Fall In Love in Bruges!

We took the easy train ride from Brussels to Bruges, which took a little over an hour, and after less than a ten minute cab ride, we arrived at the Hotel Casselbergh, which was our oasis inside the romantic city of Bruges.  With a gym and spa that included a sauna and steam room and an area to relax that was free for all guests, it was nice to take time out to rejuvenate after running around in the cold for a few days.  The rooms were modern and the beds comfortable!  You can also enjoy the delicious buffet breakfast with an array of breads, jams, lox, cheeses, as well as your traditional items you’d find at home.  

Before I traveled to Belgium, everyone was asking me if I was going to go to Bruges and said I needed to see the movie, “In Bruges.”  I can now see why it was the setting for this and many other movies.  The city is comprised of Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic architecture and has a deep history which you can learn about through one of the city tours or purchasing a 48 city pass that allows you to explore the museums and historical sites for either free or a discounted price.   When the weather is nice, you must enjoy a canal ride around the city and don’t forget to stop by the Minnewater, where the beautiful Bruges swans hang out. Because of the beautiful surroundings, it is mostly referred to as “the lake of love,” the Dutch word “Minne” meaning love.

With many romantic accommodations ranging from your traditional hotels to bed and breakfasts to suites in larger mansions, you’ll find the perfect place to make your stay special.

In additional to the historical and beautiful sites, there are probably more chocolate shops per square mile than anywhere I’ve ever been.  Lace is also popular in Bruges and many stores carry very nice handmade items.  If you are looking for any kind of beer or beer glass, check out the 2be store for all your chocolate, beer and honey needs! 

The food in Bruges was spectacular.  For lunch we enjoyed a traditional Flemish dish of beef stew, perfect after walking around during the cold winter day.  Dinner was at Restaurant Cafedraal which was also the setting for the fight scene in the movie, “In Bruges.”   I think that dinner was one of the best meals I had while in Belgium and the service (we had Igor as our server) was really friendly and personable.  I had oysters from France that were so plump and yummy and then the cod with steamed vegetables that just fell off the fork into my mouth so smoothly!  My friend had the bouillabaisse and as an appetizer, a dish consisting a homemade pasta, fresh tomatoes, Spanish ham and grated parmesan cheese.  I am not a huge beer drinker, but of course when in Belgium, one must try the local brews.  I decided to go with a cherry beer called Liefmans, which has been around since the 1600s but can only be found here, and for someone who doesn’t like beer, it was a great option!  My friend opted for the Duvel.  

So if you are looking for a charming, romantic getaway with great food, ambiance and people, definitely put Bruges on your list and enjoy a perfect mix of exploring, eating, drinking and relaxing!  To find out more about Bruges, please visit www.visitflanders.us

Brusselicious 2012: more than just chocolate and waffles!

Since arriving in Brussels on Thursday morning, I have been to tastings, cooking demonstrations, and have been eating and eating and eating.  Today was the kickoff of Brusselicious 2012, the year of gastronomy hear in Brussels and I can’t think of any better time to visit than now to take advantage of the incredible talent of so many of the local chefs.   You may have been to a Belgium restaurant at home and enjoyed the frites or extensive varieties of beers, but nothing compares to the staples such as chocolate made on premise at a quaint shop, the true Belgian waffle you can get on the street (there are two kinds…one from Brussels and one from Leige and you must try both!), the mussels and french fries, croquettes and cheeses.  Today we had a cooking demonstration for lunch, in which a few top chefs in the area showed us how they made their magic, all incorporating brussels sprouts, and of course we got to eat what was made, which was delicious!  The dishes included everything healthy and simple but creative options from the top restaurant, Lola,  to more creamy  creations from the fine Italian restaurants.  Dinner was prepared by Michelin star rated chefs and the mixture of taste and creativity made for a mouthwatering experience of seafood and meat dishes.

Throughout Brussels, there are many cheese, pastry,  and chocolate shops and stands to grab a quick croquette or waffle.  You can do your own eating and walking tour and eat all day!  Another option is a tram experience in which you can take a two hour tour around the city while enjoying fine dining and drinks all for just 75 Euros, which will include the tour, your upscale meal, two glasses of white and red wine and champagne.

