Tag Archives: Switzerland

Road Food

29 Oct

29 October 2019.

We get tired of restaurants. Yes, food lovers that we are, when we are on a long trip food-fatigue sets in. Figuring out where to eat every meal becomes a chore. In parts of Europe, a very casual evening meal (other than pizza) is hard to find. Sandwiches and salads in the evening in Paris? Forget about it! There are nights where we just want to stay in after a day of hiking or touring. When I have >16000 steps on my pedometer, going out to dinner is less appealing than pajamas, a movie, wine, and a homey meal.

Occasionally, we just want some hummus and veggies or wine and cheese. Or wine without the cheese. Even a piece of toast with peanut butter sounds good now and then.  Other times, we want to have something satisfying yet not too time-consuming.

Finding ingredients can be a challenge. In Italy, we have never found hummus pre-made. Only in the U.K. (or rentals in Switzerland owned by Brits) do we consistently find a toaster. Peanut butter is sporadically available and we like the Italian one but then there are seldom toasters in Italian apartments. Luckily, everyone has cheese.

Parisian markets are always so orderly and colorful.

Over time and extensive travel in Europe, we have collected some recipes and adapted our cooking style to the equipment we find in rented digs, products available in the markets, and limited ingredients to keep it simple.

Sometimes there are great pans and sometimes there’s one battered old frying pan and small saucepan. Seldom are the knives sharp: We now carry our own set. Ovens are rare, microwaves are ever-present. One lovely apartment we rent each year in Switzerland has a slow cooker. Sometimes there are mixing bowls, always a colander (at least in Italy). We move in and assess the tools before deciding on a plan or going shopping.

Then there are condiments. Some apartments have those that are left behind by prior guests. Sometimes these are of indeterminate age and one sniff tells me that the oregano is beyond its use-by date. Never trust coffee that has been left behind! Ric considers it his community service to seek out and dispose of expired food items in apartments we rent.

Here are a few limited-ingredient recipes we turn to depending on the tools in the apartment and the products we can find. These do not call for a lot of ingredients you might have to abandon when you move on. If I can, I will squeeze that newly purchased oregano into my bag to take to the next place.

Salads

    • Everywhere we go we can find mixed greens, gorgonzola, a crisp apple (Pink Lady and Granny Smith are my faves), some nuts, dried cranberries, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. We sometimes buy a trail mix for the nuts and dried fruit. Many places sell pre-cooked salad chicken which is a nice addition. Boom! Great lunch. Sure, you have to buy oil and balsamico, but far less than paying for a couple of salads in a restaurant. Extra points for Ponte Glassa. Yum!
    • The same pre-cooked chicken mixed with mayonnaise, salt and pepper, dried cranberries or raisins, maybe some pine nuts or slivered almonds. Serve on a bed of fresh arugula. Very satisfying.

Pasta

It is so easy to make a limited ingredient pasta almost anywhere as long as you have a couple of pots and a colander.

    • We love this one from The New York Times Cooking website. Pasta with Burst Cherry Tomatoes and Mint. I alter it a bit, substituting caramelized shallots for the raw scallions. (I cook them along with the pancetta.) I omit the butter.  For two people, one box of pasta makes two good meals.
    • In Italy, you can find frozen seafood for pasta or risotto.

      Frozen seafood pasta sauce. Just add spaghetti!

      It is amazingly good and very economical. All you need is a €5.00 package and a half-box of pasta to feed two very well with no leftovers. I have seen a similar product in the U.K. but not in the U.S. 
    • My favorite, when Romanesco is available, Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce. Takes no time at all. I have included the recipe below.

Soups

    • You can find the basic ingredients for chili almost anywhere. I have substituted Italian fagioli for kidney beans and if I cannot find chili powder, a liberal dose of paprika plus cumin, oregano, and pepper does the trick. A small batch will do it. No sense eating it every night for a week.
    • In most European markets you can pick up a bag of pre-cut veggies, called minestra in Italy. What you add to them is up to you, but it is a fine start to a batch of soup without having to buy all the veggies and chop them. I plop in some chicken breasts that I cube, herbs and seasonings, add broth, zucchini, mushrooms, and during the final half-hour, farro (aka, spelt).

Of course, sautéed fish or chicken is easy, but I find it boring. A tuna sandwich hits home when you are sick of what is in the cafes at lunch. Seriously. When we are traveling for six-to-eight weeks, simple things mean a lot. We have, in desperation and exhaustion after a long day of sightseeing in London, even picked up a bake-at-home pizza at Sainsbury’s. It was pretty good!

When all else fails, one can heat up some Crack Sticks…if you have an oven.

Apartment breakfast is one of three things: scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and bread (toast if we are lucky), yogurt with berries (followed by a late morning pastry in all likelihood), or toast with peanut butter. Ric also loves hard-boiled eggs, especially in Switzerland. 

Restaurants

We do eat in restaurants. Wonderful restaurants! We love to try the cuisine of the area we are in or maybe find out what Indian food is like in Switzerland because eating rösti gets old. On a long-haul trip, we eat out two-or-three nights a week and at least half of our lunches. As regular readers know, we try pizza everywhere. On our 2018 trip, we had pizza nine times in seven weeks. Not that there is anything wrong with that. And my jeans still fit. Walking 16000 steps per day helps.

This is rösti, an evilly good Swiss staple. There is a pile of potatoes under that mountain of veggies and cheese. Not a diet-friendly choice.

Orecchiette con broccoli e salsicce

For 4 people

Orecchiette are the “little ear” pasta found most everywhere A particular shape that works well with this treatment. My measurements are an unfortunate mix of metric and U.S. standards. I do not measure when making pasta, so use your own judgement.

INGREDIENTS
4 Italian pork sausages, remove casings and tear into bite size pieces (about 1/2 pound)

400-500g dried orecchiette

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

One large Romanesco (Italian broccoli), cut into florets

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Chili pepper flakes (I use ½ teaspoon full and Ric adds more at table)

½-1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2/3 cup (or more) white wine

Anchovies to taste (I used 5 or 6 chopped finely)

Grated Pecorino, may substitute parmesan if needed but use fresh, not Kraft

INSTRUCTIONS
Add olive oil to a large frypan and over medium sauté the cut sausages until they brown and are cooked through.

Remove from the pan and set aside. The sausage meat will remain in compact shapes unless you break it up with a spoon as it cooks – the choice is yours.

Add broccoli, garlic, and chili to the same pan and sauté the for about 5 minutes. If you prefer your broccoli more cooked, add a splash of water or wine, cover and cook till the broccoli is cooked to your liking.

Start the pasta and cook until al dente, usually a couple of minutes less than the package says.

Increase heat, add the sausage meat, wine and anchovies and reduce the liquid – this should take about 5 minutes.

Drain the pasta (save a little of the cooking water) and combine with the meat/broccoli mixture. If it seems dry, add a bit of the saved cooking water. Mix well and serve with grated pecorino.

Finding peace and quiet in Bettmeralp

2 Oct

2 October 2019.

Imagine a place without traffic noise. No cars, no trains, no buses: just a breeze in the trees, a distant cowbell, the gentle whirr of a gondola. Occasionally, an electric taxi or service vehicle makes its way through the village.

This is Bettmeralp, a tiny village where altitude (2006 meters/6581 feet) is mentioned before its population of 462.

chapel on a hill at night

The little “Kapelle Maria zum Schnee” (Chapel of Maria of tne Snow) as night descends. On the far right, you can see the triangle peak of the Matterhorn.

Matterhorn

You can see the Matterhorn from Bettmeralp when conditions are right.

The village has been on my list of must-explore places in Switzerland for about three years. While many tourists flock to Zermatt, our beloved Lauterbrunnen Valley, Luzern, and the Engadine, Bettmeralp in September is almost devoid of tourists. The first night in our hotel, the Waldhaus, only three rooms of this medium-sized family hotel were occupied. The next night, the shoulder season brought a group of 17 to stay for an entire week of alpine exploration.

It was quiet even with so many guests.

Cows on a road

The loudest noise we heard in 3 nights at the Hotel Waldhaus was this “cow parade” right below our window.

This is hiking country, with several trails offering views of the famous Aletsch Glacier, worth seeing before climate change takes even more of a toll. The Aletsch Arena is quite different from our usual haunts in the Berner Oberland. Bettmeralp sits at and above the tree line surrounded by massive snowy peaks too numerous to name. The light is constantly changing and the village is, like most Swiss villages, bedecked with flowers. It is picturesque, to say the least.

