Day Trip to Blausee

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Our friends Claire and Brendan were here for a week and I’ve just recently received confirmation that they are back in the loving arms of their three beautiful, hilarious children. And while that makes me blissfully happy, I do sorta wish they were still here. They are one of my very favorite couples and their bright energy and non-stop laughs make them ideal guests. Claire and B, you are welcome any time.

We dodged a lot of rain while they were here but managed to get out for long walks around the old town, a trip up the Gurten for disc golf and trail walks, bocce in the Rosengarten, many a beer at our favorite local bar, and a couple of day trips, including one to Blausee. It was originally Claire’s suggestion, and Adam and I had never been so it was the perfect place for us all to explore.

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The mineral-rich lake is one hour from Bern, reached via train and bus. You can also drive there easily and park in the big lot in front of the entrance. I think we were all a little surprised to find a turn-style entrance into the lake and forest but it’s become a popular destination, meaning there’s a small CHF 8 entrance fee and opening/closing times you’ll want to be mindful of. Inside the forest you’ll find a restaurant, hotel, and spa, all of which are beautiful. Each summer they hold an open air cinema, which looks like a fun night in the woods.

There’s a local organic trout farm that feeds into the lake, though you can’t fish or swim in it. But you can go out on a glass-bottom boat and see through the crystal clear water nearly to the bottom of the lake.

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We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed sandwiches by the lake before taking off on the connection of trails and pathways. All the walks are very easy and would be fun and suitable for little ones; it took us just over an hour to walk all the trails. We relaxed at the restaurant with some cold drinks and a beautiful view of the lake before catching the bus back to Bern.

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I loved this day! Blausee (which literally translates to “Blue Lake”) is a very easy day trip from Bern and was so relaxing and peaceful. We had perfect weather and great company, making it an afternoon to remember.

Overnight in Zermatt

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IMG_1067While we were in the US for Christmas, Adam and I wanted to make sure we had fun things to look forward to in January. This month can be notorious for inspiring post-Christmas blues. When we got back to Switzerland we went out to dinner mid-week; we went to a movie; and we cooked fancy dinners at home. Speaking from experience, it’s important to have some activities to get excited about rather than just mope about missing family and friends.

I also knew we wanted to get to the mountains and see some sunshine. So, about a week and a half ago I booked a room with a view of the Matterhorn at the Hotel Couronne and loosely started planning an overnight in Zermatt. We went several years ago, but it was in November and I was looking forward to visiting the town in all its winder splendor. I didn’t tell Adam until the last minute because I love surprising people, and he didn’t find out where we were going until we were on the train.

IMG_4992Our hotel was right in the center of town, an easy ten-minute walk from the train station. In fact, getting to Zermatt from most big cities around Switzerland is really easy. It is a two-hour journey from Bern, with one change in Visp, and the trains were busy but not overly crowded. Once we arrived the town was bustling with skiers and tourists. The snow-capped chalets and cozy restaurants are exactly what you imagine when you think of Alpine lodging. We loved it.

We dropped off our stuff at the hotel and changed into our snow gear before heading out with a quick lunch. A lot of visitors choose to take the Gornergrat Bahn for a view of the Matterhorn, which is what we did last time. The train makes a couple stops—where you can choose to get off and hike the rest of the way up—and ends at a restaurant and viewing platform. There are sledding runs and trails at the top, as well, not to mention an incredible view of the most famous mountain in the world. It is rather expensive, though: a return ticket costs CHF 86 (50% off for residents with your half-fare card). Since we had already been up there I planned for us to take the funicular up to Sunnegga, a ride that costs a quarter of the price. The view from the landing is equally spectacular.

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IMG_1043There is a full service restaurant, with outdoor and indoor seating, access to ski lifts, access to hiking trails, a lake in the summer, and direct access to ski pistes in the winter. It’s beautiful and worth the trip up. (Here is some great information if you are interested in skiing, snowboarding, or any other winter sports.)

We decided to take the trail from Sunnegga to Tufteren, which is a flat walk that takes abut 30-40 minutes. You walk through a couple of ski pistes but they are easy to see and cross.

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IMG_5008Our pace was slow and we stopped several times to take pictures and enjoy the view. It was so invigorating to be up 7,500 feet in the crisp air and with the sun on our faces. We passed a few people with sleds who were on their way to sledding runs, but for the most part it was a quiet trail.

In Tufteren there’s a small collection of huts and a very basic restaurant that caters to skiers and walkers. It sits right on a piste so you can sip your drink and watch the skiers and snowboarders fly by. Or, if you’re lucky, you might catch a sweet family of deer coming to eat right by the outdoor terrace.

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IMG_1080After a couple of snow cones we started our walk back to Zermatt along the same trail. The sun sets behind the ridge early in January (around 4:15-ish) so we wanted to get back before we lost the sunlight and its warmth.

Zermatt is so cute seen from above. It’s amazing how it fills up the little valley, surrounded by massive mountains on three sides. Almost like a little peninsula.

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IMG_1051Once back in town we walked over to Brown Cow Pub for a little après-ski food and drink. It’s a festive bar with good food and plenty of beer. We rested back at the hotel before going to dinner at Whymper Stube. They serve hearty Alpine dishes, including raclette, fondue, steaks, and schnitzels. It was rather full all evening so I suggest making a reservation for one of the two seatings (at 6:30 and 8:30).

IMG_5018I’m glad we got our Matterhorn sighting in on Saturday because we woke up to cloudy skies and a light snow on Sunday. After a big breakfast in the winter garden of our hotel we caught the train back to Bern. It was a very quick trip, but worth it for the  fresh air, sunshine, and change of scenery. It’s hard to believe that places like this are in such easy reach for us. Two hours away? It’s nothing, especially when you consider we just had to plop on a train to get there. I’m already looking forward to another wintry weekend.

Zermatt, we love you!

Hoping for a Restful Weekend

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IMG_4093Last weekend we went on an amazing hike through the Val d’Anniviers in canton Valais. For those not in Switzerland, this valley is in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, just north of the Italian border. It’s a quaint region that we rarely explore, though I’m guessing that after this weekend we’ll be back with increasing frequency.

We spent the night in Vissoie, a very sweet mountain town, and took a bus to Zinal to start our hike. We chose the route over breakfast that morning and hoped for the best. We were surprised in the best way possible by the beauty and magnitude of the mountains around us. We were also so totally knackered after what turned out to be a tough hike with an impressive climb. Adam and I were in bed by 8:00 that night totally beat from the day and the weekend in general.

The wine tasting event on Saturday had been planned for a while but the decision to stay the night and hike the next day was all very last minute. The case for “just go and do it” grows larger and more convincing with each impromptu trip we take or activity we organize. I’m learning to be better at spontaneity and going with the flow, though I do believe myself to be laid back and easy going. Still, sometimes I can get lost in the details and I’m trying to remember that it’s always worth it if you’re on the fence about making plans. Just do it!

That said, what are you up to this weekend? We’re taking it easy since we’ll be out of town the next two weekends and Adam would like to get some serious work done on the record player he’s building. I’m hoping for more time with my magazines and maybe even a few friends. I hope you have a lovely weekend and enjoy a few links I rounded up over the last week. Until Monday!

A song for the weekend

An important practice in our house

This butter chicken is my new favorite recipe. It makes a ton so prepare yourself for leftovers! (it’s better the next day anyway)

Inspiring books for your career, creative or otherwise. (I bought four 🙊)

Are female BFFs the new power couple?

The Instagram rules. A bit cheeky, yes, but some of them make good sense…

Turning 30 described in charts and graphs. Made me laugh. Something to look forward to?

How not to embarrass yourself in Germany.

I did this workout, followed by this quick one, on Wednesday and was sore all over on Thursday. Success!

Mindy Kaling on books and reading. Her imaginary book club made me laugh (and want to be invited)

Thank you, Claire, for sharing this. #dadjokesforever

The final act from this week’s This American Life podcast is so funny. I laughed out loud while I was finishing up my run yesterday.

P.S. Fourteen years ago today I was sitting in my freshman geography class when the twin towers were hit. It was surreal at the moment and continues to be to this day. I feel awe and compassion for those who were so personally affected by the tragedy and I remain ever proud to be American.

