Just Another Day in the Neighbourhood

11 07 2014

It is crazy how things can become familiar so quickly.

A few months ago I hadn’t done any International travel in almost 10 years, and now four months later I’m jetting back off to Geneva, Switzerland.

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Newark Airport with NYC in the background

The all day/all night flights can’t faze me anymore and after leaving Seattle in the wee hours of the morning on Saturday and arriving in Geneva early Sunday morning, I arrived bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  Although I napped my way through a 6 hour flight to Newark, during my 8 hour flight to Geneva I’m not so sure there was a lot of sleeping done – more of a haze I think.  Well my haze must have been exactly what I needed because I was raring to go with a walk along Lac Leman, morning cappuccinos and pastries and a sunny afternoon into sunset into late night of eating and drinking champagne on the balcony.

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Quiet Sunday morning streets on Rue de Rive

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Sunday Sister Moment

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My first trip to Geneva I felt like I was in another world.  I dreamt of french phrases and so day and night I was swimming in a world that I couldn’t quite understand.  I struggled to keep my eyes open at night and I woke up at 3AM almost every morning.  It was a slight understatement that I wasn’t adjusting to the time change very well.

I don’t know if it’s because the streets, the restaurants, the apartment were all familiar to me now, but it felt like I was just in another neighborhood at home.  Crazily enough I didn’t experience any jet lag and could truly enjoy the day to its fullest – and stayed up way later than I would normally have at home (possibly because my sister and I discovered ‘Orange is the New Black’…).  The french didn’t phase me as much as before and most of the time I didn’t even really hear it around me – or at least take notice of it.  And all of that french dreaming from last time did me well and hammered those french phrases into my head so that when it was time to order ‘un boîte de huit macarons’ – it was right there at the tip of my tongue.

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Laduree Macarons

We allowed ourselves one full day of Geneva Sightseeing before we had to get down to work.  So we packed in a train ride along the Lac Leman lakefront, a trolley ride through Old Town Geneva, and a boat ride along the Lake to see Geneva from another perspective.

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Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) waterfront

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L’horloge Fleurie

As we rode through Old Townmy favourite part of Geneva, I came to realize that the last time I visited I did a fantastic job of sightseeing!  And also reminded myself how much I love old towns and window shutters.

 

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Our boat ride was a little breezy, but so great to be out on the water.  The asian tourists didn’t seem to have the same feeling as we did – they spent the first half of the boat ride taking selfies and the second half they all fell asleep!  Ok, well I can’t really complain about them taking selfies…..


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But to fall asleep??!!!  They missed out on a great hour (seriously it was only an hour and they couldn’t stay awake) on the water.

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Thanks for a great day of sightseeing Geneva!  If only you had had Jet d’Eau standing proud – it’s a good thing I took so many photos last time.

 

 





I Miss You Vancouver!

12 05 2014

When you catch it from its good side, it’s hard not to fall in love with Vancouver, and really hard not to reminisce on the great times you’ve had there and think about all the summer patio moments you’re going to miss.  But again, you have it catch it from its good side.  The previous times we’ve visited this year it’s been grey, rainy and made you want to get home and curl up under the blankets (even if those blankets are 3 hours away).  But Vancouver when it’s sunny?

Ohhhh…  It’s hard to drag yourself away.

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Spring goslings

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Brother & Sister Time!

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Spring Buttercups

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Nesting Trumpeter Swan

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Balancing Turtles

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Lost Lagoon – Stanley Park

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Vancouver Skyline from Lost Lagoon

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Second Beach Views

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Nature’s Art Gallery

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Balancing Rocks





Sisters Reunite!

19 02 2014

After all of my practicing… ‘Je voudrais un boîte de douze macarons,’ I got to Laduree and I froze.  Strawberry marshmallow, salted caramel, rose petal, coconut passionfruit, pistachio, praline, lemon, chocolate coffee…..?  How am I supposed to choose only 12 with all of these flavors? Easy solution I guess….’quinze macarons s’il vous plait’.  I just couldn’t leave without a box of 15 macaroons.  And, they almost all made it home.

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During my time in Geneva, I spent a couple afternoons just wandering the streets and looking at the buildings.  If you’re in a place for too long, everything can start to look normal.  Trams and cable lines, futuristic light bulb-looking light posts, french signs, and hundred year old buildings.  So after 2 weeks I kind of had to tap back into my wide-eyed wonder of seeing Geneva (and Switzerland) for the very first time.

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This hundred year old building was my home for 2.5 weeks.

