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!

Progressive Dinner Around the World?

We are feeling a bit nostalgic.  One of our recent conversations included naming the best meals we have ever had.   So, I posed the question to Gabe….if you had superpower and could have a ‘progressive dinner’ around the world (travel to different places for different courses), where would you go?

His answer:

Nicolas Maillart Champagne

Nicolas Maillart Champagne

Apertif:  Champagne from Champagne Nicolas Maillart  in Reims, France

5 rue de Villers aux Noeuds
51500 Ecueil, France

First course :  Pasta course trio at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Del Posto, in NYC with Ferdinand & Isabella

85 Tenth Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Phone: 212-497-8090

Fish main course:  Grouper at Ostria

Ostria
Plaka-Elounda, Crete Greece

Meat main course:  Veal (Vitello), a fried veal cutlet which came doused in fresh tomato and basil at Al Mercante in Milan

Piazza Mercanti, 17
20123 Milan, Italy

Dessert: Nutella pizza at Luigia in Geneva, Switzerland

Rue Adrien Lachenal 24A
Genève Suisse

And my response?

One of my favorite dining memories, Plaka, Crete, Greece

One of my favorite dining memories, Plaka, Crete, Greece

 

Drink:  Bordeaux from Château Pontet Canet

33250 Pauillac, France
05 56 59 04 04

Appetizer:  Eggplant dip from Ta Koupia in Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens, Greece

Αναπήρων Πολέμου 22
Αθήνα 11521, Ελλάδα
+30 210-7400150

First course: Truffle Pasta from Restaurant Maurizio, off the square in Orvieto, Italy

Via del Duomo,
78  05018 Orvieto Province of Terni, Italy

Fish main course:  Grouper at Ostria

Ostria
Plaka-Elounda, Crete Greece

Meat main course:  Veal chop at Trattoria 4 Leoni, Florence, Italy

Trattoria 4 Leoni
Via dè Vellutini, 1-red  50125 Florence, Italy
055 218562

Dessert:  Tres leche cake at Sole in Charlotte, NC
-no longer in business, formerly of East Blvd Charlotte NC-

Where would you go on a progressive dinner around the world?  Please share your favorites!!!

Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List

This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO.   I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva.  However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels.  UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally.  There are currently 962 places in the world on the list.  Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.

unesco

How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites?   While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?

And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats.   This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span.   While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.

So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker.  I’ll keep this up in the future as well.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Our thoughts on air travel

We have had an opportunity to visit many airports across the world.  Sometimes we are surprised with how different things are!

Boarding a Thai Air flight to Bangkok in London

Some differences in Europe:

  • Many times the plane departure and arrival uses a corresponding bus to get you to the plane / terminal vs. a jetway.   We would say this happens about 50% of the time.   One negative is the stairs required to get into the plane.  This can be difficult for some people.
  • Speaking of stairs, we are surprised how many stairs are required sometimes within the terminal, especially while toting carry-on luggage.  Most US airports have escalators or elevators if you have to change levels.
  • We have found many instances where people are still up putting bags away into the overhead bins when the plane starts to taxi.  This would never happen in the US.
  • Cell phones are not supposed to be used until the plane door opens in Europe.   However, in the US, its common to boot up your device, check email, text, and make calls while taxiing to the gate.  It’s something we always forget living in Europe.
  • In Europe, you don’t have to take off your shoes to go though the security x-ray.  So nice!

Which continent is best for connections?

We advised our parents to connect in the US when they came to visit us in Europe.   The pros to this advice are that the airports are usually laid out in a way that makes sense to them, as well as they can ask in English comfortably if they are confused.

Contrary, European connections are a little more difficult to navigate.  You have to go through immigration and out to the public area of the airport which requires you to go back through security.  This can be confusing to some who aren’t used to it.   The bus factor above can add stress to connections because you have to board a bus to get to the terminal and board a bus to get to your next plane.

