Two – .5 liters of Pilsner, yes, please.

 Day 7 20.5.10

 Our “hotel” was more a bunch of little apartments/studios, and rooms scattered along Nerudova Street in Mala Strana (Lesser Town).  The vegan breakfast was served in the basement of one of the buildings, a 5 minute walk up a rather steep incline (of course all cobblestone, along with the entire city) that made you earn your breakfast!  After breakfast, we were off and running.  We went up to the castle & Saint Vitus Cathedral.  I’ll let pictures do the talking. 

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St. Vitus Cathedral

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St. Vitus Cathedral

At around noon, the line to get into the cathedral was long, so we took note of the opening hours and decided to get back there first thing on Friday to go in.   

After spending quite a bit of time up at the castle, we hit up one of the pubs recommended by Scott, a little ways up the hill from our hotel.  There, we tasted our first sips of Pilsner Uruquel.  Have to be honest, the first sip brought me back to high school field keg parties.  BUD!  After a few sips though, it was pretty smooth and tasted better.  Still, it confirmed that Pilsners are not my taste.  But when in Rome…

We had 2-  ½ liters each. 

Pilsner Urquel

Matt had roast pork with bread dumplings and cabbage.  I had a chicken soup and a pretzel.  

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We were both feeling quite  “happy” as we left the pub, but eager to head over the Charles again to explore Old Town.  The bridge was crazy during the day!  Full of artisans selling their goods, incredible views, and amazing statues & architecture.  But hold on tight to your bag and don’t lose sight of your company!  All of these things combined give the bridge an incredible energy.  It is no wonder that this bridge is likely the first thing people think of when they think of Prague.

View of the Castle from the Charles Bridge

View of the Castle from the Charles Bridge

Crowds on the bridge

Walkin on the bridge....

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Old Town has a very different, but just as good, feel as Mala Strana.  It is a huge square with lots and lots going on.  The square is the home of The Church of Our Lady of Tyn and the The Old Town Hall with the famous astronomical clock.  Again, I can’t try to put into words how amazing the architecture is…so pictures will have to do.

Approaching Old Town!!

Approaching Old Town!!

Astronomical Clock

Powder Tower in Old Town

Powder Tower in Old Town

 

Old Town...first thing in the morning

We had a lil gelati on our way out of Old Town, a little appetizer before dinner at a hidden gem I happened upon on the internet, the Artisan Restaurant.  Off the beaten path, I sincerely hope more people find this place.  It was A – MA  – ZING!  Great first dinner in Prague!

We had a Cabernet (name in book)

We started the meal with goat cheese and roasted red pepper bruschetta.

Matt had Open face duck ravioli, and I had Chicken Saltimbiocca with pureed sweet potato.  YUM! YUM! YUM!

YUM

Duck Ravioli

Chicken Saltimbocca

And…a lil Apple Pie…

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That was it for our first full day in Prague!!

Planes, Trains, and….Boats

Day 6 19.5.10
.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        We got up early, had breakfast, and packed up our stuff.  Went for a quick walk and then to the Bead shop to make our goods.  Oh, and we stopped at a local chocolatier….

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…and purchased what I am sure is the most expensive chocolate ever.

Swiss chocolate....yummmmm

It was well-worth it!

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 .                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        At the train station, when we told the woman at the Information Desk our plan to take the boat to Brennen and then the train to Zurich, her response was “OK…that’s…interesting!”   But to our credit, it couldn’t have been a better idea.  The entire 2 – hour ride was beautiful!  Unable to get a seat inside, we sat at the front of the boat, and it was…chilly.

BRRRRRRR....

…But a great opportunity for some awesome views of the alps. 

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The boat docked with 12 minutes for us to get to the train station.  Brennen was such a cute little town, unfortunately we had to run through it, packs and all, to catch our train to the airport!

The flight to Prague was 1.25 hours, quick and painless.  We had arranged for a car to pick us up to take us to the The Castle Steps, the hotel we would be staying in for 5 nights.  Our driver, Scott, was a 40-something American from Sacramento, and was more than happy to give us tons of pointers, tips, must-sees, good pubs and restaurants to try. 

We arrived at the adorable hotel at around 9:30 pm.  We had both been exhausted up until this point; as soon as we got to our “Poplar Apartment,” we were eager to go see a bit of the city.  We headed straight out to The Charles Bridge.  It was bustling with people – much busier and a lot more going on than Luzern.  I don’t think I can put into words how awesome the city already appeared to be.  We knew it was going to be good.  Though we did get a little lost that night (who forgot the map?), we made it back to our room by 11:30 and planned to get up to explore.

