Zurich at Christmas

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Christmas has long past, but we had a great weekend getaway to Zurich a couple of weeks before the holiday.  We had been meaning to get to Zurich for a while now and since it sounded quite festive at Christmas,  we figured it was high time we check it out!  We stayed at the the Hotel Helvetia in their large family suite, which was within walking distance to Old Town and right next to a tram and metro stop.  I loved the Kiehl’s cosmetic products they offered and the restaurant did a great brunch.

Our favorite market was the beautiful Weinachtsdorf in front of the Opera House.  This market is a newer addition to the city at Christmas time and it’s very well done.  Lots of cute stands selling interesting trinkets, good variety of food to choose from, plenty of gluhwein, and my favorite-the hot chocolate with Bailey’s stand!  There’s also an ice skating rink and a carousel that our kids enjoyed.

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On Sunday we took the train out to Rapperswil, a lovely mediaeval village about thirty minutes from Zurich.  With over 200 stands, this market is one of the largest in Switzerland.  The highlight for the boys was definitely the donkey ride around the market.  Very fun!

After we had seen all of the market, we wandered through the rest of the village and it was really lovely.  We were glad we made the trip out, especially after sampling the most delicious apple donuts with vanilla cream!  I was expecting the kind of apple cider donut we get back in the U.S., but it was really just a ring of apple with a deep fried coating.  Yum!

We made it back from Rapperswil just in time to head to the Singing Christmas tree performance at Werdmühleplatz and Jonah and I even got to participate!  It was so fun ringing the bells and singing Christmas carols.  Definitely a memorable experience.

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We enjoyed wandering around the Old Town and seeing all the gorgeous lights.  There is another Christmas market in the Old Town, but most of the stands had closed for the day by the time we made our way there.  It was still very picturesque to wander through the city!

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On Monday morning we were hoping that the Opera House Christmas market would be less crowded since school was still in session in Zurich…and luckily it was pretty empty when we arrived.  We almost had the whole skating rink to ourselves-much different from the packed scene Saturday night!

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I loved the different food selections at this market.  The boys had pizza, I had some fantastic Japanese ramen and Lukasz had Indian.  Everyone was happy!

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Zurich is a beautiful city and now we want to visit in the summer too!

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Before we left we had one last stop to make.  I had read that candle dipping is very popular around the holidays on the Swiss German side-so much so that there are places set up just for the holidays where you can pop in and dip some candles and even drink a coffee or hot chocolate in between waiting for your layers of beeswax to dry.  Even kids get in on the action and there are vats of beeswax that are much lower so they can easily reach.  I thought the boys might enjoy so we stopped in to the pavilion on the Bürkliplatz and tested it out.  It was very calming and the boys were enthralled-for about the first 10 minutes!  Full disclosure I did wind up finishing all 3 candles on my own, but it was a really unique and fun thing to do.

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Also, only in Europe is it totally normal for kids to be dipping string into vats of scalding beeswax!!!  But after explaining it to the boys and of course helping the little one, they were quite careful and cautious.  At any rate, we were glad we tried it out and we came home with a very special souvenir.

I’d definitely recommend a weekend in Zurich at the holidays.  There’s plenty to do, in fact we didn’t even see everything we had planned for, but we did have a great time!

Now Christmas feels like it was ages ago; sorry for the late post!  But here are some ideas for Valentine’s Day since it’s just around the corner.  🙂  A romantic weekend in Lyon is a perfect way to celebrate…or a cozy weekend in the Italian Alps!  So many options in this beautiful corner of the world.  ❤

Family Camping in the Bernese Oberland

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This summer we finally tackled something we I have been wanting to do for a while now…a family camping trip!  My husband loves to hike, but does not relish the idea of sleeping out in nature…however, he was a trooper and wound up having a great time.  We went with another family, which made it even more fun and the kids were soooo excited!

Earlier in the summer we had hiked at the gorgeous Oeschinen Lake and loved it.  We knew our friends needed to see this beautiful place so we stayed at a great little campsite they found in Kandersteg, right at the bottom of the cable car station.  Since we had already been to Oeschinensee, we decided to take a different, nearby cable car and hike there instead.

