Friday, March 31, 2017

Seville

Andalusia Vineyards

Yes, that is a vineyard.  Just one of the miles and miles of vineyards that we saw as we drove from Valencia to Seville.  Once the vineyards vanished, then the miles and miles of olive groves appeared.  I thought that Greece had more olive trees than I had ever seen.  I believe Spain now holds that place.  And, in between the vineyards and the olive groves were acres of grasses (oats and barley I think) so green it was surreal.  I kept trying to capture it all in photos, but alas I'm afraid I failed.  

 Seville Apartment

Our VRBO has a distinctive Spanish flair to it.  Marble floors and stucco walls give way to high ceilings and wrought iron works. We are on the bottom floor of a 3 story building that encloses a courtyard.  There are some drawbacks, but the location overcomes any negatives.  We can walk to the most interesting and beautiful parts of the city.  A few steps from the apartment is the Seville Cathedral and the Alcazar.   

The Cathedral of St Mary of the See

The Seville Cathedral is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third largest church in the world.  The scale and volume of the space can take your breath.  Notice the size of people next to the columns.  They are completely dwarfed.  It has the longest nave of any cathedral in Spain.  The many chapels are so ornate that I found them almost vulgar.  But they are filled with Della Robin sculptures, Murillo paintings and undisturbed stained glass.  There is an orange garden adjacent to the Cathedral that was filled with the aroma of orange blossoms.  

Cathedral at Night

The bell tower or La Giralda has bats.  Bats in the belfry.  Our very funny waiter on our first evening confirmed that for us. And then he said, "they shit all over everything."  On our third evening we sat at an outdoor table beneath the tower, listening to flamenco music, drinking sangria and watching the bats fly.  

Many Cathedral photos at flickr.
City views at flickr

The Pig on YouTube
Cathedral on YouTube





Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Valencia

Estancia del Nord

We spent two days in Valencia in the Zenit Hotel on the edge of the Barrio del Carmen and across from the Estacio del Nord (north train station). The train station is considered a jewel of the city.  It was built between 1906 and 1917 in the Moderniste style which on the exterior boasts high relief sculptures of flowers and fruits and an interior ablaze with mosaics decorating every square foot.  The wrought iron canopy of the train platforms finishes the feast.  We didn't arrive at this station but at the high speed train station a few blocks away.  We spent the remainder of our 2 days on foot admiring the mixed architecture of Roman, Medieval, Moderniste, Gothic and contemporary buildings.  We spent time in 5 of them.

The Valencia Cathedra

The Valencia Cathedral is believed to sit on the site of a former mosque.  This is true of many buildings in Valencia that were either razed or converted when the Moors were defeated and driven from the city.  Many aspects of the Valencian architecture give a nod to Moorish design.  Like many structures that have existed through millineum, the cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque, Baroque Renaissance and Neo-Classical but predominantly Gothic.  There is a beautiful octagonal tower of white stone at the Transcept.  And the Vatican claims the Holy Grail is here.  I can attest to that.  I saw it.  Tell Monty Python they can stop the quest.  

The Central Market

On Sunday we strolled through the Central Market, the one of the oldest and largest in Europe.  The building is art nouveau with stained glass and mosaics.  But the food!  The food!  There are over 1000 stalls each specializing in seasonal produce, fish, meats, cheeses.  

La Lonja

Across from the market is la Lonja, the 15th century silk exchange.  It is one of the best examples of Gothic civil architecture in Europe.  There are the most amusing high reliefs sculpted into door arches  and on columns.  Pictures on flickr will include a dragon breast feeding from an angle.  A woman collecting excrement from two men, a devil using a bellow to blow up an animals anus.  Boy!  Those silk merchants were rascals.  

L' Oceanographic 

In the 1957 the Turia river flooded in Valencia causing significant damage and killing 81 people.  In response, the river was rerouted south of the city, and a greenway created in its place. At the end of the greenway and the edge of the Mediterranean is the City of Arts and Sciences.  This complex houses a planetarium, an interactive museum of science, an opera house, and the Oceanographic center.  All the buildings are impressive glass and steel structures.  We visited the Oceanographic park where each building represented different aquatic environments.  Most of the display is underground with a setting that seems more naturalistic. 

