Bonjour de la Suisse

Hello from Switzerland! ~~ The adventures of a California girl who got married to a great guy, G, and traded in her old life for the chance to live in a foreign land and live the expat life for a couple years. We live in Geneva, Switzerland with our globe-trotting cat, Scout.

Ma photo
Nom :
Lieu : California, United States

"The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land." ~ G.K. Chesterton

jeudi, août 30, 2007

Adrenaline junkies

Back in Geneva we were ready for some well deserved R&R. Chica and I spent a couple days just recuperating from the wild jet-setting adventures of the past week or so. The weather in Geneva was terrible, which was actually perfect for dinners at home and watching bad movies (not by choice). We dove into the series Band of Brothers, which we were inspired to watch after our trip to Normandy. We also spent a rainy afternoon completing a super-secret project for a friend's upcoming wedding (details to follow in a future blog after the secret has been revealed.) :)

After a couple of days of staying indoors we were ready to get out and do something. An outing to the 11th century Château de Chillon (one of the best preserved castle in Switzerland) seemed perfect! It was a bit chilly, but still warm enough to have lunch outside and enjoy the day.

That night it was finally warm enough (and dry enough) to wander the Fêtes de Genève! This is the big two-week festival that takes over the lake-side streets of Geneva every summer with carnival rides, music, open-air dance clubs, food, and lots of merriment. Last year at the fête I learned that Chica's favorite carnival ride is the giant swings. The swings were back again this year, but now they were three times as high as last year!! We HAD to go. I got a kick out of Chica's screaming, and in her defense, it was really scary!! It was a blast! On the way home we stopped into the O-bar tent (right next to the lake) for a little late night dancing and socializing.

We were back at the fête the next day, enjoying the first real sunshine of the week. That night was the big firework show which we had purposely stayed in town to watch. But first we were headed to the go carts to see just who of G, Chica, and I were the fastest! We had a few races, but overall I think the winner was clear, depending on who you talk to! ;) After we met up with G's friend from work, M, and staked out a prime viewing spot on the Mont-Blanc bridge (just a block from our apartment). The fireworks were amazing, even better than last year. I can easily say they were the best I have ever seen. We stopped into the O-bar after for a couple drinks, but we had an early start the next day... we were headed to Interlaken!

We went to Interlaken with Chica last summer for a weekend full of canyoning and mountain biking. We had so much fun that we were eager to go again. We really didn't have anything on the agenda when we rolled into town, but one thing caught our eye right away... paragliding! Paragliding is similar to parachuting, but you launch yourself off the side of a mountain instead of an airplane and when you launch, your shoot (or wing) is already open. We signed up and were scheduled for a flight that afternoon. We had a couple hours to wait, which proved a bit taxing on our nerves, but after watching a few other brave souls land in the park in town I was confident. We drove up the hillside to our launch site, 1320 meters (or 4,400 feet) above the valley floor.

Chica was first off the mountain (we randomly chose our guides and then in random order ran off the mountain), I was next followed by G. It was really exhilarating, and not as scary as I thought it would be. I floated, took pictures, shot video, and chatted with the guide before he asked, "So, do you like roller coasters?" That was followed by a somewhat terrifying death-spin -- it was awesome!! We each had about a 20 minute ride, which was great. The conditions were good and it couldn't have been a more comfortable ride. My only disappointment was that it was over so fast! But the thrills were not over yet... we found a local luge track and took turns speeding down the track before heading back for dinner.

We stayed the night at our favorite hostel, Balmer's, where we met a nice couple from New Zealand and convinced them to join us the next day for an ice climbing excursion. We found out about Ice Climbing in a brochure, "Imagine yourself rappelling down crystalline blue ice cliffs, surrounded by the most magnificent mountains in the world and ice climbing back up." We knew that was the thing for us! It turned out to be just the 5 of us (G, Chica, me, and the Kiwis).

