Friday, September 16, 2016

Lake Bled, Slovenia

We decided to take a trip to see some of Slovenia and Croatia. Our sons visited there in May and sent some fabulous pictures, so we thought we'd go to some of the same places they did.

Our first stop on this trip was the lovely Lake Bled in the mountains of Slovenia. 

After we got settled in our hotel in town, we needed lunch. We found this lovely restaurant right on the lake,

Where we had a couple salads for lunch.

After lunch we walked around the lake. It looked like a long way, but we'd read that it should take about an hour and a half, which sounded fine, so we started out.

There's an island near the far end of the lake that has a church on it. It's quite picturesque, so I took lots of pictures of it. There are also a number of possibilities to rent a boat or ride across the lake. On the left in this photo you can see the castle on top of a hill. The white church steeple is quite close to our hotel in town. 

About 3/4 of the way around the lake we saw a stairway that said "Cafe." We'd also read about this villa, which belonged to Tito. So we started up the steps. When the path split, it was not obvious which way to go. We split up. I explored the upward trail and Jim went down. He found a big building and signaled me to come that way, so I went back down. But then we found a sign saying the cafe was up, so we both went back up. It was quite a few steps by that time.

The view from the cafe was worth the climb. 

The cafe was very quiet. There were only 6 tables out on a little balcony, and only one was occupied. It was so quiet we weren't sure there was any service, but the other people had drinks. Pretty soon a waitress came by and we ordered tea and the famous Bled Cream cake. 

The cake was delicious.

This photo shows the narrow balcony. I took another picture the next day looking back at the cafe from the island. 

The next morning we walked up through the town towards the steps that go up to the castle. It was quite a climb. Slovenia borders Austria and reminded us of that country.

This is the courtyard of the castle. 

After the climb up to the castle in the morning, we opted for something more relaxing for the afternoon and took one of these boats across to the island. They are rowed by a rower in a manner similar to the gondoliers of Venice, but these boats carry up to 18 people at once.

This is the view of the cafe where we had cake the day before. 

And here is another view of the castle and the church in town. 

And here's one taken from the boat. 

The next morning we headed on to Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Festival Weekend in Gronigen

Our son James has been living and working in Groningen for the past 3 1/2 years. He is moving to St. Louis, Missouri this month. We wanted to visit him in Groningen once more before he left. So we drove up there from our house in Normandy. It was a somewhat difficult drive with lots of traffic in Belgium and the Netherlands, but we finally got there.

With a population of over 200,000, Groningen is the largest city in the northern Netherlands. It's also an old Hanseatic League city, but predates that period with its first major settlement being traced to the 3rd century CE. 

The Saturday we were there was a holiday celebrating a victory over the bishop of Munster in the siege of Groningen in 1672 and also one of the warmest days of the year. As far as we could tell everyone in Groningen was out that day. We spotted two brass bands on the streets.

Here's the second one.

We happened on this dragon boat race that was just getting started. 

The bridge ahead is the finish line. 

Then we arrived in a park where an art and music festival had been going on for two weeks. 

There were cafes and restaurants set up in the park. This one had a lovely spot on the canal.

Then we walked back through the city, passing the main building of the university of Groningen. With a student body of 28,000, The university is the second oldest in the Netherlands, after the University of Leiden. 

Here's another street near the main university buildings.

Traveling by bicycle is the best way to get around any Dutch city.

This is a very large bar, with tables outside on the right here,

And the bar on the left. All the buildings on the left in the photo above are part of the bar.

We took two days to drive back to our house, arriving in time for lunch on Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Quick stopover in Reims

We stopped one night in Reims on our way to Groningen to visit our son.

I think it was the hottest day of the year in Reims. It was in the 90's. (36C) Much too hot to do much walking around, which is too bad, because it is an interesting city, full of history. Reims is the place where 34 French kings were crowned. I'm not sure if that's all of them, but it is a lot. The main problem with the city is that its name is hard for non-French to pronounce. I don't think there is anything in English that rhymes with it, but if you say "Rants" without pronouncing the n or t, you are pretty close.

We walked from our hotel to the cathedral and then enjoyed the cooler temperatures inside. The cathedral has a variety of stained glass windows from different periods in history, including one set by Marc Chagal. I find my phone isn't the best at taking pictures of stained glass windows, so mostly I don't try. I just have this one of a more modern window that I took accidentally. If you want to see more try this link, or put these words in your image search. Reims cathedrale vitraux.

I think this is one of the most attractive cathedral facades, but as you can see from my picture below, the front of the cathedral has scaffolding right in the center. A local told us there was always scaffolding somewhere around this cathedral. I guess they just move around it and by the time they get back to where they started that section needs attention again.

So I took this photo of a model inside the cathedral. 

Reims is known for its "smiling angel." Fortunately she was not hidden by scaffolding. Here she is below. I don't know if my photo is good enough to see her smile, though. 

After dinner that evening we went for a walk along the canal. Reims sits on a canal that links the rivers Aisne and Marne. But the city has been here for much longer than the canal. 

Our hotel was near this section of the canal that is wider and had several canal boats docked in it. You can see our hotel behind some trees in this photo.

I didn't take many pictures in the city, because it was so hot, but this tramway and the colorful trams took my fancy, so when I saw this one coming, I got ready to snap a photo. The trams were pink, purple, green, etc. 

And here is the lovely green area that surrounds the tracks. 

Reims deserves more photos than this short post, but we'll have to visit it again in better weather for that to happen. 

We drove on to Groningen the next day. I took a few photos there, which I'll post in a couple days. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Monte-Cristo / Saint Germain-en-Laye

Le Chateau de Monte Cristo
(and two historic royal chateaux in Saint-Germain-en-Laye)

We spent our first night in France in the suburb of Paris called Saint-Germain-en-Laye. It's west of Paris about 45 minutes from the airport and on our way to Normandy. It's also near the Chateau de Monte-Cristo, which is why I chose it. I am listening to the Count of Monte Cristo with Craftlit

Saint-Germain had two royal chateaux. Here are some photos and notes about them.

I didn't get a photo of the chapel, but I thought this was interesting, so have included it. The chapel is on the back side of the chateau. We walked past it on our first trip into town, but then we discovered walking on this side through the gardens was a shorter way from town to our hotel.

As a part of the old royal chateau in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, the Gothic Sainte-Chapelle, built in the 1230’s, housed the relic of the crown of thorns purchased by King Louis IX (Saint Louis) in 1239, until the Sainte Chapelle in the Ile de la Cité was finished in 1248. The architect for both chapels was Pierre de Montreuil.

The old chateau was burned down by the Black Prince in 1346. Only the Gothic chapel remains of that building. The rest of the chateau was rebuilt by Francois I in 1539. The royals returned to this chateau from 1660 till 1682. After that, it fell into disrepair, but starting in 1907, was restored to its appearance under Francois I. It is currently (2016) undergoing a face-lift. It houses the National Archeological Museum of France.

This is a small corner of the formal gardens of the old chateau. The park here is much larger than the Bois de Boulogne. 

In 1556, Henri II and Catherine de Medicis built a separate new château (le Château Neuf) nearby. His wife and successors Francois II, Henri III, Henri IV, and Louis XIII used the chateau (among others). In 1638 Louis XIV (The future Sun King) was born in this chateau to Louis XIII and his wife Anne d’Autriche.

The red brick building on the right is part of the New Chateau.

Above the gate the sign says "Here was born Louis XIV." The red brick room is now on the left.

Le Château-Neuf was the refuge of Charles II of England in 1650, after the execution of his father. In 1660 the French Royals returned to the newly renovated “Old chateau.” In 1682, the French Court left Saint-Germain for the Palace of Versailles.

Looking from the terrace of the New Chateau towards Paris, across the Seine. The group of large buildings is La Defense. The Eiffel Tower is just visible on the left part of the mound on the right. You may have to blow up the photo to see it. 

Looking back toward the New Chateau from the gardens. 

 After the French revolution (1779-1793) most of the new chateau was destroyed by its owner of the time. In 1825 an entrepreneur bought, renovated and expanded the remnants of the chateau-neuf. He later gave it to the railroad which used it as a hotel and a famous restaurant was established in it. In the 1840’s Alexandre Dumas resided in the hotel and it was there that he wrote two of his most famous works,  Les trois mousquetaires et Le comte de Monte-Cristo.

This is the Hotel Pavilion Henri IV, where we spent the night. I didn’t know any of this history before we got there. I just knew it was near the chateau Monte-Cristo.

This is the lobby of the hotel, and the door to the red brick room, which is part of the chateau where Louis XIV was born.
Close-up of the door and the sign above it. 

Another shot of the lobby showing the front entry.

And one more shot of the terrace. 

Finally I come to the chateau de Monte Cristo. After his success with the two famous novels mentioned above Dumas decided to build himself a chateau near to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. He bought some property on a hillside where he built a residence in the renaissance style and a small gothic “chateau” surrounded by a moat, where he put his writing desk. He entertained lavishly and frequently. He installed a room on the 1st (U.S. 2nd) floor decorated entirely in the Moorish style. The main chateau is now a museum dedicated to the life and works of Dumas. They don’t allow pictures inside so please take a look at this link for photos of the chateau and the Moorish room.

Here are some of my photos taken in the garden and of the two chateaux.

This is the main chateau, which Dumas called the chateau Monte-Cristo.

And this is the writing studio as seen from the main residence. 

The door of the writing studio named the Chateau d'If.
Chateau d'If means "Yew chateau" in French, but it is the name of the island prison off the coast of Marseilles, where the character Edmond Dantès was imprisoned for 14 years. 

Here's the sign, in case you didn't want to take my word for it. 

The main chateau seen from behind the chateau d'If. 

One of the gardens. This one had some hedge mazes in it, but was a bit overgrown. 

There's also a Grotto, as was fairly common in gardens like this at the time. 

Well, that's my report about the day we spent in Saint Germain-en-Laye and Port Marly.

Do let me know if you enjoyed it. It has taken me 3 days to put this together, so I'd like to know if anyone is reading it. :-) Thanks.