You also want to think about where you’d rather be stuck.   We generally like to take the longer flight first.  Thus, if you are late, you are at least on the same continent you are supposed to be on, rather than getting stuck another day for the next International flight.

What about bags?

When landing in Europe from the US, you don’t have to take your bags with you through immigration.  Just yourself.    When landing in the US from Europe, you have to go through immigration, claim your bags, and go through customs with the bags.  You then have to re-check them if you aren’t at your final destination.

Most friendly airports:

I love IAD / Washington Dulles.  There is a direct flight from Geneva so it is my favorite.  It might help that I grew up in Virginia so it is close to home.

We really like GVA / Geneva too.  It is small so you don’t have to get there so early.  Its tiny size also makes it easy to pick guests up.  Plus, the city gives out a free 80 minute public transportation ticket to anyone flying into Geneva.

We just flew out of ATL / Atlanta International.  What a difference they have made – a shiny new terminal just for international flights.  The staff is friendly, lines short, and the food course is awesome.  Before this, I would have put ATL down below into the Worst Airports for International flights due to their old method of making you go back through security and take the train to baggage claim, even if it was your final destination.  This wasted on average 45 minutes to an hour for the international traveler.   Kudos for changing this, ATL.

Airports where we have been the most challenged:

HER / Crete – Heraklion – Check in is done by flight, not airline.   So each destination city has an individual desk.  You are not allowed to check-in until 2 hours before your flight, when the check in desk # is posted on the screen.   We arrived 3 hours early, so we had to sit in absolute hot & steamy Greek chaos to wait until we checked in and got into a mad rush of people all arriving at the same time – a line about 30 deep.    However, we ended up in the wrong line because we went for the line saying Geneva.  Who knew there could be another flight to Geneva 15 minutes later on a different airline?     We got to our plane just in time for our flight which is ridiculous for getting their so early.   Again, something solved by going to an airline desk vs. city desk.

GIG / Rio de Janeiro – again, you couldn’t check in until 2 hours before.  I don’t understand why these airports are so against people checking in early.    Our flight time was supposed to be 7:16am.   Upon arrival, the board said 7:53am.   Maybe its late??   The flight didn’t open for check in until 5:53am.  All which wasn’t clear at all, just a guessing game to just get in line.  Luckily it was the right line.   But after asking if we’d miss our connection with the flight time push back, the clerk said the flight time was 7:16am, not 7:53am, we’d be fine to make our connection.  But my boarding pass said 7:53am.  And they started boarding the domestic plane at 6:16am.  Bizarre.  And also weird that they only allowed for 23 minutes to get from the check in counter, through security and to the gate.

IST / Istanbul – you have to go through the full metal detectors and security check to even get to the check in desks.  So this security process is required twice for travelers flying.  One for people picking up people.   Awesome.  Love doing it twice.  Especially love the thrill of being late for an early a.m. flight not knowing this.

BKK / Bangkok – We had such a debacle with Bangkok Airlines when flying to Cambodia.  We showed up 2 hours early for a 7am flight but they said that they sold our seats because we were too late.  We got booted to the next one and missed our tour that day.  Note: never take Bangkok Air if you can help it!

LHR / London Heathrow – Every time we go through here, we have issues.  Either me with my visa or Gabe with his refusal to use a plastic bag or his iPad.  They are not fans of us.

FRA / Frankfort – It’s sheer size makes it hard to make connections.  An hour layover? Forget about it.  I got stuck in Europe after missing my plane with a full hour layover.  Not enough!  Also, wear your walking shoes if you are connecting in this monster!

JFK / New York– I had a 2.5 hour connection and barely made it….talking running.  They need to hire more immigration officers to help speed up the line.  I sat for over an hour in the immigration line.   The line for non US citizens was 10 times longer.  I don’t think those people had a prayer of making it out of the line that day.  Also, at JFK, you have to sometimes walk between terminals to get to connecting flights.  Make that RUN after you have spent over an hour in immigration….

Do you have any favorite or least favorite airports?

