Switzerland, Day 13: Lugano

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View from the second floor of the hotel

Another day, another delicious breakfast.  Now that we were at a hotel, it was a pretty fantastic spread. Unfortunately, my travel partner was starting to look worse for wear.  Although we had the same lunch the day before, SMS had been very Piggly-Wiggly with the raw cheese we ordered and he felt sick.  This got worse as the day went on although he tried to be a trooper until I almost killed him with a bus misadventure.

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BUT!  Let me not jump too far ahead!  After breakfast, SMS went back to bed (I should have realized this was a very bad sign) while I explored the downtown.  I walked along the lake and it was very beautiful.  A Busker’s Fair was going on and there were lots of street performers and art displays being set up.  I went back to the hotel and wanted to go on my own Grotto adventure.  There had been excellent write-ups for a Grotto in the hills above Lugano and their fantastic polenta.  So, SMS rallied and we hopped on the #8 bus.

Unfortunately, the bus route was very confusing with a sort of 3-leaf clover-shaped route over several miles.  We got on and headed in the wrong direction.  When I decided we should get off, the bus driver looked at us questioningly but away we went.  We crossed the street to wait for the bus in the other direction.  While waiting, SMS laid down because he was feeling unwell, which resulted in the cops driving by 5 minutes later checking us out.  It was fairly clear someone had called us in since really, we were in the middle of nowhere and SMS was lying in the street.  Fortunately, the bus came back at that moment so the cops figured out what was going on without needing to talk to us. Embarrassingly, it was the same driver who, this time, just asked us where we wanted to go.  We pointed at the map and he had us sit down and he would tell us where to get off.  We passed our initial boarding stop and then went up the hill to be deposited at the bus stop directly across the street from the restaurant, which had just closed.  Boo hoo!

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Grotto Morchino, closed 😥

Internally, I think SMS was having serious doubts about his (and my) decision-making ability, but he said he was feeling ok (this was later admitted to be a lie) so we walked to Osteria Pazzallo, which was an amazing find!   There was delicious bread, the best salad and tasty limone and parmesan spaghetti. The waitress was very concerned as to why SMS was not eating but I mimicked that he was hungover, which made her very relieved and we laughed about how SMS was “stanco.”  Then he died.

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He looks pretty good for being sick!

Ok, not really, but I was starting to realize that in an effort to be a good sport, he was really wearing himself out and he was pretty sick.  So, we took the bus back to the hotel where he slept for the rest of the afternoon.

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Official Drink of the Trip

I went to the pool, which was delightful.  I read, wrote and drank an Aperol Spritz!  I checked on SMS who was still out for the count, so I walked into Lugano and watched some of the Busker shows.  One acrobat troupe in particular was amazing!

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I went back to the hotel again and then went out for dinner, solo.  I was sad that SMS was so sick and definitely missed him!

 

I took the 431 bus up the hill to the now-open Grotto Morchino!  As a solo diner, there was space outside at a picnic table although it looks like a place where reservations are recommended.  I had the polenta y ossobucco, which was excellent.  The house merlot paired perfectly and I was pretty happy that my grotto sagashimasu had worked out.

Switzerland, Day 12: Ascona – Bellinzona -Lugano

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View from Renata’s apartment

I feel like these entries are getting boring- not because they are all about my awesome vacation (naval-gazing travelogues- not boring!  Right?  *crickets*) but because each day starts out with a variant of, “We started with a delicious breakfast.”  Well, if that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right because, yes, we did start out with a delicious breakfast!  I also love Nespresso so I had two espressos to start my day off with a zing!  I may also be typing this after a second cup of coffee so I’m feeling extra fiesty!

After breakfast, Renata drove us to the train station and asked about our plans.  We told her we were off to Belinzona.  She asked if we had seen Ascona yet and when we said no and that we weren’t planning on it, she looked a little sad for us and told us to make sure and see it next time.  She wasn’t pushy about it but it was clear that we were going to miss out if we didn’t see it.  So, at the train station, we decided to lock up the suitcase and take the bus to Ascona for the morning.

