An Alpine Paradise: Zermatt

Picture yourself sitting on the balcony of a chalet hotel in the middle of the Swiss Alps, overlooking the majestic Matterhorn.  No, it’s not a scene from a make-believe movie filmed in Hollywood or a delightful vision you once had in a dream.  This will be your reality when you visit the charming village of Zermatt, Switzerland.  From the towering Alps to the sweeping valleys and the glacial streams to the Swiss architecture, Zermatt is a one-of-a-kind alpine paradise.

Located in the district of Visp in the canton of Valais in Switzerland, Zermatt has a population of approximately 5,800 people.  Its smaller size in comparison to larger European destinations makes it the perfect place to get away from it all.  Take a train from a larger city through the breathtaking mountain vistas as you make your way to this awe-inspiring locale.  You’ll want to have your camera on hand to capture the stunning scenery along the way, from the rolling green valleys dotted with ornate chalets and lush gardens to the massive glaciers capping many of the towering peaks along the way.  I can assure you that a scenic ride on the rails alone is enough to make you want to return!  As you walk down the Bahnhofstrasse, the main thoroughfare in Zermatt, toward your hotel, you will be awestruck by the beauty that surrounds you.  Pinch yourself and you’ll find that this idyllic setting is not a dream, but your absolute reality for the length of your stay.
Be sure to plan your trip ahead of time, so you can reserve a room at one of the beautiful hotels in Zermatt.  While the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof offers some of the most luxurious accommodations, I prefer the smaller Swiss-style chalet hotels like Hotel Antika.  It’s more affordable and offers a more intimate stay than a large hotel.  This particular hotel also serves up a delicious breakfast each morning featuring thinly sliced meats and cheeses, fruits, homemade bread, jams, yogurt, and some of the fluffiest, most buttery croissants I’ve ever tasted in my entire life.  Request a balcony room facing the Matterhorn.  The only problem?  Prying yourself away from the captivating view!  Of course, you may choose to walk down the Coop, which is one of the two local markets in Zermatt, and purchase some fresh baked bread, sliced lunchmeat, Swiss cheese (of course!), and an apple strudel for dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Then, bring your purchases back to the hotel and enjoy a delightful picnic on your own private balcony with the Matterhorn as the backdrop.
If you’re looking for something more adventurous, take the highest open-air cogwheel railway in Europe up to Gornergrat, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland at a height of 3,089 meters.  Or you can take a cable car directly from Zermatt to one of many locations including the highest altitude mountain railway station in all of Europe, the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise.  This is the place to have a bite to eat, relax, or embark an even grander adventure.  Besides being a scenic wonderland at a height of 3,883 meters with views of the Italian, French, and Swiss Alps, this is also the starting point for a climb to the top of Breithorn, a 4,000 meter mountain that will delight any mountain climber brave enough to take on the two and a half hour hike.
Feeling a need for speed?  Don your skis and get ready to hit the slopes!  Zermatt is home to Klein Matterhorn, the highest ski lift in Europe.  This small Alpine village also proudly offers the largest summer skiing area in the Alps with 9 ski lifts and 25 kilometer runs open all year.  Want to travel over the snow in a cooler part of the year?  They also have the longest winter skiing season in Europe, running late November to early May.  Zermatt is known as one of the best ski resorts in the world.  And rightly so, since it is used as a training facility for Olympic athletes and champions from around the world!  From the green Bunny Hill to the black advanced slope, you’ll find a run made just for you, giving you a million reasons to smile as you cruise through the powder underneath the shadow of the Matterhorn!
If all of this activity has given you an appetite, head back down to the village of Zermatt for dinner at one of the charming restaurants serving up delicious Swiss cuisine.  We chose Whymperstube, a restaurant known for their cheese fondue, beef bourguignon, and other culinary delights.  While you may have experienced fondue at a restaurant near you, Swiss fondue is unlike any other.  The cheese used in this savory dish is especially Swiss, rich and creamy and sure to please cheese lovers from every part of the globe.  They also offer lighter fare such as a salad featuring buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.  The ambience is pure Swiss with the small ornate windows and classic Swiss style wood furniture.  Whichever you choose, a visit to a restaurant in Zermatt will enable you to mingle with the locals, enjoy the Swiss delicacies, and leisurely reflect on the day’s events or look ahead to new memories to be made during your stay in Switzerland.
When you plan your itinerary, be sure to leave a little wiggle room.  You never know when you might walk down a side road and hear a group of musicians gathered together to share their love of folk music.  Take a stroll outside of town and leave the village behind.  Explore the nature trails, visit the Glacier Palace, or take flight on a helicopter sightseeing tour.  Visit the Matterhorn Museum to learn more about the history of this majestic mountain landscape, including the first group of individuals to ever attempt to summit the Matterhorn itself.
No matter what you do, if your stay in Zermatt falls between the start of July and mid-August, you must make plans to be on the Bahnhofstrasse, at 9:00 a.m. in the morning and/or 5:00 p.m. each evening.  And don’t forget to have your camera in hand!  The head goat herder and young people from around the area will don traditional Swiss costumes and parade through town with a herd of Blackneck goats.  These goats are considered by many to be the most beautiful Swiss breed of goat.  While it is for the enjoyment of locals and tourists alike, this tradition has its roots in the history of the village.  As late as the 1960’s, Blackneck goats have been driven to the meadows in Zermatt and back to their stalls for milking in the evenings.  In the 1990’s, the tradition of the Blackneck goats parading through town was reintroduced as a way to entertain visitors and promote the breed through this one-of-a-kind street performance.  It is an experience you will always remember, so get ready to hear the bells on the goat’s collars ring!  Take a lot of photographs and don’t be afraid to reach out and touch one of these friendly residents of Zermatt!
Whether you keep it cool as you glide across the pristine alpine snow on a pair of skis or heat things up as you mingle over a pot of fondue, you’ll quickly realize that a trip to Zermatt is much more than a vacation; it is an experience.  And if you’re like me, you’ll sit on your balcony, gazing at the moonlight over the Matterhorn on your last evening there, with only one question in your mind.  The question?  When can I return?  Zermatt may look like it was ripped from the pages of a storybook, but I can tell you firsthand that it is not a fairytale.  Zermatt, Switzerland is the ultimate alpine paradise!
Do you have any recommendations for what to see and do in Zermatt or the surrounding areas?  E-mail them to!
May you always have joyful journeys!

