Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 10)

January 13, 2011

Christmas morning and we were up before the sun… thanks to the wake-up call we’d requested the night before.

Wrapping up our Christmas Gift.

This was the last day of our trip – the final chapter of the gift we gave ourselves. The trip to Germany and Austria represented our Anniversary and Christmas gifts to each other, and it was a fantastic gift.

But we still had to get home!

We knew the train would take approximately thirty minutes to get us to the airport; we just didn’t know the time-table. Thus, we had already decided to get moving as early as possible, get to the airport with plenty of time to spare, and then worry about breakfast.

We checked out of the Imperial Riding School (although I never did see the horses) and headed up the road to the train station. Our wait was less than five minutes and we were at the airport before 8:00 AM.

There was only one position open at the KLM check-in desk, and the people in front of us were taking forever. Suddenly there were about fifty people behind us in line. They must have been part of a tour group, and once one couple discovered the self-serve kiosks, the entire swarm moved over to gather around the six or seven terminals.

Suddenly it was our turn to check in. Sadly, we were informed we had to use the self-serve kiosk first. Dang!

It took a while to get our turn and once we did, the system was most uncooperative. I had a choice: I could scan our passports or key in the Reservation code. I tried both and was told I had no reservation.

Finally a young lady from KLM came over to assist me. I still have no idea what I was doing wrong, but she worked her magic and we now had boarding passes for both flights. (Our itinerary had us flying from Vienna to Amsterdam, and from Amsterdam to Atlanta.)

We then got back in line and worked our way back to the check-in counter. The only bag we checked was our handy-dandy collapsible Holland America bag that was stuffed with our dirty clothes. That gave us room for the Christmas ornaments we’d bought for our children and grandchildren.

We then made our way to the food court and had one more Continental breakfast. By the way, a true Continental breakfast includes cold cuts, cheeses, fruit, cereal, various types of bread and rolls, herrings or kippers, and coffee, tea, juice, and milk. The next time that hotel in the US serves you Danish and coffee; ask them where the rest of it is.

We still had to go through security, but we had plenty of time.

Surprisingly, security at the Vienna airport did not require us to remove our shoes. Nor did they insist on a full-body scan or pat-down. Think back to what we went through prior to 9/11.

Soon we were squeezed into a plane and on our way to Amsterdam. I think this is what surprised me most about our trip. I’d expected very few people to be flying on Christmas Day. Perhaps that was true and the airlines simply cut back on their flights. In any case, both of our flights were absolutely stuffed with travelers.

A few years ago Lu and I had passed through the Amsterdam airport, so we knew what to expect. Instead of having one centralized security point, they have one at every gate. Perhaps the original design of their terminal gave them no choice.

At this checkpoint, we did get the pat-down. They had no multimillion dollar scanners, so they had no choice. The American government insists that anyone flying to the US be frisked. The gentleman who frisked me apologized and said people flying to the US were the only ones treated to this special service.

Aside from being unbelievably cramped in a jumbo jet, the flight was uneventful – just long… very long. In reading the KLM in-flight magazine I discovered that they had changed the configuration of the plane’s seating and made the first several rows in economy class a bit more inviting – and expensive. They’d added 10 centimeters of leg-room to each seat.

That’s about 4 inches.

Now, I have to ask, where did those 4 inches come from? I’m sure at least 3 of them came from my allotment.

I had my special circulation-inducing socks on and I did my best to exercise my calves from time to time, but I was thrilled when the plane came to a stop and I was able to stand up. We had arrived almost an hour early, but that created a problem – there was no place to park! We had to wait until the plane that was loading at our gate completed the process and moved.

Finally we were able to disembark. Now, we had to go through customs and pick up our luggage (dirty clothes).

I thought we were home free at that point. Wrong! We had to pass through US security once more. I’m still not convinced of the necessity of this step, but off came the shoes and belt, out came the computer. I walked through the metal detector and, even before the alarm sounded I knew I’d blown it. I’d forgotten to take the cell-phone out of my pocket.

Surprisingly, the TSA agent allowed me to step back, put my cell phone on the conveyor and try again.

Perhaps that was his way of saying “Merry Christmas”. In the past when I’ve forgotten to remove a belt or something else obvious, I was not permitted to step back and have a do-over. The TSA agents I’ve encountered in the past seemed to relish such situations. All I can say is I am deeply grateful. We were soon on our way out… into the snow.

We had parked at the Crown Plaza and I called to request their shuttle. I figured that their regular schedule would be pushed aside on Christmas Day. Once again I was wrong. I was informed that there should be one arriving within minutes.

Sure enough it was arriving as we got to the pick-up point. The snow was falling harder now, but I wasn’t worried… yet.

It didn’t take long to clear the snow off the car and within a short time we were on our way out of the parking lot. I followed the instructions at the electronic gate and was instructed to insert my credit card to pay what I owed. I figured I might be an hour or two over what I had previous paid, but was not prepared when the $98.00 figure flashed before my eyes.

After a relatively calm discussion with the folks at the hotel’s desk, we were again on our way.

We live approximately sixty miles north of the airport. The Interstate south of Atlanta was wet, as was the highway through the city. However, once we left I-85 and got onto Georgia 400, the wet pavement turned to white pavement.

We pressed onward and I was thankful for the meal KLM served about an hour prior to our landing. Had we needed to stop to eat, we may have spent the night in a Waffle House.

The roads grew progressively worse as we neared our home and I began to wonder if we’d be able to make it up our driveway.

