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Archive for the ‘Switzerland’ Category

Bern, Switzerland

View from my room in Bern

We got home from England on Sunday afternoon and I was on a plane the next day to Bern for a work trip.  Bern is a quaint little town. Very clean. The downtown area, which is small, seemed almost void of cars, especially in the evening, partially, I assume due to the great tram system.  The medieval town center is a UNESCO cultural world heritage site and sits in-between the bends of the river.

I was so surprised to see clocks in Switzerland

As Bern is a small town, so is it’s airport. Having a meeting in Switzerland at the beginning of December did seem a bit odd to me as people were flying from all over the world to attend.  The portion of the meeting that I was to attend was on Tuesday and Wednesday morning.  I made some comment to the hotel clerk about flights being canceled due to snow, to which the response was something along the lines of “we are used to snow here in Bern, the airports don’t close,” oh cool, I’m thinking. Later that evening, a local made a similar comment to several of us who were leaving the next day and concerned since snow was in the forecast. There was a light snow falling when I got up on Wednesday.  By the time I was at the meeting, it was snowing harder.  By lunch a blanket was over the town. By meeting end, it was more like a thick duvet.

I had a couple of hours free from when the meeting ended and I had to make my way to the airport.  So, I used that time to mill around town and bought a coo-coo clock for Melissa for Christmas (it seemed like the thing to do in Switzerland.)  The lady in the shop made polite conversation with me and when I told her I was worried about flying out today due to the weather, she thought I was coo-coo. “The Bern airport doesn’t close because we are used to the snow,” she said happily.  “Very good to hear, thank you.”  I browsed a few more shops and churches and then made my way to see the Bern bears. Bears in Switzerland?

The river that wraps itself around city center

I was getting snowed on quite a bit...not surprised the flight was cancelled

The Bern bears

Bern (or Berne) somehow translates into bear (baren,) but I’m not sure how. Or maybe it is just alot of “B’s” and the words all sound the same to me. Anyway, the town has had brown bears as an attraction since the early 1500′s.  The city has a big bear park that houses the bears. I was told by a few different people to visit the bears as they are not a normal site in Europe. By the time I got there, it was snowing pretty hard.  I snapped off a few pics of them playing in the snow, they seemed happy and warmer than me.  I grabbed my bag from the hotel and headed to the airport. All the roads were covered in snow. The taxi driver said “the airport normally doesn’t close but…”  Whoa, whoa, where did this ‘but’ come from? I arrived at the airport, flight showed on time, got a beer, made some comment to the lady behind the counter about having 1 1/2 hours to kill before the plane leaves. She said, “You think you’re going to leave today?”…uh, uh, uh. I barely had time to take a drink of my beer and crack my book before the airport closed and all flights for the rest of the night cancelled.  So much for Bern airport not closing. There were only about six people in the airport and only one agent. So I just sat and enjoyed my beer, while they swarmed the agent.  The agent (emphasis on the only agent) at the desk said no flights until tomorrow afternoon assuming the airport opens. Convenient for me the taxi had already left and the hotel I was staying at was booked for the night…wunderbar.

Keeping warm by drinking gluhwein (mulled wine) while stranded in Bern

I was lucky to find a hotel fairly quickly.  I went back to a Christmas market to browse some shops, ate a sausage for dinner (or whatever was on the grill) and have a punsch and glühwein, ok, maybe it was two (or perhaps three) drinks. There may have been a fourth in there (it was cold and the drink warm.) It was as good as what I had in Vienna. Lucky enough it stopped snowing by the time I was heading back to my room and the next day was clear enough that I was able to make it home. Bern was a very lovely city that I wouldn’t mind spending a few days exploring a bit more. Other than not being able to make it back home to my family, it wasn’t a bad place to be stranded.

Next stop…Paris.

More clocks...shocking!!

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Fondue

Fondue

In mid July we went up to Switzerland via an overnight train from Rome to Geneva. The journey north went pretty well. We were unable to reserve our own cabin on the train so we had the potential of sharing with others. For those of you who have not traveled by train or don’t know what the cabins looks like, think of the Harry Potter movies when they are going to Hogwarts or for you old timers, any Cary Grant movie. We lucked out and didn’t have anyone to share with.  We left Rome around 8pm which we thought would be perfect as Alex would fall asleep shortly after we left, as it would be both her bedtime (usually around 9pm) and the rocking motion of the train would put her to sleep, I know it always does me.  Leaving Rome you pass through a whole series of tunnels for at least the next hour or so.  Alex had to “hide” (from what I have no idea) everytime we went through a tunnel.  Although humorous and cute, need-less-to-say our cunning plan did not work and it was probably at least 10:30 before she fell asleep.  The rest of the trip went well and the next morning we arrived in Geneva all rested.  We rented a car and drove over to a town called Montreux which is about a 45 minute drive to the NE side of Lake Geneva. Montreux sits almost the opposite side of the crescent shaped lake from Geneva. The purpose of the trip was so Melissa could go into the mountains and watch Lance Armstrong and Le Tour de France. The mountain stages for the week that we were there were not too far from Montreux.  Alex and I elected to get a hotel in Montreux and enjoy the weather and the lake.

