Thursday, 28 August 2014

France, Switzerland, Paris again, Netherlands and Germany in 3 Weeks!   2013.

Only 2 years after my dream visit to Switzerland 
I was on my way to Europe once more! 


On the 5th of May 2012 Hannes and I got married! We have known each other since grade 8 in 1978. We were in the same class in 1982 and studied in the same old Potchefstroom in 1983. Both of us spend most of our passing adulthood in so called "forced marriage" because of pregnancies. Hannes and his wife also got divorced after many years. We met up again in 2012 after my visit to Switzerland although we lived miles apart. Celeste, my youngest daughter was on her way to the Netherlands.  Hannes had his youngest son living with him and we didn't want to live in sin. We decided to get married before Celeste left to go and au pair. I was teaching in a private school in Centurion and still had a lecturing job on Saturdays. Our time together were limited. I wanted to resign the Saturday lecturing but was offered extra payment I could not refuse. Hannes and I agreed that we could use the extra money to go and visit Celeste in the Netherlands and introduce him to my family in Switzerland in 2013. Visiting Switzerland was also a childhood dream for Hannes!







 We booked a flight to Amsterdam but had to stay in Paris for the first weekend! So from Amsterdam we took a connecting flight to Paris, and a train to Paul Marais!








Getting into the train, Hannes dared to speak English for we knew that they would not understand Afrikaans! "Is this train going to Paul Marias?"A middle aged French "gentleman" harshly made sure that we would never try and speak English in France again... well not in a train anyway. Luckily a much more "gentle" old man heading for the same destination winked and directed our eyes to the top of the door. Each destination had a little flashing light as the train approached the next one.

At Paul Marias station we were still standing next to our luggage hanging onto the upright rail in the middle of the doorway. Getting out with all the luggage we kind of blocked the path and had to move very fast. We both knew that we had no clue if we should turn left or right for people were going both ways. The real gentleman came to the rescue again and nobbed our way. We instinctively followed him and automatically associated the word "Sortie" with the expression "sort yourself out"... We were packed! Each with maximum weight. He had to carry both big cases, 25kg each and I handled the little ones. I quietly thanked God form giving me such an awesome husband, and being so strong, definitely a big bonus!

Reaching the top of the so many stairs, we found ourselves in the middle of a walkway, in the middle of the city of Paris, in the dark! After spotting a big map at the end of the stairs we had a quick nervous misunderstanding, not giving a damn how loud we were talking.  Hannes wanted to know where north is on the map according to our map. While still tossing and turning the map all over the place we were interrupted. What a relief! A young Afrikaans lady, living in France, heard us and asked if she could help! We had to go right and then turn left into the third narrow road. Not far from where we were.
And so we took off. My feet were on fire. I was wearing high heel boots, pulled the two cases across the gobble stoned road, and I had my handbag around my shoulder that kept on flipping to the front. Hannes and I followed the directions not quite sure which street she used as the first one. We were sure that we could read the name of the street on the street poles. So, we just kept on going, not keeping track of the how many streets we crossed, trying to find the correct name.

I became suspicious when my feet really started to feel the pain. I begged Hannes to ask for help in a restaurant. He had to leave me with all the bags right in front of the entrance of a small coffee shop because the rest of the pavement were stacked with people sitting at tables. There I stood all alone with 70kg of luggage surrounding me, and people became upset because they could not use the entrance any more. Some outside customers smiled at my situation and as a tear actually ran down my cheek one ladies body language showed empathy.

The names of the streets are inbedded into the walls of the buildings near the street corner, and not fixed onto the poles, they are names of places of interest. We were exhausted arriving at Hotêl Paul Marias at 20:30. The room that we booked on the internet months before looked much more country decorated as the modern one on the forth floor. Two trips up and down the small elevator, and we were ready to hit every button on the Jacuzzi like bathtub, for the room was marketed as the honeymoon suite. Colourful light changed the "atmosphere in the bathroom, but before we could figure out exactly how the touch buttons worked, the whole bathroom was dripping with water for I was already in the tub before the water reached the level above the holes!  In spite of the cold outside we went for our first walk and had a very late dinner in a fancy restaurant, far away from the little coffee shop. Hannes was very hungry!  





