Now that that's out of the way and the gods of the EU bureaucracy are (hopefully) appeased, on with the travelogue!
Last time, we traveled from the Black Forest to Neuschwanstein, in Bavaria. That covers quite a bit of distance, and in between we did make a few other stops. I saved those for this post, to keep everything organized by theme and so I could use this awesomely punny post title.
First, to catch up with a couple of things. That night in the Black Forest, we stayed in Hornberg, in a hotel up on top of a hill.
Since we'd had a big meal at the open air museum, most of us didn't feel like eating that evening. But I was hungry and so were my youngest brother and his wife (R&C), so I grabbed my husband and we drove back down the hill to a charming little restaurant, where we had a wonderful meal. The salad dressing was especially good. My brother and I were trying to figure out what it was made with. Some kind of nutty-tasting oil. Anyway, it was yummy, and we had a wonderful time. That was one of the best things about the trip, going off together with one of the other couples or one or two of our siblings and just spending quality time together.
So we had dinner and drove back up to the hotel, and that night were treated to a thunderstorm over the mountains. In the morning, this was the view from the breakfast room at the hotel:
So we drove on our way, through the forests and mountains and valleys and on out of the Black Forest. My husband got to drive on those winding little roads. Not exactly the Autobahn, but its own sort of challenge. We stopped for lunch somewhere, might have been Sigmaringen, which has a really cool castle but we didn't see it except from the cars as we drove by. Anyway, it was in a town near the headwaters of the Danube River. After lunch at a little bakery (I had a Schwabische Pizza, a soft pretzel topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, and cheese), we walked down to the riverbank and saw these swans. Which seemed just perfect, swans on the Danube River.
And then on to the first of two famous Baroque/Roccoco style churches on our itinerary, Ottobeuren Abbey, built 1737-1766. (Pictures first, then commentary)
Then the next day, on our way to Neuschwanstein, we stopped at the second church, Die Wieskirche (or Church in the Meadow), built 1745-1754.
Probably the thing you notice most about these pictures is how ornate these churches are. All the art, all the statues, all the carvings, all the ornamentation, all the shinies. Kind of like music from the same period, by composers such as Bach and Handel. The melody is there and the harmony is there, but it's very heavily ornamented. Some people think it's all a bit overdone. But I love this style. There's so much detail to look at, you could spend days seeing every little thing. The real beauty, though, is when you step back and take in the whole. The color palettes, the motifs, the themes of the artwork and lines and balance of the ornamentation all blend harmoniously to make a glorious, awe-inspiring, and (to me, at least) spiritually uplifting whole. The architects and artists who created these buildings had a vision, and they didn't hold back on it. Kind of like with Mad King Ludwig and his fairy-tale castle. He had a vision of something wonderful he wanted to create and he went for it.
And I just think it's really pretty :D And these happy cows living near the Wieskirche agree with me.
To me, these churches (and Neuschwanstein) say, If you have a vision of something beautiful you want to create, go for it. Don't hold back because you're afraid someone might think you're crazy or have bad taste. Go big or go home. Sydney or the bush, as they used to say in the old Peanuts strips. Go for broke. (But don't spend your entire personal fortune and wind up deeply in debt, floating in the lake with your "doctor.") Make something that will make someone stop and catch their breath and go "Ah!" (even if it's you.) And it doesn't have to be Art. Anything of beauty - a family, an enterprise, a tradition, a legacy of kindness. Go for it.
I love this quote: "We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same."
~ Marianne Williamson
Next time: Into the East, part 1. (yes, I'm skipping some more; I'll get to everything in time)
While we mostly went to Germany for personal reasons, such as family bonding and revisiting places we loved when we lived there, we also went as tourists and made sure to hit some of the big tourist spots.
First was Heidelberg, where we went the same day my sister and I and our husbands took an unscheduled side trip to Kaiserslautern, so we got there later than everyone else. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day and Heidelberg was packed. We met up with the rest of the family in the main market square, where there was a gin-tasting festival going on. So it was pretty lively there. My parents had staked out a table in the square for refreshments and people-watching and a central meeting place, and just for enjoying the lovely day and the beautiful surroundings.
Of course, in Heidelberg, the thing to see is the castle. Throngs of people were making their way up the steep path to the castle. I wasn't feeling up to that, especially after walking all over Kaiserslautern earlier that day. There's a tram that goes up to the castle, but it was out of order. So I decided to forgo seeing the castle. I told my husband to go up and see it even if I couldn't, but he assured me he'd rather stay with me and just enjoy being in the city <3 We had a wonderful lunch (it was so warm we decided to go inside one of the restaurants instead of eating out in the square), then walked across the bridge and enjoyed the view of the castle from the other side of the Neckar River. There are also some really nice big houses on the other side of the river. My husband works in real estate law, so he was just as interested in the houses as he was in the castle.
