A Hike to Bass Lake plus Oysters

12 Jul

A friend of ours is a nurse and works most weekends so we don’t get to hang out as often as we used to. But she set aside last Sunday specifically for us, so a few of us decided to go for a hike to Bass Lake in Marin.

James drove us to the Palomarin trailhead, which we’d previously been to when we hiked Alamere Falls. We were worried the parking lot would fill up so arrived a bit after 9am – I think we would have been fine arriving later, but the timing ended up working out well.

The hike to Bass Lake was the same as Alamere Falls but we only had to go half the distance (5.2 miles or 8.4km round trip). On the way there were lots of nice little animals (lizards, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies and even a couple of bunnies) plus tons of blackberry bushes. I read that the lake was swimmable so we packed some snacks, plus bathers and towels to go for a swim.

Bass Lake!

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I had imagined the lake as having a flattish shore where we could easily picnic and hang out, but the trees went right up to the water so it was actually quite tricky to find a comfortable spot to sit.

Despite much of California being in a heat wave that day, it wasn’t particularly warm where we were (around 20C) so I was the only one who initially wanted to swim. To be honest, I mainly didn’t want to have packed the towels for nothing, since they took up so much space in my backpack. But you know what? The water was lovely. I’d assumed it would be similar to Aquatic Park, which I find bracingly cold but bearable in summer, but it was the perfect swimming temperature! I wish I’d brought my goggles so I could go for a proper swim, but even so it was really, really nice.

Eventually James also decided to get in, since I’d been going on about how great the water was, and Dan followed soon after.

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I was surprised by how deep the lake was. I couldn’t tell the depth and didn’t want to smash my feet on the bottom if I jumped in. My initial plan was to carefully lower myself down via that giant branch to the left, but I have horrible balance and ended up just falling in. Whatever works, right?

But I needn’t have worried – once I got more than 10cm from the edge, I couldn’t touch the bottom if I tried. I looked it up on Wikipedia – Bass Lake’s average depth is more than 17 meters or 57 feet. No danger of foot smashing! (But also if you’re not comfortable swimming or just don’t want to spend the whole time treading water I’d recommend bringing something to float on).

Later that afternoon James and I agreed that we were really glad we’d swum because was significantly more fun than we had expected based on how the lake looked. =)

It was sunny and warm for our walk back, and the fog had cleared so we enjoyed beautiful ocean views while Dan frantically tried to find out the Europe Cup score.

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After our hike we went to The Marshall Store since we’d enjoyed it so much the last time we were in the area. Unfortunately the warm weather hadn’t reached Point Reyes and it was quite foggy and cold when we arrived. But this wasn’t our first rodeo, so we were prepared with hoodies, and we brought out our car blanket for Robin (who had optimistically worn shorts).

We ate barbequed oysters with giant chunks of garlic bread. Delicious.

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(I just realised the edge of the table makes that photo look like two landscape-oriented photos jammed together).

But yeah, even though it was pretty classic Bay Area early summer weather, it was a great day spent with great friends. =)

Hiking the Eagle Peak Loop at Mount Diablo

18 Jun

Earlier this year for my birthday we decided to hike Mount Diablo. On a clear day you can see the mountain from our street and we’ve been meaning to go ever since we moved to San Francisco.

We got there in the morning as soon as the park opened. There was a weird little system where we had to fill out a form with some cash for parking, and drop it in a box (they also accepted cheques lol).

The journey begins!

PXL_20210321_151652250Since we started at 8am it was still quite chilly – I was freezing in the carpark while I waited for James to go to the bathroom. We’d looked at the forecast the night before and it had quite a cold low (maybe 0C?) so James had panicked and dressed extra warmly, which in turn made me panic and add extra layers, but the ascent warmed us up pretty quickly. 

Well it warmed me up – you can see James on Mitchell Rock, still in his hoodie and gloves. Gloves!

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We continued our ascent.

PXL_20210321_160454492I think this was the Twin Peaks summit. We got lucky with the weather and it was beautiful day, with gorgeous views across the East Bay. 

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Also James finally ditched his hoodie!

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You can’t see in the photo (though might have guessed), but he also ditched the gloves.

