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!

Colmar’s Marchés de Noël

Colmar is a picturesque town in the Alsace region of France known for its lovely Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets.     I have wanted to check out the town for quite some time, regardless of the season, but it never worked out.   Now with a departure date ticking down, I knew this Christmas would be my last chance.     I’d set up two potential dates to go.  The first one called for rain/snow and temperatures of 33.  It wasn’t very appealing to have a temperature hanging at the freezing mark but not committing to freezing ( and thus snow which is better than rain), so Plan B became the fall-back.

I awoke last Thursday (Plan B) to another forecast of rain and 33 degree temps.   But a little freezing rain wasn’t going to stop me this time, especially with it being the last chance!   I took off, connecting in 3 towns, for a trip of about 3 hrs & 45 minutes through Northern Switzerland and into Eastern France.

I had about five minutes of no rain where I captured a few photos.

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Then, the rain showers came…and continued.  It even started snewing, which is my word for the wet thick fat snow / rain combo.   While I love snowing, I don’t love snewing.  It doesn’t stick, but just makes everything wet.  It was interesting to balance the umbrella and take photos!

 

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I ended up staying a few hours to visit all five of the markets in Colmar, and coming home very soggy.  However, I am happy to have gotten my fill of Alsace Christmas beauty, as evidenced in these snapshots.

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If you are ever in Alsace, I have heard from friends that the wine road is really cool.    My PT recommended biking it in the summer.  S & S loved exploring it as well as some of the other quaint Alsace towns.  While I didn’t have it in me this trip, I’ll provide a few related posts to this area below:

Related posts:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) 

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Colorful Colmar

Schwingen in Switzerland: Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

Schwingen in Switzerland:  The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country of Birth During WWII.

Christmasy Carouge

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Geneva is Carouge.   It just has a beautiful feel to it, with an influence of Mediterranean in its architecture and its many artisans for residents.  In fact, you can often see them working away in their shops, making everything from hand.

As December arrives, Carouge dresses up in the finest Christmas decorations to show its spirit, and also make its lovely shops inviting.  Last week, my photo group met up for a drink and to take some photos of this great neighborhood.   Here are some of mine:

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The moon and the Christmas tree

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An example of the lovely storefronts

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Frosty leading the way

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Many have beautiful garland like this

And also there are the Santas!  Every shop has one, but they are slightly different in dress.

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Some are even themed to their shop!

 

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Santa at the eyeglass store

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A pink Santa

 

Merry Christmas!!

 

 

Scotland’s Countryside

We thought as long as we were all the way in Edinburgh, we should see some of Scotland’s countryside.    We’d booked a small bus tour, a twelve seater, out of Edinburgh on Grey Lines for Saturday.   It picked us up at 8:45 in the morning.

Our first stop was Glasgow where we saw the cathedral where St Valentine is buried as well Georges Square.    We were then onto Loch Lomond and had the option of taking a boat tour.   Although chilly, we decided to take the plunge into the water on the small vessel.  We delighted in lovely Scottish views.

Taking off down the river towards Loch Lomond

Taking off down the river towards Loch Lomond

Chilly mountains in the background

Chilly mountains in the background

Castles abound

Scotland has great architecture

Why not have a scotch on the boat?

Why not have a scotch on the boat?  When in Scotland….

We then continued to the town of Aberfoyle and onto Duke’s Pass where we viewed ‘the Highlands in Minature’.    Our uber-short time in Scotland (36 hours on the ground) didn’t leave time to go to the Highlands, in the North part of the country.    Nevertheless, the scenery in the midlands was really neat and we enjoyed the unique animals.

Duke's Pass

Duke’s Pass.  Our driver said not to worry about the ‘slipping’ as we rounded each bend on the icy pass. 

Why, hello.

Why, hello.

We ventured on to Stirling and had an opportunity to explore.   While we didn’t go into the castle, we had a good time meandering around.  We tried not to fall down on the rock solid ground and icy paths.  And, when we got too chilly, we headed to a local pub for a scotch.

Monument to William Wallace, near Stirling

Monument to William Wallace, near Stirling

A path leading to Gabe, taking it all in

An icy path leading to Gabe, taking it all in

Beautiful sunset on Stirling castle

Beautiful sunset on Stirling castle

While we were continually cold that day, we’ll always have warm memories of Scotland.

Finding shelter in a scotch house

Finding shelter in a scotch house

Lights Out in Edinburgh

We never saw Edinburgh when it was truly light……we arrived after dark Friday evening, spent the entire Saturday on a countryside tour which departed before the sun was fully up, and departed for the airport at 8:00 Sunday morning.

