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!!

 

Wiener Christkindlmarkts

Vienna tops the best destinations in the world for Christmas, so we knew we wanted to see it our last holiday season in Europe.

During the month of December, the city is filled with small Christmas villages, selling everything from ornaments & gifts to Austrian-style fair food & hot toddies.  Lights fill the trees and booths, providing a holiday glow all around. Smells of spices and delicious foods permeate the chilly air, inviting you to try everything.

Ornaments for sale

Ornaments for sale

Yummy gingerbread

Yummy gingerbread

These markets are called Wiener Christkindlmarkts or Weihnachtsdörfers.  To help with the translation, in Austria, Wien is the name for Vienna.  So anything Wiener is Viennese.
We visited four Viennese (or Wiener) markets during a mid-December weekend in Vienna:
Rathaus Christkindlmarkt 
Rathaus, or town hall, market

Rathaus, or town hall, market

The town hall surrounded by stalls

The town hall surrounded by stalls

Happy Christmas-market goers

Happy Christmas-market goers

View at daytime

View at daytime of the Rahthaus (town hall)

And view at night

And view at night

The market was glowing, even with the rain

The market was glowing and full of people, even with the rain

Schloss Belvedere 

Markets surrounding the palace

Markets surrounding the palace

Schloss Schönbrunn
Schloss

Schloss Schönbrunn’s tree & market

Weihnachtsdörfer @ Museumquartier
Adorable stalls

Adorable stalls

More authentic artisans

More authentic artisans were found at this one…

We got recommendations for Karlsplatz and Spittelberg but didnt have enough time.
One can’t help but feel full of Christmas cheer after spending a few days in this lovely Christmas capital.
Related post:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Colmar’s Marchés de Noël

Colmar is a picturesque town in the Alsace region of France known for its lovely Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets.     I have wanted to check out the town for quite some time, regardless of the season, but it never worked out.   Now with a departure date ticking down, I knew this Christmas would be my last chance.     I’d set up two potential dates to go.  The first one called for rain/snow and temperatures of 33.  It wasn’t very appealing to have a temperature hanging at the freezing mark but not committing to freezing ( and thus snow which is better than rain), so Plan B became the fall-back.

I awoke last Thursday (Plan B) to another forecast of rain and 33 degree temps.   But a little freezing rain wasn’t going to stop me this time, especially with it being the last chance!   I took off, connecting in 3 towns, for a trip of about 3 hrs & 45 minutes through Northern Switzerland and into Eastern France.

I had about five minutes of no rain where I captured a few photos.

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Then, the rain showers came…and continued.  It even started snewing, which is my word for the wet thick fat snow / rain combo.   While I love snowing, I don’t love snewing.  It doesn’t stick, but just makes everything wet.  It was interesting to balance the umbrella and take photos!

 

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I ended up staying a few hours to visit all five of the markets in Colmar, and coming home very soggy.  However, I am happy to have gotten my fill of Alsace Christmas beauty, as evidenced in these snapshots.

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If you are ever in Alsace, I have heard from friends that the wine road is really cool.    My PT recommended biking it in the summer.  S & S loved exploring it as well as some of the other quaint Alsace towns.  While I didn’t have it in me this trip, I’ll provide a few related posts to this area below:

Related posts:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) 

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Colorful Colmar

Schwingen in Switzerland: Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

Schwingen in Switzerland:  The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country of Birth During WWII.

Christmasy Carouge

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Geneva is Carouge.   It just has a beautiful feel to it, with an influence of Mediterranean in its architecture and its many artisans for residents.  In fact, you can often see them working away in their shops, making everything from hand.

As December arrives, Carouge dresses up in the finest Christmas decorations to show its spirit, and also make its lovely shops inviting.  Last week, my photo group met up for a drink and to take some photos of this great neighborhood.   Here are some of mine:

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The moon and the Christmas tree

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An example of the lovely storefronts

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Frosty leading the way

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Many have beautiful garland like this

And also there are the Santas!  Every shop has one, but they are slightly different in dress.

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Some are even themed to their shop!

 

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Santa at the eyeglass store

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A pink Santa

 

Merry Christmas!!

 

 

Our thoughts on air travel

We have had an opportunity to visit many airports across the world.  Sometimes we are surprised with how different things are!

