Friday, August 10, 2018

Groningen, Netherlands, Dusseldorf, Bonn & Mainz, Germany

Groningen, population 200,000, is the largest city in the northern part of the Netherlands. It's home to the University of Groningen (30,000 students) and Hanze University of Applied Sciences (25,000). The beautiful building below is Goudkantoor or Gold Office. Built in 1635 it's where one went to have a hallmark stamped on your gold or silver to prove it was real. Now it's home to a restaurant.      

Martini Tower dates back in 1482. It seems the Dutch have a problem building towers as the tower tilts 0.6 meters.
 This is the main building at the University of Groningen.
This is a photo of the same square as the photo above except facing the other way. See the man in the blue shirt standing in front of his white truck? A few seconds earlier he was standing front of the white "no smoking" sign puffing away on a cigarette. He saw me taking his picture and tossed the cigarette. There are three other "no smoking" signs nearby and four more "no smoking" signs taped to the building. Evidently the university is tired of students smoking up a storm. But the idiot in the blue shirt thinks the sign doesn't apply to him.
Making my way back to Switzerland means passing through Germany and places I've visited (and posted pictures) before. Dusseldorf, population 600,000, doesn't look as inviting as it did during my last visit. Why? There has been a prolonged heat wave (mid-90's) and no rain for several weeks. Pictured below is the beginning of The Koenigsalle (King's Avenue), one of Europe's fanciest shopping streets. It's about a half-mile long and a tree-shaded canal runs through the middle. Luxury high-end stores line the boulevard but, this photo shows parched grass. You'd think they would install a sprinkler system to insure a lush look and enhance the shopping experience but no, this is Europe.
I've talked about the 10 year rule before. Trends start in California and in five years they are in New York City and 10 years arrive in Europe. Classic example: frozen yogurt shops. Anyway, Mexican taco shops is another. Europe was clueless about Mexican food--I remember going into a Mexican restaurant in Finland and it looked like they took Heinz ketchup mixed it with a few red peppers and---voila---called it salsa! Nowadays, good Mexican fast-food places pop up everywhere. This one in Dusseldorf is called "Chidonkey"---how the heck they came up with that? Very good food!!
 Signs are in English. Had several excellent steak tacos along with a Corona beer.
Okay, it's time for your history lesson. Bonn, population 300,000, was the capital of West Germany from 1949-1990. With the reunification of communist East Germany and West Germany in 1990, Bonn was designated the capital. However, in 1999 the powers that be voted to move the capital to Berlin. So, overnight Bonn went from being relevant to being a has-been. There's not much of a old town area in Bonn. This is city hall (built in 1737). When world leaders visited Bonn it was pretty much mandatory they appear on the steps outside city hall with local officials and wave. Photos show French president Charles de Gaulle, Russian presidents etc.. giving the wave to the crowd. Nowadays, since Bonn's decline, I imagine if I slipped 20 bucks to someone at city hall they'd walk me out the steps for a photo-op.
Imagine if the capital of the United States was moved from Washington D.C. to New York City. Embassies would pack up and move and ditto all those companies with fancy offices for their lobbyists.  A clear example of Bonn's fall from power:  Deutsche Bahn, Germany's railway (the world's largest railway company) for the past 20 years has been renovating/upgrading train stations around the country. In Bonn the train station is a real dump and is currently undergoing renovations--bet this would have been done years and years ago if it was still the capital. This photo shows market day in Bonn's main square.
 At the edge of town is where you find most of Bonn's government complexes. I held my camera through a fence to snap Villa Hammerschmidt, from 1950-1999 the official residence of the President of Germany--a mostly ceremonial position. Germany's Chancellor holds the real power, currently Angela Merkel, and her former official residence is a stark modernistic structure almost adjacent to this villa. Nearby, the former German Parliament complex has been handed over to the United Nations.

I think what's really funny is the modern 41-story Deutsche Post DHL Tower looming over the former parliament complex. Started in 2000, do you think Deutsche Post DHL, with over 510,000 employees and $64 billion in revenues (the world's largest postal/courier service), would have built the tower if they had known the government would be moving? No way Jose, I'm sure it was a matter of already having secured the funding for the building. So much for their plan of walking next door to schmooze government officials.

I visited Deutsche Telecom ($84 billion in revenues) here back in 1995 and they still call the huge building complex (located several blocks from the former German Parliament complex with over 2,000 employees ) their head office but signs say it's an employee training center.
Been through Mainz (population 200,000) multiple times and posted pictures but, as mentioned earlier it's the route back to Switzerland.  So, I've posted several pictures from the old town area.
 This couple looks like they've had a good shopping day.
 View of the red sandstone colored Mainz Cathedral.
 Flowers outside city hall.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Leeuwarden, The Netherlands

I find Leeuwarden, population 125,000, tucked away in the northwest corner of the Netherlands. Picturesque canals pass through the city center.

 Stopped by this bakery to snag several more of my favorite Dutch sweet.

Only in the Netherlands can I find these scrumptious banana cream eclairs. Think of an eclair but, with a twist. The filling is a combination banana cream, whipped cream and, several actual slices of banana on the bottom. The yellow topping tastes like: you guessed it-- bananas. I've been averaging five of these a day because as we all know bananas are healthy.
 The bakery must have known I was coming as a sign right across from it had my name on it.
This is The Waag, a public weighing house dating back to 1590. Located in a large square where farmers market were and still are held. It was compulsory for market traders to weigh their goods here before selling them.
So, you've got the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy (183 feet tall). The Leaning Tower of St. Moritz, Switzerland (108 feet tall). And, here we have the Leaning Tower Oldehove of Leeuwarden (128 feet tall). Built in 1532, the tower started to lean almost immediately. The attached church was demolished but, the tower has hung around.
 Summertime and the canals are filled with pleasure craft.
So many bridges. Who pays for having someone raise and lower the bridges? Here you see the bridge master with a fishing pole snagging payment from a passing pleasure craft.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Haarlem, Netherlands and Kampen, Netherlands

This is my 23rd consecutive summer in Lausanne, Switzerland. With Lausanne as base, my bike and I have pretty much dissected Europe. It's getting more complicated to visit new places as it usually involves flying and I'm not a big fan of planes especially with my bike in tow. I've had baggage handlers damage the bike, ship it to the wrong destination and even "forget" to put it on the plane. You want a definition of helplessness? Standing at the departure gate, looking out the window to see luggage carts loaded with suitcases pulling up to be transferred onto the plane AND, spotting the cardboard box containing my bike on the bottom of the heap of suitcases!

Several planned trips to France were canceled this summer. Train workers have been on strike since May. In 2019 European Union (EU) countries have to open their railways to competition and the bloated French train monopoly needs to pare back on expenses--meaning getting rid of vast numbers of overpaid, underworked employees. French rail workers can retire at 50 with full pension.
Summers in Europe can get very hot with temperatures averaging in the 90's for the months of July and August.  Last July I spent time cycling around England in deliciously comfortable 65 degree weather while continental Europe was baking in the mid-90's. I was planning a similar trip to England----cycling along England's southwest coastline but canceled. Why? England is having record high temperatures (in the 90's) along with extreme drought and I was constantly seeing pictures of overflowing crowds flocking to England's coastline and beaches. When traveling I like to have as much flexibility as possible and do not book hotels beforehand. So, my big problem would be showing up in a town and finding no room in the inn.

I've been cycling this summer to ski resorts and mountain lakes but haven't posted pictures since they're previously visited places.

Netherlands here I come! It's a cyclist's paradise--beating even Denmark, the people are friendly, its women rank amongst the most beautiful in Europe and many of its cities/towns still have preserved medieval city centers. This trip I'm flying into Amsterdam and heading to an area in the northern part of the country that I've yet to visit.

Haarlem (population 160,000) lies 10 miles west of Amsterdam. This is Amsterdamse Poort, the last remaining city gate. It dates back to 1355 and was one of 12 city gates encircling the city.
View of Grote Markt, called by many the most beautiful square in the Netherlands. That's city hall in the background. Haarlem has more protected (historic) structures than any other city in the country.
 View in Grote Markt toward the Great Church or St. Bavo's Church.
Sideview of St. Bavo's Church, the biggest church in Haarlem. By the way, here's a piece of trivia: Harlem in New York City was named by Dutch settlers after Haarlem.
There's a reason I'm showing you several views of St. Bravo's Church: the church houses the largest organ in the world. This Christian Mueller organ has been around for a while---Mozart played this organ back in 1766 (he was only 10 years old at the time).
This solidy-built imposing safe dates from the 15th century and sits off to one side of the gigantic organ. Valuables along with important documents were stored inside including papers granting city rights to Haarlem back in 1245. I don't think a modern day forklift could dislodge this sturdy sucker.
Marijuana (cannabis) has been legal in the Netherlands for years and coffee shops selling the stuff are everywhere. This one has what appears to be a CHP officer (California Highway Patrol) guarding the entrance.
Heading 60 miles northwest of Amsterdam brings me to Kampen, population 50,000. What has lured me here? It has garnered kudos as having one of the best preserved old towns in the Netherlands and as you know, I'm a sucker for medieval town centers. This is one of the three remaining city gate.
 The former city hall holds prime spot in the town center.
 Storefronts are a joy to wander past.
 Another of Kampen's three medieval city gates.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg (population 280,00) ranks as one of my favorite cities in Europe. I've been here multiple times and my affection has to do with Strasbourg's past. Wars between Germany and France have seen ownership of this region (Alsace) ping-pong between the two. Hence, the place feels like you're in France but, at the same time there's the German influence.
 The Old Town area is full of beautiful medieval half-timbered buildings.
 Canals meander through.
 Medieval towers and bridges.
So, as you should know by now I'm a big, big fan of super-star Vauban, the famous French military engineer.  Between 1686-1690 Vauban Dam was built in Strasbourg's Old Town. This defensive work was to repel any invasion by opening up the gates and flooding the outlying area--hindering the enemy. It's still intact! Successfully being used in 1870 to thwart an attack.
Behind this palace looms Strasbourg Cathedral (466 feet tall). Between 1647-1874 this sandstone Gothic church reigned as the world's tallest building.

According to what I had read, Vauban's citadel (fortress) encircled Strasbourg in the 1600's AND, had been completely demolished. Turns out not to be true as I cycle past a park and come across parts of its fortifications.
More of the citadel's walls.
This water basin in named after Vaudan.
This port storage facility is also named after Vauban.
Those of you who watch PBS shows, including the British drama Downton Abbey, will remember all those Viking River Cruise ads. Here's one of their boats docked near town.
Did you know Strasbourg and NOT Brussels is the official seat of the European Parliament? What's even more bizarre is that they meet here in Strasbourg--Once a month for only four days! This is the front part of the EU Parliament building (2.4 million square feet).
This is a rear view of the massive EU Parliament structure.
This is the old EU parliament complex located across from the new building. As you may or may not know, Brussels, Belgium is where parliament does all the work and so, once a month over 5,000 members of parliament, bureaucrats, lobbyists etc... decamp to Strasbourg for FOUR days. Of course, Strasbourg loves this gravy train arrangement because it brings lots of moola into the city (hotels double their rates). Members of parliament have voted to stop this nonsense but, the 28 EU member countries have to be unanimous in a vote and France won't agree as it likes having its hand in the pie. The estimated yearly cost of this monthly move to Strasbourg: $150 million.
One of many EU buildings in Strasbourg.
After Strasbourg I cycled to Baden-Baden, Germany, one of the grandest spa towns in Europe.  I've posted pictures before of the place before.
German's love their beer gardens and this one on Baden-Baden's main shopping street is very colorful.
Another view of the beer garden.