Almost there!

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The final climb before we reached Eagle Peak.

PXL_20210321_162432271Finally at the top – 2380′ above sea level! (Hoodie back on for James because it was a little windy)

PXL_20210321_165508825We found a nice little spot for a lunch break, and for James to take his turn in an online game he plays with our friends.

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It was a super clear day and if you looked hard you could see all the way to the Sierras (though unfortunately they were too faint to see in the photos I took).

Also James had put his backpack down, and while we were eating it started rolling down the mountain. Luckily a bush stopped its fall because as you can see, it could have been a lot worse!

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(OK it doesn’t look so impressive here – the bag looks a lot closer and the hill a lot shallower in the photo than in person!) But anyway, disaster averted, we started the return half of the hike.

I like this photo because it looks like James is doing a happy little hop.

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Also here lol.

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I don’t have a lot of photos of the return trip. This hike was a bit weird in that half of it was like a proper hike and the other half was mostly a gradually descending dirt road – I’m glad we had the more interesting terrain first and the less challenging road for the descent. We did find this huge pine cone though.

PXL_20210321_173656737.MPI said “that’s a huge pine cone”, James looked and was like “that is a huge pine cone” and then he made me stand next to it (and point to it, so you could spot the huge pine cone) while he took a photo. 

We actually started to get pretty warm during the descent, and I finally shed my base layer. There was pretty much no shade on the entire hike so it was a good thing we went in the morning. 

This was a photo I took of Eagle Peak about an hour from the end of the hike – we went down a fair way!

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A lot of people online recommended walking the trail clockwise because it’s a more gradual uphill, but we went anti-clockwise since I prefer going up steep, uneven terrain rather than down it. I have worries of slipping, breaking my tailbone and forcing poor James to carry me all the way back.

So anyway, that was my birthday hike. =) There are a couple of other hikes around Mount Diablo I’m keen on doing, but we’re heading into Summer now so I’d rather wait until the weather is a bit cooler.

Vaccinated!

2 Jun

Last Thursday James took the day off and we went to the ostrich farm in Gilroy. If he takes five days off this quarter Google gives him a bonus day – I guess because people have been hoarding vacation days? It was also two weeks after our second vaccination, making us fully vaccinated!

Near the ostrich farm there were tons of farm stands with fresh fruit. The star attractions were the ridiculously cheap (albeit ridiculously tiny) avocados. We bought 6 for $1, then saw another stand that had 10 for $1 and stopped there as well.

This photo shows the smallness of the avos – the left is a regular avo ($1ish from Costco I think), then the 6 for $1 avo, then finally the 10 for $1 avo which was about the size of a lime.

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Even before getting to the ostrich farm, the day already felt like a success!

Since it was a weekday we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves, which was nice because it wasn’t a massive farm. They had ostriches, llamas, sheep, horses, cows, goats, chickens, rabbits, emus and pigs, plus a ton of squirrels running around. We got a bucket of feed included with our ticket.

The ostriches were … quite terrifying. We had to use special dustpans to feed them (versus most of the other animals, which nibbled gently from our hands) because they were such aggressive peckers. I found that out firsthand when an ostrich pecked my phone from my hand.

Seconds before the phone peck:

PXL_20210527_183320870Every photo we have of the ostriches they look full of barely suppressed rage. Even the ones where they’re eating and presumably happy.

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Look at those pellets fly!

We were initially excited that the farm had emus. But they like, didn’t know how to eat or something. They kept pecking at empty parts of the pan and missing all the food, then getting angrier and angrier, pecking furiously at the empty part of the pan. Eventually we left, embarrassed at the incompetence of our fellow Australians.

Look at this guy! He knew it was food – he just didn’t know what to do with it.

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James really liked the miniature llamas and horses.

PXL_20210527_184229595This one tried to join the photo at the last second and didn’t quite make the shot.

PXL_20210527_185430080This group of animals were quite nice – they let us pat them while they ate and were excited about the food without being overly pushy.

PXL_20210527_185332249Unlike these desperate goats.

PXL_20210527_190649947The goats were quite sweet though, and I liked their bleaty goat sounds. 

