Saturday, 24 September 2016

Scouts in Sihlwald

Those of you who read our blog for more than 3 years might recall that in 2012 we have visited the Wildnis Park in Zurich, where wild animals live (almost) free. Wildnis Park is a part of the Sihlwald, a large forest covering hills on the East side of the Zurich Lake. Today, I will take you to another part of the woods. We will take the train until the Sihlwald station.

Sihlwald means literally "Sihl-wood" where "Sihl" is the name of a river that runs through the forest.

We will take the Forest Nature Trail.

The wood is not too dense but still - mind your steps as it is easy to slip on the leaves.

The trail is packed with opportunities to learn about the life in the forest. Do you know how to find out how old a tree is?

Well, you need to count the rings on the cross section of the tree. Each ring stands for one year of growth.

On many of the trees you can find cards with interesting information about the way it grows and some peculiarities of a given species. This one is silver fir. Its needles have white stripes.

The locals believe that this part of Sihlwald is enchanted.

Honestly, I am not sure why. It looks rather spooky in some parts. At least, they have created a nice path that is horseshoe-friendly.

Do you hear these noises? Look, there are boy scouts coming. They are getting ready for a bonfire.

They have made it!

The scouts were kind enough to offer me one of their sausages.

I would not like to hurt their feeling by saying openly that horses are generally vegetarians. I will sneak out silently to this nice glade and look for some tasty grass. You can keep the sausage.

Saturday, 17 September 2016


I wonder how many of you are able to pronounce correctly the name of the town we will visit today, Neuf-Brisach. I know, I know, it is not easy. Still, we cannot allow it to discourage us from visiting a unique piece of architecture and urbanism, one of the sites designed and built by the French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban who served Roi Soleil, king Louis XIV. Its construction started in 1699 which means that the town has celebrated its 300 anniversary not so long ago.

The universal values of the Vauban Fortifications was recognised by UNESCO who inscribed twelve of them (including Neuf-Brisach) on the World Heritage Sites List.

The fortified town was intended to guard the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire and, subsequently Germany. It is surrounded by a double moat delineated by city walls.

The inner moat is now used for an art exhibition. At least this is my assumption, unless these wooden piles are a sophisticated means of defence.

To enter the city, visitors need to take one of four gates in the fortifications. This one is called Porte de Colmar or the Gate of Colmar, since it faces the city of Colmar. It was probably a very smart design at the end of the seventeenth century but nowadays only one car can pass by the gates and the move of pedestrians is neither easy nor safe.

Once you stand at the porch, you can realise the protective value of the Vauban fortifications. The walls have several meters of depth.

When I entered into the town, I was almost disappointed. Neuf-Brisach proved to be just a small French town like any other.

In the middle you can find of course the market square. As you have noticed, it is quite large, which is part of the Vauban design, to protect the houses in case of cannon fire.

The church on the market square is dedicated to Saint Louis, the saint patron of Vauban's boss.

The layout of Neuf-Brisach was that of an ideal city, similar to Zamość which I have shown you some time ago. It has a regular square grid street pattern inside an octagonal fortification.


Unfortunately, it is not easy to appreciate it standing on the ground, it is only from bird-eye view that you can realise in full the amazing design that was brought to life by Monsieur Vauban. A real genius in my view.


Saturday, 10 September 2016


Italy is a beautiful country, full of amazing places to be seen. We have visited Milan in spring time. What can be better than to discover Venice by late summer? As you surely all know, Venice is a city located basically on water.

No, it does not mean that it literally stands in the sea like the pile dwellings we have visited along Lake Constance. It is simply built on a total of 117 islands of the Venice Lagoon. On bigger islands there are real streets. But in between, you will find canals. On their shores you will find museums ...

... and governmental buildings. 

And on the canals you can find boats that serve all types of purposes, including an ambulance ...

... and a postal car! Or postal boat to be more precise.

But the most famous Venetian boats are of course the gondolas, in which tourists can comfortably enjoy a ride on the waves. 

Some of the canals are rather small. It almost feels as if the inhabitants of the buildings facing them could shake hands in the morning.

Other canals are bigger. The biggest one is Canale Grande, a real water highway. 

Canale Grande, like any other highway, is very busy, so we need to manoeuvre carefully while still admiring the banks. Look on your right hand side, to this huge dome. 

It is the basilica of Santa Maria de Salute (Virgin Mary of Health), founded by the city of Venice to thank God and his Mother for the end of a plague. The church is visible designed in baroque style.

Finally, we arrive to the biggest square in the city. It is facing the San Marco Basin. 

