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THE RISK PAID OFF

September 19, 2022

Lindau, Germany, on Lake Konstanz
Lindau, Germany

It is a huge risk bringing friends across the pond to a place you have never been and of which you have only read. I had a huge sigh of relief when we arrived in Lindau, an island city on Lake Konstanz (Constance) on the border of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. I immediately saw that it was one very special place. 

Lindau lies on the German side of the Lake. It exudes old world lake charm and elegance. Lake Konstanz is Europe’s third largest lake; it sits in the shadow of the Alps. In fact, we could see snow covered mountains in the distance. The harbor is guarded by a large carved stone lion (50 tons) on a high pedestal. A lighthouse sits on the opposite harbor entry. Sail boats bob in the water and beautiful hotels and cafes line the promenade that winds its way into the old town. The old town with its German architecture is a wondrous maze of soft colors and flowers and fountains. Its charm draws you into its web and beckons you to explore. Everyone was more than impressed. 

Lindau, Germany

Having arrived via train from Zurich, we had ridden through green countryside with corn and cabbage fields in the valleys with mountains and hills all around. It seemed at times as if the train was a lower elevation than some of the lakes we glid past. Because of the timing of the schedule we had missed lunch and all ten of us were famished by mid afternoon. We found an outdoor seating restaurant that had a table for ten. With views down a grand pedestrian only street, we were satisfied. The bier (beer) was much more than satisfactory! In Germany, it is not pasteurized and it has no chemicals and is, therefore, pure. We were delighted with the hot pumpkin soup with pumpkin oil and toasted pumpkin seeds and a dollop of sour cream. The meal received rave reviews—my schweinshaxe (Bavarian roasted pork knuckle), the skin crispy and the meat moist, was delicious. Randy had veal wienerschnitzel, Allen roast duck, and the others I forgot. Those who received the potato salad made with cucumber said it was the best ever! The red cabbage was tasty and the bread dumplings amazing. We left more than satisfied and went our separate ways to further explore the island city. Kathy and I happened upon two big beautiful churches side by side—one Lutheran and the other Roman Catholic. Both had amazing pipe organs. The wooden pews in the Lutheran Church were very interesting. Obviously quite old, many had wooden doors and others had individual seats with wide arm rests. The Roman Catholic church had beautiful ceiling paintings. 

I can assure you that if you or you and friends come to Lindau on Lake Konstanz, you will be in for a grand surprise. It is an amazing place. 

Friends enjoy German cuisine in Lindau, Germany – L to R: Rhonda Krahn, Kathy Graumann, Sandra Steele, Randy Standly, Karen Paluch, Marty Paluch, Melisa Standly, Mike Steele, Wayne Graumann, Allen Krahn

PINCHING ONESELF TO MAKE SURE IT’S REAL

September 18, 2022

It was one of those majestic days where you store the beautiful memories in your brain to recall when you are sitting in the dentist’s chair. Lucerne is that kind of place. Charming, quaint, Swiss to the max with towers everywhere, snow-covered mountains in the distance, glittering lake crowned with a stunning white chateau on the hills above, clear rushing river through the city and painted buildings around every corner. I did not put the phone camera away. The Krahn’s, Paluch’s and we boarded a train and in less than an hour riding through pastoral scenes we arrived in Lucerne. 

We walked the iconic covered Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge) over the Reuss River for which the city is known. Lined with overflowing flower boxes, the wide bridge has wooden tresses from which old paintings are suspended all along the way. Built in 1333, the walk implored the mind to go back into the Middle Ages. Mine did! Once across, we walked the short distance to the “Weeping Lion” sculpture carved into the mountainside to honor the Swiss guards killed in the French Revolution. The lion’s expression as it lay dying from a spear thrust into its side is mournful. The author Mark Twain, upon visiting Lucerne, said it was the most sorrowful sculpture in the world. We sat for several minutes simply gazing upon the impressive mountain carving. 