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My sister and her husband were my hospitable hosts and her cats kept me company at night.  Of course, I had my responsibilities while I was there: lift everything that was too heavy for my sister (a lot of things – I’m much stronger), care for the cats which consisted of entertaining them at 3am when they wanted to play, maneuver my body around theirs at night so as not to disturb their slumber, clean up after them when (not if) they were sick, groom them, clean their litter box…and play paparazzi and take hundreds of photos of them.

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Oliver

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Moosh

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And the most difficult of all tasks….keep my sister company = sit at outdoor patios and drink cappuccinos, eat truffle-topped cheesy delights and Chantilly cream and Nutella-laden desserts.

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Patelos: Cheesy, proscuitto-filled dough, topped with sliced truffle

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Mini beignets topped with powdered sugar and drizzled with warm Nutella and hazelnuts

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Baba: rum-soaked brioche, filled with Chantilly Cream and drizzled with Nutella and hazelnuts

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It was a tough couple weeks but we made it through the longest time we’ve spent together in 7 years.  At the end of the trip we both agreed that we had a better time than we both thought we would, and we were equally surprised that she didn’t make me cry (not even once)!

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The Lee Sisters in Geneva, Switzerland





Sometimes It Just Takes One

12 02 2014

It turns out that I had found the Cathedral in Old Town Geneva after all….I just didn’t know I had found it.  I’m not going to say that I was pacing around in front of the Cathedral last time, but I think that’s what was happening.  Maybe I expected a big sign saying, ‘this is the what you’re looking for – the Cathedral’ or maybe I was just too enamored by where all those narrow cobblestone streets would take me.

Nevertheless, I found Saint Peter’s Cathedral.

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Saint Peter’s Cathedral – Old Town Geneva

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As luck would have it, the organist was practicing, and I was treated to an almost empty cathedral full of the rich sounds of the organ.

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Built between approximately 1150 and 1230, Saint Peter’s Cathedral has Romanesque and Gothic features as well as a neoclassical monumental porch.  The Chapel of the Maccabees adjoins the cathedral and is the first example of flamboyant Gothicism in Geneva.

I almost left before I visited the Chapel of the Maccabees, but once I walked through the curtained doors, I knew I had to stay a while.  The room was full of color, from the light streaming through the artistic stained glass windows and the ornate ceiling and walls.  

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Saint Peter’s Cathedral has had a particular spiritual significance since 1536 when it became a major center of the Reformation under John Calvin.  It is now the most frequently visited building in Geneva.

I saw someone scan a barcode and gain entry into a door on the side and it peaked my curiosity.  What else could I see here?

For 5 francs I was able to walk up the narrow spiral staircases to climb to the North and South towers.  It was a workout and it definitely made me sweat and wheeze a little as I tried to climb the stairs faster than the group behind me.  For some reason I felt the need to gain a little distance so that I could take in the experience by myself.

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There is a passage leading from one tower to the other over the nave and under the structure of the metal steeple that houses the bells.

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I decided to head to the North Tower first and enjoy the panoramic view over Old Town, the harbor and (if they were visible that day) the mountains surrounding Geneva.

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The South Tower has a watch room at the top and I found myself at eye-level with the cathedral bells as they were chiming, along with great views of the water and the Jet d’Eau.  

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I spent almost three hours touring the Cathedral.  And I hear I had thought that I could just pass by and take a few photos and be satisfied.   It’s great to travel with company and share the experience with others, but it was a great opportunity to tour the Cathedral during the off-season, and tour it on my own, and to feel like I had it almost all to myself.





An Afternoon in Chamonix, France

10 02 2014

When I think about Europe, I think about how everything is so close to each other.  I grew up taking an hour and a half ferry ride from Vancouver Island to Vancouver, so I know that ferries can get you places, but they don’t usually get you that far.  My last trip to Europe I took an hour and a half ferry ride and I went from England to France – the close proximity just blows my mind!

One weekend we decided to take a quick afternoon trip.  From Geneva, Switzerland to Chamonix, France – just an hour and a half drive and you go from Lake Geneva to the French Alps.

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On the way I saw signs for Milan and Turin.  It’s a strange feeling to start an afternoon in one country, know that your destination is in a second country, but as soon as you cross the border there are already signs for cities in a third country!

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Chamonix, France felt very French to me – for obvious reasons I guess.  You can tell by the style of the buildings, the conversations around you and the number of restaurants that are trying to tempt you with crepes, fondue and tartiflette (a classic french dish made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, lardons and onions).  I will say this though, we walked into a couple different meat and cheese shops and as we walked through the door I was bombarded by the shops’ smell.  Stereotype or not – it smelled like feet.

