We stayed in Lausanne for once!

This past weekend started out great. We were invited to go over to a co-worker’s house for  a BBQ on Thursday night. He and his girl friend had just returned from a 3 week vacation in the U.S., traveling through California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. We were excited to hear all about it and to find out how they liked SF and the national parks. Also, our co-worker had just passed the last part of the Swiss version of the CPA so we had reason to celebrate! Side note: Andrew and I were happy to get invited to a Swiss colleague’s home for dinner. We have been slow to befriend many Swiss people, so it was exciting to be invited over. This is the second time this has happened for us in the past few months, and it took over a year of having lived here!

This weekend we had developed a grand plan to spend the weekend backpacking from cabane to cabane in the Berner Oberland – a part of the Alps in the Swiss German region that we do not frequent often since it’s a little further away. We would have gone from Lauterbrunnen, to Griesalp and Andrew would have stayed an extra night as he had a holiday from work on Monday and hiked further on to Adelboden. We were really excited to do this. Unfortunately, mother nature had other ideas. It has been unseasonably warm and dry in Switzerland for weeks and the streak ended this Friday when a big weather system passed through with colder temperatures and LOTS of rain. The snow levels were looking very low, which implied the potential for snow on the higher mountain passes we needed to cross. Basically, things looked pretty awful up there and while we can handle some rain it did not sound enjoyable nor like we would see anything besides the ground in front of us. So, we cancelled😦 During the weekend we checked some of the webcams at the cabanes and they were in completely in a cloud or had gotten a few inches of snow. So, we made the right choice in the end.

As a result, we spent this past weekend in Lausanne, which turned out to be relaxing and not a bad thing since we were in between two sets of visitors, and next weekend we’re headed to Munich for Oktoberfest! On Saturday we ran some errands and walked around some shops in the old town of Lausanne, stopping for lunch at an outdoor table at Coccinelle-Café. There was also a free music festival going on in Lausanne called Label Suisse, with stages set up all over the city and featuring local Swiss artists. We stopped by on Sunday to see the band LIA. It was raining but there was still a crowd catching the show.

There’s been a lot that has changed about our day-to-day life since we moved to Switzerland but one is the cost to go out to dinner and also the limited variety of restaurants. So I have been expanding my skills and trying lots of new recipes since we moved here. We have been eating such delicious French style food given where we live and our travels in France. This weekend I finally tried salmon tartare. While I may need one more go to get the recipe down, it was surprisingly easy and sooo good. Definitely a keeper for the future or a hot summer night when you don’t want to turn on the oven or stove.

Monday was a holiday in our canton of Vaud, and Andrew had off work. Since my client is in Geneva, in a different canton, the day was not available for me to take off but I traded the holiday for this upcoming Friday to be able to leave for Oktoberfest. So while I worked, Andrew went for a long hike (32 km!) through the entirety of Lavaux from Montreux to Lausanne. It was a little cloudy, which actually made for a beautiful setting with the sun peaking through the clouds onto Lake Geneva. The grapes are clearly ready for harvest soon!

From Monday to Wednesday, a friend from my business fraternity at JMU came to stay with us. Ashley was passing through while on a trip through France, Switzerland and Germany. I of course love having guests visit and it was fun to catch up with her as we hadn’t connected in a few years. On Monday night she arrived and we had dinner at the house while chatting about her travels. On Tuesday, Ashley went on her own excursion through Lavaux, first taking the La Suisse ferry along the lake coastline and then hiked up from Rivaz to have lunch at Le Deck while taking in the view. On Tuesday night, while Andrew had to stay in Neuchâtel for a work event, Ashley and I went out to dinner at Etoile Blanche. Luckily, it will likely not be the last time we see Ashley this week as we’ll all be in Munich this weekend for Oktoberfest!

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Ashley and I after dinner, with the Lausanne cathedral lit up behind us

Sara & Vince visit

This past weekend we were lucky to have our friends from San Francisco, Sara and Vince, visit. They were on a vacation in Italy and came up to Lausanne to spend Saturday night through Tuesday morning with us before flying back to the States.

On Saturday, their train from Italy arrived at 8:45pm. That evening, we made steak fajitas and hung out at our apartment, catching up on life and everyone’s recent travels. Sunday, we got up early and drove an hour to our first destination, which was to take a 1.5 hour hike up to the  Cabane de la Tourche.

View from the parking lot of our destination. Tough to see if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but the Cabane is a little bump on the slopes up on the left.
Sara & Vince in front of the Cabane
We made it!

We settled in at a table outside and had fondue while looking out over the mountains. It was Vince & Sara’s first Swiss fondue (yay!!!) and our first of the season. The view was breathtaking and the local Swiss wine washed it all down nicely.

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Eating fondue on the Cabane terrace. The mountains behind us on the right are the Dents du Midi which we hiked up a few weeks ago. It’s hard to tell with the clouds surrounding the peak, but Mont Blanc (the highest peak in Western Europe) is behind us on the left. The views were beautiful as the clouds moved over the peaks.

