January is a month to endure in my opinion. It’s the dead of winter and, for me, four straight weeks of work with no break. In Nederland, the weather has been very grey, very windy and very wet. I think there was only one day of full sun and just a hand full of days when the sun appeared at all. The temps were a bit milder this year, but with the intermittent rain and strong winds at times it’s still not pleasant to be outside very much. My work days are an endurance of either frustration or boredom or both. Blah. 😝

e would not be traveling or attending any events, I decided that January would be the perfect time to do a food reset and focus on healthy eating. I read It Starts with Food just before the holidays and began mentally preparing for a Whole30 program. I convinced Dick to do it with me and he read up on it as we went along. And . . . WE DID IT! We successfully completed the first 30 days of the program on January 31. It was quite an experience and we’re both happy with the results so far. Our eating habits have greatly improved, we feel the benefits and yes, we lost some lbs. I did A LOT of cooking to cover three meals a day every day, but it was good to have things planned out, food shopped and prepped more efficiently and fun to try new recipes. We have the benefit of a big outdoor Saturday market close by (and almost every town has one during the week) and a friendly butcher in our town with locally sourced meat. We were also able to locate organic and sugar-free products in our local supermarkets. I prepped veggies on the weekends and made soups or chilis that stretched over one evening meal and two to three lunches. With just a few exceptions, the recipes I tried were really good and we ate really well. We’ll bring back some of the foods we missed (grains, dairy, wine, etc), but we’re committed to our new eating habits. Dick and I both like to get our exercise outside and it’s been challenging to be consistent with that in yucky weather. We’ve been able to get in some long walks during dry periods. Dick was on the bike a couple of times and I started doing a circuit of indoor exercises a couple of times a week.

t like we only had good food to look forward to this month. The arrival of a grand baby 👶 was much anticipated! All that blah stuff went to the background on January 22 when Jasmine sent me a text saying that she was having contractions. The 6 hr time difference made monitoring the progress interesting, but I had the pleasure of getting the birth announcement just as I was waking up at 6am! Emma Catherine Singer made her debut just before the clock struck midnight EST on January 22 (funny to think it was the 23rd here). January suddenly got very exciting! I'm very happy to be an Oma. Pictures and videos of this sweetie are holding me over until I can cuddle her on Feb 10th. I can't wait!!! I think there will be less enduring and more savoring (or attempting to) from here forward. There are just four months remaining in this expat adventure and we want to make the most of it. We have lots left to do! 😀


Christmas markets — last chance

I fully expect we will travel to Europe in the future, but I don’t expect we would travel in December. So, this is our last chance to experience the Christmas markets! We chose different ones this year starting with Strasbourg, France then Düsseldorf, Germany and finally Leuven, Belgium. A weekend in Amsterdam to see the lights and a performance of Handel’s Messiah was thrown in the mix.

We were in Strasbourg on the opening day of the market and saw it gradually come to life as the crowds got thicker. This Christmas market is the oldest in Europe and one of the biggest. There were 11 markets spread across the city and each had a different theme. For instance, one of the markets was dedicated to traditional Christmas foods and another had booths for charities with items for sale to raise money. During the day, we did our own walking tour of the city and browsed some of the markets along the way. Many of the store fronts were decorated and lights were strung across the streets. It’s a beautiful city looking even better in holiday flair. We had a short break at our Airbnb (super cute apartment in the old city!) and then went back out to see ALL of the markets under lights. Other than the festive atmosphere, the food and wine is what we love most about the Christmas markets. There was vin chaud (mulled wine) everywhere and a cup here and there helped keep us warm. The wonderful thing about Alcasian food is that it’s basically German food with a French twist. Bretzels, wurst, sauerkraut, spaetzel . . . yummmm. Security was evident everywhere. The old city of Strasbourg is completely surrounded by water and all traffic was closed off at the bridges. Security guards were posted at each bridge to check bags and soldiers were patrolling the markets. We really enjoyed this market and now it’s our favorite of all the markets we’ve seen.

Our visit to the Düsseldorf market was kind of short, but it was fun to see the city dressed up for Christmas. I read that there were seven markets, but we didn’t have a map so we came across just five of them. They were relatively small and located within a few blocks of each other. The wooden huts were very cute and slightly different at each market. The German markets look like little mini villages. I expected to see a big market in the area along the Rhine, but that one was actually the smallest with the Ferris wheel being the main feature. The Ferris wheel had enclosed gondolas, but it was still too cold for my interest! We found some good bratwurst, gluhwein and bretzels. Again, it’s really all about the food!

