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

 

 

 

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

Crete: 50 Shades of Blue

It has been a dream of ours to return to Greece, ever since our trip to the country in May 2010.  We enjoyed the history, being surrounded upon every turn with magnificent ruins and chronicles of the past.  We loved the amazing simplicity of their food.  We appreciated the openness of the people, so eager to share their culture, their specialties.   And, the islands….the highlight for me.  I cried the day we left Santorini because I didn’t want to leave the most beautiful place I’d ever seen.   And Santorini being my favorite place in the world…still true.

This time, for our return trip, we selected the island of Crete.  We had heard the enormous island had a ton to offer – in history, more great food, and gorgeous blue waters.

We stayed in the Mirabello Bay, in between the town of Elounda and the tiny fishing village of Plaka.  I had selected the hotel based on the photos I’d seen other travelers post online of the Elounda area.   I just love it when there are other islands or peninsulas to look at in the distance.

A guy on our plane to Dublin told us Ireland had 30 shades of green.  I’d say, they certainly do, but if you are dedicating colors to islands…Crete has 50 shades of blue.

Varying blues in Mirabello Bay

Turquoise blue in our little harbor of Blue Palace

Clear water leading to brilliant blues

Boats near Elounda town in deep turquoise blue waters

The turquoise of Elounda town

Overlooking cerulean waters

Lots of variation on the cliff above our hotel – turquoise in the bay and deeper blues in the Aegean sea

Bright blues and bluish mountains looking back towards Ag Nick

And my favorite view…blues varying with depth – greenish blue to turquoise to dark blue

Gratitude Friday: The Best Things In Life Are Free

 

I mentioned how much we liked D943 for the amazing lavender from Gordes to Sault.    I am happy to report the views didn’t stop after Sault.  We continued on our way home, weaving on small roads through some really cool gorges.

Driving home from Sault to Geneva

Cool rock formations

Lovely views

 

After a few miles, I noticed there was a river running next to the road.  Neat.

A glimpse of the water down below’

 

I felt bad for Gabe as he was driving and couldn’t see how pretty it was.   When we saw this view below, I exclaimed, “if you can stop, do it!”

Waterfall at the gorge

 

So we parked our car and took a better look.  Gabe commented, “It’s an adult water park!”

After our better look, we hiked back up, changed into our suits and headed down to give it a whirl.

Walking through the gorge

 

Playing in the rapids. The limestone below was smooth, like the bottom of a pool.

Taking a jump

Yup. It’s cold!

My turn

Another go for Gabe

 

We only jumped off the second platform.   Even I could stand right there.   We don’t know how the heck these guys weren’t killing themselves:

 

 

This goes to show you, the best things in life are free.   And we are grateful for that.  We’ll never forget the day we accidentally found the free all-natural “water park”.

If you want to check it out, it is called Les Gorges De la Méouge.  Below is a map of where we found it:

 

 

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

 

 

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….

 

Approaching…

Boom!

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!

Venice, Italy

I went to Venice for my first time with R, back in 2007.   We were only there 24 hours, but definitely was glad we made a stop to see the elegant architecture falling into the canals.

My mom had wanted to go to Venice, so we added it to our list of things to do when they were visiting us.  It was Gabe’s first time as well.

I wanted to share some of our favorite photographs from the weekend:

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I am trying out the WordPress slideshow feature…how do you like it as a reader? Yay or Nay?