Ticino

We absolutely could not leave Switzerland without visiting TICINO! Ticino is the Italian speaking canton of Switzerland, in the southern region bordering with Italy. We finally made it on our last vacation weekend before we end our jobs on the 30th of June. It was a public holiday this past Monday 5 June for Pentecost, and so we were able to have a 3 day weekend for the trip, which was helpful since it takes some time to travel there.

Transportation: We travelled by train, which takes 4.5-6 hours. The train was the best option as you have to cross the Alps to reach Ticino, and traffic is known to be awful on the weekends with people traveling south for vacation and the cheaper shopping in Italy. There are only two options: Drive over the mountains or train/drive through a tunnel. On our way down to Ticino we took the train route that goes through the Gotthard Base tunnel. Opened in 2016, this is the world’s longest and deepest traffic tunnel, is over 35 miles long and cuts straight through the Alps! An incredible engineering feat!

Accommodation: 

We stayed in the Ticino capital of Bellinzona at the Hotel Gamper on Friday night. We  stayed there merely for convenience as we were arriving late on Friday night (nearly 11 pm) and it was a convenient 15 minute bus ride to the village of Cresciano for our canyoning trip on Saturday morning. For one of the cheaper hotels next to the train station, we were pleasantly surprised. The hotel room was big and had a balcony with a view of the village and the local castle.

20170603-Ticino-019
View of the castle of Bellinzona from our hotel balcony.

We stayed in a one bedroom apartment rental with Cassa Rossa in Brione in the beautiful Valle Verzasca for Saturday and Sunday night. This place was a fantastic rental and I wish we could have stayed longer. Seriously, I recommend visiting and you will not be disappointed! The apartment was very newly renovated, with 100% Ikea furnishings but it looked like one of their store rooms. The apartment was fully equipped, the grounds were well manicured with a hot tub and 3 BBQ areas with outdoor seating, overlooking the river and mountains. This valley is well-known for its steep walls with granite peaks, that have created crystal-clear, aqua blue streams cutting through water-carved granite canyons. There were waterfalls everywhere gushing with water from the spring snow-melt. So beautiful!

20170603-Ticino-016
The Cassa Rossa in the center of the valley Verzasca. That’s me sitting in the area by the grill. A perfect spot for our BBQ!
20170603-Ticino-017
Another view of the Cassa Rossa. It had three apartments, one on each floor. We were in the center. It had views from all the windows – I wish I was still there now!

Activities: 

After doing some research on the Ticino region we discovered it has some of the best available canyoning in the world. We signed up with Ticino Adventures to take us out on Saturday 3 June for a guided trip. Given that we never had done this before, we chose a Level 2 route called the Boggera (see link for description) in Valle di Cresciano. The trip was about 4 hours round trip, with approximately 2 hours in the canyon. Canyoning involves walking to a high elevation above a canyon and then taking a series of jumps into pools, walking through the stream bed, sliding down natural slides (my favorite!) and also rappelling down cliffs through the waterfalls. Overall, while it was cool and the slides were so fun, I am not so sure I care to do it again as the jumps scared me a liiiiittle too much. But still really awesome to have tried out canyoning!

just us canyoning
Andrew and I at the beginning of the trip
canyoning 2
A section where we had  just jumped into the pool of water on the bottom right corner. Afterwards we walked through a section of the canyon through the water.
canyoning
Me and three of the other Swiss people on the trip. We were in a section after we’d just rappelled down through a waterfall!
slide canyoning
A natural slide feature as part of the canyon trip.  You wear a harness with a tough rubber flap over your bum, it helps protect your skin and makes it easier to slide. We slid down feature here, as you can see the people at the top getting ready. You hold onto a rope and once you reach the end you let go and slide on down. It was so cool!

After the canyoning trip, it took us some time on public transit to our next destination – the village of Brione in Valle Verzasca. We stopped in the lakeside city of Locarno for a convenient layover. We walked along the lakefront, watched some beach volleyball at a tournament, and bought groceries for the next couple days. By 6pm we were at our apartment in Brione and by 7:30 we were grilling and enjoying the view. Doesn’t get any better!

On Sunday, we woke up and hit the trail – which was a convenient 2 minute walk from our doorstep! We headed up to Lake Starlarèsc.

20170604-Ticino-015
Passing through a meadow at the beginning of our hike
20170604-Ticino-014
Hiking up and up
20170604-Ticino-012
So.many.waterfalls. We hiked along this one for at least an hour. It was continuous and gorgeous as it cascaded down the mountainside over these steps of granite.

This was a challenging hike that took us on what turned out to be 6.5 hour trek with a 5,100 foot elevation gain (this is a lot for us!). We reached an open meadow area with a shelter for people to spend the night next to the lake. You can see the stone house on the right side of the photo below. I would not have minded staying a night there!

20170604-Ticino-003

20170604-Ticino-007
We had our lunch sitting on benches on the pass at the center of this photo. It was such a sweet spot and awesome view!

It would have been an 1.5 hours shorter but we tried to take the trail on a loop and got blocked by an un-passable field of snow on a steep slope. We had to double-back and go back down the way we came. Unfortunate, but it happens this time of year while we’re waiting for snow to melt.

