Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hello from Gila Bend, AZ

Hello from Gila Bend, AZ

Tuesday morning December 30, 2008 (Second travelogue of this trip)

We are at Augies Quail Trail RV Park (map). This is a great campground. Very open and the spaces are rather large. We decided to stay in a campground in order to do a couple of loads of wash (need 50 amp service for the dryer or run the generator) and we needed to top off the water since we may be dry camping for a few days.

Sunday we drove a bit over 350 miles and stayed at a Wal Mart in Deming, NM (map). Monday we drove about the same distance and ended up here.

For those of you new to our blog, you will find that we often stay at Wal Marts. Many, but not all, welcome overnight stays by RV folks. We always try to shop when we stay at one. Sunday night we were all settled in, watching the Broncos stink up the place, when there was a knock on the door. We assumed that we were being “evicted”. Turns out that they have a special place for RVs (away from the trucks waiting to be unloaded – they run their engines all night). In general, the Wal Marts that do not allow overnight stays, are regulated by local ordinances – generally enacted because of pressure from local campgrounds. Staying at Wal Marts is very convenient for us when we are on a tight schedule (happens all too often). We can arrive late afternoon and depart fairly early the next day. Spending $25 to $40 for a campground for 8-10 hours just does not make sense.

We have finally gotten into reasonable weather. Deming was not too bad (into the 20's in the night). Monday we started the day with the heater on and ended up with the air conditioner running. That was fun. Still gets chilly in this area (30's at night).

We started early yesterday and got to the campground about 2:00 PM so that we could enjoy our short stay. We stopped at a big truck stop at noon and I washed the bus and truck. We can wash the vehicles using our on-board water and simple brush and pail equipment. I can get the worst of the road grime off in a few minutes. I felt kind of guilty, as we were about 100 yards from a commercial truck wash, but they get about $90 to wash the equipment. I figured they would run us off, but they were pretty busy and did not seem to care.

Today we head to Quartzsite (less than 150 miles) where we will dry camp and meet a good friend for dinner. From Quartzsite we head to Indio, CA for the first of two trade shows.

It will be interesting, as I screwed up and did not get my reservations in for camping at the Polo grounds where the dog show is being held. They, apparently, are a bit of sticklers for getting payment quite a bit ahead of time.

Why a dog show? Check in our next blog for the thought process.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hello from Las Vegas, NM

Hello from Las Vegas, NM

Saturday evening December 27, 2008 (First travelogue of this trip)

This will be a short post to let folks know that we are on the road again. It has been several weeks since we last posted. We arrived home from our last trip in late October and have been home since then. That allowed us to catch up on a several projects and spend some quality time with the girls and their families. We also got to spend some time with Pat's dad and here siblings. We enjoyed being home, but are looking forward to this trip.

We are parked in a vacant lot in Las Vegas, NM (here). We spent the day after Christmas getting the bus and service truck loaded up and a few chores done. The drive today was a bit over 340 miles.

We have to be in Indio, CA on the 1st and that is over 1250 miles of driving.

We had thought about driving west out of Albuquerque, heading towards Flagstaff. The weather does not look too bad, but it is just plain cold here in Las Vegas (4 degrees tonight) and we want to head as far south as we can and see if we can find some warmer weather. Thus our route will take us through Tucson. That is a bit out of the way, but we need to thaw out.

We will post every few days as time permits.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Hello from Saguache, CO

Hello from Saguache, CO

Sunday evening October 19, 2008 (fourth travelogue of this trip)

Just a quick note since we posted this morning. We are staying the night next to a high school football field in Saguache, CO (here). Here is a bit of history from their website:

“Saguache is the northern gateway to the San Luis Valley in South Central Colorado. It sits at an elevation of 7800 feet, surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo mountain range on the east and the San Juan range on the west. Many of the peaks are 14000 feet.”

“Saguache is a Ute Indian name pronounced Sa-watch. It means “Water at the Blue Earth.” It was settled in 1867 by Otto Mears who started his fortune with the first toll road above Poncha Pass. Otto invested in railroads, mining, the Mack Truck Co. and is credited with the famous "Million Dollar Highway”. “

I had forgotten to update Pat's foot situation. She has been able to walk reasonable distances by putting on her tennis shoe and lacing it pretty tight. That seems to support the foot. She was able to be in the booth the whole time. We made sure she sat as often as possible.

The drive here was very pretty. The fall colors were not optimum, but colorful never-the-less. It looks like the weather will hold for us tomorrow

That is all for this trip. Our next planned trip is in January when we head to California and Arizona for a trade show (Indio, CA) and an Eagle bus rally (Quartzsite, AZ) plus a lot of goofing off (we hope).

Hello from Farmington, NM

Hello from Farmington, NM

Sunday morning October 19, 2008 (third travelogue of this trip)

After leaving McLean, TX we drove a bit less than 400 miles to our favorite little casino (Holywood Casino). This casino is located about 20 miles north of Albuquerque. This is a little hole-in-the-wall casino, but they only charge $10 per night for camping and Pat has a good time. We left McLean early and with the time change, we got to the casino around 2:00 PM. While Pat contributed to the economy, I reinstalled my the fire suppression system in the Eagle. I have had to rob parts from it several times and I kind of felt like the shoe makers kid who has no shoes. Only took a couple of hours and I did some other maintenance work.

Our drive from Springfield, MO to Albuquerque followed the route of the historic Route 66. We were able to see some of the old bridges, abandoned filling stations and old pavement including the concrete “curbs” (wow, those roads were narrow!). There are lots of websites detailing the history of “The Mother Road” Perhaps the best is: http://www.historic66.com/. I forgot to mention in our first post of this travelogue that we took some time in Elk City, TX to tour what was billed as the “official” Route 66 museum. I would suspect there are many Route 66 museums, but this one was a lot of fun and has some great historic displays including a very good farm implement museum.

Tuesday (10/14) we drove to Farmington (a bit less than 200 miles) and got settled in in the vendors parking area. We really lucked out and got a nice site with power and water right on the San Juan River (here).

Wednesday we set up the booth and the rally was Thursday through Saturday. Given the terrible economic situation right now, we really expected very low attendance and terrible sales. It turns out that our sales probably set a record for us (haven't had time to look at the sales book). We also had some very strong leads for future sales. And this is a very small FMCA rally (about 500 motorhomes). There is no way to predict what our sales will do. I have included a photo of the booth. For the small shows, were we represent SilverLeaf, we have a double booth. That sure makes it nice.

Pat did not do a seminar (they were booked up), but I did two seminars (our fire suppression system/tire pressure monitors and SilverLeaf electronics). We now represent SilverLeaf at the smaller shows. Both seminars were well attended and I had great audience participation.

Tomorrow we start home. We will travel up to Durango (about 40 miles) and then along US 160 to US 285. Our plan is to take two days (mapping program says we are about 360 miles from the house). If the weather holds, it should be a pretty trip.

Thats all for now.

Our double booth in Farmingtion, NM

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hello from McLean, TX

Hello from McLean, TX

Sunday evening October 12, 2008 (Second travelogue of this trip)

Normally, we would be in a Wal Mart parking lot as we cross the country. Only problem is, there is not a store within 50 miles and I was too tired to drive any further. So, tonight we are in a restaurant parking lot is this very small town (here). The restaurant is closed tonight, so we hope there will not be an issue with parking here (nobody around to ask).