There was a little piglet who escaped his enclosure. He clearly wanted to get back in because he kept running around the pen looking for a way in, talking with his pig friends, then running around again looking worried.

PXL_20210527_190859217He was suuuuper scared of us. =( We were standing at the corner and whenever he ran past us he would get visibly nervous and speed up, making these cute rapid little pig trotting sounds. We were just about to go inside to let the employees know when he finally made it on his own!

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Also lol.

PXL_20210527_192138601.MP(Different pig, I just thought it was funny).

Afterwards we went to Gilroy and had burritos for lunch, then picked up some garlic/artichoke bread from Pescadero. We got back to the city around 4pm and were stuck in a horrendous rush hour traffic jam – I definitely didn’t miss Bay Area traffic during covid. But with almost 70% of the city fully vaccinated everything is definitely picking back up!

A Quick Land’s End Hike and the General Niceness of the Outer Sunset

10 May

Hiking is one of the things that we’ve been doing more of during iso since it’s outdoors, physical, and easy to socially distance. Since we got the car we haven’t had to plan in advance to get a rental, so can go whenever we want, which has been nice.

On this particular day we chose to stay in San Francisco and just do an easy hike at Land’s End.

PXL_20201017_163505351I always forget how pretty it is! The only downside is that the combination of views and convenient location means it’s always busy, but we went in the morning so it wasn’t too bad. 

The hike has detours down to several little beaches if you’re feeling up to climbing a bunch of steps. I don’t know why, but there is one beach that always has a ton of cairns.

PXL_20201017_164901454I like the picturesque tunnel these trees made.

PXL_20201017_171045262It was a nice, sunny day and we were feeling quite spry so we continued the walk through Seacliff to admire the clifftop mansions and hang out at the beach. 

Also for a comparison shot, this was Outer Sunset the very next day – super foggy.

PXL_20201018_233627304That road is normally a highway but they’ve closed it off to cars during iso, so it’s become a really nice place to cycle/run/skate. That day was unusually foggy and I remember the condensation dripping off my bike helmet and handlebars even though it wasn’t raining.

Also, have a photo of the nice bison hanging out at Golden Gate Park:

PXL_20201212_170945641We’ve been hanging out at the park a lot this past year, since James and our friends have started disc golfing more. I’d rather be able to travel and see our families, but in terms of quality of life during covid we’ve probably been in the top 0.1%. Even so, we’re looking forward to getting our second vaccinations this week and things hopefully starting to get back to normal!

A Whale Washed Up on the Beach

26 Apr

(Warning: contains some gross but interesting photos)

On Saturday afternoon a fin whale washed up on the beach in Fort Funston. Someone posted about it online and I decided to jog there in the afternoon while James was playing disc golf.

It was maybe 10km away, which is a long jog for me, but much of it was on the beach so it was pretty nice. The tide was starting to come back in so at a couple of points I had to run strategically to avoid the water.

PXL_20210425_004329229Also there were a ton of dead crabs on the beach. I probably saw 30 or more crabs which I wasn’t expecting. I came here for whale, damnit!

I smelled the whale before I saw it. I stopped running and said “holy shit” even though I was on my own because the smell was pretty freaking strong. It actually smelled like fish sauce, but way more intense. I was glad I had my face mask!

PXL_20210425_011728126.MPThe whale was autopsied in the afternoon by marine biologists, hence the whale bits everywhere (it was intact when it arrived on the beach). The birds were definitely having a good time – I saw a crow flying away with a giant chunk of whale in its beak.

I thought the blubber was interesting up close – it was so thick!

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Guts everywhere. There were also smaller clusters of whale guts down the beach that some birds were pecking at. 

PXL_20210425_010453938The whale was pretty big – maybe 8 or 9 meters long. When James saw this photo he was like “it looks like when your family orders fish at a Chinese restaurant!”

PXL_20210425_011347841I thought the teeth were pretty interesting as well.

PXL_20210425_011102883I saw a picture of it the next morning and it was pretty much gone except for the tail. I guess either the tide or birds disposed of it during the night. 

Sorry if this grossed you out, but I thought it was pretty interesting!

