Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Haute Fondue

Summertime is about to roll around again here in La Suisse, and that means two things:  all planned construction projects of any sort get underway, and, your friends and family will start calling you with their anticipated travel dates.

I heard a pithy saying on one of the expat forums in answer to a poster who was complaining about the lack of a decent springtime.  A witty long-timer explained that, in Switzerland, there are only two seasons.  Winter and Construction Season.  I think the Swiss have decided that the day that the ferries on all the lakes swing into “summer season”, (this year it was April 17th), marks the official day that the cranes, scaffolding and road paving equipment gets dusted off and brought out of winter hibernation.  When I woke up on April 17th, five giant cranes had sprung up like crocuses off the view from my patio.  I’m like, hey!  Construction people!  You need to get those cranes out of here because I have guests coming this summer and you are spoiling my view, not to mention the pictures that they will inevitably take and later put on Facebook!  Because they are Swiss, however, and I was screaming in English, they did not listen and the cranes are all still there.  What to do?

Go up higher.  You think those gimungous mountains are there just to sit around and look pretty?  Hell, no!  We are Swiss and we are meant to go out and interact with them at every given opportunity.  We, (and I am including myself in this “we” only in the very loosest of definitions), hike up and down them, bike up and down them, ski down them, jump off them with parachutes, eat on top of them, paint them and swing between them on gondolas.  If you are feeling depressed by the cold, gray, drizzly weather, go up, young man!  Go up!  The mountains are so high that there are always a couple of them that poke up out of the clouds, (like where AIRPLANES go!), and, VOILA!, you will be in sunshine.  It will still be freezing, but it will be sunny.

So, right after the crane incident, I convinced Mr. Big that we needed to find somewhere to take our anticipated summer guests up above the clouds for some spectacular views and a little Haute Fondue.  (This is my new term, I’m copywriting it right now, this very second.  Haute Fondue.  Definition, consuming typical Swiss cuisine whilst perched on top of an Alp.)  Now, we already know of one place, Rochers-de-Naye, which is the peak up above the city of Montreaux.  We took the kids there last year and it was spectacular.  We spent the night in a yurt, ate Haute Fondue and hiked down the mountain back into Montreaux.  Fun stuff.  BUT, we had already taken two sets of guests there last year and if those same guests come back this year, we needed some new tricks up our sleeve, if you will.

Hence, Leysin.  Leysin is a mountain village up above Aigle.  (Lay-zah/Aay-gluh).  Up above Leysin lies a medium-sized mountain terminating at a peak called Berneuse.   You can drive or take the train as far as Leysin, but that, sistuh, is the end of the road, literally.  From Leysin, you must either a) hike up, b) bike up, c) take the telecabine up or d) just park your ass in one of the cafes and stay right where you are.  Well, it was a toss up, of course, between option c and option d for Mr. Big and I, but since we were on a fact-finding mission, we chose the telecabine and continued on our journey.

Sixteen franc each later, we arrived at the top.  We enjoyed the 360 degree views of at least 3 countries.  Now, mind you, in the winter, that telecabine takes you to the top of the ski slope where you will find, in winter, the prerequisite BAR, right?  Somewhere to consume your vin chaud between runs, right?  Like many other ski resorts, the bar is made of hollowed-out ice and snow.  It is, for all practical purposes, an igloo.  An igloo bar.  Get it?  Well, have you ever seen the remains of an igloo bar in the spring?  I have.  They just let it melt.  WHO KNEW?!!!  A half-melted igloo bar.  Sooooo weird.

While I was snapping photos of the Dali-esque melting igloo bar, Mr. Big is tugging on my sleeve.  “Look, Trailing Spouse, there are people jumping off this mountain.”  And, by Christ, they were.  We had stumbled upon one of the jumping-off points for the parapenters.  This is a crazy sport where completely insane people take a running start off of the side of a perfectly good 6,000 to 12.000 foot mountain with nothing but a parachute and a spare bottle of water. 

They float down and all around and land in like, Austria, or something.  We watched one girl, who was a beginner, who had to go with a guide, in a quasi-sexual tandem arrangement sort of like two spoons in a drawer, if you know what I mean.  Anyway, the girl and the trainer practiced their take-off, trying to get their steps in sync, until it was time for the actual jump. 

Will she do it?  Will she chicken out?  How will she actually make herself take that last and final step into thin air?  She did it.  I was like, you go girl, you crazy thing.  I will be in the restaurant if you need me.

Ahh, the restaurant.  It SPINS!  How fabulous.  Rotating Haute Fondue!  If you want to Google it, the name of the restaurant is Kuklos.  Just type in Kuklos Berneuse and you can see pictures of it.  Alas, our meal was too soon over and it was time to hike down the mountain back to the car.  What!  You thought I was such a wimp that I would take the telecabine back down?  Puhleez!  I am semi-Swiss.  I can hike DOWN mountains.  I bike DOWN mountains.  Only complete dweebs/really old/really drunk people take the telecabine back DOWN the mountain.  It’s the Swiss Walk of Shame, riding back down.  (It’s also the Swiss Walk of Shame taking the telecabine UP the mountain, but I prefer not to think about that.  As I said, only SEMI-Swiss.)

Because it was only May, ahem, the first leg of our journey back down was in snow.  The little lake up at the top had, apparently, only thawed out the weekend before, because the frogs were highly confused.  Ha!  There’s a sentence you don’t see very often.  Yes, we had to watch our step in the snow because the frogs were EVERYWHERE.  Mr. Big and I could not figure out if they had just come out of the recently frozen lake and were trying to make their way to higher ground or if they had been in hibernation somewhere and were trying to make their way to their now unfrozen lake.  Regardless, frogs hopping across vast snowfields was quite a sight to behold.

After a refreshing two hour hike, we arrived back in Leysin.  My friends who are reading this back in the States are laughing their heads off right now.  Trailing Spouse and a Two Hour Hike are two phrases that would never have gone together in a million years in my old life.  Trailing Spouse and a Chocolate Martini, yes.  Trailing Spouse and a Nice Long Sunday Nap, yes.  Trailing Spouse and a Two Hour Shopping Spree at the Mall, of course.  Oh, how times have changed.

BTW, tomorrow is the 1st of June.  Last night, it snowed at 1,500 meters and yesterday I had to wear a winter coat, scarf and boots to walk down to the lake to have Sunday brunch and read my (London) Times.  I’m thinking my summer guests will not have to pack a bathing suit this year to come and visit me.  A parka, yes.  Bikini, umm, not lookin’ so good.  But the Haute Fondue will be excellent!

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