Think you can find a more beautiful country than this?? Norway, José!!

One of the things we like to do when the whole family is here visiting is to take advantage of Geneva’s proximity to other fun European destinations and to go there for a few days. One time it was Berlin. Another time it was Paris and Amsterdam. Last Christmas, Pat suggested that we spend part of our summer together in Norway. So in early August, the four of us boarded a plane to Oslo for a week in that beautiful country.

After a late arrival in Oslo which required that our first night be spent near the airport, we headed north in our rental car, our destination: the town of Stryn. Our route planner wisely included a ferry ride through the Norwegian fjords for one segment of the trip.

Further on up the road, we encountered an architectural feature unique to Norway: the stave church. A stave church is an elaborately carved wooden church. It gets its name from the wooden “staves” that are the wooden corner posts that support the “stave walls” made from a framework of timber with wall planks standing on sills. My research indicates that these wooden churches were a byproduct from the Vikings woodworking craftsmanship in ship building.
We turned off the main road just to get out and take a closer look at this smaller one.

Norway wooden church

These wooden “stave” churches are a thing in Norway

Regular followers of the Swiss Sojourner, know I like to hike. So when we embark on an adventure to a place like Norway, there will be hiking. And if you are going to hike in Norway, it’s best to take advantage of all that Norway hiking has to offer. For instance, why not combine a hike with two of Norway’s coolest natural features, fjords and glaciers! So we arranged a guided day trip that involved kayaking 5 kilometers to a great big glacier, having lunch, then strapping on the crampons, guide ropes, and harnesses and hiking along a glacier, pictured below. Then we had to paddle all the way back in the rain and into a headwind, and even that was fun, sort of.

Norway Glacier

We kayaked to this glacier, then hiked on it!

On another day, the four of us began a day of hiking by riding a gondola part of the way up a big mountain just outside of Stryn, comforted by the thought that it wasn’t going to be too demanding a hike since we were taking the gondola most of the way up, right? Well guess what, we wound up hiking uphill another 600 or so meters (vertical ascent, I mean… the whole hike was probably 7 or 8 kilometers round trip) to the summit of the mountain. From way up there, we had a glorious 360 degree view of the whole region.  Here’s a shot I took as we were just getting started.

Fjord view

We rode a gondola, to this level, and started our hike here.

On our last full day in Norway, Pat and I decided it would be fun to test ourselves against what the tourism brochures describe as “the longest/highest uphill hike in all of Norway”, that being the hike from Loen all the way to the top of Mt. Skala, a vertical ascent of 1,848 meters, which for those of you unfamiliar with the metric to feet conversion, is over 6,000 feet. What makes this such a challenging hike is that it’s a mere 8 kilometers from Loen to the summit, which means the hike consists of an average grade of 23%! That’s very steep! And then you have to hike back down, once you get up there. But Pat and I agreed that one of the things we like best about extreme hiking is the pain, and how good it feels when its over, so we were all in. Here we are about to head up.

Mt Skala

Sadly, due to poor pre-hike planning on my part, my camera ran out of juice on the way up. But I did find this 2 minute video on the Norway Tourism website that shows a very well produced video of some of the highlights of this hike. Seriously, its worth checking out to get a sense of this hike and this amazing country.

What’s the best place to watch a French victory in the World Cup? A French bar!

As you may or may not know, there was just a month long soccer tournament hosted by Russia called the World Cup, in which the 32 best national soccer teams compete every four years for the world championship.  This tournament is a huge deal over here. Geneva is an international city, so there are die-hard fans for virtually all of the European teams, and many of the South American teams.  Continue reading

I rock to classic Lynyrd Skynyrd on the city tram!

I ride public transportation in Geneva virtually every day.  One of the things that users of the system soon learn is that they will frequently be “entertained” and subsequently solicited for donations by a variety of musical acts while riding the trams (Geneva’s light rail network). These acts typically involve some combination of guitars, accordions and/or stand-up bass fiddles, along with some vocal accompaniment.  I’ll be honest, when I see a group filing onto the tram with their musical instruments, I generally groan, but I do reach into my pocket for a franc or two figuring that if someone has the stones to wake up in the morning and decide they’re going to spend the day riding around town on the city tram playing an accordion for donations, that’s worthy of a small donation.

So I’m riding the tram to work last week, and two guys climb on board, one with an acoustic guitar, the other with an electric guitar.  Now I’m somewhat intrigued.  Continue reading

My friend Pat throws down the hiking gauntlet on all future visitors.

Meet my good friend and notoriously-slow-Snickers-candy-bar-eater Pat M. He was just here for six days. I’ve known Pat since we were teammates on a powerhouse third grade boys soccer team back in the late ’60s. These days, Pat spends much of his time working outdoors as a wetlands scientist so I knew he would be up for a solid week of hiking and exploring in the Swiss and French Alps. He did not disappoint. Continue reading

Wintertime in Switzerland means cross country skiing in the Jura Mountains!

Winter weather in Geneva can be a little depressing. With the alps to the south and the Jura mountain range to the north sandwiching Lake Geneva and the city, it’s not uncommon to go two or three weeks without seeing the sun as a thick, impenetrable fog settles in over the city.

Clouds over Geneva

It’s beautiful… at 4,000 feet!

So what can one to do to escape the dreariness? Throw some skis into the “boot” (that’s what they call car trunks over here) and head up into the mountains! Continue reading

The World Economics Forum welcomes the American president. Here’s how the Swiss feel about that.

The Swiss Sojourner generally avoids political commentary, but with world leaders gathering right here in Davos for the World Economics Forum, I’ve decided to include a brief post on an event that took place here in Geneva as the meetings in Davos were getting underway. (Similar events were held across Switzerland in Lausanne, Zurich, Basel, and Bern.)

My friend Rabea told me that there was going to be a demonstration at 7:00 PM in the commercial district of Geneva along the Place du Molard. Continue reading

The Piedmont wine region in Italy is spectacular! And the wine ain’t bad either.

I am asked from time to time, “what’s your favorite European country?”

There’s something to love about every country we’ve visited, but I never hesitate in responding: It’s Italy. Italy totally rules. It’s got everything: coastlines on two seas, magnificent architecture, the art, the fun-loving people… I could go on and on, so I will for a minute: the food, the historic cities both large and small, the wine, the scenery… So when you decide to visit Italy, there are lots of really good options.

If wine and scenery are your key criteria, I recommend visiting the Piedmont wine region in northwestern Italy. Continue reading