Sunlight on snowy mountain

The view from our room at the Hotel Waldhaus at sunrise.

Swiss villag in mountains

Bettmeralp, nestled high above the valley.

Swiss building

Flower-bedecked, the buildings look lovely even on cloudy days.

We only had two days to hike and one could certainly spend several days exploring more corners of the Aletsch Arena by train, lift, and on foot. We choose to start a rainy day by heading on the paved path to neighboring Riederalp. We were looking for one of the lifts in that small village and could not find it in the fog. We were astonished when after seeking refuge in a cafe for a warming cup of espresso we emerged to find the clouds had broken and the landscape revealed to us again.

Signpost

The signage is good: you won’t get lost but you might be confused at the options.

The second day we traveled by train and gondola to Fiescheralp, almost deserted now in the shoulder season but clearly a major ski-holiday destination. The exposed path we took back to Bettmeralp bore few fellow travelers this late in the fall but the vistas were, once again, magnificent and this hike, in particular, gave us a more complete picture of the area.

Mountain and road

On the road from Fiescheralp, a beautiful view.

Man on bridge with hiking sticks

Ric crosses a bridge on our hike from Fiescheralp to Bettmeralp. Yes, it was cold enough for a tuque.

To top off the magnificent scenery, we found excellent pizza as well. Paolo, the pizzaiolo at Pizzeria PiccoBello told me that there are many Italians in the area, working on the lifts. (Italians were also employed in the creation of some of Switzerland’s amazing tunnel systems.)

Building with pizzeria

A lovely Italian experience, high in the Swiss alps.

Pizza

One of our pies at PiccoBello. Truly Italian but with a Swiss-style sausage. The crust was top notch!

Pizza oven and man

Paolo the pizzaiolo plies his trade. A delicate crust that stands up to the sauce and toppings. An art form aided by a wood-fired oven.

The Waldhaus fed us well the other two nights as we partook of their excellent half-board. Mamma mia what a feast: 5 courses! Luckily portion-size was rational. Their selection of Swiss wines gave us a chance to enjoy products seldom found outside of the country.

Hotel bedroom

We had a moonwood room at the Waldhaus. Above the bed, a window leads from the shower room. Shower with a view!

Vew in hotel room

This is the view from our shower room at the Waldhaus.

Mountain view out a window

A little nook in the room at the Waldhaus with a gorgeous view, ever-changing light.

We parted somewhat reluctantly after three nights. An additional night-or-two would have allowed us to visit the pristine alpine lakes or ride lifts to see the glacier from a couple of additional viewpoints.

There’s always “next time!”

Welcome sign

Outside the Hotel Waldhaus where were were made to feel very welcome indeed.

We interrupt this move for a Swiss break

13 Oct
13 October 2016. We have mixed feelings about our impending departure. Many reasons we will miss our life in Italy yet in some ways we can hardly wait to get our butts on the plane. (See Missing the U.S.A.) We have a lot of little errands to do before we move back to Oregon, but most of them cannot be done until the final few days before we fly. So in fact, we have very little left to do until October 24. It’s not like we are packing up the whole household so why not take 10 days in Switzerland?

This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a freash dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

This little cow is at about 4900 feet. She has a fresh dusting of snow and a great view of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau.

The Bernese Oberland of Switzerland is one of our two favorite places to visit and to hike, the other being Italy’s Val Gardena. After our glorious month in Ortisei in July, we thought a compare-and-contrast trip to the Bernese Oberland — specifically the Lauterbrunnen Valley — was in order.

RIc brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Ric brought his Swiss hiking hat along, luckily. On the trail from Grütschalp to Mürren.

Last year we came at the very end of September and encountered eight days of Chamber-of-Commerce weather. This year, we are a bit later and the villages are definitely napping between the intense periods of summer tourists and winter skiers. Days alternate between sunny and clear and overcast. Supposedly tomorrow it will rain, but we’ve had some terrific hikes and it should be nice enough on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to hike again. This is our fourth trip to the area and proves once again that repeat visits are advantageous. With a base of familiarity, we are free to discover new facets of the region. Being here in almost-off-season gives more insight into local life and there are fewer tourist groups packing the trains and lifts. Click on any image below for a better view. 

This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

This is the view from our apartment in the valley. Cows in the meadow, and a magnificent waterfall.

