Happy New Year and Sincerest Thanks, 2016!

Happy New Year, everyone!  2015 was a pretty spectacular year for Tony and I, and one I didn’t think we could top.  Well, 2016 proved me wrong.  It was full of amazing adventures, wonderful family and friends, success at work, and the greatest blessing of all – the creation of our first baby.

To welcome in the New Year, I am taking a look back on our magical 2016.  There are so many to thank for this incredible year.  I thank God and my husband.  I also thank my supportive and loving family and friends.  And of course, I thank my wonderful place of employment which brought us to Switzerland in the first place.

January

January kicked off with another visit to Dubai and India.  I try to visit colleagues in India once a year, and given the distance from Zurich, I usually spend 2 weeks traveling throughout this incredible country.  This trip was really special because my dear friends Pratiti, Sonale and Deepali showed me the true, local hot spots of both Mumbai and Chennai.  It was also my first time wearing a sari!

My first sari

Kingfisher at Leopold’s Cafe

February

Even though February is the shortest month, there were a lot of wonderful things I got to experience.  February took us to Nepal for the very first time.  What made this trip special was that Tony was able to tag along, and we were able to visit a local school.  I head up the Corporate Social Responsibility program at work, and we partner with an organization called Room to Read.  I was able to see their work in action and I was floored at what a strong impact they had made at just one school.  We watched first graders learn to read and write in Nepalese and you could see their little minds capturing and storing the information.

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1st Grade Class

Another great thing about February, which happened while we were in Nepal, was the birth of my nephew Adrian!  We were so thrilled to welcome the first baby to the Scarpaci family, and I was back in Chicago only a couple weeks later to visit him in person.  I never knew I could fall in love with someone I had just met.

My handsome nephew

The final amazing thing about February was a promotion at work.  I made sure to take myself to Prada to celebrate.  🙂

March

In March, I went to Doha for work and Copenhagen for the Easter holiday with friends.  Both trips revolved around food which was absolutely fine with me!  Arabic food is some of my favorite in the world so I indulged in Doha, and Copenhagen is known for its high volume of Michelin star restaurants.  However, those few restaurants emptied out our pockets for the rest of the month.   Whoopsie.  😳

Copenhagen

April

April took me back to Dubai for a 2 week work trip, and upon returning, my brother arrived in Zurich.  Getting back to my love of Arabic food, I went all out in Dubai, but I was ready to get out of the heat by the end of the two weeks.  Being in Zurich mid-Spring was super refreshing, and it was nice to spend some quality time with my brother.  I love it when he visits.

Brother and I

May

May slowed down travel wise, allowing Tony and I to enjoy the beautiful weather that was descending upon Zurich.  We tried bowling in Switzerland for the first time which was incredibly fun and felt very American.  We also found out the most amazing news of all – I was pregnant!

June

In June, Tony and I went to Budapest for a long weekend, and I visited London for work.  Budapest was my first trip knowing I was pregnant, and I found myself constantly Googling what I could and could not eat.  Who knew if this Swiss/American baby could handle Hungarian food?  Everything ended up being fine and it was a good first lesson in not stressing during pregnancy.

Budapest

London was much more enjoyable than normal because my friend Sara met me there for the first half of the trip.  We hit up the great sales and trendy restaurants and enjoyed a couple days sans husbands (no offence to Tony).

London

July

During the month of July, I traveled to Spain for the first time.  I was in Mallorca for work for a few days, and it felt like Heaven.  The sun, water, and food (again, me with the food) were all so calm and relaxed.  The people were constantly happy, and the breeze was always available to cool you off.  I didn’t realize a place like this existed!

The end of the month was a treat too because I went back to Chicago to spend time with my family.  There were some very special events that occurred in July with family and friends.  My nephew had grown so much from February and I was very thankful to be able to attend his Christening.

I also attended a very special wedding.  My dear friend Francesca got married at the top of the city, with my dad as my super cool date.

My besties and I wrapped up my trip with our annual birthday dinner.  We’ve held onto this tradition for 17 years!  WOW!

August

August is always special to me because it is my birthday month AND my wedding month.  But this time, it was also the month of our most epic vacation ever.  We did an 11 day cruise in the Baltic Sea and saw so many wonderful new countries and cities.  It started in Copenhagen and took us through Germany, Estonia, Russia, Norway, and Sweden.  It was unlike anything we’d ever done before, and even with all of the cities we saw, sometimes my favorite part was just sitting on our balcony and watching the waves below me.

Our cruise ship

September

By September, I had wrapped up most of my work travel.  My baby bump was starting to show more and more as I was moving into my 3rd trimester.  Tony and I took a weekend trip to Barcelona, our first time in this city.  We really enjoyed the food and as I write this I realize that is probably the theme of my travel this year.  🙂  We were present during Catalan National Day and saw thousands of people out and about, celebrating their nationalism.

October

We took two small trips in October because by now, I was really showing and my mobility was becoming more and more limited.  We spent a weekend in Poland with Tony’s sister and her kids.  We really enjoyed spending quality family time and being back in Krakow.  It has one of the best central plazas or platz in Europe.

Krakow

The end of the month we were in Catania, Sicily, for a last go at summer weather, and it was there we watched the Cubs win the pennant!  They were off to the World Series!

November

The only thing I can really say about November is CUUUUUUUBBBBBBSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!  On the morning of November 3rd, the Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908. Tony and I started watching game 7 at about 3am Zurich time and cried tears of joy when they made the final out against the Cleveland Indians.  The Cubs win cemented the fact that 2016 was officially the best.  Year.  Ever.

At the end of the month, we took our final baby-moon – a train trip to Paris to see my friend Sara again and celebrate an American style Thanksgiving.  Baby bump had to learn just how special this city was to us – the earlier it learns, the better.

Baby bump in Paris

December

And now, moving into December, typing this on the last day of 2016, I sit back and reflect once more on what an amazing and blessed year we’ve had.  We hosted Tony’s sister and her family for Christmas and it was so wonderful to be with our family during the holidays.

Merry Christmas

Within the next 3 weeks, we will meet our first baby which will be the most magical way to kick off 2017.  Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I excitedly await for what 2017 has in store.

Blessing and love to you and yours, and Happy New Year!

Stockholm, Sweden

After visiting St. Petersburg, we were back on the sea, making our way to Helsinki, Finland.  However, we were awoken at 6am the following morning by “the bridge” (the location where the Captain and his team steer the ship).  Apparently the wind levels were so incredibly high in the Helsinki port that it made it unsafe to dock.  Based on their description of the wind, it sounded like it was even unsafe to go outside – you might get blown into the water!

As such, our Helsinki day turned into another sea day.  This meant that I slept until 2pm and spent way too much money at the casino playing the slot machines.

We continued on to Sweden, and awoke in the port of Nynashamn.  The port was an hour away from the main tourist attraction, Stockholm, so as soon as we could, we high tailed it to train station.  Trains to Stockholm left every hour, and took an hour to arrive.  Once we made it to Stockholm, we met up with friends of our travel companions.  This ended up being extremely helpful because they were kind enough to show us around the main sites of the city.  Even though it was freezing – to the point where I had to buy another sweatshirt – we really took in a lot.  Stockholm ended up being one of my favorite stops of the entire trip.

Since we had traveled an hour to make it to Stockholm, before seeing the sights, we took in a fika.  This is a Swedish coffee break, meant for relaxing and enjoying good company.  From there we headed towards Old Town and made our way through the city.

Stockholm

Stockholm

Bloodbath Square

The term “blood bath” originated in Stockholm.  In this spot, in the year 1520, the Danish executed around 90 Swedish people after having invaded Sweden.  Allegedly, the amount of blood was so great that it flowed through the square like bath water.  I heard this while standing here, taking the photos, and it painted a pretty disturbing visual in my mind.

Stockholm

Stockholm

The Palace

Like the other Nordic countries we had the pleasure of visiting, the royal family seems pretty comfortable with people meandering around their property.

Stockholm

Stockholm

Wandering by the Water

The water, the ships, the amazing licorice candy – these all help make Stockholm the adorable and interesting city that it is.

Stockholm

Stockholm

Stockholm

Before Tony and I headed back to the train station and the cruise ship, we grabbed a quick lunch at a restaurant in the King’s Park (Kungsträdgården) called Villa Godthem.  As we needed to eat quickly and weren’t too familiar with Swedish cuisine, we selected what we had heard of before – Swedish meatballs or köttbullar.  It came with mashed potatoes and lingonberries and was honestly the best thing I ate over our 11 day cruise.  I had never tried lingonberries before – they were like spicy cranberries – and when paired with the meatballs, created an intense flavor profile in my mouth.  We wanted to order a second helping for each of us, but had a train to catch.

