Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Switzerland Report - Summary and Arrival

The Switzerland Report
Prepared by Anne

Executive Summary
Background: Emma moved to Lucerne, Switzerland in July 2008. Not a day has gone by without someone asking me for information on Emma’s new life. It wasn’t until this year, July 2009, that I was able to investigate and write this report for her constituents in the United States and England.

Engagement Objectives:
1) Travel to Switzerland
2) Meet Emma’s Swiss family and friends
3) See how she lives
4) See what she eats
5) Take a side trip to the Riviera


The subject of this report is very forthcoming, hospitable, and gracious, so I did not need to employ any fancy methodology to retrieve my information.

Recommendations: Go to Lucerne now if you haven’t. Go again now if you have. Make sure to go to Pilatus, Eigenthal, Rotsee, the KKL, and Wissifluh. Catch a train to Liechtenstein. Meet our relatives there and don’t leave without schnapps. Don’t forget the Riviera is close by so go down there if you can.

Engagement Results:
On July 27, we arrived in Munich on a 10 hour Lufthansa flight from San Francisco. Next up, a short hop to Zurich on Augsburg Airlines. Augsburg Airlines? As a completely paranoid passenger with an equally neurotic husband (who visits daily), I travel on a few choice airlines and don’t even like those. Nor do I like being bussed out to a tiny plane on a tarmac in the middle of n-o-w-h-e-r-e. Our stewardess with eyes and nose swollen shut from collagen didn’t exactly calm my nerves but she did distract me. We made it through a turbulent, mountain thunderstorm and landed safely in Zurich. At baggage we could see the sweet faces of Ilia, Emma, and Kaleo waiting for us on the other side of a glass wall. We spent 10 minutes waving and blowing kisses while waiting for our bags to unload. We expected a wait at customs too, but instead walked to freedom through an unmanned customs station. 

The drive to Lucerne is black night punctuated by thick bolts of lightening holding their poses across the sky. It is pitch darkness at the country house where we arrive to stay, a night of thunder booms and bright flashes. We are beside the Red Lake and I am startled by the first commuter train that blows by in the night, a reminder that I am in a place where bovine rub shoulders comfortably with modern transportation.

Emma and Kaleo arranged for us all to stay in a farmhouse on Rotsee Lake and spent the previous two days moving in the necessities. What a place to land. After quesadillas and some delicious salsa Kaleo made, we tucked in for the night.

The Switzerland Report - Day 1

|| July 28 ||

Findings: Mosquito bites, Farmer's Market, Free Bin, Fountains

Food: Pretzels, Kaleo's Raclette

In the middle of the night, I woke up to the sound of someone scraping paint. I walked out into the hallway to determine where the noise was coming from. In the next room over I found Alek, Kaleo's eight-year-old son, rubbing his back along the rough, wood-paneled wall. He looked at me with panic and amusement and said, "Have to scratch my back. A mosquito." Alek is exceptionally strong. I expected to see large scratch marks and blood on his back, but when he turned around what I saw were five to ten absurdly large mosquito bites. Alek's expression said, "What am I supposed to do?" I made 'X's in the bites and he fell asleep.

Johanna is up early and I spirit her outside before she wakes the house. Four hours sleep in 48 hours. Today should go well. The storm has blown over and left a clear, glistening morning. From outside, the house is handsomely shabby facing the glare of the sun. Cows are out and the mountain is out. We descend the steep, momentary slope to the misty lake. This is a surface of competitive rowers (the world championships for crew were held here last year) and even at this early hour the oars are on the water. Somehow the intense, quiet training adds to the tranquility. As the morning progresses the commuter trains are more frequent--quiet blasts of air to remind you of the forward purpose of man if you've drifted off with the swans and the ducks.

At some point during the day, everyone was awake. It might have been around noon. It was Tuesday so we walked to the farmer's market to shop. Along the way we discovered that free bins exist even in Switzerland. Everyone in our group found a treasure and mine is this photo.

Lucerne is described as the "most typically Swiss" of all the Swiss cities. The area around the farmer's market explains why: old wooden footbridges, swans, castle-y shaped structures, and cute kids with red, Swiss-cross sun visors.

After the market and a delicious Bavarian pretzel snack, we walked over to the KKL art museum. The building was designed by Jean Nouvel and is topped by a gorgeous, cantilevered roof.*

*For proper architectural photos, see the image search results on google.

