October 31, 2016 – Lucerne, Switzerland (Palace Hotel Luzem)

Lucerne - Mt. Pilatus

Lucerne – Mt. Pilatus

Lucerne - Kent and the Ricola Man

Lucerne – Kent and the Ricola Man

Lucerne - Burger King Sign

Lucerne – Burger King Sign

We stayed at a beautiful five-star hotel situated right on the bank of Lake Lucerne a few blocks from the center of town. The Palace Hotel had lovely rooms overlooking the lake with the mountains in the background. A tree-lined promenade circles the lake in front of the hotel and during warmer weather you can sit outside in lakeside cafes. The weather was only about 50 degrees so a jacket was required at all times when outdoors. The hotel lobby is very elegant with afternoon tea served accompanied by a pianist on the grand piano in the center of the room. The hotel is traditional in style with high ceilings, crown molding, parquet floors and elegant traditional furnishings.

We headed out with three lady friends, Rita, Leslie and Kathy, for a day trip up the mountain of Mt. Pilatus. We had to take a local train from the main train station in Lucerne to the small town of Alpnachstad (about a 20-minute ride). From there we boarded a cogwheel railway that opened is 1889 to take people to the top of the mountain. This is the steepest railway system in the world with a 48% grade. The ride up the mountain takes about 30 minutes through beautiful forest lands and then at the higher altitude you have mostly interesting rock formations with small grasses and flowering plants. The mountain is about 7,000 feet in elevation. Half way up the mountain we rode through the clouds covering the lake and valley below, but arrived in bright sunny skies and much warmer weather. It was quite amazing how the view changed and you could see the tops of many high mountains all around you.

At the top of the railway there is a small hotel where people stay, a restaurant and many walking and hiking trails to enjoy. Some locals prefer to hike to the summit which takes about five hours to reach the top. The locals also enjoy making the journey to the top of the mountains to get some local sunshine when the lake is covered with clouds. We explored a couple of the trails and lookout points for a couple of hours before making our way back down the mountain on the railway.

After returning to Lucerne by train Rita, Leslie, Kent and I stopped at a Burger King in the train station for a quick bite to eat as everyone was hungry. The prices in the Burger King were like everything else in town….high!  A burger with fries and a soft drink runs you about $15 to $17 with an additional 30 cents for each packet of ketchup or mayonnaise for your fries.

After lunch we said good bye to the girls and headed out to a the Gletscher Garten Luzern or the glacier gardens. These unique glaciers were discovered here in 1872 and have been a tourist attraction ever since. It is believed that Lucerne was covered with glaciers some 20,000 years ago and that these potholes, fossils and stones date back to this time…even before Kent’s time!

The three story residence of the owners of the land at the time these glacier remains were found, is now a museum about the history of the glaciers in Lucerne. Also a part of the museum is a mirror maze dating back to the year 1896.  We found it quite challenging to get out of the place….the mirrors confused us!

October 30, 2016 — Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne - Palace Hotel

Lucerne – Palace Hotel

Lucerne - Lion

Lucerne – Lion

Lucerne - Decorative Buildings

Lucerne – Decorative Buildings

Lucerne - Waterfront Cafes and Shops

Lucerne – Waterfront Cafes and Shops

We disembarked the ship at 9:00am and boarded a bus for the hour dive to Lucerne, Switzerland. Due to a large marathon in the city with 11,000 runners we were not able to reach our hotel. Instead we arrived at another hotel in the city where we started our walking tour of the city. Our tour took us through the old town where we enjoyed the views around Lake Lucerne and crossed the Spreuer Bridge. This bridge is the oldest covered timber bridge in Switzerland completed in 1408 as part of the city’s fortifications. It features 67 paintings depicting a macabre dance to indicate that even rich, wealthy people die. Nearby the bridge, is a dam known as the needle dam because of its needle like wooden paddles or needles installed in 1859. The water level of Lake Lucerne is still regulated manually by the removal or insertion of these timber needles.

Lucerne is located in central Switzerland on the shores of Lake Lucerne and has a population of about 80,000 inhabitants. The lake covers about 45 square miles of land and has an irregular shoreline with several outreaching arms. The surrounding countryside is extraordinarily beautiful with some of the shoreline mountains jutting skyward some 4,000 feet above the lake. It remained cloudy during our stay.

We visited the cities most famous landmark, the Kapellbrucke or covered Chapel Bridge that spans the Reuss River and was originally built in 1333 to connect the old town on one side of the river and the new town on the other. This foot bridge is 560 feet in length and is the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world. Unfortunately, in 1993 a fire destroyed a large portion of the bridge and it was reconstructed at a cost of more than two million dollars.

Also of significance is the Lion Monument or the Lion of Lucerne. This exquisite stone sculpture of a lion was designed by Danish Sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn by Lukas Ahorn in 1820 to commemorate the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. The sculpture is carved into a steep rock façade and measures some 32 feet in length and about 20 feet tall.

We had lunch at a small café bakery where we got a couple of pieces of pizza and a coffee and a hot chocolate for about $20. Prices for most everything are higher than we are used to as this is one of the most expensive cities in Europe.

After lunch we explored more of the city including the Museggmauer wall. This fortification wall built in 1535 includes nine towers, one of which houses the city’s oldest clock. We were able to climb up the interior of the clock tower and see the inner workings of the clocks gears and weights. This clock chimes one minute before every hour (and all other clocks) as a privilege for being the oldest clock in town.

Being a Sunday most of the shops and restaurants were closed but we still enjoyed wandering the winding streets of town.

In the evening our friend Matthias and Alain from Stuttgart in Germany drove five hours in traffic to have dinner with us. They made a reservation at a charming restaurant located in a half-timbered house right in the middle of Lucerne. The food and service were excellent, although like everything in Switzerland the prices are over the top. They said that this was one of the more moderately priced restaurants in town but the soups were about $17 each and many of the entrees ran upwards of $30.

After dinner we walked back to our hotel where across the street there is another hotel located high up on the hill with great views out over the lake. You need to take a funicular to reach the hotel. Once inside the hotel we had drinks in the Louis Armstrong bar where on Sunday nights a DJ plays oldies. The bar was intimate, traditional in style with ornate upholstered furniture, photos of performers and just a very comfortable old-world style.

October 29, 2016 — Basel, Switzerland

Basel - Town Hall

Basel – Town Hall

Basel - Church

Basel – Church

Basel - Stuffed Trolls at the Fall Festival

Basel – Stuffed Trolls at the Fall Festival

Basel - Fall Festival

Basel – Fall Festival

Basel- Fountain

Basel- Fountain

Basel is located on the Rhine River along the northwestern border of Switzerland at the intersection of France and Germany. Basel has about 175,000 inhabitants and about 850,000 people in the area including portions of France and Germany. The official language is German although most people speak a local dialect.

Basel is one of the most dynamic economic regions in Switzerland and has an unemployment rate of less than 5%. Pharmaceutical companies, many banks and Swiss Air call Basel their home.

We took a bus for about a thirty-minute drive to reach the center of Basel from the the ship. From here we took a walking tour of the city where it was the opening day of the autumn festival at noon. The festival was set up in many city squares and parks. It was a bit like a county fair with lots of carnival games, ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, food booths, demonstrations of mops and vegetable slicing machines, and gift items of all types. We wandered some of the squares and sampled a popular pastry filled with an egg custard mixed with cheese and some candy coated nuts.

One of the local parks we stopped at had something like a Halloween festival going on. There was a skeleton hanging with an exercise bicycle attached to it. When you peddled the stationary bicycle the arms and legs of the skeleton would move. One booth featured a variety of ugly looking hand made stuffed trolls. Another booth was selling all types of jewelry made of bones, while another featured a live grim reaper dressed in black polishing his sickle.

For lunch we stopped at a local burger joint where it was confirmed that the prices in Switzerland really are over the top. We ordered one bacon cheeseburger, one order of French fries and two sodas. The price for this was $29.50.

About 2:30pm we headed back to the ship on a shuttle provided to begin our packing to disembark the ship the next day for our trip to Lucerne, Switzerland.  There was no entertainment and we went to bed early….very exciting.

October 28, 2016 — Breisach, Germany

Freiburg - Church

Freiburg – Church

Freiburg - Church Interior

Freiburg – Church Interior

Freiburg - Town Hall

Freiburg – Town Hall

Freiburg - Cuckoo Clock

Freiburg – World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock

Freiburg - Small Cuckoo Clock

Freiburg – Small Cuckoo Clock

Breisach is a small town of only about 17,000 residents and gets its name from the word breakwater, due to earlier times when the river would flood and leave the town in the middle of the Rhine River. In the 19th-Century engineers re-routed the river and straightened it so that the town was no longer flooded and isolated in the center of the river.

We made our way from Breisach to the university town of Freiburg, located in the foothills of the Black Forest and having a population of about 220,000 inhabitants. During the 13th and 14th Centuries, nearby silver mines made this one of the richest cities in Europe and as such the town boasts stunning architecture from many eras. The name Freiburg means “fortified town of free citizens” since it was once a fortified city with a free market.

Freiburg has small fresh water troughs running throughout the city center. These narrow (maybe 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide) water ways used to bring fresh water to the town’s residents for feeding livestock and fighting fires, but today are more a novelty and place for children to play. It is said that if you accidentally fall into one of these small troughs, you will return to Freiburg and marry a local.

On the main cathedral square we visited the incredibly ornate gothic cathedral constructed in red sandstone between 1200 and 1530. It has a huge towering spire, many gargoyles, carved statues and lace-like ornamentation.

After touring the town, we headed out of town to the base of the Black Forrest to a chalet like hotel and restaurant called Restaurant Hofgut Sternan. The very large restaurant could fit our entire ship full of guests for a traditional lunch of sausages, potatoes, sauerkraut and black forest cake for dessert.

Outside of the restaurant there was a cuckoo clock shop filled with a vast variety of clocks in all sizes, shapes and varying types of ornamentation. There was also a glass blowing shop and gift shop for souvenir shopping. On the outside of one of the gift shops there is a giant cuckoo clock considered to be the largest in the world. We watched the clock chime a couple of times and watched the dancing couple parade in and out of the building along with the cuckoo bird.

We were invited to dine at the captains table for dinner because of the number of times that we have traveled with Vantage Travel. This was the captain’s farewell dinner and featured a seven course meal. The captain was from Hungary and did not really enjoy hosting guests for dinner but he was very pleasant, answered all our questions and took good care of us.

October 27, 2016 — Colmar, Germany

Colmar - Kent and Mark at the market

Colmar – Kent and Mark at the market

Colmar - Pastry Shop

Colmar – Pastry Shop

Colmar - One of the Altarpiece Panels

Colmar – One of the Altarpiece Panels

Riquewehr - Main Street

Riquewehr – Main Street

Riquewehr - Main Street Facades

Riquewehr – Main Street Facades

We made our way by motor coach for a full day scenic Alsatian Wine Route tour with a visit to Colmar and the Unterlinden Museum. The French city of Colmar was German between the years of 1871 and again between 1940 and 1945. Colmar was mostly spared from destruction during the French Revolution and the two world wars. Colmar has a sunny microclimate and is one of the driest cities in France. By San Diego standards they still get a lot of rain at 24 inches per year. Colmar is located along the Alsatian wine route and considers itself the capital of Alsatian wine.

The town is another charming town filled with meandering cobblestone streets, gift shops, coffee houses, bakeries and eating places. We visited an area called Little Venice because of its many narrow canals. This area was once the neighborhood where the butcher’s, tanner’s and fishmonger lived and worked.

We visited the Museum Unterlinden, formerly a Dominican religious sisters’ convent built in the 13th-century. Within this beautiful museum is an Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunewald. This extraordinary altarpiece contains several hinged panels that, when opened, changed the altarpiece for different seasons of the church calendar. The panels have now been separated so they can all be seen individually within a room that once served as the sisters’ chapel, complete with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings.

Typical foods found in this town were the Macaroons, made in all sorts of flavors and colors. They are only a couple of inches in diameter but were being made in shops all over town. The crescent shaped Croissants are very popular here as well. The croissants have been made in France since the middle ages and are popular for breakfast.

After lunch we continued on to a very small village by the name of Riquewehr. This small village was just a couple of blocks long and featured many tourist shops, wine tasting spots and many macaroon shops. The colorful half-timbered houses with flower boxes filled with colorful geraniums lined the main street.

After dinner, the crew from our ship, the River Splendor, put on a crew show where about 30 of the 50 crew members participated in some way. It was very much a variety show with singing, skits, jokes and a lot of laughs.