My first time…. out of the country!
Do you ever wake up thinking it’s just going to be another typical Sunday? Wake up, get ready, attend Church, family games, lunch, etc. That’s how our Sundays typically go but this particular Sunday was different. We had just had breakfast and I was sitting on the couch scrolling my Insta-feed. Carson was playing in the playroom and I hadn’t seen Sky for about an hour but I just assumed he was just playing a game with his brothers. Little did I know he was busy doing something quite different. About an hour went by then he came downstairs and decided to blindfold me. Apparently Carson was in on it, because he was overly giggly, like he always is when he’s trying to keep a secret, so I knew something was going on, but I had no idea what I was about to walk in to. I was led into the piano room blindfolded. Step by step, nearly tripping over myself at every turn, Sky led me by the hand and helped me down the step. He took off the blindfold and I saw a few candles nestling a giant poster board covered in pink Post-its. On each post-it note he had written something he loved about me. It was a sweet gesture, but when I saw it all I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It was just a random Sunday after all. It’s not like it was a holiday or anything special so I just kept wondering to myself, “Why did he make me this?” Carson couldn’t contain his excitement anymore and erupted with glee telling me to look under the post-it notes! So I started taking them off. One by one. As you might suspect, my mind started racing and wondering if he was proposing. We had never discussed marriage in detail though, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it. It wasn’t until I was halfway through removing the notes that I realized I was wrong. As I peeled them off, the board revealed pictures of some random places, I had never been to or seen. Except one. I immediately recognized the beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany! What was happening!? I had wanted to go to this castle ever since I had discovered it was the castle Walt Disney modeled Cinderella’s Castle after. Before I could finish my thoughts, I pulled the last two Post-it notes from the bottom corner and saw a picture of our tickets to Europe!! I had never left the country ever and we were leaving in a few weeks! I was excited! He said he decided to surprise me with a trip because I had been so patient with the whole remodeling of the house we had been doing. It practically took up our whole summer so he thought this trip would be something fun for us. We left two weeks later. The morning of our flight we were frantically running around and double checking everything to make sure we didn’t forget anything. We seemed to have everything we were going to need so we left to the airport. I had so many emotions. I’m not a veteran flyer (technically, I wasn’t even an amateur flyer at that point) so I was pretty anxious, super excited, and kinda scared. We were going to have to sleep on the plane? The flight was going to be so long I was thinking what if I get hungry? What if I can’t sleep? What if I over sleep and miss our stop? I had so many worries standing there in line for TSA but the one worry I wasn’t thinking about was “What if we lose our credit cards.” No sooner had we gotten in line for security when Sky reached into his pocket only to realize the only thing he had was his Passport and tickets. His credit card had fallen out somewhere between home and the airport. There was no time to go back given that we live over an hour from the Airport and this was a non-changeable flight. Luckily we had cash and I had my credit cards – even though I was told not to bring them because I wouldn’t need them. Fast forward to our arrival in Switzerland. The flight ended up being no big deal, food was pretty good, I watched a ton of movies and eventually fell asleep. We got off the plane and went to the rental car place where we had reserved a car. Apparently you need the card you reserved the car with to rent it. He only had his driver license and I had my credit cards, but no drivers license. It was a mess. After a bunch of calls back and forth to banks and rental car companies and something like 5 hours later we worked it out and got a car with a different rental car company but at least we got a car. Our first hotel was H+ Hotel Zurich. They were so welcoming and even had a nice little gift waiting for us in the room. We went to dinner at the restaurant inside the hotel called Gaumenfreund that evening and the food was beautiful and tasted amazing. Sky said it was the best lamb he had ever tasted. Personally I’m more of a forget the food and head straight for the good stuff, and as I predicted the dessert was to die for! After the day we had it was so nice to just spend the evening relaxing in the hotel, drinking Swiss Cocoa and eating the infamous Swiss Chocolate. The hotel staff was so friendly and accommodating I definitely recommend them! The next day we woke up and headed down to breakfast. Let me tell you the complimentary breakfast in Switzerland is nothing like the ones in America. There was so much food! Breads, meat, fruit, cereal and cheese! There was soooo much good cheese! Also it was much more formal than I was expecting for a hotel breakfast. I came down in pajamas (like I would for any hotel breakfast) and quickly realized how out of place I was. I immediately went back to the room and changed after seeing several other guests dressed like they were going to a business conference. Today our adventure begins! After that mouthwatering breakfast we checked out and headed to Lucerne to see the Glacier Gardens…. in the rain. Yes, it was windy and rainy when we got there and after a long walk we discovered the gardens were actually closed for remodeling until next year. This was high on my list, so I was a little bummed. Fortunately the 200 year old Lion of Lucerne monument was visible from outside the gardens. It was one of Sky’s favorite parts of the trip. The weather worsened just slightly, but we made the best of it and got our umbrellas out so we could walk around the cute little town. We toured beautiful churches, museums and supermarkets. I was astonished by the price of everything. It’s so expensive compared to what we’re used to in the states. We made our way over to a super unique 14th century bridge known as the Chapel Bridge. The adjacent water tower was used as a dungeon, archive and treasury throughout the years. There is so much history in this little town. My favorite was the Zytturm and City Walls. It was a giant clock tower with a pendulum. You could go up stairs in each tower to the top and go out on the bridge and see the whole city. It was amazing! After spending hours in Lucerne and exploring we headed back to the car. On the way back I spotted this colorful wall – it was their grocery store and had to take a picture! (Yes, even their grocery store was photo-worthy!) Our next hotel was in a quaint little town called Solothurn – H4 Hotel Solothurn. We were greeted by the friendliest and most accommodating staff. Our room had another note welcoming us complete with chocolate and fruit unique to the area. This hotel had the most amazing view. Our room overlooked the water and Aare – another very historic little town. We unpacked and toured the spa in the hotel even though the hot tub looked amazing we decided to go and explore Aare. We walked around taking pictures and enjoying all the old architecture. Then headed back to the hotel for dinner. The H hotels really get it right with their Gastronomy everything on their menu we tried was cooked to perfection. Something that was interesting was their water is always served as sparkling water and if you ask for flat water its brought out in a glass bottle. It doesn’t ever come with ice and there isn’t any refills offered. After dinner was finished we decided to go up to the penthouse bar. That view at night was absolutely breath taking and they had some pretty yummy drinks too. We went back to our room and called it a night since we had to be up early the next morning. When we woke up and I discovered our converter that we brought wouldn’t work for my curling iron or straightener. Pfft. So much for that. Oh and nobody in Switzerland uses conditioner. I asked a couple markets if they had any and mostly got blank stares. I don’t imagine it was the language barrier because a large percentage of the people we met spoke fairly good English. I had to rely on braids to give my hair any kind of style. We had another amazing hotel breakfast, I’m a salami snob and couldn’t help but stuff some salami in my purse. If that sounds weird, then you haven’t tried Swiss salami. It was absolutely amazing! We wanted to see a large portion of the country so we only spent a single night in each location. We check out of the hotel and headed to Schilthorn summit. I was excited this was going to be the first day we could see the beautiful snowy alps. As luck would have it, we arrived to Schilthorn in terrible weather. On the ground it was slightly rainy, but on top of the mountain there was thick fog and dense clouds shown on the summit cam. It was an expensive excursion, and the bulk of what you’d pay for is the view from the top. The guy at the ticket booth warned us that this day would likely not be a good day to head up to the Piz Gloria restaurant (super cool 360 degree rotating restaurant) because of the clouds, we likely wouldn’t see the incredible views. We had about 45 minutes to decide what we wanted to do given our itinerary and come up with a back up plan if we elected to not take the cable car up. If we didn’t do it that day we wouldn’t have a chance to do it again on the trip. After some discussion, we decided to do it anyway. We bought our tickets for the lift and then since we had another 30 minutes to spare we walked over to the Cow Market. It was exactly as it sounds. All these farmers out with their cows for sale – If you know anything about me, you know I was truly in my happy place. After I visited all the cows and learned their names we headed to the lift. I can’t recommend this tour enough. Our first stop was the cutest tiny town called Gimmelwald. Acres of rolling bright green hills and mountains everywhere. This town is completely isolated and you have to take a cable car 5000 feet up a mountain to even access it. The town of 130 people all know each other and they are extraordinarily honest. They have shops, but