Friday, January 27, 2012

Photo Friday: 15 Minutes of Fame

How do you make a bunch of teenage girls really happy?  Get their picture published in the newspaper:

Our hometown newspaper runs a weekly "Where in the World" photo of local residents who take the publication with them on a trip and have themselves photographed with it.  Ours was printed yesterday and the girls are thrilled.

This post is a submission to Photo Friday at

Thursday, January 26, 2012

From the Mountains, To the Prairies, To the Oceans . . .

Even as I still revel in memories of the majestic white mountains, snow-topped Alpine villages, and winter wonderland that was Switzerland only a few weeks ago, I'm now tuned to the hot, arid, colorful lands of Andalusia, Spain, and southern Portugal.  Hubby and I purchased our family's tickets to Madrid a couple nights ago.

Hubby and I were in Madrid a loooong time ago.
We used frequent flyer miles on American Airlines (hrumph . . . not my favorite airline) and they don't fly to Seville or Granada, so, much to my teenage daughter's delight, we will be spending a few nights in Madrid first.  (Hubby and I have been to Madrid before and so weren't that interested, but she was.)  The whole trip will be three weeks, and I think I've already filled every day on the itinerary with exciting destinations: Seville, Córdoba, Granada, Nerja, Ronda, Arcos de la Frontera, Tarifa (for some windsurfing), Faro, and Lisbon.  Whew!  My research has already begun with a passion - call me old-fashioned, but I started with a travel book.  A real paper and ink one.  Rick Steves' Sevilla, Granada and Southern Spain gives straight-forward facts, tips, and solid opinions on how to get there and what to do.  Next, I turned to Twitter and found myself some new tweeps:  @azaharSevilla, @yourlisbonguide, @FamilyInSpain, @Johanna_Bradley, and @visitportugal.  Can't wait to study their blogs and tweet them with all my questions.  Shawn Hennessey, who authors Azahar's Sevilla Blog, already provided me with Veo Apartment Holiday Apartment Rentals in Seville as a source for accommodations.

I'm real excited about the possibility of sleeping inside the Alhambra in Granada.  There is one hotel and one parador actually located within the palace grounds.  They fill up far in advance, so I better get on it, but I think if we can afford it it will be an unforgettable experience for the kids.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

O Little Town of Adelboden

So yes, we spent six nights at Our Chalet in the little town of Adelboden, Switzerland, and besides playing in the snow and gazing at the beautiful surrounding Alps, what is there to do there?  It's actually quite an active little village.

I think the reason Adelboden is off the radar of most tourists is that there is no train service.  One must travel by train to nearby Frutigen and then board a (very punctual) bus for a 20 minute uphill ride to Adelboden.  Upon disembarking the bus on the valley floor, one must then walk a steep path uphill to the town center, Dorfstrasse.  (Although you could walk a little further from the bus stop to the valley parking lot and catch the Dorfbahn cable car into town.)  Dorfstrasse is as charming as can be, lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, and the requisite little steepled chapel with resounding carillon bells.  Horse-drawn carriages await your pleasure, and horse-drawn sleigh rides are available on winter evenings, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dorfstrasse in Adelboden.

With 42 lifts, 85 runs, an incredible 3,445 feet of vertical descent, and a total of 106 miles of ski surface, Adelboden is one of the most attractive ski resorts in Switzerland.  Beginners will find gentle slopes:

The bunny slopes.

Intermediate skiers (such as my daughter with friend below) will find suitable slopes:

and real pros can try the Chünisbärgli run, one of the world's classic ski slaloms.  The International Ski Federation (FIS), comprised of 110 National Ski Associations, hosts the Ski World Cup in Adelboden every year - certainly that's a testament to some awesome skiing.

A lift on TschentenAlp.

There are 14 miles of cross country ski trails in Adelboden, and a snowboarding terrain park with two half pipes.

Leisure and Sports Arena
We found the large Leisure and Sports Arena to be a terrific refuge on one of our rainy days in Adelboden.  Located just on the outskirts of town, it offers ice skating, ice hockey, curling, bowling, rock climbing, and a café with a panoramic view of the mountains.

Our group had never seen curling before!

Very large and well-maintained ice rink.

Bowling lanes.