Going back into the Old Town we walked the cobblestoned streets looking at the paintings on the buildings and “Oohing” and “Aweing” as we found one square or street after another with the beautiful handiwork of unknown artists from long ago. Old iron and gold building identification markers protruded from many of the buildings. We could not stop snapping pictures. We found a restaurant situated along the river in a picturesque spot and took an outdoor table to savor the view accompanied by hot broccoli cream soup and flammkuchen (a very thin pastry topped with fromage blanc, creme fraiche (soft melted white cheese and fresh cream), and onions instead of tomato paste and any other toppings you choose. Kathy and I added artichokes, ham, tomatoes, olives, garlic and ripe cheese. I must say, “Really good.” Allen, as usual, asked for the hot olive oil most European restaurants carry in order to take his and Rhonda’s flammkuchen up a notch. 

The Standly’s and Nichols/Hunt group spent their day at the “top of Europe” up from  Grindelwald. It is an awesome pinnacle surrounded by the Eiger, Jungfrau, Mönch and other Alpine mountains. (Kathy and I have been here in the past.) With a tower platform view, the snow-covered Alps spread out before them in every direction. It is truly mesmerizing! Below the peak is a mountain glacier into which is carved an ice palace with ice sculptures in the ice blue surroundings. With clear weather after a day of snow, they had an astounding day. 

Meanwhile, the Steele’s went to Heidiland and Liechtenstein (Kathy and I have taken this tour in the past)—yes, where Heidi of storybook and movie fame lived and also to the small nation municipality in the Alps. It was an enchanting day of mountain and lake vistas packed with nostalgia. 

This is how we love to travel—everyone together, yet free to experience what they choose during the day and usually spending the evening meal together reminiscing about the adventures of the day.

Oops, I forgot the luscious chocolate–rich salted caramel melting in your mouth with milk chocolate or…(the chocolatier broke large pieces off of freshly made batches) and the brazles (large thick soft pretzels) covered with toasted pumpkin seeds or…We ate our collective stash on the train back to Zurich.

Randy & Melisa, Sheila, & Dee at “The Top of Europe”
Lucerne’s Lion Monument
The Chapel Bridge
Painted buildings in Lucerne
Lucerne’s “Weeping Lion”

Wealth and Watches–Zurich the Clean

September 17, 2022

Zurich Skyline on the Limmat River

The Parish to Zurich TEV (fast train) ride was as comfortable as can be—everything you wish a plane ride could be, but isn’t. The comfortable seats with plenty of leg room and great recline, fold down tables, the wonderful restrooms, food and beverage bar car, luggage storage by your seat. Did I mention that we reached speeds of 202 mph! Thoroughly enjoyable! The train stations were great as well. Like malls with trains—food and shopping easily available. 

Zurich is a fashionable city to be sure and one of the world’s wealthiest. After checking into our hotel we went out to browse. Running from the train station southward is the Bahnhofstrasse (train station street) that is Zurich’s shopping paradise. Every expensive store possible is located along this tree lined and pedestrian friendly avenue. Name your watch—it’s here. Windows were full of fancy and enticing displays of the world’s finery. 

We were hungry but not too—you know that feeling. We found just the right place in a beautiful platz (plaza) just by an impressive church with bells chiming. We sat outdoors under umbrellas on this bright but cool day. The hot soups and hot chocolate hit the spot. From there, we lollygagged our way around the old town, which is simply stunning and at the same time refreshing. The beautiful narrow pointed Swiss style towers stood out across the skyline. The crystal clear Limmat River runs through the heart of the city into Lake Zurich with high green hills jutting up and the Alps in the far distance. The Krahn’s and Paluch’s caught a tram back to the hotel and the Standly’s and we walked back along the Limmat. It was all cobblestone as we took little detours up narrow alleys and streets and then back to the main walkway. Trees, just starting fall coloration, lined the river in places, and we were totally refreshed by the walk. Then we all took naps—much needed because by mid-afternoon it had already been a long day. 

I had made reservations for 12 for dinner for the evening at the Restaurant zum Kropf, because the

Steele’s, who had been in Scotland, joined us in Zurich. This is a special restaurant dating back to 1444. Kathy and I had eaten here 25 years ago on our first visit to Zurich and loved it. Even though we had returned to Zurich over the years, we had not eaten there again. This time I decided we should return because it is a very traditional Zurich restaurant and some of our friends were first time visitors to Switzerland. The ceiling is painted with cherubs and a stained glass window dominates the center ceiling. Heavy wood paneling abounds. It was delightful and the new fall game specialities were offered in addition to the regular menu. Kathy fell for the wild boar as did Rhonda, complemented with roasted chestnuts, Brussels sprouts and pear with raspberry. Randy loved his stag steak. The rest of us opted for traditional pork knuckle or cordon bleu or sausages. For dessert, Marty opted for the fresh apple fritters with vanilla cream sauce and we declared it the dessert winner. It was a wonderful dinner in wonderful ambiance and wonderful company. We will all sleep well in the cold (46F) night Zurich air under down duvets with huge down pillows. By the way, European hotel beds no longer come with top sheets—bottom sheet and bed covering—that’s it.  Schlaft guht!   