20170604-Ticino-004
A chamois looking back to watch us after he was galloping through the snow. He was above the big snow patch that we were unable to cross. Really gave us perspective at how skilled these animals are at traversing the mountains when we weren’t sure we could safely cross the snow!
20170604-Ticino-006
View from the hike into the next valley over, Valle Maggia

As we hiked and traveled through the Valle Verzasca, we were reminded so much of the California Sierra Nevada mountains and how different the climate was in Ticino versus our local mountains in the Suisse Romande. The peaks were granite and lower elevation, leading to far more green vegetation on the peaks. It was so much more lush, which makes sense given we were on the warmer, wetter, sunnier, southern side of the Alps.

On Monday, as it was a holiday, there were limited buses to get out of Brione and we had to leave early. Luckily, it was pouring down rain, making it a bit easier to leave as we would not have been able to enjoy the day. We left shortly after 9am and got home around 3:30pm. It was such a nice trip and I can’t say enough how much I’d recommend a trip to this region!

So, that was it! Our last weekend trip while living in Switzerland. Holy cow it has been an amazing two years of living in Switzerland and having the opportunity to travel to such amazing places in Europe – and all so close to our Swiss home!

For the rest of the month up until our last day of work we’re both very busy. Andrew is working on a proposal and I am on an audit with a short deadline. Both of us are trying to close out open jobs or transition our work to our successors and it’s finally our turn to have our apéro de départ (work going away party) next Friday 16 June! We’re sharing the event with a few other people who are leaving the firm or transferring to other offices, so it should be a big gathering.

We have now put nearly all our furniture up for sale online and have managed to sell quite a few things so far. The apartment is starting to empty out (no more dining room table or night stands – where do I put my water glass???) and we’re nearing the transition period when we will live out of suitcases and storage units for 2.5+ months.

I am so happy and RELIEVED that we received a letter in the mail this week that someone has rented our apartment starting 1 August!!!!!!!! This was becoming a huge concern to find a replacement on our lease. We will have to pay one month’s rent to cover July, but we’re officially released from our lease contract and we have it in writing. Such good news and one less thing to worry about on a long list of international moving tasks. Other than moving and starting to pack up our things, we’ll be trying to get up into the mountains every Sunday to prepare our legs for our multi-day trek in the Dolomites next month. It’s all starting to come to a close, which is a bittersweet time for us. Either way, we’re going to continue to enjoy our last days in Switzerland and I’ll keep sharing them with you!

Exploring the Côtes du Rhône

This past Thursday was a public holiday in Switzerland for Ascencion. On top of that, most people faire le pont  (“make the bridge”) and take off Friday as well in order to have a 4 day weekend off from work. Last year we went to Paris for the long weekend. This year we made the bridge a little longer and took ourselves on over into France’s Côtes du Rhône wine region to stay in a little B&B in Séguret from Tuesday 23 May – Sunday 28 May 2017.

Transportation: Séguret is about a 4.5 hour drive from Lausanne without traffic and we rented a car for the trip. A car was necessary as we were out in the countryside and public transit wasn’t widely available. The drive home on Sunday took us over 7 hours. We quickly learned that the northbound traffic coming from the South of France on the Sunday after Ascencion is verrrry similar to traffic after popular beach weekends in the U.S.!

Accommodation: We sought a small B&B nestled in vineyards, within reasonable walking distance of restaurants. We found our little gem, the Maison Sadina. A small B&B with 5 guest rooms, it is run by a husband and wife (and cat – Coppet!) who recently took over operations of the house. The hosts were so endearing and hospitable, it was a treat to stay somewhere in such a gorgeous location and to relax away from it all.

20170524-Provence-017
The Maison Sadina. + Coppet! (pronounce “co-pay”)

We especially loved their outdoor spaces, with a cabana in the backyard overlooking the pool and vineyards, and a spot on the side of the house beneath a tree perfect for viewing the sunset over the valley of vineyards. A lot of time was spent outside sipping wine and enjoying the scenery!

20170524-Provence-022
One of our favorite spots at the Maison Sadina, overlooking the vineyards at sunset.

Eats: In an effort to watch our budget and not over-eat, we only ate out for dinner twice while in France. We ate some simple dinners at Maison Sadina outside in the courtyard, which itself was a nice change of pace and enjoyable. We  picked up salads, crackers and cheese for dinner one night from the grocery store and carryout pizza another.

20170525-Provence-013
The courtyard where we had breakfast each morning and our two “at-home” dinners

Le Mesclun: Sitting on the edge of the hillside village of Séguret, this was a 30 minute walk from Maison Sadina for dinner on Thursday. The view from our table on the shaded terrace overlooked the Rhône valley.

20170525-Provence-012.jpg

Top – first course: foie gras; bottom left – main course: shredded lamb in a thin puff pastry; bottom right – dessert: nougat and ice cream. Strawberries were in season locally and SO sweet!

Domaine de Cabasse: A hotel restaurant at the foot of the hill of Séguret’s old city. We were unimpressed by the food for our dinner on Saturday night. On the bright side, the terrace was perfect to enjoy the night outside!

The terrace at Domaine de Cabasse
20170527-provence-001
Walking back to Maison Sadina from dinner through the vineyards. Dreamy!

