My blog updates about my amazing spring break trip to Switzerland have been anything but consistent. College professors love to bookend spring break with exams, papers, problem sets and other heavy assignments. So for now, I'm going to blame the fact that I'm a busy college student as the reason that my vacation photos are going up 3 weeks after my return to the states. Oh well.
Check out the gallery to see what I did Wednesday through Saturday of my spring break. Photos from the Geneva Motor Show and my tour of Nyon will come later, I haven't gotten to those yet.Read More
The theme for Friday was gluttony. Shirley and Ed wanted to take me to my first wine tasting at a vineyard run by a family they befriended. Situated in the quiet countryside of Morges, the vineyard has been family owned since inception. We pulled into the driveway at the vineyard at 5:00 PM on the dot--just in time. After rolling past the large main house we parked in front of the garage where Louie was waiting for us. Louie, a kindly Swiss man and the original owner of the vineyard welcomed us with a French bonjour.
Louie brought us around the garage to see the crew lining up and planting new vines. He then brought us back to the house to tour the cellar and see the fermentation barrels and casks. Afterwards we made our way over to the tasting room attached to the side of the house. Two walls of glass, orange walls, a warm wooden table and a classic chandelier made a tasting environment that appeared to all the senses.
Through five bottles of white and two bottles of red, Louie entertained and charmed us with his stories about wine and wine making. It was a spectacular thrill to listen to his wine making stories on the property while looking out the back window and onto the vines that made the fruit that was in my cup. Just before sunset the family's two geese appeared in the side lawn as if to welcome us to the property.
After two hours of tasting and conversing in French and English, we said our thank yous, loaded Shirley and Ed's wine order into the car and headed into town for some Indian food for dinner. We finished off the day over butter naan, butter chicken (that was a bit too salty), lamb saga, lamb and rice, and cool yogurt with cucumber.Read More
On the way from Château de Gruyères to the wine tasting in Morges, we had a little extra time to kill. After having some delicious Gruyère cheese both for lunch on Friday and during dinner on Wednesday night, I wanted to see where it was made. We stopped at the factory that made Gruyères' signature cheese to witness modern cheese making. Aisles upon aisles stacked two stories high with wheels of soon-to-be cheese filled the factory floor.
A machine the size of a forklift was stationed halfway down one of the aisles and was examining and brushing the cheese wheels. It would pull out a wheel from its shelf, do its thing for 15 seconds, and then place the wheel back into its shelf and move onto the next wheel. And this was all completely automated, there wasn't a human in sight.Read More
After stuffing ourselves with chocolate, the next item on the itinerary was a short drive over to the town of Gruyères; more specifically the village at the base of the town's castle. For lunch I had what was advertised as "unlimited fondue," made with the town's namesake cheese of course. There was bread for dipping and wine for to complement my wheat and cheese filled lunch. By the end of the meal I polished off two pots of Gruyères' finest.
Concerned about how much we just ate, we stumbled out of out seats and trudged up the steep cobblestone street to the castle at the top of the hill. Like Château de Chillon, the castle at Gruyères had incredible views of the Swiss mountains and countryside, though that's about all that they had in common. Where Château de Chillon felt more medieval and defensive, Château de Gruyères had more of a Tudor and homely feel to it. The gardens and (relatively) large windows probably helped to establish a different atmosphere.Read More
On Friday morning Ed, Shirley and I got up bright and early, as usual, and piled into the car to head off on perhaps the busiest day of the week. The first stop was the Cailler chocolate factory for a tour. As one of the oldest chocolatier in Switzerland, Cailler has had plenty of time to perfect both the production of chocolate and the factory tour. Think "It's a Small World" meets the Willy Wonka tour and you get an idea of what Cailler had in store for us.
For 20 minutes we were led through a procession of rooms exhibiting Cailler's and Switzerland's rich chocolate history. Next we were deposited out into a room full of the ingredients that go into producing chocolate. Further along on the tour is a fully automated machine producing bite size bars of chocolate.
The final stop on the tour was a room that displayed all the varieties of chocolate produced at the factory and an unlimited supply of samples. I stopped at every station I could and sampled a dozen or so varieties of chocolate. Milk, dark, and white, there was a healthy assortment of chocolate creations available to try. What followed through was a pre-lunch chocolate high. And like all good attractions, Cailler dumped us out into their gift shop to purchase our favorites among the chocolates we just sampled. They got CHF 15 out of me.Read More
When Ed and I returned from Chamonix, Shirley prepared a delectable multi-course meal that appealed to all senses. Dinner started off with a zucchini cream soup that had a hint of curry. The second course was pan seared foie gras atop green lentils and a currant and berry compote. That course was paired a side of micro greens and a Sauternes wine.
Third course was a French-Asian fusion chicken medallion with ginger garlic and a side of spinach. The final dinner course was muscles prepared with ginger, lemongrass, chili, soy sauce and a touch of sugar. The muscles were paired with a Pinot noir. For dessert Shirley set us up to make our own truffles. She made a bowl of dark chocolate ganache with side toppings of coconut powder, coconut shaving, cocoa powder and raspberries.
I settled into a routine here: I had a fun, though busy day out traveling and then I was in bed and asleep by 10:30. Thursday was no exception as Ed and I headed over to the ski resort town of Chamonix in France. About a 90 minute drive from Nyon, Chamonix is perched at the base of some breathtaking French Alps, most notably Mont Blanc which is the highest peak in the Alps.
On the drive to Chamonix we had the mountains in front of us the entire trip, which reaffirmed that we were headed in the right direction. We arrived in Chamonix around 2:00 and stopped at La Petite Kitchen for lunch where I had a steak onion and cheese sandwich with frites and hot lemon tea, very French. On our way to the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car Ed and I stopped at a bakery to pick up a pastry with the generic name delicieux--a name so generic in fact that Google images did not find anything that looked remotely like it. You're going to have to take my word that delicieux is a pastry made from filo dough, sliced almonds and raspberries and what tasted like mountains of butter.
A pastry in one hand and a camera in the other, Ed and I wandered through Chamonix in the direction of the Aiguille du Midi Cable Car, eventually finding the base station and ticket booth. Soon after, we were in a large 60-person gondola and assented the first 2354 meters up to Plan de l'Aiguille in about 10 minutes. We transferred gondolas and in another 10 minutes climbed to Aiguille du Midi at 3800 meters.
Once we departed the cable car, Ed and I had to get used to the fact that we were a couple miles above sea level. I'm not sure if you've heard but there's a lot less oxygen up there. Huffing and light headed we climbed several sets of stairs until we reached the bottom observation decks. A turn around the corner revealed the enormity of what we had just climbed; the mountains chained their way outward as far as we could see. Other than breathtaking (see what I did there?), the panorama of mountains flexed the raw power of nature and showed how small man really is. But then it got better.
Down the stairs, through a couple of convoluted hallways and across a bridge brought us to the base of an elevator carved into the rock. By 4:00 Ed and I were in one of the last groups to ride the elevator up those final meters to the 3482 meter observation deck. Up there we had a closer vantage point to the glacial peak of Mont Blanc. Though the sun was still up it was beginning its descent into the west, making the glacier and snow capped peaks shine and sparkle. I experimented taking a combination of various angles, panorama shots and videos on my camera but nothing really compares--this view must be seen in person.
Ed thought we might be able to see the Matterhorn on a clear day, but no dice. According to the various maps up there, Switzerland's most famous mountain wasn't visible from France's tallest. Not that it really mattered though as we saw a ton of other impressive peaks, both snow capped and not
After not long enough, we were ushered back down the elevator, through another convoluted set of stairs, bridges and hallways. We boarded the last departing gondola of the day back down the mountain. Going up may have been fast but going back down was faster. We transferred gondolas again at Plan de l'Aiguille and began our final descent. There were three cable towers along the route and after passing over each one the gondola would begin to descend a bit quicker which put us passengers in a temporary free fall; it was great.
When we reached the bottom a souvenir magnet and gelato were in order: banana's foster for me and rum raisin for Ed. The drive back to Nyon down a tight mountain road and through various mountain passes was traffic and border-stop free.Read More
What a busy couple of days so far, let me fill you in.
My flight from Washington to Geneva landed on time, right around 7:00 AM local time, so that was good. Ed picked me up from the airport and we headed straight to Nyon where he lives--in a very Swiss feeling house up a narrow lane. A lane so narrow in fact that he must retract the side view mirrors on his borrowed car to drive up the lane, otherwise they would scrape on the walls and homes that line the driveway.
After settling in with a shower and large cup of delicious coffee that Shirley made for me, we headed off to the Geneva Motor Show. After I woke up on Sunday, stayed up the entire day, headed to the airport at 3:00 AM and then flew to Geneva (via IAD) without really sleeping in between, the Geneva Motor Show was perhaps the most effective stimulant imaginable for keeping me awake.
So far in my life I've attended a couple seasons of both the New York and Los Angeles auto shows, but Geneva's easily blew both of those out of the water. It's gigantic and filled every one of Palexpo's 102,000 square meters. The show features automakers, both high and low volume, that cater to every market in Europe so there were roughly 50-75% more exhibitors than at any U.S. auto show. To make the most of my time at the show, I limited myself to only looking at exotic cars, concepts and makes and models that I knew I would never see in the U.S. I'll try and write up my impressions in a later post when I post pictures from the show.
After the show Ed and I headed off to the home of one of his friends to have dinner. This friend had a 16-year-old daughter whose nickname was pronounced in a similar way as my last name, so that was kind of a "small world" experience. After staying awake for roughly 50 hours straight, I finally headed to bed around 10 PM local time.
On Wednesday, after I slept in and caught up with the time difference, Ed and I headed off on an a day trip around lake Geneva. Driving along the lake's north shore, our first stop was in Lausanne to have lunch at a wonderful Vietnamese restaurant. Afterwards we toured the halls and basked in the sun shining through the stained glass of the Lausanne Cathedral. Then we got back in the car and headed towards Château de Chillon via a quick detour to quickly see the the sculpted gardens along Montreux's shore with Lake Geneva.
Once at Château de Chillon Ed and I toured as much as we could of the old castle in the 90 minutes before it closed for the day. I saw dungeons, the crypt, a dining hall, various bedrooms, a bathing room, latrines, court yards, turrets, ammunition and weapons storage rooms among many others not listed here. The view of the Alps and Lake Geneva out of the castle were brilliant and quintessentially Swiss. As the sun was setting, the light was dancing off the lake and the snowy mountain peaks which made for some excellent photos--that I will share later once they're edited.
Ed and I got back to Nyon around 7:30 that night where Shirley, who had stayed home for the day, prepared a savory dinner experience that appealed to all senses. We started out with a cheese plate featuring Gruyère, Sbrinz, Appenzeller and Saint Agur Blue. I typically don't care for blue cheese but this double cream Saint Agur Blue was quite good and was easily the surprise of the bunch. Following the cheese plate was a salad of avocado, sweet bell peppers and blueberries topped with an apple cider and maple vinaigrette. The main course was an expertly roasted rack of lamb complemented by a current and berry sauce, rice with onion and bacon, and a medley of Taiwanese mushrooms and vegetables. The meal ended with some rich vanilla and caramel Swiss ice cream paired with dessert wines.
A long day followed by an excellent meal left no reason for me to continue to stay away, I was asleep by 10 PM.Read More
Or to be more precise, traveling again. After powering through the first half of my junior spring semester, I am fortunate enough this year to be heading to visit my step-dad in Geneva over my spring break. This trip couldn't have come at a better time: I just closed out an extremely hectic and crazy week filled with an essay, a mid term exam, two problem sets, various meetings, two on campus jobs and a quick dinner with my mom. Knowing that I would be headed toward one of Switzerland's most vibrant cities at soon was (forgive the cliche) the light at the end of the tunnel. Coincidentally, one of the many things Switzerland is known for is having some of the most incredible tunnels this world has ever seen.
But I'm not quite there yet. Right now I'm sitting at Dulles enjoying the spoils of the east coast and waiting for my flight to the home of those famous treaties. And in the meantime though I'll continue to indulge in free airport WiFi and Dunkin' Donuts' blueberry cake and maple frosted donuts.Read More
I've been putting off this post for a little over a week now and I'm not quite sure why. Probably because I wasn't entirely sure what to write or what the right thing to say would be. In my Junior year of high school, I had a wonderful and extremely influential English teacher who taught me that 90% of all writing is pre-writing: thinking about what you mean to say, how you want to say it and the words to choose. Sitting down in front of the computer or blank page, is the easy part then. And for the majority of my posts so far, that is what I've done and it's worked well. I had experienced something, I thought about how I was going to craft that experience into words, and then I just type away for a few minutes--usually satisfied with the result. In Hong Kong, sometimes I was too busy with school work or my social life to get to that last "writing-things-out" part, and I regret that. However, I've been home for 10 days now and I've have had adequate time to compose and post, though I haven't. But then as I was WhatsApping one of the amazing friends that I met in Hong Kong this morning, I realized that I should stop thinking and just write. So, thanks to Zihui, here are a series of observations.
The battle with jet lag was exactly as difficult as everyone I spoke to said it would be. It took me about a week to completely return to a normal sleeping schedule. My abnormal sleeping pattern involved falling asleep at around 10 PM and waking up again at 4 AM. This was not acceptable and I'm glad to have put that behind me.
I still haven't fully unpacked. While coming home for Christmas break has turned into a routine by now, I've never brought such a large quantity of stuff home. And knowing that I will be packing most of it up in three weeks and taking it to California hasn't helped me want to unpack properly. Instead what I've been left with is piles of stuff on the floor of my room, as evidenced by the featured image for today's post.
It's been nice to see family that I haven't seen in months.
The temperature and weathe here in the Tri-State area is not at cold or windy as it was in Beijing. So either memory is wrong or we're having an unusually warm winter. I'm going to bet on the latter.
I really miss the food in Hong Kong, especially Hong Kong-style milk tea. I was in New York's Chinatown with my friend on New Years Day and I made the mistake of ordering an egg tart and milk tea at a Chinese bakery there. The egg tart wasn't flaky and tasted a bit off while the tea didn't taste as great as I remember it. The tea was served in a paper take-out cup, so after picking up the lid and inspecting the contents I realized that the milk tea was made with a tea bag and regular milk--so basically the wrong way to do it. I did however have some delicious curry fish balls that I bought from a street vendor outside of a Hong Kong-style restaurant.
I took a peek at the Google Analytics for this site, which I haven't done in a while, and I realized that most of my readers are not clicking the "Read More" button that I implemented for the sake of aesthetics. So while the button will still be visible, I'm going to put most of my future content above the break... so you'll see it.
Most of my experiences and impressions from Hong Kong never made it up onto the blog. I also have hundreds of photos that I need to sort through, edit and upload. While they're all still fresh in the mind, I intend to stick them up, so stay tuned.Read More