Tag Archives: Travel

The Big Europe Trip: Champagne Day Trip

16 Oct

A couple of days into our Paris trip we went to the Champagne region for the day. We had an early start and headed to Reims, where we visited the cathedral. You can see the front of the cathedral was undergoing some reconstruction.
MVIMG_20190514_080609The Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Reims is where the kings of France were coronated. It’s really quite impressive.
IMG_20190514_081535 The cathedral ceiling:IMG_20190514_081544I liked looking at the original figures on the left versus the reconstructed figures on the right.MVIMG_20190514_082834I also liked this strapped-in statue on the exterior:
IMG_20190514_083038Afterwards we grabbed some coffee/pastries, then took the train to Epernay where we had a bigger lunch, including some snails!
IMG_20190514_124946 We killed some time before our tour doing a champagne tasting in downtown Epernay.MVIMG_20190514_110542It was nice to sit down and drink some lovely champagne that we weren’t familiar with and otherwise would never have tasted.IMG_20190514_112115This is James channelling his inner Dom Perignon when we walked past the Moet estate. IMG_20190514_132521I love the apocryphal story of Dom Perignon said after he first tasted champagne – “Brothers, come quickly! I’m drinking stars!”

Anyway, soon it was time for the reason for our trip: the Billecart-Salmon champagne tour. It was a little bit away from the downtown area so we took a taxi over.
IMG_20190514_171139We started off in the gardens, where we saw some of the vineyards used for one of their champagnes. I can’t remember which but it was undoubtedly one of the expensive single estate ones.
IMG_20190514_141934The first fermentation:IMG_20190514_144714Aging (I think) in barrels. IMG_20190514_145201The chalkboard at the back listed the yields from the different vineyards and grapes. Also the barrel in the foreground was red wine that the winemakers made just for the Billecart-Salmon family. Don’t quote me on this, but I think the tour guide said they’d just add the best wine from each year to the barrel. So exclusive! IMG_20190514_150356We also got to see the underground cellars where the second fermentation and aging happened. It was very dark and damp, and just wall to wall champagne. IMG_20190514_152616We weren’t allowed to touch anything because stuff has been known to explode.

Check out the intense dust and mould growing on the older champagne bottles.
IMG_20190514_151238This was a riddling rack, where the champagne gets turned to remove the dead yeast cells. They keep track of the turns by marking the wood.
MVIMG_20190514_151731And then it was time for the tasting! A wall of all their different champagnes:IMG_20190514_153036We’d booked two regular tastings and two premium tastings, but apparently everyone else on the tour had booked the premium tastings, so Billecart-Salmon very kindly upgraded us to four premium tastings for free. =)IMG_20190514_155954James’ took a photo of the brochure so we’d remember which champagne we’d tasted.
IMG_20190514_164047Although it’s been a few months now and I can’t remember which ones I liked the most! Oops.

After the tasting we took a train back to Paris, where we had dinner and drinks, then collapsed into bed. I think it would be super relaxing to stay in the area for 2-3 days, but if you’re short on time like we were, a day trip is still lovely and highly recommended.

The Big Europe Trip: Google Paris

11 Oct

Is it weird to visit all the Google offices in the cities we visit? I guess it’s a little weird! But you know how after travelling to a city you always fantasise a little bit about moving there? Visiting the office is part of that cos I’m all “hm, what would James’ work life be like?”

(Also James gets a meaningless digital badge for how many Google offices he’s visited, which is oddly motivating).

After the security entrance this was the courtyard. Very French but only minorly Googley.
IMG_20190512_124458That’s more like it!
MVIMG_20190512_124605We headed to the microkitchen so James could make himself a coffee. This one was pretty!
IMG_20190512_125030The other microkitchens were regular-looking – I guess this was the centrepiece one. I don’t remember if there was anything about the microkitchens that felt particularly Parisian (like the onigiri in Tokyo or the vast quantities of bread in Zurich) – there were some chip brands we’d never heard of and James found some mints he really liked, but that was pretty much it.