Activities: 

We were in France for 5 nights. We left after work on Tuesday and arrived late in the evening. We had left early to avoid the Wednesday evening mass exodus’ traffic for the holiday weekend and it worked well in our favor. We worked remotely from the B&B on Wednesday – much to the confusion of our host and other guests. Who are these young Americans sitting inside on their laptops on a gorgeous day in Provence?? At 6pm on Wednesday as we closed our laptops down, we officially began the vacation with one of our favorite ways to see a new place. We laced up our shoes and hit the road for a run through the vineyards.

Andrew running through the vineyards. You can see the nearby village of Sablet up ahead on the hill (see the tower poking out). Also, on the left are the rocky peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail mountains.

Thursday we set off on a bike ride adventure through the Côte du Rhône. We started in the village of Vaison-la-Romaine, went through the vineyards, to hilltops, through the valleys and up to the heights of the village of Crestet. It was challenging and a great way to see the little villages and countryside. The region is a favorite for cyclists, especially because we were near the famous Mont Ventoux, which has been part of the Tour de France several times.

bike ride

Here is an excerpt from my Garmin app to show our bike ride stats and the loop. It was super fun!

On Friday we drove 45 minutes to see the Pont du Gard, the largest intact Roman aquaduct in existence in the world! It was impressive to see and they had a great museum on site that explained how the Romans used to build these massive structures and the role of water during the days of the Roman empire.

20170526-Provence-011
Pont du Gard – there were many people swimming and kayaking on the other side of the bridge – a perfect way to cool off on a hot spring day.

Afterwards we headed into the city of Avignon to tour around for the afternoon. We had a late lunch in a shady cafe on a square then did two short walking tours with our trusty Rick Steve’s guidebook. We didn’t actually go in any museums or sites, despite the fact that Avignon is home to the Palais du Papes. Did you know that Avignon was home to the popes (and not the Vatican) for 100 years while the Catholic church had a French pope?

20170526-Provence-009.jpg
Palais du Papes

On Saturday we did a small group tour (7 people) of the notable Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards with François of Avignon Wine Tours. We did a mix of lessons in wine tasting, learning about the terroir and some actual tasting of wines. It honestly wasn’t our favorite wine tour as it was more of a tour and less wine tasting than we had hoped for (yes, it’s possible to not have enough wine on a wine tour), but it was a nice time seeing the region and having the guidance of a local.

Our guide, François, showing us his six steps to taste wine. He did a great job helping us to learn how to taste the wine and guess its age.
101f949c-ecd5-41c3-bd60-a40d8eac6814
Andrew and I in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

On Sunday we sadly had to end our magical time staying at the Maison Sadina. We left shortly after breakfast and made two brief stops. One to see the village of Gigondas, a reputable village for its wines and tucked underneath a mountain ridge. Secondly, we stopped in the village of Orange to see the Roman Theatre, a local treasure which has the sound wall completely intact and is the largest intact ruins of a theater in western Europe. So, turns out we saw two well-preserved Roman sites during our trip in France!

20170528-Provence-001
The Roman Theater of Orange

In summary, a fantastic time in France yet again. The country never ceases to show us new things, new wines, new foods, lessons in history and a wonderful vacation. For now France is not in our near future travel plans, but I absolutely hope to continue travelling to this amazing country more in the future!

Next up: Ticino! I’ll keep you posted 🙂

The May post

Let’s catch up on May 2017, shall we? I’ve been a bit delinquent in blogging but we’ve been busy!

Andrew’s Aunt Cindy and Uncle Rick visit

The weekend of May 6 – 9, Andrew’s aunt Cindy (Andrew’s Mom’s sister) and uncle Rick from Tuscon, AZ, stopped in Lausanne to visit us during a vacation in Europe. They arrived on Saturday afternoon and left on Tuesday morning, giving us some time to spend together and show them the Suisse Romande.

On Saturday we took a walking tour of the old town in Lausanne. It was in the rain, but we made the best of it. For Saturday night’s dinner we went to a local favorite, Suku’s, for some South Indian fare.

On Sunday we headed for the village of Gruyères, a favorite for visitors. Just our luck, the village was having it’s annual Fête du Fromage (a celebration of cheese). They had some musicians playing  the alpenhorn, local singers, some stalls selling local handicrafts and, of course, samples of local cheeses and meats. We took some time to wander the village and take a walk on the path around the castle.

gruyere from afar
The Gruyères castle and village, perched up on a hill. It was clearly a good defensive position!
gruyere
View from our walk around the Gruyères castle
gruyere groupshot
Me, Andrew, Uncle Rick, Aunt Cindy, in Gruyères on Sunday

Afterwards, we went for lunch at La Maison du Guyère where everyone had local Swiss specialties, including rösti (similar to hashbrown potatoes and served with various toppings), croûte au fromage (bread, cheese, various toppings like bacon and egg), and quiche. It’s a bit touristy of a spot, but a great place to experience local Swiss food.

After lunch we went to Maison Cailler, the chocolate factory located nearby in Broc. Cailler is owned by Nestlé, and is honestly my favorite of the chocolates sold in our grocery stores (when in comparison to something like Lindt or Frey). They have a tour at Maison Cailler that educated us about the process to produce their chocolate and was somewhat interactive. We had fun wandering through the tour and then at the end it had unlimited chocolate pralines for sampling!

cailler
The all-you-can-eat chocolate bar at the end of the Cailler. Heavenly!

