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!

Gratitude Friday: UNESCO World Heritage List

This Gratitude Friday goes out to UNESCO.   I actually had no clue what UNESCO was before we moved to Geneva.  However, because of the sheer volume of places in Europe, it became something of note during our travels.  UNESCO helps identify and protect the places in the world that are most important to humans, both culturally and naturally.  There are currently 962 places in the world on the list.  Roughly 80% are cultural while 20% are natural.

unesco

How wonderful that there is an organization which makes it their mission to preserve and recognize these sites?   While sites like the Notre Dame in Paris might not have trouble gaining support, think about those in underdeveloped countries like Angkor Wat in Cambodia that can now have the financial and administrative resources to preserve and protect these special sites for the world to appreciate?

And also, I wanted to express our thankfulness for being able to visit over 30 new UNESCO sites during our time as ex-pats.   This is something that neither one of us thought we would do in a 1.5 year span.   While our travels will be slowing down with our move back to the US, I wanted to find a way to archive the sites that we had been to, both before this experience, and then after.

So, I have created a page in the main menu of the blog listing Our UNESCO Tracker.  I’ll keep this up in the future as well.

Bon weekend, everyone!

 

Our thoughts on air travel

We have had an opportunity to visit many airports across the world.  Sometimes we are surprised with how different things are!

Boarding a Thai Air flight to Bangkok in London

Some differences in Europe:

  • Many times the plane departure and arrival uses a corresponding bus to get you to the plane / terminal vs. a jetway.   We would say this happens about 50% of the time.   One negative is the stairs required to get into the plane.  This can be difficult for some people.
  • Speaking of stairs, we are surprised how many stairs are required sometimes within the terminal, especially while toting carry-on luggage.  Most US airports have escalators or elevators if you have to change levels.
  • We have found many instances where people are still up putting bags away into the overhead bins when the plane starts to taxi.  This would never happen in the US.
  • Cell phones are not supposed to be used until the plane door opens in Europe.   However, in the US, its common to boot up your device, check email, text, and make calls while taxiing to the gate.  It’s something we always forget living in Europe.
  • In Europe, you don’t have to take off your shoes to go though the security x-ray.  So nice!

Which continent is best for connections?

We advised our parents to connect in the US when they came to visit us in Europe.   The pros to this advice are that the airports are usually laid out in a way that makes sense to them, as well as they can ask in English comfortably if they are confused.

Contrary, European connections are a little more difficult to navigate.  You have to go through immigration and out to the public area of the airport which requires you to go back through security.  This can be confusing to some who aren’t used to it.   The bus factor above can add stress to connections because you have to board a bus to get to the terminal and board a bus to get to your next plane.

You also want to think about where you’d rather be stuck.   We generally like to take the longer flight first.  Thus, if you are late, you are at least on the same continent you are supposed to be on, rather than getting stuck another day for the next International flight.

What about bags?

When landing in Europe from the US, you don’t have to take your bags with you through immigration.  Just yourself.    When landing in the US from Europe, you have to go through immigration, claim your bags, and go through customs with the bags.  You then have to re-check them if you aren’t at your final destination.

Most friendly airports:

I love IAD / Washington Dulles.  There is a direct flight from Geneva so it is my favorite.  It might help that I grew up in Virginia so it is close to home.

We really like GVA / Geneva too.  It is small so you don’t have to get there so early.  Its tiny size also makes it easy to pick guests up.  Plus, the city gives out a free 80 minute public transportation ticket to anyone flying into Geneva.

We just flew out of ATL / Atlanta International.  What a difference they have made – a shiny new terminal just for international flights.  The staff is friendly, lines short, and the food course is awesome.  Before this, I would have put ATL down below into the Worst Airports for International flights due to their old method of making you go back through security and take the train to baggage claim, even if it was your final destination.  This wasted on average 45 minutes to an hour for the international traveler.   Kudos for changing this, ATL.

Airports where we have been the most challenged:

HER / Crete – Heraklion – Check in is done by flight, not airline.   So each destination city has an individual desk.  You are not allowed to check-in until 2 hours before your flight, when the check in desk # is posted on the screen.   We arrived 3 hours early, so we had to sit in absolute hot & steamy Greek chaos to wait until we checked in and got into a mad rush of people all arriving at the same time – a line about 30 deep.    However, we ended up in the wrong line because we went for the line saying Geneva.  Who knew there could be another flight to Geneva 15 minutes later on a different airline?     We got to our plane just in time for our flight which is ridiculous for getting their so early.   Again, something solved by going to an airline desk vs. city desk.

GIG / Rio de Janeiro – again, you couldn’t check in until 2 hours before.  I don’t understand why these airports are so against people checking in early.    Our flight time was supposed to be 7:16am.   Upon arrival, the board said 7:53am.   Maybe its late??   The flight didn’t open for check in until 5:53am.  All which wasn’t clear at all, just a guessing game to just get in line.  Luckily it was the right line.   But after asking if we’d miss our connection with the flight time push back, the clerk said the flight time was 7:16am, not 7:53am, we’d be fine to make our connection.  But my boarding pass said 7:53am.  And they started boarding the domestic plane at 6:16am.  Bizarre.  And also weird that they only allowed for 23 minutes to get from the check in counter, through security and to the gate.

IST / Istanbul – you have to go through the full metal detectors and security check to even get to the check in desks.  So this security process is required twice for travelers flying.  One for people picking up people.   Awesome.  Love doing it twice.  Especially love the thrill of being late for an early a.m. flight not knowing this.

BKK / Bangkok – We had such a debacle with Bangkok Airlines when flying to Cambodia.  We showed up 2 hours early for a 7am flight but they said that they sold our seats because we were too late.  We got booted to the next one and missed our tour that day.  Note: never take Bangkok Air if you can help it!

LHR / London Heathrow – Every time we go through here, we have issues.  Either me with my visa or Gabe with his refusal to use a plastic bag or his iPad.  They are not fans of us.

FRA / Frankfort – It’s sheer size makes it hard to make connections.  An hour layover? Forget about it.  I got stuck in Europe after missing my plane with a full hour layover.  Not enough!  Also, wear your walking shoes if you are connecting in this monster!

JFK / New York– I had a 2.5 hour connection and barely made it….talking running.  They need to hire more immigration officers to help speed up the line.  I sat for over an hour in the immigration line.   The line for non US citizens was 10 times longer.  I don’t think those people had a prayer of making it out of the line that day.  Also, at JFK, you have to sometimes walk between terminals to get to connecting flights.  Make that RUN after you have spent over an hour in immigration….

Do you have any favorite or least favorite airports?

Hammocks

I have a new found love of hammocks after our travels in Brazil.  Everywhere we went, the delightful resting spots could be found.

There are a few reasons why Brazil has hammocks going for it.  For one, it doesn’t rain much, so you don’t have the mildew or wet hammock factor.

Also, the trees don’t shed as much so you don’t have the tree trash resting and making them icky.

Thirdly, because there aren’t many bugs, houses are left open and it is typical for families in a house to have an outdoor living area.   This leaves a perfect reason to have hammocks.

The Awesome Family’s outdoor living area had a hammock.

The hotel we stayed at in Perinopolous had a few that we all enjoyed.

I was pretty impressed until we went to the Cachoeira Nossa Senhora Do Rosário and saw an entire floor of hammocks with the most beautiful forest view.

The room of hammocks

Enjoying hammock life

View from the hammock porch. Photo credit to Gabe.

The groom digging his hammock

It was hard to get him out of this thing

Gabe and I purchased one at an arts & crafts store for a souvenir.   It won’t get a lot of use in Geneva, but hopefully, you’ll get to try it out wherever we might live when we return.  Maybe we can get you addicted to this wonderful household item.

