top of page
Search
  • Tim Madison

EUROPE 2019 - PART 1

Updated: May 30, 2022

EUROPE TRIP | April 16th-May 22nd 2019





April 16, 2019


Yesterday I’m handing the yellow hold-the-mail slips to the Lopez Village Post Office clerk who pauses for a moment before sending me a look of astonishment. “You’re going on vacation again?”

Yep, we’re running away from home. Again.

Lopez Island and Orcas in our wake

This time it’s big travel. A five week traverse across parts of the planet that we hope are still worthy of admiration. Some places will be revisited. Among those will be Iceland and Leipzig, Germany. Iceland because we’re flying Iceland Air. They allow a stopover at no extra charge. We are taking advantage of that to do a quick tour of their south coast. Two nights there have the bonus effect of allowing our brains to sync with the Earth’s rotation. We should be a little less stunned by The Lag when we arrive in Germany. In Leipzig we visit our friends Katherina, Joshua, Helene, Wille, Eric, Richard, and Kyra. We’ve made a habit of this over the last few years and it’s always very good to see them and catch up on stuff. This year, big changes are on deck. We’re ready.


After Germany we roll out to France where we’ll spend a longish week in Provence, legendary haunt of Van Gogh. From there to London just to wander about and do laundry for a couple of days before the next adventure, another UK walking tour. This time we’re going to explore the Peaks District. That’s the general plan. Now we’ll see what really happens, eh?

Keflavik Airport

We’re out of the house on Lopez about 6:15 a.m. 17 or 18 hours after that we’ll be collecting our bags in Reykjavik, if all systems function as intended. But at this moment we’re on the way to SeaTac airport punctuated by a stop for brunch with our friend Lowell in Everett.

By 4 pm we are strapped into the flying pipe, engines lit and roaring away through time and space leaving Seattle behind. Iceland is next. The weather forecast Demon that lives in my phone informs me that atmospheric conditions will be thoroughly wet and clammy during our 2.5 day mini adventure there. Gloves, scarf, sweater, and umbrella shall be deployed.

We are the only passengers

Meantime, it’s a 7 hour flight. I may self-medicate.

We’ve raced eastward fast enough to catch up with dawn. Passport control, retrieve bags, stroll past customs, and out to the bus taking us to the Blue Lagoon. Oddly, the airport is very quiet. There aren’t nearly the number of travelers that we’ve seen in our previous two visits here. At 7 a.m. we locate our bus to the spa. Except for the driver it is unoccupied. This is odd. A few moments later the bus coordinator drops in and gives us the reason: delayed flights due to weather. Apparently the weather in Iceland has been so windy over the past week that few flights have been able to get in. And some of those who did manage it had to stay on the tarmac for hours. Wind gusts made it too dangerous to move people off the planes. I can only imagine what the landings were like. But we are experiencing none of this, lucky us. The weather is blowing a steady 15 mph with an icy rain going sideways but this is considered workable. And we are the only people on this giant bus as it rolls across the lava-scape toward the Blue Lagoon.

This weather is a vast improvement

At the spa there is no queue, only a fraction of what we’ve seen here before. We stow our gear, get our swim suits on, and plunge into the 100F water. We have it practically to ourselves. This is only temporary. After about an hour the teeming hoards begin to arrive. Flights must be getting in.

Walking up to the spa through the lava-scape

The Blue Lagoon is basically an enormous pond of geothermally heated sea water that gets pushed to the surface from 2000 meters deep. It’s full of super fine silica which makes it appear a pale blue. It’s quite an operation. There is a hotel, a cafe, a restaurant, massage therapy options, sauna, steam bath and other stuff too. We’re planning to goof off here for about 4 hours. We are occupied by people watching, soaking, standing under the hot waterfall, and dozing in the lounge chairs. We even find a cute couple from Texas to grab a photo of us. He had a fancy waterproof cell-phone case. Nice people, very charming.


Getting our hambones boiled

By 12:30 we’re hauling out of the soak and into our clothes. We want to catch the 1:15 bus back to town. We smell faintly of sulphur dioxide, kinda like a burnt match, but we’re also amazingly well scrubbed. We’re too tired to do anything at this point so it’s rest up until dinner which will be at a spot recommended to us by our friend Tom who was here a few months ago.


Putting the cap on a very long day

Dinner is at the Foss Hotel. Their restaurant is call Haust, which is Islandic for Autumn. Very nice atmosphere, very modern and quiet. There isn’t a crush of customers as there is in other restaurants in town. Their style is buffet and we like it quite well. The salmon was very good, I thought. Christine liked the soup, creamy and cheesy. The oddest experience was the Pickled Herring. I don’t usually go for pickled fish that isn’t Lox but I had to. It’s Iceland, after all. How to describe it… If I were blindfolded and someone placed this Herring in my mouth I would not have been able to identify it. It tastes completely like the salt and herbs used to preserve it, no hint of fish flavor. And the texture was un-fishlike. Interesting, but this goes on the “Survival Food” list. I’m more likely to indulge in the salmon and smoked duck. They had steak, too, but that’s not what I’m hunting in Reykjavik.

Some nice Rioja at Haust

Getting here and back to our hotel involves about a mile walk through one of the main bar/restaurant/shopping districts in town. The weather isn’t great, so we struggle with our umbrellas in the wind. I eventually give up, fold the bumbershoot and let my hat absorb the rain. I get a couple of pix but mostly we’re just ready to cover the ground, get our walk in, and find a dry spot. It’s been roughly 27 hours since we last slept in a bed. We’re ready.


Nope. Nope. Nope.

Tomorrow we’ll be off on a 10 hour excursion along the southern coast of the Island. The weather will be inconvenient but not the violent storms they were getting last week. For that we can count ourselves lucky.









SOUTH COAST OF ICELAND


NOT our hotel

This hotel serves us a pretty good breakfast. Compared to other hotel breakfasts it gathers a top 5 rating. But some things don’t change. The chafing dish egg scramble thing is merely medicinal no matter who does it. We plunder it for the protein content then bounce down the street to our meeting point for the South Coast Tour where we are scooped up by a large white bus. This isn’t the tour bus because there is no tour guide aboard. We are being transferred to the bus depot where we change to our tour bus.


