October 02, 2009

Delémont, Jura, Switzerland

See the story and photos here of our day trip to Delémont, the capital of the Swiss canton of Jura. A silvery statue, a dove engraved on the pavement, a ruined tower, a cool crêpe menu...you know you're tempted to click on the link.

It's SO much easier to post photos at Picasaweb (or Facebook) than on Typepad. Sorry to say. Blogging with photos has become difficult compared to sharing on other media. Maybe I'll find a better blogging platform at some point.

October 2, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 23, 2009

Fireworks, Fireflies, Smores, and a Jig

This evening at my aunt's farm here in Virginia, we had a lot of types of fun (me, my son, my daughter, my mom, my niece, my aunt, two of my cousins and my cousins once removed, and some more family from other sides):

- I caught my first firefly in my hands, and watched it in a jar for a few minutes before letting it go

- We swam in the pool and danced the Virginia Reel in the water (8 of us)

- I swang in the hammock under the trees

- I walked down to the gazebo by the pond with my niece (16) and my son (14) and watched the sunset reflected in the still water and had fun taking photos of each others' silhouettes against the scenery with my iPhone

- We enjoyed interacting with the 3 dogs of varying sizes and breeds, and the 4 cats, and we saw 3 deer strolling in the evening air, and cows and horses in the pastures. We tried to converse with the bovines in American Cow, but it must have come out more Swiss Cow, since they didn't really seem to get our point.

- We danced mini versions of the Jolly Gordon, In-Out-and-Across, Sheena's Saunter, Soldier's Joy, Sellenger's Round, and the Pattycake Polka in the living room (with only 6-8 dancers! A very small circle!)

- Some of us played croquet

- We enjoyed an all-American meal: grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, ketchup, baked beans, potato salad, macaroni salad, corn on the cob, green salad with walnuts and strawberries, and watermelon, and then made s'mores over a fire outside. The onions for the dinner came straight out of my aunt's garden just before we ate - I had never seen onions in the ground before. Thrilling somehow. She grew them from seed.

- We waved sparklers in the dark, and then set off a couple of ground-based fireworks while singing songs like the National Anthem and America the Beautiful.

- For good measure, we also sang some Christmas carols in harmony there outside in the dark. Not so surprising we would think of that, given that my aunt keeps two Christmas trees lit up in her living room even in July (this comes from my grandmother, who had a Christmas room all year too).

- We hugged and chatted and enjoyed being together

Thank you, God of all good gifts, for this lovely evening, and the rain going away in time, and for my family. Talked about my husband and how nice it would have been to have had him there. I do miss that uniquely wonderful man. Get to see him soon, yay.

July 23, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

July 09, 2009

Finding Places Starting with a Particular Letter

(very useful for Scattergories)

Ever wanted to know whether there were any places in Switzerland starting with the letter X? There aren't, unfortunately. But there are two in Italy and two in Germany and over a score in France. You can find it all out at fallingrain.com (is that Falling Rain, or Fall in Grain? And Why? No idea).

This came up because we have a relief map of Switzerland hanging in our front hall (it's very bumpy, with those Alps taking up most of it). As we were saying goodbye to David this morning on his way to work, one of the kids suggested we find placenames on the map starting with every letter of the alphabet - but we were stumped by Q and X. So I looked it up...and found one Q large enough to figure on the map: Quinten, on the Walensee. Why, that's only an hour from here!

Without an X in CH (or Liechtenstein), I checked the surrounding countries whose edges are on our map, but the two Xs in DE and IT are too far off, and the several in F seem to be too small to appear on the map (even though they're all but one in the neighbouring region, Alsace).

And for your final trivia topic this morning, did you know that Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Bolivia and Chile have all been called the "Switzerland of South America?" If you follow the preceding link, you will also find out that ten different countries have been referred to as the "Switzerland of Africa" and

"we would be remiss in failing to note that Liechtenstein is sometimes called "the Switzerland of Switzerland."

There are some other very funny things at that Language Log page.

July 9, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 26, 2009

Buds, Canary Islands and Health Issues

There are little green shoots prodding through the cold soil outside the front door - strong hope in coming change
The kids were sick
David was sick
They got better
We went to the Canary Islands
ElTeideVolcanoHibiscusRed HibiscusOrange HibiscusPeach HibiscusYellow HibiscusPinkIt had a cool volcano and pretty tropical flowers
CanariesGarden CanaryIslandsVegetation
But the temperatures were not tropical
Shorts and T-Shirts were a bit optimistic
Emily made new friends in the pool that the rest of us found too chilly
We read books
Jason got his first taste of scuba diving and saw cool fish
We marvelled at the harsh volcanic landscape at higher elevations on the island
We used some Spanish and kept having to suppress the German that popped up in our minds
The island kept Emily's suitcase for an extra 36 hours but then gave it up
I came home sick
David prayed for me at 3AM (I always say marry someone who will do that for you)
I'm getting better, but still coughing a bit
The kids had a good orthodontic check-up
We're getting our routine third dose of the TBE vaccine this week (Tick-Borne Encephalitis, since we live in a hot zone for it)
The buds on the trees are burgeoning despite the freezing temps and snow on the ground.
The stars were brilliant through the skylight at 1am last night (I was up coughing after a nightmare)

February 26, 2009 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 18, 2008

Germany: The Rhine River & Black Forest

RhineborderfrancegermanyHere you see we are crossing the Rhine River from France (on the right) to Germany (on the left). As when we passed from Switzerland into France, this border crossing again had no checks or controls whatsoever. We just drove across.

