Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Swissotel Zurich

After spending time in Italy, we took a train to Zurich Saturday night and stayed in the Swissotel Zurich. We arrived late in the evening, and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice the hotel was. (It was voted the best hotel of the year - or something along those lines; I don't remember exactly). But it was definitely nice!

But when we got there, Laura heard from a friend who was in Switzerland at the time that a simple meal there (for lunch!) cost the equivalent of $25-30. We realized that we were a bit tired, and we were at the end of our trip and the end of our money, so we pooled our resources to get this:

We joked that we could eat only what you see in this picture for all of our time in Zurich, and we would be okay!

We did find a Burger King, (where combo meals were $12-13), and we were able to eat there for under $10 by ordering the "junior burger," which was plenty of food for me! I do have a funny story, though. I ordered "country potatoes," which were potato-wedge fries, and I learned that I had to buy ketchup. That was okay. But then they gave me sour cream for free. I guess I was supposed to dip my potato fries in that! I think I ate at the Burger King three times! (I stayed there three nights).

We decided to take a vacation in our hotel. I guess that would be a hotelcation??! We downloaded a few movies and watched them, and we took advantage of what our hotel offered!

We slept in Sunday morning, but we ventured out in the afternoon. Here are a few of the things we saw. A nice building with some window boxes of flowers

Another cool building

This grocery store, (with a great name!) was right across the street from our hotel. One day we bought some bread, tiny mozzarella cheese balls that you might put on a salad, yogurt, water, and chocolate for lunch. That was fun!

We ate here once, too. The guy who worked here was really nice to us, especially because he could tell it was our first time in this restaurant. (I'm sure we looked ridiculous as we tried to understand the sandwich menu, the pizza menu, and whatever else they had, too!) He even let Laura try a sauce to see if she would like it on some chicken.

By far, the best thing we saw near our hotel were these chess games in action! Remember, it was a Sunday afternoon. All these old people were watching two of these guys play chess! It was awesome!

But it wasn't only the old people; there were kids playing, too! We figured out that the chess pieces were kept in the benches next to the boards. There were more boards, too. It was simply fantastic!

We enjoyed our Sunday afternoon walk, and then we went back to the hotel and enjoyed more of our hotelcation! There was a "Complimentary Pillow Menu," so I called and ordered a few. The only problem was that, out of the three pillows I ordered, we only got one. - And it wasn't very good. It was called a "work pillow" or something like that. It claimed to be a good pillow for working in bed. Well, I guess that's the nice, showy way to put it; it felt more like a bean-bag chair. Oh well! We still enjoyed our movies!

We also went to the top floor of the hotel and went swimming! It was actually really cool. The entire pool area was enclosed with windows. Here is the view of Zurich from the pool.

At the pool, we met some flight attendants from the States. One was from Texas, and the other was from New York. The guy from New York gave us suggestions of how to see Zurich while staying "on a budget." We took his advice and had a great time!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Walk through Verona, part 3

The rest of our Verona walk included some of my most favorite moments from our trip.

Laura and I went by a church.

Again, I liked the marble columns. This time they were all the same pattern. I guess you might not even call them columns, but I like whatever they are!

While we were enjoying the outside of the church, we heard the sounds of a piano floating through the air. So we detoured from our Rick Steves' walk, and this was absolutely one of my favorite moments!!!! We sat in a little courtyard and listened to a piano lesson - through these open windows with the green shutters. The teacher sounded like an old Italian man. I didn't hear the student speak; I just heard the student play some arpeggios - of different varieties and in different rhythms. The teacher demonstrated what he wanted, and then the student tried. I thought this was the best thing ever!!! I told Laura that she would have to let me know when she wanted to keep moving because I could have sat there all day!

Then, we looked at the entry to the building with the green shutters, and we realized that we were at a music conservatory! We walked inside just a bit. I love the old wooden door!

Finally Laura pulled me away from the conservatory and the piano lesson, and we had a great look across the Adige River.

As we walked down this street, Laura read about a good place for gelato. Since we tried to have gelato every day we were in Italy, it was natural that we stopped in for some. (The gelato place here is in the center of the picture at the far end of the street). (Right, Laura?) Rick mentioned not only the gelateria but also the owner by name and a great flavor to try: riso. So when we got there, we both sampled riso, which was really, really good. I chose to have riso and chocolate, (which ended up being too bitter for me to really enjoy), and I wanted one more scoop. (After all, it was our last day in Italy!) So I asked the guy what goes well with those flavors, and he suggested cinnamon. Cinnamon ended up being my ABSOLUTE favorite flavor of gelato on my trip!!!! It was superb!!! Also, Laura asked the older man in the gelateria if he was Mirko, (the guy mentioned by name in our book). He said yes, and Laura showed him the book. He asked if he could look at it. He said he had the 2008 edition, but he didn't have the 2009 edition. He showed it to the young guy working in the front with him, and he then took it to the back - I guess to show someone back there, too. That was fun!

We definitely enjoyed our gelato this day! Laura liked riso so much that she got two scoops of it! And then she asked what it was and was surprised to find out that she was eating - and enjoying - rice gelato so much!! We stood on the bridge overlooking the Adige and ate our gelato. What a perfect ending to the gelato we were able to enjoy in Italy!

More views from the bridge, called Ponte Pietra

We had one last stop on our walk: the Duomo of Verona. As we walked around the outside of the building, we again heard music floating towards us. (Twice in one day?!! That was awesome!) So we went inside to check it out, and we found a mini-concert of sorts going on. An organist and a violinist were playing together. The music was beautiful. A number of people were seated enjoying the informal concert, so we joined them. That was another great moment. - You know, the things you stumble upon are sometimes the best and most enjoyable!

By this time, our "90 minute walk" had turned into quite a lengthy outing, and we had to hustle back to the hotel to get our things and make it to the train station. But, back by the arena, (which was behind me as I took this picture), I did pause for a picture of the old city walls. Inside these walls is where the magic of Verona was - for me, at least.

Walk through Verona, part 2

Verona is "famous" for having Juliet's "home" in its boundaries. But it's really not the house of Juliet. It's just a really good, but false, claim to fame. Laura and I were headed towards it on our walk, (hey, why not see it, since we're there?), when we were sidetracked into a store that personalized aprons, potholders, and other items with your name - or whatever you wanted - sewn right into them. We saw a demonstration where the employee sewed our names onto pieces of paper for us, and we were taking our time deciding what to get. Then the employee suggested we go upstairs for a good view of Juliet's courtyard. So we went! The courtyard was absolutely crawling with people. People were coming out on the balcony and posing for people with cameras down below. People were posing next to the statue of Juliet. And the entire courtyard was full. But you'd never know that from my pictures!!! (I'm excited I got this photo without the crowd in it!!)

We made our purchases, and then we went into the crowded courtyard, and I was able to snap more photos quickly - between other people posing!

Statue of Juliet

Juliet's balcony

Here is a whale rib (with a little bird!) hanging from an arch! How random!

And then we made it to Palazzo della Ragione. I liked the look of the brick and the stone, especially throughout the entire square.

Laura and I took turns climbing up this staircase, looking around, and smiling for pictures, (even though you can't really see the smiles because we're too far away!)

I liked the mis-matched columns of marble.

And here are more cool arches. This time they're even color-coded!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Walk through Verona, part 1

After our memorable night at the opera, we were glad to sleep in a little bit the next day and find that the rain had finally moved on. So we went out for a walk through the town, (with the help of Rick, as always!)

This lovely area, which is adjacent to the arena, is called Piazza Bra, meaning open space in the local dialect. It was a great area with benches,

a beautiful fountain,

some statues, restaurants, and plenty of room to stroll around. And strolling is what Piazza Bra is all about, evidently. The passeggiata is the evening stroll in which many, many people participate. In the 1600s it was more to show off and be seen. Now, I imagine it as simply a nice stroll. How nice is that? - It seems like a less-hectic world than the one in which I live. Laura and I sat here and wrote some postcards to enjoy the moment.

And then we were off! I liked all the archways we saw!

I took this picture - in Italy, remember - because the license plate (from Germany) has an umlaut on it!!! That is so cool to me! (An umlaut is the symbol made up of two dots above a vowel). I LOVE license plates, and this was definitely a first for me!!

Just like I got excited about the umlaut, Laura got excited over the dalmation. She has loved dalmations for years and years, and when she saw this one, she asked me to take a picture, so I did - of the dog. She then asked if I got her in it. I hadn't. So I took another one with her being excited in it!

Here is a florist shop. I really enjoyed the serene atmosphere here.

A view down a Verona street

A view up a pretty building

Laura under another cool arch

A colorful building next to a market area

Once again, I enjoy this picture because I see tranquility here. That person on the balcony - taking a break - enjoying the view - simply lovely.

A fountain

Another winged lion! (I thought that was a Venetian thing!!)

I bought this belt from this guy. At first, I picked up lots of belts, held them up to me, and was sad because they were all the wrong size. Then the guy told me he could cut them to my size. I was sold!