Storks and More in Strasbourg

As I mentioned in my last post, the stork holds a special place in the hearts of Alsatians. The large white bird with black tipped wings has been commonplace in this region for millennia giving rise to various local folk tales. You’re probably familiar with the legend of the stork delivering babies, but you, like me, may not know much beyond that. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen first popularized the fairy tale with his story, The Storks, a rather gruesome tale which I wouldn’t share with children. (Click on the title to read the story.) According to our tour guide, babies are retrieved from under the marshes by storks who deliver them to the home. Another Alsatian folk tale says if a child wants a baby brother or sister, they leave a sugar cube on the windowsill to attract a stork to leave a baby.

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Storks long returned to Alsace for the warm months signifying the arrival of spring after wintering as far away as Africa. In the 1970’s, however, the population decreased to only a few remaining pairs. A number of environmental conditions threatened the population but our guide cited electrocution by flying into high voltage electrical wires as one of the main causes. In 1983, France initiated a successful repopulation program resulting in around 600 pairs nesting in the Alsace region today.

Capitalizing on their presence, the symbol of the stork is ubiquitous in Strasbourg. I understand the birds roam freely in the Parc d’Orangerie but, unfortunately, our tour didn’t take us there.

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Stork mural in Strasbourg

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Every tourist shop sells storks

We did, however, see lots of other sights in Strasbourg. As we arrived, our bus took us past the Palace of Europe, headquarters of the Council of Europe, the leading human rights organization on the continent of Europe with 47 member states.

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Palais de L’Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the headquarters that day and delivered a speech at the European Court of Human Rights. Because of his visit, we saw many police officers and military in the vicinity but alas, we didn’t glimpse Macron.

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Police officers in Strasbourg

Strasbourg is also the official seat of the European Parliament where laws for the EU are debated and passed. My photo of it is terrible because it was into the sun and the window glare was horrible but you get the idea.

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Parliament of Europe

Our guide explained some history of Strasbourg and told us her mother and grandmother changed nationalities 3 times although they never moved from Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace which today is called the Grand Est region of France. The city is situated near the Rhine River which is the border with Germany. In the Franco-German War (1870-71) Germany annexed Alsace. After WWI, the area was returned to France; it was taken by Germany again in WWII and returned to France after the war. Our guide’s grandmother and mother must have been born after WWI.

From the bus, we spied the Barrage Vauban which is a bridge and a dam, designed by military engineer Sebastien Vauban as part of the city’s fortifications and opened in 1690. Today, it is open to the public and has a terrace on top with great views of the Old Town. If you look closely, you can see people on top.

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Barrage Vauban

The nearby covered bridges have retained their name but not their covers. These three bridges cross the River Ill each guarded by a tower and were once part of the 14th-century ramparts.

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Covered bridges with two of the towers

Once the bus parked, we commenced our walking tour of Grande Ill, the Big Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the historic section of Strasbourg.

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View of the steeple of the cathedral from the River Ill

While the buildings weren’t as colorful as those in Colmar, they were nonetheless captivating. The half-timbered buildings in the Petite France neighborhood evoke a medieval atmosphere without the foul stench which would have once permeated the air.

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Petit France

We stopped to watch a swinging bridge that once operated by hand but has long been motorized to clear the way for boats passing through. See it operate in the short video below.

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Swinging bridge

Then we were treated to an accordion player playing lively French tunes for passersby.

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An accordion player in Strasbourg

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View from one of many bridges with the Tanners House on the right, today a restaurant

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Narrow Rue des Dentelles in the Petite France neighborhood

Dating from the 15th-century, the ornate Kammerzell House is the most famous building in Strasbourg. Once a wealthy merchant’s home, today it houses a fine restaurant.

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Kammerzell House

Although Kammerzell House is reputed to be the most famous building in Strasbourg, Notre-Dame Cathedral is the most impressive and awe-inspiring, in my opinion. Construction commenced in 1015 and the spire was finally completed in 1439. The 466 foot (142 m) high building was the tallest in Christendom until the 19th century and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral

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Statues surrounding the door on the facade of the cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

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Interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral

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The Rose Window

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Rub the dog’s head for luck

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Windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral

The case of the well-known astronomical clock of Strasbourg dates from the 16th century but the mechanism was replaced in 1838. It drew a huge crowd to see the mechanism in action but we were too early for the main show. Every day at 12:30, 18-inch tall figures of the Apostles process past Jesus, turning to face him as they pass.

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Astronomical clock

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Panoramic view of Notre-Dame Cathedral

After our tour, we had free time with instructions to meet in the square outside the cathedral so our guide could lead us back to the bus for our return to our ship, the Viking Kara. I decided to check out a few of the shops on my own while my husband stayed in the square. A few streets away from the cathedral, I found a darling shop featuring foies gras which I decided to purchase for my adult children to enjoy an authentic French treat. Those of you who know me personally may be aware that I have a very poor sense of direction. Feeling pleased with my purchase, I left the shop and promptly turned in the wrong direction. I compounded the problem by changing direction several times to get my bearings which got me hopelessly confused and lost. When I discovered I’d left my credit card at the shop, I was so disoriented and anxious I couldn’t even find my way back to the shop. I finally stood still, took a couple of deep breaths, and walked slowly along the street until I found the shop. By then the shop was packed with shoppers but fortunately, my credit card was on the counter where I’d left it. My relief was palpable as I made my way back to the square.