While in Brussels, we stayed at the Royal Windsor Hotel, which was centrally located and comfortable, with a gym and delicious breakfast buffet offered.  The hotel’s breakfast was part of the 20 hotels offering a Brusselicious breakfast, which included at least eight local items, such as a Saint Love jam from the town of Durbuy, actually the smallest city in the world and the jam is all made in one home with some very interesting combinations.  With all of the eating and drinking, every morning I had high hopes of working it off, but instead the breakfast buffet and tastings won out!  

While there is a lot to do in Brussels, you may also opt to take a quick train ride of about one hour to another fun city, Leige.  In Leige, we stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which I highly recommend!  As a historical site, a good part of its original architecture was preserved but the rooms are ultra modern with very comfortable beds and amenities.  They also have a comprehensive gym and spa facility, which again I chose eating instead of working out, so unfortunately, did not get to partake.

The restaurants and nightlife in Leige are a lot of fun.  During the day, you can take a walking tour of the historical city or go shopping, and at night, try dishes such as the boulet de liege or boulet liegois, which are meatballs under a sauce consisting of a regional spread made from apples and pears.  It is absolutely to die for!  We also tried the frog legs, which were actually very good ( not like the kind you get off the Chinese buffet in the U.S!)  We went to Bistrot d’en Face for dinner and for after dinner drinks, you must try some of the local gin like liquor, known as genever, at a place called Maison du Peket.  They mix the liquor with various fruits from kiwi to lemon and then light them on a fire.  At first, the thought of a flame going down my throat as I sucked the shot out through a straw frightened me, but you know what they say, when in Belgium….!  Let’s just say it added a bit of a warmth going down and I don’t understand how the bachelor party I was hanging out with were able to down one after another. 

The next day it was back to Brussels for a stay at the Dominican Hotel, which was a hip, very comfortable hotel with a nice bar, lounge area and gym.  It was convenient to everything and the breakfast was terrific!  For our last dinner, we enjoyed more of the food we were able to sample at the tasting a few days earlier from the phenomenal chefs at Lola, a perfect way to end what was a terrific few days in Brussels and Leige!

If you are deciding where your next trip will be, definitely check out Belgium and start in Brussels.  If you are like me and enjoy eating your way through a country, you will more than enjoy your time here!  There are some exciting things going on throughout 2012, so check out their websites to read all about Belgium and the many gastronomy events!  www.visitbelgium.com or www.visitbelgium.com/belgianbites


Waffles, Chocolate and Beer…Welcome to Belgium!

I flew out to Brussels Wednesday evening for  “Brusselicious 2012,” the year Belgium is showcasing the gastronomy of the region.  The kick off of the event starts today, but we already  got a head start yesterday with a chocolate workshop and tasting with Laurent Gerbaud at his delicious chocolate shop.  It was the perfect afternoon activity to cure the jetlag.  While sipping an espresso and tasting the various chocolate covered fruits, chocolates mixed with nuts, learning about the three different types of chocolate and the importance of making chocolate with the finest ingredients with very little sugar, I was quickly on a high and enjoying Brussels already!  Laurent’s shop is a must visit, as he has quite the background and when you go in, you should ask him how he got started and where his career has taken him up until opening this shop a couple of years ago.  He’s quite interesting, extremely friendly, and a very talented chocolatier!

After the tasting, I explored the city with visits to the musical instrument and Jewish museum.  At the musical instrument museum, one can plug in and listen to instruments from many different eras from all around the world.  The Jewish museum was also neat, but all in French, and I unfortunately never studied French,  so I could just look at everything, but didn’t always know what I was looking at.  However, it was still very interesting to see.

The shops around Brussels range from your typical souvenir stores to quaint European boutiques.  There are markets most days of the week including a fruit and vegetable and seafood market, as well as a tradition flea market with second hand goods.

As I was beginning to crash from my chocolate and caffeine high, and the jet lag was setting in, it was time for dinner and of course I had to have the traditional mussels and frites at the restaurant, “Taverne du Passage,” where we also sampled some incredible appetizers local to Belgium.  They make their own mayo which can be used with the french fries, a shrimp and tomato appetizer we enjoyed, and just about anything else you’d like to spread it on.  It’s definitely not your jar of mayo you’re used to in the states.  As I was walking the streets after dinner to see the famous Manneken Pis (a fountain of a  young boy who is doing his thing: there are a few theories as to the meaning behind him), I passed some incredible waffle places, and if I wasn’t so full from dinner, I would have gladly tasted any one of them.  However, today is another day!  Unfortunately, the fountain was not flowing, because it is just that cold here.  It’s not usually this cold in Brussels, but a lot of Europe is currently experiencing a cold snap.

I’m about to run off to a Brussel Sprouts cooking workshop and lunch and will report more later as well as add pictures!

A Viennese Fairytale

It was just two days after I got back from Ecuador and I was back on an international flight out of JFK, this time on Austrian Airlines.  I don’t usually come back from one trip and turnaround for another, but when I heard that it was ball season in Vienna and I would have the opportunity to attend a real life ball, I had to go.  Just saying I was going to the ball sounded so elegant and intriguing to me.  Was I going to meet my Prince Charming in one of the most romantic cities in the world?   While this is ball season and one can attend a few balls in a week if they had the time and money, we attended the most popular one, the Coffeehouse Owner’s Ball at the Imperial Palace.  From the beginning of our trip, we started preparing for our ball experience.  On Thursday, we had the honor of taking a waltzing lesson at one of the most prestigious dance studios in Vienna, “Elmayer.”  Since the “Golden Twenties,” Elmayer has combined manners and dancing to teach children and adults of all ages.  They base their lessons on the traditional Austrian Imperial system.   Considering I’ve never waltzed once in my life, I picked up some of the basic steps and turns rather quickly.  However, when it actually came time to put them to the test at the ball, well that was a whole other story!  I’ll tell you about that later!

Friday afternoon before the big night, we browsed around Popp and Kretschmer, a dress shop that carries gowns imported from around the world.  Of course, I had to play dress up and immediately spotted this gorgeous  poofy green gown. I had never worn anything like it before and thought about how fun it would’ve been to wear to the ball.  If only I had $3,370 Euros  (over $5,000).

Back at the luxurious Imperial Hotel, which I should mention was the perfect place to stay for our fairytale trip, it was time to get ready for the 53rd annual Coffeehouse Owners’ Ball.   I slipped on my long black gown and heels, twirled my hair up and back with curls on the top of my head, put on my sparkling lipstick and headed downstairs and was greeted by a gentleman with his…get this… horse and carriage!  I stepped up with the assistance of Nicholas, the perfect gentleman, our Vienna guide, and my soon to be dance partner for the evening.

We arrived at the Imperial Palace and it was like walking into a red carpet event, but I imagine much more elegant and spectacular.  Magnificent Chandeliers were glimmering as debutantes in their long white dresses and guests in their gowns and tails filed in and up the long staircase and stopped to have their picture taken by the professional photographer.   Once inside, Nicholas took me around the palace, which took more than an hour, and we just saw about a third of the rooms!  The Spanish riding school, which usually houses Lipizzaner horses, was enchanting.  We walked around the perimeter on the third level and then made it downstairs to the dance floor.  While there were over 10 bands and the orchestra in various rooms, we rotated between the marble room and the adjacent ballroom, the riding school, and the main ballroom where the opening ceremony took place which featured the State Opera Ballet, the Opera Ball Orchestra, the debutantes, many guest performers.   At the end of the opening ceremony, the master of ceremonies announced, “Alles Waltzer” which means “Everyone Waltz!”  This is when everyone joins the debutantes in the first waltz to the Blue Danube.   I was excited and nervous at the same time to put my new dance steps to work.   However, that all went out the window real quickly and Nicolas spun me around the dance floor and kept spinning and spinning and spinning me!  At that point, it was a matter of how hard I could hold onto his arm so I wouldn’t fall on my face in front of everyone in my long gown!  That is when I realized how cool it is that most Austrians start taking dance lessons at such a young age.   Now I have a new goal…sign up for ballroom dancing classes.   Even when we danced the Samba, Nicholas said he was faking it, but he had me twirling out and back into his arms so quickly…probably the best and most fun I’ve had dancing.  At midnight, it was time for the Publekums’ quadrille, a dance they do at midnight and 2am in which we did a sought of square dance and polka.  Again, no idea what I was doing, but I had a blast doing it.  At one point, everyone made a tent with his or her arms and we ran through before joining the end of the chain.

At about 2am, the music was getting even better and my body wanted to keep dancing but my sore feet had something else in mind, so we made our way back outside where the horse and carriages were lined up waiting to take us to the Landtmann Café for a delicious bowl of goulash soup and a beer, a tradition among ball goers.  The Landtmann Café dates back to the 19th century and was a great place to unwind.  As we sat down, the pianist was playing  “Michelle” by the Beatles, which made me smile…what a great ending to my night of feeling like royalty.

The next day I decided to take my sore feet and hamstrings to the Hotel Sacher and indulge in a thirty minute chocolate body scrub.  After the scrub and lotion, I relaxed in their spa, which had a sauna, steam room and thermal steam room with herbs, which was very relaxing.  For the rest of the night, I smelled all chocolaty which made me want to have even more chocolate, as if I hadn’t already been enjoying way too much (or is there such a thing?).  I had already treated myself to a few of the Imperial Hotel’s tortes, which were like heaven in my mouth with the layers of chocolate and marzipan.  After and incredible ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet at the State Opera House that night, I tried the Sacher Torte, which is reportedly the original torte of Vienna and this one which was made with dark chocolate and it was simply orgasmic.   The guy in the coat check told us it had 800 calories in it, but we got a smaller cube, so I’m guessing it was around half that, or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.  Whatever it contained, it was well worth it!

In addition to being such a romantic city, Vienna is definitely a hip fun place to walk about and shop.  From your typical souvenir shops selling Mozart candy to the noble and glass chandelier maker Lobmeyr, you’ll find it all in the first district.  The naschmarkt is a great food market to walk through.  It opens early and has a few popular staples like the vinegar man from Gegenbauer selling everything from tomato to elderberry to Riesling vinegar and making his own coffee across the way.  You can find a huge selection of dried fruit and nuts and delicious falafel.  If you have a group of ten or more, a fun activity would be to visit the kitchen at the Palais Todesco and learn how to make apple strudel.  It is more difficult than you might think getting the dough perfectly thin and spread out without making a hole!  The Gerstner confectioners showed us how to make the Mozart balls and we decorated our own chocolate tortes, and of course they didn’t need to show us how to enjoy our creations when all the work was done.    Other stops we made on the trip included the Austrian Gallery Belvedere, a beautiful garden palace and museum, the Schoenbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs, and the Imperial Crypt.

For our last Viennese meal, we had a Tafelspitz dinner at Plachutta, which I would highly recommend if you love beef.  We were given the option of over a dozen boiled beef specialties from Schulterscherzl to Tafelsptiz, with a diagram of the cow and with options ranging from the really meaty parts to the fat-free sections,  I say if you’re going for the meal, go all out.  The fat-free just couldn’t compare.  It was first time eating bone marrow as well, and while I know it was fatty, it was yummy and supposedly very healthy for you.

I spent four full days in Vienna and while I thought it might not be enough time, we saw and experienced so much in such a short time.  These are memories that will last a lifetime and for a brief period of time, I was starring in my own real life fairytale and one that I think everyone should experience as some point in their lives.

Nice was SO Nice!

img_5341After our time in Montpellier, we took the EuRail to Nice.  I love the EuRail…it’s such a great feeling that you can go anywhere in Europe with a simple train ride.  However, that day, the EuRail employees decided to go on strike and it took us a bit longer to get to Nice.  They advise reserving a seat on the train before going as they tend to fill up.  Our train was filled to the max, but I’m not sure how it would’ve been if everyone wasn’t trying to get on the one train to Nice that day.  

Everything was really convenient.  img_5237When we arrived at the Nice Rail Station, the rental car companies were right there.  While EuRail makes stops along the coast, we decided to rent a car so we could drive up into the mountains to the Medieval Villages and we wouldn’t be locked into a schedule.  We made Nice our home base, as it’s central to Cannes, Monaco, Antibes, and villages like Saint Paul de Vence and Eze.  We even had a chance to drive into Italy to San Remo.  

There are so many options when it comes to accommodations in Nice.  No matter whatyour budget  is, you can find a great place to stay right in the center of town.  We decided to split our stay at two different hotels.   img_51151The Palais de La Mediterrranee, a Concorde Hotel, is a spectacular property  located on the Promenade des Anglais.  Overlooking the beautiful blue Mediterranean, and a few minutes from Old City, the hotel has been a symbol of the French Riviera for over 80 years.  While Palais de la Mediterranee is a luxurious and contemporary hotel, it retains its most symbolic features such as the monumental facade, and has been listed as a historical monument since 1989.   It also has a great casino, a turkish bath, pool, sauna, gym, and a great restaurant, which serves a delicious buffet breakfast including various breads and  pastries, dried and fresh fruit, salmon,  popular Nice dishes such as ratatouille, and fresh squeezed juices.  While it may be a bit of a splurge for some, I highly recommend staying here if you can.

As I mentioned, there are so many wonderful places to stay right in the heart of Nice.  img_5317So if your budget doesn’t allow you to stay right on the promenade, there is a terrific hotel just a few blocks in from the water.  If you are like me who was out from morning until night and only used the hotel to sleep and for breakfast, Hotel Brice is the perfect answer.  Set back in a beautiful garden setting, the hotel is priced very reasonably and also has a nice buffet breakfast.  The front desk is very helpful with directions and things to do.   You can also stop into the Nice Tourism Office located on the promenade, just a few steps down from the Palais de la Mediterranee.

img_5157There is so much to do in Nice and the surrounding Riviera region.  I would give yourself at least five days in the area, so you can enjoy each place and not feel rushed to see everything.  While it was neat to see Cannes, the home of the famous film festival, and the neighboring coastal towns including Antibes, Juan les Pins, and Monaco (you must go to the Monte Carlo casino!), I enjoyed the character of Nice the most.  Its feel was both French and Italian with a wide array of shops, restaurants, museums, and attractions.  Definitely walk to Castle Hill  and take the stairs to the top.  It offers spectacular views of the Riviera and Nice.  The water was so buoyant and wonderful to swim in.  However, I wish I knew to bring my rock shoes.   Instead of sand, the beach is layered in rocks, which can be painful walking from your towel to the water!  Be sure to check out the local fruit and vegetable, flower, and fish markets.  img_5209 The food and wine was spectacular.  Some of the  local dishes you should try are of course the  salade nicoise, pan-bagnats, ratatouille, and  pissaladiere, an onion tart with anchovy fillets and black olives.   We also ate a lot of gelato, and it was delicious everywhere! 

 There are direct flights on Delta from NY to Nice or plenty of connections through Paris on Air France, which is what we did.    So if you’re looking for a getaway mixed with romance, relaxation, and exploration, the French Riviera is calling!

My Own Montpellier Adventure

These past two days have been full of activity in Montpellier. After all, what fun would it be to watch an extreme sports festival and not try out any of the sports on our own? Yesterday, we took a wakeboarding lesson and rode a foot bike. img_4949_1The last few times I had been water skiing, I never quite made it up long enough to ride the waves, so I didn’t know what the outcome of this would be, but to my surprise and thrill, I made it up after falling two times and stayed up on the board for the length of the pool. Yes, we did it in the pool rather than the ocean, which was probably good since we were all first timers. It was such a freeing and exhilarating feeling when grabbing the chord and standing up on the board. The two time kite boarding world champion, Sebastian Garat was in attendance and he put on a great demonstration for us. img_4968_11We also had the opportunity to ride a foot bike, which was a lot of fun. The next day we took a trip to Herault, about a half an hour outside of Montpellier where we had the option to scale some mountains, also known as ferretta with the Aupalya Cevennes Agency in Saint Bauzille de Putois. After a hike up with our harnesses and helmets, we were shown how to walk along a thin wooden piece while clipping our harnesses on and off the string above. I usually am a pretty adventurous person, but all of a sudden I found myself overcome with fear to the point of tears. I’m not quite sure why I was so scared, as I’ve rock climbed and repelled before. img_50101Maybe it was the fact of walking along the side of the mountain rather than up and down. However, the rest of the group loved their experience which included a few zip lines and cave exploration. After a delicious lunch, we went canoeing through some fierce rapids, which was a ton of fun, except for the time that the canoe hit a rock that we couldn’t move and I went flying out and hit my foot against the rock and then preceded to get dragged down, hitting rock after rock before getting back on the boat. That’s when I realized why they tell you to wear sneakers! All in all, it was a great day and a lot of fun!

