Vibrant Verbier

Post by Lauren

For Gabe’s birthday, he had an easy wish: skiing in Verbier. We planned the trip about 3 weeks ago and the last hotel room left in the entire valley was a hostel at the base of the hill in Le Châble. We were excited to get it. Also, we have friends with a chalet there and could rely on their expertise for what to do in the chic mountain town at night. Plus, I was actually excited to ski after my lessons the week prior.

We met A & A in the parking lot Saturday morning, along with their friend J. We climbed about a half hour in the telecabin and were greeted with snowy skies. I immediately noticed the complete lack of green runs. Literally, no greens. Apparently they don’t exist in Switzerland like they do in France, where we’d been skiing prior.

Also, let me disclose that in a normal world, the easy skiing would be at the bottom of the mountain. Not here. They put it in the middle, so that you have to do a red to get to the blue, etc. etc. Not cool.

Planning out our routes

 

On the first run, we all went as a group of five. We did some blue then a red before lunch. It was way over my level. Gabe commented the blues at Verbier were like blacks in Virginia & West Virginia.

 

Snapshots from skiing Verbier

 

After lunch, we split off from the guys so that they could enjoy skiing sans babysitting. They assured us we’d taken a wrong turn before and it was possible to do the blue the whole way down to Verbier village.

 

At least we knew there were trained dogs to save us in case of emergency

 

And, we set off. We found that blue they mentioned and followed it…and…it led back to a black. Way worse than the red from before. We could see where the blue was supposed to go but it was chained off because of a recent avalanche.

There was literally no way to go but down.

Me, attempting to side step the entire black. This was moments before the ski patrol came over and told me it wasn't wise for me to be on a black. No S&**, lady.

 

A and I survived to tell the tale. However, after that second run, we decided that spending the afternoon in L’s chalet would be a safer adventure for us.

The guys rejoined a few hours later, loving life after their mountain exploits. We all got ready and went over to the chalet for an awesome dinner before going out.

Afterwards, we headed to T-bar with the group. There were some amazing live musicians and it was a great evening. We really enjoyed the stark contrast to Gstaad nightlife.

 

Nightlife in Verbier

We had so much fun that we missed the last bus back to Le Châble and our hostel. It was a 75 franc ride back down the mountain ($85). Whoops! But well worth it as we really loved the night time atmosphere in Verbier.

*I was also severely scolded by my french tutor for skiing Verbier. She informed me its one of the hardest places to ski in Switzerland. I now learned not to assume that all slopes have pistes for beginners. But in turn, she gave me a great list of places in France that are “my speed”.

Gstaad: Home of the Rich and Famous…and Dreadfully Boring

Post by Lauren

Our hotel on Friday night after the Balloon Festival in Château D’Oex was in Sâänen, which was only a ten minute drive from Gstaad.

Although we were planning to ski in Verbier the next day, we were very excited that we were staying near Gstaad as we have heard the skiing was amazing…so naturally, we thought the nightlife would be as well.

We did not do any research on this subject prior to coming. First mistake.

Gabe attempted to look for “Best Bar in Gstaad” on our walk into the charming town. Funny that only one bar entitled “Richi’s Pub” came up. Silly iPhone, not working properly. So we thought.

And these were the views on the streets at 10pm in Gstaad on a Friday night:

 

The only action we saw were some local guys practicing on the hockey rink:

 

 

We did end up finding Richi’s….the only bar in town, and stayed for one drink because we had made the effort. Such an adorable town, but so boring at night! There was not a soul to be found out in the night air.

We were later told that Gstaad is the playground of the rich and famous and that they don’t go out.

In writing this post, I Googled “Gstaad nightlife” to see if we were missing out on anything, and the top mention was this site. I noted it gets updated once a year.

So, if you are looking to get away to a quiet destination without any disturbances or things to do at night, we wholeheartedly recommend this town. For a glimpse of a pulse, we would recommend Zermatt or Verbier (check out tomorrow’s post!).

Night Glow at Château d’Oex

Post by Lauren

I had read on another blog that the International Balloon Festival was a Swiss event not to be missed. When I found out when we were available for it this year, I was pumped. When Gabe requested that we ski for his birthday (coming up in a few days) in a ski town, Verbier, not far from the balloon festival, I was super excited. I found out that there was even a Night Glow Balloon event that evening prior to our ski day. Now, how could I convince him to go spend the night and to see this?

 

Night Glow photo from festival website, (c) Fabrice Wagner


Luckily he is a great hubby and agreed. We booked a hotel in nearby Gstaad in anticipation. We left Geneva on time so that we could see the balloon kick off. We drove an hour on the windiest road you will ever imagine…covered in snow!

After parking, with hot chocolate and vin chaud in hand, we climbed a big hill up to the church along with the entire town. The announcements in French commenced and the lights on the hillside started…

 

Wait….does that spell ABBA? Why, yes, it does. The next hour was filled with a light, fire, fireworks, and paraglider show to ABBA music. I made a little video to share:

Then came out the ski team with torches in coordination to the music.

Ski team

However, I could hardly watch, in hurried anticipation of the night balloons. I couldn’t wait for the bit to end.

However, after the finale, the crowd started to leave.

But wait, where are the balloons? !! ??? !!!

As it turns out, the weather was too bad – we didn’t catch that on the French announcements. I was so bummed and pouted on the way to the car. Gabe joked with me and reminded me how awesome the cliff side light show was. “There were even torched skiers, babe!” he added.

But I was sad. We went to Zermatt last week and didn’t see the Matterhorn and now this week, we went to the balloon festival and no balloons.

We happened to get photos in the cute little town of Château d’Oex as we were leaving. Glad I got to see some chocolate balloons in the window of the patisserie!

 

Oh well, there’s always next year……or can I convince Gabe to come back after skiing Sunday? You’ll just have to wait and see……

 

Gratitude Friday: Ski School

Post by Lauren

This week, class was in session for A, S & moi. Ski school that is.

While I was by far the the worst of the three, I convinced them to take ski lessons with me for the day. The womens’ club has a ski group and the leader takes beginners in the month of January for an introduction and a lesson. And January is running out fast!

I obviously needed some skills based on the last adventure, so we set off for Les Contamines, France for some education on how one skis the Alps properly.

Luckily, the place was a ghost town on a Tuesday. The lack of crowds immediately made me more comfortable. Part of the fear is lack of control. Mainly, hitting a small child.

We started on a blue and Ski Angel (our name for the nice lady from AIWC) led the way, and like little baby ducklings, we followed.

We went slowly, and after a few runs, our confidence built. We were ready for ski school!

 

Ski School

 

Our instructor, Odile, taught us the basics in a combination of French and English. It ended up being more than skiing…it was also a good French lesson. We learned that to snow plow is “chasse-neige” and that the technique of side slipping down a mountain is “descendu en escalier” . She had us (me in particular, being the worst) follow in her tracks so she could teach us how to S curve back and forth properly. I learned that when transversing, the skis should always be parallel, you should stand up straight, and put your weight into the front of the boots.

We also took lots of types of lifts.

There is the bubble lift, the “Télécabine”

There is chair lift, the “Télésiège”. A took this of me & Odile.

 

There is also the butt lift, or the “Téléski”, captured by A.

 

We went on a few runs on green and then Odile took us to a blue. After completing that, we took a lift to the tippy top and then we saw…..

Black Olympic sign - yikes! Photo courtesy of A.

 

Yup, that is a black. Covered in snow. Named Olympique. Okay, so we didn’t do all of Olympique but we had to take it to connect to another area of the resort.

After our two hour lesson, we met back up with Ski Angel for another run.

When we got to the car, I realized that while we had done at least 10 runs, I didn’t fall down once the whole day. Quite a contrast to falling about thirty times in one run on our previous trips. My husband was on a business trip and didn’t believe it when I emailed him to tell him I was safely back in Geneva. In fact, I am not sure he still believes it!

A great ski day at Les Contamines

 

 

So, gratitude for more confidence and a great experience!!!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Castles of Sion

Post by Lauren

We had heard from S that Sion was a neat place to stop on the way back from Zermatt. So, since she is always full of great advice, we stopped. We were not disappointed. We ended up climbing to the Chateau Valère. The landscapes with the Alps and the Sion hillsides adorned with castles were quite beautiful.

