Monday, July 4, 2016

Switzerland, Day 3: Luzern and Happy 4th!

View of Spreuerbruke from Kapellbrucke
SMS and I were going to move onto Bern on day 3, but we decided to stay in Zurich so we could watch Gisele play softball that night with her team.  After fortifying ourselves with Nespresso, we headed out for a morning of touristing in Old Town Luzern.  We crossed over the two covered bridges: Kapellbrucke and Spreuerbruke. They were very pretty and quaint, even though Kapellbrucke was recently restored after a 1993 fire.  It felt like Japan when you go to a historical site and you think the temple is 1000 years old but, in fact, since it’s made of wood, it’s on its second restoration and really, the physical structure you see is only ~50 years old.  I digress.
Tower View
So, the bridges were cool and then we went into a Coop for a cheapie breakfast.  After eating more bread (yay!), we went to the old city wall.  I had never been there so it was cool to see a new site.  We walked along the wall and went up all three towers that are currently open to the public: Mannli, Zit and Schirmer.  The views of the river were beautiful and we really enjoyed ourselves. 
Walking the Wall
We walked through the Old Town and went to the Dying Lion memorial, glacier garden and the Alhambra mirror maze.  Our Swiss Rail passes, which served as Swiss museum passes, got us in for free, which is great since we saved 30 CHF.  
1313 entrance
For lunch, we walked to a place near the train station called Grottino 1313.  I later found out it was the #1 restaurant in Trip Advisor but I had found it through a Swiss Local recommendation app provided by the Swiss Tourism Board.  We each had the set lunch and it was an exquisite meal.  The food was delicious and we sat out in the sun-speckled courtyard and really had a wonderful, leisurely time.

Dessert extra!
We ordered sparkling water that came in a pitcher with mint springs and slices of orange and lime.  I started with a carrot soup with elderflower while SMS had an organic green salad.  For lunch, I had the roast beef while SMS had the pasta with broccoli puree.  For dessert, we had a pressed ice cream cake with honey and strawberries with an espresso on the side.  The bill was a little more expensive than I thought since the prix fixe didn’t cover as much as I thought but, really, it was totally worth it.

1313 Courtyard = Paradise
That contrasted with our next activity which was to pick up Gisele’s kids and hang out with them at the Transport Museum.  As I told them later, “It was only three hours but felt like forever” but I promise, I mean that in a good way. 

The push-pull railroad car
The car garage
The boys really liked to ride the buses out in the courtyard, which are kind of like Tonka trucks on steroids.  You sit on them and can either push yourself along with your feet or (preferably) have someone push you.  On the few times SMS and I went inside with them to see an exhibit (at our request) the #1 ichiban question was, “When can we ride the buses!?!?”  But we had a great time, complete with an ice cream break in the middle.  We also rode on paddle boats which was fun, although my idea for “bumper car paddle boats” was shot down by the man in charge.  Whah.  No Spartacus-like scenes of “ramming speed!!”

One of the drill bits used to create the Gotthard Tunnel!
Swiss-style BBQ
We all went back to the apartment and dropped the boys off with a babysitter.  Then we went on a two transfer bus trip that went very smoothly to get to the softball field.   There, we watched the Swiss Team play against the American summer visitors and it was a lot of fun.  Afterwards, we had a BBQ with more sausages (yay!) and beer.  It was a great way to celebrate the 4th of July!

Part of Team Suisse and their American friends!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Switzerland, Day 2: Luzern and Melchsee-Frutt

I've seen uglier places...The beautiful Melchee-Frutt!
After a slightly interrupted night’s sleep thanks to my friend Mr. Jet Lag, SMS and I were ready for a fun day.  Gisele had planned for us to go on a hike to see the bearded vultures, an endangered species that recently had a pair released in the wild.  Gisele and her family had seen the release a few months prior so she was excited to see how they were doing.  
Wildflowers don't care where they grow...which Dolly Parton song?  Anyone?
Breakfast was a delicious feast of croissants and jam.  I had been eating super “clean” before the vacation so it was a switch to be eating so much grain but it wasn’t hard.  In fact, it was delicious!  

