Advent in Arbon, Switzerland, 12-2018

The December morning sun peeked out behind the rain clouds with a promise of sunshine making for a perfect day to head out to the historic town of Arbon, Switzerland. The Medieval town is nestled on the shores of Lake Constance and on the Saturday before the first Advent it welcomes in the season with a traditional Christmas Market. For one day only the inner city is decorated with festive stalls offering only hand made quality products such as delicious chocolates, roasted almonds, Glühwein, artwork, and plenty of cheese specialities that can be had as the famous cheese region of Appenzell is only a stone’s throw away. A peaceful afternoon well spent on the shores that were inhabited a mere 6,5000 years ago…
https://www.myswitzerland.com/en/arbon.html

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A Bodensee Birthday, August 17th, 2018

Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…” this iconic opening theme from the the beloved children’s show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood aptly describes my birthday spent in our Bregenz “backyard.” It was a weekend filled with art, music, delicous food, and nature’s beauty that can only be found nestled in “our neck of the Rhine Valley.” On Friday Franz and I began our weekend quest with a visit to a museum that I had long wanted to see in the Bregenzerwald called the Juppenwerkstatt in Riefensberg. The gallery holds an extraordinary collection of the traditional dress of the Bregenzerwald and highlights the involved process entailed in the making of the intricate textile and clothing as well as the culture of this fairytale region. I am now a big fan of this special little museum.

https://www.juppenwerkstatt.at

Krumbach Gorge

The August heat was a gift for the farmers fields of corn and hay but I slowly wilted under the suns relentless rays. We sought refuge in a nearby water gorge near Krumbach that was invitingly cool and a much welcomed respite from the rising temperatures. And what a find it was. Small and stylish. At the bottom of the ravine we were enchanted to come upon a site specific art piece that was installed using fishing line to weave patterns in and out of the tree trunks. The filtered light peeked through the overhead canopy and highlighted the repeating strands that created a magical mood. After our short jaunt we sauntered over to a gemütlich (homey) restaurant, the Krumbacher Stuba, intending to have a light salad but after eyeing the specialty of the region, a cheese Kässpätzle, we just had to have that. When in the Bregenzerwald one has to do as the locals do.

https://www.outdooractive.com/en/waypoint/bregenz-forest/moorraum-krumbach/18596791/ 

http://www.krumbacher-stuba.at

Green pastures with languid cows grazing along the KäseStrasse (cheese street) graced the road leading back to Bregenz. Our next stop was the Vorarlberg Museum to view another exhibition that had been on my list titled Wacker im Krieg or Wacker at War. Rudolf Wacker (1893-1939) was a well known local artist who documented his life in Bregenz and his experience in and after WWII. I found the show compelling and it was touching as it paralled the accounts of the war and prison camp life that I had heard from several men of that generation who had also served in the conflict. I highly recommend it. 

http://www.vorarlbergmuseum.at

The sailboats rocked gently as the halyards clinked against the masts and the seagrass tickled our feet. The orange orb in the sky was setting on our eventful day as we floated in the refreshing Bodensee waters in nearby Hard. Revitalized we sought out the waterside Italian restaurant of Ristorante Margarita sul Lago where we met a close friend and enjoyed a tasty tuna fish carpaccio and a favorite Truffle pasta dish. Franz, food, and a friend. A perfect ending for a perfect birthday. 

http://www.margarita-sul-lago.at

My Breitachklamm Birthday Weekend Continues…

“It’s a neighborly day in this beauty wood, a neighborly day for a beauty, Would you be mine?…” these sweet lyrics to the beloved show Mr Roger’s Neighborhood kept coming to mind as we continued our weekend excursions in the “hood.” We woke up to another sunny Saturday and got an early start on another wooded “schlucht sucht” or gorge search. Our itinerary for the day took us across the border to Southern Germany in the Kleinwalstertal to one of the deepest water gorges in the Bavarian Alps and in Central Europe called the Breitachklamm. The magnificent gorge had been carved out by the Breitach glacier for a mere 10,000 years! It had been some time since I had last visited and I looked forward to marveling again at the wild waters that flow and swirl down the Eigenkopf rock faces sculpting the stone into elegant formations. As I took in the grandeur of mother natures work the words of the song came to me again “I have always wanted to have a neighborhood just like you, I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you…”

http://www.breitachklamm.com/en/

20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland

“Let’s make the most of this beautiful day…” crooned Mr. Roger’s and that we did as we took in the beauty of Buddah on the shores of Lake Constance. Siddhārtha sat with his eyes closed and lips curved upwards bringing a wide smile to his calm face. His clasped hands gently held a sleeping cat nestled on his ample belly. The serene bodhisattva crafted by a team from Russia had taken first prize at the 20th International Sand Sculpture Festival in Rorschach, Switzerland. And what a sensitive portrayal it was. As were all the other entrants hailing from many countries of the world. The theme of the 2018 competition was “All You Need Is Love” and it was a much needed balm for our troubled times. It was a relaxing Sunday afternoon admiring the talented vision that took the unassuming medium of sand to create such superb works of art. 

http://www.sandskulpturen.ch

Our day was still not done. The evening brought both culinary and musical delights as we dined at my favorite restaurant in Bregenz, Chen’s, where we indulged in Asian fish specialities paired with a fruity Sauvignon Blanc courtesy of our lovely friend Maureen. For dessert we enjoyed an evening of opera with the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra serving up Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Bregenzer Festspiele on Lake Constance. The opera was an extravaganza filled with “diamonds, death, and spades!” and the superlative performers and stunning floating stage were truly magnifcent. What a beautiful birthday weekend in the neighborhood! 

https://www.chens-bregenz.at
https://bregenzerfestspiele.com/de/programm/carmen

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Cow Parade And Swift Swines Urnäsch, Switzerland, 9-2017

The level of noise rose as the spectators anticipated the beginning of the big race at the Autumn Farmers Market in Urnäsch, Switzerland. Earlier many of us had scoped out the competition weighing the heft, girth, leg length, energy level, and the general overall health of the racing animals before we placed our bets on our chosen winner. Our fleet footed pick was the lively #3. The gates opened and out waddled the portly porkers to navigate the (easy) obstacle course. The good natured crowd urged on the swift swines who jumped (really stepped) over two separate obstacles in the short course. I had placed myself at the strategic bottleneck of the track that was to determine the outcome of the race. We laughed and urged on all of the sweet sows and hulky hogs. And to top off the rapid race our #3 pig won! Bravo to Switzerlands swift swines!

https://www.myswitzerland.com/en/urnaesch-alpine-procession.html

She was a vision of loveliness. Her large brown eyes graced with long lashes contrasted with her strong legs and slender ankles. But she was just one of the many bovine beauties we had come to admire. Franz and I had travelled to the Alpabfahrt & Farmers Market in Urnäsch, Switzerland to welcome home the cows and white goats from the high alpine pastures after a summer of producing milk to make the delicious cheese the region is known for. Farmers in their traditional dress led their herds through town amid the clanging cow bells and a brass band playing. The market had a festival atmosphere with various booths displaying regional specialities such as mountain cheeses, cakes, soaps, ceramics and other local delights. For lunch we enjoyed sharp raclette and a dumpling dish called schupfnudeln. What a way to celebrate the coming of the plentiful fall season.
https://www.myswitzerland.com/en/alpine-ascent-and-descent-of-the-cattle.html

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Slumming the Swiss Alps, Medelser Hut, Graubünden, Switzerland, 4-2016

As a fitting end to our ski season my friends and I from Vienna, Bregenz, and Zurich headed to the Canton of Graubünden (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graubünden) in Switzerland, where the local language spoken is Romansh. Near Disentis we began our three hour trek to the top of a ridge where the Medelser Hut sits prominently lording over the surrounding valleys (www.medelserhuette.ch). The weather was partially sunny and we all hoped for some bright days of sunshine. On the Saturday of our arrival there were several other parties who had spent one night and the following morning climbed to a nearby peak then headed on home. We planned on staying until Wednesday and from Sunday and we were the only guests. The couple that ran the hut named Petra and Thomas were from Southern Germany and they had just taken over the hut management six weeks earlier. This was a new experience for them to run a place where supplies and waste could only be transported by helicopter in the winter. Petra was a fantastic cook who also baked fresh bread and cakes, we were unexpectedly spoiled rotten.

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We also learned from them how difficult it is to manage a hut like this. In the winter there is no running water, every drop of drinking water was from melted snow. It is one thing to read this on a website, yet another when one uses the washrooms and no faucet works. The toilets didn’t use water either, instead they had a three stage filtering system for the waste. In the mornings and the evenings two water bottles were placed at the sinks, so that the guests could brush their teeth. Any further hygiene was done outside. We take water for granted, especially in central Europe where we have non-chlorinated drinking water even in our toilets, some people view this as an amazing waste of our planet’s most valuable resource. The text below translates to: The snow of today is your tea of tomorrow.

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The day after our arrival the weather had turned bad. Fog appeared and the sun was gone. In spite of the conditions, all the parties from the hut ate a 6 o’clock breakfast and headed out for the Piz Medel. Fortunately it had been clear during the night and the snow was very hard. We skied down a few hundred feet then put on our skins and began trekking up to the glacier and beyond. Due to the snow being frozen we used a tool that can best be described as a ski crampon. It provided us with a serrated knife like blade on each side of the binding that cuts into the ice to prevent sideways sliding. One of our teammates decided to take his off, and paid for it with an almost immediate fall and a face forward slide of 120 feet on a surface that resembled rough sand paper. Unfortunately his face showed the consequences for many days. Once we reached the glacier the fog enveloped us completely and threatened us to turn around due to lack of orientation. But we were lucky and the fog lifted, allowing us to see our destination despite the wind that was blowing stronger by the minute. To reach the cross on the peak it was necessary to navigate a precarious narrow ridge, with crampons providing additional grip. The face of the mountain had some beautiful packed powder in store for us. Unfortunately further down the expected “firn” – the top inch of frozen snow melted in our much anticipated descent – never came because of the cold temperature. But we had completed our first peak and happily trekked back up to the hut for an afternoon snack and a wonderful dinner.

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The following day things turned even worse. We were situated on the continental “wind” divide, where the strong southern winds, sometimes coming from as far away as the Sahara, bring precipitation to the southern side, and the northern fronts bring rain and snow to the northern side of the Alps. As we looked down to either side of our eagle’s nest we could see the valley where we had come from had sunshine while we were skiing into the foggy abyss on the other side and into a snow storm. The snow had turned very soft, which made for a unique carving experience, more like surfing than skiing. At the bottom of the steep decline we headed towards the next peak but were forced to turn around after thirty minutes due to the lack of visibility and the increasing winds that blew fresh snow directly into our faces. We headed back up the steep ravine for more R&R and card playing at the hut. The last day was a carbon copy of the previous one. On Wednesday we said good bye to our gracious hosts and headed down into the valley. The wind was still blowing strong, only this time it was at our backs and we were headed down to the sunshine. It was amazing how much snow the wind had melted during the previous five days. We had to take off our skis many times and crossed  a river just to make it back to our cars. Another year, another ski tour!

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Ringing in 2015 in Andiast, Switzerland, 12-2014

The snow laden roofs of the old farm houses and the church steeple glistened in the late afternoon sun as we drove up the steep narrow road to Andiast Switzerland to celebrate New Year’s Eve 2015 with family and friends. This small municipality is located in the Survelva’s Anterior Rhine Valley in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. It’s close to many well known ski resorts such as Waltensburg/Vurous, Briel/Brigels, and the Flims-Lax-Falera region. The large area offers other snow related sports such as snow shoeing, tobogganing, and a boarder cross park as well as 15 km of groomed cross country trails.

Our rented house called the Casa Reviva had a commanding view of the picturesque valley below. The rustic mountain accommodations hosted our party quite nicely and its location was well situated to explore the area from. We had a few local skiing possibilities to choose from with some deciding on Obersaxen and others staying in Andiast. In addition the house offers an interesting shower therapy where visitors can revive themselves and relax in the refreshing mountain air. For our New Year’s dinner we enjoyed a traditional Cheese fondue and rang in 2015 with fireworks and sparkling prosecco. Spending the holiday in the Swiss alps with family and friends was special and we look forward to many new and exciting adventures this year. Gutes Neues!

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Downhill Skiing in St. Moritz, Switzerland, 3-2014

The Berghaus Diavolezza is a mountain hotel at 3000 m, an outpost of the St. Moritz ski area. It offers both simple and luxurious accommodations, and a breathtaking view of the Piz Palü, a 3901 m high mountain, which is often the destination of ski touring guests at the hotel. The main town of St. Moritz is reachable by the famous “Rhätische Bahn“, which has UNESCO World Heritage status for the track between Thusis and Tirano, with one stop located at the bottom of the Diavolezza cable car. St. Moritz is one of the most glamorous ski resorts in the Alps, with the Corvatsch mountain (3303 m) being the highest peak reachable by cable car in the area. A spectacular 10km glacier run guides the adventurous skier from the top of the Diavolezza to Morteratsch, where the train takes you either down to St. Moritz or up the valley towards the Bernina pass. The area is located on the Southern side of the Alps and this year it received enormous amounts of snow. Sahara sand was blown across the Mediterranean by strong winds and created colorful patches on slopes with southern exposure. A beautiful train ride back to Chur completed our four day stay at the top of the world.

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