Tuesday, August 28, 2007


If I were to write this entry in my typical blogging fashion, which is to capture all details with a charming and sarcastic wit, this would be really really long. So instead I will try to do a somewhat abbreviated recap, and post pictures, and add some extra description here and there were needed.

Justin and I just got back from Italy for 10 days.

Friday, August 17 - took a flight from GVA on FlyBaboo, a small Swiss regional airline which Justin and I now refer to as "Monkey McFurrypants Air." The plane was a 50 seat prop plane, the stewardesses served tomato focaccia, salami foccacia, and nutella foccacia, and a little Ford focus was seen next to the plane loading up the waters and unloading garbage. McFurrypants indeed. We arrived late in Florence and headed to bed.

Saturday Aug 18 - Slept late. Ran out to grab a slice of pizza (the worst pizza we had in Italy for the record) for lunch. Got some delicious gelato (1 - Straciatella, also known as chocolate chip), wandered on Ponte Vecchio. Wasted an hour in line at the Ufizzi playing 20 questions and decided to postpone. Went to the huge, windy Boboli gardens where Justin actually requested a picture with a statue there. Grabbed a glass of prosecco. Napped. Went to dinner at Trattoria Zaza!! Got gelato (2 - chocolate) but it wasn't that good so I threw it out. a horrible thing I know.

Sunday Aug 19 - Got up a little earlier. Ate paninis for lunch (cold and annoying), then went to the Duomo, inside and up the tower for fantastic views of Firenze. Headed to Ufizzi gallery. We both agreed - worst museum ever (renaissance art is not really my thing). Got a strawberry gelato (3) which was terrible and I threw it out. Stopped into Academia to see David and his fine self - truly impressive and cool. Rest of that museum is somewhat pointless. Went to dinner at La Giostra. BEST RESTAURANT EVER!!! It was sooo good. I will detail in full because it was so good. Cozy dark place with lots of photos and Christmas lights in the middle of nowhere. We walked in and sat down and immediately heard a *pop!!* and were poured glasses of champagne. After ordering, we were presented with a huge plate of completmentary appetizers which included: roasted zucchini filled with ratatouille, roasted eggplant, marinated red bell peppers, liver crostini (tasted like a taco - I did not know it was liver when I ate it), little spinach balls, cherry tomato with buffalo mozzerella and baby bruscettas. MMMMM! Justin got a spagetti like pasta with white truffle oil and mushrooms (like a super duper mac and cheese), I got ravioli filled with brie served with finely sliced, fried artichoke hearts and cherry tomatoes. Why hasn't anyone else thought of ravioli with brie before??? We split a beef filet with porcini mushrooms and asparagus parmigiana (asparagus with a big piece of melted parmigian cheese and breadcrumbs). All with a delicious chianti. Seriously, the best resaturant ever, which made up for our terrible lunch and gelato that day by far. And it was recently named "best restaurant in Tuscany."

Monday Aug 20 - Day trip to Siena. Great pizza slices for lunch sitting in the Piazza. Went to the Duomo there which was really cool. Climbed a teeny tower for excellent views of Siena. Chugged a Guinness and caught the train back to Florence. Went back to LA GIOSTRA. Again, I must detail...got the champagne and free apps treatment and got the same wine. Instead we got starters...Justin got prosciutto with mozzerella and it was the most beautiful, bountiful plate of proscuitto ever. There was not a trace of fat on any of it. I had what could be my dream appetizer - mushroom carpaccio, an entire plateful of finely sliced mushrooms, served over an entire plateful of finely sliced parmigian cheese. Oh man. Then we split a plate of grilled veggies, and he had a very mushroomy tagliatelle, while I had rigatoni that was served with a sauce that combined tomatoes with a pesto like base. So so good! After we walked around and got gelato (4 - Coco).