Very early the next day, we had to find our way to Notre-Dame and loved the walk in the cold. All French people were dressed in black coats and boots and if being a tourist wasn't enough, I wore white!  We could only TRY to blend in although we did enjoy the fact that no one around us could understand what we were saying. We crossed this bridge the get to the "island" and Notre-Dame and walked down the narrow streets. I insisted on entering all small toy shops, loving the exquisite wood puppets the most. At another I bought a pair of earrings and Hannes bought a few beautiful postcards.



Between the narrow streets we unexpectedly found the doors of Sait-Louis EN-L'ILE cathedral. Inside the cathedral a even bigger surprise awaited us. A small old artist lady had exhibited her artwork!  


Hannes took a great pic from the gallery that she directed us too.  She elegantly through her grey wool scarf over her left shoulder as he took the pic! I just had to have a pic with this artist in Paris. How cool is that!  



 What a pleasant lady!!!!   I bought a little book about her and the exhibition,  in French! 




We moved on to Notre-Dame. What a BEAUTIFUL structure! I could feel the past. We had no idea what to expect, and walked past the long queue of people waiting to view Paris from the top of Notre-Dame. Hannes realised that we were going to need cash and left me standing on the busy corner..... only for a few seconds... I didn't want to wait, for the possibility of him getting lost made me ran after him before I could loose sight of him. We didn't have cellphone connection.
 On our way back to the back-entrance of Notre-Dame we purchased a shoulder bag for me and a handsome black-grey stripped Barrett for Hannes. I was dumbfounded when I sow the exact black ladies hat as the one I bought for Celeste in RSA at a local store in South-Africa as a present. I thought crossed my mind to tell her that I bought it in Paris, but that was just a thought...          



People were queueing in front of the door on the left and hundreds of people were sitting on a opposite pavilion. We didn't know if we were suppose to sit somewhere and wait to be called to the front, or just get in line. Hannes led the way and we stepped into the queue, no...into the middle of the queue. I felt uncomfortable but Hannes said that if no one was going to complain, we are staying put. We giggled our way to the doors. Once inside, after about 5 minutes, we did pay the minimal entrance fee and extra for the tourist audio device at a big dark wood counter. We were surrounded by tourists and listening to the different languages as they spoke to each other made us feel more welcome.


The three entrances from the back. The inside is much bigger then it appears from outside. The walls and pillars stretched very high and it was quit dark in the open passage surrounding the hall filled with chairs. Mass was taking place and we quietly moved through the cathedral listening to the audio tourist device and taking pics of the many sculptures, paintings and beautiful windows. I stood quit for a while trying to absorb the atmosphere... French people were taking part in the mass. The "Crown of light" or also known as "Great Chandelier" unexpectedly lied down on the checked tiled floor in front of us. My mind wondered of to "The hunchback of Notre-Dame ... was that a true story?.. I wondered quietly. I  became emotional about the fact the the chandelier laid on the hard, cold floor, instead of hanging graciously giving light!



Between the hall surrounding passages and the hall, this gold decorated masterpiece took my breath away. It is the most beautiful and complete storytelling "sculpture strip". I stood there praying on my own for the privilege to be able to see it as a whole and being part of the proud testify of Jesus's life on earth inside Notre-Dames walls. Exodus 20:4 came to mind.... and the fact that I wasn't allowed to even page a book that had an image of Jesus when I was still in the children's home.... it would be breaking the fourth commandment!



We had to take pictures of one another quit often, and luckily I knew I could edit two pictures to have us both in one pic, later. We walked back to the river and took an hour's cruise. The lady on the boat spoke French and then repeated everything in English. We spotted our next destination and could take a pic of Notre-Dame Cathedral from the river. After getting off at Point Zero we had coffee outside a small coffee shop and my excitement grow stronger. We were heading for The Louvre!  