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Magnifique Montpellier

img_48471In the center of town in the tourism office where you can find all the information you need about Montpellier and you can rent bikes for free through their network of free public bikes called velomagg. Today we took a wonderful ride through the city and onto bike paths which led us to the beautiful Chateau de Flaguergues, an 18th century castle and wine-making facility, where we had a picnic lunch from the fruit, bread and cheese we picked out earlier at the local Halles Laissac market. img_4868After lunch, we took a tour of the castle where Count and Countess Colbert, the owners of the vineyard, live and strolled through the beautiful French, English and Iranian gardens surrounding the property.


After biking back into town, we strolled through the market and then went to watch the FISE extreme sports festival, the largest European free-style sport competition, which is back for its 13th edition with BMX racing, skateboarding, slope-style mountain biking and wakeboarding. In the streets of Montpellier, even those not competing are extreme sports athletes this weekend. People are jumping their skateboards and popping img_4918wheelies on their bikes, and everyone else, drinking beer and lining the banks of the Lez, hooting and hollering for their favorite competitor.    


Dinner was at a beautifully quaint restaurant called L’ Artichaut in the historic section of the city. On a block off of the main center of town, it offers a quiet and relaxing setting for either indoor or outdoor seating. And yes, the artichokes in the lamb dish are delicious. After a delicious dessert of chocolate and a mango smoothie and raspberry crumble, I was stuffed to the brim and ready for bed. The walk back to the hotel was beautiful as the historic city was lit up and the streets were bustling with people enjoying crepes and gelato.



We Made it to Montpellier!

img_4789I love traveling, but absolutely despise the traffic you may get caught in on your way to the airport. I was so afraid we were going to miss the flight as the gate closed at 6 and we were still sitting on the Van Wyck in route to JFK Airport at 5:55. I was freaking out, to say the least. However, I called the gate and they were so nice to hold it open until 6:05 and at 6:04, I ran to the ticket counter…we made it! And not only did we make it, but we had the opportunity to upgrade to business class because of our type of ticket. I went from being completely frazzled to utterly relaxed and comfortable on my Air France flight to Paris, which would then connect to Montpellier.

img_4786I was so excited to find out that my seat reclined into a bed with a push of a button. Since France is ahead by six hours, when we arrived, it was going to be time to start the day, so sleep was very important and I was so happy this time I wouldn’t have to struggle with the perfect position so that my neck wouldn’t end up in my lap. All the flight attendants on the Air France flight were so friendly and the food was delicious! We had an appetizer of foie gras with chutney and an assortment of breads and cheeses. The main course was snapper with greens and potatoes, and for dessert, a peach tart.

After arriving in Montpellier, we dropped our luggage and made a quick run to lunch in the middle of town. This weekend in Montpellier there is the international extreme sports festival, so the entire city is packed with locals and international tourists, mostly college students and younger. The city itself has a fairly young demographic all year around and has a constant buzz. img_4790It’s a creative city with beautiful architecture in the historic center. Comedie Square is in the center of it all with the beautiful opera house as the backdrop and this weekend, there is a book market as well as a craft fair with artisans selling everything including hats, earrings, shoes, bags, and plenty of bread and cheese. We took a tour of the Fabre Museum, which is the premiere art museum of Montpellier and features works from some of the most famous artists in the world. It takes you from the Renaissance Era through Romanticism, Impressionism right up into today’s contemporary art and into present. img_4803

For dinner, we took the tram to the Odysseum, which is the newer section of Montpellier. In the Odysseum, there is an aquarium, ice skating ring, planetarium, go-carting, bowling, a rock climbing facility and several restaurants including Les 3 Brasseuer, a brewery of local French beer. It was a long, but great day and I’m looking forward to going to the market tomorrow and seeing a bit of the countryside.

Magnificent Mt. Pilatus

mt-pilatus1For anyone planning a trip to Lucerne, you must take a trip to Mt. Pilatus. While you can get there by train if you’re on a tight schedule, I’d recommend taking the catamaran across Lake Lucerne, which is a beautiful ride as the mountains surround you. The boat drops you off right where the railroad ride up the mountain begins. And what a ride it was! It is the steepest cog railroad in the world and takes you right along the snow that’s still on the mountains. After you step off the cog railway, you can hike up the stairs of the mountain for about ten minutes and arrive at the top of Mt. Pilatus which offers spectacular scenic views and great photo opportunities. mt-pilatus3When you’ve spent enough time to enjoy this all, you can stop for a great cheese fondue lunch at one of the few restaurants on the mountain before taking a cable car back down. You have the option of stopping halfway down to go tobogganing, tree walking, or mt-pilatus4ziplining in very well set up activity area on the mountain, perfect for even the younger hikers. Then at your leisure, step into an individual cable car for your smooth ride down the rest of the mountain, allowing for full 360 degree views all the way to the bottom.

