Fuerteventura: Where the desert meets the sea

It’s that time of year in Zürich when typically the blue summer sky begins to fade and settle into a dismal shade of gray.  The air is cool but not cold enough for snow. Rain and clouds are constant fixtures on the five day forecast. While this year’s weather has been better than usual, there’s still no better time to travel south where the air is still warm and beaches abound.

And so we were off to the Canary Islands a Spanish archipelago located off the southern coast of Morocco. I imagined sunbathing and sipping sangria against a backdrop of golden dunes, pristine beaches and a craggly volcanic landscape. Perhaps this would provide an opportunity to practice speaking Spanish and take up a new hobby like paddle boarding?

I will fully admit this was a last minute vacation and we cut our usual planning short.  We hastily selected a family friendly hotel on Fuerteventura, the least developed island of the archipelago.  To say that our hotel was a family friendly destination would be an understatement.  It literally felt like a summer camp that happened to have a concierge. While we were traveling with a baby in tow, we were not quite prepared for the chorus of whining that accompanied every meal, nor the Disney World type entertainment that interrupted otherwise quiet afternoons.

I also discovered that Fuerteventura is the least inhabited island for good reason. It’s a vast, dry desert island with no fresh water in sight. As we drove around the island taking in the arid landscape I couldn’t help but think that humans were just not meant to populate this land.  If Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway landed here, he wouldn’t last a week.  That is unless he crashed into one of the few tourist villages where strip malls, billboards and over-the-top resorts contrast starkly with the island’s barren interior.

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Fuerteventura landscape

Yes, Fuerteventura was far from what I imagined, however, I would be remiss to not appreciate it’s raw, natural beauty where resorts and tourist shops have yet to dominate.  The undeveloped coastline with long stretches of wild beaches and rocky cliffs descending into an unforgiving surf is spectacular,  surely contributing to its declaration as a Unesco Biosphere Reserve in 2009.

The geological history of the island is equally fascinating dating back to a volcanic eruption 20 million years ago. Centuries of erosion have softened the mountainous landscape, all the while differentiated striations of rock along the coast reveal multiple ancient lava flows.

While I didn’t get around to paddle boarding, opportunities to sail catamarans, kite board and surf in the islands various beaches and lagoons abound. And, lastly, who could not appreciate the nearly perfect climate all year long lending it the nickname “the island of eternal spring.”

So while our last minute trip to Fuerteventura wasn’t exactly my dream vacation, if you’re a beach buff, water sports fanatic or geology geek, it might be yours. Just be sure to choose your hotel carefully.

 

 

Day trip to Jochpass

My favorite weekends are those that come together at the last minute – when you haven’t made plans and spontaneously decide to book a night or two somewhere you’ve never been, pack your bags and go.  For some reason when I don’t agonize over the details, things seems to fall perfectly into place.

This past weekend we found and booked a hotel on Saturday at 12 pm and were packed and out the door by 2:00.  Our destination was an alpine hotel at 7, 500 feet near Mount Titlis on the Jochpass mountain pass.  To get there required driving to Engelberg, taking a funicular railway and a chairlift. The only caveat was that we had to make the last chairlift at 3:30 or we’d be stuck hiking up the mountain with baby and all of our babycrap stuff. Thankfully we caught the very last lift and made our way to the top.

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The original funicular from 1913

The funicular has a vintage feel dating back to 1913. From the funicular, we hopped on a chairlift and made our way to Jochpass and to our hotel Jochpass Bärghuis.  Views from the lift were breathtaking but didn’t hold a candle compared to the views from the top.

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The hotel which dates back to the 1930’s was recently renovated with a modern and  quirky sensibility.  It had the raw wood you’d expect of an alpine lodge combine with signage spelled in Swiss German.

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Once making it to the hotel we had to indulge in a little snack, a traditional plum tart.

Plum tart

Plum tart

As with most Swiss most mountain lodges, you are required to leave your hiking boots in a ski room and wear their hotel approved footware.  This may be the first and only time you will see me in Crocs.

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The following day we woke up to fresh snow and the landscape we admired the day before was completely tranformed. Our kleines Mädchen was not quite sure what to make of it.

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Because the trails by the Jochpass were snow covered and slippery we took the chairlift and opted to hike down a part of the way to Engelberg where there would be no snow.

