Sunday, September 10, 2017

Home at Last

SUNDAY, 9/10:

Thanks, American Airlines. Now I don't know what to do!

Greetings from 36,000 feet above and slightly to the west of Liverpool, England, as we're on the second (and longest) leg of our journey home. I'm ensconced in my usual window seat, watching (to paraphrase a great American philosopher) the world go by. Normally, I have this routine on a flight home. I load up on things to kill the eight hours--a Vanity Fair, a couple of episodes of the old radio show “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar” on my iPod, a British newspaper and music magazine, some logic puzzles, and, of course, the writing of this.

But this time, it's different. This time, I'm flying on one of American's new 787 jets, which have personal seat-back entertainment systems full of movies I've not yet watched (“Creed”, “Kong: Skull Island”), as well as classic flicks I could watch over & over, like “Casablanca”. So what do I do? The usual routine? A new routine? A combination of the two?

Loraine says it's a good thing “The Martian” wasn't one of the movies offered. Otherwise, my head might explode.

We woke up at 4:20 Central European time this morning; it's now 1:41 pm British time, we expect to be in Chicago at 2:46 Central time, and then home at 8:48 pm Eastern time. So we'll have been in or flown over seven different time zones in the 22 hours of this journey; the only hitch so far was the 45 minute wait to get through security at Dusseldorf. They had one line open for every single person flying out, and trust me—there were a lot of people flying out. This was the first time we've flown through that particular airport, and I have to admit I wasn't that impressed with it. In fact, that may have been the only disappointing thing about the entire trip.

And if that's the case, I guess I don't have a lot to complain about, right?

Okay. Yesterday, I had promised the conclusion of a story that began Thursday in Freiburg, when I took this picture--

A picture of two kids playing in the Buchel in Freiburg. You may then recall that a guy ran after me, and after using hand signals and the few words in German I understand, I figured out that he was asking me to e-mail him a copy of the picture. I did, and Friday night I received this e-mail in return--

"I was very happy the photo the girl in the photo is my niece which I only see three times a year I wish you a good trip and thank you very much for the photo

the stranger Antonio"

As I think I might have mentioned the night it happened, but one of the things I love about travel is that you never know what you're going to experience. This was certainly one of those cases.

I'm a bit surprised that Antonio didn't speak English; after all, it is rapidly becoming the default language of the world, and I know that it seems almost everyone in Germany uses it in their daily lives. Heck, even nightclubs use English in their names--

In all the years we've been coming here, we've noticed that more and more Germans are becoming Americans, not only in their use of language but in their attitudes and their ever-expanding waistlines. When we were driving along the Autobahn yesterday we came across an exit where you could stop, rest, and grab a bite to eat at any one of three fine German restaurants.

Those three? KFC, McDonald's, and Subway.

Oh—and another way we've been noticing Germans (and other Europeans) slowly morph into Americans? Pickup trucks. Our first few trips we never saw them; after all, with gas prices the way they are over here it costs a fortune to run them. But over the past several years that's changed, and we've seen more and more of them on the (very narrow) streets of Europe.

And you'll be glad to know that pickup drivers over here park just as well as pickup drivers back home--

Now, on to the sentimental part of the trip—my annual picture of Mallory. Those of you who've been reading these forever know that when I went over the first time (when Mal was 6) she was disappointed that she couldn't come. So I took a book mark with her picture on it and took a photograph of it so she'd know that she did indeed actually go to Europe. Well, I've done it every trip since, and the first question that the now 20-year Mallory will probably be asking me is “Did you take my pictures?”

Why yes, Mallory, I did--

I took it while we were walking around with our friend Oliver in Colmar, who knew exactly what I was doing. So Mallory, not only did I take your picture, but people in France know what I'm doing and why I'm doing it!

They're about to serve lunch, so I suppose I should start to wrap this up. I always feel a tad melancholy when we're on the way back home, a feeling that's no different this time, if only because we had a really fantastic 10 days. I'm gonna miss the cows--

The brightly colored buildings all throughout Luxembourg...

The food--

The statues that give you food--

The cows (did I mention the cows?)--

And, perhaps the most, I'll just miss the overall joie de vivre and quirkiness that you find in Europe. As an example I present this picture from Freiburg--

You know that old Monty Python sketch where a guy goes into a clinic and pays to argue with someone? Well, that's what this was—a street-side argument clinic, where you could pay a college student to debate with you for however long you paid.