Boarding a Thai Air flight to Bangkok in London

Some differences in Europe:

  • Many times the plane departure and arrival uses a corresponding bus to get you to the plane / terminal vs. a jetway.   We would say this happens about 50% of the time.   One negative is the stairs required to get into the plane.  This can be difficult for some people.
  • Speaking of stairs, we are surprised how many stairs are required sometimes within the terminal, especially while toting carry-on luggage.  Most US airports have escalators or elevators if you have to change levels.
  • We have found many instances where people are still up putting bags away into the overhead bins when the plane starts to taxi.  This would never happen in the US.
  • Cell phones are not supposed to be used until the plane door opens in Europe.   However, in the US, its common to boot up your device, check email, text, and make calls while taxiing to the gate.  It’s something we always forget living in Europe.
  • In Europe, you don’t have to take off your shoes to go though the security x-ray.  So nice!

Which continent is best for connections?

We advised our parents to connect in the US when they came to visit us in Europe.   The pros to this advice are that the airports are usually laid out in a way that makes sense to them, as well as they can ask in English comfortably if they are confused.

Contrary, European connections are a little more difficult to navigate.  You have to go through immigration and out to the public area of the airport which requires you to go back through security.  This can be confusing to some who aren’t used to it.   The bus factor above can add stress to connections because you have to board a bus to get to the terminal and board a bus to get to your next plane.

You also want to think about where you’d rather be stuck.   We generally like to take the longer flight first.  Thus, if you are late, you are at least on the same continent you are supposed to be on, rather than getting stuck another day for the next International flight.

What about bags?

When landing in Europe from the US, you don’t have to take your bags with you through immigration.  Just yourself.    When landing in the US from Europe, you have to go through immigration, claim your bags, and go through customs with the bags.  You then have to re-check them if you aren’t at your final destination.

Most friendly airports:

I love IAD / Washington Dulles.  There is a direct flight from Geneva so it is my favorite.  It might help that I grew up in Virginia so it is close to home.

We really like GVA / Geneva too.  It is small so you don’t have to get there so early.  Its tiny size also makes it easy to pick guests up.  Plus, the city gives out a free 80 minute public transportation ticket to anyone flying into Geneva.

We just flew out of ATL / Atlanta International.  What a difference they have made – a shiny new terminal just for international flights.  The staff is friendly, lines short, and the food course is awesome.  Before this, I would have put ATL down below into the Worst Airports for International flights due to their old method of making you go back through security and take the train to baggage claim, even if it was your final destination.  This wasted on average 45 minutes to an hour for the international traveler.   Kudos for changing this, ATL.

Airports where we have been the most challenged:

HER / Crete – Heraklion – Check in is done by flight, not airline.   So each destination city has an individual desk.  You are not allowed to check-in until 2 hours before your flight, when the check in desk # is posted on the screen.   We arrived 3 hours early, so we had to sit in absolute hot & steamy Greek chaos to wait until we checked in and got into a mad rush of people all arriving at the same time – a line about 30 deep.    However, we ended up in the wrong line because we went for the line saying Geneva.  Who knew there could be another flight to Geneva 15 minutes later on a different airline?     We got to our plane just in time for our flight which is ridiculous for getting their so early.   Again, something solved by going to an airline desk vs. city desk.

GIG / Rio de Janeiro – again, you couldn’t check in until 2 hours before.  I don’t understand why these airports are so against people checking in early.    Our flight time was supposed to be 7:16am.   Upon arrival, the board said 7:53am.   Maybe its late??   The flight didn’t open for check in until 5:53am.  All which wasn’t clear at all, just a guessing game to just get in line.  Luckily it was the right line.   But after asking if we’d miss our connection with the flight time push back, the clerk said the flight time was 7:16am, not 7:53am, we’d be fine to make our connection.  But my boarding pass said 7:53am.  And they started boarding the domestic plane at 6:16am.  Bizarre.  And also weird that they only allowed for 23 minutes to get from the check in counter, through security and to the gate.

IST / Istanbul – you have to go through the full metal detectors and security check to even get to the check in desks.  So this security process is required twice for travelers flying.  One for people picking up people.   Awesome.  Love doing it twice.  Especially love the thrill of being late for an early a.m. flight not knowing this.

BKK / Bangkok – We had such a debacle with Bangkok Airlines when flying to Cambodia.  We showed up 2 hours early for a 7am flight but they said that they sold our seats because we were too late.  We got booted to the next one and missed our tour that day.  Note: never take Bangkok Air if you can help it!

LHR / London Heathrow – Every time we go through here, we have issues.  Either me with my visa or Gabe with his refusal to use a plastic bag or his iPad.  They are not fans of us.

FRA / Frankfort – It’s sheer size makes it hard to make connections.  An hour layover? Forget about it.  I got stuck in Europe after missing my plane with a full hour layover.  Not enough!  Also, wear your walking shoes if you are connecting in this monster!