Monday in Valencia at flickr.
Tuesday in Valencia at flickr.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Barcelona

Placa Real

We've been in Barcelona for the past 2 days.  We forgot how bustling a city is after our time in Provence.  As soon as we alighted from the train, we were met with throngs of people rushing through the station, transferring to the underground, taxis or busses.  We took the underground to Placa Catalunya, a large open tiled square with sculptures, a fountain, people everywhere and pigeons galore.  It was only a 10 minute walk from there to our hotel.  We're never sure what a hotel will bring when it was found through an internet search.  But we hit the jackpot with Hotel Catedral.  We are adjacent to the Barcelona Cathedral and the Barri Gotic.  

Barcelona Cathedral Cloister

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (colloquially known as La Seu) is Gothic and built in the 13th-15th centuries.  We couldn't understand why the facade looked newer and more modern than that until we overheard a guide explain it was constructed in the 19th century over the "nondescript exterior".  The interior is quite lavish with gold everywhere.  Mass was being conducted while we were there so our observations were limited. My favorite part was the cloisters where 13 white geese are kept to commemorate the martyrdom of Eulalia at age 13. Wayne kept insisting they were being fattened for foie gras.   La Seu sits raised above the Placa. The Placa is always filled with people and performers.  Sunday there was a small band playing on the steps and locals dancing a traditional ring dance.  Across the square very athletic young men were performing gymnastics.  

The Barri Gotic is not as old as one would assume with this name.  Most of it was built in the 19th and 20th century.  There are Medieval buildings to be found, however.  We liked walking through the labyrinth of small streets and then suddenly finding ourselves in an open square.  Favorite among these was the Placa Real, a place we remembered from 20 years ago.  There are restaurants cheek to jowl here.  On the afternoon of our arrival, we just picked one with a vacant table outside and on the square's edge.  Luckily they had a wonderful paella and grilled squid.  That night we returned to the district and had tapas where one self serves from an array of tapas and is charged by the number of toothpicks on the plate.  


Casa Mila

Next to La Seu is the Antoni Gaudi museum.  Our intention with our one full day was to visit some of the Gaudi buildings.  The museum seemed the perfect place to start.  The curator has done a thorough job of documenting Gaudi's life and explaining his design sources and inspirations.  Two of Gaudi's best know buildings are within a few blocks of one another.  We admired the exterior of one and explored the interior of the other.  Originally built as an apartment building, today La Pedrera houses commerce on the ground floor, 4 private residences and the remainder opened for tours.  The main courtyard is beautiful with frescos and undulating walls.  Each apartment occupies a floor and circles completely around the interior courtyard.  The roof is amazing with stucco chimneys that look like stormtroopers from Star Wars and glass covered arches. 


We continued on our way to Sagrada Familia, Gaudi's famous unfinished church.  The area seemed more of a tourist destination that we remembered.  The facing park was beautiful with blooming red bud trees.  But the front of the church was packed with tour busses and lines of visitors.  We elected not to go in.  We had been in before and had a dinner date we needed to be back for.  Instead we visited Michael Collins' Irish pub where we repeated our experience of 20 years ago and had a refreshing beer.  Nothing had changed.  It is a terrific Irish pub with a very long bar extending through 3 rooms, dilapidated tables and showcases full of dusty stuffed birds, one mangy fox, and IRA uniforms.  The bartender was from County Cork but didn't know my ancestors from County Claire.  

Continuing in the vein of our nostalgic agenda we returned to the 7 Portas for dinner.  I have two sea snail shells from a dish we had on our first visit.  Wayne was determined to collect more but we couldn't determine from the menu which dish to order.  We finally looked up the snail on the internet and showed the waiter.  He not only got us the dish but later brought a bag for our snail shells.  Off the Valencia tomorrow.  
Saturday in Barcelona on flickr.
Sunday in Barcelona on flickr.
Barcelona Gymnists on YouTube
Music at the Cathedral on YouTube
Dancing at the Cathedral on YouTube

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape

Selfie at the Pont d'Avignon

 Avignon is a beautiful and completely walled city.  One can drive the perimeter of the old city with the ramparts on one side of the road and, on the northeast of the city, the Rhone on the other side. From 1309-1377, it was the seat of the Catholic Church.  The Pope was French and just decided to stay at home. Home became a new Popes' Palace in town with a castle in the hills.  Thus, we now have the famous Chateauneuf du Pape wines.  More about that later.

