TRIP TO EUROPE
A year ago Debbie started talking about a visit to Jordan in Ukraine. Jordan was teaching English with the Peace Corp there. Debbie’s daughter-in-law, Kristina had been to Europe and wanted to go with her. It interested Jan and I also, so we decided to go with her. However, they could only stay for 10 days and we decided that we wanted to spend more in Europe because it would probably be our last opportunity to go.
We began to develop our plans which included a few days in Ukraine, travel to Switzerland to visit the Andregg relatives, then a few days in Venice, then Debbie, Jordan and Kristina would go on to Paris. Jan and I decided to spend more time in Italy and then in France before flying back home from Paris.
Our plans were changed when Russia invaded Ukraine! The Peace Corp brought Jordan back to the US early and US travel was not recommended in February so the Ukraine part of the trip was canceled. We already had tickets and reservations to go. Debbie got Jordan a ticket to go back to Europe with us, so on the 10th of April we met in DC and flew to Munich for the first leg of our trip.
Jan and my trip lasted 27 days with additional stays on the Italian Riviera (Cinque Terre), Rome, Nice, Arles, Avignon and Paris. A truly wonderful trip with many, many things to see and do that resulted in lots of photos (almost 4550 from two cameras and iPhones including some of Debbie and Jordan) and two really exhausted old grey hairs! So as to not bore you, we have been spending our time reducing the photos to the minimum and the best to share the story with you. We are breaking up the blog into sections to feed you a little at a time so you won’t get totally bored, plus we have to deal with all these photos!
April 10-12 Munich
We really hadn’t planned to stop in Munich other than to change planes to fly to Lviv, Ukraine. When our plans had to change, we decided to stop in Munich and take a train to Switzerland. That layover allowed us to spend an afternoon enjoying the Old Town area of Munich.
You enter the Old Town area through this beautiful gate called the Karistor in the heart of the city. The gate is a replica of the gothic gate of the medieval fortification. The very broad promenade called the Karlsplatz leads through businesses and shops along with very old buildings, churches and cathedrals.
Just inside the gates was Saint Michael’s Cathedral, which was originally built in the mid-1200’s. It is not clear what happened to it during WWII as much of Munich was destroyed by Allied bombs; however, the interior was very beautiful.
A few blocks on down the promenade at the Marienplatz was the old Rathaus building built in the late 1800’s with its famous Glockenspiel. The Glockenspiel was built to honor the marriage of Duke Wilhelm V of Bavaria. It played that day at 12 pm and shows two knights jousting on the carousel with the Duke and his bride watching above.
We watched from below at the outdoor café in the plaza eating lunch and enjoying a Bavarian beer!
After lunch, we walked on to the end of the promenade where the old town hall is now a Toy Museum, then we walked around the corner to the market platz.
There were about 10 to 15 permanent booths with about every kind of cheese, olives, breads, fruits, vegetables, meats, wines, sodas, flowers and plants plus a couple of crafts and nick-nack tourist booths. It was obvious that the locals and tourists in the know came here to eat lunch or snack. I had wished we had known about it earlier!
By that time, we were beginning to run out of steam as we had been on the airplane from DC from 5pm the previous evening and arrived in Munich at about 9 am that morning. Our excitement was beginning to give way to tired, but we had one place that was a must to visit to complete our afternoon in Munich.
The original Hofbrauhaus and brewery was built in 1859 by Duke Wilhelm V, the Bavarian Duke and obviously, he did enjoy his home brewed beer! And you just can’t visit the Hofbrauhaus without sampling one of their famous brews. Even for a died-in-the-wool Pale Ale fan, you just can’t help but enjoy a full mug of fresh Bavarian beer light or dark!
April 12-16 Zurich – Bern, Switzerland
A good nights sleep (much needed by all) and then a fun and beautiful train ride from Munich to Zurich, Switzerland.