Hallgrímskirkja spire at the end of the street

Everyone shows up and gets ticked on the list so off we go. Our tour guide warms us up with some Icelandic trivia:

May 5 – July 25 they get 21 hours of daylight. Golf is becoming popular. He thinks its because people can golf all night.

Reykjavik water source comes from a basin that was modified by a lava flow millions of years ago. When hot lava invaded the lake, it somehow didn’t sink. It floated on the surface. So, it remained a place where water gathers but the water must pass through the lava to reach the basin. This basalt-filtered water takes 100 years to pass through the rock. So, we’re drinking snow melt from 1919. A very good year, even though it has that faint taste of a burnt match.

Skógafoss waterfall

But wait, there’s more! Our tour guide gives us a reader’s digest version of an Icelandic Saga. Bad marriages, slave trading, stolen cheese, ambushes, court judgments, banishment, bowstrings made of wife’s hair, revenge murders, blood oaths, assassinations, guerrilla warfare, mayhem, rage, defiance, shame, and tragedy… kind of a ninth century soap opera.

The bus ride seems longish.

This tour is worth it, let’s say that straight away. That said, we are experiencing certain dull surprises. For instance, we are riding the bus a lot and spending little time viewing a site of interest. After 45 minutes of driving we get 20 minutes to meditate upon the amazing fact that we are ‘here’ wherever that is. The weather could be a lot worse. We have no rain and only a mild breeze. But our views of the landscape are heavily supressed by a solid overcast and a persistent mist covering the high ground. And the folks in the back of the bus don’t hear the guide’s commentary because some speakers are on the fritz. Not completely certain if that is a blessing or a curse.

First stop is Skógafoss waterfall. Most waterfalls in Iceland come with a fable attached. In this one, the first Viking settler in this area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure chest filled with gold behind Skógafoss. A young boy is said to have pulled one gold ring out of it before the chest disappeared again. Good luck finding it. We a find a big, misty water feature tumbling from a dizzying height with a staircase installed near its east flank leading to a viewing platform. There are too many people creeping up and down it for our comfort. Also, our tour guide doesn’t allow enough time for senior citizens to manage it. The chest of golden treasure is safe from us.

Reynisfjara

Next is an unscheduled stop at something called LAVA Center for a look at some presentations and a pit stop. Of course there is a glittering gift shop with shocking prices. Here, we think, is the chest of gold. No. We are certain of it.

Reynisfjara

The bus disgorges us next at Reynisfjara black sand beach. Here we have a chance to admire some hyperactive Atlantic surf which we are cautioned to keep well clear of. Apparently it has plucked away several tourists over the years who thought it might be fun to put their feet in the water. We stick to the dry parts and luckily don’t have to witness any fresh horror. Au contraire, romance is blooming here as a bride and her groom are staging some epic photos for their wedding album. For them, I am so happy it’s not raining. I patrol the rocks for basalt texture mixed with human interaction. Some success is achieved.


Reynisfjara

Back on the bus and off to Sólheimjökull Glacier. No, I cannot pronounce that without several minutes rehearsal. Here we are reminded of galloping climate change again. In the past 20 years this ice has retreated 6 kilometers.

Reynisfjara

The experts say it will all be gone in 80 years even if global warming stops tomorrow. Most of the waterfalls we see are expressions of dissolving glaciers. It’s all draining away, apparently, causing the thought that Iceland may be more appropriately named Meltland. Here is where we break out our walking sticks for the first time this trip. Our trudge to the glacier is littered with stony obstacles, poor footing, and stumbling tourists. There’s a shop here that sells guided walks on the glacier. We see dozens of teens who are equipped for that with helmet, ice axe, rappelling harness, and crampons. Their hands are so full of gear they can’t manage their cellphones. They look miserable.

Sólheimjökull Glacier

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is the next stop. Again, pronunciation is mere fantasy to be indulged in over strong drink while shopping at Ikea. The brochures announce that you can walk on a shelf behind the cascade.

Sólheimjökull Glacier

But when we arrive we understand that this isn’t going to happen. The volume of water and the violence of it will keep us away not to mention the pure soaking we would get. Nope. And we only have 20 minutes to grab our pix and be back to our motorized conveyance.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

From the waterfall it is a drowsy 90 minute bus ride back to Reykjavik and our last meal in Iceland this year. We’ve made reservations at The Fish Markt on the strength of recommendation from a local bartender the day before. Bingo. Straight up, anyone planning to come to Reykjavik looking for seafood, check this out. It isn’t cheap but the effort they put into their creations is actually worth it. I had a green salad adorned with duck confit and crispy noodles followed by salt cod and creamed potatoes. Absolutely good. CK had a wonderful piece of salmon crowned with salad greens. No comment on the sorbet dessert we shared. Here’s a photo instead.

There is a nice surprise for us here, as well. We meet two folks who occupy the table next to us, pals traveling together, who pull us into their orbit in the most friendly way.

Our dessert choice at The Fish Markt

We got into talking about all kinds of things, sharing travel experience and tips, getting to know each other, really delightful people. They may even get out our way to take advantage of our guest room on Lopez soon. Here’s a pic of Amber and Jay at the Fish Markt. Cheers!! Lovely to meet you two.

Amber and Jay at The Fish Markt

Tomorrow we take a big hop over the ocean to the continent. Travel days are always a bit of a zombie sleep-walk and we hope for no contretemps with every phase. Our next sleep is in Leipzig, where good friends await and the temps are very summery. We can stash all our gloves and scarves away very soon.

Stay tuned.


On the streets of Reykjavik



















ICELAND TO GERMANY

April 19, 2019


A street scene in Reykjavik

Yesterday was Thursday so this must be Friday and if this is Friday then we must be in Germany. It was Tuesday when we left home and my brain insists that this is Wednesday. But it isn’t Wednesday and when people speak we don’t understand them. Good. Everything is normal.


