Monday, September 3, 2012

A random trip to Redding,CA

Day 1

This is the labor day weekend. 24 hours earlier, we had no plans. But now I am in Redding,CA in one of the more comfortable rooms in the Hilton. How I happen to be in Redding now, is the aftermath of a decision made on the fly yesterday around 11 pm. We were generally talking, and made a decision to take a drive. While searching for a destination, I suggested a few places, and then decided that visiting the Burney falls might be interesting. So we immediately booked the hotel and decided to start from home today morning at 6 AM. Packing was done in a few minutes and after catching whatever sleep we could, at around 6:45 AM, we started driving towards the Burney Falls State park. This was around 5 hr drive from San Jose. The drive was indeed fun. But the food breaks in between was not.
Our first stop was in a town called "Duningan" at around 8:30, and there was no other place other than "Jack in the box". Having had the breakfast combo here consisting of french toast ( tasteless), scrambled eggs and sausage, I decided that I am never coming back to this place ever for any food. It was even worse for Sree, as he barely could have the eggs alone. We had high hopes of having breakfast in a local restaurant, but with no other options, were forced to go "Jack in the box", which turned out to be disappointing as mentioned above.

We continued the journey and in another 2.5 hrs reached Burney. We found a place for lunch in the small town of Burney 5 miles before the state park. Again, with not much choices, we ordered fish and chips. I must admit that i enjoyed this, as the french fries were crisp, and fish was tasty. But since everything was fried in oil, I could eat only half of the plate and you almost feel greasy the whole time. Same is the case with Sree.

We finally entered the Burney State park, and the temperature was I believe in its late 70's. It was hot, and we had forgotten our caps, so entered the general store there and bought two caps, and the usual magnet that we collect.

We entered the Burney Falls trail and initially Sree was asking  if this is worth the drive, but as we walked down the trail and closer to the falls, we started enjoying the beauty of it. The falls is indeed unique and it is very pretty to watch. We took snaps and walked closer to the falls. Sat down at the foot of the falls for a while with water spraying on us. Later, we both decided to dip our feet in the water, and walked over the rocks to the tip to do that. It was a family friendly place, with apparently very less danger, as I saw many kids dipping themselves in the water.

We then continued walking the trail and on the way saw the falls from different angles. I also found a family fishing in the stream and went to them to ask about their fishing expedition. The small girl in the family had already caught a trout and the father was proudly showing it to us. I was reminded of one such fishing experience I have had with my dad when I was young. I was around 10, and we were then in Kodaikanal I believe. My uncle had sent a new fishing rod from muscat, and we had taken it on our trip. We had caught worms as baits in a bag, and we went to small inlet in the kodai lake where water was coming in. I remember sitting there with my dad, and putting on the worms as baits for the fish, and waiting for one to get caught. We did not catch any, but this turned out to be a nice childhood memory to cherish.

So back to Burney falls now, we completed the trail and as we were both tired with the heat and the lack of sleep, decided to sit in the car with the AC turned on for a while. After a while, we drove over to Britton Lake( just about a mile away) and just walked around watching people playing in the water.

We drove back to Redding around 4 PM and reached our hotel at around 5. The room was nice and the bed cozy. We booked a reservation in Nello's Italian restaurant for dinner at 7pm and slept soundly till then.

The dinner was amazing. Everything that we ordered and they served was very tasty. I was a little disappointed with the Tiramisu alone( it was still tasty, no complaints). After a whole day of bad food, when tasty food was offered to us, we were more than happy to fill our stomachs with it.
Now back in the hotel, just relaxing, watching the TV and soon off to bed.

In front of the falls

Showing off the fish
Dipping the feet in water.

Hot air balloons that we saw on our way to Redding

Day 2
We woke up around 9:30am today. This is the first time during a trip that we are waking up so late and with absolutely no plans. We did another unusual thing , also the first during any trip was to hit the hotel gym. After around 30 minutes of exercise , we freshened up and checked out of the hotel. We asked the hotel for a nice place for brunch and they suggested the Black Bear Cafe. This place was pretty nice. It had the old cafe charm and they are a local chain determined to provide their customers the ambience of an old time, small town cafe.We ordered the usual breakfast items of waffle, omelette, hash browns. When the food came, we realized their portion sizes were huge and had to take the hash browns to-go. The food was great and completely enjoyed the breakfast.

We started off to see the sun-dial bridge of Redding. This turned out to be much better than what we were expecting. The bridge was painted in white and had this tech-feel about it, and was different from the normal bridges you would see. It was a nice scene with the Sacremento river below, with people fishing and rafting in the river. We walked down the path which led to an area below the bridge. Here we saw people getting into water, and decided to do the same. The water was super chilly, but was very clear. We really enjoyed spending the time sitting here, and also walking into the water.

