The Blue Mosque

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is most commonly called “The Blue Mosque” because of the 20,000 handmade blue-colored tiles that decorate the interior of its dome.

It was built by Sultan Ahmed from 1609-1616 so is around 400 years old.    The mosque dominates the skyline of Sultanmet.  One of my books said that if Sultan Ahmed could see how many hotels advertise “Blue Mosque” views, then he would be pleased.  His intention was to build a structure more magnificent than Hagia Sophia.

Tourists are allowed to go in, as long as it is not a worship time.  We visited Sunday between their worship services, which occur five times daily.

They have scarfs and skirts to borrow if you aren’t dressed in accordance to the requirements for the mosque which require modest attire and no shoes.  I’d dressed in a longer dress that covered my knees and had cap sleeves, based on my typical preparation for Italy.  I also brought a scarf for a head wrap, hearing from friends that they are required.   However, both Gabe and I had to borrow Velcro “skirts” to make sure our legs were covered.

The tile/dome was quite beautiful.  However, I think Hagia Sophia was more impressive to me based on the fact it was built 1000 years before.   The fact it was the first dome of its kind still wows me.

It happened to be the last night of Ramadan when we were in Istanbul.  We thought Istanbul was busy before, but as night fell on Saturday indicating the end of the 30 day period of daytime fasting, the city came alive.   Since 99% of the Turkish population is Muslim, literally everyone was out and about.

The light sign on Blue Mosque reads, “Say Goodbye to Ramadan”


Slow Up. Wait a minute…

We recently participated in the Geneva Slow Up.   I had read about this bike event last summer.  I noticed it again when flipping through a pdf of the Fête de Genève brochure.   Gabe and I decided that we should do it since we’d been delinquent about riding the bikes we had shipped all the way from the US.   However, we woke up to rainy skies and they were continuing to drizzle at the start time of 10:00.    At 11:00, they cleared and Gabe mentioned that maybe it wasn’t a “hard start” that it was continual.

I was skeptical, but we rode down to Quai de Gustav Ador anyhow.   And, we were pleasantly surprised.  More belated bikers.  And lots going on.  You can start when you like, as long as you finish by 16:00.    You can be on bike, trike, roller blades, or unicycles.  Or even on foot.  The only rule was you had to go in the same direction.

First impression of Slow Up. Cool. (For our non-Swiss readers, rivella is a Swiss soda).

We did our first few km and were impressed by how well executed this event was.    First of all, cars are banned from the roads completely.   Guards blocked every road that interfered with the 33km course.  A heck of a lot of roads.  We counted easily 100.     This made it so enjoyable for me.  I am not the best rider and since bikes ride with traffic in Geneva, it is intimidating for me to bike around town.

The first ascent gave us a nice view of Geneva near Cologny. As a side note, this little field was where part of Frankenstein was written!

There were “garages” in case you had a bike mishap.    This was also a bonus, to know you wouldn’t be stuck 16 km away from Geneva, without aid.

Migros Sport “garage” helping bikers

And there were plenty of refreshment stands offering cereal, energy bars, apples and Rivella.

Camp in Choulex

As we started, we exclaimed how awesome it was.   It was my assumption that I had missed the last eleven events and I was mad at myself because of what a great time it was.   However, we found a brochure later in the day that showed that these take place in different places all over Switzerland.  You can see the future ones here.  So, it just comes to Geneva once a year.

We also found a map to find out where the heck we were going.

Our route

Our route continued through vineyards and cornfields.   It was so peaceful.   We stopped in Gy, where they had a really cool Slow Up Village.  Most people were drinking wine and beer.  They might have been in better shape than us.  We opted for water.  And a sausage.

Not sure if this is the best meal for biking 33km, but it was the only option.

We then crossed into France.  Spectators gave us a bottle of Evian, a local French product, as we cruised along.   This is the closest I think I’ll ever get to being a rider in the Tour de France.   For one, it was my first time riding a bike in France.  Second, we got swag.   And, I told Gabe, we sort of did a little tour around France….

Great way to spend a Sunday

After 33km, we were looped back into Geneva and we crossed the finish line.

Thanks, Slow Up!

