September 30, 2022
The storybook Neckar Valley city of Heidelberg, Germany, is charming to the core. There it sits in haze and sometimes fog (later today was clear and sunny) with its old medieval city gate and bridge standing proudly along the river and the majestic schloss (castle) ruins positioned on its perch on the hills above. The pedestrian walkways through this ancient university city are bustling with fine shops and eateries inside picturesque buildings with an old German architecture. Towers of churches and conical shaped turrets are around every corner. It is a joy to the eyes and, thankfully, the cobblestones in the city are easy on the feet—not so in the castle ruins above. The Standly’s and Paluch’s enjoyed taking the funicular up to the ruins and seeing the sweeping sights of the river valley and city below. They also saw the world’s largest wine barrel which holds 58,124 gallons.
All of us got into the wonderful Lutheran/Evangelical Heiliggeistkirche (Holy Ghost) church and, fortunately, an organ student was practicing on its mighty pipe organ. Karen Paluch and Kathy visited with him and eventually, he played for us a marvelous Buxtehude piece with soaring sounds and intricate foot work on the bass pedal keyboard. It was a grand experience in a beautiful church.
We spent time walking the quaint streets and going into wonderful shops, eating ice cream (gelato) and enjoying good food. A very large Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store is in the city with its large stock of wooden Christmas items; we were quickly put into a Christmas spirit. It was a relaxing, refreshing and beautiful day!
September 29, 2022
The Standly’s and we spent afternoon hours at the magnificent Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Uber modern, the museum is designed to show the significant contributions the company has made to modern transportation and engineering. Mercedes and Benz independently invented the gas-powered engine and automobile in 1889 in cities not far apart. Later, they combined their efforts to form the company we know today. The museum showcases the very first cars to the most recent in beautiful fashion. Early on, the inventors recognized the multiple uses that the engines could power, like the first fire engines, the first emergency vehicles, etc. Historic examples of all the firsts are on display. For car buffs, this museum is a must. We enjoyed our time and believe we learned much from this time machine of history. Later, we visited the streets around the Palace Square and found the castle and premiere shoppings area near the beautiful Stiftskirche—a Lutheran Church—where the organist was practicing on the massive pipe organ in the church. Building of the church began in the 10th century. Heavily damaged in World War II, it was restored in a more modern style in the 1950s. Most all of the rulers of Württemberg are buried in the church.
The Standly’s, Krahn’s and Paluch’s had an eventful morning finding and using a laundromat. It took a cab to finally get them to the destination where friendly locals helped them wash and dry their travel clothes. They now look and smell fresh and clean—not that they didn’t before :-).
We slept late, were in no rush and enjoyed a leisurely evening eating out. We will sleep well tonight.
September 28, 2022
Randy had an adventure—He left his phone in the maxi-cab we took to the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) in Munich. Melisa has constantly asked him if he had his phone, but today she did not! “So it is really her fault,” according to Randy. We were all on the train heading to Stuttgart, Germany, when it was discovered the phone was missing. Because the phone contained too much valuable information, Randy jumped off the train in Augsburg and hailed a taxi for the 45 minute ride back into Munich. His taxi driver contacted the taxi driver who had the phone—thankfully, we had his number on the receipt he gave me when I paid the bill—and they agreed on a pick up spot. Randy was delivered to the Munich Hauptbahnhof where he caught a new train to Stuttgart. The ordeal was about four hours long and $$$, but Randy has his phone back.
Because our hotel was right outside the Hauptbahnhof in Stuttgart, we walked, and walked, and walked due to heavy construction in the station area. Germany is greatly upgrading its already wonderful rail service, and we have noticed that stations and rail are in upgrade everywhere. Finally at our hotel, we soon discovered that we had no rooms…because…we.were.at.the.wrong.hotel! Since our hotel (same name—sister hotel) was only a severn minute walk, we walked again, only to discover something we really already knew—triple the number of minutes they tell you. Texans don’t walk as fast as Germans. On the way, I tired of waiting for the lights to turn green. Germans patiently wait, even with absolutely no cars in sight—they follow the rules to the letter. I told Karen, “No cars; I’m going.” Karen dutifully followed me; but, I didn’t see the very tiny bit of a car coming our way. Scoot we did! Once safely on the other side, Karen grabbed me and pushed me towards the oncoming traffic and screamed, “You said there were no cars!” I said, “It looked like a bug.” She replied, “I’ll squash you like a bug” or something similar.