SNAILS, PASTRY AND CRÊPES 

September 16, 2022

The Latin Quarter in Paris

Today was a day to eat well-appreciated French cuisine. The escargot (very large snails) was really quite good. Randy and I tried it two ways—in a cream sauce and in olive oil pesto. Both were good. You dig the snail out of the shell with a small two pronged fork, swirl it in the sauce and put it on a small piece of French baguette. And wallah! We went to the patisserie for some goodies. I picked out the one that was attracting bees. I thought if the bees liked it, I would also. After I picked it out, the clerk said, “You picked the best one—it was recently named the fourth best pastry in Paris!” It was a bite of heaven—crusty shell encased in powdered sugar with a soft almond paste and lemon dough interior. We could not leave Paris without a crepe, so we purchased one with lemon butter and sugar. We decided we had enough snacks for one day.  

Enjoying the Latin Quarter of Paris

The entire day was relaxing, educational and fun. We lollygagged in the Latin Quarter (left bank) the whole day. The area has the design of the old Paris, with narrow cobblestoned side streets and alleyways, small shops and eateries. It is home to the Sorbonne, the world class university. The area gets its name, Latin Quarter, because the students at the Sorbonne spoke Latin for their classes. We walked through it, as our intent was to visit the nearby French National Memorial to great French thinkers, writers and artists of the past. It was designed after the ancient Pantheon in Rome. We appreciated our time in this hushed atmosphere looking at their burial tombs. Of great interest is the Foucault Pendulum (the original was damaged in an accident and replaced with this copy) suspended from the dome of the Pantheon. It mimics the rotation of the earth. 

We also visited the Musée de Cluny, the premier medieval museum. So very well organized, it was a delight to see the development of art and culture throughout that age with magnificent artifacts from that time period. The French Revolution as well as time had brought about the destruction of much of the Parisian past and this museum became the gathering spot for the remains that have been discovered. Several painted wood altar pieces with intricate carvings depicting the life of Christ were of special note. However, the crowning work of art, the “Lady and the Unicorn” tapestry series, was a highlight. Five of the series depict the five senses, while the last one is a mystery with the wording, “My only desire.” Beautiful hand work! 

Musee De Cluny in Paris
The Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry in Musee de Cluny

One of the amazing coincidences of the day was that the Paluch’s and Krahn’s went their own way for the day while the Standly’s and us went ours, and all of the sudden, while we were taking an afternoon break in an outdoor café, we saw them walking by. Paris is quite large and yet, we ran into each other. We leave tomorrow for Switzerland and we can honestly say it was a grand time in Paris.   

Friends in Paris, L to R: Wayne & Kathy Graumann, Marty & Karen Paluch, Allen & Rhonda Krahn, Randy & Melisa Standly

TRAINS TO BEAUTY

September 15, 2022

Chateau Fontainebleau

Today was a visit to Chateau Fontainebleau south of Paris. We already have the transportation system in Paris down pat; it is, in fact, very efficient. We simply took the Green Line/or #12, very close to our hotel, to the Purple Line/or #14, to the R rail line at Gare du Lyon (one of the Paris train stations) to Fontainebleau. It was a little over an hour journey. Once there, we took a quick bus #1 to the gates of the Chateau. Truly, easy peasy…not a hitch. Very clear markings at the station…even footsteps on the floor to guide you through each station to your color-coded train. Combine that with easy ticket purchase and friendly—yes, friendly—fellow passengers. Younger folks would get up and offer their seats to those older. We love using the metro.