We stopped in the Place l'Horloge (the ever present Old Town Place of the Clock [tower]) for a great lunch of duck.  Our waiter was upbeat and friendly.  As a side note, we have had nothing but pleasant and gracious encounters with all the French people.  The characterization that the French are rude is completely wrong.  After lunch we roamed the streets and came to the Popes' Palace.  We've been inside before and wanted to spend our time outdoors. The exterior is ample delight for the eye.  It is a remarkable International Gothic style building.  

The Pont d'Avignon once served in the Middle Ages as access for the local bishop who refused to live in Avignon because of the dirt and lawlessness.    Soon, though, the bridge became unsafe due to numerous floods.  Today only 4 of the original 22 arches remain.  

Rhone Valley from the ruins of the Popes' Chateau

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a village about 7 miles north of Avignon.  The ruins of the Pope John XXII's castle dominates the top of the village hill.  From there one gets a panoramic view of the Rhone Valley, the Rhone River and mountains.  Almost all the land is planted with grapevines.  The vineyards use small red stones to mulch around the vines, a unique sight to me. The wine is known as Chateauneuf-du-Pape.  The region permits 13 different variety of grapes but the blend must be predominantly grenache. The yearly production is around 13 million bottles of which 95% is red and 5% white.  Rose is not permitted.  We had a tasting in the village and bought 2 bottles.  Pictures of the beautiful Avignon and the Chateauneuf-du-Pape area at flickr.    
A video of the valley is at YouTube.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Nice, Antibes and Aix

Fort Carre, Antibes

Since both the Chagall and Matisse Museums were closed today, we left Nice early.  We did attempt to drive to the Cimiez neighborhood where Matisse lived and worked.  We were so frustrated by blocked roads and one way streets that we just headed out.  We wanted more of the Mediterranean life and stopped in Antibes.  Antibes is also a resort town where huge luxury yachts moor.  But it also has a charming old town enclosed by 16th century ramparts and Fort Carre, where Napolean was imprisoned. Napolean had moved his family here just prior to the revolution.  Picasso lived in the Chateau Grimaldi for 6 months and left a number of his works behind.  The Chateau has become the Picasso Museum.  We found a bakery where we picked up quiches and tarts for dinner.  The ride home offered a different view of Mont St. Victoire.  
Pictures at flickr.  



Monday, March 20, 2017

Nice

Hotel Negresco, Nice

We went to Nice for an overnight to see if we liked the area.  We've been considering what to do next winter.  A month in Nice was one choice.  It is south enough to be mild, and close enough to Italy for some excursions.  We chose a hotel at random simply based on its proximity to Old Town.  What we got was Hotel Negresco, a grand experience.  The rates were average but the service and facility were 5 star luxury.  Now filled with a wonderful art collection (and rooms with mink bedspreads, which was NOT our room) there was a period of decline during WWI, when the owner lost the hotel, and it became a hospital.  Sadly, it became a hospital of sorts in the wake of the 2016 attack when the main hall was used to triage the wounded.  

We walked the famous Promenade Anglais, constructed along the French Riviera for the rich English who came here at the turn of the century, explored the old town, and ate at Boccaccio, reportedly the best seafood restaurant.  Indeed, we had a paella to die for.  It was also enough for four people.  

But what we also discovered is Nice is not nice for us.  It is too hectic, hard to drive in, more of a resort area than we enjoy.  The area along the sea is filled with grand hotels and small restaurants which is perfect for the vacationer who loves the beach.  The Old Town is all pedestrian and perfect for evening strolls, shopping and dining.  But beyond that the city did not charm us.  Also, to our surprise and disappointment both the Chagall and Matisse museums we intended to visit tomorrow are closed on a Tuesday.  
Video of the hotel rotunda at YouTube.  
Pictures at flickr

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Gigondas and Orange

Vineyards in Gigondas

Rick Steves has steered us correctly again.  He suggested Gigondas as a nice place to visit for wine tasting.  Only 700 people live in this little village.  Among them we found a great cook and his restaurant.  We had a delicious lamb dish with the local wine then went to the nearest shop for a wine tasting.  The region began to grow wine after great frosts in 1929 and 1957 destroyed the ancient olive trees.  Today the area puts more than five million bottles on the market each year.  They are described as powerful and generous, robust and well-balanced.  

