"" Writer's Wanderings: October 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Venice, Italy

[Summer, 2004

Our last look at the alps was obscured by fog and rain as we drove from Salzburg into Italy but we knew when we crossed the border. Everything became frenzied and highway signs became confusing again. We arrived safely in Venice and checked into the Best Western Hotel Bologna. The hotel was directly across the street from the train station where we boarded a train for the 10 minute ride to historic Venice. That sounded easy. It wasn't. This was Italy.

At the train station there was no easy way to find which platform was loading to go to "Venezia" and no one easily accessible to ask. After standing in a long line for the information room which opened to only one person at a time, we finally got some insight into where we needed to go and managed to get on the right train.

Disembarking, we found the Vaporettos (water taxis) in front of the station. We opted to take #1 to St. Mark's Square, knowing it made more stops along the way but we would have more time to look around. Somehow we got on the one that took us around the opposite direction we wanted to go but we still ended up at St. Mark's. We arrived at the square amidst gray skies and drizzle. I looked around me at the old buildings that looked dirty and crusty and wondered how anyone could think this was such a beautiful place.

We wandered down crowded side streets looking for a place to eat. The dreariness of the weather contributed to the feeling of oppressive passageways filled with people jostling each other to keep out of the rain. I immediately began wondering if I was going to enjoy this place at all.

A few gondoliers called out to us to take a ride through the small canals running between the buildings. They weren't getting much response from the weather beaten crowd. Finding a restaurant in a small courtyard, we gratefully ducked under the overhang to find a seat. Our dinner was unremarkable (and expensive) but it was fun to sit and watch the crowds go by. The rain stopped just before we were ready to venture out again and we made our way back to the square.

St. Mark's Square is a huge area bordered by St. Mark's basilica and the old and new Procuraties. The old were built originally for the St. Mark's attorneys. The Doge Palace sits next to St. Mark's Basilica. And the famous Bell Tower rises above it all. The bottom of the Procuraties are filled with cafes, restaurants, and shops. There are four or five cafes that have a huge area of little tables set up in the square where you can sit and listen to live music being played. As we pondered what to do, the sun broke through the clouds and the front of the basilica was illuminated. The golden tiles glittered in the late evening sun and the building began to look fresh and clean as the water evaporated from the facade. Ah, so this is why people come here, I thought, as the sky above became blue and a slight breeze freshened the air.

We decided on a cappuccino at a table near the string ensemble that was playing beautiful music. So enchanted were we that we never stopped to look at the prices on the menu. We sipped our delicious brews, enjoyed the view and the atmosphere. Then the bill came. When we converted Euros to dollars it worked out to be $15 a cup. We didn't notice the cover charge on the menu. We probably could have ordered something to go along with the cappuccinos and gotten a better value. But then, this was Venice, the heart of the historical area and we had just watched the sunset and been entertained by wonderful musicians. We swallowed our shock, laughed a little, and took a picture of the bill for posterity.

Finding the train platform again to head back to our hotel was frustrating but we managed to find a couple of women who understood English and helped us out. It had been a lovely evening and now I was looking forward to the next day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Salzburg, Germany

[Summer, 2004]

Our morning exploration of Salzburg on Saturday included an open market with all sorts of food products and fresh produce. We wound our way through it to the funicular that would take us to the fortress of Hohensalzburg. Once there, to our surprise we found ourselves in the middle of a Medieval Festival. Costumed performers and merchants were found throughout the courtyards of the fortress.

The castle tour was very interesting providing a look at 11th century decor (including a private commode in the bedroom). Wooden walls were elaborately painted and touched with gold. At one time, the bare walls were adorned with red velvet. An old ceramic oven provided heat in one room. The views of Salzburg are wonderful. It is easy to pick out the cathedral and St. Peters church. What a view the prince-bishop must have had of his subjects below.

Returning to old city, we explored the cathedral and St. Peters arriving just in time for a wedding. We sat in a slight drizzle and waited for the bride to arrive. Our patience paid off as a car decorated with fresh flowers, mostly red roses, arrived and a lovely bride emerged to be pampered by mom and dad who straightened the roses on the neckline of her dress and led her into the church.

