Posted in Switzerland

Glacier 3000!

The Peak Walk at Glacier 3000.

We’ve had an exciting couple of weeks. After two long months, we had our HHE delivered on the 20th, so our apartment is now a total disaster. But it’s nice to finally have our own stuff and some color in our place. And most of it made it in one piece…except for an old full-length mirror that I bought for my ex in London. Two of the three bedrooms and one of the bathrooms have mirrored closet doors, so we have no shortage of reflections.

Breaking mirrors is supposed to be bad luck though, and mine started two days later when I went to swap out our rental car. After nine weeks of sliding in and out of our shared carport, I hit the massive beam in the middle while backing out and scratched the bumper. The Swiss guy at Budget was very nice about it. It was a sizeable scratch, but he marked it as small, did an automatic estimation, and charged my card for $570 worth of damage on the spot.

Happily, the credit card that I used for the rental had collision insurance (since my USAA car insurance isn’t valid in Switzerland). You’re supposed to notify them right away, but it took me about a week to get around to it. I spent a few minutes on the phone with an agent who told me to file a claim online. I did this and was fully reimbursed in about 48 hours. VERY happy about that.

About two days into my next four-week rental, I was told that an earlier appointment had opened up for our POV inspection, and my car would actually be available three weeks early. I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified…what if I couldn’t return the rental early and was still responsible for the remaining three weeks?? But I needn’t have worried. I contacted Expedia via online chat, they called Budget in Geneva and arranged for me to return my car…and only be charged for the days that I’d used. Talk about a relief!

Our car also arrived in good condition. So yesterday, we took her on her first big outing in Switzerland to Glacier 3000! Technically, Glacier 3000 is the name of the cable car company, but it has also become known as a specific tourist destination in the Bernese Alps about an hour and a half northeast of Geneva. The first cable car starts in a mountain pass called Col du Pillon (el. 1546 m) and takes you up to the halfway point at Cabane middle station (el. 2525 m) where you switch cars and continue to the top at Scex Rouge mountain station (el. 2971 m).

One of the many times I pulled over to take pictures.
Cable car descending.
Interactive map.

They have a fantastic website with a webcam and all kinds of information, including which activities are open on the day. The whole place had been closed for the last week due to bad weather or high winds, so I was checking it daily as the weekend approached. Sunday was supposed to have clearer weather, but also 30 mph winds. So I figured I would rather be safe than sorry and scurried around on Saturday morning digging winter boots and gloves out of boxes. Plus after a rainy week of my son being home on fall break from school, we were starting to get pretty snippy with each other. Time to get out of the house!!

It’s about 80 CHF (88 USD) for an adult roundtrip ticket, and kids are half price. BUT the cables cars are considered public transportation, so we stopped at the train station in Montreux on the way and picked up a Junior Travel Card for my son. With the card, you get a year of public transportation free for only 30 CHF. So that paid for itself on the first day. An amazing deal!! Highly recommended.

Ascending in the cable car.
View of the valley.
Switching cars at Cabane middle station.

Once you get to the top of the mountain you have several options for activities. They have a ski lift, a restaurant, a fun park for sledding, a snow park for snowboarding, a glacier walk, dog sledding, an alpine coaster (only open in the summer), a snow bus (closed due to COVID), and the pièce de résistance…the Peak Walk. The Peak Walk is a 351-foot long pedestrian suspension bridge and the first in the world to connect two mountain peaks.

We had a wonderful time admiring the fall colors on the way, riding the cable car, and walking around in the snow. My son made an obligatory snow angel, and we walked up to the edge of the Peak Walk. I didn’t feel the need to walk out onto it, and we still had some amazing views. Because of the clouds we couldn’t see the rest of Alps, but I’m still happy with our experience. We could see the dog sleds running on the glacier and hear the sounds of barking carried across the snow. I thought they didn’t start until November 3, so obviously we will have to go back.

The alpine coaster and ski lift.
Snow angel!
Me at the edge of the Peak Walk.

Then we stopped at the restaurant for lunch and shared a mediocre cheeseburger with fries, an iced tea, and an apple juice…for $37 USD. At first I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to eat in the restaurant as many places around Switzerland are now requiring that you download a contact tracing app on your phone.

We’re not allowed to download random apps on US government phones, so some folks from the mission have been denied service at various places. But my kiddo was getting hangry, so I had to at least check…and, even though they had a big sign on the door for the app, it turned out that they were also allowing you to simply write your information on paper.

After lunch, we decided it was time to head back down. We had a lovely time in the snow, and our good moods were restored. We even had our image captured on the webcam…lol.

Here we are on the webcam. 🙂

 

 

 

Posted in Switzerland

Exploring Old Town Geneva

Next to Place du Bourg-de-Four in Old Town Geneva.

