32 hours of traveling

Doha airportSo we are finally home.  We left at 9:19am yesterday from Grindelwald station (that was 10:19am SA time) and arrived home at 6:10pm.  The flight from Doha to Cape Town was pretty uneventful. We ate breakfast, slept, watched some movies, ate some more, landed in Johannesburg, waited for the change of crew and then flew to Cape Town.  The plane was pretty empty (our cabin was not more than 50% occupied) and at Johannesburg most people got off leaving only us and one other couple in the cabin.

It was a LONG travel home.  The extra few hours in Doha were the killer. If we had just had a short layover of a few hours then it would have been fine but the 7 hours there is what made it feel so long. However, I reminded everyone as we disembarked in CT that it was a substantial cost saving doing it this way to traveling on any other airline.  It was a really enjoyable an relaxing 10 days though. We did have some casualties along the way. I noticed yesterday (as I tried to put the passports in my back pocket of my jeans) that what I thought was my back pocket was actually a 7cm tear in my jeans. Nothing to do about that except wear my shirt out over for it for 32 hours. And more importantly, Michael had one big wipeout on the mountain while skiing. His neck hurt the neck morning but that seems to have recovered but he hasn’t stopped complaining though (about 3 days later) about his ribs. They are either bruised or cracked … guess we will have to take him to a doctor sometime this week to find out which.  It didn’t deter him from skiing though!

I promised some random thoughts on Switzerland and the trip (as I usually do) and so here they are:

  1. Switzerland is extremely expensive unless you are buying cheese
  2. If you want a cheap holiday, don’t go to Switzerland (or get someone else to pay for you)
  3. It is a really beautiful country – whether it is either winter or summer
  4. It is amazing that at 0 degrees C the number of people who sit outside and have lunch/dinner/coffee (we even did it once)
  5. Swiss chocolate is really good (and you should know that Swiss consume 90% of their chocolate themselves – only 10% is exported – just imagine how much they eat)
  6. If you want to learn to ski, do it when you are young
  7. Switzerland is a really expensive country to live in
  8. The train system works unbelievably well – don’t make the mistake of hiring a car if you’re visiting Switzerland – just use the trains (even though they are expensive)
  9. The Swiss know how to make good cheese and it is cheap relative to anywhere you might live
  10. Somebody needs to tell the Doharians that they need to build a tunnel under the runway so that the bus trip from the one side of the airfield to the other doesn’t take 15 minutes (we had to endure that again today)
  11. Switzerland is a very expensive country
  12. It is hot in the desert even in winter
  13. For being an expensive country the Swiss are rather unsophisticated when it comes to electricity and plumbing

I normally restrict myself to no more observations than days visiting a country but I think 13 is a good number to end on.  Did I mention that Switzerland is an expensive country to visit?  If not, I did now. Will we go back again … once the bank balance has recovered I reckon the answer is yes we will.  Any place that looks this beautiful is worth visiting again!

Grindelwald at night

 

Travel home

Grindelwald stationWe left (what is now) yesterday from Grindelwald for our 36 hours of travel home.  It was pretty much a reversing our of journey here except we had a 8 hour lay over in Doha. We had to take 3 trains from Grindelwald with the first one leaving at 9:19am. And as this is Switzerland, you can bet it will definitely leave at 9:19am. We walked down to the station and managed not to slip on the icy/snowy road down to the station.  We changed trains at Interlaken Ost onto an ICE (Intercity City Express) train which was actually heading to Berlin as it’s final destination. That is a long way from Interlaken. We changed again at Bern onto the train for Zurich airport.  All the trains ran exactly to time and we arrived at Zurich airport at 12:19pm.

Once we had checked in and cleared security we found a good Swiss restaurant to have lunch at – Burger King.  Stephen reckoned it was the most expensive fast food meal we have ever had (a Burger and Fries cost over R100 without a drink) and I suspect he is right. We looked at the duty free shopping and did buy some T-shirts for each of the kids (it is our tradition to get the kids a T-shirt from the places we go on holiday). The most amusing thing we saw in the Duty Free was the 5 kg bottle of Nutella (Stephen took a photo for you Lara).

The flight from Zurich to Doha left at 3:15pm. Chloe and I watched as a lady clearly had some issue with boarding the flight. The discussions went on at the door for some time and eventually she and her partner got off and they announced that they had to now find the luggage of the two passengers and do a security check of all the baggage on board by getting people to identify their luggage in the overhead compartment. I had never thought about that issue previously but clearly as they had been on board they could have left something on the plane and then disembarked feigning illness. Once that was completed Stephen sleepingthey closed the doors only to find a problem with the one door which required an engineer to come and check it out. And once that had happened we had missed our takeoff slot and so air traffic control told us we had to wait another 10 minutes before taking off. That resulted in us leaving about 45 minutes late. By this stage only Chloe and I were awake of the family – the rest of them had fallen asleep.

