Geneva, Switzerland

Sweetzerland!

I can’t claim credit for the title of this post. Sweetzerland is the name of a chocolate shop that you’ll want to visit when you arrive in Geneva.  The author of the NY Times article ’36 Hours in Geneva’ boasts that this is the shop ‘where Russian tourists come to buy chocolate by the kilo’ since all of the sweets are made with pure, organic cocoa butter.  We savored our small bag of chocolate covered almonds for three days 🙂

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View from St. Pierre Cathedral

Travel tip: Geneva offers a warm welcome to visitors: free transport from the airport if you ride the bus within the first 80 minutes upon arrival. So civilized!  The #5 bus became our close acquaintance as it took us from the terminal to our airbnb accommodations in the La Florence neighborhood.  It’s not surprising that our first stop was Parfums de Beyrouth, our airbnb host’s suggestion for lunch.  Families, uni students, couples and a variety of people of colour were eating chawarma wraps and mixed lunch plates.  We were so hungry that we forgot to snap pictures of our mixed plate of chicken and lamb.  If you feel the need for a sweet afterwards, don’t hesitate to pick up an almond, honey, or pistachio pastry by the cash register.

The #18 tram is walkable from Parfums de Beyrouth, and drops you directly at the iconic dome of CERN, Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, or the European Council for Nuclear Research.  Their exhibits were fantastic for layman who needed very simple and straightforward descriptions of the physics projects.  Both the featured and the permanent exhibitions were interactive and incorporated sample demos for visitors.  The real test will be if I can summarize my take-aways here!

The spherical building (below) that welcomes guests to the campus is only one small part of the Large Hadron Collider, or LHC.  There is an underground circular highway below the buildings on campus that accelerates atomic particles at 1/3 of the speed of light.  As the atomic particles are released into this underground circular highway they spin insanely fast and crash into one another.  Physicists from around the world study the various collisions to learn more about particle characteristics and interactions, and ultimately the matter of our planet!

After leaving CERN’s Universe of Particles, we rode the #18 tram to the opposite end of the line into the Carouge neighborhood.  This neighborhood is well-known since it was designed by Italian architects, and thus has a different feel than the other parts of Geneva we’d passed on the tram.  Many of the streets were lined with shorter shops, galleries, and patisseries rather than with larger, immaculate buildings with identical windows in the other parts of Geneva.  I vowed that I’d return to Rue de Saint Joseph as it looked like a prime spot for holiday shopping (update during post: this never happened).  Not much was open after 5pm, but we did find Wolfisberg Patisserie for a warm drink and the first of Corey’s many pan de chocolate/pain au chocolat.

Against my better judgement, we passed all of these cosy looking, candle-lit bistros to find a sushi restaurant for dinner.  There’s nothing to report on our meal at Sake, but I would suggest Chat Noir for a fun night out after a meal. With two floors, you can find something if you wanted a low key night with friends and drinks upstairs, or a more active night with pub-quiz and dancing downstairs.  We unofficially played the ‘name that tune’ portion of the pub quiz over a vin rouge before heading home on the #21 bus.


We usually try to get out of the main city centre for at least one leg of a trip, and on this day we set out for Montreux and Lausanne.

Travel tip: Buy a joint ticket at the Geneva train station that includes your round trip to Montreux, you bus round trip to Chillon Castle, and the entry ticket for Chillon Castle. The overcast weather matched my coming down with a cold, but even in the mist, Le Lac (the lake) was beautiful from the train car.  You walk down a two levels of stairs to see the main street in Montreux which also hosts a wonderful view of the lake from their riverwalk-type pathway.   On Sunday, it’s very sleepy, but it’s easy to imagine the crowds of folks visiting for a ski weekend or for the summer jazz festival.

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I loved that Pret has full on veggie and fruit boxes below their prepared goods. It’s like a full on supermarket in this train station!

Our Italian lunch at La Rouvenaz was just ok, but we reflected that everyone had wine which we skipped, and many ordered shellfish which we also skipped.  We walked off lunch by following along the bus line until we were ready to board the #201 to Chillon Castle.  We found the Zurcher Chocolatier which should not be missed if you are in need of a decadent pastry.

The #201 drops you right at Chillon Castle’s gate, and guests can explore the stony and sparse rooms with the brochure’s suggested itinerary.  The castle is built on a small island that was strategic in coordinating movements between the north and south of Europe.  It’s survived French, English, and German occupation, the earliest being from 1150.  My favourite part of the visit was climbing the stairs to the top of the Tower for a bird’s eye view of the lake and neighboring towns.  On the way up the stairs, I took pictures at each level convinced that the current level I’d reached was the most beautiful view….and then I’d get to the next landing and be just as stunned.

We didn’t walk the castle’s surrounding walking trails but we wanted to make sure we had enough time to check out Lausanne before heading back to Geneva.  We missed the mark and it was dark by the time we reached Lausanne.  I should probably note here that we didn’t know what we’d find at Lausanne, but that I was keen to visit as I’d decided this town was the namesake of the school where Kwaku currently teaches in Memphis.

The attendant at the information booth right outside the train station shared that at 17:30pm on a Sunday, we’d probably find little to do. She highlighted that the main loop for a tourist trek would be about an hour.  We’d see St-Francois Church (built in 1270), a gothic cathedral (built in 1150) overlooking the city, and the Flon district which is now known for it’s modern architecture and design shops.  The goal was to reach the cathedral by 18:00pm if we wanted to see the interior.  Everything else would be closed.

She failed to mention the start of the walk to get to St-Francois church was completely uphill!  The winding streets along the way were clearly the commercial shopping district.  I joked that you’d either need to be very clear about shopping for only one item, or you’d need to be very dedicated to moving slowly from one store to the next to forget that you were shopping at a constant 45 degree angle!  Just to note, we did the loop with success and saw the cathedral with five minutes to spare!

