After arriving back from Prague on Monday around noon, we were unfortunately greeted with the same rather unfortunate chilly rainy weather. Rats.
I had heard about Sechseläuten since my arrival in Zurich. I likened it to our Groundhog’s Day in the U.S. except instead of hoping for the groundhog to miss seeing his shadow and getting an early spring, the Swiss are hoping for a long warm summer and they blow up a snowman or Böögg (seriously). Both are fairly important, quite frankly, and it goes to show that basically no one really enjoys snow and cold for too long.
So when I learned of this Böögg igniting, I wanted in. What could be more fun than a festival for pyros, done in a very organized and safe fashion, of course. And there was a parade, isn’t there always?
The rain put a bit of a damper, plus all of my travel catching up with me and being quite exhausted. But neither of these things would keep me away from seeing this whole deal go down. Around 2:00 p.m. while uploading pictures and doing some laundry, I hear the first of many bands and costumed Swiss parading down my street- wohoo!
Once again, just like in Munich and Basel, I had a deep appreciation for the traditions that are cautiously kept alive here; these cultural quirks create uniqueness in a world where that is growing evermore difficult to come by.
One short nap, two loads of laundry and a few hundred more photo uploads later, I was on my way to find the rest of the parade and see this snowman explode. Perhaps grabbing a sausage along the walk too :)
The crowd wasn’t as large as I had anticipated, but it was being aired live as well, so most of the locals, not participating actively in the parade, seemed to have opted to stay in due to the nasty forecast. While the rest of us tourists and ex-pats crowded Bellevue to see this funky tradition. And then it happened…
It was so interesting and fun to watch this happen. Evidently the guess for how nice summer will be is how long it takes for the snowman’s head to explode. I had a hard time telling when this actually happened since it was wooden behind the snow part, so each new piece the fire reached made an explosion sounding like a gunshot (and also made me jump out of my pants a bit each time too). I don’t think I was the only one confused either because there were a few rounds of short-lasting cheers at the false starts. Anywho, eventually it did finally blow off completely and I heard from colleagues the next day that it took quite a bit of time so they were a bit bummed because that meant maybe not a great summer. I’ll still hope for the best, even though I won’t be here any longer :(
I had passed by far too many sausage stands on my way there and was finally able to grab one, now that my Böögg mission had commenced.
The marching bands played well into the evening (one passed by my street after 11 p.m. – I was shocked) what party animals.
Tuesday night, I had made plans to meet up with a new friend that I was introduced via Facebook. Once again, I heart social media and the connections that come from it. This new friend was introduced through someone I met nearly eight years ago on a pre-freshman seminar abroad to Quebec City with MSU. She reached out to me knowing a good friend of hers had also just been relocated to Switzerland (in Schaffhausen only 30 minutes or so from me) and could use a hand with acclimating to life over here. And I was eager to test out my limited, but still helpful, ex-pat advice.
We agreed to meet halfway in a little city called Winterthur, I had been meaning to get there before my time lapsed here so it was perfect. I asked my colleagues about where to go and they suggested we meet by the walking area of downtown and pick a spot from there. And that plan worked perfect for us. I took the train in from Zurich so I didn’t have to deal with parking and in case I decided to over-indulge in adult beverages, she was a fellow Spartan after all, so this was legitimately possible.
We clicked instantly and spent the next three hours recounting different work travel experiences, our time at MSU and funny ex-pat stories. She had also spent 6 months in Tokyo, which was really impressive and it was interesting to learn about her experience there. We also enjoyed the little Swiss hole-in-the-wall that we’d decided on for dinner and gorged ourselves on two different types of Röstis. I got the Bernen one with bacon, ham, onions and cheese (which topped an entire rösti cake) and Meredith got on with chicken, mushrooms and a paprika sauce of some kind. And we both enjoyed multiple classes of the house red for her, Prosecco for me.
It was such a nice night, and we both had wanted to go to other close by Swiss cities over the weekend so I suggested we combine the trips and go together, but we could figure it out over the week. I was bummed that our assignments hadn’t over-lapped more, but at least we had a little bit more time to go adventuring together before my time was up.
Wednesday evening, I had been invited over for dinner by Franziska to see her much anticipated new apartment in Dietikon (just outside of Zurich proper) and I was really looking forward to it.
She even made me a really nice and easy to follow guide to get to her house, with pictures and everything- it was so thoughtful!
I met her at her place after work and brought some congratulatory bubbly to celebrate the occasion. It was just beautiful inside, she had opted for a really lovely dark colored hardwood floor (much to her landlord’s disappointment) and did an expert job with her interior design and furniture choices. The weather cleared up enough for us to enjoy an aperitif and candied almonds on her porch and she treated me to some Ticino-based champagne which tasted like strawberries and was very lovely.
We enjoyed some conversation and bubbly while the sun slowly faded away for the day. Soon, we moved inside so she could prepare the rest of dinner and I was able to perch myself at her counter and watch (a favorite activity of mine and I haven’t gotten my fix of cooking shows in almost 3 months so I very much enjoyed this). She made us a lovely tomato and mixed salad and for the main course grilled lamb and asparagus risotto (yum!). Asparagus is super in season here at the moment and I see it everywhere, and I’m not even mad. A little stinky wee never hurt anyone, haha. But the dinner was truly superb and I savored each bite.
Franziska really pulled out all the stops for desert and had prepared a Caipirinha crème brulee (yes please!) and that was divine. Almost like a little individual key lime pie, so very tasty.
Since it was a school night, we had to end our evening earlier than we would have liked, but it was such a wonderful night and I’m very grateful to her hospitality :)
It was a house-warming get together kind of week…
Thursday evening Inez and Paul had invited a bunch of us over a few weeks ago to come see their new combined home. I was really excited to get to hang out with this group at least once more before leaving as they remind me so much of when I hang out with my GM friends back in Detroit and we always drink, eat and laugh until we can hardly move. This night definitely lived up to those expectations.
