True Confessions and Roma

Confession time… it’s been three weeks since we got home from Europe, and I still haven’t finished posts about our last two cities! Truth is, once we got home and jumped into house projects, namely the final push to complete the bathroom before going back to work in two weeks(!), I got sidetracked. But by now I have so many other house things to share, and I have this issue with posting things out of order… it’s a problem. Anyway, here goes with our last stop in Italy – Roma!
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Highlights of Rome? Definitely being blessed by Pope Francis! He’s a pretty cool dude.

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We planned our trip to Rome so that we’d be able to attend the Wednesday Papal Audience. Admission to anything led by the Pope is free, but Tony had to go down to the US Bishops’ Visitors Office to pick up our tickets. Each Wednesday that the Pope is in town there are 30,000 seats for ticket holders to the event. Estimates put an additional 70,000 visitors standing around the perimeter of St. Peter’s Square (which is round, by the way). It was a rainy morning while we waited and chatted with our neighbors from Oregon, a family of adult siblings visiting significant family locations. We could tell when a spurt of rain was coming because the umbrellas on the opposite side of the square would start to open up, and it was like this wave of movement and noise as 30,000 umbrellas opened up in quick succession.

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Another highlight of Vatican City was our tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, mostly due to our awesome tour guide. Picture a retired, British Librarian. Do you see the glasses perched on her nose? The high gray bun? If so, you are picturing Penny, who’s been giving free tours of this massive church for over 30 years! For two and a half hours she led us through this incredible building, pointing out famous works of art, paintings (which are actually all tile mosaics so they do not fade), and especially the incredible feats of architecture the building houses: the first of which is simply the incredible size of the building. Michelangelo and his architect friends wanted this church to be gigantic, but they didn’t want visitors to feel swallowed up when they came in, so they made everything inside really, really big so individual people wouldn’t seem so small. Seems wierd, right? It is. When we first walked in Penny had us look at a stained glass dove window on the opposite end of the nave. It was pretty far away, but she had us guess how big it was. We each guessed around 2 feet or so. Penny said it was actually 6 feet across! There were cherub statues larger than me, and up near the ceiling level Apostle Paul held a quill pen that was 9 feet long! The effect was to make the building seem smaller than it really is, and it was pretty amazing. Apparently I was so transfixed that I neglected to take any photos though! This one is from the web.

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Another “church” that was fun to visit was The Collosseum!

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Apparently the only thing that saved this structure from being further ravaged for its limestone bricks (3/5 of the outer structure is missing) was being named a church in the 1500s! The Colosseum has not fallen down through time. It’s been taken down… some of it to build St. Peter’s!

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Artsy photo time!

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What always amazes me about Rome is that the ruins are so a part of the modern city. You’re just walking down a modern street and see a view like this:

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I think the Pantheon is pretty cool. Six foot thick concrete at the base of the dome. How does it possibly stay up??

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Rome was just too big to get around to all the major sights at night, but we did stumble upon this view on our way to a late night dinner!

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We had a nice time in Roma, but it was probably our least favorite city, outside modern Pompeii of course. One almost feels guilty about that assessment, because Rome is really cool! And I definitely enjoyed gelato twice a day! It was time to leave Italy though, so we flew from there to Ireland for our final adventure.

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Pompeii

Eh Eh Oh, Eh Oh
Eh Eh Oh, Eh Oh
The walls kept tumbling down
in the city that we lo-o-o-o-ve.
Great clouds roll over the hills
bringing darkness from above….

Have you heard that song, “Pompeii,” by Bastille? Besides the fact that it’s been playing in nearly every store I’ve been in, we’ve been singing it incessantly since our visit to Pompeii. The ruins of the ancient city, utterly obliterated by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD, are located about an hour and a half south of Rome. We took a train from Lucca to Naples, then changed to the dirty and disgusting Trans-Vesuvian train line to reach this incredible destination.

We arrived mid-Afternoon, which didn’t allow sufficient time to see the remains of the city, but was just enough time to reach the summit of the active volcano Vesuvius.