After an hour or so, we got a magnet from the museum store and started off on the journey back with me driving for a change. Of course Sree is not very happy with this. I don't understand why, but husbands all over world tend to share this common feeling of unnecessary anxiety when their wives drive. I have been driving for almost a year now on free ways, and he still has to sit in the car watching my every move. After around 50 miles, my hands started paining( driving the accord for the first time and the seat was not high enough to rest my hands and hence the pain, but readjusting would actually solve this issue) and we decided to switch driving.

We drove back the rest of the distance, chatting all the way and reached our home in no time.
Looking back, I think the best thing about the trip was that it was unplanned. The second best thing about it was that we chose a location which was not crowded and the third best thing was that we just went with the flow and decided not to try doing a lot of things.

So now my magnets are on my fridge, and looking at them will always bring memories of yet another nice trip that we both did.

Few pics from day two is below
At the Hilton Gym

See how clear the water is...

Finally a pic with both of us on Sundial Bridge

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

75th anniversary celebrations of Golden Gate Bridge

Yesterday we went to SFO to see the 75th anniversary celebrations of the Golden Gate bridge. We always wanted to roam around SF. We got down at civic center Bart after dropping off car at millbrae and taking off Bart from there.
 We walked through the farmers market there and also had tamale ( a Mexican local delicacy ) , on the way to fort mason, Sree also had a Turkish coffee which was amazing. We walked around 3 miles to where all the stalls were set up.. Had noodles there and walked around.
The fireworks were only at 9:30pm so we had a good 6 hrs. We basically lied down on the sand talking, and in between having something to eat. It was extremely cold and windy, but we stayed. Fireworks happened around 9:30 and intro was good, but rest of it was ok.. After the 20 min fireworks, we had to walk around 4 miles to Bart station , and it was around 1 by the time we reached home. We were glad we made the trip, because you never know if u are going to be around in sfo for the 100 year anniv of GG :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Travelogue - The amazing Swiss-Italy trip

The below Travelogue was written by both me and Sree.

Day 1 : SFO to Zurich

Every time we make a trip, I think of writing a travelogue and I never do. Once we are done with the trip, its pretty tough to think over everything and write down the events as it had occurred. But this time, I decided to maintain the travelogue every day so that I have a record of it for future read. So, here we go.

Our vacation started on Thursday 26th Apr 2012, by boarding the Swiss Air flight. To our dismay, the seats were cramped. Zero leg space and our seats were mid seats. So no view. The best thing to do in this situation is to read or watch movies. I had told Sree that we have a lot to read about what to do in Rome, so we will do that. Also I had downloaded an app (last minute) on learning Italian. So we made plans to go over that, thinking that we will have plenty of time in our long flight to Zurich.

After the air hostess served us drinks, I started to watch the Hindi movie RockStar. It was a terrible movie, my god. I could not sit through the whole thing. We were served food, and I was debating with Sree on whether I should take the book and read. In five minutes both of us were deep in sleep. We woke up after 6 hours or so, with our bodies and neck all cramped up. We still had another 2 hrs to reach Zurich. We had our breakfast at that time and again dozed off. While the plane landed, we were able to see the ground, through the bottom camera of the plane and that was cool.

We got our car from Avis and started to drive to the hotel Crown Plaza. The GPS (a Tom Tom) was an old model and was terrible, but after a while, we got used to it. The traffic in Zurich was bad and on top of that the roads were narrow. Some of the lanes are two way, but had space only for one car to go. So cars gave way to one another by parking on the side.

After checking into the crown plaza, we changed and decided to explore the old town in Zurich and the Lake. It was amazing how convenient is to travel within this area on the tram. The tram station was right in front of our hotel and we had to take no:2 tram to go to the Lake area which is called Burkli Platz. The no:3 tram would go to the main station.So once you take the tram, it will take you through the downtown, and Burkli Platz is the 8th stop or so. In between you have stops where you can get down and explore a bit. There were a few expensive restaurants in the SihlStrasse stop. We got down at Burkli Platz and the place had a good vibe. Since it was a Friday evening, there were many people out on the road. There was a small band playing some music at the side of the road. The lake was amazing and the pics taken over the bridge were stunning with the clock towers in the back ground. We walked quite a bit around that area and had Swiss ice cream and a pretzel from the local shops.
Swiss Ice cream

After roaming around for about 2 hrs, hunger took over us, and we went to Bellevue Platz area to get some food. It was surprising that Zurich being a big city, there were very few food options. After walking around quite a bit, we found a local place, by the side of Lake Zurich, to get some food. I must say, food is expensive here. I had fried chicken and Sree had rice with some mushrooms and cream. I liked sitting by the lake he lake and having dinner which we have not done for quite a long time. After dinner, we took the tram back to the hotel and settled in for the day.

