I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to talk Mr. T into catching any Broadway shows, so I decided early to plan to hit a matinee midweek. Today, I saw Elling. Turns out, it was all Hollywood: Brendan Fraser, Denis O’Hare, and Jennifer Cooper (‘memba her from Legally Blonde? Or Best In Show?). It was a pleasant mid-afternoon diversion, though I discovered later why the storyline seemed familiar when Mr. T reminded me we’d watched the Norwegian film years ago. P.S. I relearned during intermission Fraser attended Cornish back in the day. Go Seattle!
When the play let out, I walked for a while to The High Line which is getting tons of well-deserved 2010 press. I later learned those who did the High Line won the bid for Seattle’s waterfront. I’m taking this as spectacular news.
I watched the sun set over Jersey. And plotted for dinner late that evening at Artichoke Basille, another NY pizza place.
Post-dinner, Kate & Colleague were available to join us at Death & Company where the drinks were divine.
Should you find yourself here someday, try their Slap ‘N Pickle — with Aquavit, muddled cucumber, lime & grenadine. It was a surprise hit & a group favorite.
As I was bursting at the seams and more full than I could ever remember, I laced up my running shoes and hit the road for a bit. Six miles to be exact. I charted a course from Chelsea to the South Street Seaport’s TKTS booth where I could pick up a solo ticket to a Wednesday Broadway matinee. I didn’t time the run so well. By the time I reached lower Manhattan, I felt like a salmon running upstream against all the bankers after the closing bell. At the ticket booth, I settled on a show called Elling. The seller told me these were my best choice — a single seat at only 8 rows back from stage. I also liked that the story was set in Norway, where one side of Mr. T’s family originated.
I ran back & got ready for dinner with Mr. T at Rye House. I’d found my selection based on a sandwich guide I’d read before I’d even gone to lunch today — the Pittsburgh. When it arrived on my plate, I realized what I’d gotten myself into: andouille sausage on rye with coleslaw and french fries INSIDE the sandwich. I took a picture to submit to “This is Why You’re Fat.” It was delicious & too much after the lunch I’d had, but I squirreled most away for a Wednesday morning brekkie. We also checked out some of their other Rye offerings.
Then, my friend Kate arrived in town with her colleagues! We met up with them at an izakaya called Sake Bar Hagi near Times Square. I had zero interest in eating, but from what I saw, it’s a place I’d recommend and return to on future visits.
I ended up working so much today that I didn’t eat until 3PM. What? Fortunately, our apartment was a few blocks west of the over-publicized Shake Shack. As a Burger of the Month Club devotay, I had to check it out. I ordered a regular cheeseburger, and picked up a Pumpkin Concrete for Mr. T. It was basically pumpkin pie mixed up with ice cream. Burger was very good. To reward my diligent work, I also picked up a Peanut Butter Hot Chocolate thing they had going on. Then, I worked some more.
Once Mr. T finished with his work, we decided to check out a local pizza place, recommended by a New Yorker friend as a solid neighborhood chain. We ordered pizza with pepperoni and their Insalata Siciliana. I don’t think Mr. T was as impressed with it as I was, but I liked how much I felt like we were off the beaten traveler path…almost the opposite of exotic: comfortable.
Then we walked home through Chelsea.
Essentially, we began our day by walking to the Bowery for DBGB Kitchen and Bar. For all my plans of having brunch, I went with a fancy hot dog called the DGBG Dog (from their sausage menu). I dunno, it just felt right. The sausage was made at DBGB and came with their “299” relish. Good. It even showed up on a porcelain hot dog tray. Mr. T went a traditional route with Oeuf Forestiere — “two eggs “en cocotte” with wild mushrooms, gruyere & fines herbes.”
We walked a few miles back to our place, pausing briefly before walking north through Times Square to spectate at the NYC Marathon finish line.
Being in Central Park had us in the right location to check out H&H, a NYC institution of the kind Mr. T missed on prior visits: bagels in situ. Total honesty here — between the indifferent staff and an average-tasting bagel, they didn’t seem to have much worth writing home about. It was much like our underwhelming pizza experience here in 2005. It just didn’t happen. I preferred comparing & contrasting potato vs. sweet potato knish at Zabar’s more. (Fortunately, better bagels appeared later in the week.)
We kept walking to regain some sort of appetite before walking MORE to Locanda Verde, in Tribeca. And at this point, I’ll yield on commentary to point you in the direction of the blog post written by my friend, The Gastrognome, who recommended LV to us. We really enjoyed it, as she did.
