Skip the Matterhorn and go to Sierre instead

After last week’s hiatus on writing about our European summer (but seriously, have you read Lindy West’s Shrill already???), I’m back and ready for one final post about Switzerland.

For our last full weekend in Leysin, we decided to get out of town for a day. We still had one more “free” day left on our Eurail passes and we were trying to decide what to do. We had heard of a wine trail that led from Sierre to Salgesch and thought a walk through vineyards would be a lovely way to spend some time.

Pretty soon there was a whole group of us from Chandler’s grad program and our casual wine tasting turned into an action packed day – complete with a trip to Zermatt to see the famous Matterhorn.

We were told that on Saturdays, many of the wine tasting caves close by 12:00 or 2:00 pm (not even open for dinner? Disappointing) so we decided to start the day in Sierre, hike up to Salgesch, and then take the train to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn in the evening.

Now, I do have to admit, these wine caves are fickle. Because we arrived in Sierre around 8:30, had a light breakfast, and then learned that the caves in town didn’t open until 10:00. Meaning some were only open for two to four hours.

We didn’t want to wait around for an hour, so we decided to start on our hike – there had to be plenty of wine along the way, right?

The hike got off to an incredibly breathtaking start:

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You could just imagine how good that wine was going to taste! Unfortunately, a quick stop in the Sierre tourist office informed us that while there are drinking caves on both sides of the hike, most of the vineyards along the trail don’t offer tastings.

That was ok, the hike was estimated at an hour’s time and then we’d be tasting away. And once again, the stunning views were plenty distracting:

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The thing was, one hour was slowly turning into two and there was still nothing other than grapes in sight. At one point, we were fairly certain they were even taunting us. Then, amazingly, around the next bend we saw winery with a sign advertising tastings.

The ten of us broke into cheers and made our way off the trail and over to it. Somewhere along the trail we had switched over from the French-speaking part of Switzerland into the German-speaking part. Luckily, one of our international teachers had taught in Germany a few years back.

She rang the buzzer and through the intercom was informed that yes, the owner was here, and yes, according to the hours listed the winery was open. However, as it was, he was upstairs and didn’t want to make his way downstairs. The winery would not be open today.

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Shrill: Notes from a loud woman

If you have a vagina, you should read this book. Also, if you have a penis, you should read this book. If you have something in between or have added or subtracted to it, you should also read this book.

Because this is a book that everyone should read. Shrill: Notes from a loud woman by Lindy West.

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As an American, my country embarrasses me. I left the United States 13 months ago and while I should have seen this coming, I lived in my own privileged bubble. And now, it appalls me. And I hate to admit it, but I’m glad I’m gone. I know it was the easy way out. Which makes this book and the conversations Lindy West is having all the more important.

Instead of trying to review this book and tell you what I loved and why I loved it, I’m merely going to let Lindy’s words speak for themselves. And while I think these excerpts are powerful in and of themselves, putting them in the context of the book in its entirety makes them breathtaking.

On being fat:

“So what do you do when you’re too big, in a world where bigness is cast not only as aesthetically objectionable, but also as a moral failing? You fold yourself up like origami, you make yourself smaller in other ways, you take up less space with your personality, since you can’t with your body.”

“If you really want change to happen, if you really want to ‘help’ fat people, you need to understand that shaming an already-shamed population is, well, shameful.”

“As a woman, my body is scrutinized, policed, and treated as a public commodity. As a fat woman, my body is also lampooned, openly reviled, and associated with moral and intellectual failure. My body limits my job prospects, access to medical care and fair trails, and—the one thing Hollywood movies and Internet trolls most agree on—my ability to be loved.”

On being a woman:

“Women matter. Women are half of us. When you raise every woman to believe that we are insignificant, that we are broken, that we are sick, that the only cure is starvation and restraint and smallness; when you pit women against one another, keep us shackled by shame and hunger, obsessing over our flaws rather than our power and potential; when you leverage all of that to sap our money and our time—that moves the rudder of the world, it steers humanity toward conservatism and walls and the narrow interests of men, and it keeps us adrift in waters where women’s safety and humanity are secondary to men’s pleasure and convenience.”

“The most significant source of my adolescent period anxiety was the fact that, in America in 2016 (and far more so in 1993), acknowledging the completely normal and mundane function of most uteruses is still taboo…The taboo is so strong that while we’ve all seen swimming pools of blood shed in horror movies and action movies and even on the news, when a woman ran the 2015 London Marathon without a tampon, photos of blood spotting her running gear made the social media rounds to near universal disgust. The blood is the same—the only difference is where it’s coming from. The disgust is at women’s natural bodies, not at blood itself.”

“My abortion was a normal medical procedure that got tangled up in my bad relationship, my internalized fatphobia, my fear of adulthood, my discomfort with talking about sex; and one that, because of our culture’s obsession with punishing female sexuality and shackling women to the nursery and the kitchen, I was socialized to approach with shame and describe only in whispers. But the procedure itself was the easiest part. Not being able to have one would have been the real trauma.”