The next day, after our night in Karlsruhe/Durlach, we headed down into the Black Forest and the Vogtsbauernhof Museum. This is an open-air museum where a number of old Black Forest farmhouses have been moved and rebuilt. You can go in the houses and look around; there are some museum-type displays in them about different aspects of farming and life in the Black Forest, but my favorites are the rooms that are set up the way they were when people were living in those houses.
The way the houses are set up, the people live on the first and second floors on one side, the other side of the house is the barn. Or on some, the barn is on the bottom level and the people live on the next floor up. The houses are built to butt up against a hillside (the valleys in the Black Forest are very deep and narrow), and there's a driveway that goes up to the top floor so they can put the wagons up there. The houses look quaint and pretty on the outside, but inside they're low-ceilinged, dark, and cramped. And they don't have chimneys, so all the smoke from the fireplaces and stoves in the kitchens (some houses have two kitchens) would go back out into the house. But then you come to the room in the corner, kind of a parlor with benches to sit on and a big table and windows all around the two outside walls, and that was very pretty and cozy. I don't think I would have liked to live in one of those houses, but I'd love a room like that.
There weren't just farmhouses at the museum. There were cows, a breed found only in certain parts of the Black Forest that nearly died out but are being bred again at the museum, some geese, and a goat that was kneeling on its front knees to get at the grass. I don't know if that's a goat thing in general or just a quirk of that particular goat.
We ate lunch at the cafe at the museum and, of course, being in the Black Forest, had Black Forest Cherry Cake. Made the authentic way, with kirsch. We're not drinkers, and it was a little too boozy for me. @_@ On my to-do list now that we're home: make a non-alcoholic Black Forest Cherry Cake.
Of course, tourists gotta buy souvenirs. So we stopped at this veritable palace of souvenirs, House of Black Forest Clocks. And we bought stuff. Lots of stuff. (The store doesn't just have the expensive handmade wood items that are on the site; it also has t-shirts and dolls and toys and stuff like that.) I didn't buy as much stuff as some people did (R&C even got one of their handmade cuckoo clocks), but I still bought stuff for the kids and grandkids. Bonus: the shop will ship your purchases for you, which was great because in order to fit 10 people's luggage in two cars, we were restricted to one carry-on size suitcase each, just big enough for two weeks' worth of underwear and enough clothes to get by.
A couple of days later (yeah, I know I'm skipping some things; I'll come back to them in a later post), we went to what is arguably Germany's biggest tourist attraction, "Mad" King Ludwig II's fairy-tale castle, Neuschwanstein. Built 1869-1892 (Ludwig died in 1886) as an idealized, romanticized version of a medieval castle, Neuschwanstein is also very much a tribute to the operas of Richard Wagner; Ludwig was a patron and ardent admirer of Wagner. My dad, a huge Wagner buff, opined that Ludwig (who never married) was in love with Wagner, while Wagner was in love with Ludwig's money.
Even though it isn't authentically medieval, the interior of the castle is filled with breathtaking, lavish art, including murals of scenes from the medieval legends that inspired Wagner's operas and a wide variety of other cultural influences, like the Byzantine-influenced throne room that looks more like a cathedral interior. It also had a state-of-the-art (for the time) electrical system for summoning servants to and from various rooms, hot and cold running water, and the first (or one of the first) telephones in Bavaria. And the physical setting can't be beat.
I wasn't up to the hike up the hill to the castle, so we caught a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. That was fun :) I don't know much about horses, but I could tell these were some very powerful, muscular horses. Writing note --> The Uurikhani horses in The Lost Book of Anggird are very much like these horses.
The tours of the castle are very scientifically scheduled every five minutes. You get your tour number and time on your ticket, and there are kiosks on the ground outside the castle that show which tours are coming up next. When your tour is coming up, you get in line before it starts and scan your ticket to get through the turnstile. I suppose if your miss your tour time, they might still let you in, but I wouldn't want to test it.
The tour involves hundreds of stairs (not all at once, thank goodness). I didn't know if I would make it; after almost a week of traveling and sightseeing, I was feeling pretty worn out by this point. But I made it. I was pretty proud of myself :D We did take the carriage back down, after a stop at a snack stand for some "quark balls," fried donut-like balls of dough made with soft quark cheese. (My dad is a physicist, so to me, the word "quark" in the context was kind of funny.) They were so good. Worth the drive to Neuschwanstein and the journey up the hill just for those.
