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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


Just outside was a basketball court:


Throughout the office they had nice little working areas.


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


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


And a VR room.


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


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!)


Yet another working area:


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


(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.


And a cosy nook that taught us things.


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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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


The final product, dusted with sugar:


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


And in the evening our final dinner:


And our final dinner beer selfie:


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:


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


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.


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!


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!).


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:


This was a jacuzzi that you could lie down in:


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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!


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!


And inside:


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


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!


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).


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.


James on the train from Zurich to Munich:


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.


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:


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!


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.


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.


Look at the skylights!


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.


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.


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:


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:


And the surrounding vineyards:


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.


At the Castiglione Falletto cantina communale:


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


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


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.


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:


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:


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.


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.


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:


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.


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:
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. 


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:


(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.


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.

Europe 2.0 – Rome Days 4-6

26 Jan

Our Roman adventure continues!

Day 4

We kept seeing the Colosseum on our walks around Rome and were pretty excited to finally see inside. Even first thing in the morning there were tons of different tour groups at the gate (plus people there without a tour), but the Colosseum was large enough and they staggered the tours so it didn’t feel too crowded inside.

We took an official Colosseum tour because they were 1/5 the price and identical to the third party tours. For that reason they sold out very quickly, especially the ones that went to restricted parts of the Colosseum. 

IMG_20191203_094720I liked the disposable headphones (which they also had on the Vatican tour), since you could hear the guide even if you wandered off a bit. 

We saw underground where the gladiators were, the arena and also the third level of the Colosseum. There are higher levels, but unfortunately they were under construction at the time. It was very cool being able to see the arena from above:

IMG_20191203_105554The corridors in the upper levels were completely empty except our group, and it was nice getting away from everyone else.

IMG_20191203_110742And back to the crowds after our tour:
IMG_20191203_110902(I must also admit to a little bit of smugness when our guide turned back people at the gate who tried to get to the third level).

After the Colosseum we explored the surrounding area. A triumphal arch:


Then we went to the Roman Forum and did a self-guided tour. It was a free Rick Steves audio tour (which we used to do a few walking tours around Rome) and I think it was a good balance – a more structured tour for the Colosseum and then wandering at our own pace among the ruins.


Day 5

This was another early start. We had tickets for the Wednesday General Audience with the Pope – you can’t go to Rome and not see the Pope! James was very sweet because he had absolutely zero interest but pretended he was interested for my sake. Maybe he was just happy to sit down for awhile. =)

Again, it was an empty walk through Rome.


And an empty St Peter’s Square:


Apparently in Summer it’s much harder to get a seat at the General Audience (even if you have a ticket), but it was quite easy in Winter when we went. We still showed up early just in case, but were able to get a seat in the second row center, which is pretty close to the action!

We have some religious friends, so bought rosaries from the Vatican when we were at the museum, and brought them along to be blessed by the Pope.

And here is the Pope in his Popemobile with his bodyguards:


Afterwards we had a fortifying pasta lunch:


Then headed to the Borghese gallery to look at sculptures. The museum had timed entry tickets, so it wasn’t busy inside, even among the famous exhibits.

On the way back to our AirBNB we passed the Spanish Steps and took a quick (slightly blurry) photo.


Day 6

The original plan had been to do a day trip out of Rome, but we were both feeling pretty knackered, and decided to just have an easy day wandering around.

We got up super early (like, Vatican early) to go see the Trevi Fountain without the crowds.


Then we did a self-guided tour of the Pantheon before having a nice leisurely lunch. So much burrata!


I love burrata but that was way more than I was expecting. And I had to eat it on my own since James is lactose intolerant. And then, when James’ lunch was late, they gave us another serve of burrata.

Also, when James was in the bathroom, the waiter walked by and sneakily topped up his wine glass with the rest of the bottle. When James came back he was like “… is this fuller than it was before?”

Then the next day it was onto our next destination – Florence. Bye Rome. You were very impressive!


(Also I ate this at the food court near the train station. OMG)

IMG_20191206_121640_1 (1)

Europe 2.0 – Rome Days 1-3

15 Jan

Our friend Kyle had visited Rome about a month before us. We asked him how it was, and he said “Rome is … impressive”. At the time we thought it was an underwhelming description, but he was absolutely right; Rome is impressive.

Our AirBNB was in the the old part of Rome (around the corner from the Pantheon) and it was the perfect location for first-timers to the city.

My cousin Ivo said that a guide told her Rome was built like a lasagna – layers and layers of buildings built on top of one another. Under modern Rome they find bits of ancient Rome, and then under that even ancienter Rome (apparently there is so much ancient and ancienter Rome that it is ruinously expensive to try and restore it all).

Everywhere we walked there were ancient ruins. There were obscure ruins on our way to see famous ruins – we’d turn a corner and there would be some random ruin. In America it would be the oldest thing in the country but in Rome we didn’t even stop to take a photo.

Day 1

What better way to start our trip than with a food tour in Testaccio? On our way there we walked by this building and were like “wait, is this the Colosseum??” (it was not the Colosseum)

IMG_20191130_085337But you can see how we got confused, because this is the Colosseum:


(But more on the Colosseum in Part 2 of this post!)

We walked to the Orange Gardens for a beautiful view of Rome, and found the nearby Aventine keyhole which, if you peek through it, perfectly frames St Peter’s Basilica.

IMG_20191130_092454The keyhole view (which, FYI, was very difficult to take a picture of):

IMG_20191130_093029By then it was about time for our tour to start, so we wandered over to the meeting spot. We always had to allow extra time for walking because we’d get distracted by some random old building or a lovely view. 

Our guide was really nice and informative, and we tasted a bunch of wine, cheese, olive oil, meats, baked goods and produce, plus some pasta for lunch on top of that. Needless to say, we were stuffed by the end. 

At the Testaccio Market I was very taken by this beautiful … cauliflower? Look at it! It’s so fractal!


My favourite bit of trivia the guide taught us was about the water fountains we saw all over Rome. Like so:


We hadn’t realised that it was potable water, so that was good to know, but she also taught us the proper way to drink from them. She said some people would cup their hands to get the water, but the actual way is to cover the mouth of the spout so the water shoots out of a hole slightly above it.

(Also that little face I made at the end was because some water hit me in the face, not because it tasted bad!)

Afterwards we wandered over to this pyramid, which is some guy’s tomb. I was reading the description and it didn’t seem particularly significant, but it was a pyramid in Rome. Weird.


Then we walked back along the River Tiber. One part had this weird effect in the water which we were quite excited by. It almost looked like two separate rivers were meeting?


On our way back to our AirBNB we passed by Largo di Torre Argentina, which is where Caesar is believed to have been assassinated (if I recall correctly, it was on the left near that big tree) and is now patrolled by stray cats.


Day 2

I really enjoyed walking everywhere in Rome, because there was always something (impressive) to see. On the walk to our tour we walked by this monument to the first king of Italy:

MVIMG_20191201_081937 (1)

The Roman Forum:


And wait, is this the Colosseum?? (yes it was that time)


Our tour was to see the Domus Area, Nero’s palace that was discovered underneath Rome. We got to see the excavated ruins that were still very much in the process of being restored (we all had to wear hard hats).

This portion still had a bit of intact fresco.


At one point we got to put on VR headsets to see what the palace might have looked like with all the gardens and artwork intact. The buildings are already impressive as ruins, so you can imagine how spectacular they are in their full glory!


Afterwards we visited the Capuchin Crypts, which are several small chapels decorated almost exclusively with the bones of the friars. We couldn’t take photo inside (though I imagine there are extensive photos online), which is probably for the best because it was pretty macabre. Interesting, but intensely creepy.

Then it was time for lunch and more gelato! Our favourite gelato in Rome was from Otaleg (“gelato” backwards) in Trastevere. They had some experimental flavours (one that I sampled was chicken stock-based) but James and I stuck to the classics.


Day 3

Our third day in Rome was a massive day (though, come to think of it, they were all massive days). Our tour of the Vatican started quite early, and it was cool to see Rome so empty on the walk there.

The Pantheon at dawn:

IMG_20191202_064543 (1)

Of all the tours we did, I’d say the Vatican one was the one that was most of a mixed-bag. On one hand it’s nice to have someone guiding you and telling you about what you’re looking at, but on the other hand we didn’t get to the Sistine Chapel as early as I would have liked, and the tour in general was quite rushed. But then again there are probably no uncrowded times to visit the most popular parts of the Vatican Museum.

The Gallery of Maps was beautiful. It had a bunch of maps and frescoes of the different regions of Italy.


We also saw the Sistine Chapel, which was beautiful. You couldn’t talk inside, so we didn’t have the guide to point things out to us, and in hindsight I wish I’d done a bit of research about the frescoes so I knew what I was looking at in the moment. But also, do you want me to tell you a secret? I am very suspicious of roof paintings. Maybe it’s all blurry and fucked up but we can’t tell because we’re so far away.

After that it was onto the Vatican Museums. When we’re in museums James likes to take photos of random pieces of art that interest him. Sometimes I don’t know why he took the photo but sometimes it’s obvious. Like this:


And this:


The museum was massive and I regret we didn’t get to see as much of it as we would have liked since we had to keep to a schedule. We finished with a tour of St Peter’s Basilica.

It’s overwhelming to see so many historically-significant treasures in one morning – any one of which would be the main attraction in any other city.

