Friday, April 26, 2013

The Netherlands - Delft

What did we do today? We hopped in the car with Melanie, Stan, Russell and Brie, and went to Delft, a very cute town not far from The Hague. Here we walked around admiring the picturesque streets, houses, church steeples and canals. The guidebook describes Delft as a smaller Amsterdam without the frenzy, and that seemed right.

The weather was beautiful and it felt a lot warmer, even if it wasn't really. The sun was out and the wind had died down. We wandered the streets, enjoying the sights, and I took lots of pictures. Before we left The Hague, Mel took me to a cheese shop where a knowledgable sales lady helped this cheese-ignorant American buy a nice variety of cheeses to take home. And once we were in Delft I decided to take the plunge and buy a little Delft china. I have hardly bought any souvenirs this trip, so it was time. I bought a nice vase to hold little spring flowers, and a few other small items as well.

All I needed after that was some good Dutch chocolate, and that wasn't hard to find either. I bought truffles and fine chocolate bars, and then I was set.

We got back to The Hague in time to be lazy for the rest of the afternoon. All the nappers are napping, the ipaders are ipadding, and the putzers are putzing around. This vacation is winding down, but we have one more day in The Hague before we head back to Frankfurt and fly home to our doggies and our incoming visitors!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Netherlands - Keukenhof Tulips

Before the Boston Marathon terrorist attacks, I was busily posting entries about our trip to Germany and  The Netherlands. I still have a couple additional entries to post about our adventures, so here is the next one.

Yesterday was our day to go see the tulips at Keukenhof. If this was a normal year with normal weather the flowers would be blooming madly by now. We know the show won't be as good as we had hoped, but I am curious, and ever the optimistic tourist, so off we go.

Sometimes I think about Sherry Ott, and her manner of traveling, and compare it to the things we choose to do. I like going off the beaten path sometimes, but I also don't mind doing the usual tourist things. Keukenhof is a major tourist destination. I don't think Sherry would like it, but I do!

(I have to add now, that Sherry went to the Netherlands a couple of weeks after we did, and she DID go to Keukenhof! She doesn't have a post up yet about her experience, but I will be very curious to read it when she does. Check out Sherry's blog if you like to travel, or travel vicariously. I think its great:

Keukenhof is kind of like going to a Six Flags for flowers. There are the giant tour buses, and an amusement park-like entrance. Once inside the park we stop and have a quick lunch, and then set off exploring.

It is disappointing that more flowers aren't blooming, but it is a beautiful park, nonetheless. I have fun taking pictures of the early blooms, and there are greenhouses with all kinds of floral displays too.

At one end of the park there is a windmill that you can climb to look out over the flowers. If there were more flowers blooming the view from the windmill would be amazing, but as it is we have to use our imaginations.  

That's how traveling is sometimes. The Sistine Chapel is closed for a holiday, it rains steadily in Edinburgh, spring is very late in Holland. So it goes.

Once back in The Hague, Mel and Stan take us out for another amazing meal. This time we opt for Indonesian food, which apparently is a big deal in The Hague. We go to a place called DiDong and order something called Respottle. They bring us a big bowl of rice and many, many little plates of Indonesian food. Beef, chicken, pork, veggies, all cooked in different ways with different spices and flavors. It's wonderful food and makes me wonder where in the US we could get an Indonesian meal. Maybe New York? We'll have to research!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon 2013

It's so strange. We had a wonderful, fun, exciting and exhilarating day at the Boston Marathon. We watched my nephew Sam and his fiancĂ© Danielle  run the marathon, with Sam's parents, Cathy and JA, his sister Kate, and Kate's darling 8 month old baby Henry. In our little family world so many things could have gone wrong, yet none of them did.  I feel like we walked through the parting of the waters in downtown Boston. It's very hard to explain but I want to try. Something sad and horrible happened at the Boston Marathon; we were there, very close, yet we saw and heard nothing.

I had every intention of writing a cheerful funny blog post about our crazy wonderful day. I still want to write that post, but now it's different.

So what do I do? Is it disrespectful to those that were killed or injured to write about our experience? If I don't write about doesn't that make the terrorists win?  Should I stop running big marathons, not go watch Boston, avoid major events and big crowds?  I say no! NO! Running in a big race like Boston, cheering on family and friends, experiencing the crowds and camaraderie, all of that can't be changed by a horrible act.

