A Travellerspoint blog

Switzerland, Northern Italy, France and Spain

bumping our way back home -- bear with us it's a long one!

sunny 38 °C

The drive to Switzerland from Prague was very long, but also quite interesting. From the Czech Republic, back into Germany (hello to GPS and thank you very much!) for a majority of the drive, then into a tip of Austria (are those the Alps???) and then into Switzerland (Yes, those ARE the Alps!!!) and finally to our couchsurf host in Sargans. Hot, tired and thirsty and welcomed in with a wonderful pasta meal, cold water and wine. AHHH...

Our couchsurf host told us that we´d have one hot and sunny day before the weather was going to change and suggested we take a hike in the ¨Heidi village¨, officially known as Maienfeld to visit the home and area of Heidi, a very famous children´s story character.

Maienfeld – Heidi's World...Maienfeld in the distinctive Bündner Herrschaft region of Graubünden inspired the poetess Johanna Spyri to write her novel Heidi. In the Heidi village, the story of this cheerful, nature-loving little orphan girl comes to life...

At the tourist information center, it was äll things Heidi¨and very, very, very expensive. Well, everything in Switzerland is expensive. The money in Switzerland (swiss francs) is perhaps the most beautiful money we´ve ever seen

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It´s actually more of a tyvek than paper consistency and is possibly has the most anti-counterfeit measures of all currency. Those Swiss are so well organized and ready for everything.

The hike up to the Heidi village was lovely. It was hot, but every few hundred meters there was a tap with cold spring water and a beautiful concrete basin-pool. The girls practically went swimming in them..

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We marvelled at the abundance of clean, fresh water along the way. What a beautiful hike! What a beautiful place! It made us all want to yodel....or dunk our heads!

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On the way back to Sargans, we popped into Leichenstein, as the girls wanted to say they visited yet another European country. After a delightful day, we returned to Sargans and prepared a typical Spanish omelette for the family. What an amazing kitchen. The German-Swiss German engineering is remarkable in its functionality, design and aesthetic appeal. Dream on Shari, dream on!

The following day we drove to Zurich. With all those mountains come a lot of mountain tunnels and waterways. Zurich is located on the western edge of Lake Zurich. Lake Zurich is an expansive lake that spans a distance of about 25 miles. It is simply inviting. We parked the car in the Hyatt hotel (the ¨cheapest¨parking lot in the center at 23 swiss francs (about 23 dollars) for 5 hours. What a bargain!. We spent the day sightseeing.

We were in Zurich on Saturday, lucky for us, as Saturday is flea market day. We walked ourselves right into the middle of this enormous flea market and were ecstatic to be able to browse for relatively inexpensive items. Marleigh walked away with a pikachu and Andy a t-shirt. We didn´t buy much else, with the exception of a simple lunch at a local Starbucks for well over 30 swiss francs. We found Zurich to be a clean, tranquil and very picturesque city.

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After our outing, we had planned to go grocery shopping, but by 6:00 pm, all the shops...ALL THE SHOPS...were closed. Fortunately for us, our couchsurf host had pizza dough at the ready and we had an amazing DIY pizza party.

On Sunday our host took us on a walk of the old part of Sargans and up to the castle. She told us about a well-being (health) tradition of immersing our arms (first) following by our legs into cold, spring water, so of course we had to try it.

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she also told us about the extensive underground tunnels built into the mountains that were excavated during WW II. The Swiss were not invaded by Germany (Hitler had said that he would first conquer the big stuff, then come back for the small and the war ended before he ever got to Switzerland), but were prepared to hide in the hills.

For lunch we had raclett, a melted cheese, slow food experience...fenomenal! We finally managed to connect with a friend from Oregon who now lives in a village not far from Sargans (how serendipitous!). We met up in the town of Rapperswil and had a great time chatting about Swiss culture and cultural differences. Thanks Hania for taking time from you busy life to spend time with us!