October 12 was a US federal holiday, and the kiddo was in school, so I was very excited to get out and check out Old Town Geneva! The two times that I’d visited previously, I’d never made it into the proper Old Town and didn’t realize it was as amazing as it was until I started researching the day’s adventures.

I began my itinerary after parking in one of the massive underground garages in the center of the city called Parking Mont Blanc. My boss had recommended that I visit Maison Tavel, which has wonderful exhibits on the history of Geneva, including a largescale model of how it looked while the old ramparts were still up in 1850. Unfortunately, most of the museums are closed on Mondays, so it just gives me an excuse to venture in again.

My walking itinerary on Google maps.

But there were plenty of other random things that I could still access. On my errands through town, I had noted that I wanted to get a closer look at the bridges. So I figured I would start out walking along the Rhone River. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and I stopped to admire the Bâtiment des Forces Motrices, which started life as a Victorian-era power plant and later converted to a theatre.

I had learned that Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein on a visit to Geneva. And I found out that there was a Frankenstein statue that was fabulously creepy and strategically placed in Plainpalais quarter, which was the site of his first murder in the Gothic novel. So I checked that out along the way.

Bâtiment des Forces Motrices on the Rhone river.
The Frankenstein statue in Plainpalais.

Geneva was also a hub of the Protestant Reformation and home to John Calvin in the mid-16th century. So I basked in the fall colors and wandered over to the Reformation Wall in the Parc des Bastions. I had thought of stopping for lunch in the beautiful café in the park, but by the time that I got there, I wasn’t at all hungry and felt like I was on some kind of timed scavenger hunt. I had to see everything on my list before the school figured out I was out enjoying myself and called me to pick up my son for some unforeseen reason.

From the park I walked up the hill into the true Old Town that was once inside the city walls. Along the way, I passed the Marronnier de la Treille, which is the world’s longest bench, of all things. It was built between 1767 and 1774 and is about 120 meters (395 feet) long. And it has stunning views over the park.

The Reformation Wall.
The world’s longest bench. 🙂

Once inside the walls, I scouted out some of the big structural landmarks like the St. Germain Church (first church in Geneva to preach the Reformation doctrine in 1535); the Old Armory and the Hotel de Ville (town hall whose main building began construction in 1473 and had a paved horse ramp that went to the top floor so the aristocrats didn’t have to dismount and walk); St. Peter’s Cathedral (beautiful Gothic cathedral built in 1160 that started out Catholic and changed to Reformed Protestant under John Calvin); and the archaeological museum under the cathedral (amazing space highlighting the different layers of excavation and remains from the 3rd-12th centuries).

The Old Armory.
The Hotel de Ville.
One of the many lovely stained-glass windows in St. Peter’s Cathedral.
Roman-style mosaic in the archaeological museum beneath the cathedral.

After I checked off my main boxes, it was finally time for some food! I walked along the medieval streets to the Place du Bourg-de-Four and scoped out the cafés. I had imagined that I would relax in a chair outside in the sun and enjoy a cup of coffee, but for some reason, it felt a little too exposed. Maybe I’ve become agoraphobic between lockdown, teleworking, and quarantine.

So instead I made my way to one of the three patisseries that was on my list called A. Pougnier (family business since 1949). They had a decadent selection of sweet creations…and a nice pile of sandwiches. I grabbed my favorite ham and cheese on a baguette and chose a stunning strawberry tart to go. Then I walked to the end of the block, sat on a bench, and ate my lunch and special dessert with the finches and pigeons in the square in front of the Temple de la Madeleine (another famous Reformation church).  

Place du Bourg-de-Four.
Sweet treats and sandwiches on display at A. Pougnier.
The final stop at Boulangerie Pierre et Jean with giant cherries in the middle.

I could not, of course, venture into the chocolate district without getting something for my son. I fully intended on hitting all three patisseries, but the four hours of Google maps had started to drain my phone’s battery. So I decided to quit while I was ahead, visit one more shop, and then head home while I still had some source of navigation.

So the final stop for the day was Boulangerie Pierre et Jean. I have a thing for whimsical food that’s designed to look like other food…so I chose a sweet that looked like a large shiny cherry from a Disney cartoon. Once safely home with only minor contact with the side of the box, I shared it with my son who thought it was phenomenal. The outside was white chocolate coated in cherry glaze, and the inside was filled with custard and cherry preserves. It was amazing…and the perfect way to end the day.

Until next time…

Posted in Switzerland

Settling In

Photo credit: https://theswisswatchblog.com/2012/03/12/the-snow-line/

It’s been fairly rainy the last couple of weeks, so we haven’t really gone out and done much. But it is also nice and cool, so I am not complaining! My kiddo was fighting a cold at one point and stayed home from school for a few days, so I’ve been trying not to push him too much. He is, of course, more than happy to do nothing but play video games on the weekend.

