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  • Writer's pictureTim Madison

EUROPE 2024 - Iceland & Germany

Updated: Apr 7

March 27, 5 pm PDT.

Lopez Island & Seattle


Once upon a time we might have been frustrated and petulant teenagers indulging in an ill-considered impulse to simply bolt out into the world beyond our constraints to take our chances, relying only upon personal charm and dumb luck to survive. Come to think of it, I must have done exactly that. But that was 56 years ago, and this is the 2024 version of 'Running Away From Home'. We have a more sufficient set of resources in our kit than we did in 1968, and we're not afraid to use them. Reservations, tickets, credit cards, cell phones, and laptops.  Lightweight layered clothing, fancy jackets, high-tech footwear, sunscreen, and cash. We even have TSA pre check! So, no excuses. We're lighting out for 49 days in 4 countries to visit friends and see what we can see, which includes, I suppose, some things we never wanted to see. Last year's visit to Bautzen, Germany, comes to mind when certain items, which should have stayed in my stomach, didn't. But you’ll have to look up that particular blog entry for the details if you dare.


Departing Lopez Island

A rainbow sends us off

We're ready for contretemps, if necessary. However, the portents are good today. The sun broke through what had been a solid day of cloud at the moment we departed Lopez Island. A brilliant rainbow beamed away to the north. That's as positive a take as we could ask on day number 1.We spend the night on the mainland.  Our meal is a picnic of leftover lasagne in a hotel room. Tomorrow, we plan to have a leisurely Thursday on our way to a late afternoon flight to Reykjavik on Iceland Air.March 28CK informs me that today isn't as leisurely as we thought. We have a car maintenance issue in the morning followed by a 1 hour dash to Snohomish for a brief social call. From there, we hustle to SeaTac to catch that Iceland Air jet for 8 hours of night flying, crossword puzzles, and dozing. Heading toward the sunrise at 500mph does goofy things to our brains. Moving east while the Earth spins below us in the opposite direction means that we emerge blinking and half conscious from our pressurized aluminum pipe at about 6:30 am in Iceland. We plan to spend the night in Reykjavik, the idea being to scrub off a bit of jet lag brain fog before our arrival in Germany. This seems like a fair plan except for some annoying details, the prime one being that at 6:30 am, our hotel room won't be available for 5 to 6 hours. We previously solved this by booking into The Blue Lagoon, a vast hot springs and spa operation between the airport and Reykjavik. We would soak, bake, snooze, and sip herbal tea until our hotel was ready to welcome us. But this time there's a wrinkle, a geologic wrinkle, you might say. On November 10, 2023, the town of Grindavik was evacuated because volcanic action was brewing nearby.  In December it popped with fireworks and molten rock. It blew up again with some considerable force 10 days ago and consumed 3 homes. All this hot stuff is judged to be too close as far as The Blue Lagoon is concerned. Three workers there suffered effects from poisonous gases a few days ago. The spa is closed and our plans are minced. The bars aren't even open in Reykjavik at that hour, so we will be either creative or boring. We may end up sleeping on our luggage in the hotel's lobby if we run out of ideas.


All that is ahead of us, at this point. We haven't arrived at SeaTac yet although we are working on it.


Traffic!!!! :-(
Ready to go at SeaTac

Fast forward a little and we find ourselves angling through Snohomish, Wa after visiting our friend there. Google Maps directs us toward Hwy 405 by way of Hwy 9. Any kind of freeway traffic annoys us now that we've been Lopez Islanders for 10 years. It's the only practical way to get to the airport. We'll manage.Our buggy stashed in a parking lot, we hop the shuttle to SeaTac. Now we're feeling more detached from the US, anticipating a zombie red-eye long-haul fight and a frozen walk from the Keflavik terminal to the bus. It should be about 27F with a wind chill somewhere near zero. We're ready. I think. Our bags checked, passports inspected, x-rayed and frisked, boarding passes in hand, we wait for a jet to fling us towards Europe. There's time for a Bloody Mary before we go skipping over the troposphere. We have a Boeing 757. It is the same model we've had on this route for 8 years.




This is a 7 hour flight.  We manage to pass out for some of it. CK watches a LOTR movie. I take in the infamous “Barbie” flick.  I never caught the Barbie vibe, Mattel version, so I had to catch up fast.  The movie did a fair job of dragging us non-Barbie players into the milieu but I don’t think I fully got the memo.  I can see why it got awards.  It was brilliantly done but much of it I just didn’t grok. Also, I can’t look at Margot Robbie and not see Harley Quinn from “The Suicide Squad”.

 

March 29, 2024

Reykjavik

 

Thousands of feet below us Iceland begins to roll up on the horizon along with a sliver of sunrise. It is a cloudless day over Reykjavik and we’re arriving in darkness which allows us to see very clearly the fresh eruption below, glowing orange and spitting gas.

 

Out of the plane and into the terminal, it takes almost 2 hours to get through passport check, retrieve luggage, and get started into town on what they call a FlyBus. It doesn’t fly.  It waits until you’re done flying and then takes you away.

 

As expected, the Center Hotel Plaza in town won’t have a room for us until about noon, about 4+ hours. We spend some of it walking around but it is brisk, breezy and several points below freezing. A busy bistro calling itself The Laundromat has a table for us.  We’re happy for that because this is Good Friday and about half of the shops, bars, and restaurants are shut.  We will patronize the Godless Heathens who choose to do business, thank you very much.  But we can’t sit there for hours so we’re back to the hotel lobby where we park in a corner and sleep, along with a dozen or so other travelers having the same experience.





Eventually we check in to our room and get sorted.  A brief rest is attempted but there’s something else about downtown Reykjavik on a Good Friday in nice weather we didn’t anticipate.  The local hog riders are here to put on a display of their personal taste, mechanical prowess, and throttle twisting skills. Loud, gurgling Harley-Davidsons are gathering in the plaza directly below our window. It is too cold for them to ride around, so they park their bikes and run the motors, every so often gunning them to achieve the desired cultural effect of startling mothers and babies.  CK says they are looking for chicks but I see no females anywhere near this gathering of two-wheeled, pot bellied Vikings.  These guys are in it for the gasoline burn and the noise.


