Posts Tagged ‘Joe and Kate’

Epic Road Trip – Swiss Alps


For this half of the Two Tramps, cars have played a big part of the entire experience while living in Germany.  Before arriving, I went through a dream list of cars I would love to drive while we were here.  The criteria were relatively simple:

  • German (I have a penchant for German cars, having been raised surrounded by Volkswagens and BMW’s)
  • Something not available in the US (let’s face it: Europeans have many, many more choices than we do in the States, and often many better cars from which to choose)
  • Diesel.  Diesel is cheap(er), efficient, and the engines have torque.

Top on my list, then, was the BMW 1-series hatchback.  And lo and behold, with the help of a colleague and fellow 1-series diesel driver, I ended up with a 2007 120d.

BMW 120d.

Now, I surely did not get this car for the color.  Nor did I choose it because I like paying a premium for a car I used only a few times per month.  No, this was the right choice because BMW’s are driver’s cars.

And what better way to experience and enjoy the drive than through the Swiss Alps?

For my side of the family, the Road Trip is a way of life.  1400 miles (2200 km) in a weekend is no big deal.

My better half, though, has not quite come around to this way of thinking.  So, rather than subject her to strenuous speeds and curves, my Dad came for a visit just as Lauren left – and we headed for the alps.

Auf wiedersehen, Lauren!

You must have clearly defined roles on a Road Trip.  Otherwise confusion can set in.  Luckily, with only two participants, the roles are simple:

The Driver:

Russ and the 120d.

The Photographer:

Behind the scenes of the best pictures.

Of course since we’re both Drivers and Photographers, these roles are not set in stone.

The Driver photographing the Photographer. Driving.

And with that, we set out on a semi-soggy day in southern Germany, through cloudy Austria, along Liechtenstein, into Switzerland, and scraping Italy.  All in one day (even after more than a year here, this still impresses me).

Our base of operations was Chur, Switzerland, the country’s oldest city, and the seat of the Romansh-speaking region, though German dominates.  From Chur, we headed for the San Bernardino Pass, and other points.  Time to let the pictures do the talking.

The Pass looks like an intestine, which is directly related to the effect driving this road has on the stomach.

Complete with bells, which could be heard from quite a distance away.

Sittin' on top of the Pass (it was cold!).

Entering the Italian-culture region of Switzerland. Besides road signs, the GPS started calling number-named roads 'tredici' and 'due.'

We did not actually see this happen.

Beautiful, sunny, and warm: Locarno, on Lago Maggiore, where I pushed the German out of my head and tried my best to remember Italian.

Heading for the next pass.


Temperature dropped to 3 degrees C on top of Oberalppass (back to German-speaking).

I realized, suddenly, that I could no longer read the road signs. I know scuola in Italian, and schule in German. And now I know scola in Romansh.

And so our day ended back in Chur, as Dad kept track, 7.5 hours, 338 km, and 4.87 GB worth of pictures and videos later.

And I promise, Lauren, to take you back, and to stick to the straighter roads. 🙂


Island Hopping

I just realized that I’ve been using the word “hopping” a lot lately.  Despite the overuse, because we were so close to Easter while island “hopping” and we actually “hopped” on Easter itself, I’m leaving it.  Nonetheless, one of the islands we hopped to on the Bodensee was the beautiful Insel Lindau.  In my mind, Lindau is the perfect little place.  It is small enough to be able to walk around the entire island; there are ample opportunities to take out boats, both large and small; it has a fantastic pedestrian shopping area…and then, of course, there’s these:

Beauty in Lindau

Alps via Lindau Insel

Aside from wandering around in Lindau and pursuing water-sports, there’s not a whole lot to do aside from sitting along the water at the harbor, watching boats come in, eating Bavarian cuisine, having a glass of wine, and welcoming the sunset.  Totally okay with me.  So okay with me that we did it twice–once with the LaBarcas and again when Pam came a couple weeks later.  The pictures below are a mishmash from our time on the island during both of the visits, and I’ll try to explain what is what in captions.

Lunch on the Island with Mom

Introducing Pig Knuckle

Ordering “Schweine Hax’n” or “pig knuckle” really seemed like a good idea at the time.  After all, while Joe&Kate were here, Joe really really really wanted one, and we couldn’t find it anywhere.  So when I saw it on the menu, I felt like I had to order it to rub it in, make Joe  jealous, pay homage to my father-in-law. 😉  After two bites, it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.  I mean, seriously, it’s just a huge, honking piece of meat.  It wasn’t too long before I gazed longingly at Russ’s chicken and imploringly asked my loving husband if he wanted to “switch for awhile” aka “can you please deal with this enormous hunk of meat?”

Zeppelin sighting in Lindau

Cute Hotel with Mom LaBarca

The Rathaus, city hall

Beautiful Flowers

Pedestrian Shopping/Eating Area

Wisteria-covered Houses

Pretty shot, Joe 🙂

The best part of the island was definitely the Harbor.  It seemed to hold most of the action of the town, and it was the best place to relax, grab a bite, and view the mountains. Boats announce their presence by blaring their horns, and they pull in between the lighthouse and the Bavarian Lion to dock.

Dinner Spot with the LaBarcas

Traditional Bavarian Fare

Lindau Harbor

The Harbor at Lindau

The Bavarian Lion

Sunset on the Island

Tranquility at its finest!  And a fantastic place to share with our family. 🙂

Spring Frenzy

It has been a ridiculously long time since I last posted, but I have an excuse!  Maybe not a good one, but here goes.

1. We’ve had lots of visitors.

2.  The weather!! How could I possibly think about blogging when I could be outside in the gorgeousness.

Now that we’re between visitors and, quite frankly, my allergies can’t take any more, it’s time for me to hop back into blogging.  And there is A LOT to talk about.

We were lucky enough to have two separate visits since I’ve been on hiatus; we welcomed Russ’s parents for just under 2 weeks and then my mom came for a week!

With all this action, there’s nowhere to start except at the beginning.  Except for the fact that the beginning of the visit with Russ’s parents started with Volkswagen car museums, and we all know that I’m not starting there.  I’ll leave that part to Russ.  So I guess we’ll start somewhere in the middle, after all.

THE BODENSEE! One of Europe’s little gems, this “sea” is actually a lake smack dab in the intersecting middle of Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and a wee bit of Liechtenstein. It’s a great place to go “country-hopping,” which you can do by car, bicycle, or boat.  We actually visited here twice, once with Joe&Kate and once with Pam.  On Joe and Kate’s visit, we had the goal of setting our feet in Switzerland, so we took a wonderful 45 minute boat ride from Friedrichshafen, Germany to the other side of the lake, landing in Romanshorn, Switzerland.

Boardwalk at Friedrichshafen

Boat coming into port

Leaving the shore at Friedrichshafen

Too hazy to see the Alps

Zeppelin rides, anyone?

Approaching Romanshorn

The Dock at Romanshorn

Our boat transported cars and motorcycles, so it was interesting to watch all the vehicles start their engines and drive right off of the boat!  After the pedestrians were permitted to exit, we spend a nice, leisurely few hours in Romanshorn, walking around the lake, exploring churches, enjoying spring flowers, and getting a bite to eat.

Romanshorn Harbor

Spring Flowers in Bloom

Cool Shot in Romanshorn, Switzerland

The Alps Appear

The Alps Loom over the Harbor


Joe and Lauren must feel the alpine waters

Our boat arrives!

Heading back to Germany

Warning: this is the start of many, many posts.  They probably include lots of pictures of lakes and mountains and blooming apple trees and castles and….well, you get the idea.  Spring is beautiful in Germany!

Castello di Gargonza

Allow me to introduce Castello di Gargonza, our relaxing dwelling for 2 nights.

The Tower from a Distance

Entering the Grounds


Gargonza's Tower

Looking up through the garden/terrace

The Chapel Bells

The Chapel

Part of the Village

and the VIEW!

So after winding up curvy roads for about 15 minutes, you come upon Castello di Gargonza, a fortified village that literally dates back to the early 13th Century.  The castle has an interesting history, once functioning as a large 900 acre share-cropping farm for farm families.  The little village was completely sustainable and even had an olive oil mill, a parish, and a school!  The villagers eventually left Gargonza and in the 1900’s the Count who was bequeathed Castello di Gargonza converted it completely into apartments for short and long stays. Today, each of the apartments are named after a farming family who originally took residence in the village!


Like I said before, this beautiful village holds a very special place in the hearts of the LaBarca clan.  For several years during the summer, Russ’s grandparents traveled to Italy and stayed here at Gargonza.  They were there so often that I believe the owners actually called them “residents.”  In 1995 and 1997, Russ’s immediate family was lucky enough to join them for a couple weeks. Check it out.  And be sure to giggle at Russ.