Safely in our correct hotel (a very nice one) we sat in the bar for drinks and snacks while waiting for Randy’s return. Interestingly, the hotel is right by the Hauptbahnhof—we simply took the very very long way around to get there. We were all happy to have him safely return! We walked to the Palace Platz of Stuttgart in a pedestrian zone and enjoyed the pleasant weather and comfortable ambiance. We also enjoyed the Volksfest (People’s Festival) that was in full swing around the huge platz (square). Finding a wonderful German restaurant (huge beer barrels served as intimate dining outside), we sat in cozy inside seating. The food was marvelous. Several ordered Swabish (the old designation for the Stuttgart region) delicacies, such as pork and spinach pasta rolls. I ordered what I called “monster” pork knuckle with bread dumpling and white cabbage slaw. I could not ever eat 1/3 of it because it was so huge. Since Allen had stayed in for the evening, I asked for a “to go” box so he could have something to eat if he wanted—yes, they have “to go” and, yes, they charge.
It turned out to be a fun and enjoyable day with lots of laughs. We travel well together.
SEPTEMBER 26 & 27, 2022
We left the German Alpine area behind and trained through verdant woods of various pines and cedars and green farm land. Some of the corn is yet to be harvested. We arrived in Munich, checked into our hotel, cleaned up and headed into the Altstadt (Old Town) of the city. Dee and Sheila had not been to Munich prior and when we walked up from the U Bahn (underground subway) right in the middle of the Altstadt, they were awe struck. The Rathaus (Town Hall) is impressive, both in size and gothic architectural style. Its famous Glockenspiel with moving figurines is a main tourist draw. The entire Marienplatz area is filled with baroque towered churches and buildings. It is bustling, especially with the Oktoberfest going full swing at the nearby Theresienwiese fair grounds. We went into two beautiful churches—St. Peter’s (baroque) and St. Michael’s (renaissance)—both Roman Catholic. We lollygagged in the market place filled with vendors of almost every kind. Hungry, we ate at the well loved der Augustiner for a very German meal—I had boiled white sausages and white cabbage salad and potato salad. Randy and Melisa had a German fried meatloaf. Of course, the Augustiner beer was great. Later, we stopped at a pastry shop and ordered too many to take back to the hotel—pretzels filled with cheese or cream cheese and jelly rolls and…
Early the next morning, we hit the mother of all Oktoberfests. Drawing millions of visitors this huge venue is filled with massive tents sponsored by the major German brewers. We found ample space in the Hofbrau tent which holds 10,000 guests with large decorations made from dried hops. Once the band started, it began to fill up, even though it was a cold day with rain on and off. We had a joyous time. The food was good! They discourage folks from standing on tables and drinking, but that did not stop some from doing so to boisterous cheers from the crowd and then loud “boos” when security stepped in and escorted the drinkers out. We all learned the popular bier hall song, “Ein Prosit”—loosely translated—“Drink up, you’re in good, warm fellowship—1, 2, 3 drink.” You then lift your litre stein in the air, pound it down on the table and then drink. Fun, fun!
“1 in a 1,000,000” chance you run into someone from home, but Kathy and I did. We were walking the massive grounds and walked into the Lowenbrau tent because, although this was our fifth time to the Oktoberfest in Munich, we had never visited that tent. Lo and behold, the Krakosky’s and Schlaffer’s from Tomball saw us, and we had a marvelous visit. We ended our day with a delightful meal time at our Marriott hotel for the ten of us from our travel group. The Steele’s have returned home and Dee and Sheila leave tomorrow, so from here on out, there will be eight of us on this continuing adventure.
September 24 & 25, 2022
Exhausted from our amazing, but long, yesterday at the Oberammergau Passion Play, we were delighted to have a couple of days to reflect and refresh. A leisurely day in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was provided, a wonderful mountain city with the Zugspitze, Germany’s tallest mountain, in clear view. Kathy and I have ascended twice to this mountain vista, with clear views of the snow-capped Alps. We could not convince anyone to go up–I think I scared them over the glass gondola that takes a long ascent from a short mountain top to the top of the Zugspitze on one wire, no supports, with a drop of a mile and a half below. The gondola swings in the air, stops, and then makes a vertical ascent to the top station, which is a metal walkway bolted to the side of the mountain until you reach solid ground. It was built for the 1938 Garmisch-Partenkirchen Olympics. I said I would never ride it again, and I kept my word! Eating amazing pastries and drinking hot tea and walking the charming streets while gazing on mountain vistas was just fine this time around, thank you. The Standly’s and Dee and Sheila took a tour of the magical Neuschwanstein Castle, built by King Ludwig in the mountains. This is the castle Walt Disney copied for his scaled down castles in the Disney parks. Randy & Melisa, Dee, and Sheila stood on the Marianbrukke, the swinging bridge over a valley from which the iconic photos of the castle are taken for their photo op.