We did, and sad to say, that was the end of our Wonderful Winter Vacation.

I realize I did not include many photos in this section, but since I have lots I have not yet included in this series of articles, I’ll add some now.

In the meantime, watch this space. Now that I’ve gotten back into the habit of writing, I plan on doing it on a more regular basis.

Munich

Nuremburg

Nuremburg Christmas Market

Regensburg - Franchise opportunity?

A Church in Passau

A real shoemaker in Vienna


Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 8)

January 6, 2011

It had been almost thirty years since my first visit to Vienna. Back in the early 1980s I was attending a series of meetings for IBM Europe; my place on the agenda was to provide an update on the relatively new System/38.

It might be the same building.

While so much of Vienna seemed familiar to me, I felt the same during my first visit. It was like walking back into downtown Pittsburgh in 1955. The cobblestone streets and old store fronts on five and six story buildings were vivid reminders of the city of my birth.

Vienna tram.

This next photo might justify my feelings of Déjà vu.

Old photo of a Pittsburgh trolley.

In Vienna, and other cities in Europe, these vehicles are known as trams. We called them streetcars, or trolleys, in Pittsburgh. Seeing the age of many of the trams in Munich and Vienna, it’s obvious Pittsburgh made a big mistake getting rid of them and replacing them with gas guzzling buses.

On that first trip to Vienna, so many years ago, I decided to shun the airport-to-hotel transfer IBM would’ve paid for. Rather than taking a limo, I asked directions as to how a resident of Vienna would get to the hotel as cheaply as possible. I then boarded a bus and headed off into the unknown.

The bus driver spoke enough English to let me off where I could get a subway into the part of town where my hotel was located. I had difficulty finding the subway station until a shopkeeper told me to look for the large “U” on a sign near a set of steps leading Underground.

My next dilemma was trying to figure out the vending machine that dispensed U-Bahn tickets. I had three strikes against me: I couldn’t read German; I wasn’t sure where I was going; and I didn’t fully comprehend their monetary system.

As I stood staring at the mass of incomprehensible information a gentleman approached and, in perfect English, asked if he could help. Luckily he was familiar with the hotel’s location and told me which ticket I needed. Unluckily, the machine did not take bills. I needed coins.

The gentleman took one of my bills and walked me to a pastry shop nearby. The next thing I knew, there was a heated argument between my new friend and the store’s proprietor. It turned out that the storekeeper wanted 10% for making change. That did not happen! My Guardian Angel handed me the money and we returned to the vending machine. He made sure I deposited the proper amount and selected the correct ticket.

Next, the man walked me down the steps and told me which train to take and how many stops I needed to go prior to getting off.

I set down my suitcase and briefcase and turned to thank him. He was gone!

Standing and waiting has never been a forte of mine. Soon I picked up my luggage and began walking around to see what there was to see. Suddenly an elderly woman grabbed me by the arm and took me back to where my friend had left me. I couldn’t understand a word she said, but the message was clear. “Stay here until the train comes and then do what that fellow told you to do!”

I learned a lot about the people of Vienna by making things difficult on myself. Judging by the age of those who helped me, I can only surmise they were young adults when the Allies liberated Austria from the Nazis. When they saw an opportunity to help an American, they didn’t hesitate!

All this is to say I had a personal agenda when we arrived in Vienna. In addition to tracking down the IBM building, I was hoping to find the hotel I occupied during my stay. I also wanted to confirm the big mistake I’d made all those years ago.

Map of Vienna.

If you look in the upper right section of the map you’ll see an “X” showing the approximate location of the IBM building. Based on an assumption (I didn’t have a map back then), I stood in the middle of a nearby bridge and felt a thrill knowing I was looking at the famous Danube River.

The truth is that centuries ago I might have been accurate in my assumption. I’ve since learned that the Danube was once very much like the Mississippi River in that following a massive flood, it would find a new course. So, the waterway I thought was the Danube was no longer the Danube. It is now simply a small channel off the main river. That also explains why the main part of Vienna is not directly on the Danube… any more.

Now that we’re all thoroughly confused, let’s return to the last full day of our cruise.

Dropped at the Christmas Market again.

Actually, the buses dropped us off at City Hall. The Christmas Market simply occupied the park that sat between the University, City Hall, and the Parliament buildings. Our walking tour began at that point.

We were led through a huge set of gates.

Gates leading to the inner city.

If you looked at a large map of Vienna, you’d see that there is an inner-circle. One edge of that section abuts on what had been the Danube. At one time, this inner-circle was enclosed by a wall. As the city grew and became more secure (or did the weaponry improve to the point that the wall no longer protected the citizens?) the wall came down and the city expanded.

The bulk of our walking tour concentrated on the buildings and sites inside the circle.

The Museums Quarter.

This building may have been a palace at one time. The massive edifices so prevalent in European capitals are a testament to wealth and power. The surrounding buildings are also a testament that we in the states need to learn – just because a building is almost fifty years old doesn’t mean we need to tear it down and build something new!

The thing that most people find interesting in European cities is the age of buildings. To dine in a restaurant that has been serving food for hundreds of years is a unique experience. Which reminds me, why do hotels and inns in the U.S. no longer brag that George Washington slept there? Have those buildings been razed, or were the proprietors caught in lies?

Not sure what this is.

I had Lu stand in front of this because I at first thought it was the entrance to a Chinese restaurant. Upon further review, it might have had something to do with the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It was probably just a fancy entrance to an apartment building.

