Kauai: Part II

We headed to the north shore of Kauai for the second half of our trip from Saturday August 26 to Thursday August 31.

Accommodation: After much research on Andrew’s part, we decided to stay at the Hanalei Colony Resort. We chose this place for it’s location directly on the beach on the north shore. It is considered by some to be “remote” since it’s a 15 minute drive from the closest town of Hanalei, but that wasn’t a problem for us. We planned on cooking at the condo and didn’t need more than a beach anyways. The hotel did have an amenity to make up for the inability to walk to town: a complimentary shuttle to and from any location all the way to Princeville (20 minute drive away). So, we were able to get a free ride to beaches with limited parking and a designated driver out to dinner without a worry.

At the resort we treated ourselves to a Premium Oceanfront condo. Specifically unit G4 in case you ever make it to this resort. The condo was everything we could have asked for. We had an open floor plan with a bedroom, living room, two full bathrooms (his + hers, fantastic!) and a full kitchen. The resort had a pool and hot tub (which we never needed to use) along with a BBQ area with two grills and all the utensils you could possibly need. The resort is located right on a beach with the Na Pali coast mountains rising up behind it. The beach directly in front of the resort was not protected enough for swimming, however if we walked on the sand five minutes to the west there was an area to snorkel and swim as there is a barrier reef about 200 yards off the shore to help to protect the beach from the big waves. We saw tons of cool fish here and even sea turtles. We loved this place and are absolutely serious that we have to return. Flights from SF are only 5 hours direct with Alaska Air from Oakland. Yes, thank you!

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Top left: Our bedroom. The units do not have A/C, but we received a sea breeze off the ocean 100% of the time and the unit had three ceiling fans to keep the air moving, which worked just fine. For privacy, you could close the shutters to the bedroom area, but that’s only if you have people on the twin futons in the bottom left photographed area. Otherwise, you keep them open to the remainder of the space. Top right: the indoor dining area and the small sitting area that doubled as two twin beds and lead to one of the full bathrooms. Incredible views and it would make this unit perfect for a family since the twin futons are in an area you could make separate. Bottom left: the sitting area/other sleeping room. Bottom right: our dining area looking out over the ocean and our balcony.
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Top: Our view from the balcony. Bottom left: the living room; Bottom right: Our kitchen. It was well equipped with plenty of tools to cook at home. Perfect for the fact that we cooked at home 4/5 nights we stayed here!
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Sunrise from our balcony

 

Kauai East Shore to North Shore Day 6 – Saturday: After leaving our cottage in Kapaa on Saturday morning, we did a grocery store run to take advantage of the relatively lower grocery store costs compared to stores on the north side of the island. The drive from Kapaa to our resort was only about 45 minutes, but we made a couple stops along the way. First we went to the Kilauea Lighthouse. Access to the Kilauea point costs $5 per person and includes the lighthouse, amazing views and also guides to identify the various sea birds that live on the preserve and cliffs surrounding the lighthouse. It was a beautiful location and fun to point different species of birds over head.

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Mokuaeae, a small rocky island off the Kilauea point. If you look closely you can see all the resident sea birds

 

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Kilauea Lighthouse, established in 1913
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The cliffs next to the Kilauea Lighthouse were teeming with various types of sea birds. It was a beautiful spot and entertaining to watch the birds from this point.

Our last stop before arriving at our resort was to finally get Hawaiian shave ice (not “shaved”). This is a local dessert, and a liiiiittle similar to Rita’s that we find in Maryland for those of you back home – but I’ll claim it’s better (sorry guys!). We stopped at a local spot recommended by our guide book, Wishing Well Shave Ice. Below is my shave ice, the Rainbow. Andrew got one that was flavored like a Cherry Root Beer Float. Mine was finely shaved ice, with flavors in a rainbow, and underneath is a macadamia nut icecream. It is SO GOOD! We went here twice it was so darn good!

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Our first night at the Hanalei Colony Resort we grilled some locally farmed Kauai shrimp for dinner. They were huge and so good!

Kauai North Shore Day 7 – Sunday: Our first full day in Kauai we used the resort’s complimentary shuttle to go to Ke’e Beach for the morning. We did some snorkeling and hung out on the beach. Afterwards we went swimming on our beach in front of our resort. We discovered that the water there is perfect for snorkeling, even though we had been warned against it due to the strong current. Luckily it wasn’t too bad while we were visiting and we just made sure to watch our location. We’re wondering if the locals are trying to keep the tourists out…

Kauai North Shore Day 8 – Monday: This was our hiking day of the second half of our trip. We hiked the Kalalau Trail along the Nā Pali coast. Anyone can hike the first two miles of the trail, but a permit is required to walk beyond that point. The permit is used by most people to backpack the 13 mile Kalalau trail at Kalalau beach, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do that since we couldn’t bring backpacking gear while traveling for four weeks. Instead we used it to be able to hike further along the trail for the day. So, we did a real tiring trip and went into the trail 6.5 miles for a 13 mile hike round trip. After the public section ended and it became permit only, the trail is very overgrown with plants on either side of the trail and at times very narrow on steep cliff sides. I kept thanking my lucky stars that we got a day without any rain, which is something of a rarity in this part of the island. If it had been muddy, some sections would have been super sketchy. The views are so. worth. it.