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Foies Gras de Strasbourg

On our return ride to the ship, when I heard Strasbourg hosts the best Christmas Market in Europe, I decided a return visit to this delightful city is in my future.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Walk through Medieval Colmar

Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in France, Colmar is located in the northeast in the Alsace region just 10 miles from the Rhine River. Rick Steves calls Colmar Alsace’s most enchanting city and, while I haven’t seen every city, I heartily agree. Old Town Colmar felt like we stepped back in time with its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. And, despite a population of nearly 70,000, the medieval section of this small city is entirely walkable.

We arrived after lunch for our first optional excursion on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Our guide informed us Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created Liberty Enlightening the World, otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty. In fact, we were greeted into the city by a replica of the famous statue. By the way, did you know another replica stands on the River Seine in Paris? I’ve seen the original and these two replicas but there are dozens more around the world. How many have you seen?

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Replica of the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France

Side note: The Statue of Liberty representing the Roman god of liberty, Libertus, holding a tablet inscribed with JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) was a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate France’s support in the American Revolution. Designed by Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Designated a National Monument in 1924, it stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

Now back to Colmar. We began our walking tour at Place d’Unterlinden.

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Panorama of Place d’Unterlinden

For those with mobility issues, the Petit Train Touristique departed nearby providing narrated tours.

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Petit Train Tour

We, however, preferred to walk with our guide pointing out points of interest as we ambled along.

The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a 13th-century convent, is one of the most visited fine arts museums outside of Paris and houses the famous Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunwald with carvings by Niclaus of Haguenau. This masterpiece was completed around 1515 for the nearby monastery in Isenheim which ministered to peasants suffering from skin diseases. The altarpiece is a disturbing work of art for its realistic and tortured depiction of the crucifixion of Christ.   Unfortunately, we didn’t see it as we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Unterlinden Museum

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Restaurant Pfeffel next to Unterlinden Museum

Our next stop was at the House of Heads. Constructed in 1609 for wealthy merchant Anton Burger, the facade is adorned with 106 heads. A cooper, sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi (him again!), standing atop the gable was added in 1902 when the building was used as the Wine Exchange.

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Maison des Tetes, House of Heads

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Cooper standing atop the House of Heads

You may have noticed the sign on a building across the street from the House of Heads. In case you missed it, here’s a closer view.

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Sign by Oncle Hansi

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Another of Oncle Hansi’s signs

Jean-Jaques Waltz, nicknamed Oncle Hansi, (1873-1951) was a Colmar artist who painted idyllic and whimsical watercolors and was known for his anti-German sentiments during World Wars I and II when Germany controlled Alsace. He also designed signs around Colmar, several of which are pictured above. Today, the Hansi Museum celebrates the work of this Colmar native son.

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Hansi Museum

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Shops in Old Town Colmar

Built beginning in 1235, St. Martin’s Church is the most imposing gothic Catholic church in middle Alsace. During the French Revolution, it served briefly as a cathedral but does not maintain the designation because a bishop isn’t assigned there. Note the red box on the photo below. I placed it there to point out a stork nest on the top of the church. Storks hold a special place in the hearts of Alsatians and I’ll tell you more about them in my post about Strasbourg.

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St. Martin’s Church

The Adolph House is the oldest house in Colmar, dating from around 1350.

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The nearby 17th century half-timbered zum Kragen House is frequently photographed due to the carved marchand (merchant) perched on the corner of the house.

 

The Pfister House was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter. The murals on the facade represent biblical scenes and characters, church fathers, evangelists, and Germanic emperors of the 16th century.

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Auguste Bartholdi’s eponymous museum occupies the family home where the sculptor was born and grew up. Outside the entrance is a beautiful bronze sculpture created by Bartholdi, Les Grand Soutiens du Monde, representing justice, labor and the motherland supporting the world.

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Bartholdi Museum

Our tour guide left us in the Tanner’s District with instructions about what time to meet at Place d’Unterlinden for our return to the ship. We explored the area on our own then headed to the area called Little Venice for its location on a canal.

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Tanner’s district

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Little Venice in Colmar

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Little Venice

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Little Venice

Finally, after a romantic stroll around Little Venice, we wandered back to the appointed meeting place at Place d’Unterlinden where we met up with our friends, Lori and Heather, for the bus ride back to our ship.

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Selfie to prove we were here

I was delighted with this extra excursion although Jim would also have enjoyed the other optional excursion, Colmar in WWII: Museum and Memorial. That tour included a visit to the Colmar Pocket where American and French forces battled the Germans during the winter of 1944-45 finally liberating the area from the Nazis. It’s also the place where Audie Murphy made his heroic stand seizing a .50-caliber machine gun on the turret of a burning tank destroyer to fire on approaching Nazi troops. His actions forced the approaching German tanks to fall back and earned Murphy the Medal of Honor.

