Last May, after deciding this is the year we’d get back to bicyling, we had our bikes tuned up, replaced worn-out parts, and bought a new bike carrier for the car. The bike shop guy told us he wanted to put us on e-bikes to try them out, but we insisted that we didn’t want them. We told him we ride for the exercise and are strong enough to do so. We were all excited about biking again, and we hit the road several times a week before leaving for our anniversary trip to Europe.
On the cruise portion of our trip, we signed up for a three-hour bike ride along the Moselle River in Germany. We expected regular bikes, but were put on e-bikes, so there was a bit of a learning curve.
We discovered that e-bikes are not like mopeds. If you don’t pedal, they don’t go, so we still had plenty of exercise on our excursion. The battery allows the e-bike rider to choose one of several levels of power to provide an uphill assist. There is no assist on a level road or downhill because the bike is moving easily and quickly, but the power assist makes it easier to climb uphill. Steep hills feel like less steep hills. The bikes were so much fun to ride, we decided that’s what we wanted as our 50th anniversary gift.
We shopped for e-bikes as soon as we recovered from jet lag and felt mentally capable of making a financial decision. After test riding four different brands, we made our choice. Ted’s choice was in stock; mine had to be ordered. Then mine arrived with shipping damage and had to be re-ordered. About ten days later, we were ready to go.
We’re enjoying the e-bikes so much, we’ve been riding 10-15 miles four or five days a week. Our area is hilly, and we used to take the hills into consideration when we planned our routes. Now, we don’t even think about them. The battery assist gets us up even the steep hills, and I still haven’t used anything below fifth gear, so we could climb higher if necessary.
With no uphill worries, biking is like having new toys to play with. We’ve been trying out greenways and riding through all the subdivisions around us. After each ride, I can’t wait to go out again!
In 1982, Ted and I bought an Apple IIe computer for the family. It cost us $2,000 for the monitor, the processor, and a disk drive. We added an Apple ImageWriter color printer for $500 and an 80-column card to display more of that green text on the monitor. The ImageWriter (and all personal printers at that time) required tractor-feed paper. That’s actually a feature I occasionally miss. We used to print banners on tractor feed paper and you can’t do that on the individual sheets of paper personal printers use now. The processor had a 56K data storage capacity and used 5¼-inch floppy (literally) disks. Compare that to today’s PC and printer prices, storage capacity, and flash drives.
To use the Apple IIe, we had to insert a separate program disk for each program we wanted to use. To save a file, we had to remove the program disk and insert a blank disk. This became cumbersome (even in the early days of personal computing, we expected fast), so we bought a second disk drive.
That 56K data capacity made it necessary for me to save my 20-page graduate papers on three disks, because 10 pages of text was nearly 56K of data. I usually saved the files for the text of my papers on two disks, and I saved the title page, table of contents, and bibliography on a third one. For my final copy, I had to manipulate the page numbers in the three files and I had to make sure the second text file began with the word immediately following the last word in the first text file so the paper would read correctly. After printing the three files, I had to arrange the pages in order. Whew! That was tricky, but copy, cut, and paste was a lot better than typing and re-typing on a typewriter.
When hard disk drives became available, we upgraded from the Apple IIe, but we kept it with all the original parts and manuals in a box in the basement. I thought that, at some time in the future, it might be fun to set it up again to bring back good memories when the kids came to visit. We finally did this when the family was here for our 50th anniversary weekend. Ted and I set out the pieces, and Jeff and Thom got everything connected properly. Then they tried playing some of their favorite games: Dig Dug, Lode Runner, and Apple Panic. They were primitive compared to today’s games, but we all enjoyed playing them in the 1980s.
We offered the Apple IIe to the kids, but none of them wanted it. Ted and I were not interested in selling it online and we didn’t know anyone else who might want it, so we took it to Best Buy to recycle it. When we carried it in, we were stopped twice by people who said “Is that an Apple IIe?” and “You could probably sell that for a couple thousand dollars.” (Maybe, maybe not. Probably not.) We offered it to an employee who admired it, but he said that once it’s in the store, they can’t take it home. I offered to carry it back to the parking lot and give it to him there, but he said he’d probably lose his job if Best Buy management found out he kept anything that had been brought in for recycling.
Here’s our last view of our 37-year-old first PC–complete with recycling labels.
