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Monday, August 30, 2010

A Little Taste of Home

Tonight I ventured into another neighborhood to meet a good friend for coffee.  She invited me to come on over to her house for dinner after a quick stop at the local grocery store.  We walked into this grocery store that I have never been in and much to my delight and surprise saw the relatively large American Food Section! 
It was kind of a surreal moment because I am just not used to seeing these products on a normal grocery store shelf.  Now granted, I cannot remember when I ever purchased Fluff Marshmallow Cream but knowing that it's available in a store in Stockholm somehow made me smile!  The big boon of the night was discovering the bottles and bottles of French's mustard lining the shelves.  We love French's mustard and for awhile, it was readily available in many stores.  Then, like many products, it just disappeared and we haven't been able to find it again.  We used up the last bottle we had (given to us by a woman whose husband works at the American Embassy) recently and were mourning our lack of American mustard.  Swedish mustard is good, but it's a totally different flavor sensation!  So tonight when I saw the overflow, I was tempted to buy like 20 bottles in case it disappears again!  Once I calmed down I decided that 2 was enough.  It cost about $5.50 by the way.  I have no idea how that compares to a bottle of French's in the US but it doesn't really matter.  We're happy to have it.  Good to know as well that when we get a hankering for a Mr. Goodbar or Shake 'N Bake, it's there! 
They have peanut butter but it's a brand that I've never heard of and I love my Jif Crunchy so it's likely I'll keep importing that. 
It's funny how home grown products make you feel nice.  Seriously, aside from the French's, there wasn't anything on the shelf that I have thought about buying for a long time.  But when a creature comfort like French's shows up, it really makes my heart sing!  So, if you are coming to visit, and you ask me what I'd like from the US, it is likely I will say, Brownie Mix (any brand), ziploc bags (all sizes) and the latest copy of Real Simple.  These are still elusive products in my grocery stores here in Stockholm and still things that I love to have on my shelf.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

This One's For You Richard and Sue

We left Crans Montana on sunny Monday morning knowing that we were taking the long road back to Bergamo.  The drive turned out to be spectacularly beautiful and we were not regretful.  The Nufenen pass was a great ride.  Straight up for miles and miles, reach the apex, then twists and turns down!  By the time we reached the top, the weather had changed quite dramatically. It was a chilly 57F on top and the clouds and fogs had rolled in.  For the first several kilometers of our descent there was only about 5 meters visibility.  Not so much fun when the road turns every few feet.  I'm thinking we missed some amazing views along the way.  We finally got our heads out of the clouds and the day cleared once again.  In fact, by the time we reached the Ticino area of Switzerland (Italian speaking part), the temperature was on the rise and topped out at 91F in Lugano!  Quite a shift.
We have good friends who live in Lugano but as luck would have it, they are in Minnesota! 
We wanted to see their place but had forgotten to write down their address.  So I pulled out my computer and started doing random searches for an open network so I could look up Sue's email and get her address.  Finally, after many fits and starts, we pulled into a gas station that had access and found the address. We were within spitting distance so we took a look.  What a gorgeous place our friends are now occupying. 
Hey, Richard and Sue, what is this building?!
Hope we'll get the chance to stop by and stay awhile.  This area of Switzerland is so different from where we had just been.  It hardly seems fair that so much beauty is packed into one small European country! 
We finally reached the Italian border and took off towards Bergamo for a utility overnight stay before our morning flight.  Bergamo is a cute Italian town set on a hill.  Our hotel was close to the airport and fatigue, Doug's sore knee, and an inability to park kept us from exploring the area.  We found a restaurant, eventually located it with our handy GPS only to find it was closed.  We eventually found a place serving pizza and sated ourselves.
When we got settled into the hotel and turned on the TV, much to our delight a baseball game between the Minnesota Twins (Doug's favorite team) and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (My favorite team) were playing complete with Italian commentary!  It was great fun and a fitting end to a fun trip.  (Twins won.  I'm OK with that.  Angels are out of the running and the Twins are in first place so I'm happy to cheer them on from here on out!)
Today was simply fill the tank, return the car, catch the plane, get home.  That all happened and now I'm happily home with Tanner.  In Swedish there is a saying Borta är bra, men hemma är bäst:  Away is good, but home is best.  It's great to travel and have new experiences, but I am very thankful for the home I have to come back to.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

One Last Hike

Sunday we awakened to a crystal clear, near perfect day.  Barely a cloud in the sky and hot for the mountains.  I took a little solo hike up the hill again to see if there was any chance Doug could walk up there and while it was tough, I felt there was maybe one pathway he could handle if we drove up the initial slope.  Came home to a nice brunch on the terrace and then we decided to take a drive to see how far up we could go with the car.  I was curious about a couple of the roads we'd seen and the ride did not disappoint.  When you get up above the little villages, you can see the vast expanse of ski runs and the mountains opposite us just pop out in all of their majestic glory!  On such a clear day, the view was jaw dropping.  We drove past this little restaurant that our friends had recommended and I remembered that from near our house there was trail that said the walk was 50 minutes.  Doug thought he could handle it.
We drove back to a place where we could park and started off.  It was hot with no cover from the searing mountain sunshine.  Even I thought it was a bit much at times.  I didn't realize we were going to hike so I forgot sunscreen and was wearing my tennis shoes instead of my hiking boots.  It was OK, but I was glad we had water in our backpack.  The walk was incredible.  There are things called bisse strewn across the Swiss countryside, irrigation canals that have been built that run like beautiful streams.  The pathways are often right next to a bisse and the sound of the bubbling water really brings comfort and relief when you are roasting on an uphill climb. 
We were doing just fine until we came to a crossroads and took the wrong path.  The path we took led straight up and turned a fairly leisurely walk into a challenging hike.  I was worried about Doug as coming back down caused much more pain than going up, but I also knew that wherever we went up, we would eventually have to come down.  And while I'm not injured, I'm not in very good shape so found the incline rather challenging.  By hiking standards this was an easy route.  By Jodi standards it was tough!  Eventually we realized that we were on the wrong pathway and while it would've been fun to keep going up, given Doug's knee concerns we decided to turn around and try to find our mistake.  We did.  Got on the right path and ended up at this great place called Plumechit where you sit on a large balcony that allows you take in the valley and the views.  After a refreshment stop, we made our way back, in 45 minutes...5 minutes quicker than the recommended time!  We were roasted but happy.  Doug was very pleased that he got in another hike and I was thrilled to see that part of our area. 
After a cool shower and a wonderful afternoon nap, we grilled burgers, sat on the terrace, reflected on what a wonderful time we've had and shared a crossword puzzle as the fading light on a gorgeous day dazzled us with hues of pink and white. 

Zermatt and the Matterhorn

When you grow up just a few miles from Disneyland the line between real and imaginary is quite thin.  So for instance, for a long time, I never really knew that the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland was actually based on a real mountain in Switzerland.  Sure the workers wore lederhosen, and employees scaled the imposing mountain face of the plastic mountain that could be seen for miles in the Southern California area but I guess I just thought this was all part of Walt Disney's imagineering genius.  So for me to get to go to the real Matterhorn and experience the incredible majesty of this great mountain, well, was awesome.
It's not so easy to get to Zermatt, the base town on the Swiss side from which the Matterhorn can be viewed.  We drove our car to Täsch where huge parking garages await all as you cannot drive to Zermatt.  From there we boarded the shuttle train that would take us to the magical place where I could see the actual Matterhorn. We arrived in Zermatt after a quick 15 minute ride through tunnels and insanely beautiful scenery.  Zermatt is a cool little mountain town.  There was a big event going on this weekend so it was swarming with people.  And the day was picture perfect.  Hot, sunny, a smattering of white puffy clouds...perfect alpine weather.  Of course, once you get into town you start to get a bit antsy about seeing The Mountain.  You begin to wonder if you will be able to spot it, or if it will be clear enough to get a good view.  Those who grew up in So. Cal. also wonder if it will look at all like the one in Anaheim.
You can't actually go onto the Matterhorn.  It is really not accessible unless you are a serious mountain climber but the surrounding peaks provide great views and hikes.  Unfortunately, Doug's knee injury made it impossible for us to consider any hiking so we decided on which area to ascend to by lifts and started on our way.  As we were walking to the lifts I kept wondering when I would get my first glimpse.  As we strolled alongside of the river that runs through town, I decided to turn around.  Oh, there it is!  It was such a cool first glimpse of the real, live Matterhorn!  (Doesn't really look so much like the one I grew up riding bobsleds through!  Or should that be the other way around?) 
We boarded our cog train and began a steep ascent through a tunnel.  Initially we were disappointed that the ascent was inside a tunnel, having hoped to be swinging free in a gondola for the ride up.  But when we arrived at the first stop, we realized that we hadn't quite made it yet and the gondola awaited us for the next phase.  The gondola ride was wonderful with views of the rising peaks all around.  The valley dropped below us rapidly and we continued up, up, up.  We weren't even done after that as a large cable car awaited us to take us to our final destination, The Rothorn Paradise. 
The third "vehicle" that got us to the top.
The air is thin.  The sun is bright.  The mountains rise up all around you.  So much fun to be at such a high elevation...3180 meters.  There were other lifts that took you higher but again, we weren't overly prepared for rigorous hiking and had to be careful about what Doug could and couldn't do.  He was very disappointed that he couldn't hike down as it would've been amazing to take the twists and turns of the mountain trail back down, but we'll have to save that for another day.
Clouds dot the landscape most days and a few folks mentioned to us how lucky we were with the weather as often you get on top and can't really see a thing because of the clouds and fog.  We played a sort of cat and mouse game with the mountain, waiting to see if the clouds would give us a clearer view of the mountain.  We enjoyed a great picnic with a fabulous view and at one point as I turned to peek at the peak, I realized it was clear.  Grab the camera and start shooting away!  We took so many pictures hoping for a few winners.  I think we did all right!
After a bit, we took the cable cars and on the second level discovered a small lake where people were swimming and sunning.  It was roasting hot in the afternoon and the water was refreshing on our feet even though we hadn't really done any rigorous hiking.  Doug waded in far enough to get his knee in the chilly water hoping for a bit of relief.  From there we did take a short hike but I was concerned that he was pushing it too much.  Coming down created much more strain than going up so we had to be careful about where we traversed.
Finally we felt satisfied that our stay on the mountain had been enough.  We took the cog train back to the town and wandered around the quaint alpine village.  We walked to the church and saw the cemetery where people who died trying to climb the Matterhorn were buried.  Moving and sad.  Most were quite young.  It reminded us that while the mountains are a beautiful and fun place to play, they are also hazardous when the conditions get harsh.
The last look of the mighty Matterhorn before we returned to our car.
We jumped on the shuttle train once again and we whisked away from this magical place in the Alps called Zermatt, where the mighty Matterhorn rises up for all to see and enjoy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Lausanne and Good Friends

