California visitors

This past weekend we were lucky to have our friends Cody and Kim in town from California.

They arrived Friday evening after we got home from work, so we stayed in the apartment to catch up over drinks. Saturday we started with a walk around Lausanne to show them the city and to stop for lunch at Manor. I don’t know if I mentioned before, but Manor is a department store in Switzerland and they have an awesome prepared foods cafe on their top level. It’s quick, affordable, and has an option everyone will love.

We then hopped on the train headed towards Montreux to tour Château de Chillon, an island castle located on Lac Lèman with original construction dating back almost a thousand years! The castle provided some interesting local history regarding the rulers over the years, which included the Savoys, Bernese and Vaudois. The castle Foundation has acquired an impressive collection of furniture and decorations dating back to each of the periods which are held throughout the rooms of the castle. I think the most impressive thing I learned to appreciate was that the rulers back in the day would travel throughout the region to exert their power and spend a certain time period in each location. This led to them traveling for months at a time over several hundred miles with their entire entourage of support staff, horses and chests and chests of belongings (to demonstrate power and wealth). Over the Alps nonetheless! I would love to know what it was like for them to travel with horse and carriage over the Alps, considering how tough I find it to hike them with a 10 lb pack!

Cody, Kim, Andrew and I outside of castle on Saturday

Saturday night we came back to Lausanne and had dinner together at one of Andrew and my favorites, Café de Grancy. It’s a great spot to get a taste for Swiss French cuisine such as tartare de beouf or foie gras.

Late Sunday morning we drove to Villars-sur-Ollon, where we parked the car then boarded a cogwheel train to go up into the Villars ski area for a snow shoeing expedition. Expedition meaning … walk in the woods 🙂 We did a bit of snow shoeing down to Lac des Chavonnes, a lake located off piste in the woods and only accessible on foot or ski. We had a late fondue lunch at the Restaurant du Lac des Chavonnes. This place was cozy and adorable, all tucked away in the mountains beside an alpine lake.

Cody, Andrew and Kim snow shoeing in Villars. A grey day but visibility was still good!

 

All four of us while snow shoeing in Villars

 

On the cogwheel train going up to snowshoe in Villars

 The above photo is taken from our hike in Villars. Off in the distance you can see the ski area of Leysin, which Andrew and I visited in February and I wrote about in this blog post. Cool to see it from the other side of the valley!

Top left: Lac Chavonnes. You can see the little restaurant on the far shore if you look close enough; Middle Left: The restaurant; Bottom Left: Kim & I; Bottom Center: Kim & Cody on the cogwheel train; Bottom Right: Restaurant menu; Right Center: Andrew and I; Top right: Andrew & Cody

Cody and Kim stayed with us until Tuesday. Andrew and I had to work Monday, so they went off to tour Geneva then we all met up Monday night for a last dinner together. We tried a new burger place, Zooburger, which was perfect with local beers on tap and various types of burgers. A great end to an awesome visit from our good friends. We’ll miss you guys, come back again soon!!!!!!!!!

Easter weekend in Saas-Fee

It was a four day holiday weekend in Switzerland for Easter. The prime ski season at most areas is winding down (quite literally melting as the weather warms for spring) so we took our co worker’s advice and booked an Airbnb in Saas-Fee from Friday to Monday. Saas-Fee is one of the higher elevation ski villages known for still having good snow later in the winter. We were not disappointed!

Saas-Fee is a car free village. We left our car in the parking garage on the edge of the village for the weekend and took one of these sweet electric taxis up into the village.

We arrived Friday afternoon during a snow storm, which gave 5ish inches of fresh snow for skiing. The village is relatively small and easily walkable from one end of the main street to the other within ten minutes. There are tons of restaurants, shops, and bars to keep you busy when you aren’t on the slopes. During our visit we enjoyed dinner Friday at Ristorante Don Ciccio, Sunday at Restaurant Bristol and had a great time for the Saturday aprés-ski party at The Larix.

