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Postcard from Switzerland: The Lauterbrunnen Valley

4 Oct
4 October 2018.
Weather (near) perfect, locals friendly, cheese coming out of our ears.
This was our fifth visit to the Lauterbrunnen Valley, aka the Jungfrau Region, and it was difficult to leave after a week of great weather.  We have rented the same apartment three times now and it feels like coming home. There’s nothing to figure out: we know the transportation, where to shop, where to eat, and that James’ and Michelle’s apartment has a slow cooker for our convenience. Day one, we put a pot of chicken soup on low and headed to the mountains.

We can see this waterfall from our apartment in the valley.

People ask why we go back to the same place over-and-over. That could be a bore in some places but here we always find new things to do. So many new things this trip that we did not get back to a couple of old favorites.
New to us was Sulwald and Isenfluh, a peaceful little community with views not seen by the masses heading elsewhere.

The cable car to Sulwald from Isenfluh can hold 8 people or one cow. Ric and I had a private ride.

In 4 trips to this area, we had not been to Isenfluh or Sulwald. It was a world apart. If you ever get to Isenfluh, stop at the restaurant there for a Sulwald Burger and a Radler and enjoy this view.

Eight people or one cow. The attendant showed us how the right side of the car opens to create a ramp the cow can use for boarding.

Another new-to-us adventure was the Aare Gorge. Our arrival was unexpected: the stop-on-demand train halted inside a tunnel and opened the doors. We thought it was a mistake until, magically, a door in the tunnel wall slid open revealing a path. We traipsed across a suspension bridge, then followed a somewhat rugged path up the hillside to the official entry. From there, the wooden walkways took us through the gorge to the train station at the other end.

A new-to-us walk was through the Aare Gorge on a slightly overcast day. We exited our train at the same level as the river, climbed up to the gated entry where the walkway began leading us down again.

People have been walking here for over 100 years. The ingenious Swiss build paths, tunnels, and walkways everywhere!

I have read about the Ballenberg Open Air Museum for years. Finally, we managed to visit. What a unique museum! 50 years ago the Swiss decided to create a place where their heritage could be preserved. Imagine a wooden building from 1336 preserved for posterity! While that is the oldest, it is far from the only ancient structure maintained at Ballenberg. Visiting was like taking a walk across all of the cantons in a couple of hours.

Many of the buildings at Ballenberg are hundreds of years old. They were disassembled, moved, and reassembled on site.

The day we visited there was a horse event. The Swiss Army turned out to help.

Handsome rooster at Ballenberg.

At Ballenberg one can walk across many of the Swiss cantons in a couple of hours.

A threshing demonstration at Ballenberg. Many Swiss crafts and skills are on display.

An old favorite is the hike from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. Although we’ve done the hike four times, there is always something new. 

Since we last visited in 2016, this Trojan Cow has been added at the Männlichen playground. It moos and has a slide inside.

On the way to Kleine Scheidegg. There are a lot of improvement projects and building everywhere in Switzerland it seems.

I love this picture of a woman taking a photo of her dog at Männlichen. This is the start of our favorite hike to Kleine Scheidegg.

In four weeks of travel, we have had one day where rain kept us from doing what we had planned. ONE DAY! Big contrast to last year when we froze for the first two weeks of September.

Our last morning the snow level had descended considerably. It was about 40F/4C when we left.

This little guy was out-and-about, drinking from the stream through the pasture behind us and keeping an eye on the ‘hood.

We do not eat dinner out very often in Switzerland, but we found tasty pizza at the Camping Jungfrau restaurant.

If anyone needs a clean, comfortable place to stay in Lauterbrunnen, let me know and I will hook you up. See this pictures here but contact the owner directly to book. LMK and I will give you an email address. 
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Postcard from Switzerland: Pontresina, Graubünden

21 Sep
21 September 2018.
The signs in Pontresina are mostly in German, but we are hearing – and speaking – Italian as much as we did in Ortisei. We’ve moved out of Italy, stopping at Innsbruck, Austria for a couple of nights, and now we are in the part of Switzerland wedged between Austria and Italy. I am speaking as much Italian as English. The other night the waiter thought we were French as we mashed up English and Italian in response to his preferred German. The French would be appalled. We don’t dress that well. 

The morning view from our apartment.

Most everyone is multilingual. A young grocery store clerk moved seamlessly between German and Italian, hesitating only slightly to engage her English when needed.
Our time in Ortisei went by too fast! A final night of pizza at Maurizkeller with new friends (and fans of our book!) Cathy and Gene was a fitting end. We said reluctant goodbyes to Justine, Siegfried, and Minno the cat. Always best to leave while you are still enjoying.
Innsbruck was a convenient stop to avoid a 7-hour train from Bolzano to Pontresina. (Nothing is easy in the mountains.) It was fine, certainly a pretty alte stadt and some dramatic lifts, but nothing as pleasing as our beloved Val Gardena. And it was hot. Had some decent Nepalese food for dinner. You won’t find that in Italy.

