France – Paris – Notre Dame

There is an island in the middle of Paris formed by the meanderings of the Seine River. As early as the 2nd century it was first inhabited by the Gauls parisii, and the island became the centre of ancient Lutetia.


Seine River

The Romans, led by none other than Julius Caesar, occupied the island in 52 BC. Eventually in the 4th century the great city of Lutetia, or Lutetia Parisiorum, “Lutetia of the Parisii” was renamed Paris.

Today, the island is home to one of the largest and most well-known churches in the world: Notre Dame.


Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris; meaning “Our Lady of Paris”, is a medieval Catholic cathedral of French Gothic architecture. It was constructed over the demolished remains of a previous cathedral from 1163 to 1345.frame-2Over the nearly 200 years of construction, each successive architect changed and evolved the design which can be noticed in the different parts of the cathedral.frame-1It continues to be restored to this day. The openly visible façades are mostly clean, while the sides facing the street and the difficult-to-reach nooks and crannies are still very dirty black. It’s also one of the earliest examples of the flying buttress; an arched arrangement that extends from the upper portion of the walls to transmit the great lateral wall loads to the ground.dsc06691It’s only by stepping inside do you really appreciate the monumental scale of its beauty.dsc06659Impossibly high vaulted ceilings held aloft by huge stone columns; it’s an engineering marvel! Although, she’s showing her age with many stress cracks to be found up high.dsc06669We found the interior quite dark, mostly due to the lack of large stained-glass windows letting in natural sunlight. We didn’t complain too much.frame-4Chandeliers hang down the sides, throwing a photogenic mix of mood lighting that would make Joan of Arc proud.frame-3frame-6Among Notre Dame’s other residents, are some very lifelike (and deadlike) statues.frame-5Beneath it all lies the Archaeological Crypt, with historical ruins of the earliest Gaul settlements and some great history displays to read.


Archaeological Crypt of the Paris Notre Dame

Notre Dame is no ordinary cathedral.

But then again, Paris is no ordinary city.dsc06747Visited 7th October 2014.

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France – Paris – Museums & Churches

A long overnight bus ride due west from Heidelberg, Germany, and we had finally reached the “City of Love”.

No city in the world can compare to the romantic mix of arguably the world’s best wine, food, museums, churches, monuments, scenery…. The list goes on.
Luckily for us, Andrew’s cousin lives in Paris, so we stayed with her in the heart of the city; a small apartment with a boulangerie (bakery) next door and a cave à vins (wine shop) a few doors further down. Yep. Our world was truly French now.dsc06493The most striking feature of Parisian streets are the apartment buildings which line the wide boulevards. Thanks to the 19th century vision of Georges-Eugene Haussmann, under Napoleon III (nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte), a massive city-wide major works renovation resulted in the homogenous, but architecturally beautiful façades that are synonymous with Paris.frame-8Amongst the sea of apartment buildings, myriad museums and churches can be found, some small, some monumental!
After a rest day, we left the map (and our family tour guide who unfortunately works during the week, like normal citizens do!) at home and went exploring on our own.
We stumbled upon this:



The Pantheon.
It was originally built as a church with a façade modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. Eventually it became a mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens. The inscription above the entrance reads:
(“To great men, the grateful homeland”)frame-7
dsc06522The mind boggles at the scale of it all!
Among those buried in the necropolis are Marie Curie, Louise Braille and Napoleon Bonaparte himself.dsc06515The main central dome was under restoration at the time, which obscured the exterior from the outside and the view from the inside looking up (but perhaps not looking down?).frame-6Along the Seine River, Musée de l’Orangerie is an art gallery in the Tuileries Gardens, most famous for being the home for eight Water Lilies murals by Claude Monet. Here’s a tease…


The Water Lilies – The Clouds, Monet

There was a heck of a line to see it though. We even caught the famous actor, Benedict Cumberbatch, jumping the queue ahead of us! No lie!frame-4dsc06464Across the river, Musée d’Orsay is one of the largest art museums in Europe. It displays mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914 and houses the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world, by painters like Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.

At the time, we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the galleries. So, unfortunately, the following highlights weren’t taken by us. (Although the ban was finally lifted in early 2015 by both museums, so we just missed out on that one!)


(TL) Dance at Le moulin de la Galette, Renoir (TM) The Card Players, Cezanne (TR) Whistler’s Mother, Whistler (BL) Olympia, Manet (BM) Tahitian Women on the Beach, Gauguin (BR) Self-portrait, Van Gogh

The museum itself is housed in a former railway station. An ornate clock looks over the (still) bustling interior.frame-1Times change.
But some things were built to last.frame-2dsc06467Visited 5th to 7th October 2014.