So here is that story of our family's day at the Boston Marathon. It was a joyous day, and I refuse to have that taken away.

After putting Sam and Daniellle on the Boston Express Bus early Monday morning the rest of us took our time getting ready. The theme throughout this day for me was worry; worry, excitement and joy. I am a world class worrier. I may never qualify for Boston, but if there was a qualifying time for worrying I would beat it every time.

Our plan was to drive to my cousin's house in Newton, one of the western suburbs of Boston, to watch the race. After Sam and Danielle passed us we would make our way downtown via public transportation, meet them at the family meeting area and then make our way home.

Our first challenge was getting to my cousin's house from New Hampshire. Many streets are closed in Boston on the day of the race, so we had to figure out how to get to their house without crossing Commonwealth Avenue, which is the route of the race through Newton. With some suggestions from my cousin we were able to do this, so my first worry was overcome. Secondly we had to make our way from their house to the race course. What did we ever do without smartphones? We spent a lot of the day following our little blue location dot on Google Maps as we walked the streets of Boston from here to there.

We got to Commonwealth Ave in plenty of time. The wheelchair and hand cycle participants were just starting to pass by. We were going to get to see the elite runners, and that was really exciting.

The wheelchair and hand cycle participants were very inspiring. No matter who you are and what category you fall into, qualifying for Boston is an amazing feat. We looked on in awe as they sped by, wondering at the callouses on their hands and the muscles in their arms.

The first elite runner, a girl, came by. The elite women start before the elite men in Boston for some reason. This girl was at least a minute out in front of the other elite women, and JA and I (the only experienced runners in the group) looked at each other knowingly. I said I would bet money she wouldn't win, and I was right. I think she came in 9th. At that level marathon running is such a tactical sport. Actually at any level that is true. Go out too fast and you WILL crash. Those women are running at the extremes of their sport. Nobody is going to suddenly blow the other runners out of the water by a minute or more. But it's a very hard lesson to learn, especially when you feel so good at the beginning of a race. Boy, I sure can attest to that!

The elite men came by, and then the regular men started appearing. We had an estimate for about when Sam should hit mile 19 where we were standing, if he was maintaining his predicted pace. And Boston, like many marathons nowadays, will send you texts when your runner hits the various mile markers. We were receiving texts on both Sam and Danielle, and it looked like Sam was doing great.

He was. He came by us running a 7 minute per mile pace, and he kept that pace until the end. We set up a relay. One of us stood a little ahead of the rest, to try to spot our runners early. I did this for Sam. When I saw him I started screaming and jumping up and down. This let the rest of the group know he was coming so that they could get their cameras ready.

We had signs, a couple of Go Sam! And Go Danielle! signs, but also a few funny signs. We got the ideas for the signs off the Internet. One sign said "Slow down, I'm trying to count everyone!" Runners had some smart comebacks to this sign. "What number are you at?" A lot of them yelled. Cathy would reply " I don't know, I keep having to start over!" The other sign we held said "Paul Ryan Finish Line." This was in reference to Ryan's notorious claim during the election that he had run a 2:50 marathon, an amazing time, when in actuality his time was over four hours. We got a lot of funny looks with this sign, but the ones that got it, really thought it was great. "Best sign of the day!" Several of them shouted. We felt very proud of our signs!

Then Danielle appeared. Poor Danielle. She is a very good, tough little runner. She had the absolutely most horrible blisters I have ever seen. She finished, but was disappointed in her time. Frankly I have no idea how she managed to run with those blisters on her feet. That's the thing about marathoning. No matter how hard you train, it's such a long race and there are so many variables. You just never know what might happen.

Once Danielle had passed us by, it was time to make our way downtown. We knew we couldn't get there before they finished, but we still wanted to be there to be sure they were both okay, and to help them get home.

The crowds at Boston are just incredible. Most big marathons have good crowds here and there, but Boston has huge crowds all along the route. We needed to make our way to the closest available T stop (Boston's subway is called the T). There was one at Boston College, about a mile and a half away. We started making our way along Commonwealth Avenue. Everyone in our group was fit, so there wasn't any concern about that, but we did have an 8 month old baby with us. Henry is so good though. Kate and JA passed him back and forth and he was mostly content and a good sport about the noise and the crowds.