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We drove to the Sunnbuel cable car and made our way up on a chilly, cloudy morning, but lucky for us about 15 minutes into the hike, the sun came out and the skies cleared for some beautiful views.  We did the Arveenseli hike, which is an easy 2 hour loop with not too much uphill-perfect for kiddos.  The hike goes by 3 small lakes and a farm where you can stop for a drink or to buy some cheese (which we did and it was great!).

 

The hike wound up taking a while with our farm stop, photo stops, and little legs keeping up, but it was fun!  And so picturesque.

After taking the cable car back down the mountain, the kids were beyond excited to meet up with their friends and get the camping party started!  After some stressful tent assembly, we were all set and ready for dinner on the grill and s’mores.

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So funny that the boys had their first s’mores experience in Switzerland! 😉

Camping was a big success and we were so happy to go with friends and have some grown up conversations after the kids went to bed…unfortunately it wasn’t around the campfire since campfires weren’t allowed (and it got CHILLY!) but still fun nonetheless.

We woke early (of course) and decided to spend the morning at Blausee, a nearby lake that is a big attraction because of it’s stunning blue color.  After reading about it I was afraid it might be a little touristy, but we really had such a peaceful, enjoyable morning here.  It helped that we arrived early, before the crowds and tour buses.  There are plenty of walking paths in this big forest park, a playground, picnic tables, and grills, but the main draw of course is the beautiful lake.  The water was so incredibly blue and is sourced from subterranean springs.  There is a free boat ride that takes you for a spin around the lake while providing information about the lake and surroundings.  If you’re in the area, I’d definitely recommend making a stop here.  We also had lunch at the family friendly pizza restaurant off the lake parking lot and it was surprisingly good!

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Now that we’ve had our first successful family camping trip, I think we’re hooked.  Time to plan the next one!

 

 

 

 

A Very Swiss Weekend in Zermatt

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We have been wanting to go to Zermatt since we first moved here, but every time I looked last summer the weather wasn’t great.  We decided to finally bite the bullet (come rain or shine…or something in between 😉 ) and spend the weekend of Swiss National Day in the most iconic of Swiss places.

Since the trains here can be crazy expensive, we drove to Tasch and parked our car there, then took the 12 minute shuttle ride up to Zermatt.  We arrived at our hotel, the Romantik Hotel Julen, and got our first glimpse of the Matterhorn from our corner balcony.  Magnificent.

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There is definitely some magnetic draw to this majestic mountain…maybe it’s because it’s this one lone peak towering above all the others, or it’s pyramid shape, who knows but we couldn’t get enough of it!

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After getting checked in and settled at our super cute hotel (very cozy chalet vibe), we headed out for a late lunch in the village.  We ate at the Brown Cow Pub, which definitely had a fun atmosphere and was a laid back place for a casual lunch.  After lunch we wanted to go up one of the cable cars for an easy hike, but unfortunately it started to rain.  The showers were passing though so we just explored the village a bit instead.  At one point we were walking down the street only to see a herd of goats passing in the other direction.  They were heading home from their day in the mountains.  So cool!

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Since the weather wasn’t improving much, we spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel pool much to the boys’ delight.  We were also excited to find a complimentary bottle of Prosecco waiting for us in our room when we returned.  So nice!

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The next morning we were bummed to wake up to total fog with not even a glimpse of the mountains.  We were at least able to enjoy a long, leisurely, and delicious breakfast before deciding to hope for the best and head up the Sunnegga funicular.  Rick Steves recommends this as the cheapest way to get a great view of the Matterhorn, but unfortunately when we got to the top it was nothing but fog!

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Luckily, there was a nice playground where we hung out for about an hour and then we went to the nearby restaurant for coffees and hot chocolates to warm up.  We sat around willing the clouds to lift so we could catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn and finally they did just a bit.  We went for a short hike around and we were able to see some beautiful views of the mountains and glaciers surrounding us.

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It’s juuuust behind those clouds!