Rock climbing.

Convenient and reasonably priced café.

Love the panoramic windows in the café!

Delicious pastries, breads, and sandwiches are served in the busy bakery, Café Haueter, on Dorfstrasse.  We stopped here regularly for snacks and treats.  There's also a Coop supermarket in Adelboden if you want to stock up on groceries or get a prepared meal.

Without a doubt, our group of eight teenage girls lingered the longest and spent the most money at Holzschnitzerei Trummer (Trummer's Woodcarving Shop), also on Dorfstrasse.  Everyone bought at least one, if not more, beautifully hand-crafted wooden souvenir, and the girls were enchanted with Robert Trummer, the young man who is the 3rd generation of this family of woodcarvers.  There were blushes and giggles when he admitted he has no son of his own to take over the business because he's too busy carving wood to find himself a wife.  Unfortunately, although it was on my list of things to do in Adelboden, we never made it to Trummer's actual workshop, about an hour walk outside of town - a hike which can be combined with a stop at the stunning Choleren Gorge to see the waterfalls and raging river.

Other Sights
It's always better to arrive with a list of too much to do, rather than too little, is my motto when traveling, especially with teenagers.  With not enough time for everything, a few activities will have to wait until our next visit to Adelboden, such as a hike to Engstigen Falls and snow tubing on Engstigenalp.  Up on Engstigenalp you can also try dog sledding for 15 CHF for adults and 10 CHF for children.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Confiserie Sprüngli in Zurich

Although Americans are more familiar with the brand name Lindt, Sprüngli is a common household word for premium chocolate in Switzerland.  Both the renowned Lindt and Sprüngli brands of fine chocolate and chocolate related confections are manufactured by the giant Swiss-owned corporation of Lindt & Sprüngli, which sells its various products all over the world.  The company, founded in Zurich in 1836, opened a shop at Paradeplatz, a square on Bahnhofstrasse in downtown Zurich, in 1859, which is now their signature shop, restaurant, café and bar as well as a major tourist attraction.

The girls and I found Confiserie Sprüngli in its prime location on the famous shopping street (not without a bit of confusion, since there are other Sprüngli outlets on Bahnhofstrasse) and browsed around inside, drooling over their goods.  

No really - I mean seriously - how do you choose?

My daughter selected a handful of Sprüngli's exclusive confection called the Luxemburgerli - essentially two small macaroons with a center cream filling.  Their many flavors include vanilla, raspberry, chocolate, lemon, caramel, mocha, champagne, cinnamon, and more:

Sprüngli's famous little Luxemburgerli.

I went for the extraordinarily sensational Crèmeschnitte, kind of a mille-feuille (a.k.a. Napoleon) layered pastry, which the girls caught me diving into right there in the shop:

Everyone in our group bought and sampled at least something - it's a must-do in Zurich.  If we weren't such a large group we might have sat for some tea or coffee upstairs in Café Sprüngli, where it was very crowded but still offered a sophisticated ambiance:  

David Sprüngli and Rodolphe Lindt were pioneers of chocolate production in Switzerland and their secret recipes have never been revealed.  Visit next time you're in Zurich!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Photo Friday: Swiss Sweets

One can hardly pass by a confectionery in Switzerland without taking a photo through the glass.

This post is one of many Photo Friday travel photos at

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Zippity Zurich

Sometimes rated by surveys as the city with the best quality of life in the world, and the wealthiest city in Europe, Zurich does not rank quite as high as a European tourist destination.  Zurich is beautiful and clean, with an impressive number of museums and art galleries, but it lacks the uniqueness of, say, Amsterdam's canal-lined streets and weathered guild houses, or the richness of Vienna's ornate architectural ensembles, or the character of historically decrepit Florence.  Zurich is a global city, with modern buildings and a highly refined shopping street, but if you're in Europe to dwell in old-world charm, medieval masonry, or breathtaking Alpine scenery, Zurich is not the place.

On the other hand, if you're a group of suburban teenage girls, most of whom had never been to Europe, stepping out of the bustling Zurich train station after an 11 hour plane flight and your first train ride, this cosmopolitan city makes a grand impression.  The gasps were audible.  It was dusk on December 26th, the day after we'd left our families on Christmas.  Crossing the Limmat River, the reflection of the city lights was enchanting.

