Switzerland — Day One in Wonderland

This trip we went to Germany and Switzerland for 2 weeks and essentially 2 additional days, but we really only got one additional day out of it.  I wish we would have spent an additional day exploring the towns around Interlaken, but we will go back at some point to explore the places we didn’t get a chance to.

Trains, Trains, Trains.

Part of the reason I wanted to go to Switzerland were the trains and all the connections we would make in a short period of time.  Elliott has always been so fascinated by trains that I wanted to go on a trip with him while he was still so enamored with trains and I noticed a few years ago that the Alp trains and trams were quite unique.  Our journey from Koln would have us taking the ICE express to Switzerland– the ICE got up to  290km per hour headed back and forth from Frankfurt– pretty impressive.  At the Swiss Border we switched to the Swiss Bahn trains, finally arriving in Interlaken.  Interlaken is a the big train town, since a number of the Alpine trains depart from Interlaken.

I booked us a hotel in nearby Winderswil, which turned out to be a perfect choice.  Winderswil is the next train stop from Interlaken West, which is where they Jungfrau Railway, or Top Of Europe train departs from.  We took the intercity bus from Interlaken to Winderswil and it took about 10 minutes to get from the train station to our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel Baren.  Winderswil is a small town outside of Interlaken, with a few hotels and some restaurants– we found it to the perfect town to stay in while we explored the region.

Hotel Baren

The weather was perfect on our first day of touring.  There were some clouds in the high alpine area, but it was set to clear up for the remainder of our trip.


As you can see, the views from town are impressive.  The north face of the Eiger peeking out over the valley.

We arrived late in the day and you could quickly tell that Winderswil doesnt have a lot of restaurants, so we decided to go back into town and get a bite to eat.

Side note:  I also wanted to get back into Interlaken because I had lost my pair of Chaco sandals at the Koln train station.  They were in the stroller we brought in the bottom webbing and they slipped out while boarding the train, falling onto the train tracks– never to be seen again.  RIP Chaco.  So, I was anxious to get to town and buy a pair of sandals since the only shoes I brought with me were the hiking boots on my feet– although it was better to have Hiking boots than the other way around.

Once we arrived back in Interlaken, we were just blown away at how beautiful the city is.  It is SUPER touristy, don’t get me wrong, but the city is designed around a massive park in the city center, the city folds like a horseshoe around the park, with the East train station on one side of the town and the West one on the other side of the park– pretty cool.  The park is used by the multiple groups that have para sailing from various points in the Alps as a landing spot, so at any moment there are multiple people landing in the park– we had a great time just hanging out and relaxing at this point during several points on our trip.

Here are some of the best pictures of Interlaken:

European Vacation 2016 191

Paragliders landing in Interlaken Park

Paragliders landing in Interlaken Park

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Liam Interlaken Park
Liam Interlaken Park

After walking around Interlaken looking for something to eat, we finally gave up trying to find the perfect place for dinner and settled on an street corner with an Italian pizza joint that had outside seating and cold beer.  It gave us enough time to catch our breath and plan the next days that we would be in this wonderful country.  Pizza is pizza, so nothing special to note– and the beer in Switzerland is always the same brand on tap– and its a decent one.

Our biggest reason for deciding to come to Switzerland was to take the train to the Top Of Europe–  The Jungfrau tour takes you on a train to the “Top of Europe”, 12,000 feet onto the Glacier that ties the Jungfrau range together.  To give it a little perspective, Wilderswil is at 2200 feet and this train goes to nearly 12k in elevation in just under 2 hours!  Lili’s parents were travelling with us and they decided that they didn’t have any interest in going to the top, so we decided to have the next day to hang out as a group and Saturday we would split up, Lili and I taking Elliott on the train while Liam stayed below with Oma and Opa.


Next:  Day 2 Schynige Platte

Germany Part Deux

This trip has been slightly exhausting and slightly over-relaxing.  I am looking so forward to our life getting back to normalcy when Lili and the baby are safely back in Seattle on the 13th.  I am leaving to head back in just a couple of days and will be spending most of this next weekend trying to sleep away the jetlag and get ready to start the new year off at my job.

Don’t get me wrong– I have enjoyed this trip, but it is exhausting to spend several weeks in a country where English is not the first or perhaps even second language — and to have a newborn baby crossing into toddler hood at the same time– it is a taxing experience.  Add to that the amount of travelling we have been doing while here — and the wierd weather– it is the warmest they have seen it in the north in years– literally nearly 50 degrees in January near the Danish border… and we brought the type of clothes one would wear whilst touring Russia.  Which also makes our baggage a little interesting.  I think we are going to have to bring back an extra bag or three with us with all of the things that Elliott got from his grandparents and the rest of the family.

Christmas and New Years are certainly done much differently here in the Germanland that at home in the states– or maybe it is more micro than that– perhaps these families, my German families, do things so differently than the Hogg/Smith clan does them– but either way, the cultural change is a swift current– one that grips you and at time pulls you under as your own traditions play an undercurrent against it– which is better, cooler, more unique, easier to adapt to?

One thing is for certain– the Germans have new years as a celebration hands down.  Who can top Berliner Donuts at the Stroke of midnight (that’s Jelly Donut to you, Americanishe), a giant schweet pretzel seen below…







This is just a picture from the web– the real one was cut into at the stroke of midnight.  When Martyna asked me what we do in America to celebrate the New Year, all I could come up with is, oh, we get drunk and watch fireworks.  The Germans– they not only watch fireworks, but they blow shit up– there do not appear to be any fireworks done by the cities– none that I have seen– but now that I write this, Lili will correct me I am sure… but they aren’t really needed because the people blow up so many fireworks that literally at 4am, it is still smoky outside from all of the munitons fired throughout the night.  I didn’t record any of it this year because we were too busy drinking Sekt, bourbon, eating donuts and bretzels and blowing.shit.up.

Elliott, of course, slept right through the whole thing, like a baby.  He had been quite grumpy for the last couple of days– I think that the travelling had really gotten to him.  Even though he is only three months, I think we all like to have a little consistency is our lives– even when you are a little bean like he is.   But we owed it to this fine family that Lili has to let all of them see the baby-boo and spend some time with him.  I wish that they could spend more time with him, but Susie and Uwe as the grandparents have gotten plenty of Elliott time in– since he was born, they have seen him for a total of 6 weeks– and since he is three months old, that makes it about 50% of the time that they have been able to spend time with him.  I think it is very good for everyone involved.  Family is important and I think that I have missed having a family like this for some years– most of my family is dead or doesn’t care what is going on– which, to some extent, is fine too– it’s a double edged sword– if you have too much family that is close, you never have any free time and if you have family that doesn’t talk or keep in touch than maybe you have too much time– but either way, life is what it is and you have to just enjoy it while you can– I can tell you first hand that watching Elliott grow this fast– it goes by so fast that now I can see why people in my family haven’t spoken in 10 years– time slips away if you dont watch it.

Ok, enough of that– I have included some pictures of the family and of the trip because they are special to us, so I hope you enjoy them.  I will try to write again as I have time before I head back to the states on Friday– my flight got bumped a day!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Germany Part1

We have been to more Christmas markets than I can count — today we journey to the border and went to Aachen, which is the birthplace of Charlemagne (He is also buried there).  The Christmas market there surrounded the huge Dom (church) where he is buried– but I must admit, I am somewhat disappointed in the quality of wears at the Christmas markets– which is something that the German family members and others I have spoken to have also been discussing.  It is very, very hard to find something special at these markets– something that sticks out as something you can only buy at these markets– other than the cups which stores the gluvine.  Germans don’t go to the Christmas Markets to shop– they go to eat and drink and socialize– the food is delicious fair like food, but German style.  You have the usual sausage parade– Bratwurst, Kraukaur and Knockwurst and then there are the pototao pancakes, schweinehauxe and of course, the belgium waffle and last but not least, crepe.  Not too mention all of the sweets and breads that are for sale– but I tend to stay away from all the sweets and focus on the big foodie items.