Reynisfjara, Iceland



Yesterday morning was the beginning of a travel day in Reykjavik. We had to be ready at the bus stop at 4 a.m. We not only manage it but the bus agrees to let us on thanks to the assiduous pre-booking habits CK has acquired. Hotel to airport takes over an hour. The bus is half full of zombies like us. A sleepy rumble through the dark delivers us to an airport that does not seem very busy. It’s a laid-back experience of hurry-up-and-wait until we go to our departure gate. Now it seems quite different. The passengers for 6 different flights are directed into a space decidedly too small for them. There are seats for only about 5% of us, so it’s standing-room-only, cheek by jowl. We feel like sheep being prodded through narrow chutes when we get our boarding call. But even then we don’t board the plane. Instead we board a bus which hauls us out to the plane where we board from tarmac level up the portable gangway. We are dodging a steady 20 mph breeze and pelting, horizontal rain. There’s considerable potential for things to go sideways but they don’t. Everyone settles aboard and our plane bounces away through the turbulence toward Berlin.

More texture in stone from Iceland

The next experience has to do with the food they offer on Icelandic Air. It’s so bland that even describing it is boring. It’s bland to look at, too, which is part of it. Blandness typically refers to flavor but in this case it is appropriately applied to appearance. These effects reinforce each other making the blandness more powerful. The bland is strong with this one! A bite or two of bagel and pickled salmon convinces me that I’m not hungry. The Bland conquers. CK surrenders to it with even less resistance.


Reynisfjara, Iceland

Eventually we arrive in Berlin. This is the Tegel airport, an older facility compared to others we’ve seen, certainly older than Reykjavik’s, a slickly designed, modern complex except for gate departure areas as we’ve noted. We roll off the gangway, greeted by signs announcing passport control telling us to stop and wait. But nobody is there to inspect our passports. I realize that this is so because we’ve already been through that in Iceland, which is sufficiently part of the European Union to count. But there is still nobody here to help us understand what to do. There is an exit on the far side of the room beyond which we may not return. But wait… we don’t have our luggage yet. Another look around reveals a luggage carousel. Better stick around to see if our bags appear on it. If we go through that gate, we may have some trouble retrieving our stuff. And one person does it. She goes through before realizing that she’s made an error. Now she has to figure out how to get back in to get her bags and this is not permitted. I’m not sure how that was resolved because we are out of here.

Berlin Hauptbahnhof

From the airport we grab a taxi to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof (main train station) where we await our train to Leipzig. It’s a couple hours to wait, so we hang out in a bistro, eating lunch and playing electronic scrabble with each other over the internet. We notice some commotion in the station. Some students are marching through demanding action on climate change. The lawmakers are in a different part of town, I think. Perhaps they are going there.

We get on the train but we aren’t in the proper car. Our reserved seats are two cars behind us and we take 15 minutes to figure it out. This could be a hassle if the train were crowded. It isn’t and all goes well.

In Leipzig, our friends Katherina and Joshua are waiting to greet us at the rail platform. Little Helene and Wille even have flowers and big hugs for us. We feel special. There’s a lot of catching up to do and high quality personal time for us with K., J., H., and W. over the next several days. Looking forward to it!

CK and Helene

LEIPZIG, GERMANY

April 20, 2019


Helene und Scrocchi

After a fine night’s sleep, the first one fully synced with our new geographic position, our lovely hosts present us with a superb breakfast of bread, cheese, egg, bacon, and my favorite, the tiny Nürnberger Würstchen. These little sausages are sweet and flavored with marjoram. I suspect they are also smoked with a fruit wood but I can’t confirm that. Irresistible. I thank the pigs for their sacrifice. As CK says, “Butter is a contribution but sausage is a commitment.”

Wille

CK has a bag full of little gifts for the kids which she breaks out after food. There are some games and toys. The cheap balsa gliders keep us occupied in the yard for the better part of an hour. Helene and Wille are happy, good natured kids. We have a lot of fun with them. Joshua gets fig newtons and a t-shirt.

After all that food we must get out to do something. Joshua and Katherina are the responsible adults in this group so they’ve planned an afternoon paddling the canals. Leipzig has quite a network of canals, remnants of earlier eras when industry depended on water transport for moving bulky things.

The one we are on had its origins in the late 19th century and is part of a regional effort to rehabilitate waterways, focusing on public recreation. This one is the Karl-Heine-Kanal. Katherina, Joshua, and Wille in one canoe and Helene is with us. The weather is sunny and mild and Leipzigers are crowding out to enjoy it. We even experience a few kanu-jams with boats getting tangled up moving in opposite directions. We stop to share the blueberries and strawberries Katherina brings for a special treat. This seems only to re-fuel our small shipmate, Helene the Slave Driver, who consistently urges us to paddle faster. “Geh Schneller!”, she orders urgently.

After paddling we must have a visit to the ice cream seller. The kids are all in favor of that and so am I. My enthusiasm for kid’s stuff, wrestling matches with Wille, and assorted immodest behavior is earning me the title of Alpha Toddler. I even fall asleep in the car as soon as it begins moving. This works on a number of levels, including that of responsibility avoidance. I find that there is much to be learned from a 3 year old. My double scoop cone consists of Bourbon Vanille and Mango Sorbet. The kids both go for the chocolate. Chaos ensues.

After a short rest, our day is topped off with a family trip to the city center for pizza. And it’s quite excellent pizza, too. With beer. What could go wrong? Answer: nothing. A quite wonderful day.





Wille finds adventure at the Easter Market
Thomaskirche, Leipzig
At the Pizza Parlor

LEIPZIG, EASTER

April 21, 2019


Easter Sunday in Leipzig

6 a.m. in Leipzig and something is different. I can hear what sounds like the bells of every church tower making as much noise as possible. I’m used to hearing them ring the hour in measured beats but this is just banging away. Oh, right. It’s Easter Sunday. Six o’clock must be the magic moment….or something. Our something will be happening as soon as the kids are up and flying about.

We don’t have to wait long before the family is up and busy. Joshua is in the kitchen summoning breakfast for the crew and Katherina is wrangling children but no-one is in a hurry. We’re all feeling fairly lazy today.

