Europe

Alpine Views from the Bernina Express

On a scale of 1 to 10 my excitement level for the Bernina Express was a definite 10. We love train travel and the thought of a spectacular four-hour scenic ride from Chur, Switzerland to Tirano, Italy on the highest railway through the Alps negotiating 55 tunnels and 196 bridges thrilled me beyond description. The 122 km route’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site added another dimension to its already abundant appeal.

We decided to purchase round-trip tickets allowing us to enjoy the scenery twice and return to Chur for the night. Not one to leave the pinnacle event of our Swiss adventure to chance, we reserved our seats prior to leaving home, then bought our tickets at the train station the morning of our tour. With our Swiss Half Fare card, 2nd class roundtrip tickets for the two of us totaled $184.

From the moment we departed Chur at 8:32 am, I think it’s safe to say I was the most excited passenger in our railcar if not on the entire train. Fortunately, our railcar wasn’t overly crowded so I was able to flit from side to side in the car without disturbing other passengers.  I’d read the views were best from the right side where we reserved our seats, but I saw so many astounding views on the left, I couldn’t sit still for even a minute. With Jim’s back fracture, he was relieved to just sit in his seat and enjoy the views without exertion for the day. To me, every view was photo-worthy resulting in over 1100 photos, although the vast majority contain major flaws, usually window glare. Warning: I whittled down the photos in this post to 42 so my apologies if you grow weary and give up before the end.

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The Bernina Express at Chur Train Station

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Jim searching for our reserved seats on the Bernina Express

As we left the station, we noticed low hanging clouds in the valleys but plenty of sunshine and blue skies promised excellent views when the sun burned the vapor away. In the meantime, the fog added a mystical quality to our views.

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Alpine view from the Bernina Express

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View from the Bernina Express

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Crossing one of 196 bridges

I’m quite sure I took photos of every hamlet we passed. Each was as charming as this with a church steeple often serving as my focal point.

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One of many Alpine hamlets

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Misty clouds in the valley

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Try as I might, my photos of the spectacular Landwasser Viaduct below and the entrance to the Landwasser Tunnel didn’t do it justice but take my word for it, it was spectacular.

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Landwasser Viaduct and Tunnel

I especially loved the sun illuminating the autumn foliage on the mountainsides.

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UNESCO World Heritage recognition

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I don’t know the people in the photo below, but I wanted to show how the windows provided both panoramic views and challenges to work around when taking photographs from the train.

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View of Morteratsch Glacier from the Bernina Express

As we approached The Bernina Pass, the highest elevation of our ride at 2253 m (7392 ft) Lake Bianco came into view. Many hikers enjoy the easy scenic trails in this area, especially the trail from Ospizio Bernina to Alp Grum along the lake. I would love to go back and take this hike sometime.

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Hikers on the trail to Alp Grum

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Lago Bianco

We stopped at Alp Grum and took the requisite selfie to prove we were here.

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The Bernina Express route ends at Tirano, Italy. The brochure claims there are “swaying palms” at the terminus which we did not see but we nevertheless enjoyed the temperate climate and the views from this village of fewer than 10,000 inhabitants. After a short stroll, we settled in at a cafe with outdoor seating and a view for some real Italian pizza and a glass of vino.

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We departed from Tirano for the return trip to Chur at 2:25 pm and arrived at 6:20 pm. Although we’d been this way before, it was nearly as spectacular on the return trip and I attempted to capture the shots which escaped me earlier in the day.

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Morteratsch Glacier

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I truly thought this train journey would be the highlight of our Swiss adventure but it turned out to be just one of many highlights. Please check back for more as we travel next to Lucerne.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: Europe, Italy, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Chur: Gateway to the Bernina Express

Chur (KOOR), with a population just under 33,000, is the oldest town in Switzerland and the gateway to the Bernina Express. Those features alone made it an easy choice as our base for 2 nights while its well-preserved pedestrian-only Old Town added abundant charm and history.

We arrived late in the afternoon after a 2-hour train ride from Zurich with our first impressive albeit rainy views of the Swiss countryside.

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Swiss countryside from the train

 

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View of the Swiss countryside

 

We wandered around the winding streets of Old Town a bit before we found the Ambiente Hotel Freieck. It looks easier on the map below than it actually was. (We didn’t have the map when we arrived either.)