We arrived in Zurich in the afternoon and met our first member of the Andregg family, Freddie Pressig at the Zurich train station. He helped us get oriented and rent a car for our trip through Switzerland. He had been part of the family that had come to Hoxie, Kansas to meet their Andregg cousins.
One of our reasons to travel through Switzerland beside just enjoying the wonderful scenery and people was to meet Jan, Debbie and Jordan’s relatives that still lived in Switzerland.
That evening at our hotel in Zurich, Freddie’s cousin, Elisabeth Gressbach met us for dinner and they had a great time talking about the cousins and Switzerland. We all had dinner together and had a great time talking about relations and past meetings, plus Elisabeth gave us all a lot of information about Switzerland, where to go and what to see.
The next morning, Elisabeth led us to the Evangelical Church in Flawil, Switzerland where Debbies’ great-great grandfather and grandmother were married in 1878. The church was originally built in 1257 as a catholic church and remained that way until 1771 when it was changed to an Evangelical church. The church was rebuilt again in the late 1980’s.
We were there on Palm Sunday and were able to attend the service. The sermon was given by a young woman pastor (in black next to Elizabeth and Jordan) who spoke in Swiss-German. The church was very plain on the inside with hand-built wooden pews although the ceiling was painted with ornate designs and the chandeliers were beautiful. The cemetery behind the church was small with beautiful flowers on all the graves. The tradition there is to cremate the remains and place them in the plots for 25 years for the families. Then the remains are removed and placed in a common crept in the cemetery.
After church, we drove back to Zurich to Elisabeth’s home and met her daughter, Christina and granddaughters. We all went to lunch at a local Pizza place then took a ride to the nearby Troggenburg area and the gondola at Mt. Gamplut where you can ride the Trotti bikes down a paved path to the small village in the valley below.
Trotti bikes have no seat, but have a platform to stand upon. They also have no gears or peddles, they are a scooter. The beginning of the path is shown in the photo. In the background across the valley is the Churfirsten range of the Alps with the highest mountains reaching 2200 meters (7200+ feet).
Our group picture was taken below Mt. Schafberg where a younger Elisabeth and her late husband used to climb in the winter and ski down! Elisabeth is in the yellow coat, her daughter, Christina in the green coat, then Jon, Jan, Debbie and Jordan. Kristina was taking the photo.
The youngsters insisted that they had to ride the modified (fat wheel) Trotti bikes down the path to the base of the gondola while us old grey hairs decided to travel the old fashioned way, walking!
The trip down the mountain (about a mile and a half) was beautiful. It was paved most of the way and also provided a single lane road for supplies to the building at the top of the gondola plus some cabins and cattle barns along the way.
The mountainside was alternating open grassy areas among the trees with low stone fences to separate the cattle pasture areas. As the spring and summer progress, the cattle are moved up the mountain where the grass is fresh.
All three were squealing down the mountain on their Trotti bikes (the brakes squealed loudly with all the terror of flying down the slopes). Jordan and Kristina zoomed on ahead and had already reached the bottom. They were anxiously waiting for her. I don’t think there are chiggers in Switzerland!
When the old grey hairs reached the bottom, we all headed back to Elisabeth’s house in Zurich where we enjoyed a wonderful light dinner of Swiss cheeses, meats and breads and washed it down with some good Swiss beer!
Thank you Elisabeth for a wonderful experience and a beautiful day in Switzerland. It was a joy to meet your daughter and granddaughters.
The next day was a travel day to Bern to see Elisabeth’s sister, Heidi and her other daughter, Regula plus Freddie’s cousin, Margaret Wegman and her family. We took the long, winding Switzerland mountain route through beautiful Lucerne and Interlaken to Bern.
Lucerne like most of Switzerland, is a land of bicycles and motorcycles. There was a row of motorcycles two blocks long on another side street. All of these were at the railroad station.
