Over the river and through the Alps, to Italy we go….

We used our last Honeyfund this weekend to go to Cinque Terre in Italy.  Every time we take a road trip, we are in awe of the beauty of Central Europe.   I wanted to share a pictorial recap of the drive.

Immediately after leaving Geneva, we drove through the French Alps.  Here, there were a few signs of Fall but we don’t see it as strongly as we do in The States.

Starting our drive out of Geneva

A bit more Fall foliage here

Mt Blanc was being shy that day, hiding behind cloud cover

The glaciers near Mt. Blanc. I joked that if we were playing the car alphabet game, this would be a good one for “Letter G…I spy a Glacier!”

We entered the Mt. Blanc tunnel and emerged in Italy, surrounded by Italian Alps in the Aosta Valley.

The Italian Alps.

We drove through tunnels in 3 countries: Switzerland, France and Italy.   Italy had the most tunnels, as we traveled on the Ligurian coast which is covered in mountainous terrain.   In total, we completed 119 tunnels during the course of the 6 hour drive.

French tunnel ahead….

Many of the Italian tunnels (114 of them in total) had homes teetering above the entrances

 

The exit our GPS instructed us to get off on was closed, so we had to take the next one.   We ended up on curvy Ligurian roads in the Cinque Terre forest.   The location was so remote, we had to do a little road clean up to get there.

The hubby moving a tree out of the road, in his dress shirt.

 

While a six hour road trip can be a little tiring, we are really happy to have had such a neat journey.

 

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The Highest Point in the Valley of Hell

Les-Baux-de-Provence, France, is known for its bloody and ruthless past.  Known for pushing individuals off the rocky cliffs, decapitation, and other cruel methods of death, the lords of Les Baux are not characters you’d want to cross.   Thus, the area was feared.

It is said Dante modeled one of his layers of hell in the Inferno off of the rocky landscape of Les Baux.

I am not sure which contributed to it, but area became known as “The Valley of Hell.”

An omnious sky over Les-Baux-de-Provence

Gabe and I visited Les-Baux-de-Provence on our whirlwind trip to see the lavender this summer. However, short on time, we didn’t climb the entire way to see the castle & fortifications.  Instead, we wandered around the village checking out churches and views from the mid-heights.

However, this time, Mom & I were up for the adventure.

The wind was whipping at the top of Les Baux

Le Mistral, the fierce Provençal wind, also accompanied us.  However, pressing against the bursts had its rewards.  The top was very impressive with bell towers and rooms carved into the face of the stone cliffs.

Rocky facade of the castle

The sky definitely accentuated the scariness

If you go to Les Baux, don’t miss going to the top!

 

Related Links:

The Swiss Watch Blog:  Les Baux de Provence

Schwingen in Switzerland :  We Didn’t Know the Valley of Hell was So Beautiful – Les Baux

Desalpe Festival

Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I realize that we live in Switzerland.   We love getting to experience a completely new way of life and new customs.   This past weekend was no exception, when we attended the Semsales Desalpe Festival.

What is a Desalpe you might ask?    In Switzerland, the cows happily live in the Alps in the summer, munching away on the greenest of grassy pastures.  However, the cold snowy temperatures that come in the winter are even too harsh for Swiss cattle.  So every Fall, the happy Swiss cows come down from their summer home in the high Alps to their lower grassy pastures and barns.

Most small villages celebrate their return home with a Desalpe Festival, literally translated, “from the Alps”.

We attended the festival in the town of Semsales, in the canton of Fribourg, near Gruyeres.   This festival is special because of its spacing.  Typically, all the herds are condensed in one parade.  However, in Semsales, each group gets the individual spotlight.    From 10:00 in the morning until 18:00 in the evening, a total of 14 families march through town proudly, welcoming their herd home for the winter.

We got quite an awakening to the procession when parking our car.   Literally, one of the herds came into us!

Well, hello there.

Walking into town, we got to see quite a few more processions.    The first few cows wear very tall ornamentation.  Sort of like Christmas trees on their heads:

Nope – not Christmas in October. Just the Desalpe festival!

Then comes the more subdued cows….smaller floral arrangements.

This lady has a classier look going on. But what she looses in floral prowess, she makes up in cowbell size. Holy cow.

Moo-ve over and get out of my way, lady.

Just an everyday walk on the highway

In addition to the cows, groups of musicians were also a special part of the Desalpe.   We enjoyed the cowbell group:

The cowbell band

Handling their bells. The muscles on these folks have to be strong!

