Sunday, September 13, 2015

The End Of This Particular Road

SUNDAY, 9/13:

Wow.  There are so many signs here in English that you’d think we were still back in Germany.

Greetings from O’Hare Airport, where we’ve made it through 20 hours of the scheduled 23-hour epic journey home.  The flights from Munich and London, both on British Airways, were superb, and you know what?

Our luggage made it here over with us.  See?  Some airlines actually DO know what they’re doing!

When we first started doing these trips over a decade ago, it was quite the piece of culture shock to step off a plane from Germany and suddenly be bombarded with signs, ads, and instructions in English.  After all, when you spend a week and a half (or more) immersed in another language, seeing & hearing your own takes a little getting used to.  But not any more.  You see so much English in Germany, and hear so much English being spoken in Germany, that the transition when you get back isn’t that of total culture shock; it’s more akin to walking out of a movie theater after watching a 90-minute foreign language film.

It’s just not the same.

Don’t believe me?  Take a look at just a few examples of what we saw in Germany this time around...

Heck...even the bathroom stall graffiti is in English!

So while it’s still a little bit of a shock, it’s not longer THAT big of a shock coming home.

Those of you who’ve been reading this trip blog forever may be happy to know that I’ve continued my geeky tradition of bringing my niece Mallory along for the ride.  For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, I have a bookmark with a picture of my niece Mallory on it, taken when she was four years old.  I took the bookmark with me on my first trip over here, and took a picture of it, showing her that she went to Europe with me.  Ever since then, I’ve done the same thing, and with Mallory now turning 18 next month (yikes!) I don’t know if she still looks at the yearly picture with the same wide-eyed wonder as she did the first time, but I’m gonna keep doing it.

So once again here’s Mallory, this time at the grave of our old friend Sophie Scholl—

Now that this epic journey is almost to an end, there are a few people I have to thank.  Four would be my parents and Loraine’s parents, who consented to getting dragged along.  We wanted to show them a bunch of our favorite places, and even though lost luggage and bad weather threw several monkey wrenches into our plans, they still had a great time.  And we had a great time showing them a great time.

So thanks for coming Mom & Dad, and Mom & Dad!

Next, we need to thank the world’s best tour guide, Tony Cisneros of Alpventures.  He keeps telling us that we can tour Germany on our own, like we do France, and I’m sure we could.  But you know what?  It wouldn’t be the same without him!  Besides, if he didn’t come, who else would sweet-talk a German police officer out of a parking ticket—

Or do the world’s most amazing job of parking a van?

I can’t recommend Tony enough as the world’s greatest tour guide.  Visit his website ( to find out more!

And finally, I have to make sure I thank the mad scientist who had the idea to throw all of us together, and then came up with the itinerary.  That, of course, would be Loraine.  I’m constantly amazed by what she puts together, and this time, she put it together for six people.  So, as always, we must bow down in her presence and thank her without end—

Well, that’s it for this year.   If you’re curious as to what’s coming up next, just let me leave you with this.  In 2016, it’ll be four years since we’ve visited Normandy.  And I’m thinking that may just be a year or two too long.

So until then,

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Great Munich Tea Party


I think I’ve turned my mother into a kleptomaniac.

More on that in a bit.  First, greetings from the Novotel right outside Franz Josef Strauss Airport in Munich, where will be getting up at 4:45 tomorrow morning (10:45 Saturday night Marquette time) to begin a journey home that ends when our flight lands (we hope) at Sawyer at around 9 tomorrow night.  Yup; for those of you counting at home, that’s almost 24 hours after we wake up.

It’ll be fun.  Really, it’ll be fun.

We spent our last day here just wandering through parts of Munich we haven’t yet visited, and also paid a visit to the burial place of our old friend King Ludwig II.  You couldn't take pictures in there; however, my phone may (cough cough) have been on while we were in there, and I may have (cough cough) accidentally brushed my finger across the camera button.  I'll have to e-mail whatever happened to myself soon and see if I did indeed get it.  We went back to Marienplatz, the place where I took yesterday picture of the seething mass of humanity, bright and early today, and you know what?