On Monday Andrew was able to take off work to hang out with Cindy and Rick. They went for a hike and then that night we all met at our apartment for one last meal together, cooked at home. It was so nice to get to see Cindy and Rick and to show them our home in Switzerland!

andrew and fam

family dinner at apt
Everyone at the apartment for dinner

Hike to Vallon d’Emaney

Sunday 14 May Andrew and I ventured up into the mountains to see what kind of hiking we could do, and how high in elevation we could make it with the Spring snow levels. We were treated to an incredible hike! We did about 8 miles and 3000 ft gain in elevation into the Vallon d’Emaney. Upon arrival I started looking up into the valley walls because I felt like we might see some wildlife (reason? tons of skat and chamois poo pellets on the trail) and after a while saw something running parallel to us on the other side of the valley, bounding in and out of the snow. It was pretty far away, but we’re about 99% positive we saw a Eurasian lynx, a rare and elusive animal of which there are an estimated less than 200 in the country. Other large mammals in the area that could have been similar are a fox or a wolf, but we’re fairly certain it was a cat. If we are right it was a super rare sight and so cool!

After that, we kept hiking further towards the end of the valley and heard this loud crack sound like thunder. Well, that’s the sound of avalanche! We saw what was like a waterfall but of snow. Thanks to my geologist sister, I learned that it’s called a gullied avalanche. It was incredible. Over the course of about 2 hours spent in the valley we must have seen and heard about 20 of these avalanches. Overall, we had a really great day. We were happy to see that we could hike to nearly 2,000 meters on a south facing slope and wouldn’t be stopped by snow, we think we saw a wildcat and we saw these amazing avalanches. And these views!!

20170514-Vallon d'Emaney-004
Gorgeous pano shot of the Vallon d’Emaney. If you look closely you see the tons of waterfalls coming down. Additionally, it is a good demonstration of the idea of trying to hike on southern facing slops versus northern facing. See the right that is all brown/green? That’s southern facing and perfectly hikeable! The left faces north and was covered in snow and really not accessible for us.
20170514-Vallon d'Emaney-005
That’s one of the avalanches you see in the center. It was so cool. Also a closer shot with all the waterfalls all over the place. 
20170514-Vallon d'Emaney-002
View of the lake on our drive home

This weekend

This weekend we had our friends Yann and Marie over for dinner on Saturday night and I made a three course meal. We hadn’t seen them since our last dinner at their house in December so there was lots to catch up on.

Bottom left is the first course: bacon wrapped scallops; main course is the top of a beef ragu and bottom right is dessert: caramel crumb bars with vanilla ice cream. 

On Sunday we managed to get out of the house after our indulgent dinner and night of drinks with our friends and visited a local park at Les Pléiades for a short walk. The main attraction is the below pictured white flowers, the narcisse, which were in bloom and blanketing the hillsides.

picture

Life

So, what’s going on in our life? What are we doing about the move? Lately, I have experimented with selling furniture online to understand how it will work in June when we need to unload all our furniture (we are not taking ANYTHING back with us to the U.S.). I was successful and sold our guest bed and our desk chair on Anibis, a local website similar to Craigslist. With regard to the apartment, we have not solidified a replacement for our lease. There is someone that has applied to take the lease on 1 August, which means we would have to pay 1 month of rent for July, and we will have to decide soon if we accept their offer. Otherwise, we keep trying to find someone for 1 July, which is a little risky.

We booked our flights home! Our official departure date from Switzerland is on 27 July to fly back to San Francisco. Our plans for the summer are still coming together, but we do have the Europe part 100% planned now. We finish work on 30 June in Lausanne and the following Monday 3 July take the train down to Venice, Italy, meet up with our friends Maddy (my friend from JMU who lives in NYC) and Dani (Andrew’s friend from SCU who lives in Denver) and take a bus to the village of Cortina, where we will embark on a hut to hut trek in the Dolomites of Italy for 5 nights. It’s going to be so amazing. After that, Andrew and I take a train to Bologna for one night and then catch a plane to Bucharest, Romania. We’ll stay in Bucharest for a couple days and then take the train into Bulgaria, where we will spend over a week traveling the country from the villages in the north, to the Black Sea, to the mountains and finally to the capital, Sofia!

In the upcoming weeks we have some fun stuff planned. This upcoming week is a 4 day weekend holiday in Switzerland for Ascension and we will be going to the Côtes du Rhône in France. The first weekend of June we have a 3 day holiday weekend in Switzerland and will be traveling down to the Italian speaking region of the county, Ticino. After that, we’re in our last month of living here and it’ll all fly by. As always, I’ll keep you posted!

Copenhagen, Denmark

Another pin on the map! We checked off Copenhagen from the bucket list the last weekend of April 2017 when we took a quick trip to the Danish capital city.

Transportation: The flight from Geneva to Copenhagen is two hours (or three when your flight is delayed like ours – thanks Easyjet!). The airport is super close to the city by train, so in no time we were in the city at our hostel, drinking a beer at the hostel bar.