Arriving at the Louvre, following our map, we entered through the high arches. We found ourselves in a courtyard with a fountain, with no other entrance into the building as we expected. So we followed the biggest group of people that still had some stars of expectancy visible in their expressions. We followed them onto a big plain, and found the security checkpoint at the glass triangular rooftop. Leaving our water bottles behind as instructed, we arrived at the ticket offices after discovering the many choices of different categorized artwork The Louvre offers. We bought tickets that offered entrance to most of the sides. I expected to see only paintings of the most famous artists, and had no idea what was waiting inside.  



I was in awe! The sculptures amazed me! Every masterpiece has its own special space in the soft light. The walls that lead the way are tiled with cream-whitewashed tiles and the white-grey sculptures looks beautiful and alive against it. The detail in each figure is life-like and adds to the emotion on their eye-less faces.  


Some of the sculptures are pitch-black and tries to evoke fear as they showcase the dark side of humans and their encounters with evil and death over ages. We walked quite a distance before reaching halls with paintings. We stole a kiss in a small side hall as we both loved the smaller portraits of royal lovers.    











A lot of paintings have some kind of nudity or mystery. Some are even obscure! Most of the halls are painted in a rich colour. Even though the paintings all have their thick old fashioned frames, the colour of the wall behind it makes a big difference. Some walls are painted in a deep velvet-red, some in an avocado green and  others in royal blue. I loved the simplicity and innocence of the child portraits the most.  Hannes was set to see the Mona Lisa.



After following clear direction boards we finally arrived at the Mona Lisa hall. The Mona Lisa has her own wall in the middle of the hall. Art lovers are not allowed to come closer then a diameter. Security personal guards the world famous painting even though it is the only painting that is behind another glass wall! I am sure that I am not the only person that still wonders if this is the real original!  After watching the latest movie "The monuments men" I have even more appreciation for original art and the artists from years ago. I wonder now if the Mona Lisa was also hidden in those Salt mines?

We went back to Hotêl Paul Marais and Hannes stressed a lot if we were going to be in time for our train trip to Switzerland. We booked our seats to Switzerland via the internet months ago and had to rely on the cab driver to get us their in time. We booked the cab via the Hotêl and was instructed to be ready at 04:15! Packed and ready to go, he asked where too? We showed him our train tickets and he shook his head. "No train to Switzerland from there" .... Hannes and me looked puzzled, I nearly started crying! It could not be! I explained that we were going to be late and the cab driver heard my voice was shaking. He agreed to take us to the station that we requested just too please me. Arriving at the station, he and Hannes got out and went too information. They came back and started unloading our luggage! We had ten minutes before departure!  The cab driver wove a " ...sorry, I did not know that trains were departing to Switzerland from here " ... we were more then happy after finding our seats and settling down for the six hour train trip to Basel Switzerland.  


Arriving in Basel, my uncle Walter and Walter Jnr. welcomed us. I was over joyed! I introduced Hannes and could not wait to share Switzerland with him although it was winter then.


When we arrived at Walters home my aunt Diane was waiting, expecting me this time round! We hugged and I swallowed some tears. Next morning Walter JR. drove us to Montreux to discover a part of Switzerland that even I have never been too.  In front of the Montreux Palace, an oval patch of grass hosts black statues of music legends around the world, mostly jazz artists. But another very special statue was quietly waiting to be appreciated.      






As we approached the statue, I recognized the hip length pointy jacket, the stretched out right leg and tilted hips! "Here in Switzerland! A statue of "The Queen!"" As we took turns to be snapped aside Freddie Mercury, Walter told us that Montreux hosts the second biggest jazz Festival in the world each year. We continued our long walk along the Lake Geneva, and found never-seen-before pine-branch-sculptures! Over time the twigs start to de-colour. The sculpture masters create anything from giant tree spiders to chess pieces using green-to-faded-yellow twig-covered branches. Surrounding flowerbeds and landscaped gardens added colour to make the animals look more alive. We still had a very long way to walk along the Lake. Walter asked if we were up to it to walk all the way to the ancient castle. "Natuurlik!"          