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We sat at one of the lawn chairs with umbrellas.  Source

This was a great decision!  Ascona was lovely.  We walked along the Lake Maggiore promenade and ate a second breakfast at the outside lakeside lounge of a very beautiful hotel (Ristorante Marina at Hotel Eden Roc).  I am not completely convinced that non-guests are supposed to just walk in but we did and everything was fine.  We paid for our juice, coffee and croissants and had a very relaxing time looking at the lake.

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Then it was back to our plan.  We walked to St. Pieter’s Square and then took the bus back to Locarno.  We picked up the suitcase and headed to Bellinzona.  SMS and I had both been to Bellinzona in the past so we weren’t planning on going to the three castles.  They are pretty incredible so I highly recommend.  It’s just this stop was focused on going to SMS’ priority- eating lunch at the Ristorante Grotto Bassa just outside of town via bus.  The restaurant was a beautiful shaded spot with old stone tables and benches.  We ordered two cheeses and the tonnato-sauce, which I think was served on top of veal.  SMS had been here right after college and had very fond memories.

While we were waiting for the bus on the way back, SMS bought some Nocino.  Yay!  My new favorite liqueur!  When we got back in town, it was time for…Gelato!  Gelateria Veneta was the best of the trip.  I had the Amarenata, a creamy cherry that is hands-down my new favorite ice cream.  I combined it with Mascarpone, which was also tasty.

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This is a fact.

I really liked the street that the train station was on.  There were some cool shops, including an incredible jewelry shop that was closed both times I went by.  Ah well, better for my wallet at least!  There was also a small Italian store with lots of local staples and a gourmet feel.  I browsed around, not hungry thanks to our recent meal but still taking in all the potential deliciousness!

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Another Aperol Spritz!

We took the train to Lugano, where we had an Aperol Spritz while waiting out a huge thunderstorm.  We took the bus into town where we stayed at my favorite AirBnB find.  It was the tourguide room located in a “secret hallway” of a fancy hotel.  When it’s not used by tourguides for groups staying at this nice hotel, it is open for AirBnB travelers. All the amenities of the hotel are included, it’s just the room is much more Spartan and there is a detached bathroom.  I highly recommend it!

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Lugano, post-storm

We took a late nap and then headed out for dinner.  We went to the “Spaghetti Store” since many casual places were already closed and the fancy places were booked.  It wasn’t the best meal of the trip but it did the job.  A bonus was that we were on the lake and the storm clouds at sunset produced the most spectacular double rainbow.  We felt lucky to be outside and see it!

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Switzerland, Day 11: Valle Verzasca – Orselina

Our AirBnB part of the trip was turning out well.  There was a festival in Locarno when we visited which made hotels near the Piazza Grande more than I wanted to pay.  Also, we were planning on being on the move during our time there so a private room was fine.  We had a great breakfast thanks to Renata.  She told us about the town  and stories from prior guests.

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View from Ponte dei Salti

We walked into town, sat by the lake, walked to the bus/train station and caught the 1020 bus to Valle Verzasca.  The valley has a gorgeous river running through with a parallel hiking trail.  Biking is also popular.  The scenery is breath-taking and there are also a few specific spots that are very cool.  The Ponte dei Salti is a double-arch stone bridge that provides a jumping spot for the brave.  There are also several grottos along the way to stop and eat/drink and really, it is a marvelous place for a day trip.

 

SMS and I took the bus to Brione, a little North of the bridge in Lavertezzo.  We wanted to hike a bit before reaching the bridge.  It was beautiful.  The day was overcast and still, which made all the stone buildings and walls seems as if we were walking back in time.  We reached the river’s edge and since it seemed like it might rain, SMS wanted to go for a swim.  It was so cold!  How was this the man who poo-poo’d the Aare river?  At least that was 17C!  The Verzasca River was 13C.  We only stayed in for a couple of minutes but at least we got another river swim in!

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Ponte dei Salti

We dried off and bought Carmelita ice cream (I guess we warmed up quickly) while waiting for the bus.  We took the bus to Lavertezzo and admired the bridge, the beautiful swimming holes and the scrambling rocks along the shore and extending into the river. We saw one guy jump from the bridge and while I was tempted, I just couldn’t do it.  It was really high and the water was so cold, I figured one of those elements had the capacity to damage me, ha ha.

