France 2018, part II

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See France 2018, part I , for the first part of our trip to France. Here is again a map of the places we visited.

In 1976(!), after my graduation, I applied for a position as a physics teacher at a school in Amstelveen. The rector (headmaster) in those days was Dr B.C. Poeder, he interviewed me and decided to give me the job. He retired long ago, but we had become friends and kept in touch. Therefore I knew that he was now living in France, in the region that Aric and I were going to visit.

I wrote to him, and he invited us to stay a few days in his house, in the small village of Robiac, about 50 km north of Nîmes. Take the road via Vézénobres, he suggested.

I had never heard about that village, but we followed his advice and decided to have lunch there . A romantic, medieval village, no cars allowed, we had to park quite far outside the walls

Walking around we were wondering if there was a place to have some food. We were lucky, found a nice shop where they prepared crepes and galettes. I had a glass of cider. Very nice people too.

When we arrived in Robiac, Carel was already waiting for us at the roadside, otherwise we might have missed the small road leading to his house. The nameplate on the letterbox still refers to his past as headmaster :-).

We were warmly welcomed by Carel and Joanne, his wife. The house is part of what before has been a school. The basement, formerly a goat stable, has been transformed in a guest room.

A big garden with many flowers.

Our hosts invited us for a nice dinner in Barjac, a nearby village.

The next day we enjoyed the swimming pool and the hospitality of Carel and Joanne, but also made a trip to a cave, the Grotte de la Salamandre. This cave was discovered in the 60s, access was possible only by abseiling through a hole above the cave! Five years ago the cave was opened to the public after an access tunnel had been excavated from the side of the hill.

You can still rappel down in the original way ( for an extra fee), we chose the tunnel..:-). A guided tour, clear explanations, the stalagmites and stalactites were illuminated with varying colors, some really very bright, but also with normal white light.

A very rewarding experience.

When you click on the left picture below to enlarge it, you can see at the top people who are abseiling from the hole in the roof!

The next day we said goodbye to our hosts and continued our trip. We had decided to follow the Gorges du Tarn, a long but very  scenic route. It is a canyon, 400 to 600 meter deep, eroded by the river Tarn. Spectacular views, like here of the village of Castelbouc, deep down.

The river is a favourite playground for kayakers.

We had lunch in La Malène

We stayed overnight in Millau, our Airbnb was a nice apartment, located in the historic center of the town.

Millau is nowadays known for its viaduct, but it turned out to be a surprisingly attractive town itself. The next morning we climbed the Beffroi, a bell tower consisting of a 12th-century square tower topped by an octagonal 17th-century tower.

It was a steep climb, but the view was worth the effort. The Millau viaduct was of course clearly visible and deep down the Halles, built in 1899.

In the Middle Ages Millau was an important town, especially because of a bridge across the Tarn river, consisting of 17 spans. Nowadays only one span remains with a house built on it, formerly a watermill. Very scenic.  In a nearby cafe we had coffee with a piece of fouace, a cake specialty of Millau.

The Millau viaduct is (at the time of writing) the tallest bridge in the world, with a height of 340 meter above the river Tarn. It is considered one of the great engineering achievements of all time.

The viaduct has become a major tourist attraction. We drove over it and also under it, when you look up at the supporting pylons from the river valley, they look so fragile!

Our next destination was Albi. Here a view of the town with the Sainte Cécile cathedral and the Vieux Pont (Old Bridge) in the foreground. This bridge was originally built in 1035.

We stayed two nights in Albi in a very nice Airbnb , a complete house, a bit outside the historic center, easy parking, with a very friendly hostess, who advised us where to eat where to shop and where to park when we wanted to visit the town center. Airbnb at its best…:-)

The cathedral is an amazing building, constructed between the 13th and 15th century. Those were the days of the Cathar Heresy, and the Roman Catholic church wanted to make a clear statement of strength. What a contrast with for example the Notre Dame in Paris! It looks like a fortress and is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world.

