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2003 Fall Switzerland Archives

August 29, 2003

We have arrived - Zurich day 1

Well, we are here - a hotel in Zurich. As unlikely as it seemed a few days ago that I would manage to get the packing done and be able to leave, we did it.

The flight from Albuquerque to Atlanta to Zurich went smoothly. We had first class upgrades the whole way. I managed to sleep for about five hours on the Atlanta to Zurich portion, which is great because I usually don't sleep much on overnight flights. We were using our new BOSE noise-cancelling headphones which we bought just for this trip and I think they made all the difference. They get rid of that loud "airplane" hum. We also took the No Jet Lag homeopathic pills, but I have never been convinced that they do anything.

Zurich airport is small and quiet - a subdued airport. You arrive to the onslaught of horrible perfume smells from numerous duty free shops (Duty Free Land as Steve calls it), then you get your luggage and go out to the main airport and the onslaught of cigarette smoke. Everyone was smoking. It is always such a shock for me traveling to Europe to see how many people smoke here.

Customs consisted of only the briefest glance at the outside of our passports.

We took a taxi to the hotel (with windows rolled down because the taxi reeked of air freshener - they love air freshener in Switzerland); 53 Euro. Steve tipped when he really didn't need to. He blamed it on jetlag. Our flight got in at 9am and we were at the hotel just after 10am. I was pretty pleased with how it had all gone, but all I wanted was a bath and a sleep. So I was upset when they told us a room would not be ready until noon. I had emailed them about our early arrival, but now they told us we had to book an extra night to get the early checkin. Nice. If they had said that in the email, I probably would have done that. Next time, I will book an extra night, or book at a larger hotel where there might be a better chance of getting a room earlier, or maybe it really is best to go somewhere on arrival so you get there later in the day.

But, even with first class seats and having slept some, I am always exhausted when I arrive in Europe. We talked to some other Americans who were renting a car at the airport, driving to Davos to find the train station, then driving on to Garda in the Engadine. Because they knew they would be tired, the day after they were only doing the one hour drive from Garda back to Davos to do an all day train ride on the Heidi Express. Some days it seems like everyone in the world has more energy than me. I am writing this on the day after our arrival, after sleeping 10 hours last night, and 5 hours yesterday afternoon, and all I want to do is go back to sleep.

So, instead of a bath and a sleep, we left our luggage and walked down to the lake, then walked along it for an hour. It was probably good for us. Gave us some exercise after being on the plane and some good sunlight to help the jetlag. It was warm. We were wearing jeans and light shirts and were comfortable enough. Some people were in swimming.

For lunch we went to Tibits, the Hiltl owned vegetarian restaurant on Seefeldstrasse above the Opera in the neighborhood of our hotel. We found it for the first time last year. It is inexpensive and the food is very good - a large vegetarian buffet with hot things and cold things. We sat at the large tables outside on the sidewalk. 34.20 CHF (~$25) for two - a small buffet plate (you pay by the weight) and an ice tea. For Switzerland this is very inexpensive for a meal.

Back to the hotel at noon and into bed. Slept until 6pm, then a bath and finally feeling human. The hotel is an old building (from the 1800s) in a neighborhood. The location is really great. We have been to Zurich many times and used to stay downtown. Last year and this year I have enjoyed being in this neighborhood. It is a 20 minute walk to the Bahnhofstrasse, but only 10 minutes to Seefeldstrasse, which is quite lively - full of restaurants and caffes.

We had dinner at Restaurant Hong Kong, where we ate last year. A small, vegetarian Chinese meal (egg drop soup, two vegetable/tofu dishes, rice) for 104 CHF - that is almost $75!! Now I remember why we always stay in vacation rentals in Switzerland and cook our own dinners!

Switzerland feels very prosperous. You look around and everyone seems well-to-do. I think they maintain a very high standard of living here. Zurich is a lovely city. The population is around 340,000, which makes the city feel managable and the airport easy to use. You don't see old cars or scruffy people. You see a few "immigrants" but Switzerland strictly controls their immigration - immigrants are allowed in on temporary work visas. It is not easy to move here. The homes and apartments look lovely, the parks are spotless.

After dinner we walked along Seefeldstrasse and saw another good looking Asian restaurant and a Tibetan restaurant. Back to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Our room is in a corner on the 3rd floor (American 4th) with windows on two walls - three big windows. The windows are that wonderful Swiss style where you move the handle in one direction to open them wide or in another direction to open them just from the top out for air. A big storm came up in the night and the wind was blowing through our room, banging the windows. There was some lightening and thunder, but I didn't notice rain.

Woke up at 8:30 wishing we could sleep longer. Had a good Swiss breakfast in the room - coffee, hot milk, croissants (they call them "gipfel"), rolls, jam, boiled eggs. Connected to the internet to check our business email (TabbySoft). I did not check my email - I have decided to ignore it until we are in Gstaad next week. Earthlink gave us the Switzerland access number, but forgot to tell us to add a zero before the city code. Luckily we guessed that after our first failed attempt to get online. (Plus, don't forget to set your dialer to NOT wait for a dial tone.)

I tried our Italian cell phone (to check our voice mail at home) but all I get is a message in German. It probably has something to do with using the Swiss Orange network from our Italian TIM phone - I shall let our friend Ursula translate the message when we see her tomorrow.

Now we are off for the Bahnhofstrasse and the Old Town to do a bit of exploring before our next sleeping session. By tomorrow we will have finished with all this sleeping and be normal human beings once again.

I am copying this into Blogger - and the Blogger page looks different than from a few days ago - has it all changed?

Here is an excellent article about writing for your blog (I read it on the plane):
10 Tips on Writing the Living Web from A List Apart.

Zurich Hotel

Zurich: Claridge Hotel Tiefenau
Near the Art Museum, above the opera, 10 minutes walk from Old Town and Seefeldstrasse, 20 minutes walk from Bahnhofstrasse. 4 stars.
Very good quality small hotel in an historic building in a residential area. Not much noise from the streets, but on our recent stay we were kept awake one night by helicopters flying overhead (I have no idea what that was about).
We stayed here for two nights in 2002 and again in 2003. Both times we were not able to get into our room before noon, which is understandable because it is a small hotel. Next time I will either book with a larger hotel, or book an extra night. Our room the first time was a good size with a nice bathroom; this trip we had a smaller room with a very small bathroom (in two rooms - one toilet only, one with sink and tub/shower).
My favorite thing about Hotel Tiefenau, besides the excellent location, is that you can have breakfast sent to your room. Coffee, hot milk, a basket of croissants and rolls with butter and jam.

Friday, August 29 - Zurich (Switzerland)

Overcast, raining off and on

I said I was not going to retrieve my email, but of course I did when I was posting the journal. I made it 24 hours without email. However, as I am writing this, it is Monday night and I have not done email since Friday - a new personal best.

Woke up to overcast and rain. We had breakfast in our room and hung around the room until noon, then headed out. First, coffee at Café Odeon, a famous old Zurich café. We sat at outside tables and people-watched. The day was clear for awhile.

Then we walked around Old Town, found a store that sells juggling balls and bought five leather ones for Steve (he juggles). Walked across the river to the more upscale part of Old Town and to the Bahnhofstrasse (the main shopping street that starts at the train station (Bahnhof). Bought handkerchiefs at Sturzenegger (but the selection of women's handkerchiefs was not as good as in previous years - are Swiss hankies finally going out of fashion? - good men's selection, so Steve got four).

As we were walking up Bahnhofstrasse we noticed a new Orell Fussli store that sells only English language books. Usually we go to the main store just off the Bahnhofstrasse and get English language books for the trip, but this branch is all English language books. Apparently the store has been there for four years, and we have managed to miss it on other trips. There was a copy of the Sunday New York Times with the article with the mention of me and SlowTrav in it - very exciting to see that in Zurich (to think of people in Zurich reading about the web site!!). Even more exciting - a new P.D. James mystery!! I bought that and a couple of other light books for the trip.

Orell Fussli - The Bookshop
Bahnhofstrasse 70
Great selection of English language books. Many books from England, titles from the US also.

We went to the Hiltl for lunch. This is a vegetarian restaurant that we go to on most trips to Zurich. The food and selection is excellent. It can be a bit crowded inside, but we got there around 2pm when it was not as full. Had a good lunch.

Today is turning into a total shopping day. Next we went to Jemoli, a big department store and bought very nice quality notebooks for the trip - one for me to tape in my receipts and two smaller ones to carry around to take notes. Walked back down Bahnhofstrasse, stopping at the pastry shop Sprungli to get a few "Luxemburgerli", a small pastry/candy thing they are famous for (small round cookie like tops with different fillings - melt in your mouth sweetness - probably 99% sugar).

There are Starbucks in Zurich!! We saw one on the Bahnhofstrasse and one near Bellevueplatz, by The Odeon. We went into the one on the Bahnhofstrasse and had two short Café Americanos. It was exactly like a Starbucks in the US, except 1) the menu descriptions were in German 2) they had the "short" size (which has been abandoned in the US because it is just too small for us!). Short Café Americano - 4.40 CHF (over $3). They even had a tip jar - in a country where people usually do not tip (but it only had small change in it). They sold really horrible looking muffins - exactly like at home. I can't imagine people going there when the Swiss tea rooms are so wonderful - but the Starbucks was packed with people.

It started to rain and I found out that the shoes I had brought (and also brought on last year's trip) leak when on wet streets. Within a minute my socks were wet. I don't know if I just don't remember this from last year (because I remember wearing them in the rain in Vetralla) or if it didn't happen then. Anyway, a good excuse to buy me some Mephistos which everyone on the board raves about. Everyone says to buy your new shoes a few weeks before your trip to break them in - now I am breaking these in on the trip.

We went back to the hotel for a rest and were about to take an afternoon nap when we realized it was 8pm, so we went out for a light dinner at Tibits (vegetarian buffet) instead.

Zurich Notes
If you have to pay for a public restroom, it is usually 1 CHF (put a coin in the slot in the door to open it).
Taxi from airport to hotel 53 CHF.
Do not tip in restaurants. (You can leave some small change.)
Parking - if blue lines, look for a sign. Sometimes you need your parking disc (you can get one free from the tourist office), sometimes you need to pay at a machine, sometimes it is restricted to permit parking (we saw this in Zurich).
I met a woman on the plane who was going to the Engadine for the hiking. She told me about the Swiss National Park there (this was her first trip to Switzerland). I think some people may be under the mistaken impression that the only hiking in Switzerland is in the National Park. This is wrong - there is hiking in all the mountain towns and in most other areas too. We have not been to the National Park, but from what I read the hiking is good there too, but you do not have to go there for hiking. Hiking in the regular mountain towns would be better because it is nice to do the easy hiking from village to village - you don't get this in the National Park.
I got a new one of those easy back purses for this trip (my other one had worn out). I think it is great to travel with a purse that you don't mind trashing - because they get really trashed up on trips. I left my nice new leather purse at home.
Note to Self: I need to get one big duffel bag to hold all our hiking gear instead of distributing it around all our different bags.

August 30, 2003

Saturday, August 30 - Konstanz (Germany)

Overcast and raining

The good news is that the European heat wave seems to have broken. The bad news is that it feels like winter. Luckily I threw in two more long sleeved t-shirts and a light jacket after I had finished packing mostly summer things.

Breakfast in the room, checked out of the hotel, taxi to EuropeCar. The car was all ready for us - a new C class Mercedes! We had booked a VW Bora size car and, just like last year, they gave us a Mercedes. Last year they gave us an even better model - this year it is the smaller C class, but it still drives great and parking will be easier.

Driving out of Zurich was easy. We followed the signs to the Autobahn, then to Winterthru, then to Konstanz. The driving in Zurich is easy. No one drives that fast and they leave each other plenty of room on the road and they don't beep when you make a mistake (unlike some other countries that I won't mention  ).

Is it just me or does everyone have a problem with those printed out driving directions from the route planning web sites? They are useless!! Last year I used mappy.com; this year maporama.com. They must all come from the same unintelligable database. Who can possibly follow them? To drive in Europe you need to memorize the towns along your route and navigate by town signs. Remember the green signs are pointing to the the Autobahn/Autostrada routes. I started out following my maporama.com directions and could not follow them from the first turn. They list your route by street name and street names are usually impossible to find. Next trip a GPS!!!

We arrived in Konstanz at noon, just a bit behind schedule. We had planned to be at the hotel by noon. We were meeting our friends Ursula and Lionel who live 1 ½ hours north of Konstanz. We try to get together with them every second trip and usually drive up to their town, but they always talk about how much they love Konstanz, so I talked them into meeting us there.

