Monday, June 10, 2013

Glacier Express

The Glacier Express is one of Switzerland's popular tourist adventures. Even though we're not exactly tourists, we need to experience the tourist options so we can recommend them or not to visitors. Besides, we wanted to do this anyway! We were lucky enough to have our dear friends from the USA, Lynn Adams and Pam Wilt, come visit us here in Switzerland. Tom was able to take a vacation day and take this rail tour with us girls. The GE is an 8 hour train ride between Zermatt and St. Moritz and can be taken in either direction. We departed Zurich and took the train to Zermatt. Sadly, the skies were not kind to us and we didn't go up to the Gornergrat to view the Matterhorn. There was nothing but cloud cover and fog to see. We learned that some hotels and stores close during the slow period between the ski season and the start of summer holidays. We were still able to do some shopping and we also peeked into the Matterhorn Museum while hoping the sky would clear. 

Our hotel concierge recommended a local restaurant to try Swiss specialties.

raclette - you can have as many servings as you want

dried meat plate - served on a slice of a tree

As we stood hoping for the majestic Matterhorn to come out and greet us, we watched a street cleaner repeatedly wash one street corner. Note, it had been raining most of the day. How dirty could it possibly be? 

the cleanest corner in Zermatt

Is there a piece of the Matterhorn there? Still hoping.
Lucky for us, the sky cleared overnight and we got to see the Matterhorn in full glory before we had to leave Zermatt.

Although it is beautiful, it has also been unkind to climbers that tried to reach its peak. The cemetery has many graves of climbers who failed.

 Time to board our train for the ride to St. Moritz. 

We opted to travel first class giving ourselves more room to spread out. The purpose of this train ride is to view the amazing mountain and valley scenery along the way. There was no shortage of beauty. Taking pictures, however, was a challenge. We got lots of pictures of power lines, poles, insides of tunnels and reflections in the glass windows, but also spectacular scenery.

At one of the stops along the way, we were serenaded by this accordion ensemble. 
I love the edelweiss on this accordion

Sights along the way

If the valley has a village, there will be a church.

fences to hold the snow back and avoid avalanches

Our ticket included a hot meal which was served to us in our seats.

zum wohl!

actually quite tasty

can't skip the Heidi coffee
We were trying hard to find wildlife out our windows. Finally, there was a sighting!
Or maybe we were getting a bit punchy.

not much here but the church

Here you can see the other end of our train as we curve along this bridge (and reflections).

Must admire Swiss engineering. It's absolutely phenomenal what they've done to make everywhere accessible by train. 

Finally, we arrived in St. Moritz. This escalator is a very civilized way to get from the lower part of town up to the higher part.  We were there the first weekend of May -  it was still cold.

the white building is our hotel

friends in the neighboring room!

view from our hotel window
Auf wiedersehen St. Moritz. Time to go back to Horgen so we can continue our adventures from our home base.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

An American in Paris

I am not referring to the music of George Gershwin. I am the American and I was in Paris for Roland Garros, the French Open tennis tournament. If you are not a tennis fan, you will probably find this post incredibly boring. Feel free to bail now and not read this. I'll never know! 

I grew up in a tennis family and have been a fan as long as I can remember. I watch a lot of tennis on TV (just ask my daughters or Tom to confirm), but it's my only vice. I usually have a good idea of who the best players are and if they're on their way up or down. OK, maybe it's a bit of an obsession. The four biggest tournaments are called the Grand Slams and if you win all four, you've won a Grand Slam. I've been to the US Open (in NYC) several times and this was my third trip to Roland Garros. I have yet to get to Wimbledon or the Australian Open, but they are on my bucket list. 

One of my tennis buddies that I left in NJ with my move to Switzerland was planning to come to Paris. She started the ball rolling and we planned to meet. I didn't want to go alone and Tom's schedule wasn't going to allow him to make the trip. So, I took a chance and asked my tennis friend from Belgian days (now living in Georgia, USA) if she was interested in coming over. I knew it as a long shot, but it never hurts to ask. She said "yes" and the plans began! 

Deirdre Gelinne (from NJ), me, and Rene Lacoste

Trudie Keenly and me

I was able to buy tickets directly for one day and the other two we ended up going through an official ticket broker. The good part is that the tickets required us to choose one of their official hotels. Although I was originally annoyed by not being able to buy my own tickets, going this route made it much easier. We did not have to search for our own hotel. The package also came with access to a hospitality room. This ended up being very advantageous and the next time (yes, I'll be back) I will definitely buy a package again. 