The monumental doorway was added at the end of the 14th century

The austere outside forms a strong contrast with the flamboyant interior.

Next to the cathedral the fortress of the Palais de la Berbie, the Bishops’ Palace, dating to the end of the 13th century

Nowadays it is the Toulouse-Lautrec museum. We had a quick look , I am not really a fan of him..:-)

But the gardens of the Palace are beautiful.

For dinner, our hostess had advised us  restaurant Lautrec in Albi and that was a good choice!

Albi has of course many interesting old houses. The left picture also shows the belltower of the cathedral

Another useful advice of our hostess was to visit the small village of Puycelsi, one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France . There are more than 150 of them…:-)

The weather was a bit grey during our visit, here is a view of the village

We parked our car outside the walls and explored the narrow streets, visited the church and had lunch.

During our trip we had already passed  many sunflower fields, but on our way to Carcassonne we found such a beautiful field that we really had to stop to take pictures..:-)

We visited Lautrec, another of the Most Beautiful Villages of France. The view of Lautrec might look similar to the view of Puyselci, but careful inspection of the two pictures will show you they are not the same…:-)

The weather was beautiful again, that could be the reason that we liked this village better. The walls are still there and the 14th century market square is attractive

We had lunch in a nice restaurant , Le Clos d’Adele. Good food, pleasant service, value for money.

After lunch we visited one of the other attractions of Lautrec, a 17th century windmill. A steep climb, but worth the effort, we could enter the mill and had a nice view of the surroundings. When there is enough wind the mill is still operating.

With Airbnb the host often doesn’t live in  the same building, so you have to contact him/her about your arrival time. That works well in general, but in Carcassonne it took us some time, the apartment also looked more like a hotel room. But it was ok, from our window we could see the medieval fortress in the evening light. But what were those strange yellow surfaces on the walls and towers?

The next day we explored the old town. It  the largest walled city in Europe and really impressive.

Not surprisingly it is a major tourist attraction with crowds of visitors in the narrow streets. We were lucky to find a restaurant with a secluded garden, where we had a nice lunch, again value for money

The name of the restaurant is Le Jardin du Carcasses, it has good reviews

The Church of Saints Nazarius and Celsus was built in its Gothic form at the end of the 13th century on the site of an earlier church. It was the cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803. Beautiful interior. But keep in mind that this church and also the citadel itself have been “renovated” in the 19th century by the French architect Viollet-le-Duc!

Access to the medieval city is free, but to access the fortress and the walls you have to pay an entrance fee.

Carcassonne is  a Unesco World Heritage site already for 20 years and of course that had to be celebrated. The Swiss artist Felice Varini was asked to create a project.

Quoting Wikipedia:

Felice paints on architectural and urban spaces, such as buildings, walls and streets. The paintings are characterized by one vantage point from which the viewer can see the complete painting (usually a simple geometric shape such as circle, square, line), while from other view points the viewer will see ‘broken’ fragmented shapes.”

In this case he projected concentric circles on the walls and towers of the citadel. They look broken, only from one vantage point they are circles. Quite spectacular, of course many specatators, not easy to take a picture without people.

In the evening we came back especially to admire Varini’s work

Our trip was coming to an end, our last destination was the naturist village of Cap d’Agde. On our way we passed this strange landscape, the Étang de Montady, a wetland, drained in the 13th century.

What to say about Cap d’Agde? Here is a picture of the beach, when you enlarge it, you will see that the sunbathers are naked…:-)

Nudist beaches are common in Europe, but Cap d’Agde is a nudist village, where you walk around, have a drink/ food on a terrace, go to the supermarket etc, all in your birthday suit..:-)

We had booked a room (Airbnb) with Bernard and that was a lucky choice, because he had been living there for many years and could tell us the do’s and don’ts. One don’t is that you can not take pictures of other naked people. Another one is that at night, during dinner, you are supposed to be a bit dressed at least…:-)

Bernard had two other guests, Christiane and Alain, a nice couple who had been regular visitors of Cap d’ Agde for many years. We became friends almost immediately…:-) The village itself is a nondescript conglomerate of concrete apartment complexes, but the company made our visit very enjoyable.

