June 27, 2017

Musings on European Rail Travel

There are many ways to travel around Europe.  One of my favorites is using the train!  Train travel evokes mythical and magical feelings in me.  Train trips always seem so exciting, serene and romantic but why?

I suppose it has to do with the fact that there isn’t much opportunity to travel by train in California.  Yes I have been on the Amtrak train from Orange County to Los Angeles (yup that was a long trip) but somehow Amtrak just doesn’t seem to compare with trains in Europe.

This infatuation could be due to all the movies and books portraying train travel as adventurous, daring and romantic.  Doesn’t everyone find love on a train?  Spies abound on trains, right?  What about those long lustful goodbyes on the platform?  Or even chasing the train to have one last glimpse. . .

European Rail Travel

by Wootang01, on Flickr

No matter where it comes from, I relish the opportunity to travel by train in Europe!

So I am very excited to be traveling this summer solely by train.  In preparation I have been thinking about past train travel and the tips I have learned along the way.

The first tip is to PACK LIGHT! I learned this lesson the hard way on my first trip to Europe way back in 1981.  For a 3 week solo trip I had one LARGE suitcase, 1 hanging garment bag, 1 overnight case and a large bag/purse plus the bags of souvenirs I collected along the way.  I swear my arms are longer today because of this trip!  The thing I didn’t know about train travel is there are a lot of walking and stairs involved.  Stairs that go down under the track, stairs that go back up to the platform and then more stairs to get on the train.  Ugh, I’m tired just remembering this.  Some of the newer trains are actually at platform level so that makes it a little easier but there is still quite a bit of walking and stairs.  So PACK LIGHT!

The last time I traveled solely by train was in Switzerland and for this trip I had a rail pass.  The pass made it extremely easy because I didn’t have to arrive early to purchase tickets so I just got on what ever train I wanted.    Just as a train ticket, the pass doesn’t guarantee me a seat.  If you want a guaranteed seat, then you need to purchase a reservation.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

The pass I had allowed me first class seats but I could sit in 2nd class if I wanted, however, it doesn’t work the other way around!  Also some trains require seat reservations so make sure to check this if you are traveling with a rail pass.

This summer’s trip is pricing out quite a bit less if I buy point-to-point tickets so that is probably what I am going to do.  The one thing I haven’t decided is if I will purchase some ticket prior to departing the US.  Any suggestions?

There is a price difference between 1st class seats and 2nd class seats and sometimes this difference can be quite a lot.  The differences between the classes are pretty much the same as in airplanes – roomier seats, more comfortable seats etc. It is my experience that if you want to travel with locals then travel in 2nd class.  One note to mention, 2nd class can be very full during rush hours so a seat may not be found.

European Rail Travel

by Hunter-Desportes, on Flickr

My last tip is to arrive early at the station so that you have time to find the platform your train will be departing from.  I hate rushing around at the station at the last minute.

Here are a couple websites I find useful for looking up train schedules and even pricing.

Deutsche Bahn (Germany)

Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB) (Austria)

 

What train experiences have you had?  Any tips you’d like to share?

Fabulous Friday – European Tidbits

Europe is a fun and fascinating place and on the Fabulous Friday I thought I’d share some fun and interesting facts about the European Continent!

Dune Pilat Southwest France

Dune Pilat by Cehagenmerak

  • Europe is the 2nd smallest continent yet is the 3rd most populated
  • There are no deserts on the continent of Europe
  • In 1989, Hungary became the first communist-block country to open its borders with Western Europe
  • At one time, 80%-90% of Europe was covered in forests.  Today it is about 3%
  • Paris is Europe’s largest city
  • Dune du Pilat is the largest sand dune in Europe.  It is 100 meter high, 500 meters wide and stretches 3 kilometers along the Southwest coast of France
  • Due to the movement in the sand of the Dune du Pilat, France is moving inland 7 meters each year
  • The little blue cartoon creatures known as Smurfs are Belgian, created by Peyo
  • There are palm trees in Switzerland
  • Europe is home to the worlds smallest country – Vatican City – and home to the largest country – Russia
  • The natural boundary between Europe and Asia is the Ural mountains
  • Ireland consumes the most beer per person with Germany coming in second

    Ural Mountains

    Ural Mountains by Hardscarf

 

What other interesting tidbits about Europe do you have to share?

