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Burgundy

September 17, 2014 – Wednesday – Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland to Beaune, France

We depart the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland early this morning after having breakfast at the hotel. The light is gorgeous as we drive through the valley of many waterfalls, and onto the Autobahn. Our first rest stop is still in Switzerland in the Bern area. I buy nothing since the prices are so high and I have spent all my CF coins. I don’t want to break another bill, since I can sell those back to my bank when I return home. As we pass through the French border, there are no formalities. We stop at a mall for lunch, and find the prices much more reasonable since we are now in France.

As we drive along the expressway, we see French chateaux in the midst of verdant fields or on hilltops, herds of Charlebois cattle, and of course vineyards everywhere. The Burgundy area of France is famous for its grapes and the fine wines that are produced from them. We happen to be here at harvest time, so workers are in the fields picking the grapes. Jennifer and Sylvain take us on an impromptu drive through some of the wine producing areas around Beaune before we arrive at our destination in the early afternoon.

Wine tasting in Beaune, Burgundy

Wine tasting in Burgundy

After getting settled in Hotel Athanor, we have plenty of time to explore the lovely small city of Beaune: Roman walls and aqueducts, old stone buildings, coloured tile rooftops, and cobblestone streets. Later in the afternoon, we walk a few blocks to a wine tasting (modest extra cost) at Bouchard Aîné & Fils. These wine cellars fulfill my mind’s eye of what a wine cellar should look like: stone steps, cool and dark, and wine barrels and dusty wine bottles everywhere. The owner’s private collection is stored down here behind bars – some of those wines go back as far as 1911. Apparently the corks need to be replaced every 20 years, so they must sacrifice a bottle in order to top up the other bottles as they replace the corks and taste the wine to ensure it is still drinkable.

We stand on the old rampart wall of the city as we walk back to the hotel. The group dinner this evening is at a restaurant around the corner from the hotel. They serve a delicious three-course dinner, however I don’t have any wine with the meal, since it is too expensive. As we return to our hotel, there is a laser light show being projected on the outside walls of the nearby Basilica Notre Dame.

September 18, 2014 – Thursday – Beaune to Paris, France

We leave the hotel at 8AM and are on the road to Paris shortly after.

Our bus driver Sylvain has supplied us with soft drinks, bottled water, beer and wine in refrigerators on the bus during the entire trip on the honour system. Today it is time to settle up, and I am on top of the list at 10 (for an individual). At only 1.20 Euros each, I consider this to be quite a bargain, and so convenient.

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Cinque Terra

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Seafood stew cooked in an amphora
After driving from Rome, we turn off the Autostrada and drive down a steep valley to Vernazza, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights. Since today is Saturday, there are lots of Italians here on weekend get-aways. We are staying in the Hotel Punta Mesco, a nice hotel located about a block off the main street, so it is nice and quiet.

This evening, we have a group meal at Ristorante Belvedere in old town. They cook a rich seafood stew of squid, fish, and mussels in an amphora and then pour it out into big bowls and we serve ourselves family-style.

2014.09.14 – Sunday – Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Riomaggiore village
Today is our “vacation from our vacation”…in other words, a free day. I take the little ferry on a round trip from Monterosso al Mare, where out hotel is located, and go to Vernazza, Corniglia (hill town, no ferry stop), and Riomaggiore. On the way back, the ferry stops at Manarola and Vernazza, before terminating at Monterosso. I had planned to get off in Vernazza, see the town and walk back to Monterosso, but after seeing the crowds in the square at Vernazza, I decided to stay on the ferry and return to Monterosso.

I have lunch with a couple from our group, and then just chill out in my hotel room for a while. My ground floor room has a small patio, so I catch up on some journaling and annotate my photos while sitting outside. Our hotel hosts a Happy Hour this afternoon for our group – pizza, cheese, cold meats, bread, wine, and Limonchella. I fill up on the delicious pizza since they have lots, and skip dinner!

2014.09.15 – Monday – Cinque Terre, Italy to Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

After leaving the Cinque Terre this morning, we bypass Genoa and Milan and we cross the border into Switzerland at Lugano.

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Massa Marittima

2014.09.13 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

After leaving Rome on the Autostrada, our first rest stop is a small AutoGrill, where many of the group rave about the fresh-squeezed orange juice. I have a cappuccino for 1.40 Euro – no tables, just a stand-up bar, Italian style. The area we drive through up the coast is much drier than the areas of Italy we have traveled through up to now. This is where the olives are grown, as well as grapes.