Enjoying the garden

After breakfast it seems like a fine idea to spend time in the garden area that Joshua and Katherina have developed. Out of what was once a neglected tangle of brush and thorns they have created a nice lawn area for kids to play in, some space to grow herbs, flowers, and a little veg, plus a tidy deck and picnic table with a few old fruit trees holding court above. It’s perfect for a warm, sunny, Easter Sunday with blossoms and tulips doing their thing. The candy hunt is launched and all items retrieved, including a basket of noms for us. Of course, I gobble my chocolate bunny without mercy, ears first. And now, we’re just sunning ourselves, having coffee and chocolate, chatting about this and that while Wille and Helene bounce around in the grass. Life is good.

Wille, Helene, and Easter Eggs

Noon comes and goes but nobody is hunting lunch. We stuffed ourselves so thoroughly at breakfast, and then with candy, that nobody complains of hunger. Instead, it’s time for the kids to dye the eggs. Joshua sets it up and the kids are carried away into the fun of it.

It’s such a nice day, CK and I decide to get out a bit. We hop a tram into the city center where CK does her first visit to Nicolaikirche. She likes to sit in a pew and absorb the architecture and the palm tree motif of the support columns. Sometimes there is organ music. When that’s on she can sit there for hours. But no music this afternoon. All that happened in the morning, for sure.

Ampelmann, a crosswalk symbol, relic of old East German GDR times

We have half an idea to find an ice cream, so we stroll along with an eye peeled for an opportunity. The center square is occupied by the Medieval themed Easter Market. This is quite familiar to us. I think this is the fourth time we’ve seen it and not much seems to change. We’re planning to come back here with the kids tomorrow, so we’ll have better pix to share then.

Our strolling is fairly random, without a specific goals. We go to Augustusplatz to admire the new church building there. CK is always looking for a way to get inside it but it’s always locked up. This is never the case at Nicolaikirche or Thomaskirche, a source of frustration for CK.



Ceiling of Nicolaikirche

In the pedestrian area is a sculpture of five figures on a beam, looking fairly ridiculous in shape and posture. I’ve walked by this thing repeatedly in previous years and never understood it. This time I’m adopting a determination to find out. I grab a pic with the plan of bringing it to Katherina for interpretation, our bubble of ignorance being so impenetrably dense. It turns out to be a civilized plea that goes like this: “You may dedicate your own life for any cause you choose but you have no right to force others to do it with you.”

We find our ice cream. Actually it is Italian style gelato but good enough. On the tram ride home we miss our stop but that just allows for more walk time. We need it.


Fountain in front of the Gewandhaus, where Mozart, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Wagner and others musical deities have held forth.
“You may dedicate your own life but…”

Dinner is at home with the family, a nice salad and home cooked lasagne. Cinnamon rolls for dessert. I’m getting fat!


Stay tuned.


LEIPZIG AGAIN

April 22, 2019



The Minstrel Troupe at the Easter Market

The Monday following Easter is still considered Easter Holiday here in Deutschland which means that folks are still in relaxation and/or family mode. 90% of everything is closed. Could be that the shock of returning to work immediately after celebrating the immortality of their favorite God is just too much to bear. Or they all just took the day off anyway and the State decided to make it official, sparing the nation a crisis of conscience. Whatever. For us it means that everyone is still on break including the Kinder. We, therefore, skip breakfast in favor of a trip into the city center where the Easter Market is still in full function. We’ll grab some victuals there.


I don’t know what this has to do with Easter but I like it

A short tram ride from our neighborhood deposits us in Augustusplatz. 3 city blocks later we’re at the Easter Market. Our timing is as good as it can be. The medieval minstrel troupe is just getting ready to launch their show for the kids with music, tall tales and jokes, and a parade featuring a dragon.






The Drachen makes an appearance

Everyone in the crowd is laughing at the antics and the kids are hypnotized by the spectacle but our bubble of ignorance remains intact. Very little gets through. We seem to understand “Drachen”, though. It helps to see a giant dragon puppet emerge from backstage. The kids go wild and race to grab the wooden handles giving the big textilian lizard another life. The band fires up an ancient tune and off they go, snaking their way around the booths and tents with the musicians following behind. Kids are having a blast and parents are running madly to keep ahead of it with their camera phones. It is terrific, chaotic fun.


Helene joins the parade and holds up her portion of the Drachen

There’s more exploration of the market for the kids but it all seems anti-climactic after the Drachen Parade. We all have some food and sweets and time passes quickly. Katherina, Joshua, and Kinder go home for some chores and garden work, kids to get a nap if they can after loading up on sugar from the fair. We hang around downtown for a leisurely stroll to visit CK’s favorite churches and enjoy some of the buskers. The weather is pretty much perfect for it too. Here is a photo of the interior of Thomaskirche, where J.S.Bach served as music director for 27 years.



Time for a Vanilla Creme Waffle


Back at the flat, Joshua has set up a lovely afternoon tea on the picnic table. A game of Boule (we call it Bocce Ball) ensues. Katherina wins and lords it over us all.

Thomaskirche

We are sponsoring dinner back in town at our favorite Italian joint, Sardinia, next to Nikolaikirche. Helene wears her favorite dress. Everyone on the tram, everyone off the tram. We stroll while the kids sprint through the pedestrian area. At the restaurant most of us choose an entree (kids not so much) but the highlight seems to be the appetizer, their melon and prosciutto. Wille makes an entire meal of it. We don’t quite understand how their melon is so perfectly ripe out of season. After food, the kids are not satisfied with the activity level. Helene steals my hat and invites me to chase her out in the street. I oblige inasmuch as my ancient wine-soaked self can manage. I tend to make up for my lack of agility with ferocity and stealth. Of course, Wille joins in as well. More shrieking chaos ensues.


His Honor, cast in bronze in the church square
It’s a Pilgrimage

Ampelfrau

Jahrhundertschritt, a sculpture symbolizing the German relationship with and resistance to two totalitarian regimes.