Dick surprised me with tickets to see Handel’s Messiah at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. 😲 Seeing a performance there has been on our to-do list. We decided to make a weekend of it and visit the Rembrandt House and see the light festival along the canals on Saturday. The weather was cold and damp with some rain and sleet, but we managed to be inside during the worst of it. On Sunday before the concert, we visited the English Reformed Church. There was quite a mix of Dutch and expats at this church and we enjoyed seeing the children’s nativity play. When we came out, it was snowing! ❄️ The snow continued the rest of the say and accumulated enough for kids to make snowmen on the Museumplein and sled down the ramps. We had slow travel home on the tram and train, but it was worth it to see Amsterdam covered in snow. This is the first real snowfall that we’ve experienced in NL.

Our last Christmas market selection was Leuven, Belgium. Leuven has a beautiful city hall that is completely lit up for Christmas. That was my favorite part! Most of the market wound through a big park and it felt very festive (Dick said it was gezellig) with all the lights in what was otherwise a dark place (i.e. no street lights). There were a lot of interesting vendors and enclosed seating areas for dining. It was nice to be able to sit while we ate some wurst. We bought some fudge that had lots of unique flavors and a different consistency than the fudge we’ve had in the States. We hope to go back to Leuven to see more of it when it’s warmer.

THE END for our European Christmas market experiences. I’ll miss it. I read that Boston now has a holiday market at City Hall Plaza and perhaps that will satisfy my nostalgia. 😌

my view from over here

Eighteen months into this adventure and I have longings for home — a bit of homesickness, I suppose. I mostly miss my children and close friends, then the rest can be summed up in one word — familiar. I miss the familiar language, common memory, faces, places and really just the sense of belonging that familiarity brings.

These feelings are mixed with my feelings of disillusionment with America. Yes, I’m disillusioned with America and I should just put it out there. I’ll write this as a way for me to process the thoughts in my head. So if you want to follow my process, read on and perhaps consider if there is any sense to my thinking. If not, I don’t expect agreement and there’s probably something on Facebook that’s way more interesting! 😋

The opportunity for a change of perspective is the most valuable and persistent thing that I’ve gained during my time in Europe. I’ve been able to see my home country through a different lens and it’s been enlightening. Good questions are asked of me and topics are debated with curiosity and a desire to learn and understand. I’ve learned so much about world history, culture, economics and social justice in a much broader scope outside of the American view of the world. This view, by the way, is the indoctrinated belief that America is the best. The greatest nation on earth . . . 🤔

Events in the US this past year have been incredible, even surreal. To witness them from afar with a changing perspective, has been interesting to say the least. I’m often shaking my head over the behavior of Americans and the American president. 😧 I’m incredulous over the protracted arguments and defensiveness of opinions that are at best marginally based on facts. I’m not getting this impression just from the news (let’s leave fake news out of this). I’m mostly getting this impression from social media and straight from words, actions and fully transcribed accounts. I read the shared fb posts, Twitter feeds and transcripts of interviews and speeches. I don’t see enough reasoned discourse and intelligent debate over politics and national issues. Instead, there are strident defenses, flaming accusations, ignorant comments and knee jerk reactions. What I see is a willingness to bargain away character, respect, decency and intellect for the promise of easy wins, comfort zones, independence and the good ol’ American way.

This started before I left the country and before the 2016 presidential election; I get that. The decisiveness and decline has been in progress for years. The thing is my point of view has changed since I’ve been in an international environment. I admit that before I moved abroad, I didn’t think hard about many national issues. And I didn’t think too hard about the lack of reasoned discourse. I eschewed CNN, FoxNews and media sound bites (still do). I spent a lot less time on social media and let’s face it, the spot light on national politics was a bit smaller.

