My first trip to Europe was to Switzerland when I was a young teenager with my grandparents, uncle and aunt, and my brother.
Our stay in Meiringen was definitely a quintessential old European experience. The town is a ski resort and hosted the 1976 winter Olympics. The hotel was quaint with tons of dark wood and small ornate balconies. My brother and I shared a room and used the balcony as a vantage point for people-watching. We could also see the Reichenbach Falls -- the waterfall from which Sherlock Holmes fell to his death in the series written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
While on the hunt for perfect souvenirs, my brother and I realized we weren’t banned from pubs because of our age. When in Europe, right? Some of the employees at our hotel were about our age and quickly befriended us. In fact, the experience was a pivotal moment in my life as I learned I had a knack for talking to strangers and quickly becoming friends with them. It probably helped that they invited us to a party in the Black Forest with them. I’m sure my brother would have preferred not to have his kid sister tag along so I did my very best to not be annoying or childish... Although I know my brother would say the opposite. And how many people (let alone Americans) can say they drank beer and danced with the locals in the Black Forest?!
While in Meiringen we visited various historical buildings. One such stop was to the Church of Saint Michael where I played, well tried to play, the alpine horn. It was really difficult! Those fellows in that Ricola commercial are really talented!
The next morning we travelled by train to Bern to tour Swiss Parliament where I learned about the process of government and about the foreign policy of military neutrality (since 1917). We perused the local shops where we enjoyed decadent chocolates and observed some odd fashion trends. We passed by the Zytglogge, a medieval tower and astronomical clock which was built in the 13th century. Sidenote: While watching the first season of National Geographic’s Genius, Einstein walked past the tower and I got all giddy inside knowing I had been in that exact spot! We also paid to use the restroom, my first experience of its kind on a trip. Little did I know I would spend a small fortune using restrooms around the world; maybe I should start a potty trust fund for any future little Autens.
We visited the Ballenberg Museum which housed old farm buildings from all over the country. I found it fascinating that many of the well-preserved structures were house-barn combinations with merely a wall separating the livestock from the people! The heat from the animals might have been welcome during the cold months but I wondered how distracting the sounds and smells would have been. The museum included a cheese-making shop. Oh, my, what wonderful cheese! The dairy cows are healthy and lovely but the size of their cowbells – my goodness! They were as large as my whole head! The bells enable the shepherds to know where they are as the sound of a bell travels more readily across long distances especially in thin air. The cows ascend the mountains during the warm summer months in search of cooler air and come back down for winter. That’s the origin of the expression “when the cows come home” according to one man we met.
We ventured across Lake Thum to Interlocken which is where I saw my first castle. I was in awe by its majestic presence on the hill. We didn't have time to explore, but I immediately knew that visiting a castle was now on my bucket list.
Who wouldn’t enjoy the city of Lucerne with its medieval architecture preserved in its Old City?! We crossed the Kapellbrucke Bridge which was first built in 1333 and later restored in 1994. Just beyond the bridge were row houses each painted in a charming pastel. It was such an adorable collection of homes!
We took the steepest cogwheel in the world to Mount Pilatus which overlooked the city. The top was blanketed in heavy snow but it looked like I could see forever across the great mountains. Not to be completely grownup, my brother and I pelted each other with snowballs and only stopped when it was apparent our grandparents may actually snap from their sanity.
We hiked to waterfalls and marveled at the majestic mountains and glaciers. We drove through narrow mountain roads while marveling at the beautiful terrain. While hiking on a mountainside we found some darling, platter-sized leaves that reminded us of caps that fairies may wear. So we donned our fairy caps and posed for photos. At one mountain restaurant we saw a wooden cart with cable and pulley attached which ran up the steep mountain. It was used to send up supplies to sheperds to send their refuse back down the mountain.
After venturing outside of the United States and exploring a culture different from my own, I knew traveling abroad was something I hoped to be able continue as an adult, and so far I have been very lucky to do just that!