Europe 2.0 – Munich

30 Mar

At last we reached the final destination of our (second) big Europe trip – Munich! It was actually James’ birthday and the guy checking us in noticed his birthday on his passport and gave him a voucher for a free drink. =)

The next morning we did a self-guided walking tour of Munich. The tour took us through a market where we stopped for some breakfast – sauerkraut, sausage, a pretzel and … a breakfast beer. Well, a breakfast radler.

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It turns out I quite like radlers – I’ve never seen them anywhere else but they’re a mix of beer and lemonade, and just sweet enough that they make the beer taste not so “beery”. James wondered if he could eventually get me used to beer by gradually decreasing the proportion of lemonade.

Properly fortified, we continued on our walking tour, which looped us through the town center and through a bunch of churches, including the super gaudy Asam church:

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At the end of our walk we were ready for more food, and luckily the Christmas markets had started opening up. Some of the stalls were quite elaborate – we got a hot dog at this fancy stall.

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The meat grilling happened in the middle and there was a clever condiment system:

IMG_20191221_103740Afterwards we stopped off for some gluhwein. They came in adorable mugs and when you bought the gluhwein you paid a mug deposit – if you returned the mug you got your deposit back, but otherwise you could keep it as a little souvenir.

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We spent several days in Munich and during that time we went to a lot of Christmas markets and a lot of beer halls. Hofbrauhaus is probably the most famous beer hall in Munich, so we went there first:

IMG_20191221_132322 (1)(FYI prepare to see many photos of us cheerily holding oversized beers – or in my case, radlers).

It was very touristy but also very fun! We got there near opening and it filled up very quickly.

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It’s quite nice about eating hearty food (Mashed potatoes! Sausages! Sauerkraut! Pork knuckles!) when it’s chilly outside. Add a comically oversized beer? Yes please!

In the evening we went to another Christmas market where we picked up this adorable boot-shaped mug.

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The next morning we visited the Munich Google campus. It was a quick tram ride from our hotel.

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The office was a lot bigger than I had been expecting. This was the main dining area on the ground floor:

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Just outside was a basketball court:

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Throughout the office they had nice little working areas.

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There was also a slightly less fancy dining area upstairs (though it had a nicer view):

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We also found some mini golf (the golf course spelled out Google).

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And a VR room.

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There was a nearby snack area with what I think were packaged nuts and muesli.

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We also found a relaxation room that had a super fancy massage chair. (Also I’m inexplicably embarrassed by the dirty soles of my shoes, even though of course the bottom of my shoes are dirty – the bottom of everyone’s shoes are dirty!)

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Yet another working area:

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Google office without a board games room:

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(Except Frankfurt. Oh Frankfurt).

This was one of the many microkitchens. I don’t know why there are several big buckets of eggs. I zoomed in on the photo thinking that maybe they were ping pong balls, but no they are eggs.

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And a cosy nook that taught us things.

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I did not know that the English Garden in Munich was larger than Central Park in New York!

For lunch we went to a beer hall down the street.

IMG_20191222_114153Our meal with beers/radlers. We really should have been smarter and split one meal between us because they were all so huge and heavy.

MVIMG_20191222_120112And our beer selfie:

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After lunch we headed to a Christmas market in the English Garden (which, as Google taught us, is larger than Central Park).

IMG_20191222_142226(Note the super lame gluhwein mug which we did not purchase).

On the bus back to our hotel we saw a modern art museum and impulsively went in for a visit. It left us scratching our heads a bit, but I did like this art installation made of a billion pills.

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The next morning we went to the Munich Residenz, which is a former palace with very elaborate room decorations and displays from the royal collections. The line to get in was quite long, but luckily we were near the front due to our early bird strategy.

The Hall of Antiquities:

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I thought the Treasury was really interesting. The audio guide was really good – there was an overview of each room, and then if you were interested in a particular piece you could type in a number to learn more about it.

This crown is so elaborate that it looks fake. I think my mind can’t comprehend so many jewels in one place.

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They also had restored a lot of the rooms and you could walk through them. Here I am listening to the audio guide inside a restored church:

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A giant silverware collection:

IMG_20191223_141609Our ticket also got us into the Old Residenz Theater (which was a bitch to find) and we liked this room with a cool echo.

