3 August 2022

Our latest excursion was to visit the city of Strasbourg. Strasbourg is located in the north east part of France. The city sits right on the border with Germany. The city has about 250,000 residents making it the eighth largest area in France. Strasbourg is one of the capitals of the European Union. The city is full of German as well as French culture.

Strasbourg was originally settled by the Celts. (Bonus points for someone that can tell me the country the Celtic tribes originally came from.) The current city was settled permanently about 12 BC. For about 1000 years Strasbourg was ruled by the Catholic Church. Around 1260 the citizens threw out the Bishop and became a free city/state. It remained free until 1681 when Louis XIV took control. Louis only maintained control for about 10 years when the Germans took over 1871. It remained a German city until the end of World War I. The city again changed hands after it was annexed by the German Government before WWII. The French took over again in 1944.

Another quirk that I found interesting, is that Strasbourg has a very good mix of protestant as well as catholic churches. This is fairly uncommon for larger cities. Usually there is a dominance by either catholic or protestant churches. I think part of the reason is that once the city threw out the catholic bishops in order to maintain commerce the city learned to welcome all different religions. One thing that Louis XIV did to try and keep order after his takeover was to build a church that housed both catholic and protestant congregations. The church stayed that way for many years until the congregations grew to large to share the building. However, they did something very interesting. The catholic and protestant groups went in together and built a new wing to the church. Once that was completed there was a protestant wing and a catholic wing. I find that story refreshing because that peace did not exist often.

If you look closely you can see the different building techniques in this picture. The original catholic church is the light brick in the center. The protestant section is the pink on the right. The red sandstone is a different story. During one of the German occupations they wanted to modernize the city; so they tore down the front 1/3 of the church and rebuilt it in the local red sandstone. If you look in the lower left hand corner of the picture, you will see a different style paving stone. When the French took control again, they wanted to give the finger to the Germans (because the modernization did not take place); so they used a different paving stone to commemorate the part of the church the Germans tore down. 🙂 It seems this one church is able to demonstrate centuries of conflict!

The city is also home to a magnificent cathedral. The Cathedral Notre-Dame de Strasbourg was started in 1015. Building stopped sometime around 1100, but began again in 1190. Building was not completed until 1439! Think about that over 400 years to build ONE BUILDING! It is a masterpiece, however. It stands 466 feet tall. It held the record as the Tallest Building in the WORLD for 227 years!!! It is still the 6th tallest church in the world, and is the highest standing structure that was built in the middle ages. Another tidbit I learned is that there are many Notre-Dame Cathedrals in France. Notre Dame translates roughly as “Our Lady.” So the english name of the the cathedral would be The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. Like many structures in France and Germany, the church was severely damaged in WW II and the restoration of the tower was not completed until 2006. The spire on the church is very unique. It is in the shape of an octagon, and it is open so that you can actually see the bells. I think my favorite view of the church is the picture below.

This picture really does a good job of showing how much open space there is in the tower.

I learned one other tidbit about construction that I will share here. The style below is very common in this part of Europe. I learned that this style of home (especially the smaller ones) were actually mobile homes. Each of the wood beams was numbered and they would be transported when the owner moved to a new city. The open parts between the beams would be filled in with whatever was available locally. It might have been stone, grass, dung, clay, or even simply mud.

In the original homes the area underneath the house was left open. It was not until much later that the ground floor actually had walls.

So that was our visit to Strasbourg. We had a wonderful time walking around the city. The only downfall was that Julie wanted to stay until Monday so that she could take advantage of cheaper prices in France and do some shopping. Monday was a holiday in Switzerland so Julie did not have to work. Since almost every store is closed on Sunday it made perfect sense to stay a little longer Monday. Julie’s plans were thwarted however. I estimate that somewhere around 40% of the stores were also closed on Monday. Not so much the chain or big stores, but a lot of the small shops were closed. Unfortunately, these were also the stores we did our window shopping on Sunday. Oh well, I guess that means we have to go back sometime soon. I am fine with that, there is a lot more to discover.