The 2016 presidential election was a watershed for the reputation of America, from my point of view. If you don’t think so, come on over to Europe and have coffee with a native. They will ask you what you think about Trump, how could a guy like this get elected, how unpredictable or unstable he is and how long do you think he will last. Some Europeans are familiar with crooks and corrupt governments, but that doesn’t happen in the USA where the presidents have been respected world leaders (albeit tarnished by the occasional scandal). There is legitimate concern about the global economy, commitment to alliances and nuclear war. There is a perception that Americans not only don’t understand world politics and history, they don’t even understand their own. The election of Donald Trump and reactions to recent national events prove the point. Many Americans do not have a good grasp of civics, the constitution and American history. One of my friends used the phrase “vortex of stupidity” and I think he was on to something. People are easily duped because they don’t know the facts. I don’t like to get into comment battles on social media 🤐, but sometimes it’s difficult to hold my tongue when historical facts are completely distorted or misrepresented to make a point about current events. 😖

Guess what, America is not the best in many, many ways. I won’t get into an in-depth comparison of Europe and the United States; there is no best country and every nation has it’s challenges and flaws. But it’s difficult to resist the temptation to compare. We have enjoyed a lot of the differences and will miss them very much in the future. The Netherlands is more advanced in agriculture, civil engineering, clean energy, affordable health care and public transportation to name a few. It’s SAFE here. Crime is so low prisons have been closed and repurposed. Much of Western Europe has a high standard of life. Did you know there is mandatory paid family leave in Europe? I could go on . . . But yes, the taxes are much higher and one could argue that the government controls too much. Yes, there are ongoing issues about immigration and how to assimilate new immigrants. Yes, there are also nationalists movements here. Yes, there is terrorism here, too.

I don’t have any magic solutions to Americas ills, but I do think that part of solution is altruism — a willingness to make sacrifices for the common good and concern for the welfare of ALL people. This isn’t socialism people; this is citizenship and in my opinion (based on my understanding of the facts), it’s a biblical mandate. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

I guess that’s enough of a mind dump for now. I’m really looking forward to being with family in the US for Christmas celebrations! 🎄 I think we will be forced to think and talk about our transition back to American life in six months. Gulp! 😲

our Schwarzwald hiking adventure

We talked about visiting the Black Forest in the winter for a ski trip, but we didn’t accomplish it last year and traveling this winter is uncertain. I suggested we combine a hiking trip with a visit to the Strasbourg Christmas market instead. We could accomplish this during Thanksgiving weekend without having to use a vacation day – bonus!

When the weather forecast showed mild temps and sunshine for Thursday, we decided to drive half way Wednesday night so we could hike the next day in good weather. This worked out fine except the drive on Thursday took over 3 hours and we got a later start on the hike than we wanted. We had to keep up a good pace to hike 13 km to our destination in time to catch a bus back to the starting point.

The trail we chose was the Wutachschlucht, a section of a longer trail that lies between two sawmills along the Wutach Gorge in the southern part of the Black Forest. It’s a very scenic trail along the Wutach river varying from high above to along side and zigzagging across over several bridges. The trees are wrapped in bright green moss and the trail is covered with rust colored leaves, creating a colorful tableau. There are also waterfalls and granite cliffs along the way. The temperature fluctuated quite a bit during our hike from areas where the air temperature was in the 50s to pockets of frost covered vegetation. I absolutely loved this trail and I savored every moment. Until . . .

We arrived at the Schattenmühle (the second sawmill) bus stop in plenty of time to catch the 3:16 bus. I knew that there was a bus that only ran from April to October, but I thought that was a direct bus from one trail parking lot to the other. It looked like a ‘regular’ bus made a bunch of stops in between and took about 45 minutes. We waited about a half hour and studied the bus timetable several times before we concluded that this bus was not coming. It was 3:45pm and the sun would set at 4:10pm. We looked the trail map again and saw that an adjoining trail ended at another bus stop (different bus) about 3 km away. We decided to hike there and hoped to arrive at the road before we lost light. Ohhhh, and did I mention that we had NO CELL SERVICE? Yeah, so we couldn’t check any of our handy dandy transit apps. 😫

Along the next trail section we were treated to some beautiful waterfalls, but we didn’t have time to stop and stare. I was afraid the daylight would fade and since the trails were so dark and slippery, it would have been scary to walk in dim light. When we got to the next bus stop and looked at the sign, we saw that we just missed the HOURLY bus. It was doubtful that this bus would have even made the stop since there was a big pile of dirt in the turnoff.