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The contrast of the snow covered rocky peaks against the deep green grassy landscape was striking. After about two hours we stumbled upon a small restaurant, the perfect place to stop for some rösti, a well-earned snack.

Another 30 minute walk brought us to the funicular and we were back in Engelberg,  just one hour outside of Zürich.

One year in der Schweiz

It’s been a little over a year since I moved to Zürich and I can safely say living here has in many ways exceeded my expectations. While the thought of having a baby abroad terrified me at first, it  worked out much better than I could have anticipated. The doctors and midwives at the University Hospital were second-to-none, the food was remarkably edible, and we even received a surprise police escort to the hospital when I was in labor.

That’s not to say living here is without challenges. I’m still getting used to $7 lattes and being so far from family but I feel incredibly lucky to be living in such a beautiful city, to have made many new friends and to spend so much of my time with our feisty, little mädchen.

And while many people presume that having a baby curtails any hope of travel, for us quite the opposite has been true.  After several months of pregnancy related bed rest, I was determined to escape our apartment and see more of Switzerland. Fortunately, newborns are fairly portable and the summer in Zürich was uncharacteristically warm. This made for many memorable weekend trips into the countryside and beyond. We even made it to Lake Como and Austria. Here are a few highlights of our more local summer travel.

The first trip we took post baby was to the Klöntalersee, a natural, mountain lake in the Canton of Glarus, Switzerland. This is only an hour drive from Zürich but feels completely unspoiled and remote. We hiked an easy path around the lake admiring views of snow capped mountains receding into a crystal clear water.

A few weeks later the temperature reached the 90’s in Zürich, a city imagined well before the invention of air conditioning. I was desperately calling restaurants inquiring whether or not they had AC when we decided it was time to get out of dodge. We headed to Engadin, a long valley located in the canton of Graubünden in southeast Switzerland.  It boasts 360 alpine views and is peppered with postcard perfect villages, posh hotel and an abundance of outdoor enthusiasts.

Later in the summer my sister came for a visit. We toured the old city and took advantage of the local badi’s or the lakeside beaches that Zürich is famous for.  It didn’t take long before she was “badi obsessed” but I did manage to tear her away to explore Uetliberg, Lucerne and most notably a trip up Rigi on a cogwheel train.

The summer culminated with a long anticipated trip back to Boston to acquaint the little mädchen to her grandparents, friends and relatives.  It was a crazy, fast  whirlwind of a summer concluding a most memorable first year in der Schweiz.

Photo Gallery: A Leisurely Boat Ride on Lake Lucerne

Last Thursday was Ascension Day, a national holiday here in Switzerland and the weather was unseasonably warm. It isn’t very often that the stars align perfectly with a day off from work and nice weather so we absolutely had to take advantage of this rare occurrence. We decided to drive out to Lake Lucerne for a leisurely boat ride, the perfect activity for me as it required limited walking (or waddling in my case), was outdoors and guaranteed quick access to a restroom when nature called inevitably every 20 minutes.

The day started out with a 45 minute scenic drive from Zurich through the countryside to Weggis, pronounced “Vegas”, a small resort town teaming with hotels and outdoor cafes.  From there we hopped on a ferry to Brunnen. There were several options but this seemed like the perfect amount of time on the water and it allowed for a 45 minute stroll in Brunnen.

The boat itself was spacious and impeccably maintained. Springing for a first class ticket in order to access the nicer restaurant and views from the upper deck was definitely worth the extra ch.

Here are a few pics from the day. You can see the scenery is gorgeous this time of year when the hills and meadows are lush and green but the mountain tops are still covered in snow.

Couldn’t have asked for a nicer way to spend the day.

Lions, Elephants and Strollers, Oh My… Just Another Day at the Zurich Zoo.

After three months of doctor ordered house arrest I’ve now been encouraged to do the exact opposite. I can go for walks, traverse the stairs, and move around as I please. Because now that every precaution imaginable has been taken to keep my kleines Mädchen from making an early debut, she’s just chillin’, and in no hurry to grace us with her presence. I suppose playing “head-butt the bladder” is way too much fun to stop now.