Our guide was a real character, a local who has been climbing his whole life. We drove in his old van about an hour away to the Stein Glacier where we hiked up (even seeing real marmots on the way), put on our cramp-ons and headed out onto the ice. It was amazing. After lunch on the glacier we donned our helmets & harnesses and walked to the edge of the giant ice crevasse. One by one we rappelled down, ice axes in hand. It was so exhilarating I almost forgot how cold it was! The climbing was tough, but once I got the technique down I was hooked. Even though you have axes to help you up, it is crucial to have your legs do the majority of the work. We scrambled up and down the crevasse all afternoon and by the time we left, I was exhausted but thrilled to have found a new sport that I really like. We hiked back down to the van and I think we all fell asleep on the way back to town! What a day!!

That night we were on the train back to Geneva. Chica was flying out the next day, but what a way to end the trip. Two days of extreme sports and more amazing memories of Interlaken. The past two and a half weeks were some of the best of the summer for me and it meant the world to me that Chica came out to visit once again. Like I said, it really doesn't matter if we are chilling at home watching dumb movies or scaling mountains, we always have a great time together! You really can't ask for much more than that in a friend. :)

Château de Chillon

Chica trying to get out the emergency exit at the Château

Paragliding over Interlaken

G paragliding

We all survived the jump!

Chica getting ready to luge!

Chica & G preparing for the hike up to the glacier

Ice climbing!

Our climbing group; G, Chica, our Swiss guide and the Kiwis

Hiking back down from the glacier

mercredi, août 29, 2007

The jet-setters

Fi dropped us off at the train station in Sterling and we were off to Edinburgh. This was the first big city we had been to so far and it was a stark difference from the country side. But we were excited to start exploring right away. We first stopped to drop our stuff off in the dorm room we were staying in (yup, we were staying in the dorms at Edinburgh University), then we were ready to hit the town.

We spent the afternoon at Edinburgh Castle and wandering around downtown. The Fringe Fest was just getting started (the world’s largest arts festival that precedes the famous Edinburgh Festival) and the town was really lively. We ate a pub dinner and had a bit of time to hit an internet cafe where Chica got to see the first pictures of her brand new nephew who was born earlier in the week. He is so cute with a full head of red hair!

That night we signed up for the Literary Pub Tour. I figured Chica would love it considering she was an English major in collage, but unfortunately she had a hard time understanding the thick Scottish accent that the lead actor had. But all was not lost, the beer was flowing and we met some really fun people, some locals and some American girls. There were about 10 of us and we ended up bar hopping with them until the wee hours of the morning. Needless to say we didn't do too much the next morning. We had a plane to catch in the early afternoon, so we just ended up spending the rest of our time in Edinburgh walking around and poking into a couple of free museums.

We were on our way to Dublin! We got to the hotel and were told we were on the 4th floor, which meant four flights of very long and very steep stairs (sorry, no elevator). We were ready for a nap! We ventured to Temple Bar for dinner and found a fantastic traditional Irish restaurant. Delicious.

The next day was our only full day in Dublin, so we were determined to make the most of it. We got up early and headed to Trinity College to see The Book of Kells, then we were off to Dublin Castle, Kilmainham Gaol (the former prison), and then the Guinness factory. We were having a great time, but we had to rush off to dinner, since we made reservations at one of the most popular places in Temple Bar and we didn't want to loose our spot.

Dinner did not disappoint, the food was great and there was even a small band, it was fantastic. But shortly after we sat down, Chica lets out a little scream. "You okay?!?" I asked. Turns out the air conditioning unit above her seat was periodically dripping water that was hitting her on the arm, which she insisted was quite startling. I offered to switch spots but she refused. It was quite funny but some of our fellow diners didn't think so. Well, a few screams later we switched and thanks to my sweater, I hardly felt the drops.

After dinner we went on a Musical Pub Crawl (do you see a pattern?), it was one of the best tours I've ever been on. There was a fiddle player and a guitar player who took us outside the tourist areas and we visited several local pubs where they played traditional Irish music. People were singing along and at one point people were even asked to come up and play/sing their own songs. Earlier I had happened to mention to the fiddle player that Chica played the guitar. Oops. I didn't realize that I had now put her in danger of being called up to play, but it all turned out okay, neither of us had to sing or play anything.

