Our main destination this fall was Rome!  Cary had invited us to watch her defend her doctoral thesis in the middle of September. After doing a lot of checking on flight prices, we decided to fly into Amsterdam and on to Pisa the next day. I try not to schedule flights on two different airlines on the same day because there’s the chance the flights won’t connect as planned. When leaving Dulles the pilot told us we were going to have to wait half an hour or so before take off as Amsterdam was getting tired of this United flight coming in early. We were pleasantly surprised that even with this wait we arrived at Schiphol nearly an hour before our scheduled time! Gotta love shortened trips across the Atlantic! And we definitely knew we had arrived in Holland when we saw the bulb shop right inside the airport.  IMG_20170911_092157257

We had a wonderful hotel room in Pisa, very reasonably priced ($69 +$14 taxes), included breakfast, and provided us with a view of the leaning tower. When arriving in a new city without a car we indulge ourselves by using a taxi to our hotel or Airbnb.  We’re often tired after travel and it’s one less thing to worry about. The taxi from the airport in Pisa to the Hotel Villa Kinzica was 12 euros.  The desk clerk at our hotel was astounded. He said it usually cost him 18 euros when he took a taxi from the airport to work!

We didn’t realize that the tower, which began leaning during its construction, took over two hundred years to build beginning in the 1100s and not finished until 1399. We spent the day wandering around the old town square and toured through the baptistry where Galileo was baptized in 1565 as well as the famous cathedral where he conducted many of his experiments!  We can never quite get our minds wrapped around the fact that we are looking at buildings centuries old.  Imagine! Constructed in the twelfth century! The surprising thing in Europe is not just how old the edifices are but that they are still being used!

From Pisa we took the train to Rome where Cary met us.  Her apartment is centrally located with lots of restaurants and shops in the area. She is within walking distance of her office at the Farm and Agriculture Organization (FAO, part of the United Nations). The only drawback is the 110 steps up to the fourth floor (remember in Europe you first climb a flight to get to the first floor)!  But once there it’s a lovely comfortable place.  We ordered Chinese on the first night we were there and we were amazed that delivery folks don’t think anything about the climb!  As we explored her neighborhood we found it hard to get used to ancient ruins popping up among the busy streets and modern buildings! On the tram ride back to her house from the university, we passed the Colosseum.

We have been blessed with amazing kids and spouses (and significant others). And watching Cary defend her doctoral thesis was amazing! The European process is different from the American procedure which was interesting in and of itself. And after the stress of the defense, it was wonderful to have the opportunity to get to chat with the members of her committee.  In the evening we celebrated even more over dinner with her friends and colleagues.

We had decided when we left Rome we’d take a couple of days traveling to Lyon, France where we’d pick up our leased Peugeot. You may remember from previous blogs that we’ve leased before.  Peugeot has reasonable leases for extended periods. Iinsurance is automatically included and there are no extra charges for dropping the car off in a different city from where we pick it up (as long as they are both in France). This works well for us. We can get the car in Lyon, and two months later return it in Paris.

The morning after Cary’s celebration we took a train from Rome to Turin. Again we had lovely sunny weather and it was great to stroll among Turin’s beautiful piazzas. IMG_20170917_115612581We only had a day in Turin and we had been told about the Egyptian Museum that is supposed to be the best outside of Egypt and the only one outside of Cairo that is totally dedicated to Egyptian art and culture.  Bob says he’d never seen so many mummies in his life.  We found it interesting how the burial rituals slowly changed over time. For instance, at first all the individual’s possessions were placed with him to take to the afterlife. Then over time that was changed to representations of the food. We also learned that a cubit is the distance between the tip of one’s middle finger and the elbow! Interesting tidbit!

We also found the church where the Shroud of Turin is supposedly displayed but what we found was that there are pictures of it but the shroud itself is buried in a metal vault beneath so you kinda gotta take their word that it’s there!

From Turin we took the train to Lyon, France, a trip of about four hours. Sometimes there are places for baggage on trains and other times there is not.  On the train to Lyon we were presented with a new problem, understanding the stops.  We’d not had a problem up to this time but now we were unsure where to get off.  Bob asked the women next to us and through limited English they told him they were getting off at the same stop.  Unfortunately they too were confused, but luckily we figured out because the majority of the passengers were getting off we would too! Our stops in hotels are usually for one or two nights when we want to see things on the way to our next destination. I am careful to make these reservations within walking distances to the local sites. Sometimes I do this because parking in cities anywhere is difficult and expensive and sometimes I do this because we don’t have a car. Lyon is a lovely city with a beautiful castle towering over it.  We also saw interesting murals painted on the exterior walls of buildings.

Whenever we pick up a car it takes us a few minutes to figure it all out. I often wonder why simple things like windshield wipers can’t be in standard places on all cars, but this car has an extremely deluxe dash showing us every detail of the car we could possibly want or need. The trouble is finding what we want when we want it.  When we first turned the car on, the gas gauge was displayed, but shortly after it disappeared and it took us nearly 50 miles to get it back.  It’s very scary to not know how much gas we have!

After a short distance, we entered Switzerland. I read we would need a visa to drive the motorways in Switzerland and sure enough right at the border was a guard who stopped us. They sold us a permit for the equivalent of about forty dollars.  We quite like the idea as the pass is good for nearly every toll in the country, and it sure beats stopping every few miles and putting in our debit card the way we do in France!

All of a sudden the snowcapped mountains came into view. I am such a tourist!  I spent the next hour saying “Oh wow!”  or “Oh, my goodness!”  or “Look at that!” and snapping picture after picture along the way.  It’s a good thing our GPS is accurate because I’m afraid I wasn’t much help as a navigator!

In Switzerland we also encountered a new currency, the Swiss Franc (CHF). Because it’s almost on par with the American dollar, it is easier to calculate costs than using the euro that currently is about $1.18.  But we changed as little cash as possible knowing that we’d only be in the country for a week and once we left we’d have no use for the cash.

Not knowing Switzerland at all we really lucked out.  I wanted to find a place to stay near Lake Lucerne and I found an apartment on Airbnb in the village of Brunnen right on the lake. Evidently in the summer this is a big resort area. This is the town where Winston Churchill spent his honeymoon.  The clerk in the tourist information office told us he had met both Hillary and George HW Bush here.  The view from our apartment was like something out of National Geographic. IMG_20170921_100836417 Brunnen is also the home of the Swiss Army Knife. They have a museum dedicated to it which in reality is just another gift shop.

On one of our walks in the village, we stopped at the ticket office to inquire about taking the boat into Lucerne. The woman was incredibly helpful explaining that we could buy a ticket for the boat in (It takes two and a half hours) and the train back (It takes less than an hour). And then if we changed our mind we could get on the boat and pay the difference. IMG_20170924_160505802 She also gave us a map of Lucerne so we could plan out our trip in advance. Europeans are so much more accomodating regarding dogs!  The ticket office had a sign reminding passengers that their dog would need a ticket as well.

We tend to travel by train (and boat) in second class.  The difference between second class and first in this case seemed to be main floor for second class with first class being upstairs. Both had areas where folks could sit outside. But given it was in the low 50’s with a bit of a breeze off the water, we chose to sit inside and watch the spectacular landscapes while sipping on our cappuccinos! Often as we travel Bob and I wonder aloud if folks get used to the scenery. As the boat crisscrossed the lake, I noticed a man standing on the balcony of his apartment brushing his teeth!  Ah, I guess you don’t get used to the view!

First on our list to see in Lucerne was Lowendenkmal (the Lion Monument).  This monument is perhaps my very favorite outside of Washington DC.  It is a huge lion carved in stone and honors the Swiss guards who were killed in 1792 during the French Revolution when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.  The monument was the idea of a Swiss guard who was on leave in Switzerland at the time of the attack. The dying lion has a spear in his side with a shield that displays the fleur-di-lis and another shield with the coat of arms of Switzerland.  Mark Twain described the monument:


The Lion lies in his lair in the perpendicular face of a low cliff — for he is carved from the living rock of the cliff. His size is colossal, his attitude is noble. His head is bowed, the broken spear is sticking in his shoulder, his protecting paw rests upon the lilies of France. Vines hang down the cliff and wave in the wind, and a clear stream trickles from above and empties into a pond at the base, and in the smooth surface of the pond the lion is mirrored, among the water-lilies.

Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is. (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1880)

The old town is a much smaller area than it first appears on the map.  From the Lion we walked to the Kapellbrucke (chapel bridge) and Wasserman (water tower).  The bridge is the oldest covered bridge in Europe and crosses the Reuss River.  The paintings inside the bridge date back to the 1700’s.  The Wasserman in the past was used as a prison.  The bridge was built in the middle 1300’s.

There is also the Spreuer Bridge. This bridge was completed in 1408 and this is the only place where chaf (spreur) could be dumped in the river. Between the two bridges is the Nodelwehr Dam or Needle Dam.  This dam was installed in 1859 and still regulates the water level of Lake Lucerne manually by insertion or removal of the dam’s timbers (or needles).

When it was time to head back to Brunnen, we thought we’d try the train. It would be a different route than we had seen previously. The woman who had been so helpful told us she thought the train would leave from track 11 but we should check.  Yep, she was right.  And it was only a 10 minute wait for our train to arrive.  We find it interesting in Europe that on several occasions we’ve not been asked to show our train tickets.  I’m quite certain, however, if we didn’t have one we’d definitely be asked for it!

After a week in Switzerland we were now ready to move on to Salzburg.  Two years ago we were really close to Salzburg when we went to Octoberfest. But because of the immigration crisis at the time we were advised by locals in Germany not to try to cross into Austria because of the enormous queues both for cars and at train stations.  The fact that we are not from the EU and instead have US passports only further complicated the issue.  So now that things are a bit calmer at the borders we’ve decided we want to see Austria, particularly Salzburg and Vienna!

So we said goodbye to beautiful Switzerland and are ready to move on Austria.