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





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

Exploring Crete – Krista, Lato, and more

It is hard to believe that snow still exists on Crete until mid-July (it just melted 20 days before our arrival), but that is the elevation on part of the island!  While visting Crete, we wanted to visit some of its mountainous region.

Mountain village of Kritsa

Kritsa was not too far from where we were staying in Eastern Crete.  During Medieval times, it was the largest town in Crete, however, now is a small village with 2200 residents.  It still looks like time hasn’t passed when you walk on its streets:

Gabe was a bit too tall for this door

Wait….which address is this?

Streets of Kritsa

Hot day in Kritsa




Nearby Kritsa is the archeological site of Lato.  It was the most powerful town during Dorian towns with two acropolis.  It was destroyed in 2nd Century BC.

It always amazes us how freely Greece (and Europe for that matter!) allows visitors.   There was no entry, no guards, to visit this incredible site.  We could freely walk all over the pre-Christ dated ruins.

Archeological site of Lato

View of the ocean from Lato


After Lato, we meandered through the mountainous roads back to the highway and to old town Hersonissos.  An old colleague of mine’s family originated from this area and many of them still live there today.  We tried to visit their restaurant in the charming old town square, but didn’t know it was closed for lunch.

Me in front of Georgio’s

Old and new, we had a nice day exploring 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 daedalus.gr

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!

Gratitude Friday: The oldest thing I’ve ever seen

This Friday, I wanted to dedicate gratitude Friday to seeing “the oldest thing I’ve ever seen”.

We stopped in Dordogne Valley of France on the way home from Bordeaux.   Dordogne is known for being a very beautiful area of France, with lovely buildings banking the Dordogne river.

Image courtesy of French property

The Dordogne is also known for being the home of many one-of-a-kind prehistoric caves.We decided to visit Rouffignac Cave, which included drawings that were over 15,000 years old.

We arrived to the site at 11:50.  They closed for lunch from noon until 2pm.  It is France, after all. The fellow warned me I might want to come back early to get in line, however.

There was talk that maybe we should hit another cave instead. However, we researched and found that most other caves either required advance reservations or were also closed at lunch.  We were so remote that it would take awhile to get to another location.

After a sandwich pit stop, we came back at 1pm.  There were already 30 people there.  At 1:30pm, a line had started to queue which we quickly jumped into.  There were at least 100 people in line when the place re-opened at 2pm.  We luckily got into the first tour.

We boarded a mini train and started our journey.  The cave continues for over 10km, but our journey kept us at the first kilometer, where most of the drawings were.  Nowadays, you have to go on train and no photography is allowed.  This is because they discovered visitors were having a bad affect on the preservation of the artwork located in the cave.

Image, courtesy of donsmaps.com

One of the first things we saw were mammoth etchings.  They were made with a sharp object, and carved into the cave wall just below the ceiling and rock nodules covering the cave ceiling.

Mammoth etching image courtesy of donsmaps.com

We weren’t allowed to take photographs, but our guide showed us with a special light the outlines.  Sort of like this:

Image courtesy of joh.cam.ac.uk

Our train continued and then we were able to see the three rhino frieze.   It was breathtaking.

Image Courtesy of Flickr photosteam of Gleinster1936

Following was a 10 mammoth freeze, where 5 mammoths were standing off vs. another 5 mammoths.  Most of the artwork in nearby caves doesn’t include mammoths.  This is why Rouffignac is particularly special due to the inclusion of this long-instinct species.

More mammoths, image courtesy of nature.com

Lastly, they took us into the great room, where there were dozens of images overlapping, mammoths, horses, rhinos.  The room was shallow, but they hollowed the floor to allow for tourists to stand underneath.

Ceiling image courtesy of donsmaps.com

The guide pointed out that cave drawings weren’t discovered until the late 1800’s.   And details on mammoths weren’t fully understood until the 1950’s when excavations found the remains in Siberia, thus helping develop the scientific understanding.  These drawings had details on the animals someone couldn’t possibly know who wasn’t living at the time.  So, they were able to prove and data the history of these magnificent drawings.

