Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Spring Break, Part X - The Voyage Home


Have I in any way succeeded in selling you on the idea of tourism to Switzerland or France?

Saturday March 27, 2004

Saturday was our final full day on Spring Break. We took it nice and slow in Chambery. There was a street market day which is always a treat for the foodie and photographer in me.

Olives! I confess I have become an olive snob. Yes, I'll still occasionally eat them out of a can but I prefer to buy them a la carte from buckets of them still sitting in their brine.

Cheese! I always thought of Swiss cheese as being the cheese with holes you buy in plastic packages in slices. Well, a lot of different cheeses have holes and they come in a variety of pungencies.

The kids and adults were drawn to the cute fluffy little animals in one section of the street market.

Yum... pastries!

We did buy about 1/2 pound of escargot. It was pre-seasoned with a pesto-like butter sauce. We sauteed them and they taste kind of like clams. Sorry, no photos of that event!

We thanked our hosts, Christin and Mike with hugs and promises to keep in touch.

We headed north to Geneva to catch our Sunday flight. We decided to go for one last tourist site. The Abbaye d'Hautecome on the Western shore of the Luc Le Bourget.

The Abbaye had its start in 1100s!

We got into Geneva and took one last look around. It was a sunny but chilly weekend day.

Looking around these streets, you half expect somebody with a trench coat to step up and ask you for the secret password!

Alas, I wasn't approached by any Syndey Bristow (Jennifer Garner's character in Alias) graduate student-bank employee-spy persons.

Will our blog get more hits if I plug Jennifer Garner's movie "13 Going on 30"?

In the film, Garner plays Jenna Rink who finds her 13 year old self as her 30 year old self. Comedy and heartache ensues. I liked the movie. Garner is always kicking or shooting somebody in Alias; thus, it was a pleasure to see how funny and charming she can be in a comedy. By the way, Higher being Instapundit liked it too as he saw it with the Insta-Wife and Insta-Daughter. So if he can blog about it, so can I!

But I've gone off on a tangent!

Here a picture below of a street in the "spy" movie set of a city, Geneva.

We walked out on the pier to the Jet d'Eau which we saw back on day 1.

A beautiful swan cruising Lake Geneva.

We had dinner in Annemasse, France. We walked around the little town and found an Italian style restaurant that looked somewhat busy. We looked at our menus and as usual it was not in English. We could figure out most items but the lady a the other table noticed we were having trouble. She was Chinese! So she looked at the menu and tried to explain what the items were. At times she would lapse into French and other times into Mandarin and then she would remember to speak in English! I am amazed how people can know more than one language.

Our hotel was on the French side of the border in the suburbs. As you might guess the price for a hotel in Geneva proper would have been 2 to 3 times more money.

We had two final adventures on Sunday March 28, 2004! First, we started driving to the airport and looked at our watches, looked at the clocks on the highway, looked at our watches... yikes, we were ONE hour late! It turns out that in Europe they switch to daylight savings time one week before we do!

All of a sudden we were running a little short on time. Then we had to hunt for a gas station to fill the rental car up. We found one and had trouble getting the thing to accept one of our credit cards! Well, eventually we got the car fueled and pulled into the airport.


Anyway, we got on the plane and had an uneventful flight back home. On the flight, I became hooked on the FOX show 24 with Keifer Sutherland as Jack Bauer an agent in CTU = counter terrorism unit, a fictional US Federal Agency. On my seat screen I saw the middle episodes of the First Season. We landed in Newark and Leonard caught a flight to DC while Harold and I caught a flight to Los Angeles.

And that is the story of my spring break!


P.S. If you stumbled onto this travelogue mid-stream, click here to go back to day one! Enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Spring Break, Part IX - Annecy

Hello Kari:

Friday March 26, 2004

We hit the road northbound to Annecy.

We wandered around the center of town and were captivated by food!

You want to see what we saw?

Here are some of the narrow old streets that are so typical of these towns in France.

The waterway in the center part of town.

Below is Christin and Mike as we were on our way to a church on the edge of town.

