Trip to Switzerland & Italy (2011)

Ballet in the Air
Ballet in the Air, Zermatt, Switzerland

O.K., I know that I’m over a year late putting this one together — but I believe it’s worth the wait.

With the encouragement of my son Andrew and his selling to me of his older but refurbished iMac (a transaction for which he claims to have taken a substantial loss), I have endeavored to take the “joy” of viewing your parents’ travel pics to a new level. So for the 2011 trip featured in this post, when you click on the links located toward the bottom of this blog entry, you will be streaming high-quality videos of still photography with music and special effects.

For you armchair film critics: yeah, I realize that the modest home-grown videos featured throughout this blog are probably not up to the standards of someone like, say, Ken Burns.  In fact, my production values are so low that I would hate to think what might happen if the venerable documentary film maker were to get wind that I was using the “Ken Burns Effect” named after him for panning in and out of still photos.  Ken’s so touchy about these sorts of things that he’d probably throw a tantrum, yank out his beard, and most alarmingly, block PBS from re-running his series, The Civil War, during pledge weeks.  So don’t worry. . . my lips are sealed.

On the other hand, I don’t think that I’m hyping this too much by promising you that this year’s journal of our most recent trip to Europe is definitely not your grandmother’s photo album of her honeymoon with “Gramps” in the Poconos.

In fact, you should strap on you seat belt — and turn your speaker volume up — especially for the first video, during which you will be joining us for a high-altitude hike around the famed Matterhorn. Make sure that you don’t look down.

Our trip to Europe in 2011 was planned so that Suzanne and I could really stretch our legs getting in some high-altitude hikes (that is, “high altitude” for Virginians).  Therefore, the presentation features photography of the Swiss Alps around Zermatt and the region of the Italian Alps known as the Dolomites.  Prior to reaching Zermatt, we made a brief stopover in Lausanne, a French-speaking city serving as one of the historic centers of Reformed Protestantism in the 16th Century and the present host-city of the International Olympic Committee.  We also managed to visit some of the wonderful lowland sights of northeast Italy — such as Venice and Verona — between our more extended stays at our two Alpine destinations.

Here’s a welcome note to those of you whose excuse for not being impressed by a lot of background detail is that you got your only exposure to history from your off-season high school coach (re: my comments on the historically challenged in my first blog entry, Trip to the Aegean (2008)):

  • Hooray!  You will be relieved to know that I have provided relatively scant information in the way of historical context in this three-part video.

But gee. . . . you know that I can’t help myself from providing just a few historical observations.

So. . . . class. . . . it’s time to get out those spiral notebooks with pictures of the Beatles on the cover (or maybe it’s the Bieber now) — before we head over to the gym for some volleyball.


First, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Switzerland (the first stop on our journey) has been a stable, independent republic for a very long time, although its present geographic territory wasn’t fixed until 1848. Based initially upon a defensive alliance beginning with the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1291, the nation grew into a multi-lingual nation-state by the 19th Century with a Federated system of power-sharing between the various cantons (provinces) and the central government. One afternoon, while enjoying some lunch with a Swiss couple in a mountain-side restaurant, Suzanne and I learned that Switzerland would be celebrating its “National Day” the following day, which was August 1st. Our table mates laughed as I congratulated them on their holiday and asked how long Switzerland had been independent. They protested in typically good-natured Swiss fashion: “That’s unfair. Everyone knows about your 1776; but we’re not certain about ours. It was probably sometime during the Middle Ages, right?” In any event, Switzerland continues to be a stable and wealthy country, although with an extremely high cost of living. It definitely bears further examination to fully grasp why the Swiss continue to be so successful.


Second, many of you have already visited the fabulous international heritage site of Venice, Italy (our second major stop); so there is little that I, as a humble graduate of Venice High School in California (“Go, Go, Gondoliers!”), can add to the general knowledge of the place. However, the one major point that jumped out at me as Suzanne and I wandered through labyrinthine passages, visited museums, and rode the Vaporetto water transports was that the wealth of this water-borne city-state, which created its many splendors during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, was generated as a direct result of the nature of the republic’s governmental structure and sense of national purpose. The Venetian state, as I briefly note in the presentation, was the most stable and long-lived republic in history. While it was clearly an unequal representative democracy, with only the members of the top 200 or so families enfranchised to participate in the highest levels of the body politic, the fairly lean Venetian form of government, for over 1,000 years, tended to get its priorities straight: the business of the state was to promote commerce, and commercial success was linked to maritime power. Sure, there was some downside to the Venetians’ fixation on maintaining commercial superiority: they exploited the Crusades and the decline of the Byzantine Empire; and they punished their highly skilled artisans severely, such as the glassmakers of Murano, for divulging the technological secrets of their factories.  However, most strata of society, for a number of centuries, benefitted greatly from the stable government and its emphasis on commerce.  Even the Jews, many of them having been expelled from Spain in 1492, found safe haven in Venice and thrived under the system.  Arguably, this Most Serene Venetian Republic (as it was officially called) was the most salient example in world history where so-called “trickle-down economics” seemed to work.

