Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who knew - Paris?

Amy and I were not sure how we felt about Paris when we stepped off the speed train from Geneva.  Honestly, we were probably a little bit nervous that we would be judged for our more than sub-standard French (fair enough). However, the moment we found the nearest metro station - which is remarkably similar to the New York City subway system, complete with dirt, graffiti and gobs of people - we felt at home. We stayed at a quaint  hotel near the Arc de Triumph. The hotel staff greeted us a with a warm "Bonjour!" and sent us on our way with some helpful dinner recommendations.

We grabbed a bite to eat that first night at a diner-esque place where could have been sitting in Old Paris 50 years ago. The wait staff were more than friendly.  Hhhmm - note to self.  We watched as lovers, groups of giggly girls and families gathered around tiny Parisian tables to share a glass of wine, smoke to their hearts content and/or consume a wide array of scrumptuous desserts.  Its unclear to me how French people maintain their trim physiques when they consume delicious wine, bread, crepes and pastries with great frequency. On a random side note, I have to say that while the Swiss might know how to do cheese, the French have beat them hands down when it comes to bread and carb products.  Hello mana from heaven!

With our bellies full, we left the cafe intending to hit the hay early as to ensure maximum energy for touristing the next day.  But before we knew what hit us, we turned a corner and the glowing glory of the Eiffel Tower caught our eyes; we were transfixed.  The immense structure was sparkling like a shiny diamond ring.  Our early night promptly transformed into "Operation find that Tower!"  Like pilgrims headed for Mecca, we stumbled, took wrong turns, considered stopping for rest and reniforcements, and prayed for the strength to make it - okay, perhaps a bit dramatic, but really, we walked through the romantic, star-lit streets of Paris for about an hour with nary a map to finally stand before the shining beacon.  It was amazing. So much bigger, sparklier and beautiful that we could have imagined.  Now I know the Tower was only built in 1889 to serve as the entrance for the World Fair and that Parisians originally thought it to be quite ugly, wanting to tear it down until they realized it was a good anchor for antennas and that millions of people would eventually pay gobs of money to come see it, BUT it was love at first sight for Amy and I.  It was a wonderful evening, to say the least.

 Our first day in Paris was a tad bit rainy and grey, but we found ourselves smiling from ear-to-ear.  We hit up the Bastille (or what there was to see of it), ambled along the Seine river, visited Notre Dame (with hoards of other tourists) and even found an American store.  Amy was beyond herself excited to find a real live Mountain Dew for the reasonable price of 4 Euros.  We also rode the Roue de Paris (60 meter Ferris wheel that provides spectacular views of the City).

Saturday night we had the great pleasure of meeting up with our super-fun Swedish friends Esteban and Markus, and Esteban's cousin Carlos and his partner Pelle.  We shared a lovely meal in Marseille and caught a late-night drink or two.

Sunday rounded out the trip.  We walked the Champs Ellyses, photoed the Arc de Triumph, strolled through the Jardin des Tuileries and found ourselves at the Musee de l'Armee, originally the Hotel National des Invalides.  WOW - this was a rad museum.  We had no idea what we were in for.  Apparently, in 1670, Louis the 14th decided to create a resting place for disabled and aging soldiers.  The Hotel des Invalides set an example for the rest of Europe to emulate. The 4000 residents shared space and made uniforms, shoes and tapestries to keep themselves busy.  The more severely injured were spared work duties so that they could be cared for in the on-site hospital.  While the building was eventually turned into a museum, the hospital still remains in operation today.  The highlight of this museum was visiting Napoleon's tomb.  I have never seen so much marble in one place.  It was stunning.  And the larger than life statutes were imbued with such life, I would not have been shocked if one of them struck up conversation with me.  It was truly a sight to be seen.

We boarded the Sunday evening train still slightly in shock that we loved Paris - yet another fabulous European experience.  The final explanation point was our first-class train tickets home. For some reason (ahem) we had to purchase first-class tickets for the second leg of this trip, according to one Ms. Amy T-G.  UMMM, I loved it! The brought us a fancy meal, we had lots of leg room and super comfy seats.  Now I could get used to that.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Swissin' up the Ghers

Of all our family visits to Geneva, the Ghers may have lucked out with the sun coverage. Good thing because Buzz Gher travels equipped with multiple cameras and he is not the happiest of campers without some good lighting.

