Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Reflective Lakes Of Melchsee Frutt

In a space of 12 hours we went market shopping, paddle boarding, cooking and rushed house to house for RudiRockt. Then it's hiking in Melchsee Frutt early the next morning.

With a lack of sleep, I was struggling to get up. It was Sunday, our last day together in Europe. I had to go back to London and Mel was off to Amsterdam. The incentive to get up early was to have a spectacular time in the mountains. 

As Mel says, the three of us don't have that much in common but the one thing that brings us together is our love for nature.

Thanks to Fab's superb planning and navigational skills, we arrived in Melchsee Frutt without fuss. It was a quick and easy train ride to Sarnen and a bus to Stockalp. We took a gondola to the top where it was much colder. 

I wasn't well prepared, shivering in my shirt and contemplated spending a small fortune on a piece of warm clothing. Instead we stopped in cosy restaurant for a coffee and set off on our hike. 

I saw this and it took the proverbial breath away. 

Melchsee, the lake is gobsmackingly beautiful in summer. (And winter too, when it freezes and you ski across it.) I hadn't expected to see anything like this. It was like being slapped in the face. The lake is huge and reflective, like a mirror for the sky.

My iphone pics doesn't do it justice.

We jumped off that bench ten times to get it right. 

More majestical views along the way to Tannensee lake.

In the disbelieving eyes of other walkers, Mel and I went into Tannensee. The water was clear and many fish can be seen from the edge. Being a popular place for fishing, I was worried about stepping on a fish hook underwater. But the last prospect of swimming in natural waters was too tempting.


Stockalp was the final destination of the hike. It was a 900m descent, something like 10 km in distance.  (My rear end was sore days after.) The views were particularly enjoyed by the alpine cows that roamed free. Fab has a fear of cows and took a difficult detour away from them. 

Mel and I continued along the trail and took a cow selfie.

After a celebratory beer in Stockalp, we returned to Luzern. Mel caught her train to Basel. I had a drink with Fabs by Lake Luzern before going to Zurich airport.

What a whirlwind trip and one of the best in Luzern so far. Although they are all special times :)

RudiRockt Luzern - Running Dinner and A Whole Lot Of Fun

Our visit to Luzern coincided with RudiRockt which translated is Running Dinner. Fabs wanted to do it and formed a team for us. The idea is that groups of 2-3 prepare a course to entertain two other teams. Then your team visits the homes of two others for the other courses. Prepare one course, meet people, get two courses and meet more people. How cool is that? 

The city of Luzern is perfect for Rudirockt because it's big enough to make lots of teams and small enough to get from one place to another in time. In this city it's easy to make friends or at least get to know to know more of your fellow citizens.

Our team was assigned starters and coincidentally Fab's flatmate and boyfriend was the same. This meant we had up to 12 guests to entertain in our small flat. Since the weather was lovely, we decided to host drinks and canapes up on the roof terrace of Fab's building. 

Fab's English boyfriend is a craft beermaker and kindly donated some ale for the cause. We also served freshly squeezed apple cider and Fabienne's flatmate served champagne punch. Our team made bruschetta, prawn cocktail and grilled stuffed mushrooms. 

I have to admit I was a little nervous at the beginning of the night. Mel and I don't speak German and with so many guests, we didn't know what to expect. But everyone we met were really friendly and speaking English was no problem. 

The sun set and our course finished. Everyone left for the next, either to prepare or visit another person's house. We took a bus to the next place where we were warmly greeted by two girls who served chicken mee goreng and Swiss white wine. 

This time the hostesses and guests mainly spoke German so Mel and I chatted amongst ourselves. There were moments when I'd look around and could not believe that these people hadn't met before. There were so many laughs and smiles around the table. It was amazing how quickly people get to know each other in Luzern.

Dessert was my favourite course of the night. We were served a sumptuous course with Moscato, the first fizzy sweet wine I've had. The flat of our hostesses was modern and huge, rather the place I wish I could live in someday!

When they were told that two of us only spoke English, they were delighted because in their team, there was a Spanish girl, Julene who was also the same. 

Julene baked the most spectacular flourless chocolate cake. Weightless yet rich and dressed beautifully with fruit salad. The experience was more to the likes of a Michelin starred restaurant. When I heard there was chocolate cake I foolishly said I was really full and only wanted half a slice. After one bite, I was like-did I say half a slice? I meant half a cake!!!

Julene also made a valenciano cocktail with cointreau, orange juice and icecream. Delicious!

The dessert crowd. Wonderful people, beautiful homes and a gastronomic evening!