When we got to Boston College, the noise and the crowds were just incredible. This is at mile 21 of the race, the infamous Heartbreak Hill. I have mixed feelings about seeing this hill. I have ambitions to run Boston someday for a charity, since I can't run fast enough to qualify, and seeing that steep and long of a hill that late in the race was very intimidating. Maybe seeing it, however, will help me remember when the time comes not to go out too fast. We shall see.

The other thing that happened was that when we got to BC we realized that the T stop was on the other side of the street so we couldn't get to it. The next T stop was another mile down the road, so on we trudged.

At Cleveland Circle every train that stopped at the station was already packed. Finally the station master put another train in service and we were able to get on that one. Another logistical problem solved! I was starting to worry again, however. I had to pick the dogs up at daycare back in New Hampshire before 6:30 pm, or they would be boarded for the night. It was probably around 2:45 when we boarded the train. Kate (the only person with young ears) thinks she heard a boom while the train was still above ground, but the rest of us heard nothing. At this point we were maybe 4 miles from the finish line.

Boy, that was a packed train. It stopped at Fenway Park, and even more people crammed their way on. The Red Sox play a day game on Patriots Day too. A couple of happy inebriated baseball fans had lots of loud observations to make, but for the most part everyone was in a calm and happy state of mind.

Shortly before Arlington Station, the train stopped in the tunnel. It sat there for quite a while. It's not the greatest experience in the world being stuck in the dark on a crowded train, but this happens a lot on the T, especially on the Green Line, which is very old. Finally we pulled into the station. This is where we intended to get out anyway, but all of al sudden they put the train out of service and told everyone to get out of the subway as quickly as possible. I was the first one of our group off the train and a policeman told me to keep moving but I ignored him until I was sure we were all together. Someone said something about an explosion, but we thought that sounded crazy, and the last thought in our minds was terrorism. We just wanted to find Sam and Danielle and make our way home.

I know now the news said the cell phone service was shut down, but we were able to make calls. The service was sporadic, however. We did get ahold of Sam, found out where he was, and followed our little blue dot on Google maps to find him. While we were walking toward him, I started getting texts. "Are u okay?" "Where are u?" "Please let us know" family and friends all over the country were trying to contact me. I couldn't respond to them all fast enough so I started texting one person and asking them to tell others. It was crazy! I must have received 20 texts in 20 minutes. I felt loved, and also strangely disconnected from it all. Then the NY Times headline flashed across my phone, and we knew it was real.

We found Sam and Danielle, tired, dazed, and sore. Sam had a great time of 3:05. Danielle was disappointed, but we were very proud of her anyway. The main worry at this point was whether she could walk to the bus station with those blisters. We decided we would carry her if we had to. We also decided we were going to put the runners back on the Boston Express bus so they wouldn't have to walk to the cars. We still weren't positive how we were going to get back to Newton. The Green Line was shut down so were were going to try to catch the commuter train to Newtonville Center and walk from there.

Dropping Sam, Danielle, Kate, Henry and JA at the bus station, Cathy, Lee and I started walking VERY fast over to the train station next door. We bought our tickets and looked at the schedule. There was a 4:25 train leaving for Newton in about a minute. What track was it on? Where was it? There it is! RUN!

We made it! While on the train I had a chance to call a few people and answer a few more texts. Finally I had the bright idea to post our status on Facebook. After that things started to calm down a little, at least for us.

We made it back to Newton at a little before 5 pm. Google said it would take 10 minutes to walk to the car, but we made it in 7. We walked really fast! Once to the cars Lee and Cathy hopped in his car and headed to Salem. I hopped in mine and did the same. I hoped to have enough time to stop at the Bus Station in Salem to pick some people up, but I wasn't sure what the traffic would be like. If I was running too close to 6:30 I might have to go pick the dogs up first.

In the car I turned on the radio, and the full horror of what had happened started to become a little clearer. My first reaction, frankly, was indignation. How DARE they mess with a marathon! Would this mean future races would be canceled or severely curtailed? Would it be harder to watch and cheer runners on? I hoped and prayed that would not be the case.

My second thought was for all those runners that did not get to finish. If you don't run, or have never run a marathon, it's a little hard to explain how emotional and exciting it gets as you near the finish line. I'm alway filled with a mixture of joy, surprise, pain, and determination as the finish line comes into view. I can't imagine what it would be like to come so close and have your goal snatched away. I realize this sounds trivial and selfish compared to losing a limb or a life, but it's what I thought.

