The beauty of the Swiss Alps beckoned so we spent a few days just driving around Switzerland, enjoying the breath taking scenery. Into the mountains we ventured, up the Grimselpass we drove, along a narrow road that snaked its way up the mountainside, twisting and turning, with over 12 hairpin bends. Paul kept his nerve as he steered our van around these tight bends with not a barrier in sight and a sheer drop to valley floor far below.
We passed cyclists on the way up the mountainside. These mad people were peddling for all they were worth, their thigh and calf muscles must have been throbbing and burning with each turn of the pedal.
The summit of Grimselpass is 2156 metres above sea level and after the warmth of the valley below here on the top of the world it felt a little chilly. Although it is summer here in Europe pockets of snow were still to be seen and many of the rugged mountain tops around us still had caps of snow.
The meadows and lower slopes are covered in lush green grass, dotted with dusky mauve clover, pillar box red poppies, wild sweet peas, yellow buttercups, starry faced daisies and the dusty pink of thrift and here gentle eyed cows graze. Each animal wears a cow bell around its neck and with every movement the bell dings. These soft clangs reverberate around the valleys and the mountains, its the sound of Switzerland.
We know that Switzerland is an expensive country to visit but a walk around a supermarket showed us just how expensive. Chicken breast was priced at 19CHF a kilo, that’s £18 or $30AUS and a small loaf was 5CHF, £4 or $6.50AUS. But it is a most beautiful country to visit.
We took a quick drive down the Moselle River from Koblenz to Saarburg. If you love your wine this is the place to go. There are hundreds of wine caves and cellars to visit for a tasting or two. Everywhere you look the hillsides are striped green with row upon row of grape vines. The towns and villages along the river are worth a look too, especially Bernkastel-Kues, with its half timber houses dating from as early as the 12th century.
Back in France we camped by the river at Stenay, a typical little French town where you hardly see a soul and the shops, except the boulangerie, never seem to be open.
Other than the lack of shops its a lovely spot to sit back and relax. We sat and watched the water boatman skim across the surface of the river, damselfly's flew by with a flash of the brightest blue, mayfly's danced in the air and the odd fish popped up to grab an unsuspecting fly for his dinner causing gentle ripples to brake the surface of the water as the river, oh so slowly, flowed by.
Orange, blue and white butterflies went hither and thither, from flower to flower along the river bank. Striped black and yellow bumble bees joined in the hunt for nectar too. And all around us was the continuing chatter of birds. Mr and Mrs Blackbird, with their sweet song, were busy hunting worms for their brood of chicks, yellow hammers scoured the ground for tasty seeds and the nuthatch climbed head first down the tree trunk looking for fat, juicy grubs and insects hiding in the bark. It is a beaut spot.
One of the city’s I have wanted to visit is Strasbourg. Its situated on the French border with Germany. Although a modern, hi-tech city, at its heart a maze of cobbled streets lined with houses, dating from the middle ages, still remain. Many of the doors, walls and windows are warped and crooked with age. The glass in some of the windows is as thick and distorted as the base of a wine bottle and every sill and balustrade is lined with flower boxes filled with a profusion of bright blooms.
The Strasbourg Cathedral, said to be the most beautiful in Europe, started its life in the 11th century. A place of worship has stood on this same spot for over 2,000 years and the remains of a Roman temple can be found in the foundations.
Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament. The institution meets here 12 times a year, a total of 48 days out of 365!! All votes taken by the European Parliament must take place here in Strasbourg but majority of the parliamentary work is now done in Brussels. Once a month everyone from the Brussels parliament, MEP’s, secretaries and all their support staff move lock stock and barrel to Strasbourg, then 4 days later they all move back to Brussels and it is all paid for by the tax payer. What a waste.
The north eastern corner of France witnessed the most horrific scenes during WWI and there are hundreds of military cemeteries, memorials and places of remembrance in the area to mark the great sacrifice made by a generation from across the globe.
Paul and I paid our respects at the Faubourg D'Amiens British Military Cemetery in Arras. The cemetery contains the graves of 2,652 Commonwealth Soldiers and the walls of the surrounding monument bear the names of 35,928 combatants who fell in this area but their bodies were never found.
Most of the French war dead, where possible, were repatriated with their loved ones but the hill of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette is a French national cemetery and holds 20,000 graves and the remains of 22,000 unknown soldiers. The site also contains coffins of 32 unknown soldiers from all the French wars of the 20th century.
We visited the Australian monument dedicated, with a statue of a 'Digger', to mark the sacrifice of the 10,000 Australian soldiers who were killed or wounded in the battle of Arras in 1917.
We also stopped at the largest Germany cemetery in France. Over 44,000 German soldiers have been buried here. The black crosses marking their graves seem to go on for ever. The cemeteries and the monument were very moving. I can't explain how saddened I felt at seeing so many graves and the thousands of names of the missing, presumed dead, written on the monuments. It was said to be the war to end all wars. What a waste.
We are catching the train back to the UK so will be speaking to you next time from 'Ol Blighty.
Hope all is well
Love Liz and Paul x