Jennifer Campbell

Paris: The City of Light

As a little girl, I remember seeing the Eiffel Tower featured in magazines and books and on television.  Its sheer size seemed to tower over the city of Paris similar to the way the Jolly Green Giant would dwarf the citizens of Munchkin Land.  The sparkling lights atop the tower created a magical spectacle that left me speechless when I fulfilled a childhood dream and set foot on Parisian soil for the first time.   From the glistening top of the Eiffel Tower to the sandy bottom of the River Seine, Paris is a city of wonder with its stately architecture, classic cuisine, and stunning sights to behold.

The moment you step onto the sidewalks of Paris, you will be captivated by the beauty that surrounds you.  But maintain your focus and make your way to Rue Cler, a street for locals and tourists alike.  The boutique hotels on this street offer an affordable accommodation in a setting that is perfectly Parisian.  My choice would be the Hotel Grand Leveque, a hotel recommended by the prolific European traveler Rick Steves.  I recommend paying a little extra to reserve a room street side on an upper floor, where you can lie in bed at night and watch the Tower twinkle atop the buildings down below.  I can personally tell you your final night in Paris will be a breathtaking one as you reflect on your journey through France while watching this magical sight unfold.
Rue Cler is a street built for foodies with its fromageries, bakeries, cafes, and markets.  Be sure to spend a day perusing the street, stopping in for a freshly baked baguette from the bakery, a slice of your favorite cheese from the fromagerie, some thinly sliced meat from the delicatessen, fresh fruit from the local market, and for dessert, a flaky, buttery croissant with a creamy chocolate filling.  Once you have shopped like a Parisian, carry your items to the perfect spot for a picnic: the Eiffel Tower.  For you see, while Rue Cler does not feel a bit touristy with all of the locals shopping and eating there, it is within walking distance of the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb, and many other Paris landmarks.  The American Church of Paris is also just around the corner.  This cathedral provides an interdenominational service that will uplift and inspire you, complete with the beloved melody of a choir and pipe organ.  You will also find the École Militaire metro station a few blocks away, which makes it easy to travel to far-reaching destinations within Paris and nearby villages.  So make the most of your vacation as you become acquainted with the locals and do a little sightseeing as well!
If you want to see Paris from a bird’s eye view, climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the famed Champs-Élysées.  This noteworthy monument honors the French men and women who gave their lives for their country during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  If you want to see even more of the city from high above its chimneys and steeples, make the trek via metro and funicular to the highest point in all of Paris, butte Montmartre.  While there, visit the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris, an impressive structure that was completed in 1914.  Finally, the Eiffel Tower offers a panoramic view of the city by day and an enchanted spectacle of lights at night.  You can brave the 600+ steps from the ground to the second level or use the lifts that will take you all the way to the top!  If it’s the Eiffel Tower you want to see from a semi-bird’s eye angle, visit the Trocadero, considered by many to be the number one place to have your photograph taken with the Eiffel Tower as the backdrop.  There’s nothing like sitting on the marble steps basking in the awe of this magnificent Tower that has graced the city skyline for over 120 years.  The fascinating spectacle of this romantic city seems like an image taken straight from an artist’s canvas.
