Post by Lauren

Italy was high on the list for the family to see while they were here.   We considered going to Venice but our schedule was already packed as it was.  With Venice being 7 hours on the train, we opted for going to Milan instead as it is only 4 hours from Geneva.  We thought 14 hours would be overkill, especially since we’d done about 20 hours on the train thus far into the trip.

Direct trains leave Geneva twice a day for Milan – 7:42am and 1:42pm.  We picked the early train so that we could maximize our time.

We arrived in Milan just around lunch time and started to figure out how to take the metro and get euros out for the group.  We spent about 2 hours in the Milan train station trying to navigate.  Hello Italy and chaos!  As it turned out, we couldn’t take the metro with the wheelchairs – only steep stairs provided access – so we hopped in two cabs to take us to the city centre.

It took us a little while to find our hotel, but when we did find it we were rewarded greatly.  Gabe had done the research and found apartments nearby the Duomo.  Little did we realize that the view would be this good:

Glamour Apartments in Milan. Mama Mia, Sweet Wine and The French Cougar loved the marble bathrooms.

After marveling over the stately bathrooms and a quick lesson on bidets (see S in S for more), we dropped our bags and headed out for lunch.  We found a nice café directly in front of the Duomo and settled in for some wine and pizza.

Pizza lunch in Milan

Italy's best....gelato!!

The Gladiator's favorite part about Italy

Hanging out in Piazza del Duomo

After lunch, we grabbed some gelato, and Gabe took Sweet Wine, The Gladiator and French Cougar to the tour office to see if we could arrange something for the next day.  We had another small snippet of Italian chaos when some guy passing by stole The Gladiators sunglasses that he had left on the grass.   Mama Mia and I really couldn’t chase him down in our wheelchairs, so Dunkel saved the day by chasing after the guy who gave them back.

After a little bit of free time exploring, we met up for walking to a close-by restaurant, Al Mercante, recommended by a few folks.  It was family owned, cozy and welcoming.  We ordered in the typical Italian way, with a primi and a secondi.  In Italy, this is customary – to start with a pasta and then move onto a meat or fish dish.  Real Italians also add on an antipasti prior, but our tummies weren’t conditioned to this treatment yet so we just left it with the two courses.   However, some of us did participate in dolci, dessert.  Special thanks to Sweet Wine for treating Gabe and I to this marvelous meal.

The next day, after breakfast, we took a guided tour.  The guide, Esther, was quite good.  We’d recommend her for anyone traveling to Milan.  We navigated through the thousands of soccer fans in Milan for the Milano vs. Barcelona match happening later that night.

Dunkel, embracing the soccer spirit

Our first stop was the Duomo.  We learned that it took 500 years to complete, constructed between 1300 and 1800 AD.  The Duomo of Milan  is the world’s 3rd largest church (behind the Vatican and Sevilla).

Waiting to enter the Duomo of Milan after learning that "an Italian 5 minutes" really means 15. Not very Swiss.

The Duomo of Milan was styled after Notre Dame of Paris, built 200 years later.  It can contain 5 times the people however, at 40,000.  It is a Gothic style and has 3000 statues.

Duomo of Milan

There are 91 masses a week.  However, no weddings or funerals with the exception of very important events.  Versace’s funeral took place here in the Duomo of Milan.

One of the Duomo’s most notorious events took place in 1805, Napoleon ordered the Pope to come to Milan and crown him.  No one had ever ordered the Pope to travel before.

The marble used inside and out came from Lake Maggiore, outside of Milan.  Back then, it was quite important that it was a local source because of the difficulties of transportation.  As I mentioned, the marble used outside is the same as inside.  However, inside, the marble is dark.  Because of the current economic crisis in Italy, they cannot afford the expense of cleaning it inside.

The inside of the Duomo, 2012

After learning about the marble, we studied the stained glass.   Esther taught us that before the Catholics who attended the Duomo could read & write, that stained class told stories of the bible.  This particular scene details the life of Jesus Christ.

Some arts don’t improve with technology.  Esther said that today, designers are still not able to recreate the blue color that the talented craftsman achieved in the 15th Century.

Stained glass in Duomo of Milan, circa 1450 AD, telling the story of Jesus Christ's life.

After the Duomo, we continued on through the Galleria, the “living room of Milan”.  Gabe and I had discovered it the day before so enjoyed the second look.  We saw the original Prada, which will celebrate 100 years next year.  Speaking of the devil, our guide had the pleasure of touring Meryl Streep herself when she visited Milan. She said she was a very nice person.