We could see a sign down the road that indicated 4 km to the nearest town. Okay, that’s not so far – except for a couple minor details like already having walked 17 km, fading daylight and no shoulder/breakdown lane on the side of the busy main road. We had to walk on the bumpy uneven grass along the side of the road (good thing we were wearing hiking boots!) until we finally came to a sidewalk about 1K from town. We prayed that there would be a bus back to our parking place. When we got into town (with enough light to see the way), we had cell service and Dick checked the bus schedule. Thank God we had time to catch the LAST bus to Wutchmühle! We had to wait about a half hour, but that gave us a chance to sit and relax a bit. We were the only two people that got on the bus and we had an nice chat with the driver during the 20 minute trip. 🙂

We were exhausted when we arrived at the guest house, but we had to head back out to find dinner. This was easier said than done because very few restaurants were open in this off season. We had to settle for a pizzeria, which served good enough food to satisfy our hunger. We were in bed early and slept very well that night! 😌

Why Croatia?

Why not! When I started to explore travel in Croatia, I realized we could experience ancient history, beautiful nature and Dalmatian culture all in a short trip to Split. The pictures of medieval architecture, waterfalls, and the gorgeous Adriatic coast totally sold me. Dalmatia has become a very popular tourist destination because it’s a filming location for Game of Thrones. Since we haven’t seen a single episode of this show, it obviously wasn’t the draw for us. 😏

The travel was easy — a cheap two hour flight from Rotterdam to Split and a short bus ride into the city. Since it’s the off season, I was able to find a great apartment with an amazing view for €75 a night. The rental guy met us at the bus station with a warm welcome and gave us a quick tour of the neighborhood. After we got settled in, we walked into the old city, through the market area and ended up with a sunset stroll along the waterfront. We had dinner at a restaurant along the Riviera, where we enjoyed octopus salad, sea bass, tuna and Croatian wine.

On Sunday, we did an excursion to Sibenik, Krka National Park and Skradin. It took about an hour to get to Sibenik by van. We travelled with a British couple who were on a two week vacation. The van driver was very chatty and spat out (literally) a lot of statistics and facts about Croatia. In Sibenik, we did a quick, but interesting, tour of the old city. The tour included St. James Cathedral, a 15th century stone church, but we were only able to see the outside since there was a mass in progress. I really liked the narrow alleyways and stonework in this city.The main attraction of this excursion was a tour of Krka National Park where there are hundreds of waterfalls. We were so fortunate to have a warm sunny day there! I thought we would be able to swim in front of the big waterfall (as advertised), but it was prohibited because the water was supposedly too high. So yeah, it didn’t look very high us. Some people tried to get in the water, but I think they eventually got kicked out. Anyway, we had plenty of time to walk through the park, take a ton of pictures and have lunch. The scenery was amazing!From the park, we boarded a ferry which took us to Skradin. We met up with our tour group there and took a short drive to a winery. It’s a family owned winery where they do all the work themselves from planting, harvesting, fermenting to bottling. The wine industry is relatively small in Croatia and it’s only for domestic consumption (no exports). Along with some bread and cheese, we tried three wines and a grappa (small amounts!). Our group, which consisted of four Brits and five Americans, all sat at a big table and chatted while we ate and drank; it was a nice way to end the excursion. We were exhausted by the end of the day and happy to veg at the apartment with a football game and pizza and more wine in hand. Around 3:30, I woke up and thought I smelled smoke. I wasn’t fully awake and thought it was just something outside, since the windows were open. About fifteen minutes later, I woke again and could still smell smoke. I got up and looked out all the windows to see if I could see the smoke. Nothing. I went out onto the balcony and looked down. There were two fire trucks sitting in front of our building! The hoses were lying on the ground and there were no firemen in sight. I woke up Dick and told him what I saw. He went out to the elevator area where you can see down and the guys at the bottom said there had been a small fire and everything was okay. So this was good news, but we immediately wondered why there had been no alarm! I’m pretty sure that would be a code violation in the US. When I lived in an apartment building, an obnoxious alarm would go off through the entire building anytime someone burned toast.