After a very long walk we finally arrived at the castle! Clos De Chillion. The castle was first mentioned in a script in 1150 as the House of Savoy - controlling the Lake Geneva's route. For more on the castle visit www.chillon@ch/en/castle/its-history . Prisoners were kept in cave-like small under ground cells inside the natural floor of the prison inside the castle. Walter waited outside while we tried to capture the mood of every room. I never thought I would ever walk inside the walls of an ancient castle - I enjoyed every moment. A thought crossed my mind, that if the money seekers really want the rich to dig deep into their pockets, they should have changing rooms and time-relative clothing to change into at the entrance. Even if it is just a overlap ballroom skirt with easy cling-tape and a white cotton hat with lace ties to feel time-bounded. And maybe long pointed jackets and hats for the men.    








On our way back to Bellach,  ..... we stopped at the well known restaurant with the arty cows display. I had to stand on a wooden box as we stood tall as Swiss farmer and wife! I added the umbrella for a more 3D effect - and only realised after the picture was taken that both my "arms" were in front. I loved the 3D paintings on the cows representing Swiss summer and winter. What a contrast and still both so beautiful.  I was already looking forward to the next day, but I never could have imagined the beauty of the snowcapped mountains and the depth of the white blanket that we were going to be able to walk on in Engelbergt.




As Hannes was taking this picture of the snow capped maintain in Engelbergt, I already had this picture in mind: Comparing summer and winter-Switzerland. It was freezing cold! When we arrived by train we had no idea where to go, as usual! Hannes spotted the cosy coffee shop / restaurant. What a pleasant warm welcoming atmosphere after only about two minutes walk in the snow covered town. Each had a steaming cup of coffee and a bagel with cheese and jam. I just wanted to get outside again, the cold clearly forgotten, to experience what ever was still to be found!
It seemed like we were the only two people alive in the whole town, accept the people in the restaurant we left behind. No sounds, no movement! Suddenly, from nowhere, two people appeared on the side walk and disappeared around the next corner. We followed, giggling.
A frozen playground stopped me in my tracks. This is so cool! We took a few pictures and Hannes wanted to continue, seeking the well known ski grounds. We kept on walking towards the maintains and found one old man standing there with a bag in his hand, looking just as lost. We took a picture of him, and asked if he could take one of us.... ? He was smiling and taking pictures of us?!? Satisfied with our day in Engelbergt, we headed back to the station. In the train we flipped through the pics and sadly could not find any pictures of us standing together on the thick snow blanket! The old man didn't take the pictures correctly! Lesson learned!   Next day we were going to take a walk in the forest behind Walters home!  I was really going to make it a special occasion!






The next day, just before the family members were off to work or school, we snatched on some warm clothing for our forest walk! Walter suggested that I take his son's red coat! We entered the forest after walking through "my" gate and Flori Holtz's premises.
The snow drifted down like feathers. I could hear them fall onto my "Red hood" and Hannes was following me patiently like a big bad wolf. Only then, little red riding hood knew the way for sure and the big bad wolf was very worried that they would have to walk for hours and hours in the cold slippery forest, getting lost, without anything to eat!
We didn't get lost, although I surely took the long way home.... enjoying the moments that my big bad wolf had to rely on me for directions for a change..... and he wasn't aware of it at all.
The next day we stayed at home while the boys and Walter continued their daily routines. We visited my aunt and uncle later that day and I knew that, enjoying their loving company, is a privilege.  


The next day we stood in the snow waiting for the bus to take us to Solothurn. I was very exited to finely be able to enter the cathedral me and my uncle were turned away from during my first visit to Switzerland. The inside of the cathedral was set alight and it took a few years to renovate. Most of the sculptures were restored to their original beauty. It was worth the wait! We could sit down for a few moments in the wooden benches and listened to the organ being played. I tried to take a cellphone video but after listening back, only the visuals were saved. The moments were only to be appreciated as those special moments, not to be repeated technically. The statues down below are next to the preaching area, taller than life. It took my breath away and calmness and a feeling of secure love filled my soul. After leaving the cathedral we walked down to the river that passes Solothurn and on our way back Hannes loved the shop with the steal-made ornaments. Our short six day visit in Switzerland was over to quick, and Walter Jr. had to take us back to Basil train station the next day. Leaving my loving family behind, I was also very exited to see my youngest daughter after almost a year, in Paris.