So here we are, high above St. Moritz at 8,156 feet, and I am served chamomile tea — loose tea in a basket mind you — on a wooden tray, already steeping with a timer set. #ThingsnotfoundinUSA

The funicular arrives at Chantarella above St. Moritz. Lots of cyclists surging down mountain trails.

Pontresina is very pretty and we are enjoying our junkets. The weather is cooler than it was in Italy and Innsbruck, so I might need to break out the gloves and a jacket is a daily requirement, at least to start.
One day we took a horse-drawn omnibus through a glacial valley for lunch at a hotel, then enjoyed a peaceful 4-mile walk back to town. This may be the ultimate easy-hiker hike. Of course, there was great food at the hotel by the glacier.

The horse-drawn omnibus is an easy-hiker solution. Take the carriage up and walk 4 miles back.

The Roseg Glacier from the trail. Hikers, bicyclists, and horses share the path.

The path along the Roseg Valley stretches alongside a glacial stream.

When hiking in Switzerland one must always watch out for the “suckler cows.”

Another fun transportation thing to add to the journal: we had to signal for a train to stop at a somewhat remote station. If you don’t signal, they fly by. Works for getting off, too. The transportation system is a miracle here with prices as high as the heavens that support the system. Pristine cleanliness and timeliness have a price and the Swiss are willing to charge for it.

Just across the river from our hotel is the Surovas station. Trains stop on demand only.

Surovas station. See the little red train through the trees? They glide by so quietly we have to be watching for them.

The Morteratsch glacier easily accessible by train and on foot.

This part of Switzerland, so famous for winter sports, is less refined than our beloved Val Gardena or Berner Oberland as far as hiking and transportation. It is actually very quiet now in September. There are, however, many mountain bike trails and these are very busy. I cannot imagine hurtling myself down these mountains on skis nor on a bicycle!
See you in Lauterbrunnen (The Berner Oberland) next week!

Postcards from Italy: The Val Gardena

13 Sep
13 September 2018.
We are wrapping up two weeks in Italy’s Dolomites and what a two weeks it has been! While hiking on the Alpe di Siusi one day we stopped to help a couple who were confused by the trail map they held. “You look familiar!” exclaimed the wife. “Don’t we know you? You wrote a book!” Our first celebrity moment. Thanks Judy and Andy! You made our day!

Ric on the deck at Rasciesa before our hike.

Our hosts now for three years, Justine and Siegfried at Residence Astoria seem like old friends. Their cat, Minno, was newly adopted during our visit in 2016 and now he is a strapping lad. As luck would have it, another couple who have our book is staying at Residence Astoria! Cathy and Gene from Auburn, AL are here and hiking using our guide. Turns out we share an affinity for the Berner Oberland as well.

The red cable cars emerge from the fog as we ascend to the Alpe di Siusi. We decided to go on a foggy day and found tranquility but no rain.

Blissful foggy day on the Alpe di Siusi. Very few people bothered to ascend but we enjoyed the fog.

We’ve explored some easy hikes to add to the book and we have taken some ridiculously difficult trails that we will not include. One night we splurged and stayed on the Alpe di Siusi in a lovely old hotel (we are not the rifugio types) so we could hike more easily there for two days.

Below the cable car at Seceda in the Puez-Odle Park there is a madness of marmots.

New to us, a short and scenic hike at Passo Gardena. It will be featured in the next edition of our book.

I am grateful my Italian comes back to me when we are in Italy but here in the Val Gardena — it was part of Austria until WWI — my high school German floods back and I find myself substituting German words when I forget the Italian. The locals often switch between the two languages in casual conversation so I fit right in.

We enjoyed watching these goats play while eating lunch at Malga Laranzer in the Alpe di Siusi.

The Sciliar and Punto Santner stand guard over the west end of the Alpe di Siusi. Our view over a cappuccino.

On the trail to Col Raiser, above Santa Cristina. It was a lot of work to get here!

There’s been pizza (3 times), apple strudel (also 3 times), and canederli (once is enough) along the way, and lots of good Lagrein, the local red wine. Luckily all offset by our average of 19,000 steps per day!

Pizza with anchovies and mozzarella di bufala at La Tambra, Santa Cristina.

Next stop, Innsbruck.
A dopo!

