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!

Sunday Snaps

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Yesterday was the perrrfect day. It was sunny and just warm enough to shed layers on a long afternoon walk with the rest of Bern. The city is fragrant and alive–this time of year is gorgeous.

We had a very slow weekend, which was lovely: biscuits and gravy for brunch on the balcony; movie night; friends over for chicken enchiladas (a good excuse to break out the salsa we’ve been saving since we brought it back from the US at Christmas!); long walks outside along the river. I love spring! But I think I love summer even more. Bring on the warmer temperatures and picnics in the rose garden!

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Today Adam and I are celebrating our meetiversary! Six years ago we met on a blind date at an Italian restaurant in Zurich. We walked along the lake and traded travel stories and I pretended not to be impressed by the very handsome, very tall man I was on a date with. We hugged goodbye with plans to see each other again soon and I blushed an embarrassing shade of red (that was not lost on Adam). I was toast. I knew right away that Adam was someone special, and I even commented to my sister shortly after that date that I was sure I would marry him.

Adam, it’s been the best six years. Looking forward to many, many more, my love.

Skiing in Innsbruck

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We did it! We survived skiing! There were no wipeouts or tears, no blown-out knees, no hard feelings. There is still some lingering soreness, however, and we crashed hard after our day of skiing. Did anyone realize how much work skiing is?! ; )

Overall, we had a great trip to Innsbruck, Austria–though technically we stayed in a nearby suburb, Hall. Our hotel was very comfortable and had an amazing spa that was included in the stay. It had multiple saunas, steam rooms, aromatic showers, and relaxation rooms. My favorite room had four lounge chairs suspended from the ceilings, creating the most comfortable swing you can imagine. We opted to get massages on Saturday afternoon and they were just we needed to work out all the junk from skiing the day before.

(A word on European spa etiquette: it’s customary to visit these co-ed spas completely nude for sanitary and practical reasons, though that may sound counterintuitive to our American sensibilities. Since we were with friends, we decided to don our swimsuits, but don’t be shy to do as the locals do and go bare.)

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Our friends Nat and Nicole are expert skiers and they were incredibly patient with Adam and me. They reminded us of a few techniques and waited for us while we got our sea legs back, so to speak. The mountain had really good snow and the pistes were just right for our ability. And with cooperating weather, we really had the perfect day on the slopes.

But after a few hours we were beat. By mid-afternoon it got really crowded and I think we all started to get anxious with how many skiers were out there. We relaxed at one of the mountain restaurants with a couple of much-deserved après-ski treats (specifically big beers and Germknödel).

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Nat skied on Saturday but the three of us, and their young daughter Cora, walked around Innsbruck and enjoyed a big, delicious lunch at Stiftskeller, a beer hall serving hearty Austrian and German fare.

After our decadent spa afternoon we walked to Goldener Löwe, a restaurant in Hall’s old town. We would recommend this place for dinner, and encourage you to ask for the cozy booth in the corner.

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We got back on Sunday afternoon and after unpacking I got started on my new Sunday ritual. There were just enough chocolate chips for one big batch of my cookies, lucky us! I have to say, it was nice to have the apartment smell so delicious, and the cookies themselves turned out pretty darn tasty. They were the perfect end to a very fun weekend.

Is it cheesy to say that I’m proud of us? Regardless, I am. I’m glad we got up on skis and did something that made us both a little nervous. Everything—the weather, our energy level, our enthusiasm—coalesced into a feeling much like fun. I’m not making any promises, but I might not wait five years to try it again : )

Harvesting and Crushing Grapes in Montepulciano

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IMG_0011During our trip to Tuscany last month we rented an apartment within a farmhouse on the edge of the hill city Montepulciano. There were a few other people staying there over the course of the week, but it mostly felt secluded and private and we loved setting up camp there for several days.

We arrived on Saturday afternoon to find the entire extended family harvesting Sangiovese grapes and preparing them for sorting and pressing. It’s an exciting process, made all the more special since we were able to drink the wine the family produces. It was fun to see them all joking around with one another during the annual tradition. We didn’t necessarily help in any meaningful way, but we liked tagging along nonetheless.

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IMG_0032In fact, as you drive through the countryside in late September and early October you can see many family and friends completing the same laborious task. We had initially intended to go to Bordeaux and northern Spain for this trip but the harvest in France is much more secluded and they don’t encourage visitors. It was a treat to be welcomed in Italy during this special time of year.

Sangiovese, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon—among others—are all regional varieties here and each type of grape is usually picked at a different time. For instance, the family was picking Sangiovese grapes (found in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti, etc.) that day but would wait a week or two longer to pick Merlot grapes. They were looking for specific weather conditions, grape density, color, and other variables that are hard to pick up on for the untrained eye. It always amazes me what care and consideration go into making wine.

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IMG_0068As they were wrapping up the day’s harvest we got a little tour of their cellar and barrels. They only make enough wine to give to the family and their friends, which is such a wonderful gift. They work hard to maintain and care for their vineyard and it was really neat to see a very tiny part of the process.

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 : )