UNESCO

Ode to Cologne

We arrived in Cologne, Germany in the morning on day 6 of our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Cologne is the fourth largest city in Germany and one of the oldest in the country with a history dating as far back as the first century AD when the Romans founded the city naming it Colonia. Our included excursion for this port was a walking tour of the old city which we began soon after our arrival.

Our guide immediately told us over 90% of the Old Town was destroyed by Allied bombing during WWII. We were impressed with the results of reconstruction efforts.

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Old Town Cologne

Next to the river, what appeared at first glance to be a clockface turned out to be a depth gauge showing the water level of the river. As you can see below, the depth was under 2 meters which is why we suspected our ship scraped bottom a few times and the ship’s captain expressed concern about the next cruise.

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I’ve seen love locks on bridges in other cities including Venice, Italy but the 2 tons of locks on the Hohenzollern Bridge was definitely impressive. The city considered removing them and not allowing this show of commitment but the outcry caused them to reconsider and the tradition continues.

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Hohenzollern Bridge

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Love Locks on Hohenzollern Bridge

Cologne Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed beginning in 1248 but wasn’t finally completed until 1880.  It was the world’s tallest building until 1884 when the Washington Monument displaced it. Today it is still visible from most of the city and I took numerous photographs of both the impressive facade and the interior.

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The twin spires as we approach Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral

Below are just a couple of the over 125 gargoyles decorating the exterior of the cathedral.

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Gargoyles on Cologne Cathedral

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Entrance to Cologne Cathedral

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Sculpture at entrance of Cologne Cathedral

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Our guide tells us about the cathedral

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Cologne Cathedral interior

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One of many stained glass windows in Cologne Cathedral

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Altarpiece in Cologne Cathedral

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Interior of Cologne Cathedral

The cathedral houses the relics of the three Magi, the wise men who brought gifts to the Christ child. Between the late 1100’s and early 1200’s, goldsmith Nicholas of Verdun created The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings which holds the relics.

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The Shrine of the Three Holy Kings in Cologne Cathedral

Next door to the Cathedral, we peered in the windows of the Roman-Germanic Museum, built in 1974 over a Roman Villa. The mosaic below depicting the story of Dionysus was discovered when a bomb shelter was built during WWII. Sadly, we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Mosaic in Roman-Germanic Museum 

As our tour moved on, our guide told us about Italian-born perfumier, Giovanni Maria Farina, who created eau de cologne in 1709 and named it for his adopted home. The fragrance featured scents of orange, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, jasmine, violet, and sandalwood. In a letter to his brother, he wrote, “I have discovered a scent that reminds me of a spring morning in Italy, of mountain narcissus, orange blossom just after the rain. It gives me great refreshment, strengthens my senses and imagination.”  You can still purchase the original scent at the perfumery.

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Home of Farina Perfumery

Kölsch style ale was also created in Cologne, a hybrid of ale and lager brewing methods, served in a stange glass.

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Stange glasses for Kölsch beer

Following our walking tour, we made our way back to the ship for lunch prior to our afternoon excursion to the Brühl Palaces.

 

 

Based on events in November 2017.

 

 

 

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

Remarkable Marksburg

Perched high atop a steep hill overlooking the town of Braubach, Marksburg was constructed around 1231 with expansion to its current size in 1283. As the only hilltop castle on the Middle Rhine River which was never destroyed, it’s the best surviving example of a medieval castle in the area. You may recall in my last post I said nearby Pfaltzgrafenstein Castle was never destroyed, which is true, but it’s on the river rather than on a hilltop.

While Marksburg was never destroyed, it did suffer damage from US artillery fire in March 1945, and the castle was painstakingly repaired by the German Castles Association following WWII. Today, it’s the most visited of the Middle Rhine castles, albeit by guided tour only. We were grateful our Viking River Cruise included an excursion to this remarkable fortress.

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Town of Braubach, Germany

As our bus climbed the hill to the castle, I tried to get photos and realized the best views were actually from the river but the drive through the amber autumn foliage was gorgeous, nevertheless.

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Driving up to the hilltop castle, Marksburg

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View of Marksburg from the bus

Following our ascent by bus, we trudged another 150 yards uphill on foot which, for some of us, was challenging right after lunch.

Four gates prevented intruders from breaching the castle. The first is a drawbridge gate followed by a tunnel. The gatekeeper’s room, connected to the tunnel, has been converted to an antique bookshop.

