iSherriWilson

The story of my life…

Christmas in Edinburgh

 

 

When my lovely niece Amanda moved to Scotland I bought my ticket to visit her at Christmas. It wouldn’t be right to let her experience Christmas without any family in a foreign land, right? So I bought my ticket and began planning my itinerary. I’m really selfless that way. Sadly, she had student loans to pay and employment in Scotland was not working out for her. She came home but decided to return with me since I already had my ticket and her boyfriend Kyle was still there studying sound engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

Tomorrow the adventure begins…

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Heading Home

My saddest days are the days I have to fly home from vacation, though I don’t have long to wait for my next one! Jenni and Delaney had a very early flight and were on their way home before I even work up. I had time to finish packing, hit the executive lounge for a quick breakfast, and walk across the street to catch the City Airport Train.

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I heart trains!

The train is a direct shot to the airport and only takes 15 minutes with comfy seats and video screens.

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Fancy ride to the airport

Once I arrived at the airport it was quite a hike to the Air France counter. Also, the lack of signs had me going in the wrong direction a few times! Eventually I found it, and checked my bag. That’s right, I checked it! I never check bags at home, but Air France limits the combined weight of all your carry on bags and since I had quite a bit of chocolate in there…

We boarded the flight to Paris pretty quickly. I was sitting next to some hot young British guys. We were in Premium Economy, which I believe I’ve already mentioned the French take very seriously! They brought a lovely breakfast that included a fresh macaroon and a glass of champagne.

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No idea what this was but it was DELICIOUS!

Sadly, our flight was a little behind schedule and by the time we landed at Charles de Gaulle I only had an hour until my next flight took off. This was a challenge, since I’d apparently landed in Terminal A and had to find Terminal L. Most of the signs are in French. Also, you have to pass through passport control in a random place (in the middle of a hallway), that involves standing in line, though I got into the elite line because of my premium economy seat! By the time I found my gate, they were already boarding, but thankfully there was a Laduree cart right next to the gate!

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Macaroons!

I enjoyed the flight tremendously. The food was good, the wine was plentiful, and the seat had a footrest and a power outlet. I watched Guardians of the Galaxy (again, two thumbs up), Her (I dozed off in the middle and missed the sexy computer scenes though from the looks of my seat mates they hadn’t), The Queen (outstanding!) and The Adjustment Bureau (Matt Damon is hawt!). When the plane finally landed, I made it through customs in less than five minutes. Global entry, baby! Sadly, it took another 20 to recover my bag and then 10 minutes on the curb while I waited for the parking shuttle. By the time I loaded up my car and left the lot, it was raining steadily and the height of rush hour. It’s good to be home?

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DC traffic welcomes me back!

 

 

 

 

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I Too Would Like to Spend My Summers in Schoebrunn

Schoebrunn is the Summer Palace for the Hapsburgs and is simply breathtaking. Though it was the summer palace back in the day and no doubt much harder to get to when you were moving your entire royal household by horse and carriage, it was only a few subways stops from our hotel. Convenient!

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One of the prettiest stops on the subway!

The exterior of the palace is really beautiful and there was a Christmas market set up in the front.

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Approaching the Palace with just about everybody else in Vienna apparently

We entered the building and I got concerned because the very first statue I saw reminded me an awful lot of Prague.

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Have I mentioned all of the disturbing statues I saw in Prague?

It got way better after that! Though we were once again banned from taking pictures on the inside. I captured a few from the web so you can enjoy it as well. I believe you’ll see why I’m considering a little redecoration when I get back to the condo…

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The Vieux-Laque room Empress Maria Theresia redecorated in honor of her late husband after his death in 1765.

The entire palace was dripping with gilt. I hope there’s a YouTube video out there so I can learn how to apply it to the condo…

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Wonder if there are any large heavenly ceiling decals available on Amazon…

Afterwards we walked through the gardens. Even though most of the gardens were dead, it was still stunning and there was a magnificent Gloriette perched on top of the hill over the Neptune Fountain.

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Gloriette and Neptune Fountain

We walked through and admired the statues…

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Garden art

Past the Neptune Fountain…

 

 

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Must come visit when it’s not frozen!

And then all the way up the hill to the Gloriette.

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Worth the walk!

We tried to go into the Gloriette where they have a cafe, but it was so packed we couldn’t find a seat. We gave up and walked back down to find one in the palace. Thankfully, they had a spot that was really warm and had sachertorte, which was on my list of things to try!

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Traditional Viennese food

Afterwards we spent a little time in the Christmas market.

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Hot wine

When we returned to the city we decided to take a walk and visit the last few Christmas markets on our list.