The Dolomites

My final historical observation concerns the spectacularly beautiful region of northeastern Italy, known as the Dolomites — the last stop on our European journey during the summer of 2011. While the entire region has been an integral part of Italy since the Treaty of Versailles broke up the Austro-Hungarian Empire after the First World War, for most of its history, the valleys and towns of the Dolomites have been controlled by different political entities. Up until the time it was dismantled by Napoleon Bonaparte, the Venetian republic dominated the southern third of the Dolomites, and the Austrians ruled the northern part until the end of WWI. The remaining areas fell under the suzerainty of lesser principalities, until Italy became a united nation in the 19th Century. Thus, even today, one can hear three distinct languages spoken in the various parts of the Dolomites. German is typically spoken in the northern part (the region known as the “Sudtirol”), and Italian continues to dominate in the southern area around Cortina d’Ampezzo (where we had our lodgings). A third language — Ladin (apparently resembling modern Romanian) — is still spoken by about 30,000 Italian nationals living in five small valleys scattered throughout the Dolomites. While the entire region is rather upscale in nature (due to its popularity among Europeans as a year-around outdoor destination), we momentarily thought that we had overshot one brief leg of our journey and had crossed the border into Austria (“The hills are alive…ah…ah…ah”), as we entered the pristine German-speaking town of San Cassiano while descending from one Alpine pass.  Although we were still well inside Italy, the town resembled a quaint Austrian village.  Even the cops writing parking tickets wore Germanic-looking uniforms.  (Luckily we were able to evade their Teutonic diligence.)  But we loved the entire region – both the Italian-speaking and German-speaking parts.  Suzanne and I both gave the Dolomites our top vote for a return visit with the entire family.

Blah, blah, blog — Time to see the movies!

The total running time for the entire album is about 35 minutes; however, you’ll need to view it (at your leisure, of course) in three segments.

NOTE:  The videos in this blog are for non-commercial, ad-free private viewing by our family and friends. They are not for broadcast.  If you have not been invited to view them, kindly honor this policy.  The rest of this blog is available for viewing by the general public.  Contact me via “Leave a Reply” below, if you have any comments or questions.

Click on the following links when you are ready to view the videos.  Don’t be afraid to turn up your speakers or headphones.  If you want to view a particular scene a little longer, just click on the pause button.  If you experience buffering, either hit the pause button (and count backwards from 99) or back out of the site and re-click on the link on this page.  Most of you are veteran web-surfers; so you know what to do.

If buffering becomes excessive or your media viewer can’t play or interrupts the video, click on Difficulty Viewing Videos? at the very top right of this page.

Enjoy your journey!

– Bruce

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Trip to France and the WWII Allied Invasion of Normandy (2010)

Saving Private Niland
Saving Private Niland

For another fascinating visit to Europe (really, do we go on any that are boring?), Suzanne and I drove from Paris down to the Dordogne region of southern France to look at 35,000 year-old cave drawings (such as those in the Lascaux area), visit Medieval chateaux marking the battle lines of the Hundred Years’ War, and paddle kayaks down the scenic Dordogne River, which meandered peacefully through the rolling French country side. After visiting the south of France, we made our way up to Brittany and Normandy, before returning to Paris.

In addition to pictures of the Dordogne, this photo album features photography of the Loire river valley and, most memorably, the battlefields associated with the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, including the site of the first engagement of the fabled 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, known in the superb Steven Spielberg series as the “Band of Brothers.”  (The series was based upon a book by the same title, written by the late Stephen Ambrose.)

Since my first posting of this photo album on Picasa, Dick Winters, who led “Easy Company” in many of its European engagements, has passed on; and efforts by others to have him awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courageous leadership on D-Day appear to be fading away. However, thanks to funds raised in the U.S. — including nearly $100,000 collected by 11-year-old Jordan Brown selling commemorative bracelets — on 6 June 2012, a 12-foot-tall $250,000 bronze statue of Winters was erected on the site of the assault he led against a German artillery battery near Utah Beach, on that fateful day in 1944.

In this presentation, I offer my take as to why so many Americans lost their lives while assaulting the other major landing point for U.S. seaborne troops — Omaha Beach — despite one of the heaviest aerial and naval bombardments of enemy defensive positions in history.

I also walk you through the story of the U.S. rangers who first scaled the key German artillery position at Pointe du Hoc — and then, with reduced numbers, had to defend the position for two more days until relieved.

Lastly, I include as a brief footnote to this major event in U.S. military history the true story of the Niland Brothers — a poignant tale upon which another outstanding Spielberg production, Saving Private Ryan, was based.

When you are ready to view the presentation, click on the following link:

Trip to France (Photo Show)

Tips for viewing photo albums on Google’s Picasa:

1.  Click on “Slideshow” at the top left of your screen, right underneath the title.
2.  As soon as the opening photo comes into view, immediately click on the pause button located at the bottom of the screen.
3.  O.K., once you have paused the presentation, click on the “+” sign (also at the bottom) to increase the time for each slide from its default of 3 seconds (which is way to fast) to perhaps as much as 6-8 seconds.
4.  Select “F11” on the top row of your keyboard (for PCs) to fill your entire screen with the picture.
5.  Now click on the “play” button to resume the presentation.
(The other option is just to advance the slides with the arrow keys.)