We successfully picked up everyone, including the dogs, and made our way home. Tired and dazed, we cleaned up, ate dinner, and sat around the living room, calling friends and family, watching bits of news online, and trying to process what had happened.

I felt very split. There was the day we had just had, and then there was this horrible terrorist attack, and apparently we all walked right through it peacefully, untouched. It didn't feel like the attack happened in the same place as where we were, and it still doesn't to some extent.

Yesterday Runner's World asked all runners to wear their race tshirts in honor of Boston, so I put on my Marine Corp shirt for the day. We got everyone to the airport, and slowly started to catch up on some of our normal daily tasks. We had been out of the country for two weeks, and then had visitors for almost a week after that. We needed to remember what normal was!

This morning, Wednesday, two days after the attack, I woke up, got my coffee and read an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times. He said, much better than I ever could, what I was feeling about the attack. Click here to read the article. Whoever did this awful thing picked the wrong group of people to try to scare. While walking up Heartbreak Hill I was having second thoughts about keeping Boston on my marathon bucket list. Now I'm determined to run it someday, if the fates allow. I've signed up for a half marathon in Boston at the end of May, The Run to Remember. I'm thrilled and excited to be running this race for a second time, and proud to be running it in Boston.

This morning Lee told me a story that one of his friends had told him, about a runner that was prevented from finishing at mile 26, which means she had less than a quarter of a mile to go. Another runner came up to her and asked how she had done and she told him she was not allowed to finish. He took off his finisher's medal and put it around her neck. "You are a finisher in my book," he said. I burst into tears at the conclusion of that story.

It is a beautiful day in New Hampshire today. There seem to be lots of runners out, more than usual. Every runner I see I feel like waving and clapping for them. Tomorrow I will be out there as well, doing my usual Thursday morning run. When I do, I'm sure I will be thinking of Boston, and my beautiful messed up country, born of a noble experiment right around where I live, over 200 years ago. We are far from perfect, but we have good hearts, creative minds, and kind souls. We can't be stopped so easily, not by terrorists, not by guns, or bombs or threats. We have heart, all of us.

See you in Boston, next year. I'll be there to cheer on the runners, and someday I'll run up Heartbreak Hill too. How about you?

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Netherlands - Hello Mel and Stan, Amsterdam

It's a 4 hour drive from Trier to The Hague. Not too bad though, mostly Autobahns and modern highways, and light traffic. We are ready to stop driving for a few days though, by the time we arrive in The Hague.

Mel and Stan live in a beautiful neighborhood, full of town houses with quaint fronts facing the street, and lovely gardens in the back. It's very large for a city house. They are in a neighborhood of embassies and consulates, and Stan's office is only a few blocks away. It's a pretty nice expat deal!

It's so nice to see Mel, it's been several years. Her dogs, Russel and Brie, are so happy in Holland. They have had some training and have learned to walk nicely on a leash, and to obey commands when off leash in the nearby park. It's definitely doggie heaven here! It would be nice to bring our dogs on a European trip, we think. They could go everywhere with us, hotels,restaurants, everyone welcomes dogs. The problem is getting them here. Oh well!

Mel makes a delicious meal for her tired guests and before too long we're off to sleep. Unfortunately her neighbor has a dog that is sad and lonely, and howls loudly, missing his pack. He starts howling around 6 am so we're up pretty early.

Today is our day to go to Amsterdam. It's the first time we have taken public transportation on this trip, isn't that strange? It's easy to take the little tram at the end of the street to Central Station, but we have a heck of a time finding the actual station and buying a ticket. All part of the fun of being a traveler, and we figure it out, just in time to hop on the Intercity train to Amsterdam.

It takes about 45 minutes to get from The Hague to Amsterdam. Outside the train window we see Holland, flat fields, canals, windmills. if it were only a little warmer there would be flowers too. it has been a very late spring everywhere we go.

Amsterdam Central Station seems to be right in the middle of some frenetic tourist activity, which is to be expected, but it's not what we have in mind, so we waste no time wandering out of the city center to the more distant streets and canals.

The center of Amsterdam is surrounded by rings of canals and quaint-looking streets. We wander outward, first following a canal, then crossing a bridge and walking a block or two, then following another canal. We stop for a delicious lunch at a place called Luxembourg Cafe where Lee gets a real club sandwich and I get an extravagant concoction that is called a sandwich but is really a salad of arugula, ham, ricotta cheese and figs, atop some heavenly brown bread. I eat it with a knife and fork!

