Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sister's Graduation

Sister putting on her lei..and getting ready to graduate!

Where's Meesh?! I found her...can you?

Celebrating with friends!

...and family!

Getting ready for the party!

Yay for the diploma!

Our favorite: Taco Surf!

My twin graduated from SDSU on May 22, 2011! I went home for a very quick trip to watch her graduate and celebrate! Although I was only home for 3 days, I wouldn't have missed it for the world! Congrats sister!

A weekend with friends in Stresa!

Enjoying our dinner after making a run for it through the rain and hail!

In mid-May, Mark and I joined a group of friends in the lake-side town of Stresa, Italy. Thanks to our friends, Kate and Kyle for the invitation to join them there, we had a great group of 9 hanging out together in Italy!

We arrived around 9:30 in the evening on Friday night, taking the train from Lausanne to Stresa after work. On the direct train, it is only a 2 hour 2o minute ride. Most of us were on the night train, but Kate, Maud and Kyle's sister Erin (who was visiting from the States), drove out early on Friday and made us a reservation for dinner Ristorante Il Vicoletto at 10:00 pm. We lucked out that the restaurant agreed to stay open for us, as they usually close at 10! Having the whole restaurant to ourselves was fantastic and our table of 9 felt VIP as we took over the place! It was a fantastic dinner and the whole group was very sweet to sing me a belated "Happy Birthday" as I had just celebrated my birthday the day before our arrival. After a fantastic meal and some good wine, Mark and I headed back to the hotel, looking forward to some sight-seeing the next day.

On the ferry to Isola Bella

View of the island from the ferry

A very Kodak moment!

The Borromeo Palace Gardens

Gorgeous flowers

White Chinese peacock

Check out those feathers!

On Saturday, we woke up and ate breakfast at the hotel before heading over to the ferry-landing to purchase tickets for the ferry. Stresa has three islands located out on the lake close to the town and ferries run between all of them. Mark and I headed over to Isola Bella, the closest one to town, to check out the palace and gardens of the Borromeo family. After a first walk around to check out the small island, our friends met up with us and we all sat down for lunch together. After our meal, they headed on to Isola Madre and Mark and I started our walk through the palace. The gardens were absolutely gorgeous, accented with White Chinese peacocks strutting around with their feathers open for us to know we were on their turf!

Streets in Stresa

Pre-dinner drinks!

The gang! (from left to right): V, Maud, KiYonna, Kate, Kyle, Erin, Jenn, John, Mark

After our island tour was finished, we headed back to Stresa on the ferry just in time to avoid the down-pour that came that afternoon! Mark and I enjoyed a quick dip in the hotel jacuzzi and a nap before dinner time. We got ready and then headed out for a walk around Stresa before settling at a wine bar for a drink before dinner. We had another fun group dinner in Stresa and then headed back to the apartment where half of our group was staying to play some poker!

The view from our hotel room

Our Stresa hotel right on the lake-front

Sunday we enjoyed breakfast at the hotel one more time and a short lake-side walk before our train-ride back to Lausanne. We had a great time hanging out with our friends in Stresa!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Le Deck

Mark and Candy at Le Deck

Yummy Burgers!

View over Lac Leman and the vineyards

Mark's friend Candy came to visit us at the end of April. She was our first visitor of 2011 and we had fun showing her around our area of Switzerland. After showing her around Lausanne's old town and Saturday farmer's market, we took her to Le Deck for lunch. Le Deck is situated in Chexbres, about 15 minutes by train from Lausanne amongst the Lavaux vineyards. On a beautiful day (which we lucked out on!), it offers a beautiful view over the vineyards and Lac Leman (Lake Geneva). I recommend it to those of you in the area to check out!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Easter Weekend in Italia-Enjoying the sights of Milan and Lake Como!

For the second year in a row, we spent Easter break in Italia. This year, we decided to explore Milan and Lake Como. In Europe, we are lucky to have a four-day weekend for Easter. We decided to take off the Thursday before and Tuesday after to maximize our travel time! Enjoy the tour as I guide you through our trip!

Mark and I started out our trip with a 3 hour train ride from Lausanne to Milan. This one requires advance reservations as the the seats are assisgned (in case you ever plan on doing it in the future!). We checked into our hotel, Antico Locando Leonardo, and then headed out see the city. We walked over to the Sforza Castle, which is in a great location with a huge park right in the city. We grabbed some paninis from a food vendor and sat in the park, relaxing and enjoying some people-watching. It was a warm day and a lot of people were out-and-about in the park, soaking in the sunshine. The castle houses a bunch of small museums, none of which were on our priority list so after lunch we just walked through the square inside the castle walls.

We made reservations for that afternoon to view Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" painting so after the castle, our next stop was the Church Maria delle Grazie where the painting is located. To preserve what is left of da Vinci's famous painting, only 25 people are allowed into the room at a time for 15 minutes. Due to its popularity (especially since the Da Vinci Code book and movie were released) reservations are a must. If possible, I recommend a time that includes an English-speaking guide. As you have only 15 minutes to check out the painting, it was extremely helpful to have someone explain the details of the painting. The painting was done on the wall of the church, most of which was destroyed during WWII. Luckily, the room that the painting is located in was not damaged and the painting, although deterioring rapidly, still remains. In my opinion, this is a "must-see" in Milan!

Church Marie delle Grazie

After the "Last Supper" viewing, we walked to Milan's duomo, an amazing piece of architecture in Milan's center. Jetting off from the duomo is a large piazza in front and a big shopping area surrounding it. Milan is famous for fashion and you don't have to go too far before you run into any number of stores! Located on a side street a few streets away from the Duomo is a Milan food institution, called "Luini". It features the infamous panzerotti, a "hot-pocket" like food which has a doughy exterior stuffed with any number of things to choose from: ham, cheese, and tomato to name a few. Order at the counter and eat outside on the curb with the locals. Of course, gelato is always on the food list of things to eat when in Italy, so we topped off our meal with a cup of gelato after dinner!

Milan's Duomo

The Galleria

The famous bull mosaic on the floor of the Galleria

On Friday, we checked out of our hotel and headed back to Milan's central train station to catch a regional train to Lake Como! Thanks to Rick Steve's Italy 2011 book, we were able to easily make our way there, so I recommend this readers for any future travels to Italy. His detailed transportation descriptions were a big help. It is only a little over an hour's ride from Milan to Varenna, and then a short (10-15 minute) ferry ride from Varenna to Bellagio, our homebase for the weekend.

Bellagio, known as the "pearl of the lake," is a charming little town sitting directly in the middle of the lake. With easy ferry access to other lake-side towns, this is a good town to make day-trips from. We checked into our hotel, Hotel du Lac, and then went and feasted on lunch a the lake-side terrace at Hotel Metropole. We enjoyed wandering through the small town streets in the afternoon, window-shopping and people-watching. In the evening, we had a pizza for dinner, topped off with gelato, of course! It being Good Friday, we ended our night with a drink at an out-door table at our hotel, watching the Good Friday procession go by, the town's residents slowly following behind.

On the ferry!

The view from our room

One of the main streets in Bellagio

Our hotel

On Saturday, we spent the day villa-hunting!...well, I wish! The central-lake ferry day pass (11 EUR) shuttled us to two different villas open to the public for viewing (for a fee). We lucked out with a lake-side room directly in front of the main ferry landing. This let us keep an eye on the big clock outside so we knew when it was time to run downstairs for the ferry! That morning, we hopped on the boat and enjoyed the ride over to Tremezzo, where Villa Carlotta is located.

Villa Carlotta, sitting on the lake-front opposite Bellagio, is famous for its beautiful gardens. The spring is a great time to visit, as the flowers are blooming and everything is green. I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to live in this place, having your own private, grand gardens to wander through! I had fun playing with my new camera in this setting!

Villa Carlotta

Where's Waldo?!!

After Villa Carlotta, we walked down the road to the town of Tremezzo, where we sat and had lunch at a pizzeria on the lake. Afer our meal, we hopped back on the ferry and took the short ride to Lenno . From there we started on the part walk/part hike(!) to get to Villa Balbianello. This well-groomed, elegant property is famous for its use as a movie-shoot location for films such as James Bond's Casino Royale and Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones. We just toured the outside property at this villa, as we missed the time for the guided tour of the interior. Built in 1787, the property sits on a picturesque point on the lake, giving it a secluded and serene feeling. At the end of our villa-hopping day, we took the ferry back to Bellagio. In the evening, we went to Enoteca's wineshop and enjoyed a sampling of wines from the region.

Villa Balbianello

Bellagio's ferry-landing and lake-side

Wine tasting in Bellagio

On Easter Sunday, we decided to take the hydrofoil (fast boat) to Como, the town at the southern end of the lake for which it is named. Before the boat trip, we walked a few minutes down the lake-side from the ferry-landing to Villa Melzi. The villa itself is not open to the public, but its pristine gardens were definitely worth the walk around.

Villa Melzi's gardens

Where's Waldo #2?!!

Soon it was time to board the boat. The 50 minute hydrofoil ride offers you a nice look at a large portion of the lake, including a nice view of Villa Balbianello from the water. Due it to being a holiday, Como was quite crowded. The first thing we did was buy a return ticket for the hydrofoil back to Bellagio for later in the day so that we were guarenteed a seat! We then went off in search of lunch, walking through the pedestrianized old-town streets. Como has a really nice cathedral worth a look. We found a place that looked good and sat down for lunch. After our meal, we headed over Como's funiculare which takes you up the mountain to the town of Brunate. The funiculare provides spectacular views over Como and is worth the ride. If you have lots of time, walk up the mountain further to the lighthouse. We didn't have enough time to make the trek, but read that the view from there is really great.

Como's cathedral

Como's funiculaire

View from the ride up the hill

View of Villa Balbianello from the water

Outside our favorite restaurant!

We took the funiculare back down to Como, enjoyed some gelato and then headed back to Bellagio on the hydrofoil. That evening, we enjoyed our favorite meal of the trip, our dinner at Trattoria San Giacomo. This "petit" restaurant only has a handful of tables, so be sure to get there before they open to ensure a table. They have a basketful of pillows for you to sit on the steps and wait with a glass of wine in case you are late and have to wait! I enjoyed the fried perch risotto and Mark had a delicious pasta meal. We enjoyed it so much, we went back for lunch the next day!



Back again for lunch the next day!

On Monday, our final day on the lake, we bought another central-lake day pass and went over to Varenna for a quick tour of the small, romantic town. Afterwards, we enjoyed a ride on the ferry to view Menaggio and then went back to Bellagio to eat at Trattoria S.G. before we had to leave. Our journey back took us the way we originally came: ferry ride to Varenna and train back to Milan. We spent the night in Milan to break up the travel, and caught the train back to Lausanne on Tuesday. We had a wonderful visit to the Italian lake district for our Easter break! Va benne!