It was a good day in the Alsace region and we looked forward to the following day in Strasbourg, France.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Let Them Eat (Black Forest) Cake

You’ve probably heard of Black Forest cake, the eponymous dessert originating in the Black Forest of Germany. You may also be aware the Brothers Grimm used the Black Forest as the setting for fairy tales they wrote including Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. But did you know the cuckoo clock originated in this area? And glass production in this region dates back to the 12th century. These lessons and more awaited us on the second excursion of our Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River.

The view from our ship on the Rhine as we awakened that morning promised a beautiful autumn morning for our bus tour.

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Morning on the Rhine River at Breisach, Germany

Heather and I learned the previous day to get to the bus early so we would be first in line to snag the front seats. This lesson served us well for the entire trip. Although photos weren’t always the best quality through the bus windows due to the glare, it was helpful to see where we were going.

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Our bus trip to the Black Forest

It was also helpful to know by our tour guide’s map the area we’d cover.

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Map of our bus tour

And just so you know where the Black Forest is located in southwest Germany, here’s one more map.

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Location of the Black Forest in Germany

The scenery along the way kept my gaze directed out the window, beginning with the vineyards of reisling and pinot noir grapes. I’m not a big fan of reisling or pinot, but when in Rome, as they say.

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Vineyards in the countryside

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Terraced vineyards

In the distance, we could see the Black Forest, named for the extreme denseness of the evergreens which causes the forest to appear black. I was impressed to also note the wind turbines on the distant mountaintops indicating an interest in clean, renewable energy.

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Black Forest

As we continued, we travelled through several charming towns including Ihringen, known for its wine, most notably pinot noir.

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Ihringen, germany

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Glottertal, Germany

I especially loved the comical topiary in a yard in the town Sankt Peter which you can see below. You just know the people residing there must have a good sense of humor.

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Home in Sankt Peter

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View from the bus of the Black Forest

By mid-morning, we arrived at our destination, Hofgut Sternen – the Black Forest Village in the Southern Black Forest Nature Park, where we were offered the choice of several activities. This looked like a tourist trap to us so we chose a hike into the forest, hoping we wouldn’t need bread crumbs to find our way back.

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Ravenna Viaduct

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Hiking trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

If Hansel and Gretel had only had a nicely groomed trail like this, they could’ve eaten their bread instead.

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Jim on the trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

The Ravenna Viaduct was built in 1926 but was largely destroyed by retreating German forces in 1945. At the end of World War II, French occupation forces rebuilt the bridge. Today, the Hollental Railway crosses the 36 meter (118 ft) high bridge across the Ravenna Gorge.

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Laura under Ravenna Viaduct

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Train crossing Ravenna Viaduct

While we were very satisfied with our hike, upon our return we discovered the village which I’d believed was merely a modern day tourist trap, actually had historical roots over 700 years old.  The first documented use of a traffic route called the “old ascent” through this area was in 1306. Marie Antoinette famously passed through here in 1770 on her way to marry French King Louis XVI in Paris. German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited in 1779. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the old ascent was a main trade route for locally produced glass and clocks.

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Marie Antoinette’s visit memorialized on a mural on the Best Western Hotel in Hofgut Sternen

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Close-up of mural of Marie Antoinette

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Goethehaus where Goethe stayed

The clock-making demonstration featured the cuckoo clock which originated in the Black Forest. While details differ, the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and the Smithsonian agree primitive cuckoo clocks were made in this area as early as 1630. (Viking Daily) Since we missed the demo, we took a peak into the shop to check out the cuckoo clocks for sale. The photo shows just a fraction of the clocks offered which were beautiful in terms of both appearance and workmanship.

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Cuckoo clocks for sale

The Cuckoo Clock House was even more impressive to me, however. I believe the demonstration took place in this charming little building which looks like a cuckoo clock with a clock face, dancing figures above, and a cuckoo at the top. We didn’t know it would “cuckoo” on the hour and missed it because we’d moved on to the glass blowing demonstration.

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Cuckoo Clock House

We’ve seen several glass blowers but it’s always interesting to watch this artistic craft. The products for sale in this shop were lovely, too.

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In 1915, Josef Keller created a confection composed of layers of chocolate sponge cake separated by layers of whipped cream with cherries, topped off by more whipped cream,  chocolate shavings, and more cherries for decoration. We missed the cake-making demo as well, but we only wanted to eat the cake anyway. Jim and I purchased a piece to share and it was quite delectable.

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Black Forest Cake

As we finished our cake, we began making our way back to the bus. When we encountered our guide, I got a photo showing her bollenhut, the Black Forest pompom hat that originated in the 1700’s. The hat has 14 pompoms with 11 of them visible. Red pompoms signify an unmarried maiden while black pompoms are for married women. They still wear the hats today for holidays and celebrations.

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Our tour guide with her bollenhut

As we arrived at the bus, I said to Jim, “Where’s the backpack?” He’d forgotten it at the restaurant after we ate our cake. I sprinted back to the restaurant and fortunately, I was able to retrieve it. All’s well that ends well!