Emma and I went off in search of organic strawberries for our planned attempt at homemade ice cream. Johanna and Chris continued on with Kaleo, Alek, Jeanne, and Ilia and learned that there are fountains everywhere in Lucerne. You can drink from them (but only from the tap, not the pool). Fountains are perfect for cooling off.

Emma and I rejoined the group at the last fountain behind the castle wall. Later in the afternoon back at the farmhouse the kids played in a little pool in the yard and the adults monitored the situation while cooking and unpacking. Here is the view from the window above the kitchen sink.

Kaleo made us raclette, a typical Swiss meal with potatoes, cornichons, onions and most importantly a lot of melted raclette cheese. You place slices of cheese into tiny enamel ramekins and slide the ramekins into a mini-broiler, made especially for this meal. Once melted, the cheese is poured over the potatoes, cornichons, and onions. It has a wonderful combination of textures and flavors and is just right with a green salad along side.

After a game of "grab-the-person-walking-by-and-pile-on-Anne" we turned in for the night.

Day 2>>

The Switzerland Report - Day 2

|| July 29 ||

Findings: Kaleo's studio, Lido, bike trailers

: Salad with beets, never eaten roast, fennel with cheese

To get most places, we walked down the hill past our neighbors: a new calf and her protective mom.

Our first mode of transportation was usually the Rotsee ferry. This ferry is a small wooden motor boat. To call it you ring a bell. The boat operator is in a house on the other side of the lake. The scene at the dock and on the ride across the lake is idyllic: calm water, flowering lily pads, water birds, and sun-bleached wood.

On this day we were headed to Lido beach. Kaleo's studio was on the way so we stopped in for a visit.

After our visit to the studio we walked, bussed and ferried across Lake Lucerne. It was one of the hotter days of the summer so even on a Wednesday the beach and water were packed. One notable aspect of Lucerne is that public spaces are like country clubs. Another notable aspect of Lucerne is that you leave your wallet out on a towel for two hours and it's there when you return.

We ferried and biked back to the farm where Kaleo prepared another amazing dinner. We ate salad with beets and feta and fennel braised in chicken stock along with some other fresh sides.

We were all tired from a day of trekking around in the sun and the dinner was the perfect refreshment. Kaleo also cooked a roast for the next day and the aroma wafted in while we all sat at the large dining table. I couldn't wait for tomorrow.

The Switzerland Report - Day 3

|| July 30 ||

Findings: Gondola, Pilatus, Toboggan

Food: Lunch on the mountain, Alpler Magrone, Salad you don't want to share

This was one of our bigger adventures: bike to a gondola, ride the gondola to the top of Mount Pilatus, hike for two miles down the mountain, stop for lunch at a mountain restaurant, walk a half mile to a bus to take us the rest of the way down the mountain, and then bike home.

Alek left early that morning with his mom, Karin, for a long weekend at the sea. We were down to 7. We had four bikes, one for each grown-up and two of the bikes had trailers for the three girls. We took a 30-minute tour of the city which involved going up, down, and over. We parked the bikes at the Pilatus gondola and rode up. At the top of the mountain was a summer toboggan run, 1350 meters of shiny steel with steep slopes and tunnels and speed. It was so fun everyone wanted to go again and faster, but hunger was setting in so we decided to start our hike to the restaurant. The day was cooler than the previous two days, overcast, and perfect for a hike down the mountain. Ilia and Jeanne are such great hikers, especially Ilia (because she is older). Ilia loved finding berries, bugs, animals, and mushrooms on all of our hikes. She was often the first to spot items of interest and her enthusiasm still lights me up when I write this weeks later.

We stopped about half-way down for another traditional Swiss meal called Alpler Magrone. Kaleo and Emma drank apple wine and even though I built up my tolerance in preparation for our European trip, the plane ride over knocked me back onto the wagon and I couldn't get off. I drank alpine water.

The Alpler Magrone was sooooo good. It is basically macaroni and cheese but with really good cheese, waxy potatoes, and caramelized onions. It is served with homemade applesauce. I've made it 3 times in the four weeks we've been home and I haven't cooked more than 3 times in the last year. That's how much I loved it. Actually, I loved the salad even more. They must have used lettuce from a nearby garden. The dressing was some sort of buttermilk or sour cream base with chopped herbs, something like Ranch crossed with Green Goddess. Chris didn't order salad to go with the giant sausage and the Röschti that he did order, so he asked for a bite of my salad. I replied, "Fine. But you can only have one, small bite, very small." At which point, Emma started laughing and I realized she gauges if I really like something by asking me to share. Another blind spot illuminated!

