Swiss Alps

Aug 17-19 Gimmewald is slowly losing it’s status as one of the best-kept secrets in Switzerland. The local saying is that “if heaven isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, send me back to Gimmewald”. And rightfully so – it’s easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We arrived shortly after midnight because, oddly, the impeccably efficient Swiss train system broke down on our way there (anyone familiar with my train-luck can appreciate the fact that my karma single-handedly took down the Swiss). Luckily, we caught the last cable car (apparently they’re called “gondola’s”, even though there are no Italian guys singing in them) up and found ourselves on a steep mountainside in total darkness, with some cowbells ringing eerily close to us. Armed with our printout map, we made our way up a rocky trail and found our hotel/hostel/whatever you call it, only to be greeted by, well, a building with all the lights off and nobody awake inside. After trying to figure out how to contact someone for about 15 minutes, we finally decided that we weren’t going back outside, and that we’d find an empty room and just sleep in it, and deal with everything in the morning. For the record, I would NEVER do this in the US. Anyway, we came down to breakfast the next morning, and the owners had a good laugh about it, as they had heard us come in but said in their singsong german accented voice “we were too lazy to get out of bed to show you the room, we figured you would find it”. Great place – and the views were spectacular.

Anyway – back to Gimmewald, the town is, as one of our fellow hostellers put it, “totally rad”. Hey, cut him some slack – he was born in the 80’s. But there was zero tourism, it was extremely small, everyone has a garden; cows are running rampant, there are absurd views of the mountains, and there are no stores, shops, or anything really, except a couple of hostels / bed and breakfasts. Developers aren’t allowed in, so it’s very unique in that it retains the old-world village lifestyle and feeling, and it’s almost impossible to get to by car, so if you don’t take the cable car or hike there, you would never know about it. Really an amazing place.

When we woke up, our plan was to go to the top of the Schilthorn (used as the bad guy’s lair in the only James Bond film starring George Lazenby ) to look at some mountains, go for a hike to look at some more mountains, and then come back to Gimmewald to, um, spend the evening looking at mountains. We accomplished all this, and even managed a couple other things, such as: we saw part of the “Inferno” triathlon, which involved swimming through glacier water, mountain biking, and running uphill well past the tree line; ate some wild blueberries and raspberries; walked through fields of grazing cows; filled our water bottles with fresh swiss alpine water; etc. And speaking of pictures, we took 378 of them! They’re not all posted on Shutterfly, but a lot of them are – we tried to keep it to a reasonable number though.

On Sunday, we had to take it a little easier, since we’re not as young as we used to be, and hiking an alpine mountain path puts a bit of strain on the body. We still walked a good three hours, but it was more along a mountain stream on a well-worn footpath. While the original hike was awesome in that it took you completely away from any remnants of modern civilization, this second hike was nice in that it was geared towards the masses, meaning it was really easy and still had great scenery.

Overall, there were a lot of cool things about this weekend. For instance, the owners of the hotel were this old Swiss couple, and the guy would just shuffle around in his overalls and laugh as he spoke a few random phrases in English, and the woman would cook dinner for the guests every night (which was probably the best food we’ve had over here, by the way), and that was pretty much their thing. They were just cool. There was also this middle-aged British guy who stayed there in the summers to help them out, and he would go paragliding just about every day. And of course the views of the Alps – you’d have lush, green meadows below you, imposing cliffs across the valley, and snow-capped peaks above – good stuff. We also met a handful of travelers one night, and got to share interesting stories as the night went on, as well as discussing that since we’re in Europe, man-purses are completely acceptable (so are tight pants, as well as the color pink. Speedos are still a no-go though). We jumped a lot of cow patties, ran into a herd of wild mountain goats, learned what the “mountain” setting on the camera does, cheered with about 50 people jam-packed in a cable car as it broke through the clouds to get the first up-close view of the Swiss peaks, had a local guy teach us a couple German phrases on the train; and what is really odd, is that even the cats in Switzerland are nice. They don’t try to bite you, and actually want to be petted! Guess the mountains just make everything a bit nicer.

Next weekend: Barcelona!


Aug 11 - This weekend, we went to the town of Nyon (see picture). Nyon is known for, well, being a really cute little town (that Caesar settled), and also being only 15 minutes away from Geneva. And since one of the greatest fireworks (better known as camera tricks to all you Wintermeyers) shows in Europe was taking place in Geneva later that night, seemed like this would be a winner!

Nyon is a great little excursion; it’s further up Lake Geneva, and has some amazing views of the old town (and a castle!) and the lake. We spent some time at one of the best vantage spots I’ve yet seen, and just watched the sailboats out on the water. There were also some old Roman ruins there, dating back to the first century AD, which Soph thought were pretty cool (I know this because she took like 800 pictures of them). Also was referred to an awesome Michelin rated restaurant where we experienced "filet de perche," otherwise known as fish from the lake.