Time to go for a walk.  A few blocks up the hill and we pass beyond the bikers up to Rainbow Street for a bit of window shopping. There’s an accordion busker, a sound we associate with Leipzig.  We have no Kroner to give him but I figure he’ll take any currency.  The air is swimming with the smell of hot pizza. 





Tourists are sunbathing in their parkas as they drift up toward the church, Hallgrimskirkja, not to attend services but to take pictures of it.  We can’t go in, anyhow.  A large sign at the door proclaims “No Sightseeing”.  A solemn fellow with dark hair and a stern look patrols the entry. He looks like he means business. CK decides that she will not challenge him. Instead we choose to admire the rather spiffy bronze statue of Leif Eiriksson sporting his battleaxe. Ironic that the effigy of this old pagan head splitter decorates the approach to a Christian church but what do I know?

 

We need to get some sleep before the alarm explodes at the unholy hour of 3 a.m.  A plane is due to take us to Germany and we can’t miss it.  But first, a bite to eat in one of the dozens of eateries around the neighborhood.  We barge into ‘Caruso’ with no reservation, but they are able to seat us. This is a Mediterranean cuisine because culturally authentic Icelandic fare is to be avoided.  Anthony Bourdain dedicated an episode of his TV show to Iceland and these were the only dishes I’ve ever seen him turn down. Pickled shark tastes like an ammonia flavored gummie and if not prepared correctly, it can kill you.  No thanks.













 







March 30, 2024

Reykjavik, Iceland to Leipzig, Germany


If Ikea was a language they would speak it here. We learned long ago that the usual sounds associated with vowels do not apply. Any attempt to pronounce a word seen on a sign or menu will be wildly incorrect and likely to provoke reactions of horror or amusement from the natives.  English is the first option in our communications tool bag. Now that AI is getting better, there's another option for us travelers to be aware of: real-time translation apps on the cell phone. I haven't tried it yet but haven't needed it, either. Of course, without a data signal, it wouldn't work. Still, I want to keep this in mind. .


Downtown Reykjavik at 4 am Saturday morning

Good Friday evening in downtown Reykjavik was dedicated to Non-Easter like activities. The clubbers were still hard at it when our taxi whisked us away toward the airport at 4:30 a.m. Since our room directly overlooks the club zone we have a front row seat for all of it. At no time last night was there a moment of silence. Shouts, shrieks, squeals, honking cars, and rhythmic thumping of techno music have no trouble sifting through the exterior wall. It doesn't help that the room is overheated and lacks controls.  For all these reasons, our plan for sleeping is dashed. We only find a few moments of unconsciousness punctuated by a continuous party soundtrack. On the optimistic side, insomnia may be a good thing as it puts us more in sync with the time zone shift.


Our taxi driver to the airport has a Tesla. This is our second experience in one of these contraptions, the first being a Lyft driver in California a few weeks ago. This one has a glass roof, which gives the illusion of infinite head room. It's a smooth and quiet ride. The rear seat is made for children and Pygmies. Getting in and out requires folding, twisting, and creatively awkward movements for a person such as myself. Teslas seem to be everywhere but I'll never buy one for a number of reasons, not just because the back seat is uncomfortable. CK quizzes our driver on several subjects. He's an amiable fellow. His English is very functional and comes with a thick Scandinavian accent. Again, we are able to see the orange glow of the new volcano as we near Keflavik. If there were an excursion to a safe viewpoint, I would be a customer. There isn't one yet, but I'll guess this will be corrected in future. The taxi ride is expensive.  Everything is expensive in Iceland. A hot dog is $18. A hamburger $25. This taxi is $150.  The bus to the airport is about half of that but the problem with the bus is that we’re never sure where it is supposed to show up. There are no signs to tell us we’re standing in the right place while we freeze our tillies in the 25F breeze.  So, to be certain, we take a cab. Missing a plane is a big no-no.

 

An Elf Stone

At the Keflavik airport there is a curious object, a rather enormous boulder installed in one of the lounges.  The information placard informs that it is an Elf Stone, a home for elves.  It turns out that a majority of Icelanders believe that elves are real and that they can work some bad magic mojo upon you if you don’t believe in them.  As long as one believes and is respectful, apparently, one is safe from their mischief. Such a belief system causes me to wonder why they would install such a supernatural security risk in an airport. 


Our flight to Berlin is 3 hours but it passes fairly quickly between crossword puzzles, dozing, and a strange tray of Iceland Air breakfast.  No, it wasn’t pickled Shark but it still had items I failed to recognize fully.  The best bit was a chunk of delicious bacon hiding beneath a flavorless something that was neither egg nor waffle. CK didn't grok it, either.


Once on the ground we have another 3 hours to fritter away while awaiting a train to get us to another station where we hop a different train that takes us to Leipzig.

 

We're a bit weary but getting there!

This is a long travel day.  We like them to be boring and uneventful.  We also like all the conveyances to be orderly and on time because of course we do.  It doesn’t always happen that way but today it does. Everything works as intended although we only manage to make the second train connection with scarcely moments to spare. It seemed like we just set foot on the train and it set sail instantly.