A garden area outside with a random cow statue:
IMG_20190512_124800The office layout was confusing because (I think) they’d joined multiple buildings together and we were never sure which building we were in. The maps weren’t very helpful, and I know it wasn’t just me being navigationally-challenged because James (who has honed his map-reading skills through decades of video games) was just as lost. Actually I’d say he was even more lost because he’s not used to it like I am.

The main(?) staircase was surprisingly modern.
IMG_20190512_125806We went up and down it (and the elevators) a lot due to the aforementioned lostness.

We did find what I can only imagine are incredibly claustrophobic phone booths:
MVIMG_20190512_124957There was also a gorgeous cafeteria in an internal courtyard.
IMG_20190512_125457On one of the top levels we found a games room with the usual pool table, consoles and board games.
IMG_20190512_130614And a lovely view:
IMG_20190512_125858And Montmartre in the other direction:
IMG_20190512_130452Google Paris wasn’t that exciting (especially after Zurich) but James did find one thing that he was hugely impressed by. He wants it at his office and took a photo of it to send to … I don’t know, whoever is in charge of Google office improvements.

Are you ready for it?
IMG_20190512_131121Cup shelves!

The Google offices have tons of internal doors that you need to badge through, and James said it’s a juggling act because he always has a drink in one hand and a laptop in the other. This is the first time he’s seen a cup rest there and he marvelled at it.

So yeah, that was the Paris office! There wasn’t really a ton to see (cup shelves aside) but it was in a nice neighborhood and I did like the mix of modern and historical.IMG_20190512_124642Au revoir Google Paris!

The Big Europe Trip: Rhine Falls, Stein am Rhein and Basel

16 Sep

Rhine Falls

James was a bit worried about me going off on my own because of my previous “take the train to Zurich” navigational mishap, but fortunately the train to the Rhine Falls only involved one connection so there was no way I could mess it up.

In my defense, the train didn’t do what the schedule said it was going to do. It stopped a couple of stations before my scheduled transfer, there was some announcement in German and people got off, but it was a pretty big station so I just assumed they were terminating or transferring.

“Ah” I thought cleverly, “while we’re waiting for the next passengers I will poop in peace.” I think the conductor did a walk-around while I was in the bathroom and gave the all clear, because I felt the train moving slowly and when I got out I was in a locked carriage docked in the train yard.

I called out, then tried the doors. When I realised they were all locked I panicked, called James, who also panicked, but managed to find an emergency number for me to call. That felt a bit overkill, so I continued panicking and pacing around inside my carriage prison. Luckily I saw a train worker across the tracks and managed to flag him down, and he came and unlocked me.

I didn’t speak German and he spoke very little English, but I told him the station I was trying to get to and he very kindly took me to another docked train and managed to communicate that it was scheduled to leave the train yard soon and would go to the station I wanted. Dankeshön, train guy!

I took this photo walking with him in between trains at the train yard.IMG_20190507_095738When I got back to Zurich, every time I talked to one of James’ coworkers they were like “so I heard you got stuck on a train.” Apparently when I’d called him, James had run out of a meeting to help. One of his coworkers told me what probably happened was they’d made an announcement in German that only the front carriages would be continuing on and the rest of the train would detach, which makes sense. I told James, who paused and said carefully, “Johannes is very kind.”

Nuts to you, Jamesy. Johannes is very accurate is what Johannes is.

Anyway this train went straight to the Rhine Falls train station so this time there was no way I could mess it up.

OK I missed the train stop for the Rhine Falls.

The train stopped and I looked out and just saw gravel, so I assumed it was temporarily stopping for some reason. But then it started again and I saw the station sign pass us by and was like “oh no”. I think I didn’t tell James that part out of shame, but now he knows.

I got off at the next station and waited for a train going in the opposite direction to take me back. The view from the train station was gorgeous.
IMG_20190507_103657When I finally made my way to the Rhine Falls there was a castle with a historically accurate elevator:
IMG_20190507_125045I walked around the battlements:IMG_20190507_123502And hey, the Rhine Falls were pretty cool too. IMG_20190507_125003There were viewing platforms close to the base of the falls so you could see it up close.IMG_20190507_110421OK, quick disclaimer time. I knew James would want photos of me at the falls (he thinks photos without people in them are boring), but he is always the taker of selfies, so when I’m on my own I’m not good at a) figuring out the angles and b) looking in the correct direction. Anyway, I’m just warning you that there is not a single photo where I’m looking at the camera. I’m actually pretty embarrassed about it but, like I said, if I post just the scenery photos James will be all “where are all the photos of you??”

