We started the day in a very relaxed mode – a train ride from St Moritz to Chur. This was a lovely run over the Grison Mountains but unlike our previous train the windows won’t open so the pictures were not as great. However, the views continue to be amazing and beautiful. Along the way we say a number of small villages, open meadows of green grass, some brown cows and ice capped mountains.
After the train we boarded our couch and headed to the 4th smallest country of Europe – Liechtenstein.
Liechtenstein, officially the Principality of Liechtenstein, is a land locked German-speaking microstate boarded by Switzerland and Austria. It is the fourth smallest country with an area of just over 62 square miles and a population of just 38,000. While we were visiting we did get a stamp in our passport!
Our Insight Tour was a great way to learn about Switzerland and its people and culture. Throughout our adventure, Rob our Tour Manager, did a good job of giving us just enough information to appreciate how the country has evolved over the years and how it has been able to maintain its neutrality for the last 400 years.
After our adventures in Zermatt and the beauty of the Matterhorn and Italy we climbed aboard our coach and off we went. The first stop, along the way, was a photo op at Julier Pass. At the top of the pass are remains of a Roman temple and cart tracks showing the importance of this pass all the way back to Roman times. The road was constructed in the 1820s. The pass is at 7,493 feet! ;and on a clear day offers stunning views.
At the end of the our day was St Moritz. Now this place is clearly a resort town and basically open only during the winter. St. Moritz may be small, but it’s a heavyweight in the world of fashion.
From Armani and Gucci to Zegna, the Alpine resort’s selection of renowned fashion labels is second to none. Fortunately for my wallet virtually all of the stores were closed between seasons.
The following day we boarded the train to ride along part of the route of the Glacier Express,
across the Grison Mountains and through unforgettable scenes of ice-capped mountains, stone-built villages and lush meadows. I will let the pictures tell the tale of this trip.
Once we reached the end of the line our couch picked us up and we headed to Liechtenstein and Lucerne but more about that latter.
Having viewed Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) from Geneva and Montreux, we journeyed south via coach to Tasch to ride the cogwheel train from Tasch to Zermatt.
About 20 years ago, Zermatt realized they were developing a smog issue and all public vehicles (except outside construction) have been electric since the 1970s.
After a short walk from the station we arrived at the Alex Hotel. We checked in and were assigned an elegant suite with balcony overlooking the iconic peak, The Matterhorn.
The next morning, a part of our group of 37 ventured up the peak for Alpine views and the remainder of us enjoyed sunshine, hot chocolate, and strolls through the town.
Zermatt is at an elevation of 5,249ft and lies below the iconic Matterhorn peak. Its main street is lined with boutique shops, hotels and restaurants all with a lively après-ski scene.
Just a short walk from our hotel is the Matterhorn Museum.
The Museum has gathered cultural-natural displays of a Matterhorn village attempts to “conquer” the Matterhorn plus a number of significant artifacts are on display. It was an interesting place to spend an hour or so.
Our evening in Zermatt included a delicious dining experience where we got to know members of our group and prepared for our morning departure that included a coach ride over the Simplon Pass into Italy.
Napolean led his troops through Simplon Pass (6,578 ft.) on his grab for empire, but probably did not record the stellar views en route like our tour did. Our coach brought us to Baveno Piedmont Italy on Lake Maggiore in a cloud of rain. After checking into the hotel, a fairly large sub-set of the group boarded a boat for Isola Bella estate.
Isola Bella is a privately owned island with a Palace and lovely gardens.
Owned by the same family (bankers from Milan) since the mid 1600’s it was built to impress the guests and it clearly does that very well. Originally we had been hesitant to sign on for this optional tour as we had visited the Palace during our trip to the Lake District of Italy a few years ago. However, even in the rain the tour was wonderful (fortunately our tour was primarily for the interior of the Palace) as our guide
was very knowledgeable and brought the place to life during our tour. and even the rain outdoors didn’t dim the experience. Having been owned by the same family for generations,
it has been decorated over several decades, and reflects decorative changes, but always with a focus on impressing.
Multiple Venetian glass chandeliers reflect the intent. The Grotto, constructed in the lower level of the Palace, gives the impression of sea caves and is very creative and imaginative.
Despite a gentle drizzle, white peacocks roamed the gardens, and the dogwood and azaleas splashed color.
After completing the tour and visiting the gardens, we adjourned to a short boat ride to Fisherman’s island nearby, and a splendid Italian meal with music, wine and many courses.