A Monty Python sketch come to life on the streets of Europe. You don't see that if all you do is stay home

Thanks for following along and traveling with us the past week and a half. We hope you were entertained and even learned a little something. I know we both did. If you're so interested, I write these on a daily basis for work; you can check it out if you'd like (although usually with fewer cows and absolutely no Monty Python sketches come to life). We're kind of thinking of going back to Germany and following in the footsteps of strange king Ludwig II next year. We hope you'll come back and join us!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Here at the Western (Part of the German) World


Instead of wondering if it's possible, maybe I just need to look at it as a giant game of Tetris. But with chocolate instead of blocks.

Greetings from Dusseldorf (or, to be more specific, Ratingen, where the hotel at which we're staying is located). We spent most of the day driving, sometimes even at the posted speed limit (more on that later), and after several stress-filled incidents at the not very user-friendly Dusseldorf airport (“What do you mean there are supposed to be hubcaps on our rental car? There weren't any on it when we picked it up!”, wi-fi that did not work, an idiot who forgot how to dial a German number on his phone, and an information desk that didn't provide too much information on how we were supposed to get in touch with our hotel shuttle), we are now settled into our final destination, where packing for the trip home awaits, as does a (gulp) 4:20 am wake-up call.

Just for perspective, 4:20 am here is 10:20 Saturday night in Marquette. We're scheduled to fly into Marquette at just before 9 Sunday night. You do the math.

On our way out of Heidelberg we needed to do one final research stop for Loraine, and that was to visit the small town where this guy--

Ishpeming's Lawrence Ryan, was killed when his fighter plane was shot down in Uelversheim on December 12th, 1944. According to Army records, Ryan's body was buried in the local cemetery after his plane crashed, buried at approximately this spot.

He was interred there until the end of the war, when he was then temporarily buried at the St. Avold Military Cemetery in northern France. From there, he was sent home to Ishpeming and his final resting place in 1948.

Lawrence Ryan has an interesting story. Both of his parents died during the Depression, and he and his siblings were taken in by an aunt and uncle. One of his brothers was sent to the Orphanage in Marquette, while Lawrence was taken under his uncle's wing, ending up as a student at Michigan State before enlisting in the Army Air Corps and becoming a fighter pilot with the 405th Fighter Group based out of Normandy.

He was killed during what we believe to be a dogfight in the skies above Uelversheim; we just wanted to pay our respects.

Otherwise, like I said, the day was spent driving. Speaking of which, here's your traffic jam picture for the day--

If you think that's bad, we consider ourselves to be quite lucky. Traffic going the other way was backed up almost five kilometers thanks to a traffic accident. And it was especially bad because it occurred in a construction zone, where one whole lane of traffic (the one where the accident occurred) had a three kilometer long ling of cars just stopped between concrete barricades with nowhere to go.

It wouldn't' surprise me if they're still sitting there.

In non-driving news, everywhere you go in Germany, you see signs like this--

Unless you see the signs its hard to tell that the country has its federal elections in just a few weeks. That's right; the Bundestag and the Chancellorship are up for grabs, and all you see are these small signs everywhere. There are no negative TV ads, no PACs, no unregulated or unlimited or corporate funding, no nothing. Just small signs, debates, and a vote.

It's quite the change from what we're used to.

Okay; now the chocolate Tetris puzzle. As you may have inferred by reading this the past nine days, I bought a little chocolate. And when I say “little” I actually mean that I've been carrying a reusable and quite sizable grocery bag originally intended to haul groceries in that's now full of chocolate. In fact, THIS much chocolate--

Don't worry; it's not all for me. In fact, only about half of it is mine. The rest is for friends and family. The key is getting it home safely (and under the 50 pound luggage limit), and that's why both Loraine and I have plastic containers that were filled with items we can discard after tonight. Out goes the sunscreen (like we actually needed sunscreen over here this year) and the dental rinse, in goes the chocolate. Some of the containers, filled with delicate and tasty bars, then go in our carry-ons, while the more solid bars get stuck in our luggage. That way, the chocolate makes it home safe and we stay under our luggage weight limit.