As we returned to the ship, we enjoyed views of the countryside and the towns we passed through.

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Dreisem River in Freiburg, Germany

 

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Breisach

We arrived at the Viking Kara in time for lunch before our next excursion to Colmar, one of my all-time favorite medieval towns.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Walking Tour of Basel

Prior to the official walking tour of Basel provided by our Viking River Cruise, we explored a bit on our own, heading first to one of the most well-known landmarks, the Spalentor, or Gate of Spalen. Completed in 1473-74, the Spalentor is one of three remaining medieval city gates in Basel and widely regarded as one of the most beautiful city gates in Switzerland.

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Spalentor

Above the opening in the gate, we first spied the symbol which we would later learn was the staff of Basel, used by the Bishops of Basel as early as 1072. It continues today as the symbol of Basel and it appeared on many buildings. See how many you can spot in my photos.

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Spalentor

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Staff of Basel

From the gate, we wandered a bit, just taking in the sights of Old Town.

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View of Old Town from Spalen Gate

Quite by accident, we discovered the Haafelimaart (Autumn Fair) which occurs every year featuring tasty foods, handmade products, and carnival rides. In spite of the chilly overcast day, plenty of people were out and about.

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Autumn Fair

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Autumn Fair

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Products for sale at Autumn Fair

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Autumn Fair

We returned to the ship, settled into our cabins, ate lunch, then filed onto buses to return to Old Town for our official walking tour.

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View of Basel Munster from Wettsteinbrucke

The bus delivered us to the other end of Old Town from where we had explored in the morning to begin our tour. We dutifully followed our guide and listened on our Whisper-Vox headphones as he pointed out places of interest. I would love to have had time for the Chagall exhibit at the Art Museum but had to satisfy myself with a photo of the banner on the building.

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Fountain outside Kuntsmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) in Basel

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A walk through Old Town

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Old Town Basel

Basler Munster (Basel Cathedral) with its twin spires dominates the skyline and attracts the eye with its red sandstone exterior and colorful tile roof.  Built and rebuilt from 1019-1500 as a Catholic cathedral, the Munster became home to the Swiss Reformed Church in 1529. Renaissance scholar, Erasmus, was entombed here upon his death in 1536. My favorite quote from him, “In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”

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Basel Munster

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Basel Munster with our guide in the lead

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Notice the colorful tiled roof of Basel Munster

The Pfalz, a terrace located behind the cathedral is a favorite among locals and tourists alike for its impressive views overlooking the Rhine. We spent a little time here because one of our group wandered off and we had to wait for him to be found. It turned out he’d returned to the ship.

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Pfalz with a model of the cathedral 

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View from the Pfalz

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View from the Pfalz

Our knowledgeable guide led us a short distance past several museums to a Basilisk Fountain where he informed us about the heraldic animal of the city, the basilisk. You may be familiar with this mythical creature from the Harry Potter books but in case you aren’t, the basilisk is a crested serpent, half rooster, half snake, which can kill with a single glance. The basilisk rests on the top of the monument below but notice another Basel staff beneath it.

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Basilisk Fountain

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Basilisk and Basel staff

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Jim drinking from the Basilisk Fountain

A little farther on, we arrived at the Rathaus or City Hall in the Marktplatz. I’ve probably said this before but I find the German term Rathaus especially humorous for the place of government. Hearing that 70% of eligible Swiss voters exercise their franchise makes me think, however, the Swiss are good citizens who have confidence in their government. This particular Rathaus was built after the great earthquake in 1356 but it has been restored and added onto through the years.

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the Rathaus is the red building, note the Basel staff on the tower

The frescoes and sculptures that adorn the exterior of the building and the courtyard are splendid and awe-inspiring and we took our time enjoying them. I would love to have seen the interior, especially the Council Chamber and, although the building is open to the public, it’s closed on weekends. Sadly, we were there on Sunday.

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Rathaus

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Rathaus

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Statue of Lucius Munatius Plancus in Rathaus courtyard

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Rathaus

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Murals in the courtyard of the Rathaus

After our visit to the Rathaus, we were given time to explore the Marktplatz but on Sunday most of the shops were closed.  We elected to leave the group and find our way back to the ship on foot. As we made our way, we encountered another of the remaining city gates, St. Johanns-Tor, built shortly after the great earthquake. Today it houses the Police Department.

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St. Johanns-Tor

We enjoyed our time in Basel and I’m sure there are many more sights worthy of exploration but we were setting sail at 8:00 pm for our next port on the Rhine River, Breisach, Germany.

Based on events from October 2017.

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The Train to Basel

Small but bursting with natural alpine beauty and man-made tourist attractions, Switzerland has more to offer than we could possibly cover in one week. Nevertheless, we tried to do as much as possible before our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River and, for the most part, we were successful. Although we didn’t do any hiking in the Alps because of Jim’s back injury, we visited all the towns and attractions on our itinerary. We planned to end our tour of the country at Basel (pronounced Baasel), where we would depart on our cruise on October 29, 2017.