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Hanakoa Falls – We hiked 6 miles in on the Kalalau trail and then veered off the trail on a separate offshoot for 0.5 miles to reach the waterfall above. We were the only people here and it was gorgeous!
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Views along the Kalalau trail of the Na Pali coast
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Gorgeous wildflower along the Kalalau trail
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View along the Kalalau trail
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Andrew and I on the Kalalau trail. Can’t believe how tan we were from our summer travels and being outside nearly every day for two months!

Kauai North Shore Day 9 – Tuesday: We had originally reserved a spot on a catamaran sailing cruise with Captain Sundown on the Na Pali coast this day, but the company had to cancel due to a big rainstorm that came through that morning. A bummer, but so it goes. Instead, we hung out at the condo in the morning while the storm passed and in the afternoon went down to the beach in front of our resort and snorkeled. We saw SO MUCH at the beach here, so many fish and even a couple of sea turtles! There were only a few other people at this beach besides us, so we thoroughly enjoyed hanging out for the afternoon.

For dinner, we did our one evening out using the complementary shuttle to the Hanalei Dolphin in the town of Hanalei, 15 minutes drive away. This restaurant was excellent. They had freshly grilled fish (for Andrew the ahi tuna and for me the monchong) and we had an incredible rainbow poke as an appetizer. I’d highly recommend this spot!

Kauai North Shore Day 10 – Wednesday: Once our trip with Captain Sundown was cancelled we immediately got on the phone to find a replacement trip for Wednesday. Our optimal trip was a sailing cruise, but since that wasn’t available to book last minute with any company we settled on a spot with the Na Pali Coast Hanalei cruise, which leads four hour tours of the Na Pali coast on a speed boat. This wasn’t our preferred type of trip as we had hoped for a relaxing sailing cruise, but for a speed boat trip, this was a really good time. The tour guides were super friendly and informative, and we stopped for about 1.5 hours at a reef just past Kalalau Beach to snorkel and take in the scenery. They even took us through some sea caves. It was a great time! That night, for our last night in Kauai, we grilled some fresh opah (moonfish) filets we bought at the Hanalei Dolphin fish market and enjoyed sitting on the lanai.

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The Na Pali Coast
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The Na Pali coast

I cannot say enough how much I loved our time in Kauai. The island has something to offer for everyone and can keep you busy for days. The beaches were gorgeous, the mountains lush, and the seafood fresh. I can’t wait to go back and be here again!

Verbier

This weekend we were up in Verbier for a ski trip with Andrew’s client audit team. We were a group of 14 for the weekend and it was great to get to hang out with everyone. You may recall we came to Verbier last year with Andrew’s parents (see post) and we also came on my birthday our first week living in Switzerland (see post).

Accommodation – Hôtel de la Poste: Our co-worker selected the spot on behalf of the group. It was centrally located in the village, with the ability to walk pretty much everywhere within five minutes. It was not an upscale hotel by any means and needed some modern touch-ups in some areas, but there was a good breakfast, great views from the rooms, and had all of the amenities you would expect in a 3-star hotel, including an indoor pool and an outdoor garden that would be great to enjoy in the Summer.

Eats: Again, our co-workers made the selections on behalf of the group but they know the village very well and picked great spots. We had lunch on the mountain on Saturday at Le Dahu and dinner at L’Écurie. We did an après ski at the W hotel bar in the afternoon.

My croute au fromage at lunch at Le Dahu. Not a light meal but so good.
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My café gourmand Saturday evening after dinner. A popular, local dessert option at many restaurants. It is typically an after-dinner coffee (or espresso) accompanied by a sampling of several desserts. It’s the best! Here I had a lemon tart, chocolate cake, vanilla custard, apple tart and house-made strawberry ice cream. 

Skiing: Unfortunately the snow situation has not improved much since my last post. It has been warm and limited snow has fallen lately up in the Alps. We got up on the mountain early in the morning to enjoy the snow first thing while it was still good (and it was for the first few hours) but come lunch time it was too warm and the snow was kiiiind of turning to slush. For the lack of good snow, we had a great morning skiing up on the higher elevation pistes and taking in the view.

Andrew on the right with some of our co-workers
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View from the top of Mont Fort to the ‘Grand Désert’ glacier. You can see ski tracks going down the glacier from Mount Rosablanche. All of this terrain is completely off-piste and accessed primarily via helicopter. You would definitely need to know where you’re going or have a guide to go that way. 
View from Mont Fort looking down on the piste just before I skied down. So many moguls for that first bit until I reached the groomed part of the run – it was a leg workout!
Looking up at Mont Fort. If you look closely you can see the piste that I skied down (Andrew skied down with the partners a few times while I went on my own for a little while since I’m a slower skier). On the left the little red dot is the cable car you take to go up to the top of Mont Fort to ski down. 
Some of the group at our après ski at the W hotel after our day on the slopes

Life Update:

I figure it’s a good point to update on what’s happening in our life here in Switzerland. I have been posting plenty to describe our weekend adventuring this winter to various ski destinations, but I have not provided much information to be able to answer the questions: Are you staying? When do you go back to the U.S.?  So, while I may have sort of alluded to this, I can say our plan is that we are not going to extend our contract in Switzerland. After our two years are up, we’re going back to San Francisco. We were fortunate to be offered a one-year extension, however, due to many factors and so much time deliberating pros and cons, we feel we made the right choice for us. Our last day of work in Switzerland is 30 June, 2017.

We have a lot going on in the planning stages right now (an excel spreadsheet on steroids, like the good little accountants we are). We have a few key points pending before it all comes together enough to divulge {what we think is} our sweet plan, but so far I can share a few details.

I don’t know if you would know these specifics, but as a reminder Andrew is on a global mobility program with KPMG here in Lausanne (kind of “on loan” to KPMG Switzerland from KPMG San Francisco) and I am a locally hired employee on a two year contract. Upon our return to SF, Andrew is returning to KPMG San Francisco to the audit practice and I am proud to announce that I have officially accepted an offer to join the KPMG SF Accounting Advisory Services group, with both of us starting September 5. This provides us two full months between work to travel, see family and …. oh yea … move internationally and re-establish our life in SF. No big deal.

As you can imagine, there is so much to plan. Similar to 2 years ago when we were figuring out what it meant to move our life to Switzerland, now we need to figure out how to reverse this whole thing. Among many logistical and administrative challenges, the biggest one we are currently dealing with is ending our apartment lease early. There are some specific laws in our canton of Vaud regarding when and how you may leave an apartment lease, and this results in a requirement for us to find a replacement tenant starting the date we want to exit the apartment (or else we’re on the hook for 3 months rent until the lease can be officially cancelled on October 1st). I’m sure it will all work out, but for now that is a bit of a difficult situation and we’re focusing on doing our best to find a replacement.

Until our departure, there is plenty going on to keep my blog filled with fun stuff. Andrew’s family is coming to catch the tail end of the ski season in Zermatt in April, his aunt and uncle are coming for a few days in May to see the Suisse Romande, we have a weekend trip to Copenhagen, a trip to Provence and we are making sure we see as much of Switzerland as possible before we say goodbye to this beautiful country. As always, keeping things interesting here in Switzerland. Keep reading and I’ll keep you posted 🙂

 

2016 Holiday Season in the U.S. 

I was lucky to get to spend three weeks back at home in Virginia from 24 December 2016 – 13 January 2017. The first two weeks were purely holidays for me and the last week was spent working on my client that’s in Virginia.  It was an amazing time filled with time spent with family, friends and being home. Here’s a summary in photos!

Christmas Day my Grandma and I decorated sugar cookies
Our sugar cookies. Decorating these is one of my favorite things to do at the holidays. They come in handy for not only snacking, but also as gifts to friends and family as we visit together through the holidays.
My uncle Gregg and I treated my Mom, Grandma and his girlfriend Kelly to suite tickets at the Washington Capitals vs the New Jersey Devils game at the Verizon Center on 29 December. It was such a fun thing to do all together and awesome to watch the Caps play live!
Family at the Caps game

 

I met my friends Sally and Andrew when I first moved to San Francisco, bonding over the fact that we had all just moved to CA from from Northern VA. They moved back to VA since then and I got to visit with them and their adorable little boy Charlie for an afternoon.

On 30 December my Mom, cousin Owen, uncle Gregg and I hiked to the Big Schloss, where we spread my father’s ashes. It was cold out and we hiked through passing snow squalls. It was a good time and we were all happy to make it to the mountain together. Afterwards we stopped at the Winery at Lagrange for a wine tasting and hung out together over a glass of wine.

On New Year’s Eve I cooked dinner at home with my Mom, Grandma and Grandpa.

 

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On New Year’s Day I met up with my friends Mark, Heather, Laura, Jenny, Jen & Clay at Masa 14 on U street in D.C. for brunch.

 

Also two friends from SF that have now moved back home to Virginia, I managed to see Ashley and Kevin in their newly purchased home (congrats!!) and also meet their bundle of fur Huey. So good to see them and catch up!
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I drove down to Charlottesville, Virginia to visit with my friend Brandon, from JMU, for a night. I was able to see his new home that he just had built with his Dad, caught up on life over the past couple years and also went out to his family’s property in Buckingham. Oh! And visited with his family’s adorable new black lab puppy Bella, who I nearly brought back to Switzerland with me if she had sat still long enough 😉

 

 

I spent my last weekend before working in D.C. with my friends. I had so much fun and loved getting to spend quality time just chatting and catching up on life. Friday night my friend Jenny hosted all the girls for a wine and apps get together. We also played this awesome game Watch Yo Mouth that came out this year. It’s a hilarious game and fun fact: it’s developed by two JMU grads!

 

JMU, my alma mater, made it into the NCAA FSC National Championship game against Youngstown State (and won!). I went to a watch party at Chinese Disco in Georgetown with a bunch of friends. Also saw some people I hadn’t seen in a handful of years!
With friends at the JMU watch party

The three weeks back in Virginia was fantastic and I am truly so thankful to have had the opportunity to be home for so long. Now, I’m back in Switzerland and it’s started to snow here finally! Sunday Andrew and I made our way to Portes du Soleil, which coincidentally is where we went this exact same weekend last year. The snow was as good as it gets and we managed to get some sun for a part of the day between snow storms. We had a blast and now we’re ready to kick it into gear for the work week. Plenty more winter trips coming up soon!

 

Just popped over the border into France for some skiing 🙂 Portes du Soleil crosses into both Switzerland and France. It’s a massive network of resorts and was so fun to explore.
Morning drive along the lake towards the Alps. So beautiful with the snow! Believe it or not, it is not common to get snow down by the lake. It’s a rare sight for us and we loved getting to witness it!

Dinner Party at our house!

This weekend we had our co-worker Yann and his girlfriend Marie over for dinner. They had us over to their place in July and Marie wowed us with her cooking. It was my turn to return the favor and my first time ever to cook a three course meal for guests. Major adult-ing going on over here!

We had them arrive at 7:30, and after a tour of the apartment we popped open a bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne and sat down in the living room to catch up over small bites of veggie crudites, olives, nuts and cheese.

My first course (the entrée) was salmon tartare. You may remember from my previous post when I made it for the first time, but ever since moving to Switzerland, my eyes have been opened to tartare. Here in Switzerland it’s most commonly made with beef, but I’ve had a couple made with different types of fish. I am still perfecting the recipe, but it’s such an easy thing to make and so fresh and delicious! I paired it with toast, avocado and a simple green salad. I used this recipe as a guide, but excluded the smoked salmon and used about 1/3 of the amount of the marinade (the first time I made it I followed the recipe and it was drenched, it calls for way too much). I also only marinate the salmon for about 15 minutes.

I tried my hand at a simple Fall table scape. We have an amazing florist up the street who helped me put this together after I introduced my idea with some broken French and a photo example. 

Our main course was a rack of lamb with a side of potatoes. I am a budding chef, and learning to cook red meat has been a challenge. I can never tell when it’s done! Luckily, our oven has a built-in meat thermometer that helped me get the lamb to a perfect temperature – I think I achieved a perfect medium!

Recipe for Lamb: I used only 2 garlic cloves and added about a tablespoon of chives to the rub. Recipe for potatoes

I was definitely a bit nervous about cooking for our friends, especially after the amazing meal they served us in their home, but if anyone knows me well than you know that I can handle dessert! I come from a line of very good bakers on my mother’s side (hats off to you, Mom and Grandma, for teaching me!). I wanted to give our friends something that would be a bit more of an American style dessert. Here in Switzerland, they have excellent desserts but nothing like our frosted layer cakes. My beloved Susie Cakes would blow their minds! I made a chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. It was so good. Seriously, try this recipe!! I couldn’t find espresso powder in our grocery store so I just made espresso and reduced the liquid in the  cake and frosting recipes. The trusty The Kitchn blog helped me figure that trick out 🙂

My cake!

All in all, a fun time with some Swiss friends and a fun opportunity to test my culinary abilities. Next up: I have three girl friends from JMU coming to visit us for a weekend and then I’m joining them on a trip to Tuscany and Florence! Bring on the good times!

Madrid

It is a benefit of working in Switzerland to have 5 weeks vacation a year and also to get 100% of our overtime hours back in vacation time (hours above a 41 hour week). Given our busy seasons, we arrive at quite a high amount of time off whenever we can manage it with our work schedules. Also, taking long vacations is entirely supported and applauded by pretty much everyone we work with. Something we wouldn’t experience in the U.S.!