Then, we cabbed it home. I say we deserved that after logging over 10 miles for the day.
Mr. T & I flew to NYC this morning, landing mid-day. First stop: the massive & impressive new Eataly, Batali’s new Italian food emporium. It was only two blocks from our place in Chelsea and held us over for a few hours.
For dinner, we visited The Breslin, a new establishment next to the Ace Hotel & Stumptown Coffee. (Pacific Northwest REPRESENT!) We were drawn in by the spectacular Garden Tonic, but that Lamb Burger is worth making room & time for in any visit to the city. Our window seat had a view of the Empire State Building, from the south side. The Breslin’s on West 29th, not far from Broadway.
We took the super long way home, heading north by 20 blocks to see what Times Square is up to these days.
I’ve been to San Francisco several times, but somehow Alcatraz never worked into my plans. Today, I changed that by visiting with another friend who’s lived in Berkeley for 3 years but never made it herself. It was a a classically foggy San Francisco Day.
A set, here:
Afterward, D headed home & I met up with Kate at Rickhouse, an exceptional cocktail place near Union Square.
We followed that with Smuggler’s Cove, a rum tiki bar (in honor of Rocky) where we synced up with Mr. T before running to our Cafe Zuni reservations. Roasted chicken with bread salad: WORTH THE HYPE. And the 45 minute minimum wait. Note: I tried calling ahead to order this, but they were no go on this. You must be seated to order. There were a few service delays and it was hard to wrangle our check.
This delay became an annoyance only because we arrived late at our next destination: Bourbon & Branch. 8 minutes and we heard about it from the front door man. Well, okay, our bad. Otherwise, service at the bar was also top-notch. And now I know why the Tenderloin district has its reputation, so that was educational.
Despite all the highlights of the long weekend, I was grateful to wake up in a familiar place at Maya & Janet’s home. I had a slow morning before we ventured out into the big bad world. Appropriately readied to face the Geneva metro area, Maya and I drove into town. We parked at the UN, then went to the waterfront to take in the Cool Globes exhibit, designed to raise awareness of solutions to climate change. It was scheduled to end in August, but for lucky me, it was still in town.
For lunch, we found Pakistani doner kebab in the Paquis (Les PÃ¢quis), not far from the waterfront. After, we walked towards Gare Cornavin together, with plans to part so Maya could head to French class and so I could tram it solo to Carouge, a village adjacent to Geneva. Not two minutes after saying good-bye to Maya, I ran into another expat friend of a friend I’d met Friday. Small world! I was feeling very much at home in Geneva after this.
Okay, onto Carouge. This Summer another friend (N.) moved to the Geneva area, settling in Carouge. We saw each other often in Seattle until she was relocated by her company to Cincinnati around 5 years ago. Once again this Summer, she relocated — but this time to Switzerland. Rough. I hope she gets hazard pay.
I’d left Gare Cornavin with enough time should there be any mishaps en route my 30 minute tram ride. But who was I kidding? This is Switzerland. They pretty much invented timeliness. So when I arrived far earlier than expected, I took the hour to photograph. Turns out, I picked the perfect location to spend my time — Carouge is tres photogenic and one of the most charming and arty districts in the Geneva metro area. It was built hundreds of years ago by Sardinians looking to escape harsh big city life. I found it as delightful as Bern and plan to revisit. Should I ever need to rent my own apartment in Geneva, Carouge would be right up there with Ferney-Voltaire. 🙂
N & I spent a couple of hours catching up before heading to our evenings. But once again, I miscalculated time & found myself with a little extra. Instead of hopping on the first tram outta Carouge, I started walking. Pretty soon, I’d walked over halfway back to Vielle Ville, making my tram plan mostly irrelevant. I refused to accept the idea I might get lost and pushed on with the faith that Geneva was as small & cozy as it had been feeling all day — past Plainpalais, past men playing giant chess, up the hill into the center, and arriving with seconds to spare.
As the sun set, we rendez-voused in Place du Bourg-de-Four, where Maya & I hung out last week in the Vielle Ville. We chose SoupÃ§on, not least of all because Janet told me over the weekend that it served the best steak she’d had in Switzerland yet. ‘Twas a lovely final dinner, with a stracciatella nightcap at the nearby gelateria. We took a final stroll through Geneva to the waterfront, under the harvest full moon.