The rooftops of Lausanne
One of the reasons that we went to Lausanne was because of my dear friend Madeleine.  She grew up there and she is now a member of our church and her family has become very dear to us.  They have three wonderful children who we have come to really love as well.  So you can imagine how surprised and delighted we were when my cell phone rang and it was Helen, their oldest daughter, letting us know that she and William were still in town!  Of course, Lausanne is a second home to them as their grandparents live there.  In fact, they are there finishing up a French course, and heading back to Stockholm next week! What fun to run into friends from another place in a new place! 
William and I on the shores of Lake Geneva!
The lovely Cathedral of Lausanne, high on a hill!
We were so glad to run into them as William helped us with the Metro, lead us through the windy, hilly streets to the cathedral and helped us order delicious ice cream all in French! After a bit, Helen was able to join us and we enjoyed a warm reunion, even though it was very short. 
William and Helen...great kids who we were so thankful to run into! was great fun to see these dear friends and to share in a "small world" moment with them.  We look forward to being with them in Stockholm soon!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lausanne and The International Olympic Museum

Since Doug's knee injury is more severe than we thought, we needed some alternatives to hiking around the mountains.  I have a close Swiss friend from our church who lives in Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva and she had given me some information about Lausanne so we decided to head on down the road and see this little bit of paradise.  The drive was beautiful, of course and Lake Geneva is indeed impressive.  It was a hazy day so the views weren't quite as spectacular as I think they could be but still...what's there not to like about a lake-front drive and a little Swiss city that sits upon it.  We drove past Montreux, the site made famous by Deep Purple's song, Smoke on the Water, which was very popular when I was in Jr. High.  It was THE quintessential dance number at our dances and it was fun to bring the song to mind as we zipped past the place that inspired the song.
Lausanne is hilly which created some challenges for Doug but he did quite well.  The International Olympic museum is located here as is the committee headquarters and so we decided to visit the museum.  We took the most roundabout path to arriving as we took a wrong turn, that took us up hill, realized we had to go downhill, somehow got stuck on the grounds of an amazing hotel and couldn't get out...finally, after much up and down (poor Doug) we made it to the lake front and found the museum.
We are both huge sports fans and I have always been quite attached to the Olympics.  I have cleared my schedule during the 2 weeks that the summer and winter Olympics occur every 4 years and revel in every minute.  Living in Europe has opened up a whole new interest in the winter games and I have to say, the European television coverage is still about the games and not the commercials so I love watching the games while in Europe.  It was kind of thrilling and even a little moving as we entered the doors.  Just outside of the entrance sits a high jump pole set at the height of the men's world record.  This is Doug standing underneath it!  The orange arrows on the side of the outside poles indicates the women's height.  IMPRESSIVE.  The tour starts with a display of all of the torches that have been used in the various Olympic games.  I loved this.  (photos were not allowed inside the museum.)  It was so cool to see the various designs and read about who the last person was that carried it in the different games, to remember the various opening ceremonies and the impressive manner in which the torch was lit.  Remember Barcelona, when the archer launched the arrow into the air and landed it in the cauldron?  Still remains a favorite of mine.
The museum took you through a history of the games, how they came about, what they stand for, and showed the various cities who had hosted.  Stockholm hosted way back in 1912 and that stadium is quite close to our house and still houses sporting events and concerts.  When the summer games were held in Melbourne in 1956, due to strict animal import laws, the equestrian events were held in Stockholm.  I never knew that.  It's fun to learn new stuff.  After walking through the cities and highlights of the various games, the upper level took you through fine displays of equipment and uniforms that had been used through the years.  This was cool.  The spikes on the old track shoes are super long.  The gymnasts suits are really tiny.  Some of the athletes have huge feet.  It was fun to see the shoes of various athletes on display and remember their moments of glory.  I was most impressed by the shoes of an American volleyball player, Tara Cross-Battle who was part of the bronze metal team in Barcelona.  When I first saw them, I for sure thought they belonged to a male basketball player and upon further inspection realized they were Tara's!  I did a double take because they were so big and so heavy.  Very different looking from the shoes I wore in college when I played.  I put my foot up against the was half again as large as mine!  She was some player...a big hitter for the American squad and it was fun to see her shoes!  The various shapes and sizes of skies, poles, racquets, luges, bobsleds and uniforms was really special.
We had a great time remembering our favorite Olympic moments and thinking about how much fun it is to be an athlete and a fan.