Then it was lunch time! On our way to our (beer hall) lunch we saw a line outside a store for something called a “schmaltznudel”. We looked it up and it was a donut-like fried pastry. Unfortunately it was cash-only so we only had enough remaining euros to buy one, but it was delicious.

In the process of being fried

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The final product, dusted with sugar:

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Then to lunch, which is where I learned how to hold a beer stein properly!

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And in the evening our final dinner:

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And our final dinner beer selfie:

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The next morning we used our dirty clothes to carefully wrap our wine for the last time, got on a bus to the airport, then on a plane back to the US. It had been a fun holiday but after six weeks we were definitely ready to be back home.

And of course, the customary shot of our souvenirs.

IMG_20191224_162651 (1)Most of it was Italian wine and Swiss chocolate. We had been emotionally preparing ourselves for some wine breakage but everything arrived successfully. =) A victorious ending to our second European trip of 2019 (And now, two years later, I’m finally caught up on blogging about our travel!)

Europe 2.0 – Zermatt

22 Mar

The reason we were in Europe for so long (almost 6 weeks!) was because I wanted to go to Zermatt. Our Ikon Season Pass gave us 5 free days of skiing there, so we went at the start of the season. Our train from Milan was late and the train we were supposed to get on in Switzerland was, of course, brutally on time, so we arrived a couple of hours later than we expected. Bugger.

It took us awhile to figure out where to get our ski tickets, so we wandered around the village for awhile. Even for Switzerland, Zermatt is ridiculously pretty.

IMG_20191215_140417Hello Mr. Matterhorn!

Zermatt was our big splurge for the trip, and we stayed at the Riffelalp Resort, which is an absolute baller hotel partway up the mountain. We figured if conditions were good we could ski straight onto the slopes and if conditions were bad we would have a nice base to hang out in. 

Because it was so high up we had to take a special train to get there. Here we are at the Riffelalp train station halfway up the mountain:

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It was a quick walk to the hotel, and we kept stopping to admire the Matterhorn.

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Our room was very comfortable and rustic. The entrance hall, with the left door leading to the bathroom (with a king foot tub that I loooved soaking in with the window open), and the right door leading to the bedroom.

IMG_20191215_172656The bedroom:

IMG_20191215_172643And this was the view from our room:

IMG_20191216_075305We admired the view and felt like very fancy people drinking our welcome bottle of Moet & Chandon in our pajamas – I could get used to that life! 

The ski storage system at the hotel was also very fancy. There was a rental office (which we didn’t realise, or else we would have gone there instead of the much busier one in the village), someone available to service your gear, and the changing room had heated lockers that opened with an automatic fob.

IMG_20191217_115804Because they were heated, everything was nice and dry by the morning. Here is our locker crammed full of our gear – it was a bit tetris-y to get everything to fit but we managed.

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Also the doors to go outside opened automatically which was very much appreciated when we had our arms full of snowboards/skis.

We always headed out first thing in the morning, so always had the locker room (and breakfast buffet!) to ourselves.

Our first day on the mountain!

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We were like “why are we taking so many photos of the Matterhorn? We’re going to see it every day!” But after the first day the clouds came in and we never saw the Matterhorn again. =(

IMG_20191216_133133Enjoy it while it lasts, James!

After a day of skiing and boarding, we headed back to the hotel to hang out in the pool.

IMG_20191216_144412Here is a series of photos of James throwing a snowball at the Matterhorn – still visible, but you can see the start of the clouds that covered it the next few days.

Fancy three

Conditions weren’t fantastic the next day, so we just headed out in the morning for an hour or so, then went back to the hotel to explore the various hotel saunas and pools. Aside from the two larger pools, there were several small therapeutic pools, including just a pile of ice that you could immerse yourself in. No thank you!

For a more subdued version, you could have a shower, then dunk yourself with cold water (also no thank you!).

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They had several wet and dry saunas, which were much more my speed.

IMG_20191216_151847After sampling all four (I think) saunas I decided this one was my favourite because it had a lovely view of the mountains. 

