Up, Up, and Away!

On January 28, 2018, I got to check another item off my bucket list:  A hot air balloon ride.  Not only did I take a ride, it was a 2 hour ride in the Swiss Alps and it was breathtakingly gorgeous.  We went as high as 3,000 meters (about 10,000 feet) and the sights were spectacular.

Screen Shot 2018-02-18 at 1.26.03 PM

This whole event took place in Chateau D’Oex which is about an hour away from our home.  You can take a train there, but Grace and I had another friend, Arnd, join us and he offered to drive.  The International Balloon Festival takes place over 2 weekends and this was during the first weekend.  The night before the flight, we got the text message that the weather would be perfect and the flight was on!

IMG_3355

This adventure is not for the low budget crowd.  It will cost you 390 CHF per person, but I have to say:  Do it.  Money well spent.  Adventure of a lifetime.

 

We arrived in the town of Chateau D’Oex by 8:15 a.m. and grabbed a quick pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and some water before heading to the balloon field.  We were riding in Balloon 4.

IMG_3357

When we found our balloon, it was still on its side and the team was filling it with hot air.  Those square openings on the basket are how you climb in once the basket is upright.

A few photos of the balloons in the field before takeoff.

This is a photo of our pilot, Francois.  He has an aeronautical engineering degree and then flight specialization in hot air balloons.

IMG_3393

The take-off was very smooth.  I expected that we would sway and bounce, but the ride if very stable.  Most surprising to me is that there were 12 of us in that basket!  You will see random people in the photos because I couldn’t crop everyone out.

2 hours of beautiful scenery while we floated and the pilot told us the names of several of the mountains.

Truly a fantastic view.

Check out the balloons that haven’t taken flight:

DSC07962

The view

The sight of other balloons in the sky

X Marks the spot, but we missed it.  Which was a good thing.  He continued to fly for another 45 minutes!

DSC08033

I don’t have the vocabulary to truly verbalize how gorgeous and peaceful this was.

We flew over a lake

Splendor of the mountains

A gorgeous sun-filled day

And then it was time to land, guide the basket onto the trailer and put away the parachute.  Once those tasks are completed, we drove back to the village (about an hour by car).

After returning to the village we had some local food.  Rosti with bacon and an egg on top and Gruyere mac and cheese.  A delicious ending to a spectacular day!

Au revoir,

Julie

Un Bon Weekend à Paris!

 

I never thought it was possible to visit Picasso’s favorite restaurant, walk around Van Gogh’s old neighborhood, and see Monet’s Water Lilies in the same day, but it is! 

On October 21-22, Mom and I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Paris for a fabulous weekend getaway. Even though we only stayed for a little bit, we packed in as much as possible and got to see the best of Paris in just two days. 

It didn’t start out completely perfect, though. To get to Paris, we had to take a series of trains from Blonay (our town in Switzerland) to Gare de Lyon (misleading because it’s in Paris, not Lyon!) in France. We almost missed the train from Lausanne to Paris due to a miscommunication at Lausanne Gare, but ran fast enough to make it! Not in the right seats, at first, but we got it all figured out eventually. 

We arrived in Paris around 8 pm after leaving Lausanne at 4:23 pm, so the train ride was about 3 hours and 4 minutes. Not bad if you ask me! I was borderline hangry (hungry + angry,  haha) when we got to the train station, so we grabbed some quick sandwiches for dinner from a small bakery called PAUL. I got the Parisien and mom ordered a chicken sandwich. 

After dinner, it was time to head to the hotel to get checked in and sleep fast for the huge day we had planned on Saturday. We stayed at the Empire Hotel in the heart of Paris, right next to the Louvre! Our room was really nice and I loved how close we were to everything. 