So when she’ll make her entrance is anyone’s guess but they say you’re close to labor when you have a burst of energy and the urge to nest or feverishly clean house in preparation for baby’s arrival.  Wondering if this has anything to do with my overwhelming desire to meticulously clean every kitchen drawer and cabinet this afternoon despite it being 80 degrees and sunny outside. If you know me well, you would most definitely confirm that this is atypical behavior.

But despite my newly acquired haus frau tendencies, I did make a concerted effort to leave our apartment this weekend. On Sunday, we spent the day at the Zürich Zoo with a friend and his two adorable daughters. Aside from a glimpse into my sticky stroller filled future, the zoo was quite impressive. With over 360 species of animals in wide open spaces, emulating their native habitats, it was a far cry from the sad and smelly, jail-like zoo I remember from my childhood. (Lovers of the Stoneham Zoo, please forgive me). I suppose if I were an exotic animal and had to live in captivity, the Zürich zoo wouldn’t be so bad. It would be a bit like winning the Zoo lottery and getting to live in the animal equivalent of the Ritz as compared to say… Motel 6.

Here are a few of my favorite pics from the day. Given the size of the zoo, and the size of my ever-increasing girth, I only managed to see small section but imagine once the kleines Mädchen is a walking, squawking toddler, I’m sure we’ll be back.

 

After the zoo, we took a leisurely ride through the countryside and stopped for a drink at an outdoor cafe. It never ceases to amaze me how in a matter of minutes or a few miles, you can go from crowded city streets to cow-filled country pastures. This is one of the things I love about living in Zurich.

View of Lake Zurich from Phannenstiel

View of Lake Zurich from Phannenstiel

view from Phannenstiel

View from Phannenstiel

More information on the Zürich zoo can be found here.

 

36 Weeks and Nursery Complete!

36 weeks and 4 days! I can’t tell you how excited I am to have made this far. After some complications at 24 weeks that required me staying on bed rest, 36 weeks once seemed light-years away.  But several art projects, a bit of freelance work, and one too many online shopping orders later, here I am. Eagerly anticipating the arrival of my kleines Mädchen and relishing every little bump, kick and hiccup I feel emanating from my ever-growing tummy.

While I certainly wouldn’t wish bed rest on anyone, I took advantage of having this time to nest and drive my husband crazy with my fixation on having the absolutely perfect nursery, as though our kleines mädchen would know if one thing were out of place.

Now, properly nesting and preparing a nursery while on bed rest is not without its challenges, especially in Switzerland where online shopping is… shall we say… a bit behind the times. Nevertheless, I attacked this project like any good creative director…. I surveyed the competition, looked for inspiration and started out with a vision. Or in this case a moodboard.  I created two different moodboards with one of my favorite apps Polyvore.

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Initially I was torn between a gender neutral rainbow theme or a more subdued pink and gray color palette.  After sharing these options with various friends and trusted “design enthusiasts” the pink and gray palette won out.

My next challenge was to actually find furnishings similar to what I pulled from Polyvore.  And I had to find everything online as I couldn’t get to any physical stores. I started out scouring as many Swiss websites as I could find, but eventually resorted to a few of my favorite US retailers. My husband and I also decided that we wouldn’t go overboard. We’d splurge on a few key pieces that would stand the test of time and make use of friend’s hand me downs  and the “ubiquitous” Ikea for everything else.

I also made all of the artwork myself, dabbling in watercolor and acrylic painting, as well as my most comfortable medium – Photoshop. I have to say I’m quite happy with how it all came together.

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The top-secret print on the back wall is a typographic print I made of her name. It will be shared after her arrival.🙂

Our most expensive purchase was the Eames rocker. While this may not be the most practical chair for breast-feeding, I’ve had my eye on it for years.  They literally do not sell stylish rocking chairs in Switzerland and frankly I don’t care how comfortable they may be. I. will. not. buy. a glider.

