Saying Au Revoir

We are officially packed up and in a hotel.  Our entire Swiss household has been loaded into a container that will travel across the Atlantic arrive to the United States in March.

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Snowy moving day

Goodbyes are hard.  Today in particular.  I managed not to cry all day until a happy hour with Gabe’s colleagues where I erupted in emotion as they handed us a bag of Swiss memories – a fondue pot, chocolate, and a yodeling Swiss mug.   Yes, I cried over a yodeling mug.  But it had been building throughout the day, saying goodbye to some very special people.

And, let me tell you – another lesson learned….tears aren’t pleasant in below freezing temps.

Let’s hope for warmer weather tomorrow.

 

Gratitude Friday: Sunny Saturdays

Last weekend, we actually split up to experience some of our bucket list items remaining.

Gabe skied with Finnish friend A at Les Contamines, France for the day.  With my feet still not up to par for skiing, I opted for a scenic train to Rochers-de-Naye.

The guys enjoyed the day at Les Contamines, with sunny skies and great slopes.

Views at Les Contamines

Views at Les Contamines

I also enjoyed my day on the train at at Rochers-de-Naye.   One of the things that I love about living here is how much people take advantage of beautiful days.   I talked about this mentality in my “Profiter” post, but here are just a few examples of what I saw at the main station on the way out to my day trip:

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Skiers and hikers of all ages, ready to board the train

The reason I selected Rochers-de-Naye is because of its 2000m position at the far end of Lake Geneva.  I heard the views were magnificent and you could see almost the entire lake from the summit.  Having confirmed sunny skies, I set off on the two hour journey.

I quickly learned that sunny skies at Rochers-de-Naye and sunny skies over Lake Geneva were two different things:

Evidence of the permacloud

Evidence of the permacloud.  Lake Geneva is below the layer.

Nonetheless, I thought the ambience was pretty neat with the mysterious cover.   Despite my ill preparations of not wearing snow shoes (oops), I had fun seeing the mountains.

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

I didn’t happen to notice anything peculiar about the above scene.  However, when I was showing my French teacher, she commented….”ah, Mount Cervin”.   If you look at the pointed mountain in the distance of the photo, that is the infamous Matterhorn.  Wish the view was this clear when we were in Zermatt!

Also of note, the summit hosts 7 Mongolian yourts, which each sleep 8 people.   The ski slopes are only steps from the little huts, so you can easily ski from your doorstep in the winter, or hike in the summer.

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with red door

Yourt with red door

After about 2 hours, I got a little break in the clouds to envision what the view would look like on a clear day.

Lake Geneva starting to show

The blue of Lake Geneva starting to show

We are both grateful for the beautiful weekend to experience some of our final must-do’s!

Related posts:

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People: A New Year, Another Mountain, And A Gnome

Schwingen in Switzerland: It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye

The Swiss Watch Blog: Gratitude Friday – Ski School

Postcards from Rome

When in Rome, we saw many beautiful places.   Here are a few snapshots from our lens:

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The Square opposite Capitol Hill that was designed by Michelangelo

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Victor Emmanuel Monument

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Lunch just outside The Pantheon

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Inside of The Pantheon

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Trevi Fountain

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The Spanish Steps

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Natural Christmas tree in one of Rome’s squares

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Beautiful street scene

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Taking in the cool architecture

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Blue skies

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Grand squares

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Neat fountains

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The island in the middle of the Tyber

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Street music

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Ruins were intertwined with modern buildings everywhere!

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This city park was a park of ruins

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Castel St Angelo

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St. Peter’s in the distance over The Tyber

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Castel St Angelo

Vatican City & St. Peter’s Cathedral

We visited Vatican City our third day in Rome.  Vatican City is a sovereign city-state within the city of Rome, taking up only 110 acres.  It is home to 800 people, all affiliated with the church and museum.

We were lucky to have Claudia again as our guide, to see the highlights.  With limited time in Rome, and also limited time to plan and research the trip, booking a guided tour was helpful to make sure we got the most out of it.

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View from The Vatican Museum of St. Peter’s in the distance

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The light was just beautiful in Vatican City. The buildings seen here are the galleries leading to the Sistine Chapel.