no workers. They advertise their goods, such as fresh cheese, milk, and eggs and have them situated inside a small room with a single refrigerator. Next to the fridge is a small little box for you to put the money in for what you take. It’s all fresh (as of that morning) and made from the animals in the yards. If you download the app there is an audio tour that tells you the history about the town and its really interesting as you walk along the roads. We finished our tour of that town and got back on the lift the weather had finally cleared up so we took the lift to the Piz Gloria restaurant which was made famous in the 1969 James Bond movie – In Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The lift tickets we purchased included an all you can eat brunch atop the summit. Upon arrival, the staff takes you upstairs and finds a seat for you next to large, seamless windows. The experience and views were incredible, the food however, not so much. We got full, but compared the table fare we’d experienced up to that point, we were both a bit disappointed. The restaurant rotates a full 360 degrees and given that you are 9,000 feet in the air above everything, makes for a breathtaking panoramic view of the snow covered Alps. The view of the alps is breathtaking. Just below the dining area, there is a James Bond museum which catalogs every James Bond film to date and provides some interactive simulators to enjoy. Once you step outside and walk around the restaurant, the photo opportunities this place offers is amazing. We took lots of photos and then headed to the elevator to go back to the lift and do The Thrill Walk. This was an adventure all on its own. Have you ever been stuck in an elevator? I hadn’t. We got inside and pressed the button to take us to the lower floor. The elevator somehow got stuck between floors and we were inside pressing buttons. It didn’t help that they were all in German, we had no idea what they did. It just kept buzzing at us every time Sky would press one. We finally just decided to sit down and wait it out. It took almost 8 minutes, but they finally opened and nobody seemed the wiser. We headed to Thrill and Sky walk which is an outdoor walk around a mountain with a glass floor. A portion of it requires you to crawl through tube made of chain like fence suspended 200 meters in the air. Sky seemed to be having the time of his life, but I was certainly identifying with the “thrilling” aspect of the name. It lives up to the hype and Schilthorn is definitely a must do if you’re ever in Switzerland. To finish off the night, we headed to our Airbnb in Broc. It was a bit of a sleepless night unfortunately. The mosquitoes were bad and I kept getting bit. I have no idea why they don’t seem to like Sky, but it’s not fair. We woke up the next morning, had breakfast which consisted of bread and cheese – a typical Swiss breakfast – then headed to Maison Cailler Museum which was one of the original Swiss chocolate factories! They provide you with a handheld audio tour guide that lets you explore the factory at your own pace. It talked about the history of the company and throughout the tour you’re able to sample the fresh chocolate as it’s being made. I was tasting every piece I could up until the 3rd or 4th room and my stomach began protesting a little bit. It was too much! It was all incredibly delicious though! The factory was so amazing to see the whole chocolate process from the refining of the raw ingredients all the way down to the packaging. We decided to do the “Make your own Chocolate bar” in the shop but it was basically just chocolate decorating. I was a little disappointed. It was fun but not the kind of hands-on experience we were hoping for. They do sell chocolate workshop tickets and that would have been worth it but we were on a strict itinerary and unfortunately couldn’t do that. We left shortly after lunch time and drove for a little over an hour to what turned out to be my favorite part of the trip. The majestic Château de Chillon. I was really excited because rumor has it that this castle was the inspiration behind Prince Eric’s castle in The Little Mermaid, which is incidentally my favorite Disney movie. Once you arrive, you give the front desk something to use as collateral for the iPhones they give you with he audio tracks (in your preferred language). This tour was unbelievable! Sky was enthralled by the history of it all. I’m not a huge history buff, but I was completely captivated as well. We walked through the dungeons of the castle (where Lord Byron was once chained to a pillar), saw the keep, armory, and very elaborate meeting rooms and dining halls. I was beyond impressed! This is an absolute MUST DO! The entire tour lasted about 4 hours and about the time we got our ID’s back, we were starving. We hadn’t had Swiss Fondue yet and so we drove into town to find something delicious. We googled on the way there and read review after review for each place until we decided on one. We drove to this town Chatel-Saint-Denis and walked into a restaurant. They were having some big festival in the town and everybody was dressed in traditional Swiss clothes so the restaurant wasn’t serving fondue. They were serving very “authentic” Swiss cuisine – which, as it