After breakfast at the Hotel Oberland dining room, we started packing up to hit the road. I was nearly ready when Maya ran past my room relaying, “Alpages! They’re coming down the mountain!” Alpages (as they’re called in French, also known as Alpaufzug in Austria & Almabtrieb in Switzerland) are an annual Fall event, where herders bring cows down from higher elevations. In small villages, these are completely impromptu affairs. Now, I’d tried to set my visit to coincide with a famous Fall Alpages in Annecy near Geneva, but all Summer those Frenchies were not giving up the dates for their official weekend. I’d let go of the idea, booked cheaper flight dates, and by chance, one landed on our doorstep. Lucky! You sure can bank on the Swiss to bring good times, eh?
We eventually stopped gawking at cows & packed up to drove to Interlaken. En route, I read a guidebook listing of an El Azteca in Interlaken. I figured at worst, inauthentic Mexican would make the next meal of potatoes and exceptional cheese seem all the better. With hopeful hearts, our trio of Mexican food-lovers hit the Jungfraustrasse. I enjoyed my mole’s heat, though Janet & Maya tell me Basel still has the best Mexican food in all the (Swiss) land. I left happy. We walked through a street market, running into a surprise performance by a Swiss Army orchestra on our way to the paraglide landing field.
Our next stop was Bern, the capitol of Switzerland. We were ambivalent about visiting, but I thought I should check out the town where Mr. T’s grandmother’s family originated.
Bern turned out to be my favorite Swiss city–so charming, full of cute underground shops with entrances through cellar doors and old buildings and smartly dressed residents. We spent the rest of our day there, with dinner at Cafe Falken before driving home to Geneva. Full set of images, here:
Janet & I woke up ahead of most of the crew for a morning stroll of Basel. We walked through the center to the Rathaus, taking in views of the Munster & later, the Rhine River.
After packing, Diana, Janet, and I went to Hieber just across the border in Germany. Janet prefers to buy all of her meat at Hieber when she’s visiting Basel, as it’s far superior to what she can get near Geneva. I love any excuse to check out a foreign grocery store — especially the “Euro Supermarket of the Year 2009.”
More pictures of our morning in the Basler area:
We dropped Diana off at work, picked up Maya, and drove on, to Canton Berner to stay in the Jungfrau-Aletsch mountains. Janet’s colleague suggested Isenfluh, but the two options there were booked up by 2 PM. We continued to Lauterbrunnen, where we found rooms at the charming Chalet Oberland, across the lane from the larger Hotel Oberland. Our chalet rooms had quiet balconies, with views of the JungFrau!
Time & weather seemed perfect to try our luck at taking the Telecabine up to Shilthorn/Piz Gloria. We caught a late-afternoon ride up to the top, transferring gondolas multiple times. It’s a pricey ride, but worth it — cheaper the later in the day that you go. We goofed off a bit in the viewing deck (sadly, our Bond-style photos were no bueno). We wrote postcards in the lounge and had an afternoon drink.
On our way down, we stopped in charming MÃ¼rren for dinner. Before reserving anything more substantial, we took in the sunset and a snack from the best cafe deck in town at the Hotel Edelweiss.
We were brutally rebuffed at our MÃ¼rren dinner choice due to an influx of patrons, so continued to Lauterbrunnen for dinner.
A common sign: Rick Steves has put MÃ¼rren on the map.
We made it to Hotel Oberland’s restaurant, across the lane from our Chalet. Dinner turned into a highlight, with the best schnitzel Janet’s had since moving to Switzerland. My pork wrapped in bacon on rÃ¶sti wasn’t shabby either.
Today, Diana took us to The Alsace. The day was so beautiful, I was ready to pack it all up and move to Central Europe, in order to be closer to this region for all my Sundays.
We hit the highway early, headed for Niedermorschwihr. This little-known town is the home of Christine Ferber, who we took to calling The Jam Fairy. Ferber’s shop, Au Relais Des Trois Epis, is 13 km west of Colmar. Inside, I stocked up on jams, other preserved fruits and one chocolate macaron for the road.
Next on our itinerary was Bergheim. Our mission in Bergheim was two-fold: a) visit the Jam Witch and b) lunch at Wistub du Sommelier for the best foie gras EVER (trademark: J) and a delicious duck with choucroute. Bergheim’s Jam Witch (L’Eglantine de Bergheim) was well worth the stop and added a touch of positive drama to our morning — after each jam request, she would disappear, then re-emerge through the shop curtains with fresh supplies. Her GewÃ¼rztraminer product is To Die For. After visiting her, we scurried back a few streets to Wistub du Sommelier for our luxurious Alsatian lunch. We didn’t leave WdS without extra foie for M&J to take back to Ferney.
We hit the road early afternoon to head to Basel to visit other friends of M&J. En route, we made a quick stop at Avenches, formerly known to the Romans as Aventicum.