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Map of Chur, Switzerland

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Ambiente Hotel Freieck

We were pleased with our accommodations at this three-star hotel as well as the location,  and the breakfast buffet was amazing. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably read previously that we like to eat a big breakfast followed by a protein bar or something similar for lunch, then go out in the evening for a nice dinner. We always try to find a hotel that provides breakfast so we have to buy just one meal a day.  Including breakfast, taxes, and fees, we paid $178 per night at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck which I thought was a fair price in an expensive area.

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Lobby at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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The view from our hotel room

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Beds at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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Shower in our hotel room

After Jim rested his back for a bit, we searched out a local restaurant for dinner. It was still raining so we didn’t dawdle in spite of our umbrellas. We found Cafe Arcas on a lovely square by the same name in the heart of Old Town where I looked longingly at the outdoor seating.

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Arcas

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Cafe Arcas, Chur

We were early and only one other table in the small cafe was occupied. After asking about local dishes, we selected homemade spinatpizokel and spatzli, both specialties from the canton of Grisons where Chur is located. (Grisons is French; the German name of the canton is Graubunden.) The spinatpizokel was a spinach pasta with air-dried ham, local beef, and sausage. The spatzli was a pasta with cheese (Swiss mac and cheese, if you will). Some of you know I normally shun gluten but I wanted to try local dishes so I made an exception in this case. We shared the two dishes and left pleasantly full in spite of resisting the homemade desserts which, I admit, looked delicious.

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Spinatpizokel

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Spatzli

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Homemade desserts

Following dinner, we ambled along the winding streets of Old Town enjoying the sights.

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St. Martin’s Church

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In spite of pain medication, Jim had a terrible night. Like a beetle on his back, it was almost impossible for him to get up once he was prone. He wore his back brace to bed to try to sleep on his side but that was largely unsuccessful. He was most comfortable on his back but he snores on his back which meant I was awake whenever he slept. It was almost a relief when morning broke. At least the scrumptious breakfast made getting up worthwhile.

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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A hearty breakfast built to last

The Bernina Express departed at 8:32 a.m. so, following our breakfast, we hurried to the train station. As we passed the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) Administration Building, I couldn’t resist a quick photo of this impressive edifice.

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Rhaetian Railway Administration Building

Incidentally, if you, like me as a child, loved the book, Heidi, you’ll be interested to know the setting for this classic was just 19.6 km (12 miles) away from Chur near the town of Maienfeld.  Although the village of Dorfli in the book is fictional, another village has been renamed Heididorf and contains a Heidi museum and other attractions based on the novel. We didn’t have enough time to check it out but the information brought back a favorite childhood memory.

Join me next time on the famous Bernina Express for a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Zurich from the Bus

Our flight arrived in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. In spite of Jim’s spine fracture (which you can read about here), he slept better than usual on the overnight flight, probably due to medication. We easily found the SBB Travel Center at the airport where we could purchase train tickets from a machine or at a ticket counter. Around the corner, however, was the service center and I went in to discuss our ticket options for the week. I told the representative where we planned to go and she told me our best option was to purchase the Swiss Half Fare Card for $120 per person which confirmed my previous research. With this pass, we would receive a 50% discount on train, bus, boat, city and mountain transport for one month.  Tickets purchased, we proceeded to the platform for the train into the city center.

We had planned a self-guided walking tour of Old Town Zurich but Jim was sore and moving so slowly we decided to look for a bus tour instead. Since we were greeted in Zurich by dreary skies and intermittent rain, that appealed to me anyway. When we arrived at the Zurich Main Rail Station (Zurich HB), we stowed our luggage in a rental locker then went in search of Tourist Information. With the help of TI staff, we selected a 2 hour Gray Line Classic Trolley bus tour of the city beginning at 9:45 a.m. for $34 each.

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Locker to store luggage at Zurich Main Train Station

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Gray Line Classic Trolley Tour

On the bus tour, I first encountered the problem that would plague me on buses and trains throughout this trip. It was nearly impossible to take a decent photo through the windows due to the reflection.

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Swiss National Museum

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Attractive storefront

The bus stopped for about 15 minutes at Lake Zurich. Tired and sore, Jim stayed on the bus while I scurried off to get a few photos of the lake surrounded by gloomy skies but without window reflection.

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Lake Zurich with lion statue

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Lake Zurich with fountain

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Lion statue overlooking Lake Zurich

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Bull Tamer Fountain from the bus

We stopped again near Munsterhof, the town square, which was close to three main churches: Fraumunster, St. Peter Church, and Grossmunster. Jim stayed onboard again while I explored on my own.

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Munsterhof

While I didn’t have time to see the interior of any of these churches, I was again grateful to get photos from outside the bus. Fraumunster Cathedral is home to the famous Marc Chagall stained glass windows which you can see by clicking on this link. St. Peter Church, dating from the 8th century, is the oldest church in Zurich and the face on its clock tower is reputed to be the largest in Europe. Grossmunster was built around 1100 but legend has it the current building replaced a cathedral built by Charlemagne on the spot where Felix and Regula, brothers and patron saints of Zurich were buried.

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The clock tower at Fraumunster Cathedral, home of Chagall windows, with St. Pater Clocktower behind

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Grossmunster

Scenes along the Limmat River in Old Town were among my favorites. Built in 1694, the Rathaus (Town Hall) perches over the river in Old Town surrounded by other Renaissance and much older medieval buildings. Normally, we would have visited all of these places on our walking tour but, under the circumstances, I was happy to see the exteriors and hear the commentary on the bus.

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Limmat River with Rathaus (Town Hall) on the left

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St. Peter Church clock tower

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Limmat River in Old Town

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Swiss Federal Institute of Technology

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Schauspielhaus (Theater)

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Limmat River

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View from the bus

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Main Train Station

The bus tour also took us through some newer sections of the city but frankly, I wasn’t especially interested in the financial district. Following the tour, Jim was really in pain and exhausted. He encouraged me to walk around Old Town to my heart’s content while he waited at the train station. Worried about him, I went as far as the Bahnhofstrasse, Zurich’s famous and expensive street lined with exclusive shops, took a photo, then hurried back.

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Bahnhofstrasse

On my way back to the train station, I couldn’t help but stop for one last photo of Old Town and the Limmat River. I think it turned out to be my best photo of Zurich.

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Old Town Zurich

We’d seen an abbreviated version of the sights on my list for Zurich and we were ready to take the train to Chur, check into our hotel, and let Jim rest.

As we headed to our platform, I took this photo in the train station of a market called Migros. I would later learn the ubiquitous Swiss grocery store is the largest employer and the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland and one of the largest retailers in the world.

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Check back for more stories about Switzerland. It seemed like every day was better than the day before in terms of both the scenery and Jim’s ability to get around.

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Broke Back Mountain Meets the Swiss Alps

When my husband, Jim, announced he was cleaning the roof of our two-story house two days before we were scheduled to leave for Switzerland, I responded, “That’s not a good idea,” which turned out to be a monumental understatement. I told him I’d be gone all day at Pilates, a hair appointment, lunch with a friend, and shopping. “No problem,” he said, “I’ll get Brian to help me with the ladder if I need him.” Our neighbor, Brian, also had other plans that day.

When I got a text from my stylist to tell me she was running late, I decided to stop at home for a quick shower after Pilates. As I was getting into the shower, my phone rang. In a dazed voice, Jim said, “Where are you? I don’t know what happened.” Buck naked, I ran to the window, looked out, and saw him lying on his back under the tree. WTF? Grabbing a robe, I raced outside.

After successfully cleaning debris from the roof, Jim decided to attack a branch that annoyed him on the Russian olive tree. The ladder apparently rotated and he fell 12-14 feet (3-4 meters), knocking himself out. Fortunately, he had his cell phone in his pocket which he used to call me. And fortunately, I was unexpectedly at home.

We argued for the next half hour about whether I should call an ambulance. When I tried to help him up, he howled in pain, and begged, “Just give me a couple more minutes.” We repeated this dance of suffering at least four times while in between, I texted my stylist to cancel my appointment and went into the house to get dressed. My patience finally ran out and I took charge and called 911.

A police officer who Jim knows was first on the scene and they chatted, Jim flat on his back, while we waited for the ambulance. Jim insisted he was fine; he could move his fingers and toes, arms and legs; he just couldn’t get up. That didn’t sound fine to me.

The ambulance transported him to the hospital and I followed in the car, calling my friend, Lori, to cancel lunch. After a long wait in the Emergency Room, lots of drugs, a cat scan, and sincere apologies for ruining our trip, we learned Jim fractured his T12 vertebra. He was moved to a hospital room for overnight observation and I called our two sons to inform them.

That evening our son, Brian; his wife, Abi; and our son, Michael, arrived to visit Dad in crisis. That’s when Michael dubbed him Broke Back Mountain and the name stuck. Jim, of course, joked if he’d known it would be so easy to get them home, he’d have fallen off a ladder sooner.

IMG_8402All joking aside, we discussed our trip while we waited for the neurosurgeon to tell us whether Jim could travel. We had planned to travel to Switzerland for a week, then join my friend, Lori and her daughter for an 8 day Viking River Cruise on the Rhine River from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands. I told Jim we had several options. We could cancel, I could go alone and meet up with our friends, I could delay the trip and travel with them, or we could go together if the doctor allowed it. My one condition was I didn’t want Jim to go and complain the entire time that I made him go and he was miserable.

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Jim sporting his $1800 back brace

Since the fracture was stable, the neurosurgeon, Dr. David Beck, pronounced Jim fit to travel with restrictions. Jim was game to go well-armed with an industrial strength back brace and pain medication. We would slow our usual break-neck pace (no pun intended), I would manage the luggage for both of us, keep track of Jim’s meds, and make sure he followed doctor’s orders.

I immediately called the airline to arrange for a wheelchair to meet us in Chicago. It was a little complicated because we had two partner airlines to deal with, but it was a godsend because Jim was moving so slowly at that point. We checked our bags through to Zurich, a new experience for committed carry-on luggage only travelers. When the airline announced they would first board people who needed extra time on the jetway, we looked at each other and chortled in unison, “That’s us!”

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Smiles because we were first to board (and heavy meds for Jim)

Please check back for more tales from Broke Back Mountain as we travel through Switzerland, Germany, France, and the Netherlands.

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

The Best Laid Plans for the Swiss Alps

We enjoyed our first Viking River Cruise in October 2016 so much we were eager to go again. In April 2017 when I saw an affordable Rhine cruise sailing that October from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, we booked it. We’d never been to Switzerland and this was a great opportunity to visit a new country. As I began my research, I quickly learned two things. First, Switzerland is expensive and second, a week wasn’t enough time to see everything in this small country. Thing one, however, limited us to one week. After all, we still had the 8-day river cruise and a couple extra days in Amsterdam afterward.

Part of what made this trip with Viking a good deal was their offer of free airfare. Upon checking, I discovered we could request an “air deviation” for $100 per person. With the air deviation, we extended our trip to depart a week early and return two days later and flew into Zurich instead of Basel. We would fly to Zurich on October 22, board the ship October 29, arrive in Amsterdam November 5, and fly home on November 7.

With the dates for our journey established, I began planning in earnest starting with an online search of the top sights in Switzerland. There were so many I really didn’t know where to begin. I’d heard of the Bernina Express, a scenic rail trip through the Swiss Alps which I thought maybe a good place to start. My research, however, introduced me to another route further south, the Glacier Express, which appealed to me, too. As it turned out, the Glacier Express was closed from mid-October until mid-December and the Bernina Express was closed from the end of October until mid-December. I was so relieved to find one of them open during our visit that I actually built our trip around the Bernina Express.

We decided early on we would travel by train. My brother and his wife had recently driven through Switzerland in a rental car. Their tales of adventure convinced me my anxious personality wasn’t suited to riding by car in the mountains or the cities. The train was a better choice for us. That said, deciphering the rail system in Switzerland was a challenge, to say the least. I spent days poring over the various options and comparing the cost of rail tickets with no pass, with a Swiss Travel Pass, Swiss Travel Pass Flex, and Swiss Half Fare Card. A special offer for a second person to travel for free only added to the confusion. Three websites were especially helpful: the official Swiss Federal Railways, Seat61, and My Swiss Alps. In the end, I only purchased a reservation for the Bernina Express in advance. A rail ticket will get you on the train for the Bernina Express route but you must reserve a seat in advance for the observation car. All other tickets could be purchased on-site with no difference in price so I held off but I was quite certain the Swiss Half Fare card was our best option.

We considered purchasing day trips out of Zurich or Lucerne with various tour companies to the popular tourist sights. Both the price and the time it took to travel out and back discouraged that plan. Besides, we generally prefer to do our own thing rather than be herded with a group on someone else’s schedule.

I reserved hotels in advance for every night. Traveling by train, I didn’t want to arrive in a city and not find a room for the night. I selected hotels based on location, price, and reviews. Since we would be dragging our luggage, I preferred a hotel close to the train station but I also wanted a reasonable price with good customer reviews.

This was our itinerary:

Day 1. Arrive in Zurich at 6:20 a.m. and take the train from the airport into the city. Store our luggage in lockers in the train station and take a self-guided walking tour of the old city which would get us to all the highlights. After seeing Zurich, take the train to Chur (pronounced Koor) (2 hours). Overnight in Chur at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck.

Day 2. We had reserved seats on the Bernina Express departing from Chur at 8:32 a.m. for a scenic 4-hour journey through the Alps. Rather than carry our luggage, we decided to take the train back to Chur to spend a second night.

Day 3. After an early breakfast, we would take the train to Lucerne, which takes about 3 hours. We planned to see Lucerne on foot and spend the night at Waldstaetterhof Swiss Quality Hotel right across from the rail station.

Day 4. We would leave our luggage at the hotel while we took a boat to Pilatus or the train to Titlis, depending on the weather. When we returned we would take the train to Grindelwald (2.5 hours) where I reserved a room at Hotel Alpina.

Day 5. We planned to take the train up to Jungfraujoch, then spend another night at Hotel Alpina.

Day 6. Take the train to Basel (3-3.5 hours) to meet our friends Lori and Heather at the Gaia Hotel before our cruise the following day.

Day 7. Board the Viking Kara for our cruise on the Rhine River.

You can see our planned route highlighted in yellow below.

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It was an ambitious plan but still didn’t allow visits to the Matterhorn, Geneva, and many other highly recommended sights in Switzerland. As events unfolded, we were lucky not to have committed to more. Be sure to check back to read how these best-laid plans went awry.

 

Based on events from April to October 2017.

 

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Ruins of Cluny Abbey

Cluny Abbey was the largest church in Christendom until St. Peter’s Basilica was constructed in Rome in the 16th century. Founded by William I the Pious, Duke of Aquitaine, in 910, and built as a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul, at one time 10,000 monks lived, prayed, and worked in the Cluny network of monasteries. Due to the abbey’s size and wealth, the abbot of Cluny wielded nearly as much power as the pope, and indeed, several abbots became popes. The monastery’s library was one of the finest in Europe housing a large collection of valuable manuscripts. (Unfortunately, many of these were destroyed or stolen when the Huguenots attacked in 1562.)

Because the church in France was viewed as part of the “Ancien Regime” (Old Regime), much of the abbey was destroyed during the French Revolution between 1789 and 1799. Following the Revolution, the abbey was sold and became a stone quarry resulting in near total dismantling of the buildings. Today it is largely in ruins but it was nevertheless, in my opinion, well worth a visit.

What remains of the 656 ft. x 130 ft. church at Cluny Abbey is the south transept. (The transept is the cross piece of a cruciform church.) The nave was completely destroyed but the ruins give you an idea of the once-colossal size of the church.   On the diagram below I’ve circled the towers that remain. The south transept is at the bottom of the diagram.

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From the public domain

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Remaining south transept

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Entrance

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Map of site as it exists today

The nave would have extended through the area in the photo below to the tiny red dot at the top of the stairs which is Jim. In the foreground, you can see the bases of the columns that once supported the roof.

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Ruins of church nave

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Original side entrance to nave

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Inside the south transept

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Inside the south transept

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Inside the south transept

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Inside the south transept

I couldn’t remember what our guide told us about the sarcophagus below so I emailed Cluny Abbey and I’m so excited to tell you I got a response. How’s that for customer service? This is an old Merovingian sarcophagus that was used to entomb the Duke of Aquitaine’s sister, Ava, who was the only woman entombed in the church. It was found near the choir of the church.

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Sarcophagus

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Decorative capital depicting the sacrifice of Isaac

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Decorative piece from Cluny

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Daisy Portal decoration

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Outer wall of south transept

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Entrance to Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

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Ceiling in Bourbon Chapel

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Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

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Bourbon Chapel at Cluny Abbey

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Excavation area

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Cloister at Cluny Abbey

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Chapter House where the monks lived with south transept behind at Cluny Abbey

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Entrance to Chapter House that was used as administrative offices following the French Revolution

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Gardens at Cluny Abbey

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Grounds at Cluny Abbey and Granary

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Rose from the garden in November

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Hallway in Chapter House

Following our tour, we checked out the 3-D film that showed how the Abbey would have appeared before it’s destruction. You’ll find a sample of it from Youtube below.

Todd and Lois, another couple on our Viking River Cruise, also took lots of photos and in chatting with them, Todd told me about his website. To see his outstanding photos of our trip, please check out http://www.informalphotography.com/France-2016.

Cluny was our final excursion on our first Viking River Cruise. We enjoyed it so much we booked another cruise for October 2017. Next time we’ll cruise the Rhine River beginning in Basel, Switzerland with stops in France and Germany and ending in Amsterdam.

For now, adieu to the Viking Buri.

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Our ship, the Viking Buri, as we depart

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Lori, Kathy, Jerry, Jim headed to the airport

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

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

Wine 101 in Beaujolais

Water levels on the river sometimes cause changes to the itinerary on a river cruise. For example, when we were in Porto, Portugal, in the spring of 2016 we heard the Viking River Cruise on the Douro River was transporting passengers entirely by bus because the river was flooding. Our Viking River Cruise was scheduled to leave the Rhône River at Lyon, cruise up the Saône River, and dock at Mâcon on day 7.  Instead, the captain announced our ship would stay in Lyon because it might not make it under the bridges on the Saône due to high water levels.

While we missed views of the Saône from the ship and didn’t get to visit Mâcon, the accommodation seemed quite seamless to me. We would still travel by coach through the Beaujolais region for an included wine tasting at Le Château Pierreclos. The only difference was that a complimentary lunch would be provided for us at a restaurant afterward because we wouldn’t have time to travel back to the ship before our afternoon optional excursion to Cluny Abbey.

The scenes from the coach and the commentary offered by our guide made the longer bus ride totally worth it.

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Door to Beaujolais

French wine is complicated and I certainly don’t know enough to be an expert but I now know more than I did before.  At least I feel a little more comfortable looking at a French wine label. When buying wine in the U.S., the most important information on the label is the varietal or type of grape such as Syrah (my favorite), chardonnay, pinot noir, etc. In France, the varietal is usually not found on the label at all. Instead, the most important information is the Appellation d’Origine Controlée or AOC. Each region has rules and guidelines that determine whether the wine qualifies for AOC classification. The most well-known appellation and easiest example to explain is Champagne. In order to earn the AOC of Champagne, the wine must come from the region of Champagne. Anything else is just sparkling wine and can’t claim the name of Champagne.  According to Wikipedia, there are currently over 300 appellations including Beaujolais, Chateauneuf du Papes, and Côtes du Rhone, to name just a few that we encountered on our river cruise in France.

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French wine label with my explanation

If a wine doesn’t meet the rigorous standards for AOC, it’s either a table wine or a country wine (Vin de pays). I’m sure we drank some of these in France but truly they are good enough that we didn’t know the difference.

Driving through the Beaujolais region which is just 34 miles long, we saw lots of vineyards.  Beaujolais is often thought of as a young light fruity red wine made from Gamay grapes best consumed immediately or soon after release which always occurs on the third Thursday of November.  Actually, that is true of Beaujolais Nouveau which accounts for one-third of the wine produced but the AOC Beaujolais Villages and the top 10 Beaujolais Cru have a longer shelf life.

We were fortunate to have spotted two of the Beaujolais Cru vineyards. The Moulin-a-Vent, named after a local windmill, is considered the King of Beaujolais.

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Moulin-a-Vent

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Moulin-a-Vent

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Chateau Portier Vineyard

The other Beaujolais Cru vineyard we spotted was Juliénas, named for Julius Caesar, as the welcome mural indicates somewhat obviously.

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Bienvenue (Welcome) to Juliénas

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Vineyard in Beaujolais

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We stopped first at the Rock of Solutré, close to the village of Solutré-Pouilly, located in the wine-producing area of Pouilly-Fuissé.

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Rock of Solutré

In the 1860’s, the discovery of thousands of horse and reindeer bones around the base of the rock resulted in a now discredited theory that 20,000 years ago Cro-magnon man herded the animals over the edge of the rock to their death. The presence of the bones remains an archeological mystery to this day.

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Rock of Solutré

Even more amazing than this archeological site was the incredible beauty of the surrounding vineyards among the rolling hills. I’m sure it was our good fortune to visit when the autumn color was at its peak. We arrived following the completion of harvest which depends on around 300,000 minimum wage pickers throughout France for about a two week period each year. In the Beaujolais region, all grapes must be picked by hand although that requirement varies in other regions.

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Looking at the countryside one wouldn’t suspect the harvest in this area was one of the worst in 30 years due to terrible weather conditions including frost, heavy rains, hail, drought, and mildew. You can read more about the devastation here.

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Back on the bus, we headed onward to our wine tasting but just up the road, we spied these animals on the loose; I just can’t tell you whether they were sheep or goats.

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Chateau de Pierreclos is a restored medieval castle that offers wine tasting, a bed and breakfast, and a wedding venue. Prior to our tasting, we wandered around on a self-guided tour enjoying the grounds and the setting on a crisp autumn day with only a sprinkle or two of rain.

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At our appointed time, we followed our group to the wine cellar where we enjoyed the wines included in our tasting.

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The wines included in our tasting

Following our tasting, we were directed to a modern spacious shop where we perused and bought local products to take home with us. Then we boarded our coach again for transportation to the restaurant for lunch before our afternoon visit to Cluny Abbey. But that’s the subject of my next post so please join us next time.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Timeless Town of Perouges

We elected to join an optional tour to the medieval walled village of Perouges, France, on the afternoon of day 6 of our Viking River Cruise. When I read the description of Perouges as “The Most Beautiful Village in France,” I definitely wanted to see it.

We were transported 25 miles (40 km) from Lyon by coach to the village. We entered through a fortified gateway called the Barbican into a village with so many original buildings, I felt immediately transported back in time to the Middle Ages, although undoubtedly a cleaner and better smelling version. Movies such as The Three Musketeers (1973) have been filmed here due to the authenticity of the setting.

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The Barbican at the Upper Gate to Perouges

Immediately inside the gate, we stopped first at the Eglise forteresse (fortified church) Saint-Marie-Madeleine that comprises part of the city wall. The narrow windows prevented intruders from gaining access and the arrow slit below allowed defenders to shoot from inside.

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Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine

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Narrow window with arrow slit below

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Entrance to the church

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Inside Eglise forteresse Saint-Marie-Madeleine

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Interior of church

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View of the countryside from the hilltop at Perouges

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WWI Monument (obviously not from the Middle Ages)

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Building in Perouges

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As you can see in the photo below, the uneven cobblestone streets in Perouges could be treacherous for anyone not wearing sensible walking shoes.

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The Place du Tilleul is the center of Perouges. Our guide pointed out the sundial on the building below, the liberty tree planted following the French Revolution over 200 years ago, and Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges where President Bill Clinton visited in 1996. You can read President Clinton’s speech here.

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Sundial on the front of the building

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Place du Tilleul

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Liberty Tree in Place du Tilleul

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Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges

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Interior of Ostellerie du Vieux Perouges

I loved the corn hanging from the ceiling to dry at a cafe terrace on the square.

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Kathy and Jerry resting a moment

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Cobblestone street in Perouges

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Old well

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Lori in Perouges

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Galette de Perouges is a local favorite

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Scenes from Perouges

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Our guide serving us galette de Perouges

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Medieval well that was part of the original fortified castle

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View of the countryside from Perouges

I later discovered 155 villages in France carry the designation Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  If the others are nearly as captivating as Perouges, I would like to visit each one. Until then, I would agree Perouges is the most beautiful village in France.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Taste of Provence in Lyon

As we returned to our ship, the Viking Buri, after our tour of Lyon on day 6 of our river cruise, we were greeted by a French accordion player.  He treated us to traditional French café music as we filed into the dining room for a luncheon of regional dishes from Provence. Lyon, France, is actually in the Rhône-Alpes region but we began our cruise in Provence just south of our current location so we were still in the general neighborhood.

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French accordion player on the Viking Buri

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While all of the food on our cruise was superb, this meal was my favorite. Not only was the food excellent but the scene was set to provide us with a full Provençal experience. The tables were set in Provençal style and even the wait staff stayed in character.

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French flag at the entrance to the dining room

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Table setting with Kathy and Jerry

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Provençal dishes on the buffet

The ratatouille was so amazing I asked Chef Pascal for the recipe which he willingly provided. His recipe was actually no different than I make at home so I can only conclude that everything tastes better in France.

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My favorite ratatouille

And who could ever complain about French bread?

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French baguettes

The dessert bar featured a fountain of chocolate but many other delicacies tempted us as well.

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Desserts

Macarons, made of almonds, sugar, and egg whites are typically gluten-free, so they have become my French favorite.

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Macarons

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Decadent chocolate dessert

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My plate: please don’t judge me; it was so good

Enjoy a snippet of the French café music we enjoyed at lunch and imagine we’re together in Provence. But don’t linger too long because after lunch we’re bound for Perouges, a medieval walled town that is the subject of my next post.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

Categories: cruise, Europe, Food, France, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A Taste of Lyon, France

Located at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon is the third largest city in France and sometimes considered the more friendly and likable little sister of Paris. As a UNESCO World Heritage site and the gastronomy capital of France, Lyon offers obvious appeal but we enjoyed some unique and lesser-known attractions as well.

We arrived in Lyon at 8:30 AM on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise and started off with a bus tour of the city.

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This small boat pulled up to our ship following our arrival in Lyon

The Place Bellecour is the third largest square in France and the “beautiful heart” of the city. Created in 1708 by Louis XIV, a statue of the Sun King adorns the plaza.

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Place Bellecour

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View from Place Bellecour toward Basilica Notre-Dame de Fourviere atop the hill

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Place des Jacobins

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St Nizier Church Lyon, France

La Fresque des Lyonnais is, without a doubt, the most impressive trompe l’oeil I have ever seen. The mural features well-known Lyonnais including the Lumière brothers who invented the cinématographe in 1895 and the Little Prince, created by author Antoine de St.-Exupéry in 1942. I could gaze upon this for hours, it is so fascinating to me. Everything is painted, even the windows, doors, and railings. It is all illusion. Fortunately, our bus stopped to allow us the time to take photographs and I took many.

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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Lumiére Brothers

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The Little Prince

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

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La Fresque des Lyonnais

Lyon was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its political, economic, and cultural importance since the 1st century B.C. when the Romans founded the city and called it Lugdunum. Roman ruins are still evident although we only viewed them from the bus.

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Roman ruins in Lyon, France

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Roman ruins in Lyon, France

We stopped at the top of Fourviere Hill for a visit to Basilique Notre-Dame. Built in the late 1800’s, it became a basilica soon after its consecration. One of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve seen, it was built entirely with private funds.

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Basilica Notre-Dame

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The views of the city from atop the Fourviere Hill reminded me of the views from Sacré Coeur in Paris. Even the bit of smog in the air hanging over the city seemed familiar.

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After our visit to the Basilica, the bus delivered us to the old town for a walking tour. I was fascinated by the traboules, secret passageways through buildings that connect one street to another.  Originally, the traboules were used to access water at the river more quickly and later they were used by weavers to transport silk to markets in the city center. Today, the 30 or so of the more than 300 existing traboules which are open to the public are marked by a shield next to the door as shown in the photo below.

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Door to a traboule

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Lori inside a traboule

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Inside a traboule

The silk industry began in Lyon in 1466 under King Louis XI and less than 80 years later, King Francois I granted a monopoly to Lyon for the production of silk.  Silk remains an important industry in Lyon today and many of the shops we saw in the old town sold scarves. (A few were even made from locally produced silk.)

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Jerry, Lori, and Jim outside a shop in Lyon while Kathy shopped

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Street in old town Lyon

As I said earlier, Lyon is considered the gastronomy capital of France. My palate is not refined enough to appreciate a 3-star restaurant (and my pocketbook can’t afford a 3-star palate anyway). You can still enjoy a great culinary experience at a reasonable price at a bouchon Lyonnais, a local eatery that features regional cuisine.

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Our guide tells us about the bouchon Lyonnais

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One last view

We had too little time in this impressive city. I definitely needed more time to adequately explore the Roman ruins, learn about the silk industry, and eat in a bouchon Lyonnais. A return trip is definitely on my list.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

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

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