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22 Juni 2022

It is kind of hard for me to describe how anxious I have been for our visit to Greece. Greece was always in the top of places we wanted to visit. We started to make plans for two years ago, but Covid got in the way. This has worked out really well, because June is one of Julie’s “slow” months. This means she still works a lot, but not as many hours as she will next month because it is one of the months she has a major filing for the company. This holiday is really two parts. We spent a few days in Athens (for me), and as I write this we are on the island of Santorini (for Julie). Don’t get me wrong. Julie enjoyed the history in Athens every bit as much as I, and I am enjoying the black sands on the Aegean Sea as much as her!

We got to Athens Saturday afternoon, and arrived at our hotel about 4:00 PM.

The view from our hotel balcony

I knew I picked a good hotel because the Acropolis was only a couple of hundred yards off our balcony! We were right in the old part of the city. A block away from the hotel was Hadrian’s Gate, the Temple of Zeus, and other ancient ruins. I was in ancient history heaven! After unpacking a little, we went for a stroll just to get our bearings and to try and find a good place for dinner. One thing we learned is that we both really like Greek food. I am more partial to lamb, and Julie, chicken, but we both really like gyros and souvlaki.

We started our Sunday morning with a visit to the National Archeology Musuem, and even caught the changing of the guard at the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was a great start to a fantastic day! I have a video of the changing of the guard, that I will share next week after I am home and have a computer with me to do the video processing!

Changing of the guard parade

About a year ago, we were in Pompeii with Kaylee. We learned at the time that finding a good guide is essential to really get the most out of touring ancient sights. We found a great one in Athens as well. Calliope (Kelly) was fantastic. If you ever find yourself wanting a guide for Greece drop me a line, and I will get you her number. (Side note: Becoming a licensed guide in Greece is really hard. Kelly has an undergraduate degree in Greek History, and then she had to study for an other three years including an internship before she could be licensed.). I will never be able to do the tour justice, but Kelly took us on a “circle of life” tour of ancient Greece. We were fascinated to learn the myths of creation. (It is eerily similar to a story christians and jews learned from Genesis.). Next we learned about how Athens came to be called Athens.

The story is that Athena and Poseidon were both vying for the citizen’s hearts. They both gave gifts to the citizens. Athena gave the olive tree. Poseidon gave the sea. The myth is they gave their gifts on the same hilltop (eventually the Acropolis). Athena gave an undying Olive Tree, and about 15 yards away from that. Poseidon threw his trident at the ground, and opened up a passage from the hilltop all the way to the sea a few kilometers away. According to Kelly this is one of the way that Greek Myths grew. There is a hint of truth to the myth. There was an Olive Tree that was all by itself on the top of the hill, and a few yards away there actually is a natural well from the very top of the hill that really does lead to the sea. The olive tree was destroyed during one of the final battles at the Acropolis, but the tree was planted in the same spot is still hundreds of years old.

Of course the citizens enjoyed Athena’s gift more than Poseidon’s so she won the battle, and the hearts of Athen’s citizens forever. The Acropolis was built as a holy site to honor many Gods, but the shining achievement was the Parthenon that was built to honor Athena. Another side note to Christianity. Athena is also a Triune God. Just like in Christianity there is God, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Athena is the God of Wisdom and Knowledge (she created the ship, chariot, and plow). She is also the God of VIctory in Athena Nike. Finally she is the God of the Arts; she created weaving and ceramics.