Later in the day, the Steele’s and we took a cab to Fussen, Germany. It was a sight-filled drive through the mountains. The trees are turning into fall colors. We crisscrossed back and forth between Austria and Germany as we sped along. The Standly’s, Dee, & Sheila joined us later at our comfortable hotel in the heart of quaint Fussen. This cobblestoned village/city set in the mountains with winding streets and passageways is a picture postcard, pure and simple! Melisa sent me a note and said she wished we could stay a week. Our room looked out on an absolutely charming street with painted buildings and red tiled roofs as far as the eye could see. We all slept very well that night.
Waking refreshed after a lengthy sleep, we arrived at the hotel breakfast before it closed. Everyone went on their own walking tours of Fussen for the day. We went to Catholic mass at St. Magnus, a beautiful baroque church. Most of us visited the historic castle above the city and also the Bavarian State Museum. It was awesome! A former monastery, room after room held beautiful surprises. The architecture was wonderful with painted ceilings and domes and decorative moldings in abundance. Dating from the 800s, it was a work of art, filled with art and displays of area crafts. The “Dance of Death” is a famous work of art depicting death visiting the rich and poor, some resisting and some welcoming its embrace. The inscription of the huge art piece says: “Whether we say ‘no’ or ‘yes’, each and everyone of us must dance.” How true! The tiered library is a beauty. Decoratively painted and sculpted from top to bottom, it was a delight to discover. Fussen was the master stringed instrument craft center back in the day–its lutes were particularly valued. We enjoyed seeing the craftsmanship of the old lutes on display with their beautiful painted cases. We loved this day!
September 23, 2022
The purpose of our European adventure was to attend the once every 10 years Passion Play in Oberammergau, Germany. It was enthralling, powerful, beautiful—bottom line, over the top.
Performed entirely in German, we were able to follow along with an English translation. My impressions:
The centuries old script was artfully written to incorporate the Old Testament of the Bible into the New Testament account of Jesus’ ministry and life from the Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem until Jesus’s resurrection from the dead. For instance, the OT story of Abraham going to sacrifice his son Isaac—who was spared because God provided a ram (an illustration of Christ Jesus) in his place was incorporated into God the Father sacrificing His Son Jesus on the cross.
The script did rearrange some of the timeline of Jesus’s ministry prior to Passion Week into the Passion Week events. For instance, while Jesus had taught His disciples to pray (our Lord’s Prayer) prior to Passion Week, they prayed the Lord’s Prayer at the Passover Meal (the Institution of the Lord’s Supper/Holy Communion).
The acting by local villagers—the cast, choir, crew are are all local villagers—was dramatic, powerful and professional in every degree! Riveting, really. The crucifixion scenes were difficult to watch, so real was the acting. Jesus heaving his last breaths was…”Oh, sorrow dread-God’s Son is dead.”
The staging was magnificent. The huge stage was always in motion from every angle. The sound projected magnificently. The rear center stage was used to illustrate the Old Testament portions of the play. When the curtain opened it was still life with opulent colors and costuming from that time period. The scenes changed regularly throughout the performance. To see children and adults in those beautiful settings in difficult body positions not moving as if mannequins was awesome. Meanwhile, the New Testament portions continued to be acted out in the front portions of the stage. One’s mind was totally engaged.
The music was sensational! I was spiritually enriched, moved and captivated by the 64 voice choir and huge orchestra (all local). The script used the music to enrich the story. What totally took me by surprise was the beauty of the music and the premier quality of the singers and players. Honestly, I cannot adequately describe the beauty of the sound and the quality of the words! Because the singers sometimes spread across the slightly curved stage before us the music was stereophonic. It was haunting, eloquent, soul enriching and uplifting— masterful! These sounds will reverberate in my soul my lifetime.
The total “Oberammergau Experience” was wonderful. Four years ago I had awakened at 2am to call to the German National Tourist Bureau to be early in line to buy tickets to the 2020 performance. I was calling for a group of friends who also wanted to attend. I was able to secure best in the house seats and wonderful accommodations on what the German government called a package. Covid came, and the once every ten year play was cancelled and eventually rescheduled for 2022. We were appreciative of the absolute security of the arrangements. Everything was in order! The hotel had our information in hand. Our bus was prompt and we arrived on time to lunch in Oberammergau before the production began. When we arrived at our appointed restaurant, our table was ready for us and the meal amazing. Our center stage seats a few rows back were perfect. No head swiveling for the massive stage in front of us.
While six hours long, we were captivated, although the seats were a little hard on the rear several hours in. The stage is covered but open air. We were dressed adequately to stave off the 46*F cool in the evening hours. The play is the result of the villagers’ pledge over 400 years ago that if they were spared from the plague they would honor God with something special. They were spared, and the play is the result. Oberammergau is a lovely painted village and carving wood into figurines is a local craft. What an inspiring adventure we (Standly’s, Steele’s, Nichols/Hunt, and Graumann’s) had!