Not much farther down the road, just past the RÃ¶stigraben (aka the RÃ¶sti line or literally, the RÃ¶sti trench), we came upon Aarberg in Canton Bern, another darling town with its own Gesundheitcenter. I still giggle when I see this. Imagine what goes on inside a Gesundheit-center.
We arrived in Basel for dinnertime, whereupon D&S guided us to the Restaurant Steinbock for: RÃ¶sti!
I would also like to point out another site from our day, under Basel — the bike parking:
The whole set from our Swiss Saturday, here:
Where do I begin? Today was packed so well it seemed like I got two days out of one. I’m going to break today into two entries.
We began the morning at the weekly Saturday morning market in Ferney-Voltaire. Every week, M&J pick up their goods for the coming week and meet with fellow expats at the Cafe Voltaire. Today, I made the shopping rounds with J — first stop, Bernard (pictured above) at the fruit and veggie stand. Next, we visited the bread guy and the coffee lady and the cheese dude. And there was a spice & tea booth! It rivals any other casual food or farmer’s market I’ve ever seen.
Char-LEE (how I think of his name now) at the Cafe Voltaire, far friendlier than this photo suggests
M & I drove out to Ventoux on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) to visit Chateau de Chillon. Upon our approach, I didn’t expect to spend several hours there, but it was deceptively large inside. It was my first overcast morning in Switzerland, but the gloominess set the right tone to explore this castle. (Yes, my mission on this trip was to use my American positivity to turn any weather frowns upside-down. I’ll be honest with you. I think it ensured sunshine except for this one morning. Because gloominess is far more perfect for 800 year old castles.)
We’d worked up an appetite, so I consulted M’s Swiss guidebook which led us to Le Palais Oriental, a Persian restaurant on the shore in Montreux, westward on the supposed Swiss Riviera. M & I shared the “assortiments de mezzes libanais et iranais” or, in American: Lebanese/Iranian small plates. Eight delicious dishes. Paired with Sinalco. (Lawzy, can’t believe I’m using that overused verb pair whenst associating beverages or matching dishes.) I spotted Sinalco Orange all over Switzerland — an orange sherbet-flavored Euro soft drink without alcohol. Sin alco. Get it?
We lunched fairly late by Swiss standards, but there was a steady influx of Middle Easterners throughout our meal. It felt like a positive confirmation on the authenticity of our meal. Maybe they were just homesick; I know I’ve accepted inferior jambalaya at times for this reason alone. Our “terrace” seating made for good people-watching — one woman arrived after instructing her driver to take the pedestrian-only walkway to deliver her inches centimeters before the entry gate. I guess some people are allowed to do that for authentic tabbouleh emergencies. Heaven forbid a 30 yard 20 meter walk from the nearest street.
After walking along the Montreux waterfront, M drove us back past the vineyards of Lavaux and past Lausanne along the lake, for dinner with J & other delightful expat friends at Cafe du Soleil. There, I learned the rule for ordering fondue for a crowd: order 1 less than the number of people. Prevents lactose overdose! Um, sort of. ‘Cause next, we enjoyed meringue et sa double crÃ¨me de GruyÃ¨re (Gruyere Meringue with double cream) for dessert.
We ended our evening with a stroll along Lake Geneva out to the Jet D’eau.
Today was intergovernmental/non-governmental organization day. We met with J at the W.H.O., checked out the terrace on top, then headed for lunch at Ariana.
Our next stop was the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum (ICRC). We knew pretty quickly we’d have to return after our afternoon United Nations Tour. Inside Photography was supposed to be verboten, so I did not capture a picture of one highlight — the statue of a nurse holding a fallen solder. The title of the work was “Humanitarian Gesture” with its description that “This work represents the humanitarian spirit, often crushed but always renewed.” It was surrounded by panels of somewhat transparent screen images of early 20th-century conflicts. You know I’m a sucker for that humanitarian spirit prevailing.
After our U.N. tour, we revisited the ICRC. I was really interested in seeing the latter-20th century exhibits and it was well worth the second stop to understand the most recent activity being done by the organization. I stood inside a POW jail cell whose dimensions held 17 men for 90 days. The footprints indicating each prisoner weren’t even two feet apart.
After our museum visit, we headed home with J. She cooked a marvelous German-Italian dinner of bratwurst & caprese. We ran an errand to the local Carrefour (I love foreign grocery stores) and witnessed a spectacular sunset.