The second (also last) night of our stay we were invited to join our new friends to a dinner in a nearby restaurant. There was music, there was drag, and both Aric and I have been dancing! A fun evening and a worthy ending of our trip

It is amazing how much you can do in twelve days. After our return ot Amsterdam we needed several days to recover…:-)

France 2018, part I

When Aric and I visit the Netherlands, we always try to combine it with a short trip to another European country. In 2014 we have visited Norway, and in 2016 Portugal. This time we went to the Languedoc region in Southern France. We wanted to visit the famous “village naturiste” of Cap d’Agde, in combination with some of the numerous historical towns in the region, like Arles, Avignon, Carcassonne.

We took a flight from Amsterdam to Montpellier, where we rented a car. The map below gives the places (in red) where we stayed overnight. To guide the eye I have connected the different locations with blue lines, the actual roads were of course winding and much longer..:-)

Our first stop was in Nîmes where we stayed three nights in an Airbnb. A nice apartment, on walking distance from the historic center, only a bit difficult to find a parking place.

After arriving in the apartment, I discovered that I was missing my passport and driving license! Searching my luggage and the car, nothing. Panic! Could I have dropped it when I entered the rental car? A telephone call to Avis in Montpellier finally gave the solution, they apologised that they had not given back the documents after photocopying them! Of course it was my fault not to have asked them back, but what a relief.

After this commotion we went out to explore the town a bit. Nîmes was an important regional capital during the Roman Empire

We were not in the mood to look for a restaurant, so we bought food in a nearby Carrefour supermarket and had a drink on our own balcony followed by a microwave dinner, Brandade de Morue, a typical Nimois specialty .

The next day our destination was Arles, but first we had to go back to the airport to collect my documents. From there we drove to Arles through the Camargue and on our way we found a very nice place for lunch, le Resto de Paty. Isolated location, we wondered if it was open, but it was , friendly service. We had tellines as a starter, a kind of clams, similar to the Malaysian lala. The main dish was grilled Camembert with charcuterie , delicious but filling 🙂  Really a lucky find!

You can easily spend days in Arles, but we had only a few hours. Fortunately we could park near the center. Here is a GE view, with the places we visited.

The Roman theatre was built in the 1st century BC and is one of the oldest stone theatres in the Roman world.. It is used now for concerts and events, which rather spoils its visual appearance.

Much more impressive is the amphitheatre, built in 90 AD and capable of seating over 20.000 spectators. In Roman times it was used for chariot races and gladiator fights, nowadays for bullfighting and concerts.

Many visitors will come to Arles because van Gogh lived there more than one year and created some of his most famous paintings. Through narrow streets we walked to the Place du Forum, with the cafe, painted by van Gogh.

Here is the painting (1888) and the cafe, where I had a lousy ice coffee for a ridiculous price. To be avoided!  I hope you will understand why I cover my ear…:-)

Our last destination in Arles was the Saint Trophime church, but on our way we passed the entrance of the Cryptoporticus, and we visited this intriguing foundation of the former Roman Forum first. Crowds of tourists in Arles, but this place was deserted. I loved it!

Saint Trophime was built between the 12th and 15th century  and is famous for its cloisters.

Some details of the columns, fine examples of the Romanesque style, and a photo of the church interior.

It had been a long and very hot (38 °C !) day. Before going back to Nîmes, we relaxed for a while on the Place de la Republique, with a 4th-century Roman obelisk in its centre.

The following day we visited Avignon and it was even hotter.(38 °C). Probably almost everyone will associate Avignon with the famous children song  Sur le pont d’Avignon but the real importance of the town is because it replaced Rome as the seat of the Pope in the 14th century, the Avignon Papacy . The Palais des Papes is what remains of those turbulent times. It is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. More of a fortress than a palace, here is an overview taken from Wikipedia to show its size. Bottom left you can see the beginning of the Pont d’Avignon.

Because of the hot weather we limited ourselves to the bridge and the palace. Here are my own photos. In the top left picture you see the cathedral of Avignon with the prominent statue of the Virgin Marie on top of the belltower. Notice the massive fortifications. The bottom right photo shows a door in the palace. Enlarge it to see the damage that has been done to the statues.

And here are pictures of the interior. You can easily spend many hours here.

Here is the famous  Pont Saint-Bénézet, which is the official name of the Pont d’Avignon. To take this picture we crossed the Rhone river. The bridge was built in the 12th century and had originally 22 arches of which nowadays only four remain. In 1995 the bridge, together with the palace and the cathedral were declared  Unesco world heritage sites.

We walked across the bridge , but it was too hot to dance…:-)

On our way back to Nîmes, we visited another Unesco world heritage site,  the famous Pont du Gard. It is an ancient Roman aqueduct, built in the first century AD to bring water to the town of Nîmes.  It is the highest of all elevated Roman aqueducts and really impressive.

Back in Nîmes, we decided to have a real French dinner. We walked to the Place aux Herbes, with many eateries, and had our dinner in restaurant O-Delice. Nice food

After our dinner we walked back to our apartment. Nice atmosphere, it was a Saturday evening, big crowds everywhere.

Although we had chosen Nîmes only as a convenient location to visit Arles, Avignon and the Pont du Gard, we discovered that the town itself has also many interesting places. Before leaving next morning, we visited two of them.

First  the Halles de Nîmes. It is considered a major tourist attraction, but for somebody used to the Central Markets of Asia, it was a bit disappointing. Lots of fresh food of course, always nice to take pictures.

The Jardins de la Fontaine are a public park, established in the 18th century around a water source. In Roman times this was the center of Nîmes, ruins of the so-called Temple  of Diana (not a temple, probably a library) and the Tour Magne can still be seen.

Our next destination was Robiac, a small village north of Nîmes. Why did we go there? That will be explained in part II of this blog.

Journal 12-7-2014

From 29 May until 9 July I have been back in the Netherlands. During that period I have been so busy  that I had no time to update this blog. Here is a journal about what I have been doing. More detailed reports will follow. I arrived on Ascension day and had not much time to overcome my jet lag because two days later Yolanda, Paul’s sister, celebrated her 65th birthday with an afternoon party. Here she is showing her youngest grandchild. It was an animated party, where I met several old friends. The picture to the right shows our former music group, numerous times we have come together to play (classical) music and enjoy  the fellowship (and the food!).

Yolanda My friends

The next few days Paul and I have been done some long-distance walking, an activity we also started decades ago. We had planned to walk three days, a part of the Pelgrimspad  in the southern part of the Netherlands. But the first day I developed a few painful blisters, so we had to cut short our trip. Beautiful countryside, here is a detailed report: The Dutch Pilgrims Path

Pilgrims Path When I am back in Amsterdam, one of the first things I do is to call Inez, my long time friend and soul mate.  We had a nice dinner together in a Turkish restaurant. She is also a proud grandmother now…:-). By the way, don’t laugh at me that I am always complaining that I gain weight when back in Holland (this time it was only 2 kg) Turkish food Inez Turkish food

 

 

Aric arrived a few days later, just in time for the family gathering. My siblings and I always try to have a reunion during my visits, and this time we decided to do it in a grander way, because we had much to celebrate. My brother-in-law and I turned 70 this year, my brother Ruud 65 and my brother Pim 60, nephew Jasper 40, nephew Stefan 35, twin nephews Xander and Aswin 15. And there were several relationship celebrations. So we rented a number of bungalows in a recreation park and spent there the Whitsun weekend. Here is part of the crowd Family meetingAnd here a few more pictures