Dinner by the lake - Enjoying my chicken:)

In the end we felt that Zurich is like just another city. Its a business center and many watch shops to attract a tourist. It has a pretty decent downtown filled with European style buildings and a beautiful lake. Other than that there is little to see. It is a good place to stop over after a long flight from SFO and start your trip in Switzerland. 

But, now that I think about it, I did read a magazine on my return flight, which mentioned a lot of activities you can do in Zurich, so I am sure if we had more time in Zurich, we would have definitely explored more.

Day 2 : Chocolate,Cheese and Interlaken
We woke up at 3:45 AM or so (jet lagged), talked for a while. At 5, we got up and was on the road by 6:30 AM. We were on our way to Broc to visit the Chocolate factory there. It was a 2.5 hr drive and the first half of the journey was spent singing DDLJ songs because of the scenic route..and also commenting on stuff like "ausfahrt" for exit :D sounds like fart...and Sree was enjoying mentioning it every time we crossed an exit.
Few things to know when in Switzerland. Strasse means road, and sorkie is another word for exit. Also people hardly put indicators here when they change lanes.The drive was fun, but towards the end we lost our way, and had to do couple of rounds around the same area. We kept asking people on our way for directions. Another challenge when driving in Switzerland was getting used to the roundabouts and long tunnels. We lost little time trying to find out way, but in the process found a good place to have breakfast (expensive, well anything in Swiss is expensive :) ). It was a normal English breakfast of croissant, orange juice, cereals etc. After this expensive breakfast, we decided to buy some bread from Coop (the grocery store here) and have that for breakfast during our stay in Switzerland.

Finally we reached Broc and the long trip paid off. The name of the chocolate factory is Cailler and the brand is owned by Nestle. The tour was amazing and the best part was chocolate tasting. The tasting was in a decent sized room, with many different varieties of chocolates on display. The best part was the "tasting" did not have any limit. It was a buffet of chocolate. There were at least 15 different kinds of chocolates, but then we were in no mood to count. We dived into "chocolate tasting". Sree was like 'Kid in a Candy Store'.

Look at all the chocolates we could taste...we had many more like this

After the chocolate factory tour, we left to Gruyere for a tour on Cheese Making. There is a variety of cheese called Gruyere, and that variety is made in this village of Gruyere. The tour here was starting only around 1 and we were early, so we walked to the Castle up on the mountains right next to the cheese factory. It was very nice and the scenery was breath taking. Its almost like the same scene from Enid Blyton books and Switzerland does not have to dramatize anything. The nature by itself is so beautiful that its almost unreal. We took a tour of the castle and also watched a movie that explained the history of the castle. After the tour, we left for the cheese factory. The cheese tour was OK, nothing to write about, except we were given a sample of Gruyere cheese, which tasted OK.  We understood the basic principles of Cheese making here, and it was amazing to see how much cheese they have stacked for the aging process.After the cheese tour, we had lunch at the cafe in the cheese factory. It was expensive, but the pasta entree there was one of the best I have ever had!. To-go is not so common here, but we still managed to get it packed.

Cheese display

Inside the chateau ( castle)

The drive to Interlaken was scenic, but we were tired by the end of the trip. The jet lag was hitting us and waking up at 3.45 AM this morning, is not helping. We checked into our hotel in Meiringen which was a windy town 20 miles from Interlaken. We slept for an hour and then woke up, got dressed and caught the train to Interlaken. It took us 40 minutes to reach Interlaken, but the train ride was fun. We did a stroll through the town which was suggested in Rick Steve's guide book. We went though Brahnohstrasse, found the Post office and bought souvenirs from shops around the post-office. We also walked to Metropilotan hotel the tallest one in Interlaken. We sat at Hogen Park and also saw the flower clock at Casino Krussel. This took around 45 minutes in total. Then we went to coop and got stuff for breakfast tomorrow. We rushed to Interlaken West train station to get the train to Interlaken OST and from there to Meiringen. But the train from West to OST got delayed, and hence we had to wait for 50 minutes. Half way through the waiting, we saw a young very drunk female shouting around. Apparently no one was willing to give her a ride to her home (including taxi drivers) and she was asking around for a ride. Since it was late, we decided to take a cab to Interlaken OST (West station). The cab driver gave us some details to help our trip to Jungfraujoch tomorrow. He asked as to do the full loop of Grindelwald - Jungfraujoch- Laughterbrummen( need to check spelling here) and also on our way back to Lugano to do the drive through the mountains.

Beautiful Interlaken

While we waited at the OST station Sree told me to notice the railway station clock. the seconds needle skip a second and jumps from 58 to 60 and pauses there for a second so that the minute needle can move to its place. Its a speciality of Swiss railway clocks I believe.