Just missed it!

A moment before I took this photo I man rode by on a bicycle… with a rather large Christmas tree slung over his shoulder. I would’ve preferred to take his picture, but I was too slow.

The Americans have invaded Europe.

While such establishments are in the vast minority, McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and other American retailers have shown up here. I find myself wondering how anyone surrounded with such wonderful food would even consider frequenting these American icons, and then answer my own question. They are different. Just as Lu and I enjoyed dining on different foods or familiar foods prepared differently, the Europeans might enjoy a “break” from their regular diet.

A Pedestrian area?

After wandering around many side streets and alleys, we came into this area. By the looks of the paving stones and the number of people walking down the middle of the ‘streets’, we wondered why the vehicles were even there. We were nearing St. Stephen’s Plaza and had to dodge cars the entire time we were in the area.

An Advent Wreath of epic proportions.

This wreath was hanging on the side of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. By this time we were convinced that St. Stephen was one of the most popular saints in all of Europe!

St. Stephen’s was also undergoing renovation.

Like many of the buildings we saw, a protective material covered the scaffolding. In this case, a picture of the building was printed on the covering. Notice there were also advertisements. This was a way of defraying the cost of the renovation.

At this point our guide gave us some time for ourselves and told us where and when to meet the bus. We kicked around a bit more and then took the bus back to the ship for lunch.

Transportation had been arranged to take us back into the city for the afternoon. It would cost us just 8 Euros per person. Since Lu and I had our own agenda which included finding the least expensive transit into town and eventually to the airport, we elected to walk to the tram station and find our own way back into town.

Once again we found the bargain basement prices of European city transit. For 10 Euros each, we would have unlimited rides on all forms of public transportation for forty-eight hours. It was around 2:00 PM on December 23rd. We had to be at the airport no later than 8:30 AM on the 25th, the forty-eight hour tickets were perfect.

Allow me to add a word about the walk from the ship to the tram station. It was a lot farther than we were led to believe. Sloshing through the ice and slush made the walk even more arduous. We did not look forward to carrying our luggage the next morning. We made up our minds to take a cab. More on that tomorrow!

Every transit stop kept riders informed.

The tram we took between the ship and town was the “D” Nussdorf (that letter that looks like a fancy capital “B” is read as a double “S”.

That’s us!

On the afternoon of December 23rd, we wanted to accomplish two items on our agenda. First, we wanted to locate the hotel we’d be staying in the next night, so we’d know which transit connections to make.

Second was to determine what transit would get us to the airport on Christmas morning.

The Imperial Riding School - our sleeping quarters for Christmas Eve.

To get there, we took a tram to the public park near the Lipizzaner Museum. We then took the U-Bahn to the first stop outside of the inner-circle. We quickly located the road on which our hotel was supposed to be and started walking.

We took note that a number of “O” trams passed by during our walk. We also took note that we had walked a long way and had yet to find our hotel. Finally we stopped to ask directions. (Please don’t tell my male friends!)

I asked the woman behind a reception desk if she spoke English. She gave the typical answer, “A little.” When I explained what we were looking for she smiled and told us it was directly across the street. We thanked her and went back outside.

We looked across the street and saw no indication of a hotel. But we crossed the street and entered the building anyway. We were met by a nun who spoke perfect English. She quickly recognized what we were saying and told us we were very close… just another few blocks in the same direction we were heading.

It became obvious that the woman who could speak “a little” English knew her limitations and sent us to someone who could offer better assistance.

Once we found the hotel, we confirmed our reservations and then headed back to the inner-circle.

We took the “O” back to the U-bahn station and took the subway back to St. Stephen’s Plaza. We made one other stop… at the Tourist Information office and confirmed which train would take us to the airport. As luck would have it, the train station we needed was less than a few blocks from our hotel. We were all set for our return to the states – assuming air transportation was back to anything close to normal.

Eventually we worked our way back to the Christmas Market. We knew we could catch the “D” tram back the ship from there.

Lu in front of an even larger Advent Wreath.

By this time many of the booths were already open for the evening’s business.

City Hall in the background.

As I mentioned earlier, the area where they set up the Christmas Market was a large park. Walking around, we discovered a pony ride that might be a year-round thing.

Pony rides in the park.

The large balls seen in the trees above the pony ride are ornaments that light up at night. All the trees in the area were decorated in this manner. The balls look prettier when they’re lit up.

There was only one thing left before heading back to the ship for dinner. I had watched people eating meter-wursts for a week. I finally succumbed to temptation. So, while Lu shopped for ornaments to take back to our daughters-in-law, I feasted.

Eat your heart out, foot-long!

We were soon on our way back to the ship. We would spend one more night on board.

The dinner served that night was the best of all. And later – after we had all moved up to the lounge – the crew put on a show that left us all laughing.

One other thing happened that evening; the captain moved the ship. Recall I said there were two ships between us and the shore. Now, the ship was moved farther up river to a totally different docking location. It would make it easier for us to depart, but it also put us much farther away from the tram station. Any doubts about taking taxi in the morning were immediately erased.

We packed our bags prior to going to bed. We wanted to get an early start in the morning – following breakfast of course.


Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 7)

January 5, 2011

Finally, a day to sit back and relax… for the most part. December 22nd was listed in the brochure as “Daylight Sailing”. Every morning since we arrived in Munich, it had been “up before the sun, find a place to have some breakfast, and start touring some sites we’d never seen.”

