15 September 2021

We had a lovely visit to Colmar, France last weekend.

Colmar, France

Colmar is about 150 KM from ZĂŒrich. It is part of the Alsace region of France. The city has about 70,000 residents. Like most larger cities, we have seen, there is an “old” part and a “new” part. We spent almost the entire weekend in the old part of town. We toured some churches, a couple of museums, and simply strolled the city. It was a very relaxing weekend. Colmar has been part of France, Germany, and (somehow) Sweden during it’s existence. The Sweden part I found fascinating. It was captured in 1632 during the Thirty Years War and was held as part of Sweden for two years. After the war it was back in German hands, until King Louis XIV in 1673. For almost the next 200 years it was part of France, but then right before WWI Germany annexed the Alsace region and returned to France in 1919. It was conquered again by Germany in WWII and then returned after the war. Because it is so close to the german border, there is a large germanic influence there. One thing that surprised me was that the symbol for the Alsace region is a bretzel. Something I have only associated with Germany.

In the center of the old town is St Martin’s Church. While technically it is not nor has it ever been a cathedral. Everyone refers to it as The Cathedral, because it is so large.

Side view of St Martin’s

St Martin was born in Hungary in 316. He was an officer in the roman army before converting to Christianity. The story that helped make him a saint, was that he met a beggar that was hungry and cold. He cut his cloak in half with his sword and gave the cut piece to the beggar so he would not freeze to death. He continued to serve for a few years after his conversion, but as he neared retirement a new ceasar took over (Julian) and Martin decided he could no longer serve ceasar as a christian. He was charged with cowardice, but before he was punished he was released from military service. He then became a monk and lived the rest of his life serving God.

Anyway, the church is massive, and the inside while plain by cathedral standards is still very beautiful. Julie and I were really struck how different the church looks at night vs the day. Look at the picture above, and then compare it to this one.

St Martin’s at night.

One final note about Colmar’s history. The man who created the Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi, was born in Colmar. This leads me to the most annoying thing we found in the city.

Brass Plate in Colmar

These brass plates are everywhere. We followed them for almost two hours on Sunday looking for the replica statue. It turns out the replica was about two miles from where we were and it sits right in the middle of a round a bout. Anyway we followed them for a really long way before we realized we just randomly moving about the city. It turns out these plates are simply pointing the way to some of the historical parts of the town. I really wanted to go out about 3:00 AM with some tools from the car, and pry one of the plates up, but Julie would not let me. 🙁

Final Art History lessons of this post. There are two very famous works of art in the town. The first one we saw was “Madonna in the Rose Garden”. This work of art was created about 1473, by Martin Schongauer. The work was created specifically for the domincan monastary that was located in Colmar. I found this bit of history particularly interesting in regards to the engraving.

” The enclosed garden of Mary was a strong symbolic theme in Western Europe, and especially in Flanders. Pious women who remained unmarried but who did not feel inclined to enter the Catholic orders as nuns, lived together in rows of small houses built around a central garden. In Dutch these are called ‘begijnhoven’ or beguinages and the best preserved of these is in Bruges. In many towns of Flanders and Brabant these beguinages can still be admired. They are havens of peace, where spirituality still hangs in the air. The pious ladies worked on embroideries and on lace in their small houses around the enclosed garden of their beguinage. They rarely painted, but one type of their artisans’ work were the boxes called ‘Enclosed Gardens’ of which many have been preserved. These were wooden boxes, sometimes as large as one meter wide and high, about fifteen centimetres deep. The boxes were placed upright. Inside the boxes were placed small puppets of Mary and of saints, splendidly dressed in white lace and surrounded by dried flowers, miniature candle bearers, and so on. White was generally the overall colour. Usually at the lower end of the box one can see a small fence, thus hinting at the enclosed garden of the Song of Songs.