Galleria, Milan

The original Prada store, Galleria, Milan

Next was La Scala, the famous opera house in Milan.  It was finished in 1778.  Esther listed three reasons it was so famous:

-the superior technical / sound accoustics

-the history, particularly Giuseppe Verdi, the talented composer who put the crack-down on the social antics of the Milan well-to-do when attending the opera

-the fact that success in the Scala gives you an international passport for your music career

The final stop was The Last Supper.   This was my favorite stop.  Until recently, I didn’t know that The Last Supper was painted on an actual wall.  It was done in the dining room of the monks in the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in a style like a fresco.  During WWII, the church was bombed and the adjacent wall crumbled and so The Last Supper barely escaped.  It is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

They are very protective of the painting, with due cause, so we had to go through three independent air-conditioning chambers before we were let in the dining room.

Last Supper courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

It was simply amazing to witness Da Vinci’s perspective compared to the other art that day. If you stand back in the dining hall of the monks, the scene seems to go on endlessly.  Noticing the other painting opposite the room, which was painted during the same time, the perspective and depth simply wasn’t there.  It was a new concept which made Da Vinci stand out as an artist.

Also of note is Da Vinci’s use of emotion in The Last Supper.  Previous artists had used the same faces for all of the apostles.  In order to differentiate Judas, they put him farthest away from Jesus.

However, in his rendition, Da Vinci focused on the emotion of the men at the moment when Jesus announced that one of those at the table was going to betray him. Disciples are grouped in threes for further examination, each with different reactions.  Judas is now depicted in the middle of all of them, fairly close to Jesus; however, he is in the dark, not the light.

What a treat, especially a week before Maudy Thursday to experience this painting.

Ciao Milan!

Gratitude Friday: Four Hours

Post by Lauren

When we lived in North Carolina and Georgia, we could get to some pretty amazing places in four hours.  In that time, we could visit family in Virginia, check out North Georgia apple orchards, visit some vineyards and catch some NC mountain action.

However, here in Geneva, in four hours driving time, we can find ourselves what seems to be a world away.   We realized this even more when Gabe’s family was here and we did a lot of day trips.  Here are a few examples:

A 3.5 hour train ride or drive can put you in Zermatt, home of the Matterhorn. Just cross your fingers for visibility!

A 4-ish hour drive can put you in the 2nd smallest principality in the world: jet setting luxurious Monaco.

A 3.5 hour drive puts you near Nîmes where you can find evidence of the Roman times - the Pont du Gard aqueduct built in 19 BC and a UNESCO world heritage site.

A 4 hour train ride can put you in the heart of Andermatt where you'll feel like you are in a snow globe....even in April!

A 4ish hour ride can take you to the South of France to gaze on the magnificent cliffs overlooking Cassis.

A 3.5 hour drive can put you in the heart of Arles, France where you can find yourself in the middle of a Van Gogh scene.

A 4-ish hour drive can take you to Nice where you can walk along the beautiful Promenade d'Anglais and watch the sunset.

A four hour train can take you to Milan where you can eat your fill of pasta, gelato and experience the liveliness of Italy alongside of appreciating The Duomo & The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci.

A four hour ride can have you in Cannes where the famous film festival takes place each May.

Look for posts in the coming days on each of these places we visited with Gabe’s family.

Until then, I am grateful for our location to be “four hours” from all these magnificent sites and the recovery of my feet so that I could keep up. Thank goodness for the wheelchair!

Gratitude Friday: Art

Post by Lauren

This Friday, I am grateful that the winter market I am participating in is tomorrow – – that means, I’m almost done! I have been working hard on getting original paintings, handmade jewelry and greeting cards ready for my little “Designs by Lauren” booth.

Getting ready for the exhibit this Fall has been a great way to practice creativity. Regardless if I sell anything or not, I am glad for the experience and time that I have had to explore my favorite hobby. It’s always been a dream of mine to have more time for being creative in whatever form it takes and now I have it.

So thus, I am also very thankful for our ex-pat situation and my awesome husband’s support. He’s the reason why I get to have this chance so again I have found another reason to be grateful for him :). It’s not hard.

I wanted to share some of the paintings as its a good recap of some of the great places we’ve had the opportunity to travel

*Note: sorry that when we converted to wordpress, the links are not working.

Friday Hikes in the Swiss countryside

Post by Lauren

I had taken a sabbatical from Friday hikes for awhile because of my feet, but started back up for the past two weeks. I absolutely love the views walking in the countryside, so was grateful for time outdoors. Here are a few snapshots :

AVUSY, a 50 minute bus ride from center city Geneva:


GLAND to ROLLE, a 15-20 minute train from Geneva’s main station:

The great news is that between this and Burgundy last weekend, I have a lot more painting inspiration. I hope people like vineyards 🙂

Gratitute Friday: Painting en plein air

Post by Lauren

It’s been a great week…..I got to paint 3 times outdoors in the last 8 or so days. I am very thankful for the burst of beautiful weather before we head into winter here in Switzerland.

