Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cheddar Gorge, England - September 1, 2010

Perhaps the most well known cheese in the entire world is that English cheese named after the small Somerset village of Cheddar. The name also refers to a part of the production process known as cheddaring. Henry II's Royal Accounts record the purchase of 10,000 pounds of Cheddar in 1170. In reality, cheese was a way of using up excess milk and one great advantage of hard cheeses over soft, is that they keep better.
For centuries however, cheese remained something of a luxury item for most people until Joseph Harding invented the cheese mill in the 19th century and industrialized the overall process. Harding was a vigorous promoter of Cheddar and helped to introduce Cheddar-making into Scotland as well as training American cheesemakers.
The Village of Cheddar has a long and ancient history, having been an important Roman and later Saxon center. Popular tourism began with the opening of Cheddar Valley Railway in 1869/1870 which became known as the Strawberry Line, because it passed by many strawberry-growing fields on the Cheddar side of the valley. The railroad line was closed in 1965.
Cheddar Gorge is a limestone canyon to the east of the village and is the site of the Cheddar show caves where, in 1903, Britain's oldest complete human skeleton was found. The caves, produced by underground river activity, contain stalactites and stalagmites. The gorge has become a tourist destination attracting about 1/2 million visitors each year. The maximum depth of the gorge is about 450' with a near-vertical cliff-face to the south, and steep grassy slopes to the north. Formed by meltwater floods within the last 1.2 million years, the gorge remains susceptible to occasional flooding and in 1968 water flow washed large boulders down the gorge damaging the Cheddar Cafe and washing away some cars.
More pictures here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Mendip Hills, England - August 30, 2010

Priddy, a village with a population of less than 1,000, is in the county of Somerset and is situated in a small hollow close to the high point of the Mendip hills at nearly 1,000 feet above sea-level. The Mendip Hills are classified as one of 35 AONBs - area of outstanding natural beauty - in England. Each year since 1348 the annual Folk Festival  and Sheep Fair has been held on the village green and from the 1920s, the Mendip Farmers' Hunt fox hounds have been based there. It does sound exciting, doesn't it?
Lead mining developed in the area between 300 to 200 BCE and the relatively easy opencast extraction became an attraction for the Romans, evidenced by lead ingots found in the neighbourhood that have been dated to 49 CE. Remnants of St Cuthbert's Leadworks, which closed in 1908, are still visible.
The village church, St Lawrence, dates from the 13th century and underwent some rebuilding in the 15th century with a major restoration in the 1880s. In 1997 the three original bells were augmented to five.
In the surrounding area are the Priddy Circles, a Neolithic stone circle from around 2180 BCE making it a contemporary of Stonehenge. A further characteristic of the area are the dry stone walls bounding the fields constructed from local limestone and containing no mortar.
Other historic features in the vicinity include evidence of more than 250 round barrows, or burial mounds. Much less ancient are vestiges of a WWII bombing decoy constructed on top of Black Down at Beacon Batch intended to confuse bombers targeting the city of Bristol, and piles of stones (known as cairns) that were built around the same time to discourage enemy aircraft using the hilltop as a landing site. Less romantic than one might otherwise have surmised.
More views of the area here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bradford-on-Avon, England - August 29, 2010

Devizes is 2 degrees west of the Greenwich Meridian line in London. Our next stop, a quarter of a degree further west and still just in the county of Wiltshire, was Bradford-on-Avon. This is a busy market town of about 9,000 on the edge of the Cotswolds facing the River Avon. Near the center of town, the bridge crossing the river retains two of its original 13th century arches and also has a 17th century overnight "lock up" for local miscreants. The Kennet and Avon Canal also passes through the town running adjacent to the railway that provides access to other Wiltshire towns. The oldest church in the town dates back to Saxon times, circa 705 CE.
The earliest evidence of habitation in Bradford consists of fragments of Roman settlements above the town and an archaeological dig has uncovered the remains of a large Roman villa with a well-preserved mosaic. The center of the town grew up around the ford crossing the river Avon and the name of the town most probably derived from Broad-Ford. The Normans built a stone bridge to augment the ford and part of that original bridge still exists and is in daily use.
The town has numerous 17th century buildings stemming from its success in the textile industry during which period the river was harnessed to provide power for the wool mills. As the textile industry mechanized during the Industrial Revolution, wool weaving migrated from weaver's cottages to purpose built mills by the river. At the peak, there were as many as 30 such mills along the river bringing great prosperity to the town. Toward the end of the 19th century the wool industry shifted to Yorkshire and in 1905 the last mill in Bradford was closed.
More views around this picturesque town are here.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seend, England - August 28, 2010

Our next stop was another Camping Club site in Seend, Wiltshire, lying alongside the Kennet and Avon canal and just a few miles west of the market town of Devizes. The Kennet and Avon Canal was built under the direction of John Rennie between 1794 and 1810 to link Devizes with Bristol to the west and London to the east.On the last Saturday of August we decided to cycle along the towpath to Devizes.
Along the canal, between village of Rowde and the town of Devizes, lie the Caen Hill Locks, a flight of 29 locks that rise 237 feet in 2 miles - a 1 in 44 gradient. The locks are in three groups with the lower seven locks, Foxhangers Wharf Lock to Foxhangers Bridge Lock, spread over 3/4 mile - roughly 600 feet separation on average. The next sixteen locks form a continuous flight in a straight line up an inconceivably steep hillside. Because of this steepness, the pounds between these 16 locks are extremely short necessitating that all 15 of them are equipped with unusually large sideways-extended pounds to store the water needed to operate them. The final six locks take the canal into Devizes and are of more normal separation .
The astonishing flight of 16 locks was engineer John Rennie's solution to climbing the very steep hill and completing the 87 mile route to Devizes. While these locks were under construction a tramroad provided a link between the canal at Foxhangers to Devizes, traces of which are still visible in the towpath arches of the road bridges over the canal.
The locks take 5–6 hours to traverse in a boat and use such a large volume of water that a back pump was installed at Foxhangers in 1996 capable of returning 8 million gallons of water per day to the top of the flight - roughly one lockful every eleven minutes.
With the advent of the railways, the canal slowly fell into disuse with the last cargo barge making the journey from Avonmouth to Newbury in 1948. For a  dozen years or more the canal was neglected until a cleaning and rebuilding operation got underway in the 1960s. Gradually the canal became navigable again and joined the many others around the country providing leisure to numerous boaters and holidaymakers. Queen Elizabeth II actually opened the new locks officially in 1990 some years after they had been restored to service. Better late than never!
For pictures of the amazing flight of locks, click here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Marian's Birthday Party

This year we were actually in Fort Wayne for Marian's birthday so Martine volunteered to host a party and feed everyone with her usual gusto. Thus it was that a whole bunch of the clan congregated on Duvall Road on the 27th to witness the aging one.
Pizza, Fruit Salad, Birthday Cake and Ice Cream were all on the main course and everyone looked as if they got their fill. The usual family etiquette was clearly in evidence wherein everything presented is wolfed down in no time at all in case it should get bootlegged by a cousin or an aunt or something. Couth never was a problem in our family!
See here for more thrilling pictures.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Oxford, England - August 22, 2010

Oxford, first settled in Saxon times, was initially known as Oxenaforda - Ford of the Ox - an actual oxen crossing in early 10th century which developed into a military frontier town between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex. The earliest colleges were University College in 1249, Balliol in 1263 and Merton in 1264, all established at a time when Europeans were starting to translate the writings of Greek philosophers. Today there are 39 colleges in town but no central campus.
The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through the town, meeting south of the city center. Oxford is the county town of Oxfordshire with a current population of about 160,000. Curiously, for a few miles in the vicinity of Oxford, the river Thames is known as the Isis. Oxford buildings represent every English architectural period since the Saxons. The University of Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world.
Oxford was heavily damaged during the Norman Invasion of 1066 following which the new governor, Robert D'Oyly, built Oxford Castle to assure Norman authority over the area. Although never used for military purposes its remains survive to this day.
In 1642, When Charles I was expelled from London during the English Civil War, Oxford hosted his court. It also played host to the court of Charles II during the Great Plague of London in 1665–66. In the 1790s, the Oxford Canal connected the city with Coventry and two other canals connect this to the Thames.
The first quarter of the 20th century saw rapid commercial and industrial growth along with a population explosion. Printing and publishing was firmly established and, in the 1920's, William Morris organized the Morris Motor Company to mass produce cars in Cowley, in the south-east of the city, eventually employing over 20,000 people.
Cowley suffered major job losses in the 1980's and 1990's as British Leyland failed and it is now manufacturing the successful New MINI for BMW on a smaller site. Much of the old plant has been redeveloped as the Oxford Business Park.
In May 1954, Roger Bannister, a previous student at Oxford, ran the first authenticated four-minute mile at the Iffley Road running track in Oxford at age 25.
In July 2010, hybrid buses using battery power supplemented by a diesel generator, started service in Oxford.
More pictures available here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dover and beyond, England - August 20, 2010

The Duty Free Candy Store
called loudly to Marian
The ferry takes a couple of hours to get from Calais to Dover and, once we disembarked we drove clear around the south-side of London to our first overnight stop.
Dover, a major ferry port in the county of Kent in South East England, faces France across the 21 miles of water at the narrowest part of the English Channel. Rising from the sea to the east and west of town are sheer chalk cliffs known popularly as the White cliffs of Dover. Services related to the Port provide much of the town’s employment, augmented also by tourism. Dover’s name originated with the River Dour which flows through the town while the white cliffs gave Britain its ancient name of Albion - "white".
If it's not one thing it's another -
this is a tube of English M&Ms
In the Domesday Book Dover was noted as an important borough and of course over the centuries it served as a natural defense against would-be invaders including the French during the Napoleonic Wars and the Germans during WWII.
In 1800 it was reported that the town's population was almost 10,000 while the current population is closer to 25,000. In the meantime however, since eastward and westward growth is prevented by the cliffs, the town has grown back up the river valley absorbing numerous small communities along the way and growing its total urban head count close to 40,000 people.
Finally though, all was well when
the White Cliffs appeared
The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world and ferries crossing between Dover and the Continent have to negotiate their way through the constant stream of shipping crossing their path. The Port of Dover is also used by cruise ship passengers, and the old Dover Marine railway station building among others, cater for those passengers.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Itchy Feet... - August 15, 2010

Reading notices at the airport
After we got home from Europe at the beginning of July last year we spent a few weeks catching up with the family, fixing items that had failed during our absence and generally relaxing. Not for long. By the end of July we were ready to be on the move again and agreed that another jaunt to England would enable us to cover some other territory that we skipped when we lived there.
Penny re-victualed and ready to go
After a few phone calls and emails we were booked on a flight to Amsterdam, a ferry to England and the reciprocal arrangements for getting back home again. Mid-August was the launch date and end of September was picked as the return since the weather in England can get pretty ratty after that and we'd had enough of that in Europe. 
In line for the Dover ferry
We decided to fly Business Class to try to reduce the the horrors of the flying tube but, in retrospect, it was poor value for money.
Off to the airport, boring journey to Holland, zombie visit to storage facility to collect Penny Pilote, weary shop at the grocery store and then a good nights sleep. Next day, bright and early, off to Calais to catch the ferry to Dover and the adventure was underway.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bruges, Belgium - June 25, 2010

Bruges is one of a number of northern European cities that chooses to promote itself as the "Venice of the North" - quite a stretch, even if one hasn't been to Venice. It is however the capital and the  largest city in the province of West Flanders which is in the Flemish Region of Belgium. With a population approaching 120,000, 20,000 of whom live in the old town, it has regained some of its earlier economic importance thanks to the development of the Zeebrugge port and a burgeoning tourist trade.
Bruges' first millenium CE began with Julius Ceasar fortifying the coastal area against pirates in the 1st century, after he successfully beat off the Manapii. In the 4th century, with the Roman Empire in collapse, the Franks moved in and took charge. Pestered by Viking raids during the 9th century, Baldwin the First, Count of Flanders, reinforced the Roman fortifications and steadily built trade with England, Scandinavia and other nations. During this era, Bruges evolved into one of the largest commercial centers in the world and was granted its city charter in 1128.
Beginning around 1050, silting of the port basin gradually reduced the utility of the port and began strangling the city's prospects. A fortuitous storm in 1134 cut a new channel to the sea at which time the port was effectively relocated west to Damme, which quickly became the commercial outpost for Bruges.
Thus began 300 years of glory days for Bruges. It operated almost like an exchange, or distribution center, for the wool industry as well as for the grain and wine trades. Ships appeared from as far away as  Genoa in Italy making Bruges a vital link to the Mediterranean. Money poured in from all quarters and this huge wealth encouraged a surge of chauvinism in which the local population, with the aid of their militia, succeeded in kicking the French out in 1302.
In the 15th century the population of the city grew to 200,000 and Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, set up court, attracting a number of artists, bankers, and other prominent personalities from all over Europe. The oil painting techniques of the new Flemish school gained wide exposure and both Edward IV and Richard III of England chose the city to wait out their exiles.
The 16th century was not so kind. Starting around 1500, the channel to Damme, the conduit for the city's prosperity, started silting and the city quickly fell behind Antwerp as the economic flagship of the Low Countries. Despite a variety of efforts to regain its former glory Bruges slowly atrophied with its population declining 75% to 50,000 by the end of the 19th century.
In 1907 the new port of Zeebugge was built which unintentionally became a German U-Boat  base in WWI. It wasn't until the 1970s, when a massive expansion of Zeebrugge was undertaken, that Bruges rose again to become one of northern Europe's important ports. International tourism has also been nurtured resulting in the city being awarded the "European Capital of Culture" mantle in 2002.
More pictures here.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tournai, Waloon, Belgium - June 23, 2010

Tournai is a city in the Walloon (read French speaking, unkempt and not bicycle friendly) region of Belgium. It lies on the river Scheldt about 50 miles southwest of Brussels in the provice of Hainault. Known as Tornacum in Roman times, Tounai was of minor importance - a stopping place where the Roman road from Cologne to Boulogne crossed the river Scheldt.
Considered to be one of the most important cultural sites in Belgium with its mixed Romanesque- and Gothic-style cathedral, Tournai has been designated a World Heritage Site. Other sites of interest in town include the 13th-century Scheldt bridge (Pont-des-Trous) and the main square, Grand Place.
Our Lady of Flanders' Cathedral of Tournai is indeed one of the most important architectural monuments in Belgium. Begun in the 12th century on even older foundations, the building showcases work of three design periods, the heavy and severe Romanesque nave, the Transitional work of the transept and the fully developed Gothic style of the choir. The transept however, is perhaps the most distinctive feature with its cluster of five bell towers and apsidal ends.
After more than 700 years the Cathedral was damaged by a severe tornado in 1999 revealing underlying structural problems prompting ongoing repairs and investigation ever since.
As for Belgium, the country, it holds little promise for us. It is astoundingly dysfunctional, driven in part by language and ethnic barriers - the French speaking minority in the economically backward south known as Wallonia versus the Dutch speaking majority in the north who enjoy a thriving economy in the area called Flanders. So petty and infantile is this nation of mental midgets that they have been without a government for more than 16 months because they can't agree on which language to use. The previous government collapsed in April 2010, elections were held in June of 2010 and since then, inter-faction squabbling has failed to come up with a workable coalition. And this is the country from which the European Union is run. What a Joke!
However, even in inhospitable Tournai, there are some sights to see. Click here for more.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Givet, France - June 23, 2010

Thinking about lunch on our way to Tournai we noted a little town with an interesting layout right on the Belgian border, thus Givet became our lunch stop. Givet is a small commune in the Ardennes department of the Champagne-Ardennes region and it languishes on the left bank of the river Meuse. Local legend has it that Saint Hubert lived there in 720 CE and performed a miracle while he was in town.
Like many other towns and cities along this border area, Givet had belonged to various countries at one time or another before it first became part of France in 1678. In WWII, it was occupied by the Germans from May 1940 until September 1944. The German Ardennes Offensive had  targeted Givet and its crossing of the Meuse making it a hot-spot in the end run of the war. The British, under Montgomery, organized a last-ditch defense, and on 24 December 1944, the German drive was stopped about 6 miles from Givet. By this time, 11,000 American soldiers were billeted in the ancient Charlemont fortress barracks that had been built by Vauban 300 years earlier.
A gracefully aging town exporting pencils and tobacco pipes, there are more Givet pictures here.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Metz, France - June 22, 2010

Metz lies on the east bank of the River Moselle in the extreme northeast of France and is, since the middle of the 20th century, the capital city of the much contested Lorraine region of France. In addition to lying on the river, historically Metz also stood on major overland trade routes and became sufficiently wealthy by the middle ages to declare itself an independent republic until it was absorbed into France in 1552.
Being of  commercial importance and lying so close to the border with Germany, Metz has involuntarily flip flopped  across that border more than once in recent history and is in reality two towns - a French flavored area around the cathedral and an overtly Germanic area known as Ville Allemande to the south.
In 1870, as the German nation was coalescing, Metz was ceded to the Germans who vigorously set about the Germanification of the city. Nearly 50 years later, at the end of WWI, the city and the surrounding countryside were returned to the French only to retaken by Hitler and the Nazis early in WWII. It remained in German hands until the liberation in 1945 and given up only after a bitter struggle. It has remained in French hands since.
Metz likes to be known as the Ville Jardin - Garden City - and not without some justification. In addition to its abundant yellow limestone architecture from the use of Jaumont stone, Metz claims to have more than 270 sq ft of open ground per inhabitant, including one of the largest commercial, pedestrian areas in France. The downtown conservation area is also one of the most ambitious in France wherein about 100 buildings have been declared Historic Monuments in an area of about 250 acres.
See additional picture by clicking here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Saint Die, France - June 20th, 2010

