Berlin and The Reichstag

Our original plan after leaving Lucerne was to go to Munich and then Cologne, but Kimberley contacted us from Berlin and made it sound so good we changed our plans. So far we have not been dissapointed. The main train station, HBF, is a very cool complex. It is a huge glass and steel structure with both the DB train lines and the local S-bahn arriving and departing on three main levels. If a spacecraft zoomed in and landed amongst all the commuters I would not have been suprised as the building has a very space age feel to it. Berlin, having been all but destroyed after world war two,has regenerated itself into an extremely modern city which is quite a contrast to the other cities in Europe that we have visited.

Even older buildings that survived allied attacks have been given a face lift, for example the house of Germany’s Parliament, the Reichstag. The building was opened in 1894 but has a very modern interior and is topped with a glass dome completed in 1999. From the dome you can see down into the parliament and a giant mirrored funnel allows the ministers to look back up at the people, the aim is to symbolize political transperancy and the power of the people.

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We visted the Reichstag at 10pm (its open till midnight) and from the domed roof got a good view of the Berlin City lights. Parliament was not in session but it would have been in German anyway so I am not too dissapointed. Its is interesting to note that during Hitler’s period of control he did not once step foot into theReichstag.

– Gemma

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Time to move on

Well our last night in Lucerne has now arrived and we are very sad to be leaving. Wendelin and Pascal (in the photo here with Simon and me) have been fabulous hosts and they have made our stay so comfortable that we really thought of setting up shop here permanently, me as their house cleaner and Simon… well we were not quite sure what he would do.

But Berlin is calling and we must move on. Also Wendelin is thinking of visiting Australia so it is important that we get home and get a place so he has some where to stay – only criteria, must have a hot tub! (he is very fussy). We really do hope that he comes so that you can all meet him and we can return the Swiss hospitality.

Thanks again guys for a great time in Lucerne!

– Gemma

Mittaggüpfi, Switzerland

Today our wonderful host took us for a hike in the Swiss mountains near the village where he grew up and his family still lives. The name of the peak, Mittaggüpfi, literally translates to ‘Midday point’ as the peak was a half way point where people would stop for lunch.

Wendelin promised an easy, short walk in the mountains but I can safely say this was by far much more difficult than any of the hiking I have done in Victoria in my teens. We had nothing to fear though as our guide and his younger brother have walked this mountain all their lives.

At the peak a bunker that was used to watch the German border during WWII remains and now contains a guestbook that we signed. If you look at the bigger version of the photo above you will see a house in the middle. Our car is a small dot on the road to the left. Looking behind you can see the snow capped Swiss Alps and Mount Pilatus overlooking the town of Lucerne. This mountain is a big tourist attraction and it is believed by some to be where Pontius Pilate was buried.

I was a little concerned as we started our descent as my knees had locked up a bit in the cold gusting wind while we had lunch. They warmed up again though and we made it back to enjoy a cool drink with Wendelin and his family

– Simon

Wandering through Lucerne

Lucerne is a small city and so is easy to explore in a day. The main tourist attraction is Löwendenkmal, the Lion Monument, and is only a short walk out of the main shopping and business area of Lucerne. The monument was carved to ‘commemorate the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the mob stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris’ (www.wikpedia.org).

The monument is very sad as the dying lion has such a mournful expression and the symbolysm of the courageous lion says much more than a statue of a man could.

The rest of the afternoon was spent weaving our way through the small streets of old Lucerne now lined with shops and cafes. Many of the buidling facades are colourfully painted and the charm is emphasised by the wooden bridges crossing the river to the modern side of Lucerne.  This one is called Chapel Bridge and is apparently one of the most photographed items in all of Switzerland.

The city is clean, safe and very easy to get around. The people are friendly and do not hesitate in helping us with a our poor Swiss German. Wendelin has taught us how to count to ten and say hello which has helped us no end. Lucerne is by far the nicest city we have visited in Europe, not the biggest and does not have a million tourist attractions, but for these two travellers it was a welcomed rest and haven.

Tomorrow though we go further afield as Wendelin is taking us on a hike through the mountains – I am off to find my Heidi costume.

– Gemma

Arriving in Lucerne

Some of you may remember from our trip through the Rockies our Swiss friend Wendelin, well this afternoon we arrived on his doorstep in Lucerne. It was an 8 hour trip from Rome on two different trains so you can imagine we were very glad for a shower and a sample of Lucerne’s local beer, Eichhof. Tomorrow we shall do some exploring but for now we are going to sit back and relax by river Ruess and catch up with Wendelin and his flat mate Pascal.

Gemma

More Ancient Rome

After our stop at the Colloseum we made our way down Appia Antica, a Roman road that stretches out of the city for about 4 miles surrounded by archological sites.

My favourite spots were Circus Maxentius, which looks like it could have been the set for the final chariot race in Ben Hur, and the Aquaducts. We stopped where the photo above was taken and you can see how well preserved this stretch is.

