Swiss Wine Tasting!

One of the things you learn about Switzerland when you move here is that there are a surprisingly very large number of wine producers within the country. Not a lot is exported, and international wine critics don’t spend much energy researching the various appellations, but it’s a fairly big business all the same. Partly due to there being so many producers, there are also a large number of wine festivals. Around Geneva, the Caves Ouverte in late spring is probably the biggest, but there are a handful of others within half an hour of the city that occur sporadically throughout the summer and fall. This weekend, the towns of Luins, Bursins, Vinzel and Begnins had their annual festival, so we hopped the train and headed out.

The good news this weekend was that we had an “in” with one of the wineries. Although we only have a handful of Swiss friends, one of them happens to be the niece of a producer in Vinzel. She introduced us to the vigneron who gave us a tour of the facilities and talked to us about his wine-making process, after which we tried the different wines they produce. The added benefit was that they were quite good, especially by Swiss standards.

Another bonus is that the countryside between the Jura mountains and Lake Geneva is very pretty at this time of year, so it was great seeing all the trees and vines covered in red and yellow leaves. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t cooperative, and it rained most of the day, but not enough to bother us. Buses were running between the four villages, so we could hop on and off as needed, although we mostly stayed in Vinzel, since there are five wineries there and that’s more than enough for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon.
So now that I’ve been to a handful of Swiss wine festivals, I might as well give my thoughts on Swiss wines. They’re actually ok, but they’ll never do well in the international market. The reason for this is partly due to the quality, but moreso it’s probably the cost. Even in Switzerland, where the government imposes very protectionist policies, Swiss wines are still more expensive than comparative wines from France or Italy. It just costs too much to produce wine here, from owning land to hiring people. As far as quality, well, I’ve come to more or less like the Chasselas grape, which is the backbone of the Swiss whites, as I think it’s a nice, simple grape that does a good job of cleansing the palate. However, the taste is kind of bland, and doesn’t have the smoothness of more famous grapes, and after you’ve had it a few times you start to wonder why you’re wasting your time still drinking it. A lot of producers do try to use grapes that are more familiar in other markets, such as Pinot Noir, Merlot, Chardonnay, and others. However, I’ve found these to be very weak in most cases, lacking in both body and flavor, and not nearly as good as the versions put out by other regions.

That said, there are some pretty solid wines made here, if you know where to look. It’s just hard to find them and experiment, due to the fact they’re so expensive. Trying a bunch of French wines for $8 a bottle is a lot easier to palate than trying a bunch of Swiss wines for $15 a bottle. Plus, there are a lot of truly bad Swiss wines, which makes experimenting with them even more risky. It’s one thing to be stuck with a bottle of wine over dinner that is simply ok; it’s another thing to be stuck with a bottle that is downright awful.

These tastings are good for this kind of thing, though, as we were able to try a handful of styles and ultimately came away with a couple of good bottles. It helps you in identifying the few good producers, and you can then stick with them. Plus, wines always taste better when you’ve seen the vines they’ve come from and met the people who’ve made them.

On Sunday, we still had a full day of the weekend left, so there was no way I was going to waste it sitting at home. One of our friends told us there was a chocolate festival going on in Divonne, and while earlier chocolate festivals have been severe letdowns, the plan also involved stopping at the Divonne market and eating oysters. I’ve never considered oysters to be a French thing, and in truth they probably aren’t, but during the winter all the French markets serve them, and they’re really good. We also got some king crab legs and prawns, which were among the best I’ve ever had; fresh seafood rules! Way better than Red Lobster.

And the chocolate festival? Well, it was in a building, and was just a bunch of booths rented out by different chocolate vendors, and while the chocolate was very good, the vendors weren’t very gracious with their free samples, even though there was a cover charge. We did manage to snag a couple of mint-infused dark chocolate bars, so at the end of the day, that was a win in and of itself.

Next weekend: Thailand!

Paris Cinq!

