Friday, August 29, 2008

Self-restraint? What self-restraint?

I know it seems strange to actually do a separate post about each and every day of our vacation. The problem is that we actually did something interesting every day of our vacation! I really had trouble trimming the list of activities down to one per day. Next year we are planning to do a 5 week vacation camping around Europe. What I learned on this camping trip is that it will probably kill us unless I manage to accept NOT doing something every single day. The problem was that I asked for information about interesting sites and excursions from my colleagues, and they complied! I think what I am going to need to do when planning "the big trip" is to NOT research for all these cool things to do. If Switzerland had too much to offer, then I imagine I am in big trouble with a whole continent. I think what I will have to do is pick my top 10 destinations and plan only 1 or 2 things for each destination. That makes 10 to 20 activities over the span of 35 days (I really can't stop doing math, it comforts me). How am I going to pick only 10 places to go out of a whole continent FULL of really cool places??? I'm starting to visualize a map, a blindfold, and 10 darts.

*photo by E[d]ge at Flickr

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Day Two: Jungfraujoch

One of the most interesting, and one of the most expensive trips in Switzerland is the trip to Jungfraujoch. It takes about two and a half hours by train from Interlaken. Leaving the lakeside city we started slowly ascending amongst various villages, pastures, and mountains. After our transfer to a second train, the ascent began much more quickly and in the span of maybe 10 minutes we had climbed 400m (1300ft), and then another 800m (2600ft). Our third train was the special one, the one that goes through the mountain! It is mostly cool in theory as you marvel at the knowledge that the train is chugging through one of Switzerland's famous alpine peaks. In reality, it doesn't seem much more than a very long tunnel. There are 2 five minute stops on the way up to let the descending trains pass. At these breaks there are observation windows and theory and reality collide as you peer out of the mountainside.

At the top we went directly to the Sphinx observation platform 3571m or 11,782ft above sea level. It was stunning. There was the HUGE, 22km long Aletsch glacier, with a string of ants moving along a path. Oh wait, those were people. A lot of people. I think I would be disappointed to go and walk on the glacier only to be in a rather crowded line of hundreds of other tourists. We spent as long as the kids would allow us up on the observation deck, just soaking up the impressive atmosphere. After lunch, a combination of supplies we had brought with us, supplemented by the cafeteria, we went up to the "Ice Palace". Entirely carved out of glacier, there was ice all around us. The floor was a little slippery as there was no sand/salt for the hundreds of visitors shuffling along, gripping the lifeline of a railing. There were a dozen or so ice sculpture exhibits and L was enthralled.

We left the glacier interior to go and walk outside. Alas, L was adamant that one should not walk in snow, in the middle of the summer, in your running shoes. And he whined. M had already decided that he wasn't going to walk while we were still inside the ice and he did not want to leave the vantage point of my back. It is a good thing that the views totally made up for any back discomfort.

We then decided to get going while the going was good and got in line for the return journey. M had a nice nap most of the way down the mountain. We thought to get off at Winderswil, a stop on the way back, and take a quick look around. Luckily, a gourmet store was actually open on a Sunday and we popped in and bought some essentials...milk, coffee, cheese, etc.

Back at camp we ate and let the kids play in the playground all evening while C and I went through the tremendous number of photos. We started to wonder if we would need to purchase another memory card before the end of the trip.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day One: Geneva to Interlaken

To take the scenic route we drove along the south shore of Lac Leman through the French towns of Evian and Thonon-les-Bains. Driving through lakeside villages is quite picturesque, and quite slow. We were getting quite peckish and we weren't yet back in Switzerland! We finally made it to the opposite side of the lake and stopped at a grocery store for some lunch. The the real driving started as we turned onto the roads leading through the Col-des-Mosses, through the Pays-d'Enhaut, and entering into the Bernese-Oberland mountains on the way to Interlaken. I quickly learned how to downshift while going up the steep, sharp corners. To be honest, I was pretty impressed with my driving. Of course several times we wound up "trapped" behind a big bus. This was a relief as I was free to go even slower than I wanted. The line of cars behind me might curse me for not trying harder to pass the bus, but not for driving too slowly.

