Monday, April 26, 2010

Hiking through the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces

Mark hiking through the vineyards

Which way?!!

Taking in the view

The end of our hike in St. Saphorin

Mark and I set out yesterday morning for a hike through the vineyard terraces in Lavaux. Lavaux is the region located just outside of Lausanne and is famous for the vineyards that line the hillsides along Lake Geneva. It covers approximately 30 kms of terrain and was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

We took a five minute train ride to Lutry and started our hike from there. We spent 3 hours following the yellow signs along the route and enjoying the remarkable views! We got quite a bit of exercise along the way from climbing some hills which was good! We also spotted some gazebos at different points along the way so we will have to pack a picnic next time. We ended our hike in St. Saphorin and took the train back to Lausanne. It was a great hike...looking forward to more now that the weather is warm again!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Zermatt Unplugged Music Festival

Heading to Zermatt on the train

The view of town and the cemetery from our hotel balcony

Zermatt Unplugged Music Festival!

Walking around town

Jason Mraz, all-acoustic style!

The Matterhorn!!

Our stop on the cable car at almost 10,000 ft.

Heading back down the mountain

Mark and I had a fantastic time in Zermatt for the Zermatt Unplugged Music Festival this past weekend! We took the 3 hour ride via train from Lausanne and enjoyed views of the beautiful Swiss countryside along the way on the Glacier Express train. Zermatt is located in Southeast Switzerland and is a popular ski resort, although most people know it for being the home of the Matterhorn mountain!

We arrived in the afternoon and checked into our hotel, Hotel Allalin in the center of town. Zermatt is a car-free zone, which makes it pleasant to peruse the shops and walk around the village. All of the taxis are electric! It is a beautiful area, nestled in the valley below an overpowering mountain chain. We took a walk around town and then grabbed an early dinner before the concert.

The Zermatt Unplugged Music Festival is an all-acoustic event, and we had tickets to see Jason Mraz perform on Saturday evening. The venue is a set of tents that were erected in the center of Zermatt. It was a great venue as it felt intimate and we had a good view of the stage. Jason Mraz is an amazing performer and we had an fantastic time rockin' out to his show! Check out a short clip of his performance in the video below!

On Sunday, we ate breakfast at our hotel and then walked over the cable car lift to head up the mountain for some up close views of the Matterhorn! It really is a spectacular sight to see! Our first stop was just to hop out for a minute at Schwarzsee Paradise at 2583 meters (8474 feet) for some photo ops! We hopped back in the lift and got off at Trockener Steg at 2939 meters (9642 feet). This stop on the lift is a big one and has a restaurant with a panoramic view of the Matterhorn and the mountain chain around it.

To finish up our trip, we headed back down the mountain and took one more stroll around town before heading back to Lausanne. It was a short trip but packed full of great memories! Hopefully we'll be able to head back to Zermatt one day for some hiking in the summer or skiing in the winter!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Benvenutti alla Sicilia!

Isola Bella

Ahhh, Sicily! We spent a wonderful Easter holiday weekend in Sicilia! After deciding that we were in desperate need for a warmer climate, we finally decided that Sicily would be our destination...and it turned out to be an excellent decision! Scroll down for more pics and stories from our trip!

We flew into the city of Catania on the eastern coast of Sicily and rented a car at the airport. From there, we drove about 50 minutes north to the coastal resort town of Taormina. We spent our 1st two nights there in a hotel just down the hill from the main town in an area known as Isola Bella. Isola Bella is the small island in the pictures above (and below!). After having been away from the ocean for so long, I was reminded of just how much I love (and miss) it! The view from our hotel room at the Panoramic Hotel was amazing! Mark surprised me with champagne and strawberries soon after our arrival and we enjoyed our yummy snack and soaked in the beautiful view from our balcony!

The next day, we awoke once again to our gorgeous view and enjoyed breakfast on the hotel terrace. We had a tour of Mt. Etna scheduled for the day and our tour guide picked us up from the hotel at 8:30. Our guide, Alessandro from Sicily Life Tours, took us on a 6 hour tour through some small Italian villages and up the volcano! We started out by viewing the Alcantara river which runs down the volcano and empties into the ocean in the beach town of Naxos. From there we stopped for some amazing views of the snow-capped volcano (yes, you can ski on it in the winter!). We then headed up the volcano, stopping in the small village of Castiglione on the way.

Gotta love this view!

