Where the Wild Things Are

Post by Lauren

Carnival is a big thing in Switzerland. Many of the teeny tiny communities have celebrations starting the Thursday prior and leading up to Ash Wednesday.

I’ll be honest…what I knew of Carnival prior to this weekend was this and this:

 

It always looked fun and we decided since it was Carnival weekend in many towns, we should head out into the Swiss countryside with S & S to check it out.

When we arrived we found this:

 

These strange creatures are the Tschäggätä. The tradition of the town men marching through the streets at Carnival in wearing animal skins, wood masks and ringing cow bells has been passed down through the generations in many mountain villages of Switzerland. This particular one we witnessed was in Wiler.

 

If you attend, I’d recommend not bringing little children. Some of the kiddies were not amused by the scary beasts clad in animal fur.

And, watch out….they are known to take women hostage*:

 

*Okay, so they didn’t really take S hostage for good. But they got me soon after her and it isn’t exactly comforting to be grabbed by one of these things. Our husbands didn’t quite know if they should save us or not.

For more history on this bizarre custom, check out S’s blog. She also has a great one on the remoteness of the valley as well.

For video footage, you can view a clip at :

St. Moritz and the Engiadina Valley

Post by Lauren

As you read from previous posts, we quite enjoyed the White Turf races in glitzy St. Moritz. What was left out of those recaps, was the stellar beauty of this region of Switzerland.

The Engiadina Valley is in Eastern Switzerland. It took 9 hours for us to get there on the Glacier Express but using faster trains, it can be done in 6 hours.

St. Moritz itself is a pretty town. At 6000 feet, its lakes are frozen most of the winter. I am standing on the lake while taking this photo.

The town of St. Moritz

Sunset also isn’t bad in this part of the world:

Sunset in St. Moritz

The day after the races, we took a little funicular / cogwheel up to Muottas Muragl. This point is about 2456 m high, roughly 8000 feet. On this particular day, it was about -12 C in St. Moritz, but about -20 C at the top. Brrrrr.

From the vantage point in the photo below, St. Moritz is the town in the center of the image. You can see the frozen lake to the left of it. Because we aren’t high-rollers, we stayed in the village of Celerina, which is the town in the foreground. Samedan and Pontresina are also nearby and came recommended.

View of Celerina & St. Moritz from the top of Muottas Muragl

This region is of course famous for skiing and outdoor sports. We saw a ton of cross country skiers, because apparently the valley is quite suitable for that sport.

It is also popular for tobogganing. From the top of this mountain, there is a 4.2 km toboggan run down to the bottom. You can see the little specks (people) zipping around the track.

Nearby Bergün boasts a 6 km track. Its the longest in Europe and travels on a road that is turned into a sledging track since its impassable in winter.

About a year ago, Forbes published an article entitled, “Don’t try this at home”. The article talked about the irony of how cautious this Swiss are, but how this popular sport is so very dangerous.

However, Gabe would still like to try this out before we leave. Perhaps we’ll put it on the docket for next year!

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Post by Lauren

Last weekend, we went to St. Moritz for the horse races. Since it was my first horse race, I didn’t know what to expect. Also, we had read that the town was a bit fancy. It is known to be the oldest winter resort in the world. In fact, it is said that alpine tourism was invented in 1846 when Johannes Badrutt built his first hotel here.

Prior to Badrutt’s era, St. Moritz was also known for its therapeutic spas in the Middle Ages, dating back to 1466 BC.

It has also been the home to two winter Olympics.

We stopped for a drink in Badrutt’s Palace but the average cocktail selling at 25 CHF, we only enjoyed one round of hob-nobbing with St. Moritz’s finest. We were a little out of our league, but nonetheless, enjoyed the fashion trends that this glitzy winter town offered:

THE DO’S IN ST. MORITZ:

All white & black is a good choice. When in doubt, dress the entire family in aviators.

 

 

You must get points for wearing fur. My best guest is that one fur item equals one point. If you include the tail of the animals, you get bonus points.

 

For that matter, don’t let your dog be caught in anything less than Louis Vuitton or Burberry. How cruel would that be!!!

 

Just remember, no matter how well someone dresses, some things just never change.