Polly had missed the Sound of Music tour on her last visit so we walked to the Mirabell Palace gardens where, on the steps, Julie Andrews taught the children Do-Re-Mi. We had already walked through the cemetery by St. Peters where the inspiration for the set was found. The movie copied the crypts almost exactly.

The convent sits in the side of the hill overlooking the area. Apparently when they were filming the movie, some of the actors wouldn't abide by the rules set up by the nuns so they were banned from filming the wedding in the chapel there. The producer used a church in a little town of Mondsee. I was disappointed we couldn't show Polly the church but we were running our of time.

Earlier, we had tried to get into the Mozart dinner concert and found it was fully booked. We opted for a Sound of Music dinner concert which was okay but not the elegant evening the Mozart dinner would have produced. The singers were good and the evening enjoyable.

Salzburg is always a treat to visit and there is never enough time to do all that you would like. With the thought that we would return again, we left to travel unknown territory and face the perils of the road to Venice.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi

[Summer, 2004]

Dick's mind was on dessert as we walked from the Best Western Zum Hirschen in Salzburg to the Glockenspiel Restaurant located in the Mozart Plaza near the Glockenspiel of course. When they had last visited Salzburg, Dick ordered a special soufflé there and it was "calling to him". We were a little late to hear the carillon. It plays at 7 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. but just before dessert arrived, we were serenaded by a violin and piano just below the balcony where we sat overlooking the Mozart Plaza. We lingered over coffee and the light fluffy concoction that Dick was so fond of.

After dinner we strolled through the narrow streets of the Altstadt (old city). There are hundreds of shops and museums and cafes, the majority honoring Mozart in some way. On our last trip, we had explored his birthplace, a small apartment, and walked past the home where he grew up. A little more exciting however, was the dinner and concert we attended in the St. Peter Stiftkeller. The Mozart dinner concert featured musicians and singers dressed in costume and a dinner served in elaborate surroundings above the Stiftkeller, Europe's oldest restaurant.

We rose the following morning to gray skies and the threat of rain not a good omen for our trip to Berchtesgarden and the Eagles Nest. Bob's Tours picked us up at 9 a.m. at our hotel. We had booked a tour because we weren't sure how difficult it might be to find the place and/or what the road to the top was like. (It turned out we could have driven ourselves and did the next day.)

When we arrived, our very blonde, tall tour guide from Holland navigated us through all the crowds and onto the buses that leave from a central area half way up the mountain from Berchtesgarden. The bus route to the elevator is thrilling as you look thousands of feet below you.

At the top we were ushered to the elevator that goes up to the Eagles Nest, built as a retreat for Hitler by one of his henchmen, Bormann, for his 50th birthday. Unfortunately, Hitler was afraid of heights and didn't use it often. Luckily, the clouds cleared a bit and we could see the spectacular view. We were so high up that there were piles of snow in some places.

The whole side of the mountain at one time was a complex for the Nazis. Most of it was destroyed because the Germans did not want it to resemble a memorial to the Hitler regime. Only Eagles Nest survives and, down where the buses load, they have excavated an area of the bunkers to show what it was like. There is also an exhibit with a wealth of history about the persecution of the Jews and the war with information that particularly concerns the town of Berchtesgarden.

On our way back to Salzburg, we stopped in Berchtesgarden for a short stroll. It was beginning to rain so we didn't linger. But we were attracted to a cathedral where someone was playing the large pipe organ. The sounds resonated within the walls. Pure and unamplified, the music was thrilling to hear. Our guide obligingly left us at the entrance to the old city of Strasburg and we found a little restaurant for lunch.

With the rain discouraging any outdoor activity, we opted to make it a laundry day and found a coin-op place not far from our hotel. Even doing laundry in a foreign country can be entertaining. The variety of people to watch kept our attention as the clothes tumbled dry.

