Thursday, September 26, 2013

Luzern, Switzerland

In an effort to not overwhelm myself or you, I think we'll stick to one post per city, and then I'll be back to my normal blogging when we return late next week. 

We started our European adventure in Luzern, Switzerland, which is about an hour (by train) south of Zurich. We actually landed in Zurich and took the train in to Luzern. We arrived around six in the evening, walked to our hotel (about a five minute walk), checked in, and met up with my parents, who had just arrived from Paris. We went to dinner at Restaurant Rathaus Brauerei, a brewery recommended by Rick Steves. The food was good, not great; the beer was great; and it was also great to catch up with my parents and hear about their trip (they had been to Berlin, Paris, and Champagne).

After dinner, we took a bit of a roundabout walk back to the hotel and saw some folks carrying strange, long sticks. We later realized they were traditional horns and followed them. The group lined up at the riverfront and played a few songs. It was such a uniquely Swiss experience; I'm so glad we happened upon it!

Our hotel: Mr. Pickwick Pub & Hotel. We stayed here three nights and really loved it. The location is absolutely phenomenal--right on the river (Reuss River) and near all the sights in Luzern.

We asked for an upper floor, and I'm so glad we did! Look at this view from our (tiny) balcony:

There are larger rooms available, but we decided to go with a budget-friendly "double" room--which, unfortunately, means two twin beds (one is a murphy bed and is tucked away in this photo):

View facing in from the balcony

View from the entry door

But the place was clean, updated, and well run. The pub downstairs was a great meeting place, and we stopped for a few drinks during our trip. We heard the burgers there are good, too, though we never ate there. Overall, excellent hotel, especially if you're on a budget--which can be tough in Switzerland!

Yes, I had heard that Switzerland is pricey, but MAN people weren't kidding about that! Meals were easily $30-$45 per person--minimum. I would recommend a lighter breakfast (if breakfast isn't included at your hotel) and lunch at one of the local bakeries, which we didn't figure out until the last day. But the bakeries have pre-packed sandwiches and salads for around $6-$8, a much more reasonable option. For dinners, I'd say it's worth it to splurge a little (er, just eat a normal meal?). We thought the fondue at Pfistern was absolutely worth the price tag of $30+ per person, and the pizza at Da Ernesto Ristorante was also excellent. We also ate at Opus Wine Bar, a tasty meal overall. Our favorite bakery was Bachmann, which I believe is a chain around these parts.

Back to the activities in Luzern. On our second day (first full day), we grabbed a quick breakfast at the aforementioned Bachmann Bakery (delicious, flaky croissants) and headed to the train station with my parents. They stayed at the Marriott Residence Hotel, which was awesome and included breakfast. Their room was huge, too!

We stopped at the TI (Tourist Information center) to buy a Silver Pass for Mt. Pilatus, part of the Emmental Alps, which covered a train to Alpnachstad, the cogwheel train up the mountain, the gondola/cable car rides down the mountain, and a bus back to Luzern. It took about 20 minutes by train to arrive at Alpnachstad, and we were whisked onto the cogwheel train right away.

You can see the train here (the red one), and it gets even steeper than that! It's the steepest in the world at a 48% grade.

Some people hike allllll the way to the top. Maybe next time.

Terry sat alone :-(

Once at the top, we took a short walk around the hotel (yep, a hotel at the top with gorgeous views) and then headed off on a 35-minute hike to one of the peaks, Tomlishorn.

The Alps

Cows with giant cow bells

All the hiking options - ours was not too strenuous but felt like a solid walk with some incline. We felt like the morning was a great time to go--not too many people, great views, and the weather wasn't too hot. We arrived in Alpnachstad around 9:40 am and reached the peak of Tomlishorn around 11 or 11:30.

After the hike, we had a beer at the top and then took the gondola and cable car back down the opposite side of the mountain. 

I am hiding it well in this photo, but I was a little nervous about the steep ride down.

Mt. Pilatus was a unanimous favorite of Luzern. We thought the views and experience of being in the Alps were priceless experiences and quintessential aspects of Switzerland. I highly recommend it, especially if Luzern is your only stop in Switzerland! (Next time we hope to check out Gimmelwald, a town more closely nestled in the Alps.)

We returned from the mountain around 2 pm and ate a late lunch before continuing on our sightseeing. We took Rick Steves' self guided tour, which explained some of the major landmarks around Luzern. We normally love his self-guided tours, but this one was actually a little disappointing (will explain later).

Today was our final day in Luzern, but we packed in a TON. We started fairly early with a scenic cruise about Lake Luzern.