I need to catch up on the happenings of the past several days. On our last blog, we were in Branson, MO for an Eagle bus rally. The rally went from Monday 9/29 to Thursday 10/2. Things were pretty hectic for us. I ended up selling some product and doing some service (unfortunately gratis). I still got to spend some time with all of our friends and met a few new members. On Tuesday we all went to the Duttons afternoon show. They put on a great show and the family members have a lot of talent.

There were about 27 Eagle buses at the rally. In the photo below, you can't see all of the buses, but they are spread over 4 rows. Our bus is in the front center of the photo (right behind the air conditioned outhouse {grin}).

The weather was very good. Kind of chilly in the evening, and nice and warm in the daytime.

We had one catered meal, one potluck, and one dinner at a local fish house.

Most everyone left on Thursday, but a couple of buses stayed for another day or two. We stayed an extra week. One night we went to the Mel Tillis Family show (including Pam Tillis). They put on a GREAT show. Another night we went to “Country Tonite”. We had gone to that show before, but we were a bit disappointed with this show. The audience was very small (perhaps 100 people).

In general, all Branson tourist statistics are off by almost 10% and it sure showed in audience attendance and considerably less traffic. One wonders with the terrible economic situation, whether Branson will have a good Christmas season (November and December). That is usually a very strong period with all the name entertainers performing.

We left Branson on Thursday 10/9 and headed to Carthage, MO for another bus rally. We made a stop in Marshfield, MO to pick up a transmission that I had purchased several months ago. I bought the transmission system for the computers (two) that are the same as mine. I had them ship the “replacement” parts (which I carry in the bus) and figured I would pick up the transmission while I was in the area. The folks who had the transmission were not there, but left a fork lift for me to use to load the parts. The transmission weighs at least 800 pounds and is huge. It took me about 2 hours to load the transmission and associated parts.

We got to Carthage in the late afternoon. We knew the rally would be very small, but we knew most of the folks going, so it turned out to be a lot of fun. On Friday we headed out to Mount Vernon, MO for the “Apple Butter Festival”. Unfortunately, as we walked towards main street, Pat stepped on a rock and took a pretty hard tumble. I took her back to the truck and went to the festival to get something to eat. By the time I got back, we pretty much figured out that Pat had hurt her foot (along with lots of other scrapes and deep bruises). We went back to the bus, but made the quick decision to visit the emergency room. I turns out she broke a bone in her right foot. They did not put it in a cast. We hope that is the correct decision, as it is very painful for her to even walk short distances.

Friday and Saturday nights we had great barbecue prepared by the folks who organized the rally. The attendees brought side dishes or dessert. Saturday the group went to a flea market and had a Chinese lunch. I took the opportunity to organize the truck a bit and do a bit of detailing on the bus.

Today we started our 1000 mile journey to Farmington, NM. We need to be there mid-day Tuesday. Today we drove a bit over 400 miles, so we should be able to make our schedule.

I guess that is all for now.

The Eagle Bus Rally in Branson, MO
Our bus is the front center (behind the air conditioned outhouse!)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Hello from Branson, MO

Hello from Branson, MO

Sunday evening October 5, 2008 (First travelogue of this trip)

We have not posted since we returned from our trip to Europe. We arrived home from Europe on 9/8 and left on this trip on 9/21. During that time I thrashed on our new-to-us service truck. It is a 2002 Dodge ¾ ton tuck with a service bed. I then built a large topper for our product and show inventories. I have posted a picture of the truck. It was supposed to have the whole body “wrapped” with our logo and more flames. Unfortunately I did not get the body done in time to get the full job done. At least it shows our product. They will finish the wrap when we get home.

We had planned to leave several days before our actual departure date, but I simply could not get everything done.

Our trip Sunday was a bit short. We left in the early afternoon and made it as far as Pueblo (Wal Mart). We stopped there so we could get the antenna up and watch the races. The next day we stayed in a Wal Mart in Elk City, TX. That was almost 500 miles and I had a problem with my wiring that prevented the Jakes and cruise control from working. That made the day extra long. I got the problem resolved the next day and we made it to the Cherokee Casino in Roland OK. We have stopped there before and it is an OK (no pun intended) casino. The next day we arrived at North Little Rock where we would be vendors at a regional FMCA rally. We arrived on Wednesday, instead of Monday as we had planned and paid for. However, we got a great location (much better than those who arrived on Monday). We had the end position about 2 blocks from the show (much closer than most folks). The truck was in a good position to be observed by traffic.

The show was a mixed bag. They had planned on 500 motorhomes, but 1000 showed up. They really had to scramble for places to put folks. We heard that several people got upset and left. Others who stayed were not pleased as there were lots of problems where they parked people. We had a double booth that displayed our products and a new product line that we are dealers for (http://www.silverleafelectronics.com). This is a very popular product line that displays a very large amount of data that is derived from the engine computer. It can literally be the dashboard of a motorhome. We will represent this company at the smaller shows. The only problem was that we spent most of our time on their product and did not get to focus on our products. We will be doing another show on this trip and we have some ideas on how to divert the customers to look at our products. Or sales were only so-so.

While we were too tired to go to any of the entertainment (didn't sound all that good anyway), we were able to do a bit of sightseeing. Our last evening, we took a modern version of an old electric trolley across the Arkansas River from North Little Rock to Little Rock. We went to a fun restaurant called the Flying Fish. It was Sunday night and we took the last trolley. We were about a mile from the bus, so we walked home. Part of the trip was walking across an old drawbridge that has been converted to a walking path (drawbridge in the raised position). We strolled along the river a bit and then walked back to the bus. We also attended the “Taste Of Arkansas” event that had about 30 restaurants represented. Each restaurant had samples of their best dishes. Lots of fun and food!

We were the only people on the trolley and the driver talked to us quite a bit. It turns out he worked for the NFO in Corning, IA (Pat's home town) several years ago. He gave us his name, but we no longer have that information. Sure is a small world.

We left North Little rock on Monday 9/29 and arrived at the Branson Lakeside RV Park that afternoon for an Eagle Bus Rally. We are located here.

In the next day or so I will detail the rally.

Our new service vehicle we tow behind the bus

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hello: Our last travelogue from Rome, Italy

Hello: Our last travelogue from Rome, Italy

Sunday evening September 7, 2008 (thirteenth travelogue of this trip)

This will be the last travelogue we post from Rome. There may be additional travelogues that we will post when we get home. We depart from Rome for Chicago tomorrow (Monday 9/8) at 10:55 AM.

This morning we were looking at the Rome books that we have and noted an interesting entry. In concerns the area named: “Piazza Campo dei Fiori”. That is the square just a bit over a block away from our apartment. The book describes the area as follows:

“The area around Camp dei Fiori is one of the liveliest districts in Rome with narrow streets full of boutiques, cafes, restaurants and artisans' workshops. The early morning bustle of the market gives way to diners, strollers and kids playing football on the cobblestones. In small squares, graceful palazzos stand alongside older shabbier properties. Set between the Piazza Navona and the Trastevere, this neighborhood is a marvelous one to wander – just remain alert for motorini (modpeds), cars and pickpockets in the alleys.”

Boy, does that capture what we have been experiencing all week. Each night we go the the square and have dinner in one of the sidewalk cafes, and people watch. There are strolling musicians that wander around the square. We have not seen any sign of pickpockets (do you see them, or just find out the hard way?).