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No idea what this is, but it was glorious!

We found the first one beneath some magnificent domed building. It was also surrounded by charming little streets with interesting shops.

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Local chocolate shop window display. Turns out the snow globe was invented in Vienna.

We wandered aimlessly through the cold drizzle and found several Christmas markets tucked away on cute little streets.

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Though each one was unique…

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They had one thing in common…

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Hot wine!

We passed a small crowd gathered around a man playing the cello. He was magnificent!

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Coincidently, the cello is my favorite instrument.

Along the way we stopped for dinner. The food was delicious and the beer was even better and served in a mug that was bigger than my head (which is maybe why I can’t even remember what we ate!) We walked back to the hotel and enjoyed a few more shop windows.

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Austrian fashion is cool

It was bittersweet since we were heading home the next morning and Vienna just became my new favorite city!

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Last meal together in Vienna

 

 

 

 

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Spending Time in the Palace. Where I Belong.

Though the weather was bleak, we were up and ready to go bright and early. We packed up and dropped our bags with the concierge since we were Hilton hopping later in the day. Our stop was the Hofburg Palace.

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Hoffburg Palace, also known as the Winter Palace

We are clearly masters of Viennese public transportation, because after that first little miscue when we arrived (and that was totally the fault of the online mapping program) we didn’t have any problem getting around the town.

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Riding on the metro

The subway system is color coded. the Hilton Vienna Plaza is on the purple line which is a straight shot to the Hofburg Palace via the Volkstheater stop. Unfortunately, finding the door to the palace is not as easy. Our first attempt landed us in the public library, which apparently occupies the main section of the original palace. We wandered around snapping exterior shots until we stumbled across the entrance tucked away in a courtyard on the side of the building.

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Seriously, Vienna, you could use more signage.

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Random palace door

We’d purchased the Sisi Museum tickets, which included the Silver Collection, the Imperial Residences, and the Schoenbrunn Palace. The first thing we saw was the silver exhibit which included the royal dishes, silverware, glasses, and the most candelabras I have ever seen in my entire life.

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One of the MANY rooms full of candelabras

Suddenly I’ve realized I don’t own a single candelabra and though I don’t have enough room in my bag to take one back, I’ll be shopping for that on Amazon tonight and chances are I’ll have one before I get home. Thanks Amazon!

The Hofburg was the residence of the Habsburgs for over 600 years which meant it was also the centre of the Holy Roman Empire.  Apparently, each member of the family had their own apartments or suites in one of the numerous palace wings. Today most of the space is used for a range of museums as well as offices, government ministries and the presidential residence. We visited the apartments of Franz Joseph and Elisabeth (Sisi). Photographs were prohibited, and since I am a little rule bound, I didn’t try to take any, but I borrowed a few from the internet so you can see the Baroque interior that was just dripping with gilt and you’ll see why I’ve decided to make a few changes to the condo when I get home…

Need more gilt.

Need more gilt.

What was most striking about the Sisi museum were the quotes from Elisabeth haging throughout. Apparently she was quite depressed even though she had amazing hair and billions of candelabras. Though after reading a bit more about her son’s murder-suicide and her relationship with her mother-in-law, it all made sense.

Also, she had a workout room with some really interesting equipment which kinda explained the minuscule size of her dresses.

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Workout and dressing room in Sisi Museum

As we left we found another Christmas market and some really interesting statues. They reminded me of Prague because they were very disturbing. But we didn’t have time to linger we were off to see the crypts!

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Dark, really really dark!

 

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An Afternoon in Vienna

After spending our morning visiting the Sisi Museum, we decided to take a walk to the Imperial Crypt to check out the royal burial sites. It was in the basement of a pretty nondescript church, which was surprising given the massive cathedral in the center of town. And whenever anything is in the basement it reminds me of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and I’m on the lookout for long winded tour guides and stolen bikes! The trip to the basement was creepy.

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Exploring the burial vaults of the Hapsburgs

But the crypts were fantastic.

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The ones with crowns were my favorites, obviously.

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I wear my crown everyday!

And let me just say I have completely reassessed my own burial plans after viewing some of these!

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Our next site was the Imperial Treasury but along the way we passed a butterfly house. Jenni wanted to stop so we got tickets and headed inside. The temperature inside the glasshouse was about 950 degrees and there were lush tropical plants and waterfalls throughout.

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A bit of the tropics in Vienna

We also saw a few butterflies, though they all looked alike to me and they weren’t as colorful as I’d expected. In fact they looked a bit like giant moths.