The ski resort has a few cool things I’ve never seen before. First, to get up to the top of the mountain you take two long cable cars followed by an underground furnicular that they call the “Alpine Metro” which was kind of like a subway that takes you up inside the mountain. To get to the top it took us at least 45 minutes but it is pretty amazing how fast they can get you from 1,800 m (5,900 ft) at the base of the village to 3500 m (11,500 ft)  at the top. Second, because the pistes at the top of the mountain resort are on a glacier and the glacier is moving, you cannot install permanent lift systems. Instead, they have “t-bars” or “poma lifts”  (if you’re curious, here’s a description). True Jessica style, I fell down trying to get on at one point and a very sweet old Swiss German man helped me stand up and get on safely. Our conversation on the ride up was limited but I managed to use some of my high school German skills with him and say thank you 🙂 Not surprisingly if you know my ability to get myself lost or in stupid situations, this was not the first time that an elderly Swiss German man would help me out for the day. At the end of the ski day I found myself on what I thought was the “easy way down” the mountain (while Andrew took the direct and more advanced route) and instead hesitated in front of a sign saying “for good skiers only.” As I stood there considering whether I felt like braving it, an elderly man skiing by, stopped next to me staring at the sign and gave his sage advice, “You should not do this.” Clearly he should know, so I hopped on the lift and took a series of gondolas down the mountain and joined up with Andrew who had already been at aprés-ski for an hour 🙂

Third, the glacier we were skiing on was massive and had amazing features. The pistes were literally surrounded by visible crevasses and glacier ice. Certainly important to stick to the piste for safety purposes and wow was beautiful!

View from the top of Saas-Fee on Saturday
Andrew and I hung out at this place, the Dom Rock, on Saturday afternoon. There was a live band playing music out on the terrace, a full bar and lounge chairs to hang out. As you can see from where Andrew is sitting, it was pretty tough to leave this spot and we miiiight have stuck around for a few hours 🙂
The glacier field full of crevasses. Cant go skiing out there!
Sunday skiing was another beautiful day!
Our Sunday lunch spot at the Morenia station. It was juuuust warm enough with the sun to sit outside.

Andrew and I finished the weekend by stopping midway on our drive home in Leukerbad at the Walliser Alpentherme. Again, we aren’t allowed to take pictures inside these places since you cannot take your phone in but if you check the link and look at the photos … the views were incredible from the thermal baths! It was the perfect way to treat our tired muscles after skiing and, well … it’s just relaxing 🙂

So, March was a busy month of weekend travel and skiing. I think I can speak for Andrew and I both to say that we have been so thankful to have these opportunities in Switzerland. It really is amazing to look back over the past four weeks and think about all we have seen and done. We both work hard during the week and our weekday life is truly not that exciting (which I do not bore you with on the blog). We are fortunate to get to be weekend warriors and explore all this country has available within a couple hours drive of our home in Lausanne. But the fun isn’t over (it never is, is it?), next up: Our good friends Kim and Cody will be visiting from SF this upcoming weekend as they do a Swiss vacation before a work trip to Ireland. So excited for their arrival and to show them around 🙂

KPMG Ski Weekend at Crans Montana

Ski weekend group photo
Our co workers from KPMG Suisse Romande audit practice. We all work in the French region of Switzerland and most of us are from the Lausanne or Geneva offices.

This past weekend was the KPMG Suisse Romande Audit Practice ski weekend. Our social committee planned an incredible weekend for us with a full itinerary on Saturday. It was so fun!

We spent the weekend at the Swiss Chalet Montana, in a room with a view of the mountains – literally could wake up, look out the window and stare at the vista and even the Matterhorn off in the distance. It was not a fancy hotel, but the rooms were large for European standards, it came with breakfast, a self service bar, pool, Foosball, and the inn keeper even caravaned everyone to dinner on Saturday night so that we wouldn’t have to walk 20 minutes in the cold to get downtown.

Darn trees are in the way but the view from our room was still beautiful!

