First Day in Munich

We spent the morning researching a couple of day trips out of Munich and then headed back to the train station to get our day of exploring started. It is taking us a little while to get used to the public transit – partly due to the language barrier but also the extensive network of rail lines and modes of transport. There are tram lines, bus lines, train lines – regional, local, long distance – single tickets, group tickets, day tickets, zone tickets – which to choose? Today we settled on a group, one day ticket to get us over to the Marienplatz, established in 1158 as the main square of Munich Old Town. Around the square are a number of churches, markets, high end shops and of course restaurants. We had a lunch at a nice little beerhouse just down the street from the train stop. We each had a schnitzel and a local beer, both very good. (Last night, after we had settled in at our BNB, our hosted suggested a beerhouse down the road. This one actually had long tables where everyone just sat together. It was very large with a large outdoor area as well. Mostly just the smokers outside as it was a little chilly).

The old town of Munich looks like a calendar picture or puzzle.  For the most part, all the buildings are joined together. Churches attached to restaurants, attached to stores, attached to another church. Rooflines are different, color of buildings are different but they share a wall. Our first stop was The Holy Spirit church conveniently located around the corner from our lunch stop. The outside is very unimposing but the interior was beautiful!! We found the architecture slightly different than the churches in Italy – more ornate but with a more simplistic design. This pertained to all the churches that we saw today. Most of them are large and beautiful. The exception to this was the Church of Asam. It is a little smaller and stuffed between a couple of shops. A wedding was just letting out when we arrived so we waited until the church emptied and slipped inside to take a peek. OMG!! Absolutely stunning! It was built by two brothers – one a sculptor and the other a painter – in 1746 for their own use. They certainly did not scrimp on materials or worry about the over the top design. We only had time for a couple of pictures as mass was starting but I am sure that they will not do it justice.

Today we also spent time in St. Peter’s, the oldest church in the district and climbed the bell tower there to look over the beautiful views of Munich. We walked along the Odeonplatz to the 17th century Theatine Church with its matching domes and beautiful artwork.  The largest church in Munich is Frauenkirche, with a couple of onion shaped domes that hover over the city at 109 meters. No new building within the city is allowed to exceed this height. Beautiful artwork, altars, choir stalls and a large pipe organ round out this amazing church.

We made a stop at the large outdoor market with over 140 stalls of fresh produce, meats, beverages, baked goods, cheese, oils and of course wine. We picked up some fruit and baked goods and thought that the day was complete.

We headed back to the BNB to settle in for an evening of relaxation and maybe a movie. Hoping for another nice weather day tomorrow as we head out to Dachau and the original prison camp established by Hitler. Should be an emotional day.

One VERY important point that Col did not mention is that Munich is the Beer Capital of the World and just down the road from where are staying is the Largest Beer Garden in the World.  Needless to say I / we will be making an appearance.

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Image result for Homer beer

 

PS:  The food in Germany is not very good.  Not very good for my health that is.  Wow…  I love the food here.  I have already had schnitzel twice and there are so many other wonderful things to eat.  It kind of tastes a bit like home after five months of traveling and I am  looking forward to sampling a few more delicacies in the next few days.  Now I know why Evelyn Roer is one of the best cooks in Manitoba……

 

Five Hours On A Train

If you ever get the chance, take the train from Venice to Munich. It is well worth the hours spent. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Snow really is beautiful when you are looking at it through a train window!! Definitely a picture book landscape with mountains, valleys, ravines, trees, houses, churches, castles and even a few horses just for fun, So many ooh and aah moments and so little time for pictures before the next ooh and ahh moment arrives.

And before we know it, we’re in Austria. Since I was a little girl I have dreamed of coming to Austria and now, I am here. My heart is beating faster and I have a grin on my face from ear to ear. I think that my husband thinks that I am a little crazy but I am sooo excited!! My camera is ready and I hope to get in a shot or two but for the moment, I am just drinking it all in.  This is my history, my ancestry. I am no longer dreaming. I AM HERE!!

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Goodbye, Italy

We wind our way north by train through the mountains. The scenery is breathtaking and other than the multitude of villages and vineyards, I can pretend that we are heading to Jasper from Hinton.  I imagine that this is how the Okanagan must look. However, we are in Europe so this must be the Alps. And we are leaving Italy and heading to Munich, Germany.

Our last full day in Venice was bittersweet. I hadn’t slept well the previous night so was a bit foggy for much of the day – much like the weather. In fact, we did not have a clear sky or even any sun during our time in Venice except for this morning when we walked to the train station. We had a good chuckle over that one.

Anyways, last day in Venice – even though many of you encouraged us to take the gondola ride, in the end we chose to take the boat cruise around the harbour instead. Partly due to the cost and partly because our hearts just weren’t into it. We had walked much of the canal system during the last couple days and other than the romantic idea of it, we just did not see the need to do it. This may be a regret once we get home but for now, we are content with this decision. The Hop On-Hop Off boat cruise gave us a wider perspective of the city and the surrounding islands. There are 118 in all and we saw a few more of the larger ones. We did not disembark at any of them but rather rode the cruise completely around the harbour route. Our tickets were valid for 24 hours so once we hopped off the boat, we gave them to a couple of young girls that were having lunch along the pier. They were really excited to get the tickets and we were happy to be able to Pay It Forward – even if it was with a used ticket.  

We spent another hour or so walking around, poking into a church here and there, looking longingly at the sweets and gelato in the shops, trying on a few more Carnival masks, and generally breathing in our last moments of this amazing and unique city.

We have loved Italy – from Rome, Naples and Pompeii to Florence and Venice, Pisa, Lucca and Assisi – such a beautiful country. A definite must on anyone’s European Vacation list.

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We went into a crypt in the basement of some old Church we stumbled upon.  More of a money grab than anything, but it did kind of freak Col out a bit.

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View from the boat.

Traveling by train in Europe is the best….

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Venice – The Floating City

We arrived in Venice early Monday afternoon and after taking and posting a couple of pictures of the Grand Canal from the train station, we made our way to our Air BNB. We walked along the canals and over bridges and though it seemed a little confusing at first, Google Maps led us to the right place. We dropped our bags, freshened up and headed out.

It was quite foggy all day so the streets and canals had a bit of a spooky atmosphere – especially after dark. Richard kept mentioning that it would be a great place for a horror movie which did little to stop my heart from racing just a bit faster than normal. We ended up in St. Mark’s Square – almost by accident – but could barely make out the Basilica or the Bell Tower due to the fog. We wandered through the square and along the waterfront before deciding that we should probably head home and find a grocery store. Now that was a bit of an adventure. As I mentioned, the canals, streets and bridges are somewhat confusing and then of course there are the piazzas. Some have many exits and it can be a challenge trying to find the right one. We persevered, found a grocery store, got ourselves some snacks and made it home before Jack the Ripper jumped out from the fog.

Today, we headed back to the train station and headed in the opposite direction from yesterday. Our first surprise was the beautiful Church of Saint Mary of Nazareth. This is a smaller church than what we have seen in Italy and both Richard and I agreed that it had a certain welcoming feeling that some of the others did not. We continued on our way following the Grand Canal as best we could, detouring through piazzas and shopping areas. It seems that all roads (or in this case canals and bridges) lead to St. Mark’s because again, this is where we found ourselves at midday. It was not nearly as foggy so we were able to see the grandeur of the church, the bell tower and the Duke’s Palace. After finishing our lunch along the waterfront, we entered St. Mark’s Basilica. It is very large and impressive with historic mosaics lining the floors and walls. We worked our way through the church and then headed up the stairs to the museum where original mosaics and tapestries dating back to 900 AD are housed. From here we were able to walk out onto the mezzanine overlooking the Square and the waterfront. The four large horses that share this mezzanine with the tourists and the pigeons are copies of the original bronze horses, liberated from Constantinople in the early 12th century,  and are now kept inside. Both the copies and the originals are quite impressive.

Back in the square, we watched the crowds flock around people in costumes. We have again been lucky enough to stumble upon a festival – in this case, The Carnival of Venice. It started with a parade last Saturday (which we just missed) and continues until the beginning of Lent. There are a number of balls (which we will also miss) but is it best known for its elaborate costumes and masks. Many people dress in costumes and walk around the square waiting for others to take pictures of them or with them. All the outdoor vendors and many of the permanent shops are selling the masks and Richard and I have been searching for just the perfect ones in which to walk around the city like many of the other tourists. So far, the ideal items have yet to be found.

We continued along the waterfront, found another large bridge across the canal and made our way back to the Santa Maria della Salute that can actually be seen from St. Mark’s. Built in 1630 after the plague had claimed 140,000 lives, it was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who for many reasons was thought to be a protector of the Republic.  The Salute, as it is commonly called, is a vast, octagonal building with two domes and a pair of picturesque bell-towers at the back built on a platform made of 1,000,000 wooden piles. The church inside is indeed round with the main chapel being across from the main entrance. Organ music was playing when we entered so we sat to listen and rest our feet for a few minutes. 

After that brief respite, we were ready to go again and continued along the Guidecca Canal, all the way around to the train station where we started this morning. Almost ten miles today with one day left. If it is not too foggy tomorrow, we hope to get on the water, either on a gondola or a water bus. That should be fun!!

The view from San Marcos (St. Marks).

The music accompanying today’s slide show is from Vivaldi who is Venice’s most famous composer.  The last picture in the presentation is of Col posing in front of a monument dedicated to him.

 

Ciao Florence, Buongiorno Venice

Our last day in Florence was low key but amazing just the same. We went to mass at Santa Maria Novella, next to the train station. Though it is very close to our apartment, we had yet to visit it. The first great basilica in Florence, built in 1246, it is decorated  with a number of paintings, statues and funerary monuments. The outstanding piece for me was the altar.  It is in the form of a castle and, as I found out later, it was from this Church that the first verbal attack was made on Galileo, leading eventually to his indictment and excommunication from the Church.

After mass we spent some time out in front of the church in the plaza enjoying the sunshine and people watching. This plaza was used from the 16th to 19th century to run chariot races around the obelisks that sit at each end of the courtyard, mimicking a Roman circus.

We headed off for lunch at the Mercato Centrale. We had been there earlier in the week to check it out and it is basically a massive food court. Apparently everyone had the same idea today as the place was a madhouse. We did decide to stay for lunch and eventually found a table to eat our chicken wings and Caesar salad – both very tasty.  From there we just started to wander.

We walked back to the Great Basilica and onto the Piazza della Repubblica. Here there is a merry go round and usually one or two people performing. Today there was a young man playing the accordion. And not just your typical accordion or accordion songs. He played everything from romantic, Italian songs to Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters using different sounds from his instrument. It was very entertaining and I enjoyed it immensely. We walked to the next plaza which is the Piazza del Signora. We sat down at a nearby cafe for a cup of coffee and a glass of wine. We began to hear what sounded like a marching band coming our way. Sure enough, along came the band followed by a number of groups in different types of medieval costumes. The parade lasted for about 10 minutes and actually precedes a Renaissance era soccer game  in the Piazza de Croce. The game is a combination of soccer, rugby, and big time wrestling, all played while wearing 16th century costumes. Unfortunately, we did not have tickets to attend the match as we were not aware that it was happening but it does explain the large machines the day before in St Croce square that were covering the square in sand while we were eating our lunch.

We walked to the river and once again crossed the Ponte Vecchio. And we once again noted that it seems to be nothing special except for maybe all the high-end jewellery shops that line the bridge. We walked a few blocks across the river until we got to another bridge and crossed back over. As we now followed this street towards city center we couldn’t help but notice all the ritzy stores – Armani, Gucci, and Prada to name a few. Among these stores, we stumbled across another church, fairly unassuming and decided to step inside. Probably one of the nicest surprises of the day, St. Michael’s church was serene and absolutely beautiful. Another magnificent altar, statues and paintings for our viewing pleasure.

It was getting dark so we headed towards home, stopping for a bite to eat at a little restaurant close to the apartment. We loved Florence and the surrounding areas including Pisa and Assisi. We know that there is so much more to see in this region and certainly hope that we get a chance to come back this way again. We head to the floating city of Venice on Monday, and as always, we are ready for our next adventure.

Santa Maria Novella

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More street painting…

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Music definitely is the International Language.

One last view from the bridge.

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Out of our price range.  Hard to believe someone would pay that much for a backpack.   $1663.29 Canadian.

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Anyone up for a Parade?  Apologies for the video being sideways.  Not sure what happened there.

 

That’s it for now see you soon in Venice.  Ciao

 

David and Santa Croce

After having a pretty low key day yesterday, we decided that we better step up our game and go see some sites. We are only here for another couple of days and we would hate to miss something!!

Off we went to the Basilica of Santa Croce (Holy Cross). However, we had to detour to see the Bronze Pig at the Nuevo Market. We had passed there a couple of days ago but missed the pig somehow. Today, Richard was very fortunate to touch the pig and get his picture taken with it. Whatever it takes to keep the guy amused…..

We travelled over some more familiar territory and reached the Ponte Vecchio which we had crossed on “Our Day in Florence”. Although the crowds were much larger than they had been on Wednesday, we followed the walkway along the Arno River enjoying the sunshine and admiring the beauty until it was time to turn back into town to get to the Basilica.  We navigated a couple of narrow streets and came out into the Piazza de St. Croce. The Basilica, built in 1212, is massive and is perhaps best known for its art displays, architecture and all the prominent people that are buried within – Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini to name a few. The walls are covered in frescoes and Renaissance art and there are statues and crypts everywhere. Considered to be the largest Franciscan church in the world, there are 16 chapels surrounding the nave. Well-to-do families typically had chapels built and decorated in their honor (and often to appease the church or seek forgiveness for sins they were unwilling to stop committing) and dedicated to a favorite saint. From the main church we followed the route into the Sacristy, the Museum, the Cloisters and the outdoor Colonnade. As the church was actually built on low, swampy land, it has been prone to flooding. The worst flood was in 1966 and many of the art works were heavily damaged or destroyed. It has taken many decades to restore these works back to original condition. We had to pay to enter this church and though it is quite beautiful, we thought that we have seen many more magnificent churches along the way that have been free of charge. Of course, it is the infamy of the residents therein that give this church its massive tourist appeal.

We had a quick lunch of homemade ham sandwiches on the steps of the church and then headed to the other highlight of the day – The Galleria dell’ Accademia where Michelangelo’s original Statue of David resides. Even though that is the main draw, there are many other artworks and displays to see within this gallery. There is an exhibition of musical instruments dating from the 15th to 17th centuries. The first upright piano is displayed there as well as harpsichords, violins, wind and percussion instruments.  I enjoyed this section immensely and it was fun to note that other than the piano, not much has changed with the other instruments. We wandered through a couple of rooms viewing the artwork before turning the corner into the gallery where your eyes are instantly drawn to David at the end of the room. He is majestic! Though I know nothing of art, I can see how the well defined the lines are and the detail throughout the entire figure.  We stood for many minutes just gazing on this very famous work and again, considering ourselves so very lucky to get to see it. Definitely a memory of a lifetime.

As it seemed too early to go home, we found a cute little cafe around the corner from the art gallery and sat down to enjoy the sunshine and a drink.  We watched the people go by and chatted about the day, but all too soon the sunshine disappeared, the air started to turn chilly and it was time to head home. But not before enjoying another wonderful day in a wonderful city.

In light of how many Churches and Museums we have visited, I have tried to focus the pictures on things that are unique compared to what we and you have seen so far.

My Lucky Pig.  Just like Homer from the Simpsons I found my pig.  Of course those of you who have not watched the Simpsons will not get this.

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Santa Croce.

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The tomb of Galileo.

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The tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci.

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The tomb of Michelangelo..

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Although this painting of the Last Supper is not from Leonardo Da vinci it was still quite impressive.  Leonardo’s painting is in Milan.

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The Galleria dell’ Accademia

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The world’s first upright piano.

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A Stradivarius Violin, what more can you say.

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Mary Magdalene.

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David.  The statue of David was the one thing that I was looking forward to in Florence.  When we turned the corner in the museum and the statue of David came into light you knew you were looking at something very special.  As others were doing, once we had taken our  pictures we just sat and marveled at what Michelangelo had created.  Again, it is something you have to experience for yourself.  Words fail….. 

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As Col said we finished off our day with something to brush the trail dust off.

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My sister Claire said she like the slide shows so I thought I would try to include one on each blog if possible.  Seeing as Claire is the baby of the family and gets pretty much whatever she wants I figured I better comply.