Monday was our chance to see the city sights. We started with a fantastic two hour tour of the Diocletian Palace and old city. We learned so much about Diocletian and the history of Split in such a short time! After lunch, we browsed through the shops and side alleys of the palace, which is actually a huge complex of buildings occupied by businesses and residents. It was built in the fourth century and is one of the most preserved Roman structures in the world. It another warm day with full sun, so we did a quick change and headed to the beach. When I planned this trip, I thought it would be too cold to go to the beach. What a bonus! We haven’t been to a beach in a long time. The water was a bit chilly, but I waded in and Dick did a quick swim. Our plan for the evening was to hike up Marjan hill to see the sunset on the western side (the hill blocks a sunset view from the city). That ‘hike’ was over 300 steps and a couple of slopes to get to a viewpoint at the top. There were viewpoints of the city and the harbor along the way. When we got to the top, we realized that there is still an island to the west so the sun would set over that instead of the water. Oh well, it was still nice with amazing light and it was a good workout to get there. Our day ended with a seafood feast and black risotto at an authentic Croatian family restaurant. The catch of the day was shown to us on a platter before we made our choice. I liked the squid and hake the best. The black risotto is made with cuttlefish ink and chucks of squid. The dark black color and thoughts of eating ink are a little off-putting, but it was delicious!

The next morning we had to get up early to catch the flight back home. There were some tense moments when the bus was late and the line at customs was at a standstill, but we made it to the gate on time. We loved this trip and it was way too short!

I haven’t forgotten about Switzerland

How could I forget Switzerland?! I started to write a post about our anniversary trip about four weeks ago, but when I read it back it sounded soooo boring. And Switzerland was anything but boring! I think a little outline here will suffice and then I’ll let the photos tell the story. The map below is roughly the route of our trip, except we connected the dot at Lucerne and spent a day there before ending up back in Zurich.

Day One

NL train – Sittard to Amsterdam, KLM flight – Amsterdam to Zurich, Regional Swiss Rail – Zurich to St. Moritz. We stayed in a 3* hotel that overlooked the St Moritzersee and surrounding mountains.

Day Two

Glacier Express from St. Moritz (through Chur, Disentis and Brig) to Zermatt. The Glacier Express has panoramic cars so you can see above and side to side. We sat with a nice Dutch couple from Hoofddorp. It was eight hours of one beautiful sight after another and the weather was better than expected with sunny skies all the way. We took another train up to the Gornergrat from Zermatt to see the Matterhorn as the sun set and clouds rolled in. I actually got very emotional up there (yes, I cried) because, wow, the grandeur of it all was overwhelming!

Day Three

Regional Swiss Rail – Zermatt to Lucerne (through Brig, Spiez and Berne). We then took the Golden Roundtrip to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne: boat trip across Lake Lucerne, steep cogwheel railway up and then cable car and gondola down. I think that adds up to 5 modes of transportation in one day! We hiked to the very top of Pilatus — breathtaking views. In Lucerne, we strolled around town, had dinner al fresco and enjoyed an outdoor music festival.

Day Four

We had a half day to finish our exploration of Lucerne: covered bridges, fortified wall/towers, Lion monument, cathedral and a very quiet old town where all the shops were closed. I love the ambience in old, narrow, empty cobbled streets! Regional Swiss Rail – Lucerne to Zurich. KLM flight and NL train back home.

Okay, now go look at the pictures and enjoy the scenery! https://smidtriptoholland.shutterfly.com/pictures/1553

Bavaria Roadtrip Part IV

The last leg of our road trip was to be centered in Nuremberg at an Airbnb apartment, where we were scheduled to stay for three nights. During our drive from Munch, I checked the Airbnb site and noticed that there was a recent negative review of this place — mostly that it was unclean. Well, I thought that sounded like something that would be addressed immediately and I hoped for the best. I had received instructions from the owner about how to find the hidden keys in the yard, which seemed a bit unusual but not a big deal. We arrived kind of late around 10pm and the place seemed okay — not perfectly clean, but not filthy. Kathryn realized right away that the wifi wasn't working. We entered and re-entered the password and restarted the router, but the internet was unavailable. Since it was late, I waited until the next morning to contact the owner. We slept pretty well that night, but got a better look at the bathroom in the morning and it wasn't very clean. There was mildew, grungy bath rugs and the towels were old and thin. I tried calling two phone numbers listed in the owners profile and neither connected (got a German operator). Not a good sign. I emailed a message and hoped to get an immediate response.

We decided to go to Bamberg in the morning anticipating that we could cover the sights there in a few hours. It turned out that we really loved it there and could have stayed the whole day. What a beautiful town! The weather turned favorable and it was great to see the wonderful architecture and gardens in the sunshine. We sat at a café near the landmark bridge for awhile and tried some smoked beer (because of the local uniqueness of it). It doesn't sound good, right? It tastes like beer initially and then a smoky aftertaste hits — kind of like an ashtray might taste — ick.

We tore ourselves away from Bamberg and drove back to Nuremberg. As we were walking around, we noticed that there were a lot of buskers on the streets. Some were really good and some were mediocre. It took us awhile to notice posters advertising a world music festival for that weekend. Cool! We walked around most of the fortified wall and then hiked up to the fortress (they are ALWAYS on a hill!). There were more musicians to listen to along the way. After we took in the view for awhile, we found a Czech/German restaurant close by. We all chose schnitzel this time. The guy waiting on us was really nice and even let Dick leave the restaurant without the full bill being paid so he could get more cash to settle up.

There were several large stages for bands set up throughout the city and we stopped to listen to a couple of them. We really enjoyed the French band, La Gapette. Very entertaining! There was also a German band that had a lot of instruments and a great lead singer. It was a lot of fun to hear music everywhere we went!

Since I didn't get any response from the Airbnb host, I decided to cancel our last night and booked a hotel room further west instead. I'm glad we did because the second night the neighbors camped outside our bedroom window to have a smoke at 1am. Ugh! We were glad to leave this place behind on Saturday. [Note: The host responded with a defensive message three days later. Airbnb was very cooperative and honored my refund request.]

Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a lovely place that typically shows up on lists of quintessential must see German towns. Hitler apparently thought it was quintessential also and it was a Nazi stronghold. Anyway, we started our last day there with schneeballen and coffee. We browsed the shops, including the original Käthe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. Then we walked up to the fortress for another nice view. The gardens there were very nice. Lunch was flammkuchen for each of us, which were bigger than we expected. So much for a lite lunch! After that we walked on part of the fortified wall to get back to our car.

Our last stop on this Bavarian journey was Würzburg. Our time was getting short so we drove right to the Imperial Palace and parked there. It was a beautiful warm day and we enjoyed walking through the extensive gardens at the palace. They were gorgeous! We walked into the old city from there stopping for gelato along the way. This city was bombed during WWII and is therefore not as well preserved as Bamberg or Rothenburg. People like to hang out and drink wine or beer on the old bridge, which has been restored. I don't think I've ever seen people sipping wine on a city bridge before. We were dehydrated and very thirsty, so we stopped into a grocery store for our drinks. It was another climb up to the fortress, but we didn't get quite to the top. There was a nice look out part way up. A few hours were all we needed in this city.

Our last night was spent in a cozy old hotel just west of Wurzburg. While we were there, we joined a video conference with Jasmine & Matt and other family members as they opened a sealed envelope to reveal that they are having a baby GIRL! It was so much fun to be with them for this happy moment. Thank God there is wifi everywhere and we can stay connected wherever we go! We're also grateful that we can now use our cellphone data anywhere in the EU without extra fees.

We travelled over 2000 kilometers on our Bavaria roadtrip, visited 10 cities in two countries, five hotels, one castle, one concert hall, six palaces, five fortresses, two cloisters, seven (or eight?) churches, three beer halls, two funiculars, two cable cars, ate a lot of German food, walked a lot of miles and created priceless memories!

Bavaria Roadtrip Part III

Our stay in Munich was also brief – just 24 hrs. The hotel I selected was a little on the outskirts and it had a teeny tiny parking garage that Dick managed to squeeze our car into. Then it was yet another walk in the rain to get to dinner. We had some amazing German food at the Paulaner Brauhaus. Have I mentioned that we love German food?

Thursday morning we drove out to the Daucau Concentration Camp Memorial Site. When we planned our itinerary, Kathryn didn't want to go to Daucau. But Dick and I felt it was too important to pass it by. We spent about three hours there following an audio tour of the grounds and then browsing through the museum. It was very compelling, but not overwhelming. The crematorium and mass grave sites for unidentified victims hit me the hardest. Tough stuff to fully comprehend, but we left with a better understanding of this horrific time and place.

Back to Munich for the afternoon and the first stop was a late lunch at Hofbrauhaus. This a landmark beer garden, a lively place with German music and staff in traditional dress. It's actually a family friendly place (when it's not Oktoberfest?) with good food and beer. I was happy to have some bratwurst and sauerkraut for the second time in a week. 🙂 We finished our meal just in time to make it to the Rathaus to see and hear the glockenspiel at 5 pm.