It was a cloudy day, but the clouds didn't obstruct our views at all.

 We stopped in Vitznau, a small town on the lake, walked around a bit, and headed back on the next boat. Some folks got off there at went up to Mt. Rigi, but we felt Mt. Pilatus was sufficient for our mountain adventures. The cruise to Vitznau was a little pricey but a relaxing and unique way to experience more of Luzern and the lake. We were thrilled to be able to do the mountains and the lake--two of Switzerland's most famous aspects.

Strange chairs by the lake

Mom and Dad

Planks on the lake

After our relaxing boat ride, we grabbed sandwiches at Bachmann's Bakery and ate in my parents' hotel room out of the rain. Then we headed back out on our own little walking tour of the city!

First stop: Löwendenkmal (The Lion Monument), a HUGE lion carved into a rock. He looks sad because he's dying. But it's actually a stunning sight, and it's FREE!

Next up: The towers and the wall (Museggmauer). We climbed the three towers that are open to the public, and while the stairs are a little uneven and steep at times, the views at the top were totally worth it! Museggmauer used to be the watch tower and wall protecting the city. Unfortunately, Rick Steves barely mentioned this gem in his book, and we thought it was a really great part of Luzern. The whole thing is free and walking distance from town, so I wasn't sure why he omitted it. But if you go, definitely take an hour for the towers! 

View from the top

Made it up there!

After Museggmauer, we stopped at two more locations, including a palace that is now a government building and a Franciscan church. The latter was gorgeous but again omitted from the Rick Steves book. I have to say: I normally love Rick and absolutely recommend his London, Paris, and Rome books, but I think I'd recommend trying to find a more comprehensive book for Switzerland. It seems like he perhaps focused on other cities and left Luzern as a one-day stop, when really it deserves at least a little more.

Overall, we loved Luzern. It's expensive, but you can find deals on hotels and stretch the budget on meals. But don't miss Mt. Pilatus (especially if you won't see any other Alps) or the towers.

Tomorrow we leave for Salzburg in the morning and hope to get in a walking tour in the afternoon. See you in a few days!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Scenes from the Weekend

This weekend was a spectacular mix of friends, work, and preparing for our trip. We leave tomorrow for Lucerne, Salzburg, Munich, and Prague. 

Milkshake after a delicious meal at Stacked with friends

Preparing and printing and pretending we're super organized

Pizza dinner (because, you know, we won't be eating enough indulgent foods over the next two weeks)

But hey, at least we got a salad

Some browsing and window shopping at Third Street Promenade

Awesome store we stumbled into

First time trying kombucha. It tasted pretty good, but the jury's still out on the health benefits.

My handsome husband working out.

Such a stud

Buying a new suitcase (we were pretty ridiculous in the store--we tested the wheels, the handles, the speed...we may or may not have raced the suitcases)

Tonight has been all about organizing and packing and playing with the kitten (one big down side to going away is being away from Scout). Now we're off to bed because we're working tomorrow and then heading to the airport!

I'll be checking in from Europe, but in the meantime I hope you have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

One More Update

I feel like my posts are all catch-up posts recently. I'm still settling back into a normal routine and almost at 100% after getting so sick. So I guess we can catch up now, and hopefully I'll be back full time tomorrow.

My friend Amanda recently bought and has been enjoying Jillian Michaels' 30 Day Shred video. And she sent me a copy! That's true friendship. :-) Thanks, Amanda!

I've subbed twice this week, which has been awesome. The two teachers I subbed for each have schedules that end at 1 pm--I got so lucky! By lunchtime I was out the door and able to get other things done around the house.

Today I finally brought out our fall decorations

Scout was just thrilled that I brought out a box.

 I feel like these two tiny scenes make our apartment feel so cozy. But I also want to buy more. Home Goods, you can expect a visit from me soon. Maybe some orange throw pillows for the couch. Wild, I know.

I'm also still working away on my novel. I'm a little behind (I'm blaming colitis for that), but I still think I can make it! 17,000 more words to go--in five days! Yikes. Then again, I was an English major; aka I majored in procrastination and writing ten-page papers in one night. So I feel pretty confident in my degree.

I ate a real meal tonight! Complete with three separate food groups. We went for crock pot chicken, sweet potatoes, and melon for me (broccoli for Terry). I'm still really taking it easy on what I eat, but I've felt fine after each new addition. Thank goodness the worst is over!

Can't wait to eat some greens!