A trip to Paris would not be complete without a day spent at the Louvre, one of the world’s largest museums.  The architecture of the building alone is enough to make anyone take a second look.  Construction began around the 12th century.  While it has undergone major renovations and additions over the past several hundred years, visitors can journey to the crypt and see a portion of the medieval Louvre.  While many people may think of the Louvre as an art museum, it is much more than that.  This museum houses some of the greatest collections in the world, from the Code of Hammurabi to the Winged Victory of Samothrace.  While there, be sure to venture over to the Denon Wing to see Da Vinci’s renowned depiction of Mona Lisa.  Across the room, marvel at the beauty of my favorite work of art in the entire collection: The Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese.  It is a massive painting that measures over 20 feet high and 30 feet wide.  The subject of the painting is the miracle performed by Jesus in the Christian New Testament when he turned the water into wine.  If you can pry yourself away from this awe-inspiring canvas, peruse the galleries filled with artwork and ancient relics from all over the world.  Just don’t expect to see it all in one day, as there are over 35,000 exhibits on display.  Still, you can see the works of art most important to you in one day, if that is all your itinerary will allow.
During your stay in France, you will discover, just as I did, that French cuisine absolutely lives up to its name.  Whether you are searching for the classic French meal with French Onion Soup as the appetizer, Beef Bourguignon as your entrée, and chocolate mousse for dessert, or an eclectic fusion of flavors with your choice of Asian-inspired ginger-glazed salmon over a bed of long grain rice or a play on Italian cuisine with homemade lasagna, Paris has it all.  One of my favorite places to eat in all of Paris is Le Petit Cler, a café that is always filled with local Parisians lingering over a glass of wine, fresh baguettes, and a deliciously prepared meal.  This café has several options to choose from, including a succulently seasoned rump steak that is moist and tender, paired with a salad of freshly mixed greens, a baked potato, and a cream sauce that pleases the palette.  Want some lighter fare?  Their chicken salad features the freshest ingredients topped with strips of real chicken and their special house vinaigrette.  Cap your meal off with one of their signature desserts, including a creamy vanilla custard or sinfully delectable strawberry tart.
Want to take a day trip outside of the city limits?  Catch the metro and then transfer to the high speed rails for an excursion to the Palace of Versailles, an exquisite royal estate situated just 20 kilometers from Paris.  If you are traveling with children or are still a child at heart, journey to Disneyland Paris.  It’s a unique experience, even for those of us who have been to Disney’s Parks in the United States.  Think classic Disney with a European flair.  They maintain Disney classics like “it’s a small world” and Pirates of the Caribbean while bringing in new adventures such as Pinocchio’s Fantastic Journey, a dark ride featuring animatronics and a multisensory experience.  Looking for something more grown-up?  Visit the beaches of Normandy and pay tribute to the brave men and women who lost their lives in 1944 during a surprise attack and battle that raged on for over a month.
After an amazing day of sightseeing, enjoy a sunset cruise on the River Seine as you soak it all in, from the silhouette of Notre Dame Cathedral to the Eiffel Tower.  Prepare to kiss your sweetheart as you sail beneath Lover’s Bridge, the perfect landmark for the capital of romance, as it showcases padlocks placed by couples from around the world.  It is the perfect way to conclude a memorable journey through the City of Light.  Whatever you choose to do during your stay in Paris, you’re guaranteed to have a delightful glance into the French culture and lifestyle.  And don’t cry when it’s over.  Just smile because it happened and remember that a return trip is a must if you desire to see and do it all!  Paris is infinitely more than an once-in-a-lifetime experience!
What are some of your favorite things to see or do in Paris?  Please comment below and share your recommendations!  May you always have joyful journeys!
Jennifer Campbell

