Amsterdam: 5 Things I’ve Learned

After living in Holland for over a year, I’ve learned a lot. These things in particular:

  1. Patience. Customer service? Forget it. Whether it’s inexplicably waiting 6 months for a residency permit or 45 minutes for a prescription pick up at the pharmacy, you better not be in a hurry. Both (and many other similar scenarios) happened to me. The Dutch certainly are not going to speed up their pace to accomodate you, impatient American. Slow your roll. However, Ikea will deliver to your door within 2 hours. Guess that’s a Swedish thing. 
  2. Perseverance. The market doesn’t have all the ingredients for dinner tonight? Head to the grocery store. They don’t have it all either? Go to the other grocery store. Still? Try the more expensive international food store. That process can often be a half day affair. Stick it out. The fantastic black bean burgers that result? Worth it.
  3. Trust. Do not trust the weatherman. Whenever they say it’s not going to rain, it will. Layered dressing and preferably something waterproof is the way to go. Always be prepared. On the other hand, always trust the cheese man. Somehow he always knows exactly what you want (i.e. any of them). 
  4. Bikers have the right of way. Always.
  5. Have fun. Every day. Despite waiting, despite running around for food, despite almost getting run over, despite the weather. Remind yourself that you are fortunate to be living in Holland. Because you are.

xxx

Amsterdam: 5 Things I Won’t Miss

Gasp! There is actually something Julie won’t miss about living in Amsterdam? She’s always singing its praises. 

Guys, let’s keep it real. Life in Amsterdam isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. In fact, depending how you read that, it mostly isn’t. Here are some things that I definitely won’t miss about our brief Dutch life:

  1. The bike culture. But wait, I thought you said it was something you would miss? Well, there are two sides to that story. This other, evil side is the one that whizzes past you, pedaling the wrong direction in the bike lane (or not), but somehow you, pedestrian/motorist/innocent soul, are the moron and you are in the wrong for not seeing them first. I have been clipped by many a biker. And when you aren’t prepared, that bell is startling. Consider this a warning: Bicyclists always have the right of way. That includes when I’m riding, thankyouverymuch.
  2. The ignorant comments from people that never have visited Amsterdam and claim they know it’s all about prostitution and pot. Guess what? It’s not. While the Red Light District and coffeeshops do exist and are a legal boost to our economy, they have nothing to do with my life and it’s easy to forget they are even here.
  3. Actually, I take that back. The tourists that visit such places and then create scenes in otherwise peaceful places (like when I’ve been harassed by junkies in the park… at 11am). We’re just trying to live our life, so keep your dalliances to yourself. I don’t care what you do, just do it somewhere that is not in front of my face.
  4. The weather. I’ve gotten used to it, and I suppose I can make this positive by saying that now I really truly appreciate a nice, sunny day. Most of the time, it’s like this: 
  5. It’s dirty. Coming from Chicago, which I guess is very clean, this is the other end of the spectrum. Trash is left in the streets, the canal water is polluted, and no one ever picks up after their dogs. Unbelievably, it doesn’t smell! Must be all the flowers…

These lists are fun.

xxx

Amsterdam: 10 Things I’ll Miss

As we wrap up our time in Amsterdam, I’ve been reflecting like whoa on everything that I’m going to miss about our Dutch life. While there are countless things that I’ll miss, here is a short list of some more “general” things:

  1. Market shopping. Obviously. This is basically my main pastime. I love strolling through the many markets that are squeezed into tiny Amsterdam. It’s where I get most of our produce, and a lot of our poultry and cheeses. And it’s always fun to check out some of the interesting trinkets being sold. 
  2. There’s no panhandling. I’m told that Amsterdam has a lot of programs and shelters to limit this activity. I have never once been asked for money in the 14 months we have lived here. In a way, that has contributed to the safe environment this city maintains. There is low crime and little to fear as I come home alone at night, which I’ve done often.
  3. The architecture. Charming, quaint, and cute are the first three adjectives that come to mind. Amsterdam is a small city, and the building style, which is highly regulated, helps to keep the small town charm intact. There are rules on what you can do to the facade and how tall you can build.
  4. The bike culture. I occasionally moan and groan about riding my bike, but that is mostly out of laziness. I really love riding it. And with all the bike lanes and signals, not to mention how fast we can get places, it’s a wonderful convenience. 
  5. The parks, specifically Sarphatipark and Vondelpark. For its size, Amsterdam has a healthy amount of green space. We had many picnics, long walks and good ole fashion fun in ’em. 
  6. Those canals. I know we’re moving to a place with lots o’ water, but it’s different. It’s not as intimate. There is something incredibly romantic about a stroll along the Dam canals. 
  7. The abundance of flowers. Hello, we’re in the the tulip capital of the world, despite the fact that they did not originate here. Fun Fact: Tulips are really from Turkey and were imported here in 16th century. We always had fresh flowers in the house this year, which became a daily luxury rather than a once-in-awhile treat. 
  8. The street style here has really changed the way I look at everyday dressing. While the 90’s grunge look is definitely seeing a resurgence, people also just embrace their own unique style, whatever that is. While Dam Style is an homage to the younger, quirkier set, its a glimpse at some of the more eclectic fashion. Many people dress more subtly.
  9. I have definitely taken this for granted, but the centrality of Amsterdam in Europe; its magical ability to be a 1 to 2 hour flight from seemingly everywhere, is something I know I’m going to miss. Stockholm, while a major city, is at least one connection away from a lot of places we may want to visit and often will be a much longer flight.
  10. Raw herring. I don’t care what you say, I like it. Especially on a crunchy bun with onions and pickles. 

Of course, this is not a full list. These were on the very top of my head. 😀

xxx

Stockholm: 8 First Impressions

Hi pals. Happy Monday. I hope you all had a nice weekend. We went out with friends on Friday, met friends for lunch on Saturday and stayed in that very rainy night with pizza & beer. We’re really enjoying these last few days in Amsterdam, rain or shine.

So, Stockholm! We’re moving there in two weeks. If you’re reading “live”, we are there. Right now. To house hunt! Okay, more like tiny apartment hunt, but still. I hope we find our little home.

But let’s back up. If I’m going to do this right, I have to go wayyy back to July when we first visited. We went for five days, smushed between hosting visitors and our two week trip to Italy. To say we were a little frazzled (or maybe that was just me, Jaro tends to take things in stride better than I do) is an understatement, especially because this trip was booked only the week before. It all felt rushed and I felt unprepared. I hadn’t researched much about it and wasn’t sure what to expect.

As we arrived, I have to admit… I did not want to like it. I love Amsterdam. I’m not ready to leave. It really feels like home and a place I could stay for a long time (read: more than the 14 months we’re getting). I love our neighborhood, our lifestyle, our friends, our apartment, everything. Okay, maybe not the weather, but even that has stopped bothering me like it first did.

Our focus of this trip was to get an “overall feel” for the city; explore some different neighborhoods, see where people shop, eat, hang out, etc. So we rode the T to our teeny holiday apartment in Södermalm, the alleged bohemian neighborhood (much like Amsterdam’s Pijp where we currently live), and I had my doubts. I was ready to point out all its flaws and shortcomings. As I stared up at high-rise condominiums, modern glass buildings, and so much concrete, I wasn’t feeling it. I missed Amsterdam’s charming, cobblestone streets.

But over the week, we found Stockholm’s charming, cobblestone streets, rode bikes via the shared bikes program, shopped in lots of glorious boutiques, ate hot dogs from street carts and dined at fancy restaurants. I warmed up to this cool city. (See what I did there?)  Here are some initial thoughts:

  1. It’s very stylish. Shopping is a huge part of the culture and the city’s somewhat recent rise to fame, something which Amsterdam is not exactly known for. While I have happily adapted to the Dam’s casual street style, I’m going to have to step it up a notch with this move. And no complaints! I love fashion and even though my passion took a hiatus for the years that I was an accountant, I think it’s really going to come back in full force.
  2. It’s hilly. Whoa. I have never lived in a place with actual hills. I love the added interest it gives to the city landscape. It’ll make walking and cycling a better work out, that’s for sure.
  3. Speaking of interesting landscape, this city is comprised of 14 islands all connected by 50 some-odd bridges. Smitten!
  4. They eat lots of herring (and fish in general), much like they do here in Amsterdam. But theirs is pickled, not raw. I still like it.
  5. They eat lots of other delicious things too. Chutney, Urban Deli, Bageriet by Urban Deli, Restaurang Östgötakällaren, and the many others we tried, were all great. Good food, friendly service. I know the culinary scene is going to rival (and maybe beat?) Amsterdam’s.
  6. Swedish wildlife (as we learned at Skansen) includes brown bears, coyotes and wolverines!
  7. Neighborhoods are all very different. We only checked out parts of Södermalm (hipster), Gamla Stan (historic), Norrmalm (touristic), and Djurgården (green space). On this current visit, we’ll also see Kungsholmen (residential), Östermalm (posh), and Vasastan (residential) during our apartment hunt. There is a lot to explore.
  8. It’s expensive. Beers can be up to €8. A one hour T fare is about €5. And trying to convert the Kronor back to Euros is dizzying. It took several months to start “thinking” in Euros instead of dollars, but I think we’ll get used to our new currency faster in Stockholm.
  9. Bonus Thought: I like saying that we’ll be living in Scandinavia. It just sounds cool, yeah? Much like how I love saying we have been living in Holland. Sigh.

