Get Away From The Grind On Grinda

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Grinda is a smaller, traffic-free island in Stockholm’s archipelago (a little over an hour from Stockholm).  We got there by taking a ferry from Vauxholm.  At just over a mile long, it’s not huge but that’s part of the attraction.  It’s small enough to be car free.  I love cities, but some of the most relaxing trips we’ve had have been to car-free destinations (ZermattSaas-Fee, MegeveLes Baux de ProvenceAix-en-ProvenceVenceSt. Paul-de-VenceEze, Les Baux de ProvenceCourmayeurAvignonGimmelwaldGruyeres).  I don’t know whether it is the lack of noise so you can hear the birds or just being able to walk in peace, but somehow without cars stress seems to melt away. It’s idyllic.

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The tomography reminded me of Maine‘s coast.  Like Maine, there’s plenty of wilderness.  Grinda has nature reserve.

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Although there are several gorgeous swimming beaches, we rented a sauna.  When we started to melt, we jumped off the dock out front into the Baltic Sea (Östersjön in Swedish).  I was expecting it to be salty like the Atlantic Ocean; it wasn’t.  The Baltic is brackish and not very salty.  It’s not warm either, but that’s no surprise.  We listened to the waves lap against the coastline.  It made for a wonderfully relaxing and peaceful afternoon.

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The trip there takes just over an hour from Stockholm on the Cinderella boats.  If you happen to go, the welcome center/commerce cabin (near the ferry dock) rents rooms at the hostel, cabins, campsites, saunas, kayaks and fun thinks like lawn games and kites.  Since Sweden would probably cease functioning without coffee, they also have it there.

DSC_0115DSC_0156Grinda has a general store that sells the necessities, candy and fancy homemade baked goods.  Come to think of it, those are actually necessities on vacation.  There’s a harbor side restaurant with a deck near the marina.

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It’s hard to tell from the picture below, but the tables were crowded.  The food and drink there was surprisingly cosmopolitan.

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Walking around the island, we saw sheep and cows.   They went to town on the grass and didn’t seem to care that you could get fancy cocktails and smoked salmon just up the road.

DSC_0151Serene, rustic and uber-chill, this is a place where you can’t help but relax.  My only regret is that we didn’t stay the night.  I’m sure the stars there are amazing.

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The Giger Bar, One Cool (And Slightly Surreal) Joint

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Most people have seen Hans Rudolf “Ruedi” Giger‘s work, even if they don’t know who he is.  Giger is best known as the designer for Ridley Scott‘s Alien movies, for which he won an Oscar.   Incredibly creative, he paints and sculpts too.   Giger was way ahead of his time in foreseeing the increasingly close relationship between the human body and machines.

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The Château St. Germain in Gruyères (yep, like the cheese), Switzerland houses the H. R. Giger Museum, which is a permanent repository of his work.  The nearby Giger Bar is a stunning, slightly surreal bar designed by him.   Built in 2003, it was way ahead of its time, foreseeing the increasingly close relationship between the human body and machines.  There are two Giger Bars; the other is in his hometown of Chur in the  Graubünden Canton of Switzerland.

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Giger excels at represent human bodies and machines in a cold, but connected, intriguing way.  Sitting in the bar, you feel like you’re in the belly of the beast.  It is an incredibly imaginative and slightly surreal mixture of skeleton and fantasy.

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While it’s dark, structural and even biomechanical, it’s not cold.   We went early and at an off hour so that we could fully explore the place.   We oohed and aahed as we discovered details everywhere.  It definitely makes for an unforgettable drink.

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The ceiling has the skeletal structure of vertebrae, like a fantastic ossuary.

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Once upon a time (the 1980’s), there was another Giger Bar in Tokoyo.  Unfortunately Giger wasn’t as involved in that one.  Its design was constrained by earthquake codes.  Perhaps most damagingly, it became a hangout for the Yakuza.  Giger disowned it and never even entered.

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By the way, Giger is spelled with only one ‘e’.  Hans Geiger, known for his work on the radiation measuring known as the Geiger Counter, was German.

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Barn House Combo

 
Animals put out heat.  To take advantage of their heat (and keep people from stealing them), people built housebarns.  I don’t need one because he puts out a lot of BTU‘s at night.
They never really caught on in the US, but they are all over the Canton of Fribourg (near the town of Gruyeres).  I love them.  
P.S. Those of you who play Farmville, please let me know if you can really purchase a Swiss Housebarn.  Muchas gracias…um…er… Merci beaucoup.

Chocoholics Anonymous

Skanky B, Homie G, MC Roni enjoying hot chocolate
Yes. It really was this cool (despite what the lady in pink thought).
Skanky B, Homie G, MC Roni* and I toured the Cailler Chocolate Factory (located in Bulle, near Gruyeres). When you walk up, you smell chocolate. They must pump the smell out there because it was ridiculous. If only I could smell that good…
While waiting to start the tour, we had hot chocolate in the cafe. Yes. We were coloring. My drawing is up on my fridge. After color time, we went to the movie theater (with chocolates purchased from the gift shop) to watch old commercials. They were quite entertaining, perhaps even more so because they were in French.  You go through a Disney style telling of the history of chocolate before getting to the star of the tour, the chocolate itself. There is a room where you get to learn about, smell and touch the ingredients.
The tour just kept getting better and better. Next, you got to see a sample production line for Cailler’s Branches.
What do they do with that freshly made chocolate? They let you eat it! This is where the tour started to get really good. At this point, we were pretty much thinking that this was the best tour ever. We camped out here for a good five minutes eating.
Then, we went to the next room and the tour got even better! They had a giant room with all of their delectable products. You could spend as long as you wanted there and eat as much of it as you wanted!!!This is where we did America proud. We gorged ourselves. It was gluttony at its finest and also a bit embarrassing (not that we minded because our mouths were full of chocolate). They were not going to hurry us out of there or limit our consumption. Nevertheless, we were like Augustus Gloop at Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory stuffing our faces as fast as we could.

 

My personal favorite
You can’t see our teeth because our mouths were full.
We stumbled out of the tasting room in a chocolate haze. Here are some photos from the gift shop:
You can scroll to the top to see the before.  This is the after.
 
Clearly, we were on a bit of a sugar high.
By the way, if you come to visit, the factory also has a kitchen where they give chocolate cooking classes. They fill up so be sure to pre-book well in advance.
*Names have been changed to protect the not so innocent.
 

Alpine Milk and High Altitude Cows – aka I Need More Cowbell

The commercial says that “happy cows come from California“.   Happier cows come from Switzerland.  We saw them when we hiked the “Sentier des Frommageries”, the cheesemaker‘s path, from a cute little town called Gruyeres.  Don’t they look happy wearing their bells?
They have the life.  They get to summer in the mountains, surrounded by amazing scenery and changing pastures a couple of times a day. They drink from tubs like these.  Note the one below is made from a hollowed out log.
The only down side is that you can’t make a run for it, not that you would want to anyway.
This says: “Please please close the gate thank you”
Note the not one, not two, but three strands of barbed wire below.  Keeping your cattle in is serious business.
 
Luckily, he knows his way around an electric fence.