Sensational Santorini

Want to venture to a picturesque paradise in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea?  Then book a flight or set sail to the enchanting island of Santorini.  Whether you choose to ride the cable car, hop in the saddle of a donkey, or walk the 600 steps to the top of the caldera, you’ll be greeted with a panoramic view that will leave you speechless.  Once a single volcanic peak, an enormous eruption hundreds of years ago left behind a caldera 400 meters deep that is filled with water from the Aegean Sea.   Although it was a catastrophic occurrence that destroyed earlier civilizations, today visitors enjoy the towering cliffs and breathtaking views from vistas as high as 980 feet above the brilliant blue waters below. 

Santorini has everything you’re looking for in the Greek isles, from beautiful beaches to authentic Greek cuisine with a backdrop of picture perfect landscapes everywhere you look!
While there are several ways to get around the island, I recommend renting a car online before your arrival.  When you reach the town of Fira, you will be greeted with a sign bearing your name.  The rental car agent will meet you there and escort you to the parking lot where your transportation awaits!  After a brief orientation meeting with the map, you’ll be on your way for a day that allows you to do exactly what you want!  So take a drive around the island, see some of the sights, and the stop for a bite to eat at one of the local restaurants.
History and archeological buffs will want to make plans to visit Akrotiri, an excavation site of a Minoan Bronze Age settlement.  Preserved by a modern covering, this site provides a rare look into the past as you explore this civilization that was buried by the catastrophic eruption that desolated the island during the second millennium B.C.  If you want to dig even deeper into the history of Santorini and other regions of the world, you’ll want to visit the island’s museums including the Archeological Museum, Museum of Prehistoric Thira, George E. Argyros Museum, Megaro Cultural Center, Naval Maritime Museum, Lignos Folklore Museum, Icons and Relics Collection, Museum of Minerals and Fossils, and the Wine Museum.  Please note that the majority of museums on the island are closed on Mondays, so you will need to plan your itinerary accordingly.
When you’re done exploring the history of the island, you can continue making some history of your own by driving toward Mount Prophet Elijah, the island’s highest peak standing at 567 meters.  Nearby, enter the charming village known as Perissa.  You’ll definitely want to spend a good bit of time here.  Whether you want to stop into one of the many bars or restaurants for some refreshments or get a relaxing massage on the beach, this is truly an island oasis.  Of course, you may choose to follow in my footsteps, leaving the landlubbers behind and plunging into the dark blue sea, enjoying a refreshing swim as you watch the boats sail smoothly over the horizon.  Back on the beach, take a moment to sink your toes into the warm volcanic sand, a unique experience that you can brag about to your friends and family back home.
Whatever you choose to do on this gorgeous Greek isle, be sure to savor each and every single moment.  Stop to take a photograph, talk to the locals, or shop for locally handmade goods.  One of my favorite experiences on Santorini was when my dad and I stopped spontaneously at a local bakery in a remote area away from the town of Fira, away from the tourists.  It was frequented by locals taking bread and other goods home to feed their families.  Deciding what to order was a feat in itself as we stood there mesmerized by the trays upon trays of freshly baked bread, pastries, cookies, and other culinary confections.  After much indecision, we chose to sample the classic Greek baklava and an apple spice cake, both of which were delicious and perfect in every way.  Having purchased a large bottle of milk, the owner graciously offered us two cups so that we could share.  This was the perfect way to cap off our stay in Santorini.  Sitting in the open air patio, looking out at the Mediterranean Sea, I was fascinated by the beauty of the landscape, the delicately refined taste of the sweet treats, and the notion that I was enjoying life as a citizen of Santorini, at least for the better part of a day.
All too soon it was time to return the rental car and make our way to the port to catch the tender back to our cruise ship.  As we prepared to board the cable car, I stood there for a moment looking out at the town of Fira.  Briefly, I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to stand on top of this glorious remnant of a volcano again.  Just as suddenly as the thought came, it fluttered away.  For a trip to Santorini is not an once-in-a-lifetime experience.  There’s something special about this island, a sort of tugging that I know one day will bring me back to the enchanted beauty of Santorini.
What are some of your favorite things to see or do on the island of Santorini? Please comment below and share your recommendations! May you always have joyful journeys!

