Tag Archives: city trip

Gluten free Venice

I’ll admit that after my celiac diagnosis, I was afraid to go to Italy again. It is the land of pasta and bread, all things gluten. So I was surprised how gluten free friendly Venice is!

On our first night there, Kay wanted to stop and get gelato before we went to bed. We stopped at place on the way to our flat and seeing the cone dishes, I asked if they had normal paper cups before Kay pointed out a vase full of cones labeled “Senza glutine”. HOLY HELL, this is the first time I’ve ever seen a gluten free cone in an ice cream or gelato shop anywhere!!The shop was called SUSO. I was so impressed we came back again even though we did see other gelaterias elsewhere. It was too late to do food shopping after our arrival on Friday night, so we headed to Ristobar San Polo because we knew it would be open from 8am onward.

Breakfast is still one of the most difficult meals to obtain gluten free and unfortunately they could only offer Kay a focaccia or bruschetta and the only gluten free things they could offer me were tiramisu and some kind of apple cake, so I took both with a cappuccino! The tiramisu was pretty good, moist, but the apple cake was even better because it was warm. Still, with only two pieces of cake and a coffee, I was not really satisfied. Kay just ordered the focaccia and coffee and together we paid €26. Venice is not cheap!We stopped for more coffee in another square later on to soak up the sun and I ended up snacking on some of my gluten free snacks I’d brought along.For dinner, we went to Osteria All’Ombra because it had good reviews on The Gluten Bigot, but it was a pretty mediocre restaurant. It actually had a different name on the menu or wall somewhere and was run by Asians, so at first we honestly thought we were in the wrong restaurant, possibly an Asian one by the name on the card, but it was still All’Ombra they assured us and we aren’t sure if they bought the restaurant from original owners or if it was always like that, but they were definitely not speaking Italian in the kitchen and we are always a little hesitant to eat local cuisine prepared by non-locals. You know, like the sign of a good Chinese place is when other Asians eat there and how it’s a risky sign if there are only non-Asians in the kitchen. We decided to risk it because it could still be good, but all the gluten free stuff was frozen or pre-prepared and Kay’s normal food was not great either.

For the starter we ordered prosciutto and mozzarella, which was pretty blah.My pizza was fine and I did not get sick eating it, but even the ingredients on top seemed pretty mediocre.I was most disappointed when I ordered tiramisu for dessert and it looked exactly like the tiramisu for breakfast. Obviously it’s the same frozen brand, but All’Ombra didn’t defrost it very well. I could even hear the microwave ding in the background, but there were still frozen chunks of ice in the cake.

With that and the pre-set frozen gluten free menu, I was wondering why we went there instead of the many other places that also offer gluten free items. (Hint, almost all the restaurants I am betting have the same GF menu, as we found out at another restaurant the next day.) They did get points for a nicer presentation than Ristobar though.For breakfast on Sunday, we went to a grocery (Thank God!) and bought some absolutely delicious meat and bufala mozzarella.That with espresso from the moka pot supplied by the landlord (yes!!) we had an amazing breakfast supplemented by some gluten free cake we found in the grocery.Ahhh cheese. So good!! So fresh!Kay and I were both impressed how many gluten free items there were in the grocery. Many brands that we don’t know here in Switzerland.We had the cake above for breakfast and the snack bars below as additional snacks around the city.Kay wanted to buy the oreos below, which are actually German, but we ended up bringing them home because we didn’t have time to eat them in Venice.After our visit to the Doge’s Palace on Sunday, I was so pooped and wanted a coffee, but then a glass of wine sounded great too. Why not?? Weekend trips always inspire indulgence.In the afternoon we stopped back at SUSO for another cone. This time I got pistachio and yogurt with berries. Mmmm!I was really in love with the GF cones!We went to Malibran for lunch because it had a big “GLUTEN FREE” sign out front, which was also OK, but nothing amazing. They actually didn’t even have a dedicated gluten free menu and just told me I could order pizza or pasta. I was not especially impressed. I ordered mussels for an appetizer and then chose from the same boring pre-made gluten free menu of pizza or pasta.I ended up with penne and ragout, which I can probably make better at home myself, but it was hot and comforting since it had started to drizzle outside.So there you have it. Food in Venice is similar to Rome. Expensive and crappy because they know they can charge that much for mediocre food and people will still come.

