The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!

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:

gare

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

Skiing Portes du Soleil

While I didn’t ski, didn’t want to deprive our readers of the skiing experience in Portes du Soleil, so I have harassed  asked our fellow holiday-goers to help add some flavor with their photos & stories.

Our Hotel Tremplin provided two lifts with direct access to Morzine / Les Gets.   These two villages are a part of an overall area is called Portes du Soleil which includes 12 resorts with 8 in France and 4 in Switzerland.  There are over 209 lifts in Portes du Soleil, allowing complete exploration of this region of 650km of slopes.

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Image courtesy of avorinet.com

Having a central hotel was nice so everyone could break and re-group.   Plus, it was nice for them not to have to walk far to hop on a lift or rent/return skis.

Ready to go after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

First day….ready to go again after a lunch break at Le Tremplin

There was a hotel above ours, at the top of the Pleney lift.   I sat there on the terrace one day soaking in the sun, as the lift didn’t require you to be a skier to take it because of the hotel guests also needing access.

The positive to this hotel is that you could really ski directly into it.  However, the cable car stopped at a certain time which would limit your Morzine nightlife access.

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on foot

The views at the top of Pleney, the furthest I could go on cable car + foot without being a skier

The area at Pleney was also where the ski school was headquartered.  Out of the five skiers in our group, four ended up taking lessons of differing levels to improve their skills.    This is a really good practice for skiers of all levels, to brush up and learn more.  By taking them early in the vacation, they could apply the learning.

Morzine offers lessons in English, either private or shared.  Everyone found them helpful, indicating about 2-3 things that they learned that really helped their technique the rest of the week.

Gabe at Pleney

Meeting Gabe for lunch at Pleney before his lesson

The group preferred exploring the top of the mountain, where they said it was less crowded and the views were magnificent.  Later in the week when there was rain in the village, it became more and more important to ski the top where the altitude resulted in snow vs. rain.

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Slopes at Morzine, captured by Gabe

Riding the lift

Riding the lift, captured by J

Gorgeous snow image by B

Gorgeous snow image by B

 

Image 1

J, conquering the mountain

Image of M courtesy of B

M gazing out onto the slopes.  Image courtesy of B

Image 2

IMG-20121224-00052

Gabe, M & B, ready to descend from the top.  Image courtesy of J. 

Time for a beer!  Image courtesy of B.

Time for a beer! Image taken by M.

IMAGE_226CD6A4-EC5D-463E-B8E4-C2A892B45273

B enjoying his beer, taken by M

Each day the group came back exhausted but happy.  They were very content with the ski area and had a wonderful time.

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.

Over the river and through the Alps, to Italy we go….

We used our last Honeyfund this weekend to go to Cinque Terre in Italy.  Every time we take a road trip, we are in awe of the beauty of Central Europe.   I wanted to share a pictorial recap of the drive.

Immediately after leaving Geneva, we drove through the French Alps.  Here, there were a few signs of Fall but we don’t see it as strongly as we do in The States.

Starting our drive out of Geneva

A bit more Fall foliage here

Mt Blanc was being shy that day, hiding behind cloud cover

The glaciers near Mt. Blanc. I joked that if we were playing the car alphabet game, this would be a good one for “Letter G…I spy a Glacier!”

We entered the Mt. Blanc tunnel and emerged in Italy, surrounded by Italian Alps in the Aosta Valley.

The Italian Alps.

We drove through tunnels in 3 countries: Switzerland, France and Italy.   Italy had the most tunnels, as we traveled on the Ligurian coast which is covered in mountainous terrain.   In total, we completed 119 tunnels during the course of the 6 hour drive.

French tunnel ahead….

Many of the Italian tunnels (114 of them in total) had homes teetering above the entrances

 

The exit our GPS instructed us to get off on was closed, so we had to take the next one.   We ended up on curvy Ligurian roads in the Cinque Terre forest.   The location was so remote, we had to do a little road clean up to get there.

The hubby moving a tree out of the road, in his dress shirt.

 

While a six hour road trip can be a little tiring, we are really happy to have had such a neat journey.