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Big butterfly that looks like a giant moth

The Austrians aren’t real big on signage so we wandered about the Hofburg Palace looking for the entrance to the Imperial Treasury.

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No idea what this says, but it’s very intimidating!

This wasn’t a bad thing, since there was another Christmas market set up in one of the squares and you know what that means… hot wine!

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I love Christmas Markets!

Also waffles.

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Lunch!

After lunch we finally found the treasury. The jewels were fantastic.

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Why don’t more people have scepters? And orbs? So pretty!

And so were the robes.

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There were a lot of other treasures, though I was slightly more impressed with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. Afterwards we took the metro back to the Hilton Plaza hotel and picked up our bags to move them to the Hilton Vienna, a larger hotel that was across the street from the City Airport Train terminal. The treats in my room were delicious, but I was sad they didn’t leave me a bottle of wine like the last Hilton!

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The benefits of diamond status

We had a few snacks in the executive lounge and then headed out to Stephansplatz for another Christmas market.

Hot wine!

Hot wine!

This one was in the shadow of the Stephansdom, one of the tallest churches in the world.

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Stephansdom

We picked up a few souvenirs, dropped them off at the hotel, and then went to Bieramt for dinner. It’s a local restaurant? Pub? Dining establishment? It’s all in German so it’s hard to say! But it felt like a pub and we sat at a table with a local family who spoke very good English and were able to explain the silverware situation as well as the basket of pretzels to us.

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Delaney and I ordered the Käsespätzle which was even better than I’d anticipated. Jenni ordered the beef soup and tried the pretzels. She didn’t care for hers, but eating in Europe with her restricted diet is always a challenge.

I would have taken a picture of my spaetzel, but it was there one minute and devoured the next.

I would have taken a picture of my spaetzel, but it was there one minute and devoured the next.

Big day tomorrow with a visit to the Summer Palace. Wish you were here!

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Chrismas Markets in Vienna

Though it took us a while to find our Hilton, our rooms were delightful! I found a bottle of wine and a jar of candy, because diamond status!

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Hilton Vienna Plaza two thumbs up!

 

We dropped off our bags and met up in the Executive Lounge. We decided to walk to the closest Christmas Market in spite of the light drizzle. It wasn’t terribly far and was right in front of the Rathaus. The Rathaus is the government building, which makes perfect sense in America if you think about it. I believe that’s what I’ll call Congress in the future…

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Christmas Market at Rathaus Park

 

Along the way we stopped at the bank for some cash.

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Show me the Euros!

 

The Rathaus is amazing and all around are giant trees decorated with different christmas themes.

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Rathaus

 

The market is set up in the front with cute little wooden stalls. The whole atmosphere is festive, and everyone wandered around with their mugs of hot wine.

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Hot wine!

 

Last year we experienced the Christmas Market in Paris and Jenni and Delaney thought that was the best one. I liked this one better. It was smaller and didn’t have as much, but I loved the ambience and the hot wine! Also, we had a sausage wrapped in fried garlic bread that was amazing!

Getting festive with Mozart

Getting festive with Mozart

We wandered around and examined all the wares before we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow we begin exploring palaces! Wish you were here!

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A Joyous Holiday!

 

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All Aboard!

If you ever have a chance to ride on trains in Europe, take it! So comfortable, so fast, so fun!

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Ready to roll

 

We boarded in Zürich. We didn’t realize that the tickets we purchased were separate from the reservations (we didn’t purchase). And by we I mean I, since I was the one who’d purchased them! Anyhow, the first place we sat was had four seats around a table. Right after we hefted Jenni’s giant suitcase into the over head storage, another couple boarded and told us we were sitting in their seats. They had reserved them, but the reservation system was currently down and not displaying “reserved” above the seats. We moved to another car and found another table with seats. When the conductor came through to check our tickets, we asked if we could reserve some seats. He said no. We asked if he could tell us where to sit that wasn’t reserved. He said no. We stayed where we were and decided we’d move if someone else asked us.

Riding the rails

Riding the rails

 

I went to check out the dining car. It was really cute with some booths and a little lunch counter.

Mmmmm dining car.

Mmmmm dining car.

I ordered water with gas and sat at a booth to take a few more pictures.

Alps

Alps

When I returned to our area, Jenni and Delaney had nabbed the window seats at our table, so I took pictures of them taking pictures.

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Selfie

 

Alps?

Alps?

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I hear there were some beautiful sights

 

At lunch, an old lady at the table across from us showed us the danger of ordering soup on a train when we made a sudden stop and all of their dishes slid off the table and on to her lap.

Hold on to your soup, ladies!

Hold on to your soup, ladies!