We followed the signs noting ‘de-escalation’ from the cathedral to find the #2 metro to take us to Ouchy (the name of the Lausanne port).  Tourists flock to this area since it’s the home of the Olympic museum.  The restaurants were actually open in this part of town as well.  We were attracted to a sign that read ‘Food non-stop 24/7’.  Clearly.

I loved the ambiance at Le Vieil Ouchy!  The tall candles were lit on every table, and my wine glass seemed to remain full of vin rouge the entire meal.  Corey ordered a serious cordon bleu!  Based on every other orders we saw, we’d also suggest fondue if you’re not a member of the lactose intolerant club.


Today was memorable.  Not only did I enjoy everything we saw and ate, but it was also a major turning point in Corey’s career; he accepted a severance package from his company right before our walk through the old town. Read on…

From our neighborhood, the dependable #5 bus dropped us of directly in front of MontBlanc.  What’s important about this location aren’t the steeply priced ball point pens, but that we stumbled upon Sweetzerland at this very moment (just across the street from the luxury writing utensils)!  Please ask for a taste of the chocolate covered almonds even if you don’t purchase anything!  Maybe bring one back for us?

The promenade along Lake Geneva to Bains de Paquis was dreamy. We were walking around 10:30am when the sun was bright and the weather crisp.  When you arrive at the bathhouse, it draws you in even though it’s no frills. The cafeteria style tables had light streaming across them, and a wood burning stove was warming the indoor seating area.  The teal painted sea creatures detailing the walls, and the walk-up window for ‘grub’ made us feel as though we’d found a hidden gem.

Within fifteen minutes, we were surrounded by senior citizens, uni students, and the few locals who weren’t working 9am-5pm jobs on a Monday.  It’s incredibly cheap for such yummy food!  Most ordered the Plat du Jour which comes in a standard meat or meat-free option.  The plates are hearty!  Some also shared the fondue pots, and we opted happily for the soup and bread.  It’s a must that everyone drinks ginger tea, too!  To my surprise, some folks were lying on the wooden slats to soak up the sunny day though it was the end of November.

We felt warm and content as we walked to an art installation called ‘Stop Telling Women to Smile‘.  I knew that Tatyana Fazlalizadeh had her art showcased in Paris, and in Brooklyn, but I hadn’t been able to catch her yet.  Her art focuses on the gender based harassment that women face while simply walking down the street.  She covers large mural spaces with faces and voices of women responding to this harassment in their daily environments.

On our way to see her traveling series, Corey got a call from HR and we stopped outside of a cafe for the next forty minutes so Corey could take notes on his next steps!

As you can imagine, the rest of our walking tour through St Pierre Cathedral and Old Town was focused on his career more than taking in the specifics of these sights.  I enjoyed walking through the tiny red door to walk up the steps to the cathedral’s look out, and the Old Town has lovely shops and most likely lovely places for lunch (which we didn’t try because we were too busy talking).

We stopped on the edge of Old Town to take in the view of the city.  I guess it felt symbolic to be looking out over the city, and recognizing how small we are in all of this, but also how much promise you can feel as you look out across a beautiful city-scape.

After a final pan de chocolate, we continued our talks of Corey’s decision on the bus, at the airport, and all the way home.  In a short three-day weekend, we enjoyed the bread, butter, and the French influence on the pastries.  We found it was easy to walk around the neighborhoods to see the facades of the buildings which were designed with simple yet elegant eaves.  We wished we were able to talk to more people as there are a number of non-Swiss people who’ve made Geneva their home.  It’s also got wonderful potential for someone who likes to combine city and nature on their vacation.  Finally, Geneva will also forever be the city where Corey closed his chapter at BBG.  And it’s not a bad location to start reflecting on the next steps of one’s career…

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Quickshot:

Day 1: 

Day 2: Day Trip

  • Take a day trip to Montreux, Lausanne, or one of the various mountainous towns outside of Geneva
  • ((One blog even suggested renting a car and driving across the border to France for a market day!))

Day 3: 

  • I’m pretty sure if I’d been to Bains de Paquis earlier in the trip, I’d have gone at least twice for lunch or… even for the bath experience. Make sure it’s on your list for a hearty, healthy and amazing lunch!!!
  • No judgement if you choose to stay at Bains and bathe, read, or philosophize for the larger part of the day
  • Walk to Old Town to see St Pierre’s Cathedral and then meander as long as you like
  • Make sure to eat bread and chocolate. Oh, and butter on the bread. Yes!
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Colchester, England

A Cold Day Trip to Colchester

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Elephants have been my favourite animal since I was about eight years old so I was taken with Colchester’s love for the keystone species as well!  We arrived knowing that Colchester is Britain’s oldest recorded town, but didn’t know that when the Roman Emperor Claudius invaded the settlement in 43AD that he brought elephants along to intimidate the locals.  Today you can see small elephants decorating the street signs & placards near the town centre, and the local zoo is said to have some friendly ambassadors as well.

When you take the train from Liverpool Street Station you can alight at Colchester or Colchester Town.  We arrived at Colchester, but then took an Anglia train to Colchester Town since this stop was closer to some of the sights we wanted to see before lunch.

St. Botolph’s Priory is directly behind Colchester Town station.  It was founded in 1100 and was the first Augustinian priory in England.  I had to look up priory (a small nunnery or monastery) and Augustinian (relating to a religious order observing a rule derived from St Augustine’s writings…I admittedly didn’t go deeper than this so I’m still not quite sure of the importance in a specific religion).  The walls that remain are from the 12th century which is just a tad bit older than our country 😉 I thought the arches were stunning.

Most people seemed to be using the priory grounds as a shortcut to get to the train station.  We walked against the grain of pedestrians about five minutes up Queen street to Castle Park.   It’s the equivalent of the central park of the area, and many families were visiting this Saturday. I do think there were more children around the back of the castle at the tiny Christmas fair than enjoying the historical site itself.  We weren’t much better than the seven-year olds as we dropped coins into the entrance’s well , but didn’t pay the fee to go beyond the foyer.

