Return to Prague

Always leave something undone when you visit someplace
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so that you have a reason to return. The kids had requested to spend our second week of their European adventure in Prague, and we were happy to return for various reasons. Not only were we excited to have dumplings and beer again, to walk the cobbled streets while marveling at the architecture, but also because I had not had a Turtleneck or a potato on a stick, nor had we eaten at Maitrea, the sister restaurant of Clear Head that we had enjoyed in December.

We called the trdelník Turtlenecks as we have a hard time knowing just how to pronounce Czech words. In December we kept passing these little carts and little stores which sell the sugar/walnut mix in a dough spiral, and I somehow never got one. I made sure to not only remedy that this time, but to also share and have the kids get one, too.

In the same spiral food vein, we found a spiral fried potato on a stick (on our way down from the castle – there don’t seem to be these just anywhere), and used this opportunity to have an appetizer.

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The travel guides are full of recommendations for restaurants and cafes, but descriptions of two coffee places stood out for us. The Café Louvre (which does not have even a copy of the Mona Lisa on the wall) hosted the likes of Einstein and Kafka among other notable Czech citizens. A perfect way to start the day in this elegant space, I tried the hot cocoa (I can’t quite give that up yet!) which, at first, was a little disappointment since all I tasted was foam. Knowing there had to be more, I gave a little stir and the chocolate not only appeared, but it was so thick that it was like sipping a melted chocolate bar. The cappuccino and espresso drinkers in the group enjoyed theirs, as well, but I think I made the best choice.

If you are looking for fair trade coffees from around the world in a hip place (we were thinking of you, C!), then a visit to Café Ebel is a must. Daughter and son-in-law were so taken with their spice-infused espressos (making me think of Christmas with the cloves) that they knew that it was their favorite part of that day.

Maybe my very favorite food experience (although, really, it would be too hard to choose – we love the food in Prague) might have been our return to Lokal and finally get the dumplings there. Back in December, I had tried to order a side dish of dumplings with my chicken, but was told that I could only have mashed or roasted potatoes. This time I ordered what was called “juicy bits” (parts of pork) which, apparently, paired well with dumplings. The secret, we now think, it that one must order a main dish with gravy in order to be allowed the little medallions.

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Biking Around Zürich

IMG_5688When you borrow a free Züri Rollt bike in Zürich, here are some of the fun places you can to show your visiting family.

Ride along the lakefront and see some of the sculptures.

Go to the Botanical Gardens.

Have a Mövenpick Ice Cream Cone.

Go into the parking structure underneath the Opera house and look at the archaeology exhibit.

Where do YOU like to take your guests in Zürich?

Return to Gruyères

IMG_0843One nice thing about living in a country with four distinct seasons is that you can visit someplace in one season, and then return in another for a different kind of enjoyment. I had been to Gruyères in February, but neither H nor the kids had seen it, and the Two Small Potatoes recommended a visit.

You can see my winter photos here, and compare them to these green and luscious views.

This time around I did not choose to visit the castle, but we did go into the H. R. Giger Bar. Giger was a Swiss surrealist artist known for his art design in the movie Alien. Though he grew up in Chur in Graubünden, Giger lived much of his adult life in Zürich.

In the bar we sampled some hot chocolate and coffee along with the meringues that the town is known for. Here one does not simply eat the confection, but dunks it in a dollop of Gruyères double cream, as a sort of soft frosting.

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Across from the bar is the Giger Museum in the Saint-Germain Castle which Giger purchased and is the repository of his work. The bar was plenty of Giger art for us, so none in our group went into the museum.

Eurovision

IMG_5671You know Céline Dion, ABBA, and Julio Iglesias but did you know how they got their start? I didn’t know this, but it was with Eurovision, the singing contest that way predates American Idol.

This contest began in 1956, is one of the longest-running tv shows ever, with the largest viewing audience outside of sporting events. I was vaguely aware of this contest last year, and now I am less vaguely aware of it, especially since it is so ephemeral, lasting only a few rounds.

The night we spent in Fribourg was the finals for this year’s contest, and our hosts as well as their Lithuanian roommate, Gintare, were very interested in the outcome of the contest, so we gathered around the internet to watch the final 20 countries compete.

Gintare was very excited that her country was represented in the finals, but she was under no illusion that they would win. It was her pure pleasure just to have her country invited to the party.

The broadcast started at 21.00 and we were in bed before the final acts performed, and certainly before the voting was cast and counted and the winner declared. The first question we asked in the morning was, “Who won?” The answer was Sweden with Russia in second place. I wasn’t aware that Russia was in Europe. … Then I found out that other countries can be invited to participate. This year was Australia’s debut year as a participant.

