It's off to Europe again to learn more about our wonderful world!
  • Day26

    Oct 15 - Exploring Montmartre

    October 15, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    We must have both been very, very tired, because we didn’t stir until 8:45 a.m. That felt good.

    While I showered and dressed, Doug went out for milk and coffee and yet another chocolate croissant. A small coffee here is €2.50 which is $3.25. Makes Tims look like a charity event. There is continental (aka cold) breakfast available in the hotel, but at €12 each that would be $36 for the two of us. Our granola (got it last night) with milk, chocolate croissant, yogurt (left from yesterday on the outside window sill overnight - no frigs in hotel rooms here) and coffee cost about $9. That’s how we keep traveling costs under control.

    Today is cool, but dry, so outdoor activities are on the agenda. I decided that our destination would be Sacré-Coeur which is a Roman Catholic basilica. It is the second-most visited monument in Paris. I think you can figure out which monument is the number one attraction. We found the metro station, and successfully navigated two metro lines to get to our destination.

    Sacré-Coeur Basilica which is consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Christ, sits at the summit of Butte Montmartre, the highest point in the city of Paris. Montmartre means "hill of martyrs" - this was the place where Saint Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was decapitated for his faith. The basilica is celebrating its 100 anniversary this month, so it’s a relatively new church by European standards. There are a lot of steps up to the level where the staircase in front of the church begins so we used a couple of our metro tickets to take the funicular up. We rounded the corner from the funicular and were rewarded with a simply spectacular view of Paris. That’s a memory we will always treasure.

    The area around the steps to the church is full of vendors hawking trinkets, selfie sticks, bottled water, sparking Eiffel Towers and the ubiquitous love locks. There is a lot of litter - Paris could do a better job here. And there is a sight-seeing tram jostling for space amongst the hordes of tourists. It’s all just a wee bit sacrilegious.

    After passing through the security check, we went into the church. The mosaic in the apse entitled Christ in Majesty, created by Luc-Olivier Merson, is among the largest in the world. It represents the risen Christ, clothed in white and with arms extended, revealing a golden heart. It is stunning.

    As we were enjoying the majesty of the church, we heard singing. In one of those delightful moments of travel serendipity, mass was beginning. Since I haven’t been able to attend mass so far on this trip, we decided to stay for it. The music was provided by nuns with simply angelic voices. I pulled up the readings for the day on an app on my phone so we were able to follow, and I was able to get the gist of the priest’s sermon.

    When mass was finished, the most amazing thing happened. The priest knelt facing the main altar and immediately, a white curtain rose above the altar to reveal a beautiful monstrance containing the consecrated body of Christ. Since 1885 (before construction had been completed) the Blessed Sacrament has been continually on display. Perpetual adoration both day and night of the Blessed Sacrament has continued uninterrupted in the basilica since 1885. It was an incredibly moving moment. We prayed for a while and then left quietly, knowing that we were very blessed to have been at Sacré-Couer this morning.

    We drank in the view of the Paris skyline again, and then began exploring the streets of Montmartre. This area is best known as the home of cabaret nightlife and bohemian artists, struggling painters, poets, dreamers and a fair number of drunkards. Picasso, Van Gogh, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Dali, and many others spent time here.

    We found Au Lapin Agile cabaret (still in business) and Le Moulin de la Galette, a dance hall featured in a famous Renoir painting, “Bal du moulin de la Galette” which is in the Musée d’Orsay where we are headed tomorrow. This painting is one of Impressionisms most celebrated masterpieces.

    We found a little boulangerie and got ham and cheese on baguette sandwich. (The little place down the street from the hotel now only sells bread and pastries - no luncheon fixings. Sad…) We added a couple of cookies to the menu. Great baguette. We’ve had better chocolate chip and caramel cookies. The people watching was very good as we sat and ate.

    Off for more exploring. We found a public toilette that completely cleans itself (toilet, sink, floor) after each use - very space age. Could have used that technology in the Middle East last year.

    We found the Wall of Love is a love-themed wall of 40 square metres (430 sq ft) in the Jehan Rictus garden square in Montmartre, Paris, France. The wall was created in 2000 by calligraphist Fédéric Baron and mural artist Claire Kito] and is composed of 612 tiles of enamelled lava, on which the phrase 'I love you' is featured 311 times in 250 languages. It includes the words 'I love you' in all major languages, but also in rarer ones like Navajo, Inuit, Bambara and Esperanto.