We had decided to make a trip to Norway during this visit. I had seen pictures of the Preikestolen, near Stavanger in Southern Norway and had become fascinated by this rock, rising 600 meter above the water of the Lysefjord. So we booked a flight to Stavanger and climbed this Pulpit Rock! Here we are. I can tell you that It is quite scary to get close to the edge…:-)

Preikestolen Preikestolen

As it was our first visit of Norway, we also visited a few other places, Bergen and Oslo. Traveling from Bergen to Oslo by bus, boat and train is quite spectacular, beautiful fjords, numerous waterfalls and still a lot of snow in the higher regions. Stavanger and Bergen are picturesque towns with their brightly-coloured wooden houses. In Oslo we visited the famous Vigeland park, an ice-bar and the local nude beach. Our overall impression of Norway is positive, we like to come back. But the country is really very expensive. I took about one thousand picture, here a few. Click here for a detailed report.

After we came back in Amsterdam, we took two days absolute rest, because the trip was interesting but also tiring. The last day of Aric’s visit we decided to go cultural and visit two musea. Not sure if you can call the Erotic museum and the Marijuana museum cultural, but it was fun…:-) After lunch with a pancake, we went to the beach. At 7pm it was still warm and sunny.

Although the water was still very cold (~ 16 C) I even took a bath. It happens not often that you have the beach completely for yourself…:-)! Beach Time flies, so the last two weeks of my stay were quite hectic. One day I met Nellie, my friend of 50 years, in Zwolle.  It was a real cultural visit, the Nijenhuis castle (part of the Fundatie museum) had two interesting exhibitions. We also visited the bookshop Waanders in de Broeren, I was very impressed by the way this old church had been given a new destination.

The next  weekend I did another long (20 km) walk, with two of my former students and the partner of one of them. After heavy rain at the start, the weather became sunny. From the train station of Amersfoort we took a bus to Woudenberg and then walked back to the station. I have documented the walk in an EveryTrail report

Heiligenbergerbeek wandeling

Another tradition during my stay in the Netherlands is that I visit my (only) sister and my brother in law. They live in a nice bungalow near Schagen and this time they took me around the countryside. We visited a plant nursery, specialised in unusual/exotic flowers and got a private guided tour by the friendly owner. Also a windmill, where the miller explained finally what had puzzled me for a long time: why do rotate windmills always counterclockwise! He is living in the mill and was so kind to give us permission to have a look inside. We also went to the seaside. In that particular region there are no dunes, so the hinterland has to be protected by a dyke. And the next morning we visited my brother Arie and his wife Ineke, who proudly showed us their new house in nearby Alkmaar.

Here are a few more pictures of my activities. From left to right, visiting my former vice-principal and good friend Dick, dinner with Yolanda, lunch with Edmund and Johan and dinner with my ex-student Raoul and his Thai husband Aunn.

On the last evening for my departure I had dinner with Pim and Inez in a restaurant in the northern part of Amsterdam. A pleasant surprise, we had to cross over the river by ferry to an industrial area, the restaurant was located in a former machine factory. Delicious food and very friendly service. The name of the restaurant is Hotel de Goudfazant

Then it was time to go back. The last days it had started raining, maybe the country was crying to see me leave…:-) But I was looking forward to Malaysian food and to celebrate Aric’s birthday…:-)

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Down Memory Lane

In 1964, fifty years ago, was a young student at the Free University of Amsterdam. With two friends I went to Austria during our summer holidays. Both also named Jan, so in the following pictures you will see Jan St (me) , Jan V and Jan Str. Camping in Tirol, hiking in the mountains. On one of these hikes we met Robert, a friendly German and an experienced mountaineer, who took us to the summit of the Wilder Freiger, 3418 m. It was a fascinating experience.

We were hooked and wanted to become mountaineers ourselves!

Robert

Wilder Freiger

We became members of the Austrian Alpine Club and the next year we followed a training course at the (in those days) famous Kaunergratschule. Here we got a thorough instruction in the handling of rope, ice axe and crampons, how to rescue somebody who had fallen in a glacier crevasse, we learned how to rappel down steep rock faces, to brake our fall on the snow and much more.

The course took two weeks, a balanced mix of theory and practice. As a part of the program we climbed several of the majestic mountains around the hut. Most impressive was the Watze Spitze with its hanging glacier.

After the training program, we felt confident enough to make our own alpine tours. We stayed in the same alpine region, but hiked to another hut, from where we climbed a few beautiful mountains, culminating in the Wildspitze, the second-highest mountain of Austria at 3770 m.

Here are more pictures, taken during these holidays. Most of them still in black and white. I found them in one of my photo albums, it was quite fun to reconstruct this part of my past, as I had forgotten most of the details. The last picture is a scan of the trip diary I kept during our stay. With information about weather and snow conditions, information about the route chosen, the difficulty (I – VI, I = easy, III= difficult)

To keep my family informed, I sent them postcards regularly. Later they had given back these postcards to me and I had put them in my album. Had completely forgotten that I had written on the backside of these cards. It is in Dutch, it gives a nice “travelogue” of our holidays.

A nice trip down memory lane!

Europe trip 2013 Barcelona & Amsterdam

After our two-week trip through Europe we needed some time to relax and do our laundry. Only a few days because we had one more destination on our program: Barcelona in Spain. The town of Gaudi, the country of paella and sangria!

It was a short visit of three nights only. Instead of looking for a hotel we found a nice apartment, a loft on the fourth floor of an old building, near to the Ramblas and in the middle of the Red Light district…:-) The dimensions must have been something like 30 x 5 meter!


Of course we spent most of our time in Barcelona visiting and admiring the wonderful works of art created by Gaudi.. A pity that we were not the only ones! I have created a separate album about Barcelona on my Stuif’s Adventures site. Here only four pictures of the places we visited
We had lots of tapas and sangria. Not always top quality. One night we had really a wonderful meal in a local tapas bar suggested to us by the hostess of our apartment. Spanish style, We started our dinner at about 10 pm..:-). Delicious food. The name of the restaurant is Cañete and you should not miss it when you visit Barcelona!
Back in Amsterdam, we had a few days left before Aric went back to Malaysia. The weather was still ok, so we looked for some more of the KLM houses. And we visited the Rijksmuseum, opened last year after an extensive renovation. With a spectacular result, I will post a separate blog later about it. We had a look at the Night Watch by Rembrandt, one of the most famous paintings in the world. Also here we were not the only ones…:-)
Night Watch

Here are a few more pictures of these last few days in Amsterdam

Europe trip 2013 part 4

My idea was to travel back from Switzerland to Amsterdam via France. Last year I had visited a few Loire castles with my brother Pim,  and I wanted to show their beauty to Aric, so I booked two nights in Blois. However, planning in more detail, I found that the distance between Grindelwald and Blois was almost 700 km, a bit too long for a comfortable drive. Therefore I looked for a suitable stopover halfway. Beaune! To be honest, the name did not ring a bell. Now I know better.

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Wine lover friends will scold me, because Beaune is the Wine Capital of the Burgundy region. The most important wine auction of France is held here yearly, but we were too early for that. Besides, Burgundy wines are too  expensive for me.

It is a medieval town with a famous tourist attraction: the Hospices de Beaune, a hospital for the poor, founded in 1443 (!)

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Well worth a visit, here are some pictures.

The hospices also possess a very famous medieval work of art, The Last Judgment (1445-1450) by Rogier van der Weyden. Impressive.