After getting our fill of Nyon, we headed back to Geneva to prepare for the night. While Sophia was blowing fuses and knocking out our electricity for the rest of the weekend, I was getting pumped for the fireworks show! We had an inside tip on where the absolutely, positively best place in Geneva to watch the fireworks was, so we trekked into the Old Town and got front-row seats watching the fireworks above the city’s buildings. Turned out to be great, as we had a view of the show over the heart of Geneva, and there were only about 150 people up there with us (compared to the lake, which was crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people). The fireworks were phenomenal, and if anybody wants to visit next year, I highly recommend booking the flights around this time so that you can enjoy the Fete de Geneve.

And speaking of the Fete, since we’re only 1 block from the lake, we were able to spend a lot of time there. The Fete was basically this giant street festival that stretched about 3 miles around the lake. It’s been going on since we’ve been here (although the first two weeks were the “pre-Fete”, which translates into “pre-festival” for you non-French speakers). It’s been a lot of fun having it so close.

Next weekend: Swiss Alps!

Things That I Had To Get Used To

It's not so different here from the U.S. (outside the obvious of course, and b/c it's such an international city) but there are some things that I definitely had to get used to. Here's a little list (good and bad!)

  • Bagging my own groceries (stressful when you have someone behind you glaring you down if you're too slow)
  • Not even having bags to put your groceries in (some places you have to bring your own, which is actually very environmentally friendly)
  • Lack of bar soap (I miss Irish Spring!)...everyone seems to love the liquid washes. Unrefrigerated eggs and milk...the milk concept is actually pretty can buy a couple to store and you put it in the fridge once you open it.
  • When you ask someone (train ticket guy) in French if they speak a little English, and they say no, and then proceed to yell at you in English after you stumble through a couple of phrases. Sigh...that only happened once, but can I tell you how traumatizing that was!
  • Nobody returns anything here! Gone are the days of buying three outfits with the promise to myself that I'll return two of them (ok, I never did return them) :)
  • No glass, paper, or plastic in the trash; very very heavy emphasis on recycling here, which is awesome.
  • The three cheek kiss greeting...I love this actually, so get ready for me to lay some wet ones on you guys when I come home!
  • The expensive meat...I think the cheapest boneless skinless chicken breast I saw was like 8 bucks a pound. Ouch. And I won't even get into the steak costs, although ground beef isn't too bad, at about 5 bucks a pound (both are sale prices).
  • Scheduling a day and time to do my laundry. Yikes. Let me tell you that was an interesting conversation with my landlord (who spoke no English whatsoever).
  • Not driving. I love it. I think my blood pressure has been drastically reduced...the public transporation system here is truly great.
  • If we did drive - no right on reds, and there's a yellow before the red turns green!

It's been a month since we've been here (my how time flies). While walking around last night, Tyler asked if I was starting to feel like this was our home, and I thought for a second, and smiled and replied yes, because I feel we are truly embracing this place and just letting go of preconceived notions and habits. I don't think it will ever completely be our home because of not having our family and friends nearby, but it'll do :)

Wknd Trip to Montreux and Gruyere

We hopped the wonderful and very punctual Swiss train system to the towns of Montreux and Gruyere. Montreux is a lakeside town, pretty much on the opposite side of the lake as Geneva. It took about an hour to get there by train. The town is situated beautifully with rock-capped mountains fringing the lakeside; we walked the promenade to the Castle de Chillon, one of the largest castles in Switzerland, which has some history behind it that probably only the Swiss care about (something about Byron and some poem he wrote). In it's defense, the castle is actually pretty cool, and totally knocks the socks off of the studio we're staying in.

After touring the castle, we had lunch and then hopped another train to go to Gruyere, a medieval village a little northeasterly of Montreux. Gruyere is famous for (drumroll, please...) Gruyere cheese, although the "local butterfat-rich double cream" is pretty impressive also. On a side note, the person who designed the aliens in the Alien series was from Gruyere, and they have a themed bar and museum dedicated to his pieces - for the record, this completely does not fit in at a Swiss mountain-town. Regardless, we ate at a fondue/raclette restaurant, which could be better described as "eating as many calories as you can in one sitting", or also "totally sweet"...potatoes, sweet pickles/onions, dried meats, and bread dipped into melted cheese. And, of course, we finished that off with the double-fat-cream stuff. Overall it was a wonderful day of touring the rolling countryside and cutesy towns. More pictures can be found at shutterfly listed on the side of the blog.

Geneva Markets

The open air markets here are absolutely wonderful. All the fresh vegetables, baked bread, and smoked meats, are enough to make anyone want to cook. Here is a picture from the Plainpalais market that I went to (more are at shutterfly); about ten minutes by bus from where we live now. We're actually looking at the Plainpalais area for our permanent housing. Geneva is such a compact city, making city center easily accessible from all areas.