I also made custard-style ice cream tonight. Terry had suggested using vanilla beans instead of just vanilla extract in our ice cream, so I searched some recipes, and almost all of them suggest making custard-style ice cream with vanilla beans. Ours was almost exactly like this one. I took a bite (or three) before we put it back in the freezer to set, and it tastes at least as good as Anderson's Frozen Custard in Buffalo, which I daydream about.

I think, though, that I'm most excited about two workouts in the last two days. Granted, I'm easing back in suuuuuuper slowly, but I am so glad that my body's responding well to activity. Yesterday I took a long walk with Jenn, then another long walk with Terry. And today I created a very short but tough back & biceps workout, which I'll share with you tomorrow.

Off to enjoy some time with the hubster, but not before I show you what my cruel neighbors put up on their back patio.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Victim of Friday the 13th

Friday the 13th of this year claims victory for my unluckiest ever. But in retrospect, of course, it could have been much worse.

Early in the week, I felt flu symptoms: body aches, fever, chills, upset stomach. Wednesday I was on the couch all day. Thursday I was 100% better. Thursday night, my fever, chills, aches, and stomachache were all back in a fierce way. I barely slept that night and poor Terry had to listen to me complain.

Friday morning I decided I should go to the doctor, and thankfully Terry had the day off and was able to take me. I couldn't believe how horrible I felt; the only semi-comfortable position was lying down, curled up in a ball. People in the waiting room probably thought it was weird. I didn't really care.

When I finally got in to see the doctor (my appointment was at noon, they brought me in at one), my temperature was 101.9. In a way, I was sort of glad to still have symptoms because I'm usually one of those people whose symptoms disappear as soon as I get to the doctor. What a silly thing to be thankful for.

Anyway, the doctor asked the usual questions, then checked my pulse and checked my breathing. She ran a flu test (her office was part of a study last year and they had extras). When she pressed on my stomach and I winced, she decided to send me to the ER to rule out appendicitis. She even made me take a wheelchair over there because my heart rate was high.

By 2:15, I was in a bed in the ER, and after some initial tests they decided to test pretty much everything: blood, urine, stool, Cat scan, the whole enchilada. They hooked me up to an IV to hydrate me with saline and gave me some morphine, too. I also received some antibiotics once the diagnosis was clear.

After SIX HOURS (it was torture--I kept asking Terry if he was starving), the test for appendicitis came back negative, and they diagnosed me with colitis. We were finally able to go home.

By then it was 8:30, and our car was underground in a garage that had closed at six. The nurse had told us they had an after-hours policy in place and we would still be able to get out, but apparently that wasn't the case. We were already trying to find a ride home (thanks Jenn for offering!) when my hero of a husband somehow (I still haven't even asked) drove out of the garage. He may or may not have set off an alarm while leaving, but I didn't care.

Since leaving the hospital, my symptoms have improved significantly. No more chills, aches, or fever. I'm sleeping much better. My stomach is getting better. I'm doing my best to stay hydrated and am eating a decent amount. Of course, I was in a total blur leaving the hospital (I wasn't even drugged up, just confused and exhausted), so I barely heard what the nurse told me to eat. Thankfully my friend Katie is a nurse and gave me great advice and a little clearer explanation of my condition and what to expect. (If you don't have a nurse friend, go make one. I highly recommend it.) (Thanks, Katie!)

Essentially, I've eaten very basic foods over the last few days:

On the "approved" list:
  • anything from the BRAT diet (bananas, white rice, applesauce, and white bread)
  • Gatorade, for hydration--I hate Gatorade, but I'm drinking as much as I can, and I put it in a wine glass to make it fancy
  • Jello, which the nurse recommended but I can't remember why
  • lots of water
  • plain oatmeal
And that's it. It's sad and white/tan/brown over here in food land for me. Or neon green, in the case of the Gatorade. Thankfully, my stomach seems to be tolerating these foods, and I have something of an appetite now, so I may try to eat some plain scrambled eggs a little later today. Daring, I know.

Despite the horrible day and now-almost-week-long illness, I do realize that things could be so much worse. So I'm counting my blessings:
  • Had I gotten sick a week earlier, Terry wouldn't have been here. He's been amazing, and I'm so thankful I didn't have to burden anyone else with taking care of me or driving me to the doctor. 
  • If I had gotten sick a week later, I would have been in Europe. Not a fun way to spend a flight or any time in a beautiful foreign country.
  • I'm glad that Thursday night was as bad as it was. Odd, but if it hadn't been, I might not have gone to the doctor, and I certainly wouldn't have thought to go to the ER on my own. I would have been okay, I'm sure, but I'm on the antibiotics much faster this way and already getting better instead of still feeling miserable and not knowing why.
  • Obviously, the diagnosis could have been far worse. Ultimately, acute colitis is something that will run its course and then be done, and I know there are much more serious and long lasting diagnoses out there. I'm most thankful for this one.
So that's what's been going on around here. I'm scheduled to sub tomorrow, and damn it I will be subbing. Thankfully, I've felt pretty good most of today, and I know I'll feel better tomorrow.

