indian summer

When the rest of the country gets ready for fall, we who shiver through the foggy, chilly summer in San Francisco finally break out our shorts and sunglasses for Indian Summer. Last weekend was filled with some truly wonderful weather, both inside the city and out. Saturday, we volunteered at the lunch stop for the San Francisco version of the MS 150 – Waves to Wine. Familiar with the annual two-day bike race because my dad and my best friend rode in it for years in Missouri, I was really happy to be volunteering for the Northern California race. Starting in San Francisco, the race route crossed the Golden Gate Bridge and wandered through Wine Country. The riders’ lunch stop was at a fabulous spot right on Tomales Bay, famous for its oyster farming. Home to a few oyster eateries, including the famous Hog Island Oyster Co., Tomales Bay is a lovely, tranquil place. It was foggy when we arrived at 7:30am at Miller Park, next door to Nick’s Cove (a cute waterfront restaurant where there was actually a wedding going on during the bike ride, much to the bride’s chagrin), but it turned out to be a gorgeous day. We were especially happy with the clear skies when we drove back to the city along Highway 1, where the endless, jaw-dropping views of the cliffs and the Pacific Ocean are usually hidden in clouds. 

The following day, we headed to Berkeley for some betting and beer-drinking in the sun.
Golden Gate Fields sits right on San Francisco Bay and hosts dollar Sundays, where parking, beer and hot dogs are only a buck each. The $7 I won on my horse, off a $2 bet, covered expenses.

It was foggy when the day started for the MS Waves to Wine bike ride (above left), but the sun came out and the day was glorious at Nick’s Cove (above right + below); it was also a fabulous day to drive down Highway 1 on our way back to the city (bottom left); and we got more sun for horse-racing at Golden Gate Fields (bottom middle + right) 


european vacation

When our friends from Perth, Josh and Frances, announced they decided to get married in Bellagio on Lake Como in northern Italy, I was, needless to say, ecstatic for a reason to go to this beautiful location I had put on my travel list years ago, but thought I wouldn’t get to for a couple of decades. After buying the plane tickets in January, the time finally came and it was nine days of total heaven. A heaven of wine, pasta, parmesan, pizza, prosciutto, prosecco, gelato and tiramisu. We ate a lot. But better than the fabulous food was the fabulous scenery. Lake Como is quite possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world.

First, however, we went to Switzerland. Due to a cheaper flight and the chance to add an additional stamp to our passports (always our main goal), we flew in and out of Zurich and spent a night in Switzerland on both ends of the trip. When we landed in Zurich, we hopped on a train from the airport and took a 30-minute ride to Lucerne, an old, picturesque town on the northwestern tip of Lake Lucerne, where the Reuss River empties into the lake. In both winter and summer, Lucerne is a hugely popular European tourist destination – it is surrounded by mountains, is filled with pretty architecture and is home to Chapel Bridge, the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe. We didn’t spend much time there (thank God – the prices are ridiculous), but it was enough to enjoy the sunny weather, drink delicious Swiss coffee and go on a boat ride around the lake. The next day we boarded another train for a very scenic, three-hour ride through Switzerland and into Italy. The route traveled past more lakes, tiny Swiss villages nestled in the hills, alpine waterfalls and plenty of cows (cheese is a big deal in Switzerland).

The train took us to Como, one of the larger cities on Lake Como, located at the very bottom of the lake’s western leg (the lake is shaped like an upside-down ‘Y’). From here, we had to take a 40-minute ferry to Bellagio, our final destination. When we got to our accommodation at Villa la Colombia, we unpacked and didn’t leave for week. La Colombia is a three-story home that has been turned into self-contained studios, about a 15-minute walk south of town. It turned out to be a perfect spot – the location kept us away from the tourists and forced us to burn a few extra gelato-induced calories; we had plenty of space; and our studio opened onto a balcony with a view of the lake and the hills. We spent our first full day on a ferry, exploring some of the other lakeside towns. We toured Villa Carlotta, built in 1690; had lunch at Pizzeria Balognett, a hidden-away eatery up a hill we accidentally stumbled upon in Tremezzo; and enjoyed Bellinis in Varenna, a colorful fishing village.

The rest of our days were basically spent lazying around – eating breakfasts of bread and cheese on our balcony; drinking prosecco; laying by a hilltop pool or the lakeside lido; walking through Bellagio’s charming, narrow, cobble-stoned stairways; drinking prosecco; eating gelato; having dinners of prosciutto and pasta pomodoro at our favorite restaurant, Trattoria San Giacomo; drinking prosecco; and going to a wine bar with free Internet to make our friends jealous with Facebook updates.

The only exception to this wonderful routine was the wonderful wedding – the reason we were all there. We boarded a vintage-style wooden speedboat for the ride across the lake to the Church of the Ascension in the town of Cadenabbia, and after the ceremony, got back on the boat for a quick ride around the lake (we drive past Richard Branson’s villa) and a stop at Villa del Balbianello to take some wedding photos. Balbianello is quite well-known; several film scenes have been filmed there (including Casino Royale and one of the newer Star Wars movies), and it’s a popular tourist attraction. It’s pretty incredible. We then boarded the boat one more time and headed back to Bellagio for the wedding dinner at Silvio, one of the best restaurants on the lake. Silvio specializes in fish from the lake; the owner is one of the few people left with a license to fish on Lake Como, a privilege passed down through his family.

Sadly, our week eventually came to and end, and Seb and I went back to Zurich the same way we came. We had one night in Zurich (another beautiful European city), which we spent eating fondue, admiring really old churches and walking along the River Limmat, which flows into Lake Zurich.

Click here to see a photo gallery (let me know if this doesn’t work; it’s been temperamental).

All photos on Lake Como, Italy, except last one: Tiny fishing village of Pescallo (top left and right); small village of Loppia (middle left); view from our balcony (middle right); view from Villa del Balbianello (bottom left); Lucerne, Switzerland (bottom right)