I still am in awe that I was able to see that in my lifetime.  What a cool experience.  This area isn’t that accessible, so it truly is because of our living arrangement in relatively nearby Geneva that we were able to get there.  Also, a big thanks to Schwingen in Switzerland for driving us.  It was truly magnificent, and I am thankful to have seen it.

Bon weekend, everyone!

The Little Train That Could….Drink Wine.

We love the Lavaux region.   The wine terraces are magical.   Twin had read my blog before their visit and had really wanted to stop in because of our rave reviews.

There are many options for seeing Lavaux.    If you have a car, you can drive through leisurely.   I do warn you that it is difficult.  S may have accidentally driven on a wine road not meant for cars.   Gabe found it challenging when we drove from Chexbres down to Rivaz with Couch Surfer.

You can also take a train.  I knew of two tasting spots accessible by train.  One is Vinorama nearby the Rivaz stop (bottom of the hill).  It has a lovely tasting room featuring hundreds of Lavaux wines and also a really well-done video which gives you more information about the UNESCO World Heritage Site.   The other is called Le Deck.  We haven’t been there but A & A raved about the magnificent terrace.   You can reach it by car, or by train via Vevey at the Chexbres-Village stop (top of the hill).

You can also hike the region.  The women’s club hosts a magnificent hike every fall during harvest.   I did it and enjoyed it, but it was 5 hours from St. Saphorin to Lutry, which is a little challenging for me.  You can design your own hikes by researching distance and picking a starting and stopping train station.

Lastly, I had recently heard about the Lavaux Express touristic train.   Before E-dawg came, I had listed it as an option since my feet were still recovering and I can’t drive our car, Frau Hilda.   However, we ran out of time.   I had honestly forgotten about it until I read Swiss Wife’s blog and saw her pictures.

So, Twin, Solid and I decided to try it out.   The little train schedule can be found online.   It only goes at certain times and actually on differing days it switches between Lutry and Cully.   Since we did it on a Wednesday, we left from Lutry, which was adorable in itself.

Port at little town of Lutry

Driving through Lutry’s cute streets on the Lavaux Express

Starting our ascent

The terraces are what Lavaux is known for

Rolling vineyards into Lake Geneva

The Swiss Wife had warned us that the daytime trains didn’t serve wine.  There is a 6:30pm weekend one that includes a taste, but we were going during the week.  So, we were prepared so that we wouldn’t be disappointed.

However, surprise, surprise….halfway through, the driver pulled off and their was a little hut with a lady offering tastes for 3 CHF.  So, we decided to partake.

Twin tasting Lavaux Pinot Noir

Solid exploring the vineyards with his glass of wine

The train was 13 CHF for adults.  We considered it a great value in order to get to see the vineyards without a car (and if you aren’t up for hiking super steep terrain).

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Lavaux Wine Tasting

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Gratitude Friday: My French teacher.

Swiss Wife Style:  All Aboard The Lavaux Express

Schwingen In Switzerland:  Stopping at Lavaux

Schwingen In Switzerland:  St. Saphorin

Schwingen In Switzerland:  Lavaux

Tivoli Gardens

When we were in Copenhagen, we visited Tivoli Gardens.    Tivoli is a classic amusement park, built in 1843.  It is the second oldest amusement park in the world, and currently the most visited.

Entering Tivoli

It is quite a fun experience.  For me, it was neat to see how the rides and amusements maintained an old timer feel….it felt special.   Another cool feature was how the amusements integrated seamlessly into nature.  The Danish are very eco-focused which definitely came through in visiting this gem.

Ride modeled after Hans Christian Anderson stories, who was from Copenhagen and lived in the colorful harbor, Nyhavn.

This hot air balloon ferris wheel was one of my favorites. Notice how green the park is.

Classic amphitheater

Enjoying Tivoli Park

Even the food huts were green – loved the flowering roofs

Lots of open green spaces. Not a lot of concrete.

