Zurich is Cheesy

From Venice, we flew to Zurich. Just a short flight over the Alps, we figured we’d take advantage of the opportunity to see another city and Zurich to Paris is an easy train journey. So why not?

Where Venice is chaos, Zurich is serene calm. A beautiful, leafy city set on the stunning Lake Zurich. Surrounded by rolling foothills, it is picturesque. Arriving on a Friday night with a hotel in what seemed to be a business district surrounded by bank offices, we welcomed the quiet. But we were hungry. Looking for an authentic Swiss experience, the concierge at our hotel recommended a restaurant just outside of town called Chäsalp.

“Just a little ways outside of town” is actually a 10 minute Uber ride from the City Centre, we were grateful that Zurich is blessedly small. The Uber driver pulled into the long driveway and dropped us in what seemed like a deserted but lovely farm out in the country. It felt like heaven, even if we had no idea how we would get back to our hotel. Having been in Paris and Venice, we miss trees and we miss grass. Chäsalp has a beautiful set up, with many picnic tables and a small playground area. As much as we miss nature, the Little misses playgrounds so they were very grateful for some swings and slide. Monsieur was grateful for the outside dining area. Why do you ask? Well…

The view from Chäsalp

The house specialties at Chäsalp are fondue and raclette. Now for all of you who know the Monsieur, you know well that he is not a fan of cheese, especially smelly cheese. As we found our way inside the restaurant we were greeted to a full frontal assault of the aroma of fondue. We expected that a fondue restaurant may smell a tad cheesy and Monsieur had steeled himself for the experience, ready to “take one on the chin” for the rest of us. He was prepared to grin and bear it, until we walked in. He looked at me, threw his arms in the air and said, ”I can’t. I’m out.” Luckily, the aforementioned outdoor dining area was vast with just one other couple enjoying the fresh non-cheesy breeze. ”Would you mind if we sat outside?” I asked the server. She shrugged and motioned towards a lovely table between the swing set and the slide. Monsieur was very appreciative and the Little welcomed the opportunity for more playground time.

Super yummy, yet very smelly fondue in Zurich

We ordered two different types of cheese fondue. The traditional and one with bacon after the server told us we needed at least two. Lets just say one pot would have easily fed a family of four, let alone our family of 1 fondue fan, 2 maybe fondue fans and 1 absolutely no fondue whatsoever fan. The traditional fondue was in fact delicious, best I’ve ever had. The fondue with bacon was of course delicious as we felt our arteries clogging with every bite. Lets just say the bacon isn’t really necessary when you’re dipping chunks of bread in a pot of melted cheese. The big kid and I tucked in to the traditional and didn’t look back. We had pepto bismal at the ready when we got back to the hotel.

If you’re worried about Monsieur at this point, he was very happy with his order beer and his schnitzel in the light spring breeze. He was even happier when the fondue pot was cleared away. When the server returned to pick up the fondue course, she asked why Monsieur was at the far end of the table. ”He doesn’t like cheese,” I explained. She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, missing the point of Monsieur’s grand sacrifice for his family.

Schnitzel was the perfect alternative to the cheese for Monsieur and the Little Kid

We were pooped after our time in Venice constantly on the move, so we decided to take it easy in Zurich. Our friends P & M who used to live in Zurich sent some recommendations of things to see. Per usual, we decided to set out to explore on foot. Situated close to the shores of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, we easily found the old town. Sadly for Monsieur, there were plenty of cafe’s serving fondue and raclette but luckily those spring breezes kept his cheese induced nausea at bay.

Zurich on a Saturday was charming and quiet as friends brunched on patios and strolled the shopping streets. We did our very best to pivot to German after a week of stumbling through Italian. I think I thanked a shopkeeper in Norwegian at one point. Tussen Tak Madame!

We stumbled upon the Grossmünster, the grand reform church in the Old Town. We didn’t go in, the kids get the creeps from churches and constantly fear conversion I think. But it was quite majestic from the outside, so good for you Reformers.

Along the Niederdorfstrasse, lots of Cheesy meal options

For lunch we found the Bauschänzli Beer Garden along the Limmat. From the road, this looked like an elegant riverside restaurant. While still reasonably elegant – all of Zurich is elegant – everyone was happy with the bratwurst and beer lunch we had at picnic tables. The kids had cokes, don’t worry! We were doing our best with the German language menu but when we thought we were ordering hot dogs, the bratwursts arrived. Luckily the kids didn’t care and were hungry enough not to fight it.

The Big and the Little loved the Beer Garden lunch at Bauschänzli with the Limmat and Grossmünster in the background

That evening, we were a little sluggish from all the wheat, dairy and meat products. Luckily the hotel was kind enough to find us dinner reservations at Sala of Tokyo, where we had one of the priciest sushi meals ever. Remember we’re from Vancouver where sushi is basically fast food and Zurich is one of the more expensive cities in Europe, so there was some sticker shock on the price of the california roll.

Strolling along Lake Zurich

Before we knew it, it was already time to head back to Paris. Swiss trains do in fact run on time. We were booked on a commuter train to Basel, connecting to the French TGV train. The commuter train portion was a little confusing as we were given some conflicting information from the conductors, but we managed to hop on the right train and made the connection in Basel easily as the TGV was on the very next platform. We marvelled again at how easy and comfortable the European train system can be. In under 5 hours we were back home in Paris!

One habit we have gotten into is picking up snacks for the train ride. All stations have a store where you can get chips, snacks, drinks etc. The kids are always happy for a cheeky pack of Haribo sweets. We usually hit up the Paul or Pret à Manger where you can find great baguette sandwiches, croissants, pastries and pre-made salads to take away. We learned not to rely on the snack bars on the trains as they tend to sell out or have limited options.

Zurich is a beautiful city. Charming and friendly, quiet and safe. It felt very natural for us Canadians and made a nice change from the hustle and bustle that we’ve been used to.

Everywhere you look, one of the many clocktowers in Zurich

And If Venice is Sinking

Venice may not exactly be sinking but its definitely sloshy.

Late night walk awaiting Acqua Alta

We made our way to Venice for a sneak peek at the incredible Venice Biennale Arte 2022. Our friend Monica Reyes organized some tickets for us to be able to attend what ArtNet called the Art Olympics. What a treat! Venice is already a feast for the eyes, add in some of the most exciting and interesting artists in the world today and its eye candy overload.

But first, Venice is sloshy. You may recall in my Amsterdam post the claim that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice. Sure that may be true, but where Amsterdam is an orderly and tidy concentric collection of canals, Venice is a spider’s web that has withstood the test of time and the elements. We started our experience with a water taxi from the airport, the sleek long canal boats that serve as Venice’s taxi network hauled ass out of the ”boat garage” through a narrow channel that was some of the roughest water I’ve ever been on. The wake from all the many boats speeding through creating a tumultuous mess of water. Clearly an example of why marinas have no wake speed limits. Finally out into the open lagoon, we were amazed at the organized chaos of boats headed in each and every direction. Our captain apologized profusely that he needed to stop for gas, we didn’t care! We were boating!

First glimpse on a Gondola and when I realized my black and white striped shirt wasn’t exactly the best fashion choice for Venice.

As the Captain turned onto the Grand Canal, our first glimpse of this incredible city, we ooohed and aaahed at our first gondola sighting. I scrambled to get a picture, disappointed that I’d missed the exact right angle. Little did I realize that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of gondolas traversing the canals of this city.

Passing under the Rialto Bridge, our captain took a left onto a narrow canal towards our hotel. Navigation is tricky and the plethora of gondolas requires the water taxis to drop down to a crawl. The drivers and gondoliers all yell back and forth to each other as they navigate through the narrow passages. Amazingly, there is no road rage and no one hits anyone else. The gondoliers are a fascinating species, using a single narrow oar they manage to steer these long boats around tight corners and tiny corridors. Like yogis they kick up their legs to push off walls with their feet, crouching at the last minute beneath bridges all the while manually pushing the boat along and singing to boot. What a tradition!