Orange, Roman Theater

The day was still young and and Orange was on the way home.  We stopped to check out the Roman Theatre.  The Theatre is described as the most impressive still existing in Europe.  I would have to agree.  The Theatre thrived as a major role player in disseminating Roman culture. The people spent great amount of time there watching plays, pantomimes, poetry readings, etc. that lasted all day.   But, as the Roman Empire declined, Christianity became the official religion and closed the theatre.  The church regarded the performances as uncivilized spectacles.  By the Middle Ages it became a refuge for the townspeople from the religious wars.   They built and incorporated housing into the spaces and Great Wall.  In the 1800s excavation began to remove the housing and restore the Theatre.  Today all the seating has be restored as have major parts of the stage, orchestra and walls.  Today the Opera Festival is held here.  Pictures of our day at flickr.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Nimes

Maison Carree

Nimes is a little over an hour from Aix.  We enjoy driving through the surrounding area because it is so beautiful with the distant Alpilles Mountains and the very green fields, vineyards and olive groves.  Occasionally a charming little ochre colored village will appear on a hill usually with an accompanying steeple and castle ruins.  Nimes is known today for its well preserved Roman monuments some of which are around 2,000 years old.  The Maison Carree, pictured above, is one of the best preserved Roman temples anywhere.  Disappointing to us was that the interior is now a movie theater.  The temple sits alone and high in a square surrounded by restaurants.  Quite a spectacular way to have lunch.

Wayne at the Nimes' Roman Amphitheater 

A short walk from the Temple is the elliptical Roman Amphitheater built in the 1st or 2nd century AD.  It is the best preserved Roman arena in France.  At one point it was filled with medieval housing when the natives were sheltering behind the walls from Visigoths.  Napoleon gentrified the arena and it is still used today as a bull fighting ring and concert area.  We climbed to the top of the stands in a wind so fierce I though we would be blown off.  I kept thinking of how poor Van Gogh mythically went crazy from the winds of south France.  

Wayne at the Jardins de la Fontaine

As we walked to the final visit point, we noticed that the trees were getting green.  Spring has sprung here.  The Jardins de la Fontaine are built around the Roman thermal ruins.  The park features the ruins of a temple to Diana, an assortment of canals, bridges and statues, an ancient Roman tower and some really cool koi.  Pictures at flickr.




Friday, March 17, 2017

Chateau la Coste


"They Say It's Your Birthday.  We're Gonna Have a Good Time."  Today is Wayne's birthday.  What a great place to be for a birthday, Aix-en-Provence.  To celebrate we drove out to the Chateau la Coste vineyard that thanks to a new owner, Paddy McKillen, includes an art center, sculpture throughout the grounds, lodgings and restaurants.  It all remains pastoral and quaint, though.  We started with a lunch on the patio under grape vines in dappled sunlight.  

Following lunch, the hour and a half tasting tour was very informative and explained the vineyard's new approach to wine making using correlated aluminum buildings to first, separate the grapes for red, rose and white and next, using gravity to move the grapes and juices underground to the second building where the real wine making begins.  Apparently, the use of gravity reduces the oxidization on the grapes that pumping would incur.  All the pressing and fermentation takes place in huge stainless steel tanks in this second building.  Narry a wooden barrel was sighted.  (Although our guide informed us there were small batches they continued to ferment in wooden barrels that takes on a Chardonnay quality.)
I also learned that a vineyard cannot use the name chateau unless exclusively grows and uses its own grapes.  


Chateau la Coste

Earlier, as we approached the grounds, it was delightful to see infinity pools and an art center by Tadao Ando whom we know of from The Clark Institute's new building.  Sitting on the surface of the pools were a Louise Bourgeois Spider and an Alexander Calder mobile where we had fun attempting to document Wayne's good time birthday with selfies.  Pictures at flickr

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hit the Road, Jack

Have Car.  Will Travel.  Yes, we have a Renault, standard drive yet.  How did we ever drive here in 1998 without a gps?  Perhaps better eye sight and tiny little paper maps got us where we wanted to go.  Today the magic of cellular data got us to Les Baux and the Carrieres de luminaire.

