Saturday, December 26, 2009

Santa Delivered

All a Jewish girl could ever ask for on Weihnachten...good health, good friends, AND good food. Marc brought us $80 dollars worth of perfect Rudy's BBQ.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Zermatt: Skiing the Swiss Alps

I have decided there is a small fee to pay when you stay at the Peterthal Hotel. In exchange for free room and board, all you have to do is write a blog post for me. Fair enough, right? So, without further is the guest post from my brother. Thanks, Dave.

When Deb and Josh told me that they were moving to Switzerland, I knew that a trip to Europe would be in order.  There was also no way that I was going to miss out on a chance to ski in the Alps.  After looking at several places, the one spot I realized I had to ski at was Zermatt.  Where else could I ski around the Matterhorn?  I would be able to ski from one country to another, ride the highest ski lift in Europe, ski down a glacier, ski a single run that is 23 km (14.3 mi) long, and I would get the chance to finish the day up by having a drink at a bar inside an igloo.

Deb and I worked out the details and began our plans for a trip to the Swiss Alps.  One great piece of advice from a friend of hers was to get a Snow 'N Rail pass.  We got an unbelievable discount on our ski passes, and a pretty good discount on our rentals.

After arriving in Zermatt the day before, we woke up early to grab a quick breakfast and pick up our ski rentals.  I also made time for a quick stop up to the rooftop of our hotel to watch the sun rise on the Matterhorn, and to check out the Mountain climbers' cemetery.

(Matterhorn at sunrise)

(Mountain climbers' cemetery)

I had originally planned to catch the lift at the edge of town in Zermatt, continue up to the Kleine Matterhorn (Little Matterhorn), ski into Cervinia for a quick beer and lunch, ride back up the lift, ski down to Furi, up another lift, and finally meet up with Tina, Drew, Deb, and Josh at Riffleberg.  The man at the ski rental place, after first trying to talk me out of my trek, told me it was just as fast to catch the train up to Riffleberg with everyone else, since it was only a couple of blocks away, and then ride lifts the rest of the way to Kleine Matterhorn.

(Ski map for Zermatt-Cervinia)

So we walk the couple of blocks and get there as a train is leaving, so we had to wait another 20 minutes for the next one.  Then instead of stopping at Riffleberg, where I need to catch my lift, it stops further up the mountain at Gornergrat.  So much for this being the fast way.

(View from Gornergrat)

Not being deterred, I leave the rest of my group and ski down to Riffleberg ready to start my gondola trek.  While I am riding up, I meet a guy from Germany that tells me that there are two ways over to Cervinia and to Italy.  The first is the way I had planned, the cable car from Trockner Steg to Kleine Matterhorn.  The second is a 15 minute t-bar ride followed by a second 10 minute t-bar ride from Trockner Steg to the border.  I decide to stick with my first instinct.

After reaching Trockner Steg, I head over to where I catch the cable car.  I wait for a few minutes when finally someone comes up and says that they are closing the cable car down due to the high winds.  The cable car coming down would be the last of the day.  This means I will not be able to ski down a glacier, or ride the highest ski lift in Europe, or ski the full 23 km to Cervinia.  But, I could still ski to Italy.  I would just have to brave the 25 minute t-bar ride through the extremely windy and cold weather (-26°C /-15°F and 45km/hr or about 30mi/hr winds).  Not exactly what I wanted to do, but I was on a mission, right?

(View of Kleine Matterhorn and the day's last cable car)

(Matterhorn; and yes, all of the blowing white stuff in these pictures is snow and not clouds)

I venture out and find the t-bar lift.  It is not running.  I am not sure what is going on so I find someone who tells me that unfortunately this lift is also closed.  There would be no trip to Italy.  So instead I take the lift up to Furggsattel.  This will be the highest point I reach and the closest I get to Italy.

(T-bar lift to Italy in the middle, Furggsattel lift on the right)

I reach across the fence stopping me from skiing to Italy and touch the snow.  I can at least technically say part of me made it anyway.

Somewhat disappointed, I head back to Trockner Steg for some lunch (bratwurst with rösti) and to take some pictures.

(View from Trockner Steg; in the valley on the left you can see Zermatt)

Could things have worked out better?  Maybe.  If I would have gone with my initial instinct and taking the lift straight out of town I probably would have reached the top before the cable car closed for the day.  I likely would have made it to Italy and would be writing a different story.  However, I just needed to remind myself that I was skiing in the Alps.  Looking around at views like these made me realize that this is not only one of the most unbelievable places I have ever skied at, it is also one of the most memorable places I have ever been to.  With this new outlook, I finish out the day by enjoying the long ski runs on the way back to meeting up with the others.