We now have a favorite apartment here, at Ey-Hus. Owner James Graham (j.graham320@ntlworld.com) said I could share his contact information with you if anyone is interested. Two bedrooms, one with twin beds, one bath, small kitchen, nice big lounge, a view onto the waterfall and up to the mountains. The neighbors are grazing cows with their melodic Swiss bells. There’s a laundry, too, and a bus stop nearby allows one to easily travel the 1 kilometer to-and-from the train station with luggage or when one just does not feel like walking. As most of you know, we avoid cars when possible and this is the perfect place for a car-free holiday, with mountain trains and gondolas that go everywhere.  Renting an apartment and cooking most meals is a real budget saver in pricey Switzerland. James’ apartment even has a slow cooker so we can queue up dinner to cook while we hike.

The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The other direction off our terrace is this pretty house and the village church.

The Val Gardena and our beloved Ortisei is less expensive, especially for food, and frankly, the restaurant choices are superior in the Val Gardena, but we don’t really visit either area for the cuisine. We come for the hiking and the scenery. And for the mountain transportation.
The Lauterbrunnen Valley has an incredible network of trains and lifts. It is thrilling to soar to the top of the Schilthorn and to chug all the way to the Top of Europe, the Jungfraujoch! It is also a delight to simply walk the easy hiking paths past the magnificent Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, whether in sun or in snow. By comparison, the Val Gardena offers hiking in high meadows as well as along rocky ridges, and it has the rifugi that we love. In Switzerland, there are few places to refuel along the trail. There are restaurants at the lift stations, but few-and-far-between are rest stops to hike to for a meal or a bathroom. 
Like trying to decide which child is your favorite, I cannot choose between Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen and what each region has to offer. I love them both. For those looking for a unique European getaway, spend 4 or 5 nights each in Ortisei and Lauterbrunnen. The U.S. has nothing like this. Contemplate what it might be like to visit the North Cascades or the Rocky Mountains if served by transportation systems like in Europe, as well as rifugi where you can eat good food, drink great coffee, possibly sleep, and always find a toilet when you need one.

Trains, buses, and the Tube

4 Jan
It’s the little stories, observations, and encounters along-the-way that we remember far longer than we recall the stats we learn during a museum tour or even recall in our mind’s eye the finest art in a cathedral. That is certainly the case with our trip to Paris, London, and Switzerland during the Christmas season.

Love the double deckers. Sitting up front on top gives one an impressive view.

Love the double deckers. Sitting up front on top gives one an impressive view.

I have been trying to think of a way to blog about this trip. You’ve seen plenty of pictures of Christmas lights in Roma, Milano, and Paris (plus blogger John Henderson did a far better job than I ever could about Roma). A litany of the sites we saw is just another travelogue.
For the next few posts, I will share some vignettes, stories, and observations from our 4-countries-in-2-weeks trip. First up, a bit about transportation differences.

London Transportation Museum: Old-style bus.

London Transportation Museum: Old-style bus.

Italian trains and buses are anything but quiet. Bangladeshi housekeepers call their mamas in the old country on the super-affordable plan from TIM. Single travelers call everyone in their contact list (Sono in treno! Sono sul autobus!) to inform them of their transit woes. Families en route to their holiday travel with bags of food to sustain them and everyone is chatting ALL THE TIME. Ric’s mom came from the school of never let a moment pass in silence, but they would put her to shame. Italians are social creatures and constantly in touch. What they did before cell phones I cannot imagine, although personal conversation is still a strong suit. Texting happens, sure, but talking is far more prevalent. Who has so much to say? Ric and I can sit for an hour without speaking a word. We call it “companionable silence,” well-developed in 31 years.

Bernina Express . Just threw this one in as a beauty shot.

Bernina Express. Just threw this one in as a beauty shot.

In Paris, if you talk too loud on the bus or Metro you get the stink eye from the French. Conversations are sotto voce and cell phones are not used except to text, peruse Facebook, or other non-intrusive activity. How pleasant it is! The Swiss are similarly low-key, reserved, and, well, Swiss.
In London, we found people chatting a bit more, but in both Paris and London we saw a lot of people reading on the Tube, Metro or bus. Reading actual books, not on devices. One seldom sees a book pulled out on an Italian bus and it would be impossible to do on the Rome Metro since you are always cheek-by-jowl with scarcely room to change your mind. You cannot read on a Roman bus because most of them lack shock-absorbers and the kidney-pounding you take going over cobblestones makes it impossible to focus on a book.
The Metro in Rome is a dog pile. People are in constant motion. There is no queue. People can barely descend from the train before would-be riders crush forward. I have been pushed aside by young people and middle-aged men with no consideration for my gender, age, or the fact I might be dragging luggage. It is a free-for-all. The stations are filthy, the trash bins overflowing, and of course, the great tradition of graffiti covers trains as well as walls.

London Tube station. Excellent signage, lighting, acoustics. Far from Rome.

London Tube station. Excellent signage, lighting, acoustics. Far from Rome.

Ah, London and Paris, with your orderly queues, updated stations, and avoidance of unnecessary conversation! You can actually hear the announcements in a British or French tube station. The Tube stations in London are spotless, with no graffiti at least where we traveled. Even the older stations are well-maintained. I love the Parisian Metro stations that have the glass dividers that keep people from falling into the tracks and define the exit and entry points. Several Parisian men actually offered me their seats and no one pushed past me as though I were invisible. In London, we were able to sit down on the Tube most trips, thanks to a preponderance of trains and well-designed cars. Double-decker buses are, by the way, a delightful way to tour the city. I love how everyone is disciplined enough to get on at the front and off in the middle. Not quite that way in Roma…

Bernina Express interior. Lovely, quiet, comfy. Coffee cost us €4.50 each however. On Trenitalia you get one free.

Bernina Express interior. Lovely, quiet, comfy. Coffee cost us €4.50 each, however. On Trenitalia you get one free.

The Swiss train stations are oases of calm in a calm country. Well-signed, immaculate, orderly, no pushing or shoving (except by foreigners who carry their own habits along). The trains may not be as posh as the Frecciarossa or Italo Treno, but they are comfortable. With no discounting and no complimentary wine (sniff!), the Swiss railroad must be making some serious francs.
Italy, we love you! We love your trains and your warm-hearted people. We love not needing a car to travel all over the city, country, and continent. You do coffee better than anywhere we’ve lived or traveled, and we miss your food when we are out-of-the-country, but you could be just a smidge quieter and stand in line now-and-then.

The Great Railway Adventure

2 Jan
I love to travel by train. Even hours and hours is fine by me. Train travel beats air travel and its many indignities. Four hours in a plane makes me want to slit my wrists whereas four hours in a train is just a good start.

The Bernina Express on the famous Brusio spiral viaduct.

The Bernina Express on the famous Brusio spiral viaduct.

To my husband, trains are a religion. Not only does he enjoy riding in them, he can watch them for hours. He delights in rolling stock of all types, and thrills at seeing railroad workers address their tasks. How many thousands of photos he has taken! He also is fascinated by all types of transportation from pedicabs to delivery vehicles. There’s not an Ape 50

Action shot.

Action shot.

that escapes his camera’s eye.
When I suggested London for Christmas by train, with a stop in Paris and return through Switzerland, he had agreed before I finished saying “Bernina Express.” While we did, in fact, sleep in four countries over the two-week period, this was not “If it’s Tuesday it Must be Belgium.”
I’ll leave you at the end of this post with a few photos,  but first the route. The final plan included nine train trips in 15 days. Good thing we have time.
Roma to Milano – 2h:55m
Milano to Paris – 7h:26m
Paris to London – 2h:17m
London to Paris – 2h:29m
Paris to Zurich – 4h:03m
Zurich to Chur – 1h:15m
Chur to Tirano – 4h:13m
Tirano to Milano – 2h:32m
Milano to Roma – 3h:55m
During the last segment, the full-to-capacity train broke down and we had to transfer to a new train resulting in a 1-hour delay. We were only a little annoyed, and we got a partial credit from Trenitalia as a result of the delay.
Yes, that is a remarkable 32 hours-or-so in trains, blissfully snoozing, chatting, reading, writing, and watching the lovely scenery. I would not recommend this type of schedule for people on their average trip to Europe. One would not want to spend as much transit time as we did on a typical two-week vacation; However, we have time, a true blessing of retirement and living in Europe.
I have more to blog about in the coming days. Stay tuned! Click on any picture for a slideshow or a closer look.

 

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