Luzern, Switzerland

Posted on Updated on

Image may contain: Elayne White and Belinda Govatos, people smiling, sky, outdoor and water

The craziest thing happened! Without knowing, my wonderful friend Elayne, traveled to Zurich within just a few hours of Danny and I. She didn’t know – we didn’t know, and we hadn’t seen each other in five years.

So, we found each other, finally met her wonderful sweetheart, Eric, and spent the day exploring Luzern (AKA Lucerne), which is a 45 minute drive from Zurich.

Luzern is the most populous town in central Switzerland, and is so picturesque on the Reuss River. One of it’s famous landmarks is Chapel Bridge, which was built in the 14th century.

Part of the bridge, is an octagonal 113ft tall Wasserturm, which translates to water tower. The tower existed about 30 years before the bridge did, and has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and municipal archive as well as a local treasury.

The beautiful bridge Kapellbrucke, is a footbridge that spans the Reuss River, overflowing with red geraniums, and was named the Chapel Bridge because St Peter’s Chapel is on the river close to it.

In the distance behind Luzern Jesuit Church, is Mount Pilatus which is part of the Swiss Alps.

Construction of the baroque Jesuit Church began in 1667, and was consecrated in 1677, though some parts of the interior were not completed yet. Upon entering the front doors we became speechless, as our minds and vision were whisk away by angelic choirs and intricate art.

Rich milk chocolate wood pews neatly lined the floor and various shades of peach paint rose up from floor to ceiling in breathtaking detail, accented with gold.

Every inch of every detail molded, filed and painted to perfection, and brilliant chandeliers illuminate each masterpiece as if each were the only treasure.

Our eyes were drawn heavenward and found above us a ceiling covered in perfectly framed murals – each containing detail and color of scenes like the Glory of Saint Francis Xavier, who was a patron of Luzern’s Jesuit Church.

Marble side altars – each a perfect work of art, are displayed within each of the arches on either side of the main chapel.

The streets and alleys of Luzern are also works of art. Lush ivy and cobblestone streets frame each scene.

Incredible rich paintings decorate the exterior walls of already amazing architecture – an overwhelming buffet of color and texture creating a mood of reverence even in the streets.

Many of these beautiful buildings have quaint restaurants beneath them, serving nothing but deliciousness like fondu, baguettes, hundreds of cheeses, Raclette and Älplermagronen, accompanied by fines wines and freshly brewed beers.

Clock towers, hotels that look like castles and ancient steeples add to the romance,

each with their own perfect door and threshold.

Our day in Luzern is one that will be fondly remembered and spoken about years from now…and one day, we will bring our grandchildren and walk the same cobbled streets and they will feel the beauty and be left standing in awe, too.

Switzerland countryside

Posted on Updated on

Remember the scene in Mary Poppins where she jumps into a painting and is instantly immerse in a magical scene…well, the countryside in Switzerland, actually everywhere in Switzerland, feels that way. Everywhere you look is beautiful. Greens are greener, the sky has more character, flowers are fuller, and crops growing are large and healthy. It’s jaw dropping. Overwhelming. Breathtaking.

Danny and I went for a drive just a few miles out of picturesque Zurich, and found ourselves in a the countryside. Most of the fields were so lush it just seemed unreal! Old farm houses were like those from picture books with splashes of color in every scene.

Beautiful homes with bulging window boxes filled with geranium, sweet potato vines and aster, complete each glance in a thousand directions, so magically.

Tiny villages dot the landscape, each with their own history of families living and working together to create their bliss.

Churches with beautiful steeples stand proud and tall, holding within them memories of beautiful brides, grand sermons and weeping mothers.

Even a lonesome weathered cross seemed perfectly placed…the spot where a loved one lays overlooking the endless beauty.

Though three quarters of cultivated areas are flowing with thick meadows and pasture, sugar beets, wheat, apples, grapes, carrots and potatoes are the main crops of Switzerland. Like patchwork quilts, we looked over fields of varying color and texture of leafy greens and onions.

Just around the bend we were met by a thick grove of hornbeam trees, forming an irresistible tunnel leading to a perfect light.

