The Beauty of Switzerland on Instagram

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I came across this post on Newly Swissed yesterday which highlights 13 Instagram Feeds featuring stunning photos of Switzerland. Immediately I went to their feeds and started following them so that I can 1) remember the natural beauty of Switzerland 2) get ideas about where we should go when we return.

Even if you don’t have an Instagram account, I think you can click on each group of photos to see the feed.

What Travel / Expat Blogs to Read

If you are one of my loyal readers (and I know who some of you are – I appreciate all your emails and comments in response to my posts), you might be interested in following other blogs with a European or Travel focus. I, too, am happy to see when my favorite blogs have a new post. Most bloggers do not write every day, as I have done, but often enough to keep me happy.

I think some of the WordPress formats allow you to put links in the sidebar of blogs that you follow, but the one I have used does not, so here is a list of some of my favorites.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.46.48 PMTwo Small Potatoes – these American friends of ours have been in Switzerland a few months longer than us, but they will probably be moving soon, but where? Read their blog and see where they go and where they’ve been.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.48.19 PMConfuzzledom – This British expat lived in Karlsruhe, Germany until recently when she moved to Basel, Switzerland.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.49.16 PMNewly Swissed – This blog has a number of different writers who explore various parts of Switzerland.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.50.31 PMA Humorous Guide to Switzerland – this blog only has several posts per month, at the most, but if you like to read about this charming country, put it in your feed.

Screen Shot 2015-07-30 at 9.52.21 PMRick Steves – This blog comes alive in the summer when Rick, the European Travel Guide Kingdom Guy, spends 100 days in Europe every year.

Screen Shot 2015-08-03 at 5.41.49 AMWSJ Expat Blog – I discovered this blog through Facebook and find the variety of topics fascinating.

 

If you have a favorite travel blog, let me know!

La Route des Vins in the Alsace

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 8.39.38 AMColmar sets itself up as a perfect base for driving all or part of the Route de Vins (Wine Route) through the Alsace. With M’s car rental and a Rick Steves guidebook, we set out on a hot morning, starting at the purportedly most charming town – Eguisheim.

Views from the road between Colmar and Eguisheim

The medieval town lies within its concentric circles – the original ramparts which provide a delightful walk completely around the old city. The walls are not visible per se, as they are part of the houses and cottages of half timbers with many decorative flower boxes. Before you know it, you have returned to your starting point.

Stroll a short way into the middle of the town to St. Leon Square and Fountain which stand in front of the remains of an 8th c octagonal wall. Behind the wall are the castle and the St. Leo Chapel with relics of Pope Leo IX (1002-1054). This is his birthplace.

After lunch in Riquewihr

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View from our lunch table

we enjoyed the air-conditioned car as we headed north to “the granddaddy of Alsacian castles, the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. I’m not exactly sure how many castles we’ve seen this year (at least seven), but this was one of my top two, I think. (The other was the Château de Chillon in Montreaux).

This one had great views over the vineyards and I liked how the mountain itself was integrated into the base of the castle.

Since distances are not very great along this part of the route, we drove back to Eguisheim for dinner, rounding out a great day.

Colmar, France

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 5.10.26 PMSwitzerland snuggles right into the middle France’s east side, making a trip from Zürich to Colmar (near Strasbourg) an easy 2-hour train ride. When our brother-in-law told us that he was going to be in Frankfurt for a conference and had a few days to meet us somewhere after the conference, a quick look at the map suggested Colmar and the Alsace region of France as a terrific mid-point. He booked a rental car, we booked an AirBnB and bought train tickets for a 2-day rendezvous.

The Alsace region, known for its wine (dry Rieslings and Gewürtztraminers), is a mélange of German and French culture, having been claimed by both empires at various times throughout European history. What a pleasant experience to wander the Old Town as well as Petit Venice (a canal runs through this section) and just enjoy the half-timber houses with unique tile roofs.

We were happy to hear German spoken by many (and with such a clear accent) and to read signs in German as well as French.

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You can hardly get through town without seeing stork nests on top of tall buildings, stork souvenirs, paintings on walls featuring storks, etc. Nearly 30 years ago the iconic storks of this region had dwindled to about 9 nesting pairs, but have since made a comeback.

Colmar is also known as the hometown of Bartholdi, the man who created the Statue of Liberty.

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For our first meal, I ordered the traditional sauerkraut (which tastes much less pungent than what we think of with fermented cabbage) which comes with five meats. Throw in a few boiled potatoes, and I had plenty to share with H and M.

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Aachen, Germany

IMG_6137In 1987 my cousin (technically my second cousin, the son of my mother’s cousin) moved to Germany and never came back to the US. Well, he visits the US, but has lived in Aachen since finishing his PhD there. Aachen is very close to the border of the Netherlands, and this presented itself as a perfect opportunity for us to reconnect. We had not seen each other in over 30 years, I think.

We said good-bye to C and B in Amsterdam where they headed home after a great two-week vacation with us. The parting was not too sorrowful as we see them very soon.

It seems that we take the extreme weather with us wherever we travel. In Haarlem/Amsterdam it was the hottest day of the year, and when we arrived in Aachen (an hour late due to train issues, probably exacerbated by the heat), the high temps had followed us.

Therefore, our tour of the old city was a Blitz Tour, although I am sure that we could have spent more time exploring if we were not wilting.

Aachen’s highlight is the cathedral, IMG_6138constructed under Charlemagne’s rule and the final resting place of the emperor. The cathedral has a rich and long history starting in 786 AD. The architecture is Byzantine with stunning mosaics which reminded me of the Chora Church and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. These mosaics have been refurbished to their original glory. The octagonal vault in the center of the cathedral is the perfect setting for the tall stained glass windows and the chandelier. For almost 600 years, this was the church where German Kings and Queens were coronated.

Like other buildings we’ve visited, this one has been built upon, enlarged, and changed over the centuries as needed. Thank goodness it survived with little or no damage during the wars and became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

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Model of the church

I did not take any interior photos, but you can see many good ones here. I would recommend it since words cannot do the church justice.

IMG_6147During our Blitz Tour, we looked at the City Hall as well as this puppet fountain with moving parts. Apparently, if you move the correct part, you will be surprised and rewarded with a spray of water from the top. I guess we were not persistent enough. Neither were the people in this youtube video.

We ended our tour with a trip to the ice cream place where I enjoyed a Schwarzwald Becher.

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Reading Dutch

Dutch. What a language! So many Zs, Js, double vowels, and yet so many words that an American or German speaker can understand. Even many more that I can’t. We had so much fun looking at all the signage.

If you know that Zandvoort aan Zee is the city, then you can see that Help mee (looks a little like English) and voor een schoon looks like vor ein schön (for a beautiful). So, please, pick up your trash, people.

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Green is the color for emergency exits. This one looks like the German signs we see that say Notausgang Freihalten (leave free for emergency exit).

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I finally figured out that fietsen meant bicycles (that word is plastered everywhere), but I had to look up geen (meaning no), and plaatsen then meant placing. Don’t park your bike here! This is an important sign in the Netherlands.

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This one threw me for a complete loop. So Google Translate to the rescue. It was at the train station, and I know that perron is platform in French. This one says that you must have a valid ticket to get on the train.

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So, cross your eyes, know your context and pretend you are reading Swiss German. Easy peasy!

Indonesian Rice Table in Haarlem

The other night H and I reminisced IMG_6061about all the food we’ve enjoyed this year. Where did we have our very best European meals? I think we both agreed that the Rice Table we had in Haarlem was probably at the very tip top of our list.

So, a little history to accompany the food. The Dutch colonized Indonesia as the Dutch East Indies back in the day. Remember learning about spices on boats in history class? While in Indonesia, the Dutch adapted local custom to create the Rijsttafel (rice table) where up to forty side dishes, served in small portions, arrive at the table along with rice. This was to show off the exotic abundance of the country, to enjoy a stunning variety of dishes for a festive banquet.

One rarely finds this in Indonesia today, but the custom lives on in the Netherlands. De Lachende Javaan (The Laughing Javanese) in Haarlem came highly recommended on Trip Advisor and won our business.

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Although we made a reservation for 18:30, many tables were available, maybe because Tuesday nights are not as busy. Nonetheless, we were tended to by the sweetest Indonesian man. After H and I ordered rice table for us (the smaller version was about €23 per person) B ordered a beef dish, but the waiter explained that that kind of beef would be in the rice table (and we would surely share), so he suggested something else, which ended up being the right recommendation.

Soon the extra table was added to the side of ours and the racks which held lighted tea lights to keep food warm were brought out, and I wondered who else was coming to eat with us. Such a production! Soon the food arrived, parade-style, with oohs and aahs, and I wondered how it would all get eaten.

I need not have worried, as the portions were just right, but really because the food was SO amazingly delicious. The meat was tender and the sauces so flavorful. The satay sticks melted a little in my mouth. The curries. The vegetables. The salads. I cannot tell you what everything was, but I can say I tried it all.

Anyone have a recommendation for a Rijsttafel in the Los Angeles area?