Thursday, November 19, 2015

Portugal Trip: Overview

The Ts try Portugal
We spent the half-term school holiday the first week of November in Porto, Portugal.

Portugal is sort of an easy country to overlook; in fact, several well-traveled European friends told me they've never been. But many of our kids' schoolmates are Portuguese, so they hear about Portugal a lot (albeit mostly football/soccer related!) and so they were keen to see firsthand what all the fuss is about.  Plus, Pete said he has always wanted to go. Budget airline easyjet offers direct flights from Luxembourg.  And then we found a cheap Airbnb, so I was pretty much sold.

Easyjet flights go to Lisbon or Porto, and Porto seemed like the slightly less touristy option. The area is probably best known for originating Port wine.

a tasty sample left by our apartment hosts
Our flat was actually near the beach in Vila Nova Da Gaia, across the Douro river from Porto. We opted to rent a car for our 5 day stay.

making himself at home
We split our time between the beach and the city, with the weather split between rainy...
Porto from Vila Nova de Gaia side of the river
...and pleasantly-partly-cloudy
also Porto from Vila Nova De Gaia
So, a few further posts on Portugal forthcoming...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Switzerland - Wrap Up

Just a small handful of photos to tie up our Switzerland trip from last month...

After our morning at Grindelwald and afternoon in Brienz, in the evening we headed back to base camp in Interlaken to watch the paragliders land while eating a grocery store dinner.

Pete's parents left for Zurich early the next morning, and we headed back to Luxembourg.  On the way back we stopped just briefly at the town of Spiez on Lake Thun - basically just to say we at least looked at the other lake. 

We found a little castle and chapel by the lake in a lovely park-like setting.

And that's about it for our 2-days-and-3-nights-first-time-in-Switzerland.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Switzerland - Brienz

After our morning exploring Grindelwald, we drove back to Interlaken and along Brienzersee (Lake Brienz) to the lakeside town of Brienz.

Lunch by the water was the first order of business.

mystical blue

A post-meal walk along the lake afforded more turquoise-blue views, as well as a few playful diversions along the way, including another oversized chess board, small playground equipment, and even an interactive water feature.

We also stumbled across a few woodcarving shops along the way.

This shop's work area was open to the public.  Daphne spoke to a young woman in German about practicing the carvings in clay
As we continued through the oldest part of town, we amused ourselves with many a tiny wooden door.

And we finally made it to the church at the edge of town before we headed back along the lake.

the end of Brienz
Brienz was quite the family-friendly stop.  We even had some amazing ice cream on the way back to the car (not pictured, too busy devouring it).

One more Swiss post to come...

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Switzerland - Grindelwald

perfect weather in Grindelwald
(First Switzerland post here.)

On our second morning in Switzerland we drove to Grindelwald.

Once there we realized that the town itself wasn't much, but that there were three main jaw-dropping mountain-bits to see.  We spent the morning walking (hiking) around the hilly town to get better views of these three bits.

And here they are.

View/Mountain #1:

View/Mountain #2:

View/Mountain #3:

with goat
with Swiss house
with Ts
But the highlight of this particular outing was that we stumbled upon a man at a mountain cafe with an alphorn sitting next to his table.  Pete got Daphne to ask him in German to play it, and Pete got it on video. Unfortunately I'm too lazy to track it down on Pete's phone and upload it here.  Here is an Instagram screenshot instead:

Our Swiss experience just got Swiss-er.  
So, we can't top that, but more Switzerland posts to come.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Switzerland - Mürren & Allmendhubel

The company Pete's dad works for has an office in Zurich, so his mom suggested we join them both in Switzerland for a couple of days before his dad checked in with Swiss office. The two of them were actually hiking in Lucerne just before visiting us in Luxembourg.  She arranged for us to stay in Interlaken and explore the surrounding alpine region known as the Bernese Oberland. 

Interlaken, as you might deduce from the name, is situated between two lakes
It's no secret that Switzerland is extremely expensive, but we found that you do get what you pay for.  The views are stunning and you're basically stuck saying "Wow" on repeat.  Another advantage: Luxembourg suddenly seems quite reasonably priced.

Most of the best spots in the Swiss alps can only be reached by a series of chairlifts, gondola lifts, cable cars, rack railways, funiculars and the like - each with its own hefty price tag.

all those red and black lines are aerial lifts and train tracks
Quickly ruling out venturing to the very-expensive-tippy-top of anything, and armed with the advice of Rick Steves as well as friends who've visited this the area before, we set out on a relatively inexpensive outing to Mürren.  One small gondola ride + one small cog train ride put us in this picturesque town with views of Jungfrau peak and the Lauterbrunnen Valley.

We see so many photos of snowcapped mountains in our lifetimes that they tend to wash over us without much impact.  Being in the Swiss alps is much, much different that seeing a photo, mostly because you are suddenly faced with the majesty and shear size of it all, and your puny self in comparison.  Photos won't do the experience justice, as the old cliché says.

But this is a blog, so here come lots.

As we headed off the main road away from the other tourists, we stumbled upon a recreation center. The guys checked out ping pong paddles and a ball for a quick outdoor match, while the kids played giant alpine chess.

I wandered afield and found a chapel...

chapel views
We eventually made our way back down to the village in search of food.

We stopped at cafe for lunch, whereupon we immediately met someone from Portland, Oregon.  We saw/heard many Americans up here, in fact. It's always a bit disconcerting rather than comforting when this happens, in part because it forces us to acknowledge that we're part of the problem!  Ah well. I still blame Rick Steves.

American taking the photo. American in the red jacket. Americans everywhere.
We decided on one last splurge for the day - a funicular to Allmendhubel above Mürren.

funicular track in the background
up we go
We saw a few helicopters moving cargo from mountaintop to mountaintop
Allmendhubel boasts a panoramic restaurant, a fantastic playground, and definitely some wow-on-repeat views.

We then followed the signs back to Mürren via the "Children's Adventure Trail." It was unclear from the guidebook what exactly this was, but we have children and are not against adventure so why not.

always more photo ops
The children's adventure part turned out to be a hidden playground in the woods (we almost walked right past the slide before we even noticed it)

Further down the trail was another small playground and picnic spot...

And here we finally got our first real up-close encounter with Swiss cows and their chiming-rather-than-clanging cowbells.
Now we're REALLY in Switzerland.  Video/audio on my Instagram :)
Another Switzerland post or two coming soon...