After lunch we head for the museums. We know the Rijksmuseum with its Rembrants and other old masters is closed and undergoing renovations, but we didn't realize that the Van Gogh museum is closed for renovations as well. There is a small Van Gogh exhibit at the Hermatage museum, so we head over that way instead.

It's a great exhibit, but very crowded, since its the only show in town, it seems. By the time we finish up here it is almost 5 pm. We are tired, and most shops and tourist attractions seem to be closing, as bars and restaurants open for business. We hang out in a bar, order coffee (yeah I have a raspberry tart too, I can't seem to help myself), and ponder what to do until its time to meet Mel and Stan for dinner.

There's an area not too far away with lots of shops so we go wander around there for a bit. We find a kitchen store with all sorts of interesting contraptions and that's always a good way to kill a little time. Eventually it's close enough to 7 pm to head to our evening dinner reservations,

We try to use Amsterdam's metro, but can't seem to figure out how to buy a ticket through the automated system, so decide the hell with it, and jump in a taxi instead. This works out great. The taxi driver is polite and friendly and seems impressed by our destination. We soon find out why.

If you are ever in Amsterdam, and you consider yourself a bit of a foodie, get a reservation at De Kas. Out away from the city center, in the middle of a park, this restaurant grows much of their own fruits and vegetables organically. They asked us if we liked being surprised, and we do, so we let them feed us whatever they wanted,

Soup, starters, main, cheese, dessert. It was all wonderful. The portions were reasonably sized, everything was beautifully presented. Several types of fish, fruit, veggies. Mel took pictures of it all; I just ate. I was pretty tired, so I don't even remember exactly what it all was. The cheese and bread course was a delight. Even if you're not that in to cheese, it's well worth it to try the different cheeses in this part of the world. They are awesome!

Stan drove us back to The Hague. It was a long day. By the time we got back to their house it was after 11 and we all just fell into bed. I slept great; the neighbors dogs didn't start howling until after 7 am, so I'm good to go!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Germany - Trier

As I hoped, this is a really nice hotel. On a hill overlooking Trier, we have a private balcony, a large room, and even wash cloths! Apparently wash cloths are only available in the finer German hotels, so that's where we are.

We arrived here fairly early yesterday, and our room wasn't ready yet, but that was no matter, since we were eager to explore the town. Trier is considered to be the oldest city in Europe, with Roman ruins dating back several hundred years before the birth of Christ. It has so many layers of history for me. I feel a strange sort of disconnect. One part of me has been going "wow oh wow, this is that town I've heard about all my life, the town in those old pictures, in my mothers stories. The other part of me is just being a tourist, soaking up the history, the food, taking pictures.

We walked down the hill to the town center. Right away we see the roman ruins. It's like being in a mini Rome, with a bath house, an amphitheater, and Porta Nigra, the famous Black Gate. There are old family photos of my relatives standing in front of the Porta Nigra, so I have Lee take one of me standing there too.

We go into the tourist information center and get a good city map. Unfortunately nobody can remember for sure what street my great grandmother's Inn was on. The best I can get is "across the railroad tracks from St. Mathies. We save that bit of exploration for the following day.

There is a city museum with an audio guide. We speed through the medieval history of Trier, eager in an apprehensive way to get to the history of the Jews in Trier. There have been Jews living here off and on since the Middle Ages. They would periodically be expelled, and then would return. My relatives lived here at least since the 1700's, and might have been in France before that, but we're not sure.

Much of what happened in Trier when the Nazi's came to power is no different than what you have heard many times before. Trier's Jewish population was about 600 people. By 1938 all but about 150 of them had left. Among those left were my grandfather's two sisters who refused to leave. Everyone that was left was eventually deported to the camps, including my great aunts. Only 14 of those people survived. My great aunts were not among those 14 people.

We leave the city museum somewhat dazed and slowly make our way back up the hill to the hotel. The beautiful chilly sunny weather is a welcome change from the rain and snow of the past couple of days. After a nice dinner in a nearby restaurant we are ready to call it a night.

