Hiking in Cinque Terre

After a lot of questions, concerns, and research aka blood, sweat, and tears online, we decided to stay in Manarola during our Cinque Terre trip. Literally meaning “five lands,” Cinque Terre is comprised of five towns: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.

The town we stayed in is only important because of its hiking accessibility – or, inaccessibility. In 2011 Cinque Terre experienced a terrible flood and the area still hasn’t fully recovered. The towns have been rebuilt and many of the trails as well, but the two main trails leading out of Manarola – to Corniglia in the north and Riomaggiore in the south – have yet to be finished.

This was a concern of ours, but also a draw. We hoped it might mean that Manarola would be quieter, a little less touristed and we were right: It ended up being our favorite town.

And just because the main trails are closed, it doesn’t mean you can’t hike out of Manarola at all. There are still inland trails you can take up to Volastra and then to Corniglia. The key word in that sentence being “up.”

The two main trails leading out of Manarola used to be the easiest hikes in Cinque Terre, everything that’s left is a little more intense. I say that at the beginning of this post because I did a lot of hiking in Switzerland this summer – and most of it in my sandals – but these trails aren’t as well maintained. And while I successfully completed all our hikes in Cinque Terre, I definitely should have traded my sandals in for my converse.

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Our hike began with a train ride from Manarola to Corniglia. We wanted to do the two traditional trails that are currently open – the one between Corniglia and Vernazza, follwed by Vernazza to Monterosso.

Trains are easy in Cinque Terre in the sense that you can combine your National Park pass with a train pass. For 29 euros a person, we had access to all the paths, trains, buses, and bathrooms between Levanto and La Spezia – for two days.

The first thing you do upon arriving in Corniglia is make your way to the stairs that lead you up into the town. It wasn’t until our second day that we realized that just outside the train station is a bus that takes you to and from the town as well! But since this was the beginning of our hike, I’m glad I didn’t know about the bus.

The first thing we noticed on the staircase was how lovely everything looked below – plus we could see Manarola in the distance!

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We arrived at the top – already sweaty, thanks to the heat! And quickly found the markers that we would be following for the rest of the day:

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Instead of signs, the paths in Cinque Terre are marked with intermittent paint along the way. After a few false starts, we were out of Corniglia and on our way to Vernazza.

Parts of the trails reminded us of Switzerland. Especially walking through the terraced vineyards (Cinque Terre has their own DOC wine) and the provincial lifestyle we encountered.

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Obviously, Cinque Terre is famous for the towns’ colored façades. But we had no idea how luxuriously rich and varied the landscape would be. It felt like a verifiable jungle at times.

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Memorable Swiss Moments

It’s hard to believe our second summer in Switzerland is over. We’ve done so many incredible things: Hiking through the terraced vineyards of Lavaux; visiting Château de Chillon – the Little Mermaid castle; learning the truth about cheese in Gruyères; relaxing in Lucerne; horseback riding in Leysin; visiting Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn Mountain; wine tasting in Sierre & Salgesch; swimming in Zurich; hiking to mountain fromageries in Leysin. You can catch up on those adventures here.

But there were other, smaller things along the way. Things that may not warrant their own blog post, but certainly deserve an honorable mention.

Things like our neighborhood goats. Chandler passed them every day on his way to and from class. I passed them every time I got groceries or went up to Top Pub for a drink with friends. I saw these guys nearly every day. I’m definitely going to miss them.

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Other things I’m going to miss: Being mistaken for famous people. At the Montreux Jazz Festival, I was asked to sit in and do a “fake” interview. I think they just needed to adjust the lighting for whatever real famous person was on their way.

While sitting there – and chatting it up with a former co-worker’s brother (small world!) – tons of people walked by and took photographs of me…thinking I must be someone famous. Sorry guys, you’ve just taken a photo of a Minnesotan on vacation.

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Chandler also got to be famous for a day when one of his classmates told him that her nieces thought they recognized him as someone from Project Runway. Instead of disabusing them of this notion, their mom decided to encourage them. So they worked up the nerve to come over and ask Chandler for a photo and autograph.

Now, I don’t watch Project Runway, but if anyone wants to tell me which contestant/judge my husband looks like, I’d love to know. (Just look at those smiles!)

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And, of course, jumping back to my previous mention of the Montreux Jazz Festival…seeing First Aid Kit live was incredible. My moment of fame made us miss the opening act, and the main act was so snoozy we left early, but First Aid Kit did not disappoint.

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A Farewell to Cheese: Thanks, Gruyères

If you caught my other Swiss blogs, you’ve had to read about my love of cheese. So it’s no surprise that Chandler and I decided to spend a day in Gruyères, home to…you guessed it: gruyère cheese.

Sweet, yet salty, I prefer my gruyère aged 18 months.

The trains from Leysin to Gruyères can take as little as two hours, but our second train was delayed and our trip ended up taking three instead. It wasn’t all bad news, however, as we got to take the panoramic scenic train instead (at no extra charge!).