Some mysterious stairs leading to an underground grotto:

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This was a jacuzzi that you could lie down in:

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And right next to it, a little waterfall that you could stand under and splash your feet a bit (though I don’t really see the appeal. Maybe it was primarily decorative).

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The next day we did some more skiing/boarding. We found some a nice off-piste area past a bunch of houses (and got stuck a bunch of times, but it was all super fun), then did some runs leading down to the village.

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There were not a lot of people around which was nice. Even though it was very early in the season the main areas could get quite busy, but in the mornings we had a lot of runs to ourselves.

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Also we found this snow lady near our hotel. Someone had spent a lot of effort to make sure her boobs were sculpted juuust right.

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The next day, conditions were fantastic in the morning (our early getting-up strategy paying dividends yet again!) and we had a very fun few hours.

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We did a big traverse across the mountain in a gondola to get to an area that had previously been closed due to high wind. Already inside the gondola were a Swiss guy and a giant box of (stinky!) cheese. “Is this your cheese?” we asked him, confused. He said no, then explained that’s how they get supplies to the places high up the mountain – they put a box in all of the early gondolas and gradually unload them at the station. So efficient. So Swiss.

When we reached our destination it was cloudy and the visibility wasn’t fantastic, but the snow was wonderful!

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Also the runs were nice and wide – much better than the narrow runs around the rest of the mountain. James was also very pleased at how all the chair lifts had windshields so we didn’t get too cold. Once again, it was pretty much empty so we had a wonderful morning there.

It started to get busier in the afternoon, and then the wind picked up so they shut down the lifts and we all had to traverse back across the mountain. We shared the gondola with some unfortunate Hungarians who had slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, then arrived just in time for the lifts to close. =(

On the way back we saw a mountain goat!

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We skiied/snowboarded down to the village, did a couple more runs around there, then took the Sunnegga funicular up to a different ski area. Such technology!

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And inside:

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It was our last full day in Zermatt, but we made the most of it.

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The next morning we returned our ski gear, packed, and made a snowcat.

MVIMG_20191220_090201James in the process of assembling the cat:

IMG_20191220_085014When it was time to leave, the hotel drove us to the train station on a snowmobile!

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When we arrived in Zurich, we had a couple of hours to kill before our train to Munich so we had a bit of a rest at a nearby Google office (not the main Zurich office).

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It was a nice pit-stop for us to sit down, leave our (wine-filled and incredibly heavy) bags, go to the bathroom and get something to eat. There weren’t a ton of choices since it was in the early evening and after work-hours, but they had some snacks and pre-made wraps lying out.

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James on the train from Zurich to Munich:

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After a long day of mostly train travel, we were very glad to finally get to our hotel.

Europe 2.0 – Milan

3 Mar

After gorging ourselves in Piedmont we had a brief stopover in Milan on our way to Zermatt. Like Frankfurt, there actually wasn’t a ton we wanted to see in the city but we didn’t want to be travelling the whole day. We arrived in the evening, checked into our hotel, then visited the Google office.

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The office was just a few floors in a nondescript skyscraper, but there was this cool planty building nearby.

IMG_20191213_203942This was the lobby. 

IMG_20191213_204735It had a display that showed what Italians were Googling at the time. I thought Napoli Parma was some sort of traditional food but it is actually two soccer teams.

The floors had different themes – the ones I can remember were fashion, cinema and cars. This was the car floor and it had a little road going around the whole level:

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A maker room:

IMG_20191213_210453Some very intense cables in the ceiling:

IMG_20191213_205106Ugh, how do you even survive with a non-functioning milk fridge.IMG_20191213_211245

The answer is, with an ice cream fridge!

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It was a compact office, but it was nicely designed and they had the essentials – a restaurant (the “Google trattoria”), a gym, a mini lecture room, and some themed microkitchens. *cough* looking at you, Frankfurt *cough*.

Then we grabbed some dinner and did some food souvenir shopping at Eataly.

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A random basket of eggs:

IMG_20191213_222112The next morning we went to see The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Tickets were actually quite hard to get – the online booking system was kind of weird, I had to book really far in advance, and tickets sold out incredibly quickly. The viewing was led by someone who explained the details of the mural, and it was pretty cool to see it in person.

