Sunday, August 26, 2018

Midsummer Europe Adventures: First Week

First Week: Germany to Italy

(Written by Katrina)
First Week │ Dolomite Alps │ Sexten Dolomites │ Bavarian Castles

Europe has such an incredible wealth of history, culture, and natural alpine beauty. For this trip, our main goal was to visit family and friends, while exploring new areas we’d never had a chance to visit before. In particular, our main destination was to be the entirely-new-to-us area of the northern Italian alps known as the Dolomites.

A few quick highlight photos:


* * *

Our trip started on Sunday Jun 24th with a 10hr direct flight from Seattle to Frankfurt, Germany. (Dealing with a 9hr jetlag is never fun, but the flight was nicely timed overnight, so we could get some sleep on the plane, but still be tired enough to adjust to the earlier night the following day.) In Frankfurt, we rented a car, and drove north to spend the first few days with Michael’s grandmother in Cologne. Arriving in time for dinner, we had a warm welcome by not only his grandmother, but also his grandmother’s niece Lena (which apparently makes her a cousin-once-removed to Michael) and his uncle Evgeny, visiting from Berlin. Evgeny prepared several excellent feasts for all of us, and we really enjoyed the family gatherings!

* * *

Wednesday morning, we headed out for the second part of our trip: a 3.5 day drive from northern Germany to northern Italy, heading through eastern France and Switzerland for some sight-seeing. We were also excited that Evgeny was able to accompany us, later catching a flight out of Italy. 

Our first destination was Hirschland, a very small town in Alsace where there's a decent chance that some of my ancestors on the Kline side immigrated from back in the 1700s. As an avid Francophile, I find this potential French link quite interesting (never mind that Alsace was predominantly German when my Kline ancestors might theoretically have lived here, and that the cultural blending and French linguistic dominance didn't come till after they'd immigrated...)

Area around Hirschland

Rolling fields around Hirschland -- not unlike where my dad's Kline family lives in Indiana!

Later that afternoon, we stopped for a short hike among wooded hills to stretch our legs and visit the medieval castle ruins of the Chateau du Guirbaden, along with some ancient celtic menhirs and dolmens (the path, which includes large informative signs, is known as the “Sentier des demoiselles de pierre”, or the “Path of the Stone Maidens”).

Ruins of Guirbaden Castle

Guirbaden Wall

That evening, we stayed at a hotel established within the Mont Sainte-Odile, a monastery first founded around the end of the 7th century.  The monastery sits high above the surrounding plains and has been a popular pilgrimage site over the centuries.

Mont Sainte-Odile

The following day, we toured the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsburg, a medieval castle that was completely reconstructed by the German Emperor Wilhelm II in the early 1900s in an effort to reinforce Germanic rule in Alsace (which had recently been won back by the German Empire after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871). The reconstruction was completed in a remarkably quick eight years, thanks to large amounts of funding and some impressive engineering, like an electric crane, rail tracks leading to a nearby quarry, and unusually-early electric lighting [see A Modern Building Project for more info]. Unfortunately for Wilhelm II and his intention to assert Germanic rule, the castle was confiscated by the French state after WWI, and has now become a French historical monument and popular Alsatian tourist site.

Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg

Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg

The Inner Staircase

Views from Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Stork decoration, above the lamp.  Storks are an iconic symbol of the Alsatian region.

Our last stop in Alsace was the picturesque village of Bergheim, one of the many towns along the Alsatian “Route du vin” or “wine road”. 

Picturesque Alsatian village: Bergheim

Michael and Katrina in Bergheim
Bergheim Steeple
Live Iconic Alsatian Stork

After driving into Switzerland and dining in the scenic Interlaken, we got to enjoy some beautiful views deep in the Lauterbrunnen valley while undergoing a bit of an adventure finding our Airbnb for the night.
Evening View from Lauterbrunnen Valley

Early the next morning, we toured the Trummelbach falls – a series of glacial-melt roaring waterfalls that has carved itself into the mountain’s edge in a series of tunnels and caves. It’s always impressive to see the power of water and the beautiful rock formations it can create.
Evgeny admiring one of the waterfalls
Waterfall tunneling through the stone

Later that day, traveling over the Swiss alps to eventually make our way into Italy, we stopped near the Furka pass to enjoy an afternoon alpine hike, looping below and across the 9,070ft Sidelhorn [see Circular Hike Sidelhorn for a rough description]. The weather was perfect, and the scenery gorgeous: alpine meadows with just-blooming wildflowers, herds of local black-faced sheep, and views of countless snow- and glacier-covered towering peaks.

Alpine landscape, dotted with black-faced sheep

Katrina, with black-faced sheep nearby
By the way, for those wondering about the large pack: I pretty much always carry a large backpack on day-hikes now, to help me train and prepare for longer multi-day hikes, where we need to be able to carry 35lbs multiple days in a row.  This is automatically easier for Michael, being a guy and all, so usually on day-hikes I grab a backpack with all our stuff, while Michael gets to go backpack-less...


Black-faced sheep

Closeup of Black-faced Sheep

Incredible alpine views

Alpine view, complete with lake and far-off glacier

Michael sitting atop Sidelhorn

Katrina atop Sidelhorn

Michael and Katrina atop Sidelhorn, with Michael pointing picturesquely towards "distant peak yet awaiting"

Evening views with rays of lowering sun

By the time we finished our hike, we were too late to view the Rhone Glacier ice tunnel (maybe some other time), and instead continued towards the very southern tip of Switzerland, on the border with Italy.

* * *

The following day, we made our way through Milan traffic towards Vicenza, where we said goodbye to Evgeny, and met up with Erik Tomsen, Michael’s best friend from middle and high school, along with Erik's wife Svenja, and two daughters (Savannah – 9, and Linnea – just under 3). Because of the warm temperatures, we spent the afternoon playing with the girls in a nearby pool. 

The next day, Erik – who’s spent the last few years stationed in Vicenza working with GIS for the US Army – took us on a tour of some of the nearby sights:

The medieval walled city of Cittadella

Michael and Katrina overlooking Cittadella

Michael and Erik atop Cittadella fortress wall

Michael and Katrina on Cittadella fortress wall

Gardens inside Cittadella walls

Bassano del Grappa – famous for its covered bridge that has been fiercely fought over and frequently destroyed and rebuilt through the years thanks to its strategic position:

Famous Bassano Bridge

    Erik's hand being devoured
    Erik's hand being devoured

    The town of Marostica (and the short hike to the upper castle above the town of Marostica):
    Flowering Wall in Marostica

    1 comment:

    Helen Kline said...

    I love these posts and seeing your travels. Did you try to pet the sheep?