Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Day 20 something (yes, I'm losing count) - Köln

After Copenhagen, we caught the train (which ends up being put on a ferry for a portion of the journey - coooool!) and then stayed in Köln (Cologne) in Germany for a few nights. I really wanted to show you the amazing Gothic cathedral, but the damn thing wouldn't even fit in my lens.

I kid you not. That thing is bloody huge!
I have discovered that when you are continuously on the road, you start thinking some really odd things. For example, there I am, gazing up at the oldest Gothic cathedral in the world, and all I can think is "Gee that statue looks like Ringo Starr!"

Or: "Hmmm, I wonder how many people set themselves alight on the prayer candles?"
Or even, upon exiting the gloomy grandeur, "Geepers creepers - how do you get yourself onto that BierBike?!"

Like I said, strange thoughts.

Day 20 - Copenhagen (in black and white)

As you can all probably tell, I'm a wee bit behind with the travel blogging. It's because I'm in denial - Copenhagen was so beautiful that I didn't want to leave!

We did all the usual things - saw the palaces and checked out if Mary and Fred were home (they weren't but Margrethe was, as evidenced by the swallow tail flag atop her palace), gazed at the Little Mermaid (yes, she is little, and kinda bored by the expression on her face) and went to the gorgeously light filled art gallery.

We also hired bikes and cruised around the town, in what would have to be one of the best days we've had away. It was just so lovely to peddle away at a gentle pace, stopping when we felt like it, and feeling so safe and secure in the bike lanes.

The one thing that really has stayed in my mind, however, is the Museum of Danish Resistance. Tell you what, if you want to find yourself blubbering away hopelessly, pop in there and read the final letters to home written by Danish Resistance fighters upon finding out that they were to be executed for actions against the Germans during WWII. They were all so stoic, and accepting about the consequences of their actions. I was bawling like a baby at the courage exhibited by those passionate young men.

The entire museum is wonderfully done, and well worth a look. As is all of Copenhagen itself. I will definitely be back.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Day 17 - Copenhagen

Dear Copenhagen,

I think I love you! I love your beautiful layout, peppered with open public squares and fantastically beautiful buildings. I love your delightful gardens, and your cobblestone streets. I love how clean and proud you are, with your friendly citizens and brightly painted homes.

I also love your bike lanes. OH MY SAINTED AUNT, do I love those bike lanes. They are so safe and easy to use and for the love of all that is environmentally good Melbourne, when the heck are you going to get with the program? That Swanston Street "Copenhagen-style" bike lane is a frigging joke once you've been on the real thing.

(Note from Ed: are you writing a love letter to Copenhagen, or a hate missive to Melbourne's pathetic transport planningm policies?)

Oops, sorry! Back to Copenhagen. Yes, those bike lanes rock. They make your city so easy to use, and add such a friendly air. Not to mention clean air! Copenhagen, I LOOOOOOOOOVE you! I'm seriously thinking about moving there. After all, Microsoft have their second largest corporate offices there - the Galumph would fit right in! And there's only four international schools which Grumbles could attend. Not that I Googled or anything *whistles a tune innocently*

And I especially loved the smørrebrøds, especially the smoked salmon and dill numbers. Nagdammit, they were gooooooood!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Day 14 - Bettmeralp

On our last day in Switzerland (sob, sob!) we hopped into Bjorn's car and drove off to visit Bettmeralp, or 'The Better Alp!' as all the tourist brochures call it. Better than what, I wondered. They're all majestic wonders of nature, not to mention freaking huge!

However, there is no denying that Bettmeralp is incredible. UNESCO agrees, and has named it one of their World Heritage Sites. Situated almost 2000 feet above sea level, the town is car free, and can only be accessed by cable car. The air is so pure here, and you really do feel like you are standing on top of the world as you gaze about the picture postcard beauty of the town, framed by the grand peaks of the surrounding alps.

Seriously - all we needed was Heidi to come tripping by with her goats, and the picture would have been complete. It's so beautiful there that it's ridiculous!

On a side note, I never really understood as a kid how Heidi's grandfather could push Clara's wheelchair down the mountain side. Surely, I thought, it would have just slowly rolled to a halt, rather than careening down the slope helter skelter before being totally destroyed at the bottom. Well, I can assure you I am labouring under no such misapprehensions now. I spent the whole day jitterly watching Grumbles to make sure she didn't go careening off the side. Damn those hills are steep!