The church was actually relatively new. We saw some signage saying that 2004 was the year of China. Our hosts explained that all over France they are highlighting China with various music events and art exhibits. The flyer we saw was for music of China and one event was a concert at the church.

After Annecy, we went for a drive and came across the castle below. The "guard dog" seemed to know to pose for my shot!

The castle we saw was Chateau de Miolans. Unfortunately, between October 1 to March 31, one can only go inside by appointment. In the month of April, there are limited tours. In high tourist season, May 1 to September 30, tours are offered daily 10 am, 12 noon, 1:30pm and 7 pm.

Travel tip:
If I was more business minded, I would have bought a suitcase of local crafts so I could have a few keepsakes but also to sell the rest to make some money! For instance I bought a grolle which is a wood-carved drinking pot. The custom is to put in coffee with some liquor and to pass around the pot for people to drink from its multiple spouts. It costs hardly anything over there but I bet you could mark it up handsomely to sell here in the USA on Ebay or something. There are other crafts we saw in the store like locally produced ceramics, textiles and knives.


Onward to part X.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Spring Break, Part VIII - Aix-les-Bain and Chambery

Howdy Kari:

Wednesday March 24, 2004

We took a short drive North to the town of Aix-les-Bain. It sits on the shore of Lac du Bourget. I bet in the Spring and Summer it is a popular place to be out and about. Alas, we were there in March and it was rather chilly.

We stopped by the Musee Faure. It is essentially a home converted into an art gallery. It is a charming little museum.

We went back to Chambery and had the opportunity to have lunch at the "lawn bowling" clubhouse. The sport has an official French name which I don't remember. But it looks kind of like lawn bowling. Please note the trophy with the "lawn bowler" figure at the top of the photo below. Anyway, the food was delicious and quantities plentiful. Our hosts Christin and Mike told us the French folks there were talking about politics and food. The couple in the photo cook and run the club house.

To work off the calories we picked up at the lunch, we walked around Chambery so you can get the daytime version of the photos I took from the previous night.

The above is the statute at the Chateau des Ducs de Savoie. The realm of their rule at one time covered quite a bit of France.

The arcades of Chambery.

And once again the Fountain of the Elephants.

Travel tip:
* We ate lots of cheese! It does take a little getting used to. But I have to say I do enjoy it and it is amazing how many variations there are.
* Traveling off season has pros and cons. It certainly was a bit colder than I had hoped for though not unexpected. Also, tourist destinations that are less traveled are often closed. For instance, the tour of the Castle of the Dukes of Savoy in Chambery was unavailable. But since most of the motivation of the trip was to travel with friends and to see friends, it is okay to forgo some of the touristy stuff.

Bon voyage,

Continue to part IX.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Spring Break, Part VII - the road to Chambery, France

Hello Kari:

Wednesday March 24, 2004

We left Glion and the wonderful bed and breakfast and headed for France. We drove along Lake Geneva and crossed over into France. Our first stop was the town of Evian-les-Bains.

We got there just before everything closed down for lunch. The lady at the tourism counter spoke English with a British accent!

She gave us a handout for a walking tour of the main part of town. But first we refueled on some pastries. Yum!

We then started to walk around and here is a photo of the town's historic old church.

By the way, did the name of the city ring any bells?

I have to say I don't prefer particular brands of water (I'm not snooty about water as long as it doesn't taste awful) but indeed, this French town is the home of Evian bottled water!

Here is the fountain where they say the magical healing properties of the water was first discovered. We saw people bring their Nalgene plastic bottles to fill up at the spout!

To read more about the history of the water, check here.

We got on the road to Chambery and we discovered something about the GPS unit. You can set it for shortest path by distance or by time. The unit was set for shortest path by distance so it told us to go up some mountains on some tiny winding roads instead of the big superhighway that went around the mountain! Anyway, we got to see some farmland and even some snow!

We got into downtown Chambery during rush hour and it was thoroughly confusing! Remember Zork? You see twisty passages leading in all directions.

The GPS often lagged behind a bit in refreshing the map thus we got confused as to when to turn and the signal sometimes dropped out because of the taller buildings of the tight urban center. We parked the car in the lot underneath the Palace of Justice.