As stated in the previous entry, Soph was able to get us cheap train tickets to Paris this autumn, and we used this opportunity to book a couple of trips to Paris, a city we’d neglected since last New Year’s. Armed with our recently purchased netbook, which allows us to spend the 4-hour train ride catching up on various sci-fi shows and movies, it’s like we get to have a nice relaxing Friday night together, and we end up in Paris! And there our story begins…

The main things we wanted to accomplish this weekend were walking and eating, in no particular order. We had decided that it would be fun to revisit the Montmartre area, as we had stayed near there our first time in Paris two years ago, but hadn’t returned since. Doing some quick internet research, I found a nice wine bar and an even nicer bakery, meaning we had everything we needed to enjoy an afternoon.

Speaking of bakeries, we’ve developed a habit in Paris where we get up in the morning, find a bakery, buy a bunch of stuff, eat it on the street, and then find another bakery and eat the spoils yet again, before heading out into our day. Speaking as someone who lives in a French-speaking city (because that makes me an expert on pastries), there is just no comparison with the Parisian bakeries versus what you get virtually anywhere else. This time we were trying to save ourselves for the spot that had won the 2007 baguette of the year award, but within four minutes of leaving our hotel we spotted a croissant that looked too good to pass up. Upon purchasing it, we clearly were eating one of the best pastries we’d ever had, and this was just a random bakery. When we finally did arrive at the award-winning place, we obviously had more croissants, and of course a baguette (the baguette of the year award means that the winner supplies the French president with their baguettes every day that year. Hey – some people try to spot celebrities, we try to spot famous baguettes…it’s all about priorities). Over our two mornings this weekend, we ended up eating four breakfasts, and I could have easily had another two or three.

Throughout the course of our walking, we were at one point led us up a random side street, where we saw what looked to be a really cute restaurant not too far from our hotel. We decided to try it out (after looking up some reviews online, of course), and were rewarded with yet another fantastic dinner. Escargot, filet mignon, a crème brulee made with camembert and sausage…I don’t know where these places come from, or why they aren’t everywhere, but they absolutely rule! Once again the owner came out and talked to us about the meal, while his family sat in the corner eating alongside us.

On Sunday morning, we thought it would be a good idea to walk around the Marais district, and then to hit the Bastille market. We’d been to the Bastille market before, and as it’s a fairly large market we figured we’d buy some assorted goodies and annoy our fellow passengers on the train ride home by breaking out the sweet smell of moldy cheese. I tried to convince Soph to buy some salmon, but she wasn’t having any of it. This market was unfortunately out of control crowded, and being as we’re Americans who don’t like people bumping into us, this wasn’t exactly the place for us, so we left fairly quickly. On the bright side, the Ferney-Voltaire market we usually go to has most of the same stuff, for the same price, so it’s kind of nice knowing that we don’t have to go too far out of town to get the freshest produce available in France.
All in all, another great weekend. Found some really great streets to walk around, Soph found some cute clothes to buy, had a great dinner, and just enjoyed the two days we spent there. Doesn’t get much better than that!

Next weekend: Swiss Wine Connection!

Paris Quatre!

The longer we’re over here, the more we want to start returning to cities and getting a little deeper into what they have to offer. We’re close to quite a few by plane, and a few more by train, but when deciding which city we want to return to again and again, one city always moves to the top. Yes, we know we’re not supposed to particularly get along with the French, but the truth is, Paris is just too much fun to skip simply because we disagree with the residents on whether or not berets are a necessary fashion accessory. Besides, as I’ve stated before, the French do a lot of things right, and it would be a shame not to spend as much time as possible visiting their greatest city when it’s such a short trip away. So even though we’ve seen the museums we want to see, and we’ve been into the cathedrals and learned the history, there’s still a lot left to be done.

The first to-do is best described as “walking around and shopping for stuff that is non-essential”. This kind of shopping is way better than, say, shopping for dress shoes, or furniture. It’s actually kind of fun, especially in a place like Paris, which has all sorts of stores selling things that you had no idea you needed (but you really do need). Spice jars with cute French sayings on them; gourmet coffee and teas; and of course, Korean food (Soph would disagree with me on the essential-ity of Korean food, but she’s sleeping on the couch as I write this, so she really gets no say in the matter). I’ve long since given up on trying to travel anywhere without having to take a side trip down some random part of town that might sell radishes directly imported from a tiny village somewhere on the other side of the world, and as a result I give Soph a two-to-three hour window in which she can build any Asian-related itinerary she likes into the trip. This inevitably ends with me being dragged into a Korean grocery store and leaving with a ton of dried seaweed and squids and other various creatures that most people don’t bother eating, also which are expressly forbidden under Swiss importation laws, one of the only things which the Swiss government and myself mutually agree upon. But, happy wife, happy life, or something like that…

