Spring 2015 Caves Ouvertes: A biking adventure to Satigny and Dardagny

IMG_6627 (1)

A popular event in Switzerland is the Caves Ouvertes where vineyards open their wine cellars to public for free tasting. In Geneva, this is usually done in May and in November. The May Caves Ouvertes is always the most popular one as people welcome the warmer weather.

 

It is also an opportunity to buy really good wines at a cheaper price since you are directly getting them from the vineyard owners. I remember last year, I really liked a Sheurebe in Satigny but since we were biking, I was too lazy to get bottles at the Caves Ouvertes. It was sold at around 16 francs. After a couple of months, I saw bottles of it, from the exact same vineyard, at Globus but they were sold at 38 swiss francs per bottle. Ridiculous, right? Well, it’s Geneva.

 

It is also very common to combine a biking/cycling adventure with the Caves Ouvertes – although it can be a dangerous activity once you had too much to drink. This year, my friends and I decided to bike to Satigny and all the way to Dardagny. The entire route was approximately 40 km with seriously steep uphill. Same as last year, we also had a really good weather at this year’s Caves Ouvertes. Although we were dying of exhaustion at the end of the day (most of us are not really serious bikers), we had a really great time. So yeah, I look forward to another Caves Ouvertes next year.

xo, I.

May Destination: Helsinki, Finland

I’m still trying to catch up with blogging and sharing my amazing travels this year but between school ( I’m taking my Masters at the moment), dance classes, crisis all over the world and deadlines, it has been challenging. Anyway, moving on to my 2015 travel destinations, for spring, I went to Helsinki, Finland to visit one of my best friends in the world.

It was my first time to travel to northern Europe and I find it interestingly different. To get there, I took KLM flights. It was more or less a 5 hr flight with a lay over of an hour in Amsterdam. FinAir flies directly from Geneva to Helsinki but I was going in for the miles.

Hietaniemi Cemetery

leave it to us that our walk end up in a cemetery… typical! hahaha!

I was in Helsinki for 5 days but I actually didn’t do a lot of sight seeing – I was too lazy and it was unexpectedly very cold. My friend and I were joking that it was more like a lola’s vacation (lola is the Filipino word for grandma). On my first day, my friend picked me up at the airport, we stored my luggage in her restaurant (my friend is an amazing chef in Helsinki) and went straight to her friend tattoo artist to get inked. After I got my tattoo, we stopped by a bar to say hi to her fiancé and had coffee with one of her friends. After that, we went home, had dinner and talked for hours – just like old times! You see, my friend is an old roommate of mine when we were in university. There were five of us in that dorm who became so close that we’re more than just friends… we’re family up to this date.

IMG_4245On my second day, we went walking (it was supposed to be a running activity but I can’t sweat because of my fresh ink). That was sight seeing for me. After our morning walk, we grabbed breakfast in a little café close to her place. I think on that day we also went shoe shopping, or maybe that was on the first day too, and we met up with her fiancé for a late lunch where I had the Finnish version of filets de perche. Afterwards, we took a quick look at the city via tram and grabbed coffee at the city centre.

On my third day, I had brunch with my friend’s fiancé since my friend had to go to work. After brunch, I went shopping and then picked up my friend after her work. We had an early dinner in an Italian restaurant close to her restaurant then we went to a bar to quickly say hi to her fiancé and his friends. In the evening, we just sat

Kauppatori, Helsinki

Kauppatori, Helsinki

On my fourth day, I went around the town by myself since my friend had to work. She advised me to check out the food fair happening because there was a Filipino tent in that event. The food fair was in a park and they had food from all over the world. It started raining after sometime so I went to the oldest café in Helsinki called Edberg. They had an amazing coffee and one of the best tarte au citron with merengue I’ve had – my favourite dessert in the world! After the rain stopped, I went around town to check out some of the touristy sights and of course, ended up in another culinary fair. After my sight seeing, I met my friend at the city centre and we went to another nice café for coffee and patisserie. Afterwards, we went home where my friend prepared her specialty for dinner – salmon soup. Yes, my friend, born and raised in Philippines, is known in Helsinki for her salmon soup because she makes them in the most traditional way. When I asked around where to get salmon soup, they told me to ask my friend to make it. We didn’t stay up to late that night because I had a very early flight the following day.

