Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Castles, Old Town Charm, Lakes, and Another Cruise...Thun

As we all know, Switzerland is one of my favorite countries.  That's why I spend as much time as possible there.  It occurred to me that I never really mentioned Thun (pronounced Toon).  I can't believe that I've never written about it.  I love it there.  When in Switzerland, you'll notice in most places that things are pretty laid back.  They are the epitome of old world charm.  No matter where you go, you will find new things, because the whole country is on the cutting edge of technology.  Everywhere you go, you will find ancient things, because they keep history alive.  That's the beauty of Switzerland, and that is alive and well in Thun.

The contrasts in Thun are amazing.  Beautiful old bridges with gorgeous flowers on your way from a modern parking garage that is fully automated with no attendants whatsoever to a modern shopping area where you can get your giant designer coffee or buy a cell phone.  It's just one of the things that make up the perfect combo of old and new in many cities throughout Switzerland.

Then there's the ultimate contrast.  The amazing city below, stretching out to the tallest of the Alps in the distance.

Thun Castle sits atop the city like the Gods are looking down on us.  It's a medieval castle that has been in the hands of many monarchs over the centuries and is now the most recognizable landmark in the city.

 The castle has been turned into a museum, and a very interesting one, I must say.  You get to see the whole castle from top to bottom, and you get to see some of the things from the past, like armor.  In most museums, the exhibits aren't as accessible as here.  It was great.

 Up you went into the turrets to see what the guards saw and get that great view of the city.

Then down you went through the several floors of the castle where you got to see the thrones, old family paintings and photos, and even the kitchen where their meals were cooked.  It was a great tour, and one of the best castle tours I've taken.

There's even a cannon in the courtyard.  Gotta love that.

 But the castle isn't the only thing in Thun.  The old town is amazing and the water is also amazing.  Flood control and hydroelectric generation are important in the Bernese Oberland.  They use that water that runs down the Alps.  It's a great way to make some power and in Switzerland's midsection, they do it beautifully.  They make beautiful bridges across the rivers and canals that are multi purpose.  So, right in the middle of old town you can find modern flood control and it fits right in.  It's just like in the summer when they have the month long music festival, they have carnival rides all over town.  You will be walking along the river and there's a ferris wheel.  You'll be walking along a side street and there's another ride.  It's unique, and you won't experience it anywhere else.

The actual old town in mostly pedestrian, because of it's age.  The streets are cobblestones, and narrow.  It's a great place for photos.  I can't lie.  You could take pictures all day in this section of town.  It's amazing and so quintessentially Swiss, with the terraces that you can eat on at the restaurants, the tiny shops that sell all kinds of things, and the flowers everywhere.  They love flowers in the summer in the Bernese Oberland.

You can do and see many things in Thun from the castle to taking a tram up a mountain just to view the city, but don't forget the lake.  Here's a real adventure for anyone.  Lake Thun is the biggest lake in the Bernese Oberland and it runs all the way up to Interlaken.  So, here's a cruise for you.  The Blumlisalp is a sidewinder paddlewheeler that runs from Interlaken to Thun.  It takes about two hours each way and has some of the most amazing scenery you'll ever see along the way.  Lake Thun is right in the middle of the Alps, and I can't tell you how beautiful that is.  Don't miss it.

So, old world, new world.  Welcome to Switzerland and welcome to Thun and the Thunersee.  It's all a great way to get to know Switzerland a little.  I mean, this is a country that was several city states that melded together into one pot.  They've each kept a distinctive personality about them, but they've also steamrolled into the modern day.  There are so many amazing things in Switzerland that it would take all day to talk about it and more.  So, check out Thun.  You will find a lot of amazing things that are purely Swiss in that city, and you'll have a great time.
Enjoy! l|pcrid|4555561741|pkw|switzerland%20train%20prices|pmt|bb|

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Latest About Cruises

We all know that I am not a real fan of cruises.  I'm an explorer, and it goes against my grain to spend too much time on a ship and not enough soaking up the local culture.  That's me, and I know that a lot of people love to cruise, so once in a while I try to throw something in there that's an Adventure for Anyone.  So, I've found some rather unusual cruises that you might enjoy.

I have long touted river cruises as a great alternative to ocean voyages.  They tend to take smaller groups and stop at more places along the way.  You have less cruise time and more port time, which I love.  The cruise ships that Viking and other companies run still have great food, accommodations, and amenities.  You won't lose out there.  I don't think that they have any thrill rides or surfing spots, but that's okay.  I could pass on the full on casinos too.

Companies like Viking are famed for their exotic tours though.  Their trip through Russia is one of their best known, and it's a great way to see a land that pretty much requires some help.  You can't just go running off to Russia and see everything.  It's more complicated than that.  In this case I do advise that you take a tour or a cruise that will help you with the idiosyncrasies that go along with a trip to a place like Russia.

Sailing is another popular alternative to conventional cruise ships.  Windstar has been sailing around the world for years.  They have all kinds of cruises that go to all kinds of places.  It's a different feel, a different atmosphere and a different clientele.  You'll love it if you really like to go on a voyage and sail the seven seas.

