Spring Break in Central Europe
Distinguished author and traveler Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” The appreciation that comes from being a stranger in a strange place is one like no other. Twenty-two students and three teachers from Carey High School were able to experience that particular feeling of being foreigners in Austria, Germany and Switzerland over 10 days. The unique experience was both exciting and eye-opening for all on the trip, because insight gained from experience cannot be matched by any secondhand source. Even as our technology advances from written tales to increasingly clear photographs and videotapes, traveling stands alone as the ultimate teacher.
Flying into Geneva and then traveling northwest across Switzerland, the group visited and toured some of the country’s biggest cities, including Gruyères, Lausanne, Lucerne, Montreux and Zurich. Each city had its own stunning views and unique pieces of history to offer. With the Swiss Alps serving as a picturesque backdrop, unpleasant views were nonexistent.
Lausanne, built on hills with Lake Geneva at its feet, is filled with historic structures and beautiful architecture. Students were able to see and feel the city’s rich history by attending an optional Easter mass (in French) at a 740-year-old cathedral in the heart of the city. The medieval town Gruyères offered more of this historical insight, surrounded by stone fortifications hundreds of years old. The beautiful town, located atop a 270-foot-tall hill, is famous for its cheese, which was sampled at a nearby cheese factory. On the way to Lucerne, they passed though Montreux, a town notable for its music and annual jazz festival, and by a neighboring castle, Château de Chillon. The breathtaking castle is located right on the shore of Lake Geneva, and records of it go back to more than 1,000 years.
Once at Lucerne, the students were greeted with an amazing city filled with wonderfully preserved medieval architecture and beautiful scenery. Situated amid snowcapped mountains and right along Lake Lucerne, the city has a very natural atmosphere, feeling much different from our industrial New York. The last city visited on the tour through Switzerland was Zurich, which is also the largest. There, the group took two exciting boat rides, one along the Reuss River throughout the city and another around the largest waterfall in Switzerland, Rhine Falls.
On the way to Austria, the group stopped in Vaduz, the capital of the sixth-smallest country in the world, Liechtenstein. Also notable about this tiny principality is its system of government. While most contemporary European monarchs hold little to no political power to govern, in Liechtenstein the prince holds a large amount, and the Vaduz Castle overlooking the capital is a constant visual reminder of this. The first stop in Austria was the alluring city of Innsbruck. A devoutly Catholic country, Austria is home to some of the most beautiful churches and cathedrals in the world, such as one the students visited, the Hofkirche, commissioned in 1553 by the Hapsburg ruler at the time. The next stop in Austria was Salzburg, a famous and historic city for many reasons, one being the birthplace of the famous composer Mozart.
After Salzburg, the group crossed the border into the Bavarian section of Germany. The first site visited there was the Neuschwanstein Castle. Perched atop a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau, the majestic castle, commissioned by King Ludwig II, served as inspiration for many fairy-tale castles. The interior of the castle was ornate and over the top with murals of the king’s favorite stories and operas covering every wall.
Munich was the next stop on the trip. The capital of Bavaria, Munich is historically and culturally significant. The busy center of the city, Marienplatz, is home to clothes and souvenir shopping, food markets and attractions such as the Rathaus-Glockenspiel, a tower from which figures emerge to reenact 16th-century stories for a duration of about 15 minutes twice a day. Today in Munich, it is surreal to see the now-repurposed buildings that once served as Adolf Hitler’s office and the Gestapo headquarters. The comparison of standing in the spot where people had once rallied for Hitler as he stood upon his balcony and standing in the Dachau concentration camp a bit outside Munich was something indescribable. The stay in Munich was topped off with a lesson in Bavarian dancing.
So much was learned from this amazing trip. Traveling to four different countries, where three languages (none of which English) are spoken is a fantastic way to spend spring break. A special thank-you to Ms. Angelica Brunetti, Ms. Theresa Ennis, Mr. Jason Gutlaizer and Carey’s favorite tour guide, John, for making this trip happen and giving students such a fantastic and unforgettable experience.