Friday, July 23, 2010

Courmayeur, Italy

Make a list of Italy's upscale ski resorts and Courmayeur will surely rank near the top. Location has something to do with it as Courmayeur lies nestled next to Mt. Blanc. At 15,782 feet, Mt. Blanc or Mt. Blanco in Italian, is the highest mountain in the Alps. Courmayeur is a beautiful place but, I'm not a happy camper. Why? For the past several weeks most of Europe has been experiencing hot, hot weather weather (mid 90's) with no relief in sight. So, I figure high up in the mountains it'll be much cooler. Not so, as you can see in the second photo the temperature reads 31 degrees Centigrade which converts to 92 degrees Fahrenheit!

Temperature reading at ski lift.
This roads leads to the Mt. Blanc Tunnel

Courmayeur's main shopping street is car-free.

More of shopping street.

View of Courmayeur from other side of valley.

Checking out chalets on the outskirts of town

View from above town.

A glacier is up the canyon

New ski lift.

If one were to start in the ski resort of Courmayeur, Italy and dig a tunnel directly through Mt. Blanc one would pop out on the other side into the famous ski resort town of Chamonix, France. Hey wait a minute! that's already been done and it's called the Mt. Blanc Tunnel. Built in the 1960's the Mt. Blanc Tunnel is a major transport route for freight through the Alps. Back in 1999 there was a horrific fire in the tunnel caused by a tractor-trailer truck catching fire. Over 39 people were killed and the tunnel was closed three years for repairs. I mention all this because bicycles are prohibited so my bike and I are hopping on a bus for the ride.
The tunnel is seven and a half miles long and very narrow with one lane in each direction. The fire changed the ways things are now done; every truck is inspected before being allowed to enter the tunnel plus, vehicles are required to maintain a distance of 150 feet between each other. About midway through I look up at the tunnel roof and it's still scorched black from the fire. Jeez, that's not something comforting to see--why didn't the powers-that-be have it covered or painted over?
I've been to Chamonix several times before and like previous visits it's absolutely bursting with energy and people. Courmayeur was like a ghost town compared to Chamonix. Why is that? Chamonix is action central with hang gliding, rock climbing, hiking, mountaineering, off-road biking, camping, golf and so forth taking place. Only snapped a few photos this time since you've received plenty of pictures from previous visits.

My favorite partisserie in Chamonix is right around this corner.

Main shopping streets in Chamonix are pedestrian-only (no cars!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wangen im Allgaeu, Germany

First mentioned in 1472 and in its current appearance since 1608, Ravensburg Gate, with its Renaissance-era artwork, gives visitors to Wangen im Allgaeu (population 25,000) an eyeful.

It's always nice to find a fountain spewing cold water to fill my water bottle.

Medieval walls still encircle Wangen im Allgaeu's old town.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lindau, Germany

Lindau (population 25,000) is jam-packed with people. What gives as it's hotter than heck (95 degrees!) plus it's Sunday and town centers are normally empty because grocery stores and retail shops are closed? Well, reaching Lindau's city center requires crossing a bridge as it sits on an island in Lake Constance, the third largest lake in central Europe. Evidently people are flocking here for relief from the searing heat. Three countries border Lake Constance (Germany, Austria and Switzerland).

This is the famous lighthouse at the entrance to Lindau's harbor.
The beautiful decorative building is Lindau's city hall. That strange-looking statue-like figure painted silver is a mime trolling for money from tourists.

This pool complex is the place to be on a blistering hot day like today.

These two pieces of driftwood don't look like much.

But, upon closer inspection one can see momma duck watching over her brood.

Here's my chief buddy hawking his wares.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Bad Wurzach, Germany

Right smack in the center of Bad Wurzach (population 15,000) stands Schloss Bad Wurzach (Castle of Bad Wurzach). It was originally a Roman Catholic seminary which explains the gold statue of Mary (mother of Jesus) outside the entrance. During World War II it was used as a P.O.W. camp for French officers.

I wasn't expecting to find a former monastery (founded 1183) in the center of Bad Schussenried (population 9,000). One enters through the tower gate

The monastery compound is huge with an impressive collection of structures. In the right of this photo is the entrance to the church with the big white building to the left housing a spectacular baroque library.

Found the Amerkia Hotel on the outskirts of Bad Schussenried and atop the building you'll see a Statue of Liberty (made of wood).

Want to know the real reason people come to Bad Schussenried? No, it's not to use the spa facilities or even to wander the grounds of the former monastery. The town is home to beer brewer Schussenrieder. Adjacent to the brewery is the world's only beer stein museum. (over 1,000 beer mugs on display). This is the beer garden behind the museum.

This swimmer is one of the many pieces of art scattered about the beer garden.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What's the story with German spa towns?

Buy a map of Germany and check out the index listing cities/towns. You'll find almost 100 cities/towns with the prefix "Bad" in their name. Bad Berka, Bad Hersfeld, Bad Neustadt and so on. This prefix indicates there's a therapeutic bath house present (hot springs). Only with the approval of the federal government can a town use the prefix "Bad". Why are towns eager to have this thermal bath designation from the government? Big, big bucks as I reckon we're talking about a billion dollar industry. Some of these bath towns are full-on major resorts with massive pool complexes, golf courses, gambling casinos, high-end private medical facilities and miles of hiking, biking and cross-country skiing trails. If you have say, a sore back, your doctor will write up a note prescribing physical therapy. Take that note to one of these spa towns and guess what? The government foots half the bill for your stay. Anyway, during the course of earlier travels through Germany I've passed through several of these spa towns and found them quite nice. So, in addition to visiting ski resorts and medieval fortifications I've added spa towns.

The first four photos show Bad Waldsee (population 20,,000).

Nice little lake right behind the city center in Bad Waldsee
The medieval tower gate guarding the entrance to Bad Waldsee's scenic old town.

There's a castle in the middle of Bad Waldsee but it seems to be in disrepair.

Biberach (population 30,000) is named after a river that flows through the town.
It's Saturday and market day (farmers market) with the city center swamped with shoppers. There's good and there's bad about showing up on market day. The good being the sights and smells of goodies on display. The bad being the market usually takes place in the scenic main city square ----where the best photo opportunities are now void due to too many tents, vehicles, people etc. in the way.
This photo shows the sole remaining medieval entrance gate/tower to the old town.
Fountain (great for filling my water bottle with ice cold water!)

This is a medieval lookout tower in Biberach.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ravensburg, Germany

I'm high on a hill standing next to a schloss (castle) taking in the view of Ravensburg's downtown. With its well-preserved medieval city center Ravensburg (population 50,000) is a delight. That tall white circular building is a guard tower and was built in 1425 to protect the castle (where I'm standing).

In medieval times cities like Ravensburg were completely walled-in with fortifications atop the walls. Going in and out of town was usually restricted through four gates. Built in 1432, Obertor (Upper Gate) is the only one remaining. There's a bell atop the tower which was rung during executions.
Weingarten (population 25,000) lies only three miles from Ravensburg. Though it isn't as big or as lively, Weingarten has something in its town center that Ravensburg can't match: a massive church. It's Germany's second largest church and the country's largest Baroque church.

The church is impressive inside and out.

I've traveled extensively through Germany and absolutely love the country. However, there's one thing about the country that really, really bothers me. Why does the government allow cigarette vending machines to be placed in residential areas? I'm not talking about busy intersections, business, commercial areas or outside next to gas stations, convenience stores and so on. I'm talking about stand alone cigarette vending machines being plopped down in residential areas with no commercial activites for blocks and blocks. Do they know how easy it is for minors to help themselves. It's no wonder the country has one of the highest smoking rates in Europe.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

More from the Zurich area

Remember the 2004 Presidential election when Senator John Kerry ran against George W. Bush and both played down their privileged backgrounds? Did you know Senator Kerry went to an exclusive boarding school (Institut Montana) in Zug, Switzerland (about 30 miles from Zurich)?

What the first photo doesn't show is the backside of the campus. It sits atop a mountain and the views from clasrooms and dorm rooms are absolutely stunning. That's Lake Zug and the city of Zug below.

This building and others behind it house the boys with the girls residing in a complex of buildings on the other side of the campus--all the buildings have drop-dead views of Zug and Lake Zug.

This castle near Zurich can be rented out for various functions.

Back in 1997 I visited the headquarters of Holcim, with revenues over $20 billion and 90,000 employees it's the world's second largest maker of cement. I enjoyed a nice reception. Swiss companies have a reputation for being low-key and in many instances, secretive. Located on the outskirts of Jona, about 25 miles from Zurich, I remember having a tough time finding the place. Why? There were no signs identifying the building. No sign atop the building, nothing in the parking lot, no small plaque on the front door--not even their name on the mailbox.

I dropped by on a Saturday morning just to see if Holcim was still keeping a low-profile. And? Yep, still nary a hint anywhere on the the site that Holcim occupies the building. Oh and one more thing. Holcim is a publicly-traded company and is still controlled by two sons of the founding family (Schmidheiny). Matter of fact, Forbes magazine estimates Stephan Schmidheiny's wealth at $3.1 billion and Thomas Schmidheiny at $4.4 billion.

This is an early morning photo of Rapperswil, a lakefront town about 20 miles from Zurich.

Ever had cannoli, an Italian pastry? I absolutely love 'em! Matter of fact, I used to (and still do)cycle to Solunto's Bakery in Little Italy in San Diego just to get some. In case you don't know what they are: fried pastry shells filled with sweet creamy ricotta cheese. Some mix chocolate bits in with the ricotta cheese while others put candied citrus peels at the open ends. So I'm cycling through scenic farmland about 20 miles from Zurich and pass through the small town of Hombrechtikon (nary a stop light to be found) and to my astonishment come across this Italian pastry shop on the edge of town. Going inside I spot cannoli and order one. Very good!! So I go inside and purchase the remaining three. I also try their chocolate gelato. Two thumbs up.
During the course of my stay in Zurich I cycle to this pasticceria shop three different days and each time find four cannoli on display and each time buy 'em all. The shells are crunchy and the filling scrumptious! Though I don't speak German and the husband/wife owners don't speak English I let them know of my happiness by repeatedly spouting the words"wunderbar" and "fantastic". Check out their website : .

I don't know whether this hair salon is any good but it got my attention.

That shoe atop the shoe shop sures looks scary.

I was riding along a country road and came across this very large and elaborate model train set
up in a yard.