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, septembre 30, 2007

Ciao Italia!

After wrapping up her work in Basel, Babs was on her way to Geneva to meet up with me and start our trip to Italy! We had a week of fun in the sun planned and a pretty packed agenda... Lugano (which is actually in Switzerland), Lake Como, Cinque Terra, Pisa, and last but not least, Florence! We got an early start Wednesday morning so not to waste a single minute on our grand tour.

Our first stop was Lugano, which I had heard so many good things about. Sitting on the shores of Lake Lugano, this Swiss town has an Italian flavor, but we found that there wasn't too much to see or do once you got through the main shopping streets. We opted for a boat cruise around the lake, but that turned out to be a very cold venture. It was a bit late in the year for capri pants and paddle boating (they looked fun, but they seemed to be tied up for the season), but I really didn't think it would be as cold as it was. The boat was out for about one and a half hours and by the time we got back all I wanted was a hot chocolate and a big bowl of soup! I hate to say it, but after one day I was ready to go, which happily was the plan anyway.

The next morning we were to catch a bus to the town of Menaggio, Italy on Lake Como. The guidebook made it sound easy, only a 12 mile ride and we would be there. When we finally found the bus terminal (which was way harder than it should have been), the lady at the ticket window asked if we had reservations. Uh, no. A phone call was made (while I was sweating bullets... how was I supposed to know we needed reservations for a BUS?!?) and then, after a few long minutes we were given the okay to buy tickets. Sheew - that was close! The funny thing was... when we got on the huge bus there were like four other people on it!!

Our 12 mile bus ride turned into an hour and a half windy hair-pin turn trek over a pretty mountainous region. At one point the bus had to back up for about two blocks up a hill to let a huge truck by. It was a bit nerve-rattling, but we made it. From Menaggio we had to take a boat across Lake Como to the tiny harbor town of Varenna where we were staying. The town was SO cute, but not roller-suitcase friendly with narrow, bumpy stone walkways and lots of very steep steps. It was a struggle to get to the hotel, but we were well rewarded once there. We had a great room overlooking the lake and we had the only room with a balcony!

But we weren't here to hang out at the hotel; we were soon off to explore the beautiful area we were staying in. After a relaxing lake-side lunch (and a much anticipated cappuccino) we hiked about a half hour up the hill from our hotel to the Castle of Vezio (Castello di Vezio). The views of the lake were breathtaking; the day couldn't have been nicer. We were even lucky enough to watch a falconer do his bird of prey training demonstration in the garden of the castle.

For dinner we decided to take the ferry across the lake to the town of Bellagio, the "Pearl of the Lake". This was definitely the most posh town on Lake Como, which made window shopping and people watching fun. Somehow we stumbled across one of the most popular restaurants in town and snagged the last outside table. The food was absolutely delicious and within about a half hour of sitting down, the wait for a table was enormous. At the height, there were over 18 people sitting on the steps outside the restaurant waiting to get in.

But we still had some surprises left that evening. After walking off our dinner we caught the ferry back to Varenna. There weren't very many passengers on the ferry, but we were still surprised when one of the guys who worked on the boat started chatting with us. Soon he invited us up to the bridge where we met the Capitan of the boat. Next thing we know they are teaching us how to drive the ferry across the lake!! It was really cool; we actually drove a good portion of the way back to Varenna. Of course we didn't leave without taking photos with our new friends.

The next day we were headed to Cinque Terra (via Milan) to meet G for a weekend of sun, sea, and sand. We were staying in Monterosso (where J and I stayed last summer), the largest and northern-most town of the five (cinque) villages that make up this area in the Italian Rivera. Even though we were passed the height of the tourist season on the coast, it was still packed with sun worshipers. On our first day we struggled to find a spot to fit all three of us on the public beach, but we were determined to catch some rays and relax (although we were squished between a group of hyper college girls and a boat rental place that kept stealing our sun). But nothing could dampen our mood, even a not-so-good Margarita that Babs ordered at the beach bar (hey, we were in Italy after all!) ;)

Besides the beach, the big draws are the wonderful towns themselves and the best way to explore them is by way of the wonderful 7-mile hiking trail that connects all the villages. The hike takes about 4-5 hours, but of course you have to make time for lunch, shopping, gelato, and a dip in the Mediterranean. The hike was pretty hot, even for this time of the year so we started early, grabbing breakfast in the second town, Vernazza. The hike was fantastic; we ate lunch in Corniglia, had gelato in Manarola, and swam in the sea in Riomaggiore. At the end of the day, we caught the last boat back to our home town (we weren't about to walk back!)

We had earned a well-deserved lazy day at the beach, and that is just what we did all day Sunday. Our train wasn't until almost five in the evening, so we had nothing to do but lounge around and relax. Unfortunately, G had to head back to Geneva, but Babs and I were on our way to Tuscany, and we were staying in the heart of it all in Florence.

There was so much to see and do in Florence itself, but there was also a lot to see in the outlying areas too. About a half hour from Florence is Pisa. While it is a bit touristy, I feel it's a must see for the Field of Miracles (where the Leaning Tower, Cathedral, & Baptistery are located). Unlike on the coast, in Tuscany it was the height of the tourist season, which turned out to be a bit of trouble for us. To climb the Leaning Tower (which no trip to Pisa is complete without), you need a reservation and we couldn't get one until the next day, so we booked it and decided to return then. Back in Florence we went on an evening walking tour (complete with wine tasting) and a great dinner at one of my favorite Florence restaurants (Osteria del Porcellino). We were strolling around town and came across a couple of really good street musicians. We stayed and listened (along with a huge crowd) for about an hour and we even ended up buying their CD.

The next day we were back in Pisa, but not before some daytime Florence sightseeing and shopping. We were staying right by an open air market that sold just about anything you can imagine, very tempting! Back in Pisa we finally got to climb the Tower (you can really feel the 85 degree angle as you climb). We were also treated to a brief musical duo at the Baptistery, which is a huge building that was also built as a musical instrument. A couple of ladies came in, shushed everyone up, and then started singing in the center of the 180-foot tall room. It was amazing, their voices echoed all around and it was lovely, although a bit haunting too. Back in Florence we had another fabulous dinner at another of my favorite restaurants, Trattoria Zà-Zà.

Of all the times I've been to Florence (this is my fifth visit), I have never been out in the Tuscany countryside. So this trip we signed up for "A Perfect Morning in Tuscany" tour that took us to some wonderful little villages (Fiesole & Settignano) in the country around Florence where we hiked to private Renaissance Villas (most beautiful was Villa di Maiano where "A Room with a View" and "Tea with Mussolini" were filmed). We ate lunch overlooking the rolling Tuscany hillsides at Fattoria di Maiano, a villa that specializes in virgin olive oil grown from some of the oldest olive orchards in Italy (of course I came home with a bottle!)

We were set to fly back to Geneva that evening, but there was still time for some more Florence sightseeing and shopping. Babs went to the Accademia to see Michelangelo's David (my favorite sculpture) and I perused the shops. But I was feeling a bit under the weather and by the time we got to the airport I was sick as a dog! It came on so suddenly, but I was happy it was towards the end of Babs’ trip and not at the beginning. We flew on a little Swiss carrier called FlyBaboo, which has a fleet of small planes (our plane sat about 50) and they serve some tasty food for free which is a rarity these days on short-haul flights.

The next day Babs was flying back to California (business class baby!). We spent the morning touring around Geneva and buying last minute gifts for her people back home. At the airport I was impressed with her skills at passport control where she managed to get a Swiss stamp (I've only gotten one in the two years I've been here!) I had such a great time over the last week and a half, but it really flew by!! I couldn't believe it was over so soon. Hopefully there will be another inspection in Switzerland she will have to fly out for in the next few months, before our time here in Europe is through (for now at least).

Old Town Lugano

Having fun at the Castello di Vezio

View of Lake Como from the Castello di Vezio

Eating at one of the most popular restaurants in Bellagio (just before the crowds arrived)

Driving the ferry back to Varenna

Hiking through the Cinque Terra

The view hiking into Vernazza

We found a shady spot (not so good for taking pictures, but good for beating the heat!)

Taking a dip in the Mediterranean

Holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa

On top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Dinner in Florence at Osteria del Porcellino

In one of the oldest olive orchards in Italy

samedi, septembre 29, 2007

Hiking the Swiss Alps (once again!)

I love my old company! Recently my friend Babs, who still works there, got a swanky job that flies her all over the country and even to... Switzerland (where a side perk is seeing me!) So you see, I'm still benefiting from the perks of Gene! :)

Babs DID come here for work, but we definitely made the most of her time off and then, after she was done, we sprinted off to Italy to enjoy the warmer weather (and food, wine, culture, shopping, and everything else Italy has to offer...) But first I was headed to Basel to meet up with her when she arrived in Switzerland.

Her work was centered in the Basel area, so I caught the train and met her when she landed on Thursday afternoon. After checking into her hotel, we walked through town and grabbed a drink on the shores of the river. She had to work Friday, Monday, & Tuesday, so I left her to her work and we planned to meet up Saturday morning for a weekend in the Berner Oberland area of the Swiss Alps.

This was to be the 4th trip to the Interlaken area for me & G, but we absolutely love it there, so we were excited to be heading back with Babs to share with her this beautiful country and to discover some new parts of the Lauterbrunnen Valley. This time we were actually staying at a campground in a 4-person bungalow. It was actually quite comfortable and almost as cheap as sleeping in the barn (but the bonus is a real bed!)

The three of us spent our first day hiking in an area called Schynige Platte. We started at the Alpine flower park, which was less impressive then our guidebook let on, but we did get the chance to see Edelweiss growing in the wild! We soon abandoned the park for some real hiking along a beautiful ridge heading up to Daub Peak, with Lake Brienz on one side and the beauty of the Jungfrau on the other. But once we reached the top, we found ourselves in the middle of a cloud! We waited it out long enough to get some decent pictures of the valleys below before we headed back down.

G and I loved our trip up to the "Top of Europe" so much that we had to take Babs up there too. So bright and early the next morning we were on our way to the Jungfrau and the highest train station in Europe. Soon we were in a wonderland of ice and snow. I was hoping to get a second chance to try out the zip line I had seen up here a few weeks before, but they were taking it down for the season! Oh well, I guess some things are just not meant to be. We walked around and watched some tourists take their turn circling around a small track on a dog sled, which was quite entertaining. The weather couldn't have been better for our high Alps adventure and I think Babs really had a great time... I know I did!

Heading back down to the valley we stopped in the town of Wengen for a picnic lunch before zipping up the Mannlichen cable car for one last hike. Above the Mannlichen lift station we hiked up to the World Heritage sight of the Mannlichen Gipfel (the little peak at 7,500 feet) where the views are arguably the best in the world. The entire Jungfrau mountain range, the Lauterbrunnen Valley, and all of the Interlaken valley. You are literally surrounded on all sides by breathtaking views! It was simply incredible. But it was getting late and we had more on the agenda for the day. Since Babs had to make a transfer in the town of Luzern on her way back to Basel, I figured I would go with her and we could have dinner in the picturesque town of Luzern.

Of course things don't always go as planned. By the time we got to Luzern it was late and we only had a couple of hours to wander around the town and have a little gelato before I had to catch the last train back to Geneva. So, no dinner for us, but Babs really liked Luzern and was so glad we stopped in to have a look. She was now on her way back to Basel and I was on my way to Geneva, or so I thought!

I had a really tight train change in Olton (on my way to Bern where I was to transfer again before getting to Geneva). There was also a track change and with the tight connection I managed to get on the wrong train to Bern, ensuring that I would miss the last train to Geneva by 10 minutes! I was so upset because I was dead tired and just wanted to get home. I called G who arranged a hotel for me in Bern. The guy at the hotel was waiting up for me when I arrived just after 11pm. "You must be the one who missed the train." Yup - That's me!

Eventually I did make it home, no worse for ware, and now I can say I spent the night in Bern! Anyway, it was all worth it for the great weekend we had. Our adventures were not over yet... in just two days, after finishing her work, Babs was set to meet us in Geneva to start the next part of the journey... Italy here we come!

Hiking Schynige Platte

Edelweiss growing in the "wild" (at the Alpine flower park)

The happy hikers

Getting to know the local wildlife

Waking up on the train to the Jungfrau "Top of Europe" (we had a very early start)

Inside the glacier in the Ice Palace at the "Top of Europe"

Outside in the cold at the "Top of Europe"

Which way?

Feeling on top of the world at Mannlichen Gipfel

Chilling out on the edge

The view from the top

jeudi, septembre 27, 2007

118 - Write it on your undies!

You thought Geneva was boring? Well, here is a video promoting emergency service numbers in Switzerland (filmed in Geneva) that features firefighters rapping and dancing. Some are seen shaking their money maker in uniforms, while others are clad in hot pants. The longer you watch, the better it gets. This video is actually shown on television here to get the message out!

In Switzerland, the old directory assistance number was 111 and was recently changed to 1818. Problem is, the fire department's emergency number is 118, (like our 911), so now the emergency services have been receiving hundreds of calls each month from people trying to reach directory assistance (1818). So, what better way to educate the public about the right numbers to dial? That's right... a rap video.

The song is about only using 118 for emergencies. If you need an electrician, call one; if you get locked out, call a locksmith; if your toilet backs up, call a plumber; if you have problems with an animal under 10 kilos, don't call the fire department; but if you have a fire then 118 is the right number to call! At the end, the guy is explaining that regrettably the fire department will be unable to help you with your house burning down because they are so busy dealing with non-emergency calls. So you should "tattoo the number on your underwear" so you won't make a mistake.

"Cent dix-huit, au cas ou tu flippes.
Cent dix-huit, inscrit-le dans ton slip.

English translation:
"118, in case you freak out.
118, write it on your undies.

I absolutely love it! I wish we had done something like this at West Plainfield Fire when I volunteered there!

mardi, septembre 11, 2007

Soaking up the good life in Hungry

Our trip to Budapest nearly ended before it even began. We had planned to visit this capital of Eastern Europe over a long holiday weekend, so when we arrived at the airport and saw that our flight was cancelled I was worried we would be staying home. But by the time we had gotten to the front of the Brussels Airlines customer service line, they already had rebooked us on a flight leavening just an hour later on Lufthansa. Tickets in hand, we were off and running. Now that is customer service.

We landed to cold and rain, but that didn't stop us from getting right out there and start our sightseeing. We stumbled upon an Eastern European landmark, the first McDonald's behind the Iron Curtain. Of course we had to stop in for a snack, how often do you get the chance to eat at such a historical place?!? We wandered around the Pest side of town, taking in the shopping street of Vaci Utca and The Great Market Hall. We strolled back along the banks of the Danube River to a traditional Hungarian restaurant and then we took in a Hungarian folk and dance show.

The next day we continued our sightseeing despite the cold, drizzly weather. In the morning we concentrated on the Buda side of the city. We ascended Castle Hill, visited Matthias Church, stopped at the Fisherman's Bastion, and finally checked out the remains of St. Mary Magdalene Church, which was destroyed in WWII. In the afternoon we were back over on the Pest side where we visited the Great Synagogue, St. Istvan's Basilica, The Hungarian State Opera House, and the House of Terror. That evening, we decided to take a walking tour of the city. To our surprise, we were the only ones on the tour! Our guide was great, at the end she said we would be meeting up with all the people from the Pub Crawl Tour for a few drinks, but surprise... no one showed up for the Pub Crawl! So it was just me, G, and three guides. Needless to say, there were no wild parties that night! ;)

The next day we were headed out of town on a Danube Bend tour which took us to the towns of Esztergom, Visegrad, and Szentendre, after an unexpected stop at a "Diamond Center" where we resisted the hard sell to buy expensive jewelry. The big sight in Esztergom was the Basilica and for us, the views just over the river into Slovakia. In Visegrad we got to explore the Visegrad Citadel, the remains of an old hilltop castle that looks over the river. Our favorite stop was the old town of Szentendre. We loved wandering the picture perfect streets, eating ice cream and doing a little shopping. From Szentendre we took a two hour boat ride back to central Budapest, which brought us right by the Hungarian Parliament Building.

We didn't plan for our last day to be too hectic, but we ended up really packing it in. We started by checking out Heroes' Square, the City Park, and the Zoo (we had a bit of time to kill). We then joined a "Communist Hammer & Sickle Tour" which included a trip to Statue Park, filled with statues of Stalin, Lenin, and other reminisce of the communist era. There was even a Trabant, the communist era's most popular car. Our guide was again great. She had actually lived through the communist years and told us many stories of how life was for her and her family. It was a fantastic tour.

The weather was getting a little better, but it seems that the heavy rains of the past few days were causing the river to swell. On our first day we noticed a measuring stick on the banks of the river and we took pictures of it every day. From day one until we left the river had risen substantially.

By now we were done sightseeing and were looking forward to the highlight of the weekend, relaxing as the locals do in Budapest's famous baths. We decided to go really local and take a dip in the Szechenyi Baths, located in the City Park. At the baths you can rent swimsuits (yikes) and towels. Fortunately I brought my suit and after a little searching (it was September after all), we found one to purchase for G. But we didn't have towels, so we rented them. The towels turned out to be more like sheets, but they did the job just the same. The baths were great... fun and relaxing. There are many different pools to choose from, including one that actually pulls you around in a powerful current. It was the perfect way to end our trip to Budapest, soaking up some good Hungarian living.

G at the first McDonald's behind the Iron Curtain

Hungarian folk dancers

The Chain Bridge at night

On Castle Hill

Danube Bend, looking into Slovakia

G in gallows at the Visegrad Citadel

G souvenir shopping in Szentendre

Cruising in front of the Hungarian Parliament Building

Getting ready to drive off in a Trabant

Statue Park

The Szechenyi Baths

mardi, septembre 04, 2007

Sleeping in the straw at the top of Europe

You would think we have had our fill of Interlaken and the amazing Berner Oberland area of Switzerland. After all, we had been there just a couple weeks before. But this is one of our favorite places in Switzerland, and maybe even the world. I could spend a week there and not get board. Not only is there adventure around every corner (this is where, with Chica, we have gone canyoning, mountain biking, paragliding, and ice climbing), but there are also some of the best hiking trails I have ever been on.

On this trip I was determined to do something I've wanted to do ever since we have moved to Europe and that is to sleep in a barn. Doesn't sound glamorous? Well, G didn't think so either but he was a good sport and accompanied me for a night of "Sleeping in the Straw". If you can believe it, the barn was totally booked for Saturday night, so we made a reservation for Sunday night. That left us with the rest of the weekend to explore the Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounding area.

On Saturday we got in late, but managed to squeeze in a late afternoon hike from Mannlichen to the Kleine Scheidegg train station and caught the last train down to the valley where we were staying. We had an early dinner and got ready for our big day on Sunday - the day we planed to visit the "Top of Europe".

We started at 7am, catching one of the first trains up the mountain. We were headed to the Jungfrau (which means Virgin), the highest peak of a mountain massif of the same name. The other two peaks are the Eiger (or Ogre), and the Mönch (meaning Monk) that sits in between the Jungfrau and the Eiger. (The Monk protects the Virgin from the Ogre). Soon we reached the Jungfraujoch station, the highest train station in Europe.

Up here there is a big complex of tunnels and buildings and even an area you can go out and walk on the snow. Our first stop was an area at the very top called the Sphinx observation terrace which is an amazing 3,571 meters high and has stunning views. We also checked out the "Ice Palace", a permanent exhibit of ice sculptures inside the glacier.

At the adventure center you can take a helicopter tour, rent skis (all year round), ride on a dog sled, hike, go on a zip line (which I was amped to do, but it was closed due to maintenance work), and even golf! G tried his hand at making a hole in one which would have earned him a 100,000 CHF (about $80,000) watch, but he was a tad off. We ended up walking around the snow covered trails that looked down to the Konkordiaplatz, (the large flat area of snow and ice lying just to the south of the Jungfrau) the Aletsch Glacier, as well as the surrounding mountains. It was stunning. We were having a great time, but it was also really cold and I was starting to feel the effects of altitude sickness (not too bad, but after two hours it was time to head down).

That afternoon we took our backpacks up to the tiny mountain town of Gimmelwald where we dropped our stuff off at the barn. We didn't stick around for long because we were eager to take a 4 hour hike from the Birg lift station, past a little lake, up to the Brunli ridge, and under the Sprutz waterfall before heading back down to Gimmelwald. The hike was amazing. We started in a rocky plateau and descended down past grazing cows and sheep. I loved listening to their bells along the way. We barely saw anyone else along the trail, even when we descended through some small farms. The highlight of the hike was the Brunli ridge and making it to the peak where we found a metal box with a plastic covered register inside where we jotted down our names along with other hikers from all over the world who had done the same. What an amazing experience!

We descended into the village of Gimmelwald and we were tired and hungry. We soon discovered that the only restaurant in town was closed for renovations, so our only option was to eat at the hostel. Our choice for dinner was pizza or fondue. We went for the pizza. After dinner we headed back to the barn. Now this is a real working barn in the winter, but in the summer, when the cows are up grazing in the mountains, the farmer rents it out to crazy people like us. For 24 CHF (about $20) you get a spot on the straw and your pick from a stack of blankets and a real farm breakfast. We brought our own sleep sacs so we were cozy and warm in the barn. Because it was sold out the night before, we figured we would have company (there was space for about 18 people or so). But to our surprise (well, to my surprise, G figured Sunday wouldn't be too popular) we were the only ones!! Now that is value for your money.

I can't say it was the most comfortable place I've ever slept, but it was a unique experience I will not soon forget. Unfortunately, G had to catch the first gondola down the mountain (at 6:30am) to make the 4 hour journey back to Geneva to go to work. I stayed and folded all the blankets and had breakfast by myself in the barn. Before I left town I walked around taking a few pictures here and there. It was really cool being the only tourist in town, smiling good morning to the local towns folks.

Before heading back to Geneva I decided to head to the town of Ballenberg to check out the Swiss Open-Air Folk Museum. It s a sprawling complex of more than 100 original century-old buildings from all over Switzerland, historical gardens and fields, demonstrations of typical crafts, and over 250 native farmyard animals. It really is a taste of rural life from bygone days. I loved it! I was there for over four hours and I was really rushing to get through it all. All in all it was a great weekend!

One of the many cows we saw on our hikes

At the "Top of Europe"

At the "Top of Europe" with the Konkordiaplatz ice field behind us

G showing off his golf swing

Hiking above Gimmelwald in the Berner Oberland

My favorite hiking trail, along the Brunli ridge

At the top of the Brunli ridge

In the town of Gimmelwald

Sleeping in the straw in Gimmelwald

Traditional farm at the Swiss Open-Air Folk Museum

An interesting building at the Swiss Open-Air Folk Museum

lundi, septembre 03, 2007


Seriously... how could I make this up?

No, G and I did not attend a crazy spouse swapping event or a wild weekend at some "alternative" resort... instead we went to one of the biggest sporting and cultural events in Switzerland, the Schwingen Alpine Festival, or Schwingfest for short.

Along with G's friend from work, M, we all piled in Mr. & Mrs. Kofi's new car, with baby Els is tow too. We drove halfway across the country to Luzern where we spent the night. On the way we stopped in Bern to visit with Mrs. Kofi's grandmother and then have a riverside lunch and do some sightseeing around town. We rolled into Luzern pretty late, but we got a warm reception from Mr. & Mrs. Kofi's friend who we had dinner with. He has a great place that overlooks the lake and the Alps in the distance. The food was great and the conversation was flowing. We didn't want to leave, but we had to be up early to make it to the festival.

The Schwingfest is the National Wrestling Festival that takes place every three years and lasts for two days. Saturday is the preliminary matches and Sunday are the finals. The wrestlers wear a special pair of shorts over their pants (that look like a potato sac but are tougher). One hand grips the opponent's belt (through a hole at the back) and the other grips the bottom of his shorts. The aim is to throw the opponent onto his back (with both shoulders touching the ground), without losing the grip on his shorts.

There are quite a lot of rounds and quite a few wrestlers, so within the arena there are 7 matches going on at once. I had no idea who was who, but I knew there were three guys from California (of only 4 international competitors) and one was from Vacaville... so he was my guy. Too bad he was eliminated early on.

But there was a lot more going on than just wrestling. There was the big stone-throwing (Steinstossen) competition where a giant stone weighing 176 lbs. is held above the competitor’s head and thrown as far as possible. We actually saw the world record of stone throwing broken! There was also marching bands, yodelers, flag tossers (Fahnenschwingen), military horse riding demonstrations, alphorn players, and a group of parachuters that landed right on the field.

We met up with a group of Mr. & Mrs. Kofi's friends who knew way more about wrestling that we did, so we picked their brain all afternoon trying to understand a little more about the sport. We enjoyed the local cuisine of bratwurst and beer and of course the good company of friends.

We also had a chance to get a close look at the prizes for the winners. The first prize for the "King of Schwing" is a giant bull. Other large animals such as horses and cows are given to the top 10 wrestlers. Since almost all of the competitors are farmers, they are pretty valuable gifts.

Overall it was a fantastic festival... much more than we had expected, although I really didn't know what exactly to expect. But Mrs. Kofi was right; it was not to be missed! And best of all... now we can say we are real schwingers!

G, Mr. & Mrs. Kofi, baby Els, & M

Schwingen wrestlers in action

Enjoying the festivities

Alphorn players take the field

More Schwingen wrestling

The grand prize bull for the "King of Schwing"

Victorious Obus