The magnificent waterfalls of Goias

Two of the days we were staying in Perinópolous, we did side trips to some of the famous natural sites in the area.  Within a 15 km of the town, there are twenty amazing and pristine waterfalls.

The first day, we went to a very secluded area, an hour’s drive from Perinópolis .   Within that hour, 30 minutes was spent on a bumpy dirt road to read a “camp” area.  We had to traverse a few creeks and farms to reach our destination.

As soon as we parked, immediately, feelings of relaxation washed over.  The little building we had reached was so serene.  Built without walls, it had hammocks all over – as a part of a dining table, out in the courtyards, and all over the park that surrounded the structure.  It had an entire top floor of hammocks.

And a country food buffet was waiting for us, with large farmhouse tables for gathering and enjoying.  We feasted on delicious vegetables, ribs, steak, and Brazilian staple – beans and rice.

Digging in. We were hungry!

After filling up on steaming food from the cauldrons, we all grouped up with a guide to hike to Cachoeira Nossa Senhora Do Rosário.   Cachoeira is waterfall in Portugeuse.  So, this was the Rosário waterfall.   We were told their was a special stop on the way that was equally as beautiful.

The aunts were such troopers – they did so well hiking in the forest to the amazing spots that awaited us.

Starting our climb.

On the way, the surprise was in fact, amazing.   We stopped at a natural pool.  Rock formations made the steps and also perfect ledges for resting.   The water was glorious…cold and refreshing from the hot day.   A few of us dove in, enjoying the beauty of this special place.

Enjoying the refreshing water

Swimming in the natural pool

Aunts enjoying the view on the ledges

At that point, we divided up, where some stayed behind to enjoy the pool, and the rest of us hiked down to the Rosârio waterfall.

Can you spy D & B in this photo?

Fun playing in the rushing Rosário waterfall

The newlyweds in the waters below Rosário waterfall

Johnson men at Rosário waterfall

The magnificence was a hugh payoff, but what a workout!  My quads were burning at the 200-250 rock steps we climbed down and up to experience this.

The following day, D took us to another spot.  This one was a bit closer, about 30 minutes in total from the town where we stayed.    This location had two waterfalls to visit from the parking lot.

Newlyweds starting out on the hike

We met a friend on the way

Making the trek

The first on our list was Santa Maria waterfall, the left trail on the path.  Everyone in our group made it this time, really loving the sand beach that rested below the falls.  This one made for a really relaxing place to lay on the beach.  Many locals brought bags filled with waters, beers, and snacks to make a day out of it.

Water fall #2

Just like the day before, there was a more aggressive climb to get to the second destination.   A brave five of us continued to Luzaro waterfall.   About a half hour vertical hike later, and more burning quads, we reached the site.

There were not many people at this waterfall at all – I suppose it being longer and harder to get to, that the Santa Maria was the more popular spot.

The four of us at Luzaro waterfall.  Thanks to Sexy Sunshine for taking the photo!

Beyond the wedding, this was our favorite activity in Brazil.   We are so glad we got to see them, as D had insisted we do the waterfalls before we had to fly out two days following the wedding.

We would really recommend these amazing falls to anyone venturing to the state of Goias.

Pirenópolous

One of D’s familly’s favorite spots to get away is the little town of Perinópolous.  This town dates back to the 18th century, when it was popular due to gold conquests in the surrounding area.  This trade then made Perinópolous the richest city in the land.

The church

The riches didn’t stay for long.   In the following century, there was a downturn.  The work and prosperity swapped to nearby Anápolis and the population moved to be closer to work.   However, Perinópolous still existed, just without the growth.  It reminds me of our trip to Brugge with the goods & diamond trade moving to Antwerp, but Brugge still staying adorably cute.

You may or may not know that the city of Brasilia was actually built to be the capital of Brazil.   The city was planned and once completed, the capital was moved from from Rio de Janeiro in 1956.  Since the little town of Perinópolous was only two hours away, it started to rise again as a tourist destination.