And for anyone that was wondering, the igloo bar was closed too...luckily, I was prepared with my flask of Kirsch!  Oh well, plenty of things for my next trip, right?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Black Tie Parade

You know when you go to the zoo there are certain animals everyone wants to see first. The lions. The tigers. The monkeys. And, at the top of the list is always the penguins! During the winter months, the Zurich Zoo features a Penguin Parade. Each day at 1:30pm, as long as the weather is below 10 degrees Celsius, they let a bunch of their penguin fleet free. They wobble right out the gate and head to their photo shoot location...and all the while, you can walk right next to them.

Who would have thought they could get any cuter than they already are. But, when you can almost reach out and touch them (I would have if they would have let me), it is a whole other feeling. I am such a sucker for these guys. I need to start pushing Josh again on that trip to Antarctica I still want to take.

Check out the video above. A definite winter highlight in Zurich.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Welcome to the Verkehrshaus (Transportation Museum) in Luzern. This is a toddler's dream museum and not too shabby for us adults too. We took a quick day trip down to Luzern while the brother and family were in town. After introducing them to the wonders of rösti, we made our way over to the Verkehrshaus not knowing exactly what to expect.

From the moment we stepped off the bus, I knew the trip was worth it. The front wall of the museum is made up of hundreds of different tire wheels all enclosed behind glass. Pretty cool. There is also an IMAX and planetarium attached. We ventured in, bought our tickets for both the museum and IMAX (African Adventures 3-D film) theater, and took off toward the train section of the museum. You should have seen Drew's face when we saw the first room of trains. He ran straight to the first train, climbed the stairs, and boarded the train without looking back. He quickly made friends with the Swiss kids on board. Pretty funny listening to him speak English to them and them just looking at him like he was a complete freak. Nonetheless, the language barrier didn't stop them from running around the train together.

The museum is made up of train, automobile, and airplane sections with an outdoor hands-on area where you can play on life size planes, construction equipment, and even race boats. The outdoor section is probably even more impressive when it isn't -4 degrees Celsius and your toes don't freeze up the minute you step foot out the door.

There was so much to see and do. I have to admit I may have had even a better time than Drew did if that's even possible. I felt like a little school kid running from one thing to the next never stopping to actually read any of the information about each area. Way too much to see. Way too many pictures to be taken.

Tips for anyone interested in going:
  • Skip the planetarium unless you (or your child) needs a quick snooze. Not saying the presentation was bad...well, actually I wouldn't eyes were closed. Oops.
  • Make sure to hangout by the paper-looking plane. I guess you can try your skills at hang gliding. Again, missed this because I was too busy running around the place like a chicken with my head cut off, but my brother did it and said it was pretty tough.
  • Go when it is warm or if you go in the winter, go again in the summer. That outdoor play area looked awesome.
  • You do NOT need to have a child to go. I may have to go back even by myself one day just to read up on all the toys I was playing on and taking pictures of.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Quiet House

Just got back from the airport, dropping off my brother and family for their long trek back to Kansas. I was never one to get sentimental when people would come to visit, but either I am just getting wimpy in my old age or living half way across the world brings out the sap inside of me.

The last 12 days have been some of the best so far over here. With my 3-year old nephew being here we got to do some cool kid stuff around Switzerland. I wanted to give you a quick rundown of whats been keeping us busy this last week or so. Lots of ideas for any of you expats with family coming to visit over the holidays. Detailed blog posts will be coming over the next couple of days until our next guest arrives on Friday.

Day 1: Adjust to time change. Buy Snow 'N Rail passes.
Day 2: Zoological Museum.

Day 3: Luzern day trip. Rösti lunch. Verkehrshaus (Transportation) Museum and IMAX Theater.
Day 4: Google tour. Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Fussball tournament. Fondue in Kusnacht.
Day 5: Zurich zoo and the penguin parade.

Day 6: Ice skating at Heuried Ice Complex.
Day 7: Hausfrau day. Stroll through Old Town. Traditional Swiss dinner at Zeughauskeller.

Day 8 and 9: Zermatt ski trip.
Day 10: Recovery.
Day 11: Uetliberg.
Day 12: Pack bags and head to the Flughafen.

Are you as exhausted as I am just from reading this list as I am from doing all these things? Along with all of these adventures there were enough train, tram, and bus rides to keep Drew happy until his next trip to Zurich...hopefully.

Take a look at some of Dave's, Josh's, and my pictures from this week. More to always!

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Family

Picked up the brother, sister-in-law, and 3-year old nephew yesterday from the Flughafen. It only took 6 months for each member of my family to make the long trip over to our side of the world. I am pretty proud and completely spoiled!

It has been great having all the company, but now with my nephew in town, I get to see Switzerland from a whole new perspective -- a toddler's perspective. Nothing can beat this.