No seething mass of humanity.  In fact, all you saw were fruit vendors—

A store selling very expensive handbags, and bearing the name of my Irish ancestors, my dad’s grandfather’s family—

And a very long line of women dressed in dirndls, waiting for what we think was the opening of a store—

I’m not quite sure WHY they were wearing dirndls.  It’s either because the store was having a promotion—dress in a dirndl, and get half off—or because there was a very handsome guy standing at the door of the store, all dressed in lederhosen.  For all I know, he may have been a famous actor or something, and it was a chance to all the women waiting in line to get their picture taken with him in local garb.

But because we’re going home tomorrow, we may never know the answer to this story.  Unless, of course, someone wants to pay for us to stay over here and find out what was going on.  We’d be more than happy to do that...hint hint hint.


We also had lunch at the infamous Haufbrau Haus, one of Munich’s original beer gardens.  We wanted our parents to experience Munich at its most traditional, and this fit the bill, complete with a house Oompah band.

And people from different cities meeting each other and sharing their stories.  In fact, here’s my mom with her two new friends, college students from Augsburg

They were in town because their team was playing Bayern Munchen, the local powerhouse, in a soccer match this afternoon.  And as it turned out, the upstart Augsburg team played Munich, one of the best teams in Europe, to a 1-1 draw.

And that’s your German sports report for today.

As I mentioned at the beginning, aside from making new friends today, I kinda think I may have turned my mother into a bit of a kleptomaniac.  I didn’t mean to do it; I’m sure a court of law wouldn’t convict me (at least, I hope they wouldn’t).  But ever since my mom noticed that I take an extra bag of tea or two with me every morning when we leave one of those great European breakfasts, tea that I then drink when I get home, well, let’s just say she’s been getting into the spirit of the thing.

In fact, when we checked into the hotel today, she said, and I quote, “Here, I have a few things for you”, and then proceeded to give me this—

This is just from the past couple of days, too.  Who know what kind of damage she could’ve done if she had know about this from the start!

Well, I suppose I should wrap this up for now.  I have to make sure all the chocolate is safely secured in my carry-on, and that everything else in my suitcase is under the 50 pound weight limit.  I’ll write another one of these on the plane tomorrow and post it once I get to Chicago (assuming, of course, they let us back in), because there for many pictures and stories left to share.

So until then...

Friday, September 11, 2015

As The Pretzel Twists

FRIDAY, 9/11:

We’ve been stuck in traffic a lot on this trip.  We’ve been stuck in traffic because of construction, stuck because of farm vehicles, even stuck because a tunnel was closed, but I don’t think in any of our travels we’ve been stuck because of this—

Apologies for the poor picture, which was taken out of the front windshield of Tony the Tour Guide’s van, but we were stuck in Munich traffic today because of a parade in support of legalizing marijuana in Germany.  Between that and surviving our night in Adolf Hitler’s favorite hotel room last night, I’m wondering what’s gonna be happening next!

(And actually, that was answered when Loraine shouted out, as I’m typing this, “there’s a rainbow in the sky”, which is kind of weird considering there was no rain today and, in fact, just one cloud in the sky!)

There is a rainbow there in that me on that one.  Greetings from the Motel One Deutsches-Museum in Munich, tonight’s stop in this little ongoing adventure.  We started the morning in a quiet country setting, and ended it in Germany’s third largest city, a seething mass of humanity—

More on that in a bit.  We wanted to visit Munich to, as always, pay our respects to Sophie & Hans Scholl.

Sophie & Hans were the brother & sister who led the White Rose resistance movement against the Nazis during the early 40s and paid for it with their lives.  That, in fact, is why you see the white rose in the picture Loraine laid at the foot of their crosses.  If you wanna know the whole story about Sophie & Hans, scroll up a little on the right hand side of the page, click on 2011, and then the “Why You Should Always Admire a White Rose” entry.  Go ahead, do it now.  We’ll wait for you.

