A Travellerspoint blog

Going Home

sunny 84 °F

We’re ready – both of us at this point. It will be so nice not to be living out of a suitcase, to actually have a closet and drawers to organize our clothes and a washer and dryer – all the time. It will be nice to always have fresh fish, fruit and vegetables that don’t “break the bank”. And just to be certain of things. I mean here, everything is different. And basic things too, like toilets. Some you flush by pressing a button on the back of the toilet, some you pull up a handle on the back of the toilet, some you pull a chain above the toilet, some you step on a button on the floor next to the toilet, others you press a button above the sink. I’m sure I’ve left out some variations. And it may even vary on different toilets in the same house! Occasionally, on the train, I’d enter a WC and the toilet hadn’t been flushed. I truly believe it wasn’t because the previous user was rude but rather they simply could not figure out how the blasted thing worked! The buses and trams also kept us on our toes. Some require you to pay on the bus, others you need to buy a ticket from a machine at the bus stop. Sometimes you validate the ticket on the bus or tram, others in the machine at the bus stop. Plus it was challenging figuring out the best ticket for our purposes. There were short-ride tickets, day passes, multi-day passes and several choices in between. And you didn’t have much time to make your choice before the machine would time out! Also, there are steep fines if you get it wrong – you can’t get off just by (honestly) using the “dumb tourist” plea. Additionally, even with the European Union, there are just enough different currencies to keep you sharp. As soon as we were getting on to the Euro, we found ourselves in Prague, where they have their own system. And some countries, like Switzerland, that are in the EU, still use their own currency. So we were regularly trying to dump all of our change before we left those renegade countries (since you can’t exchange coins). Still, all of those differences kept us sharp. And humble too. Just as we learned the ropes of one place (so we didn’t consistently look like fools), we’d be off to a new place starting over again.

Still, there’s so much we’ll miss! All of the gorgeous sites: medieval towns and castles, lovely lakes and mountains. But best of all were the people. So many complete strangers took time from their busy day to help these often-confused tourists. Others quickly became more than strangers, like so many of our wonderful hosts. We’ve asked ourselves: What would we change? Now, knowing and experiencing what we have. Of course, there are some things. But they’re few. Certainly the approach: immersing ourselves in foreign ways, staying in little apartments and Guesthouses (rather than hotels) – that we wouldn’t change. It’s been the experience of a lifetime!

Posted by Jeanne Murphy 13.08.2012 23:54 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Back to Brussels

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Our train wasn’t until 10 am so we didn’t need to rush – nice! We had decided to cancel the apartment reservation I’d made and stay at an airport hotel instead. I mean, by the time we get to Brussels it will be too late for me to get to a market to buy food to prepare for dinner. Plus, this will be so much more convenient getting our flight tomorrow. Still, it’s our last night in Europe so I made Tim promise that, after we check in and ditch the luggage, we head back to the heart of Brussels for a nice dinner and final embrace of the town. We had a marvelous dinner of mussels (Belgium’s signature dish) and great beer (their signature drink). We even got to sample the strong Delirium Tremens. We dined in an old guild house right on the Grand Place. And we had time to pick up some of their spectacular chocolate -- from the same shop we went to when we first arrived in Belgium months ago.

Posted by Jeanne Murphy 13.08.2012 23:52 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Basel

sunny 85 °F

Today we visited Roger Federer's hometown, Basel. It’s only an hour’s train ride from Zurich. But it’s not as convenient as many other European cities because its train station is not in the center of the old town. So you need to take a tram or walk a long distance before you get to your area of interest. The Tourist Information center was helpful, providing free maps and walking tours. But the walking tours didn’t show many street names or give much information about some of the stops along the walk. So some things were lost on us. And the map didn’t identify any sites of interest (other than museums and restaurants). So, even though we had city information, we were going somewhat blind. Still, we saw some lovely things. Here’s the magnificent Rathaus, or City Hall.

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These next two pictures are taken from its interior courtyard.

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Like so many European cities, Basel has charming side streets as you can see here.

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This next picture shows the Munster (or cathedral) with a ferry (or “Fahrimaa”) in the foreground. You can see flags on the left of the photo. That’s a line which attaches the ferry to a cable that guides it across the river. It’s completely quiet, using only the current of the Rhine for power. If you look very closely, you can see a swimmer in the bottom right of the photograph. As in other cities we’ve seen (Munich and Bern), Basel locals hop into the river to cool off and let the current take them downstream. It’s really more floating than swimming. What a fun, lazy way to spend a summer afternoon!

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Here you can see the Cloister, which is attached to the Munster.

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And this picture shows the Munster taken from the courtyard of the Cloister.

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Basel was nice but I don’t feel we did it justice. Yet we did walk a significant portion of it so we were tired and ready to return to our place where we had pasta and salad in the backyard. What a delightful way to end our stay – sipping wine under the stars.

Posted by Jeanne Murphy 13.08.2012 23:41 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

Mt. Pilatus and Lucerne

sunny 75 °F

We slept late today (after the party last night, plus we were so tired). Still, we had a big day planned. We took the train to Lucerne. From there, we took a bus to Kriens to get the cable car up to Mt. Pilatus. It's 7,000 feet high! (I know, I know -- the mountains around Denver are much higher. But that's really cheating. I mean, the city itself is a mile high. Mt. Pilatus rises from almost sea level) It's an amazing area! About 2/3 of the way up, there's a stop where (mostly) locals spend the day enjoying themselves. This level has tubing and a toboggan run down the mountain. Plus there’s a “rope park” where you maneuver on tightropes from log to log high up in the Alps! There are 10 courses, varying the degree of difficulty. Like most tourists, we bypassed that (although it was amazing to see) and stayed on the cable car to the very top of Mt. Pilatus. Here you can see the view and the hotel/restaurant at the top where we had a delicious lunch (trout almondine, spinach, and rice).

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Here you can see the mountain is up in the clouds, a little red cogwheel train is in the distance and a glider is floating by. (It looked to me like the hang gliders where lying in body bags!)

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Here’s Tim in the clouds of Mt. Pilatus.

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We took the cogwheel train down the mountain. It goes up/down the mountain at a 48 degree gradient. So it has a gear mechanism in the middle of the track to provide additional support. It was somewhat like a slow roller coaster ride.

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Here you can see we’re at a standoff with a cogwheel coming up the mountain.

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Actually what happens is the “down” train goes to a side track and waits. Then, after the ascending train passes, the track is shifted over to our side and we proceed down the mountain.This next picture shows Lake Lucerne from the cogwheel train.

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At the bottom, we boarded a boat for Lucerne. (They were having a mini-triathalon so we watched as swimmers hurried from the water to get to their bikes.) Now we looked back at Mt. Pilatus from our boat.

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This next picture shows us approaching Lucerne, with one last look back at the mountains.

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The boat ride on Lake Lucerne was pleasant but not really as spectacular as Lake Geneva. That lake is dotted with little hamlets and medieval villages. Lake Lucerne has more industrial towns and cities along its shores.

But the city of Lucerne really is magnificent! I found it the most beautiful Swiss city (more than Bern, Lausanne, Zurich, or Basel). And that’s saying a lot! Yet it’s manageable, it’s not so large that you can’t walk everywhere. I would like to have spent more time there. It has twin-steepled churches …

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… and cute walking bridges – a couple are covered.

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The covered bridges have beautiful paintings that tell interesting stories (ah, if only we could read German!)

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This next view is from one of the covered bridges, looking up to the castle.

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Also many of Lucerne’s buildings are painted ornately. (We saw this in other cities, but it was far more rare.) In Lucerne, it’s common.

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Then, of course, they also have lovely little squares …

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… and shops with ornate signs advertising their wares. This next sign attracted us to the restaurant where we had dinner.

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We stayed late because Zurich was having their Street Parade today. We were told it features blaring music, costumes and lots of wild dancing – maybe when we were in our 20s. Our host (and previous host, in Bern) thought we may not enjoy it so much. Plus, the city is jammed this day and we’re not big on crowds. So we went back and did laundry – this place actually has a washer and dryer (first of the trip). Of course, it would be the last city we’re in!

Posted by Jeanne Murphy 13.08.2012 23:25 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

And finally: Zurich

sunny 78 °F

Well we're finally here at our last stop, Zurich. As Tim put it, we're seeing Europe from A – we started in Amsterdam; to Z – we're finishing here in Zurich. (It's not exactly correct; we actually started in Belgium, specifically Ghent.)

Anyway, you may remember: we're exhausted. Still, we're happy to be in Zurich and staying at our new residence! After dropping off our luggage and getting an orientation from our host, we set out to explore the city. Here you can see Grossmunster Kirche. It's referred to as the center of the reformation. (Zwingli preached here. Apparently, he made Luther and even Calvin seem soft.)

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The river surrounding Zurich is Limmat. Here you can see it as well as the lake and the Alps in the distance.

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And this is the Fraumunster Kirche. Although the reformists stripped this once lovely church of all of its interior granduer, they recently commissioned Marc Chagall to create stained glass windows for the church. It's really hard to figure: you destroy existing physical beauty and then pay (surely) the most expensive living artist in the world to create new beauty. (I suppose it proves how much the Reformists have softened over the years.) Tim said he thought Chagall's windows were the most beautiful he'd ever seen. Sorry, no photos were permitted inside.

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The city -- with it's impressive churches, little squares and interesting nooks and side streets -- is really a delight. So I'll just let the photos do the talking.

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When we got back to our place, the house was preparing for a party. And we had been invited. The theme was an Arabian Night. The house has a nice backyard with lots of mature trees and bushes that provide plenty of privacy. We had shish kabob, tabbouleh, hummus, pita and all kinds of exotic and delicious salads. This group of young-ish (late 20s – early 40s) professionals were really interesting. There’s Karl, the German Physics doctoral student and Anna, the young Swiss midwife. Then there was the guest (I forget her name) who’s planning to do some work on her Interior Design doctoral degree in Istanbul. And, of course, our host: Kipper. He’s from Boston, has lived in South America, was living in Thailand during the tsunami (stayed to organize disaster relief) then moved to Zurich. All of these people had lived in every part of the globe that you could imagine. So they were really interesting to talk with. What a vibrant, fun place to stay! We finally retired to our room for a much needed sound sleep.

Posted by Jeanne Murphy 13.08.2012 23:18 Archived in Switzerland Comments (0)

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