I was sad our visit to Sweden was over – not just because I wanted more time to explore, but also because it meant our cruise was also coming to an end.  It was back to reality after one more day at sea…

The Missus’ Picks:

  • Bloodbath Square – even with the gory back story, it is very cute and a great place to enjoy a fika
  • Try a free walking tour – we were lucky enough to have local guides 🙂 but I have had great experience with walking tours in the past
  • Make sure to eat Swedish meatballs with lingonberries and sample the licorice

 

 

St. Petersburg, Russia – Part 2

Tony and I woke up very early on day 2 in Russia for our on-shore excursion.  One of the things we didn’t realize about St. Petersburg is how incredibly spread out the city is.  We wanted to view both of the main palaces, and they were on completely opposite ends of the city.

We started with the palace of Catherine, the second wife of Peter the Great.  Where the Russian ballet theater was lacking in opulence, Catherine’s palace certainly made up for it.  Even walking upon it was an experience.  It was so incredibly beautiful, with its bright blue walls lined with white and gold trim.

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine Palace

Catherine was the second wife of Peter the Great.  Originally named Marta, she was allegedly a beautiful laundress that Peter fell in love with.  She and Peter had 12 children, but only two of them survived – Anna and Elizabeth.

Inside the palace, we were required to check any bags or coats, and were made to wear shoe coverings.  Throughout the tour, we were allowed to take pictures.  Tony and I snapped away in every room except one – the Amber room.  This was the only room we were not allowed to take photos.

I have to pause to cover off on the most amazing thing about Catherine’s and Peter’s palaces – they were almost completed reconstructed after WWII.  Most of both palaces were damaged after extensive bombings by the German military.  That fact alone made everything we saw even more amazing, because the restoration effort took so much time and care to get every detail correct.  The Amber Room alone took 20 years and $12 million dollars to properly restore.

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The gold gilding that could found in every room was magnificent.  Everything felt so special and superior, and I would expect nothing less for the Empress of Russia.  I tried to imagine attending balls or dinner parties in such a place.  What did the ladies wear?  What type of music did they listen to?  And what did they eat?

After our visit of Catherine’s Palace, we continued through Catherine Park off to where the kitchens used to reside.  This is where we ended up enjoying a very Russian meal, topped off with a shot of vodka.  I of course didn’t partake, but when in Russia, a shot of vodka at lunch seems like a great idea to me!

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The bus ride to Peter’s Palace, or Peterhof, took about an hour.  The sun had started to peek its head out from behind the clouds, and the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  We weren’t able to take photos inside of Peterhof, but that was fine by me – the beauty was on the outside.

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Peterhof

My mom said this is her favorite photo 🙂

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I hadn’t yet seen enough gold at Catherine’s Palace, so thankfully, Peterhof took care of that for me.  🙂  The palace is called the “Versailles of Russia” and overlooks the Gulf of Finland.  We were almost able to see our next port stop from the fountains of Peterhof.  The fountains themselves were also pumping via natural pressure vs. electronic which made them that much more impressive.

Given the travel time and the distance between the two palaces, by the time we finished with Peterhof, it was time to head back to the ship.  I didn’t get to see nearly as much of St. Petersburg as I wanted, but my love for the city and the country of Russia was only made more powerful by this visit.  Tony and I fully intend on taking our little baby back to Russia.  There is still so much to see and explore, and I already know the baby likes Russian food.  🙂

The Missus’ Picks:

As I’ve said many a time, Russia is a fantastic place and one of my favorite countries to visit.  If planning a trip specifically to St. Petersburg, I suggest at least 4-5 days.  The city is very large and spread out and if you want to take in a ballet, plus the palaces and a canal cruise, you will need that much time.  My top picks include:

  • Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood – even though I didn’t get to see it, this is built in a similar style as St. Basil’s
  • Peterhof and Catherine Palaces
  • The Russian Ballet – try to see Swan Lake if possible and any theater is acceptable
  • Canal Cruise
  • If you visit in the fall/winter, eat beef stroganoff and sample the vodka…and caviar if you’re brave
  • If you visit in the spring/summer, try kvass – you can find it on many street corners for cheap

Until next time….