Dog-walking in Switzerland

LOCATION: Housesitting near Geneva, Switzerland

WEATHER: Sunny and crisp – highs mid 50s

We took Ollie, our Australian Shepherd charge, on a walk. The spring flowers are starting to pop up.

Next to our neighborhood are fields full of apple trees. We learned that the apples are used to make a local, specialty apple brandy.

You can see Lake Geneva and the mountains in the background.

A bit farther down are some vineyards. We were surprised at how much wine is made here, but we’ve learned that most of it is consumed in Switzerland, and very little is exported.

In the distance (on the right side) you can see Mont Blanc in the high mountains, home of the famous ski resort of Chamonix.

After the walk, we rested – ALL of us!

Today is our 42nd anniversary. We will celebrate tomorrow by taking a drive to a village that is supposed to be picturesque. Tonight, we celebrated with a bottle of French champagne!

DINNER: Last of the leftovers that the homeowners left for us — chicken with mashed potatoes. I added some veg and a salad.

Exploring our new Swiss area

LOCATION: Housesitting near Geneva, Switzerland

WEATHER: Sunny. Cool. High 50

George took the homeowners to the Geneva airport and we started settling in.

We took Ollie, the dog, for a nice walk around the area. A lady was outside gardening and she greeted me in French. All I could understand is that she looked at Ollie and said “magnifique”.

As you probably know, Switzerland is not a part of the European Union, and it does not use Euros as its currency. So, we went to our nearest little village, Coppet, to try to find an ATM to get some Swiss francs. It is a cute town, right on Lake Geneva.

The architecture looks so Swiss!

It has its castle, as do most towns here. I think it is a museum and event center now.

Then, to France (1 mile away) for lunch and shopping. We found a cute place for lunch and shared a platter of sausages. Then to the supermarket for shopping. So fun to buy different French foods and wines. In the deli section, I sampled different types of pate’. Nice to be able to buy a small amount. I bought a chunk for 1 Euro., plenty for the 2 of us.

DINNER: Pate’ and a baguette as an appetizer. Main was some meat pasta left over from the homeowners. Dessert was some Swiss yogurt, quite different from what we get in the USA.

A spectacular train ride through the Alps

LOCATION: Housesitting outside outside of Geneva, Switzerland

WEATHER: Sunny, but cool. Highs in 50s

We caught a fast train from Bologna to Milano, a one-hour trip, traveling in speeds up to 295 kms/hour (185 mph). Wow! Our train was a bit late, so I was (of course) worried about our connection in Milano. All went well, with 20 minutes to catch the next high-speed train to Geneva.

From Milano, we stopped in about 5 towns along the way, but otherwise, we sped through northern Italy and southern Switzerland. Our first stop was Stesa at Lake Como. The famous tourist area of Bellagio is here. It is breathtakingly beautiful…

There is still quite a bit of snow in the Alps. We followed Lake LeMan, often called Lake Geneva for many miles.

We arrived in Geneva after a very pleasant four hour trip.

Once in Geneva, we had to find a local train to go to the homeowners’ small town station. We only had 15 minutes, and our train had arrived a few minutes late in Geneva. We were a bit perplexed as nothing was in English. (This is the French-speaking section of Switzerland). We also did not have any Swiss Francs, and could not locate the ATM. Thankfully, with only minutes to spare, we bought tickets using a credit card and jumped on the train. We met up with the homeowners as planned.

We will be here about a week. This is a young family, with 2 teenagers. The family are Irish. The man works at the United Nations. They are going to Ireland for a week’s holiday. We will be taking care of Ollie, an Australian Shepherd, a cat, 3 gold fish and a hamster.

We drove around the area to get us acquainted with nearby towns and the neighborhood. We are only about 5 miles from the French border. The homeowner showed us the supermarket where they shop in France, as it is much cheaper than in Switzerland.

DINNER: The homeowner prepared a lovely chicken dinner for us. We chatted at the dinner table and got oriented for our stay here. It will be really nice to explore this part of the world.

Everything Parma…

LOCATION: Bologna, Italy

WEATHER: Overcast but no rain or snow. Highs 40s

Today was our day to explore Parma, about an hour from here by train. The trains here are totally covered with graffiti…

We visited the main cathedral in Parma, built in the 1100s…

Inside, all of the walls and ceilings are covered with intricate frescoes, some painted by famous artists.

Then, the reason we came to Parma……to eat!

We found a little bar/cafe and ordered “prosciutto crudo di Parma e scaglie di Parmagiano Reggiano”. Parma Ham with slices of Parmesan cheese aged 24+ months. It was very good.

Back at the hotel, we spent some time working on our transportation and hotels for the next segments of this trip…..