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The tunnel at Drawbridge Gate

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Antique bookstore in the old gatekeeper’s room

Once inside the first gate, we had time to enjoy the view, visit the restroom or gift shop, or simply catch our breath before the tour commenced.

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Catching our breath and enjoying the view

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The tour began at the second gateway, Fox Gate, where we followed our guide who possessed a large skeleton key to allow us through the third medieval gateway, Arrow Slit Gate. I understand the fourth gateway in Stewards Tower was altered sometime in the past. To my knowledge, we didn’t see it or, maybe I simply missed it.

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Our guide with the key to the kingdom

Arrow Slit Gate features a machicolation, a projection from which defenders threw rocks on the intruders below. I’ve circled the machicolation on the photo. Fortunately for us, no one seemed to be on rock-throwing duty that day.

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The Rider’s Stairway continued the upward ascent on stairs carved into the bedrock. I was beginning to understand why the cruise line described this excursion as physically demanding.

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Rider’s Stairway

At the top of Rider’s Stairway, our guide told us about the various owners of the castle who were all represented by their coats of arms.

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Coats of arms of Marksburg owners

The small blacksmith’s workshop gave us an idea of how a medieval forge and anvil would have looked.

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Blacksmith’s workshop

The Romanesque Palas is the oldest part of the castle. It houses offices and the general manager’s apartment and is not open to the public.

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Romanesque Palas

The Great Battery houses cannons overlooking the Rhine River. From this vantage point, the castle controlled access from the river. This building dates from 1589 and 1711.

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The Great Battery

Finally, at the top, we paused once more for a look at the view which was quite spectacular.

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View from Marksburg

Before entering the castle, our guide told us about the garden which contained around 150 mostly medicinal plants that would have grown here in medieval times. Poisonous nightshade and hemlock were also grown —maybe to battle enemies inside the castle?

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Castle garden

When we heard how the contents of the castle toilet ran down the wall in the photo below, I realized castle life wasn’t all that romantic.

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Castle toilet

Still imagining the odors from the toilet when we entered the wine cellar, I decided I’d have needed more wine to cope with life in the Middle Ages.

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Wine cellar in Marksburg

Moving on to the kitchen, we heard servants would have worked in this space and served the noble family in the hall upstairs.

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Kitchen

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Kitchen

Like the toilet, this sink also obviously emptied along the outside castle wall.

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The paneled bedchamber contained a canopied bed, a cradle, and a sitting area. The canopy provided both privacy and warmth for the lord and his lady.

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Bedchamber

And we got to see the toilet from the inside, too.

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Toilet

A combination of living and dining room, most of the noble family’s activities took place in the Great Hall. Musical instruments and a chess set in this area indicated some of the available entertainment options.

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The Great Hall

The exquisitely painted 14th-century chapel was used by the noble family for daily devotions and services.

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The chapel

After our visit to the chapel, we took a narrow stairway to the next floor where we saw the Gimbel Collection, consisting of both original and replicas of armor and weaponry from ancient to early modern times.

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The Gimbel Collection

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Work in process in the Gimbel Collection

Our final stop inside the castle was in the former stable which today houses a gruesome exhibit on torture and punishment in the Middle Ages.

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Torture and punishment exhibit

As I pondered the sights we’d seen at Marksburg on our return bus ride to the Viking Kara, we passed by the Electoral Palace at Koblenz, built in the late 18th century. I concluded castle life in the Middle Ages with its privation, hardship, and disagreeable odors was not all that romantic. I think I’d prefer to live in a palace.

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Electoral Palace, Koblenz

 

Based on events from November 2017.

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

Castles on the Rhine

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located on the 65 km (40mi) stretch of river between Bingen and Koblenz, Germany, boasts more than 40 castles. If you, like me, are fascinated by these romantic fortresses, be sure to book one of the day river cruises because the best views are from the river. We, fortunately, cruised through the region on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine River while we enjoyed an outstanding narration by our cruise director, Ria.

The morning of November 2 was quite chilly but luckily, the sky was cloudless. We’d brought plenty of warm clothing so we bundled up and claimed a spot on the upper deck where the cruise line provided chairs with blankets and hot drinks (alcohol included) to ensure our comfort. Many passengers preferred to stay inside where it was warm but I was intent on getting the best photos possible without window glare.