When I told my Finnish friend that I very much enjoyed Helsinki, she laughed at me and told me I was being nice – not because it’s not a pretty city but because there’s nothing to see there. True, it’s not your typical European city and you can’t compare it with France, Italy, Germany or even Czech Republic where the cities are buzzing with tourists. I find Helsinki quieter and calmer than Geneva but it has it’s own beauty. I also think I very much enjoyed my stay in Helsinki because it allowed me to spend time with my really good friend who I dearly miss.

So yup, I loved Helsinki! It was a good choice indeed.

 

xx, I.

 

Hotel Review: Best Western Plus Laguna Brisas Spa Hotel

For my summer travel this year, I decided to go to South California and see family and friends. For my bonding time with my university girlfriends, we decided to have girls’ Friday night out and Saturday hiking activity at Laguna beach where we also booked a hotel room. We stayed at the Best Western Plus Laguna Brisas Spa Hotel. The hotel is a 3-star hotel.

Location/Accessibility (4/5)

The hotel is located at 1600 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651. The hotel is by the main road and can be easily be missed because of its little sign but it is not really that difficult to find. It is maybe a mile and a half or about 2 km from the town center. There is a trolley that runs around the town and you can catch one at the corner next to the hotel.

The hotel is also just few steps from the beach but just to be clear though, it is not along the beach (it is across the beach side).

Rooms and Facilities (3/5)

We had the room with 2 queen-sized beds with kitchen. Being used to European-sized hotel rooms, I find our room massive. It also has a balcony, which can be nice, but it is very close to the next room’s balcony so there’s really no privacy. The rooms are a bit outdated and the carpets are quite old. The hallway smell chlorine from the pool but I’m not bothered by it.

There are complementary coffee and tea in the room but I was disappointed that there’s no complementary bottle of water considering the rate of the room we paid for the night. Coffee and tea are also available at the reception lobby 24/7 (at least from what I understood).

To say that I’m a frequent traveler is an understatement. I say this because I’m not kidding when I say it’s one of the only two times I to encountered a hotel that only starts serving breakfast at 7:30 am. Maybe it’s an American thing. Hotels always start serving breakfast at 6 am. So, I was slightly disappointed with that because if you plan to hiking at 7 am, then you have to find your breakfast some place else (Orange County has beautiful hiking trails that are perfect for early morning activity).

They have parking but not for free, we paid USD 15. It wasn’t a problem with us that they can allow one parking space per room but I could see how this can be inconvenient for a group with more than one car.

Staff and Services (4.5/5)

My favorite part of our stay in this hotel is the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff, most especially the reception staff. They were very accommodating to our requests.

Security (4/5)

The security was pretty standard and I like the fact that there are 2 access doors to the parking garage (doors with access control, using room key, to enter from the garage) from the 2nd floor as the reception is located below the ground level with narrow stairs going out. Building evacuation can be tricky if people are expected to leave the hotel through the main entrance.

Having someone at the reception 24/7 is also a good layer of security.

Price (3/5)

We paid USD 300+ for a night stay at this hotel. I see that the other rooms can be cheaper but for me, this room rate is too high for a 3-star hotel.

Overall, I rate this hotel with 3.7 out of 5. I will likely comeback to Laguna beach for holidays and I might consider staying in this hotel again because of the hospitality of the staff and it’s convenient location. I’d like to try another hotel in the area for comparison.

April Destination: Saint-Genix-Sur-Guiers, & Annecy, Rhone-Alpes

The perfect staycation at Rhone-Apes

The perfect staycation at Rhone-Apes

An Easter weekend in Geneva is also a good opportunity to spend a long weekend up in the mountains or down the south. This year, the Easter weekend was my April destination excuse. It was also a friend’s birthday so we decided to just rent a house in Rhone-Alpes, just an hour drive from Geneva and about 40-minute drive to Chamonix. It was a perfect staycation in the little town of Saint-Genix-Sur-Guiers with friends, game nights, a lot of cooking, and a Jacuzzi.