Check the below link to understand what I am telling...

Finally we got the train from Interlaken OST to Meiringen. The wind was gushing at us and it was almost like we would fly off. So we were holding hands tightly and walking back to hotel in the dark. It was dramatic. We reached the hotel, and after a few minutes, the lights went out (a power cut). Now we are without power and have no idea how things will go tomorrow.

Day 3 : In and around
We woke up at 4 AM again today as we were in doubt whether we should take the train or drive over to Interlaken to catch the train to Jungfrau.
Yesterday when we had checked the timetable, there was a train at 5:15 AM from Meiringen to Interlaken. So, we hurried from the hotel at 5 AM in the morning and ran to the station. The wind was gushing at us, and we still managed to get to the station on time. Sree ran and took the ticket, while I waited for the train doors to open. We waited till 5:15 and still there was nobody around. It was dark and spooky, with wind blowing pretty hard at us. Finally we found one guy who told us that on Sundays, the first train is at 6:15 and not at 5:15. The time table did not reflect that. This seems to be a "tribal" knowledge. Our train to Jungfrau was at 6:30 AM from Interlaken, so taking the 6.15 AM train from Merrigen is out. The money spent on ticket went down the drain :(.

Did I mention that the wind caused the power cut yesterday? The whole town of Meiringen did not have power, and on top of that the roof of our neighbour was also blown off. Imagine the roof of a big building blown off by wind. We came to know about this from the hotel manager later. Man! and to think we walked to the train station in that wind!.

So..back to where we stopped, we ran back to the hotel and took the car and started to Interlaken. Once we reached there, to our dismay, the wind has also blown our chance of seeing Jungfrau. It was so disappointing. The Swiss railways have stopped all trains to any place above Interlaken.:(. Our idea was to see Jungfrau and then head to Gimmewald and see that village. Now we have no plans for today. I was so disappointed..the highlight of the trip is not going to happen. Ok forget the highlight, everything I planned is not going to happen.

It took Sree quite a while to make me understand that its not the end of the world..though I acted that way for at least an hour or two. I kept irritating the people at the information desk, asking them tips and questioning them again and again on when will they resume trains to Jungfrau. In my defense, they were also short tempered. They were vulnerable and they also did not care on what was going through tourist's mind who have spent so much money and come all the way to Interlaken to see jungfrau. I am sure they are sweet people. Its just that at 6:30 AM, they have a hoard of people showing up with disappointed faces on hearing the news and asking the same questions.

So we decided to take a train ride to Harder Kulm  which was at an elevation with better views of the Alps. Since the train to Harder was only at 8:10, we had two hours to kill, so we went and had some breakfast. The train journey to Harder was interesting, as it was pretty steep. The view point as it is was very scenic and it was one of the best views I have seen. With Interlaken and the two rivers Brianz and Thun on either side. And the Alps towering above it. We spent an hour or so there. Sree was enjoying the peacefulness of the whole thing, sipping a coffee and enjoying the view.

Harder Kulm Views

We took the train back to Interlaken and then decided to walk on a trail alongside the river. That walk was beautiful. The ducks and the church bell chiming and the was really nice.

A nice river side walk..

We then drove to Brainze West - the drive to this place was stunning. With the brianze river and the alps on one side and cute Swiss houses on the other, it almost felt like heaven. But Brianze West was not the place where we should go, so we went to Brianze, where we were told a bus would take us to Ballenberg where the Open Air Museum is there. We waited for the bus for a while, but took a last minute call to drive over there ourselves. So we literally followed the bus. In between when we turned a different direction, we had to stop and ask an old lady, who explained stuff in Swiss German, but her actions and her determination to make us understand helped us find the museum.

This is acres of land in which they have built so many Swiss houses from different parts of the country and these houses also displayed different skills and traditions the Swiss people followed. We enjoyed each one of them, but since there were lot of land to cover, after 3 hours we had to call it a day.

We went back to Interlaken, and my sudden idea to laughterbrunnen irritated Sree a bit, but finally he gave in. So we drove to luaghterbrunnen which we can call the land of waterfalls. There we went to see the Trummelbachfalls. It was amazing. This is a falls with in a mountain. A lift took us to the where we have a clear view of the falls, and there were steps through the rocks to walk up to the point where it starts. The sound of the falls combined with the echo of the caves was mind blowing. It had water from Eiger , Jungfrau and Schilton glaciers. This was nice and worth the trip. We enjoyed it.

Since we have been up since 4 AM, could no longer think of doing anything else and void of any energy we came back to hotel and decided to go to bed early. I decided to finish this up and few other things and then go to bed early. Sree is already fast asleep.