    At the base of Butte Montmartre, we found the Moulin Rouge (Red Windmill) nightclub that offers pricey cabaret shows. This red light area of Paris is called Pigalle - it’s a pretty tough and raunchy area with lots of sex shops and slightly sleazy bars. It is named after the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1714–1785). Allied soldiers during WWII called it “Pig Alley”.

    With tired feet, lots of memories, and still giggling from seeing Pigalle, we hit the metro again and worked our way back to the hotel. The metro system is a maze of stair cases going up and down in all directions, but we figured it all out using the very good metro app that I put on my phone.

    We are back at the hotel now. Doug has the New York Times (in English) to keep him happy. Since the outlook for tonight is clear, we are going to take a boat cruise on the Seine after dark.

    We did take the boat cruise. It was a bit of a bust - people taking hundreds of selfies blocked our view and then the rains came and we had to scuttle down below where the views were even worse. (Bit of advice - take the 10:00 p.m. cruise when most of the bus tours have packed it in for the night.) It was sad to see the skeleton of the once-grand Notre-Dame Cathedral that was ravaged by fire earlier this year. This cruise couldn't hold a candle to the ethereal moon-lit cruise of Budapest that we so fondly remember from 2016.
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  • Day25

    Oct 14 - Made it to Paris!

    October 14, 2019 in France ⋅ 🌧 17 °C

    It’s time to start the 5th and final leg of our journey on Canadian Thanksgiving Monday. We have so much to be thankful for - family, friends, good health, opportunities to explore the world and the gift of living in the best country in the world - Canada!

    Peter took Angela to the train station in Heidelberg at 6:00 a.m. so she could be at work in Munich by mid-morning. Then he drove us to Mannheim for our 9:40 a.m. train. He accompanied us onto the platform and ensured that we got on the right car where our reserved seats were. Gracious and kind to the very end!

    The train ride from Mannheim to Paris is 3 hrs 15 minutes. According to Google Maps, to drive the 500 kms would take 5 hrs 15 minutes. The train at times reached speeds of over 300 km/hour - the speed shows on an overhead monitor. The train pulled into Gare de l'Est one minute early. Oh, to have such fast and dependable train service in Canada!

    We didn’t have a full window view - the seats that are in sets of four with two facing backwards with a table in the middle get the full window views. From what we did see, the countryside was mainly farms on relatively flat land.

    We took a taxi to the hotel rather than navigate two metro lines with our luggage. Unfortunately, we got ripped off very badly. It looked like a legal taxi, but we realized too late that it didn’t have a proper meter displaying the fare. Live and learn.

    We are staying at Hotel du Champs de Mars. We stayed here on our last trip to France in 2015. It’s a small, boutique hotel located not far from the Eiffel Tower. Another attraction of this location is the wonderful Rue Cler just 1/2 block away - it’s a pedestrian-only street full of speciality shops, little cafés and a couple of grocery stores, a fruit and vegetable market, a fish monger and lots of other places.

    We set out to explore - it’s rather nice to have our bearings already. Happily, our favourite little boulangerie and patisserie is still open just down the street - we’ll be getting our picnic lunch made up there tomorrow. We found the local Tabac, a tiny hole-in-the-wall place, that sells transit tickets and bought a book of them. At only €1.50/$2.25 each, they are a great deal. We visited most of the places that were close to our hotel on our last visit. The ones this week are further afield. Don’t want to wear out Doug’s new bionic knee.

    We headed across the Seine River and then walked along Ave Montaigne, a very high end shopping street - we saw Gucci, Hermes, Fendi, Harry Winston Diamonds, Ferragamo, Givenchy, Yves St Laurent, Chanel, Pucci, Prada and other stores interspersed with ritzy/expensive hotels with bell hops and valet parking. How the other half lives…..

    Ave Montaigne brought us to the Champs-Élysées - yes the same one that Joni Mitchell talked about wandering down in her song, “A Free Man in Paris.” The place was full of people and the crazy, expensive shopping just kept on going. There was a 200-person line (mostly teenaged girls) to get into Louis Vuitton and mandatory bag searches to get into the Disney store. Passed on both of them. We were disappointed that the Ferrari store wasn’t still there. We did get to do some seriously-good people watching though.

    We walked the entire length of the Champs-Élysées to where it ends at the Arc de Triomphe. One our triumphs last time was climbing to the top of the Arc and soaking up the fabulous views. No need for that cardiac workout on this trip. The traffic around the Arc is crazy - there are no lane markings and cars and buses roar around 4-5 abreast all wanting to peel off in disparate directions at top speed. Not a place for the faint of heart.

