Saturday, April 12, 2014

Where was I?

I wish I had a wild 'n' crazy answer to that one, but the fact of the matter is I've been at home with a newborn (who's now six months old!), a four year old and a pile of washing. I've not had a single snowboard session this season, and I think it's fair to say that that particular ship has sailed. Maybe next year.

I've done small amounts of work and am gearing up to cover my home town and surrounds for Lonely Planet's next guidebook to Switzerland. I also did a review for one of the flashest hotels I've ever stayed in (check out the pics), the Chedi Andermatt

This property will be on sale at at some point this year, and if you have the chance and the means, then I say go for it. Over the years I've travelled to Andermatt and this place was a building site. I'd look at it, look around Andermatt and wonder how they were going to pull of five-star splendour in such a sleepy, low-key spot (albeit with great skiing). They've pulled it off is all I can say. It's worth going there just for the food and the pool.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Siren Song

It's that time of year again!

Switzerland tests its sirens every year on February 5th. It can be a confusing thing for those new to Switzerland. I remember thinking something was going horribly wrong in the car park across the road when I first heard it. Another friend thought that Switzerland was under attack.

Here's a clever TVC about the big event. No sheep were harmed during the making of this ad.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Switzerland Traveler -- Olympic Museum

The Olympic Games are upon us again, and the Olympic Museum has recently re-opened after a long refurbishment, so check it out. We visited last week in the lovely winter sunshine and enjoyed seeing the transformation. The gardens are as lovely as ever, and so are the views over the lake.


Lausanne is the home of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), so it's only fitting that the town plays host to the Olympic Museum and in such stylish surrounds.

Set in beautifully maintained gardens, studded with site-specific sculptural works by artists such as Fernando Botero, the recently renovated museum holds plenty of evocative memorabilia set out over three levels and divided into the following themes: The Olympic World; The Olympic Games; and The Olympic Spirit.

Temporary exhibitions related to Olympic themes and ideals are held on the top floor. A good souvenir shop and cafe are on the premises too.

To celebrate its re-opening, the museum has free admission until January 24.

Where: 1 quai d'Ouchy, CH-1006, Lausanne
Admission: (after January 24) adult/concession CHF18/10
Transport: Metro to Ouchy, then 5-minute walk

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Switzerland Traveler -- Hotel Bellevue des Alpes

The Hotel Bellevue des Alpes is one of my favorite places in Switzerland. Denis first put me onto it after he stayed here while covering the skiing at nearby Wengen. It's a place for big scenery and old-fashioned charm and at this time of year it's magic.


Architecturally, Kleine Scheidegg (where the hotel is located) is little more than a huddle of buildings, but the Bellevue des Alpes presents some of the most charming and character-filled Alpine accommodation in Switzerland.

This place provides cozy atmosphere galore, with its old-fashioned rooms, creaky wooden floors, breathtaking views of the mighty Jungfrau region and incredible location at the foot of the Eiger (the hotel's telescope was often used to check on the progress of past attempts to scale the notorious North Face, which is colloquially known as 'The Murder Wall'). Every knick knack here seems laden with meaning and you'll feel as though you've either stepped onto a film set or back in time.

The kitchen serves up very good meals, and the charmingly old-fashioned wood-paneled bar and lounge rooms all make for great spots to swap tall tales of mountaineering, skiing and hiking. It's a very popular spot with the Swiss for skiing and snowboarding (you'll find over 200km of runs in the Jungfrau region), and there are places to rent and buy gear in Kleine Scheidegg itself.

There are no cars up in this part of the world -- you'll need to come via the Wengernalpbahn (start at either Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald-Grund), a typically efficient-yet-thrilling (albeit expensive) Swiss alpine train experience.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Switzerland Traveler -- Bern's Old Town

Bern's historic Unesco World Heritage-listed center, with its medieval buildings, 6km of covered arcades (known by locals as lauben), cobblestoned streets, riotously weird statues and multicolored flags, is a beautiful place to explore, with cellar shops, cute cafes and quaint bars at every turn. Many visitors to Switzerland think it's the country's most charming city center, and it certainly wears its 'national capital' status lightly.

