A Perfect Swiss Day

Hooray!   Isabella and Ferdinand have been here!    They had a wedding to attend in England and we were lucky that they came to Geneva to visit us beforehand.

Ferdinand had to work at the beginning, organizing a golf event.  Once work was done, on the weekend, the four of us set off on a Swiss adventure.

Our first stop was the Lavaux wine region.  Isabella can’t drink currently (she is expecting), but we wanted to show them this UNESCO gem nonetheless.  So, we took the Chexbres exit off of the A1 and descended down the village towns into Rivaz.   They were breathtaken with the gorgeous terraced vineyards as we are every time we visit.

Next stop…..Gruyères.

Ramparts of Gruyères

Walking around the château

Lovely little village

We skipped the cheese tour (we knew we were having raclette for dinner), but all did order Gruyère-cheese based dishes for lunch.

After Gruyères, we drove to Broc, home of Cailler chocolate factory.

Smelling the cocoa beans.

Branche candy bar machine

Ta da! The tasting room!

I just go straight to the good stuff at the end now. I am trained.

Discussing the merits of milk & white chocolate

Weeeeee!

 

 

After playing on the playground a bit, we headed back to Geneva.  We had a big night in store.

The Schwingen & Switzerland crew was hosting a raclette party before the big Fête de Genève fireworks.   Ferdinand and Isabella had raclette their last time in Switzerland, in Zurich, but they were impressed by S’s monstrous spread.

The spread at the S’s

Raclette in action

 

For dessert, S had “Creme de Gruyère” and “Creme Brulée” Movenpick ice cream.  She surprised her dad and me with a candle in each carton for a birthday surprise.  It was the loveliest ‘cake’ I have ever had.  If you have an opportunity, I urge you to try Movenpick ice cream.  Full of Swiss whole cream, its the real deal.

We left their house and were immersed in the madness that is Fête de Genève.  We say it is the absolute busiest, craziest time of year in Geneva.

We luckily found a spot for 12 of us, near the rides, and watched the magnificent hour long fireworks:

The beginning of the fireworks

 

Love this type!

Jet d’eau, in harmony with the show

What a perfect Swiss day!

 

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Cheese Wars

The Swiss Watch Blog:   It’s Raining – I guess we have to go to the chocolate factory

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Famous Swiss Foods – Chocolate

The Swiss Watch Blog: The land of chocolate and cheese

The Swiss Watch Blog: Thanks for a Joyeux Anniversaire, everyone

The Swiss Watch Blog:   The fête commences

 

 

 

Gratitude Friday : Heath Insurance

I often complain about the amount of time I spend processing my health insurance claims.  You see, we have to pay in advance and then go to get reimbursed.

Each visit this includes:

1. paying doctor, either up front or by a bank machine

2. scanning all of my documentation in.  So if the doctors invoice is 3 pages, one by one

3. exporting and reserving each page of my documentation as black & white pdf file (the others are too large so insurance doesn’t accept it).  Make note to save this in the proper file on the computer.

4. Login to insurance website.  Navigate.  Upload 1st document. Wait 5 minutes. Upload 2nd page. Wait 5 minutes. Repeat.

I also have to verify that they paid both on the insurance website and our bank account.   I won’t get into the details of using a Swiss bank account online, but it involves like 5 extra layers of security and a handheld machine that looks like a calculator to log into the internet.   One I get in, a lot of the time I realize they didn’t pay us properly.  I know this is a big surprise to you with an insurance company 🙂   Then resolution starts working around time zones, etc. Or getting proper documentation from the doctor while attempting to speak French.

With all my physical therapy and surgeon bills having to be done individually, let’s just say I have become very intimate with this process.  Gabe tells me its like a full time job for me to do my insurance follow up.

However, today, as I was spending time doing this, I stopped and thought “How lucky am I do get to do all this?”   I am very fortunate for good health insurance, and  it’s certainly not the case for all people.   So, today’s gratitude post is for our insurance….I am quite thankful.

Bon weekend, everyone!

A day at the beach…including killer ducks

Hermance is located north of Geneva.  It is 30 minutes on Bus E.    I mentioned in a previous post, it is a nice little village, beautiful and charming.  Also, for guests, it can be a quick way to cross the border into France, as we did this spring.

Charming Hermance

It also has a really nice stone beach.   I visited this summer with my friend San Francisco Gal.  We made a picnic and enjoyed the sunshine.

