Zuropean Adventure

Friday, May 20, 2005

Hiking Above Regensdorf

The weather in Zürich for the last few weeks has been consistently mercurial, with never more than a few hours of sunshine at a time. So, when a nice day was predicted on Friday, my friend Carine and I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go on a hike. Carine suggested a hill with a view spot overlooking a town just outside of Zurich called Regensdorf where she had hiked before. It was such a warm day that soon I was stripped down to my tank top and wishing that I had worn shorts, which is a rare thought in Zürich!!

We set out around 3:00 up the trail, with Elina (Carine's one-year-old daughter) and Baxter along for company. We came to many forks in the road, but basically, all trails led up to the ridge and the top. After about an hour of walking, we arrived at the top, where, very conveniently, there was a viewing platform and a sign that pointed out all the visible peaks. A fellow hiker took a picture of our whole little group:

Elina was in a great mood, as she always is, and indulged me by allowing us to take a few pictures before her snack time.

The day was so clear that the Alps looked like they were really close, just a few miles away, when in fact they are halfway across the country!

Next it was time for Baxter and Elina to entertain everyone on the viewing platform with their playtime.

Then, it was time to walk down. We made a wrong turn at some point, but quickly corrected, and just got to see more of the beautiful forest as a result!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Last Week Has Been a Blur!

We've been so busy lately!! After we got back from our road trip, we went to a cooking class on Wednesday night together. The topic was making pasta by hand. I've now been to quite a few classes taught by this couple who run a company called Laughing Lemon. I really like their classes because they are fun and laid back, and they serve wine the whole time! We learned to make three kinds of pasta dough, and shape it into fettucini, orrechiette, and ravioli. They were served with a lemon cream sauce (my favorite), a puttanesca, and a goat cheese herb filling in tomato broth respectively. Yum. We took home some dough from the class that was left over and made ravioli at home for dinner one night. We came up with our own filling using the ingredients we had in the house, green onions, eggs, herbs, gorgonzola, and parmasean. (Since we're trying to deplete our pantry in advance of our move, it's like Iron Chef every night around here!)

The weather this weekend was schlecht. Even if you don't speak German, I'm sure you can guess that that doesn't sound too good. On Saturday morning, we went to a big flea market downtown at Bürkliplatz. Brian even bought a little metal sign for a Swiss mountain railway.

Then, we window shopped a bit and had lunch. Next order of business was finding a box to use to ship a few things home. You'd think this would be relatively easy...but, you'd be wrong. We started a few weeks ago by looking for places where we could buy boxes. No luck. So then we went to some stores and asked. One of the big grocery stores, Migros, sent us to another of its locations. Once there, they told us they had no boxes. We started to walk out, dejectedly, when we spotted on near the entrance holding shopping bags. We casually restocked the shopping bags for them and took the box once it was empty. Hah! It turns out that most stores in Switzerland use plastic crates instead of cardboard boxes for shipping and receiving inventory because it's more enviromentally friendly. It's a good policy, but it's bad for us when we need a moving box!

On Sunday, we had arranged to go hiking with some friends of ours, Carine and Roman. We know that they are pretty hard core outdoorspeople, and like to do something called ski mountaineering, which is basically back country skiing where you do BOTH the ascent and descent on skis. Anyway, we thought that hiking with them these days would be okay because they were bringing their daughter, Elina, who just turned one-year-old this weekend. Howeer, when we showed up, we were informed that we were going to learn to rock climb! We figured that meant walking over boulders or something, but then when they got out the harnesses and rope and carabiners, we knew we were in for something a little more intense. Gear loaded, we drove and hour west and south to Solothurn, and the weather cleared as we drove. We hiked about three hundred meters off the road to a rock face, got some instruction from Roman, and it was time to climb!

Because I am smaller and lighter, it was a lot easier for me than for Brian, but he made it to the top nonetheless! It was really a lot of fun and always something I've wanted to try, so it was great to have the opportunity to do it with experts.

Once we were back on terra firma, we started on our hike, which was a steep ascent to a viewpoint that overlooked the Aare Valley. Carine explained to us that many of the trails in Switzerland are centuries old. They aren't officially maintained the way trails in the US are, so they either get used and stay in good shape, or they are reclaimed by nature.

After hiking, we decided to go and walk around the old town of Solothurn. The town still has much of its midieval wall around it, which gives it a nice character and effectively closes the center part of town to almost entirely pedestrian traffic.

To finish off a very satisfying day, we had dinner at a little Italian restaurant, run by a family from the Abruzzi region of Italy. The lasagne and canneloni were some of the best we've ever tasted!

On Monday, Brian had the day off for Whitmonday, or Pfingstmontag. This is somehow the flip side of Ascension Day. What does up, must come down. We decided to go to Lucern and take special boat trip on the lake where they serve lunch. On the way there, the train station was very crowded with soccer fans on their way to a soccer match of Zürich vs. somebody. Check out the time, and check out what they are drinking.

It wasn't the best possible weather for our excursion on the lake, but it was still pretty with the mountains covered in mist.

That night, we went on an ellicit mission I can't give the details to in case the Swiss authorities are monitoring our blog! We dressed Baxter in a raincoat as a diversionary tactic (and because it was raining). We arrived home safe, but wet, about two hours later, mission accomplished.

