Reflections of a journey

travel quote in Cully

Flying from Melbourne Australia to Frankfurt airport then driving around Europe for seven weeks is the most daring and exhilarating thing my husband and I have done. As my first time traveling to Europe I loved feeling free while exploring the complete unknown. Our Europe trip awakened my senses, swept the cobwebs from my mind and made me feel alive which surprised me because initially I was reluctant to go. Breaking away from my routine life took courage as I was apprehensive about leaving my loved ones and fearful of uncertainty.

After 22 hours flying plus a three-hour layover in Hong Kong we staggered out of the plane at unimpressive Frankfurt airport. With minimal instruction we collected the car and were on our way. It felt like being in a car rally with wrong turns, dead ends and misinterpreted instructions from the unfamiliar GPS system. Miraculously and triumphantly we found our way to Sankt Goar our first destination.

One of my most vivid travel memories happened on the first day while enjoying a celebratory arrival drink on a balcony overlooking the Rhine River. As I sipped my glass of wine a wave of emotion washed over me with a mixture of exhaustion, bewilderment and exhilaration knowing I’d faced and conquered my trepidation.

Travel is about savoring unique moments that take your breath away. My favourite travel recollections consist of emotions, vulnerabilities, challenges and brief moments of clarity. The aim for tourists I saw visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa was a posed photo of themselves rather than appreciating the phenomenon of the building which I thought was disappointing. A famous icon I hold dear in my travel recollections is Michelangelo’s David that cast a mysterious spell and captivated my imagination at the Accademia Gallery in Florence. For an instant the world stopped as I stood transfixed and drawn to David’s majesty and light.

Switzerland was my favourite country on our trip as it appeals to my sense of beauty and tranquility. Her snow-topped Alps watching over the valleys, her endless rolling grassy hills, her widespread ordered vineyards,  her picture perfect houses with blooming  flower boxes and the serenity of her lakes make Switzerland a perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. It comforts me to know that whatever else is going on in the world the cows in Switzerland nonchalantly keep munching grass and their cowbells never stop tinkling.

It was in Switzerland I faced physical challenge and proved to myself that a change of attitude can change an outcome. After a long-term knee injury and subsequent operation I’d become tentative about taking part in strenuous exercise. At Grindalwald I decided to hike a 10km mountain trek and resolved to face whatever the terrain presented. The surrounding scenery was spectacular and it’s beauty breathtaking. I was in awe of the imposing Alps standing proud in the sunny blue sky and believed anything was possible in such a magnificent setting. The track was uneven, steep and often precarious but my determination remained strong to the last step. Never did I doubt I would complete the trek. I went on to complete several other strenuous hikes and climbs on our trip but none are as memorable as the first conquest. Grindalwald will always remain my Everest.

Italy remains dear to me for its culture, rugged landscape, history and delicious food. We gained a wide-ranging perspective of Italy by driving and staying in the Lombardy, Piedmont, Liguria, Tuscany and Lazio regions. I loved the vitality of Lake Como, the tranquility of the wine region, the history surrounding the medieval towns, the rarity of the rugged towns carved into rock at Cinque Terre and discovering city life in Como, Florence, Sienna and Rome.

Two waterside towns in Italy remain prominent in my travel highlights. The first is Lake Como where we caught the ferryboat from Cernobbio to Bellagio on a sunny day making the lake sparkle with life. It was a simple and perfect day spent taking in the splendor of the scenery, enjoying a delicious unhurried meal at a table right beside the lake in Bellagio then leisurely strolling through the town and returning on the ferryboat in the late afternoon. My heart swells with happiness knowing we shared this magical day together. The second waterside town I remember tenderly is Portavenere where we spent three glorious days exploring the Mediterranean seaside towns of Cinque Terre.

Traveling to Europe provided the chance to disconnect from regular life and shape an alternate mindset about the world and my life. During our adventures we shared many special moments that bind my husband and I even closer together than when we set out. I loved how traveling made us feel young and vulnerable again.

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Not surprisingly everything on the home front continued to run smoothly while we were away and upon our return it felt like time had stood still. It took some time to settle back into everyday life because I did not come back the same person that walked out the door.

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Our trip 2014

 

Time flies

Europe Trip Day 33-44

What a difference four hours can make. After leaving our remote cottage in Rodello we arrived in sunny seaside Portovenere on the Mediterranean Sea. The change in ambiance was amazing. On our first night we devoured a delicious seafood platter at a local restaurant on the harbour. It was heaven after the lack of restaurants in the countryside.

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On Sunday we took a boat trip to the Cinque Terre, a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera with extraordinary scenic landscapes providing a traditional way of life that has existed for a thousand years. The five tiny, picturesque villages Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso are carved into the rocky coastline of Italy’s Liguria region. It is bizarre and intriguing to contemplate how these buildings were built centuries ago. The colour of the ocean water is astonishing, brilliant blue/green.

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IMG_7551 One of the reasons tourists flock to Cinque Terre is to hike the rugged trails between the five villages. Unfortunately some paths were devastated by the 2011 floods and are currently closed for restoration. Visitors also like to swim in the sea and bask in the sun on the rocky beaches. Hundreds of bodies of all shapes and sizes seek out deck chairs and colourful umbrellas for hire in Monterosso.

On our last day in Potovenere we explored more of the town walking to the headland on the edge of the entrance to the bay to see the Gothic Church of St. Peter and the Doria Castle. Most tourists don’t bother walking up this far but we wanted to see everything. On the way we discovered Byron’s grotto where the waves of the Mediterranean spectacularly crash against the rocks. We continued walking through narrow alleyways and up flights of rocky steps to reach the summit and wondered how people live their lives on such steep slopes. The views over the sea and the town from the top are remarkable.

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After a magical three nights in Portovenere we headed southeast toward Tuscany with a brief stop in Pisa to see the leaning tower and take some snaps with thousands of other tourists. Our next home was in an area known as Crete Senesi in the Tuscan region where the distinctive grey colouration of the soil gives the landscape a lunar appearance. This landscape contradicted my perception of lush green rolling hills gained from the movie ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. There are some green hills but many more what looks like fields of clay.

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During our stay at Casetta we enjoyed scenic drives to discover several walled medieval hill towns including Siena, San Gimignano, Castellina in Chianti, Montepulciano and Asciano.

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A day trip to the beautiful town of Fiorenze (Florence) was a highlight of our stay in Tuscany.  Florence’s museums, palaces, and churches house some of the greatest artistic treasures in the world. Seeing Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia was a surreal experience for me. The light shines upon the seven-foot tall David and commands attention drawing your eyes to the smooth lines of the marble sculpture created in 1504. We soaked in the grandeur of the Duomo, marveled at the architecture and sheer size of the countless ancient buildings and strolled across the Ponte Vecchio in the late afternoon sunshine. It was a long and exhausting day after walking many kilometres but so rewarding. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to experience the majesty of Firenze (Florence) that is now embedded in my memory.

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P1010570 P1010634 Our last port of call before flying home was three nights in Rome. The drive from Casetta took three hours and as we got closer to Rome the intensity of the traffic became hectic. Drivers have to be forceful to get where they need to go and people park cars anywhere they can squeeze them in. Graffiti is plentiful around Melbourne where I live in Australia but I have never seen such vast amounts of graffiti as there is in Rome. Beggars plead for money from motorists when they stop at traffic lights leading me to believe things are desperate in Rome.

The last two days of our 44 day journey were challenging. Huge crowds of people flock to Rome every day and we added two more people. The major historic sites are several kilometres apart spread across the city so lots of walking is required. Crossing the street is like a life threatening dash between cars, taxis, buses and motorbikes. There is no place for the timid in Rome.IMG_8164 IMG_8157

The Trevi fountain was a priority on my must see list and I was disappointed to discover it closed for renovation.  We saw the Vatican from the outside because the queues to look inside had a four-hour wait time. The magnificence of the coliseum commands attention and dominates the area. With so many historic buildings and statues in Rome, some dating back to 4000BC, it is difficult to take them all in. Illusionists, musicians and singers entertain the crowds in the plazas creating a vivacious atmosphere of fun.

