Sunday, 11 August 2013

Strasbourg and Interlarken

Craig Writes;
7/08/13 A travel day that left me scarred.  Thankfully only physically.  The time between train transfers was eight minutes and our train was four minutes late getting in. Adding to that  our next platform was on the other side of the train tracks which required dragging the cases along the platform, down one long flight of stairs, the easy bit, then up another set of stairs, the hard bit. I would normally be fine with one but at this stage the cases are packed to capacity and the time constraint meant getting everything up asap. No time for relays, everything had to go down and up in one go. Thank dog for the adrenaline of missing the train. It was only once we threw our cases through the closing train doors and collapsed on the heap that I realised I had blood flowing down the shin of my left leg. I have no idea how it happened. I may have been shin bit by an angry dwarf for all I know. The train trip was mercifully short and before we knew it we were hauling our bags through the streets of Strasbourg looking for our room. There was a moment of light relief when I noticed a freshly showered "Fabio" wannabe hanging over the railing of his first floor apartment with only a white towel around him talking loudly on his mobile and peering down into the street begging for attention. Look at me everyone, aren't I gorgeous and look, I'm only wearing this flimsy white towel. Hilarious. 

Strasbourg has a long history of human occupation that stretches all the way back to the neolithic ages before being permanently settled by the Celts around 1300 BC. Today it is the official seat of the European Parliament and an important centre of manufacturing, engineering and has the second largest port on the Rhine.
But, the really interesting thing about Strasbourg is what happened here in 1518 when the town was struck with....a Dancing Plague.  Yes, you read that right, a dancing plague. It afflicted about 400 residents who literally danced themselves to death over a period of weeks dropping dead from exhaustion and heart attacks. 

Our apartment is a tiny attic of odd shaped rooms and of course at the top of four flights of narrow step stairs. I tell ya, I may have put on a few kilos over this trip but I am strong as a bloody ox with throwing all these cases from one country to another. 

The view from our balcony
The bottom of these steps was as far as the cases were going

8/08/13 Today we took a short walk to one of the most beautiful Cathedrals I've ever been in.  The Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg.  It was started in 1277 and finished in 1439 and is not only the finest example of Gothic architecture from the medieval period in the world, it was also the tallest building in the world till 1874 when it was surpassed by St Nicholai's Church in Hamburg.


Pure Gothic
The detail was astounding
It really wasn't until Christina and I went for a walk around 7pm tonight to get some milk and just kept on walking that we really discovered just how beautiful this city is.  I'll let the pictures tell the story.
No comment needed here
or here

9/08/13. Another train trip today, the destination is Interlarken, Switzerland.  Farken Interlaken, man, forget about the Parisian street urchins who'll pick your pockets clean or the gypsy street cons of fainting old women who miraculously skip off once you've helped them up to their feet while the contents of your back pack skip of in the other direction in the hands of a partner in crime.  No no, all the real criminals are driving cabs and running their business in Interlarken. $30 freaking dollars for a three minute cab ride from the train station. Seven bucks for two fingers of cask red at the local pizza shop on top of $25 for a round disc of dough with a bit of cheese and a few strips of ham. It seems that everyone here is dedicated to maintaining Switzerland's reputation as the most expensive place in the world to live.

That's better, I feel I can move on now. We are staying right on the edge of Lake Brienz with the light jade glacial waters of the surrounding mountains quickly passing by. It is the picture perfect Switzerland you see in all the brochures. 
The view from our hotel
It was interesting to learn that even the Swiss think it's too expensive to shop here. There are apparently supermarkets and shopping malls lined up along the German and Italian borders specifically for the local Swiss to pop over and do their weekly shopping at literally half the price.  The language is all German and the guests vary from large groups of Taiwanese's and Koreans to herds of Burka clad women in top to bottom black with only mascara clad eyes and fan like eyelashes visible through the gap. Hubby mustering the kids and stroking his long black beard as he walks along in front.
We took the free bus (did someone say free!?) into the city of Interlarken today for a stroll around. What a beautiful, clean and touristy little town it is. We were told the watch shops were very big with the Asian community as there is apparently much prestige to be had by letting it be known your Rolex was bought in Switzerland. We popped into the first store we came across and bugger me if it didn't seem like we'd walked through a portal and ended back in China. 
Welcome to Beijing, Interlaken
This is what $150,000 Swiss Francs of watch looks like
The store was huge and from the store assistants to the customers there wasn't a caucasian to be seen.  I don't mention this as a racial commentary just a really interesting fact that there must be a boat load of bucks floating around Asia these days for Mum and Dad to bring the kids to the most expensive place on earth to shell out five grand plus for a watch.