The non-Vegas version of The Rialto Bridge
Gondola traffic jam

I packed for our 3 short days (which by the way is exactly enough time to visit) in Venice basing it on the mild balmy weather we’re having in Paris. I didn’t take into account that since its sitting on water that in mid-April, Venice is likely to be a bit damp and chilly. Luckily, every designer brand has an outpost on the island and there were plenty of options to buy something new.

We came to Venice for the opening of the 2022 Biennale. Held every two years, this year’s installment, “The Milk of Dreams” was delayed by one year due to Covid so 2022 was a big one for the art world. The Biennale consists of two very big exhibition grounds – the Giardini and the Arsenale – and a collection of many sanctioned and unsanctioned exhibits all around Venice. The Arsenale, originally built in 1104, has served as an armoury and shipyard over the centuries. The main exhibit hall extends for literally hectares as you walk from room after room of works of art from the surreal to the sublime. By the end I was ready for the exit and needed a break from all the sensory overload. We were amazed when we finally found the exit that we were now on the other side of Venice! I preferred the Giardini as it felt more manageable with one large exhibit hall and several small national pavilions.

Simone Leigh’s “Sovereignty” was the Official US presentation for the Biennale. Her work was breathtaking and poignant. It was my favourite. I won’t try to describe it as I won’t do it justice, but I recommend you check her out. We were also excited to see Stan Douglas’ exhibit at the Canadian pavilion. A collection of recreated photographs from 4 different uprisings that occurred in 2011.

There were also some strange pieces including one room where two women sat on the floor and just sang minor notes back and forth at each other in a call and answer. I dug as deep as I could into the esoteric part of my brain to try and understand it but I came up empty.

Simone Leigh’s ”Brick House” bronze sculpture at the entrance of the Arsenale site of the 2022 Venice Biennale

In addition to the two main exhibition locations, there were several other art shows around the city. We happened upon Anish Kapoor’s show (famous for the Cloud Gate in Chicago – the big reflective bean sculpture) which was interesting and a little disturbing. But I did like the room where he placed Vantablack spheres and orbs on the walls which made them look three dimensional and concave.

Anish Kapoor’s ”Sky Mirror” at Gallerie dell Accademia in Venice

We also tried to get in to see Kehinda Wiley’s show (famous for the Presidential portrait of Barack Obama) but we happened to show up exactly when they were doing a press viewing and there was no luck. Canadian sweet-talk will only get you so far in Venice, especially when trying it on an American publicist.

The two non-Biennale highlights were the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Murano island. Peggy Guggenheim’s former villa situated along the Grand Canal is now a lovely museum housing her Modern Art Collection. Peggy was part of the famous American Guggenheim family. Niece of Solomon Guggenheim, she had an incredible eye and was good at connecting with artists and her collection is vast and impeccable; Jackson Pollock, Warhol, Dali, Rothko you name it. Definitely worth a visit when in Venice.

The Little and Papa Leone on the Gondola

Our trip to Peggy’s place – I imagine that Peg and I are good friends, who wouldn’t want a bonne vivant of a pal with a fabulous villa on the Grand Canal – became a little adventure. We mapped our way over to the museum and figured it was about a 20 minute walk. Like Monaco, Google Maps in Venice doesn’t always work very well as the streets are so narrow and compact. On our way, we passed a Gondolier Station (Statzione? I don’t actually know what’s called, but its kind of like that show Taxi where all the drivers hang out, except these drivers are all wearing striped shirts and straw hats.) Monica asked Danny DeVito (aka the Gondola Boss) and managed to negotiate a trip for us over to Peggy’s. We piled into a fabulous gondola with Signore Papa Leone our gondolier. He was about 6’5”, 60 years old and sporting a hefty pasta gut. Yet, Papa Leone managed to navigate us around. He only stopped singing to yell out point of interests along the way – Mozart stayed there, Opera House etc. He swiftly steered us across the Grand Canal and straight up to the dock at Peggy’s. We climbed out of the boat and walked straight into the Museum. We had bought tickets, but this was the backdoor. I don’t know how we managed that, but it was a laugh.

The view from Peggy’s place.

Murano island is about 40 minutes from San Marco Square by boat. Our hotel arranged a tour for us. Whats the charge we ask, ”Oh no Signora, its complimentary.” A lovely water taxi picked us up and took us to a dock where a team of greeters were on hand to meet us and help us out of the boat. We were swept inside immediately to the studio where two master glassblowers were hard at work on a special order of glasses. We watched the men in what seemed like a choregraphed dance as they crafted glasses before our eyes. As each glass came out of the fire for the last time, the master would hold it up for us to see and everyone in the room would applaud. When they finished, our guide took us to see ”some of the items that they make here in the studio, with no obligation to purchase of course”. Seven rooms and two (maybe it was three) floors later with a receipt for a set of our own glassware in hand, we were shephered back to our awaiting water taxi and taken back to the dock of our hotel. I couldn’t tell you what there is to see on Murano as we were herded in and out with no chance of further exploration. It felt a little like one of those hotels that gives you an extra special cheap rate as long as you take the Time Share tour. I guess we’ll see if our new glasses make it to Vancouver.

Chandeliers in Murano

On our last night in Venice, Monsieur and I were very fortunate to attend the Canadian party to celebrate Stan Douglas and the Canada Pavilion. It was our first post-Covid party, and we realized we’re very out of practice. It was a great event, but we’re old and staying out past 9pm is hard work. It was also very strange to be in a room with hundreds of people eating, drinking and chatting. It was a super cool event, but we decided to call it a night around midnight. Kind of glad we did. We left in the rain, taking a shuttle boat back to our neck of the island. The town was preparing for Acqua Alta – high tide and rain meant there was a chance of flooding. A frequent enough occurrence this time of year that there were raised walkways at the ready for our whole stay throughout the city. Tonight, they were set up along the Grand Canal, through San Marco Square and all the way back to our hotel. We didn’t venture further to see how far the network travelled but I’m quite sure they are everywhere. We also noticed the small barricades/ dams in every doorway that can be slid into place to protect the buildings from flooding. We were tucked into bed by the time the tide was highest so we didn’t see it first hand, but walking home the water was very close to breaching.

In Venice for all three days, the lyrics from ”And If Venice is Sinking” by Spirit of the West played in my head. In spite of the constant threat of a too high tide, beauty IS religion here, John Mann hit the nail right on the head. And Marini’s little man left me laughing too.

Marini’s “Angel of the City

A friend likened Venice to a postcard and I think this is absolutely true. Venice is home to only about 38,000 residents. The rest of us are all interlopers. Coming and going through the sloshy canals, to spend three to four days experiencing life in this romantic destination. But you see, with the hordes and hordes of transient folks, the truth is Venice is a community designed to cater to tourists. When you’re a traveler and you want to get to know the local culture, you may feel a little disappointed by Venice. Sure, its picture perfect and a piece of living history. But its hard to find great local food when there isn’t a local population to support the scene. I get it. Tourists are a demanding and pushy bunch who take everything they can out of a place and leave a pile of filthy luchre in return. But, I think I prefer a gentler and more natural form of travel. It seems a good idea for Venice to charge an entry fee, after all the whole place is a museum. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen such a beautiful place. Do we need to return? I think I’m good.

Monsieur et Madame overlooking San Marco Campanile

Nice in Nice

In our pursuit of seeing France while here, we decided that we may as well try and see the sunniest and warmest parts of France. Right? Why not? So we booked train tickets down to the Côte D’Azur. Luckily, the Inoui/ TGV highspeed train is a great option. Direct to Avignon in Provence with a few stops along the way (Cannes, Antibes etc) the train takes about 5 hours from Paris to Nice.

