Postcards from the Swiss Riviera

Switzerland, being landlocked, actually has no ocean.   However, the shores of Lake Geneva near Montreux and Vevey are named “The Swiss Riviera” because of it’s picturesque and prestigious location on the lake, in view of both the Swiss & French Alps.  When Heidi & Olga were visiting Geneva, we took a day trip to this special region of Switzerland.

This area is located about an hour train or car ride from Geneva.  The ride provides amazing views of the coastline of Lake Geneva.

Typical view in the Swiss Riviera

Upon arriving in Montreux, we walked through the Montreux Marché, or Friday market.  I had actually never been to Montreux for a Friday market, and found it delightful.  It included vendors selling everything from handmade sweaters, to Provençal soaps, to secondhand goods.  They also had quite a variety of delicious street food.

We strolled along the Quai des Fleurs (walkway of flowers) towards Villeneuve.   One of the most special things about Montreux is that it has somewhat of a tropical ambience to it, provided by its plants and landscaping.

They have a few nice hotels in Montreux

Beautiful flowers against the French Alps. Seems like Summer, not Autumn!

A sweet hibiscus overlooks Lake Geneva

After a half hour’s stroll, we reached Chateau Chillon.   The castle dominates the coastline and was a major defensive structure up until modern times.  We didn’t go inside, but instead enjoyed the different perspectives we could see on the nature trails surrounding the chateau.

Chateau Chillon in autumn.

The legendary castle

The modern speedboats were a funny juxtaposition against the medieval castle

After walking back to Montreux and partaking of some of the market food, we then decided to visit to the Lavaux region.    I have heard numerous rave reviews about Le Deck, a beautiful bar/restaurant that overlooks the UNESCO designated Lavaux vineyards.   Heidi & Olga were game for checking it out, so we took a small regional train to Chexbres, the small town where Le Deck is located.    Note that it is possible to get there on the train, if you pay a 1.80 CHF  supplement on your Geneva-Montreux train ticket.  And you can return straight to Geneva via Lausanne.

The town of Chexbres is a quintessential Swiss wine town.  Gabe & I have driven guests through it, descending off the A1 at the Chexbres exit and weaving down the wine roads to Rivaz.  There are almost as many wine cellars as citizens, with dozens of these little operations dotting the small village.   We have always enjoyed the drive; however, there is a certain magic about walking around in the town that Heidi, Olga & I discovered.    This was especially true during the timing of our visit, as it was the height of the grape harvest.      The locals were busy, soaking in the sunshine, and tasting the year’s dividends.

The village of Chexbres

It was very tempting to stay and drink our way through the town, but we continued on walking towards the outside of town and our destination: Le Deck.  Our friends were right – this is certainly a special place.   Cushy chairs and linen canopies provide an oasis above the Lavaux vineyards.   You can purchase wine by the glass and enjoy the view, savoring the fruits of the labor of the vineyard workers, who just happened to be harvesting underneath our feet.

The Lavaux vineyards

Olga, enjoying a glass of Lavaux rosé

Au Revoir, Swiss Riviera.  Thanks for a remarkable day!

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The magnificent waterfalls of Goias

Two of the days we were staying in Perinópolous, we did side trips to some of the famous natural sites in the area.  Within a 15 km of the town, there are twenty amazing and pristine waterfalls.

The first day, we went to a very secluded area, an hour’s drive from Perinópolis .   Within that hour, 30 minutes was spent on a bumpy dirt road to read a “camp” area.  We had to traverse a few creeks and farms to reach our destination.

As soon as we parked, immediately, feelings of relaxation washed over.  The little building we had reached was so serene.  Built without walls, it had hammocks all over – as a part of a dining table, out in the courtyards, and all over the park that surrounded the structure.  It had an entire top floor of hammocks.

And a country food buffet was waiting for us, with large farmhouse tables for gathering and enjoying.  We feasted on delicious vegetables, ribs, steak, and Brazilian staple – beans and rice.

Digging in. We were hungry!

After filling up on steaming food from the cauldrons, we all grouped up with a guide to hike to Cachoeira Nossa Senhora Do Rosário.   Cachoeira is waterfall in Portugeuse.  So, this was the Rosário waterfall.   We were told their was a special stop on the way that was equally as beautiful.

The aunts were such troopers – they did so well hiking in the forest to the amazing spots that awaited us.

Starting our climb.

On the way, the surprise was in fact, amazing.   We stopped at a natural pool.  Rock formations made the steps and also perfect ledges for resting.   The water was glorious…cold and refreshing from the hot day.   A few of us dove in, enjoying the beauty of this special place.

Enjoying the refreshing water

Swimming in the natural pool

Aunts enjoying the view on the ledges

At that point, we divided up, where some stayed behind to enjoy the pool, and the rest of us hiked down to the Rosârio waterfall.

Can you spy D & B in this photo?

Fun playing in the rushing Rosário waterfall

The newlyweds in the waters below Rosário waterfall

Johnson men at Rosário waterfall

The magnificence was a hugh payoff, but what a workout!  My quads were burning at the 200-250 rock steps we climbed down and up to experience this.