We headed with our luggage straight for Niederdorf, a cobblestone pedestrian street in old town with lively shops and restaurants, and also, fortunately, the terrific location of our youth hostel.  Decorated with Christmas trees and twinkling lights, the little side alleys, squares, and plazas delighted the girls.

Imagine their excitement when I told them after we unloaded our luggage at the hostel they were free to roam the streets without us three adult chaperones (since I figured we three couldn't manage much more than collapsing on our beds).  I think they were shocked at my lenience their very first night in Europe, but I recognized there was absolutely no danger in this part of town and no way they could get lost if they stuck together.  Before I knew it I could hear them giggling outside below my hostel window, screeching when they found a patch of snow down by the river, and eagerly shooting pictures up on our building's roof (how they figured out there was roof access, I don't know).

No one seemed too troubled by jetlag that first night.  All slept well from sheer exhaustion.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Bern McFlurries

McDonalds restaurants around the world serve some pretty interesting local dishes, like the McRice Burger in Asia, the Kiwiburger in New Zealand, the Croque McDo in France, and the McTurco in Turkey.  In Bern, Switzerland, we found a much more appetizing local item on the menu:  a Toblerone McFlurry!

OF COURSE, I had one!  It was delish.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Precious, Medieval Town of Gruyères

I like to think I wasn't being completely selfish when I chose Gruyères as one of our day trips from Adelboden.  Sure, Lucerne would have been about the same distance and is more famous.  And Interlaken would have been a shorter train ride and boasts a renowned chocolatier show.  But I had been to both those cities before, and I wanted to see something new!  And when I read about Gruyères and its medieval castle, cobblestone pedestrian streets, cheese making factory, and free chocolate factory tour, I marveled at how this little town offered everything I wanted the girls wanted to see, all wrapped up in one pretty little package.  So Gruyères was inscribed on our itinerary and we traveled there by train.

Any presumed self-indulgence on my part vanished the moment the girls spied Château de Gruyères enclosing the precious little hilltop village.  They had (with the exception of my daughter) never seen, let alone climbed, an ancient castle wall, and I watched their expressions with delight as years of classroom history lessons came to life for them.  Knights, maidens, dukes, and armies once walked this path - an aha moment.  Fortifications were needed to protect medieval cities from invaders.  Another aha.

From this ancient little fortified castle courtyard one enters the interior village through this lovely painted gate:

and finds oneself in perhaps the smallest town I've ever seen.  You can literally almost see from end to end standing in one spot.  But charming, charming to the point of dripping with cuteness, especially with Christmas evergreens and holiday lights twinkling all around.

Most of the storefronts are restaurants (featuring cheese fondue, of course) and - surprise - cheese shops and bakeries.  A tiny chapel stands in the middle of the upward end of the car-free street, and this time of year houses an exquisite hand-carved crèche with wooden figurines.

You can almost see Mont Moléson in the background - the girls thought it was the Matterhorn.

We strolled to the far end of town where the entrance to the 13th century castle museum is located, but we had arrived late in the afternoon and the attraction was closing.  So the girls spent their time souvenir shopping, in particular buying many blocks of famous Gruyère cheese (spelled without the "s" when referring to the cheese) to take home.  I bought a nice chunk to take to my 99 year old grandmother, who loves it and has trouble finding it in the supermarkets at home.

Bringing the gorgeous village of Gruyères to picture-perfection are the spectacular, surrounding, snow-covered mountains, including the craggy Mont Moléson, which, although less than half the elevation, resembles the Matterhorn with its steep rock faces.  The girls - in their Disneyland expertise - were convinced it was in fact the Matterhorn, until I stepped inside the tourist office to confirm, and the woman pshawed me that "that little peak" out there, Mont Moléson, was barely even an Alp at only 2,000 meters high.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Photo Friday: Swiss Chalets

In this day of digital photography, when one travels to Holland one returns with hundreds of photos of windmills.  Travel to Paris means hundreds of shots of the Eiffel Tower from every angle, night and day.  So what did I return from Switzerland with hundreds of photos of?  Adorable Swiss chalets.

Take a look at for more Photo Friday photos.
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