Postcards from Italy: Milan

5 Sep
5 September 2018.
We are back in Europe and almost recovered from jet lag. It seems to take longer each trip and we are happy doing very little for a few days. Not like the days when we crammed sight-seeing into every moment. That’s why we like the long trips. We can spend a couple of days getting adjusted and reveling in little accomplishments like getting Italian SIMs for our phones and changing clothes after wearing them for 48 hours.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele so empty on a Saturday morning! Never seen it like this.

One of Milan’s charming but kidney pounding 1930s trolleys.

Exotic brand in the gourmet foods section of La Rinascente. Good product placement, Rogue Brewing!

We landed in Milan and spent two nights at our favorite hotel there, the Hotel Berna. At the Berna, there is a spirit of generosity. Free non-alcoholic drinks in your mini bar, for example. An outlandish breakfast spread and over-the-top apericena in the evening, if you are so inclined.
There was a special Harry Potter Exhibition in Milano so we managed to fight the throngs and see some fun props from the movies.

Life-size Dobby.

Ric gets up close and personal with a Mandrake.

The Harry Potter Exhibition was in a former industrial site. It is called “Fabbrica del Vapore” or “Steam Factory.” Not sure it had anything to do with ham.

We had a couple of exceptional dinners, two fine afternoon naps, and walked 14 miles in two days. Not a bad start to our trip.

At the Crazy Cat Cafe, this little one reminded us of our Janie.

Resting comfortably at the Crazy Cat Cafe.

Wining in Walla Walla

27 Jul
27 July 2018.
It has been a very long time since we have driven through the Columbia River Gorge. The last time for me was a trip to Pendleton in early 2012 to oversee an office remodeling for my employer. My head was filled with thoughts of our impending move to Rome and not with an appreciation for the landscape I had passed through many times over the years.
As we drove east, magnificent evergreens gave way to evidence of last year’s tragic forest fire, then dry land farms and ranches became interspersed with lush green vineyards.

Me flanked by Ric (L) and Rick (R). Cocktails on the porch at Green Gables Inn.

We were on our way to Walla Walla to join my oenophile brother and my sister-in-law for a wine tour. My brother is truly a wine lover at an expert level. Ric and I appreciate wine and to be able to tag along on this adventure with Rick and Jane was a treat. Rick’s research and planning led us to wineries my Ric and I would never have found. (Yes, two Richards when we travel. A constant source of confusion.)
Our timing was excellent: Walla Walla was declared “Best Wine Town” by Sunset Magazine the very day we arrived. Can the crowds be far behind?

Barnaby Jones and brother Rick share a moment on the porch.

We settled in at the elegant yet cozy Green Gables Inn, housed in a historic home dating to 1909 and meticulously restored to its glory. To our delight, the property is overseen by the delightful Barnaby Jones.
One of the wonders of the Walla Walla region is its farming history. The waving wheat fields, golden in their ripeness with a backdrop of vineyards and the Blue Mountains, are a stunning sight and evidence of the state’s importance as a producer of grain. The presence of the wineries is a testament to the fertility of the Palouse. In 1972 there were six wineries in Washington State. Now there are over 800! The same climate that is ideal for wheat is also perfect for growing grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. The two American Viticultural Areas (AVA) within the Palouse have the same latitude as the Bordeaux. Yeah, there is some excellent wine here.

Duck parade on the Whitman College campus.

We set out to find some.
My brother planned an outstanding tour. We visited a dozen cellars over the course of four days. One more day and my next stop would have been Betty Ford.
Actually, it was nicely paced. On two of the four days, we visited only two wineries. Key to keeping our heads on straight (and able to stay awake for dinner) was sharing tastings at almost every winery. Cuts down on the buzz and minimizes the need to waste wine by spitting. If you buy some wine the tasting is free. My brother is a collector so purchases were no problem. (Thanks, Rick!)
Tastings reminded me of the old days in Oregon, back in the late 80s when we first cruised through wine country during an open-house weekend. Per person tastings in Walla Walla are usually $5 or $10 with an occasional spike to $20 when tasting reserve wines or doing a vertical tasting.
Four of the wineries really stood out for Ric and me.

I’ve never seen a tasting room as peaceful as Spring Valley’s.

Spring Valley Vineyard is a family operation that goes back five generations of farming in the Corkrum family who first homesteaded and grew wheat here. Grapes were first planted in 1993, fairly early in the storyline of Walla Walla wineries. The wines are amazing (French-style, with estate-grown Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot) but I think I was most impressed by the story of family farming, keeping the operation in the family and staying true to their roots in wheat farming while moving into upscale wines. About 900 acres of the thousand-acre farm are still planted in wheat. We enjoyed a tour of the ranch where the tasting room was in a grove of trees by a spring-fed pond. Delightful!

The tasting room in the copse, Spring Valley Vineyards.