Fontainebleau is amazing! The home of early French royalty, it was expanded from the 12th century onward until Louis XIV decided he needed to bring the rebellious nobles to live at court to keep them under control, so he built the huge Versailles Palace to serve as bait. At Versailles, he entertained them lavishly and gave them over the top living quarters. He successfully accomplished the goal of gaining complete control of France by using the same tactic as the Roman Caesar’s—“food and games.” While it worked for awhile, that tactic eventually contributed to the fall of the French monarchy, the same as occurred to the Roman Empire.

Fontainebleau, while not as large as Versailles, is certainly huge by any standard. To my mind, it is more beautiful on the interior. The wood carvings on doors and walls and ceilings are incredible. The wood carvings serve as frames for beautiful paintings. The crystal chandeliers are quite large, and many walls have intricate tapestry. Taken together, the whole is uniform, warm and inviting. After the French Revolution when Napoleon I become Emperor, he made Fontainebleau his home and refurbished what the Revolution had destroyed.

The library at the Chateau

After our time at the Chateau, we enjoyed a fine meal outside in the early afternoon in perfect weather at a nice restaurant in the charming city of Fontainebleau. Our dessert was memorable—tiramisu—served with a side of hot espresso and another of amaretto, both to pour over the dessert—it was a wow! What better way to wile away the afternoon…well, maybe extend the afternoon into the evening at a Paris bar with aperitifs/beer and snacks while bantering with local Parisians!

Palace of Fontainebleau

Tuk Tuk and Sparkling Eiffel Tower September 12-14, 2022

Our train ride from Amsterdam Central to Paris Gare du Nord was comfortable and smooth. We met the Paluch’s, who joined our group at our Paris hotel for a mid- afternoon three hour Tuk Tuk tour of the city. Open air ride on a beautiful sunny day, these small vehicles could travel and stop on streets that other vehicles could not drive. We asked for a tour of the major sites and arrondissements (districts) of the city to get an overview that would orient/reorient us to Paris. Fun! Our hotel has many outdoor restaurants nearby. We chose a corner one with red awnings and ate large tureens of French onion soup. We were not disappointed.

Musee du Louvre

Pyramide du Louvre
Arc de Triomphe
Notre Dame

Next day, Sheila, who is from Denver, and Dee joined us and the Krahn’s for a visit to the majestic, regal and huge (over 700 rooms) Louis XIV Versailles Palace with its beautiful expansive grounds. It is visual overload. Each detail is exquisite, and there are so many details that most are overlooked because the whole is so overwhelming. Of course, the famous Hall of Mirrors was a highlight. Meant to impress those coming to visit the King, it certainly impressed us!

Versailles Palace
Versailles Palace Gate

The grounds are also a delight. Because of their immense size, we ordered golf carts to drive along the trimmed hedged corridors past fountains, smaller palaces, outdoor court yards and lengthy man-made canals. King Louis XIV actually had specially built galleons and Venetian gondolas that plied the canals for entertainment purposes. It was all lavishness beyond comprehension. Electronically monitored, the golf carts are given a specific path to follow—go out of the path and the golf cart dies; only the reverse works. Allen drove in the front, because he insisted that I was unreliable as a driver. He went off course twice—I never did! Once, he reversed so much that he almost ended up in a fountain. The people around applauded when he finally got into forward motion.

Allen, Rhonda, Dee, & Sheila explore the gardens in the golf cart
Jardins de Versailles
Rhonda and Kathy stroll in the gardens of Versailles

The Standly’s and Paluch’s went to Giverny for the day. Outside Paris, this home of Monet is filled with a proliferation of flower gardens…a visual delight! Those who appreciate Monet are familiar with the images of the green Japanese bridge draped in wisteria, the waterlily pond, the drifting weeping willows, the flowers and farm scenes that were a part of his property as he developed his impressionistic painting style. His pink home is a French delight filled with Japanese prints, and his painting studio is an artist’s dream. Karen, having been an art instructor, was especially thrilled with the experience. After an inspiring day we all joined together for a Seine Evening River Cruise past beautiful buildings—the burned and under-reconstruction Notre Dame was a sad site, but they are working night and day to have it completed by the Paris Olympics in 2024—to the twinkling lighted Eiffel Tower. Famished, we ate at a wonderful French cuisine restaurant in Paris for a multi-hour meal (multi-course French meals are not fast) and reminiscing about our awesome day. We got to bed near midnight!