We needed to hustle to catch the bus at a nearby village that would take us to the bottom of the mountain. The bike ride home at dusk was beautiful. Kaleo took us on a new route on the other side of the river. I can't remember anything more of that day except dropping into a deep sleep.

The Switzerland Report - Day 4

|| July 31 ||

Findings: Rotsee pool

Food: Hotdogs on a stick, roast on grill

Emma and Kaleo swim at the Rotsee pool a lot. A sloping, grassy knoll enters into a small roped area for kids. Out in the middle of the lake is an area designated for adults to swim laps. This was our first visit to the Rotsee pool but we returned several more times on the trip. By the second to last visit, Johanna had worked up the confidence to swim out to the diving platform that is barely visible in the background of the picture below. She had been watching Alek swim out and jump off the diving board and really wanted to try it herself. She achieved her goal of swimming out there and back (with me swimming by her side but not helping her) but she didn't make the leap off the board. Next year.

Emma and Kaleo swim laps in the lake. Since swimming is the only, and I mean ONLY, thing I was once able to do better than Emma, I figured I could swim laps no problem. Plus there is a beam in the water at one end, a buoy rope at the other, and the shore really isn't far. What could go wrong? I didn't anticipate having a mid-lap panic attack even though Emma warned me. There is some sort of optical illusion in the lake and as I swam my first lap, the other end never got any closer. Of course I didn't pace myself right either so I was totally spent before I was even half-way across. I looked back to see if I could return to where I started, but that also looked more than half-way. Optical illusions in both directions. I had to switch to side-stroke and back float and did finally complete the lap. I did two more somewhat successfully but had to bail half-way through the 4th. The goal was 6 laps. Next year.

Back at the farmhouse, the girls played outside. Jeanne is very adventurous and tough. Johanna loved trying to wrestle and man-handle her, but typically a reversal occurred and Johanna would be Jeanne-handled . That is Jeanne below with her cute betty boop face and favorite outfit.

Kaleo and Emma had purchased part of a cow just before we arrived. We ate cuts from it several times and it was delicious. On this night, Kaleo built a fire for cooking hotdogs on sticks and a roast from the cow. In the photo below there is a cut of beef cooking for the grown ups. Unfortunately you can't see the beef or the neat camping grill it is cooking on. Maybe if you squint.

The Switzerland Report - Day 5

|| Aug 1 ||

: Mountain Passes Sometimes Cause Car Sickness

Food: Cheese cubes, apples, farmer's snack bars, Dar-Vida - on the road

The most direct route to Italy from Lucerne is the 17km Gottardo tunnel in Switzerland. In summer, with all car traffic from northern Europe funneling into one lane entering the tunnel (a lane in each direction), delays of two hours or more occur at all times. We decided to take the mountain passes to Italy. The mountain route guaranteed two hours more driving but avoided the parking lot on the freeway at the tunnel and also offered some of the more stunning views from the trip including four of Switzerland's highest passes. Kaleo drew us a stellar map to guide us through Brunig, Grimsel, Furka, and Gottardo.

We left the farmhouse mid-morning and about 10 minutes into the trip Johanna began complaining about the car ride. "How much longer is it?" "Why can't we ride bikes to Italy?" "I hate the car." "My stomach hurts." "My head hurts." "I'm hungry." "Can I play with your iPhone?" "Why does it cost money to use an iPhone in Switzerland?" "I really hate the car." I would have felt something other than annoyance were it not for the fact that our 7 minute car ride to school every morning includes the same commentary. Even as her pleas became odder, most notably the declaration, "My cheeks hurt," I paid no real attention until she threw up suddenly, eight times, in the Grimsel Pass.
Here she is moments later.

She rebounded impressively as we sped through Italy. We arrived in Levanto in the early evening. Our accommodations were at an agritourismo called L'Erba Persa. I would not recommend it, but I would stay again. Erba's misfortune is to be situated neither close to the beach nor up in the hills away from the bustle of visitors. Instead, it is directly on the main artery into town with trucks, cars, and scooters storming by at all times. Erba is an attractive, ramshackle villa with an organic vegetable garden, 20 cats, 5 dogs, a goat, various other random animals, and a cage with bunnies on the bottom and lovebirds on top. This inspired the new name for my band or store, "Lovebirds and Bunnies." Johanna loved being around the animals and the owners were very sweet. They charged us 50 Euro a night, half of their normal rate, claiming that Johanna was darling to be around so we deserved a discount. I totally agree with their assessment and the rewards that should come with it.

