“The Swiss have an interesting army. Five hundred years without a war. Pretty impressive. Also pretty lucky for them. Ever see that little Swiss Army knife they have to fight with? Not much of a weapon there. Corkscrews. Bottle openers. ‘Come on, buddy, let’s go. You get past me, the guy in back of me, he’s got a spoon. Back off. I’ve got the toe clippers right here.” – Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld is one of the funniest people. Tom and I saw him in concert in Madison a few years ago and he was just as hilarious in person. We have started showing the kids some of our favorite clips after we happen to use a catch phrase like “close talker” or “puffy shirt”. Yesterday I used a Puddy quote on Facebook so had to show them the David Puddy face-painting scene. But, I digress.
It is early Sunday morning, the last day of our Noel holiday. We had been looking forward to this break for many reasons. The anticipation of Christmas can never be overrated. And we had a trip to Switzerland planned. As some of your know, Julian’s favorite season is winter and Elizabeth is big fan, too, so the idea of a winter/snow/ski/sled trip was pretty fantastic. It proved to be worth it as both Elizabeth and Julian have said of all the places we have traveled, they would return, first, to Switzerland if given the opportunity. (London is still the fav for Sarah and I think I’m probably there with her. Tom? I think he would vote “no repeats” because there is so much more to see but I’ll let him answer that if he wants.).
Many of you on Facebook have seen some pictures of our Switzerland trip already so this post could be a bit of a visual repeat. But I’ll share some of our highlights.
First off, there is nothing like traveling on a train. You could show up one minute before the train leaves and be just fine. No counting or weighing of bags and certainly no extra charge. No pouring all your liquid toiletries into little 3 oz. bottles and fitting them into a large Zip-lock. No taking off your coat, shoes, belt. No emptying your pockets or removing your laptops. No required arrival three hours in advance. No need for attendants. They just come back and check your ticket. If you want something to eat, go buy it. Otherwise, bring whatever food you want on the train. Yes, it makes stops and even the bullet train doesn’t go as fast as a jet. But considering the extra time you have to take to get to an airport (which is usually out of town a ways or you have to travel to the airport that offered that special fare), the time to check your bags, go through security and board, it might come out even. And they are always on time. Always. The downside is the possible cost. Like everything, you have to have done your research so you’re getting the best deals as there are lots of options and some of them pricey. In any case, this was a train-based trip and we were on several each day going in many directions. Fantastic.
Our accommodations were provided by Michael and Jessica, Michael being the brother of one of our Middleton friends. When Michael and Jess were in Middleton last summer and offered to host us during the year, well, you didn’t have to ask us twice. We knew we wanted a winter in the Alps experience so we found dates that worked and booked it. They were fantastic hosts, pointing us in the direction of trains, good ski and sledding experiences, and grocery stores. Because they were on holiday, too (they both teach at the International school in Switzerland), they had several trips of their own planned but fortunately our paths crossed enough that we could enjoy two evenings together, one the night after we had skied all day and we returned to the apartment to the smell of Swiss fondue and the second on New Year’s Eve which you read about in the last post.
We knew we had to ski while in the Alps even though we are fairly new to the ski scene. Oh, the kids have been skiing since preschool. I remember taking Elizabeth and Julian to Tyrol Basin on Monday mornings for lessons and just being fascinated with how quickly these teeny kids learn to ski (you have to be fearless). Sarah was already in Kindergarten but jumped in right way. They have loved it ever since. Tom and I finally took the plunge last year, me investing in ski equipment and he going the snowboard route. We’re not good but it’s good to teach old dogs new tricks and we’re okay with being beginners.
We selected Stoos as our ski resort of choice and after a trip of bus-train-train-bus-funicular, we arrived at the top of the mountain ready for our day. We were fitted into boots by 8:30 and were on the ski lift just as the little Stoos village was starting to wake up. I loved all the little cabins/chalets, the smell of breakfast as I was skiing down a little “street”. How fun to wake up, get breakfast and a fire started, then just pop into your skis and start your day, heading back to your chalet anytime you got a chill, were hungry, or just wanted a break with a book by the fire. That’s the way to do it, I’m telling you.
Anyway, we had PERFECT weather. Honestly. Blue skies and no wind. Certainly not cold. It made the experience exceptional.
I don’t know what level run we first went on but I can tell you it took Tom and I a much longer time to get down than the kids. They were patient with us and knew to wait. But it wasn’t long before I just let them go off on their own, requiring them to stay together and not move to another hill or run unless we knew where they were. They obliged. Julian took one hard face-plant but otherwise there weren’t any spills. I never fell but did head right into a rope that, thank goodness, bungeed me back into place. The hill where we started was not where Tom and I ended up most of the time. It was just a bit too steep and a bit too narrow for my much-needed slaloming. So we found a great hill that suited us perfectly well and was in the middle of everything so a good location. We were pooped by late afternoon so headed back down the mountain and home for Swiss fondue, salad and Julian’s new favorite: Chai tea. He surprises me at every turn.
We followed our ski day with an afternoon in Luzern, which is a beautiful city. The girls would say the favorite part of their day was shoe shopping but we also discovered a sandwich shop with pouletschnitzel we all loved (okay, not Sarah), and enjoyed just walking the streets. We were back for a late dinner and ringing in 2013.
January 1 found us lazy as most January firsts do. Tom and I did go for a mid-afternoon run/walk and enjoyed the little village of Cham. Otherwise, it was lots of reading and games and poking at the fire.
On the second, we headed straight into the Alps again, this time in the direction of Engelberg, a very large ski resort. We took a cable car up to an area where you can cross-country ski, hike and sled only. They had received lots of snow the night before so were just digging out when we arrived. In fact, the snow clouds had not moved out yet, so we found ourselves in complete whiteouts several times which can be a bit creepy when you can’t see your kids or the mountain or where you are stepping. Tom and I filmed a few short videos during these times…funny for us but I’m sure no one else would get it! Anyway, we had our toboggans and while we weren’t great at steering, had a wonderful time. Because the snow was deep and when you’re sledding you’re actually IN the snow, we were a lot more cold that day. But to play in the snow was a treat. We stopped in Luzern on our way home for our favorite sandwiches and had a final evening in Switzerland.
One thing I’m amazed by is the full-on differences you have in culture between these countries that are in such close proximity. The Swiss speak high German, primarily, so Sarah was a great help after a year of German in 7th grade. Amazing how it ‘sticks’. I, on the other hand, ended two grocery store transactions with “Grazie.” But the Swiss are such an organized society…so precise, so clean, so not French! It’s such a learning experience to take in these differences.
And now we’re home. And already making plans for Hiver (winter) Holiday which is the first two weeks in March.