Day 4 : Gimmewald, Schilton, Jungfrau

Enjoying the scenery at Gimmewald
We woke up very early in the morning (I guess by now the first sentence is almost a given, the waking up I mean). We checked out of the hotel in Meringen. Our idea was to drive to Interlaken OST and see if any of the trains are running upto the mountains (Jungfrau, Gimmewald or Schilton). At Interlaken, they informed us that there was no trains to Jungfrau and that they were not sure about schilton. But Gimmelwald is open. I have read about Gimmelwald in Rick Steves book, so I was thrilled to go to that village and check it out. We took a train from Interlaken OST to Laughterbrunnen and then took a bus to Sketchenberg. Next we took a cable car to Gimmelwald. The cable car ride was just 5 minutes, but it was beautiful as we were going above the valley into the mountains. It was 7 AM in the morning and the village was just waking up. It was a very small village with breathtaking views. We strolled along the main road, seeing the village school, post office, listening to the cowbells, the old barn and we also found a spot where we could sit and enjoy the scenery. The time we spent here was unforgettable. We chit chatted with a villager, tasted alpine cheese and bought some back with us. We also met Ole and Maria the village school teachers and bought sugared almonds.

Local Alp Cheese tasting

By now it was 9 AM in the morning. We went back to the cable car station and found that the cable cars to Schilthorn was open. The tickets were expensive, but its worth the trip. We had to hop 4 cable cars to reach Schilthorn. During the third hop, the cable car did swing a bit, due to the winds and was a wee bit scary, but the views at Schilthorn made up for all that. At Schilthorn, you get a 360 degree panoramic view of the alps and apparently some scenes from a Bond movie was made at that spot. The views were amazing and breathtaking. We could see the view of alps from every point. After spending sometime there, we got back to laughterbrunnen and checked if Jungfrau was open. They said it was, and then we bought tickets for Jungfrau also!. Mind you it was already 1 PM by this time, and the trip to Jungfrau will take another 5 hours. Two hours each way and an hour to spend on the top.

By now, we realized that the day is coming out very different from what we had planned earlier. According to the plan, we were supposed to checkout from the hotel and head to Lugano (about 2.5 hours drive from Meiringen). Having rented a car allowed us to be more flexible and change plans in a whim. So yes, taking a car is a good option (although cars in Swiss, especially auto gear ones are expensive to rent). Also, since none of this was planned ahead, we could not take advantage of a Swiss pass, that could have saved us some money in the train tickets. A Swiss pass will get us tickets in half price, but the Swiss pass itself is about $120 per head. So unless you travel extensively by public transport (like how we did yesterday and today) it does not make sense. On the whole, we calculated that we could have saved about $75 in total if we had taken Swiss pass.

Back on the trip, the Jungfrau train ride was nice and it took us 2 hrs to reach the top most point in Europe. But it was a huge disappointment. The  peak was windy and we could not stand outside for more than few minutes. It was blizzard like conditions and we could not see anything. We had food there and saw an ice museum. We spent about an hour at Jungfrau, most of it in the visitor center and then took the train back to Interlaken. We reached Interlaken after a 2.5 hr train journey back. I would recommend going to Jungfrau only if it a very clear day and if there are no winds at the top of Europe. Otherwise, its a total waste of time, energy and money. Schilthorn was so memorable for us. The entire trip to Jungfrau costed us a 6 hr delay in the plans and the train ride was not cheap.
Train to Jungfrau

ice palace in jungfrau

Wind and Snow

After reaching Interlaken, we got some food for dinner at the Coop. We started the drive to Lugano at around 7:30 PM. The first half of the drive was very nice, with many views of different lakes and mountains in Swiss. It was raining during the second half and was difficult to drive.

We reached the hotel at around 10 PM ( we did not loose our way this time) and checked into the hotel. We got an update to a room with a view. We had zero energy to go to a restaurant and eat dinner. We just heated up the instant noodles and had that for dinner.

Day 5 : Lugano Stroll and Florence
Another day of early rise. This has become a routine now. We did not want to miss a walk around the lake in Lugano ( Lage - de - Lugano), so we got dressed and started on a walk from hotel to the lake at 6:30 AM. Lugano is in the Swiss Italy border, so the city looks and feels like an Italian city. The lake is in the center and the city itself is in the slops of the hill surrounding the lake. The roads in the city were windy and there were shortcuts connecting one road to another between buildings.
Stroll around the lake

We walked past the cathedral and few wooden statues and a short cut through the buildings brought us near the lake. It was so nice to stand on the dock and watch the lake. There were many boats and I am sure they do multiple rides around the lake during normal hours for the tourists. We strolled a bit around the lake, took some pics and then returned back to the hotel. The hotel where we were staying offered the best breakfast. The scrambled eggs there were the best we have ever had. Finally after so many days we got some proper food. We took multiple rounds of the amazing food ( orange juice, croissant, bread, chicken , veg wraps). After breakfast we went and returned the car. We lost our way and some time trying to find a fuel station to fill up our car before returning it. The Avis office was right next to the hotel (.4 miles). The person in charge, came in late which delayed us a bit more. The return process was interesting. He did not check the car for damage or if we had fueled up the car. He just took the key and let us go. By then, it was raining heavily. Thank god, I had an umbrella. Both of us were walking under pouring rain. Something that we have not done in years.