Hiking down with a view of the Rhone valley below

The hike we found conveniently had Les Bains de Lavey right at the foot of the mountain. So, after our hike we hit the thermal baths and spa which are heated by hot springs running out from the mountains above. We sampled all the pools, jacuzzis, hammams and saunas. This was the first time we went into the Chromotherapy room. Really interesting … there are set times when you can enter the room. For fifteen minute intervals, you stay in the room, laying back on a rocking chair, and the room is lit in a themed color (ours was red), the room is scented and they play some reaaaaally strange music. Relaxing, if you like lions roaring and elephants trumpeting at times🙂 Either way, an experience!

On Sunday night we had dinner at the house again just for ease. I made a chicken dish with a mustard sauce using the gourmet Dijon mustard we bought in Burgundy on our recent trip. And of course we had to bring out one of our bottles of Burgundy wine to pair with the meal!

On Monday, Andrew and I went to work while Vince & Sara toured Lausanne and took the ferry across the lake to Evian, France. We greatly benefited from their successful day of discovering the area as we arrived home to a delicious variety of dried meats, cheeses, and sweets that they found while wandering the city. That night, unfortunately Sara felt sick and had to stay home, but Vince, Andrew and I went to dinner at Café de Grancy which was excellent as always. In the end, it was another visitor’s trip that was over too fast, but it was fun to have them here to show them around Switzerland and catch up.

Backpacking to the Auberge de Salanfe

The Auberge de Salanfe

This past Saturday morning we packed our backpacks and drove a little over an hour to a trail head in the village of Van d’en Haut. We hiked 1.5 hours up to stay the night at the Auberge de Salanfe. The Auberge is a mountain inn and something like the cabane we visited on our hike last weekend (see prior blog post). It offers a restaurant, private rooms, dormitory rooms and shared bathrooms with a shower. Guests can only walk up, but they have a road to be able to truck in their supplies. This was our first time staying in such a place, so we were super excited to see what it is like to stay in a dormitory room in the mountains with a bunch of other backpackers.

The Auberge de Salanfe, pictured at right, on Lac de Salanfe.

Upon entry, they request that you take off your hiking boots and leave them at the door. The notes attached are so groggy hikers don’t take the wrong shoes when they get up early in the morning🙂

When you go into the dormitories and are walking around, they request that you wear slippers to keep the house neat. They even have crocs available to borrow, at no cost.
For CHF 65 each, we got a double spot in this dormitory room. The Auberge was very organized, with everyone’s assigned spot picked out ahead of time and easy to find. Our room was one of three in this building and had 9 bunk beds.
We slept up here on the top bunk. It was surprisingly spacious and the beds were comfortable. They came with a pillow and a duvet, though they request that you sleep with a sleeping bag liner for hygienic reasons. We were clearly sleeping very close to our neighbors, but the wooden partition helped to prevent from waking up and staring at a stranger🙂
Here we are after everyone had checked in, stuff was everywhere! Part of the cabane-style etiquette is to have prepared everything for bed and for your departure the next morning before lights-out at 10pm, that way you make the least amount of noise while others are sleeping. This is helpful given breakfast starts at 4am when people are having their “alpine start” to the day!
A view of the Auberge and its terrace overlooking the mountains and lake. You can also see the balconies of the private rooms on the top level of the building pictured here. Those must be very nice rooms to have!
The Auberge comes complete with a bar. In the evening, everyone went out on the terrace to relax and have a drink before dinner. By this point in the day, it is almost entirely people staying at the Auberge. The view was beautiful. We sat and watched the clouds shift as the sun set over the mountain skyline.
The price we paid for our stay at the Auberge was “half-board” which means it included dinner, a night’s stay and breakfast. This is customary for such mountain inns and the remote cabanes. The dinner was served in a single seating at 6:45 and was three courses: a soup, main course (pictured above) and dessert (ice cream). Breakfast was simple: bread, butter, jam, cheese and muesli pre-mixed with yogurt. For a CHF 15 fee they even sell you a picnic lunch for the following day. We got one of these to supplement the food we brought, which included 2 locally made sausages, local “alpage” cheese (made from milk when the cows are spending their summer grazing in the Alps), an apple, trail mix, bread and a chocolate bar. Sooo nice for the convenience factor! The food wasn’t the best I have ever had but it was pretty good considering the circumstances.

Overall, the Auberge was in a beautiful spot and made backpacking so much easier. By offering us a bed indoors, we did not have to carry a tent, sleeping bag or sleeping pad. By  providing dinner and breakfast, we did not have to bring cooking tools or the food for two entire meals. It all really adds up in a lot of weight savings! Not to mention, the environment was really cool to be in. We were around backpackers of all ages, and everyone was in a cheerful mood having just hiked in the mountains and spent the evening hanging out with their family and friends. We were impressed how respectful everyone was of cleanliness and the quiet hours in the dormitory from 10pm – 6am. Everyone did their best to keep their belongings organized in the close quarters. Andrew and I woke up at 7am to get ready for our day of hiking and we were some of the last to rise. Most were up and out before 6am! Such a unique experience and an awesome way to tour the mountains. We are hoping to do this again soon.

Hiking

We did some hiking on Saturday after we checked in to the Auberge, but the main feature was our Sunday hike. The plan was to get up early and hike up the Dents du Midi. These are some of the highest peaks close to Lausanne, and some that we see views of ALL THE TIME. I mean, we stare at these babies every time we are driving out to the Alps for our numerous weekend hikes and ski trips and we also have a clear view whenever we go to Montreux (like for the Christmas market back in December or the Jazz Festival in July). So, it was a  goal to get ourselves to hike up to La Haute Cime, which is the only peak you can walk up without needing to use technical gear (mountaineering).