Martin Schongauer’s picture is a ‘Throning Madonna’ since two angels hold an enormous crown symbolically over Mary’s head. The painting is unconventional in various ways. The hair of the Madonna is flowing freely over her shoulders. This feature was reserved since old for Mary Magdalene; it was a sign of sensuality that was rarely associated with Mary. Jesus and Mary are looking in different directions, whereas Mary usually only has eyes for her son. Mary is painted as a melancholic young lady. She holds her head inclined; she smiles affably, secretly and contentedly. But Jesus already tries to escape from her. We mentioned that the colours of Mary’s robe are not conventional. Martin Schongauer must have been one of the first painters to emphasise the strong pyramidal composition, which is obtained by the red cloaks of Mary. Schongauer certainly was a highly skilled colourist and he knew very well how to paint with realism the smallest detail, as in the various tones of the folds of the red cloak of Mary.” https://www.theartofpainting.be/AOM-Rose_Garden.htm

Madonna in the Rose Garden

The second piece of art is an altar piece is the Isenheim Alterpiece. It was created by two germans Nikolaus of Haguenau and Matthias GrĂŒnewald in 1512–1516. This altar piece is massive, and it has different wings that could be unfolded to display different scenes based on the liturgical year. Unfortunately, the piece was damaged during the French Revolution and pieces were destroyed or stolen. There are paintings and the plans of the artists that capture what the entire thing looked like. Below is a quick movie of a mock up the musuem had to show you how the entire altar piece looked and worked.

Isenheim Alterpiece

That is the highlight of our weekend in Colmar. The food was outstanding. I had foi gras for the very first time. It was fantastic!!! Looking at the very last picture in the gallery below. We were never able to figure out if Colmar is the first city we have seen in Europe that celebrates Halloween, or if they just like vampire bats.

This week is going to be pretty slow. There is not much going on other than hair cuts, and Julie needs to go shopping for a business trip next week. It is going to be strange. Three days next week, we will be apart. We have not been separated at all for a year! I think Julie is happy to be done with me for a few days. I know I would be happy if I had to live with me!

I hope you enjoy the pictures. Talk to you again soon.



11 August 2021

8 days until we see our daughter

Well, we have about 36 hours left in our son’s visit. The two weeks have flown by. The first week we stayed close to home, and simply caught up. We have played a lot more this week. Part of that is because his girlfriend made her first trip to ever to Switzerland. We have enjoyed taking Gabby around to some of the beautiful places in the country. I will not have as many picture this week. Most of the pictures we took were of the kids, and they have asked us to not share them online; so I will respect their wishes. (My guess is that they have already put a bunch of them out there, but….. :). )

We started off by driving to Grindelwald. We spent one day up on The First, unfortunately the rains came in during the afternoon, so that was cut a little short. We had plans on going to the Glacier Canyon on Saturday night. We had been online and seen all the pictures taken at night; so we figured it was always open late. We missed the small print that it is only open late on Fridays. So we walked from our hotel to the canyon only to discover it was closed. We decided to adjust our itinerary for Sunday, and after going up the Jungfrau, we drove over to the canyon before heading back home. On the way back home they did get a small taste of mountain passes, as we took the fast way back.

The two took the train over to Bern earlier this week. We toured the Rhein Falls, and Schaffhausen. We even were treated to an unexpected concern at the Munot. (The Munot is the circular castle above the village. Unlike most castles in Switzerland. The Munot was built solely as a fortification. Most castles served a dual role as the primary residence for the ruler, as well as having a military application. ) Today they are exploring the wonders of ZĂŒrich, and then tomorrow, I believe, they are going to Luzern and Mt Pilatus. Today they also had to go to the airport and get their COVID test. The only people flying into the US right now are returning citizens, and some business travelers. However, they have to show a negative COVID test before flying.

Pop up concert at the Munot



Whoever schedules the rain in Switzerland, you have done a good job. We have only had one rain washout during the two week stay. I hope you keep on the job, because I need three weeks coming up for our daughter’s visit, and immediately following that; my parents are coming for a week.

My favorite local store is the Trek Bike shop near our house. I’ve put a 1000 miles on the trainer this summer. (The rain has wreaked havoc on doing anything outside.). I think riding the trainer is even harder on the bike than road miles. Part of that is the simple evaporation and blowing away of perspiration. When I am on the trainer even with a terry cloth covering, a good portion of the sweat lands on the bike. I had to replace bearings in the head tube and the crank. Primarily due to sweat induced rusting! Anyway, the owner of MoveOn Bikes is FANTASTIC. Incredibly friendly. Fast and meticulous work. AND even more importantly for Switzerland the pricing is incredibly affordable. I hope to buy a bike from him before we move home, but that might be a bit of a reach. Good bicycles are even more expensive here than back in the US.

Not a whole lot more to say about this week. I know Julie will be happy when Annual Filing Season is over. She is already looking forward to (hopefully) spending a couple of days near Naples when Kaylee is in town. I will be happy too. We will be able to go back a regular schedule. and not a schedule that changes from day to day.

Hope you enjoy the pictures below. I’ll write again next week.

5 August. 2021

14 more days until we see Kaylee

George came into town 5 days ago. It has been wonderful. We have had a pretty relaxing week. The weather has not been very good; so that has played a big part, but also this is his third or fourth trip here; so we have done a lot of of the close by touristy things. He is also saving some up for next week when his significant other (Gabby) is in town. We have only taken a couple of day trips.

Last Sunday we were wanting to get out of the rain; so we drove to Basel for lunch. Julie and I have wanted to visit; so it was a good escape. We found a really nice place for lunch on the Rhein. About 1/2 way through lunch George exclaims, “I’ve been here before!” He had never said anything to us about being in Basel; so we didn’t believe him. He searched through his photos, and sure enough found a picture that was taken probably 10 yards from where we were sitting. It turns out when he was studying in Milan, he took a long weekend to go see a friend living in Germany. For some reason those two decided to visit Basel for a meal as well!

Lunch view of Basel.

Tuesday we drove to Rapperswil. I wanted to show George the schloss. Once again I was foiled. The first time Julie and I went to Rapperswil everything was closed because of Covid. This time everything was just closed until later in the afternoon. We couldn’t stick around until it opened because we needed to get back and cook Julie’s dinner. Oh well, when Kaylee gets here I am hoping the third time is the charm! I did not take any pictures of Rapperswil because they all would have been duplicates.

Today we drove to St Gallen. St Gallen is home to the Abbey of Saint Gall. We have visited before, but it is very impressive. The Abbey was founded in 719 (that is pretty old!) It was one of the most important benedictine abbeys in all of Europe. One of the more striking pictures is the library. Unfortunately, they do not allow cameras (I also learned they do not allow umbrellas! I did get my umbrella back, though!). The library is home to one of the largest collections of medieval literature. It holds over 160,000 medieval manuscripts and books. I also get to visit in a couple of weeks. This is the one place Kaylee has said she wants to visit. After the Abbey we drove to an Appenzeller Cheese factory and museum. I learned more about Appenzeller cheese than I ever thought would be possible. According to the tour Appenzeller cheese is so special only two people know the recipe for the salt brine in which the cheese rests, and they take the name so seriously that the cheese is “genetically” fingerprinted so they can spot fakes.

Cathedral at St Gall

I did get a big compliment from George. He wanted to go to a “swiss” restaurant for dinner last night. He picked it out, but you could not make same day online reservations. So he “made” me call. After it was done, “I am impressed. I figured after the lady started talking back you would have to switch to English.” :). Of course all of that was ruined about an hour later, when Julie called and said she was going to be very late, so we had to change the time. I knew I could never complete that transaction completely in German. Let me rephrase that. I think I could do it face to face. But I still freak out a little when talking on the phone! The first words out of my mouth on my second call were: ” Es tut mir sehr leid. Mein Deutsch is sehr schlect. Sprechen sie English?” Oh well, my German is still a work in progress. I am getting better, and really try starting most conversations in German. The dinner was very good though, and I was able to show to my wife and son, that I can spot a painting that was made in 1956 instead of the 18th century pretty easily.

I say that last sentence, because the dining room last night was beautiful. It was obviously a very old building, and it looked like a lot of the wood work might have been original. We were discussing the painting, and Julie and I were informed that it has to be original asl well. It was certainly painted in that style, and utilized the same colors, but the artisit’s signature and date of 1956 kind of gave it away. Sometimes the old man still has good eyes. :).

Oh I almost forgot. Sunday was the Swiss version of July 4th. The day started at 7:00 AM with one of our neighbors setting off artillery simulators, or something very close. I was NOT a happy camper. The night ended though with a really nice fireworks show. We were able to 7 or 8 different communities setting off fireworks from our balcony!

Feuerwerk



It has been really nice having someone at the apartment this week. Julie has been in the middle of her busiest season. She leaves for work every morning a little after 7:00, and doesn’t get home until about 8:00. Long days for her. We are both looking forward to her filing season being over soon.

I am not sure how many pictures I will be able to take over the coming days. We are traveling back to Grindelwald and heading up the Jungfraujoch. I just don’t know how many pictures the “kids” will let us take. Enjoy the pictures, and I will talk to you next week!