 



Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

Arriving in Leipzig we take advantage of the busy shopping mall in the Hauptbahnhof to pick up some bread, butter, milk, and coffee.  Our Air BnB flat is an easy luggage drag toward the center of town.  CK is armed with documentation provided by the owner which contains the code for the door.  We are instructed to enter the correct sequence on a keypad and the door will unlock.  We do and it doesn't.  Several attempts result in failure.  CK gets on the phone.  Luckily the landlord picks up.  He confirms that what we are doing should open the door but alas, no cigar. We seem to be forlorn and stuck on the sidewalk indefinitely.  Two days of all systems working properly to get us to our digs and bam! Locked out! In the photo below, CK is talking with Fritz trying to figure a solution.  The other lady perched on the window ledge turns out to be another Air BnB guest in the same building.  She perceives our problem and comes to the rescue by using her pass key to get us through this outer door. Once inside we find our flat the next floor up.  Fritz buzzes us in remotely and all is well. We never solved the issue of the door code but we won’t need it now because a pass key was waiting for us inside the flat.  We’ll use that to get in and out for the next 9 days.

 


We unpack quickly because we’re due to dine with our friends and their kids soon.  We have a reservation at Sardegna, an Italian spot just a short walk away.  We like staying in central Leipzig.  We don’t need a car.  Everything we need is a short walk away, including access to a vast streetcar transit system that goes everywhere beyond walking distance.

 

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

It's a lovely evening catching up with Katherina, Joshua, Helene, and Wille.  They have hatched a bunch of plans for the 6 of us over the next few days and it all sounds like fun.  Tomorrow is Easter Sunday and just about everything in shut up tight except the big Easter Market in the central plaza.  That’s the main focus of the day.  There’s likely to be more to it but we’ll see.


Wille & Helene have come to work their magic!

Katherina, Joshua, Wille, Helene, CK after a nice meal at Sardegna

March 31, 2024

Leipzig, Germany


Our first sleep in Leipzig is more peaceful than our last sleep in Reykjavik by many orders of quiet. There was only one madman in the street below us. The walls in this building are thick enough to mute him to cricket level and he ran out of breath by 2 a.m.  I still think we haven’t quite defeated the time zone shift.  Not sure about CK but I’ll probably need a snooze sometime today.

 

At the Leipzig Easter Market
They cannot pump the beer fast enough

Joshua, Katherina, and the Squids arrive about noon to escort us to the Leipzig Easter Market.  We’re kind of familiar with it, which makes it more interesting.  We know where the Guinness and the bratwurst vendors are, for instance.  It has a medieval theme so it’s a bit like a show.  Many of the vendors and amusement operators are in costume and appropriate character. There’s a stage where performers are playing ancient instruments like 14th century bagpipes, flutes, lutes, and even a hurdy-gurdy.  The kids snag a ride on a clever carousel which uses rigging and gravity to spin its victims. Human powered, no motors involved. Before long we’re consuming goodies like Trdelniks, a kind of cinnamon coated tube-shaped donut baked around a hot cylinder. Trdelnik means ‘chimney’ in Czech.  Next, the brats and beer.  Wille scores a toy helmet to add to his Armory of Doom.

 

Deconstructing a Trdelnik


Wille with his new helmet, being especially naughty
The gravity powered Carousel
I expected a horse at first glance

The most Art Nouveau establishment in town. We'll be back.

Today is Katherina’s birthday.  She says it is an odd thing for it to fall on Easter Sunday but that’s because the whole business of Easter’s moving lunar calendar is odd.  We hop in the van to go back to their house where tea, birthday cake (made by Joshua!), and song are happening.  CK breaks out her bag of gifties containing a bit of something for everyone.  


Happy Birthday, Katherina!

She carried this bag on the flights and trains for two and a half days literally on her lap, the suitcase being quite unable to take them.  One of them is a remote-controlled mechanical bird with ornithopter action.  We’re hoping it isn’t too delicate an object for Wille, who can be rambunctious to an energy level approaching demonic.  We’re relieved when Joshua takes charge of the process of getting it up and running.  He figures it out and Wille hops out with him to the nearby grassy field to give it a romp.  A few minutes later they are back in the flat a bit crestfallen.  The bird flew very well.  Too well.  It shot up to 150 feet in seconds where a gust of wind flicked it out of range of the controller. It soared happily over the trees toward the Autobahn and disappeared. Joshua wants to think that it’s stuck to a truck heading for Munich.  Wille has a sad but he’s not the kind of guy who gets too disappointed about these things.  He’s his cheerful self in no-time. An extra bite of cake helps the disaster go down. This probably won’t be his last radio controlled flying device so the experience could be useful someday.

 

The Squids and Fam get into painting Easter Eggs while I collapse in a chair for a snooze.  I’m only getting a couple of photos of that because, of course, I’m sleeping through it and making some comical noises while CK and the gang make rude remarks.


Easter Egg Artists

I eventually regain consciousness in time to accept an invitation to go walking in the nearby Schlosspark, a woodland zone once belonging to a local aristocrat.  Katherina stays home while the rest of us stroll among the early blooms and unfolding leaves.  It’s a nice, dry day and the temperature is ideal.  Wille grabs a stick so he can poke things.  Helene practices dance steps as she goes.  Joshua and I play with our plant identification apps.  There’s a lot of Lamium (dead nettle, not a nettle) in bloom.  Also several thick carpets of white anenomes along with various other things in the process of showing away.  Soon it’s time to hurry back to the flat because we are due back in the downtown zone for a dinner reservation.

 

Out for a stroll on a Spring day

Carpets of Anenome

Katherina has set us up for a meal at ‘Seoul Trip’, a Korean barbecue experience.  We’re a little late because of our slow walking tour but no problem.  Our party of 6 is seated around a table featuring a grill in the center.  They bring us platters of items to cook on the grill and I’m pretty sure the diners are expected to cook their own food.  But we must look rather vacant, unfocused, you might say, because one of the servers camped out at our table and did the grilling for us.  We were the only table getting this kind of attention. Everything is very tasty.  I discover that Kimchi is best when used as a condiment for grilled beef or pork.  There was also a pickled radish adorned with chili pepper flakes that I fairly plundered. Only Joshua went for it along with me. 


Seoul Trip. Wille's into it.



We needed help!

