We explore Brooklyn a lot as transplant locals. Once we started to, it very quickly became one of our favorite boroughs. An amazing beer scene, history, interesting restaurants (including lots of vegan/veg places), and really beautiful buildings, street art and bridges…you can’t go wrong. Brooklyn Heights and DUMBO are super photogenic areas that I only wish I could afford to live in! We have been a few times and spent a whole morning exploring it recently, and it made me love Brooklyn all the more.
A great way to start exploring Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo is to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. The entrance in Manhattan is extremely easy to get to off the 4/5/6. Depending on when you go, the bridge can be super crowded. But if you go early in the morning, it will be crowd-lite (still a lot of instagrammers doing their thang). It’s a beautiful bridge and, of course, historic. The bridge is old enough that it was originally meant for horse-drawn carriages. Now, it has the vehicle roadway on the bottom and a pedestrian walkway on the top. You get a great view of lower Manhattan from the bridge, including One World Trade. It’s just over a mile long, and, with a crowd, can take awhile to cross. With no crowd, it’s an easy going 20 minute stroll.
Once you cross the Brooklyn Bridge, if you go south, you get to Brooklyn Heights. Brooklyn Heights is a rich community with a lot of rowhouses and wooden houses from the early 1800s. You can also find what are called the “fruit streets”–Cranberry, Orange and Pineapple Streets–and a promenade overlooking the East River here. It’s a very charming neighborhood with a great view of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan. Unsurprisingly, a lot of celebrities have called (and currently call) Brooklyn Heights home. It’s also a known hot spot for food. I know there’s a great diner in this area called Clark’s – the mocha pancakes are to die for! But there’s still some Italian influences in the area that have some great food to indulge in, too.
There’s such cool NYC history in this neighborhood from historic mansions to really old bars. Someday, we’ll go to the Brooklyn Historical Society to learn more about it.
If you go north when you get off the Brooklyn Bridge, you head toward Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. DUMBO stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It stretches from the Brooklyn Bridge to the Manhattan Bridge and just beyond. It’s an EXTREMELY expensive neighborhood full of techies and fancy lofts. Etsy and West Elm are both headquartered here. Here’s the classic shot of the Manhattan Bridge everyone has to get when they come to Dumbo:
But the really cool thing about this area is that it has a lot of street art. I’m a sucker for street art and it’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to Brooklyn. They call the street art initiative DUMBO Walls.
Along the coast is Pebble Beach. You have an awesome view of both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge from here. You can also get your feet wet!
Dumbo recently saw the opening of the Time OutMarket. Time Out is a magazine that I’ve referred to a million times for restaurant reviews and events/what’s happening in NYC this weekend type questions. They opened the Time Out Market in Dumbo this year. It’s a food hall and event space. We haven’t been yet, but we’re looking forward to it!
This neighborhood is fun. When Neal and I first moved to NYC, we came to Dumbo for a light show. It highlighted the importance of art to this neighborhood. There were a ton of people, but it was a fun beginning to our NYC adventure! Here’s a gif from the light show over the “Archway” in Dumbo (an archway from the Manhattan Bridge).
So that’s Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo in a nutshell. Excellent neighborhoods that are worth exploring.
History, art, food, beauty, much to my surprise, Philadelphia has it all… Having family just 40 minutes outside Philly, and now living an hour outside of it in NYC for 5 years, I still never really thought to go there and check it out. But I recently had to go for work and decided to stay the weekend. Thanks goodness! We fell in love with it! We explored the Old City, Center City, Rittenhouse, South Street and more. Here’s some of what we saw, did and ate.
Philadelphia is a mecca for history buffs. William Penn founded and designed Philadelphia as the capital of the Commonwealth (of course, the capital moved to Harrisburg some years later). Philadelphia’s Old City is in the eastern part of the city, banging up against the Delaware River. It is chalk full of history! This is the part of the city where you’ll find the Liberty Bell, Benjamin Franklin’s grave, Christ Church, Betsy Ross’s house, the U.S. Mint, Independence Hall, Washington Square, Franklin Square, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, the African American Museum, the National Museum of American Jewish History, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the American Revolution Museum (though this is a rather recent addition). You could easily spend two or three days here if you’re into museums. It was a bright sunny day, so we decided not to go into the museums. We will 100% next time!
Washington Square was pretty cute and just a quick walk from Independence Hall. In the middle of the park sits the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from the American Revolutionary War. It’s a little awkward because as you read the plaques you realize that you’re standing on the site of a mass grave. On the monument is inscribed, “Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness.” It’s a bit harrowing.
On the opposite end of the historic center from Washington Square, is Franklin Square, a park with a beautiful fountain. It is currently adorned with Halloween decorations. It also has a mini-golf course and lots of places to sit.
Across from the park is a GIANT LIGHTENING BOLT! Attached to a key, of course, for Benjamin Franklin. Neal and I imagined that at night they pulse light through this like a real lightening bolt, but we never did see it at night.