Then it was time to see the necropolis underneath the Basilica with the Scavi tour. It’s the presumed location of St Peter’s tomb, and it was very exciting to be able to visit one of the most sacred sites in the Vatican. It was a bit of a process to get the reservation (and find the office!), but definitely worth it, even if you’re not religious. 

And then it was time to climb the Basilica. The way up was surprisingly cramped.


We were actually pretty tired even before we started the climb, but if there’s a tower to be climbed on holiday it always seems like a waste not to. This was the view looking down at the nave:

And the view to St Peter’s square outside:


A fine end to our Vatican adventure!

For our (very late) lunch we had some delicious pizza:


And then went back to collapse in our AirBNB.

Europe 2.0 – Frankfurt & Zurich

28 Dec

We took the high speed rail from Amsterdam to Frankfurt. We stayed overnight to break up the long train ride from Amsterdam to Zurich, but we knew that it wasn’t going to be a very interesting city to visit. Actually we were quite mean, and whenever something was a bit boring we’d be like “that’s so Frankfurt”. Sorry Frankfurt.



We arrived at 4:30pm and checked into our hotel. We walked around the city to get our bearings and visit the Google office. It was pretty tiny by Google standards – just a couple of floors in this massive building.


The office itself was … so Frankfurt. It had a nice view and some graffiti art, but that was pretty much it.


We thought we must have been missing something so we talked to a guy who was working late. We were like “hey, we’re visiting – what is the coolest thing about the office?” and he said the view and also showed us this freezer full of pre-made meals that they could eat.


Oh Frankfurt. =(

For dinner, we went to a vegan/vegetarian restaurant since we’d both been craving vegetables. It was called Vevay and the food was fantastic. Look at this gorgeous plate!


The next morning we walked around a bit until it was time to catch our train. We visited the Frankfurt cathedral and the Old Town, where they were starting to set up the Christmas markets.


We found this cute little art installation.


The original plan had been to get a hearty German lunch at a famous apfelwein place near the station, but it turned out they weren’t serving food yet, and since it was a Sunday nothing else was open. Bummer. So Frankfurt.

The train station was very pretty.

IMG_20191124_115737(My parents were planning a European trip with my aunts and uncle and my mum told me that they wanted to spend four days in Frankfurt. I was like “yeah, you should definitely rethink that”).

Sorry Frankfurt. Bye Frankfurt!


From our last trip I knew that Zurich wasn’t that interesting, so I was kind of looking forward to having a break from being a tourist. We’d been averaging 30k steps a day so I was quite happy to sleep in and gorge myself at the breakfast buffet.

I did walk around Lake Zurich and feed the birds (with bread nicked from breakfast). Unfortunately it was overcast when I went but I bet on a clear day the view is gorgeous.


You may be expecting lots of Zurich photos, but I felt like I “did” Zurich last time we were there, so instead I just took a lot of bird photos.

I liked this goofy little guy. He was so chill – he just stood next to me sweetly and occasionally I’d hook him up with some bread.

IMG_20191128_125549In this next photo, note the tourist behind him attempting to lure birds with NO bread.

IMG_20191128_125852What good times we had.

IMG_20191128_125947There were a ton of birds and there was a feeding frenzy every time I threw some bread.

At one point I felt this light pressure on my head. I know it sounds stupid, but what I genuinely thought had happened was that James (who was at work) had somehow come up behind me and patted my head. What actually happened was a seagull landed on my head.

IMG_20191128_131830I guess he was making sure he was in prime position for the next feeding. The seagulls were definitely the most aggressive.

These guys were hover-flying in front of me, flapping in the same spot and waiting for me to throw bread.

IMG_20191128_134641This guy didn’t even wait.

MVIMG_20191128_132839I told you I didn’t do much in Zurich! I bought a lot of my favourite Swiss supermarket chocolate (Caillet) and we also went to a Christmas market and then dinner with Tim and Ann, but otherwise just walked around the city and relaxed in the hotel room. 

Instead of taking the train we decided to fly into Rome. We used the lounge that came with our United status and it was pretty nice! The lounge was pretty busy, but then we found this quiet zone and it was way better.

IMG_20191129_145710So that was the boring part of our trip done. Next stop: Rome!

Introducing Leonidas

14 Dec

You might see him in future blog posts, but they’re not old photos – we got another Singapura cat. =)

We knew we wanted another Singapura because the breed is just so beautiful and so affectionate. And it comforted me to think that any cat we got would be a distant relative of Mouse. We initially wanted to wait awhile for another cat, but one was available immediately, so we decided to take a leap of faith and just go for it.

Here he was before the trip home. Such a little trooper. =)


And very insistent on getting out of his carrier.