Yesterday Drew (my nephew) got to ride on lots of trains and trams. He has even figured out that the #7 tram takes him to our apartment. So smart. We are also teaching him how to say "hello" and "goodbye" in Swiss German. I think he thinks "Tschuss" is the sound the train makes makes! "Tschuss! Tschuss! All Aboard!"

I asked him yesterday what would make his trip to Switzerland the best besides just riding on trains. He casually responded, "...if we ride bigger trains".

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Now that I am realizing that this blog isn't going to write itself, I better at least post some pictures of our trip to Prague a few weeks back. How bad am I? You would think a hausfrau could find a few minutes our of her busy schedule to write a simple blog post...but, I guess you would be wrong.

Prague was amazing. This was my first time venturing over to the east side of Europe and I am already looking forward to going back again. Mom and I lucked out that Josh had a "hackathon" (basically a nerd fest) for a few days in Praha which gave us just the excuse to meet him there. We actually went a couple days before he was finished nerding it up and then he met us for a couple days of touring. I promised this time not to see everything before him like on our trip to Hamburg. Naughty wife.

I thought I had done so good finding us an apartment instead of a hotel to stay in while we were there. Cheaper. Bigger. Better location. Think again. If you enjoy coming home to a frat party going on right above your apartment then you would have loved where we were staying. What a first night. After a great day walking all over the city, eating goulash with bread dumpling, drinking Pilsner Urquell, we got to spend the night calling the apartment management complaining about the noise over head. Thank goodness the boys moved out the next day and then all we could do was wonder about the funky beds and the "wireless" internet as long as you were leaning out the kitchen window. Any who...

Prague is absolutely beautiful. I was expecting a lot of gray, but the buildings are actually a rainbow of colors. I loved walking over all the bridges just admiring the city landscape. It is a sight to see.

We saw the usual tourist spots, but along our way we saw a couple of things that I will never forget. The first night in town we bought tickets to a concert being held at the Spanish Synagogue. It was such an intimate setting. There were probably 50 people total watching some members of the Prague Symphony. And, the building is over the top insane. Unbelievably gorgeous. Perfect way to start our trip.

The next day we took a tour of the Old Jewish Quarter which included the Old Jewish Cemetery. This was definitely the highlight of the trip. I know, right? How could a cemetery be that powerful? It was like nothing I have ever seen. Gravestones upon gravestones. Literally. The cemetery is actually hilly. Since there was such limited space bodies would be buried on top of one another. There are over 12,000 gravestones and more than 100,000 bodies. Believe me. I paid my extra 40 crones to take pictures. Well worth the couple bucks and the sun was nice enough to come out in time for the photo shoot. Amazing!

We saved the Palace and Petrin Tower for Josh. The best part was St. Vitus Cathedral right in the middle of the Palace grounds. Something about these gothic churches. Like I have said before, it just doesn't get old.

My one question for Prague is, "Where are all these Czech bakeries? And, where are my kolaches?". These were no where to be found. I find it pretty strange that there is a Czech bakery in West, Texas with homemade kolaches, yet I can't find one in the actual country. Is someone trying to pull a fast one on me?

*I took way too many pictures to post on here. Check out my flickr page if you are craving more.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Therme Vals

I need to preface this post and just let you all know friends and family are keeping us very busy through the holidays. Plus, other prospective "work" options have blossomed for this hausfrau (keep your fingers crossed). I am doing my best to get caught up on our adventures before the next batch gets to town. I promise loads of stories at the beginning of the year. Til then, I apologize for the sparsity.

Our mother/daughter trip to Vals, Switzerland was a long one in the making. My mom and I have been drooling over the idea of a spa trip for the last couple of years, but something always kept getting in the way -- Mom being a regional Hadassah president, moving from California to Texas...oh yeah, and then moving again but this time to Zurich. Now, some people might look at this as a negative and give up the fight, but not us. Eventually this spa trip was happening and even better now, we could do it Euro-style.

There is this very fancy, well-known spa in the Heidi-Land of Switzerland known as Therme Vals. Prices of course are high, but luckily a very good friend was kind enough to pass along the details of a spa package from Hotel Alpina Vals (Thanks, Kristi!). There are a bunch of small, boutique hotels all throughout Vals. So, there is no need to stay at the Therme Vals Hotel. Save some dough. Go to the baths for sure, get a massage or two, and then relax with a short walk back to your less expensive room (smiling the whole way knowing how much you just saved yourself).

I can't say enough good things about the Hotel Alpina. Highly, highly recommend. I have to give them a little shout out here. They are about a 10 minute walk from the baths and our package included both breakfast and dinner. Our room was massive even by American standards. We even had a sitting room with a couple windows looking out towards the mountains. And, the food was 5-star. Dinner was a 4-course meal which they easily adjusted for my mom who is diabetic and vegetarian when she eats out. Our server even wrote out the menu in English on the second night so that she could explain the menu. They really went above and beyond to make our stay feel like being at home.