And in true Jennie fashion, it wouldn’t have been a night out with them if I didn’t experience some sort of travel malfunction. After looking up their new address, I realized it was only a little over a kilometer from my place so I’d walk it. What I didn’t realize was that it was straight up a.k.a a continuous hill-climb all the way with zig-zagging streets like crazy. My 20 or so minute trip soon turned into an hour of getting lost and Christina and LJ having to talk me back to where I needed to be. Thank you for always rescuing me friends J
Once I was there, the wine was already flowing and food was ready to pop in the oven. Pizzas and salad, the perfect new move-in treat and they had even gotten me a gluten free crust to eat my own – so very thoughtful of them.
We gathered around the table and enjoyed the wine and really yummy salad while the pizzas baked and giggled for the next few hours just like always.
I will surely miss this group, and everyone for that matter, that I’ve had the time to get to know and befriend over the last three months.
We surprised the new cohabitants with their very own Nespresso machine (a highly coveted item over here – think Keurig for those back in the states) and Inez even treated us to a few of the sample coffees from the starter kit. Half of the table was running in the Zurich marathon on Sunday, LJ the entirety and Inez, Paula, Anna and Holly as a relay team so Christina and Inez had made team shirts for everyone even the supporters! It was so sweet of them. And I was happy to don my “Solemates Supporter” tee that Sunday for the marathon.
It was time to get the marathoners home for some rest, they’d definitely need to save all their energy for Sunday. Christina and LJ offered to drive me home, thank goodness. I can only imagine the debacle I would have been with trying to pull the same maneuver as earlier, only in the dark and hopped up on red wine… surely would have had a much more interesting outcome than my safe and easy ride home!
By Friday, I was wiped out from my during the week partying and opted to be lame, watch a movie and go to bed relatively early to try and catch up before another weekend of exploring.
Sunday morning, trying to bounce back from the less than phenomenal Saturday evening, Christina and I woke up fairly early and got ready for the day. We caught the hotel breakfast just in time. I’ve now realized, no hotel breakfast will compare to the Hotel Muralto in Ticino. But this did the job and off we were to try and find the tram to take up to the castle, as it was rather steep.
As we walked, we took much of the same route as the day before and we walked right up to the base of the castle without even realizing it… granted it was still a long way up, but go us. Even in the super crappy weather (it was cold and rainy) Prague was still absolutely beautiful…
A few pics of the adventurers:
My fearless companion, Christina :)
We managed to huff our way to top (not without a few necessary breathing stops) and tried to figure out where to start. The castle folks made it pretty easy with ticket signs everywhere and we opted for the half-pass to see the four big attractions, the weather would not allow us to be patient for much more!
First stop: The Golden Lane (recommended by Franziska)
It was super cute, and filled with little Czech shops, a great place for gifts ;)
Next was up into a few hidden hallways of the castle until we go on the right track to the rest of the hot spots.
St. George’s Church- Christina’s favorite, it was really peaceful and had different architecture than I had seen before in the other churches I’ve visited over here.
The rear of St. Vitus… another Gothic masterpiece- I loved it.
The rain was starting to get worse and we were growing a bit weary and almost decided against going inside of St. Vitus’s Cathedral. Thank God we pulled it together, because it was jaw-dropping inside:
We were amazed by the inside of the cathedral, the intricacy of the architecture and way the light came through the stained glass was just incredible. Not to mention all of the detail given to the sacristy… unreal. Don’t leave Prague without going in here.
Back on the outside of St. Titus Cathedral… so beautiful. I loved this place and couldn’t stop looking at it from all sides.
At this point in our day, we needed a coffee warm-up, or in my case another gluhwien, I much prefer this way of warming up to coffee. We chatted a bit and tried to warm ourselves up and then went back out to hit up the inside of Vladislav Hall.
After that, the rain was really just too much for our enjoyment, plus we had forgotten to pack an umbrella, rats, and we getting a bit miserable. So we tried to figure out how to grab a tram back to the Old Town or close to our hotel - no such luck. Evidently the only place to buy tram tickets was in tobacco shops - who knew?
With the exchange rate being quite awesome for USD and CHF we opted to go for the taxi knowing we might get taken advantage of. But not as much as we ended up being in the end… errr. It was 700CZK which worked out to about 40CHF…. blergh. But we got to the shopping center we wanted and it was actually open on a Sunday- double win.
First things first though, we desperately needed some lunch. Our first selection, what we thought was the food court in the mall was seemingly open, if it was run by ghosts. Very strange. So we settled on a Coa specializing in “Asian happy food” - well alright then. The food was delicious and our servers were super happy so I guess they didn’t false-advertise after all :) I even splurged on a dessert of coconut rice pudding… yum.
I had really been proud of my budget-friendly focus on traveling, not shopping, mindset I had for the past few months here, until this day. Perhaps because of the crappy weather day, the wicked awesome exchange rate, or because I finally broke the shopping seal… but I had myself a little field day. Which really wasn’t even that bad, at least for my usual shopping habits :)
We were pooped and tried to get tickets for the tram again and kept failing at this, but finally located an open tobacco shop to purchase a few day passes and then hopped on the tram. Then we felt a bit silly because we only took it one more stop to our street… but at that point it was so worth it, and we could still use them tomorrow morning on our way back to the airport.
We took a little retreat from the elements and I was able to Skype with my sister which was really nice because it had been a while since we had gotten to and Christina tried to work out a plan the next morning for our travel back to the airport.
Nearing 8 p.m. we were ready for dinner and willing to forgive the dreadful Czech food experience on the dinner cruise the night before and try to find some local fare.
Still no umbrella, so I got creative…
We knew at some point we wanted to go to the pub we’d seen in our wandering the day before, right around the corner from us, “The Dubliner” but just before we got there, we stumbled upon a super cute little hole-in-the-hall Czech restaurant attached to a very quaint Ceryn Hotel.
We found gold in the form of Czech food.
So unbelievably delicious. I enjoyed a Lambrusco (wink Haley), Christina some local red wine and for our main courses - lamb shank, spinach and au gratin potatoes, for me and Christina’s went big with the traditional plate loaded with four different kinds of meat: sausage, lamb, chicken and pork (I think) served over red and white cabbage and an assortment of dumplings. Cue another When Harry Met Sally restaurant scene, we were in Czech food heaven.