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Dressed for the weather

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We didn’t have to fight for a seat

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Jim enjoying the view and a hot drink

The Rhine has been a major waterway used to transport goods between southern and northern Europe since Roman times. As such, opportunities to make money abounded whether by transporting goods, robbing those who transported goods or protecting those who transported goods. As a result, numerous castles sprang up along the river. Some were home to robber knights who preyed on merchant ships and others provided protection for and exacted tolls from those using the waterway.

I purchased a booklet entitled, The Castles of the Rhine, from which I garnered some of the details below in addition to the information Ria shared. I tried to show how the castles looked from the river rather than close up with a telephoto lens and the photos below are in the order we saw the castles.

Originally called Vogtsberg, Rheinstein Castle was built in the early 1300’s but an earlier fortress likely preceded its presence on this site. Its purpose was to provide protection from robber knights attacking from nearby Reichenstein Castle. Today it is restored and open to the public.

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Rheinstein Castle

Constructed in the early 11th century, Reichenstein Castle was home to generations of robber knights. Rudolf von Habsburg,  who was elected king in 1273, besieged the castle in 1282, finally forcing its surrender through starvation. The castle was burned down and later rebuilt in spite of Rudolf’s orders to the contrary. Today, guests can explore this history and more with a visit to the castle and its museum and even book a stay at the hotel and dine at the onsite restaurant.

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Reichenstein Castle

Nearby Sooneck Castle, constructed in the 11th century and named for Soon Forest, was also a robber knight castle which Rudolf besieged along with Reichenstein in 1282 and, although rebuilding was likewise forbidden, it was rebuilt in 1349. Today, it is also open to the public.

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Sooneck Castle

Some of the castles like Furstenberg are ruins but the surrounding vineyard is still under cultivation.

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Furstenberg Castle ruin

Stahleck Castle was built around 1100. In 1194, it was the location of the secret Stahleck Marriage of Agnes and Henry the Elder of Brunswick whose families were feuding. Legend has it when the couple produced a grandchild, the family reconciled. The castle was destroyed by the French in 1689 and restored in the early 20th century. Today it houses a youth hostel.

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Stahleck Castle

Built on the river specifically to collect shipping tolls in the early 14th century, Pfalzgrafenstein Castle has never been destroyed which is quite a distinction. The water level in the river was abnormally low when we visited but the castle normally appears to float on the water.   The appearance led the French poet, Victor Hugo, to memorialize the castle when he described it as, “A ship of stone, eternally afloat upon the Rhine…” The castle is open for tours.

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Pfalzgrafenstein Castle

Gutenfels Castle was constructed beginning in 1200. I thought this castle was especially picturesque with the vineyard on the hillside and the town of Sankt Goar on the bank of the Rhine below. Today the castle is private property.

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Gutenfels Castle

Documentation of Schonburg Castle goes back to the 12th century but its roots may go back as far as the Roman occupation in the 3rd century. According to the castle’s website, this was one of the few castles where all sons inherited rather than following the system of primogeniture. Consequently, in the 14th century 24 families and up to 250 people lived there at the same time but, interestingly, by 1719, the line of succession completely died out. Today, this castle also features a hotel and restaurant.

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Schonberg Castle

As we passed the Loreley, a 433 ft (132 m) high slate rock, our cruise director, Ria, explained this section of the Upper Middle Rhine is particularly treacherous because it’s deep, narrow, and curvy with strong currents which have resulted in numerous accidents and shipwrecks through the years.

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Loreley

The currents combined with an echo produced by the rock create a murmur which inspired a German folk-tale about a siren named Lorelei. When jilted by her lover, Lorelei threw herself into the Rhine and her spirit has since lured fishermen to destruction when they heard her singing as she sat above them on the rock combing her long blond locks. A poem about Lorelei by Heinrich Heine in 1824 has been set to music by over 25 composers. You can read a translation of the poem below.

Lorelei
By Heinrich Heine
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

I know not if there is a reason
Why I am so sad at heart.
A legend of bygone ages
Haunts me and will not depart.

The air is cool under nightfall.
The calm Rhine courses its way.
The peak of the mountain is sparkling
With evening’s final ray.

The fairest of maidens is sitting
So marvelous up there,
Her golden jewels are shining,
She’s combing her golden hair.

She combs with a comb also golden,
And sings a song as well
Whose melody binds a wondrous
And overpowering spell.

In his little boat, the boatman
Is seized with a savage woe,
He’d rather look up at the mountain
Than down at the rocks below.

I think that the waves will devour
The boatman and boat as one;
And this by her song’s sheer power
Fair Lorelei has done.

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Sculpture of Lorelei on the Rhine

Built by Count Wilhelm II around 1371, Napolean ordered Katz Castle blown up in 1806. It was restored in 1896 and today is privately owned and not open to visitors.

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Katz Castle

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Jim and I with another view of Katz Castle

Once the largest castle on the Rhine, Rheinfels Castle was constructed in 1245. The French blew up the castle in 1797 and, although it has been a ruin ever since, it is open to the public with a hotel, restaurant, and museum on site.

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Rheinfels Castle

Maus Castle (Mouse Castle), built in 1356, is located north of Katz Castle (Cat Castle).

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Maus Castle

We were fortunate to view Marksburg Castle from the river and then later tour the castle. This is how I know, without a doubt, the best views are from the river which you’ll understand when you read my next post. I’ll save details for later.

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Marksburg Castle

Stolzenfels Castle, built in 1248, was taken by the Swedish in 1632, occupied by the French in 1634-36, and burned by the French in 1688. The City of Koblenz gifted the ruin to King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1823, who had it restored and used it as a summer residence. It’s open and offers tours to the public.

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Stolzenfels Castle

Honestly, by the time we arrived in Koblenz, our early enthusiasm was beginning to wane due to a surfeit of castles on the Rhine. Thankfully, we had the opportunity to recharge while we enjoyed another delicious lunch on the Viking Kara before our afternoon tour of Marksburg Castle. Join me next time on our tour.

 

Based on events from November 2017.

 

References:

The Castles of the Rhine, Gunter Seifert, 2017.

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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

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

Kingston, Ontario to Niagara Falls

Disappointed to learn Fort Henry, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kingston, Ontario, closed for the season on September 3, we, nevertheless, walked around a bit and took a few photos on day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip. Built in the 1830’s atop Point Henry and overlooking the St. Lawrence River on a military route from Montreal to Ottawa,  the strategic value was readily apparent and the views were outstanding.

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View from Ft. Henry toward Kingston

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The gate at Ft. Henry at the upper fort

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View of the lower fort

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The lower fort

Kingston is the door to the 1000 Islands, a region located in the St. Lawrence River along the U.S./ Canada border. We drove 20 miles east to Ganonoque for a boat tour of the Thousand Islands with Gananoque Boat Line, billed as the largest and oldest of the cruise companies in the islands.  We decided on the 1-hour Beauty of the Islands cruise departing from Gananoque for $24.95 rather than the 5-hour Boldt Castle Stopover for $48.80.

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Beauty of the Islands cruise route

The 1000 Islands are rich with history, beginning with First Nations people who inhabited the area before French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the area in the 1500s followed by Samuel de Champlain in the 1600s. By the late 1800s, the area became the summer vacation destination for millionaires during the Gilded Age. George Boldt, the wealthy owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, built Boldt Castle for his wife, Louise, who died before its completion without ever seeing it.

Incidentally, Thousand Island salad dressing was created here. One version of the story says George Boldt’s chef created the recipe but another version says it was created by Sophia Lalonde, the wife of a fishing guide. Whichever story you believe, when George Boldt got ahold of the recipe, he put it on the menu at the Waldorf Astoria, and the rest is history.

Today, the archipelago of 1864 islands in the St. Lawrence River remains a vacation paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a few islands are reachable by ferry; otherwise private watercraft are required with plenty of boat rentals available throughout the area. Twenty-one islands comprise the 1000 Island National Park of Canada with docks, trails, and camping facilities.

As we embarked our cruise boat, the day was warm and sunny. We enjoyed the ride with commentary to accompany the close-up views of many small islands and cottages.

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I have no idea which ferry we saw in the photo below but if you look carefully, you can see it’s cable-driven. This method is safer on a river with a strong current. We were lucky to have gotten a look at this one in action.

IMG_7257Many of the islands are small enough to accommodate just one cottage. In fact, on our cruise they told us to be considered an island, it must be at least 6 square feet of land with at least 2 trees. I read on various websites, however, that the requirement is one tree and the land must be fully above water 365 days a year. Either way, some of these islands are very small and could easily be submerged by a high wake.

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Note the sign “PLEASE NO WAKE”

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Following our cruise, we crossed the Thousand Islands International Bridge to re-enter the United States.

