Postcard from Zurich

I have spent a lot of time in the past in Zurich, mostly on business trips. My maiden visit was in the early 80s while working as an internal auditor for an American bank. The audit team used to stay in a hotel halfway up the Adlisberg, overlooking the city, and at weekends I’d ascend the hill to stay at its more expensive parent hotel (pictured below after its Foster makeover) which had a fabulous open air pool. Obviously, weekends during the winter months would be spent in a ski resort. Thankfully, all this was well before the advent of EasyJet and the like, meaning a return flight to London would be around £500, which was what I could therefore spend at the weekend. Not bad eh? Let’s just say that I toured Europe’s 5* hotels and resorts on those weekends.

Despite job changes, I continued to travel regularly on business to Zurich. Unsurprising, given I have always worked in financial services. Consequently, it’s a town I know well though I’ve not been back for around 10 years – doesn’t time fly? That said, I wasn’t expecting too many changes to the Old Town.

My beloved had dropped me off at the airport en route to visit his client and I’d taken the train into the centre – much the quickest and cheapest option. I was always amazed that work colleagues took taxis at 10 times the price of the train fare, particularly on a Friday evening when the traffic in Zurich was murderous and it could take over an hour by taxi versus 15 minutes by train to reach the airport.

I began my wander round town heading along the Bahnhofstrasse. The part closest to the station I find far less interesting as it’s home to shops you can find everywhere. About half-way down the road, a subtle change takes place at the Sculpture Pavillion. Thereafter, it tends to be individual and designer shops, plus banks.

The installation erected in 1983 was designed by Swiss artist and sculpter Max Bill, and comprises 63 equally sized blocks of Black Forest granite. I like to think it’s saying something about Zurich’s solidity and security as a financial services centre. I also think it inspired a former employer’s logo.

The sun was shining as I continued to wander along the Bahnhofstrasse, which leads directly to the lake of Zurich. As I did so, I passed Paradeplatz, the centre of Switzerland’s financial sector, the heart of the Bahnhofstrasse and an important interchange for the tram network. In 17th century it was known as the “Säumärt” (pig market) as a livestock market was regularly held there. At the beginning of 19th century, its name was changed to Neumarkt (new market) and then, 50 years later, to Paradeplatz.

I continued in the direction of the lake, noting the large Friday market set out on the other side of the road. On reaching the lake, I took a few photos, before crossing the Limmat river to take a few photos of Niederdorf.

I didn’t however have time to wander around Niederdorf though it’s an interesting area, fondly referred to by locals as the “Dörfli” (little village). Like the Limmatquai, which runs parallel to it, Niederdorf is a pedestrian zone with loads of small shops hidden down the alleyways, while in the evening it transforms into a thriving and somewhat noisy area thronged with students and tourists in its many restaurants, bars and clubs.

See the imposing church with its twin towers? That’s a Zurich landmark. Legend has it that Charlemagne had the first church erected as a monastery on the graves of the city’s patron saints Felix and Regula. In the first half of 16th century, the Grossmünster was the starting point of the Reformation in German-speaking Switzerland. The theological school, which at the time was part of the monastery, became the University of Zurich. The church features stained glass windows by Sigmar Polke and Augusto Giacometti making it well worth a visit, just not today.

Instead, I chose to wander around the Old Town reaquainting myself with my favourite shops and restaurants. As in Munich, a significant amount of roadworks were taking place all over town. It looked as if it might have something to do with the city’s water supply, though it was hard to tell. This merely added to the usually parlous state of its traffic, though many of the smaller alleys are pedestrianised.

I also passed on a visit to the Fraumünster, it was simply too nice a day to spend much time indoors. However, it is a lovely building – with magnificent doors and windows by Giacometti and Chagall – founded in 853 by King Louis the German. This church, with its convent, was inhabited by the female members of Europe’s aristocracy. The convent had considerable influence and enjoyed the patronage of many kings, and up until 13th century the abbess had the right to mint coins! Ownership of the church and convent passed to the city of Zurich after the Reformation.

As always, I love looking at the architecural detailing particularly that on the medieval houses along many of the contorted, cobbled and narrow lanes. The guild and town halls from the Renaissance period offer a particularly attractive backdrop to the city and speak much of its multifaceted past.

After a delicious lunch at one of my former haunts, I decided to walk further around the lake which would make it easier for my beloved to pick me up. I’d had yet another lovely stroll down memory lane.

Date nights: Fête de la Musique and Promenade en Fête

It’s official, summer’s arrived. To be more specific, it arrived last Friday with the summer solstice which kicked off a week-end of entertainment locally which we always enjoy.  Every year, bands, artists and plenty of crowds show up on the evening of 21st June, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, to celebrate Fête de la Musique (“Music Festival”) and one of the loveliest nationwide celebrations in France, a country that does not skimp when it throws a party.

It’s even better when the summer solstice falls on a Friday as it heralds a week-end of celebrations which showcases not just music, but the community’s potential for organising its collective resources into something from which everyone can benefit – the public, the musicians and the local businesses.

Although it started in France, it’s no longer just a French celebration. Nearing its fourth decade, Fête de la Musique is a celebration all over the globe and the French Ministry of Culture and Communication, which loosely oversees it, estimates that the Fête de la Musique celebration now spans 120 countries, often with multiple cities participating. In recent years, those cities have ranged from Beijing to New York.

The first Fête de la Musique was held on 21st June, 1982. The date isn’t just significant for being the summer solstice, it’s also close to the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, a day historically marked by celebrations in France, and which was partly chosen by the church to coincide with summer solstice celebrations. So the inclination to celebrate around this date has existed for centuries; Fête de la Musique just extends that impulse.

The only rule – besides not breaking any laws – is that all the concerts must be free to the public. And that, honestly, is what makes Fête de la Musique (and Promenade en Fête) so terrific. It’s not because of the music itself; if you’re wandering around a participating town, you’re just as likely to hear a middling cover band as anything else. But who cares? You’re out in the warm summer air and you’re inevitably surrounded by a bunch of other people who are enjoying themselves. And it just becomes more fun when you realise there are people all over the world experiencing the same thing.

Lasting peace won’t come from a worldwide musical celebration. But it’s nice to be reminded that it’s possible. Just for a little while.

Thursday doors #24

A few weeks ago I went for a stroll around Antibes Old Town and spotted this door as I was making my way back to the car park. It looks in need of attention but I do love its faded colour – very nautical.

 

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favorite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Postcard from Lake Konstanz III

Aside from the cities of Meersburg and Konstanz, there are three islands on the lake well worth a visit or, in our case, a revisit.

Mainau

The 110-acre garden island of Mainau is renowned for its carpets of flowers and greenhouses. It has nearly 10,000 rose bushes, lots of different types of gardens, thousands of butterflies, a 13th-century baroque palace, plenty of restaurants, a petting zoo and a magnificent arboretum. Plus, as you wander around the gardens, you get tantalising glimpses of the lake.

It is an unquestionably beautiful place and one of the most visited sites in the area, with over two million visitors every year. It’s the place my late mother – a keen gardener – always wanted to visit when she came to stay. She, my father, and their friends, spent many a happy hour wandering through its gardens.

On the Thursday, we took the boat directly from Meersburg to Mainau. Given the time of year, we expected the island to be ablaze with colour, and we weren’t disappointed. We’d missed the spring bulbs but the rhododendruns were still in full bloom.

Reichenau

To the west of Konstanz, and directly opposite where we once lived in Hegne, is Reichenau. Declared a UNESCO world Heritage Site in 2000 because of its monastery, the Abbey of Reichenau. The abbey’s minster church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint Mark. Two further churches built on the island were consecrated to Saint George, and to Saints Peter and Paul. Reichenau’s famous artworks include (in the church of St George) the Ottonian murals of miracles of Christ, unique survivals from the 10th century.

Today the island is better known for its vegetable farms which at certain times of the year smell strongly of cabbages, its annual Wine Festival and the Wollmatinger Ried which is a large nature reserve next to the island. It’s a reeded wetland used by many birds as a stopover during their annual migration.

Lindau

On the other side of the lake you’ll find Lindau which has a magnificent harbour guarded by a Bavarian (it’s in Bayern, not Baden-Wurttemburg) lion and lighthouse, in addition the town is full of medieval half-timbered and painted buildings.

We visited on Saturday when the sun shone, the market was in full-swing and the place was busy with tourists. Like many of the old towns on the lake, it’s not changed much and is instantly recognisable. We ate lunch (more asparagus) at one of favourite spots looking out over the harbour. There’s a boat from Meersburg to Lindau but it takes 21/2 hours to get there so we drove and parked in a new multi-storey car park next to the new entertainment centre, both recently built on the island but outside of the old city walls.

Any trip to the Lake of Constance should include visits to all three of these islands. In fact, it’s hard to think of anywhere around the lake not worthy of a visit, though obviously the more picturesque places like Konstanz and Meersburg are worthy of more than a cursory visit.

 

Postcard from Lake Konstanz II

As I explained in my first postcard, we based ourselves in Meersburg for the duration of our trip. It’s a place we’d visited frequently in the past, generally for a lakeside walk and ice cream on a sunny Sunday afternoon and, of course, to buy some of its wines.

Since we couldn’t stay at our hotel of choice in Konstanz (fully-booked!), we decided to stay on the opposite side of the lake in this one in Meersburg, a well-run hotel which has long been in family hands. Just a short stroll from a handful of restaurants and hotels where we ate our evening meals. Our hotel did have a highly recommended restaurant but it catered for carnivores, not vegans!

Meersburg has a fine and meticulously kept medieval centre surrounded by vineyards and makes a good hub for exploring destinations around the lake. It’s comprised of two distinct areas, the lower town alonside the lake (Unterstadt) and uptown (Oberstadt) where we were staying and featuring in the photos above.

As you can see from the map above, the rest of the lake is very accessible from Meerberg either by boat or with the car ferry to Petershausen, a stone’s throw from Konstanz. While we were often out and about during the day, we returned to Meersburg for dinner every evening.

Most evenings, either before or after dinner, we wandered along Meersburg’s old cobblestoned streets looking up at the historic and colourful facades which included Meersburg Castle, the oldest inhabited castle in Germany, as well as the elegant New Castle (1712-1740) right next to it, which has a fantastic terrace overlooking the lake. The latter once served as the  residential palace of the prince-bishops of Constance.

The Old Castle successfully defended Meersburg and the narrative of its self-guided tour is all about knights and weapons of war. Its Bible Gallery includes exhibits of not only bibles but of the Guttenburg press that first made printed copies. Other museums in Meersburg include the Zeppelin Museum, Meersburg Tapestry Art Museum, Droste Museum, the Town Museum and a Viticulture Museum (wine is a very important part of the culture of Meersburg).

 

Postcard from Lake Konstanz I

This post is about our recent visit to Konstanz, the largest city on the lake of the same name (German: Bodensee) which is Europe’s third-largest lake. It’s one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Germany because, during World War II, the Allies avoided bombing it as it was too close to neutral Kreuzlingen in Switzerland. The city features charming architecture and numerous attractions, all within sight of the water giving it a bit of a Mediterranean vibe. Indeed one could be forgiven for spending one’s time there as if one were at the beach.

We loved our time in Konstanz back in the early 90s, but haven’t visited in awhile, so a trip down memory lane was long overdue. Not unnaturally, my beloved combined our few days of vacation with a couple of client visits.

I consequently got two bites of the Konstanz cherry: the first when my beloved visited one of his clients and the second on the Sunday when we crossed over from Meersburg (where we were staying) on the passenger ferry to spend the day there, lapping up the sunshine and watching the regatta.

On our second day on the lake, we rose early to catch the car ferry for my beloved’s meeting at his former employer. These beauties followed us onto the ferry. Old timers are very popular around the lake.

Konstanz is over 1,000 years old and many of its buildings in the Old Town, known as Niederburg, have the dates of their construction elegantly marked across their facade – you’ll see this when I do a Doors post. The Old Town is criss-crossed with narrow cobblestone alleys extending north from the Münster (cathedral) all the way to the river Rhine. At its heart is the Marktstätte (market place), lined with restaurants and cafes, where one finds the Kaiserbrunnen (imperial fountain) with four former emperors, a three-headed peacock with each head regally crowned, as well as a bronze horse.

Behind the square is the Konzilgebäude (council hall) which was erected in 1388 as a warehouse. Now a concert hall, statues of locals Jan Hus and Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin stand beside it. Also close by is the beautifully frescoed 15th-century Hohenzollernhaus, 16th-century Rathaus (city hall) and Haus zum Rosgarten, once a medieval butchers’ guild and now a museum for the region.

The majestic Konstanz münster (cathedral) was the church of the diocese of Konstanz until 1821. First mentioned in 615 AD and consecrated in 1089 AD, it features Romanesque and Gothic designs while its spire pokes high into the sky and can be seen all around the city. To the side of the cathedral, you’ll see a glass pyramid which protects the Römersiedlung, the remains of Constantia Roman fort.

While my beloved was at the meeting, I meandered around the town. Little had changed though the town had expanded with a new shopping mall and the on-going renovation of more roads in the Old Town. It was fun flushing out all my old haunts, most were still flourishing. The town was pretty busy as there’s plenty of (German) Bank Holidays in the month of May though many of the visitors were obviously retirees. Indeed, the whole lake is a very popular German holiday spot.

I knew my beloved was having lunch with his client so I decided to try out a newish establishment built into the town’s old walls. It turned out to be an inspired choice. I enjoyed a prawn and shaved asparagus salad, washed down with a glass of Prosecco. I was tempted by a dress in one of my favourite shops but it rather dwarfed me, the proportions were all wrong. Quite obviously intended for a taller German.

After walking all over the Old Town, I met up with my beloved and we walked along the lakeside, one of our old and regular perambulations, checking out what had changed. One of our favourite restaurants had been updated and subsumed into the neighbouring hotel. The renovation was superb but the menu no longer tempted us. We’d eaten many a Sunday lunch on its balcony either on our own or with my parents – happy days! Obviously lakeside properties  – fantastic property porn – command a premium and there were a couple of new builds to admire but much of the lake is unchanged for all to enjoy.

We wandered back to the car feeling a wee bit footsore and decided to pay our old neighbourhood a visit. Again, not much had changed in Hegne. The cloisters had been enlarged to include a teaching facility, there was a town hall next to the fire-station and opposite our old flat which had sprouted photo-voltaic panels and a red and white striped awning. The rest of the main road was unchanged though there were more dwellings lining the hill.

More importantly, the local restaurant was still knocking out its mega-schnitzels. We had never, ever seen anyone finish one of these. Pretty much everyone, including us, left with a doggy bag. Content we drove back to our hotel in Meersburg where we enjoyed more local wines to wash down more asparagus at a neighbouring hotel.

On our Sunday trip, in glorious sunshine, we took the passenger ferry direct to Konstanz where we were welcomed by the familiar and impressive statue of Imperia. Erected only in 1993, it was initially controversial but has since become a landmark. It’s a satirical depiction of a nine-meter-tall courtesan holding a pathetic Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund. It grandly rotates on its pedestal and refers to a short story by Balzac, La Belle Impéria.

We had  a gentle stroll around town before lunch on the terrace of the city’s main hotel. A place where we’d enjoyed many a meal in the past. The hotel, a former cloister, has been renovated in recent years but the ambience remains warm and the lakeside views spectacular. And, yes, we had more asparagus!

Postcard from Munich

Munich’s another of my regular stomping grounds. I know it well so any trip here gives me a welcome opportunity to check out some of my favourite haunts and see what has changed since my last visit in December 2017. I was particularly keen to see the area behind Marienplatz which has been under reconstruction for some time and would surely be finished by now.

When you say “Munich” most people think of the Oktoberfest (Beer Festival) or the Marienplatz, home to its Christmas market, a large open square named after the Mariensäule, the column in its centre, flanked by the Old and New Town Halls. One of the most famous features of the latter is its elaborate Glockenspiel cuckoo clock where a carousel of figures dance at 11:00am, midday and 05:00pm.

Torrential rain meant my trip to Munich took an unexpected turn. My beloved had dropped me off at the Bayerische Hotel (header photo) where, after using their facilities, I walked out with one of its loan brollies. However, not even this, combined with my raincoat, was sufficient to keep the pouring rain at bay.

Fortunately, many of Munich’s shops are in small undercover galleries and arcades but once those were exhausted I decided to pop into one of Munich’s many art museums to shelter from the rain and see an exhibition of Japanese armour. The gallery was largely empty – just the way I like it – and the exhibition was absolutely fascinating!

The collection was started by Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, a Swiss property developer, now based in Dallas who, with his wife, has carefully amassed the collection over the past 25 years. Art collecting is a family tradition, with four generations of avid art collectors who’ve previously established museums in Europe and South Africa, prior to the one in Dallas, which focus on ancient and non-western art and African gold.

I often wonder what it would be like to amass my own private art collection and donate it to a museum for others to enjoy in perpetuity? Sadly, I will need much deeper pockets than I possess to achieve this.

After I’d whiled away a few hours at the exhibition, the rain had abated sufficiently for me to investigate progress on the works for another underground line opposite Dallmayr and behind the Town Hall. I’ll be honest, it looked pretty much as it did two years ago. I can only assume that they’ve uncovered some important archeological remains which have slowed progress on the project to a snail’s pace. Either that or they’re using the same contractors who are undertaking Crossrail in London!

Now, the thorny question of where to have lunch. It’s Spargelzeit (asparagus time) in Germany but they (sadly) are most often anointed in melted butter or hollandaise sauce (eggs and butter) so I settled for a selection of salmon and salad at Dallmayr with a glass of Prosecco.

While I’d been enjoying lunch, the heavens had once more opened so I legged it back to the hotel to return their umbrella where I lingered over a pot of coffee in the lounge until my beloved picked me up. Not quite what I’d expected but a delightful day nonetheless.

Friday Photo Challenge – ebb and flow

It’s official, I’ve muddled two Friday Photograph Challenges to come up with one of my own! But that’s okay, isn’t it? It’s just a way of showcasing some of our photographs. Here’s another one from my 2016 trip to Australia which I took of surfers on Manly Beach in January 2016.

I first visited here in September 2010 when I took the ferry from Circular Quay to the beach which gave me great views of the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, two city icons.