The border into Germany was a bit slow, but they just waved us through. Then the traffic began. It took us and hour of stop and go to get from the border to our hotel - maybe 2 miles. We did manage a wrong turn and it took us 20 minutes to get back on track. By now it was pouring rain. It turns out that the Swiss pour into Konstanz for Saturday shopping. Many things are cheaper in Germany than in Switzerland. But, we also found out, the Germans drive to Switzerland for gas, which is much cheaper there. Our friends told us that the German government subsidizes the gas station owners in Konstanz because everyone goes to Switzerland to buy gas (endangered gas stations!!).

Checked into our hotel (lovely!) and met our friends. Ursula and Lionel are the fastest walkers we know. We are fast walkers, usually outpacing our friends and passing everyone on the streets when we walk, but I can barely keep up with Ursula and Lionel. We walked all over Konstanz, with just a short stop for some soup for lunch, seeing shops, historic buildings, churches, views. The day was turning very cold, so I bought a silk scarf to wrap around my neck (good excuse). I also bought some tea towels (I always buy tea towels when we go to Europe because they are so nice here) and these square towels that you hang in your kitchen to dry your hands. I had not seen those before, but Ursula told me what they were for.

There was a wedding going on in the big church and we waited until it finished. The bride and groom came out and two bands followed them - one German and one Swiss. They went off down the street in a big "marriage parade."

We have known Ursula since we all studied Macrobiotics together for six months in Boston and in the Berkshires in 1987. We spent the whole day walking and talking. Ursula is a high school teacher; Lionel an architect (he builds factories - he was one of the architects who did the Smart Car factory).

For dinner, we went to their favorite restaurant in Konstanz - the restaurant in the Hotel Barbarossa. It was an old-style German restaurant, mostly meat and fish dishes. Steve had fish, I had noodles and mushrooms. Konstanz is famous for its salads. This is the mildest part of Germany and there is an island nearby that grows all the salad ingredients. My salad was really fresh and very good. Restaurants in Germany are much more reasonable that Switzerland. This meal for 4, including wine, was 84 Euro.

Konstanz Notes
Konstanz is a lovely town. Part of it is in Switerland (with a different name) and part in Germany. We were only in the German section. It is on the western edge of Bodensee (also called Lake Constance). The Rhine River comes through the town to the lake and then exits from the other end of the lake. Three countries border the lake: Germany, Switzerland, Austria. A large part of southern Germany gets its drinking water from the lake. There is a pump station that takes the water from 60 meters down. The restaurants in Konstanz serve local fish from the lake. Steve (and Ursula and Lionel) said it was very good.

When I was booking our hotel I was deciding between the Seehotel Siber and the Inselhotel. I chose the Siber, which was a lovely hotel, but it would have been better if I had chosen the Inselhotel. It is closer to town and our friends stayed there. (Our friends are not as "into" email as we are and I could not get them to advise me on a Konstanz hotel, so I gave up and just picked one.)

Konstanz: Seehotel Siber
A Relais & Chateaux hotel, 4 stars
A small hotel in a old villa on the edge of Bodensee (Lake Constance). It is on the walkway that goes along the lake (no cars). 15 minute walk to the restaurants and shops in the town center. Beautiful rooms and a very attentive staff. They have a famous restaurant, but we did not eat there.
Our room was a "lake view", but was on the 2nd floor (US 3rd) and had only a very small "eyebrow" window that looked to the lake. The larger windows looked to the side. Best to stay in the 1st floor lake view rooms, or the 2nd floor room with a lake view balcony.

Konstanz: Inselhotel
www.konstanz.steigenberger.de
5 stars I think, but a similar price to the Seehotel Siber
A large old hotel (used to be a monestary) on the edge of the historic center of town. Excellent location. Our friends always stay here. They say the lakeview rooms are the best, but they can be noisy in summer from the terrace below.

August 31, 2003

Sunday, August 31 - Konstanz (Germany)

Overcast, cool, some rain

All the shops in Konstanz are closed on Sunday. Many close at 2pm on Saturday. When we were out yesterday, the downtown streets were crowded with shoppers. Some of the larger department stores stayed open until 6pm on Saturday.

We met Ursula and Lionel late morning to spend a few hours together before they had to drive home. We took the bus to a nearby famous gardens - Insel Mainau ("insel" means island).
Insel Mainau
These are large private gardens (owned by Swedish royalty) on an island in Bodensee. This is the mildest weather in Germany because of a special microclimate formed by hot springs under the island and the southern location. They grow palm trees and banana trees here - and beautiful huge trees and acres of flowers.

The bus was 1,60 Euro each (for a 10 minute ride) and the garden was expensive to enter (10 Euro each I think). We spent several hours walking around the island - went into the butterfly house, walked around the villa where the family that owns it still live, walked along one of the most beautiful "tree tunnels" I have ever seen. I like gardens, but really don't know much about them, but I think if you are a gardener, this is probably a great place to visit.

Took the bus back to Konstanz and had a late afternoon lunch at an old seaside restaurant. Everyone except me had the local fish and thought it was excellent. The restaurant was Konzil Gaststatten. 70 Euro for the four of us (just water and lunch). Konzil Gaststatten

Ursula and Lionel left and we went back to the hotel for a little rest. Before dinner we walked along the lakeside away from the downtown area. Lots of people were out walking - many with very cute small dogs. We even saw a dog like David's Hildy (dachshund).

For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant that Ursula recommended - The Rambagh Palace, Bruckengasse 1. It is upstairs above the bar we visited the night before. The food was excellent - we had a vegetarian set menu. And inexpensive! 43 Euro for two and we had beer.

The day had been cool - I wore my rain jacket - and it rained on and off, but we never got caught in the rain. One of the staff at the hotel said that last week they were watering the plants because of the drought and this week they were not watering them in case it froze at night!

September 1, 2003

My Notes about Jetlag on This Trip

This was our best trip ever for not suffering as badly from jetlag and I think it is because we were able to sleep on the plane. Last year we had booked Albuquerque - Atlanta - Zurich, but a security incident cancelled our Albuquerque - Atlanta flight, so we ended up doing Albuquerque - Cincinatti - Paris - Zurich. It is best to spend your first two nights in the city in Europe where you first arrive; transferring planes in the early morning is exhausting. Since we flew direct from the east coast to Zurich this time, we were able to sleep and were not so exhausted on arrival (although I was pretty tired). We walked that first morning, but slept all afternoon. After that we did not sleep in the afternoon again, but only at night. On Friday, our first full day, we were tired from getting up in the morning (when the jetlag hits me the hardest), but kept going all day until bedtime. The only affects we felt for the next few days was that it was hard to make ourselves go to bed on time and we were tired when waking, but we will force ourselves to get up early and go out and ADJUST!!

I miss my high speed internet!!

High speed internet and my home computer - that's what I miss. We are connected at 30,000 whatevers. Slow, slow, slow. The Earthlink number is NOT toll free, so I can hear our telephone chargers counter clicking as it turns over every few minutes that I am online. And I think my travel computer is screwed - some Windows error that happens whenever I go online. Steve is going to look at it tomorrow. I am on his computer now. This is not good, because I have a new web client and I have to get some work done this week.

But, we are in Gstaad and it is beautiful - as cold as late autumn, but beautiful! Our apartment is nicer than I imagined - and huge!

I will post more tomorrow. It is midnight and we still are not in bed. Jetlag will be with me for days - or is it just sleep lag because I no longer know when to sleep?

Monday, September 1 - Driving from Konstanz to Saanen (Switzerland)

Overcast, no rain.

Up and out for a walk, then breakfast in the hotel. We were going to go to a café in town because the hotel room did not include breakfast and it was expensive (20 Euro each), but we could not face the long walk to the main piazza (only 15 minutes but Ursula and Lionel had run us off our feet). We have about $100 in old German marks that we wanted to exchange at a bank, but the only bank in the area that would do it was in another town. We will mail those marks to Ursula and she can turn them in.

Loaded up the car and headed out. It took about 3 ½ hours to drive to Gstaad - most of the way on Autobahn. We did manage to get pulled over by the police and get fined!! For something that I should have known - our car did not have an Autobahn sticker!! We have rented cars in Switzerland many times, and they always have that Autobahn sticker on the windsheild. You do not pay tolls on the Autobahn in Switzerland; instead your car has to have a sticker that costs 40 Euro (maybe you can buy cheaper ones for shorter times - I don't know). The sticker looks like the universal highway sign (a green roadway) with the two-digit year. It is usually on the drivers side. When we picked up the car, I forgot to check that the sticker was there (duh!!). When we were driving I assumed it was in this plastic thing under the rearview mirror - with the parking disc - but it wasn't.

The police car pulled in front of us and flashed "Stop Bitte" on its rooftop Police sign. Then they pulled onto the wide shoulder, but they did not slow down and stop. They kept driving. We followed. At one point, I think we could not understand what was going on and we pulled back into the lane, but they did and then they pulled over again. After a few miles, there was a pullout and they pulled in there and we pulled in behind them. They got out, checked Steve's drivers license, the car registration and his International Drivers License. We still didn't know what was wrong. After trying several languages, Steve and the policeman settled on English and he explained what was wrong. We had to pay a 100 Euro fine (in cash) and 40 Euro for the sticker (in cash). We got a receipt (and I will try to get something back from AutoEurope).

Note for the Switzerland driving section: Always check your car windsheild to be sure you have the Autobahn sticker. I will find out where you can buy them.

Konstanz - Bern - 2 hours
Bern - Saanen - 1.5 hours

We had arranged to meet the agency person in front of the Saanen train station at 3pm. We were 20 minutes early. Saanen is a very small town and we found Yvonne easily in front of the train station and then we followed her in our car to the vacation rental.

Our apartment is in a chalet with about six apartments in a group of 3 or 4 chalets just on the outskirts of Saanen. It is a 10 minute walk to the train station from our apartment. We are on the ground floor. The apartment is beautiful! It is quite large - 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, with a modern kitchen open to the livingroom and dining room. Wood floors in most of the apartment. A nice outdoor sitting area. Lots of windows. Comfortable furniture, but not overly fussy. Yvonne said they had turned on the heat just that week - it had been down to nearly 0 celcius.

Saanen is a small town with a few shops. Gstaad is 5 minutes away by car and has a large Coop and a Migros (supermarkets) plus several really nice specialty food stores. We drove into Gstaad and got groceries for dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow. We walked around the main pedestrian shopping area in Gstaad and had apple strudel and coffee (sitting inside because it is still cold). Then home to make dinner. I did not even bother to unpack much.

It is Wednesday night as I am writing this. Last night I was going to write my journal when my computer died!! Not the blue screen of death, but the "I am not going to boot up" screen of "you are in trouble girl". Trouble because I had BIG PLANS for using that computer in the next two weeks. I had spent an hour or two updating the Switzerland section of the web site before the death occurred and I did not lose my work. But instead of writing my journal, I spent the evening copying files from the computer to this cute USB storage device we have (256 mb SanDisk Mini Cruiser) and then copying them from there to Steve's computer - which we will now have to "share". Great.

I will post this and then head to bed. Our connection is very slow and we pay Earthlink for each minute used and the landlord for each minute used. Why can't Earthlink provide a toll free number for access? Earthlink also lists the access number without the leading zero, which you need when dialing in Switzerland. Thanks Earthlink! Luckily we figured this out quickly.

So now I miss my high speed access and my own computer!! (But I am in the Alps and the weather was great today and we went hiking.)

September 3, 2003

Wednesday, September 3 - hiking on Wispile near Gstaad

Sunny and warm

Finally, out hiking in the mountains. We went to the tourist office and bought an Easy Access pass. You buy them for three consecutive days, but can then add on extra days. We bought a 5 day pass figuring we would hike all five days, then do a driving day.

We drove to Gstaad, and to the Wispile gondola, just past Gstaad. Free parking at the gondola, which is a nice change from Grindelwald where you paid to park everywhere.

We did not get an early start - it was noon when we arrived at the top of the gondola, so we started by having lunch. On last year's trip, to Grindelwald and Engelberg, the mountain restaurants were exceptional for lunch (although as a vegetarian I did get tired of rosti or melted cheese sandwiches). But this first restaurant on our Gstaad trip was not great. (All the other ones we have come across have been good - this was just a fluke.) I had a too cheesy rosti, Steve and plain noodles, we both had water and it came to 50 CHF ($35). But we were sitting outside on the terrace with beautiful sunshine and a lovely view to the big mountains beyond, so it was still fun.