Imagine bumping along in an army-green bus up twisting and winding roads that make the BVI’s road system look like a dream. The vehicle seats about 20 people, but close to 40 are aboard. Each time the bus approaches a curve the driver revs the engine to power through the turn, and you widen your stance as you stand on the sweat-smelling, noisy bus. This was the first half of the ride up Mount Vesuvius. I didn’t believe Tony when he said we’d stop part way, but as usual, he was right. (Don’t tell him I said that!)

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We came to the end of the paved road (Yikes!) and loaded into smaller buses – thankfully with seats for everyone. In these tank-style contraptions we rumbled up the 3800 or so feet of the volcano, holding on at each curve to avoid landing in our neighbors’ laps. On one bump Tony actually hit his head on the roof! All the while our driver yelled into his phone to be heard over the roaring engine.

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A steep hike up the next 800 feet or so had some more worrisome views as well. That “bridge” looked less than solid!

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At the summit we looked down into the smoking crater of an active volcano. Tony was giddy! Can you see the smoke? It’s right in the center of the frame.

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Vesuvius is the only active volcano on the European mainland and is responsible for the complete destruction of Roman towns Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79AD. The last time Vesuvius erupted was a small one in 1944, at the height of WWII, but it’s been smoking ominously ever since. It is actually deemed the most dangerous volcano on the planet due to its proximity to densely populated Naples and modern Pompei, a sprawling metropolis of 3.5 million just an hour south, by high speed train, of Rome. According to Wikipedia, it’s the most densely populated volcanic area in the world. This view is from neighboring Sorrento, across the Bay of Naples.

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The only bad thing about going to the top of Mt. Vesuvius, in my opinion, was having to go back down. Tony and I had very different assessments of the ordeal. He found it exhilerating, while I’d describe our descent as terrifying!

Our plans to visit to the ruins of Pompeii the next day were shifted when an employee brought a typed piece of paper out 15 minutes after they were supposed to open saying they were closed until 12:30 that day for staff meetings. Staff meetings? Really? Anyway, it gave us an opportunity to visit Sorrento, a lovely little town 1/2 an hour down the train line.

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Our guide book described Sorrento as a charming cliff town of 20,000 that doubles in size during the tourist season. It said that “the Sorrentines have gone out of their way to create a completely safe and relaxed place for tourists to spend money.” Their efforts were evident, and we enjoyed the opportunity to stroll down the streets, examine old churches and book stores, and pick up some fresh fruit and food for dinner that night. One church we wandered into had a dining room table-sized display of the birth of Jesus, but set in Italy, complete with a spaghetti dinner!

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Luckily, when we returned to the Pompeii archeological site that afternoon, they were in fact open. (We weren’t so sure they would be!) Even the first view upon entering the area was stunning!

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The Pompeii ruins are spectacular because they are so well preserved. Unlike Rome, and many other places that have Roman ruins, Pompeii was never plundered for its building materials. Rather, it was buried under 20 feet of ash and volcanic debris for nearly 1500 years, until someone went to dig a new aqueduct in the area. This old bakery is in especially good condition. The big stone grinders would have had wooden handles attached that could be turned by animals or slaves.

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Vesuvius’ 79 AD eruption was quite unusual. Plinius the Younger, who watched the event from a nearby island, wrote an account that experts at the time deemed so unusual they declared him a liar! Rather than your typical lava flow, the mountain exploded with super-heated ash that fell to the earth first as pumice stones. Then layers of poisonous gasses and ash rained down on the city. About 2,000 of the 16,000 inhabitants stayed in the city and were trapped in their homes as the roofs caved in from the weight. The next morning a wave of debris and hot gas, called a pyroclastic flow, hit the city with such force it killed all the remaining inhabitants instantly. When archeologists began uncovering the site in the 1700s, they came across many seemingly empty spaces in the Earth with bones at the bottom. They began filling the spaces with plaster and ended up with incredible molds of people in their final moments. Most of the plaster casts have been moved to the museum in Naples, which we didn’t go to, but there were a few on display.