Afterwards we continued on with the fiddle player and a gal from South Africa (who earlier had been very brave and sang her national anthem in front of the entire group) to another local pub where local musicians come to jam. It was really incredible; we even met one of the top fiddle players in Ireland! I was so moved by the music that I decided to take up the fiddle (at some point - check back with me in a couple of years). We didn't get back to our hotel until nearly 3am! That was a bummer considering we had to leave for the airport at 5am!! It was a rough morning, but we made our flight to Paris.

Now in the spirit of saving some money, I booked a flight on RyanAir into Paris Beauvais, an airport an hour and a half north of the city. After the long bus ride we then had to walk to the metro and catch a train to Orly airport (which is South of Paris) where we were to meet G and pick up our rental car. Unfortunately there was major work being done on the metro which greatly complicated our journey, but several hours later we made it to Orly, where G had just arrived. In hindsight it would have been worth every cent of the extra ticket faire to fly directly into Orly. Next time. Soon we had our very tiny car and we were zipping through the country side to Normandy. We were staying in the town of Bayeux, a cute little French village close to the D-Day beaches. We had a delicious typical French dinner in an adorable garden. I have to say we ate really well on our trip! We raised our glasses and cheered "Enchanté!", I mean "Santé!" to meeting up with G and our amazing trip so far.

We had booked a full day tour of the D-Day beaches for the next day. We shared a minivan with two other couples and a British lady that really got on Chica's nerves. The tour was fantastic, our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and he told the most interesting stories as he whisked us to the different museums and WWII sites. It was a beautiful day too, which made it even nicer to be outside. But it was a tiring day with a lot of information to absorb. Back in town we checked out the cathedral and the Bayeux Tapestries before dinner.

In the morning we drove to the edge of Brittany to Mont Saint Michel, the tiny island abbey that has draw pilgrims for thousands of years. We fought the crowds to get to the abbey at the top of the island. It was beautiful, but the sheer number of people was a bit overwhelming. We struggled to walk down the single lane road to get back down the hill. I've never seen so many people crowded in such a small area in my whole life. After lunch and ice cream we were headed out. There were just way too many people!

We were spending the night near the Orly airport to catch an early morning flight back to Geneva. We decided to stop in Versailles, which was on the way back, for dinner. This turned out to be a big mistake. Dinner was fine, and walking around the front of the palace at sunset was cool, but due to detours on the road we became hopelessly lost. And I really mean hopelessly!!

A drive that should have taken us an hour or so took us almost 4 hours!!! We simply could not find our way back to Orly. We were so late that the reception office closed and we had to retrieve our key out of a machine that we almost could not operate! But somehow we got into our room. I was starting to worry we would be spending the night in our car. Even in the morning we got lost once again trying to find a gas station! I have to tell you I was thrilled to be turning in that car! We were exhausted, but happy to have a bit of downtime in Geneva. The trip so far had been great, and Chica was still out for another week!

The merry group from the Literary Pub Tour in Edinburgh

At the Guinness factory in Dublin

The Musical Pub Crawl band in Dublin that inspired me to take up the fiddle

Night out on the town in Dublin after the Musical Pub Crawl

G and Chica at the D-day beaches

D-day landing craft

On the Normandy coast

The abbey of Mont Saint Michel

The crowds on the way up to the abbey of Mont Saint Michel

mardi, août 28, 2007

Three chicks and a baby -
our adventures with Fi & Ro

Our flight to Gatwick airport in England was very early; we were tired but excited to meet up with Fi & baby Ro. But when we arrived... no Fi. So I called. "Hi, we're here. Where are you?" "I'm right here where you come out!" "You are?" Another check and still no Fi. I called again, same story. Well, it turns out she was in a totally different part of the airport, but eventually we met up and we were on our way. Let the crazy UK road trip begin!!

Our original plan was to go to the town of Bath and have lunch before driving to the North of England to a place called the Lake District. But we realized that we were just as close to Stonehenge and that none of us had ever been there. Now Stonehenge is really not near anything at all, it's in the middle of the countryside about two hours to the Southwest of London and it took us just about that long to get there from Gatwick. Despite the drive we were rewarded with a truly amazing sight. It is really quite awe inspiring to think of how the stones were transported all the way from Ireland or Scotland to the very south of England over 4,000 years ago. It is truly amazing.