We checked out of the hotel. With no car from now on, its walking, public transport or taxi to get to any place.  The train station was very close to the hotel and we just walked to the train station.  After boarding the train, and interchanging at Milan, we reached Florance at around noon. Our big luggage was indeed a problem in the train, but still we managed to get it to Florence. It was pouring rain in Florence. We reached our hotel (almost like an apartment ) which was pretty cool. We were located right at the center. The hotel was called Florence Old Bridge. It had the old Italian feel to it.

We went out to have lunch and what amazing pasta and pizza we had!It was delicious. I dont like pizza, but this one was just so good. Gelatto is another famous thing in Florence and we had that too, but from this particular restaurant, did not find it that amazing.

first spaghetti in florence

Florence was crowded with tourists, and it had a very nice vibe to it. There were so many shops and it almost looked like a place for artists. There were so many talented painters, and musicians there, start playing their pieces in the piatzaas (coutyard) when the sun starts to set creating a nice mood of music, people and magnificient art. We took a stroll around Florence and was impressed with the Duomo, the Ponte Vecchia piazza and the Pitti Palace. A choir sang at around 6 PM in front of the Duomo. We also found a nice gelatto place about which I had read and they even explained how they made gelatto. I was very happy about that and took a picture with the owners of the place. It was a nice stroll and could actually see how vibrant people were here. Also all of them are so well dressed. Fashion is in the air here.

We returned back to the hotel and we were so tired that we slept off immediately.

Streets in Florence after the rains.

Gelateria Carabe

So many flavours

Day 6: Venice
Today we woke up early as usual (around 5.00) and got ready by 7.00. . Had a very light breakfast at a small shop right opposite to the oldbridge BB, got maps of Florence from the hotel guys and left to the railway station. The train leaves the station at 8.30 and we were at the station by 8.00. The journey was comfortable although the seats that we were assigned were crampy. I slept off during the journey.

Reached Venice by around 10 AM and it was beautiful. The canals and the boats was something different from what you see in daily life. Got into the slowest "bus" boat (Route 1) and reached st-marks square. After roaming around to get a sense of direction (and eating a tiramisu gelatto in the process to load up on sugar), we reached the Tourist info desk, just to find it closed for the day. We got a map in the nearby bookstore and went to the museum to get our tickets. We had to check in the bag at the locker as they don't allow bags and camera in the museum. Then its off the museum where they had many art pieces and sculptures. It was interesting, but after about 15-20 mins of seeing art we were done. Out we went to go to the next destination, the church (St Mark's Bascillica). There again they don't allow camera and bags, so had to go back to the museum and check in again. But after that short delay we saw the church, doge's palace and the tower in that order. The church was huge and impressive, the jail in doges palace was interesting and reminded me of the jail in movies depicting medieval scenes. We also had food at doge's palace. The view from the tower next to the church was good and got a birds eye view of the city. After that we were off to walking on the streets of Venice and taking snaps, buying small gifts along the way.  There were many shops of Venetian glass which was interesting to see with all its colors and mask shops. When we reached Realto bridge the urge to get into a gondola took over us and we took a gondola ride. It was expensive, but then I guess taking a gondola ride is a standard touristy thing to do. It was a short ride but enjoyed it, particularly through the narrow passageways of Venice. Its almost 6.00 and time to go back the railway station. We had a quick dinner, after finding one of the eat-outs I had read about and had local soup and spaghetti with sardines there. Got into a "bus" boat and back to the railway station. Took some more pics at the canal and bridges near the station and at 7.30 got into the trail to Florence. We met an American couple (from SFO) in the train and they gave us some good tips on renting apartments in Europe to avoid the high prices of hotels. Reached Florence by 10.00 and hit the bed.
Sree enjoying the Gondola

Place where we had dinner in Venice


The best thing we enjoyed today was the strolls through the Venice streets.

