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….

Sunshine in Neuchâtel

I had been feeling a little glum lately – I think a combination of missing the U.S., friends, Gabe, and a little cabin fever from the rain and surgery recovery.    So, S invited me to join her, T and her two guests on an outing to Neuchâtel last Friday.

I’d heard it was a neat Swiss town so was excited for a chance to see it.   Traveling with S is like having a personal tour guide.  She has an amazing knack for history and even better, the retention and relation of this knowledge.  I love the history, just can’t remember it and relate it all.   So, as we walked the colorful streets, she pointed out a neat things to take note of (you can learn more about these on her blog).

 

As we walked, I just enjoyed the sunshine.   It hasn’t been too frequent lately so it was glorious to soak in the rays and even remove my jacket partway through the day.    Don’t you just love the puffy white clouds in the blue Swiss sky?

 

 

 

We concluded our walking tour of Neuchâtel with a picnic on the lake, all sharing things we brought along, before heading to 3 more interesting stops on the eastern side of Switzerland.

 

Thanks to S and Neuchâtel for the beautiful day.

Painting for Jake

I haven’t been painting a lot lately.    Thus, when I was asked to donate a painting for the Annual Jake Boyle Memorial Golf Tournament again this year, I offered one that I did last year in Umbria, Italy.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t get “Dusk in Umbria” it into E-dawg’s suitcase to deliver back to The States.  Shipping the canvas from Switerland would be over 100 CHF which sort of defeats the purpose of a charity give-away….

So, today, I did a small 9″ x 12″ acrylic that can easily fit into the next suitcase that will go Geneva –> Charlotte*.   Unfortunately, an “I owe U” will have to do for the silent auction.  Sorry guys!

Recognize my inspiration?  Yes, none other than the Fête de la Tulipe we visited in Morges last week.

The reception & auction will be at Havana Social Club in Huntersville, NC this Saturday – 2-5pm Eastern Time.     Wishing them a beautiful day and a great one on the fundraising front.  I’ll be missing them for sure.

*Anyone who would like to volunteer to take the canvas with them on their next trip back to Huntersville or Charlotte, it would be greatly appreciated!!

Alpine views in Zweisimmen and Château D’Oex

As mentioned in the previous post about our trip on The Golden Pass, we stopped in two towns on the journey back.

The first of the towns was Zweisimmen.   I’ll be honest that I had no idea what to expect (not listed in my tour books) but I suggested to E-dawg that we hop off the train and spend an hour there until the next train would pass.

We found an adorable German speaking village, full of cows.   We wandered around its quiet streets enjoying the fresh air.

This is Zweisimmen!

We caught the train an hour later and hopped off again at Château D’Oex.  Readers might find this town familiar as we stopped there twice for the Hot Air Balloon Festival.  After the Friday night “Night Glow” show  failed to produce any balloon pictures, I begged Gabe to go back the following Sunday for more.  And that is when I fell in love with this little village known to be the Swiss capital of ballooning.

 

Welcome to Château D'Oex (pronounced Shat-oh Day)

It was really neat for me to see the difference in winter vs. spring.  The town is totally different.      Originally, I was going to sit at a café and rest my feet while E-dawg explored.   But I couldn’t help myself wanting to climb up to the top of the chapel with her for the views!

Streets of Château D'Oex

Climbing up the steps of the chapel, greeted by amazing spring flowers

After reaching the top, E-dawg relaxed near the chapel walls.

 

On the way back down, we decided it was an opportune time to open the mini bottle of Swiss wine we had brought to picnic on the train.   We popped our shoes off, sat in the grass, and enjoyed the magnificent panorama in front of us.

After experiencing it in multiple seasons, this little village quickly lept up to one of my top Swiss places to visit.

Back on the train. Goodbye Chateau D'Oex...until next time!

The Golden Pass

On E-dawg’s last day, we took a panoramic train.   I am a big fan of these trains – you get to see a lot of the beautiful Swiss landscape.   It also provides a nice relaxing day if you have been busy.

As you may have read on the blog, there are are four scenic trains:  The Golden Pass, The Bernina Express, The William Tell Express, and The Glacier Express.  Gabe and I have taken the Glacier Express twice, with The Captain and Swiss Miss, as well as with The Fam.