The waterfall was a lot rougher than the still photos suggest, so here’s a gif:IMG_20190507_105902_exported_stabilized_4330845156189461997You could pay extra to take a boat across the river and even more extra to take a boat to the island in the middle.
IMG_20190507_112319Nearly there!IMG_20190507_115517The view from the bottom of the Rhine Falls:
00000IMG_00000_BURST20190507115431258_COVEROnce on the island you had to climb some stairs to get to the top.
IMG_20190507_113928Everyone was rushing to be the first ones up so I hung back to get some uninterrupted photos. Here I am, undoubtedly peering off in some random direction behind my sunglasses:IMG_20190507_113913The view from the top!
MVIMG_20190507_114950To the right of my head you can see the viewing platform where I took the first few photos:
00000PORTRAIT_00000_BURST20190507115104426The view from the top in the other direction:
IMG_20190507_114853The boat dropped us off at the other side of the island, and it was a nice little walk around the waterfall, across the bridge, and back to the station.IMG_20190507_121638Also on the walk I found a duck!
MVIMG_20190507_121754I followed it around for longer than you might think.

Back on my original side of the river I couldn’t resist one last photo. Upriver of the Rhine Falls there were these little waterfalls that fed into the main one:
MVIMG_20190507_124916After a couple of hours at the Rhine Falls I was ready for the next part of my day trip.

Stein am Rhein

At Stein am Rhein, I grouped up with some Americans when we all walked out of the train station and stood there, not knowing which direction to walk in. We all speak English? Let’s be friends!

They actually looked kind of familiar and I realised I recognised them from our first night in Zurich – we’d been at the same cocktail bar (though hadn’t spoken or interacted). Small world!IMG_20190507_135908In Switzerland they would often depict heraldry animals with their tongues out. It’s supposed to signify strength and aggressiveness, but James and I always thought of them as “silly bears”.

Doesn’t the traffic light look really anachronistic? IMG_20190507_162649 What a lovely fresco of … a stork piercing itself in the breast. IMG_20190507_140306Most of the restaurants seemed to be clustered in the main square so we had a light lunch there.
IMG_20190507_140146 And admired all the buildings.IMG_20190507_140203After lunch we hiked up to Castle Hohenklingen. There were a lot of steps, but the views were beautiful and we passed some lovely little vineyards.
IMG_20190507_152144Inside there were some precarious steps to get to the top:
IMG_20190507_155000 But it was all worth it for the view from the castle windows. You can very faintly see some mountains in the background too. MVIMG_20190507_154647Back in the town, we just randomly walked around (a direct quote – “hey, I don’t think we’ve walked down this street yet) and here are some cool things we saw:

This church door:
MVIMG_20190507_162712The garden at St George’s Abbey
IMG_20190507_163324 Which led to this picture perfect riverfront area: IMG_20190507_163551If anybody loves their bears more than California it’s Switzerland:
IMG_20190507_163130Silly bear ground mosaic!
IMG_20190507_163950Then we took the train back to Zurich and parted ways. Goodbye serendipitous American friends! Thank you for a lovely day. =)


The other day trip I did was to Basel. It was a direct train, so there was definitely no way I could mess it up.

Nah, it was fine. =) Basel is one of the French-speaking regions of Switzerland which I liked because it gave me an opportunity to practice my French before Paris.