Day 7 : Florence Again
Woke up early as our visit to Accademia meseum was reserved at 8:30 AM. We had breakfast at the sister hotel of old bridge, Las Caleta and then headed off to Accademia. Thankfully the reservation helped us from waiting in the line and I also happened to have an audio guide for accademia. So listening to the audio and understanding the sculptures was very interesting. Michaelangelo's David is magnificent. After that, we headed to see the Domo. We had to wait for half an hour to enter the church as its open to tourists only at 10 AM. The church was magnificent. Loved the size of it and they did allow to take pictures in the church, which was nice. After the visiting the church, we headed to Uffizzi for our 11 AM researvation. People without reservation have to wait for atleast 90 minutes. The extra 4 euros for reserving makes complete sense. Uffizzi was also very interesting. We could understand the paintings at this gallery, thanks to a good audio guide. After Uffizzi, we went and had pizza from gusto pizza, a hot spot in florence for tasting the best Pizza that Florence can offer. With very few ingredients they make such amazing pizza. We headed back to Duomo and stood in the slow line for climbing the Dome. We had to climg atleast 500-600 very steep steps to reach the top of the dome. The view was magnifient and worth all that energy. We headed onto Grom which is famous for its gelatos and had a wierd combination of coffee and coconut gelatto, but it was good! We walked around a bit, listened to the audio tour and finally spent some quite time lying down near the pitti palace.

Pizza from Gusto Pizza - One of the best Pizza's I have ever had

Gelato from Grom

We checked out and then headed to train station. We thought we were early and had lot of time to chitchat, when Sree suddenly realized that our train was at 5:40 and not at 7:20. 7:20 was arrival time at Rome and he had read it as departure. So we quickly took the tickets for the next train to Rome and rushed to the platform. Everything was going so well today and this was the blunder of the day.

I was reading / planning Rome in the train, and finally reached the station. We took a cab and cab driver was driving like crazy, checking facebook in between and all. We were thankful that we reached safely to the hotel which is pretty far from the center of Rome. This could be a setback, but the hotel was cheap, so we were ok with planning for the distance. We reached the hotel and the room they gave us was so dated and the balcony door had a problem. So we asked for a different room and they provided a pretty decent room which felt more modern. Our challenge tomorrow is going to be how to reach Collosuem and then plan all the tickets and stuff.

Day 8 :  Rome!

Woke up early as usual and got ready by 7.00. We chose not to take the bus ride provided by the hotel to reach the city of Rome. We decided to take the public bus (211) followed by metro to reach Colosseum. We had some difficulty to find the bus stop near our hotel. After some guidance from friendly local folks, we reached the bus stop. Had to wait for close to 10 mins at the stop before the bus came. At our stop we met a friendly guy (Saquib Choudhry). He told us all about vatican (he is a tour guide there). He even helped us find where we can get the metro pass and even paid 2 Euro from his pocket when the machine did not take cash from us. That was over generous from his part (and I did feel bad about taking money from him and promised to repay him back tomorrow). In the end, he got down at termini and we got down two stops later at Colosseum.

We got out of the station and there it is, the Colosseum. It was beautiful. We had rick stevens audio guide and that helped us get around Colosseum and understand the importance of this stadium in roman times. The gory details of gladiator games, the animal killings and the fun that people had, gave me a different perspective of the society in which romans lived.

After Colosseum, we moved on to the forum (the main street of the early roman empire) where the ruins of the early roman empire are best preserved. Roaming around the ruins was good, and rick helped us understand what were were seeing. But it was hot and not having a cap did not help.  We did a quick tour of a hill (palentine hill) and then it was time to take a break. We found a wine bar near Colosseum, which rick had recommended and ate some good authentic ( and different) italian food.

This was a fish dish

Bacon, goat cheese and nuts - very different.

We were back in the streets after lunch, and headed to the capitol hill. There we did the view from "top of rome". After that we moved on the see the pantheon. The walk to pantheon reminded a bit of florence. Pantheon had free entry ticket and it was beautiful. I could not believe that the romans had created this wonderful building with a very large dome in that era. Apparently it used to be a meeting place, and after the roman times it was used as a church. Since it was continuously used, the pantheon is the best preserved roman building.

Next we walked to the Trevi fountain, which was super crowded and we did the touristy thing of throwing a coin in the water. Then we walked to spanish steps, which was crowded and unimpressive (we did not know the significance of it). Anyways, by this time, it was already 6.30 and we retraced our steps back to get to a piatza where we had planned to have dinner. On the way, in another piatza (Novella), we saw a guy creating art using spray cans. The art that he created was beautiful and he was very quick. A group had surrounded him and clapping after he finished every painting. We bought one from him (10 euros). On our stroll, we were also surprisingly caught by two men posing as gladiators and they forced us to take pictures with them. We took a set of interesting snaps, actually this was really funny!. Ofcourse we ended up paying them, and they also snatched some coins from us. But these pics will always bring smiles on my face:).Next we moved to a local food place. The ambiance was very good, but the food was so so (battered and fried cod fillet and bread). By this time it was already 8.30 and it was time to head back to the hotel. We took a cab to colloseum metro station and took the tram back to the metro station near our hotel. At the destination, we got in 211 bus, but in the wrong direction. Then we had to get out, find the bus stop for the right direction and found the right stop to get down. That was a bit of adventure. Reached hotel at 10 and hit the bed.