September 22, 2022
While eating, Kathy lost a crown. That set off an interesting saga. Our medical travel insurance had no emergency dentists to recommend and the hotel recommended we try the University Hospital which had a dental department. So early in the morning we set off to the Zanklinik (tooth clinic). The service was amazing and rather quick given we were tourists and had no appointment. Kathy filled out paper work and we were led to a waiting room; within 15 minutes we were in a dental room with many procedures in progress in separate kiosks. The interns with some English skills accessed her needs and said they would confer with a colleague who turned out to be a dental professor and medical doctor who supervised the interns. He spoke fluent English and said that she would need a temporary to cover the tooth. I told him we had tickets to the once every 10 years’ Passion Play in Oberammergau the next day and would need the replacement today. I also informed him we would not be back home until November. Turns out, they were enthralled we were going to the play, and one of the interns shared he had been a singer in the Passion Play Children’s Choir in his youth. The doctor said Kathy would need a more substantial replacement than the regular temporary and went to the lab and ordered an improved type of temporary that should last the duration of the trip—sort of an enhanced temporary. There was no time to cast a permanent replacement, but we were thankful for the enhanced one. We came back at three in the afternoon for it to be installed, and Kathy is now back to normal. Cost—$122.
We had time to make it to the Court Chapel for an organ recital with guest organist Mario Aschauer, who is from Houston. This pipe organ is the oldest still in use in the world. In the setting of the chapel of Emperor Maximillian I, with larger than life cast bronze statues of the forefathers of the Habsburg dynasty surrounding the Emperor’s monumental tomb. We sat in the richly carved wooden choir stalls; the music was enthralling. The organist had selected compositions that highlighted the instrument’s versatility—i.e. pieces that highlighted the flute stops, etc. The Steele’s, Paluch’s (Karen plays the pipe organ) and we had a delightful visit with Mr. Aschauer who invited us to the upcoming performances of a pipe organ music group to which he belongs back home in Texas.
While Kathy and I spent time at the dental clinic, everyone else took hop on/hop off tours of the beautiful city of Innsbruck. We all met at another awesome Austrian restaurant in the evening to recap our day. We have throughly enjoyed our Innsbruck visit.
September 20 & 21, 2022
We spent a leisurely day cruising Lake Konstanz (Constance) on a ferry. The air was cool and fresh. Our object today was to visit an island on Lake Konstanz, known as the “Flower Island”—Mainau. For those who have visited Butchart Gardens in Victoria, Canada, Mainau is just as beautiful. Surrounded by the lake, the 144 acre garden is known for its 200 species of trees, many of which are not native, such as sequouia and redwood and palms of various kinds. The giant sequouia was planted in 1875 and is already over 146 feet tall. Because of the nearby Alps and the water surround, Mainau is a microclimate that does not freeze, thus the plantings flourish year round. The numerous walk paths meander through plantings of various kinds—all beautiful! Throughout the year, various plants are the stars of the show. While we were here, over 12,000 dahlias in a multitude of colors were in full bloom—astounding! I specifically appreciated the groupings of various plants of the same color or bloom. There was an inventive use of grasses from around the world throughout the island. Fountains splashed around every corner. Kathy’s bucket list is gardens, and today she believed she was very blessed.
In the evening, we ate at a great Lindau restaurant near our hotel. Truly, all ten of us raved over our meals—r.a.v.e.d! The potato salad with thinly sliced cucumber was a standout. We decided that every restaurant to follow has a very high standard to match.
Interestingly, the Paluch’s and our hotel room lights on the second floor were not working when we returned. It was late in the night and the attendant could do nothing to alleviate the issue. The hotel was full, and no extra rooms were available. We decided it was night and with flashlights we would survive. The water in the room worked just fine, thankfully. By morning, the lights returned and the hotel compted our breakfasts (for all five rooms), which, by the way, were excellent. Bottom line, we were not really inconvenienced.
We continued our journey to Innsbruck, Austria, via the Arlsburg train line. This particular train journey is considered the most beautiful in Austria as it goes through the heart of the Tyrollean Alps. We relished the beautiful sights of snow-capped mountains and deep green valleys . Church steeples sometimes stood out on high hills.
Innsbruck, with high snow-covered peaks all around, is an awesome place. The baroque architectural style predominates and it is quite pleasing. We enjoyed our day sightseeing. The court chapel of Emperor Maximillian I (of the Hapsburg dynasty) was wonderful. It is considered the most beautiful burial site in Europe. It took artisans a century to complete the intricate work. Surrounding the cenotaph of the Emperor are 28 huge cast bronze statues of the forefathers of the emperor, which include many famous names in history. Next, we went to a baroque hospital chapel dedicated to the Holy Spirit. Not only was the church beautiful, so was the pipe organ music that began to play while we were there. It was another glorious day!
September 19, 2022
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.
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.
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.