Sunday, September 9, 2018

You Have Reached Your Destination (And Yes, We Know!)

SUNDAY, 9/9:

Really? There are people who would want to eat sushi for breakfast?

Greetings from the seething pit of humanity known as London's Heathrow Airport, where it's just after 9 am local time and there are actually people sitting and eating at the sushi & caviar bar a few meters away. Now, I like seafood as much as the next person, but eating it for breakfast? Before getting on an international flight?

Uhm...not so much. But maybe that's just me.

The first part of our journey went well, and if you're actually reading this then we made it to Chicago, where I'm planning on posting it. Hopefully, then, the final part is just as smooth, we make it home in one piece, and we can stop living out of a suitcase.

Although, if I have to admit, it has been kinda cool doing just that the past 12 days.

Like I mentioned yesterday, there are a few topics & tales that I didn't get to while we were in Germany, but I still wanted to discuss. For instance, do you know that most people think we're Germans?

No; seriously. More often than not, when we were just sitting and eating breakfast at the hotel or trying to buy something in a store, people would actually start speaking to us in German like we lived there. And lest you think I'm strange (well, more strange than usual), I'm not. We would be in line behind fellow Americans, and the German clerk waiting on them would speak to them in English. Then, when we walked up, they picked up the conversation in German, at least until we started to speak. I don't know what it is, although I have a sneaking suspicion it's because we don't act like Americans.

As an example, sitting down the row of seats from me are two American couples, and you can tell they're American. They're loud, they're large, they're wearing baseball hats, and they seem to have this attitude that screams out “Look, we're 'Mericans”. In Europe, Americans stand out, and that's what Loraine and I go out of our way not to do. I mean, it helps that we're not loud and not large, but more than anything we try to fit in. We try to act like the locals act, and do what the locals do. When we're in Europe, we try to be European, and not American.

And that, I have a sneaking suspicion, is why many people in Germany (including the sweet little old guy complaining about the rain one day) think we're Germans.

We're okay with that.

Next, the tale behind Watzmann. You remember Watzmann, Berchtesgaden's iconic mountain, right?

This is a mountain that greets everyone heading to the Berchtesgaden National Park in (far) southern Germany, and its unique structure has inspired a tale. Apparently, if you look at the peak, you see an old king of the area and his family. Something bad befell the royal family, and instead of leaving the area they turned themselves into stone to they could stay in their beloved land forever. The peak on the right is the king, the smaller peak on the left the queen, and the little peaks in between are their seven children.

They may have turned to stone, but they get to rule over their lands forever.

Now, it's time to issue a correction. What seems like forever ago (but was, in reality, only a week ago last Friday), I was talking about the Wagner opera based on a German folk tale called “Lohengrin”. It was one of King Ludwig's favorites, and I mentioned that it may have something to do with a giant killer swan that led Bavarian soldiers to a great military victory.

Well, I was slightly wrong. Lohengrin was in fact NOT a giant killer swan that led Bavarian soldiers to a great military victory. Lohengrin was, in fact, a human who led Bavarian soldiers to a great military victory. According to the legend, in fact, he did so while in a boat that was being pulled by a swan, probably not the greatest form of locomotion while in battle but one that does make the legend just a little more colorful.

So my apologies to lovers of Bavarian folk culture for getting the story wrong.

And my apologies to this guy, too--

He was actually thinking he was descended from someone special.

Now, a tradition that (surprisingly) some of you actually look forward to. I've been doing this every time I've gone to Europe, and this is my (counting on my fingers here) 13th trip. Right before my first trip, my (then) 6 year old niece Mallory was bummed because she couldn't come with us. So I took a bookmark with her picture on it, and shot a picture of that bookmark in Europe so I could show that she DID indeed go with us. Well, I've done it every trip since, so for 13 times the now 21-year old Mallory has come with us.

Mallory, here you are in the sleepy little town of Bernau-am-Chiemsee--

How about a few pictures I didn't get to use? Pictures of the exotic language they use in German stores--

Of ducks--

Or even weirder looking ducks--

And, of course, of the greatest creatures Europe has ever produced--

Speaking of which, we drove down many roads with “Cow Crossing” signs. I personally love this one, which combined a “Cow Crossing” sign with a “Dip in the Road” sign that makes it look as if the cows have, uhm, left their calling card--

That's right. I'm easily entertained.

This whole trip, of course, was inspired by Loraine's interest in the 19th century Brian Wilson known as King Ludwig II. I've tried to share some of the stuff we've found out about him, but there's a whole lot more to tell. If you're interested, check out the Bavarian Palace Department website for all kinds of cool stuff on the dude (and in English if you want, to boot). And if you ever go to tour the area yourself, I highly recommend buying the 14-day Bavarian palace ticket, which allows you to get into almost every single Ludwig-related attraction, plus lots of museums and monuments, as well. It was 44 Euro, and I think it paid for itself after just the second or third day.

Loraine's been working on this trip on and off for three years now, and I think this may have been one of her masterpieces. There was a ton of research and planning she needed to do, and I have the sneaking suspicion that what started out as a quixotic little vacation turned into a labor of love for her. So thanks for that labor of love, my love. I enjoyed every single second of it, and, as always, stand in awe of your trip planning abilities.

You're amazing.

Well, that's about it for this little expedition. If you enjoyed these ramblings, I write stuff like this (usually minus the cows and the mountain views) every day for my day job. You're more than welcome to check them out. As for what's next? Well, it's going to be a little different in a few ways. One, we're doing it next April, not at the end of summer. And two, it's a down and dirty, much shorter with one major purpose.

We're going to Leipzig to see a professional soccer match featuring RB Leipzig (our favorite Bundesliga team) going up against Freiburg (the team from my favorite German city). We don't even know what day the game is (just the weekend it's scheduled), so that's how on the fly that trip will be.

So until April, thanks for reading these. Hope you've enjoyed them, and hope you didn't get too sick of these guys--

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Ein letzter voller Tag (One Last Full Day)


Look. I made a new friend today!

Greetings from the NH Munchen Flughafen hotel, where we are spending our last night on German soil before heading home really, really early tomorrow morning. How early? Well, we'll probably wake up just after 4am here, so we can get a ready to go for our first flight of the day at 730. To give you a little perspective, we'll be waking up around 10 pm Saturday night in Marquette. Our flight to Sawyer gets in just before 9 pm Sunday night.

Yup. We land 23 hours after we wake up for the day. It'll be glorious.

(Pity sarcasm doesn't travel well in the written word, isn't it?)

We did two things today. The first was to return to the Residenz Palace in Munich, the first place we visited on this epic journey. The reason for going back was that we didn't get there until late in the afternoon of the day we arrived, and they were already closing off parts of the exhibits. We just didn't know how much we missed. As it turns out, they had closed almost 60% of the stuff we were supposed to see, so it's a good thing we went back. I mean, mostly it was to check out rooms this this--

That's the throne room for Ludwig's randy grandfather Ludwig I, who you may remember from yesterday's blog as the guy who liked women a lot. We also checked out the rebuilt chapel (bombed during World War II) where Ludwig II was formally crowned. But perhaps the most stunning thing in the complex was the Residenz Theater, where Ludwig II would go and watch the operas that he loved so much and that made up such a large part of his life--

His friend Richard Wagner, the guy who wrote “Ride of the Valkyries” as part of his “Ring” trilogy (thus enabling everyone in pop culture from Bugs Bunny to “Apocalypse Now” to steal it), would often put on productions at the theater. Ludwig would attend, sitting in his royal box--

That would change over the years, though, as the people who went to the show would not watch what was happening on stage. Instead, because the lights were left on during the performance, they'd turn around and focus their opera glasses on the shy king, who then became quite aware that hundreds of magnified eyes were staring at him. That was something he did not like. Eventually, he built a theater into his Neuschwanstein castle and had productions put on there for an audience of one—him.

At least that way, no one would be staring at him.

Our other stop today was one of the great municipal parks on the planet, the Englisher Garten (English Garden)--

The park was started by one of Ludwig's predecessors, who took the old royal hunting grounds and turned it into a park for everyone to enjoy. In true Bavarian style it has a Beer Garden--

And in non-traditional Bavarian style you can also see people playing cricket in it.

But perhaps the most unique thing about the park is the surfing. Yes, surfing, in a city park thousands of kilometers away from the nearest ocean. Don't believe me?

I wouldn't lie to you, would I? What happens is this—there's a river running through the park, and where it goes under a bridge the surfers (and the city) have constructed a series of walls that force the river into a narrow path, causing it to rush through the bridge and kick up some rather mean rapids. The surfers wait on either side of the river. One jumps in and rides the current as long as she or he can, and then the next person takes their turn. There are dozens of surfers at any one time, and hundreds of spectators watching them, cameras and phones in hand.

It's quite the spectacle. And not something you'd expect in a city park.

That's about it for today. What else do I have to share? Well, how about a statue of a guy strangling a wild boar with his hands--

Cows in the middle of Munich--

Well, okay, they're not REAL cows, but they were still cows in the middle of Munich.

And we saw this--

Germany has been rocked the past several days by neo-Nazi rallies in the eastern city of Chemnitz, similar to what we went through in Charlottesville last year. So across the country today rallies were held to show that most Germans are tolerant and loving people, much like rallies were held in places like Marquette to show that most Americans are tolerant and loving people.

While our trip is almost over, these blogs aren't. I'll be spending a LOT of time in airplanes and airports tomorrow, so you'll get another one of these with all the stuff I didn't get to. That should include (but is not limited to) the legend behind Berchtesgaden's iconic Watzmann peak, how German elections (coming up next month) are held, and how I may have been slightly mistaken a week ago when talking about a giant killer swan.

Oh, and I'll have my niece Mallory's annual picture (and the story behind it), as well.

Well, 4 am comes way too soon when you're...heck, 4 am comes soon no matter what you're doing. So with that in mind...