Last night, we went to dinner at Douwe and Tonja's house and had a great meal, followed by a German board game, at which we lost miserably. Then, at 12:45 am, we went to the main train station to see Star Wars. For a few weeks in May, they are playing movies in the station, on what is certainly the biggest screen in the city. It was a fun experience and the movie was the best of the newer Star Wars episodes by far, although a few poorly written lines did detract from the overall experience. The movie was long, and there was an intermission (as there always is in Swiss movies), so we didn't get home until 4:00 am!

Monday, May 16, 2005

Road Trip!! Lyon to Chîllon...BTW, that rhymes ;)

Day 3: Lyon, France to Zurich, Switzerland (via Chîllon, Switzerland)
Driving Time: 3 hours, 58 minutes
Distance: 358 km

We were up and on the road relatively early on Sunday, ready to head northeast toward the Swiss border. We got on the autoroute and paid the last of the extortive French tolls (sometimes as much as 14 euro for one stretch of freeway!) before crossing into Switzerland. It was another lax border crossing. We could have imported wine, duty free, to our heart's content, and might have if we weren't going back to the US soon.

Just north of Geneva, we pulled over at a gas station to fuel up on another 60 euro tank of gas (that's $76 USD)...what a bargain! Soon after, we saw signs for Château de Chîllon, our destination for the day. We followed the signs incorrectly and went straight to the lake front instead of heading north along the lake road through Montreaux as we should have, and ended up in a little town called Vévey. We parked right by the lakefront-walk of the town, which was bustling given that it was a sunny (but crisp) day. We decided it was a good place to stop for lunch to enjoy the scenery so we found a little sandwich shop and ate on a park bench facing the lake.

Fully fortified, we got headed on the right road and drove the 15 minutes through Montreaux (home of the world-famous jazz festival) and to the castle.

Originally built in the 12th century, the castle at Chîllon is supposed to be one of the best presered in all of Europe. It's beautiful location jutting out over Lake Geneva also make it a real crowd pleaser. When you visit, the entry price includes a little self-guided tour booklet with very interesting information on the castle that made for exactly the right lenght tour for our attention spans.

First stop is the dungeon, where a famous Count was imprisioned for five years, chained to one of the stone pillars. Sucky as that must have been, at least he had a good view! The other notable feature of the dungeon is that Byron (poet, political crusader, etc.) scratched his name into one of the pillars.

Next we went upstairs to the main living areas of the castle, where the people who weren't imprisioned hung out. There were some nice window seats and balconies looking out over the lake and into the garden courtyard.

Even the room with the latrines had a nice view:

On the back of the castle are the defensive fortifications and towers facing the mountains, which you can climb across and up to for a better view of the whole building.

After we wrapped up our visit to the château, it was time to start heading north toward the dog who was in Burghalden for the weekend. Burghalden is at the southern tip of Lake Zürich, near the town of Rapperswil, about 35-40 minutes from Zürich city. We'd never actually driven to the dog sitter's house, only taken the train, so this was going to be an adenture. Looking at the map, there was no good way to get from where we were to where we wanted to go, so we kind of weaved our way across Switzerland. The scenery was super-Swiss indeed, we just needed some yodeling sheep-herders to come walking through.

We pretty much drove right to where Baxter was "vacationing" for the weekend and were quite impressed with ourselves. Then, back home to Pfirsichstrasse 17!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Road Trip!! Passing through Provence

Day 3: Marseille, France to Lyon, France (via Arles & Avignon)
Driving Time: 3 hours, 58 minutes
Distance: 358 km

The next morning, we headed straight for the autoroute (freeway, after a brief stop for gas) headed northwest for Arles. Arles is famous for its past: former residents Van Gogh (in his craziest years) and Gaugin and former glory as an important Roman outpost in southern France. The whole town is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site because of all the roman ruins. Arles is apparently not famous for an abundance of parking opportunities, as we soon found shortly after arriving in town and began weaving our way through the narrow medieval streets. We finally found a prime spot near the river and walked along it to the ruins of roman baths.

When we got to the baths, the woman at the entrance booth was nice enough to tell us that the baths weren't one of her favorite sights in the town, and if we only had a little bit of time, we should see Les Arènes, Les Alyscamps, and the Crypt Museum. We walked to the crypt museum first because it was closing for lunch soon. On the way, we walked through the Place du Forum, the square that served as the location for Van Gogh's famous painting Cafe at Night, Arles.
We got a little lost and wandered through a street market and by the time we got to the museum, it was closed. Oh well. Next stop was Les Arènes, the roman amphitheater that is still in use for bull fights in the summer. You can climb the north tower and get a great view of the provencal countryside.

Last stop on the way out of town was Les Alyscamps, a roman cemetary with a bunch of cool sarcphagi. The site is pretty, a shady alley lined with tall trees and a double row of sarcophagi leading to a church and some ruins.

After that, it was time to leave Arles, which seemed to have a theme of craziness and death, and head for Avignon.

Avignon is in the north of Provence, and is one of the largest towns. It's a cool town in part because most of the midieval city wall is still intact, which gives you a sense of how important the city was, even back then. We decided on another picnic lunch, this time in a square in front of a church.

The key tourist site in Avignon is the Palais des Papes, or the Palace of the Popes. In the 1300s, the palace was built to relocate the papacy away from the chaos of Rome. Then in the 1400s, the papacy moved back to Rome, but several antipopes stayed and tried to assert their authority from Avignon, creating a papal schism. The palace was in sad shape when it finally came back into the hands of the church, but has since been restored numerous times.

We lucked out and they were doing a rose show of some kind in the main courtyard that day.

After that, it was a bit of a drive to Lyon, so we hit the road!