Hello, this is your long-lost blogger reporting back for duty!
Where, you may ask, have I been all this time?! Well, we last saw each other when I was heading off on a snowy mountain holiday in January and I’m determined to get a post in before April Fool’s Day hits us.
This year, there was snow at altitude, not in enormous amounts but plenty to satisfy the need for a little real winter in this very mild and unusally stormy one we’ve had over 2015/2016. Combined with some blue skies, there were some truly sparkly moments This around the tiny village of Fuldera, where we went for a walk inbetween an apéritif and a lunch in a traditional inn with the most beautiful carved Swiss pine interior
Our aim was Müstair, famous for the church and Benedictine convent that were founded by Charlemagne in 775 on his way through while conquering Lombardy. Apparently, he founded it out of gratitude for having passed over the mountain safely, quite an undertaking in those times. This is also the easternmost point of Switzerland. As you can see, not so much snow at 1273 m above sea level! We had a lovely guided tour around the very cold church and the small museum in the tower (including being given blankets and hot herbal tea to warm us up!) where the nuns used to live. Very few are left, now and have other quarters more suited to the elderly. Most famous are the early mediaeval frescos which have been stunningly revived and carefully preserved (hence the cold!), partly by one of our neighbours here at home!
On the way home, just as the sun set, we were treated to this at the top of the Ofenpass (Pass dal Fuorn at 2149 m above sea level, over 7000 ft)
Of course, with snow conditions like this, we also had the opportunity to hit the slopes – so few people at this time of year! I have heard from friends that they have given up skiing because of the overcrowding… maybe I should invite them up here?! I think it’s fairly obvious why we keep coming every year!
Although we always return home with a little reluctance, having a pretty home to return to helps This early morning photo however, shows the extent of snow for the winter in the valleys this year and had melted by the time the sun went down…There was no time to ponder on this, though, as we were heading off to the big boat show in Düsseldorf only a couple of days later, as well as having a little nose round the area, first to visit relatives in Bielefeld and then to follow in the footsteps of our old friend above, Charlemagne, and have a look at his HQ in Aachen. This was his cathedral, the dome is over the octagonal central part of the church, the oldest, Carolingian part, the rest is later – in fact, the whole thing is a show of everything ecclesiastical architecture has offered in the last 1200 years! While the octagon (which was built over even older Roman remains) dates from the late 8th century, even the chandelier in the middle is 1000 years old, from the reign of Otto. Originally, the church would have been much plainer (even churches have trends!), but later generations felt the need for more embellishment, which is, nonetheless also very beautiful and also very obviously Byzantine-inspired (they were a lot more international in the old days than people might imagine!)… Those mosaic patterns are very inspiring, I find, though they date from the late 19th century. Some kind of conversion into knitting or embroidery, perhaps?!
The other main feature of Charlemagne’s time in Aachen (the French name is Aix-la-Chapelle, as the Frankish kingdom dominated at the time) is the castle he actually used as his seat, now the city hall. Again, it has many later additions. Coincidentally, while we were there, it was Karlsfest, a celebration of Charlemagne, so all these places were open and free to visit, including some people in mediaeval and 17th century dress A fascinating tour of the modern museum, Centre Charlemagne, was very worthwhile to round off our visit and hear about Aachen through the ages. A very poignant video showed the release of the city in 1944, a reminder to Germans, I felt, that everyone can be in the situation of the present-day refugees, a call for a little more sympathy in my view.
Friends, it has taken me three days to get this far with this blog post – a good indicator of why my blogging has slacked, no doubt! The rest of the catch-up will be forthcoming, though, promise…