Our final train journey took us from Grindelwald through Bern to Basel in just under 3 hours. As usual, I attempted to capture memories both inside and outside the train with my trusty i-Phone 7 Plus.

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Leaving Grindelwald

Inside the train, we enjoyed the company of three young ladies we had encountered at Jungfraujoch and we watched with delight as they played with a couple of Siberian huskies sharing our ride.

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Friendly canines

Outside the train, the views were spectacular as always.

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Interlaken, Switzerland

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Lake Interlaken

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Bern, capital city of Switzerland

When we arrived in Basel, we thought we’d have no problem finding Gaia Hotel, as it was located right outside the SBB train station. This is why I CAN’T EMPHASIZE ENOUGH, know which exit to take from the train station. We searched for over an hour and wandered far afield while asking several people before we found our hotel which was located, as promised, right by the train station.

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Hotel Gaia, Basel

We were relieved to finally arrive and we were very impressed with our accommodations.

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Our room at Hotel Gaia

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Bathroom at Hotel Gaia

And, we were pleased to find our friends, Lori and her daughter, Heather, already happily checked into the hotel. Heather opted to stay at the hotel for the evening but Lori was game to have dinner with Jim and me. We asked the desk clerk for a recommendation for typical Swiss cuisine and she suggested nearby Restaurant Elsbethenstubli. When we arrived at the restaurant at 7:00 p.m., it was packed and the woman who greeted us suggested an appertif across the street while we waited. We gladly obliged and enjoyed our usual glass of red wine while we waited.

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A toast to our cruise

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Lori and Jim at Restaurant Elsbethenstubli

Since I had already tried fondue, I ordered the raclette and Jim ordered rosti, both typical Swiss dishes. Lori had the fondue.

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Raclette

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Rosti

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Lori with fondue

The couple seated beside us struck up a conversation and instructed Lori in the fine art of eating fondue. She learned how to twirl the bread after dipping to ensure the cheese stayed on the bread with no dripping.

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Mike and Sabine

Following dinner, we strolled back to the hotel and relaxed with another glass or two of wine before calling it a night.

The next morning we enjoyed one of the best hotel breakfasts of our trip.

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Dining room at Hotel Gaia

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Breakfast at Hotel Gaia

With tram passes in hand provided by our hotel, we set off down the street to catch the tram to the cruise port for our ship, the Viking Kara. After a short tram ride and another walk, we arrived at the ship.

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Lori, Heather, Jim enroute to ship

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Our arrival at the Viking Kara

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Viking Kara

We couldn’t get into our cabins yet so we dropped our luggage at the ship and set off on a walk around old town Basel which that will be the subject of my next post. I hope you’ll come back.

Based on events from October 2017.

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Jungfrau PostScript

I mentioned in my last post we met a young man on the train back to Grindelwald from the Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch. We struck up a conversation and learned he’s an American living and working in Switzerland for Nestle. He told us in his free time he travels around Europe and especially Switzerland and he enjoys taking lots of photos. He, naturally, was using a good camera while I was using my IPhone 7Plus. When we discovered we could open the top portion of the window on the train, he and I were ecstatic to take photos without window glare. I told him about my travel blog, gave him my business card, and asked him to send me a few of his best photos from our day at the Top of Europe. Here are the photos he sent me. I think they’re exceptional, don’t you?

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Thank you, Christian, for sharing your talent on my blog.

Based on events from October 2017.

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The Top of Europe

The Top of Europe at Jungfraujoch in Switzerland isn’t the highest peak in Europe but it is the highest railway station in Europe. Conceived by Swiss industrialist, Adolph Guyer-Zeller in 1893, his idea was to blast a tunnel through the Eiger and Monch mountains and construct a cogwheel railway to the Jungfrau summit. Construction began in 1896 and, after numerous delays and a total cost of 16 million francs, the railway opened in 1912. Sadly, Mr. Guyer-Zeller did not live to see its completion.

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Bust of Adolph Guyer-Zeller at the Top of Europe

Due to the steep grade, the only way to reach Jungfraujoch is by cogwheel or rack rail, a system patented by Swiss engineer, Niklaus Riggenbach in 1863. As you can see in my photo below, the toothed rack rail runs between the tracks allowing a gear wheel on the train to mesh with it.

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Cogwheel track

The station is located at an altitude of 3571 m (11,782 ft) at Jungfraujoch, the saddle between Jungfrau and Monch.  Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001, Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch is noted for its Alpine beauty and as home to the longest glacier in Europe.

Trains depart from Grindelwald for Jungfraujoch every half hour for a journey which takes 1 hour and 18 minutes. With our Swiss Half Fare Card, we paid $95 for each round-trip ticket. After an early breakfast at Hotel Alpina, we stored our luggage at the hotel and boarded the train departing at 9:17 a.m. When we saw all the low-hanging clouds, we were concerned our views from the top might be obscured. Those are clouds beneath the mountains in the photos below, not snow!

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Low hanging clouds

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Twenty-three minutes after our departure from Grindelwald, we arrived in Kleine Scheidegg where we changed trains for the final ascent mostly through a tunnel inside the Eiger.