We aren’t experienced bike riders so couldn’t even make it up the hill to our house after riding 3 hours.    However, we were happy and content with our little Sunday activity!


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




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: My first glimpse of the lavender

Once Bruno found out we were into wine, he recommended we stop by Valdition as they were having a Fête de Rosé.    Valdition is located in the Alpilles area, near Orgon and St. Rémy.   They specialize in both wine and olive production.

When we parked, we found the jackpot…wine and lavender in the same place!    I had been on a hunt for lavender and we found it.   Thus, this week’s gratitude post.

Gardens at Valdition

I had planned the trip pretty much entirely to see the lavender in season.  In Provence, the high season for the beautiful crop is the end of June/July.   It is typically harvested in July/August.  I had read that seeing it was truly remarkable and a must-do once in your life.    Thus, we had planned our trip to Provence in mid-July, at the peak.

Gabe preferred the old car sighting to the lavender sighting.  I am also grateful he is a patient husband.

There are over 39 varieties of lavender.   It grows in North Africa, the Mediterranean and India.  However, Provence accounts for 80% of the worlds lavender needs.

What would the world’s lavender needs be?

One of my favorite uses is for essential oils.  It is renown for its healing and medicinal properties.   In fact, I applied lavender essential oil at least three times a day when healing from foot surgery.    Also, it can be used for calming / relaxing, such as if you have sleep difficulty like me.   Or even for headaches when applied at the pulse point.

Beyond oil, it can be used to make soap, perfume, cosmetics and potpourris.

Sometimes it can be infused in dishes or used in tea!

The rows of lavender at Valdition

Lavender is farmed in rows in Provence.   I found it fun to run through them.

Hanging out in the fields

Up close


The smells are amazing!

Did you know that lavender bunches can repel bugs?   So next time you are having a gathering outside, try the nice smell of lavender.

It must not repel snails.  They were having as much fun as me out there.

After our lavender photo shooting, we did partake in the Fête de Rosé.   We bought three bottles of white wine and a bottle of rosé to enjoy back in Geneva.  I considered it our commission for using their fields for our photography.

Route d’Eygalières
13660 Orgon – France

We were grateful we found a field in this area as lavender production isn’t as common in the Les Alpilles.     I also feel lucky as I found out later that vipers like to live in the shade of the lavender.   Glad I didn’t get bitten.

Bon weekend, everyone!

St. Rémy and the Running of the Bull

We have just returned from a lovely trip to Provence.   Don’t tell Italy but the South of France is quickly climbing up my all-time favorites list.    As you recall, we traveled to Provence & Cote d’Azur back in April with Gabe’s parents.   However, this time, it was one of our honey funds – a long weekend “honeymoon” that people had given us for our wedding present.

Little did we know that the weekend we selected was actually a French holiday.  Saturday, July 14th was Bastille Day.   This ended up being a plus as we got to experience another culture’s way of celebration.  What’s not to love about that?

We arrived into Saint-Rémy-de-Provence around 9:45pm after a four hour drive from Geneva.  Gabe unfortunately had to work a little bit when we got there but I occupied myself with exploring the grounds of our lovely little B & B, La Maison de Françoise.

Around 11:00, we headed into the town square to grab a drink and check out the nightlife.

Streets of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

The city was quite romantic at night

We passed a view nice cafés, but decided to continue to walk along  to get our bearings with the size  & layout of the town.    It became easy to select which way to go as we heard music playing.  We eagerly walked towards it to find out what was happening.

We noticed some barricades between where the music was and where we had approached the square.   Hmmm.   Some people were even sitting on the side of the barricades.   Perhaps a parade had just happened?    Some people walked through them so we followed, squeezing through the gaps.

Hmm. What are the bars for?

A lively band was playing fun music in the square.    It was fun to watch the expressions as they created the melodies for all the townspeople. They were certainly very much into their performance and delighting the crowd.

The band was a fun surprise.

After listening to the music, I noticed that the streets had cleared a bit.   A loudspeaker announced something in French that I interpreted as “stand back”.   Gabe laughed at me and said I was being silly but I pointed to everyone who was lined up behind bars.   We only saw a few teenage guys lingering in the streets.  Maybe troublemakers?