IMG_2438

We got off to a super early start on Saturday! After waking up and getting ready, it was time to grab a quick (but very delicious) breakfast in the lobby and walk to the meeting point for the start of our “Paris in a Day” tour. One of the men working at the front desk told us the best bus to take and helped us get there without any troubles. Très bien 🙂 

Our tour consisted of the Sacré Cœur (Sacred Heart) Basilica, walking around the historical “old town” of Montmartre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, visiting some of the most famous works in the Musée du Louvre, and finally going to the top of the Eiffel Tower! It lasted from 9 am to 5 pm, so I was expecting to be pretty exhausted and /over it/ by the end of the day, but our tour guide was incredible, and the day went perfectly!

At around 8:30, we arrived at the meeting point next to a Steak ‘n’ Shake (wasn’t expecting that!) and met our tour guide, Violette. She was awesome! She told us that she studied art history in Rome and gave walking tours there and then in Paris, although she is a Paris native. We then took the metro from the meeting point to Montmartre, where we took pictures in front of the Basilica before going inside and walking around for a bit to take in the incredible architecture. There were /technically/ no photos allowed inside, but I made sure the guards weren’t looking before I took these 😉

After the Basilica, we walked around the Montmartre area. We even got to see Picasso’s favorite restaurant in Paris! There were tons of street artists around and it was a really cute area to walk around. Paris is such a unique mixture of old and new, and Montmartre definitely showcases that. There is a 200 year old shop right next to a Starbucks! It was also a great place to stop for a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant) and take a much needed bio break.

From Montmartre (18th Arrondissement), we traveled to the 4th Arrondissement for the Notre Dame Cathedral. It is absolutely breathtaking inside and out. We even got to see the ceremony they do to start each Mass where the priest walks out and says a special prayer. 

Before we could continue with the tour, lunch was essential. We stopped at a cute little café just outside the Louvre and we both ordered French onion soup because you just have to when you’re in Paris, right?

The Louvre was next, and was probably my favorite part of the day! I learned so much and it was incredible. Violette told us that the museum is so huge that if you looked at each piece of artwork on display for one minute and spent 24 hours a day doing that, it would take three months to see it all. Plus, that’s only counting what’s on display! The Louvre only displays about 8% of its collection at a time. Crazy!!!! We obviously didn’t have time to look at everything, but Violette showed us the highlights because she knows her way around pretty well. Obviously we had to see the Mona Lisa, but we also saw tons of Greek statues, including one of Nike, (recognize that name?!) the goddess of victory. My favorite work might have been “Les Trois Grâces” (pictured below) 😉 And tons more!

IMG_6766

IMG_6768

After the Louvre, our day was coming to a close. We took the metro to the Eiffel Tower for the last leg of our walking tour. Our tickets included a ride to the second floor, but we opted to go up to the very top as well. It was sooo windy up there, but it was worth it! Since we went towards the end of the day, we got to see the sun set from the top and take some pictures from the bottom as well.

IMG_6902

For dinner, we found an adorable spot right off the grounds of the Eiffel Tower with literally 4 tables. We ordered pasta (a choice that’s always safe, duh) and it did not disappoint! The waitresses were so cute and funny and took pictures with everyone in the restaurant. Highly recommend!

I’m sure you’re exhausted by now, and I was too! But our tour included tickets for a nighttime cruise along the Seine River, which we couldn’t pass up! We had to make the most of our short weekend, and we already had the tickets, so we finished our Saturday night with a relaxing cruise. It was really cool to see the city from a different perspective and be able to sit down and relax while seeing everything. Trying to get back to our hotel after the cruise proved challenging since we’re not as good with Parisian public transportation as we are with the Swiss system, but we ended up just taking a taxi to save some stress and to flop into our beds as soon as possible! It was a really enjoyable day, but we were TIRED. 

On Sunday morning, we slept in a little bit. Our train home was at around 1 pm, so we wanted to do something in the morning before leaving but we weren’t in a huge rush. We grabbed breakfast from the hotel and then walked from there to the Musée d’Orsay. It was a really nice walk because our hotel was super close to the Louvre, and the Musée d’Orsay is just behind that.