(a slight pause for effect, and then...)

There.  Now you know all about them, and their amazing story.  We visiting several places that played an important part in their story, even crashing the opening day of the International Conference on Long Term Care and End of Life Planning (and no, I’m not making that up.  No one could make that up if they wanted to!) in the process.

After that, we tried to visit St Michael’s Church, the final resting place of our old friend King Ludwig II, but between trying to get through the seething mass of humanity pictured above and the fact that we spent over an hour trying to find a parking space, we ended up at the crypt three minutes after it closed.  Three lousy minutes!

C’est la vie, I guess.  Or whatever the German equivalent of “C’est La Vie” would be.

The seething mass of humanity did, however, provide one weird moment—

No, I don’t know why those two guys were rolling a giant tire imprinted with the hashtag “Be More Human” on it.  Maybe I should just paraphrase the movie “Chinatown”, say “It’s Munich, Jake”, and leave it at that.

What else did we see today?  Well, a fountain that shows Germany’s obsession with statues of naked men—

A police horse keeping the city safe—

And a countdown clock to the release of the newest Star Wars movie in December—

See?  The Germans are nerds, just like us!

Tomorrow is, sad to say, our last day on tour.  We’re gonna get up early and make sure we get to see King Ludwig’s crypt right as it opens, visit a very important museum, and have lunch at Munich’s most famous Biergarten.  Oh, and we hope to avoid the seething masses, as well. 

Wish us luck!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

It's A Good Thing I Don't Believe In Ghosts


We’re spending the night in the very same room where Adolf Hitler spent many nights.  I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

Welcome from Lambach, one of the many picturesque towns on the shores of Chiemsee, the biggest lake in Bavaria and the second biggest in all of Germany.  One week after we landed in Frankfurt with no luggage we’re enjoying our evening with a great dinner, as well as one of the best cakes I’ve ever eaten, a cake made out of plums from a tree 20 feet away, all in a hotel that was also one of the favorites of the most infamous humans of the 20th century.

We’re in room 23, which was the room in which Hitler stayed whenever he stopped here on his way from Berlin to Berchtesgaden.  It’s actually a suite of rooms, even with a small kitchen, and really doesn’t seem that bad.  In fact, the bedroom looks kind of innocent, doesn’t it?

That’s where we’re sleeping tonight, the very same room in which Adolf Hitler also slept.  We’re not too worried, though.  After all, Tony the Tour Guide DID say they’ve changed the sheets since then.  But if for some reason you never see another blog from me; well, you’ll know why.


Otherwise, we had quite the day today.  For instance, I made a new friend!

That’s right; we finally came across some cows today.  In fact, we came across a whole herd of cows today, all of them crossing the road and stopping the traffic on purpose.  And when I say stopping the traffic on purpose, I really mean they seemed to be stopping the traffic on purpose.  There were two cows crossing the road who, every time a car would try to get past them, would move to block the vehicles.  I don’t know if the cows were just trying to protect their young ones, or if they just wanted to show the humans who really owned the road, but it actually took a mom and her three kids getting out of the car and physically moving the cows to get them to stop.

It was fun.  I mean, how often do you get to play around with cows.  And cows that are stopping traffic (in Germany), to boot?

Actually, the reason we were able to play with the cows was because, just as we were leaving the Alps, the weather FINALLY started to clear.  I have two things to say about that.  The first is something that’s unprintable in this blog, because children and old people may be reading.  The second is this, to the people of Berchtesgaden

You’re welcome.  We seem to bring bad weather everywhere we go.  Now that we’ve left, you get to enjoy summer again.  Please don’t hold it against us.

Anyway, because the weather was clearing, we had some amazing Alpine photo ops.  I won’t bore you with the 17, 369 pictures I took (give or take 17, 339), but this is why we stopped—

After the cows and the photo op, we made one stop before getting here to Lambach, and that was in Bad Reichenhall, home of one of the companies that makes Mozart Balls.  In fact, everywhere you look, you see stuff about Mozart Balls.  Don’t believe me?  Well, would you believe one very smart woman, two giant Mozart Balls, and a dork holding a bag of cake?