Hiking Felsenweg Bürgenstock

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IMG_9421On Sunday Adam, Phil, and I hiked around Bürgenstock mountain, which sits on the very edge of Lake Lucerne. In fact, the mountain itself is split almost down the middle between cantons Lucerne and Nidwalden. It’s a popular destination not only for its unparalleled views over the lake and surrounding mountains to the south, but also for the Hammetschwand Lift, the tallest outdoor elevator in Europe. En route to the lift is the Felsenweg, or cliff path. It was constructed between 1900 and 1905 and goes around the entire mountain. The circuit takes about 2 hours and walking that, as well as taking the lift up to the highest point in Lucerne, was our initial plan. Alas, the best laid plans…so on and so forth.

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IMG_9400We took the train from Bern to Lucerne and transferred to a boat to take us to the dock at Kehristen-Bürgenstock. From there, one can normally take a funicular up to the famed Bürgenstock resort. This is closed, however, while they complete renovations, and it isn’t scheduled to re-open until 2017. We had assumed that there would be a bus in the funicular’s stead that would take us up to the resort where the Felsenweg begins. After disembarking the boat and watch it make its steady course toward the neighboring Pilatus, we realized that no such bus existed and we would be arriving in Bürgenstock by foot. (For those interested, you can catch a PostAuto bus from Stansstad and Ennetbürgen, both of which are accessible by train or boat from Lucerne).

Once we had finally reached the Hammetschwand Lift and finished the majority of our tough hiking, we saw a map of our wanderweg, or route: we couldn’t help but laugh at how much the switchbacks resembled a seismometer with some pretty intense activity. That’s to say that it was a tough climb; we gained over 2,000 feet in just over an hour. We got alone fine because we’re all pretty athletic, but this hike requires a little experience I would say. There are also a lot of very steep drop-offs along the switchbacks that are not for the faint of heart. If you remember, I have that faint heart. Nevertheless, upwards and onwards!

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IMG_9414^^neighboring Pilatus

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IMG_9420Standing along the Felsenweg we marveled at how high we were. The face of Bürgenstock is rather steep and drops almost directly down into the water. The boats look like toys! Adam attempted to time a falling rock but we lost it amidst the trees. I’m guessing it took quite a while to reach soil.

While the Bürgenstock resort is under construction and not currently open, there is a restaurant at the beginning of the Felsenweg that one might want to stop at for refreshments and beautiful valley views. We opted to keep walking toward the Hammetschwand Lift, a 25-minute walk.

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IMG_9429The lift is just shy of 153 meters and it takes about ten seconds to get to the top. It’s a panorama elevator, meaning it’s almost all glass and you feel rather exposed on your way up and down. It’s a fun thrill and a great way to get to the very top of the mountain (the alternative being to hike it in its entirety).

We ditched the sandwiches we had made earlier that morning in favor of traditional alpine fare: veal sausages with onion sauce and french fries. We sat at the top for a while before taking the elevator back down, walking the Felsenweg to the bus stop and finally taking the bus back to Stansstad. From there we caught trains and headed back to Lucerne, Phil heading on toward Zurich and Adam and I to Bern. I, for one, had jelly for legs and was totally exhausted by the day. But I was tired in a good way. You know, like how you felt as a kid when you played outside all day long as if the fun would never end? It’s the best feeling to close out a summer day.

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IMG_9439We never get to tired of all the options for exploring here in Switzerland. Adam and I just played “what are your three favorite things about living in Switzerland” and one of mine was the easy access to the mountains and hiking trails. Since most shops are closed and laundry and cleaning are highly discouraged, if not actively forbidden in your lease, family and leisure time takes priority on Sundays and I’ve really come to love that. I like that we go outside and enjoy ourselves and we don’t feel guilty about it because there isn’t anything else we should or could be doing. I hope it’s a tradition that we make a permanent part of our lives.

 

 

 

Hiking to Oeschinensee

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IMG_9359This past Sunday Adam and I went on a hike to Oeschinensee. It is often referred to as the most beautiful lake in Switzerland and we had to see for ourselves. All in the name of research…

The conclusion is, yes, it’s pretty darn beautiful. We took the direct train from Bern to Kandersteg, which is about one hour, and hiked our way up to the lake (there are signs everywhere guiding you). You can also take a gondola up–the station is a fifteen minute walk from the train station. But, at one and a half hours and an easy rating, the hike felt like the best option for the day. There are a couple steep parts, but nothing anyone with a sturdy pair of shoes can’t handle.

We got to the top and sat right by the lake to have Alpine ham and turkey sandwiches, watermelon, and paprika chips. We dipped our toes in the cool (cold!) water and rested our tired bodies. It was easily 10-15 degrees cooler up here than in Bern and we were so grateful for a break in the heat.