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Thousand Island International Bridge

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View of the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Island International Bridge

We had planned to follow the shore of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls but when I saw Seneca Falls, NY on the map, I was keen to visit the site of the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. and Jim was willing.

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In July 1848, over 300 women and men gathered in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss the rights of women. Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, on the first day only women were allowed to attend and discuss principles. On the second day, 100 women and men discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments which expanded on the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence and began with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.”

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Restored Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held

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Interior of Wesleyan Chapel

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Sign outside Wesleyan Chapel

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Outside the Visitor Center at Women’s Rights National Historical Park

For me, the most moving exhibits inside the Visitor Center were the First Wave Statue and an exact replica of the suffrage banner. The First Wave Statues represent the first wave of women’s rights activists including the 5 organizers of the convention, the men who supported their efforts, and others who did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

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The suffrage banner celebrated the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote. The colors in the banner are purple for justice, white for purity of intent, and gold for courage. The stars represent the 36 states that ratified the amendment.

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In 1980, the Women’s Rights Historical Park was established as part of the National Park Service. It’s easy to forget the struggles of those who led the way to establish the rights of women. It took another 72 years after the convention to secure the right to vote for women. Today, we have enjoyed that right for fewer than 100 years. This national park serves as an important reminder.

We finished day 7 in Niagara Falls to celebrate our wedding anniversary which I’ll share in my next post.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

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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

Pont du Gard

After our morning tour of the Palace of the Popes and Les Halles in Avignon on day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to the ship for lunch before our next excursion. Our new friend, Laura, joined us and we discussed our plans for the afternoon. Laura had chosen an optional Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tour and Tasting. We had considered it but being Roman history junkies, we opted instead for the excursion to Pont du Gard. I asked Laura to pick up a bottle of wine for us to share at dinner that evening so that we wouldn’t entirely miss out on tasting this celebrated wine.

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Laura, Kathy, Jerry, Jim, and Lori at lunch on the Viking Buri

Following lunch, we boarded our motor coach for the half-hour ride to Pont du Gard. We especially enjoyed seeing the vineyards from the bus and wondered whether any of the grapes we saw were used for Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine.

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Grape vines viewed from our motor coach

Built by the Romans over 2000 years ago, the Nimes Aqueduct carried 5 million gallons of fresh water each day from the springs of Uzes to the Roman outpost of Nimes, 31 miles away. The actual distance is somewhat less but the uneven terrain necessitated a longer winding route. The engineering requirements amazed me. Obviously, the aqueduct transported the water downhill using gravity to get it to flow but Nimes is just 55 feet lower than the water source. Consequently, the slope of the aqueduct was just 25 inches per mile. Much of the aqueduct ran underground or at ground level but the magnificent Pont du Gard was built to cross the Gardon River and stands today at 50 meters (164 ft.) as the tallest aqueduct built by the Romans. The three-level bridge was built of locally quarried limestone and according to our guide, constructed without the use of mortar. The official website of Pont du Gard, however, says, “The highest part of the structure is made out of breeze blocks joined together with mortar,” so I believe mortar was used on the uppermost level in the water channel to waterproof it.

Although use of the aqueduct to transport water ceased by the 6th century, it continued to function as a bridge for carts and pedestrians to cross the Gardon River. By the 18th century, a road designed by Henri Pitot was incorporated into the second level and motorized traffic was allowed until 1997. In 1985, Pont du Gard was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Today the bridge is used strictly for pedestrian traffic. For those who are particularly adventurous, you can also take a guided tour of the third tier for an extra fee. We did not.

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Our tour guide showing us a map of the area at the entrance to Pont du Gard

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The entrance to the Pont du Gard site

 

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1000-year-old olive tree transplanted from Spain to Pont du Gard in 1988

 

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First view of Pont du Gard

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Closer view as we approach Pont du Gard

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View of the Gardon River that Pont du Gard crosses

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Le Bistro du Vieux Moulin along the walkway to Pont du Gard

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Approach showing bicycler enjoying this space, too

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I don’t get tired of this view, do you?

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Proof we were here

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View of Gardon River from Pont du Gard

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On the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard

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View from Pont du Gard

After our guide led us to the bridge on the second level of Pont du Gard while telling us about the construction and history, we had free time to explore on our own. Well-marked paths on both the right bank and left bank of the river enable visitors to wander, explore, and picnic in the Garrigue, as the wooded scrubland surrounding Pont du Gard is called. Swimming, canoeing, and kayaking are allowed in the river but it was a little late in the season to see anyone engaged in those activities.