While the shopping is always fun, the real purpose was to simply “live” in Paris for a weekend. Visiting the local bakeries; checking out the corner cheese mongers; and just saying “monger” as much as possible, because it’s a cool word and there really aren’t many places left in the developed world where mongers still exist. We’ve been fortunate enough to see a lot of the Parisian neighborhoods at this point, and as we hadn’t yet been to Montparnasse, we picked that as our home base and explored the areas around there. Montparnasse boasts nothing specifically famous about itself, and as a result gets little to no tourism, but that’s part of the fun. The shops were clearly more local, the bustle wasn’t nearly as bad as in other, more notable parts of town, and it was truly a feeling of walking around a neighborhood that you lived in.
Lastly, it was important to eat at a good restaurant, because again, you can’t go to Paris without eating your face off. Sophia in her infinite web-research came up with a restaurant not too far from the hotel where the chef puts up a small selection of “plats”, and sees to your satisfaction himself, using only the freshest ingredients. I really can’t stress enough the difference you get in the food quality when you have a chef who oversees all the details, versus restaurants that move food more on a volume basis, but it’s fair to say that almost every city could use more establishments like this.

So all in all, our fourth trip to Paris, while short, was once again a complete blast. And the best thing about it? Soph scored an autumn train-fare sale and the tickets were practically free, so we get to come back in another two weeks!

Next weekend: More markets and maybe some sleeping in!

Descent of the Cows & Aletsch Glacier

The Swiss have all sorts of random festivals and fetes that, to an outsider, are kind of strange. I guess all countries have things like this, though, and since we’re here we might as well partake, if it’s harmless. The village of St. Cergue, just outside of Geneva, had one of these seemingly innocent festivals this past weekend called “The Descent of the Cows” (actually that’s how I translated it, and considering my French is still pretty much awful it’s possible the correct translation is something like “the celebration of the awesome animal that is the Swiss cow as it descends from the heavenly pastures of the Alps”…but I digress.)

This festival is kind of funny, really. Basically the idea is that the cows are coming in from the mountains due to the fact the weather is getting colder. Makes sense so far, right? So the shepherds bring them in, and walk them through town to lower pastures. Simple. And, Swiss cows are really freakin’ awesome. So let’s make it a celebration! However, because it’s a celebration, it seems more fun to dress the cows up with giant bells, and put flowers on their heads. The more flowers, the more dominant the cow, or something to that end. No, I’m not making this up.

The thing is, in Switzerland, flowers are really expensive. Like, you can buy something cool, like a Wii, for the price of a bouquet. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is – you should probably blame globalization if you have a problem with it. Put this with the fact that Swiss farmers probably don’t make a lot of money, because in general that’s the plight of farmers across the world, and instead of flowers on the cows, you find cows adorned with plastic Christmas trees and paper flowers tied all over them.

Poor cows. They clearly deserve more than this. But they do get to spend a lot of time in the mountains during the summer, so I don’t feel too bad for them.

That said, the festival was kind of fun, at least in so much as it was a beautiful day and we got to go visit a cute Swiss village. They even served Malakoffs, which are these little Swiss delicacies of deep-fried cheese with spices – yum!

Outside of the cow descent, it turned out that on Sunday the weather was still pretty good, so I broke out a last-minute plan to get one final hike in before Autumn rears its ugly head. While we’ve had a couple of hikes here and there, and even had a somewhat intense one last weekend, I still feel we haven’t done enough hiking this year. As a result, I dragged Sophia, bad ankle and all, out to the Aletsch glacier, to see yet another UNESCO heritage site and one of the largest glaciers in Europe.

Now, you might be asking, “how did you get Sophia to go hiking if she has a bad ankle?” Well, the answer is simple: I bribed her with food. I agreed to let her order Chinese food tonight if she came along. Also, I took her to the Japanese store yesterday to buy yellow radishes so that she could make kim-bap, a sort of Korean sushi, that we took on the trail with us. Pretty good hiking food actually.