 The afternoon was spent wandering through Palentine Hill which is the site of the Flavian Palace, a maze of ruined buildings and gardens that was once home to the Roman rulers.  Even as it stands now you can imagine it would have been a nice place to live.  Right next door is the Roman Forum where we found this building.  We listended into another tourist as they read from their guide book and apparently this is only one quarter of the original structure.

-simmo

Colosseum, Rome

Having seen the cause of the demise of the Roman Empire yesterday, today we set out to see the remains of their ancient city. The ‘Archeo-bus’ complete with English commentary guided our way through the ruins.

It is particularly interesting to us on our journey to see such amazing architecture and technology that the Romans had 2000 years ago after having seen what poor conditions the english lived in, more than 1000 years later, during the dark ages. I wonder where we would be today if the Romans hadn’t fallen?

The Colosseum was the first stop of the tour. Perhaps it was the overweight men dressed up in Gladiator garb, but you can’t help but think of our Russ slaying the evil emperor as you walk the Amphitheatre. While the size of the stands and seating capacity is astounding, even in comparison with modern arenas, the actual battle space is quite small. Much too small for even a 20/20 cricket game, although I would like to see Andrew Symonds bat a few overs in there.

– Simon

Fontana di Trevi, Rome

One thing you will find everywhere in Rome is Fountains. You’d struggle to walk 2 blocks without running into one, although most aren’t particularly pleasant. The Fontana di Trevi is very clean though and attracts huge crowds. We spent at least an hour sitting by the fountain which I think is attached to a hotel.

We must have seen a couple of hundred Euro thrown into the waters too. I’m not sure what the purpose is but the women especially take a coin in one hand, pose for a photo, circle it above their head and then throw it over a shoulder into the water.
In addition to the running water you can be ammused by the locals who try to sell you the most ridiculous things. Big at the moment are ballons filled with flour that can be shaped into faces. They will initally try to sell these to you for 5 Euro and demonstrate how to make a funny face with it. Upon refusing them they try to entice you further by shaping breasts, complete with nipples, onto the figurine. I think we saw one tough tourist manage to haggle them down to 4 for 1 Euro.

The highlight of our stop here was a group of Italian school girls who sat next to us. One of them overheard us talking and gathered the courage to ask if we spoke english and where we are from. She exciteldy ran back to her friends and before long we had about 15 ten year old girls asking what is our favourite colour and what is our favourite animal. Its unusual to be the focus of such attention.

On our way back to the hostel we inadvertantly started a bidding war between two resturant owners over our patronage. After the fixed menu price fell from 11 to 8 Euro we couldn’t refuse so stayed and enjoyed Italian pasta a block from the Vatican where our day began.

-Simon

St Peter's Basilica, Rome

Given the length of my earlier entry I shall keep this brief. This church is huge, and you may recall our visit to Montreal where we saw the replica a quarter of its size and thought it was big. Again it was hard to think of the building as place of spiritual worship for Catholics given the hundreds of tourists snapping away. It was however a good example of Roman architecture and gives you an idea of how grand a vision the Roman people had.

After our visit to the Basillica we walked to the Pantheon followed
by lunch and a gelato. While lined up in Barcelona for dinner, we had chatted to a guy from Rome. He recommended a gelato place called Blue Ice. Of course Rome has a gelato store on every corner so we didn’t expect to find it. However, tired and hot we turned down a quiet street near the Piazza Nivona and what should we see but Blue Ice. He was right, it was great gelato!

– Gemma

Sistine Chapel, Rome

On advice from other travellers who had been to Rome we got up bright an early to join the queue at the Vatican. It wasn’t a long wait (perhaps an hour or so) and we were through the turnstiles and into the Pope’s headquarters.

Admittedly Simon and I were only intersted in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel but on the way we took in some of the other artworks. One of my favourite galleries was the Gallery of Maps, with its spectaular painted ceiling and walls covered with brightly painted maps. There were far too many works for me to cover in this small overview, ranging from paintings, to tapestries, sculputres and furntiture pieces. The museum also has a small modern art collection.

The Sistine Chapel was quite something, far more colourful than I expected. It was a little strange being in a room with three hundred other people and four guards trying to maintain silence, but they were very effective ‘Shooshers’. It is quite remarkable that Michelangelo, the same man who executed fine scuplting was also a detailed and accurate painter. Most artists these days dedicate their time to one medium, and even one style within that medium, whereas Michelangelo and other Renaissance artists where extremely proficient in a number of areas.

My overall impression of the Vatican Museums is that it is one hell of a money earner. There were so many people going through the gates and at every turn there was a vendor with rosary beads, posters, statues and pictures of religious scenes and 2008 calendars of the Pope. This is certainly not a spritual experience, but does give a good glimpse into a history that has shaped the world.

– Gemma