Saint Die Roman Catholic cathedral
Saint-Dié, full name Saint-Dié-des-Vosges, is a commune in the Vosges department of the Lorraine region in northeastern France and is nestled in the Vosges Mountains about 50 miles southeast of Nancy. There is a little town center straddling the river Meurthe connected to the south through the passes of Haut-Jacques and Bruyères and to the north by the Haut-du-Bois pass. The town was largely rebuilt after the a destructive fire in 1757 and much of the rebuild was destroyed in 1944 toward the end of WWII. 
The cathedral has a Gothic nave and choir designed in the 14th century but a cloister, also begun in the 14th century, was never finished. 
The cathedral is renowned throughout France
The Reform church of Saint Martin,
built in 1902
Although a new Hôtel-de-Ville was built in 1948 it appears that the focus of the town was lost after WWII - the industrial and commercial base was never rebuilt and it has become an administrative and service center for the area. Overall, quite a sorry little village.
Click on a picture to enlarge it, click here for more pictures.

Pesmes, France - June 19, 2010 (Posted August 19, 2011)

On the journey from Luxeuil to our next overnight stop at Saint Die an interesting looking little village caught our eye so we veered off to investigate. Luck was with us seemingly, for we found a parking spot and took time out for a brief leg stretch while wandering around Pesmes.
Seemingly, a certain Guy Aymé Pesmes was in these parts in 1201 CE on his way from the Cistercian abbey to the Fourth Crusade. How, why or when this town  of less than 1,100 souls came to be named Pesmes seems lost in the mists of time. The village has been awarded the accolade of "One of the prettiest in France" and with good reason. Check out a few more pictures here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Luxeuil-les-Bains, France - June 19, 2010

Luxovium was the name of this settlement back in Roman times and at that time the town was renowned for its baths and numerous fine buildings. In the period between then and now, the area has endured a pretty traumatic time one way and another.
It went something like this: In 451CE, Attila the Hun stopped by and destroyed the place. St Columban later founded the Abbey of Luxeuil in 590 which went on to become one of the most prestigious in the whole of Franche-Comté. However, in the 8th century, the Saracens took the time to trash the abbey on their way through and it had to be rebuilt. Thereafter it was wrecked by the Normans, rebuilt again and subsequently destroyed by the Magyars, rebuilt yet again before being devastated by the Muslims in the 9th century. After that, life settled down a little and further damage was limited to occasional looting and pillaging by transient armies. Ultimately, the abbey was suppressed at the time of the French Revolution.
Today, Luxeuil-les-Bains is a quiet commune in the Haute-Saône department of the Franche-Comté region of eastern France. Check out other views here.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dole, France - June 17, 2010

Historically, Dole has been a relatively wealthy community and was in fact the capital city of its own little country, Franche-Comté, until the year1674 came around. Ultimately conquered by Louis XIV, Dole fought long and hard over the years in defense of its independence. First, the city was besieged unsuccessfully by Louis XI in 1479 and then again by Louis XIII in 1636 still without success. Finally brought to its knees by Louis XIV, Dole (and its wealth) was incorporated into the French crown by the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1674 when the region was annexed to France. Almost immediately the parliament was transferred to Besançon along with the university that had been founded by Philip the Good of Burgundy in 1422. To the Victor go the spoils, blah, blah, blah...
Today, Dole, located on the Doubs river and the Rhone-Rhine canal , half way between Dijon and Besançon (about 27 miles), is in the Jura department of the Franche-Comté region of eastern France with a population of around 24,000. Perhaps the most famous resident of Dole was Louis Pasteur the microbiologist and chemist whose name is forever associated with the pasteurization of milk and other food products.
More pictures here.

Bourge-en-Bresse, France - June 17, 2010 (Posted 8/17/2011)

Although there are some Roman remains in Bourg-en-Bresse, there is not much known about its early history. What is known is that it was granted the status of a free town in 1250 and in the 15th century was appointed the chief city of the province of Bresse. It is located in eastern France about 40 miles north-east of Lyon and 60 miles west of Geneva, Switzerland. Nowadays, it is the capital of the Ain department and has a population of 40,000 or so Burgiens, as the city folk have come to be called.
The 16th century Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-l'Annonciation de Bourg-en-Bresse shown in the slide show, sports a Renaissance façade while many of its other features are Gothic.
Among the statues in the town there is one of Edgar Quinet (1803–1875), a native of Bourg. Edgar was an historian and an intellectual who wrote pithy aphorisms such as "Time is the fairest and toughest judge." Perhaps his more visible gift to posterity is the eponymous station on the Paris Metro.
Marguerite of Bourbon, wife of Philip II of Savoy, had intended to found a monastery in Brou, a suburb of Bourg en Bresse, but died before doing so. Her daughter-in-law Marguerite of Austria, wife of Philibert le Beau of Savoy, eventually did build a church there in 1532.
Bourg-en-Bresse is not a tourist destination and the economy is largely supported by the manufacture of iron goods, mineral waters, tallow, soap and earthenware. There are also a number of flour mills and breweries.
For more scenes from around town, click here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Die, France - June 14, 2010

If, by a remote chance, you have heard of the Clairette de Die, a sparkling wine, then you are up to speed on the best known aspect of Die.
A small commune in the Drôme department of south-eastern France, Die was a former French Catholic diocese from 1678 to the French Revolution.
Through most of our visit torrential rain fell and fairly much flooded the camp site. We seized the opportunity during a break between deluges to do a walkabout and were pleased to find a cool little rural town with a variety of small shops and a sadly rundown ex-cathedral.
For more images, click here.

Entrevaux, France - June 12, 2010

Cannes, on the south coast of France, is a somewhat tired and genteel glamour-has-been that looks out onto the sunny Mediterranean Sea and silently ages. Fifty to sixty miles north of Cannes, in the tiny city of Entrevaux, one could be on another planet so stark are the differences. A narrow road follows the gorge of the river Var between Annot and Puget-Théniers and along the way runs through Entrevaux with its population of less than 1000 souls. 
Our campsite was a mile or two upriver from the city and a pleasant foot path led down to the Porte de France, one of the entry points into the inner city. Entrevaux, founded in the 11th century on a rocky spur at a bend in the river, fell to the troops of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in 1536.
Later in the 16th century, a new cathedral was constructed, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and in 1658 the bridge, guarded by towers and a portcullis, known as  Porte Royale, was constructed over the river.
The military architect Vauban was called on to further fortify the town in 1690 and, although never fully completed, the citadel perched high above the town was strengthened and a protected walkway was constructed up the side of the mountain from the town. The citadel was last used during World War I as a prison for German officers.
In spite of overcast and cool weather we had a great day exploring this unique little burg. Check out more pictures here.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Cervo, Luguria, Italy - June 7, 2010

Cervo is a small, ancient town of about 1,200 inhabitants, built on top of a hill along the Italian Riviera in Liguria, Italy. In Roman times it was a mansion along the Via Julia Augusta eventually expanding in medieval times to a fief of the Clavesana marquis, a subject of the Republic of Genoa. With its 16th century towers and ramparts still protecting the village the character of Cervo has changed little since these times.
The most obvious feature of the town is the Baroque church of St. John the Baptist that overlooks the Mediterranean 200' below.
In days of yore, employment was spread over coral fishermen in the Corsican and Sardinian seas, general seafaring and olive growing.
Today the economy is almost entirely supported by tourism with many of the dwellings in town being available as vacation rentals. It likely that the romantic charm of a medieval apartment rapidly loses its luster when faced with a 200' climb for groceries, restaurants or a dip in the sea. Still, it makes for a nice postcard.
For almost 50 years, Cervo has hosted the International Chamber Music Festival established by the Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh in 1964. Music master classes - Accademia di Cervo - are held in September, and a guitar academy is held in June. Fortunately, we missed both of these events.
For other views of the town click here.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Florence, Italy - June 6, 2010

The Italian region of Tuscany is on the west side of the top of the Italian "leg". Florence is both the largest city and the capital of this region with nearly 370,000 inhabitants. The city straddles the River Arno and  is recognized historically as the cradle of the Renaissance, a centre of medieval European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities of the time.
Florence was established by Lucius Cornelius Sulla in 80 BCE as a settlement for his veteran soldiers and was named originally Fluentia, based on the fact that it was situated between two rivers. It was built in the style of an army camp and was centered around the present Piazza della Repubblica.
Located on the main route between Rome and the north, and within the fertile valley of the Arno, the settlement quickly became an important commercial centre. During WWII Florence was occupied for a year by the Germans before being liberated by the Americans and the British.
Florentines in fact, reinvented money – in the form of the gold florin – which was instrumental in pulling Europe out of the "Dark Ages" by financing the development of industry all over Europe – from Britain to Bruges, to Lyon, to Hungary. See some of the popular Florence features here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Venice, Italy, with a fresh crew - June 6, 2010

It doesn't seem that it was more than a year ago that we hovered around the Marco Polo airport in Veneto waiting to pick up one of our grandchildren and a friend. The girls had left Fort Wayne the previous day to fly to Chicago from where they traveled overnight to Munich, Germany and thence took a two hour flight south to Venice. Weary, but in good spirits, we hauled them off to the campground at Fusina - a short ferry ride from the island of Venice where they quickly - well, eventually - erected the tent that was to be their quarters for the next month. A day's R&R and then it was off to Venice.
Over the years we have made several visits to the City of Light, Venezia, capital city of the Veneto region of Italy. Perhaps it is a combination of familiarity and the slowly declining European economy that has diminished, for us, the appeal and the mystique of this unique city. Grimier, ever more expensive, increasingly regulated and seemingly exhausted, the entire island seems overdue to sink into a watery grave. Doubtless still a revelation for first time visitors the tired old city is fast revealing itself as the anachronism it is. Click here for a guided tour.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Villach, Austria - May 31, 2010

Carinthia is a region in southern Austria bordering on Italy and Villach, with a population of around 60,000, is the second largest city in the region. The city is served by the Drava River making it an important transportation center for the entire Alpine-Adriatic region. It also is home to a large railroad yard.
Local human activity is documented as far back as 3500 BCE and numerous Roman artifacts have been discovered in the area. There is evidence that a bridge across the Drava had been constructed as early as 878 CE where modern day Villach stands. The settlement was given market town status in 1060 CE.
Much of Villach was destroyed in 1348 by an earthquake and a second trembler rattled the city in 1690. In 1759 Empress Maria Theresa of Austria bought much of Carinthia, including Villach, but the territory was lost to the French during the Napoleonic Wars.
Austria was annexed by the Germans in 1939 and during WWII allied forces dropped more than 40,000 bombs on the city killing 300 people and damaging 85% of the buildings. Today, Villach is a somewhat grimy working city with a few remnants of its early years although we thoroughly enjoyed the campground, an interesting bicycle ride into town alongside the river and a good walking tour of the city.
For more images, click here.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Regensburg, Germany - May 30, 2010

Regensburg, in Bavaria, Germany, stands at the confluence of the rivers Danube and Regen. The Steinerne Brücke - Stone bridge - straddling the Danube was completed in 1146. The bridge was a key element in the city's golden age as it opened international trade routes between northern Europe and Venice.
In 1245 Regensburg became a Free Imperial City although in the ensuing centuries its fortunes declined until in 1486 it became part of the Duchy of Bavaria. Independence was restored by the Holy Roman Emperor in 1496.
The city has a large medieval center left fairly intact by WWII which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a little irony concerning the survival of the medieval center for, in the years following the war, the local economy was severely depressed and the lack of funds curbed the ability to tear down the old buildings. By the time that the economy improved, a more conservative mindset prevailed and preservation had become the order of the day. This has worked out wonderfully for the tourist industry.
During WWII, Regensburg was home to a Messerschmitt BF-109 aircraft factory and an oil refinery and was actually bombed in August 1943 and again in February 1945, during the WWII Oil Campaign.
The cathedral is the finest example of German Gothic in the whole of Bavaria. It was founded in 1275 and more or less completed in 1634 with the exception of the towers which weren't finished until 1869. The Town Hall, dating in part from the 14th century, contains the rooms occupied by the Imperial Diet from 1663 to 1806.
Today, BMW operates an automobile production plant in Regensburg producing 3-Series and 1-Series vehicles. Other major employers include Siemens, Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen and Toshiba. Click here for a tour around the old town.