Wonderful Winter Vacation (Day 3)

December 30, 2010

On Saturday morning, December 18th, we checked out of our hotel and headed for the train station. In our previous wanderings we’d learned that we didn’t have to traverse the entire distance above ground. There was an entrance to the central train station less than half a block from the hotel. That path allowed us to avoid walking – and in Lu’s case, pulling a wheeled piece of luggage – through the slush that covered all the sidewalks and pedestrian areas of Munich. In all fairness, the city employees and business owners tried to keep the walkways clear, but the snow kept falling.

We stopped at a pastry shop in the underground mall area of the train station and had more delicious pastries for breakfast.

I don’t know if it’s true for the majority of the U-Bahn (subway) stations in Munich, but most of the ones we visited included underground malls complete with department stores, convenience stores, cafes, and all sorts of other retail outlets. That’s something else the folks at MARTA might consider as a way of reducing dependence on tax payer dollars.

S-Bahn station beneath the streets of Munich

We took the S-8 back to the Munich airport in order to catch up with the Gate 1 tour guide and be transported to the cruise ship docked somewhere near Nuremberg. We met Monika at the entrance to the Cafe Leysieffer. She was rather surprised to see us as she’d been told to expect us later… rather than sooner. There were two buses scheduled to take us to the ship; one departed at noon, the other at 3:00 PM. We’d decided to get to the airport in time to get the early bus. Gate 1, knowing we had spent extra time in Munich, had assumed we’d arrive back at the airport later.

As it turned out, some of the folks who were supposed to be on the early bus were on flights that were delayed; so there was plenty of room for us on the early bus. However, when I say we arrived early, we arrived early. We had about two hours to kill.

So, we ate a second breakfast at the café, which was really an early lunch; we’d be on the bus from noon until two or two-thirty, and had no idea when the cruise ship was planning to feed us.

We wandered around the airport terminal to see what retail outlets were available there.

The sign maker did not make a mistake

I had to take a picture of this place because it reminded me of a time, years ago, when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a running back out of Penn State University. We thought he was of Irish decent – Frank O’Harris. Obviously, some Germans believe that the early Italian explorer was actually Irish.

In truth, I did a bit of research and discovered that Marc O’Polo is a company that was founded in Sweden by three men: Gote Huss, Rolf Lind, and (this might be part of the answer) Jerry O’Sheets. I could find no explanation for the name of their company. We can only surmise Jerry had something to do with it.

By the way, for the uninformed, that Penn State football player was really named Franco Harris.

After spending a relative fortune (almost 20 Euros) on a book for Lu and a puzzle magazine for me, we boarded the bus and headed off to Nuremberg.

I was totally surprised to see thousands of acres of open land. A good friend from England had told me that wide open spaces were rarely seen in Europe. Perhaps his opinion was based on spending time in large cities. However, there was one thing that truly intrigued me.

Strange netting over farmers' fields

We saw netting like that shown in the picture almost everywhere. It appeared to be some way to keep birds away from the crops, but it made us wonder what sort of crops were grown beneath the netting – and how would the farmer get a tractor in there to till the ground? Perhaps one of our German friends can supply an answer.

The only other photo I took while on this bus was one showing the electric wires for the high-speed train that ran between Munich and Nuremberg.

A train runs alongside the highway

Considering the cost of that train ride was almost 300 Euros per person, I was content to ride the bus that had cost us 95 Euros apiece.

Just before 2:00 PM (the driver had a heavy foot), we arrived at our destination.

The Amadeus Diamond awaiting us

We were able to get ourselves and our luggage on board, but our cabins were not yet ready. Thus, we were forced to spend some time in the lounge and imbibe in alcoholic beverages.

Lu saved our place in line

In the above photo, the white tablecloths were a clear indication that some sort of finger food was about to be served. We wanted to be first in line because it had been awhile since our second breakfast/early lunch.

The time between our arrival and our first snack gave us time to meet some of our fellow travelers. When we saw how many folks were traveling with friends, we realized once again how much we missed the folks who had been scheduled to go with us.

As we killed time, I couldn’t help noticing the ice on the water.

Would we need an ice-breaker?

What first caught my attention is the fact that the ice would occasionally change directions. One time I’d look out the window to see the ice flowing left to right. The next time, right to left.

Lots of ice and the temperature was dropping!

It was then I remembered that we were in a canal. I correctly surmised that the flow of the water changed whenever a ship passed through a lock. It wasn’t until we set sail the next day that I discovered how close we were to that first lock.

The remainder of this day was nothing more than time to relax. We were served a light meal of small open-faced sandwiches and pastries, along with tea and coffee. Later, we would be served a champagne welcoming cocktail. That was soon followed by a wonderful cruise-ship dinner.

Every dinner on board the ship began with some sort of salad or appetizer. That course was followed by soup – always a choice between a clear broth based and a cream based soup. Then came the main course followed by a luscious dessert. The wine, being complimentary, flowed freely throughout. (I would’ve preferred beer, but the choice was simple – almost 4 Euro per glass, or free.)

After dinner, we sat around and got to know some of our shipmates, and then retired rather early. Many of the folks joining us for the cruise had flown in from the States that day. They were exhausted.

Breakfast would be served at 7:00 AM the next day and the bus tour of Nuremberg was scheduled to leave at 8:00. So, we called it a day as well. We’d be well rested by morning.

Before I bring this chapter to a close, let me say a bit about the planning that went into this trip.

December 18th is the day we would have landed in Munich had we just gone with the package offered by Gate 1 Travel. I had received an email telling me that the price of the cruise had been slashed from $899 per person to $499 per person. The cruise included six nights lodging/cruising and three meals a day (for December 19th through the 23rd.) It also included dinner on the 18th and breakfast on the 24th. AND complimentary wine at all dinners. Such an unbelievable price did not go unnoticed.

The kicker was the airfare. Leaving on Friday, December 17th and returning on Friday, the 24th meant we’d be flying on some of the airlines’ busiest days. By tweaking that schedule and leaving on a Wednesday and returning on Christmas Day, we reduced the airfare by over $300 per person. That gave us $600 to cover two night’s hotel in Munich, one in Vienna, and something left over for meals and transportation in those cities.

So, my advice to fellow travelers is to always look at ways to reduce the airfare. In most cases, you can probably save enough cash to cover the extra days at your final destination. The added bonus for us was that it gave us time to adjust to the six hour time differential.


Double Dose of Nostalgia

September 24, 2008
Franco at the Airport

Franco at the Airport

As I was leaving Pittsburgh, I had to take this picture of the statue of Franco Harris at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport. Not every city has a statue such as this. Franco is bending down to catch a deflected pass that resulted in a last second touchdown to beat the hated Oakland Raiders. While I was in attendance at that game, I failed to see the “Immaculate Reception” as I was too busy looking for a penalty flag that might have given the Steelers one last chance to win the game.

By the way, Franco’s likeness is right beside a life-sized statue of some guy named George Washington. I guess that guy also had something to do with Pittsburgh.

Franco’s likeness sure brought back a flood of memories… as did my entire trip back home. In the photo below, the building that is second from the left used to be known as the IBM building. It is where I began my career with “Big Blue” in 1968.

A Portion of Downtown Pittsburgh

A Portion of Downtown Pittsburgh

Floods of memories are good things. I can attest to that based on another of my favorite pastimes. I am a member of a band called “Nostalgia” that entertains at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other senior citizen venues.

Nostalgia

Nostalgia

This photo shows some of the group. We have a pianist, a sax player, a harmonica cat, a few guitarists, a drummer, an emcee, a few vocalists, and some designated groupies. We play more songs than we know and are constantly improving with age. As the T-shirts in the photo say, “The older they get, the better they were!”

In the past, we’ve been invited to perform at a church’s annual community Thanksgiving celebration. We’ve also performed at a Senior Prom – no one under fifty-five was permitted.

Prom Night

Prom Night

You’ll notice that the band has a few people under fifty-five. In fact, the young lady in the red dress was one of the founding members of the group… along with the pianist and the sax player. We often have younger artists join us as singers, dancers, tambourine players, and featured performers. Lately we’ve featured a young man who goes by the stage name of Hoolio Sanchez. He may have trouble spelling things in Spanish, but he’s getting pretty good on the guitar and sax.

Nostalgia performs at about ten different senior citizen haunts and plays about three out of every four Friday evenings. While the folks love it when we do songs from the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, they only get to hear us about every six to eight weeks.

We love what we do – we have a great time just rehearsing – and wish we could do more gigs, but we can’t. What we do is try to encourage others to do something similar. Form a band, or put together a group to visit the seniors and play bingo. Do something to give those folks a chance to relive some of the things they loved most about their youth. If you bring tears to their eyes, you know you’ve rekindled a fond memory.

Nostalgia represents Christ the King Lutheran Church in Cumming, Georgia. You don’t need to represent a church or any other establishment. The seniors will love to see anyone who is willing to spend some time with them. Take the time to sit and chat with them; you’ll learn quite a bit about how things once were. And they’ll love having someone to listen to them.

I took a ton of pictures in Pittsburgh that rekindled many memories of my own. I’ll warn you now – I’m a senior citizen. Expect to hear many more stories from my past!