The following day, D took us to another spot.  This one was a bit closer, about 30 minutes in total from the town where we stayed.    This location had two waterfalls to visit from the parking lot.

Newlyweds starting out on the hike

We met a friend on the way

Making the trek

The first on our list was Santa Maria waterfall, the left trail on the path.  Everyone in our group made it this time, really loving the sand beach that rested below the falls.  This one made for a really relaxing place to lay on the beach.  Many locals brought bags filled with waters, beers, and snacks to make a day out of it.

Water fall #2

Just like the day before, there was a more aggressive climb to get to the second destination.   A brave five of us continued to Luzaro waterfall.   About a half hour vertical hike later, and more burning quads, we reached the site.

There were not many people at this waterfall at all – I suppose it being longer and harder to get to, that the Santa Maria was the more popular spot.

The four of us at Luzaro waterfall.  Thanks to Sexy Sunshine for taking the photo!

Beyond the wedding, this was our favorite activity in Brazil.   We are so glad we got to see them, as D had insisted we do the waterfalls before we had to fly out two days following the wedding.

We would really recommend these amazing falls to anyone venturing to the state of Goias.

The Beaches of Rio de Janeiro

We had planned to go to the second wedding in Goiania, Brazil.  We had a few days before the rest of the guests and the bride & groom arrived to Goiania, so decided to hit another Brazilian locale.  We chose Rio de Janeiro as we had heard a lot of good things about the oceanfront city.

It was winter in Brazil, but temperatures were still warm in the upper 70’s.   It was cooler than it had been in the States but not too cool for swimming.

We stayed at Copacabana Beach.  This was mainly due to the fact that we had Marriott points and the JW Marriott was the only option of the chain in Rio.   Our hotel was right across from the famous beach.    It was nice…we ended up taking a walk daily down its 6km length.

Copacabana Beach. View from the JW Marriott.

However, our favorite was probably Ipanema. As I have mentioned before on the blog, I love it when beach landscapes have terrain adding to the panorama than just the ocean.  And Ipanema fit my “perfect beach” because of this quality.   It also had gorgeous blue water and felt a bit safer than some of the other beaches that we visited.

Ipanema Beach and Two Brothers mountain

Swimmers in Ipanema

We also took a walk on Praia de São Conrado.  It is more southward of the city and located just under one of the 1500 slums in Rio.   It stands in the shadow of Pedra da Gavea, which is the world’s largest monolith sitting on a coastline..  Again, I enjoyed it because of this feature.

The Sao Conrado beach falls on the other side of this giant mountain. The favelas, slums, surround the mountain. At least they have water views!

Sao Conrado beach

Lusi drove us by the 22 km Barra da Tijuca beach, but we ended up just taking a drive  because it was so long and we were limited on time.

A few tips on beaches:

–       Pack sunscreen – the sun is intense!!!!  We had a lot of haze but the sun still can penetrate your skin.

–       Wear the right flip flops.  The Brazilian brand Havaianas is famous.  You can purchase them for 15 R and up on the streets.

–       Be careful.  We had heard never to walk on the beach after dark.  Also, we were strongly discouraged to take a camera on a walk on the beach or any money, watches or valuables.    These photos were taken from high rises, or either when our tour car was in sight.

–       As far as attire, anything goes.  We saw everyone from five year olds to grandmas sporting the famous Brazilian thong (called fio dental translating to “dental floss”).   No one lets weight or age stand in their way.     Plus, speedos are the norm for the fellows.

Notice anything?

From Europe to Asia & Back: Cruising the Bosphorus

On Sunday, after the Blue Mosque, we headed down to Eminou port and caught a Bosphorus tour.  There are countless tour operations, and even more guys in the street trying to lure you in chanting “Bosphorus Tour….Bosphourus Tour…..Bosphorus Tour”.

However, we had read about one particular company that offered a service of hopping on and off on opposite coastlines.    This was really appealing to us, since the Bosphorus strait is the separation between Europe and Asia.  We thought it would be neat to have lunch in Asia.   For reference, this company has three departures a day – 10:35, 12:00 and 1:35.

Also a tip for European travelers, make sure your watch is set to the appropriate time zone.  We bought tickets thinking our boat left in 30 minutes.  However, we were on Swiss time.  An hour and a half wait. Oops.

We had a snack (bread ring for me, fish sandwich for Gabe) on the bridge, waiting to set sail.

It was a really nice way to spend the afternoon. Since hoards of crowds were out, happily dining in the daylight after Ramadan, the peacefulness of the boat was a plus.

Pulling out of Istanbul

Dolmabahçe Palace

 

Khedive Palace

Rumeli & Anatolian Fortresses beside Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

Bosphorus Cruise – near Yenikoy

Bosphorus Cruise – Yoros Castle

The Black Sea

Bosphorus Cruise – Rumeli Kavagi

 

After a two hour ride, we docked in  Anadolu Kavagi and selected a restaurant based on the smell of the delicious fish we saw grilling on the side of the building.