Bridge over the Delaware
Across from the key and park is a bridge that goes over the Delaware River to New Jersey. There’s a long pedestrian path over the bridge on which a LOT of people run. Turns out, it’s about 2 miles one way! We decided to go halfway and head back, but in the process got a great view of the Delaware River, the coastal line of New Jersey, and a backed up view of Philly.
The U.S. Mint
After coming off the bridge, we realized we were right next to the U.S. Mint. Neal loves currency, so we were excited to go in. Unfortunately, it’s only open during the week, except in the summer it’s open on Saturdays. It’s too bad because they give you free tours.
Christ Church Burial Ground
Next to the U.S. Mint is Christ Church Burial Ground. BenjaminFranklin is buried here, as well as Benjamin Rush and quite a few other historical figures. You can see Benjamin Franklin’s grave from the street, but it’s a just a few bucks to go in, so we did. We thought it was a little odd, though, that the burial ground is not attached to Christ Church. The Church is a ways done the road, but there was a funeral taking place when we were there, so we did not go on the grounds at all out of respect.
This area is so beautiful. Trees canopy many of the streets, so in a fall weekend like this, bursts of color fall over them. The parks are manicured and the alleyways are narrow and cobblestone. The buildings are brick and many of them have cellars doors lining the streets. Also, I love carless areas, and there are plenty around here.
Food & Drink
Not only is the history rich and the area adorable, there’s also a lot of food and drink in this neighborhood. We particularly enjoyed Old City Coffee and 2nd Story Brewing. The muffins and nuffins at Old City were fabulous, and they have great coffee. 2nd Story Brewing has a dozen of their own beers of every type. I got a flight to try a few out. I was impressed! They also have food, which was pretty good. For dinner, we ate at High Streeton Market and Spasso Italian Grill. They were both delicious.
Where we stayed
We decided to stay in Old City to be close to all this action. We ended up at Kimpton Monaco Hotel, which is across the street from Independence Hall. It’s a beautiful hotel. There is no breakfast, which I was a bit bummed about, but otherwise everything was perfect.
Once we had our fill of history, we ventured west to Center City. Center City stretches from the edge of Old City to CityHall. It’s an easy walk on wide sidewalks or narrow alleyways where cars don’t go. You can see City Hall for awhile before you get there. It’s a huge, ornate building. (Everything in this area is styled French.) On top of City Hall is what’s believed to be the largest statue of William Penn. You can seriously see the statue from all over the city.
Around City Hall is a very cool looking Masonic Temple, we didn’t go in, but we enjoyed it from the street. The lighting in Philadelphia is very cool. The way it bounced off the Temple was striking. We noticed this light play all over the downtown area. Beautiful!
The Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts is just down the street from City Hall. It costs $25 to go in, so we skipped it (and just such a beautiful day!), but the building outside is gorgeous and there’s some fun art around it, too.
Speaking of art, we were on a mission to find street art in this area. What we found were murals, everywhere! In an attempt to limit graffiti, Philadelphia has a Mural Program. Huge walls all over the city are designated for these murals. We found several, many of which had very interesting political/social messages. It was such a fun way to explore the streets!
Reading Terminal Market
Center City is also home to the Fashion District and is full of shopping. A giant mall lines Market Street. Reading Terminal Market also is here, which we stopped in at for lunch. Every kind of food is here, but beware, less is open on Sunday than Saturday. I ate a focaccia pizza and Neal ate a po’boy. Delish!
Not far from Center City and Old City is Chinatown. Philly’s Chinatown is not unlike other cities’ Chinatowns. There’s a big arch into the area, a lot of street vendors, lots of food (of all Asian stripes it seemed), and lots of people. We found some more art in this area, too.
If you keep going West from Center City, you end up in Rittenhouse. Or at least, we did! There are lots of shops in this area as well, and restaurants and residences. Brick row houses line the streets and in the center of it all is the beautiful Rittenhouse Square. Neal thought this square was similar to Bryant Park. It is, but it’s a bit smaller.
Where to eat
My favorite restaurant of the trip was in this area–Vedge! It’s a completely vegetarian place that features vegetable-based tapas. Every.single.dish was great!! I wouldn’t normally say that because there’s always one dish that’s too small, or overseasoned, or whatever. Not here! We were very happy.
Not far from Rittenhouse is the Philadelphia Museum of Arts, the Rocky Steps, the Oval and the Rodin Museum. We took an Uber to this area, rather than walk, because we’d walked so much already that day. The Philadelphia Museum of Arts is beautiful! Rather than the traditional pale white, the building is a sort of sand yellow. It’s got colored lining and gorgeous detail. We walked into the entrance, saw it was $25/person and decided not to go in. It was great just to be there though, as it was gorgeous!
