Be Thankful For Your Friends But Avoid The Friendship Cup

The object above isn’t the holy grail, an objet d’art, vase, fancy pipe or some kind of crazy teapot, it’s a friendship cup.  As Thanksgiving approaches, one of the things we are most grateful for this year is all of the friends we’ve made in Switzerland.

A friendship cup (also known as Coppa dell’amicizia, grolla or grolle ) is a round container with a lid and multiple spouts made of turned wood.  It is used for drinking special hot adult beverages with friends.  There’s a saying, “he who drinks it alone, will choke.”  Here’s how it works.

Gather your friends, or nearby people you want to become friends (because after you finish one of these you will be.  Traditionally you have at least one more person than the number of spouts on the cup.  Why?   You end up sharing and drinking from a different spout as the cup gets passed around the table.  People don’t worry about the germs for two reasons.  First, it’s your friends.  Secondly, what they put in the cup is strong enough that it could probably be classified as some sort of disinfectant.   You pass the cup around your group, not setting it down until it’s empty.  Trust me when I tell you that this is easier said than done.

We first encountered it when we visited the Aosta Valley in Italy.  Thank goodness no one whipped out a camera that night…  The friendship cup is an after dinner (or later) tradition in Lombardy and the rest of the Italian Alps.  It comes from the “Soldats de la Neige” (which translates into Soldiers of the Snow) who acted as guides to travelers in this rough terrain.   They needed extra “energy” to survive in the cold.   Having had some, it does seem to warm you up.  The drink’s popularity spread to include everyone who needed a little pick me up to brave the cold.

What’s in a Friendship Cup?  Valdostana coffee, a liquor ( usually Génépy, but it can be plain or fruit grappa, cognac, Cointreau, red wine or cum), sugar and spices.  Sometimes people add butter and orange peels.  Just make sure you have friends around to drink it with you.  It sounds delightful.  It’s not.  It’s Trouble.  That’s right, trouble with a capital “t.”

So as Thanksgiving approaches, thanks guys, we’re raising our glasses (or beers from the snow) to you and giving thanks, just don’t expect us to bust out the friendship cup.   Here’s to you, Cheers!  Kippis!  Chin Chin!  Santé!  Prost!  Slàinte!  Skål!  L’Chaim!  Na zdrowie!

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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 Best Beer In Geneva

Our friend discovered the Brasserie Des Murailles at a summer festival.  He made a strong statement and declared it to be the “best beer in Switzerland.”  After tasting it we fell in love with the brewery (brewery is brasserie in French).  Here’s why:

1. They regularly brew five varieties of beer (and additional seasonal ones). Each one is great.  They don’t make a bad one.

2. The brewer studied in Belgium.  Yeah Belgium!

3. They have continuously grown their business each year with minimal advertising.  They grew so much that they went from the tank above to the tanks below.

4. We like to tour breweries and microbreweries (and pretty much any kind of factory).  Although they are small, their old farm is one of the coolest buildings around.  It is a rustic old bar that has been retrofitted to accommodate brewing and visitors.  The best part is the setting in the countryside of Geneva with a wonderful view of the French Alps and Le Salève.  From the back, you can see the Jura. mountains.

5. Like the Belgians, they manage to pack their beer full of flavor.  Somehow, they manage to keep it light enough for the local market.  Even in during a summer heat wave, they never seem too heavy.

6. Their beers are unique and complex.

7. They are small enough to exercise strong quality control.

8. Although it isn’t technically a reason their beer is great, they are nice.  Really, really nice. You want them to succeed.  Although they love great beer, they aren’t pretentious or snobby.

9. At summer festivals, what would you rather drink Heineken, Kronenbourg 1664 or something with taste and flavor?

10. In a market like Geneva, where great unique beers are hard to come by, they are a godsend.

If you are interested in Swiss beers, check out the Ultimate Switzerland Beer Guide.  Sante! Proust!  Chin Chin!  Cheers!

