A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: ToonSarah

The morning after the meeting before

From Kempten to Munich … and home


View VT Euromeet 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

All good things come to an end …

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The Illertor, near our hotel

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The Mang Brunnen

The morning after the meet officially ended I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast with Bernd and Jon, discussing possibilities for next year! I followed this with an equally leisurely coffee in the hotel garden with Kirsty and Ann, before taking a final stroll around the nearest part of the old town, by St. Mang's church, where I was able to get the photos of the fountain, the Mang Brunnen, which had been hard to capture on previous visits to the square.

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The Mang Brunnen

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I took quite few more photos in and around this part of town. The Illertor, above, is a 1990 reconstruction of Kempten's eastern gate, one of nine that punctuated the city's defense walls in the past. I also found some pretty details on the houses on St. Mang Platz and the surrounding streets:

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I strolled as far as the Rathaus, taking a few last photos there, before retracing my steps.

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Rathausplatz
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Rathaus details


A group of us met for lunch in the café by the river opposite the Bayerischer Hof (Hamptons Summer Bar). The terrace here has lovely views of the old town and we enjoyed our panini and cold drinks in the shade of its umbrellas – much-needed on this very hot day.

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VTers by the river

To Munich

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Those of us leaving today then took a taxi to the station and the train to Munich. We got into the Hauptbahnhof at about 16.40 and walked the short distance to the Hotel Stachus on Bayerstrasse. My room there was not a bad size for a single and had a double bed, though the shower opening directly into the room was an odd feature and the bathroom floor was heated - unnecessarily so given the 30+ degrees temperature!

In the evening about 15 of us met at the Schneider Weisses Brauhaus for dinner where I enjoyed the local beer, an unusual beef Schnitzel and some ice cream with fresh strawberries. After we had all said our farewells for this year Yvonne and I took a taxi back to the hotel. Some would be meeting for a city tour tomorrow but for me this year's Euromeet was officially over.

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In the Schneider Weisses Brauhaus

Farewell to Germany

The next morning I had breakfast in the hotel (a reasonable buffet although not as good as the Bayerischer Hof had been, and served in far too warm a restaurant!) After checking out of the hotel I met up with Kirsty for a coffee in Coffee Fellows next door to the hotel – this seems to be a Munich chain, very much on the lines of Starbucks.

Then it was time to head to the airport. We walked down to the Hauptbahnhof and successfully negotiated ticket purchase and validation before boarding the S1 (Schnellbahn). The journey to the airport took about 40 minutes. On arrival Kirsty and I went our separate ways as she was departing from Terminal Two and I from Terminal One.

With plenty of time to kill I had a leisurely lunch with some nice white wine and took advantage of the unlimited free wifi. I had been a little concerned that my flight with BA might have been affected by the huge problems they’d had over the weekend with a total IT failure, but fortunately by now all seemed to have settled down and we departed only 15 minutes late.

That time was made up en route so I landed as expected at 17.30. Chris was at Heathrow to meet me – I was home!

Reflection

This Euromeet was a great success, thanks of course to Christian who organised everything so well but also to everyone who came, determined that the closure of the Virtual Tourist website would not mean the end of our gatherings nor of our friendships. Already there are offers from members to host the 2018 meet, and plans are in place for us to vote on the options. Once the venue is chosen we can all start to look forward to meeting up again next year, and hopefully for many more to come.

Posted by ToonSarah 07:11 Archived in Germany Tagged people germany euromeet kempten virtual_tourist Comments (6)

Our second Euromeet outing

Kempten day four


View VT Euromeet 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Alpine splendours

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Scenery from the bus

Although still painful, my ankle was better enough for me to join today's outing. We took the bus first to the Breitachklamm, travelling through some wonderful Alpine scenery.

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Scenery from the bus

Breitachklamm

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Breitachklamm

The Breitachklamm is a narrow gorge carved by the waters of the river Breitach. It has its origins in the melting of the glacier of the same name. It is certainly a natural wonder, although our first impressions, arriving in a busy car park full of visitors (it was a holiday weekend) made it seem rather less than natural, despite the scenic surroundings.

Christian, our Euromeet host, organised the payment for our tickets (entrance costs 4€) and arranged for us to skip the lengthy queue. I was concerned that once through the gate we would continue to be among crowds, but people seemed quite quickly to thin out as each walked at a different pace.

Despite my ankle problems I was able to walk just a short distance into the gorge to see the river, but I decided not to push on to the narrowest part of the gorge. Instead I spent a little time photographing the beautiful wild flowers.

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Wildflowers

There were also some placid cows near the parking area, wearing the cow bells so distinctive of this region.

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Cow with a bell!


I then retired to the terrace of the nearby café for an Eiskaffee and to chat with friends also unwinding there. The beauty of a Virtual Tourist meet is that there is no pressure to do anything in particular – some members like to take in all the sights, while for others the social aspects of catching up with old friends and making new ones are more important. And of course most of us like to do a little bit of both! This means that there is always someone to chat to if you don’t feel like exploring – and always someone to explore with if you do :)

Oberstdorf

We made a stop at the ski flying arena near Oberstdorf where we took the obligatory group photo and again saw some great mountain views.

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Group photo

Christian pointed out that this is not just ski jumping but something more impressive again, with the participants achieving much greater distances. I didn’t walk all the way to the arena as it seemed to me that without snow and without jumpers (sorry, flyers!) I wouldn’t get a strong impression, and the mountain scenery around us spoke to me more strongly.

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Scenery near the ski flying arena

After a short time here the bus dropped us in Oberstdorf, Germany’s southernmost village, where we had free time. A few people took the cable car up the mountain but most of us had a relaxing time in the town. I had some lunch at a café with Yvonne and Irina, from where we enjoyed views of the hang gliders swooping above us.

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Hang gliders

We also had fun feeding a particularly bold sparrow - or rather, Yvonne fed while I took photos!

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Cheeky sparrow

I then strolled around town for a while. The street was lined with shops selling outdoor gear and souvenirs, and I was briefly tempted by some jewellery but didn’t find anything quite to my taste. So I focused (literally!) on taking photos, mainly of the interesting small details to be found on many of its wooden buildings, before stopping at another café for coffee.

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From my photo walk in Oberstdorf

Our last evening in Kempten

We got back to Kempten with about an hour to spare before dinner, so after freshening up I took a taxi with some of the others to the venue for the final dinner of the meet, the Brauereigasthaus Zum Stift (where we had already eaten on the first evening). This time we had tables outside, which was much pleasanter, and I enjoyed sitting under the chestnuts and chatting to Ali and Co, Isa, Penelope, Lori and Hansi, who shared my table, and to many other friends.

