Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Ciao Italia!

This past weekend (11 to 13 December 2009) JK and I drove to Italy, reason being Axel’s 40th birthday. JK picked me up at work and we drove straight to Turin. We stayed at the amazing Le Méridien Lingotto which is located in a converted Fiat factory. The hotel itself is what you would hope for in a renovated warehouse: high ceilings and good use of old materials (furniture, photos, windows, etc.). At 21:30, we threw our bags in the room (#325) and headed to La Pista restaurant. La Pista is located on the top floor (4th) of the same building as the Lingotto, the same floor as the Fiat test track. We indulged ourselves by going for two different degustation menus. What a steal for four courses with wine! Unfortunately, I only made it through the first two courses (antipasti and primi piatti) because of some lingering stomach bug from Indonesia. So, JK ate most of my main course and I took the dessert in a doggy bag!

....Oh yes, I almost forgot to mention “la piece de resistance” for car lovers: the roof has a race track where Fiat tested their cars.

On Saturday morning, JK and I walked around the entire track (photos will be posted on Flickr later). We then headed to Eataly for our gourmet fix. Eataly is perhaps the best Italian marketplace ever!

After loading up, we then drove to Florence. We stayed at the Hotel Kraft. It had old world charm. We celebrated Axel’s birthday with Carlos and 30 of his other friends at Acqua al 2. The staff kept bringing bottle after bottle of red wine and plate after plate of pasta (I stopped counting at 5) followed by a huge plate of grilled beef, rocket, tomatoes, and parmesan. It was almost buffet-style! Unfortunately my stomach bugs were restless and wouldn’t let me enjoy the smorgasbord.

The following day (Sunday 13 December) stored were open as a “special” exception for Christmas. So, we explored the tourist sites (Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio, Il Duomo - Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, Ponte Vecchio, etc.) while popping into stores.

After enjoying a coffee and cookies at Axel and Silvia’s apartment, we then drove the 6+ hours back to Geneva.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Johnny K’s Brussels “Cheat Sheet”

In this post, JohnnyK provides you with his tried-and-true tips for a successful Brussels adventure.


• Grand Place (the ultimate square!)
• Galéries St-Hubert (gorgeous covered arcade/mall – the first in Northern Europe)
• Place du Sablon (a visit to chocolatier Marcolini is a must – it is open on Sunday; also check out the patissier Wittamer for mean cakes)
• Palais du Justice (an immense building – it stands in the upper town where you will get nice views of Brussels).
• Avenue Louise (this is just 3 minutes walk from Justice; posh shopping but all closed on a Sunday; however, small pedestrian streets off Louise have some nice cafes that are open on Sunday)
• Royal Palace (boring building but beautiful park across the street)
• Place du Jeu de Balle (a must on a Sunday morning – a nice square with one of Europe’s most famous flea markets. Restaurants on the N-E corner serve traditional soups and do brisk business on that morning).
• Musée des Beaux Arts (superb collection and small crowds relative to other big cities – go there if its raining; there is a delicious cafe in there as well)
• Comic strip museum – very wacky – classic Belgium!
• Place des Martyrs (nice symmetric square off the main commercial pedestrian area of rue Neuve)
• Manneken Pis (ridiculous but a must)

Classic walks:

Through the winding streets around Grand Place and the Galleries Saint-Hubert, including rue des Bouchers (don’t eat there, unless you go to Vincent or Chez Leon) and on the other side of the Grand Place towards the Manneken Pis (note that the bar directly across the street has an amazing beer selection and is worth a quick break, even if it is in the heart of tourist land).

Also walk west down from the Grand Place, past the Bourse (there is an excellent authentic Belgian frites place on the south side of the Bourse), across the street and into Saint-Gery. There are lots of 30-something cafes and bars there and I highly recommend you take a stroll in the evening. Further west there is the trendy street Antoine Dansaert which leads to a few more fantastic squares (I think near your hotel): Place Saint-Catherine and Place du Vieux Marche-Aux-Grains.

