In “Innocents Abroad” Mark Twain wrote,
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
That quote sums up for me the intense memory of Lietta’s and my journey through parts of Europe as guests of my daughter, Cheri Ruger. Our itinerary was full and most professionally plotted and scheduled. (She could do this for a living.) At that time, so as to effect a meaningful travel and specific visits to specific places, we mostly did what we were courteously told … and profited.
North America across the waters.
At the suggestion of my daughter, we purchased two travel vests, each with enough pockets to get the count into double digits. Then we bought 24-25 inch suitcases with four wheels and that was wise. It was mostly easier to push a four-wheel suitcase than pull it on two wheels. Lietta had two carry on bags that draped over her neck. I had the CPAP case and a back pack Cheri loaned me that actually had a rubber inflatable water bottle with a sucking tube that might come in handy for long walking ventures without stopping to buy bottles.
At the airport I at first I experienced a vague uneasiness as I had not flown – commercially or otherwise – since the late 1980’s and was not excited about encountering the security checks and anti-terrorist paraphernalia and procedures required to get on the damn plane. My uneasiness was mostly unfounded – primarily I think because the security people knew their jobs, had seen it all and were mostly bored and wanting me to get on with it.
I have two stainless steel knees which triggered the metal detector as expected. They told me to take my belt off and hold my arms out, which caused my pants to start to fall because I’m so narrow-hipped once you get past the paunch. I pulled them up as high as I could and stuck my belly out as far as it would go, like a horse trying to make a rider think the saddle is on tight (until the horse expels the air.)
They waived me through after forcing me to explain why a kindle reader was hiding in my CPAP bag.
We flew out of Sea Tac airport on British Airways, headed north and east over Canada, flew below Greenland and Iceland and showed up at Heathrow airport 9 hours later.
I was struck by the shake, rattle and role of the aircraft as the pilot raised the RPM’s with his foot on the brake before releasing and sending the jet careening down the runway striving to reach leave-the-ground speed. The plane was shaking and seemed to teeter to the right and then the left all the way to “rotate.” Rotate is the word I would hear the pilots say during takeoff back in the early 1970’s when I was in the Air Force and on flying status.
Some things never change. The experience was exactly the same as when I was active duty with 900+ hours of flying now some 40 years ago. You’d think that with all this technological evolution and development they would have figured out a way to make take-offs and landings not feel like you have just been shot out of a giant sling shot; or like you were riding a giant rock falling toward the runway at breakneck speed all the time hoping the tires and landing gear were tough enough to handle the collision between runway and aircraft.
At Heathrow it was time to take a bus ride from one end of the airport to the other. I assumed such because based on the time the bus took to get us there in order to connect with another British Airway flight to Barcelona for the final two ours of our journey’s first leg. We sat near the gate for about an hour before boarding another British jet for a two hour flight across France to Spain.
I chose Spain for the first leg because I was curious about whether my Tex-Mex Spanish would be useful. It was. I was pleasantly surprised at my ability to interact. At the airport my first shot was a brief conversation with the young man who gave me my first passport stamping. I had to explain to him after a brief back-and-forth that my real name was “Guapeton” which in Spanish means Handsome. He understood me quite well and I could see his mind telling him to humor me and let us pass.
Our VRBO owner, David, arranged for us to be met at the airport, by a taxi driver. Barcelona taxis are all alike … same color, same speed and same impatience. As we left the airport I was acutely aware that the insulated touristy atmosphere of an international airport was about to be replaced with the moment-by-moment reality of an actual European city.
Shortly after leaving the airport and heading for downtown, I noticed a strange billboard about apricots and chicas (Spanish for “girls”). Turns out the billboard was about an escort service named Apricots. No shyness here. Can’t imagine what Billy Graham’s kid, Franklin would say about that.
What the hell is a VRBO? I had never heard of one and only came to know because for our journey, we stayed in VRBO’s except at Zurich. VRBO is like AIRBNB, vacation rentals by owner. Cheaper than hotels and in my experience more delightful.