As for the baths...I was a little surprised. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it was no Lake Austin Spa. Don't take this the wrong way. I am not being negative. It just would have been nice to know exactly what to expect when you arrive there. The Therme Vals are a handful of pools each with a different temperature ranging from 14° C (57.2° F) to 42° C (107.6° F). There is also a steamroom, sauna, and the naked room. Sorry. No. I did not go in this last room. All of this is pretty straightforward, but know that you aren't given any extra amenities like shampoo, robes, slippers, or even towels. You pay 40 CHF to use the baths. Also learned that you should make appointments early before you arrive to Vals. That includes going to the baths. We lucked out that we went mid-week so the baths were easy to get into, but were only given the options of a bubble bath, exfoliation, or foot massage for spa services.

Before I give you my cheat sheet for going to the Therme Vals baths, I have to tell you one more story. Mom and I get to the baths on our first day, all excited to finally be spaing. Come to find out we were supposed to bring our own towels. I end up renting a couple for 3.50 CHF. We change and start jumping from one pool to the next. Having the best time finally being at a spa. What an experience. And, to be doing this SWITZERLAND. Awesome. After we are substantially pruned, we go to grab our towels and get ready to head back to the hotel for our 4-course dinner. Wait. Where did our towels go? Seriously. Someone stole our towels. Mom still says someone accidentally mistook our towels for theirs, but I don't buy it. We ended up semi-drying off each with our own scarfs. This was not a pretty picture. Not a good way to end the day at the spa and thus my reason for the cheat sheet.

Cheat Sheet: Necessities for Bad-ing

  • Bathing suit (a couple true Europeans had to by bathing trunks before entering, not cheap)
  • Flip-flops (if desired)
  • Robe or multiple towels (towels should NOT be white. bring a bright, ugly towel that doesn't look like anyone elses. Trust me on this.)
  • Shampoo, conditioner, brush, etc.
  • 2 CHF for each locker needed
  • Ugly Migros bag to put everything into (again, the uglier, the better)
We learned our lesson for sure and the second day we watched our towels like hawks. Looking forward to going again now that I am a seasoned pro.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Bier, Weiners, and a Dirndl

It feels like I have been on a whirlwind of a tour through Germany these past couple of months. For a country I thought I would see very little of, we have become pretty tight. Hamburg, Berlin, and now I can add Munich to the list.

When Mom was visiting we decided to take a mother/daughter trip to Munich. We bought a couple semi-cheap (cheap shouldn't even be in my vocabulary anymore) train tickets (about $120 roundtrip) and set off on our German adventure. Mom had never been to Germany before...and NO, the Frankfurt airport doesn't count.

My first impressions of Munich weren't much. I don't know what I was expecting, but with all the hype built up around Octoberfest and my previous trips to Germany, I thought Munich was going to be one of those cities to write home about. Think again. I hate to be so negative about a place, but let's just say I am not holding breath til we can go back.

Instead of focusing on the negatives, let's put a positive spin on this city. There are definitely highlights to this trip. I just wouldn't chalk it up with some of the other cities we have been to so far. Am I turning into a Euro-traveling snob? Back to the positives.

Bier. Oh, how I love you. There is a reason Munich has become synonymous with Octoberfest. How could I be in Munich and not have lunch at the Hofbrauhaus? and get a liter of bier? with a weiner sampler plate? on top of a mound of sauerkraut? This seems like a must-do. I swear the bier was bigger than my head. The best was the look on peoples' faces not just when I was drinking the bier, but when I finished it. Most women were drinking the half-liters. All I gotta say...don't judge a book by its cover.

You aren't going to believe it, but I actually bought my very own dirndl while we were there. I know, for a girl that hates wearing dresses, who would have thought? And, I did it even before the liter of bier. I will never again worry about a Halloween costume.

We were wondering through the streets with all the fancy stores on them when we rounded a corner and saw all of these amazing dirndls and lederhosen in the window. It wasn't like one of those cheesy costume stores back home where the outfits look all thrown together and are barely hanging on by a thread. These were the real deal. MUST TRY ONE ON, my head kept saying. The girls working in the store were so helpful. I didn't even know which pieces I needed. They got me squared away and showed me to the dressing room. After a few minutes, they must have realized I was having some technical difficulties. There was no way this size was going to fit me. The girl just looked at me like I was crazy. She said, "Of course this will fit you. You don't want to go up a size". Ah. Ok. And, just how do you...and before I could finish my thought, there I was all zipped up and ready for the ball.

I have a feeling we will be heading back to Munich one of these days. Now that I've got the dirndl and know I can at least finish one stein of bier, I think a trip to Octoberfest is warranted. Next year in Munich. Isn't that the saying?