I posted about the history and architecture of Notre Dame. It is part of Paris‘ cultural and religious lifeblood. It’s huge, historic, and imposing. I was surprised to find pockets of warmth, small details and intimacy when we visited during a mass.
Whenever we hike in Switzerland, we see woodpiles…everywhere. In typical Swiss fashion, they are neatly stacked and very organized.
The OCD part of me loves that this family had their stacks numbered by year. You can see their dividers in the photo below. Strong.
I think that daily life in Switzerland can keep you pretty active and people seem healthier than other places I’ve lived. Perhaps chopping all of this wood is part of their fitness plan?
This time of year is the perfect time to cozy up in front of a fire, so go ahead and knock on wood.
When I visited Champagne, I had to stop by and see the cathedral in Reims. I’d heard so much about it and had to see it in person. Yeah, from a distance, it might look a lot like many other French cathedrals, but this one is different. It’s beautiful, light and airy, but that’s only scratching the surface. It’s fascinating because of its dramatic history.
The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is considered by many to be the world’s most perfect Gothic church. Located in eastern France (an hour or so away from the WWI battlefield of Verdun), it was almost completely destroyed during the First World War. On September 19-20, 1914, 25 German shells struck the cathedral which then caught on fire, causing massive damage. It became known as the “Martyred Cathedral” a symbol of destruction during the Great War and brought out strong emotions in the French. Strong emotions are an understatement. Several injured German prisoners found refuge in the cathedral but were killed outraged French.
In 1924, billionaire American John D. Rockefeller, gave money to restore the cathedral. Fabulously wealthy Andrew Carnegie kicked in some money too. Today, it’s mostly restored, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and definitely worth the few million they poured into it.
Reims has been a town since Roman times. In 498, Clovis was baptized as the first Catholic French king at the church. This was a big deal. If you don’t believe me, Pope John Paul II visited for the 1500th anniversary of the event. I can pretty much guarantee that no world leader will mark the 1500th anniversary of anything I have done or anywhere I have been. Monkey see, monkey do. All the cool kings wanted to do it like Clovis did and it became the site for coronations of French kings (until the revolution). Joan of Arc famously knelt in front of Charles VII when he was crowned King of France there. Today, they have a Gallery of Kings, statues of the famous kings who were crowned there.
In 1211, when the existing church burned down, the built a bigger better one on the site of an earlier church (just like Geneva’s Cathedral St. Pierre). Part of what makes Reims Cathedral such an amazing building is the amount of light inside (particularly in comparison with others constructed around the same time). The architects designed the windows so that they would let in as much light as possible.
Notre-Dame de Reims did not escape the French Revolution unscathed. Fleur-de-lys and clovers were removed because they had been symbols of the monarchy. They were replaced during the restoration. Thanks Mr. Rockefeller.
Large circular windows at the ends of the cathedrals are known as the “Rose Window.” It took me a few cathedrals to figure that one out. Luckily, we’ve seen a few this year (Toledo, Milan). The church is known throughout France for its impressive stained glass windows. During the restoration, some more contemporary have been used. I like the one depicting Champagne making from the 1950’s. Who would have thought church windows would depict hooch? The windows designed by Marc Chagall from the 1970’s (above) were my favorites because they were ethereal and dreamy. You wouldn’t expect something so massive to look so light. They plan on continuing with the different windows, making it interesting to for visitors compare and contrast the different styles.
By the way, if you go there, hunt out the “Smiling Angel” (also known as “Smile of Reims” and “L’Ange au Sourire”). Decapitated by a burning beam in 1914,, during the fire of September 19, 1914 it the destruction and then with the restoration of the city.
I have a huge fascination with breakdancing (also known as b-boying or breaking). Each time we see people dancing somewhere, I can’t help but stop and watch. I love the sheer athleticism of it. It evolved from almost every dance, acrobatic and martial arts style including: tap, jazz, capoeira, Balkan, ballroom, folk, shaolin kung-fu, circus and swing.
Breakdancing is popular in France. When we were in Nice, we strolled the Pedestrain Zone of the Place Masséna. It’s essentially the main square of Nice and center of all the action. We encountered some break dancers (videos are all over YouTube) on checkerboard pavement and stopped to check them out.
Each time I watch break dancers, I am struck by the communal spirit that surrounds them. It makes you want to learn how to do it. Forget ballroom dancing, we’ll be taking this dance class instead. It looks like a pretty good workout.
Being a former gymnast, I loved the power moves because they are particularly acrobatic. It requires momentum, speed, endurance, strength, and control (like the flare, windmill, swipe, and head spin).
Downrock (also known as footwork or floorwork) describes any movement on the floor where the hands supporting the dancer as much as the feet. Common downrock moves include: the foundational 6-step, and its variants such as the 3-step. Basic downrock is done entirely on hands and feet. It didn’t take long for their moves to get way more complex and too fast for the settings on my camera.
Freezes are stylish poses, and the more difficult require the breaker to suspend himself or herself off the ground using upper body strength in poses. How can you not love these creative displays of agility and physical strength set to music?
Well done gentlemen.