After you exit, you can take a quick bus ride back to Lucerne. We chose to take the bus to Lucerne and then hop on a train to Zurich. That’s the beauty of the Swiss Pass, which you must get if you are planning a trip to Switzerland. For one price, you can ride all of the trains, buses, boats, get a fifty percent discount off most of the mountain-top cable cars and trams, and access to over 400 museums. We didn’t have much time left in the day, but I wanted to see Zurich, so with the trains arriving every half an hour, it was really easy to hop on, spend a few hours checking out Zurich’s city zurich2center, and be back in enough time for dinner in Lucerne. Our farewell dinner was held at the restaurant at the beautiful Romantik Hotel Wilden Mann, where we stayed for our time in Lucerne. The hotel extends along seven buildings in the historic Old City of Lucerne. Each of the fifty hotel rooms has it’s own unique character. The hotel was first mentioned in Old Lucerne in 1517, and then again in 1529 as a pub without a license to operate as a tavern. The main building was originally a washhouse and the stables were removed from the ground floor when the Wilden Mann was listed as a hotel in 1860. To top it off, it’s right near one of many of Lucerne’s cathedrals, so with your window open, you can enjoy a cool breeze as you listen to the beautiful church bells ring throughout the city.

Beautiful Biosphere in Entlebuch

Based on what I’ve experienced these past few days, there’s no question Switzerland is beautiful. However, today we got to experience a gorgeous and peaceful piece of paradise – The UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch. img_9408They were awarded this status by the UN in 2001. The region contains the largest and most diverse moor landscapes in Switzerland and is home to a significant variety of flora and fauna. About 17,000 people live in the eight municipalities that make up the Biosphere. A walk through the biosphere allows visitors to get a first hand natural look at a large scale effort of sustainability. It won the 2008 “To Do!” Award for socially responsible tourism as the model region for sustainable living and working. moorAlong the peaceful hike, we had the opportunity to walk in some moor, a cool mud which made our feet feel wonderful afterwards. In the Biosphere, there marked hiking trails to get you even closer to nature.

cowsWe also spent time with some adorable cows. They came right up to us and as we started walking away, they followed right behind with their cowbells clanking away. It was really sweet. The cows weren’t the only friendly ones. In the sheep farm, the sheep were very anxious to come say hi and slober all over your hand if you let it.  The happiness and comfort of the animals in Switzerland is something paramount, and local residents claim they can firmly tell the difference between eating all natural, free-ranging grass fed animals of their home country than when it is imported from elsewhere…. Speaking of food,  lunch was at a fabulous restaurant in town, Restaurant Bahnhofli, which was a suprising treat just adjacent to the Entlebuch train station.

After the biosphere, we headed out to Beckenried by train and bus and returned by boat to see a typical Swiss wrestling match, or “Schwingen,” the Swiss National sport.  wrestlingThere’s nothing better than watching sweaty guys tackle each other in saw dust. The crowd was a show in itself consisting of everyone from young kids enjoying ice cream to elders in their wheelchairs. There were yodelers, drunk guys screaming sounds I’ve never heard at any game in the states, and food vendors of all kinds selling all kinds of sausage and Bratkase, a piece of toast smothered with inches of roclette cheese. Of course we had to try one of these and it was phenomenal!

Dinner was at Hotel des Balances, and the atmosphere was classy with a gorgeous setting overlooking the water. You can opt for indoor or outdoor seating. The food was great and the chocolate cake with sparklers they surprised me with for my birthday was perfectly delicious!birthday-cake

After dinner, we walked around Lucerne to find a cool bar. Some of the people in the group had ducked into a bar next to our hotel and suggested I go in and check it out. I did and made a comment that all these guys and even a woman were giving me the once over. They all laughed because I didn’t realize it was bar for guys looking for a little action in the brothel behind it. I later found out prostitution is legal in Switzerland. Of course once I found that out, I had to go back in for another look! Details will be discussed on “After Hours!”

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