Sunday, March 9, 2014

Italian Road Trip. First stop: The Dolomites in Italy

For Q's birthday he wanted to go to Italy. Actually, he wanted to celebrate his birthday on an Italian Tuscan farm. Being so close to Italy, how could we pass up the opportunity?

Visiting the country side required us to rent a car and take our first European road trip. We picked up our rental car a few days before we were expected at the Italian farm and took our time driving to and from Tuscany, visiting a few other sights along the way with no strict itinerary. Since we don't typically travel in Europe by car, we decided to take advantage of our freedom and visit someplace impossible to reach by train. We chose to spend two nights in the Italian Dolomites on the way to Tuscany.
European Road Trip
Watch out Switzerland! Wait, what is the speed limit here?
We had hoped to reach our hotel in the Dolomites for dinner but the weather really slowed us down. It rained cats and dogs, accompanied by blinding lightning. Being on unfamiliar windy narrow roads, in an economy car and a little rusty with manual transition, it took me especially long to arrive.

The next morning we were blessed with partly cloudy skies. We set out for a small hike suggested by the local tourism office. It ended at the top of a gondola, which we had to pay full price for just to take down. This came as quite a shock when we were asked to pay full price once we arrived at the bottom. We later learned from our hotel owner that we had turned back just at the beginning of a really great hike. What a shame. Definitely do your own research on hikes in the area. The woman at the tourist information office really let us down.
Setting out from the town center.
Gorgeous views along the way.
Hey, sexy lady! Oh, wait....never mind.

After our small hike, we took advantage of the nice weather and went for a drive. This area is known for its scenic drive passing jagged stone peaks and mountain Italian towns scattered throughout its lush landscape. Our slow paced Italian afternoon allowed Q some time to get reacquainted with manual driving, thus giving me an opportunity to enjoy the beautiful mountains scenery from the passenger seat.
Buckle up! Q is driving a manual transmission.
Great views at every turn.
Highly recommended afternoon drive.

We couldn't help but get out of the car every once in a while to explore a quaint town on foot... and grab a gelato. Somehow we managed to save enough room in our stomachs to have a satisfying dinner back at our hotel.
Balcony Gardens and great view just about everywhere.
I love Italian gelato.
Tourist-overrun small town.

The following morning we packed our bags and headed south for Tuscany. The storm clouds started to reappear as we departed the town of Selva di Val Gardena. And although we had much better visibility than when we first drove into the mountains, we were terrified driving out of the mountains. Maybe it was the slim curvy roads, the fast on coming crazy Italian drivers, or the cliff drops off the side of the road but I don't think we'll be driving back here in the winter to ski.
This road is for two way traffic? At least it's not a semi this time.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Zürich first impressions

It has been 6.5 months since we have moved to Zürich, so I think it is time to write about our first impressions.

We followed the advice of our friend David to move here before summer was over. The reason is that everyone is friendlier and in a better mood during the warmer months.
Locals sunbathe and barbecue at the park next to the lake. You can even drink in public without hiding your booze.
It is popular to stroll or bike along the shore.
Sailing too.
Anyone can borrow free bikes from the city by putting down a 20 CHF deposit.

The old town is quite quaint in typical European style: cobbled stones streets and small shops. The main difference is that Zürich prices are enough to break the bank.
The Limmat river divides the old town.

The weather stays warm enough day and night to eat and drink outside during the summer. This is a welcome change coming from San Francisco and has convinced us to look for a rental apartment with a balcony.
Breakfast at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating.
Muesli quickly became my favorite Swiss breakfast dish.
It is common to sit down for an Aperol Spritz or another aperitif with your friends between work and dinner. Similar to Happy Hour in the States.
Outdoor dining at night. I can get used to that.

It blows my mind how clean the water is in the lake and rivers passing right through the middle of the most populated city in the country. The water here was never polluted and it is normal to see kids and adults alike stopping for a swim on their way to school or work. Some do it during their lunch break. On the weekends, everyone is in the water!
The Limmat has a boardwalk and is a popular spot for sunbathing and swimming.
Yup, those are swans.
I couldn't resist.
Yes, those guys are riding a raft right next to office buildings.

There is some variance in the vibe from neighborhood to neighborhood. For example, the area near Im Viadukt has a blend of industrial and artsy feel but it is less walkable than other areas.

Zürich is famous for having over 1200 water fountains -- almost all of which provide potable water. Some people make it their mission to visit and drink from every possible one. A formidable challenge.
Always carry a water bottle during the summer. It would be silly to buy bottled water here.
This particular fountain is decorated by the owner of the flower shop behind it.

My first purchase in Switzerland was a replacement for an item that was taken away from me at the airport by TSA. I guess I came to the right place.