60 days in Europe: Day 32 / June 30

June 30, 2014 – Seville.

From my journal:
Woke feeling much better. Walked the Paseo; walked up to the top of the Torre del Oro. Walked through Maria Luisa Parque – very nice – to Plaza d’Espagna. Bought fans. Laura: haggle fail.

Cathedral: Laura visited with a horse & carriage driver while I walked around to where I could see Reál Alcazar on one side, and the Giralda Tower on the other.

Then we walked back to our room, rested a few minutes, and followed the tip we’d gotten to shop for ceramic tiles. Success, when we bought a box directly from a distributor for €22 (∼$28).

Now, how to get them home. We walked around the neighborhood, looking for dinner. Overate a nice meal at a Chinese place. Paid for AC in our room, and slept much better.

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60 days in Europe: Day 31 / June 29

June 29, 2014 – Ronda – Seville.

From my journal:
Laura got us coffees, eggs and tostado. Drove to Sevilla, via White Hills: Grazelema, Zahara (Lake).

Zahara Panorama

Saw the castle at El Cornil, stopped and walked through, up to to the top of the tower. Death trap!

Notice the 20-foot drop to rocks below, with no rails. I concluded that Spain has no trial lawyers.

Seville: Went to hostel and slept 5-6pm. Walked around. Very quiet, Sunday, many places closed.

Went to a German restaurant and had underwhelming vegetable soup. Came across a cathedral that had been consecrated by none other than Bartlomé de Las Casas.

 

Wrong. Okay, so I can’t read Spanish. This convent (not cathedral) is where Las Casas was consecrated as bishop in 1544. I can’t find any information in English about this place except this consecration and the setting up of a court of Inquisition for Seville here in 1481. Perhaps it is where the Iglesia de Santa María Magdalena was later built (1691-1709).

60 Days in Europe: Day 30 / June 28

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The drive to Ronda.

June 28, 2014 – Nerja – Cueva de Piketa – Ronda.

We drove out of Nerja back up into the White Hills in the Baetic Mountains, the system of mountain ranges in Southern Spain.

From my journal:
After breakfast we got groceries and drove to Cueva de Piketa, arriving about 3:00 – closed until 4:00. Started tour at 4:40. Awesome cave with stalactites, and paintings dated from 30,000 y.a. to 4,000 y.a., some of the most important in Europe. One ceiling was 30 m. high.IMG_3354JPG

Drove to Ronda. Napped at hostel, while Laura found a plastic fork and spoon. Ate in. Walked the town, the bridge, the gorge. Me, not feeling well – a cold.

Day 30 – Amazed to think, after seeing so much, that we’re only half way through our trip.

Ronda Panorama

60 Days in Europe: Day 29 / June 27

June 27, 2014 – Granada – Nerja.

No decent pictures from today, so I borrowed one. We had an easy drive to, Nerja Brouchure1and a relaxing afternoon and evening in a southern coastal resort town.

From my journal:
Left Granada and drove to Nerja, hitting the beaches below the Balcony
(of Europe) about 2:00. Stayed until 7:00, burning ourselves.

 

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View of the beach in Nerja, from the Balcon de Europa. We played around the rocks in the center. (Tuxyso / Wikimedia Commons, via Wikimedia Commons)

 

Back to hostel to wash up, and at dinner until 10:30.

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 28 / June 26

June 26, 2014 – Granada.

From my journal:
Got up and walked, before coffee or food, to Placeta Joe Strummer, 9:00, only about a 10-minute walk from the hostel.

At the Placeta there is also a street painting by the famous street artist, El Niño de las Pinturas.

Walked to river and had coffee and tostadas at a nice neighborhood place. Did the “Old Town walk” (R. Steves). Highlights: Alcaiceria market, watching the flamenco dancer and band in front of the Cathedral (we’d seen him the night before on our walk), tour of La Madraza.

We took a bus up to La Alhambra and got our tickets, about 1:30. We walked down to the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta and toured there, finishing about 2:40.

At La Alhambra, we got in line and entered the Palacios Nazaríes at 4:00.

 

El Partal area, Alcazaba, Generalife.