Here I am at the Palace of Justice. Yes, this Californian was a bit cold!

If you want to read about tourism in Chambery, check out this site.

We met up with my friends Christin and Mike who hosted our stay and cooked up a wonderful meal for us road weary travelers.

We took a walk after dinner.

The most famous landmark in Chambery is probably the Fountain of the Elephants.

It is at the intersection of Boulevard de la Colonne and rue de Boigne which is very close to the Tourism Office.

Why elephants you ask?

It was built in 1838 to honor General de Boigne who was a leading citizen of the city who made his fortune in India which is symbolized by the elephants!

Every city has its old historic church and here it is above.

Travel tips:
* Read the travel guide on how to use a phonecard in a payphone! We got into town and were lost. Thus, we parked the car at the Palace of Justice and tried to call Christin and Mike to let them know we were in town but didn't know where we were relative to where they live. I read the travel guide enough to know one can get a phone card at the tobacco store. What I didn't know was that there were two different phone companies. I picked up the first one I saw on the counter. The cashier unable to speak English was trying to communicate to me about how certain I was about wanting that particular phone card. Eventually, he just got me the other brand. I figured he knew something I didn't! So we went to the phone booth with the phone card and soon got the French equivalent of "you can't complete this call as dialed." We tried all different combinations. Eventually, we asked somebody walking by and he explained how to make a call. Whew!
* The GPS is a neat gadget but in tight crowded city situations it becomes less useful. Also check the mode: plot course by time or by distance! There is always the need to be able to read a map and local signage. Part of the charm of travel is to "get lost" but at times you do want to get to where you want to get to in a reasonable amount of time so a good nose for directions is a good skill to have. Suffice to say, it isn't one I don't have so I should factor in "lost" time in my travel plans!

Happy trails!


Go onward to part VIII.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Emporia, Kansas and Veteran's Day

Dear Kari:

I have always known that Veteran's Day was based on the World War I Armistice Day of the war ending at 11:11 on November 11, 1918.

What I didn't know, until today, when I read USA Today , was that the transition from Armistice Day to Veteran's Day was due to the efforts of the town of Emporia, Kansas.


Page 15A
Emporia's gift to USA: A holiday for heroes

By Gregg Zoroya

Kansas town helped turn a commemoration of one war into a celebration of all who wear the uniform


Honoring military service in this prairie town inspired the nation 50 years ago to rename today Veterans Day. And here, the holiday has all the trappings of a festival.

For years, Nov. 11 had been known as Armistice Day to mark the end of World War I. But in Emporia, a band of veterans, led by a local cobbler who lost a nephew at the Battle of the Bulge, wanted to honor all veterans.

Bill Preston, 83, remembers when he and other World War II veterans were talking in 1953, and Alvin King, the cobbler, suggested changing the holiday's name. “We all thought that it would be a pretty good idea,” Preston says.

The idea soon spread to Congress by a Kansas representative. And in 1954, Armistice Day was renamed nationwide as Veterans Day.

This town of 27,000 is proud of that legacy and is marking the holiday this year with 11 days of tributes that end Sunday. Jeanine McKenna, head of the local visitors bureau, says the holiday is the town's footnote in history — something “we can grasp onto, that is unique, that makes us stand out.”

Each year, The Emporia Gazette publishes a special edition that lists hundreds of veterans, living and dead, from Emporia and surrounding Lyon County. This year's edition has 587 names. The issue also identifies every native son killed in combat going back to Civil War cavalry soldiers. About 2,500 veterans live in the area, says Liz Martell of the visitor’s bureau.

Want to take this moment on our little outpost in the blogosphere to thank all our veterans for their service and sacrifice. People here in the US and in all free lands around the globe where our men and women in uniform have served enjoy the blessings of liberty because of the full measure of your devotion. Thank you and God bless you all.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Spring Break, Part VI - Montreux

Bonjour Kari:

Tuesday March 23, 2004

After our little ski adventure, we drove down to Lake Geneva and the city of Montreux (French speaking part of Swizterland; Bern was in the German speaking part).