But, still, we enjoyed seeing this beautifully historic city.  We found it vibrant, active and loved the architecture.  Below are a few images:

Walking home at midnight after our visit to the scotch house

Walking home at midnight after our visit to the scotch house

Sun rising on our hotel, The Carlton

Saturday sun rising on our hotel, The Carlton

A view of the Christmas fair down on Princes Street, still with the moon in sight

A view of the Christmas fair down on Princes Street, still with the moon in sight

The city perched on the volcanic cliffs.  Edinburgh castle is in the distance...

The city perched on the volcanic cliffs. Edinburgh castle is in the distance…

Castle watching the sun rise over the city

Edinburgh Castle watching the sun rise over the city

Saturday night at the German Christmas markets in Edinburgh

Saturday night at the German Christmas markets in Edinburgh

An early morning walk on the Royal Mile

An early morning walk on the Royal Mile

We had the castle to ourselves.  Gabe watching the sunrise before we went to the airport

We had the castle to ourselves. Gabe watching the sunrise before we went to the airport

If you’d like to see Edinburgh at daylight, check out this blog for some fantastic images.   If you fancy a trip to Edinburgh, M also has some great tips on off-the-beaten path places to see. 






The crooked little town of Troyes

As I mentioned last week, if we are on a road trip, we love to discover interesting places to stop on the way home.

As we left Champagne around 11am, our lunchtime fell in the town of Troyes, France.  We parked and while exploring a place to grab some food, soon designated this as the most crooked town we’d ever seen.   No, not because of any shady deals that took place.  Literally, the architecture:

Do you think the floors are level in the yellow house?

Lonely Planet highlighted an alley way called the “tiny street of the cats”, and it was crooked as well.

Gabe and Marty McFly near some teetery houses. Both being finance guys and very orderly, they were both going into hyperbolic shock from the unevenness.

Even me, who hangs up the most crooked of photos and pictures and can’t draw a straight line to save my life found it uncomfortable!

Another crooked yellow place

While you might not be able to live this way permanently, Troyes was still pretty cute.

Architecture in Troyes, France

Adorable street in Troyes

Lovely architecture & skyline

By the way, in French, Troyes isn’t pronounced Troys or Troy but Twaaaah.   Before I mastered this knowledge, the French would have considered my speech a little crooked as well!

Reims: Not just a Champagne town

During our stay in Champagne, we selected a hotel in the city of Reims (Rheims in French). Before our arrival, we had no clue how historically significant the town was.

Main square in Reims

Our first night in Reims, with Marty & Jennifer McFly, all we knew of Reims was champagne….

However, as I stated on last week’s Gratitude Friday post, our champagne guide was a bit of a history expert.   While exploring the rolling hills of the Champagne region, we also had the benefit of a history lesson.   We learned that the tribe of Remi founded Reims.  Caesar invaded the Gauls and in 51BC conquered it with the help of the tribe of Remi, whom he rewarded for their help.

Image courtesy of peperonity.com

From then, It was a Roman city.  They built the triumphal arch in 200AD, largest arch outside of Rome.

Roman arch in Reims

In the 5th century, Clovis became the first king to reunite all the territories within France.   He was baptized at the site of the current Basilica St Remi in Reims.  His armies converted to Catholic Christianity in the same way Clovis did, per the traditions of the time for soldiers to follow their leader.  From that point on, Reims became the religious center of the region.

Basilica St Remi

Inside the basilica, with Sunday services in the front

From then on, all kings were coronated in Reims.   Most occurred in the Cathedrale Notre Dame.   Most famously, Joan of arc stood by King Charles XII during his coronation ceremony after her vision to help him become monarch and overthrow Britain’s control.

Cathedrale Notre Dame in Reims

Visitors are able to see the structure on Sundays, but just not the back where the service takes place

Inside of the cathedral with its’ magnificent stain glass windows

Soon, Paris overtook Reims in size and became the most prominent city in France. However, this change didn’t keep Reims safe in WWI when it was seen as a symbol of France’s rich history and bombed 1051 consecutive days in a row, destroying over 90% of it.  This was known as the ‘crime of Reims’.   Since, they have repaired and rebuilt, but the impact was devastating.
As discussed last Friday, also in WWI, Reims saw the 1st battle of the Marne and advent of trench warfare.   Sadly, Reims and the surrounding countryside has seen more than its fair share of bloodshed.
WWII treaty was also signed in Reims after the German surrender.

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!

Thursday market day in Isle sur la Sorgue

While in Provence we visited the sweet town of Isle sur la Sorgue. The town literally translates to island on the Sorgue (river), and this riverside ambience plus cute French architecture is what makes the appeal.  It happened to be market day, full of fresh produce & foods as well as Provençal artisans.

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I got a few gifts in the form of soaps, tapenades, and herbes de Provence. Later, I walked the banks of the Sorgue river, enjoying the loveliness of this precious village.