They said a fresh fish would take 15 minutes, no problem with the timing.   So, we had some mezes to bide the time.  However, after about 30 minutes, we were getting nervous having time to eat and catching our return boat.   It all went a little downhill from there, but let’s just leave it at I got a whole fish in a aluminum tin “to go”.

Entertaining, but it made for a fun rest of the trip home, trying to eat this with the toothpicks I swiped from the restaurant.

Canal Wars: The best canals in Europe?

Having visited and re-visited some of the best canal towns in Europe this summer, I thought I would share our thoughts on the highlights of each.

My ranking scale is done with 10 being a good rating and 1 being a bad rating.

Venice

The entire city is an island full of canals.

The grand canal in Venice

There really is nothing like Venice.  So, it really is a must-do in your lifetime. However, since everyone has it on their bucket list, it is over-crowded, and with the typical summer heat, it can be quite claustrophobic.

Uniqueness:                 10 – there is nothing like it in the world

Quaintness:                  5 – when you get into the back canals, this score could improve to a 7 or 8

Crowdedness:               1 – awful.  When mixed with heat, it’s a -1!

Ability to live there:     2 – couldn’t deal with crowds

Tips: Venice is best seen in the evening, when the sun is setting.  This provides both a more refreshing experience as the heat is less, as well as there is a decrease in some of the cruise ship travelers.  For the budget conscious, take vaporetti #1 or #2 (public transportation boat) and vie for a place on the edge.   Big spenders could go for a evening gondola but this sets you back around 200 euros or $250 USD.  In two trips to Venice, I still haven’t ‘invested’ in this, as I don’t think it is worth the price.

Amsterdam

Dark wooded and chock full of 17th century gabled architecture, this city is romantic and beautiful.   When you add the adorable local shops and restaurants lining its cross streets, its downright perfect.

Amsterdam in the Fall. I have painted this scene three times 🙂

Uniqueness:                   9

Quaintness:                   8

Crowdedness:                8 in Fall, 4 in Summer

Ability to live there:     9, I’d move there in a heartbeat

Tips:  I favored Amsterdam in the fall, when the leaves had fallen and we had better views of the charming architecture when strolling or biking down the canal.   This most recent trip, we took a summer canal tour, which was average.  I far preferred biking down the canals as the best way to see the the beauty and character of this city. 

Burano, Italy

This little island is off of Venice, but it is so different that I thought I would include it as a separate town.

Colorful Burano

Uniqueness:                   7

Quaintness:                   7

Crowdedness:                7 in Summer

Ability to live there:     5, too hot and isolated

Tips:  Quieter than its neighbor, this picturesque canal island is a nice side trip from Venice.   You can catch a boat that is included with the vaporetti pass. 

Brugge

Tiny and medieval, this city makes you say the word “cute” at least 10 times an hour.

Brugge is so CUTE!

Uniqueness:                  8

Quaintness:                   9.5

Crowdedness:                7, wasn’t that bad, even in the summer

Ability to live there:      8 – I’d adore a home on the canal.  But it’s a small town and maybe it could get mundane quickly without big-city appeal & activities?  Plus, I wouldn’t be able to fit in my pants with all the chocolate, fries, beer and waffles!

Notes: our favorite time was walking the canals at dusk, as the sun was setting.   The reflections were magical and ideal for photography. We did a canal tour the following day, but in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t as cool as a relaxing stroll our evening before.   

Copenhagen

A merge of classical and modern forward-thinking Danish design, this city was hip and fashionable while maintaining its priority one – Mother Earth.

Copenhagen’s Nyhavn harbor

Uniqueness:                   8

Quaintness:                    5

Crowdedness:                9 – not at all crowded

Ability to live there:      7– I could do it, Danes are said to be the most content people in the world

Tips:  this city had a few canals but was more completely surrounded by a vast body of water vs. small canals.   The architecture and vibe were cool and fresh, but cute/quaint is best reserved for neighboring Amsterdam and Brugge.   We did a canal tour which was a great way to see the city since a lot of it isn’t accessible by walking/biking.

The Verdict

As you can see, the ultimate decision is up to you, depending on how your preferences.    If you love fresh, clean, and green – Copenhagen should be your destination.   If you don’t mind crowds & souvenir stands, for unrivaled uniqueness, go Venice.    For a romantic & charming locale, Brugge is the best pick.   For vibrant color, sunny weather, and photo ops, Burano is a great choice.   And for the most character and culture, I’d always select Amsterdam in the Fall.

Gratitude Friday: Living near the Lake

“I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva, – and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.”

– John Keats.

Living near Lake Geneva never gets old.    This Gratitude Friday, I echo John’s thoughts in my thankfulness for this beautiful body of water.     From a nice relaxing place to read or picnic, to summer sporting, to picturesque sunsets, we feel lucky we have gotten to live on this gem for the time we have.   While our apartment is a ten minute walk, it is still pretty cool to be so close.

Here are a few of our favorite shots we have captured of Lake Geneva:

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Bon weekend, everyone!

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