A few things to know about the beach in Hermance:

-entry is 4 CHF for adults and 1 CHF for kids

-they have a snack shop, so you can purchase food & drinks (alternatively, we brought our own)

-its really windy since it is on a point…be prepared for temperatures cooler than Geneva

-its a rock beach as is common on Lake Geneva.   Maybe bring water shoes if you plan to do a lot of walking/swimming.

Hermance beach

-there are a lot of scuba divers.  They have special scuba showers and it is common to witness scuba activity such as this:

 

Scuba guys

-They have some ‘killer’ ducks.   It started as innocent as them pecking at my big toe, but then they quickly took over our picnic.   Have you ever seen anything like this?

 

 

 

Spinalonga Island

Right across from our hotel was an interesting looking island.

Dining at our hotel our first night with “The Island” in the background

It’s original name was Greek and derived from language meaning to protect the ancient port of Olous (present day Elounda).  However, the island had quite a history after this origin.

Sun sets on the tiny island

First, it was occupied by the Venetians (of Venice).  They renamed it Spinalonga for “long thorn”.   It is said that until the Venetian rule, this island was actually part of Crete, but they carved it to be a free-standing island.   They used it in farming and selling salt.  However, they soon had to build fortifications as of the threat of pirate invasions as well as take-over by the nearby Turks, based on their profits in salt-mining.   The Fall of Constantinople (Istanbul today) hurried their development.

View from the top of Spinalonga at the middle fortifications

Lower fortifications

They built dual fortifications – both on the basin, and up above.  Having these enabled the island to become one of the most powerful defenses of this side of Crete.

The island of Spinalonga with its Venetian walls

They could view the entire Mirabello bay, ensuring Elounda’s protection

Even during the Cretean war, when the Turks tookover the whole of Crete, the island remained a Venetian stronghold.   Our driver from the airport commented, “imagine some people lived their whole lives out there in isolation, during that period”.

Walking the streets in Spinalonga

Spinalonga fell to the Turks in 1715. Ironically, because it was so hard to take over, it was the Turks last footing when the Christian Cretans overtook them.

Old buildings on Spinalonga

In 1903, Spinalonga became a leper colony for Crete. When Crete joined Greece, it grew into a leper colony for the entire Greek population.  They worked, married and had children, while isolated on this little island.  In 1957 it was dispanded and has been abandoned ever since.

I can’t imagine the isolation felt out here by the lepers

The author Victoria Hislop wrote a story about Spinalonga, entitled “The Island”.   I plan to read it to get a greater context for the history.

A few tips if you plan to visit:

-It was only a 5 minute boat ride from our hotel, The Blue Palace, via private boat where you can indicate when you wanted to come back.  You can also get tours from Plaka, Elounda or Ag Nik with the closer being the least expensive.
-We went the latest possible time in the day to avoid the heat and the crowds, as Spinalonga is the #2 tourist visited spot in Crete.
-Bring water and lots of it.   We had severe dehydration from climbing and not a place to purchase water on the island.
-You can swim if you want.  So bring your suit.
-Also, Spinalonga is incredibly windy.   Dress accordingly.   We thought Le Mistral was bad, but look at the effects on this tree:

a little wind-blown

I was a little wind-blown as well.   Headband and ponytail.  A must to visit Spinalonga.

A few other note-worthy islands we adore:

Burano:  Bella Burano, Mediocre Murano

Capri:  Oh, Amalfi.

Phuket & James Bond Island:  Christmas in Phuket

Exploring Crete – Krista, Lato, and more

It is hard to believe that snow still exists on Crete until mid-July (it just melted 20 days before our arrival), but that is the elevation on part of the island!  While visting Crete, we wanted to visit some of its mountainous region.

Mountain village of Kritsa

Kritsa was not too far from where we were staying in Eastern Crete.  During Medieval times, it was the largest town in Crete, however, now is a small village with 2200 residents.  It still looks like time hasn’t passed when you walk on its streets:

Gabe was a bit too tall for this door

Wait….which address is this?

Streets of Kritsa

Hot day in Kritsa

 

 

 

Nearby Kritsa is the archeological site of Lato.  It was the most powerful town during Dorian towns with two acropolis.  It was destroyed in 2nd Century BC.

It always amazes us how freely Greece (and Europe for that matter!) allows visitors.   There was no entry, no guards, to visit this incredible site.  We could freely walk all over the pre-Christ dated ruins.

Archeological site of Lato

View of the ocean from Lato

 

After Lato, we meandered through the mountainous roads back to the highway and to old town Hersonissos.  An old colleague of mine’s family originated from this area and many of them still live there today.  We tried to visit their restaurant in the charming old town square, but didn’t know it was closed for lunch.

