Another Book

July 14, 2015

Beliz Pyramid

I recently uploaded a new book for both Kindle and Nook readers. It is called “If the Sky Should Fall” and is my first step into the world of science fiction. The following is the blurb I wrote to encourage people to read it:

Semir (Sam) Osmanagic is a Bosnian American archaeologist. He has spent years studying the pyramids of Latin America and believes that certain mountains in Bosnia are, in fact, also pyramids. Of course, the ‘experts’ have scoffed at the idea… just as the ‘experts’ scoffed at the idea that dinosaurs were birds rather than reptiles. One of Osmanagic’s findings showed that electromagnetic pulses were emanating from the top of the Bosnian pyramids. What if that is true? What purpose would such signals serve?
After visiting ancient ruins in Mexico, Belize, and Peru, the author of “If the Sky Should Fall” has his own thoughts and theories about ancient aliens, UFOs, and pyramids. If you’re a fan of television shows such as Ancient Aliens, History Unearthed, Hanger One, The Unexplained Files, and Ancient Discoveries, or books such as “Chariots of the Gods” by Erich von Däniken, you will find “If the Sky Should Fall” a compelling read. While it may well be a book of science fiction, the author raises a number of questions to make you stop and ask yourself, what if it were true? Life on our planet and throughout our solar system may, in fact, depend on the actions of aliens. They may be living among us and keeping us alive. Why would they be doing that? That’s a topic for another discussion.

Obviously I am a fan of all those TV shows I mentioned as well as a reader of books similar to “The Chariots of the Gods.” But watching those shows and reading those books, combined with traveling to ancient ruins and seeing the amazing constructions done by ‘primitive’ people, leads me to ask even more questions. And I can’t help wondering why mainstream scientists are so quick to laugh off the possibilities. Those are the folks who believed that uranium was a worthless metal prior to the 1940’s.

It’s difficult to watch these programs and not ask how the ancient Egyptians, Mayan, Incas, and others could build such structures. More importantly, I kept asking myself WHY? Did these folks have nothing better to do? Then I found myself wondering if there might not be pyramids right in my own backyard? The ones that have been discovered in Central America, for the  most part, had been hidden from view for centuroes by dense vegetation. How many mountains in the United States are also covered in dense vegetation?

IMG_0955This mountain in North Georgia sure looks like it could be covering up a pyramid. And there are many more like it.

Sam Osmanagic really got me thinking when he discovered electromagnetic pulses emanating from the tops of the ‘mountains’ in Bosnia. What if they really were signals to aliens? What if that mountain was serving as a light house for space craft navigation? The more I thought about such things, the more “If the Sky Should Fall” wrote itself!

I am in a comfortable point in my life where I am retired and, although living on a fixed income, my lifestyle does not require lots of money. My bride and I own a lot at a camping resort and a small trailer. We love taking our grandchildren camping for a week or so at a time. Otherwise, we are basic home bodies who take one or two trips a year.

We are extremely active in our church and community. Currently we are deeply involved in a program called Family Promise, which aims to help homeless children and their families. That is why I am dedicating 50% of any royalties to that charity.

If you are at all interested in the ancient aliens theories I think you’ll like my book. More importantly, if you’d like to support a program that helps homeless children, I ask that you buy the book for their sake.

Cover for bookLet me know what you think of it and how many questions it raises in your mind.

 

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Let ‘er Rip!

April 2, 2012

I’m sure I’m not alone. Many of us have written things over the years and looked at getting it published as a losing battle. Today’s technology has changed everything.

I now have four books available online. Three of them can be downloaded to your Nook. All four are there for your Kindle.

Take a look and see what is involved. You can do it too!

This is a collection of articles I’ve written over the years/

This is a “how to” book encouraging people to travel. It has a ton of helpful hints so you can take that dream trip without it costing you your life’s savings.

A murder mystery that should make every parent and grandparent more aware of the importance of keeping an eye on the children.

And every writer has to write at least one romance novel.

Using the latest technology to get your materials published is fantastic! No more messing around trying to find an agent and no more paying a vanity press thousands of dollars so you can store stacks of unsold books in your garage.

Visit amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Learn about the e-books that are available at very reasonable prices and learn how you can add your works to the libraries.


A Letter to Grandchildren

March 31, 2011

Dear Grandchildren,

That song is from a show called “South Pacific”. It was a Broadway Play in 1949 and later made into a movie. Besides being a wonderful show filled with great music, South Pacific was one of the first dramas to address the questions of race and discrimination. Another song, “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” dealt with the fact that we are not born as racists, we must be taught to hate for no good reason.

I trust that your parents have not taught you to hate people simply because they are different. I’m sure you’ve been taught to judge people based on their character, and nothing more.

In the meantime, have you been taught the importance of having a dream? I failed to have a dream when I was young, and I’m afraid I may have discouraged your parents from having dreams. If nothing more, I failed to encourage them to sit down and give ample thought to what they hoped to get out of their lives.

As a child, I went through the typical dreams of the time – to become a star professional athlete, a fighter pilot, a fireman, and so on. But it wasn’t until I was nearing the end of my high school education that I gave it any serious thought. In truth, I gave little serious thought to anything at that time. That is why my grade average was a dismal “C”. I had the ability to do much better, but I had no reason to try. That’s what a serious dream would’ve given me.

Late in my senior year I decided that I would follow the foot steps of my older brothers. I would join the military (to avoid being drafted), serve out my required time, and then get a job driving a tractor-trailer across America. All three of my brothers had served and seen parts of the world I could only dream about – see! We can dream about lots of things! The two oldest brothers were local delivery truck drivers. I wanted to go beyond that and use the job to see the rest of our country.

Fortunately, one of my older brothers saw more promise for me than I did and convinced me to think about other options. At the time, I had started going back to church and was very impressed by our minister – John Latta. In talking with him, I decided I wanted to be a minister too. He sent me to talk to a younger minister at a church in downtown Pittsburgh. That’s when I learned that I could not enter the Presbyterian Seminary unless I had a Bachelor’s degree from a college.

I was a few weeks away from graduating high school and hadn’t even bothered to take a college entrance exam.

I went and spoke to the Principal of Langley High School – Harry D. Book – and asked his advice. That was the beginning of the whirlwind. Mr. Book recommended I apply to Edinboro State Teachers College and arranged for me to take the SAT in late June. He also wrote a glowing letter of recommendation to the admission office in Edinboro.

I scored surprisingly high marks on the SAT and received my letter of acceptance in early August. Classes began a week after Labor Day and I was on my way to becoming a member of the clergy.

The same brother who suggested I give serious thought to my future paid for my basic education for the first year. That amounted to about $1,000. Too bad those prices are a thing of the past.

For spending money, I got two campus jobs. I worked in the cafeteria and the Student Union. My pay was $0.75 per hour. Now do you understand inflation?

That first semester, I hit the books hard every night and finished with a 2.7 grade point average. That was almost a “B”! Unfortunately, by the time the semester came to an end, my “dream” of becoming a minister had faded. It was still there, but not as strong.

From that point on, I stayed in school for only one main reason – to NOT disappoint my family. I was the first of my siblings (also the youngest and last chance) to attend college and I had to graduate. In 1966, I did graduate… with a “C” average.

I still didn’t have a dream. I still had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up.

I managed to get a job teaching emotionally disturbed children in a mental hospital. A year later, I was teaching emotionally disturbed children at an inner-city high school.

Through a series of lucky breaks, I then landed a job with IBM. I held that job until I retired. I made a good salary and provided a good home life for my family… from a financial standpoint. As I mentioned earlier, I think I failed my children in a number of ways… especially when it came to developing a realistic dream.

When I look back on my own life, there were many wonderful experiences and I did manage to accomplish at least one of my dreams. I’ve traveled all across our country and seen all fifty states. I didn’t get to drive the big truck, but I did travel over many of the same roads.

But what about the other aspects of my dreams? I never became a professional athlete, a fighter pilot, or a fireman. While I have been involved in the Stephen Ministry and have done extensive work with the homeless and needy, I never attended a seminary and was never ordained.

What I have done is pile up a number of doubts and questions. What could I have achieved if I had really applied myself and worked harder in school? What would have happened if I had entered the military after college (I had given that some thought when I had trouble finding a job) and made a career out of it? Could I have retired as a General? What if I had stayed in the field of education? Could I have become a college professor?

What if I had held off getting married and traveled the world when it was much safer and cheaper to do so? Would I have met a girl in Korea or Switzerland or Brazil, gotten married and spent my life in that country?

Obviously, none of these questions can be answered. I do know that beyond the questions and doubts I am happier now than ever. I have a wonderful wife, great children and step-children, and fantastic grandchildren.