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With Sonja and Hansi

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My Wienerschnitzel with potato salad (here in Bavaria called “Erdäpfelsalat” – earth apple salad) was tasty and huge, enough for two people really, although somehow I managed to eat it all! But certainly this evening there was no question of a dessert. A few of the local Allgäuer Dunkelbiers went down well however.

After eating there was much circulating among the tables, and Jon performed some of his intriguing magic tricks - an appropriate way to end another magical VT Euromeet.

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Magic with Jon

Posted by ToonSarah 02:38 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains people restaurants euromeet kempten virtual_tourist Comments (10)

A Euromeet outing

Kempten day three


View VT Euromeet 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

To Wangen and Lindau

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Co at the bus stop

After another excellent breakfast at the Bayerischer Hof we made our way to the bus stop opposite the Park Hotel, about ten minutes' walk, where we met up with everyone going on today's outing.

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Lori and Steve on the bus

Our comfortable coach took us first to Wangen - a place I had never heard of but which proved to be a really pretty small town with lots of interest in its old centre.

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First impressions of Wangen


But before exploring, refreshments were called for, so I joined Steve, Amelie, Kirsty, Claus and Hansi outside one of the cafés where I enjoyed a very good Eiskaffee.

Exploring Wangen

Then Steve and I went off to explore – slowly, as we were both nursing injuries (in my case a sore Achilles caused by overdoing it yesterday). Our walk took us first to the Eselbrunnen, a fountain which depicts Aesop's fable about the man, the boy and the donkey:

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A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by its side a countryman passed them and said: "You fools, what is a Donkey for but to ride upon?"
So the man put the boy on the donkey and they went on their way. But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said: "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."

So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other: "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passers-by began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at. The men said: "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours and your hulking son?"

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, till at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them till they came to Market Bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his fore-feet being tied together he was drowned.

"That will teach you," said an old man who had followed them: "Please all, and you will please none"


The bronze figures on the fountain show five scenes - the donkey carrying no one, the donkey carrying the boy, the donkey carrying the man, the donkey carrying both of them and on the top, the man and boy carrying the donkey strung from the pole.

From here we walked up pretty Schmiedstrasse to Herrenstrasse where we had a view to our right of the Ravensburg Gate, also known as the Frauentor. This dates from 1608 in its present form, although there is likely to have been a gate on this spot since the 12th century.

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The Ravensburg Gate or Frauentor

The town was full of eye-catching details – frescoes on so many of the buildings, ornate signs, and pretty flowers.

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Wangen details

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Martinstor

We walked up to the Marktplatz from where we could see another of the town’s ancient gates, the Lindau or Martinstor. This is named for the church opposite and has a painting of St Martin handing his cloak to the beggar. Like the Frauentor its current form dates from 1608.

St Martin's church

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Doors to St Martin's

We went into the Catholic parish church opposite, dedicated to St Martin. Known as the Oberstadtkirche or upper church, this is one of the town’s oldest buildings, dating from the 9th century, although elements (including the tower) took their present form only in the 15th century.

Pushing open the striking modern doors we found ourselves in a beautiful space which mixes ancient and modern religious art. The older features include the high altar (late 17th century) and side altars, while the frescoes above the choir arch and a ceiling painting of St Martin by Gebherd Fugel (an artist from Ravensburg) are from the 19th century. The modern stained glass windows, which I loved, date from the 1960s.

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Ceiling painting

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In St Martin's

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Stained glass

On Spitalstrasse

Steve and I then separated, and I walked under the Pfaffenturm and down Spitalstrasse.

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The Pfaffenturm

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Spitalkirche

Here another church caught my eye, the Spitalkirche zum Heiligen Geist. This was built between 1719 and 1723 on the site of a medieval chapel which served the nearby hospital - hence the name.

Although a little less ornate it was still full of Baroque splendour and interesting details including the painted ceiling, again by Gebherd Fugel, which shows Christ healing the sick as a reference to the church's links to the hospital. The ornately painted organ loft must, I think, also be his work and again has scenes on the theme of healing.

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The high altar is stunning – it dates from the early 17th century and has an almost life-size statue of the Madonna. Another altar in the south aisle is known as the Christus im Kerker (Christ in the dungeon) and is a focus for prayer and pilgrimage.

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The high altar

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Detail of Christus im Kerker altar

Outside I found another lovely fountain ornamented with little bronze birds.

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Fountain details

Onwards to Lindau

By now it was time to go back to the bus which took us next to Lindau on the shores of Lake Constance (or the Bodensee in German). The town has a lovely setting with wonderful views from the waterfront of the mountains on the far side of the lake, in Austria. The harbour is framed by a lighthouse and a sculpture of a lion. The former can claim to be the southernmost lighthouse in Germany. It dates from the mid 19th century and is 33 metres tall and 24 metres in circumference at its widest point, the base. Unusually for a lighthouse, it has a clock face on the side. The lion references the Bavarian coat of arms. It is made from sandstone, is six metres tall and is also from the mid 19th century.

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Harbour entrance

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The lighthouse

Despite these stunning views, on the whole I found Lindau less appealing than Wangen had been and too overrun with tourists. However it was a great spot for a relaxing lunch in a café overlooking the harbour. I enjoyed a Weinshorle and shared finger food (chicken, baked Camembert and chips with dips) with Isa, Amelie and Steve.

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Swans in the harbour, and living statue on a break

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Tourist train

After lunch we had planned to take a short stroll but when we came across the tourist train opted for that instead - a great relief to my dodgy ankle. The ride around town cost 5€ and showed us a few of the main sights such as churches and some of the older buildings, but it was hard to take photos.

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VTers on the little train

By the time we got off there was no opportunity to explore further as the bus would be waiting for us, but I for one was ready to leave a town that for some reason hadn't really appealed to me – although I accept that I probably didn’t give it a chance to do so.

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More images from Lindau
~ the Mangturm and a lovely building near the bus station which may be the main library!

The drive back to Kempten took us through wonderful scenery and our driver stopped at a great viewpoint so we could take some photos.

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Alpine views

This meant however that we were quite late getting back, with only an hour or so to go before dinner. I decided therefore to opt out of that and rest my Achilles to be ready for tomorrow.

Posted by ToonSarah 04:28 Archived in Germany Tagged mountains lakes churches buildings people euromeet kempten virtual_tourist Comments (6)

Virtual Tourist Euromeet, official first day

Kempten day two


View VT Euromeet 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Getting to know Kempten

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The basilica from near our hotel

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Breakfast room

The breakfast at the Bayerischer Hof was excellent - a lovely way to start the day with muesli, fresh fruit, a great selection of bread, cheeses and meats and good coffee, as well as the company of VT friends also staying there.

Cambodunum

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Having fun with the Romans

I then took a walk to the nearby archaeological park with Yvonne, Regina and Jon where we explored the excavations.