The lady at the castle till offered up a few lunch spots, including Tymperleys on Trinity Street.  It’s a beautiful Tudor building with a pretty garden outside.  We were hungry enough for a full lunch, but they also offer afternoon tea as well.  Their mulled wine was the first I had of the holiday season but it won’t be the last!

After seeing the historical sights, and having a cosy lunch, we spent the rest of the chilly afternoon strolling past the Trinity Street shops.  There were many commercial stores like Primark and H&M, but we noted that barber shops and tattoo parlors also made a strong showing.  These brought up the stereotypical images of Essex men from the TV show ‘The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE)’ — similar to our reality series ‘The Jersey Shore’.

Around 3:30pm, the sun started to fade so we turned up our collars and walked for twenty minutes from Trinity Street to Colchester station.  It’s easy to see why commuters do this route during the week– getting back into Liverpool Street station takes about a hour so it’s an direct and easy day trip to and from London!

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Amalfi Coast, Italy

My post from the Amalfi Coast

IMG_9491To quote my friend, Anna Moyer: “It’s hard to overstate the beauty of the Amalfi coast.”  On the bus, every hairpin turn was breathtaking.  You’re incredibly high up from the waters below, and the towns living in the mountainside are beautiful as they peak around each curve in the road.

We arrived in Positano after an early morning flight and two crowded SITA buses, yet time stood still for the rest of the day as we explored the many nooks and crannies of this dreamy place.  Positano is full of numerous staircases, and long winding roads, that will do a number on your calves.  We took a very, very leisurely pace the entire time as this was Corey’s first trip since Tignes.

Near the main docks, there were numerous linen boutiques, sandal shops, and limoncello grocers.  Lemons are big here- not just in popularity but also in size.  I also loved the stores selling ceramic-ware painted with bright lemons against navy on all sorts of bowls and platters.

We dipped our toes in the super clear water, and took a nap on the pebbly beach late in the afternoon, before making the trek back up to the local Trattoria.

The streets are lovely as you can see.  Many of them are draped with wisteria or have brightly painted building.  We imagined how crowded it must feel in the summer as you can barely walk two by two on the narrow lanes.  On the street sides, single file is a must so you aren’t nipped by a local bus or scooter.  I couldn’t stop taking pictures around every twist and turn.


This morning, I tried running stairs to get the day started but I only lasted about twenty minutes.  The Positano steps kicked my butt, but there is no photographic evidence as I could barely breathe, no less snap a selfie!  Wouldn’t an early lunch be a better idea?  Corey found Fattoria La Tagliata, a true gem, up towards the town of Nocelle.  I wanted to visit Nocelle as this is where the Il Sentiero degli Dei (Path of The Gods) trailhead starts/ends, but honestly, if you didn’t want to hike, then I’d still highly suggest a trip to this restaurant as your main activity for the day.  It felt like the Italian grandmother-chefs were picking young garlic right out of the garden to use for our family style meal (and later we discovered there was a mini-farm outside!)  You arrive on the terrace and three small plates with a bottle of house wine are immediately brought to your table. There is no need for a menu.  Prego!!!

We didn’t do the Path of the Gods as it was too strenuous for my kidney-healing man, but we did take the bus to Nocelle so that I could at least say I saw the entrance to the path.  If we return to the coast, I’ll be bringing a solid pair of hiking boots.

The remainder of the day was spent on the small terrace in our hotel room just taking in the gorgeous scenery and reviving my blog (or ‘slog’ as Corey has taken to calling it as it’s majorly delayed in posts (slow + blog= slog).  Better yet, wait for the exclusive to Corey’s blog- or ‘clog’- coming out…. TBD 🙂


Day three took us on a day trip to Amalfi, another town just a thirty minute boat ride along the coast.  The town has a smaller beach, but a livelier square and Duomo.

Visitors can enter the crypts and cathedral for a mere three Euro to see the Monumental Complex of St. Andrew.  We had a seaside lunch followed by a gelato cone (I found the sorbet yogurt flavor and felt very satisfied).  We didn’t indulge in the fried seafood cones along the way, but did some window shopping for linen, leather and limoncello.

We caught another crowded SITA bus up to Ravello, a very pretty town, high up in the cliffs.  Suggestion for SITA straphangers: buy your round trip tickets at the tabacchi shop, and get to the busstop early.  We were visiting in April when it’s less crowded and still felt the pushing and shoving to climb aboard.  Though SITA looks like our version of a charter bus, they line people up into the aisles like a local city bus.

Ravello was as picturesque as ever, and we spent a majority of our time in the Villa Cimbrone, an exclusive hotel with gardens that are open to the public.  The wisteria that hang down along the walk and the stunning views of the Mediterranean made it well worth the 7 Euro.

On the way back from the gardens, we opted for Mimi Bar Pizzeria for a quick meal before our Ravello Piano Concert.  Jackpot!!! The pizza crust was chewy and delicious, and it was the best pasta with ‘sea fruit’ (clams and mussels) I had on the entire trip!!! I can’t say enough good stuff. The trip advisor reviews in the link below don’t have enough exclamation points to do the restaurant justice. We will definitely return if we are in Ravello for more red sauce and seafood.

Ravello’s Concert Hall offers weekly concerts in a small venue with great acoustics.  If you’re into classical music, this would be a must see.  This is illustrated by the fact that we ran into one of Corey’s colleagues while waiting for the concert to start!  She had heard similar reviews of Ravello’s concert society and made sure to stop in as well.  Giuseppe Di Bianco’s piano recital concluded our already peaceful afternoon.  Unfortunately, after the limoncello at intermission, we had to leave to catch the last bus to Amalfi and Positano.  Stepping out into the quiet stone paths after hearing a talented musician made for a great evening.  Add to this, the local church was holding their Good Friday procession, complete with babies dressed as angels, and a candle lit parade.


