Reflections

While we’re happy to tell folks more specifics about our trip, we thought we’d post some overall impressions and favorites. I wrote a questionnaire, and then Bryan and I answered its questions separately, not seeing each other’s responses until we were done.

If you haven’t yet, feel free to check out our Milan, Vernazza, and Sirmione photos in the Italy Gallery.

This is the final post on this blog. We appreciate your interest in our European adventure, and we look forward to sharing more about it in person.

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BRYAN’S QUESTIONNAIRE

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Favorite town/city where we stayed?

Grindelwald in the Swiss Alps

Favorite rental/hotel where we stayed?

Apartment Breithorn in Grindelwald, the one with the sweet view of the Eiger

Most exhilarating moment?

Flying on a bike down a twisty mountain road. At the bottom Nari said I had this goofy big grin. A close second would be the taxi (tiny little boat) ride we took from Vernazza to Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre.

Most awkward moment?

Asking the Swiss border guard, in faltering French, if he spoke English. Then having a brief, mostly understandable, exchange in English—followed by me saying “Danke” as I left.

Favorite meal?

(in general)

Caprese (tomato and mozzarella) salad

Fresh pasta with pesto sauce

Sparkling mineral water

A couple of scoops of gelato for dessert

Favorite snack/dessert?

Any of the numerous chocolate bars we ate in Switzerland or the frequent, sometimes multiple times a day, scoops of gelato we had in Italy. Best individual dessert was the semifreddo at La Zucca restaurant in Venice.

Sketchiest and/or most perplexing restroom (a.k.a. toilette, bagno, WC)?

Probably the airplane restroom.  All of the other restrooms I used were very clean. Most likely a result of having to pay to use them.

Weirdest thing/person/event you observed (excluding in the restroom, toilette, bagno, WC)?

Two “hitchhikers” we saw before getting on the Autostrade near Milan.  They were wearing high heels and very colorful sequined miniskirts . . . and one of them kind of looked like a dude. I don’t think they actually wanted a ride anywhere.

The non-sock, non-underwear clothing item you wore the most?

My wool Ibex shirts

The thing you wish you’d left at home?

My pride. It was always humbling having to ask everyone to speak in English. 

The thing you wish you’d brought from home?

A better handle on French, German, and Italian languages

The thing you wish you bought?

I wish I’d bought Nari a paragliding flight in the Dolomites

The approximate number of Porsches you saw?

146 

The day you stopped wishing the trip could go on indefinitely and began looking forward to elements of home?

The rainy morning we spent in our room in Vernazza, Cinque Terre. I really wasn’t “excited” to get home until the day we left.

The place you’d most like to return to?

Either the Swiss Alps or the Italian Dolomites for more hiking and outdoor activities

Complete the following with one word: Our trip was . . .

Awesome

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NARI’S QUESTIONNAIRE

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Favorite town/city where we stayed?

Grindelwald, Switzerland

Favorite rental/hotel where we stayed?

Breithorn apartment in Grindelwald

Most exhilarating moment?

Riding in a small, bobbing taxi boat from Vernazza to Riomaggiore on the Italian Riviera

Most awkward moment?

Bryan and I meeting a fellow B&B lodger as she crossed the hall from the bathroom to her bedroom clad in only a towel. She was a friendly Brit.

Favorite meal?

Lunch at La Zucca restaurant in Venice:

Appetizer – mushroom cake with fondue topping

Entrée – rice surrounded by six differently spiced mixtures of veggies and legumes

Dessert – chocolate mousse

Favorite snack/dessert?

Apple strudel in Luzern, Switzerland

Sketchiest and/or most perplexing restroom (a.k.a. toilette, bagno, WC)?

One in the back of a Venice restaurant (not La Zucca). It needed a scrub, and the toilet’s height was baffling.

Weirdest thing/person/event you observed (excluding in the restroom, toilette, bagno, WC)?

On our return flight, a British bloke sitting next to me had brought his own little bottle of red chili sauce and he drizzled its contents on everything he ate (“It’s 100 milliliters—the perfect carry-on size,” he told me enthusiastically).

The non-sock, non-underwear clothing item you wore the most?

REI hiking pants

The thing you wish you’d left at home?

Bryan

Leather ankle boots, which I never wore

The thing you wish you’d brought from home?

Slippers

The thing you wish you bought?

The jumbo bag of mini Cailler chocolate bars

The approximate number of Porsches you saw?

120

The day you stopped wishing the trip could go on indefinitely and began looking forward to elements of home?

September 30, the day we arrived in Vernazza and hauled our luggage through crowds of tourists and up umpteen crooked stairs

The place you’d most like to return to?

Milan

Complete the following: Our trip was . . .

Revelatory

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Finally a well-edited photo. (Männlichen, Switzerland)

A well-composed photograph. (Männlichen, Switzerland)

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Somewhat Here, Somewhat There

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.” I heard this quote recently on an episode of Criminal Minds and looked it up. It’s credited to a writer named Elbert Hubbard, whom I wasn’t familiar with, and although I read his Wikipedia entry, all I remember about him now is that he died on the Lusitania.

Anyway, we’ve discovered that returning from a long international trip takes a lot of work–both abroad and at home. Before flying back, we spent all of Sunday driving from Milan to Geneva, dropping off our leased car, repacking our things, and getting our paperwork etc. in order. In the Geneva airport security line on Monday morning, I remembered to remove my shoes and wedding ring, but forgot to take off my running watch–which is 90% rubber–and consequently managed to trigger the alarm as I passed through the Gateway of Truth, which meant that I had to be patted down rather extensively by a uniformed woman who was, thank goodness, not burly. Then Stateside, we had to go through additional security because someone whose name starts with “B” had brought an apple from Switzerland (he’d intended to eat it on plane, but British Airways likes to feed its passengers) and, in the words of a TSA officer, we “ARE NOT TO BRING PRODUCE INTO THE UNITED STATES.” The apple, we were told, would meet a fiery demise.

Once home, we faced more work. The house needed airing, mail needed sorting, and laundry needed to be done. Our family room became a kind of mega dryer, with freshly washed clothes (particularly our wool knits) spread across it:

Return Home

The greatest work of all has been staying awake past eight p.m. The issue with going to bed at eight is that we wake up at four the next morning. So we’ve taken to setting nightly goals, e.g. “This evening we’ll stay up until nine,” and achieving those goals has required significant willpower and a few jumping jacks and, in Bryan’s case, several instances of what he calls “stretching,” which means that he lies down and closes his eyes for a couple of blissful minutes before stoically getting up again.

But we are adapting back to normal life and have thus far not eaten all the Swiss chocolate we brought as gifts. (That being said, if you don’t receive chocolate, don’t take it personally. It was probably consumed by two very tired people who knew what they were doing but were too sleepy to care.)

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We’re Back

. . . and looking forward to sleep.

Also, Bryan’s posted some Venice photos. More pictures from the final stops on our trip will be posted later.

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Back to the Future

This will be a short post since I’m tired and tomorrow will be long. Suffice it to say, we are in the Holiday Inn Express near the Geneva Airport. We should be home Monday evening, travel worn and maloderous.

Things we’re anticipating upon our arrival:

– Our comfy bed and pillows

– Our own bathroom with only our own special germs

– The Northwest in general

– Our computers and reliable internet access

– Cold (as opposed to marginally cool-ish or room-temperature) milk

– Money we understand (how long should it take to count out change for a small purchase? quadruple that number, and you’ll have how long it’s typically taken us in Europe)

– Mexican food (we use the former term with considerable artistic license–Taco Bell will do, and do nicely)

And of course we look forward to seeing a number of you at some point, once we’ve had our fill of bean burritos and have acclimated back to the land of Super Walmarts and Pacific Standard Time.

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Italy

We’ve been in Italy for a week now; spending the first few days in the Dolomites. The Dolomites have a very different feel from the Swiss Alps. The mountains might not be quite as tall but they consist of jagged peaks and massive cliffs. Impressive and awesome. In addition to the requisite hikes we also rented mountain bikes and did an 18 mile ride.

Again, we wound up with a mediocure view from our balcony.

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Additional pictures from the Dolomites have been added to a new ‘Italy’ gallery.

-Bryan

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What’s That You Say?

(Mini update: Bryan has posted more photos of our travels in Switzerland. For the last several days we’ve been in Italy.)

The language barrier continues to keep life interesting. Since we’ve visited the French and German parts of Switzerland and now are in Italy, we’ve learned a few essentials in all three languages (“hello,” “thank you,” “excuse me,” “bathroom?!?,” the latter of which is most effective if uttered with palpable urgency). But hardly naturals, we’ve struggled with even those small niceties.

A few days ago in the Dolomites, Bryan and I were parking our car to take the Col Raiser tram. The lot attendant approached us, and after we paid him and he gave us our pay stub, Bryan–flustered by the new words we’d been absorbing–said, “Danke.”

“Oh, you’re German?” the attendant asked in heavily accented English.

“Er, no. We’re, um, American.”

“Where in America?”

“Washington State.”

“Ahhh! Near Seet-lay.”

“What?” Bryan turned to me for help. I shrugged.

“Seet-lay! Seet-lay!”

My slow brain had an epiphany. “Seattle? Yes, we live near Seattle.” Bryan looked relieved and as ready as I was for this friendly chat to be over.

“Oh, good, good!” A wrinkly grin creased the man’s face. “Heemee Hendricks was from Seet-lay, yes?”

“Who? What?”

“Hendricks! Heemee Hendricks!” He enthusiastically strummed an air guitar.

“Jimi Hendrix?” I’m not a Hendrix fan, but the trivia cellblock of my memory stirred. “Yeah, I think you’re right.”

“Good, good!” The attendant seemed satisfied.

Bryan and I said farewell to him and headed to the tram’s ticket counter. We both felt a little drained.

We’ve had assorted awkward conversations like this. But–at least to our knowledge–an understanding has always been reached, and we’ve been impressed by all the people who can speak our langauge much better in their country than we can speak theirs.

Today as we waited for a water bus in Venice, a couple behind us heard us talking in English. The woman asked us where we were from. Her question was so soft and quick, we didn’t get a sense for how much English she knew.

“We’re Americans from Washington State.” And just to be clear, we emphasized, “In the U.S.”

“Ah,” the woman said. “We’re from Canada.”

Well. Another awkward exchange. But we’re kind of getting used to it.

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The Liberally Eating Agenda

(Heads up: We have posted photos of Grindelwald in our gallery. Now we are in Lucerne–locally spelled “Luzern,” which I prefer because it reminds me less of Safeway dairy products.)

We have changed our eating habits for this trip. In Switzerland most food–restaurant portions, grocery items, about everything but Toblerones–comes in smaller volumes, so we go with the flow and instead of two or three large-ish meals per day, we consume smaller amounts more frequently. The result is that we’re often a tad bit hungry, meaning that we’re on constant alert for our next snack–a brilliant strategy since there’s a lot of good food here. Just to be clear, should you mistake our gluttony for noble self-restraint: We’re eating less so that we can eat more.

One result of this new dietary plan is that we think, even more than usual, about food. We’d like you to join us in this. HENCE, the following sketches today’s gastronomic activity:

Monday, September 22

9:30 a.m. – In our apartment we eat boiled eggs, an apple, and a leftover dinner roll.

11:30 a.m. – As we walk toward old-town Luzern, we decide to improve upon our dull breakfast. We pop into a Coop* grocery store and buy a fresh jelly-stuffed doughnut and a chocolate “energy drink” that is really chocolate milk with a few added vitamins. *On the Coop store signs, the “Co” and the “op” are in different colors, leading us to believe that Coop is pronounced as “Co-Op,” not as “Coop,” but since we’re unsure, we alternate between both pronunciations so that we’re right at least part of the time–though it’s possible that neither version is correct, that the C is silent because it precedes an “oop” and there’s an invisible “s” suffix because, ignoring the silent C, the word begins with a double-O, leaving the true pronunciation as “Oops” (that’s language for you).

1:20 p.m. – At the busy Koch bakery in old town, we get a slice of cheese tart. We enjoy it and an apple soda on a bench overlooking the Reuss River, which runs through Luzern.

1:30 p.m. – The tart was very tasty–so tasty I return to the Koch bakery and purchase an apfelstrudel (expert translation: apple strudel). This strudel turns out to be one of my favorite pastries thus far on the trip. Pigeons eat the crumbs that Bryan and I brush off our pants, and they (the pigeons, not the pants) seem to approve as well.

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4:00 p.m. – A bit chilly from wandering through streets and a centuries-old fortress in overcast, breezy weather, we enter a multi-floor Coop/Co-Op/Oops near the Koch bakery in old town. We take escalators to the top floor, where there’s a cafeteria-style cafe, and I make a hot chocolate with steamed milk and a packet of Cailler cocoa, which is–should you be wondering–better than Swiss Miss, a brand the Swiss probably mock between bites of strudel.

5:15 p.m. – Tired after several miles of walking, we decide to grab some easy food at the store and dine in at the apartment. Like boomerangs we circle back to the first Coop of the day and get dinner fare–salad, paneer curry, vegetable spring rolls, and naan bread. I realize I said that we eat smaller meals in Switzerland, and that is true. Except for tonight. And a couple of times last week.

7:30 p.m. – An evening needs dessert like a pastry needs butter. So we have cookies and chai tea. Note: Before that, we changed into our pants with elastic waistbands.

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