Our trip, by the numbers

We are finally home in Geneva.   Below is a recap of our most recent trip, by the numbers.

Our route: Pink is me. Blue is Gabe. Purple is when we were together.

20,000      # of miles flying, averaged (19270 for me, 20126 for Gabe)

1,250         # of miles driven from Charlotte to Appomattox to Charlottesville to Appomattox to Blacksburg to Ohio and around Ohio for the wedding

56              # of hours spent flying in a plane

28              # of days I was gone

21               # of days Gabe was gone

11               # of beds slept in (3 in Charlotte for me, Appomattox, Blacksburg, Mendon, Rio, Goiania, Perinópolous, hammock, Atlanta)

10               # of legs of flights, each

8               # tanks of gas filled with our rental cars

7                # of loads of laundry done – 2 Charlotte, 2 at my moms, 2 at Gabe’s moms, 1 at the Courtyard Marriott Atlanta

5                 # of pumpkin spice lattes consumed during the trip (only available in September)

4                 # of overnight flights (over 9 hours)

3                 # of continents

2                # of different rental cars

2                 # of wedding ceremonies for Gabe’s brother & our sister-in-law attended

1                # of college football games attended

But, attending cross continent weddings and seeing immense numbers of friends & family……Priceless.

Aside from it being priceless, I think I can vouch for both of us that we have a little bit of travel burnout.   We’ll be sharing our Brazilian travels in the coming week so look for those on the blog.  I’ll be taking a nap in the meantime, recuperating from our journey.

Gratitude Friday: Making a VT game

As it turned out,  we were able to sneak in a Virginia Tech game when we were in the States.   Gabe joined me in Virginia, so that we could drive up to Ohio together  to help with the wedding preparations and to see Gabe’s friends & family.

And, do you know what falls on the way driving between Virginia and Ohio?   Blacksburg!!   It was amazing timing that the same day we planned to drive  happened to be the Monday night home season opener.  What luck!  Or, maybe it was fate!

For those of you know don’t know about American football, we can be quite fanatical about it.   My university, Virginia Tech, located in Blacksburg, Virginia, is no exception.  I am less fanatical than most of my friends.    I only wish I could be as dedicated as them, but a three-year long distance relationship and International move has inhibited by game-attendance.

Here is a quick video to orient you to the craziness that is Virginia Tech football:

Beyond the “Enter Sandman” and the actual game watching, most of the fun around game attendance is doing something called “tailgating”.  I will explain it for those of you who aren’t from America.   Before the game, people park their SUVs (sport utility vehicles) in the parking lots surrounding the stadium.  They arrive much earlier than the start time, sometimes 12 hours in advance.  They set up food and drinks on the tailgate of the car.  More committed tailgates also have chairs and tables that they set up behind the car.   And they “pre-game” for many hours before the actual game is set to occur.

Things that are common to tailgates in the South:

-special cars / tailgating-mobiles

Image courtesy of Facebook

Image courtesy of drunkentailgate.com

-camping chairs

-grills or burners or crock pots for cooking food

Awesome grill, image courtesy of tailgatingideas.com

Image courtesy of flickr

-delicious foods such as : fried chicken, deviled eggs, pasta salad, ham biscuits, chips, and homemade desserts.  Sometimes there are hot dogs and hamburgers.  In the winter, there can be soups and chilis to keep you warm.

Image courtesy of vtnews.vt.edu

-bourbon & beer

-games such as flip cup, beer pong, or cornhole

Image courtesy of beershots.com

As I mentioned, the fans are super dedicated.    I’d like to provide you with some examples:

  • Two of our couple friends, both of which have given birth to their first child in the last 9 months, rent out an apartment for the season.  This enables them to have an entire weekend dedicated to Hokie football.   They bring sofas, TVs, and blow up beds and pay rent.   They’ve been doing it for years.   And now the babies are here, they haven’t stopped.  That’s serious commitment.

Have baby. Will tailgate.

  • These same friends may or may not have a generator, special TV and slingbox/cable for their car to tailgate, so you can watch the ESPN commentary live.

Watching ESPN from our tailgate

  • One of these couples is so important to VT that the Hokie Bird came to their wedding:

Hanging w/ Hokie Bird @ R’s wedding

  • I grew up with a Hokie Fan who has only missed 3 Virginia Tech home games in the last 25 years.

The Hokie-tastic family where the dad, my friend, has missed 3 games in 25 years!

  • I was in a wedding of one of my best friends that was completely VT themed.

C’s wedding, 2007

  • A bunch of us gals are so serious about VT football that we actually went to Women’s training camp in Blacksburg to prepare for the upcoming Football season.

Girls with all the VT coaches after our two day training camp

This is Gabe’s third VT game.  He is very good at cheering for VT, as long as they aren’t playing against Ohio State or Miami of Ohio (his alma mater).   He also doesn’t like eating the turkey legs they serve there as he considers in cannibalistic.  Which it is, sort of, since our mascot is a turkey.

Our mascot, Hokie Bird, is a turkey

Image courtesy of Talesfromtheroad – southernliving.com

You should see the opposing team’s jeers and posters on Thanksgiving game weekend!

Anyhow, this game, we bought Gabe his first VT shirt.   I think marriage has finally convinced him that he probably needs one since I’ll be trying to get him to go to more VT games in his lifetime than he’d previously planned on.

Playing cornhole in the new Hokie digs

The game was great – we got to tailgate and sit with great friends.   VT finally pulled out a victory in overtime, the first in Lane Stadium.    Go Hokies!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Home Sweet Home: Hotlanta

While in The States, we were able to visit Atlanta for Gabe to work three days in his headquarter office.  While Gabe worked, I got to visit many friends and family members during the day.  We were even able to squeeze in a few at night together after he finished up at the office.

Some of our visits in Atlanta.

Even though Gabe had lived there 2 years prior to our move & marriage, and I was familiar with the city through work and visiting with him, we both were overwhelmed with Atlanta traffic this trip.   It was a combination of volume and size of the highways, most being six lanes on each side.   We aren’t used to this so we did experience a little culture shock there as we flew into ATL at rush hour.

Image courtesy of clatl.com

People also drive aggressively.  Sure, it may be attributed to the fact that I don’t drive in Switzerland so driving altogether is new to me when I visit The States.   However, the anger and impatient way in which people drive was something that took getting used to.

Also, why do people in Atlanta cut across parking lots versus driving in the lanes?   I had a lot of sightings of this behavior as we were staying in Perimeter, near Gabe’s office.  It is a shopping mecca with every store imaginable.  I took full advantage, stocking up on our much-needed supplies at Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target, Hobby Lobby, Marshalls & TJMaxx.  And of course, many stops at Yoforia and Starbucks.

But while driving to these suburban shopping centers, I was almost T-boned more than once.  Is this noticeable to anyone or is it that I have been living in the land of rules and now I am more perceptive of “rule-breakers”?

Other than our traffic woes, it was a great stop because we got to see a few friends and family members.  However, as you’ll learn Saturday’s post, our Atlanta stop was Day 26- 28 of travel for me, so I was starting to lose steam.  Sorry, Atlanta….next time I’ll be more peppy!

Au Revoir, ATL!

Home Sweet Home: O. H. I. O.

Gabe is from Ohio, which is where his brother’s wedding was held (our reason for coming home to the US).    He is from the western side, but on the way in from Virginia, we stopped in Columbus to see some of his good college friends.  It was really nice to catch up with this sweet family, see their new house, and enjoy some local cuisine.

After Columbus, we continued driving to Mendon, his hometown.

We were very much busy with the wedding set-up, but had time to visit his grandma along with Gabe’s grandfather.  They are both doing good and we had nice visits, making us wish we were closer.

Gabe & Grandma

We also had the opportunity to witness some beautiful Ohio sunsets on Gabe’s family farm.