View of Mt. Etna from the cemetery!


We then headed up the north-side of the volcano. Our first stop was to see the lava flow from the last big eruption that occurred in 2002. It was pretty amazing to see it up close! One of the interesting (and good!) things about Mt. Etna is that it does not contain poisonous gases. The lava flow also travels pretty slowly so residents have some time to evacuate...usually they are given warning of an impending eruption by an earthquake. The last large eruption destroyed quite a few structures on the mountain, including the ski-lift and equipment rental stores and restaurants. Driving up to our next stop, we got out and hiked a short distance to one of the volcano's craters. We walked up the crater and Alessandro showed us one of the holes where the lava had erupted from...a little nerve-wracking to be standing next to what appeared to be a bottomless hole!


Destruction from the last large eruption

Mt. Etna


We then headed back down the north side of the mountain and made one final stop in Naxos, a beautiful beach town located just south of Taormina. Naxos is important in Sicily's history, as it was in this location that the first Greek settlement was established. Our tour ended there and Alessandro drove us back to our hotel. We had a great time and really enjoyed our day! Thanks to Alessandro for being a great guide; we learned a lot and had fun!


After a late lunch back at the hotel, we walked down to the (rocky!) beach to check out Isola Bella. It is a beautiful small island, although the gate was closed (we presume for the Easter holiday weekend) so we did not get to explore. I plan on going back and checking it out!

Clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea

Friday night we took the funivia (funiculaire!) up the hill to the main town of Taormina. Friday was Good Friday and we caught the tail end of the Easter procession that made its way down the main road of town with residents and tourists walking behind it. As the majority of Italians are Catholic, Easter is an important holiday in the country and is celebrated in many parts of Italy. We enjoyed the exquisite view of the coastline at night from the main square and then headed over to Tiramisu on a recommendation from our tour guide for a yummy pizza dinner!

Easter procession

Saturday we headed back up to Taormina to do some sight-seeing. Taormina's main street is fun to browse and window-shop. We veered off from the main street to check out Taormina's Greek Theater, which is a popular sight as it has been very well preserved. The Greeks really knew how to pick the right locations, as the theater has a beautiful view over the ocean. They still perform plays here in the summer, so I plan on coming back for that as well!

Taormina's main street

The Greek Theater

After sight-seeing in Taormina, we headed back to the hotel for a quick lunch before our road trip to Agrigento. Italy is well-known for its food and we had no shortage of it on our trip. We love prosciutto et melone and eat it every time we are in Italy!

Prosciutto et melone

When making our itinerary, we decided to include Agrigento in our plans, as it is famous for the Valle dei Temple, or Valley of the Temples. The temples are some of the most well-preserved examples of Greek temples in the world, and the area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Agrigento is about 2 and 1/2 hours by car from Taormina, so we set off after lunch on our road trip. Luckily, our newly purchased GPS led the way and we made it there without too much trouble, minus the short drive through town, in which Mark had to navigate the maze of Italian drivers, who live up to their reputation of speeding and creating their own traffic rules!

The drive was worth it! We checked into our hotel, Villa Athena, and were the lucky recipients of an upgrade to the Presidential Suite! We relaxed for a little bit on our hotel room terrace, which provided a spectacular view of the temples! Then we put on our shoes and walked over to the temple entrance to view them up close. It was really amazing to see temples that have been there since the 5th century B.C.!

Hanging out on the terrace

Temple Concordia

Temple of Juno

After our temple excursion, we headed back to the hotel for some down time before enjoying a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Our stay in Agrigento ended on a great note when we enjoyed Easter breakfast on our terrace the next morning! After breakfast we packed up and headed back to Taormina to enjoy the sea for one more night.

Italian food!

Easter breakfast!

The view from our room

On our last night, we stayed just a few minutes north of Taormina at Hotel Baia Taormina. It's location is up on the hillside and provided an amazing view of the coast. After checking in, we enjoyed a late lunch and then had what the southern Italians call "siesta" or nap time! Feeling refreshed, we took the hotel shuttle bus into town for our final Italian dinner at al Duomo. The next morning, we enjoyed our last breakfast on our hotel room balcony and basked in the sun before it was time to head to the airport and say "arrivederci" to Sicily!

We had an incredible vacation! I hope to make it back to Sicily one day to re-live the memories!

Hotel Baia Taormina

Our final meal!

Taormina's coastline