8 Juli 2021

This post is really nothing but videos. I made three videos from our three favorite hikes from our week in Zermatt. Be advised, I do NOT spend a lot of time editing them for perfection. There will be a couple of hands across the lens moments!

Two of the videos I enhanced the speed. One is a video of us crossing the suspension bridge, and the other is the gondola ride up to the secondary peak of the Kleinmatterhorn (Small Matterhorn).

5 Lakes hike

This was the first hike we took. We took a funicular train and then a ski lift up to the Blauherd stop. This is about 3/4 of the way up the mountain, and then we hiked down to the Sunnegga stop. By the name you go around 5 different lakes on the mountain. Most of this hike was downhill. The uphill part is basically the last mile. However, we did the hike in reverse. If we did it the “right” way it is a mile downhill, and then about 5 miles uphill. I think we did it the smart way. The best part about doing the hike backwards is that with about 3/4 mile left to go, there is a restaurant. So we were able to stop and have a beer before finishing.

5 Lakes Hike

Kuonen HĂ€ngebrĂŒcke Hike

This was by far the most challenging of the hikes we made. It was another roughly 10 kilometer hike. What set this one apart from the others was the amount of elevation. The hike is published at 966 meters of elevation. However, this starts at the published trailhead. The trailhead is probably 100 meters (or more) above the town. So I have no qualms about calling this a 1000 meters of elevation. The trail was pretty good up, even nicer was the fact that there were benches periodically so we could sit, have some water, and rest. It was a relatively cool day, but you will see from the sweat on my shirt that you put forth an awful lot of effort going up the hill. Going down was not a whole lot better. The trail going down was not as wide and there were many places you were simply crossing rock slide areas. It was by far the most difficult of our hikes, but crossing the bridge was amazing. Until this year, the bridge was the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world. Julie has some issues with heights; so I was a little scared for her, but she was a trooper, and made it across with out many issues.

Long video Suspension Bridge Hike
Suspension Bridge Hike 10 X normal speed

Glacier Paradise Hike

The last hike we did was hiking down the mountain next to the Matterhorn. This was the same mountain I was skiing on when we were here in February of 2020. I have to say the hills are even more intimidating in the summer. The snow seemed to level things out a little. During the summer you see how steep and rocky the slopes really are. The video is not so much our hike as it is the ride up to the top of the Kleinmatterhorn (Small Matterhorn). You are in a small gondola for 3/4 of the way up the mountain, but then for the last part you get into a gondola that holds about 30 – 40 people (probably 50 during the ski season when they really smash you in there). It is a beautiful ride, and it takes about 35 minutes from the bottom to get to the top. That is not including the wait at the station where you have to change. The first video is right at 35 minutes long, but if you want to skip to the most scenic part skip to the last 10 minutes. The second video has been sped up to about 1 minute 45 seconds.

Long Gondola video
Gondola Video sped up 20X normal speed.

I hope you enjoyed the videos. If you would like to see more of our adventures, please add your email address to the text block below and click submit.

Thank you for reading my ramblings. I hope you have a great day.

5 Juli 2021

Julie and I have been back for a couple of days now. We have learned, for us, it is better to come back from a vacation on a Saturday. That way we are able to get to the grocery store, and make sure we can eat on Monday morning. If we wait until Sunday to return, we have to make extra trips to downtown Zurich to get to a grocery store, and since the only place open is the train station or airport the stores are swamped.

Leaving Zermatt was a bit of a headache. The Zermatt/Gornergrat Marathon was running in the morning; so we had to wait about 15 minutes to cross the street to the train station. Thank goodness we left the hotel early. For my runner friends, this one might interest you. It is basically 26 miles uphill. Zermatt is the 1/2 way point of the marathon so once you run through a town, you literally run the side of a mountain to the finish line. The race starts at 8:00 AM, and the course does not close until almost 4:00; so you have almost 8 hours to complete the race. They have cut off stations at three different points. If you do not make the cut off times, you are asked to stop running. We hiked a good portion of the course, and we were going downhill. I can not even fathom trying to run UP the course.