Get an Art Nouveau map at the tourist info centre (they cost €2 I think). The best Art Nouveau areas are just outside the city centre. Square Ambiorix has some classics and is just a quick metro ride away. It is also adjacent to the admittedly underwhelming EU district. Even better, the Horta Museum (Horta was one of the big Art Nouveau architects) is on rue Americaine, which is at the beginning of a fantastic neighbourhood with Place du Chatelain as its centre. Lots of restaurants off of this area. Beautiful buildings too.

On Sunday morning head over to Jeu de Balle to check out the awesome flea market and then walk through the streets of the traditionally working class area of Marolles. The best streets are rue Haute and rue Blaes. Both have shops open on Sunday (shocking!) and both lead you back toward the Sablon (for chocolate and the Musee des Beaux Arts!) or else to a small square (Place Breugel) where there is a public glass elevator that takes you right up to the Palais de Justice (for nice views).

Places to avoid:

Place de la Monnaie (horrible square – fortunately being rebuilt – home to famous theatre where Belgian “revolution” began).


Go for classic Belgian food! This is comprised of dishes like: carbonade (Flemish beef stew in beer), jamboneaux (the most amazing leg of pork in a mustard sauce), chicons farcis (endives – a very rich and tasty Belgian specialty), moules/frites and steak/frites, lapin a la kriek/geuze (two different types of Belgian beer), Waterzooi (nice creamy stew), and stoemp (a potato mash with huge local sausages on top). Remember, massive portions and French tastes! You will not be disappointed.

I recommend the restaurant “Fin de Siecle” near your hotel on Rue des Chartreux 9. The sign is very small and it is definitely a local scene, so look first for the big “Greenwich” café sign (the Greenwich is a famous chess café of the intelligentsia). It is right beside it. If it is too full, try right across the street in the triangle-shaped building which splits the Chartreux and Artevelde streets. If neither of those work, you can try the classic Falstaff (Henri Mausstraat 19) which is in an Art Nouveau building right across from the Bourse (and down from that frites shop). The food isn’t sensational, but it is well made and includes all the classics. On Anton Dansaert there is a trendy (interesting illuminated interior) and well known place called “Bonsoir Clara”.

There are a million other restaurants to choose from, so I leave it to you (and your tour book!). Place Saint-Catherine, also near your hotel, has some good eats.


Right off rue des Bouchers is the famous “Delirium” which has the largest beer collection in the world. It is a bit touristy on a Saturday night, but a Sunday visit could be good. There is also the bar across from the Manneken Pis. After that probably the classic – although not with a massive selection – is “A la Mort Subite” (Rue Montagne aux Herbes Potagères 7). They say it hasn’t changed in 100 years and still serves the range of Mort Subite beers (the old fashioned “geuze” is my favourite – lambic beer indigenous to Brussels). I would contemplate going there on Saturday night for a beer before heading down to the St-Gery district.

Most bars will serve at least a few interesting beers, including the best mainstream beer in the world (in my opinion), Duvel. They should always serve the beer in its correct glass BTW (a nice touch). Just don’t go for Leffe or Stella, since they’re easy to find elsewhere and don’t represent the epitome of Belgian brewing.

Other great beers (light to heavy): Saison Dupont, Geuze Boon, Kwak (just for the funny presentation!), Orval (lighter than it looks), Saint Feuillen, St Bernardus, Rochefort, Triple Karmeliet, Bush (strongest beer in the world I believe), etc etc.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Highlights from our trip to Greece (September 2009)


  1. Hollywood (Amanda)
  2. Maverick or (Dave)
  3. Alain Prost (John)
  4. Coco (Melanie)

JK and MK met Dave and Amanda at the airport in Athens. When we arrived, A was wearing short shorts and high heels! Thus the creation of her nickname: “Hollywood”. We didn’t know how right we would be in assigning this name to her.

Other evidence that we chose the name “Hollywood” correctly:
  • Not ordering from the menu (special requests for roasted potatoes Greek style)
  • Zonar’s (Athens) 40euro coffee and dessert then wanting to fill up water bottle when it doesn’t cost more than 50cents

  • Going to the poshest café in town (see above – Zonar’s) for a “BM”

  • Wanting souvlaki everyday, even right before a big meal

  • Sunset coffee in Oia, order peanuts and proceed to eat both bowls

  • Fava obsession
  • Fart heard around the world at Kamari beach in Santorini
  • “Windy” car rides, especially the drive to Platanos
  • Bringing enough luggage for two months (arrived with 3 x 23kgs for 10 days but left with 4 x 23kgs plus 4 carry-on bags)
  • Greek accent contest (Hollywood wouldn’t believe she didn’t have the best accent out of everyone)
  • Special 10 minute “I’m hungry” hand across stomach rendition
  • Hollywood’s 10% “fat yogurt or bust” obsession
Other great memories include:

  • The vomit symphony on the ferry from Crete to Santorini, made worse because the ride went from two hours to four because of bad weather conditions. This ferry ride also included a “Rihanna” spotting. However, the most unbelievable of all was John’s 2 minutes to midnight boarding of boat to Santorini (he boarded drenched in sweat, only to find the rest of the gang oblivious to his travails and having fun drinking canned coffee).
  • The "lobster index” was established on Day One in Crete. Left to their own devices because M&J had to attend a wedding, D&A proceeded to Rethymno’s waterfront for a late afternoon coffee. They were then convinced by the waiter to see the live lobster they had in the back of their restaurant. Despite having some suspicions, the couple relented, receiving a supposedly 1.3kg lobster filled partially with cheap crab meat! All that for a “discount” price of 60euros (just the lobster)!
  • When we were pulling into Fira harbour Hollywood looked at the hilltops and thought she saw snow when in actuality it was the white-washed Cycladic houses atop the crater.
  • Melanie finding planted olive pits and Amanda seeing pine nut maggots at Tamam restaurant in Chania. Crete.
  • Maverick’s Rambo moment when he got stung by a wasp and pulled out the stinger with his leatherman knife.
  • JK early morning drill sergeant.
  • JK being consistently anxious and strung out. Evidence of this was noted when Hollywood bought 4 cans of Jacob’s coffee drink but JK thought MK bought them so got mad and yelled!
Memorable meals:

  1. Mezedes night at To Ouzeri in Fira, Santorini
  2. Tamam in Crete
  3. Meat night in Platanos
  4. Fish lunch at Kamari beach, Santorini
  5. Fish and mezedes late lunch in Messolonghi
  6. Souvlaki (or pita) with gyros (Athens, Santorini, Galaxidi)
Memorable quotes:

  • “Melanie, noooooooooo”
  • “Pere biologique”
  • “Ochi Yianni”

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Sunburn in Bern

On a beautiful sunny Saturday morning, we hopped on an SBB train for JK’s 37th birthday adventure and headed for Bern, Switzerland’s capital city. It is called the city of fountains. By walking all over, we saw the Bear Pits, the House & square of Parliament, the Town Hall, the Clock Tower - Zeitglocken Turm and the Käfigturm (Prison Tower). As it was scorching hot that day, we sought shade in the Englische Anlagen and found a nice cafe.

Tip: If the day is warm, wear a bathing suit and bring a dry bag. I would then suggest you jump in the River Aare near the Kirchenfeldbrücke and the Englische Anlagen and let the current bring you down the river to the Hornhausebrücke.

Bern Tourism Information

Photos will be posted on Flickr soon...

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Give & Get a little this weekend: Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy in the US, CAN & PR are turning (RED) all over – 30% off for you and 5% from ALL purchases go towards helping to save lives in Africa. A lot of goods = a lot of good.

Please note the friends and family coupon isS NOT valid for Product (RED) merchandise. When you go into a Gap store and buy any Product (RED) item, 50% of the proceeds will go to the Global Fund. With the give and get coupon, all items are discounted 30% from your purchase and then 5% of the proceeds will also go to the Global Fund. However, the fine print says, 30% is not taken off Product (RED) merchandise because it'ss a third party partner and it's going to charity anyways....we wouldn't wanna take away from the people the Global Fund helps now would we?

Also an interesting read: