A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 13

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Finally, it was Sunday morning, the last day of our three country business/leisure trip.  As is our habit, we woke up at about 6:00am.  Although I initially had a great impression of the hotel in Vevey, our experience having dinner in the restaurant had dampened my enthusiasm a bit.  We probably should have searched for another place to have breakfast; they are definitely available in the area around Grand Hotel du Lac.  But I remembered the excellent experience we had at breakfast on Saturday morning and was hoping another great breakfast experience would make up for our run in with the snotty Swiss waiter from Saturday night (ooh… try saying that three times fast!).

The best shot I managed to get of the lake.

We got dressed and went back to the restaurant.  We waited a few minutes until another young man, not the one from Saturday night, greeted us and invited us to take a seat.  We chose the same table where we sat the night before.

We were the only ones in the restaurant at 8:00am.  That’s probably because the hotel has a brunch from 12-3pm on Sundays.  I bet it’s very expensive, though I have read that the food is excellent.  We needed to get on the road, though, so we opted for the regular breakfast buffet.  Instead of coffee, I asked for hot chocolate.  I figured since we were in Switzerland, the hot chocolate would be something to write home about.  Alas, it wasn’t.  The waiter brought out a cup of steamed milk and three sachets of hot chocolate powder, one of which was Ovaltine.  I haven’t had Ovaltine since I was about twelve years old.  Maybe I should have asked for a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream on the side.

“Hot chocolate”…  Now I know how real southerners felt when I waited on them at The Trellis in Williamsburg and invited them to sweeten their iced tea with the sweeteners in the caddy on the table.

Anyway, I decided not to order anything else special.  I noticed that unlike the awesome lady who had run the breakfast on Saturday, Sunday morning’s waiter had not put out labels for the food items.  I ended up being affronted by a chafing dish full of grilled tomatoes and sauteed mushrooms.  This is not a huge deal… I only mention it because the other lady had paid such great attention to detail, while the young chap serving us yesterday seemed to still be learning.  However, I give him credit for being very pleasant and not irritating us.

Also, I noticed that the plates stacked in the plate warmer were much warmer than the ones on Saturday.  The pat of butter I struggled to put on my plate ended up melting by the time I sat down.  We also had to use napkins in order to handle the plates.  Again, not a big deal… just a minor oversight that made an impression.  I’m sure there’s a reason why the awesome lady who identified our room number without a hint was working Saturday morning, when more people would be eating breakfast, and the greener waiter was working on Sunday morning, when more people would probably choose brunch.

Melted butter…

Once again, the food quality was very good.  I wasn’t as dazzled by the experience as I was on Saturday morning, but at least I didn’t leave the restaurant annoyed like I did on Saturday night.

We packed up all our stuff and hauled it down to the car.  Bill went in and settled the bill for our two night stay.  The grand total was 1340 francs.  Again, the bill was presented with a box of chocolates to soften the blow.  It was not the most we’ve ever spent on lodging, but it probably was the most we’ve spent for only two nights.  For the most part, we really liked the Grand Hotel du Lac.  I would not hesitate to stay there again or recommend it to others.  If we ever go back to Vevey, I will think about whether or not the deluxe upgrade to the room is worth it.  Had we been in town all day on Saturday, we would have been able to enjoy the lake views.  The sun eventually came out after we got on the train to Gruyeres.  As it was, the times we were in the room we couldn’t see the lake due to the morning fog and it being dark outside when we returned.  Also, we could hear faint strains of the piano player because our room was right over the restaurant, though thanks to Advil PM, it was a temporary nuisance.   On the plus side, the rooms on the first floor had bigger balconies than the ones on the higher floors.

The restaurant also seems to be hit or miss.  We had one really great experience there, one poor one, and one that was about average.  The food was uniformly good, but for what we were paying, I think the restaurant should have been better than it was.

The rest of the staff was very kind and helpful and the property is really beautiful.  In fact, the whole area around Lake Geneva is gorgeous.  I’d love to go back and see more of it sometime.  I think if we have the time and chance to do it, we will return… after we save up some money.

Our drive back to Germany was mostly uneventful, if foggy.  Switzerland is an interesting country.  Since they have so many official languages there, you can see when you cross over to another area.  One minute, all the signs were in French; the next minute, they were in German.  We stopped at a rest stop, which was very bare bones.  Basically, it consisted of a row of unisex stalls that weren’t all that clean and offered no sink for hand washing.  I did spot a spigot on the side of the building.  Maybe that’s for those who want to rinse off.

Swiss rest stop.  At least it was free!

Border…

Blurry German sign.

Bill struggled to distract me from playing with the seatbelt.  He’s a safety freak and I get bored and restless on long car trips.  We eventually made it back to Germany in one piece after crossing the two lane border.  Since it was almost lunchtime, we stopped at a truck stop, hoping to find chicken.  We decided to pass on eating there, since they didn’t have anything that looked especially appealing.  That was a mistake, since we ended up stopping in Horb and couldn’t quickly find anything there.  The one place we tried was booked solid.

We’ll have to go back to Horb and explore it more, though.  It looks like a really interesting town.  Had I not been in a hurry to get home and reunite with our dogs, we might have tried harder to find a spot for lunch.  I did at least get a few photos.

Horb

Weird sculpture.  It smelled like it had served a few public urinators.

I kind of identify with this one…

A black cat followed us…

Overall, we enjoyed our trip.  It was great to be able to get away for awhile and actually do some traveling instead of hanging around Stuttgart.  Our next planned trip is in March, but I’m hoping we can do a short trip sometime before then.  For now, I guess I’ll get back to trying and reviewing local restaurants and attractions!

A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 12

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After our trip to Gruyeres, we came back to the hotel and were once again enthusiastically greeted by a staffer.  The singer/piano player was back, too.  Bill and I went to our room and I said I thought I might prefer to order room service.  I was feeling really tired and fatigued after spending the day dodging kids.  We looked at the room service menu, but Bill seemed more interested in trying the hotel restaurant.  So we went downstairs, dressed in the same clothes we wore in Gruyeres.  I think we were clean.

Another shot of the Christmas lights.  I was on the balcony when I took this.

Someone got married.  We ran into the wedding party just before we were seated for dinner.  The mother of the bride teetered a bit on her high heels.

We were greeted by a young male waiter and a man I assume was the manager, as he was dressed in a business suit rather than a uniform.  They showed us to a table and handed us menus.  The waiter came over and immediately explained the menu, which was actually pretty self-explanatory.  He suggested a number of items, none of which really interested me and, I noticed, were among the highest priced selections offered.  Then he offered us each a glass of Champagne.

Now… I know that real Champagne by the glass from the Champagne region in France is expensive.  What I didn’t know was that the waiter was pouring Louis Roederer Cristal.  When I saw the label on the bottle, I knew we were about to get sticker shock.  Cristal Champagne is very expensive.  If we had known that was what they were pouring, maybe we would have declined.  On the other hand, I was pretty much in “fuck it” mode at that point.  I knew we were going to have a big hotel bill anyway, so I just went with it.

Bill sipping very expensive Cristal.

I wasn’t that hungry.  Neither was Bill.  And frankly, I was a bit perturbed that we were sipping glasses of Champagne priced at 39 francs a glass (close to $40).  Don’t get me wrong.  The bubbly was very good, though I would have been just as happy with Taittinger, which is much less expensive than Cristal is.  Hell, I could have had a whole bottle of Taittinger on the train for about 80 francs.  Now I wish I had splurged then instead of in the restaurant.  On the other hand, at least now I can say I’ve tried Cristal.  I have the same opinion of it as I did when I tried Dom Perignon the first time.  I enjoyed it, but don’t necessarily need to drink it again.

Anyway, since I wasn’t that hungry, I decided to forego a starter.  None looked appealing enough to justify the high cost and I really just wanted to eat, take a shower, and go to bed.  The waiter brought us our sparkling water and an assistant brought us bread, along with butter, olive oil, and a very delicious smoked salmon spread.  Bill asked for the wine list.

Time passed.  The wine list never appeared.  Bill reminded the manager, who got our pushy waiter to bring it.  Naturally, the guy tried to make suggestions to us… I was getting pretty peeved, especially when he said we could have a half bottle.  No… I needed a full bottle, thanks, especially after making his acquaintance.  And we know what kind of wine we like better than a waiter who has never seen us before.  That didn’t deter our obnoxious waiter, though, as he pointed out high priced bottles on the list.  Bill finally picked a white wine from Montreux, which came in a flowery bottle.  The waiter made a point of telling us that the winemaker also makes a limited edition syrah that is hard to acquire (and probably very expensive).

The amuse.  It was good.  Crab meat with guacamole and a chili sauce, along with cilantro.

As for dinner itself, I had sea bass and Bill had lobster.  Both were prepared very well and beautifully presented.  However, the waiter seemed to have a bit of a snotty attitude.  Though I hadn’t said anything about the wait, he made a point of telling me that the food would soon be ready.  Then, he brought out a truffle and took it around the dining room, inviting people to smell it.  He was telling people that they could have some shaved on their meal if they wanted it (for an extra charge, of course).  I don’t happen to like truffles and am very sensitive to and repelled by the way they smell, so as he started to offer me the truffle to sniff, I quickly said “Not for me, thanks.”  I probably also made a face.  The waiter actually seemed offended.

I then watched him take the truffle, which he had in his bare hand and had waved under Bill’s nose, and present it to people at other tables, inviting them to sniff it.  I couldn’t help but wonder what he planned to do with that very pricey food item once he was finished passing it around the dining room like a joint.  Truffles are rare and very expensive.  Was he going to throw it out, now that so many people had sniffed it?   Somehow, I doubted it.  Anyway, that little trick, along with the Cristal shenanigans really put me off.

My sea bass.  It came with a clam fritter type thing– see the standing up triangle.  There was also a savory custard.  

Bill’s lobster was more interesting, especially since it included squid.  He doesn’t normally go for squid, but said it was good in that particular dish.

 

When we were finished with our entrees, we asked to see the dessert menu.  Sure enough, our waiter had something to say about that, too.  He recommended the chocolate tart, which was, of course, the most expensive item.  Ordinarily, I love chocolate and I probably would have gone for that… but the waiter had pissed me off, so I chose the slightly cheaper creme brulee instead.

This was actually more like gingerbread with a layer of custard and burnt sugar top.  Little dollops of mousse were on top, along with a touch of ice cream on what tasted like shortbread.

 

Bill had a cheesecake, though at this point, I’d be hard pressed to describe it in detail.

Candies presented before the check.  We skipped the coffee.  I got up to use the ladies room and the waiter actually walked me there.  It was not necessary.

 

Our bill was about 233 francs, I think.

The whole time we were eating, the pianist/lady singer was performing in the bar/lounge area.  She wasn’t terrible, but seemed to be playing songs she didn’t know that well.  The end result was a woman who wasn’t emoting very much as she performed.  It sounded a bit like karaoke, albeit from someone who had a decent singing voice.  We did notice that she didn’t use sheet music on a few numbers.  Those she played noticeably much better and with more soul than she did the pop songs of the 70s and 80s.  For instance, I was impressed by her version of Henry Mancini’s “Pink Panther Theme”.  Bonus was that she didn’t have to sing it.

At one point, she played a rather ridiculous rendition of “Careless Whisper” by Wham!  I have always thought that song was kind of cheesy, but when it’s played much faster than intended and without any real passion, it just sounds stupid.  Bill had a good time watching my facial expressions as she played bloodless corny number after corny number culminating with a very annoying version of “Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher”, a Rita Coolidge cover that was a hit in the late 70s (probably before the lounge singer was even born).  I actually cringed when she did that one, mainly because her piano playing sounded a bit like a doorbell that wouldn’t shut off.  She could only play the simplest melodic line of that song, so it sounded very amateur.  She would have been better had someone who knew the song been accompanying her.

I am a singer myself, have studied voice on and off for years, and am pretty good with music…  and while I can’t play the piano worth a damn, I can definitely sing a song.  I say without hesitation or even arrogance that I could have done a better job singing than the musician they had working the room during our stay.  But only if I had an accompanist, of course…  😀  Also, the singer was younger and prettier than me… especially if one goes for long haired, exotic, Asian types, with nice figures.  She had that going for her.

Anyway, we thought the food in the restaurant was pretty good.  The service could have been much better than it was, mainly because I think suggestions are the kind of thing that shouldn’t be offered unless someone asks for them.  Our waiter seemed very intent on running up our bill and not too interested in what we actually wanted to eat.  He needs to take a few lessons on what service really is and polish up his act a bit.  I mean, if you’re going to pad a bill, at least try to do it in a less obvious way.  From now on, I will ask for a wine list before I accept a glass of Champagne from a waiter.  And next time I think I might prefer room service, I will definitely heed the impulse.

A whirlwind trip to Austria, Italy, and probably Switzerland, part 10

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We arrived in beautiful Vevey, Switzerland at about 6:30pm or so.  It was dark outside and Bill was stressed out from the mountains and switchbacks, along with the steep inclines and descents.  He says he’s going to get the brakes checked on the Toyota.  I mention this only to remind folks headed for Alpine territory by car to make sure your brakes are in fine working order.  You will definitely need them more than ever there.

I had had my eye on Grand Hotel du Lac in Vevey since the first time we lived in Germany.  Back in 2008, we took a trip to Italy and Switzerland and Bill had wanted to visit Gruyeres then.  I had tried to find us a place to stay, but had no luck finding something we could easily afford.  Back in those days, he was still paying child support for three kids, one of which was not legally his responsibility.  None of those kids speak to Bill now.

Anyway, somehow that hotel got added to my list of bookmarks.  I wasn’t necessarily planning to go there when we decided to visit Switzerland.  In fact, we weren’t sure where we’d want to go.  I suggested Gruyeres when I remembered that Bill wanted to visit the H.R. Giger Museum.  I also know how much he loves cheese.  Once again, feasible lodging in Gruyeres seemed lacking.  Having never been there before yesterday, I didn’t know how many hotels were available.  It sounded like the parking situation might be difficult there.  So I decided to just go ahead and splurge on Hotel du Lac.

The first thing to know about Hotel du Lac is that it’s a five star establishment.  It’s expensive, but save for a couple of fairly minor hiccups over the weekend, we had an almost flawless stay.  It started when we pulled into the hotel’s small parking lot in front of the impressive facade.  The door opened and a young man came out and parked our car, steps from the front door.  He then took our bags for us.

A young woman opened the front door and welcomed us.  We sat down in the hotel’s office and she and her colleague offered us house made Swiss chocolate.  Then we got down to business.  I had booked a deluxe room, which was priced at $387 (390 francs) per night.  That did not include the charge for breakfast (39 francs a person) or parking (40 francs).  However, even though I spent a lot of cash on this hotel, I would say it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever stayed in in my lifetime.  The deluxe room included a balcony, which looked over Lake Geneva and The Alps.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate with us when we were in the room and the view was mostly wasted on us due to fog.  We did enjoy the large balcony, though.  It would be especially nice when the weather is totally clear.

As you may know, Switzerland has four official languages: Italian, German, French, and Romansch.  Vevey is in the French part, very close to Montreux.

Wonderful, plush, king sized bed.  A lovely housekeeper stopped by and did turn down service for us.  She left us with Swiss chocolates.  When we got back to the hotel last night after going to Gruyeres, she set the television to play classical music for us.  The room uses a card to keep the lights on, but she had kindly left one for us, so we didn’t come back to a dark room.

Beware!  Outlets in Switzerland are different.  I had forgotten that about Switzerland last time we visited and stayed overnight back in May 2008.  I will have to get some adaptors, because I’m pretty sure we’ll be back again sooner rather than later.  The hotel did provide us with a universal power adapter, which took care of our needs.

A view of the bedroom. 

A foyer with two closets and a minibar.  The closets light up and there’s a full length mirror.  The minibar has typically overpriced stuff in it, though it was relatively well stocked.  I’m not paying the equivalent of five bucks for a Kit Kat, though.

The bathroom.  The toilet is in its own stall, as is the shower.

The tub is generously sized.  They even give you bath salts.  I wish I had thought to indulge last night.  I was tired after our day trip and a bath would have been nice.

Large sink, complete with makeup mirror.  There was also a scale that I didn’t use.

Nice toiletries, generously restocked.

Shower.  The towels were awesome… huge, with ridges so they had a massaging effect.  There were matching bathrobes that one could purchase.  

Complimentary sparkling water and fruit… and yes, more Swiss chocolate.

Our car was literally parked outside the front door.

The front was all lit up for Christmas…


The view from our balcony…

The hallway.

Furniture in the hall.

 

We took a stroll, stopping at a bar called Sherlock’s Pub.  We only had one beer there because we got a weird vibe, although it looked like it could have been a great place in the right hands.   But the bartender couldn’t be bothered with us and there were a few shifty looking folks there.

After walking around Vevey, which is a very charming town, by the way, we passed through some kind of food fair, attended by many locals, a couple of sheep, and a donkey.  Near the fair, we stopped for pizza at this little hole in the wall place called L’ Armailli…  It looked like an Alpine bomb shelter and it was packed with locals!  The food turned out to be outstanding and our waiter spoke excellent English.

I had a large Cardinal beer, as did Bill.

Taking in the Swiss chalet atmosphere and enjoying the way the place smelled… heavenly!

Bill had lasagne.

I had a Sicilian pizza.  This was served with ham, capers, peppers, and cheese.  It had a thick crust and was manageably sized.  I really enjoyed it.

 

Of course, eating out in Switzerland can be pricey.  We paid about $50 for this meal, plus tip.  But it was definitely worth it and, as Swiss meals go, quite economical.

The front of the fabulous pizza joint.  I think that may have been the best pizza I’ve had in a very long time.

 

I kind of wish I’d bought a pair of those slippers.

We came back to the hotel, once again welcomed by the nice lady who checked us in.  A pretty Asian woman was sitting at the piano playing and singing, sounding a little karaoke-ish.  I decided I needed to go to bed.  I slept very well.  The sheets were absolutely exquisite.  Better yet, I didn’t wake up feeling stiff and sore, like someone had beaten the hell out of me like I did in Italy and even Austria.  Damn, I’m getting wimpy in my old age… but so is Bill.  He had similar complaints.

The next morning, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel.  The lady running breakfast on Saturday morning was absolutely awesome.  We approached her and she knew which room we were in.  She invited us to choose a table and then said if there was anything we wanted not in the buffet to let her know and they’d take care of it.  I wish I had asked for Eggs Benedict, but I ended up getting my breakfast from what was laid out.  The restaurant was very beautifully decorated and the server was so expert and proficient at her job.  She made us feel very welcome.  We left with a wonderful impression…  which sadly slipped later, but more on that in an upcoming rant/post.

Bill enjoys what tasted like French pressed coffee…

The orange juice was fresh squeezed and delicious.  The buffet had a very impressive array of treats available, all labeled with calligraphy.  It was very nice.  

A view of the front door during the morning.

 

After breakfast, which cost us 78 francs plus tip, we made our plans for the day…