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《Europe: So Much to Discover》 __Daniel Ho (67)

Europe: So Much to Discover!  Timbits of Recent Experience as Tourists

Theoretically, the Old World should have much more history and much richer and more diverse civilization than that of the New World.  From the several trips I had been to Europe, at least I am convinced that indeed this may be so.  Recently, my wife and I visited Switzerland and then joined a river cruise on the Rhine River (from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, The Netherlands).  We also enjoyed very much the companionship, during the entire trip, of a cousin of my wife.

Our flight from Canada landed at Zurich, Switzerland.  We stayed overnight at Zurich and then took a train to Lucerne, Switzerland.  The railway networks in Europe are extensive and well connected.  Taking trains in Europe is so convenient.  Especially in Switzerland, the sceneries along the railway tracks are idyllic and soothing.

It was our first time visiting Switzerland. However, our impressions on this small nation (with respect to geographical size) are very positive.  There is no (or at least no noticeable) pollution.  The air, rivers and lakes are clean.  The sceneries are picturesque.  There are green pastures all over the country.  Sighting of cows and cattle is commonplace.  It is not surprising that Switzerland produces world-renowned chocolates, as their dairy products are excellent.  The Swiss people have been endowed with genius scientific mind on designing and dextrous skills in making time-keeping machines.  That is why Switzerland has monopolized the status as watch-makers of the world.  Japan is the only other country which is able to make some watches.  Several other nations do assemble watches but they are unable to make the core of the watches themselves.  The great majority of the world’s brands and makes of watches (including the famous and very expensive brands) are all Swiss ones.  For centuries, the Swiss people have achieved a fine reputation in making fine military swords and sharp weapons.  Even now, exceedingly sharp kitchen knives and nail clippers (all of durable quality) are still manufactured by Switzerland.

We had a chance to visit the Bucherer in Lucerne, which is a multi-storey commercial building dedicated exclusively to selling various expensive brands of watches.  There, just like the department store Harrods in London, England, if you have to ask for or concerned about the price, you probably can’t afford it.  We noticed a phenomenon.  Almost every larger store in Switzerland selling expensive watches and kitchen knives do hire Mandarin-speaking sales personnel.  Bus loads of “well-to-do” tourists from China show up at these stores.  I guess that money does talk, no matter where it is.

At Lucerne, we had the opportunity to see the Lion Monument which is a sculpture figure of a dying lion carved into a hillside.  From the tour guide, we learnt that, for centuries, the Swiss young men have been well known for their physical strength, military skills and loyalty.  As a result, other European countries hired Swiss men as mercenaries.  The Lion Monument was to commemorate the Swiss bodyguards who died while protecting the French King Louis XVI during the French Revolution.  Even now, the guards for the Pope in Vatican are traditionally still Swiss men.

We like travel on cruise ships although we may not be seasoned cruise ship travellers.  However, for our last two travel trips, we have changed from ocean cruise to river cruise ---- for a change.  We enjoyed seeing Europe by river cruise ship.  It is a different way of seeing Europe.  In the old days, because roads were not well built and not well connected, rivers in Europe, especially the major rivers such as the Danube, the Rhine, were very important and valuable means of transporting goods.  Many cities were built along rivers.  Now-a-days, when one looks at the calm, peaceful waters of a major river, like the Rhine, the past was not always as such.  Behind the present scenes were untold historical tales of vicissitudes, glories, disasters and bloodsheds.  Around the rivers, empires and kingdoms had risen and fallen; emperors, kings and powerful rulers had come and gone.  Regions had changed hands many times under different ruling nations in power.  The current languages spoken, culture practised and the type of architecture in old buildings in a place or region tend to reflect its historical past.  There had been devastating floods along the rivers.  It is not uncommon that on the walls of some buildings and on some poles along the rivers were etched horizontal lines with the date of years, indicating the highest level of water during past serious floods.  Along the Rhine, numerous ancient castles or ruins of old castles can be seen on the shore, on hillsides beside the shore or even in the middle of the river.  Obviously, the castles were used as defence against invaders.  They were also used as bases to demand tax payments from merchants passing by on ships.  Some historical remnants and statues of folklores are spotted along the Rhine, including the famous legendary Loreley statue; remains of the collapsed WWII Bridge of Remagen.

From the stops during our cruise trip on the Rhine River, the passengers were ushered to see places in Switzerland, France, Germany and Holland.  We had chance to visit local wineries.  The red and white wines produced in Germany may not be the top wines in the world but the Germans are proud of their own wines and beers.  In fact, many different places in Germany make their own unique kind of beer.

Cities and towns which we visited included Frieburg, Strasbourgh, Heidelberg, Rudesheim, Cologne and Amesterdam.  Huge and tall cathedrals are seen in many places of Europe.  Their architectures and decorations are unrivaled by North American ones.  Invariably, inside large cathedrals there are impressive gigantic organs.  On the other hand, it is sad to see that most large cathedrals are now no more than tourist spots and concert halls for organ recitals, reflecting the lost interest among the populations in worship of God or spiritual pursuits.

The tourist spots which impressed me most are as follows: the picturesque Switzerland cities; the beautiful Little France in Strasbourg; the massive Heidelberg castle ruins; interesting and multi-faceted Amsterdam.
[Please click here to view the album.]

I have a few thoughts after this trip.  Life is short, and so one should seriously consider to undertake overseas trips while one still has health and energy.  On the other hand, human feats and achievements come and go and will soon be forgotten.  It may be wise to devote our time and energy to do something of eternal value and to do something beneficial to others (instead of just to our own self-interests).  Looking just inward may rob us of the ability to see things farther and in a wider scope.  People in North America may tend to think America is top in everything.  Finding oneself in Europe perhaps may change this thinking.  Europe cannot be overlooked in technology, arts, music, culinary know-hows, among other things.  For instance, eating European cuisines in Europe is definitely a pleasure.  There are some brands of European coffee, such as Lavazza, Illy, are considered by some so-called or self-claimed coffee connoisseurs as gourmet coffees.  It is refreshing to be able to drinks these coffees right there in Europe.  Inside one cathedral in Europe, the back of the old, wooden chairs is made as a perforated wooden lattice with art pattern.  There are hundreds, even perhaps over a thousand chairs, there.  The tourist guide said that no two chairs have the same lattice pattern.  From my glances, it seemed so.  I would dare to regard this such true workmanship.

Have I been tired of visiting Europe?  Perhaps not, at least not now.  If God willing, I would like to explore more of Europe in future.

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