We were now headed north - way north. We were headed to the very top of England. We had a reservation at a hostel in the Lake District and we had to get there by that night. On the way we stopped for lunch at a pub in a small village somewhere near Bristol. We had jacket potatoes (basically potatoes filled with things, mine was filled with mostly mayonnaise... yuck!) To wash it down, I had the bright idea of having ice cream. Well, I should have known that a pub probably doesn't serve that much ice cream and when it came that was confirmed. We each were served three heaping scoops of what tasted like 20-year old ice cream. It was disgusting!!

Oh well, that behind us, we were off once again. Road tripping with a baby you learn a lot. We learned quite a few songs. Ro is a pretty good baby, but when she starts to cry Fi always sings to her, so we of course joined in. We sang our way through Birmingham and Manchester, speeding our way up North. Only one time our traditional singing didn't really work and we started to get desperate. It was late, we had already stopped for dinner and Ro was really crying. I was in the back trying to keep her calm when I started singing "99 bottles of beer on the wall". Chica and Fi joined in and that child did not sleep until we were at 8 bottles of beer!! I think that was the first time in my life I had actually finished that song.

It was getting really late, but our day wasn't over yet. We called to let the folks at the hostel know we were going to be late, but surprise - we didn't have a reservation there. Fi was beside herself, she was sure we did. After more than a few frantic phone calls later she figured out that a reservation had been made at a different hostel (with a similar name) but this one was a good hour further than the first. Not only was it further, but we had no idea how to get there. We were soon hopelessly lost. It was after 11pm and I was helping to navigate from the back while Fi was driving some of the darkest streets I have ever seen. This place was way off the beaten track in a tiny, tiny village out in the middle of nowhere. At midnight we finally found it and the owner was waiting up for us. We were all so relived to finally be there!

With the bulk of our driving behind us, we had the whole day to explore the Lake District. It's a pristine mountainous area dotted with lakes, rolling green hills, cute rural towns, and lots of sheep. We started our day at the Castlerigg Stone Circle, a circle made up of 38 stones, 90 feet across. It isn't as big as Stonehenge, but impressive none the less. Then we made our way through the towns of Keswick, Buttermere and Cockermouth, where we stopped at the Lakeland Sheep Centre for lunch. We made our way to Ambleside and walked to a waterfall just outside town. This is where we first experienced the little yellow stroller.

It seems that Fi had this little yellow stroller when she was little, in the 70's. Well, somehow it managed to still be around and now it is little Ro's stroller. It does have its advantages: it folds down very compactly which is good for travel. But to its disadvantage, it only has 6 (of 8) operating wheels, you have to stoop over to hold the handles (poor Chica looked like a hunchback pushing that thing), and the strap is so old that you couldn't strap it too tight for fear it would break. That and the fact that Ro could completely stand up and turn around at will. Chica and I though it was funny. Fi loves it and with every snicker was more determined to get as much use out of it as possible.

We still had to get to Scotland where we were staying with Fi's friend, Dona for a couple of nights. On the way we grabbed fish and chips at a tiny mom & pop place in a little town. It was such a local place, I loved it! By the time we got to Dona's place she was already preparing drinks for us. Her house was so cute... actually more like a bungalow than a house. We talked and drank watermelon Bacardi Breezers (they were delicious) until late. I liked Dona right away, she is really great and I can see why she and Fi are such good friends.

We were staying in a small town near Stirling, where Fi's family is originally from, right in the heart of Scotland. Dona and Fi wanted to show us the local sights, and we really were impressed. We hiked to Campbell Castle (my family is descended from clan Campbell so I was thrilled to go there), then to the Wallace Monument (that Fi's great-grandfather helped build), then to Sterling Castle. All the sights were fantastic! I also discovered the Scottish soda called Iron Brew which is very yummy (tastes almost like Juicy Fruit gum).