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The station at Kleine Scheidegg

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The station at Kleine Scheidegg

We stopped briefly at the Eismeer Station behind the southeast face of the Eiger to view the Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier.

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Eismeer Station lookout

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Grindelwald-Fiescher Glacier from Eismeer Station

We arrived at the Top of Europe at 10:37 a.m., early enough to beat the rush at this time of year.  The underground station connects by tunnel to the Jungfrau Panorama, where we stopped first for the brief 360-degree multimedia experience about the Top of Europe.

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Tunnel at Jungfraujoch

After our introduction at Jungfrau Panorama, we were ready to see the real thing. The fastest elevator in Switzerland climbs 108 meters (354 ft) in just 25 seconds to arrive at the Sphinx viewpoint. The views when we reached the top were jaw-dropping.

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View of Aletsch Glacier

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Panorama of the Aletsch Glacier, the Sphinx viewing platform, and the peak of Jungfrau behind

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Sphinx viewing platform

In spite of our winter coats, hats, and gloves, it was so cold and windy on the platform we could only stay outside for a few minutes before we had to go back inside to warm up. Jim had difficulty holding up his Iowa State University banner in the wind for a photo for the #ISUFlag program, an activity that encourages ISU fans to submit photos of the school banner on their travels.

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Jim trying to show his ISU banner

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Mission accomplished

When we saw the board inside showed the current temperature was -7.7 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit) with a wind speed of 47 km/h (29 mph), we felt justified seeking views from indoors. The average temperature is -7.9 degrees Celsius so our visit was actually a little warmer than average.

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Temperature and wind speed at Top of Europe

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Jim, pointing to the summit of Jungfrau

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View from Top of Europe

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View from inside the viewing station

The Alpine Sensation opened in 2012 and I would guess it mostly gives tourists something to do if the weather up there is so bad the views are totally obscured. The history of the construction and tribute to the tunnel workers are worthwhile, however.

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Entrance to Alpine Sensation

We skipped the Ice Palace, restaurants, and shopping opportunities and opted instead to return to the station for the next train back to Grindelwald. Due to some confusion with the signs and directions, we missed the next train and had a longer wait than normal but we met a nice group of young people who made the same mistake and had a good visit with them.

On the return journey, one young man we met told us he was from the United States and working in Switzerland. He and I discussed photography and I asked him to send me his best photos of the day to post on my blog. My next post is devoted entirely to his photographs which are amazing so be sure to check back to see them. In the meantime, here are a couple more of my photos from the return trip.

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Return to Grindelwald from Jungfraujoch

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View from the train on the return trip to Grindelwald

When we arrived in Grindelwald, we grabbed our luggage from the hotel and hopped back on the train for Basel, our next destination in Switzerland and the departure point for our Viking River cruise on the Rhine River. Keep following along for lots more adventures.

Based on events from October 2017.

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Grindelwald Interlude

After our adventure on Mt. Titlis, we left Lucerne to travel by train to Grindelwald in the Jungfrau region. If you’ve been following my blog through Switzerland, it may seem as if we spent most of our time on trains. Believing train travel is the best way to see a country, we spent a lot of time gazing through train windows at the countryside as we traveled comfortably from place to place. Below are a few of the scenes we enjoyed en route from Lucerne to Grindelwald.

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Alpnachstad, Switzerland

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Lake Sarnen, Sachseln, Switzerland

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Giswil, Switzerland

The trees with their shadows in the image below look to me more like a  painting than a photo. I love the colors!

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Lake Brienz

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Lake Brienz from the train

To get to Jungfrau by train, you must connect at Interlaken and many tourists reserve lodging there. Rick Steves, however, recommends lodging in the smaller villages nearby so I reserved two nights at Hotel Alpina in Grindelwald. It turned out his recommendation was Gimmelwald rather than Grindelwald but my reservation was non-refundable so we decided to make the best of my mistake. On the map below, note Interlaken circled in black at the bottom. Grindelwald is up and to the left; Gimmelwald is to the right. Jungfraujoch is at the top of the map and wherever you stay, you have to connect at Kleine Scheidegg to get to the Top of Europe. But more on that next time.

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We arrived in Grindelwald around 4:30 in the afternoon. Our first impression was of a typical small ski town, surrounded by mountains and full of chalet-style hotels and high-end ski shops.

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Grindelwald, Switzerland

Although our chalet-style hotel was close to the train station, by the time we trudged up the hill with our luggage in tow, Jim was ready to rest his back. (If you haven’t read about Jim’s back fracture which occurred two days before our departure to Switzerland, be sure to read about it here.)

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Hotel Alpina

We were satisfied with our 3-star accommodations and delighted with the view for $170 per night.

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Hotel Alpina

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The view from our balcony at Hotel Alpina

After resting for awhile, we strolled through the village looking for a restaurant for dinner.

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Grindelwald

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The Eiger

Fortunately, menus are posted outside because we quickly discovered prices were sky high in this village of fewer than 4000 inhabitants. Eventually, we settled on Bebbis where we paid $45 for an average meal that was worth about $25. The other $20 must have been for the view which, admittedly, was superlative.

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Dinner with a view

I ordered the raclette, a traditional Swiss dish of cheese melted over potatoes with pearl onions, pickles, and bacon for $20.50.  Jim had the wiener schnitzel priced at $24.50.

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Raclette

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Wiener schnitzel

Although the decor was definitely kitschy, we got to see an alpenhorn up close for the first time. Historically, the wooden horn was used by cowherds to communicate with one another in the mountains, as well as to call the cows and calm the cows.

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Alphorn

After a leisurely walk back to our hotel and a few twilight photos, we turned in early.

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View of Wetterhorn from the road to our hotel

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Twilight view of the Eiger from our balcony

The following morning dawned with low hanging clouds and rain, weather not conducive to a trip to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. That was actually a fortunate turn of events since Jim really needed a day of rest. He had fallen from the ladder and fractured his back just a week previously and we had kept a pretty good pace for the past 5 days. While Jim rested, I explored Grindelwald in the rain doing what I typically do when left to my own devices, I shopped. Or rather, I should say, I looked but didn’t buy because prices were extremely high. For example, the least expensive jacket I saw was priced around $300.

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Hotel Alpina breakfast room

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A rainy view from the breakfast room at Hotel Alpina

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Another view from Grindelwald in the rain

That evening, rather than spending so much on another mediocre meal, we bought local gruyere cheese, olives, wine, and a few other items to enjoy a repast in our hotel room for a fraction of the cost with a priceless view.

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A rainy view from our room

As we rested up, we hoped for suitable weather the next morning for our excursion to Jungfraujoch. After our Grindelwald interlude, or as Jim called it, our Grinderlude, we felt sure we’d be ready for the Top of Europe. Please check back to find out what happened.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Mt. Titlis Adventure

Clear weather is a must for a successful trip with good views from Mt. Titlis and we knew we couldn’t plan ahead with any certainty. So when we awoke on October 26, we were gratified to learn from hotel staff the weather on Mt. Titlis would be suitable for our trip up the mountain.

After an outstanding breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof, we set off for the railway station and the 45-minute ride to Engelberg, the village where we would begin our ascent of Mt. Titlis. We watched delightedly as a group of young children with their caretakers boarded the train, sat on the floor while they rode to the next station, and waved goodbye to us when they departed. Notice the knotted rope at the feet of the kids; they all hold onto the rope at a knot to keep a proper distance but stay together as they walk. It’s adorable and safe.

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Breakfast at Hotel Waldstatterhof

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View from the train 

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Swiss kids on the train

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With a population of less than 4000, the Alpine village of Engelberg offers many activities including skiing, hiking, and bicycling. The main attraction, however, is Mt. Titlis, the highest peak in central Switzerland at just over 10,000 ft (3020 m) and the only accessible glacier. When we arrived, we had no idea how to find our way to the cable car station but we soon found a sign that indicated the route.

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Sign showing us which way to go

After a 10 minute walk along a lovely trail with alpine views, we arrived at the cable car valley station. There is also a bus to the cable car station but the walk was pleasant on that sunny clear morning.

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The trail to Titlis cable car station

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Entrance to cable car station

With our SBB Half Fare railcard, we purchased tickets at half price for $46 each at the cable car station. After a brief wait, we boarded the 8 seat cable car for the first leg of the climb to the summit of Mt. Titlis. We knew we were early enough to beat the crowd by the numerous empty spaces in the parking lot and the short line to board the cable car.

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Cable car to Titlis

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View from inside the cable car station

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View from the cable car

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View from our cable car with another car headed down

The views from the cable car were spectacular and in no time, we arrived at the stand station where we boarded the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first rotating cable car, for a standing ride with 360-degree views to the summit.

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Titlis Rotair

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View from inside Titlis Rotair back to the stand station

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View from Titlis Rotair with other tourists

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Another view from Titlis Rotair

When we arrived at the summit station, the view was absolutely breathtaking. As I look at the photos now, it’s still hard to believe we witnessed such dazzling sights.

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View from the Summit Station of Mt. Titlis

After taking in the magnificent panorama, we headed to the Cliff Walk, Europe’s highest suspension bridge with a 500 meter (1640 ft) drop. By chance, I captured this bird soaring in the photo below.

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Titlis Cliff Walk

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Selfie on Cliff Walk with the peak of Mt. Titlis behind us

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Laura on the Cliff Walk

As a recovering acrophobe, I was a little nervous due to the movement of the suspension bridge as I peered into the abyss but the experience was totally worth it. Jim, on the other hand, was fearless and couldn’t get the smile off his face the entire time we were up on the mountain.

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Jim on Mt. Titlis

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Vista from the summit of Mt. Titlis

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View from Mt. Titlis

After extensive oohing and aahing at the scenery, we descended to the 150-meter (492 ft) walkway through Glacier Cave, 20 meters (65 ft) below the surface of Titlis Glacier. With a constant temperature of -1.5 degrees Celsius (29 degrees Fahrenheit), this icy subterranean tunnel contains ice up to 5000 years old.

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The line to enter Glacier Cave

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Inside Glacier Cave

We didn’t ride the Ice Flyer, a chairlift ride with views of the glacier, but I’m sure it would have been thrilling (and a little anxiety-producing), too.

When we finally dragged ourselves away, we took the Titlis Rotair and the cable car back down to the valley station. Another passenger on the cable car kindly offered to get a photo of us which shows just a bit of the scenery surrounding us.

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Cable car ride to the valley

We enjoyed the pastoral scenes framed by mountains as we rode the train back to Lucerne to collect our luggage we left stored at the hotel.

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Scenes from the train

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Swiss countryside

Satisfied with our day’s adventure to Mt. Titlis, we boarded the train again for a nearly three-hour ride to Grindelwald. We would spend the next two nights in Grindelwald to visit nearby Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe. Please join us again for more adventures in Switzerland.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

An Afternoon in Lucerne

We departed on October 25 from Chur, Switzerland on the 11:16 am train to Lucerne and arrived at 1:25 pm. The train route headed northwest toward Zurich then turned southwest to Lucerne. Scenes of verdant fields with snow-capped mountains in the distance kept us gazing out the windows the entire trip. Even the towns along the route were captivating with their painted buildings and fall foliage.

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The countryside between Chur and Lucerne

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Town of Walenstadt

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The Swiss countryside from the train

We knew Hotel Waldstatterhof in Lucerne, where we had a reservation, was located right across from the railway station. I wasn’t sure, however, which exit to take out of the station to get us headed in the right direction. It can be quite a long distance to walk all the way around a large train station. (I’ve done this!) Fortunately for us, I got to talking to a friendly, helpful ex-pat American on the train who took us under her wing and didn’t leave us until we found our hotel.

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Hotel Waldstatterhof, Lucerne

Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived but Jim needed to rest his back so we sat in the lobby for awhile. When we got to our room, we were pleased with our accommodations.

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After a brief respite, we took off to explore Lucerne on foot in the warm autumn sunshine. Outside the railway station a short distance from our hotel, we walked through the welcome gate to Lucerne.

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From there, we headed straight for the Chapel Bridge to cross the River Reuss into Old Town. Constructed in 1333 as part of the city’s fortifications, this wooden pedestrian bridge was named for nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.

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That handsome fellow on the bridge is my husband, Jim

The painted triangular panels in the gables above the walkway depicting Swiss history and legend were added in the 17th century.

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Jim on Chapel Bridge

The adjacent Water Tower, also built around 1300, never held water but rather was used as a prison, a torture chamber, treasury, and archive. Incidentally, it’s Switzerland’s most photographed landmark.

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Water Tower

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Laura in Old Town with the Water Tower, Chapel Bridge, Mt. Pilatus, and Jesuit Church

Without a doubt, Lucerne is all about the lake. Framed by the Alps, Lake Lucerne is the centerpiece of this lovely city, offering boat tours and swimming, or simply a stroll to enjoy the view.

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Lake Lucerne

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View of the mountains that frame Lake Lucerne

After a brief look at the lake, we moved on because we wanted to get to the Lion Monument. On our way, we passed Hof Church, also known as the Church of St. Leodegar, the main Roman Catholic cathedral in the city which was built from 1633-1639.

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Hof Church

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Streetscape on our way to the Lion Monument

The famous “Dying Lion of Lucerne” commemorates the Swiss mercenary soldiers who died in 1792 defending the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution. American author, Mark Twain, referred to the monument as “the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world.”

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Selfie in front of the Lion Monument

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Monument and pond

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Close-up of the Dying Lion of Lucerne

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Shop near the Lion Monument

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St. Matthew Church, the first Protestant church in Lucerne

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Unicorn fountain

I especially liked the painted buildings like the one below which we saw throughout the old medieval area. Supposedly, you can tell what the building was used for by their murals but I wasn’t much good at guessing. Maybe you can figure this one out.

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Old Town Hall (Rathaus) Clock Tower

I always try to research local foods and the beautifully painted building below was my pick to try Swiss fondue. When Jim saw the price was 35€ to dip bread cubes into melted cheese, he objected and we had one of those quick spousal disagreements. Pouting, I taught him a lesson by refusing to eat there once he relented. (You know what I’m talking about, right?)

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Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern

Instead, we wandered back to Lake Lucerne where we decided against the boat ride since we would soon be on a boat for eight days for a river cruise. We strolled along the lake, we sat and people-watched, and I took many more photos. We especially enjoyed watching the swans and listened to a small child laugh delightedly while a swan ducked into the water.

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Lake Lucerne

 

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Another view of Lake Lucerne with Mt. Pilatus in the background

Although we could have spent much more time exploring Lucerne, we decided to cross the river back to our hotel in search of dinner. Weather permitting, we planned to take the train to Mt. Titlis early the following morning so we wanted to make an early night of it. As it turned out, I did have fondue for dinner… and it didn’t cost 35€. (It was only 22€.)

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Laura enjoying Swiss fondue

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Jim had the special of the day

Mt. Titlis the following day was incredible. Check back to find out more.

 

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Food, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

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