Monday, October 25, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Rothenberg ob Tauber

[Summer, 2004]

In Rothenberg ob Tauber, the Market Square is the gathering place for a nightly tour of the town from Easter to Christmas. The tour is in English and conducted by Hans Georg Baumgartner, the Night Watchman. It was excellent. The hour long walk takes you through the streets of Rothenburg and offers a wealth of information about the history, buildings, the wall, and even Hell (one of the local bars). Baumgartner's English is easy to understand. His humor is wry and he makes the experience unique.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a medieval town that has survived the ravages of wars and the modernization of the rest of the world. When tourism became important, laws were passed to prevent home owners from changing their residences and loosing the flavor of the medieval times that permeate the walled city. We explored the wall early the next morning. You can almost circumnavigate the whole city from above. Along the way are stones engraved with names of those who have contributed to the restoration of the wall after it was bombed in WWII.

We spent a good part of the day exploring all the shops, tasting the "snowballs", pastry favorites that Rick Steves warned against. They looked good and we bought 4 of them. They are about 5 inches in diameter with different flavored fillings and coatings. One would have been enough for all of us.

Dinkelsbuehl was the next stop along the Romantic Road. We were glad we chose to stay longer in Rothenburg for Dinkelsbuehl, as quaint as it was, did not measure up to our expectations. The Minster of St. George was impressive however. It is a beautiful late Gothic church with huge pillars rising high above your head. It gave quite a sensation of dignity and grace as you walked down the aisle between the towering supports. We found a place for our afternoon tea and coffee and then traveled on to Noedlingen where we were staying the night in an old monastery.
Arriving in Noedlingen, another walled town, we saw a building that matched the picture of our hotel from the web. It looked historic, well preserved historic, but to our dismay and delight we found that the hotel was actually the modern structure behind it. I say dismay and delight because we were looking for an adventurous stay in an old monastery but were delighted to find a four star hotel with huge rooms and very nice accommodations. There was an old statue in the lobby from the old monastery and some of the windows at the end of the hallway looked original but everything else was very contemporary.

A fair or festival was taking place with rides, food, and lots of interesting booths marketing all sorts of products. The guys opted to visit the fair after dinner while we girls decided we needed a little time with our feet up. They found the fair to be a lot of fun and came back with some good stories and a bottle of carbonated water. Bob didn't know how to ask for the one without the bubbles.

In the morning, we opted to walk the wall around the city, counting the towers as we went. I believe there's 11. Bob and Dick were going to climb the bell tower in St. Georgeskirche but for some reason it wasn't opening for another hour after we finished our walk and we decided to move on.

Before turning off the Romantic Road to head for Oberammergau, we drove through a few of the other towns highlighted on our Romantic map. Each little town had a May pole and each May pole had unique decorations common to that area of Germany.

Oberammergau is not on the Romantic road but all of us had visited before. Polly and Dick enjoyed the Passion Play but were too rushed to see all the little shops and enjoy the atmosphere of the town. We had stopped during a tour and barely had time for a cup of coffee so we were all excited about being able to walk the town leisurely and enjoy the artwork adorning the half timbered walls. There are a couple of woodcarving shops that I especially enjoyed since I collect wood pieces.
We lingered long enough for the guys to complain that the credit cards were too hot and then went on to our next overnight stop, Salzburg, Austria.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Worship Thoughts - GEMs

Yesterday I spoke at a ladies retreat and spoke about being like jewels in a crown (Zechariah 9:16). In the afternoon, as I talked about GEMs, I used power point slides that had a picture of a diamond on each slide. One of the retreat ladies needed to leave the room as she was dealing with a cough that wouldn't stop. When she got out in the hall, one of the cleaning staff from the facility we were in asked her what we were about. She explained that it was a Christian ladies retreat and told a little about what that meant. The staff member was surprised. She'd seen the diamond on the slides and thought we might be selling jewelry.

While we smiled later at the mistaken impression the woman had had, we rejoiced in the opportunity that our retreat lady was able to share a little of Jesus with her. Sometimes the more important things happen outside of our worship circle.