Similar to our other guests, we commenced the Gher travel itinerary with an SBB train trip.  Swiss travel at its finest - immediate relaxation (well sorta of - Amy and mom immersed themselves in thrilling novels, I fretted over an interview with UNAIDS and dad sat poised, clicker finger cocked to capture an image at any moment).  We did have an interesting experience with a man on the train who wanted to talk about all things spaghetti.  "Spaghetti avec meatballs, spaghetti avec fromage, spaghetti, spaghetti, J'aime spaghetti". We stepped off the train rubbing our bellies, oddly craving carbs.

Our goal for the trip was to hit every snow-capped mountain top within reach of a day's travel.  We nailed it - Matterhorn at Zermatt, Jungfraujoch at Interlaken, Mount Saleve at Geneva (oh actually, Amy and the rents were turned away from that mountain - not open on the weekends in the Winter, who knew?)
It was truly amazing to see the glorious sun, snow, and peaks for miles. Peep even managed to make it into a few shots.

While my father was excited about the scenery, my mom may have been more excited about the fondue and raclette. I know I have blogged about this before, but the SWISS HAVE SOME SERIOUSLY GOOD CHEESE!!  As you will see here, it was quite a day in Gruyère eating up hot bubbly cheesy goodness.  It was so good that the famous Gruyère castle was an afterthought (note the absence of a photo).

All in all, another great family trip. Everyone was happy all around!

PS-I should probably mention that my mom and Amy took a side trip to Barcelona for my mother's 60th birthday.  I would add a photo here, but OH wait, I did not get to go on that fabulous trip. JK :-) They drank lots of sangria, hit up the Sagrada Familia, saw real live Flamenco dancers - sounds like it was a doozy.  Awesome that Amy celebrated with my mom in full spirit and rad that mom had the best birthday ever!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Todds Descend Upon Swisse

Some time has passed since my last post, we have been a bit occupied with house guests. In fact, our touring schedule kicked up a notch over the last few weeks with the successive arrival of Todds (drumroll, please).

Amy's parents arrived first. Within moments of their United flight making contact with the tarmac, Clara and Maurice promptly ordered fondue and jumped on a boat to tour Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva - not sure the French side of the lake likes that name). I was impressed with how quickly they took to the trains, planes and ferry boats necessary to navigate the mountainous country of Switzerland.

One of Maurice's goals while in Switzerland was to see some snow-capped peaks. Sometimes you need to be careful what we wish for (read - foreshadowing). In an attempt to realize Maurice's dream, we jumped on a train to Interlaken and headed for Jungfrau - the purported "Top of Europe." Unfortunately, the weather had taken a turn since we were in Interlaken the week before. The Jungfrau cam was a white-out. What does one do when the weather does not permit you to go atop a mountain, crawl inside a mountain and view the Trummelbach Falls (or Trümmelbachfälle in German :-). Trummelbach is a series of ten glacier-waterfalls inside the mountain made accessible by tunnel-lift. The falls drain the glacier defiles of Eiger (3970 m), Mönch (4099 m) and Jungfrau (4158 m) and carry 20,200 tons of boulder detritus per year. (*Thanks Wikipedia).
It was quite and adventure.

When we noted that the weather was not going to improve, we decided that by golly, we are going to hit up a mountain. We jumped on another train, to a gondola, to a cogwheel train, to two more gondolas to mount Schilthorn. Again, quite a different experience from the first time Amy and I made this trip. See antarctic snow gear here - It was quite insane, but the Todds took it in stride and were actually quite light-hearted about it all.

