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!

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!

Off to the Mountains

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IMG_1277Living in Switzerland, we always get asked if we like to ski. And it hurts to answer no. Sure, there have been moments shared between the mountain and me where weather, energy, and enthusiasm coalesced nicely into a feeling much like enjoyment. But those have been few and far between and they were usually interrupted by a wipeout.

I’m more scared than anything. I can’t un-know what can happen to you on a mountain and I think this is only going to become more debilitating as I get older and acquire more people who are precious to me. There is a part of me that is jealous of those who love skiing, mostly because I’m envious of their endorphin rush and the general badassery of skiing, but I’ve made peace with the fact that skiing is not for me. No more pretending that I’m going to get on a pair of skis this year: I’m not doing it!

But, that won’t stop us from getting to the mountains! I am surprising Adam with an overnight in the mountains this weekend and I’m really excited about it (he still doesn’t know where we’re going!) There are a lot of activities for the non-skier at high altitude and I’m not just talking about what goes down at the hut during après-ski. This weekend I hope we can go on a winter hike and sauna ’til we prune. It should be glorious.

I booked this trip last week when I was thinking it would be nice to have something to look forward to besides slush and an early bedtime. My current enthusiasm suggests that this was a major step in the right direction. What fun plans are you making for this winter?

While you think on that, here are a few odds and ends, bits and pieces of the internet according to my temperament this week:

A song for your weekend

52 places to visit this year. So many good ideas! (Bordeaux, Malta, Skane, San Sebastián, Dublin, Vaud, etc.)

100 years of wedding dresses

I spent too long reading this article by Sean Penn, but it’s worth a glance if you’re interested in the re-capture of El Chapo.

Made me laugh (literally, the first one made me laugh out loud)

A beautiful modern interpretation of 70’s style

12 luxurious outdoor showers. If we had won the Powerball this week, I would have installed #9

Should I have kids? I have to tell you, imagining my life in twenty years feels almost impossible.

“Hi, I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.” Writing the caption that works for every New Yorker cartoon.

The best book cover. I just got this book in the mail and I can’t wait to start reading it.

We can’t get Hulu over here but if we could I would most certainly watch this show. Looks chilling! It reminds me of this movie, which was so good.

7 moves to lengthen and strengthen your whole body

I’ll be taking this jacket with me to the mountains. It is so warm and unbelievably light.

Committing to Life Abroad

IMG_4824 (1)I was asked about a million times while we were in the US how long Adam and I plan to stay in Switzerland. It’s a tough question to answer, and even tougher to deflect politely, but the short response is we don’t know. Initially, our plan was to stay here three to five years and that still sounds reasonable, but neither of us is interested in setting an end date at the moment. We’re really happy living here and that feels sustainable for where we are right now.

That said, committing to life abroad is a mental game and it takes work to maintain a positive attitude. I recently read this blog post about making friends and finding a community in London and the writer’s final notes really struck me:

“Maybe all of this advice is obvious. I’m not sure it was to me when we first arrived. A couple of years after we got here, an older/wiser expat said something that changed the way I was looking at life… He told me to fully live here, I had to give up the 3 C’s: Comparing (“Well, back in Texas…”), Converting (Stop thinking in dollars. It’s a loosing game and I’m living in the land of GBP now. Embrace it.) Complaining (Stop complaining. Deal with the hassles or go home.)”

The 3 C’s! They are deadly, man. For a while Adam and I compared the food scene here to the dynamic explosion of restaurants in Charleston and it was constantly depressing. There were so many (affordable) choices in Charleston! And they were all within walking distance! In Bern you can find good Italian and decent Thai and Indian, but otherwise our culinary exploits have been rather tame. But, we’ve learned to counter that by cooking delicious and inspiring meals at home (and saving loads of money, to boot.)

I am always converting Swiss francs to dollars and not even thinking about it: “Lunch was twenty bucks”; “I got this such-and-such for only one hundred dollars–what a steal!”; etc., etc. It’s very easy to think in dollars and cents, but Adam is paid in Swiss francs and that’s how we should be thinking of our expenses.

Lastly, complaining: we can’t do laundry on Sunday; the Swiss aren’t very friendly, therefore we don’t have any real Swiss friends; everything is expensive; everything is gray; my family is so far away; etc., etc. It is ridiculously easy to fall into a Swiss-shaming spiral with friends or even at the dinner table. But it is catastrophic for my relationship with Switzerland.

I really liked thinking about these three deterrents for a happy life abroad and how I can shift my own thinking. I’ve given up on a lot of complaining because it is so worthless and energy-sapping. Instead, I’ve tried to find the positives within those perceived restrictions. For example, it no longer bothers me that we can’t do laundry, cleaning, or shopping on Sunday because that day has become a dedicated time to relax. We feel completely guilt-free for lounging in our pajamas all afternoon or escaping to the mountains for a hike because there is nothing we could really be doing around the house. It feels wonderful to have that time. The inflated prices of nearly everything has made me a more savvy shopper and shown me that there is so much I can live without.

We can’t fail to mention how much stress this can inevitably put on your health and relationships with others. Giving up comparing, converting, and complaining is not only good for a life abroad but it’s also good for life.

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One final thought: I went to a coffee morning last week with some women in my American women’s club and one of them asked how long I had lived here. When I told her I had been here two and a half years she laughed a little and said, “Oh, well, that is nothing.”

I understand what she meant by this–two and half years is just a blip in a lifetime. But to me it has not been nothing. A lot has happened in that time and I’ve done a lot of growing and changing over the past couple of years. I didn’t want her idea of commitment and time in a country to stifle my own experiences and sense of accomplishment, and I would encourage you, if you are an expat, not to allow others to let you feel that way either. If you’ve moved somewhere new, whether you’ve been there one year or ten, you are doing a good job and you are putting in a lot of hard work. It’s a challenge, but you’ve got this.

I’ve talked about this idea before, but it’s something I think about regularly. I think Adam and I are doing a good job of being present in our life here. It’s good to have goals and I would say one of mine is to try to keep avoiding those 3 C’s. If you’re living abroad (or even in a new place), what has helped you transition and fully commit to your life there? How do you make a new place home?

Two Weeks in (Fuzzy) Images

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IMG_4840A lot of highs and lows within the last two weeks. One of my best friends and her boyfriend came to visit and I had an impossibly good time with them. I hope they move into our guest room, but know that they have to share it with all the other friends and loved ones that I’d like to live in there. We went to Mürren, one of the best places in Switzerland according to yours truly. Adam and I celebrated our birthdays with them and a couple other people here in Bern. We hosted Thanksgiving over here with some of our favorite people in Switzerland and it was a huge success. We are so, so thankful for the amazing friends we have here.

There was also a lot of homesickness—there always is this time of year—and actual pain. I was dealing with some intense shoulder and neck pain from a pinched nerve (we presume) that kept me in bed for several days. It was ugly, and I’m thankful to be past it 🙏

And I’m thankful that it’s Friday! TGIF and all that, big time. I’m meeting up with a friend this afternoon to troll the Christmas markets here in Bern and tonight Adam and I will have a quiet date night at home. Tomorrow we are going to a friend’s house for lasagna night (yum!) and then I’m looking forward to a quiet Sunday. What are you up to this weekend?

Until we meet again on Monday, here are some thoughts and things from the Internet lately:

A groovy tune for your weekend–when you’re not listening to Christmas music, that is.

I have no ear for Oasis anymore (too many buskers out there destroying “Wonderwall”), but this long interview with lead singer Noel Gallagher made me laugh out loud. What a rockstar! This guy definitely gives zero, well, you-know-whats…

The new rules of wine.

And, what your drink order says about you. The wine one made me laugh because it’s true.

The 58 most commonly misused words and phrases. I am bookmarking this, for I have found that with my master’s in literature, I am still semiliterate.

ZOMG! Death by internet hyperbole. I’m so guilty I’m basically dead.

Quick, go take a look at all your shelves. Are you styling with too many small objects? For shame.

This harissa and lentils dish was so delicious I’m already looking forward to making it again. Pro tip: serve with tangy goat cheese to offset the spice.

Currently reading this Nick Hornby book and loving it. Let’s all aspire to be funny and quick like him, yeah?

My new favorite dress.

Lastly, a seriously comprehensive gift guide. Happy shopping, everyone!