Zermatt, Switzerland: Skiing in the Swiss Alps – by Connor

We took a cable car from the town of Zermatt up to the first station, partway up the mountain. Then we walked to a second cable car at a station.

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We got off. I could see nothing but white fluffy snow covering the mountains around us. Feeling both nervous but excited about the fun we were going to have, I started to ski down the small hill toward the t-bar. Once in front of the T lift, I clutched onto the handle and leaned back. It was very windy so I pushed against my ears to keep them warm. It was a long ride. 20 minutes maybe. Up down up down. Not so relaxing when you have to lean back and bend your knees and keep your skies parallel to each other and keep your head straight and not hit the person beside you.

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When we eventually got to the top, we had a long way to go. And I was not ready to ski 200 meters. I didn’t even go 20 meters yet. But we were already up there and the only way to get down is if you ski. It wasn’t too bad until we reached the part where we had to cross the T lift. I was worried I might get hit by someone But it turned out it wasn’t too bad either so I skied all the way until it looked like a drop in the ski run. My dad was the first one down the steep hill.  We followed him.

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I took it nice and slow then began to get used to it being steep and all. We got to the bottom then sat and ate our lunch.

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It was a great day. I didn’t want it to stop. In the end everybody was laying down in the snow but me. I was still ready to do 20 more km of skiing!

Broc, Switzerland: Sweet Tooth! – by Caleb

When you hear the word, Switzerland, what comes to mind? I know when I hear Switzerland, I think of the Alps and skiing, which we did, but this is a blog about something else. How many of you thought of, The Cailler chocolate factory? I’m almost certain not a lot of you did. But that is where we went, touring the Cailler chocolate factory. The company, Cailler has been making chocolate since 1819 and is still making chocolate for the locals and visitors today. Unlimited sampling of this delicious chocolate. Heh heh heh. But only after the tour. 

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When you first enter the factory, there is a theatre on your left and a shop stocked with chocolate on your right. The theatre is showing the history of chocolate and an interactive quiz that you can do after the tour. 

IMG_1511 Finally, it was our turn to start the tour. We received audio-guides that looked like tv remotes that we could put around our neck like a necklace and we entered a small room that had plants and leaves and Aztec sculptures in it. The room was dim, and there was a soundtrack playing with the noises of birds, and leaves falling to the ground and the wind. There was a fog machine on the roof giving the room a very misty, jungle like feel. Suddenly, the voice of a man talking about the history of the coco bean came blasting through the speakers. 

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 After listening to this guy’s whole speech about chocolate, doors opened at the other side of the room which led us to another room. And so it went. We kept entering different rooms and listening to the audio in the rooms until we finally popped out into a wide hallway with a lot of different stories that you could listen to through the audio-guide. There were desks in the hall too. On them, were the coco beans, coco fat, and other chocolate ingredients that  you could touch. After listening to the stories that there were in that hall, you walk down a narrower hall with a glass wall on one side. On the opposite side of the glass was a machine demonstrating how they make chocolate cylinders. The machine put long strings of chocolate on paper. Then, the chocolate went through a cooling tube, got chopped into small cylinders, doused in liquid chocolate mixed with hazel nuts, then put through yet another cooling tube. Finally, after being cooled, the cylinders would be wrapped and then you could taste the finished product. If you kept going through the hall, there were screens at the other end where you could see how they make the chocolate in the factory. Different kinds of chocolate, not cylinders. Finally, you could read a tutorial on how to be a chocolate taster and then at the end of the tour, you were greeted by unlimited samples of chocolate. And that was lunch. We hadn’t had lunch yet so this was the sweetest lunch I’ve ever had. We had quite the visit (and meal) at the Cailler chocolate factory!

Luxembourg: A Place to Call Home! – by Barb

We were very excited to finally arrive at my sister’s home in Luxembourg. They have lived there for 7 years and while we kept planning to visit it just hadn’t happened! We looked forward to spending some time with them, getting to see their school, and also using Luxembourg as our “home base” while we were in Europe. It was so nice to unpack our bags and just “hang out” for a little while. We also rented a car – so we felt incredibly spoiled! This was definitely easier travel than what we’d had in previous locations.

Grandma finally (after much convincing) even decided to stay with us for a couple weeks! While she was there we managed a few day trips:

Saarburg, Germany. Saarburg is a cute city in Germany, on the banks of the Saar River. There is a cable car that takes you up the mountain, where you can do a nice hike and you can also go for a short luge ride.

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Moselle River: France, Germany, Luxembourg. We took a nice leisurely bike ride (despite the rain) from Remich to Schengen, Luxembourg. The cool thing about this ride is that you can actually pass through three countries all in one day!

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Another fun day trip was to the Caves of Han-sur-Less, in Belgium. It takes just over an hour to go through the caves (you must go with a guide) and there is a sound/light show at the end. We also enjoyed the 4D theatre that came with our tickets and told you more about the story of the caves.