The “Rocky Steps” as they call them, are the steps up to the museum. They were featured in, of course, Rocky. There were tons of people running up the steps like Rocky and taking their picture with their arms stretched out in a boxer pose. Neal refused to do it. There’s actually a Rocky statue here, but there was a line of 25+ people looking to take their pic with it. I couldn’t handle that.
Next time, we’ll probably go to the Rodin Museum. We LOVE Rodin! In Paris, we went to the Rodin Museum and enjoyed it so much. It was really too bad we didn’t have enough time for it during this trip.
When people find out you’re going to Philly, everyone says, “you have to go to South Street!” South Street is a long stretching road that appears to be a main street of sorts. Our read on it was that it is more of a night life kind of place. Because we didn’t have a lot of time, and I had to work a bit on Saturday night (and was exhausted), we ended up going in the morning on Sunday. It was a bit eerily empty in the morning, but it was still cool to check out. The streets jutting off South Street were adorable! Lots of carless alleyways and well-decorated apartments/homes.
As you can start to see in these pictures, we began to see more and more mosaics on the walls. The streets were covered in them. People’s apartments/houses were covered in them. It was incredible! A lot of faces and other designs in every color tile. It really livened up the neighborhood.
These all culminated in the Magic Gardens. The Magic Gardens is a museum of recycled arts. Unfortunately, it does not open until 11am, and we were there around 9am. But it’s okay because this whole area is an art exhibit. I really loved it. Next time, though, we’ll definitely go in here.
The only thing we ate along South Street (i.e., the only thing that was open) was Federal Donuts. We stopped in and got a blood orange doughnut and a pumpkin doughnut. They weren’t my favorite doughnuts, but they weren’t bad. It was nice to stop in, in any case.
So that was pretty much our weekend in Philadelphia. I tend to get a feeling about a city, and I have to say that I really enjoyed this one. It’s got history, it’s got good food, it’s got shopping, it’s got art. The people were also really nice/funny. Every Uber driver had a story. Waiters and bartenders were extremely nice. The ONE thing I will say is–make a reservation! This place is hoppin’! I can’t wait to go back to go into some of the museums, check out West Philly and go to the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Just in case you were wondering, here are my favorite shots of Neal from the weekend.
Privacy is not a thing, especially if you are poor. In Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks takes a microscope to three systems used by local governments to illustrate how big tech is playing a role in tracking and policing the poor. In doing so, she highlights cultural and political narratives that need to change. She doesn’t really offer solutions, but identifying the problem is half the battle.
Our denial runs deep. It is the only way to explain a basic fact about the United States: in the world’s largest economy, the majority of us will experience poverty….51 percent of Americans will spend at least a year below the poverty line between the ages of 20 and 65. Two-thirds of them will access a means-tested public benefit: TANF, General Assistance, Supplemental Security Income, Housing Assistance, SNAP or Medicaid. And yet we pretend that poverty is a puzzling aberration that happens only to a tiny minority of pathological people.
First, Eubanks shines the spotlight on Indiana. Indiana teamed up with IBM to automate granting and denying welfare benefits. Social workers used to be gatekeepers who helped people obtain benefits that were sorely needed. Now, they were gatekeepers simply to input information into IBM’s computer program. If the program red-flagged the individual for “failure to cooperate,” the person would be denied benefits. But what does “failure to cooperate” mean? Well, an individual failed to cooperate when she inadvertently failed to sign one of the hundreds of forms you have to fill out. Another individual failed to cooperate when the office she submitted her paperwork to lost it. Of course, this had wide-spread and horrible consequences, including depriving extremely sick individuals of medicaid. But at least political figures in Indiana looked like they were reducing the welfare rolls.
Second, Eubanks discusses Skidrow and the homelessness crisis currently exploding there. It is so difficult to obtain a bed in LA that people simply give up. Homeless people apply for benefits and end up in the system for seven years. They have no ability to opt out of being included in the system or to dictate with whom their data is shared. And sure, organizations have access to their data to possibly help these folks, but so do the police. The homeless population ends up more highly scrutinized simply because they are homeless.
Third, Eubanks describes how Allegheny County, Pennsylvania approaches child welfare. This chapter was quite infuriating (as was it all). She discusses a system that assigns points to individuals and families when someone calls child protective services. Eubanks and her colleague attempted, as humans, to assess data and ascribe a risk factor number to a child. Eubanks was very wrong. She believed the child was at low risk of harm. The computer program thought the child was at critically high risk. This is due in part by the child’s family history. Regardless of whether a call of abuse or neglect is substantiated, it stays in the system as a future risk factor and follows the individual forever–and their kids–and their kids. This results in more invasive government probing and intervention and/or marking people for life as “child abusers” regardless of whether the allegation is substantiated.
Overall, I recommend this book. We should all know about each other’s plight. It gives us compassion and begins a conversation that may lead to solutions. There also is that great phrase, know thine enemy. I am grateful to Eubanks for shining the spotlight.