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Here’s a view of the Dents du Midi from the South and also of where our hike went. We started at the Auberge de Salanfe (1,942m) walked up to the Col de Susanfe (2,494m) which is the big pass on the left and then we hiked up that long slope from the Col toward La Haute Cime (3,257m), the highest point in the center of the photo.

For some perspective, here is an old lithograph which shows the more commonly seen view of the Dents du Midi from Lake Geneva with the Chateau de Chillon in the foreground (We visited the castle with Kim and Cody back in April and Lauren in September).

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This is a lithograph from an unknown author, dated 1890-1905. It gives a nice image of the Dents du Midi that is fairly representative of what we see all the time (when it is snowy).
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Sunday morning view across the lake toward the Tour Sallière (3,220m) before we began our hike.
We met this lovely lady on the trail. The cows in the Alps never seize to amaze us. They are nimble with their feet as they navigate the steep terrain and as you can see, their diet consists of tons of flowers and fresh grass (another reminder of why Swiss cheese tastes so good!) This gal was part of a herd hanging out directly on our trail, so we passed very closely. Look at those cute fluffy ears, don’t you want to give her a pet?
View from the Col de Susanfe on Sunday toward the Tour Sallière. We were only half-way up at this point.
Andrew on the last stretch of our hike, when the trail got incredibly steep and was on scree. This section was at times very difficult to get your foot to grab hold without slipping due to the steep grade. That’s why he’s leaning forward so much – to use his weight to stay on the trail. This made us slow down considerably (also thanks to yours truly because I get nervous in these circumstances) on the last section of our ascent.
A view from the trail into the next valley.

We reached the Col de Paresseux (3,054m), the false summit just below the actual peak, after hiking just over four hours. We tried to continue on to reach the final summit only 200m above, but there was quite a lot of rock scrambling required, we were starting to run low on time and the clouds were looking darker and more ominous – implying an increased risk of thunderstorms, which is dangerous when you are hiking above treeline. Unfortunately, we had to make the call and we turned around with 150m left to the top. We forfeited our summit😦 We were both very disappointed, but sometimes this happens. In the end, we still get to say we climbed to above 3,000m on the Dents du Midi and had an incredible hiking experience!

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View from the mountain of the lake and the Auberge waaaay down below us

 

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We made our way back down the mountain, and continued on to get to our car to drive back to Lausanne. It was about 1,700m (5,600ft) of descent in one day and hiking from 8am-5pm meant our legs were suuuuper tired and sore. But all in all, another amazing weekend in the Alps!

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Oh, ya know, just another beautiful view along the trail
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Beautiful wildflowers all along the way!

 

The end of our Summer 2016 Trip

The past month took us from Spain, to Portugal, to the Netherlands, to Norway and finally to France. We tasted tapas in the bars of Madrid, sipped ginjinha at a little bar in Lisbon and enjoyed all the amazing wines of Spain, Portugal and France. We watched a flamenco dance in Seville and listened to Fado singers in Lisbon. We cruised the Norwegian fjords with some of our closest family, amid the rainbows  and more waterfalls than we could count. We toured the vineyards of Burgundy, climbing down into 14th century wine cellars to taste wine from the barrel. We cruised in a catamaran past the grottoes of the Algarve in Southern Portugal. I am amazed to recount all the things we have seen, tasted, heard and done in the past month. Safe to say, my heart (and stomach) have been so happy and full :)

Of course it has been nice to be off of work for a whole month, which as I said is a huge benefit of working in Switzerland (and naturally a pro when we think about extending for another year). We are very lucky to be able to travel to so many places within such a relatively short distance of our home in Lausanne. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and so has our month. It was time to return to Switzerland to settle back in to return to work and a routine. But before we completely signed back on, we needed to get ourselves up to the mountains for a nice hike for a sort of capstone to our month long adventure…

Andrew and I drove to the town of Fionnay and after parking our car began hiking straight up the valley. We never really stopped gaining elevation until we reached our destination at La Cabane FXB Panossière, which sits on a mountainside with a direct view of Grand Combin and the Corbassiére glacier. It was a challenging hike but so great to feel the burn on the trail and get rewarded with this astounding view.

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Our destination location and the cabane!

For those not familiar, a cabane is a refuge up in the mountains and sort of an Alpine version of a remote hotel. To varying degrees of refinement, for a price, they will provide a hiker a place to sleep, eat and shower while on a long trek. Staying in a cabane saves you from having to carry a tent and cooking supplies for all your meals. For a day hiker like us, they can be a place to grab lunch or a beer up in the mountains after a hike. For others, cabanes are a home base for mountaineering excursions onto the surrounding peaks. This is the more typical version of overnighting up in the mountains as tent camping is not as common here as it is in the U.S. Call it a form of glamping, perhaps! Either way, we had not been sure what amenities would be available upon our arrival so we brought our own lunch, but the beers we got were welcome and they provided picnic tables and a spot sheltered from the wind to bask in the sun and gaze upon Grand Combin.

Starting out our hike, with a beautiful waterfall on the other side of the valley. Of course after being in Norway we’re a little unphased but this is still a beautiful one!
Getting up higher on the trail. This is a steep mountain, so not many cows but this gal and her calf made it up. She kept her protective eyes on us the entire time.
On the trail. It’s hard to tell unless you know what you’re looking for, but our destination hut is smack dab in the center up on the ridge shown in this photo in front of the snowy Grand Combin.
This photo shows a couple things. One, you can see the sheep down below us who were walking along on their own trail, clanging their bells as they moved along. Secondly, this shows the “bisses” which paralleled a good portion of our trail. Because the climate in this region of Valais can be dry, they use these irrigation canals. Some have been around for centuries. This one is clearly very new, but others along our trail were entirely made  of carefully placed stones!
In front of Grand Combin (big snow covered peak in the back) and the Corbassière Glacier. Grand Combin is one of the highest peaks in the Alps, and one of the highest peaks we typically can see in our region when we go hiking and skiing. It is 4,314 meters (or 14,154 feet) high! The glacier is about 9 km in length and reaches a thickness of 220 meters in some places. 
It’s still springtime in these Alps! Loved the wildflowers along the way🙂

So, it’s back to our regular Swiss life. We both have work to do, but there is plenty to look forward to with visitors this Fall and a few short trips we have planned as well. Never a dull moment🙂

The Burgundy wine region

The last part of our month vacation was to head to wine country. We chose to go to Burgundy (French: Bourgogne) as it is only about a 3 hour drive away from Lausanne and the wine is known as some of the best in France.

Transportation:

Quite the day! We started early with a flight from Amsterdam back to Geneva, train to our apartment in Lausanne to re-pack and then got into our car to hit the road. We drove from Lausanne to Pommard, which took about 3-3.5 hours (hit a little snag of traffic at the Swiss/French border).

Accommodation:

We wanted to stay in the Bourgogne region for four nights at a small B&B on or near a vineyard. Our hotel was exactly that and exceeded expectations. Hotel Le Clos du Colombier is an old house on the edge of the village of Pommard, with vineyards for a back yard. The hotel had a pool, with poolside drink service (always a plus!), and a full service restaurant and spa (if you book ahead). The service from the staff was excellent, it is primarily run by a local family. We enjoyed our time in the hotel so much.

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The edge of our village of Pommard

View of the hotel from the backside, with a little bit of a view of the pool area. There was also a very nice garden area where we sat for dinner one night.

Having some wine at sunset our first night at the hotel on the side of the house.

View into the vineyards from the hotel. Fun fact: the vineyard is a “clos” which means it is surrounded by walls. This dates back to when the Church owned the vineyards and protected the vines with these walls. The walls remain today all over the region though in some they are more well maintained than others. The vineyard land plot is then named Clos du Colombier and the source of the hotel’s name.

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The view from our hotel room of the below pool, garden and the vineyards beyond. It was so nice!
Eats:

Our first night we brought some food with us from Switzerland and had a picnic at a table outside by the hotel. Our second night we went to an Italian spot in our village that was unremarkable but the only place open. Turns out this region of France has more limited opening hours than we expected! The third night we ate at the hotel. Not only was the food good, but it was very nice to be able to walk downstairs and sit at our own hotel for a delicious French meal.

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Our beef bourguignon at the hotel restaurant with a roasted tomato salad on the side. We were verrrry happy to be having this dish in the recipe’s region of origin!
Our last night in Pommard we went out for a more gourmet meal at a spot our hotel staff recommended, L’Agastache in the nearby village of Volnay. It was about a 20 minute walk through the vineyards from our hotel, which also added to the fun. Below are some of our dishes.

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Top left – a roasted cherry tomato dessert. Unexpected ingredients but amazing with vanilla icecream; Top right – appetizer of smoked fish on top of a bed of arugula, orange and grapefruit; Middle left – Veal main course; Middle right – dessert of chocolate icecream encased in ganache and a coconut sauce; Bottom left: Roasted fish main course; Bottom right – Grilled vegetable stack with goat cheese stuffing (I got home and immediately remade this dish for us I loved it so much!)

Activities:

We arrived in the evening on Monday August 15. We were ready to get some exercise after all our traveling, so we made a big plan for Tuesday. We woke up first thing and went for a run up into the vineyards.

Leaving our village of Pommard to run up into the hills of vineyards. It may not look like it from here, but these were challenging after not running much this past month and Andrew recovering from a foot injury. Went pretty high up on the hill and got a nice view.

On our run down the hill back into Pommard.
For the afternoon we had arranged with our hotel to rent bikes. We decided to follow a route from the Rick Steve’s guidebook (we like him, can you tell?) he recommended for driving or biking except for a section that went up into the hills. We figured we could handle it and still went by bike. So smart, we are! It turned out that without knowing it, these two inexperienced cyclists took ourselves on a 36 km (22 mile) ride. With full sun and around 90°F, it was a challenging time and took us about 5 hours. But, it was so nice as we were on a bike trail almost the whole time and got to see several adorable little villages, chateaus, old churches and even a castle as we rode through the vineyards. Here are some photos:

Andrew at the beginning of our ride

Riding through Volnay, the next village over from Pommard where we had dinner. I am not sure what the buildings were used for and the internet can’t seem to tell me, but we saw buildings similar to that on the left all over. They have about 1 ft deep pools and open on the side. I’m thinking they are resting places for horses, but if you know please tell me!

The old town hall in the village Mersault. It is a former 14th century fortress and the roof was built in the 19th century. The roof tiling style was very common in this region and according to our guide it was of Flemish origin (Belgium).

After a particularly long climb up this hill, we took refuge inside of this Cabotte, which is a stone hut set among the vineyards. They are intended to provide shelter from the weather or a store place for tools for wine growers and also a resting place for hot and sweaty cycling tourists. 

Approaching the village of La Rochepot, with the Chateau de La Rochepot towering above on the hillside. 

Andrew with the limestone cliffs off in the distance, which are characteristic of this region and a very defining factor in the “terroir” of the wine region. Terroir includes the soil, the topography and the climate. During our time in Burgundy it was impressed upon us how important the terroir is for defining the wines. 

On Wednesday, I had arranged for us to take a guided wine tour with Burgundy Discovery on their Hidden Secrets wine tour. It was us, one other couple and the tour guide who was British. The tour took us to three small production wineries and out to lunch. With the tour guide to teach us about Burgundy wines and also to translate, we had tours and tastings directly with the wine grower/taster (who usually spoke only French). This was so unique in comparison to our typical California wine tasting as we were not served by a tasting room server but with the person who grows the grapes and makes the wine! At one point we even went into the fields with the wine maker to look at the vines and talk about the process. We had such a good time learning about the wines of Bourgogne in a very personal atmosphere and of course loved being taxied around to different areas while sipping on wine in France!

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Our first tasting at Domaine Marcillet in Fussey. The winemaker answered all of our many questions and talked some about the business. It was interesting to note that she sells almost entirely to individuals like us (tourists), locals and … restaurants in NYC.

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Our second tasting at Domaine Dujardin in Monthélie. Note the black ceilings, which are a product of a mushroom/fungus which feeds on the fumes of wine as it breathes out through the oak barrels. Ulrich also made a point that his barrels are French, not American😉
The winemaker/grower, Ulrich is in the red shirt. At this vineyard, we walked through his wine making process, which is Bio (Euro version of organic). We did the wine tasting in his vaulted cellars, which date back to the 12th and 14th centuries. Ulrich was an incredibly smiley guy, and really stole our hearts (and money – his wine was really good) as we learned that his first career was as a teacher of the mentally disabled. Now, he employs people with disabilities in his wine making business in order to provide work opportunities to people who otherwise may be unemployed.

Ulrich let us do a tasting of a pinot noir directly from the barrel! Here he is using the syringe to take it out for us. 

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View from the Domaine Dujardin winemaker’s tasting room. So bucolic!

We stopped in the vineyards to talk about the vines and grapes with the winemaker/grower of our third vineyard, Domaine de la Coupette. I couldn’t resist this photo with the puffy clouds, blue skies and the old stone farmhouse on the right.

A cool little exhibit by the very nice winemaker of Domaine de la Coupette. It demonstrates the difference in the soil of the different vineyards where they source their grapes. This is to also impress upon you how much the terroir of each vineyard is different and therefore influences the flavor of the wine. We definitely learned that this is true as we tasted almost entirely pinot noir and chardonnay during our time in Bourgogne and yet there were distinct differences in taste in all.

The gate to the Chevaliers-Montrachet vineyard, which is a very well-known and valuable chardonnay vineyard in the region. The gate is nice as well🙂

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We ended up buying a bit of wine from our wine tour (31 bottles…). The wine was absolutely delicious, but we also did this because the wine was SUCH a better deal than what we pay in Switzerland and also much better variety of village and premier cru than what we find in our stores. We plan on saving some for special occasions and otherwise, we’ll just have to go back some day when we run out!
On Thursday the weather was a bit cooler and cloudier, with rain in the forecast. So, we made plans to explore the nearby town of Beaune. We did a little bit of a self-guided walking tour, that included the L’Hôtel-Dieu Hospices Civils de Beaune. This is an old hospital that is now a museum. It was really interesting to go through, and learn a little about old medical practices and see the 15th century architecture. Nowadays, the hospital had moved to a more modern property. A neat fact is that the hospital owns a lot of vineyards, a lot donated from grateful patients. As such, there’s wine you can buy and they even have a huge auction every year to sell barrels of wine. The wine is highly sought after as they sell for prices ranging from 10k per barrel up to 60k! Not sure buying this is in our near future.

The courtyard of the Hospices, where you can see the style influenced by the Flemish Duchy of Burgundy

The hospital was funded to be built by a wealthy ruler in order to take care of the poor sick. This room is one for taking care of the poorest individuals. There were 30 beds lining the room. Apparently during bad times, they would stuff 3 people to a bed. With our current knowledge of how germs are spread, you can imagine our sadness at thinking how many people probably unnecessarily died because of their inability to prevent the spread of contagious diseases during those times until disinfection became an important practice.

Old ceramic containers for medicine. Mostly herbs and strange things I have never heard of. My how modern pharmaceuticals have advanced!

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Walking around the town of Beaune

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This region is also the home of mustard as we are less than an hour’s drive from Dijon. We did some mustard tasting (and buying) at La Moutarderie Fallot, pictured here.
Our time in the Burgundy region was everything we hoped for and more. It was relaxing, the food was delicious, the wine was excellent, and our hotel was an oasis amid the vineyards. We enjoyed getting to be in France where we could exercise our French (which was completely unused during the previous weeks of travel). I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed our time in Burgundy in the little village of Pommard. I highly recommend you visit some time!

Now, according to our original itinerary, the plan had been for us to continue on down to the city of Lyon for the weekend before coming back to Switzerland for work. Lyon is known as a gastronomic epicenter with tons of Michelin star restaurants. After our  cruise and knowing our time in Burgundy would be full of fine wine and food, we decided to post pone our trip to Lyon and to head back to Switzerland. Our hotel was kind enough to give us a credit as we have full intention of going in the future. This should allow us time to recuperate our taste buds and be fully prepared for the food experience of Lyon in the near future!

Ports in Norway & Amsterdam v2

Apologies for the delay in blog posts and posting so close together. I had much less time than I anticipated to blog while on the cruise, and then I thought I would in France but our internet access was not strong enough (or maybe I was drinking too much wine…😉.

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Our cruise stopped in three ports in Norway during our trip. Below are the highlights!

Stop 1, Wednesday August 10: Geiranger

On the day of our first stop in Norway, we all woke up early to sit on our balconies as we cruised into the fjords.  While the weather was a bit cloudy there were several rainbows and it was gorgeous in every direction.

Just one of many rainbows as we cruised into the fjords towards Geiranger.

Similar to our time in Iceland, there were waterfalls everywhere we looked. The clouds were constantly shifting, which also created an amazing changing landscape.

More of the fjord as we cruised through. It was surprising to see the snow up on those peaks on the right in August. It was not that high in elevation, but it had clearly snowed within the past couple of days!

Passing the waterfall called the Seven Sisters. The little ferry on the bottom left gives a nice perspective for how high the fjord walls rose above the water.

The fjord as we approached Geiranger.

Just another beautiful waterfall…
In the port, Andrew had arranged for us to do some kayaking with a local outfitter, Active Geiranger. Lots of work went into organizing our own excursions outside of those offered by the cruise line but it saved us a TON of money (thanks to Corinne and Andrew for doing the majority of the research for the group). It started to rain shortly after we got on the water but it was still fun to see the fjord from water level.

Corinne and my Mom in their kayak.

Andrew’s parents in front of our destination waterfall

I think this is when the water started to creep through some gaps in my kayak skirt and down my back 😳

After kayaking the rain let up a bit and despite being pretty wet bottomed, we went off to do a short hike. We hiked up to a view point above the village with a gorgeous view of the fjord and the town.

The view from our hike. Down below is our cruise ship along with two of the orange tender boats to get us from the ship to shore. Something pretty cool that we learned during the interview with the ship captain is that they used a so-called “virtual anchor” instead of a real anchor. Apparently they can use the power of the ship and an automatic system to keep the boat at exact GPS coordinates, within 1 meter of accuracy!

Despite the rain, we never got cold and we all had a great day in Geiranger. The clouds stayed high enough to be able to see quite well and we were still able to do our hike and kayak trip as planned. Gregg and Kelly did a nice bus tour to the tops of some nearby vantage points and Andrew’s parents explored and did part of the hiking trail with us. Not surprisingly, when we boarded the ship by tender at the end of the day with 30 minutes to spare before the required boarding time, there were only 100 people left on land out of about 2,500 passengers. We were some of the braver ones to make it through the weather!

Stop 2, Thursday August 11: Bergen

Cruising into Bergen, there were islands all over the place, and each was dotted with cute, colorful houses. It made you wonder how post addresses work and what it is like living life with a boat as your main mode of transportation to reach the rest of your community.
Bergen was the biggest city we visited and had our best weather day in Norway. We started the day with a walking tour that Andrew found online, which as always gave us a great intro to the local history and architecture.

A traditional neighborhood of Bergen, with clapboard houses.
After the tour we stopped for lunch at the Bergen fish market and then went for a 6.5km  round trip hike to the top of one of the surrounding mountains, Mt Fløien. There was an excellent view from the top of the town below. Gregg and Kelly took the funicular down from the top as they have never ridden one before and the rest of us did a little more walking through the park at the top of the mountain before walking down to the town to re-board the ship again.

View from Mt. Floien

View from Mt. Floien
Stop 3, Friday August 12: Eidfjord

We arrived early in the morning in Eidfjord, with clouds and rain in the forecast. But that didn’t stop us! Andrew had arranged with the local tourist office to rent bikes. Just for perspective to show how tiny these towns are that the ship stops at, this town info center had TEN bikes for rent and we took 8 of them! Also helps that most people hop on a cruise line sponsored excursion for the day and not many people appeared to have been taking our method of exploration with the weather so soggy.

View from the ship of the town of Eidfjord (the entire town)

Our ship, the MS Koningsdam, docked at Eidfjord
We took a 20 km ride through the fjord to one of the biggest nearby waterfalls.

Riding along the fjord. The water was crystal clear.

It was raining quite a bit, but we all managed to keep a smile on our faces and enjoyed the solitude as we were nearly the only ones on the road. The fjord walls towered above us on all sides and there were plenty of waterfalls to gaze at.

With the lighting and my poor iPhone photography skills, these don’t really do the day justice, but hopefully it helps to portray what it was like during our ride!

We didn’t walk any closer but this was the waterfall we rode out here to see. It was beautiful!

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Smiling in our delirium of having ridden 10 km to this point through the rain (and two bee stings for Corinne). We were having fun together!
I was so sad that this was our last point in Norway as it was such a beautiful country and I felt like there was more to see. But, it was time to go. I would highly recommend others make their way north to this country as I hope to return again some day!

Last day at Sea:

On our last day at sea on the cruise ship, we all relaxed and enjoyed what the ship had to offer. Nice breakfast, relaxed coffee and reading in the Navigation café at the front of the ship. Andrew and I signed up for a cooking class in the ship’s culinary arts center, which had potential but was a big disappointment (complete lack of instruction, unfortunately). We look cute in those aprons, though!

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Andrew and I at the cooking class on the ship.

Last night on ship
View from the ship of sunset over the North Sea. Those dots on the horizon are oil rigs as we passed a ton.
Our last night we had a nice dinner in one of the restaurants of the ship, Pinnacle Grill and then caught one of the shows. They used excerpts from the BBC’s Frozen Planet and had a live orchestra play music along to the film. It was very impressive and enjoyable to watch.

So, my overall impression of the cruise. Keeping in mind I have never cruised before, the ship itself exceeded my expectations. Our room was very nice, our shower was way bigger than I expected and I loved having a balcony for the purpose of our room feeling bigger and then also to sit out there when the weather provided. The ship itself had plenty of food options, all were very good, and more bartenders and drinks waiters then you know what to do with. The entertainment options were great and I felt like there was always something going on. We took advantage of a lot of their shows, trivia contests and live music. I think the best part is to be able to have your hotel room follow you as you travel from place to place and to not have to pack and re-pack every day. However, in the end, I still feel like I missed out on little things like going to the grocery store, getting gas, speaking with hotel staff and going to restaurants that gives you more of an insight into how a country works and what the people are like. Though the cruise did truly save us time as we were able to dine in restaurants and sleep while the cruise trip transported us from spot to spot, which I appreciated!

Amsterdam last day:

We all tacked on a day and night in Amsterdam before everyone flew out to go their separate ways (my Mom, uncle Gregg and Kelly to the D.C. area, my sister Corinne ultimately to Vancouver, Canada and Andrew’s parents to San Diego).

Accommodation: For our last night in Amsterdam we switched locations and stayed at The Hoxton. It was an eclectic style hotel, a mix of modern and retro. We absolutely loved it for the style, convenient location in a nice neighborhood on a canal and wished we could have stayed longer.

Eats: 

For lunch on Sunday Andrew, his parents, my Mom and I all got a to-go lunch at an Indonesian take-out bar called Kantjil to Go. As Indonesia is a former Dutch colony, it is fairly common fare in Amsterdam. The serving style was similar to Chipotle where you add your base, protein and veggies into a to-go container. We ate while sitting on a canal and people watching. It was really very good.

Sunday night we all did one last meal together in Amsterdam at Café De Jaren. Corinne’s friend Christiana even joined us as she and Corinne were meeting up to hang out (Christiana lives and works for KPMG in London!). The menu was one everyone would enjoy, and we sat by the doors that opened onto a terrace overlooking the canals. It was a great spot to have some last conversation in person before saying goodbye.

Sights: We visited the Van Gogh Museum and did a few walking tours through the city and the Red Light District.

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As per our trusty Rick Steve’s guide: Amsterdam was built in a marshy delta and on top of millions of wooden pilings. The wood survives if kept wet and out of the air. Many of the city’s old buildings lean this way and that as their pilings settle. I thought this was one decent example of this as we saw leaning buildings all over the city!

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Andrew, our tour guide, reading to the group from the Rick Steve’s guide.
That’s it! I couldn’t believe Norway and Amsterdam were over. Overall, it was over a week of our vacation and it was so memorable. It was nice for Andrew and I to get to go to a colder climate after the heat of the Iberian peninsula, and I can’t say enough how much we enjoyed getting to spend so much time with our family, together, without having to fly to back to the States. Next up, Burgundy wine country in France!

Amsterdam and First days at Sea

For the third week of our summer vacation, we planned to take a cruise in the Norwegian fjords with Holland America Cruise Line. Both our families joined us (1st time meeting!) and we were scheduled to depart from Amsterdam on Sunday August 7. I previously visited Amsterdam in ’07 when I studied abroad, but this was Andrew’s first visit. Andrew and I, my mom, my sister Corinne, and Andrew’s parents all flew in on Saturday August 6 and Kelly and Gregg (my uncle & his girlfriend) flew in on Sunday (after narrowly missing our cruise due to a delayed flight, thank goodness they made it!).

