In sum up of Paris, I learnt that Charlemagne was “so big he could mount his horse from behind” that at the Paris opera, “to your left, you can see boobs” that it is possible to fall asleep standing up, and that I had never been properly cold before. To sleep in our tent I wore 3 pairs of jeans with woollen tights underneath, 3 pairs of socks, 7 layers of hoodies, thermals, jackets and jumpers on top, I wrapped myself in my giant scarf like it was a cocoon and zipped into my sleeping bag which was insulated from the ground by a lilo and newspaper (a little trick I picked up from the homeless). It was snowing as we took down our tents on the last morning and I thought I was never going to get to feel my fingers again. There is a reason that Topdeck doesn’t take out camping trips this early in the year! I also thought I was never going to hear the end of Napoleon. It turns out I was right about that one.
The whole drive to Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland was filled with whispered wonderings as to whether we would be camping again. The sigh of relief when the TL of the day announced that they were reading out the rooming list was audible. We still set up the cook tent and ate outside amongst piles of snow but we slept in cabins. Lauterbrunnen was a special site for the chefs. When we are not on a trip we will be based at one of 3 permanent cook sites. One in Lauters one in Rome and one in Venice. These are 3 major sites that the majority of trips come through and so there are large marquees and a permanent kitchen set up at each one. Here we will cater for up to 200 people a night and breakfast and sometimes lunch, so I was very interested to see the first one of these sites. It did not disappoint. Lauterbrunnen is at the bottom of a steep valley, noise in the town has to stop after 10pm because of the disturbance caused by any sound echoing around the mountains. There are huge waterfalls tumbling from the cliff faces around the campsite and if you need any more of a visual I need only tell you that it was JRR Tolkien’s inspiration for Rivendell, which should cement in your mind the idyllic location that we were in.
On our day in Lauters we were treated to a trip up Jungfrau. Jungfrau is advertised as the roof of Europe and is 4,158 meters high (that’s about 4 times the height of the Blue Mountains for Sydneysiders playing at home). We went up on a cute little railway and were warned about altitude sickness. Some people did feel sick, I certainly felt light headed and short of breath and at lunch time, Michelle and I were overcome with the giggles to such an extent that we could only blame the height! They had really cool caves within a glacier, ice carvings and outdoor platforms where on a nice day you could appreciate the view but we could barely see 10 meters in front of ourselves! The whole experience was only topped by the next day when we went to Engleburg and up Mt Titlis. After the jokes about the mountain being a bit higher than the name might suggest (it is 3,238 meters high) we ascended it in ‘Gondolas’ and were provided chocolate bars in preparation for the altitude sickness (sugar helps). What they couldn’t prepare us for was the world that greeted us once we broke through the clouds. The gasp from our group as we saw the sun ricocheting off the solid mass of clouds and sharply defining the jagged edges of the black mountains made the locals laugh. Our mouths stayed open for the rest of that visit. This time we didn’t spend nearly as much time in their ice caves because outside was just so glorious. There was a swing bridge to cross, snow angels to make and skiers to watch descending into the clouds. A-mazing. That night we stayed in a cute ski lodge in town and I was babysitting some lettuces I didn’t want to wilt and so I hung them out the window to keep fresh in the chill air. The chefs were probably the only ones who missed the cold weather once it was gone.
Our next stop was in Avignon in the south of France.
Side note – in an attempt to make us more international and less bogan Australian, everyone on trip but especially the TL’s were being pulled up on their pronunciation. The big one was France. It was to be pronounced in the cultured, European way, not the bogan nasally Australian way. I found this very hard.
Back to Avignon. It is a totally walled city with an interesting half- bridge thing going on in its river. The chefs didn’t get into the city until about 10pm that night as we were setting camp up checking out supermarkets and cooking and by the time the TL’s led us over for our tour it was completely deserted. The whole place was beautifully lit up and I could imagine that with the carousel going and people in the bars it would be idyllic, but come Sunday evening it was very quiet.
The next morning we were up early (again, check in with our trainers was generally before 6am and we had to check in dressed and ready for the day). This was a big day of driving, first stop was Pont Du Gard, an ancient roman aqueduct 3 levels high and very impressive. We stopped for less than an hour just to look and let the TL’s spiel on it before we continued on down to Barcelona (Pronounced – Barthelona). I guess I had forgotten about where we were going because when we got off the coach in the center of the city to look at the Sagrada Familia I was still wearing 2 layers of pants and woolen socks and was distinctly uncomfortable. Not that I was complaining, I was thrilled that it was warm! We drove around the city a few times, staring with open mouths as we rounded the top of the hill to the side of the city and taking in the sweeping views of a lively city that spread from the sea all the way up the surrounding hills and back into the valley. We drove past the port where Christopher Columbus set off to discover the new world and spied on the many many buildings designed by Gaudi, it really is his city. That night we ate Tapas and Paella (No sangria unfortunately, no alcohol allowed on TT) before we got back on the coach to continue looping the city.