A perfect hike, a perfect day

19 Sep

19 September 2022.

Leaving Bettmeralp and the amazing Hotel Waldhaus in snow flurries, we arrived Saturday, north of the mighty Jungfrau to find sun in Lauterbrunnen, the peaks here freshened with snow and a powdered-sugar dusting even in the high meadows. 

The fabulous Hotel Waldhaus behind me as we head for the cable car to the valley. Goodbye, Bettmeralp!

We are “home” here for the next four weeks and settled into our favorite digs at Ey-Hus. We can’t seem to quit this place.

Yesterday (Sunday) dawned cold and bright, a delightful day to take in the views from perhaps the most perfect of easy-hiker hikes, Grütschalp to Mürren. The three iconic peaks are in constant view, watching over us, showing off fresh mantles of snow in the morning sun. The Eiger, the Mönch, and the Jungfrau have seldom looked better and the skies have seldom been clearer. The sun teases the 40-degree temperature to feel much warmer and soon we are shedding gloves and unzipping jackets. In and out of forests, over rivulets that become waterfalls as they hit the cliffs, with the little electric mountain train chugging back and-forth along the cliff. The train is filled with passengers intent on the cable car ride to the Schilthornbahn. Every step is picturesque and the only sound our footsteps. Only the cows are missing as the alpabfahrt (descent from high summer pastures) has already occurred for many. 

The last mile or so of the hike is mostly level, with lovely views and in sight of the little train.

All of the work on this hike (featured in our book) is in the first half. With only about 500 feet of gain in a mile-and-a-half, the wide path has no tricky footing and accommodates those who run, those who seek more strenuous connecting paths, and those of us out for a little exercise and to take in the day. The last mile undulates with many flat portions along the tracks as it enters Mürren. I think this path actually made us fall in love with the Lauterbrunnen Valley. Now we have taken it perhaps a dozen times and it never gets old. Especially on a perfect day.

The Eiger (left) and the Mönch. The Jungfrau is out of sight on the right.

After a restorative cappuccino at Café Liv in Mürren we hightailed it to the mountain train and transfered back down to Lauterbrunnen via cable car and on to the eastern side of the valley, taking a cogwheel train up beyond Wengen to a place we know for Sunday lunch, Bergrestaurant Allmend. 

Mürren main drag. No cars!

You have to experience it to understand the transportation here. This area is a wonder of Swiss ingenuity and the ability to efficiently connect multiple forms of transportation to get from car-free village to car-free village while respecting nature and serving the people. Every conveyance coincides seamlessly with the next.

The Wengernalbahn runs between Wengen and Kleine Scheidegg but stops on request at Bergrestaurant Allmend.

Sunday lunch is a thing for us when we are traveling. It is an opportunity to slow down, indulge a bit, and join with the locals. Wherever we are in Europe, we find families gathering on Sunday for a midday meal. Often multi-generational, sometimes groups of friends, and many couples like ourselves. While the tourists are taking photos on the Schilthorn and Jungfrau, we gather at Allmend with families eating fondue, couples enjoying a pre-lunch aperitif, and groups of adults, kids and dogs playing, eating, and lounging in the autumn sunshine. 

My phone said it was 46 degrees at 13:00, but in the sun we peeled off jackets and ordered Radlers and burgers. What a treat at 4951 feet above sea level to gaze upon the peaks, watch the waterfalls, and be served fine food by a cheerful waiter! 

The blue sky followed us back to the valley and the reality of needing to get groceries. Sunday means a lot of closures in this conservative country, so we hopped on a train to a neighboring village that had an open store. What a wonderful way to commute to the market! We arrived home just as the sun slipped behind the western cliff but it lingered for hours on the peaks to the south as we cracked open a bottle of wine. 

A perfect day. 

Our last day at Bettmeralp a chilly but beautiful hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp. Tough downhill for my cranky knees but Ric handled it like a champ.

Little things

15 Sep

15 September 2022.

Every traveler has some things they tuck into their bag, items they cannot imagine doing without or items that make life on the road more comfortable. Some things I take may seem silly to you, and I am sure some of your habitual inclusions would also make me shake my head. 

Bear in mind that we travel for 6-10 weeks at a time in Europe, that we cook in vacation apartments, and we check bags because our trips usually involve hiking and apparently one could hijack a plane with a trekking stick. Still, we are light packers. Our 24” rolling duffles weigh about 24 pounds each, which is manageable on-and-off of the myriad trains we take. 

A Swiss Army Knife.* This utilitarian device — a very small one BTW — comes in so handy to open a package, trim a loose thread, or even divide up some cheese and salami for a trail-side lunch. Goes in checked luggage. I have surrendered at least two to TSA when I forgot they were in my purse. 

Bag Clips. IKEA sells these amazing little bag clips of various sizes. Leftover potato chips? Check. A bag of rice? Check. Haven’t quite used up the whole bag of salad mix? Check. Love ‘em!

BeesWrap. Do you know about this stuff? It is waxed cloth you can use to wrap some foods. I love it for cheese, bread, covering a bowl of leftover food, wrapping a sandwich and much more. Treat it kindly and it is reusable indefinitely.

ZipLoc bags. I reluctantly use these plastic wonders more than I should, but there are few decent options for stashing leftover bits of this-and-that when cooking in an apartment that has no storage containers, for keeping your body wash from leaking all over your snacks, or packing a lunch for the train or trail. A few gallon, quart, sandwich and snack size will serve us for two months. I actually wash them out with dish soap and dry them if they aren’t greasy and reuse them.

Wine stoppers. In case of leftover wine. Who has leftover wine you might ask? We do. Sometimes. Especially when we are holding out for grappa after dinner. (See below.)

Knives for cooking.* Most vacation apartments have crappy knives. They barely cut butter. A few years ago, I bought a set of those multi-colored knives with blade guards and packed along four: paring knife, bread knife, chef’s knife, and santoku knife. Game changer for cooking in a rental! They are usually good for a couple of trips, but sometimes I “gift” them at the last stop and often they are there when we return the next year. I still bring a new set each fall.

Corkscrew.* You might think every apartment would have one and every hotel could find one for you. Not always true. And it is such a small item, why go without? When you want it, your want it. 

Benadryl and Benadryl Gel, Imodium, Tylenol, Advil, Antiseptic Ointment, bandages and various other things-I-might-need-in-the-middle-of-the-night-when-the-pharmacy-is-not-open. Diarrhea on the flight? I’ve got you covered. Rash from unknown substance? Got that too. 

A flask for leftover grappa. Sadly we abandoned about 12 ounces of Ric’s favorite grappa last year when we changed locations and could not see carrying the bottle in our stuffed backpacks. I gave him a flask for Christmas. Problem solved!

A pashmina. Mine is pale pink on this trip. On the flight it is my blanket. (Those airline blankets? No thanks! Who knows how they are cleaned?) The pashmina can also be a wrap on a chilly evening or a lap blanket in the apartment. 

What do you pack along to make your travel life special or easier?

*Goes in a checked bag. 

We have been hiking in some amazing places. Lovely weather overall. Other then the trip in an uncovered chairlift when strong winds moved in with driving rain. Luckily a short ride!

Clockwise from upper left: Aletsch Glacier; View from our balcony in Bettmeralp; Train ride through the valley; Evening patio at Hotel Waldhaus in Bettmeralp; Ciadanet Hütte in the Val Gardena with view of the Stella Group.

Below is the same glacier view on September 21, 2021. We are getting out of Bettmeralp before snow is expected on Saturday!

Kindness of strangers

3 Sep

3 September 2022.

The other day we went for late morning coffee in the cute village center. We had decided to not go up high on a hike but to chill a bit ad do some shopping since the day prior was quite active. After a couple of grocery store stops, Ric realized he did not have his wallet. A frenzied search of the apartment led us to return to the last place we knew he used his credit card: a grocery store here in town late the afternoon of the day prior.  No, they had not recovered it. Worried about compromise, Ric checked the two credit card accounts and two bank accounts for which cards had been lost. His driver’s license was also in the wallet which was actually a small folio for a few cards and cash.  Good news: no unrecognized activity. Bad news: Ric had to cancel all of the cards which meant I was the only one with access to funds of any sort. 

For a leisurely day, it was intense. We went three times to Ortisei center. We are staying up a hill a 10 minute walk from town center which doesn’t sound bad until the third uphill return. 

After all of the efforts to cancel cards were complete, our landlady, Justine, rang our bell at 4:30 PM to tell us il portofoglio had been found at the café where we’d had coffee about 10:30! 

Two young waiters had spent the day trying to track down Ric. They tried Facebook, Instagram, and God-knows-what other networks with no luck because Ric isn’t connected online. Finally, they called the Tourist Information Office who sent out a blast email to all lodging facilities in Ortisei. Did anyone have a guest “Ric di Oregon?” Luckily, Justine was at her computer and saw it. 

The view from our table at Cafe Demetz, Ortisei. The wallet was found on the floor under our table.

We headed into the village center for the FOURTH TIME to retrieve the wallet and reward the guys. Everything was intact: all 4 cards, driver’s license, health insurance card, and about €50. Remarkable! This is such a small town that all the locals know each other despite hosting more lodging beds than there are residents. Such good news, the kindness and honesty of strangers. 

The timing was just right for un’aperitivo served by the very guys who found the wallet. That eased us into the evening and we ended the day on a true high with great pizza and our favorite local wine, LaGrein, at the pizzeria next door.

Another view, in the evening with Aperol Spritz and a small bite.

Charles Schwab Bank is expressing a replacement debit card to Ric, but the credit card companies wouldn’t do that so I will be paying for most everything since cash is used less and less here as at home.

On another note, hiking has been excellent as the weather has been near perfect. We eased into mountain hiking with a few nights in the Alpe di Siusi where there are many paths and roads for walking that are fairly gentle and undulating. No need to take strenuous ascents and descents unless you want to. We didn’t even unpack our trekking sticks there.

We embarked a couple of days ago on an old favorite in the Val Gardena. We had not taken it since 2019 and 3 years made it seem a wee bit harder on the creaky old knees and hips. 

I am contemplating a book update for 2023 after all. More hikes to add and tweaks to make aimed at other creaky-kneed hikers. We’ll see. Editing is such a job.

Beyond the guidebook

27 Aug

27 August 2022.

Frankfurt is an easy city to dismiss. We have merely passed through on flights a couple of times, landing one afternoon and leaving the next morning. In 2016, we spent a full day and self-guided using a tour in the Rick Steves’ guidebook. This time, we decided to spend two nights and take a tour with the highly recommended Jo of Frankfurt On Foot Tours

There is far more to Frankfurt than the thru-traveler using it as a waypoint would know. Jo filled us in not only on the long and important history as a merchant city, but on current culture and the changing face of the city. After a fabulous 3-plus hours, we were exhausted but informed. We have learned over the years that a great private tour is an excellent way to get insight into a site or a city. Worth every Euro. 

Frankfurt: old and new. And hot.

The reason we pass through Frankfurt so often is that there are non-stop flights from the West Coast on Condor Air that make for relatively painless travel, if 10 hours can be painless. Changing planes on the East Coast is a trial we’d rather not endure ever again whether coming or going. Far better to make a single hop to FRA and then jump on a train to our next location after a good night’s sleep. Having a favorite Italian restaurant there doesn’t hurt.

As to sleep, I had a few bad nights prior to departure with so many pre-trip things on my mind: Will Sven and Molly have separation anxiety? Will I have separation anxiety? Will Sven and Molly forget who we are after 2 months? Will our bags arrive or be cast onto a pile of 5000 others as we have heard in reports? Derek’s surgery, new house sitter to get organized for, third heat wave hitting this weekend: Good Lord, no wonder I was stressed! Oh, and then COVID hanging on. I packed a pile of masks because, sensibly, the Germans and Italians are still requiring them on public transportation. That included our German airline. Everyone was masked-up except when eating. 

Speaking of Beyond the Guidebook, we are NOT updating the guidebooks this year. (THAT was a weak segue.) I wanted a trip where I was truly relaxing, not making notes and taking photos, and then spending the winter laboring over edits. I don’t envy the Rick Steves’ editors. It is a LOT of work checking and cross-checking details for a new edition. 

This year is a true vacation and I will post discoveries on the blog instead of updating the books. 

Click on any photo for a better view. The landscapes are stunning!

Clockwise from top left: Morning light on the Alpe di Siusi; The Denti di Terrarossa above the Alpe; Before sunrise in the Alpe di Siusi; One of our many companions on a morning hike; Me fashionably dressed for the German trains; Long view on the Alpe to our hotel with the Sciliar and Punto Santander; The many faces of the Alpe di Siusi include forested sections; Center, pet alpacas at the AlpenHotel Panorama.

Thursday was a long train day traveling from Frankfurt to Munich where we changed trains for the journey south to Bolzano.

Our trusty driver, Ivan, picked us up and ferried us to the Alpe di Siusi where we nestled in to the AlpenHotel Panorama, a favorite spot on our Favorite Places Tour, for three nights. This is another Beyond the Guidebook place. The other guests — mostly Italians — are surprised to find Americans here, especially on a repeat visit. It is not in any guidebook I have ever consulted but it is in our own Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena. One of the best features: rooms include not only breakfast but a 5 course dinner. No cooking, no thinking about it, elegant, tasty, and many choices. We are never disappointed.

Fun story. We first met “Taxi Ivan,” as his business is called, in 2016 when we vacationed in the Val Gardena with our two cats, traveling from Rome to beat the heat for the month of July. (See Training Cats from July 2016.) We used to take a bus to Ortisei from Bolzano, but imagine getting on a bus — even a nice one — with 4 suitcases and two cats! Taxi Ivan rescued us and we have been using his services ever since.

Hope you will stay tuned as we continue our Favorite Places Tour.

On our way!

23 Aug

23 August 2022.

After a final sweep for cat toys lost under the sectional and in closets, we turned the care-and-feeding of Molly and Sven over to our house-sitter, Megan. We are off on our Favorite Places Tour, as I have dubbed this fall trip.

It was hard to leave these two sweeties today!

Over the next 8 weeks we will spend the majority of our time in the Alpe di Siusi and Val Gardena of Italy and in the charming towns of Bettmeralp and Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland, staying from 3 nights to 4 weeks in each of those four places. There will be three transitory stops (1-2 nights): Frankfurt on arrival, Milano as a convenient break on the way to Bettmeralp, and in Geneva as we depart there on October 15. The only new to-us place we will sleep is Geneva.

It’s a nice pace for us: longer stays in places that afford good hiking, great transportation, and simple lifestyle. Not driving a car for 8 weeks is pure luxury to us. 

I hope you will follow along as I plan to blog erratically the next few weeks.

A presto!

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