It has been a while since I last posted, so I have a lot to catch you all up on! After Prague, I went back to Germany for a week. I have come to feel really at home here, loving walking around the Christmas markets and spending my days wandering Mainz. I celebrated my 23rd birthday by having dinner with Hannah and a friend, making oreo hot chocolate, and eating lots of Germany candy.
During the week, I had two major kitchen successes. The first, was a pinterest recipe (we all know how that can go) for Gluten-Free Ginger Molasses Cookies using coconut flour and almond butter. I added a bit more coconut flour than the recipe calls for because my dough was too soft, and I amped up the spices a bit, but all in all they came out delicious and soft- just the way I like them. The next was a salad recipe that I came up with myself, so I figured I should share it! (Hannah claims to have loved it, so hopefully you will too!)
Makes enough for two very large salads.
– One small sugar pumpkin (or any winter squash), cubed
– one small bag of brussels sprouts, half cut into halves and the other shredded with a sharp knife
– four garlic cloves, peeled
– one small bag of baby kale (you could use any hearty leafy green)
– a few handfuls of red grapes, halved
– parmesan cheese, chunked (you know how much you like)
– dressing: combine 2 parts olive oil, one part balsamic vinegar, a squirt of mustard, a squirt of honey, salt and pepper.
– to put the salad together: toss the pumpkin, garlic and the halved brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast in the oven until soft and a little browned. Let the roasted veggies cool while you make the dressing. Toss the baby kale and shaved, raw, brussels sprouts together with the dressing. Top the greens with the roasted veggies, grapes, and cheese. You could even throw some slivered almonds on top for crunch if you wanted. Enjoy!
Ok, back to the travel stuff:
Hannah took me to Frankfurt to introduce me to the family she lived with and au paired for when she first moved to Germany. We walked the massive Christmas market, ate schnitzel at Atschel with a pitcher of their famous Apfelwein, and went to the family’s christmas party where I got to meet lots of fabulous people and be surrounded by the German language. It was awesome.
We also went to Wiesbaden to join her colleagues at their Christmas market!
A couple weeks ago, while trying to decide where to go next, I texted my mom and jokingly said that she should come meet me somewhere in Europe before I come home. I got my Aunt Deb in on the conversation, and tried to plant the idea of a spontaneous trip over here to come see what I’ve been up to or, even better, to explore a new place with me. When they said yes, I could barely contain my excitement and suggested a few countries where we could meet. We decided on Switzerland, and I packed my bags.
I spent my first night in Switzerland in Zurich alone, waiting to pick up my mom, aunt, and my aunt’s mom from the airport the next morning. I stayed at Langstars hostel, which was located in the Langstrasse area. I got in at night so I wasn’t able to explore very much, but the area seemed a bit dodgy to me. The big lit up signs for strip clubs next door were an indication that maybe it’s more of an up and coming neighborhood.. Anyway, the hostel was pretty expensive and I was disappointed with the set up. I was given a canvasy feeling sleeping bag to lay in on top of a dirty sheet, and the building was incredibly dated and awkward. I did like the free glass of wine they gave me at the bar though.
I woke up the next morning feeling like a kid on Christmas, basically sprinting to the bus to get to the airport. I arrived an hour early, and anxiously waited to see them come through the arrival gate. I was a big baby when I saw them, blubbering like it had been years!
We took the train directly from Zurich Airport to Lucerne, where we spent the majority of our trip. We checked into the Renaissance Lucerne Hotel where I felt like a queen walking into her castle. A bed, a clean shower, not having to lock up my stuff?? Luxury!!! I was so happy. We spent our first day exploring Lucerne and all its beautiful little streets, and eating dinner at the Mexican restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel, Pacifico.
The food at Pacifico was good and, like everywhere in Switzerland, pretty expensive. Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Shelby, you asked your mom to meet you in the most expensive country in Europe?” I’ll admit, I had been warned about the prices before I left, but I figured expensive meant paying a few dollars more for everyday things. When I saw that a burger cost about $30… I realized I should have probably paid more attention. Luckily, we all laughed about the $10 yogurts and just pretended to be Kardashians for the week.