Clouds rolled in late afternoon to set the scene for our drive to Le Refuge de Florimont located halfway up in the Jura mountain range — up Route de la Faucille in Gex, France. The temperatures dropped considerably, so in a cozy space, we enjoyed Raclette and Gexiflette while fondue parties carried on around us. The Raclette came with its own charbon (a grill), which we used to melt this amazing cheese for our potatoes, charcuterie, and cornichon. The Gexiflette was a turn on Tartiflette — a french version of potatoes baked in cheese. In this case, the Gexiflette was cooked with the local Pays de Gex, a very blue cheese. The dinner was delicious & I’d recommend the trip to anyone in the Geneva area looking for a traditional restaurant, especially groups. For three of us, a perfect place to end the day.
My flight to Geneva touched down sometime around 7 AM this morning, well ahead of schedule. I strolled through Customs with Nothing to Declare and in minutes, my pals whisked me back over another border into France where they live across the street from Switzerland. J headed off to work, while M distracted me from jet lag.
We got off to an energizing start by taking a long, leisurely walk through the countryside. Past Collex, past Bossy, past apple orchards and cornfields and vineyards, along an extensive path system shared by both France & Switzerland. We lost count of how many times we saw border stones, which indicated we’d crossed yet again. One woman stopped to chat with us, en Francais, ’til she realized the conversation was rather one-sided and switched into English. She introduced us to her Bulldogs (French?) and gave M leads on where she could find a shelter dog near Versoix. A full two hours later, we returned home & I got in a quick nap.
J came home after work, with a coworker in tow — a British Intern working with her at the intergovernmental organization (say that 10 times fast!). We walked with the intern to her new home in Ferney before heading to dinner at CrÃ¨perie Ti Breizh. M, J, & I each had savory crepes & cider & dessert crepes.
The affable owner even gave us today’s French lesson:
“French is all about learning the proper inflection of vowels. Practice emphasizing each in “Du! Bon! Vin! Blanc!”
I kept the post-it note he wrote us for emphasis.
We capped off the evening in the town square for a drink. My Franco-Swiss vacation was off to an excellent start.
We got a late start, but made it to the Isle of Capri before noon. Our first priority: The Blue Grotto, aka La Grotta Azzurra, known since the Roman Times and visited by Augustus Caesar. To get there in 2010, you hire a boat in Capri’s Marina. The big boat takes you past these amazing cliffs of insanity to rowboat jockeys. Then you wait near the grotto entrance for your rowboat turn, and then your guide takes you into the legendary sea cave. The process takes an hour for a five minute cave tour but the journey makes it all worthwhile.
As we approached the cave in our little boat, I had that same sensation I do in the opening moments of The Pirates of the Caribbean. Here, there are no rails.
The blue reflection is spectacular. Our guide sang well, putting others to shame. Instead of sailing back to Capri’s main harbor, we asked our guide to drop us off at a pier nearby.
Then, we took a bus to Anacapri, a small town way, way up. We found another pizzeria for Quattro Formaggi (this time with blue cheese amongst the usuals).
Our next stop would be the chair lift to Monte Solaro. I’m not sure what I expected but it was definitely something more akin to chair lifts at ski resorts. At Monte Solaro, you sit in a singular wooden chair and ride for 20 minutes high above the fields up the mountainside to a viewpoint with a cafe. It was mostly very peaceful & my favorite spot on Capri, barely edging out the Grotto. I loved it so much that after an hour in the cafe we nixed plans to hike down and took the chairlift back. I considered the roundtrip journey again.
We spent some time walking around Anacapri, the Capri Palace, & Villa San Michele’s grounds before riding back to Capri for gelato and a final ride on the funicular down to the Marina.
The last hydrofoil leaves around 6, which seemed early on paper. After a day full of sights & crowds, this 6 hours felt perfectly adequate for a day trip.
More pictures from our day in Capri here:
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We switched into vacation mode today, with a full roster of nothing. We awoke to sunshine & lemons on our terrace.
When practicing la dolce far niente, one still must eat. We chose Inn Bufalito for lunch.
It was no Da Franco (a little bland, actually) but gave us plenty of energy for wandering Sorrentine alleyways & the marina, and to get our bearings.
We ended our day at Il Buco, a well-known place in a restored convent. We had our second great dinner in a row: local prawns, octopus ravioli, buffalo mozzarella made nearby & served 4 ways, fettucine with walnut sauce, and baba au rhum.
The service was even better than our dinner, though maybe this was unusual — Mr. T overheard the nearby table remarking to each other that the staff was fawning all over us. I say hey, sometimes you just hit it off. I’ll take the good times.