This is one of the three surviving entrance gates to the original medieval walled city:
IMG_20190509_115814 Every Swiss city had these beautiful fountains. One of the Americans from Stein am Rhein told me it’s actually potable water and you can use the fountains to fill your water bottle.MVIMG_20190509_115511The Rhine River (and another drinking fountain):
IMG_20190509_123529A view from Middle Bridge, the oldest bridge in the city:
IMG_20190509_123926The vibrantly-coloured town hall, which had a farmer’s market in front of it when I visited:
IMG_20190509_125159I also went to a souvenir shop where I spent a long time agonizing over which beer stein to buy.IMG_20190509_142602(I eventually decided on the second from the left because I liked the raised detail and the intricate lid, it had most of the cities we’d visited, and also the one on the far right because it had all the flags from the different cantons).

At a different store I bought some lackerli, a kind of honey cake that Basel is famous for. I found them so-so but the tins they came in were really nice.

Anyway, so that was my trip Basel excursion. When I got back to Zurich I had schnitzel with James for dinner, but I don’t think I showed him any of my photos (except the steins which, due to my indecisiveness, he received many pictures of, from many different angles), so these will all be new to him.

Then next, the last leg of our big Europe trip – Paris (finally!)

The Big Europe Trip: Zurich

5 Sep

The next week James was working out of the Google office in Zurich. I spent a couple of days exploring the city and another couple of days doing day trips – thanks Swiss Travel Pass!

This was the hotel we stayed at. It was a 2 minute walk to the office for James but a little bit away from Old Town.
Old Town was the main tourist part of Zurich. This was a square where sometimes people would just sit and chill.
IMG_20190509_191749There were lots of lovely views of mountains and bridges. IMG_20190507_204049As pretty as it was, there wasn’t a ton of stuff to do in Zurich. I mainly walked around Old Town (sightseeing and souvenir shopping) and went to the different museums.

The Museum For Design had a really cool section for well-designed items. Prominently displayed is the Mondaine clock that’s at all the train stations.IMG_20190508_113029The Swiss National Museum had the most to see, and the best exhibits were the permanent ones about Swiss history and geography.

This one was really cool. I wish I’d written down exactly what it was, but it was to do with who held what political role in the different cantons of Switzerland. As you can see, it was incredibly intricate.MVIMG_20190508_141034 (1)Hey! Google’s bathroom sign made it into the national museum!MVIMG_20190508_135153The last museum I went to was the Kunsthaus, partially because it really looks like it would be the German word for cunt house (but it’s actually an art museum). I took some photos of my favourite pieces to show James.

A carrot reclining on a bed of clay. Why? I don’t know, it’s being sexy or something.
IMG_20190508_160926 Child sits on grumpy turtle: IMG_20190508_161558Cow caught eating cabbage:
IMG_20190508_161539I also bought a couple of souvenir Kunsthaus pencils because I’m immature.

I think if you’re visiting Switzerland for awhile (2-3 weeks) you could spare a day or two for Zurich, but there are more interesting places to visit. But that’s a pretty bummer way to end this post, so here is a list of things I really enjoyed about Zurich:

This video James sent me of a bin near Google blowing out bubbles:20190509_090338-ANIMATIONSkipping dessert at restaurants and going to a fancy chocolate shop to pick out beautiful little chocolates instead.MVIMG_20190506_194000Fondue!IMG_20190507_190141Also it goes without saying that the public transport was incredible. Since I had the Swiss Travel Pass I used it for normal transport around the city and also to travel to Basel and the Rhine Falls. That’ll be the last post in the Switzerland series – we still have five days in Paris to go!

The Big Europe Trip: Google Zurich

22 Aug

We’d planned our entire Europe trip around a week in Zurich because James had a bunch of meetings at the Google office.

As soon as we checked into our hotel we walked a couple of minutes to Google to do our laundry – it was a lifesaver being able to wash our clothes midway during the trip. While we were waiting we explored the campus.
IMG_20190505_164508There was a slide in the cafeteria.IMG_20190505_164706And a fireman’s pole in one of the lounges.
MVIMG_20190505_171216And a reminder that everyone in Switzerland speaks like, 5 languages.
There were also work pods made out of old ski gondolas. I guess the one on the left was garden themed and the one on the right was fruit themed.MVIMG_20190505_165100Inclusive toilets! Mermaids, superheroes and aliens welcome.
IMG_20190505_162303More cool work pods and a very stylish alligator: MVIMG_20190505_171016One of the cafeterias:
MVIMG_20190505_190222There were also a ton of lounges. James said the pods and lounges aren’t really that heavily used in the offices he’s worked in, but the Zurich office was really overcrowded (until the new offices are finished I guess) so they were always packed.