Walked down to the hostel, then went looking for dinner. Had paella at restaurant with waiter with American parents. Big sangria. Walked some more. Collapsed on bed.

 

60 Days in Europe: Day 27 / June 25

June 25, 2014 – Alicante – Granada.

From my journal:
(Alicante:) Got up and swam in the hotel pool. Drove to Granada.

Parked in the lot (taking no chances) and walked Albayzin and up to the San Nicholas viewpoint.

This is where you go to watch the sun bask Granada and La Alhambra.

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Granada: View from San Nicholas viewpoint, with the Alhambra.

Then back down to the river and Plaza Nueva.

60 Days in Europe: Day 26 / June 24

June 24/25, 2014 – Barcelona – Alicante.

From my journal:
When we first checked in, the hostel desk clerk told us we could park on any available space on the streets that didn’t have a yellow line. So Laura parked about a block away. I got up today about 8:30, Laura about 10. We were going to drive to Poblet Monastery on the way to Alicante. With the late start I realized the night before  we would miss Poblet, as it closed 12-3.

When we got to where Laura had parked, we found the car was gone! It had been impounded by the police. The guy who normally parks there (illegally) called in a complaint and got it towed. Then he parked there himself. 😦

The hostel manager helped us figure what to do. We walked down to Maragall, ate breakfast (eggs

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We paid off the guards, and busted out of the Spanish Prison for Cars. Just glad it wasn’t sent to Devil’s Island.

& bacon! 🙂 ), then took the Metro to the vehicle detention garage. We had to wait until 2:45 to make an appeal – which was rejected. We were parked on a sidewalk, they said. €218 – ouch.*

 

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Some people think Europeans don’t take terrorism seriously enough. After stumbling upon this Terrorist Office Building across from the Prison for Cars, it’s hard to disagree.

We were on the road by 3:30.

5:30 – The Monastery of Poblet. I went in by myself. This was awesome: a 12th century Cistercian monastery that included additions up till the 1800s.

7:30 – Mont Blanc. A cool little medieval walled town, with several very old churches and restored walls and tower. The St. Jordi Gate claims to mark the spot where St. George slew the dragon. This is of interest because this has been depicted in paintings, sculptures, buildings and adornments everywhere we’ve been on our trip. A captivating story.

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“We have all the right moves.”

Did not arrive at the very-well-hidden Holiday Inn in Alicante until 2:30 a.m.

Blessings: Got to see Poblet  & Mont Blanc after all. Had a great ‘American breakfast.’ The roads were empty because of the holiday. Our room was a bargain. Saw some beautiful country before dark. Found gas just when we needed it.

* About $300. Ouch ouch ouch. Just typing it hurts.

60 Days in Europe: Day 25 / June 23

June 23, 2014 – Barcelona.

Occasionally it’s really okay to be clueless while traveling.

Due to a scheduling mistake, we thought we were going to enjoy the biggest day of the year in Spain, La Fiesta de San Juan Bautista (the Feast of St. John the Baptist), the next day in the southern coastal town of Alicante. But as it turned out, we were in the very best place for it the day before – a pleasant surprise. We expected great bonfires and a festive spirit all around. It was more than that.

From my journal:
I slept until 8:30, and we didn’t leave the hostel until after noon. We walked down to Maragall to catch the Metro. We ate first. Shared a salad and hamburgues completa at a Chinese restaurant.

Metro to Juame I stop. Through La Ribera to S. Catherine Market. Over to Barri Gotic and walked all around. Got pastries and coffees.

Through La Ribera to Arc de Triomf. Took a nap on the grass. Watched some men playing Bocce.

Walked the wrong way from there. Took the bus back to the Arc. Walked through the Parc de la Cuitadella, (and on to) Barceloneta (where we had chosen to enjoy the Fiesta).

Walked to a plaza (Placa de la Barceloneta) where there was supposed to be a bonfire later. We walked to the beach and found a bonfire on our way back (in Plaça del Poeta Boscà). Turned out to be the only one we saw.

Back at the square we saw a great fireworks show (not aerial) put on by revelers in motley and masquerade. It went for some time.

