North Adams

This past weekend, Susan and I drove to the northwest corner of Massachusetts, to a town named North Adams,

as a last chance vacation before school begins. This year, only one of us is actually going back to school, Susan, to teach eighth grade science again. Even Clara, who is still in school at NU, is on co-op this semester. And Susan will in fact be teaching from home. But before things begin in earnest (classes don’t begin until 21 September!) there is all kinds of teacher training and stuff to prepare everyone for the most bizarre fall in living memory. So we wanted to get away, even if it was only for two days, and still in state (to follow quarantine guidelines!)

We drove out late Saturday morning, stopping at Herrick’s Tavern for a nice, outdoor lunch. Herrick’s has been one of our favorite stops on the way home from frisbee tournaments, back when that was a thing.

See? I told you it was Herrick’s

When we arrived in North Adams, our AirBnB host greeted us warmly, and over the next half hour we learned most of his life story, some interesting tidbits about the town (where almost all his story took place), and precious little about the apartment. We unpacked the van, and then went walking around the center of town, and did a bit of grocery shopping. After putting away groceries, we headed out to the local brewery, Bright Ideas, for some beer and BBQ from A-OK Barbecue. Good beer and tasty food!

On Sunday, after a home breakfast, we ventured out on our bikes! First, we headed back east, and rode out to Natural Bridge State Park, where we enjoyed learning about and seeing the after effects of marble mining. The marble from there is not terribly fine, and apparently much of it, especially in later years, was simply ground up into calcium carbonate powder for all kinds of uses. But the park was lovely, and the natural bridge was certainly something to see. Most importantly, Susan got to scratch her geological itch a bit, and hug a rock.

I love you. You are my rock.

We rode back home, and had a home lunch, and then got right back on our saddles and headed west to hike the Cascade Trail. It is a modest trail, mostly following alongside a brook, and leading up to a lovely waterfall. It being the dry season, the falls were hardly dramatic, but still picturesque:

Not much water, but enough to cause falls

After hiking back down to the elementary school where we parked our bikes, and riding back to our AirBnB, we cleaned up and headed out for dinner. We had planned to walk over to the nice Italian restaurant in town, but they are apparently only open Wednesday through Saturday, so we had to find an alternative. OpenTable suggested the Freight Yard Pub, and we called and made a quick reservation, as we were uncertain how crowded it might be. When we arrived (by car, and the only use of the car in town until then) about 15 minutes later, we were able to get a table on the patio right away (would have been fine even without a reservation). Susan’s steak tips were very good, and even the mixed vegetables accompanying the tips were notably flavorful. I enjoyed the fajitas I ordered, though something disagreed with my tummy later in the evening.

The next morning, Monday, we went out for breakfast to Renee’s, which Scott had recommended. It was a lovely restaurant, with recently expanded outdoor seating, and we enjoyed a nice relaxed breakfast, before packing up and heading home. Really home.

North Adams was a lovely, scenic little town in the Berkshires. We enjoyed the two days we spent there. The downtown area was rather depressed though. A non-scientific survey suggests about half the storefronts are closed. How much of that is due to the Covid-19 pandemic I don’t know. I only know it can’t have helped.

Geneva Wrapup

All in all, we had a great trip to Geneva. This is (for us) a once-in-a-lifetime type of family vacation. We were immensely grateful to have Emma there as our guide and interpreter. It’s very clear that it’s possible to get around without any knowledge of French (or German or Italian, the two other common official languages of Switzerland, but Geneva is very much the French speaking part), but I always felt a bit on edge knowing I couldn’t readily communicate with anyone who couldn’t speak English.

Geneva is a wonderful city, small enough to be manageable, but big enough to have all kinds of things to see and do. We only scratched the surface in that respect, but were beginning to have a feel for the geography of the city. Public transportation is great there, with buses and trams covering everywhere we needed to get to, but given its size, a lot of it is very walkable. We did not regret doing without a car.

The weather might have been more pleasant, but it was winter after all, and it never really stopped us from doing anything. Our two trips to the flea market were disappointing to Emma, who wanted to show us its full glory, but rain and cold kept most vendors away. I might have preferred a warmer jacket, but we intentionally packed light. I was glad to have brought an umbrella.

We got to try many of Switzerland’s famous dishes, among them Fondue, Raclette, and Rösti. We tasted the unique Rivella, and had many (but never enough) chocolates.

AirBNB served us well, finding us an apartment that cost less than most of the hotels we were finding, and which provided us with a much better home base than a hotel. Most days we had a simple breakfast at home, ate a larger lunch, and came back to the apartment for a simple dinner. Money was fairly simple — we brought some Swiss francs with us, ordered through our local bank, and then used ATMs there when we needed more. There is a fee, of course. Both our Discover card, and one of our Visa cards, offered currency conversion with no fee, so we were able to use those for most purchases.

Travel Day 2

Travel Day 2 means time to go home, of course, which is sad in a way, but in other ways we were ready. We woke early, finished packing and cleaning, then headed off to a local boulangerie for breakfast, something we hadn’t done on the trip previously. Emma met us there, and we had a nice meal, then went back to the apartment to grab our luggage and head to Gare Cornavin where we got on a train to take us to the airport. We checked our bags, and said goodbye to Emma. We had a noon flight out of Geneva, which was scheduled to get us to Montreal at 2:20 in the afternoon, after 8 hours of flying. We ended up leaving a little late, but arrived on time, and after a quick pass through customs, were ready and waiting for the final flight home. This too was a little late, but not enough to be bothersome. It was also overbooked, so they offered $400 to people willing to take the next flight. Thankfully, they only announced once, and we got to Boston around 5:20. We took the Silver Line to the Red Line, and Alexx was once again willing to help get us home. 30 hour days are long days.


Yesterday we took the train to Montreux.

No Jazz Festival at the moment, but we spent a good part of the day exploring Château de Chillon.

This is an amazing castle dating back to the 11th century. We walked all through the 47 tour stations, taking in bedrooms, dining halls, dungeons, latrines, etc. The views were spectacular, looking over Lac Leman and the surrounding countryside.

We had lunch at a restaurant back in Montreux, where we tried Raclette and the kind of fondue where you cook thin meat in broth. Again, we stopped at the grocery store at the train station near home and got some dinner supplies. After a simple dinner, Emma took Tyler and Clara out to a movie, and we went out to a hip whiskey bar in the Bohemian section of town, successfully negotiating the tram on our own, and ordering drinks. Thankfully, the bartender spoke English.

Shopping ConCERN

Today we met Emma at Gare Cornavin, bought tickets, and hopped on a tram headed to CERN.

We did not have tickets for a tour, but have heard mixed reviews on the tour anyway. So we were able to go into the Globe,

which is their visitors center. There was a theater with a brief video about the work they do, helping to understand the origins of matter and the universe. Pretty heady stuff! There were some interesting dioramas showing bits of the technology involved. The emotional favorite was Sir Tim Berners-Lee‘s NeXT computer where the first web server was programmed and/or run.

After our brief visit to CERN, we headed back home via the grocery store, and made ourselves a simple lunch. After lunch, we headed back towards the flea market to try our luck on a non-rainy day, and stopped along the way at the Smith Center and had a chance to meet the director there. Unfortunately, the cold and wind kept most of the vendors away from the flea market yet again, so that was a bit of a bust.

To make up for it, we did a little shopping at the nearby thrift stores, and Clara even found a candidate prom dress! From there, Emma had to head off to a class, so we had to fend for ourselves and find our way home. We took a quick bearing and headed in the general direction, and came upon the entrance to a park, and quickly discovered it was the Patinoire des Bastions where we had been yesterday, and from there we easily found our way back to Bel Air, and home from there.

For dinner, we made a simple chicken parm over spaghetti. Only one more day of fun in Geneva.

Old Town Geneva

Today, we met Emma at Bel Air,

and walked from there past all the high-end watch and designer stores. We went into a couple, but it was hard to feel comfortable looking at $10,000+ watches, with well dressed security guards all around, etc. We spent more time in the Swatch store, where we bought Tyler a souvenir, and a watch to give to Clara as a graduation present. From there, we walked by St. Peter’s Cathedral, and looked at some of the sights, then had lunch at the Spaghetti Factory, followed by actually going into the Cathedral and taking the tower tour.

Climbing bell towers is one of our favorite activities when visiting Europe, affording great views of the surrounding city. We probably have over 100 pictures from our brief time there.  After the Cathedral, we walked into the courtyard of the Geneva City Hall briefly, and stopped at Café Bar La Clémence for a quick beverage break.

From there, we walked through a park with the longest continuous wooden bench in the world,

and down to the famous monument, the Reformation Wall.

And for a really special ending to our big day out, Emma brought us to the the Patinoire des Bastions where there is a small outdoor skating rink where you can rent skates for CHF2, and everyone had a grand time!

From there, we walked back to our apartment via Bel Air. After a short down time, we headed out for our one fancy dinner for the week, at the Bistrot du Boeuf Rouge. It was a long, leisurely European dinner. We shared a bottle of local wine, a 2016 Gamay Mondeuse, and we had a variety of meals from steak medallions to a fish souffle, followed by Tiramisu and Creme Brulee for dessert.

Then we topped off the evening with an unintentional viewing of part of the Transformers movie, complete with French subtitles.

Return from Which Mountain?

From Villars, of course! In the morning, we had much better views of the Alps, which are incredibly breathtaking!

We spent a leisurely morning having breakfast and packing up at the chalet, then we took the local shuttle bus into town mostly to do some shopping for souvenirs. After wearying of shopping, we stopped at a local cafe for a snack before taking the train back to Bex, and then Geneva. The railway between Bex and Villars is surprisingly steep, and is therefore a cog (or rack) railway.

We did a little grocery shopping, and then returned to our home base, where we relaxed a bit, then prepared a simple dinner of bread, cheese, and salami, along with some fruits and vegetables. A short while later, Clara realized this was simply insufficient, so she and Tyler went out and tracked down a salami sandwich. For dessert, we later feasted on left over birthday cake and ice cream.



Today, we ventured into the Alps! We took a train from Geneva at 7:30,

changed trains twice, and arrived in Villars by 10:00. We explored the town a bit, dropped our luggage at our chalet, then had some lunch at Cookie Deli.

After lunch, we rented some ski equipment for the kids, bought lift tickets, and sent them on their way!

It was a little nerve-wracking, as it was Tyler’s first time skiing. But in fact we’ve not been there for any of our kids’ first ski experiences. It’s just that in Emma’s and Clara’s cases, they were in the hands of experienced skiers. In Tyler’s case, he was in the hands of his competent, but minimally experienced sisters. In any case, we didn’t let our anxiety get the best of us

It was insanely foggy, and often times you couldn’t see a block ahead on the road. Certainly no scenery was visible at all! We wondered about the visibility for our skiers. All went well, of course, but we did see someone else being carried onto the train back to town on a litter.

We stayed in a Swiss chalet, La Griotte, which was super fun. We all shared one room with a double bed and three twins, and the bathrooms were shared. We got to go into the basement TV room to watch some of the Olympics.

That picture is from the following morning, and our room is behind the window on the second floor. It was cute and cozy, and the host, Rita, was wonderful, and provided us with a lovely breakfast spread the following morning!

Dinner was at a small Italian restaurant about 100m away, called Pasta & Basta which provided us with good food. Clara had pizza, Tyler and I had pasta, and Susan and Emma had a Swiss specialty, Rösti, which is a pan fried dish of grated potatoes along with other things. Good food, especially for our hungry skiers (even if they did have some delicious crepes earlier).


Today was our first full day in Geneva, and as we are still getting on the local time, we ended up sleeping in until 9:00. We had a simple breakfast at home, and Susan and Emma met at the information booth, then returned home. We ventured forth to the train station, and took a tram out to Plainpalais,

which is a big open square where there is a huge flea market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, but today there was only a modest selection of sellers due to the rain. After looking around, we went for lunch at Le Gruyérien and met one of Emma’s friends there.

After a delicious and leisurely lunch, we walked to the Patek-Philippe Museum where we got to see many, many watches. I was expecting more of a history of watchmaking (think the mechanical aspects), but it was more of an exhibit about the artistic aspects of watches. Cool stuff, and made us think about how watches are (generally…) less a piece of artwork/jewelry today, and more utilitarian. On the other hand, most people today could afford a watch, whereas in the early days of watchmaking, presumably only the wealthy could. Lots to think about there. Also, the heyday of watches sort of passed when nearly everyone began carrying a cell phone, which has a built in clock. That said, few would accuse a Patek Philippe (or indeed any of the famous Swiss brands) of being utilitarian.

From there, we headed to see Emma’s digs, but stopped on the way to have a coffee at Boréal Coffee Shop which is Emma’s favorite local cafe. And finally, we headed back to our apartment, where we shared a simple dinner.


So, we made it to Geneva, and Emma met us at the airport. She helped us buy tickets for the tram, and that took us as far as the Cornavin train station, and from there we walked down to the Lac Léman (a.k.a. Lake Geneva) and waited until it was time to be let into our AirBNB apartment where we are staying for the week. We settled in, and some of us napped while Emma went off to run some errands. When Emma returned, we walked to the train station (which also has lots of shopping in it) and bought a local pre-paid SIM card for one of our phones, and did some grocery shopping. We returned to the apartment, had a light dinner, and then ventured out on a surprise outing that Emma had arranged to have fondue at a restaurant (Bains des Pâquis) on the lake. We had a great time there, the fondue was delicious, and the setting was lovely. Plus, we learned a thing or two about ordering fondue.