Luzern Culture

Day 5 18.5.10

We woke up with the intention of heading immediately north to the Lion Monument and the Glacier Park.  But, we HAD to walk across the Chapel Bridge again before starting the day.  When we walked to the south side of the hotel, we were pleasantly surprised to see a huge open-air food market.  Think glorified Hay Market…

Luzern Farmer's Market...What a great surprise!!

Our "Cheese (and yummy meat) Guy"

We decided dinner for the night would be “home”-prepared in our hotel room.  We bought fresh tomatoes, avocado, basil, bread, cheese and cured beef.  After a pit-stop to drop our goodies off at the room, we headed up to the sites.

It was sunny on our way up.  The Lion Monument was much more impressive than I was expecting.  Very moving.  According to Switzerland.com & travelguide.com:

The Dying Lion of Lucerne was hewn out of stone on site and commemorates the fallen Swiss guardsmen who died in 1792 during the French RevolutionThe Monument was inaugurated on August 10, 1821.  The latin inscription  [above the lion] HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”.   Furthermore you’ll find the engraved names of the dead and of the saved officers of the Swiss guard as well as the death toll among the Swiss soldiers (DCCLX = 760) and the number of surviving soldiers (CCCL = 350).

Lion Monument

Those eyes...I could feel the anguish.

And another little tidbit from travelguide.com:  Mark Twain, well known American author, called the Lion Monument “the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world.”

Immediately up the hill was the glacier museuma geological phenomenon left over from the Ice Age with giant glacial potholes is a prove that Lucerne was once covered by glaciers (lucerneguide.ch).   The glacier was  disovered by accident in 1872 by Josef Wilhelm Amrein-Troller while his crew was building a wine cellar on this site.  A-MA-ZING.  I highly recommended clicking here for more about it.

Both were very cool sites.

When we exited the museum, it had started raining.  We stopped at a COOP to grab a bottle of wine for dinner, and then Matt came down with the hungry horrors ( :-0 ) so we stopped in a very Panera-type sandwich shop in Luzern.  Once he refueled, we walked over to the other sied of the bridge to grab a coffee outdoors.  We sat and people-watched on the river at the KKL building, which was built between 1995 and 2000, and is said to be one of the most spectacular modern buildings in Switzerland.  From there, we went back to our side of the river (Old Town), and I shopped a little while Matt cruised around snapping some more photos.  

Beautiful facades

Famous clock

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We stopped in a little bead shop on our way back to our room and decided to go back in the morning to make our own necklaces.  Up at our room we relaxed, watched a little CNN, uploaded the photos and browsed the library of the trip thus far. 

As planned, I prepped dinner in the room.  We enjoyed our in-room, classy meal with red wine.  Sometimes those are the best meals.  Very relaxing. 

YUM

In-room dining

 Another walk on the bridge followed.  Dorks.

We may have been slightly obsessed with the bridge.

A fire burned part of the bridge in the 1990s. Although several were burned in the fire, as you walk through, the panels tell a story about Lucerne's history.

That was it for the day.   We decided there was not much left to do in Luzern the next day, so we would take the boat part-way to Zurich to catch our flight to Prague.

Hiking the North Face Trail

Day 4 17.5.10

I woke to Matt looking out the window saying “We’re going to have a great day!”  We got up early to have breakfast and get out into the trails.  This was our last day in Murren, so not only did we want to make sure we got out while the weather was good and the skies clear, we needed to get to our next destination, Luzern, at some point.

The beginning of the trail. The sun was trying sooo hard for us!

We walked outside to see mountains surrounding us.  Finally!!  We had some awesome backdrops to look at.  Though we still could not see many of the peaks and probably much more behind those mountains we could see, we were satisfied the minute we started our hike.  The camera’s we’re a-clickin immediately.  We didn’t want to take our chances! 

We decided to take the Northface Trail, from Murren – Allmendhubel (expected time: 2.5 hours).

Web description on Myswitzerland.com:

To this day, climbing the Eiger North Face is considered one of the most difficult mountaineering feats. One gazes at it respectfully and admires the tenacity and courage of the early alpinists who climbed mountain after mountain with little of the modern equipment we have today.

The exciting story of these early mountain pioneers is retold on the two-hour Eiger North Face Trail which connects Allmendhubel to the Spielbodenalp via Mürren. 12 information posts explain the climbing routes, the gear that was used, and other related items. If one is lucky – and carries binoculars – one may well see the action live because there are climbers who try their hand at ascending the Eiger North Face practically daily.