We moved back behind bars and then I noticed this sign:

Our second clue.

Wait….were the barricades for…bulls?

I was excited.  I had always wanted to see the running of the bulls!!   I was imagining the scenes I’d seen from Spanish photographs of bulls stampeding around the streets and people running.

Sure enough, they came over the loudspeaker again (this time I was able to translate better) and announced that everyone should get behind bars.  The few teenage guys continued to stand in the street, looking macho.

The same band, whom had ascended into a conveniently located flat-bad truck, continued their music, safely out of range.  Revelers strategically selected their photo positions.   And, Moms put their pack-n-plays on the roofs of concession stands:

At least the kid was safe on top of the concession stand

We awaited the appearance of the bull…

Gabe says I don’t look pleased in this photo. I was just ready for the bulls…

And then……………

……………………….one bull.

Yup, just one.

He ran around town while the guys taunted him.   We kept waiting for more to be released and something else to occur, but it never happened.

This will go down as the day we saw the running of the bull.  Singular.

For the video, check out:

Other St. Rémy recommendations:

We loved La Maison de Francoise, our little B & B.   More to come on the blog about this lovely little estate.

Dinner at La Maison Jaune was fabulous – provençal cooking with fresh organic fruits and vegetables

The parade on Bastille Day was quite cute.  Check out tomorrow’s post for more.

We witnessed a world record

When we were in Venice, I wanted to show everyone St. Marks Square.  When R and I went back in 2007, we loved sitting in the square at night, listening to dueling orchestras and enjoying a $20 ice cream.

So, we headed to St. Marks on a vaporetti (bus  / boat ) from our hotel.    Vaporettis are great direct and affordable transportation in Venice.  They also allow you to see the canals.   But in the summer, they can be hot and crowded.  We were in need of some refreshment immediately after docking, so we had a round of drinks across from Doges Palace before heading towards the area.

Me with a Bellini. Gabe & Solid with Spritz’s. Twin with water.

However, when we approached St. Mark’s, all we saw was orange.

Aperol set-up in St. Marks Square

Aperol was hosting “The biggest Spritz toast” in St. Marks Square.  You could simply just walk up, get a free tee-shirt, and join in with free Spritz’s.  We were tempted.  But it looked crowded.  That is how you know you are getting old…turning down free Spritz’s because of not wanting to be in a crowd.

Revelers waiting for their Spritz

A Spritz is 3 parts Prosecco (Italian sparkling wine), 2 parts Aperol, and 1 part club soda.   They are usually served with an orange slice.  Sometimes, they are served with a yummy olive too.    This mainly happens in Italy.

Gabe always orders a Spritz for an aperitif when we go out to our favorite Italian place in Geneva, Luigia.

Announcing the world record

The moment everyone was waiting on (or not really waiting on, some people had empty glasses by then)

Cue: launch the confetti canons

The sky was all orange confetti

Congrats, Spritz, on your world record.

More Summer Fun at Montreux Jazz Fest

We went to Montreux this weekend for the 46th annual Montreux Jazz Festival.  Even though I had taken Twin & Solid while they were here, I still wanted to go back.  This marks my fourth time and Gabe’s 3rd time going to the festival.

A round trip train ticket from Geneva costs 25 CHF each for us to go, but it is a fun summer activity.

A very pleasant ride from Geneva – an hour total and 25 CHF with your half fare card and 10% SBB discount for attending the JazzFest (no ticket required).

Everyone thinks we are weird that we don’t buy tickets for the shows.  My physio gave me a very quizzical look.   But, the free music is lovely.   You just simply show up to the park, find a spot and listen to your heart’s content.  The shows start about 3:30 on weekdays and 2:00 on the weekend and play back-to-back with 1/2 hour or hour breaks in between.

Taking in the scene, listening to a South African band.

Pants optional. Dogs are allowed. As demonstrated by this gentleman.  To his credit, the lake is right there.


If you feel like walking around, there is plenty to see and do.  There are a ton of vendors selling handcrafted goods.

Also the food is pretty yummy.  Gabe and I justify our expenditure on 25 CHF train tickets + festival food = cheaper than a low end restaurant in Geneva.