Rhine Falls – Europe’s Biggest

Waterfalls are spectacular sights no matter how big they are.  There is something to be said about water cascading and frothing down a mountainside or around rocks.  Simply beautiful!

Today’s pictures were taken many, many, many, many years ago.  I won’t tell you exactly how many but it was at the end of my honeymoon.  On our way back into Germany we stopped by Europe’s largest waterfall, the Rhine Falls.Rhine Falls Switzerland2

Now I know they aren’t as massive as Niagara or Iguazu Falls but they really are very pretty and impressive.

The Rhine Falls are at the Upper Rhine near Schaffhausen Switzerland and are actually a series of 3 falls, Zurcher, Schaffhauser and Muhle Falls.  The 15,000 year old falls have approximately 750,000 liters of water powering over them every second.  That’s a lot of water!  Viewing the falls can be done by platforms located on either side or by boat.Rhine Falls Switzerland

I remember feeling the thunder and hearing the thumping of the falls as well as mist on my face as I viewed the falls cascading all around me.  Simply beautiful!Rhine Falls Switzerland3

So if you’re in the area, I can recommend you stop by.  .  .

What are your favorite European waterfalls???

 

For more great pictures, make sure to look into Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Every Thursday they post new photos from their travels and invite others to join in!

Maybe I’ll see you there.

Unique & Traditional Appenzellerland

Appenzellerland may not be a region of Switzerland you’ve heard of, but if you want to step back in time then it is one you should visit!

Tradition and nature are kings here in northeast Switzerland.  If you crave placid lakes, charming rolling hills, amazing scenery, quaint villages full of lovely decorated houses and friendly people, welcome to Appenzellerland.

Appenzellerland, Switzerland by sharon.schneider, on Flickr

Appenzellerland, Switzerland by sharon.schneider, on Flickr

This farming area is full of velvety green meadows and cows.  If you time it right, you could witness the trek of cows to higher pastures in May/June or back to the valley during August/September.  Due to all the cows, cheese lovers will be in cheese heaven.

Moving the cows Appenzellerland Switzerland

Moving the cows Appenzellerland Switzerland

Appenzellerland is the most Swiss region of all and this tradition extends to crafts and festivals.  Alp-Stobede is a great event full of Appenzell string music, dancing and yodeling.  Oh yes, you will also see many people in traditional dress.

Appenzellerland Switzerland

Foggy view Appenzellerland by puyol5, on Flickr

The outdoor activities really don’t stop.  If you like to hike, bike, ski, snowshoe, paraglide and more you can experience it all here amongst the beautiful mountains and hillsides.  There are over 750 miles of marked paths that criss-cross the countryside and climb to the mountain tops.  If you prefer to reach the mountain tops by one of the cable cars that’s possible too!  Just sit back and be amazed at the scenery unfolding!

Appenzellerland by vince42, on Flickr

Appenzellerland by vince42, on Flickr

Earlier I mentioned that Appenzellerland is the most Swiss region in Switzerland and tradition is very important here.  One of these traditions is called Landsgemeinde and it is completely unique to Appenzellerland.   In the US we express our right to vote by casting our secret ballot at local polling places but in Appenzellerland it is done a little differently.  Here on the last Sunday of April, Appenzellerlander’s meet in Appenzell to vote.  The tradition of Landsgemeinde dates back to the middle ages and is the way the people of this region determine public policy by a show of hands.  They all meet in the town square and vote by raising their hands!  Can you imagine this happening in the US?

Landsgemeinde in Appenzeller by Nicklaarakkers

Landsgemeinde in Appenzeller by Nicklaarakkers

While all of Appenzellerland sounds intriguing to me, I would most like to witness Landsgemeinde!

 

What would be the reason you would visit Appenzellerland?

Scenery, outdoor activities or local tradition?  Tell me about it. . .

Burgundy France – Land of Plenty

Burgundy is known for its wine and food but there is much more to Burgundy which makes it a great place to explore.  The never-ending list of “must see and do” includes unknown landscapes, cobble stoned streets in medieval villages, rivers and canals, art, history, Chateaux and, of course, the wine.