Once in Interlaken we found the tourism office to enquire about the weather for the next couple days as our planned outing choices would depend on weather conditions. All looked good. We found the campsite and put up our tent for the first time with just the two of us. Between having taken the scenic route and putting up the tent, it was past closing time for grocery stores on a Saturday (5pm!!). We set off to find the way to the train station and then to find some dinner. Our poor darlings were really getting famished and the couple restaurants we passed were not exactly the price-range we had in mind. It looked to still be a good-sized walk to get into downtown when we saw a more moderately priced venue....Hooters. The kids were tired and so was I, so we marched in and found a table. The waitress was traditionally attired (Hooters tradition, not Swiss).

Well fed, we made our way back to the campsite and the inaugural sleeping bag bedtime. "There is no video." Was more of a statement by L than a question. We never heard mention again of our normal routine of a 20min DVD episode before bed (the only "TV" the boys get). We read a story by flashlight and zipped the boys up in their sleeping bags. Then the fun began. Talking, giggling, wrestling. "Okay guys, it's time to go to sleep" was relatively ineffective. This was their first camping experience though and I thought that they should enjoy the post-bedtime giggles so we waited them out until they eventually fell asleep.

M woke up about 6:30 the next morning so I pulled him out of the tent and we wandered to the recreational area. I let him have some breakfast and tried to keep the noise level down until the magic hour of 7am arrived. But that's another story...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I survived a 2 week camping trip

I wanted to try to come up with a nice, well-crafted piece over-viewing our 2 week vacation. I have a feeling that if I wait to do this, it will never get done. So in the interest of expediency, I will try to forgo the literary excellence to which you have all become accustomed.

The camping was great. I was so worried about being in a tent for 2 weeks with 2 preschoolers, a guy who doesn't handle lack of sleep overly well, and myself who will bottle up frustrations instead of dealing with them until I become quite unpleasant myself. Night one, the boys snuggled into their sleeping bags and then out of their sleeping bags. They talked and giggled and fought and tickled until finally they fell asleep. The first few mornings M would get up between 6 and 7. After a few days though, the later nights kept both boys asleep until well after 7am. There was no way we could adhere to the normal 7pm bedtime was still far too light out.

The trip was hardest on M. He is the youngest, and at 3 years old he was quite preoccupied with missing his toys. He was also missing a routine. He would not eat much at meal times, but then whine incessantly through the day that he was hungry. Nothing makes you feel guiltier than having your child proclaim to everyone within a kilometer radius that HE IS HUNGRY! I believe he was actually homesick/bored/tired/out of his element and he expressed this by saying he was hungry.

I was surprised that L handled it so well. Perhaps because he has been looking forward to "going camping" for so long. This is a kid who does not always do well with change. If something is different than normal, or even just not what he had imagined would happen he becomes very upset. Sometimes it seems like he is just being difficult, but when he gets into one of these irrational stand-offs, it is easy to see that he is quite viscerally upset. So, for a vacation with something new each day, he did very well.

The driving up and down mountains was good. I quickly became accustomed to all the shifting up and down mid-turn. Thankfully I had my "Aussie-bubble" and didn't care (too much) if there was anyone behind me waiting to pass. I even passed one or two slow drivers myself! I learned the hard way that it is best to gear down rather than use your brakes all the way down a pass. The squeaky brakes got a little bit squeakier after having taught me that lesson.

C was also great. He was wonderfully supportive the whole time. As he is the one with the kids 24/7 at home, the increased exposure of 24/7 and ALWAYS together (no playing quietly in a separate room) was harder on him, but he managed the extra stress very well.

While the kids got less sleep, we adults actually got more. Unlike North American campgrounds, European ones are essentially an open field of tents and campervans. Open fires are not allowed. Without a nice cosy fire to sit in front of at night, we usually went to bed ourselves shortly after darkness fell.

So the general synopsis is: we all survived, we even enjoyed ourselves. The boys loved it.
I will do some future posts more on what we did in the coming days. I will try hard to keep them as succinct as possible, but I do have the propensity to go on, and on, and on, and on...