We ended our history tour in the Agora. This is the pretty much the birthplace of Democracy. The Agora was the central hub for all political activity in Athens. This was the area for public discourse as well as where the leaders met and made decisions. One interesting tidbit, is that the Ancient Greeks did not believe in elections for their leaders. They thought that type of election was actually anti-democratic, because the same popular people would win over and over again. Instead the city’s leaders served (I thought Kelly said two year) terms that were decided by random chance. Every citizen able to vote (Landowners or wealthy men of legal age) had their names put in a machine. This machine used colored balls and if the ball landed in your name you served in that position. They thought this was more democratic, because it gave every citizen the same opportunity to lead. Seems like a crazy idea to me, but it was successful for a few hundred years, so who am I to question. 🙂

After our tour we were pretty exhausted. Julie’s iwatch said we walked about 24000 steps. The last part of our tour was trying some original greek food. We tried some Koulori first. This is a greek pretzel. It is a ring made from bread and covered in olive oil and sesame seeds. YUMMM! Little known fact. The average person in Greece consumes over 21 liters of olive oil every year. That is over 5 gallons!!! We then stopped for some Galaktoboureko. This is pastry that is made with custard or with a cheese filling. Again another two thumbs up from us! Kelly would have kept us well fed for the rest of the evening, but we already had dinner reservations so we had to say goodbye.

We spent our last day in Athens touring some more of the ancient sites, and ended with some shopping. I actually shocked the heck out of Julie, because I bought some summer shirts made in Greece. I figured it gets hot in Zürich too, so I might as well have something made by people that really understand hot weather! I may not be that stylish when we get back to the US by US standards, but I will be rocking my new shirts. One of the other highlights was visiting the Acropolis Museum. This is a relatively new place. It only opened about five years ago. There are two things that I found fascinating. The first was the top floor of the building is a “re creation” of the Parthenon. The floor is the exact size of the Parthenon, and it has the columns etc. The museum used what was left of the original statues and carvings and these circle around the floor just like they did 1000’s of years ago on the original building. The only thing this floor is missing is a re creation of the Athena statue that was in the original building. That would have been really good. The second thing that amazed me is that the entire building is on stilts. There is an archeological site under the museum and they kept it as intact as possible when they built the museum. When you see the gallery pictures that talk about “House E” and show what they think the house looked like these are pictures of this site.

Yesterday we flew to Santorini, and it is a wonderful place. I will have more to say about Santorini, but for now. The water is fabulous. It is incredibly clear and the perfect temperature for swimming.

Video I made swimming in the Aegean Sea

As usual I have more pictures than I can possibly put up; so you will get some pictures now, and more over the next week or so. If you enjoyed this, please subscribe below.

16 Juni 2022

“What, Drawn and talk of peace?”

This is a line from a play that every college bound kid in high school has had to read for probably the last 100 years. The line comes from Romeo and Juliette. This play was centered in Verona, Italy. My kids have insisted the play is not based on a true story, but I am not so sure. We actually saw the balcony on Juliette’s house where she and Romeo had the famous scene.

Balcony at “Juliette’s House”

We even stumbled across Romeo’s house. It just has to be true. 🙂 Surely, no one would be so crass and commercial as to try and make a Euro off of such a tragic story. We took a one day detour from Milan to visit Verona, and it is a captivating city.

We started our day in the center of the city next to an amphitheater. The amphitheater was actually built about 50 years before the Colosseum in Rome. Though this place has obviously been cared for a lot better, because it is still in use today!

It is not as big, but then again Verona is not nearly as large as Rome. Unfortunately, we did not have time to go on a tour of the amphitheater, but that is just a reason to go back!

We walked over to the Castle San Pietro, which sits on top of a hill just outside the city proper. We thought this a great place to get an overview of the city, and we had a fabulous lunch! Early afternoon we toured the Botanical Gardens, and toured some of the churches before heading back to Milan for the night. Julie and I decided we needed a break about 6:00 pm so we stopped off at the Hard Rock Cafe for some nachos and drinks while George toured one last museum. We walked about 9 miles during the day and it was really hot, but we had great time.

