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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29 Juli 2022

This week is coming to a close quickly. We said goodbye to our guests. I think my sister and nephew had a good time visiting. I believe one of their favorite activities was swimming in die Zürichsee. Almost every town along the lake front has a public bath. Many of these have beaches to go along with the swimming areas. Our favorite so far has been the bath in Kilchberg. They have a very large grass area where you can pack in hundreds of people and not feel that crowded. The swimming area has multiple docks so you can get in and out of the lake without walking on the rocks. They have floated a couple of resting areas out in the water and they even have multiple diving boards. It was easy to tell that this has been the warmest summer since moving here. The lake is normally a little chilly, but this year it was almost warm. Still refreshing, but honestly on 90 degree days, I would prefer a little cooler water.

The other big lesson is that I never realized how much nicer it is to sleep with air conditioning. I broke down on our last anniversary and bought Julie one of those portable room air conditioners. It does a pretty good job of keeping the bedroom cool during this heat wave. Unfortunately, this past week for two nights I was being a good husband and slept on the sofa rather than in the bedroom. One night I had a conference call that started at 3 AM our time, and yesterday I had to wake at 4:30 so I could start my first Century Ride since college. Julie works hard enough, so I did not want to disrupt her sleep by waking her up hours before she needed to rise.

In other news this week I sent in my registration for my courses this fall. I signed up for one class through the Business School called “IT for Managers.” The second class is offered through the IU Law School it is titled “Information Privacy.” I think they will be pretty interesting. The classes start on 22 August; so I still have a couple of weeks left on break. One thing that will be interesting is that I have a “zoom orientation” next week. It is scheduled to be about 8 hours long. The time zone difference is in my favor, though. It starts about 3 pm so I do not have to worry about being up in the middle of the night!

I went out for a couple of long rides with week. On Tuesday, I joined a friend in a ride around the lake. This is about a 70 km ride. I have a lot of respect for my riding partner. He has an e bike, but he only uses the electric assist after he stops. I am impressed because I let him set the pace, and he hums along at about 24 – 25 kmh. His bike must weigh 50 pounds. I think I would have a hard time pedaling it, let alone cruising along at a pretty decent speed. He really kicks my butt on the hills, but I know he is using the electronic assist for that. 🙂 My second long ride started in the town of Baden, CH. I met another friend, and we rode from Baden to Belfort, France. This was a really fun ride because we went through Germany as well. The total distance for this ride was 172 KM. As I said in the first paragraph. I had not ridden that far since college. My time was a lot slower now, but not am I 30 + years older, I am carrying a lot more excess baggage now! Anyway, it was a good ride, and my riding buddy is going to do a couple of mountain passes with me over the next couple of weeks so I am ready for my big ride in September!

100 miles in 14 minutes

We had talked about going another 50 KM but the temperatures got up into the 90’s and France (unlike Switzerland) does not have the plethora of water spigots every few miles and we wound up a little dehydrated. Well, that, and when we got to Belfort we checked the train schedule and there was a train leaving in 15 minutes. We decided that the Gods were trying to tell us something. So we bought tickets and headed back. One of the most interesting things about the area, at least to me, were the raised canals over other bodies of water in France.

Canal over a river in France

My riding partner was explaining to me that a very popular summer activity is to rent a houseboat and cruise the canal we rode by. I have done a couple of houseboat vacations on lakes in the US. Honestly, they were not my favorite vacation, but I could see the appeal to others. However, I saw no redeeming things at all to do this on the french canals. For one reason, the canals were foul. You would not even think about swimming in the water, and that is at least 1/2 the fun of a boat vacation. The second reason I would never want do this are the locks. There are some pretty good elevation changes in this part of France, so there are many locks. In some places the locks are only separated by a couple of hundred meters. These locks have been in place so long, that many of them are still manually operated. The amount of work required to go 10 miles on the canal would be significant. This is certainly not my idea of a fun vacation. Drive the boat, tie it up, activate the lock, untie the boat, drive 200 meters and repeat the process. Some of the locks are big enough to handle two or three boats at the same time. However, many of the locks are big enough for only one. I mean we go on vacation to leave the rat race and traffic jams. Not experience them on the water!

Monday is one of the few Holidays that Julie actually gets to take off this year. It is Swiss National Day. This is similar to the 4th of July in the US. The biggest difference is that it celebrates the unification of the country, not independence from a foreign power. To show you how slow things tend to move in Switzerland. The day was first celebrated officially in 1891. That sounds like a long time, right? Well the signing of the federal charter that is celebrated happened in 1291! To demonstrate even more how slow the Swiss Govt can move. The day did not become a National Holiday until 1994. It seems so strange that the celebration of the founding of the country did not become a national holiday for over 700 years!!!!!! The holiday will be celebrated a little differently I think. Usually the weekend is full of fireworks both town wide and household. This year, though, due to lack of rain most of the fireworks displays have been cancelled, and in some areas setting of fireworks is illegal. We are going to celebrate by driving to Strasbourg, France and exploring a new town.

Last note for this week: WE GET TO SEE THE PACKERS PLAY IN OCTOBER! The Packers are one of the last teams to play a game outside the US. This year they are coming to London, and I got tickets today! Hey, Matt Moore! If your season tickets cover this game, come on over, and we will have a party in London! This should be a good time. I am hoping some friends coming over this month from Wisconsin, are going to be able to bring us some cheesehead hats. Though I do not know what the good people of London will think about us wearing the hats on the tube while we are traveling to the game. Just wearing green and gold, they might think we are some crazed soccer fans, but the foam cheese head hats might be a little extreme!

I hope you all have a great weekend. Talk to you next week. Enjoy the pictures. I do not have many this week, but hopefully will have some good ones from Strasbourg.

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.