    We noticed that the traffic in Paris is much heavier than it was a few years ago, and that the roads and streets are now being shared with electric scooters - the two-wheeled kind, not the senior-citizen kind. We even saw couples riding tandem on these over-sized skate boards. Being a pedestrian in Paris is a lot more dangerous than it used to be. We also noticed that cigarette smoking and vaping are incredibly prevalent in Paris. Not good.

    We heard the wail of several sirens and saw many police vehicles whizzing around. Right in front of us, seven vans pulled up - each one can hold 8-10 officers. At the next intersection, a police guy with a machine guard was on duty with a lot of police vehicles nearby. All this may be in response to fears of violence at France's Euro 2020 soccer qualifier against Turkey, a match overshadowed by diplomatic and security tensions after Paris condemned Ankara for its military offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria.

    We had a late afternoon snack as it had been a long time since we downed the chicken sandwiches we had brought with us on the train, courtesy of Angela and Peter. Watered and refuelled, we continued walking, this time down the Champs-Élysées to Place de la Concorde. This square comprises 19 acres and is the largest square in Paris. It was here that King Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793. Marie Antoinette had been guillotined here a few months earlier. The centre of the Place is occupied by a giant Egyptian obelisk known as the Obelisk of Luxor. It is decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II. It is one of two the Egyptian government gave to the French in the 19th century. The other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move to France with the technology at that time. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.

    We crossed the river via the Pont de la Concorde and walked along the river’s edge past the Pont Alexandre III, the most ornate and extravagant bridge in the city. It’s full of Art Nouveau lamps and nymphs and gold winged horses. The bridge has been featured in many videos and movies. Must watch the James Bond movie, “A View to a Kill” sometime to see Bond jumping from the bridge onto a boat.

    Next bridge - Pont des Invalides. Very boring after seeing the over-the-top Pont Alexandre III. The bridge nearest to our hotel is Pont de l’Alma. We had considered taking a boat cruise along the Seine, but those are best at night when all the major sights are lit up. It was only 6:00 p.m. and the weather was getting overcast so we headed home. We picked up salads at the grocery on Rue Cler and dined Chez Hotel Room. We pulled the table up to the window and had dinner while we watched Monday night life in Paris.

    We can see the top 1/3 of the Eiffel Tower from our room. The Eiffel Tower sparkles with thousands of lights for five minutes on the hour from dusk until 2:00 a.m. (1:00 a.m. in winter). We watched the 7:00 p.m. show from our window. We considered attending the 8:00 p.m. or the 9:00 p.m. show in person, but decided the ~6.5 miles we had walked today was enough.

    Tomorrow, we are going to tackle the Paris transit system and go to Sacré-Coeur - the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
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  • Day24

    Oct 13 - Exploring Heidelberg

    October 13, 2019 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 24 °C

    It’s Sunday - a day for another long, leisurely breakfast. Lots of coffee (at least for me), another big chocolate croissant, and more wonderful conversation with Angela and Peter.

    We headed out to enjoy Heidelberg - it’s a beautiful warm, sunny day. Heidelberg sits on the banks of the Neckar River which is a tributary of the Rhine River. The Neckar flows into the Rhine at Mannheim. The Old Bridge (Alte Brücke), a sandstone arched bridge that crosses the Neckar, is the ninth bridge on the site, and dates from 1788. The bridge has two prominent monuments - one to Prince Elector Carl Theodor who had the bridge built, and the other dedicated to the Roman goddess of Wisdom, Minerva. The Prince Elector was a passionate supporter of the arts and sciences.

    Some years ago, the practice of putting locks on bridges developed. The idea is simple: a couple crosses the bridge and puts a padlock on a section of the chainlink fence. The lock represents their love, and it will stay there for all of eternity. They then dramatically hurl the keys to the lock into the body of water under the bridge. The weight of thousands of locks began to adversely affect some bridges, particularly the Pont des Arts in Paris which partially collapsed. 45 tons of locks were removed from the bridge. Love locks are now a global phenomenon.

    Heidelberg installed a mighty sandstone pillar, the Liebessein (love stone) near the bridge for lock lock fans. The stone is supposed to have been part of Heidelberg Castle. Fact or fiction??