In the first century AD Kempten, then known as Cambodunum, was the seat of government for this region. Extensive excavations have taken place here and a number of sites made accessible to the public, dotted around this park which lies on the eastern side of the river Iller, overlooking the town centre.

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Walking route

Entrance to the site costs 4€ although access to the general parkland around the excavations is free. A walking route between the two main sites is well-marked – once you have worked out where to start!

The first part we came to was the temple area and I was impressed by how well presented the site was, with enough of it reconstructed to give a good sense of what once stood here without turning it into a theme park. In addition to statues of the various gods, there are a number of interesting artefacts on display including some beautiful jewellery that wouldn’t look out of place today. We spent quite some time here and could easily have spent even longer if we’d read all the information boards!

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In the temple area

After pausing to check out the lovely views over the city we followed the suggested walking route which took us past the site of the forum (which has not been restored and is therefore really just lines of stone in the grass, though there’s an impressive statue at the entrance and a single column standing.

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Site of the forum

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In the baths

We then walked to the other main area for which your ticket is needed, the baths. These excavations are protected from the elements and are well displayed – I liked the touch of a pair of sandals left by the side of one of the pools!

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The baths

From here we followed a steep path down through the woods which emerged right next to our hotel.

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The path through the woods, and drinks in the hotel garden

After a coffee in the lovely hotel garden and a brief rest I walked into the town centre which was busy with lots of locals enjoying the public holiday for Ascension Day.

St Mang’s church

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Bikers

Outside St Mang's church there was a gathering of bikers as the church had been hosting a special mass for them. The square was crowded and I couldn’t really get good photos of the striking fountain here, the St. Mang-Brunnen – this would have to wait for another visit.

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St Mang

When I went inside though the church was peaceful and I was able to enjoy the calm and take some photos. This is the main Protestant (Lutheran) church of Kempten, which at one time (1525 to 1802) was divided into two parts: a Protestant Reichsstadt (free imperial city) and a Catholic Fürststift (attached to the Benedictine abbey). It dates originally from 1426 and has undergone several major renovations over the years, taking it from gothic to rococo to neo-gothic. It is for the most part simple and quite elegant, but with some colourful stained glass windows at the choir end and a scattering of Rococo cherubs looking down from ceiling height. I liked the delicately painted leaves ornamenting the ceiling of the choir. The wooden altar piece dates from 1896 and the pulpit from 1608.

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Images of St Mang's

Around the Rathausplatz

After leaving the church I checked out the market stalls in the Rathausplatz (set up I believe as part of the holiday weekend celebrations) and bought a pretty necklace at one of them.

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Around the Rathausplatz

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Did Charlie take my camera?

Then I met up with Anne Marie, Ann and Regina for lunch near the Rathaus. After checking out a couple of places (one of which looked promising but didn’t seem to be serving drinks) we settled on the Nova café. My mango and prawn salad was large with a nice dressing but a bit expensive (by local standards) at 15 euros, and the service was very slow with only one waitress for a large number of tables, all occupied.

This was the location for what was possibly the amusing incident of the weekend, though I wasn't amused initially! Ann and Anne Marie had left the café early to go back to the latter's hotel and Regína and I sat on for a while as I finished my salad and she her coffee. When we got up to go I realised my camera was missing. I went back to the first café we had tried, hoping I might have left it there and it been handed in, but no such luck. So I headed back to the Nova and to our table, more or less resigned to my loss, and noticing that Ann and Anne Marie had meanwhile returned. Regina had told them what had happened and where I was, and they were duly sympathetic. They regathered their belongings to walk towards me as I approached, and it was only at this moment that Ann realised that she had a Panasonic camera around her neck while her own Canon was tucked away in her bag! She had obviously mistakenly picked up my camera when leaving with Anne Marie and only just now realised her error. I didn’t know whether to be annoyed, relieved or amused, but the middle of these emotions prevailed!

Basilica of St Lorenz

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Basilica of St Lorenz

After lunch, some of us went to visit the Roman Catholic basilica which is very impressive. It was built between 1652 and 1748 on the site of an earlier church, as the abbey church of the Benedictine Abbey in Kempten. When the monastery was dissolved in 1803 the church became simply the parish church of the town. The impressively tall towers are a 1900 addition and are perhaps surprisingly (well I was surprised!) made of concrete. The church was granted the title of basilica by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

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In the basilica

There is lots to admire inside. I especially liked the individually decorated choir stalls (these are rare plates of Scagliola, an artificial stone made to look like marble), and the unusual pure white relief carvings of the Stations of the Cross. The inside of the dome is very lovely too, with delicate gold carvings and almost pastel paintings, beautifully lit by natural daylight. Look out too for the carving of Jesus, weighed down not just by the cross he carries but also the massive elaborate pulpit on the wall above.

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The dome

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Basilica details

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Choir stalls

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Innocentius

Altars either side of the main aisle each hold a rather disconcerting relic, the gold and jewel-encrusted skeletons of Saints Honorius and Innocentius. A VT friend has pointed me towards some interesting information on these. They are “catacomb saints,” who were regarded by 16th and 17th century Catholics as protectors and personifications of the glory of the afterlife. They have their origins in the discovery, in the mid 16th century, of the vast Roman Catacombs where an estimated 500,000 to 750,000 people (mainly Christians and many of them martyrs, persecuted for their faith) were entombed. The Catholic Church saw an opportunity to replace relics lost from churches looted during the fervour of the Reformation, especially in Germany, with these newly-discovered “saints”. They became the latest “must-have” for churches reeling from the battle against the spread of Protestantism. This article in the Smithsonian explains the selection process for the “martyrs”:
“For the Vatican, the process of ascertaining which of the thousands of skeletons belonged to a martyr was a nebulous one. If they found “M.” engraved next to a corpse, they took it to stand for “martyr,” ignoring the fact that the initial could also stand for “Marcus,” one of the most popular names in ancient Rome. If any vials of dehydrated sediment turned up with the bones, they assumed it must be a martyr’s blood rather than perfume, which the Romans often left on graves in the way we leave flowers today. The Church also believed that the bones of martyrs cast off a golden glow and a faintly sweet smell, and teams of psychics would journey through the corporeal tunnels, slip into a trance and point out skeletons from which they perceived a telling aura. After identifying a skeleton as holy, the Vatican then decided who was who and issued the title of martyr.”

As to the decorations:
“Each martyr’s skeleton represented the splendours that awaited the faithful in the afterlife. Before it could be presented to its congregation, it had to be outfitted in finery befitting a relic of its status. Skilled nuns, or occasionally monks, would prepare the skeleton for public appearance. It could take up to three years, depending on the size of the team at work.”

Do read the Smithsonian article if you are interested – it is absolutely fascinating, if rather macabre.

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Hildegardplatz fountain

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Emerging into the light, the fountain outside on the Hildegardplatz is also worth a closer look. It was created in 1969 and has a boy and a girl standing by an apple tree on top of a column. Around the column water spurts from a ring – I loved the little birds on this, fashioned as if drinking from its waters. And around the basin below this column are fish and other water-loving creatures such as a frog, salamander and snake. These should also, it seems, be spouting water but were dry on the afternoon I took these photos, as you can see.

By the time we came out of the basilica it was almost 3.00 - time to register for the VT meet!

Euromeet registration

Registration took place at the Brauereigasthaus Zum Stift almost opposite the basilica. There were lots of people to greet and much excitement and photo-taking.

I was here for some time chatting to various friends and enjoyed a refreshing Weinshorle. I then decided to walk back to the hotel for a break and to freshen up for the evening.

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The VT crowd gathers for another Euromeet

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Alan, Martin & Jon ~~~ Fergy & Jon

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Kirsty & Christian (our host) ~~~ Irina, Yvonne & Lori

It's interesting to reflect that at least seven nationalities are represented in these few photos, and there were nearly twenty different one at the meet. The spirit of Virtual Tourist is alive and well!

Euromeet first dinner

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My hake

The first official meeting dinner was also at the Brauereigasthaus Zum Stift. We gathered in the beer garden where there were many more greetings and hugs, before moving into the room put aside for us where we sat at long tables. Although we had paid a set price of 15€ we were able to order any main dish (and later, I found, also a dessert), although drinks had to be paid separately. My dry white wine was very good, as was the food when it came (I had hake served with rice, spinach and a lemon sauce) but, perhaps understandably given the size of our group, it did take a very long while (well over an hour) and I regretted being tucked on the inside of the table where it was harder to use the time to circulate and chat.

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Waiting for dinner

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Amelie & DAO

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Nathalie, Larry & Kirsty

By the time I had eaten the fish, and also my chosen dessert of Apfelstrudel, I decided it was time to leave, so Ann, Kirsty and I walked back to the hotel (my fourth time that day for this long walk) and I was glad to get back to my room for a much-needed rest!

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Kempten by night, from near the Bayerischer Hof

Posted by ToonSarah 06:05 Archived in Germany Tagged churches people ruins restaurants euromeet kempten virtual_tourist Comments (16)

From Zurich to Kempten

Kempten (Euromeet) day one


View VT Euromeet 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A last morning in Zurich

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View from the Lindenhof

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Having decided to catch the 13.09 train to Kempten (which meant only one change, not three!) we had a final morning free in Zurich. Yvonne and I set out after breakfast to explore together.

We started with a short walk down to the lake, but the weather was cloudier than of late and the mountains hidden by cloud. My photography for the time being had to be confined to details.

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A cloudy start to the day

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In the former cloisters

So we walked back up the opposite bank to the Fraumünster where we stopped off to look again at the frescoes by local artist Paul Bodmer in the passageway alongside (part of the former cloisters), which tell stories from the history of the city. There we were approached by a man who offered to tell us more about the pictures which we agreed to - and when he said more, he meant more!

Alex Hansen has clearly made it his life's work to study them in depth (he has even written a thesis about them) and for the next 45 minutes or so he described not only the stories told by the pictures but also many theories about the artist's use of symbolism within them. As the artist left no written record about this we have no way of knowing to what extent he was interpreting this correctly, but it made for a fascinating encounter.

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Our guide to the frescoes

There are several different stories told in these murals. One set tell of the founding of the convent, to which the Fraumünster was the abbey church, by two sisters, Hildegard and Bertha, daughters of the Emperor Ludwig. According to a legend, they were led to this spot by a deer with glowing antlers. Another set tell the story of the city’s patron saints, Felix and Regula, which I repeated in an earlier entry in this blog: Exploring the city. The remaining images, in the section nearest the river, relate tales of Charlemagne.

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The story of Hildegard and Bertha

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The story of Felix and Regula

The Fraumünster

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Oops, I took a photo!

After we finally left our new acquaintance I paid the 5 francs to go into the church, mainly to see the famed Marc Chagall murals. These date from 1970. The three central ones at the eastern end of the church depict (from left to right) Jacob wrestling with an Angel of the Lord, the story of Christ (from birth to crucifixion and ascension), and the End of Days or Zion. Either side are (to the north) a depiction of several of the Prophets and (to the south) Moses with the Ten Commandments setting out God’s Law.

The organ was playing which added to the atmosphere, and being quite early still there were no large groups, but I resented (as I always do) the prohibition on photography, even without flash. As it happens my camera shutter may just have fired once 😉 For better photos and a full description of the windows, have a look at this website: Sacred Destinations.

We stopped for coffee at a small café in a corner of the square overlooking the church, the Münsterhof. While we sat we were treated to a peel of bells from the Fraumünster, so I shot a short video to capture something of their sound.

We also checked out the building on the eastern side of the square, formerly part of the University of Zurich and before that the guild house of the Zunft zur Meisen, the guild of innkeepers, saddle makers and painters).

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“Let Europe Arise”

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From its balcony fronting the square Sir Winston Churchill gave his famous speech, in September 1946, about the post-war rebuilding of Europe, popularly known as his “Let Europe Arise” speech – a speech in which he called for a sort of United States of Europe to be based on a partnership (at the time unthinkable) between France and Germany. Interestingly, given recent events, he said that Great Britain would not be part of the United States of Europe but would assist in realising the project.

On a nearby wall a small carving of a camel caught my eye. This is the sign of the “Zunft zum Kämbel”, one of Zurich’s medieval guilds, marking their former guild house here (the current one is the Haus zur Haue building on the opposite bank of the Limmat, near the Rathaus). Despite the symbol, they traded not in camels but in food and wine!

We then wandered the nearby streets till it was time to head back to the hotel. Our walk took us past St Peter's, with the largest church clock face in Europe.

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St Peter's, and nearby gasthaus sign

From here we walked up to the Lindenhof (the former site of the Roman castle) for views of the city, by now bathed in sunshine. A fountain here commemorates the 1291 defence of the town by its women against Albert I of Germany. This is a popular spot it seems for both locals and tourists, so expect to wait for your chance to take photos of the views!

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The Lindenhof - view and fountain

We retraced our steps to the hotel, collected our bags and took the tram to the station where we met up with the others as arranged. The journey to Kempten went smoothly, with just one change at Lindau where we should have had 20 minutes to spare but owning to late running of the first train had only ten - but as it is such a small station this wasn't a problem. The scenery around there looked especially lovely so we looked forward to visiting later in the meeting.

