My Mom’s visit to Switzerland 

Last year I got delayed for a day in Denver while flying to join Andrew’s family in Tahoe for NYE. The United Airlines rep must have felt really bad for me while trying to help find a solution because without even asking, she compensated my troubles with a $1,000 travel voucher to go anywhere in the world with United by 31 December 2016! I didn’t need the ticket since United doesn’t offer many flights within Europe but it was perfect to use to fly my Mom to Switzerland for the holiday season in December! Mom came to visit from Wednesday 14 December until Monday 19 December. The weather has been cloudy and grey in Lausanne thanks to the typical winter fog layer over the lake, but we managed to sightsee around our area, and then escaped to the sunny Alps for a couple of days before returning to visit the Montreux Christmas market. All in all, a wonderful trip for my Mom to get to see where we live in Lausanne and have a Swiss holiday trip!

Wednesday: Mom flew in on Wednesday morning from Virginia. Andrew and I still had work, but I met her at the train station, got her situated at the apartment and left her on her own for the day to acclimate to the time difference and explore. She rested, went for a run and we all reconnected for a home-cooked meal at the apartment in the evening.

Thursday: I was able to take off work Thursday through Friday and Andrew took off on Friday. Thursday morning my Mom and I went for a run down on the lake front, and then at mid-day set off to walk around Lausanne to see our Swiss home town. We visited the Lausanne cathedral, the old town, the anatomical clock in Place de la Palud, and walked through many of the shops.

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Inside the cathedral, all dressed up for Christmas. We lucked into stepping into the cathedral while the organist was practicing.

After seeing Lausanne and making some important chocolate purchases at Chocolats Blondel (we’re a little late to the game in discovering this place and it is THE BEST chocolate), we got on the train headed for Saint-Saphorin.  We love taking visitors to this adorable little village on the lakeside. You feel like you’re stepping back into time as you wander the narrow, winding cobblestone streets up the hillside into the terraced vineyards of Lavaux. We spent an hour walking through the village and along the  the vineyard terraces. The sun was setting and the clouds were blocking our view of the Alps, but it was still lovely.

Mom & I walking through the wine terraces above Saint-Saphorin.

Friday: Our “big” trip while Mom was visiting was to head into the canton of Valais for two days. We first drove to Crans-Montana to do some hiking. You might recall we did the KPMG ski weekend in Crans-Montana last winter and we also stayed there last June before doing a via ferrata on the anniversary of my father’s passing. We had originally wanted to do a hike along the Bisse du Rho, but we arrived at the trail head to discover it was closed for winter. Instead, we hiked an alternate trail through the forest for a couple hours. It was beautiful!

Mom on the section of the trail below some really cool rock cliffs
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View from the hike and where we stopped for lunch. That is a dam at the center of the photograph.

After our hike we stopped in the village of Crans-Montana to walk around a bit and take in the panoramic view of the Alps. The Crans-Montana resort area is famous for its south facing slopes that soak in the sun and provide these amazing views.

View from Crans-Montana
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View of the Weisshorn (4,506m/14,783 ft) from Crans-Montana. The valley below it is Val d’Anniviers, where we stayed on Friday night.

Friday afternoon we drove across the Rhône valley and up into the Val d’Anniviers for our destination village of Grimentz, where had reserved a spot at the Hotel Alpina. Friday night we had just enough time to walk through the adorable little village streets lit with Christmas lights before time for dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Walking through the Streets of Grimentz

Saturday: Saturday morning we woke up to see the streets of the village in the light. Grimentz is seriously one of the cutest villages we have been to, and I can only imagine how much cuter it is in warmer months when they have all their flower boxes overflowing with bright red flowers. We just might need to return next year!

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Graveyard at the church in Grimentz. Instead of gravestones they had these wooden markers. It was a beautiful spot.

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Once we were packed up and the sun had made it’s way a little higher in the sky, we purchased tickets and rode the Grimentz Bendolla cablecar up to the top of the nearby peaks into the Zinal ski resort. A short walk later, we found ourselves sitting in the warm sun on the porch of the Buvette de la Marmotte. We hung out in reclining chairs, had drinks and took in the incredible view at 2,800 meters.

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Andrew and Mom suffering through the afternoon on the porch of the buvette . The Weisshorn (left) and Zinalrothorn (right) are in the background.
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There were a lot of para-skiers practicing on the slopes. It was amazing to watch them

 

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View of the buvette as we were leaving. Pretty sweet spot!

 

After we couldn’t stand the views any longer we figured we should get in a bit more relaxation. We headed down to the car and drove to the village of Ovronnaz to enjoy the thermal baths. Typical with these places, we could not take pictures but if you look at the link I referenced you’ll be able to see that the view was incredible from the outdoor baths and we enjoyed every relaxing moment as the sun set over the peaks rising above us!

Sunday:

At 1 we got on the train and headed for Château Chillon, another favorite place to take visitors. They were having a special Christmas event for families, with shows for children and vendors selling gifts and food in the main hall of the castle. The clouds were clearing, so we got a great view!

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One of my mom’s top reasons for wanting to come visit us in December was to visit the Christmas markets. Luckily, we live near the Montreux Noel Christmas market and could go for a visit on her last day in Switzerland. We went for the late afternoon into the evening, wandering through the shops, stopping for vin chaud (hot, mulled wine) and had fondue at one of the pop-up restaurants.

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Inside one of the bars at the Christmas Market. This one is a huge pop-up log cabin with a fire. They sell special beers made by Boxer, a local brewery, specifically for the markets!

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A real live Santa flies by on his sled on the hour. Here he is against the Sunset and Lac Léman. Pretty incredible!

 

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Our dinner restaurant. A pop-up restaurant that features traditional Swiss fare.

 

We had to give Mom her fondue experience! Here’s our pot of cheese, and below is my croutes au fromage, which is a piece of bread, with either a slice of ham or pièces of ham, topped with cheese. Some restaurants often offer to crack an egg on top. It’s SO GOOD …… for you? 🙂

After reading this post … you may have noticed that some of these pictures are looking much better than the others? Well, Andrew and I have upped our game!  We recently purchased a “real” camera for ourselves to capture all our adventures. We settled on a Sony Alpha a6300 mirrorless camera after Andrew did a ton of research on different cameras based upon our expected use. So far, I can really tell the difference in our photos.

So, this is a wrap for 2016 in Switzerland. I am so happy my Mom had the chance to come visit us in Lausanne and experience our Swiss life. Both Mom and Andrew flew back to the U.S. on Monday December 19th, and I just finished working one more week before I fly back to the U.S. for the holidays today on Christmas Eve. I’ll be in Virginia for 3 weeks as I am working in VA on a work engagement again in January. I can’t wait to be home to visit with friends and family for the holidays. After that, we return to Switzerland to begin our work busy season and hit the ski slopes as much as possible. Stay posted 🙂

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!