It’s those grandchildren I’m thinking of as I write these words. I want each of them to sit down and think seriously beyond Justin Beiber, fire trucks, trains, and any of the other faddish things that can quickly grab the attention of today’s youth. I want each of them to realize that the jobs they are training for most likely don’t exist right now. Technology is changing everything.

So, we all (it’s not too late for me to develop a realistic dream!) need to think about the things that interest us the most – beyond Justin Beiber (can you tell I have a number of granddaughters?) – and begin studying subjects that fall into that general category. By all means, nail down the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. If you have those basic skills, you can learn anything.

Take the time to develop a dream you can hang on to for the rest of your life. Don’t let life just happen. Know what you want and make the effort to get it.

See! This grandpap can do more than tease!


You Can’t Buy Friendship

February 7, 2011

I called this place "home" for 22 years.

I grew up with a group of guys in Pittsburgh. We were all within a couple of years of each other. Joey Geagin, Frank Sabash, Joey Stiger, Billy and Bobby Ault, Marvin Hess, Herb Gallagher, my brother Lewis, and me. A few of the guys lived on Hollywood Street; whenever we got involved in a  sporting contest with kids from another neighborhood, we called ourselves the Hollywood All-Stars. That sounded better than any name we could invent based on Stratmore or Steuben streets.

There were a couple of other guys who moved away while we were all fairly young – Donny Yarling and a kid whose first name escapes me… his last name was Vater; his father owned the local hardware store.

And then there were the two siblings that were never quite part of the gang. One was a girl. She was obviously ostracized until our teen years. By then, she no longer wanted anything to do with us.

Her brother, David, was another story. I’m not going to mention his last name, but the folks I named earlier will probably know who I’m talking about.

It’s my understanding that both of those children were adopted. I can’t say for sure. I just know David was approximately our age, but had a different attitude on life.

None of us were anything more than fair athletes… at best, but David was never interested in our games of softball, football, or basketball. He always wanted to do other things – ride bikes, go to the movies, or get into mischief.

The thing that sticks in my mind the most about David is that he always seemed to have money. Money was a scarce commodity in our neighborhood and David learned early on how to use money to his advantage. If we were playing basketball and he wanted us to do something different, he’d offer to treat us to ice cream or pop. That meant bringing our game to a halt and walking the six or seven blocks to the dairy store.

David stayed in his house a lot more than the rest of us. When he did come out, he usually had something novel to get our attention… or he came bearing gifts. Because he never wanted to do the same things the rest of us enjoyed, we soon grew to dislike him.

Depending on the mood of the group on any given day, we’d either let him buy us something or tease him unmercifully until he went home.

I can remember one time I told him directly that he could not buy our friendship. If he really wanted to be a part of the group, he needed to just join in. Nothing more and nothing less. That’s the last time he offered me anything.

I often wonder if he would’ve changed as he matured. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. When he was fourteen or fifteen, he stole a car, took a bunch of guys joy riding, and wrapped the car around a telephone pole. He was killed.

Fifty years later I still have no idea why he felt the need to buy his friends. Yet, as I look around, I see others who seem to have the same personality trait.

I’ve known people who spend lavishly on friends and relatives and find themselves deeply in debt. Yet they’ll borrow money from retirement accounts to maintain the image of a wealthy big spender. I can’t help questioning what they’ll live on when they can no longer work.

Some people might think my bride and I are poor or simply miserly. We drive old vehicles and live in a modest home. We eat most of our meals at home and don’t spend a ton of money on the latest fashions. But we do manage to take nice vacations and continue to put money in our nest egg so that when we finally do retire completely, we won’t have to move in with our children.

You can’t buy friendship. I’ve always figured that if a person doesn’t like me because of whatever, I’m not really going to change his or her mind by spending lots of money showering him or her with gifts.

That seems like such a simple concept. So why can’t our government understand?

Jimmy Carter believed he could bring peace to the Middle East by giving Egypt the same amount of foreign “aid” as Israel was receiving. Considering all the money the Middle East is receiving simply by selling us oil, why do any of those countries need “aid”?

How many trillions of tax payers’ dollars have been sent to governments across the globe? How many of those tax payers’ dollars have trickled down to the poor people in those countries? How many of those tax payers’ dollars have made foreign potentates ridiculously wealthy while they continue to blame all their problems on the Imperialistic Devils in America?

We send billions of tax payers’ dollars to Saudi Arabia and their schools teach their children to hate us.

You can’t buy friendship. If children can figure that out, why can’t our politicians?

The current congress, and President, claim they want to cut government spending. I don’t know how much of the budget is given away to foreign governments, but I’ll bet we could save a bundle by telling them we don’t need their friendship that badly.

And that is my rant for the day.


Master of None

January 21, 2011

Is the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” still used? I don’t hear it as much as I once did. Then again, there’s a lot of things I don’t hear any more.

From time to time I like to do a self-evaluation. I think it is good for the soul. So, that’s what I’m doing today.

I once had a friend ask if there was anything I couldn’t do. He then listed a number of my accomplishments and made me feel better about myself than I had in years… maybe even decades! It was a wonderful compliment.

However, when I look at it through the lens of “Jack of all trades, BUT master of none”, I wonder where I really stand.

So, let’s take inventory.

I can sing. I’ve been singing ever since my parents paraded me out in front of our relatives and their friends and had me sing “Dear Hearts and Gentle People.” I have sung in church choirs, folk groups, a college choir, a fraternity trio known as “The Horny Toads”, the Tom Fallon Singers in Pittsburgh, and currently with the group called “Nostalgia” that entertains senior citizen groups.

I have never been offered a recording contract… and most likely will not. I’m too old to audition for “American Idol”, which is their loss, and probably wouldn’t get passed the initial auditions of “America’s Got Talent”. I’ll continue to sing in obscurity.

I can cook. I grew up with three brothers (our two sisters were married and had moved out while I was still an infant). All four of us boys were active outside the home and didn’t always make it home for dinner.

Mom made it clear that she was not running a cafeteria; if we were not there at dinner time, we’d have to fend for ourselves. While Dad was always there for Mom’s meals, he also liked to mess around in the kitchen. He served as a role model for his sons, and we were all fearless.

Over time, two of my brothers and myself evolved into the primary cooks in our homes. The other brother married an Italian woman who would not allow such foolishness.

I have cooked for people at homeless shelters, religious retreat weekends, pancake breakfasts, Irish dinners, and numerous other large groups. I cook the majority of meals at home.

I have never attended a culinary arts school and have never worked in a restaurant. I will never have my own show on the food channel and I will not run around the world sampling bizarre foods.

I’m a good cook, but will never be a master chef.

I can write. In high school I loved essay tests. I would write page after page about topics I knew nothing about, and the teachers would give me a decent grade rather than take the time to read it all and discover I was practicing for my B.S. degree.

I’ve written letters, essays, poems, limericks, novels, short stories, and newspaper and magazine articles. I was paid $100 by a magazine that went bust before my article was ever printed.

That is the bottom line of my writing career – $100 for something that was never read by the general public.

I’ll never be the next Mark Twain or Stephen King.

I can produce offspring. I have three sons and a daughter.

During their childhood, I tried to be a good father. I spent many hours with them in various sports, Indian Guides, and other activities. I attended open houses, school plays, band concerts, and other school sponsored events. I helped them move into dormitories and bailed them out financially. I loaned them money to buy cars and to make mortgage and rent payments. I attended weddings, and the births of grandchildren.

Our home today would appear to have children living here all the time. We have a room full of toys and children’s videos, a sand box, and a slide from the deck down to the sand box. We have a large wading pool set up during the summer months, and we have no children living here.

I like to think I was an above average father, but never expect to be nominated for father of the year. I’m sure my children see me more as Homer Simpson than Ward Cleaver.

So, there you have it. I’m sure there are other things I could list – work with wood to build furniture, build concrete walks and steps, screen in a porch, cut down trees and clear land for a house, finish a basement (wiring and all) and renovate a kitchen. But I would never qualify as a master builder or tradesman. I also built a free-standing two-car garage that is still standing after eleven years.

But I have to be totally honest.

I can’t dance.


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 6)

January 4, 2011

Looking across the Danube from Passau.

In many ways, Passau reminded me of the city of my birth – Pittsburgh. The hills above the Danube are very similar to Mt. Washington and the hill upon which sits the West End Overlook. (I’m sure that hill has a name, but I have no clue as to what it might be. Perhaps someone who still lives near Elliot and the West End will know and tell me.)

Map of Passau.