All over Rome there are water spigots. Just outside our front door there is one (see photo). This is great, since it is so hot and you need to drink a lot of water (or beer).

We have marveled at the ice cream in Europe. First of all, there are many stores everywhere we look. The stores in Rome seem even more prevalent. The have at least 20 flavors and many of the shops make the ice cream at the store. It has a different texture than our ice cream. It is not frozen as hard and seems to be creamier. Needless to say, we have stopped a number of times!

We have noted what seems to be a significant population of beggars and there are quite a few street people. I guess that most cities have this kind of problem, but it just kind of caught us by surprise. It is such a contrast to the beauty of the city.

One of the fun observations is the scene at stoplights. All of the scooters and motorcycles thread their way to the head of the line in front of the cars (some by using the oncoming lane of traffic). When the light turns green, they all take off like gangbusters – not quite a race, but close. It would appear to us that the number of scooters outnumber the cars, perhaps by 20% to 30% or more.

We also note that their traffic lights flash a yellow light before the green come on. One of the taxi drivers said that it make traffic flow more efficient and allows all of the cars with standard transmissions (most) to get their transmissions in gear.

The weather in Rome has been very hot and humid. While the forecast has reported temperatures in the high 80s, it felt much warmer. It really affected all of us.. In the Vatican, at least two people had heat stroke. We have been coming back to the apartment in the late afternoon to cool off and rest – oftentimes taking a nap.

Now lets talk about our day at the Vatican (Friday 9/5 – our anniversary).

When you tour the Vatican you are actually only touring a small part of an independent city-state. It is approximately 110 acres in size and has a population of around 800. It is the smallest independent state in the world by both population and area. There are approximately 10,000 people who tour the structures each day. The entry fee is 14 Euro. We paid an additional 25 Euro (fees per person) for a guided tour. The tour itself was not particularly great (the tour guide was very hard to understand), but it did allow us to avoid a huge line that was said to take 1.5-2 hours to get through.

You actually tour three structures. The first is the Vatican Museum (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/vatican-museums.htm). The second is the Sistine Chapel (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/vatican-sistine-chapel.htm) and the third is St. Peter's Basilica (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/rome-st-peters-basilica.htm. As a side note, I was amazed that I was not able to find a single good website on the Vatican in total. I have listed the best sites I could find for each structure.

The Vatican Museum is unbelievable. It is has many huge rooms which have varied displays from sculptures to tapestries to a whole hall of large maps constructed in the 1500s.

The Sistine Chapel is beyond reasonable description. The Michelangelo frescoes and one sculpture are magnificent and overwhelming. There is no way that our cameras could capture the beauty. The site listed above has some good photos. The Sistine Chapel was built in the 15th century.

St. Peter's Basilica is even more impressive than the Sistine from a structural standpoint. It's huge, gorgeous, dome was designed by Michelangelo. It was built from 1506-1626. It is the second largest basilica/church in the world. Everything in St Peter's is made of marble, bronze or gold. What appears to be alter paintings are actually mosaics. Michelangelo's intensively moving Pieta sculpture is located just inside the entrance.

Saturday we really took it easy. Bill and Jeanne did a bit of touring. We, of course, had our evening dinner in the square and strolled around the area. Pat and Jeanne did some shopping in the open market in the square.

Today we walked to the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Maria_in_Trastevere). The basilica was first started in 217 AD. It was rebuilt in 337 AD and then the current structure was built in 1140 AD One of the unique features of this great basilica is that has beautiful marble columns that have been removed from other structures in the area (see photo).

On the way to the basilica we crossed the Tiber river on the Porta Cestio bridge that dates back to the first century BC. You actually cross the Tiber on another bridge to the Tiber Island which houses a very old hospital. The island is the smallest inhabited island in the world.

I guess that catches us up on our travels. It has been an unbelievable month!

Jim and Pat returning from the market taken by Bill from our apartment window

Typical water spigot in Rome -- this one is in front of our appartment

The "recycled" marble columns in St. Maria in Trastevere

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hello once again from Rome, Italy

Hello once again from Rome, Italy

Saturday evening September 6, 2008 (twelfth travelogue of this trip)

Well, this travelogue will be quite difficult to write for many reasons. First of all, my fingers are getting pretty worn down from typing all of the previous travelogue {grin}. Secondly, we are nearing the end of our journey and that is sad. Lastly, I have come to the conclusion that there are not enough Thesauruses in the world to provide sufficient adjectives to describe what we have seen in Rome!!!!

While I will briefly describe the unbelievable structures we have visited in this and the next travelogue, there is no way to do them justice in a paragraph or two. I will try to show a few pictures and give a hyperlink to let the reader explore them in more detail. I will, however, continue to make some detailed observations about our general experiences so that the reader can get a feeling of what we experience in between being overwhelmed by the historical beauty of this city

First lets go back to our apartment. As we said, we are located right in the middle of historic Old Rome. Our street is more of what we would call an alley in the US, and most US alleys are wider! In the US, we would not even think about walking into one of these streets! There is a lot a graffiti on the doors and walls, but we have strolled through a lot of these streets and there are a lot of “normal” folks (locals, mothers with strollers, nuns, etc.) all walking down the quaint little streets. There are many doors along the streets. Many are like garage doors, which open up to reveal some very interesting businesses. Several of the businesses in the area are furniture upholstery/refinishing businesses.. There appears to be several art-type stores, some stores that carry high-end clothing, a few repair shops of various varieties, and several second hand stores. Almost all of the stores are very small (perhaps the size of a typical living room). We can't believe that the businesses can be profitable, since they are spread out all over the place and it is not what we would think of as a business/shopping area. I have included a couple of pictures to show you the setting of our apartment.

Other common stores are food markets. We have not been in the rural areas of the towns we have been in, but we have not seen anything that would resemble our supermarkets. Rather, there are very small markets that have a small amount of product. They generally have a meat counter and a small bakery. People seem to shop almost every day for fresh products. I think I recall Irina saying that her mother went to the store everyday (except Sundays, since most businesses are closed on Sundays). Most of the refrigerators we have have seen have been very small, and we do not see large containers of milk (biggest we have seen is 1 liter) and other products. All of this suggests frequent shopping

We have been amazed at the coffee over here. Oftentimes the restaurants/cafes will not serve a “regular” cup of coffee. Sometimes it is close to our coffee, but in a small cup. In that case, you have to order a “double cup” and then it comes in a pot. In some cases the only option is espresso. That is a real experience. You get less than a shot of what I will call “liquid” that does not taste good at all (that coming from a guy that can drink any kind of coffee). Damon, our son-in-law introduced me to what is called “Coffee Americano”. It is espresso with very hot water added. The supposed story behind this drink is interesting. It was said to be made popular by the soldiers after the war in Europe who could not stand the bitter strong taste of the espresso. I might add that I have had espresso in the states and it tasted good, but not here. Back to the story. In our apartment we have a very special coffee maker that boils the water up through the grounds into a small pot on top. It basically makes espresso. Bill and I then add about three times the volume of very hot water from a really neat water heating device that heats about a quart of water in less than a minute (220 Volts helps a bunch). So, I guess we are making “Coffee Americano”. BTW, I have looked everywhere we have ordered coffee and I can't find that it is offered.

