Birthday week in Switzerland

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After a wild week in London, I am looking forward to a mellow and grounded week in beautiful Switzerland with family and friends and much needed rest. I’ve written several pieces on my hometown Lugano, but it never seems to get old and I find that there is always more to share with you about this amazing small city bordering Italy. I arrive in Zurich airport, and this time, I decided to take the train down to Lugano instead of a rental car or small plane; the train leaves directly from the airport so it’s an easy operation all together. I’m happily surprised to see that the first class wagons are now panoramic, an option that did not exist when I was living in Switzerland. Taking the train through the Swiss countryside and mountains is already an amazing treat in itself, but having a panoramic ceiling, well…what more can you ask for. Even better is the fact that there are only two of us in the entire car. After a 3 hours train ride, I arrive in Lugano to find my brother and his 3 kids along with my BFF Fabrizio, with whom I’ve been friends since we were 3 years old, waiting for me at the station…right there and then you understand the feeling of love and the true meaning of coming home, no matter how many years it’s been since I’ve left Switzerland.

 

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Arrivals at Zurich airport

 

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Swiss trains first class panoramic car

 

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Amazing view from my seat

 

Since this will be a quiet week of relaxation and family time, I won’t be doing a 1-day review post, but rather I’ll talk about the highlights of my stay in Lugano.

I always love walking around town in Lugano, not only it is such a beautiful city, but it carries so many amazing memories from my youth: like Gabbani Market (www.gabbani.com), an iconic gourmet market that has been in Lugano since 1937 and also the place where I had my first summer job when I was 15 years old so that I can earn enough money to buy myself a moped!!! I worked outside under the arcade selling fresh berries (don’t even…), there, the first seeds of what would become a fearlessly independent entrepreneur, were planted. The food at Gabbani is beyond amazing and the presentation is just fabulous! Walking through the streets of Lugano is a real treat; you will find such amazing buildings and churches from way back in the 15″ century. One thing about Switzerland is that they take good care of their national patrimony and all historical buildings look as they were built just a few year ago.

 

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The iconic Gabbani market in Lugano where I had my first summer job at 15 years of age


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The famous salami arches at Gabbani

 

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Gabbani’s amazing sandwiches

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Santa Maria degli Angeli, Lugano’s oldest church and monastery, circa 1499

 

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Santa Maria degli Angeli, interior

 

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The last supper at Santa Maria degli Angeli

 

IMG_4229The stunning alfresco “Passione e Crocefissione” by Bernardino Luini.



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The newly renovated Palace Hotel and residence

 

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Lake view

 

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Another amazing lake view

 

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The oldest building in Lugano, circa 16′ century

 

I loved having lunch with one of my oldest friends: Stefano Pesce; an art dealer and representative of one of the biggest Salvador Dali collections in Europe. He takes me to one of my favorite Grottos on Lake Lugano: Grotto Pojana (www.grottopojana.com). As I already explained in previous posts, a Grotto is a uniquely Swiss Italian phenomenon; it’s basically an old mountain home, turned into an open air restaurant by the family living in it only during the summer season, after which, it turns back into the restaurateur’s home fro the winter. The owners of the Grotto make all their foods in house and all specialize in typical Ticino specialties like: Polenta, Risotto, Brasato, local cheeses and cold cuts, horse meat, pork ribs to name a few. Anyway, back to Gotto Pojana! This place has been around forever and the food is still amazing to date! I had the Cipolla Tonnata, which is a take from the Vitello Tonnato (one of my favorite dishes in the entire world…); basically a grilled sweet onion with a Tuna, anchovy, lemon and fresh mayo sauce. As an entree I had the Persico filet (a local sweet lake fish) with Risotto alla Parmigiana…delish! Stefano had the fried lake baby fish with French fries, also amazing and typical of this area. A bottle of their own Merlot wine and there goes a perfect lunch by the lake before going to visit the foundry that exclusively casts all of Salvador Dali’s sculptures, of which Stefano is the representative.

 

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My childhood friend Stefano Pesce and myself at Grotto Pojana

 

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Grotto Pojana’s own Merlot wine

 

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Pesce persico del lago with risotto alla parmigiana

 

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“Pesciolini del lago fritti” with french fries

 

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Grotto Pojana’s Menu

 

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View of the lake in front of Grotto Pojana

 

The whole bronze casting process is really astonishing and watching each piece going through all the different stages and become the final shiny bronze sculpture it is meant to be, is something really special. It reminds me of my art school days when I was doing sculptures and castings in plaster. You could see some of Dali’s famous pieces, like the stretched out clock and his Knight on a horse fighting the dragon…amazing!

One of the highlights of my stay was coming home from a luncheon and being surprised by my 3 nephews with a small chocolate tart with candles for my birthday. The best part was the 35 year old candles…the fact that they think I’m 35 is in itself, the best birthday present EVER!!!! There is nothing like family my dear Possums and that is one of the main reasons I come to Lugano so often, so I can see my brother, and watch his kids grow up and be a small part of it…and because they think I’m 35!!!!!

 

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Dali’s bronze sculpture

 

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Dali’s famous Knight fighting the dragon

 

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Two stunning bronze heads that I sooooo wanted to steal!!!!

 

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One of the many stages of bronze casting

 

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Dali’s famous stretched clock

 

Another Grotto worth mentioning is Grotto del Pep (www.grottodelpep.ch); once again, we’ve been going here for many years, so Jonathan, my youngest brother, decided this would be a good place to celebrate my Swiss version of my birthday with a few friends and family. They are known for their pork ribs and the Polenta with trifled mushrooms…to die for!!!!! The meats are BBQ’d outside on the grill for all to see; sitting outside on the signature granite tables and benches on a warm summer evening is a real treat. The drink of choice in Grottos in this region is “Merlot with Gazzosa”, which is red wine with a lemon soft drink that they mix together and drink out of these unique porcelain cups that look like tea cups without the handle. After eating half a pig, 10 lb. of polenta and mushrooms, 5 bottles of Merlot and Gazzosa, and having such an amazing time with my friends and family, I am ready to end the Swiss part of my “Global Birthday Celebration” and prepare for the upcoming Turkish Birthday week…too much? Hey…until you can still stand up and celebrate the fact that you are still alive…I say go for it!!!!!

 

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My own little dynasty celebrating my 35th birthday…ish

 

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Entrance to Grotto del Pep

 

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Outdoor terrace

 

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Outdoor grill

 

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Specialty dish: Polenta with trifled mushrooms

 

IMG_4086Signature dish: Costine di Maiale con Patate


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The beautiful and serene view from my bedroom at dusk…is he watching me?