Ed. note: Jeff took more pictures of the Apple IIe than I did, so I lifted some of the photos above from his blog post. Thank you, Jeff.
This weekend, Ted and I flew to Utah for the wedding of our first grandchild. We were honored when Alex told us he was engaged and asked what our availability was to come to his wedding because he wanted us to be there. We’re happy we could attend the event and meet Kaitlyn. The reception had a Medieval theme, and guests were invited to attend in period clothing.
Best wishes for your future together, Alex and Kaitlyn.
We flew from home to London in business class on Air Canada and had such a nice experience, we were actually looking forward to the long flight back to St. Louis, instead of dreading it. Aaahhh, to be so naive. What did we know?
Our trip home started yesterday when our alarm went off at 6:00 a.m. Rome time for our shuttle pick-up to the airport. Our flight was scheduled to depart at 10:50 a.m. with a 4:00 p.m. connecting flight from Newark to St. Louis that would get us home by 6:00 p.m. St. Louis time. After we arrived at the airport, we were told that our plane was coming from Newark and had been delayed due to thunderstorms, so our flight would be delayed at least three hours. That made it a close call for our connecting flight, but it turned out to be a moot issue because we left three hours and forty minutes late. As we were waiting to leave, we talked with some other passengers. Two of them had spent two days trying to leave Rome on United because their flight had been cancelled. The earliest flight they could get was this one–with another delay.
Ok, we got on the plane, took flight, and landed in Newark without incident. We had business class tickets for the flight home as well, but we quickly learned that United’s business class is not much better than coach except we had more leg room and might have had better food. (Our food wasn’t great, but I don’t know what they served in coach.) Not to mention that United’s business class seats are arranged in groups of facing seats, so half of the business class passengers fly backward–including us.
Because we were in business class, Ted and I were the third and fourth people to get off the plane. We hustled to the United customer service counter to re-schedule our flight to St. Louis, and were next in line for an agent. During the flight delay, several of us had been looking for possible connecting flights, but since we didn’t know when we’d be leaving, we couldn’t schedule anything. The next possible flight for us to take was at 10:00 p.m. and indicated there was one seat left. Luckily for us, we made our flight arrangements through our cruise company (Viking) and they were keeping tabs on us. When it was our turn to speak with an agent, she said, “It looks like a company named Viking already reserved seats for you on our 10:00 p.m. flight,” and she printed our boarding passes. Thank you, Viking!
Unfortunately, United wasn’t finished tormenting us. We had repeated delays for our flight home. First, there were thunderstorms in Newark, so the airport was closed. All planes on the tarmac were de-boarded so passengers could shelter in the terminal, and that threw every following flight off schedule–at least for United.
Another announced delay informed us that the crew flying us from Newark to St. Louis was late. When the crew finally arrived, we learned that the pilot had flown too many hours and United needed to find another pilot. (Didn’t the pilot or anyone else check how many hours he’d be flying today?) While we were waiting for a pilot, United announced six flight cancellations. Thank goodness, our flight wasn’t one of them. We had time to get something to eat and, while we did, we saw the United customer service line after the cancellation announcements. The continuing delay announcements became so ridiculous, Ted and I laughed when we heard them. I think we were giddy with exhaustion by then.
Around midnight, we were finally told we could board the plane, but we still couldn’t take off, and this was the dumbest excuse of all: Our plane couldn’t be pushed back from the gate because the planes on each side were so close, we’d hit their wingtips. Good grief! Airports have painted lines on the tarmac for the pilots to steer their craft to the gates. Didn’t anyone measure the distances between the painted lines???!!!
We left the gate–thankfully, without hitting another plane–at 12:42 a.m. and arrived in St. Louis at 3:00 a.m. (10:00 a.m. the following day, Rome time), after nine hours of delays for two flights. Ted and I were so exhausted when we got home that we showered (we’d been awake for 28 hours) and fell into bed. We slept 30 hours during our first two days at home. After that, we went shopping for e-bikes, just as we’d planned.
Never, never fly United. I contacted Viking, thanked them for looking out for us, and advised them to schedule their passengers on other airlines.
Ted and I had a private tour of the Coliseum. It was just the two of us and an outstanding guide who really knew her Roman history. The tour included Palatine Hill, the Roman Forum, and the Coliseum. Our guide said we needed to begin our tour with Palatine Hill, which is beside the Coliseum, because Rome’s history starts on Palatine Hill.