Friday, October 22, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - The Romantic Road

[Summer, 2004]

Wurzburg was the first stop on our trip down the Romantic Road. We found the Residence Palace without too much trouble and parked in the huge lot in front of the 17th/18th century building. The palace is probably known best for the world's largest unsupported ceiling fresco by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Unfortunately for us, there was a huge renovation project going on that had a good part of the fresco covered by a large picture of what it would look like if you could see it. We did get a peek at some of the workers with tiny brushes carefully repairing little spots that were deteriorating with age. The unsupported ceiling was designed by architect and engineer, Balthasar Neumann.

We caught an English tour of the palace and wandered through elegant and unique meeting rooms and banquet halls. One room is done entirely in shades of white. (Didn't know white had so many shades.) The Residence Palace had one of the prettiest chapels we saw on our trip. There are two more Tiepolo works displayed there, The Fall of the Angels and The Assumption of the Virgin.

Our tour over, we crossed the parking lot to find some lunch. We never tired of the outdoor cafes and found one a block away from the palace. Much to my delight, I got to practice my German again. Our waitress spoke little English. I ordered deep fried camembert cheese cakes with cranberry sauce. They were absolutely delicious and I found them once or twice again along the way during our trip.

A short drive brought us to Fortress Marienberg, used as the residence for the local prince-bishops from 1253-1720. Obviously they weren't concerned with keeping out the riff-raff anymore. The moat was dry and planted in grass with a few trees. The structure was very interesting, as was the 8th century Marienkirche, but we passed on the museums. We needed to move along to our evening destination--Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Along the Romantic Road are 27 towns and villages to visit. Unless you plan to spend the good part of a week, you cannot see them all. We stopped on our way to Rothenburg at Bad Mergentheim. The former town of residence of the Grand and German Masters of the Order of Teutonic Knights. Just beyond the castle in the middle of a garden area, was a delightful cafe serving up the fanciest tea I have ever seen--even in England. Dick was overwhelmed with the presentation. The rest of us enjoyed cappuccinos.

It was almost six when we arrived at the Best Western Hotel Merian. The hotel was on the second floor over a carpet store, small but very nice. We got directions to a restaurant that was just outside the gate to the town of Rothenburg obT. It was a lovely meal but in the customary style of Americans, we were in a hurry. The night watchman tour was to begin at 8 p.m. and we were getting nervous about missing it. I don't think our hostess was pleased with our impatience.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Heidelberg, Germany

[Summer, 2004]

Arriving in Heidelberg, we settled into the Best Western Rega which was a short walk from the historic city center. With some guidance from the front desk we found a very old historic German restaurant, the Gueldenes Schaf. And, of course, we had Wiener Schnitzel.

The next day was scheduled to be our laundry day. We were in desperate need of one. The first few days of our trip had been warmer than we expected and we had gone through most of the clean clothes. The first self serve laundry we found was closed for repairs. We were kindly directed a bit farther down the street and around the corner to a smaller one that was extremely busy picking up the business from the closed shop. We found ourselves surrounded mostly by university students but everyone was kind enough to wait a turn and give us help when we needed it. The settings on the washers were a little different than we were used to but everything came out the same size and color that it went in.

The laundry done and stashed back in our rooms, we were free to explore Heidelberg. We began with lunch at an outdoor cafe near the large Church of the Holy Ghost. After all doesn't a tour group march on its stomach...or maybe that was an army...hmm. In the middle of lunch the bells began to peal with a clear deep tone that resonated throughout the city.

Polly and Dick suggested we explore the castle first. We found a bus to take us to the top of the hill where the castle overlooks the city (a new tram was being built). The castle dates back to the 14th century. It is a curious combination of Baroque and Renaissance architecture. Large sections have been destroyed but it's size is still overwhelming. The gardens provide a peaceful place to stroll and look down over the Neckar river to the city below.