Dinner done and dusted we take to the streets looking for gelato at 8:45 p.m. on Easter Sunday.  We had no chance.  Everything was dark except for one shop serving the ‘bad’ gelato.  We’d rather go gelato-free than hit that.  We’re saving our ice cream jones for tomorrow and calling it a night.  We’ll be back on the trail of conspicuous consumption when the sun comes up.



April 1, 2024

Leipzig, Germany


Schloss Burgk


Yesterday was Easter Sunday.  Today is April Fool’s Day.  This arrangement seems satisfyingly appropriate and a solid beginning for a Monday morning.

 

We sleep in a little more than normal.  I expect the time shift will be completely achieved by end of the day and we’ll be ‘on the clock’ in a proper way.  Sleeping in puts us in a bit of a rush because we only have an hour to put ourselves together enough to meet the Fam (Katherina, Joshua, Helena, and Wille) at a breakfast joint two blocks away.  It is ‘Endless’, as in Endless Brunch, variations of brunch menu all the time. We all ordered something sensible, like toast, eggs, and cheese except the kids.  When their order of pancakes arrived we all regretted our choices and envied their stacks of carbohydrate excess.  I tried something they call a Dirty Chai Latte, a mix of expresso and chai tea.  Dang.  I’m gonna steal that one.



We are off on the road today in a rented van, Joshua at the wheel.  It is 1 ¼ hour down the autobahn to the town of Freital.  There’s a modest castle there called Schloss Burgk.  There we attend a ‘Middle Ages Fair’.  In the US we might call it a Ren Fair or Renaissance Fair.  The kids are going to play it up correctly.  They have costumes and gear which will be apparent in the photos.  We adults are, sadly, sporting improper attire for this gathering.  We aren’t the only ones, but there are plenty of adults there who really are kitted out with full costumery, some with weapons both cosmetic and real. Many have customized hairdos to upgrade the look. It is a place to see and be seen if the 14th century is your jam. Many of the shops are marketing medieval clothing, props, and accessories.  Of course. there is nothing but food to plunder every 10 meters.  There’s a demonstration of hand-to-hand combat featuring real armor and weapons but somehow, we miss it. Almost all the activities are for kids such as archery of various kinds and different target games like trying to break an egg perched in a stump by tossing a 1 kilo ball at it from 10 feet.  I only saw one kid do it.  Another had kids throwing toy rats at a wall covered with armed rat traps.  There were comics and musicians on a small stage, jugglers, and fire breathing.  Lots of shops featured real cutlery, knives of every shape and size.  One was offering Harry Potter swag.  A Time Turner found its way onto Helene’s neck.  I can’t imagine how that happened.





Helene














Photo by CK!


We had to hit the sausage guy who offered a bratwurst made with pork and wild boar.  Awesome.  I washed it down with mead from the tavern booth next to him. I could have done that twice but I’m trying to pace myself.  We have a long trip ahead and I can’t let things get out of control too quickly.

 

It takes us about 5 hours to patrol the whole thing and do lunch.  The kids fit right in and had a great time.  About 4 pm we roll out and back to Leipzig to hit a burger joint (Peter Pane) for the day’s last bit of food.

 

The photos will be telling most of the story today. We’re not sure what Joshua and Katherina have planned tomorrow but I suspect they will keep us moving.



April 2, 2024

Leipzig, Germany

 

We are settling into our AirBnB flat on Bruhl Strasse.  We know this because we are sleeping in to unheard of hours.  We know which cupboard has the coffee mug and which drawer to open for the cutlery.  CK has even recalled how to work the washing machine.  If we need groceries or a croissant, we know just how to get them.  It helps that we’ve visited Leipzig and our FAM here in previous years and even stayed in this very flat last year.  Still, it’s a relaxing feeling to be familiar with a place and one’s surroundings. 

 

Cospudner See

Today, Joshua and Katherina are taking us to a place we visited last year, the Cospudner See, but from a different perspective.  This is a lake, the result of an abandoned coal mining operation, now become a playground for the citizens and a ritzy address for the well-heeled. Last year we were on our own.  We took a bus which dropped us in a rather uninhabited section of it, a large beach.  Uninhabited because it was April and only the leather-skinned-polar-attenuated would be dressed down and bathing.  We strolled the zone trying to imagine crowds of Leipzigers leaping about in various stages of undress, doing ‘beach’ the Sachsen way. This year, we are in the hands of the knowledgeable. 



Joshua and Katherina deliver us to the marina about 3 kilometers from the beach we discovered last year.  This is where people keep their sailboats and day trippers can rent rowboats or bikes.  There’s a nifty paved trail that runs 12 kilometers around the lake.  Here we find amenities: bistros, cake shops, and the like.  This, too, is quiet, being a Tuesday in April when the wind is blowing a steady 20 knots which is just the thing that keeps wind surfers happy and skipping madly over the white-caps.  Joshua and Katherina have a fiendish plan.  We are hiring a Tretmobile, a kind of 4 wheeled, human powered buggy that seats six. 



Four of the passengers pedal the somewhat awkward bicycle-style mechanism which produces a comically sedate pace.  All one can say about its acceleration capabilities is that ‘wobbly’ is overstating it. The slightest incline acts upon this conveyance as if a well fed Sumo wrestler had just come aboard.  We’re not in a race, of course.  Everything passes us on the path.  Cyclists, roller bladers, runners, squirrels.


We the very definition of a road hazard.  The idea is to circumnavigate the lake on the nicely paved path, tell jokes, sing songs, snap fotos, catch the stiff Spring breeze, listen to the birdsong, admire the blooms, notice the frozen nude bathers, and work the pedals in such a way that hot coffee and cakes will be fully earned and deserved at the finish line.  When the going gets tough, we summon extra strength and resolve by chanting our heart’s desire, “Cake! Cake! Cake!”  Neither are we too proud to not get out and push.  