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Another view. People are always crossing so it is difficult to get a picture without fellow travelers.  At least I know mint green blends in with surroundings.

Right across the bridge (away from the road) is Grotto al Ponte.  We ordered the Platter Ticinese, with dried meat (pork), bread and Alpkase.  We ordered the house red wine. We finished off our meal with a bread pudding tart and Nocino.  It felt very extravagant, not in price but in leisureliness.  We were outside, under a huge tree and next to a beautiful river.

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The water is so beautiful and so cold!

We checked the timetable for the bus and decided to hike a little more along the river to the next bus stop.  We set out from the restaurant, where the hiking path was on the same side of the river.  We had to walk quickly but it was worth it.  We crossed another bridge that overlooked the river and the amazing rock formations.

We made our way back to Locarno and took a nap!  Then it was time for dinner.  We decided to head above the city and check out Orselina.  The funicular was not running frequently so we decided to take the path up the hill (read: small mountain).  I decided to make a questionable decision even worse by convincing SMS to go up the Stations of the Cross path to the Madonna dei Sasso Church even though a sign clearly said there was no access through the gates after-hours.  I somehow thought that might not be true but, please, we’re in Switzerland.  Signs mean what they mean and, as a result, we basically climbed the hill (read: small mountain) twice.  I’m glad SMS loves me!!!

But, Orselina was worth it.  The town is beautiful.  We passed a hotel with two very, very expensive cars out front.  The restaurants were a little pricy but we decided to bite the bullet and were rewarded with the best dinner of our trip!  We ate at Ristorante al Gusto da Christen, which was phenomenal.  There was a mind-blowing tomato soup, an excellent risotto and the most exquisitely thin, delicious circle-shaped ravioli.  I highly recommend it!  Our waitress spoke Italian and German, so we got by in a little bit of both plus some Spanish.  Eh, a little hodge-podge but it worked!

We headed  back down the hill/mountain (so many steps!) and went to bed.  I accidentally locked our landlady out by keeping the key in the lock but we hadn’t been asleep for long so the doorbell woke us up fairly quickly.  Ooops!

Switzerland, Day 10: Grindelwald-Luzern-Lucarno

The next morning, we set out for Luzern to pick up SMS’ jacket.  Sigh.  Luzern was not good for remembering things- my bag and his jacket.  Fortunately, we got both things back!  I wasn’t so lucky with my pants at Blüemlisalphütte- how do you lose a pair of pants when you only have a small backpack full of stuff?  I don’t know either!

Anyway, we went back to Gisele and Kathy’s house to pick up the jacket, which went very smoothly.  They had gone to the US so one of the US softball women left it in the mailbox- it worked out perfectly!  To make the Luzern trip a little more than just a jacket retrieval mission, we went to the Rosengart Collection for just under an hour.  I really liked the Paul Klee works.  Then we picked up a pepitas pretzel from Pretzel King and hopped on the train to Ticino.

Both of us were really excited about this part of the trip.  I had been with my siblings when Brady lived in Zurich.  SMS had traveled there right after college with a friend of his.  We were excited to see old-new places together.

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We had connected through Bellinzona and arrived in Locarno around 5.  We had an Aperol Spritz while we waited for our AirBnB host.  Renata was kind enough to pick us up from the station- when we met up with her, a huge thunderstorm started so we had another Aperol Spritz while we waited.  Yay!

Locarno, Piazza Grande
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We settled in at Renata’s and then went to Bar Piazza in the Grande Piazza. We had a pizza dinner that was tasty and finished up with nocino and gelato to finish.  Yum!

Switzerland Day 9: Gimmelwald-Grindelwald

After the Via Ferrata ended in Gimmelwald, we walked around for a bit in Gimmelwald. I had heard it was Rick Steeves favorite Swiss village and while I get it, I also don’t.  It’s really quiet and idyllic but why this village over another in the area?  IDK.  But it was very pretty but fairly quickly, we saw the village and hopped on the funicular to Mürren.