    The Heidelberg Bridge Monkey dates back to the 15th century. It was a stone statue sitting in the tower of the Old Bridge, which was located opposite Heidelberg’s Old Town. The monkey mocked the bishops of Mainz with a rather rude gesture. The purpose of the tower was to instill fear and respect in anyone arriving in the town, while the monkey represented mockery. The statue was destroyed with the tower during the Nine Years' War.

    The current bronze monkey doesn’t make the rude gesture, but rather shows the sign of the horns, which is supposed to ward off the evil eye. It is said that if a visitor touches the sign of horns, they will return to Heidelberg. If a visitor touches the mirror, they will become wealthy, and if they touch the mice next to the monkey, they will have many children. It’s wealthy for us!

    High on the hillside over the river sits Heidelberg Castle. The castle ruins are among the most important Renaissance structures north of the Alps. The earliest castle structure was built before 1214 and later expanded into two castles circa 1294; however, in 1537, a lightning bolt destroyed the upper castle. The present structures had been expanded by 1650, before damage by later wars and fires. In 1764, another lightning bolt caused a fire which destroyed some rebuilt sections. We toured the castle on our last visit, so we used our sunny time for exploring the streets of Heidelberg.

    We saw the outside of the Church of the Holy Ghost and the Jesuit Church. By chance, mass was just concluding at the Jesuit Church, so we were able to enjoy the wonderful organ music of the final hymn and then to see the church interior. It’s done in the Baroque style, so it’s very light and airy with beautiful gold accents everywhere. The altar was decorated with thanksgiving displays that celebrate another bountiful harvest.

    The streets are full of little cafés and bakeries with outdoor tables and chairs claiming every possible bit of space. Europeans love to eat and drink outdoors. We stopped for tea/coffee/juice and a sweet at a delightful little French bakery and sat in the warm sun. Had the best chocolate croissant ever! Will check on the quality of more French croissants starting tomorrow in Paris.

    We headed back home so Angela could get some work done and we could get organized for our train trip to Paris tomorrow. We are feeling quite proud of ourselves for tackling the train system in Europe. We might tackle the Paris metro system this coming week - the weather forecast is for, yes, you guessed it, rain. Mind you, the % probability has been dropping, so that’s a good omen.
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  • Day23

    Oct 12 - Relaxing in Eppelheim

    October 12, 2019 in Germany ⋅ ☀️ 20 °C

    It was nice to recharge our batteries by sleeping in until 8:00 a.m. Peter and Doug walked to the bakery and got breakfast provisions - fresh buns and a huge chocolate croissant. The four of us talked and had a lovely, long, leisurely breakfast. We did some morning shopping to restock the refrigerator since Angela has been away for a week.

    It was a lovely, sunny day so we drove to a little nearby town called Neckarsteinach and went for a great long walk of about 5 miles. We wore off the health effects by having the type of Linzertort that is popular in this area. It’s much heavier, but has the same tasty raspberry filling.
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  • Day22

    Oct 11 - Eppelheim/Heidelberg

    October 11, 2019 in Germany ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    We had an early breakfast and said a heartfelt thank you to William for all his patience, knowledge, logistical acumen and unending good humour. The glorious train station is across the street so we trundled over. The ticket booking I had done on Monday indicated Platform 17 and by golly, that’s where the train arrived. Exactly on the dot of 8:00 a.m. when the train was supposed to depart, it did depart. Swiss accuracy is embedded in every facet of life here.

    We had little 6-person compartment all to ourselves. I had sprung the extra $13 to ensure we had assigned seating. The car numbers are clearly marked on the outside of the train as are the seat numbers. Organization makes my little heart go pitter patter.

    The train is incredibly smooth. Doug is hunkered down to view the passing scenery for the next 3.25 hours. I’m catching up on yesterday’s Find Penguins posting. We had the compartment to ourselves until Freibourg when a mother and her two sons, about ages 7 and 9, joined us. The boys amused themselves with their Kinder Surprise toys and then with video games. They were so well behaved. A teenaged girl joined us one stop before Mannheim so we were only cheek-to-jowl for about 15 minutes.

    Peter, my sister Angela's husband, was there to greet us. We last visited Peter and Angela in 2006. They are in a different house now - it’s much bigger and they actually own the land. Peter made a lovely stew for lunch. Angela flew from New York to Munich today, and will be arriving in Mannheim later this afternoon.

    Doug has done a couple of loads of laundry and we are waiting for Angela and Peter to get back from the train station. Bless Peter's heart for doing two round trips today. Such a gracious host.