Chateau Les Baux
As we approached the commune of les Baux, we were surrounded by groves of olive trees. Then the Alpilles mountains rose suddenly and sheerly from the Rhone valley.  Les Baux was above us, insisting that we park at the bottom and walk up for lunch.  This village perche sits atop an outcrop of the Alpilles with a ruined chateau at the apex and overlooking the plains. It has been named one of the most beautiful villages in France.  It seems to exist for the sole purpose of tourism with cute little shops and restaurants occupying the ancient spaces.  There are only 22 residents in the village today.  But, habitation dates back to 6000 BC.  There was a defensive stronghold at the ruins of the Chateau des Baux at the top of the village where reproductions of a trebuchet and ballista can be seen.

Carrieres de Lumieres 

Very near Les Baux are the remains of limestone quarries.  Within one of the quarries is the Carrieres de Lumieres, a permanent art show in which large bright images are projected on the stone walls of huge galleries dug into the rock. The galleries use spaces that were once a limestone quarry.  One is completely immersed in the paintings of Bosch, Bruegel and Arcimboldo which are projected onto the walls of the quarry.  It is dark as a cave when one first enters.  Your eyes become adjusted as the show begins and you realize you are in a vast, vast space with images projected and enlarged thousands of time.  The paintings are somewhat animated a la Ken Burns and projected onto the floors, walls and ceilings of the rooms which feed one into another.  I'm guessing that the height of the space is about 50' -75'. There are some pictures with people that can give a scale.
Pictures that do not do justice can be seen at flickr.  Video at YouTube.

Apero with Copper at le Verdun

Yesterday we met up with some friends, Copper and John, who live in western Mass and also own an apartment here in Aix.  We met for an apero at le Verdun near our apartment.  It was a fun 2 hours talking about art and the local area.  (Only briefly did we lament the political state of the USA).  We got some great advice from them to visit the Carrieres and places to come.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Aix, Art and Architecture


Today we revisited familiar places but with more attention paid to the architecture, monuments, and purpose.  Place d'Albertas is a small square encircled by baroque architecture. The Place is named for the Albertas family who owned one of the mansions and built the square echoing the Place de la Concorde in Paris.   There is a painter who sits and works there most days.  He was surrounded today by visitors watching him work and checking out his works for sale.  The square is quite well known in photographs.
Corn Exchange Pediment

In the Place Hotel de Ville is a fountain built by the sculptor Chastel for whom I'm thinking the Rue Chastel where I got my hair cut was named.  Also in the square is the Corn Exchange whose frontage is crowned with an allegorical pediment by the same Chastel.  It is a high relieve representing the sources of farming and prosperity in Provence: the Rhone and the Durance.  Most interesting aspect of the pediment is the languorous leg of one figure that hangs over the entablature in compete dimensions.

Wayne in the Palais de Archbishop

At the Place des Martyrs de la Resistance, the Palais de Archbishop hosts an opera festival every July for a full month in an outdoor courtyard.  The courtyard has been transformed into a performance area with stadium seating and an open stage.  The costumes from previous years can be seen inside the Palais.  Also in the Palais are tapestries including a group illustrating the novel Don Quixote.  These were found in the Palais, rolled and hidden during the French Revolution.  The French Archbishop once lived in the Palais until the early 1900s when the French government made a complete separation of church and state.

We ended our sunny beautiful day sitting outside at a cafe on Cours Mirabeau.  Pictures at flickr.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday in Aix

.  
Sunday in Aix

We started our day by looking for one of the marvelous markets of Aix.  Today the market was in Place Richelme and specializes in fruits, vegetables and legumes.  Even though specialized, the markets still offer other produce.  We found some wonderful cheese from a vendor who sold cheeses and hams. Further afield, there was an antique and flea market on Cours Maribeau. Aix's largest markets are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. There are flower markets, book markets, used clothing and goods markets.  They are generally set up on the large public squares.  However, Aix is undergoing a 20 million euro construction project which has disrupted the main market places and sent them off to temporary places. The complex of squares in the Old town is being completely renovated and pedestrianised. The utilities (electricity and Water) are being repaired and a new car park created. (Parking is a nightmare in old Aix).  Place Perchaers, at the end of our street, is among the squares. The archeologists are busy looking for Roman ruins and graves while the natives twiddle their thumbs waiting for life to return to normal sometime after 2018.   While at Place Richelme we picked up some strawberries, fabulous cheeses, a quiche from a patisserie and returned home for lunch.  

The people of Aix revere and protect their Sunday afternoons.  After a busy market morning, we found that everything began to close down around 1pm and much of nothing was open by 3 pm.  The streets were empty; a very few cafes were serving.  This became a practical concern to us as we were in need of a bottle of wine for dinner. A futile google search revealed nothing open.  Eventually we came across a tapas wine bar that also sold bottles to take out.  It complemented our meal perfectly.  Pictures at flickr.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Aix-en-Provence

Wayne at the Four Dolphin Fountain

Aix-en-Provence (just Aix hence forth) is a fairly large city of about 150.000.  But the narrow, winding streets, the multitude of fountains in public squares and the many small cafes give the centre where we are a feeling of intimacy.  Markets, wine stores, cafes, patisseries, and every type of shopping you can image line all the narrow ways.  Other than a bit of time buying train tickets for Spain, we have been just strolling through the streets, enjoying the very dry and warm weather, shopping a bit for dinner.  We have stopped in the Cathedral St Sauveur and the Musee Granet.

The Musee Granet is named for the Proven├žal painter Francois Granet who donated a large number of works.  The most significant works are pieces by Paul Cezanne, native Aixiois.  We found ourselves drawn to and amazed by Ingres' Jupiter and Thetis.  It brought back memories of our visit to Olympus.  Monumental at 136" x 101" it mesmerized us.  

Pictures are worth much more than my words.  flickr

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Back in France

25 Rue Portalis, Aix en Provence

We set off for Aix this morning. And because it seems we have a particular knack, I would make note that for the second time we found ourselves seated in a coach, two alone and in the midst of a tour group. This time they are retired Swiss rail employees on their way to Barcelona. They are old (like us) and relatively well behaved.  Otherwise, I would need to give them the evil teacher eye.  There is the one requisite loud and continuous yapper and the woman on her cell phone behind me.  But there are no bells and whistles from electronics that can accompany a younger crew, or the passing and consuming of bite sized octopus that we briefly endured with a Chinese group. I write briefly because we were unknowingly in their reserved car and had to leave. This was a blessing as we found a quiet, octopus-free car. 
25 Rue Portalis, Aix

The route to Aix was filled with acres of bright pink blooming things (cherry trees???), green, green fields and the stoney low hills of southern France.  Aix was a sunny, warm 67* and as charming as we remembered.  Our last visit was in 1998 when niece Kathy lived here with her children Lola and Margaux.  Kathy, now married to Phil, lives in San Diego as does Lola. Margaux is in Marseille, and we plan to see her. Kathy has generously given us her apartment for the duration of our stay.  It is in a beautiful, old area with large fountains in small plazas, pedestrian streets, cafes and open markets. We will joyfully be here for two weeks.  

Photos at flickr.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Geneva

We came to Geneva mainly because we thought it offered was the best train route out of Switzerland for Aix.  As such, we are only here for two nights which gives us one full day to explore.  For the first time, our hotel is not near the train station and is a bit out of the historic old town. We're not really certain how we came to choose this hotel with its hostel-like appearance.  But, it is clean, the staff friendly and the bed comfortable.


Old Town Geneva

We spent our one day exploring the Old Town where the St Pierre Cathedral, History Museum and oldest house in Geneva are located.  What I did not know is that Geneva played a significant role in the Protestant Reformation.  John Calvin preached here in the Cathedral.  Geneva became the unofficial capital of the Protestant movement, providing refuge for Protestant exiles from all over Europe.  I'll refrain here from commenting on the current attitude toward refuges in the USA.  But, I thought about it a lot today. 



The cherry trees are in blossom here.  We found them at the top of the Old Town in front of the Cathedral's archeological dig.  The dig has uncovered earlier church foundations back to the 1st century.  They are all exposed beneath the Cathedral and staging is set to allow a walk through.  The Cathedral is devoid of all statuary and ornamentation, stripped bare by the Reformation. Only the stained glass remains from the Catholic period.  The Cathedral today belongs to the Reformed Protestant Church of Geneva.  


International Monument to the Reformation

Maison Tavel is the oldest private residence in Geneva. Today the city owns the building where it is home to the Museum of Urban History and Daily Life.  The most significant pieces I found here were two bibles from the Reformation period.  One, at least 12 inches thick was bound on 2 sides with leather and straps. It was distorted from being hidden and had the appearance of brown driftwood.  The other was a miniature the size of a small pill box that was hidden in the hair of a woman. 

We ended our Geneva day in the Parc des Bastions where there are giant chess board games played on the ground.  And, where the Reformation wall is built into the old city walls.   
Pictures at flickr.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Golden Pass: Interlaken to Geneva

Lake Geneva at Montreux

There are special train routes throughout Switzerland that allow one to travel through the most beautiful parts of the Alps.  We took one of those routes today from Interlaken to Geneva.  For the first time we saw the snow we had expected.  The Golden Pass Train, as it is named, passed through densely forested mountains that were laden with fresh snow.  Suddenly, the slow moving train rounded a bend and Lake Geneva appeared miles beneath us with the majestic Alps rising behind.  It was one of those views one says is indescribable.  My only comparison is the feeling I had upon seeing the Grand Canyon.  The day was overcast and the train windows created glare which made for photos that look black and white with reflections.

We had to change from the Golden Pass train in Montreux to a regular train into Geneva.  We decided to take a look at the city and have lunch there.  Montreux sits directly on Lake Geneva.  And, like every other city we've visited there is an "old city".  And, as is typical of all the old cities, Montreux's was on the highest point above the lake.  We trekked up and got some great views, also a good work out.
Pictures at flickr.    Our little choo-choo train at YouTube.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Interlaken: Up, Up and Away

Interlaken Train into Alps
The trains in and around Interlaken seem to be designed for carrying skiers up and down the Alps.  Probably in the summer they do the same for hikers.  We think the best skiers ride to the top and then ski down to a village where they can get a train to another slope or back to their lodge.  The trains all have areas for stacking skis, snowboards, sleds.  We rode as far up as we could without getting on the train to Jungfrau, the highest altitude railway station on the continent.  The snow had begun and there was a complete whiteout.  The train was still running, but we would have seen white on white on white. The snow obliterated my photography efforts, too.  Beyond the visible mountains in the photos are more and higher soaring peaks that the camera just couldn't capture.

Wengen, Switzerland

We got off the train at a little village, Wengen, for lunch.  The sole purpose of the village appears to be lodging for skiers (or summer hikers).  Chalets dot the mountain sides.  Bunny slopes weave among the chalets.  There was not much snow.  The concierge informed us that not much snow fell this year until January.   Snow making machines were abundant, too.  We continued on up the mountain the Kleine Scheidegg where the snow was blowing and 10,000 maniacs (a tour group) were boarding our train down.  On the way up to Kleine we had breathtaking views of expansive valleys and gorges framed by the Alps.  The way down was just as beautiful.  I expected Heidi and her Grandfather to emerge at any moment.  Photos at flickr.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Trip to Interlaken

Lake Brienze
The train from Lucerne to Interlaken is the Golden Pass.  Indeed!  The rather slow moving train climbs into the northern edge of the Alps with spectacular views.  It was a 2 hour ride filled with blue lakes, green pastures and snow covered Alps.  The water truly is as turquoise in color as the photos indicate.  A nice lady on the train explained that the warm temperatures are a result of a warm wind that comes over the mountains and rests in the valley.  To our eye nothing here suffers from a deep winter freeze.  There was green and thriving bamboo.  Wayne said it reminds him of the Lake Tahoe region.  The lake was about 30 to 40 feet low currently.  The conductor explained that once the spring melt starts in the mountains, the lakes rise those 40 feet.

Interlaken today is a tourist resort with casino, hang gluiding, hiking and skiing.  The streets are packed with tourists shopping and snapping pictures.  It reminded us of the Caribbean Cruise we took where throngs of people disembarked ships to stroll down indistinguishable streets.  There are hotels and areas remaining from the early 1800s when Interlaken became an international resort due to paintings of the landscape.  Then visitors came for the mountain air and spa treatment.  One of those spas today is a casino.   The hotels from that period are elegantly Victorian.

