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European Tour, March 2016
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Having taken the car back to England in January we decided to make a holiday of the return trip. Catching the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge we then did a brief tour of Germany, Switzerland, France before making our way home to Spain.
As dawn broke we were nearing the end of our journey across the North Sea. This is the view from the (rather misty) cabin window. Having docked and driven to Cologne the first thing we did after checking in to the hotel was to walk along the banks of the Rhine. This is the Hollenzollern Bridge which, along with the Dom, is an icon of the city. Although almost totally destroyed at the end of WW2 the bridge has been rebuilt and is, as it was then, a major transport link into the city. Whereas once it was a road and rail bridge it is now only for trains with a pedestrian walkway on each side.
And this is the view when walking over with the evening sun glinting off the waters of the Rhine. The water may not look to be moving very fast but appearances can be deceptive - there was an awful lot of water flowing under that bridge. The first job the following day, after breakfast, was to climb the Dom (cathedral) tower. This is the main bell but to get there you have to climb 533 stone spiral steps. Not an issue when you are fit but in our case ... Up some more steps, though this time on an open steel construction, brings you to the very top. Darryl decided not to do this bit but the views, as you can see, are something special.
Please excuse the shadow of the metalwork in this picture - it was well enclosed in both metal and cross-link fencing and getting the lens between them was no easy job. The following morning we went back to the Hohenzollern Bridge to walk across to the other side and to the Triangle (more of that shortly) and these are the padlocks each marked with the names of lovers who attach their padlock to the bridge then throw the key into the river below. There are thousands; this is just a small part of them. And this is the Triangle at the top of which is an observation tower which you can take a lift to for the princley sum of 3€
As you can see, we did, and here is Darryl with camera at the ready because there are some spectacular views of Cologne, such a the Dom in the background of this one. and, not to be outdone, it's also at the back of this one of Stuart. in fact it's the best place to get birds-eye view of the centre of Cologne
In the afternoon we decided to go to the world-famous Kölner Zoo, just a short ride away on the U-Bahn (underground/tram system). We were met there by some spectacularly coloured flamingos and, yes, they really were this colour! Rather less colourful were the hippos. They weren't for doing much, just wallowing as they do. In fact the whole zoo is set up really well in that the animals seem to be given enclosures as near to their normal habitat as is possible and the visitors are given second consideration with good views where we can do so without affecting the animals. Just as it should be. Our favourite part of the zoo is the big cats area. First a majestic cheetah on the prowl.
then a Snow Leopard basking in the sunshine and finally, proving that no matter how big the cat is they still like to play, the Tiger. but then to prove his point, a spectacular roar.
Not the prettiest of creatures, and as deadly as any, the Crocodile. Always ready to perform even though feeding time was a good hour or more away, were the seals. and finally the ungainly and fascinating world of the giraffe before we headed to the aquarium. Unfortunately there are no photos there as it was too dark.
Our visit over we went for dinner at a restaurant in the Old Town down by the river and then for our final walk on the riverside. The following day, and with a good weather forecast, we headed for Boppard a small town a couple of hours south of Cologne. Unfortunately the forecaster was wrong as it remained grey and cold all day. We'd booked a lovely hotel overlooking the river and this is the view up the river from the small balcony. and the view down the river from the same spot.
The Rhine is a working river so you see many barges carrying all sorts of goods up and down it as well as, in this case, some rather large passenger cruise ships. The next day we drove along the side of the Rhine, past the mythical Lorelei near St Goar a siren who was supposed to lure unsuspecting sailors onto the rocks below where she sat but, though pretty, there were no photo opportunities because of the grey weather, But at least we saw it. We were heading for Geneva. This is where the famous Jet d'Eau fountain is though you won't see it … … as, due to the closure of an autobahn on our journey south to Switzerland, we arrived after it had been switched off for the day. All we saw was the dreadful Geneva traffic so we quickly made our escape over into France!
We were staying in Annecy, a beautiful town just over the border. This is the Palais de l'Isle a 12th century residence, court house, prison, mint and, now museum and one of the town's most famous landmarks. And this the Lac Annecy on which the town sits. It was still a bit of a grey day but the lake is very beaustiful even covered in mist. The water really is this clean - this is a view of the bottom of the lake through about 2ft of water though you'd hardly know it was there, the water that is.
The following day we decided to take a trip on the lake. It was chilly but the sun was trying to break through As you can see, it succeeded. It looks as though we were going at speed but we weren't - the draught of the boat has to be quite shallow so it kicks up a lot of wake. There are other towns on the lakeside and, though I'm sure the announcements by the guide told us what was what we were only half listening lest we miss something to look at.
Although you can hardly make them out there are some very high mountains that rise straight out of the lake. They were still snow covered so merged into the grey of the clouds. As we returned to the small harbour at Annecy you can see how calm the waters are. They never freeze, getting down to 4° at worst and, in the summer, can be as high as the mid-20's much to the joy of the summer holiday-makers. That afternoon, and with improving weather as you can see, we climbed up the steep hill to the chateau. Foolishly not checking the opening times before we set off, it was closed when we got there! But the walk did us good and the views were, as they are all around, well worth it.
Back down at the lake we had one last look in the daylight before heading off to find our evening meal. After dinner we walked around town and came across this, the Hôtel de Ville or Town Hall, lit up and spectaularly reflecting in the fountain outside it's front door. It is a very impressive building
Our last stop on our trip was Barcelona and a good 7 hour drive from Annecy so there are no pictures of that day but the following one we went off into the city, armed with our Travel Pass, and walked the full length ot La Rambla the famous shopping street and tourist trap. Off season it was fine but I'm not sure I'd fancy it in the height of summer. At the bottom of La Rambla is the harbour and the statue to Christoper Columbus. You can go up it but we had even bigger hills to climb - the Parc de Montjuïc. Parc de Montjuïc is small hill near the centre of the city which is also a public park. Quite a climb to the top but the views are worth it though there is a cable car to get you there - two actually.
The older cable car that connects the Parc de Montjuïc with the beach area was not running whislt we were there so we caught the newer one which connects the Olympic Village area to the top. You can ride up, of course, but we decided to ride down and then catch the service bus back into the city. That afternoon we had an appointment with the Sagrada Familia. The unbelievable building gets so many visitors you get a timed entrance ticket and our was 1.45. The outside is not easy to get a good photo of but, once inside, the fantastic and modern stained-glass windows are. We were supposed to go up a tower and had a timed ticket for that too but in the half-hour we were admiring the windows the weather turned and they had to close the towers much to our disappointment.
These are the shiny steel organ pipes - the colouring is simply from the light coming into the building from those wonderful windows.    
The altar. And, on our last evening, Plaça de Catalunya at the top of La Rambla to watch the fountains and the world go by, then back to the hotel to pack ready for the journey south to our Spanish home.

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