Pleasantly plump, we turned the corner to the Dubliner bar and were met with a very friendly staff. The head bartender had just moved here with his newly-wedded Czech wife from Seattle and the waitresses were Irish and English and they were all so nice! We sat there for a while at the bar, and I enjoyed my Magners, chatting with them and learning about the struggle the bartender was having with his recent move. Only 2 months in, he was having a tough time with the culture and finding work and super frustrated, but he was making it work for his new wife. Oddly enough, they met on “couchsurfers.com” she came to stay, and he laughed “I tried to give her the Seattle experience.” I smiled coyly back and said “I’ll say.” and winked at him… hehe.
The bar was pretty empty when we first got there. But soon it was swimming with mostly touristy types and football watchers and we happened to meet another gentleman in from San Francisco (by way of Minnesota) and enjoyed talking to him as well. He came here and to Malaysia (Christina’s home country) 3 times a year… tickle me jealous! He had lots of great suggestions for the city too, if only we had run into him sooner!
Nearly 3 hours into our good time here, an organized pub crawl was about to arrive… admittedly, I have enjoyed such a bar crawl during my Roma tour in ‘06 still in college. It was the 4th of July and what better way to celebrate our national holiday overseas by being the obnoxious American youngsters we were and paint Rome with our drunkness. And we did. It’s amazing what can happen in such a short time…
As soon as they arrived, I looked at Christina and said, “I think its time to go” and she laughed saying “Listen to the young one speak”. Well young I may be, but getting shoved around by 18 year olds trying to piece together their 65CZK for a beer, pouring a portion on you and being grabbed by the creepsters trying to hit on the little ladies didn’t quite match the enjoyed live music, chatting and throwing down a few hard ciders atmosphere we had been in only moments before.
So back to the hotel it was to get our stuff repacked and try not to focus on our early start for our flight in the morning.
I would agree, whole-heartedly in fact, especially if you think about how a diamond comes to be and what Prague has been through in the past.
When planning the trip to Prague, I was debating between Berlin and this beautiful city. No offense to Berlin, they both had walls torn down and an extremely interesting history, and I’d heard enticing things about both, but as a window shopper, Prague really sold itself well.
Of course the evening before I left, I finally met up with a friend of a friend that I’d been trying to catch up with for weeks, and he told me I should have gone with Berlin… which deflated my excitement a bit (only for about 20 minutes though). To be fair, he had studied in Berlin for a year so I completely understand where he is coming from. Spending anytime longer than a month really changes how you feel about a city. You get to truly explore and have a peek into life there, not just check off a list of sites and scramble to make the most of your time. I am certain Berlin is a wonderful city and I hope to get there when (not if) I come back to Europe, now back to the lovely and talented Prague…
Christina and I had decided to meet at the airport at 7 for our flight and while I am used to US flying where baggage check costs a small fortune (unless you are a gold perks flyer xoxo, yes really, Delta) and I always try to pack light now to avoid that when possible. Plus the long check-in lines and my tendency to run behind aren’t bffs. It should have come as no shock to me that the Swiss would have this whole baggage check down to a timed science. We got into a line of about 15-20 people because Christina suggested we check our bags so we didn’t need to worry about lugging them around. I was a bit anxious seeing the line, but in about 5 minutes we were up front checking them in. Well done Swiss Air, now if we could only work on that whole croissant only flight snack.
We even had time for a quick coffee! It was wild.
Soon it was time to board and I warned Christine that I have a tendency to fall asleep as soon as planes started to ascend; she was A-OK with this, which was lovely. One quick nap, a piece of chocolate, an incredibly smooth landing and then it was “Hello, Prague”.
We were both a bit dis-oriented wandering the airport, turns out Czech is not the easy language to fake. After wrangling our bags, we found our way to two different tourist posts, one of which was actually helpful and we were able to buy tram tickets and received a nice map with guidance to our hotel. No sooner did we step up to the tram stop, but our tram rolled up… good timing for us.
After one tram change, and what seemed like an eternity, we were at our hotel stop… except we had no idea which way to go now… lucky for us we guess right and wound up heading the correct direction. I then tried to break into an “Antik” shop thinking it was our hotel, and luckily Christina steered me away and we continued on until we got to the actual “Antik Hotel”… word.
We were greeted by the sweetest little Czech man with a wicked and dry sense of humor (fantastic!) and he offered to hold our bags while we went to grab some breakfast.
After trying to get into a few cute little coffee shops, and finding basically all gluten, boo, we wound up at the “James Dean Diner”. As you know, I don’t care to generally do as the “Americans” do abroad, but more than the majority of the other cities I’d visited, the Czech really dug Western culture and it was all around us, and we were intrigued by this particular joint. Modeled after a 50’s diner, it was much more upscale for the traditional greasy spoon diners, and came complete with a waitress staff that all had well-displayed top shelf upgrades (if you catch my drift) – so we were in Central Europe after all.
We both selected our breakfast of choice and soon it was upon us. I’ll give them props they had the American breakfast down – massive bacon, onion cheddar, omelet for me and eggs, toast and an assortment of the finest breakfast meats for Christina. The hash browns could have used some work, or perhaps just ¼ of the oil used. We enjoyed a nice and leisurely breakfast, both admitting it was one of our favorite weekend activities J
We rolled (more or less) out of there and back to our hotel to finally get up to our room. It was a really cute hotel, though we both agrees, not quite 4-star, we’d give it 3 because it was clean, really friend and well-located, but the room barely fit the bed and the safe didn’t work after about a bazillion tries and calling for assistance. No matter to us though, we didn’t spend much time there anyway with all of our wandering.
Speaking of the wandering… we hit the road without a plan and happened upon Old Town Square and just kept going until we’d more or less hit a majority of the hot spots…
Old Town Square
(Not the Charles Bridge) But a lovely shot of Prague :)
Part of the Charles Bridge
Along the way we stopped for mint tea and gluhwien and eventually a sampling of the local sausage… turns out Christina might enjoy sausage even more than I do! We also stumbled upon a bachelor party while trying to take in a local talent show with a local fairly decent dance troupe.