 

At last we roll up to the cake shop, Kandler, a rather high end joint featuring confections one would find in glossy magazines dedicated to food.  We load up, without, for once, any splinter of guilt.  CK filches the cookies off the top of my Amaretto Coffee before I can slap her hand away.


Kandler for treats!
It was bumpy out there!

All smiles today, especially after cake!

It was a lovely day, dry with some brilliant sunbreaks.  It wasn’t that cold, only a steady wind to keep the jackets on and the hoods up.  The rest of the afternoon is spent at Joshua and Katherina’s flat where we get some movie time with the Squids.  “The Princess Bride” is one of our faves and one of theirs, too.  Somehow, it bears watching multiple times for us. And, like Rocky Horror, we begin to speak the lines along with the action.


Our dear friends, Joshua and Katherina in their lovely home.

The evening wraps up with a terrific meal of cured meats, wine, pickled veggies, bread, cheese, olives, stuffed peppers, and delicious home-made cranberry relish.  There’s also a pickled orange that I am going to try to duplicate at home.  Amazing flavors and excellent conversation to end the day.

 

A superb meal, German Style!

We find our way home to the Zentrum on the Leipzig Tram. It scoops us up exactly on schedule.  CK is ready with exact change for the ticket machine which we’re supposed to find on board.  There are two of them and they’re both broken.  Joshua anticipated this.  As we were going out the door, he let us know that if the machines are kaput, we stand within our rights if we are challenged by a ticket checker.  We need to pay attention to this because getting caught filching rides on the trams can get a person into some hot water.  Nevertheless, today we ride for free and ‘alles gut’.

 

Joshua has more adventures planned for us and the Squids tomorrow.



April 3, 2024

Leipzig, Germany


The sky is solid gray this morning with a lazy drizzle as value-added bonus for the local plant life.  It’s ideal weather if you’re a tulip or a turnip seed. We toss on an extra layer of garb and turn our hoods up because we’re going out.  Simon and Garfunkle are summoned from a deep crevice in my WayBack Files:  “It’s a light and tumble journey from the east side to the park, such a fine and fancy ramble to the zoo.”  Joshua and the Squids (now there’s a handle for a rock band) are meeting us outside our flat in their new electric vehicle to whisk us off to the Leipzig Zoo. 


In queue for zoo tickets

This is still Easter Week in Germany and will be until sometime this coming weekend.  It is like Spring Break in US universities and colleges but, in Germany, this extends all the way down to K-12.  All the kids and teachers are loose for a week.  The zoo is one of the places to find them. We arrive about 11:30 to join the queue of 200 or so.  Umbrellas are deployed as we hope the line moves quickly.  It does. German efficiency is amply applied to the ticket selling operation here.


Once inside, we opt for a quick snack to fortify us then off to visit the fish in the Aquarium zone.  Helene manages to make a petting zoo out of the Koi pond. Wille presses his nose up to the glass trying to impress something on the other side. We’re dodging scampering children, adults with strollers, and every other kind of humanity for the next few hours.  Everywhere we go there’s a crowd of a thousand, a very different scene than the nearly deserted marina yesterday at Cospudner See.  Today, there’s no keeping an eye on the two Squids. They are darting here, there, ahead of us, behind us.  Even if they are 3 meters away it’s difficult to pick them out of the crowds of children.


The last time CK and I were here with the fam was before Covid.  Since then, the zoo has improved a lot, remodeled some exhibits, added some others. We’ll be here for 4+ hours and only see 1/3 of it.  This is a serious zoo and well worth the visit if you’re ever here in Leipzig.  Our main focus today is a zone they call Gondwanaland.  This is an enormous greenhouse created by a translucent domed structure. Inside, the climate is perfectly tropical with all the required heat and humidity.  Joshua wisely advises us to strip off our outer layers and stash them in lockers before proceeding. 


The scene inside is heavy jungle.  Many birds and bats are free ranging.  Squawks, chirps, and squeaks can come from anywhere.  Half the fun is peering up into the foliage to see what might be lurking.  Of course there are a number of exhibits featuring particular animals.  Wille has a plan.  He is going to lead us to the boat ride and buy us all a ticket with his own money. Seems that he did very well at the Christmas Market selling hand made tree ornaments with his sister.  He rolls right up to the ticket booth and takes care of business.  He’s 8. 

 



Wille buys our tickets

I welcome the boat ride as a chance to get off my feet and float lazily along the artificial river.  We cruise by several tropical plants in bloom.  I’m happy that this zoo does not include annoying tropical insects.  The only ones we see are the stick insects, safely tucked in behind glass.

 




Wille acquires souvenirs also with his own $ (photo by CK)

Time passes quickly and we’re getting hot and sleepy.  Small wonder since we’ve been strolling in a tropical jungle for 4 hours.  We collect our coats and visit a few more exhibits on the way out.  My faves were the Ocelot and the Snow Leopards.  Nice kitties. There were also some enormous vultures (Golden Eagles?) who were having their daily meal.  Scary and impressive.  These guys are at least twice the size of an American Bald Eagle.  We find the exit and not a moment too soon.  The Squids are pooped and so are we.  We all need a nap before we meet up again for dinner. 


Ocelot

Snow Leopards

Gondwanaland: Dome, Jungle, River, & Boat

Katherina has a 7 p.m. reservation for us in the city center at ‘Wienstock’, a very German style establishment, a bit upscale.  CK and I break out our ‘better’ clothes which we very creatively found room for in the luggage.  The wine, food, and service are all excellent.  We even partake of the springtime delicacy in these parts: white asparagus.  It is Spargelzeit (Asparagus Time) in Germany and large, pale spears of it are literally on every restaurant’s special list usually served with melted butter or Hollandaise Sauce.


A fine evening at Weinstock
Wille busts out the "Business Casual" look!

We stroll back through the city to our flat, the end of another great day in Leipzig and lovely fun and laughs with the Fam.






















April 4, 2024

Leipzig, Germany

 

Joshua and Katherina continue to find ways to make us feel special and spoiled for anything resembling our normal existence.  In reality, just spending time with them and the Squids is a delight.  Going places and doing stuff together is magic and today is no exception.  We’re off in the van today to Bad Düben, a 35 minute drive, where we will check in to Heide Spa. 

 

The spa is part of a hotel, in fact, it is the focus of the hotel’s service.  People come here to spend consecutive days in pampered splendor, but we are just here for the afternoon.  It features about half a dozen different pools about 1.35 meters deep (no diving) at a modest temp of 90F-ish.  It’s not hot-tub warm by any means, but nonetheless pleasant. Some parts offer bubble jets to sooth the bod, other gizmos pump thick jets of water from above intended to massage the neck and shoulders. Some pools are outside the building, some are inside.  One pool is shaped in a two-meter-wide circular canal with jets that push the bather along as if it were a fast-moving creek.  Of course, there are saunas and steam rooms.  And when all this splash and giggle makes us peckish we can raid the café without having to shift out of our swim gear. 


This is still holiday week and that means this place is busy with families on outings.  The pools are bursting with kids who feel unintimidated by the shallow water.  All are well-behaved, just rambunctious which makes the spa noisy.  The speedy creek was so well subscribed that I thought I would be colliding with others if I got into the current.  Holiday week might not be the time to seek sublime rest and contemplative bathing here.  But it is ideal for the Squids who are slipping through the water like eels with their masks and flippers, having a blast.  It’s super family time.







No Dancing?

Unlike that other spa in Iceland, The Blue Lagoon, this one does not allow fotos.  All I have in that department come from the entrance area and the dressing room.  However, the Blue Lagoon and Heide Spa have something in common, a sales system inside the spa.  We are issued a wrist band which has an imbedded code. When we order food or drink the wrist band is scanned and the fee is recorded to our ‘account’.  The wrist band is scanned again as we check out to connect us with our charges which are somewhat eye-watering.  We expected that, especially when it comes to lunch, but who cares?  We don’t.



We check out about 4 pm feeling oh-so-scrubbed and clean down the molecular level.  All the microbes on our bodies are either expired or stunned.  It will take a while for them to regain their composure.  Katherina and Joshua have another home-cooked meal planned for us at their flat.  The nature of road food has become clear to me these past few years and its that when we travel it is rare to find restaurant food that is more satisfying than home cooking.  It happens but not terribly often.  Once again, J & K confirm this observation by serving up a wonderfully healthy and tasty meal.  Yum.  Dessert is composed of macaroons and pralines from the local confectionery because that stuff is next to impossible to make at home.  Wille skulks away from the table only to return as the Dread Pirate Roberts or Jack Sparrow, we don’t know which.  He feels the need to conquer and avenge.  It may be an overdeveloped sense of rage against authority but most likely the outcome of a sugar overdose.

 

Dessert! Also featuring the lovely Helene!
Attacked by pirates! Arrr!

After Squid-Hugs and goodnights we find our way home on the tram.  This time the on-board ticket machine is working but we are still mystified by it.  A local bloke sees CK staring at the screen looking annoyed and offers to guide her through it.  He switches to English when she responds to his German with random hand signals.  The correct moves are made, and the machine spits out our tickets.  Google helps me find an appropriate phrase with which to thank him in German.  This made him chuckle but he said I did a decent job with the pronunciation!  Nice guy.

 

Tomorrow, perhaps an artistic experience.


April 5, 2024

Leipzig, Germany

 

Joshua and Katherina have another fiendish plan for us.  It happens to be Friday and that means Art Appreciation Day.  We will be attending not one but two exhibits featuring the works of Claude Monet.  The last time we ran into Claude was in Kunsthaus Zurich last May. They have a solid collection of his paintings there including three “Water Lily Pond”.  But today we’ll see his work presented differently.

 

Our first stop is Kunstkraftwerk Leipzig.  Literally ‘Art Factory’.  The artists are using an abandoned factory (we don’t know what used to happen there) for their project.  This is a digital art light show projected onto the walls of a large open space.  More than 300 of Monet’s paintings and sketches are used, some of them converted to animation (my favorite was fish swimming around our feet).  The object is to present some of the concepts and effects of impressionism in fresh ways. 

 

Critique:  It was interesting and pleasant with a very nice soundtrack.  The imagery was busy and quick to change from one thing to another, sometimes too quickly.  The walls used for the projection were simply gray concrete.  Both Joshua and I felt that they could have painted it a lighter shade or used a massive scrim installation to get better color out of the images. The floor was a beige bamboo surface, also not very responsive to light projections. Some images were used that we felt had nothing to do with Monet, which seemed odd and not particularly what was advertised. Joshua gave it a C- and he’s the guy with the art degree.  It was a pleasant show, nevertheless.  Beyond the main show space there were other projected images in different rooms that Joshua liked much better.  They didn’t change as much, offering more ‘immersion’ and focusing on specific techniques Monet used.

 

Kunstkraftwerk, a light show in an old factory






Looks like Banksy was here!

Back out in the daylight we hop into the van for a quick drive to a different neighborhood.  We’re planning lunch nearby but first we want a 30 minute stroll on a pedestrian path near a canal. We also seem to be in Graffiti Tagger Land which seems appropriate to the day, being all about art, etc.

The gas gauge

After lunch we find our way to the Panometer Leipzig.  This is a repurposed coal gas tank.  It was once one of many such installations that served as reservoirs for the city from the late 19th century to mid-20th.  Now it has been taken over by artists and used for very large cyclorama style art projects.  This one is inspired by Monet and the Impressionists.  Artist Yadegar Asisi depicts the cathedral of Rouen in the impressionist manner at the end of the 19th century. The original piece is 6 x 2 meters in size, done in oil.  For this exhibit it was digitized, enlarged, and printed in such a way that it could be mounted in a 360-degree panorama covering 0.86 acres. At this size one can inspect the details of the work very closely.  At ground level one gets the feeling of being on the town’s street.  In the center of the space is a tower one can climb to see it with different perspectives.  This isn’t a Monet piece but we can easily imagine that it could have been.  An excellent experience.



