Thursday, 15 February 2018

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 7 - Saying goodbye & Paris

From my last day in Switzerland.

I still can't fully believe that only three weeks ago I had just said goodbye to my host family and hopped on a train to Paris. It feels like months ago now. My last few days in Switzerland passed slowly and quickly at the same time. I'm a very organised person, so I was all packed four days before leaving - though I had started packing a week earlier. School was finishing up, and there wasn't really much left for me to do. Despite my lack of work to do, time still managed to fly by until I was in the Geneva train station saying goodbye to some of my favourite people in the world.
I didn't talk about my host family very much in previous posts, but they were amazing. I couldn't have asked for a better family. They were so incredibly welcoming and generous towards me, always doing their best to make me feel at home. I got on very well with my host mother in particular, so leaving her was the hardest of all. There were many, many tears that day. I cried first at the train station, but we were hurried onto the train, so I had to calm down in order to organise my luggage, and find a seat. I thought that maybe I wouldn't cry again, but about 30 minutes into the train ride, when it was very obvious by the landscape that we were not in  Switzerland anymore I had another quiet cry to myself, on and off for the rest of the trip.
All 25 New Zealanders who had gone on the exchange had a four day trip to Paris before heading home. I had imagined this trip would be a good thing, because we'd be able to have fun in Paris and then not be as sad when travelling home. I'm not sure about the other kids, but for me this was not the case. I was so distraught about leaving my family that the last thing I wanted to do was traipse around Paris with a big tour group for four days. All I wanted to do was curl up and sleep. Paris of course was beautiful, but my bad mood combined with our limited time meant that I wasn't able to fully enjoy anything. I would love to go back there for a couple for weeks get a proper feel for the city. The trip felt very long for me since all I wanted to do was go home (to either NZ or Switzerland). I was quite relived when we finally got on the plane. One thing in particular that I did enjoy in Paris was the bike tour we did. This tour was a lot of fun, it felt a lot less busy than everything else we did. We hopped our cute red bikes, which was such a relief for my very overworked feet, and cycled around the main tourist spots at a leisurely pace, all the while actually learning the history of Paris and how everything fitted together from our tour guide. The bike tour was definitely the highlight of my Paris trip.

 I always knew that 2 months was all I had, but I was so settled in in Switzerland I really didn't feel like I was going to leave. Switzerland was my home, I lived there. For the last month at least, I couldn't imagine myself anywhere else. It makes me incredibly happy to feel that I have a second home all the way across the world, and a second family. There is no doubt in my mind, I am definitely going back to Switzerland some time. 
This exchange was one of the best things I've ever done, and I cannot recommend it enough. I'm trying to convince all my younger siblings to go on one. The amount that you learn about different cultures, languages, and yourself is worth every penny that you pay - if not more. 

I hope you've all enjoyed following my time abroad, and if you have any questions about exchanges you can reach me either here or on instagram, I'd be more than happy to answer.

Amesmames xx

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 6 - Gruyeres and La Mer de Glace

I'm currently sitting on my bed listening to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack because all the photos from the past week put me in such a fairytale mood! As I'm writing this I only have 5 days left in Switzerland! The mood of the entire trip has become very desperate as those of us on the trip try to fit in as much as possible before our departure. 
Last weekend is a great example of said desperation. I did something every day of the weekend, and even skipped school on Monday to fit even more in.
Saturday we started out by going to Aquaparc, which was a really cool water park with about 10 different slides as well as hot pools and saunas. For anyone from Christchurch it's very similar to QE2 (Before it fell down). Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures there, but it was a lot of fun. I think it's a great family activity and totally recommend it.
Next on our weekend agenda was Gruyeres. I, along with my host father and a couple of other girls on the exchange, drove there sunday morning. The drive was beautiful as per usual. I love going on drives in Switzerland because it is such a different landscape to anything we have in New Zealand. I also love going on drives here because we always end up in some beautiful village, and Gruyeres was no exception. I felt like I had been transported into a disney movie. I made everyone stop every five seconds to take another photo because it was all so beautiful!
We toured the well maintained castle  before having fondue and Gruyeres' well known meringue and double cream for lunch. We completely stuffed ourselves, making the most of some of our last Swiss treats. 
Before heading home we also toured the Cailler chocolate factory. Once again I didn't take photos, but this was a really good experience. I didn't actually see that much of the factory, but I did learn a lot about the history of chocolate, and I got to eat a lot of chocolate (you finish the tour in the tasting room).

Last on our list was Chamonix, France. It took about an hour to drive from Geneva to Chamonix, and I find that so crazy, you can just drive to another country! You can't drive anywhere else when your in New Zealand.