Now, taking weekend trips by plane has not been a common thing for us. During our time in Switzerland, we have only taken a trip by plane for the weekend once (London) and even then we took a half day off of work on the Friday afternoon. This is primarily because we can only catch flights that leave after work, meaning you arrive in your destination city pretty late, and only have Saturday and part of Sunday before you have to head back to the airport again to go home. Not much time for all the effort and cost. After having done it this past weekend, I had a great time but we did lose a lot of time due to flight delays, flight time and time necessary to arrive on time to check in at the airport. I’ve been very happy with all the weekend trips we have taken that were 100% train/car trips. We are fortunate to have had so much available in Switzerland and nearby which were easily accessible for a quick weekend trip. Think of our trips to: Lyon, France; Milan, Italy; Zurich, Luzern, Basel and all the Swiss villages we have visited for hiking and skiing trips. All without flying! Regardless of whether its my favorite travel style, we broke the mold and went for it this weekend and had a great time.

Accommodation: We settled on a private room in a higher end hostel: Urban House. This place turned out to be awesome. We had the perks of a private room (our own bathroom, no strangers) but then the benefits of a hostel that we have come to appreciate during our time in Europe. It was right by the train station with a 15 min ride to the airport, 10 minutes walking distance to the old town, was in fairly good condition, very quiet inside our bedroom, and the hostel had several hangout spots, luggage lockers, bike rentals, and a big bar/café in their first floor which was bustling with people and had a fun vibe. Needless to say, we were happy with our choice.

Eats: 

Saturday lunch we stopped by Torvehallerne, a big food market with tons of different food vendors with a variety of offerings. Here we tried the Danish Smørrebrød, which are a type of Scandanavian open faced sandwich consisting of a piece of buttered whole-grain rye bread served with a variety of toppings. We got three: the one on the top left which is a beef tartare, center with eggs and shrimp and the one on the far bottom right with cold steak. They were delicious!

If you know me, you know I have a sweet tooth and love baked goods. So, when introduced to the Danish pastry world in Copenhagen I was beyond happy. I immediately found a favorite, which are the bottom two treats: Kanelstang (left) and Kanelsnegle (right). These are like cinnamon rolls but the best ones I have ever tasted in my life as they were just the right amount of doughy and the cinnamon-sugar/vanilla custard ratio was on point. The shops had plenty of other pastries, but not enough time in the day or room in my belly to eat them all! Just have to return soon 🙂

Our first Danish pastries on Saturday morning at the Lagkagehuset bakery, which is a local chain.

Saturday evening we treated ourselves to a five course menu and wine pairing at Cofoco. Andrew and I were excited to see that Copenhagen has a thriving restaurant scene with tons of trendy spots with innovative cuisine. The ambiance in the restaurant was super cool with framed windows dividing up the dining room tables to create a more intimate experience and candles lining a brick-walled hallway to the restrooms. Here are the courses:

Dinner Saturday
Top left: first course of cured salmon, cheese and radishes; Top right: Second course of a mussel  and brown crab soup; Middle left: Third course of spring onions and goat cheese; Bottom right: fourth course of neck of lamb; Bottom left: Dessert of lemon sorbet with a white chocolate ganache and rhubarb. Each course was served with a different wine pairing of mostly Old World wines. It was fun to see some wines we were familiar with and learn some new as well.

Sunday: We grazed a bit. A couple kanelstangs here and there (mouth watering as I write this), followed by trying a pølse, a Danish hot dog, from a food cart in the Nyhavn neighborhood.

hot dog
mmm …. red hot dog topped with fried onions, pickles, fresh onion, mustard and ketchup on white bread bun. Healthy!

Activities: Considering the region of Europe we were in, we were not so unlucky with the weather. Saturday it rained the majority of the day and was cold but we were rewarded with a sunny, cool day Sunday.

On Saturday we soldiered through the rain and still went touring about the city. We did part of a Rick Steve’s walking tour of the old city (you know us and our Rick Steve’s!). We also wandered into some shops out of curiosity.

A break in the rain clouds for a short time on Saturday. Here we are in front of the Storkespringvandet, a fountain in the shape of storks in the center of a square in the old town.
20170429-Copenhagen-020
Here I am standing in the square in front of a royal palace with the old stock exchange, the Borsen, behind me.

An unique experience of Copenhagen is the freetown of Christiania. It’s interesting to read about this place, but in short it is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighborhood set up by squatters inside an old military base in 1971. There’s no running allowed (makes everyone think the police are coming), no photos, marijuana is allowed and sold openly on the “pusher street” and no one owns their home but rather it’s all part of the common ownership. I recommend googling it, if you’re curious!

img_3878
The entry into Christiania. On the other side, as you re-enter the city of Copenhagen, it says “welcome back to the EU.”

On Sunday, we didn’t have to head to the airport until 6pm, so we had nearly the entire day free. We were rewarded with gorgeous weather, despite being a bit chilly out. We rented bikes from our hostel and rode all over the city. Copenhagen is a cyclist friendly city and has bike lanes, bike traffic lights and overall very bike friendly components to their transportation infrastructure. It was really easy to navigate the city by bike and fun to get around so quickly in the local fashion.

20170430-Copenhagen-008
Andrew and I in the Nyhavn port waterfront. Fun fact, the famous fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen’s home where he wrote stories such as “The Princess and the Pea” is located here!
20170430-Copenhagen-004
In the center of the square at the Amalienborg palace, where the royal family lives, with a view of the Frederiks Kirke (domed roof).
20170430-Copenhagen-003
We were lucky to catch the changing of the guard at the palace. These guys hats’ look so warm! I made the mistake of assuming that they would stick to staying within those black brick lanes, and unfortunately got in their way at one point as they veered off the path and got yelled at by their captain. So embarassing to be “that person”!!