Aachen is famous for what is called Printen– more on Printen here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aachener_Printen.  I must admit, this is what officially got me in the Christmas spirit yesterday, biting into the German version of Ginger  Bread– although I must admit, I miss Jingle cookies when in the German land.  Everytime I see something close to a jingle cookie, I give it a go (a daunting task) and it’s always off.  You can take the mass produced cookie kid out of America, but you can’t take the cookies out of the kid… 🙂

Elliott is doing very well– he stayed awake for the entire day yesterday, for the first time ever I believe (ok, he slept for about an hour when we were driving to Aachen) so he is spending more and more time awake and moving and it is amazing thing to sit back and watch.  He is a pretty happy kid overall and he tends to give a couple of warning cries before getting really upset about anything, as if to say, hello, I am a little upset over here before he fully unleashes the reckoning.  When we first arrived, he was struggling with the time change much more than Mommy and Daddy were struggling– but he is now back on schedule and sleeping nearly 6 hours at night!  We feel so lucky.  He has been able to spend lots of time with Uwe and Susie and he has seen lots of Scrollan, Dirk and Jannik.  After Christmas, we will be making our way up to Bremerhaven to see the rest of the family, which I am very excited for.

We will be spending most of the remainder of the time in Bremerhaven and blowing big fireworks there.

Well, that is all that I have time for now.

"In Europe" thoughts of wars past, contrasting present

Over this trip to Germany, I have been reading a book that I thought was simply a travel narrative of Europe. The book, titled “In Europe”, is actually an interesting journey through the last 100 or so years in Europa, from 1900ish to 2000ish. The writer begins the book at the turn of the 18th century to the 19th, contrasting the 20th as a litmus for all that was happening at the time.
This has also proven to be quite useful in my own personal journey during this time as I come to realize that I am also becoming part of Europe as more than half of my family presides directly on this contentient. Each day presents new challenges as I contrast my own life as an American with the lives of Europeans. The differences are seemingly large–we view this land in totally different ways because of the time that we have to interact with not only the spaces, but the times as well.

As an American, I think I seem to be obsessed with the wars that plagued this country for so many years, both devasting the land, the people and the culture. However, the more that I learn about it, the more I see that it is becoming so far of the past that it is rather difficult to draw the conclusions of how this place become now what it is from such devastation. The times, for the first time in nearly a century, have been, for the most part, calm for the last decade. The book, “In Europe” is more informative of the wars than anything I have come across here, either accidentally or intentionally–and its not because the people are willing to talk about it–it’s moreso that they simply do not think about it. When I recite facts of things that I have been reading. For example: When the Nazi’s working in the concentration camps would see someone with an interesting tattoo on their body, they would remove it from them (either killing them or just removing the skin) and make lampshades out it. When I told a couple people this, they nodded, knowing it, but of course where in conversation would that really come up. “I know the war was terrible and the Nazi’s did terrible things like ________, but that’s all in the past now, so….”
We all want to move on from the devasting parts of life and the reality is that the German people are now almost two generations gone from that period of time. The last super power to have a government that took its own people down a simillar pathway would have to be the Americans with the suspension of civil liberties and freedoms in the name of terrorism, led by George W Bush. That fact is still suppressed because, much like the aftermath of the war, it’s too soon to really look at what has been done and accept responsibility. I wish Bush would read this book and think about the millions of people that were killed all because a group of people simply couldn’t agree on things. As both wars dragged on, particularly the first World War, the people living in the trenches on both sides of the war began to realize that they had been duped into fighting for something that wasn’t in reality, what any of them really stood for. The book constantly refers to the moments where the generals were running the battles from a safe distance with no regard to the people that were being killed off in the name of their own planning– and this happened on both sides– very little value was placed internally on the lives of soldiers. In the end the Americans were proclaimed as the victors because they had so little at stake in both wars– America came into the first World War only when the Germans began to torpedo the American ships carrying supplies to England– the war, just like the Second WW, had been going on for many years before the Americans got involved. When they did though, it was a massive operation with millions of fresh bodies entering a war that had all but destroyed everyone around them. The trench soldiers had been living in conditions that no one living would choose– and were skiddish warriors at best.
Regardless, stumbling upon these moments of history on this trip are moments which I hold with very high regard. Having a book like “In Europe” makes me hungry to know more about a place which holds so much history–that makes our young country seem so young and inexperienced with tragedy. Perhaps that is why we made the mistakes we have in our young history — we have so little history and understanding of the true tragedies of the rest of the world. That is what travelling, in a sense, is all about– experiencing these other cultures in order to put it against our own.


