Switzerland and Germany (2016)

This vacation didn’t start as planned. First, as we drove away from our doggy day care, we could hear Tango howling. The, because of the weird times the day care was open, we got to the airport 6 hours early. Fine, we had computers and videos. But then we sat for 2 hours on tarmac, waiting for the weather to clear. We arrived in Zurich at 10AM instead of 8 and spent over an hour in passport check. Luckily, we’re flexible – instead of driving the passes (we’ll do that tomorrow), we went to the zoo.

Zurich is very hilly – lots of construction and grafitti mixed in with old buildings:grafitti

The zoo’s at the top of the city and was marginal. Blocked paths where an Australian exhibit was being built and cramped monkey houses. A funny bunch of camels. Such an odd mix of pretty (eyes) and ungainly (those humps.) One seemed to be dancing, although it needed a g-string!

Camelcamel2

Other favs – zebras, front and back And what’s a zoo without a chicken or a pair of me-and-my-shadow yaks?

zebraschickenYaks

 

The new exhibit is Masaola – a big covered jungle. No animals, but what vegetation. A leaf the size of a table. A “black” whiskered flower. Of course, as Hubby said, we see it in Florida, but here in Switzerland, it’s a novelty.

leafflower

 

I forgot to mention, we did see Hobbes at the zoo. Or at least his foot!hobbes footWith the mountains creeping higher as we leave Zurich, we drive to Zug, our home for four days. 

zurich to zug

The hotel is not in a nice area, which I knew, but we drove into town and walked to a sunset on the lake. We’re exhausted and buy pretzels from a vendor for dinner. Tomorrow, the real mountains. I’m excited!

zug

Bahamas (Feb 2017)

009coast guardBefore I get to Switzerland and Germany, I want to do a couple of posts about our cruise.  No, that’s not our ship on the left. It’s the armed coast guard boat that escorted us out of the harbor.

Getting to our room was a bit claustrophobic with the baggage waiting in the corridor, but we had a porthole and when we woke up, this was our view, a perfect start to a day at Coco Cay.

port hole

sellerscolors

little boy

Coco Cay is an island owned by the cruise line. There was shopping (of course) and food (absolutely). The sea was aqua/green/blue. Some enjoyed it on foot, some in a boat, many with drink in hand. banana boat

 

hut

I was fascinated by a tree, an iguana, the clear water.

orange trunkiguanarope post1

I’ll close with a picture of the hot tub which I call Satyr and Mermaids. Next up, Nassau. Note: click on any of the pictures if you want to see it full size…

satyr nymphs

Montrieul-Bellay (France 2015)

montruie6

On to Montrieul-Bellay. Parking gods were with us. First, some refreshments on a town plaza. Coffee Gourmand – espresso, and three little desserts: chocolate, cream, and lemon. Plus a pile of whipped cream. Mmmm good!
montruiel3
Next, we visited the castle, which consists of a large plaza surrounded by walls and buildings. Parts from the 13c (the walls) and 15c (the three dwellings) and 19c? (the main house where the current owners live.) Many centuries jumbled together. This model will give you an idea:montruiel

We got to climb the ramparts and look at the towers.  The spiral staircases inside have ropes for railings.
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Down in the basement, a grape crusher which replaced foot stomping. (It’s at the end of the arches in the picture.) montruiel2

I only understood about 20% of the guide and 1/2 way through, I gave up from exhaustion. But it was a fascinating castle, more private than the ones we’ve been seeing.

As usual, I was fascinated by tiny details. A painted dragon. A monk perched on the side of a roof. A masked lover.

m-dragonm-monk

 

 

The view from the castle was wonderful; I envied those who lived there (in modern times – I’ve no desire to be a woman in Medieval France!)

m-view

Our trip back to the B&B was on tiny tiny roads because of a detour. In need of a salad after days of “fancy” food, we end up at a McDonalds – don’t tell. It was unlike those in the U.S. We ordered and paid on a big screen inside the store. Reminded me of self-serve gas. A girl brought a tray with our food.

And so back to Chinon, the river ending our day with romance.m-river

Fontevraud Abbey (France 2015)

a effigyI wanted to see this abbey in particular because some historical figures I have studied are buried there: Henry II (English king), Henri’s wife, Eleanor d’Acquitaine, their son Richard the Lionheart (at the back of the picture). Less well known, is Isabelle d’Angouleme (at the front), the wife of another son, John of Magna Carta fame. I wrote a novel about her and wanted to see where she died and her effigy.

a cookeryThe abbey is a whole compound, founded in the early 12th century. The kitchen’s many chimneys are fascinating. The church is huge, now completely. The whole place was overseen by a woman and contained both men and women, separated of course. In church, the women  sat in rows along the sides and sang call and response. Only men at the altar, bien sur.

abby 1The place was saved because it was a prison – for Napoleon then for the Germans. Floors were put in to use the space. Now restored. The prison part was made a big deal of; less so the abbey. Over half of the women were of royal blood.

