We hope you all had a super fantastic holiday season. We did end up getting a tree and this is what it looked like.
Pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Piro rolled into town right in time for Christmas. We greeted Piro with a Rivella at the airport but he didnít like it and ended up throwing it away. Milk serum isnít for everyone. Weíve seen apprehension to it in the past.
Notice there is no snowboard on his person. It got lost along the way. We werenít too concerned because we had several days before we were heading to the mountains but he did try to make things as interesting as possible by not having our address or phone number with him when he reported the lost bag. Fun fact: Did you know some airlines outsource their call centers to India?
We had a couple days to hang out around Zurich but we didnít really consider the city might be a ghost town. I guess a lot of city folk headed back out to the villages they came from. Piro was rightfully unimpressed with the grey, dead city. We often bemoan the lack of convenience here in Zurich (Europe in general) but it is much worse during the holidays and can be a bit of a shock to somebody visiting from the USA. Donít let Piro fool you. Sure, he is well traveled but he has no tolerance for cultures he feels are inferior. But there was a Christmas market going on at the train station and Piro got introduced to Gluhwine. ďI might have to stop drinking beerĒ, he was heard to utter. Silver linings and whatnot.
They put up this big Swarovski crystal Christmas tree each year at the market. No pictures to be found that show ground level activities.
Christmas morning was upon us. Chizzy was like a little kid and jumped out of bed very early to shake all the presents and get hopped up on caffeine. It was a relaxing day and I think she even had to offset the early rise with a nap at some stage.
Chizzy got going with the CSI puzzle from the folks almost immediately. She didnít want the crime scene to get too cold.
This is all a cat needs for Christmas.
We still had a couple days before heading up the Alps and Piro had the great suggestion that we notch another country by seeing what Lichtenstein was all about. Lichtenstein sits between Switzerland and Austria and really isnít bringing much. Itís a very, very small country and I guess it doesnít have any rail lines because we had to bus it from the Swiss border. We were in the main city of Vaduz within a half hour.
We took in everything Lichtenstein had to offer. This means we got our passports stamped for 2 Francs, ate lunch, and walked around.
The leader lords above the common folk in this castle on the hill. I guess they dig him OK though because it didnít look too well fortified and we couldnít even see a cannon.
Lichtenstein is the worldís leading producer of false teeth. They also make a bit of wine to keep the great leader happy. Piro had the wise suggestion I bring Chizzy back a couple bottles, which I did.
The primary holiday activity was the Ďskií trip to the Bernese Oberland region of Switzerland. Real Swiss Alps. J and CM visited this region the first time they came out here and they took us there on their second visit. It is definitely an amazing place. I put ski in quotes there because, as you may have heard, the whole world is melting and sliding down snow covered hills on sticks and boards will soon just be a tall tale we excite our web-footed children with. But seriously, we were keeping an eye on the conditions for several weeks prior and there was very little snow falling up there. It was worrisome.
Lauterbrunnen. This is the village where we stayed. You can kind of see it sits right in a valley with mountains rising on either side. Off to the right are the villages of Murren and Gimmelwald and the peak of Shilthorn. Off to the left are the villages of Wengen and Grindelwald and the peaks of Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch. Chizzy originally tried to find a place in one of these upper villages, but the central location of Lauterbrunnen ended up working out perfectly.
These are the apartments where we stayed. Not exactly roughing it.
The mode of transportation up the left side (to Wengen) is via trains like this one.
The mode of transportation up the right side (to Murren) is via cable gondolas like this one.
View from Wengen.
Enter the Netherlanders. Richard and Ronnie joined up with us for our ski trip and they were a great addition to the team.
Chizzy and Piro. Some objects may be taller than they appear.
We decided on Wengen as the site of our New Years celebrations. Chizzy and Ronnie made a reservation at a traditional Swiss restaurant and we were lucky enough to get a very curt and inattentive Germanish waiter to further fuel Piroís hatred. It was the typical story complete with difficulties getting drink refills, dessert, and finally the bill. The inevitable conversation about the benefits of living in a culture where tipping service providers is the norm left the Dutchies speechless. They dislike our culture as much as we dislike theirs.
Despite the long dinner, we were out and about by 10 or so and looking for a good bar to ring in the New Year. One additional consideration when choosing a bar to hang out in is the fact that 16 year olds can drink. It is possible to end up in a bar with a bunch of kids. That is pretty much what happen. But it was a cool pubby place rather than a stuffy Swiss place so I guess that is the trade off.
It didnít really matter about the bar choice anyway because EVERYBODY moved into the streets a few minutes before midnight. It was really nice. My final anticdote of how the worldly Piro is representing us Americans comes at 11:59 pm on December 31 when he screams out ďSPEAK ENGLISHĒ into the crowd who began counting down the New Year. I think the only thing that saved us from looking like complete idiots was that (unbeknownst to Piro) the countdown actually was being done in English and most people around us took it for an ironic joke.
The bar we were in thought it would be a good idea to stick this flaming log right in the middle of the crowded street. I was lucky enough to bear witness to a couple of these red hot arms finally detaching and falling into the nearby crowd.
There are 16 year olds just out of the picture.
Good sign for the New Year. The snow starts on the morning of the 1st! It felt like a minor miracle because Piro, Richard, and I went skiing the day before up at Kleine Scheidegg in pretty crappy conditions. It was very icy and not a ton of options with the runs. On this day, Richard was down for the count back at the apartment claiming illness. Our money was on hangover though. Anyway, the remainder of us went up the Murren side and took a nice train ride along the cliffs. The Gluhwine served up there was made with white wine which we had never seen before but was equally as warming and delicious.
In the evening the final member of our crew arrived and we sent the ladies straight to work where they belonged.
The guys. Note the Wii controller there in Piroís hand. Ronnie was really thinking ahead when he packed this baby into the car. Golf, bowling, and tennis were the big hits.
Giving skiing another go. This was actually the final day we were there, but I donít have any pictures from the previous day when the skiing was fantastic in the powder of Mannlichen (Wengen). It was just Piro, Stepanka, and I on that day and we made the most of it. There was one particularly great run from the top of Mannlichen down to Grindelwald. Easily the longest ski run I have ever been on and it wound through little villages and cabins and the run was virtually deserted. We found out it was because the gondola ride back to the top took 30 minutes! Well worth it though.
Gimmelwald. J tells us Rick Steves put this place on the map when he did a write up on it. I havenít read what he liked about it but itís easily the lamest village in the area as evidenced by the way the cable cars arrive simultaneous to immediately shuttle you right up to Murren.
On the lift in Murren.
I finally thought to bring the camera on the final day of skiing. Iíve been saying skiing all along here but Piro, Richard, and I were snowboarding. Ronnie and Stepanka were actually the ones skiing.
Murren from the lift.
Shilthorn was in striking distance.
More views from the slopes.
Letís do this!
All in all, Iíd say everybody had a pretty decent time and what the skiing lacked was made up for by the fantastic spectacle of the area.