Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Estavayer-le-Lac, Switzerland

Having left Murten I'm cycling 15 miles to Estavayer-le-Lac, another walled-in medieval town overlooking a lake. Passing through the village of St. Aubin I come upon this roundabout. The brown sign on the bottom reads "Chateau de St-Aubin". (Don't forget you can click on the image and it'll enlarge). Small towns and villages are always trying to get tourists and people passing through to linger. Me, I love visiting castles and in French the word "chateau" means manor or country house but, it can also mean castle. 

Finding the castle involves cycling up a steep hill and midway I stop to fill my water bottle. These fountains usually have the date they were installed and this fountain is stamped "1754". I'm in the canton of Fribourg. In the USA we have states and in Switzerland they have cantons. Fribourg is the most catholic of all the cantons with 65% of the population being catholic. So, it's no surprise to find a religious figure overlooking the fountain. 
Kind of disappointed to find the chateau (built in 1631) more of a manor house than a fortified castle.  It's now used as the town hall.
How is it that I've come across the same chief all over Europe--I'm beginning to think he's been cloned.
 Here's one of the entrances to Estavayer-le-Lac, population 6,000.
 The town's castle stands on the edge of town.
 Entering the castle grounds involves passing over a moat and through this opening.
 This is the interior grounds of the castle. It now houses the local police.
 Another view of castle grounds.
 Another watch tower connected to castle.
 Medieval walls still encompass the town.
 This square guard tower is the famous Treason Tower. Back in the 1400's the guards in this tower eyed an approaching invading army in the distance. The guards hastily abandoned their post by climbing down ropes. The ropes were left dangling and enabled the invading army to enter the town.
 Another medieval tower.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Murten, Switzerland

I've mentioned this before-----Switzerland has four official languages: French (spoken in the southern part of the country), German (in the northern part), Italian (in the eastern part) and Romansh (spoken by about 35,000 Swiss in a mountain area). Parts of Switzerland straddle between two regions and so some cities and towns are officially bilingual. The medieval town of Murten (German) or Morat in French with a population of 8,000 is one of those. Situated on a hill overlooking Lake Murten/Morat this walled-in medieval gem is a magnet for tour buses. One of the city gates.
Castle in town center.
 Town hall.
 This solid-looking built hotel looks like it could easily withstand an earthquake.
Filled my water bottle up with ice cold water at this water fountain but, there's nary a plaque telling the identity of the soldier guarding it.
 Had trouble filling my water bottle at this fountain with the two spouts being hidden by flowers.
The whole town is still ringed by medieval ramparts. This is an interior view showing where soldiers would walk along the wall.
 View of wall from the outside.
 Another view of medieval walls.
 From the town center I spot a slew of cars parked near the lakefront.  Being curious I go investigate.
 Wow, there's a gathering of vintage Volkswagen Beetles and VW camper vans from around Europe.
 This one looks cozy.
 Note the California license plate on this one.
 This VW ice cream van came from Belgium.
 Must be fun motoring up to a ski resort in this.
 This isn't a Volkswagen vehicle but, it was giving free rides around the block to families.
 View from the lakefront towards the town up on the hill.

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.