We followed the path on the right bank (rive droite) and clambered first down to the river level where I found my favorite view for photographs.

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My favorite view

Then we climbed up the trail to see Pont du Gard from the hillside and explore some of the Garrigue. We also found the perfect spot to take Jim’s picture holding up his Iowa State flag. The athletic department has a social media contest to pick a fan photo each week to post on their Facebook page. Our photo won.

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Iowa State University Athletic Department’s photo of the week

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View of the Gardon River and Garrigue from the path above with limestone rock in the foreground

 

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Another view of the Garrigue

 

The top level of Pont du Gard was not open but we did get a selfie of us underneath it.

 

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Laura, Lori, Jerry, and Jim beneath the third tier of Pont du Gard

 

 

This excursion was worth every penny of the $59 we paid for it. And when we returned to the ship, Laura brought an excellent bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape to celebrate a day well-spent.

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Based on events from November 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Back to Avignon

On Day 3 of our Viking River Cruise, we returned to Avignon. With our whisper boxes in hand, we set off on foot that morning for our included excursion to tour the Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes) and the historic center. (A whisper box is a headset that enables the wearer to better hear the tour guide.)

Once inside the ramparts, we meandered through the medieval streets while our guide pointed out several buildings on our way to the Popes’ Palace. Incidentally, you can walk the ramparts which I would like to do next time.

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Ramparts surrounding historic center of Avignon

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Church of St. Agricola in Avignon

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Gargoyle on Church of St. Agricola, Avignon

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Clock tower at Hôtel de Ville (City Hall)

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Lori in front of Opera Theater in Avignon

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View of Cathedral Notre-Dame des Doms d’Avignon

The Palace of the Popes is the largest gothic palace in Europe and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. Why, you may wonder did the papacy relocate to Avignon, France in 1309?  Pope Boniface VIII had earlier issued two edicts; one prohibited taxation of the clergy and the other asserted the supremacy of papal authority over temporal authority.  Philip IV, King of France, objected to these edicts and responded by taking Boniface prisoner for a short time and the Pope died soon after his release.  When Pope Clement V from France was elected, he reached an agreement with King Philip to settle in Avignon where the papacy would remain for nearly 70 years. This period was known as the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, in reference to the 70-year Jewish exile in Babylon.

The Palace of the Popes actually consists of two palaces; construction of the Old Palace commenced in 1335 under Pope Benedict XII and the New Palace was completed less than 20 years later by Pope Clement VI. The model below shows just how vast the complex is, covering 15,000 square meters (over 161,000 square feet).

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Palace of the Popes model: the Old Palace is on the left and behind, the New Palace on the right in front

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Jerry and Kathy outside the old doors at the Palace of the Popes

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View from Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Courtyard of Honor at Palace of the Popes, Avignon

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Sculpture in Palace of the Popes

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Frescoes in Palace of the Popes

Photography of the priceless frescoes in the private apartments and chapels of the Palace of the Popes was not allowed but I took several photos of the video shown to illustrate the beauty.

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Grand Tinel or Banquet Hall, Palace of the Popes

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Plaster effigies in Palace of the Popes

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Passion of the Christ sculpture in the Consistory of the Palace of the Popes

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The Great Clementine Chapel, Palace of the Popes

The acoustics are absolutely amazing in this chapel. When none of us volunteered to sing, our guide sang for us. I could hear her all the way at the other end of the chapel. Listen to her.

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The Papal Seat in Consistory Hall

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Central Courtyard, Palace of the Popes

Sadly, many of the sculptures were beheaded during the French Revolution. If you look closely, you can see the heads are missing on the archway of the doors below.

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Sculptured doorway at Palace of the Popes

Following the departure of the papacy, the Catholic Church maintained ownership of the palace until the French Revolution. Under the subsequent Napoleonic rule, the palace was used as a military barracks and prison until 1906 when it became a national museum and restoration began. Today the Palace of the Popes doesn’t compare to the lavish splendor of the Vatican in Rome, but I imagine in the 14th century when it was filled with tapestries and treasures, it would have come close.

I was excited that we were headed next to Les Halles, the indoor market. On our way, we stopped at Basilique St. Pierre to see the intricately carved walnut doors and the gold-gilded Renaissance altar.

