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 ( 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 ('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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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:

That afternoon we met the girls at beautiful palace in Ludwigsburg, Germany ( 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

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hello again from Karlsruhe, Germany

Hello again from Karlsruhe, Germany

Wednesday Evening; August 20, 2008 (fifth travelogue of this trip)

As has been the case with the last few travelogues, I am starting this one while traveling from Ratingen back to Karlsruhe, Germany (on Monday 8/18). Except this time, it is a bit slower form of travel. We are on a boat cruising from Koblenz to Bachrach on the Rhine river. This is a cruise we have taken many times. It has a very large number of Castles on both sides of the river (and one in the middle).

We arrived in Ratingen Sunday afternoon and were greeted by Irina's dad who had a roses for Pat.

Our hotel was very nice and had a great European style breakfast included. It is located (here)

Yesterday we toured Ratingen.

One of the stops was the Water Castle (see photo) which used to be an old farm (update: Irina said that this building was first started about 1100). As the photo shows, it is very picturesque. We also walked through the town market place. There are some gorgeous old buildings including one of the original houses (1600s, I think – later information from Irina it was built in 1472).

We went to Irina's sister Karin's for a great lunch and then to another sister (Birgit) for afternoon coffee and cake (a typical event in Germany). From there we returned to the hotel for an hour of rest and then to a family dinner with all of Irina's family. The dinner was at a restaurant that used to be an old water wheel powered mill. All of Irina's family was there. That includes her two sisters, one brother, her dad, two spouses and 6 nieces and nephews. The Birts and Shepherds had each given the nieces and nephews shirts (the Birts had shirts made with their kids' names on the back and a map of Iowa with a star showing where Prescott is located on the front – the Shepherds gave them Bronco shirts). They seemed very happy with the shirts and we took several pictures including the group photo (see attached). Irina's brother Andreas treated us to our dinners and schnapps for Bill and I. Unfortunately, Matthias had to remain in Karlsruhe because he was on call at the hospital.

Our trip to Ratingen was very special to us and we had a wonderful time.

We took a brief walking tour of Bacharach and then boarded a train for our return to Karlsruhe

Note: I am a few days behind, because there is so much going on and so little time to write. I am going to post this today (8/20) even thought I have not covered the last two days. Hopefully I will catch up in the next few days.

Water Castle in Ratingen

The Dinner Party in Ratingen

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Hello from Ratingen, Germany

Hello from Ratingen, Germany

Sunday Evening; August 17, 2008 (fourth travelogue of this trip)

As was the case for the last two travelogues, this one is being written on high speed train as we travel from Karlsruhe to Ratingen Germany. Ratigen is Irina's home town (more about Irina a bit later in this travelogue).

Those of you who know me, know that France is not on the top of my list of places to visit in Europe (how is that for an attempt to be politically correct?). Well, I now have to admit that I had a great time in Paris! We got to see a lot of great places and the people seemed friendly and willing to help us.

We have been doing a tremendous amount of walking AND climbing stairs! It seems like everywhere we go, there are several flights of stairs. That is good for our health, but it has emphasized the need to be in better shape!

The cost travel to Europe is quite expensive. Hotels and restaurants have always been on the expensive side, but the real factor on this trip is the “soft dollar”. When we started out, the Euro cost 1.56 dollars. Since we arrived here, the dollar has improved a bit (1.47 dollars to the Euro as of 8/15). We knew going into this trip that it would be costly, but it could easily be our last trip and we wanted to travel here while we still had our heath and could walk up all of the d@$& stairs {grin}.

Now, a bit a background about our stay in Karlsruhe and Ratingen. In '81/'82 we had a German exchange student: Irina Koslowsky. She stayed with us for a year and attended high school with our girls. We have stayed in close contact with her over the years. She has visited us several times since '82 and we have visited her and her family several times as well. In March of 2006 (editorial correction: their wedding was 2005) we traveled to Karlsruhe to attend her wedding to Matthias Obert. When they found out about our plans for this trip, they offered to move out of there apartment and let us stay there for over a week. When they were in Colorado for our family vacation in June of this year, they helped us finish our plans for the trip. They are really super people!

We arrived in Karlsruhe Friday afternoon about 2:30 and Irina was there to greet us. She had ridden her bicycle from work to the train station. She walked the short distance to tram (street car) tracks with us to make sure that we got on the correct tram. She then rode her bike across town and met us at the tram stop for her apartment. In the afternoon we took a tour of the palace in Karlsruhe This was built 1715. It is the center of town and the streets radiate out from the Palace. We climbed to the top of the Palace (more stairs) and had a great view of the city. Karlsruhe is a city of 300,000 people.

That evening we had a great dinner on the patio of the apartment. Their apartment is very spacious and modern (built in the '50s on a foundation that was built about 1900 – the original building and most of the city was heavily damaged during the war).

Saturday we went to the farmers market at a town square. We had done this the last time we were there and it is a very fun activity! In the afternoon Matthias drove us to the Maulbron Monastery. This monastery was started in 1147. A book that Irina bought for us gives a great description of the monastery: “The Cistercian monastery conveys an almost unadulterated image of a medieval monastery complex enclosed by walls and embedded in a remote landscape”. It is a complete village that is still in use today. Instead of being a Catholic monastery, it now houses a protestant school and many of the town government functions. I have attached a couple of photos.

On the way home we stopped in a small town (Oberderdingen) and had a fantastic dinner at a winery. We each ordered different dinners and shared. This turned out to be a once-a-year festival. They had a band that we listened to for a few songs. They were singing American songs in English (“California Dreaming, Stand by your man, etc.)

As I write this, we are traveling beside the autobahn and we are going much faster that the cars are going (and as you all know, they drive very fast on the autobahn). We are going 291 KPH (187 MPH). On the autobahn some people drive at 200 KPH, but most drive closer to 160 KPH – 100 MPH). Our seats are just behind the train engineer, and we can see out the front of the train.

Village at Maulbronn Monastery

Maulbronn Monastery

Dinner in Oberderdingen

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Hello from Karlsruhe, German

Hello from Karlsruhe, Germany

Saturday Morning; August 16, 2008 (third travelogue of this trip)

Note: the photos for this post are at the bottom of the post.

As was the case with the last travelogue, I am starting this on the train (Friday afternoon). In this case, it is the high speed train from Paris to Karlsruhe. This train has seating much like that in first class on a plane. It also has an AC power outlet to power our computer.

We need to catch up on a couple of things. We have always traveled by train when we are in Europe. We buy a Eurail pass (only available in the USA) that lets us travel 1st class on any train in Europe at any time. The trains here are absolutely great. The passenger trains will take you most anywhere, run frequently, and are generally very prompt and clean. First class (only class available with Eurail) is very similar to first class plane accommodations. The passenger trains are almost always electric and run on their own set of tracks (no freight trains on the same track). It is easy to figure out the schedule. For this trip Pat made several reservations for the major legs of the trip (extra cost, but required on some trains). The rest of the time, we will show up at the station and figure out where we are going to go. If we get on the wrong train it is no big deal, we just get off and get on the right train without worrying about having to buy tickets. The Eurail pass also lets us travel on cog trains, and the boats on the Rhine.

When we traveled to Bruges, it was our second time there. Both times we traveled with a Gates co-worker and both times in a Citroen (premium French Car). The first time, was many years ago and we traveled in a Citroen DS which was a car that was way ahead of its time. I have attached a picture of this kind of car (last made in 1972, I think). I am also attaching a photo of Jos and the Citroen that we traveled in this time. It was a very modern 1600 CC diesel powered, 5 speed standard vehicle that had great power, and gets about 35 MPG. There appears to be several organizations in the US devoted to the history and collection of Citroens. One is: The DS had a very unique hydraulic over air suspension that was said to be superior to anything on the road.

The weather here has been quite good for touring. The highs have been in the 70s and low 80s, with a few showers. It looks like it will be that kind of weather for a few days. However it looks like it will be pretty hot when we get to Rome.

When we got to Paris we bought Metro (subway) three day passes. We got very proficient getting around the town. Often times transferring several times on a trip.

Our hotel in Pars (see photo) was very small, as were the rooms! It is located (here). However, it was fairly typical of the older hotels in Europe. Most are not air conditioned, but that was not a problem, as the evenings were cool and we opened the windows (no screens). It was quite comfortable.

Tuesday evening (8/12) we rode the subway to the Moulin Rouge (three stops and one transfer). It is a very famous night club (French Can Can). We did not go in, but it seems to be a “happening” for both tourists and locals.

Wednesday morning we went to Sacre-Coeur which is a beautiful cathedral overlooking all of Paris. Our Metro tickets covered the cost of the Funicular (cable car) up the steep hill to the church.

Wednesday afternoon we took the Metro to Champs Elysees (a beautiful tree lined street for perhaps one mile and then very fancy stores for the second mile) leading up to the Arch de Triumph. This is a magnificent monument to commemorate military events. It was built by Napoleon stating in 1806. We went to the top (284 steps, but we took a lift part way).