Verona is the second largest city in Northern Italy. The city proper has about 250,000 residents, but when you take into account the entire metropolitan area the population jumps up to almost 800,000. One interesting thing I learned is that Bern is German for Verona. No one know for sure when Verona was settled, but it became under Roman control about 300BC and in the year 49 BC Verona was granted Municipium status. This was a BIG deal back in those days, because it meant the citizens of the city had FULL Roman citizenship as well. For the next 1800 years Verona seemed to be the prize in all of the conflicts in Northern Italy. It makes a lot of sense. Verona is a nice kicking off point for the alps.

Italy still has some of the Covid protocols in place. Not many, but you do have to wear your mask on all public transportation, and in many of the tourist attractions there were signs posted asking people to wear masks. You could tell the temperatures were climbing during the day just based on mask compliance. In the morning when it was cooler mask compliance was over 90%. However, during the day as it got warmer and warmer you could see the number of people wearing masks dropping and dropping. In the morning, the train conductor forced one woman to put on the right mask, but on the train ride home, the staff just completely ignored the 40% that were either not wearing one at all, or were wearing a mask down at their chin. I think the whole world is becoming tired of Covid.

I have learned that living across an ocean from your kids has made Julie and I old softies. We have a hard time saying no to anything our kids ask of us any more. This was a little thing, but…. I am pretty sure I told you before that George spent a semester “studying” in Milan. He talked over and over about how a couple of times each week he would just head over to the Duomo and go up to the roof where he would sit and read, or just contemplate life. Julie and I went to mass in the Duomo when we visited three years ago. We took the whole tour, and even went up on the roof, but because our son asked we found ourselves heading back up again Sunday morning before we came back home.

I have to admit the Duomo is on one hand the most ugly church in the entire world, but on the other hand it is absolutely beautiful. The outside, at least to me, is simply gaudy. There are way to many spires and steeples. All of which are ornately carved and adorned with statues. There is not one side of the building that is serene and church like. Again in MY OPINION. However, on the inside, it is as beautiful as any of the old cathedrals we have ever visited. The stained glass windows are incredible, and the other artwork is magnificent.

Heading back home we got one last ride on the trams of Milan. Somehow, we missed the trams on our first trip. We took the subway everywhere, but our son told us that the tram system was much easier to navigate, and required a lot less walking than using the subway. The trams reminded me a lot of the trams I had seen in San Francisco. The similarities struck me so much, that I started looking into it, and it turns out there is a reason for the similarity.

“In 1984, one Milan tram (No, 1834) came to San Francisco for the summer Trolley Festivals that led to construction of the F-line. It proved so reliable that Muni obtained ten more in 1998 to meet the huge F-line rider demand.”

It turns out, though, that Milan brought the trains over from the US in the beginning. Milan and San Francisco, though are about the only two cities that still run these really old Peter Witt trams.

inside one of the Milano Trams

George had to leave for the US yesterday. As usual the flights were all messed up. This time it was not the fault of United! There was a hardware malfunction in the Swiss Air Defense System early Wednesday morning. So all air traffic was stopped in Swiss air space for about four hours. This of course wreaked HAVOC on flights the rest of the day. He wound up only leaving 90 minutes late, but when you only have a 2 hour layover and have to clear customs it might as well have been 6 hours! George called me as I was writing this, and told me he did actually get in about midnight so it could have been a lot worse. He did laugh, because once he got through customs he had about 15 minutes to “make” the flight. Of course it was on the other side of the airport. He went to a United attendent, and they told him “They are holding the plane for you. Run and you will be fine.” So of course he believed the attendant, so he ran through the airport got to the gate, and the plane had left. What REALLY ticked him off, though, was the plane was scheduled to depart at 5:05. He got to the gate just before 5:00, but they had already closed the doors, and pushed away from the terminal. Oh well, United was pretty good about getting him on the next flight; so it worked out pretty well.

I am not sure I will get the chance to post next week. We leave Saturday morning for a week in Greece. If I can tear myself away from relaxing I will try and make one post next week, but if the Ouzo is flowing well please ignore more typos and grammatical errors than normal.

I hope you enjoy the last of the pictures from Milan and Verona.