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Another area of particular interest were the Bath Houses, since we’d recently experienced The Baths in Budapest. The little pools looked a lot like what we sat in, and it was amazing that the even the ceiling decoration was so well preserved!

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My favorite spot was the theatre which they’ve been restoring by replacing some of the stones that were missing. The stones that are brighter white have all been recently replaced.

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In fact, some workmen were actually building a wooden stage in top of the original stone forms while we were there!

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Tony preferred the amphitheater. Just like him to pick the rough and tumble sports arena over the arts!

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Pompeii was an interesting trip… we loved the ruins and the volcano, which were the things we went to see. The area, however, was less than impressive. At night I think it would be down-right frigthening. (We chose not to venture out after dark.) It’s a bummer too, because we thought we were safe staying away from Naples and Pompeii City, but staying right by the ruins was just as bad. If we had it to do again, I think we’d probably go to Sorrento and just day trip it to the ruins and volcano. However, it did made for an interesting experience, like when the only thing we could find for dinner was a whole rotisserie chicken and a bag of chips that we took back to our hotel room!

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I’ll leave you with a few more photos. Above is a typical Roman street. That’s a major thoroughfare, which you can tell by the number of stones placed in the middle, meant to protect the feet of walking civilians. When the streets were cleaned each day citizens could step on those stones without getting their sandled feet wet, and chariot wheels were a standard width to fit perfectly through the space between the stones. Below you see the remains of the Temple of Isis.

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Here’s Tony standing in front of the forum, a large open area for commerce, which was the center of Roman life.

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Look at how amazing some of this detail work was!

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And how well the murals have been preserved over time!

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Inside the Walls of Lucca

Excerpts from a journal discovered just outside the city walls…

As I sit under the stars and write this, I can only hope that my family and friends back home are doing well. We are nearly a month into our tour, and we have just completed a journey fraught with considerable danger. We have finished laying siege to the once impenetrable walls of Lucca, Italy in the Tuscany region.

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Two thousand years ago, the city of Lucca was built as a Roman settlement. Because of the tumultuous nature of the area at the time, the city was built within typical Roman walls. It was strategically placed in the middle of a large valley, which meant that an approaching enemy could be spotted from a distance. The wall lasted until Medieval Times, when the city was expanded and a new wall was erected. The wall was again rebuilt in the 16th century when the advent of the cannon made the second wall obsolete. The people of Lucca pooled their resources and created a wall composed of a 100 foot wide mound of dirt fronted by a brick wall. This 500 year old wall remains today, a fitting tribute to a city that has never successfully been attacked.

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Our local contact, code name “Alfredo,” told us to approach from the north. He directed us to a gate through which we could gain entry to the city, and from there, he took us to a room near the square, where we spent the next two nights.

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Yes, in bunk beds.

Once inside the city, we had to plan our attack. We reconnoitered atop the city wall, and we discovered that this wall, which had become the pride and joy of the city, was where our energies would be best put to use.

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We spent the rest of our evening getting to know our way around the city. Luckily, the city’s most formidable defense, the wall, was also going to be its downfall. No matter where we found ourselves in Lucca, we were always a stone’s throw from the ramparts, which were left unguarded from the inside.

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Now that we knew just how easy it would be to gain the top of the wall and thus, conquer the city of Lucca, we decided to find a good meal and get some sleep. We were fortunate to discover a restaurant known for its varied selection of whiskeys, so we stopped for a bite. My partner, code name “Lindy,” ordered shrimp skewers and a glass of local wine, while I had a delectable steak and a glass of Scotland’s finest Scotch Whiskey.

Our energies restored by a good meal, a healthy (or perhaps more than is healthy) portion of local gelatto, and a full night’s sleep, it was time to carry out our attack! We acquired some very docile mounts, and we stormed the pedestrian walkway that the city walls have become!

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Our victory over the wall was swift and sweet. The city’s inhabitants were taken completely by surprise, and within an hour the battle was over. All that now remained to be conquered was the historic Torre Gianigi.

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The final surviving tower mansion, originally one of 70, and former residence literally “towers” above the city. In the 1300s this building housed a wealthy merchant family with a different room on each floor. Staircases and porches wound around the outside to connect the different rooms, and the rooftop garden, planted with holm oaks, symbolized the rebirth of the city at the time. We summited the two hundred thirty-nine steps (not the originals!), and so swift and powerful was our attack that nary a hand was raised in opposition.

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The city was ours!

To celebrate our decisive victory, we chose to venture outside the walls and visit the Greo Vineyard and Winery, where it was our intention to celebrate by touring the facilities and tasting the local wine. We headed into the hills, crossed a small bridge, and arrived just in time to find Greo himself awaiting us. Greo, though, was a stubborn man. He refused to speak English (he said he didn’t know any), and though he was well aware that we didn’t understand his native tounge, he took us on the tour in Italian. After about ten minutes, he gave up and began pouring our samples.

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Normally, wine tasting consists of partaking in very small portions of a variety of wines. Greo, we soon discovered, had more sinister intentions. He began pouring full glasses, obviously with the intention of getting us drunk and taking us captive. We saw right through his subterfuge, though, and we took him by surprise when we asked to purchase a bottle of his best white as well as a bottle of olive oil. We left with our spoils, and we headed back to the city to rest in anticipation of our next assignment: seeking out the lost city of Pompei.

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Ciao from the Cinque Terre!

We stepped off the train in the dank tunnel, since the station is only big enough for about 2 and 1/2 train cars. As we emerged into the bright sunshine we were surrounded by colorful old buildings and farmer’s market stalls. It was Market Day in Vernazza, a formerly sleepy seaside village of 500 or so which is flooded with tourists during summer days. A quick stop for fresh fruit and we headed into the main square of town, Piazza Marconi, in search of our accommodation. All around were the smells of fresh focaccia, thick Italian bread for which the region is known, and happy people speaking a variety of languages and soaking up the summer sun.

This was the start to our stay in the Cinque Terre (Chinkwa Tara) in Italy. The Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 seaside villages along the cliffs of the Aegean Sea on Italy’s western coast. Each of the tiny towns was connected only by foot paths for hundreds of years, until the propect of tourism brought in the railroad and modern road systems in the mid twentieth century. I came to the Cinque Terre when I studied abroad in college, and I thought this would be the kind of place that Tony would like too.

We probably reserved the cheapest room in the five villages, but it was definitely the nicest place we’ve stayed yet!

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Then we went out to explore the village! We climbed one of the town’s two towers, reminders of the days when pirates would plunder the area, and had great ariel views. This one shows the buildings lining the one real road through town, the church, and the terraced fields in the background.

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Looking in the other direction, we could just see the next town, Cornelia, on the bluff a few bays over.

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It was a great spot for photo ops. Be warned, there will be a lot of them in this post!!

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Using our Guidebook, we took a brief tour of the town, resting for awhile in the church. This one was much simpler than the churches we’ve seen in the bigger cities, but it has a very rustic beauty. Apparently the current Priest has been a popular man in town because he finally stopped the church’s tower bell from ringing through the night!

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Vernazza has a small, rocky swimming area. There were quite a few people in the water, but we weren’t with them! Brr!!

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At sunset we sat on the breakwater and watched how the light reflected on the colorful buildings.

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The next day we were up early to hit the trail. We were so early, in fact, that there was no one in the little “office” at the start of the trail! That was just what we were hoping for, though, as that meant we had the trail virtually to ourselves. The view of Vernazza as we left the town was spectacular!

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Unfortunately, only one of the original trails was open for hiking. Over the past few years, the Cinque Terre and surrounding areas have been hit by floods and landslides. In fact, just three years ago Vernazza, the town we stayed in, was hit by a flood and nearly every business was filled with several feet of mud! They cleaned up and rebuilt the town very quickly but the trails haven’t recovered as easily. The one we started with, heading north, was the most difficult of the original trails.

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It felt like we went up forever!

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After the initial ascent, the trail leveled out, going up and down but less drastically. The views were excellent!

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Finally we turned the corner and glimpsed Monterosso al Mar.

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Monterosso is known as the resort town. It has the only sand beach and it built on relatively flat land. We spent most of the day wandering around town and lounging with our books. It was fabulous! As part of our wandering, we walked through the town cemetary. Space in these mausoleum type tombs is limited, so it’s essentially leased. When a lease runs out the remains are placed in the communal burial area and the space is leased to someone else! Each town has their own cemetary, and they each look a lot like this one.

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From the boat on our way back to Vernazza we had a great view of the terraced fields. Before tourism kept these tiny villages afloat, they were all agriculturally based. The hillsides were terraced for vineyards and lemon trees, and the wine and lemoncello they produce is still readily available.

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The next day, we were off on the trails agan, but this time heading south. The original trail to Cornelia was closed, but there was another trail that would take us there… we just had to hike higher and farther! We said, “Arrivederci!” to Vernazza again, and we were off.

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About an hour and a half later we approached Cornelia, the only Cinque Terre town that does not have a harbor. It’s up on the hill overlooking all its sister towns.

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We zipped through this town pretty quickly, just stopping for a quick breakfast pastry, before getting back on the trail. Even though Manarola can been seen in the background of the picture above, it would take us more than two hours to get there! We were already at the highest point in the Cinque Terre, but due to those trail closures, we’d be hiking up much higher to the mountaintop towns and back down to the water level.

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It was pretty disheartening to realize that 45 minutes of hiking had resulted in negative progress! We met a few hikers coming from the other direction though, who assured us we were getting close to where the trail would flatten out and then head downhill. We were rewarded with some views of Manarola through the trees.

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Little did we know, this was the downhill they meant! Our path went straight through the terraced fields.

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It was actually at this point that we had our only fall. I swear, that bee stung me! That’s why I was flailing about! Tony laughed heartily, once he knew I was okay of course, that I was able to grab a handrail and prevent myself from sliding down the hill on my tush!

Over lunch in Manarola we debated out next move. We’d already hiked about 6 miles that morning and the original path to the last town, a leisurely 20 minute stroll along the coast, was again closed. With a sudden burst of energy from lunch, and a serious lack of better judgement: ), I said, “Let’s hike it!” So we start up this hill.

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Did you see that trail? It starts just to the left of center. Here’s the same photo with with some arrows.

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Every few minutes Tony would say, “I think we’re almost at the top!” Then we’d turn the corner and find another staircase or something.

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So when we finally did reach the summit, we couldn’t resist a celebratory photo!

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By the time we made it down to Riomagiorre, my knees were killing me and we went straight to the water to soak our tired feet. It was a pretty cool view from there!

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Our gelato treats were well-deserved after our 7 mile hike! Then we took the train back to Vernazza and arrived about 10 minutes later!

Our time in the Cinque Terre ended all too quickly, but we’re both so glad we went… even though my legs are still sore days later!

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Switzerland Part 2

Hello again from Switzerland!

We spent two nights with Mark and Carrie before meeting up with Tony’s college pal, Martin, and his wife Cezi (pronounced Cheh-zee). Our first stop with them was a small town right near the border between Germany and Switzerland called St. Gallen. The town popped up around the monastery that St. Gallen established there in the 600s or so. It’s home to a really old library, which got Tony super excited. It was a pretty steep entry fee (Hold Cow is Switzerland an expensive place!) but well worth it. The library was incredible. This is a picture from the net, since photography isn’t allowed, and it doesn’t do it justice at all!

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Even the floor was so old and ornate that it had to be protected with these felt booties we put over our shoes.

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Tony’s were too small, and mine were too big, so I just had to shuffle along the floor!

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A walk around St. Gallen revealed another gorgeous little town with quaint old buildings, an ornate baroque cathedral, waterfall, and even a gypsy-esque band performing at the street fair!

