November 15, 2014 – This past Saturday we ventured into the city to go to the aquarium. We were surprised to see that there were some juvenile penguins in with the adults. The youngsters still had mostly grey feathers, and were much more interested in workers’ feet than the adults.
Our original plan was to get lunch near Harpoon Brewery. Unfortunately we didn’t get into town until around 12:30, and by then everyone was up and out and getting lunch too. There was also a ski/snowboard convention in town, so that wasn’t helping our quest for an open table. We eventually wound up at No Name Restaurant over at the fish pier. There are a ton of seats inside, and we were waited on by a very nice guy with a thick Irish-meets-South-Boston accent.
Now, for the food. The complimentary garlic bread is really, really good. The seafood chowder is also excellent, with big pieces of fish and a creamy/buttery broth that walks the line between rich and too rich. The only downside was the seafood plates themselves – we split the broiled plate, and while the scallops were good and the salmon was decent, the shrimp were undercooked, the swordfish was very fishy and the scrod was saved by the butter crumb topping. Portions are also very small. The fries were good though, and some people ordered slices of pie that looked home made. Next time we’ll probably just get the bowls of chowder and call it a day.
September 10, 2014 – After breakfast at the hotel we were on our way to the Strasbourg SNCF Station for our first TGV train of the trip. At this point we learned that (a) our seats were facing backwards and (b) we didn’t have our own window. To add insult to this, the people with the window didn’t want to look out of it, so they closed the blind. Well. We solved this problem by heading to the cafe car for half the ride. Two espresso with sugar and little chocolate sticks = an hour of standing at a table watching the countryside fly by.
In about two hours we were in Paris. Large, pretty buildings, tree-lined streets, and with some decent quiche (though we preferred the quiche we got in the smaller shops in the smaller towns). Our plan was to take our quiche down to the river, but were pleasantly surprised to get a text that our room was ready early. We decided to go through Airbnb for the stay, since we could rent an entire flat in a great neighborhood (directly across from some restaurants, a few blocks from a supermarket, and within a 15 minute walk from the Louvre… the location was pretty ideal). The flat was five levels up, and had a nice kitchen and living room.
There was only one thing planned for the afternoon – the Louvre. We walked 15 minutes from our flat over to the block that the museum occupies, and used the pyramid entrance (we had the Paris Museum pass, so we could skip the longer security line). The Louvre is really, really huge, with three multi-floor wings, plus an underground section.
We originally tried out the audio guide, but it was a little distracting since only one of us had it… and because we were moving fairly quickly. And it was a bit heavy too. After we dropped the audio guide back off things went a bit smoother, with the Egyptian and Middle Eastern sections being some of our favorite parts of the day. Hammurabi’s Code anyone? Oh, and Venus de Milo, just hanging out. This is why the Louvre was one of Louisa’s all-time favorite museums – literally priceless works of art around every corner. One of the things that surprised us about the Lourve was the architecture of the building itself. From gilded columns to frescoes on the ceiling, the building itself is also a work of art.
We took a break for cafe creme, and then another for dinner at a nearby restaurant where we had escargot (Tony was much better with the escargot holders than Louisa), steak frites, and cassoulet. We really enjoyed the escargot, which were served in shells with pesto on top. The fries were excellent, and the steak was cooked well (and enjoyed even more once it was topped with salt and pepper). The cassoulet was rich and hearty, the meat was fork tender, and the thick broth was perfect for sopping up with the dark bread that was brought to the table. We also got a small carafe of slightly sweet white wine.
After dinner we went back to the Louvre – tonight was the night it was open late. We went by Winged Victory again, and down to the underground section of the museum where you can see the original castle supports.
September 9, 2014 – Today was our final morning in Switzerland. We loved the mountains, food, and how walkable and uncrowded our town was. After breakfast we headed into town to the grocery store for some sandwich supplies (bread, cheese, meat), juice and chocolate for a picnic lunch later in the day. Then we grabbed our packs and started the train journey back to Interlaken. It was bittersweet leaving the mountains, but the double decker train we got to Bern helped make up for it. This part of the country was definitely more crowded and built-up than where we stayed the past few days, and also flatter.
We had a layover in Basel, where we occupied our time by buying Swiss truffles (mocha and chili pepper were the favorites) and walking from the Swiss to the French part of the train station. This involved walking through a few wooden doors and past some uniformed, armed, very serious looking French border agents.
Our train to Strausbourg might have been slightly older… complete with curtains, fraying seats, and grinding gears as the train picked up speed. We passed through some older parts of the french countryside, with abandoned buildings, pretty but tired towns, and lots of farming.
Strasbourg was definitely a change from where we were, and definitely a city. It was also a challenge for us to go from German/English/a bit of French to we’re-close-to-Paris-now French. I’ll never look at the lost foreign tourist in NYC the same way again, all the credit to them for travelling in a giant city with a language barrier.
We settled into our hotel and then headed out to the Strasbourg Cathedral, about half a mile away. We walked through the cathedral twice before finding the sign for the stairs (outside, around the side). The cathedral is beautiful inside, with soaring ceilings and multiple levels of stained glass. The area it’s in is also quite nice, with older buildings, outdoor dining, and a large pedestrian square.