The seven hills of what is now Rome stood above the Tiber River. People built on the hills because the lower land was a swamp. Nero decided to build the largest palace in the world on Palatine Hill. Would you believe the Palace included central heat and air conditioning back in 68 A.D.? Fire warmed the Palace floors in winter and an elaborate water system sent water throughout the Palace to fountains and pools to cool it in the summer. The system sent waste water into the Tiber River.
The following photos show only parts of the Palace, but the ruins indicate how large it was.
Some of the Palace floors were double. Heat from fires was directed into the space between the double floor to heat the stone. Radiant heat from the stone floors then warmed the palace rooms. Sometimes, the stone floors became so hot that they warped (second photo).
Note: The top-heavy trees in the photo above are called umbrella pines. They can be seen everywhere in the city. The trees grow so wide and heavy that they fall over unless they are pruned, giving them an umbrella shape.
The Palace, the Roman Forum, and the Coliseum are all on Palatine Hill. I took the following pictures from the hilltop near the Palace.
The House of the Vestal Virgins was home to the priestesses of the goddess Vesta. Six priestesses between the ages of 6-10 were chosen to serve for 30 years. During that time, they had to remain chaste. Punishments for infractions of their rules were severe, including lashing, pouring molten lead down their throats, and burying them alive. (Certainly an incentive to obey the rules!) After their service, they were allowed to marry, but usually didn’t because it was considered bad luck to do so after being consecrated to Vesta. When the Roman Empire fell, many blamed it on the conversion to Christianity and forsaking the old gods.
The Coliseum was built for entertaining palace guests. There is as much of the Coliseum below ground as above. The foundations are 40 feet deep and 10 feet wide to support the weight of the building. There was a point at which the government could no longer afford the upkeep for the Coliseum, so it was shut down around 500 A.D. and used for simple housing–no more than a room with walls, a ceiling, and a door. During this time, Rome’s population decreased from 1,000,000 to 25,000.
There were two stages for performing in the Coliseum, so two performances could occur simultaneously. Four tunnels provided access to the Coliseum from different points. One tunnel connected the palace to the Coliseum for the Emperor’s convenience. The Coliseum had 24 elevators, operated by over 200 slaves turning wheels to operate pulleys. The entrances were numbered, just like today’s stadiums, and some of the gate numbers were still visible. Our guide pointed out entrance IIII. At that time, IIII was the Roman numeral for 4. It is now written as IV.
Part of the Coliseum has been restored, and work is progressing on other parts. Some of the restored central arena is now used for concerts. (Steven Tyler performed in the Coliseum in 2017.)
Mussolini tore down much of the Forum, the Palace, and the Coliseum because he wanted to build a road for his military parades. He then built a palace for himself on Palatine Hill. People disparagingly called it “the square Coliseum.”
There is a saying that “all roads lead to Rome,” but our guide said it should be the other way around: “All roads begin in Rome.” Rome was considered to be the center of civilization, and there is a marker on Palatine Hill to indicate the center of Rome (cf the first paragraph, above). Markers were placed on Roman roads throughout the entire Roman Empire to indicate the distance from the marker to the center of Rome. Many of those roads still exist, including the Appian Way, ancient Rome’s most important military and economic artery.
Mythbusters: (1) Ben Hur’s chariot race did not take place in the Coliseum. The races were held in the Circus Maximus in the valley between Palatine Hill and Aventine Hill, an area that could seat 250,000 people. (2) Gladiators did not fight to the death. It was expensive to train and outfit gladiators, so they were not supposed to kill each other. Their contests were more like today’s wrestling.
Tonight: Another classic Italian meal–spaghetti. We topped it off with the best cheesecake we’ve ever had. It made Cheesecake Factory look like a beginner.
Ted’s and my Vatican Tour was actually three tours in one: the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. That’s too much to cover in a single blog post, so here are parts two and three.
The second part of our tour was the Sistine Chapel, and I’m sad to say that I was disappointed in it. There was a minor religious service in progress when we (and many other tourists) entered the chapel and we were cautioned by our tour guide to remain silent and respectful. The spoiler of the situation was the security guards in the chapel who were constantly shouting “Get over to the right,” “Keep moving,” and other instructions to the visitors. They showed no respect for the service or the setting at all and, in fact, detracted greatly from it.