On this day, we could sleep in a bit, enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and then wander up to the lounge to find a nice seat with a view. We were armed with our cameras and binoculars and wishing we could be sitting up on the open deck above us. The sub-freezing temperature combined with the wind-chill factor put that idea out of our minds rather quickly.

One of seemingly hundreds of churches along the Danube.

We had crossed into Austria and were headed for Vienna. There would be two stops before reaching our final destination. The first was to allow people taking an optional tour of the Wachau Valley (a grape growing/wine making region) to get off, and the second was to allow them to re-board the ship at the end of their tour.

I must have been half-asleep when we docked to let the folks off the boat. I have no recollection of it and no pictures to document it. I believe at one time Lu and I discussed getting off briefly just so we could take a short walk and stretch out legs. I don’t remember doing either. And all I had to drink by that time was coffee!

Another of the many villages along the Danube.

I took one hundred sixty-one pictures between Passau and Vienna. That’s what a digital camera with extra memory cards does to people like me. I used to take lots of pictures with my 35mm camera, but considering the cost of the film and the cost of processing the negatives, I was much more selective.

Now, being a person who hates to throw away anything with the slightest value, I’m stuck with hundreds of photos that no one but me will ever see. Doesn’t that make you feel better? I’m not going to include all those photos… just most of them!

These folks know how to handle falling rocks.

As I’ve stated earlier, there are many things the Europeans do that I think should be carefully examined by us – the non-Europeans. Whenever I saw something that seemed like an interesting idea, I took a picture. I also took lots of other pictures, but I’ll try to confine what I include to the things I found unusual or interesting.

Another field covered with netting – What is grown like that?

I took this picture as we were entering the grape growing region. We’d seen similar fields on our way between Munich and Nuremberg. Surely someone can tell us what is being grown. In this case, we saw no grapevines under the netting.

Terraces for grapevines.

I included this picture because it reminded me of the terraces around Acapulco, Mexico. There they were growing corn on every available inch of land. I guess the Austrian wines are so popular that they do likewise with grapes.

I believe this was known as the Devil’s Mountain.

Someone explained that this mountain stood between people who lived outside of the village and the church. Any time someone would try to go to the church, more of the mountain would break away. You could say this was an effective way to keep people from being regular attendees. I wonder if they still sent in their tithes.

Yet another old castle.

I think the churches outnumbered the castles, but the castles usually occupied the higher ground. Could there be a metaphor in that?

The standard size and shape of a dock on the Danube.

Spitz might have been the place we dropped off the people for the optional tour. The shape of the dock was similar to the shape of many bridge abutments – the pointed end faced the current of the river and reduced the pressure on the structure.

The pick-up point?

I’m assuming this is where we picked up the optional tourists. We were permitted to go ashore and were given a good amount of time to roam about… which is precisely what we did. The bus loads of our fellow shipmates may have returned and unloaded while we were climbing the steps of an old church. If I’m not mistaken, we were doing our “The Bear Went Over the Mountain” routine to see what we could see.

I can’t forget to show this one!

As we were nearing the dock in Krems, I went up to the top deck to see how the captain could possibly bring the ship carefully up to the dock while sitting in the pilot house – in the middle of the upper deck. I had figured he was communicating via radio with his crew members who were giving him instructions.

You can see how wrong I was. Modern technology allowed him to take a wireless joy stick to the side of the ship. He didn’t need any help from his crew members. They were taking directions from him.

Narrow cobblestone streets were typical even in the larger cities.

Old stone steps led to the church on the hill.

Almost everyone who had gone ashore felt the pull of those steps. While I had quit on Lu in Nuremberg, I was determined to make it to the top of this hill. I took some pictures along the way to allow myself to catch my breath.

An ally way between a newer church and the hill.

The structure behind the church seems to have been built right into the side of the mountain.

About half way up the hill.

Two thirds?

Almost there.

Made it!

No way. I refuse to go any farther.

Fortunately, there was no way to get to the steps leading up to the top of the tower.

This is the inside of the small church on top of the hill.

The iron gate kept us from entering the church, but we couldn’t help wondering what happened to the pews. Perhaps the much larger church at the bottom of the hill now served the community and this was simply a chapel used for other purposes.

A small cluster of homes sat behind the church.

We saw there was yet another hill to climb before we could claim that we reached the top. I was more than glad to forego that claim. Besides, we didn’t want to miss the boat.

The Diamond was still there.

Lu in front of a statue in the town square.

It’s amazing how many monuments and statues can be found throughout this part of the world. The sad part is that we had no tour guide to tell us the history or meaning of many of these memorials. When we go back, I’ll have to learn how to read German so the plaques will make sense to me.

A defensive position facing the river.

I had seen slots in so many structures similar to this one, that I knew right away they were openings for the archers. The archers in the tower had freedom to move around and take careful aim, but only a Robin Hood could hope to guide an arrow through the slot to take out that marksman. Of course, I find myself wondering if any attacker ever got lucky and took out an enemy holed up in the tower.

We soon re-boarded and continued on our way to Vienna. However, the ship’s captain and crew had one more surprise for us before we reached our final destination.

Instead of the tiny sandwiches and pastries normally served in the late afternoon, we were served a Bavarian buffet. Soft pretzels, schnitzel, bratwurst, and beer were served and there was enough for everyone to have more than his or her fair share.

Lu was gracious enough to accept a glass of beer, take a sip, turn up her nose, and politely ask if I would like to finish it. (We’d gone through a similar routine when we toured the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.)

I graciously accepted and thoroughly enjoyed the two beers while savoring the Bavarian delicacies. All the time I was wondering how I would manage to eat my dinner after such a marvelous “snack”.

Somehow I managed.

We arrived in Vienna and tied up next to another ship from the Amadeus line. It wasn’t until after dinner, when we departed for our bus ride into the Vienna Christmas Market that we discovered there were two ships between us and the shore.

Austrians know how to make an incinerator look interesting.

Our bus drove us to town with one goal in mind – drop us off at the Christmas Market. Along the way, our guide made special note of the garbage incineration plant. It was more than a little bit interesting.

Otherwise, the Christmas Market was pretty much the same as the others we had seen. There was one major difference. Gate 1 Travel had given us each a coupon to redeem for a free cup of glühwein (hot mulled wine). What made it really special was that the coupon also covered the deposit on the mug.

The only mugs we kept.

In Vienna’s Christmas Market, the glühwein cost 3 Euros fifty cents and the deposit on the ceramic mug was 2 Euros fifty. So, not only did we get 7 Euros (about $9.50) worth of hot wine, we didn’t have to pay the deposit (about $6.75). Thus, we brought home two souvenirs.

We kicked around the market for an hour or so and then went back to the bus and back to the ship. Most of the next day would be spent in Vienna, and we had a lot more than touring to do.

Before I close today’s recap of events, I’d like to put in a good word for Gate 1 Travel.

This was the second trip to Europe we took through their company that is headquartered in Pennsylvania. A few years back we spent five days in Paris, then rode the train through the Chunnel and spent five more days in London. They arranged the flights, the hotels, the train, and a couple of side trips. We had a marvelous time.

On this trip, they arranged the flights and the cruise. We booked the hotel and transportation for two days in Munich and an extra day in Vienna. They did a great job of matching our plans to their packaged tour. Once we caught up with Monika, their guide, at the Munich airport, everything was in their hands until we parted company in Vienna. Monika and the crew of the MS Amadeus Diamond did a fantastic job of making us feel like honored guests. Each town included a bus or walking tour as well as free time for us to wander as we saw fit.

The one and only negative I found was with the local tour guides. While a few were excellent, too many seemed to know very little about the towns they were guiding us through.

There were too many of us for Monika to take on the tours; besides, she had her hands full trying to track down missing luggage and missing passengers – having all the London and Paris airports tied up from the snow storm really made things difficult. As for the missing luggage, the ship’s crew took it upon themselves to launder the clothes for the unfortunate passengers until they were able to purchase new clothes during our ports of call.

I have the web site of Gate 1 Travel bookmarked and I’m on their mailing list. I recently checked out future cruises hoping that our friends – who were not able to join us this time around – might be able to go with us in the near future. I was astounded by the prices. The lowest cruise price I saw was four times what we paid! Gate 1 Travel had found us an unbelievable bargain.

I’m sure they can do it again… and I wouldn’t think twice about using them again.


Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 4)

December 31, 2010

I’m a person who likes to know as many details about a destination as possible. Therefore, I used Google Earth™ to extensively track our course once we boarded the Amadeus Diamond… I did this prior to leaving home. In so doing, I discovered that the Danube River flows nowhere near Nuremberg; but I was able to trace a body of water from Regensberg, Germany back to, and beyond, Nuremberg. It was the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal that links the Danube with the Rhine. It’s Europe’s answer to our Northwest Passage (which is yet to be found).

The locks along the canal - We started in Nuremberg and went up!

The canal was created, not so much for the cruise ships, but for the cargo vessels. It has proven to be a tremendous commercial success in allowing goods to be transported less expensively across parts of Europe.

Using Google Earth™ I took a guess at the most logical place for us to board the ship, and shortly after boarding, I asked a man in a naval uniform for details about our location. He informed me that we were in an inlet of some sort and would have to back out and turn around once we got to the main canal.

His answer caught me off-guard. I was sure we could simply start forward and continue that way. But what did I know?

I later learned that the man I was speaking with was the “Hotel” manager and had nothing to do with the navigation of the vessel. I could only wait until we actually began sailing to learn which was correct – his answer or my guess.

On December 19th we woke with no need for a wake-up call. My internal clock was still somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. We made it to breakfast with ease and ate too much. The breakfast buffet included bacon, sausage, baked beans, scrambled eggs, and triangles of minced potatoes that had been deep fried. There were also numerous choices of cold cuts, cheeses, Kippers, raw salmon, hard boiled eggs, rolls and pastries, various dry cereals, fruit, and other platters I bypassed. Each table also held a menu of items that could be cooked to order, such as omelets, pancakes, French toast, and the like. Of course, there was a wide variety of juices (including prune for the less than regular guys), tea, and coffee. The one mistake I made was imbibing in the Kippers. The taste was with me the rest of the day.

While preparing to board the buses for our tour of Nuremberg, I discovered the answer to a mystery from Munich. A day or so prior, as we were leaving the HofBrau Haus (Note the spelling of HofBrau – I had it wrong in earlier installments), there was a group of people gathered around a man speaking into a microphone. I thought it rather odd because I could hear him perfectly well – but not because of some sort of amplification system. I wondered if the man new his amplifier had died on him.

The magic sound system for walking tours.

Now, as we left the ship, we were given small audio receivers to hang around our necks. Each was numbered and we boarded buses or hooked up with tour guides with the same numbers. When the guides spoke into their microphones, we heard them through our headphones.

Our first guide took us on a bus tour of Nuremberg. I’m sure there were many points of interest, but the young lady was more inclined to chat about herself and her Christmas traditions. From time to time she’d say. “What should I tell you about now? Does anyone have any questions?” She did go into detail about the Nazi parade grounds.

Nazi Parade Grounds in Nuremberg

Another view of the Parade Grounds

We learned that Hitler began his rise to power in Munich – at the HofBrau Haus – but later moved his base to Nuremberg. Adolf Hitler would rally his troops and the local citizens by standing on the highest point of the grandstand and delivering his fiery speeches to thousands of cheering supporters. As I stated in an earlier account, his message was one of “Hope” that most Germans needed desperately to hear. His country had been broken by the Treaty of Versailles, and his actions brought the country out of depression and hyperinflation. Who wouldn’t have seen him as the savior? It wasn’t until years later that the German people discovered the true monster in whom they had placed their trust.

The building that housed the Nuremberg Trials after WW II

The above photo is the Justice Building where the Nuremberg Trials were held. A number of Nazis were tried; most were convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging. A few were acquitted. Of the ones sentenced to hang, some committed suicide; if they couldn’t face a firing squad, they did not want to die by hanging. No one knows how cyanide was smuggled into the prison.

Close-up of the statues on the Justice Building

Does anyone know what the statues along the Justice Building represent?

After visiting the various Nazi historical sites, we were taken to the Christmas Market inside the walls of the old city.

Walls of the old city - seen from a speeding bus.

I was fascinated by the many walls around certain parts of the towns we visited. It was like traveling back in time to the days of castles and knights. I’m not sure where Germany stands as far as the number of castles, but they seemed to be everywhere… as did the old walls surrounding parts of the cities. Although this was a “Christmas Market” tour, I would’ve loved to devote more time to exploring the walls, towers, moats, and castles. Obviously, we have to go back and take a slower tour of the country!

Entrance to the Nuremberg Christmas Market

This sculpture was at the entrance to the Nuremberg Christmas Market. By the time we saw it, our guide had already left us on our own and had given us a time and place to meet so we could re-board the bus and return to the ship.

Close-up of Sculpture

I’m sure there was a story behind the people adorning this structure, but our guide saw no need to explain.

Roman Catholic Church near the Christmas Market

This is the Roman Catholic Church that stood at the rear of the market. We went into the church hoping to take some pictures, but they were in the middle of Communion. We’d forgotten it was Sunday.

The nearby Lutheran Church

This is the Lutheran Church which was a few blocks away from the Christmas Market. It too had a service in progress. Had we been able to go in, it would’ve cost us each one Euro for the privilege. I guess that’s a better way to raise money than a fish fry.

It’s interesting that we’d been dropped off to wander the market and spend our Euros, but Lu and I had spent so much time at the Christmas Market in Munich that we were quickly bored and spent more time exploring the town around the market.

Lu on bridge

This is Lu standing on a bridge overlooking a stream that might have filled the moat – although our guide said the moat had always been dry. Makes one wonder why anyone would bother having a moat if it isn’t full of water. Note that had a moved my gloved finger a bit more to the right, I could have taken Lu out of that picture entirely.

Jim on bridge

Lu did a much better job of taking my picture.

Nuremberg Castle

High on a hill overlooking the town and Christmas Market stood the castle. I walked half-way up the hill with Lu and decided I’d eaten too much for breakfast to go any farther. (The snack of brat wursts I had at the Christmas Market had nothing to do with it.) Lu, being much younger than I, continued on.

More of the castle

The complex was extensive with all sorts of buildings, walls, and storage structures. At one point Lu aimed her camera back down the hill and tried to find me.

Looking down from the Royal position

I may be that person standing down there wondering what happened to my bride, or that might be a total stranger. In all honesty, I was off taking more important photos.

A relic from the past

With the advent of cell phones, this may become obsolete. Future travelers may not be able to view such relics.

All too soon our fun in Nuremberg had to end and we returned to the bus and the ship. We were scheduled to set sail just as lunch was being served.

We were hardly into the soup course when I realized we had come to a stop. I looked out the window and saw a wall. We were in a lock! And I wasn’t out on deck to witness this wonder of modern engineering. I had waited weeks to experience going through a lock for the first time, and there I was – stuck eating soup!

As I finished my soup and waited for the next course, I saw the wall going down. By the time I finished the main course, we were looking out over the wall and waiting for the gates to open. All too soon we were on our way again… and I had only seen the process from the limited view of the dining room. Poop!

After lunch, we went up to the lounge and found seats near the front of the vessel. I had no idea how long it would be before the next lock, but I wasn’t about to miss it.

By the way, the Hotel Manager was totally wrong in his prediction of our sailing. We simply pulled away from shore and headed in the direction I’d determined based on my research. I didn’t say, “I told you so”, but I didn’t bother asking him anything more about the navigation of the ship.

Approaching the second lock

It wasn’t long before my wait was over… or so I thought.

Getting closer - OH! The Excitement!

The lock was within reach, and we began to slow down. However, we also started to move to the left. I hoped the captain knew what he was doing, because the way he was going, he was going to ram the wall to the left of the gate. It was then I noticed the cargo vessel to our right.

A "parked" cargo vessel

But it was tied up and it seemed to be parked there permanently. Before long, we were tied up on the left side of the canal and we were informed that a ship was stuck in a lock a dam or two further on. Traffic was halted until they worked out the problem. They expected us to be stalled for at least two hours.