turns out ISN’T fondue. We had kind of decided fondue was on the menu for the evening and took a walk down the street. After 5 or 6 minutes, we ended up at another restaurant called Cercle d’Agriculture. We ordered a mix of two types of cheeses, Vacherin and Raclette. They brought out a basket of baby potatoes and soft bread to dip in the cheese. It was pretty good but it had quite a strong wine aftertaste to me. It was definitely filling and we just shared one order. The table next to me had guys dressed up in Swiss battle clothes and some shiny suit for the festival they were having, so I of course had to get a picture with them! The next day was a very packed day. We had 3 things left to see in Switzerland and then needed to head to Germany to our next hotel. That morning we woke up and went to La Maison du Gruyère which was a cheese factory! We got to watch the whole process of the cheese making then afterwards taste a few different kinds. Ever wonder why the Swiss cheese is so good? Head over here and they’ll tell you all about it! (hint, it has to do with the grazing of the cows on the very luscious and floral landscape of the Alps). After the tour, we ventured to Château de Gruyères for our final Switzerland castle tour. We parked in the visitors lot and Sky wasn’t sure where to pay for the parking (or if we even had to). I pointed out a potential deposit spot but we were in a hurry and he just said, “It’ll be fine. We’re not even going to be there very long.” So, in we went. This castle in my opinion wasn’t worth it. It was basically like a Old Victorian mansion inside. Nothing was original and there wasn’t much history to it. When we finished that tour we headed to Chalet de Gruyères for some delicious berries and creme. Then we came out to our car to find a parking ticket on our car. I’m not the type to say, “I told you so…” but this occasion called for it. We promptly got into the car and it was the first thing I said to Sky. The next stop on our journey took us to the most gorgeous and crystal clear lake I’ve ever seen – Lake Blausee. It is as beautiful as the pictures on Instagram showed. Bright blue water, beautiful orange fall leaves floating on the water and was so clear you could see all the fish! If you’ve got a desire to visit one of the most picturesque places on Earth, this is where you need to go! It is a must visit in your lifetime. We took a boat across the lake that had a glass bottom so you could see all the fish swimming underneath you. It was so cool! We got back on the road and stopped in Austria for dinner at this place called La Scarpetta. The service was lightning fast! And I was starving, so I was paying attention to how quickly we got our food. Besides that, it was about 1/2 the price of the Swiss food we’d been buying and was so scrumptious! With full tummies we drove the rest of the way to Fussen Germany. We arrived at our Hotel in this cute little town which looked like it was straight out of a fairy tale, called Hotel Weinbauer. They didn’t have a huge staff but agreed to wait for us to check in that evening, even though we were several hours later than we planned on arriving. They were the sweetest. The next morning breakfast was great (something I was getting used to) and included lots of sausages. My absolute favorite breakfast food! We left the hotel shortly after 8 AM in order to get tickets for the tours for the immaculate Neuschwanstein Castle. The ticket line was very long and by the time we got tickets our tour didn’t start until 12:45. I definitely recommend getting there at or before 8 AM if you want to make sure you get tickets. I was fine with a later time that day because the weather was super foggy and I couldn’t see the castles through all the thick fog! They have a viewing bridge that usually gives you an unobstructed view of the castle. I had waited my whole life to see this place so I wanted to make the most of my “princess moda” and fashioned up with my Cinderella princess dress, tiara and glass slippers. If that sounds a little ridiculous, I’m sure (based on the looks we got) that you aren’t the only one. I didn’t care and Sky encouraged me. Given the cloud cover, we decided to visit the first castle of the tour – Hohenschwangau – before heading up the mountain. This was the castle that King Ludwig the one who built Neuschwanstein grew up in. It was beautiful and the tour guide was super informative. We came outside to take some photos and I looked up the clouds were still covering the castle… It was about lunch time, so we moseyed in to a little hotel/restaurant called Hotel Muller where the ticket office was to give the clouds sometime to disappear. It’s safe to say I’d never had a bratwurst quite so tasty! Shortly after leaving the restaurant, we came the realization that the clouds were there to stay. The tour guide mentioned something about them always being there in the morning, but if they’re still there early afternoon, they’re likely to stay for the rest of the day. We went back to the car so I could change into regular clothes at this point. We got our bus tickets and then headed up to the castle we’d come so far to see. I was so excited but also super disappointed as we walked on the bridge to the viewing point and you couldn’t see anything. We arranged our schedule a little bit and decided to head indoors to take the tour of the castle. I was in awe of everything we saw during the tour, but couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of disappointment not being able to see it from outside. The picture below is fog enveloping the castle from the bridge. Just before we left, I was lamenting to Sky about the picture I had on my phone that I had so hoped to re-create with the castle in the background and no tourists. Trying to lift my spirits, he suggested we hike up the hill, off the path beaten path a bit and found this spot at the top of the mountain where nobody was. During our hike up, the clouds decided to blow out and from our vantage point we could actually see the castle pretty good. I didn’t have my dress on though at this point and so my heart sunk a little knowing I wouldn’t be able to re-create my picture. My boyfriend, ever the optimist, said it was no big deal and that we would come back the next day. He assured me the fog would clear and everything would be okay. Somehow I believed him. We ended that trip with the Museum of the Bavarian Kings – which is basically a genealogy lesson of the kings that occupied the castles. It was interesting, but a bit anti-climatic. To finish the evening off, we went to our Hotel and took a late night stroll through town. All the cobble stone roads and little shops were my favorite. We struggled finding a restaurant that would take credit card and ended up at a another pizza place. It was delicious and once again service was sooo fast! The waiter was hitting on me right in front of Sky, but he staying in good humor about it. With the morning sunrise the next day, I could tell Sky was right and this was going to make for a great photo shoot. I got dressed up (again) in my little Cinderella dress, princess crown, and glass slippers and headed to breakfast. I was in such a hurry to get back to the castle I don’t quite remember breakfast but i’m sure it was great. We got on the bus to the castle, then started our hike back to the spot we’d found. It was beautiful and sunny and the castle was in full view! I got my picture and he even proposed! I was shocked! The Knot (howtheyasked.com) picked up our story and can read the whole thing if you’re interested. We finished the afternoon by taking a horse-drawn carriage down the mountain to the incredible Lake Alpsee where we rented a paddle boat. they didn’t take card and we were short on Francs but the guy was so sweet and let us take the boat anyways. Sky said it’s because I looked like a Princess, but I’m convinced Germans are just nice people. We spent 45 minutes paddling around one of the most beautiful and crystal clear lakes in Germany. It was amazing. Just before we left, we met an old man who had been coming to the castle for years and sketching it with pencils. He drew one of the most incredible pictures I’ve ever seen (by memory no less!) and gave it to me as a keepsake for me to remember the day. It was absolutely a dream come true and I still can’t believe it happened! We headed back to our car and started the journey back to Switzerland. We originally had one more hotel collaboration with the wonderful H hotels but after Sky showed me an Airbnb option, I knew we had to stay there. It was this tiny little studio apartment on a Cow Farm! There were so many cows even baby cows! When we arrived, the host greeted us graciously and led me to meet one of his baby cows named Steven. This was the perfect way to end a perfect day! Just before calling it a night, we went to dinner at Laufen Castle. It was dark so we couldn’t see much, but the restaurant is above Rhine Falls. The food was delicious, albeit pricey, but we left a bit disappointed because it was advertised that the restaurant overlooked the falls, but that wasn’t the case unfortunately. We’d come all this way to see the falls and since we were leaving back home in the morning, we went outside to explore. We took the elevator down to the falls in the dark and they were lit up and glowing. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen before. They looked absolutely magical. Because it was late no tourists were out and no fees were required. It was just us and the Falls and it was perfect. We went back to our home for the night and then got up and went to The falls again on our way to the airport just to experience them in the day. I personally like them more at night but both times they were incredible. The flight back to America was wonderful the Swiss Airlines even gave us more chocolate. It was truly a trip of a lifetime and I can’t wait to go back. The only change I think I would make if I could go back and do it over again, is spending more time in Germany. I really loved it. But that just means another trip in the future! I will post a link to our itinerary that we had made for us by Taylor Made Itineraries. I highly recommend them. They asked for our (very) rough schedule and outlined it all out for us and made some incredible suggestions. Without their help, we would have missed out on some gems of Europe. It was catered to our likes, timelines, and preferences perfectly. Feel free to see what ours looked like below! Sky and Sarah’s Europe Intinerary