View from our Hotel Royal St George

We have been amazed at the numbers of Chinese encountered at every stop on our trip. Here even the restaurant menus include Chinese.  This is concrete evidence of the economic rise of China.
Pictures at flickr.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lucerne, City of Music

Guild Building
Another amazingly warm day greeted us in Lucerne with temps reaching 61*.  We took a 2.5 hour walking tour this morning.  Some the tour covered ground we have been on such as the covered bridges.  But we learned some trivia and more history of the area.  Lucerne's population is small: 60,000.  
Jesuit Church

At our stop in the Jesuit Church we learned that in the 1600s Switzerland's cities voted whether or not to remain Catholic or become Protestant.  Lucerne elected to remain Catholic.  All Protestants had to leave the town as did Catholics that were in towns that chose Protestantism.  The Jesuit Church is Baroque with some Rococo.  Built from 1666-67, it gleams white and beautiful.  From the church we walked through the oldest streets of Lucerne. Our guide focused on the guild buildings describing which guilds occupy them.  They are still active, many only allowing men to join (surprisingly women in Switzerland did not get the right to vote until 1972), and are responsible for organizing the Carnival.  Many buildings are of the Renaissance period and have frescoes decorating the exterior.  

Lunch at Manor

Our guide recommended a restaurant with a roof dining.  The 6th floor view, and the warm temperatures were delightful.  After lunch we went to the Kunstmuseum.  It was a quick visit.  We found the collection small and uninteresting.  Instead, we took a funicular up to the Gutsch Hotel. It is the white chateau appearing building high above Lucerne that is in some pictures.  Once again, a spectacular view of the Reuss River, Lake Lucerne and the town.  We learned the town only has a population of 60,000.  

This evening we attended a concert by Abdullah Ibrahim and his band at the KKL. Tomorrow we head for Interlaken. Too many pictures of Lucerne at flickr.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lake Lucerne

Lucerne from the Mussegg Wall

We began our day with a walk across the other Lucerne covered bridge, the Spreuerbrucke.  Not as famous as the Kapellbrucke probably because it is smaller, it nonetheless is very impressive.  It is the only bridge from which the people could toss chaff.  I know!  How restrictive!  There of course is a logical explanation.  It was the bridge which at one time housed the town mill and is downstream from most things.  It is the oldest timber bridge in Switzerland and dates from 1408. Most impressive on the bridge is a series of medieval-style paintings that hang in the rafters which depict the 'Dance of Death" about the plague.  From the bridge we walked up to the Mussegg Wall, the Medieval City Ramparts which are in almost perfect condition and comprise nine towers.  The towers were not opened but the view of the city and Lake Lucerne was awesome.  The weather is surprisingly spring like with temperatures in the 50s and crocuses, snowdrops blooming.

There are many museums in Lucerne.  We chose the Rosengart Museum, a private foundation funded by Angela Rosengart.  Through her father, Seigfreid, she was able to meet many significant artists of the 20th century and became a personal friend of Pablo Picasso. She bequeathed her collection of his and others' works to the foundation.  The works are housed in a beautifully refurbished building.  Picasso continues to intrigue us.  There were beautiful line drawings of bulls and women.


Lake Lucerne 

The day had time to spare and we used it to take a cruise up the river to Lake Lucerne.  It afforded us clear views of the Alps and out lying villages.  I ended my day with a chocolate purchase destined to be enjoyed with some Valpolicella Ripasso.
Pictures at flickr.  Video on YouTube.

Swiss Chocolates

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Luzern Lucerne

Old Town Lucerne across the Reuss

After lugging boots across Europe in anticipation of Switzerland's snow we were surprised to be greeted with 51* temperatures today.  Meanwhile in Boston there was a low of -2.  As we rode the train in from Basel the low rolling hills were green and some land prepared for planting. Our hotel sits directly behind the train station and one block from the river Reuss.  Lucerne is located on the shores of Lake Lucerne and at the outflow of the river Reuss.  Two large Alp mountains frame a backdrop for the city.  In other words, gorgeous.

Our trip in was just a little over an hour which gave us plenty of time to get a feel for the city.  The old Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) is the oldest covered bridge in Europe (1333).  To get to the old town, we crossed the Reuss on it admiring the series of paintings installed in the rafters which depict events from Lucerne's history.

We stopped to admire the Lion Monument, a sculpture carved out of the mountain side commemorating hundreds of Swiss Guards massacred during the French Revolution.  They were mercenaries working for Louis XVI and guarding the Tuileries Palace when an armed mob stormed.  The dying lion's expression is so mournful and the size so large (35' across) as to be very effective.

Kapellbrucke 

We stopped in at a restaurant on the river where a jazz duo was performing.  A nice buffet of finger food and drinks with smooth jazz in the background provided a perfect ending for the day.
Pictures at flickr. Video at YouTube