All of us have consumed some great food and the guys (and occasionally Jeanne) have had some great beer. Maybe the word “some” should be explained. I have drank more beer on this trip that I have consumed in the last two years {grin}. All of the beer is great. We generally have one or two beers for lunch and at least one for dinner. Most of the food has been very good. We have tried to select dishes that are common to the area. Most often they would not meet the definition of a healthy diet. With all of our eating and a bit of drinking, we do not think we have gained much weight. If we did gain weight, it was probably muscle because of all the walking and stair climbing (have I mentioned that we have walked up a million stairs). My belt has stayed in the same hole the whole trip.

Traffic circles are numerous in Europe. That is amazing to us. I should note that by the time we get home, they should have completed a traffic circle at the intersection of North Turkey Creek and highway 73 much to our dismay. Here the traffic circles often seem like bedlam. It seems like the circle often goes from up to four lanes down to two. Cars, buses and scooters all seem to manage the merges without much fender bending or “road rage”. We are sure glad that we are not driving.

Now lets get to a few of our stops.

As we mentioned, we bought three day tickets on a tour bus that you can get on an off of as many times as you like. The first day (Tuesday 9/2) we mostly rode the bus to get a feeling for Old Rome. However, one of our members need to make a pit stop, so we got off the bus and found a sidewalk cafe to have lunch. As we sat there, we realized that we were looking at beautiful church. It turns out the it was the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. It was built in 432-440 AD. There are a huge number of basilicas in Rome. This one is on the list of “must see”. I have included a picture that give you a slight impression of the beauty of interior of these churches.

On Wednesday we took the bus and toured Palatine Hill (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palatine_Hill) and parts of the Roman Forum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Forum). Rome first became a city on the Palatine Hill on 753 B.C. It later became a place where palaces were built by the many emperors and a place where the rich lived. On the Palatine hill, you will find mostly ruins of palaces and homes of the rich. The Roman Forum is located in a valley that is between the Palatine hill and the Capitoline hill. It originally was a marsh, but the Romans drained the area and turned it into a center of political and social activity. The Forum was the marketplace of Rome and also the business district and civic center. It was expanded to include temples, a senate house and law courts. When the Roman Empire fell, the Forum became forgotten, buried and was used as a cattle pasture during the Middle Ages. This was also true of Palantine Hill

On Thursday, we again went on the bus and toured the Colosseum (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colosseum). A quote I read kind of sums it up: “You will probably never forget your first glimpse of the Colosseum, one of the world's most famous buildings. As you get to know Rome, the huge arena may slide down your list of Rome priorities, but its initial impact is overwhelming.” The Colosseum was built from 72-80 AD and was the site of many gladiator death battles and killing of Christians and common prisoners by the lions. They also had wild animal hunts. The Colosseum had a wooden floor over the dungeon-like cellar. This floor was covered by dirt and dirt was added to cover the blood from the events. They also had elaborate scenery that they winched into place. The Colosseum could hold up to 50,000 spectators (at least one source said 73,000). About the only way to sum up the visit was that it was overwhelming.

Thursday afternoon we went to the Pantheon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pantheon,_Rome). The Pantheon was built around 125 AD and is currently the oldest standing domed structure in Rome. The height to the dome and the diameter of the interior circle are the same, 143 ft. That might not sound impressive, but the dome is huge!!! We read somewhere that the construction of the dome has puzzled scientists for many years. It is said that it could not be built today using the materials we currently use (it does not have reinforcing material). One quote said: “Hands down the most masterful architectural feat of ancient Rome. One source said that the Romans invented what we would call concrete and they used different mixtures/ingredients that made the concrete lighter as the diameter of the dome decreased. While most ancient buildings had their marble stripped and reused for other purposes the Pantheon has its original marble.

Friday we toured the buildings of the Vatican. However, that will have the be the subject of the next travelogue.

Our apartment (third floor in the building behind the truck)
Note the small street and the sidewalk cafe in the foreground.
Also note the cobblestone street.

Looking out our bedroom window into the street below.
Note the truck trying to get through the street.

Lunch at a sidewalk cafe.
Note the small street in the background

Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore

One of the buildings on Palatine Hill

Jim and Pat at the Colosseum.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hello again from Rome, Italy

Hello again from Rome, Italy

Thursday afternoon September 4, 2008 (eleventh travelogue of this trip)

We need to make a couple corrections and then try to catch up on our travels and observations.

First, lets go back to Vienna. As I mentioned, our “pension” was located right on a great plaza close to a lot of historic buildings. Our location was (here). All around the square were very high-end (pricey) stores. You name them and they were all there (Armani, Dior, Versace, Cartier, Gucci, etc). Many stores displayed men's and women's watches that all had very large faces and are quite expensive (some were priced over $75,000 !).

Now lets get some corrections out of the way. Irina and Matthias have been great to offer suggestions and corrections to our blog. In one of the blogs, I mentioned that the European electrical system did not have a ground. Matthias pointed out the they do indeed have a three wire system. The ground connection is made at the outside of the plug rather than with a third spade. However, when we use our adapter, it does not come in contact with the ground connection. Maybe the Europeans plan that so they can fry a few Americans? {big grin}.

One of my previous observations was on the beautiful “timber wood” houses, and their origin. Irina gave me a great link that discusses their history and construction: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timber_framing#The_structure. The origin is not clear. The following is quoted from that website: “The techniques used in timber framing date back thousands of years, and have been used in many parts of the world during various periods such as ancient Japan and medieval England.” There are some great pictures and a good explanation of how the house were built on this website.

Just a note here, I have chosen to give the full link to reference websites (as opposed to using the “hidden” hyperlink like I do for the satellite images). I do this in case the website does a revision and my link is eliminated. Usually, you can go back to the root part of the link and find the information.

Now for some other observations.

The streets in many of the European towns we have been in seem to go every which way. They are often very short, so that the address numbers don't get very high (many do not get over 100). Some of the streets radiate out for a building that is the center of town. As I have noted, many streets are cobblestone. Here in Rome, even the main streets are cobblestone. If I were a suspension engineer for a car/truck manufacturer, I would put my product here for testing (some can be very rough).

It seems like many Europeans we come in contact with ask us about American politics. We have not found one that likes the Republican candidate. I think it is more a case of strongly disliking Bush and his policies. It is amusing, when a taxi driver can hardly speak English, but they will be adamant that the Bush party must be elected out. These conversations are not just a way of talking to Americans, they have very strong feelings. We have not encountered any animosity (that we know of) against Americans, but rather animosity against our political policies and “our” war.

Much of the music we hear is from the USA. It is funny to hear radio stations or hotel lobbies playing “our” music and then hear the “disk jockey” talk in their native language. I don't recall hearing any county western, but lots of “standards” out of the '50s, '60s and '70s.

On the trains, we have enjoyed observing the farming techniques. The have lots of corn but only a few soybeans. They have quite a bit of sunflowers, and vegetables (most of which we could not identify. However, hay fields are very prevalent. We saw just about every haying method you could imagine. Some were picking up the hay green and putting in something that might be described as a silage wagon, some was bagged, there was a little bit of baling (large round). Quite a bit was put in silage bunkers. It looked like a lot was used to feed dairy cattle. Some of the hay looked like plain grass with lots of dandelions. They were mowing this grass when it was less than 10 inches tall. They used a lot of tedder (sp?) rakes. We did notice that the size of the tractors seems to have increased since we were here several years ago. They now have quite a few with front assist drive and were about the size of a John Deere 50 series (50-75HP). The tractors in the vineyards had a very narrow tread spacing (probably less than 4 feet).

Now to our apartment in Rome. Matthias gave us a connection with a person who rents an apartment to tourists (he has stayed here a few times). It has a “perfect” location right in the middle of old Rome (here). It is probably worth playing with this link to zoom in and out. If you zoom out a time or two, you will see that we are right in the middle between the Colosseum and the Vatican. Make sure you are in the satellite mode and you will see the Colosseum on the right of the picture (looks like a football field). The Colosseum is a bit over two miles away and the Vatican is about 1.5 miles away (both as the crow flies). We walked to the Tiber river which is about 0.25 miles away and walked part way out on the Ponte Sisto bridge built in the 3rd century. A nearby bridge, Ponte Cestio, dates back to 46 BC

The apartment is great. It has a very large bedroom, a small kitchen and a medium size living room. The couch makes into a queen size bed. It is only a hundred yards from a main piazza (plaza) that has close to 20 sidewalk cafes/bars. We went to dinner there last two nights (Tuesday/Wednesday) and it is a very busy place from about 8:00 PM on. There is a TV in the apartment, but it does not get CNN or any other English channel (we do buy a paper every so often and check the major headlines on the Internet most days).

We thought that the cathedrals and buildings were very old and grandiose in Belgium/France/Germany/Austria and they are. However, Rome just blows you away. Some structures date back well into the BC era.

We are just beginning to explore Rome. We have done a bit of walking around our area and have purchased 3 day bus tickets which allow us to ride on an open top bus that stops at many of the historic sites. You can get on and off as much as you want and it has an English narration that has helped us to understand the general layout of Old Rome. In the next few days we will begin to explore this storied city.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hello from Rome, Italy

Hello from Rome, Italy

Monday evening September 1, 2008 (tenth travelogue of this trip)

As has been the case with several of the travelogues, I am starting this one while traveling on the train. This time we are going from Vienna to Rome. This is an overnight train departing Vienna at 19:15 on Sunday and arriving in Rome Monday at 9:05. We have a reserved sleeper compartment (extra cost). The compartment is about the size of a small bathroom. It can be made up with three bunks, but we made sure that each couple had the room reserved for two people.

Our “hotel” in Vienna was Pension Nossek. It was a great arrangement right in the center of old town. Our rooms were fairly large and decorated with very old style furniture. You would think you were in a hotel in the late 1800s. Our room had a very nice queen size (or bigger) bed with two duvets (every place we have been has had duvets), a couple of large upholstered chairs, table and old fashioned small chair table combination. There was no TV in the room, but we did not miss it! The ceilings were probably 10-12 feet high. We were on what was labeled as the second floor, but it was actually the fourth floor since the numbering started after the first two floors that housed shops. Each floor had the tall ceilings, so there were a huge number of stairs to get to our floor. Fortunately, there was a lift that got us there. The lift looked like it was more than 100 years old. It was very small and had a sign that said “capacity 4 people without luggage”.

Our rooms overlooked the Graben which was a very large plaza without vehicle traffic. We were surrounded by resplendent old buildings. Very close to us was a complex of buildings that made up the Hofburg/Imperial Palace. Just past that, were two huge buildings that housed the Natural History Museum. All of the buildings were beyond impressive. Everywhere you looked was what you would picture in a fairy tail book.

Saturday night we went to the Redoutensaal Hall in the Imperial Palace for a Mozart/Strauss concert presented y the Wiener Hofburg Orchestra. While the concert was quite formal, the presentation was somewhat lighthearted at times. Parts of the concert were opera based, but the presentation made it enjoyable. The concert's final presentation was Strauss' Blue Danube Waltz. They did return for two encore presentations at the request of the enthusiastic audience.

Sunday morning we had a great breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was included in the cost of the room (a bit over $170 which is moderately priced when compared to well over $300 for name hotels).

The Birts went exploring while I went to Starbucks (yes there are Starbucks, McDonalds, and Burger Kings everywhere in Europe). I would not normally go to Starbucks, but they offered free Internet which allowed me to get mail and up-load the blog.

We then all went to St. Augustine church. They are famous for their high mass that includes a great choir and pipe organ. We did not stay for the whole service, but were impressed by what we heard.

In the afternoon, we explored the historic area. In addition to walking around the Imperial Place, we visited two additional churches. The first was St. Peters. It has carvings and sculptures on what seems like every square inch of the interior. At first glance it overwhelming, but then it begins to look way too “overdone”. The second church was St. Stephan's Cathedral. This was among the most impressive cathedrals that we have visited on this trip.

Update: I did all of the above travelogue on the train (unfortunately twice, because my battery went dead and I had not saved the document). We did OK on the train. We all slept pretty well, but we are quite tired today. We had a bit of a challenge to get to our apartment, but that story will have to wait till the next blog.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hello from Vienna, Austria

Hello from Vienna, Austria

Sunday morning August 31, 2008 (ninth travelogue of this trip)

Last night we stayed in a great old hotel in the center of old town Vienna and did a rather special thing last night. I will report on that in the next blog (how is that for a teaser?)

I am, again, starting this travelogue on a train from St. Johann to Vienna. The train was scheduled to depart St. Johann on 9:58 and arrive in Vienna on 14.18. Turns out that the train did not depart until 10:29. We are so surprised about the lack of punctuality of the trains during this trip. .

I need to catch up on some details of our stay in St. Johann and make some more general observations.

Our hotel was Alpenlandsporthotel. While this was a hotel, we booked it as an exchange on our time-share condo. It turns out that most of the people at the hotel were also time share folks. Most exchange units have a kitchen, but this is a deluxe, adjoining set of hotel rooms. We did not need the kitchen anyway.

On our last time trip to Europe (2005) we were able to do two exchanges (Schilersee, Germany and Carnforth, England). Because of the “holiday” (vacation) season on this trip we were only able to do the St. Johann exchange. These exchanges tend to place you a bit off the beaten path. However, they have all been in great locations as far as scenery goes. With the Eurail pass, we can travel to most any location on day trips, albeit, the condo location can add an hour or more to the travel.

At the hotel in St. Johann, our balconies overlooked very beautiful and steep hill sides (see photo). If you look closely in the right hand side (about half way up) of the photo you will see a rather large RV campground. As is always the case, the photo does not do justice to the scene. The hotel is located at an altitude of 2,000 feet and close-by mountains are well over 6,000 feet

When we toured Slazburg, we came across a market place. There a lady was cutting a large wheel of cheese (see photo). The Europeans really love their cheese and it does indeed taste very good.

We have had just about every train experience you can imagine. Today our train was late and what appeared to be our train (next scheduled train) turned out to be a train to Innsbrook that did not appear on the schedule – we almost got on the wrong train. When we went to Munich we were on a train shown to go the Munich main statation. We got to a stop in a small town and the conductor informed us it was the end of the line (no problem, with Eurail we just jumped on the next train). At one train station (forget which) a train to our desired destination was quite late. Suddenly everyone started leaving the loading platform. Turns out they changed the departure track (did not announce in English). We followed everyone and made the train just fine. So far, the biggest issue with the delayed trains is concern about reading the schedule and making sure we understand what train we are on. In one case, the train delay worked to our advantage. It caused us to miss what we thought was the proper train back to St. Johann. It would not have gotten us there.

We were quite surprised to see smoking in the restaurants in Austria. We were told that smoking had be outlawed (as was the case in Germany), but they have chosen not to enforce the law.

We have eaten in some absolutely great restaurants. Some have been very fancy (expensive) and some have been small cafes with great food and relatively cost effective meals (still pretty expensive compared the the USA). Bill can't get over paying $6.00 for a small cup of coffee {grin}. The good news is that the beer is not much more expensive that in the USA and is a darn site better!

A few nights ago we were eating outside at a restaurant close to the hotel (St. Johann). All of a sudden we heard what sounded like shots being fired. About the time we are all thinking about taking cover, we saw fireworks in the sky. It turns out the town was having some sort of beer festival and the rather extensive fireworks show was a part of the festival. They were right over the hotel. One of the folks in the restaurant said in very broken English “the Russians are coming” (jokingly). It was obvious that the folks in the restaurant were not aware that the show would happen.

The only English TV Channel is CNN. In the past, it was mosty UK commutators who sound very pompous to me. This time there is a large variety of reporters and the news coverage is great. We got to see some of the Olympics and the Democratic Convention was extensively covered (almost like we were in Denver).

This is a long train trip and I was able to review my travelogue from our 2005 European trip. It sure brought back fond memories. At that time I “published” the travelogues as emails to the family. As I have noted many times, our real purpose in writing these travelogues is that it creates a great diary of our travels. If folks want to follow along, that is great. It was very fun to “relive” that trip.

Two things stuck out from that travelogue. First was the horrible problems I had connecting to the Internet (including very high costs) and secondly the exchange rate at the time. At that time the Euro was worth $1.30. Today it is about $1.50. That is a loss of about 14% in the value of the dollar. When we started this trip, the exchange was at $1.60, the difference would have been 23%. The recent strengthening of the dollar has helped us a bit. While we have had some issues with email on this trip, it was not even close to the huge problems on the last trip. The problems were made worse on that trip by the fact that I was actively involved it a consulting case that required frequent connection.

The fact that we activated a cell phone for this trip has also made communication much more pleasant. The cost is high ($.99/minute), but we don't have to deal with pay phones, calling cards (lots of numbers to enter) and exorbitant hotel phone charges. We will probably die when we get the bill.

As most of you know, the European electrical system is 230 volts/50 cycle. This does not present a problem for most electronic items. Almost all battery/computer chargers/hair curling brushes are dual voltage and the only thing you need is a simple adapter for the plug configuration. The amazing thing to us is that this is a two wire system. There is no safety ground and no GFI protection on any outlet. Kind of makes you a bit uneasy plugging things in, but we have not heard of any issues with electrocution {grin}.

Speaking of safety, an OSHA official would die of a heart attack the first day here. Construction sites are very open to the public, workers do not seem to use the same level of protection, electrical wiring seems to be very dangerously installed, etc.

Well, this has been a rambling travelogue, but I have been able to catch up on a lot of miscellaneous items.

View from our balcony in St. Johann

Cheese in Salzburg

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hello again from St. Johann im Pongau, Austria

Hello again from St. Johann im Pongau, Austria

Friday evening August 29, 2008 (eighth travelogue of this trip)

We last left off on Sunday 8/24. After our great breakfast with Irina and Matthias, they took us to the train station for a noon departure. That was a sad departure. Our bond over the past 27 years has grown very strong and leaving is not easy.

We had reservations on trains to Munich and Salzburg, but the train to St. Johann did not have reservations. It turns out the the train to Munich arrived about a half hour late and we missed our connection. That is not a problem with Eurail passes, we just jumped on the next train. As we have noted, our Eurail passes are good for first class, so there are almost always several seats available. We arrived in St Johann at 8:00 PM

Monday we took it a bit easy. We were going to take the train to Salzburg (a bit over an hour), but Jim forgot his Eurail pass, so we decided to go to a great local attraction: Liechtensteinklam. This is a 5-10 minute taxi ride to the entrance for a wonderful canyon tour. There is a trail along the very narrow, steep canyon. It takes about an hour to walk the trail and the sights are fantastic. The river runs very fast through the canyon and has carved some beautiful shapes into the walls. The trail ends at a huge falls that is quite spectacular.

Tuesday was our long day. We left St. Johann at 6:30 on the train with Fussen being our target destination. That required transfers in Salzburg and Munich. In Fussen we took a taxi up to the entry to Neuschwannstein Castle (http://www.neuschwanstein.de/englisch/palace/index.htm). We took a horse drawn carriage from the ticket building to the castle (a long, steep road). This is a very picturesque castle and was the castle Walt Disney patterned the entrances to his theme parks after. It was started in about 1876 by King Ludwig II. He died at the age of 40 and it was never finished. We had been there before and felt that this tour was a bit rushed and the group was too large. Never-the-less, it is an impressive structure. I have included a picture from their website, as it is impossible to capture the total structure with “amateur” equipment.

Wednesday we took the train to Salzburg and toured what is called old town. The buildings date back the 1400s. We got to see Mozart's first house. The area is primarily an upscale shopping area now. We did not go to the impressive castle that overlooks the city, but we did tour a couple of great cathedrals.

Thursday, we took the train to Munich and toured the old town as well. That is a fairly easy walk from the main train station. There is a long (perhaps a mile long), wide (about 50 yards wide) plaza that has beautiful old buildings on either side of the cobble stone street (no motor traffic). As was the case with Salzburg, the lower level o f the buildings are now upscale shops. As is often the case, there were several magnificent cathedrals. Probably the most impressive was St. Michael's (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Michael's_Church,_Munich). It was heavily damaged during the war, but has been reconstructed to it's original opulent splendor.

One of our goals was to have lunch in the Hofbrauhaus (http://www.hofbraeuhaus.de/en/index_en.html). We are not sure if this huge restaurant reflects typical Bavarian dining, but it sure fits with our image. The heritage of the restaurant dates back to the 1500's. There is seating for 1300 guests, many on wood benches and tables dating back to the 1700.s. They brew their own beer and serve copious amounts! One of the interesting things at the restaurant is that they have an area where they can lock up over 400 special (some very valuable) beer steins for their regular customers.

We also found the Glockenspiel in the plaza (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rathaus-Glockenspiel). This is a famous attraction that is housed in the Rathaus on Marienplatz, a very picturesque building (see photo).

Today we are trying to let our tired feet and legs have a rest.

Now for some more general observations.

The Europeans love open air eating this time of year. Everywhere you go, there are sidewalk cafes. We always try to eat in these cafes, as the food is generally good, relatively inexpensive and the people watching is great.

Most of the towns we have been in have cobble stone streets and walks. The laying of the stone involves great geometric designs. However, it is sure hard on the feet and legs.

We have found that most of the tours and museums we have visited charge what we consider to be reasonable fees.

On the trains, we have found that many people want to practice their English on us. For the most part, that has been fun. We met one great little 13 year old boy that stole our hearts. His English was great and he had such a neat personality!

This is “holiday” (vacation) time for many Europeans. It has been crowded in many locations. As a bit of background, most folks in Europe start off with at least 4 weeks vacation (many with 6). They really enjoy there “holidays”.

In the past, we have observed that the continental Europe train system is extremely punctual. There are clocks on every track and when the second hand hits the proper minute, the train leaves. However, on this trip, many of the trains are not on schedule. As I noted, the train to Munich was over ½ hour late. In the USA that would be normal, but it is not consistent with our image of the trains in Europe. It has happened often enough that it can't be considered an anomaly.

Many of the houses in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland are what are they call “timber wood” houses. These houses have the large structural beams exposed and the spaces are filled in with white stucco type material. Most have gorgeous flower boxes. We had thought that they were typical of Switzerland, but Irina pointed out that they consider them to be of German origin.

I guess that about catches us up for now. Tomorrow 8/30 we head to Vienna for a bit over a day and then on to our last stop (Rome via an overnight train).

Neuschwannstein Castle

Rathaus on Marienplatz which houses the Glockenspiel

The Travelers at the falls close to St. Johann, Austria

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hello from St. Johann im Pongau, Austria

Hello from St. Johann im Pongau, Austria

Wednesday Morning August 27, 2008 (seventh travelogue of this trip)

As has been the case with several of the previous travelogues for this trip, I am starting this one, on a train from Karlsruhe to our final destination in Austria. We are traveling on this train on Sunday 8/24. We left Karlsruhe about noon and arrived in St. Johann about 8:00 PM in the train station.

We are at the Alpenland Sporthotel here St. Johann (here). While this is a hotel, we have used our timeshare exchange for week's stay.

As I have noted, trying to find time to write the blog has been a challenge. That is both good and bad. The good part is that our days are filled with sightseeing events – often beyond the imagination. We have been with some absolutely fantastic “tour guides” who have exposed us to many things that typical Americans do not see. To be sure, we have also done “tourist” sights as well. Our days seem to be filled from just past sun up to well after sun down. The bad part is that I perhaps have not done justice to some of the travelogues.

Now to catch up on the last few days (we left off with the events of Wednesday 8/20).

On Thursday we went to Mt. Pilatus. We took a two trains to Lucerne, Switzerland, transferring in Basel. From there we took a short train trip to Alpnachstad, Switzerland which is at the base the base of the mountain. There, we boarded a cog train that is billed as the “world's steepest cogwheel railway”. It starts at an altitude of 1431 feet and rises to over 6900 feet. At places the slope is 48%! It takes about 40 minutes to get to the summit. During the ride up, the view of Lake Lucerne is fantastic.

When we reached to top, it was quite sunny. Unfortunately, we were above the clouds and we did not have a view down the mountain. Never-the-less, we could see far enough to see the very steep slope on both sides of the mountain. One side is virtually vertical for several hundred feet. We had a great lunch in a nice restaurant, and did a bit of walking around to look at the available views. We then got into a large gondola for what seemed like a sheer drop off the mountain. The gondola dropped into the thick clouds for several minutes before we had a view of the valley. About half way down the mountain we exited the gondola (crowded with perhaps 40 people) and got on a small enclosed ski-type lift with seating for four people. As was the case going up, the views were great going down. On both the trip up and down we saw and heard cows with “musical” bells. We even saw and heard some sheep with bells. The sounds were beautiful.

We reversed the train trip and arrived in Karlsruhe about 9:15. We bought some sandwiches in the train station and took them home to eat.

Friday was our relaxing day. We took the tram into the shopping area. I went to an Internet cafe to get our email since Irina and Matthias' ISP was not compatible with our Earthlink accounts. I then met the gang and we went to eat at a great little cafe. Then Bill and I went to the area where they were rebuilding the tram tracks. We were like kids at Disneyland. We got to watch all of the processes of putting in new track. They had huge preformed concrete track foundations that held a four rails (two sets of tracks). The track was welded on location into long rails. We got to watch them adjust and weld two sections together. Unlike USA construction sites, we were right next to the work and had great views. While we were indulging in a bit of “side walk superintendent” activity, the girls were shopping.

Friday night Matthias and Irina drove us to Lauterbourg, France where we had dinner at Au Vieux Moulin, which is a neat restaurant built in a very old mill. Lauterbourg is in the French region of Alsace. They are famous for their wine. The trip involved traveling perhaps 30 miles one way.

Saturday we first went to the farmer's market. We then drove into the Palantinate region of Germany (their spelling is Pfalz). This is the German state north and west of the state that Karlsruhe is located in. Our first stop was in Rhodt unter Rietburg. All of this area has what seems like endless vineyards. Mile after mile of beautiful rows of grape vines. We hiked to a palace. On the way, we had a great picnic lunch in the vineyards. At the palace we caught a chair lift to the top of the mountain where the ruins of a castle has been converted into a restaurant. There we had coffee and took in the fantastic views of the tiny villages and vineyards as far as the eye can see (see photo) We then drove to anther small village: St. Martin. We walked around the town and toured a great cathedral.

The small villages in this area have a very large number of small family wineries. They each have small plots in the vineyards where they grow the grapes for their wine. When their wine is ready to sell, the tradition is to hang out brooms to let folks know they are open for business. Many have a small courtyard at their house where you can enjoy a meal and great wine.

We decided to return to Rhodt to find a place to eat. We found a great little year-round restaurant that had very good food and excellent wine. Our bottles of wine cost less than $7.00 and were among the best we have tasted (not that we are wine connoisseurs).

Sunday (8/24) Irina and Matthias prepared a great German style breakfast for us at our/their apartment.

The weather continues to be fantastic! Very cool evenings, nice daytime temperatures and an occasional brief shower.

Well that catches up a bit. I am still several days behind, but that will be another post

View from the chair lift above Rhodt

Monday, August 25, 2008

Hello from Pat & Jeanne

Hello from Pat & Jeanne

We're writing to you from St. Johann im Pongau, Austria—it's beautiful here. It's Monday evening, August 25.

We decided that you need to hear a few of the lighter moments of this wonderful trip. We're all having a great time. These are random thoughts and in no particular order—we just want you to see what fun we really are having!

One of the first lighter moments of the trip occurred when we were in Ghent, Belgium. We went outside with a map and Jim & Bill were trying to figure out which way we should go. They studied the map and at the same time, they each pointed in the direction they thought we should go—they were pointing in opposite directions. Of course, Jeanne & I got the giggles! (A picture will follow.)

We have to say that a lot of our giggles have come from bathroom incidents—most of them are pay, as Jim already mentioned.

Also in Ghent, we were in a restaurant and Bill needed to use the bathroom. He came back giggling, because as he was standing at the urinal, women were walking by behind him (and we mean actually brushing against his butt as they walked by)—we think they were also travelers, because they, too, were giggling. (That was a free toilet—no door!) So, of course, Jeanne & I had to go up and check it out—unfortunately, there weren't any men in there then!

Now for Paris stories: Jim was approaching a urinal and thought he was putting his glasses in his shirt; unfortunately, he missed: they fell right into the urinal and a French guy who was standing beside him said: oh, oh! (and a few things Jim couldn't understand) Bill watched the whole thing and didn't say a word. We've chuckled many times over that one.

The next Paris incident was when we were getting ready to get on the subway. Bill led the way and said something like, let's get on, we can make this train. Well, guess what! Bill made that subway, but the rest of us didn't. Bill was inside the subway, trying to open the doors and they just wouldn't open. We all waved and shouted the name of the stop where we'd meet him.

We had such a good time in Paris—Jim, too. One of our favorite things was our dinner in the Eiffel Tower. It was so much fun and just as we were ready to descend, the Tower did a “twinkle”, where tiny lights all over the Tower flashed off and on for about 15 minutes.

One of our biggest laughs was on the train between Karlsruhe and Ratingen where we would visit Irina's family. I, of course, had to use the bathroom on the train. I closed the door but couldn't get it to latch. I tried several times and Jeanne finally came and said she'd hold the door closed for me. So, I sat down on the toilet and the next thing I knew, Jeanne was on the inside of the bathroom door going back and forth as the very heavy door was slamming her. (There were several men waiting to get off the train, right outside the door.) Jeanne was gigging hysterically and the guys (our husbands, who were sitting at the other end of the train car) could hear us from their seats. By then, I was sitting on the toilet giggling. Finally, I was able to get up and get my clothes back on. Jeanne was giggling so hard that she then needed to use the bathroom. I, in my wisdom, said I'd hold the door for her. Well, you can probably imagine that soon I was being thrown back and forth by the door. At one point, I asked one of the men if they could help us—he ran away! After our incident, the train people put up an “Out of Order” sign. We thought it should have been there a little sooner. (It might be one of those stories where you just had to be there, but thank goodness you weren't standing outside that door!!)

At one restaurant, Matthias asked the waitress for ice for my water. She agreed and soon brought me one tiny ice cube. We all got a chuckle out of that.

We all really miss ice for our water—it just isn't used here. When we were at Irina & Matthias', they had a tray of ice cubes for us. Bill and I discussed, each evening, who got the most ice!

As we write this, we're all sitting around a table, in the hotel lobby, chuckling some more.

We left Irina & Matthias yesterday and there were many tears shed. Before we left, they fixed us a wonderful German Sunday breakfast—we ate in the dining room with Sunday dishes. We had so much fun with them and we so enjoyed living in their home. It was such fun to go to Ratingen and see all of the family.

Jeanne and I will write again soon. We haven't given you all of our fun stories, but we're tired and it's time to go to bed. Tomorrow we're going to Neuschwanstein Castle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Hello yet again from Karlsruhe, Germany

Sunday Morning August 24, 2008 (sixth travelogue of this trip)

We are once again at Irina and Matthias apartment (here). The past few days seem like a blur. Pat and the Birts have been helping me with some of the details. It is a good thing we are writing this blog, so that we can go back and recall what we have done and where we have been {grin}!

Tuesday, Matthias drove us into the Black Forrest region of Germany (Irina had to work). Our first stop Vogtsbauernhof, a wonderful historical farm village in the town of Gutach, Germany (http://vogtsen.land-in-sicht.com/index.php). This village has the original farm house dating back to about 1600, as well as several other farm houses that have been relocated from other areas (each from about the same period) I have attached a picture of one of the houses. These houses all had similar designs. Their roofs all came very close to the ground to shed the snow in the winter. They also combined the barn and house into one unit. The cows were in the first floor (said to provide some heat in the winter), the living area was on the second floor and the barn area (for equipment and hay) was on the third level. They were built on the hill side and this allowed a path into the third floor for easily getting the equipment and hay into the building.

Our next stop was quite an experience! We went to the beautiful Alpirsbach Monastery in Alpirsbach, Germany (http://www.schloesser-magazin.de/en/monastery-alpirsbach/Monastery/237632.html). I have included a link to their website as there is no way that our pictures can do justice to this magnificent structure. The structure was started around 1125. As was the case with most of the cathedrals and monasteries, they were built over a rather long period (sometimes taking 300 or more years to complete). This monastery was no exception. In fact, it has the unique feature of having two different styles of architecture: Gothic and Romanesque. One of the buildings has both types of architecture.

After touring the Monastery we enjoyed a tour of the brewery that the Monks started. This brewery is both an active brewery and a museum. The tour was absolutely great. Matthias had talked to the folks about getting an English speaking tour guide. It turns out that we went on a German speaking tour, but the main tour guide went along and gave us a personal tour. He had a lot of passion about his job and a great sense of humor. Of course, we got to sample the end product (Alpirsbacher) at the end of the tour {great beer!}.

After the tour we went to a great restaurant owned by the brewery. We ordered several different entrees that were typical of the regional food.

Matthias then drove us back to Karlsruhe via back roads in the Black Forrest. It is impossible to describe the fantastic scenery!

Wednesday the boys got up early and went with Matthias to the great museum in Sinsheim, Germany. This museum is famous for being the only one to have both the Concord and Russian Tu-144 supersonic passenger planes in one location. Both are mounted on the roof of the building and you can walk trough them. The museum does not have a great website, but this site will give you some idea of the fabulous collection: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinsheim_Auto_&_Technik_Museum

That afternoon we met the girls at beautiful palace in Ludwigsburg, Germany (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwigsburg_Palace). The construction of this palace was started in 1704. This palace reminded us of Versailles. We had a great English speaking tour guide for the tour of the inside of the palace and then took a long walk through the enormous gardens. I have attached a photo, but as usual, it does not do justice to the palace and surroundings.

Now for some random notes:

I try to put links to Google Maps for many of the places we go. In the USA, that is easy, since our satellite dish gives us that information directly. I just found a website that makes it easy to put in a European address and it will locate the GPS coordinates. I then transfer those coordinates to Google maps and put the link here. Now that I have that ability, I will catch up with our previous stops. The Paris hotel is (here). The Ratingen hotel is (here). I have updated the previous blogs to reflect this information.

Irina had pointed out some corrections to the blog. First of all she pointed out that their wedding was in 2005 rather than 2006 as noted earlier. Next, she filled us in on some of the building dates for the structures I mentioned in my Ratingen post. The Water Castle dates back to roughly 1000 for the first part of the castle and the first house in the old market was built in 1472

We are amazed at way that people treat there dogs here. Many folks have dogs and they all seem to be very well behaved. What amazes us most is that dogs are often welcome in the restaurants. Indeed, Birgit's family brought their dog to the family “reunion” dinner and there were several other dogs there as well. Every once in a while, there will be a brief “barking” match, but it ends quickly.

At least half of the public toilets in Europe are pay toilets. Some have coin operated turn stiles, some have attendants, and some have “tip” dishes at the entrance. They are all quite clean, so you don't mind paying for the use.

As we have been noting, there are cathedrals in every town/village. They are all magnificent structures. But what is really noteworthy is that most have functional bell towers. Almost everywhere we have gone we have been serenaded by the beautiful sound of these bells.

As has always been the case, fuel in Europe is very expensive. Currently gasoline is 1.5 Euro per liter and diesel is 1.4 Euro per liter. That equates to $8.51 per gallon for gasoline and $7.95 for Diesel. They also use the “ultra low sulfur” diesel that is now required in the USA.

You see almost no pickup trucks on the streets. Most of the cars are what we would call compact (most hold 4 people comfortably). Most are powered by small diesel engines and they are standard shift. Matthias said his car gets about 5.5 liters per 100 kilometers (standard unit of fuel mileage in Europe). That equates to about 43 MPG. He has been chauffeuring us around in a borrowed VW van (see photo) that gets about 36 MGP.

I think that is about all I am capable of writing right now. I am still three days behind, but I will try to catch up as we travel to Austria by train today.

Farm House at Vogtsbauernhof

Palace at Ludwigburg

Our "tour bus" for our Karlsruhe Stay