While our taxi driver is moving with quick, deliberate and impatient energy, I found myself trying vaguely to remember our route which had to involve at least twenty sharp right or left turns on narrow streets. Lietta and Cheri are making a few comments on landmarks, etc. Suddenly the driver jerks the car to the curb, turns and points behind him and says in broken English, “Right there! 494 (I believe our address was.)” We got out, he offloaded our luggage, Cheri paid him and he was out of there.
We walked to a double door which Cheri negotiated. Lietta and I rode a tiny lift up two floors and Cheri walked it. We entered the first of a series of charming VBO’s each with its own special individuality and memories. Only photo I took in that first VRBO was what was on the wall in the living/dining room.
Next morning – if you want to call our attempt to sleep all night as jet-lagged zombies – we decided to head for the Sagrada Familia Basilica and on the way stumbled by and into the Mercado Sagrada Familia, and indoor farmer’s market that reminded us of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle, only we saw no flyng fish. Lietta got these fotos:
Sagrada Familia Cathedral
How tall is the Sagrada Familia Cathedral?
That is yours truly aiming at the top
Panoramic foto of Barcelona taken by Chéri. You can see the Basilica to the left.
Of course we took the Cathedral tour.
We were issued what looked like walkie-talkies and if we pushed the correct button we could listen to a guided tour in the language of our choice. So inside the basilica were dozens of tourists with this telephone looking thing upside their ears.
I don’t know how many fotos the three of us took once inside. I will pick just a couple. I have a weakness for stained glass.
After the basilica tour, we became acquainted with the Sagrada Familia’s Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi. We went to his house.
From the Gaudi estate we opted to walk back downtown as it did not look that far and was pretty much downhill all the way. The walk was long enough that I for one was ready to start riding the on/off buses.
We had more or less figured out how to walk to needful places near or apartment, such as where to find quick meals.
Quick apartment food and Quick drug store stuff. Just look for the green cross.
Where they hell are they?
Cheri called them “On and Off” Buses (officially labeled Hop On/Hop Off buses) the only way to spontaneously tour or plan a route. They were not quite like asking a taxi to wait for you, but since they arrive every ten minutes, what’s the difference?
With the experienced skills of Cheri, whom Lietta nicknamed our “Sherpa Guide,” we hopped on and hopped off all over town.
I took what I thought were more practical pictures. The Sherpa wanted to go everywhere, seemingly leading us in circles in search of things to see. So, like Hansel (in Hansel and Gretel) I took pictures of every back street we passed in the event that if we were abducted by terrorists my photos would allow the police to track our wandering path.
Cheri had at least one specific passion in terms of sight-seeing: architecture and spiritual ambience. Another cathedral in Barcelona, Santa Eulalia.
To keep busy I took photographs of things that caught my attention
… like this wall and tower. Then looked it up and was reminded that going way back, Barcelona was Roman and known as Barcino.
The Roman connection influenced my choice of Barcelona as a stop on our trip. After all Maximus Decimus Meridius of Gladiator Film fame went by the name of “The Spaniard.”
Cathar Country: Toulouse, Carcassonne and Montsegur.
Barcelona to Toulouse via Flixbus.
We took a taxi from our flat in Barcelona to the bus station, dragging our four-wheeled suitcases, back packs, travel bags and my CPAP kit with us. We were wearing what the Sherpa had advised us to buy: travel vests and of course my CPAP device.
Rode the Flix bus north along the coast and Lietta’s and my first experience with European freeways. No major differences between I-90 between Spokane and Coeur D Alene and Barcelona to Toulouse. We stopped at an assortment of French towns on the way and a rest stop at a food and curio shop about 45 minutes from Toulouse. The ride was a little less than 6 hours.
By the time we arrived in Toulouse I was scouring the countryside for castles on the hills in the distance, thinking of the roster of Cathar castles I’d read about online. Toulouse was the beginning of our tour through Cathar Country which was in fact the long-time basis of my touring bucket list as expressed to most who knew me well.
Here’s why …Around 1995 when I was going to the library (pre-internet-pre-google) and looking up information on the Gnostics. Among other things I encountered two books, the reading of which captured me on some internal emotional level that left me intellectually stunned. The Dove was a widely-used symbol of the Cather Faith.
Here’s a description of the Cathars from one of the books, The Perfect Heresy by Stephen O’Shea:
Eight hundred years ago, the Cathars, a group of heretical Christians from all walks of society, high and low, flourished in what is now the Languedoc in Southern France. Their subversive beliefs brought down on them the wrath of Popes and monarchs and provoked a brutal ‘Crusade’ against them.
The final defeat of the Cathars was horrific with mass burnings of men, women and children in the village of Montaillou in the Pyrenees. Chronicles the life & death of the Cathar movement, led by a group of heretical Christians whose brutal suppression by the Catholic Church unleashed the Inquisition.
Lietta and I have talked about this and – after the fact – I have agreed with her that the emotional connection is probably based on seeing myself as a heretic in terms of my conflicts with the Mormon Church to which I belonged during the first 54 years of my life.
The Cathars got the negative attention of the Roman Catholic Church principally because in Europe it was for the most part the ONLY Christian church in the medieval 12th and 13th centuries. The Protestant Reformation of Martin Luther was still 300 years away.
The Church was wealthy, it’s priesthood costumed in pomp, circumstance and elegantly rich costumes – all driven by collection of taxes which were also referred to as tithes. The Church portrayed itself and its priesthood as the symbolic middleman between humans and God. The priesthood was the face of the middleman and the common people were taught to revere the priesthood or suffer damnation.
The Cathars taught that the mystical connection between man and God was an actual spiritual and physical event – and highly personal. The event required no outside agency, no middle man or middle/meddle priesthood. The spiritual event or moment could be repeated at will. One could commune with God as one desired without any need for another human being to act as judge or worthiness-declarer in order for God to recognize a soul reaching upward.
Such was the place to which I had gravitated as a self-defined Mormon heretic.
The Cathar story rang my bell. Eventually, after more than 20 years, the opportunity made available by my daughter, Cheri, brought the yearned-for journey to fruition.
It quickly in my mind came to feel like a pilgrimage.
The main bus and train station in Toulouse at the far end of the street. We walked our luggage, backpacks, purses and my CPAP approximately six blocks to our flat in the building on the left. The flat all modern.
The Sherpa was dying to go see the carousel visible at the other end of the street.
Since we were taking a guided tour the following morning to Carcassonne and Montsegur, we spent the rest of the day looking for things to see in Toulouse.
Cheri took this picture of Lietta and I adore it.
The relics of Thomas Aquinas are housed there. Then, a beautiful and serene surprise. An elegant outdoor gallery inside the walls of the church.
Then the Sherpa found another one: The Basilica of St. Sernin
Which goes back to Medieval Times in Toulouse
And when the Sherpa wasn’t wandering through churches she took time for another form of beauty.
And found this statue of St. Exupery and the Little Prince (he wrote the book) in a Toulouse Garden
Carcassonne and Montsegur: Our only guided tour
Carcassonne, a hilltop town in southern France’s Languedoc area, is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. –Wikipedia
Tourist Trap par excellence
Lietta took this picture. For an explanation of the yellow paint, click here
By the way, if you watch Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood Prince of Thieves you will recognize this view
Before we could walk in Arnaud had to give us a long spiel which was quite informative. I now had a chance to show off all the stuff my photogenic mind could remember from 20 years of reading about the Cathars and Languedoc.
I know he was surprised by how much I knew but I ain’t so sure he was impressed. But then, we both knew we were not in competition cause he knew a lot of stuff I had not read.
The second image is where we ate cassoulet for the first time. Wouldn’t do it again. Very salty.
Lietta found another of her favorite things.And of course one of Cheri’s favorite things inside the fortress.
The Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus (French: Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse) is a Roman Catholic minor basilica located in the citadel of Carcassonne, France. It is a national monument, and is in the Gothic-Romanesque architectural tradition.-wikipedia
I told him, “Watch it Buster!”
Walking along the walls but still inside the fortress
and out to the car
And out to the car.
We left Carcassonne and headed west and south to the Chateau de Montsegur.