I think this was called the Sky Lounge or something like that:
MVIMG_20190505_170036The James Bond lounge (don’t get too excited – the bottles were empty):MVIMG_20190505_191119Though it did have a secret door.
IMG_20190508_090548We didn’t find it ourselves – someone showed James later.

Me: Ooh, what was behind the secret door?
James: More lounge.


There was also a Star Wars room:
MVIMG_20190505_191703And a Western themed one:
IMG_20190505_191355With swinging saloon doors. This lounge ain’t big enough for the two of us …IMG_20190505_191345I don’t remember the theme of this one, but it had a micro kitchen, slack line, climbing rope, basketball hoop and work pods. IMG_20190505_171543A Google office isn’t complete without the lego room and pool table. It’s hard to see but along the bottom of the display wall in the back there ws a trough spanning the length of the room with lego pieces you could use for your masterpiece.MVIMG_20190505_191926A water lounge – intriguing! And vacant!
IMG_20190505_165658 Ooooooh.IMG_20190505_165603Oh, this was really cool. You could order groceries by scanning the QR codes on the wall and get them sent to the office.
IMG_20190505_192440I think the shopping trolleys are normally filled with snacks and fruits. In the back right you can also see one of the many Movenpick ice cream fridges scattered around the office. I always like looking through the snacks because they seem like a window into the local culture – in the Zurich office the snacks seemed to mainly be chocolate (usually Swiss, but some American brands too) or healthy things like dried fruit and nuts.

Drawers full of chocolate:
IMG_20190505_170219Oh yeah, and the bread! James had been told by one of his colleagues that one of the most memorable things about the Zurich office was how much bread there was. She said there were always bread knives and random loaves of bread lying around which, even on the weekend, was true.

This is the picture James took to send her lol:
IMG_20190505_170115But yeah, Zurich was one of the nicer Google offices I’ve seen. I’m glad we visited it on a Sunday afternoon when nobody was there so we got to explore it properly. And how convenient that we were able to do our laundry at the same time. =)

The Big Europe Trip: Villa Honegg

20 Aug

After several days of nonstop walking, James and I were ready just to laze around for awhile. Which was awesome because the next portion of our trip was two nights in a suuuuper fancy hotel near Lucerne.

Our room:IMG_20190503_145542Our view: IMG_20190503_145558After we got settled we went to check out the pool. It was awesome and had a fantastic view of Lake Lucerne. The only possible improvement? A pool beer.IMG_20190503_155805I liked the spa stations and James liked the giant taps.
IMG_20190503_153021This photo I just really like.MVIMG_20190503_163829Also this is the colder indoor pool that nobody ever used: IMG_20190504_073607We had dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was nice but expensive. We tried some Swiss wine and agreed that we weren’t huge fans.

The next morning we headed to the pool again for a pre-breakfast soak. It was really beautiful seeing the sun rise and the fog creep over the lake.
MVIMG_20190504_062411It was just us and one other couple and they very nicely took this photo of us:
MVIMG_20190504_062839 Help! He’s fallen and he can’t get up! IMG_20190504_061931We headed to the dining room for breakfast and in the afternoon we went for a light hike nearby. IMG_20190504_124645 Switzerland is so very lovely. The lake! The snow-capped mountains! The green! The cows!IMG_20190504_124903On the walk up we were delighted, absolutely delighted, to see these two cows standing butt to butt: IMG_20190504_140305It was raining lightly on our hike but it wasn’t too bad since we were prepared with rain jackets and hiking boots. Also we got to see this beautiful, overcast view of Lake Lucerne: IMG_20190504_125729-PANOWe also visited the Hammetschwand Elevator, which is the highest elevator in Europe. IMG_20190504_132845We took it to the bottom, plummeting 152.8 meters in less than a minute. We wanted to take it back up but it cost 13 CHF each, which we didn’t think was worth it when we’d already done it for free.

We continued the hike and found a bunch of hotels/spas where there was also this cool bridge: IMG_20190504_153540 Also this big guy came running at us out of nowhere, looking for pats, and James initially freaked out because he thought it was a wolf. IMG_20190504_151027James: He was a good dog all along. It was wrong of me to judge.
Me: Based on his running speed.
James: And his wolfy face.

There were some nice tunnels and caves on our way back.MVIMG_20190504_144509 I asked James if the cliff edge scared him (like the wolf dog) since he doesn’t like heights, and he said yes. You can see him keeping a nice, safe distance.IMG_20190504_135245Later in the afternoon when we were hanging out at the pool – we were there a lot – it started snowing! MVIMG_20190504_181518It was gentle, soft flakes in the afternoon and in the evening after dinner the snow really started pelting down.

It was magical and we had the best time. (We were also very pleased that we’d finished our hike before the weather turned). James kept fetching handfuls of snow from outside the pool and bringing them in the water because he liked feeling them melt.

The next morning was even more incredible. The snow had stopped at some point during the night but it was enough to blanket the area.IMG_20190505_115843We swam around for awhile, then showered and had breakfast.

The hotel had these enormous faux fur coats and wearing them made us feel like Russian gangsters.IMG_20190505_122034James surveying his domain.
It was a good morning for sunbathing.
MVIMG_20190505_122412 Touch the snow!
00000PORTRAIT_00000_BURST20190505123844345Then it was time to leave. =( We admired the beautiful view one last time on our picturesque drive back to Ennetburgen:
James was really excited that you could see a pretty clear line between where the snow had fallen the night before and where it hadn’t (you can also see it in the sunbathing picture above).

Reinvigorated by our lazy weekend, we got on a bus and train towards Zurich, where James had several days of work and I had several days of solo travel!

The Big Europe Trip: Val de Travers

13 Aug

The original plan for this day was to hike to the Creux du Van (a natural rock amphitheater in Val de Travers), then hike back and take the train to the town of Motiers, birthplace of absinthe. However we woke up feeling pretty exhausted from the previous day, and while James was having his morning shower, I decided to rent bikes so we could cycle there instead of walking. Genius!

It was convenient because the bike rental place was right at the train station. The start of the bike ride was through some nice flat farmland, where James was very excited about these sheep.
MVIMG_20190502_094538After the nice flat farmland we then climbed 2263 fucking feet. Even with the electric assist it was brutal.

It was overcast and when we reached the Creux du Van it had started to rain. The view of the amphitheater:
IMG_20190502_113326The view looking out:

The rain and cold made the bike ride back pretty excruciating. I was shivering nonstop and my hands were so cold I couldn’t feel them.

Also we got lost – like, really lost – wheeling our bikes on a mountain bike trail in between fallen trees, cow pats and patches of snow kind of lost. And it was still raining and still so, so cold. Finally we came across some sort of mini brewery or vineyard and I was able to ask for directions (in French!) and get us back on track.

We returned the bikes and took the train to Motiers. We were freezing and wet, and both of us independently considered just heading back to the hotel. Luckily we persevered because it ended up being really fun!

We looked around the absinthe museum (free with the Swiss Travel Pass) and did some tastings at Maison de l’Absinthe. They were insanely cheap – $6 for three tastings.IMG_20190502_165614 The lady who worked there was so lovely and helpful. James was curious about another absinthe and she just poured an extra tasting for him.

The wall of absinthe – we could pick any three to taste. We each did a traditional green absinthe, a blue one, and one that was high in thujone.IMG_20190502_170524James tried the stronger-tasting absinthes:
IMG_20190502_165507 And I tried the milder ones: IMG_20190502_165337James bought a couple of high-thujone absinthe since you can’t get those in the US. The lady also gave him an absinthe spoon (he could pick between the glass and the spoon and figured the spoon was easier to transport).

Sitting inside and drinking really warmed us up! It was definitely a tougher day than we were expecting, but now (having forgotten how cold and painful it was) I look back on it pretty fondly. =D