Sunset on the Johnson family farm

The night before the wedding, we threw a Ohio State themed rehearsal dinner.  Since D’s family was from Brazil, we wanted to provide a taste of what a family get-together was like in Ohio.  With B being an Ohio State fan, we figured an American football themed soiree would provide a glimpse into typical family & fall parties.

Testing the pork being served for the rehearsal dinner

Everyone dressed in Ohio State’s colors of red/white/grey.  It provided with some fun for the actual rehearsal.

Bridesmaids & bride, decked out in Ohio State colors. None of us went to Ohio State :)

Gabe’s parents in their Ohio State red attire

Processional practice in Ohio State digs. I was impressed that everyone from Brazil got into the theme so well!

If I had an award for “Best Dressed” I would give it to this family for their perfect combination of color!

After the rehearsal, we all drove to Gabe’s family farm where we were hosting the rehearsal dinner.  All the foods were typical of Ohio and we jazzed up the house with themed decorations.

Ohio State paper decorations and confetti

Delicious homemade pies made by the aunts

We downloaded this graphic from the internet and printed on label paper for fun wine bottle decorations

Ohio State accents

The crowd flowing through the buffet in the kitchen

The band, dressed in their Ohio State finest.  Notice their Ohio State koozies, a favor from the party.

The Brazilian crowd enjoying the Ohio feast.

It was so good to have some time in O-H-I-O!!!

Home Sweet Home: Virginia

Both Gabe and I got to make it to Appomattox, my hometown, to see friends and family before heading up to B & D’s wedding.  Appomattox is located in Central Virginia.  It is most famous for the fact that the American Civil War ended there in 1865, with Lee’s Surrender.

Image courtesy of robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com

The town is quite small but Gabe is accustomed to small rural towns; actually, where he grew up in Mendon, Ohio is of similar size.   When we first started dating, there was actually an argument / competition who was from the smaller town.  I would argue that my town didn’t have 911 yet (required all roads to have street names vs. road numbers, which hadn’t happened yet) and he would argue that he had zero stoplights in his town.   Appomattox now has about 4-5 stoplights in the County, and the town has since gotten 911.  Mendon still has zero stoplights.  So, I guess he wins.

Image courtesy of epodunk.com

Anyhow, we had a really nice time visiting the family in Appomattox and enjoying Virginia-type stuff.  It was too short, though, and we look forward to more time our next visit.

Below are a few photos of our stay:

Nana (my mom) and I went to visit my niece and nephew for a school lunch in Lynchburg.  I only took photos with my niece as my nephew is 10 and this might not be cool to have your aunt documenting her visiting you at school.

Waiting for Gabe’s flight, Mom and I had lunch with friends and then visited Veritas winery in Charlottesville. A great way to kill time :)

Nephew B came to visit and we had a typical day at Nana & Papa’s: hunting for golf balls in the backyard.  Papa may have tossed 10 out before we went outside, but we did find two legit ones.

B having fun visiting Burke’s tavern and the sheep

My friend C and her husband brought adorable A over to play. She was ready for the first Hokie game in her VT attire!

Visiting the family in Lynchburg  to watch some great backyard action with nephew C and Zoey.

Home Sweet Home: Charlotte

While we were in the States for the wedding, I was able to visit Charlotte, the city in which I lived after college (up until Switzerland) as my first stop.  Sadly, Gabe’s vacation is a bit limited, so he couldn’t join for this part.

I landed in the Queen City after a succession of three flights and nineteen hours of travel.  My bags miraculously made it, which surprised me greatly because my connections in Paris and JFK involved lots of running.   So, thanks, Delta.

Driving around the first few days in the States is a typically a combination of good / sad at the same time.   First off, I love driving.  I really miss it when in Geneva, since I don’t how to drive our manual car.  Especially on hills.  I crank the radio really loud and enjoy singing loudly to the English Top-40 songs that play…it’s good to actually know the words and have a change from the same 5 English songs they play on repeat in Geneva.