We left Positano mid morning and spent the day wandering the new, flatter streets of Sorrento.  The area feels a bit less ‘beach-vacationy’ as the beach is much smaller here, though the waters are just as clear blue when you look over the edge of the boulevards. It’s easy to take day trips from Sorrento as well so there is a city/ transport feeling, in my opinion.

There’s more affordable shopping here, and more space for outdoor eateries. We didn’t find a great lunch spot, but we didn’t find a lovely linen shop where the gentlemen dressed Corey to the nines! The fashionista spirit of Italy is still strong though we were many miles from Milan.  We were offered delicious samples at Nino and Friends, a souvenir shop featuring local treats.  I found a purse that I couldn’t resist, and then we made our way to the grocery store to ensure we had provisions for Easter Sunday and Monday.  We learned that many restaurants would be closed or would have limited hours for the holiday so it was time to stock up for an Easter picnic.  Would you believe we met a family from Ewing at the grocery store!?  Corey has a magnet for meeting people around the world!  While he reminisced about dirty Jersey highlights with two college-aged siblings, I purchased mortadella, parma ham, olives and artichoke hearts with their mom.  Her son is studying abroad in Germany, and he and his sister bought their mom a ticket to travel to Italy for the first time on their spring break.

Dinner was around the corner from our hotel, and the fish of the day with homemade pasta was a major thumbs up.  We also spotted many tables sharing multiple pizzas so it seems you can’t make a bad choice at Il Convivio.


Since Sorrento is a hub for day trips, we caught an early train to Pompeii and Erculano to see the historical ruins created by Mt. Vesuvius.  On Easter Sunday, the trains stop running at 1pm so we did a quick tour at each site, and promised to read up on these when we had more time.  You can see just how intricate the cities must have been, and Ercolano still had paintings on the walls as well!

We ventured into the side streets of Ercolano and saw Easter parades with flags and traditional dress.  The slight drizzle couldn’t stop the celebrations and chants. I wondered how much I should be considering that Mt. Vesuvius is still an active volcano even though we were most likely just hearing thunder rolling in with the rain clouds.

We found a serious bakery selling Easter treats and gelato. Yes, of course, we joined in with the purchasing of pastries and spun gelato cones, even in the rain.

We enjoyed our picnic lunch by the hotel pool and spent the remainder of the grey afternoon between the hotel lobby tethered to wifi and the hotel bar for a beer and wine happy hour.

Dinner was at Ristorante Bagni Delfino, a restaurant right on the docks that was open on Easter Sunday.  The staff was incredibly nice, and I must say the gratis pre-dinner prosecco was a nice touch.  After the sun set, the main square in Sorrento still felt lively, with many people out celebrating the holiday.  Everyone was dressed up and out with kids and loved ones, treating themselves to gelato or just enjoying the night lights.


For our last full day on the coast, we caught an early boat out to the Isle of Capri.  We hit a bump in the road, or should I say, a bump in the waves, as they felt reminiscent to the waves on our Thailand trip. Corey soothed me by telling me the waves were not nearly as rocky as we’d experienced before (which was true), and that we were ‘almost there’ numerous times even when we weren’t.  I admittedly found myself pumped with more adrenaline than I’d expected while on the boat so getting back on solid ground was a good start to being on the island.  Truthfully, the views didn’t compare to Positano, Amalfi or Ravello as we took the uphill walk to the town center. High end shops and small cafes line Piazza Umberto, the main plaza, where you’ll find many day-trippers.

We wandered to the Giardini di Augusto to look out on the Faraglioni, two distinct rock formations in the true blue sea.  Unfortunately, there weren’t boats being allowed into the Grotta Azzurra, as the waves were too choppy.  We hear the magnificent blue ocean is supposed to be unreal in this cavern.

We sat along the garden walls with our parma, olives, tomatoes, pesto and bread picnic lunch as many of the Capri eateries are expensive.  Corey treated himself to a ‘Capri Special’ drink: fresh orange juice with lemon granita.  It dawned on me that Capri Sun must be based on this very juice!  We traveled back down to the Marina Grande on the funicolar, a train that goes straight up and down the hill on one track (just like the one on the snowy mountains of Tignes).

O’ Parrucchiano had the most stunning ambiance.  It felt like dining in a magical citrus grove, and I asked that Corey propose to me again because it was such a fairytale.  Stick to the seafood dishes as my veal Milanese wasn’t much to write home about.  As we walked home from dinner, teems of people were spilling out of Gelateria Primavera so we had to try it…When in Rome? (the saying still applies even in Southern Italy, right?)



Naples

A few people told us to skip Naples–that it wasn’t worth dedicating a night of our trip here.  But we liked seeing the different personality of this city.  Yes, it’s grittier than any locale on the Amalfi coast, but it’s also the third largest city in Italy.  It’s a mix of graffitied walls, and quaint restaurants, with neighborhoods that are definitely showing signs of change in many ways.

Our first day of walking was close to Piazza Dante.  The neighborhood lanes had two sides. The main strip, Via Dei Tribunali, was lined with pizza shops, souvenirs booths, and churches offering tours of the underground cities of Naples.  Off this main drag were dollar stores, tobacco carts, and drabber alleys brightened only with hanging laundry.

The central duomo’s interior was beautiful, and the plaza in front was a hangout for teens, and boys playing futbol. We participated in a slightly uneventful tour of the San Lorenzo Maggiore Scavi Museo to see the ancient market buried below the foundation of the church.  The fact that Naples has underground tunnels, markets, and piazzas is really neat, but the tour wasn’t too exciting…more of a tourist trap upon reflection.

Via Toledo is full of commercial shops like H&M and Adidas but this huge street does lead you right down to the water.  We stopped for a caffè nocciolato at Il Vero Bar del Professore, a cafe renowned for rich hazelnut cream coffee.  Before heading to the seaside, you pass the gorgeous Basilica Real Pontificia San Francesco da Paola.  Cars aren’t able to drive along the waterfront (Via Caracciolo and Via Partenope) and it was nice to see joggers in the evening, and friends strolling along enjoying the views of Capri and Mt Vesuvius in the distance (we were sure we were looking at one of these!)