Kathryn and I had some shopping to do (we found a "dank" pair of jeans for her) and then we all walked to the Royal Residenz. We decided we were maxed out on museums and audio tours, so we only looked at the outside of the palace. We took a longer way back that went through a park and past some nice architecture.

Upper Bavaria is next!

Bavaria Roadtrip Part II

Twenty-seven hours in Salzburg made up the second leg of our trip and let's estimate that eight of those waking hours were rainy. When we arrived on Tuesday afternoon, our first mission was to pick up concert tickets. I chose "will call" instead of paying the shipping fee. The problem with this choice was that the tickets had to be picked up before 3pm and I realized after we parked near the venue, that the ticket office was across town. 😛 Oh well, we made it there in time and got to see part of the old city including the birthplace of Mozart (right in the middle of a shopping street) on the way.

Since there was a bit of sun, we headed to Mirabell Gardens to get some good pics. Before we left on this trip, we watched The Sound of Music to refresh our memory of the scenes in Salzburg and made a list of those we wanted to see. We had just enough time to stroll through the gardens and get some gelato before we had to get ready for the concert. When we realized the Salzburger Festspiele was going on during our stay, we took advantage of the opportunity to hear some good classical music. The Camerata Salzburg performed the night we had available. It was an Ouverture Spirituelle that included pieces by Schubert, Martin and Bruckner. Once we had silenced complaints of walking in high heels from a certain teenager (I think she needs more practice), we were able to enjoy the concert and it was absolutely brilliant. 🎼 It was a little long, though, with two 15 min. pauses.

We were pretty hungry after the concert ended around 9pm. I spec out restaurants with good reviews in advance and tag them on Google maps (there's a good tip for you). This worked really well for this trip with one exception. I chose a beer hall for dinner after the concert – not a great idea – and when we got there, we realized there was a lot of beer drinking and no eating going on. We did some quick searching on Google and TripAdvisor in the car and managed to find a good pizzeria where the service was unusually fast. Whew!

Wednesday was another wet day, but we made the best of it. Kathryn and I splashed in the horse fountain in the Residenzplatz. The fountain is kind of high and I wonder how Maria got up there! We toured the Residenz palace, which we discovered turned into a tour through the balcony of the Dom and St. Peter's museum. We skimmed through the museum since religious iconography and art are not so interesting to us. A shopping and lunch break were needed after that. We found some food vendors in the market and got some wurst and really good pretzels. We also got some Mozartkugeln for snacks and gifts. We hiked up to the Fortress to work off some calories and did yet another audio tour. This tour also extended into multiple museums. There is a great view of the city from up there. Our entrance ticket included a ride down the funicular, which ended right next to St Peters cemetery. Dick and Kathryn were determined to figure out which crypt the von Trapp family hid behind, but concluded that none of them were big enough. Dramatic license? We walked to the Nonnberg Convent next to see the outside – especially the gate. It's still a working convent and isn't open for tourists (we didn't see any nuns). The rain was lighter by then and we had a nice walk through side streets back to our car.

Time to move on to Munich!

Bavaria Roadtrip Part I

Our summer vacation this year was a 10 day trip through Bavaria. We drove as far as Heidelberg the first day, since I had to work a half day and we only wanted to drive a few hours. A three hour drive turned into five hours because of traffic slowdowns on German highways. 😝 After we checked into a guest house in Mannheim, we drove into Heidelberg for dinner. A restaurant known for it's schnitzel was highly recommended and we found it easily. We were given a spot in the back at a shared table with a Polish guy and an Italian couple who were communicating in English. The schnitzel lived up to it's reputation and we left very satisfied. Heidelberg is very picturesque and since it's a college town, it's pretty lively. We were able to walk around the old city for awhile before it got dark. A band was playing on the terrace of a restaurant near the river, which added to the ambience as we snapped pictures on the old bridge.