 After an easy train ride to Paris on Sunday afternoon (gotta love the European trains), we settled into our hotel and prepared ourselves for some great tennis. Monday we had seats in the Philippe Chatrier stadium. Having tickets to one of the stadiums guarantees you a seat there, but you are also free to move around the grounds as you wish. We went directly to Chatrier to watch Li Na face her opponent, Medina-Garrigues.

Li Na
Anabel Medina Garrigues

Li Na

Li Na

a look at court Chatrier

TV camera going across the court and back

Second up on court Phillipe Chatrier, Rafael Nadal. I missed the first set while I met Deirdre for lunch. Her seats were higher in the stands and even though there were many empty seats near us, there was no way for her to get down to join us.

the opponent, Daniel Brands

every set requires a new shirt - Yay!

Rafa was relieved to get through his first round match - it was a tough one. 

After 3:00pm, we could go to the hospitality room which also had rest rooms with a much shorter line. We could help ourselves to wine, beer, champagne, other drinks and munchies. 


After our break in the hospitality room, we headed back out to watch more tennis - a very tough first round: Berdych vs Monfils. Both Trudie and I like both of those players. Since Monfils is French, the crowd was very much in his favor so we eventually were pulling for Berdych to help him out. It didn't work and Monfils was the victor. It was sure fun to be part of the crowd with the French fans rocking the place for one of their own.

Gael Monfils
Gael Monfils
Tomas Berdych

Tomas Berdych

flags above Chatrier

Chatrier scoreboard and jumbo-tron for replays

TV commentators: Mary Carillo, Ted Robinson, John McEnroe
Maria Sharapova was scheduled to follow the Berdych - Monfils match but was moved to another court since this one took so long. Neither of us were sorry to miss her match - she's not a favorite. Perhaps because she is way too loud! 

After Monfils pulled out the 5 set victory, we headed back to our hotel. It was too late to be motivated to find a restaurant for dinner (10pm). We sheepishly asked the gentleman at the hotel desk if it was possible to get some hot water for tea. And how about some yogurt? A little while later, we had our dinner of yogurt, banana/applesauce and tea. It was all we needed at that hour. 

Our second day, Tuesday, we had tickets at another stadium court, Suzanne Lenglen. We knew well in advance that the weather forecast for this day was not good. It wasn't raining at 10:00 am so we left our hotel. As we were waiting on line to enter the grounds, it began raining - our day started with a 2+ hour rain delay. We had checked the match schedule the previous night and planned to watch Alexandr Dolgopolov on an outside court before going to Lenglen to watch Tommy Haas. But first, the rain delay. 

rain delay - not the highlight

the competitors: Alexandr Dolgopolov and Dmitry Tursunov




Our seats for this match were right next to a practice court. Sightings on the practice court were Wawrinka, Fognini, Petrova and Srebotnik.

Stanislas Wawrinka

Fabio Fognini

Nadia Petrova

Katarina Srebotnik

Deirdre and her husband, Dave, joined us on this outside court. The low point of our tournament experience was the second rain delay, after Dolgopolov lost the first set . I thought it would be better to move rather than stay put where we were. Boy, was I wrong. We ended up in a very ugly situation. People were trying to go both directions and it was similar to a stampede. By definition, a stampede is supposed to be in a rush. No one was going anywhere fast, but we were stuck in the crowd. People were pushing when there was nowhere to go and it was easy to see how people would be trampled and killed if it was a real emergency. Here there was no emergency, people were just trying to find shelter and there isn't enough for the throngs of people with tickets. I really wished Tom and Trudie's husband, Kevin, had been with us. Arm-in-arm you make a bigger blockade for someone to try to push through. We both would have felt better. 

One criticism of the tournament is that all exits from the grounds are final. Why? It makes no sense to me. If it's raining and there has been a delay announced, why can't I leave the grounds and return when the rain has passed? Instead, I have to fight the crowds to try to find a dry place to wait. 

After play resumed, we abandoned Dolgopolov and went to Suzanne Lenglen to watch Tommy Haas. He has such a beautiful one handed backhand, is one of the oldest in the tournament and was on his way to a win. Didn't want to miss it. (I forgot to take any pictures of the French opponent, Rufin, who wasn't able to put up much of a fight.) I also loved hearing Haas interviewed by Fabrice Santoro after his win. Santoro was always great to watch and it was sad when he retired. There is no one else like him. 