Even though the Louvre is considerably bigger, the Orsay wasn’t any less impressive. In fact, the size of the Orsay makes it a lot more manageable and it wasn’t as crowded. We were able to see several works by Van Gogh and Monet which was incredible. I wasn’t expecting to see Van Gogh’s work and it wasn’t in a huge special display room like the Mona Lisa, but it was impressive to see nonetheless. My favorite work of art from both museums was one of Van Gogh’s starry night paintings in the Orsay. 

IMG_7061IMG_7060

IMG_7092IMG_7093IMG_7070

IMG_2645

There are also some really cool animal sculptures outside the museum, so I had to take a picture with the elephant 🙂

After the art museum in the morning, we walked back to our hotel through a beautiful sculpture garden where all the Parisians go on their daily runs. We also took some fun pictures outside the Louvre since we had more time than on the walking tour and because we were already walking back through it! 

We made sure to leave plenty of time to get to the train station in order to avoid a similar incident to the one on our way to Paris. We took an Uber from the hotel to the train station and bought some snacks for the journey home before getting on and enjoying the ride! 

We didn’t have much time in Paris, but we definitely enjoyed the weekend that we did have. Plus, we walked around this special medallion in front of the Notre Dame three times, which (according to urban legend) means we’ll be back to Paris soon!

IMG_6694

À bientôt! 

Grace

Spring Break or Winter Break?

Hello everyone!  It’s Abbie, back to make a special guest appearance with a long overdue post about my Spring Break!  For my Spring Break, I got to go back to Switzerland to visit mom and Grace (and sight see of course!), and my boyfriend, Joe, got to come with me.  On our trip we had a good mix of local Switzerland activities and traveling.

After a flight delay, a missed connection, and MANY more hours in airports than planned, Joe and I finally made it my mom’s house in Blonay, Switzerland.  By the time we got there it was around 1 am local time and about 24 hours after we had left Nashville to begin our journey.  Needless to say, we were exhausted and went to bed for the night shortly after arriving.  (Although we did have to have a quick snack of pasta and a baguette before bed because what else would you eat at 1 am while in Europe??)

The next morning we were well rested and ready to start our adventures!  We went to Vevey for the day to see some local sites and get a good view of the lake and the mountains.  The fork in the lake is a landmark of Vevey, and Charlie Chaplin is from Vevey, which explains why he has a statue there.

We ended our day of sightseeing in Vevey with none other than a fondue dinner! (Did you REALLY go to Switzerland if you didn’t eat fondue?)

IMG_6863

The next day, Joe and I decided to head to Montreux and Chillon for some more site-seeing.  Montreux is known for its beautiful lake-front views and Chillon is home to the castle Chateu de Chillon (mom, Grace, and I visited this when we first arrived in Switzerland last July so we have a full blog post about this if you want more pics).  I promised Joe that he would get to see a castle while in Europe so I had to keep my promise!

The next day, Joe and I decided to head to Lausanne in search of the Lausanne Cathedral.  We had to walk uphill for about 30 minutes as well as climb a good number of steps to get there, but when we found it, it did not disappoint!

There was also a really good view of the city of Lausanne from the Cathedral since it was so high up!

IMG_4611 2

We walked back down the hill from the cathedral and went into a few local shops in Lausanne before deciding to take the train back home.  We wanted to get a good night’s sleep because we had a big day ahead of us!

The next day was probably the highlight of the trip for me; we went to Chamonix, France and saw Mont Blanc!  We had to wake up at 5 am to take a train to Geneva in order to meet our tour guide on time, but the early wake up call was definitely worth the amazing sites we got to see.

Once we met our tour guide in Geneva, we boarded a big bus, which we were on for about an hour to get to Chamonix.  Crossing the boarder into France was no biggie since the European countries are much friendlier with each other than America is (lol).

Upon arrival in Chamonix, we already had some excellent mountain views!

IMG_4657IMG_4668

After getting into town, we took a cable car up, up, up the mountain to the Aiguille du Midi point, which is over 12,000 feet tall!  The ride to that point took about 20 minutes, but we finally made it to the top.  Visibility was low on the day that we went because of snow and fog, but we still got some pretty incredible views.

Being so high up was a really weird feeling– especially if you looked down! After exploring the top of the mountain for a little bit, we headed back down for a quick lunch intermission.  After lunch, we went to my favorite part of the day, which was going to la Mer de Glace, which is a huge and famous glacier.  We didn’t really get to see much of the actual glacier because it was covered by a ton of snow, but we still got to take small cable cars down into the valley between all of the mountains.  The views were absolutely breathtaking and it felt like we were IN the mountains; there was nothing surrounding us but mountain after mountain.  In this area between all of the mountains, it was also snowing really hard.  But it wasn’t a snow that felt like any other snow we have ever experienced.  We decided that the best way to describe it was as “Dip N Dot Snow.”  The snow coming out of the sky was in huge clumps that felt exactly like Dip N Dots!!

IMG_4783

IMG_4825IMG_4821IMG_4816IMG_4793IMG_4808IMG_4833IMG_4790IMG_4826IMG_7595

After an exhausting but amazing day, we headed back to Blonay.  But I think we would all definitely recommend visiting Chamonix and Mont Blanc if you ever get the chance!  I would like to go back some day during the summer time to be able to have full visibility from the top of the mountain, but I also loved the wintery, snowy experience!

The next day was our final full day.  We headed back into France to go to Evian, which is where the source of Evian water comes from.  Evian is a cute little town right on the water.  We enjoyed pretty views and a delicious but extremely cheap (compared to Switzerland) lunch.

IMG_4892

Macie wanted to try some water from the source too!

img_4893.jpg

Some sites from the town:

In the afternoon, we headed back toward home and went to Mt. Pelerin, which is a mountain in Vevey that you can take the Funi up to.  We took the Funi as far as it would go, but didn’t hike up to the top after that (but Grace and I hiked to the top over the summer so we have a whole blog post about that too if you want more pics!).  But we did still get some beautiful views.

Joe and I headed to Geneva that night because our flight left from Geneva at 7:30 am the next day and trains don’t run early enough to get to Geneva in time on the day of the flight.  Our trip went by quickly but we had a great week visiting my mom and Grace and traveling.  I’m counting down the days until I get to go back!

The Most Swiss Thing You Have Ever Seen!

On September 23, 2017 Grace and I had the opportunity to attend quite possibly *the* most Swiss thing you can imagine.  It is called Désalpe (click for pronounciation désalpe )

We had heard about a festival where they bring the cows down the mountain in the fall and celebrate the cow who has given the most milk with a crown of flowers.  We didn’t know it was called désalpe and we didn’t know the whole town would turn out and we didn’t know about the cacophony of cowbells!  Also, based on the signs promoting the event, we didn’t know this was THE event.  Then some friends told us, Hey, this weekend…there’s a thing…with cows…everyone says we need to see it.

Here is the promotional banner for the event in Blonay.  We have since learned that this event takes place in numerous towns over a 3-week period.

Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 9.16.13 AM

For those of you who are interested in the history of the event, I have relied upon Wikipedia to provide the story:

The poya (which means in arpitan “climb”, “côte”, in French puy, from the Latin podium 1) or climbed in alpine pastures is the name of transhumance in the Swiss Alps . This term is also used in France in particular in the Chamonix valley , in the Alps and in the south of the Jura. It is part of the living traditions of Switzerland .

In Switzerland, in the village of Estavannens (in Gruyère ), the Poya is a centuries-old tradition that still lasts, where art and popular feast join agriculture . This region specializes in breeding and cheese making . The cheese Gruyère is known since the xvi th  century . It is a whole cow’s milk cheese , made with raw milk.