Afterward we walked back to the bonfire but it was unattended and dying down. On to the crowded beach again, where we watched people, fireworks, and musicians. A little after midnight we headed home and got to the the hostel a little after one.

Aerial fireworks, along with firecrackers, are going off all over the city with no sign of winding down. 1:45 – hostel is closing this outside patio/deck.

60 Days in Europe: Day 24 / June 22

June 22, 2014 – Llanca – Barcelona.

Video: Church bells in the Llanca town square.

From my journal:
We went to Jessie’s, had coffee and tea, collected our laundry. Jessie and Nico drove us to the train station. Ticket machine was out of order, so we bought them on the train. Distance was farther than we realized, but we got the fast one – 2 hours, 4 minutes.

We went to the car rental in Barcelona, got the car, left our packs in it. Walked the Ramblas. Saw the Cathedral, Roman necropolis, Roman columns, Plaça Reial, Gaudi House, Maritime Museum. Took us about 2 hours to figure our where our hostel was and close to another 2 hours to drive there. 😦 Ate about 10:00 at a neighborhood place.

Single biggest mistake of our entire trip: not getting a GPS on our car in Spain.

Video: The Barcelona skyline from our hostel.

60 Days in Europe: Day 23 / June 21

June 21, 2014 – Carcassone – Figueres – Llanca.

Today Laura returned to Spain after 35 years. The folks in Figueres were nice enough to give her a warm welcome:

From my journal:
Caught bus to station for 10:30 train to Figueres (Spain).

Dali Museum: fabulous. The whole range of his career and work in all media. Brilliant.

The Museum was designed by Dali and he oversaw its construction. This included works done just for the Museum.

I went in by myself. We arranged to afterward meet Jessie, Laura’s childhood friend from her years in Mallorca (1976-79). Jessie is an ex-pat American who  has spent most of her life in Spain.

Met Jessie afterward, at 3:00. She drove us to her home in Llanca, a seaside village. Walked us to our hostel, then we walked to her apartment on the square, right across from the church and the old bell tower. Met Nico (Jessie’s partner) and Dario, their son.

Went to the beach and swam. Back to the hostel then to the apartment for dinner and dessert. We talked a long while about the question of Catalunyan independence. They plan a referendum in November, which the Spanish government has said it will not recognize, and has insisted not take place. As a native Catalan, Nico is conflicted about the question. He understands, and at times shares the sentiments behind independence (I notice how he always refers to Spain as if it were a different country).

Nico talked about his father, a strong anti-Spain, Catalan patriot who endured decades under the Fascist suppression of Catalunyan culture and freedom.

He also has misgivings about the consequences of independence.  I appreciated hearing such a nuanced perspective from someone to whom it is an important but complex issue.

Jessie & Nico put out a beautiful spread of food for both dinner and dessert.

After eating we went on a late night walk to the waterfront.

60 Days in Europe: Day 22 / June 20

June 20, 2014 – Nice – Carcassonne.

From my journal:
Awake at 6:00. Our train was supposed to depart at 7:25. Last night we went to the train station before dinner and printed our tickets. Apparently there is a train strike of some sort that is causing random delays and cancellations. A staff person told us our train would leave at 7:36 instead. This morning we were told it was cancelled, and to get aboard a train for Paris that would stop in Marseilles. Immediately. (7:30).

Stops: Cannes, Les Arcs-Draguignan, Toulon.

Marseilles: deboarded and immediately boarded our connection at the platform, 10:20.

Stops: Nîmes (11:25), Montpelier (11:49), Sète (12:09), Béziers (12:34), Narbonne (12:55), arr. Carcassonne, 1:30.

Took Petit Bus to the Cíte, which was the culmination of all of Laura’s hopes and dreams for our stay in France. Carcassonne was fantastic. Our hostel was right in the middle of the town, just down from the chateau gate.

Checked in, then walked the town, per R. Steves. We saw the entry to the Chateau but decided not to go in. But when we saw the ramparts by the Narbonne Gate & talked to the attendant there, we changed our minds, went back and toured it and the ramparts. Good decision! Excellent view of the town, and information about its history, excavation, and restoration.