While planning for the trip, we found a bed and breakfast lodging place via Specifically, we stayed at a charming B&B up in Glion just up the mountain from Montreux called La Meridienne run by the Sunier's, a retired couple. The house has great views (our weather wasn't so good while we were there but Sunier showed his photo album of amazing vistas from their deck over the years), comfy rooms and delicious breakfast.

As the single guy on this blog, it might be a stretch, but in my opinion, according to my "romance meter," this locale would be a nice vacation spot for married folks. Maybe you and the other half can go and tell me if I'm right? 8-) March was a tad cold though; thus, I'd recommend later in the Spring or in the Summer!

After a brief rest at the B&B, we headed down to the most notible tourist spot just outside Montreux, the Chateau de Chillon.

Here is the view of one of the many big rooms there.

Looking out one of the windows at Lake Geneva you can see it was a chilly day with a bit of rain.

The walking tour has paths up to the towers which defenders would retreat to if the castle walls ever got breached.

The view of the castle on the lake. Doesn't it look like something straight out of a story book?

Besides the castle, the most famous thing is the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summers.

There are walking tours of the town which over the years was a popular hideout for writers, musicians and artists. Alas, we didn't have time to take one of those tours.

Travel tips:
* Switzerland is more cash based than you might expect. We went to dinner and didn't realize the restaurant was cash only. We almost emptied all our pockets of Swiss money to pay for it. Then when we were checking out from the B&B, we found out they were cash only also! Sunier told us we could get to an ATM in town easily and so we did and came back with a wad of Swiss Francs to pay up.


Go to part VII.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Spring Break, Part V - Blatten-Lotschental

Yoddle-yeah-he-hoo Kari:

I didn't hear anyone yoddle but I figure that is the best way to introduce part V of my vacation sooooo many months ago.

Monday March 22, 2004

We bid Michele farewell with thanks and hit the road from Bern and drove south to Kandersteg.

Here is a photo on that route.

At Kandersteg we caught the car-train.

Yup, you drive the car onto a train and the train goes into the mountain tunnel and comes out the other side in Goppenstein.

Image source:
Be sure to check out for information.

From there we drove east in the Loetschental Valley. In that valley there are a number of little villages where the hotels are. Ours was at the far east end in Blatten.

The Hotel Breithorn was almost empty as we were there on a weekday. The inn staffer who met us didn't speak any English but with our three Asian looking faces and a reservation under my surname filed via the internet, she got the keys for us without much hassel.

After dropping off our stuff, we headed back toward the tram lift to the ski area. The ticket sales-lady spoke German only but it was pretty obvious what we wanted to buy was a ticket for the tram. It took a little while for us to communicate to her we also wanted to know what time was the last tram coming off the mountain.

The weather wasn't great. Clouds were rolling in but there were moments where we saw beautiful patches of blue.

We rented skis and paid for ski lessons and we were off on the ski lift to the lowest drop off point. As my skis dangled, I started to remember that I have a slight fear of heights!

There are no photos of my skiing. In a phrase, imagine cartwheeling down the mountain. Well, okay, maybe not quite cartwheeling but certainly falling down the side of the mountain. I fell forward, sideways left, sideways right, on my back... multiple times. I was on the beginner's slope and took 90 minutes to fall my way all the way back to the beginning. Fortunately, I didn't break anything on the way down but in one of my tumbles I strained the muscles in the left side of my rib cage. The rest of the trip, it would be a painful reminder of my little "ski" adventure!

After surviving my first ever attempt at skiing, we went back to the hotel and roamed around the village of Blatten.

As a photographer, I'm often chasing sunsets. The sun goes down in the West but sometimes, look East to see what shows up.

Ordering dinner was interesting. The folks at the restaurant barely spoke English. The menu was in French. The owner was Italian. And I think the waitress spoke some German. Anyway, we managed to order some food. Afterall, how hard can it be? If we were in China, who knows what they might bring out! But at this restaurant it was apparent the items on the menu was various pizzas, pastas, salads and some egg-cheese specialties. So we took the plunge and ordered and awaited what would come out!

