Despite all the highlights of the long weekend, I was grateful to wake up in a familiar place at Maya & Janet’s home. I had a slow morning before we ventured out into the big bad world. Appropriately readied to face the Geneva metro area, Maya and I drove into town. We parked at the UN, then went to the waterfront to take in the Cool Globes exhibit, designed to raise awareness of solutions to climate change. It was scheduled to end in August, but for lucky me, it was still in town.
For lunch, we found Pakistani doner kebab in the Paquis (Les Pâquis), not far from the waterfront. After, we walked towards Gare Cornavin together, with plans to part so Maya could head to French class and so I could tram it solo to Carouge, a village adjacent to Geneva. Not two minutes after saying good-bye to Maya, I ran into another expat friend of a friend I’d met Friday. Small world! I was feeling very much at home in Geneva after this.
Okay, onto Carouge. This Summer another friend (N.) moved to the Geneva area, settling in Carouge. We saw each other often in Seattle until she was relocated by her company to Cincinnati around 5 years ago. Once again this Summer, she relocated — but this time to Switzerland. Rough. I hope she gets hazard pay.
I’d left Gare Cornavin with enough time should there be any mishaps en route my 30 minute tram ride. But who was I kidding? This is Switzerland. They pretty much invented timeliness. So when I arrived far earlier than expected, I took the hour to photograph. Turns out, I picked the perfect location to spend my time — Carouge is tres photogenic and one of the most charming and arty districts in the Geneva metro area. It was built hundreds of years ago by Sardinians looking to escape harsh big city life. I found it as delightful as Bern and plan to revisit. Should I ever need to rent my own apartment in Geneva, Carouge would be right up there with Ferney-Voltaire. 🙂
N & I spent a couple of hours catching up before heading to our evenings. But once again, I miscalculated time & found myself with a little extra. Instead of hopping on the first tram outta Carouge, I started walking. Pretty soon, I’d walked over halfway back to Vielle Ville, making my tram plan mostly irrelevant. I refused to accept the idea I might get lost and pushed on with the faith that Geneva was as small & cozy as it had been feeling all day — past Plainpalais, past men playing giant chess, up the hill into the center, and arriving with seconds to spare.
As the sun set, we rendez-voused in Place du Bourg-de-Four, where Maya & I hung out last week in the Vielle Ville. We chose Soupçon, not least of all because Janet told me over the weekend that it served the best steak she’d had in Switzerland yet. ‘Twas a lovely final dinner, with a stracciatella nightcap at the nearby gelateria. We took a final stroll through Geneva to the waterfront, under the harvest full moon.
Then, it was time to go home.
More Carouge and Geneva photos in two sets below:
After breakfast at the Hotel Oberland dining room, we started packing up to hit the road. I was nearly ready when Maya ran past my room relaying, “Alpages! They’re coming down the mountain!” Alpages (as they’re called in French, also known as Alpaufzug in Austria & Almabtrieb in Switzerland) are an annual Fall event, where herders bring cows down from higher elevations. In small villages, these are completely impromptu affairs. Now, I’d tried to set my visit to coincide with a famous Fall Alpages in Annecy near Geneva, but all Summer those Frenchies were not giving up the dates for their official weekend. I’d let go of the idea, booked cheaper flight dates, and by chance, one landed on our doorstep. Lucky! You sure can bank on the Swiss to bring good times, eh?
We eventually stopped gawking at cows & packed up to drove to Interlaken. En route, I read a guidebook listing of an El Azteca in Interlaken. I figured at worst, inauthentic Mexican would make the next meal of potatoes and exceptional cheese seem all the better. With hopeful hearts, our trio of Mexican food-lovers hit the Jungfraustrasse. I enjoyed my mole’s heat, though Janet & Maya tell me Basel still has the best Mexican food in all the (Swiss) land. I left happy. We walked through a street market, running into a surprise performance by a Swiss Army orchestra on our way to the paraglide landing field.
Our next stop was Bern, the capitol of Switzerland. We were ambivalent about visiting, but I thought I should check out the town where Mr. T’s grandmother’s family originated.
Bern turned out to be my favorite Swiss city–so charming, full of cute underground shops with entrances through cellar doors and old buildings and smartly dressed residents. We spent the rest of our day there, with dinner at Cafe Falken before driving home to Geneva. Full set of images, here:
After packing, Diana, Janet, and I went to Hieber just across the border in Germany. Janet prefers to buy all of her meat at Hieber when she’s visiting Basel, as it’s far superior to what she can get near Geneva. I love any excuse to check out a foreign grocery store — especially the “Euro Supermarket of the Year 2009.”
More pictures of our morning in the Basler area:
We dropped Diana off at work, picked up Maya, and drove on, to Canton Berner to stay in the Jungfrau-Aletsch mountains. Janet’s colleague suggested Isenfluh, but the two options there were booked up by 2 PM. We continued to Lauterbrunnen, where we found rooms at the charming Chalet Oberland, across the lane from the larger Hotel Oberland. Our chalet rooms had quiet balconies, with views of the JungFrau!
Time & weather seemed perfect to try our luck at taking the Telecabine up to Shilthorn/Piz Gloria. We caught a late-afternoon ride up to the top, transferring gondolas multiple times. It’s a pricey ride, but worth it — cheaper the later in the day that you go. We goofed off a bit in the viewing deck (sadly, our Bond-style photos were no bueno). We wrote postcards in the lounge and had an afternoon drink.
On our way down, we stopped in charming Mürren for dinner. Before reserving anything more substantial, we took in the sunset and a snack from the best cafe deck in town at the Hotel Edelweiss.
We were brutally rebuffed at our Mürren dinner choice due to an influx of patrons, so continued to Lauterbrunnen for dinner.
We made it to Hotel Oberland’s restaurant, across the lane from our Chalet. Dinner turned into a highlight, with the best schnitzel Janet’s had since moving to Switzerland. My pork wrapped in bacon on rösti wasn’t shabby either.
Images from the Jungfrau-Aletsch, here:
Today, Diana took us to The Alsace. The day was so beautiful, I was ready to pack it all up and move to Central Europe, in order to be closer to this region for all my Sundays.
We hit the highway early, headed for Niedermorschwihr. This little-known town is the home of Christine Ferber, who we took to calling The Jam Fairy. Ferber’s shop, Au Relais Des Trois Epis, is 13 km west of Colmar. Inside, I stocked up on jams, other preserved fruits and one chocolate macaron for the road.
Next on our itinerary was Bergheim. Our mission in Bergheim was two-fold: a) visit the Jam Witch and b) lunch at Wistub du Sommelier for the best foie gras EVER (trademark: J) and a delicious duck with choucroute. Bergheim’s Jam Witch (L’Eglantine de Bergheim) was well worth the stop and added a touch of positive drama to our morning — after each jam request, she would disappear, then re-emerge through the shop curtains with fresh supplies. Her Gewürztraminer product is To Die For. After visiting her, we scurried back a few streets to Wistub du Sommelier for our luxurious Alsatian lunch. We didn’t leave WdS without extra foie for M&J to take back to Ferney.
After lunch, we drove through Alsatian vineyards to see Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr, two picturesque towns in the region. As the story was told to me — when artists for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast began their work, they visited Ribeauvillé and Riquewihr to sketch and to be inspired. I could see this everywhere I turned. I also learned here that the stork is the spirit animal of the region.
We stopped for late afternoon “tea” (er, Cremant) & a snack in Riquewihr, before heading back to Basel.
Between villages, J&I found a vineyard before twilight. I am so sold on the Alsace — it is a must visit en France.
All pictures from the set, here:
We hit the road early afternoon to head to Basel to visit other friends of M&J. En route, we made a quick stop at Avenches, formerly known to the Romans as Aventicum.
Not much farther down the road, just past the Röstigraben (aka the Rösti line or literally, the Rösti trench), we came upon Aarberg in Canton Bern, another darling town with its own Gesundheitcenter. I still giggle when I see this. Imagine what goes on inside a Gesundheit-center.
We arrived in Basel for dinnertime, whereupon D&S guided us to the Restaurant Steinbock for: Rösti!
I would also like to point out another site from our day, under Basel — the bike parking:
The whole set from our Swiss Saturday, here:
Where do I begin? Today was packed so well it seemed like I got two days out of one. I’m going to break today into two entries.
We began the morning at the weekly Saturday morning market in Ferney-Voltaire. Every week, M&J pick up their goods for the coming week and meet with fellow expats at the Cafe Voltaire. Today, I made the shopping rounds with J — first stop, Bernard (pictured above) at the fruit and veggie stand. Next, we visited the bread guy and the coffee lady and the cheese dude. And there was a spice & tea booth! It rivals any other casual food or farmer’s market I’ve ever seen.
It happened to also be Le Marché des Potiers — the annual pottery market festival for Ferney. While M&J bought housewares, I admired the trinkets, did some people watching, and brought home a photo-holder.
Then, we hit the Swiss highway for a road trip to Basel via Avenches. Entry coming up next!
For more pictures of the market day, here’s a set:
M & I drove out to Ventoux on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) to visit Chateau de Chillon. Upon our approach, I didn’t expect to spend several hours there, but it was deceptively large inside. It was my first overcast morning in Switzerland, but the gloominess set the right tone to explore this castle. (Yes, my mission on this trip was to use my American positivity to turn any weather frowns upside-down. I’ll be honest with you. I think it ensured sunshine except for this one morning. Because gloominess is far more perfect for 800 year old castles.)
We’d worked up an appetite, so I consulted M’s Swiss guidebook which led us to Le Palais Oriental, a Persian restaurant on the shore in Montreux, westward on the supposed Swiss Riviera. M & I shared the “assortiments de mezzes libanais et iranais” or, in American: Lebanese/Iranian small plates. Eight delicious dishes. Paired with Sinalco. (Lawzy, can’t believe I’m using that overused verb pair whenst associating beverages or matching dishes.) I spotted Sinalco Orange all over Switzerland — an orange sherbet-flavored Euro soft drink without alcohol. Sin alco. Get it?
We lunched fairly late by Swiss standards, but there was a steady influx of Middle Easterners throughout our meal. It felt like a positive confirmation on the authenticity of our meal. Maybe they were just homesick; I know I’ve accepted inferior jambalaya at times for this reason alone. Our “terrace” seating made for good people-watching — one woman arrived after instructing her driver to take the pedestrian-only walkway to deliver her
inches centimeters before the entry gate. I guess some people are allowed to do that for authentic tabbouleh emergencies. Heaven forbid a 30 yard 20 meter walk from the nearest street.
After walking along the Montreux waterfront, M drove us back past the vineyards of Lavaux and past Lausanne along the lake, for dinner with J & other delightful expat friends at Cafe du Soleil. There, I learned the rule for ordering fondue for a crowd: order 1 less than the number of people. Prevents lactose overdose! Um, sort of. ‘Cause next, we enjoyed meringue et sa double crème de Gruyère (Gruyere Meringue with double cream) for dessert.
More pictures of the day here:
Our next stop was the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum (ICRC). We knew pretty quickly we’d have to return after our afternoon United Nations Tour. Inside Photography was supposed to be verboten, so I did not capture a picture of one highlight — the statue of a nurse holding a fallen solder. The title of the work was “Humanitarian Gesture” with its description that “This work represents the humanitarian spirit, often crushed but always renewed.” It was surrounded by panels of somewhat transparent screen images of early 20th-century conflicts. You know I’m a sucker for that humanitarian spirit prevailing.
After our U.N. tour, we revisited the ICRC. I was really interested in seeing the latter-20th century exhibits and it was well worth the second stop to understand the most recent activity being done by the organization. I stood inside a POW jail cell whose dimensions held 17 men for 90 days. The footprints indicating each prisoner weren’t even two feet apart.
After our museum visit, we headed home with J. She cooked a marvelous German-Italian dinner of bratwurst & caprese. We ran an errand to the local Carrefour (I love foreign grocery stores) and witnessed a spectacular sunset.
All pictures of the day here:
M and I ventured into Geneva this morning to check out La Vieille-Ville, or the old town. We made ourselves a little walking tour of downtown under blue skies, with a lunch rest for Tartare at Au Carnivore in Place du Bourg-de-Four. After lunch, I climbed the bell tower of Cathédrale Saint-Pierre.
Clouds rolled in late afternoon to set the scene for our drive to Le Refuge de Florimont located halfway up in the Jura mountain range — up Route de la Faucille in Gex, France. The temperatures dropped considerably, so in a cozy space, we enjoyed Raclette and Gexiflette while fondue parties carried on around us. The Raclette came with its own charbon (a grill), which we used to melt this amazing cheese for our potatoes, charcuterie, and cornichon. The Gexiflette was a turn on Tartiflette — a french version of potatoes baked in cheese. In this case, the Gexiflette was cooked with the local Pays de Gex, a very blue cheese. The dinner was delicious & I’d recommend the trip to anyone in the Geneva area looking for a traditional restaurant, especially groups. For three of us, a perfect place to end the day.
More photos in the set here:
My flight to Geneva touched down sometime around 7 AM this morning, well ahead of schedule. I strolled through Customs with Nothing to Declare and in minutes, my pals whisked me back over another border into France where they live across the street from Switzerland. J headed off to work, while M distracted me from jet lag.
We got off to an energizing start by taking a long, leisurely walk through the countryside. Past Collex, past Bossy, past apple orchards and cornfields and vineyards, along an extensive path system shared by both France & Switzerland. We lost count of how many times we saw border stones, which indicated we’d crossed yet again. One woman stopped to chat with us, en Francais, ’til she realized the conversation was rather one-sided and switched into English. She introduced us to her Bulldogs (French?) and gave M leads on where she could find a shelter dog near Versoix. A full two hours later, we returned home & I got in a quick nap.
J came home after work, with a coworker in tow — a British Intern working with her at the intergovernmental organization (say that 10 times fast!). We walked with the intern to her new home in Ferney before heading to dinner at Crèperie Ti Breizh. M, J, & I each had savory crepes & cider & dessert crepes.
The affable owner even gave us today’s French lesson:
“French is all about learning the proper inflection of vowels. Practice emphasizing each in “Du! Bon! Vin! Blanc!”
I kept the post-it note he wrote us for emphasis.
We capped off the evening in the town square for a drink. My Franco-Swiss vacation was off to an excellent start.
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