Ludwig didn't live to see Neuschwanstein finished. More and more he retreated into a fantasy world, sleeping at day and living life by night, alone in his castle. After a series of financial and political disasters, he was found dead at age 40 in a nearby lake along with his doctor. Only seven weeks after his death, the castle was opened up to tourists. Which seems really sad to me. He's called "Mad," but maybe he was just a dreamer born into a position where dreamers didn't fit in, longing for a beautiful world at odds with the real world. Schlocky and touristy, maybe, but Neuschwanstein is definitely worth seeing for its own beauty and the story behind it.
Next time: Going for Baroccoco *rimshot*
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The next stop on our itinerary was Heidelberg, home of the famous castle and university. But my sister and I decided we wanted to take a side trip to Kaiserslautern. As I said in the first post in this series, when I was growing up, we lived in Germany twice for a year. Kaiserslautern was our home the second time we were there, in 1978-79, and my sister and I were old enough to have many fond memories we wanted to revisit. Our brothers weren't interested, so my sister and I and our husbands took over the 4-person van and headed out on our detour while everyone else went straight to Heidelberg.
Kaiserslautern isn't a town you're going to find on any tourist guides. It's a university town, and there are a number of military bases in the region, but otherwise it's just an ordinary small city, some business, tech, and industry, but nothing that most people would think is very interesting. But one of the most memorable things about that year is the amount of freedom I and my siblings (except my youngest brother, who was only 6) had. I was doing at-home study for my junior year of high school that year. I would do my schoolwork in the mornings, then take off to spend the afternoon exploring.
Kaiserslautern has at least three really cool old churches, vibrant pedestrian/shopping areas (where I had lots of fun spending my allowance), squares surrounded by charming old buildings, and even its own ruined castle! Just an ordinary city, off the beaten trail, but there was something interesting to see around every corner.
Behind our apartment building was the Stiftskirche, built 1250-1350. There was a Christmas market in the square here, with booths selling decorations and crafts, and vendors selling roasted chestnuts, something we'd never had before. Yummy! Every Christmas, I still bring out the small wooden nativity scene I bought here.
St. Martin's, built 1300-1350, across the main street from our apartment, where my youngest brother went to Catholic kindergarten under the tutelage of Sister Petronius. We're not Catholic, but it certainly built character.
Martinsplatz. I love this little plaza near St. Martin's with its fountain and charming old houses
Ruins of the castle built in 1152-1160 by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Kaiserslautern was his favorite hunting retreat. Kaiserslautern is also noted for its modern high rise city hall, built behind the castle ruins.
Me and my sister (she's the cute one!) looking at the apartment building where we lived. Note the old half-timbered house squeezed in among the modern apartment buildings. Little surprises like that everywhere we went in Kaiserslautern.
It was so much fun revisiting these places we remember and showing our husbands the sites of so many great memories. We were kind of feeling our way around, not exactly sure of how to get where we wanted to go, then we would spot something familiar and get all excited. Everything looked almost exactly the way we remembered, except the apartment building was painted different colors now, and the McDonalds in the alley behind the building was gone, and I'm pretty sure that GameStop wasn't there in 1979.
After that we went to Heidelberg and caught up with everyone else there (I'll write about that in my next post, Tourist Stuff), then from there we all went to Karlsruhe, the city where we lived in 1970-71.
Karlsruhe is another university town, and it's especially noted for its beautiful palace built in 1715 and the extensive park around the palace. This is also near the university where my dad worked that year, so we spent a lot of time visiting the palace and playing in the park. I don't remember Karlsruhe as well, but still have some good memories. We explored the park and had ice cream at the Schloss cafe, and the four of us kids posed for pictures in the exact same place in front of the palace where we got pictures taken 40 and almost 50 years ago.
That year, we actually lived in a cute little town just outside Karlsruhe called Durlach. There's a trolley line that goes from Durlach right to Karlsruhe and we used to ride on that a lot. Durlach has gone up upscale since we were there last. We stayed in a very quaint but nicely modernized hotel, Hotel zum Ochsen.
The restaurant at the hotel was pretty fancy and getting ready to close by the time we got there, so we didn't eat supper there. My husband and I went out exploring and found a hip little place called Judy's Pflug, where we had a yummy dinner of traditional German food. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel (included with the room, like at all our hotels) and it was epic. German breakfast is awesome, with the brotchen that aren't like any other rolls in the world, and butter and jam and meat and cheese and fresh fruit and yogurt and muesli (with chocolate chips!) and juice and hot chocolate... And here the waiter kept bringing out extra stuff; I especially remember the creme brulee. We ate and ate and would have eaten more, except we had a very important engagement to go to.
