Thursday, February 23, 2017

An EPIC Swiss Alp Adventure!

After our gorgeous stop in fairytale Colmar, we pushed on for the second half of our Carnival vacation in the Swiss Alps...

An adventurous, breathtakingly beautiful, quirky and hilarious surprise awaited us at our Airbnb rental home in the mountains north of Lauterbrunnen (not too far from Interlaken). Our minivan seemed like it might not make it up the steep narrow switchbacks, and after an episode with snow in the Vosges Mountains where the tires wouldn't grip the road, we figured we might not make it (cut to me frantically writing our host to ask if we needed tire chains). We did make it, though I was white-knuckled and deep-breathing the entire time, particularly as I looked at the avalanche shelters every 100 feet alongside the road.

The natural beauty around us was INCREDIBLE. Everyone should see it once in their lifetime! Our noses were pressed to the car windows as we counted alpine waterfalls and absorbed the charming mountain town of Lauterbrunnen (which means "many springs"). We knew we were on the right track (based on an directional Youtube video our Airbnb host sent us) when we approached a small metal bridge, which our large minivan cleared with about 2 cm to spare on either side. I love to exaggerate, but on this, I promise, I'm not. At last, we unloaded our bags and hiked to our lodgings. All part of the adventure. We put the kids to work, trekking down a steep path, over a rushing river and up a  sharply inclined, snow-covered hill to our 100-year-old iron miner's cabin, which was obviously built for short, stocky fellas from a different era (and not my 6 foot 3" husband)! The kids felt right at home, building igloos in the snow and greeting the llamas that looked in our front windows.
Axel, one of the young dudes who works on what we soon learned was a vegan commune, casually shared with us that our particular house had never been raized by an avalanche (so that's good), and that there was zero risk until Sunday, when a heavy snow was forecasted. I took this news in stride (pushing all the yellow avalanche warning signs out of my mind for a few days until an airplane flew overhead (invisible to me in the heavily falling snow). Then I calmly FREAKED OUT as I heard the roar out my window. Axel also let me know that our house guests wouldn't be arriving until our final night, which I found rather confusing because I thought I had rented the whole three-bedroom house! He suggested that maybe the kids would want to sleep in sleeping bags in the snow? And the adventure continued....
Avalanche or airplane? 
Our first morning, we woke up early and hiked down part of the mountain into town below. The kids broke icicles and proudly announced that they were carrying a waterfall (technically true and pretty cool!). We reached the Piz Schilthorn station on foot and boarded the cable car, riding 2000 feet in a matter of minutes to Gimmelwald, which Rick Steves describes as tiny traffic-free town nonchalantly hanging off the edge of a cliff with more cow troughs than mailboxes. We loved it. Rob showed us the hotel where he stayed on his post-college travels. The kids threw snowballs and we admired the Swiss cowbells lining the barn where happy cows lived. We waved to people "driving" down the street on their skis.
We hopped back on the very next cable car (having been told by a friendly attendant that the high winds may stop the cars from running as the day progressed) and we made our way all the way up to the tippity-top where we could see 200 peaks, including Jungfrau and Eiger.

After taking in the stunning views, we had a fabulous lunch in a revolving restaurant. As we ate, we had a slow-moving 360 degree view of the surrounding peaks. We watched tiny kids on miniature skis hurtle themselves over the edge of an almost vertical slope and ski straight down with their parents. The experience was incredible.

On her Majesty's Secret Service, a James Bond film from 1969, was shot on location, so of course, Rob and I popped a bottle of red and watched the film as part of our vacation research leading up to the trip! We visited the mountain-top Bond Museum with the kids before riding the cable car back down to the Mürren, which we could see lit up on the mountain side at night from our cabin way below. It was so charming and so SWISS! I couldn't stop snapping photos of the kids in front of every red-and-white Swiss flag with dramatic snow-covered mountains and granite cliffs backdrop. We continued on down the mountain all the way home. Everyone slept so well that night.

Later that evening, we received the BEST news!! My sister and brother in law, Mollie and Kenny, welcomed their son and our newest nephew, Anders Jackson!! We were SO happy and even found a hotspot in the cabin where I could Facetime with Mols!

The next morning, the snow started falling bright and early, exactly as predicted. After three days skiing in the Vosges Mountains and our epic alpine adventure the day before, we were so excited to nestle into our cozy cabin and have a relaxed play day. Rob taught the kids to play chess (which we still play regularly), and Bitsy had a nice long nap in her bed (after several days sleeping on the go). I made "Kitchen-Sink Lentil Soup," using up all the rest of the veggies and sausage we'd carried up the mountainside with us. That evening, our house guests checked in -- a very considerate German couple named Sonja and Angelika. We stayed up talked after dinner, laughing and telling stories until we accidentally woke up all four kids!

Later that night, Rob carried several suitcases down to the car, which was parked in the town below. (We knew we would never be able to drive the van down in all the forecasted snow, so we parked it there are very first night). When he hiked back up in the pitch dark, he had two Feldschl Osschen Swiss beers and a slice of Black Forest cake.

We silently snuck out the next morning, bundling up for our familiar hike to the car with the kids. We left our new friends a note in German (thank you Google Translate) and a bottle of wine. They wrote this fabulous note back to us:

Dear MegRob, 
Thanks so much for your kind words in German and the wine, we will finish this evening! We appreciated so much to let us know your perfect team, YES YOU ARE!! Love your family from the beginning!! 
Haven't heard you in the morning, wonder how you managed it. After you a group of Seven Chinese came and we made it like you, having food and a douche as quick as possible, to get through in time (note: douche is the french word for shower). We laughed a lot and wondered who will came next, because they stayed just for one night. Now we are in the hotel in which Rob, the Superman bought the cake and enjoying it very much!!!  
Hope you landed well at home, very pleasured to have met you!!! God bless you and your perfect Team! 
Sonja & Angelika
Just to top off the fun, we coordinated a fabulous visit with our expat friends, the Marinis, who were not far off our route home in their darling town of Schaffhausen, Switzerland, right on the German border. They were amazing! Shortly after we arrived, I accidentally dropped our car keys in a 6 foot deep storm drain. The boys went straight to work, attaching kitchen utensils and a GoPro camera to a hockey stick. After they retrieved it (Hallelujah!!!!!) we went to a fabulous fondue restaurant in the city centre. On our walk home, the Marini family helped us pick out our very own Swiss fondue pot, one of our favorite mementos of our time in Europe! Vicki, Marc and their darling three kids -- Sophie, Vin and Juliana -- have become special friends we really enjoy. In fact, a few months later they visited us in Luxembourg!!

To say it was an amazing trip is an understatement. This one was epic. What. An. Adventure. All of our travel over the past 2 1/2 years prepared us for this one gigantic adventure.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

A Lovely Stop in Fairytale Colmar

I have always wanted to visit Colmar, France! So it was a joy when we looked at a map and realized we would literally drive right through it from our ski vacation in the Vosges Mountains down to the Swiss Alps!

We parked and walked without a favorite way to travel. The half-timbered architecture was gorgeous and storybook -- I couldn't stop taking pictures. The kids and I visited a used bookstore and we let them pick out postcards, which they love to do wherever we travel.

Soon we found the Eglise St. Martin, Colmar's medieval cathedral. It transports you for a few minutes to another time.
Directly across the street, we found a perfect restaurant with a view for moules and frites (mussels and french fries), then stopped in a bakery for a slice of Black Forest cake before we hopped back in the car.... I would love to come back a little later in the season to see all the flowers and canals. It was the perfect quick stop!
Black Forest Cake (or Forêt Noire Gateau)