The next day I'm eager to search the area around the cathedral of St. Mathies. I want to take pictures of the area for my mother. The cathedral isn't hard to find; it's huge. It takes some time to find our way around to the neighborhood on the other side of the railroad tracks, where my mother and her family lived. It was 75 years ago, and Trier was bombed during the war, so we know everything has changed, but we take pictures of some likely street signs, and the view of the church from the other side of the tracks. Who knows, maybe something will look familiar to my mother,

Then we walk along the river, where my grandfather taught her to swim, and into the neighborhood where the old Jewish cemetery is located. It's not hard to find, but the gate is locked, as we were warned it would be. But on one side the wall is low and we can peak over it easily. I snap a bunch of shots, feeling an odd thrill. Somewhere in here my great grandfather is buried. I silently say the first line of Kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

There's one more photo I want to take and then I'm finished. The Jewish school where my mother went was right across the street from the Karl Marx museum, so I take a few pictures there too. Yes, Karl Marx was from Trier as well.

After that I'm ready to stop thinking about history for awhile. The hotel has a pool and a sauna and we think we'll go indulge ourselves. Tomorrow we're driving to the Netherlands. I'm curious to see how it will be different from Germany. Food, language, culture, bring it on!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Germany - Baden-Baden

We just completed a couple of days in and around Baden-Baden, in the Black Forest. We actually stayed in an inn about 10 k outside the actual city of Baden-Baden, in the tiny village of Neirwer. It was farther away from Baden-Baden than I thought, but it turned out to be an excellent choice. We were surrounded by vineyards and apple orchards, rural and quaint. The inn where we stayed, the Rubenhof, had its own excellent restaurant. Most of the places where we have stayed have one person that seems to be their official English speaker; everyone else waves their arms a bit and tries different German and English words until they get their point across. Pantomime works wonders, on both ends.

The drive from Lindau to Baden-Baden was cold, congested and snowy. By the time we arrived we were happy to just eat at the inn and relax. I walked down the hill to the village to stretch my legs, but that was about it.

The next morning was cold and cloudy, and windy too, but I had a 12 mile run to get in, so I was up early. No skipping this one, if I intend to run that half marathon at the end of May.

I took my time, opting for the slower 20/40 ratio that I use for longer runs. It was about 3/4ths of a mile down the hill, and then another mile to the main road and a great hiking/biking path. I followed it through the little towns, Buhl, Osterheim, until I reached 6 miles and it was time to turn around.

Once I turn around a strong wind is whipping right into my eyes, making tears run down my checks, but at least now I'm warm. It's really not that bad, since I'm being careful about my pace, and I'm very well rested since I haven't run since Wurzburg. Even the last steep climb back to the inn isn't too bad.

Once I've eaten something it's time for the big event of the day. We're going into Baden-Baden to partake of the baths. I'm pushing and dragging Lee into this activity. Not his cup of tea at all, but he's a good sport and is willing to try it, as long as he has my permission to exit early if he decides he wants out.

So, we are going to the Friedrichsbad spa, the old roman-irish baths. Today is one of the co-ed bathing days so Lee and I can bath together, at least at the start.

The idea at the Friedrichsbad is that you take your clothes off and follow the signs, through 17 different stations involving progressively hotter steam rooms and bathes, with showers between the stations. There is an optional soapy brush massage that I select and Lee skips so after that we don't see each other again until the end.

Each station has a recommended time and I try to follow the rules, although one of the steam baths ends up making me a little dizzy. My favorite is the bubbly bath where you start to cool off. It's not cold, just very very pleasantly cool. It makes me sleepy, but then the following 2 stations that are progressively colder wake me back up. Especially the one that's 18C! Yikes! The recommended time is. "Shortly"and believe me that's all I manage. Very shortly!

Then you go sit wrapped in a warm towel for a couple of minutes, slather lotion on yourself, and then lie down wrapped in warm blankets for 30 minutes. Some people fall asleep but not me. Then you go sit in a sunlit room and drink tea and relax for awhile and that's that.

It was very enjoyable, even Lee said he liked it and would do it again. The nudity very quickly becomes no big deal. Everyone is naked, so who cares. I hardly noticed the other bodies after awhile. One woman with very nice huge breasts and one guy with a gargantuan penis and that was about it.

We walked around Baden-Badan for a bit, found a late lunch and went back to the inn. We ate dinner at a nearby winery, Rottle's, where I managed to cause a furor on Facebook by posting a picture of a mysterious eating utensil. We never quite decided if it was a fish knife or a saucier. The meal was great and I didn't drop anything on the floor so I guess we did all right even without that particular thing, whatever it was.