Finally moving again

Night had fallen by the time we got the go-ahead to move into the lock. I decided to go to our cabin and get my jacket. I planned to stand on the deck (in sub-freezing weather) to get some good pictures. While in the cabin, I turned on the television to see if the crew was sending us any messages on their on-board network. That’s when I discovered they had a camera mounted on the front of the ship and it did a much better job of recording our journey after dark.

The view from our cabin's TV

The picture on the TV in our cabin was much better than I could hope to take with my Kodak, but I had to get the first hand experience or being on deck.

View from my camera

I rest my case.

That night, the ship televised an old movie, “Judgment at Nuremberg”. Lu and I decided to watch a bit of it before falling to sleep.

Did I mention the ice in the canal? Well, after going up through a number of locks, we were quite a bit higher above sea level and the ice on the canal was very much thicker. Lu began fearing we might duplicate the fate of the Titanic. I kept reminding myself that the canal was no more than ten feet deep and, even if we did sink; we could go up to the lounge and be high and dry. We could then walk across the ice to solid ground.

In the meantime, we turned the volume on the TV as high as it would go and still couldn’t hear the dialogue over the sound of ice crushing against the hull of our ship. I likened it to being in a thunder storm with constant thunder.

We finally gave up and turned off the television. We soon fell asleep to the calming sound of ice being crushed and shoved aside by our relentless moving toward our first port of call. Morning would find us arriving at Regensberg. This time it would be a walking tour, but we were looking forward to walking off as many calories as we could prior to another round of delicious meals.


Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 2)

December 29, 2010

We were up bright and early on the morning of December 17th. We had a date with Helmut Gottschling at St. Lukas Lutheran Church on the east side of town.

But, before I get to that, let me explain that our first day in Munich did not end with dinner in the Viktuallenmarkt. After a most enjoyable meal, we returned the way we had come… past the old gates of the city and through Marienplatz. Most of the pedestrian area was dedicated to the Christmas Market.

New City Hall

As we walked, we heard beautiful Christmas Music. One song would be by a children’s choir; the next played by an 0om-pah band; and then a male and female quartet. The music sounded “live” and we looked around for a stage. When we looked up at the New City Hall (which is over 100 years old), we spotted the three groups that were providing the wonderful music.

Musicians on the balconies

Returning to our hotel, we passed by a store with a window display dedicated to the “Star Wars” movies… and all the characters were built with Lego blocks.

R2-D2 in the flesh - er, Legos!

Now, back to St. Lukas. We rode the number 17 tram to Effnerplatz and got off at Mariannenplatz… not to be confused with Marienplatz. Recall that we had a three day pass and could ride any form of public transportation. Thus, we did not need to worry about figuring out the money and fares, and were left plenty of time and brain power to figure out the names of streets.

We arrived near the church an hour before our appointment and wandered around the neighborhood for a while. We stopped in a small store and quickly realized it was a health food store. I saw no meat, and most of the products were labeled “BIO”. We bought some trail mix, a couple of candy bars, and two pairs of 100% Alpaca wool socks (which don’t fit me – Lu wins on that one!) The cashier, recognizing us as American tourists, gave us a free plastic bag (they normally sell for 10 cents) and a bag of loose tea. (Lu wins again!)

St. Lukas Lutheran Church

St. Lukas Lutheran Church has a beautiful view of the Isar River.

Isar River near St. Lukas Church

Pastor Helmut Gottschling not only gave us a tour of his church, he also gave us a brief history lesson. First he explained that the area where the church was built in 1896 was a relatively new neighborhood populated by well-to-do families. The area had its own mayor and council who insisted that a very large and impressive church must be built to reflect the prosperity of the community. That goal was most certainly achieved.

He then tried to put the age of his church in perspective. As I recall, it was the oldest Lutheran church in Munich, but only the third or fourth oldest church of any kind. The Roman Catholic churches had been there longer, but one church in particular no longer existed.

It seems that when Hitler and the Nazis came into power, the leaders of the Christian churches were supposed to fall into lock-step with the National Socialist party. The Bishop who occupied the oldest church in Munich – while not going out of his way to defend the Jews or question the tactics of Hitler – was not enthusiastic enough (in the eyes of the Nazis) about the New Christian movement of the Nazis. Therefore, Hitler had his church razed and built a large boulevard through the area the church had once occupied.

Another thing Helmut told us regarded St. Lukas. When the Allies began bombing Munich in World War II, the oldest churches in the city removed all their stained glass windows and put them in crates somewhere underground to protect them. St. Lukas was barely fifty years old at the time and saw no reason to take such action. While the church did not suffer any direct hits, the concussion of bombs exploding nearby shattered every window in the building. For years, the parishioners believed that was the extent of the damage. Then, about five years ago, a large stone (weighing almost a ton) fell from the side of the church and landed in a children’s playground. Fortunately, it was at night and nobody was in the area.

It was later determined that the stone that fell, as well as many others, had been loosened by the bombing a half century earlier. It cost over 4 million Euros to inspect and repair the entire outside of the structure.

Pews - as seen from the balcony of St. Lukas

Another very interesting thing we learned was that the architect who designed St. Lukas had previously designed a Jewish Synagogue (that was later destroyed by the Nazis), and that following the war, Jews who visited St. Lukas said they almost felt at home.

Evidently, prior to the Nazis’ attempts to eradicate the Jews, the Jews in Germany were making every effort to “fit in”. They abandoned their traditional garb, shaved their beards, and spoke German rather than Yiddish. Following the war, they realized such attempts were in vain and returned to their traditional ways.

A number of important facts came out of our discussion with the Pastor. First of all, the Treaty of Versailles almost ruined Germany forever. The demands of the Allies – both monetary and territorial – put a tremendous financial burden on a nation that had virtually no way to pay down the debt. The Weimer Republic, established in 1919, tried to overcome the difficulties by simply printing more money. This led to hyperinflation and people hauling around their paper money in wheelbarrows – trying to spend it before it became totally worthless. It wasn’t long before the citizens of Germany gave up hope of ever seeing their country return to its pre-war grandeur. That hopelessness opened the door for Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, who offered hope for a better tomorrow.

Many Germans were more than glad to hop on the bandwagon, while others stayed back and questioned the tactics and promises.

It wasn’t long before the German people were divided into two camps, and neither trusted the other. All too soon, those who were against Hitler were afraid to voice their opposition; they’d seen what had happened to others, and they were afraid to trust their long-time friends.

When World War II ended, there were still those who fully supported Hitler and some continue to do so. In the meantime, the new government banned the swastika and all other emblems of the Nazi Regime. It is only in the last decade or so that Germany has begun to turn their shame into a resolve to never let it happen again. Dachu and other concentration camps have become museums and people openly discuss the evils that had once plagued their country.

This discussion and insight was not what we expected in our tour, and I may be editorializing about more than actually transpired, but I believe I’m accurate in my estimation of the Germany of today. Now, getting back to other things we learned.

Pastor Helmut Gottschling told us his church has over 6,000 members and they were all preparing for a concert to be held on the evening of December 18th. That is why there were risers in front of the altar.

St. Lukas altar in preparation for the Christmas Concert

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to stick around for the concert. Our schedule called for us to be in Nuremberg by then.

After thanking Helmut profusely for spending well over an hour with us, we returned to the tram stop and rode number 17 back to Karlsplatz. That returned us to the Pedestrian area in time to hear and see the Glockenspiel on the New City Hall.

The famous Glockenspiel

After examining some of the items for sale in the Christmas Market, we headed for the HaufBrau Haus – Munich’s most famous beer hall.

My bride and I at the HaufBrau Haus

Lu was especially interested in the oom-pah band.

A real German oom-pah band

I was more interested in the one-liter mugs of beer and king-sized pretzels.

Munich - My Kind of Town!

We ate lunch and made sure to savor their specialties. I had the Crisp roast knuckle of pork in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling, and Lu had the Roast pork from Bavarian production with crackling in natural gravy, served with a grated potato dumpling. We had never tasted pork cooked either way and both were delicious. The dumplings were OK.

Surprisingly, neither Lu nor I took any photos of the Christmas Market booths. However, not to worry; we took pictures of Christmas Market booths in other cities. If you’ve seen one booth, you’ve seen them all!

Following lunch, we returned to the hotel for a while to warm up and set a spell. After a brief rest, we jumped on a tram headed out of the center city. We rode it to the end of the line when we were told we had to get off and catch a different tram back into the city.

What surprised me the most about that ride was that we saw far more apartment houses and condos than private homes. Perhaps that is true of every major city in the world. I just haven’t paid that much attention.

We were less than surprised when the “next” tram back into town was the same one we had just got off. I guess the conductor was just following proper protocol.

Later, in the late afternoon, we headed back to the market and grazed – I think. I’ll have to check with my bride. I don’t recall eating a meal in a restaurant.

There was one booth where they were frying potato pancakes. One man occasionally added lard to the griddle and then spooned out the batter in neat rows of eight or ten cakes along a four by two foot cooking surface. Another man would follow behind and turn four or six cakes at a time. As soon as he reached one end of the griddle, he’d return to the other end and start taking the cakes off and placing them on a grate which allowed some of the grease to drip off. The two men worked in harmony to keep the griddle constantly filled. In the meantime, a woman would place a wafer about the size of a graham cracker on a napkin and stack three cakes on it prior to adding the apple sauce. She immediately handed it to the next person in line.

I would’ve take a picture of this booth had I not been so impatient to get in line. I was lucky and was given four cakes instead of three. Lu began by just asking for a bite. She ate two of the cakes and I ate the other two. They were delicious.

By the way, for breakfast on this first, and only, full day in Munich, we found a coffee shop at the main train station that served wonderful pastries to go with our coffee and tea.

Later in the evening, we returned to the food booth at the entry of the Pedestrian zone.

Food booth by the skating rink

There we bought two bratwurst sandwiches and two bottles of water. Each sandwich had two wursts, and we had our choice of mild or spicy. Lu stuck to the mild; I had one of each. The big surprise was the deposit we were charged for the two plastic water bottles – 1 Euro apiece! We had about $2.75 tied up in empty plastic bottles. You can safely bet that we returned the empties and got our deposit back.

I should also mention that many booths in the Christmas Markets sold mulled wine and served it up in ceramic mugs. Those mugs carried a two and one-half Euro deposit. I’d say the Germans know how to get your attention when it comes to recycling. In fact, I don’t think we saw any sort of Styrofoam container during the entire trip.

We thoroughly enjoyed our “snack” as we watched ice skaters and a Zamboni on the rink behind the food stand.

By this time, a combination of a whole lot of walking and jet lag compelled us to call it a day. We took a couple more photos and returned to the hotel. The next day would have us taking the S-Bahn 8 back to the airport so we could catch the bus to the cruise ship waiting for us in Nuremberg.