Fun with Friends – Europe edition

Vienna | Liechtenstein | Geneva | France | Amsterdam | Greece | UK | Slovenia |

After Armenia and Georgia (and before Greenland), I arrived at my home away from home – Dani and Robert’s in Vienna – and took advantage of a “pause” in travelling to just hang out with them and their boys and do “normal life” things in the fabulous weather.   Cool restaurants, funky riverside bars, mountain hiking (complete with unexpected local music and dress), nature parks, garden lunches in the sunshine, running in the park (where Kipchoge did the marathon in under 2hours), blackberry picking, trampoline bouncing and even the opera (a modern version of La Traviata).   Experiencing the e-scooter was one of the unexpected highlights – I need to have one!    Vienna is always at the top of the “Best Places to Live in the World” lists and it is easy to see why.   Many thanks as always for your wonderful hospitality Dani and Robert. 

One of the great pleasures of European travel is the ability to travel by train.  Taking advantage of this, I decided to travel overland from Vienna to Geneva, which involved traversing almost the entire length of both Austria and Switzerland, admiring the mountain and lake scenery along the way.    Conveniently this also allowed me to stop over in Liechtenstein, the 4th smallest country in Europe and one of the least visited.   You can literally walk across the country in 2 hours width-wise and less than 6 hours length-wise.    It took me a while to register that the directional signs for the entire country are in walking times!   

I had a more personal reason to be interested in visiting Lichtenstein.  The Royal Family control the Liechtenstein banking system (it is a big financial center) and Prince Max (the son of the reigning monarch) runs an investment fund that has been one of my company’s biggest investors – I’ve even sat in meetings with him!  So I made it a point to visit the castle – you can get very close on the outside – and the Princely winery where the wine was very decent.    I was also impressed with the many older people I saw doing bike touring – motivational for the future.

Then it was onto Geneva and southern France where I had an unexpected but fun reunion with Wendy and Theresse – two of my business school classmates from 20 years ago.    I then spent a few days with my friend Rebecca and her son Mani.  Very generously, Rebecca took me away to a fancy Lyon spa hotel to celebrate my birthday and I loved Lyon.   The gastronomic capital of France (that is saying something) has a lively restaurant and food market scene and we ate escargot (snails) at Les Halles Paul Bucose’s market (the most famous/fancy one) and scallops in the lively old town.  A run along the river, visit to vintage fairs and some time soaking in the spa facilities completed the trip.   A great fondue dinner along the lake in Geneva added a Swiss element.   Great to see you again girls (and Mani!) 

My next stop was to visit my friend Sara in Amsterdam.  I had not been to Amsterdam for many years and had forgotten what an amazing city it is.   One of the most unique things about Amsterdam is that “Bikes Rule”; with bike lanes almost everywhere and most people choosing to commute by bicycle, it is surely the most cycle-friendly city in the world.  You actually have to learn how to avoid the bikes when crossing the road!    We had one perfect sunny day wandering around the beautiful canals, strolling the streets of the old town, eating on terraces, visiting the Anne Frank museum, sipping cocktails on a boat tour and ending with a delicious tasting menu at the very hip Michelin starred Daalder restaurant.  Thanks so much Sara – you are a tour guide extraordinaire!!

After my trip to Greenland (see separate post) it was onto Greece (Greenland to Greece is definitely a surreal itinerary) where I met up with my friend Alessandro for some kitesurfing in the Greek isles.    We headed to Lemnos and soon settled into our beach bum for a week lifestyle….  Leisurely breakfast, work out, kiting and a great Greek food/wine dinner.    Rinse and repeat.   Having “The Beast” – his F150 pickup – gave us a lot of much appreciated flexibility and comfort and, on both Lemnos and the mainland, we were able to also visit some interesting Greek (and later Roman) ruins.   On the kiting front, I think it is fair to say that I am a slow learner but it was very fun and am looking forward to continuing on my kiting journey.   Until next time Ale!

Next up was the UK where I traded my beach bum credentials for “posh bird” ones – staying with Amee and Amani in Mayfair, visiting The Conduit private club and wandering into an amazing Andy Warhol gallery exhibition.    We also had a perfect sunny London day taking the river boat along the canals to fun Camden Market, which neither of us had visited in years.   Good food became a theme with breakfast at the Wollesley, a birthday dinner with Deb, Rakhi and Heather and some home cooking with Marijana.   The culinary journey continued with Anna in Somerset with a divine 9 course tasting menu at the wonderful Osip in Bruton, lunch at The Newt and another dinner at the Old Pharmacy.     In between, we took long walks in the countryside with the dog and indulged in a little art heist television.

So wonderful to be back in the UK seeing all my girls again.   Thank you all.  And a final adieu (for six months anyway) to my cherished travelling companions Amee and Amani.

My final European tour stop was to meet my Canadian friend Sandy in Slovenia for some hiking and sightseeing.     I’d often been told how beautiful Slovenia is and it didn’t disappoint.    Gorgeous crystal-clear lakes, soaring jagged mountains and picturesque churches all abound.   All highlighted by the beautiful fall/autumn tree colors.   We drove the Vrsic Pass, visited Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj and did some short hikes.  

Our main objective was to climb the 2,863 metre Mt Triglav which consists of a 5 hour hike to the main hut and then a 1 ½ hour technical climb to the summit.  With our guide, we donned crampons, ropes and helmets and did a sunset summit climb using the iron pitons/ropes as support (via ferrata).  It was actually way more technical and exposed than we had expected – the rocky “path” was just wide enough for your feet with a very steep cliff off to the side and sometimes you were walking on snow ridges with precipitous drops off both sides and nothing to hold onto!  It was definitely a “you slip, you die” kind of place!    As usual the photos don’t do it justice but trust me – it was hard-core!   Great to do another adventure with you Sandy.

As October closed and the weather got colder, it was time to leave Europe for warmer climes but it was an amazing experience to be able to get to spend so much time with friends all over Europe.    Thank you all!

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