Enough talk, here are some pics. We surprisingly didn’t take a lot because we were so busy trying to soak it in and not be too distracted by what aperture setting we were using.

Moving is tough. Not going to lie, it’s stressful to visit a new country, trying to imagine yourself settling in there. In many ways, you can’t. We were more than ready for the initial move to Amsterdam just out of sheer excitement (I’m riding a tram! I’m eating herring! This is all so exciting!), but we are a little more cautious about this one. We hope we love it just as much. And you know what? I think we will.

So there you have it. Some initial thoughts on Stockholm. Looking forward to sharing our house hunting adventure with you all soon.

xxx

Oktoberfest in München

You guys! This is the last post about our big road trip and I’m going to keep it short. After a quick stop in Salzburg, we made it to München for the celebrated and highly anticipated Oktoberfest. So what’s the verdict?

(You might need to click the pic to see the movement, I’ll look into it later.)

Yep! It was awesome! I had no idea what to expect, not one clue. All I knew is that you drink beer. So what happened? We arrived at a very “Oktoberfest friendly” campground that made me feel like we were back at a college dorm. Lots of young people (most wearing lederhosen and barmaid outfits), and most of them drunk at 11am. Tents were practically on top of each other in a huge open space. We secured a spot and split. Took the bus and metro into the city like everyone else and were told to just “follow the drunks.” Not kidding! We get there and can see the massive stream of people heading in the same direction, so we jammed ourselves in it.

Arriving at “Oktoberfest” was weirdly familiar. It was exactly like a state fair. (Is that just a Midwest thing?) Huge fairgrounds filled with arcades, food stalls, carnival rides, the works. The only difference was that every few meters there was a giant beer tent, filled with hundreds (thousands?) of screaming, chanting, chugging, glass-clinking revelers.

We tried to play it smart. Ate some sausages to prepare our bodies, then headed toward the mecca tent – Hofbräuhaus. Feeling like we needed a warm up before going inside the roaring tent, we sat in the beer garden and each slammed our first liter of beer and, of course, German bread (aka: a pretzel, duh). Feeling pretty darn great after that, we headed into the tent.

Inside is massive. There is a elevated stage with live music at one end and there had to be thousands of people filling every corner. There are areas for people with reservations and areas for those without (aka: us). We slid into some vacant spots at a stand-up table and ordered our second liters…

The rest is kind of a blur.  We were in there for hours, cheering people on as they tried to chug entire liters, booing them when they didn’t. Shared even more beers. Had a giant plate of wiener schnitzel. More giant pretzels. Stumbled out of the tent to see what else there was. Rode two carnival rides that spin you around and whirl you upside down… Somehow didn’t get sick (or die). Ate pizza, more sausage, and frites covered in sauerkraut.

The best thing about Oktoberfest? Everyone you see is from all over the world and just there to have a good time. We met everyone at our table; some from the States, the rest from Australia. Everyone was happy, relaxed and having fun. What could be better? Check out my video (starting at the 2:44 mark) to see the evidence. We had a great time.

We somehow managed to find our way back to the campsite that night and I even… tried to READ. We bring our iPads along for such time passage. Well, I passed out fell asleep with it next to me. Of course it rained that night. Of course it got in the tent. And that’s the little story of how I’m on my third iPad is just over a year. So there’s that.

Bonus: We earned ourselves a hearty McDonald’s breakfast the next morning. Americans: McDonald’s breakfast over here is not to be taken lightly. The McCafe is where it’s at.

xxx

Road trip: Slovenia and Austria

Happy Friday, everyone! We’re slowly, but surely getting to the end of this road trip recap. After two nights in Croatia, we headed north (in the home stretch of our trip now) to Lake Bled, Slovenia. We had ooh’ed and aah’ed at pictures of it and knew if there was one place in Slovenia that we had to go, it was there. Conveniently, it was on the route home too.

Again, the roads were longer than we thought. As we finally approached, limbs aching from sitting in the car most of the day, we were reading about places to stay in Bled. Found one that sounded fantastic and decided to treat ourselves to hotel night #2 of this journey. Thank GOD. When we arrived in Bled after dark, it was pouring rain. Julie + pouring rain + camping do not mix well.

Woke up the next morning to beautiful views from our balcony. After a lazy morning in the sauna and pool, we ventured out. Bled is one of the most serene, calming places I’ve ever been. Stressed out? Go to Bled. Seriously. It was so quiet and enchanting to walk around the lake (there is a trail around the whole thing, we did maybe a quarter). Realizing it was already after noon, we stopped for lunch in town at a sweet pub for some grilled meats, bread dumplings and mayyybe even some cheese dumplings. Heaven.

Got on the road to Salzburg, home to Mozart and The Sound of Music, which was supposed to take two hours. It took over FIVE. There was constant construction, in almost every tunnel. Have I mentioned that some of the driving tunnels through the Alps are over 7000 meters long? Cray. Anyway, it was so bad that Jaro, the patient driver, could get out of the car and walk around. People were even walking their dogs! I tried to take a nap.

Again, got into town after dark. But what a pretty town! Salzburg looked so wonderful from our limited strolling. And the food was delicious. Went to the Zipfer Beirhaus and chowed down on seasonal treats like pumpkin soup and wild boar ragu. Shared a massive table with hilarious traveling Australians and enjoyed the night. Verdict? Definitely need to go back to Salzburg. Maybe combine it with a second trip to Vienna in the winter (Went to Vienna this summer. Sweltering).

Here be the pics:

Last stop: Oktoberfest in Munchen.

xxx

P.S. Trying Lion Noir tonight with friends. Can’t wait!

Road trip: Northern Croatia

We are now entering the fast forward section of our two week, ten country road trip (i.e. when we started to cram way too much into the last 5 days). It was Saturday afternoon and we sped to Croatia. Once we were out of Italy, we went old school. As in, we used fold out maps. Our GPS did not have information for the rest of the countries on our trip. And we weren’t about to rack up roaming fees on our iPhones and iPads. Let me tell you something, in an age of dependence on all kinds of electronic devices, it feels really good to manage without. So paper maps. Bring. It. On.

Didn’t get to Pula until nightfall, but again our campsite was gracious enough to let us crash and pay in the morning. (This was a theme throughout our trip.) Since it was dark when we arrived, we couldn’t see much, but camped right on the shore and fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves on the rocks below. Nice! The next day we wandered around Pt Kamenjak, which translates to rocky point and it’s application is quite literal. The area was a huge rocky beach with kayaking, windsurfing, beer shacks outdoor bars and an overall bohemian/hipster vibe that we were really digging. Except that we were a month too late. Everything was closed up for the season. Still, it was a nice place to walk around, if not a little disappointing. We just missed the party.

That afternoon we drove around the (very scenic) coastline, through tiny, pretty villages, stopping in harborfront Crikvenica for a burek lunch, to a small coastal town called Senj. Quickly became obsessed with burek (Croatian pastries filled with cheese, spinach or meat). Camped just outside of town at a site that was right on the water and filled with VW van-driving hippies families. Loved it. The town itself was really quaint, with a waterfront boardwalk and crooked streets. We ended up finding a random pub for dinner where we feasted on local dishes like Ćevapčići (spicy sausages, ražnjići (grilled pork skewers) and frothy Croatian beer. So, so good. Couldn’t even finish it; there was so much food. Don’t worry, a little feline friend (this is the theme of my life) came by and once I dropped a small piece of meat, she ran off, must have brought it to her family and came back for more. I She eventually cleared my plate and I was happy to not let that meat go to waste.

The next day, we headed to Plitvice National Park, a gorgeous area with ever-changing pools, waterfalls and the clearest lake water I have ever seen. So pretty. We spent most of the day there, riding the ferries to different areas and hiking around. Felt good to walk for most of the day after all the driving!

No time to head further south to the most popular destinations like Split or Dubrovnik. Couldn’t even get to the islands. Maybe next time. There will be a next time.

Ahead: Slovenia’s Lake Bled & a hot minute in Austria’s Salzburg…

xxx

Road trip: Italian Escapades

It’s no secret that we love Italy. Having been there four times in the past two years might be a non-subtle clue. Everything from the landscape, to the food, to the culture is just a breath of fresh air, especially after cringing through three nights in Switzerland. We had originally (as in two days prior) been thinking about zooming through Italy to Croatia and Slovenia, but then checked ourselves. How could we drive right past Verona and Venice?

Getting through the mountains (driving stick – go me!) took way longer than we thought so we didn’t cross the border until sunset. Grabbing the trusty old GPS, we punched in “campsites near Verona” and hoped for the best. It ended up being a fantastic surprise! We arrived after the office closed, but the night guard was ready for us (thanks to calling ahead) and as we pulled up, he said, “Zijn jullie Nederlanders?” He was Dutch! Since our phone has a Dutch number and our license plate too, he assumed we were Dutch. Close enough. 😉 It was so comforting and pleasant to talk with him about life in Holland and how he decided to move to Italy (jealous).

We spent the next morning in Verona and what a cutie town. They have adorable shopping streets & markets and just general Italian loveliness. It’s also the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, so there is a romantical quality as well. Felt it. We had heard that if you love Italy, but don’t need blockbuster sights, then Verona is a great fit. It was.

Unfortunately, since it is a small town and I knew Venice was a mere hour away, my anxiety kicked in and we scrambled over to check out our next destination. Sidenote: I read somewhere recently that Midwesterners (that’s me) often use driving time to measure distance between two places. {i.e. How far away is that city? Oh, about an hour.} I think it’s true! Anyway, we got to a VERY nice campsite (seriously, spa-quality bathrooms), got all our stuff set up and took a public bus into the city. Hey, when you are traveling on a dime, that doesn’t bother you at all. In fact, you feel more like you are having a local experience than if you just pull up in a taxi or park in the garage on the island. So we got to the island, started walking down a street and IMMEDIATELY were lost. Within a few minutes. It must have been some kind of record. Couldn’t even figure out where we were on a map. It’s so disorienting, but also awesome. All the little streets, lined with crumbling, chipped-paint facades, twist and wind over and under each other and those teeny canals. Elegant decay, indeed. And no cars, of course. Some of the streets were as wide as my body.

I have to harp on Venice, however. While I loved sipping wine at Al Merca and Aperol spritz along the Grand Canal, enjoyed hearty ragu at a tiny candle-lit bistro and noticed the canals do not smell like I was warned… there was a certain inauthenticity to it. From what I saw in the two days we spent there, the entire city catered to tourists. Every street had a heavy current of visitors navigating through. Huge signs point you to SAINT MARK’S SQUARE ==>. (Got it.) Every menu had 10 language translations, even those we “discovered” without the aid of a guidebook. So. I need to go back and explore the far corners for something that feels legit. You get where I’m coming from, right? Travel is supposed to take us out of our comfort zones, even just a little bit. Isn’t that the point? Maybe I’m becoming desensitized to it, but THAT is a discussion for another day.

We happened to celebrate our five year dating anniversary there. Our “date-iversary” if you will. (Yeah, we still do that even though we’re married, roll your eyes.) It was a little coincidental because our first date was at Carmine’s, an Italian restaurant in Chicago. I mean… it was fate.

Anyway, here are some pics:

Up next: Northern Croatia

xxx

Paragliding at Interlaken

When in Interlaken, do as everybody else does… throw yourself off a cliff.

It’s actually not that intense, but leading up to it you don’t know what to expect. We agreed that paragliding was a “must do” in Switzerland, especially Interlaken, the mecca of extreme outdoor sports. Since Jaro has already gone sky diving and I’m not quite there yet, we found this to be a happy medium.

The day we arrived in Interlaken, weather was crummy and visibility was poor. No jumps that day. The next day was bright and sunny, so we called, got a morning jump at 10:45 and were pumped to go. Having struggled with jumping off rocks in Capri (seriously, I was such a wuss about 10 foot jumps), I surprised myself with how calm and ready to go I felt. So we arrived at the meeting point, all hopped in the van and started the drive up the mountain side to our jump site. As we rode up (there were 6 of us doing the jump), everything was explained and I felt good about it.

We arrived at the jump site (1350 meters high) and got into our gear:

Then, one pair at a time(everyone goes tandem, duh), start running down this hill you can see behind us and as soon as the hill drops off, they started floating away! It was really quite surreal to watch, it looked so easy. Jaro was in line before me so I watched as he ran, “jumped”, and glided away. I couldn’t wait for my turn!

I was second to last to jump. My pilot had a camera on a pole and we were getting excited and taking pictures:

So we countdown and start running. Suddenly, my pilot yells “Stop, STOP!” I was like, WTF is going on here. So we stop running before the parachute fully deploys. Turns out our parachute was completely tangled and it took a solid 15 minutes for him and the other pilot still there to fix it. WHY ME. Seriously. The whole time they were working on it, I thought that maybe I wasn’t meant for extreme sports. Of course, they kept saying, “we’ll get it right, we love our lives too, you know.” And it hit me that I was literally putting my life into their somewhat incompetent hands. But, rather than be a wimp and demand to be driven back down, I decided to trust them, wait, and soon enough we were ready to go. So let’s try this again.

Countdown, run, jump, and lift off. We were airborne! There is nothing extreme about it, guys. No stomach flips, no fear. It’s very peaceful up there as you float past mountain sides and over the town with beautiful views of the lakes and the Alps. At the end, I even felt brave enough to request “tricks” where the pilot swirls you around, swaying side to side, and then hurling you into a vortex of hell fun. THAT was the adrenaline rush/stomach flips/screaming at the top of my lungs part, but it’s not necessary unless you request it. Here are some pics Jaro took (with a P&S):

Here are some pics of me (that my pilot & Jaro took):

I survived. They should make shirts that say “I survived paragliding in Interlaken.” No apologies, however, for the initial scare that had me questioning the whole thing. I’m still annoyed by that. Yet another reason why I sort of hate Switzerland.

Ahead: Italia!

xxx

Road trip: Swiss Hits and (mostly) Misses

See what I did there? Switzerland was, overall, a big miss in my book. But let me explain…

After driving through the Alsace, we realized we were pretty close to Basel, Switzerland and decided to check another new country off our list. As we crossed the border, we were stopped. Customs check, right? Passports, car insurance, etc? Nope. Just needed to hand over €40 for a highway sticker. Just to drive on the roads. And thus began our expensive journey through Switzerland.

The thing is, I don’t mind paying good money (whatever that means) when something is worth it. The problem with Switzerland is that I felt the value of what I was getting was far, far less than the money I was paying for it. Commercialism there is, quite franc-ly, a huge rip off. One hundred and fifty Swiss Francs for a musty hotel room in a nondescript town with sheets that look like they’d been there since the 70’s? Forty Francs for a 6-pack of beer, and a few vegetables for a campsite dinner? How about thirty Francs for one portion of fondue (melted cheese and cut up raw vegetables) at a touristic “chalet”? What about four Francs for a small beer? Same for a plain, filter coffee. Or my favorite, how about paying 70 Francs for a “thermal bath” experience at Thermal Centre Yverdon-Les-Bains, only to find out it’s for the geriatric set and we were the only couple there for leisure purposes (everyone else appeared to need rehabilitation)? Here is the misleading website. That wins for most awkward morning of the trip, especially since the saunas were co-ed and nudity “encouraged.” Reminder: We were the only people under the age of 70. …No Francs. Get it? Additionally, the camping throughout Switzerland was the worst we experienced throughout the two weeks. Campsites were poorly equipped and terribly located; One night we were directly next to a loud highway and the other we were quite literally in someone’s backyard. Unbelievable, disappointing, and downright pitiful for a country that claims to be the greatest outdoor experience on earth.

Now, Switzerland does have its charms. Gorgeous, dramatic scenery is around every curve of the road. Cities like Bern (lovely, despite the strange Bear Park), lakefront towns like Montreux & Lucerne (the lakes are stunningly beautiful) and tiny villages like Gruyere (most fake real place I’ve ever seen) are all very pleasant to look at and stroll around. Matterhorn? Eiger? The Aletsch Glacier? (which cost 80 Francs to see). Mother Nature at her finest, certainly. And, it’s one of the best places to master manual driving (as I did, woo hoo!).

We stayed a night at La Tour-de-Peilz on Lake Geneva (next to the highway), another in Interlaken (in someone’s backyard- good morning!), and a third in no-big-deal Sarnen (the scary hotel room). The hotel was, franc-ly (hah), out of desperation as we booked it around 9pm and we didn’t want to camp in heavy rain. Because of the ridiculous expensiveness, we didn’t have a single meal in a restaurant. Unless you count Tak Rai, a Thai take out place in Lucerne that somehow earned a good review on Lonely Planet. For microwave-sized portions, our “cheap” take out dinner for two was 39 Francs. …No Francs.

Still glad we went. Just not sure if I’ll be returning anytime soon. I sort of hate it. Here are some pics that might convince you it’s worth it.

Ahead: Paragliding in Interlaken. That adventure needs its own post.

xxx