Tues Aug 21 - Check out and head to Cinque Terre, stopping in Pisa on the way for pizza and to see the tower. It really does lean, pretty badly. It's really funny. It was kind of rainy but no matter. 2 hour train to Cinque Terre (Monterosso). About 5 minutes out, we pulled out of a tunnel into bright light, and below suddenly I saw the huge, blue Ligurian sea, the bluest blue you could imagine, crashing against the cliffs below us. It was just stunning. We got to our hotel, walked around, had a drink at "Bar" and then found our way to a local restaurant where we had the local trofie pasta with pasta and a huge bowl of spagetti mixed with piping hot, fresh clams, mussels, squid and shrimp. Two ladies next to us asked our waiter (who constantly said "ciao" or "prego") about two wines on the menu, to which he answered, "The difference between the two is very very small, but this-a one is much more better." After went to an American bar called Fast Bar and talked with some fellow travelers.

Weds Aug 22 - Got up to a sunny day for our big hike. Train over to Riomaggiore, town #1. From there it was an easy 20 minute walk along a path to town #2, Manarola. 45 minutes later, after climbing a huge steep staircase, we were in Corniglia. After that the trails became much more difficult, narrow and rocky. 90 minutes of huffing and puffing took us to Vernazza where we stopped for a lunch and had a "pesto festo" - pesto pizza, pesto pasta and bruchetta. Cinque Terre is where pesto is from and it was delicious. After lunch we continued on another long, rocky trail all the way up and then all the way down. Finally after another 90 minutes, we arrived home in Monterosso and immediately jumped into the sea for a celebratory, refreshing swim! The day was gorgeous with huge, spectacular views, and it started raining only once we arrived home.

Thurs Aug 23 - Cloudy in the AM, took the train to Manarola to do a little shopping (local artwork) and then jumped into a big swimming "lagoon" just below town. We were the only people brave enough to swim, but the water was not very cold. We then hopped back on the train to Monterosso and had a cheap focaccia lunch. Just as we finished the sun came out and we spent the rest of the day sunbathing, swimming, reading and relaxing. On the way home we stopped in a local shop to sample a bunch of limoncello and pesto (and bought a bunch too). For dinner that night we had a pizza and wine picnic by the sea under the moonlight...que romantico. Even more, we had music...some local Italian teens blasting their winamp with a strobe light down by the harbor. Very odd but entertaining!

Fri Aug 24 - early departure from Cinque Terre at 730 am to Bologna. We walked around and ate Bolognese! Then back on the train to Venice. When I stepped out of the train station, I was in shock. The place is just like you see in the movies, and the canals to my surprise were actually fairly clean looking. Did you know Venice is actually a huge archiapelago of like 180 islands all connected by bridges? And it is also sinking. The first floor doors of a lot of houses are rotted out becuase of the rising water levels, so everyone lives on the second floors now. Anyway, Justin did an excellent job navigating us to our hotel, where we had a huge old room with a big glass chandelier - fancy! For dinner we headed to a local pizzeria and then had a few drinks on a "back street," a little canal next to our hotel.

Sat Aug 25 - We slept late and then went to St. Mark's. Justin was SO excited to see my reaction to hundreds of thouands of pigeons. And my reaction was - sheer terror and disgust. I could not believe people pay money to let pigeons land on them! Disgusting! I was constantly ducking into Justin's arm to shield myself from fly-bys. The Basilica was really cool inside and very ornate. We also went up the neighboring tower for excellent views of Venezia and the little surrounding islands. Afterwards we wandered around the streets getting lost and did a little shopping (and eating gelato #5, vanilla, the BEST vanilla ever). We found a little wine bar called "Ruga Rialto" and had several glasses of cheap, delicious wine and some cichetti (little appetizers, in our case, fried calamari). The total was only 10 euros! Then we went in search of a "gondola gondola." The first two guys we met did not want to bargain. The prosecco we had bought for the ride was getting warm, and we were beginning to despair when we found a guy near the Rialto bridge who agreed to our price. It was around 7pm so the light on the city was beautiful. Our gondolier told us a little about the city and softly sang in Italian, asking "It's romantic, yes?" It was a great way to see Venice and nice to just be together with Justin in our little boat. At night we wandered back to St. Mark's where to my relief, there were NO pigeons, and we got to see several small orchestras playing in the square, each at different restaurants. The music was beautiful, but we didn't actually sit down for drinks. The menu informed us that one glass of champagne was 29 euros plus a 4 euro coperto for the music....no grazie!!!

Sun Aug 26 - Went to the Doge palace in the morning near St Marks, which was actually one of the cooler old palaces/castles we have been to on our travels. There were some crazy prisons inside. Afterwards decided to head to Lido and see the beach. It was ridiculously hot so we immediately got gelato as soon as we arrived (I had watermelon sorbet...which counts as 6). The beach was actually really beautiful with a lot of people swimming...not sure how clean the water was really, but it looked very clean. We waded in the water for a while too to cool off. Made the mistake of coming back to Venice on the #1 Vaporetti, also known as the "slow boat" and we almost passed out from sitting in the hot sun so long (I did actually fall asleep for a while). Wandered around, made another stop at Ruga Rialto for wine, meeting a not-so-friendly black cat on the way, who later was snuggled up next to the booze bottles in the bar. We ate on the grand canal for dinner which was a gorgeous setting. The people next to us were taking photos of themselves and I, stupidly, decided to make a face in the background in one of them. I have unfortunately done this several times, mostly at bars with really really annoying people taking pictures, because you can just run off and they won't know who it was. Well obviously I wasn't thinking, because these people were right next to us and realized it was me. They started laughing and pointing, and finally Justin broke the ice by asking if I had ruined their picture, and we ended up chatting with them. We offered to take another, but they declined, saying it would be a nice memory!! That's the last time I do that. We went back to St. Marks again to listen to a little more music, and then got gelatos on the way home (Pistacchio, really good number 7!)

Mon Aug 27 - Time to leave. We just got up and dragged our suitcases over like 18 bridges until we reached the bus terminal to head to the airport. Fortunately, we were able to extend our trip a little longer by having a great Italian lunch at the Venice Marco Polo airport (which is VERY nice by the way) including gelato (chocolate with nuts beat out hazelnut...it was a close race).

So, that is pretty much our trip to Italy. Perfetto!! Magnifico!! You can check out the photos, which will probably take less time than reading this blog, here:


Monday, August 13, 2007

Interlaken II

Justin and I planned a last minute trip to Interlaken last weekend and it was awesome. Geneva has had absolute crap weather ALL summer and it seems the only time it is not 60s and rain is when we are out of town, or on the weekends. This weekend was no exception and it was great. I will post pictures and videos for this post shortly!!

We arrived on Friday night to our lovely two-star hotel, which was like a 15 minute walk from the train station, uphill (only one way). It was kind of nice though because it was away from all the college and tourist "rif raf" which Justin and I get very tired of. We decided on Saturday to suck it up, get out of bed at 530am, walk 1 mile and a half to the other train station to catch the 6:30 train to the Jungfraujoch, the "Top of Europe." Supposedly one of those once in a lifetime things you have to do, it is Europe's highest trainstation (over 3500m) on top of the Jungfrau mountain and draws a LOT of tourists. It took over 2 hours to get there but I have to agree that the view from the top was pretty amazing. You definitely feel like you are on top of the world, albeit part of that world is a freezing, glacier covered world, that was peaceful until an entire trainload of tourists was dropped upon it.

There were a lot of cheesy and fun activities, so we got to go sledding on the side of the glacier, and also try to hit a "hole in one" off this golf tee into the snow. That was the most I have ever played golf in my life so I also got a little golf lesson from Justin. After our games we decided to hike to the Monch restaurant (45 minutes away) across the glacier. OK seriously, it was UPHILL, IN THE SNOW and it was so freaking hard. We were dying and getting dogged by old people with those fancy schmancy hiking poles. Abou 45 minutes later, huffing and puffing, we finally reached the spot which was well worth the hike (although the wind was threatening to blow us off the mountain and therefore Justin didn't care too much for the view). We had lunch there which was great as there were not too many other idiots making the hike that far, and then we headed back downhill in the snow, happily enjoying the views this time around.

On our way down from the Jungfraujoch, we stopped in Kleine Schidegg for a beer. This was worth it because 1) the views were incredible and 2) an army of mountain goats, bells clanging madly, invaded the town. There was a small brown army of goats which were show-offs and posing for photo ops, and there was a larger, more confused black army of goats which seemed to do nothing but run back and forth to make their bells ring really loud and occassionally "maa-a-a--a-a-a-a."

On Sunday, we allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit later and then headed to First, where I had gone hiking with Aimee and Chris in May. On the way our train broke down which in my opinion, is a truly rare occurence in Switzerland and deserves to be documented. First was way more crowded, but also a lot more green, so that was cool. And there were cows grazing up at the top of the mountain making nice music with their bells (I know, I agree, sometimes I also wonder if this place is for real). We had lunch on the beautiful Bachalpsee (our lunch was marginal but the views made up for it) and then took a more difficult, out of the way hike down to Bort which was completely worth it. We had the trail almost entirely to ourselves and just shared it with the cows here and there. Our legs were exhausted by the time we made it back to Grindlewald and then to Interlaken.

Now on Monday, I was sick. In fact, I couldn't go to work. So, if I hadn't been sick, Justin and I would have spent Monday relaxing for an extra day in Interlaken. We would probably go up the Harderbahn funicular for lunch over Interlaken with great views of the lakes Thun and Brienz. Then we would head across town to Lake Thun (its called the Thunersee in German, and I of course really like the ads which say "Thuner-see you soon!") and take advantage of the cheap Monday boat rides, buy first class tickets and sit on the sun deck, drinking cold beers while relaxing in the views of the Thunersee and Swiss Alps. Maybe on a last minute decicion, we would stop in Bern and have dinner. Although Bern is not really much to see.

But I don't know, because I was sick. So I probably didn't do any of those things...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

La Belle-Mere

When Justin and I returned from Paris, we went into a bit more of a cleaning frenzy than we usually do (let me be fair and say that Justin did ALL the cleaning). That's because Justin's mom was coming in for a visit for the weekend and staying at my apartment.

Most girls would probably freak out a little bit of the idea of their future mother in law coming to stay with them for the weekend, but I was excited. And I am not just saying that because I know that Mrs. C is a regular visitor of my blog! Justin and I are very lucky in that we both get along very well with each other's families, and also I suppose lucky that for example, my dad is not a very threatening, questioning man (i.e. "What ARE your intentions with my daughter, boy?") and Justin's mom is not a crazy, overprotective woman (i.e. relationship between Principal Skinner from "The Simpsons" and his mother). In any case, you get the idea. She is, to quote Mean Girls, "a cool mom," and so the visit was not something to be nervous about.

On Thursday night after a glass of wine on the balcony, we headed down to the Paquis for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Geneva, a small traditional Swiss place. We settled on a little bit of raclette and Fondue Chinoise, which is meat fondue that is cooked in bouillon instead of oil and very very good. Afterwards we got ice cream and walked around the lake to check out a little of the Pre-Fetes, which is kind of the "before" party week before the Fetes de Geneve (more on that later).

Friday I took off from work (I have not worked more than 4 days in a week since Justin got here) and we decided to rent bikes downtown. You can rent a bike for free for four hours and after that, it is just one franc an hour. Sounds like a great deal, right? I'll come back to this. It was a spectacular day with lots of sun and no clouds, and we biked along the lake, looking at vineyards and the French Alps across the lake and beautiful mansions and sunflowers all along the way. After about a 30 minute ride, we stopped for a delicious, leisurely filets de perches lunch at a place right on the water. We took a long break and then headed back to the bikes.

Justin pedaled about 10 feet and abruptly stopped. His tire was completely flat. Pancake, board, whatever analogy you want to use, it was the flattest tire I have ever seen. And we were basically in little village Switzerland where we hadn't the faintest idea of where a bike shop was or how to ask to repair the tire anyway.

So the three of us tried several things. We called the bike shop who didn't understand us or more likely didn't care (remember: FREE bikes). We asked several people where the nearest bike shop was and they responded: 4 km, 2km, 5 meters (translation: we have no idea you stupid English speaking bike riders). So that was no help at all. We asked a woman at a car dealership if there was anyone who could fix it in the mechanics dept and she responded "that's not my job." Finally we stumbled upon a motorcycle shop, and Justin asked the grumbling French mechanic if he could "reparez la bicyclette" (as we had the actual bike there with the tire, it kind of helped to explain). Grumbling Frenchy inflated the tire using a little tube and after about a minute, it seemed fixed. Rejuvenated, we pedaled off through the next "big" town, Versoix, and into Coppet.

After about 15 minutes, I noticed that Justin was riding very slowly. In fact, annoyingly slowly and I kept almost passing him. As I was thinking of some snide comment to make about this point, I noticed that an awful (yet amazingly rhythmic) sound was coming from Justin's bike. "Thun-thun-thAUNK-thun-thun-thAunk...I am the woRLD's flattest t-IRE" the bike seemed to be humming. And it really was, worse so than before, and he eventually had to stop riding. Now we were completely screwed because we were in a much smaller town and no where near any bicycle or motorcycle shop.

Just at the moment all seemed lost, we saw across the street upon a bus stop which stated that the bus to the Nyon train station would be arriving in 10 minutes. As you know by now, the buses in Switzerland are always on time and lo and behold, 10 minutes later, a bus pulled up, with a rude French woman as our savior. At first she refused to let us on the bus but I argued that Justin's tire was completely flat. She begrudingly let him aboard, charged him an exorbitant fee of 12 francs for the bicycle, and sped off, leaving Justin's mom and I to continue riding to Nyon. The ride to Nyon was about another 20 minutes and very nice except for ONE small detail. Waiting for us at the very end of the journey was the biggest freaking hill in all of Switzerland which was what we had to pedal up on our rickety-you-get-what-you-pay-for bikes. Miraculously we were able to find some teeny tiny sign posts to point us to the train station after that and were reunited with Justin shortly thereafter. We celebrated with a glass of wine down by the lake and then rode the train back to Geneva with the bikes. Worried that I might not get back the full security deposit upon returning the bicycle with the flattest tire ever, I made a big show of needing the strong, non-English speaking worker at the store to help me with alllll the heavy bikes. They never knew what hit them, and we took the money and ran!

The rest of the weekend was a little less adventurous. That evening we made a big fondue at home to celebrate our long day of cycling along with some champagne. On Saturday we headed at first back to the scene of the crime, Nyon, and took a boat across the lake to a town called Yvoire in France. It was a gorgeous old medieval town with lots of beautiful flowers and ice cream shops! We walked around and enjoyed lunch before the crowds started to swarm and then high tailed it back to Geneva. That night we went to Les Amures for dinner, an awesome restaurant in the old town of Geneva. Overall the weekend was lots of fun, with lots of walking around, talking and laughing, and me and Justin enjoying being spoiled just a little bit by a mom.

Oh and Mrs. C also met Pasha, the kebab guy down the street, which was a highlight as he did a little bow and referred to her as "Madam" everytime he saw her after that.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The City of Lights

I think I have talked to a lot of you about Paris already, but I will recap it anyway, even though I came back almost 2 weeks ago.

Justin and I left on Thursday afternoon (the 19th) and took the high speed TGV train into the city center. Shortly thereafter, we arrived at our hotel, the K+K Cayre. I had won 2 free nights in the hotel at an auction in Chicago before I left; we got a deal on a third night which we paid for. It was a 4 star hotel right in the heart of Paris, a perfect location and the best part (besides the amazing bed) was the balcony which overlooked the city streets.

On Thursday night we went to the Musee D'Orsay to check out some impressionist paintings. Very cool museum, it is in an old train station. It did not take that long to walk through either so that was nice. Lots of really cool famous paintings there by Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Latrec, Cezanne, etc. You get the idea. After the museum we headed to a french brasserie recommended by our hotel which was delicious. We ordered escargots which came in the shell, a new way of eating them for me. I LOVE escargot and if you like garlic and butter, you will like them despite the fact it is a snail. mmmm. We alternated between french and english throughout the meal, using mostly what our waitress felt like using with us. There was also an older, unassuming french man sitting next to us, who when his female companion arrived, exclaimed " you look great!!!" and sounded JUST like Bruno from the Ali G show. hilarious. After dinner we walked around a little bit and ended up at this carnival taking place in the Tulieries. We did bumper cars, which was fun until these French thugs started hitting everyone as hard as they possibly could. Ow!! Then we walked over to the Louvre to check out the lights and the pyramids.

Friday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed at a relatively early hour and went to the Louvre. Amazingly, we only had to wait about 5 minutes in line. We saw the Mona Lisa first, which is small as everyone says. I think its worth it just to observe the feeding frenzy of photographers taking place there!

Friday was cool and cloudy, so we decided to spend the rest of the day sightseeing and get it overwith. After lunch, we headed to the Catacombs. This was really freaky, but cool. In the 1700s, stone was excavated from underneath Paris' left bank to be used for buildings. After a while it was about to cave in, so they stopped. The tunnels were then used as a mass grave to eliminate overcrowding in Paris' cemeteries. So you head 20m underground, through some dark and dank dunnels (now they are lit by electricity and ventilated, so we don't have it too bad), and find yourself literally, face to face, with 5 million bodies. Bones stacked on either side of you, anywhere from 5-10 feet tall and deep. It was pretty spooky, and I was glad Justin was there! Apparently there are a lot of illegal entrances that people seek out and enter into other parts of the Catacombs that we were not allowed to go to. Freaky.

After the Catacombs, we headed to Notre Dame and then to the Pompidou Centre of Modern Art. Finally at 6.30 we headed back to the hotel, exhausted. We took a short nap and then went to dinner at Le Petit Chaise, which claims to be the oldest restaurant in Paris (from the 1600s!) We were sharing an upstairs dining room with just one other party, and the restaurant had a wonderful, charming ambiance. We dined in true French style, with lots of champagne and wine, French onion soup, and lingered there chatting until we were handed the bill (this NEVER happens, you always have to ask for it). We headed home and had some wine on our balcony, while spying on our neighbor across the street. He didn't do anything exciting, which was part of the reason why we were so curious, since it was Friday night.

On Saturday, we spent most of the day wandering the city. Highlights included the Tuilieries, Arc de Triomphe, and shopping on the Champs Elysees where we bought Harry Potter 7. We had a picnic in the Tuileries in the afternoon with champagne and cheese and enjoyed people watching in the sun. Saturday night we went to dinner (not much to write about unfortunately) and afterwards headed to the Eiffel Tower, which would periodically light up like a sparkler. The tip top was closed, but we went up to the 2nd level and snuggled under the lights while looking over the city.

Sunday was randomness - we saw the Moulin Rouge (boring), ate Mexican food (excellent), tried to rent bikes (unsuccessful), and went back through the Tuileries for ice cream (definitely a success) before heading home.

J'adore Paris!! Photos will be posted shortly.