delightful european markets

delicious sausages

I found the markets in Europe to be delightful and delicious. Above are some delicious sausages that we saw in an outdoor market in France. There were outdoor markets in almost every city we visited, and for the most part, they weren’t very touristy; that is, they were by and for locals. Note to self — I ought to visit the farmer’s markets around here more often.

Below are some hard boiled eggs sold in a regular supermarket in Switzerland. Apparently, they dye them bright orange/yellow to indicate that you should take them on a picnic. I didn’t buy any to eat, although in retrospect, I definitely should have.

swiss eggs

lion of lucerne

saddest rock in the world

“saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world”, Lucerne, Switzerland.

From the wikipedia article on Lucerne:

Bertel Thorvaldsen’s famous carving of a dying lion (the Lion Monument, or Löwendenkmal) is found in a small park just off Lowenplatz. The carving commemorates the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the mob stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

More information can be found at everything2.

to drive or not to drive (in europe)

saanen snail

snail, Saanen, Switzerland

So one of the debates I kept having with myself during the trip was whether the rental car was worth it, or if we should have done what most normal people would have done and ridden the trains instead. The reason we originally decided on the car was a combination of enhanced freedom and lower (upfront) cost.

When we looked at Eurail passes, it would have been something like $900 for two people over the age of 26 for the countries we were thinking of visiting. The rental car was only $569, so it seemed like a no-brainer at the time. Turns out that we spent $243 on gas and another $166 on tolls (yes, the tolls in France are ridiculously expensive), so in the end ($977 total car expenditure), it was a financial wash.

Still, it was nice to have the extra freedom. Case in point, as we were driving from Nice, France to Interlaken, we happened to drive through the tiny ski towns of Saanen and Gstaad, which were beautifully idyllic and pastoral, and ended up staying a few nights, just enjoying the scenery and being away from the hustle and bustle of Nice. That never would have happened had we been on a train.

In the end, a car isn’t a bad idea for two (or more) people (just don’t drive in France). For the single traveller though, the train is an obvious no-brainer.

zen and the art of cannes celeb sightings

Ivana Trump at Cannes

The other thing we did while in Nice was to pop over to Cannes during the 60th anniversary of the famous film festival. We only wanted to stay for a little while to experience the zeitgeist, and so we weren’t planning on camping out near hotel entrances just for celebrity watching, but we got “lucky” (at least in one sense of the term) when we happened to see a bunch of paparazzi wielding bazooka sized cameras chasing after a blonde lady.

Of course, I had to join in the fun and followed them (although I stayed way to the back of the pack), and ended up snapping a shot of Ivana Trump and her horrible looking balloon lips. Ew.

Naturally, I had no idea whose picture I was taking, so when the flurry of activity was over, I just asked one of the “real” photogs, and he turned out to be pretty cool. So indirectly, I figured out a decent strategy if one was truly interested in seeing celebs at Cannes, without having to look at screening schedules, etc. Just hang out with the pro paparazzi, chat them up and make friends with them, and when they run after someone, just tag along for the ride.

It’s the fast track to pretending like you know what’s going on without knowing a thing.

plage la mala

Cap d'Ail beach

Looking down on the Plage la Mala beach, near Monaco.

We spent an afternoon lazing around on this beautiful beach in Cap d’Ail, which is in France, just one train stop before reaching Monaco.

The beach itself, much like the town it’s near, is quite tiny, but luckily there was almost no one there when we went. Probably due to the somewhat dreary and overcast day, but we managed to have fun nonetheless. And if you’re planning a trip here, it turns out there is a relatively cheap youth hostel in this town, so you can really be just a few minutes walk away.

Also, for those of you who wondering whether the reality of topless beaches matches the hype, the answer is yes. Too bad Americans are such prudes.

swiss food == comfort food

a meal of raclette

Jenny, Christophe, and Martin, sitting down to a meal of raclette, in Martin’s Geneva flat.

Raclette is delicious — think of delicious cheese, melted and poured over various processed meats, such as salami, prosciutto, etc., and potatoes. Doesn’t really get much more basic, comforting, and delicious than that.

Other traditional Swiss meals are fondue (melted cheese and bread), rösti (melted cheese and hashbrowns), and alpenmacaroni (Swiss mac n’ cheese). We sampled them all, and found them all to be quite tasty. Even though I’m lactose intolerant, somehow my body figured out that all it was getting was cheese, and managed to adapt quite nicely.

A note on fondue — there’s the traditional cheese fondue, oil fondue, and much to my surprise, “chinoise fondue” aka hot pot, the dish that I grew up somewhat hating as a kid. Turns out that chinoise fondue is the upscale, expensive fondue, which confounds me, since it’s basically just boiling water that you dip thinly sliced meat and veggies into. Weird.

I don’t think I’d be out of line to claim that the Swiss are a stout and hearty people, exhibit A, any restaurant menu, and exhibit B, their waistlines (at least as compared to the French).

cave de Patriarche

Patriarche wine cellar

We went on a tour of the wine catacombs in Beaune, France, and visited only a single cellar: Patriarche et fils (Patriarche and sons). They are the largest cellar in the city, with over 5 kilometers of hallways upon hallways, with millions of wine bottles silently aging to perfection.

For our 20€, we got to wander around the spooky catacombs and sample 13 wines.

wanna get my jungfrau on

We’re here in the Jungfrau valley in Interlaken, Switzerland, and it’s beautiful.

From Nice, we drove through Italy, spent a night in Torino, then crossed the border into Switzerland, with the goal of making it all the way to Interlaken. We had a brief detour in Gstaad and Saanen, two tiny ski hamlets that fit perfectly into this American’s sterotype of what Switzerland looks like, complete with cows and giant bells around their necks. What you don’t get from pictures, though, is the constant smell of manure in the valley. Oh well.

Now we’re in Interlaken, in the tiny town of Lautenbrunnen, where we’ll spend a day or two before heading to Zurich. Hopefully, the rain will let up soon. Perhaps being a rainmaker can be a lucrative side business for me — farmers ask me to come camp on their fields, and I’ll guarantee that it’ll rain on our tent.

That’s all for now.

nice is nice

‘Allo from the French Riviera!

In a previous episode, our heroes were headed south, to the Cote d’Azur region of France, in an attempt to find some beaches (preferably topless (although I shan’t mention exactly whose preference it was)) for some quality relaxation time.

The accommodations story has been interesting. We went from the world’s worst hostel in Aix-en-Provence (stay away from Hostel International hostels unless you thought the place they stayed during the first half of Full Metal Jacket looked pretty nice) to a great room with a view at the world’s best hostel in Nice (named Villa Saint Exupery, with lots of cute Little Prince motifs all around) and finally relegated to the worst room (the “emergency room” storage closet underneath the 24/7 bar/hangout for multitudes of fresh faced young Anglophones looking for their magical European hookup) in aforementioned world’s best hostel, due to a distinct lack of planning and booking ahead from yours truly (much to the frustration of Jenny).

But that’s neither here nor there. And in any case, Alex’s handy hostel survival tip #349834 is specifically designed for just this scenario, and the solution is to drink at least two bottles of 2003 Bordeaux (price: 5 euros) and then top off with as many of the el cheapo 1 euro beers as you can stomach, and I guarantee that you won’t even need ear plugs.

Continuing on with the story, we’ve spent the past few days getting intimately familiar with public transport in Nice, with the reward of lazing about on a few sun soaked beaches, one in Cap d’Ail (pronounced “cap die”), which is just west of Monaco, and the others in Cannes and Antibes.

Speaking of Cannes, the 60th anniversary film festival is occurring as we speak, and we wandered around for a bit today. The only celeb we saw was Ivana Trump, but there was tons of paparazzi who were suitably blase about it all (“oh yeah man, we were just shooting Quentin and Rose McGowan and now we’re just waiting for the next one, man…”), and much to my amusement, quite a few touts zipping around on Segways, hawking newspapers and oddly enough, HP kit.

The Grand Prix is this weekend in Monaco, but thankfully, we’re escaping the heat and crowds and headed towards my native environment, namely the mountains of Switzerland, near Interlaken.

That’s it for now.