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We arrived at the Gruyères train station at 1:00 pm and walked across the street (convenient, right?) to La Maison du Gruyère – aka the cheese factory.

This was supposed to be a place where dreams come true. I was big time bucket-listing in Switzerland (having gone to The Little Mermaid castle the previous weekend) and this cheese factory was no exception.

We paid our entrance fee and picked up our cheese samples (aged six, eight, and ten months), as well as our audio guides. They were in the process of cutting the curd, so we were told to skip ahead to stations 10-13. My life changed at station 12.

Over my audio guide speaker, I was informed that rennet is added approximately 35-40 minutes before the milk sets and then three large wire cutters slowly slice the curd up into small particles (what we were seeing happen).

Now, I had heard of rennet before – vaguely – and knew it was something I didn’t want to know more about, but I thought it referred to the rinds of certain kinds of cheese. I was wrong.

The Gruyère cheese factory was more than happy to educate me on the origin of rennet: a natural enzyme extracted from the stomach of calves. Butchered calves. As in, no longer living calves.

The enzymes (rennet) are then mixed into the milk and cause it to coagulate.

Mind and heart blown – simultaneously. Every time I eat cheese, I’m eating calf stomach. And I call myself a vegetarian. Needless to say, my stomach started rumbling from my cheese samples (the mind is a powerful thing!) and I quickly began to realize what I would be giving up.

Now, luckily, not all cheese is made with animal rennet. Mozarella is usually safe to eat. So is ricotta, paneer, halloumi, and cottage cheese. Many companies have switched from using animal rennet to using rennet made from plants, fungi, or microbes. In fact, due to a meat scare in the 1970s, 90% of cheese from the UK is vegetarian. And tons of American brands have vegetarian-friendly cheese as well.

The problem is, many European cheeses are protected aka they’ve remained old school. Which means, according to European Union law, parmesan must contain animal rennet in order to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano. And many other cheeses follow suit: manchego, emmenthaler, pecorino romano, gorgonzola, mimolette, and camembert, to name a few.

If we lived in the United States, this knowledge would be heartbreaking, but manageable. Many grocery stores, like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and even Aldi are specific when labeling their cheeses and are careful to differentiate between the different types of rennet.

I can only hope we have some luck with that when we return to Accra in August.

For those in the states, I’ve had some luck finding vegetarian cheese brands on this site.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to gruyère cheese and many others.

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Luckily, however, that wasn’t the end of our day. We still had four hours left to explore the town of Gruyères itself.

A traditional medieval town, with a population of just over 2,000, it made a valiant attempt to distract me from my previous disappointments. After a lunch overlooking the hillside – with frequent interruptions by local alpine horn players – we were ready to see what else the town had to offer.

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Little Mermaid for a Day: Château de Chillon

The Château de Chillon is a famous castle in Switzerland. Located just outside of Montreux, the first written record of its existence is in 1150. At the time, it was controlled by the Counts of Savoy.

In 1536, it was conquered by the Bernese, who later abandoned it for “comfier” lodgings.

It became the property of the Canton of Vaud upon its foundation in 1803.

The castle is perhaps best known for the visit Lord Byron paid in 1816 and the resulting poem, The Prisoner of Chillon, inspired by inmate François Bonivard (1496-1570).

But I didn’t care about any of that.

Disney used it as the inspiration for Prince Eric’s Castle in The Little Mermaid.

And because The Little Mermaid was my favorite childhood film (and if you put me on the spot, I’d say it still is), visiting this castle has been a lifelong goal of mine – if by lifelong goal, I’m allowed to mean since I found out about the castle last summer.

Meaning, I wanted to stretch out our arrival and time there to the longest amount of time possible.

We took the train into Montreux, and from there you can take the local S-Bahn train, a boat, a bus, or, my preferred method, on foot. Four kilometers from Montreux (45 minutes), you can follow a lake-side “flower path” the whole way to the castle.

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Beautiful weather and stunning scenery – this definitely felt like the right way to travel.

Despite the castle’s famous interior, my favorite views were of the outer defenses, the inner courtyards, and the underground (where François Bonivard was imprisoned and where they now make their own wine!).

Only the castle’s exterior was used in The Little Mermaid.

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We extended our time at the castle by buying a bottle of Clos de Chillon and enjoying it in the nearby park. We also wandered a ways past the castle, toward Villeneuve to get the true Little Mermaid angle.

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Hiking in the Vineyards of Lavaux

This summer we’re back in Leysin and, just like last summer, I’m marvelling at how this is our life. Because, as if spending the summer up in gorgeous Swiss mountains isn’t enough, we also get to go on incredible weekend getaways like hiking through the vineyards of Lavaux.

Last summer we hiked through the vineyards between Sierre & Salgesch and, while the vineyards were stunning, we drank no wine until we finished our nearly three-hour long hike.

