. Once we were all fed and had used the facilities, I wanted to take her on the LaDuree carousel. It’s a gorgeous white one that is right behind the casino. She had also really enjoyed the last one she went on, so I was eager to take her on another.

Third hurdle…getting on the darned carousel. There didn’t appear to be anyone manning the carousel, so I tried to flag down the waitress who was working at the cafe right next to it. She was very good at ignoring me, so I actually had to chase her down, get right next to her and ask if we could ride the carousel. She told us ‘It is for customers only,’ and hurried away to her two tables, out of 20 or so, that had customers.

Well! What was there to do but buy a macaron from the little shop and try again. I even asked the lady inside if we could ride the carousel if I bought a macaron. She was very friendly, and assured me that yes, of course I could. After I bought the macaron, I went, with bag visibly in hand, to stand near the carousel and try to catch the waitress, who still had only 2 tables, attention once more. Again, she was very good at avoiding me, and so after chasing her down, again, I said ‘We bought a macaron, can we ride the carousel now please?’ She responded saying ‘You have to eat here at the tables to get on.’ I plunked our cookie and our things down at the nearest table and then said ‘Now? Can we please ride the carousel now???’ and she finally had the guy let us on.

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At this point in time we were all feeling very disappointed with our trip. Casino Square was very crowded; there weren’t any beaches to check out really; and there were very few child friendly things that we found to do, one of which I had to fight to get my child on. Really, you’d think I was asking her to part with a limb or something. I realize that we are probably not the target clientele for Monte-Carlo, but that’s no excuse for poor manners.

Now let’s look at when we got to stay in a castle in the north of Spain:

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We checked into Castillo de Arteaga on the last night of a road trip back home after spending a week with family. We were on the fence about going out again after checking in to see the northern coast of Spain, because we were all a little tired. Once we arrived, and saw all the steps that led up to the check in area, we heaved a huge sigh before each of us grabbed a side of the stroller to carry her up (something we have to do at least once a day wherever we travel) until a woman came running out and said ‘No! No! No!’

She guided us to the elevator and took up the rest of our bags herself. The concierge showed us up to our rooms and told us that ‘The room you will be seeing is actually a suite. You have been upgraded because we have to think of the baby, and what will be better for you, and also other guests,’ before showing us into our room.

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You guys. This place was a castle. Well obviously it’s a castle, but the room they gave us was quite literally a castle. It was enormous! It was also the fanciest place I think I have ever stayed in my life.

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If you scroll back up a couple pictures to the one where I’m standing in front of the castle our windows were the ones right at the top, underneath the arches, so we also had this magnificent view. Of course once they showed us our room, we knew there would be no trip out to explore the coast. As Esmé would tell you there was far too much exploring of castle grounds to be done…

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Her personal favorite was the bathtub, which was big enough to walk in. She had the best time moving candles from side to side, and fitting the plug into the drain, and then pulling it back out again. They provided us with an actual plastic baby tub to use, but we filled up the big one instead and had ourselves a pool party :).

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A little later in the evening, when we heard our neighbors arrive in their room, we figured out why they let us have the suite. Our neighbors had three children of their own, that we could hear, so I’m pretty sure their strategy was to keep the noise isolated to one area that was farther away from other guests.

I don’t blame them. If I had a hotel that had a restaurant with a Michelin star, I think I would also try to keep the noise level to a minimum to keep my wealthy patrons happy. Even if they hadn’t upgraded us, the staff went out of their way to be helpful and friendly, and that really made the trip for us.

Monaco was a bust for us. I think in order to enjoy your time there you need to be child free and willing to spend some money. Then you can take everything in at your leisure, and go shopping or gambling in between.  Castillo de Arteaga, on the other hand, was beyond anything we could have ever expected; but we never would have gotten such a fancy room if not for Esmé.

Now you see. Sometimes traveling with a toddler doesn’t work out at all like you had hoped. Even though you have a few nice pictures, the trip ends up being a disappointment. Other times it works to your advantage, and the trip ends up being even better than you could have ever dreamed.