Thursday, October 29, 2015

Photo Moment: Vineyards outside of Sion

If you go to Sion, you need to through the vineyards.  This photo was taken while I walking the Bisse of Clavau.  The trail overlooks the Rhône Valley between Sion and St-Léonard.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A trip to Champéry

I got into hiking when I moved to Arizona in 2012.  I couldn't resist the desert mountains with their amazing views from the top and the pink-tinted soil of the area (more about desert hikes in Arizona).  I admit I still love the desert and hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim was one of my favorite hiking experiences to date. There's a feeling of accomplishment when you do something like that. You've conquered the heat and the trail at the same time. There's a rugged danger to it all that makes it an adventure more than a family stroll.

But Switzerland has some incredible trails and I'm trying to get into them.  Don't laugh.  I know it's gorgeous here, but I think there are forest hikers and desert rock hikers.  I'm definitely more of the desert rock hiker type, but I'm trying to adapt. And who knows? Maybe I'll become a forest hiker while here.  I know I do love the views and all the fauna.

So my quest is to seek out forest hikes that challenge me with that bit of adventure.  Today it's Champéry.

Located about 45 minutes from Lausanne in Switzerland, Champéry is a little ski village filled with all those cute Swiss chalets you see in photos.

I haven't seen it when it's packed full of skiers, but I did see it in the summer and it's gorgeous even then.  It's much less crowded, of course - but the hiking and the mountain biking is worth the trip there for you forest hikers out there. The mountains (Dents du Midi and Dents Blanches) are amazing and there are 24 chairlifts open in the summer to take you up the mountain to access the nearly 400 miles of paths to hike or ride. There is also a cable car if you don't want to walk up to the top and just want to stroll or ride down.

The village is tiny with less than 1,300 residents.  It's mostly there for the skiing and the tourists, but a lot of architecture from the pioneers is still there and there are numerous bars, little shops and restaurants to keep visitors happy.

Most locals drive back to their hometown after the day there, but there are hotels for those of you who want a romantic escape.  It is very adorable there...and very Swiss.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

New word of the day: Persil

Here's what I love about my little village in Switzerland.  They know me.  They may not understand me and I may not understand them as we speak different languages, but they know me.  And what they know me as is: "the girl who speaks English."

This is very reminiscent of when I lived in Germany and my town called me the "das Canadian Madchen." But I'm trying to learn French and I test it out whenever I can with the shop owners in my area.

There are only four shops in my village which could also explain why they know me.  I have a bakery, grocery store, butcher and a little farther away is my favorite Italian Deli - Mauro Traiteur -- which sells cheese, olives, fresh pasta, wine and other delicious things.

As you can imagine, I go there a lot. It's like Whole Foods but better - as they don't judge me when I ask them to recommend a wine that is "not too expensive" and have saved me a couple times when I choose one that would not go with my meal. (thank goodness!)

Anyway, that's where I was today, and they happened to have something new.  Some sort of pie thing.

You know I have to have the "something new." So I ask in my horrible French: What is that?  They reply with some words I don't understand, so I kick into reporter mode, and still using my limited French, I start questioning the poor shop girl who has gotten stuck serving me.

Me:  What is inside?

Poor Shop Girl:  Chicken, cream, mushrooms, onions...

I'm thinking "good…those I eat."

And then she says, "...and persil."

Persil?  This word I do not know. Do I like persil?  Do I eat persil?  Because I don't eat red meat or pork, I'm highly suspicious of Swiss food as they have a million names for pork products and they love to put them in everything.  Everything. They also like to put dried meat in stuff. They are sneaky that way.

Me:  What is this persil?

She looks at me strange as if everyone should know persil.

So I continue...

Me: Is it a fromage? Viande? Legume? [cheese, meat, vegetable]

Poor Shop Girl: Percil…Percil is percil.

She shrugs and is still looking at me strange.  I'm running out of questions. If it's not cheese, vegetable or meat…what could it be?

Me: Is it a type of mushroom?