The climb to the top isn’t difficult, and we thought it was neat to walk up the stairs that had become worn in the middle from hundreds of years of other people taking the same trip. The cathedral provides a great view of the surrounding town, as well as part of Germany about a mile across the river. We were also interested in the old graffiti carved into the tower; the newer carvings were from the 1800s, and we found a few from the 1600s and 1700s as well.
We were fairly tired by this point, so we headed back to the hotel. Along the way we stopped at a pastry shop, for an almond croissant and a millefeuille (crispy pastry and cream, topped with a chocolate drizzle). Admittedly we originally wanted an almond pretzel, but, well… our pronunciation wasn’t that good, we were tired and just basically ate whatever we were given. The people at the shop were very nice though, despite our obvious lack of French language ability.
So, by now it was dinner time. This was the point in the trip that we were running on fumes, but we consulted our list of pre-selected restaurants and decided to walk out to the Petite-France section of the city. This was a very pretty area, with small winding streets, old buildings and a nice riverwalk. We found where we wanted to eat dinner – La Corde a Linge – a restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating under an old tree by the water.
Up next was the tricky part – trying to figure out how to get a table. We watched other people come up and sit down, though some people talked to a waitress first. Eventually we spotted a table for two, set with dinnerware and menus, and sat down. We seemed to have correctly interpreted how to find a table, since the waitress then came over and asked us if we wanted to eat (nod) and drink (more nods, yes please). We ordered some drinks and we each decided to get spaetzle – the cream and mushroom sauce with the noodles was fantastic. We took the long way back to our hotel, over old bridges, past towers, and along the small river that winds through the old town.
September 8, 2014 – Our last day in Murren started with our usual breakfast. Louisa will miss the pretzel rolls and cheese, and we will both miss the dark-but-not-acidic coffee. Fortunately the weather cooperated, as it did all trip, and we had a lovely mostly sunny final day in the mountains.
We headed back up the Allmendhubelbahn and then towards the Mountain View Trail. One of the neat things about the Allmendhubelbahn is it’s over 100 years old. And while the hill it climbs doesn’t seem that steep from the bottom, when the funicular is going up you begin to realize that it’s a bit of a climb. After about a minute or so you reach the top, where there are restrooms, a little restaurant, and a playground with cool climbing objects and a mini zipline. There’s also a flower trail with labelled wildflowers.
The trail in this direction is quite a pleasant walk, with a few steep downhills at the end but relatively easy (at least in the direction we walked, which was mostly downhill). Along the way we found a flock of swallows flying overhead, a bench with a perfect view of the opposite mountains, a little lake, and watched cows try to figure out how to get into their pen while a truck was blocking the entrance. We also found a herd of cows; Louisa is a little nervous of cows, mostly large ones with horns that stare you down. Tony doesn’t mind them. Both of us like the cowbells that they all seem to have in this part of the world.
We were glad to make it to the Grütschalp train station, since they had restrooms and a drinking fountain. There’s also a little shop with candy and similar snacks, as well as a restaurant. We had brought (now-melted) chocolate with us, so we decided to keep walking back towards Murren. This part of the walk is mostly paved and pretty level, as it follows the train tracks. It also leads through an active cow pasture, so we recommend you watch where you step. There are also a few benches along this section of the path, perfect for a quick break. This was an absolutely wonderful hike (at least in the direction we took; it would be much more strenuous going the other way) and one of our favorite parts of the trip.
We had almost reached town when the rain caught up with us. We initially took refuge under a pine tree (our umbrellas were helpfully hanging out in our room, rather than being packed in our day bag). The rain was too heavy, so we hustled to a nearby house with an overhang over the porch to wait until the rain lessened. After about ten minutes the precipitation had slowed to a drizzle, and we were able to quickly walk a few doors down to our hotel.
We dropped off our wet gear and headed down for a late lunch of pizza and beer – if you think it’s strange that we ate pizza three times in Switzerland, let’s just say that this is very good pizza, with a thin but still chewy crust, good spicy sauce, great toppings, and hot pepper infused olive oil. And the beer reminded us of the beer we got in Germany (which makes sense, since it was German beer).
By now it was mid afternoon, but the weather was too nice to not head towards the other side of town and up a small hill to a shaded bench with a view of the mountains. We spent some time bird watching, since we had a pair of birds on a power line and another in the pine tree near us, then walked back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.
One note on the dining room at the hotel – there are actually two dining rooms. One is very pretty, bright, with old photos, warm wood paneling, candles, table clothes, and a European feel (read: tables are quite spread apart, with about a foot between every other table, and 4″ between the rest of the tables). The other side is the “bar” section, with a tv, no table clothes, wooden chairs, not much light, and tons of space. The inn keeper figured out our preference after the second night, but it still seemed to amuse her.
Anyway, we got our “usual” table in the corner in the bar section. We like that it has a nice view of the Eiger, and that one side has a comfortable, cushioned bench as the chair. We settled in, ordered some nice white wine, and debated what to get for dinner. Louisa finally warmed back up to the idea of fondue, so we went with that. And apparently you’re supposed to start the meal with a light green salad (to make the fondue easier to digest), so we started with a large bowl of mixed greens and a very good balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. The fondue itself was also fantastic – very well melted cheese that seamlessly blended with the wine, and which was very easy to dip the bread slices into. None of the flavors were pronounced, instead everything worked together to create a delicious, easy to eat dish. We ended the night with some kirsch, as well as one final Schneider-Weisse beer.