Fun in the back yard

Helene with a favorite dress

Everyone is ready to pass out by the time we get home. Writing the blog will have to wait until the next morning. But it will have to be quick. Tomorrow the kids go back to school and the adults are off to Erfurt, a neighboring town, for a bit of an excursion.


Stay tuned.


ERFURT, GERMANY

April 23, 2019


Erfurt, Germany

Today the Kinder are in school and the parents are still on vacation. We view this as a window of opportunity to go sightseeing without the task of being on watch for the unpredictable and often hazardous antics of a 3 year old. A babysitter is engaged to take over when kiddies get out of school leaving the entire day free for Joshua and Katherina to come out and play. Our excursion target is the robust city (half million people) of Erfurt, about 1.5 hours from Leipzig by car.

Fischmarkt Square

This place wasn’t damaged badly in the last war so its medieval center is one of the best preserved in Germany. It features a large Catholic Dom, St Marien, and several other Gothic style churches which CK will want to visit. Our Must-See list is actually rather short, which makes the day profoundly open for impulse wandering.


New and Old

The parking of the car is the end of tension for the next several hours. The first thing we notice isn’t the old town at all. It is a crew of carnival workers disassembling a giant Ferris wheel, fun houses, thrill rides, and cotton candy stands. This was clearly part of their Easter Week entertainment. It’s over now, so off to the next town.


Mystery Spot




An odd building catches our eye. It is painted a bright yellow and stands at the intersection of three lanes. It looks as if it has a distinct purpose with an elaborate door frame decorated with medieval symbols but not even Katherina can decipher it. We Google it only to discover that it is a mystery. They use it to stage weddings now but it is so old nobody remembers who built it or why. We are left to contemplate how things are consumed by the mists of time.


Krämerbrücke
Krämerbrücke

Other than some charming antique architecture and interesting facades we don’t notice a lot that seems unusually brilliant until we find the Merchant’s Bridge (Krämerbrücke). This bridge spans the river Gera. It was originally built of wood but burned down a few times before they decided to rebuild it with stone in 1325. Today it has 32 buildings perched on it and brags that, inasmuch as bridge inhabitants go, they own the record for longevity in all of Europe. And it is chock full of wonderful shops, many of which are storefronts for talented artists and artisans. The one with the most gravity for us is a puppet/marionette shop called Theatrum Mundi, the creation of a fellow named Martin Gobsch. His shop is full of really delightful stuff, some of which makes excellent house deco and terrific gifts for kids. We wish we could have been able to see one of his performances but alas. If you’re ever here, be sure to visit this shop. Best one of its kind I’ve seen so far.


Theatrum Mundi


At the other end of the bridge, an old fashioned bakery summons us. We each devour a newly baked bun slathered in butter. We aren’t particularly hungry since we all just stopped for a torta and tea 20 minutes earlier. But the aroma of oven fresh bread is too seductive. We must do it.

Backstube
A Satyr gets a scolding

This really is a lovely medieval zone, well maintained with all the amenities. We are here during shoulder season but, still, there are lots of folks strolling around, browsing in shops, sampling food. The number of restaurants and snack shops makes it clear that this place gets totally mobbed in high season. There seems to be an ice cream shop every 30 meters. Seriously, I think I’ve found ‘my city’. There is critical mass ice cream here.

The Romans, c. 1591, in Fischmarkt Platz

We can’t believe it but we’re hungry again. We choose a Bavarian style pub featuring Munich beer. I order Nürnberg Würstchen with sauerkraut. Katherina had a kind of giant cracker with white asparagus, greens, and cheese. Argh, I can’t recall what Joshua and CK ordered. I’ll have to remember to ask. Soooo good.

Life is short. Eat dessert first.

And more ice cream shops. Of course now that we are looking for one, we find a queue 20 minutes long. No worries, mate! 30 meters away is another one with only two customers ahead of us. And the fellow serving us is a comedian as well. It turns out to be excellent ice cream with about half the sugar and twice the flavor.

The Dom, St Marien Cathedral
Wolfram Candelabra

Now we hunt the bucket list item. Actually it is CK’s item: The Dom. It’s a church. It’s a Gothic church. They were not a very optimistic lot, these ancient Catholics, which is reflected in their architecture and décor choices. Can’t blame them much, really. The 12th-15th centuries pretty much sucked, so their view of dieties was a sober one, often edging over into grim. This all changed once the 16th century arrived with the Renaissance Era and its more optimistic view. But we don’t see any of the Baroque/Renaissance today. This cathedral is an impressive structure, but spooky and dark. In these places I go hunting for graffiti and The Green Man.

Green Man

Time to find the car and zip back to Leipzig. Joshua is our fearless pilot. He drives as if he’s been navigating German roads for years. I’m good with that and exercise my status as Alpha Toddler: I collapse into nap time as soon as the car begins to move. Meanwhile the ladies are anticipating another attack of hunger. CK and Katherina phone ahead for reservations at the Panorama Tower, the tallest structure in Leipzig. I’m snoozing in my seat content in the knowledge that I’ll not likely starve today.

A view of Erfurt from the Dom staircase

Tomorrow is another excursion but I’m not quite certain yet where or what. I’ll let it be a surprise.

Joshua and Katherina at the Panorama Tower, Leipzig

Stay tuned!



April 24, 2019


Burg Falkenstein

Helene and Wille are again occupied by school in the morning and by a sitter in the afternoon which leaves the four of us (Joshua, Katherina, CK, and me) relatively free to wander the Earth. The rental car is still at our service so off we go to tour the Burg Falkenstein.

After about an hour and twenty minutes of autobahn, Joshua delivers us to a parking lot that looks as if it could hold 200 cars or more. We are car #4. The place is empty and the weather is spectacular. We double-check Google and the castle really is open for business. A 2 km walk through the forest to the castle on an easy trail where we enjoy wildflowers, birdsong, and fresh leaves budding out on the hardwood trees.

Our first view of the castle presents us with scaffolding under tarps. Katherina is disappointed but CK and I are used to this. Just about every tourist site we visit is under repair in some way that messes up the profile of the place. It just means that I have to buy a postcard at the gift shop and take a photo of that if I want a perfect image.