There was a German family in Durlach we became especially close to when we lived there. We attended the same church as them, their younger daughter and son were the same age as me and my next-younger brother, and their older daughters became our babysitters. They took us under their wings, showed us around, and helped us feel at home. The parents have passed away and three of the kids are living elsewhere, but the daughter who's my age still lives in their old (centuries old?) house with her husband, dog, and cat. She's an artist, and she and a group of other artists have an art gallery. That morning, she was kind enough to open the gallery just for us so we could have a look at the current exhibit. It was great to get to see her again and see what she does :)
After this trip down memory lane, remembering our two years of living in Germany, it was back to being tourists.
Next time: Places Tourists Go. We'll catch up with Heidelberg, and then head into the Black Forest and over to Neuschwanstein. (For my family members who are reading this, I know I'm skipping around a bit. I'm trying to organize these posts into themes, but I won't leave anything out!)
Kyra's Excellent Adventure, Part 2: Fun with Navi, or, Wait, where are we? (see Part 1 here)
After Mainz, we left to go to our hotel a ways down the Rhine River, where we would leave from the next morning to go to Koblenz to board a boat for a cruise up the Rhine. Two things to know as I write about our adventures:
1 - We rented two mini vans. One would carry up to five passengers plus most of the luggage. This was the lead car, with my dad as main driver and navigator, taking turns with whoever else wanted to drive. The other would hold up to seven passengers plus whatever odds and ends of luggage didn't fit in the lead car. This eventually became known as the party van. My brother-in-law, my husband, and my youngest brother and his wife took turns driving this car, with volunteer navigators.
2 - Our navigation went by maps, GPS navi, road signs, and my dad's memory of routes he'd driven several times before. There were a number of times when these four things did not agree with each other nor did they match up with what was actually going on with the streets. For one thing, there was road construction EVERYWHERE.
So, when we were ready to move on from Mainz, my parents went with J&Y in the lead car to pick up J&Y's luggage from the train station (remember, J&Y had come in the night before from Australia and took a train from Frankfurt to Mainz) while the rest of us, me and my husband, my sister and her husband (B&M), and my youngest brother and his wife (R&C) hit the road, my brother-in-law at the wheel. The fun started with trying to follow directions to the bridge we were supposed to use to get to the other side of the Rhine. We got to it only to find a mess of construction and the road closed. Well, find another bridge! Then as we drove past, we saw that actually only half the bridge was closed and you could get onto it if you found the secret entrance. So, following the GPS, we found a circuitous route back around (including the directions "turn left then immediately turn right", that immediate right turn being across three lanes of heavy traffic. My b-i-l, being an intrepid sort, went for it and made it).
So we're across the bridge and on the right-hand side of the river, where we're supposed to be. We put the name of the hotel into the GPS and went on our merry way, spotting castles high over the river right and left. Seriously, it was like driving through a history book. Much old. Very castles. So history.
After we'd been driving a while, the GPS said "Turn left." Well, we can't turn left; there's a river there. But as we drove past, someone in the car realized there's a ferry ramp there, as well. And on the other side of the river is a town with what looks like our hotel. So the GPS had it right! Though we couldn't figure out why we were supposed to take that bridge in Mainz to get to this side of the river when our hotel was on the other side. (Remember, at this point, we're very sleep-deprived.) We turned into the ferry parking lot and when the ferry came back across the river a few minutes later, we drove on and paid our fee, and set sail towards our hotel.
When we got there, the desk clerk couldn't find our reservations. Then she said, "Oh, there's the Hotel With Almost Identical Name on the other side of the river, about 10 km farther down. That must be what you're looking for!" She helpfully wrote down the Almost Identical Name of the other hotel and its address, and we left and got onto the ferry again. By now, we were all going on 30+ hours of no sleep, so this seemed like the most hilarious thing ever. I'm sure the ferry pilot thought we were all losing our minds.
Anyway, back on the right side of the river, we did eventually make it to our hotel, where Mom and Dad and J&Y were waiting for us. Considering how sleep-deprived we all were, it's kind of surprising we didn't end up in France or somewhere.
After a good night's sleep, we loaded up the luggage in the cars and drove to Koblenz. Due to a combination of factors, we got an impromptu scenic tour of Koblenz while looking for the place to get on the boat. We could see the boat on the river, but there didn't appear to be any way to get to it by car. Finally we just stopped on the street and walked over to the ticket booth. The eight of us kids and spouses would be going on the river cruise, while Mom and Dad drove the cars down to the town where we would disembark. I'll admit that after our adventures so far, I felt a little trepidation about letting my 80-year-old parents drive off by themselves, with all our luggage, to find their way to the next town on our itinerary. But with the tickets bought and paid for, there was nothing to do for it but wave goodbye and board the boat.