Explore a Little Further

After viewing our web album via the above link, if you would like to dig a little deeper into some of the subject matter, I’d recommend that you view the following presentations by clicking on the links to them:

Prehistoric Cave Art
Click on the above link to reach a beautiful interactive site featuring a tour of the cave paintings of Lascaux in the south of France.  To select English, move your cursor to the left edge of the screen, and then down to the bottom of the pop-out menu to click on the English flag.

Pointe du Hoc
Watch a nicely done YouTube video about the Ranger assault on Pointe Du Hoc, which includes President Ronald Reagan’s speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

Band of Brothers Engagement at Brécort Manor

For an excellent portrayal of Easy Company’s assault on the German guns at Brécort Manor, check out Episode Two of the mini-series, Band of Brothers.  You’ll probably have to stream it from Netflix or some other online movie company.  WARNING:  Contains graphic violence and language.

Tank Demonstration
Click on the above link to view my short video of a WWII armored vehicle demonstration at the Airborne Museum in Ste.-Mère-Eglise.  WARNING:  Contains footage of stupid photographer almost getting run over by tank.  (I’m not telling who that photographer was. . . . but it sort of explains why this video segment is a tad wobbly.)


– Bruce

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Trip to Germany, Bosnia, and Croatia (2009)

Dubrovnik -- Jewel of the Adriatic
Dubrovnik: Jewel of the Adriatic

In 2009, Suzanne and I made a memorable trip to Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina and to Dubrovnik, Korcula, and Hvar in Croatia — several of these locations having served as scenes for some of the worst fighting and violent atrocities during the Yugoslavian wars of independence in the 1990s. What a beautiful region this corner of the world remains today, although unfortunately it has been psychologically scarred by such a terrible period in recent European history.  Physically, the towns and cities have all but recovered, but deep inter-ethic trauma remains.

This presentation features photography of the absolutely gorgeous Dalmatian coast of the eastern Adriatic. Those following HBO’s Game of Thrones series might recognize some of the scenery.  A portion of season 2 was filmed on location in the Dubrovnik area.  Before you get to this part, however, you’ll have to “endure” some photos of beautiful, peaceful Garmisch-Partenkirchen, nestled in the Bavarian Alps, which served as the jumping off point for our poignant journey to the Balkans.

When you run through the presentation on the Picasa web-based program, be ready to click on the “pause” button when you come to my detailed bullet slides. I love to pontificate, and I don’t want anyone to miss a single fact or conclusion in my always insightful analyses.  Besides, you never know when Alex Trebek might be calling you out of the blue and say, “We’d be ever so grateful if you could substitute for a Jeopardy contestant on short notice.”    Seriously, how are you going to respond to him. . . . “Sorry Alex; but that needed to be in the form of a question“?

Click on the following link when you are ready to view the presentation:


– Bruce

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Trip to the Aegean (2008)

B Santorini 184 (67)
Santorini, Greece

Suzanne and I managed to get in some “island-hopping” around the Aegean for our 35th anniversary in 2008.

All of our journeys are self-planned, and we always seem to get along just fine without guides or having to travel in confining tour groups. We enjoy the flexibility to explore out-of-the-way locations and interact directly with locals that such independence offers us. Plus, not to brag (O.K., I am bragging a little), the trips we go on are much cooler!

This particular trip was no exception, although it did include one memorable six-hour road trip on a cramped Turkish public bus and one sea-tossed voyage on a rusty Greek steamer in order to visit some of the disparate sites in the allotted time.

The “photo journal” for this exciting trip to the archaeological treasures of Greece and Turkey has been posted as a slide show on the Picasa web-based photo album program featured by Google.  The presentation is in two parts. Two more presentations featured in other blog postings — Trip to Germany, Bosnia, and Croatia (2009); and Trip to France (2010) — have also been made available on Picasa.

One note of caution: As you may have noticed, I am one of those. . . you know. . . “boring history buffs.” As such, I couldn’t help myself but provide a fair amount of historical and cultural context in my Picasa web albums, both in the captions and with some additional explanatory slides and maps (used more extensively in the presentations on our trips to the former Yugoslavia and France). I realize that some may appreciate this background detail, and others might not — especially those with the usual excuse that their high school history courses were taught by their off-season football coaches. (“Hey, you clowns need to listen up, because today I’ll be going over some important locker-room procedures in ancient Greece.”) For any unfortunate considering himself to be in this latter history-doesn’t-interest-me-that-much category, I say unto thee: “Thou goatish clapper-clawed barnacle!” (Apologies to the Bard of Avon.)

When you are ready to view the presentation, click on the following links to get to the two photo albums of our memorable journey back to the Greco-Roman origins of Western civilization:

Tip for viewing photo album on Google:

Select “F11” on the top row of your keyboard (for PCs) to fill your entire screen with the picture.


– Bruce

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