You Know You Live In Switzerland When You Take Cable Cars As Often As Regular Cars

Since moving to Switzerland, we have spent less time in the car than ever before.  He takes the tram to work.  I take a combination of trams, busses and boats to get around.  On the weekends, more times than not, we have been on a cable car of some sort.  There are several different kinds of cable-operated devices.  They include:

  • Téléphérique, an aerial tramway or gondola that consists of a cabin suspended from a cable.  We take them to get to the slopes from where we parked, up the slopes (we were extremely grateful for the enclosure during the cold snap), and even in between mountains!

  • Chairlifts where open chairs are hauled above the ground by means of a cable.

One of the things that we love about Switzerland is that the mountains are so accessible.  It takes only an hour or two to get from a major city like Geneva onto a remote mountain. Part of the reason the country is so accessible is its outstanding infrastructure.  The Swiss try to take advantage of all of their land…and do a pretty good job of it.  They build highways, tunnels and cable cars everywhere.  There are over 130 cable cars in Switzerland. For that matter, the French at Mt. Blanc and the ski resorts in the French Alps do a pretty good job too.

When we first moved here, I was always uneasy in cable cars.  I kept of when the American pilot clipped the line of the cable car in Cavalese, Italy in 1998, killing 20.  I’d heard stories of cable cars falling in France and Italy in the 1980’s.

When I get on a plane, I remind myself that it is safer than driving.  Although I don’t have any stats, cable cars must also be.  Now, we have taken them so many times, that I don’t think about it any more than getting on a bus.  Besides, they have better views than most busses.  Just don’t look down.

 

Cozy Yet Elegant Megève

The Rothschild’s developed Megève as an alternative to St. Mortiz in the 1920’s.  It’s high end, filled with pretty people, money and stylish places to spend it.  The center of the village is medieval, but don’t start thinking Megève is quiet, sleepy and/or antiquated. There are stylish modern boutique hotels and chalets that look like they were decorated by Axel Veervoordt.  Gourmet restaurants (many rated in the Michelin Guide), chic watering holes and hip clubs abound.  Non-skiers can shop ‘til they drop at upscale boutiques, visit the spa or hit the casino.  If you want to take a nap then rip it up apres ski, this is a good place to do it.

A pedestrian friendly atmosphere dominates Megève and the streets practically invite you to stroll through them.  You can walk from town to the lifts.  Snow melt forms a small river that meanders its way through the village.  In its center is the main square with its traditional church belfry.

While we didn’t see any of the famous horse-drawn sleighs, we were able to see signs of them.  Ski slopes, chalets and around forty active farms surround Megève, adding both character and fresh culinary delights.

 

Mount Blanc At Sunset And Sunrise

In Courmayeur, we saw Mt. Blanc from the Italian side.  Our hotel near Mageve, had a beautiful view of it from the French side.  We were in an area known as the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.  Translated, it means the country of Mt. Blanc.  It is a group of villages and resorts perched along valleys at the foot of the Domes de Miage, the Aiguille du Bionnassay and the east side of Mont Blanc.  It is on the bordering Haute Savoie and the Savoie regions/departments of France.  Megeve, St Gervais and Les Contamines are located in the “Pays du Mont Blanc”.

The area has wonderful views of the Mont Blanc Massif.  I don’t know if I will ever get used to panaromas like this.  I kept running out on the balcony to snap pictures as the light changed.  Quel beaute!  Quel joie!

Les Contamines

Late one night, a group of us decided to ski the next day.  When you make plans late at night for the next day, sometimes (shockingly) they aren’t well thought out.  As we would be a large group of all levels, we decided to go to Les Contamines. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a good choice and a great day.

We chose it because:

  • It is close to Geneva.
  • It is not crowded.  There are rarely any lift queues.
  • As it is at the back-end of a valley, it is less traveled.  It has a reputation for having a calm, laid back atmosphere.
  • It is a small, relatively unspoiled town.  There’s no trendy après-ski or clubs.  In fact, there isn’t much nightlife.  As a result, it is calmer.
  • Fewer people means snow stays untracked longer.  Who doesn’t love unskied powder?
  • It offers a wide variety of terrain for all levels.  We had a diverse group and there were pistes to suit everyone.
  • The prices are reasonable.
  • When the weather is clear, it has a wonderful view of Mt. Blanc.  Heck, when the weather is clear, it has wonderful views.  Period.  Contamines is known for its beautiful mountain panoramas.

Oh yeah.  It wouldn’t be a skiing post if I didn’t do something stupid.  This time it yielded a cool photo.  While I was lying with my face in the snow, I got my camera out and snapped a pic to show you the view from down there.

Annecy’s Venetian Carnival

Annecy, France is beautiful.  As it is an easy day trip from Geneva (or even an easy dinner trip), we’ve taken lots of visitors there.  While it is exceptionally beautiful in summer with the masses flowers planted throughout the town every year, it has gorgeous old buildings, canals and a beautiful lakeside making it  picturesque all year round and never disappoints visitors.

Last weekend, Annecy had its Venetian Carnival.  It is a logical place for a Venetian style carnival for several reasons:

  • Annecy is in the Savoy region of France.  The Savoy region was part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia.
  • Savoy borders Italy (as well as Switzerland).  Annecy has maintained a strong relationship with Italy and hosts Italian themed cultural events, including and Italian Film Festival.  It is even twinned with Vincenza in Venetia, Italy.
  • Like Venice, Annecy has canals running through it with ancient  bridges over them.  It is known as the Venice of the Alps.

Two weeks after the traditional Carnival, Annecy hosts its own Venetian Carnival.  Many of the costumed participants were in Venice during its carnival.  The costumes are similarly ornate, mysterious and luxurious.  Its over 350 costumed participants make it as large or larger that that of Venice.

Annecy has tourism down pat.  It is photogenic and people turn up in droves to capture the over 350 costumes with the town as a backdrop. Although its crowded, if you are patient, you will get a shot as the participants are gracious and are eager to pose for you.

I kept trying to get more natural pictures of them.  These are the closest I got.

One of my favorite parts was seeing children so excited and dressed up in costumes.  They were adorable and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Chartreuse, It’ll Put Hair On Your Chest!

France has a food and drink culture.  Apparently, every region of France has its own liqueur(s). He received some Chartreuse as a present.  Now, I know where the color Chartreuse comes from.  Even the cork is bright green.
Chartreuse is surprisingly good.  It is made from over 150 herbs, plants and spices.  One of them is anise, a spicy black licorice, flavor.  The Peres (fathers) Chartreux originally created as an “Elixir of Long Life” from a recipe given to them by François Hannibal d’Estrées, a marshal of artillery to French king Henry IV, in 1605.  Today, it is produced by Carthusian monks in the French Alps.  Only three living monks know the recipe to this drink and they’ve taken a vow of silence!


They didn’t skip on the presentation.  The numbered bottle came with seals in a special wooden box!  

The yellow version is sweeter and milder than the green, which will put hair on your chest.  V.E.P. stands for Vieillissement Exceptionnellement Prolonge, is Chartreuse aged for a longer period of time.  Its a high-end luxury liquor which means that even though it will still put hair on your chest, it’s a little more mellow than the regular.

Although I’d never heard of it before moving here, I understand that hip cocktail joints are using it in drinks.  The New York Times wrote an article about its increasing popularity in the US, proclaiming it “[a] fetish among cocktail enthusiasts, but obscure to the general public, Chartreuse has been steadily infiltrating cocktail menus in New York and elsewhere, with bartenders increasingly reaching for it to add depth and nuance — and instant classical cred — to their creations.”  Popular cocktails include: the Chartreuse SmashThe LumièreThe Beauty SpotThe Last Word, the Champs-Élysées CocktailGreenpointEureka Punch and CCR.

Chartreuse was originally intended as medicine and has a distinctly herbal taste.  I’m not sure if it will work every time, but it cured my cold!  As Brian Fontana said in Anchorman:  “They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.”