 

Next time, we’ll climb up to the other castle.

 

Getting Around in Zermatt

Post by Lauren

Even though we have lived in Europe 8 months now, I still love being exposed to new things. One is the difference in transportation. This was really prevalent during our trip to Zermatt so wanted to share the many ways to “get around”.

In Zermatt, you can get around by sleigh…..

 

If that’s not your cup of tea, a bus is another way.

If you want, you can go on the roads with your bike…..

Or riding a toboggan is an option if you are a little tyke.

You can do some nordic walking with some sticks and your feet.

Or you could just be pushed in your stroller down the middle of the street.

You can ascent to the top of the mountain in a little telecabin

But if you brought a rollerboard in the snow, an easy time is something you ain’t havin’

You can get a cart to push your luggage in the snow,

Or simply use your spare sled when you have lots of stuff on the go.

 

When in doubt, feel free to ski down the avenue.

These guys will fill you up with whiskey if you happen to get askew.

If you want, you can take Grampi’s electric taxi to get to your place.

And you know that the train will always have plenty of space!

Helicopters* will take you far.

But whatever you do, you can’t take a car!


*Helicopter photo courtesy of Freshly squeezed events. You know I didn’t take it because we never saw the Matterhorn

Adventures in Zermatt

Post by Lauren

We just got back from a fabulous trip to Zermatt. Do you know what Zermatt is famous for? It is renowned for the views of Matterhorn….a pointy mountain carved by the movement of the Ice Ages. For a detailed look of what Matterhorn looks like, see S’s blog here or our friend D’s husbands photography from his adventure there here.

You might now ask….Lauren, why do you not have any photos of the Matterhorn if you spent all weekend in Zermatt? Well, they got so much snow there, that it blocked the visibility. What a bummer for all of us to miss the mountain! Nonetheless, Zermatt was adorable. We had a great time enjoying the snow fall and exploring.

Zermatt does not have any cars. You can only access the town by a little train. We arrived around 7pm and decided to find our hotel Blauherd on foot. It felt like we were walking inside of a snow globe.

After checking in our adorable chalet, we set out for some Zermatt nightlife. We dined at Restaurant Du Pont which is known for their traditional raclette, fondue and rosti dishes. It was quite an experience, made more special by an older gentleman in the restaurant.

At first, we weren’t sure if he’d wondered in off the streets but then he came and presented Gisele and I with a postcard of the restaurant….it was the oldest restaurant in Zermatt and ventured back in the kitchen. We then realized he was the owner!

As an appetizer, a broth came out with a piece of cheese on the plate and a basket of bread. We didn’t quite know what to do until the old dude came over and started making hand movements of how to cut the cheese into the soup and then crumble the bread into it. So, it made a french onion soup. He then came over with a bottle of red wine and proceeded to pour a very large splash into each of our bowls. Simply delicious!

It was followed by a salad and then the main course of sausage and rosti. Rosti is a potato dish that it prevalent in the German part of Switzerland, in the mountains. Halfway when we were taking a break he shook his head, grabbed Gabe’s fork and force fed him more of the meal. We unfortunately didn’t get a photo of that!

 

We had heard from S that there was a cool bar near the beaver statue in the town centre. We looked high and low and finally saw the little critter buried in the snow. Elsie Bar was a treat and we were entertained by a group of Swiss Germans having a fabulous time and joking with the guys that they would like to trade wives for the evening. Some francs may or may not have been offered. Don’t worry, we didn’t swap.

 

Finally, we ended up at Brown Cow Pub, a vibrant apres-ski bar that had a continual loop of extreme sports playing. We hung out there and then walked home around midnight as it continued to snow.

Overnight, we received about a foot of the white stuff. The proprietor at our hotel was continually scraping all night long outside on the front terrace.

We had a nice breakfast at the chalet and then set off to explore Zermatt while hoping for the skies to clear up.