It was kind of cold and rainy that day, not very good weather for riding up on the sun deck, though some of the more hardcore members of our group spent a good amount of time up there anyway because that was where you could take better pictures. The inside of the boat was very comfortable, nice tables and chairs and full restaurant service and big picture windows. So we cruised in style and comfort, watching the cliffs and castles and vineyards and quaint little towns slowly drift past, getting caught up with each other, and occasionally venturing out into the elements to take pictures. A fine, relaxing time.
After 6 hours, we disembarked at Bingen and found Mom and Dad waiting for us. They made it without any problems, even stopping to do their own sightseeing along the way.
After that, we went to Worms (the W is pronounced V, of course), which has another awesome old cathedral. Our hotel, notable for the very cheerful and helpful proprietress, was conveniently located almost right next door, so we were able to rest up and then go look at the cathedral at our leisure.
It was the same as at Mainz. I stepped into the cathdral and the size, the sense of age and grandeur, took my breath away.
Next: A day of nostalgia.
In my last post, I mentioned I was about to do some traveling. Well, I'm back now, got back last week from an amazing 2 weeks of traveling around Germany. I'm exhausted, still a little jetlagged, and sick with the probably inevitable airplane cold I picked up on the way home, but it was wonderful and I'm excited to tell you about it. Since I'm an author and this is my blog for my readers, I'll relate some of the experience to my writing, but mainly this is an excuse to get my journaling about the trip done, tell some fun stories, and show you some of my pictures :-D
To start with, let's go back 100 years or more. My father's father was born in Germany, in an area that later became part of East Germany. He and his parents emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1920s, but most of their relatives remained behind in Germany.
Fast forward some 50 years. My father had the opportunity to spend a year in Germany as a visiting professor, in the early 70s and then again in the late 70s. So growing up, I had the amazing experience of living in Germany twice for a year, as a child and then as a teenager.
Since then, my parents have returned a number of times to work, sightsee, and visit friends and relatives. I hadn't been back; between one thing and another, mainly health issues and anxiety issues related to travel, I figured I would probably never go back. Then last year, my parents turned 80 and decided it was time to keep a promise they'd made to my youngest brother and take us kids back to Germany, along with our spouses. (Yes, my parents are amazing that way. I wish I had their energy. A few months before this trip, they went on a cruise to South America and Antarctica.)
When my parents told me and my husband about the plan, I was excited but also terrified. I'd been afraid of flying for 40 years. I could get on an airplane if I really had to, but I would be sick with fear and have nightmares for weeks before. --> Writing note: when I write a character who has to do something hard and terrifying and they do it anyway, this is part of where that comes from.
But I really wanted to go on this trip, and I wanted to look forward to it instead of dreading it, so I set about dealing with my fears through a variety of methods - spiritual, behavioral-cognitive, educating myself about flying, getting myself accustomed to the idea of flying. One thing that really helped was on YouTube there are lots of videos posted by people who travel a lot, who take videos out the airplane window as the plane is taking off and landing. I watched a ton of these for exposure therapy. The fear didn't completely go away, but I managed to reduce it quite a lot, to the point where I could manage it.
And I did it. I, along with my husband, got on an airplane and flew to Dallas, then got on a really big airplane in Dallas and flew to Frankfurt. My parents and my sister and her husband (B&M) were already there, and my youngest brother and his wife (R&C) arrived just as we did, and meeting them there was just amazing. The coolest family reunion ever. We collected the luggage and the rental cars and set off for Mainz, where my other brother and his wife (J&Y), who had come the night before from Australia, would meet us.
In Mainz, we went right to the center of town, where the cathedral is, and met J&Y there. My husband and I were starving, so we found an outdoors table at one of the restaurants surrounding the square and ordered schnitzel for lunch. In my mind, this was one of the consummate German experiences I remembered the best, eating at one of the tables that spill out from the restaurants and cafes onto the plazas. And it was as awesome as I remembered.
Once we weren't starving any more, we went to take a look at the cathedral. I loved the medieval cathedrals the previous times we were in Germany, even to the point of educating myself about the different architectural styles and features, and when I stepped inside I was struck just as strongly as before by the enormous size, and the grandeur and majesty and age, of the cathedral. It was one of those moments when reality and what I remembered/hoped for matched up perfectly. It took my breath away and left me awestruck, and it was just as great to see my husband having the same reaction. --> Writing note: the Shrine in Sarya's Song is modeled after the Romanesque cathedrals of Mainz and Worms.
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