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I definitely enjoyed wandering around the snowy village, dodging the skiers and snowboarders while taking photos of my sister and brother in law, who made it look like we should have been in Antarctica with all of their fur.

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I did add a little bit of North American spontaneity to the atmosphere though – a little bit of a snow ball fight, which was more of an ice crystal fight.  My sister said it looked like we were dogs burrowing in the snow drift.  I did manage to make 2 snowballs though – both carefully aimed.

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And lastly, I tried to fit myself into a gondola car.  My idea.  At first I thought no problem, but maybe it was meant for kids or skinny french women to fit into because it was a feat to get both my front and my back through that narrow door.  I made it – and that was after Soup a l’oignon gratinee, des frites and a taste of the tartiflette.  But…..before the Speculos and caramel beurre sale macarons.

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My last impression – the french sure do know how to display their pastries and confections.

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Adios Barcelona

8 02 2014

We tried to take advantage of our last few hours in Barcelona.  We wandered past the Palau de la Musica Catalana to take a few photos of the gorgeous pink building and found ourselves exploring the Mercat de Santa Caterina, the more local marketplace, to pick up some final treats.

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Palau de la Musica Catalana

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Mercat de Santa Caterina

One of the neighborhoods that we hadn’t spent any time in yet was El Born – a stylish shopping, cafe, restaurant and bar neighborhood that has all of the charm of Barcelona without the kitschy touristy feel.  I kept taking photos of these small alleyways and narrow buildings until my sister pointed out that I was really taking photos of people’s houses, their driveways and their colorful laundry air-drying outside their windows….whoops.

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After a peek at the Santa Maria del Mar and a lunch of pintxo tapas, we wandered back to Placa Nova and the Catedral to find that the whole square had been transformed.  The 2014 Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique had taken over the square to stage the cars about to race from Barcelona to Monte Carlo – quite a backdrop for the start of the rally!

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Santa Maria del Mar

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After 45 hours in Barcelona exploring amazing architecture, eating delicious seafood and meats and drinking tasty cava, wine, fruit juice and liquid chocolate, it was time to say good bye.

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Barcelona is definitely a place that I would want to come back to visit, but most importantly, I need to go back to taste these tempting meringues – my only regret is that I left without trying one.

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Sights in between Eating

3 02 2014

I’ve become a little obsessed about these BARCINO letters.  I love taking photos of them.  I feel like it represents Barcelona for me.  So that means that I made my sister pose and take funny photos with the letters.  I kept yelling out, ‘go sit in the C’ until she finally relented.  The photo looked so cute, so I tried it too – and I barely fit – my torso is just too long!

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We did manage to drag ourselves away from these letters and took time to wander the narrow streets in El Barri Gotic and ooh and awe over some of Antoni Gaudi’s other buildings in the city – Casa Batllo – an artistic legend with a modernist facade that mirrors a calm sea (although when I looked at it it reminded me of dragons and rainbows).

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And what do you know, we found some more time to eat!  Back to La Boqueria for lunch, and this time we weren’t going to leave without saddling up to the bar at the Universal kiosk for the mixed seafood plate and some garlic razor clams.  The seafood was so fresh we were watching the gambas (prawns) move around in the display.

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After another tour around the market to take some photos, I found myself at a charcuterie stand, where I made a new friend that took his time to carve me a tasty treat – every piece was carved with love.  He was a great sport and even posed for pictures with me.

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My Barcelona City Guide told me that you can’t leave Barcelona without trying the Jamon Iberico de Bellota (acorn-fed Iberico ham).  The Iberico pig has become Spain’s modern-day caviar and this specific pig is able to store monounsaturated fats from the acorns it eats in streaks and marbled layers of fat that run through its muscle tissue.  After two years of aging, the flavors are nutty, buttery and earthy.  This specific type of ham liquefies at room temperature, so it literally melts in your mouth.  And yes it did.  Even my meat-disliking sister tried some and enjoyed it.

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In between eating stops we wandered around Barcelona taking random photos of each other – lots of sisterly bonding.  I don’t think her husband would have yelled out, ‘ride the lion!  Go ride the lion!’  – my husband probably would though.  I didn’t get a full mount though, the closest I got was her sitting on his butt.

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After visiting the BARCINO letters one more time and while we were there, taking some photos of the Barcelona Cathedral , we waited patiently for the restaurants to open up for dinner.  Aside from tapas and very touristy restaurants, most places closed after lunch and didn’t open up again for dinner until 8PM.

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Just steps from our hotel we found Pirineus, a small family restaurant that kept us entertained and left us full of Cava and Seafood Paella.  They loved us there and we didn’t leave before we had learned a few new Catalan words, had our palms read, eaten complimentary desserts and had our cheeks kissed a couple times.

