Italy, Part I

Earlier this month, after the kids finished up school, we kicked off summer with a family vacation to Europe.

We started the trip with a few days in Florence. Florence is an incredible city filled with incredible art and so much history. You can just walk and walk and walk and never get tired by taking in all the sights.

We picked up a rental car and drove to Southern Tuscany. The drive in Tuscany was absolutely amazing. We kept saying, “is this place for real” as we made our way from one village to the next.

I have a such a soft spot for Italy. My wife is half Italian and I am quite convinced that I was Italian in another life. I love the people, the food, the joy of life and the espresso. Oh, that espresso.

Part II here.

(Cameras: Leica M3 & Hasselblad 503cw, Film: Kodak Portra 400, Developed & Scanned: Richard Photo Lab)

Switzerland, day 7

We left Zermatt after breakfast yesterday. (Related: I had Nutella with my toast. I know I can buy it back in the States but it just feels like I’m supposed to have it here with my espresso.)

The 2.5 hour trip was beautiful but extremely hot. My watch said it was 29 degrees Celsius outside but it felt much more extreme in the train. By the time we arrived in Zurich we were fading.

Outside the train, and the first time since our arrival in Switzerland, we jumped into a car and picked up a short ride to our hotel.. We just needed a little relief from the heat and our luggage felt 5x heavier than reality.

At the hotel we had an iced latte and sat in the shade overlooking the Limmat. By the time we finished our drinks we were refreshed and recharged. We grabbed our bathing suits, took a few towels from the hotel room and walked along the river until we came upon Seebad Enge.

The Seebad Enge is a cool spot with a few docks and a bar serving drinks and light snacks. We paid 16 swiss francs to get inside. It was a pretty busy scene but really fun as well. We met a nice young Swiss fellow who was enjoying his cigarette as he was sunbathing. He seemed happy we had a great visit to his country. He explained he just left his recent job and was taking 6 months off. He gave us a disapproving nod that our vacation was coming to an end so quickly.

We enjoyed the better part of the afternoon and early evening at the Seebad Enge. The water was super refreshing and it felt so good on such a hot day. I forgot I was wearing my Apple Watch but it seems to be working just fine.

Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel and changed for dinner. We had a delicious meal at Zunfthaus zur Zimmerleuten which is right along the river. After dinner, the heat finally broke so we went for our last walk all over this city, seemingly from one end to another. We talked about future plans and hopefully one day we can find a way to live in Europe for a few years.

We are heading back home today. I am so grateful we had this opportunity to celebrate our anniversary together.

Switzerland, day 6

It was not easy to leave Wengen yesterday. The Bernese Oberland region touched us deeply and we will always have a place in our heart for that part of the world. 

By early afternoon we arrived in Zermatt by train. I just love the trains in Switzerland. They are clean, on time and can bring you to so many places in this country. Like Wengen, cars are not permitted in Zermatt.  

Zermatt is a tourist destination even during this time of year which is their off season. I wouldn’t say it’s overflowing with people because that would be exaggerating but we were hoping it’s remote location and this time of year would thin the various tour groups that are also here. 

The best thing to do in Zermatt is take the train or tram out of the bustling tourist streets and up the mountain. We did that yesterday after checking into the hotel. It was easy and refreshing for our spirits. There were no crowds on the tram up the mountain. And we only spotted two people along our afternoon hike — a friendly Swiss couple from Geneva. 

The hike itself was peaceful and absolutely wonderful. We hiked over the pass and could see the Matterhorn in its full glory. The diverse hilly trail took us through grassy fields, a lush forest, rocky terrain and over some lingering snow banks. I shot twelve exposures which is an entire roll of medium format film. 

After our hike, we went back to the hotel to shower and change into clean clothes. We had a delicious dinner at Zermatterstübli. I devoured a plate of rösti with salad and tomato soup. And I had my second red Rivella of the trip. Lauren had the sausage and also a side order of rösti. I’m a vegetarian so I didn’t try her meal but the empty plate was a good sign. 

There are many more French and Italian speaking people in this part of Switzerland compared to the earlier places we experienced where people spoke Swiss German. And the number of languages the Swiss can speak is humbling. Lauren and I feel barely fluent in our native language and can hack our way through French. That is all we have. Meanwhile people here are speaking three languages or more with ease. Actually it’s not humbling, it’s embarrassing. 

This morning we are heading back to Zurich for one last night before our trip home. The week is flying by.

Switzerland, day 5

During breakfast yesterday (Wednesday) we still hadn’t decided what our day was going to look like. We were undecided if we were going to make the 1.5 hour train to Jungfrau or rent mountain bikes and explore the valley below. 

Just as we were leaning towards the bike ride idea, the owner of the hotel came over and introduced himself. During our conversation, he asked us about our plans. We told him we were still figuring it out. He was a big fan of a day trip to Jungfrau.

So with that, we took the train up to Jungfrau. It is about 11.6k feet above sea level and the train takes you all the way to the peak. The climb is so steep and fast the train makes three stops along the route just to make sure your body can transition properly. 

By the time we reached the last stop before the final destination (around 10k feet), I could see the altitude was having a significant impact on Lauren. But she wanted to continue. 

Twenty minutes or so later, we arrived at Jungfrau. Lauren was feeling very light headed and dizzy but still wanted to press on. So we walked very very slowly and deliberately finding our way outside to enjoy the vista. 

The view from the top was gorgeous. The snow covered Swiss Alps at that altitude and the valley below is incredible. However it is also a massive tourist destination — even during this off season. The trains were packed in both directions and moving around from the observation deck was challenging at times. After about an hour, Lauren really needed to get to a lower altitude so we left. Thankfully by the time we reached 9k feet, her health, color and comfort had returned.

We continued on the train past our stop at Wengen and made a visit to the town of Lauterbrunnen which is at the base of the valley. We had a quick but delicious late lunch outside at Flavours. After lunch we rented mountain bikes and had a wonderful ride around the valley floor. We saw at least 6 amazing waterfalls. Without a doubt that bike ride was a highlight of our trip so far. 

After returning the bikes, we took the train back to our hotel. The weather had cooled and we went for a nice walk around our little village. All along the way you could hear cowbells gently ringing in the surrounding fields. 

We couldn’t see the actual sunset but we saw the most amazing red/pink/purple reflection on the mountain’s face as the evening turned to night. 

This morning we are going to take the train to Zermatt. We are told most places will be closed during the off season and the weather forecast doesn’t look great. But we are both excited to make the trip and hopefully we can get a glimpse of the Matterhorn. 

Switzerland, day 4

The train from Lucerne to Wengen was unlike any other I have ever experienced. Previously Lauren thought she would take a nap and I half expected to read the latest Kinfolk issue in my backpack. But neither happened. For the entire trip we were fixated by the green fields, rivers, lakes and mountains that gave us quite a show as our train moved along from one town to the next. 

I tried to take a few photographs with my film camera on the train but it was challenging with the window/glare. The window did come down to leave a 6 inch opening at the top and Lauren captured this on her iPhone as we approached Wengen. 

The train station in Wengen is adorable as is the bright yellow train that brought us here when we made the transfer in Interlaken. When you depart the train in Wengen you are in the center of this little village at about 4.1k feet above sea level. The valley is below your feet and is stunning. Look up and you can see Jungfrau which I’ve been staring at seemingly non stop. As we crossed the little square we stumbled upon this outside cafe and had our espresso drinks and had an apple strudel. Our waiter was from England. He has been here 21 years and doesn’t plan to go back. 

Afterwards, we walked to our hotel. We checked in, dropped off our bags and went exploring. 

It is very much the off season here in Wengen. Many shops are closed as we are in between their popular ski season and the summer seasons. While it was a pure accident on our part, I’m happy to appreciate this place without the crowds. They don’t allow cars in this town. I love that.

It’s now just before 9am. Lauren is still asleep. I think we are going to try and rent bikes today after breakfast. 

I took this photograph with my iphone. It’s a view from our room just now as I write this post.

Switzerland, Day 3

Yesterday we took the 12:05pm boat from Weggis to Lucerne for the day. And it left the dock at exactly 12:05pm. The Swiss attention to detail is extraordinary.

Foursquare has been really fantastic along this trip. We had a late lunch at Brasserie Bodu because I saw my friend Roger left a great tip. The food was delicious and their outside seating is in a lovely square with a beautiful old church. From the table you can catch a view of the river down a stone staircase. It is also a great people watching spot. 

After lunch we spent the afternoon exploring some more. We went well beyond the touristy shops near the river. It was nice to see all the quiet streets and bicycles lined up everywhere. The people here are so kind. Each cafe or shop has a friendly face and a warm conversation. 

One of my favorite things to see are all the children return home for lunch every day to be with their families before returning to school for the afternoon. The older ones sit outside with friends exchanging stories and a laugh with fresh bread in hand. 

By early evening the sky grew extremely dark so jumped on the 6:12pm ferry back to our hotel in Weggis (yes, it left at 6:12pm). It only rained for 10minutes or so and then two rainbows appeared that went completely across the width of Lake Lucern. My iPhone photo didn’t capture what we saw with our eyes and hearts. 

When we returned to Weggis, the rain had completely stopped and the warm weather returned. We enjoyed our first Hugo before dinner and experienced some amazing Swiss cheese. Our favorite was the heuboden. 

The sun finally disappeared by 9:30pm and by then the moon was big and bright. The lake’s surface was sparkling with moonlight. It looked magical. 

Today we are leaving and taking the train south to the Interlaken area. 

* * * 

I am starting to feel a little awkward tweeting my daily journal from Switzerland. I’m still planning on writing about our days but I won’t be tweeting a daily link in case it is annoying some of my followers. But for those that feel otherwise, feel free to come back to my blog anytime 🙂 

Switzerland, day 2

After breakfast Sunday morning we took another walk around the old town area of Zurich. All the shops are closed on Sundays and the streets were mostly empty. We walked aimlessly while making photographs. Lauren brought along her Rolleiflex and I’m carrying my Hasselblad 503cw.