The only real problem with this hike is that it’s a fairly long distance from Geneva, just on the borderline of being a viable daytrip. As such, we were forced to wake up on Sunday morning at the ungodly hour of 7:00 am, only to realize that the sun hadn’t yet risen. It’s just a matter of weeks now before I have zero hours of daylight outside of working hours, meaning there’s yet another reason to get out of town on the weekend. Once on the train, we were treated to a sunrise over Lake Geneva and the Alpine peaks we were heading to, so that made it kind of worthwhile right there.

The actual mountain we started with is the Bettenhorn. Passing through a couple of cute Swiss mountain towns to get there, you’re greeted at the top of the gondola with the Aletsch Glacier, a massive block of ice sitting up in the mountains. This glacier stretches a long, long way – something ridiculous like 5 miles – and resembles an eight-lane freeway for gigantic automobiles. It’s a pretty amazing sight, as it’s essentially in the middle of some of the major Alpine peaks, and therefore is just this giant sea of ice between bare, rocky mountains.

The hike itself runs right along the glacier for quite awhile. Eventually you turn away and go up past a little man-made lake, but at that point the best of the hike is over. There is, however, a giant zombie tunnel cut into the mountains, which we took even though it was kind of weird going through this dark, dank tunnel rather than walking around in the open air. We’re getting old, though, so we figured we didn’t need to push ourselves more than necessary, and it cut a good half-hour off of the less scenic portion of the hike. I mean, it still would have been scenic, but the part we had already hiked for a few hours was more scenic, so I didn’t feel guilty about taking the shortcut. Normally I would, but I think shortcuts are part of this thing I’m learning called “maturity” and “wisdom”.

All in all, the Aletsch Glacier is a great daytrip to an area that doesn’t get too many non-Swiss tourists. Glad we got to sneak this hike in before the weather turned, and I can rest much more easily as a result!

Next weekend: Paris!

Extreme Mountain Hiking!

This weekend we went with some friends to Champery, Switzerland, to do some serious mountain hiking. I’m not talking about the “let’s walk through a pasture and look at some mountains across the valley” kind (although that kind of hike is pretty cool); rather, this was the “you need to hold onto chains in the side of the rocks or you’ll plummet to your death” type of hike. Ok, that’s being a bit dramatic, but there were chains cut into the rocks at various points, and you clearly would die if you fell, but being as we’re all rational adults, we simply held onto the chains and didn’t fall. Not nearly as bad as it sounds.

That said, the true appeal of this hike was the chance to get up into the mountains, hang out a bit, and stay in a mountain hut. Now, I hear “mountain hut”, and I think of this cool alpine mecca where a giant dog hangs out to help weary travelers, and everyone sits around a wood-burning stove telling crazy hiking stories (not that I have many of those, but that’s beside the point). Basically, I expected something rustic and close to nature. And in fairness, that’s exactly what it was. You had 30-some people sleeping in the same room (2 rooms total, so about 70 people), one bathroom – for everyone – and that was about it. Rustic? Check. Close to nature? Double-check. Giant awesome dog running around saving stranded hikers? Eh; there was a wolf-looking dog that was kind of cool, but he didn’t really want anything to do with the hikers. Can’t blame him – we probably didn’t smell too good by that point.

The other interesting thing about the mountain hut is that it’s obviously geared toward psycho-hikers. What does that mean? Well, specifically it means that they turn out all the lights at 10:00 pm. And I mean all the lights! You’re expected to be in your beds by that point (or rather, giant row of spots in which you theoretically have a place to lie down without being touched by somebody else). I can’t remember the last time I had to go to bed that early – and I know for a fact that I’ve never chosen to go to bed that early – so it ended up being one of those nights where I lay awake for ten hours, listening to a snoring competition from all those Europeans who haven’t heard of breathe-right strips.

Stories of snoring aside, it was actually a lot of fun, and I’d probably do it again. Sadly, it’s getting tougher and tougher to get these kinds of hikes in. The weather is officially cooling, the leaves are turning, and we’ve been doing a lot of these day trips of late and as such haven’t slept in for quite awhile. That’s ok, though, because you gotta make every weekend count!

Next weekend: The Descent of the Cows!