 

 

 

Assisi – An Unexpected Delight

A three hour train ride this morning took us up to Assisi, in the heart of the province of Umbria. The ride itself was beautiful as we travelled through hills, valleys, forests and farms. We sped through the Lake District catching glimpses of the lake through the trees and cottages. From the train station in Assisi, we caught the “C” bus into town. As we headed up the hill we could see the Basilica looming ahead in its grandeur. And grand it is. The Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Order of Friars founded of course by St Francis, who was born, lived and died in Assisi. It is one of the most important places of Christian pilgrimage in Italy. The building began construction in 1228, two years after St. Francis’ death. We entered quietly and as there was a mass in progress, slipped silently into a seat. After mass we wandered around the interior, gazing at the magnificent frescoes, sculptures, and altars of the various chapels. We descended to the lower floor to leave prayers at St Francis’ tomb and view the relics of his life, enclosed in glass. We headed to the Upper Basilica which is again magnificent in its artwork and design. From there we were able to go out to one of the main courtyards and take some pictures before taking the stairs back to the street below.

We left the Basilica on Via Francesco walking past little shops, cafes, museums, chapels and homes. We were amazed at how quiet the streets were and how quaint the town is. We stopped for lunch and ate outside in the Piazza del Commune with a view of the Church of St. Mary (formerly the Temple of Minerva). The Roman pillars of this building are original, dating back to the first century BC.

After lunch we continued to meander through the cobblestone streets of this medieval town still in awe of its beauty. We stopped to explore the pink and white Basilica di S. Chiara. Saint Clare of Assisi was one of the first followers of Saint Francis. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition, and wrote their Rule of Life, the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman.  The construction of the Basilica of Santa Chiara began in 1257, four years after the saint’s death. The church is a smaller version of the Upper Basilica of St. Francis. Many frescos line the walls depicting the life story of St. Clare. Her remains as well as other relics from her life are on display on the lower level of the church. After seeing the horsehair undershirt that she wore, I don’t really think that I can complain about wearing a bra anymore.

From the Basilica of St. Clare, we could see a castle up on the hill. It looked very high and very far away but after some debate we decided to go take a look. As it turned out, the walk to the Rocca Maggiore did not take us that long even though it was uphill all the way. The views of the town and valley below are breathtaking. I am sure that the photos will not capture the beauty of the surrounding area. The castle itself is pretty cool – mostly rooms, towers, and courtyards housing modern pictures of festivals and concerts that still take place there. There is a lot of history in the castle over the 800 years of its existence. It has changed hands many times, kings have used it as refuge and popes have been involved in the power shifts of ownership. We are certainly glad that we made the climb.

As we had a train to catch we were keeping an eye on the time and only had time to see one more site. We chose (mostly by default because it was close to the bus stop) the Cathedral of St. Rufino. The Cathedral contains the baptismal font where both St Francis and St Clare were baptized. This is the third church built on the same site to contain the remains of bishop Rufinus of Assisi, martyred in the 3rd century. We did not have time to explore the lower level which contains a museum and remains of the previous churches but we did have the opportunity to view a side gallery which held a number of paintings of John Paul II. These depict his life from a young man to his last days. They are very vivid and catch the essence of the man.

We caught the train back to Florence late in the afternoon and after having to disembark at an out of the way train stop due to “problemo traino”, we caught the next train and arrived back at our apartment close to 9 PM. A Valentine’s Day supper of Big Mac’s and fries closed off our day.

The day can be summed up in the beautiful sunset that I observed from the train window. We were passing by the lake and the sky glowed orange which reflected the colour off the water. The entire scene was completely ethereal, meaning “light in a way that seems not to be of this world”. The town of Assisi is just that – something that we can only dream about and can’t really believe actually exists. It is another place to add to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.

The Cathedral of Saint Francis..

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The Rocca Maggiore and some from the top.

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They had a real Medieval spiral staircase in the castle.  The diameter was only about six feet and I am not sure if there would have been room for two people to pass.  Definitely something you would see from a movie….. 

The Cathedral of Saint Claire. 

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Image result for the basilica of st. Clare of assisi

The Temple of Minerva which is now the Church of St. Mary. This was our view as we were having lunch outside.

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The wrap up…  I chose the music of Pachelbel in D major for the slide show as it really captured the essence of Assisi.