To top off our weekend in Copenhagen, we finished the day at Tivoli Gardens, the amusement park within the city. This place was such a treat! It is gorgeously manicured and so well-put together for being a little park inside a capital city. They have plenty of rides and we were able to have the time to ride a few, including a roller coaster with virtual reality goggles! It was so fun!

tivoli gardens
The gardens in the center of Tivoli Gardens were so gorgeous!

Copenhagen is a wonderful city that is easily toured in a weekend, though one more day would have been nice. Overall, we had a great time and I’m so glad we went!

Kuntz Family Visit & Zermatt

Easter is a public holiday providing a four day weekend here in Switzerland (and for a large portion of Europe). Andrew’s entire family was able to come visit us in Lausanne and we all took a trip together up to the ski village of Zermatt. Everyone arrived on the Tuesday before Easter, plus Robin’s boyfriend John on Wednesday. Those two days the Kuntz family spent their time touring the Lausanne area and we were able to go out to dinner together at one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, Le Lyrique, on Wednesday night. We were in Zermatt from Thursday – Monday. Zermatt is one of the top ski resorts in Switzerland and is home to the famous Matterhorn (French: Cervin). We had so much fun spending time together and exploring the massive ski area over the long weekend.

Transportation: We arrived in Zermatt by train. It’s just over a three hour ride from Lausanne and a gorgeous route through the mountains. Similar to the village of Saas-Fee where we spent Easter 2016 (see post), Zermatt is another one of these carless villages. If you tried to drive, you would have to leave your car in a different village and take the train into the village. It certainly adds to the charm to be able to walk everywhere without cars and to only see the city ski bus or little electric taxi carts transporting people around the village.

Accommodation: Andrew’s parents graciously rented a ski chalet in Haus Maryland for us all (see photos here of the place). It was perfectly situated between the different points to access the ski area, on a quieter street off the main drag and had an incredible view of the Matterhorn.

20170413-Zermatt-019
View from the chalet of the Matterhorn. We skiied up there beneath that beautiful peak all weekend!

Eats: We went out to eat twice while in Zermatt to two different restaurants I found on TripAdvisor: Restaurant Julen on Friday, which is part of a family of restaurants in the village and known for serving their family farm lamb. We went to Grampi’s on Saturday for Italian, and specifically for their pizzas. Both were excellent!

Activities: The primary reason for coming to Zermatt in the winter is to ski. It’s a massive ski area that spans over the border into Italy. You can take every kind of transportation to reach the pistes and we managed to take each one: gondola, chair lift, tow rope, cable car, alpine mountain funicular (inside the mountain!), and even a train. It was impressive. Our weather worked out pretty well for the trip with sunny warm weather on Friday, clouds on Saturday and then Sunday it switched to a winter storm in the afternoon with high winds and snow. So, a little bit of everything! For it being spring skiing, while there was nothing on the low elevation pistes, the snow stayed pretty nice in the higher elevation ski area and we even got a liiiittle fresh snow on Saturday night. We had a fantastic time with the Kuntz family and loved getting to ski together in the Alps of Switzerland and Italy. Zermatt is absolutely gorgeous and an incredible ski area. I would love to return some time in the future.

20170414-Zermatt-003
We took a cable car and then an elevator to reach this panoramic viewpoint of the Alps and the Matterhorn behind us from the top of the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. It was incredible up there.
20170414-Zermatt-006
View of the Breithorn (4,164 m) from the panoramic point and a helicopter up in the right hand side.  Helicopters were pretty common sites here. They are used for a mix of reasons, from sight seeing tours, to rescue, to heli-skiing.
20170414-Zermatt-007
View from the top of the panoramic point of the Alps
20170414-Zermatt-008
View of the piste we skiied from above on the panoramic point. It was amazing!
20170414-Zermatt-009
Up high in the Zermatt ski area on Saturday, that’s the village of Zermatt where we stayed far down in the valley if you look closely. For perspective, the village is at 1,620 m (5314 ft) and we were standing for this picture at 3,883 m (12,739 ft). After taking this picture we skied all the way down to the village – the longest on-piste ski run in the world!
20170414-Zermatt-010
Skiing in Zermatt, here’s another angle of the Matterhorn
20170414-Zermatt-013
The Kuntz family on the Italian side of Zermatt at the Chalet Etoile on Friday for lunch. It was sunny and gorgeous from here as we ate our lunch on the deck.
20170414-Zermatt-017
Squinting in the sun but we’re so happy to be together skiing on the border of Italy and Switzerland 🙂
IMG_3847
Zermatt is famous for its aprés ski parties. While the scene was quieting down as it was the end of prime ski season, we managed to catch an awesome live band at the bar Hennu Stall on our way down the mountain on Friday. Nearly at the bottom of the valley, there was a narrow path of snow to let you ski your way to this spot. It was a good time and even more fun to ski the last little stretch after we’d downed a couple beers 🙂
Chris, John & Andrew in front of the Matterhorn while skiing on Saturday
Saturday, skiing with a bit more clouds covering the Matterhorn. That is the Riffelberg train station to access the ski area.
Lunch spot on Sunday at the Blue Lounge Blauherd 2,571 m. DJ spinning 90s rap beats included!
Amazing views the whole weekend!