We started our tour in the Vatican Museum, holding many treasures that they have accumulated from history. The statues were impressive but I much preferred the remarkable ceilings.

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These corridors lead to the Sistine Chapel.  Many people told me they were brought to tears upon seeing Michelangelo’s greatest work.  I read the fictional novel The Agony & The Ecstasy, about Michelangelo’s life many years ago, which detailed that he was not enthused about this assignment – he hated fresco painting and preferred sculpture.  The Pope had required him to live in Rome and complete the works on St. Peter’s.  Not sure if it was that information or the hoards of people shoving us, but I thought it was just okay.  Really cool to see but I did not need any tissues.   Sorry – no photos allowed.

A guard came up to us and told Claudia that they were shutting St. Peter’s in 10 minutes due to New Years’ Eve.   He told her to hurry or we’d miss it.  Whispering a “grazie mille”, we quickly descended into the remarkable church.

If you aren’t familiar with St. Peter’s, it is a church dedicated to St. Peter, built above his grave site.   There was an original church on the same spot, but during Julius II’s reign, he wanted to make it more glorious due to it’s significant dedication and symbolism.   St. Peter was one of Jesus’s disciples, and a very important and influential one.  After Jesus’s death & resurrection, he became the natural leader and made great strides in proclaiming the message of Christianity.  He was persecuted for his teachings under Emperor Nero and when he was given death by crucifixion he requested only to be crucified upside down as he didn’t feel he deserved to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus.

One of the first things we saw within the church was Michelangelo’s pieta, a sculpture of Mother Mary holding the adult crucified Jesus on her lap.  Michelangelo sculpted this emotional masterpiece at 24 years of age.  Can you imagine?  This work of art brought me more emotion than the Sistine Chapel, it was his passion, the sculpture.

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We continued to walk around the basilica.  Notice the light coming in at every vantage point.   Full credit to the hubby for capturing this beautiful essence of the visit with our camera.

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The domes and ceiling were really impressive.  Mid-way through, Gabe said that it was the most impressive religious structured he’d ever seen.  Although I was impressed by others (see list at end of this post) , I’d have to agree.

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Upon leaving, we saw the famous Swiss guard on duty!  The volunteers come from the four Catholic cantons of Switzerland and their mission is to protect the Pope.

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After grabbing lunch, we returned back to the square for experiencing this special place once more.

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About ten minutes after we returned, the guards came, ushering every single person out of St. Peter’s Square for what we think were New Year’s Eve preparations.  So, we can officially say we were kicked out of Vatican City!!

Nonetheless, we we grateful for the visit.  What a remarkable place.

Riding In On A Broomstick: Italy’s Christmas Heroine

I thought I had completed my Christmas market circuit across Europe.  That is until we hit Rome for New Years.   On an evening stroll, we came across market stalls in Piazza Navona.

“Christmas markets!”  I exclaimed with glee.

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Piazza Navona & the lights from the Christmas market

Carousel & game stalls

Carousel & game stalls for children

Upon closer look, we were a little creeped out.   Witches were covering the tents, stacked in baskets, and the proprietors were waving their hands in the air, prompting them to all howl and cackle.  What the heck?  Delayed Halloween Italian-style??

Witches, everywhere!!

Witches in the air

Baskets of witches

Baskets of witches, everywhere!

A rack o witches

A rack o’ witches

We spotted a cute cappuccino ornament and got it for our travel tree to remember Italy.    When the shopkeeper responded to my bad Italian by saying, “eight”, I got the courage to ask her  in English what the meaning of the witch was.  She looked perplexed.  I indicated to the hundreds of old ladies riding brooms hanging from her booth, with puzzled eyes.

Strings of Befanas

Strings of witches

“Ah, Befana,” she said, “Good luck for New Year.”

I Googled it later.

In Italy, “Befana” is not a witch, but merely an old lady who rides a broomstick and delivers presents to good Italian children. There are many interpretations of the legend, one being that the wise men wanted to stay at her inn, but she was too busy doing the housework/sweeping.  She later realized the importance of their journey and then seeks to find Baby Jesus to deliver presents but never found him.  The story nowadays is that she searches in every house looking for Baby Jesus, leaving small presents if she doesn’t find him, as the presence of Christ is found in all children.