The conductor came back and helped her file a complaint. Jenni captured a picture, and she wasn’t subtle!

We ordered sandwiches. I got the ham and cheese, Jen and Delaney got salami and pickles. My sandwich was a lot better, which I found out after I offered to trade half with Delaney. I ordered a slice of the cake of the day to make up for it.

Cake of the day!

Cake of the day!

After we left Innsbruck, fog had built up and it was much harder to see. We passed through Salzburg just before dusk, but we were on the wrong side of the train to see much of the city.

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Salzburg used to be my favorite city.

 

From Salzburg to Vienna the fog increased and it got really, really dark. Thankfully, I had mapped our entire transportation plan and we knew exactly how to get to the Hilton.

So long, Railjet, it's been swell!

So long, Railjet, it’s been swell!

Unfortunately, my map was wrong. We emerged from the subway and into the rain on a shadowy street with few street signs. An old woman walking by stopped and asked us if we needed help. We told her we were trying to find the Hilton. She pulled her son over and told him to help us. He looked at our map and said “where did you get this, it’s quite a long walk from here!” He gave us directions that involved getting back on the subway, transferring from the green line to the purple line and emerging steps from the door to the Hilton. His wife passed us a subway map and wished us luck. These Viennese people are simply charming!

A lovely stop, but all wrong!

A lovely stop, but all wrong!

His directions were flawless and we found the Hilton with plenty of time to drop our bags in our upgraded rooms, hit the executive lounge for a couple of glasses of wine, and make it to the Christmas market!

My "Welcome to the Hilton" bottle of wine and candy

My “Welcome to the Hilton” bottle of wine and candy

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Finding Friends in Zurich

My flight from Paris to Zürich was only an hour long. I was seated in the Premium Economy class, which apparently Air France takes VERY seriously. Soon after take off they brought me a lovely lunch with some honey drenched shrimp, a salad, a few delicious cheeses, a pastry and mini macaroon. Of course, I had some champagne to wash it all down.

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I heart you, Air France.

 

Since the flight was only one hour, I had just enough time to enjoy my meal before we landed. I had expected Jenni and Delaney would be waiting for me with some chocolates, or balloons, or flowers, or at least a little welcome sign. What I got was a message from Jenni that they would be in town near the main train station and for me to meet them there.

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Welcome wagon?

 

I caught the shuttle to the hotel, dropped off my bag, caught the shuttle back to the airport, and then found the airport train station.

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All alone in Zurich!

 

Jenni and Delaney were waiting in a Starbucks so Jen could text me using the wifi. She told me to go to the main station and that it was the second stop and when I arrived I would need to walk out the station, across the street and up to the Starbucks.

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That’s no train station, it’s a mall!

 

Unfortunately, I was not on the same train Jenni and Delaney had ridden. It wasn’t the second stop, it was the third. Also, I didn’t arrive at the same platform. In fact, my platform was a few stories underground. I had a hard time finding a door to get out. Once I did, I walked across the street, but I was standing at a National museum and there was no Starbucks in sight. I decided to walk around the train station until I found one. You’d be surprised how big the main train station in Zürich is…

I finally stumbled across Jenni and Delaney!

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We walked along the river to check out the town and ended up on the side of the lake.

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Our Zurich pass allowed us to ride on a tour boat as well, so we decided to try to find it. We didn’t but we did find Springle, one of the most famous chocolate makers in Switzerland.

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Raclette

 

The raclette was amazing. The cheese was delicious and perfectly prepared. I also had a bowl of pumpkin soup which was probably the best pumpkin soup I’ve ever had and our waiter pointed out it was Thanksgiving day in the states so it was also appropriate for the occasion.

After dinner, I was feeling a little tired, not jet lagged, just tired. Jet lag is for those who are not well traveled. I heard that somewhere. I was tired and it was after nine so we decided to head back to the hotel.

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Since that was going to involve a train ride to the airport, we decided to print out our train tickets to Vienna while we were there. I had the code to print the tickets I’d bought on OBB.com and our instructions were to use the code at the OBB kiosk.

When we got to the airport station, we couldn’t find the OBB kiosk so we went to the SBB desk to ask. She told us we have to go to Austria to find an OBB kiosk. All of the kiosks in Switzerland are for SBB trains. We tried to explain that we had purchased the tickets to get to Austria. She was adamant. We decided to take the train back to the main station and see if there was an OBB kiosk. It wasn’t that we didn’t trust her, we just wanted to verify.

When we got back to the main station we couldn’t find the kiosk and went to the information point. He also told us we had to go to Austria to pick up our tickets to get to Austria. We decided to go to the hotel and try to print the tickets online.