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We knew blowing those clouds away would help! 😉

After our mountain exploring, we went back down the funicular and walked around the old part of Zermatt.  We enjoyed a taco lunch at Gees Bar and then we tried to go for a hike down from the cable car station of Furi, but it started to rain so after a quick walk around, we headed back down.  Back to the hotel to swim and rest and then later a pizza dinner to end the day.

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Almost clear heading up to Furi, but then the rain came!

On Monday we woke up to another cloudy day, but we weren’t going to let it stop us because it was Swiss National Day!

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The forecast called for the skies to get a bit clearer towards mid-day and through the afternoon so we took our chances and headed up to the top of the mountains on the Gornergrat train.

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Getting sunny, but the Matterhorn is hiding again!

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On our way up Jonah was excited to spot the cute, fluffy black-faced sheep that we had been on the lookout for all weekend.  The owners of our hotel have a large flock but since the sheep wander they never know exactly where they’re at.  Turns out they were up pretty high enjoying the views.  The hotel does lead a hike up to visit the flock on Wednesdays- too bad we weren’t staying until then!

When we got up to the top we couldn’t see the Matterhorn at all and maybe because of the weather or the holiday, the famous St. Bernard dogs weren’t there either.  But the views in the opposite direction made it all worthwhile!  Mountains, glaciers, and even a glacial lake.  Just incredible.

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As we started the hike from the top down to Rifelsee, the skies cleared some and we were even able to see a bit of the Matterhorn.  The hike felt otherworldly at times and Jonah did a great job making the trek down.

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The clouds didn’t clear by the time we got to Rifelsee, but we could at least make out the mountain behind it.  Such an incredible place.

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We took the longer way down to Riffelberg for some more stunning views and then caught the train back down into Zermatt.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Switzerland than to spend a day hiking in this incredible example of Switzerland at its finest.

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It was such a fun day and that night we had big plans to hit the street festival and watch the fireworks for Swiss National Day.  The main street was packed, but it was lots of fun and a very festive atmosphere.  Tons of food, drinks, and music-it was a great place to spend a couple of hours before the fireworks.

By the time it got dark, it was really chilly and the boys were getting tired so we made the executive decision to watch the fireworks from the balcony of our hotel room.  It was an excellent decision because the view was amazing, we stayed snuggly warm under the blankets, and Mason asked to go to bed right before the grand finale.  But it was so special watching the boys see their first fireworks show in such a special place.  Memories that will last a lifetime, for sure!

The next morning we had one last hearty Swiss breakfast and the Matterhorn came out in all her glory so we were able to get one last breathtaking view.

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Also on a side note, my husband has been eating Toblerone all his life but only just realized the Matterhorn is the mountain pictured on this famous chocolate.  I think it was all the Asian tourists taking this photo that finally made it click… 😉

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Aha!  Live and learn.  🙂  Well, chocolate or not, we fell hard for the Matterhorn and hope to be lucky enough to return again someday!

 

The Mountains Were Calling…

While my mother-in-law was still here, she kindly offered to watch the kids again so that we could have one more quick getaway.  We hadn’t been in the Alps really since winter skiing except for one Saturday of hiking, so we decided to hit the trails!  I had heard good things about the Swiss hotel, The Cambrian, and since it was only 20 minutes from there to the Oeschinen Lake, a beautiful lake high up on the mountains that has been on my Swiss Bucket List, we decided it would be a good spot for our mini getaway.

Unfortunately we woke up to a rainy Saturday and it was supposed to be even worse in the mountains so we decided to stop for a bit to explore Bern, the capital of Switzerland.  We saw the famous Bern bears, had lunch at the brewery right behind the tourist info center (which had really tasty beers!), and walked around town a bit before the rain started.

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When we arrived at the hotel we unfortunately couldn’t even see the mountains because of the thick fog, but luckily there was a nice spa which was an equally enjoyable way of spending a kid-free afternoon!

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Thankfully on Sunday the rain had passed and we woke to a beautiful morning!