 

No such luck seeing the famous peak in person, but it was still a really enjoyable trip to spend some time in this Swiss alpine town.

 

 

Occupying Switzerland

Post by Lauren

Nope, not talking about WW2 efforts. Thought the Occupy Wall Street movement was just for the States? Mais, non! We have our very own Occupy Geneva, camped out in Parc des Bastions. The first time I passed this site on the #12 tram, I had no clue what it was until I saw signs about banking in English…then it clicked….its part of the Occupy Movement.

From what I know, most of their protests are against the Swiss banks. Checking out their site, they have a video of using dusters and cleaning cloths to “clean up” the large Swiss banks on Rue de Rhone.

When Pascal, Giselle and I took a walking tour of Geneva, shivering every step of the way, we were concerned that they might all freeze to death out in the park. However, taking a closer look, we noticed that, they have hooked up some type of heat.

 

Occupy Geneva

 

In a city where homeless are kicked and prodded to move along by the police, its kind of interesting that they would tolerate a group camping in this famous park.

Beats me.

However, they have some competition for most clever Occupy. This weekend in Davos, they are going to Occupy WEF in igloos….take a look!

 

Gratitude Friday: My Health

This Friday, I want to dedicate this post to my health.

Just in general, I am thankful to feel good. I realize this is quite a special thing. I have no major health problems (except needing a really simple foot surgery) and I feel better than I have right now, than I have in a long time.

I also wanted to take this post to explain my rationale for why I feel better.

First of all, I have less stress here. I explain it to others that my stress is mainly short term. A bad day is not being able to communicate or having an issue buying snow chains. Those go away fast when I either laugh it off or have multiple glasses of wine. And while I enjoyed my full time job that I had in the States, it provided more “long term” stress, as most jobs do. So this major health affecter has lessened for the meantime until I start working again.

Second of all, I think a lot of it actually is rooted in food. My husband has been on this bandwagon for a long time, but this has taken me a long time to admit the cause/effect. I am now fully there. I just had to be forced to feel the difference in my body.

Here are a few reasons why I think my body feels better with the food here:

–In Europe, they don’t really eat processed food that has been manufactured for convenience, not for nutritional value.

–In Europe, they don’t have a lot of “shortcut” food like low fat and sugar substitute types. No diet ice cream here or fat free pastries here, folks. It’s the real deal.

–In Europe, genetic engineering of animals is illegal.

–In Europe, basically all the produce is organic by nature, they don’t use chemicals or alter the seeds in any way as is done in the States.

–In Europe, it is taboo to “eat on the go” or eat while walking, so it makes for more conscious meal enjoyment.

And its not just me. This topic has come up various times with friends here. One friend reported that she felt gross the entire time she visited the US for Christmas because her stomach had grown used to Switzerland’s foods and it couldn’t take the processed ingredients anymore. It was rejecting them. Another friend commented that she couldn’t cut the chicken into bits for a recipe at her mother’s house because the texture was so unlike the chicken she has become accustomed to here. Just this week, I met a lady who dropped 10 pounds in her first few weeks living here this Fall because of the positive change of the food.

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I recommend two forms of media. The first is the book Food Matters, which I read with my book club. It encourages conscious food consumption to protect the environment. My two takeaways were:
–Buy things with less packaging
– Try to cut your meat intake in half to lesson the environmental impact that big business meat farming has. After reading the book, I did cut down my meat intake, using nuts and beans to replace half my protein. I didn’t really miss it.

Also, Gabe and I are big proponents of the movie Food, Inc which outlines the danger of the current systems of agriculture. It suggests that we are on a slippery slope; our concern with producing food at less cost for masses of people has altered the food in a way that makes it unhealthy. It suggests that government subsidizing of our food supply creates a few harmful scenarios.

–For example….beef and corn manufacturers lobby the government for subsidies and thus, beef and corn are more affordable in the US. Thus, a typical mid-range US family can’t afford fresh vegetables but can stock up on sodas, packaged foods and other things contained corn oil, etc that might not be a balanced diet, creating health issues. Many US families literally can’t afford to eat healthy.

