4th of July in Napa Valley

Napa Valley has been done. Am I right? It’s been written about from every angle, every budget, every preference, every possible perspective, so it’s almost intimidating to write about it, hoping to give it some fresh, new edge.

But, here it goes.

I had vacationed in Napa a few years ago with my girlfriends and we had the time of our lives. In those few days we spent there, I developed strong attachment to some (not all, certainly) of the wineries we visited, promising myself that I’d find my way back there. Lucky for us, some friends planned to marry in St. Helena this summer, so it was the perfect opportunity to go.

After driving down through the Redwoods, we found ourselves in the valley for four days of indulgence. What I love about this region is the ease. It is laid out so well. The downside of this is that it’s extremely commercial. Touristy (a word that makes travelers cringe).

Our goal was to avoid the traps that felt generic and overdone. In fact, as we moseyed up and down Rt. 29 (and the lesser used Silverado Trail), we skipped right over all the heavy hitters. I waved to Robert Mondavi and Sutter Home. We blew right past Sterling and Rutherford Hill. In fact, we attempted Stag’s Leap and walked right back out. Too crowded, loud, touristy and not at all the vibe we were going for during our vacation.

So now for the places we did go. Since we aren’t wine snobs (can’t remember the last time I turned away a bottle), our enjoyment was largely dependent on the atmosphere.

On day one, we first wanted to fuel up for the day of tastings ahead. Stopping at the Oxbow Public Market in Napa, we reveled in Latin American coffee flights and huevos rancheros. It was 10:30am and we were ready for wine!

William Hill Estate Winery

Our first stop was William Hill, just outside of Napa. We lounged on adirondack chairs under a shady umbrella (mercifully, as it was near 100° that day) and sipped on a custom tasting selection, which was just divine. It was very intimate, only a few other chairs speckled the grassy hilltop and guests were respectfully talking in hushed whispers. And the views were spectacular. With sweeping vistas of the valley in every direction, we immediately felt like we were on vacation. It was the best way to start. 

William Hill

William Hill

living the good life

living the good life

Robert Sinskey Vineyards

After grabbing hearty sandwiches from Soda Canyon, we drove up Silverado to Sinskey, outside of Yountville, for another tasting and a picnic lunch. Because of the blazing sun, the rose-lined patio was deserted and we planted ourselves under another umbrella. Enjoyed the solitude and, again, the views.

Robert Sinskey

Robert Sinskey

J+J

J+J

Mumm Napa

Further still up the Silverado Trail, we ended our day of touring at Mumm, near Rutherford. This one was a bit more crowded, but it was worth it for the sparkling bubbles to cap off a great day. It had larger capacity, but if you snag a table at the edge of the patio overlooking the vineyard, you feel miles away from anywhere.

Mumm Napa

Mumm Napa

Mumm views

Mumm views

Frog’s Leap Vineyard

The next morning, after some warm sourdough breakfast sandwiches from Model Bakery, we had a reservation at Frog’s Leap. This might be my favorite. I love the wrap-around porch and their organic, irrigation-free wines. I also love that you can get up close and personal with the vines and the gardens; you’re free to stroll around as you taste. Afterward, we cruised over to étoile Restaurant at the Chandon Estate. Needless to say, it was a luxurious meal.

"time's fun when you're having flies"

“time’s fun when you’re having flies”

Frog's Leap vines

Frog’s Leap vines

Rustridge Vineyard & Winery  

Sadly, this was the only disappointing stop in our visit. We were the only ones there, and while I like privacy, this was too much. More like a red flag. The grounds were nothing special, the wines were just okay, and the host was terribly awkward. Not sure it’s ever appropriate to make guests feel like they’re inconveniencing you by showing up. Still, I’m glad we went. It was a beautiful drive out on Sage Canyon Rd, way far away from the congestion in town. Our misadventure was framed by the pretty drives.

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Rustridge

Sequoia Grove Vineyards

Another favorite. The wooden barn for Sequoia’s tasting room is rustic without being frumpy, a sort of quiet elegance that is comfortable and refined. I love it. We grabbed a bottle since we didn’t want to commit to a full tasting, and enjoyed a glass on the back patio.

Sequoia Grove

Sequoia Grove

Kelham Vineyard

This was the star of the show when I was here with girlfriends a few years ago. Tucked away on a quiet side street and only available by appointment, Kelham delivers a truly five-star experience. Set on the family estate, you are free to roam around by the reflecting pool and play with the dogs. Taking us through eight wines, it was the biggest tasting and most expensive (at $80 p.p.). Worth it.

Kelham

Kelham

Wait, but where’d we eat? Farmstead (the gnocchi!) and French Blue (the cheddar biscuit!) in St. Helena were both that perfect balance of laid-back charm and good, fresh food. Highly recommend. Carpé Diem in Napa was also great and they don’t have a corkage fee if you bring your own wine. Pass on the overbearing service at Goose & Gander; the drinks and apps were tasty, but the server was pushy.

And, of course, the wedding was lovely. How could it not be? Napa Valley is a slice of heaven.

xxx

P.S. I “discovered” the Silverado Trail in February.

P.P.S. French wine country is a little different.

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Road Trip: Redwoods National Park

Perhaps my last post made it seem like we don’t do anything fun anymore. That’s not true. We do lots of fun things. And by fun things I mean pretty freaking awesome things.

For instance: When a friend says they’re getting married in Napa over the 4th of July, you say, SEE YOU THERE. Automatically. Without a second’s hesitation.

It was the perfect opportunity to take our first vacation since our move, especially now that we are on the west coast. Like the Barefoot Contessa would say, how easy is that? Speaking of food, we were hungry for more (like Napa was not enough?). We decided that, rather than fly straight to wine country, we’d road trip through the Redwood National Park for some scenic breaks along the way.

So that’s what this post is about. Those redwoods. I’ll get to Napa later. Did you know that the California redwoods are the tallest organisms on earth? With towering heights over 300 feet, no other living thing reaches so close to the sun.

The straight shot from Portland to Napa takes about 10 hours and could feasibly be done in a day. Adding the redwoods to our trip meant an extra 4-5 hours to our journey, so we chose to split it up over two days. Throwing our camping equipment into the truck (and caution to the wind), we figured we’d find a campground to crash for the night. I had read about some coastal dune camping that got us excited.

Fast forward through a gorgeous 7 hour drive through the Pacific Northwest (did you know Northern California is part of it?) and the trees suddenly look as if on steroids. We were in the national park. It’s late afternoon by this point and we needed to find a spot to set up our tent. After a quick visit to the state park visitor center, we see that the dune camping is full. Sad face. But it is first come, first serve and who did we think we were showing up at 4 in the afternoon? Myself, getting a little panicky and Jaro, staying ever so calm, head to a county campground, hoping for some available sites.

We pulled up to a tiny pitch tent campground that, thank god, had ample space and a friendly host. It was located on the banks of a pretty river and filled with giant redwoods. We set up quickly. Sitting on the riverbank, we enjoyed wine and the cool breeze as the sun went down. When the shadows chased us back to our campsite, we huddled around a fire, devouring grilled cheese sandwiches and taking small sips of whiskey.

Riverbank at sunset

riverbank at sunset

Grilled brie, blue and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

grilled brie, blue, munster and camembert sandwiches with apricot jam

Our roof for the night. Redwoods National Park, CA

our roof for the night

It was very secluded; very quiet, which was only partially comforting as there was a state prison nearby.

MOVING ON.

Upon our survival without a murderer stalking us through the night, we packed up and headed to Big Tree, at the urging of my guidebook. That’s the name. It was… big. As we stood at the base, I stared up in wonder. There’s something about being dwarfed by nature that is so humbling and beautiful. That’s really all I can say about that.

Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

morning fog. Tolawa Dunes State Park, CA

Redwood National Park, CA

there’s the sun. Redwood National Park, CA

Big Tree

Big Tree

Neck cramp at Big Tree

neck cramp at Big Tree

Feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

feeling small. Big Tree, Redwood National Park, CA

Once we felt satisfyingly shrunken and tiny, we drove down to Lady Bird Johnson Grove, an easy one mile loop according to my book (and saw bears en route!). While flat, well-maintained, “easy”, etc., it took us a few hours to walk around this gem of a path. Your eyes don’t know what to do with themselves. There was so much to see. So many colors, textures and, not to mention, heights. We noticed all sorts of special moments, both big and small. High and low. Well worth the time to mosey around this one.

momma bear and cub sighting!

momma bear and cub sighting!

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

Lady Bird Johnson Grove

a reminder.

a sweet reminder

Our final farewell to the woods was a tour down the Avenue of the Giants and through the ever so cliché Drive Thru Tree. The former is a stretch of road that parallels the highway, but offers a more intimate experience than the wide open 101. Driving through a maze of Mother Nature’s skyscrapers gave us this sense of awe that we couldn’t (and still can’t) shake. The latter, well, is pretty self-explanatory.

grazing elk

grazing elk

avenue of giants

avenue of giants

drive thru tree

drive thru tree with all the tourists

So that was our brief trip through the redwoods. More on Napa soon…

xxx

P.S. Most photographs were taken by my talented husband.

P.P.S. I visited other redwoods earlier this year. And the last time we camped. Seems like ages ago.

Sunday Drive: Rockaway Beach

This past Sunday, the weather reports showed a 0% chance of rain between Portland and the coast. Seemed like the perfect day to pack a picnic and head to the beach. 

…Until it rained the entire day. Literally, the whole day. When we saw a few drops coming down in the morning, we thought it would pass. Trying to be optimistic, we still hopped in our shiny, new car and headed west. Instead of spending the whole day at the beach like we originally planned, we detoured to the Tillamook Cheese Farm, where we watched the factory churning out that glorious cheese, in a (failed) attempt to wait for the rain to pass before driving along the damp coast…

Tillamook Tillamook Tillamook Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon Coast Oregon CoastDespite the moody, almost spooky atmosphere, It was still really fun. And our shoes were a nice bright spot. 🙂

xxx

P.S. You can see our last Sunday drive here.

Sunday Drive: Columbia River Gorge

Columbia River Gorge, ORHey dudes. Guess what we finally checked out? (Here is a clue.)

Last week, Jaro and I decided to sieze the (sunny and temperate) day and drive out to the Columbia River Gorge. I have been wanting to see it since we moved, but we hadn’t found the chance until recently. While we didn’t get around to hiking, canoeing or visiting the little towns (Hood River, The Dalles, etc), we did sit back and enjoy a lovely Sunday drive.

Here you can see rolling hills of grape vines and Mount Hood in the distance…

Columbia River Gorge, OR

And here’s another cool shot of the Washington side…

Columbia River Gorge, OR

Not sure what was going on with the white balance of these photos, but you get the idea. So scenic and peaceful. We passed heaps of wineries and, at only an hour’s drive away from Portland, I know we’ll be making regular trips out there in the summer.

xxx

California Trip: Redwoods & Wineries

Happy Wednesday all! I’m feeling better and this week is looking up. Way up. Woo hoo!

So, yesterday I shared the coastal part of my trip to Cali, today is the next installment when we drove north from the bay. Our first stop was Guerneville, a somewhat remote town on the edge of some majestic redwood forests. It’s a tiny one-street “downtown”, perfect for stopping and stretching your legs.

