Sunday, November 24, 2013
I feel nostalgic
As our year comes to a close
Wrapped in God’s blessings.
On our last train ride
Through France to Barcelona,
I sat quietly
Drinking in the view;
Gratitude overwhelmed me
And I thanked our God.
His grace and blessings
Were poured out on us this year,
He watched over us,
Providing for all our needs,
We had just enough.
Our lives were enriched
By the experiences
We were blessed to have.
To share with others
And be told that they were blessed
Through the blog we wrote,
Fills our hearts with joy.
To bless others with our gifts
Is what we desire.
My heart is at peace:
My mind rests comfortably
That God will provide
In a future before us
As we return home. KG
We left the Navigator of the Seas at 9:15 A.M. Greta picked up both Ken & Paula and us in Galveston to take us home. We are thrilled to be home and look forward to seeing loved ones after our long absence. We thank God for His love, grace, and provision as we begin our encore life together. We pray that God will use us mightily for His purposes as we continue to live our lives to His honor and glory. KG
Saturday, November 23, 2013
Throughout the cruise, Wayne and I had some enjoyable reverie:
+ Meeting a variety of fascinating people who told us about cruisecon.com where we can get low cruise prices and choiceair.com, an affiliate of Royal Caribbean where we can book cheap one way, round trip, or multiple destination air flights.
+Absolutely quality performances: ice shows, a pianist, vocalists, impressionist, the fantastic Royal Caribbean Orchestra, and the aerialists from Russia.
+ Walking and talking together
+Each of us completed reading a book: Wayne, a book on the History of the Middle Ages; Kathy, a book on the life and principles of Ayn Rand.
While we both enjoyed the time on the cruise, we looked forward to returning home to our home and loved ones. We reviewed together our first encore year together:
+We traveled enough miles to go around the globe three times.
+We visited sixteen countries: France; Spain; Gibraltar/United Kingdom; Italy; Monaco; the Azores/Portugal; Sicily; Greece, Turkey; Crete; Germany; Poland, Czech Republic; Austria; Switzerland; Lichtenstein; the Bahamas; the United States.
+We visited eighteen states in the United States: Missouri; Illinois; Indiana; Louisiana; Texas; Oklahoma; New Mexico; Colorado; Wyoming; South Dakota; Nebraska; Kansas; Arizona; California; Oregon; Washington; Idaho; Utah.
+We spent the most time in Florence, Italy.
+We revisited Barcelona three separate times.
+We traveled on every mechanical mode of transportation (save the space shuttle) available.
+We took two transAtlantic cruises, one Rhine River cruise, and one Mediterranean cruise for six weeks on the water.
+We drove every inch of the U.S. west coast Highway 1 from Southern California to near the border of Canada. (In Oregon, the number changed to 101.)
+We saw all nine of our siblings.
+We experienced the heights of the Alps and the lows of the Krakow salt mines.
+We lodged in 73 hotels, 3 apartments, 5 resorts, 3 cruise ship staterooms and one sibling’s home.
God has been so good to us. We assessed our losses during this year of travel:
***Stolen Luggage, including:
– All personal care items
– All prescription and over-the-counter medications for both Wayne & me
– My hearing aid batteries, hearing aid battery dryer case, sterilizer, & cord
– Travel converter
– iPhone and mini iPad cord & oyster case for iPhone
– Oral B electric toothbrush
– Wayne’s electric shaver
– Work-out clothing, swim trunks, water socks
– Rain gear
– Dental mouth guards for Wayne & Kathy
– Wayne’s dental crown that had come out in one piece
– Matching luggage case itself!
***Stolen leather gloves
***Left on Train: Black jacket
In spite of these losses, we can still say God is good. God has been faithful to us and has provided for all our needs. While I have concerns about meeting over-budget costs on this last leg of our trip and paying the expected end of year/beginning of year costs, God has faithfully provided enough through all of the challenges and circumstances we have faced in our life together. We can trust Him just as Wayne confidently stated on our wedding day, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.”
Saturday, November 16, 2013
Today is Aurora’s birthday and my brother Tim’s birthday. Dear Father, please bless them both in very special ways with Your grace and mercy. For Jesus’ sake. Amen. I love my family.
Today, Wayne & I decided to lunch in the Nutcracker Dining Room for a formal lunch experience where we could make our own salad. We were placed at a table with delightful couples. Through engaging conversation, we learned that one of the couples were the parents of Dan and Tammy Nugent, who are Salem members. Dan, an Eagle Scout, has his three boys in Salem’s Boy Scout program. It was a wonderful serendipity. Dan’s parents are 75 years old. I hope Wayne & I will still be healthy and able to continue meaningful travels together when we reach that age.