The feeling of peace in the woods was overwhelming, and just when we emerged on the other side feeling like our surroundings couldn’t be any more peaceful or beautiful, a farm immersed in flowers lay before us.

Endless rows of gladiolus reached heavenward like a rainbow of angels, and sunflowers gathered in a congregation of yellow heads humbly watching their sermon from the sun.

Switzerland is a spiritual experience. Its the whole meal including appetizers, drinks and a delicious dessert. I love this place. Where else, does a bicycle leaning up against a home complete an already perfect picture?

Zurich, Switzerland

Posted on Updated on

Not even 48 hours before leaving for Switzerland, did I know I was going. Danny received a last minute email requesting he fly the BBJ to Switzerland for maintenance, so he booked me a ticket to meet him, and the two of us are celebrating our birthdays a month early by exploring this beautiful country, and then flying on to Greece to explore it too.

Zurich is so picturesque! Every street we wander down, is overflowing with beautiful architecture,

perfectly placed window boxes and cascading vines,

Incredible exterior paint jobs…

and perfect attention to detail around every corner.

I have fallen in love with Switzerland. I love the vibe, the history and the people, and everything makes sense and is peaceful and relaxed.

Zurich is a global center for banking and finance and is sprawled out along the Limmat River.

It was settled over 2000 years ago by the Romans, who named it Turicum, but some settlements in the are date back over 6400 years.

German is the official language of Switzerland but the main language spoken is a variant of an Alemannic Swiss German dialect.

We walked the streets admiring quaint alley ways,

Bookstores that looked like they had been in business for centuries,

and enjoyed brat with delicious fresh bread and mustard. For dinner we feasted on fondu.

I feel so at home here as I walk through places where just maybe, some of my ancestors walked before crossing the ocean to Africa in 1652.

I told Danny I just want to stay. Live in the country and have a cow for fresh milk. Make my own cheese and butter, sew quilts, bake breads and grow vegetables, and go on a photo expedition every day!

It’s comforting to know that no matter how crazy things get in the world, there are still calm, peaceful places like this existence…

There’s an App for that!

Posted on Updated on

There’s an small price to pay for living on an Island that is so green and lush with gorgeous vegetation. Rain…and it’s ok with me, because I love the rain.

Umbrellas are a big thing here. When it’s sunny, people carry them to protect their skin from the sun, and when it rains, EVERYONE keeps dry with an umbrella. Aside from our giant size compared to short, petite Chinese bodies, we stand out like sore thumbs because we love to walk in the rain and get wet. At first I thought, wow, these people are so prepared! They have a sixth sense of when it’s going to rain and happen to carry their umbrellas with them…and then I saw them…

Umbrella dispensers! You forgot your umbrella today? It’s ok, there’s an app for that! Scan your phone and Bob’s your uncle!

Malls are everywhere here in China. Every mall has many floors and each floor is specific to either adult clothing, shoes, children’s clothing, specialty stores like make up or skin products or medical practices or spas, and finally, a floor for the eating establishments. What ever it is you’d like to purchase, no cash needed…there’s an app for that!

How about if you’re thirsty for freshly squeezed orange juice…just scan your phone…(yes those are fresh oranges that get juiced right before your eyes!)

How about picking up mail? You receive a message on your phone, go to the location and scan the app, and open sesame!

Even the little toy and candy dispensers require the scan of an app to deliver the goods!

Taxi’s are ordered, bills are payed, appointments are booked, food is ordered, goods are purchased, bicycles are rented, flights and trains are scheduled and contact is made through various apps. Living here we are finding that everything is calculated, organized and orderly. Even communication is short or abrupt with no frills like the word, ‘please’, and as I’ve walked the streets and kindly smiled at people who stop and stare at our towering bodies and odd jabber, and I smile and great them in Chinese, ninety percent of the time their look of disbelief widens, their silent stare continues, and we walk on.

Don’t get me wrong, we are enjoying it here, and are fascinated by the Chinese culture. We love the way that every so often at construction sites, water sprays out in a fine mist to keep the tidy, enclosed sites from being a dusty mess.

We find it curious the way we are often offered a glass of hot water to drink when we enter a store to look around. Ice water seems to be undesirable, and even the drinks in the convenient store coolers are just slightly cooler than room temperature. Water from the faucet cannot be drunken because of the presence of cyanide, so we purchased large jugs of purified water.

Every few days or so, someone will surprise us and all of a sudden excitedly wave or raise a high five and say “Hello!” In a happy voice, and we respond with equal enthusiasm, and I often wonder what makes the difference. Why are the tiny handful of locals so much friendlier than others? Regardless of their reasons, we are grateful, and make a mental note to always be friendly and kind to foreigners when we are in our home country. It makes a big difference.

Another beautiful day comes to a close and we feel so privileged and grateful for the opportunity to explore more of the world. Though our family seems so very far away sometimes, the world really is a small place, and we cherish each new experience and embrace each new culture – learning as much as we can and acknowledging that regardless of race and country, we are all doing the best that we can.

Feeling grounded

Posted on Updated on

When I am surrounded by nature, I feel peace. It all makes sense to me, and I am able to think clearly and creatively and feel happy and alive.

Yesterday, I had a meltdown. A full blown Belinda dissolves into an ugly puddle, meltdown. I felt overwhelmed, claustrophobic in my head and distant from anything that made sense. After a good cry, I dragged my pathetic self to Danny, who was trying to give me space, and poured our my jumbled mess of nonsensical sorrows to him, wanting him to solve it all but not wanting a single word of advice (I know…it makes no sense), and he said to me, you need to walk in the dirt with your shoes off so you can feel grounded again.

And so I did.
The airbnb we are staying in, is on the 11th floor of a building next to a large shopping mall. We are surrounded by concrete and granite and glass and plastic and porcelain.

Not too far away is an inlet, and after taking the lift down to the first floor, I made a bee line for that water. The second I reached a place where I could see more nature than concrete, I felt like I could breathe again, and I kicked my shoes off to feel the earth beneath my bare feet and instantly felt weightless and free.

My husband is a genius and he knows me well. All I needed was nature. Dirt. Grass. Trees. Water. It’s what keeps me sane. Xiamen is so interesting, because you’ll be in the middle of the city, and suddenly the regular sidewalk ends, and a beautiful park appears – like Central Park in NY. This photo is looking back toward the buildings of the city from just inside the park.

A paved path runs all the way around the park, providing a place for runners, walkers and cyclists.

It felt so good to walk on the grass, feel the textures beneath my feet, and smell the trees and plants. I took deep breaths and offered a prayer of thanks for the beauty that surrounded me.

The sand around the inlet was full of small shells, and I picked out a few to take home as a reminder.

I watched little children playing, digging, running and laughing. This was their place to feel free, too.

As I walked the grounds, I thought about how important it is to allow ourselves to take the time to feel grounded. It’s so easy to get lost in the hustle of life, that we forget to take care of ourselves, and to be our authentic selves.

I love travel. I love to see the world and learn about different cultures and traditions, and I love learning from people who live so differently from what I’m accustomed to. I believe we have so much to learn from each other. The thought of living in one spot permanently is not appealing to Danny nor I, which is such a foreign thought to many. Neither is better than the other, just different.

Some people thrive in the city, while others are happy by the sea. The diversity is what make it all balanced and functional. As for me, a simple flower. hand full of shells and my bare feet in the sand, is what makes all the difference in the world…and of course my sweet husband to remind me once in a while.

Life is good, and I have much to be grateful for.

Hukishan Fortress, Xiamen

Posted on Updated on

Hulishan Fortress is located on the south side of Xiamen Island on the top of Huli Hill. It overlooks the sea and was built in 1894 to protect the island from invasion as part of the Westernization Movement.

Hulishan is famous for its cannons. Over 50 cannons were purchased from Germany for the fort during the Ming and Qing dynasties during the years 1644 to 1911.

The Krupp Cannon is the most famous and well preserved. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the Krupp Cannon is the oldest and largest coastal artillery of the 19th century, with a range of 10 miles (16km), and the ability to launch 1-2 bullets every minute.

This is looking in to the Krupp cannon from the back side.

The fort was built with granite rocks, and the base of the fortress is made of a mixture of tree sap, liquid brown sugar, glutinous rice, sand and clay. It’s amazing that those ingredients have held up so well over all this time and against the elements.

Hulishan fortress consists of barracks, secret tunnels, a commanding tower, an ammunition depot, trenches, a sentry platform, jail cells and several other structures.

The shells used in some of the cannons were enormous, and are on display along the sides of the barracks corridors. The two main artilleries being 87 tons in weight and 280mm caliber.

Inside each shell, is a large amount of gun powder, causing them to explode on impact – which was really effective in obstructing enemy warships as they cooperated with the Yuzaiwei Fort across the sea.

Large statues are scattered throughout the 70 000 square meter grounds, depicting the efforts of those building the fort.

As we neared the end of exploring, storm clouds gathered and a beautiful glow settled over the area just before drenching showers began to fall.

Eating out

Posted on Updated on

One of the many things I find so endearing about the Chinese, is how they go about translating to English. Most businesses, menus, packaging, instructions etc, is written in Chinese, so we really appreciate the rare English text. This sign is above a convenient store, welcoming visitors, and as you can see, it reads “welcome your visiting.” I love it.

Before coming to Xiamen, Danny bought be a priceless gift in the form of a handy dandy little translator. It’s about the size of a small cell phone and we can push a button and talk into it and it repeats what we said in any of 61 languages. We can also take a photo of text with it, and it will translate the text into the language of choice. It’s been a life saver so far, and extremely clear and accurate.
Many eating establishments have pictures next to their dishes, so we try find those when we eat out, so we can pick out food to order that will be pleasing to the pallet. Here, Danny is picking out his dish before entering.

After being seated, we were each handed our cutlery – all shrink wrapped in plastic.

Along with these wrapped packages, we were handed a silver pot of boiling water and a plastic container with a long handle so that we could wash our dishes and utensils before eating.

Our glasses were the size of shot glasses. I wasn’t hungry, but ordered a large fresh mango juice, and it arrived in a tall pitcher, which we all ended up sharing.

Many of the restaurants have huge fish tanks with live sea creatures swimming around in them, so guests can pick out the critter of their choice to be scooped up and cooked fresh for them.

There are many old buildings around, and most are beautifully lit at night for the abundant night life.

It’s interesting to know though, that it wasn’t until 1980 that China really recognized Xiamen as an important place to invest in and expand, so it has only been in the last 40 years – especially the last 20 years, that the city has been built up like it is.

Citizens gather and enjoy the lights, companionship and cooler temperatures at night.

This man had an interesting way of weighing his fresh cherries. Her used a stick with marks on it and a weight, and slid the weight along the stick to figured out the produce weight.

Xiamen is a crazy concrete jungle, but we love the care that has been taken to keep green hills, trees, bushes and flowers in great abundance around the city.

Several waterways lead into the city from the ocean as well, which adds to the beauty among the buildings and roadways.

Emma and I went to a huge, modern grocery store yesterday, where everything was so beautifully displayed. Large bins of legumes were so inviting…I really wanted to climb in and play.

Also huge bins of various kinds of rice. I looked around and realized that I was the only one looking at it longingly – wanting to scoop handfuls and feel it between my fingers. I believe our sweet granddaughter, Zailyn, and I, could have tons of fun in the beans and rice!

Okra seems to be a huge favorite, and it looks so healthy and fresh!

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such beautiful cauliflower before, either! I am a fresh fruit and vegetable nut and am in awe of the produce.

Beautiful tanks also displayed large amounts of shelled creatures for sale. I wanted to buy them just for the shells.

Crabs were tied and neatly lined,

and frogs sat silently watching shoppers pick out and bag up live eels, fish and their froggy roommates.

Today we will be exploring an old fort, called Hulishan Cannon Fort. I’m excited to take lots of photos, learn and blog about it.