Here’s a gallery showing the rest of the room and some details. You may notice the map of Switzerland above the changing table and think… hmm, that wasn’t on the moodboard.  You would be correct. It was NOT a part of my plan but my husband is OBSESSED with maps, especially this one that shows the Swiss Alpine Club huts. I was going to replace it, however, if looking at this map entices him to change more diapers, the map can stay…. for now anyway.🙂

Here’s a list of our furnishings and where I found them:

Changing table, chest of drawers and hamper: Ikea
Stokke crib: Hand-me-down from a very kind and generous friend
Eames rocker: Seipp.com
Gray foot poof: Westwing.ch
Hot pink curtains and baby book: Land of Nod
Musical mobile: Gilt.com
aden + anais bedding: Diapers.com
Plush gray rug: Overstock.com
All Artwork: Made by me!
The alphabet print can be purchased at http://society6.com/gruezigirl

Travel Poster Series

One of the many advantages of living in Zürich, or smack dab in the middle of Europe, is being close to so many beautiful places to visit and explore.  I love taking photos of the countryside or nearby cities but my travel plans have been curtailed as of late. So instead of taking more photos I’ve been thinking about what I could do with the huge collection I’ve amassed over the years.

I started out by making vintage travel inspired prints to hang in our apartment but quickly got carried away.  At the same time I discovered Society6.com, which houses a huge collection of artist prints for purchase online. You make the art, they handle the printing/mailing. Seemed simple enough.

You can purchase any of the prints below on Society6 in various sizes. Go to my storefront Society6.com/gruezigirl and check them out.

Check out Society6.com/gruezigirl to see more!

32 weeks and counting…

It’s been an eventful few months since my last post but undoubtedly the most life-changing news to date is that we are expecting a baby due at the end of May. We couldn’t be more excited and have been completely swept up in preparing for her arrival. Yes, that’s right I said her. We’re expecting a little girl, a kleines Mädchen who will no doubt, soon speak German and ski better than me.

Due to some early complications that put me at risk for preterm labor, I’ve been on modified bed rest and have had to take it very easy for the past eight weeks. I know you’re thinking eight weeks of bed rest?  Sounds insanely boring and yes it can be but I’m quite good at keeping myself busy. I’m lucky enough to be able to do some freelance design work from home. Friends have been coming by. I’ve been taking German lessons via Skype and have come up with several creative projects to keep myself busy.

Not to mention, there’s the constant temptation of online shopping, a recent hobby my husband thinks I enjoy a little too much. Lucky for him, shopping on Swiss websites for someone like me who has designed e-commerce websites for a living is an excruciating experience. I would compare it to forcing an experienced chef to eat at the Olive Garden day after day.  Except, make that Olive garden cost the same as your average Michelin rated restaurant. I’m being a bit dramatic but you get my point.

Case in point!? Can someone please redesign this website?

Case in point!? Can someone please redesign this website?

While being relegated to my my couch is frustrating, I know it is all worthwhile.  My kleines Mädchen is still kicking and cooking at almost 33 weeks, a milestone that seemed light-years away when I was first placed on house-arrest.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’m looking forward to sharing some creative projects, as well as some nursery pics and the ever-increasing size of my belly. These might be intermingled with a few rants pertaining to things like setting up my Swiss Bank account. (Thank you to all those notorious American tax evaders for making this a month long ordeal!)

That said, more exciting things to come but I’d love to share a few small painting projects I have underway. I haven’t painted in years, so I started by copying some photos and/or artwork I found online for the nursery. It must be the nesting instinct but I’ve taken to painting cute animals and their babies (a far cry from the feminist sculpture series made of hair that I created post-college). I tried both acrylic and watercolor. It’s clear I need practice but it feels really good to close the schlepptop occasionally.

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My first real attempt at watercolor painting. Not ready to open my Etsy store just yet but I would love to get better at it.

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These are acrylic paintings on canvas copied from paintings I found online but couldn’t ship to Switzerland. It appears the zebra ate the giraffe’s lunch. May need to fix that.

A tale of two Moroccan cities: Marrakesh and Agadir

After countless days of deliberating where to spend some time off between Christmas and New Years we finally decided on Morocco and booked a last minute trip to Marrakesh and Agadir. Marrakesh, the fourth largest city in Morocco is known for its well-preserved medina and the largest souk in all of Morocco. For the first part of our trip we opted for the optimal “cultural” experience and chose to stay in a small riad in the heart of the medina.

I was especially taken by the idea of staying in a riad. These are typical Moroccan palaces or houses centered around a courtyard or garden. They have thick stucco walls, no windows to the outside and offer a private reprieve from the loud and chaotic streets of the old town. In recent years, many riads in Marrakesh have been painstakingly restored to their former brilliance and reinvented as small hotels or guesthouses.