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Almost Too Much to Take In

2 02 2014

The jet lag is hitting me.  After an evening of tasty treats, wine, cava and hot chocolate I easily fell into a deep sleep after our first night in Barcelona.  Only to wake up at 4AM wide awake, hours before my alarm was set to go off for our day of exploring.  I tried to lull myself back to sleep, but my body was thinking it was 7PM and I just took a long nap before my real bed time.  I reviewed my spanish phrases, ‘no hablo espanol’. ‘no entiendo’, ‘cuanto cuesta?’, ‘la cuenta por favor’ and ‘Esta es mi hermana’.  I don’t speak spanish, I don’t understand, how much is this?, the bill please, and this is my sister.  Got it.  

Now what to do for another 3 hours.  I tried to fall back asleep but I could hear the Cathedral bells ringing in the distance and I just felt like things were happening in the city and I was missing it!  What does the Cathedral look like as the sun is rising?  What does it look like before La Boqueria opens officially?  These are the secret sights of the city that I really wanted to see, but, I settled for looking through my Barcelona City Guide app while I waited for the sun to rise, the city to start buzzing and most importantly, for my sister to wake up.

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Barcelona Cathedral

We had one thing on our agenda for our sunny day in Barcelona.  La Sagrada Familia, an overwhelmingly large Roman Catholic Church designed by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi.  Construction of La Sagrada Familia started in 1882 and Gaudi became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his architectural style, combining Gothic and curvilinear Art Nouveau forms.  By 2010, the construction had only reached the midpoint, and currently the completion year is set for 2026 – 144 years of construction.

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It was an amazing experience to see this 132 year old construction project up close and personal.  The amount of detail in the stone carvings made me want to take a photo of every sculpture – everywhere you looked was a work of art.  It took us a long time before we made our way inside.

The sun was shining through the stained glass windows, making the colors pop and twinkle.  The ceiling was so high and the walls and columns intricately designed and you can see Gaudi’s inspiration from nature.

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My sister and I took pictures of everything inside and out.  We compared photos and it is amazing how you can be standing in front of the same thing and have such a different perspective.  I loved the stained glass and she was infatuated with the columns – she kept snapping photos and I would look at them and say, ‘I have no idea what you just took a picture of – I can’t even see the angle to get that shot’.  Over and over again it happened, but that’s what makes it fun to travel with someone with a different perspective on the world.





Bienvenidos a Barcelona

1 02 2014

It has been 7 years since my sister and I have traveled together.  It was our first solo trip together (just us – not a family vacation) and we went on the cheapest 4 star all inclusive we could find out of Toronto.  So we went to Cuba.  We drank cuban coffee, chilled red wine, local cheeses and fruits, I played water polo with the boys while she took a siesta and she freaked out when I stayed out til 5am with the Italian activities staff.  A lot has changed since then.  I was living in Vancouver, BC, she in Toronto, ON.  Now I’m in Seattle, WA and she lives in Geneva, Switzerland.  We went from two single workaholics to two married women of leisure 7 years later (well…..I work from home, but she’s retired).  She had 2 cats, she still has 2 cats.  I was single and fancy free and now have a cat and a 15 year old step son.  My how things have changed.

For our second sister trip we went to Barcelona, Spain.

The first impression of a city is something that you can’t replicate.  Yes, it was raining when we arrived in Barcelona and despite the palm trees, it didn’t really seem tropical like I would expect Spain to be like, but, I loved it.  The streets were shiny from the rain, the sun was going down so the city lights were starting to turn on and as we walked from Placa de Catalunya to our hotel, I looked down every narrow alleyway with awe.  We were staying in the El Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter).  Barcelona is a gorgeous city.

Our first night we had no plans except to eat and drink!  We started our evening at Bilbao Berria for pintxo tapas – Basque region-style tapas.  Small tastes that are served on bread and skewered – just count up the sticks at the end of the night.

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We continued our evening with a walk down Las Ramblas and peeked into Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria, the famous La Boqueria market, for dragon fruit, coconut and strawberry juice.  Most of the stalls were starting to close up but we scurried around for a quick tour and saw stacks of colorful, exotic fruit, every type of meat/organ that you would ever want (tripe, goat heads, pigs feet, roosters with their head feathers still attached) and the most random seafood that you would never think that you would eat.  We left that market seeing something that could look like a small skinned dog, but I translated it when we got back to the hotel, conejo = rabbit.  