Another thing that reminded me of Pittsburgh was the fact that people refer to Passau as the City of Three Rivers. Of course, they are more literal about their count. The Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz do, in fact, add up to three. Had the people who named things in the New World not decided to name the Ohio River and decide it was formed by the other two rivers, then Pittsburgh would be the Two Rivers City. (Minor silly details!)

In any case, it was December 21st and we had been docked for some time. We ate our breakfast and prepared for another day of slogging through the slush and snow to tour yet another German city.

A building near the river being renovated.

Similar to the other cities we’d visited, buildings were no taller than the church steeples. However, unlike the other cities, it appeared that the sidewalks were much clearer. Of course, the people of Passau had an extra day to shovel the mess away.

Church towers dominated the skylines.

It was a cold foggy morning as we began our tour, but we would see the sun before the day was over. The main attraction in Passau was the St. Stephen’s Cathedral and I believe that is the only tourist attraction about which our guide had any in-depth knowledge. Once again, we had a gentleman who was not from the city he was describing and he seemed intent on getting us to the Cathedral and be done with us so he could run down to the river bank and hook up with another group. Many people felt compelled to tip these guides regardless of the quality of service rendered.

Note on the map that there were docking slots for up to fourteen river cruise ships. There were three or four ships docked when we went ashore and there may have been others arriving throughout the day. Our guide may have recognized that the tips accounted for more than his salary.

In any case, we were hurried past numerous other groups that were intently listening to their guides. I couldn’t help but wonder what we were missing.

Within a short time, we had trudged to the top of the hill and were passing through their Christmas Market.

This Christmas Market had not yet opened for business.

As we passed though the booths, we saw many vendors unloading their vehicles and preparing for another day of making money off the tourists.

One of the twin towers of St. Stephen's.

Once again we saw a church undergoing renovation. (Note the scaffolding to the left in the picture.) The inside of this church was probably the most interesting, but not quite the most beautiful.

Another beautiful European Cathedral.

The ceiling in this church was more beautiful than most. And I found all the intricate art work on the columns of the churches to be absolutely incredible. But there was something very special about this church.

A gilded pulpit.

Not all the pulpits in the churches we visited were gilded, but they were all very ornate.

A modern adornment.

This church had a wonderful, modern, pipe organ. The grating in the center of this ceiling panel was an outlet for some of the pipes. True “surround” sound! But this still isn’t what made this church special.

The Altar is what is so special.

It was difficult to get a good photo of the altar, but it has an extremely interesting history. The altar was installed in the early 1950’s and was considered too controversial. Many members of the church wanted it removed. Then the Bishop of the region came to see it and gave it his blessing. That satisfied those who didn’t like it.

And why didn’t they like this beautiful work of art? Because it illustrates torture and acts of violence being committed in front of clergy and civic leaders who watch… and do nothing to stop it. It represented Hitler’s Germany and was designed to send a clear message – Don’t ever let it happen again!

Fifty or sixty years later it is still a message that we all need to be attuned to.

I believe these are grave markers.

If our guide explained the plaques on the walls outside of the church, I missed it. I know that many churches in England regularly buried their dead in the floor of the church (inside!). I don’t know if this wall commemorated folks buried in the church, in the wall, or in the church yard, but there sure were a lot of them.

And why wasn’t I paying attention to our guide? I was too busy looking at the wall on the other side of the church yard.

Anything to keep the building standing.

I’ve seen this in many buildings in Europe. When a two hundred or so year-old structure shows signs of weakness, it is not unusual to run a strong cable along side a weight bearing beam and fasten it on the outside of the building using a steel rod. Had I walked around to the other side of this building, I would’ve found a similar photo op.

These are the sort of things that most tour guides ignore and don’t bother explaining. Often times, if you ask a guide, he or she will not have an answer. Growing up with such things, we tend not to notice. I was fortunate in finding a guide (some time ago) who knew.

Another question I have yet to have answered: Why are so many roads in perfectly flat cities, full of curves? My best guess is that those roads were once the outskirts of the city and curved around walls used to defend the city. But that is only a guess.

One of the sites our guide ignored.

After our tour of the city(?), we were once again on our own. We walked back the way we had come and tried to determine what other guides were pointing out as our group hurried by.

The above photo was St. Paul’s church. I’m assuming it was also a Catholic Church, but the interior – while not as large and impressive as St. Stephen’s – was even more beautiful.

All the woodwork seemed to be made of ebony.

There were numerous side altars, which led me to believe it had multiple priests at one time. The pulpit was also made of the same beautiful dark wood.