Tommy Haas
Tommy Haas
Tommy Haas

Haas interviewed by Santoro

After Haas, it was time to move back to an outside court to see some doubles. Sadly, the court where the Bryan brothers were slotted to play was mobbed and our chance of getting in there was very slim. We opted to go across the way and watch another doubles master, Leander Paes, who was paired with Jurgen Meltzer. They were playing a young French pair.

Paes and Meltzer won

After doubles, we went to watch Fernando Verdasco against another Frenchman, Marc Giquel. Court 2 has a small stadium. We were on the top row which means we had something to lean back against. Nice. 

Fernando Verdasco

view from our vantage point

One couple brought an infant to the tennis matches! As you can see from this picture I took on the sly, there really wasn't room for the carrier. They sat down directly next to Trudie. Luckily they only stayed for 2 games and decided to move somewhere else. 

Verdasco won his match and day two was over. Luckily, the weather forecast for our last day at Roland Garros was much better than the previous day. We had looked at the lineup on our court (Lenglen) and the outside courts. We decided to head directly to Court 2 to see one of our favorite, David Ferrer, take on another Spaniard, Albert Montanes. Sadly, we weren't the only ones with this plan. There was quite a line outside the court when we arrived.  They were only letting one or two people in at a time as they found open seats. 

If you've never been to France, you may not know that the French are not very good at queuing for anything. I could see a couple of young guys planning to cut in line. A French man spoke to them obviously telling them where the end of the line was. After a smirk, they did not move. I adjusted my stance to make sure they weren't getting in front of me. I spoke to them (in English) and also told them to go to the end of the line. I told them I knew they understood me. They did not go to the end. My purpose in speaking up was mostly to alert the others in line of the situation giving them a chance to wake up. Well, no one did anything and the two got in line behind us. As people were allowed in to the court, the line scrunched up. The two "jerks" (I refuse to call them young men because they were so rude) started pushing on my back. They also were speaking quite a bit in English and trying to taunt us. They obviously thought we were English with their comments about Shakespeare. We considered bailing from the line more than once, but didn't. Montanes wasn't giving Ferrer too much trouble so the first set didn't last too long. Several people left and we finally had our opportunity to go in - to the fifth row from the court! Worth the wait and never saw the jerks again. 

Albert Montanes

David Ferrer

yesterday we sat in the upper section, right end

the victor

Lots of fans left the stands after Ferrer's victory. We were able to move down to the second row!

court 2, row 2!

Jana Cepelova vs Angelique Kerber

Angelique Kerber
the victor


With seats this great, we decided to stay as long as we and our bladders could. Next up, Gilles Simon vs Pablo Cuevas. It was kids' day and the stands were full of school age kids cheering for the Frenchman, Simon. Definitely fun to watch and hear. 

Cuevas vs Simon

Gilles Simon

Eventually, we had to leave these seats. We knew we'd never get these again, but we could go to our "real" seats in Lenglen any time so it was OK. We went directly to the hospitality room. The food was better than on Monday and the champagne was still flowing. We stayed there for a while as we took in nourishment. Then we headed over to Lenglen to see Raonic and Llodra, another Frenchman.

statue outside Lenglen

inside Lenglen

Michael Llodra

Milos Raonic

the victor

Roger Federer has never been my favorite, but I would not pass up the opportunity to see him play live. Unfortunately, the match was not competitive. 

Somdev Devvarman

Federer without the usual collared shirt

The sun was strong when it came out and made a huge difference in the temperature. This fan had a creative solution. 

The finale of our three days at the tournament was the match between Ana Ivanovic and Mathilde Johansson. The score line was quite one sided, but the French crowd did their best to encourage their own to keep fighting. Trudie and I had joked many times over the three days about Ivanovic's fist pump with twirl. Seeing it in person was so much fun. 

Mathilde Johansson

Ana Ivanovic
Ana Ivanovic

The rains came again just as the match was ending. We didn't stay to listen to the courtside interview and headed back to our hotel. After three full days, we did not get tired of watching tennis. We rode the train back to Switzerland and became couch tennis fans again. Trudie is now on her way back to the US. We had a great time together in Paris. I know I'll be back because Tom still hasn't been there. Maybe next time I'll travel with a bigger entourage.