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After four nights and three days in Switzerland, we moved on to our next destination, northern Italy!! We left Sargans and spend the next few hours driving through the Italian speaking canton of Switzerland. Once again, we learned something new..that in Switzerland not only is there the French speaking part and the German speaking part, but there is one canton in the south that borders Italy where the people speak Italian. The flavor and essence of this area feels very different and transitional toward Italy. It was an absolutely spectacular drive through tunnels and windy mountain roads. We stopped in the Swiss-Italian town of San Bernadino and tried to spend the remaining Swiss Francs, but most everything was closed up. So onward to Bellizona for lunch and a stroll. It´s a very pretty town and the prices of everything are more on par with the rest of western Europe. We said arrivederci to Switzerland and ciao to Italy.

NORTHERN ITALY

Our stop for the first two nights was a bed and breakfast in the wine producing region in the north. We had wanted to stay in the coastal city of Genoa, but it was too expensive. So, we found this lovely and tranquil place, located in the village of Incisa Scapaccino, near the village of Nizza. It was hot and muggy, but we were very happy to find a restaurant in Nizza that served fresh and yummy home made pasta!

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On our second day, we took an excursion to the Mediterranean coast, to a small coastal town (Varazze). Most of the beaches are private and it costs a small fortune to sit un an umbrella...as we were only there for a few hours, we opted to find a tiny section of public beach. The girls found beautiful pebbles on the beach and got themselves wet. We drove along the coastal road, ate gelatto and did our best to stay out of the heat.

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We only stayed in Incisa Scapaccino for two nights. From there, we headed west to a couchsurfing host in the village of Demonte. As we had the entire day and not much distance to cover, we spent a good part of the day in the town of Cuneo...doing laundry...Howeer, at a cost of 1 euro for 5 minutes of drying time meant that after 15-20 minutes (and the clothes were still very damp!), we opted to wait and hang dry our clothes.

Every single Couchsurf has been so different and each one is full of lovely surprises. Our Couchsurf family in Demonte was so charming. A young couple with a 9 month old bambino (or is that bambina?), named Lorenza. Dario made us feel at home in his house and insisted on feeding us the entire time we were there. He told us about amazing hikes we needed to take and things to do in his community. The thing is...if you try to find information on little towns like Demonte, or even Cuneo, these are not typical turistic towns and so it's difficult to find out information. This is what we love about couchsurfing. We often end up in very small villages, where the people welcome us into their homes and tell us about great places to see and things to do.

For example, Dario told us that just past the next little village of Vinadio was the highest ermita (small church) called St. Anna. Another thing we learned is that the people in this region, and also in parts of France and Spain speak dialect called Occitania, which is a cross between Italian, Spanish and French. Who knew?

We drove up and up and up and for 15 kilometers up an incredibly windy and narrow road to this church. We walked around and admired it all. Absolutely fantastic!

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We returned back for a pizza dinner, but this was a one pizza pan per person pizza. Mamma mia!!

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Italy is similar to Spain where extended family members join together. A six-year old cousin, Alicia, came over to the house and quickly warmed up to the girls. Altough she spoke only Italian and the girls English/Spanish, they played all sorts of games and had such a great time together. We stayed with this family for only 2-nights, but had such a nice time.

Before leaving, we stopped by the shop where Stefania worked, then went on an amazing tour of the St. Anna spring water bottling plant. Dario is an engineer there and showed us around is state-of-the-art, very small, yet extraordinarily productive plant. As impressed as we were by the mechanization of the systems, we could not help but think about all that plastic being utilized for all those bottles of water.

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FROM ITALY BACK INTO FRANCE

We left northwestern Italy and in short time were back into France. Our next destination, a couchsurf host who lived in the village of Trets. She had told us that there was a medievil festival going on and that we could find her dressed in period costume in the town. After a long and hot drive, we arrived in Trets, parked the car and quickly found ourselves in the medievil period. We found our host, along with her hens and her rabbits.

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We hadn't eaten, so she gave the freshly laid eggs (from her chickens) to her friend who had a restaurant and in no time at all we had an amazing meal waiting for us.

It was very, very hot in Trets and the house we were staying used to be a shop for bonsai plants. The owner was in the process, for 8 years, of doing restauration work and it indeed was a work in progress. We shared the space with her dog, cat, newly hatched chicks and unfortunately lots of flies. The girls opted to sleep outside and awoke one morning to a rooster cock-a-doodle-do'ing in their face! The heat prevented us from feeling like doing much, so aside from touring the medievil festival, we lounged and tried our best to stay cool.

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After two nights in Trets, we drove back into Spain.

