5-10-19 Train Rides and the 4th smallest Country of Europe

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.

The route of our scenic train ride along part of the route of the Glacier Express, across the Grison Mountains and through the unforgettable scenes of ice-capped mountains, stone-built villages and lush meadows.
Arron and June – always a good laugh and great conversations.
Lovely village along the way dotted the hillsides as we traveled along.
Lovely view of the river as we rolled along on the train.
Just another little village along the ride
Green fields and storm clouds – lovely
Your guide on this Adventure – taking it easy on the train

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!

Main street Liechtenstein⁩.
Liechtenstein is home to a number of banks – this street has several.
Gutenberg Castle of Liechtenstein and home to the Ruling Prince.

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.

Rob our Insight Tour Manager – a Brit enjoying way he does for a living for sure

 

 

5-9-19 St. Moritz and the Glacier Express Train Ride

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.

Juliet pass – naturally

 

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.

Lots of lovely stores – all closed waiting for the season to open and ‘rich’ visitors to stop in.

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.

St Moritz is certainly situated in a beautiful spot but is clearly a winter paradise for the ‘rich and famous’. Not many visitors in town while we were there

The following day we boarded the train to ride along part of the route of the Glacier Express,

We boarded the train in St Moritz

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.

As we went up the mountain the tree line changed.
A level part of the journey.
I expect they have skiing all year long.
Lots of snow and the weather throughout the trip was wonderful.
The weather was mixed as we went over the pass.
Stunning views
Located in the Aiguilles Rouges nature reserve, one of the most beautiful mountain lakes, famous for its unique panorama facing the Mont-Blanc massif.
Another snow and train view.
It’s dark as we are going through one of several tunnels along the way.
The train curves around and runs slowly enough that you can put your head out and snap a picture or two.
The village of Cavaglia has a permanent population of 24 and is at 5,587 ft
The small town of Privilasco nestled in the valley of Poschiavo.
We had a lovely time riding the rails.
As we topped the pass and headed down the views were still fantastic
We were stopped at this station and noticed the cable car in operation taking skiers to the top of the mountain.   Thanks to June for this picture.

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.

We had a number of nice conversations with June and Aaron throughout our adventure.
Our Coach for the trip through Switzerland

 

 

5-7 & 8-19 Zermatt, the Matterhorn, Simplon and a night in Italy

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.

The Zermatt Shuttle runs frequently bring ing day trippers to Zermatt to ski and explore

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.

The station in Zermatt – all vehicles in the city have to be electric – no emission issues as a result.

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.

Just a short walk from our hotel was this view of the mountain. Could not have been a more beautiful day to take in the site.
A view of the ‘city’ the Matterhorn would be on the right of this range of mountains.

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.

Note the building and see the rock on the top of the post between the two buildings? Used to keep mice and other vermin from gaining access to the area where food would have been stored during the winter.
Another shot of the old town – not much happening in this part mostly places to stay.
Janeen taking in the sun

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 entrance to the Matterhorn Museum – all the historical stuff is underground.

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.

Inside the Matterhorn Museum they have recreated some of the historical structures that would have been around at the time of the first ascents of the mountain.
Various displays reflect some of the early climbers of the mountain.
This is a re-creation of one of the huts that would have been at the base of the Matterhorn used as a staging area prior to a climb.

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.

Simplon Pass – a significant road over the mountains.
Just another beautiful view
The sites were lovely throughout Switzerland for sure.
This is a military installation at the top of the mountain to protect Switzerland from a land invasion during WWII still maintained however.

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.

Isola Bella – Owned by the same family since the early 1600’s.

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

Our guide did a wonderful job explaining the Palace.
There were a number of these curio cabinets around

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,

Here we are in the main bedroom

it has been decorated over several decades, and reflects decorative changes, but always with a focus on impressing.

The music room – lovely.
The ‘throne’ not used by the King but available should he visit.

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.

Janeen pointing out an crab feature in the Grotto
One of the rooms of the Grotto with a gift statue of carrera marble
It took over 8 years to complete all the mosaic pebble  work of the Grotto

Despite a gentle drizzle, white peacocks roamed the gardens, and the dogwood and azaleas splashed color.

Janeen under the flowering dogwood
Part of the garden – note the white peacock on the head of the statue.

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.

5-5 & 6-19 Geneva, A Castle and a Statue of some guy

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 Headquarters for United Nations – every member nation has a flag

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 Duke of Brunswick gave the City of Geneva his inheritance on the condition they create a mausoleum in the late 1800’s overlooking the Lake for his remains. This is what happens when you have a lot of money to give to a city.

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.

Reformation Wall – An impressive site .
Here we are at the Reformation Wall

This honors individuals, events and documents of the protestant Reformation depicted as statues and bas-reliefs on the wall.

We have seen this style of fountain (there is a constant stream of water in the middle)  in several different cities both in Switzerland and France!

This is in a lovely park and could certainly get crowded so it was good we were there early.

In memory of the joining of the State of Geneva to the Swiss Confederation

After a stop at the Floral Clock

The Floral Clock – maintained by all the watch makers who have headquarters in the City

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 front of the Castle from the road.
The Chillon Castle as viewed from the water.

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.

The road side of the castle.
Only this one bridge allows access to the castle.
You can clearly see that this place was built on the rock structure
The “cells” of the castle.
On the right is the rampart, on the left a defensive position should anyone get over the rampart.
One of the interior courtyards of the castle
Seems they make wine too! We didn’t sample or buy any of the juice.

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.

A view from the coach of the lake – lovely.

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.

The poster from 1983 festival

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

Freddie Mercury looking out over the lake
Janeen doing her Freddy Mercury impression

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.

Janeen found some lovely flowers in Montreux
I even got to be in the picture!