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Bavarian Germany – Video Compilation

Music used without permission: Sia – Clap Your Hands & Chumbawamba – Tubthumping
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Germany – Stuttgart to Heidelberg

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 7: Stuttgart to Heidelberg.

Last stop on our epic Bavarian Journey through southern Germany was the university city of Heidelberg; a city of crumbling age and modern edge.frame-7We had been following the beautiful Neckar River through the last few stops of Stuttgart and Tubingen. Just a few kilometres out of Heidelberg, it flowed into the mighty Rhine River.


Neckar River

The city’s baroque style old town has some romantic cafe-lined streets to while away the hours. As well as crowds of students, Heidelberg is a tourist hotspot.frame-3In the past, the action focused around the central marketplace and Town Hall.


Town Hall

These days though the hustle and bustle is stretched along the mile-long pedestrian street (hauptstrasse), that runs the length of the old town (altstadt).


Hauptstrasse and Marktplatz

Overlooking the marketplace (Marktplatz) is the Church of the Holy Spirit, one of the few buildings to survive the many wars over the centuries.dsc06288Unfortunately, not faring anywhere near as well are the ruins of Heidelberg Castle.


Heidelberg Castle

With its mix of styles from Gothic to Renaissance, it was started in 1398 as a royal residence. Its been destroyed several times and rebuilt. Though the years have taken their toll on the ol’ red brick fortress.frame-4After lightning struck it in 1764, no further attempts were made to rebuild it. The King’s Hall was added to it in 1934, and is used for dinner balls, banquets and classical concerts. With a nice multi-levelled garden surrounding the castle, it makes for a nice scene and sunshine stroll.frame-5Oh, and the views are fantastic.frame-6dsc06359It’s hard not to notice the Old Bridge that leads to the tree-lined hills across the river. The Old Bridge Gate still stands as the gateway to the city.


Old Bridge Gate

On March 1945, German troops left the city from the approaching U.S. Army and destroyed three of the bridge’s arches in their retreat.dsc06392After the war, the university was quickly reopened and the city became a centre of learning once more. Traditionally, Heidelberg’s philosophers and university professors would walk and talk along the hilly riverside, aptly known as the Philosopher’s Walk.frame-9Wonder what they were pondering about?

Then again, with scenic views like this…
Perhaps nothing much at all.dsc06404Visited 2nd to 4th October 2014.

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Germany – Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 2

Bavarian Journey Leg 6: Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 2.
On a large rock overlooking the Echaz Valley, stands the “fairytale castle of Wurttemberg”; Lichtenstein Castle.


Lichtenstein Castle

There’s been a castle on this precarious spot since around 1100, but the current structure dates to 1842. There is a windy road that climbs through the mountains before reaching the front. You first walk past the drawbridge that leads to the front gate.dsc06216But then you peer underneath at the “moat”. Surely there was never really water there that suddenly plunged over the cliff into the abyss like it was out of a fantasy movie.
Right?frame-1Along the cliff is the viewpoint.
And what a viewpoint!frame-2We eventually caught our breath back by the time we finally reached Stuttgart, ready for a relaxing drink or two.

Too bad the annual beer festival was in town.dsc06231Cannstatter Volksfest is Stuttgart’s beer festival and funfair to rival Munich’s more famous Oktoberfest. Of course, we had started our Bavarian Journey from that very beer festival, so the bar was already set pretty high.
But Cannstatter Volksfest did not disappoint.frame-3Less well known among international tourists, this place rivals Oktoberfest in every way.
(We would nearly go out on a limb and say it was…better!)

We had met a traveller in Russia who told us all about it, so we planned for it, brought out our lederhosen again and our drinking shoes to do it all again!frame-4Lots of big tents, decorated in bright colours and all serving their own beers and foods. You can’t go wrong! Canstatter Volksfest seemed more family friendly too, with hours of fun to be had at the funfair outside too.dsc06233But let’s be honest.
We didn’t come here to win an oversized Mickey Mouse plush toy.
We stuck with the oversized beers instead.


dsc06240Visited 1st October 2014.

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Germany – Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 1

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 6: Tubingen to Stuttgart Part 1.
Tubingen is an old university town, dominated by its large student population and picturesque buildings.


Tubingen University

The Neckar River splits the town, but its the cobbled streets, local markets and cozy cafes that gives the city its character.
frame-2There are endless streets of traditional half-timbered houses. Some better off than others!frame-4dsc05981
We only had the morning to explore the city, which turned out to become a long, hard slog up some fairly steep alleys that climb the hilly terrain.



Luckily, we had filled up on some super delicious dinner the night before. Tubingen is in the historic, cultural and linguistic region of Swabia. And the most famous Swabian speciality is the maultasche; a large ravioli-like pasta with various savoury fillings.
Hotel an Schloss is the best place in town for these. Ours came in a cheesy, pine nut sauce.
Soooo rich, but soooo good.frame-1
Speaking of Schloss’, just up the road from here was Schloss Hohentubingen. It was first mentioned in records from 1078. An imposing gate leads to another climb to its main four wings and a round tower overlooking the city below.frame-3dsc05994
Next stop on the road towards Stuttgart, was Kloster Bebenhousen.


Kloster Bebenhousen

It is one of the best preserved and wealthiest Cistercian monasteries in southern Germany. Built around 1183, in became a boarding school after the Reformation in 1534 and home to many monks.frame-7
The complex has many rooms and walkways, showcasing an assortment of Gothic and Renaissance styles.frame-6dsc06098
These days its pretty quiet. There hasn’t been a monk here since 1648.frame-9
Though, with its idyllic woodland setting and serene surroundings…why wouldn’t you consider moving in?dsc06134dsc06106
Visited 1st October 2014.


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Germany – Gengenbach to Tubingen

Bavarian Journey Leg 5: Gengenbach to Tubingen.
For a brief walk back in time, we visited the Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof. It has fully-furnished farmhouses representing different parts of the Black Forest during the last 400 years.

Black Forest Open Air Museum Vogtsbauernhof

Each farmhouse gives an authentic glimpse into daily life back in the day.Frame 1

A trip into the Black Forest wouldn’t be authentic without a big slice of its famous namesake Black Forest Cake (washed down with a farmer-size shot of homemade schnapps)!Frame 2

Once out of the Black Forest and on the country road towards Tübingen, rising majestically on the mountain peak of the Swabian Alb stands Hohenzollern Castle.


Black Forest


Hohenzollern Castle

The ancestral seat of the Prussian Royal House, it is the third castle on this popular site. The first was built in the early 11th century, destroyed in 1423 after a ten-month siege, then rebuilt larger and stronger.Frame 3

The second gradually fell into disrepair, until it was rebuilt again as a family memorial by King Frederick William IV of Prussia. Nowadays, it is a museum of the art and historical artefacts of the Hohenzollern family.Frame 6

Standing in the central courtyard was a bit surreal.
It could be Disneyland..
But no. It’s a real castle.DSC05869

On the left is St. Michael’s Chapel, originating from the previous castle, with stained glass windows from the 13th century.

Frame 4

St. Michael’s Chapel

Picturesque from literally every angle, Hohenzollern Castle was another fine castle to add to our near-daily growing list.Frame 5

And not such a bad view from the top either.DSC05782DSC05878

Visited 30th September 2014.

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Germany – Freiburg to Gengenbach

SEA Bavarian JourneyBavarian Journey Leg 4: Freiburg to Gengenbach.

The old university town of Freiburg was unusually quiet, since it was a sleepy Sunday. The shopping streets were empty. The tram-lines were deserted. The students were gone.Frame 1Frame 2

In fact, only the old city’s Münsterplatz (Cathedral Square) seemed active. A farmers market is held here every day, except Sunday. Looks like we missed the action.


Munsterplatz (Cathedral Square)

As the name implies, Freiburg’s largest square is home to Freiburg’s largest cathedral; Münster.


Freiburg Munster

This gothic minster cathedral was built between 1200 and 1530 from an aesthetically pleasing red sandstone. Its towering spire was under restoration, but we got the idea.Frame 3

While we explored the empty streets, we couldn’t help but notice (and nearly fall into) the bizarre open water channels that criss-crossed the pavements. These bächle were once used to divert water from the river to provide flowing water to fight fires and feed livestock. It is said that if one accidentally falls or steps into a bächle, they will marry a Freiburger! Watch your step!Frame 9

Just one of many quirky traits this city has to stumble on!DSC05502

Back on the road again, we passed another castle.

Only in castle-land.DSC05557

On the edge of the famous Black Forest, is the popular tourist town of Gengenbach. This very traditional, medieval town has a lovely town centre (Altstadt).


Gengenbach Altstadt

At Christmas time, its 18th century town hall becomes the world’s biggest advent calendar! 24 windows represent 24 days.DSC05561

It would look something like this:

But not this time of year. Instead, the sun was shining and the locals love to decorate their traditional half-timbered houses with colourful blooms. And shopfronts too!Frame 8Frame 5We think this sign sums up Gengenbach’s desire to remain traditional pretty well.Frame 4

Gengenbach Abbey was founded in 727 and still has nice stained-glass windows inside.

Frame 6

Gengenbach Abbey

Overlooking the town is a steep hill with a tiny church surrounded by vineyards.Frame 7

A quiet couple of days after some serious castle-bashing.


Visited 28th & 29th September 2014.

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Germany – Lindau Island & Meersburg Castle

Bavarian Journey Leg 3: Lindau to Freiburg.