The plane was very empty – there were only 10 people in our compartment and so our family made up 50% of them. The service and food were again very good. Chloe and I counted coming over we had 10 hot towels brought to us (the others missed out on some as they were asleep). So far on the way back we have had 3. (Chloe is my favoured travel companion – she is the only one that doesn’t fall asleep on takeoff and actually communicates with me when we are on board so I always sit next to her on flights.) The wines on board are ridiculously good. Helen had Bollinger champagne (which is the official supplier of champagne to the Queen).  I had a white Burgundy followed by a 2007 Bordeaux.  Both were excellent. With the cheese I had a 1974 Port – yes you read that correctly – 1974! And they opened the bottle for me as I was the only person having it and no doubt they had to pour the rest away. You have no idea the pain I experience at that thought …

We landed in Doha at 11:45pm. We had pre-booked a hotel for the night (paid courtesy of Qatar airlines). Unfortunately it is a real process to get into Doha as we need visas. But they at least make it relatively painless for us.  We had to just sit in a lounge while they sorted out all the paperwork. Then they cleared passport control for us in the lounge as well so that we could skip the immigration queue. They walk you through immigration and straight to the hotel kiosk. Fortunately the hotel was relatively close though we had to do two U-turns to actually get to the hotel. By this stage it was 12:45am Dohaian time. It took another 15 minutes of paperwork, scanning of passports etc to get the hotel room keys.

Hotel DohaIt was a 5-star hotel (pic from airport of it) – very nice from what I saw for the short time. Our vouchers entitled us to dinner and breakfast. Neither of which we used as at 1am in the morning all we wanted to do was go to sleep and we had to leave at 5am for the airport again. At about 1:30am the TV suddenly came on ensured we had not fallen asleep! No idea why except that it started with the procedures for evacuating the hotel and then stopped. Might have been the start of a fire alarm. We all took some time to fall asleep and so we probably only got 2.5 hours or so of sleep. So excuse any typos or grammatical errors or missing words in this blog (I get heavily criticized by the family for all my errors usually).

It is now 6am and we are back at the Doha airport waiting to board the flight to Cape Town (which goes via Johannesburg). The hotel refused to allow us to take the shuttle bus – we had to be taken in two separate cars to the airport. They do drive like lunatics in Doha. And they are an amazing number of people up at 12:30pm and also at 5am in the morning here. It doesn’t seem that anything stops operating. We had some breakfast in the lounge. Foul foodThey have an Oriental breakfast but they even marked that as ‘Foul’ so we avoided that and had the scrambled egg instead.

I will do one more blog post on the trip home and my usual post on some thoughts on Switzerland.

Last full day

ChaletSo today was our last full day in Switzerland. And when we woke up it was a beautiful clear day with bright blue sky. As no-one was skiing we all slept in a little and had a late and leisurely breakfast. Helen and I wanted to go to Lauterbrunnen which is where we stayed when we came to Switzerland the first time 19.5 years ago. It is in the next valley and while we could take the train (at some exorbitant price), we decided to drive instead. On the way out we realized the rest of Switzerland was arriving in Grindelwald though. The traffic was backed up to two villages prior to Grindelwald! It seems everyone had decided that Grindelwald is the place to spend New Years.

EigerWe were fortunately going against the flow and made it relatively easily to Lauterbrunnen only to discover that all the parking areas were full and so we could not park and walk around the town even. At 0 degrees C I am not sure we would have lasted long walking around anyway. We headed through the town and out toward the Schilthorn cable car station. The Schilthorn is the mountain peak which has the revolving restaurant on top of it that was featured in James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (a Sean Connery one). As we approached the cable car station they were stopping cars from about 1km before it and making them park in the road and you had to walk the balance of the way. We did a U-turn and headed back to Grindelwald. On the way back we did get some beautiful views of the Eiger though (which I have not really done justice with the photo that I have included).

KreutzAs it was our last day, my Dad had offered to take us out for lunch to one of the local Swiss restaurants (Kreuz) that they frequent when they are here. It is one of those genuine Swiss restaurants.  The best value for money is always to have the Tagesmenu (menu of day) and that was soup followed by Rump Steak. Most of them (Helen, Stephen and my parents) had that while Michael and I went for the Wiener Schnitzel and Chloe went for spaghetti (she still hasn’t realised that spaghetti is actually an Italian food). We had to have our standard Swiss desert as I could not come to Switzerland and not have a Coupe Denmark (yes I realise the irony). If you have never had one then you have missed a cholesterol load. It is basically, vanilla ice cream plus enough cream to match the ice cream plus enough chocolate sauce to cover both the ice cream and cream.

