Skiing to Eat at the Matterhorn

My mind holds childhood memories of skiing in Switzerland as long winding treks down the mountain – mogul hills in some spots and narrow passages in others. There were brief stops along the way for family to catch up.  Some nervous contemplation at the crest of a steep hill.  A few spectacular falls.  But the overarching theme is day-long journeys broken up by leisurely stops at tidy sloped roof chalets for plates of French fries and late afternoon hot chocolates – before ending up sore, windblown, and spent, the afternoon sun sinking, at the bottom of the mountain.  

And so it was with J – who I convinced (pretty easily) to go and relive my selective Swiss skiing memories – on a Christmas week in Zermatt (in the Pennine Alps of Switzerland).  With a few necessary advance reservations (and help from a high school friend), we ate well and stayed well in car-free Zermatt, an easy train ride up from Geneva.  Sharp air and clear skies brought the glorious Matterhorn to maximum view – everywhere – in the village and on the slopes. And took our breath away, spectacularly, on our first jet-lagged day, when we opened the window shutters in our room and came face-to-face with that peak. We stayed in a chalet apartment of the Hotel Zurbriggen (run by champion 1980s Swiss Alpine skier Pirmin Zurbriggen and his family), a convenient five-minute walk from the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise ski lift, and apres ski-ed in the heated outdoor pool facing that spectacular mountain peak.  

The first day of skiing, we stopped for lunch at the Restaurant Findlerhoff, reservations in hand, down a narrow path in the tiny mountainside village of Findeln.  We stumbled in ski boots into the cozy dark wood chalet and hung our helmets from rods overhead.  Fellow skiers sat sweater-to-sweater, hair askew from hats removed, the outline of ski goggles pressed into cold pink cheeks.  A few dogs were on the patio and beers were being drunk (by the people, not the dogs) while sitting in the bright winter sun.

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On the next, J and I gazed out over endless white slopes and blue sky at The Igloo, having just skied our way over the ridge into Cervinia, Italy – spending Euros and not Swiss francs. Sharing a Weissbier on the patio, blankets draped over our knees and backs against the chalet wall, giddy from having skied across a border for lunch.  A mid-ski stop at Restaurant Alphitta near Riffelalp had us on the wide terrace soaking up sun with a basket of baguette, quiche, and frisée salad, the Matterhorn in full view over our shoulders.  

Then we got lost.  Not skiing, but hiking.  On Christmas Day.  Trying to mix it up.  We were hiking our way up to a leisurely lunch at elegant Chez Vrony.  But it was snowing, and we made a wrong turn on the trail, eventually finding our way to Findelbach, a stop along the Gornergrat rail line, and caught the train back into Zermatt to take the Sunnegga-Rothorn funicular up to Sunnegga.  From Sunnega, it was a short snowy hike downhill to the warmth of Chez Vrony.  Outside, the day’s palate was soft greys and whites in the clouds and lightly falling snow. 

Inside, Chez Vrony was warm colors and light wood, stemmed wine glasses and etched carafes, sausage and rösti potatoes, and delicate desserts on the side of a mountain.  Forgoing all the unplanned modes of transportation that got us to Vrony, we stuck to our original plan, and hiked back through Findeln down the mountain following (successfully this time) a trail through the pine trees and back into Zermatt. A glass of champagne at the outdoor Veuve Clicquot ice bar and a steaming chocolate crêpe to-go from Stefanie’s crêperie across the way would end our day – sore, windblown, and spent but reveling in snowy winter joy.

Finding Unexpected Warmth in a Cellar

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Yeah, there we were, hanging outside the basement steps leading down to The Dabney Cellar, a few minutes before opening time.  Looking up at the sky, checking the time on our phones.  (As if we were waiting for a secret code…or something.)  We’d just walked over from Maydan, after a fruitless line standing experience (we’ll try again), ready to take our chances at The Dabney.  The small subterranean The Dabney Cellar is the English basement outpost below The Dabney and faces 9thstreet with its own entrance.  J had put in our names upstairs at The Dabney for a table and we took the recommendation to spend an hour and a half in the Cellar around the corner from The Dabney’s Blagden Alley entrance.  (For customers, there’s no way into The Dabney directly from the Cellar.)

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The Dabney was surprisingly unpretentious for being one of Washington DC’s best restaurants; the tables a happy distance apart and the kitchen low and open at the back, the food (smallish plates) consistently vibrant and green.  The Dabney was excellent, but the Cellar was a find.  Comfortably dark, warmly lit and nicely cozy.  Fitted with an L-shaped bar and high tops, tables on an upper deck.  J and I sat at the bar, checking out the wine list for interesting tastes, talking to the welcoming bartenders about the wines, snacking on melon salad and crostini, a cover of Steve Winwood’s Valerie in the background.  Comfortable, friendly, and low key.

A Little Bit of Italy in Virginia

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We went south to head north; to stop by a few wineries on a rainy Sunday, on our way back to the Washington, DC, area.  J and I had been hiking in Shenandoah National Park and “camping” in a tiny house trailer at getaway.  After a morning stop for cappuccino at the Mudhouse in Crozet, we turned left at the winery sign – hanging off a piece of construction equipment at the side of the road – and pulled in to Gabriele Rausse (just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia).  Gabriele Rausse is the namesake winery of Gabriele Rausse who moved from Italy to Virginia in the late 1970s to help start Barboursville Vineyards.

The modern glass and wood framed tasting room was tucked into the trees at the end of a short gravel lane – windows facing out on at least two sides of the small open space.  At mid-day, a couple was sitting in the back booth and several were standing at the tasting bar.  The Beatles were playing; a wilted hardcover book about Italy’s big Barolo wines on the shelf.  The winery’s lumberingly sweet yellow lab mix greeted everyone and then plopped down to rest against the window.

Gabriele Rausse’s son was pouring the wine, family was around, and fresh pasta was being rolled through a pasta maker.  We tasted whites to reds accompanied by small bites of speck with arugula, soft and crunchy sourdough baguettes with pungent olive oil for dipping, fresh linguine with pesto, and a bite of warm baklava at the end.

Hiking to Eat…At a Tiny House Trailer in the Woods

I don’t do it often enough, but it’s not hard to get out of the city in the Washington, DC, area.  Farmland, horse country, the Blue Ridge Mountains, are only an hour or so away.  Take Stanardsville, Virginia, just outside Shenandoah National Park.  It took me and J about the two hours advertised by getaway, to drive there late Friday afternoon for some Saturday hiking.  Getaway is a revamped campground (once, Heavenly Acres Campground) dotted with carefully placed tiny house trailers – all wood-sided and painted black.  Ours came with a New York license plate.  Each trailer is named for a grandparent of staff or guests (says the web site) the name engraved onto a metal plate by the front door.  Discreet black and white signs lead you into the wooded grounds.  Our tiny house trailer, Carroll, was light and spare and punctuated by a glossy red under-counter refrigerator and a black-and-red checked blanket.

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Two people and a small dog take up the entire floor space.  And don’t plan on cooking meals with a lot of ingredients or steps – there’s a two-burner electric cook top and counter space is a scarcity. Which doesn’t mean we didn’t eat well.

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J and I started our day waking up to a forest staring back at us through the picture window wall that was the back of our trailer.  We ended it in Adirondack chairs in front of our own fire pit – eating sautéed shishito peppers and re-heated smoked sirloin tip with the other night’s potato salad on the side.  Later we (truthfully, just I) gorged on s’mores complete with marshmallows toasted over the fire pit on twigs stripped clean and to sharp points by J.  Sitting by our flickering fire, the night otherwise dark, you could hear people laughing a few camp sites away.  When walking the dog, we passed cars tucked into alcoves next to their own tiny house trailers and saw the occasional dog and person.  But our campsite, encircled by trees, was definitely our own.

 

 

 

Beach Bar-ing it at Northside Social in Arlington

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Arlington’s own urban beach bar is just a couple of blocks from the Clarendon Metrorail station.  Yes, I said Urban Beach Bar.  The outdoor bar (and patio triangle) at Northside Social occupies a former trolley depot, smack in the middle of a tough intersection of now traffic-heavy boulevards.  I had been frequenting Northside for their morning lattés and great baked goods (blueberry muffins come to mind) and dense, flavorful bread (especially on a spinach, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich).

But when I’m sitting mid-day at the outdoor bar with my BLT and sparkling water, a light breeze – always – whether sunny or cloudy, watching the bartenders pour glass after glass (after glass) of pastel pink rosé from bottles in galvanized tubs and wheat-yellow beers from the outdoor tap, Steven Tyler rasping overhead, “Don’t want to close my eyes, I don’t want to fall asleep, ‘cause I’d miss you babe and I don’t want to miss a thing,” I feel like I’m happily hanging out at a beachside bar, the ocean just a few steps away.

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Beach Walking to a Fried Bologna Sandwich

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A walk to Coco’s on the Beach requires advance consultation with the Hilton Head Island Tide Chart.  Low tide was my friend.  To make the journey from where I was staying towards the heel of the Island, you have to cross an inlet.  When J and I crossed, an hour and a half after low tide and just around mid-day on a Tuesday, the water was barely ankle deep at most points and the inlet just a narrow line of water fed by the ocean cutting up through the sand.  An hour later, that ankle-deep line was a hip-deep stream.  And with a current strong enough that kids were having fun letting it carry them along a short-ways.

The walk to Coco’s was a people-watching quick-paced 50-minutes up the beach in bare feet, flip flops in hand, to the elevated open-air bar giving you a view through the palm trees to the ocean beyond.  Coco’s is the quintessential beach-side bar – all laid back with a sense of hot, salty, sandy, and sunblock  There’s a nod to old hippies (they’re welcome) and a sign that although (the owner?) may be of a certain age, he’s seen all the best bands.  So true.  Vibrant in their primary colors of blue, red, and yellow, square wooden stools front the wraparound bar and equally vivid wide square tables.

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Coco’s serves a range of burgers and beers and sandwiches and cocktails in plastic cups.  The Fried Bologna “Ohio Style” Sandwich that J ordered – pickles and onion rings layered on top of the lightly fried thick bologna slice – was delicious.  So was my beefy Swiss and ‘Shroom Burger.  Coleslaw and a bag of chips served on the side.  Order at the window; pick up when your name is called over the mic.  Try to read all of the signs running the length and width of the walls all around and above the counter.  Take your photo in front of the multi-colored signpost.  Or just sit and eat and have a beer and feel the breeze.  You really are at the beach.

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Beach Walking to the Closest Latte

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I’m always looking for the closest walkable latte.  On Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, it happens to be at The Westin Hotel’s take-out café, and a good excuse for a daily morning walk on the beach.  Once I step out onto that soft sand surrounded by endless sky, I immediately sense that I could walk to infinity.  (But then I would miss that latte, only 15 minutes away.)  There are few people on the beach in Winter, more in Summer, and always a handful of dogs walking happily on the sand or splashing recklessly through the waves.

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One morning a photographer was trying to make the most of the soft morning light on two small uncooperative fluffy white dogs.  Beachside yoga class was wrapping up on towels close to the water’s edge.  I check out the other goings-on at my destination, walking from the beach through the tiered decks of the hotel’s pool area and into the back lobby and take-out café.  Latte in hand (iced in Summer but ordered hot in Winter), I reverse my route back toward the comforting hum of soft waves and light ocean breezes of the beach.