Our midday break is in a little town called Massa Marittima, where we go for a wine, cheese and olive tasting at Il Baccino. Everyone on the bus does the tasting (modest extra charge) and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. We spend almost two hours in this beautiful little town, so there is plenty of time to soak up the Tuscan sunshine. It is an absolutely perfect day – blue sky and warm, but not too hot. I walk uphill to the ancient Siennese wall, which runs through the town half way up the hill. It is 3 Euros to go up the clock tower and along a portion of the adjacent wall, but it is well worth it to take in the wonderful views of the town from above, and appreciate the vistas of the whole glorious valley. I stroll back down the hill along the back alleys to the town square, where there is a troubadour playing some lovely music that echoes off the buildings. I have a simple lunch of prosciutto in a fresh crusty role, and sit outside Il Baccino with others in my group, soaking up the ambience of this Tuscan town. It simply doesn’t get much better than this!

As we drive the Autostrada north along the coast, we pass some interesting sights. There are resort areas all along the coast featuring cottages and recreational vehicle parks, a massive power station, endless vineyards and farms, and sales yards featuring beautiful white massive blocks of Carrara marble. The mountains where this well-known marble is quarried is visible inland across the valley behind the sales yards. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci making the journey to these same quarries to select the marble for his famous statues.

Eventually we turn off the Autostrada, and drive down a steep valley to the Vernazza train station, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights.

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Bacharach & St. Goar

September 2, 2014 – Tuesday – Haarlem, Netherlands to Bacharach, Germany

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

Our group having pre-dinner drinks on the patio few metres from the train tracks at Hotel Kranenturm

We arrive in the small town of Bacharach located on the Rhine River after driving the whole day from The Netherlands. We are staying in Hotel Kranenturm, a 700 year old structure which was one of the towers along the wall around the town. It was part of the city’s original rampart wall, and is just a few metres from the train tracks. Kurt and Fatima run the place. Fatima decorated the hotel, and Kurt is the chef.

I draw the room at the top of the tower (Prince’s Room #18), which means I have the most stairs to climb, but end up with one of the funkiest rooms with the best view of the river and the town and hills. Our group have drinks on the patio while the trains scream past us, and we also have dinner together in the hotel dining room.

September 3, 2014 -Wednesday – Bacharach & St. Goar

JoeTourist: Bacharach &emdash; Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

Herr Jung show us a map of the old town and its fortifications

After breakfast in the hotel, we go on a walking tour of Bacharach with Herr Jung, an 83-year-old ex-schoolmaster with a great sense of humour. He takes us through the dark history of WWII from a German boy’s perspective (he was born in 1931). He was quite emotional at times, and everyone was very receptive to his message. He also led us on a walking tour of the town, highlighting the wine growing (which the region is famous for), the historic wall around the town, and interesting anecdotes about his personal friends and acquaintances.

After our walking tour, Sylvain drives us to St. Goar, a nearby town along the river where we do a walking tour of the Rheinfels Castle. This huge, historic castle was originally built in 1245, and withstood multiple sieges. The French invaders finally took over the castle without a fight and promptly destroyed most of it in 1797 during the French Revolution. Although the castle is considered to be in ruins, it is still very impressive as it sits on a hillside overlooking the Rhine River. A hotel is part of the castle.

Before we take a KD Rhine boat from St. Goar down the river to Bacharach, Jennifer leads us into playing “the name game” in the town square. We go around the group round-robin style, adding our names to the list of names, which everyone then has to recite (as a group). Of course, the list keeps getting longer, but the repetition helps us all remember each other’s names. The people in the square not in our group are amused by our antics!

The cruise down the river is great, since it gives us all time to rest our weary feet, and see the Rhine Valley and all the little towns, vineyards and numerous castles from a fresh perspective. We see: Loreley Rock (remember the old song “Sweet Loreley”?), Gutenfels and Schonburg castles, Liebfrauenkirche church, Burg Pfalzgrafenstein (a castle in the middle of the Rhine River), and the Oberwesel tower.

We arrive back in Bacharach late in the late afternoon. I go out with some of the group to a little restaurant on the main street only a block from our hotel and have a nice Jagerschnitzel, some Rhineland white wine, and a cappuccino to finish. Germans seem to serve cappuccino with a dollop of crème on top, so I have to ask for “plain, no crème”. Our all-American group is a lot of fun to be with, and this evening is no exception!

September 4, 2014 – Thursday – Bacharach to Rothenburg

After breakfast in our hotel in Bacharach, we schlep our bags across the street to where the bus is parked, and we are off down the highway to Bavaria.

The advice from Rick Steves to pack light is a valuable lesson to be learned by travellers taking his tours, since there is no porterage and the hotels often have no elevators! Rick Steves tours do not issue name tags…you are expected to make an effort to remember everyone’s name.