The Eiffel Tower – 1,083 feet tall, the tallest structure in Paris
Sacre Coeur
Kathy “imitates art” at a Montmartre art gallery.
Randy and Melisa delight in their explorations with Wayne & Kathy on Montmartre.

After a leisurely next morning, the Standly’s and Graumann’s explored the Montmartre hill with its beautiful memorial white-domed Sacré Coeur and artist shops found in flower-filled squares and quaint cobbled streets. We were totally impressed with an artist who used chicken wire (he was a farm boy) to make beautiful art—using multilayers of wire to get the visual effect of faces on canvass. Hard to explain, yet, creative beauty to behold from such a simple everyday medium. We ate at the famous Montmartre la Maison Rose for a delightful French lunch. My slow roasted hen with lavender-soaked peaches and sauce was yummy. The French do cooking so very well. Later in the day, the Standly’s and Dee and Sheila went to see the iconic Eiffel Tower. They enjoyed the view from the top!

Kathy and I went to the Muséé d’Orsay filled with the paintings of the great impressionist masters. Awe inspiring! The Paluch’s and Krahn’s spent the day in half-timbered and cobblestoned Rouen, northwest of Paris. The capital of Normandy, Rouen is a delightful city housing the majestic Rouen Cathedral with its amazing spires and carved facade. They tried the cherry beer for which the city is famous. 3/4ths of the group liked it—Allen did not. We fended for dinner on our own. Another beautiful day.

TRANSPORTATION STRIKE AND DISCO BALLS

September 10-12, 2022

Our journey begins with the Krahn’s and Standly’s as we arrive in Amsterdam to a surprise transportation strike. Schiphol Airport, one of Europe’s largest hubs, was a mess. Thousands of people jammed everything—everything! Our hotel in The Hague, The Netherland’s capital, was over 25 miles away. What were we to do, with no trains or buses? The taxi queue was monstrously long, hours and hours wait. Did I mention that it was raining? As we stood together trying to figure a way out of our plight, from out of nowhere a uniformed airport personnel approached us and asked how many were in our group. We said, “Six.” He said, “Follow me.” We did. He escorted us through the masses and took us to a special platform dedicated to special needs people and groups of six or more. In less than a minute we were boarding a large Mercedes van that held all of us comfortably along with our luggage, and we were whisked away from the madness towards our wonderful hotel. For one brief moment we felt guilty that we were so blessed. 

The Hague is a wonderful city. We ate great seafood meals as the city is situated on the North Sea. I had a delicious meal of Dover Sole, something we rarely get to eat. The Standly’s, being younger than us, explored the city on the first day and found a charming area of the city and enjoyed its ambiance. The rest of us crashed. Kathy and I had been upgraded to a suite but were really too tired to get any benefit out of all that extra space. Next day, the Krahn’s and Standly’s explored old Delft and visited the Delftwork’s  porcelain workshop. They found it very interesting as they watched artisans meticulously hand painting each piece. Kathy and I went to see my favorite painting—Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”

Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring

It is housed in the Mauritius along with other Low Country master works. Having left my sunglasses on the airplane and Kathy having forgotten to pack hers, we found a sunglass store in The Hague old town—wait ’til you see our red RayBans. It was a wonderful day!  Late afternoon we traveled to Amsterdam and hired a driver through our Marriott. 

Our Designer Hotel, a Marriott hotel in Amsterdam, was cool funky! Bier gardens outside, entry lobby a music venue pub with games and unusual furnishings, and a roof top bar, 26 stories up with swings (think porch swings) that swung out over the edge of the hotel. Lit at night with colorful lighting, the hotel stood out along the Amsterdam skyline.

What we found most fun, however, were the smart elevators that had no buttons because it read your room key. Then, when the doors opened, you were greeted with music and…dancing floors with lighted tiles to step on as they switched around to the music, or karaoke walls with the words following the music as you sang into the microphones extending from the walls, or huge spinning disco balls with special lighting that twinkled to the music.

Once in your room, you were met with industrial design and real Gibson guitars (big returnable room deposit) and old fashioned working phonographs with a vinyl collection—yes, original covers! This hotel was interesting to say the least. Outside was the ferry that ran 24/7 and within minutes whisked you from the New Town to the Old Town across the bay. We spent our time riding the canals, exploring the city, eating out, etc.