We passed Castel dell’Ovo, a fort-looking castle jutting right out on the waves.  Taking a right up past the huge waterfront hotels takes you to the Chiaia neighborhood. This is an area that feels completely different from the lanes we’d walked earlier in the day. There are boutiques and fine art galleries.  I’d read that we should visit a wine bar with a rooftop but before we found it, we passed BISI.  The owners swept us up before we could say no and they were terrific. The cocktails were perfect, especially since they were keen to create something based on our personal taste. With each drink, you’re served a board of small snacks done incredibly well. Apparently, the owners also have another spot called Trip which we will hit up on our next visit to Naples.

We still hadn’t had dinner but it was good that we had emptier stomachs for our meal at Tandem.  They are known for their rich meat ragu and meatballs.  I loved the checkered tablecloths in the intimate space.


 

 

It was amazing to see Corey’s energy returning each day. For our final day in Italy, he were up for more walking.  We took the funicular up to the Castel Sant’ Elmo to see the view of the entire city.

We visited the Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, or Madre, a contemporary art museum listed in the 36 Hours in Naples article. The entrance makes you feel like you’re in a funhouse.  We saw large walls highlighting art with one off kilter photograph, or a large circle with abstract scribbles.  I liked the gallery dedicated to imago mundi, a set of published books.  The works are voluntary and published in a collection to show contemporary art from countries all over the world.

By noon, it was time to brave the crowds to see if we could get a table at Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo.  If you’re in the birthplace of pizza, this is one of the most popular places to dine.  We arrived at twelve on the dot, and we were seated immediately–lucky us!  It definitely lived up to its reputation, and I even had a few bites with cheese to get the real experience.  A YUMMY last meal!!! It’s worth noting that there is another Sorbillo down the block, but it’s easy to tell the difference as there are swarms of people outside of the best one.

My summary for this trip: I can’t wait to visit Italy again! Neither can Corey. Check him out feelin’ good.

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Quickshot:

Positano (and the small town of Nocelle)

  • Eat at Fattoria La Tagliata (this is a 20 min bus ride outside of Positano so get yourself a bus timetable). Fattoria means farm, but I thought it could be a hint that you’ll gain weight after eating here….’fat’toria…get it?
  • Give yourself 4-5 hours for the Walk of the Gods (there are many other websites so if this one doesn’t suit you, no worries)
  • Spend an evening at a local trattoria- this is a more laid back vibe, less formal than a ristorante;  any locals can point you in the right direction. We enjoyed C’era Una Volte, up about 200 steps from our hotel.
  • Get lost in the shopping lanes and winding roads of Positano- no maps needed.  Just take in the views when you need a break.

Amalfi

  • Yes to gelato. All of it will be good.
  • See the Duomo di Amalfi (crypts and cathedral for a quick 3 euro)
  • Boat travel seemed optimal for a day trip to many of the coastal towns. Just make sure to check when the last boat leaves.

Ravello

Sorrento

  • Eat at Il Convivio (pizzeria and ristorante)
  • Walk to the seaside and sit on the docks on a sunny day
  • Eat at O’ Parrucchiano to feel like you’re in a fairytale grove
  • Shop at bottega21 for a bag or wallet or glasses case
  • Walk the main cobblestone lane to Nino and Friends for generous samples of Sorrento treats… even if you don’t have room in your suitcase

Napoli Food Suggestions

  • Apertivos must be at BISI– the owners are too good to their guests!
  • Eat at Tandem for ragu (make a reservation if you can)
  • For pizza, the first choice is Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo (Via dei Tribunali, 32). I’ve also heard that Da Michele is tasty and a close walk nearby if you didn’t want to wait.
  • Il Vero Bar del Professore for a coffee pitstop (Piazza Trieste e Trento)
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Dover, England, Dublin, Ireland, London, England

London, Dublin, and Dover with Dad

img_0709_128_hrWe’d been emailing, facetiming, and planning for so many months that I almost couldn’t believe it when I was finally on my way to pick up Dad from Heathrow.  And when you’re picking someone up from a London airport you feel like you’re reliving the opening scene of Love Actually in the arrivals terminal, and you can’t stop smiling.

Heathrow Express dropped us quickly in London, so we snapped some photos at St. Pancras station and rode the bus top level, front window to Angel to get a warm welcome from Corey at our flat.  We took my dad to his first Sunday roast at Smokehouse, a great little spot in our neighbourhood that has yummy Yorkshire pudding.  We spent the rest of the day strolling through our neighbourhood so my dad could get a sense of where we were living.

We realized how much FaceTime makes the distance between us feel shorter. We hadn’t seen each other for eight months, but we felt completely caught up with the goings on of our daily lives as Grandad and Tia.  But that didn’t stop us from keeping our tradition of staying up late the first night we’re reunited to share our stories all over again.


The flight to Dublin was an easy yet early one.  Honestly, the entire three days in Dublin felt like we had good karma following us around.  We voted to cab into Dublin, and ended up with the nicest cab driver who told us about the previous week’s events celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising.  We ate lunch at a well-known café bar that we found on a random side street with delicious traditional Irish stew. Our hotel was a stone’s throw from Trinity College, and included traditional Irish breakfast every morning, no additional charge.  I should also note that any time we saw something that was advertised as “traditionally Irish”, we basically bought it, ate it, or saw it.

Doing Dublin on foot was the best way to go from our experience. The Book of Kells was the obvious first stop as we could walk directly to Trinity’s campus so easily.  The small museum is set up with large posted images of the book to show the intricate details of the pages. My favorite part was watching a video clip how the book’s spine was created, and then bound with pages. Also, make sure you don’t miss the library upstairs with hundreds of tomes.

Our map showed that Guinness storehouse was about a twenty minute walk from Trinity.  So we found places of interest on the map along the way: the Molly Malone statue, the bells at Christ Church, and the Dublin Castle. I’m sure we looked so cute, dad and daughter, snapping away on our ‘dad and daughter’ cameras.