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After a nice dinner and a good night sleep we continued the next day to Blois, situated on the banks of the Loire river. The weather had changed, it drizzled when we arrived. We did a short walk in the town

After our walk we had a delicious dinner

Haute Cuisine in les Banquettes Rouges, Blois

Haute Cuisine in les Banquettes Rouges, Blois

The next day it was raining cats and dogs! Still we decided to visit the two castles. And we were not the only ones. It was the National Heritage weekend, there were special activities everywhere and the admission was at a reduced rate or even free. Resulting in crowds of people. First we visited Chenonceau, my favourite.

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Because of the rain we skipped the beautiful gardens and spent more time inside the castle. In its present state it dates back to the 16th century. The castle was acquired by king François I and later given by his son, Henry II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. She commissioned the building of the famous arched bridge across the river Cher.

Next destination was Chambord, the largest of the Loire castles. If Chenonceau is androgynous, Chambord is alpha-male…:-).Built by the same king François I and possibly designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

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The rain had become heavy now, we were soaked already, so we spent only a short time on the roof with its many chimneys. Pity for all the people who took part in the activities. The castle was never inhabited continuously, the kings of France just moved in a for a couple of weeks. Lous XIV, the Roi-Soleil had a ceremonial bedchamber here, where VIPs could watch how he woke up and was dressed..:-)

Wet and cold we came back to our hotel, bought some food in the supermarket and had a simple meal in our room. This was the only day during our trip that we had bad weather, so we consider ourselves lucky…:-)

The next morning there was sun and blue sky again! But we had to be back in Amsterdam that evening, so we could only make a hurried visit of the castle of Blois. The Chateau de Blois is located in the center of the town, from our hotel room we could see the backside of the François I wing. Here is the entrance from the square:

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There is a lot to see in the castle, the famous octagonal staircase in the courtyard, the François I wing, the Salle des États Généraux and much more. But we had not much time. Here are some pictures

Are you interested in philosophy? Then you may think about the caption with Aric above: “The present king of France is Chinese” True or false?

We arrived in Amsterdam just in time to return our car. About 3500 km in two weeks time.

Europe trip 2013 part 3

When I was discussing my travel plans with my Malaysian friends, one of them mentioned Liechtenstein. It is a tiny country (160 square km, population less than 40.000)  between Austria and Switzerland. We decided to have a look and spend a night there.

On our way from Hall we had lunch in Feldkirch, another medieval gem in Austria. It would be easy to spend a full holidays in Austria!

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Liechtenstein is not part of the European Union, but belongs to the Schengen zone, therefore no border control or passport formalities. It is rich and expensive, has nice countryside, but nothing special. In the (characterless) main street of the capital Vaduz we met a VIP (the prince of Liechtenstein?) with his security guards. We found a supermarket, and bought food for an alfresco dinner…:-)

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The next morning we had a look at the castle of Vaduz, where the Prince is still living. Then we crossed the border with Switzerland.  It was the first time we visited this country and probably it will also be the last time.

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Our destination in Switzerland was Grindelwald. This mountain village is situated at the feet of the mighty Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau mountains. With a special train you can reach the Jungfraujoch, at an altitude of ~ 3500 meter. This was the main target of our trip, to see the snow and walk on it. But would the weather be favorable? We arrived in the rain and the next morning we could see fresh show on the mountain slopes. The pictures show a lake on our way to Grindelwald, the view from our hotel room and the fresh snow the next morning.

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We decided to try our luck and bought tickets for the trip. Expensive, ~ 145 Euro pp. The train is a rack train and the ride consists of two parts. First you go from Grindelwald to Kleine Scheidegg. It was quite cloudy but sometimes we could see the mountains, which gave us hope.

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The second part goes through a tunnel in the Eiger mountain. The train stops at two locations in the tunnel where windows have been made, so you can look out. The first stop showed only mist and fog, but at the second one, Eismeer (Ice Sea), the clouds were breaking and we had a good view of the glacier. Impressive!

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When we reached the Jungfraujoch station, this is what we saw.