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On How to be Swiss in Zurich

I can’t believe how far behind I’ve gotten on these summer posts! It seems like once again school starts and everything else falls to the wayside. Perhaps my next few posts should be less chatty and more photo-filled. We all know a picture’s worth…

A few weeks into our time in Leysin we popped up to Zurich for a fast weekend. We didn’t have much time…Chandler had classes until early evening on Friday and had to be back by 8:30 am Monday morning.

But we already had our Eurail passes and I had a friend from high school living there whom I hadn’t seen in four years – our last sighting being happenstance when we were both vacationing in Rome, summer of 2013.

We made it to Zurich shortly before sunset and my friend’s incredibly kind husband met us at the train station and took us up to a viewpoint:

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It was a great introduction to the surprisingly small city and then we went for drinks, walking through Old Town along the way.

Instead of an up at ’em Saturday morning, we did something we hadn’t done since we started our European adventure: we slept in. And it was glorious.

My friend offered to walk us around the city, and after a quick train ride, our tour began. We saw more viewpoints (these ones filled with ingenuitive pigeons):

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And wandered along the banks of the river:

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Past churches with amusement parks set up right outside their front doors:

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And all the way down to the lake:

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We picked up some especially good chocolate along the way and ate it while soaking up the view (and the fresh air that we still couldn’t get enough of).

The whole day we had been contemplating a swim. The day was a bit warm by Swiss standards (though not nearly as hot as it had been in Paris), but we also had a time limit. Krystle had to get back for a performance that evening and Chandler and I had dinner plans at Hitl, supposedly the oldest vegetarian restaurant, open since 1898.

But, when you’re in Switzerland…

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Vegetarians eat ham, right?

Moving on from Paris, we made our way to Leysin via train. Now I have to say, trains are my favorite way to travel…to most places. We did take a pretty terrifying sleeper train from Hanoi to Dong Hoi back in 2014 on our way to Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in Vietnam. I’m pretty sure I shared a bunk with a rat – a top bunk that I somehow got placed in even after paying the upgrade for the bottom bunk. So that train sucked.

But European trains are incredible. Especially when traveling first class, something we were forced to do when purchasing our Eurail passes. At the time, we thought the train passes were a little pricey – $812 for both of us to take trains on 5 separate days anywhere in France, Switzerland, and Italy (next year it will be $900, because I’ll be 28 and no longer considered a European “youth”).

After that initial fee, anytime you travel between countries you have to pay a reservation fee of $20-$50, it was starting to feel ridiculous. Until we traveled round-trip from Leysin to Zurich and learned that those tickets alone would have cost almost $800. That was when we realized that Eurail is actually quite reasonable! But more on that in my next post.

First things first, we settled into life in Leysin. Chandler had grad school classes Monday-Friday, usually from 8:30-5:00, with homework half the nights during the week. Needless to say, we didn’t see a lot of each other.

While he was gone, I was in my Swiss paradise. An Airbnb that was nice & cozy with a great view of the mountains.

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But as lovely as the apartment was, I didn’t want to spend all of my time there. Our first full weekend in Leysin (after Chandler’s first week of classes), a colleague from our school in Accra was in town on her way to the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Another colleague from Accra was also in the program with Chandler and so the four of us set off on a morning hike.

Lazy things that we are, we took the cable car to the mountain peak and planned a hike that wound around and back down. I should also probably admit that the route was chosen very specifically because it passed a fromagerie that we had every intention of stopping in when we came across it.

The views from the top were stunning, but a bit limited due to the fog/clouds that surrounded us during our hike. That said, it made the temperature quite enjoyable for the four hours we spent strolling along.

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We finally made it to the fromagerie about two hours in and were pretty hungry. We looked at their chalkboard menu and one thing stood out: Fondue. But no matter what we said, they wouldn’t serve it to us.

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Museum + Cheese = Our Final Day In Paris

Once again wanting to get the most out of our time in Paris (can you sense a reoccurring theme here?), we were up bright at early. Not quite as bright and early as the previous day (since we were aware nothing would be open), we arrived at Le Pain Quotidien at 8 am for breakfast. Why this place doesn’t have rave reviews baffles me, it’s the best breakfast place I’ve seen in Paris!

Then we were off to the Louvre. I know I said in my last post that I prefer the Musée d’Orsay, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still blown away by the Louvre.

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I can stare at statures for days (in fact I have a couple on my list to check out in Rome next week at Villa Borghese). My favorite Louvre statue is Amor and Psyche by Antonio Canova. I can’t get over how tenderly the lovers hold each other. I think about seven minutes into my stare-a-thon, Chandler pulled me away so we could look at other things. Don’t worry, I returned numerous times throughout the day!

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We also made our way to another favorite of mine (and everyone else’s) the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Despite having seen this statue before, I didn’t quite realize how old it was. Constructed around the 2nd century BC it’s not surprising that she’s headless and armless. However, there’s still so much beauty in what’s left.

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Not nearly done with my statue quota for the day we meandered over to the French galleries. Many of the pieces are more modern recreations of Italian styles and they don’t quite impress me as much, but the lighting and design of the space is spectacular.