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The friendliest Befana we found

We bought a little broom to remember Befana.    For more interesting Christmas figures, be sure to check out Schwingen In Switzerland’s Schmultzi, St Nicolas Vigilante Style.

 

The Apéro or Après-Ski….Two Alternatives to What We Know As Happy Hour

When we lived in The States, we frequently had “Happy Hour”.   Whether it was with colleagues or friends, it was common to get together after work, enjoy a drink and catch up.  In the US, it is also common for bars and establishments to have Happy Hour Specials such as dollar beers or half priced glasses of wine, etc.

In France, they have a similar tradition, however usually without the discount.  We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing them before but while in Morzine for Christmas, we feel like we’ve really gotten a lot of practice!

The first is “L’Apero”, or The Apero.    L’Apero is the French bridge between your normal busy day and the start of the evening.   Enjoying an ‘aperitif’ before dinner is classified as a gesture of health or well-being, to start your appetite.   The typical aperitif consists of :  champagnes, martinis, vermouths, sherries, or a light or sweet white wines, as well as small snacks like olives, chips or nuts.  A fruit juice is also an alternative to the alcoholic beverages.

Having Champagne for an aperitif

Having Champagne for an aperitif

In ski towns, the apero has a fun spin in terms of the “Après Ski”.   Literally translated, it means ‘after the ski’.  Crowds gather at the most popular bars to start the night.    Here the drink selections are more broad, including beers and mixed drinks.

The Après Ski buzz

The Après Ski buzz

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends

Enjoying the Après Ski with friends, including a special birthday celebration

Finally, after dinner, it is common in France and other European countries to be served a digestif.   Many times this is included with the meal, and is intended to help your food settle.   In Greece, it is raki or ouza.  In Italy, many times it is limoncello.  Here in France, we had homemade apple and pear liquor as well as a hot rum digestif.

While I have heard of “the night cap”, an alcoholic beverage consumed before going to bed, in the US, I typically know it as a sleep aid vs. a digestive aid.

It sure is hard to do this research, but we are happy to do it for the benefit of the blog!  Happy New Years Eve, everyone!!

The Christmas I Visited The French Trauma Clinic

I’ll spare you the details, but my feet have been having some growing pains getting used to winter boots from their new post-surgery shape & size.   I’d seen the podologue for it, but it seemed not to get any better.

We arrived to Morzine for Christmas holiday on Saturday and through the night had a hard time sleeping with the pain.  The next morning, Sunday, I realized we were in France and the pharmacy might be open on a Sunday, unlike Switzerland.  I visited but they couldn’t give me an antibiotic or anything to help (it’s common in Switzerland that pharmacists can prescribe meds) but advised there was a trauma doctor nearby I could visit who had Sunday hours.

I found the office and sat down and waited my turn two hours for the doctor, hearing the screams of those getting their shoulders readjusted into sockets and cuts cleaned up & stitched from the ski slopes.  Yikes!!

After meeting with the doctor, he frowned at my feet and said, “mumble…mumble….petit operation”.    The receptionist took me downstairs to the basement ‘operating room’, made a bath for my feet to sterilize them, started arranging a variety of instruments and indicated it would be “cinq ou dix minutes pour le docteur” (5 – 10 minutes).   It was over an hour wait.  Guess some more skiers had come in.  My comfort and peace of mind did not build during that hour.

They gave me anesthesia and so didn’t feel much as he removed the nails and a lot of the skin surrounding them which had grown very infected and bandaged me up.  But they said no skiing in the near future, at least until they could see me again at my check up Tuesday.  Which happened to be Christmas morning.   I thought it was incredible they put me in that day, but the lady indicated that they had to work on Christmas because the skiers still got hurt, so it didn’t bother them any to see me as well.

They wrote me many prescriptions to fill after the operation.   I tried to fill them immediately while still hopped up on the anesthesia but the pharmacy closes for a daily lunch break for two hours so hobbled back later in the day.