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I know this is cliche, but this photo does not even come close to capturing the incredible beauty.  Source

We took the train from Mürren to Wegen to Kleine Schdeigg.  The train ride was amazingly beautiful with an incredible, gorgeous view of Lauterbrunnen Valley and the 400 foot waterfall.  I was trying to take it all in, but somewhat distracted by realizing we had to pay a small supplement for that part of the train.  Although the conductor told me to enjoy the view and he would come back, I felt a little stressed trying to find exact change in CHF.  If I ever go back, I would like to see it stress-free and two, I would probably want to hike to a little overlook and just sit and look at the view.  It really was amazing.

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View from our window- Eiger Mountain, I think?

We got off the train at Kleine Schdeigg and hiked down to Grindelwald, passing the famed Eiger mountain along the way.  Along the way, we stopped at Alpizen for beer and a berry tart with the most amazing whipped cream.  The hike was really beautiful and I’m sure I took pictures, but I can’t find them.  We arrived in Grindelwald and to the 22 bus to Naturfriend haus, a hotel/hostel that was really nice and overlooked the village.  There was a laundry facility (5 CHF wash, 3 CHF dry).  We had made arrangements to eat dinner there and we enjoyed a really nice meal of bread, salad with salami and melon, bright yellow curried chicken and rice and finished off with ice cream.  Showers that night felt great and we were ready for the next phase of our trip, Ticino!

 

Switzerland, Day 9: Klettersteig Via Ferrata (Mürren-Gimmelwald)

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When we were planning the trip, it was really important to SMS that we do a Via Ferrata, or Iron Path.  There are several in the Alps and, basically, you walk on the side of a cliff along hammered in rungs while double-clipped into a steel cable.  When you get to an iron stake securing the cable to the rock wall, you unclip and reclip one at a time so you always have one contact point.

Both of us thought it sounded really cool and it was a high priority. The easiest way to do it is to rent the equipment from a local outdoor store since the setup is different than a regular climbing harness.  Basically, it’s two carabiners each on a slightly springy energy absorbing lanyard, both attached to a climbing harness.  We rented the equipment the night before because we wanted to start before less-experienced people got on the trail.  Each morning, the store has a rush of customers when it first opens at 9 but by going within about an hour of closing the day prior, the woman had no problem renting us the equipment for a 1-day price.  This is only possible if you don’t need a lesson on the equipment, which I highly recommend if you feel unsure!

Via overview
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We got on the Via Ferrata around 8.  We had it to ourselves, apart from three other people- all young men who were zipping along.  The Via Ferrata starts in Mürren and descends to Gimmelwald.  There are multiple rungs hammered into the cliff, narrow trails, multiple ladders and two bridges along the way.  Local guides have access to a lockbox that allows a climber to zipline across one of the gorges but for people on their own, there is an equally cool (cooler, even?) 3 cable bridge.

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I had so much fun although my sporadic fear of heights kicked in on the Nepal bridge.  The initial part had handrails that were too high so I was just walking on an unstable planked narrow bridge.  Ack!  Don’t worry, I was definitely attached via the gear but I just really wanted to hold on with my hands too!

The Via descends over the course so it’s not too strenuous.  The biggest factor is going to be comfort with the equipment.  There are also outings and guides for hire, so don’t let inexperience stop you.  It is really fun and an incredible way to see one of the most beautiful valleys in Switzerland!  We were done by mid-morning and continued our day by traveling to Grindelwald.  See the next post!

The photos below are roughly in sequence on what you’ll see along the way (well, SMS won’t be there but you know, the trail!)…

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Near the Start, secured to the cable
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Base jumping station.  SMS was braver than I was.  Even secured in place, I thought “Hell no am I getting close to that edge.”  Base jumping scares me!
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Hanging loose!
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Tyrolienne (Zip Line nearby)
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More trail-like
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Steep ladders!
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Nepal bridge

Switzerland, Day 8: Bundalp – Griesalp – Interlaken – Mürren

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We woke up with twenty of our newest, closest friends and got ready for the day.  We had a trekker’s breakfast of muessli and bread- v. carb heavy!  We headed down towards Bundalp, starting over a few hundred meters of snow.  Fortunately, there was a rope and the very side of the path next to the rock was partially bare rock so we made it even though our shoes weren’t the best.