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At this point, however, Chandler needed a break from my statues. And luckily, the Islamic Art gallery had opened. This addition didn’t exist during my last visit in 2010, and it is an incredible inclusion to the museum. Plus, for whatever reason, the gallery was nearly empty of visitors.

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Paris: Uninhibited, but not romantic

I’ve been to Paris twice now and I just have to ask, why does everyone find this city so damn romantic? I have to say, I don’t get it. Now don’t get me wrong, both times I definitely enjoyed myself (July 2010 and June 2017); Paris is an incredibly fun city. It just doesn’t make me swoon.

And I can even say that I’ve experienced it in very different ways: the first time I went, I was studying abroad in Rome and I went to spend an extended weekend with a friend who happened to be studying abroad in Paris at the time.

I was in college, I was single, and I was poor. We ate crepes and spent hours at Notre Dame. I ate the one vegetarian option at each restaurant we went to, because in 2010, Paris wasn’t exactly vegetarian friendly. We walked through the red-light district for the required Moulin Rouge pic. I went to the Opera House and the Louvre while she was in class and I was skipping my own. I slept in her dorm room because I couldn’t afford my own place. We went dancing at clubs until hours I can no longer stay up for. I made the trek up to Sacre Coeur and got to behold the most romantic city in the world a metropolitan city.

Skip ahead seven years. My husband and I have well-paying international jobs with a seven-week summer vacation to fill. We wanted to visit friends in London and then take the train to Leysin where we’d spend the bulk of our summer. Who wouldn’t want to stop in Paris on the way for a few days of baguettes, wine, cheese, and, of course, shopping? Especially now that I could afford to see Paris with a different bank account!

Ever the Millenials, we ignored the high prices of hotels and opted for an Airbnb. Late to the game, this was the first Airbnb we’d stayed in just the two of us – our actual first Airbnb was in São Tomé this spring when we rented a place with two coworkers and some family.

There was some pretty hilarious confusion (or at least we thought so) during check-in. Our host had left the building fob for us to find and as I was in the lobby looking for it, a couple asked us if we were staying at the Airbnb on the fourth floor. Well guess what? We were. So they handed us the key fob for the building and a key. We got to our room and found our separate key hidden where expected and assumed the one on the fob was also for the front of the building.

We went out for lunch (Chipotle, Chandler’s last chance at it), a wine shop, and I experienced my first Parisian shopping moment (having been way too poor to buy clothes the first time I was there!).

We got back to our Airbnb, showered off (because Paris was experiencing an excruciating heat wave) and while Chandler was still in his towel, we got a knock on our door. It was our neighbor, frantically asking if we by chance happened to know where his key was.

Turns out, there was an Airbnb next door to ours and since the apartments don’t have numbers on them, all the renters could ask us was floor number. They had given us the wrong keys! We handed them over to a furious apartment owner – sorry, dude. Not our fault! I then went back down to the lobby and within about 30 seconds more of searching, found our fob still waiting for us. Whoops.

But our cranky neighbor aside, we were seriously enjoying our apartment and the view it provided. We were about three blocks from the Louvre.

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If you want to be a tourist, it was a wonderful part of town to be staying in. If you want a few quiet, relaxing days, I don’t especially recommend it. We loved it. We spent our first afternoon wandering around the neighborhood, eating our London cheese, and drinking our Parisian wine. FYI, if you’re nearby, I heartily recommend stopping by La Derniere Goutte for a nice conversation and a couple great bottles of wine.

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The next day found us up bright and early, grabbing breakfast on the go at the boulangerie around the corner – one of the only things open.

Our plans for the day started with the Sainte-Chapelle cathedral. It’s not too far from Notre Dame, but I hadn’t made my way over on my last visit. At 10 euros it’s a pretty steep price (for only 7 more you have access to all of the Louvre), but the stained glass windows are more than worth it.

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There are 1,113 scenes from the New and Old Testaments depicted across the cathedral’s 15 windows, each of which are 15 meters high.

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When You’ve Seen the Sites, You Shop

After our time in the countryside, we came back to London well-rested and ready for our final two days. We started the day with a stroll through Kensington Gardens (for real – London puts all other cities to shame when it comes to green spaces).

We made our way to the Peter Pan Statue – because what child (or adult!) doesn’t love the story about never having to grow up. The statue was commissioned by JM Barrie himself and apparently if you scan the plaque with your smartphone, you get a call from Peter Pan. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn that odd fact until after we left – so I can’t tell you what the call is like!

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After we left the gardens we made our way to the National Gallery. This time, we paid attention to opening times and didn’t have to kill time with a second breakfast! The National Gallery is much smaller than the British Museum, so we spent probably an hour to hour-and-a-half inside.

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After spending way too much time in the religious artwork areas, we made our way to what we were actually interested in: the Impressionists. The museum has a good number of Degas paintings, including this one I hadn’t seen before:

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It ended up being one of my favorite viewings. Much more interesting than this horse that always captures everyone’s attention:

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I’d really love for someone to share the appeal with me…I’d rather see a live horse – something I’ve gotten to do a lot of since arriving in Leysin, but I’ll save that for a later post.

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