The Switzerland Report - Day 6

|| Aug 2 ||

Findings: Not so crowded Cinque Terre

Food: Calamari

We spent the day in Vernazza on the beach. Surprisingly the beach was not over-crowded. We found a nice spot right away and planted ourselves. Not much to say about the beach except that it was beautiful, warm, and relaxing; perfect after the previous day of winding and throwing up.

For dinner we took the train to Monterosso and ate at the Miky Cantina, which is an offshoot of Ristorante Miky.
The restaurant smelled like fig leaves. There were several fig trees outside and they used the leaves (like we do) to wrap fish before baking. We enjoyed fresh calamari with Chris handling the tentacles. Afterward we tossed stones into the surf as the sun set.

And finally the picture that says a 1000 words about the train trip back to Levanto.

The Switzerland Report - Day 7

|| Aug 3 ||

Findings: Monte Carlo really is like that

: Nothing worth mentioning

We started on our three-hour car ride from Levanto to Juan-les-Pins at about 10AM. It was noon when we closed in on Monte Carlo so we decided to stop for lunch. Monte Carlo really is how you imagine it to be. Luckily we found a Zara so we could make a purchase. When Chris is asked where he got his shirt, he says, "Monte Carlo," and sounds saaa-weet.

The Switzerland Report - Day 8

|| Aug 4 ||

Findings: Hotel Mimosas, Juan-les-Pins Beach

Food: Perfect French Breakfast, Sandwich on baguette with ham, cheese, lettuce, cornichons, hard-boiled egg, and Dijon.

If you've read this far, it is because you are related to me (or equivalent), and feel obligated to finish reading. Because you are related to me, you won't be shocked to find that, on this day, like every other day in my life, I woke up before everyone else, including the hotel staff.

I have never had a bad breakfast in France and I wanted to get to mine as soon as possible. So while Chris and Johanna, with her new stuffed kitty named "Jeanne," were still asleep, I snuck down to the pool side at Hotel Mimosas for breakfast. It was perfect. Why are croissants just right in France? Why? For real, why? Why can't we have them in Berkeley? And trust me we don't have them in Berkeley. We almost have them in Berkeley and you can almost convince yourself that we have them, but then you go to France and realize we don't. Not by a long shot.

I forgot my thong bikini, Chris forgot his gold Speedo, and neither of us remembered to bring our yacht, but we still had fun on the beach in Juan-les-Pins. Like Cinque Terre, the beach was happening but not over-crowded. We had no trouble finding a spot and settled in for another relaxing half-day, which is my time limit on relaxing.

For the afternoon we explored the old section of Antibes on foot and shoulders. On the walk we found several kiosks with prints of paintings by the masters. They were placed so that you could see the scene that the painter saw. Neat-O. Antibes has a large open air farmer's market, Marché Provençal, which we visited a number of times. This is where I found my new favorite sandwich: ham, cheese, lettuce, cornichons, hard-boiled egg, and Dijon. We found an antique carousel too. It was so hot that we were forced to swim again at the end of the day. Life is rough on the Riviera.

The Switzerland Report - Day 9

|| Aug 5 ||

Findings: Caffeine-Free Coke Yacht, Jellyfish, Picasso museum, Coastal walk in Cap d'Antibes

: The sandwich again.

We spent the morning at the beach and on this day, we had some visitors in the water. There was a jellyfish invasion. None of us were bit, but they did brush by me and I really didn't like how that felt. We also came across a yacht that we saw everywhere we went, as if it was tracking us. In reality, I don't think it was following us, I think it was more like the sun and you just see it from everywhere because it is so big but unlike the sun, the yacht was awful. It was the gold color of the caffeine-free coke can that some might remember from the 1980s, and had these sinister tinted windows, no flags, and was just all around giant and menacing.

In the late morning, we picked up the new favorite sandwich and headed to Garoupe beach to the trail head for Sentier Littoral, the rugged coastal trail in Cap d'Antibes. It was one of the most gorgeous walks I've ever been on. The trail is windy and craggy which provides amazing scenery and views but also keeps people hidden so you feel as if the coast is your own. There were little coves one could walk down to and settle in for a picnic or swim, as well as tiny little coastal flowers and scary drops.