Semur en Auxois  Burgundy  France by OliverMartin, on Flickr

Semur en Auxois Burgundy France by OliverMartin, on Flickr

What is it that makes this region of France so attractive?  Here are 6 reasons:

Wine

Set between the rolling hills are the magnificent vineyards of Burgundy.  This region produces some of the best wines in the world mostly of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.  Principally divided into 5 wine regions:  Chablis is the most northern and produces dry white wines with a fruitiness to them;  Cote de Nuits is mostly known for it’s outstanding reds and is home to the oldest vines;  Cote de Beaune has both red and white wines but it is the white Chardonnay that reigns here; Cote Chalonnaise is a small region producing both red and white wines that are known for their affordability; Maconnais is a region known for its white wines from the Chardonnay grapes.  Learn while tasting the wines produced here either at cellars or vineyards or both!

Burgundy, France by Megan Mallen, on Flickr

Burgundy, France by Megan Mallen, on Flickr

Culinary Delights

Food might not be the correct term to describe the culinary reputation of Burgundy.  Gastronomy is a better description as this region is known world wide for the exquisite foods that you will encounter.  Whether you enjoy picnics or grand meals with white table clothes, you will find it in Burgundy.  Fresh fruit and vegetables can be purchased at local markets, fish stew, Bresse chicken, local cheeses, Beef Burgundy, Coq au Vin, or even Escargots can be found here.  One can not forget about the mustard with the same name as the largest city in the region, Dijon.  Make sure to bring some home!

Medieval Villages

Burgundy is full of villages that can be labeled “most beautiful villages in France”. Whether you are looking for fortified towns, half-timbered houses, turreted towers offering a fairytale feel, medieval fortresses, arches or cobble stoned streets, it is all here in Burgundy.  Take a walk in villages with names like Semur-en-Auzois, Montreal, Flavigny-sur-Ozerain and Brancion.

Vezelay in Burgundy France from afar by Fred Hsu, on Flickr

Vezelay from afar by Fred Hsu, on Flickr

Rivers ,Canals  and other outdoor activities

The lakes, rivers and canals of Burgundy are part of what sets this terrain apart and enables the soil to produce the wonderful grapes.  You can enjoy the countryside from a canoe, barge or river cruise.  You won’t be disappointed as you float pass hilltop villages or castles.  The Marvan Forest is a nature lover’s paradise full of birds, wild boar, and deer.

History

The history of this region is vast and varied.  Burgundy is a center of prehistoric art and has some of the oldest cave paintings in the world.  You can visit caves with chambers and subterranean lakes, ancient shrines and sites of worship during Celtic times.  The Romans share a history here and you will find many Roman ruins.  While in region make sure to save some time to visit the museums illuminating this amazing wealth of history!

Chateaux

Everyone loves Chateaux!  The chateaux of Burgundy delight those interested in decorative arts, interior design, gardens, history, architecture and military history.  The landscape  is dotted with chateaux containing the history of the region.  Usually set in park like settings, chateaux contain collections of grand paintings, sculptures and art. Many even come complete with intact towers, ramparts, turrets and moats.

Le Château de La Rochepot by John Picken, on Flickr

Le Château de La Rochepot by John Picken, on Flickr

Hopefully this brief description of Burgundy has whetted your appetite to learn more.  This is the first in a line of blogs I will post on all that Burgundy holds for its visitors.  Hopefully you’ll join me as we journey through this amazing region and discover all it has to offer!

 

 

Have you been to Burgundy?

What was the highlight?

Rocamadour ~ A Miraculous Village

One of the reasons I am enjoying participating in Travel Photo Thursday is it gives me an opportunity to relive some past trips!

This week I am sharing with you the beautiful pilgrimage site of Rocamadour.Rocamadour France in the Dordogne

East of Bordeaux in the Dordogne region of France sits the pilgrimage site of Rocamadour.  Clinging to the side of a cliff, Rocamadour has been important to pilgrims traveling the Santiago de Campostela route for 1,000 years.

Among the religious elements on the cliff are the Chapelle Notre Dame, which houses the miraculous Black Madonna, a Basilica, Saint-Michel Chapel and Bishops Palace.