We stopped at a dairy along the way and bought some Alpkase, fresh (raw?) cheese that we bought from the farmer and ate at a picnic table.  It was heart-shaped- tasty and cute!  We stopped at the dairy shortly after we had a discussion as to whether to hike over another pass to Mürren or go to Griesalp and take the bus-train combo to Mürren.  I really wanted to hike but SMS felt we had already seen the type of terrain and experienced the somewhat barren hike and he didn’t want to have a repeat adventure.  I pouted and was bummed out but the dairy quickly lifted my spirits.  I realized that our chosen way was a lot more fun and SMS was right.

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I perked up even more as the hike became more and more beautiful.  We walked through gorgeous meadows and pastures and really, it was almost other-worldly beautiful.  We stopped at Berghaus Bundalp and had coffee and Hobelkäse.  We talked to one of the waiters/family members who said we were on “the most beautiful way” to Griesalp.  He had recently been in Miami and, although he said he liked the U.S, he asked why would he want to be anywhere else but here when it was so beautiful.  He definitely had a point!

After our second cheese stop of the morning, we continued on through fields, farms and pastures.  We saw herds of sheep, goats and cows.  One little goat was bleeting on the side of the cliff.  I wanted to help it but as SMS pointed out, we weren’t really that well-equipped plus the goat would jump down when it got hungry or thirsty (it really wasn’t that high up).

We walked by landslides and glacier-created rock formations, which was pretty cool.  We meandered into Griesalp, speeding up a bit when I heard the beep of a PostBus.  We were so lucky!  We made it with four minutes to spare, completely unaware of the timetable.  If we had missed it, we would have been waiting about two more hours!

We then had several connnections, with bus-train-train-train on our way to Mürren.  It was very easy with short layovers.  We took advantage of 30 minutes in Interlaken Oest by hopping into the connecting river between the lakes.  The water felt amazing and we felt very joyful and happy!

When we got to Mürren, we were very thankful for our shower.  We walked around quite a bit and rented gear for our Via Ferrata adventure the next day.  We ate at the hotel and then went to bed, exhausted.

Switzerland, Day 7: Blüemlisalphütte

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We woke up, very excited to begin our hut-to-hut hiking adventure.  We picked up our laundry from Womy- 25 CHF for a shopping bag full.  We took the train to Kandersteg and then sent our suitcase ahead for pick-up two days later.  It cost 12 CHF and was one of the better bargains of the trip!   That way, we only hiked with two small backpacks.

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Our destination was Blüemlisalphütte, a mountain hut at 2,840 meters.  We took the funicular up to Lake Oeschinensee (1600 m) to save a little bit of time.  We started hiking around 1330 and arrived around 1700. The hike was really interesting.  We hiked around the lake and then up into high pastures.  Then the trail turned very gravelly and vegetation went away.  It looked like the moon.  Across the valley, we could see a large glacier field.  It turned out that a lot of overnighters at the hut were there for traversing that ridge and/or ice climbing.  There was a separate ice-climber room since they all got up around 0300 to set out and climb while the ice was still firm.

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Back to the hike.  We could see the hut about 2/3 of the way there and it stayed stubbornly far away for another hour.  Finally, we got there.  It was a great experience but a little tiring!  I promptly bought a beer when we got to the hut- SMS had water.  Probably smarter but definitely less delicious 🙂  At dinner, we sat at a table with 3 Swiss and 1 Austrian men.  2 were alpinists and 2 were father-son hikers recreating a hike the father had done 3 decades prior.  We were glad to talk to them because they said the snow field that covered the first part of our planned hike the next day was actually quite small and there was a rope to hold onto.  Phew!

Dinner consisted of soup, salad, sausage and rice, and plum pudding.  The food was super salty, which was probably beneficial for everyone’s athletic pursuits.  We went to bed fairly soon after dinner.  The bedrooms were communal, with two long racks with mats laid out.  SMS and I slept next to each other but to either side were complete strangers.  Very close quarters but a cool and different experience.  We used our sleep sacks and slept fairly well.