Then we headed into the woods. We explored nearby Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve. The thing about redwoods, if you didn’t know, is that they’re really tall. Like 300 feet tall. And they’re really old. Like 1,300 years old. This is what we saw as we walked among the giants…

Armstrong Redwoods

Armstrong RedwoodsArmstrong Redwoods

Pictures really don’t do them justice. They be huge. And reserve itself is really nice and close enough to the bay that you can get your redwood fill without having to drive four hours up to the national park. (Though I still want to visit there sometime.)

After a morning “hike” through the reserve, we obviously needed refreshments and headed into wine country. Not far away in the Russian River Valley, was a stretch of small, adorable wineries along a country road called Westside. We stopped at Matrix (which does not distribute) and tried maybe 8-10 wines for only 5 bucks! Try finding that kind of deal over in Napa. Traveler Tip: Want to experience the vineyards without all the hype (or the traffic)? Check out the options in the Russian River Valley. They are much more low key. I definitely suggest it to fellow wine lovers out there!

After that grueling morning, we realized we were becoming hangry. So we drove over to Calistoga, a sweet town at the north end of the Napa county, for lunch. Stopped into Checkers for some hearty salads and then continued merrily on our way down the Silverado Trail through all those lovely vineyards. Traveler Tip: The Silverado Trail runs parallel to the main drag through Napa, Route 29, but is much less congested. Highly recommend if you just want to drive through Napa and take in the scenery, but not necessarily visit the heavy hitters like Sterling or Robert Modavi (you’d have to get on 29 for them). These were our views…

Napa Valley, California

Napa Valley, CaliforniaWe finished out the day in Sonoma. Traveler Tip: Sonoma is the underdog of Napa Valley. Don’t get me wrong, I love the glamour of Napa and Yountville from my last visit, but with that comes higher prices and more people. This was a different experience and maybe that’s because of the time of year too. February isn’t as hot a ticket as September. I guess I’ll have to go back again to be sure. Anyway, it took a bit of effort to climb over the ridge to get to Sonoma, but it was so worth it. I’m definitely making it a priority the next time I’m in the valley. Such a pretty town, with a cute main square and lots of little boutiques and wine bars. I only managed to get this shot of the sunset over the trees…

Sonoma, California

The sky looked like, I don’t know, cotton candy? Not that I’d ever eat it, but it’s pretty.

Another great day in California comes to an end. Still more to share about our adventuring in Oakland and San Francisco. Coming soon…

xxx

California Trip: Route 1

Hey friends. It’s safe to say that I’m in love with California. It’s the state that has it all. Dramatic coastlines, sandy beaches, rugged mountains, charming vineyards, towering redwood forests, sophisticated cities, the SUN, and so much more. What a spoiled state. (One could say that Oregon has these things, but the weather being what it is, I haven’t experienced them, so hmph.)

For one day, we drove south from Oakland on Route 1, otherwise known as the Cabrillo Highway. We occasionally pulled over to take in views like this… California

strolled along the coast through Monterey and Pacific Grove after a huge meal at Cannery Row Brewing Company

Monterey, California

detoured to do the famous 17 Mile Drive, which includes Spanish Bay…

Spanish Bay, California

Spanish Bay, California

Point Joe…
Pacific Grove, California

California

and the gorgeous Fanshell Cove…
Fanshell Cove, California

Then we came upon The Lone Cypress, landmark of the Pebble Beach Golf Club…

The Lone Cypress, California

And played under this pier…

Pebble Beach Golf Club, California

Before heading back home, we drove through part of Big Sur (which is lovely, but we never found a good spot to pull over for pics on those twisty roads) at sunset.

I highly recommend this drive; it is so scenic. Even the 17 Mile Drive, which costs 10 bucks just to enter, is totally worth it. The beauty in this route is that it can be done any time of year. You are guaranteed incredible views. We experienced some strong wind, but the sunshine was plentiful and the skies were clear. Traveler Tip: In some stretches, towns are few and far between, so fill up your tank and bring snacks. No one likes a hangry passenger.

Stay tuned for more Cali adventures…

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: 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

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