Europe and Bellagio

October 1994: Dusk was falling when we left Zermatt, Switzerland, for Italy. By the time we reached our hotel in Bellagio, it was too dark to see anything outdoors. However, I do recall being duly impressed with the interior decor, with its white marble and lavender and purple accents. Since our visit, the hotel has been remodeled and the contemporary touches and colors are gone, replaced with a more old-world decor.

We woke to a sunny, clear morning with a beautiful, panoramic view of Lake Como from the balcony of our room. Stuffed after a lavish brunch buffet, we hiked the narrow streets of Bellagio to shop for Murano glassware and a few souvenirs.

In the afternoon, we took a nail-biting drive around the lake with its narrow roads, hairpin curves, steep inclines, and heavy traffic. We didn’t worry about the road conditions as much as the inexperienced drivers, who often came around a sharp corner in the middle of the road.

From Bellagio, we drove through the Italian Alps to St. Moritz, where we lunched, then wound our way into Innsbruck for a day of shopping and sightseeing. Up early the next morning, we left Innsbruck for Füssen, in Bavaria, to tour King Ludwig II’s three castles: Hohenschwangau, Neuschwanstein, and his final retreat, Linderhof.

In Füssen we backtracked to the Autobahn and zipped into Munich to meet friends for Oktoberfest, staying long enough to catch up over a beer and brat, and to buy a souvenir beer mug before we sped down to Salzburg, Austria, for the night.

The next day, we toured Hohensalzburg Castle, wandered through Mirabell Palace and Gardens, and visited Mozart’s birthplace. Later in the day, the tea hour, we lingered over an espresso and a generous slice of Sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam and dark chocolate icing).

Early the next morning, we left Salzburg for a two-day visit to Vienna, both of us ready to put down stakes for a while after admitting we had packed too much sightseeing into our three-week trip.

In Vienna, we started our first day with a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. At noon, we stopped at the Hoher Markt Clock, a large glided clock designed in 1914, to watch the parade of all the figures and to listen to the melodic music that accompanied the procession. Afterwards, we toured the Imperial Palace (Hofburg).

On day two in Vienna, due to a misunderstanding by our hotel’s concierge, we missed out on our original plan to take a boat ride down the Danube to Budapest. By the time the matter had been cleared up, our boat had already departed. However, many years later, we would visit Budapest and for much longer than just one day. So day two began at Belvedere Palace and a visit to St. Charles’s Church, completing the evening with a boat ride on the Danube.

When we left Vienna, we drove along the Danube to Melk until the road detoured from the river. Here, we veered inland and sped onto the Autobahn for Passau, Germany. I wanted to see where the three rivers converged: the green Inn, the black Ilz, and the blue Danube. History says the rivers brought wealth to Passau. I saw only beauty as the three flowed into one.

Hugging the Danube, we left Passau for Regensburg, the Danube River’s oldest  medieval town. First on our sightseeing agenda was the ancient Stone Bridge with its sixteen curving arches, but we soon discovered that this charming town had a lot more to offer, so we set off on foot to explore. After leaving the bridge, we paused to snap pictures of the clock tower before we entered the city center. Our destination? The Cathedral of St. Peter (Trierer Dom). On our afternoon jaunt back to our hotel, we came across Historisches Eck and made reservations for dinner. Our five-course meal was superb.

We said goodbye to Regensburg and drove into Würzburg, interested in seeing the Residenz, the former residence of the prince bishops. While my husband lingered to admire the architecture of the building, I toured the court gardens, my sights set on the orangery. Next, we headed for the Festung Marienberg, the fortress with stunning views of the town. We saved the afternoon for a long stroll across the Alte Mainbruecke, pausing on the bridge to enjoy the vistas: the fortress high on the hill surrounded by vibrant green vineyards, the melody of the river as it constantly flowed below us, and the sight of the medieval town itself. Warmed by the afternoon sun, we wound our way through the crowds of tourists and locals, who were sipping wine or beer while listening to the musicians play. I stopped to take pictures at each of the twelve statues: two kings and ten saints that were added to the bridge by the prince-bishops from 1724 to 1746.

Road-weary on our last day, we checked into our hotel in Frankfurt and flew home the following day. My first long trip through Europe was fun, and I would return many years later, especially to Bellagio, where part of a future Darcy McClain novel will be set.


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Europe and the Alps

Reichsburg Castle

September 1994: On my second visit to Europe, I had only one “must see” on my agenda—the Alps. My husband took my request a bit too literally by making sure I saw the Alps at every opportunity. And, every mountain range was breathtakingly beautiful.

Our European trip began in Brussels, Belgium. I arrived in gray, drizzly weather, but the rain let up as we drove from the airport through the Belgium countryside to Kasteel Cleydael, a moated castle in Aartselaar in the province of Antwerp, Belgium. Parts of the building dated back to the 14th century. The castle was the home of the lords of Cleydael until the end of the 18th century. Here, we would spend our first night.

To get over jet lag and work up an appetite, I wandered through the castle, then strolled the grounds. Dinner that night, a five-course prix fixe meal, was excellent: lobster bisque, pâté with finger toasts, salad, duck breast with chanterelle mushrooms, and a mousse of white and dark chocolate. The ambience was priceless. Our window table overlooked the castle moat in the foreground and the golf greens in the background.

Our room, housed in one of the castle’s turrets, had a canopied bed and a cast iron claw-foot tub in the bathroom. The doors and windows were intentionally low to maintain heat, so my husband had to duck every time he went from the bedroom into the bathroom or vice versa. The walls and fireplace were carved from granite.

The next morning the sun cooperated, and we were able to take pictures before we climbed into the car and headed to Brussels, where we roamed the city and window-shopped. After lunch, we motored through the countryside and crossed the border into Luxembourg. We made a brief stop to sightsee, then drove to the Mosel wine region of Germany, where we spent the night in Ediger-Eller at a small B&B and ate dinner at Hotel Fieden; the meal of wild boar and lingonberry sauce was delicious.

The following day, we roamed the towns of Ediger and Eller and snapped pictures of the lush green vineyards that blanketed the steep slopes of the Calmont, the steepest vineyard in Europe. After a stroll along the Moselle River, we hiked the hill to tour Reichsburg Castle, a medieval castle that dominates the skyline. Restored in the 19th century, the interiors were designed from the imagination of the restorers. But what I found interesting was the secret passageways and the huge rooms with their massive fireplaces. The interior was surpassed only by its exterior with its commanding views of Cochem and the river.

In the afternoon we entered France but didn’t make our first stop, Strasbourg, as planned because the pouring rain showed no signs of easing. Disappointed, we left Strasbourg behind and drove through France’s Alsace-Lorraine region at a leisurely pace.

While my husband, a history buff, gave me a detailed description of the back and forth ownership of the area, I half-listened to who had ruled Alsace-Lorraine and when, the Germans or the French. I was focused on the captivating scenery of lush green vineyards, numerous castles (most in ruins), verdant pastures dotted with herds of cattle, lakes surrounded by forests of pines, beeches, and maples, and in the distance the snow-covered Swiss mountains.

From France, we crossed into Switzerland. We stayed the night in Zurich, toured the city the next day, and on the third day cruised through the Alps to Grimsel Pass for an espresso break and to take in the magnificent view. I felt like I was standing on the highest peak in the entire world, a heady experience. After our java break, we sped off to see the Matterhorn.


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