Switzerland, Day 6: Vevey to Zermatt

After another delicious, huge breakfast at Le Charlot, we headed out for our next destination: Zermatt.  We actually took our bread with us because there was so much food.  I don’t think Europeans stay skinny on travel breakfasts, that’s for sure!  Before heading out, we stopped to buy SMS a sweater for the mountains and check out the lake one more time.

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Speaking of (not) skinny, on the way to the train station, we stopped in the Laderach shop with its amazing Swiss chocolate.  There was a cute “museum” inside with a 1 room exhibit in French and English.  We bought some snacks for the road and off we went.

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We took the train to Visp and transferred to a smaller train that everyone had to take into Zermatt since it’s a car-free town.  Watch out for the zippy golf carts though!  We walked to the Hotel Alphubel, a slightly dated but very nice hotel with an excellent price.  We dropped off a load of laundry at Womy, which was reasonably priced and inside a little shopping center next to the COOP across from the train station.

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We then took the 1536 train up the mountain.  The “Happy Afternoon Pass” on the Gornergrat Bahn Cog Railway gave a discount better than the one with Swiss Rail, so we took it.  Or rather, the ticket lady just issued it!  We had figured out from the last train that we should stand farthest from the entrance in order to sit at the very front of the train.  Well, we lucked out even further because the train driver opened up his compartment to us- one half could be closed off for him and the other half gave a stellar view of the Matterhorn at several bends in the track!  He initially left the door open but then closed it when he figured out we weren’t German.  We got mistaken for German a lot on the trip, which was never that big of a deal.  It led to a few funny moments, like in Ticino where the waitress apologized (in German) for her poor German and we tried to explain (in worse German) that we didn’t even really speak the language.

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The train ride up was about 40 minutes. We stopped at the visitor center, used the restroom, ate ice cream and drank cocoa and began our hike down.  It was exquisitely beautiful.  The hills were covered in wildflowers, little streams and the Matterhorn was so majestic.  There were clear blue skies and it was awesome.  The last 1/3 of the hike was in evergreen forest and really pretty.  We were a little early in the season so no restaurants were open for Summer so by the time we reached the outskirts of town at 1930, we took the train in for one stop.  It saved us a mile or two and by that point, we felt it was well worth it!

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Zermatt was quite expensive, not that Switzerland itself would ever be considered a budget travel destination!  We found a relatively inexpensive place for dinner, Cafe du Pont, which had excellent raclette freshly melted on the corner grill.

We headed back to Hotel Alphubel and had a great night’s sleep.  We felt very lucky because this part of our trip was arranged just to see the Matterhorn.  Most guides say to allocate 2 or 3 days since the weather can be so variable but we were on a tight timeline for all we wanted to see so we were happy it all worked out!

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Switzerland, Day 5: L’Etivaz and Gruyère

Aka, the day we became cheeseheads!  SMS and I both love cheese and he has made some in the past so I thought it would be really fun to take in some of the Swiss cheese (ha ha) towns.

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I want this back in my life!

After a delicious, huge breakfast included with our Le Charlot stay, we headed to the train station, bellies full of coffee, juice, pain au chocolat and baguettes topped with Gruyere and local dried meats.  We took the local train to Montreux, and ended up on the Montreuz-Berner Oberland.  It is one of the scenic railroad routes with a Pullman-car train with 1915 vintage coaches.

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Pullman car

Now, a note on the Swiss Rail scenic routes.  There are several available, to include the “Chocolate Train,” the Glacier Express and the William Tell.  They are interspersed among the regular train timetable so even on a regular route, you will take the scenic journey, only faster.  This was the more attractive option to me when trip-planning because we were already spending a lot of time on the train and although it was enjoyable, I wasn’t looking to increase our time- I wanted to get places!