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Scenery from the train

Arrival in Kempten

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The Bayerischer Hof

Arriving in Kempten around 16.30 we took taxis to the hotel, the Bayerischer Hof. This lies on the edge of the town centre by the river, surrounded by mature trees. While it was a bit of a disadvantage to be quite a walk from all the action, the location was peaceful. I had asked for a quiet single room when making my booking and liked my small room with a view of the surrounding trees and early morning sound of birdsong. The bed was comfortable, if small, and the bathroom had everything I needed. The mini-bar was well-stocked, with a charge of 1.5€ for any item, which struck me as very reasonable, and there was a complementary bottle of drinking water replenished each day.

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My bedroom

First evening in Kempten

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The Goldene Traube

In the evening we walked into the town to seek out some of our friends staying elsewhere and also of course dinner. Our first choice of restaurant hadn't any room for us but luckily Larry and Mark had spotted an alternative, the Goldene Traube, which had plenty of room We had a long table in a side room (I felt a little sorry for the only other two people eating there, at least until later when a group of local musicians also arrived).

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My plaice

The food was good and also good value, seeming very cheap in fact after what we had been paying in Zurich. I had a nice piece of plaice with excellent Kartoffelsalat and a couple of dark beers for just 16 euros. Other friends gradually joined us as the build-up to the Virtual Tourist Euromeet gathered pace.

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Our host in Kempten, Christian, joins us for a beer

The Euromeet proper would start tomorrow …

Posted by ToonSarah 02:27 Archived in Switzerland Tagged churches hotel germany city zurich euromeet kempten virtual_tourist Comments (10)

Collecting countries

Zurich day two


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Switzerland - Liechtenstein - Austria - Liechtenstein - Switzerland

Today was all about 'collecting countries' as we managed to visit three in one day. Indeed, by midday we were already in our third!

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Walensee from the train

We took a train (expensive, as is everything in Switzerland it seems) from Zurich to Sargans and from there a bus which took us through Vaduz in Liechtenstein (to where we would return later) and on to Feldkirch in Austria. The scenery on both journeys was fantastic, especially the views of Lake Zurich and the Walensee from the train. The latter was a particularly beautiful shade of deep turquoise as it is fed by several glacial rivers and streams.

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More photos taken from the train

From the bus too we had some lovely views, passing through several tranquil villages in rich farmland, with hills and mountains all around and the occasional castle perched on a ridge. The most impressive of these was Burg Gutenberg which we passed just after crossing the Rhine which here forms the border between Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

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Burg Gutenberg

Feldkirch

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VTers lunching in Feldkirch

On arrival in Feldkirch we had a light lunch in a café - I enjoyed a salad and a small beer, and it was quite a pleasant change to pay Austrian, rather than Swiss, prices for these!

The café was one of several in the Marktplatz where a market was indeed taking place. This had unfortunately more or less packed up by the time I finished eating and went to take photos of the activity but there was plenty more to photograph including a lovely old church by the market (Sankt Johann), with its fresco depicting St John the Baptist preaching a sermon, and the unusual figure of a knight known as the Bläsi who has rung the bell to tell the townspeople the time since 1510.

The church was unfortunately closed, so I only have photos of the exterior.

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Sankt Johann

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With the one still-open market stall

The town retains much of its medieval character here in its centre but just behind the church we came across a very different style of building which divided opinion – some finding it too incongruous for this historic setting and others (me included) rather liking its striking architecture and clean lines. This is the Montforthaus, a culture and congress centre which was opened in 2015.

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The Montforthaus

In contrast the castle, Schattenburg, has been perched on a hill above the town for almost 800 years.

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Schattenburg

We strolled along the picturesque streets, where there were plenty of the small details I always love to photograph, including some attractive murals on some of the buildings. The large figures on the town hall (Rathaus) depict scenes from the town’s history.

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Typical mural

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Rathaus

There were also a number of religious statues on otherwise secular buildings – I noticed several of the Good Shepherd in particular which perhaps reflects the town’s rural, agricultural surroundings. The statue of the rather fierce knight, in contrast, is on a fountain just below the castle.

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Images of Feldkirch

We went into the cathedral, Dom St. Nikolaus, which was light and airy, looking more modern than its Gothic origins would suggest – perhaps due in part to its beautiful modern stained glass, the work of local artist Martin Häusle.

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Dom St. Nikolaus

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Katzenturm

From here we returned to the bus stop by the intriguingly named Katzenturm or Cats’ Tower, so-caled because the cannons it used to house were nicknamed cats! It was built on the site of an earlier tower by Emperor Maximilian and today contains a large bell which is rung every Friday at 3.00 pm (the hour of Christ‘s death) and on church holidays.

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Vaduz

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Vaduz Castle

From Feldkirch we caught the bus back to Vaduz in Liechtenstein where we were greeted with the impressive sight of the castle where the Princely Family still lives. We had drinks in a café on the main street before splitting up to explore.

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Modern art
in Vaduz

This is an attractive, almost unnervingly well-maintained town centre with some attractive modern sculptures and several sights of interest including what looked like an interesting art gallery which there was no time in our schedule to visit. The town hall has some striking murals and a plaque marking the very brief visit of Goethe to the town “from 1 to 2 June 1788 on his way back from Italy”.

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The town hall

Steve and I found a place offering to put a (meaningless but fun) stamp in our passport for 3 francs (or euros) - something tangible to show for our extravagant but lovely day out. We also made a brief visit to the postal museum (really probably only of interest to avid stamp collectors – we didn’t linger).

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Passport stamp, and postal museum display

Of more interest was the beautiful government building which dates from 1905 and is the official seat of the government of the Principality of Liechtenstein. Nearby is the parish church of St. Florin, built in 1873, but with buses back to Sargans running only once an hour we decided not to linger any longer as we wanted a more restful last evening back in Zurich.

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Government building and St Florin's church

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In Zurich's Hauptbahnhof

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Yvonne in the Rathaus Café

So Steve, Yvonne and I together retraced our steps via bus and train back to Switzerland and to Zurich. There we stopped off at the ticket office in the station to buy our train tickets for the journey to Kempten tomorrow.

In the evening we decided not to get a full meal but instead went to the Rathaus Café by the river's edge to drink and enjoy the views – though we did get tempted by the excellent olives and reasonable pizzas once there! We had a super relaxing evening together - a lovely way to end our time in Zurich.

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Sunset over the Limmat (Rathaus Café on the far right)

Posted by ToonSarah 03:34 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains lakes churches buildings people austria city liechtenstein euromeet virtual_tourist Comments (9)

Exploring the city

Zurich day two


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Zurich city walk with Sonja

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View over Zurich

After a light breakfast in the restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel (the equally eclectic Papa Joe's), Yvonne and I strolled along the Limmatquai, the road that runs beside the river Limmat on its eastern side, in beautiful sunshine to meet up with the rest of the VT gang. This was our first chance to see how picturesque the old centre of Zurich is, and there were several stops for photos along the way as the buildings on the opposite bank were shown to particular advantage in the warm morning light.

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River view with St Peter's church

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The Fraumünster and St Peter's

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Mountain views

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City details

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Funicular

Our guide for today was Sonja, a VT member who lives in Zurich, and she gave us an excellent day out! Once everyone had arrived at our meeting point in the Central Square, and we had bought day passes for the local transport, we took the Polybahn funicular up to a viewpoint over the city, near the university and technical college. This was the perfect spot for an early group photo, and for Sonja to point out the major sights, including the towers and spires of several of the city’s churches and the mountains beyond. The photo at the top of this page was also taken there.

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Group photo

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A city among the mountains

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Returning the way we had come, we commenced our walk through the old part of the city. We paused in a lovely quiet square (with a statue of a boy perched on the back of a giant frog!), where we saw the main library and the Predigerkirche which we had seen earlier from our viewpoint. This was unfortunately closed but we got a closer look at its unusually slim and elegant spire and the striking sundial on its south façade.

The church dates from the 13th century (with many changes of course over the centuries) and was originally attached to a monastery of the Dominican order (located where the library now stands) but became Protestant during the Reformation. From pictures I have seen online, the interior is light and elegant and would have been worth a look had we been able to gain access.

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Predigerkirche

We continued along winding streets with lots of quaint corners and the tiny details that so appeal to me on such a walk.

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On Zurich's old streets

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Model of the city

We stopped off at the city archive, located in a beautiful 800 year old building, the Haus zum Rech, to see a wonderful model of the city as it was in 1800. An interactive display allows you to highlight different buildings of interest such as churches, private houses and commercial premises.

Eventually we came to the Grossmünster, the main cathedral, whose twin towers dominate the views on the side of the river. It is said to have been founded by Charlemagne after he discovered the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula on this spot. Felix and Regula were brother and sister, and were early Christians who fled to Zurich with a companion, Exuperantius, to escape persecution by the Romans. However, they found no sanctuary here and were executed by decapitation. Legend has it that this took place on the site of what is today the Wasserkirche, on the banks of the Limmat, but the martyrs picked up their heads and walked from there to this location, forty steps away, where they prayed before finally collapsing in death. They were buried on the spot where they fell and the Grossmünster was built on their graves, to honour them, becoming a place of pilgrimage.

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Grossmünster

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In the cloisters

Construction of the Grossmünster began in 1090, and most of it was completed by 1230, although of course it has been much added to and changed over the centuries. One example – the north tower was taller than the south until the 15th century, when the latter was heightened to match and was decorated with a statue of a seated Charlemagne (the one you can see today is a replica, with the original now housed in the crypt). And after a fire in 1763 the spires that once topped the towers were replaced with the present-day ‘pepper-pot’ crowns. The interior too has changed - all its paintings and statues removed during the Reformation, and its decorative style switching from Romanesque to Baroque and back to Romanesque.

Before entering the cathedral, we first visited the peaceful cloisters where every column has a unique carving - some of them very bizarre indeed! This is a peaceful spot, its central garden planted with scented roses and other shrubs, although some of us felt it was a little over-restored (in the 1960s) to exude the expected sense of history.

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In the cloisters

Then we went into the cathedral itself. Frustratingly no photos are allowed, but when I saw plenty of other visitors disobeying this rule I did sneak one of the stunning Augusto Giacometti stained glass windows behind the main altar. Augusto Giacometti was second cousin to the sculptor Alberto Giacometti whose work I especially admire, and these windows appealed to me just as much – stunning. Equally interesting, although very different, are the modern stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke, known as the “Agate Windows”, which incorporate thin slices of those colourful stones.

Many of us also grabbed a shot of the statue of Charlemagne in the crypt – the original of the copy that now adorns the south tower.

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Stained glass by Giacometti, and statue of Charlemagne

We then crossed the bridge over the river to pass the Fraumünster (sadly there was no time by now to go in to see the Marc Chagall windows there, so those would have to wait for another day) and explored some more of the winding streets here.

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More details

After buying a picnic lunch in a supermarket we took the tram to the lake where we relaxed for a short while and ate our sandwiches at the Bürkliplatz, with wonderful views out over the water.

Then it was on to the boat for a leisurely trip to Rapperswil, with beautiful mountain scenery as the backdrop to the activity on the water and the many rather lovely houses on the lake shore.

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Views on the lake

The ride to Rapperswil took about 90 minutes. We were blessed with great weather for the whole of the day and we especially appreciated this on the boat ride and when wandering around this pretty town which lies at the far end of the Zurichsee.

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VTers on the boat

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Approaching Rapperswil

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The climb to the castle

The town is famed for its roses, but we were just too early in the year for the gardens to be at their best, with only a handful of flowers in bloom. We climbed the steps up the small hill on a peninsula jutting out into the lake, which is topped by Schloss Rapperswil (some taking the steeper direct flight, others including me opting for a slightly roundabout route with fewer steps).

The views up here were great, and the castle (which dates from the early 13th century) interesting for its modern roofing structure, which appears to offer protection from the elements to people attending events in its courtyard.

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View from the castle

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In the castle courtyard, and nearby

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An unusual bench

But it was the adjacent parish church, dedicated to St John, that held our interest the longest. It was built in around 1220 but extended several times, while its taller southern tower is a 15th century addition. It is built in the Romanesque style and is light and airy inside. I especially liked the delicate floral decorations on the ceiling in the choir.

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In the church

Just north of the church is a little chapel, the Liebfrauenkapelle, which dates from the late 15th century and was built on the site of the former ossuary. Today it serves as the cemetery’s chapel but is also popular for weddings. It is very pretty and peaceful and I can see would make a wonderful setting for the latter – and of course photos to be taken outside, with views of the lake and mountains, and perhaps a reception in the castle too?

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The Liebfrauenkapelle - details

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Ice creams in Rapperswil

Returning down the steps we stopped for drinks and ice cream in the quiet main square before heading to the station to catch the train for the 30 minute ride back to Zurich.

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More images from Rapperswil ...

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... and the train ride back to Zurich

In the evening we all met up to look for a restaurant serving fondue as several of us fancied having some while in Switzerland. We settled on Le Dézaley in the shadow of the Grossmünster. It is a somewhat sprawling place with a historic atmosphere and the waiter was helpful in arranging tables for our group of ten - perhaps unsurprisingly as the place was deserted on this Monday evening.