And the square is called San Marco square, which can be further discovered from the statue of the Saint Mark's lion. Any ideas who is the saint patron of the city of Venice?

The most important buildings of the city include the Palace of the Doges, built in Venetian gothic style. Doge of Venice was the title of the most senior governmental official elected by the Republic of Venice, which lasted over a thousand years.

Just behind the palace, you will see the main church of the city, dedicated (how did you guess?) to Mark the Evangelist, aka San Marco. The tall red tower is the San Marco Campanille, being a bell tower.

The entrance to the San Marco basilica is supported by numerous columns. On top, you can see marvellous mosaics. Unfortunately it is forbidden to take pictures inside the basilica but you can have a glimpse of this amazing place here.

Above the entrance you can admire the Triumphal Quadriga or the Horses of Saint Mark. The four horses were made of bronze in the second century after Christ. They were (let's face it) stolen from Constantinople in 1204.

Would you like to see them closer? Then let's go up. From the top of the church you can admire the San Marco square.

As well as the Doge's Palace and the Basin.

Oh, what a thrill. It is me and the quadriga of Saint Mark. Alright, I need to confess - this is a contemporaneous copy. The two thousand year old original is behind us, in the basilica's museum (but no photos allowed ...).

I hope that you have enjoyed the time we have spent in the amazing city of Venice. I am sure you will not be surprised to hear that its uniqueness has deserved it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list. After all, where else in the world, can you see a view like this?


Saturday, 3 September 2016

San Marino

I am so excited to be able to take you once more to one of the tiniest states in the world. Let me welcome you today to the beautiful Republic of San Marino.

San Marino is divided into nine castles, being largely convergent with former parishes. The capital city is called (of course) San Marino. The city of San Marino is located on a high hill called Monte Titano, that dominates a large plain. You can reach it by car but you can also take the cable car, painted blue as the national flag of the country. 

From the observation deck next to the upper station you can admire the villages below the capital city and, since San Marino is the fifth smallest country in the world, obviously also a large area of Italy.

San Marino has been a republic since ever, long time before anyone anywhere thought it would be possible. For sure more than a thousand years. This is why, the palace that you will find on the main square of the capital does not belong to a king but to the people. It is the Town Hall, called here Palazzo Publico. The lady on the postument is Liberty herself.

The governmental buildings are quite modest - if everything is "ours" there is no need to show off. This one is the siege of the Secretary of State.

These unique values of San Marino which was been able to survive as a republic since the Middle Ages have gained it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Just next to the Town Hall you will find the basilica of San Marino, dedicated to Saint Marinus, the founder and patron of the Republic.

The classical style is visible both on the outside and inside.

I liked in particular two items. The ceiling with the beautiful rosettes ...

... and the throne. Of course it is not a throne for a king, since San Marino has been a republic since forever. You surely noticed that it is quite large. No, it is not meant for the boss of the largest fast food company weighting two hundred kilograms. It is simply designed for two people. To be more precise, for the double-head of San Marino. Because San Marino is headed by Captains Regent. Always two, always coming from opposite parties and always serving six months. Apparently it is a tradition that is linked to the consuls of the Ancient Rome. And since the Captains Regent share the same job, they also literally share the same chair. Or the same throne if you like.

The city of San Marino is best known for the three castles. Let's try to find them all.

The first one will be the Castello della Guaita, named after on of the peaks of the city.

This fortress has been built in eleventh century and then rebuilt in fifteenth century, to guard and protect the city.

The inner courtyard is surprisingly large.

But the most amazing element is the tower which was built without any foundations, directly on the rock. Its sharp edge makes it look a bit like sail.

When you look over the crenelage you are likely to notice the second castle.

It is La Cesta o Fratta, easy to recognise by its pentagonal tower. Why don't we go there to see it ourselves?

We need to walk along the city walls.

The second tower was built in the thirteenth century on the remainings of an old Roman fort.

Inside the tower you will find the Armory, converted now into a museum. If you look carefully, you will notice on the wall the coat of arms of San Marino, depicting (yes, you got it right!) the Three Towers of San Marino.

Actually, Cesta is the best place to see it. On right hand side you can see the First Tower of Guaita ...

... and on the left hand site, the Third Tower of Montale. Unfortunately, the last tower is not open to public. One reason can be that, as a former prison, it has its door somewhere around seven meters above the ground.

I hope that you have enjoyed this walk through San Marino. Not so often one can visit half a country in one afternoon. Now one last thing before we leave. I hope some of these will reach my Postcrossing friends before they read these words. If yes, let me know!