Saturday, July 28, 2018

Italy to Switzerland to Colmar France

Its been a great 2 weeks since we last checked in from Bellagio, Italy!

The weather has been superb, the food unbelievable....
and the time with our friends...  priceless!

Our travels have taken us from Bellagio (#1 on the map)
Over Splügen Pass (#2) into Switzerland where we spent a great 11 days
with our friends at their home in Richterswil Switzerland (#3)

Leaving Richterswil, we stopped in Basel Switzerland (#4) to buy a new wristwatch
for me - and then finally ended in Colmar France (#5) were we are now.

Our travels Bellagio, Italy to Colmar, France

Bellagio, Italy to Richterswil, Switzerland

There were several ways that we could have taken to get to our destination,
near Zurich, Switzerland. 
We decided to take the less traveled, more scenic route.

Across the alps on the old, narrow two-lane road 
that dates back to the Romans.

So, leaving Bellagio on a quiet Sunday Morning,...
we took the ferry across the lake to Varenna, Italy 
to save us several hours of driving around the lake. 

We were first in line at the Bellagio Terminal at 8:20 ready for our 8:50 ferry

Cadennabia Ferry leaving while ours arrives
Boarding the ferry - there was only about 5 cars and 
a half dozen foot passengers at this early hour.

We departed on time and headed north across the lake on our 20 minute journey. 

Looking back down the lake to Bellagio on the left.

Arriving in sleepy Varenna which dates back to the Roman times, its a beautiful
town squeezed between the mountain and the lake.

Varenna, Italy on Lake Como

We drove off the ferry, then headed north on our mission to cross the alps.
But first - we needed to cross over Splügen Pass.

Driving deeper into the Alp we finally come to a dead end in the valley and the road
narrows as it starts to zig-zag several thousand feet up the almost sheer side of the mountain.

Over 30 switchbacks take you up towards Splügen Pass
The road is clearly marked for no trailers - but half way up we met one coming the other way
and at the switchback,  he swung wide into our lane. and we met in "Switchback Gridlock"
I had cars right on my tail so I was unable to back up except for a few inches.
Here is a video of us going up some of the switchbacks.

The road is a favorite of motorcycle riders who love to blast up and down the mountain
taking the curves at high speed. 
We found that they did not really like cars on "their" road.

Finally after climbing about 5,500' we made it up the side of the valley and into the
small town of Montespluga.

But we still had another thousand feet or so to climb to get to the top of the pass.

At the top of the pass we crossed into Switzerland, then found a nice spot to pull over and
have some lunch and enjoy the cool high altitude mountain air.

Then we started down the other side.

Below you can see the Swiss Border Station (which was closed)

Swiss Side of Splügen Pass
The drive down the Swiss side has its share of switchbacks, but was no where near as
challenging as going up the Italian side.

Down the Swiss side of Splügen

Richterswil, Switzerland

About 5 hrs after leaving Bellagio we rolled into Richterswil, Switzerland
to visit with our good friends Marcel, Michaela, and  our god daughters, Francesca & Isabella.

This was one of the trip milestones and one of our anticipated highlights of our trip.

We spent 11 days being pampered by their Swiss/German Hospitality.

The Richterswil Posse
Their beautiful home is perched on the side of the hill overlooking Lake Zurich (Zürichsee).
We spent quite a bit of time enjoying the water.

When we arrived - it was the 3 week summer vacation time in the area and it was like a 
ghost town.   We almost had everywhere to ourselves, with none of the usual parking issues.

One of the Zürichsee Ferries
Just about everyday included some time in the cool clear water.
Those of you who know me well, know that I LOVE my time in the water.
We even had Kate in the water and Michaela gave her swimming lessons.
By the time we left Kate was paddling like Esther Williams!

Richterswil Town Park

Einsideln, Switzerland

One day all of us (dogs included) headed up into the hills to the nearby town of Einsideln.
Some of you will remember my January 2015 Post  about the Monastery there.

Einsideln Monastary
The Monastery is famous for their Einsideln Horses - once widely agreed to
be among the best in Europe.
Michaela & the girls ride at the stables so we dropped in for a visit.
The Doodles were particularly interested in the horses.

Gracie tries to get a sniff
Lucy was curious but stand-offish...
Gracie wanted to get up close and sniff noses.
The horses were glad to reciprocate.

Einsideln Monastery Stables

Looking thru one of the archways.
It looks surreal like a painting.

Pastoral Scene at Einsideln Monastery
The Monastery is perched on the hill over looking the town.
We walked down the hill and had a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe.

Einsideln, Switzerland

Zürich, Switzerland

Another day we took the Ferry down the lake into Zürich.
Like Lake Como - Zürichsee has an extensive ferry system that includes both
passenger and auto ferries.

The ferry system is fully integrated into the regional transportation system...
One ticket paid for the Ferry, any trams or busses in the city, and the train ride back.

Lake Zurich Ferry

The ferry stops at many towns on both sides of the lake as it heads north to Zürich.

Kate snapped this shot of the bird life in the city.

Leaving the ferry - we stopped for a coffee at the outside cafe on the right.

The outlet from Zürichsee is the Limmat River which flows thru the city
and north into the Rhine River on the border with Germany at Koblenz.

The Limmat flows thru Zürich
When it was time to head home - we jumped onto the modern clean electric tram.

The European mass transit system never ceases to amaze me.
So clean, so modern, and so well integrated into society.
You truly can swiftly travel all over the continent by public transport.

On the Zurich Tram
We took the tram to the Zurich Bahnhof (train station) where this amazing
work of art byBrazilian artist Ernesto Neto was on display.

A 65' tall hand crocheted Amazonian Rainforest tree - The "GaiaMotherTree"
creates in it's base,  a hidden oasis within the hustle and bustle 
of one of Europes major train stations.

To create: he drew upon his years spent with the indigenous people of the rain forest

GaiaMotherTree by Ernesto Neto
The Zürich Bahnhof is an amazing place.
Several levels - trains arriving and departing from multiple levels, with world class
shopping and gourmet restaurants.

Not only is the station a place to catch a train, it is a destination in an of itself.

Our train to Richterswil arrives in Zürich Bahnhof
On the train headed home.
The train runs about every 20 minutes and took us about 30 minutes to get to the
Richterswil station.

I had to tell you about the parking garages in Zürich.
A model of typical Swiss cleanliness and efficiency!

As you drive down to each level, electronic signs tell you how many spaces 
are available on that level.

Then as you drive into each section - the red or green lights direct you to the available spots.
As a car leaves a spot - the red light turns to green, and the sign indicating how
many spots are available is updated.

The floors were immaculate!

Konstanz Germany

Another trip was a day-trip to Konstanz, Germany to do some shopping.
Konstanz is a bustling market town on the shore of Lake Constance
(known as the Bodensee in Europe)

Old Konstanz Shopping District.
Both of our electric tooth brush batteries were getting old and weak, so we wanted to
find one that was dual voltage.  
This way it would work both on the US 120v. and the European 220v systems.

This was the last item that we had that was NOT dual voltage so
replacing it would eliminate the need for me to carry a power transformer.

We found what we needed at Media Markt.

Koblenz Germany Street Scene
We stopped for some Kafee and cake down by the water.

The large statue - some sort of female lake "she-creature" slowly turns around.
At first it made me do a double take till I realized it was slowly turning.

After a successful shopping trip - we packed back into the Grand Cherokee,
and headed back south into Switzerland.

Now no trip to Switzerland would be complete without a mention of Swiss Chocolate.
And when one talks Swiss Chocolate - you have to mention Lindt Chocolate.

Fortunately for us - the Lindt Chocolate Factory was just a few miles down the road in
Kilchberg, so we made a "class trip" to chocolate heaven.

As you walk into the immaculate store, a friendly man offers you tastes of chocolates.

This helps get your sweet tooth in operation.

The Lindt Factory Store Kilchberg, Switzerland

There were mountains of chocolate in all tastes.
Some flavors are only available here.
When we left the mountains were just a little bit smaller.

We now have some great chocolates to tide us over until we get to Belgium.

Swiss Hospitality

Kate, myself, and the Doodles all received the Royal Treatment.
We were treated like Kings and Queens. (Könige und Königin)

The day after we arrived was the "opening of the beers"
It seems that all the neighbors had gotten together, and using the skills of one of them
who was a brewmaster - had brewed a couple of hundred bottles of beer.

This was the day to pop them open and have a party!