These days there are all kinds of cruises that go all kinds of places.  I've talked about going to Cape Horn and Antarctica.  Those are pretty common.  Now there are some lines going to places like Abu Dhabi and the Azores.  They are getting out there.  You can cruise up the Amazon and down the Nile.  You can take a river boat on the Mississippi.  There are various cruises to places like Alaska, Hawaii, and Norway.  It all depends on what you like.  They have all kinds of activities as well.  They even have cruises for Swingers.  I won't get into that, but they exist.

Being a foodie has been all the craze lately.  Our society used to cook, because it was necessary.  Now, people can just heat and eat, and with their busy lifestyles, it's easy for them.  Along comes Bourdain and crew and makes being a foodie a thing, so several cruise lines, like Oceania, are offering cooking cruises.  There are the kind where you try different dishes and wines and are hosted by celebrity chefs.  On Oceania though, you get to go to school.  That's right, they offer a culinary arts course on the cruise.  This is something very different to do while on a cruise.  It's affordable as cooking schools go and it's a lot of fun.  It's something new to try on a great cruise line.  You'll still have luxury and a lot of things to do.  You'll still go to great ports of call and see wonderful things.  But, you'll get an education in how to cook as well.  It's a lot of fun.

It's the land of the frozen north.  For centuries men died trying to find that passage across the northern side of the American continent.  Now, you can go and see it on a cruise.  There are a few companies that offer the cruise of the Northwest Passage.  Abercrombie and Kent are the ones that I'm acquainted with.  These cruises are expensive and they take sometimes weeks to go on.  But, if you really want something different, jump on a modified icebreaker and head out to the arctic north.  The scenery is something that you won't ever see anywhere else and it reminds you that we really should save the planet.

I've long been looking for a way to travel all around the world "By Any Means" as Charley Boorman did from Ireland to Australia and beyond.  The northwest passage cruises tend to go from Greenland to as far as Anadyr Russia. What this does is bridge the gap that I have previously not found a way to bridge between Greenland and Canada.  Just had to mention that.  But, at any rate, you get a great trip to see what northern life is really like.  You get to visit up to four countries and have a great chance to see the northern lights.  It's a fascinating trip and it's one that shouldn't be missed.

So, if you like to take cruises, these are probably not for you.  If you're not really into that and you've always wanted to try it, think about these.  It's a great way to combine real adventure with cruising.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Little Piece of Connecticut...Harkness

Sorry about my absence last week.  I was down due to computer problems, and it will probably happen again before it's over.  So, moving on to what I was doing while the computer was out.  I took a little day trip to a park that I'd heard of but never been to--Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, CT.

The centerpiece of Harkness park is the Eolia Mansion, named after the island home of the Greek God of winds.  The mansion was built in 1906 and was the home of the Harkness family thereafter.  The grounds cover 230 acres and run right up to Long Island Sound.  The downside to this place is that you cannot currently tour the house.  You can look in the windows and see that it's not furnished much anyway.  They say that they are working on getting the tours started again, so hopefully that is fixed soon.  But, that's the only downside here.

The gardens are some of the best parts of this one.  I found Harkness because I was searching for some nice gardens to visit.  They have a greenhouse that is more active for visiting in early spring.  They have Italian gardens with arbors and fountains, sculptures and ponds all around three sides of the house.  They are beautiful, fragrant, and a great place to enjoy a beautiful day.  They also open up to a great view of the rest of the grounds.

The grounds are wide open, with amazing views all up and down the shore of Long Island Sound.  There's a beach available for sunbathers.  There's a picnic and family area that's huge and has plenty of amenities that's right off the beach.  There's a huge lawn that goes right to the rocks along the shore in other places.  There's even a rocky beach that's full of nesting birds part of the year, so you can bring your dog to the park, but please do not take dogs on the bird nesting area of the beach.

Harkness is a beautiful spot, with beautiful buildings, gardens, lawns, shore, and beach.  It's a restful and photogenic place to spend the day.  Next to the park there is a camp for autistic children, so if you have that need, check it out.  The park costs $10 to get in per car, so come and enjoy a day with amazing views.

Then again, if you like cars, or love cars, come visit Harkness on the first Sunday in June.  If you love British cars, this is a must.

Every year the Connecticut MG Club sponsors British By The Sea.  It's all cars and Land Rovers British.  There are so many cars that you won't be bored or disappointed.  I can vouch for the fact that Connecticut folks love to have car shows, so we've all been to a thousand of them, but this one is different.  Most of the time you see the same old cars that just spend the summer and fall touring the state and stopping at all the shows, but these are different.  I saw things there that I'd never seen anywhere.  I saw things I'd never heard of.  It was great and it was a learning experience for me.

So, cars, architecture, and nature.  It's a well rounded day, and something for everyone.  It's a great place to spend a little time and unwind.  It's also particularly great for shutterbugs.  There are many things to do in the area though, being one of the busiest tourist areas in the state.  Mystic, both Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Casinos, Groton Submarine Museum, Dinosaur Park, Eugene O'Neil Theater, and Ocean Beach Park are all right in the area.  It's also not far to the Long Island Ferry in New London.  So, spend a day or a week having fun in the sun in Connecticut.  Take some time and stop by Harkness Memorial State Park and have a great time.  Enjoy!