When I filled it, I was given painkillers, antibiotics, and a variety of bandages.   You don’t have to wait…French pharmacy techs fill immediately vs.  saying come back in 20 minutes.  I like this about France and Switzerland.  The bizarre thing was that she said my prescription called for a fresh bottle of anesthesia, but she couldn’t dispense it to me because I didn’t have a fridge in my hotel.  She said I’d have to come back and get it right before my follow up appointment.     I was a little confused why I would need more anesthesia anyhow, but with the language barrier, I just figured I’d go with it.

Hanging out the day of

Hanging out the day of petit operation

I brought all my supplies back to my Christmas morning appointment, including the fresh bottle of anesthesia I’d just picked up.  The nurse used my supplies to fix me up, then took the anesthesia and kept it as well as some of my bandages.   It was then that I remembered something N mentioned when she was pregnant…she always had to go to the pharmacy before her routine shots and bring the medicine to the doctor.    This French doctor’s office was kind enough to “lend” me the anesthesia and bandages after my petit operation, but I had to reimburse them for it instead of them charging me like the US would.

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff

After my follow up appointment, with my bag of stuff.  It’s BYOB (bring your own bandages) here.

I ended up with a third appointment on our last day, for the final check up, where she ended up giving me a bottle of iodine, after I said I didn’t have one, and knowing we were leaving town.

All in all, it cost 150 euros cash for my little petite operation and 30 euros for all my meds and supplies.  Unbelievably cheap.  Just grateful for the French doctor and the fact that my French is more up to par to handle these situations better!

Gratitude Friday: Christmas in the French Alps

We spent Christmas in Morzine, France, just a short hour’s drive from Geneva.   We were fortunate that some of Gabe’s colleagues and partners/spouses were also interested in spending a joyeux Noël skiing, so worked together to select a place and it ended up being the French Alps.

The village of Morzine, France

The village of Morzine, France

We couldn’t find a chalet for the group on short notice, but the hotel, Le Tremplin, ended up being a fabulous location:

Hotel Tremplin

Hotel Tremplin

The slopes literally run into the hotel, making it really convenient for the skiers

The slopes literally run into the hotel, with two different lifts, making it really convenient for the skiers

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

Image & vantage point courtesy of B

The hotel also had several restaurants attached and a cool patio.  While service wasn’t hot (they were still ironing out some beginning-of-the-season kinks), the heaters at least were.

Hanging out on Le Tremplin's patio

The guys with their beer

The ladies with our wine

The ladies with our wine

Le Tremplin's patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Le Tremplin’s patio was nice for après ski action, with a band and a lively crowd

Our room had a village view so it was neat to wake up to the sun rising and setting on the town:

Morning in Morzine

Morzine in the morning

Morzine at night

Morzine at night

The skiers had a good time, enjoying a nice variety of slopes accessible from the town.  While I wasn’t skiing due to an injury, I still was able to get access on foot to witness some of the beauty.

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift

At the top of the Pleney telecabin lift, I saw some nice panorama

Gabe and friends skiing.  Photo courtesy of J.

Gabe and friends skiing. Photo courtesy of J.

One of the members of our group even organized a gift exchange so all shared in that on Christmas Eve night.  It was fun to open something!

Having fun at the gift exchange

Having fun at the gift exchange

We had phenomenal food, in the Haute Savoie style.   We enjoyed the hearty meals, although I wish I could have been skiing to burn them off!!

Rack of meat from L'Etale

Rack of whisky meat from L’Etale

 

Grilling food at L'Etale, an traditional alpine meal

Grilling food at L’Etale, an traditional alpine meal

We also had a nice traditional meal for Christmas Eve at a local restaurant, La Grange.   It was nice to have the treat of turkey which is uncommon here.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Thanksgiving dinner, image courtesy of B.

Our French turkey dinner

Our French turkey dinner

The cheese plate that came after dinner

The cheese plate that came between dessert and dinner

While we missed being with our family this Christmas, we are grateful for all God’s blessings, especially this special experience of seeing this beautiful area of the world.