The lucky groom-to-be and his buddies picking up what the dance troupe was laying down and loving it. Shortly after, this fine gentleman was ushered off the stage after trying to take over the show. The Czech did not his shenanigans as amusing as I did…
And we carried on.
The Astronomical Clock - I really like this reminded me of the similar one in Strasbourg.
After finally looking at a map once we were tired and trying to find our way back to the hotel, we realized that we’d seen quite a bit of the city. What would be new on our city tour and river dinner cruise, we wondered? Little did we know we were in for quite an evening…
Quite frankly, the only redeeming part of the 65CHF excursion was the prompt pick-up at our hotel. Once on the bus we were thrown around Prague in the process of trying to scoop up the remaining cruise attendees. Christina said, “well I hope we have at least some good people to sit with at dinner, that is always fun…” Yes, that is fun. We then circled the block multiple times while our bus driving avoided getting a moving violation, our tour guides got their ish together and the charming North Carolinian woman in front of us had a near melt down each time we started to go around the block again… “Wayait! Yo leavin’ mah husban!” Sigh… this is why many Europeans don’t like American tourists. For the life of us, Christina and I couldn’t figure out why this woman’s husband didn’t feel the need to physically get on the bus until we seriously did almost pull out without him…
Next was the really lovely tour, half in English and half in German… not fully English as specified on the ticket and website… joy. 15 minutes later we pulled up to the cruise ship. Tour my left foot, I could have provided more information after our few hours of wandering.
Now on the boat, we thought they’d get some redemption points. Only if nearly inedible food, over priced wine and sitting the tables so close together every time you or your neighbor tries to move, everyone else must get up with you. Double sigh. Oh and, we got to share a table with the same folks we took the “tour” with. Christina tried to be nice to the Southern couple, who completely ignored her introduction handshake - real nice. It was then that we decided to split a bottle of wine and chuck the evening to the birds.
It was nice for some glamour shots however…
And we still had 3+ hours left on the boat. SIGH. Perhaps we’d see more of the city if we sat up top, even if it was cold. That’s a funny joke.
For the next three hours we spent the time looping between the same three bridges, getting stuck (basically) in 4 different locks and being enveloped in exhaust fumes… woot woot! (Note, do not by any circumstance make our touring mistake: http://www.pragueexperience.com/places.asp?PlaceID=1165 - a curse on both your houses.)
We couldn’t wait for the bumpy ride back to our hotel. Sunday we planned to tour the castle though, so all would be redeemed.
Big breakfasts on the weekends, particularly on holidays, are definitely up there among some of my favorite things (don’t worry I won’t bust out into any more Sound of Music). So after devouring a greater portion of the tasty white chocolate/berry Easter bunny as an appetizer, courtesy of Merkur Swiss chocolates, we decided to wander out and about towards an area we hadn’t been yet.
We should have saved our energy.
As it was a national holiday, nearly everything was closed and even worse, we happened to be somewhat in the middle of a heavy office building area. So this led to a very hungry (read: cranky) lady and frustrated manfriend. We found to pubs that actually looked legit, but of course it would be a few hours before those actually opened… sigh.
Luckily there always seemed to be a Costa exactly when you needed one so a few more flat whites to tide us over and wonderfully enough, they had a GF brownie waiting for me as well. And it was delicious and definitely aided the cranky pants for the time being.
We came up with a game plan to Tube it back to the Tower, try one other street before succumbing to the hotel’s brunch.
Well as it turns out, we had similar luck there so the hotel’s brunch it was. And that was sadly very lackluster. Cold food, rude service and in general just meh. It was time to turn this day around!
So we got ready and headed toward the Tower for a potential tour and met up with the Hutchinsons. Well as it was not quite our lucky day, we came to quite a long line to get in and rain starting to get a bit heavier so we decided to hit up Costa (yes again, don’t judge). I went for a peppermint tea this time however, only one flat white a day for me :) and we waited out the weather a bit, but still enjoyed a beautiful view of city in the glass-lined coffee shop.
New plan: St. Paul’s and then see where the city takes us… we’d been trying to get to St. Paul’s since our arrival, so we were quite excited at this back up plan.
One bus ride (unfortunately not on one of the new Routemaster’s much to Caleb’s disappointment) and there we were…
St. Paul’s Cathedral
It was breathtaking, even with a service taking-place we were able to quietly peak through the back of the church and it was really beautiful. We then wandered out and into the basement where Roy filled us in on much of the back story of the different London fires and how St. Paul’s and the city evolved after each of the fires.
Debs then had a great suggestion since the weather was still holding off a bit, to go to a nearby shopping center to the rooftop because it had an incredible view of the city. The glass buildings that created the center were perfectly placed to reflect St. Paul’s as well which was really cool:
It was definitely worth our trip up to the rooftop as well…
Next up was a walk across the Millenium Bridge (which swayed a bit - I was warned)… very pretty views of the city scapes from on the bridge though.
Then the Globe Theatre - we tried to figure out the names on the cement surrounding the theatre, but couldn’t come to a very good conclusion. Donors? Actors? Bueller?
Oh feet had had just about enough of our wandering shenanigans for the third day in a row, but Roy had an excellent plan. Knowing we had been disappointed in our quest for a local English pub, he selected a fantastic one just around the corner from the Borough Market. I knew it must be a good place as there was a gathering of jesus-costume wearing drunks right outside the entrance. It was Easter, after all, and I thoroughly enjoyed their spirit.
We found a table right in the center of the mix and plopped down with our beverages ciders for the ladies, beers for the fellows and a coke for Caleb. We gabbed some more and enjoyed out happy hour together. After our long day of sight-seeing, we parted ways again at the Tube with hugs all around.