Jennifer Campbell

New York, New York!

From Bronx to Brooklyn and Manhattan to Queens, New York City is an eclectic mix of culture and cuisine.  In this city, there truly is something for everyone.  The moment you step onto the sidewalks of New York, you will find yourself humming Sinatra’s classic tune as you proudly proclaim, “I want to be a part of it, New York, New York!”

The moment I walked up the steps of the subway station, the first building I laid eyes on was Macy’s Department Store right in the heart of Herald Square.  Having grown up faithfully watching “Miracle on 34th Street” every single Christmas, I must admit that I was a little awestruck to actually be planting my feet on 34th Street.  For me to be in New York City during the holiday season made it even more magical and it felt as if they must have been right when they told Virginia that there was indeed a Santa Claus.

If you plan your trip to New York during the holidays, you must take a moment to admire the Christmas window displays outside of Macy’s in particular.  This year the windows featured Make-a-Wish children, so they were not only eye-catching, but also pulled on your heartstrings as well.  Unlike your average department store windows, these wondrous windows become striking works of 4D art, complete with an elaborate multimedia experience that will drop your jaw and raise your eyebrows.

After your “window shopping,” make sure you saunter inside to merely marvel at the sheer size of America’s largest department store that spans the length and width of an entire city block and boasts ten and a half levels of eye-catching displays filled a wide array of merchandise to appeal to the entire family.  At Christmastime, a visit with children means a visit to Santa Land and the Puppet Theatre.  You’ll also want to check out the seasonal décor department, as it is a Christmas wonderland in itself!  There are several restaurants inside the store for your convenience as well.  If you’re like me, you may choose to shop the entire time and end up buying a few things, too.  Why not?  You’re at Macy’s Herald Square!  So shop till you drop and then get ready for the next adventure in this concrete jungle!

Has all of this shopping made you hungry?  Head on over to Lombardi’s Pizza, deemed America’s First Pizzeria.  Even at 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon, there was an hour wait.  But let me tell you, it was well worth the wait!  Want to taste the competition?  Then head on over to Grimaldi’s Pizza underneath the Brooklyn Bridge!  Both of these pizzerias are among the small number of restaurants who still bake their pizzas in a coal-fired brick oven.  Having been friendly rivals for years, they both fire up a scrumptious slice that makes your mouth water!  But I am sure you are wondering, which one is best?