The highlights of Lucerne for me were the views, the people, and the food. We had awesome luck with the weather, so we were able to get out and explore every day. The people we met were very friendly, willing to help us when we couldn’t speak German or understand menus, etc. I think we must have asked our hotel staff about 30 questions a day, and they gave us an answer with a (genuine) smile each time.
One great way to spend an afternoon in Lucerne is to take the Guetschbahn (a hilarious, cardboard box-looking cable car) up the mountain to the Guetsch Hotel. This magnificent building sits right on the edge, overlooking the entire city and the nearby mountains. Once you figure out how to get up there, I promise you won’t be disappointed. We were lucky enough to be able to stay and have lunch there, with great food and even better scenery.
* Side note: The European way to enjoy french fries or frites is to dip them in a flavored mayo or aioli. Sorry ketschup, it was nice knowing ya.
As for the food in Lucerne, we had a knack for choosing some great places (with the help of Yelp. You know I love Yelp). For lunch on our first day, we wandered into Cafe de Ville looking for something light and a place to warm up. The cafe was set on the second floor, giving us a gorgeous view of the mountains over the lake. I ordered the rosti, a traditional swiss dish made up of a giant potato pancake topped with herbed sour cream and smoked salmon. It was light and delicious, and the perfect portion to keep me warm and full. My mom ordered the couscous salad with shrimp which was so beautiful I had to take a picture of hers too.
Another great lunch spot was Ristorante Mamma Leone. This cute Italian restaurant was a great place for salad and traditional Italian fare like pizza, pasta, and antipasti. We had the spicy salami pizza, an antipasti plate, and lots of mixed salad.
For dinner spots, we had two delicious dinners in Lucerne worth noting. The first was at Restaurant Opus, a little restaurant and wine cellar combo serving Mediterranean and Swiss fusion. I had the chicken breast stuffed with herbs, cheese, and tiny flecks of alpine ham. Again, my mom chose the most beautiful dish, ordering the lime risotto with shrimp and locust lobster. *If you’ve never seen a locust lobster, google it. It looks like a monster.* My aunt Deb and her mom Bev both chose the restaurants antipasti buffet, which was a huge spread of cured meats, olives, salads, and more. The service was fantastic, as was the food.
The second fabulous dinner in Lucerne was had at Stern Lucerne, a hotel and restaurant that sits right next to the Christmas market in the Franziskanerplatz. Here, we really went all out, enjoying three different courses. One thing I loved about Stern Lucern was the way they offer and serve their appetizers and desserts. Each appetizer and dessert comes in a jar big enough for two people to have one or two bites each. You can order two, three, or all of the jars. This way, you get to sample a bunch of menu items without being too stuffed by the end of the meal. To start, the four of us split jars of pumpkin soup and salads topped with sweet and sour pumpkin and roasted beets. The salad was amazing, and the sweet and sour pumpkin was out of this world.
For main courses, My mom and I split the catch of the day (a trout-like fish coming right from the near by Swiss lakes), and the spicy penne with roasted chestnuts and elderberries. Bev enjoyed the pork steak, and Aunt Debbie had the chicken cordon blue. We all loved our meals, and couldn’t stop raving about how the unexpected ingredients paired so nicely together.
For dessert, we ordered three jars: warm chocolate chili cake, chocolate fig ice cream, and the ‘hazelnut treat’. The cake was warm and delicious although not spicy like we had hoped and the ice cream was deliciously figgy and rich. The hazelnut treat was a sort of hazelnut flan with hazelnut brittle pieces on top. They were all fantastic. If you’re looking for a romantic place to have an amazing meal, Stern Lucerne is the place to go.
We also had a nice, quick, traditional breakfast at Moevenpick Restaurant right across from the hotel. You’ve got to try the Birchermuesli.
Also, shout out to Heini cafes where we frequently warmed up with coffee or tea, and to Confiserie Bachmann for the delightful salads and macarons.
In the middle of the week, we decided to take an excursion and head to Muerren and Interlaken. Muerren, a tiny little village high in the mountains took us about two hours to get to from Lucerne, with three trains and a cable car. We wandered through the story-book village, in shock that a place this beautiful actually exists. I think my mom said, “Look over there! Can you believe that??” about 20 times in the first hour. Unfortunately, most of the businesses were closed, so we headed to the Schilthornbahn and boarded a cable car up the Schilthorn mountain.
^^^^ My cute mountain mom!!
