Saturday, November 19, 2011
Enough cold. We're on our way to Costa Rica. Kari found an adventure travel package and so off we go to white water raft, climb a volcano, zip-line back down, and paddle the waves. With a little pool and beach time tossed in for good measure. No turkey, but a damn fine way to spend Thanksgiving.
Posted by Tim and Kari at 11:26 AM
Saturday, February 12, 2011
The word "Switzerland" brings several things to mind: time-keeping, banking, fondue, Matterhorn. The first two define the the psyche, the second pair the heart. With that in mind, we left the former to embrace the latter.
Entrance to the town of Zermatt is by train is provided a privately owned rail company. Eurail passes do not apply. (Note to self: buy ticket before boarding.) Luckily, the conductor was understanding and we did not have to pay a penalty. The sun was out and the ride up the hill was beautiful.
I booked us at the Hotel Backstage based on the recommendation of... (I can't remember--additional note to self: take better notes). It's a work in progress. Our room was stylistically modern, with accents in teak and metal. The hotel service was impeccable, the location ideal, the breakfasts expansive, and the view of the Matterhorn..., virtually non-existent. That was not the hotel's fault: you cannot really see the mountain from "downtown" Zermatt.
So be it. We sucked up the luxury and hit the town, such as it is. The town of Zermatt is to Sun Valley pretty much whatever the hamlet at the base of Sun Valley Resort is to Sun Valley. Don't know the name of that town, but at least Zermatt is known for itself. Definitely not Whistler, which is a good thing.
On the first night we rented skates and did our best Torvil and Dean impression around the public open-air skating rink. It was a lesson in ankle strength and humility to turn meager circles around the little rugrats who grew up on snow tools. Maybe we'll join the local curling group next time. They had beer and flat shoes.
The next morning we opted for sledge-redux. Our taste of the local sport at our last stop whetted our appetites for further two-railed adventures. The Gonergrat Bahn is one of several ways up the mountains from Zermatt, and offers regular stops at the bottom and top of of the sledging run. Sledging in Switzerland is nothing like a happy winter sled ride in America. They take it seriously here. The sledge run is 2km long, with turns to rival a downhill ski run. I finally got the hang of the track and sledge when I started to think of it as a Formula 1 course: you have to set up for you next corner at least two corners prior. I was on a wild machine at the mercy of only gravity, steered only by leaning and boot-dragging. I crashed a lot, always eager to get back up on the deck and hurtle downward again. Kari had the sense of the thing from the beginning. I usually started first, but she was always waiting for me at the bottom, I covered with snow from crashing, she with the glow of successful completion; together we trudged back to the train for the ride to the top. Bruised in sensitive places, I cannot wait to ride again.
And oh by the way, the view of the Matterhorn from the top of the Gonergrat in unequaled. You look across the valley directly at the mountain. It is the best view of the Matterhorn as the Matterhorn. Although the Matterhorn is not the highest peak even in the region, it stands out strikingly, and from the top of the Gonergrat Bahn you will not find a more stunning vantage.
The next day I took to the slopes for some of the local skiing. They hadn't had snow in a couple of weeks, so the conditions weren't ideal. Unless you count the perfectly blue skies and abundant sun. February is the high season in Switzerland for ski vacations, and the gondolas were full. But once you got on the slopes it was not too bad. The skiing here (and anywhere in the Alps, I'm sure) must be crazy good when there has been recent snowfall. The skiing was limited to the groomers, especially on my shorties. Anything off the groomed runs was crunchy on top, very soft under. I made do. Bummer having to ski in the sun, with no (and I mean no) wind at altitude. Maybe next time it will be fogged in and howling. Like 7th Heaven seemingly every time I've been there.
I met Kari for lunch at the top of the Klein Matterhorn, where you can almost touch the mountain. I took a long run down the Italian side to Cervinia, then back up to the top and back home to Zermatt. Over 4k vertical meters in two runs. Not bad for a guy on 99cm skiboards.
Somewhere in there we sat down to some real Käsefondue at the Cafe du Pont in Zermatt. (The link is hosed, so look it up when you get to Zermatt. It is just past the marmot fountain in the old town.) The döner kebab 25m away is a good alternative if the cafe is full.
Off to the banana belt next: Locarno. No more Schweizerdeutsch, finally Italian, a language I can at least fake.
Monday, February 7, 2011
Mürren is the perfect little Swiss mountain town, from Zurich it is: 3 trains, one cable car, one more train. It is a destination without the overwhelming resort crush to it.
We spent the first afternoon wandering around the town; one lap took about an hour. The clouds had lifted and the views were spectacular. The little Coop grocery across from out hotel supplied dinner. I was most impressed: the prices here in the middle of nowhere were the were the same as in the big city.
Friday morning was perfectly clear and sunny. We rode the cable car to the summit of the Schilthorn (famous for its part in the Bond movie "On Her Majesty's Secret Service"). Kari found a spot in the sun on the terrace at Birg, one stop down from the top, and I spent the day skiing in the shadow of the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. There hadn't been snow in several weeks so the slopes were a bit icy. But I have never skied in a more spectacular setting. I think I spent as long gawking and taking pictures as I did skiing. This place would be as perfect as anywhere with about 10cm fresh snow. Then a sunny day.
We spent Saturday morning trying sledging (sledding to us 'Mericans), which is almost as popular as skiing around here. By the second run we kind of had it down, No steering on the sledges we had so it was pure drag turning. By the time we figured it out the Saturday crowd had invaded the slopes, and sharing the bob-run with beginner skiers and bundled rugrats became too much. We parked the sledges and hiked down to Gimmelwald, and even smaller hamlet where I'd spend a night on our world tour in 2009. The Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald is a great place to base for summer hikes.
On Sunday Kari was kind enough to let me spend the whole day skiing. She hiked down along the Bergbahn Lauterbrunnen-Mürren railway. I beat myself senseless on the slopes.
Posted by Tim and Kari at 10:29 PM
Thursday, February 3, 2011
We took the tram into Zürich from the airport. Not the fastest way, but it gave us a chance to watch the change from the modern outskirts, through the suburbs, into the heart of the city. Out hotel, the Hotel Bristol, was a five minute walk from Zürich HB, the central train station. The hotel is extremely convenient to the old town and central shopping district, and is very clean, and inexpensive by Zürich standards.
We spent Tuesday evening on a stroll around the old town, just getting our bearings. The weather was cool but not cold: zero degrees Celsius. It felt great after 16+ hours in planes and airports. At there were no disagreements over dinner: we dove into the first döner kebab shop we saw, and it was like we'd never left. I like a good gyro as much as the next guy, but doners bring back memories of travel and far-off places.
After a tasty breakfast we got down to serious touristing. For as old as Zürich is, it doesn't have the same ancient feeling of other European cities. The city has done an exceptional job of keeping itself clean and traditional while becoming the center of banking and technology on the continent. I also experienced first-hand something which cemented its place as the richest city in the world: a dirty Bentley. And not just dusty, but rather that "it's dirty from driving around in the snow all winter, I'll just wash it in the spring" dirty. Kinda of how mine will look.
We started our tour by riding the Polybahn funicular up the hill to the lookout in front of the Zürich Technical Academy. The sun had started to burn off the fog, and it gave us a perspective of our day's route.
We wandered down to the Central Library and Prediger Kirche to start. The library is a 19th century building which as been completely modernized inside. But still has card catalogs: haven't seen those for years. Hooray for old school. We continued on the the Rathaus and Rathaus Platz. The guard stopped my excursion to the upper floors, so we were limited to the lobby.
Just south is Zürich's oldest and largest church, the Grossmünster Kirke. We made the climb up the tower and we rewarded with amazing views of the city and the lake. A stroll through the Bürkli Platz along the lake took us to the shopping district. Rodeo Drive has nothing on Banhhofstrasse and surrounds.
We had lunch at the Restaurant Zeughauskeller, local bankers and tourists alike partaking of Swiss fare. After lunch we found the Watch and Clock museum, which is in the underground floor of a watch shop. The museum is very small but has a neat collection of timepieces. The watch shop, however, was also impressive: I probably can't afford anything where they server the customers Champagne while they peruse the wares.
We jumped on the No 11 tram and took it out to the Tram Museum. It was an interesting collection of old tram cars, housed in a former service depot. The Zürich card included both transit and entry to the museum. Seattle should do something similar, if it doesn't already. Many of the cities we visited had a similar package: museums, transit, and discounts.
Back in the old town, we found the Toy Museum and a bratwurst stand for dinner. Day one in the bag. Off to Mürren and the mountains in the morning.
Morning of departure: hurry to the train station...split up to get tix and food. I go to the Coop for travel snacks; and on the way back to the station I see the final nail in the 'MOVE TO EUROPE NOW, TIM" coffin: some dude walking to the Zurich train station in SKI BOOTS, carrying his skis Not carrying his boots, walking in them, kinda like walking from the parking lot to the lift. In down-effing-town Zurich. This is good.
Posted by Tim and Kari at 11:25 PM
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
I can't believe it's been almost a year since we returned from our World Tour. The wanderlust was getting pretty bad. I have been to Switzerland several times, including our last swing through Europe, but Kari never has. Some leftover airline miles gave us the perfect opportunity to fill that gap: a couple of tickets in the Affaires cabin, courtesy of Air France, and away we go.
The flight from Seattle to Paris was very comfortable and smooth (and fairly empty). Transit through security upon arrival was bizarrely fast: no paperwork, no grilling at passport control, no long customs queues, nothing. Under a minute in line, a quick stamp, and "Welcome to France". (An unspoken welcome, but I knew she was thinking it.)
Both the landings in Paris and in Zürich were through very low cloud cover, so even though we arrived in daylight we didn't get to glimpse either city coming in. The Zürich airport is fairly compact which meant the bags were quick to arrive. And for the first time in my life, my bag was the first off the plane! I hope that won't be the highlight of the trip.
More as we move along.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Just for fun, I published a couple of books about our trip. Blurb's preview is not all that great, but check them out online if you're interested.
Posted by Tim and Kari at 10:14 AM
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Daily WTF for a while so during the first phase of our trip, we decided to send Alex some souvenirs and see if we made it on the site. Sure enough, he posted a photo of our trinkets and even sent us some great stickers in return.
Posted by Tim and Kari at 3:52 PM
Monday, February 22, 2010
We have been home for a couple of weeks now and it is taking some adjusting to get used to life in a single place. The hardest part has been trying to get back to a semi-normal schedule without any external reasons to do so. We have a lot to do around the house, but without jobs, it is difficult to create a daily routine. The job search is going slower than I'd hoped, but I'm optimistic that things will pick up over the next month. Until then, we are keeping ourselves busy around the house and networking as much as possible.
Posted by Tim and Kari at 11:51 AM