View from our balcony overlooking Lake Geneva

View from our balcony overlooking Lake Geneva

After enjoying a fondue meal (see pic on top) on Sunday night, Melissa took off to the mountains on Monday afternoon (see pic above).  She is a big Lance and Tour de France fan.  We had agreed that it might be the only chance she had to see him race in the Tour, so off she went to navigate the mountain roads in a language she can’t speak and camp out in a place she was unfamiliar with. With us both being backpackers, and not having done so for quite some time, I think it was also a bit of an adventure to go and enjoy.  She saw three tour stages and enjoyed herself and the experience.  So much so that she is already talking about next year (shhh, but I think Alex and I will elect Montreux again).  But good for her on going out and doing it all on her own.   Entrusting her with my camera and lenses (now that is trust) she also was able to snap off many good pics which will get posted soon enough.

Inside Chateau Chillion

Inside Chateau Chillion

As for Alex and I, our days pretty much went like this…we’d watch Monsters v Aliens (we had free movies in the hotel), leave the hotel and go for a walk, visit a church or a Chateau or both, play in the park,

Milk and cookies, Swiss style

Milk and cookies, Swiss style

eat lunch, play in the park, eat ice cream, play in the fountain, walk around the town and shops, go on bumper cars, play in fountain, eat dinner, go back to room (hopefully before a I’m so tired meltdown), have milk and cookies, read a book and convince her it was time to go to bed, unable to convince her, lay down with her  until she would fall asleep.   A bath would be thrown into there from time to time and we also managed to to see Ice Age 3 in it’s original version, with a big bowl of popcorn of course.  I’m glad there were only about 3 other people in the movie since she said “Daddy, look at the dinosaur” about 50 times or “wow, can you rewind that part”.  I think it has been about a year since she was at the movies so keepng quiet while watching a movie was not something she was used to (it was very cute and I was laughing at her more than the movie).  So we had very full and fun days.

The rope bridge and the dress

The rope bridge and the dress

On one of the days we left the hotel around 10:30, she immediately said “Daddy, I want Pizza”.  So I’m thinking I have to kill at least an hour before we can get lunch. We went shopping which was much more convenient to do in Montreux than it is in Rome.  I found the sale rack because of course she wanted to buy “a pretty dress”.  She picked out the pink one with butterflies.  I”m going to digress here for a moment (as usual and just warning the reader) I’m color blind so I made the assumption it is pink and not some variation of pink that seems to exist with every color and confuses color blind people.  Colors like Champagne…which is a drink and not a color.  Or aquamarine…what??.  Just sticking with pink there  is pink lavendar, hot pink, bright pink, rose, french rose, fuchsia, salmon pink (isn’t that uncooked fish?), magenta.  You get the idea.  Anywhoo, the dress was pink or some variation thereof (see picture above).  It only cost $10 so I figured I couldn’t go wrong if mom saw it and thought I was crazy for buying it.  Alex is pretty tall for being 3 1/2 years old. The 3-4 size came about half way down her bum so I went with the next size up (seems logical).  This hung a bit below her bum (my logical mind is still thinking this makes sense).  Well, once Melissa got back she informed me that I bought a shirt and not a dress (it was with the other dresses) so it is no wonder it was not very long and her panties were showing more often than not.  I think my response was “oh”.  Not usually at a loss for words but could see no way out of this.  She wore the dress three days out of the next four.  I had to convince her she couldn’t wear it on day three (in a row) because it was raining.  But looking at other positives, besides the fact that she liked the dress, shirt, dress, whatever it is, there was less laundry to do when we got back.

Running through the fountain

Running through the fountain

Montreux is a very cute town with the mountains on one side and the lake on the other.  I would highly recommend it.  Their is a walking path along the water that is lined with trees and/or flowers.  Sitting on the water and about a 15 minute walk from our hotel is Chateau Chillion (http://www.chillon.ch/en/).  It was built over many centuries but the initial construction began in the 1100′s. It was made popular by Lord Byron who wrote the poem The Prisoner of Chillion in 1816.  The poem is about  Francois de Bonivard, a Genevois monk and politician who was imprisoned there from 1530 to 1536.  We walked down there and Alex enjoyed running around the various narrow walk ways and climbing the stairs to the tower.  It is a fairy tale looking Chateau so we kept looking for the prince and princess.  I think at one point there was a Beauty and the Beast reference so I guess that made me the beast.