The pulpit and some side altars.

Our only mistake at this point was to leave through a door different from the one through which we entered. Somehow we got completely turned around. That led to a very long walk back to our ship for lunch. But that was OK. We needed to burn off some calories if we ever hoped to come home without gaining any weight.

We would’ve never seen this had we not been lost.

When we left St. Paul’s we wandered around until we came to the river. Unfortunately – change that to “fortunately” we were looking at the Inn River, rather than the Danube. Once we realized our mistake, we started walking toward the point where the rivers met.

We walked along narrow passages between buildings.

A church with a covered escalator?

A defensive tower from medieval times?

Anyone for Tandoori food?

A fortress on the hill overlooking the Danube.

We would’ve never noticed this fortress from where our ship was docked. No one bothered to point this out to us, but according to Wikipedia, Veste Oberhaus is a fortress that was founded in 1219 and, for most of its time, served as the stronghold of the Bishop of Passau, Germany.

Once again we saw the power and wealth of the church.

I believe this was the old town hall.

We finally made it back to our ship and enjoyed yet another wonderful lunch. Soon we were back ashore and taking our own walking tour. We were careful not to get lost this time. We didn’t want to miss dinner.

A wonderful produce market.

An old narrow street and markets in Passau.

The umbrellas would indicate it was raining, but I don’t recall that it was. Many folks used the umbrellas in the snow as well as the rain.

Passau’s Polar Express.

The entire trip was based on Christmas Markets, but the sign on the train tells it like it is. In countries where German is the predominant language, the markets are referred to as Christkindlmarkts. For that matter, Santa Claus brings gifts on December 6th (not sure of the significance of that date) and the Christkind (Christ child) brings the gifts on December 24th. December 25th is nothing more than a day to recover from Christmas.

Entering the “other” Passau.

This is the part of Passau that reminded me of modern day London and an article I wrote several years ago. I called it – this is really original of me – “A Tale of Two Cities”. At the time I was working in the West End of London and had spent countless hours wandering the narrow streets and allies and visiting places like The Old Curiosity Shop. I then had reason to tour the “other” London that was filled with skyscrapers and all the trappings of modern commerce. At that point, I felt as though I had left Charles Dickens’ town and entered Manhattan.

Here in Passau, I had the same impression. I was leaving the narrow streets and small shops of a medieval village and entering a large bustling modern city.

They even had a fancy McDonald’s.

The area where the “natives” shopped.

A little bit of everything.

We didn’t walk beyond this point, but it was fairly obvious that there was much more of Passau that would be considered a modern city.

We returned to the small village and tried to get the modern taste out of our mouths. We soon found the perfect place for quiet reflection.

The Marianische Votivkirche.

This was a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary – think in terms of a votive candle.

Beauty in simplicity.

Very peaceful and serene.

We left the serenity when we were accosted by a woman who might have been trying to get us to join her church, or may have been simply begging. In either case, we left.

We were immediately faced with another paradox of juxtaposition. Outside this ancient church was a modern convenience…

A graffiti covered cigarette machine.

I gave up smoking in 1998. The price – 5 Euros ($6.75) per pack – shocked me, but made the credit card reader much simpler to understand.

I took this picture of window cleaning tools while Lu bought a beautiful German scarf.

When we returned to the ship, Lu took a closer look at her treasure. She then asked me what “PRC” meant. Her triumph was dampened by the People’s Republic of China.

Later we spoke to a couple who had bought a half-dozen lovely Christmas tree ornaments. They were only going to buy a few, but were concerned about getting them back to the states unbroken. That’s when they decided to buy the larger quantity – along with the box that would help keep them from breaking. After returning to the ship, they saw the “Made in China” on the bottom of the box.

Let’s face it, China manufactures most of the world’s goods.

Back on the ship, we realized that the top deck had finally been cleared of snow and was now open for us to go up and see what there was to see.

Shuffleboard Anyone?

Chess?

Miniature Golf?

Or just set a spell and watch the world go by.

It was then I noticed a passing cargo vessel and got a better picture of the ever present auto on deck.

Auto on board!

And that ended our picture taking in Passau. It also ended the Germany part of the trip. Passau is on the border of Austria. We would soon be sailing for Vienna. Of course, that would only happen after we had our late afternoon snack, the cocktail hour, and dinner.

It was tough keeping up with all of that food and drink, but somebody had to do it.