On Friday evening, we actually met someone new for the first time since we moved here. (Outside of work, that is.). I had put up a Tik Tok earlier in the week, and someone posted they were going to be in Zermatt for the weekend. On a whim I asked if she wanted to meet for drinks. I realized immediately how “stalkerish” that sounded, so I sent another message saying Julie would be there as well. Then I realized “Oh Great, she now thinks we are swingers.” I guess I did not come across as badly as I thought, because she sent me a message saying,”My husband and I would love to get together.” So I made a reservation at a Tapas restaurant where we could also watch the “Nati” (Swiss National Soccer Team) play. It turned out to be a great dinner. The four of us had a lot in common. They live just across the lake; so we already have another dinner planned in July! George and Kaylee think we are pretty strange for meeting someone off the internet. I was counseled by my children to be careful. I admit, it did go against everything I have ever talked to students about when we were discussing internet safety, but we had a wonderful evening.

We had some great hiking before we came home. On Thursday, we walked across the second longest pedestrian suspension bridge. It is the Charles Kuonen HĂ€ngebrĂŒcke (Suspension Bridge). The bridge was the longest in the world until this spring. The Kuonen bridge is 494 meters long. In Portugal, just about two months ago, a bridge opened that is over 500 meters. I have to tell you, though, when you are standing at one end looking across to the other it seems like it is much farther.

This was by far the most challenging hike we made. We started with a 20 minute train ride to the town of Randa. Then we hiked 1000 meters up, crossed the bridge, and hiked 1000 meters back down to the town. The downhill was not any easier than the uphill portion. The uphill portion had a pretty good trail, but it was UP!! The down hill side was over rockslides, and parts of the trail were literally going straight down the mountain. There were a couple of spots, we just sat down, and slid.

I think my favorite hike was Wednesday. We took the train to the top of Gornegratberg, where we found another bucket list item. There is a hotel right at the top, that we need to stay in for a weekend. Then we hiked down the mountain.

We found a great spot to have a fondue lunch. It was right above the lake, and we had a wonderful view of the Matterhorn.

fondue

We wound up staying here a lot later than we should have. We kept waiting for the clouds to completely clear the mountain, and for the wind to stop blowing. In the picture of the mountain, you can just see the edge of the lake what the reflection would look like if the wind were not blowing. Unfortunately, the wind never stopped; so we did not get the picture we really wanted. Oh well, I guess that means we have to go back.

Julie learned that mountain bikers are a little bit different on this hike. After we passed the stop at Riffelberg, the trail becomes about 18 inches wide. One side is the mountain wall, the other is basically wide open spaces. I mean you wouldn’t “Fall” but you would certainly tumble about 400 feet before you stopped. We had a few mountain bikes go by us, and Julie was sure we would find them crumpled and broken at the bottom of the climb.

Our last hike started with a gondola ride up to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise. We went up there in February, but we both wanted to visit again. There is year around skiiing here. Between Switzerland and Italy there are over 20 KM of ski trails that are open almost 365 days per year. It was pretty wild, watching all the skiers. We then took the gondola down to Scharzsee and hiked the rest of the way down the mountain.

Scharzsee Hotel

If you look really close in the picture you will see the moon shining behind the Matterhorn. The moon is light, but you can find it on the lower right side of the mountain. This hike was notable because of the big herd of sheep grazing on the mountain side.

black faced sheep

The best part of hiking in Switzerland is that every hike somehow had a bar very near the end. We were able to relax with a cold beer after every single hike! I cannot recommend that ending enough.

I am pretty sure I have said this before, but the mass produced beer is SO SO SO MUCH better than back in the US. Even better when you are hot sweaty and tired after hiking 5 or 6 miles. There are the specialty beers here as well, but honestly I do not taste much difference between the two countries. But the differences between Feldschlössen, Cardinal, Appenzeller to Budweiser, Miller and Coors are vast. I truly understand now why european beer drinkers think american beer tastes like water. Don’t even get me going on lite beers. They might exist here, but I am not really sure. I do not ever remember seeing any. :).

Well that is about all for this post. I will have one more this week. I took a lot of video, and I have some video of us crossing the bridge, and also of the gondola ride up to the Glacier Paradise. I also took the liberty of speeding them up. For example the gondola ride is 35 minutes long in real time. I sped it up to a minute and a half. It is quite the trip!

I hope you have a great week, and I will see you soon. If you like my blog please put your email address in the block below, and click subscribe. You will get email reminders when I post.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the pictures. There are a lot of them: