Shilthorn - Switzerland Highlights - Day 10

We began day 10 of our European vacation in Mürren, Switzerland.  From our B&B we walked to the cable car station to cruise up to the Shilthorn.  The Shilthorn served as a set for the 1969 James Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.  For years, I have wanted to walk around and explore a bad guys hideout for myself.

Today the building houses a 007 museum with artifacts from the film.   The building was intended to be a restaurant but the developers lacked funding.  The James Bond franchise financed the construction in return for access to shoot their next movie first.  

Visitors can pilot a stationary helicopter and learn of the movie’s nearby shooting locations.  Copies of the script are accessible.  You can morph your face into the characters from the James Bond movie.  Visitors can hop in a bobsled in front of a screen telling you which way to lean.  Then you are super-imposed on footage from the bobsled ride at the end of the movie.

In the bathroom there’s an encouraging message over the urinals.  A light above a bathroom stall recreates a hypnosis sequence from the film.

On the patio there is a gun barrel you can take your picture through.  There’s beautiful views of the Jungfrau, Moch and Eiger too.

Out back there’s a Walk Of Fame with plaques featuring different actors from the Bond series.

A number of scenes feature a staircase in the building.  Bond first walks up this staircase and finds many reclining Bond girls.  Now that area contains a revolving restaurant that features a James Bond breakfast.

Then we headed to a peak just below that movie set.  Admission to this Thrill Walk is included in your ticket to the Shilthorn.  There is a ropes course and glass floor walkway on the side of cliff with more views of the Jungfrau and the town of Mürren below.

Then we cabled down to Mürren for lunch at our B&B.  We took one more cable car ride down to the hamlet of Gimmelwald.  This is the town Rick Steves thinks is the closest thing to heaven on earth.  The town is underdeveloped and protected as an avalanche zone to ward off future development.  It is a slow paced life here.  At the self-service grocery store you put your coins in a tray and grab your cheese or eggs.  The backyards of these chalets boast an incredible view.  Gimmelwald is perched right on a cliff overlooking this valley of 72 waterfalls.

We wanted to visit one of the falls so we hiked up from Gimmelwald to the Sprutz waterfall.

After visiting the falls we kept hiking to our home base in Mürren.  The total hike took about two hours or so.  But we couldn’t complain about the views.

We headed back into the town of Mürren where we called it a night.

Stay tuned for our next adventure when we head to the city of Bern by way of Interlaken and the Trummelbach falls.

Jungfrau - Switzerland Highlights - Day 9

We spent most of day nine in Europe exploring the Jungfrau on the opposite side of the valley from our hotel in Murren.  To get there we cable carred down to Lauterbrunnen.  Then we hopped on a train equipped with special teeth that grip a center rail for extra traction.

The train first stopped in the resort town of Wengen.  Then we climbed higher and higher up the Jungfrau.

Jungfrau means mean young frauline or lady.  The Jungfrau stands besides two other peaks.  A Swiss fable says the Jungfrau is protected by a center peak called the Mönch or in English monk.  This monk protects the Jungfrau from the Eiger (or in English ogre) on the opposite side of the Mönch.

Also of note, we passed a Chinese couple taking their wedding pictures out on a ledge.  Chinese couples frequently travel here for wedding photos even though their ceremonies takes place elsewhere.

Then we switched trains at Kleine Scheidegg for a 30 minute climb up the Jungfrau.  The train grinded below the Eiger and Monch until we stopped at the Jungfrau station.

This complex in and on the mountain spans nine floors.  Outside visitors gaze at an 11 mile long glacier.  A restaurant on the other side of a hill serves coffee.  Inside we viewed historical models of the complex, a Lindt chocolate exhibit, and the Ice Palace.  The Swiss cut a hole in the glacier and named it the Ice Palace.  They installed handbars and lights in the glacier walls so people like us can strut, spin and slide in comfort.

Then we headed back down to Kleine Scheidegg.  We lunched then hiked set out on a hike.  The town of Gridelwald lay in the valley below.

Cows clanged their bells in the distance below us.  I wanted to get up close and personal with a cow.  I found a path down to some cows nearby.  A leader-cow I approached had no desire for a close human encounter.  I walked a little closer and that cow advanced toward me pushing me away with it’s head.  I got the message.

Our hike ended at the Mannlichen cable car station.  From there we headed down to Wengen, caught a train to Lauterbrunnen then ultimately returned to Mürren.

It began to rain.  We met up with my mom and had dinner across the road from our chalet.  After dinner we hopped over to a nearby vista to savor the last moments of daylight.