The first time, I painted on the right bank, and had a glorious view of Mt. Blanc. You have to look really hard at the above photo, but you can see the snowy white mountain range almost disguised by the clouds. Here was the result:

The second time, I did the left bank in the financial district. This little guy kept hanging out after I shared a part of my baguette.

The third time A met me. It was the best time for three reasons. One, I had company. Two, she brought wine. Three, some Americans tried to buy her painting on the spot. An interesting time!

Bon weekend, everyone!

My first Swiss Painting

Post by Lauren

So, you may have noticed on our post about our new home that our water closets have an “interesting” tile color.

I took some inspiration from the Friday hikes I do with the American International Women’s Club to try to improve the situation. Two weeks ago, we hiked through some wheat fields from Jussy to Vesenaz and some of the natural yellows in the wheat fields and paths were similar to our the bathroom. So, I figured it might help our visitors not concentrate on the tile-work. Let me know what you think on the “match”.

Also, I thought you might want to check out a few photos from the hike that provided this inspiration and also see the faces of some of the wonderful women who have helped me feel more at home here in Geneva.

Gratitude Friday: Curiosity and Learning

This week’s gratitude post goes out to curiosity & learning.

This is top of mind because we traveled to the U.K. this week. So, after 3 jam-packed days of absorbing everything we could culturally, visually, and culinary about London, I did what I always do when we go on a trip that involves a historical destination….search for all possible books, movies, wikipedia articles, etc. to learn even more about where we just were.

When Gabe and I went to Greece last May, even before arrival back to the US, I was watching Alexander in our hotel room, shortly followed by 300 and Troy. Much to my happiness, my bible study group was also starting a study on the book of Esther the week I returned and so that whole 2 month study included more snippets and context about Xerses & the Persian Empire around the Grecian times. I think I may have driven the ladies crazy trying to encourage them to watch 300 & Alexander to get a better picture in their minds of that day & age!

Exploring Greece, 2009

So, in London this week, we learned a ton about the monarchs, particularly Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria and Lady Jane Grey. So they are on my list to absorb all literature, information I can about female monarchs and the wives of Henry III. Last night, I watched Elizabeth for the second time – it put our Tower of London visit and the story about her time in captivity there into vivid picture vs. my first viewing. I also need to re-watch The Other Boleyn Girl…its been a few years.
Also, another fascinating area for me was the devastation to London during The Blitz and the stories from those who lived through it. This was started in the US, when my book club read The Postmistress and The Gurnsey LIterary And Potato Peel Pie Society last year. We had also read Sarah’s Key that shed some light on that horrific time. Reading historical fiction helps me have more empathy and understanding for what the people who lived through that time went through. Both Gabe and I really wanted to go see the Churchill Museum (recommended by our friend Nick) but we didn’t have time this trip.

I also added Oliver Twist and The Canterbury Tales to my must read list too based on seeing some of the streets in our touring. I particularly felt more compelled to read some of Dickens work since Gabe and I enjoyed a few beers in the pub basement which he frequented. Just kidding…but still, its time to re-read some of these classics, especially since many times the classics are free on Kindle.

Seeing a show at the Globe was a highlight for me. I must re-watch Shakespeare in Love as it provides a fun look at this Elizabethan era, while not historically completely accurate.

Also, for more regarding the last century, Notting Hill, Alfie, Love Actually and Bridget Jones Diaries. Mainly, just so I can continue to hear more British accents (love them!) and potentially see familiar scenery from London.

Anyhow, back to gratitude:

-I am just very fortunate to be able to go on these trips to historical sites to inspire me to keep learning more and more.

-I am grateful for living in a day and age where travel & the quick dissemination of information is possible. Building on that, I am thankful for Wikipedia, iTunes and Amazon for letting me feed my habit from Switzerland. If it wasn’t for that technology, I’d be impatiently waiting for my first trip back to the US to stock up on knowledge in the English language. And I’d have less room in my suitcase for enchilada sauce.

-I am grateful for still having the love of learning. I love being a “sponge”.

-I am also grateful for my husband putting up with my habit and not minding too much. Thanks, babe (didn’t you want to see Young Victoria this weekend??)!

-A bonus “shout-out” to my book club ladies in Charlotte, NC for contributing by recommending these great historical fiction novels!

Book club at my house, circa 2008

My last Book Club @ Tara’s April 2011

So, what do you love learning more about??