I am taking away your wife....

You are my princess, please marry me

No I wont!

I will kill you..ha ha....

Prince comes and rescues princess! LOL!!!!


Day 9: Vatican
Today, we woke up a little late as we had only Vatican City in plan. We took the same bus 211 from the same stop a short walk from the hotel and then got down at Pitralata metro station and took the Line B. We got down at Termini and changed to Line A and got down at the Vatican Museum stop.

We were very hungry and stopped at a small Panini place for breakfast. It was interesting, all their Paninis where named after Hollywood filmstars. I took "Tom Hanks " panini which was basically bread and nutella and cheese and Sree took no:14, I dont know the name of it. I ordered hot chocolate and I was expecting the standard powdered hot chocolate mixed in water. But to my surprise they gave me a rich hot melted chocolate to drink. I guess this is how hot chocolate should be!  I could not drink that as the nutella Panini itself was too much chocolate for me for the morning. Sree was happy to finish it for me. Sree's panini was vegetables, bread and cheese and it was so fresh and filling. He also ordered espresso and got the authentic strong espresso in a small cup.

Sree's espresso

My Hot chocolate - literally "Hot" chocolate

We then walked towards the Vatican Museum where we were approached by people for guided tour. We had already decided on taking one, as we did not have an audiotour for Vatican. The guided tour was expensive, but we decided to take one anyways. Our guide spoke in both english and spanish and we were a group of 25. It was not as bad as I expected, but was not the best either. But she gave us enough information, which made us appreciate the works in the museum. With no information, and seeing the museum on our own, I am sure, we would have got lost and would not have understood it either.

The guide explained the sistine Chapel very well, before we entered the chapel and that was in detail. But I expected the tour to be 2.5 hrs, but she stopped in exactly an hour and 15 minutes or so. We entered the Sistine Chapel, and yes, the paintings of michalengalo which we have only read about is out there. Pretty impressive, but the chapel and the museum was so filled with tourists ( say around a 100-150 people in each room) that I did not feel the correct vibe ofr being in a church.

We then left to see the St Peter's Basilica which is the biggest church on earth. It was massive. Saw Michalangelo's Pieta, the St peter's tomb etc. We wanted to go up the dome, but without realising that the entrance was inside the basilica, we came out, and if we wanted to reenter we had to stand in the queue again. The queue was so long that we decided to ditch the idea and walked towards the restaurant where we wanted to have lunch. Once again, food was amazing. I took spaghetti with Sea food, the most popular dish there and it was so tasty.. I was enjoying the eat. Sree ordered Gnokee, which was great too. We then shared a Tiramisu and then took the bus 23 to Trastevere which is a part of roam which is not so crowded with tourists. We went to the church of Mary in Santa Maria Piazza. This place was so much peaceful and it had the charm of the old church. This was one of the oldest churches in Rome.

We walked through trastevere for a while and walked back to the nearby metro station and caught the metro back to hotel. We came back a little early today, as we wanted to pack our stuff and sleep off early to be fresh for the flight back to SFO. Last day of our European Holiday came to an end :(.

Day 10: Back to US

We woke up very early (at 2.30 AM). A group of teenagers were occupying the adjacent room adn they were making enough noise, that going back to sleep was not an option.  We got ready by 3.30, checked out of the hotel and took a cab to the airport. The airport is pretty far from the hotel, about 45 mins drive. We reached the airport, and checked in our luggage. The weight of the luggage was correct, so no need for any last minute adjustments to get the weight right. We flew from Rome to Zurich and then from Zurich to SFO. We had about 4 hours of wait time in Zurich. We roamed around the airport and found an interesting place to eat in the airport. We also found some good comfortable seats and we just sat there and went on talking about what we liked most of the trip and and what we did not and general chitchat. It was actually pretty relaxing to just sit and talk.The flight from Zurich to SFO was good. They served food and drinks 6 times during the flight ( too much for a 12 hr flight)and the flight was not as cramped as we had expected. The captain of the flight was funny too, with his quirky announcements from time to time. We saw a few movies and slept a little. Reached SFO on time and our friend picked us from the airport. We reached home safe and sound with lots and lots of memories of the wonderful trip we had.

Sree relaxing at Zurich airport.

The things we enjoyed most in the trip, were the less touristy stuff that we did, like visiting the village in Switzerland, riding the cable car, walking in the winds in Meiringen( though scary), the early morning stroll in Lugano, the amazing food in Italy and everything about Florence, the gelatos we had, the small fights in between and making up, the chocolate tasting etc.

Some of our Swiss Italy trip snaps can be found below