Rest assured that as a gluten free traveler, you will still have lots of options for different restaurants and you can even order gluten free beer (Daura), pizza, pasta, and gelato with a cone, all with minimal effort on your part.

Don’t be afraid of getting sick, just be afraid of the prices! And if you can, I still recommend eating local produce at home because breakfast at our stinky flat was the best food we had all weekend! 🙂


Oh Venice. You were the last one left on my list of top three cities to visit in 2013, and it took two years to finally get to you.

You were worth it, stink and all.Venice is every bit romantic as you can imagine, but you also need to come knowing that it is an expensive, often extremely touristy and crowded city.

That’s Venice. Just look how Italian it looks below. Sigh.We stayed close to “the most beautiful bookstore in the world” as our landlord and the owner of said bookstore told us, and it was certainly a strange and novel experience wandering through the overly filled store with a staircase out back made out of books.On the Saturday we had amazing weather with blue skies and I mostly wanted to soak in the canal sites, which were just breathtaking. 🙂Considering it was another cloudy, rainy weekend in Zurich, we were beside ourselves.A little tired, but very happy to be here!At the end of October, it was pretty fresh around 15ºC (59ºF) and 9ºC (48ºF) at night, but we had our jackets and scarves and it was still warmer than it is in Zurich at the moment.We headed over to San Marco to visit Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco during the time slot Kay had purchased online. Thank goodness for that, it was great to skip ahead the lines!The square was already (or still?) a bit flooded with “acqua alta” as the Italians say. It was only 3-4 inches deep in some spots and the effect was actually beautiful, although astonishing.Closer to the basilica, there were risers set up for people to walk on. Kay and I were still happy we both had on gortex waterproof shoes for the more shallow puddles.After the basilica, we climbed the San Marco Campanile bell tower for this amazing view over the city.After the tower we picked up our tickets for the Doge’s Palace that we planned on visiting the next day. Good thing too, because overnight a huge cruise ship unloaded and the ticket line for picking up tickets was packed the next day!After San Marco, Kay agreed to humor me with an absurdly expensive gondola ride, because this was my romantic trip to Venice and we would probably only do it once.

Official rates for gondolas while we were there were €80 for 30 minutes, which really meant 25-30 minutes depending on traffic, or €100 for 30-35 minutes after 7pm. We spent the €80 and tried not to think about what we were doing.I thought it was worth it! I mean, it’s not really worth the price, but at the same time, you just have to do it. There isn’t really another way for tourists to experience Venice from this vantage point and it’s absolutely not the same as walking over the footbridges. Plus our rower pointed out a lot of famous buildings from this new perspective, including the house Mozart stayed in during his time in Venice, city hall, and where George Clooney and Amal Alamuddin got married.Back on land, we waited for sunset in San Marco and then headed for dinner.Kay was pretty tired, but I begged him to stay out a bit longer so that I could take some long exposures of the canals by night.The next morning, our flat was still stinky as ever (combination of cigarette smoke and canal stink), but we’d gotten a bit used to it by sleeping at night. It must have previously been a boat garage because the window in the back led directly to the canal, with boat access for the owner.Below, you can see the window entrance on the left side under the laundry, which hung above the window in the photo above. It definitely looks like they bricked in two boat garages to make way for more living space.Below was the front room of the flat with kitchen, wash machine, and fridge.After breakfast at the flat, we headed over to San Marco again to visit the Doge’s Palace on a cloudy Sunday.The weather had turned quite a bit from the day before, but that was fine because we’d planned to be inside for most of the day anyway.After a long time in the palace though, stuck in some armory rooms at the end, I was pretty tired. Time to wake up with a coffee wine.For the rest of the day we sort of wandered around more before shopping for some street vendor art so that I could have a painting of Venice to match my painting of Paris. I like the idea of filling up our house with romantic city paintings. 🙂On the vaporetto back to the airport, we took the long way around from the southern tip of the city where the street vendors were, so I had an hour to nap on Kay before our flight back.

One of the most interesting parts of Venice for me was imagining what the city looked like hundreds of years ago and how it’s changed with decay, renovation, restoration, and expansion throughout the years. It was fascinating to see the history in the buildings and even old previously usable steps down to the canal that cannot be used anymore due to water levels changing.

All in all, it was a perfect weekend trip and marks the last city trip of the year before our holidays start. I am thankful for how many cities we’ve been able to visit!