Although the guards did their best to ruin a respectful atmosphere, I couldn’t help but marvel at the paintings in the chapel. The biggest surprise? Like the Mona Lisa, it was smaller than I had expected it to be. It’s a chapel, not a cathedral, but still–I thought the painting panels on the ceiling would be larger. People say “It took Michelangelo four years to paint the ceiling” as though less time would have been preferable. In spite of it’s surprisingly (to me) small size, I’m amazed he could finish the job in only four years. The walls of the chapel tell the stories of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelations–the Old Testament on one side and the New Testament on the other. No photography was allowed, but I found some photos online to include here.
Michelangelo’s contributions to the chapel paintings are the ceiling and the altar wall. The ceiling is divided into scenes from the Book of Genesis, including The Creation of the World, The Expulsion of Adam and Eve, and The Story of Noah. Of course, the center panel, The Creation of Adam, is the most well-known, with the hands of God and Adam. Take a moment to marvel at how Michelangelo found such a perfect way to depict the event of Creation–an event that still cannot be adequately described.
Twenty-five years after completing the chapel ceiling, Michelangelo was commissioned to paint the altar wall. Titled The Last Judgment, it is a depiction of the Second Coming of Christ and the final judgment by God of all humanity. The souls of humans rise and descend to their fates as judged by Jesus Christ, who is surrounded by prominent saints. Altogether there are over 300 figures in the painting. (Ed. note: The Sistine Chapel walls overtly depict Christian doctrine and humanity’s need for salvation as offered by God through Jesus, but some experts, including a Vatican art historian, have also noted “concealed” and “forbidden” subject matter in the paintings.)
St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica was the last part of our tour. It is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest Catholic church in the world. It covers almost six acres and took 219 years to build. Beneath the Basilica, 201 popes are buried. In Rome, no building may stand higher than St. Peter’s. Its size is intended to show that God is the greatest and St. Peter is his most important apostle. Only the Pope conducts services in St. Peters.
Michelangelo’s Pieta is carved from a single piece of marble and was commissioned for a cardinal’s funeral. It was first housed in a mausoleum near St. Peter’s Basilica, but was moved to its current location in the Basilica in the 18th century. Michelangelo sculpted this piece at the age of 24, and many people didn’t believe it was his work. When he overheard someone attribute the Pieta to another artist, he sneaked into the mausoleum and carved his name into Mary’s sash. He later regretted his vanity and vowed to never sign another piece of his art. This sculpture of Mary holding her dead son, Jesus, was the most moving thing I saw on our entire trip. It brings tears to my eyes, even when I look at my picture of it.
After today’s tour of the Vatican, I have four words of wisdom to share: Skip the line tickets. The Vatican has 20,000-30,000 visitors each day. Unbelievable! Our skip the line tickets allowed our tour guide to take us immediately into the Vatican for our tour. In addition to saving time, this kept us cooler because we didn’t have to wait in line outside. The Vatican is crowded with visitors, it is not air-conditioned, and Rome is hot in the summer–especially during a heat wave like Ted and I are experiencing on this trip.
The Swiss Guard is an honor guard that protects the Pope. Since the failed assassination of Pope John II in 1981, a much stronger emphasis has been placed on the Guard’s non-ceremonial roles. They now complete advanced training in unarmed combat and small arms. Members of the Guard must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between the ages of 19-30, and must have completed Basic Training with the Swiss Armed Forces.
The Vatican museums contain one of the most important art collections in the world. The collection includes roughly 70,000 works of art, with 20,000 pieces on display. The four Raphael Rooms comprise a suite of reception rooms in the palace (the public part of the Vatican), and are famous for their frescoes that were painted by Raphael and students in his workshop.
The Gallery of Tapestries and Geological Maps is a highlight of the Vatican museums. There is a series of tapestries on one wall depicting stories of Christ’s life, beginning with his birth and ending with his resurrection. Maps of all the known continents were on display, as well as some of specific countries and regions.
Our Vatican Tour isn’t over, but there’s too much to include in a single blog post. There’s more coming.
Before leaving home, Ted and I scheduled a city tour of Rome. Since this is our first visit to Rome, we thought it would be a good idea to get an overview of the city before we started trekking around on our own. The tour included the Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain, which we saw yesterday, as well as the Pantheon, the original capitol building, and the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs.
The Pantheon is the only ancient Roman building that has remained nearly intact through the centuries. It has the largest unreinforced concrete dome in the world. A circular opening in the dome known as the oculus (about 30 feet across) has several purposes. (1) It is the only source of light in the Pantheon; (2) it lightens the weight of the dome to avoid collapse; (3) it allows worshipers to contemplate the heavens (probably during boring sermons); and (4) it helps cool the building during the hot Roman summers by allowing rising heat to escape. There is speculation that the oculus also served as a sundial. Because the oculus is an open hole, when it rains, it also rains in the Pantheon. To deal with this, the floor is slightly convex so the water flows away from the center into an effective drainage system.
Our next stop was the capitol square. The original Capitol building and the square were designed by Michelangelo, who also created the paintings and sculptures in the buildings and the plaza. It’s hard to picture him as a contemporary architect/artist who was in demand, rather than as an extremely gifted historic genius.
I found an online copy of Michelangelo’s plan for the Capitoline Hill complex that shows the spiraling pavement design and the entire square.
Our guide described our final stop as an unexpected treat. The church of St. Mary of the Angels and the Martyrs doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it was designed by Michelangelo, and that makes all the difference.
It’s really hot in Rome, so Ted and I walked to the Medici Palace (also near our hotel) and sat in a shady park across the street from it for awhile. We had a very nice overview of the city and St. Peter’s Basilica.
Dinner tonight was another Italian classic: pizza!
The hotel Ted and I stayed in during our visit to Rome was . . . different. It was called The Art. The first odd thing we noticed were the pods in the lobby (one is behind the pillar) that served as a check-in desk and a concierge desk. (A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, . . .) Check out the lobby chandeliers too.
We couldn’t help noticing the next unusual feature. It was eye-boggling when the elevator door opened. Having the room numbers printed on the floor instead of on or beside the door was not the major eye-popper.
Then there was the artwork scattered throughout The Art. I included pictures of a few items below. Very ultra-modern. The hotel is located in an area of art shops and museums. If I knew more about art, I’d probably know the name of the art style. Readers, help me if you can.
The decor was a surprise (especially the bright green hallway!), but the hotel was nice. At breakfast one morning, we heard a grandmother ask her grandson if he liked this hotel or their last one better. He didn’t hesitate. He said the other one was good, but this one is better because they have waffles and bacon for breakfast. Food. That’s what’s important to a ten-year-old in a hotel, right?
Today, Ted and I flew from Geneva to Rome and checked into our hotel in the mid-afternoon. We immediately went back outside to do some sightseeing. As soon as we walked out of the hotel, we thought, “We’re in Italy!” because it definitely looked Italian.
Our hotel was about a five-minute walk from the Spanish Steps, so we headed in that direction. Of course, we climbed the 132 steps to the top. The steps are grouped in 12s to represent the Apostles, but that would only be 11 x 12. Does Judas not count? Do the groups of 12 represent how many Apostles there were, but one set is left out because Judas betrayed Christ? Or doesn’t the grouping mean anything? I don’t know; we just enjoyed the experience and the view.
The Trevi Fountain was only another half-mile, so we continued onward. We thought the Spanish Steps had a large crowd, but we hadn’t seen anything until we got to the Trevi Fountain. We had to wiggle and squeeze our way to (near) the front to see the water in the fountain and to take some pictures.
We saw a lot of good-looking gelato as we walked around and had to buy some. It’s Italian gelato–a must-have in Italy.
There were a lot of military camo jeep-type vehicles as well as military and local police with assault rifles everywhere we went. I asked about it and was told it’s just the kind of post-9/11 security that’s now needed wherever large crowds gather.
We ate dinner at an Italian restaurant recommended by the hotel concierge and then walked around some more. We sat in the plaza at the Quirinale (police station/jail) and just people-watched for awhile in the warm night air before going back to our hotel.
Geneva is a very international city and is the headquarters for numerous international organizations, among them the Red Cross and the United Nations. Switzerland’s neutrality also makes it an inviting location for nations to discuss international issues with each other, so diplomats abound in the city. On a literary note, the Villa Diodati, set on the shore of Lake Geneva, was once a favored destination for traveling literary giants. One stormy summer night in 1816, Mary Shelley was staying at the villa and was inspired to write Frankenstein.
Geneva has a long tradition of watch-making. Throughout Switzerland, there are more stores selling watches than I’ve ever seen. There might be more watch stores in Switzerland than there are Walgreen’s, CVSs, and Wal-Marts combined in the U.S. I thought watches were going out of style in favor of cell phones, but our guide told us that, in Switzerland, even if you don’t look at your watch, you wear it for decoration. My favorite watch-makers’ slogan is that of Patek-Philippe: “You never really own a Patek-Philippe. You just care for it for the next generation.”
The English Garden in downtown Geneva features the L’horloge fleurie, a clock made of 65,000 flowers and plants, created as a symbol of Geneva’s watch-making tradition.
In 1859, Henry Dunant, a young Swiss man, came upon 40,000 dead or dying men following a bloody battle between imperial Austria and the Franco-Sardinian alliance. He organized local people to bind wounds and to feed and comfort the soldiers. Afterward, he called for national relief societies to care for those wounded in wars. In 1863, Dunant and four other Geneva men set up the organization that later became the International Committee of the Red Cross. They chose the inverted Swiss flag as their emblem. The following year, twelve governments adopted the first Geneva Convention, offering neutral medical services on the battlefield. Today, Ted and I toured the Red Cross Museum.
At the United Nations headquarters building, a forty-foot tall chair stands in front of the building. The chair has a broken leg to represent those who have lost limbs due to land mines. It makes a powerful statement. This was supposed to be a temporary exhibit, but the people of Geneva voted to make it permanent.
That was the end of our official touring. It was a heavy morning, so it was time to do something more lighthearted. Ted and I got on a bus and headed for the train station. The concierge told us the main train station includes a large shopping mall in which we could find the best chocolatier in town. Mm-mm, let’s go!
On our way from Zermatt to Geneva, we stopped at a winery for lunch. The tour of the winery was basic: the vineyards are on the hillside; here’s the cellar; there is wine in these casks. To make up for what the tour lacked, we had a beautiful view of Lake Geneva and four delicious wines to taste with our food on a beautiful summer day
Then it was on to two days in Geneva, located at the foot of the French Alps. Snowcapped mountains are visible from the city year-round. Geneva’s iconic symbol, the Jet d’Eau, was originally built in 1886 to control and release the excess water pressure of a nearby hydraulic plant. Over time, it became a symbol of the city, so it was amplified and relocated more centrally in Lake Geneva. It is one of the tallest fountains in the world, shooting water up to 460 feet in the air. It takes 15 seconds for a drop of water to fall from the top of the plume to the surface of the lake. Really. You can watch a spot of spray and count one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, all the way up to fifteen-Mississippi while you watch it fall.
During the Protestant Reformation, Geneva was the center of Calvinism. The University of Geneva was founded by John Calvin. The Reformation Wall was built on the grounds of the university to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and the 350th anniversary of the university. It is built into the old city wall to represent the fortification’s importance to the Reformation, and it honors many of the main individuals, events, and documents of the Reformation with statues and bas-reliefs. One of the Calvinist themes was “After darkness, comes light.”
On the other side of the Reformation Wall, under the street lights you can see in the above photos, is the longest park bench in the world. It is as long as 180 regular-sized park benches. The bench extends far beyond what my photo shows.
The Protestants eschewed elaborately decorated places of worship, so they stripped the Roman Catholic churches of decoration and created simpler, plainer interiors. In Switzerland, there is an optional one percent religious tax. Most people pay it for the tax benefit, so the Swiss churches tend to be well funded.
The original Geneva City Hall had some slanted floors to allow horses to pull carriages and drays into the building for unloading.
The paintings on the wall in the photo below represent three phases of Geneva’s history. The left panel depicts Geneva flourishing after the arrival of Ceasar. The middle panel shows markets from the Middle Ages. The right panel pictures the arrival of the Huegenots, French Protestants who were persecuted by the French Catholic government for following the teachings of John Calvin. The paintings are so elaborate, I wouldn’t have known what they were if the guide hadn’t told us.