Lili and I have arrived in Nuremberg, Germany yesterday from Koln. We rented a rather lovely and fast Volkswagen Golf, for a very reasonable price. I am a bit sad to report that the Autobahn was not the uber fast speedway that we Americans dream to drive on– at least not yesterday. There was more construction on the bit of Autobahn from Koln to the Bavarian border that it was very rare that I got the chance to hammer down the pedal. However, when I did, it was nothing short of exhilarating.

It took us about 4.5 hours to drive here and we arrived just after 5. Traffic was busy coming into town as everyone was just getting off of work and we headed directly to the hotel, which Lili claims to have found using her most excellent mapping skills, but I think it was more luck than anything else. We managed to find all three hotels like the one we are staying in — ETAP. It’s a budget hotel, 50 euro’s a night, which is actually cheaper than staying in a hostel with a private room.
The city of Nuremberg is much more beautiful than I had imagined it and I was thinking it was going to be quite special. It ranks right up there with Dresden in the most beautiful German city thus far… and I think that once I actually soak it in, it will become my favorite German town.
There is a giant castle, schloss, at the top of the city gates, which is where the picture above is taken. It has a great overlook of the city itself, which was mostly destroyed in the WWII. In case you didn’t know, Nuremberg was the center of the Nazi movement and also where the trails were held at the end of the war. It was destroyed in the war and rebuilt. Luckily, when the Nazi party was here, they were meticulous in photographing the city and all that it contained.
I have read quite a lot over the years about WWII and to be in the city where so much of it went down is quite a dream. Walking through the streets and thinking about the pleasantness that this city now offers and contrasting it with the days when the Nazi party was at it’s height of control in Germany — and most of the propagandist theater was staged right here. I imagined the city center streets lined with German soldiers as Hitler gives his speeches — and how he watched the parades of soldiers march through the city.
Today we will walk out to the soccer stadium, which is on the same grounds as Zeppelinstadium, which is the area that he gave his speeches to hundreds of thousands of supporters. Again, most of that was destroyed by the Allied troops after the war, but they did leave parts of it. I will post those photos over the next several days.
For the record, I don’t want this to seem like I am some war buff vacation, but there really are two stories to the German life– the war and everything that happened after the war. This country has a lot of deep scars from that time period and the wound is finally healing, but that injury will forever be with the German people and it was an interesting period of time. Hitler and the Nazi Party were an evil regime and it was a dark period but they did some pretty historical things. To think that this is the hotbed of it all– the wound runs the deepest here– but it’s also where the healing began with the Nuremberg Trials — the fact that they tried and hanged the people that were left in the end here gives the place the opportunity to start anew–and it has.
In fact, one would have to know firsthand that the city was destroyed by bombs to realize that all of it has been completely redone because it very closely resembles a city like Prague, minus St. Charles Gate, of course.
Anyway, that’s all for now as were headed to Zeppelin Field…