The List: Favorite Trips Of All Time.

This post is dedicated to all the travelers out there.  We often get inquiries about our favorite places that we have visited outside of the US.  Before we forget, we wanted to leave detailed notes on our top picks in rank order.    Instead of putting it as a post and making it impossibly long to scroll through, we have created a new page on the site here.   You can find it in the future on the top menu of the blog. We pledge to continually update it through our travels!

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




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?




Gratitude Friday: Fresh Food Sources

I think that it is very important to have a very true glimpse into where our food comes from.  Especially in the US, so much of our food is packaged and doesn’t resemble it’s source.

Seeing it as an animal helps you remember that it in fact, came from an animal.  I think it helps promote our gratitude for the food, that a living being is contributing to our well being.  Also, I think it helps in respecting to eat in small quantity and not wasting.

We had a very real experience of this in Tuscany when we visited the pig farm.  Prusciutto is shaved off the leg of the pig in the butcher.  You can easily recognize the body part.

Yup. That’s a leg.

When we were recently in Venice, two of our seafood meals were presented to us whole before cooking, after whole and de-boned at our table.

A delicious fresh flounder for four.

In Crete, we also had this experience in the fishing village of Plaka, which was nearby our hotel.   Our first night, we ordered a sampling of the local seafood.  When it comes out staring you in the face, you really get a connection.

Our dinner. A few whole fish.  A few whole shrimp – heads and tails.  I especially liked the “flying fish” they had.

This guy wanted a part of the whole fish action as well.

Our second night, we returned to Plaka, but a different restaurant.   We had the same experience of fresh catch of the day, yet with the pleasantry of them de-boning it for us and removing the head and fins.  I am sort of a wimp and while I appreciate seeing it whole before and afterwards in the presentation, I don’t like the eyes looking at me while I eat.

Our grouper the first night, split open, and drizzled with Createan olive oil. Perfection!

This grouper was the BEST fish I have ever had in my life, caught that day, in that very bay.

The fishing village of Plaka, the home of our grouper

We loved it so much we returned to the same restaurant the next night.   This is a first for Gabe & I.

Second night in Plaka

So, this gratitude Friday, I just wanted to express my thanks for fresh food and the appreciation of its source.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Where to find the best fish of our lives:

Ostria fish tavern

plaka elounda

720 53 crete

Knossos Palace : Home of The Labyrinth & The Minotaur

The Minoan civilization was just a myth until the last century when Sir Arthur Evans , a British archeologist, was able to pursue his intuition and dig after the Turks departure from Crete.  Before that, he was not able to dig due to the conflict.

And he found what he was looking for – traces of the ancient Minoan civilization which flourished in Crete from 2500 BC to about 1500 BC. This civilization was the oldest  in Europe, happening during the Bronze Age.   For a reference point, it thrived in the same era as the Egyptian times and the Ancient city of Babylon.

The first settlement on top of a previously Neolithic village occurred around 2500 BC – time of King Minos.   They flourished, but were completely iradicated around 1700 BC – possibly by earthquake or the Santorini volcano which is likely to have caused tsunami effects.   During this early time, they were far advanced, producing:

-the first flushing toilet.  Our guide pointed out that even the Palace of Versailles didn’t have such technology 2000 years later.

Evidence of the Minoan engineering – a top channel for regular water, underneath was a channel for waste water from the toilets (not visible in photo)

-the first draining bathtub in the queen’s quarters.

Image courtesy of

Original terracotta pipes

-the first throne.  The original is pictured in the below photograph.  A replica sits in The Hague at the International Court as a reminder of the power of justice vs. war (the Minoans were peaceful).

King Minos’s throne

-the oldest road in Europe

Our guide said this was the first road in Europe that went from the port to the Palace of Knossos

We toured the Palace of Knossos, capital of Minoan civilization when visiting Crete.   If you know your Greek mythology, you are likely familiar with the Palace of Knossos as it is the site of the great labyrinth and the Minotaur.

The labyrinth of the Palace of Knossos

A few myths related to the Palace of Knossos & Minotaur occurred here.  You may remember them?

–Father and son  Icarus  were traped in the maze of the labyrinth at Knossos.  Finally, they came up with the idea to use wax and feathers to make wings to fly out of their captivity.  The father Daedalus warned Icarus not to fly too high, but being young and foolish, he did, the wax melted by the heat of the sun and he drowned in the sea, now named The Icarian Sea.

–King Aegeus  was fed up with King Minos sacrificing 14 young Greek boys and girls each year to the Minotaur.   His son Theseus agreed he would go with the troop and kill the beast, changing the sails from black to white to signal his success.   He succeeded with the aid of the King’s daughter Ariadne using string to help him find his way.  However, in his rush to return to Sounio, he forgot to change the sails.   His father jumped into the sea in mourning, thus naming it the Aegean sea.

Lucky we didn’t get stuck in the labyrinth!

Other than it’s tie-in to Greek mythology, we found the original 4000 year old urns to be quite impressive – they were made to hold olive oil, honey, and wine.  They were extremely heavy, requiring many lifters and handles.   It is said that the son of King Minos was curious and climbed into the honey urn and accidentally fell in.  He met his death by the bees that swarmed the urn.  What a way to die!