After visiting in Bern we drove to Geneva,the starting point for our Insight Tours – Glorious Switzerland adventure. This fit perfectly into our schedule and filled the gap between the end of our river cruise and our departure on the 15th of May. Neither of us had really been to Switzerland and signing on for this tour seemed a good way to get an overview of the Country.
Geneva – Situated along the banks of, you guessed it, Lake Geneva is the Headquarters of Europe’s United Nations,
the Red Cross, UNICEF and a number of other world organizations. Aside from all the. international organizations, it is also the headquarters for some of the best known watchmakers in the world including Rolex, Patek Philippe, Raymond Weil and many others. It also has a very large banking operation so the City isn’t lacking for money.
Our first evening included a welcome dinner at a local restaurant (did I mention we were staying in a 5 star hotel? Hotel d’Angleterre which was wonderful) and tastes of local dishes. Dinner included adult beverages which is always nice.
The following morning on the coach (that sounds so much better than bus doesn’t it?) off we went. First stop was The International Monument to the Reformation but usually just called the Reformation Wall.
This honors individuals, events and documents of the protestant Reformation depicted as statues and bas-reliefs on the wall.
This is in a lovely park and could certainly get crowded so it was good we were there early.
After a stop at the Floral Clock
we drove by many of the headquarter buildings for the various world organizations.
After leaving Geneva, and driving along the shores of the lake, we stopped at a medieval castle, Chillon. This Castle is a fortress celebrated for its beauty and is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe.
The Castle is the former home of the Counts of Savoy (Major power for a very long time in the middle ages) and was immortalized by Byron’s poem, ‘Prisoner of Chillon’. It sits on an outcropping of rock along the banks of the Lake and was a defensive installation and also a place where taxes were collected for goods passing along the road on one side and the river on the other.
Our guide toured us through the structure and pointed out a number of very interesting areas. It was interesting to see the construction of the place and how well it has been preserved over the years.
After touring the castle, we continued our travels around the lake ending up in Montreux.
Now all I really know about Montreux is they have a world class Jazz Festival each year and have been doing it since 1967 making it possible the longest running festival of its kind and to which I would love to go.
This event is 2 weeks of music along the Lake and maybe sometime I’ll be able to attend. There are several other music events throughout the year and the place really is beautiful as it is situated on the Lake with the Alps all around.
Last year a movie was released called Bohemian Rhapsody. I hadn’t seen it prior to being in Montreux but I soon learned the movie was about Freddie Mercury – lead singer for Queen. During the ‘80’s I wasn’t a Queen fan so really had no clue about Freddie or knew anything about him. Well, turns out he spent a lot of time in Montreux and after his death the City erected a statue in his honor
and there is a Freddie Mercury Montreux Memorial Day festival that has been on-going since 2003. So, of course, we had to stop at the Statue had take a picture or two.
After walking around and taking some lovely pictures we had a very nice Italian lunch.
After leaving Montreux we were off to Zermatt and a visit to the Matterhorn.
Just a very quick note to let you know we will be updating our blog in a few days. Things have been very busy for the last week (Geneva, Montreux, Chillon, Zermatt, Matterhorn, Baveno, St Moritz, Liechtenstein, Lucerne, Zurich, Paris….) so there is a lot to tell and show but not enough time right now. Check back in a few days for updates. Here’s just a few pictures lots more to come.
Something like 14 years ago, while in Portland Oregon, I met an Opera singer – Amber. From time to time since then I have sent her an email or two, but we haven’t actually met face to face since that time. Well, about a year ago while in Europe I discovered she was living and working in Bern Switzerland. Needless to say with our river cruise ending in Basel and the start of our land tour starting in Geneva, stopping in Bern was a no brainer.
After a lovely night staying at the Hotel Basel, we picked up our rental and headed out. Bern was only a little over an hour away through some really lovely country. Rather than stay on the highway, I did venture off a couple of times just to see the sights. It was a lovely drive.
When we got to Bern we found our hotel was under major renovation. The outside of the building was completely covered with scaffolding and when we got off the elevator we were confronted with construction debris and workers.
This did NOT make me happy and I expressed this to the front desk. Our room was OK, but getting to and from was very unsettling. However, having pre-paid for the room we couldn’t just back up and go somewhere else. The positive side was it was near the old section of Bern and walking distance to all the sights.
After getting settled in we connected with Amber she came over to our hotel and off we went to explore her city. Turns out she is a salaried employee of the Bern Konzert Theater and has a very secure position.
She has been in Europe for the last 8 years (she is a US Citizen) and in Bern the last 3 years or so.
Amber took us on a walking tour to visit the city, see the Bern bears, walk up to the top of the mountain for the view and then a lovely meal before heading back to our hotel.