Other highlights are visiting my friends and hitting the favorite spots.  And doing hot yoga as much as I can to try to burn out of it before I go back to Switzerland.

However, as I am driving around, passing parts of Charlotte make me tear up.    Passing R’s old apartment, my eyes welled remembering all the good times we had as single girls in the city and all our post-work neighborhood walks.    Driving to work to meet coworkers is another source of nostalgia since I worked for the same company for ten years.   “Camping” in my old house, which is now completely empty is another emotional spot .

A stormy night in the Queen City

Since Charlotte was my first city on the trip back to the US, I wanted to share my odd list of things I noticed with “foreigner eyes” back in my old home:

-       Charlotte = Blond + colorful.  The first 4 hours of my first day in Charlotte included a hot yoga class and a sermon at my old church.  Everyone dressed brightly in both places.   And there were astonishing amounts of blond people.   In Geneva, most everyone dresses in black and dark grey.  Occasionally, if they are feeling wild, it can go navy.  And skin and hair colors are of full range, since 50% of the city is made up of foreigners including pretty much every nationality.   I never really noticed this prior….but it was a really overwhelming observation on my first day back.

-       Customer service.  Readers of this blog know that I have my challenges with customer service in Switzerland.  You never ever sub / delete anything from a dish on a menu, or else they would just suggest you order something else.     When I dined with friends  in Charlotte, a few times, they made substitutions or changes.  One friend someone sent something back.  I shrunk back in my chair, awaiting a backlash….but, the waiters could not have been more accommodating.    After our time in Europe, it has become odd to me how much American servers check on their tables or come around for refills.  Since this is not something I am used to anymore, I have this odd paranoia surrounding overly nice servers like they are going to do something crazy any moment.  Weird, I know…..it’s just that I have been reverse-conditioned for Southern hospitality.

-       Related, but customization.  I frequented a few frozen yogurt stores in Charlotte.  I am a huge fan of fro-yo, but even since we left a year and a half ago, there is a crazy proliferation of the little joints….I counted 7 more storefronts than I’d seen.    And all of them allow you to make your own….so you fill the yogurt, and add your toppings, and weigh it, then pay.       Similar to this, in enjoying meals with friends at Bad Daddy’s and going to new Dilworth addition, Crisp, I was able to re-experience the  “build your own burger” and “make your own salad” concepts.  This was familiar before our move, but after living in Geneva for a year and a half, it was unfathomable to me….customers can have it however they want.  This is definitely not part of our Swiss vocabulary.

-       Speed of life.  Everyone is in a rush in the US, running around, jamming things in.  This type of hurried lifestyle is one of my least favorite characteristics about myself that I know I need to improve and I am trying to work on.  It is easier to work on Switzerland where fewer people behave in this manner, so it becomes more normal to take things slow.   However, I noticed myself picking up the pace in the US during my short time and becoming more “efficient” to keep up.   It reminds me that I’ll have to figure out how to bring back the Swiss calmness and lessons learned on relaxing when we move back home permanently.

-       Doing errands is easy in the US.   I know where things are and what type of stores have them.  I don’t have to research where, the address, and bus schedules.  I just hop in the car and go.   The best is that I can keep purchases and future supplies in the car versus schlepping them around all day.  And, I can go in my gym clothes which is a huge no-no in Geneva.

-       Cost.  When a few of my lunches added up to $7  - $10 USD, I gleefully forked over the cash.  These lunch meals would have been 25 -40 CHF in Geneva.  This is why I have only eaten lunch out in Geneva five times in 15 months.  It felt nice to eat out and not feel like I was going to bankrupt us doing so.

-  I still am afraid someone is going to steal my purse.  I never used to be afraid of this in the States, but living in Europe, its a constant worry….after all, most of my friends have caught a hand in their zipped purses at some point or another and a few others have had purses or wallets stolen.   I caught myself looping my leg through the straps while in church and realized I can likely adjust my behavior while home and relax just a little bit.

Thanks for a great visit, everyone!

A cross section of some of the fun visits I had in Charlotte