Skirting Germany’s southern border is Lake Constance. Across the deep blue waters lies Switzerland and Austria, with the Alps stretching along the distant horizon.

Lake Constance

Lake Constance

The historic town of Lindau is a small island off the eastern shore. Its been around for more than a thousand years, with it’s medieval legacy at every turn. There were some nice buildings to discover, especially around Marktplatz.



As the name implies, this place had a local market during our morning visit with locals buying and selling some nice fresh produce.Frame 5

Surrounding us were two interesting churches. Stephanskirche had an open green and white interior, while Munster Unserer Lieben Fran Church was ‘all out’ with ornate decorations beneath a painted fresco ceiling.



Munster Unserer Lieben Fran Church

Munster Unserer Lieben Fran Church

Across town was the very basic but important Peterskirche. Also known as the Fischerkirche, or Fisherman’s Church, it is the oldest church in Lindau at more than a thousand years old. While the windowless church tower is thought to be older still, inside the church building was a major treasure; the Lindau Passion Frescos. The walls were covered in early Gothic drawings, while now the church also serves as a war memorial.



The popular island harbour, with its grand lion statue and lighthouse entrance, was a great spot to remember that fishing is still a big part of Lindau.

Frame 9Frame 8

But then the cute but old Diebsturm Tower, which used to be a prison, also reminded us that it wasn’t all good times by the water.

Diebstrum Tower

Diebstrum Tower

We continued our drive along the road that skirts the lake, through some very picturesque fruit and vineyards for a roadside picnic lunch.Frame 10

We left Bavaria behind and headed into Baden-Wurttemberg. Ahead was Meersburg, home of Germany’s oldest inhabited castle and an outstanding lake view.



Meersburg Castle was founded by the Merovingian king, Dagobert the First, in the 7th century according to ancient legend. It used to have a draw bridge crossing the deep moat that surrounds it.

Meersburg Castle

Meersburg Castle

Inside, we toured authentic displays of a ‘very real’ look at residential castle life. With the head of an elk keeping watch over the Hall of Knights and a very gloomy looking Castle Dungeon (with viewing platform over the “hole of fear”!), this was no ordinary home. In some cases prisoners were lowered 9 meters deep and left to starve, with nothing more than 2m thick stone walls to inscribe their final words.Frame 12

Although it wouldn’t be a home without a Bakery kitchen, Bedroom and Toilet!Frame 13

Back out in the happy sunshine, we could see why Lake Constance provided the ideal home for generations and generations.Frame 14

With views like this, why leave?DSC05370

Visited 27th September 2014.

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Germany – Hohenschwangau & Neuschwanstein Castles

Bavarian Journey Leg 2: Fussen to Lindau.

Germany may very well be the land of castles (schloss in German), with Bavaria boasting the cream of the crop.

Thanks to a vital trade route that sliced through this beautiful countryside back in Medieval times, prosperity and wealth of the many kings of the land required protection. Built on the hilltops with the best vantage points across the valley, these castles are postcard-perfect.Frame 5King Ludwig II of Bavaria was an eccentric and troubled monarch. His childhood residence was the 19th century palace; Hohenschwangau Castle, built by his father King Maximilian II.


Hohenschwangau Castle

Located near the town of Fussen, this compact fortress sits on a hill overlooking Lake Alpsee. There’s been many fortresses reconstructed on this spot since the 12th century. By the time Ludwig II came to the throne after his father died in 1864, it was the official summer and hunting residence.Frame 2Frame 3The gardens and fountains were still nicely kept, with some great views from the balconies. The Swan Fountains were particularly prominent and may be the reason why he was also known as the “Swan King”.Frame 1King Ludwig II later embarked on an epic spree of building castles and palaces all over Bavaria, exhausting the royal revenues. The extravagance led his ministers to declare him insane and he was eventually deposed.Frame 4By far his greatest legacy would be the Disney-like fairytale palace of Neuschwanstein Castle, meaning “New Swan-on-the-Rock Castle”.

Frame 11

Neuschwanstein Castle

Although never completed, it was built and furnished in medieval styles but equipped with the latest technology of the time.Frame 7A steep hiking trail took us around the back of both castles for a different perspective.Frame 9DSC05162In fact, it was difficult to find an angle that wasn’t awe inspiring…DSC05185The waterfront of Lake Alpsee, lined with its old wooden buildings, gave a glimpse of a time when these castles really were the luxurious homes of kings.Frame 6The common folk have called nearby Fussen home since Roman times. Its Old Town is a pleasant change, after all the ‘castle-strolling’.Frame 10Frame 8Although, our road trip through Bavaria meant there would be more castles still to come.DSC05216Visited 26th September 2014.

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