When we first arrived in Chamonix I thought it couldn't get much more beautiful, nestled in the French alps with stunning views in any direction. Of course the view got a million times better when we actually took a train into the mountains. I wish my phone camera was better, because the photos I took do not do the view any justice. I had never seen such steep, jagged mountains in my life, it hardly looked real! Once again I felt like I was in a fairytale (actually I felt like I was in a barbie movie).
From the train you can take a gondola down to La Mer de Glace - the famous glacier. Each year they did out little tunnels/caves which they then open for people to walk through. I had never actually seen a glacier up close before then. It was so much more blue than I imagined, and so smooth to touch.

 Ending it with a very durpy picture of myself having the tie of my life in the glacier. I really can't believe this whole experience is actually coming to an end. No matter how hard I try to slow down, the days seem to be flying by faster and faster. I know that I will come back here (hopefully this time with my family), but it's never going to be like this again, and so I'm savoring every last moment.

Amesmames xx

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Swiss Exchange Week 4 and 5 - Crans-Montana and Venice

My time in Switzerland is very quickly passing by, I feel like it was just yesterday that I arrived, and now I have only two weeks left in this beautiful country. I remember being so freaked out by the idea of spending two whole months here, but now I'm certain that two months just isn't enough.
The past couple of weeks have been winter holidays, and I've been fortunate enough to have two amazing trips; one to Crans-Montana for a little bit of skiing, and another to Venice.

We arrived in Crans-Montana on the 27th. I took the train up, and it was absolutely beautiful. First we travelled alongside lake Leman, and the weather was reasonably nice, so I had a great view of the swiss alps. Eventually though, we passed the lake and journeyed into the mountains. I had originally planned to nap for this part of the trip, but once I saw the stunning snow-capped mountains, there was no chance that I would give up that view for sleep. 
My host family have an apartment in Montana, and ski there very regularly, so they knew all the good restaurants to take me to, and all the good ski slopes. My first night we went to a traditional swiss restaurant, and I had my first rosti (basically a swiss hash brown) which was extremely delicious. I loved all the decor, the cow bells and red, checkered table cloths. 
 Our apartment had the most beautiful view of the swiss alps from the living area, and from my room. picturesque fur trees covered in snow. I took a photo out my window everyday.
 On our first full day we skied. I was so nervous, because I'd only been skiing once before on a school trip, five years ago. However, I managed the bunny slopes without any dramatic falls, my host family were very impressed with how quickly I picked it up. Over the course of the five days I skied four times, each going a little higher, and a little steeper than the last time. I had one skiing lesson which immensely boosted my confidence levels, and once I felt in control I really enjoyed myself. I scared my host mother to death with my 'need for speed', but I was having the time of my life.
Of course there were many spectacular wipeouts, most of which I managed to do sliding backwards down the slopes. But I managed to end the trip with minimal bruising, and no broken bones!

Crans-Montana is beautiful, I loved the view when I could ski high enough to see it! You could see the matterhorn at the top, although I'm not sure if it is in this picture.
The next big trip was Venice. We had one day after Crans-Montana to somewhat recover before we were off again. This trip was very eventful and fast paced! We started off our travels with insanely turbulent flights. We flew Geneva to Zurich, and the Zurich to Venice, which took much longer than planned because of weather delays, Our first flight was like nothing I've ever experienced before. We had a veeery shaky take off, but the captain kindly informed us that the plane was handling everything just fine. Even so, there was no point throughout the flight where passengers could get up from their seats. One lady and her kid ignored this a got up to go to the bathroom and the air host literally yelled at them to sit down! Stress levels on the flight were very high, people were puking all over the flight, each lurch sent the cabin into a mini frenzy. I didn't actually notice any of this as I was sitting at the window seat, and actually found the flight pretty enjoyable, kind of like a roller coaster. The most thrilling part of the flight for me was when we were struck by lightening. The bright, purple flash and loud pop noise on the side of the plane made me jump. Once we landed the entire cabin joined in a round of applause and breathed a sigh of relief, that was until we were informed that Zurich airport was shut down due to bad weather, and we had to wait on the plane for half an hour. And then we had to wait another three hours until our next flight took off. This was much longer than our intended hour and 15.
I didn't know what to think of venice when we first arrived. I had imagined it to be very sophisticated, much like Switzerland. Some things did feel very glamourous, like the water taxis, glittering Christmas lights, and designer boutiques. But to me the city seemed like it didn't fit together. I thought the small little alleyways, crowded footpaths, and rundown buildings didn't make sense. The whole place was disorganised to me. But my host family go to venice almost every year, and I know they have good taste. I made it my mission to find out what it was about venice that my family couldn't get enough of.
On our first day we visited Murano, which is part of Venice, but separate from the main island. Murano is known for glasswork. They have a big glass factory, that you can tour, where they make all sorts; from pandora beads to life size sculptures. The winter holidays are reasonably quiet for Venice, so rather than seeing the glassworkers making junk (and then shattering it right away) I got to see them making what I believe was part of a chandelier. It was very interesting, and I think very worth the trip.