As a result, we are now on a month long vacation in Europe! We just started the first leg, which is two weeks in Spain and Portugal. There’s not enough time to see it all, but we are going to make it to Madrid, Granada, Sevilla, The Algarve and Lisbon. So far we just spent three nights in Madrid. Here are the highlights!

Accommodation: We stayed in a one bedroom Airbnb apartment in the Centro neighborhood about 2 blocks from the Sol metro. Our spot was perfectly situated and within a 20 minute walk of all the sites and shopping on the Gran Via and maybe 5 from tons of restaurants and bars. Our host was really nice and even took us out on our first night for a tapas bar crawl.

Sites:

Day 1 (Saturday July 23) we flew in to Madrid from Geneva. After settling into our apartment we started walking.

Plaza Mayor
Cathedral de la Almudena

On Saturday we also spent some time going shopping and wandering through the Gran Via shopping district. Madrid has soooo many stores and the prices here are first of all already lower than anything we see in Switzerland, but also July is one of the twice a year major sales periods. So, I got some Vans for a great deal and Andrew bought some new sunglasses. It’s crazy how we are so isolated in Switzerland from a variety of shops and lower prices that our jaws drop when we see what they have here in Madrid (for example, Sunglass Hut and pretty much every brand name you know from the U.S. with their own brick and mortar store).

Inside the Mercado de San Miguel, an indoor marketplace for tapas and drinks at several vendors under one roof. We ate lunch here Sunday and it was some of the best food we had
Sunday night we went to a bull fight at the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas

I honestly did not know what to expect when we signed up to go to the bull fight. If you are curious how it works and also how the various roles of the participants in the fight operate, the wikipedia page is pretty good. I had not known, for example, that the bull is always killed in the end, and that they fight and kill 6 bulls through the night. It was an interesting thing to witness given it is a huge part of their culture, but it was also pretty sad to see how they treat the bulls. Two bulls gorged two of the matadors during the fights and I didn’t even feel bad for them. That sounds mean, but really – read how it works then you might understand! During the fight, plenty of tourists left. I definitely felt a little bit of an ethical battle about whether I should stay and support the fight given the animal’s welfare but … we stayed and that’s that.

The procession at the beginning of the night, to introduce all the individuals who participate in the fight. 
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During the first phase of the fight, when they tire the bull and test it to see which side it favors charging. It is also used by the matador to study the bull and understand its strengths and ferocity.

Monday we started the morning with more walking around the city and then went to the Prado, the main Spanish national art museum that many claim to rival Paris’ Louvre. It was impressive, and we saw works of Goya, El Bosco (Bosch), El Greco and many others.

Monday morning walk through the Parque de el Retiro

Monday afternoon we took our Airbnb host’s recommendation and took a 30 minute train to the city of Toledo.

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Walking from the train station, you cross a bridge over the Tajo river and climb a set of stairs to arrive at the village on top of the hill.

 

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We had fun wandering the narrow streets and alleys of Toledo. It was a quiet and sleepy town and I loved how the houses all had these bump-out (for lack of a better term) windows facing the street. The temperatures got up to around 100 this day, so the narrow streets created some much appreciated shade!

One of the primary attractions in Toledo that we visited was the Toledo Cathedral, which we did a full audio tour of. It was a very impressive church with a wonderful collection of art by famous Spanish artists, including El Greco and Goya. To finish the day while waiting for our train back to Madrid, we grabbed drinks at an outdoor bar with a terrace overlooking the river gorge and hills beyond.

Eats: 

We could not have been happier with the food in Madrid. Everywhere we had amazing food, unique flavors and dishes.

We took our Airbnb host’s recommendation and had our first meal at Ginger, which was a short walk away. We sat out on the street tables to people watch and enjoy the beautiful day under the shade of umbrellas.

Our first night in Madrid, our Airbnb host, Kristian, offered to take us out on the town for tapas and drinks. Given this was already our plan and there’s no reason to turn down the offer of a local to show us the ropes, we happily accepted. We met him at 9 pm (remember – the Spanish eat very late!) and headed to a rooftop terrace and then to the Matador. Andrew and I had never done this and only researched online so it was great to get an intro into how to approach this. Essentially, whenever you order a drink at a bar you will always get a little “tapas” along with the drink included in the price. We also noted that they progressively get a little better with the additional drinks you order. For example, at the Matador, our first drink came with a piece of baguette, topped with a thin slice of tomato and a slice of salami. The next was bread with freshly sliced local delicacy of cured ham, Jamón ibérico (see photo collage below). After that, we got a slice of roasted red pepper empanada. Seriously, so good. The rest of the night we hopped around to a few different bars and spent a bit of time at La Fragua de Vulcano sampling several other dishes, including chicken wings, albondigas (meatballs in some sort of delish sauce), shrimp in garlic and butter mmm my mouth is watering just remembering it all 🙂 Many of these dishes were actually not tapas but raciones, which are bigger portions than a tapas but not necessarily the size as a full meal.

Sunday we had a late lunch at the Mercado de San Miguel. Below is the bar where we ordered 50 grams of acorn fed jamón ibérico de bellota reserva, some of the premium ham. They slice it for you right off the leg of the pig. The meat is buttery and the flavor is … for lack of better words so good! Other things we tasted are in the photo collage below.

Throughout the rest of our days we went to a few other spots, throughout the Centro and Prado neighborhoods, including Los Gatos, La Tintoreria, and VIPS. But the picture below is just a snapshot of the amazing stuff we tasted!

Top left: Mussels with a fresh bell pepper salsa; Top right: Octopus with potato and sprinkled in paprika at the Mercado; Middle left: stuffed olives at the Mercado; Middle right: My lunch at Ginger, Dorade (sea bream) in a roasted red pepper sauce topped with a grilled onion; Bottom left: Burrata topped with a tomato jelly and balsalmic glaze at the Mercado; Bottom center: Pimientos de padron at the Mercado (just quick fried padron peppers with flakes of salt. Simple but so good); Bottom right: Chicken wings.

1st Impressions of Spain:

This is my first time to Spain and Andrew’s second visit (he went to Barcelona with his family). I was not sure what to expect, but given its economic state I had rather low expectations for amenities and the quality of the city. But, I was pleasantly surprised! Madrid was clean, public transport was well signed, widely available if you need it and well priced. All the people were helpful and worked with us through our minimal Spanish. The museums were very nice and the parks were well kept and beautiful.

We checked the forecast beforehand and were expecting the worst with above 100 degrees every day all day. But it wasn’t that bad! The mornings and evenings were in the 70s and it only got above 100 one day so far and it was only for a few hours in the afternoon. It probably helps to have the mindset from the beginning that we are going to roast, but we handled the heat pretty well and were not miserable at all.

People really do stay out late and hours of operation are much later. This was so welcome given how the operating hours of everything are so limited in Switzerland. It was wild to be walking around the city at midnight and to be on crowded streets with families.  I mean, children, babies, grandma, grandpa, everyone is out late! Even Starbucks was open at 11pm when we passed it.  It is such an interesting aspect of their culture.

It is CHEAP. And I am not just saying that as someone who is coming from Switzerland with higher prices. Our Airbnb was only about EUR 280 for 3 nights, in a prime spot and with A/C so we didn’t go with the lowest grade available. Wine was about 2 EUR per glass (and it was decent Spanish wine!) and I think we spent an average of MAYbe EUR 50 on dinner and drinks for the two of us. This has been so fantastic for our budget given we’re traveling for so long.

As I said, the people are very nice. I’ll end with a conversation with our cab driver this morning on the way to the bus station to catch our ride to Granada. He commented how Spain is “real Europe” and the rest is not the same. How they don’t work here in Spain, many people are unemployed, they just party party party and in Switzerland we work too much. He laughed it off, but it is kind of a sad reality because they don’t have as good an economy as other parts of Europe or as us in the U.S.. But he was incredibly happy (in appearance at least) and spoke with pride for his country. He was a nice person to have met as we left the city and truly gave me a lasting positive impression of the amazing city of Madrid.

 

Paris is Always a Good Idea

We had a four day trip to Paris (thanks to a public holiday in Switzerland last Thursday), and it just wasn’t enough time! I had been to Paris before when I studied abroad but this visit was so much better. I feel like I got to know the city better this time and saw the “magic” that brings people back again and again.

Transportation:

We took the TGV Lyria train to get to Paris, which is the 3.5 hour speed train directly from Lausanne. At one point we clocked it at going 185 mph! I have come to love train travel over flying (when it works out). It costs about the same and it involves less hassle, less chance of delay, basically no chance of losing your bag if you have it with you and more room at your seat and a restaurant car. What’s not to like?

Accommodation:

We stayed in an Airbnb studio apartment in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. It’s a cool neighborhood with tons of restaurants, cafes, shops, easily accessible to several Metro stops or even less than a mile’s walk to famous sites like the Notre-Dame! It was a perfect spot for us.

Eats: Paris is another city (similar to Milan) where I was SO EXCITED to eat.

  • Thursday: Café Séraphin: We found this place while walking home after our wine tasting and looking up spots as we passed by on TripAdvisor. Andrew had boeuf bourguignon and I had duck confit. It had a cool ambiance and the server entertained our attempts at French 🙂
  • Friday: Le Coupe Gorge: Andrew found this spot in the Marais neighborhood thanks to TripAdvisor. We sampled from their daily menu for white asparagus with poached egg, dorade with mussels, and a pork chop followed by chocolate soufflé and apple tartine. The food was perfectly prepared.

  • Saturday: Brasserie Vagenende: A co-worker recommended this spot and we were so happy we went. A few minutes walk from our Airbnb, we sat outside on the sidewalk on a warm night. We started with two glasses of champagne (couldn’t help ourselves) followed by an entrée of goat cheese wrapped in zucchini and roasted vegetables, with a main course of seared tuna for me and grilled shrimp for Andrew. This place was exceptional and the service was excellent! My favorite food spot on the trip!


Activities and Seeing of the Sites:

Thursday we had a few available hours between our arrival and the wine tasting. We needed to buy our Paris Museum Pass (great deal I would recommend to anyone … and I would also recommend you buy ahead of time). We thought we’d get it at the Notre Dame, but the lines were crazy long (soon we’d learn there would be a theme this trip….) so we went to Sainte Chapelle instead. It still took us about 30 minutes to wait to get inside, but it was beautiful aaaand we got our Museum pass.

Sainte-Chapelle – The stained glass was stunning

After Sainte-Chapelle we went into the Archaeological Crypts, which are right under the plaza in front of the Notre-Dame. No line to get in there (score!) and it was interesting to see how much the city has physically changed over time due to man and also the growth of the city of Paris overtime. Archaeologists have uncovered some of the old buildings that used to reside in that spot that had been covered with earth over time, which is a neat thing to wander through.

Wine Tasting in Paris: On Thursday night we signed up for a two hour wine tasting course. It included 6 wines from different regions of France. The class was small, about 12 people in total, and the guy that ran it was very knowledgeable. Clearly catered to English speaking tourists, but hey, who cares, it was fun! We had signed up with very limited knowledge of French wines and left feeling much more confident in our ability to order French wines, which was definitely a goal. Going to the store to buy wines will be  fun the next time since our stores sell a lot of French wine and up until this point we have honestly purchased wines rather blindly, just knowing that we like French wine 🙂 Also, we have a trip planned this summer to the Bourgogne region (aka Burgundy) and got a ton of advice from the instructor on where to go during our visit. I am even more excited for our summer trip!

Friday we spent the day at Chateau de Versailles, which is outside of Paris by about an hour’s train ride (except when your closest train station is closed down unexpectedly and you have to reroute yourself. But hey, things happen).

Upon arrival we were greeted by this lovely site. If you look closely, you will see a mass of people resembling a coiled snake. Otherwise known as, a line. A line that took 1 hr 15 minutes to get through and the museum pass did not let us cut this one. People told us we would face lines in Paris, but I didn’t believe it! And apparently it’s worse in July/August.

 

The Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, famous for its views overlooking the gardens and also as mirrors were an indication of wealth at the time. 
Versailles Gardens
The Versailles Gardens

So, I am going to apologize ahead of time for all the Versailles lovers out there, but I was very much … un-impressed by the Gardens and they just did not live up to the hype. Yes, they are massive, yes the shrubbery is well-cut and in cool designs and it is a massive park with these long aisles you can walk through surrounded by these very tall hedges, and we even had lunch at a little bistro hidden in the trees, but otherwise … not AS amazing as people make it seem. I think part of this is because there were absolutely no flowers this weekend (makes no sense, it’s May!) and the fountains were not on (apparently you need to visit on specific days to see the fountains). So, it just seems like an overcrowded park. A nice, big park, but way too many people, not enough bathrooms nor places to get water. Eh, could take it or leave it. All I can think is that we need to go back some other time when the flowers are there and the fountains are on. Thoughts? Please let me know if I am wrong!!

Notre Dame
We did a little walking through the city at night to see the sites all lit up. Here is the Notre-Dame Friday night after dinner

 

Saturday morning we visited the Louvre. It was the first time our museum pass paid off aside from getting us into every museum for free. There was a very long line to get in, and we scooted right on by the line with our pass and didn’t have to wait! We spent a little over 3 hours inside the museum, wandering through a few different sections. You could easily spend all day inside there, it’s so huge!

Inside the Louvre. It not only houses beautiful things, but the building itself is amazing. Look at that ceiling!

