Just another day at the office

Post by Lauren

Last week, Gabe had a company outing to La Clusaz, France.  The group skied as a team building activity.

As the weather warms up, we aren’t sure there will be many more opportunities for skiing.

We hear that Zermatt and Chamonix have year-round skiing so perhaps this could be an option.

The Snow Line

Post by Lauren

Where I grew up, we had hills; however, everything was relatively flat compared to the Alps. So when we moved to Switzerland, and live amongst exponentially taller mountains, it is first time that I have experienced “the snow line”.

This concept is one that different parts of mountains or hilly plains are either covered or not covered in snow due to elevation.

Take a look at some of our recent trips and where we’ve seen this in action:

 

 

And, where we live in Geneva, we get to live below the snow line, but still experience the beauty of the icy stuff in the distance on the Jura mountains.

 

I kind of like it that way!

Up Close and Personal with The Glacier

Post by Lauren

There are 24 major glaciers in Switzerland. We had seen the one on Mont Blanc in France before and it is truly magnificent to see, especially in the summer when everything else has melted.

However, we had a closer experience during our time in Saas-Fee. As you can see from the photo below, the glacier is visible from the town.

See the blue? That's the glacier!

What is neat about Saas Fee is that you can actually take a cable car up to ski or hike on top of the glacier. Gabe and S & S skied on the glacial snow.

Skiing on Glacial Snow

While they rocked out their glacier skiing, I decided to explore the Ice Grotto and revolving restaurant found at Mittelallin, 3,500 meters or 11,480 feet high, directly above Saas-Fee. Both are considered the world’s highest of their kind.

Worlds' highest revolving restaurant - 2 miles high.

I’d like to point out that when its snowing, it doesn’t really matter if you are two miles high on the worlds highest revolving restaurant.

My view at the world's highest restaurant

Luckily, the sun peaked out or a second and I was able to see a glimpse of the mountains:

Also at the top of Mittelallin is the Ice Pavilion — a glacier that you can walk into. It was my first time stepping inside a glacier. At -12 C outside air temperature, it was super frigid inside.

It was Sunday and quite a coincidence they had an ice chapel at 11000 feet.

It was a nice relaxing way to spend a Sunday, sans skiing in Saas Fee. Say that 5 times fast.

For more scientific information on glaciers and why they are blue, consult Schwingen in Switzerland. http://schwingeninswitzerland.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/3058/

Saas Fee

Post by Lauren

We decided that it would be good to spend my last weekend prior to surgery doing something wintery. We knew it would be quite awhile before I could experience the outdoors again. At least on foot. The week had been super busy planning for surgery and prepping meals to freeze, so I hadn’t gotten around to selecting a place or activity.

So, we pretty much decided where to go at 9pm Friday night at Happy Hour at S & S’s place. We planned to hit the Carnival celebrations in Wiler and to continue onto Saas Fee in Valais to spend the night and potentially do winter sports Sunday. S booked hotel rooms round midnight for that next day.

Saas Fee is located in a valley very close to Zermatt. Until the mid-twentieth century, it was remote and not accessible by cars. Currently, trains are still not able to reach Saas Fee through its narrow valley. However, even though you can drive there now; the village itself is car-free. You must leave your car at the deck at the city entrance.

Driving in was "squiggly"

 

Majestic mountains on the horizon as we drove into Saas Fee

The books say that Saas Fee is just as picturesque as Zermatt, just without the Matternhorn view. For all Gabe and I know, it was equal since we didn’t see the Matterhorn when we went back in January with Pascal and Gisele.

We arrived at sunset and it was quite nice to walk around and to see the après ski buzz.

 

After exploring, we grabbed a bite of Italian at Boccalino and then had an after dinner drink at Popcorn. We called it an early night due to the ski activities planned for the next day.

Saas Fee was a lovely little town. I think I might prefer Zermatt a little more, but all in all, a nice stop.

 

All Aboard the Glacier Express!

Post by Lauren

When The Captain and Swiss Miss were visiting, we took the Glacier Express. No, this isn’t the train to Santa’s house….it goes to St. Moritz. Which is sort of like the North Pole, if you think about it, full of wonder, make-believe and furry suits.

The Glacier express is a very nice excursion to do if you are visiting a short time, since it covers a large part of the country of Switzerland. It travels the path in red, below.

Photo credit: The Glacier Express

In its entirety, The Glacier express travels through 91 tunnels and 291 bridges. At altitudes of up to 6500 feet, it cuts through breathtaking mountain passes, glaciers, and by rushing mountain streams. From its windows you can experience a part of nature that has remained untouched. In fact, there is a certain part of the railway that has a UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site, the Rhaetian Railway from Thusis towards Bergun. This was given due to its role in developing access to remote areas in the Swiss Alps as well as how the civil engineering blends seamlessly with the nature surrounding it.

The Glacier Express

The Glacier Express started in 1930, a remarkable feat considering the economic crisis that was happening during that time. It experienced a slow down as well in WW2 as it didn’t run between 1943 and 1946, during the war.

Up until 1982, it could only run during the summer months because the Oberalpass became impassable in winter with snow. In the 1980s, they made improvements in tunnels, allowing it to operate. Since that time, they have upgraded the cars to be equipped with panoramic windows* for tourist’s photo taking and comfort.

One of the many tunnels the Glacier Express travels through

While the Glacier Express isn’t really an express at all (average speed is 20 km/hour), I appreciated the extra time it took to get to our destination due to the beauty of the landscape it traversed.

We would recommend this to those visiting Switzerland. We also hope to check out some of the other scenic trains such as the Golden Pass, or Bernina Express during our time here.

What you should know :
–If you are interested in taking a scenic train, Rick Steves has some great descriptions about the differences on his site.
–If you are visiting, you can take the scenic trains on a Swiss pass or Swiss Flexi pass. Same goes for residents with a day card. For the Glacier express, you must get a reservation for 13 CHF in the winter or 33 CHF in the summer for a seat.
–They serve great meals on the Glacier Express; however picnics are also allowed. We brought an assortment as well as two bottles of wine.

*The large windows created a magnificent view. We were blessed with a lot of sunshine on our journey which was great for us, but made our photos a little worse because of the glare. Sorry.

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!

Moonlight Snowshoeing

Post by Lauren

On the night of Gabe’s birthday, we went snowshoeing in the Jura mountains, around St. Cergue, with AIWC. It was the night of the full moon and it was beautifully clear.

I wish I could share lots of images to capture the beauty but it was so cold on the hike that there was no way I was going to take my hands out of my two pairs of gloves to snap photos.

How cold is too cold to remove hands from gloves? Negative 14 degrees.

I did manage a few shots as we started and finished.

Getting geared up in our snowshoes

Unfortunately, I got a bit faint about 10 minutes in… I think the combination of altitude and the chill with the exercise got to my body and I had that feeling that I was going to pass out. We had some experienced snowshoers in the group and they assured as that this was normal due to all the changes in temperature and pressure with the sudden movement. Luckily, they were right and I started to even out in dizziness as we pressed on. It was a good thing as the bus had already departed from our drop off point and it was still a 45 minute hike in the snow to our pick up point.

So thankful the group was so kind and patient to me, especially those who were experienced. Glad to report that I wasn’t eaten by coyotes and didn’t freeze to death in the wilderness and we made it to the end destination of a fondue restaurant.

We left our snowshoes before heading into the fondue restaurant

Since we really had to work for it, it may have been the best fondue we have ever had.