Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Fun with the Kruse's: Part 2

As you know from the last post, our awesome friends from Indy were recently in town for a visit and lots of European fun.  We spent the first few days in Germany before their side trip to London.  After their three and a half days in London, they flew back here to Stuttgart and on the same day we headed out for my favorite destination, Italy!

Our destination was Lake Como in northern Italy.  Kyle and I had been to the town of Como on the lake on our way home from our cruise last summer, but we only spent a day and a half there and didn't see much besides the town and a tiny portion of the lake;  so most of this was new for us as well.  It's about a 4-5 hour drive depending on which town you visit.  We stayed in the town of Menaggio right in the center of the lake.  It was about a five hour drive, but the beauty of the scenery made it fly by.  The awesome drive through the Swiss Alps was really part of the site seeing on the trip!

We had a great apartment with exceptional views that really made it special.  We had a small balcony that overlooked Menaggio, the lake, and the mountains that still had a touch of snow at their peaks.  It was absolutely stunning!  The first evening we had an amazing dinner of salumi, cheese, pasta, melt in your mouth meat, and of course red wine.  We wandered around our little town a bit and headed back to our apartment where we played a gut wrenching game of toss the flippies into each others mouths.  (Big Flippies are an addicting German snack that are kind of like cheese puffs, but flavored with peanut butter instead of cheese!)

Our balcony with breathtaking views!

The next day we took the ferry to check out a couple of other towns across the lake. Our first stop was the town of Varenna.  I don't think a town can get any more picture perfect!  It has colorful old buildings with overflowing flower boxes, waterfront cafes, narrow staircases, and a lakefront promenade.  We had pizza at one of the lakefront cafes and saved our crust to feed the ducks.  We relaxed in the shade by the lake for a bit, had some spectacular homemade gelato, and fed the ducks before taking the ferry to the next town, Bellaggio.

Approaching Varenna

Bellagio is an equally beautiful town that's a bit more upscale rather than quaint, like Varenna.  There were a lot of interesting shops and boutiques that probably cater to the millionaires that are able to spend the entire summer there.  After drinks at a cafe, we took the ferry back to our town and had another wonderful pasta dinner, followed by more delicious gelato!


Our next day was absolutely perfect!  We had rented a little speed boat for the entire day.  (Or as the Italian boat renting guy called it, a booooata.)  They say the best way to see Lake Como is from the water of Lake Como, and they are absolutely right!  We had gorgeous blue skies, great friends, a cooler of refreshments, and breathtaking views.  It doesn't get much better than that!  We would cruise the lake for a while, then stop and relax and soak in some sun.  It was so neat to see the little towns from the water.  We saw two villas that were used in James Bond films, one of which was also used in one of the Star Wars movies!  We also got to see George Clooney's villa.

Captain Kruse (Thanks for the pic, Lyds!)
Villa La Gaeta in the last scene of James Bond film "Casino Royale"
George Clooney's villa.  Not too shabby!

We stopped in a cute little town for lunch.  Jason was the captain, and he did a great job driving all day, but parallel parking a boat is a bit trickier than parallel parking a car!  He got the boat backed in exactly where we wanted it, but it was just about five feet too far from the dock!  As we all sat there, staring at the the dock, a very nice Italian guy came out and pulled us in.  (I still give a lot of credit to Jason; I'm sure I would have had us stuck on the rocks.)  We ate another fantastic meal on a terrace overlooking the lake.  We saved our bread and were able to feed the swans right from our table!


We were very reluctant taking the boat back, but we resisted the temptation to keep the boat and went ahead and turned it in.  We ate dinner at the apartment that evening.  I had made some bolognese sauce ahead of time to bring with us, so we had that on pasta along with fresh bruschetta.  It was quite an experience lighting the stove.  It was a gas stove, but the ignitor was broken.  We didn't have any matches or lighters, so Kyle got creative.  He turned on the oven and waited for the heating elements to heat up.  Then he lit a napkin on fire from the oven to light the stove while Jason stood by with a pitcher of water to throw the napkin in.  I needed three of the burners, so after they were lit Kyle and Lydia stood and stirred the pots continuously, because there was only one setting: rocket ship high! It all turned out well, though.  For dessert, Jason had run down (literally, down) to town to get some gelato to go.  We finished off half a kilo of chocolate and creme caramel.  Mmmmm!


We didn't want to leave, but we drove back to Germany the next day.  We took a different route on the way home.  It was the second route option that the GPS gave us, but it literally took us up and over an Alp! We went up the mountain on narrow roads with blind hairpin turns.  After each turn we gave a collective, "Wow".  The beauty was unbelievable!  We stopped at one point to take pictures, and at the top we stopped to touch snow!  It was definitely the warmest snow we've ever touched! The road closes during the winter, so they must get a ton of it!

Really?  There's a town up there??

We stopped at a McDonald's in the tiny country of Liechtenstein for a Royale with Cheese.  Our next stop was in southern Germany, where Kyle and I always stop to get gas.  Every time we take a trip going south, we stop at the gas station in Singen, and every time we see these awesome castle ruins on top of the hill overlooking the town and wonder about them.  This time, we stopped and hiked up to see the ruins.  It was well worth the time! The ruins and the views were awesome!  We could see the nearby Lake Constance (the Bodensee in German) and also the Swiss Alps along the horizon.  From Singen, it was just over an hour to get home, where we stayed for one night before heading back out the next day for France!

Back in Deutschland!
You can barely make out the Alps on the horizon.

In the morning, we drove through the Black Forest to Strasbourg, France in the Alsace region along the French/German border.  Strasbourg is a beautiful city, complete with an impressive cathedral and scenic canals.  The Alsace region went back and forth a lot between the French and the Germans, so you can see both influences in the architecture and the food.  The people and language, however, are very French!  We had savory crepes for lunch, and then spent a bit of time seeing the main sites. We then drove south along the beautiful wine route.

We caught this guy taking off in the Black Forest.  I want to try!
Beautiful Strasbourg

The wine route is a scenic road that goes through vineyards, quaint little medieval towns, and borders the Vosges mountains.  There are tons of places to stop at for some wine tasting and to pick up a few bottles to bring home.  We stopped at one tasting room on the way to Bergheim, where our hotel was located.  We spent the rest of the evening in our town.  We did another tasting, and the woman that worked at the winery was so interesting to talk to!  Lydia even got her to do an American accent!  (It was very funny, and kinda sad at the same time!  It sounded very valley girl!)  We had an amazing dinner that evening, right across the street from our hotel.

Quaint and quiet Bergheim
Stuffed chicken breast and pasta
White asparagus and charcuterie
Pork roast braised in red wine and spätzle

In the morning after checking out, we went to see the next two towns along the wine road; Ribeauville and Riquewihr.  They are both straight out of a fairy tale!  In these two towns the air smelled like coconut macaroons, and a little bit of stinky cheese wafting out of a few restaurants, but mostly coconut.  :-)  They are just picture perfect!

A family of storks!
We drove back to Germany  after our short, but high impact French trip.  We drove straight to downtown Stuttgart.  We couldn't let them leave without actually having seen the city! We walked around a few of the main sites, and had a last relaxing German beer before going home for them to pack up.

A big protest was going on while we were downtown.
Jason and Lydia's flight was early in the morning, so we left the house a little before 5 am to get them to the airport.  We had such an awesome time, and we were sad to see them go!  I think they got a huge bang for their buck seeing six countries in two weeks!  I can't wait to begin planning their next trip here, right, Jason and Lydia???