Medieval Bern was founded in 1191 but rebuilt after a serious fire destroyed many of the city's wooden buildings in 1405, paving the way for the use of the city's signature verdigris-hued sandstone.

Major sights to visit include the Zytglogge, which used to be a part of the city's western gate and the 11 fountains (most created by Hans Gieng) that dot the city center. They date from 1545 and depict folkloric and historic characters, such as the infamous Kindlifresserbrunnen (Child Eater), a depiction of an ogre eating a naked child, with a bag containing other children at his side. It can be seen at Kornhausplatz, a busy junction with cafes and the 18th-century site of what used to be the Kornhaus (granary).

The main thoroughfare is Marktgasse, leading off from Bärenplatz, and its continuation Kramgasse, which has three of the city's famous fountains and Einstein's former residence. Parallel Münstergasse has a twice-weekly (Tuesday and Saturday mornings) market and is also the location of the city's famous Münster (cathedral). The Rathaus (town hall), with its twin staircase entrance, stone relief sculptures and beautiful Gothic loggia, lies on Rathausgasse.

At the easternmost point of the Old Town you'll find the quiet streets of Postgasse, Gerechtigkeitsgasse and Junkerngasse, which all flow into the impressive Nydeggbrücke, connecting the Old Town with the Bear Park on the other side of the fast-moving Aare River.

The city's tourism authority organizes worthwhile Old Town guided strolls in English, German and French, covering the Zytglogge, Münster and other important sights. Book in advance if you can.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Switzerland Traveler -- Christmas Markets

The festive season is definitely under way here in Switzerland. In Lausanne we've had the first snow, and the Christmas lights outside our apartmant have just been turned on. Christmas markets started trading yesterday in many places, so this blog post is going to cover those markets. My personal fave is the one in Basel -- it has a really social atmosphere and the quality of the merchandise is better than the usual 'could be from anywhere' stuff you find at some other Christmas markets.


Like many countries in central Europe, Switzerland celebrates Christmas with a lot of love. It's definitely a time to come together, share mulled wine and socialize at the Christmas markets, with stalls selling tree decorations, jewellery, gifts and snacks such as roast chestnuts.

The most famous of the country's markets is at Basel (on Old Town squares Barfüsserplatz and Munsterplatz), but there are also ones in Zürich (look for the more-traditional stalls in the Old Town's Hirschenplatz, Niederdorfstrasse and Rosenhof, or the one inside the main train station, which is Europe's largest covered Christmas market), Lucerne (Franziskanerplatz), Bern (Waisenhausplatz and Münsterplatz), Lausanne (Place St-François) and Montreux.

City tourism websites and offices will have all the information you need about when markets start and finish, but as a rule of thumb expect markets to run from late November to the 23rd of December or just before New Year's Eve and to really come alive once the sky turns dark (around 5pm).

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Big (Little) Gig -- The Giant Robots at The Bourg

We all made it out of the house at the same time on Sunday, despite the cold and the rain. And we had a lot of fun too.

A local garage band called The Giant Robots did a gig at the old cinema-turned-nightclub, the Bourg, which is a blissfully short walk from ours. Bas was excited because he's right into music at the moment and loves seeing musicians perform, whether it's an orchestra in the park across the road, a busker at the local markets, or a bit of 1960s-inflected rock 'n' roll (especially when it's the Stones).

I often forget what a great little venue the Bourg is. And I forget to check the gig guide, which is why I only discovered on Sunday that one of my favourite bands from the States, Low, played there on Friday night. Damn.

The Giant Robots played an impressive eight shows in seven days last week, and made their final show a true all-ages affair by turning their amps to face away from the stage and keeping it mild, not wild. All the kids were seated at the front and all the grown-ups stood at the back. Bruno slept through the whole thing, strapped to Papa's chest. 

Hearing Bas shout out 'Yeah!' between songs and seeing him dancing at the end was great. The Giant Robots are on heavy rotation at our place this week and their poster is now blue-tacked to Bas's bedroom door. He has asked for a guitar for his next birthday present, quite possible as glittery as the one he was shown in the last photo, below.