The Château de Montségur is a former fortress near Montségur, a commune in the Ariège department in southern France. Its ruins are the site of a razed stronghold of the Cathars. Wikipedia
Ours was not to be a sunny day. From the village, Cheri took this photo. We were at 1000 feet elevation and the climb would be another 3000 feet using switchbacks on a mostly rocky trail all the way to the top.
It was from the village of Montsegur I could tell that Lietta was not going to be happy with me climbing that mountain. Once the climb commenced I found myself distracted by the idea that my wife was stuck between a rock and a hard place. There was no phone service on that mountain. She could not go with me, nor persuade me not to make the climb. She would be in that stuck place for at least 90 minutes. Her last words, I remember, were to Cheri and Arnaud. “Bring my husband back to me alive and unbroken!”
In truth, the closer I got to the top the more urgently I wanted to go, to see the chateau and start back down.
At the Cathar monument before starting up the trail with Arnaud walking over me.
Switchbacks and I’m getting frustrated by stopping to look up and seeing only more trail and nothing of the top.
Through the door. Entrance was not too formal… a few wooden stairs and through the door. To the following views:
Then I wanted to see what was visible from the entrance on the opposite side from which we climbed.
Arnaud insisted we walk north along the wall.
These are ruins of the original village which was built on the mountainside around the top of the mountain where the Count’s fortress sat at the top.
Then Arnaud insisted we go around to the narrow north face of the Chateau.
And the first thing I saw when I got there. I was looking down where my Lietta was sitting worried that the Sherpa and our French guide were not going to bring me back down in one piece.
The stair to the west end to look down into the dungeon
The thinking was that if taken prisoner and escape was possible, the escaped prisoners could shoot the occupiers down inside the castle courtyard thru the arrow slit at the bottom .
The other direction from the north side doorway led downward
and Cheri went down there, taking pictures. I’m standing in that doorway.
There were no pictures taken hiking back down. It was raining, there were streams and puddles all along the trail and all of us were watching the placement of each foot on the ground.
Arnaud confessed that he had never taken anyone up and down the mountain in the rain previously. He has a copy of this picture for his scrapbook.
One reconstruction of what the original may have looked like 900 years ago.
In Toulouse, we hiked back up the street from our flat to the Matabiau station where we got off the bus but now to get on the train for a 5 hour ride to Lyon.
The length of the train rides was not so bad as there was much to see whizzing by through the train windows. Lietta got this photo of the street of our flat in Lyon. It appears only slightly more urbanized that the street in Toulouse (Toulouse on the left and Lyon on the right.)
My description of the flat in Lyon was that it was the most “traditional of the European places we stayed. It looked older and more traditional or, in my mind, stereotypical of what a French flat might look like. The furniture was modern, but the rooms, cupboards, closets – especially the water closet – not so much. The cold-water-only water closet offered little protection from overheard bodily noises and smells. In this regard, my social shyness was stressed overtime. But I really like the apartment, especially the Clavinova. Now that was a very very very pleasant surprise and I immediately suspected that Cheri and Lietta knew it would be waiting for me.
Lietta got this exterior image of The Church of Saint-Nizier is a church in the Presqu’ile district of Lyon, France, in the 2nd arrondissement, between the Place des Terreaux and the Place des Jacobins. Wikipedia.
First stop and Cheri in her element.
MayDay 2018 and they marched down the street outside our window. It looked like this except this picture was from last year. (2017)
While we were relaxing in the flat and watching the March, Cheri did what she like to do. She climbed up a hill we did not want to climb to see that Princess Castle at the top.
The Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière is a minor basilica in Lyon. It was built with private funds between 1872 and 1884 in a dominant position overlooking the city. Wikipedia
And no, that ain’t Moroni up there all gold and upright. It’s something much more beautiful.
Okay, let’s go to the Rhone River
Below, me being an art afficionado have been taught my afficionado-ness by Lietta, my impression when seeing the women in the painting on the right was that she was asking her husband where are the shoes he was sent out to buy with his paycheck before he went to the pub.
My ego demands that the next photos appear!
Then there’s the good stuff.
The Place des Terreaux is a square located in the center of Lyon, France on the Presqu’île between the Rhône and the Saône, at the foot of the hill of La Croix-Rousse in the 1st arrondissement of Lyon. Wikipedia
The Fountain of Bartholdi who also designed the Statue of Liberty.
