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    "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not."

    R. W. Emerrson


    Bringing Back Cocktail Hour - Switzerland

    Our time in Switzerland was fleeting, but the expansive scenic vistas secured lasting spots in our memories. The Swiss Alps revealed their glorious fall colors, snow-capped peaks, and age-old glaciers as we gradually worked our way to St. Moritz on the Bernina Express scenic train. After spending a few days exploring the extensive labyrinth of hiking trails near St. Moritz (Vail, Colorado’s sister city) we moved on to Zurich where an incredible fondue feast awaited us compliments of our kind hearted dining benefactors, Rich and Elle.

    The simple menu at Fribourger Fonduestuebli (try saying that three-times fast!) offered only two cheese choices; we selected the half Gruyere, half Vacherin option cooked with wine and Kirsch. It was delivered in a bright red pot with hearty helpings of sliced bread and potatoes accompanied by supplemental sides of pickled onions and gherkins. A red and white checkered tablecloth accentuated the creamy pot of percolating heaven which went exceptionally well with the locally sourced Soleil du Valais wine.

    We consumed the full offering of savory cheese including the “religieuse”, the crisp layer holding fast to the bottom of the pot. We rounded out the evening with refreshing passion fruit sorbet and little glasses of house Kirsch. The entire experience felt authentically Swiss as we raised our glasses in celebration of the generosity bestowed upon us by good friends Rich and Elle.


    La Dolce Vita! Northeastern Italy

    We knew we needed a taste of la dolce vita for ourselves after hearing friends describe their recent trips to Italy.  They raved about the delicious food, rich wine, unforgettable attractions, and romantic ambiance.  We concentrated our sightseeing to northeastern Italy with visits to Trieste, Venice, and Milan, promising to return some day to explore southern Italy’s treasures.

    Not long after crossing the Italian border from Slovenia we approached spectacular views of Trieste and our excitement increased.  For us, Trieste is the perfect size.  It displays wonderful character in its small winding streets, lovely squares, waterfront promenade, and impressively diverse houses of worship, each with its own unique architecture.  We enjoyed gelato in the Piazza dell’Unita d’Italia and paid a visit to the Miramare Castle on the Adriatic coast.  We could have lingered longer in this delightful city by the sea, but Venice beckoned.

    Venice is one the most surreal places we have visited, possessing a beauty that is difficult to put into words – It is something that truly must be seen to be believed.  We stayed in a 15th century palace (which Jenn believes to be haunted), watched the sunset over the water, and explored the city on foot getting lost in the little nooks and crannies that don’t find their way onto a typical visitor’s itinerary.  We were traveling outside of the town’s traditional tourist zones and loving it.

    Our final night in Italy was fashion-focused Milan.  With only one evening to spend in this influential metropolitan area, we hopped on the subway and headed to the historic center to see the Milan Cathedral (Duomo) and its impressive piazza.  We ventured away from the crowded square in search of quieter quarters and ended our evening with an indulgent multi-course meal.

    As we boarded the train towards Switzerland and bid “arrivederci” to Italy we acknowledged that we had merely sampled what this impressive country has to offer.  Our return is certain, and it’s great to have something like that to look forward to.


    There Must be Something in the Water - Eger & Balatonlelle, Hungary

    Jenn's In There Somewhere!

    Our daytrips in Hungary led us to a small city rich with history and a summer tourist destination that had passed into sleepy offseason serenity.

    Eger’s great square juxtaposed ancient buildings against a modern water installation that provided fountain and steam features. The steam created the October-appropriate illusion of phantoms passing through a foggy graveyard as people sought its cooling mist.

    After a short walk, we arrived at another water installation, one which provides a glimpse into the areas grand history. Eger’s Turkish Baths have been in use for 400 years and offer the therapeutic healing and relaxation we longed for. We soaked in warm sulfur water, sat in herbal steam rooms, swam in modern pools, and explored age-old grottos. We let the stress of foreign language mistakes and tight travel schedules melt away and left with feelings of peace and calm.