After a mid afternoon cappuccino break, we returned to the historic city center and wandered around the Holy Ghost Church. At the base, built between the supporting structures surrounding the church, were numerous souvenir booths. We circled the base and found the entrance to the church and a sign that told us we had just missed an organ concert. Huge columns stood in rows supporting the roof that towered over our heads. The stained glass windows rose up to match the height of the columns and all combined to make you feel very small and insignificant compared to the grandeur they exhibited. As I walked past the columns, they seemed to glide by and for a moment I imagined myself in grand clothes, maybe those of a queen about to receive her crown, walking to the altar for the coronation ceremony. I almost made it but my dreaming was interrupted by the urgent call to move on. There was more to see.

We walked a few blocks to the old bridge that crosses the Neckar river and admired the old bridge gate before starting back in the direction of our hotel to hunt for food. For an unexpected stop, Heidelberg had turned out to be very rewarding. It pays to be flexible.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Rhine River, Germany

[Summer, 2004]

We arrived in Sindelfingen just outside of Stuttgart in time for dinner and found an Italian restaurant (no wiener schnitzel this night) open in the older section of town. While it was Saturday night and didn't seem that late, the area was not brimming with tourists. We felt a little uneasy and decided not to do a lot of exploring after dinner. Our Best Western this time turned out to be in an industrial area--car factories surrounded us. We had planned on three nights here but decided we would move on to Heidelberg after our Rhine River tour the next day. The hotel graciously made reservations for us. It turned out to be a good decision.

The day began chilly and looking a bit gray and cloudy as we drove north to Ruedesheim near Mainz in Germany. At Bingen, we took the ferry across the Rhine to Ruedesheim not realizing that there was a stop in Bingen for the river cruise as well. There are a couple of large boats that do day trips along the Rhine. We had originally found K-D Cruises on the web but when we arrived in Ruedesheim, we saw a very nice ship with two indoor decks and one open observation deck on top that was about to leave shortly and covered the area of the Rhine we wished to see. The name of the company was Bingen-Rudesheimer Fahrgastschiffahrt . Tables were set with glasses and cups and restaurant service was available. The trip started at Ruedesheim and went to St. Goarshausen where we had about an hour for lunch and a short walk through the little town before our return trip to Ruedesheim.

Along this area between the two towns are more than two dozen castles and fortresses that can be seen from the river. Remember "mad King Ludwig"? He built a lot of castles in Germany, the most famous being the one at Neuschwanstein. There is a little castle that sits right in the middle of the Rhine that was built by him. If I understood correctly it had something to do with being able to tax those who crossed the river--a little income for all that castle building. Some of the castles have been renovated and turned into B&Bs.

About midway through our two hour cruise to St. Goarshausen, the clouds gave way to sunshine and the air began to warm. Bob and Dick ventured out onto the observation deck from time to time to take pictures. Polly and I enjoyed sipping our warm coffees and watching the castles slip by through the huge glassed walls of the ship. The scenery looked like pages out of a fairy tale book.

Just before St. Goarshausen a large wall of rock juts out from the shore. Below it on a small outcropping sits the statue of a woman combing her long hair. It commemorates the legend of the Lorelei. It is said that she had long golden hair and sat on the rock singing while she combed her tresses. Of course this was in the area where the fast moving river narrows and the distracted boatsmen were doomed when they hit the shallow reefs.

Upon our return to Rudesheim, we spent some time exploring. The split timbered architecture of the old German towns are delightful to see and often are painted with symbols or scenes that are works of art.

We drove out of Rudesheim and crossed the river by bridge bypassing the large industrial city of Mainz on our way to the university town of Heidelberg.

Monday, October 18, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Black Forest, Germany

[Summer, 2004]

After enjoying soft boiled eggs, cheese, bread and coffee at the Hotel Post in Balzers, we cherished the last views of the little country of Liechtenstein and pointed the Audi in the direction of Germany. If we had known the beauty of the area in Switzerland that we were passing through, we would have tacked on another overnight stay. The mountains above and valleys below were picturesque but the vistas of the clear aqua lakes were breathtaking.