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We all went together to the Belgian Coast one weekend. While my sister was rather disappointed that it wasn’t sundress and sandal weather while we were there,but we all enjoyed it none-the-less!

While near the coast we spent a day in Brugge. We went on one of the free city tours, which was excellent and tasted the true Belgian waffles (yum!). We also spent an afternoon at a wonderful swimming complex so the kids good burn off some energy!

We spent an afternoon visiting The Essex Cemetery and the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres, Belgium. This museum does an incredible job of presenting the consequences of war. Visitors are invited to reflect on both the major historical events and the personal stories of individuals, and how the First World War affected the lives of the thousands of people of many different nationalities who were involved in it.

It was very moving to sit in the cemetery and look out onto the many tombstones. Having read John McCrae’s poem many times in school I felt honoured to be able to see where he had worked and where he had written his famous poem.

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After Grandma left, Clay and the boys and I took off for a few days to Switzerland. We spent a few nights just outside of Montreux (in Bouveret) and visited Chillon Castle, as well as the local Aquaparc.

We also drove out to La Maison du Gruyere and Maison Cailler, where we learned all about how Gruyere cheese and chocolate are made. (see Caleb’s blog about our chocolate tour which follows).

While in Switzerland we were also able to visit Zermatt, which is known for its year-round skiing. While it comes with quite the price tag, we managed to splurge for one day of skiing on the Matterhorn glacier. (see Connor’s skiing blog) Amazing!

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There is also a nice little museum in Zermatt (the Matterhorn museum) that tells you the story about some of the people who have tried to climb the Matterhorn. It was well worth the visit.

On yet another weekend, the Harris family joined us on a trip to Munich, Germany. We stayed at an amazing house out in the countryside and visited the Neuschwanstein Castle. Also known as the Fairy Tale castle Neuschwanstein’s positioning is also like something out of a fairytale one. It is located in the Alps in Bavaria, Germany, on the top of a hill. It was a nice hike up the mountain to the castle.

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From Neuschwanstein it was a quick jaunt to Reutte, Austria where we took a “stroll” across the world’s longest suspension bridge. Not for those with a fear of heights! Because it is so long it actually has a fair bit of movement to it, as you walk across. I was happy to get to the other side!

One of our main reasons to head to Munich, was actually to visit Dachau, which is about ½ hour outside of Munich. This is where you will find The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. We spent a day at the Memorial site and it had a profound impact. We went on a 3 hour guided tour of the site. Our guide did an excellent job of addressing 3 main questions that visitors have: How could this have happened? What was going on that allowed this to happen at the time? What was life like for the people at Dachau? While many of the signs suggested that visitors be at least 12 years of age, I felt that we had prepared the boys well and they were both ready to see the site. Some of the images were disturbing but the whole concept of the Holocaust is disturbing and I think that as they said many times at Dachau, we need to keep the memories alive of those who suffered torture and were killed so we can learning from history and Never let it happen again. We had some very good conversations after this visit.

Our final stop on this visit to Germany was the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart.

Clay and the boys and I also traveled to Normandy, France where we spent time at Juno Beach,  (see Clay’s blog about Juno Beach which follows)

Mont-Sant-Michele,

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and saw the Bayeaux Tapestry.

Amsterdam, Netherlands: A Few Days Around Amsterdam – by Barb

We were unable to get tickets online for Anne Frank’s House, so we arrived very early and joined the long line. It took us a couple of hours but we finally made it to the entrance way.

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Unfortunately Kim, Mom, Lana and Ellie had to head off to a food tour so they were forced to do a very quick run through in order to make it to their tour on time. The rest of us were able to move along at our own pace and really take in everything that Anne’s story represents. The boys and I had read part of the Dairy of Anne Frank ahead of time and watched the movie, which helped them to get more out of the visit. I thought they had done an excellent job of providing short video clips and snippets of information along the way so that you learned a lot but weren’t completely overwhelmed.

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The video at the end had a big impact on us as well. We all came away feeling rather somber and horrified that people could treat others that way.

 

While we were in Netherlands, we were all delighted that we were finally able to celebrate Liam’s birthday with him, in person! Since he lives in Luxembourg we don’t usually get to see him on his birthday. This year he got to celebrate with many of his cousins!

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Of course the Netherlands is world renowned for its tulips so we took a day trip to Keukenhoff. Keukenhoff, also known as the Garden of Europe, is one of the world’s largest flower gardens, with approximately 7 million flower bulbs planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares. We were fortunate that the day we were there, there it was Dutch Heritage weekend, which meant people were in cultural dress and they had dance presentations, cheese tasting, and much more.

 

To better understand Dutch history and culture, we spent a day at The Zaanse Schans. It is a living and working community that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s packed with wooden windmills, barns, houses and museums and built in the typically Dutch wooden architectural style. We learned how the Dutch clogs are made and how the windmills were used.