Hello Paris! The flights were long and the Shanghai airport was a mess but we made it! Michael and I landed on the afternoon of the fourth and went straight to our hostel. There were a ton of Americans there (who woke us up briefly at 3AM singing the Star Spangled Banner) and a rooftop bar with a beautiful view of the city. Our goal was to stay up until 10 that night to help combat jetlag so we went out for a cheap dinner and some sight seeing. After getting to the Champs-Elysses we got in line to walk the stairs up to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. While in line, we realized it was already 9:45 because the sun didn’t set until like 9:30 (compared to around 5:30 in Auckland at the moment). That made for the perfect lighting for our view of Paris when we got to the top and we easily made our 10PM bedtime goal. The next day the two of us went to Notre Dame Cathedral and it was just as beautiful as I remember. From there we went to the train station to pick up my sister! It was so great to see her and the three of us took our time walking to our hostel (a different one since we booked our first night in Paris last minute) in the red-light district (not quite as exciting as it sounds but we did happen upon the Moulin Rouge!). From there we rushed off to the Eiffel Tower, just barely making it in time for our tour. Since we were determined to fill every free moment of our limited time in Paris, we immediately walked to the Musee d’Orsay for a quick look, then back to the Eiffel Tower where we caught a boat for our river cruise. After a quick stop at our hostel we were refreshed enough to walk to Sacre-Coeur Basilica (which stayed open until 10:30), then to dinner. By the time we got served it was close to 11 (Michael nearly fell asleep waiting for food). The next morning we woke bright and early enough to have a quick visit of the Louvre, then caught a train to Lyon.
In Lyon we rented a car and had a very eventful drive to Chanaz, the town where we were meeting the rest of my family in the Rhone-Alpes region (south-eastern France). Now, Michael and Sara might tell you otherwise, but the route we took was incredibly stressful. You know when you see an ally or tiny windy road and you think, “it doesn’t seem possible that anyone actually drives there.” Well, those are the types of roads we took almost exclusively on our nearly four-hour drive (it was only supposed to take one and a half). And that’s how I developed my paranoia about our cars navigational system. Once we finally got to Chanaz, we had an amazing dinner with most of my extended family. The next day we went to a castle and stopped in Annecy for a picnic lunch. Annecy has to be one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s a city by a lake with water so clear it reminded me of the Caribbean, and surrounded by mountains. The castle we went to was called Chateau de Menthon-Saint-Bernard. It was a little way up the mountains and had a gorgeous view of Lake Annecy. We took a tour of the castle and learned that it’s actually still lived in by the Menthon family. Because my whole family is a little crazy and we hadn’t had our fill of travel that day, we drove to Geneva, Switzerland for dinner.
On Friday I went with my mom, dad, sister, and Michael to Chamonix, host city for the first winter Olympics. After lunch in the town (that reminded me a lot of the mountain towns in Colorado), we all took a gondola up to the top of the mountain neighboring Mont Blanc. It was freezing and the air was thin but the views were incredible. On Saturday most of my family went on a bicycle ride (the ride was one of some significance but I’m not as up on that kind of thing as the rest of them), while a few of us stayed behind for a more relaxing adventure. It started at Abbaye d’Hautecombe. We chose this abbey because it was near by but it turned out to be incredibly cool. Then we went to Aix-les-Bains, the city on the opposite side of Lac du Bourget (a big lake) from Chanaz, for lunch. After a few of us snuck off to get crepes, we all drove to the lake for a swim before going back to Chanaz for the evening. Sunday was the day we drove to Italy. On the way my family stopped at a little ski area outside of Turin for a hike. It was hot but the wildflowers in the Alps were amazing. The drive was long and sometimes a bit sketchy (like when we were going at a toll stop and the woman in the car in front of us yelled and made us back up on the freeway), but we got to our villa in Pian di Sco in time for dinner.