I hadn't previously known much about the Rhine River - I had had the impression it flowed through the middle of Germany, because David had biked along it when he lived in Bonn as a youth. In fact, it also forms part of the border between eastern France and western Germany, and continues to form (along with Lake Konstanz/Bodensee) the border between southern Germany and northern Switzerland. We crossed it as a country border twice in the same day. Actually, four times, because we did the crossing to Germany twice since we didn't really realize it the first time! We just stopped the car, turned around, went back to France, and then back into Germany with full realization this time. Then later in the day we crossed south from Germany into Switzerland, again over the Rhine.

In French: Le Rhin
In German: Der Rhein
In English: The Rhine

Talk about confusing spellings!

After crossing into Germany, we completed our brief study of tri-national road speed limits:

Country/Speed Limit SwitzerlandFrance Germany
KPH In-Town505050
KPH Out-of-Town 8090 100
KPH on Highway120130sometimes no limit

The cars on the highway kept zooming past us, even though we were going along at a good clip (130kph, or 80mph). Fascinating phenomenon.

BlackforestgermanytitiseeThen we got into the Black Forest - entering through a breathtaking gorge filled with the orange, red, yellow and gold of Autumn. It's a beautiful area - and we only drove through a small portion of the southern part of the forest. We passed ski jumps on the right, and golf course on the left just afterwards, and stopped off in the resort lake town of Titisee ("tee-tee-zeh") for lunch (check out the story at that link about why they measure the ice at 4 locations daily in the winter). I found the waitress' German refreshingly easy to understand compared to Swiss-German. I am so pleased that this indicates I have been learning something at least. We had a delicious and peaceful lunch overlooking the lake. It was quiet and relaxing - ah, the benefits of the off-season and mid-week! I enjoyed some "Pfifferlinge" in cream sauce (Chanterelle mushrooms), which in Switzerland I have found on menus as "Eierschwämmli" (I pulled out my trusty pocket dictionary which lives in my purse to discover what a lot of things on the menu were, such as "Ingwer" which is ginger).

Continuing on our way home to Zürich, we passed through the town of "Aha" (good for a laugh for our car's occupants) and along its lake "Schluchsee." I just can't make that word sound elegant...

Having crossed into Switzerland again (into the canton of Aargau, at the town of Koblenz, not to be confused with the German town by the same name), we started listening to Silly Songs with Larry on David's ipod (favorites being "I Love my Lips" and "Bellybutton"), which links in to our Toyota Corolla Verso's stereo system and comes out the speakers (our first experience with this neat technology). Then Enya got us the rest of the way home and we decided we'd had enough driving for the week - a day of errands and two more of lounging around in pajamas sounded perfect.

Thank You for a lovely trip and for letting us live here in the centre of Europe, God of the Universe! Thank You that so many much more amazing things await beyond this life, in Your presence! Can't wait to be with You in a closer way! Thank You for my boys in the other room jamming together on drums and bass with a track for "Famous One" - that's You!

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Alsace, France - Château de Frankenbourg

HikingtofrankenbourgcastleWe crossed over from francophone Switzerland back into German-speaking CH, and then over into northeastern France, to the region of Alsace. A little Bed & Breakfast, that also serves dinner by advance reservation only, stands at the edge of the tiny village of Rathsamhausen le Haut, outside the larger village of Baldenheim, which is near the town of Sélestat, near the bigger town of Colmar, near the city of Mulhouse. The place names don't sound very French in this part of the country - it's passed too many times back and forth between Germany and France.

Having reserved for dinner for the first night, we sat in four of the 13 chairs around one long wooden table (une "table d'hôte," as they call it). The rest were filled with a couple from the south of France (St. Tropez), a couple from northwestern France (Brittany), a Belgian couple, and a family from Germany. I was amazed to realize that not only did our family speak some of both of their languages, but David had also actually lived in all of their home countries. The French and Belgian couples didn't speak any German, and the German family didn't speak any French, so we were able to be a bridge, except that the host placed us at the opposite end of the table from the Germans. So all the conversation that first night was in French, except when the host would translate his culinary explanations into German. One very interesting social experience was when the conversation turned to World War II - with Germans, French, Belgians, and Americans at the table. People were disagreeing about how much bombing had been necessary in various parts of France. We Americans just listened, while the mid-aged French innkeeper and the elderly Belgian man had strong opinions. Since the conversation was all in French, I don't think the Germans understood much.