We especially liked going to Zaanse Schans, the windmill village outside Amsterdam. Bucolic, bucolic, bucolic! Transported back in time, sheep and cattle grazed on lush green grass and ducks swam in the numerous small canals than coursed through the village. Large Dutch windmills (some still in use) interspersed the scene along with deep green or black or gray wooden Dutch houses, all with slate roofs. Flower-laden gardens surrounded by white fences cut “Dutch style” accompanied the view along with white wooden bridges over canals along the footpath. Glorious! We ate Dutch thin pancakes, pannenkoek, and ordered them with either brandied raisins and whipped cream or apricot with eggnog and whipped cream. Tasty!

Our evening meal back in old town Amsterdam was special. The traditional Dutch restaurant was overcrowded, so the maitre d’ escorted us the the bar next door. Only one table was housed in this third oldest bar in Amsterdam, and it was a delight with heavily carved wooden beams of very old world decor. The bartender was our waiter and transported the food from the restaurant to us. We ate bitterballen, a creamed beef fried in breadcrumbs seasoned with spices. The rest of the meal was awesome. Allen very generously tipped the waiter above our regular tips. The waiter was so enthralled that he gave each of us small bottles of Jagermeister, an anise-based liqueur, as a departing gift. We had much fun and beauty on our Netherlands adventure. 

Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree in Prague’s Old Town Square is magnificent. With the iconic towers and steeples of the old city proudly looking down and the art nouveau facades of the the buildings around the square looking on, the tree shimmers and shines in the cold evening air. The surrounding Christmas market around the tree is a hustle and bustle of happy people. Christmas music fills the air. We arrived in the capital of the Czech Republic in the early afternoon after a pleasant train ride from Dresden. We passed through the Saxon Switzerland as we followed the Elbe valley out of Germany and into the Czech Republic. The towering rock cliffs and forests were dotted with castles along the way.

Our apartment is wonderful and is located just off the old town square just behind the Tyn Church. We ate a simply marvelous Czech meal at a popular restaurant that sources local produce. Even at three in the afternoon, it was packed and a wait list. We ate a fabulous cabbage salad, that was partially cooked and marinated with tasty spices. Other menu items, all tasty, were cabbage and sausage soup; goulash (tender beef and paprika sauce); bread dumplings; chicken breast with mushrooms; creamed spinach; and cucumber dill salad.

It gets dark here by 4:30 P.M. We meandered the square and soaked in the atmosphere and headed to the apartment for a leisurely evening. We have an exciting day planned tomorrow. WEG

A Birthday

December 4 was Melisa’s birthday. We celebrated in Dresden, Germany. In the morning, Randy and Melisa went to Moritzburg on the outskirts of Dresden to visit the hunting lodge (palace) of the Prince Electors of Saxony. Filled with one of the world’s largest collections of stag antlers, some dating from the 1500s, the palace is set on an island surrounded by a lake that beautifully reflects the palace in the sun. The palace was in a refurbishment phase, so the deer skin wallpaper, much of it hand painted, was removed from the walls. Moritzburg is a beautiful iconic palace, especially for outdoor enthusiasts.

Having been to Moritzburg on previous trips, Kathy and I spent time in the markets, meeting up with Randy and Melisa in the afternoon at the medieval Christmas market in the Royal Palace courtyard to film Randy’s debut as blacksmith. The owner had invited Randy to work with him on a project that Randy was purchasing. It was marvelous fun. People from around the world were filming the fun. Randy was on center stage and making the most of it–oh those Texans! The project took about two hours, but Randy now has a steak branding iron made with his own hand. He heated the iron in a hot pit, hammered it, put it in forging clamps to make final shapes, turned it with a spiral handle and smoothed it. We have a video.

We took a late afternoon break back at the hotel and got ready for an early dinner and concert in the Kulturpalast-Dresden.  Our meal was scrumptous! The concert, a blast! For fans of the vocal harmonies of the Pentatonix, the Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra called the Philharmonix  was a wondrous harmony of instrumentation. I easily remember their instrumental adaptation of the Queen’s adaptation of the “Hungarian Rhapsody.” They combined “Waltzing Matilda” with the “Cannonball Express” and swing with Tschaikovsky, to name a few of their musical creations. It was anything but traditional and certainly great music. The acoustically pristine hall was filled with appreciative fans! We marveled at one member’s sound projection with his breath through his hands mimicking different instruments as he played along with the group. Many standing ovations kept the group playing, and no one left early. Melisa had a grand birthday party! We returned to the hotel quite late, but thrilled with the day!