This time, we took The Golden Pass.   We chose it because of its proximity to Geneva, as we wanted to do the entire thing in a day.    We bought tickets to ride just until Zweisimmen in the German speaking part.

Cool map courtesy of goldenpass.ch

 

So, we took an hour train from Geneva to Montreux in order to catch the Golden Pass.   One interesting thing about Swiss trains is that they are beautifully timed.   For instance, as our train from Geneva rolled into Montreux, the Golden Pass sat awaiting any passengers.  Moments later, it departed.   This isn’t by coincidence.  The entire system is designed for efficiency and there are rarely wait times or “layovers”.

After boarding, The Golden Pass ascended above Montreux.   I had not been this way yet so thoroughly enjoyed being a tourist as it winded around, giving glimpses of the lake below.

Leaving Montreux on The Golden Pass

 

E-dawg enjoying the ride

 

Passing gorgeous pastures and rolling green fields

 

Passing Château D'Oex, home of the hot air balloon festival.

 

Fields of dandelions

 

Typical Swiss backyard.

 

Keep that delicious milk, cheese, and yogurt coming, cows!

Passing Gstaad and The Palace.

 

An enticing road

Descending into Zweisimann

 

This view never gets old to me.

 

Back to Lake Geneva....

 

God shining light through the clouds onto Lake Geneva

 

This entire route took six hours of travel time from Geneva.   We did stop twice on the way home to explore Zweisimmen and Château D’Oex so it took us a bit longer – about nine hours.   I’d recommend doing that to break up the trip.  If you don’t have reservations*, you can hop on and off wherever you like.

 

*For our trip, we did buy reservations from Montreux to Zweisimmen not knowing if they were required.   We were the only ones with reservations and could’ve saved the $$ by not doing it since it was a low tourist season.   It also made it handy not to have them on the way back as it encouraged us to live in the moment and hop off at whatever towns looked neat.   However, on the way home, we didn’t get to sit in choice seats when hopping back on.

Thus, if you are in a big group or sitting together is important, its a nice benefit to purchase the reservation.

 

 

Discovering Geneva: The Museum of the Reformation

On Tuesday, after our tour of the site archeologique, we took a quick lunch break at Creperie St. Pierre and then moved onto the final stop: La Musée de la Réforme de Genève.   This museum retraces the history of the movement started by John Calvin in Geneva.   It includes artifacts and exhibits from the start until the current age.

The Museum of the Reformation

The museum was interesting; however, a little disjointed.  We were lucky to get English audio guides, but not all of the numbers could be found and they were out of order in most cases.    We spent a lot of time on the ground floor figuring this out while we learned about the origination and first century of the Reformation.

As we moved on, we learned just to hit the #s that we saw that looked interesting to us and continue on that way.

The basement floor contained history from the 19th and 20th centuries.  There were exhibitions on the role in civil society, the progression and dynamics of mission work, a computer screen depicting the statistics of the denominations of religion in the US, and audio of Billy Graham and the evangelistic movement.  That part was pretty neat to see how Calvin’s impact echoed through society today.

You are not allowed to take photos so we don’t have anything to show.

Bottom line – this museum is full of intriguing and interesting exhibits.  However, it might be best to make it your only stop in the day so you can comprehend the full depth of history and really take the time to visit both the ground and bottom floor.     We were a little tapped out from hitting the archeological site first, both in terms of standing and mind-power, so we wore ourselves out before getting to the basement.

Those who do visit this museum, make sure to check out the Reformation Wall in Parc des Bastions as well!

 

Discovering Geneva: Palais des Nations

On E-dawg’s second day we had pegged the Palais des Nations as a possible stop for the rainy Monday.  It was a good choice because, by default, it was literally the only museum open on Monday.   Also E-dawg had it on her Geneva “must visit” list.

She had read there was a lot of walking and warned me but I decided I was up for it – couldn’t be more than a km or so. We took the bus to Nations.   This was our first mistake.  Or my first mistake.  I just assumed that tourist rolled right through the colorful flags into the Palais des Nations to enter.