TRETS TO SPAIN

Rather than stay longer in France, we opted to push ahead and get back into northeastern Spain. We used the website 'airbnb' to find a nice apartment in the village of Castelló d'Empúries, located not far from the coast. The apartment was new, new, new, but...within 30-minutes of checking in and showering, we found ourselves in the midst of an owner's worst nightmare. The drain pipe was clogged up and all of a sudden there was grey water backflowing everywhere in the apartment. Only, it wasn't limited to just the apartment. It was flooding into the basement and into every other apartment in the building. Unfortunately, it was a Sunday evening and there was not a plumber to be found. So -- we had ourselves a private swimming pool (YUCK),

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but all was resolved by the next morning and the owners felt so bad that they refunded our money for the first night.

Our first full day there was spent exploring the village (and touring a medievil prison!) while the plumbers were fixing the situation. In the afternoon, we drove to the coastal town of L'Escala. There, the girls quickly noticed the loose dress code of the Spanish women and decided to count the number of women sans bikini tops. I don't remember the number, but needless to say it was significant! The beach and town was just delightful!

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The next day, from Castelló d'Empúriesto we headed further south in Catalunya and to a couchsurfer who lives in a neighborhood just outside of Barcelona, Tiana. As we had the entire day to explore, we set out for the picturesque village of Cadaques. To the north, in Porlligat, is the home of Salvador Dali. We were unable to get a tour of his former home, but walked around the outside of his former estate.

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We we stayed (Tiana) for three nights and well....we only managed to get into Barcelona for the first day. We were not used the heat and after walking all around the city for a day...the heat just about knocked us out. We did manage to see many of Gaudi's works, but unfortunately did not get to La Sagrada Familia.

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We stayed with a woman who is a piano teacher and not only does she have three pianos, but she also has a harpischord. But, more importantly for the girls, she had a kitten/cat (named Bruno).

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We learned a bit more about the Catalan struggle within the empire of Spain. In all of Catalunya, the mother tongue is not Spanish, but Catalan. While most people speak Spanish, they kind of....prefer...not...to. It seems to me that their biggest dream is to be free and independent and so they can identify more with the country of Portugal rather than being Spanish.

From Tiana, we were invited to stay with friends of friends....folks that we never met, but are dear friends of ours in Oregon. They live in Vilafranca de Penedes which is perhaps 20 km southwest of Barcelona. You know when you have dear friends and then you meet their friends you make an immediate connection. When we met with Regina and Luis, it was as if we'd known them all our life ...and it felt a bit like the alter universe of our friends in Bend, Oregon.

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What a great time we had relaxing in Vilafranca, meeting their friends, having a phenomenal wine tour and more. What a fantastic way to more-or-less wrap up our two month travel journey.

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We are so happy we got to meet Regina and Luis and look forward to seeing the entire family during the Christmas holidays in Oregon.

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Although we could have made the drive from Vilafranca to Madrid in one day, we opted split the drive in half. So, we stopped at the mid-way point in the tiny village of Sabinan. We spent the night in an apartment and once again met an amazing family. The husband, Titus Crijnen makes harpsichords. We had a relaxing evening and next day there; the girls decided to do some hair styling
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-- and then off to Barajas...

We spent a night in a hostel just 1 km from the airport. After a hot and restless sleep, we got our niece off to the airport, for her flight back to Philadelphia, PA. "We miss you already...Come back for Christmas, if not sooner!"

We drove back to Plasencia and have just a few days to organize our belongings before heading back home to Oregon. Although we have a bit more time in Spain, we have an immense amount of work to do and so -- with that I'll be ending up the travel blog.

Thanks everyone for reading and staying with us. This entire year has been so incredible. We've made friendships and hope that we can maintain connections. We have lots and lots of things to do when we get back to Oregon, one of which is to settle back into the community and start earning an income. We hope to continue with our Spanish and also hope to either teach or volunteer teaching English.

Hace casi dos meses que no hemos hablado Espanol -- pero quiero decir que esperamos que podemos mantener contacto con nuestros amigos no solo en Espana sino en todos partes.

Abrazos, abrazos, abrazos muy fuerte - Shari y familia

Posted by farmgirl 09:28 Archived in Spain Tagged france italy switzerland couchsurf

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