Grimaldi’s and Lombardi’s both have crust that is perfectly thin and crisp, tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese and basil.  And of course, you can add whatever toppings you like!  At Lombardi’s, we chose to add pepperoni and meatballs to our pie.  Their meatballs are homemade, sliced in half, and laid on top of the pizza before it is briefly tucked inside the 900 degree oven.  The addition of meatballs made the flavor of this already delicious pizza rocket to the moon and back.  At Grimaldi’s, we chose to go simplistic with a classic pepperoni.  Ultimately, though, there was nothing simple about this pizza.  The complex flavor profile they achieved put them over the top on the New York thin crust pizza scale.  Along with their out-of-this-world pizza, Grimaldi’s maintains an intimate family atmosphere paired with the musical talents of Ernie Barry, an accordion player with vocal talents that will make you think that Sinatra’s back in town.  Whichever you choose, Grimaldi’s or Lombardi’s, your thin crust pizza will have you wondering if you have suddenly been transported into the heart of Italy!

Your trip will not be complete without a visit to Rockefeller Center, especially at Christmastime where you can see the towering tree of lights.  From there, feel free to parade down the center of Times Square as you journey to Broadway.  We chose to take in a show on 42nd Street at the New Amsterdam Theater.  There’s something quite magical about sitting in your very own private box as you sit back, relax, and enjoy a positively perfect production of Mary Poppins!  It truly was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!  From the acting to the dancing and the singing to the orchestra, everything was brilliant.  A must-see performance for young and old alike!

After the show, drop down into the subway and make your way to Katz’s Delicatessen.  Feast your eyes on the mountainous peaks of freshly prepared corned beef, pastrami, and anything else your heart desires!  Their sandwiches have even been featured on the Food Network and rightly so!  The meat is tender, juicy, and has unimaginable flavor oozing out of every bite!  There is a solid crowd even at 3:00 a.m. on a Saturday night, so you know it has to be good!  The perfect place to chow down on some deliciousness morning, noon, or night! 

If you are in the city on a Sunday, drop by the Brooklyn Tabernacle, the home of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.  This Grammy Award-winning choir recently had the opportunity to share their talents at the Presidential Inauguration.  Let me tell you, their talent is unsurpassed and hearing them in person is an experience like no other.  I had the privilege of seeing their Christmas program, “Christmas Once Again,” and it was the best Christmas program I have ever seen in my life.  The music reached down into the depths of my soul.  The lyrics spoke to the innermost part of my heart.  Every word spoken, every note sung, and every move made ministered to my heart and soul in such a special way.  It was one of those days I will remember for the rest of my life.

Of course, a visit to New York would still not be complete without a trip to Central Park, the Empire State Building, Trump Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, and so much more.  If all of this sightseeing is making you hungry, stop by Joe’s Gourmet for an affordable meal where you can literally get anything your taste buds are begging for from Italian to Sushi and Philly Cheesesteaks to Salad.  A few blocks away, take a moment to wander through the 9/11 Memorial, remembering those who lost their lives on that fateful day in 2011.  The most touching aspect of the memorial is the Survivor Tree, a tree that was scorched but has remained standing as a reminder that Americans will persevere against all odds.

George Washington referred to it as the “Seat of Empire.”  In the 1920’s and 30’s, jazz musicians first used the term “The Big Apple.”  It has been called the city that never sleeps, the Metropolis, and the financial capital of the world.  Boasting the largest number of skyscrapers than any other city in the U.S., it could even be referred to as the City of Skyscrapers.  No matter what you call it, a trip to New York City will exceed your expectations and inspire you to promptly make plans to return!
What are some of your favorite things to see or do in New York City and the surrounding areas? Please comment below and share your recommendations! May you always have joyful journeys!
Jennifer Campbell