 

 

 

Luzern

One of our Swiss bucket list cities was Luzern and we finally made it. We made a last minute booking and arrived on Saturday evening and spent that evening and Sunday touring the city.

Accommodation: As I mentioned, we booked last minute and just went with the best price we could find in the old town. Luzern is a top destination for tourists in Switzerland, so it was a bit pricey. Andrew found us a cozy studio apartment within walking distance of the train station and centered in Old town at the Aparthotel Adler Luzern.

Transportation: We took the train, which is easy with a 2 hr 10 minute direct ride from Lausanne. After that, we were able to walk through town and used the city bus, which was free with our hotel stay. There are also many ferry routes around the Luzern area, but we did not use these as transportation as we stayed relatively close to the main city during our stay.

Eats: As we narrowed our search for Saturday night dinner to the old town which is teeming with tourists and as we have not had good luck with Swiss German style food in the past, we were not expecting much. But, we found a very nice spot at Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern for dinner Saturday night with a table right on the Reuss river, overlooking the old town and with Mt. Pilatus towering over the city. We were incredibly lucky with the weather this weekend as it was in the 70s, sunny and blue skies. A perfect spring weekend! After dinner we had drinks at the Bar und Weinstube Storchen before heading back to the hotel.

On Sunday, out of convenience, we had our lunch at the museum cafeteria and in the afternoon had some local brews at the Rathaus Brauerei covered portico outside before hopping on the boat cruise.

Activities: We arrived by train at 5:00pm Saturday so we had just enough time before dinner to do a 1.5 hour self-guided walking tour with our trusty Rick Steve’s guide book. We took in the local sites and learned some history of the city.

20170408-Lucerne-012
The Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) with Mt Pilatus in the background. This is a covered, wooden bridge built in the 1300s! Our Saturday evening dinner was just down the river from here with a similar and equally stunning view.
20170408-Lucerne-015
The Hirschenplatz – our hotel and the wine bar we went to was only 1 block away
20170408-Lucerne-016
The “needle dam” bridge on the Reuss river. This was a unique type of dam to control the water flow where they use these removeable wooden panels. They put them in and take them out at certain times of year to control the release of water from Lake Luzern. Also, a cool photo of the gushing water frozen in time on Andrew’s part 🙂
20170408-Lucerne-017
The Jesuitenkirche
20170408-Lucerne-019
Me on the chapel bridge

On Sunday, we were up early, dropped our luggage at some luggage lockers at the train station for convenience and headed on our way to the Swiss Museum of Transport. This is a really cool museum that presents the history of all forms of transportation in Switzerland, including the evolution of their roads, train systems, planes and even their mountain transportation in ski resorts such as how ski chair lifts and gondolas have improved over the years. Seeing as we use all their transit and it truly is impressive, it was fun to learn about. They also had a special exhibition on the newly opened Gotthard Tunnel, which is an incredible engineering feat.

 

After the museum and having lunch at their cafeteria, we headed over to check out the dying lion of Luzern. This is a monument carved into the rock cliff face to commemorate the Swiss mercenaries who died while fighting for the French revolution in 1792.

lion 2

Next door, we headed into the Luzern Gletschergarten. This museum/park includes a garden featuring the rocks in the area which show evidence of glaciers, a museum on local geology, and oddly enough a really well-done Hall of Mirrors from the Swiss national exhibition in 1896 (no joke, it fooled me so well I was walking into mirrors!).

20170409-Lucerne-005
Above, part of the rock around which the museum was built. Apparently some guy was trying to build a wine cellar below his house and found these rocks here. You can see the horizontal glacial striations  in the upper right – which is where rocks were dragged across by a glacier thousands of years ago. 

As our last stop, after pausing for a beer at the Rathaus Brauerei, we hopped on a 1 hour boat tour on the lake. This was such a nice part of the day as it was warm (probably in the 70s), sunny and the light breeze on the water was just perfect.

20170409-Lucerne-011

20170409-Lucerne-010

IMG_3843

Overall, Luzern was a wonderful place to visit. It’s crawling with tourists, even in the month of April, so I can only imagine what it’s like in summer months. But, it was a great place to go to see the Swiss German side of the country and witness a gorgeous lake with the Alps towering above. A wonderful quick trip to cap off the weekend!

An apartment tour and our first 2017 hike

We’ve lived in our apartment on Avenue Juste-Olivier in Lausanne for over 1.5 years and I have yet to do a post on the place. It’s about time! We are in the process of trying to find a tenant to replace us on our lease, and we needed to take pictures of the apartment to advertise the apartment. This created the perfect opportunity to share some photos of our Swiss home. We have tried to keep the place simple and did not go overboard with furnishings or decorations since we will be getting rid of nearly everything when we move back to the U.S. So – it may look a little empty in spots but it’s homey enough for us. Enjoy the tour!

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

Welcome! We live on the second floor (okay, Euro second floor. Technically the third level of the building off the ground) of a 6 floor building. The building has a tiny little elevator (on the right) if you’re feeling lazy.  We are provided a storage unit (French: caveau) in the basement, which is great to store luggage, boxes, skis out of season and wine 🙂

This is the entryway. There is one other apartment on our floor and that’s their door on the left. Come on in!