–Also, in the case of meat, the demand for certain types of meat has encouraged genetic manipulation so that we are raising animals that meet the demand. One of the most disturbing scenes in Food, Inc. is one in which a chicken continually stumbles and falls over…all because he was designed for a breast bigger than he could manage.

 

 

 

However, even after seeing this 3 years ago, my coupon-cutting-self continued to scoop up only the large chicken breasts at the local Charlotte grocery store, as every 6 weeks, they were Buy 1, Get 2 Free. So I could get 3 huge packs of chicken for $9 USD total.

It’s only now that the cost equation has been taken out, as well as I am not given a choice – its forbidden to alter the meat production here – that am I now consistently eating “normal” food. Eight months later, I can feel an incredible difference. When we move back, I am going to certainly prioritize buying grass-fed, non-antibiotic meat items and organic vegetables.

Finally, the healthcare is very good here. It is very holistic in nature. I saw my first “general” doctor this week, in an attempt to solve the Cambodia food mystery. She spent an hour with me – asking every single question possible. Asking detailed family history. Information about every health issue I have ever had. Detailed questions about every part of it. It was like she had all day. But she was trying to get at the root instead of solve my surface issue.

My Swiss chiropractor does acupuncture before adjusting as a standard part of the visit. Also, he doesn’t require a pyramid of visits like my US guy did…simply just tells me to make an appointment when I hurt again. In the US, I had chiropractor appointments twice a week, acupuncture once a week and massage every three weeks to try to fix the chronic back pain that I carried – I was spending about $500/month in pain management.

In the last 8 months living in Switzerland, I have only had two visits to the chiropractor and one massage for back issues. I think its a combination of less stress & natural food that has been the remedy. Those who have seen me during my visits say that I look like a different person because of the lack of pain.

And we haven’t had a single cold here since our move. Those who know me well know that I always caught things so this is a big turnaround. This surprised me as well because of how often I am riding in public transportation, sharing air and touching buttons. However, I think its the stress and food that are helping to build my immunity.

Today’s post is not meant to be anti-US. These methods exist in the US, but they have become harder to find because of the effects of food and healthcare economics. I was lucky enough to discover it only by it being the default for us, so I just want to share my firsthand story with two encouragements:
1) If possible financially for you, don’t buy genetically engineered meat.
2) Seek doctors with holistic approaches. It can make a world of difference.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Discovering Geneva: Bel-Air

Post by Lauren

Today’s post is going to cover an area in Geneva known as Bel-Air.

I know I got you all excited by my recently celebrity post, but I hate to inform you that Will Smith does not live in our Bel-Air.

Nope; Will Smith is not in our Bel-Air

Bel-Air is an area in the centre ville that serves as a major hub for the TPG transportation system. It actually even has two stations, regular Bel-Air and Bel-Air Cité.

It was recently made an even larger hub and there are a lot of folks who are angry about how the new system works. For more on this, and why it might not have been smart to build a hub on a bridge, see Schwingen in Switzerland.

Bel-Air hub

However, before this bridge / island was a highly debated tram stop, was actually part of the Geneva fortifications. On the map we introduced on Tuesday’s Old Town post, you can see an island in the middle of the two banks. This is Tour d’île / Bel Air.

This island/bridge is one of the reasons why Geneva was so coveted. This bridge was the only route over the Rhone in olden times. In 58 BC, Julius Caesar actually made the trip to Geneva to destroy the bridge so that the Helvetians couldn’t advance.

Later, in the 13th Century, it had been rebuilt and there was a chateau / castle built to help in the defense against the Duchy of Savoy and protect this crucial passageway to France.

During this time, the island also became a market. Butchers built their shops so the blood could run directly into the Rhone.

During Reformation times, the chateau was converted into a prison.

After surviving multiple fires, the bridge finally burned down in 1677. Only the clock tower (seen in the top photos) survived. My french professor at UNIGE said that the reason it is called Bel Air as when everything burned down, the air smelled a lot better since there was no longer a rotting meat stench. I’m glad as I spend a lot of time there connecting trams these days.

Bel-Air

 

With or without a fresh prince, now you know a little bit more about our Bel-Air.