The balls, the smart woman, and the dork holding a bag of cake are actually standing right outside the Reber store, Reber being the German side of the German/Austrian battle over which company makes the “official” Mozart Ball.  However, Reber makes a whole lot more than just Mozart Balls, as evidenced by the King Ludwig chocolates Loraine purchased, as well as the cakes the dork had in the bag—

The slices you see in front, in fact, are pieces of the Schwarzwalderkirschtorte we’ve been trying to eat for almost a week now.  It’s funny; we actually didn’t get to go through the Black Forest, and then also had to leave the Alps, before we get to eat a piece of real genuine German Black Forest Cake.

Ah, the things we go through to get food straight from the source, right?

I really like the area in which we’re staying.  Our old friend King Ludwig II had a summer home on one the islands here, a place that was almost a mirror replica of Versailles.  And it also has a 90-kilometer long bike path ringing the entire lake, a path that’s open to walkers, bike riders, and, obviously, horses—

The other neat thing about it?  It’s lit the entire way around, so you can walk, bike, or dodge around piles of horse poop 24 hours a day.

With that classy thought, I suppose I’d better wrap it up for the night.  And I like I said, if you never hear from me again, it’s not your fault.  It’s the fault of our bedroom.  Wish us luck!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

So A Guy Jumps Off A Mountain...


Now our parents know just exactly what we do when we’re over here.

Greetings again from Berchtesgaden, where we’ve wrapped up a very full day of doing stuff we’ve done before.  Yes, I know that sounds odd, but there are so many very cool things to do around here that we wanted our parents to experience them, and they did in one whirlwind of a day that saw us climb 6,000 feet in elevation, go back down, climb 4,000 in elevation, go back down, and then climb another 4,000 feet, just to go to dinner.

But I don’t think anyone complained when dinner had a view like this—

That’s from the Hochlenzer, perhaps my favorite restaurant in all of Europe, home of the Hochlenzer Schnitzel and an apple strudel so good that you begin to see your existence as a human being in a whole new light.

You know...THAT good.

We got up bright and early to get to the infamous Eagle’s Nest, bright and early because it was supposed to be sunny out and we wanted to beat the crowds.  And I’ll say this—we did beat the crowds.  As for the other part?

I don’t know why this weather is hanging on when it’s supposed to be nice out (and actually I do know why—thank you, mountains); all I can say is that we’re ready for some sun.  The fog and clouds did, however, make for some very interesting viewing from the top of the building, which most people think of as Adolf Hitler’s summer home but was in reality a place he went a whole 13 times in life, mostly to show off to foreign dignitaries.

From there, we took a ride on the Rossfeld Panoramastrasse, a road that goes up & down the mountains and looks like this—

While there, we actually discovered that part of a chase scene from “Indiana Jones & the Last Crusade” was filled there.  So now we know which movie we’ll be watching when we get home.  Not only that, but while we were up there, we saw this—

This is a dude and his paraglider taking off for the ride down into Austria (the road, actually, occasionally acts as the border between Austria and Germany).  Paragliders jump off the mountains around here all the time; in fact, everywhere you look in the air you’ll probably see one, especially on a nice day.  This, though, was the first time we were able to see one take off in person.  And trust me—it’s not every day you get to see a person jump off of a mountain (and live to tell about it!)

Following that, we took a ride out to Lake Konigssee, where you hike for 15 minutes and end up in a place called “The Artists’ Corner”.  Why “The Artists’ Corner”, you ask?  Well, I answer, because if you’re an artist, you sit on the benches there and gaze upon this—

You know, I am kind of partial to the lake where I live, the lake I see everyday, Lake Superior.  But Konigssee?  I have to admit that’s not a bad place, either.  Then, finally, we stopped and took a few more pictures, this time in Ramsau—

According to Tony the Tour Guide it’s the second most photographed church in Germany, behind the cathedral in Cologne.  So if nothing else, I guess we’ve added to its overall total for this month.  Oh, and while there, I made a new friend—

Yeah, I’s not a cow.  But beggars can’t be choosers, right?