 

Soaking the sun in Annecy

Soaking the sun in Annecy

I guess it was a good thing that I wasn’t feeling well because I was forced to stay in the entire time. My favorite moment was watching the sunset in the Jacuzzi while sipping a nice rhubarb-champagne cocktail. And since the house we rented is quite far from other houses, we had the rare freedom of playing drinking games and just having fun until 5 am. On our way to Geneva, we stopped by Annecy to enjoy a bit of sun before we wrapped up our Easter weekend.

xx, I.

 

March Destination: Freiburg & Rust, Germany

The Silver Star is the 2nd highest roller coaster drop in Europe

The Silver Star is the 2nd highest roller coaster drop in Europe

On 27 March, two of my friends and I went on a road trip to Freiburg, Germany to de-stress by… riding roller coasters!

I just submitted 2 essays as a final exam for my intelligence analysis class and I felt like I’ve used up all my intelligence in the process. So, my friends and I decided that the best way to recover from a very stressful week was to scream our lungs out.

Freiburg is a small town in Germany that is bordering Switzerland. From Geneva, we drove for about 3 hours. As we left work at around 6 pm, we got there at around 9 pm and immediately went to a Brazilian bar for a flammkuchen and beer. I know it sounds weird but I do remember enjoying their food and house beer a lot. In fact, we returned to the same restaurant/bar for breakfast the following day and it was excellent. The following day, we drove to Rust (it was about 30-minute drive) for the Europa park.

Europa park is like adults’ Disney land – it has the atmosphere as Disney land but with a lot of adult rides (mostly insane roller coasters). We probably rode 6-8 roller coasters that day and the most memorable ones were the wooden roller coaster, the blue fire and the silver star. The blue fire is a super fast roller coaster with lots of inversions – it actually freaked me out. The silver star has the normal speed but it’s the second highest roller coaster in Europe. Between the height and the inversions, I’d definitely choose the height!

On Sunday, we had an excellent brunch in a smaller town right next to Freiburg then drove back to Switzerland, stopping by at Lucerne to walk around and have coffee. It was such an adventurous weekend… it was my first time in Germany after all.

xo, I.

Spoiling myself in Geneva with good food: Restaurant review on Café Papon

With my dance school still on Easter break, I decided to go to yoga class with my friends last night. The class wasn’t as advanced as our usual Tuesday or Saturday yoga class but we found ourselves starving like crazy after the class. Usually, we either treat ourselves to a steak or thai dinner after a hard yoga class. Last night, we decided to try something new. As we walked around the Old Town, trying to figure out a good restaurant, my friend remembered that a friend highly recommended Café Papon. We thought it was pretty pricy at first for a random after-yoga dinner. Nevertheless, we were famished and we saw foie gras in their menu.

The restaurant is perfectly situated in the Old Town with short walking distance to buses and tram lines (the closest bus/tram line I saw was Place de Neuve). It’s a bit of an uphill walk but it’s a short one if you’re coming from Place de Neuve/Parc des Bastions area. The restaurant has a classic and charming ambiance. We had our table inside the restaurant but I bet in the summer or on warmer days, their terrace would be amazing.

Foie gras de canard au torchon, financier au citron confit

Foie gras de canard au torchon, financier au citron confit

One of my food guilty pleasures is foie gras so, the moment I saw foie gras in their menu, I knew what to get for my entrée. The foie gras was big enough for 2 persons (there were 2 big slices of foie gras, sweet bread, and citron confit) and I unfortunately couldn’t finish mine because I was worried I won’t have space for my main dish. The foie gras was amazing – probably the best I’ve had in Geneva so far – but I wasn’t a big fan of the sweet bread. For my main dish, I had the sea bass fillet. It was perfect – it was light, perfectly-seasoned, and moist. I also like how they put extra effort in plating our dishes beautifully. For our wine, we had a Swiss sauvignon blanc – it was average but we didn’t really want to spend much on the wine since it was just a random dinner for us.

For the foie gras entrée, sea bass filet, and a bottle of sauvignon blanc, we paid 80 chf each (there were 3 of us and we all got the same food). I know it sounds ridiculously expensive but considering the food we had and that the restaurant is in a good location in the Old Town, for me, it’s a normal price. I don’t mind paying for good quality food and excellent service.

Aside from good food, the service was excellent too. We had a friendly and very helpful waiter and the service was fast. We couldn’t decide what type of white wine we’d like to have and when we hesitantly ordered a bottle of a certain wine, the waiter offered to let us taste the wine first (usually, they open the bottle you asked and have you taste it but that puts you in an awkward position of saying no to a freshly opened bottle of wine you chose). Me and my other friend didn’t like the wine so our waiter brought us another one.

Overall, I definitely will come back to this restaurant and recommend it to others. I think this is a perfect restaurant if you have visiting friends or colleagues because you get to walk around the Old Town then have a nice dinner after.

Café Papon is located at Rue Henri Fazy 1 Geneva 1204.

Restaurant Review: Le Scandale

Le Scandale

24 rue de Lausanne

 

This is probably the first time I wrote a bad review on anything. I usually avoid ranting or complaining in my blog because basically, if a restaurant or hotel is too bad, I wouldn’t even bother writing about it at all.  However, I thought my experience at Le Scandale last night deserves an exception.

Although I’ve been to Le Scandale for drinks before, it was my first time to try their restaurant last night and I must say, I’m probably not going to go there again to eat.

Location and Accessibility (4/5)

Le Scandale is well located, probably 2 or 3-minute walk from Gare Cornavin (train station), along rue de Lausanne.

Food (3/5)

I had their 4 fromages pizza last night and for me, it was mediocre – it wasn’t bad but not worth CHF 18.00 pizza. I love pizzas and I don’t mind paying more than CHF 20 for a pizza before – but it has to be worth it. Unfortunately, there’s nothing special about the pizza I had so, I was pretty much disappointed. For me, there are a lot more Italian restaurants in the area that serves cheaper but better quality pizzas.

Ambiance (2.5/5)

It’s a confused restaurant/bar. It’s a venue that has a restaurant on one side and a huge bar. The place can get packed and loud.

Price (2/5)

As mentioned earlier, I find that the pizza I had was quite expensive for its mediocre quality.

Service (1/5)

If there’s one award I can give to this restaurant, it will be the worst-service-I’ve-ever-had-in-Geneva award. In my 4 yrs in Geneva, I’m already used to the type of customer service they usually have here. With this, I always come to a new place with realistic expectations on customer service.

Last night, we waited for almost an hour for our food to get served because it seemed like the kitchen forgot to make our orders. This happens. What really upset me was how the waiters dealt with us. After waiting for a while, I politely (even smiling) asked one of the waiters if he can check our orders because it’s been almost an hour. The waiter told me “it’s not my problem. I did not take your order”. Then, he walked away from our table and vanished. Finally, our food was served to us and I told the waiter serving us (again, smiling) “merci. Was our order not placed earlier?” The waiter responded to me also with “well, that’s not my problem”. My friends and I were dumbstruck with the waiters’ rudeness. After a while, we heard one of the ladies at the table behind us arguing with one of the rude waiters and we can hear that she was totally upset on something and the waiter went to argue further with her. That’s when I realized that this place should be reviewed so that hopefully such unprofessionalism will be addressed by management.

Overall Rating (2.5/5)

Overall, I don’t recommend this restaurant based on our experience with its unprofessional waiters. If I’m going to spend such amount for mediocre food, the last thing I need will be such arrogant services. Perhaps, we caught them on a bad night but as a paying customer, that shouldn’t be an excuse for bad attitude.