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Published: August 2nd 2019
Alright this one is going to be a little different. All the other past trips I have written about have either been with my family or school. This trip to Europe in March of 2019 was the first time I traveled completely alone to another country. During my trip, I visited Switzerland, France and Belgium, albeit small parts of each. The trip started in Switzerland, and then I went to France and then came back to Switzerland. I flew back home from Belgium. Some of the highlights were skiing in the Alps, the Geneva International Motor Show, and Belgian fries. The last is one especially exciting. In total it was a ten day trip starting on March seventh and ending on the seventeenth.
For me, the excitement started on Monday, and my flight was on Thursday. Before I could get away for spring break, I had to first sit through three whole days of school. I don’t think I will ever experience a longer school day then I did that wednesday. Time passed impossibly slow, and each 70 minute period felt like a week. When I finally got home, I immediately began packing and didn’t stop until about two hours before we left for Newark Airport.
Once at the airport, I didn’t get too much special treatment because I was 14. Thankfully, my parents and brother were allowed to accompany me to the gate so I could say goodbye one last time. When I finally got onto the plane, I was almost shaking with excitement. Sadly though, I would have to hold in that excitement for a little while. My plane finally took off at 5 PM, about an hour and a half after it had originally planned. Once the flight had truly began, I did everything my mom had never allowed me to do on planes. I had countless amounts of soda, snacks and watched as many movies as I could. When the plane landed 8 hours later at 1 AM eastern time, it was 7 AM in Geneva. So I was a little bit tired, but the snacks and movies had been worth it.
Since the Geneva airport is relatively small, I got to the pickup area in around 15 minutes and my cousin came five minutes later to pick me up. We then took the bus to her apartment, which gave me a chance to look around the city. I saw the UN headquarters, the convention center where the motor show would be happening, and the world famous Geneva Water Fountain. Once at my cousins apartment, I emptied out my check in bag, which consisted completely of food my mom had packed. Since my cousin had offered to let me stay with her for the entire trip, we had to thank her somehow. And boy, did we ever; she texted me three weeks after I had come back home that she and her husband were still trying to finish all the food I had brought.
Once the packing was done, my cousin explained the activities of the day to me. After resting for a little while, we would meet up with my cousin’s friend at the university where she is getting her masters degree. There, we would get the car my cousin had been allowed to borrow and we get going on the road. We would drive about an hour to Les Contamines-Montjoie, France and then do some sightseeing. After an hour long nap, I was energized and ready to go. Once in the car, I pulled out my phone and started to record some videos and time-lapses of us driving through the valleys of snow capped peaks. Around an hour later, Mont Blanc came into view and then we made the ascent up the mountain to the town we would be staying in. Once we met up with the rest of my cousins fellow students that had come in different cars, we walked over to the air bnb esque house we would be in. After unpacking, we headed outside to get a view of the mountains and breathe in the fresh chilly air.
For the rest of the day, we walked around the town and visited different shops and tried some chocolat chaud, or hot chocolate (since I’m taking French in school, I need some practice and was about to get a whole lot of it on this trip). Later at night back at the house, we had dinner and played some games. A little while later I called my parents and spoke to them for a little while. It hadn’t yet sunk in that I was on a completely different continent than my family at that point. It had definitely sunk in for my parents because we talked for twenty minutes. Once in bed, I thought about what lay ahead for me during the rest of these ten days.
The next morning, I woke refreshed and quite nervous. Skiing on some small slope in Pennsylvania an hour from your house is a little bit different than going skiing in the Alps in Europe. After breakfast, I got into my winter gear and we all headed to the the nearest of many, many ski shops in town. After getting our skis and boots, we took a bus to the tram that would take us up the mountain. The actual skiing didn’t start till halfway up the mountain, so by the time I walked off the tram and put on my skis, I was pretty high up. Since I’m not totally amazing at skiing, I spent most of the day going down the numerous green (easiest)and blue (next easiest) slopes. When I stopped for lunch, my legs were tired, but I was exhilarated. It was an entirely different experience and I was having so much fun. By the end of the day though, that fun quickly devolved into pain in my feet. Skiing for extended periods of time is difficult for people that have feet as flat as I do. So by night time I was sore and ready to sleep.
The next day, we didn’t ski, but we rested for a while before driving back to Geneva. Once back at my cousin’s apartment, we took a nap for a little bit before deciding to go out and enjoy the nice weather. We walked to the edge of Lake Geneva and made our way to the pier where the Geneva Water Fountain, or Jet d’Eau is. The fountain shoots water about 460 feet up into the air, and the slightest change in wind could mean a very drenched experience for an unsuspecting bystander. After taking some photos, we walked for a little bit and found a café to eat at. We had some chocolat chaud et pain au chocolat (chocolate bread). I could tell I would put on some pounds before getting home.
March 11 was my fourth day in Europe and my first day of sightseeing in Geneva. My cousins husband had offered to take me around the city and show me some things. Since my schedule was to get up later in the morning and then leave after lunch, we started a little later in the day. I went around looking at old churches and other buildings and eventually joined a tour of the old city of Geneva. I looked at all the historic, well preserved architecture from a long time ago. I saw the oldest church and home in Geneva, both dating back to around the 14th century. After a couple more hours of walking around and taking pictures, we went to a place that was a little more modern: the shopping mall. There, I tried some wonderful ice cream and looked at the overpriced clothes. Later that night in bed, my excitement built up as I prepared myself for one the the most amazing experiences ever for me.