The highlight of Lucerne was the age old covered bridge in the center of town, called the Chapel Bridge, it was built in 1333 to straddle Reuss River which feeds Lake Lucerne. Off in the distance on the left photo are Mt. Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps. The tower in the photo on the right was also built in the 14th century to fortify the entrance to Lucerne from the lake.
On down the road through the mountains was the small town of Interlaken nestled in the Swiss Alps between Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. In it’s position as a gateway into the Swiss Alps, it’s considered one of Switzerland’s most beautiful resorts. The photos are of the river Aar which flows through the town from one lake to the other. We stopped for a while taking photos and touring the town. While Debbie and the kids looked at the sights, Jan and I sat in one of the open restaurants and enjoyed a cold beer. The afternoon was warm and beautiful.
Later that afternoon we arrived in the heart of Bern near the railroad station where we would catch the train to our next destination, Venice. But first we would spend a wonderful day with Elisabeth’s sister, Heidi for a wonderful day at a cheese factory, a medieval village and a chocolate factory.
Another really fun day in Switzerland! We met Heidi, Regula and her daughter, Celine the next morning for a ride out to a cheese factory.
It was the famous La Gruyere cheese factory and we watched them with their morning ritual of making the cheese from a viewing room above the factory floor. The milk from the previous milking was stored in large vats in a sterilized room. The milk was heated and stirred with the necessary ingredients (we were not told what ingredients because they were secret!) until the milk began to curdle. At the time that the head man on the floor decided when the time was right, the milk was pumped out of the vat into the circular compression cylinders on the right in the photo and the whey was pressed out of the curds. The resultant wheel of cheese was then market with the date and sent to a drying rack where 7000 wheels of cheese are aged up to 15 months for future sale.
That wasn’t the end of our tour of the cheese factory as the group then went into the Le Gruyere restaurant and had a delicious Le Gruyere cheese fondue lunch. Seated on the left are Celine, Heidi, Regula and Jon, on the right, Jan, Jordan, Kristina and Debbie.
With full tummies we all travelled up the side of the mountain to the original Chateau of the La_Masion du Gruyeres. The Chateau or Castle sets on a prominent outcropping overlooking the valley floor. It was built in the 13th century by the Duke of the region and included a medieval village attached to the castle. We parked at the base of the mount and walked up into the medieval village that had been preserved for tourists to the cheese and chocolate factories.
Debbie, Jan and I stopped at the fountain in the center of the village to have our photo taken. At the other end of the street sits the Chateau La_Masion du Gruyeres with a small Catholic church aside it’s entrance.
We walked along the street looking at all the old buildings and shops all keeping to the period of the time and came upon this stone wall with various size bowls cut into it. As we looked around the other side it became obvious that it was an ancient measuring device for grains or dry goods. The big hole was about the size of our bushel and the smallest would hold about a quart. On the back side of the hole was a pouring spout from each hole. If you were selling grain for example, you would plug the hole of the pouring spout and fill the bowl with the grain. Then the merchant buying the grain would back his cart under the hole and unplug it. The grain would fall into the cart or container and that would be one measure.
As we walked up along the right side of the small church there were several curio shops built into a wall and a ramp up to a large wooden gate opening set between buildings of rooms for guests and entertaining. The rooms are now used for museums. Further up the path was a smaller wall and gate that opened into the castle grounds. The path continued to the side of the castle where another wooden entrance gate was located. However, this gate was closed and now the tourists entered from a stone gate located on the right side of the castle.
After you entered the stone portal, there was a patio that was located along the wall and tourist entrance to the castle. From the patio at the entrance to the castle, you could view the mountains off in the distance, the medieval village below and the valley beyond. The patio and it’s gate was a later addition for the tourists.
Below the castle tower is the rear guard tower and extended back wall in grey stone. Note that the slope leading up to the castle is very steep making it very difficult to attack the castle from any direction except the medieval village.
On the left side of the castle is another rampart and tower protected the castle from attack.
The inside of wall and tower was accessible from an opening in the middle of the medieval village and provided platforms for archers and knight to repel attackers. The archers could stand on the walkways inside the walls and shoot arrows down at the attackers on the ground.
The view from the castle of the valley below and the mountains off in the distance was truly spectacular.
The next stop was Callier’s, the chocolate factory (a subsidary of Hershey!!). Unfortunately it was later in the afternoon and the place was jammed with people and kids. We were going to wait for almost an hour to take the tour so we just decided to tour the discount shop and buy some chocolates (yummy)!
There was still part of the family that Jan, Debbie and Jordan hadn’t been able to meet so the Andregg cousins decided that we had to go to dinner with them. Margaret Wegman, the elder cousin of the family (she is 93) had been in the hospital, but was now home and wanted to come meet us. Jan had met her when she was in Hoxie back in the 80’s and got to sit with her during the dinner.
In addition to Heidi, Regula and Celine attended the dinner.
There was Margaret’s daughter, Claudia, and her children daughter Nicole, daughter-in-law Nicole and son, Thomas. It was a wonderful dinner in a local brewery and everyone had a great time. As we all left, we had to take a photo of the entire group.
As we all left, we had to take a photo of the entire group.
To end our evening and our last night in Bern and Switzerland, we decided to have a final nightcap in a bar that Nicole had told Debbie about. The Kornhauskeller turned out to be a wonder! It was located in a cellar under one of the large buildings on the main street of Bern. As you walked downstairs to a landing, the restaurant below came into view. The ceilings were highly decorated. On the level of the landing, a bar area was located along the outer walls. We sat down at one of the tables and had our nightcaps using the last of our Swiss Francs!
April 16-18 Venice
We left Bern early the next morning via the train again. We were looking forward to the scenery as we toured through the Alps and were not disappointed except with trying to take photos out of a train window. It’s strange that when you are traveling 60+ miles per hour, most of the photos are green tree blur, reflections and poles! But the trip was beautiful! I have to comment that we all thought Switzerland was beautiful. It was so obvious that the Swiss take great pride and care of their land. Their buildings were all painted and clean. Even the mountain meadows looked like they had been trimmed. I fully expected to catch some Swiss out there with scythes and weed eaters keeping the grass mowed and yodeling. Switzerland was truly a wonderful and fun experience for us.
We stopped in Brig and changed to an Italian train, then headed for Milan, Italy. My initial impression of Italy was OLD, old buildings, huge ancient cathedrals, narrow-crowded streets and the remains of the past glories.
Venice was exactly like that. We arrived in a high-speed train into a modern railroad station, walked out the front to where a canal separated the new from the old. Across the canal was a very old domed cathedral and old multi-story homes jammed together and on top of each other. The streets were all very narrow, no cars allowed, only water ways and canals for transportation beside walking. We rode in a water taxi with 35 other passengers crowded together for about a quarter of a mile and worked our way through people (not easy with back packs and luggage) to get off at our dock area.
A short walk and we entered a narrow alley with the sign of our 800 year old hotel, the Pensione Guerrato. We went upstairs to the landing where the hotel lobby was located. It was obviously very old with all kinds of memorabilia collected through the years. The owners were very helpful and wonderful to all of us. The rooms were large which surprised us and the bathroom was modern. They had kept the old furniture (except for the bed) which was nice. We did have to smile though as the room was advertized with a view of the canal. The room had two windows and if you opened the window and pushed the shutters back as far as they would go, then leaned out of the window as far as you could without falling out, then looked to the left you could just barely see where the canal was supposed to be through the narrow opening between the buildings. It didn’t matter as we were not there to look out the windows anyway.
As soon as we were settled we left to go sight-seeing. Our first stop was at the Rialto Bridge, the famous bridge across the Grand Canal. It gave us a grand view of the Grand Canal and we did and would enjoy it even more, especially later that evening.