Tivoli brings out your inner kid

Tivoli fountain

A lovely summer day


I used to love rides as a kid, but as an adult, am just as content holding coats/umbrellas/purses.  I did this while these guys rode the old timer coaster, Rutschebanen.

Waiting their turn


They said it was more exhilarating than planned so I was glad I just rested.  Notice how Gabe is hidden by the little orange man.


So glad we got to see this charming little park.


Irish Castles

We have seen our fair share of castles lately.  I thought I’d post a few from Ireland….

First of all, we ate in a castle on our way from Dublin to Galway.  At first glance, we thought it might be cheesy but it was the only open restaurant in town, Tyrellpass.  As it turned out, it was fully with locals.

Our 2nd castle-dining in a week. This one not a UNESCO site like Bellinzona.

Next we drove through The Burren and spotted a few on its craggy coast.

Dungary Castle

On the Ring of Kerry, we saw quite a few.   We spied this one from the road and it was completely deserted.  We thought it was quite cool with the growth.

Ballycarberry Castle

We also saw ring forts in the distance and explored two.   The ring forts were defensive structured.

Ring fort #1

Ring fort #1

Ring fort #2

Ring fort #2

Ring fort #2

On our way back from Killarney to Dublin, we stopped at Blarney Castle (home of the Blarney Stone) and the Rock of Cashel.  We found Blarney to be incredibly touristy.  We couldn’t wait to get out of there…

The Blarney stone is at the top

Rock of Cashel, however, was cooler.  It was a home for kings until one donated the grounds to the church for strategic reasons.  It then was used until only recently.  The roof has falled into decay so I am sure it is not that pleasant with the typical Ireland weather.

Approaching Rock of Cashel

Inside of Rock of Cashel

Nearby monastery

Beautiful gravestone

Jameson Distillery

While in Dublin, two of the tours were recommended were The Guinness Storehouse and the Jameson Distillery.

Neither one of us had toured a distillery before.   Surprisingly, the tour was similar to the beer tours we’d done.  The feel was the same, with walking through the ingredients, the process, the barreling, etc.

Jameson is special because its double malted and triple distilled.   What that means is that they use two types of barley – both malted and unmalted.  And that they put the liquor through 3 stills to get out more impurities.

Everything is done throughout the tour to show Jameson’s superiority.

Jameson Whisky starts its life as barley.   It is spread in a malt house on a heated floor, where it sprouts.  Then it goes into the oven for drying.  This is in contrast to some which are entirely done in the oven, like scotch, which gets a smoky taste.

Next, it goes to a Mill where both barkeys into powder called grist.  Jameson used a real river water wheel until 1971, but when they moved their factory, they changed.

Then comes the Mashing where it is warmed and the starch turns to sugar.   They drain the liquid out which is now called wort but later becomes the whisky.  The leftover grain matter goes to animal feed.  How green!

Next is Fermentation, done in a washback…here the wort is mixed with yeast.  It rests 3 days and a the end is 8% alcohol.

Distillation comes after.   This is done in a Pot Still to separate the water from the alcohol.   They boil the wort and the alcohol becomes vapor and goes into the neck and comes back down the other side as alcohol.

Our guide claimed that this triple distillation makes Jameson more pure and helps Ireland function better without hangovers.

Next comes Maturation.  The minimum time for whisky to “rest” before consumption is 3 years.   Jameson’s minimum is 5 years.   When you are in the room, it smells like vanilla which is the evaporated whisky.  Each year, the barrel loses 2% of its stock, which equates to 15,000 bottles in a year.   There is no way around it.  They tried burying the barrels but the whisky never matured.  So evaporation is key in maturation.  They call it the “angels share.”      It makes sense why the aged whisky is more expensive.  It is reduced significantly in volume after 25 years…someone has to pay for that.