This fortress has its beginnings in 1120. The first version of it took 30 years to build. Since then it has seen some additions and upgrades as well as some subtractions but it still maintains the character of a medieval fortification and residence. I can’t find any history that describes it ever being attacked so I doubt that it was. There is quite a bit of evidence suggesting that it was used as a hunting lodge by its privileged owners. The Falkenstein name echoes a popular occupation among medieval noblemen: falconry. In fact, this place hosts a falconer and his assistant. They put on two demonstrations per day featuring two kinds of eagles, one Great Horned Owl, and a Peregrine Falcon. The Golden Eagle is content to stay close to the handler and show off his stuff. The other eagle flies off into the woods as soon as they release her feet. The handlers said she would come back about sunset. Next is the Great Horned Owl, mostly a rescue bird. 10 years old and cannot do any trained-bird tricks. He just stands on the handler’s arm, swivels his head, flashes his orange eyes, and looks awesome. They bring out the falcon at last. She is the star of the show, thoroughly trained, making several high speed passes over the audience responding to the handler’s lure. Oooo’s and aahhh’s.

Great Horned Owl
Golden Eagle
Peregrine Falcon
Tracking the lure

The falconry exhibition launches a discussion about the deliciousness of pigeon which reminds us that lunch should happen, but just a brief gnosh because we still have to inspect the interior of the castle. I enjoy some goulash featuring a piece of wild boar, a former resident of the surrounding forest. Excellent stuff.

Detail in the Chapel
The Castle’s Kitchen with chimney flue directly above

Most of the castle is now a museum full of anachronisms, reconstructed medieval rooms and scenes, presentations of armor and weapons of bygone eras. Part of it is used for weddings and receptions. We climb the main donjon, the central tower keep, for a view over the forest. Of course, I am making some photos as I go, including some verboten ones of the kitchen and chapel.

We can’t seem to stop commenting on the perfect weather: clear skies, warm sun, a stellar day in Spring making the 2 km walk back to the car very pleasant.

Views from the Keep Tower

On the way back to Leipzig I snooze uncontrollably while everyone else chats like Magpies on a fence. They could be comparing adjectives, describing how disgusting I am and I’d never know it. The Alpha Toddler strikes again!

Joshua and Katherina need to go do some shopping in preparation for a backyard barbecue tomorrow, so we hop out at Augustusplatz for an evening patrol around the Zentrum. CK searches the department store for some replacement socks and a new top in anticipation of warmer weather in France. In the street there are a few buskers, one of which is a 9 piece band. They look like college students who hatched an idea to put on silly outfits and perform in the square after an all nighter of beer, chips, and Monte Python binge watching. They are quite entertaining and draw a crowd of 1 or 2 hundred. Around the corner is a guy playing piano wearing a horse mask. His sign proclaims that he’s raising money for an engagement ring. We make a contribution.

Rockin’ the Markt Platz in Leipzig
A good disguise

This could be, and probably is, our last evening in Leipzig City Center. With that in mind we decide on another meal at our favorite Italian joint, Sardinia. Here is the only place in town where the wait staff recognizes us. A few days ago we walked in after having been absent for a year and they greeted us as if we had never left with big smiles and handshakes. They even remembered our favorite snack, melon and Parma ham, bringing it to us directly. I don’t know what we did to impress our ugly mugs upon them but it happened. No doubt we’ll keep coming back here whenever we’re in Leipzig.


Tomorrow: House Party and Barbecue with Family and Friends!


Stay tuned!



April 26, 2019


Kids frolic in Joshua and Katherina’s yard

Yesterday, CK and I stayed close to the flat. There were chores to do in preparation for today’s trip to Munich but we were very lazy tourists. Joshua challenged CK and I to a game of Boule (Bocce Ball) and I mixed up some Gin & Tonic. CK defeats us. The big plan for the day was a late afternoon party with family friends all of whom we met on our previous visits. A fascinating group of characters: a social worker, 2 x professional musicians/teachers, an environmental systems engineer, a pediatric nurse plus their children, and ourselves. It was excellent fun with good food and lots of laughs. Thomas H., the engineer, was kind enough to share some of his knowledge of Munich with us. Now we have a good walking plan through the heart of the city.

Katherina and Scrocchi enjoy a moment of peace

So, we pack up all of our stuff, kids and all, load into the rental car, and relax while Joshua pilots the us to Munich. Joshua and family will return to Leipzig on Sunday. We will leave for Strasbourg, France, Monday morning early. We have spent a very pleasant week as Joshua and Katherina’s house guests, four days longer than Mark Twain’s limit. We hope we don’t smell as bad as his prediction. They have spoiled us beyond redemption.


We have 3 plus hours of highway travel plus breaks. CK and I count this as our longest autobahn experience to date. It’s a pretty good one mostly because Joshua is in charge and we are not. Those folks in the fast lane make things not a little bit terrifying. Our speed might be 100km (60mph) in lane 3 but cars to our left in lane 4 are snapping along at 200km. Every once in a while Joshua hits the accelerator and auf gehts! (away we go) to join the high speed track. I’m amazed that this boxy little Ford can do it. I learn stuff, too, such as there are occasional speed limits for the fast lane, usually 120 km (74.5 mph). This only lasts a few miles before it is taken off and marked for unlimited. But it happens often enough that a driver would have to watch for it. And don’t get sloppy, either. Ignoring the slowdown zones will engender a fat fine. There are electronic monitors and cameras all over the place. We are being watched.


Of course my response is to nod off whenever possible, further carving my title of Alpha Toddler deeper into stone. CK is in the back making up fairy tale stories for Helene in English, of course. Helene is very patient and doing a heroic job of pretending to understand. Then again she may understand everything quite well, we just can’t know that. Everything she says is in German. This can continue only so long until CK runs out of magic fairy dust. Joshua comes to the rescue by summoning Siri through his phone to play the sound track of Disney’s Moana. Instantly the kids go very quiet. Wille nods off.