May as well stay on the Asian theme while I'm on a roll. We walked into Bibbis Restaurant for a spot of lunch and blow me down, same thing. Every single one of the 100 plus crowd were either Taiwanese or Korean, except for four little Aussies.  How did we know their ethnicity? Well it turns out Bibbis had cornered the market in Asian tour groups and today he was playing host to a large group from both countries.  We're sitting there pondering the menu when next thing the Taiwanese national anthem starts to blast through the speakers and the manager runs through the restaurant with a bed sheet size Taiwanese flag wiggling his bum at the girls and high fiving the guys while they've all dropped their forks and are clapping along. 

The Taiwanese getting a taste of Bibbis big horn
It was odd to see one half of the restaurant going off in a patriotic fervour while the Korean half of the restaurant sit politely, heads bowed and eating their fondue. The Taiwanese anthem fades out, bum wiggling boy retreats  behind the bar and the Taiwanese resume eating, chatting and smiling among themselves.  
Next thing the relative calm of the restaurant is shattered when the  Korean anthem explodes through the speakers. As one, they all drop their cutlery and off they go, waving, clapping and high fiving.  Another flag off Olympic proportions comes running through the restaurant, more bum wiggling , more high fives.  It was hilarious. 
The Koreans getting their wind up while the guys enjoy their cheese fondue
I've got to say this guy was good. When he found out the four strangers in the restaurant  were Aussies he unbelievably found an Aussie flag from some where and while we didn't get the bum wiggle, thankfully, or the Anthem, we got a flag wave from behind the bar. Ohh and he threw in some free left over deserts from the Asians set price lunch. It was great fun. Turns out the body building muscle head owner had an Aussie girlfriend and had been to Kununurra of all places.  
Having a Muscle Off with the owner. I came a distant second
So after stocking up on some local supermarket supplies so we don't have to go pay $15 for a hamburger when Callum's ever demanding metabolisms screams out for calories, we headed home.

11/08/13 What does five hours on a train and $600 get you in Switzerland. SNOWBALLS that's what. We made the trek up the Jungfraujoch, at 3454 metres it is the highest railway station in Europe. We came well equipped with one extra pair of socks between the four of us and a pair of gardening gloves  each to keep the cold away as we hammered each other with snow balls. No way was I going to pay $80 a pair for snow gloves when a $8.50 pair of good old rubber gardening gloves would do the trick.

How about those gloves
The trip up is long and there are a couple of changes that you need to be quick on if you want a seat. The Asian tour groups are relentless and seemingly omnipresent. And they move really quick. We did the smart thing and stole rolls from the breakfast buffet to take up for lunch. 
Once again Hughy the god of weather was looking down upon us and we struck gold. A magnificent day.  Baby blue skies and snow as far as the eye could see. We threw snow, we ate snow, we put snow down the front of our pants and we made the worlds quickest and smallest snowman. 
Our very first snowman, we were so proud
The Mexican Stand Off
Quite the arm on this one
We had numerous goes at sledding, but the stiff plastic crates they called a sled were impossible to steer and the ruts of previous sledders were so deep  that no matter where you started you all ended up in the same tracks.  So when, not if, when, the person in front stopped or fell off you had no choice but to bail, hoping no one was behind you, or you slammed into the back of them which wouldn't have been any good for anyone. It was so much fun. 

Gentlemen, start your sleds
Don't see this everyday
Everyones shoes were soaked and feet were freezing by the time we finished but Charlie's feet were the bluest so it was decided that he would get the back up pair of dry socks.  
The best dang hot chocolate ever
So much fun. Did I already say that?  The boys really wanted to see snow this trip and we're so glad  we could make it happen.

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