    Angela and Peter got back and I was able to give my little (but taller!) sister a nice big hug. Oddly enough, we saw each other back in August when she and Peter were on vacation in Canada. We had a great dinner at their favourite local restaurant, the Golden Lion. Got caught up on a lot of topics. Lots more to cover over the next two days.
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  • Day21

    Oct 10 - Zürich

    October 10, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    Some of us who still had some energy joined William on a walking tour of Zürich while the others went to the hotel with Ivan.

    We saw the house where Vladimir Lenin. It was in Zurich that he finished his work "Imperialism: the highest stage of capitalism”. Lenin's interest in Switzerland declined dramatically after he heard of a new revolution in Russia in 1917.

    We visited the Grossmünster, a Romanesque-style Protestant church. Construction began around 1100 A.D. on the banks of the Limmat River and it was inaugurated around 1220 A.D. According to legend, the Grossmünster was founded by Charlemagne, whose horse fell to its knees over the tombs of Felix and Regula, Zürich's patron saints. The church contains the most beautiful pipe organ I have ever seen which is ironic, considering that the Swiss-German Reformation which originated here originally proposed a complete ban on church music.

    We are staying in Zürich at the Hotel Schweizerhof Zürich. This historical hotel is located opposite Zurich's main train station. The famous pedestrian shopping street "Bahnhofstrasse" with its exclusive (which means ferociously expensive) shops is right beside the hotel. The hotel reeks of gentility and Old World elegance. I discovered that the beds have electric controls to raise/lower the head/foot of the bed. We’ve only ever had that feature in a hospital room, never in a hotel room! There was a beautiful real orchid in the room and a fresh rose in the bathroom. A butler came to the door and offered us chocolate, papers, soft drinks - anything our hearts desired. I took chocolate.

    Our quick visit to Zürich has left us wanting to come back again. We had a farewell dinner in a private room that was beautifully decorated. The floral budget for this hotel must be astronomical. We had a lovely time. We traded stories with our fellow travellers of destinations that we have visited and places that we hope to visit. Our next trip is already planned to New Zealand and Fiji in January-February 2020.

    Tomorrow, we are off to Eppelheim, near Heidelberg to do stage 4 of this trip.
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  • Day21

    Oct 10 - Luzern/Lucerne

    October 10, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    The weather was cool, but with no rain. A good day in the making! With Luzern as our destination, we drove through more of the flat part of Switzerland. We were able to see two of the big peaks of the Alps - Jungfrau and Eiger - in the distance. We drove along with a brilliant blue lake on one side and a soaring mountain on the other side.

    Our first stop was in Brienz. The sun was shining brightly, so there was not one word of complaint about the cool temperatures. William had a morning surprise for us - Linzertort - the same dessert I had tried the day before. William’s father is German, so having Linzertort is a fond memory from William’s childhood. Two beautiful white swans graced us with their presence at the water’s edge.

    We did a quick photo stop at Lungern. What a glorious view of a valley tucked between two mountains and a little village built on the shore of the lake. Picture postcard - again. This is what of the advantages of a formal tour - the tour guide knows all the most panoramic stops.

    Before we went into the downtown of Luzern, we stopped first at the The Lion Monument, or the Lion of Lucerne, a rock relief of a giant dying lion that commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

    Luzern, also known as Lucerne, is located in the German-speaking portion of Switzerland. It sits on the shores of Lake Lucerne and the river Reuss. William gave us a walking tour of this beautiful city. Since the city straddles the Reuss where it drains the lake, it has a number of bridges. The most famous is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a 204 m (669 ft) long wooden covered bridge originally built in 1333, the oldest covered bridge in Europe, although much of it had to be replaced after a fire on 18 August 1993, allegedly caused by a discarded cigarette. Part way across, the bridge runs by the octagonal Water Tower (Wasserturm), a fortification from the 13th century. Inside the bridge are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Lucerne's history. The Bridge with its Tower is the city's most famous landmark. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

    Downriver, the Spreuer Bridge (Mill Bridge) zigzags across the Reuss. Constructed in 1408, it features a series of medieval-style 17th-century plague paintings titled Dance of Death. The bridge has a small chapel in the middle that was added in 1568.

    The Lucerne Jesuit Church with its distinctive onion-topped domes was the first large baroque church built in Switzerland north of the Alps. The inside is beautiful - it’s very light and bright with a lot of gold gilding and red marble. The Jesuit order, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in 1534, were active participants in the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic fight against the birth of Protestantism.

