A Travellerspoint blog

Switzerland

Snow and snow

The picnic table was clear for us to eat breakfast yesterday, but when we awoke, we were surprised by 6 inches of snow built up on it. The same amount needed to be shovelled out of the driveway in order for us to get our car out. And of course, a similar amount had to be swept off of the car. We dug our way out of the neighborhood, through the still-falling snow. It's been several years since I drove in this, but all of the special safety tricks are not things you forget. The roads were somewhat plowed, and not too bad, but the 2-direction backroads of the neighborhood had become 1-direction roads. Unfortunately, some people were trying to get in, while I was trying to get out. Passing wasn't an option due to the trail/road markers on the side of the road limiting how far off I could stop, so I had to back up and icy hill some way before the other guy could pass and I could continue. It was certainly an adventure. The adventure in dealing with snow was a lot of fun, but it meant that we got off to a late start. I was a bit concerned as to whether we would have enough time for a driver that the GPSsaid was 2 hours in good weather. When we descended the hill out of the neighborhood though, the snow turned to rain, and the roads were completely clear. Rain isn't as pretty, but you can make better time in it and not be quite so nervous. Of course, as we got close to Zermatt and started climbing the Alps, the rain turned back into snow. The roads curved and slithered back and forth. The sides were mountainous and steep- one corner taken too quickly, and there would be no hope. But, I drover slow and safely, and we arrived in Tasch. Tasch is a city of parking lots for people who want to take the train to Zermatt. Zermatt doesn't allow cars in from the outside- they make you park in Tash and take a train into town. In town, the only vehicles are these boxy things used to transporting good, or the occasional taxi. Most of them weren't on the slushy roads when we were there though. Also, maybe because it's not hiking season, not ski season, and the visibility was small, not much was open in town. The town seemed to be mostly hotels, restaurants, and souvenir shops, so I guess if it's a slow tourist day, it doesn't pay to be open. We were determined to enjoy ourselves, despite the snow. We strolled (and slipped) to the end of the road and looked out at the Matterhorn. We saw whiteness. I'm not even sure I can count being there since we couldn't see even to the end of town, much less the mountains beyond. We grabbed a bite at one of the few places open- a restaurant in a bar in a hotel. We attempted to see more, but pretty much everything was white. Pure whiteness blocked our gorgeous mountain views. Whiteness covered any historical markers there may have been. Whiteness formed an impenetrable blanket. The drive back was similar to the drive to Zermatt- very pretty when we could see things, but mostly views blocked by weather.

View on the way to Zermatt

View on the way to Zermatt


Zermatt

Zermatt


View of the drive

View of the drive

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

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)

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