As you can see from the photos above, it was packed. There were lots of families and cookouts, people sunbathing or rowing on the lake. It’s an obvious choice for these balmy summer days.

We walked around the side of the lake for a bit, but didn’t take any of the many trails that will take you even further up into the mountains. If you’re feeling adventurous there are a lot of options for exploring.

After beers at the restaurant we decided to take the gondola back down. It’s a short ride and only costs a few Francs so it’s a good deal if you’re planning on bringing a lot of gear for a picnic or activities. We headed back to Bern on a very crowded train and relaxed for the rest of the evening. It was the perfect summer hike and I can already imagine taking friends and family there if/when they visit. See! Come visit. This is the fun we’ll get up to : )

 

Another Hike Up the Gurten

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IMG_7361While its known as a mountain to most, the Gurten is really a big, steep hill. You can reach the top in about an hour if you walk at a steady, consistent pace, but some people run it (up and down) over the lunch hour. By any Swiss standard the journey wouldn’t be considered a hike, but we’re American so we’ll count this as a fitness hike and reward ourselves with a frosty brew.

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Last Sunday was the perfect day for just such a “hike”/walk. It was sunny and temperate and there were just enough buds on the flowers and trees to give you hope that spring is here to stay. In the past week trees and bushes have taken a dramatic turn and really opened up. I swear I saw leaves actually growing the other afternoon while I was sitting on the balcony.

We packed a picnic (and a book) and lounged on the grass for a while before taking an alternate route down. It all felt very Swiss, which was wonderful. We’ve experienced a lot of ups and downs lately and feeling like you belong in a culture that is normally pretty closed off and isolated can boost morale considerably. In that way, the Gurten holds a special little place in my heart.

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p.s. guess who we saw at the bottom? these ridiculously cutie ponies!!

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Hiking Around Mürren

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Last weekend Adam’s friend Kyle was visiting us and wanted to go on an adventure. We had spent Friday bumming around Zurich, indulging in the unseasonably stellar weather and frequenting some of our favorite spots. On Saturday we walked around Bern dodging rain and grabbing beers with a few friends. But, Sunday we knew we wanted to get out and go for a long walk. It only made sense to go to the tallest mountains in Switzerland, which are only an hour and half away by train.

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We took the train to Lauterbrunnen and caught the cable car up to Grütschalp (by the way, the higher you go into the mountains the more you’ll find words with less vowels and those that do remain probably have an umlaut. Pronunciation becomes extremely comical). From Grütschalp you can take several routes leading to Mürren, as well as other Bernese Oberland towns. We stuck with the flattest, which also offered unparalleled views.

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It’s an extremely easy walk and took us about 2 hours, though we did break pretty frequently for photos. Most everyone suggests walking in this direction (as opposed to walking from Mürren) because the largest of the Alps stay in front of you. Specifically, we are interested in the Jungfrau (13,642 ft), Mönch (13,448 ft) and Eiger (13,025 ft) mountains, the three tallest in Switzerland.

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IMG_5940^^still working on that closed-mouth smile…

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Once we arrived in Mürren it was clear that we had reached the Alpine village of our dreams: old chalets with window boxes dripping with gorgeous, vibrant flowers and tiny paths that connected all the homes and restaurants together. It seems so obvious that this is such a popular destination for hiking during the summer and skiing during the winter. No cars are allowed in the village so it has a very peaceful and easy feel to it.

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After watching paragliders zip through the valley (as someone who is afraid of heights I literally cannot image the simultaneous terror and exhilaration of paragliding in that setting) we took the cable car to Schiltorn, one of the highest lookout points in the area at 9,740 feet. On the way, there is a brief stop at Birg where you can take a few pictures and wait for the next cable car up. They have a sky walk lookout point that was fun for everyone but me. I make it a rule not to stand on metal grates pretty much anywhere, sidewalks included, and this vista proved no exception. The fellas had a nice time though.

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IMG_5993^^Phil, being a nut

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Arriving at Schiltorn, we were treated to a stunning view. I can’t believe how fortunate we were to have such clear skies, especially given that Bern was shrouded in fog when we left. It’s proof enough to me that you just have to get out and explore and hope for the best.

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Man! What a good day. I can’t wait for more visitors so we can take them here. It might just be one of my favorite places in the country.