IMG_4288I took the long way home and she fell asleep on the way (good thing I had the stroller).  On the way, I met a Brazilian man from San Paulo who has been traveling the world on his bicycle for the past 10 years.  He works ‘wherever’ doing ‘whatever’ work he can find until he earns enough to buy a ticket to somewhere else or when he is ready to bike to the next place.  He was in the process of trying to get the proper visas to go to Australia.  He had been to San Francisco and very much enjoyed The City.  He commented about how much easier it was to find work (under the table work no doubt) in the States compared to many parts of Europe and specifically Switzerland.  We shared some stories on our collective travels for the next 20 minutes until our destinations took us in different directions.  It is always interesting to meet someone who is willing to be a vagabon (essentially) in order to see the world.  He was clearly intelligent, friendly and spoke at least four languages.

IMG_4348Going to the park was fun and interesting.  Alex, who has always run around with little fear, is showing less and less as she gets older.  I can see her figuring out things much faster and then also learning from the older kids…not always a good thing of course when it comes to be daring (see the rope bridge above which she was dangling from by the second day).  Anyway, running around the park there are kids speaking Arabic, Spanish, French, German and English.  I’d say the difference from the Bay Area where the kids would probably be speaking Spanish, Indian and English, most of the kids always speak English where in Europe, obviously, English may not be the case.  So it was funny watching a bunch of kids speaking different languages to each other but still all managing to play the same game…whatever game kids figure out to play.  As we had absolutely no agenda, I think she was usually at the park for longer periods of time than any other kid.  Alex was great almost the entire trip.  I think as parents sometimes we forget what we throw kids into: trains (or planes), new town, new bed, people speaking other languages. Typically they do so well.  We should be more understanding, as parents, about all the changes we are asking them to comprehend as opposed to us asking them to understand.  But I digress again…

The train to Gruyeres

The train to Gruyeres

On our last day in Montreux, we took the train up into the mountains (I guess ‘up’ into the mountains is obvious since you don’t go down into the mountains…generally) to the town of Gruyeres, where they make the cheese.  We learned about the Gruyere cheese making process, ate cheese, as one does in Gruyere, visited the Chateau, browsed some shops, it is a very cute village, and ate dinner.  Alex had pizza and I had a cheese dish of some sort, go figure.  It was good food.

Having lunch

Having lunch

Melissa got back that night filled full of stories and events of the race.  I think her highlight was seeing fellow Texans Lance Armstrong and Mathew McConaughey together.  She was playing paparazzi and groupie all at the same time (see below).

Here's one for the ladies

Here's one for the ladies

We got up in the morning and spent the day in Geneva. We ate steak at a Lonely Planet recommended restaurant (steak like we have in the States or in France which is not easy to get in Rome).  It was a really good meal before we get back to the land of pasta. Geneva was a walking friendly city with lots going on.  We did some shopping, let Alex ride on a carousel (see pic below with the dress on again) for quite some time, ate ice cream (of course) and walked along the lake.  They had a festival going on with a big ferris wheel.  It was the first time Alex had been on one and I don’t think I had been on one for years.  She enjoyed it…mom opted out and stayed below to take pictures.

IMG_4396The ride home was not as good as the way up.  We joked that we had the Swiss train on the way up and the Italian train on the way back.  We had to share a cabin, which was no big deal but obviously not as relaxing.  The A/C didn’t work and it was hot.  Alex, once again, was having too much fun in the train so didn’t fall asleep right away (hmmm, wonder where she gets her energy), there were no curtains on our cabin so we couldn’t block out the lights from the various stations we were passing through (or stopping) and everything shook and made noise, especially the door.  It was rather comical, but we arrived the next day back to Rome and the heat.  It was very fun trip and the train, despite the poor cabin we had, is a nice way to travel.  Of course I have stories on spending five days with three other people in a cabin of the same size as we crossed Siberia, but that is for another time.

Our first night back in Rome was topped off with a fabulous Italian meal at a restaurant we stumbled upon.  All the variety  of food we enjoyed in Switzerland was nice, but the Italians do a great job on dinner.  It’s always good to be back home…or to Italee, Rome (as Alex tells people).

As always there are more photos at my smugmug site http://tonibell.smugmug.com/Vacations%20and%20places%20visited/841994

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