Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lavaux Vineyard Terraces: Never thought the Swiss have wine!

When we think of gourmet Switzerland, what quickly comes to mind are cheese, chocolate, more cheeses and more chocolates... but... not wine? Definitely not wine. I’ve never really heard of Swiss wines, well, except for Lugano white wine in the Italian part of the country—understandable, but Swiss wine in general? N.A.H. The red wine I had for my only Swiss dinner of a portion of raclette was nowhere near satisfying. I think the Swiss should best keep their hands busy in the dairy and confectionery department.

Having said all that, I was really surprised to read about the ‘Lavaux Vineyard Terraces’ in Vaud. Facing Lake Geneva and the Rhone-Alpes of France, and stretching 30 kilometers of fantastic rolling hills of scenic vineyard terraces partitioned by prehistoric stone walls will leave any visitor passing through this exquisite wonder gaping in awe. This UNESCO world heritage site is simply breathtaking! My fotos and the video below will never do justice to its unique beauty.

Sighting the UNESCO world heritage Lavaux Vineyard Terraces in Vaud, Switzerland from the SBB (stop)train.

The ‘Chasselas’, a typical Swiss white wine grape variety is cultivated in this wine-growing region. It’s said that the landscape here was formed during the last ice age: 13,000 BC. Some of today’s winegrowers are direct descendants of the first wine growers that go back to over 17 generations of handed down skills in wine cultivation and trade.

Scenes from the train of the Lavaux vineyard terraces.

This is the little Villete village train station.

Lavaux has charming hillside villages as well: Lutry, Villette, Cully, Epesses, Dezaley, Saint-Saphorin, Rivaz, Chexbres, where the visitor can utilize any of the villages as a base to explore the vineyards. The SBB stop train stops at every village and although I was eyeing at Cully and Lutry to do some quick vineyard strolling, I got distracted by the pitiable weather, as well as my feet were aching from walking the whole time and thinking of an off-the-beaten-path-little-vineyard-hiking-trip is the last thing I can accommodate in this weary psyche.

In addition, and this is just to make myself feel better, haha, I convinced myself that I have already experienced being in the midst of a vineyard terrace several years back when I visited the Mosel in Germany, twice, first at Bernkastel-Kues (scroll down to Bernkastel-Kues part) and then at Muden (scroll down to Muden part as well). So, I stuck to watching the UNESCO world heritage vineyard terraces from the train. Four times. Back and forth.

For those interested to explore and experience Lavaux the easy touristy way, there are mini cog trains (Lavaux Express) that leave from Lutry, Cully, Saint Saphorin and Chardonne. There are as well wine tasting tours but I believe only during the weekend. A cable car to Chardonne can be boarded in Vevey. For details on schedules and times (take note: the mini trains don’t go everyday), please consult the local tourist office.

Travel Period: May 2010
Destination: Lavaux (Vaud), Switzerland

Monday, June 28, 2010

Hallo kwartfinale!

With the win against Slovakia this afternoon, the Netherlands’ Oranje Team are on to the Quarter Finals of the Football World Cup 2010 in South Africa!

I’ve become a football fan this season and the Dutchman just can’t believe it haha. He’s not really into football but he watches the important games like the European Championship and the World Cup for example. Other than that he doesn’t really care much and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing orange and flying the Dutch flag during a football match.

There will be more orange fever and orange madness coming soon in this country, and I know for sure the supermarkets will go crazy on their orange giveaways, as well as the advertisements on TV will just get worse.

I’m a fan of Dutch advertising and marketing, they really embrace the concept of guerilla marketing, with a touch of sarcasm. Can’t wait!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Natherlands: Scheveningen Panoramic Shots

I finally have a new camera! Wahoo!

A Sony Cybershot HX5V with built-in GPS, 10x optic pocket super-zooming capability and tadaaah—panoramic feature. For a test drive, we went to Scheveningen Beach yesterday and did some panoramic fotos.

Scheveningen beach, the beach clubs and the Pier.

I will be doing more tests with this camera soon in other places, with the weather warm—not a fan though if it gets too warm, I will be definitely taking some days to drive down to Belgium in the Walloon area or maybe head east to Germany. I’m tempted to fly down to the south of France as well but since I’m going for a long needed summer relaxation holiday with the Dutchman soon, I’ll reserve this for later.

Did you like the panoramic shots? Here is a vertical shot of moi at the pier =)

At any rate, I am very happy with the Sony Cybershot HX5V and the only complain we have for this is the lifespan of the battery and the sound. The battery cannot handle continuous filming and the sound quality is not as grand as our old Fuji camera. This camera seriously need a second or third battery as reserve(s) and bad news, they do not come cheap.

I’m not really hard to please with gadgets so this camera is more than enough for the pretty much not-the-gadget-girl me!

Stay tuned for more fotos of Scheveningen soon.

Visit Period: June 2010
Destination: Scheveningen (The Hague - South Holland), the Netherlands

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Wieliczka Salt Mine

There are two main attractions nearby Krakow that visitors shouldn’t miss: Auschwitz Concentration Camps and the Wieliczka underground Salt Mine. Both are UNESCO world heritage sites and the tours take half a day only. They are easily booked in the many tourist points in Krakow and all you need to do is compare prices and the schedule that best fits your holiday.

Wieliczka Salt Mine is located not very far from Krakow. It is one of the oldest salt mines in the world. Since the 17th century, the mine was producing table salt, and only until 1996 when the commercial operation stopped. Nowadays, being a UNESCO world heritage site, the salt mine serves as a major tourist attraction of the Lesser Poland region boasting of sculptures and an underground cathedral hand crafted from rock salt by the miners.