Friday, November 15, 2013
Wayne and I had a good day today. It was, for me, the first day I began to feel I was getting back to normal after having stopped all medications “cold turkey” after they had been stolen. Wayne is always in pain but pushed himself to function. After breakfast, we walked a mile; after lunch, we walked a mile; and after dinner, we walked a mile. We remained awake throughout the day. In the evening, we went to the featured show, a female vocalist, and then dined with Ken & Paula for our first time during this cruise in the Swan Lake Dining Room. We developed an instant rapport with the dining staff who waited on us.
Thursday, November 14, 2013
As the ship docked for the day in Funchal, Portugal, we enjoyed the beautiful island of Madeira, a Portugese island off the coast of Morocco, known for its Madeira wine. The island has the highest cliff in Europe and the second highest in the world. We were able to access Internet at a restaurant, and it was good to re-connect and take care of some business.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013
A restful day on board ship. Wayne, however, continues to be in constant, unrelenting pain. Motion sickness swept over him and he ate only mashed potatoes during the day. By evening, he had stabilized, and we enjoyed a lovely evening meal with Ken & Paula at the Chops Grill.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Today the ship was in port in Cadiz, Spain. Wayne and I chose to use this day to sightsee on our own in the city we had not visited previously and purchase necessary items. We bumped into fellow cruisers, Ross and Carol Albers from Trinity, Klein, in the cathedral square of Cadiz and enjoyed conversation. Throughout the morning, I had been overcome by waves of feeling faint and dizzy. Not certain if this was due to the sudden absence from my medications or low blood pressure, we stopped in a pharmacy. In addition to Wayne’s Metformin that we were able to purchase for half the cost of that which had been purchased in Switzerland, we were able to purchase my medications, with the exception of the estradiol (estrogen), for minimal cost, a fraction of what we paid for medication in Switzerland. I took the thyroid medication promptly and, as the day progressed, my waves of feeling faint gradually disappeared. We took the bus to El Corte de Ingles, the department store/grocery that was our mainstay during our month in Seville, and were able to purchase items to replace what was needed. Though the make-up I had been using was Arbonne, a natural cosmetic obtained through mail order, a young lady helped me put together some basic make-up items. Wayne and I were also quite pleased that we had found the Valor A La Taz chocolate with which we can make Spanish hot chocolate. We purchased ten bars of this specialty. Content that our basic needs would be met in the next two weeks, we returned to the ship. Unable, however, to replace the cords to our iPhone & iPad, we asked the guest services staff to re-charge our technology.
During the evening the movement of the Atlantic Ocean affected Wayne, and he became afflicted with motion sickness.
Monday, November 11, 2013
Wayne and I were both extremely tired throughout much of the day. We rested and slept generously throughout the day. It was my second day without medications.
Sunday, November 10, 2013
We left the TRYP Hotel after writing family to let them know our communication with them would be spotty for the next two weeks. There is anxiety always when we are away from communication tools with which to keep in touch with loved ones.
On Sunday, we boarded the ship, settled in, and went to bed before 10:00 P.M. It was my first day without any medications.
Saturday evening, November 9, 2013
While waiting in the airport at Barcelona to be picked up by the shuttle to the TRYP Hotel, Wayne’s smaller carry-on luggage bag was stolen, amazingly lifted from off the top of his larger carry-on bag in the presence of all four of us: Ken, Paula, Wayne, & me. Upon discovery, I went running to the nearby taxi stand and to the inside restaurants and airline queues to see if I could spot our luggage. I informed the policeman, but he appeared nonplussed as though he was familiar with these incidents that were fruitless to hope for recovery. Ken & Paula went on to the hotel, and Wayne and I waited for the next shuttle. We were so sad. The contents of the bag will mean little to those who stole it but, to us, it is significant. We lost our medications, including those for which we had paid to replenish in costly Swiss francs. We lost my hearing aid battery dryer and sterilizer unit, Wayne’s dental crown that had come out in one piece during our travels and we hoped could be re-attached at minimal cost, Wayne’s electric shaver and electric Oral-B toothbrush unit, all of our toiletries, hair care supplies, and my make-up. Among other losses, including clothing, we also lost our adapter and all electronic supplies. I was angry with those who had stolen our property, but we then went into survival mode assessing what we needed immediately, what we could do without for the next two weeks, and how to replace what we must have. The hotel supplied dental and shaving kits. I had put some spare supplies in another bag, and we would wait until we arrived in Cadiz to purchase the remaining needs. I began to open my mind to realize the good things God had in mind for us to receive from this loss.
Friday, November 8, 2013
We are getting closer to home as we conclude our day in Avignon, France, our second visit this year to this special city. It is an appealing setting to which we would enjoy returning. We still have such fond memories of our time spent with Walter and his wife in Seguret.
Avignon was the capital of the Christian world in the Middle Ages. The city has kept intact much of its historical aspects that have enabled it to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site: the Palais des Papes, the Pont d’Avignon, the Place du Palais, the baroque facade of the Hotel des Monnaies, the Petit Palais museum, the Cathedral des Doms, and the ramparts surrounding the town center.