Third Time and Lucky In Switzerland This Year

It's officially autumn and with my bestie from Oz visiting, guess where we went to? Luzern! Its the third time this year for me. It's like I'm visiting at every change of the season. I was there in winter, summer (will post later) and it turns out it three really is a lucky number.

We took flights out of Stansted to Basel on a Friday evening. Traffic was horrendous and both Mel and I had delays on different routes getting to the airport. I dashed off the bus, straight to the Ryanair check in desk. Thankfully there was no queue but I was still running late. 

It turned out our flight was delayed 20 minutes which would have been good except we bought Supersaver train tickets to Luzern. They are half price but if we're not on the train booked, the tickets got to waste. We also needed to make that train because it was the last direct one from Basel to Luzern.

Our flight was an hour late from departing and by the time we landed at Basel, we only had 15 mins to make our connecting bus to the train station. Everything runs precisely on time in Switzerland so there was no chance of a convenient delay. We ran to passport control and eagerly watched the luggage carousel for Mel's checked in luggage. 

Minutes passed and the carousel was not moving. I thought we're going to miss the bus for sure. Suddenly Mel's bag was one of the first to come through. Before she could pick it up, I went off like a rocket, telling her to follow me of course. We were going to make this bus after all!

Then I learned that it REALLY does matter which of the two exits you take out of the airport. You have a choice of France/Germany or Switzerland. I though it was all connected so I took the first exit I saw but then I realised that on the French/German side, you're blocked from accessing the Swiss side. You have to go back into the terminal, go through a hallway where you pass customs. Doh! Our hopes were dashed. 

We ran through as no one was at customs. We made our bus with 30 seconds to spare and we made our train too. We finally got to breathe easy to the start of our weekend.

We inadvertedly got on the kids carriage on the train. When Mel and I first went to Switzerland together back in 2006, we were awestruck by the concept.  Swiss trains are the best in the world. At 11pm we get to "play" in this cool carriage without kids around!

The second lucky thing was that I found a Longchamp cross body bag at Caritas, the charity shop near Fabienne's flat. It could be an A+ fake but at CHF 4 (USD 4.28) I didn't care. I gave it a good check before buying and it's convincingly real. I later looked for the design and it's a Quadri-retailing at £175. 

The third lucky thing was the weather. Fabienne said the summer had been disappointing with few days of sunny weather. When we showed up, the sky was beautiful and clear. The weather was balmy and hot in the day to go swimming and paddleboarding in Lake Luzern. I've always relished the idea of bathing in the lake. The water comes from the mountains and its super clean (and cold!). Mel and I have a thing about swimming in natural places as we call them "fountains of youth".

We went to one of the town beaches and it was lovely and peaceful. We did'nt go into the water until we took out paddleboards from the local rowing club. It was my first time and although I was wobbly, I got the hang of it after learning the golden rule: keep looking straight ahead and not at your feet!

Pushing off and trying to remember capsize exercises from my kayaking training. Thankfully there was no falls into the water.

We went to the nearby beach and I really wanted to get into the water. It was cold but oh so invigorating. Here I am standing up. An even more enjoyable experience is when you're lying on your stomach and paddling with your arms. When face level with the water, gliding over the surface like the birds and boats, you feel like you're flying!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Pico Island And It's Unique Landscape

Its the fourth and last day of my trip to the Azores. We took a ferry to the nearby island of Pico, only  twenty minutes away and was greeted by our tour guide. 

We started off by visiting the historical settlement villages and tasted local wine and liquors. My favorite liquor was blackberry so I bought a bottle-it was so cheap! Less than EUR 6 for 500ml and when I saw the same ones at the supermarket later, they were double the price.

A stone houses in traditional style by the sea. Even new buildings in the area had to comply with this stone design. Each front door is either dark green or red. (It used to be for indicating if you were poor or wealthy.) It was so peaceful on the island and all throughout the day I contemplated of buying a house in Pico by the sea. 

We stopped for lunch in Lajes De Pico. There was plenty of fresh seafood on the menu. This beach next to our restaurant was the breeding grounds for the shellfish I had for lunch!

An old whaling factory to extract oil and flour from whales. Whaling and winemaking were the main sources of income for the island. The factory closed down in the early 1980s and is now a museum for marine life. 

We came across an abandoned vineyard where I declared as "mine". Here I am tending my grapes.

My shack by the be!

Passing the many vineyards which are unique, only to Pico island. They are built perpendicular and parallel to the coastline, made with stacked lava rocks for protection from the sea water and wind. Believe it or not, the vines grow from rock and are unsupported. The grapes are warmed by the heat of the rocks in summer.

The vineyards of Pico are a UNESCO world heritage site. These allotments of vineyards are passed down from generation to generation. We later visited a huge co-operative that produces wine from the harvests.

Farewell Pico island!