Wednesday evening we booked a tour which included a boat ride on the Seine river, and a dinner at the 95 meter level of the Eiffel tower. It was a great experience. We then took the tour bus back to the Moulin Rouge and walked about a mile back to the hotel.

Thursday we took a combination Metro/train ride out to Versailles. The Palace and Gardens of Versailles was built in the seventeenth century by Kings Louis XIII and XIV. It became the center of the French Government. It is a huge set of buildings with unbelievable art and decoration. We took a private tour of the King's “apartment” and the gorgeous Chapel. I have included a photo that shows some of the Estate. There is no way to photographically do justice to this very famous location.

Sorry this is a bit long, but there is so much to document and I had some time on this three hour train trip.

Our Hotel in Paris

Jos and the Citroen we rode in to go the Bruges

A Citroen DS like we rode to Bruges many years ago

Sacre-Coeur whick overlooks Paris

Some of the buildings at Versailles

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hello from Paris

Travelers at one of the windmills in Bruges

Typical Bruges buildings

Dinner at the Grand Plaza surrounded by beautiful buildings in Brussels

Some of the Buildings in the Grand Plaza

Hotel Deville in the Grand Plaza

Hello from Paris France

Tuesday Evening; August 12, 2008 (second travelogue of this trip)

I am starting this travelogue on the high speed train between Brussels and Paris. This train travels at 186 MPH!

Sunday we went to Bruges, Belgium. This is another historic city that used to be an ocean port. It has mostly been restored and is quite a tourist attraction for European, as well as world travelers. There are lots of canals and several windmills. We got to to tour two of the windmills. They were used for grinding various grain products. They have to be mechanically turned to face the wind.

I have included a couple of photos of Bruges. It is impossible to really show the great architecture. One beautiful church “Church of our Lady” (started in 1220 and took over 200 years to build) had a Michelangelo sculpture “Madonna and Child” (1504). It was the only one of his works to leave Italy.

In Bruges we had lunch at the local brewery. It was a great lunch and the beer was even better. Jos said that there are 854 brands of Belgium beer registered with the government. We were only able to try 5 or 6 brands, but they were all great.

Sunday evening we went to a very special dinner. We had gone there before, and Pat really enjoyed it. The last time there were perhaps 10-12 courses with wine or sorbet in between each course. The place is actually a house where the couple prepares and serves the meals. This time there were not as many courses, and some of the courses were a bit “different”. For those of you who know Pat and Jeanne, they both had raw salmon! Even though the dinner experience was not as good as it was previously, we had a great time.

Monday we toured Gent some more. We went back to the beautiful cathedral (St. Baafskathedraal) where they have an unbelievable painting from 1432, by Van Eyck. The colors are still magnificent, and the painters of that period had some sort of technique that makes the painting look three dimensional. We also went a neat castle (“Castle of the Counts”) that was close to the hotel

Monday afternoon we went by train to one of our favorite places in Europe – the Grand Plaza in Brussels. We did some walking around and had dinner in a sidewalk cafe surrounded by the magnificent buildings in the Grand Plaza (dating back to the 1400s. I have included a couple of pictures.

Today we traveled to Paris. So far, I am having fun in Paris if you can believe that!

More in a few days.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hello from Gent, Belgium

Our Hotel in Gent
Hello from the Novotel Hotel in Gent Belgium.

Sunday Morning; August 10, 2008 (first travelogue of this trip)

Just a bit of background on this trip. A couple of years ago when we were visiting Bill and Jeanne Birt (Jeanne is Pat's cousin) back it Iowa (a favorite place for us to visit) we started talking about Europe and their desire to travel there. Since then we have been planning this trip. Of course, the timing is not good with the dollar vs Euro, but we decided to go anyway.

We met up in Dallas and flew to Paris. That is a 9.5 hour flight. From there, we took the train to Gent, transferring in Brussels from the high speed train to a commuter train. We arrived at the hotel at 4:00 PM in the afternoon.

Our hotel is right in the middle of historic Gent, Belgium (here). After we arrived in Gent, we met with Jos, a fellow that I used to work with when I made many trips to Belgium for Gates. I had contacted Jos when we knew that we were coming to Belgium since he has lived here all of his life and is a great “tour guide”.

Jos gave us a great walking tour of Gent, and we ended up at favorite restaurant of his that only serves spareribs. The restaurant, Amadeus, is located in an historic old building.

I will write more about Gent later, but it has a lot of history and many of the buildings date back to the 1200s.

We seem to have adjusted to the time change (“jet lag”). We forced ourselves to stay up until it was time to go to bed according to the local time.

Thats all for now.