Today was Dresden Christmas Market day. Unfortunately, the historic green vault, one of the world’s premiere art collections, was closed, because somehow someone was able to steal $1.1 billion of one display showcasing what was the most complete collection of royal jewels anywhere. They did not get all the jewels! This is a huge cultural loss. So we changed gears and headed for more time in the markets. The hut displays are absolutely, without a doubt, the best we have seen. Dresden is a cultural capital and its art and architecture reflect not only past glory but present reality. Attention to beauty and detail are the rule and there are few exceptions. The 180 huts in the Altesmarkt Square are fully decorated and together form a magnificent Christmas village. Each hut is crowned with a Christmas display, all lighted and some with animation. Some huts are entire wooden buildings built in old world Christmas beauty. It is all very elegant. By the way, the Altesmarkt Christmas Market is one of eight in Dresden, each with its own unique character. The one near our hotel in the Neustadt has white tents, all matching with their pointy tops, stretching for four long blocks.  A huge ferris wheel in Christmas colors invites revelers to walk the market. Interspersed are large fire pits in steel barrels with Christmas cut outs–live fires burn through the night. People gather round and drink gluwein, a hot liquor and wine concoction. We thoroughly enjoyed our day! WEG

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

Today we took a risk to take a day trip to Gorlitz, Germany, via train. We had never been to Gorlitz before, and it was a very cold day in the freezing range. As we walked into the city it was sleepy and seemed not so great. I was wondering if the day trip was worth it. However, as the day progressed, it got better and better.

We walked a circular trip that took us into Poland, Gorlitz being on the border. We enjoyed the journey discovering  many wonderful and beautiful buildings. We walked near a city park and saw a new synagogue being built. The Jewish population was decimated during the World War II holocaust. Many survivor families have returned and are building a very large synagogue near the beautiful park.

As we walked over the border, there were buildings painted in a Polish style, pastels with white trim. Much refurbishment and revitalization is being done in Zgorzelec, Poland. It was past noon and we thought what better use of our time than to have lunch in Poland. What an adventure that turned out to be! One restaurant after another was closed until later in the day. Then presto, an open restaurant on the river! I am positive it would be hard to find a finer restaurant anywhere! Housed in a historic building and refurbished in high style, the linen tablecloths and napkins at Miodmaliny said, “Right place.” Polish stencil work on the walls and red velvet couches and silver velvet chairs made for comfortable seating. The chef was so gracious to explain wine, beer, cordials, appetizers, main courses, desserts. We tried it all! Thin pancakes with Polish curd and fruit and mushroom and sour cabbage perogies in herbed cream sauce were our shared appetizers. Cabbage rolls with veal in a rich tomato gratin; golden duck with whole cranberry sauce and baked apple with Swabish (a state in the old German Empire that was given to Poland after World War II) potato dumplings were our main dishes. The duck was by far the best I have ever eaten–crispy exterior and tender interior. The wines and beers were very good and the fruit cordial tasty. We all oohed and aahed the rest of the day.

We returned to Germany via a pedestrian bridge in a scenic part of the river. Directly in front of us was a majestic Lutheran Church, closed for some repair and rehearsal prior to a weekend concert. We heard a pipe organ playing through the massive walls. We were in the Altstadt (historic section) of Gorlitz. It was beautiful, and workers were everywhere preparing for the Christmas Markets that are to open this weekend. An ice skating rink was already open in a city square and filled with laughing children. We entered another large Lutheran Church from the 1200s. Painted ceilings and walls highlighted the long nave with a beautiful carved altar drawing attention. Fascinating.

As our long day was drawing to a close, we headed back to the train station for an hour journey back to Dresden. What started out as a day unclear as to what would be seen or if any experience could be had turned out to be a very rewarding day. We were reminded that sometimes one can take an adventure when not sure of the outcome. Some people are afraid to take that risk–we were glad we did. WEG