We really enjoyed the Alphorn band

They also have delicious cheese and meat based foods.

This was a super big pot of cheesy potatoes

Local meat, cheeses, and breads for lunch. Plus some nice red wine from the nearby vineyards.

If you are attending a Desalpe, just make sure to wear old shoes or maybe even some wellies.  You are most certainly going to step in something nasty.

Hey lady, maybe you want to keep your baby out of the cow poo

I thought this was my best picture of the day until I realized what was happening.

For a more interesting visual, check out the video footage from our day at the Desalpe:

Neuschwanstein Castle & Bavarian Landscapes

After a full day of beer drinking at Oktoberfest on Friday, we had opted to get out of Munich and do a little sightseeing on Saturday.  This was both a good and bad idea.    The good was that it prevented us from signing up for another day of beer drinking.   The bad was that we had to get up early and  navigate how to get to the little village we’d selected, all whilst suffering from a bout of cocktail fever.

Nevertheless, we boarded the correct train at the München Hauptbahnhof towards Fussen.   We marveled at the hoards of people coming in that day for Oktoberfest.

Our train. Direction Fussen.

Revelers, coming in from their villages, ready for the day. You’ll see some good examples of traditional German dress here.

Lederhosen and party hats.  Don’t these guys look like they are 16?

Notice the crates of beer they’d brought with them to consume on the train.

The scene made us glad we weren’t on those trains coming into Munich.   There wasn’t a seat to be had!    Our train was busy, yet seats were available.    We enjoyed the peaceful two hour ride through the Bavarian countryside.

Taking the train through Bavaria

We got off at Fussen and took a cab into the nearby village of  Hohenschwanau.   Towering above the town was the Schloss Hohenschwanau.   This19th Century castle was built by Maximillian II of Bavaria.   It is more famous nowadays for being the childhood home of King Ludwig II who built Neuschwanstein castle, the castle that Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty castle was modeled after.

View from town of Hohenschwanau

View from above of Hohenschwanau and the tiny village

Ludwig II built Neuschwanstein a stone’s leap away from his parent’s house, funded from his own fortune.    He built the castle as a tribute to Richard Wagner, the composer.  He wanted to make it feel like one of Wagner’s pieces had come to life in the castle, to make it a reality.   That, and he fancied living in the Middle Ages.  The castle helped bring these fantasies to life, creating a retreat which resembled Middle Age living, far outside the city of Munich.

Neuschwanstein castle

Sadly, King Ludwig II never was able to live inside his castle.   He was deposed of his throne due to mental incapacity and building stopped.   Only about one-third of the rooms were finished.   Shortly after, he died mysteriously in the shallow waters of a nearby lake.   There is speculation about the medical prognosis due to the sudden and unexplained nature of his death.  Some think that there was a conspiracy to take his crown.   Only the shallow waters know, I suppose.

We were able to tour the castle because Olga had pre-arranged tickets.   For those interested, I’d recommend her approach: buying tickets in advance.  You can only tour the castle with a reservation on one of the official tours.   When we arrived to pick up our reserved tickets, the wait was 4 1/2 hours to get a tour for those who had not.

Walking up to Neuschwanstein

The inside rooms that we saw were miraculous – amazing detail.  Ludwig was very creative in weaving the stories of Wagner’s operas into the artwork, carvings, and castle floors.

We weren’t able to take photos inside, but this photo is courtesy of wikipedia.

Ludwig even thought to construct a man-made cave that lead from his bedroom to his dressing room, to mimic a scene of a cave in one of the operas.   Olga mentioned this was the “original man cave” which drew a lot of chuckles from some of the guys on the tour.

Image courtesy of wikipedia

After the tour, we took a lovely walk through the fall foliage and stood on Marienbrücke, Mary’s bridge, to take pictures.  The bridge is a 15 minute walk from the castle.  If you end up not being able to tour the castle, we would still recommend getting the vantage point from Mary’s bridge.  It was pretty awesome.

Mary’s bridge is the little white horizontal line in the center of the photo. Sorry our point-and-shoot camera isn’t the best at focusing.

This shaky little bridge made me a bit nervous, especially after looking down!

Heidi, Olga, Gabe and me on Mary’s Bridge.

We followed our experience by drinking some King Ludwig beer at the little restaurant Bräustübert, underneath the castles.  As we’d hiked a mile on a steep uphill, had a tour, and made a stop at the bridge, all within lunch hour, we really were ready for some delicious German food.  We all got some form of sausage or schnitzel which did the job of satiating our hungry bellies, along with the delicious beer.