 

Natural Beauty in the Bernese Oberland

Bernese Oberland is a region surrounding Switzerland’s capital, Bern.   It is a large region, and in my personal opinion, contains some of Switzerland’s most beautiful landscapes.   Although, I’ll admit, its hard to find parts of Switzerland that aren’t breathtaking.

As we were driving, we pulled over to find this valley.

Approaching Interlacken on the way from Luzern

One of my new favorite Swiss photos.

Loving the beauty of Bernese Oberland

It was a great warm-up view for us as we continued on through Interlacken, and into the Lauterbrunnen Valley to park our car.   From there, we took a little train up to Wengen, where we planned to spend the night at 1400m.

Lauterbrunnen Valley and its waterfall

Wengen, like other car-free towns we stayed in…. Saas-Fee, Zermatt, and Murren, was peaceful without the roar of motors.   A ten minute walk had us at Hotel Edelweiss.   The little chalet was family run and we couldn’t have felt more welcome.  A very pleasant gentleman personally walked us to our rooms to make sure all was okay.

Hotel Edelweiss in Wengen – we’d highly recommend it

After checking in, Mom ran into a lady whose job it was to prepare fresh bouquets for the hotel.   She had gathered Edelweiss as well as some florals from her personal garden to prepare the tables for the evening dinner service and the next day’s breakfast.   It’s all about the personal touch, isn’t it?

View from our balcony at Hotel Edelweiss

While relaxing on our terrace, Gabe & I did some quick research into what to do in Wengen.   We found a few spots that were well recommended and then headed to meet Twin & Solid.

Checking out the view

Our second trip to Bernese Oberland. Last time was in the distant mountain, in Murren.

Twin and Solid on their first Bernese adventure

The first recommendation, Hotel Caprice, didn’t disappoint.  We enjoyed beers and wine with this view in the background:

Drinks on the terrace at Hotel Caprice

After a few rounds, we headed to Hotel Bernerhof for some traditional Bernese fare.  Gabe and I ordered raclette so that they could get a taste.   Twin ordered veal sausage & rosti, another famous mountain dish.  Solid went with spaghetti.   The waiter was super hard working guy, running the entire place single-handedly.   We really enjoyed our meal there.

We are convinced that the folks in Wengen are some of the nicest we’ve met.

Who couldn’t enjoy life with a view like this?

Dusk falls on Jungfrau

Related Posts:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Gratitude Friday:  Travel  (our adventures in Murren with T)

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Rostigraben

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Cheese

Traversing Swiss Mountains

After our trip to Lake Como, I am a lot more educated on how to get through, around, and over a mountain.

I remember when we first moved here, when we looked at a map, we were stupefied why there wasn’t a direct route.   It didn’t take long to find out that the reason the roads can’t go straight here is because of the big freakin’ mountains, otherwise known as “the Alps”.

Within our year, we learned about the wonderful Mt. Blanc Tunnel, which can save you a lot of time getting to Italy (and also adding a big dent to your wallet, around $60 USD).   We had used this tunnel to get back from the South of France, and also planned to use it to get to Lake Como.

However, I wanted to stop in Lugano and Bellinzona on our way home, putting us in the South of Switzerland, far from the Mt. Blanc tunnel.   I saw on Google Maps that there appeared to be two ways though.  They took longer but it was worth seeing a few cities in the Ticino canton.  No biggie.

The little yellow circle is where we came into Italy via Mt. Blanc. The other two were the ways we considered coming back into Swizterland.

The week before we left, I mentioned to my PT that we were going to holiday in Lake Como and return through Ticino.

“Are you sure the passes are open yet”?  he inquired.

No I wasn’t sure.   Anytime we’d gone that direction before, we were in a train.   This was to be our first time taking the car and it never occurred to me that in mid May some roads wouldn’t be open.

So, that week, I tried to research this.  Key word – “tried”.   Google Maps would still let me do directions home through the alternative ways.  It hinted that “some roads would be seasonally closed”.   No problem…i’ll just Google it.    Surely they’ll be a key like there is during ski season showing whats open and not.