In the Garden '95

In front of the tower '95


'97; Russ actually wanted to do this when we were there. I'm not sure he would have fit. 😉

Inside the Nerina Apartment '97

On top of the Tower

So as I’m sure you can tell, Russ had really fond memories of Gargonza.  We spent a lot of time there reminiscing and searching for old stomping grounds.

We found Fonte-Blanda, one of the apartments in which they stayed


and the window in Nerina which Russ and Irene would opposed to the door

We enjoyed fantastic, Tuscan cuisine at the restaurant on the premises–fresh pasta (they were all out of boar!), delicious antipastos, and really, really good wine.

Ristorante Torre di Gargonza

Ristorante di Torre Gargonza, Present Day

We ate at 7:30, too early for Italians


Lovely Tuscany

Handsome and Beautiful

We had such a fantastic time at Gargonza–for Russ, reliving the past.  For me, envisioning the future?  Perhaps we’ll be back someday. 🙂

Thanks to Kate for taking the time to send the pictures from ’95 and ’97.  To see more pictures from our stay at Gargonza:


Or to check out Gargonza’s website (where I got the information about its history):


Barcelona Part 3–The Mediterranean

On our last day in Barcelona, (Joe unfortunately had meetings to attend), Kate, Russ, and I took public transportation to get to the Mediterranean.  Since seeing the beautiful blue expanse of water from the top of Tibidabo, I couldn’t wait to get my feet in the sand!

We spent some time wandering around Barceloneta, the port, and the shopping mall.

The Port

Russ's Favorite--Note the Helicopter!

The Port

And finally…

The Sea!


Ahh, Beautiful!

The Beach

Making My Way Down to the Sea

From the Reef

The beach where we wandered is part of Barceloneta and is a fishermen’s district.  It is one of the most popular beaches in Barcelona and spans for about 4 kilometers.  Beautiful!

After walking along the beach for a while, we made our way into more of the city and found a beautiful lookout spot, Miramar. 

The Port

View from Miramar


Christopher Columbus Statue

The Christopher Columbus Statue is one of the most famous in Barcelona.  He points out to the sea, which symbolizes Barcelona’s reliance on and gratitude to the sea. 


I wish we had more time to spend in Barcelona!  Now I can spend time planning our next visit–more Gaudí, the Picasso Museum, BEACH time, and more!

Freshly Pressed and Barcelona-part Dos!

Wow–what a week!  It was quite an honor and surprise to be chosen for Freshly Pressed!  For one day we felt utterly famous; many many thanks for all the thoughtful comments that we received.  We hope we’ve gained some new followers. 🙂

Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Barcelona–Part 2!  Tibidabo and Collserola Park

On Saturday evening we planned to make our way up to the top of a mountain to get a great viewpoint of Barcelona.  We discovered Tibidabo as many tourists do…


Hey What's That Building at the Very Top of the Hill?? Let's Go There!

And so we began our trek to Tibidabo.  Our goal was to reach the highest part of the mountain (512 meters) where Tibidabo Amusement Park is located.  To get to Tibidabo proved to be quite complicated.  We first hopped on the subway system, then the light rail, then the cable car, and finally a funicular that escorted us to the top.  In the last 4 months, we’ve taken more public transportation than we have in our entire lives!!


Our Cable Car

I got to stand right up front with the driver which allowed me to see out to some beautiful Haciendas!

The Funicular Station

The Funicular

Take Me to Tibidabo!

We arrived at the top where the 360° view over Barcelona and to the Mediterranean Sea took our breath away!  We looked out over hills that were carpeted with green, mountains adorned with beautiful, ornate houses, and the city which is backed up by the sea.  Stunning!

Meditteranean Woodlands

Looking Toward the Sea

Fabra Observatory--100 Yrs. Old!

City View--Can You Find La Sagrada?


The view was impressive (though the haze of the day is obvious in the pictures), but there was more to be seen on the mountain.  What drew our attention here originally was the building that was framed against the sky, situated on the very top of Tibidabo–Church of the Sagrat Cor.

Church of the Sagrat Cor

While Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, the Church of the Sacred Heart, has no real architectural prestige, it was still beautiful.  On the top of the church stands Jesus with open arms.  He seems to watch over Barcelona, as the church can be seen from most vantage points in the city.

The Very Top of Sacred Heart

The Church

The Inside of Temple del Sagrat Cor

The oddest part of Tibidabo, for me, was the promiximity of the Tibidabo Amusement Park to Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor.  It was slightly disconcerting to me, as if a holy place had been tainted by the need to make money.  This juxtaposition had me particularly intrigued:

Holy Temple and....Ferris Wheel??