They talked a bit about the barrels.  They actually use white oak barrels that are recycled…they come from Spanish port, sherry and Bourbon* from Kentucky!  The residue from the various other alcoholic drinks is critical.    I thought that was pretty neat.

The person who makes barrels is called a cooper. They have to train for 8 years…more than a doctor!

After the barrels are done at Jameson, they ship them to the Carribean for rum.  Another green practice.

After this, next is marrying and vatting. They mix the liquid made in each barrel, then add water and then bottle.

After this, we each got a shot of Jameson.  We could add ginger ale, sprite, or coke or have it “neat”.  We could also could use ice.  However, the guide told us it was only for “girls”.  Glad i was a girl. I had mine with ice and ginger.

Enjoying my Jameson & Ginger

Gabe volunteered to be among the elite whisky tasters who would try Jameson vs. Johnnie Walker Black Label vs. Jack Daniels.  This was meant to further drive the point of Jameson’s quality and to demonstrate what we learned.   It was a bonus because it was a lot more free whisky for him.

Ready to taste!

Tasting card in order of best to “worse” as they classified it

Love this shot!

He had to go in the order of Jameson, then Johnnie Walker (top scotch) and Jack (top American whisky).

The guide talked about the flaws in each one with the scotch being smoky and the Americans using new barrels vs. old, and corn vs. barley, which produced a sweet result.    It cracked me up that when the guide introduced Jack as smelling like “college and bad decisions”.   He also noted his frustration that when he visited Lynchburg, Tennesee it was a dry county and he couldn’t even buy it there.  He was perplexed.

After Gabe tasted, I tried.  I agreed that Jameson was the best.  It was the smoothest.  The Johnnie Walker didn’t do much for me.  But I am fine with the sweet taste of Jack.

You got me, Jameson, I am now a fan!

*We learned that the reason Bourbon is different from Whisky is that it is made in Kentucky.   Plus some other reasons.  But good to know….its like Champagne can only come from Champagne.

Related links:
The Swiss Watch Blog:  Heineken Redeems Itself

We graduated from Guinness Academy

A must for us in Dublin was the Guinness Storehouse.

A few fun facts about this iconic brewery:

-When Arthur Guinness took out the lease, it was for 9000 years.  Now that is thinking ahead.

-The factory spans 55 acres in downtown Dublin

-3 million pints are brewed at St James Gate each day

Every beer tour we’ve done has included a visual tour about the ingredients they use – barley, hops, water and yeast.  Guinness did as well, but claimed a 5th ingredient too.

Also every beer tour we’ve done included the process.   In going to Jameson the day after, we learned making whiskey is almost the same.

The steps for Guinness beer are:


Mashing à Wort






Making Guinness back in the day

I found the area about transportation particularly interesting.  Since it was brewed downtown, they had to make special boats to get under the low Dublin bridges:


They also had to get it overseas:

How’d you like to be the captain of this boat?

Love their slogans

The Obamas enjoy their Guinness from time to time.

You’ll be happy to know that we graduated from Guinness Academy.  We even got diplomas.  This was the most fun part of the tour….learning how to pour a Guinness.    Now, at Heineken, you could do this with water and a tap, but at Guinness they really let you do it.   And pouring a Guinness is more involved than you would think!

First you must inspect the Guinness branded glass to make sure it is clean and absent of lipstick.  Being a marketing person, I appreciated the branding mention.

Next you tilt it and pull the tap toward you.  You fill it up to the Guinness logo then slowly tilt the glass upward and stop the tap.

You must let it rest.   Notice how the lighter ones have just been poured and the darker have rested a bit?  That is due to the special tap and helps accentuate the flavor.


Once dark, then, you top it off with a slow pour by pushing the tap backwards.


Then you proudly serve it.  Good things come to those who wait.


They also have a pretty sweet Gravity Bar to enjoy a drink:

You can order by the glass if you can’t drink a whole pint.  I did this when we visited all the pubs in Dublin.  It allowed me to keep up with Gabe “glass for glass”.   At Stag’s head, they even had teeny branded Guinness glasses.