I found a few message boards but nothing definitive that suggested if passes were open or not.   I did find a map showing that going up from Domodolossa there was a station in Iselle that you could put your car on a train to go through the Simplon Tunnel if the Simplon Pass wasn’t open.

See the little happy car on the dotted line? That means underground car on rail transportation.

I noted this would be a plan that could work.  Although, no information about the cost, schedule, etc.  Do these car trains go every hour?  Only once a day?  Once a weekend?

More research also found that the Gottard Pass was likely closed  since it usually is open until June, but the Gottard Tunnel was open year round.  A few message boards added that the wait could be up to 2 hours on a holiday weekend, creating a queue of traffic on the freeway for 10-15 km back.  Curses!!!

I’ll stop and interject with some basic vocabulary.  I actually didn’t really know this until our adventure this weekend.

Pass = a road that goes over an Alp.  It is likely curvy, amazingly beautiful, and will make you marvel at the wonder of Swiss civil engineering.  It can only be passable when the snow is gone or can be scraped.  During winter, its simply not possible based on snowfall.  Some passes, like Gottard, are only open 2-3 months a year.

Tunnel = a road that goes through a mountain, usually in a direct way, and will make you marvel at the wonder of Swiss civil engineering.  The benefit is that they can stay open regardless of snowfall.  If it is not in Switzerland, its costly.  If you live in Switzerland, you have a 40 CHF highway pass that allows you to do it for free.  If you don’t live in Switzerland and want to use said tunnel, guess what?  40 CHF.

The evening before we left Como, we tried to inquire about the best way home.  Our sweet apartment proprietor even knocked on the door of her neighbor to inquire since he knew more about Switzerland.  They said they’d think we’d be okay on the passes around Lugano and Locarno.  Okay, then…didn’t even know those were in contention to worry about either.    She gave us an internet password and we continued to look into it the evening before dinner. Nothing else was definitive.  Thus, we decided to get to Bellinzona and see how the GPS acted.

During our awesome lunch in a UNESCO castle, we inquired at the desk about how to get back to Geneva.  We mentioned what we knew.   When we said Gottard Tunnel and the phrase, “but we weren’t sure because it is a holiday weekend”, she immediately blurted, “that’s a terrible idea!!”.

So, we were off to the Simplon Pass or Simplon Tunnel   We entered “Iselle, Italy” into the GPS so that we could decide and evaluate the pass.

Gabe hadn’t had Ticino, Lugano or Bellinzona on his list.  He found Lugano average, Bellinzona cool because of the architecture and castles, but driving through the Ticino a 10.    We found ourselves curving around lush tropical mountains, feeling like we were in the Amazon.  Were we really still in Switzerland?      It was exhilarating for me to be in the car.  Luckily, Gabe is an excellent driver, but it was still a bit scary.

I made a little movie to show you what driving on these roads was like. Mom, please don’t watch this.

We crossed back into Italy.   And, two hours later, we reached Iselle.  We weren’t really sure what was happening as it wasn’t evident where to put your car on a train, but there were three cars with Canton of Geneva plates and we decided to follow them.   Crossing back into Switzerland, we saw this sign.

All green.  Thanks, Switzerland.  Would have been really nice to have this information online somewhere instead of having to drive here to verify it.

And again, we were in wonder.

Misty Alps

Lush fields with stone fence property lines

There’s still snow up here. The temperature had dropped from 20 C in Bellinzona to 2 C at the top of the Simplon Pass.

The hubby is a good driver. Thank goodness.

Driving over the Simplon Pass

Descending into the valley on the other side of the Alps

A view of Brig coming down from the Simplon Pass.

We had talked with some friends on the way home who warned us about the Gottard traffic.  We didn’t know they were returning to Geneva back through Ticino or we should have shared our information or lack thereof about the roads.

So, this post was to inform any folks trying to drive from Italy back to Switzerland.   It’s not so easy!!

Route Blanche and The Mt Blanc Tunnel

Mt. Blanc is the highest peak in the Alps.   For us, its easiest to access via Chamonix, France.   This adorable ski village is only an hour from Geneva and has a cable car you can take to reach the top.

However, this majestic mountain is not just a French treasure.   Mt. Blanc straddles France and Italy, so it is shared.   It is titled Monte Bianco in Italian.   In fact, people can leave Chamonix, take a cable car, and ski down into Italy.  We have some friends who skied this side, in Coumayeur, and loved it.  I can’t imagine how much better skiing is if your mid-day break includes Italian food….a la dolce vita!

However, when it comes to every day life, usually you don’t want to climb Mt. Blanc but to simply get around it or through it by means of getting to nearby Italy.    And so what did they do?

Build a tunnel.

Image courtesy of “Skiing the Pacific Rim of Fire”

It is amazing to think about the effort it takes to build a highway of this magnitude.  France doesn’t let you forget it when you enter the autoroute.  They remind you that they have spent millions of euros on the highway.

When you see the infrastructure required to build the roads, you don’t mind paying the few euro toll to drive on the side of the French Alps.

…that is just leading up to the tunnel, not the tunnel itself.

The tunnel itself takes about 17 minutes to get through, and costs about $60 USD additional than just the Autoroute Blanche.    And what choice do you have if you want to get to Italy?  The alternative is to take a 2-3 hour detour around the other side of Lake Geneva.

Image courtesy of Alice in Wonderlands

It was completed in 1965.    It shut down for 3 years in 1999 due to a horrific accident, killing 39.  They reopened in 2001 after making significant  safety modifications.

 

And thus, they are serious. Here are the safety rules:

1- Maintain speed of 70 km/hour.   If everyone isn’t maintaining speed consistently, they’ll come on the radio and warn everyone.

2- Yield control of your radio to them.   Even if you have an iPod in, it redirects you to the radio station of the tunnel so they can communicate.  They do so in French, Italian and English.

3- Stay 2 blue lights away from the person in front of you, to ensure there is significant stopping space.   You can see the blue lights in the picture above.

We are thankful for the ability to use tunnels to make our trips shorter.

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog – Gratitude Friday: Witnessing Something Truly Majestic

Schwingen in Switzerland – Mt. Blanc – the Tallest Mountain in the Alps 

The Swiss Watch Blog – In Winter Wonder with Pascal and Giselle

Gratitude Friday: Introducing Frau Hilda

This Friday, we wanted to express our gratitude for our car, Frau Hilda.   While we use the public transport quite a bit, it has been super nice to have a set of wheels during our time in Geneva for weekend trips.    Also, we are lucky enough to get the option to rent a parking spot near our building which is quite a luxury in Geneva.  We are very appreciative of this benefit.

What happens if you don’t have a spot near your building?    You have to buy what is called a macaroon.  No, it is not a tasty baked treat by Lady J, it is a 180 franc yearly pass to park on the street in certain blue zones.   You can only park in the particular zone  that correlates to your neighborhood.  However, this macaroon parking is not guaranteed.  We know people who have searched for over 45 minutes and not been able to find one remotely close to their house.   Yuck.

Why?   Geneva is not car friendly.  They are proactively trying to reduce spaces and convert people to use public transport.  For more on this and the hierarchy of who and what is important, check out Switzerland Hughes.

So how did Frau Hilda come about?   When Gabe accepted his job, they let us know we would have a company car in Geneva. We got to pick it out from three models: sedan, minivan and SUV.  We picked the only SUV option, swayed by the proximity to ski resorts.  We selected it in March, before we left.   We were notified that even though it was a BMW, a German brand, it was actually made in South Carolina.  About an hour from our house in Charlotte.  So it would take 9 months to make it to Europe.  Our furniture only took 2 months.

We like to name cars.  Gabe wanted it to be female.  We were debating whether to name her a South Carolina name or a German name.  We went German….Frau Hilda.

Has Frau Hilda ever starred in a film? Why, yes. Since her arrival in December,  we have made a video about her adventures entitled “BMW 007”.   Our favorite part is Frau Hilda “escaping” from the Monte Carlo Casino.Check out her film debut!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bon weekend, everyone!