Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Wrapping up a great year...

After an incredibly fun summer full of exploring all over Switzerland and northern Italy with visitors, it was time to take a break and have some "us" time, so on a beautiful weekend in October we took our first backpacking trip since we've been living in Europe.
The good thing about backpacking in Switzerland is you can pretty much guarantee you'll be alone once the sun starts going down, since the locals tend to not sleep outside (which I must admit is understandable since there are so many charming little hotels and guesthouses all around).
But to us nothing can beat having our little tent perched on the side of a hill with a gorgeous view and surrounded by nothing but nature. We enjoyed some wine-from-a-box (easier to carry in the backpack) in our REI Lexan wine glasses as we watched the moon rise over the mountain. Dinner was Raclette on our new candle-lit Swiss set. What a great evening in the backcountry!
Soon thereafter we travelled back to the U.S. for a visit - I (Buggie) went a little early and as luck would have it I got the chance to fit in a visit to our good Swiss friend there. Of course it was a very active visit including a cycling event through the horse country south of Gainesville. I brought the Alphorn from Switzerland and we used it to help cheer on other riders while taking a break...
I had no idea how beautiful the area near Gainesville is, especially with the moss hanging from the trees...and there actually were some hills there too - a nice surprise!
It was really great to see her and experience a small part of her new life there. We really miss you Martina! But we are happy that you are in such a good PhD program and look forward to your return to Switzerland when you're finished!

Next stop was the beautiful hills of north Georgia. I wonder if this is the first time a Swiss Alphorn has been heard here...
I always enjoy visiting my parents and their place in the mountains there. The house may be old and just has a few rooms, but it is very cozy. I think this sign says it all...
It was a very nice time together. That weekend, Gustav and I were lucky that a few friends could join us in the mountains for a bike ride...
Actually it was not just any bike ride -- It was the Fourth (almost-)Annual Gaptoberfest! That is: Biking in the Gaps + Oktoberfest in Helen = Great times with great friends :-)

After biking up and down a few of Georgia's famous hills (including our fave, Hawgpain!), we used up any breath we had leftover to share some of the sounds of the Swiss Alps with the Oktoberfest'ers...in the appropriate plaza no less...

It was a really fun time and I hope we can continue to keep the tradition of Gaptoberfest going on every year, as long as we all can continue to ride bikes (which will be forever as long as we can help it!).

Moving on... Every visit to the U.S. tends to include some shopping since you just can't get some "important" items in Switzerland (now you all know what to bring me next time you visit!):
We visited Sam's Club since Mom has a membership, and couldn't get over how huge the store is (you could fit about a thousand European stores in it). The aisles were wide, the selection was overwhelmingly vast... Even the playing cards were oversized!
So to keep the theme we did some post-shopping refreshing with some over-sized beverages :)
The next day was Halloween, which we couldn't wait to share with Gustav's sis and our neice and nephew. Plus it means getting dressed up and forcing strangers to give you candy - so much fun! (the Europeans don't know what they're missing)
As always we really enjoyed seeing everyone and getting to spend some time together. That includes our "furry child"- You'd never guess she is over 15 years old from this picture would you? Playing on the rocks by the river...
There just never seems to be enough time to do everything we want during our visits, but still we enjoyed the time that we did have with you all, and we're glad we can all stay in touch at least "virtually" when we're not in the same country.

Soon after we got back to Zurich, lots of "white stuff" started falling from the sky, and overnight it transformed the area into a winter wonderland... So our friend who is from northern Canada showed me the proper way to make a snowman (we didn't get quite so many chances to practice while growing up in TN!)...
Gustav and I decided at the last minute to take a long weekend trip to Vienna, to take advantage of the fact that we can do just that! It was our first experience on an overnight train, which was great (although a bit cramped!). We really enjoyed checking out the city and its incredibly beautiful buildings, as well as a couple friends we know living there. It was great timing with all the Christmas markets and decorations all around the city, really festive...
When we got back to Zurich it was holiday party time, and we hosted a few of those ourselves, including some Christmas caroling as well as some jazz improv by Jeff and one of the younger guests...
Soon thereafter we got hit by even MORE of that white stuff! It's so different from last year when it didn't snow here all winter (until once in March)...
The good thing was that the white stuff fell in the mountains to, so that meant one thing - It's time to SKI!! So our first day out on the sl0pes was with our good friend from Colorado...
One thing we still can't get over is how people here seem to really appreciate having a good meal. Even if you're at a tiny eatery on the ski slope, they still make your lunch special...
This lunch above is Alpen Macaroni, served with apple sauce, mmm-mmmmm. And topped off with a Carlsberg beer - Their advertising slogan always cracks us up: "Probably the best beer in the world" (well if they're not totally sure, at least they're honest about it!)

Suddenly Christmastime was upon us... We were lucky enough to receive an invitation from our Swiss friend to join her and her parents at their mountain chalet for the holiday. This was our first chance to experience a true Swiss Christmas! We had always heard about how real candles are lit on the Christmas tree, but it was even more amazing to experience it in person...
It was a really special time with our Swiss family who has "adopted" us. We all celebrated on Christmas Eve together with some Fondue Chinoise, which involves cooking your own thinly sliced meats in a buillion, and is the traditional Swiss meal for Christmas Eve.

After the Fondue, the Christmas gifts are opened (on Christmas Eve - typically a single gift per person, usually something hand-made, and specially wrapped with lots of care), then a story is read, sometimes songs are sung around the tree (as you make sure no needles are burning from the candles on it!), and then we all walk through the snow to the village church for the service that ends right at midnight. Christmas Day is then usually spent out in the snow and sunshine, walking or skiing with the family.

The view from the chalet is difficult to describe in words, it's so beautiful...
Thank you so much, unsere Schweizer Mami und Papi, for sharing your holiday time and traditions with us!!
After Christmas we met up with our "Abenteuer" (adventure) friends to do some more ski-touring (better described in our opinion as "ski mountaineering", since after all it usually involves climbing to the top of a mountain, or sometimes more than one, and often has its epic nail-biting moments!). This trip ended up being a great adventure without any problems (nor any helicopter rescues).
We took advantage of the extra holidays to do some version of skiing every day -- ski-touring, skate-skiing, alpine skiing... No matter what the activity, it is always worth travelling the 45 minutes or so from Zurich to the mountains to enjoy the wunderschön views and sunshine...
We especially appreciate the sunshine since it tends to be very foggy in Zurich this time of year. Just another reason to get out and enjoy the beautiful mountains...

It has been a great year. We really enjoyed getting to share some of our life in Switzerland with you, either in person for those of you who came to visit, or at least on here "virtually".

We hope you all had a good year as well, and we wish you all a very
Happy and Healthy New Year!!!


Cheers,
Buggie and Gustav

4 comments:

chocolate girl said...

I'm grinning from ear to ear...what a great report of some incredible times!:-) And I'm especially happy you've given up riding in helicopters. Beautiful pics! Keep 'em coming! I'm loving it:-) Happy New Year!

Brian said...

Well I'm glad to make part of your "year in review", but unfortunately not in Swaland.... Maybe this year! Happy New Year Da Grants!!! Miss you guys already, but with you virtually all year long!

Sandy B and Dick said...

Enjoyed doing a little catching up on your many adventures. Love all the beautiful pic! Big hugs...

Martina said...

:-) Hey BJ, I had so much fun reading your blog! Just wanted to tell you something.... Hihihihi.... M a y b e e e e the reason why you do not see anybody out camping in the mountains is because in Switzerland that's ILLEGAL!!!!! :-) You are soooo funny!!!!!!
Miss you lots
Martina