Zurich, the cultural heart of Switzerland. Home of secret treaties, financial intrigue, and a laissez-faire attitude of letting anyone do anything, as long as they aren’t breaking Swiss rules. They say there are vaults of gold hidden underneath the streets, while above ground you have a parade of virtually every major name brand in Europe. It’s the only city that consistently gets ranked as being more expensive than Geneva, yet also the only one that consistently is said to have a better standard of living. And they say money doesn’t buy happiness…

Considering Soph and I have been here for over two years now, it borders on being a travesty that we hadn’t yet ventured to Zurich. In truth we’ve been busy going other places, so I don’t feel too guilty, but we had a free weekend and it was time to make the journey. Awaking at the ungodly hour of 8:00 am on a weekend, we caught the early train in the hopes of being able to rush everything in before dinner.

Of course, the real reason we were going was because Zurich is home to one of Switzerland’s only Korean grocery stores. Since Soph has been running extremely low on seaweed for awhile now, this was the only motivation she needed…

For a day trip, Zurich is pretty nice. You can see it fairly quickly if you put your mind to it (and if you skip the museums). Stroll through the old town; see the shopping streets; take a break at a sidewalk café…if you’re lucky you’ll even run into a marching band, something that happens way more often than you would think. Like almost every town in Switzerland, Zurich is perched on the edge of a lake, and also sports a river through its center. The old town is then on a slight hill overlooking the lake, which makes the city very scenic. While Geneva has a spattering of ugly, box-shaped buildings that prevent it from having a true “feel”, Zurich seems to have been built prior to the 1950’s, and has that centuries-old atmosphere that makes walking through the streets just a little bit exciting. It also seems well-preserved, and the buildings are solid and clean. Of course, it also does have its fair share of more modern architecture, but the wide tree-lined avenues with the tram running through the center somehow takes you back into an era that you just don’t see too often anymore. That, and there are a lot of interesting side streets. Side streets rule, especially if they have cool stores on them, and finding good side streets is pretty much the best way you can spend a day.

All in all, Zurich is a charming little city definitely worth exploring. Not sure if we’ll be going back, but at least we’ll now know what the hype is all about when it gets yet another “greatest city to live in” award.

Next weekend: Mountain huts!


One of the objectives of our travel this summer was to be around Switzerland a bit more; so while we had a run of trips outside of the country, we’ve now had quite a few weekends in a row at home, which has been really nice. Switzerland, specifically for us Geneva, is one of those places that really comes alive when the weather is nice. The lake changes from a scenic body of water into a scenic body of water that you can go swimming in; the restaurants, cesspools of second-hand smoke throughout the rest of the year, open their sidewalk terraces; and best of all, the mighty Swiss Alps become accessible for hiking.

This weekend, we decided we should get out of Geneva, and we headed to Solothurn, an old Swiss city in the Swiss-German-speaking part of the country. Solothurn has a nice old town with a big church in the middle of it (I’m starting to sense a pattern around medieval cities in that regard), and while not in the middle of deep mountains or anything, you can see Mt. Blanc way off in the distance, which is pretty impressive.

The hike we went on took us through a gorge and out into the foothills where a lone hermitage sits. Apparently there are still some actual monks who live out there, although they’ve had to give up their hermit status at this stage due to all the people who walk around back there. On this particular day, there was a Nordic walking event, which consisted of tens of thousands of people walking from the hermitage down to the old city, or basically the same path we were taking, except the opposite way. It was like something out of a bad horror film, with person after person coming at you with two walking sticks clicking on the paving stones. Luckily, the Swiss aren’t an aggressive people, so we were met mostly with blank stares and the occasional “you’re going the wrong way” looks.

The upside of the walking event was that there were food stalls and, well, you know how we like our food stalls. The highlight of this set was a place selling juices made from local fruits. One of those times when I wished I understood restaurant-German so that I could have identified what was in it, but man it was good!

We spent the rest of the weekend doing our annual Geneve-plage pilgrimage. Each year, generally at the end of August, we’ve ended up at the beach-like facility in Geneva, which has a nice pool and some diving boards into the lake. There is also a giant slide, which in the past I thought was only for kids, but this year I saw some older guy go up and, well, let's just say I took that to mean it was open season for the slide. Twelve slide-rides later, I even convinced Soph that she should go down it, which she did. You’re simply never too old to go down a waterslide!