Switzerland is such a strange wonderful place that not only do they make it so easy for you to get to the top of every towering mountain, but they also give you toys and games at the top! When you want to take a break from hiking and just ride really fast down the side of an incredibly steep mountain, Switzerland has your back. While using Lauterbrunnen as our home base, we took the train over to Grindelwald to take advantage of Switzerland’s love of adventure. We went early to beat the crowds!
When you arrive at the bottom of Grindelwald First, you’re presented with a number of options. You can go up to the top and just pay for the gondola, ORRRRR you can buy tickets to their adventure activities to get a little thrill while enjoying the mountain! So you can buy one, two or three activities with your ticket up the mountain. We went with two: ziplining and mountain carts.
But we didn’t just dive right in. The first thing we did was grab a bite to eat at a cafe. Coffee and a pastry – breakfast of European champions. Then we saw what would be our first adventure, which you don’t have to pay extra for: the Skywalk. We could see it from where we were eating breakfast (yes this was our view), all the way to the right in this photo:
Now, if you’ve been reading these posts on Switzerland, or you know Neal, you may remember he is a bit skiddish when it comes to heights, particularly when I am around any edge. The Skywalk turned out to be a great test of this fear.
But the view was just unbeatable!
We enjoyed this view, though we sort of beelined off the Skywalk for Neal’s sake. Just on the other side of the walk, you come to a path that leads you to a beautiful lake called Bachalpsee. The walk, though uneventful, came with the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains, waterfalls and snow. It was blistering hot outside, so to see the snow felt like seeing a mirage. I continuously kept snow in my hands to help cool me down.
And by snow, I mean SNOW:
By the time we got to the lake, the snow covered the ground. Even part of the lake itself was still frozen over.
But of course, the part that wasn’t frozen over was a deep blue with the peaks of Eiger, Fiescherhorner, and Finsteraarhorn framing and mirroring in it. We caught some people throwing snowballs and just having fun hanging out here.
We made our way through the snow to a bench to have some alone time. It was nice to sit in the sun surrounded by snow and mountains. Neal got his classic behind the head shot here:
When we headed back to the mountain top, we were ready for an adventure! Our first activity was ziplining. Earlier in the morning, there was a 0 minute wait to zipline. This is why we left early! But then we decided to do the Skywalk and the lake before the activities…so now there was a 75 minute wait…in the 100 degree heat…oh man, I almost died. 75 minutes is no joke.
When we finally got to the front of the line, I just about didn’t care anymore about the adventure…just kidding! It was time to zip down through the mountain! It was over very quickly, but it was still so fun! The wind through our hair hundreds of feet high. We were surrounded by paragliders, too. It was surreal.
Our second activity was the mountain carts. These are big wheels for adults. They have no pedals, only brakes, and use the 60% incline of the mountain to hurtle you down. This was the most fun thing we had done so far, by far, and possibly of the whole trip! The views were amazing and we were alone on the road. There was no wait and the whole thing was self-guided with a few turn outs to take photos.
Alas, there was no cover along the way and the heat wave meant that the sun was baking us alive again. Our sun burns flared with pain. Reason overruled desire and we called it a day at the bottom instead of hitting the gondola, riding it up the mountain, and getting back on the bikes for another go. On a cooler day, I could see doing this 3-4x.
To further avoid the heat, we hid in the shadows of the buildings along Grindelwald. I saw an open gelato place and ducked in. The shopkeep was only just opening, technically not even open yet. But I begged her pleeease. I was so hot. She acquiesced. We both chose some delicious flavors and she piled them high on cones. Then I see, cash only. Shooooot. I didn’t have any in that moment! So I ran across the street and found an ATM. We paid the woman and headed to a gift store. Neal got a hat, which looks adorable! We then headed back to Lautebrunnen. From town, we took the bus out to Trummelbach falls to finally cool off in the waterfall. Read all about that here!
Otherwise, that sums up our trip up Grindelwald First and to Bachalpsee. Were it cooler, we would have spent the whole day here. Hope you enjoyed our story as much as we enjoyed being there!
During our two glorious weeks gallivanting through Switzerland, we spent a weekend in historic St. Gallen. Its main attraction — the library in the Abbey of St. Gallen — was something Neal was really looking forward to. It did not disappoint. But St. Gallen also acts as a great hub for other short trips exploring Switzerland. Here’s how we spent our weekend there!
Exploring St. Gallen
We chose to stay pretty close to the old town St. Gallen. It’s a carless portion of the city and as quaint as many of the other cities in Switzerland. Its architecture, cobbled streets and those old paintings are unmistakable.
St. Gallen also has a fun art installation in the streets meant to make the streets feel like your living room. I love carless and wish NYC would go carless in certain sections of the city!
As you can see, St. Gallen was kind of empty. We don’t know why, other than that it was a beautiful weather weekend and a waiter told us a lot of people go to the lakes on the weekend. Makes sense to me!