We booked a nights stay in Hotel Vivienne. The wooden floor cracked softly as we stepped out of the narrow dark passage into white and shades-of-pink room. I was instantly ready to be romanced by my tall living statue. We rested for an hour or two and then took of to explore the galleries of Vivienne. Visiting a few gardens in winter had its own nostalgic moments. A mimic artist, a lady feeding some birds and the most interesting art displays in the windows of the shops that surrounded the one garden, brought some drama to the park. I felt exited and inspired to take some ideas back home. In the galleries of Vivienne I insisted entering the shops with all its tiny life-like replicas of furniture, utensils, lights, shades and even light switches as small as quarter of my nail bed. The Tin Tin shop has special historic value and is a must see if you visit Paris.  











That night I could not sleep! I was waiting to see my daughter again. She came by train and had to walk up to our Hotel in the very early morning before dawn. I walked down the road, and as I came out of the Hotel, she came around the corner. We met in the middle of the road, no one else in sight and I could not hold my tears back when I hugged her. "Ek het jou so gemis!" "En ek vir Mamma". We went up to our room were Hannes was still enjoying his last moments of rest before we had to get ready for the long day ahead. And what an exiting day it turned out to be!! Celeste had a route planned out for us, taking us to most of the must-see Paris tourist attractions. But as most do-it-yourself tourists know, we packed in even more sights in the first day as was planned, afraid that it may be our last day because of some blisters, stomach upset or something else unforeseen.  


Walking past the beautifully decorated windows I knew why daughters and mothers can spend so much quality time, shopping, especially with Celeste. We love the some things: a double netted party dress with colourful leave decorating the hem were fit for little Taylor back home, a smart dressed Easter bunny orchestrating an symphony was a unaffordable-must-have, and then we both raved over the statue of the old fashioned girl and boy reading a large book in the window of the book store.


We continued our sightseeing to the Arch de Triomphe. Pure emotion could be seen on faces paying respects to war victims. The monument stand 50 meters tall. Twelve streets lead to the plain surrounding the Arch. The Arch stretches so wide that a small plain ones flow through it. Read more about this  on  wikipedia-archedtriompe .  The etenal flame next to the tomb of the unknown soldier of world war 1 is still burning since Armistice Day 1920 - 11 November. The tomb of the unknown soldier is to commemorate all unknown solieds that died in both world wars. The words ICI REPOSE UN SOLDAR FRANQAIS MORT POUR LA PATRIE 1914-1918. (Here lies a French soldier who died for the fatherland 1914-1918), are engraved into the slab that covers a truly unknown soldiers grave. An old man in a wheelchair caught my attention. He could not get to the Arch and sat crying watching it from a distance. Getting to the Arch you have to walk underneath the road surrounding it and enter it from below.   


Walking up to the Place De La Concord we passed this GIVENCHY shop with live models! They stood there looking good in the "rain". What a sight for sore eyes they were!


The Place De La Concord is the biggest square in Paris. The place was named the first time in 1795: "Place De La Concord" as gesture of reconciliation after the revolution. After 1795 the name has changed twice, once in 1814, again in 1826 and in 1830 it was changed back to its original name. The place De La Concorde hosts two fountains known as the fountains of Paris. The fountain on the southern end  is designed in proximity to the Ministry of the Navy and the figures are busy harvesting flowers and fruit. The fountain on the northern end is designed in proximity to the seas - and the figures are harvesting fish, shells and pearls. Both designs has a stone basin as base.
We continued by foot and I realized my boots were abrasive. My daughter came to my rescue and we switched footwear. What a relief. We decided to squeeze in the visit to the Eiffel and took snappy pics at the gold trimmed guarding statues along the Seine, guarding over arms of France.    