Next weekend: Zurich!

More Random Weekend Madness!

It’s been a busy spring and summer so far, travel-wise anyway. But being as Geneva is actually a pretty awesome place in the summer (as is Switzerland as a whole), we decided to spend the second half a bit more local in order to enjoy what’s in our backyard, if you will. This doesn’t mean we aren’t traveling, but rather it means we’re keeping our jaunts within the realm of short train rides and few (if any) overnight stays.

That being said, we’ve also had some good excuses to stay in town. Within the past month, we’ve had two couples we’re friends with get married! Marriages are always fun, and it was cool getting to attend some nice Swiss weddings – and while technically there were no Swiss people actually getting married, the ceremonies and receptions did occur in Switzerland, so it counts. Also, one of them even had alphorns, and yes, “alphorn” is the correct noun for what those giant Ricola-sounding things are called (an interesting aside – if you look up “alphorn” on Wikipedia, there is a story about how the first recorded instance of this aforementioned instrument was when a missionary tried to convert some Swiss mountain men over to Christianity, and the Swiss beat him to death while blowing their alphorns at him. I can’t make this stuff up!)

Outside of weddings, the other thing we’ve been trying to take more advantage of is hiking. We’ve been averaging a very poor two hikes per year up until recently, and it’s one of my goals to increase that number. Unfortunately, you’d be surprised at how hard it is to clear a weekend to go hiking, because without a car you need to have some modicum of advance planning, and then the weather is so fickle here that a third of the weekends it seems to rain anyway. Regardless, we were able to make it to a couple of villages and get our hike on, although it’s tended to be more of the vineyard / ridge hiking rather than the mountain / pasture variety. Still a couple of weekends left before autumn hits us too hard though.

Lastly, I’ve been making it a point to try and get into Lake Geneva as much as possible this summer. That has resulted in, maybe, six trips to the lake – again, the season for being able to actually get in the water is surprisingly short – but those six trips were great. Four of them were on my lunch break; they were what we refer to as a “continental lunch”, in honor of the many fine French citizens who believe a two-plus hour lunch break is perfectly acceptable. In my opinion, this is yet another reason to like the French. That said, I know all the ladies are waiting for me to post that picture of myself in a speedo that’s been causing all the buzz on the internet of late. Sorry, but that’s for Soph’s eyes only!

Random August Blog

While we’re taking a short break from traveling these days (we’re still doing daytrips whenever possible, but the big trips are done for the time being), there are still things worth putting on the blog every now and again. The past couple of weeks have been especially fun, so here are a couple anecdotes around that…

Many of you might be aware of the Montreux Jazz Festival; it’s considered one of the finest in the world, and while that is clearly up for debate (as is the fact it’s called a “jazz” festival instead of a “pop” festival), since Montreux is only an hour train ride from Geneva, Soph and I headed down there one Wednesday afternoon to check out the hype. The thought was that we would walk around, see some of the free musicians on the side pavilions, and if we’re lucky we might even be able to score some Asian food cooked in one of those 5-foot woks. Those things are awesome! So we arrived and started to do the whole walking around thing, and within about 30 minutes heard the pitter-patter of rain and headed under an awning. It got louder and louder, and sounded kind of like it was bouncing, which just seemed odd, until we realized it wasn’t rain at all, but hail! This is the middle of July, mind you. Anyway – the hail lasted a good twenty minutes, and it came down hard. Probably the biggest hailstorm I’ve ever witnessed, as the stones were about the size of large marbles, which is pretty big when they’re falling straight out of the sky. And while that was kind of fun to see, it ended up killing the festival for the night, and all the stands and musicians closed up, so a little bit of a buzzkill.

On a happier concert-going note, the next week brought with it the Paleo festival. Paleo is one of those European festivals where they get every band they can think of who is unable to sell out a concert on their own, invite them to a 5-day festival, and then sell tickets to an adoring public who’s just happy to get live music into their country. Nyon, Switzerland is clearly one of these venues, but in truth it’s a great way to spend an evening. Think Lollapalooza without all the jerks and hype, and with a bunch of bands you don’t care about, half of whom sing in French. Anyway – we actually saw a couple of good bands, one being The Prodigy, which was pretty freakin’ sweet. I mean, I’m too old to be seeing bands like The Prodigy, but there I was, flippin’ out like a champ. Of course, the highlight of this night wasn’t the music, it was the fact that Soph was able to get us backstage! As always, she did it in true Soph fashion – no, not by luring the security guards with her attractiveness. Rather, she stepped on a broken bottle and cut her foot. So as she was being pulled away on a stretcher, I followed her and ended up in the aforementioned back of the stage.

And for anyone who’s wondering, backstage is way better than being not backstage.

Lastly, we had a bit of a rollerblading adventure last weekend. I read on the internet that there’s a biking / rollerblading trail that goes from Vevey to Montreux along Lake Geneva, and it’s pretty and blah blah blah. “Ok”, I thought, “I can go rollerblade that while Sophia comes and jogs with me. It will be fun.” What the internet site didn’t say is that for, oh, about 85% of that trip, the “lakeside promenade” is actually a “highway”. At first I thought I maybe missed a sign, but I leaned over the guardrail and saw that, yes, clearly there was no lakeside promenade between the highway and the water. So that was kind of a disaster, as I’m not really at a point where I can either go fast, or slow down, or really even stay in a straight line. I guess that just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.

Next weekend: Weddings, more daytrips, and swimming!

Nice, France

We’ve officially been in Europe for two years now! In that time we’ve seen a lot of things and had a lot of fun, but what we haven’t done much of is simply relax. Not to say the vacations haven’t been relaxing – far from it – but they’ve been fairly active to say the least. So this weekend we boarded a quick flight to the Cote d’Azur for the sole purpose of sitting on the beach and catching some sun.

The beauty of this trip is that we’ve already been to Nice and seen the non-beach stuff, so there was absolutely no need to do any of that again. As such, we sat on the beach, read, drank some rosé, sat on the beach some more, napped, walked into the Old Town for a meal, went back to the beach, etc. It really doesn’t get much better than that. As a result, there aren’t too many stories to tell about this vacation, other than the one where we sat on the beach and just sat there. That’s a good story, though.

I was also able to accomplish one of my random European goals, which was to rollerblade the length of the Nice promenade without falling or stopping. A lofty goal, as you can tell, and one that wasn’t really a goal until I got near the end and realized I hadn’t yet fallen or stopped, but as I was thinking about it I realized I should make this a goal so that I could say I’ve accomplished something. It was at that point where I almost fell…

One side note – we forgot to bring our camera on this trip, so no pictures. Oh well – they take too long to upload anyway.

Next weekend: no trips planned?

Back to Gimmewald!

While I’m by no means a creature of habit, there are a handful of things in this world which are worth repeating. And while we’re trying to see as many different places as possible while in Europe, if there’s one place I could return to every year, Gimmewald would be that place. Although it’s only a small swathe of maybe 30 wooden mountain houses, you never run out of things to see. Goats and calves eating grass inches from the town’s only street; water fountains cascading into hollowed-out logs; farmers working their fields by hand because the mountain is too steep to use machines. Mountain vistas, fresh alpine air. Did I mention cows? Swiss cows personify just about everything in the world that is awesome, rolled into the shape of a bovine. They rule.

My parents were still in town trying to get a feel for Switzerland, so I figured this would be the perfect place to take them. As luck would have it, we’re now considered regulars in Gimmewald, so we were able to get the hook-up and secured “the” hotel room with a balcony (only about three hotels in the town). This allowed us to sit for hours on the deck and stare at the mountains while smoking Cuban cigars - and while I’m not big on cigars by any means, I am big on sitting on decks staring at mountains, so it worked out well. The most stressful thing we encountered was trying to time the opening of the cheese hut in order to get some fresh mountain produce, something we were able to get around due to the fact we were a two-minute walk from the hut.

Of course, the main appeal of this area is the hiking. This time around, Soph and I hiked through the forest to a waterfall, while my parents went to the top of the Schilthorn to see the majestic peaks the Bernese Oberland is known for. We also hiked the easy route from Wengen to Kleine Scheidegg, affording a great view of the Eiger’s North Face. The fun thing about the hiking here is that you can pretty much take off in any direction and end up with that “good hike” feeling. Sometimes you can take a half-hidden trail that will lead you to a small winter hut that farmers use, while signs will point you in the general direction of mountain restaurants that serve snacks and other homemade goods. Streams and pastures lie in every direction, so you can explore until you get tired of walking. And if you’re not up for walking, you can just sit around and enjoy the mountain air while sitting on the edge of a precipice - or in a meadow, if you’re not big on precipices.

Definitely beats sitting in a cubicle.

Next weekend: Nice!


The rolling hills of Tuscany…an area known for invoking thoughts of good living, fine eating, and a certain slowness to life. We took a morning train out of Rome (where my dad became fast friends with an older Italian couple, who fed him lunch) and headed north to enjoy one of the famous agriturismo’s atop a small Italian village.

An agriturismo is a relatively recent concept in the vacation dictionary. Set in remote (i.e. not accessible by public transportation) areas, they are essentially working farms that produce everything from fresh eggs to homemade wine. Ours also had a pool that overlooked a huge valley, so needless to say it was pretty awesome. They even had peacocks! Although after being subjected to their annoying calls for a week, I’m fairly certain that I will never own one of those things myself.

From here we were able to visit all sorts of Italian hillside towns. Siena, Montepuliciano, Montalcino, and a couple of other ones beginning with “mon” and ending with “ino” (hard to keep track of them after awhile.) Once in a hillside town, you pretty much just walk around and look at things. It’s fun, but there’s not too much to describe other than that. Get a gelato, find a cool shop, walk down narrow alleys, try and see a vista overlooking the countryside, get another gelato…good stuff. Of course, different people find different shops interesting. For example – my parents enjoyed the pottery shops, my sister the purse shops, and Soph enjoyed any shop where they sold hot peppers. My niece enjoyed the town where one of those annoying teenage vampire movies was filmed, so her highlight was finding a map that showed the various locations of different scenes and going to them (while it was kind of cool they had a map for this, it was even cooler realizing that my day-to-day life is completely devoid of hearing about things such as teenage vampire movies.)

Of course, no trip to Tuscany would be complete without a wine tour – so we made sure to do a couple, just in case. The first was at the Caprili vineyards in Montalcino, home of the famous Brunello’s. We were guided by one of the sons who works there, who was really nice and hooked us up by letting us taste some of their better bottles, which was probably a good move considering we bought quite a few between the 4 of us that were tasting. After a quick tour of the facilities and a nice tasting, we also discovered they make their own olive oil, which I would argue is the best oil of any kind I’ve ever had. Also was able to get some good vineyard pictures, which will fit nicely into my growing vineyard picture collection. The second tour was an all-day affair throughout the Chianti region, where we again bought more ridiculously good olive oil, as well as some nice wines. Of note was a beet ravioli dish we had for lunch, which was surprisingly good, and went with the red stains on our teeth the wine had already made.

On the topic of food, this trip defined “gluttony”. On multiple occasions you would find Sophia and myself eating way too much food, at least in the sense that it was more than any two humans need to consume in order to survive. Of course, part of this is the agriturismo’s fault, as they served us great meal after great meal of extremely fresh and homemade ingredients. I mean, if you’re confronted with a huge platter of meat pasta that is probably the best meat pasta you’ll ever have, do you stop eating simply because you’re full? I say no to that, because sometimes you have to suck it up and get the most out of your vacation – and if that means eating until you can’t walk, then so be it!

That said – we had two dinners outside of the agriturismo which were also excellent. The first was pizza – plain and simple pizza. Again, probably one of the best pizzas we’ll ever have. Something about it was just better…was it the sweetness of the ham? The oil in the dough? Hard to say, but it ruled. The second dinner was preceded by the most winding road in the history of car travel. We’re talking switchbacks upon switchbacks, non-stop, for about 40 minutes. Apparently the views were beautiful, but since I was manically clinging to the steering wheel I didn’t get the full enjoyment of them. Regardless, the dinner was again outstanding, and Soph was happy because she was able to order her 2 pound Fiorentine steak, virtually raw and entirely delicious. Also probably had the best view of any restaurant I’ve ever been to, which was an added bonus.

We ended the trip with another train ride, passing through some of the best countryside in southern Switzerland. The edge of the lakes region, the valley of the Valais, the twin castles of Sion…train rides are totally the way to go!
Next weekend: back to Gimmewald!