Happily Waltzing Around Vienna

Vienna is among the most beautiful cities I’ve seen. The Habsburgs, valuing the finer things in life, really created a magnificent environment in their capital.

I arrived earlier than Gabe in the weekend and did a self guided city walk.  Perhaps it should’ve been called a waltz because I was floating around with glee. Seeing the panorama of baroque architecture and elegant gardens near Volksgarten nearly brought me to tears.   Sure it might be accentuated by nostalgic feelings during our remaining last weeks in Europe, but truly, it was just that pretty.  No wonder the entire city is a UNESCO world heritage site.

Here are a few of the amazing places in Vienna we saw:

Habsburg Palace

Habsburg Palace

Lawn around Habsburg Palace with so many other elegant buildings surrounding

Lawn around Habsburg Palace with so many other elegant buildings surrounding

Lovely architecture

Lovely architecture in the Museum area

Museum area

Burgtheater

The Parliament

The Parliament

Trying to stay warm at Schloss Belvedere

Trying to stay warm at Schloss Belvedere

Stephensdom

Stephensdom

Schloss Schönbrunn

Schloss Schönbrunn

Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Grounds of Schloss Schönbrunn

Lovely sculptured fountain

Lovely sculptured fountain

Manicured gardens

Manicured gardens

Panorama near Schloss Schönbrunn

Panorama near Schloss Schönbrunn

Icy pond and gorgeous skies

Icy pond and gorgeous skies

Viennese Café Culture & other Austrian Culinary Delights

The Viennese are very caffeinated due to the proliferation of fantastic cafés in their city. Inviting, dark, and sometimes smoky, they keep you wondering the history that’s taken place within their walls.
Ambience at Café

Ambience at Café Braunerhof

We had the benefit of relaxing at Café Braunerhof while a violinist & pianist played classical music for a den full of Viennese patrons.  Decorated with rich fabrics, antique mirrors and dark woods, these cafés feel like you are sitting in your grandmas living room.  Buy a cup of coffee and you are welcome to make yourself at home. Racks of the day’s newspapers are yours to enjoy.

Most of these cafés serve delishous desserts and pastries.  We grabbed a few at Café sacher, trying the famous sachertorte and an apfelstudel.

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

In addition to the cafés, pastries dominated the hotel breakfast buffet with overflowing baskets providing endless possibilities of sugar intake. And at the Christmas markets, the confections were also plentiful and tantalized the crowds.
Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely pastries

Lovely pastries

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce.

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce. Yes that is a trash can.  It was crowded and I had no place to stand!

And don't forget the pretzels!

And don’t forget the pretzels!

Mmmmm

Mmmmm

Beyond the sweets, breads, and java, Vienna still has much more to contribute in the culinary scene. We loved the soups….broths coming stuffed with goodies….crepe soup, pancake soup, and a beef noodle veggie soup were among those we tried.
Pancake or crepe soup

Pancake or crepe soup

And of course, we had to have wiener schnitzel, a popular Austrian dish of pounded & breaded veal or pork which is then deep fried.   We had veal and pork, both fried. We also tried a pan sauteed version with a sauce and rice. Our favorites were the veal options found at Fromme Helene, but we also liked the pork schnitzel at Café Rathaus.
Wienerschnitzel

Wiener schnitzel

Sauteed schnitzel

Sauteed veal schnitzel

The Austrian fair food kept us full and warm as well.  Over the course of the weekend, we had rosti (a potato dish), bratwurst & mustard, goulash, and two types of nockerl (like little gnocchi).
Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Goulash in a bread bowl

Goulash in a bread bowl

Austria is also know for its white wine.   In the local dialect, the word for Vienna is Wien and Wine is Wein.  We had fun at this place having lots of Wiener Wein.

WienO

WienO

We also partook in the festival hot wine….

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine. He was also excited to keep the boot mug….you pay a 2 euro or 2.50 euro deposit on your first drink for the cup.  We didn’t return ours.

 

Vienna is a city of the finer things: classical music, balls, culture, and the arts. But it is also a very satisfying food town as well. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed in the winter when it has a fantastic warming effect and the extra pounds dont show as clearly!!