That night we ate at a local pub and Chica was introduced to haggis, a traditional Scottish dish made with an assortment of meat products and stuffed into an intestine. Sounds gross, but it's actually pretty good. Chica wanted no part of it and was slightly terrified when we made her try it! Dinner was great with drinks and conversation flowing that we hardly noticed that it was already 8pm - the golden hour when kids are no longer welcome in the pub. The manager sheepishly came over and told us, "Sorry ladies, but I'm going to have to ask you to make your way to the door." We bolted out of there as quick as we could, laughing all the way.

In the morning, after a breakfast of porrage (Dona's salty and ours with jam), Chica and I were heading to Edinburgh on our own to continue our adventures. It was time to part ways. I was sad to say goodbye to Fi and Ro. We had spent hours chatting and swapping stories (Chica's recent wedding story is probably the funniest thing I'd ever heard and I didn't mind hearing it again!) and had really gotten to know each other even better - which I didn't think was possible. :)


Castlerigg Stone Circle

Ice cream in Ambleside (with the little yellow stroler)

Chica & Ro

We pulled over to see what these sheep were so startled by - it turns out it was the farmer on a 4-wheeler that was barreling over the hill (with his sheep dog riding on the back). Too funny.

Touring the beautiful Lake District

Hiking in Scotland

At the Campbell Castle

Chica leaving Sterling Castle - we were one of the last people to leave so we had to use the little door.

Outside Sterling Castle

lundi, août 27, 2007

Welcome to Geneva - she's baaack!

I'm always happy when good things happen to my friends, and it makes me even happier when that means good things for me! Chica had gotten a rather unexpected nice raise (with back pay) and asked us if we would mind if she came out for visit #2 this year. WOULD WE MIND?!? I was so happy I was ready to do a back flip. Last year when Chica was out we had the some grand adventures and I was thrilled to be spending another crazy summer with her.

She booked her flight and was on her way. We only had solid plans for the first week or so, but I wasn't too worried. The thing about Chica is it really doesn't matter what we are doing, just hanging out or off doing some crazy thing, we always have a great time.

She arrived on a Thursday after a very taxing flight. I wanted to help her get over her jet lag and start her trip off with something fun, so I arranged for us to attend a GoL function called "Glamorous Cocktail Making Evening" - this sounded right up Chica's alley! After dinner outside by the lake, we got gussied up and walked to the nearby bar where we met up with a few other girls (and one brave guy) to learn how to make killer cocktails. One at a time we got our turn to go behind the bar to mix and stir up delicious drinks. Chica got to meet some of my GoL friends and ended up having a fabulous night!

The next day was my birthday! My friend from Germany, Rena, was also having a birthday and we decided celebrate together. That night we met up with our friends at a local bar. Her mom even made German chocolate cake for us to share! Cake really doesn't go with beer, but it was nice to have a cake anyway. :) We partied into the night and those of us who were left decided to head over to a big beach party that was going on across the lake. We met up with even more friends and continued the party there. It was a late night, and Chica was such a trooper fighting her jet lag!

That night we were invited for a wine tasting adventure the very next day! I say adventure because it wasn't your normal wine tasting; this was a "Five Senses" tasting in the Swiss town of Sion. We went with a couple I've known for some time, Keleko and his girlfriend, M (they were also at the murder mystery dinner). I really didn’t know what to expect, but it sounded fun!

We were soon being treated to some of Switzerland’s best wines. There were five stations, each dedicated to a sense, with wine and food samplings. We had a questionnaire form we were to fill out at each station to help teach us a thing or two about what we were eating and drinking. It was so unique. In the end we were given a lesson about blood alcohol and given a breathalyzer test from a local police representative. (Don't worry; we were taking the train back). The surprising thing we learned was if you swish your mouth out with water, your breathalyzer number goes down substantially! Who knew?!?

This was also the first time I got to see Chica's new little travel gadget in action... her new video camera. This little gem would come out quite a bit during her visit (you should ask her to post some of the videos... they are priceless) and captured some great moments I'm still laughing at today!

We were back relatively early, because the next day we were setting out to the UK to meet our friend, Fi. Fi's family is from Scotland and she had been traveling in the UK visiting friends and family for almost a month with her one year old baby, Ro. We were scheduled to meet up with her at Gatwick airport in England (where she was down meeting with her husband's family) and the four of us were to drive to Scotland. That was about all we knew. Again, we really didn't know what to expect, but we were sure that it was going to be a trip to remember! :)

Looking glamorous at the Cocktail Making Evening

The whole group with our nice barman

Birthday girls

At the post-birthday beach party

Wine tasting in Sion

Chica & her new video camera

mardi, août 07, 2007

Mystery, merriment, murder & music

We had nothing on the agenda for the weekend... a dream come true for G. But it wasn't long before the calendar started filling up. Now by filling up I mean a dinner invite on Friday and a Saturday afternoon at the Montreaux Jazz Festival with our friend, S.

This was the weekend I realized that G and I have very different definitions of "we aren't doing anything this weekend." To me it means we are in Geneva, with no day trips or overnight stays anywhere. To G it means NOTHING - just 24+ glorious hours of staying at home, catching up on things and relaxing. So while I thought we weren’t doing anything much over this weekend, G saw a packed agenda. But he was a good sport and even dressed up for his part.

That's right, we had roles to play. We were headed to a Murder Mystery dinner hosted by our friend from Canada, A. The invitation read: "It’s the summer of Love, July 1967 and London still swings like a pendulum does. In the Chelsea home of Lord Michael Jagged, a select group of fashionable young things have spent the weekend drinking champagne and partying. As the guests gather for dinner on Sunday evening, however, they are met by Scotland Yard..."

I was to play the part of Tamara Fara Bucktooth, the queen of London society - no gossip column is complete without her. And G was Terrance Shrimp, an east end boy who has become a top society photographer - slightly camp. We wore our swinging 60's outfits from Köln and we fit right in. Everyone was in character and looked great. One guy, whose character was of a drunken playboy, came staggering in dressed in a tux and carrying an empty bottle of Dom Pérignon! It was a groovy night baby! :)

The next day we were off to the famous Montreaux Jazz Festival with our friend S, but unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side. After catching one band we were caught in a down pour and it wasn't letting up. We stayed for a while, but soon we were soaking wet so we decided to head back to Geneva. This was my second visit to the festival, both times hiding under an umbrella. Oh well, at least I can say I was there this year!

I'm glad to report that Sunday G got his wish and we did absolutely nothing all day, just relaxing and chilling out at home. So we both had a great weekend in Geneva! :)

dimanche, août 05, 2007

Vive la France! ~ our travels continue

The next morning we were off to Paris to meet G and to celebrate Bastille Day, or "la Fête Nationale" as they say in France. I had been here for the festivities last year with my friend J and it was fantastic! This year I wanted to be sure we had a good spot for the big fireworks show, so the three of us arrived at Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower, at around 3pm, just to be sure. There was not a cloud in the sky and it was HOT! So hot that G hung out in the shade while my mom and I sat in the middle of the park under our umbrellas. The wait was not in vain. We were treated to a free concert before the main event!

Nelly Furtado, Bob Sinclar, and a couple other bands were the lead up to the headliner - Michel Polnareff! What? Never heard of him? Us either! (G thinks he looks like a cross between Twisted Sister and Elton John). Turns out he is a hugely popular singer from the 70's who was actually exiled from France for tax evasion and has been living in the US for the past 20 years or so. But now he is back and as popular as ever. The girls in front of us (who looked about 25) were crazy for him! I was thrilled when they put the words to some of his songs on the big screens so we could all sing along (even in French).

It turned out to be a fantastic concert! And this was all before the big fireworks show! When the fireworks did start, I was shocked to see everyone still sitting, and when folks up front began to stand, the crowd started chanting for them to sit, "asseoir, asseoir!” But soon everyone was standing, including the group of Japanese folks who were squeezing in on our blanket. But there was happiness in the air and soon we were all squeezed in together and enjoying the spectacular show. The 6 block walk back to our hotel was quite a challenge considering we were walking directly past the nearest Metro stop with nearly a million other people. We could barely walk down the street and when poor G went into a local market to try to buy water, he nearly didn't get out! But despite the crowds, everyone was happy and peaceful and eventually we found our way back.

We had the whole next day before our train back to Geneva, so we went on a walking tour of Rue Cler and then to Les Invalides to see Napoleon's Tomb and the Military museums of WWI & WWII. The museum was very well put together and although it was a bit long, I really liked it. My mom was keen on seeing the Picasso Museum and I was interested in the Carnavalet Museum. But once we dropped my mom off, we realized that we were too tired and a bit museumed-out so G and I hung out in a shady local park until it was time to meet up with my mom again.

Back in Geneva we had little time to rest because early the next morning we were headed to Venice! We arrived at the Venice airport and decided to take a unique form of transport to our hotel... a water bus. It was hot and crowded, but it got us there in good time. Once we got settled we were out on the water again, this time on the Grand Canal where we followed a self-guided tour. In our quest to get the perfect seat up front of the Vaporetto, we ended up going way past the touristy areas to one of the first stops on the line. By the time we got back to Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), it was time for dinner!

Early the next morning I went for a run (I went running in Amsterdam too) and realized I really love to get out before all the tourists are about and get a quick work out in. It's a great way to start the day. My mom spent the morning touring Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica while I shopped at my favorite Italian clothing shop, Nuna Lie. A place full of stylish and cheap clothes that I discovered last year. In the afternoon we went on a walking tour of Venice which I loved, because we got off the beaten track and into the back streets. We grabbed a late lunch by the Rialto Bridge and then went on another self-guided walking tour to the Frari Church, doing a little shopping here and there along the way. On our way back, we wandered into St. Mark's Square and stumbled upon a movie set! Some unknown actress was singing in front of a whole lot of extras (hopefully getting some free drinks for their trouble). That night we ate at very traditional Venetian place with great food. We even got a goodie bag of fresh baked cookies that they brought with the bill!

On our last day we decided to take a closer look at St. Mark's Basilica and got in line almost an hour early to beat the crowd. I made use of the time by feeding the pigeons in the square and trying to get a good picture of them. Soon we were back on the boat for the airport and in Geneva by the early afternoon. That night I had to go to my Toastmaster's meeting and my mom was nice enough to come along. She said she really liked the meeting, even though there was a little pressure for her (and the other guests) to get up and talk! It was a nice way to end the week and a half my mom was out. I still can't believe how much we had seen and done in such a short time. Now I see where I get my travel stamina from! :)

Trying to beat the heat on the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower

Waiting for the concert to start on the Champ de Mars

The crowds at the Eiffel Tower on July 14th


In front of Napoleon’s Tomb in Paris

In front of the Rialto Bridge

Handmade Venetian masks

I didn't have a scarf or sweater to drape over my shoulders when we went into the cathedrals, so I improvised and used my new dress!

On the set of a movie in St. Mark's Square

Pigeons in St. Mark's Square

samedi, août 04, 2007

Off the beaten path in the Low Countries

The day after we returned from our whirlwind trip through Scandinavia and Russia, my mom flew in for a visit. We had a packed agenda; Amsterdam, Luxembourg, Paris, and Venice. But first we were planning on spending a couple days in Geneva. I was looking forward to spending time with my mom and all the places we were going, but I was also happy to spend time at home before hitting the road again.

G had the day off so we all decided to head over to the UN. G had never been on the tour so I figure this was the perfect chance. After, my mom and I headed over to the Red Cross Museum, which is just across the street. G decided to meet us back at home, his museum fatigue was showing. :) The next day we ventured out to the Montreux Jazz Festival, but because of the rain, it turned out that there really wasn't much to listen to or see.

Soon we were off to Amsterdam. We arrived at the hotel and discovered that we had two stories of VERY steep stairs to climb, just to get to the reception desk! The people at the hotel were so nice, offering us a free drink and even breakfast before we headed out for the day. But my favorite breakfast place was just around the corner, and they have free internet to boot! We stepped in there for a bagel, coffee, and a little planning. We were only going to be in town for two days so we wanted to make the most of our short visit.

Our first day's plan was packed with the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, a canal cruise, and of course dinner. Since I'd been to the museums before, I did a little shopping and cafe sitting while my mom enjoyed the sights. I met up with her and we cruised the canals. The craziest thing about the day was that despite it being mid-July, it was freezing! I actually wore a scarf to keep the cold away! It didn't deter our sightseeing any though, and the rain was staying away, so I was happy. Before dinner we stumbled across an exhibit of wildlife photography and I was tempted to buy a big book of the exhibit. But since it weighed about 10 pounds, I passed so I didn't have to haul it around for the rest of the week. We found a restaurant that turned out to be one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten at! The Cafe Restaurant de Reiger is a wonderful local eetcafé in the Jordan district complete with wonderful ambiance and delicious food. Next time I'm in town I will definitely eat here again.

The next day my mom decided to visit the Anne Frank house and take a bus/boat tour of the city. I caught the train to Haarlem, a cute little town about 15 minutes from Amsterdam that is packed with sights. I started in the Market Square (Grote Markt). I was hungry and wanted some fast, local cuisine, so I opted for the little fried dough balls called Oliebollen (it was either that or raw herring from the fish stand). After visiting the Grote Kerk (the church), I headed over to the Tylers Museum. This is the oldest museum in Holland and it is almost like going back in time, almost like a museum of a museum. It is filled with all kinds of curiosities and is an amazing place for science buffs. From fossils and minerals to all sorts of inventions. The very first telephone is displayed here, and like almost everything else, it still has its original label. I couldn’t get enough of this place.

It was time to head back, but I figured I had just enough time for a quick tour of the De Adriaan Windmill, Haarlem’s old-time windmill. What I didn't realize is that you can only see the windmill with a tour guide and I ended up with my own private tour by a very nice old guy. I didn't want to rush him, but I had little time to get back. The tour was really great, but as soon as it was over I made a mad dash to the train station.

I was only a little late, and thankfully my mom waited for me! We had a reservation for a tour of the Red Light District. I was a bit nervous about going on this tour with my mom, but the guide was really good and it wasn't too risqué! After dinner we headed back to the hotel to find the room filled with flowers - a beautiful bouquet and a single rose in a vase. We figures it was from Mr. F, my step-dad who sent them for their wedding anniversary, but the tag said it was from the Nadia Hotel! The mystery was solved the next morning when we were checking out (at 5:30am), we got a call from the hotel manager thanking us for our stay and wishing my mom a happy anniversary. Now that is great service!

We were up so early because we had a very busy day. We were on our way to Luxembourg, but on the way we decided to spend a few hours in the unofficial capital of Europe, Brussels. We concentrated our sightseeing to the area around the Grand Place, Brussels' main square. We followed a walking tour from our book which took about two hours, seeing the Town Hall, chocolate shops, lace shops, the Church of St. Nicolas, Galeries Royales St. Hubert (Europe's oldest shopping mall), and of course the statue of the little boy peeing, Manneken-Pis. But we didn't have all day; we had to get to Luxembourg by the afternoon, because we were only staying there one night.

Luxembourg City is compact and had much more to see than I thought. We started with a little hop-on hop-off bus tour that was a great way to get orientated. We then toured the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the fortifications (the maze of cavers dug out to protect the city) before walking through town and finding a place to eat. We were warned that the whole town closes up around 6pm and they weren't kidding. We were on a search for a couple postcards and a cup of coffee, which we finally found at a tabac stand on the edge of town! We stumbled across a lively square lined with restaurants and a band playing in the center. We grabbed an outside table and enjoyed the music and nice weather.

We were set to meet up with G in Paris for the "la Fête Nationale" (or Bastille Day) on July 14th. That morning we decided to buy a couple cheap blankets to sit on before the fireworks and we were lucky to find a little shop that sold them. So, blankets in hand we zipped off to Paris for the festivities.

Touring the UN

Near our hotel in Amsterdam (and just around the corner from the Anne Frank House)

Me & my scarf in Amsterdam - Burr!

The De Adriaan Windmill in Haarlem

Tylers Museum of Haarlem: like a museum of museums

Shopping at Galeries Royales St. Hubert in Brussels

Manneken-Pis, the most famous statue in Brussels

Outside the fortifications of Luxembourg City

Overlooking the edge of Luxembourg City's Old Town

Enjoying some hard to find coffee in Luxembourg

The band we enjoyed during dinner in Luxembourg