The herds of cows spend the summer months in Alpine . The displacements of spring climbing as the desalp (or Rindyà , Almabtrieb in the German speaking countries) in autumn have become paradeswhere the armailli is proud to parade with its beasts, which are decorated for the occasion . (Do not confuse the climb to the mountain pasture which is the poya and the descent of the mountain pasture – in other words the desalpe – which is the rindyà )

For the poya and the rindyà , the armailli wears the Sunday bredzon , the capet, the beautiful loyi ( salt pocket ) nine and the cane in hand. The cows are pampered and flowered. Part of the herd carries the big bells with beautiful embroidered straps and the initials of the owner. The “train of the chalet” transports the equipment to the place where one can arrive with a cart pulled by a mule  : the trunks of the armaillis and all the tools of the chalet , that is to say the bucket to milk, Small bucket cream , the great whip , the slice-curdling, the strainer with its support, bucket milking , the churn , the Oji ( chassis used to transport the cheeses on the head and shoulders).

In the xviii th  century , there were nearly a hundred alpine activity. At that time, the annual production was 14,000 cheese wheels . In this context, the Poya is known well beyond the countryside. La Gruyere has supplied herds to the princely families of France. They then became interested in the parades of the Poya.

In Estavannens , in May 1956, the first popular festival of the Poya d’Estavannens was organized by the Gruyérian association for costume and customs. It celebrates the 75 th  anniversary of the publicationof a poem published by Étienne Fragnière recounting the ascent to the mountain pasture. Since then, the festival has been renewed in 1960 , 1966 , 1976 , 1989 , 2000 and 2013 2 .

The herdsmen also parade every twenty years to the Vintners Festival of Vevey since 1819 . Bernard Romanens , Armailli de Marsens becomes a legendary figure for his interpretation of the Ranz des caches during the 1977 Festival of Winegrowers .

So, now that the history lesson is behind us, I am going to share some photos of the fabulous people, music, animals, and traditions!

Not just for Ricola commercials.  The alphorn or alpenhorn or alpine horn is a labrophone, consisting of a wooden natural horn of conical bore, having a wooden cup-shaped mouthpiece, used by mountain dwellers in the Swiss AlpsAustrian AlpsBavarian Alps in GermanyFrench Alps, and elsewhere. Similar wooden horns were used for communication in most mountainous regions of Europe, from the Alps to the Carpathians.

Of course you need to hear what this sounds like!  It is only 18 seconds of video, but I know you want to hear these guys do more than just a blast like the guy in the Ricola commercials.

It isn’t a festival without food.  Most festivals have a system in place where you go to a counter and tell people what you want and pay for it.  In return, they hand you a ticket and you go wait in each line to get your food, dessert, beverage, etc.

 

A very famous dessert in the area is Meringues with La Gruyère Double Créme (shown below)  Meringues are delicious and when dipped in the cream, they are yummy, but overall, too much of the cream for me.  This table was swamped with people who love this and couldn’t wait to eat it.

IMG_1884

Many of the cowbells were on display and they are quite ornate.  These were carried by a group as a part of the festivities.

I have some video of all the people and the traditional music playing for all to enjoy.

Here are the people marching with the cowbells

You have been so patient.  Finally, we are to the cows!  So many beautiful animals.

I know you all want MORE COWBELL!  So without further hesitation, click on the video links below and ENJOY!

 

And, finally as the event was drawing to a close, Grace got to hang out with this horse.

IMG_2084

I am sure we will come across many more things that are completely outrageous in their Swiss-ness, but for now, this event has top place!

Au revoir!

[julie]

Sometimes We Stay in Switzerland

If you are a regular reader of this blog I am sure it seems like we do nothing but travel and eat gelato in different countries, but I assure you that sometimes we stay in Switzerland.  Furthermore, sometimes we just stay at home.  I know, I know.  It doesn’t really seem that way.  However, I have some photographs to share with you about the things we do here in the town where we live and some parts of our daily life in Switzerland.

I am addicted to the view of the lake and the mountains.  I probably take at least one photo a day of the same or a similar view.  Depending on the weather and the temperature and the time of the day, it looks different every single time.  Below is a sunset sequence.

Sometimes we try to cook new things like these blintzes.  First you make crepes.  Then you prepare a filling that includes ricotta cheese, mascarpone cheese, and peach preserves.  Roll them up and then bake them until they are crispy.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy!  Of course I couldn’t do it without Grace’s help.

One weekend (the same one as the blintzes) we had brunch with friends and then went to a car show in the town center of Blonay.  It was very interesting to see all the cars and surprised by how many US cars were there.

A favorite spot of ours is right by the Lake.  Lac Léman aka Lake Geneva.  It is so beautiful.  At any given time you see people swimming, sailboats, stand-up paddle boards, a ferry boat, fisherman, swans, and a beautiful view.  There is a park area all along the lake.  People ride their bikes, walk, stroll with babies or dogs or both.  There are restaurants and bars.  Sculptures and statues.  It is an area that just brings a smile to your face and joy to your soul.

There are the odd things about the Swiss; like why does a Mex Mix of vegetables container green beans?  Why?  Who do I call to explain that there shouldn’t be green beans in this bag of vegetables?  Also, please stock some cumin in your stores.  I find it bizarre that I can easily find an obscure ingredient like Sambal Oelek, but cumin is noticeably absent from the shelves.  How will I make chili this winter?  (p.s. for the 100th time, let it be known that the movers would not allow me to bring my spices and it made me very sad.)

A short walk near our home has some variation in altitude.  If I were to check the altitude on the walk into the town center, it would have even more variance as the town center is higher up the mountain than where we live.

We wouldn’t be living the European lifestyle if we didn’t have furniture from IKEA.  Here, Grace displays some of her fabulous furniture assembly skills.  (Don’t tell her I posted these photos…she is wearing shorts with troll dolls on them and didn’t know I was taking photos.)  This couch is in a room that is an office as well as a guest room.  It has its own bathroom and the couch turns into a double bed.

Macie was used to having free range in our St. Louis backyard.  It was fenced in and she could run hard every day.  When I took her to work with me, we had a fenced in dog yard there, too.  Sadly, the walls at this home do not contain her.  The walls are close to the ground and she will just jump the walls and run into the nearby field or into a grouchy old man’s yard.  You may think I am exaggerating, but it actually  happened.  Macie bolted from our yard, flew over the wall, across the street, through the field and charged past a particular man’s home and then came galloping back to me at full speed.  I endured a 10 minute lecture in Swiss German followed by French.  No translator required to understand that his blood pressure was close to heart attack levels, his fists were clenched, his face was such a dark red that it was almost purple, and he was spitting the words at me.  I tried to politely ask, “Parlez-vous anglais?” (Do you speak English?)  “Est-ce que vous pouvez parler lentement?”  (Can you speak slowly please?)  When he did neither, I just stood there until his screaming rage subsided.  He must have finally picked up the vibe that I was not understanding all those words.  He switched to English and screamed each word at me with a full second between each word for it to soak in to my thick American skull:  THIS.   BIG.   PROBLEM.   NO MORE!!!!!  Got it.  Loud and clear, sir.  So, now Macie can only go out into our yard on her leash.  We go for at least 2 walks a day and take her to a dog park as often as possible so she can free run.  There are dog parks in Vevey and Blonay.

The Swiss have dogs and they are allowed pretty much everywhere.  Trains (buy a ticket for them), busses (ticket there, too), restaurants, shops, etc.  However, you must always pick up after your dog.  These little stations are all over the place.

The Swiss are big on rules and it is a very safe city and really no crime here.  That’s because the fines and the penalties are quite high if you break a rule.  Rather than suffer the fate of high fines or spending a day in jail for not paying a fine on time, people opt to obey.  Let’s face it, there are cameras everywhere and they will figure it out if you aren’t using the proper trash bag or you don’t pay for the paper.

On Saturdays and Tuesdays, it is Market Day in Vevey.  Montreux has them, too, but I can’t remember which day.  On Market Days, you see all these vendors setting up and you can get great fresh produce, cheeses, meats, honey, mushrooms, cooked meals, jewelry, clothing, flowers, breads, and juices.