A big tent, a barbeque,  beers and meats!

Michaela made a Quinoa Salad.   Now I've never thought Quinoa was suitable for
anything other than garbage pail lining - but this salad was amazing and
gave me a new respect for that strange grain, seed, or whatever the heck it is.

The beer and the food was great and amazingly - everyone spoke perfect English!

Bratwurst,  Beer and Quinoa Salad  
One night Marcel made Flintstone Steaks on the Barbeque.

Each morning a typical Swiss/German Breakfast served on a wooden plank.
Meats, cheeses, vegetables, fruits, bread, butter, and jam.

Marcel - and the girls make the breads from scratch almost every day.

And Michaela - who is an amazing cook - made us Wienerschnitzel.
Topped with a cream mushroom gravy and accompanied by potatoes,
and a cucumber dill salad....   YUM!

Following in her mothers footsteps - Francesca - who has been cooking for years - made
us a special dinner that she worked on all day.

Complete with a beautifully decorated table...
Menus for the event.

We all sat while she served us.

A tomato cheese risotto with garden salad.
As good as any restuarant!

Tomato Cheese Risotto
Our final moring - Michaela made us a hybrid American/European Breakfast.
All the Normal foods, plus scrambled eggs and bacon.

I can't thank them enough for the amazing hospitality and love that we receive when we visit.
Whenever we are in Richterswil....   we are home!

Sadly it was time to say goodbye - but we have reservations and places to be.
We will see them again in just over 2 months as they will meet us in Cornwall, England
in October and say goodbye to us as we board the QM2 back to the US.

So it was back on the road for a short 2.5hr drive to Colmar France.

First however, on the way we had to make a side trip to Basel Switzerland.

My watch  is my one indulgence...  a rather expensive Breitling that I've
owned for about 30 years.
Well it had a run in with Lake Zurich and the lake won. 
Now it is in need of repairs.

The darn watch is like an expensive sports car... it needs care and maintenance to keep
it running at peak performance, and the last time it was due for service I
got cheap and did not get full service with the seals replaced.  
Now I will pay for that lapse!
The only question will be how much.

I left it at the watchmaker in Switzerland and Marcel will supervise it for me and return it
when we see them in Cornwall.

Being without a watch to me however is like being naked.
So off to Basel we went - to a watch seller that has been a family business
in Basel for 11 generations!

Basel Switzerland Marketplace

I found the parking garage, we left the doodles in the car, 
and walked about 1/2 mile to the watch store.  

Even though underground, it was pretty warm in the garage so
we did not want to leave the dogs there for very long.

I found what I wanted and in 1/2 an hour, with a new watch on my wrist,
 we were headed back to the car.

It's has been unseasonably hot all over Europe this summer and our day in Basel
was no exception with the mercury well over 90°  (normal is mid-70's)

It looked like a really nice city - and one deserving of a visit - but the heat,
and the dogs in the car said it was time to keep moving.

Colmar France

We are now in Colmar France.
A lovely medieval town close to the German Border.
The network of canals that run thru the city give it an enchanting ambience. 

Colmar, France

We are just here for 3 nights - tomorrow we head to Verdun, France for 2 nights,
so we've been out and about seeing the town.

The town is rather compact - so its not hard to walk about and see the highlights quickly,
so our two full days here will be plenty.
Although it would not be a bad place to chill for longer should one desire.

Canal in Colmar France

Spoiling the beauty however has been the nagging heat.
It has been 98° - again normal is mid 70's.
Our  flat - a lovely modernized apartment in a Medieval building, has no air-conditioning.

It does however have a big Jacuzzi Tub so we went out and bought a table fan,
and that along with the tub filled with ice cold water - has turned into
my own little swim club.

Even Kate has been in for a swim!

So tomorrow... Sunday - we will drive about 3 hrs or so north and west to
Verdun where I want to see the WW1 battlefields and museums.

We will only be there for 2 nights.  One full day to see the sights.
We'll be staying in a unique place though.   A old stone temple that has been
converted into a house with two Bedrooms.   Should be interesting.

Then after our two nights there we head 6 hrs further northwest to Amsterdam.

We'll leave the car at a Park & Ride Garage and take the Metro Subway 30 minutes into
the city center so we need to travel light.

The doodles will get their introduction to yet another mode of transport.
Trains Planes & Automobiles  Doodle Edition.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Bellagio, Italy

We left you last with a few teaser photos of our great place
in Bellagio, Italy.

Perched on the side of the mountain overlooking Lake Como, its hard to believe
that tomorrow we move on after 9 days of some great relaxation.
It seems like we just got here and I never even got to swim!

What's even harder to believe however, is that Tuesday will mark 2 months since we boarded
the Queen Mary 2 in New York to embark upon this whirlwind odyssey.

We've enjoyed some great outdoor dining....

Bruschetta ala Greg in Bellagio

We've met some of the neigbors

We have some real asses for neighbors
Kate comes back from the doodles morning walk.

Lake Como has an estensive ferry system.
It operates at the regions waterborne public transport system.
It's a mixture of ship types including some Hydrofoils.

We get to see them all going into Bellagio just a couple of miles down the lake

A hydrofoil skims across Lake Como
A couple of times we took the ferry from the dock in San Giovanni which
is just down the hill from us - into Bellagio.    A 7 minute ride.

The small harbor at San Giovanni

Our ship has come in.

Lake Ferry arriving at San Giovanni Dock
The ferry is a great time killer, plus a scenic and cool way to spend an afternoon.

Leaving San Giovannie - we head north to Bellagio located on the
peninsula in the distance.

Getting closer to Bellagio

Arriving at the Dock.
Bellagio is one of the more well known towns on the lake and has both a passenger
dock as well as a car dock where the carry ferries arrive and depart.
We'll take the car ferry tomorrow when we leave.

Ferry dock in Bellagio Italy

In Bellagio - there are basically two directions...



One day we had a nice lunch along the waterfront.

While at lunch we could watch the ships arrive and depart at the near by docks.
Below is the ferry to Varenna.
We will be taking that one tomorrow when we leave.

Bellagio to Varenna Cary Ferry on Lake Como
One day - rather than taking the ferry back to San Giovanni - we decided to walk the
1 1/2 miles back home.

The conventional way is back up the main road...
A narrow, winding, thoroughfare - often with stone walls on both sides of the road,
leaving nowhere for a pedestrian to get out of the way of the speeding drivers 
and motorcycles that appeared at any moment flying around the blind curves.

We did however learn that we could get a pass to the Melzi Villa and Gardens..
That would give us about 70% of the walk along the lakefront, thru beautiful gardens
on a palatial estate.

So.. we headed off along the waterfront towards the Melzi Estate.
Walking along an Oleander lined street with cool lake breezes.

The waterfront in Bellagio
Paying our entry fee, we enter the gardens into another world! 

Melzi Gardens Bellagio

The estate was constructed between 1808 and 1810 for Francesco Melzi d’Eril 
who was the Duke of Lodi and vice president of the Italian Republic under Napoleon. 

The plants are imported from all 4 corners of the globe.

Melzi Gardens Bellagio
From the Japanese gardens we break out into a more wide open
space with large terraces along the lake front.  

Rather than fighting our way up a narrow two-lane highway....

Lots of cool places to sit down and reflect.

Lilly pad at Melzi Gardens Bellagio
And by request...  yes we are still here!

Walking by the mansion - looking back from where we came.

At the north end of the estate is the family chapel...  Mausoleum?
The Duke of Lodi is interred here along with a few other notables of the family.

Below is the tomb of his step son and heir Lodovico Melzi.

The shroud around the tomb is amazing.

A closer look.
The hard stone almost seems as if it would blow in the wind.
The fringe flying in the breeze!

Well that pretty much wraps up our visit to Bellagio.
There is so much more here that we could have done but that will have to wait for another day.
It's better to taste some and be left wanting more.

Tomorrow we head north and will travel thru the Alps to visit our great friends
in Richterswil Switzerland for 10 days.

Marcel gave me some great tips on taking an off the beaten trail road north.
So we will go over the Alps on the "Old Road"
Following a path taken since Roman Times.

The road crosses the Alps from Italy into Switzerland over Splügen Pass.
At one point it climbs a sheer cliff wall of the valley - up thousands of feet
with dozens of switchbacks on a road that is only one car wide at points.
 The photo below, lifted from the web,  is one spot along the way.

Spluga Pass Rd  SS-36  Italy

It should be a fun Sunday Drive!