We laid down on our beds. I slept well, Laura not at all. We ate at a kebab place, foregoing the nicer Italian and French cuisine offered at more expensive places in town.

We walked up and down some of the roads south of The Narbonne Gate – Chemin de Anglais and Chemin de Ourtets. Saw the cemetery (closed). Walked up Via Medievale and found an olive orchard/farm. But we did not find the the outer view of the city we were looking for. Walked back through the Narbonne Gate and the city to the Port D’Ande at the rear. Down a cobbled path/ramp to the streets below, then to the Pont Vieux.

Went across the river for nightfall. Then went back across the bridge The view was fantastic, though I couldn’t get a decent photo. We took an easier way back, by a street around the the north side the Narbonne Gate. Lovely.

 

“I promised you magic.”

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60 days in Europe: Day 21 / June 19

June 19, 2014 – Nice.

From my journal:
Breakfast @ hostel. Walked the Old City. Fabulous market. Laura bought lavender seeds as gifts. I bought a bar of soap.

We decided to try again to ride a bus along the Moyenne (middle) Corniche. Waited about an hour (12:30-1:30) in Place Garibaldi, but it never came. So we took one to Villefranche instead. Sunned ourselves and got in the water. Very nice.

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Villefranche on the French Riviera.

We had bought some food to cook before we went and left it at the hostel. When we got back we fixed ourselves dinner in the kitchen. Then, went for a walk again.

The hostel lies between the train station and the Old City. We went to Place Massena. They were having a series of evening concerts with three bands per night, called “Crazy Week.” We listened to a hard-rocking group with catchy guitar riffs called “Nothing.”

Got dessert nearby: lemon & sugar crepe, and pistachio/hazelnut milkshake. The second band was up, singing a song about vampires. As they say, write about what you know.

Back at the hostel, we turned in early, about 9:30, as we have an early train. Went to sleep about 10:15, and had wild dreams about getting lost amid steep streets and railroads that were crumbling.

 

 

60 days in Europe: Day 20 / June 18

June 18, 2014 – Levanto – Monte Carlo – Nice.

From my journal:
Packed and caught 11:00 train to Genoa. Then to Ventamiglia, last station in Italy.

Short connection to Monte Carlo. Walked up the Rampe to the old city. The Prince’s Palace, the St. Martin’s gardens, then to the Oceanographic Museum. It was amazing. By far the best museum of this sort (aquarium) that we have ever seen. World class. Then we walked back down to the Rock, where we tried to catch a bus to Nice via the Moyenne Corniche Rd. Driver told us it was done for the day, so we jumped on the #100. It takes the Lower Corniche.

Got to Nice about 8:00 and went to the hostel. Had a great dinner Bollywood Indian Restaurant, with e most charming server. Discussed favorite Bollywood movies, stars. (She was thrilled that we knew some Indian movies.) She recommended a newer Pakistani film, “Bol.”

Update: A few weeks ago, in transcribing this, I was reminded of the lovely woman’s tip. So I found the movie at a library and brought it home. It was very disturbing, with dark overtones about rape and sexual abuse of children and teenagers. And then of course everyone breaks out in song. We didn’t finish it.

60 days in Europe: Day 19 / June 17

June 17, 2014 – Levanto – Cinque Terra: Vernazza.

From my journal:
A beautiful, sunny day for our last full one in Italy. 🙂 After coffees in our our room (still to ourselves), we had a second one at the corner.

Then walked up to the castle, down to the boat dock, back up via the San Andrea church to the ostello. Saw the ducklings. Packed for the beach and returned to the boat dock area of the beach. Had inquired about a boat-snorkeling tour, but had to wait. Sat, went in the water. Back to fococciarria for the rest of our lunch. Ate in the park. Called, tour a no-go.

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Levanto: Medieval walls and streets.

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Levanto.

Took a nap and caught 2:30 boat for Vernazza. Looked about, walked through the rock to the beach, gelato cone in hand.
Gelato Day 16: I had a cone with a new flavor: chocolate with dark chocolate chunks and hazelnuts. Pure awesomeness.

We sat, went in the water, and sat and dried off.