Operation Leonidas retrival was a bit of an ordeal! I had to fly to Newark, so organised flights with a same-day turnaround (which the United check in process does not like). I wore two masks – a cloth mask over my KN95 mask, loaded up with hand sanitizer, and when I got home James and I quarantined for two weeks. Though quarantine with a new kitten … not the worst thing in the world. =)

He is a total sweetheart. I’ve forgotten how much energy kittens have! He loves playing fetch – in bed we keep finding toys, bottle caps and scrunched up bits of paper that he’s brought us hopefully during the night. Also we know what his favourite toys are because he leaves them in his food bowl (he tried the water bowl once but was very upset that his catnip mouse got all soggy and hasn’t attempted that since).

James: Kyoto meowed at me because one of Leon’s toys was in his food bowl. So I took it out, refilled the bowl and he started eating. Then Leon noticed, panicked, and tried to put his toy back in.

James is pleased that Leon also likes to attend his work meetings. He likes to curl up on James’ lap or snuggle inside his hoodie. If he’s too hot he’ll bite the zipper until James unzips to his liking.


James: The number of times he’s stood on my balls has made me realise how good Mouse was at not standing on my balls.

He loves hanging out on our shoulders as well, especially when we’re brushing our teeth. Here he is supervising the construction of our gingerbread house.


Occasionally he likes to stand on our heads too.


The other day James said to Leon: “in prettiness, I rank you below Kaye”. Which was very kind but clearly untrue because I’ve taken selfies of me and Leon and next to his adorable, youthful kittenness I look incredibly old!

It’s nice to have a snuggly baby in the house again. I still sometimes cry when I think about Mouse, but we’ve been spending a ton of time playing with Leonidas, and that’s been a good distraction. He and Kyoto have been getting along too. The first couple of days Kyoto hissed at Leon, but now they’ll nap together and lick each other.

I’ve had a lot of people message me about Mouse, so just wanted to update to let everyone know that we’re OK. =)


12 Nov

A lot of will already know, but last week our beloved Mousey passed away.

It was incredibly fast. The Thursday before last we noticed he was lethargic and not eating, and we took him to the emergency vet Friday morning. They said he had a kidney obstruction and spent Saturday stabilising him with a stent, and operated on him Sunday morning.

Sunday afternoon called to tell us that the operation had gone well, but that during the procedure they found a suspicious growth on his other kidney that they biopsied. On Monday they got the results back, and informed us it was an extremely aggressive kidney cancer that had already spread to his stomach.

The vets were initially hopeful that we could have a few good weeks or even months at home with Mouse until he passed. In the end, we didn’t even have days.

He would have died if not for the initial operation, but some combination of the cancer and the operation caused several micro blood clots which caused him to deteriorate further. They gave him another blood transfusion and tried for one more night, but on Tuesday the vet called again and said we should come in to talk about euthanasia.

When they brought him in the vet said he brightened when he saw us, and he lifted his head and meowed (and he never meowed). They had been giving him round the clock care, blood transfusions and a ton of drugs, but he was so weak.

They let us spend a few hours with him, cuddling and crying and telling him how very much we loved him.

We kept looking for signs that the vets were wrong. He had meowed when they brought him in. Occasionally he would look up at a sound. He was lying on a pile of towels and when James rained kisses on him he tried to get up and crawl onto James’ lap. We asked if it was OK to hold him and they said yes.

We took turns and were so gentle. We put him on James’ legs and I rested my face against his fur and everything was so familiar. If we avoided patting the parts they had shaved for surgery we could almost pretend it was a normal day. But if you knew Mouse’s personality this was maybe 5% of Mouse. He was fastidiously clean (never a single litter box accident, not once) but now he lay on us and soiled himself. He was so in love with us, but now he was barely reacting when we were there. I lay on the floor, rested him on my chest and we just cried and cried.

I asked the vet if we could take him home for a day or two so he could be where he was comfortable and where he knew he was loved, if it would be selfish. And she looked sad and said yes, a little selfish. But that sometimes it was what owners needed to be OK with what they had to do.

But he was the best cat in the world and we couldn’t repay 12 years of unconditional love with selfishness. He had been so strong for us and now we had to be strong for him.

He died lying on my chest, in his favourite position with his head tucked under my chin. We held him and howled with grief.

He was such a huge presence in our lives, especially this year, and now everything reminds us of him. He slept with us at night; during the day he went to meetings with James or snuggled on my chest depending on his inclination; he ate when we ate, and watched TV with us; he curled up on James’ lap when he was playing games. When we exercised at home we couldn’t sit down between sets or else he would climb on our laps. Every blog post I ever wrote I wrote with Mouse sitting on me. Except this one.

It’s been a little over a week and it has slowly been getting better. Neither of us could really function the first couple of days, but we’ve been crying less and less, and James has been taking really good care of me. We just both miss him a lot. So if we’re a bit sad or unfun to be with for awhile please forgive us, for our hearts are broken.