You can watch the winning song here.

You can read our Two Small Potatoes friends’ blog post about it here. Trust me, you’ll enjoy that post!

Fribourg/Freiburg

When we planned for our kids to come visit us, we said that IMG_5652they could choose any place in Europe, and we would meet them there. These two said that, really, anywhere in Europe would be just fine, especially since Daughter had never been to Europe, and Son-in-Law had only been to the Netherlands and Belgium. We decided on Switzerland for two reasons, one was that we thought they would particularly enjoy the scenery (they did). The other reason was that they have friends – the Two Small Potatoes – who are living in Fribourg (if you speak French)/Freiburg (for the Germans).

This university town straddles the Rösti Graben with people who live on one side of the river speaking German, the other folks speaking French. I’ve been through the city on the train a few times now, so it was our turn to disembark here.

The Two Small Potatoes actually live outside of the city in a quiet community with more space and actual houses and few apartments. We shed our winter gear and viewed the mountain snow only from a distance and enjoyed a lovely pre-raclette-dinner stroll through woods and farms.

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The town also has a lovely little church about which we cannot find any information. However, it was open and we had a chance to appreciate the art and architecture.

Trümmelbach Falls

One of our daughter’s favorite things about Swiss hiking is how easy it is to take a gondola or cogwheel train up to the high places, walk on relative flat trails, and return easily to our starting place. Zipping easily down the mountain one morning, we donned our rain gear and walked along the valley floor to Trümmelbach Falls. Last September we had missed these casades that tumble down inside the mountain, and we weren’t going to miss them this time.

As people who absolutely love National Parks, we are struck with some similarities between the Lauterbrunnen Valley and the Yosemite Valley in terms of the beauty. The differences are equally striking. As we wandered the path towards the falls, we were passing farm after farm with agriculture as well as animals. We ask ourselves if the people who live here day after day, year after year, consider this just normal, when clearly, it is extraordinary. We didn’t knock on any doors to find out, so we’ll just have to keep wondering.

The Falls are not only a work of natural art, but also an engineering feat. Tourists first take a funicular up into about the middle of the ten cascades before being disgorged into the middle of the mountain.

We particularly enjoyed the banter with the funicular operator who inquired as to the main language of people in the lift. He explained that he would not, for example, switch to French if only two people requested it. Most people in our group spoke English, but I opened my mouth and said that I could speak High German, but not Swiss German. He immediately started saying something in Swiss German to us which sounded like – Oh, so it’s the High German you want, eh? Then I counted to five for him in Swiss and he said, I think, “So you speak Walliser Deutsch, eh?” This is the Swiss dialect that every other part of the country agrees is incomprehensible. Even though the laugh was at our expense, we were happy to understand the joke and to laugh along.

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Back to the Falls. Even though we were in from the rain, a waterfall is not a place you would consider dry, so our rain gear came in double handy. We walked up wet steps, we peeked out of little balconies, and were amazed and impressed by the sheer amount of water and its speed as it came crashing down through the mountain.

Berner Oberland

IMG_5635Because the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of our very favorite places in Switzerland, we knew we wanted to take our kids there during their visit. What we did not fully realize is that it is still winter in the mountains, even late in May. So, back in February we booked a Swiss Chalet AirBnB in Mürren, undeterred by the photos showcasing the house in a cozy blanket of snow.

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A week before our scheduled trip to the mountains, we watched the forecast with worried brows and hoped that the 90% chance of predicted rain or snow might change, at least somewhat, before our arrival. It didn’t, and we decided that we might just have a fabulous time anyway.

Mürren sits up high on a ridge overlooking the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and we remember a beautiful view of the mountains just across the way with craggy peaks and waterfalls. The first day we saw a gray wall of clouds and big, soft snowflakes. What we did enjoy seeing was the completely comfortable and beautiful chalet that was ours for three nights. It’s fairly new construction, so everything was clean and worked very well.

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We did not have a deck of cards with us, so we found a game that four of us could play on phones and iPads called Space Team which involved a lot of (quiet) shouting and shaking our devices in order to avoid asteroids and wormholes. For a free game, we liked it pretty much. Team Up!

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As the hours and days rolled by, the clouds lifted and we marveled at the beautiful mountains which appeared through our windows. We took advantage of a break in the rain (no longer snow) to stroll down to Gimmelwald and took some pictures of spring breaking through from winter.

By the time we left, we could see the top of the mountain across from our chalet. It was worth the wait!

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