From our riad we were able to explore the many museums and countless alleyways and markets of Marrakech. It was a real sensory experience to meander these tiny streets teaming with Moroccan wears, handicrafts, spices, and exotic foods. All the while dodging donkeys, speeding mopeds and overzealous vendors. Highlights included a leisurely lunch at the roof terrace of the photography museum, a traditional Moroccan dinner at a lavishlyly adorned palace just outside the old town and exploring Jemaa el-Fnaa, the most famous open market where you’ll find countless food stalls, snake charmers, and all kinds of entertainers well into the night.

After two days in the old town we were ready to explore more of the area and hired a car for a tour of the atlas mountains and nearby berber villages.  The landscape outside Marrakesh was breathtaking. Imaging tiny clay villages with more donkeys than cars and a desert-like landscape juxtaposed against snow capped mountains. All along the road children played with handmade toys and eagerly awaited lollypops from tourists driving by. In many ways it was like going back in time. Learning about the long-thriving Berber culture was also fascinating.

The latter half of our week in Morocco, we headed southwest to Agadir for a few days of R&R at a very German resort.  The original city of Agadir was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. Tourists mainly occupy the strip of all-inclusive resorts along the water spending their days by the pool or golf course with the occasional day trip outside the city. After the sensory overload that is Marrakesh a few days of quiet by a picturesque beach was completely fine by me.

Tis the season for glühwein, tacos and a touch of the tropics

Ok… I admit, it’s been weeks since my last post. Yes, I went back home for some time but I have no real excuse for my recent hiatus. You were probably thinking that my foray into blogging was just a fleeting hobby, or momentary novelty, that I abandoned as quickly as I began. My lonely WordPress site, languishing untouched much like the box of origami papers I once purchased with the best of intentions.

My sincerest “Es tut Mir leid” to those who have been on the edge of their seats waiting to read my next post. I promise (to all three of my avid followers) that I will not leave you hanging for so long again.

So yes, I’m back in Zurich, after a long trip home. It felt a bit odd at first to be back but I’m settling in nicely once again. Having been in Boston for the past month, there were certainly some things that I missed about Zurich and vice-versa of course. I will just say the T is does not stand for tram.  Conversely, try as they may, there is nothing here remotely close to Toro, my favorite tapas restaurant in Boston. For that matter, restaurants in Zürich don’t offer quite the same variety and value I’m accustomed to. They tend to be very expensive, best saved for special occasions and are sometimes hit or miss.

Interestingly enough, a recent trip to Frankfurt reminded me just how quaint and different from Boston Zürich really is. Frankfurt has skyscrapers, a large American style shopping mall with a food court and… get this, a Chipolte! Of all of the restaurants in Frankfurt I elected to go to Chipolte and it was worth every euro. The train station even had a Dunkin Donuts with some seriously, neon-colored confections. I’ll stick with the Gipfeli. Nicht für mich, danke.

Here are a few photos from my short trip to Frankfurt.

I’m also excited to share some photos I took at a indoor tropical garden here in Zurich. The garden which houses a handful of tropical birds and hundreds of varieties of plants was teaming with exuberant kleinkinder on a rainy Sunday afternoon.  I didn’t manage to capture many birds or kleinkinder but the lush foliage provided ample inspiration.

Lastly, it’s officially Christmas season here in Zurich. I met a friend and a few new acquaintances by one of Zurich’s most popular glühwein stands to watch the lighting of Bahnofstraße. This is the yearly event when the Christmas markets officially open and everyone gathers and cheers as the lights along the main shopping district are all lit at once. Stores give out free cookies and wine. There’s a 1970’s era Sesame Street evoking “Singing Christmas tree” and another famous tree in the Bahnhof lavishly dripping with three stories of Swarovki crystals.

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I personally love how Zürich transforms this time of year. In addition to the lights and decorations, the main streets and stations bustle with Christmas stalls selling all kinds of crafts and novelties, while the pungent aroma of glühwein and raclette waft through the air. It’s probably a bit touristy or even kitschy for the locals but for a just-off-the-plane, Amerikanerin like myself it looks, feels and smells like Christmas, and everything a quintessential European city could aspire to be this time of year.