Maurice wanted some sno-capped mountains, he got blizzard conditions in October. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but my goodness there was a lot of snow. See white out here - Fortunately, during our multiple gondola rides to reach the 9744 foot high peak, there was a break in the snow and clouds and Maurice's shutter moved so fast smoked started to fly. Once at the top, we rewarded ourselves by eating overpriced food in the revolving restuarant - the famed location of the 1970s filming of a 007 film. Good times. Fortunately, the weather let up a bit and Mom/Pop Todd got to visit some castles in Gruyeres and Montreux and tour around Geneva a bit. They also managed to consume a lot of cheese, wine and chocolate - completely necessary evils here.

The next batch of Todds arrived a few days later. Amy's brother Mike and his wife Kara operated on an extremely expedited schedule. With only 4 days to pack in the fun, they got off the plane, dropped their bags and jumped on a train to Gruyeres. Similar to our other house guests, we immediately took Mike and Kara for mid-day wine and fondue. We were the first people at the restaurant and apparently the only ones crazy enough to want to sit outside. Who could pass up this bodacious view?

Mike and Kara had some QT, sans their adorable one year-old son Evan, to reconnect, take in the views, drink a beer, etc.

They also had some severe weather conditions of their own. One day Team Todd was almost taken out on Pont Mont Blanc. Gale force winds, or otherwise known as light breezes in Geneva, swept through and they were flying. It made for some mid-trip entertainment.

On Mike and Kara's last day in Swisse, Amy took them on an adventure to Matterhorn. They rose at the wee hours of the morning to jump on a train that was apparently full of snooty people and/or peeps with a train reservation. Determined to reach the snowy summit, the Todd crew occupied some comfy floor space on the train.

It appears that the long, annoying train trip to Zermatt to view the Matterhorn was all worth it. They got an immensely sunny and beautiful day on the summit. I think both Maurice and I are a bit envious, but we are happy that many of the crew saw this beautiful sight. And yes, it does look just like the one at Disneyland! Cheers!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gorges de l'Areuse - Neuchâtel

Amy has arrived! In an attempt to stave off her jetlag, we promptly jumped on a train to the Swiss Canton of Neuchâtel to hike a mountain (or rather a gorge).

Upon arrival at the train station, we proceeded to ask the "train" information desk where we could hike. After a bit of sardonic laughter, the nice "train attendant" walked us to a ticket kiosk and sent us on our way to board another train that was set to depart in roughly 4 minutes. As we scurried off to the platform, it started to sprinkle and clouds rolled in at a daunting speed. We boarded the train, looked at each other quizzically and wondered "umm, are we being dumb? Are we going to climb a mountain in a thunder storm?"

Mind you there was the Canton's annual wine festival taking place that day. Err, we could have just sipped some wine and eaten some fondue. On the same page about this alternative, attemped to exit stage left and make a break for it - "screw this hike, let's consume this country's finest vino." As we lunged for the door, it slammed shut in Amy's face. On with the treacherous hike we go.

Good thing we did - look at this!

And this!

The hike was gorgeous. We weaved in and out of the gorge itself and made our way through forests and small villages. It was a tad bit chilly, but all seemed right in the world now that Amy was getting some of the good Swiss air in her lungs and drinking in the yummy mountain water (really, you can drink the water from streams).

It was a succesful day - Amy seemed particularly pleased.

PS. Thanks for the hiking poles, Maurice!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Grindelwald - A little slice of heaven...

Alpine trek No. 3 - I woke up at the wee hours this morning to board a 3 hour train (well 3 trains, spanning 3 hours) to hike some more Alps. My Swiss friend Marianne and I met up in the Eiger village of Grindelwald in the Bernese Oberland, to board a gondola up to First--ski resort by winter, hiking wonderland by summer. We are squeezing in some serious hiking before it becomes blustery here.