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There is no shortage of places to eat in Rome.  We ate at Sofia Restaurant on via Capo le Case, a lovely Italian restaurant that served delicious food and was a first-rate experience. The second day we had an equally delicious lunch at Il Papalino on Borgo Pio, recommended by my blogger friend Julie Cook. We walked for kilometres between the sites and each night arrived back at the hotel exhausted. It was two days of ups and downs, a perfect example of travel experiences. You learn to make the best of everything that comes your way. That’s life in Roma.

Tomorrow morning we board the long flight home to Australia. So much has happened in the last seven weeks my head is spinning. I’m tired and ready to go home now. When I return home I intend to write a reflection of my feelings about the whole journey.

 

 

 

Viva Italia

Europe trip day 22-32
After Liechtenstein we drove for three hours to arrive at our next destination Italy. For four nights we stayed in Cernobbio, a small village on Lago di Como (Lake Como), a lake of glacial origin in Lombardy. With an area of 146 square kilometres it is the third largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore.

Our apartment in Cernobbio, located on the fourth floor of a quaint building constructed in the 1800s has loads of character. The buildings in the villages are steeped in history, which fascinates someone from Australia whose history is young. I admire how people renovate but keep the original exterior appearance of the building and therefore maintain the history and character of the town. Where I live in Australia, it seems people knock down older houses and buildings to put up modern structures that in my opinion have neither character nor charm.

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During our time in Cernobbio the weather remained sunny and warm every day making perfect sightseeing conditions. I always enjoy being by water watching boats traveling up and down the lake. Water is timeless and mesmerizing. The lake draws people down to the water’s edge to walk, sit, read, exercise their dogs and generally enjoy the scenery and fresh air.

IMG_7027We took the funicular to Brunate a small village overlooking the city of Como, 500 metres below. At the top we looked over the rooftops of the city and wandered along small steep roads through the village wondering what it would be like to live here. Como and Brunate are linked by a steep, narrow, winding road, and by the funicular.

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Como has several sacred buildings including the Duomo built between the 13th and 18th centuries with a mix of gothic and renaissance features and an inspiring collection of tapestries. Not usually one for wandering through cathedrals I was amazed and moved by this place of worship that towers over Como city. I felt a sense of history while walking around the cobble stone streets looking at the various ancient buildings. Although people were around it seemed eerily quiet giving me a peculiar feeling like time was standing still.

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Another of our adventures was a leisurely boat trip to Bellagio, a beautiful Italian lakeside village. We spent a magical afternoon in the sunshine strolling the narrow lane-ways after enjoying a delicious lunch at a restaurant right on the edge of the lake. It was a perfect day I will cherish forever. Days like these explain why we venture away from our lives to travel to see other places.

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IMG_7095On our last day in Cernobbio we drove to Tremezzo to see Villa Carlotta, a large mansion from the 17th century, to explore the majestic house and beautifully maintained gardens.

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All too soon our time in Cernobbio ended and we drove to Rodello in the vineyard area of Piedmont, taking about four hours. The last hour of driving was on narrow roads that seemed like people’s driveways rather than public roads. The flowers and crosses attached to the railings along the way made us a little uneasy but we drove cautiously and made it safely.

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Our home for seven days was a small country cottage in Rodello surrounded by vineyards. The hills surrounding Alba are home to some of the Piedmont’s and Italy’s best red wines. Within a relatively short distance of one another lie some of Italy’s best known wine towns. While touring the Piedmont area we visited Barolo, Serralunga d’Alba, Barbaresco, Bra, Neive and Castagnole delle Lanze, tasting the local wines and eating local ravioli and other delicacies of the area.

We visited Acqui Terme where 75-degree spring water flows in the middle of the town centre. We touched the water and it was boiling and had a strong odour of sulfur.  Local people fill giant bottles with the water that they believe has healing qualities.

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It took some time to understand and fit in with the pace of life in the Italian countryside. The shops open in the morning until 12 then close and re-open at 3.30pm. Italy’s economy is suffering and we sensed the impact this is having on the local people who appear to lack vibrancy. We visited many small villages that seem sleepy and deserted and often asked each other “where are all the people?”

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Mixed emotions

Day 17-21

The euphoria and amazement I was feeling after the first two and a half weeks of our trip slowly started to lessen after leaving Switzerland and arriving in Liechtenstein.

Our drive to Liechtenstein took five hours but included a number of stops to look at things that peaked our interest along the way, which is the bonus of traveling by car. We found a delightful café to have lunch in Sacheln and sat soaking in the peace and beauty of the surrounding area just letting the world go by.

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My expectations of Liechtenstein were preconceived and expectant due to family history as my father traveled there regularly for work in the 1960s to the mid 90s, sometimes with my mother accompanying him. They frequently spoke about the charm and beauty of Liechtenstein and shared stories of the people they met. I remember receiving postcards depicting colourful flower boxes on the windowsills of wooden chalets, people dressed in national costume and cows grazing in green meadows. As this was what I’d seen in the Swiss countryside last week (well not the national costume) I assumed it would continue in Liechtenstein but this was not the case. Some traditional buildings and houses remain but the majority of people live in modern apartments. The streets are busy with traffic and it seems to be more of a service centre with lots of industry. The major tourist attractions include skiing in winter and hiking all year round.

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P1000581My Dad is now 88 and he asked us to visit the Hotel Sylva where he and my mother (who passed away 8 years ago) stayed when they visited Liechtenstein. Over many years they’d  become great friends with the owner Sylvie who always made their stay special.  We wanted to have a drink at the Hotel Sylva bar in memory of the wonderful times my mum and dad shared. The hotel looked old and dated. We went to the door and saw a sign written in German that we later translated as meaning ‘closed indefinitely due to family illness’. I felt an overwhelming sadness for my Dad.

After the initial shadow of disappointment I vowed to enjoy our five days here. We drove up the mountain to Malbun for a 7km nature hike, which was rustic and invigorating. The sky was clear and we could see right down in to the valley. While walking along we heard cow bells ringing louder and louder and realised they were being herded down the mountain behind us. We watched in awe and they plodded past us in a line.

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We drove to Feldkirch, Austria to see the farmers market that is held in the old town every first and third Saturday. There was mouth-watering fresh fruit, vegetables, cheese, meats, flowers and fish to buy. A great community atmosphere was in the air with people shopping, meeting for drinks and coffee and generally enjoying their Saturday morning together.

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We’ve discovered that almost everything is closed on Sundays in the places we’ve visited on our trip so far. This reminds us of Sundays 25 years ago in Melbourne, Australia when the shops were closed and the city streets were deserted.

On our last day we drove over the border to Switzerland to the mineral hot springs at Bad Ragaz to experience the healing effects of natural thermal water sprung from the Tamina Gorge since Medieval times. The 36.5°C water temperature stimulated relaxation, rest and harmony and was just what we needed after three solid weeks of traveling.

It’s difficult to explain how I feel about Liechtenstein, but I know I’m glad for the experience of  visiting. It was something I wanted to do in my lifetime and I sent a silent word  to my mum on the anniversary of her death,which fell during our time here, “mum I made it”.

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Touched by Swiss majesty

Europe trip day 12-17

P1000481It was sad saying goodbye to magical Lake Geneva and our adorable studio in Cully to continue our trip at our next Swiss destination. We drove over and through the Swiss Alps and saw the most stunning countryside with chalets dotted throughout the region. The sun was shining and the clear sky reflected the brightest green grass on the hills and valleys. At lunchtime we found a delightful Swiss/French bakery in the mountains and enjoyed coffee and eclairs.

By afternoon we arrived in Aeshi and located our accommodation for the next five days, a traditional Swiss chalet in the country area. Cows graze outside our window with their cowbells ringing a melodic sound as they chew on the grass. The peace and quiet of this area is charming, no-one seems frantic, stressed or in a hurry to do anything. We fully expect Julie Andrews to come over the hill singing the hills are alive with the sound of music.

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On Sunday we drove to Spiez and joined the festivities of a local parade. We then walked around the streets in Interlaken enjoying the warm 25°C temperature. I looked up and saw a massive snow topped mountain right behind us and was amazed to see so much snow and yet feel like a summer day in the valley. Later that day we caught the ferry to Neuhaus, a popular lakeside recreation spot on Lake Thun, and sat on deck chairs watching paragliders and boats sail by. It was a relaxing and delightful way to spend the afternoon. After Lake Geneva I didn’t think I would see such a picturesque lake again but lake Thun is also stunning.

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The following day we went to Jungfraujoch, the Top of Europe to witness breathtaking views of the peaks of the Swiss alps. The Jungfraujoch is accessible by the Jungfrau  railway line from Interlaken Ost, running partly underground through a tunnel through the Eiger and Mönch, taking two hours to reach the top. It is the highest railway station in Europe at 3,454 metres above sea level. The sun shone and the skies were clear giving us the best views possible. It was a long day but well worth it.

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Grindelwald, a postcard-perfect a charming Swiss ski resort, was our next day trip destination. We took a cable car to the top of the mountain and then completed a three-hour round trip walk to the Bachalpsee lake. The walking track is steep and difficult  but the incredible surrounding scenery made it an experience of a lifetime.  I felt privileged and exhilarated to take part and complete the walk. The enormity of nature overwhelms me when I see the massive snow topped mountains. Even though I love my photos they don’t show just how magnificent and imposing these mountains are. We encountered a number of cows roaming free on the path and saw people of all nationalities, shapes and sizes trekking the same path. A silent feeling of unity hung in the air.

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On our last day we drove to Bern, the capital of Switzerland, to see the buildings that date back to 1200. Bern has lots of pedestrian plazas and hundreds of curbside cafes. There are thousands of bicycles parked all around the city, obviously owned by people who ride to work. We walked around the old town looking at fountains  dating back hundreds of years in the middle of the streets. We saw locals, tourists, buskers, beggars, grubby footpaths and people eating every type of food you can imagine. Public transport is popular with trams, trains and buses constantly moving around the city. It was interesting to see the architecture of the ancient buildings but we were glad to return to the peace and quiet of our country home.

So ends our time in beautiful country of Switzerland. I feel so lucky to have  been given the chance to see such amazing scenery and I will always remember Switzerland fondly. My next blog will continue with our travels in Liechtenstein.

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Swiss serenity

Day 6-11

All too soon we bid farewell to our loft apartment in Sankt Goar Germany and headed toward Switzerland via the autobahn highway. Navigating in foreign countries doesn’t always go to plan even with a GPS. At one point we took a wrong exit and ended up 70kms off course in a small French town. Being Sunday everything was closed except a small hotel where we asked for directions using broken English and gestures. Miraculously we ended up back on the right freeway but lost two hours in the process.

I’ll never forget the vibrancy of the bright and deep greens of the grassy hills  looking like a picture postcard as we drove in to Switzerland for the first time, When Lake Geneva came into view we were in awe of her size and natural beauty.

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The small Swiss towns with narrow cobble stone streets are picturesque with colourful flower boxes on windowsills and along the streets. Our studio in Cully sits on a cliff top overlooking Lake Geneva with views you could never tire of.

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One perfect sunny day we took a lake cruise to Montreux to visit Chateau Chilon. Traveling on a restored lake steamer built in 1910 provided a highlight as we took in the views of both the Swiss landscape and the French Coast. The 1000 year old Chateau stands  on a rocky outcrop on Lake Geneva and is compelling to walk through and explore.

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On a day trip we drove to Lausanne and spent a fascinating four hours wandering through the Le Musee Olympique (Olympic Museum). The interactive exhibits are engaging and we enjoyed reliving memories of past Olympics including Cathy Freeman lighting the flame and winning gold in 2000 in Sydney, Australia. We pushed all the buttons, read the fun facts, watched audiovisual and saw authentic memorabilia of each of the games.

The following day we walked through the vineyards near Cully up to Epesses a small wine village located 464 m above sea level with Vignerons dating back to the 17th century, with spectacular views over Lake Geneva. A steep climb but well worth it.

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A visit to Geneva was a priority on our list of things to do in Switzerland. The water fountain jet that shoots 140 metres into the sky is an icon of Geneva. When we walked along the promenade on the lake edge we searched the horizon for the water jet but saw nothing. Eventually we discovered the fountain is switched off on windy days so unfortunately we did not see the famous Geneva water jet.

We walked toward Geneva’s city area and it seemed quiet. Feeling a bit lost we entered a hotel to ask for a city map. The concierge told us the shops were all closed for a public holiday. Luckily some of the cafes were open and we found a delightful Italian restaurant to eat lunch.  We then wandered to Geneva’s historic area with beautiful old buildings, St Pierre’s cathedral and outdoor cafes on paved spaces in the sunshine. There is something  special about ancient buildings thinking that they have existed for many hundreds of years and knowing people walked on the same cobblestones centuries ago.

For the return drive back to Cully we took a longer route traveling through France and enjoyed spectacular scenery as we circumnavigated Lake Geneva (a total of 190 kms).

We visited the cheese and chocolate making area of Gruyeres on our last day in Cully. Gruyeres is a medieval village, typical of the 1500s, in which cars are banned. The buildings are historic and you get a feel of living in a different era (except for the bus loads of  tourists).

Even after five days the scenery amazes us as we drive around. Switzerland is the most beautiful and picturesque country in the world.

Our next destination is Aeschi, Switzerland and we will drive across the Southern Alps to get there. Aeschi is located in the German speaking areas of Switzerland so we’ll have to stop saying ‘bonjour’ and resume saying  ‘guten tag’.

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Surreal and spectactular

After an epic journey lasting 32 hours we arrived at Frankfurt airport. Bleary eyed and disheveled a crazy minibus driver collected us and immediately we feared our trip would end within moments of arriving. He was the worst driver honking and abusing everyone in his way. Miraculously we didn’t crash and he literally pushed us out at our destination where we collected our hire car. Then the real adventure began.

For Australians who drive on the left hand side of the road we found driving on the right side hair-raising. I kept having visions of head on crashes and was a nervous passenger with white clenched knuckles. Some of the streets in the towns are so narrow they barely fit one car yet they are two-way. This will take some getting used to. We drove alongside the Rhine River and saw the distinctive German housing lining the banks, reminding us of doll houses. It was both surreal and spectacular.

As we stepped out of the car at our destination Sankt Goar, a medieval style city on the Rhine, the church bells were ringing. It was a beautiful sound and I felt a wave of emotion. It is not only the sights but the arousal of all the senses that enrich my travel memories.

The sun was shining and we enjoyed our first dining experience of local cuisine on a verandah overlooking the Rhine and the town square. What a perfect start to our holiday.

Our apartment for the first five days is ideal with everything we need. It is in the loft of a house in a typical residential street in Biebernshein, on top of the Rhine Valley. The houses are beautifully kept with lovely gardens and the area is quiet and peaceful, exactly what I like.

The following day was overcast when we took a Rhine River cruise to Rudesheim and enjoyed the scenery of the quaint German villages along the river banks. There are hundreds of acres of vineyards growing on the sides of the valley walls and we can’t imagine how they pick the grapes on such a steep incline.

The number of boats that use the Rhine carrying passengers, cargo and river barges is extensive. They constantly move up and down the river taking something to somewhere. Along the banks there are several caravan parks where people sit on deck chairs watching the boat traffic on the Rhine.

We took a cable car in Rudesheim to the top of the ridge line and walked for an hour through the forest breathing in the fresh damp smell of leaves and later rode the chair lift  down to Assmannshausen.

The sun shone on the third day for our scenic drive to Treis-Karden and Alken  where we soaked in the atmosphere of the quaint country towns.

So far everything has gone well. We are still in the initial euphoria of travel where everything is new and incredible.

Something personal observations to date

  • Beautiful displays of colourful flowers adorn most window sills and town centres making them bright and welcoming
  • The price of eating and drinking in café’s is cheaper here than in Australia
  • German people seem quite stern and don’t smile easily. This is not a judgment just an observation.
  • Travelling opens your eyes to the best and worst of the human race.

Next stop is Lavaux in Switzerland.

Some photos from our time in Sankt Goar.

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