The White Turf: Horse Races on a Frozen Lake

Post by Lauren

This summer, I read an article in a travel magazine about St. Moritz and their annual horse races on the frozen lake. I tore it out thinking it was something Gabe would like to do sometime while we were living here. However, we had our friends The Captain and Swiss Miss visiting during February, right at the time in which the race was held. Thus, we all decided to make it an epic Swiss weekend.

We took the Glaicer Express from Geneva, a nine hour winding train that took us all the way to St. Moritz. We ended up staying in a nearby town, Celerina, because affordable rooms are rare in glitzy St. Moritz. The average hotel in St. Moritz is around 1000 CHF a night. Not kidding.

Races included normal (jockeys on horseback), ski races (jockeys on skis) and sleigh (jockeys on sleigh).

 


Here are a few videos of the horses!

 

Gratitude Friday: Winter

Post by Lauren

I know, an odd Gratitude Friday shout-out after all my complaining about the ice and snow and -20 temps. However, I just wanted to reflect on my gratitude for experiencing a full Swiss winter.

If anyone asked me whether to visit in summer or winter, I would have said whatever they would like; however, summer is probably better.

My dental hygienist actually lived 2 years near St Moritz when she was out of school. She provided us great info before coming. Anyhow, I visited the dentist on our home leave in November and posed this question to her. She is newly married and said she plans to take her husband to Switzerland for his first time….but she noted “it must be the winter”. She recounted that her favorite memories are in the winter and that is what she wanted him to see. Good to know.

And now dear readers, after only 6 weeks in the Swiss winter wonderland, I’d agree. Winter here is fabulous. It is unlike anything that I have ever seen before. So, don’t be scared of the ice and frigid temps…..its all a part of this beautiful world we live in.

I am grateful I got to witness this winter beauty!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Famous Swiss Foods: Chocolate

Post by Lauren

Maybe one reason that the Swiss don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day is that it is it is an occasion for chocolate EVERY DAY here.

General Facts:
-The Swiss eat the most chocolate in the world. The average Swiss eats 25 lbs of chocolate per year compared to the 11.7 lbs consumed by Americans.
-The Swiss eat 54% of their chocolate production, only exporting 46%

Personal fact: Gabe and I eat four pieces of amazing Swiss chocolate every night after dinner. We haven’t gained any weight. In fact, Gabe has lost weight.

I was lucky to get a tour of Stettler last week. I felt like Charlie let loose in the chocolate factory.

It was 100% in French so I caught about half of the information being that I haven’t learned all my vocabulary for chocolate production yet. However, one doesn’t need to catch every word to be blown away.

This “chocolate laboratory” is in Geneva and is just one of the many chocolate factories and tours in Switzerland. If you are a francophone, I would highly recommend checking this particular one out.

Valentine’s Day and other non-events

Post by Lauren

Before coming to Geneva we knew that American holidays like Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving would not be celebrated in our new country. Throughout the year, we have also learned that thematic ones like Halloween are also not as popular on this side of the pond.

Today’s holiday of Valentine’s Day also falls into this bucket. It is simply not a big thing here….or at least compared to the $17.6 billion USD Americans will spend on Valentine’s this year. I have seen a few heart shaped window displays and a few gentleman toting flowers on the bus, but its really a dime a dozen. The plus for ex-pats is that you would have zero trouble booking a restaurant with your sweetie on February 14th. Not that it matters to us — we planned a nice quiet dinner at home.

When it comes to other life events, I learned recently that they do not do “baby showers” or “wedding showers” in most other cultures. I discovered this in the summer when I was trying to explain to my French tutor that I attended a lot of baby showers in the US because all my friends were having kids nowadays. When I said “douche de bébé”*, you should have seen the look I got. I pulled out my photo album to further explain and demonstrate the concept – pages of my pregnant friends and games and gifts. However, she still wrote it down in her day journal because she thought it was such a funny concept.

And its not just a French/Swiss thing. Last week, we threw a baby shower for some moms at a local women’s shelter who had just given birth. The women had varying origins in Africa and the Middle East. We had to explain the concept as “an American tradition” before we started the refreshments and gifts as this type of events wasn’t familiar.

In case you would like more information on baby showers, check out S’s blog as she recently hosted a beautiful multi cultural attended one for friends M & C.

*Doucher is the French verb for shower.