Belgian Ice Cream

Would you believe we came all the way to Belgium just to taste farm fresh ice cream?  Our friend Rik and his wife Louisa whom we met in Trang, have been raving about this farm cycling distance from their village that has the best ice cream in the world. Well maybe not in the world, but the best that he’s experienced.


We meet Rik and Louisa in our favorite Trang guesthouse four years ago and learned that he was an avid cyclist in his home country, riding with his club several times a week. Like us, they find Trang a perfect place to keep warm for the winter and relax out of the typical tourist travels. We’ve enjoyed concurrent holidays abroad with them for each year since and last year we arranged for him to borrow a bike from the Trang Cycling Club for his 60 day stay across the drive from us.


One of the side benefits of exercising daily  is “virtuous binging” (a term Jill – Dragonfly’s Admrial, Chef and Clerk-of-the-Works – coined) i.e. indulging and sampling every ice cream you come across. Rik introduced us to Magnum ice cream bars, a product of Beligum, sold in almost every kiosk in Thailand.  According to Rik, “Magnum’s are really good, but you’ do got to try the ice cream sold at a farm outside our village”.  And now we agree with him.  It’s not often I go back for a second sundae.


We’ve been known to take a vacation from travels and this has been one of the best, packing in a pre-winter visit and reconiorting in a country neither of us knew much about, with cultural and historical tours. Always eager to see and learn as much as we can about the places we visit, Rik and Lousia were tireless in answering all our queries. There are always more things alike in different countries than one realizes and still something to shared or adopted into our culture.  Not to mention that many of the world’s current troubles have already been experienced in Europe many times in the past.

Bokrijk historic village was Belgium version of the Swiss exhibition at Ballengerg where they both have transplanted historic structures including the contents into a country side park.  We were lucky to visit on a day when most of the houses, barns, workshops and mills had live costumed actors baking, brewing and pounding out foods and materials just as they had in their historic periods.

Considerable effort was put into not only scripts for the school meister, the deputy mayor and the hausfrau to play out, there was a number of sites with real period games and toys to use.  Kids and not so young rolled hoops, field bowled, walked on stilts, pitched balls and bags or rode the several early bikes examples they supplied.

We caught one 50 year old “unemployed field hand” who went out of character to explain the political times they were acting out, where the farms didn’t have any work, industrial work in the cities was 72 hours a week, the rise of early socialism, and the very interesting fact then when male peasants were finally allowed to vote, they never realized that the upper gentry was given 4 votes for every one of their single votes.


We got a guided tour of an ancient gigantic church which took 200 years to complete, with the social, political, commercial and military history that involved the church from the crusades (remember the Christians went south to drive out the Muslims – timely turn of events) , continuing thru all the neighbors envasions and into the Second World War.  This historic edifice gave succor to thousand for centuries and now they barely get 30 old people to come to the only mass on Saturday evenings.

 Back to that working farm’s ice cream: Evidently they was too much production on milk in the region so this family decided to start making ice cream with their own milk rather than sell it all at lower prices.  Whatever their method is, it’s the creamiest lightest blend of flavor so  ever tasted.  To top off any serving they offer a super helping of whipped cream with any of the traditional syrup toppings. One large “ball” is 1 Euro and a smothering of whipped cream another 50 cents.

Rik got us permission to visit the milking operation. We stood entranced watching a totally robotic milking machine laser locate each of four individual utters and slap a suction hose, extracting exactly what the RFID’d cow could produce as shown to the attached computer monitor.  Each cow voluntarily lines up to the machine, pushing herself in required slot where the robot services her without a human around, save the four gapping strangers behind the glass. (Photos were to dark and overwhelmed by the brightness of the computer monitor)

Finished Via Alpina

We’d read a David Sedaris piece in the New Yorker about his addiction to his FitBit, never imagining it would be something we’d enjoy.  With his humor you never quite know where the humor steps beyond the reality, especially when he was talking about quadrupling that 10,000 step benchmark recommended for daily health.  (Click on the link if you want to enjoy his FitBit exploits). Funny thing is, it isn’t too hard to double or even triple that benchmark goal on a day’s hike, when you’ve got all day, plus a lunch of salami, bread and cheese. 

All the reviews written about the Apple Watch say there isn’t a “killer app” out yet but every geek comments on how they’re getting far more exercise, because like with the FitBit buzz when you hit 10,000 steps, they get a similar feeling when the Watch reaches it’s target. There’s a lot of focus and emphasis these days, besides our not so subtle encouragement to get outside, to increase daily exercise.

At the end of each day, and truth be told often times during the day, we’re eager to read just how many steps we’ve logged.  Our goal hasn’t been to set any step or mileage records, just to finish each day’s hike with enough pleasure, visual memories and energy to do it again the next day. And now we’ve happy to say we’ve hiked the Via Alpina across Switzerland, as well as the Haute Route.

What’s  astonishing is what thirty days’ hiking amounts to in steps.  Here’s Stanna’s FitBit log for the last month


Younger Next Year.  Trouble is we probably ate all those calories calculated by the algorithm as well. Especially when we celebrated with a large pot of fondue and mountain of meraguine. 


Back on the Via Alpina

Last year we hiked the Via Alpina from Sargans to Adelboden about 225 miles before we had to return home to Durango.  This year we’re finishing the Swiss portion of the trail, four more days to Lake Geneva.

It feels good to be “thru hiking” again, going from one town to another, always over a pass, which gives you not only grand vistas into and from the next valley, but a sense to accomplishment when you see that last pass way off in the distance.

The elevations are a bit lower than earlier in this trip but the daily ascent and descent are just as dramatic. We’ve been averaging about 12 miles a day, when you count getting around town before and after each day’s hike. It’s real interesting to compare all the digital “steps” devices we have (iPhone Health apps and Stanna’s FitBit).  Stanna’s FitBit and my Health app seem to agree most of the time, and to give you an idea they are often both a couple thousand over 30,000 a day when we get in 6 hours on the trail.

The last several nights we’ve been staying in very small (5 to 7 room) hotels where we are the sole guests. We like these places better than the larger hotels primarily because of their character and because they’ve managed to remodel older structures into very comfortable accommodations.  This also forces us to search for an evening meal, rather than the half-pension meal provided by the hotel (always very good to excellent) and we’ve lucked out each time finding wonderful meals even though they aren’t four-course.

So far we’ve only hiked two days with less than two hours each of rain. It’s been unusually cool and often cloudy, however this has made for very pleasant walking and hardly detracts from the scenery.  Only two more days to Lake Geneva and then we will be finished with the hiking portion of the trip.  Knees, ankles, shoulders and waists are holding up well, despite the abuse. Sure wish we could share the experience “live” with you.

We’ll spend the 17th in Zermatt again for our requisite fondue and meringue  binge.

Swiss National Park

 Unlike the U.S., Switzerland only has one National Park, however it’s easier to understand because it has about a sixth of Colorado’s land mass. (Population is ~8 million to Colorado’s ~5 million). Just think of Estes’ Rocky Mountain National Park as a sole comparison to Switzerland. Rocky Mountain National Park is six times the Swiss park.

Established in 1909 and added on to several times it serves as a preserve for a number of animals that had earlier been hunted to extinction. Somewhat like our Wilderness areas they prohibit any human changes to the region and more prohibitively restrict all access to very few specific trails (leaving the trail is verboten). They even have designated rest stops, where yellow topped posts cordon off a half-football field for lunch stops, prolonged resting and viewing wildlife.

It’s not quite like Estes Park where herds of elk hang out in meadows, but it is possible to view Ibex and Chamois in their natural settings. We got the feeling it was more like their home and we were on parade up and down those specific trails.

Five days was our schedule in the park with one loop, one two-day trek with a stop at the only hut in the entire National Park, another single day loop and then an exit over and out of the park thru a Middle Ages mining district. 

  Their park is quite popular and this is where we’ve seen the most people hiking the same trails as us. One remarkable thing we learned was that their are very few English speaking hikers and even fewer Americans visiting the park. 

  All signage is in three languages and none of them are English; if there is a fourth it’s Romansch.  Fortunately my German has served us well.

Bernina Express

Hopefully you’re not viewing the above map on your mobile phone because it’s worthwhile expanding this photo and looking at the beautiful depiction of the eastern Switzerland’s mountains. We had a couple of days of inclement weather and took advantage of them by visiting a glacier up close and then the following day taking a ride on the Bernina express route from Pontresina over Bernina Pass into Italy.

This map by the way, shows almost everywhere that we’ve been for the first two weeks of our trip here in Switzerland. We stayed in Maloja in the top right-hand corner for four nights doing day hikes out of that region and then moved to Pontresina in the center of the map and did day hikes out of there, as well as the glacier and the train trip to Italy. Now we’re down in the lower left-hand corner and the Swiss national Park.

The featured Highpoint in this area is being able to see the 4049m peak called Piz Bernina. And one of the many advantages of staying the Pontresina hotels is being given an Engadiner transportation pass that allows you to take the trains, buses and gondolas in the entire region. We had planned to take an easy hiking day by visiting the Morteratsch Glacier from the Diavolezza gondola. There are several short hikes up on top with views of the several other glaciers, however when we made it through the low hanging clouds to arrive at Diavolezza we found 4 to 6 inches of fresh snow on all the trails we planned to hike so we limited ourselves to very short excursions and lots of photo opportunities. We got our daily mileage in by hiking the valley all the way back to Pontresina rather than taking the train.

It’s here we saw the long white pillows shown in earlier post where we asked you to guess what they might be. I guessed that they were covering 6 feet of snow so that they would have an early start on the ski season but in fact are preserving the glacier, covering two to three meters of the glacier.

The Bernina Express is just one leg of a private railroad system the runs throughout this eastern portion of Switzerland’smountains. This particular route made me think of the comparison between the Durango Silverton narrow gauge as it passes through a similar distance of wilderness in the San Juan Mountains. This route is not through wilderness as it passes through a number of small villages and even towns but it does go through some spectacular scenery and goes over a 2900 m pass, with views of all those peaks and glaciers not to mention precipitous views of valleys. This route has one remarkable featuring where it turns underneath itself as shown above in the photo. We ate our salami, bread and cheese on a park bench in Italy and turned around and came back on the same route and I’ll say it was far less tiring then the round trip on the Durango Silverton narrow gauge.


We saw one of these going over the Surlej Pass and then several up at Diavolezza cable car station near Morteratsch Glacier today.  My guess was close, but still not quite right.  A local Swiss set me straight.

Give it your best guess.  These tarps are at about 10,000′ adjacent to ski areas.


Three Headwaters

Maloja in the upper Engadine valley, just north of the Italian border in eastern Switzerland, has as one of its attractions the hydrological wonder of harboring three distinct watersheds. These local tributaries eventually run into the Danube, the Po and the Rhine and flow into the Black Sea, the Meditterean and the North Sea respectively.

This trip we’re trying something new, basing ourselves in a locale that accesses multiple mountain trails.  The first of our stops is in the Val Bregaglia which is just south of St Moritz and the Swiss National Park.  This valley is historically noted as being part of an early Roman trade route to the north.  It is also noted for some of the earliest Swiss winter tourism and specifically a couple of notable figures like Nietsche and the Italian painter Segantini.

We hiked 13 miles of the Roman trade route to the Italian border the first day, the whole time questioning and conjecturing what they possibly needed from the north.  Later we found from a map that they brought glass all the way from northern Germany as well as tin, iron and gold from southern Germany.  We took the post bus back to Maloya.

Schnitzel with mushrooms, bouquet vegetables and buttered noodles was the reward for our efforts.  We did learn the Romans carried several pounds of grain, hard tack and considerable amount of bacon for their rations.  Not sure if they enjoyed dark chocolate after dinner like we did.


The next couple days we hiked in different directions, one day up long Val Fex with hanging glaciers at the top and a couple of picturesque resort hotels accessible only by horse-drawn carriage.  A hike around the Silsersee took us high up on one side giving us views of the craggy mountains and the lake below which lies between Maloja and Nietsche’s summer town of Sils Maria.

In each day’s hike we traveled through tiny mountain-side hamlets and even smaller alp farms with their famous chalet-style huts and rock and timber barns.  Just a reminder, the word “alp” refers to those high meadows up in the mountains, not to the mountains themselves often called The Alps.