A Travellerspoint blog

April 2017

Cheese and Chocolate

Today is all about cheese and chocolate. For breakfast, we cleared off the outdoor table and enjoyed the mountain view. The menu: cheese, of course. And bread, jam, and pate. I opened the appenzeller from the fromagerie in Vevey yesterday. It is exactly what "Swiss cheese" in the states tastes like. After breakfast, we drove to Gruyere, the city where Gruyere cheese is from. The House of Gruyere factory (and souvenir shop and restaurant) all sit right next to the train station. The tables at the cafe all had fondue heaters on them. The gift shop sold cow-themed items, fondue sets, raclette sets, and other standard souvenirs. But it also had its own cheese counter. We were the first ones in the museum for the day. I skipped most of the wall displays, went straight to the factory floor, and caught the end of some activity- adding rennet. I then doubled back to the displays while the vats were less active. The audio guide was interesting and informative. Then, we basically watched the factory and waited. The museum has a 270 degree balcony that allows visitors to view the factory and workers like you might watch animals in a zoo. We watched the 4 vats of cheese-in-process, each in a different state. The first vat was in process of separating. It was rather yellow, and the curds and whey were visibly separate. The second vat had yet to reach that state. It was still curdling, until it got thick enough that the cheese makers decided to add something that started the separation process. The third vat was even further behind, and the 4th one was still being filled. We watched and waited as the workers changed out equipment, took samples, measured milk properties, and cleaned. The equipment is actually very well-designed. The various mixing or cutting blades just hook onto the spinning equipment, no snapping or screwing necessary. It makes for a very quick change out. Finally, it was time for them to move the curds to the cheese presses. They flowed though pipes straight to strainers and the presses. The leftover whey poured out, and is apparently reprocessed into serac (a very bland cheese-like product available at the gift shop). The workers marked the wheels, closed the presses, and they moved on to a bath. The baths are in the next room over, and after the baths, the cheese are stored on special shelves. I loved watching the robot that sprays and turns them. Of course, the tour came with samples. We got to try cheese of different ages and you really can taste the difference (although I thought the middle one was better than the oldest or the youngest).

After the tour, we still had the city of Gruyere to see. The old part of town is up a mountain from the cheese factory and train station. We parked as close as possible in one of the parking lots, and walked the rest of the way. The town itself is pretty much just a tourist attraction. Every business caters to tourists (restaurants, souvenir shops) and I didn't really see where people would live or do normal things (barbers, grocery stores, home good stores, etc). But, it's cute and quaint. It also contains a somewhat unique museum. HR Giger, famous for being the artist behind the aliens in Aliens, is somehow related to this location, so there is an interesting art museum and cafe in his honor. I really enjoyed the cafe- the seats were alien bone-style casts. The tiling was all black, but it was textured with alien-style scenes. The Ovalmaltine was mostly milk, but we weren't there for the food. The museum has similar tiling, but then, of course, it has art. I have to say that the art is very much not my style. It's black, white, and creepy. Other than the occasional creepy red, I didn't see any colors on the floor with Giger's art. The creepy factor was increased by a "restricted" room full of alien porn. The top floor had a bit more color, as it was art made by other people as a tribute to Giger. Even so, I was a bit more intrigued by the band I could hear through the window and wanted to do a bit more investigation into that. Turns out, the church held some sort of singing competition that day and the band was marching in with the competitors. By the time we got out of the museum though, there was nothing to see. So, we walked around the castle (I had heard it's not worth the money to go in), enjoying the view. Our circle ended by the church, and it looked like something was going on there. We meandered down to see what the hubub was, and learned about the competition. We had missed it, but arrived in time for the reception afterwards. Dozens of locals in traditional costumes milled about with modernly-dressed community members, as well as band members in uniform. The reception was open to all, and had plenty of wine, cheese, and meat to share. Because we weren't yet hungry, we walked around the town to see what else there was to see. We caught a parade of the singing competition people exiting. Otherwise, there's not really much. We enjoyed the views a bit, stopped in a few souvenir shops, and then made our way to the Chalet. Yesterday, we had been told that this place is famous for their Raclette and they serve in costumes, so it's a must-see. But we didn't have reservations. Apparently, even in this little nothing tourist town, reservations are required some places. So, we skipped it and went to one of the half-dozen other restaurants in town that advertised serving Raclette- Auberge de la Halle. The waitresses weren't in costume, but the building still looked like a traditional ski chalet. They set up an electric raclette heater at our table, and brought out a big basket of warm baby potatoes. She showed us how to scrape the cheese onto the potatoes, pickled pearl onions, and gherkins. It was fabulously gooey and delicious. I ordered a portion for 1 person, but even with help, I didn't finish half of the cheese and a lot of the potatoes. It's just too much food!

Fully stuffed with cheese, it was now time to go enjoy chocolate. Swiss chocolate is famous, and Nestle does a good job of putting on a chocolate tour at their Callier factory. The first part of the tour took us through some Disney-style scenery rooms, with lights and a recorded voice telling us the history of chocolate from the Aztecs to Callier. The second part of the tour was hands-on, and noses-on, and tongues-on. The audio guide told us about the various ingredients in chocolate and the producers. Meanwhile, the ingredients were in "touch me" boxes so that we could feel the texture. Some were in "smell me" boxes that had extra scent added. And some had "taste me" boxes, where we could pull out (theoretically) clean ingredients to eat (as opposed to the ones that everybody was touching). Then, the tour took us through an actual production line. This is way better than the staged fake production line at Hershey's chocolate world. This one was actually running with real chocolate. At the end, we got to sample what was being made on the line. And then, there was the room teaching us how to enjoy chocolate (with more samples). And the sample room with the good chocolates. I'm pretty sure that I ate my full admission price in samples and tasters. That evening, we didn't want to spoil our cheese run. We pulled out the raclette set from the cupboard, and placed the store-raclette on it. It was similar to the lunchtime raclette in that it was tasty and gooey. It was very different though in that the raclette under the electric heater hot crispy and burnt (in a good way) in some places. The raclette on the home pans just sort of poured out and seemed more oily. But, according to the people we talked to, this is raclette to most Swiss- it's much cheaper to do it at home than go out to the restaurants.

Cheese flipping by robot

Cheese flipping by robot


Milk vat equipment change out

Milk vat equipment change out


Gruyere

Gruyere


Traditional costumes at the party

Traditional costumes at the party


band leading parade out

band leading parade out


touch and taste room

touch and taste room


manufacturing line

manufacturing line


Scenery by Callier

Scenery by Callier


Gruyere from train station

Gruyere from train station

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Walking in a winter wonderland

We woke up this morning to beautiful weather. Sunny skies graced the mountains, so we decided to start the day with a hike. I had printed a map from the Switzerland hiking website, and also downloaded an offline hiking map app. The hike we intended to do was not too long, but would take us on a few hours' circular hike. We started down the hill at a reasonable pace, passing an out-of-operation ski lift on the way. As we exited the village, the road turned from nicely-plowed and dry to a bit icy. We continued on. The uphill going got a little challenging with the black ice, but the views were worth it. We saw gorgeous snow-capped mountains and pine forests cut by mountain streams. The black ice turned to a bit of snow, and it actually got a bit easier to climb the mountain path. We could see that not too many people had been here before us, due to the lack of footprints in the snow. But a few animals had! The bit of snow turned to inches, and at some point we were wading through snow higher than our boots. Again, the views were incredible. Neither pictures nor words can fully capture the beauty. We were wading in snow up to mid-calf now, and got to a point where there were no footprints at all. According to the map, we had climbed from an altitude of 1130 m minimum to 1420 m peak. It had been a few hours and we were not even a third of the way around the circle. Trudging through the snow was a ton of fun, but had caused us to work up quite an appetite. We picnicked, standing up, with no other humans in sight, even though we had an incredibly vast view. (We picked great cheese at the store yesterday. Also, great bread. I liked the rosehip jam, but my BF thought that it tasted like bad ketchup.) Instead of continuing on, we determined that the smartest thing to do would be to turn back. The return trip was much quicker as gravity was helping us, but it still took quite some time to navigate the black ice without falling I highly recommend hiking this area. It is amazingly beautiful, peaceful, serene, and natural.

After a quick nap to regain our functionality, we decided to head to Vevey. We heard there was an interesting food museum there. The contrast between the winter wonderland of the morning and the bright spring down by the lake was quite stark. We didn't really even need sweatshirts to stroll around Vevey. Upon arrival in Vevey, we enjoyed a little walk around the city first. It's a cute town with old-style cobblestone streets in some areas. Some of the buildings, including a clock tower, are clearly historic. The streets are filled with quaint little shops. In one square, we ran into a flea market. It was just a very pleasant place.[ Down by the lake front, people fed swans and ducks. Children rode a 2-story carousel that played French pop music instead of typical carousel music. (I eventually took a ride too.) We walked the waterfront to the museum, and ultimately decided it wasn't worth the cost. But, I was still happy that we visited Vevey, just for the town itself. Just like in Lausanne yesterday, we hiked up to a church with a great view and just enjoyed the quietness of the park.

For dinner, we went to The 3 Sifflets, which had been recommended to us by a local we asked for advice. They are famous for their Fondue. Every table has a fondue burner on it. When they bring the cheese pot out, they put on partial costumes and carry the Swiss flag. They play the Swiss national anthem. Every time. For every table. I don't know how they don't get annoyed by it by the end of the night, but for us, it was exciting. It's not just famous for the spectacle, though. The fondue was creamy and delicious. Hint- one serving is plenty for 2 people, especially if you got the traditional Swiss dried meat or some other appetizer.

View from the airbnb

View from the airbnb


Mountain creek

Mountain creek


Beginning of the hike

Beginning of the hike


Further up the mountain

Further up the mountain


Snow hiking

Snow hiking


Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland


Snow!

Snow!


Vevey

Vevey


Lake front

Lake front


Fondue

Fondue

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Welcome to Switzerland, land of Cheese

We landed in Geneva this afternoon. We grabbed our rental car and bypassed the city, but enjoyed the views of the lake as we drove. To our right, mountains loomed over the lake, alternating with developed zones that locked our view. To the left, green farms dominated the landscape, occasionally cut by some villages. The mountains ahead wowed us, and the drive was quite pleasant. In order to keep this trip relatively cheap, we are staying in an air bnb and planning on making our own breakfasts and some picnic lunches. So, we stopped at a Coop grocery store to pick up provisions. The store was in a mall, and we accidentally went into the Coop "Home + garden" store first. Then, we got confused by the Coop cafe. Finally, we made it to the grocery part. We picked up some of the local sodas, Rivella, including a rhubarb flavored one. We picked up jam that was from some unknown fruit (google-translated later said it was Rosehip). Otherwise, the dry foods section didn't have anything super different and exciting. We tasted all of the delicious samples they were giving out. Then, we got to the cheese! The variety was staggering. The coolest part was the Raclette. They had entire half-wheels in the regular fridge section, just ready to be taken home. They had blocks, perfectly-sized for the mini heaters. And they had multi-packs of pre-cut squares for home Raclette sets. Other traditional Swiss favorites included Gruyere, and cheese roses made with a special spinning knife. We, of course, picked up plenty. Next, we parked in the university area of Lausanne, and hunted for dinner. We ate at a pretty good burger place. Mine had a huge chunk of Chevre and honey on it- quite good. After dinner, we walked around the city, enjoying the night air. We stumbled upon a cool-looking church, and then realized that the church grounds had an amazing view of the lake and city. We enjoyed the calm view for a while. Eventually though, we headed to our airbnb. It is in Les Paccoults, a ski-resort area. Once we got off the highway, the roads weren't lit too well, and they became narrow. A lot of the narrowness was due to the snow on the ground, but the roads weren't wide to begin with. Thank goodness we had a car with GPS- the signs were easy to miss in the dark. The place we're staying in is gorgeous! It boasts a wood-burning stove for romance and warmth. It is in a neighborhood that is somewhat secluded. And the views are just breathtaking. We settled in, lit a fire, and spent the rest of the evening relaxing inside.

stove

stove


View from church

View from church


Lausanne church

Lausanne church


mountains

mountains

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Adios Cuba

On our last morning in Havana, we decided to get a Cuba-style breakfast. We walked the streets until we found a bunch of Cubans hanging outside a window. Next to the window, a hand-written menu told us what was on offer. Inside, a lady cooked out of her kitchen. This is typical Cuban "fast food." It's a takeout window, like a McDonald's drive-through, except that you walk up to it. Also, some people will stand there and eat so that they can give back the dishes. Also, somebody lives in the "restaurant" and it's just a regular home kitchen instead of industrialized. Also, the food isn't mass produced and frozen. But, it is the Cuban equivalent. We got 2 egg sandwiches (much tastier and fresher than McMuffins), and a sandwich with "salsa" on it. Salsa is some sort of mayo-based pink sauce. I think it either has tomatoes or peppers in it, I'm not really sure. In any case, the food was decent and all 3 combined were 18 pesos (about 75 cents). We didn't take our change.

We brought our sandwiches out to the Malecon to take in the view while we ate. I am very glad that we picked a Casa that is closer to the Malecon than Havana Vieja. It's been a great experience for us. On the Malecon, local fishermen lined the walls, trying to bring in something to eat.

We had been told to get to the airport 3 hours ahead of the flight, so we had Nancy call us a cab and left for the airport. 3 hours is about right. There's not really online check-in, so the lines at the check-in counters were very long. Some people were a little confused about the process, and so some customers took longer than usual. One guy tried to check bird cages that weren't packed, were clearly very fragile, and would never had made the flight. The check-in people didn't let him check them. Another guy had missed a previous flight and needed to buy a new ticket. But the airline check-in folks couldn't sell him one. However, the lady told him to go to her private office, use her internet, book one, and then she'd get him all checked in. (That's good customer service!) And of course, there were the normal people who don't regularly fly. So, the line took a while. Then, I went to change the leftover money back to Euros, and that line took some time. Security/immigration wasn't any better or worse than any other airport. All in all, I think I made it though in 2 hours, but if something had happened or there had been traffic on the way, you want that extra time. Plus, my friend found out htat her flight wasn't leaving from the main terminal. She had to catch some sort of irregular inter-terminal bus that cost 1 CUC. Except that it's not regular, so she ended up taking a 5 CUC cab to the other terminal. Leave yourself more time for the Cuban airport than you normally would at home.

Cuban Kitchen

Cuban Kitchen


Fishermen on the Malecon

Fishermen on the Malecon

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)

What can happen in a park in Havana

We awoke early and set off for all the Havana things we missed the other day. But first, we stopped for a quick breakfast at a patisserie by Hotel Inglaterra. It was much cheaper than at the casa, and it didn't leave us stuffed. We strolled up the Prado, noticing the lack of artists. A few says ago, the area was full of them, but now there wasn't a single one in sight. We passed LaFloridita- one of the Hemingway bars. Unless you're a huge Hemingway fan, it's probably not going to excite you. We briefly checked out the church by the museum, and then entered the Museum of the Revolution. They don't allow backpacks or even normal sized purses. The bag check tells you not to leave valuables there (obviously). But my pants don't have pockets. So I ended up walking around the museum with a huge pile of loose stuff (passport, wallet, phone, camera, kindle). It was rather annoying. The museum displays consist of posters (mostly English and Spanish, but some just Spanish) with occasionally an accompanying article of clothing or tool used by the revolutionaries. What I learned from this "book on the wall:" <ul><li>Cuba has had one long revolution that started against the imperialist Spanish and culminated with Castro's part. Everything in between that seemed like a stable government was clearly not. It was just another stage in the revolution. Anything since is not part of the revolution.</li><li>Batista was a tyrant. Any soldier in his army was a "soldier of tyranny."</li><li>The rebels were brave freedom fighters. Any time they were killed during battle, they were "murdered."</li><li>After they finished the revolution, the rebels brought justice to the soldiers of tyranny. Some people didn't appreciate that, and they became counterrevolutionaries or mercenaries funded by the USA.</li><li>At this point, the horrible USA tried to become imperialist and take down the revolutionaries, going so far as to destroy a shipment of toys for the Cuban tots.</li><li>But don't worry, socialism is great and the Cuban people are stronger for having battled against the big bad USA. </li></ul> We exited the main museum building and crossed to the outside area containing the tanks, planes, and boats. On the way, we saw a ceremony. Cubans stood in neat lines while various people spoke. Apparently, some of them were receiving medals for their service. The vehicles area of the museum was interesting. The descriptions had the same slant as the inside. But they had the whole boat that Castro led an invasion from, Granma, on display. We headed back to the same area of town that we had been in before because we missed a few spots. First, we got to see Coche Mambi. This is the presidential railcar. It's free to get in, but a guide will take you through the car and explain what's what. She let us sit on what she called "Castro's bed" and see behind the roped off areas, so we tipped her. I really enjoyed seeing that piece of history. We also popped into a bunch of random art museums. The many free exhibits gave us a taste of Cuban art besides the standard tourist souvenir offerings. Apparently, singing contests haven't escaped the Cubans. We passed a church holding auditions for what seemed to be some sort of kid talent competition. Throngs of Cuban kids and their parents gathered outside, but not as many as you'd expect in the states. We passed a very busy park on our way to the Rum museum. Kids ate pizza, played, and relaxed. In one corner, a group of barber school students were giving free haircuts to kids who approached them. (Foreboding music goes here.) We visited the rum museum. The tour explained a bit of the history of rum and the rum making process. It wasn't the best distillery tour, and they allowed way too many people on the tour for anybody to ask questions. The sample at the end of the tour was bad. I know Cuba is famous for its rum, but this stuff burned and didn't taste quite nice. I much prefer rum from elsewhere in the Caribbean. I was due for a haircut. At home, I tell the stylist that I'm trying to grow out my hair, but I need the back cleaned up so it's not itching my neck. I ask them to not cut the sides so much. They always cut the sides, leave the back too long, and then when I try to grow it out, I end up with a mullet. I decided to see what the guys in the park could do. I explained that I'm trying to grow it out, but the back is too long. Can he please cut a line from the front to the back so that it's even, and not this odd shape they keep giving me at home? No problem! He's the teacher and he'll do it for whatever price I feel it's worth. I sat in the chair. He covered me with the apron, and snip snip. Along the way, he explained to the students what he was doing. The wind kept blowing my hair about, but he managed ok. What he managed to do was give me something only slightly different than the crap I get at home. The back wasn't short enough. He cut the sides a lot so that it will take even longer for me to grow it out. Although, I think it might grow back more evenly and I wont have to pass through a mullet to get to normal hair again. But at least I paid about a third of what I pay at home for this crap. And, despite the low price I paid, I probably made his day. If his monthly salary is what everybody here says a teacher makes, he's partying tonight. Well, that's about as "people to people" as you can get. I had an adventure. I got a souvenir that will last months, and a story to last a lifetime. We passed Chinatown on the way back to the casa. I expected something more than an arch. But other than the arch, we didn't really notice any difference between that area and any other part of town. After a break, we realized that we ought to go eat dinner, since lunch was just some street snacks (more or less tortilla chips with sugar). We decided to follow the guide book to a Paladar. The closest one to us was La Guardia. We saw the sign, but the building looked like it was under construction and we didn't see the restaurant. A guy on the street helped us to know that it's upstairs. After two flights of stairs, we arrived at a very fancy looking restaurant. They advertise being in the movie Strawberry and Chocolate. Several posters about Cuban cuisine line the hall. The entrance table features a restaurant cookbook. A hostess was working the front desk, and seemed to be taking reservations. It was like a regular nice restaurant anywhere in the world. The menu prices matched. We did not budget for single dishes over $20. We descended and headed towards the next option in the guidebook. On the way, we passed another Paladar, so we popped in to see what they had. Here, the prices were cheaper- only $12 for a single dish, but that's still way more than anybody should pay in Cuba. As we walked on, we reentered Chinatown from the back. From this side, it looked a bit more Chinese. There were at least a few Chinese characters here and there, and plenty of letters in that Chinese-style font. One restaurant looked interesting and had reasonable prices, so we went in. I was amused that a Chinese restaurant called Bavaria, located in Cuba had so many Italian dishes (spaghetti, pizza). I was somewhat tempted to get one for the irony, but instead got traditional Cuban fried cheese balls, but with sweet and sour sauce, and fried rice. The portions are huge- a family could have eaten from one plate. The food was ok. It was a lot lighter on the soy sauce than Chinese restaurants elsewhere, but they put a bottle on the table in case you want more. It was not spicy at all. The veg was what is available in Cuba, and not necessarily traditional Chinese. (I've never had stir fried cucumbers before.) It was worth what we paid. On the way back to the Casa, we passed some guys sitting outside and playing Dominoes. They were supporting the playing surface with their legs, and so every time one shifted, the board moved a bit. We asked if we could watch. After one game, they invited us to play. My friend won the first, until they explained that we were supposed to play in pairs. Then I realized the I too, won the first. They challenged us to a rematch to regain their honor. We lost the second round. We thanked our new friends, excited to have learned the Cuban national pastime from Cubans and to have had a chance to play. We went to the casa to get ourselves a bit organized. Tomorrow, we leave and we want everything to be in order. Both the classic car driver and another source recommended this Fabrica place for dancing, but they were a bit far. We walked to 23rd st in Vedado instead. The line at Zorro y Cuervo was long, and they didn't even open for 20 more minutes. Some guy on the street recommended a place a block up, but their signage indicated that they had wheels and it wasn't clear what exactly they were. We hopped a classic cab to La Fabrica in a last-ditch effort to go out. La Fabrica is far away from everything else and is on the far part of town in a residential neighborhood. The dancing part was closed, but people were going in, so we tried. To get a table without a reservation would have been impossible. A seat at the bar was at least a 20 minute wait. With that abandoned, we got an 80s car cab back to the casa. It was unfortunate that we didn't negotiate the price more, but we were in the middle of nowhere without many options. In a place where you can't just check the internet to see when something is open, I don't recommend going to La Fabrica.

Floridita

Floridita


Ceremony at Museum

Ceremony at Museum


Mural

Mural


Kitchen in Coche Mambi

Kitchen in Coche Mambi


Street barbers

Street barbers


Fruit vendor

Fruit vendor


Chinatown

Chinatown

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Cuba Comments (0)