Grumbles, however, was completely unfazed by the gradients. You take the child to the grandeur of a Swiss alp, and instead of being awed by the scenic panarama around them they prefer to laze about and pet the local cat. *shakes head* Kids these day, huh?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Day 12 - Lausanne

Lausanne - home to the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Switzerland. Work began in 1175, and apparently remains unfinished to this day, although you cannot tell from the splendour and grandour of the church. At one stage of it's history, it was like the mecca of Switzerland, with more than 10 times the population of Lausanne swarming upon the town each year to pay their respects to God.

One of the more interesting facts about the cathedral is that it still employs a nightwatch man. In centuries gone by this was a common feature, with the main job of the watchman to keep an eye out for fires which could easily destroy your average medieval town built mainly of wood. As the years went by, and wood was replaced by stone, most nightwatch men were replaced by telecommunications and local fire authorities. Some forward thinking folks even went crazy and installed those new-fangled smoke detector thingies. Wild times!

But not in Lausanne. Every night their nightwatch man is required to climb up the 153 stairs to the top of the belfry, scan the surrounding countryside for telltale plumes of smoke, and if all is good he then has to yell out at the top of his voice "C'est le guet; il a sonné l'heure!" (this is the nightwatch - the hour has struck).

153 stairs. Even in the middle of winter. Every evening from 10pm until 2am. Poor bloody sod.

Lausanne is also home to what seems, at the time, like the world's most angled shopping strip. If climbing hills of 45 degrees to get your consumer fix is your thing, then Lausanne is the place for you! Except, of course, if you are the nightwatch man. I suspect he's rather over climbing up and down.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Day 10 - Gruyère

Gruyère is an incredible place. Surrounded by mountains that form natural boundaries, it has often been fought over as a strategic stronghold in Switzerland's past. Accompanying each tale from the misty past are legends that showcase the pluck and valour of the good citizens of La Gruyères.
But don't think it was just the men, with their scary array of weaponry, that came along and saved the day. Once, whilst being fought by the armies of the Bernese and the Fribourgers, the townsmen found themselves in a rather dicey situation indeed. Completely outnumbered, they were being forced into a retreat, complete with a nasty massacre at the end.

Thank heavens, then, for those clever townswomen. They quickly herded up the goats, dressed them in bells and strange hats, and sent them off towards the marauding invaders through the fog. Scared witless by the spectre of ghostly demons emerging from the mist who, incidentally, sounded like they were bleating from the very depths of hell, the enemy was thrown into panicked turmoil. One poor invader was forever captured for posterity screeching to his fellow sword bearers "Run for your life; run before the fire of war is rekindled, stoking our adversaries' courage and lighting the way to our defeat and death!"

So hooray for the ladies and the goats for saving the day. I would expect nothing less from a town which produced such exceptional cheeses (chèvre, bien sûr, included!).
Although the fondue is pretty good. And the raclette. And the meringues. Geez, Switzerland is seriously making me fat!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Day Nine - Désalpe @ Charmey

My father is a dairy farmer, and once a year he would gather up all the newly born calves and transport them to another part of our farm, so they could be weaned from their mothers. In my memory this was considered a big day, as the other part of our farm was a couple of kilometres down the local highway, so a truck would be bought in the transport all the calves. Exciting times!

The Swiss, however, have made the movement of cows an art form. Each year, at the end of summer, the cows are decorated with enormous bells and flowers, and are gaily walked down from the sunny mountain peaks where they have been happily munching the grass all summer to the lower pastures, where they will reside in winter. Dressed in traditional costume, farmers and their friends accompany the cows down the winding mountain roads, while the villages below get their finest to cook sausages and pour beer in anticipation of the festival they call désalpe. Traffic is blocked off for miles around, which on a curvy mountain road with no overtaking would normally be considered about as welcome as a fly in your fondue, but it is all taken in good cheer, with most people jumping out of their cars to take happy snaps, and cheer the cows and farmers as they languidly make their way down from the alpine peaks.

I may have done a bit of cheering and photo snapping myself!

And perhaps indulged in a sausage or two!