Day one in Bavaria was planned to start around 1pm after a four hour drive from Heidelberg to Oberau, but it took an extra two hours of drive time. Summer is road construction season everywhere! Our home base for part one of our trip was a guest house in Oberau. When we arrived, there was an envelope with my name on it taped to the door. Inside were our keys and some instructions about our room. So, we unlocked the door and located our room — the self service seemed a little strange! After a quick dump of our stuff, we drove to our first planned activity — a hike to Hell Valley Gorge in Grainau. I had read several blog posts and TripAdvisor reviews of this hike, but we still didn't know exactly what to expect. Parking was our first hurdle. The pay machine wouldn't take any of our cards and we didn't have the correct change. Dick ended up driving further to a free 2 hr spot with fingers crossed that we'd make it back in time. A lot of people passed us coming out as we were walking into the trail. I started to think that maybe we were too late (4pm start time), but I thought if the gorge was closed when we got there we still would have had a nice hike. The hike into the gorge was an invigorating uphill challenge that took about an hour. I should note here that we haven't seen mountains upclose for over a year and the most incline we've hiked recently was a relatively short, but steep hill in France. Seeing the Alps took our breath away! We had to pass through a pay gate to get into the gorge (yes, it was still open!), which consists of waterfalls (many of them), aqua blue pools of water, scenic views of mountains & valleys, tunnels and bridges. The trail is wet and SLIPPERY, but absolutely worth the effort. Awesome! We found some pretty decent Mexican food in Oberammergau that night and Kathryn tried her first Radler.

The second day we met our hostess at breakfast and she was super nice. We drove to Innsbruck, Austria where the mountains get bigger! We took the Hungerburg funicular, cable car, another cable car and then a short hike to get to the top of the Nordkette. It was such a cool trip up the mountain! It was a partly cloudy day with a chance of rain later in the day; we watched the clouds move around and by the time we left it was mostly cloud covered at the top. Even with some cloud cover, the views were amazing! On the descent, we stopped for drinks at the bottom of the first cable car and then got off the funicular at the Alpen Zoo. We gave ourselves about 40 min to browse through the zoo and that was about the right amount of time to see deer, moose, buffalo, lynx, golden eagles and other alpine animals. Next up was a late lunch at a strudel cafe in town. We each had a savory strudel and then shared an apple strudel. They were delicious! The Hofburg Palace and The Golden Roof were stops on our list. The Hofburg Palace was pretty boring. It doesn't contain much furniture and the history of this section of the Habsburg family just isn't that interesting to me. The Golden Roof was also not that exciting. Dick got engrossed in the story of Maximillian II, though. Thunderstorms rolled through while we were in the museums and the rest of our visit was wet. A climb to the top of the town hall tower was rewarded with a view of a beautiful rainbow. 

Day three was wet, wet, wet — steady rain all day. I wasn't able to reserve tickets for Neuschwanstein Castle online so we had to wait in line at the ticket office to get what was available. The rain reduced the crowds, which we had to take as a postitive. We were able to get into a audio tour with a start time that gave us time to hike up the hill and go to the overlook bridge to get photos. I should get real here and admit that I had a little hissy fit during the walk to the castle. Traveling with my dear husband can stretch my patience. He has a different pace and he often misses things that I say because I'm not willing to be the loud American. Communication can be a challenge. Most of the time, I take some deep breaths, complain silently to my self and carry on. This time I just lost it and unfortunately Kathryn was witness to my little rant. But that's life and Dick and I always resolve our conflicts asap. At the top of the hill, we had a conference with apologies and problem solving. Kiss and make up. Okay, now back to the good stuff. 😬 Neuschwanstein lived up to it's reputation and the exterior view of it, even in the rain, is jaw dropping. The interior is also pretty impressive; it's just too bad that it was never occupied or served a function beyond a tourist attraction. Even with rain coats and umbrellas, we were water logged by the time we got back to the car. Wet feet are apparently a crisis for teenagers. We decided to go back to our hotel for dry shoes before going on to Linderhof Palace. We grabbed lunch from a bakery on the way. Linderhof is off the charts and is like a small version of Versailles. The gardens and grounds are beautiful and I imagine they are spectacular in sunshine. The interior is Baroque/Rococo to the extreme and I've never seen so much Meissen porcelain! There was even a chandelier made of Meissen. Our last stop for the day was Ettal Abbey (Kloster Ettal). Dick was interested to see it because Dietrich Bonhoeffer stayed here for a few months during the WWII. Since it was late in the day, we were only able to see the basilica and the store. We browsed the shops in Oberammergau after that and then came back to have dinner in one of the Kloster restaurants — more good German food and the Kloster beer. 

Despite the rain and a little angst, we really enjoyed being in the Bavarian Alps. On to Salzburg, Austria!