    We were surprised to witness just how quiet the Lake Balaton area is during offseason; it seemed that we were the only visitors to the small waterfront community of Balatonlelle. We used this to our advantage by slowly strolling, hand-in-hand, along lakeside paths, watching locals fish for the catch of the day, and chatting casually over fulfilling meals in one the few open restaurants.

    We’ve learned to adjust our pace to match the tempo of our surroundings. Like Hungary’s many lakes and rivers, we have found satisfaction in going with the flow to see where it takes us.


    Finding Gems - Budapest, Hungary

    Budapest was unanimously recommended to us as a cultural melting pot and foodie-friendly corner of the world. It's a large city, but can be easily be navigated via the quality public transportation system. Looking for a place to plant some roots, we booked a 10-day stay to determine what all of the hubbub was about. We hit the usual sites (Fisherman's Bastion, Hungarian National Parliament, St. Stephen's Cathedral, etc.), but also went off the beaten path with a caving expedition in a nearby national park, toured a WWII hospital, and a visited to the little known pinball museum/arcade.

    The Caving Under Budapest tour was unlike anything we've ever done. The cave's air was thick with dust as we crawled and climbed our way through spots we wouldn't have thought possible. We pushed our boundaries during this incredible excursion, and our knees and elbows paid the price the next day when they revealed a few impressive bruises accompanied by aches and pains from muscles we don't usually exercise. We checked caving off of our bucket list and anticipate that our next underground experience will occur in a slightly more sedate venue, a wine cellar.

    We also toured the surreal underground Hospital in the Rock, a WWII medical facility and bomb shelter. Built to accommodate 60 people, it ended up housing over 600 individuals during the wartime invasion of Budapest. Both of us detected a scent similar to formaldehyde in the musty air in this inherently eerie place. While educational, we found ourselves ready to reach the one-hour tour's end so we could get some fresh air and seek out a merrier venue.

    Where does one turn when seeking the merriest venue of all? For us, it was the Flippergaléria Pinball Museum. During our casual exploration of the city we stumbled upon this side-street gem, home to over 130 pinball machines dating back to the 1930s. All of them are functional and unlimited play is included in the modest admission price. We had a blast in this pinball time warp and recommend it as the perfect distraction from the more recognized sights.

    We were delighted to find Budapest as the incredible city everyone described with its historical architecture, restaurants and Sörözős offering fresh food and incredible local wine, and especially those little gems that haven't quite been discovered by the sightseeing masses.


    Bringing Back Cocktail Hour - Budapest, Hungary

    The Saturday afternoon sun warmed us as we stepped onto the city streets to begin a long walk from our Pest apartment, across the Danube River, and into Buda.  Along the way we slowed our pace and secured a park bench on Margitsziget (Margaret Island) to take in the sky’s softer hues at dusk.  This Saturday was special, being Matt’s 40th birthday, a milestone we had looked forward to celebrating abroad.

    With Jeff’s considerate “Bring Back Cocktail Hour” contribution in hand, we sought out a fulfilling dinner and drinks.  As we made our way through the quieter corners of Budapest, we encountered Sörmanufaktúra Söröző, a tiny Hungarian pub.  It was no bigger than a large coat closet, but housed a quaint courtyard with outdoor seating.  We secured two local craft beers, which were happily consumed over lively conversation.  Hunger set in, so we made our way to Mandragóra Kávéház.

    The restaurant's cozy atmosphere and attentive staff were comforting, but the best part of the evening was the food.  We started with an appetizer of well presented cattle liver pâté served along-side homemade brioche and greens.  The pâté was covered by a thin layer of what appeared to be cream cheese which added a smooth texture and subtle richness to an already velvety and flavorful dish.

    We sought balance in our entrées by choosing one that was hearty and another that was delicate.  The exceptionally tender wild boar stew was offered with noodles which had the consistency of gnocchi.  On the lighter side, the panko crusted tilapia was flaky, and well paired with its creamy remoulade sauce and butter potatoes.

    We raised our glasses of Pannonhalmi Salve, a cheerful local wine, and toasted Jeff’s generous sponsorship of a perfect birthday celebration in Budapest.