Porto, Portugal

Kay has wanted to go to Porto for ages, so every time I searched for weekend trips, I always kept an eye on flights heading there. Usually prices to Portugal from Zurich are too expensive, nearing 500CHF a ticket, but finally I found affordable tickets for late September, booking a short Friday evening to Sunday evening trip.

In order to keep the flights cheap, we did need to transfer in Frankfurt on the way there, which ended up being horrible because our flight from Zurich was delayed and we ended up having to sprint through almost the whole airport in Frankfurt to get to our connecting gate. I nearly died and after the time difference (1 hour) we didn’t arrive to our bed and breakfast until almost one in the morning Swiss time.The weather was covered on Saturday and we had hopes that it would open up, but it remained foggy and grey. Still, we made our way around markets and walked around the city until it was time for our port cellar tour at Ferreira.

With the weather still cloudy, we made a stop at Lello & Irmão Bookstore,  a famous bookstore considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world.…and it was pretty darn magnificent.It is rumored that JK Rowling was inspired to start writing Harry Potter in connection to this bookstore. Who knows if that’s true?The unique staircase is also thought to be an inspiration to ones described in the Harry Potter books.Next it was on to a couple churches.We were a little sad that the weather was so gloomy, but you can’t always be lucky with the weather on these short trips. Well, or our long ones either. We actually seem to do better weather wise on weekend trips compared to proper two week holidays…The port winery tour at Ferreira was OK, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. The tour guide was alright and the information was good, but it was a large group and the tour was a bit rushed before we were all dropped at the end to try our port selections.After a very quick introduction to our five selections, the guide took the bottles away and left and we were left trying to remember which port was which within our little group doing the larger degustation. We still had a nice time, but next time we will try a different winery just because! 🙂

After the port, we were rather tipsy and tired and the weather was not doing much to energize us. The day ended with weather like below…We ended up walking around for quite a bit looking for a place to eat that inspired us.At least the city looked nicer at night when it was lit up.The next morning though, the sun was out and we were enthused!After breakfast we stopped for a better coffee and Kay was really excited when the sky opened up completely with sunshine and warmth.Who is excited about the day and wants to do everything we skipped on Saturday?? This guy!We decided to head back to the Clérigos Tower and actually climb it this time. It hadn’t seemed worth it the day before, but below was exactly how we imagined Porto!It was a bit funny though. I’d made Kay wear his dress shirt on Sunday because I made lunch reservations at The Yeatman Hotel, a five star hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant. The dress code was “smart casual” and we were both worried that we would be turned away in our jeans.

Well, climbing up the tower without an undershirt under his dress shirt completely soaked Kay. It looked really horrible and I couldn’t help laughing. Before we left the church, he changed back to his T-shirt and we tied his dress shirt to his backpack to try and dry it out before arriving at the restaurant.

Wearing just a sweaty tank top myself, I put on a light long sleeved top in front of the hotel while Kay put his dried dress shirt back on over the T-shirt. It ended up being fine for lunch and we managed to fit in all right.Above was our view from the table at lunch. The entire experience was pure heaven! Me and my handsome man. 🙂After a very long lunch, we made our way back down to the river.We didn’t have that much time before we needed to get to the airport for our flight, but we soaked in a couple more sights.We were also pretty full of food and port by this time!At the airport it was important to buy some port based on what we’d sampled in the winery and restaurants. We had some good advice and decided to pick up four different kinds which I’ll mention in the food post soon.Oh Porto. You tired me out. Our flight back was also delayed, although we didn’t have to transfer on the way home, we also only arrived home after midnight. It’s making for a tired week, but worth it to enjoy these last weekends with Kay before school.

Only five weekends for Kay at home before he’s off to study!

Lo & Sons OMG Bag Review

Lo & Sons bags are a little on the pricey side, but boy are they nice. Luxury at its finest! Their two bags the OMG and OG are very similar in size, the OG being 17” x 6.5” x 15” (43.2cm x 16.5cm x 38.1cm) while the OMG is 16” x 6” x 13.5” (40.6cm x 15.2cm x 34.3cm).

Considering that more and more airlines are enforcing regulations for the personal item you carry in addition to your carry-on, which limit travelers to approximately 17″ x 9″ x 10″ (43cm x 22cm x 25cm), I chose the OMG so that I could squeeze this bag by as a personal item since it is a bit smaller in depth and height than the OG.