Housesitting in Geneva – March 22-29

Housesitting in Yorkshire, England – March 29 – April 11

Housesitting in Herefordshire, England  – April 13 – April 22

Vacationing in Ghent, Belgium – April 22- April 28

Cruise around Italy, Montenegro, and Croatia – April 29 – May 7

Vacationing in Venice – May 8 – 10

Housesitting near Wales May 11 – 21

Housesitting near Bordeaux May 22 – 30

Fly back to Texas June 2

We went to the beer bar next to our hotel where we had been the other night. The waiter/owner welcomed us back with hugs. After a good Italian craft beer, he helped us reserve a table at a pizzeria nearby. The pizza was delicious and HUGE. We split one, and still have leftovers for tomorrow’s train ride to Geneva. We watched customers at another table where each person ate an entire pizza himself. At another table, they split a pizza, then had a second course! Unbelievable.

Bologna, a foodie paradise!

LOCATION: Bologna, Italy

WEATHER: Cold. Snow! Wet! Highs in 30s

We awoke to big flakes of snow falling outside our hotel window. Pretty, but not so great for walking around in. Not to be deterred, we headed out toward the old part of town. The old streets are mostly covered with porticos, so we kept mostly dry. We each had on about 5 layers of clothes.

The streets were lined with really elegant shops, the modern style interestingly juxtaposed inside the ancient exteriors. We wanted to buy some gloves, so we stopped in one shop. They were 135 Euros! (About $170 USD). No grazie.

We found the section of town that was recommended in my book “1000 Places to Go Before You Die” called the Quadrilatero. Most of the buildings are from the 14th century. The streets are lined with shops. Lots of locals there buying things, as well as some tourists. Parma ham and Bologna meat shops….

And delicious-looking fresh pasta in shops. We heard that many of these pastas can only be found here in Bologna…

By this time, our feet were getting cold, walking on the wet cobblestones, so we ducked into this bar for an expresso.

The place was tiny….about 5 Italian men were crammed into the back section, sounding like they were arguing (but I think they were just talking) plus one small table where we sat. The men were drinking wine, all obviously friends,

After walking around some more, we returned to this little bar, as we had liked the atmosphere so much. We each ordered a glass of wine, then helped ourselves to the free snacks on the bar. What fun!

Lunch was in the same area, another very small cafe. We shared a bologna (called mortadella here) flatbread, which is a specialty in this city.

In the evening, we walked just a few blocks from our hotel to this interesting looking trattoria that we had scoped out earlier in the day..

We shared an order of Bologna’s signature dish — tagliatelle with ragu sauce. It was out of this world…

Feeling a little guilty for just splitting the first course (rather than each of us ordering both a first and second course), George ordered a dessert. It was vanilla gelato with balsamic vinegar from nearby Modena drizzled on top. He loved it.

Arrivederci a Cingoli!

LOCATION: Bologna, Italy

WEATHER: Very cool – highs in 40s and rain

We said “arrivederci” to our beautiful housesitting villa in Cingoli. The homeowners gave us a ride through the beautiful countryside, past hilltop towns, vineyards and fields of wheat, to Ancona where we picked up the train.

We took a local train for 4 hours, following the Adriatic Sea coast for much of the way. It was pretty desolate today, in the rain, but in the summer time, it really “hops”. We weren’t sure we were on the right train, as there hadn’t been much signage in the Ancona train station, but it turned out ok.

Upon arrival in Bologna, we bought our train tickets for our next trip, to Geneva in a few days. We overheard the ticket agent telling some Chinese tourists that the trains were booked to Milano today and tomorrow. Glad we got our tickets ok.

We traipsed around Bologna in the cold rain until we found our hotel. Nice and cozy, we rested for a few hours and researched dinner options online. Bologna is known as Italy’s “foodie capital”. We are anxious to try some of its specialities. We had dinner in a beer pub. As a nice change of pace, we tried some Italian craft beers. We shared an antipasti that was a plate with a huge chunk of fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, arugula and mushrooms. Nice and light.

Happy Italian St. Patrick’s Day!

LOCATION: Housesitting in Cingoli, Italy

WEATHER: Some rain and sun. High 60

In preparation for the homeowners’ return today, we stayed around the house, cleaning and packing. One of the cats has found a nice, sunny place for napping….

I soon joined her, on the second floor patio, a great place to read a book…

We did some grocery shopping. They have a great system that makes check-out go more quickly. Each customer weighs his own fruit and veg in the produce section, and the machine spits out a label with the price.

George wanted to buy this hunk of bologna, called mortadella here.

I prepared an Irish stew and cabbage for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner with the homeowners. We had a great conversation. They are really nice and fun people.