Saturday morning everyone met at the ski station to pick up our tickets. Andrew and I skied a couple pistes with some co workers before, well … let’s just say they left me in the dust haha these people ski as if they literally came out of the womb on skis they are so good! I tried to keep up but I am just not good enough at skiing yet. So, we bid farewell and got in a couple hours of skiing by ourselves before stopping and meeting back up with everyone for lunch. The snow was awesome and the pistes were so fun. The resort is huge and we had a great time exploring a new ski area.

View from lunch at the Les Violettes terrace

Lunch was a group affair at some tables reserved out on the terrace at Les Violettes. The weather on Saturday was mild, crystal clear and blue skies. It was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

The panoramic views from the pistes of Crans Montana were incredible
View out over the glacier at the highest point of the resort. There was an awesome super long piste to ski down the glacier and down the mountain from here
Andrew and I after lunch on the terrace
My map man and his map ❤️
Skiing down from the glacier. Had to be careful to stop looking at the view and focus on where I was going!

Dinner was an organized group meal at Restaurant La Désalpe, followed by drinks at The Constellation followed by going dancing at some basement club that miraculously I cannot remember the name of (wonder why that is …. 🙂 ) It was a really great time and fun to get to hang out with our colleagues outside of work. Crans Montana was a really nice resort and honestly had the best panoramic views of the Alps. Better than I ever imagined. We left Sunday morning exhausted but loved every minute.

 

 

A Swiss Winter Wonderland

A long overdue blog post that therefore will be pretty long – sorry sorry sorry for the radio silence!

In January, Andrew and I returned from the U.S. to delve into the audit busy season – which luckily coincides with ski season! The working hours have been long for the past four weeks, but we found some time on the weekends to get out and take advantage of the fact that Switzerland is truly a winter wonderland.

Our first stop was Champéry to go to Portes du Soleil, one of the world’s largest ski areas, including 13 ski resorts in the network! We only touched about 10% of it but it was awesome!

Portes du Soleil on January 17. It was about 10°F and heavy snow fell all day, causing visibility difficulties and near white-out conditions. The snow was amazing! The resort was really nice, nearly all 4 or 5 person express lifts, not over crowded nor any wait times at the lifts.
Portes du Soleil – Again, poor visibility but you can sort of see the town of Champéry down below. This is the cable car we ride up from the parking lot to the ski slopes, which fits about 40 people inside.
Lunch break at Portes du Soleil. Andrew: Burger Me: teeny omelette, salad…. and beers. Beers are necessary 🙂

 

A sunrise view of the Alps and snowy Lavaux wine region from the train on my way to Schaffhausen January 18

One of my primary year-end clients was in the German speaking region of Switzerland, in the town of Schaffhausen, which is about a 3 hour train ride away from Lausanne. For three weeks I stayed in a hotel during the week and returned to Lausanne on the weekends. Andrew stayed in a hotel for two weeks by his client, in Neuchatel.
Schaffhausen

Schaffhausen
One of the village squares in Schaffhausen

Work was pretty busy in Schaffhausen, but one of the nights I took off with two of my co-workers to go for a 5.5 mile night run to the local Rheinfall. The falls are kind of like a smaller version of our Great Falls in VA/MD, and were lit up with a blue light. With the mist coming off the water – it was beautiful and a nice break from the long work days.

The weather this winter has been unusually mild at times, so we have not always been able to go skiing. One such weekend we instead went off to the town of Saint Maurice to Les Bains de Lavey, one of the thermal baths near Lausanne. We also went back in November, so this was our second time visiting the baths.

The baths have an indoor heated pool, which has waterway exits to the outdoor baths and pathways to the two outer buildings. There outdoor pools have areas with differing temperatures and areas with water jets and even a small lazy river style ring where you can let the water push you through while on floating on your back. My favorite was the water jet beds, which are on the outer ring of the spiral on the bottom right of the photo below. The thermal baths were a family affair, with plenty of kids, couples, old people, young people – everyone was there! When we went in November it was snowing while we were in the baths, which was a really surreal experience.

We also gave the saunas and turkish baths a shot. The outer buildings had saunas with three different stages of temperature rooms. There were also “serenity rooms” where they play music, have colored lights, you lie back in a rocking chair and just kind of chill out. Kind of odd but very relaxing. In the main building, they had Turkish baths as well.

bains 1
Borrowed from the website, here’s what it looks like from above
You are not allowed to bring a cell phone inside for privacy reasons, so I sketchily took this from outside the complex. 

February 7 we caught up with our friend Kevin, who works at a school and lives in Leysin. His village is up in the mountains about 50 minutes from Lausanne and has a ski resort so we were able to meet there to go skiing/snowboarding together. The day was not too cold and very clear, the views from the slopes were incredible!

img_1185
View looking south – and check out the guy in the center about to wipe out 🙂
Part of the resort in Leysin
Lunch at Leysin
Lunch at the restaurant in Leysin. This is on top of the mountain, and is a revolving restaurant. You end up getting a 360° view during your meal!

So let’s see. What else is going on in our life these days? My four weeks away staying in hotels in Schaffhausen and Geneva for busy season is now over. I think the worst of busy season is over for both of us for the near future (I hope!). We pretty much have been at work all week, Saturdays are devoted to errands while the stores are open, laundry, cleaning, and then trying to go skiing whenever there’s an opportunity.

Andrew is very likely going to buy a car. His commute to Boudry is very long through public transit and inconvenient for his work responsibilities. He is at the same client about 90% of the year, which is in a small village and has a ton of parking available. It would also be nice for us to have one and to not have to rent Mobility cars. His co worker happens to be selling his car, so Andrew is possibly going to buy it from him. We’ll see, but we might get a car soon! We do not have to have a car here in Switzerland, the public transit truly is great, but it would be nice to be able to have one available whenever we want and have a little more freedom. Oh, and to not have to lug our groceries back up the hill from the grocery store would be nice 🙂

Andrew is progressing very well with his French. His most recent feat was having a conversation with a car dealer at a used car lot to talk about cars he was interested in viewing. It was so great! And I am … well … not devoting enough time to my studies. I can place orders in restaurants and get by with greeting co workers or asking if anyone wants a coffee but my progress has stalled lately. I just spent a week working on an entirely French speaking team, French speaking client contacts and even had colleagues in town from KPMG Paris. It was the first time for me out at a client as a senior in-charge of a team where there was more than one other French speaker on the team and where they could converse in French together without having to talk to me in English.  My client’s documentation was entirely in French, my team were all French speakers – talk about adding a different element of challenge and a solid kick in the butt to dedicate myself to getting better at French! We are able to get by with English here in Switzerland, but learning French will make life here so much easier and it would be nice to join the conversation more often. I’ll get there!

Our view of the lake and mountains these days during runs along the lake 🙂


Our 2016 vacation requests have been submitted to our company’s scheduling team, and we are supposed to find out this month if it has been 100% accepted. So far our biggest request has been to take four weeks vacation in late July-August. One week of that is going to be spent on a cruise in Norway of the fjords with my mom, sister, uncle, uncle’s girlfriend Kelly, and Andrew’s parents. It will be so fun to get everyone together! We are left with three other weeks to plan. So, we’ve started to spend a lot of time researching a trip. We are thinking of trying a roadtrip through Spain and Portugal before the cruise, then afterwards hitting up Belgium and maybe doing some backpacking in the Alps. Just some thoughts … but it has been fun to research! We’ll see, so far 2016 in Switzerland is off to a great start 🙂

 

California Dreaming

As I mentioned before, given I am in the U.S. for four weeks, I managed to fit in a trip to California. The plan was to fly into Reno so that I could spend NYE in Tahoe with Andrew’s family, then drive to SF and spend a few days there before heading back to VA.

Plans slightly changed and I had a nice tour of the U.S. in between! Winter weather caused a ton of flight delays nationwide, so I missed my connecting flight in Denver to Reno. I stayed the night in Denver and woke up the next morning to discover I didn’t have a seat on a flight to Reno! A very helpful service agent found an alternative trip plan that flew me to Boise and then on to Reno by Tuesday night, getting me to Tahoe a full day later than expected. But I made it! The very next morning I caught up with the Kuntz family to hit the slopes and take advantage of all the snow that has fallen on the West Coast thanks to El Niño.

