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!

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?

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 : )