Saturday, September 22, 2012

Europe - Part 4 - (Switzerland!)

On the train to Switzerland we noticed a very interesting stain on the ceiling of our car.  Anyone want to take any guesses what it is and how it got there?  We spent most of the ride hypothesizing and still came up short.
We arrived late at night and were met by Franz, who was an exchange student for Brian's grandparents when his mother was in high school.  He and his family graciously offered for us to stay at their beautiful home in Bern, the capitol of Switzerland.

When we woke up in the morning this was the view out our window.
Their house sits up on a hill overlooking downtown Bern.
Here is a view from the porch directly outside the dining room.
They have very cute road markings in Bern!
Here's Franz!  He was our trusty tour guide for many Swiss excursions.  The first morning he brought us downtown.
Bern is built on a major bend in the Aare river.

The Aare is INSANELY blue.  It is fresh mountain water that comes directly from the Alps.

The downtown was SUPER cute.
There were a LOT of people waiting in front of this clock to see it chime.  It's apparently a pretty big deal...or something.

Brian found the public ping pong tables much more fascinating.

After spending some time in the warm sun, we headed down to the riverbank and found the "beach" of Bern.

There is apparently a HUGE movement in Bern called "Urban Swimming".  Basically there are paths that go along the river and you walk down with a mass of people.  Then there are various entry points were you can jump into the freezing water and be swiftly carried down.

We decided that we HAD to give it a try.  The red railings you see are how you exit the river.  There are multiple locations because many people grab onto the railing and are ripped away by the current.  As long as you don't miss the last one you should be okay!

The day we went there were LOTS of swimmers!  Below are two videos to give you a better idea of how it works.


The first half of this video will show you just how fast the river moves!  It's no joke - when you finally get out your whole body is buzzing.
The next day Franz took us to the Alps!  We took a little train high up into the mountains.
It was breathtaking.

After the train ride we hiked up a little further to get the best view possible!

This is a panoramic photo that we tiled together from several pictures.  It's pretty amazing, but still doesn't do the view justice.  From left to right - Eiger, Monch, & Jungfrau
Franz is a mountaineering veteran and had some crazy stories about actually climbing those peaks.

At the top of a little peak we ate lunch at this little restaurant.

Then we had ice cream at this little cart!

That night Franz and his son Caspar took us out for an amazing Swiss dinner!

The next morning we took another train back to Germany.  Fortunately we had some Swiss chocolate for the ride!
Back in Germany.  What's that up ahead?
It's Renee and Heike!

Here's the whole family!  We had a wonderful farewell party!
Albina was sitting next to Brian and decided to join him while he was drawing!

After 3 weeks in Europe and it was finally time to go home - On our way back we passed Greenland.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Europe - Part 3 (Paris!)

Time to head to Paris!  This is the train station in Frankfurt.

After a few hours on a high speed train, a ride on the Paris metro, and 3 blogs of rolling our suitcases down cobblestone streets we arrived!

Our apartment was facing a beautiful courtyard!

Brian settled in quickly!

After a short rest we took a stroll around the neighborhood! We walked right past what is apparently the OLDEST stone building in Paris!  It was Nicolas Flamel's house.

We spotted the brave guy walking 8 greyhounds down the narrow streets!

While walking around we spotted some cool stuff!

Brian was excited to even find a Parisian comic store!

The next morning we took the metro to Montmatre.

Montmatre is an art-rich area of town on the highest hill in Paris.  We ate crepes and watched artist sketch the tourists!

After a stroll up and down a few hills...

...we found an amazing view of the city!

On the way back down we passed by the famous Moulin Rouge.

To escape some of the bustle of the city our next stop was Père Lachaise Cemetery - the largest and oldest of only 4 cemeteries remaining in Paris.

We saw many famous gravestones...but none as creepy as Voldemort's

The oldest identifiable grave belongs to the forbidden lovers, Abailard & Heloise buried in 1141.

The nest morning we set off early to visit the Louvre.

Apparently we weren't the only ones.  This was the line that formed minutes after they opened.

Here's a view from the inside of the pyramid...which is also the main entrance.

Brian (large), and Winged Victory (small).

We saw some large paintings...

...and we saw some tiny ones!

I wonder if they have enough body guards and barriers around Mona....hmmmm

Who did the interior decorating of the place did a pretty good job.

We spent some time checking out Egyptian sculptures circa 4700 AD!  This guy with the mustache was our favorite!

The Greek sculptures were some of Brian's favorite.

After a few hours at the museum we checked out the grounds.


We decided to walk along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower.  We found flood markings on one of the old buildings!  Wow!

Halfway there!

On our way we saw the greenest building ever!

Hey Eiffel!

I think Renee was confusing the Eiffel town with another famous tower...

Next stop Notre Dame!

It's pretty big inside.

Upon leaving we spotted this man dressed in many layers (keep in mind it was almost 100 degrees!)  He taught Renee a little trick - watch the next video to see it in action!


We did many amazing things in Paris...but this was definitely Renee's highlight.

Next to Notre Dame we found this bridge covered in locks!

On our way home we stumbled into what seemed like a church under construction.  Upon closer investigation it seemed there was some kind of weird art exhibit going on.

Some of the church had junk just piled around.

The church seemed deserted, but Brian found a staircase down to the crypt underneath...where there was more art.

Apparently the only place they could find to hang this photo was on an ancient tablet?  Weird.
What are all these people waiting for you ask?

There was a line 3 blocks long to get into this little black door, the entrance to the Paris catacombs.  Fortunately for us we had booked a private tour and didn't have to wait at all!  It saved us 3 hours!

The spiral staircase to the catacombs descends over 6 stories under the city.  Let's just say that you wouldn't have made it very far if you were the least bit claustrophobic.

After the initial descent and a short walk down a very narrow tunnel, the entrance to the catacombs opens up with high vaulted ceilings.

This is a view up from the tunnel.  The catacombs stretch for miles underneath the city.  They were originally dug to mine for stone.  There was no organized plan, so they are an endless maze with no clear direction and they spiderweb underneath a huge portion of the city.

The first stop was "the gallery" - small carvings of buildings done by a miner in the catacombs.

After he completed his sculptures he began digging a stairway to the surface so people could see his work.  The staircase collapsed and killed him.
This is an underground well.  The water was so still that it looked like smoke
There are 6 million bodies buried in the catacombs.  Nearly 200 cemeteries were closed in Paris because they were literally overflowing (why only 4 remain).  The bodies were all dumped into the catacombs.

At some point there was a movement to organize and "beautify" the piles of bones.  They built corridors using the femurs and skulls to make a wall.  The rest of the bones are piled far back as I could see.

In the catacombs there were no barriers, no guards and hardly any light.  It was just us and miles of solid bones.
Here is a column built out of bones.  Very strange.  Very eerie.  We walked underground for about a mile before returning to the land of the living.

This is the Musee D'orsay.  It was probably our favorite museum that we visited.  It houses a HUGE impressionist collection and is built in an old train station.  Photos aren't this one I took illegally.

The last few days were 100 degrees in the city, so we spent as much time as we could visiting museums and other air-conditioned attractions as possible.  This is the Pantheon!

This is the inside of the Pantheon.

These are the crypts under the Pantheon.  Victor Hugo and many other notables are buried here.
On our last day we started out by visiting Les Puces de Saint-Ouen, the largest flea market/antique market in the world.  It was an endless maze of tiny connected shops.

Want a 12th century vase?  No problem.  WWII rifle, yup!  Piles of animal bones - sure thing!

This one was one of the oddest.  Notice the human skull for sale on the far left!

In the afternoon the temperature had reached the 100's and we were ready to get some relief.  We went to the Pompidou contemporary art museum.  The museum was built "inside out" and the exterior proudly showcases all of it's pipes and electrical...and it was air conditioned!

Once inside the air-conditioning we spent our sweet tie admiring some good old contemporary art.

As the sun started to set we got to the top of the museum.  There was quite a nice view.

We decided to spend our last night watching the Eiffel tower light up!  There were tons of people with picnics on the lawn and it was a wonderful way to spend our last evening in Paris.
Brian's favorite activity was taking pictures of people who were trying to pose with the Eiffel tower.

As the sun went down the tower seemed to get brighter and brighter.

This is the underside of the tower.  It is too massive to comprehend.

Every hour on the hour the Eiffel Tower "sparkles" for 5 minutes! We managed to catch it on film :)

The next day we packed up our bags once more - NEXT STOP SWITZERLAND!

To Be Continued...