My schnitzel and weissbeir. A good lunch.  

Sugarloaf Mountain

Another stop on our Rio list was Sugarloaf Mountain, or Pão de Açúcar, in Portuguese. Sugarloaf is named from the way that it resembles the pile of sugar, as sugar trading was a big livelihood in Brazil.

Sugarloaf, as viewed from the beach near downtown Rio

We had heard it was an interesting outing.  We practically had to beg our tour guide to take us as she said the view was better from Corovado mountain, where we saw Christ the Redeemer.

Making the cable car journey to Sugarloaf

That view from Christ The Redeemer was higher up, but I wouldn’t say it was better.  Because Rio was surrounded in a dense haze most of our trip, we thought the panoramas from Sugarloaf provided for better perspective of the beaches, city and landscape.

Checking out the gorgeous Rio coastine from the top of Sugarloaf

Our guide wasn’t so hot at taking photos. I had to delete 5 where she chopped our heads off. But this one you can somewhat see the background!

Rock climbing is popular, but for those less adventurous, there is a cable car that runs every 20 minutes.

Descending back into town. The beach in the distant left is Copacabana, where we were staying. Downtown Rio is in the right top.

Christ the Redeemer

As long as I can remember, I have thought it would be magnificent to see the monument of Christ the Redeemer.

I think my first notion that it existed came from the disaster movies.   You know when they show scenes from across the world, showing special monuments and cities collapsing?

Check out a clip of the film 2012 here, to see if you recognize it:

Built for the 100 year anniversary of Brazil’s independence, the Christ monument came from the Catholic Circle of Rio.   It was funded by Brazilian  donations and designed by a French sculptor.  They selected the Corovado mountain for its view over the city.

The photography I have seen of the monument is so peaceful and serene.  With sun setting over him, the enormous mountain, and the immense city, it certainly gives you a feeling that he is protecting the metropolis.

It is no wonder that this special monument and place was selected to be one of the seven new wonders of the world.

Image courtesy of filmapia.com

Image courtesy of 7wonders.org

He is visible from a large part of Rio de Janeiro itself.  As you drive along, you can see him on the Corovado mountain, from most vantage points.

We were able to see The Christ at many times driving in Rio, even with the haze

And beyond getting an ants view, we had the chance to visit the monument while in Rio.   We took a furnicular train up the mountain which was neat as it took us through the Tijuca rainforest.  It was our first time in a rainforest, so that was cool in itself.

Tijuca rainforest, Rio

Two of the 1500 favelas, or slums, covering Rio’s hills

After 25 minutes and 2,310 feet (704 m), we reached the summit.  250 stairs or an elevator then take you to the Christ’s feet.

Up close with The Christ monument

It was pretty miraculous.  The views and the sheer size of The Christ was breathtaking.

View of the bay from Christ the Redeemer monument

I only wish we were able to get the views from behind him to witness the same perspective of him holding the city as the photo above.  Our guide said these were done from a helicopter.  Oh well. Next time.

Anyhow, I am thankful for the chance to go see this beautiful monument and part of our world.

Exploring Crete – Krista, Lato, and more

It is hard to believe that snow still exists on Crete until mid-July (it just melted 20 days before our arrival), but that is the elevation on part of the island!  While visting Crete, we wanted to visit some of its mountainous region.

Mountain village of Kritsa

Kritsa was not too far from where we were staying in Eastern Crete.  During Medieval times, it was the largest town in Crete, however, now is a small village with 2200 residents.  It still looks like time hasn’t passed when you walk on its streets:

Gabe was a bit too tall for this door

Wait….which address is this?

Streets of Kritsa

Hot day in Kritsa

 

 

 

Nearby Kritsa is the archeological site of Lato.  It was the most powerful town during Dorian towns with two acropolis.  It was destroyed in 2nd Century BC.

It always amazes us how freely Greece (and Europe for that matter!) allows visitors.   There was no entry, no guards, to visit this incredible site.  We could freely walk all over the pre-Christ dated ruins.

Archeological site of Lato

View of the ocean from Lato

 

After Lato, we meandered through the mountainous roads back to the highway and to old town Hersonissos.  An old colleague of mine’s family originated from this area and many of them still live there today.  We tried to visit their restaurant in the charming old town square, but didn’t know it was closed for lunch.

Me in front of Georgio’s

Old and new, we had a nice day exploring Crete.