I took the afternoon tour. Our group descended the mine cave via wooden stairs, 378 steps in total, and quite a long hike down really but for the unfit, there is a lift. After reaching precisely 327 meters down under, our tour guide announced that we are still above sea level. This is because Wieliczka, the town, sits on high altitude. Sebastian jokingly said that we are still higher than the Netherlands.

The Wieliczka Salt Mine entrance and our jolly tour guide called Sebastian descending the 378 wooden steps to the salt mine.

Here is a clearer view of the wooden staircase, it took some time to get down under. Middle foto is one of the chambers in the salt mine dated 1666 - very old. Right foto is a beautiful angel sculpture, hand crafted by miners from rock salt.

More rock salt sculptures hand crafted by miners. To think they are made of salt is quite mind blowing.

A walk through the history of salt mining, on the left foto you can see a wooden trolley pushed by a miner which is called 'Hungarian Dog' - maybe the Hungarians invented this or its a joke from the Polish side, who knows. Foto on the right shows a horse with a miner. Interestingly, and this is a fact, they managed to bring down a few horses in the cave during the olden days. How they did that before remains a mystery.

The underground stunning rock salt cathedral hand carved by the salt miners. Everything here is made of salt, the altar, the walls, the table, even the chandeliers, they are made of crystallized rock salt. Really impressive and so cool!

My only souvenir foto in the Wieliczka salt mine by the hand carved altar and next foto is a carving replica of the Last Supper on the wall of the underground salt cathedral.

There is also an underground lake and next foto is the fast old fashioned lift (elevator). It takes less than a minute from the bottom to reach the surface.

More fotos here: Wieliczka Salt Mine - Wieliczka, Lesser Poland, Poland

The 3.5 kilometer salt mine tour includes a visit to the underground cathedral hand crafted from rock salt by the miners, sightings of a vast array of rock salt carvings, a walk through salt mining history, passing an underground lake and a visit to a secret lake chamber that includes lights and show. There is a wellness and rehabilitation center as well, souvenir shops, a restaurant, more chapels and many interesting nooks and crannies with salt carvings.

At the end of the tour we boarded this old fashioned yet fast lift. The lift cabin is not entirely sealed; we could feel the wind blowing against our bodies and inside the cabin as we ascended in seconds to the light. Exiting the building I followed a group of ladies who I thought were with the group. As it turned out they were from a different group and when I climbed on to their bus (full of Russians)—they all shook their heads sideways and sang a chorus: “No!” LOL.

I quickly retraced my steps however I couldn’t find the rest of the group. It was becoming late, darkness started to seep in around me and I can see the last set of tourists leaving the property. I wanted to panic but I know myself, I just can’t. I’m always learning about myself every time I am in situations like this. My problem is I don’t remember where our tour bus was parked so with that dilemma in mind I went for a little walk following the souvenir shops down the road. As I was crossing the intersection, I saw a relieved Sebastian waving at me, haha.

It looks like I wasn’t the only one that lost the group. We had to wait for the other 2 French tourists as well!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brussels Art & Architecture

If you are a follower of this blog, you would know of my undying love for art & architecture. I am drawn to beautiful and ingeniously designed old buildings and I can stare at their characteristic details for a long time. When I am traveling, this is one of my highlights that I look forward to, however, the downside to this is my ever compulsive desire to take fotos =)

Here are some of my favorite Brussels art & architecture fotos and some more...

Brussels Grote Markt (Grand Place), the main town square is a UNESCO world heritage site. On left foto are the famous guild houses and on the right is the City Hall of Brussels dating back to the early 15th century and looking like a palace

Brussels Grote Markt (Grand Place): art, details, architecture.... Flemish-Italian style.

Brussels Grote Markt (Grand Place): view from a cafe terrace across the square, the impressive big building is the Broodhuis (translation: Breadhouse) that houses the City Museum as well. Right foto is a charming cafe terrace.

The 19th century St. Hubert gallery

At the Manneken Pis--this is the first time I have seen the little boy dressed.

Brussels architecture in Grote Markt (Grand Place)... signs in Brussels are both in French and Dutch.

Lovely bronze tile 'man and woman kissing' artwork on the street, and I love taking random fotos of people as well.

Hope you enjoyed the photos!

Travel Period: May 2010
Destination: Brussels, Belgium

Monday, June 21, 2010

Comic Strip Trail in Brussels

Still on Brussels... I didn’t get the chance to follow the comic strip trail that Brussels is famous for, however, I managed to see and snapped a few shots of the comic strip murals!

Brussels' Comic Strip Mural: left is TinTin (Mur BD) and right is Victor Sackville (Mur BD).

Brussels' Comic Strip Mural: left is Broussaille (Mur BD) and right is Le Passage (Mur BD).

Brussels, Belgium took post-war Europe on a whirlwind comic strip spin of the adventures of homegrown characters such as Tintin and Spirou, and later, Corentin, Blake and Mortimer, Lucky Luke, Buck Danny, Asterix, Johan and Pirlouit. The comic characters were very popular back then. Nowadays, Brussels boast of its rich comic strip history, there are 4 museums dedicated to comic strip art and dozens of comic book and merchandising shops can be found in the city.

Here is a map of the Comic Strip Trail in Brussels with fotos and explanations of the comic strip murals. The tour includes 31 murals at the moment, and increasing I believe.

Travel Period: May 2010
Destination: Brussels, Belgium

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