A Long Weekend Near Lugano

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Last weekend Adam and I went to Cademario, a little village outside of Lugano in southern Switzerland, for a long weekend of reading, relaxing, and terry time (how I like to refer to hanging out in terry cloth robes). We stayed at Kurhaus Cademario and took advantage of their beautiful spa, treating ourselves to hours in the loungers and massages in the wellness center. We hung out on our balcony (the views above were from our room) with room service and books. We watched the Olympics and a movie in bed. It was blissful.

We also took the bus down to Lugano for lunch and an afternoon stroll but the heat and a migraine (probably one of my biggest pregnancy woes) sent us back to the hotel early. Secretly, I don’t think either of us minded more spa and napping time. I know once the babies arrive we’ll daydream about this ultra-luxe, ultra-chill weekend.

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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.

A Boat Ride on Thunersee

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Last week I was joking with a friend who lives in LA that we finally reached 70 degrees and people were freaking out. It’s funny because it’s true. Friday through Sunday were blissfully perfect: 72 degrees and sunny. I think we all know by now how fleeting the beautiful weather can be in spring (the foreseeable forecast predicts rain every day for the next ten days and temperatures in the 50s) so we had better enjoy it while we can.

Adam and I have been talking for quite a while about taking a boat ride on the Lake Thun [“Thunersee” in German (pronounced TUNE-er-say). There are lots of different offers, from a Sunday morning brunch cruise to a Friday night fajita fest, but we went for the standard cruise from Thun to Interlaken, a two-hour ride. With a half-fare card the total is CHF 21.50 and if you get in line early enough on these especially lovely days you can snag a table and bring a picnic as long as you sit outside. (You can also reserve a table inside in advance, but you can’t bring your own food or drink.) We packed up bread, meat, cheese, fruit, Cheez-Its (!), and some cold drinks and met our friends Paige, Bryce, and Phil for the ride.

Before that, however, we stopped to walk around Thun, a very quaint city on the edge of the lake. Before moving here 6 years ago, I imagined this is what the scenery would be like: a modern mountain town on a lake, surrounded by snowy peaks.

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Thun is only 20 minutes away by train and it’s almost silly that we don’t come here more often. The old town is charming, and I’ve still never been to the castle, but I’m really interested in finding myself on the lake more often. In fact, if you were daring enough (and many, many people are), you can actually float down the Aare river starting in Thun and find yourself in Bern a few hours later. It’s a very popular summer activity and I won’t be too surprised if it finds its way onto our agenda this year.

And even if it doesn’t, I hope we’ll be back for another cruise.

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What’s a spring activity you’re looking forward to? Adam’s smoked pulled pork and we finally took our boat ride so I’m feeling pretty good so far. I’d love to get to the Rosengarten for a picnic dinner soon and fill up our flower boxes on the balcony!

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 : )

 

Slovenia: Lakes Bled and Bohinj

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Phil heard from a coworker that you can see Ljubljana in a day (without trying to sound like a snob, you can) and she suggested we rent a car to see some nearby lakes. Chances are you’ve seen a misty lavender photo of Lake Bled with its church floating on an island in the middle. It’s a pretty popular destination for tourists and our cab driver suggested we drive a little further past that lake and see Lake Bohinj, a quieter “more natural” spot.

Saturday was another lovely day–until the rains moved in later in the afternoon–and I’m so glad we took the chance to get out of town and see a few local favorites. Below are quite few pictures of our day if you’d like to see…

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You can get to Lake Bled from Ljubljana in less than an hour. It’s a very easy drive and rather scenic, especially once you get past the airport. We decided to press on toward Lake Bohinj first, which is about another 20-minute drive. There are a smattering of cafes and one big hotel at the end of the lake, as well as a few rental shops where you can get canoes, paddle boards and other water equipment. You can also sign up for canyoning, paragliding, and more extreme activities, but we decided to simply check out the little church (the most photographed church in Slovenia, in fact) and enjoy a leisurely lunch on the shore. We dined at the hotel, and it really was quite good, but if we had been a little more organized a picnic would have been especially nice here.

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Our driver also recommended we drive yet further past Lake Bohinj and visit Savica waterfall. It’s about 10 kilometers down a very windy road that somewhat hugs the lake. A couple of signs will help guide the way to a parking lot. From here you walk about 20 minutes to the waterfall, which is really beautiful and quite powerful. It’s within the only national park in Slovenia so there are a lot of other hiking trails that connect here. It was a somewhat unexpected detour so we weren’t really wearing the right shoes, but I would definitely recommend some sneakers, even if you only bring them out for this portion. It’s not difficult by any means, just a little uncomfortable in you’re in, say, flat booties with zero traction : )

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One thing I really liked about this visit is how alone we felt. We certainly saw other travelers around, but once we arrived at the waterfall there were only two other people there. And two other people arrived just as we were leaving. We weren’t battling any crowds or big tourist groups, which was refreshing. Granted, we are early in the tourist season, the shoulder season as it were: right after the rush of spring break trips and before the hectic summer season. Airfare and accommodations tend to be cheaper at this time of year and as I mentioned you aren’t faced with the same crowd of other travelers that you will find in June-August. We traveled to Bali in the fall shoulder season and experienced something similar. The cooperating weather, coupled with the previously mentioned benefits might just make it my favorite time of year to travel.
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IMG_7757After our walk back down we took an alternate route to Lake Bled. Unfortunately there was a big rowing race that day so the lake was very populated and covered in various competitions. Of course it would have been exciting if one were a part of the day’s festivities, but it didn’t make for a very scenic view. I know I may be coming across as entitled and out of touch (which, fair enough), but sometimes it feels a little crummy to have reality exist lower than your expectations.

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IMG_7771So, really, what am I talking about? It was very lovely, indeed. We visited the castle perched high on the cliff and rested there before we saw the curtains of rain drawing ever nearer. We hopped in the car and booked it back to Ljubljana, where it was fresh and dry. For a while at least…

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IMG_7818We had every intention of relaxing outside by the river for a while but the lightening and thunder sent us in search of shelter. We walked further down the river to an area we had seen the night before. It had a cool, hip looking crowd and we decided to see if they were back. In short, they weren’t. Every little bar and cafe we walked by was almost completely empty. It could have been the rain keeping everyone at home, but we came to find out that Ljubljana really is a quiet town that doesn’t ever get too rowdy or crazy. So we landed at Repete , a jazz bar that also makes dynamite cheeseburgers, and played 18 holes of Golf while it poured outside.

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IMG_7826After more or less imprinting our butts into the seats at Repete, we briefly stopped by Daktari at the bartenders suggestion. It was a very cool spot with both an outdoor patio and underground maze-like cave, located right by the funicular to the castle. We were all pretty wiped from the day, however, and scooted home rather early.

Overall, it really was a lovely 48-hour trip. We wandered around a bit the next morning before catching an early-afternoon flight. It was fun to see somewhere that was new to all of us and get a little breather from busy Bern life (insert joke here). Looking forward to yet more travel this summer–suggestions welcome!

Biking Through Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

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IMG_6102Last Saturday Adam and I took our bikes on the train to Lausanne and made our way through the Lavaux wine terraces to Vevey. It was a stunning, and I mean stunning, Saturday: temperatures in the low seventies and a mid-autumn sun that was set on full blast. Just perfect in every way.

We’ve been meaning to do this for a couple months now but only just got around to it. We had planned to try a couple weekends ago but a gloomy forecast kept us in Bern. Finally the ideal Saturday presented itself and we jumped at the chance to get to Lake Geneva and the gorgeous scenery.

We arrived in Lausanne a little after ten and spent the rest of the morning walking around the outdoor markets and old town. I’d never been before and was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. It’s full of hills and charm and chic French-speaking locals.

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IMG_6048^^käsekuchen, savory cheese tarts, are one of the best parts about living in Switzerland. They’re everywhere and perfect for every occasion

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IMG_6070I’m telling you, the sun was like a spotlight. It’s hard to tell in these photos (or maybe it’s easy based on how blown-out they are), but it felt very dreamy and ethereal all day. There’s something about the light this time of year that can be a little eerie and disorienting, especially when it’s so strong you can barely see. It always makes me feel like taking a hot nap.

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IMG_6077^^those colors!

beer^^those beers!

 

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IMG_6089After an inexplicable Chinese lunch–okay, I’ll explain: I’ve been craving steamed dumplings for, like, seven months–we headed out of town with a map from the tourist office as a guide. Those offices can be cheesy but don’t discount the wealth of information they can offer. Our booklet outlined several towns we would see along the way, as well cellars we could visit for a taste of the local offerings. Unfortunately, most of these places were open from 5-9pm which was too late for us, but we were able to stop in other little cafes for samples of local wines.

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IMG_6093We love our bikes. They are perfect for our city lifestyle and easily get us around Bern. That said, they were not ideal for the many hills we encountered on our trip. We would have been much better off on a mountain bike or even a slick racing bike (as if!), but we made do despite some serious huffing and puffing. I caught more than a few funny looks from passers-by, but in the words of my sweet friend Alexandra, you do you. And we did.

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IMG_6174We stashed some snacks in Adam’s backpack and picked up a few more along the way. Each town offered a beautiful and new perspective of the lake and France across the way. There are a couple of different routes one could take depending on what was most important. For instance, you could hug the lake and stay relatively flat, but you would miss a lot of the villages and the stunning view. We liked running into a town every ten minutes or so but the exertion took its toll by the end of the day. In all we visited Lutry, Villette, Epesses, Dezaley and Rivaz, and covered about 20 kilometers. We could have stopped at quite a few more places for a view or a snack or a drink but timewise it just wasn’t feasible. Our ride from Lausanne was just over six hours and my dogs were barkin’.

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It was a highly anticipated adventure and it certainly delivered. We loved this day. It was a surreal reminder of how much we have to be grateful for. In some ways I can’t believe that these kinds of options are readily available and encouraged. I love being able to say that we rode our bikes around the fringes of Lake Geneva, sampled local wine and watched the sun go down on a quiet, smooth train ride at the end of the day. I feel monumentally lucky to have this life.

When in doubt, do it. Go take the adventure you’ve been thinking about or dreaming about. There are logistics to sort out and calves to stretch out later but it is always worth it. As we enter into the colder months that promise the sweet embrace of sweatpants that play soft and loose and not much more it’s ever important to keep these ideas in mind. We visited Paris in November and it’s one of my favorite trips of all time despite how freezing and drizzly it was. I’m not suggesting everyone has the ability to train to Paris but you do have the power to get out and go. Let’s all try hard to make the plans and follow through on our own adventures this fall and winter.