The Guinness storehouse was a fun treat.  You have to earn your free pint by touring through the bottom floors of the storehouse. You learn about the process of making Guinness beer, the history of the Guinness family, and how this stout is transported around the world.  On the fifth floor, one can learn to pour a perfect pint (the line was too long), and on the 6th floor, you can have lunch with your pint (again, the line was too long), so we opted for the obvious choice: a glass of the “the black stuff” at The Gravity Bar on the top floor- with 360 degree views of the city.  It started to rain as we toasted to our first day in Dublin- a beautiful sight in a room made of windows.

The rain stopped as we tipped the last of our glasses back, and we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Each evening at 5:30pm, there is free entry to see the Choral Evensong.  Hearing those voices echo throughout the chapel was just beautiful.  The church is also next to a lovely garden where we spent some time with our cameras

Temple Bar is a part of the city that is touted as the nightlife, food, and live music part of the city. We weren’t sure how much time we’d want to spend on the strip, but ended up wandering through to find the Porterhouse, a restaurant claiming to serve the best stouts in the city.  We thought this seemed a bit blasphemous seeing as though the Guinness storehouse was less than two miles away.  Yes, we had to do a taste test comparison.  The porters and stouts in our flight were yummy, but my Dad said that he’d stick to Guinness for the rest of the trip.  Also, the fish and chips were the best I’d had, though I ended up with a strange ham cream dish.  To finish our evening, we stood outside of a crowded bar to listen to a duo singing U2 songs as a free concert.


The traditional Irish breakfast at our hotel was the perfect way to start our second day. We decided that we wanted to see some of Ireland’s natural beauty so we found a little seaside town called Howth about 3o minutes outside of Dublin.  The train dropped off right on the piers. What a gorgeous day! We walked the trail along Howth’s head, and were in awe of the beauty of the Irish coastline.

Along our hike, we were herded into a ‘free’ walking tour with an Irishman named John.  He let us know that his retirement gig was to give walking tours every day to anyone he picked up along the trail.  As we walked along he shared fun facts, and legends about the area.  He was optimistically trying to collect other hikers along the trail as well.  Other hikers would make up excuses to leave his little group at some point, yet we were too nice to tell him we’d make the journey on our own.  We knew we wanted to do the entire hike, and if so, John would be coming with us.  I guess that nothing could ruin the gorgeous seaside views, and the fact that we ended the tour over a pint with John and a very sweet couple honeymooning from Costa Rica, we decided it really was a great morning. Lunch was fresh oysters, fish pie, and traditional Irish salmon with rye.

Returning to Dublin, we decided to head North of the Liffey. We poked our heads through the Garden of Remembrance, and then made our way to the General Post Office.  As a side note, on this walk, I learned a bit more about my dad’s travels connected with political work, and his stories coming out of Cal.

The General Post Office was also closed, but strangely had a line around the corner at one of the doors.  While I snapped some shots of the bullet holes remaining from the Easter Rising, a kind woman in line struck up a conversation with my Dad, letting him know that it was the last showing of a play about the Easter Rising in the GPO.  We could stand in line but it might be a sold out show. The folks running the door, asked us to stand aside when we got to the front of the line as they’d have a better idea if tickets were left after everyone else was seated.  After a short wait, we were told we’d have to sit separately, but we were incredibly lucky to get two of the last tickets that evening!  Everyone in the audience was a local, and it was a treat to see the play in such a historical setting.

We laughed on the walk home recapping the events of the day.  I felt like I had a lucky four leaf clover in my pocket since most of the things that we’d experienced wouldn’t have happened if we’d tried to plan it that way.


Our final day in Dublin was spent picking up small gifts for our family, and trying on wolly Irish textiles that were way out of our price range. We walked St. Stephens park, and ate lunch at a local chain before heading back to the airport. Corey made us a meal of stew chicken, rice, and green beans for our return back to London.


On the fourth day of my dad’s trip, reality set in that I’d have to go to back to work.  But we didn’t let us slow us down. We hit up Westminster Abbey at 9am to beat the rush, and I left my dad midway through the audio tour to make my first meeting. Boo! However, I intended to use my flexible hours to ensure that I was out of the office by 3pm to meet my dad at the British museum. While I plucked away at a few more emails, he visited the Rosetta stone and other sections of the ancient Egypt exhibit.  Over dinner, my dad shared his trip to the Churchill War rooms, where he got to hold Churchill’s top hat, and where he was so taken with the exhibit that he basically forgot to eat lunch.  We spent the evening doing what I think we’d do in Oakland together: relaxing on the couch, watching a four part BBC documentary on President Obama’s eight years in office.  It felt like a bit of home here with me.  The series is great btw but I’m not even sure if it’s out in our own country.


For Friday, I spent some time answering emails for work, but our day really got started at St. Paul’s cathedral, a highlight of the city that I didn’t even know about.  The mosaics inside were breath-taking, and is was so fun climbing to the top of the cathedral for a panoramic view of London.  I pointed out the other landmarks we’d see throughout the day.  We walked across Millennium bridge, and popped into the Tate for a quick view.  The Thames river walk led us right into Borough Market where we feasted on salt beef sandwiches.  We walked the remainder of the South Bank, towards Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. We were less enthusiastic about seeing the crown jewels after having such an energetic tour by the local Yeoman Warder.  The Yeoman Warders live in their own community within the walls of the Tower to this day! The men, and one woman,  and have served over 22 years in the Queen’s military, and have very expensive and elaborate uniforms.  Our guide really made the history come alive with his dry British humor. PS- they don’t like being called Beefeaters!

We ended our day taking the bus to Bloomberg so that my dad could see the London office. We picked up Corey from work, and walked along Regent’s canal before making our way to Ottolenghi, another neighbourhood favorite.  During dinner, we also decided that our last day in the UK would be spent out of London on the white cliffs of Dover.

 


The weather in Dover promised to be wet and wild.  About two hours outside of the city, we were welcomed with a grey, drizzly day, so we took a cab to the trail head of the chalky cliffs. It was so windy out on those unprotected cliffs, but incredibly beautiful. We passed ponies, and saw ships coming in and out of the port.  It really felt like some of the images we know of England- just being on that craggy coastline.  The saving grace was a quaint light house out on the cliffs serving cream tea! Well, we couldn’t pass up tea and scones when my dad hadn’t had one yet, so our hike ended at Mrs. Knotts Tea Room.

Admittedly, we hailed a cab to the Dover Castle- though there wasn’t really another choice in the gusts of wind and rain. The castle is definitely built for families taking a day trip, but I think we did alright when we found out there was a tour of old WWII tunnels on the grounds!  After a visit to the dark tunnels that saved the Allied forces in Dunkirk, we had a pint at the local pub while waiting for our bus. What an incredible day! But wait, it wasn’t over until the last supper was staged at Lahore!  My dad said he’d probably be able to live on the lamb chops and the naan as we all wiped our plates clean. Nothing like sharing the stories of our adventures over steamy curries and spiced lamb.


As usual, the week went too fast. On Sunday, we packed up my dad’s bags, got him a final cup of coffee and headed out to the airport. You better believe I took that train the entire way to soak up the final minutes of our time together. I couldn’t believe it. I just spent a week with the two most important men in my life:  the man who taught me what it means to be loved by a man, and the man who I’ll share that love with for the rest of my life.  To have time with them together, I really felt too lucky.


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Dublin Day 1:

Howth Day 2:

  • Train from Connolly station or your closest DART
  • Easy to find information booth with trail maps
  • Maybe you’ll find John out there?
  • Don’t remember where we ate lunch on the pier

Dublin Day 3:

  • Walk St. Stephen’s Park and do some souvenir shopping at Kilkenny’s where they ship to the US for a flat fee

London Day 4:

London Day 5:

  • St. Paul’s Cathedral- yes, walk up to the top, and then see the crypts
  • Walk across Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern (you can stay as long as you want for free but modern art wasn’t really our focus)
  • Walk along the South Bank towards Shakespeare’s Globe and end up at Borough Market (super crowded on Saturday; go Friday if possible; closed on Sunday)
  • Continue on the South Bank to see London Bridge, City Hall, and the Tower of London
  • Get a Yeoman Warder tour before you rush to see the Crown Jewels

Dover Day 6:

  • Train from home to Dover. Might have to transfer to a bus if the rails are still wiped out.
  • Cab to the trail head to find the White Cliffs visitor center
  • Maybe you want to stop at Mrs Knotts Tea Room? The scones were fine but the cream could have been better. You don’t have to pay to see the lighthouse.
  • Do the WWII Tunnels at Dover Castle (there are two options- we opted not to do the medical tunnel)
  • Eat at Lahore before you leave! BYOB (and there’s an off license next door)
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Windsor, England

Day Trip to Windsor Castle

While Corey was in Milan for his quarterly trip with the boys, I figured I could still get out and about to do some touring on my own. Why not travel to the vacation spot where the queen hosts her family Christmas?

Windsor Castle is only about a 45 minute train ride away from our flat, so last Sunday, I ventured out to see the grounds.  The castle was actually more of a small community rather than one large castle, and along the paths to each building, there were large placards showcasing the Queen’s reign over time. She is now the longest standing monarch in this country. I also learned about jubilees- celebrations to honor the Queen’s 25th year (Silver Jubilee), her 50th year (Gold) and her 60th year (Diamond) as a ruler.

The best parts of the tour were the opulent State Apartments where royalty has hosted huge feasts, where some kings have painted the ceilings in their liking, and where an entire room was dedicated to elaborate porcelain tea sets.  Some of the rooms are decorated to reflect a specific reign, such as King George IV’s crimson room, while others honor the collection of the crown’s artwork, or the crown’s defense.  I really enjoyed the extra touches during this holiday season as many of the rooms were decorated with Christmas trees, lights, sweetmeats, and wreathes.

No pictures were allowed inside of the State Apartments, but that would make for a boring post, so please enjoy the few that I snatched while the guards weren’t looking.

After my time on the castle grounds, I wandered through the quaint neighborhoods, and discovered a road called the Long Walk (see below). I honestly didn’t feel a call to action for this one as it was three miles one way.

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to Windsor castle,  and I have a year long pass to return with my validated ticket from the Royal Collection Trust. But if you’ve got limited time in London, then I might suggest visiting another landmark that has more culturally interesting surrounding areas.  After the castle tour, I felt pretty underwhelmed with the number of outdoor shopping malls filled with people doing their holiday shopping at the base of this historic site.

Oh wait…maybe this shop would lure some friends out to Windsor? Another reason to come visit me in London?IMG_6230

 

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Algarve, Portugal, Cascais, Portugal, Lisbon, Portugal, Sintra, Portugal

Put Portugal On Your List of Places to See!!!

I can’t believe that we were in Portugal for less than a week! The days feel so long when you’re wandering the streets in Lisbon or when you’re exploring the caves in Algarve.  I feel like we did so much in just four nights. Please put Portugal on the list of places to travel to if you haven’t already.

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Pena Palace in Sintra

Here’s the snapshot of our itinerary:

  • Thursday night- Lisbon (Lisboa to the locals)
  • Friday- Lisbon
  • Saturday- Sintra & Cascais
  • Sunday- Algarve (I’m not sure if it’s Algarve, or The Algarves)
  • Monday- Algarve

9/24/15 Thursday: My first night in Lisbon was on my own because Corey had a working dinner.  The nights here feel like the Bay Area with a cool breeze (layers needed), yet the neighborhoods feel like more like NYC.  The neighborhood Bairro Alto felt similar to the Lower East Side, full of shops, restaurants, and bars which you feel like you’ve earned the right to patronize after walking up and down so many hills.  On Sachi’s recommendation, I headed to Taberna Da Rua Das Flores and had an amazing octopus salad.  After dinner, I went back to the hotel for drinks with Corey and his coworker, Ali.