The owner explained they used cheese made locally. Thus, we figured the other source of income besides the ski crowd is from farm products. We have this image of Swiss cows roaming the countryside. Well, I bet in the spring and summer, that is exactly what happens!

Travel tip:

* Enjoy taking risks but within reason!

I was clearly overly optimistic about my ability to figure out skiing in 90 minutes of lessons. Nonetheless, as embarrassing and painful as it was, I'm glad I tried. In the end, the conditions were not great for a novice. The snow was rather icy. It started snowing thus the sky looked white and the ground looked white and I felt like I was inside a lightbulb which contributed to a sense of disorientation. And finally, it seemed rather steep for a beginner's section of the ski run. However, I can say I "skied" in the Alps! Okay, truth is, I stumbled down the Alps while wearing skis.

* English in not spoken everywhere yet
I am not surprised that there are still places in the world where English is still more or less unknown. However, I was surprised that in Switzerland, a throughly modern country, we found a place where English was little used. As we walked around Blatten, we realized this place was pretty remote. There are other ski resorts much more famous and thus with many more English-speaking visitors. I suspect this resort is still not that well known outside the local Swiss.

Take care and be well,

Go to Part VI

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Spring Break, Part IV - Bern and Murten

Hello Kari:

A while back I started to share about my "spring break" vacation to Switzerland and France. I didn't quite finish up that bit of vacation-photo-blogging.

Here are the links to part I, part II, and part III.

Sunday 21 March 2004

Since we were staying with my friend in Bern in the old town section, parking was an issue. We had to get up in the morning to feed the meter. While up that early Sunday morning, we decided to take our rental car for a spin around the neighborhood. When we saw the bend in the river and the bridge to the old town section, we had to stop to take these photos.

One running joke we had with our host Michele was her observation that the Swiss are law-abiding sedate people. Oddly enough, on Saturday night as we were winding down our dinner, we heard noise from outside. We looked out the window to see a protest march! Suffice to say, that provided all the incentive we needed to teasingly question her view of the Swiss.

Anyway, that night, young people were shouting, waving signs and carrying on about fascism and globalization! Beer bottles were broken, one fight broke out and stickers were pasted onto the windows of the local businesses and the cars on the street. Anyway, that little "civil disturbance" certainly added to the night's conversation.

On Sunday, we stopped for some picture taking and I left the camera bag at a bench. We drove off and I forgot all about it until 30 minutes later. We drove back and being used to crime in America, I wasn't too hopeful about finding the bag with the lens in it. Michele assured us the honest Swiss would not run off with it. Indeed, her assessment proved correct when we pulled up to the bench and I found the bag with the lens. Whew! It was a borrowed lens!

Later that day, we took a short road trip to the nearby town of Murten. We browsed the various little shops. It was a little cold so we eventually made our obligatory stop for afternoon hot chocolate as we did the day before at Thun Lake. We finished our visit to Murten buying some items for that night's after dinner dessert.

One bit of fun I had with Michele was trying to "speak" German to her. I saw a sign at one of the fancy places (they are castles or mansions of the old wealth and royalty) near the river on the edge of Murran. The sign was all in German. Unfortunately, I only took one year of German (eons ago in high school) and had long forgotten all of it. Nonetheless, I took to "reading" the sign and tried to pronounce the best I could what I "read." Michele then would translate into English based on my attempted pronounciation. It actually worked!

Travel tip:
* Swiss do love their chocolate. In the market, the chocolate section is much larger than in the USA. The dark ones have the highest percent of cocoa. It is usually indicated on the label. I'm told the better brands have the chocolate wrapped in foil rather than wax paper. Also, I discovered liquor filled chocolates. Being Asian with low tolerance for alcohol, I should only enjoy a few small pieces!
* Languages: French, German and Italian. Since Switzerland shares borders with those countries, all three languages are used. English is pretty widely spoken in the cities; nonetheless, it is always good to have phrasebook handy just in case. Michele knows German so we were fine. The following two days we were on our own and it was a bit more challenging to be on our own and mono-lingual!

Stay tuned for more from my "Spring Break 2004" holiday!

Happy travels,

go to part V