 

We were awe-struck as we started up the paths.  I’ll let the pictures do the explaining, though I can’t say how many times we said “pictures just won’t do this any justice. 

 I will also say that once at the top and along the descent, we were not expecting to be in knee-deep snow!!  We were proud to be the trailblazers for the season.

I had to get this shot of Matt to give some perspective. The pic still just doesn't capture it. Only memory will do, I guess!

The hike was amazing.  We completed it in about 3.5 hours…not bad, considering even Photo Phyllis came out to join Photo Phil and there were many stops for photos.  We had no regrets about staying in Murren a bit longer so that we could enjoy such a treat.

Once the hike was complete, we picked up our bags at the hotel to begin our journey to Luzern.  The train ride was approximately 3 hours.

Lunch on the train...

We arrived in the beautiful city of Luzern around 4:30 pm.  Our bodies were a bit exhausted from the previous 3 days of hiking + 50 lb packs + 20 lb backpacks!  Only us…

We were pleased to see Hotel Des Alpes was not only a short distance from the train station, but also directly on the Reuss River and immediately in front of the Chapel Bridge. 

Chaple Bridge

We dropped off our stuff after checking in. and headed out for a walk around the city, and across the bridge, of course (“Li, can we walk over the bridge again?”).  The city was relatively quiet.  We walked through the Old Town, which is full of shops and lots of building/sculptures for Matt to photograph.   For dinner, we stopped in a little Thai Restaurant in the middle of Old Town, which was actually pretty darn good!  We then walked some more, back over the bridge and to the south side of the river. 

After a bit of walking, we sat by the river on the outdoor patio of our hotel’s restaurant. We decided to try some Apple Strudel with vanilla ice cream.  Yum!

True Swiss Apple Strudel! Mmmmmmmm

That concluded our day.  Plans for Tuesday were to stroll the city again and try to see a few historical sites.

Interlaken Ost – Interlaken West

16.5.10

Happy Birthday, Mom!

We woke to rain/fog again, so we decided to head down to Interlaken for the day.  As we walked through Murren to get our tram, we saw bits and pieces of the mountains among us, but we decided to go through with our plan and stay longer tomorrow (our last day here), since the forecast was much more promising for that day. 
The train ride from Lauterbrunnen to Interlaken is a 20 minute scenic ride.  When we got off the train, we decided to walk from Interlaken Ost (East) to Interlaken West.  We weren’t totally sold on Interlaken.  The town is very touristy, and there isn’t a great deal of stuff to see (though we probably could have taken a more scenic walk along the water, rather than through the small town). 

There was a nice park/green from which there were some great views.  When the sun managed to poke through between rain showers, we were able to get some great views of the mountains.  Matt took some nice photos. 

Interlaken

 We did learn that most shops/stores are closed on Sundays in Switzerland.  We (eh-hem, Matt) had burnt out our electric converter the night before, so we were luckily able to find one in one of the few open shops. (I should mention here, we also blew up our Ipod speakers while listening to them.  All of a sudden, little clouds of smoke came spitting out of each speaker.  It was actually pretty comical.  No more tunes for us…)

 After a walk from east to west and then back east again, we decided on a small lunch in the Coop’s self-service restaurant.  It reminded me a lot of the restaurant in IKEA.  I had soup (we couldn’t figure out what kind of soup it was – I thought cream of asparagus, Matt thought butternut squash…??? – either way it was very good) and was daring and tried and open-faced sandwich with tomatoes, a slice of hard boiled egg, and asparagus (um, do you think am obsessed with asparagus?  Believe me, if you tried the white asparagus while it was in-season in Switzerland, you would be too.)  One bite confirmed my disliking for mayo.  Ugh.  I thought I could deal with it for the sake of culture, but one bite and I was done.  Matt had a smorgasbord of lasagna, pork of some kind, and parmesan-stuffed grilled tomatoes.  The lasagna was delish.  I may have had more than one bite.

While we waited to catch the train back to Lauterbrunnen, we stopped in a little cafe for some hot beverages.  We talked about how nice European cafes are – they’re all so unique and have so much character.  They’re not Starbucks.

Before taking the gondola back up from Lauterbrunnen to Murren, Matt wanted to take a few more shots of one of the waterfalls that we had seen the day before while walking through the valley.  Photo Phil in full-effect.

Please note someone's dinner in the colored cages in the background.

 Again, when we got back to Murren and walked back to our hotel, we got a glimpse of what was hiding behind those clouds. 

...little did we know what a treat we were in for...

  We were very excited; we were confident it was going to clear up for us for our morning hike on Monday. 

 I went to the town’s only Laundromat while Matt cruised around town to take more pictures.   We then went back to our hotel’s restaurant (there weren’t many places to choose from, but we weren’t complaining about returning to the restaurant from the first night).  We shared a green salad which had all sorts of stuff in it, including a curried corn (gotta look up this recipe and make it when we get home).

Curried corn? Yes, please!

 Matt had a veal stuffed puff pastry (though later he swore it was chicken)

 and I had risotto boletos (mushroom).  Not for nothin’, this risotto tasted exactly like Matt’s homemade mushroom risotto and it was good.  Who needs to go to Europe for some good risotto?  Nice work, Mateo.

 Being the old-folgies that we are (not that there is much going on in Murren after, oh, I don’t know, 4 pm), we packed and prepared for the hike in the morning.  We wanted to get going early so that we could get back at a decent time to head to our next destination:  Luzern!!

The Hills Are Alive…But We Can’t See Them

 

Day 1 14.5.2010  

  

 We arrived at the Zurich airport at 11 am, and took the 12:40 pm train to Lauterbrunnen.  The Swiss rail system met our expectations –  everything was so timely and smooth!  At Lauterbrunnen, we took the gondola up to our hotel in Murren.  As we headed up, it started to rain.  

Just get us to the hotel! My sherpa, Matt...

  

We arrived at Hotel Alpenruh at approximately 4 pm.     

Entrance to our quaint hotel

Entrance to our quaint hotel

We checked in , and went for a short walk before heading back to the hotel for dinner.  In the meantime, it started to SNOW!  Everything went from green to a complete winter wonderland.  

  

We had a delicious dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Matt had duck in a pumpkin compote and rosti(a traditional potato dish), which he thoroughly enjoyed.  I had a white and green asparagus salad with jumbo shrimp – not something I would have expected to get in the mountains of Switzerland, but Oh. My. Goodness.  Was it delicious!  
We hit the hay pretty early due to our red eye flight the night before and major jet lag, and…  

Day 2 15.5.2010  

Slept in pretty late today!  I’d say we got about 12 hours of much needed sleep.  This was okay, since it was still snowing when we woke up and the fog left little in the way of views.  Thank goodness we brought all of our winter gear and lots of layers.  We decided to take the steep trek down to Schilthornbahn, and walk through the valley to Lauterbrunnen.  Despite thick fog and lack of views, it was still pretty breathtaking.  There were huge waterfalls all along the trip down and throughout the valley.  Everywhere we turned, another waterfall!  Seriously, we were in awe that this is someone’s backyard, frontyard, everywhere you turn-yard.   

  

One of MANY falls

  

On our way down…

  

   

Evidence of a fall I had during a photo shoot of Matt. The ground was slippery! This photo was a surprise later on. Note: the camera, being top priority, was saved, and I walked away with just a grass stain on my knee.

  

We also saw plenty of cows,  

Not a bad life

Need more cowbell...

sheep (see pic of waterfall above), and one lonely wild goat.  

We scared the crap out of the poor guy.

  The entire trip was approximately 3.5 hours.  We stopped for lunch at Hotel Oberland in the adorable town of Lauterbrunnen.  Lunch was FONDUE.  9 words:  We’re buying a fondue pot when we get home.  🙂  

Bubbling cheese...I know you're jealous

Traditional bread and potatoes for dipping

Fondue add-ins: chives, onions, cumin, garlic, pepper, and mushrooms.

Anyone who knows me, knows I was in heaven.

...didn't stand a chance!!

Matt enjoyed two large beers  

Do you think he was excited?

and I had two glasses of Fendent wine.  Darn, I didn’t get the name of it, but it was a local white wine (according to winedefinition.com:  Fendant (fahn-dahn) is A popular white wine and grape in Switzerland. As is the case for so many wines that are light and fresh, it is often best enjoyed locally. Elsewhere in Switzerland the grape is known as Dorin, and in France is is called Chasselas.); it paired extremely well with the fondue, just as our server suggested it would.  

We then took the gondola back up to Murren.  It was a long, wet, raw, day, so we took advantage of the sauna at our hotel when we got back.  Our plans to hike UP the mountain tomorrow may be shot since the forecast calls for rain again…so we may head down again and wander through the town of Interlaken.  It’s okay.  In our hearts, we know we are surrounded by amazing views.