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After breakfast and a swim, we headed out to Kandersteg to take the cablecar up to Oeschinensee.  From the cablecar, it is only a 2o minute hike down to the lake.  I really had to pinch myself when we saw this beautiful place…and to make it even more perfect there were cows!  Just hanging out, adding to the idyllic scene!

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All these blue benches are just begging you to take a seat and enjoy the view!

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Is this real life?!  So much beauty!

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We had to get out on the lake for a closer look!  Such a nice and relaxing afternoon.

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We debated about going for a longer hike, but we decided we should be responsible and get back home to unpack and pack again for our trip to Lake Como the next day.  There is so much hiking in this area, and luckily we are going back this weekend on a camping trip with the kids and another family so we will have a chance to explore a bit more!

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Relaxing at Leukerbad

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We spent our last night of the school break in the town of Leukerbad which is about 50 minutes from Riederalp and is a popular spa town known for its two thermal baths heated with warm, geothermal water.  I’ve also had this place on my radar for a while and since it was on our way towards home, I thought it would be the perfect place to end our winter break.

The hotel we stayed at included free passes to the thermal bath and a free round trip journey on one of the cable cars, but since we only had Monday morning and we had already had some unbeatable views for the past 4 days, we decided to just to the pools.  Although the actual facility is older, it is kept up very well and the setting for the outdoor pools is just beautiful.  It was pretty awesome to swim in these warm waters surrounded by snow and snow covered mountains!  There were two indoor kids pools and the kids had a great time going back and forth between the different pools.  After a few hours, we were ready to get some lunch before hitting the road to go home.

We looked on Tripadvisor and found Pizzeria Giardino, a pizza place just a few minutes walk away in the center of the town with a huge playroom for the kids.  Living in Geneva, we really miss kid-friendly restaurants, so this place was a nice treat for everyone.  We enjoyed a leisurely lunch and the kids had a great time playing!

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The town of Leukerbad reminded me a bit of a Florida retirement village, but just in the snowy Alps instead.  There were also lots of families and there seemed to be a good amount to do between the spas, skiing, sledding, and winter trails.  It was a perfect end to our winter wonderland trip and we were all relaxed and refreshed after this little getaway!

Winter Adventures in the Aletsch Arena

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I’ve been having a hard time trying to figure out how to describe the indescribable in this post about our ski week getaway to the Aletsch Arena.  I will just say that if you have the chance you should absolutely go here and experience it, but I will try to put in words how magical this place was as best as I can.

I first saw a picture on Instagram of this tiny car-free village called Riederalp and with it’s wood chalets clinging to the side of the mountain and snow that looked like heaps of powdered sugar I added it to my mental bucket list of places I needed to visit.  Riederalp is connected to the other car free villages of Bettmeralp and Fiescheralp and this makes up what is known as the Aletsch Arena.  The towns all border the Aletsch Glacier, which is the largest glacier in Switzerland.  The Aletsch arena is great for skiing as you have access to 104 km of pistes, but it is also perfect for non-skiers because there are plenty of other winter pursuits to keep you entertained-snowshoeing, walking trails, sledding, ice skating.  Riederalp has been designated as a family friendly winter resort and the ski school has won awards as the best ski school for children in all of Switzerland.

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Before our trip I was stressed at the idea of getting two kids plus skis and all of our winter gear up the mountain, but I shouldn’t have worried-getting up to Riederalp was typically Swiss style efficient!  There is parking in the valley below and then you can rent a luggage trolley to help you load all of your stuff onto the cable car.  When you arrive at the top there is a handy phone to call your hotel where they will come and transport your luggage via snowmobile and trailer.  Couldn’t have been easier!

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We arrived to a picture perfect afternoon and after dropping off our stuff in our teeny, tiny hotel room we quickly realized that we needed to rent some sleds to transport the kids just like everyone else we saw with small children.  The kids were thrilled with their new mode of transport and we set out to explore the village a bit.

