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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Car-Free Towns

Many “old towns” are (almost completely) car free.  Many towns, use a system of passes and barriers to ensure that the streets remain traffic free while allowing residents parking, taxis access and permitting deliveries.

Many streets in city centers are reserved for local business people, residents, city buses, or pedestrians. To enforce this the entry to the street is always marked as such, in the local language and with standard signs, and is often blocked by a couple of 8″ diameter steel posts rising up from the road. Those with permits have a swipe card which lowers the posts momentarily so they can drive through. If you try to sneak through right after someone goes in you might hear a sort of crunching sound as the posts come up under your car. This will be embarrassing and expensive.

Some of the car-free towns we have visited include:

To encourage walking, biking and the use of public transport, many European cities make it hard (and/or costly) to park.

  • limit the amount of parking spaces
  • implement or increase parking fees
  • Fees paid for parking are sometimes used to encourage non-car transportation.

Eliminating parking spaces in Copenhagen has made room for high-quality pedestrian districts and bike paths, while street space once used by cars has likewise been repurposed in Paris for bike sharing and tramways.

Thank You Rome, We Love Switzerland’s Fountains

The Ides of March, (no, not the film) the fifteenth of March, is today.  It is the day on which, in 44 B.C., a group of conspirators led by Brutus (et tu Brutue?) and Cassius stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the Roman Senate.  It got me thinking about Rome’s legacy here in Switzerland.  While evidence of Switzerland’s time under Roman rule is everywhere,  I have a favorite part of their legacy, fountains.

Rome came.  Rome built fountains.  Rome fell.  The fountains remained.  Who doesn’t like a fountain?  When people could figure out how to do it again, they tried making fountains like those cool old Roman ones.  They did it in Switzerland, but all over Europe.  Right on.

When we hike in the summer, we can pretty much be sure that we will be able to get water from a fountain.  The cows have to drink way up there, so you know they are going to have water.  The caveat to this, and don’t mess this up or you will end up like us paying $12 a bottle, is that there are no fountains when you are up high enough.  If cows can’t graze up there, they are going to build it.  Period.

The water of this fountain once stood in the sea before it evaporated. It traveled in the clouds, and fell as rain before running again towards the sea. This is the water cycle has fragile balance. Respect it.

At almost every fountain, the water  is drinkable.  In Switzerland, if the water isn’t safe to drink, it will be marked with a sign that reads “Eau Non-Potable” or and “X” over a cup.

You can stick your head under the fountain, like you would at a water fountain, or collect it in a bottle.  I love not having to plan my water stops or carry water with me on long runs; the fountains are everywhere.

Eau Potable means the water is safe to drink

Sometimes, flowers decorate the fountains.  This always make a great photo opportunity.

Other times, the fountains themselves are decorative and/or commerative.

Zermatt's Beaver Fountain

A fountain in memory of alpine guide Ulrich Inderbinen who summited the Matterhorn over 370 times, with his last ascent at the age of 90!

The News From Geneva

A month ago, Geneva (and Europe) was in the middle of a giant cold snap.  Pictures of a frozen car in Versoix, Switzerland made headlines around the world (and was featured on this blog).  Waves and spray from Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) covered the lakeside with ice.  While it isn’t exactly warm here, it is much warmer.  The owner of the storied car made headlines when he finally retrieved it this week.

The front page of the paper 20 Minutes with the headline “The frozen car leaves without coughing.”

He had to wait for the ice to melt because chipping it off damages the paint.  We still see little bits of snow here and there, but it is melting fast.  Boats are going back into the lake.  I even saw a girl sunning herself in a bikini top.  She had to have been freezing, but no one was complaining.

The title of 20 Minutes article is “My notoriety is to have poorly parked my car.”

Problems with the weather and natural disasters continue.  Sion and Zermatt experienced avalanches.  Luckily, no one was injured or killed.

Also from 20 Minutes

Also in the Alps, a helicopter crashed near Les Diablerets.  The two people on board survived, but were injured.  This is the second crash there in as many months.  As much fun as the mountains have been, there are daily reminders of their dangers.

In other news, Micheline Calmy-Rey, the former Swiss President, received a pie in the face after attending  the opening of the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights.. Actually, it was a Black Forest Cake.  She is not pressing charges.

Also from the paper 20 Minutes

a photo of the article in 20 Minutes

A 66 year-old Swiss retiree gave birth to twins. She was artificially inseminated at a clinic in the Ukraine.
In Switzerland, just like just about every other country, women make less than men for doing the same work. Today is Equal Pay Day, the day women break even with men… for the work they did last year. The average woman worked all last year through to today to make the average salary that a man made from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011.

from 20 minutes

From 20 Minutes

From 20 Minutes

Finally in sports, Swiss superstar athletes (Roger Federer and Fabian Cancellara) continue to win.  Skiing is big.  Quel surprise.

 

Saas (Not SaaS) Fee, Another Cute Swiss Ski Town

Sorry, this post about Saas, is not about Software as a Service (SaaS), but about the town of Saas Fee, Switzerland.    While there are several reasons to go to Saas Fee, the real attraction is its location surrounded by some of Switzerland’s tallest mountains.  Saas Fee sits at over 1800 meters ( 5,905 feet, 1.18 miles) and is surrounded by over 13 peaks of over 4000 meters (13,123 feet, 2.485 miles)!

Like nearby Zermatt, it is an adorable car-free ski town with gorgeous views.   Because it doesn’t have a view of the Matterhorn (only other giant, stunningly beautiful mountains) and doesn’t have a rail stop, Saas Fee is smaller and slightly quieter.  As a result, it is a bit more of a family destination.  Don’t be fooled into thinking Saas Fee is quiet or sleepy.  Whether it is an apres-ski bar or clubbing at night, you will be able to do it in Saas Fee.

Until a two-lane road linking Saas Grund to the village of Saas Fee was completed in 1951, Saas Fee was inaccessible by car.  The buildings are a mix of modern hotels, shops and small traditional, weathered farm buildings.

We enjoyed strolling Saas Fee’s car-free streets.  It was great fun to look at the at shop windows.  Although shops keep typically Swiss hours (with the exception of ski shops), there are many and varied.

If skiing isn’t your thing, you can try curling, ice skating, indoor swimming, mountaineering, sleigh riding, indoor tennis/badminton, dog sledding/mushing tours, sledding, night sledding, snow tubing, snowshoe trekking, or ice climbing (which sounds both dangerous and beautiful).

Saas Fee is where Wham‘s “Last Christmas” was filmed.  Just click on the link to enjoy (and search for a new hairstyle).

Skiing Gawking At Glaciers And Avoiding Crevices In Saas Fee

Sorry for the poor image quality; the windows of the Telecabine were scratched.

Last Sunday, we skied in Saas Fee, Switzerland.  The views were stunning, when we could see them.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy.  Each time there was any visibility, I whipped out my camera.  Even then, my photos don’t do it justice.  Saas Fee has spectacular scenery, here’s someone else’s picture for proof.

Photo from benik0.deviantart.com

At the far east end of the canton of Valais in the back of the valley, it is not the easiest destination to get to.  When you arrive, they will treat you well.  Everyone working there was extremely cheerful, kind and helpful.

Courtesy of Investorsinproperty.com

The town of Saas Fee is at 1800 meters (5905.5 feet, 1.116 miles) in elevation.  With peaks of 3500 meters (11482.939 feet, 2.17 miles) in elevation, snow in Saas-Fee is guaranteed.  It is less expensive and less crowded than nearby Zermatt, making it a perfect destination for families.

Piste Map Courtesy of Skiinfo.com

One of the coolest things about skiing in Saas Fee was the ice and glaciers.  They mean that you cannot go off piste without a guide as there is a danger of falling into a crevice!   At first, it was a bit daunting to ski next to them.  They were surprisingly blue and just plain magnificent.

Do Not Leave The Runs Crevices

I have had issues with T bars in the past.  While we’re at it, I’ve had issues with chair lifts too.  Saas Fee has lots of them, long ones.  It was a bit scary taking them in the clouds, with little visibility, knowing that you were near glaciers and crevices.

There was a drop off somewhere in this photo, we just couldn’t see it.

We really did try to respect the rules not to go off-piste.  Unfortunately, this T bar stopped while we were on it.  It didn’t start back up (a rarity because everything in Switzerland seems to run like clockwork).  After about 15 minutes stalled on the T bar, we abandoned it and moved to a nearby slope. It wouldn’t be a day of skiing if I didn’t make a fool of myself at some point.  I only fell once, but when I did, I lost a ski.  It was so steep that I had difficulty putting it back on.  I ended up removing my other one and sliding down the slope on my butt while holding on to my skis and poles.  I looked such a mess that someone stopped and asked if I was injured.  I thanked him and told him the only thing injured was my pride.

Imagine my surprise when I found out my goofy move was actually an alpine maneuver called glissading. It looked like this except it was me, in ski clothes, wearing a helmet, holding skis and way less elegant. Photo: http://www.vuw.ac.nz

While we were in the chairlift, staring at the blue ice in the glacier, we wondered why it was blue.  The ice is blue because water is blue (or at least absorbs light at the red end of the spectrum).  When water is in other forms, like snow, it is not as compact.  Therefore, its blue color is not as visible.  When snow falls on glaciers, it compresses the snow and gives it the blue color.  Science is beautiful.  Literally.

Skiing in Sunny, Snowy Crans Montana

Last weekend, I met some friends from Belgium in Crans Montana, Switzerland.  They were lucky enough to vacation there for a week and I crashed with them for a couple of nights.

Their apartment had an insane view. I can’t imagine waking up to a sunrise over mountains like this every morning.

Although I’ve been to Swiss ski towns (Grindelwald, Zermatt) and skied in France (Contaimines, Clusaz) and Italy (Courmayeur), it was my first time skiing (and renting skis) in Switzerland.  Typically, it runs about 18 Euros ($24).  When I rented skis at Crans Montana, I gasped at the price.  It was 64 CHF ($69) for one day!   You would think that I would be used to Swiss prices by now.  They haven’t lost their ability to shock me.

English: Lac de la Moubra in Crans-Montana.

English: Lac de la Moubra in Crans-Montana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I guess I should have expected it, Crans Montana is a tony town where wealthy Russians, private bankers and the occasional celebrity (Roger Moore, the Sarkozys, Celine Dion, Princess Caroline) congregate.   In addition to skiing, it is known for its golf course (redesigned in 1999 by Seve Ballesteros), meeting facilities and hotel school.

Crans Montana is on the north side of the valley in the Valais region of Switzerland, the sunniest part in all of Switzerland.  It was a glorious sunny day, with plenty of snow and stunning views of the Swiss Alps on the other side of the valley.  It’s snowed in Geneva, but the mountains have received even more of it.  The snow report: lots of it.

These guys were brave enough to go off piste and look good doing it.  Seriously,  they were hopping around like little bunnies.  I was just happy to just not fall (on piste) and embarrass myself even more than I did.

Once again, I was (by far) the worst skier in the group.  Thankfully, everyone was very patient and encouraging.  I gathered my courage and tried a black run for the first time over here.

At the top of the run, notice the pole with the black in the background

The good news is that it was tons of fun and I made it down in one piece.  The bad news is that I was incredibly slow and slid about 40 feet down on my back, head first).

I slid down like the panda in this photo from Arkive.org

On second thought, that panda doesn’t look sufficiently panicked.  He looks like he is enjoying himself and isn’t worried about the possibility of death or serious injury.  Good thing I wear a helmet.

Courmayeur

Courmayeur is an adorable town nestled in the mountains.  We have visited Swiss ski towns (Zermatt, Grindelwald), French ski towns (La Clusaz and Contamines) and now an Italian ski town.  Each country’s towns seem to have their own flavor despite being geographically close.

Even non skiers could happily spend a day enjoying Courmayeur‘s charming, car free streets.  Shops, bars and restaurants fill its stone buildings.  Whether you want to buy upscale apparel, outdoor gear, art, antiques, modern design items, wine or any special Italian food, you can find it in Courmayeur.  In the evenings, people stroll the narrow, but chic streets.  People were shopping, window shopping, people watching and on their way to the bars for a drink (a football game was about to start).  The activity gave the town a cheery, festive but relaxed ambiance.

No Italian town would be complete without a church and religious statues.  They look even more beautiful when surrounded by stunning mountains and the shadows they create.

As the evening progressed, people settled into its cozy cafes and restaurants.  The vivacity continues on into the evening as Courmayeur has a lively nightlife.  On our stroll home we saw bars were still packed.  We also saw a man walking his miniscule pooch; they were wearing matching shiny puffy jackets.  Sorry it was too cold to get out my camera (I would have had to take off my gloves).

Courtesy of Courmayeur.com

Courtesy of wheretoskiandsnowboard.com

Ricola!!!!!!!!!!!!

 
He’s got a cold.  We’re in Switzerland.  This is a no-brainer. Riccollaaaaaa!    We never bought them in the US, so I can’t tell you if they taste the same.  Regardless, they are surprisingly good.
 

Here’s some fun Ricola info for you.  The mountains on the label are the Eiger (the ogre) on the left, the Jungfrau (virgin) on the right and the Monch (the monk) between them.  Obviously.  


Ironically, the Ricola gardens are outside Zermatt home of the Matterhorn (another famous mountain, but not on the label).*

One more interesting Ricola tidbit, Michael Jackson included them in his pre-concert ritual!

Here’s the link to the commercial, Halloween Ricola commercials, a politician whose aide is coughinga slightly off color European commercial, some funny ones in German featuring typically Swiss things like Heidi, huntingmountain climbing and a goat.  WARNING: If you watch it, you will be bellowing “Riccollaaaa” all day long.

* There are actually five Ricola gardens in Switzerland.

Mountaineering Deaths

I try to read the paper every day to practice my French.  Almost every week, there is an article about some sort of mountaineering or hiking accident (usually resulting in death). Sometimes, the paper will note the discovery of a body from an accident decades ago.

 

When we were in Zermatt, we happened upon the town’s cemetary.  Four of the first seven people to successfully summit the Matterhorn died on the descent when a rope snapped.  Since then, over 500 people have died attempting to climb the Matterhorn.  Currently, about 12 people a year die at the Matterhorn.  These deaths are usually due to falling rocks, falls, bad weather, inexperience and the mountain’s difficulty.