Image courtesy of Henry Birmingham from last year. The paella guys were back again this year.


Some people wander to the end of the festival to enjoy the swimming.  This is one of my favorite docks.

Lovely dock on Lake Geneva – Montreux.

This year, you could watch the gliders come in and try to land on the orange pad.

Coming in for landing….




Freddie Mercury even enjoyed watching them a time or two.

Freddie Mercury tribute statue in Montreux.

The festival runs until this Sunday, July 15th – I’d encourage you to check it out!

Gratitude Friday: Musique Gratuites

This Friday, I want to express my gratitude for all the free summer concerts that take place in Switzerland.    The summer is filled with awesome music.

While Twin & Solid were here, they got to experience three neat musical experiences:

FETE DE LA MUSIQUE – Geneva – late June – takes place over Friday, Saturday & Sunday in Old Town and stages throughout the city

We grabbed a table in the park across from the Art & History museum and enjoyed our own bottle of wine listening to International music.  We heard two acts and then S & S met up with us.  From there, we walked around taking in drums, Indian melodies, and settling at a stage overlooking Parc des Bastions where we met up with A & L.

Listening to Music from all over the world at the Fete de la Musique in Geneva

I really enjoy Fete de la Musique.  I don’t know if I would plan to stay in town for it, but if you are around, I’d encourage you to go a day or two.

CULLY CLASSIQUE – week long festival on the banks of Lake Geneva in the adorable town of Cully

This one was a surprise.  We picked up a brochure earlier in the day and once we saw an act started at 6:30pm, we impulsively hopped on a train to check it out.  A band called “Old Shit” from Switzerland was playing tropical music.  Since the band was francophone, it was pretty neat to see the talent the singer had singing in his second language.   It was so good that we changed our evening plans and stayed right in our cozy lawn chairs.

A great spot at Cully Classique

What a view at Cully Classique

Dusk falls on the band and Twin & Solid (to the left of the stage)

MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL – first two weeks in July, encompassing three weekends.

The Montreux Jazz Fest is Europe’s biggest jazz festival, and attracts a lot of mainstream acts.  Alanis Morrisette, Van Morrison, Tony Bennett, Pitbull and Bob Dylan included a few of the shows.   However, they have a continual line-up of free music.  We checked it out Monday, the day before  their flight back to the US.   It was raining, but didn’t stop the shows.

Before the storm

Prepared for the weather

We found some cover….

Umbrellas galore.  I was thinking of my poor USA friends with 100 degree temps as we shivered in the rain.

And, it’s not over!  Montreux Jazz Fest is on for another two more weekends.
Also, in July & August, there is more music during the Musiques en été (Music in the Summer) festival.  You can find the line-up here.  Our favorite is the Ella Fitzgerald Stage – its free and a short walk or bike ride from our flat.

Bon weekend, everyone!!


Related Links:

The Adventures of Miss Widget and her people:  Jouez Je suis a vows  (more about the pianos)

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Montreux Jazz Festival

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Fete de la Musique

The Swiss Watch Blog:   Gratitude Friday: The Great Outdoors

Caves Ouvertes 2012

This past weekend was our favorite day of the year in Geneva:  Caves Ouvertes.   You may remember that we attended Caves Ouvertes our first Saturday in Geneva and it’s where we met A & A and D at the bus stop.  It’s crazy we’ve been hear a year and are having a second round of activities.

The reason its the best day in Geneva is that you pay 5 CHF for a wine glass and you can taste wine all day at any of the 90 open wineries in the canton.  This is hands-down Switzerland’s best deal.

A & A kicked off Caves Ouvertes 2012 with a scrumptious Canadienne Buffet at their house: American style.   We knew we’d need the hearty breakfast to fill our tummies before the big day.  They made eggs, bacon and biscuits & gravy.  L brought hash browns.   We brought Duncan Hines blueberry muffins (thanks Mama Mia for bringing us the mix from the US!).

The hosts with the delicious spread

My plate of yummy brunch

After brunch, we headed to Rive to catch the bus up to Vesenaz where the special Caves Ouvertes bus would pick us up.

Reminiscing our meeting one year ago.   D moved back to the US  in August and we have missed her.  Notice that A made a new “D on a stick” and she accompanied us this year in spirit.

