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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castle

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 🙂

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 🙂

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.
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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.

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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!

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View looking south – and check out the guy in the center about to wipe out 🙂
Part of the resort in Leysin
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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 🙂