When exited the Gare de Nice, the first thing we noticed was the sun! While it has been an unseasonably warm and sunny spring in Paris, the air quality is terrible and filters the light in a rather inexplicable way. Hitting the sea air in the South was invigorating. Fresh, sunny, warm, brilliant, glittering. We liked it so much we extended our 3 night stay to a week!

Blue skies in St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

We stayed in lovely St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, just 25 minutes south of Nice. In early April, everything is just opening up from its winter slumber. It was peaceful, quiet and beautifully devoid of hordes of tourists. Nice is a great homebase as its relatively centrally located to explore the area.

We spent a day driving to Cannes (about 30-45 minutes drive) and stopped for lunch at a beachside cafe beside the famous Carlton Beach Club. We could almost imagine Cary Grant sucking in his tummy on the beach. I’d been to Cannes once before back in 2014 for the Film Festival. It was nice to see the town in its normal routine.

Monsieur on the beach at Cannes

After lunch we made our way back in the direction of Nice for a stop in Antibes to see the biggest marina on the Med. Yachts everywhere, we quickly realized that Antibes is homebase for the yacht charter industry with employment offices and yacht wear (aka crew uniform) shops everywhere. We wandered around and found the old town centre and the charming market. We also found some clothing shops which was necessary since we extended our stay we needed to pick up a couple of things. We decided to divide and conquer. So I took off with the Big Kid to try and find her a new bathing suit. I texted Monsieur to let him know where we were, what’s the name of this store? OH MY GOD! Its called Slam 69. How do I text this to my husband? No we’re not in some random strip joint, I can assure you. But how, how can this be the name of this store? I found the kids section and there in all their glory are piles of bathing suits for KIDS with the name of the store emblazoned across them. What in the actual… Well, we hightailed and found a much more appropriately named shop a little further up the street.

Monsieur on a conference call at the Marina at Antibes

The following day we decided to take the 25 minute drive to Monte Carlo to see the changing of the guard at The Prince’s Palace. Apparently it takes place every day at 11:55am sharp. Well we got on the road at 11am thinking we had plenty of time. We enjoyed the winding drive along the seaside through Beaulieu Sur Mer, Eze and other cute little towns. We rounded a traffic circle crossing the border into Monaco. After that, it was mayhem. Monaco feels like a place where they added streets after the fact, wherever they could find space. And when they couldn’t find space, they built tunnels. Everything is so compact, the GPS struggles with getting you in the correct lane. Well, suffice to say we made one wrong move and were then in a kilometre long tunnel taking us back towards Nice. We came out at the first traffic circle and found ourselves back in France. Now we were starting to sweat a little as we were closer and closer to 11:55am. We rounded the traffic circle and crossed the border back again into Monaco.

Back where we started we didn’t make the same mistake twice, luckily… it was close. We then found our way into the City Centre headed towards the Palace. Well, the Palace is up on a hill and you can’t drive there unless you have a pass. The Monégasque Police force directed us away from the GPS directions so we headed the other way, away from the Palace. Faaaack. Time is ticking and now we’re caught on a road that is destined to be part of the course for the upcoming Formula 1 Race. High fences lined either side of the street. Circling around again, we finally find a parking garage. We decided to just park the godforsaken rental car and attempt the rest of the journey on foot.

Well, parking garages in Monaco are shall we say… compact. Designed for tiny little cars, our SUV is a beast in comparison. We finally find an available spot. Monsieur pulls in and we immediately realize its too small a space. Luckily I find a wider spot with an empty space beside it a little further down the lane and we decide to move there for easier in and out. Well, now the car’s anti-collision mechanism is in full swing and it will not back out. All the beeps keep beeping and we can’t move more than an inch. After 10 minutes of Monsieur battling the car, I get ready to push the goddamn bucket of tin out of the spot. Its 11:50am at this point and Monsieur and I are frayed, nattering and at our wits end. The kids are convinced that we are now headed for a divorce and are working on their best appeal for peace in our marriage. I’m mad, he’s mad, kids are mad and the fucking Prince’s Guard are about to put on the show that we’re going to miss because we’re stuck four floors under the city of Monte Carlo. At last, the angles worked in our favour and the BMW software algorithm was now satisfied that we were not going to hit the wall, the neighbouring car or the pole behind us and set us free. Wahoooo.

Still mad, we trudge our way up the flights of stairs finally to the surface. We follow the GPS to the Palace and realize the only option is to walk up hill. Well guess what, that’s what we did. We got to the top, arriving in an empty square with all the guards firmly ensconced in their guardhouses standing on duty. Well, I hope they had fun getting there. We did a little wave to Albert and Charlene, a lspin on the narrow streets out front of the palace and then headed back down the hill to the City Centre. We’re only just a little bit mad at each other at this point but we’re definitely hungry.

La Famille in Monte Carlo

We decide to head towards the Casino, by way of the Marina. Filled with a collection of some of the biggest yachts I’ve ever seen, we made our way to a Marina-side restaurant for some mediocre club sandwiches and a big glass of rose or two. After lunch, we navigated up the other side of town towards the Casino. Monte Carlo is a city where everything seems to be uphill both ways. We made it to the front door of the famous Casino, took a picture and decided it was time to get back to our hotel. No time for any Bond-style martinis or dropping any francs on the roulette table. We were DONE.

Walking back to the car – which luckily we remembered was below the Princess Caroline Bibliotheque – we struggled to navigate on foot as the fencing for the Formula 1 seemed to block access to where we needed to go. I was dressed for lunch in Monaco darling, not for climbing fences. Finally we found a gap, and descended to the bowels of the parking garage to our awaiting chariot. Luckily, we knew the way back to Nice since we’d already done it once that day. We arrived back at the hotel and tossed the keys to the valet hoping we would never see that godforsaken car again.

The next day was established as a ”chill day”. We stayed close to the hotel although Monsieur and I found a great walk along the seaside into the town of St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. Monsieur forgot his sunglasses. Knowing this was a boating/ beach town, surely we’d find a beach shop with some cheap shades. We found a beach shop, but they only had Tom Ford, so Monsieur had to squint the whole time.

Monsieur along the seawall walk at the end of Cap Ferrat with The Phare (Lighthouse)

Shopping in Cap Ferrat wasn’t much to write home about. Over-sequinned and over-priced. The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny, but a fierce wind whipped up and stuck around for a couple of days. I had left my trusted Lululemon hoodie back in Paris, so I was craving a cozy sweatshirt. I found a cute one for a mere €350. I learned to embrace the shiver. Where were my hotflashes now????

Windy Days in Villefranche-Sur-Mer on Cap Ferrat

On our final day, the kids preferred another hotel hang out day. Monsieur and I wanted to explore Old Nice. What a treat. Its a lovely place filled with charming shops, cute cafes and lovely squares. We started at the flower market just off the beach and then just wandered around the narrow little streets and alleyways. The churches were all preparing for Palm Sunday the following day, so it was cool to see them all decorated with palm leaves. We especially enjoyed a small little antique shop called Maison Pampille. It was a fun and inexpensive little treasure trove of cool artifacts of the Côte D’Azur.

The Nice Flower Market

In the evening we visited the town of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. Also a treat. Wandering along the waterfront, we wanted to escape the wind so we climbed the narrow alleyways up the hillside. Super charming.

We were grateful for the warm and brilliantly sunny days in Nice and a break from the hustle, bustle and rain of Paris. We realized that a week wasn’t long enough and know we definitely need to go back so we can explore this gorgeous region of France some more.

The Beach at Nice looking towards Cap D’Antibes