The Pont Alexandré III is a deck arch bridge. We were closing on our main Paris purpose. The art Nouveau lamps and lions - designed by Jules Dalou -  caught our attention. We stood next to one of the four, 17 meters high masonry socles that each hosts a different statue of fame. On the right bank of the Seine river the statues of fame represent Science and art respectably. On the left bank , industry and commerce are given a watching eye. The bridge itself was designed according to very strict instruction not to spoil the view on the Champs-Elyseés quarter or the Invalides that is connected by this 160 meter long and 40 meter wide bridge. In the middle of the bridge overlooking the Seine the 2 copper hammered Nymphs hold the arm of France and another 2 Nymphs hold the arms of Imperial Russia.





We knew our time was running out to visit the - now -  so close Eiffel. I could not wait to fall in line ... even if it looked like a never ending queue. According to www.toureiffel.paris/en/everything-about-the-tower  - the 250 millionth visitor, visited the Eiffel in 2010 and about 25 000 visitors visit the tower each day for the last few years!? We stood in line for more than two and a half hours appreciating the 3 floor man made structure which is named after Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, the owner and engineer of the company who designed and build the tower from 28 January 1887 up to 31 March 1889. It was cold and we tried to hide from the icy wind between the patient visitors. Lucky for us, Eiffel and his engineers were experienced bridge builders and their primary concern in the designing was to make it wind resistant.
 In the newspaper Le Temps (Paris) of 14 February 1887 Eiffel stated the following during the interview:
 "Now to what phenomenon did I give primary concern in designing the Tower? 
It was wind resistance. 
Well then! 
I hold that the curvature of the monument's four outer edges, which is as mathematical calculation dictated it should be...will give a great impression of strength as beauty, for it will reveal to the eyes of the observer the boldness of the design as a whole."   








The tower was build to be the entrance to the world exposition during which the first of the tree floors contained a French, a Russian and a Flemish restaurant as well as an Anglo-American Bar. The structure reaches 324 meters and the material used in the Eiffel weighs approximately 10, 000 t,  with 7,300 tonnes being puddled iron(wrought iron). Every seventh year the Eiffel must be repainted using between 50 - 60 tonnes of paint! The designs effectiveness against strong wind can be measured against the fact the the Tower only sways between 6-7 cm in very windy conditions!

We experienced one of those freezing cold windy days and found some hot beverages on the second floor. Surprisingly, the visiting areas weren't that crowded  as expected. We could easily walk around and take pictures, peep through the telescope and just take our time to enjoy the privilege. We didn't even realize that the sun was setting. The moment the lights were switched on, we realized that we chose the very best time of the day to line-up. We walked up in daylight and experienced the Tower by nightfall! What a blessing!  











After a very satisfying day we headed towards our next accommodation. I can't remember if we took the Paris Metro Bir-Hakeim or the RER station Champ de Mars-Tour to get to Hostel Bastelle. We were in awe with the day's experiences, eager to plan our next day out in Paris!




First, we visited the Mont Martre Cemetery, that was opened on the 1 January 1825. The cemetery is build below street level in a hollow of an abandoned gypsum quarry(that was used during the French Revolution as a mass grave). The Mont Martre is the third largest necropolis in Paris after Pere Lachaise cemetery and Mont Pasnasse cemetery. We entered the cemetery through it's sole entrance  - in Avenue Rachel under Rue Caulaincourt.
The Mont Marte is the final resting place of many artists and well known people. The list of names can be viewed on www.wikipedia.org /wiki/Montmartre_Cemetery. The alphabetical list has names listed under every letter of the alphabet except under e and q. The last famous person lied to rest in the Mont Marte died in 2007: Jean Rédélé, the automotive pioneer, pilot and founder of the French automotive brand Alpine.
We didn't know about all these people prior to our visit and just strolled peacefully between the graves. Celeste came across one of the many family "grave-shelter-rooms" and freaked out after opening a half-closed "door", just to find a weird little "clown-doll" standing on the shelve. I found the lock on one of the graves very peculiar.  We left to visit our next destination. Walking through the streets of Paris we came across some beautiful graffiti.