Abbey of St. Gall
Of course, the Abbey is the main attraction. It was the first place we went after getting off the train in St. Gallen. We started by going through the old gate (pictured on the left below) that kept the Catholic monks from the reformed old town Protestants. They renovated part of the cellars into a cool open space for events that we enjoyed. To get there, you go through this really cool tunnel!
Then we headed into the Abbey’s courtyard. The courtyard, much to our surprise, was filled with a stage covered in bloody and fire-encrusted crosses with skulls. As it turns out, this was part of an opera series. It would have been cool to see if we had the forethought to get tickets!
Next, we headed to the cathedral. There’s a huge lawn where it seemed everyone in town was enjoying lunch. The grass was beautiful, and the view couldn’t be beat.
As you can see, we ventured on inside. The inside was insanely gorgeous. Extravagant doesn’t even begin to describe it.
We milled around for awhile in here and not just because it was a welcome reprieve from the heat. There’s a lot to take in.
After getting our fill, we headed around the back to the ticket booth. Our Swiss Pass got us into the Abbey’s museum for free – a nice perk – which included viewing the library, vaulted cellars, and archives. We started with the library.
They take this library very seriously. To enter the library, you have to put on slippers. It makes sense – the library was breath taking and worth preserving. Imagine a room that’s maybe 20-30 feet wide and lined with book cases. There’s a second floor with only more book cases. These books date back to the 8th Century! You can’t take pictures inside, but there’s a rendering on the wall outside of it that you can take a pic with:
In the center of the room and along the edges, the library has dozens of books out for display showing the history of the Abbey from its creation by Saint Gall to the official establishment by Saint Othmar to the dissolution in 1800, raiding and destruction of documents in 1945, and the restitution of the Abbey in the 1990s. There are artifacts, including a few mummy sarcophagi and a dead saint, housed in the library as well.
A couple fun stories from the Library: Othmar had a wine barrel with him at all times. It was said that the barrel would be filled with wine always. And every single depiction of him has the wine barrel in it – even the scenes of his funeral. Also, Saint Gall apparently stared down a bear with his faith. The bear went running. Years later, the picture of a roaring bear, the same one used in the Saint Gallen portrayals, sits as the image representing the cantor of Bern. Saint Gall is clearly pretty important to this country.
Next, we went into the cellar. This was filled with a ton of models of the Abbey, cathedral, and town. It also had artifacts showing the excess of the church – golden table sets, ivory tankards, gem-encrusted books, intricate pillars, wooden coats of arms, and other such things from the period. All of this needless excess made it easy to explain the rise of the revolution and reformation of the church in the early 19th century. By the way, they display all of these in something like 10 languages. It was really cool to be able to click through iPads to get to English, while the guy next to me is reading it in French, and the woman on the other end is reading German. Super accessible.
We next went to the archive, which is the oldest running archive in the world. The same rite of passage that the first archivist from ~1200AD undertook is still followed for every new archivist to this day. It’s nuts! Many fires, raids, floods, and other events have permanently ruined a lot of books and scrolls, but thankfully so much is still left behind. They took so much care to preserve the history. We bummed around these exhibits for awhile. They have interactive ones as well, which makes spending time here easy. We left only after feeling completely satisfied with the Abbey experience.
St. Gallen University
We had heard about St. Gallen University being a beacon of scholarship in Switzerland. I like to see what campuses are like in different parts of the world, so we thought we’d see what it was all about. It sits on top of a hill, so we also thought we might get a good view of the city. Speaking of the hills, apparently St. Gallen is known as “the city of a thousand stairs.” On our way up to St. Gallen University, we found out why.
But it wasn’t difficult to walk the stairs everywhere and it was nice not having to walk in the road. Once we got to the campus, we discovered that the school itself looks kind of small and certainly is no homage to architecture. There’s no view either. I did really like this statue, though!
Schutzengarten + Good Beer
Hellbent on making the trip up to St. Gallen University not a total loss, we stopped at Schutzengareten, the oldest brewery in Switzerland. Now, we have been to a lot of breweries. And this one was not our mug of beer. It was mega-corporate and had no character. There is a restaurant/bar around the back, but once we realized that this is Switzerland’s equivalent of Budweiser, we bailed.
Instead, we went around the block to Bruw Pub – a micro brewery with what passes for craft beer in Switzerland. Actually, this place was great. We sat for an hour or so talking with the owner/operator who was working the bar. Somehow, we got on the topic of the business of beer in Switzerland. How he was blocked from selling food without selling Schutzengarten — the market dominating competitor — in his establishment. Likewise, other restaurants could not sell his beer unless he sold Schutzengarten in his bar. This seems crazy! We were kind of shocked at how much of a stronghold Schutzengarten has on the city. Once we heard this, we started seeing their signs everywhere.
He then went on to tell us about how hard he works to brew his own beer and keep things a float, and other woes of the business. Like how the town cracked down and stopped him from having events or BBQs during holidays and instead put a Schutzengarten tent on the street outside his door. It was pretty fascinating to hear his plight!
Day Trip 1: Santis
We could have seen a LOT more in and around St. Gallen, but we really wanted to see more of the northeastern part of Switzerland, so we hopped on a train, then a bus, then a cable car to get up to Santis. The mountaintop at Santis is unique in that you can see 6 countries from there — Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, and Liechtenstein. We could also see a lot of the peaks we had been surrounded by the whole time — Jungfrau, Eiger, Schilthorn, etc. It was sort of a great way to sum up the trip. Also, there are goats everywhere!
The food is surprisingly good at the Santis visitor’s center. And we really enjoyed the gift shop, too (something I don’t think I’ve ever said).
Day Trip 2: Maestrani Chocolarium
Switzerland is home to quite a bit of chocolate. We wanted to spend some time in a chocolate factory to make sure we really got the full cultural experience. Okay, we really just wanted to eat a lot of chocolate. The train to Maestrani Chocolarium takes less than an hour from St. Gallen, and admission is free with the Swiss Pass!
The tour starts off with a quick video of the history of the company. Maestrani is all about happiness (hence the picture on the left above “53 meters to happiness”). It’s been around for a long time, too (1852!). After the video, you venture into a room that takes you through the process of making chocolate step by step. You smell the cocoa beans and read about the countries they come from. Also, I had no idea about sugar beets before this! But apparently they make the chocolate sweet.
Next you go into a room and get to taste the melted chocolate before it’s mixed with the other flavoring ingredients. I FILLED UP on this chocolate. Little did I know, in the next room, we got to try all the finished products on the factory floor! After this, we got to make our OWN chocolate. It takes 10 minutes, but it’s so cute and fun. And delicious. Overall, we had a great time in the factory! My belly didn’t hurt at all from all the chocolate…
It POURED on our way out of the factory and the guy at the desk was so nice, he offered us an umbrella from lost and found. I left it in our hotel room for the next person who needs a big umbrella.
Day Trip 3: Biking Around Lake Constance
The last trip we took from St. Gallen was a 15 minute train ride to Rorschach, where we picked up bikes and headed around Lake Constance. We’ve written up a post on this bike ride here. If you go east, like we did, you get to ride through Austria and Germany. But it’s a beautiful lake to just sit at and enjoy, as well!
So this is how we spent our weekend in St. Gallen. Of all the towns we visited in Switzerland, I think I miss this one the most. It was a bigger city, but it felt almost like home. The history is so interesting and rich here (like the chocolate!), I am sure there is so much more to see.
Oeschinensee, known as Switzerland’s most beautiful lake, lives up to the hype. This lake is nestled in the mountains surrounded by waterfalls. We managed to get some really beautiful shots and wanted to share them here. Enjoy!
First, we took the early train to Kandersteg in an attempt to avoid the crowds. It worked, despite being a super hot day. Next, you take a short walk through town to get to the gondola up.
Once you’re at the top of the mountain, it’s just a short walk to the lake. The surrounding area is gorgeous.
At the end of the trail, the lake sits, shimmering as the sun begins to hit it. We walked around as much of it as we could and discovered two gorgeous waterfalls. There were people camping around the lake, some fishing and some enjoying the lake on a raft. It’s an incredible place. And now for a lot of pictures.
Looking at these photos makes me want to go back ASAP. We would have loved to actually try the water, but it was so hot the day we were there that it was difficult to stay in the sun for longer than 5 minutes. It would be amazing to live in this area–so many people that were here by mid-day obviously come here often. So jealous! Though it was a bit far from where we were staying in Lauterbrunnen, this was one of our favorite places on our trip to Switzerland! You can see why. Check out the rest of our Switzerland adventures here!
Lake Thun is a beautiful lake to the west of Interlaken, Switzerland. There are numerous small towns along the shores and just gorgeous places to take in the view. We made our way around Lake Thun (pronounced “Tune”) stopping first at St. Beatus Caves, then at Oberhofen Castle, then the town of Thun. Here’s the story of our day!
We woke up early on our sixth day in Switzerland to bike around Lake Thun. When we got to the bike shop in Interlaken, the woman working the counter actually strongly advised us not to bike around Lake Thun. She said that biking around Lake Brienz was much more enjoyable and taking the bus or train around Lake Thun was the way to go. We trusted her judgment and hopped on the next bus out of Interlaken. The heat alone could have convinced us anyway. (And it was no big deal as we ended up biking through parts of Switzerland, Austria and Germany later in our trip.)
St. Beatus Caves
Our first stop was St. Beatus Caves. These caves are conveniently located directly on the bus route and cost $18 or $16 with a visitor’s card. They are the site of an old Augustan monastery, nestled inside a cliff side with waterfalls running down. The walk up is labeled a pilgrimage and takes you along several steep switchbacks.
The caves themselves were once home to a dragon that Beatus expelled. Now, there are well-explored, well-lit, and well-maintained walking paths that take you through several grottos, stalagmites, and mirrored pools.
We explored the caves for awhile and marveled at how they went back miles into the mountain. The self-guided tour was more than a mile in, but they say they are still discovering hidden chambers and offshoots of the system even today. Exiting the cave leads to a stunning view of Lake Thun from the top of the monastery.
Instead of heading out immediately to our bus and continuing around the lake, we enjoyed a slice of plum cake made with a rich cream and relaxed for a minute. The heat was cut by the cave for now.
The heat instantly hit us with the walk back down the hill. How we managed to wait the 10 minutes for the bus without bursting into flames is a mysterious miracle. But we made it on to the bus. Next stop – Oberhofen castle.
…except we accidentally got out at Oberhof – about 2 miles away from the castle. Instead of waiting 30 minutes for the next bus, we figured we could walk it and enjoy the lake. Which we did by stopping into little parks along the way and enjoying the shade and cool breeze. Folks were swimming and our jealousy was running high. We managed to get some beautiful shots of the lake along the way despite the heat.
We made it about half way and we saw our bus coming! Running in the sweltering heat, we caught up to it just in time. We still had another stop before getting to the castle. Finally we got there. Absolutely burning up at this point, we decided to enjoy a beer at Pier 17, which offers a great view of both the lake and the castle, before heading into the castle.
This helped cut the heat a bit more, but, again, not for long. We got our tickets (free with your Swiss Pass!) and headed onto the castle grounds.
We first walked around the grounds of the castle. There are beautiful gardens around the back and great places to relax along the lake. There also was a reading hut, which was a really peaceful place. A little too hot to hang out in that day though…
Once we’d had our fill, we headed inside. Immediately, we noticed children working during what should be a school day. This one was raking the stones in the driveway! Another approached us to give us a tour. Unfortunately, the child couldn’t speak English, so we sort of followed her around until she took us to someone who did: her teacher! Their teacher told us that the kids spend a summer learning to care for the castle and gaining a deep knowledge of its history. We listened as they presented in French and German.
The inside of the castle was as beautiful as the outside! Really pretty stained glass, gorgeous old furniture pieces and interesting historical writings on the walls.
After exploring Oberhofen Castle and hearing all the children’s presentations, we made our way to the bus stop to head to Thun. It wasn’t too far before we were there. There’s a river running through the city and an unmissable castle sitting high above it.
We decided to go through the town and try to get to the castle first. When we got there, unfortunately, it was closed (closes at 5 pm like a lot of attractions in Switzerland). Instead of going in then, we explored it from the outside. It was quite beautiful and looked like it would be interesting inside.
The surrounding area was also quite cool. We had to take stairway after stairway to get back down to the town.
It was ungodly hot, so we were happy to see there were covered staircases as well!
They also had a really fun directional sign (like the ones we saw all over Switzerland), with the directions for New York City and other familiar cities! With this backdrop, we were so happy to make it here.
Once we finally got back into the town, we got to explore (despite the hundred degree weather!). The town reminded me a bit of Lucerne, but much bigger. We had to find a plug with a US adapter, and actually found one here! It was overall a lovely place.
Also like Lucerne, there were covered bridges. We found two and happily walked across them. It was so hot, people were diving straight into the river and floating downstream. I loved the vibe in this town! If it weren’t so hot, we would have stayed much longer.
Even though we had seen plenty of covered bridges at this point, it was still so fun! They are quaint and make me feel like I’m walking through an older time.
Bonus city: Bern?
To round off this day-trip, we tried to fit in a quick trip to Bern. It isn’t too far from Thun by train. Alas, this proved too much. I think the heat got to us because once we got to Bern we were burning up! We couldn’t handle trying to explore. We hopped on the train to head back to Lauterbrunnen for dinner and a glass of wine. Alls well that ends well.
Here’s a fun memory to leave with you from Oberhofen Castle! They had a throne with a really heavy metal crown, and of course, Neal couldn’t resist trying it on. Adorable!
Ever wonder if how the way your culture approaches death is the best way to approach death? Ever wonder about it all? From Here to Eternity by Caitlin Doughty discusses the methods and traditions regarding death in cultures around the world. She gives brilliant descriptions of rituals and traditions from the people of Tana Toraja, Indonesia; Barcelona, Spain; Japan; and La Paz, Bolivia, among many, many others. Beside each of these descriptions is an illustration by Landis Blair to keep you engaged.
As Kafka said, “The meaning of life is that it ends.”
The way each of these peoples approach death, including the various Americans the author observes, is fascinating and thought-provoking. My personal experience with death aligns with some cultures’ desire to provide the family with as much time to grieve the loss with the physical body as possible. I know I felt that desire in my times of loss. It’s the connection long after death – with the bones – that I have no experience with and get a chill thinking about. But it is precisely that chill that the author is looking at and questioning.
In Barcelona, families have the ability to spend all day with their dead loved one laying in a glass casket (they’re not embalmed). Bolivia gives an interesting cultural significance to skulls. Individuals dream of and dig up skulls of loved ones and strangers alike, then dress up their bones and attribute magical powers to them. In Japan, people may cremate their loved ones and then pick through the ashes to fill an urn. In North Carolina, there’s a field of bodies being used for science. Each snapshot provides the rationale behind it and the authors lets you make up your own mind about how you feel about it.
The author also discusses her experience as a funeral home director in America and with cremations. She talks about the very few people who insist on being present for the cremation. Americans don’t want to think of their loved ones burning, I suppose. For some reason they take no issue with seeing them placed in the ground. Also, cities pass ordinances relegating crematoriums to industrialized areas and places no one would ever want to go, let alone to say goodbye to their loved one. Of course, I’ve never been invited to a cremation either… so it seems unlikely people know that’s an option.
This book also touches upon the environmental factor of death. How the way we choose to dispose of our dead impacts (or doesn’t) the environment. That part was even more interesting to me. I wonder if we will get to a point with our environment that it comes before our emotional connections. I suppose we’ll see.
Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.
Yes – these appear to be morbid topics, but as someone who seeks to be well-rounded in life, this book rounded out some of my cultural awareness edges. It’s also opened me up to choice – choice when I die, choice when more of my loved ones die. I think I have to agree with the author in perhaps the most interesting/best way to dispose of my body: vultures. Vultures can clean the flesh off of bones within minutes. Your flesh goes back into the world and your bones are there to bury or crush without the need for cremation or embalming or any of that nonesense. I leave it up to my loved ones some day, though….
If my decomposing carcass helps nourish the roots of a juniper tree or the wings of a vulture—that is immortality enough for me. And as much as anyone deserves
Interest in reading it? You can buy it on Amazon, here!
Sometimes I like to pretend NYC is an old city. I mean, come on, people started living here IN THE 1600s!! Yeah, I know, Europeans have bread older than that. And Switzerland is no exception. We got up close and personal with Switzerland’s oldest city, Chur, for 24 hours on our tripthroughoutthecountry. Chur’s history can be traced back to 3900-3500BC. It was worth stopping for!
We got to Chur (pronounced “kur”) by taking the Glacier Express from Zermatt. It’s a 6+ hour train and the scenery is okay. You go through the countryside, with glimpses of mountaintops here and there. They serve food and drink as well, if you’re looking to buy on board.
I have to say I think if we did it again knowing what we know now, we would likely just take a regular train for this leg (the Glacier Express is expensive!).
Old Town Chur
When we got to Chur, we immediately began adventuring. We knew we didn’t have a lot of time, so we wanted to explore as much as we could. Chur is sort of a classic old town. It has very narrow, cobbled streets. The restaurants all put chairs out on the cobbled streets for patrons to eat outside.
It also has a lot of archways that connect the buildings.
At one end of Old Town, there’s also a lovely garden. We sat and decompressed a little here among flowers and towering trees.
It has lots of churches, which we went in and explored.
St. Martin’s Church is essentially in the center of Old Town. It feels like it brings the whole town together. It’s beautiful inside, but not overly decadent.
St. Maria’s church is just steps behind St. Martin’s. It was a dark church with some interesting grave markers.
Behind St. Maria’s, there’s a beautiful vineyard as well.
We walked out of St. Maria’s and old town to go up a small hill to another church, St. Luzi. There’s a cemetery behind St. Maria’s, then the road, then this impressive church. It’s very picturesque with the mountainside all around.
Chur’s such a special place, we were so happy we stayed here. When we came back down the hill and stairways into Old Town, we saw a beautiful, picturesque building and then noticed it had barbed wire all around it. We were so confused! It turns out in the middle of Old Town is a prison! And a gorgeous one at that.
I will never not look for street art everywhere we go 🙂 As it turns out, Old Town Chur has some interesting pieces!
I liked this little dog. No indication of who the artist is on these pieces, but I hope s/he knows seeing these images as we rounded whatever tight corner in Old Town Chur brought a smile to my face! We even saw this lovely piece leaving Chur!
Where we stayed
We decided to stay in a hotel in Old Town for our stay in Chur. So we ended up at Romantik Hotel Stern. The hotel is small and adorable. We had a balcony looking out on the street.
The hotel is on the edge of Old Town, so it is a short walk to the narrow streets, churches and shops. I think the best thing about this hotel was the breakfast. It was so good!
Below our hotel was a restaurant called Veltliner and Bundner Stuben. We had a really nice dinner and the staff was so sweet!
We also had a lot of gelato in Chur because it was hot and there was so much of it! Chocolate shops and bakeries also line the cobbled streets. Along the edge of Old Town there is a Fine Arts museum we almost ducked into, but didn’t want to lose the precious daylight in Chur. There is so much to see and do there!
We had a great time in our short stay in Chur! I am so glad we broke up our trip from Zermatt to St. Gallen with this stay.