There are stairs or an elevator leading to the sanctuaries on the cliff from the top or bottom.

The Medieval village below contains some impressive houses and is worthy of a stop.Medieval Village Rocamadour France Dordogne

Whether you visit Rocamadour for the religious relics or just for the beautiful vista, you won’t be disappointed!

 

For more great pictures, make sure to look into Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Every Thursday they post new photos from their travels and invite others to join in!

Maybe I’ll see you there.

 

Bamberg plus Beer equals Dilemma

I have a dilemma and I am hoping someone will be able to help me out!

August 21 I land in Frankfurt Germany and head by train to Bamberg where I will spend the next 2 days visiting this picturesque Bavarian city on the Regnitz River.

Old Town Bamberg Bavaria Germany

Old Town from Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH

Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage City that is full of medieval churches, half-timbered houses, Baroque architecture and frescoed buildings.  The quaint, cobbled streets are bursting with outdoor cafes, bridges, shops and charming houses along the Regnitz River.

View of Bamberg Bavaria Germany

View of Bamberg from Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH

The vast cultural, architectural, religious and ancient history Bamberg has can be found within its well-preserved boundaries.

Little Venice Bamberg Bavaria Germany

Little Venice from Bayern Tourismus Marketing GmbH

But that is not all Bamberg is known for.

Beer aficionados will know Bamberg not for the aforementioned beauties but for the 9 breweries that call this village home.  According to the Bamberg tourist office these 9 breweries produce more than 50 types of beer!

This brewing tradition goes back 1,000 years and produces beers ranging from lagers, wheat, Gold Pils to the Rauchbier (a smoked beer).  These breweries have seriously been around a very long time.  Schlenkerla was first mentioned in 1405, Fassla was founded in 1649 and Klosterbrau has been brewing beer since 1533.  And that’s only 3 of them!

Rauchbier Spezial  Bamberg, Germany by Ethan Prater, on Flickr

Rauchbier Spezial Bamberg, Germany by Ethan Prater, on Flickr

So what’s a girl supposed to do with only 2 days, 9 breweries and 50 types of beer?

How do I choose which ones to visit?   I’m hoping you can help but first here is a listing and brief description of the breweries in Bamberg:

  • Ambrausianum is the newest and smallest brewery in Bamberg.  It is a modern brew pub complete with copper brew kettles.

    Dominikanerstraße Bamberg Germany by barockschloss, on Flickr

    Dominikanerstraße Bamberg by barockschloss, on Flickr

  • Brauerei Fassla dates back to 1649 and is a family run brewery with a lively atmosphere.  Reminiscent of an older typical brewery, the large entrance doors are still there making delivery by horse and cart possible.
  • Brauerei Greifenklau is a small brewery that was established in 1719 by Count von Greiffenclau.  Today it is a lovely old tavern with a shady beer garden that has been owned by the same family since 1914.
  • Kaiserdom is the largest brewery in Bamberg.  The Wohner family has owned it since 1718.  Each beer you drink at Kaiserdom has its own style glass or mug.
  • Keesmann has been a family owned brewery since 1867.  This brew house has a modern flair to it but is still able to cling to tradition.  You will find a herd of deer heads on the walls in this pub.
  • Klosterbrau was founded in 1533 and has been in the Braun family since 1852.  It is the oldest functioning brewery in Bamberg.  This picturesque brewery sits alongside the river Regnitz.
  • Mahrs Brau was founded in 1679 and has been in the Michel family since 1880.  This traditional brewery still includes beer served from the wooden barrel.
  • Spezial was first recorded in 1536 and is housed in a beautiful half-timbered building complete with overflowing window boxes. Spezial is a classic pub with a traditional atmosphere that also serves a smoky beer.

    Schlenkerla Sign Bamberg by barockschloss, on Flickr

    Schlenkerla Sign Bamberg by barockschloss, on Flickr

  • Schlenkerla was first mentioned in 1405 and is home to the world famous Rauchbier, a beer made from smoked malt.  This traditional brewery tavern is popular and crowded.

If you’ve been to any of these breweries, let me know your thoughts.

If not, vote for your favorite brewery or two or three by leaving a comment below.