Stay tuned for our next episode when we explore the Murren side of the valley.  We’ll head up to a former James Bond movie set, hike to a waterfall and more.

Lucerne & Mürren - Travel Highlights - Day 8

We began day eight of our European vacation at Lucern’s Lion Monument.  This stone carving pays tribute to the Swiss guard who died protecting King Louis XVI during the French Revolution.  The Swiss guard are known for their protective forces.  Right by that monument is a tourist mecca with plenty of cowbell magnets for sale.

Then Carolyn and I walked to the old city walls.  We climbed up one of the towers for an elevated view of Lucerne.

It was time to head to the train station and begin our journey to the high alps of the Berner Oberland.  Our train zipped past lakes and mountains while heading to a transfer in Interlaken.  Notably we passed lake Brienz where my parents vacationed decades before my time.

I appreciated the design of the Swiss rail clocks displayed throughout their train stations.  In Interlaken we transferred to the Berner Oberland Bahn that pushes into the Lauterbrunnen Valley.  After a 15 minute ride we arrived in Lauterbrunnen.  This train station provides view of waterfalls and massive cliffs.

Across the street from the train station we hopped into a cable car.  What a view!  Our hotel rests on the edge of a cliff.  After the cable car ride we transferred to a train at Stechelberg that grinds along the cliffs past cabins with valley views.  We exited the train and walked to our chalet.

We dropped off our bags and went out for a stroll around Mürren.  Carolyn pointed out the native eldeweiss flower.  The town furnicular ascends to the village of Allmendhubel.  We watched clouds roll in in this valley of 72 waterfalls.

Lucerne - Travel Highlights - Day 7

We started our full day in Lucerne by walking the iconic Chapel Bridge.  The Swiss built this bridge in the 1300s as part of the city defense system.  The window openings on the south side of the bridge are smaller to give defenders more cover.  The north side of the bridge opens to the city.

The bridge is decorated with artwork depicting the fishing town’s history.

We dressed in our Sunday best since we attended worship in the Jesuit church on the waterfront built in 1666.  The service was entirely in German.  Then we walked along the Reuss river.  A spikey fence in the river maintains the water level of Lake Lucerne.  Further downstream stands the Mill Bridge.

The original train station burned down.  Inside the new station notice the expensive Burger King combo for $10.

Then we boarded a boat for a two-hour float on Lake Lucern.  We saw beautiful homes and people playing on the lakeshore.  The high alps beckoned in the distance, our destination for tomorrow.  I wanted to get there and experience the high elevation change of pace.

We headed back into Lucerne and walked the bridges at sunset.  Then we walked on the lakefront at twilight before calling it a night.

Stay tuned for our next episode when we take in a smidge more of Lucerne before heading to the high alps and the Jungfrau region.

Chartres & Lucerne - Travel Highlights - Day 6

We left our hotel in Amboise early on the sixth day of our European vacation.  We had a 5:30pm flight to catch from Paris’ to Switzerland.  Before the airport we wanted to stop along the way in the city of Chartres.  Chartres is a little town well known for one thing: it’s grand cathedral.  The structure dominates the town.

The labyrinth in the floor’s stone work impressed me.  A priest sits inside a booth for people to speak and pray with.  Outside on the back terrace the town of Chartres displays itself and another labyrinth in a terrace lawn.  We walked around the cathedral’s ornate exterior.

From Chartres we walked back to the car and drove to Paris’s airport.  We caught our flight to Basel.  This airport sits on the border of three nations.  After we found the door for the Swiss exit we caught a bus to the Basel train station. The town is industrial and modern.  At Basel’s train station we purchased our Swiss rail passes and boarded a train to Lucerne.

We arrived in Lucerne around 10pm and hopped on a bus to our hotel.  Then Carolyn and I went out for a walk to see the town at night.  We walked the iconic Chapel bridge.  It was Saturday night so we looked up service times for the Jesuit church on the waterfront.  That leads us to our next episode with highlights from a full day in Lucerne.

Chenonceau & Amboise - Travel Highlights - Day 5

We started our 5th day in France at a bakery near our hotel in Amboise then we headed to the Chenonceau early.  We were the first ones through the gate but people rushed past us as we marched to the chateau.

Originally the home stood over the river with an almost-square floor plan.  Prince Henry II gave the home to his mistress as a gift.  Henri’s mistress commissioned a bridge over the river for new gardens on the opposite side of the river.  12 years later King Henry II died and his Queen claimed the home for herself.  She built two galleries on the mistress’ bridge.  In WWI those galleries served as a military hospital.  In WWII the river below the bridge formed part of the border between occupied France and unoccupied France.  Many were smuggled through this home to freedom across the water.

After we walked through the house I went out back.

Then I joined up with Carolyn and my mom in the front yard.

On the grounds they have a maze.

After visiting the Chenonceau we headed back to Amboise for lunch.  We took a walking tour that started at the Romanesque church dating back to the 1100s.  We sauntered down the Rue national, the main pedestrian drag.

We crossed part of the Loire river to an island in the middle of the Loire for cheese and wine as the sun set.

Before Paris, Amboise was the seat of medieval France’s power.  Now it’s a pleasure town.

Join us next time when we visit the Chartes cathedral before heading into Switzerland for our first night in Lucerne.

Favorite Albums of 2013

With each new year I love to look back and identify favorite music from the previous year.  I associate music with memories.  So here is the list of music and memories from 2013.

1.  The 1975 - The 1975
An NPR music review introduced me to The 1975 and their self-titled debut album.  The sound of the music fascinated me instantly.  Lead singer Matt Healy's description of the album in the review caught my attention.  They are a talented young band with a good grip on what music can be.

Healy explained the band's preference for groove allowed them to bypass the indie genre for mainstream pop.  The songs Settle Down and Girls exemplify their aim at wide appeal.  They also harken back to a sound from the 1980s.  That sound is reminiscent and yet envelope pushing.  Sign me up to buy their follow-up!

2.  Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience
I have been skeptical of Justin Timberlake for a long time.  He has seemed talented.  He impressed me with Rock Your Body years ago.  His last album, the one with Sexy Back, turned me off because of his lyrics.

Then came his song Suit And Tie.  He sounded more mature.  He sang about monogamy.....What?!  It was like Kanye West's career in reverse!  Plus Suit And Tie had a creative sound.  He fused a Big Band/Art Deco sound with modern Hip Hop.

Friends started raving about the album on Facebook.  After giving it a couple listens he had me hooked.  The album is visionary.  He takes a song, and then flips it on it's head.  It is a big budget production that justifies itself.

3.  Washed Out - Paracosm
This was my album of the summer.  I recently moved to San Diego.  San Diego is a great place to enjoy a summer.  This Washed Out Album is a perfect soundtrack for summertime drives.  I drove all over SD with this album on loop.

Songs like Don't Give Up and All I Know define musical chill.

4.  Amy Grant - How Mercy Looks From Here
I am biased towards Amy Grant.  For almost my first two decades Amy was a huge musical influence in my life.  (It's neither good nor bad.  It just is.)

Her newest release is mature.  She's more thoughtful than in her 1990s queen of pop days.  Her encouraging lyrics in Don't Try So Hard and Not Giving Up resemble therapeutic wisdom.

I will associate this album with a couple trips to Imperial Beach when I felt burdened.  The album and beach comforted me tremendously.  Thanks Amy!

5.  John Mayer - Paradise Valley
I thought John Mayer would have taken this year off.  He steered his music in a new and western direction in 2012 with Born And Raised.  Then he released Paradise Valley in 2013.  Paradise Valley builds off Born and Raised's success.

His duet with Katy Perry in Who You Loves shines as the best track on the album.  His honesty in Dear Marie endears listeners.

6.  St. Lucia - When The Night
This album exemplified the surge of synth rock in 2013.  Synth rock has been picking up steam.  We've seen the dance genre go synth for years and the Killers helped make strides in the rock genre.  St. Lucia is really just one guy with a computer doing a terrific job of making exciting music.

St. Lucia puts a fresh spin on the sound of 80's groups like Genesis.  Songs like Closer Than This and All Eyes On You get me smiling.

7.  Phoenix - Bankrupt!
It's fun to enjoy a band from France.  Plus Phoenix! just knows how to make good sounding music.  They exemplify the synth rock surge of 2013.  Songs like Trying To Be Cool and Drakkar Noir keep my foot tapping and head bopping.

2012 Leftovers

I admit I was late to the party on a couple great albums from 2012.

Bruno Mars - Unorthodox Jukebox
This album came out late in 2012.  The song that got me hooked was Locked Out Of Heaven.  I’m a sucker for a good groove and that song has it.  My friend clued me in on the song Treasure which kept Bruno's tunes pumping through my car stereo a couple more months.

Fun. - Some Nights
This album was big in 2012.  I was late to the party but spent much of early 2013 listening to it.

What were your favorite albums from 2013?