On the evening of the first day I asked my host family what they really love about Italy. One of the main things my family appreciates is the carefree, joyful character of italians; the men don't work too hard, they eat good food, they laugh, they talk to anyone, they play little games with tourists. Suddenly the city made sense to me. I had expected it to be so similar to Switzerland, and - consequently - was disappointed when it wasn't. Once I better understood the italian culture, then I loved Venice, it fits with the carefree, happy nature of Italy. How interesting that countries so close to one another can be so very different! 
 The next day we tackled the big tourist attractions; Basilica di San Marco, Campanile di San Marco, Rialto bridge.  These are popular for good reason, they are absolutely stunning. The Campanile has the most stunning view of the entire city, the gold mosaics and huge domed ceilings of the Catholic Church are unmissable. Unfortunately you can't take photos in the church, however it is unlikely to be something you will forget!

 Our last day was the gondola ride, which to be honest, I thought was overrated. You got to tour the city a little bit, and I guess it's at a different angle, but I didn't find it to be a highlight of the trip at all. Of course, venice looked beautiful, it was particularly romantic because of the fog that settled in that morning.
I wish that I had more time to explore venice some more, do some really serious shopping (although I did manage a fair amount in three days), and stuff myself with even more italian food. I'm sure that this will not be my last time in Venice. Once again, it's a spot I can't wait to bring my family and show them where I've been!
My trip to Venice made me realise some of the things I love about Switzerland. The swiss people are so prim and proper, you will rarely see a swiss person snacking, everything has a place, almost everyone has a gym membership and uses it regularly, and the style here is amazing. The country inspires me, and I have made a few new years resolutions based on the sophisticated culture. I can't believe i only have two more weeks!

Amesmames xx

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 3 - Geneva and a Swiss Christmas

I never considered myself a traveller. I always wanted to go places and see things, but it's not something that would define me. However now that I'm overseas I'm starting to realize how addictive it is to be immersed in a different culture, and fall in love with language, food, and traditions, maybe I am becoming a traveller.
There are many positive things I can learn from the swiss culture, I'm thinking of healthy eating habits in particular. I thought that I would come here, eat bread and cheese, and put on weight, but the lifestyle here is so much healthier than in New Zealand. I almost never see anybody overweight. I've found everybody is much better about not snacking so much in between meals. In New Zealand we tend to eat all the time, constant snacking, often just out of boredom. But here you go from meal to meal, maybe with a few crackers in between, and its perfectly fine. Fast food is much more expensive here as well. At lunch time it's cheaper for me to pick up a salad from the supermarket than a burger from McDonald's. It pretty much forces you to eat healthier, and I am not complaining.
The positive lifestyle habits that I'm picking up from Switzerland make me excited to travel the rest of the world and see what else I'm missing out on.
This week was the last week of school for the year. As a little reward myself and a few other girls went on a girlie shopping trip in Geneva. Geneva was insane, very vibrant and busy. This was partially due to the fact that we went two days before Christmas, but I can tell Geneva is an energetic city. The streets and stores were packed with shoppers and street performers. While that's not everyone's cup of tea, I loved it.
Shopping in the vibrant city centre with the clear, blue lake on one side and pretty bakeries on the other was beautiful. The lake was much less polluted than I imagined it to be, it was a very striking blue colour. Actually the whole time we were there I desperately wanted to jump in, despite the chilly temperature.
And the shopping was so good. The stores are massive, and so much better than those in New Zealand. I have a new favourite store, Mango, which unfortunately is not available in NZ, but is in Australia. Everybody is so stylish here, at first I found the big oversized coats and statement pants a bit grungy and not up my alley, but the longer I'm here the more I like them. I will definitely return to Geneva for some more shopping after new years.

This week was our last week of school for the year, and basically one big lead up to Christmas. It felt so strange though, at home I would finish school at least three weeks before Christmas, so I couldn't help but feel that there were still a couple of weeks until the big day. We did all the christmas-y things: decorated the house, wrapped presents, and made Christmas cookies.
It's been very strange, in many ways it looked more like Christmas here; the towns were more decorated, and it's winter here, but I'm away from all my family, so it also felt much less like Christmas.

Everything is done differently for Christmas here. We opened presents on Christmas Eve after a big dinner of Fondue Chinoise - Chinese Hotpot - a very popular choice for Christmas Dinner. We opened stockings on Christmas day, and then said goodbye to all the family. But back home we would go to the beach on Christmas Eve, and maybe drive around to look at light displays, and open our presents early on Christmas day before breakfast. Dinner would be a big roast dinner. 
So this year was different, but very cool. I was away from my family, but got to experience a completely different kind of Christmas in another country, 
I hope everybody had a very merry Christmas this year.

Amesmames xx

Swiss Exchange Trip Week 7 - Saying goodbye & Paris

From my last day in Switzerland. I still can't fully believe that only three weeks ago I...