Frau Hilda rides a ferry

When we went to Lake Como, Frau Hilda got to ride her first ferry.   It is not her first time on a boat…she was ironically imported from South Carolina.

Because Lake Como is long and twisty (it resembles the body of a man), they have a network of boats and ferries so it is easy to traverse between towns on opposite coasts, saving time.

Bellagio is located where the legs meet.   Apparently there is a catchy Italian poem about this, but we didn’t hear it when we were there.

When we drove in, it was no big deal – we just passed through Como and continued up the left leg until we reached the village.    However, the drive was super hair raising and we didn’t necessarily want to repeat it.  Also, our destination was Lake Lugano which was due-west of Bellagio.    Luckily for us, they had car ferries between Bellagio and Cadenabbia (left side of mid lake) every 20 minutes.

Image courtesy of Owners Direct from Home Away

It only cost 19 euro for Frau Hilda, Gabe and I to ride.   We thought that was a smokin’ deal.    The ride was only about 15 minutes but saves us about an hour or two in driving time for where we were going.

Goodbye, adorable Bellagio

Frau Hilda was joined by a fancy car.   I guess these folks didn’t want to risk driving their antique Bentley on the curvy roads, either!

 

I am a ferry veteran.  We used to take the Cape May-Lewes one each summer to travel between New Jersey down to the beaches of Delaware.  However, this was Gabe’s first time.   He loved it.

What do you think of ferries?

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The James Bond Trail: Villa del Balbianello

We are on the James Bond trail.

First we visited The Schilthorn in the Swiss Alps from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Next it was James Bond Island in Thailand from The Man with The Golden Gun.

Now its Villa del Balbianello in Lake Como from Casino Royale.

We took a little boat cruise with Bellagio Water Taxi.  Janine and Luca, who ran the operation, provide a really delightful experience.

Luca driving the beautiful boat on Lake Como

Luca grew up in Lake Como so added a lot of local flavor as he drove us past the majestic coast line.

Villa Carlotta and its magnificent gardens

Public park, not bad.

Town of Mezzegra where Mussolini was killed trying to escape across the Swiss border with his mistress

False George Clooney house. Thought the sign was funny that read “No George” with an arrow pointing South.

Approaching the peninsula of Villa del Balbianello

Gorgeous property of Villa del Balbianello

We hopped off the boat and were met with a great tour guide.     The Villa had many owners in its history including a monastery, then a cardinal, two Italians, an American, and then its last owner, explorer Guido Monzino.

When Monzino died, he left it to the FAI, the National Trust of Italy so that we could all enjoy it.    You can even rent the space out for a private event, as the funds help to maintain the estate.

The grounds, set for a wedding that evening

The room of the villa were left, still set just as if Monzino lived there.     We couldn’t take pictures but I found this photo online to show you our favorite room.  We entitled it, The Ultimate Man Room.    It was a collection of Monzino’s explorations.   It contained his snow suit from the climb of Mt Everest (he ultimately didn’t make it but sent his guides on who brought back rocks still displayed in the house), his sled from exploring the North Pole, and numerous amazing artifacts.

Image courtesy of FAI.

We learned that in addition to James Bond, the villa was also used in the Star Wars movie as well as a few others. You’ll have to check them out below.

*On a side note, back in my early twenties, my friend K and I also hit a James Bond Casino Royale site in The One & Only Club in the Bahamas.  The movie hadn’t come out yet, but I immediately recognized the hammocks when they appeared on screen and were found to contain James Bond’s murdered fling.  We had leisurely hung out in them one of our afternoons.

Related Links:

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Why You’ve Heard of Lake Como

You Tube scene of Villa del Balbianello in Star Wars 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OV0t4NS0j3I

YouTube scene of Villa del Balbianello in Casino Royale : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wGhBxSjg0A

Don’t go chasing waterfalls….

And I continue with my cheesy song title post names.

We mentioned that it was pretty neat to see the castles while driving on our road trip to Lake Como.   Now that is is Spring, the glacial runoff has started and there is a surplus of waterfalls to be found while driving on France, Italy and Switzerland’s Alpine highways.

Here are just a few of the ones we spotted in our short car ride:

And my personal favorite, driving in Valais, there is waterfall spewing out of the base of a house.