IMG_20191214_094047Then we walked to the centre of Milan, passing this magnificent sculpture on the way:

IMG_20191214_102022Outside the Milan Cathedral, some guys threw some bird seed on us, wouldn’t leave us alone until we took photos, then tried to get us to pay. We just walked away, so it sucks to be you, pigeon-grifters.MVIMG_20191214_103044The photo of James actually has the Cathedral in it which is nice.IMG_20191214_103105We had lunch, then walked through a nearby shopping centre which, although very busy (it was a Saturday), was absolutely gorgeous.

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Look at the skylights!

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We went to the Moncler store where we browsed the latest in high fashion skiwear.

IMG_20191214_131918Then had dinner at a restaurant near our hotel. They had a window where you could see them making the fresh pasta. This was my beautiful pesto pasta.

IMG_20191214_191955And gelato from a nearby gelateria for dessert.

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So that was Milan! Aside from The Last Supper, there wasn’t anything that would be on most people’s bucket list, and for us, 1.5 days felt like just the right amount of time.

Europe 2.0 – Piedmont

19 Feb

We took a train from Florence in the morning and arrived at Alba in the late afternoon. The region of Piedmont is wine and white truffle country, and is normally busier (especially during the truffle festival) but we were there in the low season. After over a week of walking nonstop in Rome and Florence, we were very much looking forward to relaxing, eating good food and drinking great wine.

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We went to Osteria dei Sognatori for dinner, which was an easy walk from our AirBNB. It didn’t take reservations, had delicious, affordable food, and thus was packed every night. We knew it was going to be good when we peeked in the window and saw them hand-writing that night’s menu:

IMG_20191209_193641When we didn’t have a fancy dinner planned we would default to this place, using Google Translate to try and figure out the menu. We’d get a carafe of the house wine and just go to town on whatever pasta they’d made fresh that day.  

Also when we ordered limoncello or amari at the end of the meal they would just leave the bottle. Outstanding.

We rented a car and spent a little under a week exploring the area and learning about nebbiolo wines. We don’t know a lot about wine and it very much felt like getting thrown in the deep end, but everyone we met was really happy to educate us.

A handy chart on the best barbaresco vintages:

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A lot of regions would have a “cantina communale” where you could taste and buy wines from the small local wineries that didn’t have their own storefronts. There were also enotecas (the definition of which I think has some overlap with the cantinas), and again focused on educating us about and sampling local wines. Overall I preferred them to visiting individual wineries because we could try wines from a ton of different producers.

We brought along a few bubble-wrap wine carriers anticipating we’d buy a couple of bottles, but we loved everything and it was all crazy affordable compared to Napa/Sonoma, so hadn’t brought nearly enough. Next time we would just buy cases to ship home, but after exhausting our wine carriers we just used our clothes to wrap the rest.

A lot of the towns were super picturesque. This was La Morra:

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And the surrounding vineyards:

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This was the cantina communale in La Morra. They had a rotating assortment of local wines available for tastings, and the guy there gave us a crash course on the different local regions.

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At the Castiglione Falletto cantina communale:

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I think this was the Barolo cantina communale. We were entranced by the tasting machine:

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And at Al Nido della Cinciallegra, which was a mix between a wine bar and retailer:

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It was so nice to take things slow and have long, leisurely lunches, and meander around drinking wine. We were quite surprised at how good the food was here – it seemed like every sleepy town had a couple of Michelin-starred restaurants, and it was all so reasonably priced.

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Also a lot of restaurants would do this thing where they gave you some complimentary treats at the end of the meal. This is one we got after a charcuterie and wine lunch:

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And after a super fancy lunch (I’m laughing because I was already quite full, and was so shocked at the enormous platter that came out):

IMG_20191210_144613In Napa that would be a $20 dessert at least! 

And of course we had to try some of the region’s famous white truffle:

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In its final form:IMG_20191210_213018

Pretty much after every meal we’d leave the restaurant just glowing with pleasure. The combination of the cold weather, warm hospitality, wine and food was so perfect – even looking at the photos makes me happy (and hungry!) again. 