After walking around and taking some lovely pictures we had a very nice Italian lunch.

Janeen had a Caffè corretto – an espresso with a shot of grappa. This was the most impressive presentation of taking grappa out of a bottle we have seen.

After leaving Montreux we were off to Zermatt and a visit to the Matterhorn.

5-13-19 Towards the End….

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.

Freddie Mercury at Montreux.
The real Matterhorn – not the one in Anaheim
In the Grotto at Isola Bella – Lake Maggiore Italy
Janeen an Monet’s Garden

David & Janeen

5-4-19 Bern Switzerland and my Diva

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 is what we saw when the elevator doors opened to our floor.
The view as we headed to our room at the hotel.

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.

Amber – The Only Diva I know!

She has been in Europe for the last 8 years (she is a US Citizen) and in Bern the last 3 years or so.

A beautiful view of the City, snow clouds forming.
From the top of the mountain overlooking the City. The Cathedral towering above the city.
The wisteria was certainly a pleasant sight hanging down from this building.
The River, the Cathedral and the City of Bern

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.

Fountain of the Eater of Little Children is along main road of the Old City and has been there since the 16th Century. Gets a lot of attention from tourists taking it’s picture for sure.
Quite an interesting statue for sure.
The Zytglogge is a landmark medieval tower built in the early 13th century, it has served the city as guard tower, prison, clock tower, centre of urban life and civic memorial.
Proof we were there!
A close up of the clock
Asp jeweled high heels – I’m guessing these were not inexpensive and why would you even consider wearing these is beyond me.
Amber pointing to where her apartment (loft) is located – directly across from the Bear Pit.
The Bear is the symbol of Bern and there is a large bear pit at the base of the bridge into the Old City.
One of the bears was taking a nap.
From the top of the mountain overlooking the City. The Cathedral towering above the city.
Janeen getting her flower fix, azaleas.
Janeen sitting with Albert Einstein. He lived in Bern for a couple of years.

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.

Lovely but we were glad the roadways hadn’t frozen for our drive to Geneva
Along the road from Bern – a bit of white around us.

4-29-19 to 5-2-19 Strasbourg, Basel and the River Empress

Our last couple of days on this River Cruise will be documented in pictures. They should give you a good feeling for our experience.

Petite France known for cobblestone streets, canals, and well-preserved half-timbered homes like the Tanners’ House, built in 1572. A terrace atop the 17th-century Barrage Vauban, a covered bridge and dam, offers panoramic views. Truly a lovely spot.
Here we are on a bridge over a canal in the Petit France
Lots of wisteria along the path to the door of The White House by the canal in Petite France. Houses clinic for mental health.
Just one of a LOT of half timber structures we saw while in Strasbourg

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 Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame of Strasbourg.
This beautiful rose window in the cathedral
The Strasbourg Astronomical Clock is really amazing with it’s moving parts which record astrological signs as well as church seasons.

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.

The Square in Strasbourg. The dark brown building is one of the oldest in the city.

But enough about Strasbourg…off to Basel Switzerland!

The Town Hall is painted with wonderfully costumed Burghers and the decorated clock keeps great time but didn’t do anything special beyond that.
The church in Basel was rebuilt after a major earthquake in the 1400’s. On the left of the door is St. George the Dragon Slayer and on the right is St. Martin a roman soldier
We walked up this street – many of the buildings had been rebuilt over time – extending out the upper floors for more space without impacting the property tax based on the size of the first floor.
Here we are in Basel in front of the town hall. A beautiful place
This Rock memorial  was along one wall as we walked along

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.

This is the bridge from “new” Basel to “old” Basel.

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!

The River Empress was our home for 10 days as we sailed from Amsterdam to Basel.
Stoyan was the Hotel Manager and as such was responsible for virtually everything on the ship beyond the navigation systems. I invited him to come visit us in Virginia!
Andrea was always a bright smile and friendly hello at the front desk.
Hajni was the Purser on the ship and staffed the front desk. Always a nice smile
Branislav was the Executive Chef and boy did he make some wonderful meals while we were on board.
OK, life is short, eat dessert first. Always a bunch of treats to choose.
A special cake listing the ports of call for our last evening
Marian is the Dining Room supervisor and greeted us by name every time. He also went above and beyond the expected l to help us with special requests.
Georgy is from Bulgaria and has been working for UniWorld for 10 years. He took care of our stateroom throughout the cruise and went above and beyond ,like providing ice for Janeen;s sore leg.
Sitting – David, Janeen, Jerry, Gloria, Leslie and Bob – Marco, standing, was our outstanding waiter at many of our meals.

4-28-19 Frankfort and 4-29-19 Speyer and the Vineger Tasting

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.

This was one of the buildings, right across from the river boat, it wasn’t destroyed and thus didn’t have to be rebuilt.

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.

The square of Frankfort – most of these were rebuilt after WWII
One of the buildings in the square of Frankfort

 

A nice statue in Frankfort – no clue who it was at this point.
Maybe Janeen knows….
Holding back the bull market. These are located in front of the Stock Exchange in Frankfort

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.

Our budding artist with her instructor

There she had some interesting local wine and tried her hand at producing some floral art.

Making beautiful pictures

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.

Janeen at the entrance to the place

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.

Our guide – interesting fellow with lots of stories to tell

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.

Not a large pour but you didn’t need much

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.

Very interesting tasting glasses being held by my lovely wife!

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.

A handful of tasting glasses

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.

Lots of different things are used to flavor the vinegars
Very large jars of herbs and spices for blending to create the flavors for the vinegars

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.

Some of the items you could purchase. We bought the tall skinny white bottle

We did pick up a bottle of Angels Kissing the Night and I feel better already having had an ounce every day since.