You may be wondering what is so special about this mountain. Well, aside from gorgeous views and a look out over the Jungfrau, Moench, and Eiger mountains, the Schilthorn is famous for being home to the revolving restaurant where the James Bond movie, In Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was filmed. After riding in the cable car, we had lunch at the revolving restaurant and took in the scenery around us. It was unbelievable. Eating lunch as you slowly spin, getting to see a 360 degree view of the Alps… incredible. The food was sub-par (I didn’t even eat mine and clearly I don’t do that often), but the view was worth paying for the seat. We explored the sky walk, braved the grated platform where you can look down to see the drop below, and even explored the James Bond Experience- the museum included in your lift ticket price. It was an amazing experience to say the least.
After Muerren, we headed to Interlaken for the night. We stayed at Hotel Interlaken, a beautiful old hotel built in the 1400s. Deciding on Restaurant Grand Cafe for dinner, we sat and were given English menus, which is always nice when you don’t speak the native language. My aunt, Deb, was really craving an espresso martini, so we were determined to find one. After some back and forth with the restaurant manager, a chilled espresso and vodka drink was brought to the table. It turned out great, even though the manager just kept repeating to us “I am very confused.” If espresso martinis become a hit in Europe, you can thank us! For food, I ordered the winter salad and a cup of the potato and leek soup. The salad was wonderful, with walnuts, poached pears, and camembert cheese. The soup was warm and thick and perfect. We also each had a few bites of cheese fondue (when in Switzerland, right?). The cheese was thick and super hot, with a strong flavor of wine. It was served with cubes of bread and boiled potatoes. Thank you to the manager for being hilariously welcoming and allowing us to totally confuse him all evening!
The next morning, we woke up ready to explore Interlaken although we knew things would be closed due to it being Sunday. There were a few stores open, so we were able to pick up some gifts and goodies to bring back with us. Looking up to admire the mountain peaks surrounding the city, we realized there were paragliders all around us, jumping from a near by mountain and gliding all the way down to the park in the center of Interlaken. “Let’s do it.” My aunt said to me.
The next thing we knew, we were in a van being driven up Beatenberg peak, a mountain about 3900 feet above the ground. After making them pull over to let us pee, we finally made it to the top. We were set up with harnesses and meet our incredible pilots who were probably the coolest people I’ve ever met. My tandem pilot, Daniela made me feel completely safe. She told me how she was a primary school teacher who quit her job to become a full time paraglider. Bad. Ass.
She hooked my harness to hers and said, “3,2,1, RUN.” I moved faster than I ever have in my life, and we ran right off the face of the mountain. I honestly don’t have words to describe the feeling of being lifted into the air over mountain ranges and a city below. Once the parachute caught wind, it felt like we were drifting through the air, completely safe and sound. It was the most beautiful and serene experience. At one point, Daniela took out her GoPro, handed me the pulls to steer, and told me to pull hard with my right hand. As she directed me, I pulled as hard as I could, making us do flips and spin like we were in a tornado. We landed on the ground, high-fived, and I wished I could head right back up the mountain to do it again. Daniela did explain to me how I could get my own license to paraglide like she did, so maybe that’s a project in my future. It was absolutely something I will never forget.
We headed back to Lucerne, talking about how it weirdly felt like we were going home. That’s the thing about traveling- anywhere can feel like home if you have the right people around you. We enjoyed the local Christmas market, drinking Gluhwein and eating currywurst. We tried schokokussen- chocolate covered homemade marshmallows, and walked around buying little souvenirs like Gluhwein spices and Christmas mugs.
As I got on my train to head back to Germany, saying goodbye to my family as they waited for their train to the airport, I couldn’t help but feel a little sad. Traveling alone is a huge learning experience. You learn so much about the world, and even more about yourself. I have loved being able to challenge myself to create my own happiness. But, as I hugged my mom goodbye, I also realized that no matter where we go or how long we are gone, it is the people we love that make this life worth while. Mountains are beautiful, food is delicious, but being able to have shared those things with my family, even for a short time, is something I am so beyond thankful for.
I am headed back to Germany for more holiday-themed shenanigans! Thank you so so much to my mom, aunt Deb, and Bev for coming to join me on this crazy journey. I am so lucky to have you all in my life. On to the next adventure!