From Wispile you either hike straight back down the mountain (too steep), or hike back into the moutains for an hour and then down one side to the Gsteig valley or the other side to the Launen valley. This first hour of the hike was a gentle up and down hill as we walked back over open meadows with incredible views of the valleys below and the big mountains beyond. There was no one else on the trail.

We chose the Gsteig valley and ended up doing an hour hiking down the hill and destroying our downhill muscles (front of thighs, back of calves and the butt). The hike was beautiful and we walked through farmland and woods. We ended up at Fautersoey (we reached a trail intersection with one way for Gsteig, the other for Fautersoey, and chose the latter) on the main road through the Gsteig valley. The bus runs once an hour and we arrived about 10 minutes before it was due.

Or so we thought. I do not wear a watch and Steve only wears one when we travel. It is one of those old Timex watches that you wind and does not keep good time. Turned out we were 20 minutes ahead and could have stopped for the beer that I really wanted after all that sunshine and downhill. This is how you tell when a bus is about to come in rural Switzerland: people arrive at the bus stop. It was just us for 15 minutes, then 5 minutes before the bus about 8 other people arrived. Some were hikers, some were kids from the village heading to Gstaad with their skateboards.

I hiked wearing jeans and a short sleeved t-shirt and was a bit warm. The next day I switched to ligher cotton pants.

On this trip, we brought 1 pair jeans, 1 pair cotton pants, and 2 pairs shorts - figuring we would be in shorts the whole time. Well, on our first hike out, I developed a really ugly heat rash from ankles to knees, thus ruling out shorts for the rest of the trip. This rash always happens to me on longer, hotter hikes - and I always forget about it. It never happens at home, and we do hike there. I think it is something to do with the humidity - I don't know. One time we went straight home from Switzerland hiking and I had a girlfriend (who is a doctor) look at it (it lasts for several days after a hike) and she pronounced it "heat rash". It happens hiking in Colorado too. Sometimes in Santa Fe, I get a little bit of the rash. It probably has to do with the time spent hiking. In Santa Fe, we usually hike for 1 - 2 hours. On these hiking vacations we hike for longer.

Our apartment building has a laundry room with washer and dryer - and they are free (so you are not always saving coins for the machines). I did two loads of laundry this week. I packed planning on doing laundry once a week, but certainly could have packed less for this part of the trip.

Our evenings are usually the same. Back from the hike and we flip on CNN for a bit, then take turns on the computer, then I cook a simple dinner (either noodles and vegetables or rice and vegetables), then more computer or TV or reading. Quite pleasant and you are nice and tired after hiking. The apartment is very comfortable.

Okay, the blog is boring - I know

More interesting posts soon - I promise. Tales of sore feet, a blister!!, very sore legs. I popped into SlowTalk for just a minute today - it is hopeless with this slow connection (which is good, because the connection time is so expensive). I set it up to email me some forum postings - so I can follow along.

Tuesday, September 2 - Language Whiplash as we drive between cantons (Bern to Vaud)

Cold, but sunny and clear

As much as we have been looking forward to hiking, we wake up tired and decide to just go for a drive today. We drove from Saanen down the valley to Chateaux d'Oex. Saanen is only a few miles from the border between the cantons Bern and Vaud - but most importantly this is a border between the German speaking area (Bern) and the French speaking (Vaud). It is only 15 minutes or so by car between Saanen and Chateaux d'Oex.

Once you get into the French part of Switzerland it does feel different. The signs are all in French, people speak French to you instead of German, the towns look different - just slightly different. This last thing is probably more to do with the building restrictions of the canton. The towns in Bern are beautiful and perfect looking - perfect wooden chalets, each window with a window box full of flowers, overflowing gardens with big flowers, sunflowers, vegetable gardens. The French towns are also beautiful, but it a bit more rundown way. The French towns seem to sit more in the mountains than in the valley and are perched on the edge of valley walls. The streets are more narrow, the buildings look different. It just feels a bit more lively, a bit less organized.

We walked around Chateaux d'Oex. It is a small town with a pedestrian main shopping area - a few restaurants, a few cafes. We looked for someplace for lunch, but nothing looked that interesting. The stores were all closed (it was past noon) and there were a few people in the restaurants - the town was very quiet. I had read that this town was more built up with more highrises than Gstaad, but this was not so. It is a pretty town - not very big.

We continued our drive over the mountains to Col des Mosses and on to Le Sepey. On the map this is a red, main road - but in reality it is a winding, narrow mountain road. There were not many cars and the driving was easy, but you went high up into the mountains with steep dropoffs beside the road. We stopped in Le Sepey for a late lunch (rosti with fresh mushrooms for me, fish for Steve). Le Sepey is a very small town perched on the edge of a mountain.

We then took what was supposed to be a minor, yellow road back to Gstaad, but this turned out to be an easy road and is the faster way to get to Le Sepey and then onto Aigle and the Autobahn. This road went along the high mountains of this area. There are some mountain rides from here up to the glaciers. At Gsteig you start down a long gentle valley that ends in Gstaad.

That was our big adventure for the day.

September 4, 2003

Thursday, September 4 - Hiking on Eggli, near Gstaad

Sunny and warm

The pain!! Yikes!! I can barely walk. I am not a person who ever notices steps, but I do now! 7 steps to the front door, 7 more to the basement parking garage, steps in Gstaad on the main promenade. Steps everywhere!! My legs hurt all the time, but even more so on steps.

What we needed today was a level hike - what we got was more downhill (blame me for poor map reading). This time we left from the apartment and took the walking trail to Gstaad (45 minutes and flat). This is a lovely trail along the river, through town outskirts and farms. It went straight to the Eggli gondola station, just outside Gstaad. We rode to the top. This time I had packed a lunch (cold noodles and vegetables from last night's dinner). And this time there was an excellent restaurant at the top of the gondola ride. We stopped and had a bowl of soup. Another time we will have a lunch here.

From the restaurant, we walked for about an hour back into the hills. Again, the hiking choice was either go straight downhill to Gstaad (too short a hike and too steep) or hike back into the hills and then take a more gentle down route. You could hike further back into the mountains here on longer trails. We hiked back for about an hour, then sat on the perfect hillside with a perfect view into the Gsteig valley and had our lunch. We could see the parasailers (those guys who jump off the moutain with a parachute and float down to the town) jumping from Wispile.

Then we did another 1 ½ hours of downhill. It was a gentle downhill, but our legs still hurt. There was no one on the trail - except people on bikes. After the first hour, the trail was along a paved, but unused except for the bikes, road - not the best for walking. The valley we walked down was lovely - farms, even a couple of restaurants, houses scattered along the way. We ended up on our street in Saanen.

After the hike we went into Gstaad (drove) and had coffee. We were considering dinner out, but didn't find anything we wanted, so got some groceries. We located the web cam (on the tourist office) and are going to try for a web cam wave next Wednesday. Chris will be in our house in Santa Fe and she will call me on my Italian cell phone (Wednesday, September 10, 5pm Swiss time, 11am east coast, 9am mountain, 8am west coast). We have our banner with us and Chris will grab a shot. I think it only refreshes every 30 minutes (hour and half hour).

We have not been getting early starts to our days. We still stay up too late at night and then sleep until 9. At least we are sleeping well. And the timing is not that bad - we have a leisurly morning, coffee and toast in the apartment, then head out around 11 or noon.

Under the "more information than you really need" category: When hiking, I always have to nip off into the woods for a pee. It is such a dilema - I need the coffee in the morning to get me awake and going, then I have to pee several times on the hike. My bladder can sense when I am somewhere not near a restroom. Usually there are restrooms at the gondola rides and on the trails it is easy to find a place to nip off to.

September 5, 2003

Friday, September 5 - Steve's posting

Note: Steve's first post on the blog!!

A tired "down" day after two days of good hikes. Strolled into Saanen for coffee and kuchen then picked up some groceries (found a good, small natural foods store). At "home", a lady came and knocked at the French doors on our terrace. She said she saw the Italian license plates on our car and wanted to know if we could change some Euro for her. We explained we were not really Italian, just driving a car licensed in Italy. However, we did have some Euro. We pulled some bills out which she quickly waved away saying those are all the same!

Within a few minutes we understood: the woman was from Holland and wanted to change Dutch Euro coins for Italian ones; the Euro coins are the same on the "amount" side ("tails" side, inverse, I think) for all countries in the Euro zone ("Euroland") but the "front" ("heads" side, obverse?) has a unique design in each country for each coin denomination.

The lady's children apparently love collecting the Euro coins of other Euroland countries and the Italian ones are, of course, exceptionally beautiful. We were able to provide about 5 or 6 Euro in various denominations from last year's trip. We had some German Euro coins from earlier in the trip (our visitor had no interest in those) and now we also have some Dutch Euro coins, the ones we acquired in exchange for our Italian ones.

My notes on pronunciation of the word Euro (in all cases singular and plural are the same words):
In German, you say OY-roh.
In Italian, you say EH-oo-roh.
In French, you say uh-ROH (sort of rhymes with furrow, but with accent on second syllable).

For the coins:
In German, you call them cent - pronounced sent.
In French, you call them cent - pronounced sahnt.
In Italian, you call them centesimi - pronounced chehn-TEH-zee-mee.

Friday, September 5 - we did nothing today

Overcast, rain on and off

I spent the day transferring my email from Eudora on my non-working computer to Outlook on Steve's computer - something I had been meaning to do for months (transfer from Eudora which crashes frequently to Outlook, not transfer from my computer to Steve's). And reading Pompeii by Robert Harris - a very good junk read about the days before Vesuvius erupted and the eruption itself (what he thought it would have been like in Pompeii).

Vacation Rental Review - Apartment Hitismatte, Gstaad (Switzerland)

Apartment Hitismatte, booked through a local Gstaad agency, Sicking Immobilien (www.sicking.ch).
2bed/2bath ground level apartment

The apartment is in a chalet with six apartments in a complex of a few chalets just outside of Saanen (5 minute walk to train station) in an area of farms and residential houses. The complex is beside a small sawmill/lumber yard, but the apartment is not near it and we did not hear noise from the sawmill. (I was concerned that we were close to a noisy sawmill, but as we travel around this area I realize that lumber must be one of the main businesses here because there are small sawmills everywhere. We have been here several days now and not heard anything from the sawmill.)

The master bedroom is the typical two single beds joined together (with a gap between them) and bathroom with two sinks and a tub/shower (good deep tub, plenty of hot water). Large wardrobe and shelves for your clothes. The second bedroom is two sets of bunk beds and bathroom with shower. So, the setup would be good for a couple or a couple with children, but not for two couples. Large living room / dining room / kitchen area all wood floors (low carpet in bedroom, tile in bathroom). Large entrance way with places for coats and hiking gear, bench to sit on. Outdoor patio with a few chairs. French doors from living room to patio, windows on two sides of living area (very bright) and on two sides of master bedroom (very bright). Views to fields with chalets and mountains beyond (not spectacular views, but very nice views). Bright and sunny and very spacious feeling. A few cats live in the area and drop by to visit.

Good quality and comfortable furnishings. Two large comfy couches, cable TV with CNN, BBC, NBC (and Italian, German, Swiss, and French channels). Bathrooms in good shape, but a touch "70's-ish". Great European style bathtub (long, narrow, deep). Excellent kitchen (dishwasher, oven, electric stovetop, coffee maker, electric kettle, microwave, medium size fridge, good pots and pans, lots of plates and utensils).

Recommended. The only improvement would be a double bed instead of the two singles. And if you were higher up instead of ground level, you would have a better view. But the quality of the furnishings and kitchen makes up for this. Also the price is good - 750 CHF per week ($550). They said they wanted an 800 CHF deposit, but they did not ask for it when we arrived. Payment was half by wire transfer at time of booking, half in cash on arrival (you don't have to pay on the day you arrive - you can go to their office to pay later in the week). This is my favorite kind of vacation rental - it is the second home for the owners so it is well equipped, but you don't feel like you are moving into someone's house with no room for your things. It is well setup.

When you stay in Switzerland, at a hotel or a vacation rental, you pay a daily "tourist tax". Usually you pay the landlord and they pay the tourist office, but this time Yvonne who checked us in said we should go and pay at the tourist office (which seems to make a lot of sense). So we went and declared ourselves and paid 2.80 CHF each per day (14 days, 2 people = 86.80 CHF).