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-014

As you enter, you arrive in our “L” shaped apartment. The apartment continues to the right from here. The first room on the left is our bedroom. The second room over is the living room. The rest of the house is headed off to the right.

First stop of the tour is our bedroom. The room is a great size for the two of us, with a big window that lets in tons of light …. and the sounds of the busy street below when opened. All windows in our house come with automated blinds that close at the click of a button. They’re fantastic for helping with the noise and keeping out the light if you’d like to sleep in.  We have a closet (mine), a wardrobe (Andrew’s) and a dresser. Everything pictured we got at IKEA, Conforama or Micasa. The latter two are approximately at the same level of quality and price as IKEA. Except for the rugs, those came from Interio, which is a bit more expensive but we got the rugs at a great discount.

After the bedroom you walk into the living room immediately next door. I love the high ceilings in our apartment, the crown moulding and the french doors opening onto our balcony with the wrought iron. It feels so classic European even though our apartment has been renovated and has modern features inside.

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-026

A fun fact: We hung a print above the couch of a Monet painting created during some time he spent in Antibes, France. It’s a gorgeous painting, and also special to us since we went to Antibes and saw this exact view during our trip in August 2015 (see post).

From the living room, we have a balcony with just enough room for a table, some plants …. and a view of the French Alps across Lac Léman! We just recently planted some flowers and I have managed to keep a rosemary plant alive for a year out here. It’s a great spot to have dinner on a warm night or to step out to check out the weather.

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-005

From the living room you go back into the hallway and enter the corner of the “L” with the dining area and the bathroom.

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-010
This space between the rooms is rather useless. When we first moved in we thought we’d put a short dresser in on the left and put photos on top. Obviously that never happened. Anyways, this is the first of the two bathrooms and contains our main bathroom sink and the shower.

If you look below, you can see that the shower nozzle is at a very strange location. Perfect for me since I am 5’2″ but it is very low for taller folks and at such a weird angle on the side instead of facing the bathtub from one end. This is not an unusual shower setup in Switzerland. Not certain why we are so different between our countries in this aspect. We have gotten used to it but I will never miss this shower.

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-01220170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-011

At the center of the apartment we have this cute little dining nook. Just enough to fit a small table. The light fixtures came with the apartment, which is very lucky considering most apartments in Switzerland come with no fixtures and you have to install them yourself. On the right is a vintage print of Lausanne that Andrew and I bought on a trip to Zurich (see post).

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-016.jpg

As you continue to the back of the apartment, you arrive at our “powder” room on the left which houses the toilet.

On the back left of the apartment, we have our guest room/office room/map room. Unfortunately our wifi is not very good in the back of the apartment, so we don’t use the desk much except for storage of files. The room has been fantastic to host guests and to serve as a place to dry our laundry since proper clothes dryers are not a thing in Switzerland. Lastly, we have a couple maps that we love. The big Europe map tracks where we have been using a color coded push pin system. Red = only Jessica has visited. Blue = Only Andrew has visited and White = both of us have been. The map has been getting more and more pins since we moved to Switzerland! On the right we have our map of the vineyards in Bourgogne. Andrew and I share a love of maps and even had our first date at a vintage map store in SF 🙂

Last but not least: the kitchen. As you have noticed, the apartment is rather modern for the old building we’re located in. The owner of the building lived here before us and had renovated 2 years before we moved in. The Electrolux appliances in the kitchen are quite nice and it’s well equipped. There is a dishwasher (where the towel is hanging), an oven, an electric stove, and {it is not pictured} we have a full refrigerator and a freezer. Freezers are NOT common so this was very lucky. There is not as much counter space as I prefer, but the bar we bought on the left helps with that. The sink is very small and I get water evvvverrrrywhere when I wash big dishes. There’s tons of storage space, a not-pictured closet for cleaning supplies and also a balcony off the back. We don’t hang out on the balcony since it’s small, but it’s nice to be able to open the doors to let in the fresh air on a warm day – or to let out smoke when I burn something on the stove (unfortunately not so uncommon).

20170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-01720170326-Av Juste-Olivier apt-019

That’s the end of the tour! I hope you enjoyed our home 🙂 It has been such a great spot for us during our time in Switzerland. Overall, with an 8 minute walk to the train station, 5 minutes to the KPMG Lausanne office, and just a kilometer run from the lake front it is convenient and has nearly everything we need. It’s been nice to have all the space of a two bedroom and an updated apartment. Seeing as we’re moving back to one of the most expensive cities in U.S., not very likely we’ll get to have this in the near future so we might as well enjoy it while we can!

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

I figured I’d also toss in a some photos from this past weekend. We stayed in Lausanne and did errands, running and relaxing. On Saturday evening I cooked up some Braised Beef Ragù over pasta as a test run for a dinner party next month. It was so darn good!

20170401-Beouf Braise-001-2

Sunday morning we did a 4 mile hike with our neighbor in the Vaud mountains. It was a bit chilly and there were low hanging clouds, but it was nice to get outside and on the trail for the first time in 2017!

20170402-Les Paccots Hike-003

20170402-Les Paccots Hike-005
The crocuses are coming up!
20170402-Les Paccots Hike-007
We hiked up to this saddle in the pre-Alps of Vaud. That’s Sheida and I taking in the view on the right

20170402-Les Paccots Hike-011