Today, Perinópolous is a UNESCO World Heritage site and a wonderful weekend getaway to experience traditional Brazilian architecture, lively squares brimming with cafes and restaurants, and a gateway to the nearby waterfalls.

The streets were filled with arts & crafts shops

Lovely night scene in Pirenópolous

Lively cafes in the main drag

Just outside of the little town, D’s family rented us an adorable B & B.  There were 10-12 rooms which was great as we all could gather in the common areas and easily visit between rooms.

Cute little B & B

View from our door to the common area, complete with breakfast porch, hammocks and a pool

While the Americans were in the B & B, the rest of D’s family rented a huge party house where it seemed like dozens of aunts, cousins, and friends stayed.   The house had an indoor/outdoor kitchen area, a pool, and numerous bedrooms.  They barbecued and cooked all day and partied at night.

Someone pointed out that they were not sure that our group would be up for the all nighters and noise, so that is why they found a close B & B for us to settle.     And we heard the prediction was true – – they stayed up to the wee hours of the morning.

You see, many of D’s family and family friends have moved to nearby cities.  So these special occasions like the wedding were a fantastic opportunity for them to come together.  The weekend was a celebration of the marriage, as well as a special time to visit their closest friends, many of whom were considered (and titled) family.

And such, because our group was going to be going to nearby Perinópolous, at least half of the wedding-revelers also traveled to the city as well.   I think we were over 35 in number between the multiple homes / B & B’s rented.    What a neat tradition!

They also rented a 15 passenger van for getting our large groups around, to town, and to the waterfalls.  It made it easy to keep us in the same place.

Party bus!

We had a lovely time in Perinópolous.   Thanks to Mama I and Dashing Dad for providing us such a great experience.

Are you sure we aren’t in Antarctica? : Brazilian Beer

Our first experience with the extreme coldness of Brazilian beers came when we were staying at the Awesome household in Goiania.    Mr. & Mrs. Awesome didn’t speak much English, and our party far less Portugeuse!   But as soon as we got settled in their lovely casa, they were getting us settled, cooking us snacks, and offering us cold cervajas (beer in Portugeuse).   With the Goania weather being in the mid 90’s, we happily accepted.

Having fun our first night in Goiania

They would bring out one-two cans and serve us all.   As soon as we got low, they’d get another cold can to split.  Not understanding the concept of polar bear beer, we thought this was quite funny their attentiveness to pouring.

Later that night, at Carne da Sol, the polar bear beer started to make more sense.   What happens when you go out with friends is that you order in total for your group.  They then bring out large frosty bottles (about the size of a forty) in mini cooling sleeves and serve them into tiny glasses.

The frosty beer and its cold sleeve.

This allows the beers never to get warm as you can replenish when you finish your glass.  Most of the time the servers poured for us.  As Daughter Awesome explained, “at a restaurant, we complain about the service if our glasses get low!”

Cheers!

B’s favorite is one called Antarctica with a penguin on it.  I can vouch that it’s the coldest beer I have ever had in my life.

B and his favorite

When Family Awesome took us to their country club, they also ordered beer.  This one came in a fancy cooler, like what we would have wine in at a restaurant.

A+ for presentation!

Cheers with Family Awesome

At the wedding, the servers were super attentive, pouring beers every time you took a sip or two.   We found it so funny how we were never empty!!   And, it is really easy to lose count this way.

Gabe’s glass was never empty

Us with Daughter & Son of Family Awesome who taught us so much about Brazilian life

Nonetheless, we are huge fans of our newly learned Brazilian tradition.  Maybe we’ll try to replicate this in the States with our wine chiller.

The Brazilian Beauty Salon

The day of the wedding, D’s mom, Mama I, arranged for hair appointments for all of us.  While I encourage Gabe to get his hair cut in every country we go to (it is half or third of the price of Geneva), I had never had the pleasure of an international hairdo.

Pippi Longstocking?

D’s cousin worked at the salon where we went so she was in charge of telling all the stylists what needed to be done.   We all selected our styles out of the book and Miss L, D’s sister, translated our preferences.

Trying to decide on styles

We enjoyed the different experience, commenting how busy the salon was.

Daughter Awesome had taught me & Gabe that most Brazilian women make salon appointments for Friday, to prepare for the weekend, no matter what the income bracket.  She explained that rich went to the rich salons and the poor to the poor salons.  You either had your nails, makeup, or hair done.   Just for the weekend!

I haven’t had a pedicure in one full year, so I was very jealous of this frequency!   Even young girls were in the salon getting pedicures as early as eight.  I guess you have to start with the beauty routine early….the Brazilians are such beauties!

Mama Mia getting her do

The Sensuous Siren after her curls were set

Mama Mia and the aunts delighted in the coffee, which the salon girls brought out on a tray, with china.   This is something we are used to in Switzerland – a more formal presentation for food & drinks, but this custom blew them away.  There was a picture taken of everyone receiving their lovely coffee treat.

Mama Mia, the world’s #1 coffee lover, was delighted.

While our curls set, we started getting called up for makeup.  The makeup was more dramatic than we were used to, which I think was a really neat for the big event.    I had already planned to ask for dramatic due to my more casual dress.  However, after seeing some of the aunts, I decided that asking for dramatic in an already dramatic country might be a little overkill.

Glamour Queens with their lovely make up complete.

Miss L translated what I wanted to her cousin, and I loved it……. D’s cousin is really talented in this area.  In fact, everyone loved their bold Brazilian wedding look.

As things frequently do in Brazilian, time got a little off track with timing.  So, D, the bride, had to step in and finish about five of the hairdos while her cousin focused on the makeup.

I will mention that D is a talented hairdresser, so she felt like this relaxed her instead of sitting watching.   However, since she has been in the US for ten years, the salon patrons did not know.  So you can imagine that they were very curious about our whole group and what the heck was going on!

D, finishing Mama Mia’s updo

D doing her mom’s hair, Mama I

In the end, we all walked out a lot more glamorous and ready for the big ceremony.

Don’t you love the dramatic makeup and styles???

Mama Mia and The French Cougar

Floridian Fox, Sensuous Siren, French Cougar and Mama Mia

Mama I & Dashing Dad’s beautiful girls

Gratitude Friday: A Taste of Brazil

While spending a week in Brazil, we certainly got spoiled by the food.  We aren’t used to tasty food while living in Geneva, so thus, this week’s gratitude Friday post!

Upon arrival in Rio, we took advantage of the ocean and dove into fish dishes.   We enjoyed fish stew, moqueca. We also had delicious fresh sushi.  We can’t afford sushi in Geneva (like 25 CHF a roll!) so we loved the all you could eat option at the restaurant we dined in.

Moqueca, image courtesy of simplyrecipes.com

We weren’t sure what the plans were in Goiania so we also took advantage of trying a traditional  churrascaria barbecue, Tourão grill, near Barra da Tijuca in Rio.  We have both experienced this type of service in the US, so knew to expect to eat a lot.  That was an understatement…..here in Rio, the meat flowed even more freely.  We loved the variety, especially since we aren’t used to having much meat in Switzerland because of the cost.   In Rio, it was 37 $R per person for the service, which was less than $40 USD for the both of us!

Typical Brazilian steakhouse concept. Image courtesy of open table.com

The best of the foods came in Goiania when we met up with D’s family.   We were greeted by fresh fruit, juices, breads, cheeses, and focaccia at Mama I’s apartment.  She even had sweet gelato-pudding for dessert.

Cheeses & breads at Mama I’s

Foccacia that was made fresh by Mama I

After breakfast, Gabe & I, along with Aunt French Cougar and Aunt Brazilian Bombshell, went to the Awesome Family’s house to stay.   D calls Mrs. & Mr. Awesome her aunt and uncle, but really they are just very close family friends that go back 35-40 years.

We didn’t know we were going to paradise.  They had a lovely home.  And the food at this house was off the charts.   In minutes, she had prepared us three pizzas to snack on.

Mrs. Awesome’s delicious pizza.

That night we went out with the group.   D ordered a selection of appetizers.  I adored the fried yucca.  Also, they ordered piranha for the group.  One order fed 10 of us as it came out with two types of bean sides, rice, and sauce.   Also, The Awesomes ordered chicken stuffed with cheese.  The Swiss would approve of this Brazilian dish!  Delicious!

Yucca appetizer

The delicious meat & sides

Chicken stuffed with cheese

The wedding day I also got a little treat of appetizer items that Mama I picked up for the girls at the salon to tide us over to dinner.

Little Brazilian bites

Wedding fare was a little fancier….a beef and rice with some delicious salads.   Brazilian weddings go later and this feast was served after midnight.  Boy, was I ready to devour it!!  Actually, this is Gabe’s plate.  I started eating mine too fast and forgot to take a photo.

Gabe’s wedding plate

We also got to experience country cooking when we went on our waterfall excursion near Pirenópolis.  The place where we started our hike offered a home cooked food buffet, on cauldrons over fire.  It was so awesome!

The set up. Open fire blazing under all the cauldrons.

The cauldron selection – beans & rice, zucchini, corn, pumpkin, ribs. Also eggs and steak were grilled on demand.

My plate. Mmmm.

The evening in Pirenópolis, we let Daugther and Son Awesome order as we were at a loss for the Portuguese menu and the foreign Brazilian dishes.  And it is so much easier in a big group to do family style.   Locals know what is best, and everyone gets to try something new.  I couldn’t recommend this approach more for groups in a foreign country.

We were delighted with a seafood risotto, a steak plate w/ sides, beans & rice.   The aunts ordered some white spaghetti to appease some cravings from back home.

The next day’s breakfast was a beautiful spread of Brazilian pastries & rolls with fresh juice and coffee.  By the way, their coffee comes sweet.

Coffee and juices

Speaking of juices, we tasted our fair share.  Passionfruit, Cajou, and my favorite – mango.   We were even able to see the cajou growing during our hike to the waterfalls:

Cajou fruit

Before leaving for the airport, we stopped at the family’s rental house where the group had been BBQ’ing and cooking all day.   We got to taste the delicacies out of the pots:

Yummy Brazilian soup: corn based with pork meat in it

Chicken & rice. Mmmm.

As you can see, we had quite an array.  Never have we experienced such a wide variety of foods in our travels.    A big thanks to Mama I, the Awesome Family, and to D, the bride, for giving us such a taste of their amazing country.

Bon weekend, everyone!

Sugarloaf Mountain

Another stop on our Rio list was Sugarloaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar, in Portuguese. Sugarloaf is named from the way that it resembles the pile of sugar, as sugar trading was a big livelihood in Brazil.

Sugarloaf, as viewed from the beach near downtown Rio

We had heard it was an interesting outing.  We practically had to beg our tour guide to take us as she said the view was better from Corovado mountain, where we saw Christ the Redeemer.

Making the cable car journey to Sugarloaf

That view from Christ The Redeemer was higher up, but I wouldn’t say it was better.  Because Rio was surrounded in a dense haze most of our trip, we thought the panoramas from Sugarloaf provided for better perspective of the beaches, city and landscape.

Checking out the gorgeous Rio coastine from the top of Sugarloaf

Our guide wasn’t so hot at taking photos. I had to delete 5 where she chopped our heads off. But this one you can somewhat see the background!

Rock climbing is popular, but for those less adventurous, there is a cable car that runs every 20 minutes.

Descending back into town. The beach in the distant left is Copacabana, where we were staying. Downtown Rio is in the right top.