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From there we went to the Rhine Falls, a large waterfall on the Rhine River. We first walked across a train bridge (Their trains are much quieter than the ones that go by our house!) and had an awesome view of the falls from the top and side.

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Then we walked down and around the falls for a great view from the front.

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That night Martin and Cezi made us a traditional Swiss dinner of Raclette. This cheese and potato based dish was great for cold Swiss winter dinners, as it was meant to be made around the fire. In modern times there is a special party grill that you can plug in and put on the table! Each person gets a little pan and scraper where you put your slice of the Raclette cheese and whatever toppings you’d like (chopped tomatoes, green onion, peppers, corn, etc.). The pan slides into the bottom of the machine where it melts the cheese. The top of the machine is like a grill, so the other veggies, bacon, and even pineapple are cooked on top. Once your cheese is melted, you use your scraper to push the bubbling cheese onto your open baked potato. The dish was awesome and was a great meal to have when there’s lots of conversation to be had!

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One of the best things about our visit was spending time with Martin and getting to know Cezi, who met Martin while she was studying on the same campus where he lived as a Nazarene Missionary. They got married while we were in the BVI, and it was fascinating to hear about her experiences growing up in Albania, attending school and working in Italy, then meeting Martin in this strange part of Germany that’s inside Switzerland.

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This idea of a Germany inside of Switzerland was a tough one for me to figure out, but Martin described it as a German island inside a Swiss sea. Allegedly, when the Lords came together to form Switzerland hundreds of years ago, there was this one guy who held out. He just didn’t like those other guys. When it came time to have to choose sides between Switzerland and Germany, he picked the latter. Over time additional land on the border was transferred to Switzerland, so now Martin and Cezi technically cross into Germany every time they go home. They showed us the border, which is really just a stone in someone’s field. That’s us in two countries at once!

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The next day we went to the ruins of an old fort up on a hill. It was a steep hike up to them, but they were really cool!

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We finally found something that I am too tall for in this medieval doorway!

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From there we we ventured into Germany on the autobahn to The Black Forest. Turns out, this old forest got its name from Roman soldiers who traveled through it on their way to conquer distant lands. The tree cover was so thick it blocked out the sun and made it black! While most of the original trees have been cleared for development or farm land, we went to a part of the forest that is still intact on the edge of a little town called Triberg.

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It was here that Amy and I decided it must be a requirement for Swiss and German towns to be cute. Each one we visited was adorable! Anyway, Triberg is known for The House of a Thousand Cuckoo Clocks, a shop where the clocks are sometimes even handmade in front of visitors, and for Germany’s largest waterfall.

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I just love a good waterfall, and this was a good one!

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We also tasted some delicious Black Forest Cake. It’s two layers of rick chocolate cake, cherry and cream filling, and there’s a cherry liquor poured over the top. It was delicious and decadent!

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We just couldn’t thank Martin and Cezi enough for their hospitality. I sincerely hope we have the opportunity to repay the favor one day!

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Switzerland Part 1

Guten tag from Switzerland!

We have been very blessed to spend a couple nights with some Tortola friends during our time here. We met Mark and Carrie at our favorite island hot spot, The Watering Hole, where Carrie was the Bartender Extraordinaire. They also frequented our favorite beach, Smuggler’s Cove, where we met their dog Baxter. It was a blast to catch up with them, since they left island a few months before we did.

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Mark and Carrie live in a small town south of Zurich called Schwyz (pronounced Shweets). After meeting Mark for lunch, Carrie took us up into the hills for some hiking and great views. Unfortunately, it’s been a little hazy lately, so it was hard to capture the gorgeous teal of the water and the white caps on the distant alps.

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Afterward though, we walked through their quaint little town and went to the chocolate factory for some tasty Swiss Chocolate! In addition to the nearby factory, this area houses the plant where all the Swiss Army Knives for the whole world are made. It’s known as the Swiss Knife Valley. We didn’t splurge for a Swiss Army Knife, but we got a paring knife to add to our knife block at home! The entire town was just so adorable, with centuries old farms interspersed through the villages and up on the hillsides. Here’s a view of the valley.

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Certainly our time in Schwyz was very different from living on the island, but it was fantastic to reminisce about island life and hear about their transition to mainland Europe. And, we got to go out on a boat! Mark took us out on the lake for a two hour ride to Lucerne.

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The boat ride was beautiful, passing cute town after cute town, and it is always fun to be on the water.

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Lucerne is a much larger town than where Mark and Carrie live with some really neat old bridges dating back to the 1600s!

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After some lunch, we walked around town and ended up at the old town wall, much of which is still intact. We were able to climb up into the towers and walk along the wall for quite aways.

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The height provided awesome views of the city and the surrounding countryside.

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Mark and Carrie were phenomenal hosts and we so appreciated our time with them! We had some excellent food and drinks, great company, and we even watched some of the World Cup!

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Night Train

On Wednesday evening we lugged our bags back to the train station for the trip to Zurich. Months ago we’d researched flights and trains between Hungary and Switzerland, but the airlines took more than 12 hours to get there with connections, so we decided on the overnight train, rationalizing that the extra expense (over a regular train) would make up for itself in time to see and do things and the saved lodging expenses. Since Tony is quite tall, he really struggles in small spaces, so we debated back and forth about coach vs. sleeper. The middle ground, price-wise, seemed to be a couchette, or a compartment with 6 beds that fold out from the wall.

We arrived at the station that night with all our luggage (a backpack and hand luggage for Tony and myself, two backpacks and a big suitcase with stuff from Nepal for Amy) and looked for our compartment. It was a touch smaller than we expected. There was one person already in the compartment, sitting in the center of three seats on the left with three other seats facing her. In the space in front of her was a small carry-on roller bag and a large rolling suitcase… and no space for any of our stuff!

After several moments of stunned staring we jumped into the process of storing our own bags for the journey. The two upper-most beds were already folded out. (The others were all packed away, since they double as seats during the day.) After considerable jostling and deep breaths, with our compartment-mate just sitting there watching, she informed us there was a cavity up above on the level of the top bunks, essentially over the hallway, that could be used as storage. I schlepped my way up there as Tony handed me bags. Amy stuffed backpacks and smaller bags under the seats. The whole time our compartment-mate just sat there, often with someone else’s tush in her face! It probably took 20 minutes to get everything settled so that we all had a seat and no luggage was out in the hall. The train started moving, and we all, compartment-mate included, breathed a sigh of relief.

Then we made our first stop. With each new train passenger that boarded, we held our breath, sighing with relief as they passed by our compartment. That was, until one couple didn’t pass by. They stood in the hallway, looking into our compartment… With 5 bags at their sides! So the process of moving and shoving started all over again. Amy decided she would crawl up to the top bunk with as much of her luggage as we could lift up and just stay up there. That way the rest of us could have a seat. But the new couple was not happy with this decision. They were assigned the top two bunks, and they didn’t want to trade. So Amy’s bags came down. Amy came down. The new couple went up, with the wife angrily scolding her husband in some foreign language. She was not happy with whatever was happening!

After awhile we just started laughing at the craziness!

Thus began our night aboard the train!

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Those feet are our Spanish friend’s on the top left bunk. He was actually quite friendly and thoughtful. His wife didn’t speak to any of us during the 12 hour journey, including the young Hungarian girl. Anyway, I couldn’t get a photo that got all the bunks in!

Sleep was intermittent as the train shuddered up and down mountains, stopped in towns along the way, and people went in and out of our compartment door… Which had 4 locks to be done and undone each time! You can see from Amy on the bottom bunk that space was tight!

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Still, it beat the bobbing head and sore neck we’d have had in coach. The next morning we arrived beautiful Switzerland and ate our chocolate filled croissants and juice breakfast while looking over glassy lakes, green hills, and even a few snow capped mountains!

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