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Basilique St. Pierre

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Carved doors on Basilique St. Pierre

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Altar in Basilique St. Pierre

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Entrance to Les Halles

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Our guide and Viking staff offer us samples

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Les Halles fruit stand

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Les Halles fromage (cheese)

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Poisson (fish) at Les Halles

I purchased a large package of herbes de Provence from the spice stall to use at home and bring back memories of the time and food we enjoyed in Provence.

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Spices at Les Halles

My daughter-in-law likes macarons so I purchased some of those, too, to take home to her. Then they served macarons on our ship a couple days later.

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Macarons at Les Halles

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La Patisserie at Les Halles

We accomplished all of this in the morning, then headed back to the ship for lunch before our optional excursion that afternoon to Pont du Gard. Check back for my next post. Pont du Gard was truly amazing.

 

Based on events from November 2016.

 

References:

Viking Daily

Tour guide engaged by Viking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Walking Tour of Arles, France

We first glimpsed Tarascon, France through the early morning mist on the Rhône river. As the castle came into view, we knew that day 2 of our river cruise promised to be at least as delightful as the first. Our ship docked at this small town of 13,000 inhabitants, 11 miles (18 km) north of Arles. Tarascon would have to wait until later in the day, however, because we were scheduled for a walking tour of Arles that morning.

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Dawn on the Rhône River approaching Tarascon

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Tarascon Castle from the Rhône River

But first, a good breakfast was in order to fuel our explorations. We were offered an outstanding array on the buffet or we could order from the menu or both.

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Scrumptious breakfast

Following breakfast, our motor coach waited to transport us to Arles, pop. 50,000. Arles was settled by the Greeks as early as the 6th century, BC, and the city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Roman monuments dating from the 1st century, BC, and Romanesque monuments from the 11th and 12th centuries.

As we walked through the city, I was charmed by almost everything I saw.

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The Roman Amphitheater, still in use today for bullfights and other events, was built in the 1st century AD to accommodate 21,000 spectators.

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Lori and Jim at the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

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Inside the Roman Amphitheater

The nearby Roman Theater, built in the 1st century BC, was not as well-preserved as the amphitheater but it, too, is still used today for outdoor performances, accommodating audiences of 8,000.

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As we continued our stroll toward the Place de la Republique, I captured a few views along the way.

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The Place de la Republique, where the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is located, is the center of the historic district. The ancient Egyptian obelisk was moved here from the amphitheater in 1676.

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Place de la Republique

Facing the Place de la Republique is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Church and Cloister of St. Trophime, named for an early bishop of Arles. The facade of the Romanesque church features sculptured scenes of the Last Judgement including Christ in Majesty surrounded by symbols of the four Evangelists above the doorway, the righteous being delivered to the saints on the left, and the chain-bound souls being delivered to hell on the right.

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Christ in Majesty with the Evangelists

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The righteous delivered to the saints

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The damned with chains around their waists delivered to hell

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Inside the Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime Interior

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Church of St. Trophime

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Church of St. Trophime

Incidentally, the Church of St. Trophime is a stop along one of the pilgrimage routes of the Camino de Santiago. We didn’t see any pilgrims while we were there, however.

Vincent Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888 at age 34 and spent 15 months here producing 300 paintings including some of his most famous. It was here that he cut off his ear and was hospitalized at the old Arles Hospital where he painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles. Today this hospital is a cultural center featuring many of Van Gogh’s works. Sadly, the artist died young in 1890.

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Sign to mark the place where Van Gogh painted Le Jardin de la Maison de Santé a Arles

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In the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh

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Sign to identify the cafe where Van Gogh painted Le Café Le Soir

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Location of the painting Le Cafe Le Soir (Cafe Terrace at Night)

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Another view of the café

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Marker for Van Gogh’s La Nuit Étoilée

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View of the river where La Nuit Étoilée was painted by Vincent Van Gogh

We saw one more ancient Roman monument on our walking tour, the Baths of Constantine, dating from the 4th century.

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

 

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Baths of Constantine

 

Before boarding our bus to return to Tarascon, I took a few photos of The Bridge of Lions. The bridge was destroyed in a WWII bombing but the lions have been restored and stand regally on guard on the embankment of the River Rhône. IMG_0326

Upon our return to our ship, the Viking Buri, we were greeted by staff with a welcome aboard drink for us.

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Check back for a tour of Tarascon Castle.

 

Based on events from October 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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