There was a place for confession, the only talking allowed. What did they confess? A crush on cute priest? Covetousness? Anger? Wanting to talk? Hubby says they wanted to dice up the fathers who sent them there.

We had coffee on the plaza, overlooking the garden, tres heureuses.

a arched garden

a door

Loches Dungeon and Keep (France 2015)

Keep 1 Let’s start with the Keep, which was where the castle folk lived. It was built in the 10th century and was a prize passed back and forth between the English who at the time “owned” parts of France and the French. King John, of Magna Carta fame had and lost it twice. The final loss signaled the end of England on the continent.

The four stories were each single rooms. The bottom floor for storage, the 2nd for pomp and show, the third for living, and the fourth for safety, a place to withdraw if the castle was attacked. Each had a huge fireplace.Keep Stairs

You can climb up inside space, if you dare. The  hundreds of steps are narrow and inside the keep, you are standing on grills over space. Frightening. I had to edge along, heart pounding. (Remind me never to go to that glass floor over the Grand Canyon.) One set of twirly steps was so so narrow you could touch the walls with your elbows. But the view from the top was great.

We also went DOWN into the donjon (dungeon.) Those folks had great legs!  There were three parts. The early dungeon, down and down – writing on the wall by one high placed prisoner. “If you were going down these steps, you were sunk!” The carvings by prisoners. (audio giving height and shoe size?!) Dungeon Steps

Dungeon Painting

 

 

 

Dungeon carving

 

 

Outside these areas, but within the walls, were a couple of gardens – one recreated as medieval from texts, one around what appeared to be stairs down to the dungeon. BTW, we saw some privies in the dungeons. medieval garden

 

 

When we came out of the donjon and walked back down into the town, past a blue gate at a private home, the market was closed.Blue gate

 

We went on to Close Luc where Michaelango spent his last few years. Underwhelming and crowded, but as we came onto the street, a man with his little boy on the back bicycled past.

after market

 

We skipped Amboise Castle – we were castled out. Daniela, the owner of the B&B where we stayed said when she and her husband travel in Europe, “it’s much the same – another road, another castle.” 🙂boy on bicycle copy

Back to the B&B where we ate leftover pizza and the first tartes from a patisserie. Chocolate! Cream Puff! Lemon…too heavy.

Green Bank

Green Bank TelescopeGreen Bank is not an ATM, but a location in West Virginia with the largest moveable radio telescope in the world. It’s managed by the same consortium that runs Arecibo and the Arizona site (if you’re a fan of the movie Contact, you’ll know just what I mean). Also there’s a new site going up in Chile. All the instruments are listening to the universe.

I wasn’t keen on visiting, but wow! First, it’s huge, as to be expected. Second, it’s the heart of a National Quiet Zone. Never heard of that? Neither had we but then we began to wonder why we couldn’t get ANY transmissions at the cabin. No cell phone. No internet. Nada. Turns out we’re in the NQZ. But we’ve got it easy because the actual telescope is an hour away. Those who live within a 10 mile radius have it tougher. Congress passed some sort of act that, if strange blips appear on the telescope monitors, an official can knock on your door to see what you’re up to.

I asked if the locals objected to the restrictions and was told that the site supplied a lot of local jobs. Seeing as it’s in the middle of nowhere, I understand that might be a plus. In the summer, they hire local college students home on their break to paint. Must be much like cleaning windows on a skyscraper.

Note: We weren’t allowed to take pictures close up – too sensitive.
094The face of the telescope is made from panels the size of the king mattress. They are individually adjustable to focus the radio waves which are bounced up to the receiver on the top and sent to the lab where the scientists work. The dish can move vertically and sits on a circular track, mounted on big flatcar-like wheels that can rotate it. When it was under construction, the engineers realized that once mounted, it was there forever so the wheels are designed to last but the tracks are repairable. We got to see both motions as the scientists were evidently adjusting it for the best reception.

The tour began with a brief movie and a demo of freezing a balloon (I forget what it was for, but the kids in the group loved it when the balloon shattered.) They drove us out to the telescope in a van, passing many historical scopes scattered around the site. If you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth the visit.

There is a picture that I didn’t take and wish I had: a burly biker covered with little badges like a scout, each badge representing a Harley convention or get together. I always feel shy taking pictures of people (which see my endless scenery and ruins pictures from Italy on this blog…) The pictures below are of the wildflowers surrounding the site. I never could resist a flower…
flowers