The original painting, 6 x 2 meters






It's getting to be tea time and there’s a plan for that.  J & K have discovered that their good friends, Richard and Kyra, are in town and looking forward to seeing us.  We haven’t seen them since pre-Covid.  They are always so interesting and such good company.  They serve us cakes from their favorite shop, spoiling us even more than J & K have.  The kids move off to the next room and the adults chat and tell jokes for 3 hours.  Great fun.  J & K and Squids head home for an early turn-in while Richard, Kyra, and Eric lead us to a nearby shop for a light bite before calling it a night. We hope to see them again next time we’re in town.

 

Today we soaked in a lot of art followed by quality social time with delightful folks and excellent food.  What the heck else could we ask for?  We can’t think of much, but we’re certain J & K are planning more adventures tomorrow.  They pick us up at 9 a.m.


On the walk home we pay our respects to J.S.B.
April 6, 2024

Leipzig, Germany

 

Joshua and Katherina planned things in advance today.  We knew we were doing a day trip to the city of Weimar, but they didn’t say what we’d be doing there. After a 1.5 hour drive Joshua finds a large parking garage to stash the van while we set out on foot.  We’re following him as he consults his Google map for directions.  J & K have never been to this town, either.  Whatever they have planned is specific and has to be coming up soon.  After about a half mile we arrive at the Weimar Market Plaza.  Joshua strolls up to the fellow standing beside a canopied wagon drawn by two sturdy horses. 


Herr Grobe

Now we know what J & K have done.  They have hired this equine conveyance for a tour of the city.  The Squids are all over it and can’t wait to get going.  But not so fast.  Our guide, Herr Grobe, is a loquacious fellow with a substantial script and he’s going to present it. His story is all in German, of course, which leaves CK and I locked inside our bubble of ignorance.  Mercifully, Katherina translates it for us, for the most part.  She confesses that his speech is old-fashioned, something from the early 19th century.  To make it more complex, his memorized script is something like poetry.  She says that some of it is difficult for her, a profoundly expert linguist.  Joshua, who speaks fluent German, said he was stumped and needed Katherina’s English translation as well.  His voice is a booming basso-profundo which he likes to show off every so often, to emphasize a point.  We learn that he also plays Santa Claus for the town at Christmas.  Makes sense.  His “ho-ho-ho’s” would be classic.  We’re all fascinated by his hands.  They are like two well-gnawed hams attached to his arms with bratwurst for fingers. They also look like they’ve been crushed by wagon wheels and healed multiple times without the benefit of medical science.

 


The speech he gives us in the plaza is long enough to bore the two horses.  One of them kicks the wagon tongue as if to remind his master to get a move on. Our guide busts out his God-Voice and scolds it.  It meekly obeys. We’re all happy he wasn’t shouting at us. But soon we’re under way and as we clip-clop along he gives us a history of the town, indicates its important points, and the items of civic pride not necessarily in chronological order. 

 

Market Square

Goethe's garden cottage

Goethe's Ginkgo

This short tower is all that remains of the old city walls

There was something called Weimar Classicism, a period of enlightenment begun near the end of the 18th century.  Duchess Anna Amalia and her son developed a library and a culture friendly to creative and scholarly types.  Weimar soon became a hotspot for high culture.  Johann Sebastian Bach was born here and worked here for a time.  Other names: Alexander von Humboldt, Goethe, Franz Liszt, Richard Strauss, Friedrich Nietzche, and Carl Zeiss to name a few, all practiced their talents here.  After the first world war, Germany made its first attempts to restart the government by adopting a new constitution here.  This was the Weimar Republic.  The Bauhaus art movement also got its start here with Kandinsky and Paul Klee leading the way.  Weimar was also ground zero for Hitler’s Nazi movement in the 1930’s. This was the polar opposite of the Weimar Republic, the idea being that this was the town most symbolic of German superiority.  Much more info can be found on this link: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weimar

 

Our guide takes us through the zones he’s allowed to go.  The rules are restrictive when it comes to horse-drawn carriages. He shows us Goethe’s house, Schiller’s house, Goethe’s garden cottage, and the houses of their mistresses together with gossip about how they managed to sneak around. Those pesky servants always find out.  He points out a Ginkgo tree that Goethe planted 250 years ago.  He points out a lot of things but my ability to focus is fading.  The day is bright, sunny, and warm.  The rhythm of the horses is putting me to sleep.


Theater Plaza

He delivers us to a plaza just outside of the famous library of Anna Amalia.  We go in for a brief visit.  What we see is a very small library, the start of a much larger one which now boasts hundreds of thousands of volumes. This is the Rococo Hall, the one originally ordered by the Duchess in the 18th century. It was damaged heavily by fire and by the fire fighters in 2004. They used chemicals instead of water and this dissolved the ink from thousands of books. We’re looking at a restored library. On the shelves I spot many books dedicated to theology and alchemy.  Sniff.  Joshua sees the stepladder and fantasizes about climbing it to reach the top shelves.  There must be a reason for stashing books so far out of reach.

 

Duchess Anna Amalia's Rococo Library

The Duchess

After this we must hit a cake shop, for we are peckish.  I get an onion soup (delicious) because I’m hoping for a bratwurst later.  I’m realizing that I have sequential programming that resists eating cake before sausage.  The Squids are into it.  Wille chooses the cake with the most whip on top.  He can’t finish it.  Helene destroys her slice then scans the table for anything that might soon be abandoned.

 

Speaking of onions, there is an Onion & Garlic Festival here in October that draws 350,000 German visitors. This sounds totally fragrant, a place where everyone could mark themselves safe from the Vampire Apocalypse.