We ended up spending both of my skiing days at Heavenly as the snow was pretty good there. It’s the best snow I have seen on the mountain since I first moved to California!
Heavenly with Andrew’s family 

New Year’s Eve we took a day off from skiing to sleep in and relax. It was incredibly cold at Tahoe this year. The temperature never rose above freezing, so we were quite happy to stay indoors and cuddle up on the couch. We did make it out in the afternoon for a walk on the beach, it was a beautiful day! For NYE we stayed at the house for a home made dinner and played liar’s dice (a fun group game!). I have to admit I didn’t make it to midnight, I was asleep by 10:30, but all because our plans involved waking up early on New Year’s Day to be some of the first on the mountain (hoping the lines would be short while people were home nursing their hangovers).

Beautiful New Year’s Eve walk on the beach at Incline
Andrew gave his family a fondue set from Switzerland for Christmas, so we made some Swiss fondue for our NYE dinner appetizer. Andrew and I attended the KPMG Lausanne office’s Christmas fondue party in December and luckily learned a few tips. We did our best to replicate it, but in a restaurant, you begin a fondue meal with viande séchée (dried meat), cornichons and pickled pearl onions. You are only provided bread for dipping in the fondue (which again, Swiss bread is amazing!!) There are a few rules for what you drink. First: Always drink white wine (according to them, helps with digesting the crazy amount of cheese you put in your belly), Secondly: Do not drink water (according to them, does not help digestion. I struggle with this one, all the salt made me so thirsty for water!), and Thirdly: Drink hot tea afterwards (Again, to help with digestion – up to you to believe it or not, but, you know …. when in Rome). All in all, fondue is super fun given the social nature of sitting around a pot of melted cheese and chatting it up. Andrew found our recipe online, if anyone is curious what goes into it (which is more than just cheese!), check the link out here. We brought some Chasselas wine home from Switzerland, which I think really helped bring the flavor closer to what we had in Switzerland. We had to bring it because, side note and fun fact: Swiss wine is not exported out of the country! It is consumed entirely in Switzerland! Interesting, huh? So, every time we fly home our bags will be extra heavy with some Swiss wine to bring home to our families 🙂
We started 2016 off on a good note! We all woke up early and made it to Heavenly to be there when the lifts open. It was 5° F to start, and eventually “warmed up” to around 20° F, but was perfect. A couple inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before and the conditions were great despite the cold. It was a beautiful New Years’ Day.

Saturday, Andrew and I packed up our things to go on the move again. Andrew’s parents were kind enough to drive us down to Rocklin (outside of Sacramento) so that we could get a rental car to drive to SF. We ended up taking a slight detour to wine country (couldn’t resist!) to stop at the winery where we used to belong to the club, Lynmar Estate.

Andrew’s sister, Robin, and her boyfriend John met us at Lynmar for a tasting. It was a little overcast and cool in Sebastopol, but so nice to get to return to one of our favorite spots in the Bay Area and hang out together!

The rest of our time in SF, we focused on eating at our favorite restaurants (Mamacita, Park Tavern and Trattoria Contadina – so much love!), catching up with old co-workers and friends, and fitting in a run from North Beach to the Marina Green. It was so fun to be back in the city, seeing familiar sites, seeing what has changed in six months (umm hello to the FINALLY OPEN expansion of the 101 when you enter SF in the North from the Golden Gate bridge) and catching up with friends!

Bobbi, a good friend I met while working for Williams-Sonoma, came and met up with us on Sunday at Kennedy’s to watch some football. So good to catch up with this gal!
We caught up with Alex on Sunday night at Richmond Republic Draft House. Alex is a friend we met at KPMG SF while we all worked on the same client. So good to see this girl, too!

<<<< Insert photos I sadly missed to take of Saturday’s dinner at Mamacita with Cody and Kim, Monday lunch at Blue Barn with all my old co-workers from Williams-Sonoma, and Monday dinner at Trattoria Contadina with Ashley, Kevin, Sara and Vince. I loved seeing you all!!!>>>>