Now we are on our way to Trier, which is pretty exciting since that's where my mother lived until she was 9. It's a beautiful day, sunny and chilly. Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Germany - Neuschwenstein Castle

Well first of all I have to tell you about our dinner last night. We walked right down the street to The Akropolis, a Greek restaurant! I had grilled fish, Lee had lamb. We split a carafe of wine, and there was complimentary Ouzo to boot! I really liked the Ouzo, I'm not sure if I have had it before. It tastes like licorice. I actually had a second glass (they're small, really).

I was supposed to run this morning, but decided not to, because we needed to get going to make our reservation for the tour at Mad King Ludwig's castle. When I started my marathon training for this year, I decided to add an optional Friday run. The key word is optional. If I'm feeling good then sure why not, but it's not a must do run.

Our tour was at 1 pm, and it's about an hour and a half from Lindau to Hohenschwangau, the town where we were supposed to pick up our tickets. We're climbing up into the mountains, and yes indeed, there is snow on the ground, before too long quite a lot of snow. "The trees look like lace" says Lee, and he's right, they do.

We find Hohenschwangau, and are immediately plunged into tourist hell. In spite of the crummy weather, tourists from all corners of the globe apparently want to see Sleeping Beauty's castle, and there are plenty of tour buses here to accommodate them. I had debated whether to bother to make reservations, but boy am I glad I did. The line to buy tickets stretches way down the road, but the line to pick up reserved tickets is nonexistent.

We are actually quite early, but that's okay. It's a mile long walk uphill to get to the start of the castle tour. It's also possible to take a horse drawn carriage, but we opt for the walk. It's not that bad if you are moderately fit, not very steep.

As we climb up the road the castle slowly comes into view. It's really pretty, like something out of a fairy tale. And as we wait for the tour to begin the sun actually starts to peek out from the clouds. we can even see some blue sky!

The tour itself is anticlimactic. Our guide has memorized her schpiel, but the story isn't nearly as interesting as the story of the residence in Wurzburg. Mad king Ludwig built this castle in the mid to late 1800's. Inside the castle the walls are painted with scenes from various Wagnerian operas. Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances and the castle was never completed. The End.

Tour completed, we grab a German hotdog at a snack stand and head down the mountain to our car, ready to get the hell out of there. I'm glad I saw it, but would never go back.

As we drive back to Lindau, the clouds roll back in and it actually starts to snow again, fairly hard. We find a steamy cafe around the corner from our hotel and have coffee and more German pastry. At some point this pastry habit has got to stop, but not yet, not yet.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Germany - Rothenburg-ab-der-Tauber and Lindau

In the morning we say goodbye to Wurzburg. We really liked it, nice hotel, good food, interesting sites. Now it's on to Rothenburg-ab-der-Tauber, a very well preserved medieval village. Only an hour by car. It's still cold, we park the car and go walk around. It's a little hard to decide what to do. We view a little museum, wander around the streets. The best part is walking part of the city wall. We try an Italian restaurant for lunch, we don't want to totally burn out on German food! I have gnocchi cause that is my go to comfort food sometimes when my stomach is acting up, which it is, a bit.

Then the drive to Lindau. The weather soon turns terrible, rain, sleet, wintery mix, there is snow on the ground. Strange because its actually a bit warmer than it was in Wurzburg. The part of Lindau where we are staying is a small village on an island overlooking Lake Constance. It probably has gorgeous views across the lake to Zurich and the alps, but we can't see a thing.

We find our hotel, drop off our bags, then find the parking, which is hardly next to the hotel, like the description of the hotel says. It's a couple of blocks away, not so fun in the drizzly rain. Hotel Medusa is clean and quiet, not quite as nice as the hotel in Wurzburg, however, yet more expensive. It's smack in the middle of the island village, so everything is close by.

We go in search of our afternoon coffee and pastry. We find a quiet cafe overlooking the harbor. This place is pretty deserted because of the terrible weather. This time I choose apple strudel with warm vanilla creme sauce....yum.

We wander around the little village for a bit, decide where we want to eat dinner tonight and then retreat to our hotel room. It's just too unpleasant to be outside for long. I spend some time reading about the baths in Baden-Baden and getting myself psyched for that experience. Tomorrow we're driving off into the mountains to tour the Neuschwenstein Castle, the castle that inspired Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. It might SNOW! I sure hope we can see the darn thing and its not lost in the mist, like the Big Buddha in Hong Kong on a cloudy day.....