“This fer Christian heat-packers: Could you folks take care of two kids, hold 4 snorting stallions in check and keep yer shirt on without dropping yer AR-15 and shooting yerself in the foot?”
Took the train from Lyon to Bern, a distance of approximately 150 miles. From the train station, The Sherpa had us watching for Tram # 6 (Fischermatteli to Worb Dorf) and here it came to the Banhof. I could not find a photo of a #6 saying Fischermatteli.
We got off at Fischermatteli and walked half a block to the flat. Lietta has photos of the flat on the 3rd floor.
Lietta took this photo of the Kindlifresserbrunnen: The Mysterious Child-Eating Statue Of Bern. Click here to learn about it
Chess on the street in Bern
Awe, shut yer venus fly trap.
Lietta always loves the lilacs and these old friends below
What’s a FUNICOLA? A steep uphill climber … like a ski-lift on rails.
What’s to be seen when we get to the top?
And you know the Sherpa is going to want to climb this …
To take this …
Ever see a string ensemble playing on the street for tips?
On a clear day here is what can be seen
Cloudy and foggy at the altitudes was what we encountered. But we found spectacular views at boat level.
Wilchingen via Zurich
As much as I had laid out our itinerary around a visit to Southern France, Cathar Country and Montsegur – based on my long time emotional connection to the Languedoc, I had no idea that the ultimate of our trip was going to be the events in Wilchingen.
Wilchingen is the birthplace of my great grandfather, Adrian Ruger, who immigrated to Utah in the late 19th Century.
Today, when I look back on it, there’s a catch in my throat for memories
of Barcelona and The Sagrada Familia and the on-and-off tours,
Bern with it’s unending stream of different sights, sounds and flavors (not to mention our becoming intimately skilled with riding that excellent trolley).
And finally Wilchingen via Zurich.
I used two pictures for this day of our trip because they represent first our visit to Rhine Falls before which Lietta had lost her cell phone and like a frantic water skipper, she went immediately into action, boarding the train we had just left and searched every single car of the train before it left, trying to locate the missing cell phone.
The Rhine Falls is the largest waterfall in Switzerland and Europe. The falls are located on the High Rhine on the border between the cantons of Schaffhausen and Zürich, next to the town of Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland.
Then the train ride from Schaffhausen to Wilchingen; less than 15 miles west and southerly and 20 minutes on the train.
Wilchingen was 2 kilometers east of the station.
No buses and no taxis … have to walk over there
And when we got there, went through the gate and approached the rear of the church we saw them
At that point I felt like Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly when he was running along the markers reading the names.
Then we found the open door to the Church itself.
The village is almost huddled around the base of the hill where the Church presides over town. It reminded me of Leavenworth, Washington but smaller and minus most of the tourist imagery.
And then a roster of trade guild craftsmen, after which it got eerie.
At some point we started a conversation with the guide and I proceeded to tell him my name and my great grandfather’s name, Adrian Ruger by writing it down since he spoke no English and I no German. At that point his expression was one of surprise. “Your name is Ruger?” He gestured. I said “yes,” and nodded. He then gave us to understand that his name also is Ruger.
He then insisted that we accompany him to the top floor of the museum.
Conrad Ruger’s list of jobs as a wagoner. (BTW coincidentally my Dad’s middle name is Conrad.)
What a wagoner does:
Cheri found this, looked at the sign, and sort of lost it at that point. This organ was built by a Ruger relative, Karl Frederick Kurz-Rüger and originally donated around 1912 to the Church we had been in up the hill.
What more can I say?
We went to Wilchingen in search of my great grandfather’s past and found it. I now have a permanent image of where hail the Ruger’s of Chesterfield and Bancroft Idaho.
Cheri has seen her own Ruger heritage site up close.
Lietta (whose maiden name is Wagner, i.e. think wagoner), and who is predominantly of German and Russian heritage has more of a visual of the essence of her own heritage that she could not get when she was growing up. I will always treasure this part of our journey the most.
We took the train back to Schaffhausen and then to Zurich.
My one and only international appearance as a Ruger musician.