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Difficult to describe our feelings. Exhilarated, almost emotional. You just could go out and walk on the glacier. Yes, it was very cold…:-)

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You can easily spend hours here. But go slowly, or you can get dizzy because of the high altitude. The highest point we reached is at the Sphinx observatory. It is possible to walk to the Mönch hut, but we were not equipped well enough for that hike. There is also the Ice Palace, dug out in the glacier with ice statues, freezingly cold but interesting.

The Jungfraujoch is called the Top of Europe and it certainly was the Top of our Europe trip. Worth every Euro. We have been very lucky, both one day earlier and one day later the weather conditions were bad!

Europe Trip 2013 part 2

From Salzburg it is not far to the romantic small town of Hallstatt, situated on the shore of a lake.We stayed there three nights, to explore the region. Besides enjoying the atmosphere of the place, we visited a few popular tourist attractions.

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On our first day we took the cable car to the Ice Cave and the Five Fingers. The Ice Cave fills up completely with snow and ice during winter, even in summer this ice remains there.

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We also visited the nearby Mammoth Cave (not that interesting) and then took a second  cable car higher up. Fabulous views of the Hoher Dachstein massif (2995 m). Nice flowers. And a mountain hut, with food and beer, reminding me of my younger days as a mountaineer..:-)

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After our lunch we walked to the famous Five Fingers. A metal construction, resembling a hand with a beautiful view of Hallstatt deep down. Not suitable for people with fear of heights…:-) A popular place for paragliders

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The next day we visited the salt mine. Hallstatt has a glorious past because of this mine. In the past miners mined the rock salt and to take it out they used slides. These slides are now a tourist attraction. Big fun!

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An “attraction” of a very different kind can be found in one of the churches. Because of its location, Hallstatt had only a limited space for a cemetery. Therefore after not so many years old graves were emptied to make space for new burials. The skulls of the deceased were treated with respect, painted with names etc, and kept in a chapel. Very impressive.

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After Hallstatt we continued our trip in the direction of Switzerland, passing on our way the Krimml waterfalls. Impressive falls, the highest in Austria and, according to the website, the 5th-highest in the world. That however is cheating, as the falls consist of three separate tiers!

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We had planned to spend one night in Innsbruck, but instead decided to stay in the small, medieval town of Hall in Tirol, not far from Innsbruck. An unexpected, pleasant surprise.

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Europe trip 2013 part 1

I will split this post in a few parts, because it covers a two-week trip through Europe, visiting Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein (!), Switzerland and France. I took more than 1000 pictures. Don’t worry, I will publish here only a few..:-)

We started with a long (750 km) drive from Amsterdam to Regensburg in Bavaria. This is a very old town and a Unesco World Heritage site.

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It is located on the Danube river, has many beautiful buildings and is famous food-wise for its sausages. Less touristic than its neigbours Nürnberg and Salzburg, it was a nice surprise for us.

The next day we crossed the border with Austria on our way to a tiny hamlet with a funny name: Fucking. There is nothing to see, there is not even a shop, but every year thousands of tourists come here to have their picture taken with the signboard for the village. And so did we …:-)

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Salzburg was our next destination, the town where Mozart was born. We stayed in Hotel Mozart, had dinner in Cafe Mozart, visited the house where he lived and went to a concert where his music was played. The Salzburger Festspiele had just finished, but there were still many tourists. A beautiful town with the castle Hohensalzburg high above the town.

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We stayed two nights in Salzburg, the weather was splendid. We really enjoyed the Hohensalzburg castle, spent almost a full day there. The Hellbrun Palace, just outside the town, was fun, with its trick fountains. Unbelievable that an archbishop was responsible for it. Here is a collection of Salzburg pictures.

From Salzburg we continued our trip to Hallstatt, that will be part two of this report. Here already two galleries about the whole trip. First some pictures of the places where we stayed overnight. We like Guesthouses, Pensions, Bed en Breakfast places better than the big hotels.

And of course we had lots of food…:-) The German and Austrian cuisine are not very refined, but they serve in general huge portions. With lots of beer.In France we had a few times really fine dining.