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In Le Dézaley

The fondue was very good and those who chose other dishes seemed equally happy with these. Although it was filling I was tempted by a dessert of meringues, ice cream, cream and apricots, which proved to be a sort of deconstructed pavlova - but with no apricots in sight. Zurich being a pricey city the bill of 49 CHF which also included a (very) small glass of white wine was probably reasonable although it would be considered pricey in London for what I got.

We also enjoyed some magic tricks from Jon who had us mystified with his sleight of hand.

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Magic tricks

After dinner I strolled back to the hotel with Yvonne, stopping to take a few night photos near the river on the way.

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Zurich at night

Posted by ToonSarah 07:38 Archived in Switzerland Tagged mountains lakes people boats views city euromeet virtual_tourist Comments (9)

You can kill a website but you can't kill friendships

Zurich day one


View VT Euromeet 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

The Virtual Tourist Euromeet tradition

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At VT Euromeets in Krakow, Bergamo, Cascais, Lviv and Karlsruhe

From June 2005 to early 2017 I was an active member of another travel website, Virtual Tourist. Over the years this had developed into a real community – not just online but also ‘in real life’. One element of this was the regular organisation of meetings between members, large and small. The latter might consist of just two members who found themselves travelling to the same destination at the same time, or maybe arranging to meet up with a local friend while on a city break. The largest meetings, on the other hand, could involve over 100 members and were regular fixtures in the calendar of many members. Among these the annual ‘Euromeet’ was one of the biggest and longest established. It had first been held in 2005 in Valeggio, near Verona, and I had first attended in 2008 when it took place in Karlsruhe, Germany, and had been to almost all of them since.

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Group photo in Bergamo

These meetings were the initiative of members, not Virtual Tourist management, although the latter encouraged and supported them, attending when they could. Each year one or several members volunteered to organise and host the meeting, devoting their own time and energy to planning a great weekend of activities for those that came. And come we did – not just from Europe but from as far afield as Canada, the US, Australia …

When the closure of the Virtual Tourist website was announced in January 2017, planning for this year’s meeting was well underway and many of us had already made travel arrangements and booked hotels. What would happen? Could the meeting go ahead without the website and without any management support? You bet it could!

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Group photo in Sibiu

Our host Christian was quick to reassure us that he was still up for the task and plans came together much as they had always done, albeit with some communications challenges now that we weren’t all members of the same online network. In the end over 50 of us gathered in Kempten in Bavaria, from countries that included Canada, the US, Israel, Australia, England, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Ukraine, Denmark, Switzerland, Russia, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Austria, Romania, and possibly others I have forgotten. This series of blogs is devoted to our fun time together.

It has also become a custom in recent years for other members to propose and organise a ‘pre-meet’ or ‘post-meet’. This is a smaller gathering in a different but fairly nearby location either before or after the main meet, and is particularly appealing to those making a longer journey to Europe for the Euromeet. This year I joined a pre-meet in Zurich with nine other members, so that is where we must start …

Arrival in Zurich

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I was up early on the morning of my flight to Zurich - perhaps just as well, as on checking the weather forecast I saw considerably higher temperatures predicted than I had anticipated when packing the previous day. Cue hurried removal of a couple of jumpers, to be replaced by thinner tops!

I'm fortunate to live just 20 minutes by Tube from Heathrow Airport so the journey to Terminal 5 was quick and easy, especially as on a Sunday morning there was no rush hour to contend with. After breakfast in Pret a Manger and taking advantage of the reasonably generous provision of charging points to replenish a phone battery being quickly drained by the many messages flying backwards and forwards between VT friends, it was time to board the plane, a British Airways Airbus.

The flight time was under two hours so the journey passed quickly. Approaching Zurich we had some good views of the Alps poking up above some light clouds. We landed in good weather and I was met by local VT member Sonja. We had a coffee while waiting for two others coming in on later flights, then took the tram (#10) to the centre.

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Waiting for the tram - Kirsty and Yvonne

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'Welcome to the Hotel California

The Hotel California where I was staying, along with Yvonne, proved to be in an excellent central location on a pedestrianised street one block away from the river. It is above a restaurant so there was a steepish flight of steps to reception where we were greeted by a friendly Slovenian girl who checked us in. My room on the second floor was not large but more than adequate, with a double bed (Toblerones on the pillows!), a small desk under the window, plenty of storage, a safe, coffee-making facilities and complimentary bottled water. The bathroom was simple but clean. The American-themed décor around the hotel was fun, with the lift painted to look like Monument Valley, paintings of diners in my room, and the colours of the south west deserts everywhere - I even had the lyrics of the Eagles' song displayed on my wall.

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My bedroom at the Hotel California

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Wurst mit Kartoffelsalat

I had no time to linger however as our group of ten VTers had a dinner reservation at the Zeughauskeller, a bustling restaurant in an old (1487) armaments store which claims to have once held the crossbow used by William Tell! The service was friendly and I liked the fact that we had a large round table, making conversation with everyone in the group possible. Some of us hadn't seen each other for several years, a few had never met, while others meet up quite regularly. Regardless of these differences, the chat flowed effortlessly as it has at every VT meet I have attended. Between us we represented six countries - Australia, England, Switzerland, Iceland, Belgium and the United States.

The menu here was large (too large for easy decisions!) but as sausages seemed to be something of a specialty I chose one of those which was served with a large portion of one of my favourite Germanic dishes, Kartoffelsalat. Indeed, all the portions here seem on the generous side, which is something of a positive as prices in Switzerland are on the high side – at least I felt we all got value for money. The food was very good too, as were the Dunkelbiers I drank.

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VTers in the Zeughauskeller

Some of us then took a walk by the river, enjoying the evening light and views of the Alps, before stopping off at a pavement café for drinks and/or ice cream - or both. A lovely start to our Zurich meeting.

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Evening light in Zurich

Posted by ToonSarah 06:34 Archived in Switzerland Tagged restaurant hotel flight city euromeet virtual_tourist Comments (21)

The fishermen of Chowara

Kerala post-script


View Kerala 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

For me, one of the pleasures of our stay at the Travancore Heritage Hotel (as must be true too of others in this area) was its proximity to a beach used not only by tourists but also locals. I have read opposing views on this subject, and clearly some holiday-makers prefer to be sheltered from the daily life of the region they are visiting, but that isn't our style, and as a keen photographer the acceptance of me and my camera by the local fishermen was a real bonus. I was grateful to them and as a result want to share their story, as I understand it from my reading of the Rough Guide to Kerala.