Notes about Saanenland

Motto for Gstaad: Come Up - Slow Down
Symbol for Saanen: A goat
Written phrase you see as you leave town or exit the mountain rides: See You
Languages spoken: German, French, English - in that order usually. We have heard many people speaking French. Menus are in German and French (sometimes with English).

Gstaad, Saanen and Schonried are three towns in a large valley surrounded by big ski hills, with huge mountains behind. I think the town Zweisimmen is also included in Saanenland, but it is down a valley towards Thun. The valley opens up at Schonried.

I thought Gstaad might be a larger town and busy, so booked in Saanen instead, but Gstaad is a sleepy resort. It would have been fine to stay there. Saanen is smaller and is only 40 minutes walk or 5 minute drive from Gstaad.

Hiking: In this immediate area there are five different gondolas up to hiking areas - Wispile and Eggli near Gstaad; Horneggli and Rellerli near Schonried; Rinderberg near Zweisimmen. You can purchase an "Easy Access" card at the tourist office for 3 days for 28.50 CHF. This allows you on all gondolas plus the train between the towns and some buses. Buses go up two valley from Gstaad (Gsteig and Lauenen) and one near Zweisimmen (Sparenmoos).

The hiking is different here than in other Swiss mountain towns we have stayed in. In Grindelwald, for example, most of the mountain rides leave from town so you start out and end up in town. Also the mountains are bigger, so you can do hikes across the top, middle or bottom of the mountains. Here the mountains are lower and do not go up to alpine areas, so the gondola rides are shorter and you end up hiking down from the mountain, instead of across. There are some hikes that go across at alpine level, but you end up in another town and then bus or train back to your start.

We have only hiked twice so far, so I can't completely judge. So far the hikes have not been as well signed as in other areas we have hiked. But they are well enough signed and the towns are great here.

Hey, Everyone Smokes (or so it seems)

One thing we have noticed from the beginning is how everyone smokes (or so it seems). People smoking in restaurants, in cafes. Cafes with an ashtray on every table. It is shocking being in restaurants that are filled with smoke. Luckily you can sit outside in most places.

September 6, 2003

A Few Notes about Slow Talk

I am having several forums emailed to me each day and it is fun to read the posts, but frustrating to not be able to reply. It is just too expensive and too slow to go online here. We found a few internet cafes in town, but have not tried them yet - and probably won't use them much. As long as I can do my email on the computer in the apartment, that is good enough.

A past member of the message board is posting on About.com about our message board saying how we are not the experts we claim to be (and he likes to refer to me with my full name so everyone will know who he is talking about - he has not included my phone number - yet). You know, we never claimed to be experts on Italy. In fact, Slow Travelers is about vacation rentals - it is not a general travel information oriented web site. On the site, I recommend my favorite guidebooks for real information on different countries.

Slow Travelers is about how to find and book vacation rentals, and that is the focus of the message board too. It is great to have other topics come up, and we can all discuss these things together, but if there is anything the moderators are "experts" on it is finding and booking vacation rentals. Each moderator was selected because this is how they travel. The moderators role is not to be the "expert" but to point people to the web site when questions are answered there and to generally help people find answers.

No we are not sophisticated world travelers - staying in vacation rentals is sometimes just one step up from camping. I have not been to that many countries. I haven't even seen much of Italy. But I have stayed in many vacation rentals and I do know how to find and book vacation rentals and what you can expect from them. As I have said repeatedly, many of our regulars have way better travel information than we moderators do.

Saturday, September 6

Overcast but warm, some rain

The best day of the trip so far - but I will post about it tomorrow. We did a wonderful hike!!

I have been posting my day's journal by date, so sometimes the more recent postings are
further down the blog. This will all get settled once I get caught up!! Tomorrow!!

Saturday, September 6 - hiking from Horneggli to Rinderberg

Overcast and warm

We slept late again. I am giving up on the idea of long hiking days here and giving in to catching up on a year of missed sleep and hiking in the afternoons. Today we drove the car to the next town over - Schonried - and parked at the Horneggli gondola. Again, free parking. Things are much less crowded and more casual here than in Grindelwald. There are never lines for the mountain rides here, or anywhere in Switzerland that we have been. The only time we ever saw a long line for a gondola was 15 years ago in France - Chamonix.

The mountain rides are pretty short here. For example, the Horneggli goes from 1230 meters to 1770 meters. This was a chairlift with a plastic bubble cover to protect you from the elements. The ride was lovely, up over pastures and woods with great views of the area. We were not sure what we were going to do today - I had thought maybe we would do a 2 hour hike back down to Saaenmoser, the next town from Schonried, and then walk back. We looked at the trail signs and realized we could easily do a high level walk from the top of this mountain ride to the top of the Rinderberg gondola from Zweisimmen, a town about 15 minutes drive from Schonreid.

What a great hike! We saw more people on the trail today than we had seen all week. I think because it was Saturday and people from all over Switzerland come up into the mountains at the weekend. At the top of the Horneggli chairlift is a restaurant, but we weren't hungry, so we hit the trail. Did a gentle uphill for 30 minutes and came to a group of houses and restaurants which you must be able to drive to (there were cars parked). This would be the place to go for a nice lunch in the mountains. There were about five restaurants.

In a big field a group of Swiss guys were playing some type of game. One guy bats and then there is a row of guys with these huge paddles that they throw up to block the ball. They are spread out in a field the size of a football field. Nothing much happened. Someone batted the ball, someone threw up their paddle and hit it, they all walked off the field.

From this area we walked for an hour along what we call a "pony trail" - level dirt roadway. Easy walking, which was just what we needed - exercise, but not downhill. We passed lots of people. Some in full hiking gear like us (boots, poles, packs), some very nicely dressed, casual jackets, loafers, smoking (these, I assumed, were French hikers). After an hour, the trail goes uphill along a ridge for another hour. Uphill walking was a relief after the pain of downhill the days before. 10 minutes before we got to the other gondola, we were on top of a hill where it felt like the top of the world. We could see the Lenk valley below, back to the Gstaad valley where we had started the hike, across to huge moutains in the direction of Berne I think and towards the Grindelwald mountains (I think we saw the Jungfrau). The only downside to this hike, was the intense smell of cow s**t for part of the hike - but what can you expect when walking through farm fields?

The hike from one mountain ride to the other was about 2 ½ hours, then we took the gondola down to Zweisimmen. This was a long gondola, more like the ones in Grindelwald. We arrived at the bottom, a couple of blocks from the train station, 4 minutes before the next train. We didn't make it. The train runs sort of every hour (sometimes in 50 minutes, sometimes in 1 ½ hours). The next one was in 50 minutes. It started to rain, so we put on our rain jackets and found a tea room. I had my requisite hot chocolate for the trip, Steve had coffee and we both had cake - well earned after the last hour of uphill on the hike.

Took the train back to Schonreid. Our Easy Access pass covered both mountain rides and the train. On the train we just showed the pass. The train was very comfortable - padded seats with lots of room (this was a second class car). They came around and offered drinks and snacks from a menu. We almost got off at the wrong station, but someone screamed out to the conductor for us and we found out where we were and we hoped back on the train.

This area is full of gondolas and chairlifts, but only about ¼ of them are open for summer hiking. From the train I saw a chairlift with the same name as the one we took, so I assumed the next station was ours. Turns out several of the chairlifts have the same name because they go up to the same place and the next stop wasn't ours. But the one after was (which I would have known if I had consulted my schedule).

We drove into Gstaad and had an early dinner of pizza - not great, but not too bad. An Italian pizza chef and a wood burning oven, but the crust just was not as good as you get in Italy. Still, beer and pizza was a fun end to the day - our first dinner out in Gstaad.

September 7, 2003

Sorry, I only speak English

I feel literally tongue-tied here. I never get to speak (so, instead, I blog). The sentence I say most often "Do you speak English?". Steve just starts speaking in French (many people speak French in this area), then switches to German if he gets a blank stare. If we are in a café and Steve has been speaking to the waitress, then he leaves me to pay the bill, the waitress starts speaking to me and all I can say is "Sorry, I only speak English." Sometimes they then switch to English. Luckily I can read numbers, so I am able to pay the bill.

Why I love the Germans

Because they come in fat, regular and slim sizes, just like us Americans. Because they wear blue jeans, all the time. Because they wear running shoes. Because their new literature is really good. Because they are very prominent in the environmental movement. Because people ride bikes as transportation. Because they have bike paths and walking trails every where.

When we were to meet our friends in Konstanz, I was debating whether or not to wear our running shoes and finally decided to wear them because we figured we would do a lot of walking. We met them and they were both wearing running shoes. Ursula was even wearing shorts. (Our joke is that you can always tell when an American is on vacation - he is wearing shorts! I find the longer I live in the US, the more I like wearing shorts - especially on vacation!)

Switzerland is the place to go to avoid tourists

The Swiss mountain towns are full of tourists, but they are European tourists. We have seen other North Americans maybe twice in a week. Grindelwald and Zermatt are popular with Americans, but the rest of the mountain towns are touristed by other Swiss, Germans and Brits. Now I have nothing against North American tourists - I love running into other Americans in Europe and always strike up a conversation if I can - but it really is fun to be somewhere with no other Americans.

Sunday, September 7 - Sunday lunch and Trottie!

Warm, sometimes sunny, sometimes overcast

We added it up and we have spent over 15 weeks in Switzerland since our first visit in 1988 (and our second visit wasn't until 1996). On this trip we decided to spend two weeks in Gstaad, even though we didn't know the area, because it was just easier to book it that way (I was so busy with work this spring, that I had to take the easy way out for booking much of this trip). Originally we thought one week in Gstaad and one week in Pontresina, but I could not find a vacation rental that I liked the look of in Pontresina (except for one which was booked, but we will try it next time), so we booked two weeks here.

Even picking a vacation rental in Gstaad was time consuming this year. I was using the vacation rental data base on the Gstaad tourism web site www.gstaad.ch and had made a short list. I emailed one of the owners with a few questions, got an answer to one question but not the other, emailed him back, never heard from him again. I was about to try with the others on my short list, when the Gstaad Tourism database went down, and did not get back up for several months. I reported the problem and they said it was working for them, but I did not get it to work again until I check a few weeks before we left (and it was working again). They said it must be some problem in the US (nice try).

Earlier, they had faxed me a list of agencies, so, I contacted them. One agency sent me a listing that was the same one I got from a US agency (Villas International, I think) which was supposed to be a good quality place but was twice the price I expected. I have rented a lot in Switzerland and know how things are priced, plus I had seen prices for Gstaad rentals on the tourist office database. When Villas International sent me the listing (after waiting two weeks from my original inquiry), I figured it was so expensive because they had added on a huge commission. But the price from the local agency was not that different. However the local agency sent (by email) much better pictures and I was able to see that the view from the balcony was of public tennis courts (with mountains beyond). I didn't want to look out onto tennis courts, so we booked with another local agency and got the apartment we are in.

We located that expensive apartment and it not only looks right onto the public tennis courts, but also to the big skateboarding area used by the local kids, and the train tracks run right behind the apartment. The location is just a block from the main promenade in Gstaad - but who wants to look out on tennis courts and a concrete skateboarding park for that price? It was about $1500/week! Our place is just over $500/week.

So that is how we ended up in Gstaad for two weeks - laziness and the inability to decide. On several trips we have spent two weeks in one location (usually on our longer trips). The only time I ever regretted spending two weeks instead of one, was in Sorrento, because our apartment was not that nice and we did not love the area as much as we thought we would. Two weeks lets you really settle into a place. You don't feel like you have to be out and about every day hiking or touring. Especially in Switzerland where you can get bad weather and miss hiking days - it is nice to have the extra time. We will have been here one week tomorrow and instead of packing up, we are planning a day trip to Montreaux.

Today was sunny in the morning, but then overcast on and off throughout the day. We thought we would have an easy day and not put on hiking boots and packs, but just put on walking shoes and head out. We left around noon and walked to the Eggli gondola just outside Gstaad (35 min walk). Rode the gondola up and had a Sunday lunch sitting on the sun terrace of the restaurant there. Steve had fresh trout, I had an omelette. There were lots of people having lunch. We sat at a picnic-style table and looked out to the Gsteig valley with the huge mountains beyond. Beautiful! 65.70 CHF for two (water, salad, omelette, fish, coffee) - about $45.

After a leisurely lunch, we were either going to just gondola it back but we decided to try the Trotti scooters. We have seen these all over Switzerland, but never tried them. You rent them at a top gondola station and ride them down the mountain, usually on paved roads. It cost 15 CHF to rent them. It was all very casual; you handed over the money, he handed you a helmet and pointed at the scooters, then at the sign you had to follow. Trottis are just big scooters - no seat, handlebars with breaks, a place to put both your feet as your roar downhill.