Memorial to winemaker Devin Corkrum Derby with wheat fields in the background. Almost 900 acres of the 1000 acre ranch are still planted in wheat.

Always good to see butterflies on a farm. Buddleia near the spring attracted this large one.

Gino pours for Jane, Rick, and Ric at G. Cuneo Cellars.

G. Cuneo Cellars tagline is “Italian Style American Soil.” We are so pleased to have found Gino once again. Many years ago (mid-90s to early 00s) we used to buy wine futures from Cuneo Cellars in Carlton. In fact, before he moved to Carlton we used to visit Gino Cuneo at a small almost-impossible-to-find winery in the Eola Hills where we would do barrel tastings, buy futures, and feast on Italian meats and cheeses. We had wondered over our years in Italy whatever became of Gino. We knew he had left the Carlton operation (now known as Cana’s Feast Winery), but we had no idea where he had gone until my brother tripped over his tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. We made it a point to visit and were thrilled to find Gino making Italian Style wines right there in Walla Walla. He is the only winemaker in the Pacific Northwest to produce wines from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. We are not Rosé lovers, but one sip of Gino’s Rosato and we were hooked. We do miss Italian wines and are looking forward to receiving a wine club shipment this fall. Look him up at G. Cuneo Cellars right across from the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Gino Cuneo (& me) at the tasting room he shares with Cotes du Ciel.

The old trainstation serves as a tasting room. The Shiels’ saved it from destruction.

Also a family operation, Côte Bonneville is in the Yakima Valley AVA, about a 90-minute drive from Walla Walla. My brother has been a fan of theirs for years and a road trip was in order for a private tasting with winery owner Kathy Shiels. Kathy and Hugh have been growing grapes in the Yakima Valley for 26 years, and now daughter Kerry is the winemaker. It is a very closely controlled family operation: not too big and very exclusive. BTW, Bonneville does not refer to the famous Columbia River dam, but rather to the family home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fine wines? Oh yes! And the cute train station remodel is stunning.

The iconic schoolhouse at L’Ecole No. 41.

L’Ecole No. 41 is a long time Northwest award winner and given its presence one would think it was a corporate operation. But no, it is a 3rd generation family-run business. I admire lovingly restored old buildings and this old schoolhouse salvaged from destruction is a delight. By the end of Day Four of our Walla Walla tour my interest in trying more wines was waning, but L’Ecole No. 41’s special Friday Reserve Tour & Tasting was the perfect ending to our trip with great wines, camaraderie, and a walking tour of the property.

Our tasting at L’Ecole No. 41. It was hard to pick a favorite.

Not only were the wines great; In four nights we had four great meals in Walla Walla.  As a town about four times the size of Lincoln City, it had ten times the restaurant choices, especially at the high end.
Public House 124 is hard to classify. Maybe as one reviewer said on Trip Advisor, “a bar with a twist.” Inventive small plates, flat bread that should be called pizza, beer, wine, cocktails, sandwiches, and more. The truffle fries are swoon-worthy and I don’t even like truffles. Seamless service by a competent and pleasant staff. Efficient and professional but not stuffy.

This staircase at L’Ecole No. 41 was manufactured at Whitehouse-Crawford when it was a furniture factory.

Whitehouse-Crawford is a cavernous ex-planing mill and furniture company. (In fact, L’Ecole No. 41 features a staircase made there.) The ambiance is a bit noisy, service is professional if a bit distant, but the food is perfect and of course, there is wine…. Try the halibut. I have never had better halibut and considering I live by the ocean, that is high praise indeed.
That covers nights one and two. Each meal was better than the one prior and they were all excellent.
Night three found us at Brasserie Four, which seems to have been plucked out of France dropped into the Washington wheat fields. Perfectly roast chicken, moules-frites like one gets on the Riviera, a cheese-board worthy of a Parisian fromagerie. My only regret is that we were too satiated for dessert. And there was single malt waiting at the B&B.

The wrap aournd porch is perfect for summer breakfast, cocktails, and after dinner drinks.

The best for last! My favorite was Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. We don’t even get close to Middle-Eastern or Italian cuisine in Lincoln City. It is the only restaurant we have been in — since we were last in Europe — that had octopus on the menu. (It was delicious.) Paella with squid ink was popular with our group of four and the Moroccan Fried Chicken looked fabulous. I indulged in the Moroccan lamb sausage with chickpeas but I’d like to eat my way through the entire menu. This restaurant alone would have me back in Walla Walla sooner rather than later.
I can’t believe we lived in Portland for 25 years and never made it to Walla Walla. Now that we’ve been, I am certain we’ll be back. Save a place on the porch for us Barnaby.

Barnaby Jones keeping watch over the breakfast hour.

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