On my fifth day, March 12, my cousin walked me to the bus station near her house at around 9 AM. I rode the bus to the main station, then found the bus I would ride to the convention center, and eventually arrived at the Geneva International Motor Shows. I spent the rest of the day in heaven. I knew ahead of time what new cars I would be seeing, but it didn’t change my reaction when I saw them. Specifically, the Koenigsegg Jesko and the Buggati La Voiture Noir were jaw droppers. I also saw the new Ferrari F8 Tributo, which was unveiled at the show just a few days before I arrived, and the new McLaren Senna. A couple of my other favorites include the Koenigsegg Regera, the Buggati Chiron and the Divo, and the Lamborghini Huracan Evo. After about six hours, I was still sad that I would have to leave soon to go back to my cousin’s home. My day in heaven was over, but it was better than I could have imagined.
I spent the next day completely alone, navigating through the public transport system of Geneva and going to some museums. I first went to the natural history museum and saw what the landscape of the land where Geneva Is looked like 1000 or so years ago. I then walked around the museum and looked at some statues of historical figures in Swiss history. Then I found my way to the Museum of Art and History where I spent multiple hours. I learned more about Swiss life in medieval times, and saw some old weapons used at the time. I then went through the art portion where I saw sculptures and mosaics from hundreds and hundreds of years ago. I finished off the day with my cousin and a couple of her friends at an Indian restaurant.
Day seven was my last whole day in Geneva and Switzerland. In the morning, my cousin dropped me off at the bus station and I took a bus to the outside of town to visit the International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent. I learned about the aid programs set up to help countries and people in need. I also learned that the reason the museum is in Geneva itself is that the Red Cross and Red Crescent was originally founded in Geneva in the year 1863 (not to be confused with the American Red Cross founded in 1881 in Washington DC). Afterwards, I took a bus to the UN headquarters closer to the downtown area and saw the huge Broken Chair in the square in front of the building. The chair, which is a 40 foot wooden sculpture of a chair, has one broken leg. It symbolizes the denouncement of the acceptance of violence against civilians in war. After a little while, my cousin arrived a the square and we then went together to the Patek Phillipe Watch Museum. Patek Phillipe is a world renowned watch manufacturer still owned and operated by a Swiss family in Geneva since its founding in 1839. The museum showcased many of the rare models made in the 19th and 18th century. I saw a lot of interesting watches so I decided to head online and check their prices. Much to my surprise, I saw number like $200.990 and $800.560. What I didn’t realize was that these watches weren’t two hundred dollars, they were two hundred thousand dollars. And there really were eight hundred thousand dollars watches being sold. The cheapest I could find was a second hand at the low, low price of $20,000. After that wonderfully surprising experience, we spent the rest of the day at my cousin’s husbands convenience store. I got to eat endless amounts of candy and drank a bunch of soda. It was amazing. That night we got back to the apartment and packed our bags for the next morning.
On March 15, I woke up at 2:30 AM and by 3 we were out of the apartment and by 3:30, we were at the airport which was completely empty. By 4:30 the plane had taken off and by 5:45 we were in Brussels, Belgium. We arrived at our hotel around 10 in the morning due to a slowdown at the airport (my adult cousin managed to forget her phone on the plane after we got off). We then rested for a little bit and then went to the downtown area to get some food. On the way back we stopped at some clothing shops but we eventually made it back to the hotel. My aunt (my cousins mom) met up with us at the hotel, and then we made our way to the train station. Once there, we bought tickets for a ride to Ghent, a small city about 40 minutes away from Brussels. Once there, I experienced two of the four best things Belgium has to offer: chocolate and waffles, the other two being beer and fries. I had an amazing hot chocolate and a waffle with more chocolate drizzled on top at a small and cozy café called Agrea. Afterwards, we walked to the Het Belfort van Gent, a bell tower built in the early 14th century. We bought tickets to go up near the top of the bell tower and once we did go up, I got an amazing view of the red tiled roofs surrounding me for miles. We then visited some shops including one where we tried Belgian fries, which were also amazing. After a little while, we walked back to the train station and took a train back to Brussels, and then we walked back to our hotel.
Day 9, or March 16 was my last full day in Europe. After breakfast, we went back to the train station and rode to Brugge, another Belgian city, which took about an hour. In Brugge, we spent a large part of our day going in and out of chocolate shops trying some at each one. We looked around the historic parts of the city as well. One major difference between Ghent and Brugge was that Brugge has old canals flowing through it, and there are canal tours offered to people. So under the cloudy chilly sky, we hopped into a boat and took a ride around the city. In the main city square, I had a second opportunity to eat some Belgian fries and they were even better this time. The main distention is the fact that the fries are fried more than once and when they are served, you are provided with multiple sauces to eat them with. Once we had tried all the free samples we could, we decided to head back. At the hotel, I packed all my bags and got ready for the next day. Tomorrow, I would be flying back home.
On March 17, the day before my birthday, my cousin and I took a train back to the airport and we went through check in. Right before security, I said bye to her one last time and then went through the process. Immigration was a breeze, and I soon found myself on the plane watching movies, drinking soda and eating snacks. I was doing everything but resting; my mom would be disappointed.
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