We went up to the Castello Doria. On the way up we saw a place that looked great for dinner, opening at 7:00. Down below we met John & Janie D. from Colorado taking some pictures and she and I talked about her camera.

 After the Castle we saw them again and met their kids. We walked back up for dinner with a terrific view. Shrimp with tomato sauce, lasagna al pesto, and salad. Then dessert. A large family that came while we were eating found maggots in their antipasto and left. We did not find any maggots in our food and were quite happy.

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Vernazza: the view from dinner.

We were going to stay until after dark to see the town lit up, but chose instead to take the 9:30 train back to Levanto.

Beautiful, perfect last day in Italy!

60 Days in Europe: Day 18 / June 16

June 16, 2014 – Levanto – Cinque Terra: Riomaggiore – Manarola – Monterosso

From my journal:
Coffees in our room. Caught train to Riomaggiore. Met NY couple on train. Walked Riomaggiore...

…took boat to Manarola. Walked up to church and took the vineyard stroll. Very nice. Bought tickets to Ventimiglia (for the next leg, to France). Took train to Monterosso; it was 35 minutes late.

 

At Monterosso we walked the Promenade, explored a WW2 German ‘pill box,’ a small gun bunker.

Gelato Day 15: I had a small cup, one-half Mandarino (orange), one-half chocolate, a favorite flavor combination of mine – a home run!

Train back to Levanto. Dinner at Bar Nadio on the beach. Pasta with pesto, pasta penne with pomodoro, a slice of spinach and ricotta torta and a big salad.

Walked on the beach. Explored back streets with two old churches. Back to ostello.

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60 days in Europe: Day 17 / June 15

June 15, 2014 – Levanto.

We missed out on Lakes Como & Maggiore when we missed two trains in Bolzano. This gave us a day to rest before we saw the Cinque Terra. We didn’t think of Levanto as a destination; it was a base from which to see the Five Towns, but we loved it there.

From my journal:
Rested in Levanto. Walked around, bought food, emailed Mom, called Elyse, and Dad & Jane (Father’s Day), planned the next leg of the trip (France). Very nice. Mostly recuperating. Weather cloudy but not too cold. No dorm-mates – room to ourselves. Dinner: gnocchi/”fish.”

Gelato Day 14: Laura had a late night cup (9:30) of Caramel, Kiwi & Ricotta (all 1 flavor). I tasted it but did not like.

60 Days in Europe: Day 16 / June 14

June 14, 2014 – Bolzano – Milan – Levanto

From my journal:
We woke about 5:20 and left about 5:50. Even so we are soon lost. We ran about as much as we could (our legs were spaghetti) but got to the platform just as he 6:25 was zooming away. We got on a 6:36 to Verona, but it was the slow train and was not going be on time for our connection to Milan.

While riding to Verona, then Milan, we weighed whether we should push on to Lake Como, arrive late and get an additional  night and thereby make the stay worth the effort (and knocking one night off our planned stay in Levanto/ Cinque Terra); OR: Scrap Como altogether (since they had never received our reservation anyway, and had offered us new location a bus ride way from Varenna) and stay tonight in Levanto instead. When we learned we could get the extra night , and it was costing us nothing to cancel Como, we opted for the latter plan.

Arrived Milano c. 11:00. With a 3-hour layover, we rode the Metro to the Duomo, the Piazza, and lunch. Departed Milano at 2:05 to Levanto.

Arrived Levanto 5:45 and walked to hostel. Checked in, met our Aussie dorm-mates, ate calzone and raviolis down the street, had some gelato –

Gelato Day 13: Levanto. We got 1/2 chocolate and 1/2 peanut butter. Yum. Ate it sitting on the grass in the central park/piazza.

Walked to the beach. Didn’t go on the sand. We saw a thunderstorm out over the water. We went back  when we felt a drop or two. A short while later the storm hit the town suddenly and dramatically. Laura and I haven’t seen a thunderstorm like this since our Oklahoma days. Heavy downpour. Lightning very close. It’s still storming as I write 🙂

∼On this day Italy defeated England in the World Cup, 2-1. There was a celebration throughout the land, on into the night. English tears fell like rain. Whatever.