9/25/15 Friday: While Corey went to his meetings on Friday morning, I toured the neighborhood Belem, keeping a strong focus on the highest priorities- pastel de nata (egg tart)…sprinkle cinnamon and powdered sugar on top, and eat at the bar! This was the central reason for my travels to Belem, a slightly out of the way neighborhood.

After fueling up on the egg-custard tart, I walked about 5 miles through Belem towards Baixa (a neighborhood closer to the tourist center).  It was such a gorgeous day to check out the Padrao Dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries), Central Cultural De Belem (I only went into the gardens), Torre De Belem (Belem Tower) and the winding streets in the neighborhood.

At this point, I needed to cab to meet up with Corey since I was late after all this meandering. For lunch, we had frango y chips (chicken and fries) in Baixa- the neighborhood near Bloomberg’s satellite office. The chicken is a local favorite and the spot, Bonjardim Rei Dos Frangos, knows how to rock this dish!

After lunch, Corey needed to change out of his work clothes and I needed a catnap after walking so many miles in the morning. We regrouped at the hotel and then went out for the second part of our sight-seeing adventure.

We had to get to Castelo St. Jorge for an incredible view of Lisbon. The castle is on a hill above the neighborhood, Alfama. Then we walked all the way down through the ambling streets of Alfama, peering into shops and cafes.  We headed to A Vida Portuguesa, a lovely shop with items made entirely by Portuguese artists and craftsfolk.  We finished our shopping just in time for our dinner reservation at Cervejaria Ramiroliterally the best and freshest seafood I’ve ever eaten! The langoustine, percebes, and jumbo tiger prawns are still dancing in my dreams. The crab was also super tasty.  Before you go, I can teach you how to eat percebes now, and be aware that you might need to duck flying shells and bits of seafood meat as people are cracking open the treasures at this restaurant. Corey also mentioned that folks end their night by ordering a small filet of steak- that seems blasphemous to me, but to each their own.

Our night ended at Pensao Amor, a historic brothel turned into a dimly lit lounge with tasty drinks. Lisbon, thank you for such an amazing visit!


9/26/15 Saturday: We picked up our rental car and drove out to Sintra, the hometown of Pena Palace.  We rode in a Tuk Tuk to the top, a fun yet bumpy ride. The castle was the most colorful thing I’ve seen, and full of tourists snapping panoramic shots and selfies- we may have been guilty of a few of these ourselves (see below).  We both loved the architecture, the tiles, and the delicately crafted carvings in the castle walls.

Carry on to Cascais’ Old Town, a vacation spot right along the water! Being at this beachtown reminded me of being in Alicante, the town in Spain where Jamie Lynn studied abroad. We ate a tasty seafood lunch (yes, octopus for me again!) and then wandered through the streets buying up small souvenirs, and stealing shots of the locals.  We caught the sunset along the harbor of Baia De Cascais (bay), and along Praia Da Ribeira (beach).

Back in Lisbon, our last stop of the day was TimeOut’s Mercado Da Ribeira! It’s an marketplace with gourmet food right along the water’s edge.


9/27/15 Sunday: We got an early start to the Algarve as it’s about a 2.5 hour drive from Lisbon. The drive took us through Portugal’s countryside, complete with sea mist (fog), and pine trees growing atop the rolling hills. We didn’t have a set agenda for this leg of the journey but soon found that it didn’t matter. Just stop at as many beaches as you can, and you’ll feel full of life! Our favorite beaches were Praia Do Marinha and Praia Do Albandeira. Marinha has such breathtaking cliffs and was wonderful for jumping into the crystal clear aquamarine water. Albandeira had crazy rock formations and caves, yet the waves were too big for swimming (at least based on the rule “don’t swim in the water if locals aren’t in the water”).

I’m getting ahead of myself….The first stop on our trip was Ponta Da Piedade. This is a time where a picture is worth more than a thousand words. I must’ve taken the same picture so many times because I just couldn’t get over how beautiful it was at this look out.

We drove on to Praia Do Marinha….a must see when you travel to Algarve (so far everything feels like a ‘must see’ as you can already tell). We checked into Quintinha Village, laid out at Praia Dos Pescadores, and caught the sunset on our rooftop. We knew we wanted to visit the neighboring town, Ferragudo, where our friend, Sam, is from. She suggested we eat at Fim Do Mundo. This restaurant had the friendliest servers and we ate so well. Cheers to the “end of the world” and muito obrigada to Sam for this suggestion!


9/28/15 Monday: I couldn’t believe that we’d only been in Portugal for just four nights. Our last day- though half a day- still felt wonderfully relaxing and full.  Praia Do Albandeira is off the beaten path and was such a gem of a beach. I highly suggest visiting as there are very few tourists- we got there and only one other couple was laying out. Corey and I explored the caves and rock formations. The waves were pretty shocking which we attributed to the Red Moon (earth science?! don’t quote us on that hypothesis).

We had the itch to check out just one more spot, and made our way to Praia de Benagil.  While Corey laid out, I was enamored with the thousands of shells along the beach.  The restaurant, Cinco, looked out over the water and was a welcome meal after missing breakfast due to our excitement to get to the beaches. The drive to the airport was about 45 min but felt like a quick trip thanks to belting out Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson (not mad at the Portuguese mixture of megahits with American tunes).


IMG_4558I’m not sure how to wrap up this post as I still can’t believe that I was just in one of the most beautiful places in Europe.

Girlcar definitely needs to add Portugal to the list, the Algarves does have an airport in Faro!

Shoutout to Sachi for being my personal tripadvisor! Your recommendations were top notch.

Shoutout to Sam for your Fin Do Mundo suggestion.

Shoutout to Erica and Brian for visiting Portugal to your honeymoon trip- can’t wait to gush about this place in person!

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