Heading in the direction of Schaffhausen, we took A4 to Neuhausen and the Rhine Falls. Once you are close enough, there are very clear signs to follow (unlike Italian road signs). Polly and Dick had been here before but had seen the falls from Neuhausen side. This time we opted to see it from the Schloss Laufen (castle). It was a good choice.

The castle is a very romantic setting and has lots of different viewing levels from which you can experience the power and force of the water as it surges over the precipice. The falls are not as high as Niagara's but to me they seemed to be more powerful. Perhaps it was because we could get so close to the surge of water. It was a long climb back up from the lowest level but stopping to take in the views, made the climb easier.

Back in the car, driving through the tall pines of the Black Forest region you could understand how it earned its name. Some of the sections are so dense all you can see are dark tree trunks. It is an area alive with all sorts of lore and famous for its cuckoo clocks. We stopped at Titisee, a resort town near Neustadt, named for the lake it borders. Lots of restaurants and shops and hotels kept our interest as we enjoyed the fresh cool air that mixed with the warmth of the sun. We had lunch by the lake--Wiener schnitzel again--and stopped for a piece of Black Forest Cake just before leaving. The cake was a little different from our Americanized version but it was quite good.

As the Audi climbed out of the back woods and onto the autobahn again Bob called out from the back seat, "Hey, Dick! Are we standing still?"

Cars were zooming past us on our left.

"I'm doin' 180," Dick said in his defense.

The kilometers converted to about 112 mph but cars continued to speed past us. Some areas of the autobahn have no speed limit. There are strict rules however. You must stay in the right lane unless you are passing and then you better be passing quickly because suddenly a Mercedes will materialize instantly in your rearview mirror. Dick dropped his speed a bit to ease Polly's nerves. From the front passenger seat, she was getting the full view of the pavement disappearing in a blur beneath the car.

When it was my turn to sit in front as Bob drove, I just closed my eyes. I figured at that speed, death would be instantaneous but I didn't want to see it coming.

Friday, October 15, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Liechtenstein

[Summer, 2004]

Liechtenstein is a tiny country of 34,000 inhabitants. It is bordered by Switzerland and Austria. We crossed the open border from Switzerland and found ourselves in a Alpen countryside. Vaduz is the capital but we chose the Hotel Post in Balzers for our two night stay. There are about nine little towns in the country and we drove through most of them, setting out early in the morning to drive up to the ski area in Malbun. In summer, you can take the ski lift to the top of the mountain (6,560 ft. above sea level) and opt to hike down. The view from the top is spectacular. Below us were lush green valleys and behind us, reaching even higher, were snow capped mountains. It was a "Sound of Music" moment.

On our way back down to Vaduz, we stopped in Triesenburg for lunch at a little restaurant that clung to the side of the mountain giving us another perfect view of the farming landscape below. We enjoyed schnitzel and noodles (actually little dumplings) and explored the museum that housed historical artifacts from earlier settlers. Exploring an interesting side road that led to a panoramic view, we found ourselves parked next to a field full of brown cows all with various sized bells around their necks. It sounded like a field full of large wind chimes. I don't know how the cows put up with all the noise but it was a delightful encounter.

We arrived in Vaduz just in time for a City Train ride around the town in a drizzling rain. Unfortunately the prince was not in so we were not invited to the castle (actually, the castle is not open to tourists). The castle sits on a small outcropping of a mountainside that overlooks the town of Vaduz.

That night as we listened to the sounds of Balzers beginning to quiet for the night, I thought about our day and how beautiful the scenery had been. But if I were to remember one thing from Liechtenstein, it would be the wonderful lady we met in the Backeri in Triesenberg. She asked, in German, if she could help us. I replied that I spoke only a little German. She replied that she spoke no English.

"Well then," she said slowly in German, "We will speak with hand signals and smiles." We carried on quite a conversation. She was patient with my elementary German and spoke slowly with a vocabulary I could understand and yes, many hand signals and smiles. When I think of Liechtenstein I will remember the beauty not only of the countryside but of the spirit of that lovely lady.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...