I also found it difficult online to figure out how to make reservations for these routes and where to pay the supplement fare.  So, I just gave up on it.  I liked the flexibility that just hopping on the train offered.  We used our smartphones/Google transit maps a lot to get the timetables and it worked out really well. Check with your carrier on international rates before you go in order to avoid horrible roaming charges.  We use Sprint and 2G data was included in our plan.  Calls would have been expensive but we didn’t need to make any.  It was an available option, though, in case of an emergency.  I believe other US carriers may charge a fee for a month’s worth of access in a particular country- say, adding Switzerland to your plan for a month would cost roughly $10 on AT&T, for example.

Another incredible aspect of our Swiss rail ticket was the inclusion of the PostBus system and let me tell you, those bad boys go everywhere.  I would recommend checking the timetable because the frequency may be low, but we ended up taking a cheese tour that was one of the vacation highlights and in order to get there, we needed the PostBus to get there.

First, we took the Pullman train to Chateau-d’Oex.  We had the second-class ticket and got kicked out of first when we accidentally went there after second-class was filled with a huge Chinese tourist group.  Our high-life was nice while it lasted!  In Chateau-d’Oex, we walked to the bus stop, waited 25 minutes and took the 174 to La Maison de L’Etivaz, a 20-minute ride that was beautiful.

La Maison de L’Etivaz is the visitor center and main cellar for the aging of L’Etivaz cheese, an AOP-designated cheese.  69 families make the cheese from cows that graze between 2000-3000 metres in the Swiss Summertime.  They eat the wildflowers and sweet grass and are milked up in the mountains.  The initial cheese is made there and transported the Maison for aging.  The process is very rustic, as the AOP criteria detail that the initial stage must be boiled over a wood-burning fire.  The two of us watched a video in a room clearly able to handle larger groups.  It was an interesting overview of the process and then we were taken on a tour of the cheese cave by Dorine, an English speaker who works at the place.  Please note, this tour was arranged way ahead of time by email.  During the tour, we marveled at all the wheels and, in particular, the robot briner-cheese turners that help develop the cheese during the aging process.

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I am so hungry looking at this!  The cheeses include fresh, demisate, sate, aged (shaved) and a local Brie-like cheese.

Afterwards, we sat at a picnic table by the river and had the best cheese plate of my life. It was such an idyllic scene and we were eating the different ages of l’Etivaz and we felt very smart from all of our newly acquired knowledge.  We met a local who had never gone farther than 3 km from the area.  He was nice initially but then my French started failing me and Dorine stopped translating, which made me suspect he may have started to veer off in somewhat unnice things to say.  Eh, we just ate our cheese.

We shopped in the little market and I bought a big slab of butter, which I proceeded to carry around with me for the next few days.  I think this may have initially embarased SMS but then we both embraced the fact that, yes, we were carrying around some damn delicious butter!

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This cow also laments not having a cheese plate currently in her life!

We took some pictures while waiting for the bus and then off we went, back to Chateau-d’Oex.  Our next stop was the more touristy (but still awesome!) Gruyères, which we reached by train.  We walked to the old castle and toured around.  We watched a little video which was pretty missable and then walked around the ramparts.  Then we walked back to the cheese visitor center, where we walked through the exhibit, which included a large glass wall where we could see into the cheese-making area.  In contrast to l’Etivaz, Gruyère is a little more industrialized, with gas-fed fires and much more stainless steel and larger volume.  At the visitor center, we had moitie-moitie fondue with bread, pickles, onions and potatoes because it was something I really wanted to do in Gruyères, even though it was totally the wrong season for it!

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We hopped on the train and headed for Montreux.  We walked along the shore of Lake Geneva, taking in the sights of JazzFest.  The JazzFest mainly takes place inside a large concert venue.  We had thought there would be more street performances, but this turned out not to be the case.  In planning the trip, I really didn’t research the JazzFest too much and as a result, we didn’t really get the true experience since tickets were sold out or very pricy for the venues and there weren’t as many free events as I assumed.  Either way, we saw a beautiful sunset and had a nice time.  SMS also discovered Movenpick ice cream and a new favorite was found! It also made me happy that we had picked the more quiet Vevey to stay- I thought it was a little more charming.  Maybe we’ll go back again and see more of JazzFest and maybe explore the surrounding vineyards, which we didn’t do this vacation.  I would definitely go back to La Maison de l’Etivaz.  That was amazing!

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