The manfriend and I then wandered the borough a bit and decided to try and get to the London Eye that night, so back to the Tube we went. We weren’t terribly hungry, but since it was still a bit light out and we wanted to enjoy the Eye by night, we stopped at a trendy dim sum restaurant along the way. They boasted their GF menu, which I am always appreciative of, however when you only offer about 6 things on your menu of 50+ it is a little bit discouraging. Nonetheless, we ordered some snacks and looked forward to trying out some different cuisine. It was actually all really good, particularly their ribs and perfect little portions for our snack time.
Then it was time for the London Eye, and that was definitely a cool experience. Certainly a push for two height-scaredy cats, but well worth it for the views and general peace you get to enjoy such a large city from above.
After we hopped off, (literally, the London Eye doesn’t stop moving like most ferris wheels, you gotta be quick on your entrance and exit) we wandered the pier for a bit. We managed to find our way back to the Tube, perhaps a little bit of a round-about way, but hey whatever works, and took it back to the Borough Market hoping to find our actual dinner now.
After a few other failed attempts, we wound up at the lovely pub from earlier and just made the cut off time for the kitchen - yay! We ordered immediately, and split a cider and some water. Our food came pretty quickly and was really tasty, or perhaps because we were so hungry and exhausted anything would have at that point. But I had chicken stuffed with goat cheese, wrapped in bacon and served over mashed potatoes, so there’s really no way that can’t be delicious.
Growing more tired by the minute, we decided to call it a night after dinner and made our way back to the Tower. London is fantastic but exploring sure can tire you out!
quick side note - I was just trying to put a DVD one of my colleagues loaned me and while trying to negotiate the tech set up I stumbled upon an entire cable network I didn’t know I had this whole time. Yes, there is now a world beyond CNN world news, part of me is glad I didn’t know this until now because it forced me to get out and about, but the other part of me is pretty psyched about taking advantage of it a bit now.
and now back to fun times in London
We made plans to meet some friends of Rob’s (Roy, Debs and Caleb) at the British Museum around 1:00 p.m. so we had a nice lazy morning with a few more flat whites. Planned our route and hit up the Tube towards the museum. I was quite famished, shocker, so we stopped at the first pub we saw more or less. I was floored. They had at least ten different flavors of hard cider, it was brilliant. I settled on a strawberry kiwi one, the manfriend went for a traditional British pint, even though the bartender claimed to not favor English beer and we checked out the menu. I saw stuffed jacket potatoes and really didn’t need to look much further, it was a tough choice though cheese, cheese and bean or cheese and bacon all of my favorites. The beans won (lucky you manfriend ;) haha). We realized we were cutting it a bit close to meet with the Hutchinsons, but the bartender again claimed that the British museum was only a 5 minute walk up the road and to the left.
Perhaps not for the two seemingly directionally-challenged folks we found ourselves to be. It was like the L’ouvre all over again. We both knew (he had even been there previously) that it was huge and really close, said the map, and our instincts,. But for some reason we just could not connect the dots.
We finally got there, and thoroughly enjoyed a text from Roy regarding our tardiness. I hadn’t met any of the Hutchinson’s before, but I had heard all about them from stories, and what a truly wonderful bunch they were.
I bonded instantly with Debs as we were both fairly disinterested in history and the gentlemen had already taken off through the museum excited about the various ruins the Brits had more or less stolen and put in their national museum. I found that pretty amusing too actually. I never imagined I’d get to see ancient Chinese, African, Egyptian, Roman and Greek cultures in the British Museum, and we only skimmed the surface of the museum for an hour or so.
Truth be told, it was quite an impressive museum and had it not been wall-to-wall people, I probably would have been game to stay longer and take it all in.
But Roy, Debs and Caleb had quite an agenda for us to check many of the big sites in London off the “seen” list. We stopped off for a quick recharge of another flat white at Costa and enjoyed some catching up.
Soon we were back at it again and they took us an a great tour of the city. We also enjoyed lovely conversation and they shared loads of fun facts along the way…
(this was a fantastic action shot “fixing our hair” - thanks for capturing Debs)
St. Jame’s Park
Buckingham Palace :) We gave the queen a a wave even though she was out.
After all of the walking, our dogs were seriously barking so Roy decided to treat us to a taxi ride to Picadilly’s Circus so we could enjoy a nice meal together at Nando’s.
(Picadilly’s Square screen, like a baby Times Square, right Debs?)
Dinner was very tasty. I opted for the lemon herb Chicken, the manfriend for the “medium” heat, Debs and Caleb fancies the plain chicken Roy when big with the “hot” version. We thoroughly enjoyed giving our tootsies a rest and dining together. We journeyed to the Tube and then parted ways, with plans to meet again on Sunday to possibly tower the Tower of London (it was right next door for heaven’s sakes).
On our way back to the hotel, we got a jonesing to see Big Ben up close and try to find the infamous (well to me anyway) “Eccleston Square” area. So we hopped off at Westminster and were greeted by Mr. Ben himself… hello there!
Might be my favorite pic while in London, even if it is a bit fuzzy:
We decided trying to find a pub to have another drink or two was in order… however for a country known for these, the real ones sure are hard to come by. After a while of wandering, we settled at “The Balls Brothers”, yes that’s really what the establishment was called. And ordered a pitcher of something fruity.
It was terribly good, but we did have some fun with the waiter and our feet thanked us again for the break. We were completely wiped from amazing day around London and headed back to the Tower for a bit of shut eye.
I’ll try to spare the mushy manfriend meeting and not gush too much about our wonderful weekend together because some things should be left unsaid and quite frankly, its generally just not my style.
But we did have somewhat of a movie meeting, landing in two separate terminals and him coming to meet me outside the customs area was pretty spectacular. We grabbed a couple of flat whites at the local “favorite” coffee shop “Costa” and headed to find our way into the city. He had already navigated much of the airport trying to find me so he figured out the way we needed to grab the first train.
I was quite impressed with myself however, when I schooled him a bit on the train ticket purchasing, thank you train stations all over Europe. We got off at the Paddington station stop, where I asked if the Paddington Bear would be there, it seemed like a pretty legit option. He said he would be, and I had almost lost hope but in our last dash to the tube, I saw the a small little bear statue. Regardless of whether it was the infamous Paddington bear, I’m going to go ahead and believe that it was.
After wandering all over the station, up and down levels and getting confused multiple times, we finally located the Tube and made our way to the London Tower stop. Then there was maneuvering the underground, but it was all worth it for this…
My first real view of London, well done ol’ chap, well done:
The manfriend had taken advantage of his London friend’s suggestion and sprung for a room at the Tower Bridge hotel and I wasn’t complaining :)
We weren’t sure that we’d get an early check-in, but as luck would have it a few rooms, and even one without the 50£/night upgrade to settle into. Hooray! We also were able to make a reservation for a high-tea on Monday night at Fortnum & Mason, which had a gluten free service option- wahoo again!
And then there was the view from our room… top notch, indeed!
Getting a bit of sunshine on our first day in London was an extra special treat, so we decided to wander down around the bridge and through the Borough market to take in the city.
Rather amusingly the Lindt team was out in full force for an Easter bunny hunt, so I didn’t need to worry about being too far from my Swiss chocolate after all.
And this made me giggle:
Opinions are yours…
We stumbled upon the largest wok of paella either of us had ever seen and lunch was decided. Even better, they had super tasty sangria and two street-side seats opened up just on cue. After thoroughly enjoying our paella, cocktail and people-watching, we moved on to more exploring. Borrough Market was phenomenal and there were great, and sometimes interesting, smells around every corner. We had a great time exploring the city.
Someone was a bit jet-lagged so we headed back to the hotel for a nap. Okay so I was tired too after my excitement had caught up with me, so we enjoyed a nice night in so that we could fully enjoy the next three days in foggy London town :)
On Monday after we had returned from our wild weekend in Salzburg, the ladies had a nice lazy morning, and I trotted off to work.
Upon my return, I was welcomed to a wonderfully prepared meal and two smiling Densmores :) Being greeted with deviled eggs alone was enough to get me excited. But they had made a delightful and light meal of grilled chicken salad and roasted veggies, which was certainly welcomed after our ultimate gorge-fest over the weekend. They even got a bottle of Prosecco to cheers our great trip together, it was just lovely.
We shared some of Zurich’s finest chocolates, looked at pictures and then they packed for their inevitable departure the next day.
I brought the ladies with me to work on Tuesday morning since their flight wasn’t until after noon and they were curious to see my office. They were lucky enough to meet many of my colleagues and a few new country managers in for an orientation. I had to leave the ladies in my office for a quick meeting and when I returned, it was time for their dreaded departure.
So off to the airport we went. Hugs, kisses and well wishes were shared all around and back to the office I went, time to check back in to reality.
After work that day, Christina had invited me to drinks and I gladly accepted. Unfortunately, our original patio bar plans were rained out (come on Switzerland, I only have a few short weeks left, I want to take advantage of all the great riverfront hot spots!) but she had another trick up her sleeve… the Marriott hotel by the airport. It revealed maybe the best people watching yet. Maybe even better than the purse dogs sporting designer sweaters in Milan.
You may or may not know that prostitution is more or less, okay it is, legal here. So if you can catch my drift of going to an airport bar, then guess what you get. High-class lady escorts. Truthfully, if you didn’t know that the hotel provided this type of service to the businessman traveling in and out for their banking excursions, you may just pass it for the traditional “pick-up” bar. Even funnier, Christina didn’t know this when she first started going there with some neighbors of hers and was always curious why she was hit on more often when sitting at the bar there. One of her friends that was a manager there finally tipped her off to the subtle service they provided and she has since always grabbed a table on the other side of the bar. But for the happy hour specials, it really can’t be beat because Switzerland doesn’t really do discounts especially not on food or drinks.
The view beyond the people-watching was spectacular as well…
We had a really nice and relaxing happy hour and I dropped her off afterwards and prepped my apartment for my Aunt’s visit on Wednesday!
I made plans to meet my aunt at 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday after work at my place and the planets aligned and I was actually able to get home 15 minutes prior to her arrival. Yes you read that right friends, I was actually early and ready for her arrival 15 minutes before. This whole Swiss time thing has its benefits after all.
She had unfortunately caught a nasty head cold before her visit so after a quick download of her Zurich city wandering, she rested a bit before we headed to dinner. She is a huge fan of all Asian food so I decided to take her back to the awesome Chinese restaurant right up the street from me that Christina introduced me too earlier in my stay here.
We picked up right where we left off and chatted our evening away, it’s so neat being able to connect with a close family member that you have known for so long, but never realized or had a chance to understand your similarities.
After our meal, we made a stop at the main station so she could get some Vick’s Vapo-Rub (are you reading Aubs?) and of course we made a stop at the Sprungli satellite shop. To refresh your memory, Sprungli is the primo chocolatier in Zurich and she got a few little treats for us to indulge.
Both tuckered out, we hit the sack fairly early and I started to pack for London :)
My aunt and I shared a lovely breakfast on Thursday morning and then I headed to work while she got ready for day two of her Zurich adventure.
I’m not gonna lie, work was tough with my impending trip to London and meeting up with the manfriend after a very long two months. But I struggled through the day and managed to be a productive member of the team, which is always a good thing. It also helped the the whole team was pretty geeked about the four-day weekend and our after work happy hour for Marc’s birthday.
We all met at the bar, Christina and I with a special birthday surprise for him, and sat down to enjoy the happiest of hours. The bartender nearly forgot about the cake for the man of the hour, but we were able to get it to him, just as his son arrived and joined us for the celebration. We had a great time and I truly enjoy the time I get to spend outside of work with my colleagues here. I’ve said it before, but GM people are spectacular all across the world.
After a few jabs at what I might see or not be seeing while in London, and a very bright red Jennie, Conny and I decided it was time to hit the road.
It had been a few weeks since we got together so Sarah and I had a lot to catch up on and she invited me over for dinner and drinks. She was also in the middle of a rather amusing roommate furniture battle and couch cushions could be found in every hidden crevice possible around her flat - it was pretty funny. She decided to make a beet risotto and fennel and beet salad. Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of beets, but I am of fennel and risotto and Sarah worked her usual magic in the kitchen and it was delectable. And no I don’t think it was the happy hour and additional wined up mind set I had at the time.
Though I didn’t want to leave, I decided I needed to so that I would be able to get at least a drop of sleep before my very early wake-up call and flight to London. And lucky for me the booze had calmed my jitterbugs enough to at least get a bit of that sleep I needed.
and then there was London…
The ladies joined me in the early wake-up on Sunday morning, eager to join our tour group and see the city The Sound of Music style.
I didn’t realize when I reserved a pick-up/drop-off at our hotel it wasn’t for our tour passes, but actually a shuttle to the tour starting area. Imagine my surprise when we walked out of breakfast to a gentleman very antsy to see us in the lobby of our hotel.
"Are you the Ecclestone party?" he said seeming a bit too excited about my name…
"Yes?" I said.
"Are you re…" and I had to stop him…
"Not of the Formula One Ecclestones, hahaha, I probably wouldn’t be going on this tour if I was ;)" I said.
He laughed and explained that the loose translation of his German name was more or less Bernie Ecclestone and he begged to pick us up when he saw our reservation. He had also amped up the entire cargo van filled with other tourists, that I would be joining the crew…
"Well, aren’t they going to be disappointed!" I exclaimed.
So we plunged our way back to last row of seats in the van and I felt fairly flattered but was mostly in shock by what had just happened. I should really use this whole family name thing to my advantage though the more it keeps happening.
Soon we boarded the bus and got pumped for the tour…
(Haley will be pissed about this photo, but it’s my blog hehe :P)
And off we went with the greatest tour guide ever, Naomi. She was donning the female lederhosen and everything, she was awesome.
Shortly into our ride, we were befriended by a young man from Cleveland (sorry for your loss bro) and he regaled his recent back-packing adventure through Israel and parts of Eastern Europe. It was nice to chat with him and share some of our similar experiences. Our first stop was the Von Trapp home and lake that the house was on, but we learned this was not their actual home because if you didn’t know already, the Von Trapps were a real Austrian family. Coincidentally, they did escape to the U.S. later on, but not by literally walking through the Alps. They also opened a fabulous ski resort in the upper NER of the U.S.- way to capitalize Von Trapps.
I am 16 going on 17…
(I’ve got confidence road… the pic won’t upload so see Facebook album, because it did happen.)
Up next was by far the prettiest part of our adventure and Naomi took us to the best photography point, I was a huge fan.
With the fabulous Naomi just in front of my favorite spot and view in Austria.
Next we hopped back on the bus for a sing-a-long through the rolling hills of Salzburg headed toward the church that Maria and the Captain were marriaged. I was shocked at how little I remembered of the film and I’ll admit unimpressed with myself seeing as how I had performed in the musical… but alas that was more than a decade ago so I suppose I can cut myself some slack. Sharon and Haley really showed me up in the knowledge of the Von Trapp history though, I’ll tell ya what.
It was so beautiful inside with the Lenten decorations… Haley even donated a few euros for our own keepsake holy water.
We grabbed a quick lunch at the cafe that the Von Trapp family allegedly got ready prior to the wedding scene. Haley and I enjoyed cheese omelets, Sharon a delectable chocolate pastry dessert and our new friend Daniel had the classic apple strudel with warm vanilla cream sauce… winners all around. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the proper amount of Euros to cover our tab, which was not realized until after enjoying it- f. But the wait staff was nice enough to accept a hodge-podge of Euros and USD… many thanks to them.
More sing-a-longs on our journey back to Salzburg and fun were had. Once off the tour bus, we ventured back to the Mirabelle gardens so the ladies could envision each of the scenes that were relayed on the tour, which worked out quite well since the weather was so much better than the day before.
We decided it was a good time to hit the road so that they could still wander downtown Munich for a bit before our 6:00 p.m. dinner reservation with my Aunt Marty and did just that.
We parked around the corner from the main downtown area, and after a bit of guidance from a passerby, we were on our way.
(Haley and Sharon on the outskirts of downtown Munich)
I wasn’t the world greatest tour guide, as most of my touring info goes in one ear and right out the other, but I tried to show them some of the top spots my Aunt had showed me back in February.
I took them around to St. Peter’s, the Glockenspiel (above), the Operahouse, to rub a lucky lion statue’s nose and a few other Munich architecture treats.
Before long it was time to meet my Aunt for our dinner reservation. She had booked us a table at the most popular biergarten in Munich, which also happened to be owned by her former neighbors. She arrived in a big way, as only my Aunt Marty can, and was still wearing her lederhosen from her afternoon opera performance. Needless to say, Haley spotted her instantly and ushered her over. We had a lovely traditional German meal with some of the greatest mustard sauces I’ve ever had - yum. My Uncle Bernd was even able to join us which added even more fun to the party. We met the couple owning the restaurant and their adorable daughter and they were so warm and welcoming.
The owner even took us around on a private tour of the entire grounds and it was incredible. It dated back to the early 1800s (I think - haha silly memory) and had a massive eating hall which formerly housed all of the beer barrels.
After being floored by the cellar of the distillery, he took us up to the biergarten where up to 8,000 people enjoy themselves every day in the summer - nuts! It was awesome. The majority of the tables were from regular groups of people and you could order out from the restaurant or bring your own food, the only rule was to drink their beer - fair enough.
One of the regular/private group tables, they all had their family or group name engraved and some even had each persons name by their seat at the table. It was so cool and made me want to have my own table there for my friends back home!
As you can see from the pics, night time had fallen upon us again and it was time to venture back to Zurich. It was a long and tiring drive, but still nice with some more castles and neat mountain views- not to mentioned the fabulous company. We rolled into my apartment just before midnight, so very grateful to be “home” once again.
But all in all, it was a fabulous Austrian/Bavarian weekend and wonderful to have my family friends along for the experience :)
indeed they were.
I had saved up my road-trip to Salzburg, Austria, to take it with my fabulous Densmore women. I knew they were not only big fans of musicals and Disney, but even larger fans of The Sound of Music… and wouldn’t you know that the Best of The Sound of Music tour takes place right in Salzburg - seemed pretty perfect. Especially with the additional suggestion from one of my colleagues that had gone with her sister during her time here.
