Sissach, Bellinzona, and Ravenna

We left the Rhein, I’ll say grudgingly at least on my part – I wasn’t ready to give up the views of the river and hills and vines and castles. I didn’t think I was, at least.

But, when you leave the Romantic Rhein and drive toward Switzerland, you come across something else, The Alps. This was my first run-in with this illustrious mountain range.

Wow. Just, wow. The Alps are unlike any other mountains that I’ve seen. They’re incredibly forested, incredibly green. Until they’re incredibly white and snow-capped. What a picture. The ice melts with the decrease in altitude, and that pure, pure, cold, cold Alpine water runs off into skinny waterfalls, cascading down the rocks in between lines of tree audiences.

It’s incredible.

And, the Germans and the Swiss, they built their roads for your viewing pleasure. This is where the idea of driving became ingenious. You wind along the mountains, in the valleys and along their convexes and concaves. And through them, oh yes, through them. These master-road makers are also master-tunnel makers. The alps, the green, the clear water in the waterfalls, the lakes, the snow, the clouds sitting in the valleys. Just taking breaks there. Wow.

We drove into Sissach, Switzerland to visit more “family.” This time it was my uncle’s study abroad family. He lived a year in Sissach with the Wiedmers. Brigit, his Swiss sister, then came to the U.S. for a year and stayed in my grandparent’s Tulsa home. So, when in the neighborhood of Switzerland, one must drop in on their old family ties. We feasted lunch at the Wiedmers, hearing stories of “Richie boy’s” time in Switzerland and Brigit learning to drive in Tulsa.

The nicest people, the absolute kindest people. Thank you for your hospitality and warmth. You made Switzerland special. (Even more than the Alps).

Sated, we continued driving to Bellinzona, a town touting 3 medieval castles. We toured one the next morning, – one of the best preserved castles that I’ve ever been a part of. Rain always makes castles feel more medieval to me. It felt very medieval that morning.

We loaded back up in the car and made way to the lake region on the Swiss-Italian border. The lakes sit surrounded by mountains. They feel tropical, yet mountainous at the same time. Lugano and Lucarno. Absolutely beautiful and luxurious. Homes of the rich and famous. Again, Europe stunning me with water features.

We stopped in Lucarno for a pizza lunch – we’re back in the territory of good Italian food. The sun came out, and we strolled the park banks of the lake.

Then, again, we made headway. This time, destination Ravenna. Amazingly, once into Italy, the Alps flatten and the terrain shifts to a completely different feel. A different shade of green. Different trees. I’m so intrigued by the shades of countries. Each has a different color palate.

Then the downside of driving, traffic. Ick. But, we eventually made it into Ravenna. Back in Italy, our German GPS with an English accent could not fathom that the main streets of Ravenna were pedestrians only. He couldn’t get it though his sensible German hardware. Understandable  But, we’re back in Italy, and things don’t make sense.

We eventually made it, ate dinner (AMAZING gorgonzola and walnut maccheroni), and fell asleep. Phew.

We awoke the next morning for Mosaics. Ravenna is the place of UNESCO sites for Mosaics. They’re truly incredible. The Basilica of San Vitale has some of the most celebrated and well-preserved mosaics in the world – dating back to 525AD. It was the inspiration of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (see Turkey posting). The mosaics sparkle the ceiling and walls in golds and blues, images of Christ and his disciples. Intricate perfections of craftsmanship.

Near the basilica is a small mausoleum entirely covered with mosaics in the interior. You’d never know the treasures inside from the outside. I can’t write about them. You’ll simply have to look at the pictures. Or better yet, go. I love the blue. Love. It sparkled when you walked in. It moved. I swear it moved.

Other notables, Dante’s tomb and the old center piazza of Ravenna.

So, Alps, lakes, castles, family, mosaics, tombs. A full couple of days. We changed altitudes. We changed cultures. We saw new old friends. We saw old castles, well preserved. We saw thousands of tiny stones.

The blues of the little stones aligned so perfectly looked as smooth and shimmery as the lakes. It’s perfect. I cannot call one more real than the other. Because, that would be a question of art over nature. And, I think they are reciprocal. That drive between countries was so composite. Art is nature, and nature is art. Isn’t it? They’re two stones affixed together.

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