This year’s hike was significantly different.

For starters, the terraced vineyards of Lavaux are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is one of the best-known wine producing regions of Switzerland. The vineyards stretch from Montreux to Lausanne, but one of the best known paths runs from St. Saphorin on the lake level and Chexbres in the hills. Another famous path follows Lake Geneva from St. Saphorin to Lutry.

We decided to combine the two for views both at lake-level and up in the hills. The hike up to Chexbres from St. Saphorin is only 30 minutes and from there it’s about two hours to Lutry. Local trains run throughout this area as well, meaning you can hop on and off whenever you want. But with views like these, why would you get on a train?

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And while Google Maps will tell you your hike only takes 2 1/2 hours (and technically they’re correct), the biggest difference between this summer’s hike and last year’s is the wine! Because, along the way you pass through other small towns as well: Epesses, Riex, Villette, and Chatelard.

And each town has its own charm, history, and designated wines.

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Relaxing in Lucerne

I don’t have a lot to say about Lucerne. We didn’t do much there. That was the point.

After two weeks of sightseeing and restaurant hopping in Germany, we needed to rest before Chandler started his final four weeks of grad school.

We spent nearly three days in Lucerne and the list of what we did is pretty short. And most of it was focused around the lake.

Initially, we had this big idea that we’d take the Golden Round Trip up to Mt. Pilatus and spend a day up in the mountains – before reminding ourselves that we’d be in the mountains the whole month we’d be in Leysin.

So we re-evaluated and decided to keep things simple.

First, we spent a decent amount of time in our hotel. One of only two hotels we’re staying at during our European summer (compared to the five Airbnbs), it was really nice and came with a lot of bonuses – gorgeous postcards, free bus passes, free wifi codes in the city center, and this stunning breakfast buffet every morning:

We definitely give Hotel Beau Séjour five out of five stars.

And when we did get out, it was mostly to go on casual strolls. Old Town was charming (even if it was mostly shops), there’s a lovely local basilica, a chocolatier that sells unique flavors and delicious ice creams, tons of wildlife (okay, swans & ducks), shaded benches, and flowered paths around the lake.

There’s a brewery (that serves great wine too! Thanks, Switzerland), and a cheese shop that I no joke bought eight cheeses at.

Relaxation became our middle names.

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And, of course, we did what everyone comes to Lucerne to do…we photographed and crossed the Chapel Bridge. Lovely year round, the photographs don’t do the flower baskets justice.

We also went to the smaller bridge at the end of Old Town, because yes, I’m obsessed with bridges. These did not disappoint.

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Brewhouses in Munich

We all make mistakes, right? Well, after visiting eight museums in Berlin, we were a little museumed out.

However, Munich is home to the Pinakothek der Moderne, one of the world’s largest museums for modern and contemporary art. And since Chandler loves modern art – and we rarely get a chance to see any – it seemed like something we should do.

Also, in Munich, most museums only cost one euro on Sundays and we just happened to be arriving on a Sunday.

The problem is, instead of heading over to the Pinakothek der Moderne, we accidentally made our way to the Neue Pinakothek. We paid our two euros, put our jackets in a cubby, and walked right on up to one of Monet’s Water Lilies.

It didn’t take us much longer to realize we had ended up in the wrong museum. You see, Neue Pinakothek doesn’t house any modern art. Instead, it is one of the most important museums of nineteenth century art in the world.

And did you know that Munich is home to a third Pinakothek? The Alte Pinakothek, one of the oldest galleries in the world, it houses one of the most famous collections of Old Master paintings. Confusing, I know.

Chandler was a good sport about it and while we didn’t spend more than half-an-hour at the museum, we did get to see another of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

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Turns out he painted a total of seven vases with sunflowers. One was destroyed by a fire during WWII, leaving six. It didn’t take long to calculate the fact that I’ve already seen three of them.

One at the National Gallery in London, one at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and now one at the Neue Pinakothek in Munich. The fourth is owned by a private collector, meaning there are only two left in the world that I haven’t seen. One at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the other at the Sompo Japan Museum of Art.

So our mistake of going to the Neue Pinakothek turned into a new life goal: See all of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in person!

This all happened within the first two hours of being in Munich, so we decided to do one thing we couldn’t possibly mess up before going to dinner that night.

We read Atlas Obscura’s “18 Cool and Unusual Things to Do in Munich,” and we found ourselves at Umschreibung: The Stairway to Nowhere.

Created in 2004, Danish artist Olafur Eliasson’s sculpture is oddly enough located in the courtyard of an office building:

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Metro stops away from anything else worth doing, it was a surprisingly fun thing to do.

The next day we set off to finish our Munich bucket list: Asam Church (another hit from Atlas Obscura), Neues Rathaus (town hall), Marienplatz (central square), St. Peter’s Church (great views), Viktualienmarkt (permanent food market), and Hofbräuhaus (beer hall).

And…we were done by noon.

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