We’ve been in country for two full months now, and we have yet to receive our HHE, which took for-freaking-ever to leave the States. Supposedly it’s in Belgium and should be arriving here in the next couple of weeks. I am seriously tired of staring at bare white walls and white tile floor…I want my fall decorations! Plus I’d like a TV again someday.

Our car is also in Belgium, but unlike our HHE, which is going through customs at port and can be delivered as soon as it arrives in Geneva, we have to wait for our vehicle to pass inspection locally. This week, I was told that there are no appointments available until November, so that’s kind of a bummer. Although I do have a screaming deal on my current rental car at $13/day.

One of the stranger things that we had to do after we arrived was get a dog license. The license in itself wasn’t a foreign concept, but the process was a bit elaborate. First, you have to get third party liability through a local insurance company, in case your dog bites someone or knocks them off their bike. You also need proof of address or your diplomatic ID from the Swiss government (this also takes a long time to get).

THEN you have to go to the town hall to get a registration number for the national dog database, whose acronym was thankfully changed from ANUS to AMICUS. After that, you take the number and the dog to a veterinarian where they can scan your pet’s microchip, confirm rabies vaccination paperwork, and register the dog in the database. Finally, you go back to the town hall, pick up your dog’s médaille to hang on the collar, and pay the extremely reasonable fee of two Swiss francs.

Technically you’re supposed to do this within the first two weeks of arrival. But since we were in quarantine for two weeks, and the town hall is only open during the week and generally closed for lunch from 12-2pm, I didn’t actually finish the process until last week. But at least it’s done! And no one seemed particularly bothered by how long it took.

Another thing they take very seriously is recycling. They have the usual separation by types of colored glass, plastic, paper and cardboard, etc…but they also expect you to dispose of your organic garbage via compost. And they have special garbage bags that you’re supposed to use according to which canton you live in. I’m still trying to figure this out, and I should do so quickly since they apparently have teams of people that intentionally go through the trash trying to identify offenders and will mail you a massive fine.

But even though I’m still feeling a bit transitional living off the welcome kit, we are settling in. I can now get to work, the post office, the grocery store, and definitely the town hall without using GPS. I’ve stopped escorting A to the bus stop in the morning. And I’ve found a fun website that is kind of like the Swiss version of Amazon and have ordered lots of little random things like a crockpot, Royal Canin cat and dog food, a cat litter scooper, a decorative bench for the yard, gardening gloves, and candle holders.

And our stuff will come eventually. The holidays are just around the corner, and there was the tiniest dusting of snow on the Jura mountains to the west of us, which made me supremely happy. The light and the clouds and the wind are all wonderful. So sometime soon we might actually start to feel at home.

Posted in Switzerland

Yvoire, France

Castle view from inside the Garden of the Five Senses.

I’d love to say that our trip to Yvoire went smoothly, but it was probably the “glitchiest” trip we’ve had so far, as my son would say. Nothing major, just a bunch of annoying little things.

First, he was not at all motivated to leave the house this morning, so he started out a bit reluctantly. We got on the road, and I realized that I was almost completely out of gas, even though I’d just picked up a new rental car on Friday.

I’d just passed the station, so I made a U-turn and went back. Then of course, the tank was on the opposite side of the vehicle (I hate that), so I had to swing around again. I filled it up for about 30 seconds, and then the nozzle clicked indicating that the tank was full. Apparently, it hadn’t been empty, I just couldn’t read the gas gauge. So I went inside and sheepishly paid for my four francs’ worth of gas.

I also couldn’t get the volume on my phone to work so that I could hear the directions. This car didn’t have a navigation system at all, or a convenient place to put my phone, but I finally just gave up and hit the road. From that point, things did improve.

Yvoire is on the opposite side of the lake from us and takes a little less than an hour to get to. (Are you seeing a theme? I do like one-hour daytrips.) You can also take a little ferry from several points along the water. I loved the idea of taking the boat, but I didn’t feel like being a slave to the ferry schedule and preferred the freedom to come and go as we pleased. Plus we got to drive through downtown Geneva, which A hadn’t seen yet.

According to French Wikipedia, “The first mention of the parish appears as Evyre (Ecclesia de Evyre), in a papal bull of Innocent IV, from September 9, 1250, attaching the church to the abbey of Filly [which was destroyed sometime after 1644].” So the village is almost 800 years old. Isn’t that fun?

Lots of stone and pretty windows.

The west-facing Nernier Gate.

It is a walled village, similar to Gruyeres, but instead of being on a hill, it’s right on the shore of the lake. It was run by the usual line of counts and barons and conquered and burned and rebuilt and swapped between medieval France and Switzerland over the years. Must’ve been tough to be a local.

The original quadrangular gate towers from 1318 are still standing. The Nernier Gate faces the west, and the Rovorée Gate faces east. And there is a pretty castle, but it’s privately owned, so you can’t visit it, but it makes a lovely background.

My son was after his usual prize…mango gelato. We didn’t actually find gelato, but we did find a sweet ice cream shop, which still tasted nice and reminded us both that we do in fact like gelato better. Since we arrived, I’ve suddenly become a pistachio fan.

The one thing that I wanted to see, apart from the village itself, was the Jardin des Cinq Sens, aka the Garden of the Five Senses. The garden is modeled after medieval maze gardens. It’s separated into seven distinct areas and, as the name suggests, is a sensory garden.

The first area is dedicated to Alpine Meadows with wild thyme and edelweiss. Then the path moves through sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. The whole place was filled with bright flowers, rows of mint, soft sage leaves, water features, apple trees, beanstalks, and hundreds of other varieties. Sadly, we weren’t allowed to eat anything in the taste garden.

Alpine Meadow.

Feeling the soft sage.

Sign for the Tasting Garden.

Random chicken in the Tasting Garden.

The seventh section was for medicinal plants…some poisonous, so don’t touch. But they had little plaques indicating which part of the body they were used for. And the last section was made to look woven from above, with roses, oats, and wild grass. Great photo ops with the castle here as well.

After the garden, I had promised A a hot dog. But we couldn’t find the place that I’d seen online and were told that it has closed down. So we wandered the streets and eventually found a sandwich shop that…surprise, also sold hot dogs! You had your choice of baguette or panini for bread.

By this time the streets had managed to fill with tourists. I continue to be impressed by how many people are out and about while the American tourists are nowhere to be found. I had always selfishly assumed that we made up a sizeable chunk of overseas travelers due to the size of our country…but clearly we don’t. Or maybe the Europeans are coming out because they know we’re not around…lol.

It was also starting to get hot. The weather said it was going to be cool and stormy, so I’d worn jeans. But it wasn’t cool and stormy…it was about 80F and sunny with no breeze inside the walls. So we packed up our hot dog paninis and went and ate in the air conditioned car before heading off back around the lake.

Incidentally, Yvoire is one of 159 on the list of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. I might have to track down a few of the other ones in our area.

Posted in France, Switzerland

The French Alps!

Mountain views in the French Alps,

We’ve been in Switzerland for over a month now, so I figured it was high time for us to get up into the mountains. My son had picked up his annual back-to-school cold and been camped out at home for the last week. My work had asked me, not necessarily to quarantine, but not to come into work and try to stick close to home until we knew for sure what was ailing him…and whether he’d passed it to me. He basically had a runny nose and a bit of a cough. But it never developed into anything worse, and I have yet to mirror his symptoms.

After yet another week at home, I was dying to get out of the house. And I was looking for something that wouldn’t wear out my kid, so I thought a nice drive and a ride on a chairlift would be just the thing. Get some fresh mountain air!

Many of the alpine ski resorts that are popular in the winter also have lifts open in the summer for hiking. Geneva literally borders France, so the closest ski resort to us wasn’t actually in the Swiss Alps, which were on the other side of Lake Geneva (aka Lac Leman). It was the French ski resort of Le Praz de Lys barely an hour away.

It took me some time to figure out exactly where we were going. When it comes to travel, I don’t really wing it. All you need is one good wrong turn, and you’ll end up 50 miles from your destination. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have a free day in my itinerary, and some things do end up being out of your control. But when I get in the car, I like to know where I’m stopping on the other end, if possible.

I knew that I was looking for the base of a chairlift. And the website listed the address for the ski resort as being in the French village of Taninges. But when I looked up Taninges on the map, it pegged the ski resort in the middle of town, and I couldn’t find anything resembling a ski left. Add to that, the fact that the peak that the lift supposedly would take us to was REALLY far away.

Terrain map of French Alps near Geneva. The red balloon is where we were trying to go.

Cows with bells on so you can hear them in the mountains.

So I decided to do a little reverse research. I found the top of the mountain on Google maps satellite view, and then I followed the T-shaped shadows of the chairlifts to its base. Right next to the base was a restaurant called Restaurant Jean de la Pipe. So THAT’s where we wanted to go, which incidentally was 10 MILES from the village of Taninges.

The website also said that the lift was closed for lunch from 12-1:30pm. So we had a leisurely Saturday morning at home and wandered off toward France around noon. We paid a small toll on the way that I physically tapped with my credit card for less than 2 CHF, then we cruised through the border without a French customs agent in sight. It was the Schengen zone after all. (I remember my mom taking me and my stepdad on a wild goose chase when we’d visited in 2005 because she was determined to get a stamp in her passport, but they just didn’t do that anymore.)

Anyway, we had a lovely little drive through the French countryside, and then we came to a crossroad where the signs to the ski resorts pointed to the right, but the GPS was pointing to the left. So I followed the GPS and ended up on some one-lane backroad shortcut up the side of a mountain with cars traveling in both directions. It finally merged back into two-lane traffic, and I made a mental note to ignore that shortcut on the way down.