The puzzle, of course, is trying to fit the maximum number of bars in any one containers. As I said, it's like Tetris game, except with chocolate. Wish me luck.

Since 430 comes early I suppose I should wrap this up. I'm sorry I don't have any weird pictures to share today. I didn't have the chance to take many, weird or otherwise. However, I do have quite the backlog built up from the past nine days, and since I have nine hours on an airplane tomorrow and not much to do I'll write a big one filled with pictures (as well as the conclusion to the story about the guy who ran up to me in the street and wanted me to send him a picture) and then post it when we get to Chicago.

Assuming, of course, they let us back in.

Finally, I know I do this every year, but I really have to bow down in thankful awe to the most amazing woman in the world, the woman who put this trip together from scratch and discovered all the incredible things that we've been doing. Every year Loraine tops herself in this department, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with for next year.

Loraine, you rock!!

(PS--for those of you who don't know, all of the titles of the blogs since last Sunday (including today's rather unwieldy one) have either been or have referenced Steely Dan song titles, in honor of the late Walter Becker.  Most of them have come off the top of my head (or the top of Loraine's head); for today's title we needed Google's help.  So thanks, Google!)

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Royal Jam

FRIDAY, 9/8:

I don't think we've ever been to Germany without getting stuck in a traffic jam. And I'm (ahem) glad to stay that our streak is still alive.

Greetings from Heidelberg, where we're sitting in a hotel room not more than 100 feet from the Neckar River, which cuts through the city. It's our second time in Heidelberg, the first visit being on the trip with our parents two years ago when our luggage didn't arrive. While they explored Heidelberg, we shopped for toothpaste and underwear, so we tried to make up for it today by walking up & down streets and hills to get the lay of the land.

Of course, first we had to get here. It's not that far from Freiburg to Heidelberg, at least as the crow flies, but it always seems that Germany's vaunted autobahn system isn't always so vaunted when we're on it. Every single time we've come over here we've had at least one instance where we just get stopped in traffic and have to sit there. That was the same today, as we made it to not more than 20 kilometers from Heidelberg before having to stop because four different freeways merged into one and no one wanted to let the person in front them go.

I don't know if it's like this every day or if we're just lucky, but it's nice to know our “streak” is still alive.

(And as an aside, isn't it a pity that sarcasm doesn't travel well with the written word?)

But we made it here, and did a little walking before our big task of the day. What can you see in Heidelberg? Well, how about another cool pedestrian area--

Another bunch of cool sandstone buildings--

A statue with a bird on its head--

And a very cool restaurant where we had some schnitzel. On the wall of the restaurant were pieces of currency signed and left by guests from all over the world--

For a geography nerd, it was a fun way to kill the time waiting for your food.

Now for our big task for the day. Heidelberg has three very famous sights—the river, the old castle that sits on a hill up from the river, and the bridge that crosses the river, the Alte Brucke. They're all renowned attractions, and they're places that everyone checks out. Loraine figured out that there was a way to visit them all in one fell swoop, and as a bonus, it involved hiking up a hill.

If you look closely, you'll see a trail cutting up through the woods in the center of the picture above.. That's the trail that's almost a kilometer long and is very steep. How steep?

Really steep.  Much like the trail we climbed in Freiburg Wednesday, it's taxing. In fact, we saw many people stop along the way and try to catch their breath. But in the end it was worth it. Not only did we get in our workout for the day, but as promised we saw all big three sights of Heidelberg in one fell swoop--

There you go—the castle, the river, and the bridge across the river. And all it took was a 20-minute climb and the burning of about 500 calories.

But then, after what we've been eating the past 8 days, we probably have those 500 calories to spare.

Once you get to the top of the climb, you're on the Philosopher's Way, which was once a path along which you could take contemplative walks but now is used by hikers, runners, and mountain bikers. However, there are still benches along the way, and you could actually see people sitting down, just staring out, and wondering about their place in the universe.

I highly doubt many tourists make the climb, but it's definitely worth it.

We didn't see any real animals today, but we did see a giant inflatable pig--

There was a group trying to talk to people about the benefits of a vegan lifestyle on the street. I'm just not quite sure about the logic of using a giant inflatable pig to attract people's attention.