The next morning, people came down at different times for breakfast, so we got to converse with the friendly Germans, when it also became apparent that they spoke quite good English (except for the 11-yr-old daughter, who had only taken it for two years in school). The Breton couple did not care to try their very rusty and basic English, although they understood a bit, so we spoke in French with them. It was most intriguing experience, and really shouted loudly of the fantastic benefits of learning languages. Communication possibilities! Another funny note - the German family spoke to their dog with a few Spanish words, because, as they explained, she could distinguish them better than if they were shouting the same German words as everyone else at the park...so they were constantly saying, "Aqui!" instead of "Hier!" (Come here)

GodsstainedglassOn our one full day in Alsace, we wandered off into the hills to look for ruined castles (the kids argued there was no reason to pay to see a castle when there are plenty of free ones, never mind the disarray), and found the beautifully situated Château de Frankenbourg. Some historians think that perhaps Clovis, King of the Franks, might have built this castle in the 400s, upon his conquest of Alsace, but there is no official mention of this structure until 1123. There are also traces of the Romans round about.

We walked uphill through a golden forest landscape raining with leaves for 50 minutes to the summit. I had gotten fully into my cold at this point, so I brought my box of tissues, but had enough energy for the excursion. We picnicked inside the castle, under the open sky, and the kids engaged in plenty of swordplay with their newly found French walking staffs.

At another stop, the kids kicked together an Alsatian leaf pile and leaped with delight.

More of my Alsace photos.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Gruyères: Cailler Chocolate Factory

Well, 5 minutes from Gruyères in Broc (pronounced BRO, as we learned).

Best parts of the Cailler Chocolate Factory: FREE ENTRY and ABUNDANT FREE SAMPLES. :-) There wasn't much to see (a mildly entertaining movie in French with clips from the 1950s of a family visit day at the factory), but then, this long, glass display counter, laden with little chocolates of every kind: light and dark, with almonds, hazelnuts, creamy, crunchy, praliné, mousse, in different shapes. Yum. We were the only people there at the time, so we asked the lady behind the counter to describe almost every one to us, and tasted one of everything that appealed the most - we shared with each other so as to conserve room for more different tastes. We considered going back again the next day for round two on our way out of the area...but didn't. We might have actually bought some chocolate from them (the ones with whole almonds on top were the top hit), but a busload of tourists were standing in line, so we didn't. It's not as if we can't buy it in a regular store around here anytime.

The purple chocolate mixer was sloshing around some good-looking chocolate, but I am sure it was only for display purposes.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Château de Gruyères

After the Cheese Factory in Pringy, we climbed up a steep trail (our thighs & lungs reminded us briefly of Bern's cathedral the previous day) to the actual old, cobblestoned village of Gruyères, with its castle. We were hungry, so we delighted in some freshly made crêpes with Gruyère cheese, ham and egg. A terrible shame we didn't have room for a dessert crêpe, too (but in the end good that we saved dessert for the chocolate factory free samples later on). I really miss crêpe restaurants, although Jason was kind enough to say he prefers the crêpes that I make at home :-)

The castle tour was okay - they showed a weird movie about its history, with a wizard-type narrator, then we wandered quickly through the rooms, as the kids were not into it. Apparently the French artist Camille Corot lived here for a while with some other artists, who all painted things on the walls, so that was interesting to see. The kids far prefer ruined castles, where we can climb the walls and peer out of glassless windows and run around. I like both kinds. The foliage from the ramparts was again gorgeous.

More of my photos of Château de Gruyères here.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gruyères: Cheese Factory

GruyeresplaygroundActually, the cheese factory we visited was not in Gruyères itself, rather in the neighbouring town of Pringy (Switzerland, not to be confused with the three Pringys in France). They had a nice playground outside.
An interesting self-guided tour. We got to smell things the cows eat, like wild violets, and vanilla-orchids. Wow, yum. They also gave us a package each with three differently aged Gruyère cheese samples (3, 6, and 12 months, I think). Good too. This was included in the admission price.

See the milk in the vat on the left? That's where they churn it.
Those across the way are the molds in which they let the cheese set. They flip them every 12 hours I think.
A lot of cheese!
CheeseflippingmachineThis is a machine which crawls down the aisles and automatically removes and flips each wheel of cheese before replacing it on the shelf. Cool to watch.

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Charmey: Hike to a Small Ruined Castle

The Autumn foliage continued to be amazing in Charmey, where our hotel was located, 15 minutes from Gruyères.
On our way to visit the cheese & chocolate factories and the main castle, we spontaneously stopped to fight our way through the forest on a very steep, slippery, leaf-covered hillside, to reach a small ruined castle that we had seen from the road.

More Charmey photos here (e.g. Jason scaling the internal wall).

October 18, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack