Bonjour de la Suisse

Hello from Switzerland! ~~ The adventures of a California girl who got married to a great guy, G, and traded in her old life for the chance to live in a foreign land and live the expat life for a couple years. We live in Geneva, Switzerland with our globe-trotting cat, Scout.

Ma photo
Nom :
Lieu : California, United States

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." ~ G.K. Chesterton

dimanche, février 26, 2006

Passion Lives Here! XX Winter Olympic Games, Torino 2006


The long driveway up to our villa in Alba

Curling action - Canada vs. Japan

Kofi, Sarah, Debbie & Gary at Curling

With Gliz & Neve, the official Olympic mascots!

Apolo Ohno & the Koreans battling it out in Short Track Speed Skating

At the Palavela, home of Short Track and Ice Skating

Switzerland vs. Germany

Kofi & Sarah root on Team Switzerland at Ice Hockey

Hop Schweiz! Debbie & Sarah live on Eurosport!

The Freestyle venue before the storm hit

Our seats at the Freestyle event during the storm

Almost to the car!

We made it!

There comes a day ever two years that always gets me a little down, and today is the day. No, it isn't an anniversary of some tragic event or a reminder of a terrible day in history. Today is the closing ceremonies of another Olympic Games, and the beginning of my Olympic withdrawls. I really can't get enough of the Olympics, and this year was the best yet, because we were actually there! And when we weren't there, we were glued to Eurosport which has kept us up to date with live coverage 24/7 for the past two weeks.

So, last I left you Sarah, Kofi, Gary & I were driving from the ski chalet in Switzerland to Italy to join in the Olympic festivities. We had reservations at a little B&B in the tiny town of Alba, Italy which is about 45 minutes south of Torino. We didn't stay in the city of Torino, because even if we could find a room during the Olympics, they were exorbitantly expensive! Even in Alba, everything was sold out and we had to stay at a different B&B than our friends. The drive from the chalet should have taken about four hours, but because we somehow managed to get lost in Milan at rush hour and then hit tumultuous fog just south of Torino, it took six hours, getting us into town at about midnight.

Once in town we met a mysterious woman named Roberta who had made our hotel arrangements for us. She had been calling Kofi all night to get an estimate of when we would be arriving. We were instructed to meet her at a parking lot on the edge of town and follow her in her yellow convertible up the hill to where we would be staying. As we followed her, I realized that none of us had a clue were we were going, which seemed a little odd, but what the hell, we were in Italy! We were dropped off down a long, dark driveway off a lonely country road at a very large gate. All was quiet. Hello? The gate opened and we found ourselves walking up the rest of the long, dark driveway to a very nice (but slightly scary in the middle of the night) villa in the hills above Alba. (By the way, even though we spent very, very little time here, the villa turned out to be wonderfully charming and one of the nicest places we've stayed in Europe so far.)

The next morning we were off to the XX Olympics in Torino! Our first event was Women's Curling. Yeah, yeah, I know, how exciting can Women's Curling be? Well, it was actually really fun! There are four games going on simultaneously (Canada/Japan, Sweden/Denmark, Switzerland/Russia, & Italy/Great Britain), and a game actually consists of 10 rounds of play. The final score is the total of the 10 rounds, which takes about 2 hours. We were sitting behind some very enthusiastic Canadian fans, who tried to convert Gary by giving him some Canada pins, but our allegiance was with the Swiss (Team USA was out of the competition in dead last place. Maybe in Vancouver ladies!) and Canada was currently getting their butts kicked by Japan. We learned a lot about this old, Scottish sport (which dates back to the 16th century) and we were taught our chant for the weekend: "Hop Schweiz!" This is “Go Switzerland” to the Swiss-Germans in the crowd (Sarah included).

Later that evening we had tickets to Short-Track Speed Skating, but first, we spent the day checking out Torino. There was such a buzz of excitement in the air and we were happy to be basking in the atmosphere of the Olympics. People from all over the world were celebrating in every part of the city, decked out in their country's colors. The whole town had the feel of New Year's, when everyone is partying and having a great time! The motto of these Olympics was "Passion Lives Here!", which was plastered over every inch of the city, and for some reason we thought was very funny, as we pointed to every obscure little corner and said, "Hey... Passion Lives Here!" It was a great day, I loved every minute of the games and everything that came with it!

Our next stop was Speed Skating (at Palavela where all the Ice Skating took place) to see Apolo Ohno defend his title. We were chanting "Go USA!", but our cries were utterly over powered by the ENTIRE section of Korean fans that were completely surrounding us. They were banging on drums, chanting, and waving hundreds of flags, which in the end seemed to work. In both the men's and women’s races the Korean skaters took gold and silver. Next time, I'm going to bring a bigger flag!

Day two and we were headed to Men's Ice Hockey. It was Switzerland vs. Germany. We had a big Swiss flag and were chanting "Hop Schweiz!", it helped that almost 80% of the crowd was also rooting for Switzerland and everyone was going crazy! We had great seats in the front row of the middle section, which I think was why we got our 15 seconds of fame and made it on TV!! Gary's work colleges saw us on Eurosport, which means we were seen all over Europe!! Switzerland tied 2-2 in the end, but this was by far our favorite event!

Next, we drove an hour into the mountains to Sauze d'Oulx to see our last event, Freestyle Skiing, which is basically skiing acrobatics and used to actually be called Hotdog. It was snowing and very cold when we got to the parking lot, but this was the big event we had all been waiting for, so we bundled up and got on the bus that would take us up the hill to the venue. It was snowing harder and much colder at the top, but there was a tent that was selling hot food, so we took refuge and waited an hour for the event to start. At 18:30, just as the competition was supposed to get underway, we got word that it was delayed due to the storm and there would be an update at 20:00.

When I say storm, I mean storm! The snow was absolutely dumping out of the sky and there was no sign of it letting up. Since we had gone into the food tent, it had already snowed several inches and it appeared to be coming down even harder as the minutes ticked by. We decided to head back down the hill (we thought the odds were pretty good that the event would be canceled and we were starting to worry that we wouldn't make it out of the parking lot). I guess every one else had the same idea, because the lines for the bus back down the hill were miles long. The venue holds 8,500 people and we all had to get on a bus and wind down a narrow mountain road to get to our cars below.

We waited in line for an hour and a half in the freezing snow before we finally decided to walk down the mountain. People ahead of us had been packing onto busses, but the Italians running the event failed to put chains on any of the vehicles attempting to get up or down the only road to where we were. By the time chains were put on the busses, the road was hopelessly clogged and was actually shut down. The walk took over and hour, and Sarah, who is six months pregnant, was a real trooper walking down in the dark, in the snow, weaving through stalled cars, busses and thousands of people making the same pilgrimage. Even in the face of this disaster, there was an air of festivities, people singing, blowing horns, and chatting with strangers. It was actually a fun experience, despite the cold.

So, finally, at 10:30pm we made it out of the parking lot and soon, we were headed back to Geneva. We found out later that the event was indeed cancelled and rescheduled for two days later. We were bummed we didn't get the chance to see Freestyle Skiing (it looked amazing on TV), but that just gives us another reason to make it to the 2010 XXI Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver! :)

See you in Vancouver!

lundi, février 20, 2006

The Swiss to the rescue!

Debbie on the mountain

Gary on the slopes

Alpine views

Towering mountains

Sarah wishing us a good day!

Locals on the ski lift

View down the piste from the chalet

Gary at the chalet

On Monday, I took a four hour train ride to Thusis to meet up with our Swiss friends, Sarah & Kofi and some of their friends from London to spend five glorious days in the snow. Gary met up with us Wednesday morning. The ski chalet belongs to Sarah's Aunt & Uncle and is actually situated right on the slopes, just off one of the lower ski runs (or piste, as the Swiss say). So, you park in the resort parking lot and walk for about 10 minutes up the piste (ski run), dodging skiers and snow boarders (thank goodness it was mid-week and not so busy!) The entire resort is dotted with chalets, some of which are pretty high up. We even saw people with loads of stuff going up the lifts!

The ski resort, (Heinzernberg) is located in the tiny high mountain village of Sarn, which is near the slightly larger village of Thusis. The "resort" is small, but bursting with local charm. It is actually run by local farmers (namely Edward and his wife), who use the land for grazing cows that produce milk and cheese during the summer. The pistes are not only dotted with chalets, but also old barns and even a few cows that watch as you ski by. But it is small, so when I first saw the ski map, I was a worried that it wouldn’t be very challenging for me, but I had no idea what I was in for!

The pistes were very long, which means the lifts were long too. The only problem was that there was only one chair lift, and the rest were very long T-bar lifts! How hard could it be? Well, let me start by pointing out that the T-bar was invented before snow boards existed, so they are manageable for skiers, but it is quite a different story for this boarder from California. The bar looks like a giant plastic pick axe that hangs on a retractable tether from the lift. Skiers simply sit on one side and are gently pushed along up the hill. Boarders have to stand with their board facing up the hill and with one foot out of the bindings, you have to grab the bar and put it between your legs so it's hooked behind your front leg. The bar then pulls you, by that one leg, up the hill. Meanwhile, you are desperately trying to keep your balance while you fight to keep the tip of the board on a straight track. It's a little like waterskiing by one leg and riding a bucking bronco, all at the same time.

But all the best slopes are at the top of the T-bar lifts, so I had to master this crazy thing if I wanted to get to the good snow. It didn't help that the T-bar was about 20 exhausting minutes long to get to the top, but I was determined to get there. The first time I made it about 1/2 way up, but it was all down hill from there (no pun intended). I was back on, then fell, back on, fell, back on, fell. The very sweet older man running the lift was trying to give me pointers in German, but I just smiled back and tried my best.

At the end of day one...
T-bar: 7
Debbie: 0
All I had to show for it is was a bruised ego and some huge bruises on both legs, but it was only Tuesday and the week was still young.

The next day I took it easy and started the day a little late. I attempted the T-bar a few more times, but still the top eluded me. On the last try of the day I made it about 3/4 of the way up, which I was happy with, but I had no way to know I fell in the worst place possible. I thought the piste was just to the left of the lift track, through a little deep snow, but still not too far. So, I strapped on my bindings and set off through the deep snow to where I thought the piste was. It was about 3:30 and it was snowing pretty good, which made it very hard to see, but I knew if I just kept going down hill I would be fine.

Gliding over the wonderfully light, fresh powder was amazing, until I fell, and then I realized just how deep the snow was. I went to push myself up only to find that my arm would sink straight down to my shoulder. It took forever to get up again. It was so hard to see the terrain, that I would accidentally get into these little valleys where I had no speed and could only stand on my board and shuffle my weight back and forth, inching forward until I would either pick up a little speed or hopelessly bury my board or fall, all of which was absolutely exhausting. Where in the world was the piste? I was making slow progress down the hill, but soon I found myself in a large, flat valley of waist deep snow, trying to find the path of least resistance to get back to the chalet. I was scared to death to take off my board. The snow was so deep I knew I would never get it back on again.

I struggled in this valley for about an hour when I stared to worry that I may not make it back! It was about 5:30, the lifts closed at 3:45, it was snowing pretty good, it was getting dark and I was completely wiped out. I hadn't seen a single person since I fell off the lift two hours before, so I was surprised to see some people come out of a chalet at the edge of the valley I was stuck in. They were very far away, but they watched me for about 15 minutes and then started to shout to me in German. Finally, in English, the older guy shouts, "You don't have enough speed to make it to the top of the ridge!" Really?!? I was standing on my board, which was about a foot under the snow, not moving an inch. Then he shouts, "Take off your board!" and began to walk in the waist deep snow toward me.

I had been saved!!!

The family from the chalet on the ridge was so nice. They offered me something to drink and we chatted a bit (the dad was the only one who spoke English, so he translated). The daughter of about 14 couldn't believe I was from California (her favorite show is The OC). Soon I made my way back down the mountain and finally was back at our chalet. Sarah said that this was big news for a little village like this and in no time the story of the wayward snow boarder from California will make its way around the mountain and to the village below (where her grandmother lives).

(Chalet on the hill where I was rescued)

The next day, I am happy to report, both Gary and I conquered the T-bar lift and made it to the top of the hill! The sun was out and there was about a foot of new snow on the ground, which made for the best two days of boarding I have ever had. I stopped by the chalet on the hill and delivered a bottle of wine to the family that rescued me as an offer of thanks. They were happy to see I was having a better day and I actually ended up seeing them a few times over the next couple of days we were there.

(View from the top of the T-bar lift)

We really had a wonderful time at the chalet. We had a lot of laughs and ate like kings with plenty of wine and traditional Swiss faire. Everything was home cooked in Swiss-German style with loads of local cheeses, cured meats, breads, sausages, and vegetables. Our favorite meal was Alplermagrone, which is made with noodles, diced cooked potatoes, mixed with grated cheese, garnished with fried onions and serves with cooked apples. Delicious! The last two days were some of the best boarding I have ever had. The snow was perfect and the runs were amazing.

That Friday we headed out to Torino, Italy to be part of the 20th Olympic winter games! This was a whole other adventure which I will update you on when we return from Koln, Germany next weekend.

Next time.... The passion of the Olympic Games in Torino!

~~ Go USA!! ~~ Hop Suisse!! ~~