Me in front of Georgio’s

Old and new, we had a nice day exploring Crete.

Gratitude Friday: Fresh Food Sources

I think that it is very important to have a very true glimpse into where our food comes from.  Especially in the US, so much of our food is packaged and doesn’t resemble it’s source.

Seeing it as an animal helps you remember that it in fact, came from an animal.  I think it helps promote our gratitude for the food, that a living being is contributing to our well being.  Also, I think it helps in respecting to eat in small quantity and not wasting.

We had a very real experience of this in Tuscany when we visited the pig farm.  Prusciutto is shaved off the leg of the pig in the butcher.  You can easily recognize the body part.

Yup. That’s a leg.

When we were recently in Venice, two of our seafood meals were presented to us whole before cooking, after whole and de-boned at our table.

A delicious fresh flounder for four.

In Crete, we also had this experience in the fishing village of Plaka, which was nearby our hotel.   Our first night, we ordered a sampling of the local seafood.  When it comes out staring you in the face, you really get a connection.

Our dinner. A few whole fish.  A few whole shrimp – heads and tails.  I especially liked the “flying fish” they had.

This guy wanted a part of the whole fish action as well.

Our second night, we returned to Plaka, but a different restaurant.   We had the same experience of fresh catch of the day, yet with the pleasantry of them de-boning it for us and removing the head and fins.  I am sort of a wimp and while I appreciate seeing it whole before and afterwards in the presentation, I don’t like the eyes looking at me while I eat.

Our grouper the first night, split open, and drizzled with Createan olive oil. Perfection!

This grouper was the BEST fish I have ever had in my life, caught that day, in that very bay.

The fishing village of Plaka, the home of our grouper

We loved it so much we returned to the same restaurant the next night.   This is a first for Gabe & I.

Second night in Plaka

So, this gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thanks for fresh food and the appreciation of its source.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Where to find the best fish of our lives:

Ostria fish tavern

plaka elounda

720 53 crete

The world’s best olive oil

Living in Europe, we have seen several climates that bear olives – the South of Spain, Provence (South of France), Tuscany & Umbria (in Italy), and Greece.

Image courtesy of olimarket.com

It takes an arid region to cultivate this delicious specialty.   It is best grown in the Mediterranean basin where the temperature and soil yields the best fruit.

We have had the opportunity to taste olive oil from each region:

In the South of Spain, we enjoyed tapas, most of them drenched in oil.  It was delicious to have their oil integrated into their cuisine.

Spanish tapas. Mmmmm.

And, I actually had no clue that France produced olive oil until we did our summer trip to Provence and drove through many groves in les Alpilles.  Valdition, the estate where we found the lavender, had a hefty production of French olive oil.  We purchased some from our innkeeper.

French olive groves…ooo la la.

French olive branch

In Italy, we have had amazing olive oil on our trips.  As it is very delicious and fresh, it is best appreciated on bread.    Did you know that Italians actually import more than they export!

Olive trees dotting the Tuscan landscape

However, when it comes to olive oil, the Greeks dominate in consumption.  The average Greek consumes 26 L per year.   This is double Spain or Italy’s consumption at 14 L.  And the US, North America, and Northern Europe pale in comparison at 0.7 L.

The green in the hills…..those are olive trees. Crete, Greece.

One of our guide books indicated that Crete produces 20% of the worlds supply of olive oil.  I haven’t found facts to back that up, but this stat is staggering for such a small island.   I would believe it as the Cretean diet, heavy in foods farmed off their land – olive oil and fresh produce, was found to be the reason that Creteans have the lowest mortality indices, irrespective of what disease.

Olive trees lining the Cretean highways and mountains

Also, perhaps some of their consumed quantity could be attributed to non-traditional uses.   When in Crete, I had a massage at the hotel in which the masseuse used pure extra virgin olive oil.   I tasted my arm before leaving – it was the real deal.   Also, a friend reported that her daughter-in-law’s family, which hails from Greece, immersed her newborn grandchild in olive oil for luck upon meeting them for the first time.

A lone olive tree, Spinalonga island

Regardless of the use, we would argue the best tasting olive oil comes from Greece.   From our first taste in Athens at Pritangon to our most recent tastes in Crete at Osteria Fish Taven, it is still confirmed our favorite.   Surprisingly, I even heard an Italian in Sorrento admit that the Greek oil was the best.

So, why is olive oil Greece’s best kept secret?    I guarantee you if the world knew how amazing this stuff is, then Greece’s economy wouldn’t be struggling so much!