As we waited for the bus, it started to rain.  Boo.  But it wasn’t going to stop us from enjoying a day of free wine.

Storms on the Swiss countryside

We tried to go to Cave de la Chena again as it was so cute and quaint.  However, they didn’t open until 1pm this year.   Luckily, it was at the location where the bus looped back around 5 minutes later.

We re-boarded the bus and headed to the next stop, Domaine Château-L’Evêque.   It is a organic winery and we really enjoyed a number of their wines.

Approaching Domaine Château-L’Evêque – home of bio wine.

Spirits were high at our first stop

We enjoyed a lot of their wines.  We noted we wanted to buy 7-8 bottles.  However, there were a delivery fee up until 24 bottles.  We decided to come back on another day to purchase as it wasn’t going to be fun to tote that many bottles on the bus.

After an hour, we decided it was time to move on.  We hopped on the bus and traveled to Jussy.

2nd stop: Château du Crest

Gorgeous castle turned winery

We really enjoyed this place last year.    New this year, Château du Crest had a game – you had to guess what type of wine was in each glass – blanc, rosé, or rouge.

The Wine Game

Gabe trying to guess

A got a few wrong.  Guess we’ll have to continue drinking to improve her wine skills. 

After trying out the game, we went for the wine tasting room.   We were encouraged to try their new wine, Surprise.

Gabe and A intrigued by the sales pitch

Château du Crest had almost 20 wines to try.  We think this would also be a nice place to come with guests.  Their website says they are open 5-7 on weekdays and 10-12 Saturdays.

My rating sheet

After we left, we took time to pause in the same field as last year, with D on a stick.

Missing D

We hopped back on the bus and headed to stop #3:  Domaine de la Tour.  It was a cute little winery and they gave us a free platter of cheese and meat.  So kind!  We each bought a bottle there in gratitude.

It was 1:30 so we decided it was time to head to a town that had multiple wineries before Caves Ouvertes ended at 4pm.

Only in Switzerland can you interact with local farm animals while waiting for the bus

L gave up her newly purchased bottle to the cause since we had a long wait.  This may or may not have been a mistake.

Only in Switzerland can you drink on the bus.

We rode twenty minutes to Anières.   Our first stop was lively, with a live band and a huge crowd.

Stop #4

At this place, they were serving raclette.    It smelled delish.  All five of us got our own plate.

Specialty of Switzerland: raclette

After a few tastes there, we stopped next door.

Enjoying Anières with its three wineries within steps of each other

Stop #5

At 4:45, we headed across the street to La Cote D’Or.   I only had one taste before I decided my feet couldn’t make it anymore.  They’d been standing maybe 2-3 hours on and off.

Stop #6

We trudged through the rain to the bus stop but missed the one we had intended to catch.  We huddled under the shelter and tried to keep warm waiting for the next.

When we arrived back in Geneva, I headed home to rest, elevate and ice the feet.  They’d had a big day.   Gabe headed out with the rest of the group to Old Town for a few drinks to continue the fun.

Another great Caves Ouvertes!

Gratitude Friday: Spring has Sprung!

A little delayed in my posting….but Spring has sprung in Geneva.  I admit I am late in this post.  But mainly since I have had mobility, all it has done here is rain, rain, rain so I wasn’t in the spring spirit yet.

However, we had our first day of non-rain yesterday and I am hoping that more sunshine and spring weather is on the horizon  (fingers crossed).  Although they do say that “April showers bring May flowers”, so I suppose there should be gratitude in the rain as well.

Speaking of flowers, E-dawg and I got to take advantage of Spring’s beauty yesterday on the AIWC photo group outing to Morges, Switzerland.  There we enjoyed lunch alfresco and explored the annual Fêtes de la Tulipe.

So, this Friday, I am grateful for the flowers and beauty of spring.  Finally!!!  But, better late than never!

Bon weekend, everyone!

Tulips against an Alpine background

Wispy tulips in contrast to the Alps

Having fun at the Fêtes de la Tulipe

E-dawg amongst her Georgia Bulldog colors

Lazy waterfall

Caught her in action!

My favorite section – multicolored