The views were immediately breathtaking. Jutting snow-capped mountains, glaciers galore, cow bells a ringing (I know, what's new, its Switzerland), etc. I was channeling Buzz Gher and getting the shakes when I realized that I did not have a wide angle lens. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I talked myself off the proverbial (well, and literal) ledge and we proceeded forward. Marianne tells me we were at around 7000 feet or more. I am not exactly what altitude we were at, but we can go with that figure. My breath was not coming as easily - that means we were high. I was snapping away old school-style and Marianne went macro - she photoed every flower on that mountain, a couple mushrooms too. She also provided a lovely commentary about our surroundings, that can be viewed here:

The weather was perfect! There was as brisk breeze, but the sun was certainly a shinin'. Hikers peppered themselves all over the mountainside for picnics and all was right in the world. Marianne and I, however, were dead set on finding THE perfect lunch spot. I almost gave in a few times to the hunger pangs, but she insisted that we hold out to ensure that we were strategically placed on a cliff, where no other humans daned too linger - our own little slice of Alpine heaven. I give it to her - we had one AMAZING view. I had to promptly run to the edge and do a gymnastics move in honor of it.
Marianne did a few yoga poses too. Perhaps we get along because we are equally crazy and quirky. Whatevs, its working out :-).

After our fitness session and a fabu lunch, we started heading down the mountain. It was a truly truly truly glorious hike. Cannot wait to drag Ames up this mountain. I am going to make her do a headstand somewhere. She'll love it!

PS-thought dad would like this shot. He hearts birds, in fact, he may be a bird.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mont Pèlerin

My Swiss alpine adventures continued as my friend Marianne and I mounted the summit of Mont Pèlerin, just outside of Vevey. The trip began with a ride on a cog wheel train - which gave us a bit of a head start.
From there we traveled through a few small villages, Marianne sampled some berries, we trotted through a small forest and traversed the mountainside, chatting along the way.

One thing I love about hiking in Switzerland are the cows. SERIOUSLY cute with their bells and all. This one cow we came across was moooooing something fierce. We trotted by him real quick - not sure if he was looking for a mate. Hmmm, his markings were quite dapper.

All in all, the day was AMAZING - Swiss hiking is AMAZING! The sky was crystal blue, the clouds were whispy, the air was crisp and the sun was shining. What more could a girl ask for?

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Bonjour from Geneva!

I guess its time to dust off my formerly languishing blog to document my most recent adventure - a brief jaunt to Geneva, Switzerland to work with the World Health Organization. One Ms. Amy Krista will be joining me on this trip, so now we can both be coined "slightly crazy!"

I flew in over the Swiss Alps on August 31 - it was a breathtaking sight!

Since that time, I finished up my last few days with CRR (pause - moment of silence) and moved in temporarily with an adorable Portuguese couple and their two month old - FUN!

I went on my first Swiss Alpine adventure this morning. I ascended the summit of Mont Saleve, all 1380 meters of it. Yup - bottom to top of that bad boy. I was feeling pretty confident at the beginning, but then I soon realized that I would be walking straight up on loose gravel, without sign posts, the entire hike. Good times! I was also put to shame by a silver-haired granny who dusted me mid-mountain. There was not even a moment for a proper "Bonjour" greeting.

I had a few epiphanes during this mountaineering exercise: 1) a compass would be nice; 2) a camel back filled with ice cold water would be nice; and 3) some French language skills would be nice. Needless to say, I will move forward with begging Amy to bring said items in her overstuffed suitcase and I will hit up some language classes.

Huffing and puffing, I lost what little breath I had left when I saw the insane view! WOWEEEE!!! No wonder everyone leisurely took the Gondola up this steep crevace to picnic on the side of the sunny mountain. I proceeded to whip out my leatherman and reach back to my 21-year-old cheapy self to manufacture a slightly soggy bread-cheese-tomato sandy for lunch. I stared at the sky and watched hangliders float above me. The Swiss got it going on.

As a bribe to get myself to not whimp out and take the gondola back down the mountain, I headed toward the snack shack for some Toblerone - (PS YUMMY). Little did I know, I had crossed over into France and I needed a different currency. They happily obliged by giving me a crappy exchange rate for my Swiss Francs and I paid 6$ for the candy bar. Ummmm...

A few hours later, I found myself back at the bus stop, complete with jelly legs and thankful to the Almighty that I survived the trek down. It was not pretty folks.

Cest la vie! Until next time...

PS - I think I will take the Todds up this route.