But maybe that's just me.

Next--spelling mistake or major trademark violation? Discuss amongst yourselves--

And since almost everyone here speaks English, you see signs, billboards, and items for sale everywhere in the language--

I think the bottom of the two is Loraine's hope for the future.

Tomorrow, sadly, we wrap things up be heading back to Dusseldorf, returning the rental car, and figuring out just what the $*%^&#$#$* we're gonna do with all the chocolate we've bought. We also have one last research thing for Loraine...assuming we can find a cemetery in a small German town.

And with that, here's one last picture of the castle in Heidelberg--

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Brezellogik pt. Zwei--If You Can't See a Forest Is It Really There?


Now I'm starting to wonder if perhaps I should've studied Spanish for this trip instead of French.

Greetings again from Freiburg, Germany's sunniest city, a city where the sun finally came out around 4 this afternoon. I'm starting to wonder if perhaps we owe the people of Europe an apology. After all, in Marquette we lived through a cold, wet, and all-around crappy summer. Here, the summer was sunny & warm; heck, the day before we flew to Europe Freiburg itself was sunny & 90. And then we showed up, and the weather all of a sudden matched what we've lived through back home all year. I mean, it's a good thing I don't believe in curses.

Otherwise, I'd think we were cursed.

All of this was brought into focus today, the day we wanted to drive through the Black Forest, where around every bend you see sights that make you “ooh” & “aah”. But because we were visiting (although we're not cursed), here's what you saw today as you rounded a corner in the Black Forest--

Don't try to adjust your monitor. Don't think your phone is acting up. Nope; that's a picture I took from a scenic overlook in the Black Forest, where all you can see are a couple of trees and a whole bunch of fog. And not only was there fog everywhere, but the temperature was 8 degrees Celsius, or a balmy 46 degrees Fahrenheit.

But we're not cursed. Really, we aren't.

Seeing as how we couldn't see anything, we headed for the town of Triberg, where we at least left most of the fog

And had another piece of Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, or Black Forest Cake. Sure, we've eaten a lot of it this trip, but this was a special piece. This was at a place called the Schaefer Cafe, which has the original Black Forest Cake recipe, direct from the guy who invented it. So this, I guess, is then an original piece of Black Forest Cake--

It was good. One of the ingredients of Black Forest Cake is Kirschwasser, or cherry liqueur, and they really pile it in this recipe, so much so that the room almost starts to spin.  But it was good. Really, really good.

Since I was driving and I had to clear my head after the cake we walked around Triberg a little more, saw some water--

And made a very interesting discovery. When we were there, Triberg was sleepy. Very, very sleepy. It seemed, in fact, like we were the only people there, which we thought a bit odd seeing as how Triberg is a big tourist destination. Then noon rolled around, and the tour buses pulled in. Within minutes the streets were jam-packed, and tourists of all different nationalities piled out of their buses and into the streets of the town. I'm guessing that even the Schaefer Cafe, where we enjoyed our Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte in solitude, was bustling.

Guess we chose the right time to visit Triberg.

We also chose the right time to leave because, thankfully, the fog finally started to burn off. Pretty soon, you were able to “ooh” and “aah” around every corner with views like this--

And this--

It was still cold, but I don't think we noticed, especially when we drove to the top of a mountain called Kandel, which supposedly had some great views. I'm sure that on a clear day you can see forever, but not today. We did, however, get to see someone jump off a perfectly good mountain--

Kandel is apparently where paragliders jump. In fact, it must be a rather famous spot for it, as there were all kinds of people driving up just to see them jump, much in the same way people back home drive up to Upper Harbor to see the ore boats come in. And as we were watching more and more paragliders came driving up, pulled their rigs out, and jumped off the mountain--

You don't get to see that every day.

By the time we made it back to Freiburg the sun had finally come out, and the temperature here hit 70, so we went to explore the one part of the Old Town we hadn't yet explored—the University. Almost 30,000 students call this city home, and the University is centered around a group of historic old buildings, all of which are made of (you guessed it) sandstone--

I know I'm a bit of a sandstone geek, as evidenced by the 60 or so pictures I took of the buildings. For your sake, I'll only post the one, although I will say that it's taking great restraint on my part.

So you're welcome.