    At lunchtime, we found the local grocery store. We picked up a sandwich which we split, yogurt, milk and a fat pretzel. We travel with a set of cutlery so we can always find something to eat in a grocery store. (Restaurant meals in Switzerland are very, very expensive.) We ate by the water’s edge as we soaked up the sunshine. Afterwards, we strolled around and admired the old-style architecture.

    We had a good giggle as we window-shopped on a street lined with exclusive shops (some guarded by beefy guys with tasers) selling high-end watches. We each picked out a watch that we liked. Each had a 5-figure price tag and that’s in Swiss francs - add another 30% to convert to Canadian dollars! Then we found a store that has a wall of flowing liquid chocolate. They get you from every direction in this city!

    Bus parking is very tightly controlled in the centre of Luzern, so promptly at our appointed rendezvous time, Ivan pulled up, we piled on the bus in record time, and off we went. Our next destination was Zürich, the final stop on this part of our trip.

    I estimate that we went through at least 20 of Switzerland’s almost 500 tunnels during our driving today. Switzerland spends a lot of money on its infrastructure because roads, tunnels, trains and bridges are integral to keeping Switzerland moving.
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  • Day20

    Oct 9 - Bern

    October 9, 2019 in Switzerland ⋅ 🌧 9 °C

    We then headed towards Bern, working our way down through more little villages. The landscape gradually changed and became flatter. Cows don’t need two different lengths of legs here to be able to graze. As we drove, William gave us short synopses on Switzerland’s educational system, its economic status and its political system. Switzerland developed the International Baccalaureate high school graduation program that is recognized world-wide. And of course, Switzerland is renowned for its banking system and its secret bank accounts. Don’t think I have any accounts here…..

    Tonight we are staying in Bern which is the capital of Switzerland. Geneva was deemed to be too French and Zurich was deemed to be too German, so Bern was chosen as a compromise capital city. This is very similar to what happened in Australia where Melbourne and Sydney were both rejected in favour of the purpose-built capital city of Canberra. In 1983, the historic old town in the centre of Bern became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bern has a population of about 140,000. Many of the residents work in federal government type jobs. We drove into the city down embassy row - we waved at the Canadian Embassy.

    Before we got to the hotel, we made one stop - at a bear pit which houses several huge brown bears. “Why??”, you ask? Bern was founded by a nobleman who founded the city and who vowed to name it after the first animal that he encountered on the hunt, which turned out to be a bear. The bear became the heraldic symbol of the city in the 1200s and bears have been kept since the 1400s.

    The hotel we are staying at in Bern is the Hotel Bellevue which is the official guesthouse of the Swiss government. It is located right beside the Swiss Parliament Buildings. Its got a magnificent lounge with a spectacular ceiling (there are a lot of those in Europe) and superb views of the Bernese Alps – always a ‘belle vue’. It’s full of brocade drapes, velvet-covered chairs, polished bronze railings and elegant floral arrangements.

    Our room (alas for just one glorious night) is a suite - with a lovely desk with built-in USB ports, a sofa and an easy chair, a king sized bed (not just two single beds butted up to one another), a separate toilet room, double sinks in the bath/shower room, and a fabulous view of the city and the Aare River. Scenic is spoiling us very badly.

    William took us out for a 45-minute walking tour. We saw the parliament buildings, the Swiss National Bank, the 15th-century astronomical clock, several of the city’s fountains, the house where Einstein lived, the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul (Catholic Church), the Münster of Bern (Swiss Reformed Church) and the City Hall. The rain was kicking up again, so William released us to our own devices for dinner.

    We found the local grocery store and picked up salads, pineapple, honey yogurt, milk and chocolate digestive biscuits. One of the reasons we search out grocery stores is that restaurant meals are incredibly expensive in Switzerland. We considered having spaghetti at a little place - each plate would have been $30. Not happening. While we dined Chez Hotel Suite - pretty posh settings for an indoor picnic - we watched a British TV game show that we have endured before just because it’s in English. The housekeeping staff had been in while we were out to turn down the giant bed and to lay little mats on the floor on each side with a pair of slippers for each of us. We have to be on the bus at 9:00 a.m., so there’s not going to be much time for lounging around wearing our Bern slippers.

    Tomorrow we are off to Luzern (Lucerne) and from there to our final Swiss destination of Zurich.
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