Last weekend I decided to bring the OMG on its own to Porto as my weekend bag. So what can it fit?Clothes: jeans, two long sleeved shirts, two pairs of socks, two pairs of undies

Electronics: iPad, Kindle, Bose headphones, iPad/iPhone charger, dSLR and 24-105 lens and filter

Toiletries: Makeup, skincare, toothbrush, hair products, etc.

Gluten free snacks and water bottle

Accessories: Glasses and case, sunglasses and case, wallet, gum, tissues, earplugs, Swiss army knife, lipgloss

It was a fair amount of stuff with all the electronics and snacks, but I still had room during the trip to stowaway my scarf, pullover and jacket at times when it was hot.On the way there we had emergency exit seats, so I was not allowed to keep the bag under the seat, but here it is on our way back. I have fit this bag into a very small Canadair CL-65 aircraft on the way from Columbus to Philadelphia as well. You do have to turn the bag on its side to fit it under, but in the Swiss aircraft below, I still had room to put my feet stretched under the seat as well if I wanted.

On the smaller American aircraft, it was tighter, but it fit as well on an aircraft where most people are forced to check their carry-on and almost only jackets or very thin bags fit in the overhead bin. I was happy to see the bag fit on both kinds of planes and not be questioned for size at all.Moreover, I am also really happy with all the pockets in this bag. It makes organization a breeze (there is even a shoe storage pocket!) and I feel more secure storing my wallet in the inner pockets on city trips with the additional inner zipper pockets.

A bit of a splurge, but I highly recommend the Lo & Sons bags. If you are looking for the perfect personal item to complement your carry-on for longer trips, this is it!


Luxembourg was a fun weekend where we didn’t have much planned. It was not a long weekend, so it was a pretty tight weekend trip, but it’s such a small town that there’s not so much to see anyway.

We had also just found out about Kay’s acceptance to INSEAD and we were riding the short wave of joyful anticipation before his planning stress set in.Something about city trips always makes me feel extra romantic, especially during these last months with Kay. I want to soak up this time in a bottle and remember it later when we are alone and down.I planned the Luxembourg trip ages back because I wanted to go somewhere for my birthday weekend and Luxembourg happened to have some affordable tickets then.

It did happen to be one of the hottest weekends, if not the hottest weekend in Switzerland/Europe of the whole year. It was 37ºC/99ºF and unlike Switzerland, Luxembourg does not have an abundance of open bathing opportunities like Switzerland. We nearly melted!

I asked the hotel staff where they go to cool down and they pointed us in the direction of two indoor swimming pools. Other than that, all the rivers/ponds/bodies of water outdoor were not for swimming. We figured it wasn’t worth going inside, so we just enjoyed the radiating heat after all our cold weather and accepted that we would be pretty sweaty by the end of the trip.

Luxembourg was small enough that we ended up going to the same tourist destinations as the other couples visiting the city. We ran into the same folks quite a few times at historical sites, museums, and even pub cafes.

It was great on Saturday to have a bit of “us” relaxation time in the park in the shade. Time like that is important to relish!

I was also into photographing almost all the nature.

Down below there was a couple getting married on Saturday. The bride had a traditional white gown on and I can only imagine how much she was sweating in her dress. It was killer heat.

I thought the city was pretty charming for a weekend trip. It had a fair amount of hills to walk up and down and a strange mix of old and new architecture.

Here I am doing my favorite thing… ruining Kay’s shot. I learned from the best himself. 😉

We stayed at a Radisson Park Inn because I wanted to splurge a little for my birthday. The hotel was alright, but it was not in the best area of town and I was a little disappointed in the quality for price factor for the hotel.  We had a couple times at night where we were nervous getting back to the hotel because it was a rough area.

Below we visited Bock Casemates, the fortification around the old city.It was a little cooler out of the sun at least. 🙂

Sunday afternoon we went through a small brewery district in search of restaurants open for early dinner before our flight back.

All I really wanted to do at this point was sit down and enjoy a cold drink.

It’s always about a thousand times nicer to visit a city with great weather. It leaves such an impression on your opinion of the place.At the end of our trip we were tired, hot, and sweaty. We had thoroughly enjoyed the heat even without a nice dip in water.

As the first city trip after Helsinki where we lost Kay’s mother, it was nice to have a successful trip, even if things are very, very different these days.