By mid morning our friend Yen came by the hotel and walked us to the train station which was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Along the walk I noticed the Apple store is located directly across the street from a large Swiss watch store. I feel a bit funny wearing my Cupertino watch in this town.

The train station in Zurich is quite large but amazingly well organized. We had our espresso, gave our last hugs and kisses to Yen and boarded our train. Our train was scheduled to leave at 11:34am and guess what time it left? Exactly 11:34am. Everything here runs exactly on time. It gets us every time it happens. 

The train to Lucerne was a little less than an hour which felt like no time at all. Lucerne is beautiful. The Reuss river runs through the center of the city with fountains, shops and restaurants on both sides with bridges connecting it all. There is a gorgeous and famous wooden bridge called the Chapel Bridge. It’s has flowers all along the outside and you can feel the history of this bridge.

By noon we were both starving and had lunch outside at Rathaus Brauerei which sits on the Reuss. We had a delicious pretzel lunch and then walked across a different bridge to the dock and caught a boat to Weggis.

The boat ride on Lake Lucerne is less than hour and absolutely stunning. All around are mountains. 

We quickly checked into our hotel in Weggis, dropped off our bags and then took the local cog-wheel train up the mountain to the very top to Rigi. From there we took a 3.5 hour hike which I will never forget. I don’t have any photographs to share just yet but I can still see in my minds eye the green grass with wildflowers everywhere and panoramic views of the snow covered Swiss Alps and the crystal clear lake. 

After dinner we connected with the kids back home on FaceTime and then crashed for the night.

We do not have any particular plans for today. We may take the boat back to Lucerne and explore or may call today at lazy day and just chill here in Weggis. It feels good to just be here and in the moment.

* * * 

(I forgot to mention in my post yesterday, Yen is quite the photographer and adventurer. She spent over a year living and documenting life in a prison in Mexico and published this photo book some time ago. It’s a powerful collection of images. All captured on black and white film.)

Switzerland, Day 1

I have always been inspired by my friend Joanne Wilson’s travel blog posts where she shares her thoughts and observations after each day of travel.

So I thought I would give it a try and see if it works for me. 

(My posts won’t have any photographs since I’m shooting film but I will be share the scans a few weeks after my return)

This past February my wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We went to the Caribbean with the kids for an extended winter getaway but also wanted to do something for just ourselves and started thinking of places to go that was easy to reach from the United States, somewhere with great hiking and outdoors and new to us. That led us to a spring visit to Switzerland. 

So on Friday after my morning meeting in Boston with a really cool entrepreneur, I set my ‘out of office’ setting in Gmail went home, picked up Lauren and we left for the airport to fly overnight to Zurich. I slept about 2 hours, Lauren did much better. 

The drive to our hotel was easy and fast. We checked into the hotel and I took this panorama photograph with my phone. 

We met up with Yen, a friend of Lauren’s from our undergrad days who now lives in Zurich with her family. After a lunch outside at Kindli, Yen and her daughter took us for a wonderful walk around the city. 

I opened the Uber app on my phone just to check and yes, Uber is here. But we didn’t use it once.  I love how everyone walks or bikes everywhere. The beautiful Limmat river runs though the city with walkways on both sides. I’m told the river is so clean that people swim in it during the summer months, jumping off the one of the bridges closest to Lake Zurich. I couldn’t help but compare that to the impossible notion of swimming in Boston’s Charles River or the East River in New York City. 

The cleanliness of Zurich continues in the streets and buildings everywhere. Window boxes adorn the old windows along the main streets and smaller alleyways. Kids and adults drink from various fountains in the many squares in the city. 

By mid afternoon we needed a little boost, so Yen took us to Sprüngli for some amazing chocolate. Oh my god. If you visit Zurich, please make sure to find your way here. Lauren had a champagne truffle and I am still having day dreams of the salted caramel. 

Afterwards, we walked to Yen’s apartment and met the rest of her family. We brought a few gifts and I taught their oldest boy, age 13, how to throw the American football we gave him. After thirty seconds he was throwing a perfect spiral. He asked me how much time the quarterback has to make the pass. I showed him a clip of Joe Montanna & “The Catch” on YouTube and we were both smiling. 

By late evening we said goodnight to our friends and Lauren and I had dinner at Kronenhalle. I felt a little awkward showing up in a t-shirt while the rest of the customers had a jacket & tie on in this 140 year old establishment. But the people working at the restaurant where super friendly and my anxiety faded as I enjoyed a beer with my dinner in comfortable clothes.

After dinner we walked some more and called the kids back home. We were happy they had such a good day themselves and I’m grateful to my mother in law and parents who are taking care of them this week.

Today is Sunday already and it’s about 7:30am. Lauren is still fast asleep and I’ve been up for about 2 hours. We are going to leave Zurich mid day and take train south to Lucerne. The weather forecast looks great.  And I couldn’t be happier to be here with my soul mate.