Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What Goes Through Your Mind The Day After You Get Back


Various thoughts from someone who’s still a little dazed and confused (okay, a little more dazed & confused than usual) and trying to adjust back to reality--

1.  Thanks for all the kind messages we received upon our return.  Many of those messages joked that we brought the cold weather with us, and if we did, please accept my sincerest apologies.  It was 90 degrees the last day we were in Europe; I’m thinking the warmth just missed one of the connecting flights to Marquette, probably the one in London, where it was raining.  So I hope the cold’s not our fault!

2.  When I woke up yesterday morning I went running, and it freaked me out that the first song that popped up on my iPod (which was set on “shuffle”) was a new tune by Simple Plan and Natasha Bedingfield called “Jet Lag”.  The reason it freaked me out was that it was stuck in my head the entire time we were flying back home Sunday.  I’m thinking the song popping up was a coincidence; if not, I’d like to know how my iPod can read my mind.  Is there something Steve Jobs forgot to tell us before he left Apple?

3.  We didn’t get a chance to listen to much radio over there, but when we did it was mostly the same old stuff you hear over here—Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Pink.  There is one thing I hafta mention, though.  On the drive from Salzburg to Munich Saturday we were listening to Antenne Bayern, a station that sounds very much like the one at which I work.  Announcing that afternoon was a woman who, when reading off song titles, did so in a perfect American accident.  Normally, when you hear Europeans speaking fluent English, it’s with a British accent, but not so this particular announcer.  It was just one of those moments that makes you sit up in the back seat of a car and do a double take, I guess.

4.  The chocolate made it home okay.  Want proof?

Sure, I know it looks like a lot, but consider two things.  The first is that it’s not all for me; some is for family and friends.  The other?

It’s chocolate from Europe!  Why wouldn’t I buy a lot????


5.  Finally, here’s a picture that, according to Loraine, is just too good to pass up--

It’s me and Tony the Tour Guide at the Albert Einstein plaque in his home town of Ulm, Germany.  In case you wonder WHY we’re doing this, there’s a very famous picture of Dr. Einstein with his tounge hanging out of his mouth.  Apparently, it’s a tradition for people to have their picture taken at the plaque with their tongues hanging out, and who are we to flaunt tradition, right?


Sunday, September 4, 2011

A Few Final Matters

SUNDAY, 9/4:

4:15 in the morning comes WAAAAAY too soon, especially when you stop to consider that you won’t get home for another 22 hours.

I guess that’s the downside of international travel; it’s not like this is “Star Trek” and you can beam yourself a quarter of the way around the globe.  Nope, you actually have to do some physical travel to get there, and that means getting up early, sitting in several different airports waiting for a few hours to connect flights, and then starting it all over again.  By the time we get back home, we’ll have been in three different countries, gone through security screening three different times, and have traveled through 7 different time zones.

Fun, huh?  But that’s the price you pay for chocolate fresh from the source, I guess.

As I’m typing this, I’m sitting at Heathrow Airport in London.  Or, as I lovingly refer to it, the seething cacophony of humanity.  This place is PACKED with all different kinds of people; whoever said the U.S. is a melting pot has obviously never spent any time at Heathrow.  But that’s one of the great things about traveling outside of your own country—you get to see how other people from around the planet live their lives and go on about their daily business.  I truly think it’s something everyone should do.  If nothing else, it opens your eyes and lets you see the planet you live on from many different perspectives.

And it also allows you to eat their chocolate.

Speaking of which, you should feel how heavy my backpack is right now.  And for as heavy as it is, it’s quite scary that I have only about half of my chocolate in there; the rest of it is packed in a hard plastic container in my luggage.  I have all the soft and valuable stuff with me; I’m taking a chance with the hard bars and the rest of it.

Okay...let’s get away from food and onto a few last things regarding our journey this year.  The first of which is this—

I have a problem.  And I’ll pause here for a moment while those of you who know me say to yourself “Only ONE problem?”  Go ahead...I know you want to!

There.  Feels better, doesn’t it?

Anyway, my problem is this—the last five days of our trip was in German speaking territory.  I don’t speak any German.  So whenever anyone asked me anything in German, and I could kind of figure out what they were asking, I would answer them in my rudimentary French.  I don’t know why; I just did it.  They would then smile, and perhaps chuckle a bit under their breath, before asking me again in English, because if there’s one thing the German people like to do, it’s test out their English on someone who speaks French with an American accent.  Luckily, most of them are quite good at it.  But it’s a problem I must really address next time I’m in Germany—

Don’t answer a German question in French, you idiot!

We also need to send out a big round of thanks to the gentleman we’ve referred to throughout these blogs as Tony the Tour Guide.  Seriously, if you are EVER looking for someone to show you around Western Europe, WWII history or not, Tony is as good as they get.  His real name, by the way is Tony Cisneros, and you get check him out at www.alpventures.com.  We can’t recommend him enough.

Okay...I promised a few final pictures, and here they are.  One last animal picture—

(And as an aside, it’s a good thing I took this picture in Belgium.  If it was France, that snail may have been someone’s dinner!)

One last sign advertising an oom-pah band--

One last bizarre statue--

And one last Alpine beauty shot—

Now if you’re reading this, it means we’ve landed in Chicago okay and are just waiting for our flight back to Marquette.  That pretty much does it for this year; hope you’ll be with us next year if our plans work out and we head back to Normandy!


A Backpack Full Of "Danke"s


You know your life is taking a surreal turn when you find yourself walking down a dark Austrian alley, trying to find a hole in a wall where an American tank knocked out some bricks while its driver was trying to find a brothel.

In other words, it was a typical day in Europe!

Most of our day today was spent in Salzburg, Austria, where we wanted to visit Market Day (which we did) and find a brothel that Loraine had read about a couple of years ago.  There is indeed a story, perhaps apocryphal, about an American tank driver knocking out a wall in search of some female companionship.  And while we didn’t find a sign of the hole, we did find the brothel—

Don’t worry, Mom; this isn’t something we NORMALLY do on these trips.  What we normally do it see sights like this—

This is the pedestrian street of Old Salzburg, crawling with throngs of people on a typical 90 degree Saturday morning.  Because of the warmth, the market seemed even more hectic than usual, but we were still able to eat a fine and healthy lunch—

That’s Loraine with a cinnamon roll pretzel covered in chocolate.  And yes, it tasted as good as it sounds.

One of the reasons we like to go to Market Day in Salzburg is because you never know what you’re gonna see.  Here’s proof positive about that—

We checked out a wedding—

Searched for the Holy Grail (at least, search for the Holy Grail ala Monty Python)—

Listened to an oom-pah band—

And saw what we believe was a group of Scottish tourists on what appeared to be an early-morning “bier” tour—

At least, that’s the only way we could explain it.

After leaving Salzburg, we headed up here to the outskirts of Munich, where we currently are, but not before making one last stop, the site of the Dachau Concentration Camp—

It’s a pretty powerful place...let’s just leave it at that.

We’re now in the midst of packing to leave VERY early tomorrow.  We have to wake up at 10 Saturday night Marquette time; we’ll (hopefully) arrive back home around 8 Sunday night.  On the plane tomorrow, I’ll write one more blog, and put up a bunch of pictures we didn’t get around to posting yet.  And while I have the chance, I want to thank everyone for all the nice e-mails and comments we’ve received.  We’re glad you enjoyed heading around Europe with us!


Friday, September 2, 2011

Strange Souvenirs

FRIDAY, 9/2:

Last year, Loraine came home from France with airplane parts.  This year, she’s going home with parts of Adolph Hitler’s driveway.

We spent the day around the Berchtesgaden, Germany area, an area that Tony the Tour Guide knows like the back of his hand because he spent most of the 90s working here.  As a result, we were able to see all kinds of things off the beaten path, things most people aren’t even aware of, including the location of what basically amounted to Hitler’s second home.

That’s all that’s left of the place, which was bombed by the Allies during the last days of the war and then destroyed—except for this wall—by the German government in the early 1950s.  Because Tony’s spent so much time around here, he knew that the final blast blew brick and concrete down the hill on which the house sat, so we spent a few minutes walking around and looking for souvenirs, where Loraine found not only brick from the driveway but pieces of camouflage netting that had been placed over the house.

Now we just need someone to perform some kind of ceremony to remove whatever residual evil spirits may reside in the brick!

Otherwise, it was just a day of “ooh”-ing and “aah”-ing over some incredible scenery.  You know, scenery like this—

Here’s a picture that just, I‘m sure, does not do justice to the way it looked in real life—

It’s a meadow that sits between three sheer cliffs of rock, each reaching at least 2,000 feet in the air.  When we turned the corner to come in to the meadow, my jaw dropped and my camera came out.  Like I said, no picture could ever do it justice.  I’m just glad I got to see it in person

Here’s what we looked at while we ate lunch—

It’s a lake called Konigssee, which like the meadow also sits between sheer cliff walls.  It’s part of the German national park around Berchtesgaden, and it’s a lake ringed with hiking trails.  The place was packed, but with views like this, you can see why!

And speaking of Berchtesgaden, we got to see the city from an entirely different angle than most people—

Tony almost killed the rental car getting up the hill to see this view, but I’d say it’s worth a few stripped gears and some burning transmission fluid, right?

Okay...now onto today’s animal news.  First of all, they found the cow that had been missing down here for almost a month.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read the blog I wrote a couple of weeks ago (you'll find it under "August" on the right hand side of the page) called “Beware the Cow”.  As it turns out, Yvonne the Cow was found safe a hundred or so kilometers from here in a little town called Muehldorf.  It appears Germany’s long national nightmare is over.

Here’s a German dog (although not a German Shepard) who wants to say “hey” to everyone reading this—

And here are the rules German dog owners have to follow when they’re out with their pets!

On the whole, though, it seems the dogs over here are a lot mellower than American dogs.  They don’t bark as much, and they actually obey their masters when told to do something.

So...nice doggie!

Finally, I SO wish I had space in my suitcase for this—

It’s a 5 kilo container (over 10 pounds) of Nutella.  Or as I would call it, a good dinner.

Tomorrow, back to Austria for one last day of fun.


Thursday, September 1, 2011

Das Ist Das Paradies, Ja?

THURSDAY, 9/1 (September already??):

This is the view out of our hotel balcony as I write this—

Welcome to Berchtesgaden, Germany, gateway to the Berchtesgaden National Park, and a place where a weather forecast of sunny & 80 actually means thunderstorms and 55.

Oh well, nothing’s perfect, right?


We actually just arrived in Berchtesgaden a little bit ago; we spent most of the day in the fifth country on our trip so far, Austria. We’ll actually be going back there Saturday to visit Market Day in Salzburg (and to find that brothel I wrote about a couple of weeks ago) but today we visited the resort area of Zell am See—

It’s a picturesque town located on a picturesque lake in the middle of the picturesque Alps, so you’d better believe it’s crawling with tourists, even on a less than ideal weather day like today. We were actually able to sneak in our visit just before the rains began, and therefore could see cute little things like these—

And eat cute little things like these—

That’s an apple strudel smothered in a vanilla cream sauce. I believe that by eating it, my cholesterol shot up 30 points, and just by looking at the picture of the strudel, it shot up another 10. But boy, was it GOOD!

We also crashed an Austrian funeral, as well. We didn’t actually plan on crashing an Austrian funeral, but we were in a church taking this picture—

When all of a sudden four guys carrying alpine horns and dressed in lederhosen walked into the church. We were kind of curious as to why they were there, but didn’t find out until we slowly backed out of the church, heard the horns start to play, and noticed a funeral procession wheeling a casket up the walk to the church entrance. We kind of stood there, heads bowed, until the line of mourners (quite a long one, or so it seemed) wrapped up, and then we high-tailed it out of there.

Guess we can cross THAT experience off of our bucket list.

Finally, we’ll wrap up today’s blog with three pictures you won’t see everywhere. The first is of a poster for an Alpine hoedown coming up soon—

The second is of a box of store brand of cereal from the Rewe chain here in Germany—

It’s funnier, I guess, if you know that “Ja!” is the German word for “yes”. So Loraine’s holding up a box of “Yes”! brand cereal.

Finally, it’s been noted that I haven’t posted a picture of me yet this trip, which is understandable because I’m the one taking most of the pictures that we’re posting. So Loraine took this one as we were walking back up a VERY long hill from the Rewe store to our hotel.

Berchtesgaden. It’s hard to take a bad picture here, even with a dork in it!


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Why You Should Always Admire A White Rose


And the fish in our aquarium say “hi”!

Now, admittedly the fish are just floating by on the TV screen in our hotel room in Munich, Germany, but they’re nonetheless nice and polite fish and merely wanted to send a little German hospitality your way.

So now they have.

Today was what’s known in the travel biz as a “transfer day”.  We ended up driving almost 500 kilometers down the German autobahn from Strasbourg, where we stayed last night, to Munich.  You know all those stories you may have heard about crazy German drivers on said autobahn?  Well, they might be true.  Tony the Tour Guide wanted to see how well the rental car handled, so he got it up to about 160 kilometers an hour (about 100 mph).  And you know what?

People were flying passed him!

We did make a couple of stops today, one in the city of Ulm, which claims to have the tallest cathedral in the world--

You know, I guess it IS pretty big.  Ulm’s also the birthplace of this guy—

That’s Albert Einstein, by the way, in case you couldn’t tell.  Ulm can also claim this remarkable young woman as one its own—

Sophie Scholl, along with her brother Hans and their friends Alexander Schmorell and Christophe Probost, were part of the White Rose resistance movement during World War II.  Students at the Ludwig Maximilians University here in Munich, they defied numerous laws by printing up and distributing anti-Nazi leaflets throughout a big chunk of the country in 1942.  Although they were careful to cover their tracks, the Gestapo tracked them down, convicted them in a sham trial, and beheaded them, all in a vain attempt to show German citizens the error of trying to resist the government.  In the years since, the Scholls, Sophie in particular, have become symbols of freedom and the best that the German people have to offer.

They’ve become such symbols, in fact, that the University has all kinds of things set up to honor them, including this, which is on a sidewalk outside of a classroom building—

This display symbolizes one of their most famous acts, which involved standing in this hall—

And pushing hundreds of their leaflets over the railings onto the floor, where students could read the anti-Nazi literature.  Sophie’s also honored with a bust inside the hall—

There’s also a whole room in the same building devoted to their life story.  We need to thank the lady who runs it right now as she was getting ready to close it up for the day, and was persuaded by some glum looking faces to keep it open a bit longer.  So as our way of thanks, if you’re on Facebook, why don’t you “Like” the White Rose Room by clicking the little thumbs-up thingee at www.facebook.com/WeisseRoseStiftung.  Sure, it’ll be in German, but everyone needs a little German on their newsfeed, right?

Finally, we made our way out to the cemetery next to the prison where Sophie and Hans were beheaded and paid our respects at their joint grave—

If you wanna know more about the story, I highly recommend the movie “Sophie Scholl: The Final Days”, which deals with everything I just mentioned and was Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film to boot!

That was pretty much our day; we head into Austria tomorrow before returning to Germany to hang out in the Alps.  Here’s one final picture to wrap things up—

Until tomorrow!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Floor Show Is No Extra Charge!

TUESDAY, 8/30:

There is a drunken guy standing underneath our hotel room window, singing quite loudly and dancing quite poorly.

This guy, in fact—

And on that note, greetings from Strasbourg, France, where every street corner has its own entertainment!

Strasbourg is an okay place, although after the little piece of heaven last night known as Colmar, almost any place would suffer in comparison, especially a place with more than its fair share of street drunks and smokers.  It is another pretty old city, though—

With, I must admit, one of the most impressive pieces of sandstone architecture I’ve ever laid eyes upon.  You know how we think the sandstone churches in Marquette are impressive?  Well, how ‘bout this one—

Believe it or not, the cathedral here is almost 400 feet tall (I couldn’t even get it all in the picture) with an exterior constructed of nothing but sandstone.  The detail and the artistry in some of the sculptures on the walls are amazing; the inside of the building ain’t too shabby, either.

It almost makes up for the drunken guy (who, by the way, was just told to leave by the cops after trying to get a little too friendly with some young women walking past).

Today was the last day we were scheduled to follow in the footsteps of some of Loraine’s guys.  The first was this young man—

Republic’s George Ritola, who was with the 290th Engineer Combat Battalion, came into France on New Year’s Eve 1944, and then endured three weeks of driving snowstorms and brutally cold temperatures in the Vosges Mountains before being killed on January 23rd, 1945.  We found the mountain where we died, and I’m guessing it looked a little better this morning than it did on that wicked January day—

In all the trips we’ve made over here, I find it ironic that many places where massive destruction and brutality occurred are now some of the most peaceful and beautiful locations in Europe.

Ironic, indeed.

Following that, we zipped through more mountain passes to end up at this crossroads—

The crossroads themselves are nothing to write home (or a blog) about, but the crossroads in the picture are where this man—

Marquette’s Donald Young, died while trying to move into a nearby river valley on October 22nd, 1944.  What’s really sad about Young’s story is that his brother-in-law, Nels Hume, had been killed a few months earlier in Italy, while his brother, John, died on Okinawa a few months later.  There were a couple of Marquette and Alger County families that lost two members during World War II; the Young family was the only one who lost three.

Now, here’s today’s moment to make you go “Hmmmm”.  Our next stop was the Epinal American WWII Cemetery, where Loraine had arranged to have the graves of three local men sanded, so we could take pictures of them.  They were, and we did, and received quite a shock when we got to the grave of Negaunee’s Joseph Thomas and saw this--

In a cemetery of over 5,000 graves, his was the only that had flowers placed on it.  We checked, and they had been placed on the grave by special order a week ago from someone in the United States,  At this point, we don’t know who that person was; as far as Loraine knows, Thomas doesn’t have any immediate family still around.  So this is a mystery that deserves a little investigation, an investigation that the cemetery staff is helping Loraine carry out.

Updates as they become available!

Finally, we did a lot of driving today, and as always, I noticed a few strange things.  The first, which I didn’t get a picture of, was a Wild West theme park out in the middle of Nowhere, France, complete with a cowboy-themed roller coaster.  Yes, a wild west theme park in the middle of France, where you’d expect, I dunno, a Camembert and Champagne theme park, instead.

(Actually...do you even serve Camembert and Champagne together, or is that a gross violation of one of the natural laws of cuisine?  Let me know!)

Finally, here’s something I DID get a picture of—

It was an ad on the back door of a trailer truck.  I don’t know if the truck was hauling a bunch of Vegas showgirls, or if someone was merely renting out some available space, but it goes to show...you never know what you’ll see in France!

Sadly, we’re leaving the country tomorrow, to spend the rest of our stay in Germany and Austria.  Au revoir, France. We’ll see you soon.

Hopefully, though, without the loud drunk people underneath our window!

(jim@wmqt.com), who must make note of the fact that as I’m uploading this blog, an Oompah band has replaced the loud drunks.  In fact, they're currently playing a Russian-themed version of the theme from "The Godfather".  Once again, only in France!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Of Men & Mice

MONDAY, 8/29:

If for some reason I don’t end up returning to Marquette next Sunday, look for me in Colmar, France.

I’ve probably refused to leave.

We’re in Colmar as I write this, an enchanting city with an incredible old city section that I’ll fully dive into in just a moment.  We started out the day by following in the tank treads of this young man—

Private Robert Trottier of Marquette, who was an assistant driver in a tank of the 10th Armored Division and died near the German town of St. Wendel on March 18th, 1945.  And when I say follow in the footsteps, er, tank treads I do mean follow in the tank treads, as Loraine has gotten her hands on a report that showed what Trottier’s tank division did the final two days of his life.  So we followed the exact same route of Trottier’s tank, ending up at this roundabout on the western edge of St. Wendel—

It was at this roundabout—a road checkpoint back then—that Trottier’s tank was destroyed by German anti-tank fire.  Tony the Tour Guide then noticed WHY Trottier’s tank group came under fire--no more than 200 meters from the roundabout sat a German military camp—a big one--from World War II.  The buildings are still there, still in use (although now as an office park) and still have carvings on them like this—

It may just be me, but I don’t know if I’d like to work in a building that has something like THAT carved into it.

(And by the way, I have closer-up pictures of the statue that show much more of the detail carved into it.  Unfortunately, they show TOO much detail, if you know what I mean!)

The rest of the day was spent driving through the Vosges Mountains to get to our current base in Colmar.  Remember how we saw a guy carrying a trombone Saturday morning and I couldn’t get a picture of it?  Well, I was ready this time!!

No, I have no idea why this oompah/marching band was on the side of the road on a German town.  It’s just one of things you have to see to believe, I guess.

Okay, now Colmar.  You know how I LOVE Bayeux, France, which is why we make it our home base every time we’re in Normandy?  Well, Colmar is kind of like that, but on steroids.

It has this HUGE old town, filled with things like soaring cathedrals, centuries-old half-timbered houses, and a statue of hometown boy Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi.  If his pose looks a little familiar, it may help to know this Bartholdi is the guy who designed the Statue of Liberty!

Like Trier yesterday, Colmar also has beautiful sandstone buildings, and some rather interesting cars, as well—

If you’re curious, this is a delivery car for a Chinese noodle restaurant.  I think if you put four containers of noodles in it the car’s filled to capacity.

Finally, here’s our dessert for the night—

Sure, it may LOOK like a mouse, but it’s actually two pieces of very yummy yellow cake with a layer of custard crème between them.  I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again. . .

French pastry chefs rock!!


Tomorrow, one more day in France, with a trip back into the Vosges Mountains, this time with a particular purpose in mind.  More on that then!

(jim@wmqt.com), who apologizes for not getting yesterday’s blog up sooner.  I didn’t have internet access until tonight!