Bellinzona would be epic (and possibly ruined) if it were located on a lake. Instead, it is strategically located at the confluence mountain passes and near others (Nufenen, St. Gotthard, Lukmanier, San Bernardino and the Poebene). At one time, it was the capital of the region.
Bellinzona’s Old Town is graceful and enchanting. It has beautiful, ornate merchants’ houses, stone gateways, wrought iron balconies and peaceful courtyards. It is car free. If you ignore the other tourists strolling the alleyways, it is easy to transport yourself to a bygone era.
It’s not glitzy, but its richly decorated patrician houses, beautiful churches and charming streets are relaxing and seductive. You can literally feel your blood pressure drop. Walking the streets, you want to stop, enjoy the atmosphere and take in all the colorful details.
This peacefulness is ironic. Bellinzona doesn’t derive its name from its beauty (Belle or Bella), but from “zone bellica” which translates into “war zone.” The main evidence of the city’s turbulent past are its castles and fortifications which are just outside the old town.
Geneva is old. Really old. The Allobrogians built a fortified settlement in Geneva that was conquered by the Romans in 120 BCE. For me, pre-Roman = old. Located at a strategic location between Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the Rhone, Julius Cesar came to Geneva on his Gallic campaign in approximately 58 BCE. From the 1st to 4th centuries, they built a large building close to where the St.-Pierre Cathedral now stands .
Under the St.-Pierre Cathedral, in the crypt is an archaeological site. The foundations of those original buildings are still there. You can see the layers of building. In the photo above, you can see the original monk’s cells on the left. Cozy.
The site is massive, with many levels. Some of our guests missed seeing an entire part of it when they took a wrong turn.
There’s plenty of evidence of the Romans, from mosaic floors to coins to wells.
I don’t think the coins at the bottom of this cistern date from Roman times. I tossed one in. It couldn’t hurt.
In the 4th–5th century, as Christianity spread across the Roman Empire and the cluster of buildings on the hill began to include places of worship. In 443, the Burgundians (a tribe of barbarians who invaded) took over Geneva. They made Geneva one of their capitals and the city contented to develop. The site also developed encompassing multiple uses.
By the 9th century, cluster had grown significantly and undergone fundamental changes. Three places of worship and annexes were built in the 4th–5th centuries. These early christian churches have been extensively excavated. In the 7th–8th centuries, a larger cathedral was erected. In 1000, a monumental crypt was added and the choir extended. The bishop built a himself a residence, a palace for him to live in. Of course he did.
Okay, okay, I know it is cheesy and a bit hokey, but I couldn’t help but enjoy myself at the “Arabian campsite” on my desert excursion. I wish I’d been able to stay the night out in the desert, but settled for a sunset dinner.
There were camels to ride outside the site and I immediately did it. I couldn’t pass up my first (and perhaps only) opportunity to ride a camel. Someone had warned me to hold on tight as the camel got up so it was surprisingly easy.
Falconry is popular in the region and we were treated to a falconry demonstration. It was impressive. After learning about raptors at the Carolina Raptor Center, I find them interesting, impressive animals.
The falconer takes off the mask, releases the bird, and swings the meat around on a string for the hawk grab. Falcons come back for food.
Some people took advantage of the henna painters. Others enjoyed smoking sheesha pipes. A traditional pastime in Dubai, sheesha (also known as narghile in Turkey and hookah in India and Pakistan) is a long-stemmed smoking pipe packed with flavored tobacco. I didn’t partake in that either, but I heard that Strawberry is the most popular favor.
I love middle-eastern food more than just about any other cuisine and was super excited for the spread. In fact, I was so busy scarfing it down that I didn’t get a picture. Sorry.
Luckily I was done eating by the time the belly-dancing started. I love belly-dancing and the belly dancer was much better than I expected. She performed in the heat for over a half an hour and had people mesmirised. It is easy to see why.
After a big hike in Thun, we spent the night there. It is so cute, how could we not? Plus, we were exhausted after the hike.
As we strolled the town in search of somewhere to watch the European Cup games outside, we learned how to finance a bachelor party. Gentleman (and perhaps ladies), take note.
This morning, I cut the dickens out of my finger while making breakfast. After applying pressure I lifted the towel to see how bad it looked, blood started gushing out. I went into the bedroom where he was still sleeping and said “you need to get up because I think I need to go get stitches.” He jumped out of bed with a look of extreme panic and fear. Poor guy. If I ever doubt how much he cares for me or my importance to him, remind me of that look.
Remember the old Saturday Night Live sketch where Dan Aykroyd parodies Julia Child continuing to cook while bleeding profusely from a cut on his hand. Picture that instead off me posting disgusting pictures of my mangled paw. To watch the hilarious clip, click here.
I had him take a look at my finger to see if I needed to go to the hospital. He took one look and said yes. I snuck a quick glance and almost fainted, literally. I don’t like blood and I immediately sat down to avoid hitting it when I passed out.
After lying down on the floor for a bit, we walked to the tram with a towel tourniquet and my hand over my head. We went to a nearby hospital. They were great and couldn’t have been nicer. They had me in and out (and in possession of all 10 digits) quickly. The Swiss healthcare system is fantastic (our friend wrote about having surgery here if you’re curious).
Sad, I know, but I took a painkiller so I’m giggling.