Finally, I do have to wish a happy anniversary to my favorite in-laws in the whole wide world!

Floyd & Betsy were married 54 years ago today, and I wish them another 54 years of love & happiness!!

Tomorrow we leave the Alps for (the promise of) sun and a really cool lake, a lake slightly different than the one we saw today.  Oh, and we may meet our old friend King Ludwig II again, as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Gute Fahrt!


Hello, Berchtesgaden...we’ve missed you!

Greetings from the gateway to the Berchtesgadnerland National Park, the home of the Watzmann, and the land from where, for the first time in three days, the sun has come out.  In fact, it’s expected to stay out for the rest of our little adventure, and for that, we say “thanks”.

We also say “thanks” for this—

That was something we managed to accomplish in a little under two hours of free time today, stopping at three of our favorites stores, and carefully perusing the stock.  We didn’t get everything we wanted, nor everything we needed, but there’s always tomorrow for that, right?


We left Austria this morning and made the trek to Berchtesgaden, a place where we’ve visited three times but a place to which our parents have never been.  Our first stop?  The Documentation Center at Obersalzberg, where Tony the Tour Guide took us through some of the old Nazi tunnels he guided people through when he first started working here over two decades ago, and where I managed to snap a picture of our intrepid little group outside—

Obersalzberg was the place where Adolf Hitler had his “summer” home, a place where he could look out over the mountains into his native Austria, and a place where, high atop a mountain, sits his famous Eagle’s Nest.  We’ll be visiting that tomorrow, when the skies should have cleared completely.  After all, it’s 7,000 feet up with a view you can’t beat, so why go there when there are still a few clouds around, right?  But because Tony spent several years working here as a tour guide, he knows this place inside and out, backwards and forwards, and was able to drive us around, showing us things that few people even know existed.  And even though we’ve been here before, it was cool to see the looks on our parents’ faces as they made all these discoveries.

That was neat.

Like I mentioned, this is the fourth time we’ve been here, so we’re pretty familiar with what to look forward to in the area.  And if you know what to look for, there are a few rather interesting things you can see.  For instance, they have a mural in a castle square that shows German people throughout the ages.  And if you look at the farmer from 1945, it kinda looks like he’s waving, right?

The only thing is, he’s not waving.  He’s giving the Nazi salute, a gesture now outlawed in Germany.  Yet for all these years, it’s kind of gone unnoticed, at least officially.  It’s just been left there, for whatever reason.

Go figure.

Right below the “waving” farmer sits Berchtesgaden’s memorial to the town’s war dead. 

Three of the panels commemorate the town’s World War I dead, while the rest—and that’s what, nine more panels?—list every single individual who died in World War II.  In all honesty, it wouldn’t surprise me if a third of the town’s entire population, including most of the able bodied men, died for absolutely no reason whatsoever.

I don’t get war.  Never have, never will.

A few other things to mention?  Well, my mom is thinking of taking a souvenir home with her.  A lot of women here have dyed their hair red, like this woman—

So if, when we get back, you see her walking around with a look that vaguely resembles that of a punk rocker, you’ll know why!

Also, I haven’t had the chance to take many animal pictures and share them, so here’s one I was able to get—

Okay, so it’s made of stone, which means it’s technically not an animal, and it’s a fish, which also technically means it isn’t an animal, but I’m working with limited resources here, so bear with me, okay?


Finally, to explain today’s blog title, I present this picture—

Everywhere you go in Germany you see the words “Gute Fahrt” on signs, and being an 11-year old at heart, I have to snicker every time I see the words “Gute Fahrt” on a sign.  However, I really shouldn’t snicker when I see those words, as they’re actually saying (loosely translated) “Have a good trip”!  It does not mean that you should eat a can of beans and then wait to see what happens, no matter what the mind of an 11-year old at heart happens to think.

Sigh.  Sometimes, I really wonder about myself.

Tomorrow, like I said, we head to the Eagles’ Nest.  And one of our sets of parents celebrates an anniversary.  Find out which one next time!

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Days of Cows & Lederhosen

MONDAY, 9/7:

On one side of the border you can discover new treasures.  On the other, fond memories, sadly, prove to be just that.

Greetings from Zell-Am-See, Austria, tonight’s stop in this year’s version of The Amazing (Koski) Race.  Loraine and I had visited here four years ago and thought the area kind of laid-back and cool, and some place we’d like to show our parents.  I don’t know if we visited it before everyone else did, or if we just happened to visit on an atypical day, but the place has changed.  What used to be our kind of place is now crass, kitschy, and waaaaaaay too touristy.  Add to that the fact some of our hotel rooms weren’t exactly as promised, and, to put it honestly, we’re kind of disappointed. 

But we’re in Austria.  We got to visit a Spar grocery store.  And we just finished a five-course gourmet dinner.  So I’ll shut up about it!

The day started with visits to a few Olympic sites in GaPa, where we stayed last night.  Garmish-Partenkirchen hosted the 1936 Winter Olympics (giving Adolf Hitler the double play that year, because Berlin hosted the Summer Games, the ones where Jessie Owens embarrassed the crap out of him), and a few of the places constructed for the Games are still there, including the stadium hosting the opening and closing ceremonies and the ski jumping—

The ski jump, by the way, was built in 2007 to host a World Cup event.  Otherwise, everything is pretty much the way it was almost 80 years ago...Also renovated but still used?  The ice arena—

It’s home to GaPa’s hockey team, SC Riessersee Eishockey (“We Are True Blue!”, a promotional slogan written in English), which plays in Germany’s pro league, as well as serving as a training center for figure skaters and for curling teams (and, just as an aside, what do you call people who curl.  Curlers?  I wanna know!).  The hockey team has a mascot, and wouldn’t you know it?  That mascot is a cow!

Those of you who’ve followed along on these trips know of my fondness for taking pictures of the animals.  And since this is a vacation, as opposed to a research trip where we’re often near farm fields containing the animals, the Eishockey cow may be the only chance I get to take a picture of one. 

More about that in a bit.

Before leaving GaPa for Austria, Tony the Tour Guide mentioned that he knows a place where we could get a good view of the city.  And if Tony the Tour Guide says he knows a place where you can get a good view of the’d better believe he knows what he’s talking about—

You didn’t only get good views of the city, but the ones of the surrounding mountains weren’t too shabby, either---

All in all, GaPa was a very cool place, one that we might like to visit again one day.  We then drove the three hours to Zell-Am-See, where, I must admit, we were greeted by at least one happy Austrian—

By the way, have I ever shared the story about Mozart Balls?  They’re this yummy chocolate ball with a marzipan center that’s popular around here.  They’re made by two companies, one in Germany and one in Austria.  The “real” Mozart balls, it is claimed, are made by a company in Bad Reichenhall, Germany, a place we’ll be visiting in a few days.  The other balls are made near Salzburg, Austria, just a few kilometers away from Bad Reichenhall and the birthplace of Mozart.  Everywhere we’ve seen Mozart Balls in Germany, they come from the company in Bad Reichenhall.  Every place we’ve seen Mozart Balls here in Austria?  From the company in Salzburg.

Forget the Hatfields and the McCoys, or Ford & Chevy, or the Packers & the Lions.  All of those are child’s play compared to the Great Mozart Ball Feud!

Finally, one more thing about cows.  When we were out walking around GaPa last night, we happened to see a calendar in a store window, and Loraine thought it might be a nice way to get around my not being able to take any cow pictures this trip.  So world, here’s my new 2016 calendar--

Hey—if I can’t go to the cows, at least the cows can come to me!

Tomorrow, we head back into Germany for two nights in a place I know will not disappoint, if only because we’ve been there three times already.  Berchtesgaden, watch out.  We’re coming!