But What Do I Know? My Favorite Posts Of 2012

I listed the top viewed posts of 2012, but thought I would post a list of my favorite posts of 2012 too.

  1. Duomo’s Rooftop, A Sculpture Garden In The Sky – I just like the pictures.
  2. Dubai’s River, It’s Other Waterfront – I liked how different Dubai was from Geneva and loved its mix of cultures.  While you can see cool skyscrapers lots of places, there aren’t many where you can see the old wood dhows and the people from all over the world who trade on Dubai’s waterfront.
  3. Millennium Trilogy Walking Tour Of Stieg Larsson’s Stockholm – Part Two – I loved The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Men Who Hate Women in Swedish).  When we went to Stockholm, I toured the sites mentioned in the books.  Most of them were in the super-cool Sodermalm neighborhood.
  4. Mohawks Welcome But Not Required At The Groezrock Festival– We love live music and a European Music Festival is something to experience.  This one had a great lineup and was well worth the resulting fatigue (better described as exhaustion).
  5. The Toblerone Line, One Sweet Barrier– We looked all over Switzerland for this puppy.  Once we found it, we couldn’t stop seeing it places (Reichenbach Falls, near Thun, etc.).
  6. Why I Love Running– One of my favorite things.
  7. Weingut Otto Laubsenstein – Fantastic people + fantastic wine = unforgettable time.
  8. It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye – A reader suggestion and one of the best views in Switzerland.  If you’re not up for hours of hiking straight uphill, you can always take the train there.
  9. The Shock Of Your Life – Culture Shock – I tried to keep it real.
  10. Les Contamines – Although we’ve done a lot of skiing, this was one of our favorite days because we spent it with wonderful fr
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Don’t Let The Cows Out!

In the US, we have a strong tradition of property rights.  In theory, every man (and woman) is the king (or queen) of his castle (or trailer) and can do what they want with their land, including barring others from trespassing.  Other countries, like Switzerland, have a different take.  There, landowners are regarded more as stewards of the people’s land.  As a result, Switzerland’s hiking trails (known as WanderwegTourisme Pédestre, and Sentiero Escursionistic in German, French and Italian respectively), cross through people’s property.  With around 60,000 km/37,282 miles of in such a small country, how could they not?

Yellow diamonds mark hiking routes (some cultural trails, old pilgrims’ roads, etc. have brown signposts).  When we first arrived in Switzerland, we weren’t sure whether we would get in trouble for following the trails.  They lead through people’s pastures, woods and yards.  We even followed one right through the middle of someone’s barn!

I know, for an American who grows up with “get off my land,” this is a hard concept to wrap your head around. Farmers receive significant benefits from the government so they don’t seem to mind to much.  If the Swiss government made me a steward of the land and defrayed the cost of my insanely beautiful mountain views, I wouldn’t mind hikers either… as long as they didn’t let my cows loose.

We’ve never seen so many types of cow barriers – and he grew up on a farm!  Amazed by the variety, I started taking pictures of them.  Who knew there were so many different ways to keep cows in?

Note the little ladder for people to walk over on the right side in the photo above. Genius.  Not that it couldn’t be improved by a railing.  Solar powered cow fences like the one below are pretty common.  Now I’ve seen everything.

Some fences are a little more old school.  I like how they wrote “please close the door” in Sharpie (in German) on the gate post.

Whatever you do, be careful, when taking pictures.  Don’t back up into one of these bad boys or you are in for a nasty shock.   Take my word for it.

You see some good old-fashioned American-style barbed wire too.  It’s not good to back up into either.  You’d think I’d learn, but with views like these, it’s easy to be distracted.

The turnstiles are pretty cool, kind of like getting on the subway.   You see, in Switzerland, they take their cows pretty seriously.  If you have tasted their dairy, you know why.  In fact, it was just in the news last week that dairy farmers in Switzerland are field-testing a new device that allows cows to send texts to show they are, um, feeling frisky.  Yep.  You read that correctly.   Some Swiss cows are have sensors that gauge their readiness to mate and sends their owner a text message when they’re in heat.

Whatever you do, just be sure to close the gate and don’t let the cows out!  Who knows what kind of trouble they could get up to?

Why Hiking In Switzerland Is Wunderbar

 

We have been traveling a lot lately, but we spent most of the summer in Switzerland.  Switzerland is wonderful in the summer.  We love it, in part, because it is a hiking mecca.  Here are some reasons why hiking in Switzerland is wunderbar.

  • cable cars
  • there is plenty of opportunity to hike above the tree line, affording breathtaking views

  • the trails are incredibly well-marked and well-maintained
  • the trails are everywhere, they criss-cross the country, including the cities
  • its cities are compact so you are out of the city into the mountains quickly
  • the views are varied
  • at the end of almost every hike, there is a crystal clear blue lake to dip your feet in

  • I have yet  to find a mountain in Switzerland where my cell phone doesn’t work
  • even at altitude, you pass many cafes where you grab a bite

  • the fountains for cows mean that you can refill your water bottle all over the place

 

It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye

Rochers-de-Naye is the mountain with the rock top on the left, not the bump, but the one with the snow below the rock.

We woke up to a beautiful day. Since it was so clear, we decided to do one of the things that we’d been saving for a clear day so we could enjoy the view.  Our choices were take cable cars to the top of Mont Blanc or hike from the lake in Montreaux to Rochers-de-Naye.  I checked with him to make sure he know the hike meant climbing the mountain behind Montreaux.  Please note the full disclosure (on my part) and assumption of risk (on his part).

We weren’t the only ones who thought it was hot. This guy jumped into the water fountain.

A reader suggested this hike and I wanted to do it because the views at the top are spectacular.   Yeah, we could have taken a cog wheel train up, but where’s the fun in that?  Especially on a hot day?

We spent about five hours…walking up, and up, and up.

On the way, we saw these brave fellows heading down.  In this photo, you can’t see what is beyond the edge.  In fact, it’s almost impossible to see from this vantage point.  That’s because it drops off sharply and precipitously.  If you look on the right of the photo below, you will see a small railing that prevents people falling from the steep rock face.  Yep, that’s where we ran into them.  Impressive.

I’ve always wanted to do a ridge hike in Switzerland.  I thought it would be cool to  look down on both sides.  This trail had a bit of one.  Cool huh?

At the end of the ridge, we finally caught sight of the summit.  Although it looks pretty close, it took us at least another 45 minutes to reach it.  I may have slowed us down by stopping every 10 feet to take pictures of the incredible scenery.

When we finally reached the top, we found snow!  I know, I know.  After several hours of hiking, the bandage on my paw looked about as dirty as the snow.

Yep.  The finger is still bandaged.

 

He was exhausted at the end of the day (and very, very hungry).  I thought it was worth it.  He joked that I tried to kill him.  I’m happy to report that he’s forgiven me.  Either that or he is lulling me into a false sense of security while he plans his revenge.

It was a long, sweaty (especially on his part), but enjoyable hike from Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) in Montreux to Rochers-de-Naye at 2041m (6,709 feet).   At the top, there was snow and unforgettable, jaw dropping views.

They also have Marmot Paradise.  Who doesn’t love these beaver-like animals?   I also enjoyed the Alpine garden with lots of special species of Swiss Alpine plants and flowers. I even saw Edelweiss!

A Hike With Arcadian Beauty, Cows, And A Whole Lot Of Hay

We wanted to squeeze in a second hike after our big hike near Thun.  Thanks to our book, we found another great one that was on our way home.  We started from Rüeggisberg, in Switzerland’s Gantrisch foothills of the Bernese Alps.

Rüeggisberg is known for its mighty Cluniac priory ruin.  It is a significant stop for pilgrims along the Way of St. James to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain.  When we pulled up to start our hike, we heard music coming from the service that was being held among the ruins.

I don’t know if downtown Rüeggisberg ever sees a lot of traffic, but the typical Bernese farmhouses were dead silent on a Saturday morning.  Luckily, an old school farm town café with pictures of historic local gatherings and cows on the walls was open so we could feed our coffee addiction before setting off.

Just like we’d seen the day before in Thun, farmers took advantage of the sunny weather to cut hay.  In Europe, it is more common to use a tedder.  In fact, that’s all we’ve seen here in Switzerland.  For you non-farmers out there, a tedder spreads hay out to dry more quickly.  It speeds up the process of haymaking and allegedly allows the hay to dry better, resulting in improved aroma and color.  Can cows even see in color?

All the commotion in the fields stirs up any rodents living in them.  It cuts up any cover and small animals are in the open for the scavengers to eat.  We saw raptors circling the sky above fields and swooping down.  Cats were also out in the fields hunting the newly exposed prey.

We have only seen round bales here.

The trail led through woods.  We were excited to see the slate bottom on this creek bed.  He climbed down to take a look.  Since I still had my arm in a sling, I stayed on the trail.  Sorry there aren’t any close-ups.

We came out into more farmland.  We enjoyed checking out the well-tended farmyard.  Hopefully, you do too.

I think I have slept in places more disgusting than this pig pen.  Who am I kidding?  I know I have.

We continually caught glimpses of the snow-capped trio of the Alps above the fields.  If you look really hard, you can see them in the back of the photo below.  It is the view the cows had.  We now believe that happy cows don’t come from California (or even Wisconsin).  They come from Switzerland.

There were panoramic views and we could even see Lake Thun (the Thunersee), the Eiger Mönch and Jungfrau in the distance!

Hiking The Beautiful Bernese Oberland

I bought a book entitled the 50 Most Beautiful Hikes in Switzerland.  It’s a great place to get ideas on where to go.   Although we probably won’t get through them all, we’re off to a good start.

We’ve been to the Bernese Oberland several times and love the area.  With a good weather forecast, we decided to try a new hike in the area.

If you aren’t sure why we like that area, take a look at the first photo.  We started the hike from Thun with that view.  Wowzers!  After about 30 minutes of walking along the lake, we headed inland.  When you head away from the lake just about anywhere in Switzerland, you are in for a climb.  This hike was no exception.  We trekked up the Choleren Gorge.  It is a long, wild gorge with beautiful waterfalls, bends, rocks and dizzying bridges.

We emerged from the gorge to a beautiful valley full of farms.  He kept thinking we were done climbing, but the “hill” just kept going and going.  With a little refreshment, we were ready to tackle the next part.

Our perseverance was rewarded with a stunning view of Lake Thun and the Swiss Alps.  Can you believe the view these goats have?

They were headed downhill to be milked.

The snowcapped mountains (from left to right) are  Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.

Along the way, we made some new friends.  We wanted to move in to this guy’s farmhouse.  It may have one of the best views ever.  He was such a sweet  puppy that we would want him to stay.  

We just kept wrapping around the mountain keeping the lake view.  The whole time, we were pinching ourselves.  We couldn’t believe we were getting to experience something so beautiful.

Eventually, we wound back around to toward Thun and began our descent.

Once we hit the woods, look what we ran into.  More Toblerone-style anti-tank barriers!

It wouldn’t have been easy for Hitler to get tanks up there.  It was a bit steep.  We shouldn’t have been surprised since we started the hike through a gorge, but this was a bit scary.  My arm was still in a sling from my kitchen accident and so my balance felt a bit off.

On the way back toward the lake, we saw this cool climbing wall on the side of a house in Hünibach.  Pretty cool.

In the park, we saw this cool Rube Goldberg type contraption.  Since we were hungry, thirsty and dreaming of dipping our feet in the lake, we didn’t linger.

We sat on a dock, dipped our feet in the water and enjoyed the view.  Then, we giggled when these guys drove by blasting the theme song from Baywatch.  Is it possible that the Swiss love David Hasselhoff as much as the Germans?

Getting Our History On At Fort L’Ecluse

On our first hike in the  Jura Mountains went through the Rhône Valley by Fort l’Écluse (or Fort de l’Écluse), near Leaz, France in the Pays de Gex.  The site has a view of the strategic route between the Jura Mountains and the Alps and has had fortifications since Roman times.

The Romans built defenses around 58 BC to protect them from the Helvetii (the nearby Swiss tribe). In the Middle Ages, the stronghold protected the Jura and was a center for goods (which the cyicist in me interprets to mean used to collect tolls or taxes).  Expanded, in the 17th century, the French used the fort to prevent French Protestants from fleeing France to Protestant Geneva after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (which permitted secularism and tolerance).

There are actually two forts on the site, the lower (inférieure in French) and upper (supérieure in French).  The Duke of Savoy and the Marquis de Vauban (during the reign of Louis XIV) built the lower fort.  When the Austrians destroyed the fort in 1815, the Savoy rebuilt it bigger and stronger.

The tower dovetails into the rock.

We got lucky, they were having a historical reenactment when we visited.  It got us admission and we saw solders living as they did in the 19th century.  Some of them were cooking.  I asked what they were making.  The “soldiers” jokingly said “nothing good.” They explained that soldier’s food wasn’t good and they were being historically accurate.  We spied a couple of bottles of wine tucked away behind some plants (also historically accurate?), so I think they had a good time anyway.

Built into the stone, the fort was surprisingly cool (which was good for them in their wool uniforms).  The reenactors were really nice and totally into it.  When I asked to take a picture with them they gladly agreed and, to my astonishment, passed me the musket.  It weighed 5 kilos (10.2 pounds)!

The upper fort (200 metres/660 feet above the lower one), was built in the 1830’s-40’s to protect the lower fort provide additional space and better views from which to control the valley.  It has a subterranean stairway with 1165 steps through the rock that connecting it to the lower fort.

Unfortunately, the upper fort is closed because it is unsafe for visitors.  They are doing restoration work on the lower fort.  We hope that when they finish, they start on the upper fort because it is an amazing site and filled with history.

We took a steep trail uphill for a half an hour to reach the upper fort.  I shouldn’t have bothered to ask the extremely portly gentleman we encountered in the lower parking lot for directions.  I’m pretty sure he hadn’t done much walking, let alone hiking, over the past 30 years.  The gentleman said the upper fort was closed, there was no reason to go up there and looked at me like I was crazy when I told him we were hiking.   We are glad we went anyway.  We were still able to see the ramparts.  Even better, they had exceptional views of  the Rhône, Saleve and the Alps, including Mont Blanc.

Fort l’Ecluse wasn’t just a customs station and border control in the 20th century.  It served as a military training center during World War I.   In the 1930’s, the fort was incorporated into French border fortifications (as part of the enormously inefficient Mangiot Line) that were intended to prevent a German invasion from Switzerland.  We all know how that worked out.

I was astounded to learn that it actually saw action during WWII.  It is so close to Geneva, I can only imagine the anxiety that Genevans must have felt.  The Defensive Sector of the Rhône, a French military organization controlled the French border with Switzerland around Geneva, controlled the fort.  In June 1940, German forces (the 3rd and 4th Panzer Divisions and the 13th Motorized Infantry Division) advanced from the north along the Rhône valley.  From June 22nd to 25th, the French force held the back the German forces advancing toward Albertville.   When France surrendered on June 25, the fort didn’t.  It held tight until directly ordered to let the Germans advance and surrender by General Charles Huntziger of the Vichy Regime.

Our First Big Hike Of The Summer

Our first Sunday back in Switzerland, the weather was supposed to be great and we were keen to hike.  He traveled last week so he wanted to sleep in.  This meant that we needed to go someplace near Geneva.  We hadn’t hiked the Jura yet and decided to give it a go.

The first weekend after we moved to Switzerland we explored the area.  Driving back from Annecy and The Museum of the Alpine Cow, we saw a giant fortress in the mountain above.  We wanted to visit it and a hike seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We were on the last mound by the river. It has a small, dark smudge on top. Those are the ruins with a statute of the Virgin Mary on top.

We started from Léaz, France (just over the border) and hiked up to the Virgin of Léaz and stunning views of the Rhone River cutting its way through the Jura Mountains.   The Virgin sits on top of sixteenth century ruins, but the spot was inhabited in Roman times (because of its defensible position.  The views were stunning, but I was careful to watch where I stepped.

We walked all the way down to the Rhone River.  Although it was a hot day, we didn’t stop for a swim (we’ll go bridge jumping into the Rhone at Junction soon enough).   The banks were muddy and we had hiking to do… a lot of it.  Uphill.

What goes up, must come down.  We went down to the Rhone, so there was nowhere left to go but up.   On the bright side, the terrain was interesting, varied and shaded (not many panoramic views).  We passed countless streams, waterfalls and channels that funneled water from the Jura into the Rhone.   The trails were okay, but I wouldn’t plan on doing the hike if it rained the previous week and the trails climb sharply.  You were warned.

We hiked up to Fort de L’Ecluse (both of them) through The Haut-Jura Regional Natural Park and down from the mountains.  As the mountains gave way to pastures and fields, we heard our first cowbells of the season.  We love the sound of cow bells ringing through a valley interrupting the background noise of gurgling creeks and chirping birds.  It is the soundtrack to a heavenly day.

One of the best parts of the hike was the wildflowers in bloom.  I snapped way too many pictures of them.

The fields were pretty gorgeous too.

So was the view.  Let summer officially begin!

Geneva’s Bucolic Beauty

Why drive to visit a brewery when you can hike there?  We had visitors who were up for a little physical activity so we set off.  We arrived at the Brasserie des Murailles after they had closed, but had a wonderful hike.  You may notice that isn’t us.  We had Mr. Rome and Ms. Barcelona with us.  Although we’d never met them before picking them up at the train station, we (and all our friends) loved having them around.

We set off from the center of Geneva.  The lakefront was beautiful.  Once you turn away from the Lake Geneva, there is nowhere to go but up…literally.  Whether on bike or on foot, anywhere you head from Geneva’s lakefront, you climb.  It’s unavoidable.  The good news is that it doesn’t last forever.  Soon, we were higher, cooler and out of the city.

Switzerland is committed to remaining neutral.  Only 1/3 of its land is cultivable.  As a result, farms are subsidized and farmers act as stewards of the land.  It also means that it is almost impossible to build on farmland in Switzerland, limiting urban sprawl.  It doesn’t take long to get out of the city and into farmland.

Geneva’s mountains are astoundingly beautiful.  It’s countryside is pretty all right too.

Although it isn’t as dramatic as the mountain scenery, there is always something interesting to see.  We paused over vineyards, horses, beekeepers, to check out frogs in streams, to examine crops and check out the colza fields.

We loved that behind the fields and vineyards, the mountains were almost always visible.  Depending on the direction, they were either the Alps with Mont Blanc, the Jura or Le Salève.   Not too shabby.

 

The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow…Or Just In Time To For It To Set

After a morning’s aborted hike in the mountains and the drive in a snowstorm, we’d lost hope that the weather would turn around or that we would be able to fit in a decent hike.

The weather in Switzerland is changeable  By mid afternoon, the weather Grindelwald had begun to clear.  By late afternoon, we’d taken our coats off.  What’s not to love?

Us…in front of some mountains