We headed out to Melchsee-Frutt, a four-seasons resort kind of place.  We took the train to the gondola station and then rode up the mountain.  It was an absolutely gorgeous place and we hiked for about 1.5 hours to get to the vultures.  Now, we did have kids with us and it was a fairly leisurely pace so keep that in mind before you think we are super slow.  We were hiking in peak wildflower season so all of the fields were filled with flowers, which was a theme of the entire vacation.

Fire pit. 

The highlight of the hike for me was lunch!  Hear me out.  In Switzerland, they have little huts with fire pits that are stacked with firepits.  You start a fire and then grill the sausage you’ve brought along on your hike.  It is amazing!  It’s also very neighborly since at lunchtime, you tend to take over your predecessor’s fire and then someone takes over yours.  It was awesome!  I love the concept.  It would never happen in California, land of the wildfire but maybe on the East Coast…
Do you see the bearded vulture sitting on the little rock?

We got to where the vultures were and yes!  They are doing very well!  We saw both of them flying and roosting so that was very cool.  We hung out for a bit, watched the kids climb a rocky hill face after SMS decided to be a good example.  The kids did great but we were a little worried when we saw a guy climb up holding two kids.  I said something in English (inadvertently!  I was just so shocked someone was doing something so stupid!) and his wife looked up and yelled at him.  International diplomat over here!

Playing at the Visitor's Center!
After hanging out, we stopped in a cafe, had a drink and then caught a little train back to the gondola.  Now, when I say train, it is actually several cars linked together and driven on car wheels but the exterior looks like a train.  It’s very touristy and we saw similar transports in other cities.  
Yay, no more walking!
We headed back to Gisele’s and had a delicious dinner of pork chops, potatoes and salad.  I felt so Swiss, I almost started speaking Swiss German!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Switzerland, Day 1: Arrival

Matterhorn- don't worry!  The travelogues will get to it!
In early July, SMS and I went on an amazing 17 day trip to Switzerland.  I had almost a month off between jobs and we decided to take advantage of it and plan an epic vacation.  Because of the 4th of July holiday, SMS only missed 9 days of work during that time so it worked out well for him too!  

When we were deciding on the trip, we ran through the places on our informal wish list.  We had talked about visiting Ticino, Switzerland together since we had both visited separately many years ago.  We both thought it was so beautiful and so fun, we really wanted to go back.  As I researched more about Switzerland, I found more and more places I wanted to visit.  So, in the end, we spent 17 days in Switzerland alone and the funny thing?  We still didn’t see everything that crossed our radar during our trip planning!

[Just a FYI, the other places we wanted to go were not super conducive to a July vacation.  Other options we considered were Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but since July is the middle of Winter for all three, we decided to forgo those places.  There are, of course, other places we want to visit but I really wanted to take advantage of the extended time we had to mitigate the energy sapping effects of a long-haul flight.

So.  July 1.  We took an overnight direct flight on Swiss Air.  It was code-shared with United, where I have a lot of miles but I booked through Swiss Air in order to pick our seats.  The airplane economy seating was in a 2-4-2 configuration so I picked two of the two-seaters.  Although it was a little more expensive, it was worth it.  Some day, I hope that it’ll be “worth it” to fly business or first class but since that would have doubled the vacation budget, I deferred.  

The flight was fine and we landed in Zurich around 1630.  We got through customs quickly and hopped on the train from the airport to the main Zurich station.  We had purchased a 15-day Swiss pass which we had printed at home so train travel was very easy.  We didn’t have to fuss with ticket vending machines and we always found seats in the second class sections.  I didn’t even make seat reservations, which was great for flexibility.  We didn’t take any tourist trains during the trip because they tend to sacrifice speed for scenery.  I felt we saw everything through the “normal” trains and although the train rides were cool experiences themselves, I definitely didn’t feel the need to add more train time to our trip.

Mt. Pilates from the apartment balcony- amazing!
Anyway.  After we arrived at the Zurich HB, we transferred to a train bound for Luzern, home of my college friend Gisele and her family.  We arrived around 1900 and Gisele graciously picked us up at the train station.  We drove to her apartment, which had an incredible view of Mt. Pilatus.  They had other friends visiting so we all hung out together and enjoyed a delicious meal of “fancy toast:” thick slices of amazing bread with lots of toppings to include mashed avocado, caprese, butter and chèvre with caramelized onions.  It was SO good!  
It may look simple but dinner was amazing!
SMS and I hung in pretty well and then we went to bed.  It was so nice to spend our first nice in the company of friends!