Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Switzerland and back

We left off with our arrival in Switzerland on Friday the 26th of October. We went from an intense downpour in Italy to bright sunshine on the other side of the tunnel. A quick note about the pictures: In some cases they match up with the text. In other places not. For the most part it should be obvious which are which.

Liz: First thing we noticed about Switzerland were the tall mountains. I mean, gorgeous, tall mountains. As we got to their village on a hillside, the sun was setting and a warm light cast on the mountainside and as we looked down from the deck, we saw cute herds of sheep. Here is a pic from their house.

And here are Franz and Lidia!

That first night was a big family dinner with fresh ravioli in a saffron sauce, salad, cheeses and breads. Everyone seemed to be eating something different and we weren’t sure what was okay to eat and what wasn’t so we just got drunk so we didn’t worry to much about what we should or shouldn’t do. Ok, just kidding, we didn’t get drunk but we did enjoy a nice Argentinian Malbec and some great food and a lively conversation of Italian, German, and English with the 10 people at the table.

We didn't grab a picture that night, but here's one from another meal.

Dan: Since today is actually November 6th, and I’m having a hard time remembering exactly which days we did certain things, I’m just going to highlight some memories from the last week with photos to help tell the story. So, in no particular order.

- We went to the town of Zermat to check out the Swiss Alps and Matterhorn. Franz and Lidia’s oldest son Samuel, or Sammy for short, and his girlfriend Barbara took us up there in Lidia’s Passat. A quick note about Swiss drivers: They’re crazy. Crazier than Italian drivers anyway, and I thought Italian drivers were pretty crazy. Don’t get me wrong, they’re good drivers. Riding with them is just intense. It doesn’t help that the roads are extremely narrow, windy and high up on cliffs with lots of hairpin turns.

I was actually kind of a nervous wreck when we reached Tajj (wrong spelling), the closest you’re able to drive a car to Zermat (Zermat is car-free). From there we took the train up and spent the afternoon hiking around. I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Samuel and Barbara

Switzerland is expensive. All this stuff was about $55.

- Liz and I also did a bit of hiking around Ausserberg, the village on the side of the mountain where Franz and Lidia’s family live. Liz took one hike up by herself, and then the next day we went up together on a longer hike. It’s really beautiful and refreshing up there. I believe the altitude is about 1,000 meters at Franz and Lidia’s house, and we must have gone up another 500 on our hike.

- We spent one day hanging around in Brig. We would have liked to visit Bern, as everyone told us it was fantastic, but it cost around 120 Swiss francs EACH to get there by train. You get about 1.2 francs to the dollar, but that was still too much for us; hence the afternoon in Brig.

It’s a nice town too, just not very big. We checked out an old-looking church, but there was a funeral going on and we didn’t want to disturb it. And then we spent a long time looking for a place to eat lunch (it was just as expensive as Italy) before settling on a cafĂ© where the waitress LIED to us about speaking English!

Seriously, the first thing I said was, “sprecken zie English,” and she vigorously nodded her head yes. I didn’t hear a word in English the whole meal. And Liz out-ordered me, a disturbing trend that has been happening more often since we started traveling. She got the Chicken Cordon-Blue, while I ordered a mystery schnitzel. I figured mine would be more crisp and crunchy, and hers would be soggy. It was pretty much the exact opposite. I still enjoyed the meal but I was definitely envious of the Cordon-Blue. The excellent beer we had mitigated any regret about the entrees, however.

- We also spent one morning walking around Visp with Lidia as she did some shopping. Visp is closer to Ausserberg and feels like a pre-ski kind of town. In case you were wondering what the chocolate section looks like in a Swiss grocery store, this picture will give you an idea.

- We had plenty of good meals in Switzerland, and the cuisine was a nice change of pace from Italy. Lidia is a great cook and she really went out of her way to prepare a variety of Swiss specialties for us. We had the sort of things you might expect, like fondue, and things we had never heard of, like raclette, which is a sort of large cheese that is traditionally melted by a fire and then shaved off in bubbling, melting slices and mixed with potatoes, pickles, onions and a variety of other condiments. Here's a picture of Lidia's homemade bread.