There are many side canals off of the Grand Canal that wander between the housing and shopping areas. Only gondolas or small boats can go through these canals and there were small bridges connecting the streets from one side to the other.
Note the leaning church tower along the canal (no this is not Piza!). This one was wide enough for some cafes along the side although the cross street bridges were very low and could only be negotiated by very low boats and the gondoliers had to duck under them.
Our destination was to St. Mark’s square through the maze of streets. When we arrived we began to realize what crowds really were. The square was full of people and any of the buildings that were of interest to explore had lines that were way to long to wait. It was frustrating; but we were to find that it was a common problem in Italy because there were way too many people for the sights of interest.
We got away from the crowds and Jan and Jordan just sat down in a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
I on the other hand had to exercise my camera and found a beautiful picture of the Church of S. Giorgio Maggiore across the canal from us with a gondolier in his gondola in the foreground.
It was getting along toward evening by that time and we decided to walk back to our hotel. We passed a small pizza restaurant as were walking along the narrow streets and found they had a patio in the back for dinner. We all ordered pizza and a bottle of wine for dinner. The Italian pizza is a little different from the Pizza Hut. These pizzas were basic tomato sauce, some cheese and a few sprinkles of prosciutto ham on top.
The wine was good!
Debbie decided it would be fun to do a wine tour while we were in Venice. Of course, we didn’t have any objection to doing that, so she set it all up for the 5 of us. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We were picked up at 8 am by a young woman named Miriam Diecavia (photo later) in her own car, large enough to hold all six of us.
She took us up north of Venice into the Prosecco region near the town of Coneglinano to the Toffilo winery.
We went out in the vineyards where they explained the grape growing process, a tour through the
processing of the grapes into wine including a climb up on their storage tanks with a view across the grape growing region.
That was followed by a visit to their tasting room and a taste of their wonderful wines.
Next Miriam took us to the old grist mill of Refrontolo called ‘Molinetto della Croda’ (the Windless Croda). What a beautiful place located next to a waterfall and the mill at the far end of it.
The mill called ‘Windlass Croda’ was built in the seventeenth century to grind flour for the existing community.
The grinding wheel and mechanism seemed small compared to others we have seen; however it was intersting to see the entire process of the gearing, the wheels and the grinding stones.
By this time it was getting on toward lunch time and Miriam took us to a castle in the local mountains. It was called ‘Castello Brandolini Colombari’. The method of getting to it was quite unique. From the parking lot below the castle you enter a tunnel through these two round buildings and up a slight incline with stores on each side to a tram entrance which climbed up the side of the mountain to the castle.
The outside base of the castle was an area of gardens, fountains, statues and beautiful flowers and shrubs.
Our view down below was more towers and ramparts and below the valley floor which had a fairly large village located there. We went into the castle restaurant and had a delicous lunch before heading back down the tram to the valley floor and our next winery.
We had a great and very interesting day with Miriam and we would highly recommend her wine tour to anyone vacationing in Venice. You can find her tour at www.ventotours.com/wine tour and ask for Miriam.
When we got back to Venice, we had dinner in a small restaurant among the many shops located in the small streets. Evening on the canal was very beautiful with lots of lights, gaily decorated and lit eateries along the quays.
We decided to take a gondola ride for our last night in Venice so the five of us found a gondolier who would take us through the back canals of Venice in the dark. It was lots of fun and a fitting end to our time with Debbie, Jordan and Kristina. Tomorrow we catch the train for Cinque Terre, ‘the Italian Riveria’ for a nice relaxing five days. I will update that part of the blog when I have more time.
Jan and I both caught our limit of three sockeye salmon (Reds) in the Kasilof River today the 16th of June. The next two weeks will be busy fishing, cleaning and processing salmon for the coming winter. I will get back to the Europe blog when we have time.
Hope you enjoyed the first installment. Stay tuned for the rest of Italy, Cinque Terre and Rome.