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We told ourselves we would be back tomorrow, but not before we grabbed some fuchsia-coloured dragon fruit and fresh coconut for a late night snack.

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Next stop:  Cafe de L’Opera, the historic cafe on Las Ramblas that made its start as a tavern in the 18th century.  Our plan was to end our evening with the Chocolat con Churros.  But…….we just couldn’t say no to cava sangria.

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And maybe some Catalan-style bread brushed with garlic and tomato and assorted tapas, because you can’t go wrong with patatas bravas, olives and fried cheese.

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We did finish the night with the infamous Chocolat con Churros and the hot chocolate was so thick, but perfect for dipping churros.

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We made our way back to our hotel and I told my sister, the one thing I wanted to find was the BARCINO metal sculpture letters.  Set against the city’s oldest stones, the sculpture BARCINO is the roman name for Barcelona, with 6 letters made of bronze and 1 made of aluminum.  She had been to Barcelona and had never seen them.  Well it turns out that these letters were right by our hotel (how she did not see them last time since they stayed at the same hotel – I do not know…)

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The view of the Placa Nova and the Catedral de Barcelona at night was a perfect way to complete my introduction to Barcelona.  And I couldn’t wait for what other discoveries we would make during our trip.

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From Cuba to Barcelona.  My sister and I have evolved from umbrella drinks, suntanning and not leaving the resort in Cuba, to eating sprees, testing out my Rosetta Stone Spanish and walking, metro’ing and busing our way through Barcelona.





Je ne parle pas Francais

1 02 2014

I find myself dreaming about the french conversations I want to attempt.  By french conversations I mean, ‘I would like a box of 12 macaroons’ = ‘je voudrais une boîte de douze macarons’.  So far I have braved grocery shopping, mime-talking to the butcher (thank goodness for a friendly french-speaking stranger), buying make up remover and 200 grams of the tastiest raspberry white chocolate bark (this one is my proudest moment).

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When you don’t speak the language it makes you pause a little bit – do I really need this?  Do I have a question? Can I get by by just watching people or looking at the package and figuring it out myself?    

For the most part, walking around hearing french surrounding me hasn’t phased me too much.  It actually feels quite familiar since, as a Canadian, I took french in school for 5 years.  But listening to tapes and memorizing vocabulary words does not prepare you for functioning in a french city like Geneva, Switzerland.

My lack of French skills means that I have immersed myself in the non-speaking parts of the city – the architecture, the landscape, the tourist attractions – really anything that I could take a photo of.

The pride of the city is the Jet D’Eau, the high pressure water fountain that shoots up a jet spray of water in Lac Leman (or Lake Geneva), which you can catch a great view of in the Geneve Jardin Anglais.  And you can catch glimpses of it all over the city when it peeks through a plaza or side street or even over top of the buildings.  It’s almost like a homing beacon – as long as I could see the Jet D’Eau, I could figure out where I was.  It’s just as much a reference point here as the mountains are in downtown Vancouver, BC.

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Me & My Sister & the Jet D’Eau

Another main attraction in Geneva is the L’Horloge Fleurie, the flower clock by the water, which has been in service since 1951, changes flowers throughout the seasons, and has never stopped or been out of order.

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Walking through the streets of Geneva, especially in the winter time, you’ll notice these strange trees.  With patchy scaly-looking trunks and odd bulb like branches, I kept asking my sister, ‘what kind of trees are these?’ Her response was, ‘they’re weird aren’t they – I don’t know.’  I did a little of my own research and it turns out they’re a hybrid of the sycamore tree and they’re called ‘Plane Trees’.  They’re really green and bushy in season and then the city tends to prune the branches back in the winter (although I’ve seen some with their branches on and they look like Chia Pets).

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No trip to Geneva seemed complete without swinging past the United Nations building, so we made a quick trip there to see the Chair du Palais des Nations, which is a monument in front of the UN building of a broken wooden chair meant to raise awareness of the devastating effects of land mines and cluster bombs.  Being the UN Building, we were also treated to some protesting while we were there.

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The Place Neuve showed off the picturesque Grand-Theater, a replica of the Paris Garnier Opera House, and is across the street from the Promenade des Bastions, where you can find the Reformation Wall, which is a monument that honors individuals, events and documents of the Protestant Reformation.

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Grand-Theater

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Reformation Wall

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Place du Bourg-de-Four is Geneva’s oldest square and when I came across it, it felt like the epitome of european culture to me.

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And although I haven’t put my french sentence into practice YET – with the help of my sister I have been able to taste the delectable treats at Laduree – Salted Caramel, Pistachio and Rose-flavoured french macaroons.  YUM!

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