Another great revelation in Switzerland: The family has a machine that carbonates regular tap water! You just fill a special bottle with water, put it in the machine, the machine makes a few loud noises, and presto: You have carbonated water! I immediately asked if the machine will carbonate any liquid, like milk or blood. Apparently milk is too thick, but it could theoretically carbonate juice and other thin fluids. You can add the carbonation machine to my 2008 Christmas wish list.

In addition to their regular home, Franz and Lidia have a little cabin way up in the alps. You have to hike a bit to get up there, along a super-treacherous path that's right next to a massive cliff. At one point you have to walk across a board and hold onto a rope. I didn't go past that point, but Liz had no problem.

- It was interesting to be in a country where I don’t speak a word of the language. Ok, I know a few words. I know “sprecken zie deutchse, baby” from the Beck song, and “mein leiben,” “gutentag,” “gott in himmel” and a few other select phrases from the Wolfenstein 3D video game. But at the dinner table, for example, I’m clueless. I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to what people are talking about most of the time, as opposed to in Italy, where I almost always at least get the gist, if not the exact, precise meaning of words and conversations. I don’t like it. It will be interesting to get to SE Asia and experience that all over again, because I’ve sort of gotten used to being able to rudimentarily communicate in the local language.

- On Sunday we went to mass with the family. We don’t go to church at home, but we went to see what mass would be like in Switzerland. It was about the same, but the kneeling benches don’t have pads. Your knees die for your sins.

We originally planned on leaving Tuesday morning and spending a couple nights in either Milan or Verona before heading up to Trento to meet up with a friend from 2p2, but Franz and Lidia said we should just go ahead and stay another night, and we gladly accepted.

So on Wednesday we said our goodbyes and headed back into Italy. We booked a room in Verona on the recommendation of my 2p2 friend, Adam, who is an Australian that has been living in Italy for 8 years. He also recommended a restaurant and enoteca (wine bar) that were out of the main tourist zone in the city.

All three of his recommendations were excellent. We ended up loving Verona, the restaurant and the wine bar. First, Verona. An underrated city. It’s a little more bustling than most towns along the sleepy Ligurian coast, but not as bustling as the Cinque Terre. There is an old coliseum, a lazy river with great romantic views and, sure, great shopping (not that we’re buying).

On to the restaurant… I believe it was called Trattoria alla Molinara. Adam said to mention his name. The last time we tried this, it was OK, but a little awkward. This time, the connection was clearer. Marco, the restaurant owner, knew exactly who we were talking about as he showed us to our table. And the food was tremendous. I had a filet of steak encrusted with three kinds of pepper, and Liz had pasta with mushrooms. The pictures didn’t turn out very well as the place was dark, and the flash always looks terrible, so you’ll just have to trust me. This steak was awesome.

Backing up a bit. We had checked out the menu at Molinara earlier, just to make sure it was within our price range. And we had decided that we would hold out until as late as possible and not go to dinner until … 7:30. Well, we almost made it. We headed over there and arrived at about 7:20. And wouldn’t you know it, the place hadn’t even opened for dinner yet. We still haven’t mastered the art of the late dinner. So we checked out the enoteca across the street that Adam recommended.

When we walked in, there were about two dozen wines listed on the wall, very few of which were familiar. And the prices seemed a little bit too good to be true… from 1.6 euro to 2 euro to 2.5 euro. Nevertheless, I braved ahead and ordered a random Valpolicella for myself and a pinot Grigio for Liz. My Valpolicella was shockingly good, and Liz’s pinot wasn’t bad either. A bottle of the stuff I tried was 10 euro, a bargain IMO. We only had one drink each as we planned to have wine with dinner, but this place became an instant favorite in our books.

And that's all for now. We're about to take a 14-hour train to Sicily from Florence, and I'm guessing I'll have plenty of free time in Sicily to catch up on the writing and photos, but no internet access, so you'll get another long post when we get back to Rome.


Matt said...

Hi guys -- I'm enjoying all the pics and stories. The pics of Switzerland were just amazing. Can't wait for the next post! -Matt

Steve said...

wow... you're having WAY more fun than us lame ass working stiffs at CB&S. (Yesterday I was all stoked because I got out of CDG meeting. Doesn't seem so cool anymore.)
GREAT stories and the pics are perfect for new computer desktop pics.