I’d probably feel differently if we had kids.  Take a look at some of these rides through and around the mountain, where I’m sure the view is equally spectacular!

Coaster on Tibidabo

Tibidabo Amusement Park

The Famous Airplace that "Flies" Out Over the City--Russ Thinks the Propeller Actually Functions!

 I let the church-and-play disparity go and enjoyed myself.  How could I not!  The view was simply amazing! 


One more post on Barcelona and our time by the sea coming soon.  Please remember to check out the rest of Russ’s Barcelona pics in the meantime:

Bienvenidos a Espana!

On Saturday, we left this…

Rainy Stuttgart

…and walked into this!!

Beautiful, sunny Barcelona!

Welcome to Barcelona, city of famous architectural-artist Gaudí, and much more!  The city is so unique; part of it was built/designed by Cerdá in the 19th century with the city blocks shaped orthogonally.

Orthogonal Blocks

Along with being a city of architectural genius, Barcelona held the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, holds a great history of Roman culture, and borders The Mediterranean Sea.  Where to start?! (Can you tell that I love this city??)

Before leaving for Barcelona, I was eager to brush up on my Spanish and see how far it got me on our trip.  However, I soon learned that the people of Barcelona do not speak Spanish as I know it.  The official language of Barcelona is Catalan, an offshoot of Latin.  Though the language was completely different, Spanish can be understood in Barcelona pretty well, and of course, most people at tourist destinations speak a little English.

After taking a cab from the airport, we arrived at our beautiful hotel, Havana.  We had 2 separate rooms, but they were connected in the same little private corridor.  It was like we had our own private suite.  🙂

Hotel Havana

Lauren in front of Hotel Havana

Hotel Havana at Night

For the rest of the post, I’m not going to write a detailed hour-by-hour account, but post by topic instead.  There is SO much to see that you’ll have to look at the rest of the pictures on Russ’s site.

Gaudí’s Architecture

Barcelona is not titled “The City of Gaudí” without purpose.  The city reveals at least 10 Gaudí works, the main attractions of Barcelona.  After reading more about Gaudí, I’d like to go back just to see more of his work and to go inside all of the buildings.  His muse was nature, and he mimicked it in his buildings with a little imagination, of course.  His pieces stand out as colorful, Modernist, and illuminating.

Casa Batllo--the colors on this place were amazing

The facade produces a duality between organic and artificial. The appearance of bones and plants vs. masks and mythical forms.

La Pedrera--the masterpiece of this is on the roof, which unfortunately we didn't get to see this time around.

The last and biggest piece we were able to see is the most famous in Barcelona, and is yet to be finished! In fact, it wisn’t scheduled to be completed until 2025. This is Gaudí’s most massive undertaking, La Sagrada Familia. This church is cathedral-like in many ways, and yet is unquestionably in its own category. It is so large, it occupies an entire block of the city. This massive undertaking began in the 19th century with Gaudí himself devoting 40 years to the cathedral.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

Directly below La Sagrada

Perspective--Joe and Kate walk up the ramp

Note the difference between the new and old parts.

The outside of La Sagrada is amazing; intricate details and scenes of religious stories adorn the walls.  The inside, however, is like nothing I’ve seen before.   It’s a huge space, but Gaudí has filled it with such light!  His detailed plans allow colors to fall throughout the entire cathedral, accenting the white space.  It’s amazing!  and still unfinished.  There’s no way the pictures can communicate what this was like, but they get pretty close with our 2 photographers!

Inside of La Sagrada Familia

The Ceiling

La Sagrada

Vivid Stained Glass

We waited in line to get to go to the top of the cathedral and look down over the city.  It was a long wait, but totally worth it (even though there wasn’t much room at top).  It was neat to see the spires still in construction and then to walk down the spiral staircase and stand out on some small balconies.  Joe even found us waiting for him at the bottom!

Looking Out Into Barcelona


At the Top!

Looking up The Spire from the Staircase

Aaaand looking down!

Where's Waldo Again?

Overall, La Sagrada was fascinating.  We even got to eat dinner the first night at a nice little Mediterranean restaurant near Sagrada, so it loomed over us as we ate.

Joe, Kate, and Lauren dining in front of La Sagrada Familia

Whew!  There’s so much more to say about Barcelona.  Look for more soon.  I’m tired!