We took Ken and Paula to the gardens this morning that surround the Lutheran-Reformed Church in the heart of the city. Such beautiful plantings in a serene setting! We walked them to the famous market in Les Halles and then took them to the Palace of the Popes where they could purchase tickets to tour the palace and the Bridge of Avignon. According to legend, the famous Pont d’Avignon was built by a young shepherd. Completed in 1185, it was demolished in 1226 and rebuilt several times after being flooded. Today, it remains incomplete with only four arches and a chapel.
Since Wayne and I had already spent a day enjoying the Popes’ Palace and the Bridge of Avignon, we returned to Les Halles to browse and purchase spices and specialty salts as gifts. We enjoyed a leisurely walk through the streets of Avignon before our return to the hotel where we relished an afternoon nap. We then took a long walk past the ramparts of the city and into the old town, wistful and nostalgic realizing that we will soon say good-by to this year of travel and our insightful experience in Europe, as we begin our journey in the morning toward home. Ken and Paula met us at the Lutrin Restaurant where we dined together.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
The day dawned with the promise of a beautiful autumn display as we travelled from Geneva to Lyon and then transferred at Lyon to Avignon. We left the Hotel Des Alpes for the 9:29 A.M. train. Upon arriving at the station, Ken & Wayne realized that they had forgotten to turn in the hotel room keys, so I ran back to the hotel to return them and made it back to the train station with time to spare before departure.
We had a pleasant day on the train traveling from Switzerland to Avignon, France, where our hotel was located in the ancient town center surrounded by its medieval ramparts. Avignon, overlooking the Rhone River, has often been referred to as the “City of Popes” because of the presence of popes and antipopes from 1309 to 1423 during the Catholic schism. Its Palace of the Popes and the bridge of Avignon are well-preserved. It was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
In 1309, Pope Clement V chose Avignon as his residence. From 1309 until 1377, Avignon became the seat of the Papacy instead of Rome which caused a schism in the Catholic Church. Queen Joanna I of Sicily, as countess of Provence, sold the city to Clement VI for 80,000 florins in June 1348, and thus Avignon belonged to the Papacy until 1791. Seven popes resided there:
Clement V: 1305–1314
John XXII: 1316–1334
Benedict XII: 1334–1342
Clement VI: 1342–1352
Innocent VI: 1352–1362
Urban V: 1362–1370
Gregory XI: 1370–1378
The period from 1309–1377 was known as the Avignon Papacy. Walls that were built by the popes in the years immediately following the acquisition of Avignon as papal territory are well preserved, and they are one of the finest examples of medieval fortification in existence. The “Palais des Papes,” an enormous Gothic building with walls 17–18 feet thick, was built between 1335 and 1364 on a natural spur of rock, rendering it all but impregnable to attack. After its capture following the French Revolution, it was used as a barracks and prison for many years, but it is now a museum.
The Notre Dame des Doms cathedral is located in the heart of Avignon, near the Palais des Papes. Notre Dame des Doms is a Romanesque building, most of which was built during the 12th century. The most prominent feature of the cathedral is the gilded statue of the Virgin. The mausoleum of Pope John XXII is one of the most beautiful works within the cathedral and is a noteworthy example of 14th-century Gothic carving. The
Papal Palace almost dwarfs the cathedral.
Avignon is commemorated by the French children’s song, “Sur le Pont d’Avignon” (“On the Bridge of Avignon”), which describes folk dancing. The bridge of the song is the Saint Bénézet bridge, over the Rhône River, of which only four arches (out of the initial 22) remain.
After arriving at the central train station in Avignon, we walked to our hotel, the Avignon Grand Hotel, located just a stone’s throw from the train station. We quickly got settled in our expansive rooms and began our walk to the the Place de L’horloge, where the Palace of the Popes is located. The weather was beyond incredible, and we enjoyed our visit to beautiful Avignon. KG
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Before departing Lausanne for Geneva, Wayne and I enjoyed a pleasant stroll along Lake Geneva and the scenic area around our Hotel Du Port. Autumn leaves were falling. Though the temperature was ever so pleasant, signs were evident that soon we would be saying good-by to autumn.
We arrived by train in Geneva, a city set on the shores of Western Europe’s largest lake with a magnificent view of Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in Europe. Our Hotel Des Alpes was a few short feet from the train station. Though the weather forecast indicated a 90% chance of rain, we were blessed to be able to walk into Old Town unencumbered by showers. Just a short walk from our hotel was the giant fountain, the “Jet d’eau” that is the symbol of the City of Geneva and a tourist attraction. Also famous is the large Flower Clock in the “Jardin Anglais” (English Garden), a world-renowned symbol of the Geneva watch industry sponsored by the Swiss watchmakers. We rode the water taxi across the lake to see the church that Calvin pastored in Geneva during the Reformation era, St. Peter’s Cathedral, which dominates the Old Town.