Impressive urns

Also, I really loved the frescoes.   Throughout the archeological site, they had imitations so you could get an idea what the palace looked like.  We later toured the archeological museum which contained the smaller and most precious artifacts found at the site.   My favorite fresco was the one that depicted the acrobats flying over the bulls for entertainment.   Bulls were sacred (unlike Spain and Mexico where they slaughter the bulls), so the acrobats had to be very talented to grab the horns and flip over, with no harm to the bull.

Fresco of the bull dancers

Talk about dangerous jobs!

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

Ducks & Delightful Towns in the Dordogne Valley

Yesterday, you read about the magnificent prehistoric caves we saw in Dordogne.   However, we did a few other neat area activities, and I wanted to share.

While we were waiting to enter the cave (closed for lunch for 2.5 hours, it is France), we saw this cute bistro.   As it turned out their sandwiches were 3.50 euro which was an excellent price.  However, the downside (or upside, depending on who you are), was that all the sandwiches involved duck or goose.

I am not a foie gras person, so any type of duck modification that isn’t breast meat scares me, so I went goat cheese.   It was lathered on crispy French bread. Yum.

A cute lunch spot.

After our feast, we checked out the shop.  They had duck and goose everything.   The owners invited us to check out their geese.

Duck. Duck. Goose!!!!!

We continued onto the cave and had a great experience there.

After, as we were driving, we saw magnificent sunflower fields.  They were just turning to their peak, way after Geneva’s had long gone dreary.

A & S in the sunflowers

We stopped upon little Sarlat-la-Canéda, also in Dordogne valley.  It is on the UNESCO “maybe” list, due to the excellent form of its medieval architecture.    Goose and duck souvenirs were everywhere….not to mention a lot of the canned and jarred stuff.  Ick.

Sarlat’s architecure – love this style.

Cute streets

We hit the road for a little while, realizing it was time for dinner soon.  S spotted a hilltop town very close to an exit.  Since French roads only have exits every 30 km or so, we took advantage and pulled off.

Donzenac, France

Streets of Donzenac

We enjoyed a great pizza there before heading back.

I love France…each trip there are so many different discoveries.  But, I am afraid I am getting “adorable” town burnout.   Is this awful?

Getting intimate with the vines in Saint-Émilion


Our first stop on our Bordeaux regional wine tour was the little town of Saint Émilion, where we were staying.   We had wanted a blend of these small family-owned wineries in Saint-Émilion, along with the larger châteaus in Médoc.

We stared out at Laniotte, which is family owned.  The man who runs it is actually a baron.  However, you wouldn’t know from his humorous personality.

Laniotte winery

Farmhouse / winery at Laniotte


One thing that was interesting to me was that these small wineries only produced one wine.    In the US, one winery might have a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, and a variety of whites.   Not here….they made one.

And the classification is very important.   At this winery, their product is a “Grand Cru”.   We had learned about cru designations when we went tasting in Burgundy last Fall.  In that region, they were given the designation: Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Village level, or Regional AOC.

However, here in Saint Émilion, the best was Premier Grand Cru, and the next was Grand Cru.

Still different nomenclature from Burgundy.   Confusing, huh?


Packing room of their wine:  A Grand Cru Classé


The owner’s wife was a chemist.  She explained to us how they sometimes used the pure juice from the vats.  However, sometimes the pressed grape juice was added.  It just depended on the year, and what the wine “needed” in order to reach its best formulation.


The crusher

The press

This winery produces 60,000 bottles a year.   Not bad.   At the time, they were racking.   Racking is the process of moving a barrel of wine into another barrel.

Enjoying our small personal tour of Laniotte

I am familiar with wine tanks which were used in the fermentation process.  However, most of the time, I had seen stainless steel.  This was the first concrete one I had seen.   The winemakers said concrete helps retain the temperature more constant.

My first time seeing concrete tanks


The result?   Nice.

Our tasting. More like a full glass.  Very nice for a bottle that retails for 32 euros. 

We enjoyed meeting the family and tasting their product.

Enjoying our taste.  Mind you, this is 9am. 

While tasting, we asked if we could explore the vines.   We had noticed that the vines in this region are more squarely pruned.  It is hard to tell from this photo, but they looked more manicured compared to those I had seen.

Checking out the vines

Later that night, we had more time to get “intimate” with the vines, as we took a little post-dinner walk through some of the terraces of Saint-Émilion:


Vineyards at dusk

Vineyards, very close to the town center

Terraces at dusk.  Aren’t they well “manicured”?

Sun setting on Saint Émilion’s vineyards

Vineyards going into town

Night falls on the vineyards






The romantic village of Saint-Émilion

When we went to Bordeaux, we stayed in the town of Saint-Émilion.

Saint Emilion is an old wine town.   History dates vineyards there back to the second century.  Can you imagine?

Our hotel was Auberge de la Commanderie. We’d recommend it. The building was from the 12th Century.

The town is a UNESCO site.   Romanesque architecture and roman ruins are sprinkled throughout the entire village.

Church in Saint-Émilion

A street in Saint Émilion



Rock integrated into architecture

View from the steeple


I really loved the architecture of this hill town

The town seamlessly blended into the vineyards, and vice-versa

Small church on the hill, overlooking the vineyards

What a romantic city. Too bad the hubbies weren’t with us.