The grande entrance to the Palais des Nations. This is the oldest building and is bigger than the Palace of Versailles.

However, the actual tour entrance is was a 1 km walk away from the grande entrance.  This detail would not have been very important to the old me.  However, it is very important to the present-day me with healing feet.    Thus, I wanted to show those readers who might be a little walking challenged where the entrance is.  The #8 bus, Appia stop, gets you considerably closer.   It’s important to conserve energy as this tour does include a lot of walking.

They are very protective of the safety of UN workers.  Rightfully so, since 3000 have died in operations or just by being in UN offices in times of terror.   So, checking in for the tour required multiple steps.  First, you go through an airport-style metal detector.  Then, you approach a desk to register by showing your passport for scanning, getting a new picture taken, and  that photo being printed into a picture badge.

Next you go down an escalator, pay 12 CHF, and walk a distance to the entrance and gathering group of the tours.   You approach the desk, give your language preference and wait.  Then you get a bright orange lanyard indicating you are a tourist so that you can be easily spotted.

We were very lucky to have an amazing tour guide.    We started the tour by seeing some of the conference rooms.   There are over 9000 meetings a year so they need a lot of conference rooms.

We learned that in the traditional rooms, the member states sit in alphabetic order.  Then comes the observer non-member states  (like Palestine, Vatican City), then the NGOs that provide the link between civil society and UN.  Then approved media.

E-Dawg overlooking a traditional UN conference room

The UN has six official languages – English, Arabic, French, Mandarin, Spanish and Russian.    If you want to address the UN in a non official language, you have to bring your own translator.

Human issues conference room. The ceiling was done by a Spanish artist and was donated by the country of Spain. His intention was for the textured color to peak like waves of ocean. The color represents the diversity of opinions in the world. The art was unveiled and conference room reopened in April 2009. The current issues in Syria are discussed here.

E-dawg and I in the grand assembly room in the Palais des Nations. The UN logo is different in this room, with the globe view from the top, showing no country is in the middle at the UN.

Original council room of the League of Nations. The League of Nations was formed after WWI. However, they failed at preventing WW2 so it disbanded. Mr. Pettyjohn would be proud I was seeing this place as we learned a lot about it in Freshman History. Now this room serves as the council of disarmement, preventing nuclear and chemical means of warfare.

Some fast facts about the UN:

-It was formed in 1945 after WW2 with the UN Charter

-It started with 52 members.  Now there are 193.  South Sudan was the last joiner.  Switzerland didn’t join until 2002!

-The UN is decorated with art from all over the world, to represent its diversity among member states.    In a grand entrance, there are colored marble in different designs.  Our guide pointed out that the marble comes from 3-4 different countries to show integration and how great works are possible with collaboration.  Pretty cool.

E-dawg stands by the hall of traditional artwork donated by member states

The Russians donated the Conquest of Space and Time statue - made out of titanium like space shuttles. Sorry, its the tiny thing in the distance - I took all these photos with my iPhone.

Trees are donated from all over the world to adorn the park, creating diversity in landscape

What is the difference in Geneva and NYC?

NYC handles more of the political and economical issues while Geneva focuses on human rights, science, technology, health, and world disasters.

The chair with the missing leg was donated by Handicapped, Intl to represent the lives and limbs lost by unnecessary land mines

The WHO (world health organization) is one of the bigger departments here in Geneva.  Also, UNHCR – the high commission for refugees, which helps 20 million people a year!

Why did they pick Geneva?  

NGO, The Red Cross was already there (1863) and it had been proven to be a good place for a headquarters.  Plus,  Switzerland was a neutral country making it additionally easier to facilitate an organization such as the UN.   Third, Geneva was known as a very diverse city which helped exemplify what the UN’s goals are.  Finally, geography – Geneva is in the center of Europe and is accessible by train and airport.

The views aren't bad here either.

Currently, there are 8500 employees in Geneva, but 25,000 delegates participating here each year.    Building on that, 163 of the 193 member states have permanent missions in Geneva.   I know a few women at the women’s club whose husbands work for the missions so this fact a was interesting.

All in all, it was a good tour.   I give it a 7 out of 10 and E-dawg rates it a 6.5 or 7 out of 10.