A quick first pic of Munich through the car window

Munich slides under our wheels before long. Our hotel is a nice one, part of the chain owned by Joshua’s employer. Everything works in the room but we have to call down for a second towel; they had only left us one.


Our evening meal is at a rather popular, therefore crowded, pizza place, L’Osteria. I order gnocchi and it isn’t bad. It’s darn good, actually, swimming in a creamy tomato sauce. Wille slides out of his chair and sets up an ambush under the table. He wants juice more than pizza. Helene develops a crush on our movie-star-handsome waiter. Parents dart between getting pizza bites for themselves and wrangling children. The whole joint is so noisy with German chatter, we may as well be in a foreign country. Wait….

At L’Osteria. Wille is hiding under the table

Back to the hotel and everyone is ready to sack out. This is a nice place. The beds are super comfy. We sleep very well.


At 6 am Saturday, April 27, I’m up and looking for some real coffee, not the instant kind they leave in the room, the good stuff. They offer a breakfast, like most of hotels do these days, so I try to navigate from my 2nd floor room to the lobby, thinking that I’ll find my coffee there. I board an elevator which displays signage indicating that breakfast is on Floor O. There is no Floor 0 selection on the elevator’s buttons. I try another elevator. I step inside and it only shows that I can go down to Floor 1, not Floor 0. I give the Hell up and take the stairs. In the Lobby there is no hint of breakfast so I go to the restaurant which appears to be closed. The smoked glass doors don’t allow any evidence of activity to be seen. But the door opens and I’m greeted by two nice people who offer me breakfast if I’m willing to surrender my room number. I only want some coffee, I plead. She directs me to a coffee machine by the door. Arrgh. “Really?”, not what I had in mind. It has an electronic screen displaying several combinations of coffee and milk. I pick one. No response. This thing is kaput. The nice lady, noticing my failure, offers to make some real coffee from the espresso machine. Bingo! And so ends my Munich Morning Coffee Adventure for today. There’s a whole day in front of us, so who knows what we’ll find.


Stay tuned.



SATURDAY IN MUNICH

April 27, 2019


Breakfast is at the hotel with Joshua, Katherina, and the kids. There is a crowd dense enough to make a table for 6 something of a challenge. Finding two tables for 4 is a start, pulling in another one does the trick. There was a crowd for pizza last night and another this morning in the hotel. I’m sensing a pattern here.

The Chinese Tower

After loading up on eggs and sausages we’re off in the car. Our target is The Englisher Garten. This is a 910 acre public park in the center of Munich, one of the largest such spaces in the world. It was sponsored by a Bavarian Prince, Charles Theodore. It was expanded and improved into the mid 1800’s. We would need bicycles and a full day to cover it all. Instead we are making a stately stroll with the kids, taking our time, enjoying the day. The weather is a changeable so we have our umbrellas at the ready.

The Englischer Garden

Of course all the trees are leafed out and the place is a kind of green Hell. Around a corner we spy a hefty 85 foot tall Chinese Tower. It was first constructed in 1789 as part of the initial development of the park. It survived until bombing took it out in 1944. It was reconstructed in 1952. Today we are not allowed to climb its spiral staircase because the first level is commandeered by a troupe of Bavarian musicians. Looking around this structure is a sea of picnic tables, room for 7,000 people. This is surrounded by various beer gartens and food stands. In high season this will be a mob scene but today it looks almost empty.

The weather is doing its thing, spitting rain on us just long enough to force us to pop our umbrellas. Five minutes later, the sun is out and we’re stowing them again. Down the path, we’re seeing semi-tamed geese with their tiny goslings. Tamed because they expect to be handed food. They have learned the dangerously bad habit of walking toward humans, instead of running away.

Munich Surfing
She sells shots of booze to the surfing onlookers
Helene and CK admire a waterfall

A very swift stream runs through the park. The designers installed several spectacular waterfalls and a few formidable rapids. I have no idea why they created the rapids in the 18th century but in our era the Germans have seized upon it for the purpose of surfing. Yep. Surfing in the center of Munich. It is a real thing. And that water is ice cold. All the surfers are well covered in neoprene suits from head to foot. The standing waves they use are not very wide so there is a queue. Everyone waits their turn. It is very well organized.

The Monopteros

The morning flies by. Soon we’re planning our next meal, no surprise, because it’s noon already. On our way back to the car another sun-shower draws out the umbrellas. The kids are thrilled to be using their brand new ones. Katherina smartly acquired them in Erfurt a couple of days ago.

The world is Wille’s playground

Joshua guides us to a temple in the Greek style that the English would call a Folly. Its name is The Monopteros but most Germans call it the Apollo Temple. Finished in 1836, it seems to be dedicated to the memories of certain ancient 1%’rs who attached their names to the sponsorship of the park, King Maximillian and Mad King Ludwig among them.

Near Marien Platz, the Hofbrauhaus on the left


Off we go toward the next big tourist site in Munich, Marien Platz. This square is dominated by the enormous town hall tower with an automaton style clock. In the middle ages this area was used for market business and tournaments. The jousting tournaments have taken on a different character and moved to other locations but the markets are still here in the form of shops and restaurants. There are a dizzying number of them as well as… a crowd. This is a Saturday in Spring. The tourist season is far from hitting its stride and this part of town is throbbing with people. We’ve said this before, referring to other places we’ve seen: don’t want to be anywhere near this place in high tourist season. It would be absolutely nuts.

The Hofbrauhaus
Lederhosen is a real fashion here
Helene is cool with it all

Our first goal here is to score some food. Joshua points out that we happen to be standing in that part of the zone which features the famous Biergartens of Lowenbrau, Hofbrauhaus, and Augustiner. We choose Hofbrau….. and another impossible mob scene. This place has three floors and all of them are busy but nothing like the ground floor. It is packed and the noise of conversation and music from the Bavarian style band is deafening. We admire the architecture as we elbow our way through it. Even though it was launched in 1589, what we see is from the 1890’s. It’s a lovely room but there’s no place to sit and we couldn’t talk to each other even if we found a table. So, we go to the second floor where Katherina finds that all the tables there are reserved. In a place that can seat 1300 people, we need reservations? Really! But hey! They just discovered that a reservation cancelled and a table for 6 is now available! It is an excellent plan to have a native speaker in the group. Food and beer is very good and the waiter is nice to us despite reports of not-so-niceness being a possibility. Kids eat about 4 bites of food and soak up a quart of juice each. This is also a pattern, a fairly predictable one.