As we got closer to the top, the drop-offs from the side of the road became a bit more significant. I won’t go as far as to say that I’m afraid of heights, I just really dislike the idea of PLUMMETING TO MY DEATH.

For some crazy reason the speed limit was actually 80 kph/50 mph on these tiny little switchbacks. And I almost hyperventilated when I saw the path ahead of us clinging to the side of a cliff face, as I crawled along at 15 mph in sheer terror. I even asked my son to cease his backseat narration of our journey, so I could focus on the road.

Happily, the cliff path that I had seen was actually a walking path for suicidal maniacs, and the road actually veered left into a tunnel. I can tell you right now that I have never been so happy to see a tunnel in my entire life.

But anticipation is usually worse than the real thing. Once around the corner the road leveled off into a series of valleys that increased in elevation like a large set of stairs. And eventually we arrived at our destination…but it was strangely empty. In fact, almost every single thing was closed, including the chair lifts.

I was hoping to get a traditional French sandwich on a baguette for lunch since I hadn’t eaten before we left, but the boulangeries were also closed. If I had paid attention, I would’ve noted on the website that the summer season ended on August 23.

Happily, I had noticed a few people sitting in front of a tavern on the way in. So we strolled over to their location and managed to procure some chicken nuggets and fries (in a tiny grocery cart!) for the kiddo and my coveted ham and cheese sandwich on a baguette…even though they had technically finished lunch service.

Le Taverne in Le Praz de Lys.

My yummy ham and cheese sandwich.

We spent the rest of our visit breathing in the mountain air, photographing green peaks and brown cows, and listening to the tinkling of bells as said cows wandered around the mountainside.

The way back was much more relaxing. I knew what to expect on the roads, and the right lane mostly hugged the mountain. Because COVID cases are increasing in certain regions in France, there were actually customs agents checking people at the Swiss border, and Monday starts a new requirement for quarantine for people coming from Paris and a few other regions in France.

I pulled out my dip passports and was suddenly nervous that they might give us a hard time for being American since tourists are still barred from entry. But they waved us through without a second glance…and I remembered that we were in a rental car with Swiss license plates.

Thus ended our adventure into the French Alps! Looking forward to our next mountain excursion and some snow, eventually. Perhaps we will take the train.

Posted in Switzerland

Spa Day at Le Bain Bleu

Entrance to Le Bain Bleu (photo courtesy of TripAdvisor).

Another one of the many perks about being overseas is that you get US and local holidays off. If your kid doesn’t go to an American school, you get days off WHILE your kid is in school. For a single parent, it’s the most amazing and wonderful thing.

So after over two years of being in the States and having all the same holidays, I was really looking forward to having Labor Day all to myself. And I had already planned out where I was going to go. I was going to spend the morning at Le Bain Bleu (The Blue Bath) Hammam & Spa in Cologny.

Cologny is a suburb on the other side of the lake from where we are, and you have to pass through central Geneva on the way. So, even though it’s less than 10 miles away, it can take at least 30 minutes to get there. It is also famous for the Villa Diodati, “in which Lord Byron, John Polidori, Mary Shelley and Percy Bysshe Shelley spent part of the Year Without a Summer in 1816. Due to the poor weather, the guests spent days indoors telling each other horror stories. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre, the first modern vampire story, both resulted.” (Wikipedia)

Le Bain Bleu is a combination thermal bath, hammam, and day spa. They have two big water baths, a steam bath, a bistro, and various relaxation areas in between. The baths were the first thing that drew me. I have really missed the pool culture in Iceland. And the pictures reminded me of one of the thermal baths we had visited in Reykjavik.

I had purchased my ticket online. So when I arrived (after parking in the massive six-floor subterranean parking garage by the manmade Geneva beach), I showed them my printed prepaid reservation. They gave me a little bracelet for entrance and made sure that I had a two-franc coin for the lockers in the changing rooms. Apparently you can rent towels for five Swiss francs and bathrobes for eight francs, but I had brought my own towel just in case.

I had arrived fairly early, and some guy in swim trunks was busy pushing a broom around in the water in the “Mystical Bath”. Another attendant let me know that it would be five minutes for the “animations” and pointed around the bath area. At first I thought he was talking about some kind of light show. Did I need to wait five minutes? But no on both counts. He meant the bubbles, the jets, and the rain shower. No problem! In I went.

The Mystical Bath from the other side of the rain shower (photo from Le Bain Bleu website).

After a nice soak, I swapped pools and made my way upstairs to the “Rooftop Bath”. The place was virtually empty. There had been no one else in the Mystical Bath, and there were only two ladies at the far end of the Rooftop Bath. I soaked some more while taking in the view of the lake and then made my way to the hammam.

The Rooftop Bath (photo courtesy of TripAdvisor).

View from the Rooftop Bath (photo from Le Bain Bleu website).

I had never been to a hammam before and wasn’t really sure what it was. If you aren’t either, it is a Middle Eastern-style spa where you go through various rooms and stages in sequence. Step 1 is the steam room. Step 2 is the scrub room where you can get a special exfoliating glove, or you can reserve an optional spa treatment and have someone else do it for you. Step 3 is resting in the central pool or on the hot stone slabs, which was one massive concrete thing marked with blue painter’s tape to keep people apart. Step 4 is the hot steam room. And Step 5 is back in the central pool or the hot stone slab.

Now, I’m 50/50 on the hammam. I don’t like to be hot…so it follows that I don’t really like steam rooms. I like hot baths when there’s a cold one nearby to counteract it. I’m also claustrophobic, so at one point I was literally pacing back and forth in front of the central pool trying to figure out how to get out of the hammam. Small panic attack. Happily no one else was in there at the time…except one couple in the first steam room that probably thought I was crazy.

The central pool in the hammam (photo from Le Bain Bleu website).

You have to take your swimsuit off before entering the hammam and put on a hammam towel, which you can also wear in the pool. I found this confusing, so (once I had finished pacing) I just sat on the hot stone slab and waited for my scrubby massage, which is the only thing I really wanted in that section. But once I finally had my massage, it was fantastic!

I had signed up for the Traditional Scrub and Massage with Soapsuds, which looked and felt exactly like the picture below…except the masseuse wasn’t also wearing a hammam towel…she had normal clothes and flip flops on. She also washed my hair and gave me a nice face massage while soft French music played in the background. Then I swear she covered my hair and face in Vaseline and bid me good day! Next time I will know to bring shampoo. The whole thing took place on another hot stone slab, which was a bit uncomfortable, but it was waterproof, and the bubbles were fun.

The Traditional Scrub and Massage with Soapsuds (photo from Le Bain Bleu website).

All in all, it wasn’t the most relaxing spa day I’ve ever had, but now I know where and what it is! You can also just go for the baths alone for 29 francs, which is probably what I will do from now on. And you can even bring kiddos for 15 francs (and kids under seven are free)! Not sure how relaxing that would be for other people. But I’m sure A would love it. He was a little jealous when I told him about it afterward. Maybe next time! 😊

Posted in Switzerland

Day Trip to Gruyères!

The main square in Gruyeres.

I don’t spend a lot of time on Pinterest, but I do use it to collect travel ideas. Before we arrived, I’d read several blog posts and saved lots of pins about Gruyères. You’ve probably heard of it because of gruyere cheese that comes from the same area. It is also famous for its walled medieval village and hilltop castle.

So last weekend, we hopped into the rental car and drove about an hour and half up to the canton (similar to a county or state) of Fribourg. I had planned to go on Sunday to hear the alphorn demonstration, but it was supposed to rain heavily, so we cruised up the day before.

Now that it’s just the two of us, I leisurely plan for a few key things, so that A doesn’t get too worn out or cranky. I generally try to save a kid-themed thing for last as motivation. And he’s usually happy to go along with whatever.

So the main things on today’s itinerary were lunch (fondue preferably), a little wander around the walled city and castle, and then a visit to the chocolate factory. And that was exactly what we did!

We parked at the base of the hill and trudged up the short steep path to the village. After three weeks in Switzerland, I was on a mission for some fondue and stopped at the first place we came across…the restaurant at the Hotel de Ville. It was sprinkling a bit, but they had covered outdoor seating right in the main square and a menu board with fondue in big chalk letters. We even managed to beat the tour bus by about 15 minutes.

My kiddo wasn’t a fan of the fondue, which was fine…more for me…mwa ha ha! But they did have a kid’s menu, so he had some fairly decent chicken nuggets. And I had a fun amber beer with a label depicting a dungeon. The translation on the label read: “Ideal in tragic moments: abrupt end of reign, lost crusade, capture by the enemy. Perfect for the scaffold.” A tasty beer with a sense of humor.

And the fondue was amazing! They served “fondue moitié-moitié” (half-and-half), which is half Gruyère chesese, half Vacherin fribourgeois cheese, and white wine. Apparently you’re supposed to drink a dry white wine with fondue, but I thought the beer went nicely.

Swiss beer and fondue!

The village itself is closed to cars and full of lovely cobblestones. The castle was built in the 11th century and kept for about 500 years by a series of dukes but was eventually lost to bankruptcy and taken over by the local government. In the mid-1800s it was sold to a family that fixed it up and used it as a summer home. A hundred years later it was sold back to the government, which now maintains it as a public museum.

View of the castle and the nice walking path.

View from the castle.

A didn’t actually want to go inside the castle, so we contented ourselves with walking around the perimeter, checking out the cool slugs on the paths, and taking in the views. There was also one other reason that I wanted to visit Gruyères…the H.R. Giger Museum.

Hans Ruedi Giger was a Swiss artist who was part of special effects team for the sci-fi film series Alien. The second film, Aliens, is one of my all-time favorites. H.R. was born in 1940, and in 1998 he bought the building that now houses the museum. He passed away in 2014, but his wife runs the museum as a tribute to his work. It’s not particularly child-friendly, so I didn’t take A inside, but I did peek into the café and snap some pics, which to me is the best part. I will definitely have to return there with some adventurous grown up friends in the future. 😊

Part of the menu and the interior of the alien cafe at the HR Giger Museum.

After we were done wandering around the village, we walked back down the hill and drove over to the Maison Cailler chocolate factory, which is about 10 minutes away. “It was founded by François-Louis Cailler in 1819 and bought by Nestlé in 1931.” (Wikipedia) The one-hour tours were booked up for the day, but the kiddo was starting to tire a bit and was not at all disappointed. He was solely after the good stuff at this point…the walls and walls of chocolate for sale in the gift shop.

The gift shop at the Maison Cailler chocolate factory.

Entrance to the shop is free, so we ended our day with half a dozen chocolate bars, a couple small boxes of minis, and a souvenir plush cow with a chef’s hat and wooden spoon…lol. Another great Swiss outing in the bag!

Posted in Switzerland

First Swiss Day Trip: Rolle!

Rolle castle.

As you can imagine, I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out where to go on our first day trip in Switzerland. Our sponsor was kind enough to give us a little tour of some of the neighboring towns along the lake…Coppet and Nyon…and then drop us at the Hertz car rental place on the other side of Geneva.

It would’ve all been peachy, but they wanted a credit card, driver’s license…and a passport. Not sure why that hadn’t occurred to me…or why they didn’t include that in the reservation information!! So the 25% that I saved by going a bit further afield (then say the airport) was promptly flushed down the toilet after spending $120 round trip on an Uber to go back home and get my passport.

But we finally got it sorted out. We are out of quarantine, and we have wheels! I thought of going to Gruyere, which is super cute, but figured I’d wait until next weekend when they have the alphorn demonstrations. Get the full Swiss treatment.

Could’ve gone to Les Diablerets and checked out the alpine slide at Glacier 3,000. But that would’ve been about a two-hour drive around the lake and up into the mountains and felt a bit ambitious for our first outing. Never mind the fact that the navigation system in the car is currently in Spanish.

So I settled on Rolle!! Rolle has a cute little medieval castle that was built in the 1200s, and the village grew up around it in the 1300s. According to Wikipedia, it is also “the birthplace of Frédéric-César de la Harpe (1754–1838), who was the tutor of Alexander I of Russia and was largely responsible for the independence of the Canton of Vaud from the Bernese.”

It was only about 25 minutes away, had a playground, a gelato shop, and a nice big parking lot by the castle. What more could we ask for?

So we cruised on up and found one of the last spots in the lot. My son played on the swings and the tiny zipline. Then we strolled along the lakeside and watched a regatta while snacking on chips/fries from a food truck. A fed the rest of his chips to the swans, ducks, and seagulls.

The regatta framed by flowers.

Then we wandered along the main street and looked in the shop windows. Most things are closed on Sundays in Switzerland except for restaurants. Many of the old buildings were brightly painted with colorful shutters. The castle was closed for visitors due to COVID, but we were content to admire it from the outside.

Colorful houses and shutters on the main street.

We ended our first outing by sitting on a bench and eating mango and lemon gelato in the shade of the nearby trees. Then we drove home along the lake. The weather was in the mid-70s, not too hot, and with a light breeze. It was a pretty fantastic first day out!

Posted in Switzerland

Swiss Quarantine: Week 2

Today is our last day of quarantine…woo hoo!! I’ll still be teleworking for a while yet, but we are renting a car tomorrow, and I am super excited to get out and about this weekend. The weather wasn’t looking too good for a while (thunderstorms), which was just a cruel joke on the part of the Universe. But the prediction seems to have cleared up a bit over the last few days.

Our last week of quarantine went well. We got to know our house a bit more. We have a tiny Euro fridge and matching freezer that open toward each other like cupboards. Luckily, the previous occupant had a full-sized fridge and sold it to me before he left. So now my kiddo and I have kid’s vs grown-up fridges…lol. And the three things at the top are (from L-R) a combination oven/microwave, a coffee maker, and a traditional oven.

Thorfinn modeling the tiny Euro fridge and freezer.

For the first time in my career with the FS, we didn’t have a TV in our welcome kit. I had a bunch of extra room in our UAB, and If I’d been paying attention, I totally could’ve thrown one in, but I wasn’t. I did however pack our Apple TV and our Wii, which we’ll now have to wait until our HHE arrives to use. (Sadly it hasn’t even left the States yet, so who knows when it will get here. We are getting our UAB on Tuesday though!) So we’ve been making do on iPad and laptop.

The previous resident was also kind enough to send us lots of pictures of the interior of the house. He also confirmed that a small TV would work best because our “entertainment center” is this bizarre arrangement of cabinets that stick out of the wall and don’t allow enough room for big screens. So I had our large 42-inch TV put in storage. After we arrived, I realized that you can actually lift them off the wall. Too late now! Wonder if he knew that.

Cube-y entertainment center.

I knew ahead of time that Hulu and Amazon Prime Video (free) don’t work here. But Netflix does, and I was happily surprised when my Disney+ account still worked. So that’s pretty much what we’ve been doing in our non-work time…which of course is all day for my son. BUT in-person school starts next week! I could not be more thrilled.

Other than that, I’ve been working on the other fun details that come with an international move. Like the fact that my credit card company insists on sending a code to my phone whenever I log in online…but it won’t send one to an international number. So I had queried the FS gurus on how to solve this particular issue and ended up getting a US-based internet phone line through Skype. Very happy with that solution.

I’m also very happy with the fact that Google Translate has a photo feature. Most of the packaging I’ve seen for groceries is in three languages…French, German, and Italian. If I’m uncertain about what I’m buying or how to cook it, I can point my phone at the package, and Google will translate it for me. An Icelandic friend pointed out the feature when we lived there, but I’d never really used it until now. Isn’t that cool?? Thank you, friend!

Before and after shots using Google Translator camera feature.

Posted in Switzerland

Swiss Quarantine: Week 1

Our new living room and dining room, which we visit in the morning when it’s coolest.

Well, as you can imagine, our first week in Switzerland has been in a bit underwhelming not being allowed to leave the house. But we are getting settled in and figuring things out. I’m all connected at work and have been able to work remotely since the day after we arrived.

Thorfinn made it down from Zurich, yay! And he must’ve been holding it for his entire trip because in the five minutes that it took me to sign the paperwork and haul the kennel up the stairs to the apartment…he crapped on the tile and peed in the corner. But I took him out into our nice big yard anyway, in case he had some more in there…and boy did he. He basically spent the next three hours emptying his bowels in 30-minute intervals. Happily, he was pretty much back to normal by the next day.

Thorfinn enjoying his new backyard!

I also spent a few days trying to figure out the AC situation. Swiss homes generally don’t have air conditioners or window screens. So they open all the windows and invite in the breeze and the nature. I’ve probably killed a dozen spiders already…including one of the biggest Daddy Longlegs that I’ve ever seen (which of course dropped from the ceiling right in front of me). And A has now refused to go in the backyard because he claims to be arachnophobic.

They do have portable AC units like the ones we had in London. They have big exhaust hoses to vent the hot air, and you’re supposed to hang them out the window. The only problem is that we don’t have any windows that slide up and down. All of our windows are French-door style. So if you stick the hose out the door, well, the door is still open, and all the heat is still coming in. So I wheeled it from room to room until I finally realized there was a thick curtain in the master bedroom, and I could seal it off to some extent by closing the curtain.

So A and I have basically moved into the master bedroom all day and night. We’re sharing the queen bed, even though he kicks. I can get the temp down to about 77F while the rest of the apartment hovers around 82F. Obviously the AC isn’t that effective. But it’s better than nothing!! And the mornings are pleasant, so I usually open up the whole place to let the cool air in.

The master bedroom with portable AC unit where we spend most of our time.

My bad tourist French has fared well so far. I had a nice conversation about the weather with the pizza delivery guy when he called to tell me he was going to be a little late. We did manage to get a grocery delivery, and I understood that guy too. But I was not at all helpful when another delivery guy called to tell me that he was lost. He was on his own there. But I think it’s great that they continue to let me attempt to converse in French and don’t instantly switch to English. So at least I’ll get some good practice in.

I’m also sorting out the appliances. They’re pretty similar to what we had in Iceland…like the combination oven/microwave. Being a bit jetlagged, I did accidentally plug in a power strip with an adapter and no transformer and promptly popped the circuit breaker. But now I know where the breaker panel is. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to find the brush and dustpan from the welcome kit after A dropped a glass and it shattered across the tile. I did finally find them though! Tucked into a mop bucket…on the top shelf of a closet…in the bathroom…behind the door.

The good news is that super strict Swiss quarantine will be over on Saturday, and on Sunday we can go grocery shopping, walk the dog, and exercise outdoors! Of course, everything is closed on Sundays…so we’ll probably just be taking the dog for really long walks around the neighborhood. Can’t wait to see what surrounds us! I realized yesterday that this low thumping noise that I can hear on occasion is boats skimming across the lake, which is less than a mile away!