Since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to head back to the Market Halle for dinner. You may remember the Market Halle from yesterday; it's the giant food court with restaurants from almost every country on the planet. Today Loraine went Italian (mushroom risotto) while I decided to try a Brazilian dish called Bobo de Camarao--

Then after dinner I took this picture of two kids playing in the Bachle, those little canals that run along the streets here--

After which I put my camera away and started to walk up the street. A minute later a man came running up to me and asked if I spoke German, which I don't. Searching frantically in his mind, he asked if I spoke Spanish, which I also don't. I asked if he spoke English, which he doesn't. He tried to get his point across in a mixture of languages, and after a few seconds I figured out what he was trying to say, especially when he used the word “kinder” and gestured like he was taking a picture. As it turns out, those were his kids I photographed, and he was wondering if I could e-mail him a copy of the picture. Loraine gave him a pen, I gave him a napkin I had in my pocket, and when I'm finished writing this I'll be sending this guy, who I believe is either a Spanish tourist or a Spanish grad student, the picture I took of his kids.

You know, I'm constantly amazed when we travel. You have no idea what will happen from one day to the next. Heck, you don't even know what will happen when you turn a corner and take a picture. But that's why travel is such an incredible experience. That's why I treasure it so much. That's why I think everyone should get out there and see as much of the world as they can.

And that's why I should've studied Spanish before we came over here.

Okay; before I wrap this up, let's see what else I have, shall we?  We saw more cows today!!

Doug Mitchell, the guy who showed around the West Wall in Belgium Saturday, thought I haven't been seeing enough cows on this trip, and even stuck a picture of a few of them on my Facebook page. Thanks for that, Doug. And rest assured I got my bovine fix today.

Speaking of fixes, are you one of those people who are addicted to a certain Starbucks fall drink in the US? You're safe if you decide to travel over here--

And if you do travel, you know how it's always prudent to go into the travel section of a store like Target and stock up on mini-sized versions of those essentials you need, things like toothpaste and shampoo? Well, there's apparently something else that Germans need when they travel--

I would not kid you about a thing like this.  Tiny Nutella jars are in the travel section of the Muller Store (Germany's version of Target) attached to our hotel. They're even small enough to fit into those quart bags you shove all your liquids into. Germans think of EVERYTHING, don't they?

We leave Freiburg in the morning for Heidelberg, and I have to admit that I'm just a bit sad. I think I've developed a little crush on Freiburg during our two days here, and I wouldn't mind coming back to explore its little nooks & crannies again and again.

Especially when the sun finally does come out in Germany's sunniest city--

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Brezellogik Eins: Freiburg


And here, I thought the Dallas Cowboys were the most hated team in the sporting world. Guess that goes to show what I know.

Hello again, this time from Freiburg, Germany's sunniest city except, it appears, when we're here. When we visited for a few hours three years ago it was cloudy, and while we did see some sun today the majority of today consisted of overcast skies and one wicked afternoon downpour. No worry, though; since from our arrival just after 10 until the moment I sat down to start writing this (around 630) we were out & about exploring, eating, hiking, eating, sightseeing, and eating.

Oh. And we may have eaten a little, too.

Freiburg is a city with a lot of parks, a lot of college students, every single street under construction, and a lot of impressive sandstone buildings, so it's very much like the one in which we live on a full-time basis. However, while Marquette has its share of amazing sandstone churches, I'm thinking that even those buildings might stand back and applaud the Freiburg Munster--

It took almost 150 years (starting in 1354) to construct the church, which is so big you can't get it all in one shot (and trust me, I tried). This picture is taken from a hill a half a mile away, and it gives you a little sense of just how awesomely big the building is. The people in the city of Ulm, Germany, claim that they have the church with the highest steeple in the world. I think the people of Freiburg may have good cause to dispute that fact.

When we first walked over to the church from our hotel the daily farmer's market was being held in the square surrounding the building--

We wanted to visit the market for one particular reason. And that reason is this--

This is a seasoned bratwurst (with curry ketchup) from Licht's Wurst stand, one of about a dozen serving the market. Loraine's maiden name is Light; the German version of that word is Licht. So since she had a wurst during our last visit, we've always joked that we need to get more from her “cousins”. So today we did.

And boy, were we glad. They were amazing. And they went quite well with the black forest cake and the fresh raspberries I picked up at the market.

You can eat all that (and more) while you wander around Freiburg and check out the old buildings...

Some of which, like I mentioned, are made out of sandstone, like this bank--

And you can also keep an eye our for a touch of local flair, the Bachle--

These little canals are remnants of the old city system for watering livestock and for fighting fires. There's a legend that if you accidentally step into one you marry a resident of Freiburg. So far, both Loraine and I have avoided that fate. We're hoping to do so for the rest of our stay, as well. Oh, and store owners use the Bachle for a little whimsical decorating, as well--

However, Freiburg may be best seen by climbing up a hill to the Schlossberg, which is a big forested area that sits in the middle of the city. You get to hike up a 20% grade for 10 or so minutes

And just as your calves are burning and your lungs are screaming you're rewarded with this view--

If one so desired you could also keep climbing to a tower they have and get views of the nearby Black Forest, but we figured we had enough of a workout for one day. Besides, we're heading there tomorrow. So what did we do instead?

You get a gold star if you said “ate”. But in our defense, that's when it started to rain, and we just had a massive workout, and really needed to replenish & refuel ourselves.  So we found this place called “Market Halle”, an old city market building that has been refurbished into a giant food court filled with restaurants of almost every nationality. The one thing that caught our eye was the pasta with spinach and Gorgonzola--

And for dessert a Kirschkuchen--

I butchered the pronunciation of Kirschkuchen; thankfully, the nice man who sold it to us corrected me (it's kersh-coo-ken, if you're keeping score at home). So while we were worried about heading into the country not knowing any of the language, so far it seems as if we're doing okay. Everyone who hears us trying to butcher a German word with an American accent replies to us in English.

So we have that going for us.

Oh, and did I mention that Freiburg has a lot of parks, including one right across the street from our hotel called the Stadtgarten (or City Garden). I think it earns its name...

And besides, it also gives us today's animal picture!

You'll be happy to know that the truce between Loraine and the animal kingdom still exists. In fact, not one of the 200 or so ducks who call the park “home” even made a move anywhere near her. I'm hoping the peace holds the rest of the trip.

Something we saw today reinforced a suspicion we've had during this trip. And this gets a little weird, so bear with me, if you would. It's about our favorite Bundesliga team (and before you ask, yes, we DO have a favorite Bundesliga team, and we aren't really even soccer fans. We're just travelers who have favorite cities). The team we follow is RB Leipzig; last year, they and the Freiburg team made into Germany's top league together. Leipzig is a bunch of young players just coming into their own who seem to be having a lot of fun while playing (in fact, they finished second in the league in their inaugural season last year), and that's why we've started watching their games despite knowing next to nothing about the game. (If you're curious, we started watching one of their games last year just to see if they had any shots of the city, which we visited in 2013, and kind of got hooked). Anyway, the team has a bit of controversy behind it. You see, the “RB” in “RB Leipzig” stands for Red Bull, which means the team has corporate owners, which is apparently a first in the league. And because of it, there are some people here who feel that corporate ownership, especially by a multi-national company based in the US, is evil (unlike, say, Bayern Munich, which goes out and buys the best team they can year after year after year and wins the league year after year after year). And it's not just Germany; we even saw a sticker on a light post in Luxembourg Sunday that ragged on the team, just because they have American corporate owners.

I bring this up because we went into this store today--

To see if we could find any RB Leipzig merchandise. We went in, and saw stuff for Freiburg, and Hertha Berlin, for Shalke, and even for the evil Bayern Munich. In fact, we saw stuff for every Bundesliga team except one. And you know which team that was?

Uh huh. You think the Packers & the Lions have a bad rivalry? That's nothing compared to RB Leipzig and the rest of the Bundesliga!

Okay; I've babbled way too much today, so I'll just wrap up with a couple of pictures, one of which is a bad pun from a local burger joint--

The other of which is for Loraine's Aunt Suzanne, who asked us to take any pictures with her name in it. Well, Suzanne, the spelling is just a little off, but here you go!

Like I mentioned early, we're off to the Black Forest tomorrow, including a visit to a place that (supposedly) invented the Black Forest cake. We've had several pieces so far this trip; we'll have to see how theirs stacks up. So until then...