We support Buskers!

We’re back outside and hunting for ice cream. Not a problem although I still think Erfurt has the record critical density for ice cream shops. A short wander deeper into Marien Platz reveals that the kids are at the end of their stamina despite the fresh sugar charge. So, the family begins to trek back to the hotel while us old folks wander on a bit. CK finds a couple of churches. One is in the Baroque style, not as flamboyant as others we’ve seen but still featuring lots of scrambled eggs, flourishes like a meringue pie topping, and bright window light. A figure of Jesus with a peculiar startled look on his mug is hovering over a pond and garden near the alter. They brought in dirt and plants for a real Spring look. The other church is a DOM, a cathedral. This one is mirthless, no fun at all. The sign that greets us says specifically, and in English, NO SIGHTSEEING. Ok. No problem. The interior was boring anyhow.

sanctuaryfarmphila@gmail.com
The Church of the Holy Spirit, Baroque Style

We decide to make it back to the hotel in order to rest up a bit before our next meal with the family. Finding the subway is easy. The ticket machines work fine and 15 minutes later we emerge at the hotel entrance. Slick.

Dinner with the family is at a spot Katherina noticed the night before. This is Bapas, a restaurant that has borrows the idea of tapas from the Spanish and applies it to German food. It is absolutely packed and just as deafening as L’Osteria and the Biergarten. I get the impression that everywhere is mobbed in Munich. We order beer and roast pork. It is delish and we get appropriately small plates considering what pigs we made of ourselves at the Hofbrauhaus. The kids have had it, however. After 4 bites and a pint of juice Helene passes out at the table. Wille manages to hang on until he exits the car at the hotel. I pick him up and poof, he’s instantly unconscious draped over my shoulder.

Bapas for the evening meal

It’s been a terrific day. We’ve seen lots of stuff and had some marvelous food and quality time with our friends. There are plans to do some more sightseeing tomorrow.


Stay tuned!




April 28, 2019


Breakfast is at the hotel again. This keeps us pointed in the proper direction, an efficient feeding and watering of kids and adults. Our goal is Das Deutsche Museum. This place is on all the must-see lists for Munich. Joshua delivers us there after a short ride through town.

Deutsche Museum

The first thing we see as we enter is a display of watercraft. Katherina is our interpreter when we need to know what a particular information plate says. One old river boat has been cut away to reveal the below decks area. Clever. There are a lot of marine and industrial exhibits, more than I’ve seen anywhere else. Most fascinating is a WWII German U-boat that has its sides cut away to reveal the internal workings. Very much a potential of stress for a claustrophobe.

Helene pilots a plane

Learning about leverage

There are several interactive areas, exhibits that invite the visitor to experience a physics or mechanical concept first hand. This is great for kids and Alpha Toddlers. Helene’s favorite is one that demonstrates airplane controls with aileron, elevator, and rudder. Wille is only 3, so he’s pressing every button and tugging every lever just to (1) see if he can manage it and (2) see if anything happens when he does.

The Germans make gorgeous machines

This behavior goes into overdrive when they arrive at the kid’s play area. Here they are almost allowed to trash the place. They try their best.

Headless Busker #1
Headless Busker #2

Before we know it, the time has come for Joshua, Katherina, and the kids to take the car back to Leipzig. Time to hug and say so long for now with a reminder that, if we are still welcome, we’ll be back at Easter Break again next year. By then, Wille will be far to heavy for me to carry, something of a disappointment for both of us. Never mind. We’ll figure something out that will likely involve walking.

The Automaton Clockworks at City Hall

CK and I decide to wander a bit more in the Old Town. It is Sunday and more than half of all businesses are closed because, well, that’s the deal in Germany. There are far fewer people in the streets than Saturday but still enough to make it look like a busy day. We arrive in Marien Platz again and realize that the bell is ringing 3 p.m. Yikes, it seems like we just had breakfast. Where did the day go?

A bronze of Shakespeare’s Juliet in Marien Platz

We walk to Odeonplatz just to say we were there. CK finds the baroque style church that guards the square and, of course, she must inspect it. There’s a lot of rococo plasterwork but it is all done in white, no color, so it looks a little plain to CK’s eye. I think they either ran out of money or just wanted to make the space as bright as possible. But that’s just me in these places. Two or three pix and I’m done. I’d just as soon not find the reliquary featuring the desiccated body parts of a Saint, or two, or three.

Another Baroque Church

The day really has sped away from us. By 5 pm we’re back at the hotel preparing to head off toward France early. We want to be hailing a cab at 5:15 am for a 20 minute ride to the Hauptbahnhof. It will be a 4 hour train to Strasbourg. We won’t get breakfast until we get to the station and even then it will only be a croissant and a coffee.

I know I won’t get the hotel’s restaurant coffee in the morning so I ask the front desk for a teabag to get me through the morning. “Surely,” says the nice lady, “that will be 5 euro.” “Really?”, I blurt, “5 euro for tea?” “One moment,” says she in a charming accent, “I’m new, so I’m still learning.” After another 2 minutes consulting her point of sale screen, she announces, “3 euro!” I cannot report the look on my face but it must have been incredulous. I decline to pay it.

So long, Munich

After an average dinner in the hotel’s pub, we take a quick last walk around our hotel’s neighborhood.

We spy a solitary swan in a pond behind some apartments. I name her “The Marlene Dietrich of Swans”. CK quips, “I (honk) to be alone.”

There’s lots more to see in this city of 1.3 million but we also agree that there’s only a slim chance that we’ll ever find ourselves in Munich again. That’s ok. The only place we have an extended stay is Leipzig which grows into a different experience.

Next, a transit to France. Stay tuned.



12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page