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Germany - Frankfurt and Wurzburg

A comical leave taking...the limo was late, we've been trying a new service. They went to the wrong house. We were cutting it a little close so didn't want to wait for them anymore and decided to drive. We drive half way down the street and Lee realizes he's driving with the garbage that he meant to put in the trash can at the end of the driveway still in his lap. Then after we have been driving toward Logan for around 15 minutes I suddenly realize that I have forgotten my coat. Chagrined and feeling stupid but there's nothing I can do, no way or time to turn around. I bought a nice waterproof shell to wear with layers just for this trip. It's supposed to be cold, too, so will have to remedy this at some point.

Thanks to Lee and his many airplane miles we're flying business to Frankfurt. It's fun to be pampered, but I don't want to spend too much time enjoying things. It's only a 7 hour flight and I need to try to sleep a little. We're taking off at 5 pm and arriving at 5 am. It will be a short night.

The flight is uneventful. Lufttanza doesn't have lie flats, and I wasn't that sleepy anyway. We take our time in the Frankfurt airport, nothing is open yet anyway, but we find their Welcome Lounge and take a shower and change clothes. Get our rental car, make sure my phone is working, off we go.

This part of the trip is really the only part I'm a little doubtful about. Will getting into Frankfurt be difficult? (No). Will it be hard to find parking? (Well yes and no, there is plentiful parking, and lots of signs, but it probably is a lot easier if you know German). Is there much to do in Frankfurt? ( there is a little to do, and really there is enough. We just want to kill a few hours before we head to Wurzburg).

So it all works out. We park, walk along one side of the river, gawk at the Kaiserdome, walk over the Iron Bridge, wonder at all the engraved locks, wander through the Sachsenhausen, find a place to have some coffee. A big plus to being in Germany. Germans love coffee, good coffee. The place we pick also has plum kuchen, a German speciality that my grandmother, my mother, and I love to make. I'm starting to feel right at home.

The Germans are nice. The like to practice their English. They are thrilled to hear that my mother is German, that we are going to Trier. They love it when I try out my teeny bit of German on them. When I tell them my mother's age and the year they left, they almost instinctively know that my family is Jewish. They are interested, respectful.

A lady we talk to in the coffeeshop recommends one of the museums along the river, the Stadel Art Institute., so off we go. The wind is brisk and biting, I'm not going to last too much longer without a coat. Everyone is complaining about the weather. It's supposed to be a lot warmer by now.

The museum is a nice collection, a mix of modern, impressionistic, and old masters. We kill enough time that when we are finished its time for lunch. Back across the river we decide on a Mediterranean restaurant with colorful pillows, hot mint tea, and a plate of hummus, couscous, babaganoush, and other middle eastern specialities.

After lunch we go in search of a sporting goods store. I find a shell on sale that will do just fine. It's black, so it's not a total waste of money, since the one I left behind was tan. At least that's what I tell myself.

A pleasant drive to Wurzburg, except for the crazy number of trucks on the A3 autobahn. Wurzburg is a charming town on the River Main. Hotel Gruner Baum is cute, our room clean and quiet. I'm feeling the lack of sleep by now...but have to stay awake for dinner. At the hotel's recommendation we go to the Backofele Restaurant which serves traditional German food in a nice atmosphere, with more friendly people and an apple pancake for dessert, oh my oh my....

I sleep 11 hours, that's crazy, I never do that!

Light breakfast at hotel, bread, fruit, coffee. Jog along the river. Another cold day. Up the hill to the Marenburg Fortress. Lovely walk, bits of spring here and there. We check out the fortress museum, and then its back down the hill to lunch. I had said I was going to have sausages, but they have something called liver dumplings on the menu that I can't resist. They turn out to be tender, delicate, giant liver meatballs with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut. I can only eat one. Lee gets bratwurst...they are good too. I even have a beer, so you know I'm really on vacation now!

Then to the other end of town for the 3 pm English tour of The Residence, an immense palace modeled on Versailles. Our guide is really good, funny, entertaining, informative. I have lots of fun taking pictures of the rooms, the ceilings, the stucco decorations, the painted mirrors.

By now it's 4 pm so it's time to indulge in the German tradition of coffee and some kind of pastry. We share a chocolate cake cause that's what Lee was craving. Then back to the hotel to rest a bit before its time to head out again for dinner. We have already set our pattern for this trip. Eat, tour, rest, repeat.


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