(fun fact: yours truly may have also been cast as a nun in the 2000 Meads Mill Middle School’s performance of The Sound of Music. okay, so it really did happen - and no, I still haven’t figured out how to solve a problem like Maria.)
I had also concocted a plan for us to hit up Innsbruck, Austria on our way there to stop for dinner and Munich on the way back to Zurich.
Slowly coming down from their Parisian high, the ladies quickly repacked and we hit the road just in time for some traffic, which put a bit of a damper on our timing, but we pushed on.
The drive was truly spectacular. I’ve been bummed that much of my driving has been at nighttime so the views aren’t as spectacular because, well, its pitch black. However, this drive was not only beautiful during daylight hours, but really nice in the dark as well. I almost enjoyed it more because all of the big castles and churches were lit up and very clearly defined, it would have been so easy to miss them during daylight hours or be distracted by the gorgeous mountains behind them. Though I suppose that’s not so bad either.
We rolled into Innsbruck after 9 p.m. and were famished. I’ll admit though the Austrian servers did a fantastic job distracting us, each one looked like his name was Sven and that we would be getting a fantastic ski lesson with our dinner as well if we so desired. Once we lifted our chins off the table and wiped the drool away, we discussed our meal selections and couldn’t wait.
Holy roesti cakes.
This was by far the greatest meal yet. We all resembled “Sally” in When Harry Met Sally faking it at the table, but it was nearly real. I had ordered salmon with a root vegetable cream sauce (I’m obsessed with celery root and it was all up in there) topped with a carrot and zucchini relish and a side of mashed potatoes… the salmon tasted like they had literally just pulled it from the water… which was clearly not an option given our location, but that good. Haley had a Char filet with potatoes and Miss Sharon enjoy beef medallions in a burgundy sauce… so stinking delicious. We really didn’t have room for dessert, but since dinner was so delicious we decided to split the creme brulee and I believe it was white chocolate ice cream or something, I really can’t recall other than it was almost inappropriate how tasty it was.
I also highly enjoyed the ghost salt and pepper shakers huggin’ it out at our table… (if you listen closely they are saying “Ooooh, I’m a ghost…” - okay so maybe not but I tried to interpret their thoughts at the table)
We rolled our way back into the car and finished the final leg of our drive to Salzburg. Haley did a fantastic job helping to keep me awake, especially the final twenty minutes of the ride when we belted out various Disney songs she selected from her iTunes list… I know you are jealous of Sharon and having to listen to us carry on.
We checked into our hotel and I was shocked by the size of it! I had previously been in shoe-box sized rooms but this one was almost like a little apartment, by Euro-standards. Perfect for three ladies to take over for the weekend. We hit the hay almost immediately, while dreams of Mozart and Disney selections danced in our heads.
Not jet-legged or coming off of a fabulous recent Parisian experience, I popped up and was ready around 9 a.m. and decided to hit up the breakfast while the ladies caught up on some zzzz’s. Quite a spread, it was definitely leaps and bounds over the sad basket of gluten I was handed in Paris (much love still to you my French peeps) and I fully enjoyed myself. I returned to the room and the ladies were slowly getting ready, shocked at how bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I was, I couldn’t help it :)
We left the hotel a little before noon, armed with a site-seeing map and tenacious spirit to see downtown Salzburg. What a beautiful city, truly a unique little gem with castles, mountains, river fronts, beautiful history and architecture.
The Sound of Music cow
There were really interesting artistic renderings all over the city, I highly enjoyed them… it seemed the city of Salzburg had commissioned one every year for the last 10 or 11.
Hohensalzburg Fortress in the back :)
Where Mozart grew up:
then there was this creepster… Sharon tried to get me in her place, not a chance. Also, I figured out your trick silver Mozart… the ol’ connector up the sleeve trick, keep creepin’ bro.
Somewhere in here we sampled a Prosecco-creme filled chocolate. Hands down best chocolate ever, dang.
Around 3:30, after touring the majority of the city and in/out of the Salzburg Cathedral (the building on the right in the photo above) we tried to go to what seemed like a traditional Austrian eatery. But really turned out to be a tourist trap with crap and fairly rude servers so our search continued. We stumbled upon a cute little hole-in-the-wall and settled in there. Haley and I decided for the fat-kid option: cheese-filled sausage wrapped in bacon, served over french fries - hell yes. While Sharon opted for the daintier turkey salad. Ridiculously good, though quite frankly is there a way to go wrong with any of those things? Clearly not. Once again, thank god for all the walking I’m doing here, because my waistline has actually shrunk a bit, and clearly I’m not stopping myself from indulging :)
(we totes thought this guy was legit standing on top of the massive brass ball, I swear it looked way more real than the picture lets on… haha)
Sharon’s camera had not fully recovered from the Parisian excursion so an Austrian adapter was a must and on the hunt we went. Luckily, the two touristy shops we ran into helped us with a camera shop. Even luckier, they seemed to have stayed open simply for us because the doors closed right after we walked out with a very happy Sharon.
We also wandered into a fancy egg shell ornament shop, where I proceeded to break one… can’t take me anywhere. Way to be awkward as usual Jen. On the upside, clearly those would not make it through a trip home so it was unnecessary to purchase as pretty as they were.
It was starting to look a bit rough outside and definitely cooled down a great deal so we started on our way back to the hotel for a bit of R & R… along the way we ran into the Mirabelle Gardens and some folks from rural Georgia (the state not country- just in case). The gardens which were simply phenomenal.
Haley really likes unicorns… but too be fair he looks quite please as well, and why wouldn’t he be.
The rain really started to pick up so we made it back to the hotel just in time, and all laid down for a bit to recover from the day. Once we came back to reality a bit, the rain was going in and out of snowing -gross. So it was decided that the hotel restaurant was a better shot than venturing out and about.
After some wine and another lovely Austrian meal, we were beat. Plus, more fun was to be had in the morning on our tour…