Our favourite meals in Italy were in Piedmont, and I told James that I’d love to go back and stay for a couple of months to really get to know the area and local wines (also I would get so fat). 

We have a couple of barolos now that can age for a decade+, and surely we’ll be back in Piedmont before then!

 

Europe 2.0 – Florence

1 Feb

We loooooved Florence! It was much more compact than Rome, which made it a lot less intimidating. All the Christmas decorations were up and it felt really festive.

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Also the AirBNB we stayed at was crazy stylish. I need that designer to redo our place – I felt so cool every time we came back to the apartment.

Day 1

It was late afternoon when we arrived in Florence, but we had enough time to see Michelangelo’s David. Unfortunately we only took one photo and it came out blurry. Oops.

We also caught our first glimpse of the Florence Cathedral, and it was genuinely spectacular. In the photo it looks like someone superimposed a Renaissance painting in the background, and I assure you that’s what it looked like in real life as well.

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Afterwards we had some gelato (spoiler alert: we had gelato every night), then went for a walk by the Arno river. I really liked these animal leg lampposts that were everywhere in Florence:

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Then we went to a wine bar called Le Volpi e l’Uva for drinks. It was so perfect – like if you imagine a cozy little wine bar in Florence in winter … that was pretty much our experience. We’d planned to just order a couple of drinks and find somewhere for dinner, but everything was so delicious and cheap (5-8€ a glass for some gorgeous, gorgeous wines) that we decided to order a pile of salami and just park ourselves for the rest of the night.

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Also it turns out we love Italian wines. Our favourite that night was a Brunello from Il Bosco di Grazia that I think we bought for 20-something euro (we got the last bottle!) and just then when I looked it up, I found out it sells for $76 in the US!

(James and I are divided on the wine now – I am slightly too intimidated to drink it without pairing it with quite a nice meal, and James thinks we should treat it like a 20-something euro bottle, since that’s what we paid).

Day 2

We had an early start to climb Brunelleschi’s Dome. As we discovered our first night in Florence, the Dome absolutely dominates the skyline.

IMG_20191208_163017We booked the earliest time slot, which I would highly recommend, because we had to share a lot of the stairs climbing up and down, and at least this way nobody was coming down when we were going up.

The actual climb was pretty cramped, but in a fun, historic way. I’m always very impressed when you see stone steps that have been worn away over centuries of use. The climb was mainly spiral stairs, but there was a cool dome-y portion near the end that you can see in this photo:
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Coming out of the hatch: 

IMG_20191207_085807_1The morning light was so atmospheric. And the view! We could see all of Florence and the surrounding countryside. Because we were among the first people up, it was lovely and uncrowded. 

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It was also quite chilly that morning, but we’d warmed up from the climb, hence my lack of jacket.

Afterwards we did a self-guided walking tour around the city, then grabbed some pizza for lunch.

IMG_20191207_122326Also we went shopping and James bought a leather jacket and I bought some leather gloves. Because what … we’re going to visit Florence and not buy leather?

Day 3

We visited the Uffizi Gallery as soon as it opened in the morning. We spent way more time here than I was expecting because there was just so much to see.

We really liked the statues in the corridors:

IMG_20191208_082119James in particular was really happy to see a lot of statues of the Greek Gods, which he had been expecting more of in Rome. 

The Birth of Venus with nobody else in the room:

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(I guess James liked the painting next to it more!)

It was really nice to see everything without the crowds. Things had definitely started to pick up by the time we left, and the security area was a madhouse. Maybe people don’t want to wake up early when they’re on vacation?

For lunch we had a tasty street sandwich and glass of wine.

IMG_20191208_111824We went to another wine bar before having a little rest back at the AirBNB. Then in the late afternoon we climbed Giotto’s Bell Tower.

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The view was largely the same as the Dome (except that if you climb the Tower you can see the Dome and if you climb the Dome you can see the Tower), but it was worth it because while we were on the bell level, the bells started ringing. It was so loud and unexpected! If you can, I’d definitely recommend trying to time your visit with the bells.

And that was our last night in Florence! The next morning we took the train to Turin and then Alba, to take a break from all that walking and spend a week in wine country.