Overnight there was a light dusting of snow that made everything beautiful. We packed up our car and headed out to Geneva and the start of our Insight Tour of Switzerland.
Our last couple of days on this River Cruise will be documented in pictures. They should give you a good feeling for our experience.
Of course, Strasbourg does have a cathedral – Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. It was the second most visited Notre Dame after the one in Paris. Sad to say, it will now become the most visited one due to the fire.
The original was built in the 14th century! The current astronomical clock was built in 1843 and shares many of the features of its predecessors such as an orrery, a rotating display of the current positions of the sun and moon, a planetary calendar, and even a mechanical rooster. The calculations required to keep the accuracy of the earth and moon in rotation around the sun correctly on the clock is done by a complicated set of cogs on the right hand side of the planetary faceplate. A large celestial globe in front of the planetary clock is also connected to other mechanisms and the stars are in correct position for the day and time of year.
But enough about Strasbourg…off to Basel Switzerland!
The wall shows portraits of rock stars like Janis Joplin, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Jim Morisson and the Doors, Jimmy Hendrix, The Who, Pearl Jam, Dave Groll and the Foo Fighters, Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, Kurt Cobain, Pink, Frank Zappa, Madonna, Pink Floyd and Bob Marley. The famous Rolling Stones tongue logo, Who Mod Target logo and Woodstock Festival logo with a dove sitting on a guitar are integrated in the design as well as the Beatle’s album cover “Abbey Road” with George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and John Lennon walking the crosswalk.
The River Empress was a fantastic home for our adventure from Amsterdam to Basel. There were some highs and lows but mostly highs all along the way. Would we do another UniWorld River Cruise? Yes we would . Actually looking at doing something in 2020 in Eqypt!
Our next stop was Frankfurt. This central German city on the river Main is a major financial hub that is home to the European Central bank.
While we were docked close to the city center, the historical section is virtually all rebuilt after WWII but it gives a great idea of what it might have looked like during the day. Those buildings that have survived are few in number and unfortunately when they we anxious to rebuild many of the new buildings are stark 60’s style, very unattractive. However, the Square that now exists is lovely. In this square they have a traditional Christmas Market each year.
After getting back to the boat we cruised down the Main and back to the Rhine stopping at Speyer. Along the way, Janeen joined the Wine and Art Class on the upper deck.
There she had some interesting local wine and tried her hand at producing some floral art.
The Speyer Cathedral that includes tombs of eight Holy Roman Emperors and German Kings dominates Speyer. However, having seen one too many cathedrals, we opted for a special tour to a vinegar tasting.
Now, we have done a LOT of wine tastings even done a Modena balsamic vinegar tasting, but this was our first experience tasting this style of vinegar. Making vinegar is so easy it can be done by accident. Making it on purpose for a specific reason is a whole different story. Our visit to Weinessinggut Doktorenhof (Wine Vinegar Doktorenhof) was certainly an educational trip to try and begin to understand what this was all about.
We began our adventure tasting five different vinegars, varying in sweetness and flavors.
Each one was explained in detail, identifying the fruit or herbs used and also the uses of the vinegar. Some are used as an aperitif and others for overall well being.
Each is infused with different flavor ranging from wild cherries, apricots, vanilla beans, fig, wild oranges, lavender and any number of other things. Basically you start off with a batch of wine and you spoil it using a “mother” starter. This turns the wine into vinegar. Once that is completed add various flavorings to infuse the entire batch with a specific flavor or aroma.
Our guide for the tasting, George, explained the manufacturing process that has been handed down from generation to generation and the philosophy of the house.
While they make a LOT of different blends (over 50) we tasted only five – Ficus – the Fig, Angels Kissing the Night, Tears of Cleopatra, Balsam of St. Damian and Giacomo Casanova. Each was preceded with a description of what was in the blend as well as a story or two. Additionally there was some tasting and even some blending suggestions (champagne and Angels Kissing the Night for example). Each of the 5 different vinegars was tasted in hand-blown glasses together with chocolates and other treats.
After our tasting we donned a monastic looking robe and headed into the aging cellars. The cellars look very like wine aging cellars – barrels filled with juice. The atmosphere lets one breath pure, healing, vinegar fumes.
There was also a room filled with herbs used as part of the blending process. Vinegars age for a minimum of 3 years and others can go as long as 10 years. The aging process is to fully infuse the herbs into the vinegar and create more complex vinegar.
While I have heard of people drinking filtered apple cider vinegar on a daily basis for health reasons, many people for the same reason use the vinegars produced at Doktorenhof.
We did pick up a bottle of Angels Kissing the Night and I feel better already having had an ounce every day since.