Poor Shop Girl: No…percil is percil.

She has given up on me and I've run out of questions.  Just as I'm thinking maybe I should just order the spinach ravioli, the owner of the shop rescues me. He tells her in French that I only speak English.  I try to look pathetic and smile. Her expression changes as she realizes I'm not crazy or stupid; I'm just not Swiss.

The owner also doesn't know how to describe "percil" so asks her to grab some from the kitchen.

She comes back with a handful of parsley.

Ohhhhh….percil is a herb. I will now add that to my list of questions to ask when baffled by the food.

Of course, I will never forget percil again. And I'm sure that shop girl hopes she never gets stuck serving me again (joke's on her as I'm there weekly.)

In case you are wondering, I did get a slice of the pie after all that  - and it was wonderful. You could actually taste the percil as it helped bring out the mushrooms.

So yes, I love my village and their patience with me. I promise to get better with my French.

PS I'm thinking my accent must be getting a little better as she didn't suspect I was foreign until I didn't know what percil was. Small gains.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Tapas and architecture in Barcelona

Here's a fun fact.  One of my Bachelor degrees is in visual arts with a minor in art and architectural history.  So while I prefer adventure vacations outside of cities, I go a little weak in the knees when surrounded by amazing cathedrals, old houses and bridges.

However, I also have a passion for modern buildings (was a journalist for Advantage Steel magazine for years) so can't resist checking those out and will be hoping to get a glimpse of the construction of the new Kingdom Tower in Jeddah when there in January. I love seeing what we can make with the tools of the day. And really, making a mile high tower is just fantastic.

But today it's all about Gothic architecture because I'm in Barcelona!

Barcelona is Spain's second most-populated city with 1.6 million people. For some reason, I thought it was a lot bigger, but when you are there and can walk to most of the old neighborhoods, you realize, it's not as big as you imagined.

The Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city and walking distance from La Rambla, which is the shopping area of the city by the Placa de Catalunya and where I was staying at the Hotel Pulitzer (see article about the Hotel Pulitzer here).

The hotel was very central. I was able to take the airport bus for around 5 Euros to Placa de Catalunya and walk the half block to the hotel from there.  The hotel has a great rooftop bar and the room are really nice.  However, the food is not that fantastic at the hotel.  This isn't a problem though as there are so many restaurants in the area to pick for dinner.

La Rambla can be crowded with tourists and locals, but it's a fun area with a main pedestrian-only street with mostly chain shops.  For more unique shopping, take a stroll down the tiny little cobblestone side streets leading off the La Rambla.  These are lined with one of a kind clothing shops, bakeries, knick knacks, art shops, jewelry and other cool little places.  

It's through these little streets that you'll find yourself in the Gothic Quarter.

The buildings there are incredible.  There is the cathedral, of course (no fee to enter), but even the little apartments above the shops are interesting.  The people there like to have a lot of flowers and you'll see pots and pots of them hanging from their terraces or window ledges (if they don't have a balcony).

Many of the buildings date back to medieval times, but Barcelona is also famous for the Art Nouveau buildings from 1885 to 1950.  The most famous architect of the time was Gaudi. His famous church (started in 1882) is the Sagrada Famila. It's still under construction and they hope to finish it in 2026 - which I find inspiring that they are still investing money into this building to finish.

You can wander around the Gothic area yourself, but if you are looking for a cheap walking tour, check out Feel Free Tours.  Just like the name says, the tours are free (you can tip the guide at the end) and they start at the Hard Rock Hotel located in La Rambla. The Hard Rock is across from Placa de Catalyuna so easy to find.

Their website is

After shopping and sightseeing all day, you then have the night life.

Barcelona has great food and great red wine.  I can make a meal of just a few pieces of tapas and a glass of wine, but if you have a bigger appetite, there are numerous restaurants in the city -- and if you like to dance, you're in luck.  The people of the area dance all night.

In fact, when I was catching the bus back to the airport at 7 am, the streets were still full of people coming home from wherever they had been all night.