Once we arrived at the Hilton, we found a computer in the executive lounge. We were challenged by the European keyboard, but quickly figured it out and found and printed our tickets.

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Hard to find the @

 

That was enough for me, it was almost 10, and after a day and a half of traveling, I was done!

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Love a room with a robe and slippers!

 

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Viva La France

Bonjour!

Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday. Each year my BFF Jenni and I explore a new country. Though our visits are short, we always cram a lot of fun in and this year we are doubling down with a four day trip that involves a train ride through the Alps.

Jenni has always wanted to visit Switzerland so we decided to start our trip there. I was much more interested in the train ride and our ultimate destination, Vienna. So when Jenny suggested flying in a day early and visiting Lucerne, I decided to save a vacation day and meet her a day later. Little did I know a winter storm would come barreling up the East Coast on the day of my departure! So while Jenni and her niece Delaney were zipping around Switzerland I was toiling away at a half day in the office and constantly monitoring the weather conditions.

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Winter is coming.

 

Most of my colleagues had taken the day off to travel to get a head start on the holiday so the few of us left behind spent quite a bit of time staring out the window at the increasingly heavy snow storm. My flight wasn’t until 7 PM so when the office closed at noon I zipped over to my sisters house to visit my family before I left (free meal!)

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Quick visit with the family.

 

We had a lovely lunch consisting of piles of meat and cheese (they are cutting back on the carbs). But in deference to the holidays, we finished it off with a slice of pumpkin cake and a slice of pumpkin pie. Pumpkin is a fruit, so that’s a healthy choice. Besides it’s what the pilgrims intended!

 

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Mmmmmmm pie!

 

After a lovely visit, I said my goodbyes and headed out.

Saying goodbye to the family.

Saying goodbye to the family.

The snow had picked up quite a bit by the time I made it to the beltway, but none of it was sticking to the roads. I parked My Precious and hopped on the bus to the terminal.

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Must remember where I left My Precious…

 

I had hoped my Bonjour sweater would impress the gate agents enough for an upgrade to business class but the only people who seemed to like it were the TSA agents. Flying on Air France means no Pre Check line through security so I spent a LOT of time with the TSA agents.

Once I made it through, I headed straight to the Air France lounge. The good news is flying premium economy gets you into the lounge, the bad news is there aren’t any seats available because it is pretty small and really crowded. The only seat available was between the men’s and women’s bathroom doors but the seemingly endless supply of champagne totally offset the sucky location. It was really, really good champagne.

Cheers!

Cheers!

I don’t think I’ve flown on a two story plane since fifth grade, when my sister and I flew from London to San Diego to visit our Dad for Christmas. My seat on the Air France flight was on the upper deck, which was super exciting!

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Secret passageway to toilettes.

 

Also, the seat next to me was empty, though the hard shell seats include a sort of table divider/arm rest that doesn’t move so I couldn’t really stretch out.

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Hard shell seats are hard to endure.

 

In fact, the seats are roomy but odd since they don’t actually recline so much as shift your lower back forward and completely out of alignment with the rest of your spine. Also, the ‘”footrest” only comes up about 6 inches so your legs dangle at a very odd angle.

Dinner was a choice between some sort of chicken dish with a mustard sauce or pasta with a tuna sauce. I went with the chicken. And more champagne. My favorite part of the meal was the wedge of brie that accompanied the dessert.

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Champagne with a wine chaser. Nighty night!

 

As soon as I finished I took a Tylenol PM, put on my eye mask, shifted my lower back forward, dangled my legs, and in spite of the two screaming babies and my weirdly angled back, I slept off and on for most of the flight. Viva la France!

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Arriving in Paris, France.

 

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Giving Thanks in the Alps

Thanksgiving is nearly here, and you know what that means! It’s almost time for my best friend and I to take our annual trip. Each year we try to visit a new country. This year we’ve decided to visit two! Also, apparently Jenni’s niece Delaney had so much fun traveling with us last year, she’s saved up and will join us once again.

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Counting the days until Zürich…

Our itinerary begins with a short stay in Zürich. Jenni and Delaney will arrive the day before I do and scout out the best fondue and chocolate locations. After I arrive we will spend the night there and plan to visit Altstadt (old town).  From Zürich we embark on an 8 hour train ride through the Alps.

Our route will pass Innsbruck and Salzburg before we arrive in Vienna. Our stay in Vienna will include a couple of Palaces and the Imperial Burial Vault.  While we are there we will enjoy spatzle, knodel, and strudel.

And what would a winter holiday in Europe be without the Christmas Markets?  Won’t be long now…

Cheers!

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