60 Days in Europe: Day 15 / June 13

June 13, 2014 – Schern – Casteltotto – Bolzano.

For our descent we took the trail on the other side of Schlern from where we went up.

From my journal:
We ate breakfast and started for Monte Pez about 8:15. Enjoyed the view , took some pictures, and returned about 9:15.

I posted a couple of pictures of this on yesterday’s entry, the ones with the cross, and looking down on the hostel.

Left at 9:30 with Reiner & Barbara (biologist and immunologist @ U. of Bonn), and Karin, a freelance writer from Sweden. We pulled ahead and stopped for coffees at Sessel Schwaige, 10:50-11:25. When Reiner and Barbara arrived they told us Karin had turned back for another trail…

It was a long walk down the other side from where we had ascended, but easier and just as beautiful, and offering forest streams and lakes. We ate at a restaurant at the lake, Völser Weiher, 2:15-3:00.

We walked further toward Siusi and caught a bus arriving Castelrotto 4:00 to pick up Laura’s pack from Hotel Wolf. At 4:30 caught  bus to Bolzano, arr. 5:20.

Missed train to Como by ONE MINUTE. Next one gets us there at midnight, after the ferries have stopped running. So we decided (had) to get a hotel room in Bolzano. Directions from Google and the hotel both failed us so it took us some 2 hours to find it. Exhaustion from the hike and deficit of sleep raised our frustration. After checking in we split a pizza nearby. We had bought tickets for the 6:25 am to Verona. We hoped we would have an easier time getting to the station.

60 days in Europe: Day 14 / June 12

June 12, 2014 – Castelrotto to Schlern.

We left Castelrotto at 11 am. Trailhead 11:30. Saltner Hütte 1:00. Left Saltner Hütte 1:30. Schlernhus IMG_20694:15.

Bus to Suisi. Cable car to Compatsch. Started out at 11:30. Break for coffees, 1:00-1:30 at Saltner Hütte.

This trail was described by the hostel as “the ‘tourist trail’ and should present no difficulties.” The first part, over rolling hills and an easy ravine was fine. But when we hit the switchback ascent to Schlern – which included crossing some patches of remaining (melting and slick) snow – it was arduous.

The time on the sign is 3 hrs 10 min. We arrived at Schlernhus at 4:15 after almost 5 hours. Thankfully we had no injuries and were not especially sore, but it was definitely beyond our level of conditioning – and air thinness left us winded every few minutes.

Video: Reaching the top of Schlern.

We laid down, before dinner – Laura slept but I did not.

We had great company at dinner, and we lingered long after we’d eaten, until we started turning in.

No showers, no hot water. Before turning in, Laura and I watched a thunder storm over the mountains behind us, from a hall window. Awesome.

60 days in Europe: Day 13 / June 11

June 11, 2014 – Venice to Castelrotto.

From my journal:
Travel day. Easy morning. Breakfast – not really; coffees and pastries. Nice visit with Mark & Carmel from Sydney, 60-ish couple on 13-month trip around the world.

Shopped for groceries. Picked up our packs and caught the train to Bolzano via Verona (3 hours).

Afternoon coffees, bus to Castelrotto (50 min), gorgeous little alpine town. So Austrian it’s like we got an extra country added to our trip for free.

Checked into Hotel Wolf. Walked the town, including an amazing little cemetery with World Wars dead memorial. Dinner at Hexenkeller (Witch’s Cellar. The town is known for it’s witch-burning past) – great Tyrolean food and down-to-earth alpine atmosphere. Local beer – Antonius. We both had pork cutlet with mushroom sauce and salad bar. Mmm!

We returned after – Gelato Day 11: S: Menta (mint chocolate chip), L: Dark Cherry mit Kirsh (cherry schnapps) – about 9:20.
The music was already underway, the room was packed with happy friendly Germans (actually, I should say, German-speakers, as they could be Italian, Swiss, Austrian or German) singing along to beloved folk songs. We got seats at the bar and ordered drinks. The couple next to us struck up a conversation between songs, and when the music resumed she locked arms with me and we joined in a line singers rocking form side to side as they sang. What a blast!