Victory of Samothrace (above)

After the Louvre, we finally (finally!) hit the shops. We went to the Galeries Lafayette, which is one of the biggest department stores in Paris. We ate lunch at their top floor cafeteria as well. We both came to France hoping to buy a lot and to take advantage of the lower prices (in comparison to Switzerland) and ended up getting a couple things to remind us of Paris in the future 🙂 Afterwards, we headed over to walk along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées (a boulevard known for its shops) and ended up at the Arc de Triomphe. By this point, our day had somehow nearly disappeared and we sped back to our apartment to change, as we had plans to meet up with a friend of mine from JMU who is also on an international rotation with another big 4 audit firm in Paris. We had beers at a local brewery spot around the corner from our Airbnb, O’Neil, and caught up on what it is like to live and work abroad. We had a lot of similar experiences since we both work in French speaking/cultural areas and it was fun to exchange. We hope to catch him again next time we go to Paris!
Saturday night after dinner we grabbed a bottle of champagne, some plastic glasses and headed off to sit under the Tour Eiffel for the rest of the night. It was so warm out and such an awesome atmosphere to hang out on the Champ de Mars sipping champagne and people watching in this world-famous spot.

Sunday, our last day (so sad) we woke up, checked out, got an espresso and pastry at a local cafe (when in Paris…) then headed off to Musée de l’Orangerie. While much much smaller than the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, I wanted to go because they have Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. The paintings were absolutely beautiful, and I will admit I had no idea that they were in two oval shaped rooms that had been specifically designed for the paintings by Monet himself! The museum also hosts a collection including some Renoir, Picasso and several other artists that I honestly did not know before but enjoyed walking through. The museum does not take much time to visit and I would highly recommend it!

Walking through Jardin des Tuileries after l’Orangerie

After l’Orangerie and stopping for lunch at a cafe on the Ile Saint Louis, we went to the Notre-Dame to try to go up the towers to get in a view and see the gargoyles (and maybe look for Quasimodo?), but we were stopped by the fact that they had a 2.5 hour wait to go up. Sadly, this exceeded our remaining time in Paris. But there’s always next trip! And now we know that they use a phone app to start your wait electronically, and then you can essentially get a ticket and do your thing until your turn comes up. It’s a crazy wait but at least they are trying to make it easier for people. So, instead, we took the metro up to the neighborhood of Montmartre to see the Sacré-Coeur. Luckily, this is also on top of a massive hill so we were able to get a nice view in after all. Then … it was off to the train station and our trip was over! So sad but seriously, there has to be another Paris trip because we couldn’t see it all in four days and we loved it so much!

Andrew and I in front of La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur

 

Andrew’s parent’s March visit 

Andrew’s parents arrived on Tuesday March 1 to spend a winter vacation in Switzerland. Their itinerary included staying with us in Lausanne for a couple nights before heading for a four night trip to Verbier in the mountains, finishing with two nights in Geneva. They reserved a wonderful AirBnB apartment in the village of Verbier with a gorgeous view of the mountains.

Views from the apartment at different times of day. All so beautiful!

andrew mtn pic

Andrew was able to take a couple days off work to hang out with them and I joined after work late Friday and stayed until Sunday. It snowed on Saturday and visibility was not very good so we elected to hang out for the day in the village. Andrew and his parents had also skied on Friday, so it made sense to take the day off. We hung out in the apartment in the morning, enjoying watching the snow fall outside the window. Then in the afternoon we ventured out to peruse the shops, explore the village and stop to join up with the après ski (might have cheated by not skiing that day, but who cares!). We stopped at Le Rouge and Carve for drinks, taking in the scene and people watching.

bar pic 2
The menu at Le Rouge, which was clearly where the après ski party was at. All the tables were reserved with bottle service and a DJ was getting going. We didn’t stick around long enough for the party but definitely wouldn’t mind joining in the fun another time when we return to Verbier!
All four of us at Carve, the outdoor bar at the foot of the slopes at the W Hotel

The village of Verbier is really nice. The last time we Andrew and I were here was in July on my birthday when we went hiking (see previous post). It had been very quiet at the time so it was fun to see it during the height of ski season. There are lots of bars and restaurants with everyone out enjoying themselves at night.

Our upstairs neighbor has a vacation home in Verbier and gave some great restaurant recommendations. Saturday night we ate dinner at La Grange and Sunday for lunch on the mountain we went to La Vache.  Andrew and his parents did a tasting menu at Le Rouge on Sunday night that sounded out of this world. No one ever goes hungry when they come to Switzerland 🙂

Sunday we hit the slopes. The weather varied according to the part of the resort and elevation we were at, which was pretty cool. In one area we’d be in a cloud, the next a snow squall, then up higher we got out of the clouds to have a bit of a view. The snow was absolutely perfect, could not have been better. The pistes are wide with plenty of room, and it is so cool to be up above tree line with the vast open mountain in front of you.

Skiing in the clouds

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Little me with the big mountains

Our visit with Andrew’s parents again passed so quickly, as all of our visitors trips seem to do. It was so fun to have them in town and to enjoy Verbier together. Until the next visit!