Known as the city of peace, Geneva is home to the European headquarters of The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), second in size to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The United Nations Office at Geneva is located in the Palais des Nations building constructed for the League of Nations between 1929 and 1938 at Geneva in Switzerland. It also hosts the offices for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE). Geneva is also the seat of the International Red Cross Committee.
Geneva is a city focused on the international economy. Geneva is a base for around a hundred foreign banks. It is a city of arts and culture and one of the greenest cities in Europe with 20% of the city covered in green areas which, the city fathers believe, contributes to the quality of life of its citizens.
Wayne’s knee and foot were causing him great discomfort, so we dispensed with a longer walk and returned early to the hotel. KG
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
The day dawned bright with the promise of a rain-free morning and early afternoon, so we used our Eurail pass to train to the Chateau de Chillon just beyond Montreux. What a beautiful experience it was! The trail along Lake Geneva from the little train station to the castle provided a picturesque scene and a sensory delight. We took beautiful pictures as we made frequent stops on the path. Just listening to the water lap up against the rocks was a soothing sound. The castle built on a rocky island afforded a visual delight and an appealing historical memory jolt. Each hall or room unveiled a part of the castle’s history. Wayne was inspired to download the book, The Middle Ages by Timothy C. Hall, to read on our transAtlantic voyage home to Galveston. We were so happy we made the effort to visit the Chateau de Chillon.
We then took the train to nearby Montreaux just to immerse ourselves in the scenic beauty of this city on Lake Geneva. Located on Lake Geneva at the foot of the Alps, it is blessed with an exceptionally mild climate that promotes growth of plants associated with the Mediterranean, such as pines, cypresses, palm and magnolia trees. The long, flower-bordered lake promenade goes all the way to the Chateau de Chillon.
We returned by train to Lausanne where the International Olympic Committee has been based since 1914. Lausanne is home to the Olympic Museum, the world’s largest information center about the Olympic games that recounts the Olympic story from its inception to present day. The museum, however, which we had hoped to visit at the top of a tiered landscaped garden in the Parc Olympique, has been closed since April 2012 for renovation.
Lausanne is a beautiful French-speaking town built on three hills surrounded by vineyard-covered slopes with Lake Geneva at its feet and the Savoy Alps in the distance. It lies in the middle of a wine-growing region. It is the smallest city in the world to have a rapid transit system. Our hotel provided us with a free pass to be able to use the public transit system while here.
As the rain began to fall, we returned to the comfort of our hotel in the waterfront area of Ouchy. KG
Monday, November 4, 2013
We arose early and learned that the weather on the “Top of Europe” today would not afford an optimal view, so we decided to linger a little while longer at breakfast at the Belvedere before departing for our journey to Lausanne, the second-largest city on Lake Geneva where we will spend the next two nights. It was raining in Lausanne upon our arrival; nevertheless, after taking the city tram to our hotel and checking in, we took the tram to the Gothic cathedral, which dominates the heart of Lausanne’s Old Town. The cathedral, though lacking in ornamentation, is regarded as Switzerland’s most impressive piece of early Gothic architecture. Lausanne was a diocesan town for over a thousand years. The cathedral was being prepared to host a concert on Wednesday night.
Wayne and I stopped at a little cafe for a bowl of pumpkin soup before returning by tram to the Hotel du Port. KG
Sunday, November 3, 2013
This was the day we had originally devoted to introducing Ken and Paula to the Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe at 11,332 feet that provides access to an Alpine wonderland of ice, snow and rock. On our first visit to Grindelwald, Wayne & I took the memorable railway journey to the Jungfraujoch that brought us to the Top of Europe. Today, even as we viewed from below the snow that fell on the mountain peaks, the visibility otherwise afforded by the Jungfraujoch was eliminated. As a result, we chose to abandon our plan to take the two-hour one-way train to the “Top of Europe” and, instead, enjoy the relaxation of our view from the Belvedere.
Wayne and I occupied our day familiarizing Paula with her iPad and helping her use technology to develop an organizational system that would simplify her life. KG
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Today we were off on another adventure. We left our lodging in Zurich and took the train to Lucerne, Switzerland, where we stored our luggage so we could make an unencumbered brief visit to this beautiful city. The renowned wooden Chapel Bridge, built in the 1300s, was only a two minute walk from the train station. The wooden interior of the bridge was graced with old paintings. A farmers’ market along the pristine waters showcased the abundant fruits and vegetables and flowers for purchase. We admired the art and architecture of the buildings.
Then, back to the train we went to continue our journey to the Eiger village of Grindelwald, the picturesque little community that provides a commanding view of the Eiger and the Wetterhorn. Wayne and I had had such a memorable visit to Grindelwald as a 25th anniversary gift from Salem many years ago that we eagerly anticipated sharing our return visit to the Belvedere Swiss Quality Hotel with Ken and Paula.
While the city had expanded with new construction since our first visit so many years ago, the alpine view had remained unchanged — spectacular! Over 70% of Grindelwald’s population belongs to the Swiss Reformed Church. Only 1% of its population is unemployed.
The staff at the Belvedere provided warm, inviting hospitality as they invited us to the patio where we were hosted with sparkling wine. We then visited the Eigerblick Hotel Restaurant where we dined on the specialties of Switzerland: roesti, raclette, fennel cream soup, and apfel strudel. How delightful was our introduction to Grindelwald! KG
Friday, November 1, 2013
Wayne is brilliant…duh, we already knew that, didn’t we! We had originally planned to take the train today to Lucerne so Ken could see the Chapel Bridge, a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century, and Bertel Thorvaldsen’s famous carving of a dying lion (the Lion Monument). The carving commemorates the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. Since traveling by train to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn was a preferred activity for our travel group, Wayne figured out a way for us to travel by train from Zurich to Zermatt. Not only was the destination rewarding with a spectacular view of the majestic Matterhorn, but the picturesque journey along the train route was phenomenal with trees hugging the mountains in their full autumn glory, waterfalls rushing from high above to the flowing waters beside us, sheep lazily munching the green grass, homes and barns sporting rooftops of stone.
We transferred in Visp to the Glacier Express that took us to Zermatt. We did have to pay extra, approximately 50 CHF round trip per person beyond what we had paid for our Eurail Global Pass, but it was worth it. I would not have traded this day for anything in the world. We arrived in Zermatt on the celebration of All Saints’ Day. The local church was filled with parishioners who were led out of the church and into the cemetery by white-robed children carrying the crucifix and lit candelabra and clergy in flowing robes bearing the Scriptures, prayer book, and incense. The band members, dressed handsomely in red jackets trimmed in black braid and wearing black hats, played Christian hymns with which we were familiar as parishioners moved quietly to the graves of their loved ones. The lead clergyman read Scripture, offered prayer, and scattered incense. It was a solemn, tender, moving experience.
We ate a picnic lunch in the quiet park beside the cemetery before boarding the Glacier Express in Zermatt for our return to Zurich. We are sad to know we will be leaving the Renaissance in Zurich tomorrow. Our stay here could not have been more pleasant. KG
Thursday, October 31, 2013
We experienced a delightful Viator tour to Heidi Land today, an 8 hour coach tour through the Swiss Alps. We were able to see beautiful sites narrated by a personable guide. Beyond Heidi Land, we also visited the principality of Liechtenstein. The Principality of Liechtenstein is an alpine country in Central Europe bordered by Switzerland and Austria. Its area is just over 62 square miles and has an estimated population of 35,000. Its capital is Vaduz. Liechtenstein has the highest gross domestic product per person in the world and has the world’s lowest external debt. Liechtenstein also has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world at 1.5%. Liechtenstein is the smallest yet the richest German-speaking country and the only country to lie entirely within the Alps. It is a constitutional monarchy headed by a prince. KG
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
What a God-blessed day! The weather was warm, sunny, and sweater-happy. We saw beautiful sites on a Viator/Best of Switzerland tour today. After catching the 8:30 AM tram to the bus station, we left in a coach to the Rhine Falls, Europe’s largest waterfall. We saw beautiful scenery on our journey to the Falls. We learned that only 8% of land in Switzerland is available for residential living. The rest of land space in Switzerland is consumed by mountains, lakes, and agriculture.
We were able to observe the rushing falls close up from platforms that hover over the Rhine. A mighty rock stands firmly in the midst of wide waterfalls with spray rising in a cloud of rainbows above the forested banks. The turreted castle Schloss Laufen was visible on a cliff directly above the falls.
After our visit to the Rhine Falls, our driver took on us a scenic return to Zurich, passing through Germany and crossing the Rhine River. Zurich is situated on Lake Zürich nestled between wooded hills on the west and east sides. We drove past some of Zurich’s fifty museums, including the Rietberg Museum, one of the leading centers of non-European art in the world. Zürich’s Museum of Art, also known as Kunsthaus Zürich, holds one of the largest collections in Classic Modern art in the world. The Swiss National Museum, housed in an old building reminiscent of a fairytale castle, contains the country’s most comprehensive collection of exhibits relating to Swiss cultural history. We were shown the guild house, the Zunfthaus zur Waag, dating back to the Middle Ages. We were taken past the Zurich Zoo, featuring an ecosystem hall containing several hundred plant and animal species from the Madagascan Masoala Rainforest. Our guide pointed out the Bahnhofstrasse, which is a mile-long street of banks featuring exclusive fashion boutiques, department stores and street cafes. We drove past the University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology whose most famous professor was Albert Einstein.
We went up by cogwheel railway into the “Zurichberg” district where the five-star hotel, The Dolder Grand, is located. Starting price for a one night stay overlooking the eye-appealing city of Zurich is 525 CHF. Many mansions are also situated within this vantage point.
We had a wonderful visit to the Fraumünsterkirche that features the beautiful stained glass windows painted by Marc Chagall. The Fraumünster (Women’s Minster) Church was a former abbey for aristocratical women from southern Germany. It was founded in 853 by Louis the German for his daughter Hildegard. After the Reformation, the church and convent passed into the possession of the city. The organ has 5,793 pipes and 92 stops. The church choir has over 100 singers.
We travelled through the Old Town with its art galleries, antique and book shops. We were shown the 1883 Renaissance City Hall building in which the executive body of Zurich holds its meetings on the bank of the Limmat. The Old Town stretches on both sides of the Limmat River, which flows from the lake.
Zürich is a leading global city among the world’s largest financial centers. Our guide pointed out that Zurich is home to a large number of financial institutions and banking giants. Most of Switzerland’s research and development centers are concentrated in Zürich, and the low tax rates attract overseas companies to set up their headquarters there. Zurich is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. The high quality of life has been cited as a reason for economic growth in Zürich. The consulting firm Mercer has for many years ranked Zürich as a city with the highest quality of life in the world. Zürich received high scores for work, housing, leisure, education and safety. Zürich is also ranked as one of the most expensive cities in the world. We are experiencing this first hand. A Starbucks grande hot chocolate cost 7.90 CHF, which is a little over $8 USD.
Zürich benefits from the high level of investment in education that is typical of Switzerland in general and provides skilled labor at all levels. Zurich is home to many multilingual people, and employees generally demonstrate a high degree of motivation and a low level of absenteeism. Such characteristics are reflected in the high level of productivity the region enjoys and account for the opening of offices and research centers in the city by large corporations.
The officially used formal language used in Zurich by governmental institutions, print, news, universities/schools, courts, theater and in any kind of written form is (Swiss) Standard German, while the originally orally spoken language is Zürich German (Züritüütsch). We have been fully comfortable in Zurich using English exclusively.
After we left the tour in Old Town, we visited the Grossmünster Church, or Great Minster, the church of Zwingli, while the organist practice for the evening organ concert in the church. In 1519, Zurich was the center of the Protestant Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland, led by Ulrich Zwingli. Zwingli started the Swiss Reformation at the time when he was the main preacher in the 1520s at the Grossmünster. He lived there from 1484 until his death in 1531. The Zürich Bible, based on that of Zwingli, was issued in 1531.
We then took the tram back to our hotel. Public transport is extremely popular in Zürich, and its inhabitants use public transport in large numbers. We learned that about 70% of the visitors to the city use the tram or bus.
Upon our return to the Renaissance, we enjoyed the amenities of the Marriott’s Executive Lounge: free drinks and free food because we have earned Gold Elite status. We are so thankful for these benefits, because, as we walked in the Old Town, we observed restaurant evening dinners that cost 72 CHF. We feel very blessed to be able to save our money by avoiding these expenditures. KG
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
We took the train from Strasbourg to Basel, then transferred to a train to Zurich, the largest city in Switzerland. Zürich is a hub for railways, roads, and air traffic. Both Zürich Airport and railway station are the largest and busiest in the country. Situated right in the city center is Zürich’s Main Railway Station, regarded as a central European railroad hub.
Upon arrival at the Zurich train station, we checked the train schedule to Grindelwald and Lucerne from Zurich. Then, we went to the tourist bureau and learned that taking the tram to our lodging for four of us would have cost 34 francs, but taking the taxi would cost 24 francs for four of us. That was a no brainer! It was a pleasant experience going by taxi to reach our lodging 2.2 miles away from the train station.
Our arrival at the Renaissance Zurich Tower Hotel was impressive. The “navigator,” or concierge as we know the position to be, offered us wine or infused water as we were checking in. The check-in process was pleasant, and our rooms on the 11th floor were attractive. We had access to the executive lounge and enjoyed relaxing there and sampling the amenities. We are blessed to be gold elite status and to have the Zurich Marriott honor our status as in America.
I visited with the navigator to arrange for the details of our tour for tomorrow to the Rhine Falls and the city of Zurich, which lies in the heart of Europe and at the center of Switzerland, on the northern shores of Lake Zürich.
Then, it was so pleasant to eat an evening meal provided by the Marriott Residence in the Executive Lounge and retire earlier than usual. KG
Monday, October 28, 2013
Today was our day to devote fully to beautiful Strasbourg. Erasmus praised Strasbourg as “a monarchy without tyranny, an aristocracy without factions, democracy without turmoil, wealth without luxury and prosperity without arrogance.”
The city of Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament. The gentleman we met last night on the train was a free-lance interpreter, home-based in Moscow, but in Strasbourg for the parliament meeting being held now. Since 1952, the European Parliament has met in Strasbourg. However, only the (four-day) plenary sessions of the Parliament are held in Strasbourg each month, with all other business being conducted in Brussels and Luxembourg.
Strasbourg’s historic city center, the Grande Île (Grand Island), was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center. The city has many bridges, including the medieval, four-towered Ponts Couverts.
We spent considerable time today in the Roman Catholic Strasbourg Cathedral, called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg, and also Strasbourg Minster. The cathedral is located at the heart of the historical center of Strasbourg as it hovers over the city. Goethe wrote of the Cathedral “thrusting up a huge wall to heaven, like the most sublime, wide-spreading tree of God, proclaiming the glory of the Lord…The more I contemplate the façade of the Cathedral, the more I am convinced of my first impression that its loftiness is linked to its beauty.”
Victor Hugo wrote, “The church portals are beautiful, particularly the Roman portal…the rose-window is noble and well-cut, the entire front of the church is a clever poem. But the true triumph of this Cathedral is the spire. It is a veritable tiara of stone with its crown and its cross. It is a gigantic and delicate marvel… From the belfry, the view is wonderful. Strasbourg lays at your feet, the old city of triangular roof tops and gable windows, interrupted by towers and churches as picturesque as those of any city in Flanders. Personally, I would go from one turret to another, admiring one by one, the view of France, Switzerland and Germany via one ray of sunshine.”
In addition to the cathedral, Strasbourg houses several other medieval churches that have survived the many wars and destructions that have plagued the city. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Albert Schweitzer both played on the Silbermann organ in the Saint Thomas Church, a large Romanesque/Gothic church. The Neo-Gothic church Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux Catholique and the adjacent Protestant church, Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux, serve as shrines for several 15th-century painted altars coming from other, now destroyed, churches.
We sat at an outdoor patio and enjoyed flammkuchen and quiche. The foods on menus include both the German and French spellings. We also found some delectables in pastry shops. When we returned to the hotel, we experienced the local “eau de vie,” which literally means “water of life.” It is a fruit liquor sweetened entirely by fruit unlike American liquors that are typically made with sugar. It is very similar in taste to German schnapps. I think that eau de vie shall be a “once in a lifetime experience” for Wayne and me.
Tomorrow we leave beautiful Strasbourg and take the train to Zurich, Switzerland. KG
Sunday, October 27, 2013
What an amazing Reformation for us! On this Reformation Sunday, we began our morning with Bible reading and devotions at the Best Western in Strasbourg and then hopped on the train for a day trip to Freiburg, Germany, the southernmost city in Germany that lies in the Black Forest. Freiburg is known for its beautiful old quarters, scenic surroundings, and the narrow channels of water that run alongside the pavements, called bächle. The Rathausplatz, just down from the hauptbahnhof (train station), is the location of the Old and New Town Hall, the Gothic St. Martin’s Church where we participated in worship services, and a fountain with a statue of monk and alchemist Berthold Schwarz, who supposedly invented gunpowder in Freiburg. The square’s main sights are the Historical Merchants’ Hall from 1532 with its deep-red facade and colorful corner towers, the Museum of Municipal History in the Haus Zum Schönen Eck from 1761, and the House of Badensian Wines. We also were privileged to participate in worship services in the beautiful church in the old quarter.
Freiburg values Mother Nature and is committed to environmental policies of sustainability and renewable energy. As a ‘green city’, Freiburg has become a global benchmark for eco-friendly living.
Having a Global Eurail Pass, we have the privilege of unlimited train travel during each day we choose to travel. We chose to add to our day’s adventure a side trip to Titisee, Germany, a beautiful community located on a lake in the Black Forest where woodcarvers create works of art in linden wood. On the train to Titisee, we had a delightful picnic with delicious foods purchased in Freiburg’s train station.
After our brief but pleasant visit in Titisee, we boarded the train back to Freiburg, where we transferred to a train to Offenburg. We were to transfer in Offenburg to a train that would take us back to Strasbourg. Unfortunately, while on the train to Offenburg, a tragic accident occurred on the train tracks ahead of us. This forced our train to screech to a halt and remain stationary on the tracks for a very long time. A short trip that was to take only an hour ended up taking us five hours before we returned to our Best Western lodging in Strasbourg for the night. During that time, however, we had some fascinating conversations with fellow passengers. We certainly had an unforgettable day! KG
Saturday, October 26, 2013
Today, we celebrated Paula Whitaker Hancock’s birthday in Colmar, France, which lies between Basel (French: Bâle) and Strasbourg. We trained from Strasbourg to Colmar for a day trip to Rick Steve’s favorite city in Alsace. Oh, such a beautiful place it is! French Alsace has been German Alsace so often due to changing allegiance after every war that it has become a blend of Europe’s French & German cultures. Wine is the region’s primary industry due to the local dry and sunny climate that has produced good wine since Roman days.
The Alsace city of Colmar is popular with both the Germans and the French. Colmar, with its historic beauty, was spared many of the ravages of World War II experienced by other cities in Germany. Nevertheless, a monument beside St. Martin’s Church memorializes those Colmar residents who lost their lives in World War II.
The old half-timbered houses, characteristic red- and green-tiled roofs, historic buildings, impressive art treasures, and the cobbled lanes of Alsace’s beautiful city of Colmar are concentrated in the colorful, floral-enhanced Old Town. The neighborhood of La Petite Venise features small canals reminiscent of Venice, outdoor restaurants, and antique shops. Alsatian pottery is usually blue, green, red, or cream-colored, and decorated with motifs of storks (the regional bird) and flowers. Pottery is also available in a pale blue style, but this type has a stronger German influence. Typical wine glasses for the region are short glasses with green stems. Tablecloths often depict children and adults in typical Alsatian dress.
The city’s museums show off the art works of Grünewald and Bartholdi. Grünewald’s work is the highlight of the Unterlinden Museum, which is housed in a 750-year-old convent. Grünewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece is a series of paintings that depict both the gripping emotion of the Crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection. The piece was designed to help patients in a medieval hospital endure their skin diseases by showing that Christ understood their suffering. Seeing Grünewald’s altarpiece was our primary objective, but the museum was closed today.
Frédéric Bartholdi, who created America’s Statue of Liberty a century ago, adorned his hometown of Colmar with many statues. One of those was in a garden we visited. The original statue had been destoyed in World War II but was finally restored in 1958.
We visited Église Saint-Martin, or the Church of St. Martin, from 1234–1365, the largest church of Colmar. The early stained glass windows, several Gothic and Renaissance sculptures and altars, and a grand Baroque organ case are impressive. A series of Gothic chapels inside offers more settings in which visitors might pray.
Alsace is known for its pastries. Kugelhopf is a well-known cake similar in shape to the American Bundt cake and has raisins with powdered sugar on top. Macaroons are also found in specialty sweet shops. They are not like American macaroons (coconut haystacks) but are the French version composed of two small, pastel-colored cookies made from almond flour (which has a melt-in-your-mouth quality) with an icing in between. In sweet shops you will also find meringues, made from whipped egg whites and sugar, dyed in pastel colors and then baked. Tarte flambée (Flammekueche in Alsatian, or Flammkuchen in German) is the Alsatian equivalent of the pizza, though extremely different. Traditionally, it is made of a thin layer of dough, covered with crème fraîche (rich sour cream), cheese, onions, and bacon (lardons in French). It is baked very quickly in an extremely hot oven so that it gets crispy. Legend has it that the dish was a solution to the extra scraps of dough left over from the bakers. Other regional specialties include the Black Forest cake (with raspberry, cream and sponge) and quiche Lorraine.
Alsace is also famous for their Bretzels (pretzels in English). They are fresh baked and soft with generous amounts of salt. Sometimes you can find them with melted cheese on top accompanied by smoked salmon or ham. Alsace is also famous for their sauerkraut (or choucroute in French). This is fermented cabbage served hot with boiled potatoes and a variety of meats. Choucroute aux Poissons (with fish) is becoming more widespread.
A lot of German is spoken in Colmar, some because of the numerous tourists from neighboring Germany and Switzerland, but some spoken by native Alsacians, speaking their German dialect called Alsatian. Alsatian is the local minority language, not identical with standard German, but, to a certain extent, mutually intelligible. In some parts of the city, as well as in Strasbourg, street signs are written in French and Alsatian German underneath.
Our trip to Colmar was fantastic!
Friday, October 25, 2013
What a pleasant, relaxing day Wayne and I enjoyed in beautiful Strasbourg, the capital and principal city of the Alsace region in eastern France. We meandered through the La Petite France region of the city. Strasbourg is a European city with flavors of both France and Germany as it sits on the border of the two countries. It can be difficult to discern in which country we are since signs are in both languages. Strasbourg has often changed hands between France and Germany over the centuries. Strasbourg is fused into the Franco-German culture, through the University of Strasbourg, currently the largest in France, and also the coexistence of Catholic and Protestant culture. The city’s architecture is distinctly German. Its picturesque La Petite France community looks like something out of an “Ideals” magazine with its riverfront neighborhood of timbered buildings accented by colorful flower boxes. The Il River carves a pathway through the city. Home of the European Parliament, this cosmopolitan destination hosts France’s oldest Christmas market and features a stunning cathedral. The Black Forest and the Rhine River are at the city’s edge.
The Strasbourg Cathedral is one of Europe’s most beautiful example of Gothic architecture. The stunning pink sandstone facade and the intricate carvings inside are quite unique and breathtaking. Each day at 12:30 p.m., the 17th century astrological clock puts on a lengthy show. The cathedral is a hub of activity with shops and restaurants nearby. In the winter, its courtyard hosts the city’s Christmas market. Construction of the Strasbourg Cathedral began in the twelfth century. When completed in 1439, it became the World’s Tallest Building, surpassing the Great Pyramid of Giza. A few years later, Johannes Gutenberg created the first European moveable type printing press in Strasbourg.
Wayne and I met Ken & Paula at the railway station and brought them to our lodging. After a delightful visit, we bought some picnic foods and sat in the hotel’s quaint seating area to relax and converse. We retired for the night earlier than usual as, tomorrow, we will take a day trip by train to Colmar, France. KG