Steve took to it right away and was off down the gravel hill. It took me awhile to feel comfortable, so I rode the brakes and got off frequently. But when we reached the paved road after about 10 minutes it was great. We whizzed down the hill on a long winding paved road. At the bottom we had to scoot along a flat area to get back to the gondola where you turn in the bikes. I wanted to go to the Wispile gondola (nearby) and ride the Trotti down from there, but it was getting too late in the afternoon. The gondolas all stop running at 5pm - it was 3:30 - not enough time to get up and ride back down. Plus, I was feeling the ride! I figured these Trotties were a waste of time because you get no exercise, but I think you do get some and, boy, are they fun!! What is next, parasailing?? (Steve says "no way" - because I am terrified of heights and he thinks I will back out at the last minute. I figure I could do it.)

After returning the Trotties, we walked into Gstaad, had coffee and cake (yes, again!! - 15.50 CHF for coffee and cake for two) then walked home. Nice dinner at home and I am doing laundry. What a great weekend. Plus I started the latest Ian Rankin mystery - must go read it now!!

September 8, 2003

Monday, September 8 - day trip to Gruyeres

Overcast, clouds on the mountaintops, sunny off and on, warm

This was to be the big road trip day!! We went into Saanan for breakfast (Fruhstuck) at a café (24 CHF for two - 2 coffees each and a basket of bread and croissants). There are two cafes in town, both small and nice.

We got gas (we were just below ½). The small Mercedes (C Class) seems to get good mileage - this was the first time we filled up on this trip. Gas is cheaper in Switzerland than in Germany (1.35 CHF / liter for unleaded). It took us a few minutes to figure out the automatic payment machine, but we ended up just pushing in a credit card and everything worked. 46.39 CHF for just over ½ tank.

It took about 20 minutes to drive to Gruyeres, in the Fribourg canton. I had read about this town in my Michelin guidebook and have always liked their cheese, so thought we would drop in here on our way to the Autobahn and then Montreaux .

We spent our whole day in Gruyere and never made it to Montreaux. We got a late start and didn't reach Gruyere until noon (story of this whole week!). Then we had a long walk around and a long lunch and a long museum visit - - and the day was over! Gruyere is a "tour bus town"!! It is an old village with a castle, set up on a hill overlooking the river and valley - just like an Italian hilltown! There is a series of parking lots outside of town. The closest parking lot was full (cars and tour buses), so we parked in the next one and climbed up the hill to the town. The town is very small, but really cute - and all about tourists! Cheese and chocolate shops, hotels, restaurants (all serving fondue and raclette), touristy shops. The streets are cobblestone, every building is covered in overflowing window boxes (beautiful). We walked around town, looked at the view from the castle walls, walked around the castle (did not go in because sometimes these "must sees" really bore me), then went for lunch.

We picked a good looking place with a large outdoor terrace so we could watch the town action. We still did not see any other Americans - mostly German and French speaking tourists. I had my fondue for the trip and it was excellent - a pot of bubbling cheese with a big pile of potatoes to dip into it. Steve (not a cheese lover) had a local fish. Every single restaurant displayed the price of fondue and raclette outside - and they were all the same (21 CHF fondue, 26 CHF raclette). Price fixing - - or finely tuned competition. My fondue did not come with pickles - they had to be ordered separately (and I did) - so I see how they keep their prices down.

Being in the French speaking region, my own knowledge of French comes flooding back and I almost feel fluent. Seven years of French in school in Canada were not wasted!! If I needed the door closed, or the window opened, I could easily express myself! I could also tell someone my name!!

After lunch, we went to the local museum. Museum HR Giger. This is a Swiss surrealist who won an Oscar for the set design of the movie "Alien". What an odd location for this type of museum. We had no idea it was here, but are both big fans of science fiction, so we went in. Many, many paintings of "Alien" themes. Many images of penises and female butts - and many different things going into the latter. Strange renditions of nipples (some as tongues, some as knives). Really, really creepy and odd, yet also interesting.

We saw a movie recently, "Max", which was a story of Hitler as a young man - the story was that he was an artist who had created a whole world in paintings (the world he eventually created in Germany), but he decided that since he was rejected as an artist, he would approach politics as art (and create his dream world). Well, Giger has created a whole world in these paintings - a futuristic, half machine - half human, world. Some paintings were of cities, some of "people".

It was getting late, so we decided to skip Montreaux and drove back home. Stopped at Chateau d'Oex for groceries (they have a large Coop). Also walked around the town again (very small). I bought some Swiss icecream at the Coop - excellent! Simple dinner at home (leftovers).

I have started a new web site job and am in that wonderful beginning phase where all the design ideas are floating around my head. I will have to work a couple of days this week to get the first phase done on this project before we go to Italy. Steve read about a big storm predicted for tomorrow for northern Italy; if we get bad weather here I can declare it a working day. Today is the first day of our second week here - we leave for Levanto one week today. I have a few good hikes picked out and maybe we will get to Montreaux (or maybe we will just have a day in nearby Lenk).

Reading the International Herald Tribune

We have been getting the International Herald Tribune every day (3.80 CHF). I enjoy reading this paper. Here are some recent highlights.

Martin Amis has a new book out this month; his first novel since The Information (which was brilliant).

French author Bernard-Henri Levy has book out about Daniel Pearl (the American journalist murdered in Pakistan after 9/11) - "Who Killed Daniel Pearl?" The English translation is out this week. It is a novel, but based on real events and his research, in the tradition of Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood." Levy is a non-practicing Jew and is "anti-anti-American".

Recent article "On the road, Britons "drink and drink and drink". An article about how young Brits are getting cheap weekend flights to Prague where they can drink all weekend cheaper than in London. A few quotes: "…then explained his vacation goals: "Get drunk, I suppose; have some drinks and have a good time." "Drunk and aggressive, in drag or wearing only underpants, they spend weekends staggering in packs from bar to bar near Wenceslas Square." Maybe I will postpone that trip to Prague for now.

September 9, 2003

Tuesday, September 9 - a day off in Saanen

Overcast, raining all day

Woke up to grey skies, clouds over the mountain tops and rain. So we took the day off. Steve read and I worked. I got to put in several good hours on the new web site I am doing. The electricity went out for an hour in the afternoon (but I worked on battery). This happens to us all the time in Italy, but has never happened in Switzerland. We called the agency and Yvonne was going to come over, but was busy for the next hour. We found a switch box, but it was those old kind of fuses (the glass ones) and we were not sure what to do. Then the electricity came back on. Turned out it was off for the whole building and there had been a notice posted on the front door (but we had not seen it because we came in through the garage yesterday). We called Yvonne and told her she did not need to come.

We did leave the apartment - and I drove for the first time this trip! The car drives really well and driving here is very easy (roads are not crowded, drivers are not aggressive - so I cope well). I drove into Gstaad and we got the paper, a few groceries and then went to our now favorite café (Café Charly at the Saanen end of the promenade in Gstaad) for coffee and cake. We got the last table - the place was packed. A crowded Swiss café on a cold, rainy day is quite a scene - families, couples, old people, young people, smokers, non-smokers - everyone having coffee, tea, hot chocolate and lovely cakes.

I forgot to mention in my apartment review that we have secure parking in an underground garage shared by all the apartments. They even gave us a key to the mail box so we could get our mail (we are only here for two weeks!) and put our name (well, my name, not Steve's) on the mailbox, the doorbell by the front door of the building and on the buzzer by our apartment door! This was very helpful for finding our way back the second day.

September 10, 2003

Rural Switzerland - cats in every field

We have been seeing cats every day. If you are walking by a field, look closely. There will be a cat sitting out in the middle of it, watching, watching for anything that moves so it can leap on it and kill it. One cat per field. Lots of cats in windows too - well looked after cats.

Dear Conde Nast Traveler, please cancel my subscription

And could you take back my September issue too?

I have never been a big fan of this magazine but I got a free subscription for some reason and the renewal is really cheap so I keep renewing it. No more! This September issue has given me so many reasons to cancel.

- The cover story "Adrien's Excellent Adventures", about a movie star and his travels (Adrien Brody) - am I supposed to be interested in his travel because he is a movie star? This is more fitting for People magazine.

- The column Great Drives, this month written by actress Catherine O'Hara, who I really like in movies, but she can't write! A two day trip report of her and her sisters driving around the French coast near Mont-St-Michel. They go to a spa, ride gocarts, drive so much that the car breaks down, and skip Mont-St-Michel because they can't find a parking spot. Who cares?

- The article "Trading Places - What if, instead of leaving at week's end, you could make this Tuscan view - this life - your own?" which is an over written trip report of one week in a vacation rental in Tuscany. Here is a sample: "I no longer get lost in the house. Part of me likes knowing my way around so soon: It means I've gone native." Huh? The only good thing about the article is that they booked with Martin's Italian Vacation Villas www.villasitalia.com. They also mention the movie "Under the Tuscan Sun" about to be released. Coincidence - or are the magazine and the movie studio owned by the same corporation?

- The pages of fashion ads - save it for Vogue guys! The ads in general - must be more than 50% of the magazine.

Wednesday, September 10 - low level hike from Saanen to Gstaad to Gsteig

Overcast on and off, sunny then cold and overcast, rain at the very end

Hiking today we wore long sleeved t-shirts and jeans, needed sweatshirts sometimes, polartec vests needed after the hike.

Hit the trails by the crack of 12:45pm! Okay, okay - we are giving new meaning to SLOW! But we did a wonderful hike. Because it was overcast and because we got a late start, we did a low level hike today (meaning we did not take any mountain rides to the trails). Right from our apartment, we walk to Gstaad (30 minutes) - part on a quiet side road, part on a lovely trail along the river. From Gstaad we follow that river all the way up the valley to Gsteig. It is only slightly uphill (a total gain of 120 meters). The hike was 2.5 hours from Gstaad (so 3 hours in total). The trail follows quiet side roads, or trails along the river or trails through farmer's fields.

Sometimes when we are hiking, the trail takes you right by a house. Someday, I am sure, the hiking guide will read: "Follow the trail in through the front door, left at the kitchen, then out the back door."

Years and years ago (1988) we hiked in this area and were "attacked" by two male cows. We were in the middle of a big field full of cows, but these two guys up on the hill were snorting and tail switching and watching us. Very different from all the female milk cows who eat grass and occassionally look up when you walk by. These guys started running down the hill straight for us. There was nothing we could do. We were too far from the fence to make a run for it, so we stood our ground and stared right at them. They ran to within a foot of us and then each veered off - one to the left, one to the right. I was shaking! We hoofed it out of that field.

I think of those guys when hiking here.

Today's hike took us through many fields of cows, through lovely woods and up high into the meadows full of little flowers. We had lovely views of the big mountains behind Gsteig.

We needed to make the 16:07 bus from Gsteig to get to Gstaad in time for our 17:00 webcam date. We got to Gsteig with time enough for a coffee at a café and then hopped on the bus. We did not have Easy Access passes today - the bus ride was 6.60 CHF each (the Easy Access pass is 9.50 CHF per day).

In Gstaad, we got the paper then went to the tourist office to buy Easy Access passes for our last four days (I have the hikes all planned out) and to tell them we were going to stand in front of their webcam with a banner. Swiss people never seem to get very excited or interested in things that we tell them (well, not just Swiss people). I gave them a few SlowTrav cars. She went and talked to the computer guy and he said the webcam refreshes every 15 minutes.

So we went and stood at the spot Chris figured would be best. We held up our banner and Chris phoned on the cell phone. We talked while we stood there and she watched the webcam. It updated in a few minutes. We could see people looking at us from the tourist office window beside the webcam. It updated a few more times in the next 15 minutes - so I think they were helping us out. You cannot tell if it is taking a photo - we only knew because Chris would tell us. I knew not many SlowTrav people would be watching - because it is not as exciting as the Sorrento webcam. But it was fun - although we felt pretty stupid standing there with our banner. As soon as Chris said she had a shot of us, Steve wanted to put the banner away. I convinced him to stand there for longer - and we did hold up the banner one more time - but by 5pm it was getting really cold and we had been standing there for 10 minutes, so we left.

Picked up some rolls at the bakery to eat on the way home. They have these bread-like pretzel things cut in half and spread with butter. We got them and a whole wheat croissant (gipfel). Ate them as we walked home (30 minutes). It started pouring rain for the last 10 minutes, but we had our raincoats in our packs.

Our packs were heavy for this walk - a quart of water each, rain coats, polartec vests, polartec sweaters - doesn't sound like much, but it adds up! This is probably the reason we are so tired (hiking with that extra 10 pounds).

This morning I checked our voice mail and there was a message from a writer at the New York Times!! Be still my heart!! She left a number, but I could not make out her name or what she wanted. I called her after the hike and we talked. She was writing an answer about hiking in Tuscany for the travel Q&A column and had found SlowTrav, then found the mention of us in the recent NY Times. We talked about hiking in Tuscany (I think it is possible, but is better in Switzerland and England). She said the column will be in the Sunday, September 28 edition (but may get pushed back). I tried to convince her to visit the message board, but she said the column had to be done in a couple of days and she didn't have the time.

Still, another mention in the NY Times!! And, hopefully, another link from the NY Times web site to us!!

A (very) Few Words of Swiss-German

In the Swiss-German speaking part of Switzerland (most of the country), the standard greeting is "Greuzi" (the "u" has an umlaut over it - two dots - but we can't type it into Blogger). Approximate pronunciation: GREW-tzih, with distinct regional variations. Although we did not see it this year, Zurich airport has in the past greeted you with large signs saying only "Greuzi". As you pass other hikers on the trails, you frequently hear (and should respond with) this greeting. I have read that it is something of a national game to try to identify a person's home region, or even village, from their pronunciation of Greuzi. I like to think I can make them hesitate a few moments before labelling me as a foreigner on the basis of uttering one word which I have spoken innumerable times.

Some alternate greetings you also encounter are "Gruss Gott" (greetings from God - also common in Germany) and the standard German "Gutten Tag" (listen for the ending sound, "tahk").

Some commonly used words are borrowed from French: "Merci" for thank you, "Adieu" (pronounced more like ah-DEH) for goodbye, and "Voila" for there you go. The standard German "Auf wedersehen" and "Danke" also work for goodbye and thank you.

The word "mitenand" (MIT-uhr-nahnd) is often added to include more than one person. Examples are: "Greuzi mitenand" and "Merci mitenand" (kind of like "hello y'all" or "thank y'all" but more formal).

Now you have the vocabulary you need for the hiking trails!

September 11, 2003

Thursday, September 11 - Wispile to Launen

Overcast, low clouds, rain on and off (mostly on) all day long

Second anniversary of the 9/11 attack. We were in Italy on 9/11. We had arrived in Sorrento, from the US, the day before. That was the first year for SlowTalk, our message board. A lot of people had planned trips to Italy and cancelled them. There were a lot of discussions about whether or not people felt comfortable traveling. I have never decided if it was better that we were out of the country during that time. We did not obsess over the CNN coverage, like we would have if we were at home, but we really felt isolated and far from home. It was at least a year until I could even speak of 9/11. I never did finish my trip report for that year's trip. On that trip, in early October, we had our first SlowTrav GTGs. About 25 people came to a catered lunch at our vacation rental in Tuscany. The week before we had 8 people for a potluck lunch at the same place.

But back to the present. We woke up to heavy overcast - clouds down over the mountain tops. I had planned a gondola ride followed by a 2.5 hour hike at high level to a place where we would ride Trottis down to Zwiesimmen, but this was not going to work in the rain. I suggested a day in Montreaux (picturing shoping, cafes, a nice lunch, maybe even sunshine at the lower level location) and was dressed and ready to go when Steve spotted a break in the clouds and said hiking might be possible. So we changed to hiking clothes and drove to Wispile (I drove again - practising my Swiss driving) where we would hike from a higher level down to a lower level.

The gondola was not running!! Steve went and talked to them and found out that they will start it up when someone comes - not many people out today. So we took the gondola up into the clouds. It was not raining, but was cold. Today we wore turtlenecks, polartec vests and rainjackets. I wished I had packed gloves and wool hats!

We hiked from Wispile to Launen. Our first hike in this area, one week ago yesterday, was from Wispile to Gsteig. Gsteig is in the valley on one side of Wispile, Launen is in the valley on the other side. For an hour we walked back from Wispile. It started to rain, then it turned to a downpour. We sheltered under some big trees and had lunch (cold rice and vegetables from the night before - looked boring when I packed it up last night, tasted fabulous on the trail). In case we had to spend the rest of the year sheltering under those trees, we planned where we would put the hot tub and which space was which room (the space without cow s**t would be the dining room).

The rain let up and we didn't have to spend the rest of the year there. We hiked back following the same trail as the week before, except this time all we saw was cloud instead of the incredible views to the valleys below and the mountains beyond that we had last time.

After an hour we got to a fork where we turned left this time, to go to Launen. For the next hour we walked straight downhill - well not straight, but 20 foot long switchbacks all down the hill. If we did not have our hiking poles (thanks to Jonathan who recommended them last year), this hike would have been much more difficult. The trail was very narrow and muddy and steep and in woods. I saved myself from slipping about three times.

It started to rain heavily again. We made our way down the hill, out of the woods to a more gentle downhill through open fields. If it had not been raining, this would have been a beautiful hike (but with a bit too much downhill).

We ended up in Launen where we waited for the bus with a British couple. (I said "Do you speak English?". He said "I am English.") The bus came in about 20 minutes. We were concerned because my schedule did not match the schedule at the bus stop (these buses only run once an hour - turns out I was reading my schedule wrong) and the bus stop schedule had a note saying you had to phone to reserve the bus. Steve went into the post office and asked about this - they said the bus would be coming.

The British couple had just finished a 10 day hike from Engelberg to Engstlenalp to Meiringen to Grindelwald to Lauterbrunnen to Kandersteg to Adelboden to Lenk to Sanaan!! The did it through a UK company called Sherpa. Sherpa books the hotels, gives you the route maps and looks after your luggage being shipped from place to place. They said once or twice their bags were not able to go to the next destination so they had to carry more on those hikes. My guess is that Sherpa coordinates with the hotel to put the bags on the train to the next town, and Engstlenalp and Adelboden cannot be reached by train, so they did not have their bags there. We have done much of the hike they did and I think I could come up with a plan and their exact route (and avoid using a company to organize it). We have hiked every place that they went to.

But, they are way better hikers than we are (most hikers are - we are really walkers, not hikers). They did not use any gondolas. I was surprised they were taking the bus with us - they could have walked the valley - but it was 4pm and they had been hiking since 9am. If they had used gondolas, they could have cut several (uphill) hours off each day.

Anyway, it was a nice reality check for us - we are such hiking wimps!! Today was only 2.5 hours. We all rode the bus to Gstaad, then they walked 10 minutes to our car with us and we drove them to their hotel (saving them from waiting for a bus). They are flying home from Geneva tomorrow.

Our jeans were covered in mud to the knees and pretty wet. Our Gortex jackets kept us dry, but we were cold. We went home and I immediately put our jeans and turtlenecks into the wash. What was I thinking when I packed one pair of jeans and two pairs of shorts? I was thinking summer, I guess.

Note for hiking in Switzerland: Bring two pairs of pants for hiking and one other pair for "nice". Gloves!! Hats!! And I usually bring travel slippers to wear in the house, but did not bring them this year. Bring slippers!!

Stephanie and Cesare from Rome were going to meet us in Gstaad for this weekend, but all the hotels were booked because there is a big Country Music festival going on (bales of hay, blue jeans and cowboy boots and hats are in many store windows). If the weekend weather is like today, they will be very happy that they had to cancel. (They are spending next weekend in Levanto with us instead!!) And if it is raining tomorrow, we are going to Montreaux!! Although I hope it is sunny and we get three more days of hiking.

We are having such a good time here, that we are thinking of spending a month here next year. With all the hours we have to talk while hiking, we have been making big travel and moving plans. So far we have decided to spend three months next fall in England (but that overlaps our Gstaad plans?), move to Montreux for a year (and we haven't been there since 1988 so really have no idea what it is like), move to England for the rest of our lives, move to California for the rest of our lives and travel to Europe like we have been for the past seven years (I vote for Sonoma, but Steve says Santa Barbara), move to California for the next two years then rent our house there and live in England for five years, stay in Santa Fe and rent out our house and move to England for a year. The only plans we have decided on is in the next year 1) two trips to California (one to Santa Barbara, one to Sonoma) to check out California yet again (we tried to move there in 2000 but could not find a town that was perfect - I am resolving myself to not needing perfect) and 2) two - three months in England next fall to see how we like living there (we lived there for six months in 1988). We'll see!! We have 2.5 more weeks to talk this out.

Hey, they don't bleep the Osbornes on MTV Germany!!

Steve is flipping while I am posting and he found The Osbornes on German MTV and they don't bleep them!! It adds a whole new dimension to the dialog! I must sign off and go watch!

One more Osburne thing

Ossy has more of a vocabulary than you think when it gets bleeped. They are bleeping a variety of words. The International Herald Tribune had an article about Big Brother Africa - very popular all over Africa.

September 12, 2003

Friday, September 12 - Rellerli to Sparenmoos

Sunny!! Sunny!! And warm!!
Today we wore light cotton pants and short sleeved t-shirts. We needed our polartec sweatshirts by 6pm when we were taking the train home. A perfect hiking day and a perfect hike.

We awoke to brilliant sunshine and clear skies. We headed out and I mailed a few things (luggage tags to people in Europe, a few postcards), then we drove to Schonried and parked at the one gondola in the valley that we had not yet ridden - Rellerli. We parked in the lot beside the gondola station (free). This is a long gondola with beautiful views over the valley. About mid point, it goes over this big tower in a rollercoaster kind of motion in order to change direction slightly. Usually this is done in a middlestation and is far less scary, because the gondola is almost at ground level instead of dangling a few hundred feet in the air. It felt to me like we were coming off the track - but we weren't.

At the top the views are beautiful. We could see the Eiger and the Jungfrau which tower over Grindelwald. The restaurant is self service and seemed to be open but no one was about, so we gave up - which was good because we barely made the last bus at the end of our hike so we needed the extra hiking time, and was bad because I was hungry for the whole hike having forgotten to pack any food. Last year we always hiked with a few sportsbars, just in case - which is a very good idea and I wish I had done this today!

The day was perfect - we had our rain jackets and polartec pullovers in our packs just in case - but we were comfortable in light pants and short sleeves. The hike was just under three hours, flat for most of it, with some uphill in the middle, then a long downhill for 20 minutes at the end (but a gentle, easy on the knees, downhill).

Of course we had started too late. When we started we figured we could do the hike with 30 minutes to spare. My hiking info from the tourist office said the last bus was 4pm. But I had read it wrong again (really, it was badly written - they gave times of buses from Zweisimmen to Sparenmoos and we were going the other way, so I thought the last bus was 4pm, but it was 4:30). We loved the hike - we could see across to where we had hiked last Saturday - but for the last hour we were hoofing it, worried we would miss the last bus.

You can also trotti down (ride these bicycle-like scooters) from Sparenmoos, but I realized in that last hour that I was way too tired for that. I think that two weeks of hiking in the afternoons, as opposed to two weeks of our usual activty (one hour walk in the morning followed by too many hours sitting at computers), was getting to me. Because about 500 years ago Steve and I both were runners, we always call it "hitting the wall."

We made the bus on time, but it turned out we were 35 minutes ahead instead of 5 minutes. Sparenmoos consists of one hotel with a restaurant, a bus stop and a bunch of trottis. We took full advantage of our extra time and had glasses of beer and shared a cheese sandwich (that was all they had except for many meat things).

A group of hikers was gathering for the bus. There was no sign for the usual PTT bus stop, but the woman in the restaurant said it would come there. A van pulling a trailer full of trottis pulled up. They unloaded it. We all watched. No bus. Then the guy driving the van stood by the door and one hiker went up and paid him money then climbed in the van. This was the bus!

The van had seats for seven plus the driver. Seven of us climbed in. One couple with a bulldog stayed behind - who knows what they were going to do - and two women who arrived after all of us were pointed to the trottis. As we pulled out, I saw them wheeling out trottis for their ride down. We used our Easy Access pass for the "bus" ride.

Half way down the mountain, an older woman in hiking gear waved down the bus. He stopped and made the guy in front with him move over to the middle part and make room. The two of them shared the front seat.

The bus was supposed to leave at 4:30 and our train in Zweisimmen was at 4:50 with the next one on my (incorrect) schedule at 6pm. Steve wears the watch but has no idea where we are going and never looks at any schedules. I memorize schedules but don't wear a watch because I don't own one (my wrist breaks out from the metal on the clasp, so I gave up wearing watches years ago - besides, who needs one in Santa Fe?). I think a better plan is that the person who wears the watch also follows the schedules. So Steve thought the train was at 5pm and we pulled up to the train station at 3 minutes to 5pm. He said "we can make the train" and I assumed the 4:50 train, although it seemed to me like more time had passed and the bus had been late leaving.

Zweisimmen is a good sized train station with 8 platforms. We ran up to the train schedule, I looked for the 16:50 train and found the track. We ran to the track but it wasn't there. Then we realized that Steve had been thinking 5pm, but the train was 4:50pm. So back to the schedule, where I see a 5pm train listed (that was not on the schedule the tourist office gave me), but that was on track 5, so we ran for that and it was pulling out. If I had just looked up when we first arrived, I would have seen the sign for Gstaad because we were at track 5. So, we ended up on the 6pm train.

I was furious, but Steve and I hardly ever fight and never scream, so I gave him a good glare, he "accepted responsibility" (although I think it was my fault too - I really should carry a watch and I could have looked at a clock) and I made him spend 10 minutes in a store for penance. I bought a Donna Leon detective book in English. We walked around Zweisimmen, then had coffee and pear kuchen at the tea shop we went to last Saturday.

I am going to call this type of thing, which happens all the time to us, the "tourist dance". That little dance you do, at totally unexpected times, that shows you are not local, that you don't know how things work. I was furious because I was so tired. Steve mixed up the times because he was so tired. Luckily my fury vanished in about 3 minutes. (We also needed to get home early because Steve had a business phone call to do.)

At home, a simple dinner and a nice long bath. Now shall I put aside Gore Vidal's "Julien", which is good, and read the Donna Leon, because I am such a detective novel addict? I still have the new P.D. James to read but I am "saving" it - I like to have it and look at it for a few weeks and anticipate reading it - before I read it. Sick, but true.

I cannot believe we only have two days left. I want to have a drink at the big castle hotel in Gstaad where I think they may have filmed one of the Pink Panther movies, I want to trotti down from Wispile, spend a day in Montreaux, and do two more hikes that I have planned out. We always leave Switzerland wishing we were staying longer - probably because we go to Switzerland at the start of our vacation - but we could easily and happily have spent a month here.

September 13, 2003

Steve on a Trotti last Saturday (photo!!)

Contest players: Not this photo, the one on the website. Hint - the Switzerland section!!

Pauline on a Trotti last Saturday (photo!!)

Country Days in Gstaad

This weekend is a big country festival. There have been signs up all week and "american" displays in shop windows with signs for the festival (bales of hay, cowboy boots, jeans). It seems to be a big festival. I think it is a fair that goes on during the day and concerts at night. We may drop in tomorrow during the day.

Tonight as we were driving into Gstaad, there were crowds of people walking to the festival. Many were wearing cowboy hats, cowboy boots, jeans - the whole outfit. For people who live in the American West, where this type of outfit is normal, it was hilarious to see all these Swiss people in costume. Many were wearing bolos (in Santa Fe, this replaces a tie).

Saturday, September 13 - An afternoon in Montreux

Sunny and warm

Today we had our fill of hiking and took a day away from it - we drove to Montreux! It was just over an hour drive from Saanen. We went in the direction of Chateaux d'Oex then Bulle and then onto the Autoroute. On the way back we another route, towards Aigle, then up into the mountains, which took about the same length of time.

Driving into Montreux was easy - not much traffic and it is a small town (population about 20,000). There are big parking lots in the downtown area. We pulled into the one in the Palace Hotel (a big hotel on the main street, looking towards the lake). It was nearly 2pm and there were not many people about - everyone was having lunch I think! We walked around looking for a street with lots of restaurants and finally found a main street up by the train station.

It turns out that we parked a few blocks short of the main area and if we had walked a few blocks along the lake we would have got to the main area. But we ended up in a nice area, just outside the busy tourist area and had a great lunch on a terrace overlooking the town and the lake. Steve had perch and I had cheese-tomato fondue (we both liked our dishes). I also had a salad, which was very fresh and great, but so far the best salad I have had on the trip was in Konstanz (where they have a small island where they grow all their salad ingredients).

After lunch we walked through the shopping area which now was full of people. We found a bookstore and I bought "Living and Working in Switzerland" by David Hampshire. He wrote the Italy version of this book with Mary Jane Cryan, a member of our message board. We went into a few drugstores looking for a tube of French Clay that we had got on previous trips (you use it for a face mask), but we did not find it. Big splurge - I bought a hairbrush made in Switzerland.

Then we walked along the lake. The lake is huge and beautiful. Across the lake are the very high peaks of the alps above Evian (France). We have been buying six-packs of Evian water because here it is "local". You can look towards the peaks in the Valais. Montreux is built along the water and up the steep hillside, like towns on the French Riviera. There is a lakeside promenade all along the town and continues onto the other towns on the lake, I think. In Montreux, the promenade is planted with flowering bushes, flowers, palm trees.

At one point we came to some crafts market with crowds of people - we didn't stop to look. Around 4pm we left and drove along the lake to Aigle, then up through the vineyards into the mountains to Gstaad.

"He is on his way to Gstaad."
"Gstaad?"
"Yes, today a paradise in the Swiss Alps. Tomorrow a wasteland."
- Movie, The Return of the Pink Panther, 1975

For the last two weeks we have been looking up to the Palace Hotel, a castle-like hotel (with turrets) sitting above Gstaad. We drove up there. This is where the Return of the Pink Panther was filmed. We have a copy of the movie but forgot that it took place in Gstaad. A friend in Santa Fe started quoting the movie when we told him we were going to Gstaad, so we watched the movie again. You don't see much of Gstaad in the movie: a scene at the train station, one on the road to the hotel, another in the revolving doors of the hotel and in the lobby. The rest takes place in a hotel room. We recognized the road to the hotel and the entrance from the movie. I asked the man at the desk if he had been there when they made the movie. No, but people still come to the hotel because of the movie. It is a lovely old-world type of hotel, with balconies looking out to Gstaad below and all the surrounding mountains.

We had a drink in the bar - sitting in one of the turrets with views over the whole valley. The sun sets late here - not until after 7pm even at this time of year. We must be pretty far north. If you draw a line from Santa Fe around the world, it is at the same longitude (or is it latitude?) as Northern Africa.

Home to do laundry and ironing. Microwave popcorn for dinner tonight after our huge lunch.

Ironing is much easier in Europe because of the higher voltage. The iron is very hot. Tea in our electric kettle boils in a couple of minutes. Of course, if you stick your finger in the socket, you die - but the benefit is easy ironing.

September 14, 2003

Sunday, September 14 - a wonderful, wonderful last day in Switzerland

Warm, sunny, clear blue skies. Not too hot. Wore short sleeves and cotton pants.

I don't want to leave!!

I need to figure out how much time we have spent in Switzerland (mountain towns only - not counting time in Zurich and Geneva):
1988 2 wks Grindelwald
1988 2 wks Zermatt
1988 1 wks Lenk / Le Grange (2 places)
1996 1 wk Davos
1996 1 wk Locarno
1997 1.5 wk Grindelwald
1997 1 wk Crans-Montana
1997 1 wk Zermatt
2000 1.5 wk Kandersteg
2002 1 wk Engelberg
2002 1 wk Grindelwald
2003 2 wks Saanen
TOTAL 16 weeks

After two weeks we have both decided that this Gstaad-Saanen valley is the perfect Switzerland place for us. We have spent about 16 weeks in Switzerland mountain towns since 1988 and been to many places, and will go back to many of them - but this valley is perfect.

Gstaad is not really jet-setty - not like St. Moritz. Saanen is the perfect small town. Next time we stay for a month. I would probably pick a different apartment (although we have been very comfortable here and this place has many good features), just to have one with a better view and a balcony and more direct sun on the balcony/terrace. Actually, this apartment one floor up would be perfect.

We managed to get up a bit earlier today. I realize our sleeping problem (other than that we stay up too late) - the bedroom has blackout curtains so we don't wake up when the sun shines in, like at home. Last night I left the curtains partly open. We did not get bread yesterday, so had to go out for breakfast. We packed up ready for hiking and stopped at a café in Saanen. The breakfast was great - croissants, fresh bread, butter, jam, coffee. We had two coffees each. Kleine Fruhstuck (small breakfast) for 9 CHF each, 3.50 CHF each for extra coffee.

Then we drove up the Lauenen valley from Gstaad (the one we had hiked to on that rainy day). We parked just above Lauenen, because I though you could not drive to Lauenensee, but it turns out you can drive there. I saw a big sign showing parking lots and assumed it meant you had to park and could not drive, but the sign was just explaining about the parking at Lauenensee. Anyway, it is good that we did not drive all the way, because instead we did a perfect two hour round trip hike to Launensee. The hike started out through the village of Launen which is located near the end of a long, green valley. We looked directly to huge rock mountains with glaciers showing behind them. It was brilliantly sunny and warm - but not really hot.

The one hour to the lake was slightly uphill through farmers fields. At one point we heard a group of women's voices singing - but could not see them. I think they were in front of a farm house that we were walking behind. The lake is small and right at the base of the huge mountains. It is very beautiful and surrounded by lovely woods.

We walked along the edge of the lake and now there were lots of people on the trial. These people drove up and parked, then did a 45 minute walk around the lake - then they all went to the one restaurant there and consumed vast quantities of meat. We know, because we watched them. We stopped at the restaurant thinking we might have lunch, but the menu was all meat. We should have left, but decided to have coffee and hot chocolate. It took forever to get our small order taken, and then even longer to pay. The restaurant was somewhat busy when we arrived, but totally packed by the time we left. Sometimes I would give anything for a cashier that you walk up to to pay, instead of trying to catch the eye of a harried waitress carrying plate after plate of grilled sausage. Normally I am not disgusted by meat (heh, I ate meat until I was 25), but this time with the open grill and all that sausage - ugh.

The trail back was through woods along the river. It was also beautiful, but a bit muddy.

There is are hotels in Lauenen - this would be a lovely place to stay if you wanted to look out at the beautiful mountains and be in a peaceful small town for a few days. We stopped at a hotel in Lauenen and has lunch on the terrace. Steve had fish, I had an omelette.

But, the day was young. After all, we were an hour earlier starting and we did a short simple hike (not a long gondola ride before and then bus or train after). So we drove into Gstaad, to the Wispile ride, took the gondola to the middle station and rented trotties (those scooter things). These ones were more like mountain bikes than scooters and had springs on them and were higher off the ground with big wheels. The trotti path from the top station is a dirt road, but if you start at the middle station, it is a dirt road for 300 meters, then paved the rest of the way. We zoomed down the hill. I thought we were doing really great - stopping for a few view shots and shots of us with the cows - when this guy on a trotti roared past us like a Mercedes in the passing lane on the Autostrada. I guess that is how you are supposed to trotti - fast! You get about 30 minutes of a zoom ride down the hill, then 15 boring minutes of scooting the thing along the flat path back to the gondola station where you return it. 14 CHF per person from the middle station.

The day was older but not over. It was about 4:30 and there was still one town in the valley we had not been to - Lenk. We spent 3 nights there in 1988 on our grand Europe trip and loved it. We wanted to see it again. It is at the end of a valley from Zweisimmen. It was about 30 minutes from Gstaad.

As we drove out of the Gstaad-Saanen valley, you could see people everywhere having a great time. The day was perfect and people were biking, riding motorcycles, hiking, walking their dogs, paragliding, flying small planes, driving convertibles with the roof down - it all seemed like a Swiss outdoors playground.

We got to Lenk, drove around, decided it was not nearly as nice as where we were staying, found the hotel we had stayed in, had coffee and apple kuchen, then drove back "home". The last night before moving on. I am doing two last loads of laundry, some ironing, made dinner, and am almost packed. Packing while on vacation is so much easier than packing for a vacation. I have not bought much (a few tea towels and some books) so everything will fit!

Tomorrow, we finish packing, load up the car, check out of the apartment (Yvonne is coming here at 9:30), have a last Frustuck, then drive through the St. Bernard tunnel to Aosta and then to Levanto. I know we will love Italy - we always do - but tonight I am sad that we have to leave this area. But, now I must pack!!

September 15, 2003

Monday, September 15 - Leaving Switzerland

Sunny and warm

Yvonne came to the apartment at 9:30 to check us out. We were making such good time - car packed up, ready to hit the road - but we chatted with her for an hour, putting us behind schedule. We talked about vacation rentals in Switzerland and in Italy, her company's website, Americans coming to Gstaad, how to spell the Swiss greeting "gruezi" - many things. Well worth the delay.

We were happily anticipating our last Fruhstuck at the Tea Shop we liked the best (Tea Room Mueller, on the main street), but it was closed and so was our backup. We ended up in the bakery where they had a couple of tables and did not do Fruhstuck, but did give us coffee and a couple of rolls (if they had added butter and jam, it would have been Fruhstuck). Then we bought some of those pretzel-bread things that they slice and butter, and by 11am we were driving out of Saanen. Another Cohen/Kenny early start to the day.

The weather was perfect - warm and sunny, clear blue skies - would have been great hiking.

Our route was:
- Mountain roads from Gstaad to Aigle (1 hour).
- Autoroute to Martigny.
- Mountain roads (but good ones) from Martigny to the St. Bernards tunnel (reached the tunnel after 1 hr 45 mins from Gstaad)
- On the other side of the tunnel, you are in Italy. Mountain roads to Aosta.
- Autostrada the rest of the way to Levanto (arrived around 6pm - 6 hour drive).

We got our second fill of gas for the trip - 3/8 tank, 40.10 CHF. Gas is cheaper in Switzerland than in Italy, so we thought we would fill up.

Between Martigny and the St. Bernard's tunnel, we drove by two towns that had been on my short list when planning this trip - Verbier and Champex in the Valais. But I am happy that we decided on the second week in Gstaad instead. This area has very steep mountains and the villages are perched up in mountain. I think the hiking would not have been as plentiful or as good.

The drive to the tunnel was fast (1 hr 45 minutes from Gstaad). We had to pay 27 CHF toll for the tunnel, then we drove through Italian customs - they waved us through. Very different from crossing after the Gottard Tunnel last year where we sat in a car lineup for 45 minutes at customs. That time was on a Friday. This was a Monday. The traffic was very light for the whole drive and only thickened around Genoa.

Notes about Driving in Switzerland: If you are looking for the Autobahn/Autoroute, follow the green signs and ignore the town signs. Blue or black and white town signs will take you to the towns, but not on the Autobahn. Follow the green Autobahn signs.

A sign Steve saw in Switzerland: An ad for a casino "The name is Pot. Jack Pot."

Monday, September 15 - Into Italy

Sunny and warm

It took 5 minutes to drive through the St. Bernards Tunnel and there was hardly any traffic. (To compare, it is 20 minutes driving through Gottard Tunnel.) We drove a good mountain road down from the tunnel to the Autostrada near Aosta. We stopped in a very Ticino-looking village on this road for lunch. The village was a group of slate roofed houses - very Italian looking all of a sudden with the houses all clumped together and narrow lanes and roads between them. We parked in a lot beside the highway and walked into the village. The restaurant we had seen advertised on the road was closed, but there was another one just past it.

We climbed up the stairs to the porch where a couple of people sat at a table, then went inside to a small room with a bar area and a couple of tables. There was another small room with tables, but it was one of those closed in rooms (low ceiling, small room, one window closed) that makes me start to hyperventilate, so we sat at a table in the first room, near the door. No menu and several interesting hand written signs on the wall in several languages including English: "eat well here", "you will eat healthy here". We explained to the woman serving that we were vegetarians.

It turns out that everyone was getting the same lunch dish - one plate with a cooked greens dish, pieces of a very strong alpine cheese made from cows (but it tasted like goat cheese), slices of tomato, and slices of meat. She left the meat off ours. This has got to be the fastest and smallest lunch we have ever had in Italy. Being in the mountains, it hardly felt like Italy and everyone was speaking French. The meal was delicious and after a quick espresso, we were on our way. 24 Euro for the two of us.

A turkish toilet for my first toilet in Italy! The restroom was down a narrow corridor and was not only a turkish toilet (a porcelain square with footpads for your feet and a hole in the center that you squat over), but the obvious flusher did not work, the knob on the wall was not a flusher, and I finally figured out that you turned on a tap under the sink and aimed a hose at it to flush it.

On the way out, I stopped to look at a framed poster with rows of head shots of men, probably soldiers from the area, and a photo of Mussolini on the top (with a note saying "Capo Benito Mussolini"). I hear Mussolini was very popular in the north.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. As we approached Aosta, we looked across to beautiful mountains. Robert R., a member of our SlowTalk message board, will be hiking there in a couple of weeks. I took a few photos while we were driving by. I also took a few road sign photos while we were driving. When we were near Turin, we could see the smog filled skies in the distance - that brown haze that you see in the very populated areas in Italy.

Of course, we stopped at the first Autogrill that we saw and had coffee. We always love stopping at the Autogrill. I saw a model car of the new Mini Cooper and did not buy it (such self control, I did buy one today though). We got a model of the Smart Car a couple of years ago. Just one of the many quality items you can get at the Autogrill.

There was not much traffic until we got to Genoa. Genoa is not a picturesque place - rows of dreary looking apartment buildings (maybe 7 floors high) along the autostrada and up the hill. A big industrial looking port. An oil refinery (or something that looked and smelled like that). We spent 3 nights in Genoa in 1988 and enjoyed the town, but have not been back since.

We were doing so well and I knew what exit to take, but we saw an exit sign for Levanto one exit before the one I was aiming for and we took it. I realized immediately it was the wrong exit, but then thought we were early, we might as well explore the area. Good thing we did the drive then, because if we hadn't I would have wanted to do it while we were here. This way we got the horror of the Liguria coastal roads over with immediately. It was one of those roads that winds along the side of the mountains with solid rock on one side and a 10,000 foot drop off to the sea on the other (maybe less). Beautiful views, but a stomach clenching drive. There was no traffic and what there was went very slowly. There were a few guardrails, but they looked flimsy to me.

As we drove by Villa Margherita, we saw Federico outside and waved and he told us where to park. They were supposed to have a new car park ready for this summer, but their construction was stopped for six months for some reason. It is being built now.

I run three web sites for Federico (villamargherita.net for his small hotel, levanto.net about Levanto, and cinqueterreonline.com about the Cinque Terre). We spent one night at Villa Margherita last year and this year we have booked the apartment in the hotel for 1.5 weeks. I will be working with him on his website for a couple of afternoons.

We dragged all our bags up to the apartment (Federico helped), then got settled. Federico's father, Mario, works at the hotel in the evenings. Steve got him to reserve us a table at Taverna Garibaldi, a great pizza place owned by Federico's friend Tommasso who we met briefly last year. Then we went out for a stroll to the center of town and along the beach. Such a change from Switzerland. All hustle and bustle and slight chaos, milder weather and the Mediterranean to look at.

We had an excellent pizza dinner and walked back to the apartment.

Notes About Italy Driving: Big speed limits signs were posted at the border area - 130 km/h on the Autostrada, 110 km/h on the blue signed roads. It really seems like traffic is moving at a slower pace. We were not passed by cars in the passing lane going really fast, as on all our other trips. Our Mercedes drives well, but we kept to the speed limits. It was much more like driving in the US.

September 16, 2003

Tuesday, September 16 - A Day Off

Sunny and hot

Today we did nothing. Our apartment is right under the breakfast room, which I first thought was a bad thing as we wake up when they start getting it ready at 8am, but then I realized is a good thing because this will finally get us up earlier and it did!

We were not sure if we could use the breakfast room at the hotel, and I wanted to go out to a caffe anyway, so we went out for "Italian Breakfast" - a sweet croissant thing and a thimbleful of espresso. In Tuscany we call these croissant things "cornetto", but in Liguria they call them "brioche". Same thing. I think they are all made in a factory somewhere and trucked around in the early hours to all the bars in Italy.

Then we walked all around Levanto. People were swimming. Levanto is a great town. Small enough to be comfortable (you can walk everywhere, there is not much traffic), but large enough to have many restaurants, caffes and shops. Lots of good, small food stores too. We went to an enotecca to get local olive oil and then a few shops to get supplies.

We had a nice lunch out in town. Steve had swordfish; I had the first of many noodles with pesto. Seaside towns are difficult for vegetarians (who do not eat fish - like me). Most menus only offer seafood antipasti and seafood or meat secondi. For primi, your choice is usually noodles with pesto (which is excellent here) or noodles with tomato sauce. Even the contorni (vegetable side dishes) is just salad or french fries. So I had noodles with pesto (excellent) and a salad. We even had some local wine.

Spent the afternoon out in our garden area reading. I am glued to "Ripe for the Picking" by Annie Hawes, her sequel to "Extra Virgin". It is not nearly as good as Extra Virgin, and her style of writing takes a couple of chapters to get used to, but I am glued to it nonetheless. I bought it from Amazon.uk and had it shipped to the US, then brought it here to read in Liguria, because it is set in Liguria (but in the area closer to France, near San Remo).

Cooked a simple dinner at the apartment. The kitchen works okay, but is not fabulous. I was spoiled by the great kitchen we had in Saanen. This one is like what you find frequently in Italian vacation rentals - lots of sort of worn out pots and pans (where are there always about 10 very used T-fal frying pans?) - but I sorted through them, washed out a cupboard and nicely arranged the ones I would use. There - as good as home. Also bought a clean sponge and a couple of dusters that I turned into potholders.

The best thing about the apartment is the garden. The hotel has a lovely large garden area with lots of loungers, tables and chairs, but the apartment gets its own private garden with two huge palm trees and lots of flowering bushes. I will write more details about the apartment later.

September 17, 2003

Wednesday, September 17 - Hiked from Levanto to Monterosso to Vernazza

Sunny and hot

Turns out we can use the breakfast room (Federico told us yesterday). So up early and to the breakfast room. This is great - and will save us having to remember to buy bread the day before so we can have it in the morning.

The day was hot, so we wore shorts and short sleeved t-shirts. My horrible leg rash that I got our first day of hiking in Switzerland disappeared after a few days and never returned, so shorts can now be worn. We debated between wearing our regular hiking boots or just going with running shoes, and decided on the boots. But we did not take our hiking poles (we could have used them) or big daypacks - we just carried a small pack with water. A nice change from all the stuff you carry in Switzerland in case the weather changes (or you get lost on the trails).

We were on the trail from Levanto to Monterosso by 10am!!

The Cinque Terre is five (cinque) towns along the Liguria coast, south of Levanto. If there were Six Terre, the sixth would be Levanto. You can hike between the five towns, but a similar trail also goes to Levanto. In June 2000, we did the Cinque Terre trail, but not the part to Levanto.

The hike from Levanto to Monterosso takes 2 hours, 30 minutes (the sign says 2 hours) and is very similar to the trail from Monterosso, to Vernazza, except that this one has more shade. 30 minutes of walking uphill - up steps, up slopes, up a roadway - then 1 hr 30 minutes walking at that level along the hillside, with some up and down, but really pretty easy, through beautiful forests and along terraces, then 30 minutes downhill to Monterosso. A really nice hike - but we were glad we were somewhat in shape from all the Switzerland hiking.

In Monterosso we had a lovely lunch sitting outside on a terrace (guess what we had? Steve had fish, I had noodles with pesto). But we made the mistake of drinking an entire bottle of Cinque Terre wine. We are not big drinkers. Usually one glass and not with every meal. But we were hot and tired and we drank it all (probably Steve had one glass and I drank the rest). We had planned to take the train back and then go swimming, but I figured it would be 3pm by the time we got back to the apartment and we would not feel like swimming. From this we concluded we should do the 2 hour hike from Monterosso to Vernazza.

566 steps up from Monterosso in the first 30 minutes of the hike. I not only counted them, but I announced the current count, in English, to nearly everyone passing by us on the trail. We passed lots of people who were going down and were passed by lots of (much younger) people going the same way as us. The hike was excellent and the 566 steps certainly sobered me up. There were more people on this part of the trail, but no so many that it affected the hike. The views were lovely and the hike was great - but it was more out in the sun than the first hike. We got to Vernazza 20 minutes before the next train - just enough time to get a Lemon Granita which was perfect because we were really hot from the hike.

Home and we collapsed. Everything hurt. My big plan is to hike the five towns in one day - so we may have to do this hike again (just the Monterosso to Vernazza part).

It was 17 weeks in Switzerland

Our friend Colin from NZ emailed to say that we forgot one Swiss mountain town week - Kiental in the Berner Oberland where we all attended a Macrobiotic summer camp in 1988. I think we forgot that week because we didn't hike - just attended lectures.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Views from the Slow Lane in the 2003 Fall Switzerland category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

2003 Fall Italy is the previous category.

2003 Winter Rome & Naples is the next category.

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