Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Sweet Taste of Timeless Zurich, Switzerland!

Finally, a trip to another European country and one of Italy's northern neighbors....Switzerland!

Thinking of that classic Schoolhouse Rock song, "The Great American Melting Pot," did you know Switzerland is a literal melting pot of its own? In the west you have the French speaking Geneva region, in the south there is the Italian speaking Lugano area (located in the canton called Ticino), and where this journey led me...the German speaking region of Zurich. Overall, the German language and culture is widespread throughout the country.

Now, I know what you are probably thinking....I indulged on some fine Swiss chocolates, purchased myself a fancy luxury watch and skied the Alpine slopes. Well, only a third of that statement is slightly true....the chocolate.

We made our way to Zurich via train from Milan's Central Station. It was a rather cheap ride costing around 44 euros round-trip; however, that wasn't the best part. The railway cut straight through the Swiss Alps! Scenic views, you ask? Of Course!

Despite arriving and spending the morning amidst light rain showers, the weather was cool and the rain let up during the early afternoon. It would have been the perfect time to test out my umbrella...the one I have yet to purchase. LOL!

Zurich is quite different from Milan. From the obvious difference in language to the style of architecture, this city was definitely easy on the eyes. (Maybe it could have been the Limmat River which runs through the center of the city and connects with the northern end of Lake Zurich.) In my opinion, Zurich would be the perfect late spring, early summer destination.

Limmat River

The sights we seen during our day-trip to Zurich:

Grossmünster: Inside the "Great Minister" protestant church, the organist was practicing a few hymns on the church's ENORMOUS organ. The range of this organ was remarkable, as it produced depth of tones I've rarely heard in a church.

Grossmunster Organ
Grossmunster exterior 

Fraumünster: This church was a former abbey and translates into "Women's Minister." Unfortunately, we did not enter this gem, but at least the outside was remarkable with its tall, thin spire.

The Limmat River and Fraumunster
St. Peter's Church: The clock's face on this church happens to be the largest in Europe at 8.7 meters!

Just look at St. Peter's face! It's HUGE!
Museum Paläontologische Sammlung (Zoological Museum): When we stepped inside the museum doors, all of the animals froze in fear. They where so stiff, it was almost as if they were stuffed. Anyways...this free museum represented the animal population extremely well!

Frozen stiff
Miscellaneous images from Zurich: 

View of Zurich from a hill (a rather small hill)
The streets of Old Town Zurich
Blow your whistle, wave those hands, direct that traffic
The travelers (L to R--Me, Manu, David, Vir and Nico)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cinque Terre: Five Irresistible Italian Riviera Villages

It's funny to think I'm about to compare a location in Italy to the Sirens of Greek methodology, but it is the perfect simile. Just like the Sirens lured in passengers of the sea through their beauty and music, Cinque Terre seduces the traveler through pastel colored villages resting on Mediterranean Sea bluffs. 

Located along the Italian Riviera between Levanto and La Spezia is Cinque Terre - a series of five villages in close proximity from each other - where life is relaxed and traffic is absent. Between the five villages of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are hillsides tamed with vineyards and olive groves.

Map of Cinque Terre
When compared to the other Italian cities I had the pleasure of visiting (thanks to WhereMilan), Cinque Terra is a completely different animal. Where Manuta, Bologna, Bergamo, etc. were rich in history and museums, Cinque Terra thrives from its scenic views and outdoor activities. 

Each town is laced together by a system of hiking trails. If you were to ask me, the views we saw from the trails were the best part of our journey. However, don't worry if you are unable to hike the trails because there is regional train operating between each village. At a cost of 12 Euros, you can buy a pass which gives you unlimited access to the rail, hiking paths, and several attractions in the region.

Of the five villages, Vernazza stole my heart. Maybe it was the ruins of the Doria castle and pirate lookout tower on the cliff, my first taste of the region's oily focacccia, or the pebbled beach; whatever it was, I am definitely not complaining.  

Even though images don't do justice, here are some views of the five Cinque Terre villages:


Riomaggiore (The southern most city of Cinque Terre)
The main street in Riomaggiore


Houses in Manarola on the Cliff
Manarola during the sunset


Church in Corniglia


This way to Vernazza!
View of Vernazza from the South
View of Vernazza from the North

Relaxing on the Beach


Monterosso the northern most village of Cinque Terre
Freezing in the Mediterranean Sea
Too many steps...

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Is Mantua Actually Charming?

In conjunction with my Sabbioneta visit, our group of international travelers made our way to Manuta; only about 20 miles from Sabbioneta and two hours from Milan by car.

Published in the WhereMilan April 2014 issue was an article about Manuta describing the main sights one should see, regional foods one should taste and entertainment one could experience. Under the article titled, "Charming Mantua," it was stated, "Some people call her the 'Sleeping Beauty' because she just lies there, at the tip of Lombardy, romantic and a little lazy." Now, it was my turn to be the judge and determine just how "charming" Mantua actually was.

Established on a settlement before Etruscan times, Mantua is widely known as the focal point of the powerful Gonzaga family's dynasty during the Renaissance. In fact, if you have read Shakespeare's play, "Romeo and Juliet," some of the scenes take place in Mantua. From its buildings to its atmosphere (which still slightly contains a remnant of Renaissance flair), Mantua is saturated with Renaissance and medieval influences.

Me, Jitin and Nico in Piazza Sordello infront of the Palazzo Ducale and Duomo
One of the unmissable buildings in Mantua is the Palazzo Ducale (Duke's Palace), the main residence of the Gonzaga family. With a surface area more than 32,000 sq. m., the complex contains an uncountable number of extravagant, frescoed rooms and several courtyards. Regular admission was only 6.50 Euros and was well worth it.

A fresco in the Palazzo Ducale 
Intricate decorative details
Long corridors connecting the buildings
Photo courtesy of Nico; Palazzo Ducale
Another stop on our visit was the Basilica of Sanit Andrea. The basilica was built directly next to an existing bell tower from the early 15th century, and is even said the crypt houses sacred vessels containing the relic of the Blood of Christ. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see that part because the basilica was under renovation; I assume preparing for the upcoming Holy Holidays.

Under the barrel vaulted ceiling of the Basilica
Being a lover of authentic regional foods, I had to try the recommendations provided by WhereMilan in their article. For my main course I had bigoli, which is a form of thick spaghetti, and I followed it with sbrisolona, a crumbly, brittle almond cake.

Overall, Mantua lived up to my expectations. There are many things to do in this laid back city which provides the visitor with a opportunity to escape the vigorous city pace of Milan. Some of the other places we visited are depicted in the images below.

Mantua's Duomo (Cathedral) 

Plaza Broletto
Rotunda di San Lorenzo
Photo courtsey of Nico; Castle of San Giorgio

Friday, April 11, 2014

Milan Design Week - Part 2

Just a simple continuation post about living life in Milan during Design Week...wait, there is nothing simple about living in Milan during Design Week. LOL! (Check out Design Week - Part 1.) This time my evening was mostly spent at the Martini Racing Lounge watching a live cooking presentation from Andrea Grignaffini, a Italian Gourmet expert chef associated with the famed International Italian cooking insitution called Alma. I even got the chance to help the chef create one of his presentation dishes. Only in Milan. 

----------Milan Design Week - Day 2----------

Martini Racing Lounge
Pouring liquid nitrogen in Martini Bianco 
My buddy, Andrea (We are on a first name basis LOL)
Keep it flowing @ Martini Racing Lounge
Wall of Robots...?
I just don't know

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Milan Design Week 2014

As luck would have it, my stay in Milan is crossed by one of the city's most internationally renown events...Salone Internazionale del Mobile (aka. Design Week).

From April 8-13, 2014, Milan will become inhabited with masses of international visitors and some of the world's "hottest" designers showcasing their concepts and ideas about design particularly in the home furnishing sector. Many say this annual Milanese festival sets the global design benchmark.

Brera Design District
The headquarters of the festivities is located at the Milan Fairgrounds, but due to massive expansion and interest the entire city is transformed into a giant design venue with the Brera Design District and Lambrate area containing the highest concentration of "fuorisalone" events. Walking through the Brera Design District last night, I was able to catch a few (ok, more than a few) cocktail parties. There is nothing better than browsing the latest and emerging design concepts while sipping on free drinks and munching on hors d'oeuvres. 

-----------Milan Design Week - April 9-----------

Saturn & Sons Lamp (Cocktail Party)
Saturn & Sons Lamp (Cocktail Party)
Sound wall made of peat moss (Swedish Cocktail Party)
Designer Jangir Maddadi (Swedish Cocktail Party)
Svensk Form's Cocktail Party 
Design display in a historic Brera church
New seating concept on display in Brera
Lighting design