Baroque: The Emotional Style

The last few months we discovered more about Romanesque and Gothic architecture.  Today it is time to delve into Baroque architecture. As usual, I have included pictures of European gems in this style.

Queluz Palace fountains Portugal

Queluz Palace fountains Portugal by Husond

Baroque architecture came to prominence during the 17th century.  Starting in Italy before spreading first to France and then the rest of Europe, this style can best be described as showing majesty, opulence and radiance both in design and size.

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire England

Castle Howard, North Yorkshire England

The dramatic intensity of this style indicates supremacy.  The ornamentation showing up in the style indicates both the emotion of the era but also wealth and power.  At this time, the Church and Kings once again were given absolute power.  This power was manifested through this architectural style both in churches, cathedrals and palaces.

Wilanów Palace in Warsaw Poland by Wistula

Wilanów Palace in Warsaw Poland by Wistula

 

Vierzehnheiligen Basilika near Bamberg Bavaria Germany
Vierzehnheiligen Basilika near Bamberg Germany by Asio otus

 

Some distinctive features of the Baroque style include:
  • Naves of churches are wider and sometimes oval
  • There is a dramatic use of light either by contrasting shade and light or by including several windows
  • Large ceiling frescoes are prominent
  • There is an exuberant use of color and embellishment
  • Structures have a dramatic central projection
  • Domes appear pear shaped especially in Bavarian, Czech, Polish and Ukrainian design.
  • Curves became more important than the straight line
Karlskirche Vienna Austria

Karlskirche Vienna Austria by Gryffindor

Famous architects during the Baroque period include:  Carlo Maderno (Italy), Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italy), Francois Mansart (France) and Christopher Wren (England).

St Paul's Cathedral London

St Paul's Cathedral by stusmith_uk, Flickr

Chateau de Maison Lafitte France

Chateau de Maison Lafitte France

Facciata di San Pietro Rome Italy

Facciata di San Pietro Rome Italy by Urby2004

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the magnificent Baroque buildings we marvel at during our travels were designed and built by these illustrious architects.  Thanks to these visionaries of the past we are still able to visit their creations and explore the history created there.

 

What is your favorite Baroque building?

What is your favorite architectural style?

Fabulous Friday: Discovering a Unique Festival in Germany

Markgroningen Germany is home to a very unusual festival.  The Schäferlauf (“Shepherds’ Race”) is held during late August in this small town located a little north of Stuttgart.

Markgroeningen Town Gate Germany

Town Gate

Late in August Shepherds from all over Baden-Wurttemberg and beyond descend on this tiny village to take part in this festival that has roots back to at least 1445.  Back in the day, the Shepherds Guild held its annual meeting here where they would hold court, resolve conflicts and free apprentices.

Today this festival is a little more fun!

To start off the weekend, festival goers can enjoy a sheep herding contest which covers all aspects of herding sheep.

Shepherds Run Markgroeningen Germany

Shepherds Run

The actual Shepherds’ Race takes place on Saturday.  Dressed in traditional clothing, daughters of shepherds’ race 240 meters across a field of stubble towards the finish line.  Next up are the boys.  Each winner receives a sheep (of course!)  and is crowned Shepherd Queen and Shepherd King.  This royal couple then holds court over a dance in their honor that night.

Sunday, adults and children can enjoy racing as well as many other fun activities and events – stilt-walking anyone?

Markgroningen Germany

Markgröningen by dierk schaefer, on Flickr

During the weekend there are colorful processions, music, traditional games and lots of local crafts.  The weekend is usually closed by a colorful display of fireworks.

 

Have you been to the Shepherds’ Race?

What unique festivals have you been to or heard about?

St Emilion – A Jewel in Bordeaux

Set in the middle of the Bordeaux wine region of France, St. Emilion is a UNESCO World Heritage site full of ruins that extend along the slim and towering streets.St Emilion Bordeaux Region France

Named after a monk, Emilion, who settled in a hideaway carved into a rock here during the 8th century.  It was these monks who started wine production in this fabled area.St Emilion Bordeaux France

Yes, St Emilion is full of tourists but this beautiful village is well worth a visit!

 

For more great pictures, make sure to look into Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Every Thursday they post new photos from their travels and invite others to join in!

Maybe I’ll see you there.