Our cruise ended in Basel on July 29, but there was an option to continue with the cruise company (Viking) on an “extension” to Switzerland, and Ted and I chose to do it. All of our activities in Switzerland were part of the cruise extension. For our last two nights, Viking booked us in a five-star hotel. I really liked the interior decorating. You have to admire this table made of logs and the wall-size wooden world map. A bookcase blocked my camera’s view of the full map.
Zermatt is accessible only by train and there are no gasoline-powered vehicles in the city, so electric vehicles serve transportation needs. Overall, the city reminded Ted and me of Banff–a high-end ski and hiking resort.
We had some time to walk around the town. It’s a small town, so it didn’t take long.
The main street (above) was so packed with people, it was difficult to get through after 5:00 p.m. (Note: I took this picture in mid-afternoon. The evening crowd had not yet begun to gather.) Why was the crowd so big? Because it’s August 1, Swiss National Day. This is the day that commemorates the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291, the founding document of Switzerland. It’s like our Fourth of July celebration. Sidewalk food vendors lined both sides of the main street from end to end (about a half mile) and there were varieties of live music all along the way. The crowds thinned after 10:00 p.m., but those remaining were rowdier. You know what I mean.
Official acts of celebration included a goat parade in mid-afternoon, complete with bells on the goats and goatherders. (How Heidi-like!) The alpine descent of cows and goats is one of the most iconic traditions in Switzerland, so it’s part of Swiss National Day. We were still coming down from the Gornergrat at that time, so we missed the goat parade. At 10:00 p.m., all the church bells in the city rang for 15 minutes. That was really beautiful. I wish we’d do that in the U.S. on the Fourth of July. Following the bell-ringing, bonfires were lit on the mountainside above the city. They burned for about ten minutes and then were extinguished. The bonfires are lit on elevated spots, to commemorate the expulsion of foreign bailiffs in the 14th century, the news of which was spread by bonfires in those days.
And then it was time for fireworks, also launched from the mountainside. There were a lot and they lasted a long time–at least a half hour. Zermatt put on a good show. Now Ted and I have celebrated Bastille Day in Paris and National Day in Switzerland. The fun never ends!
This morning, Ted and I rode Europe’s first electric cog-wheel train upward 5,000 feet from Zermatt to the 10,135-foot top of Gornergrat, a rocky ridge in the Pennine Alps. From the summit of the ridge, there is a 360-degree view of 29 Alpine peaks standing more than 13,000 feet high, including the 14,692-foot-high Matterhorn. (Ed. note: Darn! I didn’t even think of taking a panoramic photo!)
The weather couldn’t have been better. It was clear, calm, and warm. One man in our group said his parents have been here three times and have never seen the Matterhorn because of the weather. We’d expected this to be the coldest day of our European trip, but Europe’s heat wave continued and we eventually removed even our light jackets. The views were beyond words.
We climbed to the top of the ridge (about 200 feet up a rocky slope) to get these views.
Here’s the Gorner Glacier, Europe’s second-largest glacier.
The Matterhorn is a “paramount ambassador” of global awareness of plastic waste, so there were some displays to call attention to the problem. The granular plastic is approximately a cubic meter of plastic. It represents the annual share of plastic waste for each individual on earth, so multiply this by 7.67 billion people–the 2019 world population–every year. The other plastic display is meant to call attention to the widespread litter of plastic. If each person’s share of the plastic granules were made into plastic bottles strung end-to-end, the string would circle the globe 1.5 billion times.
When Ted and I are in the Rockies, we always marvel that bicycle riders bike uphill and go downhill in a van. Today, the hikers and bikers we saw rode the train to the top, then hiked/biked down to Zermatt. We were technically on our own after we arrived at the top, but our guide said she was going to hike down two train stops for lunch at a hotel and she invited us to join her. Eight of us did. First, we hiked to “the lake.” It didn’t look like much from above, but it was awesome when we reached the lake level.
Our waitress was a climber and has climbed the Matterhorn many times. We asked her how long it takes to reach the summit and she asked, “For me or for regular people?” She can climb it in 3.25 hours; most people do it in about 4.5 hours. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see a footpath in the snow on the right (north) side of the mountain at nearly the top of the snow line. It looks like a dark horizontal line in the snow. The view of the footpath is blocked by a rocky ridge in the right center of the picture. There is a hut behind the ridge. The waitress’s climbing times begin at that hut.
During the next hour, on our way down to the next train station, we had another beautiful view of the Matterhorn. What a day!