March 2013: Walking on Water

One of our favorite not-too-far-away weekend spots is about a 35 minute drive from Lausanne in the Vallée de Joux. The lake is the largest in Switzerland above 1,000 meters which means that if it gets cold enough during the winter months, the entire surface freezes, creating a surreal, walkable landscape.

Last year the lake took awhile to freeze but one Friday in March, near the end of winter, we got an excited text from a friend: check the website! The lake is frozen!

The town bordering the side of the lake we usually spend time in is quite small so with the news spreading and a spring thaw already happening in other parts of the country, the crowds were large and the parking situation chaotic.

But when you spread thousands of people over an enormous lake, the noise dissipates and everything becomes quite serene.

These brilliant people had the foresight to plan a fondue party. I stared, jealous, for an inappropriate amount of time.

There were kites flying.

And how about an incredibly weather-specific sailing sport? That involves very high-tech looking boats (are they boats?) and a LOT of prepping and waiting for just the right wind to come your way. I think this pastime is several income brackets away from me.

Looks like fun.

Our curiosity peaked over some mysterious numbers painted on a rock wall bordering one side of the lake– so much so that we crossed suspiciously mushy ice to try and decipher them.

Then we got yelled at and had to wander back to safer terrain.

As it is now again winter, we are anxiously awaiting the next freeze. I hope it comes soon! If not, the consolation is that we will still get to enjoy summertime picnics and gelato by the lake as we escape the summer heat of Lausanne.

Christmas Spirit in Strasbourg

Winter is coming. And with winter comes the Christmas markets! One of our coworkers is Alsatian and highly recommended the one in Strasbourg, so we decided to take a long weekend and check it out.

We arrived the day before the market officially opened. Since Strasbourg is pretty incredible on its own, we kept ourselves occupied by wandering the little winding streets and eating. Oh the eating. But we will get to that in a moment. First, some architecture:

The city is dominated by an incredible Baroque cathedral. The size and detail of which are mind-boggling.

The color is amazing too, this coppery color with greenish tinges. And it's enormous.

All over the city were these incredible, old buildings. Like a storybook.

The Christmas decorations were amazing. Every street in the city center, no matter the size, was festive beyond belief - everything from Baccarat crystal chandeliers to mechanical polar bears to bubble machines. The mechanical bears might have you raising an eyebrow but trust me –it was magical.

Vintage fiats. I am compelled to photograph them.

In a back alley, I found my future home amongst old, French books. Then I was informed that the proprietor might be unhappy if I began squatting in his shop. Also I don't read in French. Details.

Above: my favorite section of the market (it is scattered throughout the city). All local Alsatian vendors selling delicious things.

Market stalls by the cathedral.

Okay, let's talk about food. Every street in this city is lined with beautiful little places to buy, eat and stare at food. The window displays are so intricate. For an example, see above –who knew that meats could look so festive?

This bread broke my heart it was so delicious.

Before moving to Lausanne, I thought that roasted chestnuts were a thing of Victorian children's stories. I had no idea that a) they exist in such quantities and b) are edible. In French they are called marron and in the fall and winter are served candied, roasted or covered in a sweet glaze alongside the traditional la chasse meal. Having tried two of these three varieties I can attest to their awesomeness. Especially when served with venison. Mmmm.

After spending so many hours looking at food, I was in serious need of sustenance. We stopped in a tea room and ordered vin chaud (aka glühwein aka spiced wine aka dangerously delicious), tea and pain d'epice. This particular version of pain d'epice was filled with marzipan. It didn't last long.

For lunch the following day we stopped into a little butcher shop with a tiny restaurant upstairs. I wanted to move in here as well. Pork has more nutritional value than books. In theoretical squatting terms, I am fickle.

More pain d'epice. The man helping me at this stall knew the trick to good salesmanship - just keep handing me samples and then I will go into a trance and buy one of everything.

You know how you aren't supposed to grocery shop hungry? Well I did, and all I bought was cake and chocolate. Being an adult is great.

All in all, a great trip. On the way, we passed many interesting little towns so I think that Strasbourg is just the first of many trips to the Alsace region.

Hot liquid with bits of weeds in it

I find tea an excellent excuse to eat cookies. Swiss Christmas cookies are amazing - the white one is my current favorite- it's called chrabeli and according to my coworker is shaped like the

comb

of a rooster. Of all things. The other is something I impulse-purchased at the market this weekend...not quite sure what it's called but the combination of marzipan and gingerbread is, in my stomach's opinion, a total winner.

Happy Weekend!

Sunday Drive

The elevation changes where we live mean that weather can change drastically from one place to another. On Sunday we drove out of overcast, drenched Lausanne and headed up into the mountains.

All of the rain we've gotten in the past two weeks had fallen as snow in the mountains. It was like driving through a snow globe.

The pines, which fade into the scenery during the bright green summer, are truly magnificent when covered with snow.

As we headed into the town of Le Pont, we passed what might just be the best sledding hill ever.

The light during our drive was incredible. And as we rounded the turn into Le Pont...

Somewhere, Elton John began tinkling 'Circle of Life' on a piano...perfect Sunday.

Views from Schilthorn

Schilthorn: peak of James Bond fame, viewing place of a great section of the Bernese Alps and home to one of those rotating restaurants that makes food taste better because it is being eaten while moving in a circle, slowly. (Clarification: this is not, in fact, a picture of Schilthorn, it's one of the peaks that can be seen from Schilthorn)

The peak was yet another telecab up from our pension (2,970 meters at the summit). I am running out of adjectives to properly describe views of these mountains. Cool and pointy don't seem to be cutting it anymore. Unfathomable comes to mind.

From this vantage point, it is possible to see several prominent peaks: Titlis, Jungfrau, Mönch and Eiger.

We doodled about the observation deck and allowed the mountains to pose with us:

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Friends of ours that had recommended Mürren, had also mentioned something about a cool hike down the mountain.

They also mentioned something about it taking 5.5 hours and at one point clinging to a metal chain and hugging the bare rock face to avoid plummeting to their deaths.

We of course remembered none of the details of this conversation.

Did I also mention that I'm too cheap to buy proper hiking boots? And instead choose to wear my treadless, falling-apart tennis shoes while scampering about snowy, icy mountains?

It seemed like an easy enough hike…

it'll probably take us like 30 minutes to reach the bottom

(said my brain).

And on the way down we got to watch telecabs zooming up the mountain! Awesome!

So some hiking in a downward fashion occurred. Some picture taking occurred. Everything seemed good and tranquil and fun.

And then

(pause for dramatic effect)

AND THEN:

All of a sudden, the path was replaced with a straight drop. I think there were some notches that distantly resembled stairs, but the three inches of ice and snow covering them made it impossible to tell for sure. Anthony managed the descent because he is an adult who'd planned ahead and worn proper footwear. I figured I could save 200 francs and override the laws of physics with stubbornness and frugality. 

I am an idiot.

What ensued was a ten minute battle of the wills in which I kept trying to inch my way down as my feet could not find one single bit of grip (coincidentally, I finally began to understand coefficient of friction about 7 years too late) and Anthony kept trying to derail my irrationally stubborn behavior by painting grim pictures of my death.

Eventually I had to admit he was right. So we turned around to head back up and all of a sudden it dawned on me how very far away the observation deck seemed.

The thing about hiking is, I really like going down. Going down is fun! It's what gravity wants us to do! Hiking downhill is the natural order of things! 

But going up is expending energy that might better be used for napping, or eating or reading books. It creates entropy in the universe and makes puppies cry.

But there was no other option. So I resolved to do it as quickly as possible and began power walking my way to the top.

And a good thing too, because I turned around and saw Anthony coming up behind me and cajoled him into letting me get this shot:

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After our ordeal, we decided we needed to eat lunch while rotating slowly and came up with a plan for getting back to our pension which still involved some hiking, but with a much lower risk of fatality.

Globus Design

Globus is the delectable food mecca located a ten minute walk from our apartment. Waaaay to close for responsible decision making.

We've come up with a strategy: save some money from the food budget each week so that at the end of the month we can go to Globus and splurge on irresponsibly delicious food items. This plan also keeps us from accidentally wandering in midweek (disaster) and allows us to have a pretty spectacular feast once a month.

The thing that makes Globus even harder to resist is the package design for their store-brand products. It's simple and lovely and makes their stuff really stand out on the shelf (and shout things like "take me home! Love me! I will make your spice rack look like a whimsical fairyland!). I particularly love the illustrations.

That apricot yogurt is not messing around. I wish I was eating it right now. Alas, there is much of May to go...