Monday, June 21, 2010

Arctic Circle Cruise!

Our vacation has finally arrived! We are going on a 12 night Arctic Circle Cruise, exploring the beautiful fjord country on the West coast of Norway, land of the Midnight Sun! We have spent the last two days in Amsterdam, catching up with Mark's parents, Anne and Jeff, who flew out from Phoenix to join us on the cruise. This is our second visit to Amsterdam, so our trip this time has been relaxing. After arriving Saturday afternoon, we had an entertaining walk around the town center, watching the city rejoice their country's World Cup match win against Japan. You know you are in a football-lovin' country when you exit the airport to the sight of a stadium-sized jumbo-tron with a bleacher section next to the taxi stand for people to sit and watch the match! The citizens dressed in bright orange made it fun to people-watch! Yesterday, we walked through one of Amsterdam's most famous museums, the Van Gogh museum. The four of us had a fun room service dinner last night, watching the World Cup and continuing our catch-up!

Today, we are packing up and heading to Amsterdam's cruise-ship port! I'm so excited for our "bon voyage!" I can't wait to check out the ship and explore Norway! Stay tuned for more cruise updates....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Up in the Swiss Alps - Our Weekend of Waterfalls!

Good friends and good times in the Berner-Oberland!

Lauterbrunnen Valley - A picture-perfect area in Switzerland

Chalet Brunner in Wengen

Checkin' out our new home for the weekend

Last Friday evening, Mark and I and our visitors, Jen and Dan took a three hour train ride from Lausanne to Wengen, a mountain town in the Swiss Alps. We rented a chalet apartment for two nights, and planned to do some hiking, more mountain-training to check out the views and for Jen, para-gliding! Unfortunately, our "to-do" list was rudely interrupted by Mother Nature, who dropped in some major cloud cover over the Berner-Oberland over the weekend! We arrived late on Friday evening, going to bed hoping for clear skies on Saturday!

Heading into town

Jen researching our "waterfall hike" route

Staubbach Falls

View over Lauterbrunnen

Lots and lots of waterfalls on this hike!

Beautiful Swiss landscape

We awoke Saturday morning to low visibility, so while keeping our fingers crossed that it might clear up later in the afternoon, we headed to Wengen's main street to do some grocery shopping. We picked up food for lunch and dinner that night and then went back to the apartment to unload and check out the status of the mountain tops via the live online and TV webcams! To no avail, we were out of luck that day as the webcams showed us only a wall of grey!

We decided to take the 15 minute train ride down to Lauterbrunnen and go on our "waterfall" hike in the valley, which boasts an impressive 72 waterfalls! We reached Lauterbrunnen, and grabbing a map of the trail, started walking towards Stechelberg. At the end of Lauterbrunnen's main street, Staubbach Falls starts off your waterfall viewing pleasure. From there, you can only start the tally as you pass waterfalls on both sides of you! Some are small, just a trickle of water flowing and others are jaw-droppingly huge, cascading over the side of the mountain.

Trummelbach Falls - 10 waterfalls inside the mountain

Just before the end of the trail, we reached Trümmelbach Waterfalls. This is a very unique attraction, as it has 10 waterfalls flowing inside the mountain, accessible by stairs and elevator. Once inside, you are standing next to massive flows of water, which come from the glacial walls of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau mountains. It is an amazing sight and it gives you a strange feeling to be so close to that much water can feel the energy of the water if you touch the rock walls! Definitely worth the walk (or bus ride if you are so inclined) and the entrance fee!

Aerial cable-car up to Gimmelwald

Sleepy mountain town of Gimmelwald

So Swiss!

After viewing the falls, we continued on to the end of the walk and purchased a ticket to ride the cable car up the mountain to Gimmelwald. Gimmelwald is a tiny mountain town, but it totes some absolutely beautiful views of the waterfalls from up-above. Although not much in the way of city life exists here, it is here that you will experience the "real" Swiss beauty of the countryside. Mark and I decided to head back down with the next cable car and take the bus back to the Lauterbrunnen train station while Jen and Dan decided to hike back down with our new friend Dave, another American who we met earlier in the day on our waterfall walk. Tired and hungry, Mark and I were thankful for the snack shack at the bus station while waiting for the next bus back to Lauterbrunnen! After our ride back up the mountain to Wengen, we reached home and prepared dinner. Jen and Dan joined us soon after and we spent the rest of the evening resting our weary feet and watching the US v. England World Cup soccer match! Once again, we went to bed with fingers crossed in hopes of better weather on Sunday.

Breakfast in Wengen at a Swiss-German bakery

Alas, the weather turned out to be worse on Sunday!...go figure! We trekked back down to the main street again for some breakfast and then attempted to go down to Interlaken, but changed our minds after realizing that we missed the train that had just left and would have a long wait for the next one. We went back to our apartment in Wengen and enjoyed some lunch and down-time before packing up and heading back to Lausanne. It was a fun weekend in the Alps hanging out with great, much-missed friends!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dreaming of Chocolate and Cheese! A Tour of the Cailler Chocolate Factory & Gruyères

The Cailler Chocolate Factory

Jen and I at Cailler!

Chocolate-making in action!

The finished product

The tasting room!

Jen enjoying a delicious treat!

So hard to choose between so many!

Jen, Dan and I had a fun day of sight-seeing last Friday as we took a drive to Maison Cailler Chocolate Factory and Gruyères! Cailler is one of the most well-known chocolate brands in Swizterland. Starting off our day at the chocolate factory, we were greeted with the delicious aroma of chocolate as we opened our car doors! The tour started with a funny show that reminded me somewhat of the Haunted House ride at Disneyland. Our group walked from room to room, each door opening and closing behind us, a loud voice booming over the speakers providing the history of chocolate through the years while a visual scene played out in front of us! At the end of the show, we walked into the next section of the tour, which described the chocolate-making process along with the cocoa beans and nuts used to flavor it (although Cailler's chocolate recipe is a well-kept secret!). We then watched part of the production line in action, as the chocolate pieces were created and sent down the assembly line to be cooled and packaged. The final (and best!) part of the tour was the tasting room , where we could sample all of the different lines of chocolate made by Cailler. Our chocolate tasting turned into our lunch, as so many of them called out to us to be tasted! Yum!

In Gruyeres!

Friends back together again!

Next, we drove to Gruyères, located just a few minutes from Cailler. Our first stop here was La Maison du Gruyéres, where the cheese-making demonstrations are held. We decided to pass on that, but we did pop in to the souvenir shop to check out the cheese for sale! Next, we headed up the hill to town. Gruyères' main street is a no-car zone, but you can park your car just below it and walk up from there. We strolled through the cobble-stoned streets, checking out the menus of the restaurants that we passed. We settled on one with a terrace and observed the lovely outdoor views while enjoying a glass of the local wine and munching on a meat and cheese plate....of course, Gruyères cheese! We topped off our meal with a mouth-watering ice-cream sundae! Dessert could not be passed up as Gruyères has some of the freshest milk and cream available on a daily basis from the near-by dairy farmers. We ended our town tour in front of the Gruyères Castle, admiring the green rolling-hills of the country-side. It was then time to head back to Lausanne and pack for our weekend trip to the Swiss Alps!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bienvenue à Jen & Dan en Suisse! - Welcoming more friends to Switzerland!

Our guest book has been quite full this past month! Monday night, we welcomed my friends Jen and Dan to Switzerland! I am so excited to have another set of close friends staying with us! They have been traveling around Europe since mid-May and so arrived in Lausanne by train from Florence, jet-lag free! They have been doing some sight-seeing this week while we are at work, but we have been enjoying the evenings together catching up! We came home from work Tuesday night to a delicious pasta dinner prepared for us by our guests, and last night we enjoyed a yummy Swiss meal - fondue! I'm very excited for our weekend plans together, which will take us to the Bernese-Oberland in the Swiss Alps!

Friday, June 4, 2010

More Guests Check -In! Steph & Brent's Swiss Visit

Reunited! Hanging out on Lake Geneva in Lausanne


Walking through the ramparts in Murten

View from the ramparts over Murten

Roman amphitheater in Avenches

Taking a short break!

Reading up on Einstein's life at his museum apartment in Bern
Bern's new bear enclosure

Bern's famous bears!

Steph testing the waters of Bern's Aare River

After arriving home from Crete on Monday, we welcomed my friends Steph and Brent to Switzerland on Wednesday evening. After 24 hours of travel, they finally made it to the Lausanne train station with big smiles, happy to finally have arrived!! They were troopers and managed to stay up late catching up in order to better adjust to the time zone change.

Thursday, we did a short outing out into town to get their Swiss passes at the train station and groceries at the Coop City, which Steph thoroughly enjoyed! :) Between their jet-lag and a bad case of the stomach flu that had hit me just a day before, we were all ready for naps in the afternoon! I had to pull a "mean mom" move and wake them up from their snooze a little while later, but over-sleeping a nap while experiencing some major jet-lag can ruin your sleep schedule for the rest of the week. I say this from personal experience! That night we served our guests a traditional Swiss meal of cheese fondue to expose them to the local cuisine!

Friday, Steph and Brent took a panoramic train to Lauterbrunnen, located approximately 2 hours 40 minutes from Lausanne in the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, our plans to meet them there after work were thwarted due to my illness and so Mark and I spent an uneventful weekend at home. Luckily, our visitors got to experience the wonder of hiking in the Swiss Alps! They came back in the early afternoon on Sunday and we all had a relaxing afternoon at home together. They also got to see our Sunday grocery shopping routine at the train station, as everything else is closed here on Sundays!

Mark and I had to work on Monday, so Steph and Brent headed to Chateau de Chillon to check out the castle. We were very thankful for the home-cooked meal they had prepared when we got home from work that night. :) I took the day off on Tuesday to spend their last day in Switzerland with them. We had a long, but fun day of sight-seeing! We started off in Murten to walk the medieval ramparts, eat lunch and enjoy a glass of the local wine from Mont Vully! Then, in an "Amazing Race" move with only minutes to spare, Steph and I took off for the train station so I could buy a ticket, while Brent paid the lunch tab! All worked out and we made it on the regional train that took us to Avenches, a few miles away from Murten. Avenches, although a small town, is known for having the most well-preserved Roman ruins in Switzerland. We sat in the Roman amphitheater, which was being prepped for hosting summer concerts and plays. We then headed back to the train station, wanting to catch the next set of trains that would take us to Bern.

Bern, our final destination of the day, greeted us with some great sights. We went to Albert Einstein's apartment, which is now a museum. This apartment is famous as he was living at this location when he worked on his Theory of Relativity. Next, we moved on to Bern's cathedral and then ended the day with a visit to the new enclosure where Bern's famous bears live. We finally made it back home, 7 train rides and 11 hours later, but with a feeling of accomplishment that we had experienced so much! Early Wednesday morning, Mark and I said "au revoir" to Steph and Brent, as their Swiss visit had come to an end and they departed for Italy. It was great to see them and I am already looking forward to our next rendez-vous, wherever that may be! :) Miss you both!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A weekend in paradise - Crete, Greece

Our beautiful hotel, the Amirandes

The amazing outdoor pool!

Beautiful lagoons filled the interior of the propertyMark enjoying the view

Enjoying our spot on the beach!

No words can describe this sight

We were lucky enough to have two holiday weekends in May! I took my mom to the airport very early in the morning on Friday the 21st and Mark and I went back later that morning to catch our flight to Crete! We had a layover in Athens and finally arrived in the early evening at our beautiful hotel, The Amirandes, located approximately 15 minutes from the capital city of Heraklion. The Amirandes provided us a beautiful location for a relaxing island weekend!

There were some strong ocean winds on Friday night and most of Saturday so it was a bit chilly upon our arrival! However, we managed to get in some beach time on Saturday afternoon before dinner. We had a great lobster dinner our first night at the resort's Mediterranean restaurant, Lago di Candia. Saturday morning, Mark worked out in the gym and I swam in the spa's in-door heated pool. :) We ate lunch by the awesome outdoor pool and then made our way to the lounge chairs on the beach to catch some rays! Just laying by the ocean and listening to the waves was fantastic...the sounds and salty air smells brought back memories of San Diego and a little bit of home was re-discovered. We had Asian cuisine at the resort's Blue Monkey restaurant on Saturday night! Both nights we were treated to an out-of-this-world sunset to end the evening.

Sunday we continued our theme of relaxing with another lunch by the pool and afternoon by the beach!! We even took a dip in the ocean, which was nice once I got over the immediate chill factor! We enjoyed our last breakfast outside on Monday morning and breathed in the delicious ocean air one last time before heading back to the airport for our flight home. It was great to have some time away on-island before going home to welcome our next set of visitors.