We had checked the weather before our cruise, and all of us had noted that it was not looking so great. Forecasts were for rain and clouds 😔. But I do not think any of us knew the extent of the storms nor the impact they would have on us, as immediately upon checking in to the cruise, we learned that due to a storm coming across the North Sea (a body of water we needed to cross) our departure from Amsterdam was delayed one day and they cancelled a stop in the port of Ålesund. This reduced our stops in Norway from 4 days to 3 (out of a 7 night cruise). Speaking for myself, this was a disappointment since this took time away from Norway and I was looking forward to seeing the destination. However, when in these situations I do realize that we have to accept that the cruise line makes these decisions for our safety and comfort. Also, when you choose to go to a cruise destination in a northern region, you are more likely to experience inclement weather.

Amsterdam Accommodation:

We stayed near the museum district at the Leonardo Hotel Amsterdam City Center (formerly a Best Western). It had a bus station nearby that was a direct shot to the airport, which was convenient, and it was next to a very big park that was great for my Sunday morning run with Andrew’s Dad and my mom.

Eats:

Saturday night in Amsterdam, we planned dinner with my Mom and Andrew’s parents at Restaurant Dubbel, a great spot along one of the canals. It would have been my Dad’s 58th birthday (August 6) so we downed a couple Belgian ales in his honor.

Amsterdam Sights:

With a one day delay in departure from Amsterdam, we had a little extra time to explore the city, which we all took advantage of.

On Saturday we began a walking tour from the Rick Steve’s guide book and quickly ran into the source of a high volume of colorful people running around town: The Amsterdam Pride Parade on the canals! We had fun watching the crowds and the boats packed with dancing partiers in bright colors for a bit and then we continued on our walk.

On Sunday morning we woke up for a run in the park and then took a canal boat tour with Lovers Canal Cruises. It was only an hour but it was a great way to get to see the city sights and canal house boats from the water. While we ran, Andrew and his Mom did a self-guided walking tour through the Jordaan neighborhood.

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Running through the Vondelpark with my mom and Andrew’s Dad on Sunday morning before boarding our cruise in Amsterdam.

On Monday we had until 1 pm to explore the city a bit more before our departure from port. We all split up to do our own thing, and my mom, sister and I did some walking through the city for a bit. Andrew and his parents went to the Amsterdam museum and Kelly and Gregg did a little tour through the city.

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Amsterdam Centraal train station
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Lovely view of an Amsterdam canal
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Mother/daughter walk through the canals on Sunday morning

First days at sea on the MS Koningsdam Monday and Tuesday (Aug 8-9):

This was my first cruise, so I was really interested to see how it would go. Our ship is brand new and launched in May 2016. The itinerary had us at sea from Monday afternoon through all day Tuesday with our first day at port in Geirangerfjord on Wednesday August 10.

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Entering the North Sea on our first day of the cruise. We cruised through the  North Sea canal from Amsterdam and then passed through the Spui Locks in Ijmuiden in order to get up to sea level. The lock took about 45 minutes and then we were on the open ocean! This is the last bit of the Dutch coastline we saw until the end of the cruise.

Shortly after we began cruising, the captain came on and notified us all of the planned time at sea and also the weather forecast. We learned that there would be high seas and worse weather than we had hoped.

It’s hard to tell in the below photograph, but we made it through 10-12 (approx. 32-39 ft) meter waves and 56 knot winds. They had to close the decks on all the floors so we could not go outside. The ship’s stabilizers were able to prevent the rocking side to side, but there was still plenty of pitch (rocking from front to back).

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As I have never cruised before, all of this fascinated me. People were walking around as if they’d had one too many drinks and all needed to hold on to things. Even in my shower the water was sloshing around and I couldn’t help but laugh when I tried to reach for things and missed. There were people getting sea sick quite often (unlucky me saw one of them). Many things were cancelled due to sea sickness or to prevent people from getting in a situation that might lead to sea sickness. Luckily our group of 8 made it through the seas without getting overly ill, but I think most (aka me) had to take it easy all day.

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This is on the Ledo Deck in the center of the boat. You can really see the water shloshing here! No one was allowed in and we aren’t sure why they did not empty the pool but it really shows how much the boat was pitching!

We made it through, and while I will say I would not ever want to go through seas like that again (okay, who does?), I am so glad that our ship was able to make it through. The captain of the ship said it, and I believe him, that if our ship had not been as strong and capable as it is (and the newest ship in its class in the world) then we would have had to cancel the cruise or delay further, cutting the trip even more. In fact, two other cruise ships that left Amsterdam for Norway on the same day as us had to cancel their trips entirely.

So, we all did our best to enjoy the cruise ship on these first days at sea despite the weather. We tried out the restaurants (I was impressed by the cuisine on the ship!), the gym (for those of us who could handle the motion of the ship!) and even checked out the spa (pedicure for me, massages for Kelly & Gregg). There was a really fascinating interview with the ship’s captain I attended with my Mom and Andrew, plenty of live music, trivia (which we never managed to win the entire trip, though we came close!) and plenty of chatting over drinks or as we looked over the water.

Andrew and I
As is typical on cruises, our first day at sea was one of the formal dinners, so we all got dressed up. They had photographers so we had some taken. Unfortunately, they cost a fortune to get the photos of our entire group, so we settled for just this one.
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My mom, sister and I at the formal dinner in the main dining room of the ship on our first day at sea (Tuesday). (Photo credit: Susan Kuntz, thank you!)

Wednesday would be our first day in port, so we rested up and prepared to wake up early the first day as we were planned to ride into the fjords early in the morning and the views were promised to be good!