JFK / New York– I had a 2.5 hour connection and barely made it….talking running.  They need to hire more immigration officers to help speed up the line.  I sat for over an hour in the immigration line.   The line for non US citizens was 10 times longer.  I don’t think those people had a prayer of making it out of the line that day.  Also, at JFK, you have to sometimes walk between terminals to get to connecting flights.  Make that RUN after you have spent over an hour in immigration….

Do you have any favorite or least favorite airports?

Gratitude Friday: The Mayans Were Wrong

As the world was predicted to end by the Mayan clock at 12:11 Geneva time, we have currently made it 12 hours into a new era.

Real glad they were wrong about this one.

Real glad they were wrong about this one.

While to some the Mayan calendar was a joke, I think in light of this week’s events, gratitude in living a new day is certainly something to appreciate…..

Below are few of my favorite quotes & verses about gratitude and making each day count:

“It isn’t about getting  joy, it’s about giving  joy”  The film, The Bucket List.  

My take:  While a tear-jerker, I loved this movie…I thought it was a good lesson on the most important things in our lives and how we somethings get that mixed up. One of the most powerful scenes for me was when Jack Nicholson returned from the trip to his empty house full of beautiful things, and just started crying.  He’d learned that the stuff he’d spent his whole life earning and gathering was meaningless, especially without the human relationships he’d sacrificed.

“Instead of saying ‘today I have to’ for going to the store, doing errands, [insert thing you dread] switch and say, ‘I get to’ go to the store, do errands” – YMCA yoga teacher in Charlotte

My take:  At an early a.m. yoga, one of my instructors spilled out these simple yet powerful words and it stuck with me for quite some time.  Sometimes, I can live by my to-do list, feeling so burdened by the tasks I have to get done.  It can prohibit my “life in the present”.  But 99% of the world worries about their next meal. It certainly gives me a paradigm shift about complaining about anything related to the grocery store.

“Paint the walls of your mind with many beautiful pictures”  William Lyon Phelps

My take:  My church in Charlotte focused a lot on your thought life…saying what are your thoughts become your behavior.  They suggested that even watching violent movies can numb your sense of violence and negatively effect the way you treat others.  And I agree, focusing on positive and good things is a very healthy mind-set to have.   Thinking positive and staying positive can do some powerful things for your health and well being.

 “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”  From Tuesdays with Morrie.   

My take: I really appreciate this advice Morrie gives Mitch Albom. Our culture is geared up so much towards busyness and consumerism.  Sometimes, stepping back from what’s popular opens up so many doors for true happiness.  Just because everyone’s doing it, doesn’t make it right.

“This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” Psalm 118:24

My take:  Every day is a gift and a blessing.  Some days it doesn’t seem like it, but each day we are given is precious.

Do you have any favorite sayings on living each day to the fullest?  If so, please share them in the comments section.

Bon weekend, everyone.

McDonalds Europe

McDonalds, whether you love ’em or hate ’em, actually does a good job with globalization and market localization. In Europe, they tailor to what the market likes for breakfast.

No Egg McMuffin here. Just a cappucino & a croissant. Oooo la la.

It is also important to source local ingredients.  The Geneva McDonald’s ensures to customers that the beef, potatoes and bread are all made in Switzerland.

This translates: 100% pure Swiss beef, potatoes and bread

They know what tastes will be popular with their local market.    In Switzerland, they also have a McZüri which is a veal burger.

Image courtesy of theinformedvegan.com

Speaking of tastes, sandwiches are also tailored to include the bread that the market favors.  In Italy, you can get a burger on Foccacia:

And there is my personal favorite in France…..

Image courtesy of lesmarquesetmoi.fr

Some things are somewhat the same.

The playground is titled “Ronald’s Gym Club”

Drive-thrus, walkups, McDonalds always provides a quicker option

Walk-up counter in Lyon, France. The sign reads “Order here”.

And others much different.

Not a kids coke but a small coke

 

Lyon’s Fête des Lumières

We recently attended the annual Fête des Luminères, or Festival of Lights, which honors Mother Mary every year on the eighth day of December.  Four million people attend each year!

This festival originates back to 1643, when Lyon was hit by the plague.    The townspeople said that if Lyon would be spared, they’d pay tribute to Mary.  The tradition of honoring Mary happens every year since on December 8.

It was beautiful – they had over 65 light installations, ranging from light shows projected onto the old buildings, to independent light sculptures, to a moving parade.   The video at the end of the post does it more justice than the photographs.  Due to the crowds, it wasn’t possible to use a tripod.



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And here is the video – it is long – but shows the variety and technical genius of those behind this event: