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Fresh for 2023

28 Jan

28 January, 2023.

Plans have a way of changing and my winter project was not going to be updati hiking guides. Motivated by new experiences and changes we encountered and fresh perspectives (who says repeat visits to the same location are boring?) it seemed beneficial to issue new-for-2023 editions.

The Val Gardena book now includes some ideas for rainy days as well as for lazier days without hiking. There are also extensions and options to some hikes for increased activity and where possible, and details on where shorter hikes can be linked together for longer excursions.

For Switzerland, there s a new chapter on rainy day ideas since we had about 10 days of cloudy and damp conditions during our late-season stay in 2022. We still found plenty of fun things to do. Some of teh hikes have been tweaked based on 2022 experiences.

In each book, all URLs and maps are up-to-date.

This is a great time of year for planning a summer or fall hiking trip to either Italy’s Val Gardena or Switzerland’s Berner Oberland.

Click here to buy “Walking in Italy’s Val Gardena” 5th edition on Amazon.com and “Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland” 3rd edition on Amazon.com

Both books are on Amazon in all markets worldwide for Kindle and where available, paperback as well.

Best of this-and-that    

31 Dec

31 December 2022.

Inevitably we are bombarded with “best of” lists and year-end compilations. If you hate these lists, just stop now because I am going to assault you with mine. I would love it, however, if you would respond with some of your favorites. They might become mine in 2023.

Best Book

Recently, I tried to recommend my favorite book of 2022 to someone and found myself perplexed: I have several I enjoyed so very much I had the devil of a time picking one.

Goodreads tells me I read only 32 books this year, 11,921 pages, ranging from travel books (5) to mysteries (12), and assorted fiction (15). Goodreads does not have a log of my cookbooks, but I know I read two new ones cover-to-cover for inspiration.

No single genre nor author shot to the top, rather my list is of entirely different specimens.

Tied for top book of 2022: Horse by Geraldine Brooks, West with Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge, and Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr. I think Gayle recommended all of these to me. I shall heed her every word on books to read.

Runners Up:  Last Bus to Wisdom by Ivan Doig, and A Gentleman in Moscow and The Lincoln Highway, both by Amor Towles.

Best Picture

We watch a lot of movies. Some are forgotten as soon as they finish. Some of my 2022 favorites are much older than 2022. We aren’t necessary current in our viewing so thank goodness for streaming.

The Fabelmans tops my list.This one will stay with me awhile and we will rewatch it soon. The acting, the script, the arc of the story, and the truth in this movie come together in a rewarding manner.

Others of merit: She Said (gripping!), The Outfit (Mark Rylance), Nobody (Bob Odenkirk), and Vice (Christian Bale as Dick Cheney is a transformation to behold).

Best TV Series

We have a real weakness for great series. While none of these will make my all-time top-10 series list, they are excellent entertainment and far better than network series. Not included are series that are ongoing that we started in years past like Vera, Shetland, Better Call Saul.

The following are in alphabetical order as I cannot pick a favorite.

Alaska Daily: Hilary Swank as an investigative reporter. Cliffhanger on season one. Will there be a season two?

For All Mankind: Alternative history drama about the space program starting in the 1960s. Particularly interesting to those of us who lived through the era. Awaiting season 4.

Gaslit: Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell and Sean Penn as John Mitchell in another stunning transformation.

Grace: We are suckers for British detective dramas. Season 3 is due out soon.

Inside Man: Stanley Tucci and David Tennant. Too bad it was only a mini-series.

Karen Pirie: Another British detective drama but aimed at a younger market than most. Thoroughly enjoyable.

The Restaurant: This is an outlier. I have two seasons under my belt and am looking forward to the final 10 episodes. In Swedish, with subtitles, so demands attention but extremely well-done with interesting characters.

Best Meal

Ahhh, so many good ones! Sazón in Santa Fe, Recipe A Neighborhood Kitchen in Newberg, and Tina’s in Dundee. But the standout for me was in Geneva at Boccadasse: Italian food cooked by Italians in Switzerland. It was the last night of our fall trip and we feasted on octopus with potato puree, Vermentino (one of our favorite wines with seafood), seafood pasta, and semifreddo. Absolute heaven and so memorable!

Polpo con crema di patate
Semifreddo. There was no sharing.

Best New Recipe

Slow-cooker Shrimp in Purgatory. OMG is this good! https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1022265-slow-cooker-shrimp-in-purgatory. New to us this year, it is on the list for frequent repetition.

Best New-to-us Hike

Rifugio Emilio Comici to Mont di Sëura in the Alpe di Siusi. This was a difficult hike for us with a 900 foot descent, beyond what we usually do, but so terribly rewarding in that we did it. We self-congratulated for hours.

Looking back over the trail we hiked.

Best Urban Walk/Hike:

Mount Tabor. I had not been up on Mount Tabor in over 10 years so revisiting with my walking buddy, Grier, was a delight in rediscovering the area. Grier and I also hiked the Alameda Ridge in spring, which is a contender for Great Urban Walks. Thanks to Laura O. Foster’s books on Portland walks we are still discovering treks even after 30+ years living here.

Best Household Improvement: Molly & Sven joined us in January and March, respectively. Such a joy to have their lively selves cavorting about the house, even if they do want breakfast waayyyy too early.

Happiest of New Years to everyone! Tell me, what were your “bests” in 2022?

More Rainy Day Plans

30 Sep

30 September 2022.

Mother Nature decided Switzerland was due for a good rain, which means snow in the high elevations. For those visiting the area for only 2 or 3 nights, which many do, it is sad because they are not treated to the amazing vistas brought by sunnier days. 

However, after a hot dry summer, we cannot deny the need for a good rain bringing relief to the farmers and hopes of early snow. 

Luckily, we are settled here for a month and  can take this in stride. Last week was a dream of sunny days and we have ideas for any weather be it hot, cold, misty, snowy, or heavy rain. 

The other day we did the first half of a walk along the Weiss Lütschine River (See Rainy Day Hikes).

Here are some other options we chose this week based on not-so-great weather.

Zweilütschinen to Wilderswil. This is the next portion of the Weisse Lütschine and is detailed in our book. This is a “path to lunch” which many of you know is a common theme. Our objective was a lovely Italian restaurant in Wilderswil, Luca Piccante. Great pizza! The 3 mile walk was a good first course but after eating an entire pizza each (Italian-style, not the hulking monstrous North American type), further walking was in order. There are ruins of a very old castle about 20 minutes from Wilderswil on an enjoyable path offering views over Interlaken. An additional 2.75 mile walk brought us to the train station and the BOB (Berner Oberland Bahn) took us back home. 

Mountain Joy Riding. Wednesday was supposed to be wet wet wet! The forecast was for 2-3 inches of rain between 0800 and 2100. Ugh. Taking advantage of our Berner Oberland Regional Passes, we did a grand tour of the Jungfrau Region. Here are the stages:

  • Wengernalpbahn (train) from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen and on to Kleine Scheidegg at 2061 meters/6762 feet of altitude
  • Change trains at the top to the Wengernalpbahn down to Grindelwald
  • Change trains to the BOB to Grindelwald Terminal base station for two fabulous lifts, the new Eiger Express and the Männlichen Gondolbahn
  • We took the Gondelbahn to Männlichen an amazingly long cableway
  • Männlichen to Wengen via another cableway
  • Wengernalpbahn back to Lauterbrunnen

I don’t like to advertise, but I have to recommend highly the Berner Oberland Regional Pass. It is expensive but the value is there and once purchased it is a no brainer to hop on any lift or train or bus and go anywhere in the region. This trip would cost CHF 134.00, but with the pass the cost was zero, niente, nada. We used 1/3 of the face value of our 10-day pass in this single day and still have 9 days to do as much riding as we desire. It is available for for 3, 4, 6, 8, and 10 day periods. There is a further discount on the pass if one buys a Swiss Half Fare Card which I also recommend. Have lunch as we did in Grindelwald and walk around a bit for a break. Our loop including a stop for a nice lunch, took about 5 hours.

View on the right, above, is from the Wengernalpbahn descending into Grindelwald. We are actually above the fancy new Eiger Express Gondola.

Three Village Tour. For a we-don’t-want-to-do-much day, rain or shine, one can explore the three villages and do some shopping. Take the train up to Wengen and walk the village, maybe stop for coffee. Coming back down to Lauterbrunnen, stop at the Tourist Information Office to see what might interest you that you haven’t thought about, then walk the length of the village, perhaps past the Staubbach Falls and as far as Campling Jungfrau. You could have lunch here or in the village along the way. Finally, take the lift from Lauterbrunnen to Grütschalp and the little train to Mürren, walk the village, check the shops, and descend via the Schilthornbahn to Stechelberg where you can catch the bus back to Lauterbrunnen.

We left home at 10:00 and did not return until almost 16:00. It wasn’t hiking but it was a nice pace, about 3 miles of walking, and a leisurely chance to look for Christmas gifts. We had lunch “at home” in our apartment. The rain spit off and on but was never a deluge and there were occasional sun breaks. Another good reason for the BO Regional Pass is not having to weigh the expense of jumping on trains and lifts impetuously for shopping.

One of the benefits of rain is increased waterfall volume. Staubbach Falls near Lauterbrunnen was a bit thin until this week.

Lauterbrunnen Valley Walk. We have done this walk (it is detailed in our book) from the south to the north, from the north to the south, in sun, in rain, in mist. We love it. A rushing river, mountain peaks, waterfalls, cows, goats, and base jumpers offer diversion on this 4-mile easy path. We like to start at the last bus stop near Hotel Stechelberg and walk back to Lauterbrunnen, but both directions are beautiful. 

Little Stechelberg at the south end of the valley is little more than a Post Office, a hotel, and a few small farms, gardens, and houses. Very quiet. The clouds cover the majestic Breithorn mountain peak.

Take a cruise. The excitement factor is limited but the relaxation factor is high for a two-hour cruise with lunch on the Thunersee. Rain or shine, the BLS ships sail on both Lake Thun (Thunersee) and Lake Brienz (Brienzersee). The train delivers you to Thun, a lovely city worth exploring, right next to the landing for the ships. After boarding you can choose from a varied menu of choices from soups and salads to multi course meals or a snack. There’s plenty of time for a leisurely lunch while hopping from town to town along the lake with distant peaks and nearby waterfalls in view. There are also cruises that are not meal-centric. Cruises on both the Thunersee and Brienzersee are free with your Berner Oberland Regional Pass.

Perhaps Tolkien, who visited the Lauterbrunnen Valley in 1911, would not have been so inspired in his creation of Rivendell had he not experienced the misty mountains and abundant waterfalls brought by the gift of rain.

It seems the rainiest of days have passed for us — did not get wet today in 4+ miles of hiking — and starting Sunday we will have brilliant fall weather once more. Can’t say I am sorry to see the rain end, but we enjoyed our days nonetheless. 

Rainy day hikes

25 Sep

25 September 2022.

Rain on a forecast makes me cringe. Is my travel going to be a washout and won’t see anything I came to see? Will we be confined to quarters or get soaked on our way back from a hike?

This week’s dreary forecast. Thank goodness last week was divine!

No traveler wants to look at the forecast and see five days of rain, especially if you only have a few days in an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Fortunately, for us the weather in Switzerland usually turns out better than the forecast and a high percentage of expected rain is balanced against how many minutes or hours of actual rainfall. A 90% chance of rain in a day is accurate even if it only rains for 15 minutes.

Having a few activities in your virtual back pocket makes it possible to enjoy even a dreary day with hopes that it will actually turn out better than forecast.

In our books, we mention outings that are OK on an overcast or even rainy day. Yesterday we used one of our own ideas and while we got a bit wet, we had a nice hike, didn’t get too cold (layers!), and we were done in time for lunch back in our cozy apartment. While many travelers headed for the lifts to higher elevations hoping for views, we chose a walk along the Lütschine River and incurred a small fee for a train ride back from the end of the trip, not the high price of a mountain gondola on a day without views.

Yesterday afternoon offered a couple of rain free hours enabling a little stroll with weak sunlight and we were back “home” right before a downpour. Switzerland, like most of Europe, needs rain so we can’t complain.

Today was supposed to be dry in the morning and it was. In fact it has been dry all day! The cloud deck is low so views are not stellar but we invoked our Pacific Northwest mantra, “At least it’s not raining” and headed out on a long walk through the valley and a stroll through Mürren, high on the cliff, with coffee in our favorite cafe. Number of people encountered in the valley in a three mile walk: four. The cows easily outnumbered humans by 50 to 1.

Housemade cake and coffee at Cafe Liv, Mürren.

In fact, the sun is breaking through so I think we’ll take advantage and have our evening passeggiata a little early in case it the weather changes its mind.

Tomorrow will be drier than the forecast above indicates…we hope! Rain hats and waterproof boots will ensure our plans aren’t ruined by some much-needed moisture.

I found this picture from the same day last year. We were eating outdoors in a beer garden. May that weather return in the coming weeks!

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.
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