Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween

"No, I'll do it myself!"

I can honestly say that Halloween is not my favorite holiday. I'm sure when I was a kid, I loved it. But, as I grow older, the whole concept of Halloween has lost the luster to me. However, this year, I may be singing a different tune. The thing about living with a toddler is that you can live through their eyes and their experiences, it puts a whole new spin on daily adventures. And helping Ella celebrate Halloween was a very fun experience for both of us.

Ella thought she was hilarious every time she looked in the mirror and saw her painted face!

Halloween is not a widely celerated holiday here, so costumes and celebrations are hard to come by. We were able to throw together a little ballerina/princess outfit and find a few Halloween activities to let Ella celebrate in the costume fun. She loved playing dress up in the poofy skirt and the crown, and was so pleased with her self when she would receive a treat during her 'trick or treat' party!
It was a pretty low-key holiday for us, but Ella had a great time, and we're both excited for next year when we're back in the states and can go for a good trick-or treat evening in the neighborhoods.

(crowded Gymboree party, Ella is down at the bottom of the pic) 

She played too hard at the party, thank goodness daddy was there to be a good pillow!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Lovely Lugano

I meant to include this post a couple weeks ago, but time slipped away from me, and here I am trying to play catch up. I figure it's a great time to put up a new post of previous events, because the travel plans we had planned for the upcoming weekend came to a screeching halt this evening when Ella started throwing up all over the house. The stomach flu is no fun for a toddler- she had no idea what was happening to her, and was completely freaked out. We spent the night being cozy, watching movies, as will go the rest of our weekend. So, I leave you with Lugano, a trip when we were all happy and healthy!

Lugano is a little town in southern Switzerland- surrounded by the Alps, and is considered one of the Italian villages in Switzerland. I think the main language spoken there is Italian, with maybe a little German, and a teeny bit of English. It sits on Lake Lugano looking out to mountains jetting up from the lake – stunning. The weather was great for the trip, so the lake was glistening from the sun, and there were plenty of people out on their sailboats enjoying their day. We had been wanting to explore Lugano and used the Autumn Festival as an excuse to go. 

The train ride was a little under three hours, and put us right on the top of Lugano. We wandered down the small city streets, under the archways and the flower pots in the windows to find the street fair. We were expecting pumpkins, apples, cider and such things that come with fall. What we found was the equivalent to a Portland Saturday market. The food stands were great- tons of Swiss cheese, polenta, meat, some beer and wine, pastries, etc. But no apples, no pumpkins, no cider, just a huge crowd of people meandering through small streets searching for their treasures.
We strolled through the streets, Ella danced to the local bands, and then we opted for some lunch. We found a tent that looked promising, ordered some salami and gnocchi that was not all we had hoped for. After our less than desirable lunch we decided to walk along the lake for a few hours and enjoy the gorgeous weather- AWAY from the mass crowds of people. 

For an early dinner, we again tried to sit, order some polenta and some crepes and ran into road blocks. So we opted for some fresh cheese being sold from a small set man in a little tent with three types of cheeses. He cut them by hand, weighed them and packaged it for you. I anxiously waited my turn (I love cheese!) and then politely asked him if he spoke English- nope. So we both tried to make this work – he gestured towards a rind of cheese asking if I wanted to try it, Yes please! Then he pointed to the sky, then to the cheese, then to the sky – hmmmm- so I mimicked him and said ‘ok, si!’ and he laughed at me. I have no idea what he was trying to tell me, but I got to try my cheese, and it was perfect- as expected. 

It tasted like a very fresh, sharp, melt in your mouth, goat cheese. So we bought plenty and ate it with some bread on the train ride home. The cheese was a perfect Swiss end to our little Swiss trip.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My not so glamorous Swiss life

Today is one of those days that just has to be had every once in awhile. It's raining, there is laundry to do, the floors need to be cleaned, work to do at home. You know, I actually like having these cozy, infrequent, pajama days at home. When you're having them with a potty trained toddler, the days just aren't quite what they used to be. This morning she had a little number two accident. No problem, clean up and move on with our day, which is just what we did. Everyone has their own clean-up methods of such incidents - today, I happen to be soaking the undies in a bathroom sink before sticking them in the washing machine.
As the day moves on, Ella finds the wet undies, in the soaking water, brings them all the way across the house (which, mind you, is small enough that I can stand at one end, and see the other end) "Mama, my undies are all wet! Oh yeah, there's poop on them." Trailing behind her is a big, sopping wet path of the 'dirty' water she has brought with her.
Immediate clean up and sanitizing is in order. After washing hands, we tackle the floor. What tops off the clean up, that has brought me to me hands and knees to mop up the floor, is that now I'm a great 'horsey ride.'
Ella climbs on my back, starts singing 'go mommy, we have lots of cleaning to do, go mommy.'
No European castles for me today. Maybe I'll just eat swiss chocolate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Burkliplatz Farmer's Market

I am a sucker for a good Farmer's Market. If there is one in town, you bet we'll be there. I had been reading about the Burkliplatz market on various event calendars and other swiss blogs, Swiss story did a great write up of the market eariler this fall.

I have been dying to go, and today it happened to work out perfectly.

Rows of gorgeous flower stands, bakeries, breads, jams, produce, cheese, meat. All good enough to make you want to spend your life savings on your morning snack, lunch and dinner.

I happened to be heading somewhere that I needed the stroller, which was a mistake for the market - always go to a market stroller-free, making our way through the crowds was tricky, but I figured it was keeping me from getting too close to the vendors to do too much damage to my wallet.
The one booth that suckered me in was a bakery - a quick baguette to go, and then I spotted the Gugelhopf - a dry budnt cake like dessert that is very popular in Switzerland. I'd heard about it, and this was the perfect time to buy the little mini version and take it home to share with John. Jury is still out on if I'll try it again- not great, but good with your morning coffee. Baguette, however, was perfect.

Going to Geneva

We live in the German (or Swiss German) part of Switzerland, we have already traveled to the Italian part of Switzerland (Lugano) so we figured we better round out our travels with a weekend in the French part of Switzerland ... Geneva, here we come.

This was a VERY last minute 'vacation' for us, so we did not plan for it, we just ended up there. I was able to make reservations late on Friday night to stay at the Hotel Bernina on Saturday night. We easily found a train on the SBB website to get us to Geneva in 3 hours, we hopped on the Saturday morning train and off we went. After many weekends of traveling to new cities, we've learned to always find the Tourist office first and then proceed with your trip. Doesn't matter if you have planned out your whole trip, or you are flying by the seat of your pants- find the nearest tourist office (show them your cute toddler) make friends with the guides there and you will have a much more pleasant stay. My other travel tip which I quickly learned upon our arrival in Switzerland- when traveling with a toddler, always leave the stroller at home. Bring your carrying backpack, and strap on the kid your back or let them walk. It allows you so much more freedom while touring the old parts of the city, and the kids have a great time running in all the plaza's and playing EVERY fountain you can find!
With that knowledge, we got off the train and as we were walking out of the train station, our hotel was greeting us from across the street- perfect- dropped our bags and headed to the tourist office. Our hotel kindly surprised us with a bus pass for our two day stay, which allowed us to easily get around if it got too cold.

We walked and walked and walked! Along the lake, through the Botanical Gardens, to the United Nations, and back to town.


A quick stop off at the hotel to regroup, and back to see more sights. This time we crossed the river,
looking for this grand flower clock we had read about 'don't miss the gorgeous attraction in Geneva'

Ummmm..... are we missing something? Not the stunning attraction we had in mind.

We then walked up to see St. Piere (naturally finding a carousel along the way- these seem to be in EVERY European city we're in. Ella will be a world traveled carousel rider by the year's end!)


Walked through a park, past the oldest University building in Geneva (said the swiss frenchman who took our picture) and ended up in the Theater District of the city.

The only event that I had seen on the travel website before our trip began was a Beer and Sauerkraut festival going on in Thonex.  We had no idea what this would be like, but we were up for an adventure! After a twenty minute train ride to the very edge of Switzerland, we found the Salle des Fêtes where the festival was being held. First impression walking up to the door..... 'Wow, we're the youngest people here by 30-40 years.' We looked at each other and asked - well, are we going in? Hell ya, we're going in, there's beer and sauerkraut in there! Besides we came all the way out here, why not give it a try! We had stumbled right into a local community festival, and I guarantee we were the only Americans that accidentally showed up to participate in the festivities.... That being said, we had a great time. They had a band playing traditional Bavarian music, served up a good meat and sauerkraut plate, and the beer and wine was good too. We enjoyed the music, and they played the same 'toasting' song that we learned while in Oktoberfest, so we felt right at home. What was entertaining for us, was that we took a trip to the French sector, and ended up at a Bavarian festival complete with dirndls and liederhosen, classic Fillmores.
Sunday consisted of more touring the city and a train ride home. Ella LOVED every minute of the trip, including the train rides to and from Geneva. I can easily say the festival was her favorite part because of the music. She danced and danced, and even got her dad to get up and dance with her. Prost! (cheers!)

The best deal in Switzerland!

After spending multiple weekends traveling around Switzerland, we thought "we'd take it easy" and stay around Zurich for a weekend or two. You know, actually take time to enjoy the city we live in! The first weekend, I had a case of cabin fever, and had to get out and explore - I'm not great at being a 'home body.'
My rock star husband found a little wine festival going on in  Basel that day that we just couldn't pass up. Basel is about an hour north of Zurich, and a very easy trip on the train. I have to admit that we didn't actually spend anytime enjoying the city of Basel, we just walked straight to the wine festival to get down to business! (However, we did manage to walk across the Rhine river, pretty cool in my book.)
Here's the great deal- pay a 12chf entry fee, and drink until the kick you out! The laws in Basel (or maybe all of Switzerland) prohibit the wine sellers to sell individual bottles of wine at the festival, rather you order cases which are then shipped to you. So, you go in, chat up the wine sellers, drink good wine and enjoy!
We'll definitely be back to visit Basel in the next few months. Rumor has it that they have a fantastic Christmas market, and I am already gearing up for the holiday festivals and markets here! Get ready, that's all you'll see in my postings for the next two months!!!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Delightful Dijon

The land of Burgundy wine and Mustard was our destination for this past weekend. We packed up our car (thank you Bain!) and happily drove off to Dijon, France.

Our 3.5 hour drive took us around the Southern part of the Black Forest, through Basel and into the Burgundy region of France.
We found our sweet little hotel, centrally located and perfectly French. It was a small, family hotel, with plain accomodations, but provided parking, a small breakfast, a stone well, and a cobblestone courtyard with grape vines lining the walls.

First item on the agenda was to get some lunch- we were starving. We wandered up the street and found Marco Polo. The first thing I spotted on the menu was Escargo- and we ordered it! You can't go to France and not eat snails- right!? Um, they were salty, good, too rich, and very salty. Can't say I would order them again, but glad we tried them.


We spent the rest of Saturday wandering around the city, admiring the churches and the architecture. In our search for the tourist office, we stumbled upon the main shopping street, which was lined with flags creating a festive strolling atmosphere.

While we stopped in the tourist office, it started to rain, and naturally we were caught without our rain gear (left it in the hotel!) We seized the opportunity and snuck into a cafe/bar across the street and had ourselves a tasty beverage.  I had read that when in Dijon, you have to drink Kir. It's a cocktail invented by a 65 yr old priest, Canon Kir, who invented the drink and was a secret member of the Resistance during WWII when he thought up the drink. After the war Kir was elected mayor of Dijon for 4 consecutive 6 year terms and was the only Catholic priest in the National Legislature, it's a mix of white wine and black current cassis.  It was a very sweet cocktail, but I loved it. It would make for a perfect after dinner drink. John tried a local beer, though it was ok, but not worth having a second.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening wandering the streets enjoying the city life and beautiful buildings. Dijon is pretty small, so we were able to quickly learn the layout of the city and navigate easily. After a lot of wandering near dinner time, we stumbled upon a creperie that could not have been more perfect. It was a very small restaurant with no more than 10 tables, and a friendly staff to help us through the menu.

John tried taking a picture of me during dinner with my crepe, but I was too hungry for such games...

 However, Ella thought that game was hilarious and insisted she take a picture like Mommy!

The crepes were fantastic - John choose a simple ham and fancy cheese for his crepe, and I opted for chevre, basil and tomato- it was melt in your mouth delicious. I can't go to a creperie and not order dessert, John selected something that had chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate with banana ice cream on top- yummy! Definitely worthy of a pic....

We rolled ourselves back to the hotel, and decided that we weren't quite ready for bed, which led us to the plaza across from our hotel for an after dinner drink while Ella played in the square.
The next morning we experienced our first European style 'continental breakfast' - a basket of bread and some coffee. We then walked up the street and got a baguette from the pasterie and the local cheese shop was open, so we picked up some fresh cheese and we were set with our lunch for the drive home.
We had a couple hours before we needed to be back on the road, so we drove south through wine country and stopped at a local winery for a self guided tour and a walk through the caves. Sadly we didn't have time for the tasting, but the drive through the vineyards was good enough for a Sunday morning.

One thing we noticed that was much different from the vineyards in the states. The houses and communities are interlaced wtih the vineyards, the people live and work among their grapes in small little towns dotting the hillside.


We then drove the 3.5 hours home and stopped at our friends house to end the evening with a Swiss Dish- Raclette! It's our new favorite dish here- grill the food at the dinner table, melt the cheese under the table grill, put it all together, and you have your own platter of Raclette - oh so good! We are bringing this back home with us!!! Overall, a great weekend traveling with the family! We loved Dijon and will definitely be returning later this year!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Strolling

Yet another sunny day in Zurich. I have a feeling this won‘t last much longer, as everyone says the grey is coming. Today we opted for a short little tour around Zurich. After church we were starving and ended up stopping at a café Santa Lucia (we were possibly inspired to have good Italian food, after our sad attempt at Swiss/Italian food in Lugano). We sat outside and opted for a delicious potato soup and a pizza with mushrooms, ham, gorgonzola and an egg cooked on top.

The egg was a surprise (because we couldn’t exactly read our menu) but it was a nice change for a pizza.
Then a stroll down to the carousel (which I learned was originally brought out to zurich in 1880) and then a walk along the Stadthausquai to the Lindenhof. The Lindenhof in the old town of Zürich is the historical site of the Roman castle. Today it is a quaint square which gives great views of the river, and old town Zurich

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall is upon us!

Yay! Fall has arrived, I love this time of year. I was reminded that fall was upon us a few days ago when Ella spent most of her time walking down the sidewalk kicking up all the fallen leaves on the ground- so fun! We’ve already made our trip to the Jucker Farms for the Pumpkin Festival, and should have started the search for a Halloween costume long ago, as they are too expensive here. Ella loved the pumpkins, the tractor, the bounce house, the animals and the playground. This is a MUST do fall activity for anyone in Zurich this season!

Ella with her new buddies - Mia, Ella and Anna (Geneva is ahead riding in the stroller)

Today we went to a park I have wanted to go to since our arrival. Irchel park is a little more than a mile from our house, quite a large park surrounded by trees, complete with a quaint little pond, and great running paths that crisscross through the park.

Rumor has it, there is a nice little playground too, but we never found it. Instead we found a large pile of big rocks that was great for climbing (so much better than a playground!) and found a place next to the water to make our own sandbox. Ella had a wonderful time climbing all over the rocks and running through the grass with her ball. Good old fashion two year old play. I played with her and reveled in the gorgeous sunshine.

She had a blast jumping off the rocks

We played for so long, that it was passing lunch time and we still had a potty trip to make and a trip to the grocery store, so we headed out of the park to finish up our errands. Zurich has these McClean Toilets (Water Closets) placed around the city for those, ‘gotta go’ moments. I had never been in one, but heard they are impeccably clean, and safe to use. In desperate times, we paid our 1chf and the doors opened for us with a fancy ‘whoosh’ sound. Everyone was right, it was clean, whew (knowing I had to bring a toddler in there that wants to touch EVERYTHING. As we enter, I accidently opened the door before we started to use it, then got worried that the water spraying cleaner thing would start on us. We are moving as fast as we can to go, use the bathroom, and as I’m looking for the flusher, Ella finds a Big Red Button and PUSHES it – yes – it’s the panic button. A loud siren goes off and the doors open immediately! We dash out of the toilet, and to my relief the siren goes off, the doors shut, and yes, I hear the water sprayer cleaner thing doing its job. All I can do is thank God that we both were ‘decent’ when the doors opened. Whew!