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Mason started out his daily ritual of napping in the sled as we walked around and afterwards we enjoyed some hot chocolates and apple strudel.  None of the menus were in English and we heard very little English during our stay, which we enjoyed because we felt like we were in a really authentic Swiss village!  At several of the restaurants we ate at no one spoke any English, but everyone was friendly and we managed just fine.  We loved this place because there was no glitz and glam like some of the other Swiss ski resorts (and virtually no night life to speak of), just lots of families enjoying the winter weather together.

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When we woke up on Friday morning unfortunately the weather had changed to light snow and a heavy fog…like so heavy you could hardly see your hand in front of your face.  And this was the day we had planned to go skiing!  Jonah had a 3 hour lesson, but it was just in the kid’s ski area so he was fine.  Lukasz and I had signed up for an hour long lesson and planned to ski on our own the other two hours while Mason was at creche.  However, I am not very confident in my ski abilities in good conditions let alone the kind where you can’t see anything so I decided to opt out and go to the spa!  It was a good morning for all though-Lukasz had a great lesson, Jonah had fun and loved all the activities they had at the ski school, and Mason had the creche all to himself while I enjoyed a couple of hours of relaxation.

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After a family rest time, Lukasz and Jonah headed out to sled for a bit before dinner.  Jonah was so young the last time he went sledding that he really didn’t remember it and he was so excited to sled-especially because his sled had a steering wheel.  Thankfully the fog had cleared a bit by evening so we could actually see where we were heading!

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For dinner we went over to Berghaus Toni, the hotel/restaurant that I had tried to book for our stay but sadly for us it was fully booked.  The place is run by an expat couple and the service was great, the menu varied, and the ‘icing on the cake’ for us was a cozy little corner with toys for the kids to play while we sat and enjoyed a drink in front of the fire.

On Saturday, we were happy that the fog had cleared but it was replaced with heavy snow that came down all.day.long.  We were not deterred though and decided to take a snow taxi to the neighboring village of Bettmeralp.  We had stopped at the tourist info center and they told us there was an indoor pool there which they recommended when the weather wasn’t great and there was also a popular sledding hill, so we decided to check it out!

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The boys were thrilled with the snow taxi and the pool was a bit chilly but it had a waterslide and there was a hot tub and two small kids pools, so it was a fun way to pass a couple of hours while watching the snow come down outside.

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We stopped at the picturesque sledding hill and had a great few runs before making the long trek back to our hotel.  Pulling two kids in sleds while walking through snow is hard work and despite our best efforts, Mason fell deeply asleep and proceeded to get covered in snow!  Hot chocolates (and coffee with Baileys for the parents) were much needed by the time we got back to our village.

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On Sunday we were thrilled to wake up to sun and just a few passing clouds because it was our last day and we had big plans to go up to the top to see the Aletsch Glacier.  We took the Moosfluh cable car up which was right in the village and once you are at the top you can return by cable car, ski, or hike down.  The nice lady at the tourism office told us that we could take the kids on sleds and in some of the steeper parts we just sled down with them if no one was around!

It was absolutely stunning at the top and we enjoyed every second of our two hour walk back to the village.  It was such a glorious day above the clouds and we really felt like we were on top of the world.  You could see the Matterhorn among the many other mountain peaks, which was awesome since it was our first glimpse of it in real life.

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The glacier was so impressive-it looks like a highway of ice and snow and it was nice to see it from different vantage points along the way.

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We had such an amazing time on this trip and the scenery was absolutely breath-taking.  I loved sledding with the boys through the still nights on our way home from dinner, snow ball fights, and just slowing down to enjoy winter with as much enthusiasm as our children.  If we could change anything, we would have rather stayed in one of the many gorgeous chalets to have more space and most especially to have a kitchen.  It is Switzerland and a car-free village at that, so restaurant pricing was sky high.  There is a grocery store in town, so we stocked up on snacks and had breakfast provided by the hotel at least.  The chalets generally rent on a week long basis and we only spent three nights.  Also, we noticed a huge difference in price between skiing in France and skiing in Switzerland and we were glad we had only planned for one day to ski on this trip!  I still can’t quite describe how magical this place was for us, but hopefully between my words and pictures I’ve come close!

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