I hope you had a much better and luckier Friday the 13th than I did. If yours was worse--I'm so sorry. Maybe it's because it's also 2013? Does that double the power or something? If you know experts in this field, please let me know. 

Have a terrific week!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Prius Loves Figs

Well, folks, I guess I should explain that unexpected absence, huh? On Tuesday night, I suddenly came down with major body aches and chills, and by yesterday I had a slight fever (100.4 was the highest I checked). Unfortunately, but necessarily, I spent almost all of yesterday on the couch, resting and trying to get rid of the aches. It didn't help that our workout Monday was more intense than usual, and on Tuesday I did Tina's Lower Body Burnout workout PLUS a yoga class with Jenn. So I was already sore all over in addition to head-to-toe discomfort.

Thankfully, I woke up this morning feeling much better, even though I had to turn down a sub job today (I'm subbing for my former school district this year). Most schools say that you have to wait 24 hours after a fever before returning to school. I guess it's for the best; I'm feeling better but could use another day to get back to 100%. I don't really have much of an appetite today, which is a clue I'm not quite there--I rarely lose my appetite, even when I'm sick, so lack of hunger means I'm hurtin'.

So I'll fill you in on what's been going on around here lately. Of course you know that Terry's home (!!!), so we've been soaking up lots of time together. He's already been home for almost a week, so I guess I should calm down about it, but I really do miss him and our regular routines when he's away.

I also made these amazing cookies from Fitnessista. She went to raw culinary school (I had no idea such a thing existed!), and she's always suggesting delicious raw combinations. Honestly, I don't know much about eating raw, though I know it's a lifestyle choice for some people. But with the heat we've experienced lately, I'm grateful to not have to turn on the oven to make a delicious treat! I did make a few adjustments to her recipe, including doubling it because we devoured the first batch.

  • 1 cup almond meal
  • scant 1/2 cup peanut butter (but just because I ran out--otherwise I would have used 1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • about 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • a handful of dark chocolate chunks (maybe 3 tablespoons?)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

I combined the first five ingredients (through vanilla) first, then stirred in the chocolate and coconut. I formed the dough into balls and smushed them just enough to form a cookie shape, then threw them on a plate lined with wax paper. I covered the whole thing with plastic wrap and am excited to eat them tonight! (I know they are delicious, because I already ate at least the equivalent of two cookies during the mixing process. I had to test them.)

Terry and I loved these little treats--he dubbed them "pudding cookies" because my first batch didn't really solidify in the fridge--and we're going to enjoy them with some homemade vanilla bean ice cream tonight.

We're also finalizing our travel plans for Europe. We leave in eleven days! My parents are actually meeting us in Switzerland, and we'll travel with them to Austria before moving on to Munich and Prague on our own. Terry and I have only been to Europe with the two of us, so we're excited to travel in a small group.

A big part of travel planning is staying organized. A few of my pre-travel routines:

  • Print my confirmations/tickets as soon as I book them. This way I don't have to scramble to find everything or try to remember exactly what it was I needed to print. 
  • Buy an inexpensive set of folders to sort all the paperwork. I like the bound set of folders at Staples, so I can keep each aspect of our trip in its own pocket. This time I'll have a separate pocket for Flights, Lucerne, Salzburg, Munich, Munich Side Trips, Prague, and Other
  • Read as much as possible, but don't over-research. Sounds contradictory, but it's easy to get overwhelmed. I like Rick Steves' books because they provide a little history, some cultural customs, some phrases in the language, and lots of suggestions for where to eat and what to do. I try to avoid delving too deep into the Internet, because I find myself in a black hole of information and get way too dizzy trying to make a simple decision.
  • Talk to friends and family for suggestions. We like to ask for recommendations from as many people as possible. If we hear the same suggestions two or three times, we know it's something we should do. 
I'm also continuing to work hard on my novel! I'm at the halfway point words-wise, and I have eleven days to go. That's not so horrible, right? I can totally do this. (But maybe send good vibes my way anyway.)

Also, fun photo of the day:

Of course you do, Prius. 

Hope you're having a great day!