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The life of a fisherman in Kerala is not an easy one. They are among the poorest of the state's people, with lower than average income levels, literacy and life expectancy in a region which generally rates relatively well in these measures than the rest of India. Their living conditions are poor, with home typically a one-room shack with no running water. Child mortality rates are high, while alcoholism and domestic violence are common problems. These are historic issues, dating back to a time (pre 1930s) when fishermen as a caste were barred from temples, churches and schools and were regarded as the lowest in society. They made only the most basic of incomes from their catches as they were unable to sell directly to their 'social superiors' and the middlemen creamed off most of the profits. Those same middlemen were quick to offer to lend money when a new net or boats was needed, but charged exorbitant rates of interest, further impoverishing the borrower.

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Their poverty made them ripe for conversion to Christianity when the Jesuit missionaries arrived on these shores in the 16th century, but with the new religion came new responsibilities that cost the fishermen dear. Forced to pay ten percent of their meagre incomes in tithes, they saw the churches flourish while they continued to suffer. It is still striking today to see such huge and rich-looking churches in such otherwise poor villages.

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In the 1960s conditions improved a little, as co-operatives were established to buy and sell the daily catch, which allowed the fishermen to bypass the middlemen and get a fairer price for their fish, while also giving them access to low-interest loans when needed. But these improvements were short lived, as any benefits of collective action were wiped out by a big 1980s government promotion of mechanised trawler fishing, which decimated fish stocks and led to a fifty percent drop in the catches of inshore fishermen.

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Today there are further concerns that a government scheme to build an artificial reef off Kovalam's Lighthouse Beach, to protect it from the sort of destruction caused by the 2004 tsunami, may cause further problems for the fishermen of Chowara and other neighbouring communities by diverting currents and causing damage to the beaches they use.

I was pleased though that at least the tourist use of this beach does not appear to have encroached on the fishing which remains the prime activity here.

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A walk on the beach first thing in the morning is an opportunity to see these hardy men at work, hauling in the huge nets, sorting through the catch, cleaning and making ready the nets for the next evening’s fishing. Local women join them on the beach to help with the sorting and to then take the fish away to the market in the village. Many birds join them too, in the hopes of snatching a free meal – egrets, crows, kites and eagles, among others.

The whole scene is a hive of activity and will delight any keen photographer I am sure, as it did me.

Posted by ToonSarah 05:57 Archived in India Tagged people fishing beach india kerala kovalam Comments (15)

Life’s a beach – or maybe a swimming pool

Kerala day nine onwards


View Kerala 2017 on ToonSarah's travel map.

Chilling in Kovalam

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View of the beach from our bungalow's private seating area

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The church by the cliffs

The last few days of this trip were all about unwinding in some winter sun before returning to face the last few weeks of an English winter, and the Travancore Heritage Hotel was a pretty good spot in which to do that. Although on the first morning I wasn’t so sure this would be the relaxing spot we had hoped for, as we were woken at 5.00 am by the clanging of a bell. At the time I assumed this was from the church just at the foot of the cliffs but it could also have been from the shrine at the other end of the beach. Either way, the bell was followed by what seemed like an entire service (about 80 minutes) broadcast over a loudspeaker, interspersed with more bell clanging. I respect people's right to worship whenever they want to (though 5.00 am seems ridiculously early!) but why they need to broadcast it beyond the church walls I do not know! Still, this is their home not mine, and fortunately it proved not to be a daily occurrence - the only other time we heard it so early was on the day of our departure when we had to be up at 5.00 am in any case.

Our first day at the Travancore Heritage Hotel

We started our first full day here with a pre-breakfast visit to the beach. This is the best time to go if you want to see the local fishermen land their catch, and we found that no one minded us watching and taking photos. The scene was lively and colourful, and great for photography. We repeated this little walk on our last morning too, and I’ll be adding a separate entry devoted to the fishermen of Chowara, so here are just a few photos to whet the appetite for that!

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Early morning on Chowara beach

Breakfast at this hotel is a fairly extensive buffet, with fresh fruit, juices, lots of bread, cake and pastry items, eggs to order, and several Indian dishes. The coffee isn't too bad either. After breakfast we spent some time by, and in, the large swimming pool, but when the sun crept round to our loungers late morning we retreated to the shade of our own terrace.

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Poolside scenes


After a light lunch (sharing a club sandwich) we checked out the hotel's small gift shop. I tend to avoid these, thinking you get much better value in local shops, but there had been few opportunities to shop on this trip and I wanted to get myself a bit of jewellery as I am slowly replacing my collection following our burglary last year (when I lost so many holiday souvenirs collected over the years). I found the prices here surprisingly reasonable and chose a silver enamel bracelet at 1,500 rupees (less than £20).

Later in the afternoon we took another stroll on the beach, as we’re not ones for spending all day just lounging, and of course the evening found us again dining in the hotel's Open House restaurant where the star dish for me on that occasion was the vegetable jalfrezi.

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Local families enjoying the beach

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Local football pitch / cricket pitch / cattle grazing land / bikers' meeting place

And thus, or similarly, we passed our last few days in Kerala. On the second morning we skipped the beach and instead took a walk in the nearby village, Chowara, where the friendly locals took no issue with my camera, and several willingly posed. Sights such as a small Hindu shrine, different foods on display in the shops, traditional scales and weights, and the people themselves - all are everyday things to them, and it must seem strange that we find them "exotic" enough to photograph. But then, I am often surprised at the things I see tourists photographing in London, where my everyday is their exotic.

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Village life

We left with mixed impressions of the Travancore Heritage Hotel. There was a lot to like here - the adaptation of beautiful old buildings, the lovely pool and grounds, the setting above a working beach full of local colour and interest, some good food in the restaurant (and for those who want it, a selection of Western dishes as well as Indian).

On the downside though, the wifi was very poor compared with other hotels we stayed at in Kerala, even though this is by no means a remote location and only a few miles from the capital. And while many staff were friendly and helpful (the pool attendants and cleaners in particular) a few were rather casual in their manner. One particular incident stands out, when I found a small piece of glass in my ice cream one evening. The blame was very firmly placed on their supplier (fair enough) but the apology was lukewarm and no compensation in the form of a discounted meal was offered.

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Around the hotel grounds

Nevertheless this was a relaxing spot in which to end our tour of Kerala. We flew home, after four nights here, from nearby Trivandrum airport which is modern and well-equipped to handle the amount of traffic it receives, based on our experience at least. Transfer time here from Kovalam is only about 30 minutes, so we were glad not to be flying back from Kochi where we had arrived, the best part of a day's drive away.

As on our outward journey we flew with Etihad via Abu Dhabi. This trip was our first experience of this airline and I was pretty impressed - a reasonable amount of leg room in economy, comfortable seats, pleasant and helpful service and food OK by airline standards. The layover in Abu Dhabi was about two hours - long enough not to have to rush but not too much longer.

We landed on time at Heathrow, the February skies were grey and the air decidedly cool. Already the heat of Kerala seemed a long way away …

Posted by ToonSarah 03:23 Archived in India Comments (4)

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