Bellagio, Italy

This weekend was a holiday weekend in Switzerland.  We wanted to take advantage so planned a last minute getaway to Lake Como.  I think I wanted to go there slightly more than Gabe.  First of all, I love Italy in general.  Furthermore, I had romanticized about visiting the beautiful Italian lake for quite awhile.  I was able to lure Gabe in with the bait of the fact that a few James Bond films were shot there.  Plus, we were able to get a last minute apartment in Bellagio.   I convinced him that the hotel name-sake was the next best thing to being to Vegas.

However, when it was all said and done, I think he’d agree that little Bellagio far exceeded his expectations.

Lake Como is located in the North of Italy, just at the base of the Italian Alps.   Switzerland is just over the horizon of the Italian Alps.  While the canton of Ticino is very close to Lake Como, this part of Switzerland isn’t that close to Geneva.   Thus, we drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel and down through Italy, passing Milan.  It was about 4 hours to Lake Como, and another 45 minutes to Bellagio.

Image courtesy of Casa Mantra Ponto

When we’d looked for hotels about a week out, the ones in Bellagio were sold out. We’d wanted to stay there as we had heard it had the most nightlife and restaurants of all the adorably inciting mid-lake villages.    The shortage on booking.com led me to search for apartments online and luckily we found availability at the cutest little apartment, run by Maria at Bellagio Centre Town.

We spent most of the weekend either eating, sitting in a cafe, or strolling down the beautiful Italian streets.   We tried to see how slow we could get our pulses.

Taking in the view of the opposite shoreline, Varenna

Bellagio at dusk

Evening falls on Bellagio

The food was amazing.  Par for the course in Italy.  We forget how bad it is in Geneva until we travel.   We gorged ourselves with the multiple courses like we’d never eat again.   We sipped crisp proseccos at sunset and drank lovely Lombardy and Piedmont wines as the night continued.

Cappacino on the waterfront

Some folks enjoying the homemade  gelato – we enjoyed it each afternoon…

So I stay convinced that heaven on earth is Italy.

Castles in the Sky

We took a road trip this past weekend to Lake Como.       When we used to live in the US, you could count Waffle Houses on any given drive on I-95 or similar Southern highway.   Here in the heart of Europe, we can count castles.

Castles are typically on hills.   This is for two main reasons:   1 – so that they could watch over the valleys and know about any incoming intruders and 2 – it is harder to overtake a castle while having to climb a big mountain to do so.

I find it incredible to drive through these valleys and see the castles still towering above.   It is eery to think about what must have happened over the course of the hundreds of years of each castles’ lifetime….the battles, the deaths, the prisoners, the changes in lives that happened.

I thought I’d share a cross section of castles we saw.  Mind you that this is in just one weekend trip!

And of course, had to include our favorite, in Sion:

Related links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Castles of Sion

The Swiss Watch Blog: Chateau Chillon

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!

Swiss San Francisco

When we were out on Neuchâtel Fun Day, we made a stop in La Chaux des Fonds as S was hosting two architecture students for the week, just prior to them returning from their studies abroad.   She wanted to show them another side of Switzerland and figured they’d like to see a few of Le Corbusier’s early designs.  Le Corbusier is a famous Swiss architect (I didn’t know either).    He happened to grow up in this city which is also a UNESCO world heritage city, for mechanical watch-making.

We visited both houses and drove around the city.

What was far more interesting to me in this Swiss city was the grid system.  S had noted that in addition to Le Corbusier and watch-making, that it was notorious for its checkerboard grid plan.

This is very uncommon in Switzerland.  Usually the roads cling to the shape of mountains, creating lots of curvy roads.  This makes it hard to drive in Swiss cities, with crazy intersections.  Especially when you add trams.  And bikes.  At angles.  Not that I know (since I can’t drive a stick), I just observe Gabe and my friends struggle with the traffic pattern.   If you haven’t read A’s Driving Handbook, you should.

Typical Swiss cities, like Neuchâtel, which we saw earlier in the day have more windy roads

However, La Chaux de Fonds is perfectly gridded and linear.  And, it is not flat all all.

Look at how the streets resemble San Francisco*!   As I mentioned, you don’t get these views in other Swiss cities because of the curve factor.

The hills

The next week, I told my physio that we went to La Chaux des Fonds with a group of friends.  He understood better when I mentioned the architecture thing.  He chuckled when I said I now called it “Swiss San Francisco”.

*In no way did the city & people resemble San Francisco except for the streets.   No bohemian vibe.  No bowls of chowder.     No adorable noisy seals.   And probably no nightlife.   Although I bet La Chaux des Fonds might rival Ghiradelli on chocolate….