After lunch, we stopped on route back, at the local supermarket (Co-Op) to stock up on chocolate to take home. The Swiss monetary system is crazy in that they have coins for SF5 and below. That is like having a R50 coin. The problem is that you accumulate a huge number coins.  We bought about SF60 worth of goods and I paid in coins! That is about R500 worth in coins. Quite ridiculous. I am sure that my left side has been stretched from carrying all those coins in my wallet.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent recovering from the cholesterol overload from lunch and packing up. We leave first thing tomorrow morning to reverse the journey we took to get here.  I am sure that will be another whole blog by itself still. And by the way, I promised a picture of the chalet. That is the picture at the top of the blog post today (and yes that is a layer of snow on the roof).  And Josie, this last picture is for you – it is Helen drinking the soup from the Tagesmenu which she said was superb (she made me take it and post it) …

Helen + Soup

Last skiing day

We woke up this morning to find about an inch of fresh snow had fallen overnight in the town. It was the last day of skiing for the boys. I took them to the cable car station again and drove a little more carefully down the hill because the road was a combination of snow and ice. It stayed overcast the whole day but it didn’t rain at all and we saw the odd snowflake fall (very occasionally).

Helen and ChloeHelen and Chloe took the train into Interlaken to go and do some shopping and they had lunch while they were there.  Of course the simple lunch (of spaghetti) cost close to R500 for the two of them.  Switzerland is really expensive when it comes to eating out.  There aren’t many cheap things in Switzerland. In fact I reckon the only cheap thing (by SA standards) is cheese. You can get some ridiculously good quality cheese at very low prices. I bought a goats milk cheese for about R40 – it would probably cost us R70-R80 for the same thing in SA.  We also bought the no-name brand Brie from the supermarket and besides it being exceptionally good it was only about R25.  If you want to do Switzerland on the cheap then it has to be bread and cheese! Helen and Chloe did get some free merchandise at the station. We reckon it was a ‘Where’s Wally’ promotion they were running.

Michael wanted to go and help the Japanese skiers again this afternoon so he went to Bodmi again for his afternoon ski.  He also reckons that he had to make maximum use of his expensive ski pass. I reckon he has gotten his value for money. He skied back to the chalet (as he has done every afternoon from Bodmi).

Dad braaingWe had an earlier than usual supper tonight because there is night skiing at Bodmi on Friday’s.  Switzerland are a sophisticated country but when it comes to plumbing and electricity they need some help. My Dad has an electric braai on the balcony of the chalet and we were cooking Veal Bratwurst for supper. In order to use the electric braai you have to turn off pretty much all the lights inside the chalet. Felt like back in SA when the load shedding was happening. You would think that in such a sophisticated country they would be able to provide sufficient power into a chalet so that you could use braai at the same time as the lights. The other issue is that they don’t have hot water cylinders. They heat the water centrally for the whole complex of chalets and they only do it twice a day. So if too many people bath after the water heating has taken place then you run out of hot water until the next morning. That definitely is a problem when you have 7 people staying in the same chalet and all wanting to warm up after being outside skiing or tobogganing. Apfelstrudel(@Josie – we had Apfelstrudel for desert as well – you can see in the picture how excited Helen was. Problem is you might not see the Apfel past all the cream on Helen’s Apfel.)

The one thing I failed to mention that Michael has not only improved his skiing but also improved his plumbing skills. On two occasions the toilet was not re-filling and Michael the Plumber stepped up to fix it. I am very chuffed with his new found skill as it will save us a fortune at home. We have a problem with the guest toilet that I am looking forward to having him fix when we get home. He is also now sorted for a future career … I was always a little worried what exactly he would end up doing.

After dinner my Dad took Helen, Stephen, Michael and Chloe up to Bodmi.  The boys were skiing for the last time (as we have to take the boots back tomorrow) and Helen and Chloe tobogganed. I stayed and looked after my Mom (and did some work).

Tomorrow is our last full day in Switzerland before we start the 24 hour journey home again.

Bodmi nightStephen skiing1Michael skiing1Helen toboggan

And some more skiing

The weather overnight had changed from clear to raining when we woke this morning. The boys again were off with their instructor to go skiing on at First. Everyone else was sleeping in and so I took them to the cable car station (which is only about a 2 minute drive). Most people walk to the station but it isn’t the easiest thing in the world to walk with ski boots on and carrying your ski’s and poles so they get the luxury of being dropped off instead.

By the time the resDadt woke up it had stopped raining but was heavily overcast and stayed that way the rest of today. Helen, Chloe and I decided to walk down into the town of Grindelwald (it is only a 100 meter walk down to the main road) and to do some shopping. We did all the shops on both sides of the road and managed to buy a few things (mainly chocolate). There is a chocolateer in town and they were selling 99% Lindt chocolate (the picture of my Dad is after he has savoured it). If you have never tasted it then contact us when we are back and we will happily let you try. It comes with it’s own set of instructions for eating it! The most important purchase we made (and Josie will be proud of us) was tomato soup. This is the best tomato soup you can ever buy (and probably the most expensive as well).  It is actually tomato soup, basil and the secret ingredient of gin. We shopping with chloebought the last remaining 6 tins from the supermarket. 3 for lunch and 3 to take home!

By the time we got home the boys had already arrived home from their skiing. It turned out that the wind was blowing so hard at the top that many of the ski lifts were closed and only one was open. They skied all the routes they could and they had to walk up a 100 meter slope with the ski boots on. Michael said he just collapsed at the top when he got there. Stephen said at one stage the snow was being blown perpendicular with the ground. Not ideal skiing conditions.

After lunch Helen and Michael decided to go back to Bodmi and ski some more. Helen was planning to do that as her last skiing for the trip and to hopefully solidify all the lessons. Michael just wanted to get in some more skiing (even though it was raining). What I have not mentioned is the number of Japanese that are present at Bodmi trying to ski. I say ‘trying’ to ski because that is the best description. They are absolutely clueless. Yesterday I watched one of them ski down a small slope and clearly lose control. The instructor yelled at him “use the emergency brake”! Everyone looked at him confused and he called out “your bum”! They use that a lot from what I saw. Yesterday Michael helped one guy repeatedly because every time he skied past him he was off his ski’s and on his bum. Helen said it was so bad today that the magic carpet had to be stopped numerous times because they didn’t know how to get off at the top. I am not sure why all the Japanese come to Switzerland to learn how to ski (or not) when they have plenty of snow in Japan. Maybe I should point that out to them.

Dinner this evening was a traditional Swiss dinner of raclette and sausage (wors). Raclette (for those of you who don’t know), is a type of cheese. You eat it melted on potatoes (you buy special raclette potatoes even). You each get your own little frying pan of melted cheese and you pour it over the potatoes. We have one of the machines in Cape Town actually which reminded us to have some people over to enjoy a traditional Swiss meal of raclette with us when we get back. What is essential is to enjoy it with a good bottle of wine which enables you to eat more cheese than you otherwise would be able too.  Germans (and Swiss) also know how to make sausage. They have over a thousand different types of sausages registered.

That’s the Swiss food lesson for today (especially for you Josie). You probably all have the impression that all we have done is ski, shop and eat. That would be pretty much correct. I am feeling more and more relaxed the longer we are here.

St Stephen’s Day

We have a Stephen with us but we know he isn’t a Saint (even though there are a bunch of Moyles’ who think he is). But it is his name day (as they would say here in Europe). He didn’t get any special treatment today except that he was able to go skiing. When we woke up this morning it was evident that it had snowed overnight higher up in the mountains as all the trees were dusted with snow. It was also quite misty but as the sun came up the mist cleared. It was much colder today at around 1 degree C. The boys headed up First today with their instructor to do some real skiing.  Here is an idea of the routes / mountains around Grindelwald (if you are interested):

As you can see the chalet is at 1035m and they went up to 2170m to ski today. There was fresh powder of around 5cm up where they did their skiing. Helen went to Bodmi again today for her last lesson and it also had snowed up there. Helen and instructorWe fetched Helen at 12pm and it was clear that her skiing ability had improved dramatically. The boys also called to say they were on their way down in the cable car and so we picked them up on route back to the chalet as well (in fact they dropped off Chloe and me to do some shopping so there was sufficient space in the car for everyone + skis + boots).

Michael was keen to go and ski at Bodmi again this afternoon which he did (he clearly is enjoying the skiing), Stephen fell asleep on a chair in the lounge and Chloe, Helen and I went into Interlaken to do some chocolate shopping. Given that I am posting maps into the blog here is another one of the region so you can orientate yourself appropriately:

interlakenAs you can see, Interlaken lies in the valley between two ‘Lakens’ (clever name). It is about a 30 minute car drive (or train trip) down to Interlaken. My Dad entrusted me with the car keys for the first time this trip and I managed to safely negotiate the road down and back to Interlaken without (knowingly) damaging the car. The afternoon had turned out to be absolutely beautiful. It was still cold (around 5 degrees in Interlaken) but was totally clear. We did what all good Europeans would do and sat outside and had a coffee & hot chocolate. I would never consider sitting outside in CT at 5 degrees but somehow it seemed the right thing to do. It was lovely just sitting there watching everyone walk past and enjoying the sunshine. It was lovely right up until they brought the bill which came to R150 for the 3 drinks. I was reminded again how expensive Switzerland really is.

The other thing that strikes me about Switzerland is how little change there is.  We were last here 4 years ago and very little has changed in this area. The restaurants are the same, the shops are the same. It isn’t that they is no progress (the internet connection in the flat is running at 26Mb versus the 2.6Mb we get at home), it is just that nothing really changes from a structure point of view. And I guess why would it need to change when everything works fine. The other thing that I was struck with today was how beautiful this place really is, especially when the sun is out and there are snow covered mountains all around. If you’re in doubt have a look at the photo at the bottom of this blog that we took this evening from the chalet. If you’re still in doubt, come here yourself and you will be persuaded – there are a few of our friends we would love to share the experience with … not all of you … just some of you 🙂

We ate Xmas day leftovers for dinner followed by some fantastic chocolate flans for desert. I remember eating something like them as a kid growing up (they were called chocolate Flanbe’s) and these brought back memories.  Fortunately there are still 3 left so I can reminiscence some more over the next few days.

Grindelwald at night

Xmas in Switzerland

Chloe tobogganingWhat do you do on Xmas day in Switzerland? You go skiing and tobogganing. That is what we did this morning. My Dad first took Helen and the boys up to Bodmi for skiing and then came back to fetch Chloe and me and the toboggans. At Bodmi there is a toboggan run and so while the three of them practiced their skiing and continued their lessons, Chloe and I tobogganed.  My Dad has some fancy toboggans with steering wheels and brakes.  Chloe originally tried with one of the toboggans without a steering wheel but after 3 runs and coming out each time she gave up and moved to one of the modern technology ones. She also gave up trying to do the run from the top because she got up so much speed she just came out every time. That didn’t stop me from doing the run all Peter tobogganthe way from the top though and I got up so much speed that I actually went right up the relatively steep slope at the end without even stopping. I am the king of tobogganing though and eventually was doing the run with so much skill that I used the slope to slow myself down, get a turn in and make it back down and straight onto the magic carpet to go back up without having to get out of the toboggan. Who needs to ski when you can toboggan – much more fun!

S&M skiingThe boys mastered the run down from Bodmi and back up again on the pommel lift and the ski instructor says they are now ready for the big slopes and so are heading up Firzt tomorrow for a proper lengthy ski. We did see at one stage that the instructor got them to ski together holding their ski poles. It was quite funny to watch as they tried to ski down together. I am sure there was a point for them besides for the amusement of their instructor and Chloe and I as we watched!Helen skiing1 Helen eventually made it down Bodmi with her instructor today as well. Helen is complaining bitterly now that the instructor is going too slowly for her. So much for not wanting to ski three days ago! The weather was again lovely today. Not very cold at all and partly cloudy most of the day.  The boys have figured out how to ski back directly to the chalet and it is clearly much quicker doing that than driving down as they beat us both days by a long time.

After we got back from skParents Switzerlandiing/tobogganing we opened the Christmas presents (which were mainly for my parents from us and from my parents to the kids). We had already done the rest of the presents in CT before we left (there was no way we were bringing the presents over with us). We decided to have a light lunch and rather have a full Xmas dinner. The afternoon was spent resting (alternative reading sleeping). We went for a quick late afternoon/early evening walk through the town. That quickly degenerated into a snowball fight between Stephen, Chloe and me (somehow Helen managed to remain Swiss like and uninvolved).

We got back to Xmas dinner of chicken, fillet (which cost R350 for what would have cost us R100 in SA!) and gammon. Fortunately there is enough leftover so we won’t starve the next few days. Now the family (excluding me) are watching the Christmas edition of Downtown Abbey. Special Christmas day broadcast. And while the adverts are on now there is an in-depth analysis happening between my Dad, Stephen, Chloe and Helen on the acting ability, looks, sense of humour of the various cast members etc. At least this has stopped the technical electronic discussions between my Dad and Stephen about diodes, inversions, subversions and other terms which make no sense to anyone but them.Xmas dinner

Merry Christmas to everyone. We trust you had a good day with family and friends. There is no better way to end today than with the following quote prophesying the coming of Christ many years later:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9)