Another of the many plazas in Weimar

This is a Saturday and, as mentioned before, the weather is brilliant, sunny, mid-70s.  Tourists are swarming the town.  It should be noted that there aren’t many American or Brit tourists here.  We may be the only two.  This is a town that draws German tourists so one can expect the food culture to be authentic.  We see plenty of bistros and coffee shops.  The Saturday farmer’s market is bursting with vegetables out of season which isn’t quite right, this being early Spring.  I can only suppose these are super high-tech farmers with elaborate greenhouse systems.  Maybe a half dozen bratwurst vendors dot the edge of the plaza. Here’s where I get my sausage fix.  The dog is about a foot long.  The bun is about 6 inches. For me, the bun is just a handle, a way to grip the bratwurst avoiding the annoyance of hot grease dripping onto my hand. 


As I nibble at the ends of the sausage I push it through the bun.  Sadly, the bun goes into the bin when the brat is finished because there’s nothing special about it.  I notice that the trash bin itself is well fortified and large.  I also notice that there aren’t the usual pigeons, crows, and ravens lurking about.  I don’t know if this is because they are endangered or because there’s simply nothing to attract them.  The streets are super clean and the critters can’t get into the rather formidable trash bin. There’s no rubbish lying about.  Even Wille notices the nearly complete absence of cigarette butts.  There are some but nothing like Leipzig.

 

Late afternoon and Joshua guides us back to the parking garage.  He pilots the van back to Leipzig while we doze in the back. It was a terrific day and we’ve seen some excellent sights with our lovely friends.

 

Back in town, CK and I have a walk through the Zentrum to her fave restaurant, Sardegna, for a small salad, pasta, and glass of vino.  Afterwards, we grab a gelato at the Pinguin Bar.  We are near that marvelous art nouveau style bar, Mephisto, so we have to visit.  We are tempted to stay for a drink because, despite ashtrays being deployed everywhere, nobody is smoking.  But we need to get home for some sleep.  Tomorrow is our last full day in Germany.


The seldom seen Bass Fiddle Busker, Leipzig

Mephisto, Leipzig
April 7, 2024

Leipzig, Germany

 

Blossoms are just now popping out

This is our last full day in Germany and we have nothing special to do.  This is ok.  We have a lazy lie-in and follow that up with a stirring round of laundry.  The tea pot gets a good work out.  The last of that bread loaf we snagged 8 days ago goes into the toaster and down the gullet.  We still have loads of butter but ran out of jam yesterday.  We’re not starving, of course, just trying to get the last bits of food cleaned up before we jet off.


Out for a stroll

We flop about the flat, in and out of consciousness, until 1:30 p.m. (13:30 the way they say it here).  Then we set out on a balmy day for a stroll around the Zentrum, visit the various plazas, people watch.  The legs need stretching after hours of laziness.  CK has been trying for years to get into the modern church at the University near Augustusplatz.  There’s always a notice saying ‘closed for renovation’ which is odd because it is one of the newest structures in town.  Upon arrival we can scarcely see the façade for the scaffolding.  Closed again for renovation!  There are two other big churches that CK is fond of.  They are both far older and both are open.  Go figure. Nikolaikirche and Thomaskirche.  Nikolaikirche began as a Romanesque structure in the 12th century.  It was remodeled in the 16th century to a Gothic Hall.  In the 18th century baroque features were added to the columns and bell tower.  The ceiling is particularly noteworthy with its pleasant design and soothing color.  Thomaskirche is more of a pure Gothic Hall design.  Neat, clean, a bit austere without any baroque flair or imagery but still has lots of light coming in unlike some Gothic style buildings which can be very dark. It looks much like it did in 1496, the year of its grand opening.  Bach’s bones are under the floorboards.  Today there is a small orchestra with vocalists set up on the balcony near the secondary organ.  They are all students from the University.  This is a last-minute rehearsal for an 8 o’clock performance of JSB’s St John’s Passion.  We get to hear some of it.





Nikolaikirche exterior showing some of the Romanesque style

Nikolaikirche

Thomaskirche

I want to get a bite of food before we go back to the flat for a nap.  This our moment to hit Riquet, the nicest art nouveau café in town.  This is Sunday afternoon.  I would expect a place like this to be overrun with customers, but not so.  We have the shop almost to ourselves.  The empty tables allow me to admire their beautiful bentwood chairs.  We tend to look past such things but I think it an important detail that adds a charm to the room in subconscious ways.  They’ve always used these kinds of chairs as far as we know.  The proprietors must go very far out of their way to get them.  I have a salad with lox and CK has a cake with tea.  We have a very fine afternoon on our last day in Leipzig.

 

Riquet

Gorgeous bentwood chairs

But there’s a little more.  We meet J & K and the Squids for dinner at their fave pizza joint.  The conversation is a recall of what we did over the past week and how crazy it was to be doing all that. The kids are shifting gears, getting set to go back to school. Katherina and Joshua are also bracing themselves for the workdays to resume.  We’re trying to sympathize and offer encouragement, feeling a little guilty because we don’t have to go to the office anymore. After pizza, we waddle over to the Pinguin Milchbar for ice cream sundaes where the conversation shifts to Wille’s hilarious thespian adventures.  A tale is told about his ad-libbing skills which resulted in an audience collapsing in laughter.



The sun has sunk, darkness is gathering, and time to have good-bye hugs and promises to come back next year, if they’ll have us. We thank J & K for their amazing hospitality and adventure planning.  We part with a reminder that they can follow us on the blog for the next 5 weeks.  After that, we’ll be in touch over the Zoom mojo wire.  I extract a promise from Helene to be good to her mother.  And Wille?  All I can get from him is a promise not to spread too much disease. HA!

 

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2 Comments


vickilee53
Apr 03

and big hugs to ck!

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vickilee53
Apr 03

while our cuisine tastes are 180 degrees opposite, your writing is absolutely fabu! can you buy small bottles of mead there? so enjoying this! big hugs, vicki

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