Train travel from Zurich to Frankfurt with a stop in Stuttgart.

Winter has set in. No wonder German’s crave sunshine. It’s cold and dreary. Thank goodness the countryside is so charming and picturesque.

Snow quietly blanketed the green grass and fall leaves – it altered our plans just a bit. We love winter, but started out with summer clothes. Layering has it’s limits.

Perhaps it’s time to fly west…

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The train ride from Milan to Zurich was picturesque to say the least – Lake Como, Lake Lugano and the snow swept Alps. Simply striking.

Switzerland may be the most beautiful country in the world according to this author.

Zurich, in northern Switzerland, is the third most expensive city in the world (CNBC) and all lit up for the Christmas season.

Brrr… it’s cold and it’s only the beginning of December. Lured by the Christmas lights on the famous Bahnhofstrasse (one of the world’s most exclusive shopping areas) we bundled up and headed to Central Altstadt (Old Town) on the Limmat River to find the Christmas market. Charmed by the historic buildings, the silvery river and lit up bridges we walked until our toes froze like little marbles.

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The little country that does ~ San Marino

Also known as Most Serene Republic of San Marino, it’s one of the richest countries in the world, the world’s oldest surviving sovereign state and its oldest republic (since AD 301), the 5th smallest (4.5 miles long by 5 miles wide) and completely surrounded by Italy.


The capital, also named San Marino, a UNESCO World Heritage site, sits proudly at the top of Mt. Titano. It’s chock full of castles with breathtaking views that reach from the Adriatic Sea to the snow-covered Apennines.

It was deserted and oh so cold.  The wind was whipping through the narrow streets and rocked my tripod. Our refuge was a cave like restaurant for vino and the first steak we’ve had in a month.

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Bellísimo Italia

Milan, Genoa, Lucca and Merano.

Milan because it’s Milan. The fashion capital of the world, home of the Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele and the quaint art district of Brera.

Genoa because Guillermo was craving seafood.

Lucca holds a special place in our hearts and we wanted to scout out the Via Francigena – the Camino we will be walking next year – Switzerland to Rome.

Merano for its 700 year old Christmas festival.

We overdosed on pastries, pasta and wine. It’s compulsory – I’m positive our passport stamp said so.

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Jerusalem – a menagerie of cultures, lifestyles and religious beliefs. All within .9 square kilometers. The walled old city is divided into 4 quarters – Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Armenian.

6 kilometers away is Bethlehem in occupied Palestine. With a border crossing, concertina wire and very tall border wall. It might as well be a whole world away.

The Holy Land turned Disney Land. Although, life within the walls is very real and religious followers are devout.

The tour bus loads of people pushing and shoving make lines (actually not lines, but bunches) more than an hour long to see the most significant sites, turning what we thought was going to be a place of peaceful reflection into frustration. Shame on us for having an expectation.

By luck and circumstance, we’ve seen literally 100s and 100s of churches, temples, cathedrals and mosques around the world. Among them the largest and most famous, but also countless little gems along pilgrim paths and jungle trails. Each is always a thrill to behold.

We expected to see the historic sites – the site of the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the site of Jesus’ tomb, the site of his resurrection, the site of his birth in Bethlehem. Instead (foolish us, really, for not knowing this) churches, temples, buildings, walls and walkways have been built over the sites in the past 2000 years to protect and revere them and hordes of people push, shove and holler in 20 languages, up and down slippery sandstone stairs and tunnels to look down a black hole or stare at an alter. Almost worse was listening to the tour guides explaining about the significance of the structure which destroyed the site. And all of this in late November – pity the summer visitors.

We stayed in the Jewish quarter at the Sephardic House near the Western Wall. It was Sabbath and educational for a non Jew to observe their customs and traditions. Unfortunately women were not created equal in the eyes of an Orthodox Jew. The wall was a fine example.

It was quite fun roaming the narrow streets and market places. It only took minutes to be lost, especially because the old city must be 20 stories tall or deep.

In Bethlehem a priest, disturbed by the noise level, broke the sound barrier himself by repeatedly screaming out for people to shut up. In another church, unknowing, my knee showed when I crossed my legs. A priest standing 75 feet away yelled “knee, knee” which I rectified and apologized and he yelled back “too late – leave now, leave now”.

The notion that Jesus preached, taught, preformed miracles, died and rose again on these sacred grounds should’ve been enough to captivate us…

We would recommend that one get up at 5 am and visit in peace, to cherish and absorb all that is Jesus, Mary and the disciples. Hopefully, your expectations will be different.

Off to Tel Aviv. A major high tech city on the Mediterranean coast. The yang to Jerusalem’s yin. The vibe was fantastic.  We stayed on the beach and mingled amongst the bikers, walkers, exercisers and loungers.  Watched the paddle boarders, kayakers and swimmers enjoying the sea.

Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus

It is a self declared state of 300,000 people on the north half of the island of Cyprus with a U.N. enforced DMZ (the green line).

The Turkish Republic controls some of the best farm land, beaches and archeological sites on the island.  The business/financial/industrial sector of Nicosia belongs to Greek Cyprus, but Turkish got the old, walled city, a real gem replete with numerous churches and cathedrals converted to mosques by replacing steeples and bell towers with minarets.

The island is steeped in history – perhaps evidence of civilization from 10,000 BC. It has been owned by multiple parties.  Richard the 1st invaded out of spite and sold it tho the Knights Templar, where it served as an R & R spot and hospital for crusaders and pilgrims.

Virtually every European and Middle Eastern civilization has felt it’s stamp on the island.

We explored Nicosia the capital of Turkish Cyprus. Charming despite the ruins. Walking down narrow streets and getting lost was unavoidable.  The gal we met at the tourist office was from Washington State but moved to Cyprus to embrace her father’s Turkish roots 20 years ago. The gal we met at the Greek Cyprus tourist office was born in Northern Cyprus and since the invasion by Turkey they are unable to live in their ancestral home.

We contemplated all of the above at a Spanish tapas lunch in the shadow of the current Selimiye Mosques (historically known as Cathedral of Saint Sophia).






Greek Cyprus

What a contrast having just left Egypt.  Welcome to Cyprus – birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite.

A Mediterranean island surrounded by Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel.  The southern portion of the island is Greek and the north occupied by Turkey – with a DMZ, passport check and secured by the UN.

Larnaca – a charming beach town. A favorite European destination where the sea is clear and you can walk for days in the shallow surf and only be waist deep.  It’s the slow time of the year and mostly deserted but lucky for us they were having unusually warm weather – high 70’s.