The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!

Gratitude Friday: Sunny Saturdays

Last weekend, we actually split up to experience some of our bucket list items remaining.

Gabe skied with Finnish friend A at Les Contamines, France for the day.  With my feet still not up to par for skiing, I opted for a scenic train to Rochers-de-Naye.

The guys enjoyed the day at Les Contamines, with sunny skies and great slopes.

Views at Les Contamines

Views at Les Contamines

I also enjoyed my day on the train at at Rochers-de-Naye.   One of the things that I love about living here is how much people take advantage of beautiful days.   I talked about this mentality in my “Profiter” post, but here are just a few examples of what I saw at the main station on the way out to my day trip:

gare

Skiers and hikers of all ages, ready to board the train

The reason I selected Rochers-de-Naye is because of its 2000m position at the far end of Lake Geneva.  I heard the views were magnificent and you could see almost the entire lake from the summit.  Having confirmed sunny skies, I set off on the two hour journey.

I quickly learned that sunny skies at Rochers-de-Naye and sunny skies over Lake Geneva were two different things:

Evidence of the permacloud

Evidence of the permacloud.  Lake Geneva is below the layer.

Nonetheless, I thought the ambience was pretty neat with the mysterious cover.   Despite my ill preparations of not wearing snow shoes (oops), I had fun seeing the mountains.

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

Gorgeous views @ Rochers-de-Naye

I didn’t happen to notice anything peculiar about the above scene.  However, when I was showing my French teacher, she commented….”ah, Mount Cervin”.   If you look at the pointed mountain in the distance of the photo, that is the infamous Matterhorn.  Wish the view was this clear when we were in Zermatt!

Also of note, the summit hosts 7 Mongolian yourts, which each sleep 8 people.   The ski slopes are only steps from the little huts, so you can easily ski from your doorstep in the winter, or hike in the summer.

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with blue door

Yourt with red door

Yourt with red door

After about 2 hours, I got a little break in the clouds to envision what the view would look like on a clear day.

Lake Geneva starting to show

The blue of Lake Geneva starting to show

We are both grateful for the beautiful weekend to experience some of our final must-do’s!

Related posts:

The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People: A New Year, Another Mountain, And A Gnome

Schwingen in Switzerland: It Wasn’t Premeditated, Our Hike Up Rochers-de-Naye

The Swiss Watch Blog: Gratitude Friday – Ski School

8 Fun Facts about Lake Geneva

I find it interesting that many of our guests have the takeaway that from first impression, Lake Geneva appears small.

Image courtesy of Lake Geneva Region Tourism.  This map makes it look small too!

The first few times someone mentioned this, it perplexed me……Lake Geneva is so big.   In fact, it takes over an hour at top speed on a freeway to drive to the end of it.   Driving around the perimeter on good roads takes about 2.5 – 3 hours.

There is not a bad view driving around the lake.

But, looking more thoroughly, I see where someone could come up with this conclusion from the vantage point of the city of Geneva.  Geneva rests at the far west end of the lake, at the very end.   Not to mention, the city lies in the skinniest alcove of the lake.   Thus, at first glance, the body of water appears that it stops soon after Geneva.

How one might think the lake ends over there on the horizon…..

In actuality, the visible part in the picture above is just this portion. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

So, on today’s blog post, just wanted to clear up this issue by providing a few fun facts on Lake Geneva:

1 - It is big!  Specifically, the lake takes up 224 square miles.

2 -Driving around it can add time to your European road trip.    The Mt Blanc tunnel costs 48 euros (around 75 USD) to travel through one-way.   The tunnel takes 20 minutes.  The other option is driving around Lake Geneva, which could add 3 hours to your trip.

Mt. Blanc dominates the lake

3 - It is deep!  Because it is an Alpine lake, it mimics the Alps, in the inverse.   The average depth of Lake Geneva is 507 feet.

4 - It has dual citizenship in two countries.   About 60% lies in Switzerland and 40% lies in France.  Multiple ferries traverse the water each day and are often used by commuters.  In fact, in the below photo taken in Montreux, we are standing in Switzerland but the Alps in the background are French.

5 - It has contributed to science.   In 1827, Lake Geneva was the first place for the speed of sound to be tested in fresh water.

6 - Expensive bottled water likes to call it home.   Evian comes from several springs near Evian-les-Bains, France, which rests on the shores of Lake Geneva.

There is an Evian museum on Lake Geneva

7 - It contributes to great French wine.   The Rhone flows into and out of Lake Geneva, joining the Aarve River, and down to the Mediterranean.  The famous French wine in the Côte du Rhône region sits on the banks of the Rhône, of which the river flow is derived directly from Lake Geneva!

La Jonction, where the Rhone & Arve rivers meet

8 -It doesn’t just go by “Lake Geneva”.   In French it can be called Lac Léman or Lac de Genève.  In German, you might hear it referred to as Genfersee.  In Italian, it can be either Lago Lemano or Lago di Ginevra.

Does anyone else know any other neat facts about the lake?

Photo Assignment: Liquid

In my photography group, we are given monthly photo themes to challenge us.   This month: Liquids.

Our weekend in the Cinque Terre gave me plenty of vantage points to capture water.   Here are a few of my favorites:

Rocks on the beach at Monterrosso al Mare

Water streaming off of Vernazza’s docks in the stormy weather

Water hitting the rocky coastline in Vernazza

Swirls of sea foam on the cliffs below Manarola

Foamy photo fun in Manarola

Waves rushing into the Manarola rocks

 

 

 

 

 

Slumming it in the Italian Riviera: Portofino

Road trips can be fun but sometimes the way home can be a downer, knowing you are returning from doing something really fun.    So, one of our new pastimes when taking a road trip is to find unexpected gems.    So, on our way home from a weekend, if we have time, we pull out the maps and books and see what might be on the way.

Returning from the Cinque Terre, we saw that Portofino was nearby on the map.   I’ll be honest – the most I knew about Portofino prior to this trip was that there was an Italian restaurant named after it in Charlotte, NC, where we lived prior.

Portofino’s Charlotte.   Image courtesy of hellocharlotte.com.

On the way, I read aloud to Gabe some details about the Italian city of Portofino, not be confused with the aforementioned suburban restaurant.   Italian history dates the settlement of Portofino back to the 10th century, where it was coveted for its protected harbor.   It changed hands many times but the harbor was a major asset for the likes of military giants such as Napolean and Hitler.

Post WW2, expatriates began to flock to the town and it soon built a glamorous name due to its holiday clientele.    By the 1950′s era, it was a major vacation spot of the rich and famous.  Things got so rowdy that Rex Harrison dropped his Oscar in the harbor.   Truman Capote, Greta Garbo, and Ava Gardner also frequented the Italian port town.  Elizabeth Taylor took all of her husbands there.

As we started the drive in, we got the feeling we were in for something special.   Rounding the cliffs overrun with pristine mansions and elegant hotels, we felt like we were in Monaco, yet with a rustic Italian feel.

Driving through the Portofino Peninsula, the town of Santa Margherita Ligure

When we arrived in the pedestrian-only Portofino, we parked our car and traveled on the cobblestone path towards the port.   We passed storefronts such as Dior and Louis Vitton, mixed in with small family-owned Italian groceries and pizza shops.

And when we reached the harbor, I was instantly enamored.  Beautiful colored buildings hugged a pristine turqouise-blue bay.

The harbor of Portofino

Cafés were starting to set up outdoor dining, even with the threat of a rain storm.  We grabbed a prime spot at la Stella under a canopy and happily enjoyed a glass of the house white wine while deciding what pasta we’d order.

This sure beats having lunch at a rest stop

I ordered the pasta del giorgno: a shrimp & zucchini spaghetti.    Although we’d each had two servings of pesto pasta while in the Cinque Terre, Gabe had wanted to try the pesto lasagna.

Pesto lasagna – homemade Ligurian pesto smothering thin lasagne noodles

After lunch, we took a stroll on the Promenade di Portofino letting our legs stretch before the remaining four hour journey home.

Colors of Portofino

Panorama of Portofino

Elizabeth Taylor, I’ll never be, but I sure did like playing the part one afternoon in the Italian Riviera.

The Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre, Italy is one of my favorite places in the world.  I first discovered it with friend R in the summer of 2007 during our girls trip to Italy.   Cinque Terre means 5 Lands in Italian and the area is comprised by five small towns perched on cliffs above the Ligurian Sea.

The area is a UNESCO world heritage site because of the early civilizations’ ability to build, live, and thrive on landscape that has the odds of being inhabitable.

I wanted to share it with Gabe, so we had selected it for one of our Honeyfund trips for our wedding.  We planned to go after my feet had fully recovered, which ended up being this Fall.    While we had some stormy skies our entire trip, I found the lack of tourists and cooler weather to be an refreshing change.

MONTEROSSO AL MARE, #5 was the town we stayed in.  It is the biggest, and I picked it due to our late arrival as it had more hotels that accomodated late check-in as well as actual parking lots for our car.   We arrived around 9pm and found that we couldn’t drive through town to the side we were staying in.   Note to future travelers: the Old Town and New Town are not connected for the average driver, only with special permit can you open the chain / gates.   It is a 20 – 30 minute deviation to drive back up the mountain to come back the other side.  So make sure to note that in your driving plans!

We checked into Hotel Baia.  It was a basic Italian room, but in a suberb location on the water and near the Monterosso train station.

Beach town of Monterosso

Early the next morning, we  put on our rain gear and set out to hike the seven mile Trail 2 from our hotel to Riomaggiore.  We were greeted with a locked gate.  The trails were closed due to the mudslides last October and continuing bad weather.   Oops.  While I researched the affects of the mudslides on the towns, I had not specifically looked into the trails.

Luckily there is a fantastic transportation solution – a regional train connects the five towns with an hourly train.   While they aren’t quite always on time, it was a very nice back-up to get to see the area with the trail closings.

The next stop, VERNAZZA, #4,  was my favorite of the five towns during the 2007 trip.  It has a natural harbor and I adore the bell tower from the church and how it looks over the coast.   We saw a large poster detailing the devastation the mudslides caused in this particular town.   It showcased homeowners and shopkeepers standing in the mud which once was their home/shop.   The beach was still a little damaged, but otherwise, there were scarce signs of the horrors they experienced last October.  They’ve done a remarkable job cleaning up.

In the harbor of Vernazza

Still too early for lunch, we climbed to the highest point of the town – the castle.  We loved seeing the ominous skies surround the colorful buildings.

Above Vernazza at the castle

Birds-eye view of Vernazza’s port

We enjoyed a lovely lunch at Gambero Rosso, the same restaurant where R and I had enjoyed a meal five years prior.  We both ordered the fresh pasta with pesto, a Ligurian specialty with a glass of local white wine.   Deliciouso!

After lunch, we scurried to catch our train.   Due to some technical difficulties which I’ll chalk up to not reading the board properly Italian chaos and mis-direction, we missed the hourly train to the next town of Corniglia.   We opted to catch the next train which bypassed the other two towns in order not to lose another full hour.

RIOMAGGIORE, #1, is the first town on the trail and supposedly the least touristic.   We watch a fisherman for awhile and reflected on the colorful boats and buildings which trailed upwards.

A lone fisherman

The vertical town of Riomaggiore

We explored the height of the town, certainly the “most vertical” of the five, and sat for a quick glass of vino, another Cinque Terre white varietal.  After, we caught the train backwards to town #4.

MANAROLA, #4, was Gabe’s favorite of the Cinque Terre.    Back when we were single girls on our Italian vacation, R and I had headed straight for Manarola’s beach to catch all the summer action.  Now, it was a ghost-town, but it left us more time for exploration.  We wound around the vineyards surrounding the village, getting every vantage point.  I’d have to say that this trip, Manarola was  my favorite.

Foamy waters surrounding Manarola

Gabe, checking out the village

Ominous clouds covering Manarola

Because we liked it so much, we opted for a longer stay in Manarola versus hitting the fifth town of Corniglia.   My husband prefers to enjoy fewer activities for longer…..quality not quantity.  And for me, it’s a good lesson for me to remember as I never want to miss anything.    Gabe joked it would have to be Quattro Terre for him.

We were able to see Corniglia from a distance.

View of Corniglia #3, from Monterrosso #5.

View of Corniglia #3, from #4 Manarola. We saw the evidence of mudslides taking out the trails between these two on the hills to the right of the photo.

Good thing we opted to leave.  The skies let loose after we got to Manarola’s station.   In order to reach Corniglia, there are 400 steps.  So, I am thankful we weren’t caught in that exploring the last remaining town.

We returned to Monterosso for a wonderful dinner at Ciak and drinks at Enoteca da Eliseo.  We ended up seeing the couple who’d taken our photo in Vernazza.  They were photographers from Indianapolis who were celebrating their 5th wedding anniversary.  We had a few drinks with them comparing travel notes.

It was an awesome weekend.  A big thanks to our Honeyfund contributors from our wedding.  You really made our 18 month anniversary (Nov 7) very special.   We appreciate it!

Gratitude Friday: Safety

This Gratitude Friday, I am glad for the safety of those who were caught in Hurricane Sandy’s path.   In particular, my dear aunt who lives on the river, as well as my great-aunt and great-uncle who lived on Barnegat Bay, in the community of Mantoloking.

My great-aunt and great-uncle were evacuated and waited out the storm at their son’s house in Princeton, NJ.

My aunt remained in the home my grandfather built.   The house was flooding with the water and she luckily was woken up by her cat.  She noticed the floor was getting damp so got up to save some things off low shelves and grab supplies.  The water continued to rush in, building to a foot of depth in 30 minutes.  Having time to get necessities up to the second floor, it is there that they waited out the storm while Sandy’s waves pounded upon the side of the house and the yard/deck was washed away.

Photo of my aunt’s house (left) courtesy of a neighbor friend, taken Tuesday, after Monday nights’ deluge.

Usually when you see coverage such as this, the places are more foreign.   But, I watch the news anxiously from Switzerland, recognizing neighborhoods, bridges, and places that are very fond to me.

Mantoloking bridge / neighborhood where my great-uncle and great-aunt live. Image courtesy of Cousin M’s Facebook page.

The sun is now shining in New Jersey and the waters are receding.  However, the media reports that Sandy will forever change the face of the Jersey Shore.  I cannot fathom the impact on those who lost homes, possessions, and livelihoods.

I know that I am just grateful for the hurricane for sparing the most important things to many of us…the people.   And even still, not everyone is able to say that this week.   So thankful that you are safe and sound, Aunt J, Great-Aunt M and Great-Uncle G.  I wish for you strength and peace for the clean-up and moving forward.

Hanging out at the Jersey shore house as a child.  Hard to believe the water which provided such fun, could cause such sorrow.

Bon weekend, everyone.