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Circle is Complete

FRIDAY, 9/7:

We zipped through the entire life of Loraine's BFF, King Ludwig II, today. Literally, too. We went from his birth to his eternal resting place.

Greetings from Munich, where we started this whole crazy thing a week and a few days ago. It was actually raining quite heavily when we left the sleepy little town of Bernau-am-Chiemsee this morning, but thankfully (aside from a few quick & scattered showers) it cleaned up quite nicely by the time we arrived here. And now that we're about to leave Germany, the forecast for the entire next week calls for a return to summer, with sun & temps in the 80s. No six days of rain, no cold, no nothing. Just perfect weather for a week, right as we're getting ready to head home.

You hafta laugh at the irony of it all. Because if you didn't, you'd end up crying.

Today's major task was a visit to Schloss Nymphenburg, a palace on the outskirts of Munich that the Bavarian royal family would escape to when the pressure of actually living IN Munich got to be too much.  And, of course, the castle was guarded by, among other things, a swan with an attitude--

Admittedly, after yesterday's visit to Herrenchiemsee, I don't think any castle would compare, but there was one difference here. Here you could take pictures inside! So if you've ever wondered what the inside of a Bavarian castle looks like, now you know--

Ludwig was born in this castle, which is why we visited. In fact, his mother popped him out right here--

Thankfully, there was no re-creation of that event.

The castle grounds were kind of cool, with museums, outbuildings, and one of the strangest things you may ever see, a hundred gold King Ludwigs waiting to blow your mind--

The gold busts are actually part of a fundraiser for the castle and its preservation. For a mere 400 Euros we could've taken one home with us. Unfortunately, that would've made us choose between having room in our luggage for the bust or room for our chocolate.

You can guess which one won.

I had mentioned that Nymphenburg was a place on the outskirts of Munich that the royal family used to escape the pressure of actually living in Munich. Well, when the pressure of living in the place where they went to escape the pressure of living was too much, the men in the family would take a five minute walk and escape to a building called Amalienburg, which served as their hunting lodge. Yup...they had a hunting lodge in their back yard. That would be like a Yooper hunter having a deer camp next to their garage.

Only, I'm guessing there are very few U.P deer camps that look like this on the inside--

Ah, rich people. They're just like you & me. Except they're not.

Throughout this whole trip we've been talking about King Ludwig II, but did you ever wonder about King Ludwig I? Well, he was Loraine's Ludwig's grandfather, often pictured with quite the gleam in his eye--

He was a dandy, that Ludwig I. He liked women. He liked women a LOT. He liked one woman so much, in fact, that he gave up his throne for her. But his love of women is still noted inside Nymphenburg palace in a room called “The Gallery of Beauties”--

In this room are paintings of 36 women that Grandpa found interesting, including Ludwig II's mom. It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Ludwig II also has his own “gallery of beauties” in one of the castle's outbuildings--

Only, Ludwig II really didn't care about beautiful women. He cared about these beauties--

That's right. Showing that he shared perhaps only a name with his grandfather, Ludwig II really didn't care that much about beauties until they had four legs and a tail. And could pull one of these--

Aside from horses, Ludwig II also had a thing for carriages, the more blinged out the better. In fact, legends exist of his nighttime winter carriages rides, where he would often pop in unannounced at the home of one of his subjects for a warm drink. And because he was a gadget freak, one of his carriages was also tricked out with a battery operated light, perhaps serving as the first electric headlight ever used.

I wonder what his grandfather would've thought about that?

Our other big stop today, after seeing where Ludwig was born, was to see where he lies in death--

This is Ludwig's sarcophagus in the Wittelsbach family crypt in St. Michael's church in Munich, where Loraine left a flower for him. The picture is not mine; you're not allowed to take pictures down there, and there's a very cranky old man watching to make sure you don't. However, the Internet is filled with all kinds of dark and illicit things, including the picture I just shared.

Don't worry. I scanned it for viruses first.

Other than that, we just bounced around the area for a bit, dodging showers and trying to pick up a few last gifts (other than chocolate). We did get a chance to see what may be the world's smallest car--

A cute little bird that I think is called a coot--

And what all well dressed men will be wearing (or not wearing) this season--

It's Germany. Don't ask.

We have one more day left on this little adventure. That's tomorrow, where a return visit to one final castle, a curry-wurst or two, and one of the biggest municipal parks in the world await. See you then!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Admiral Ackbar Strikes Back


I apologize in advance today. You're going to be seeing a LOT of pictures of fountains.

Greetings once again from the sleepy Bavarian town of Bernau-am-Chiemsee, where we no longer have workers building a tent underneath our window. Nope; now we have sausages cooking underneath our window. It's not a bad smell, at least as far as travel smells go. But when I made the joke yesterday about the German habit of using every edible part of the pig, I wasn't kidding.

Really, I wasn't.

Today was another castle day, but this was a very special castle. Loraine's BFF King Ludwig II built Schloss Herrenchiemsee on an island in the middle of the lake near which we're staying. And this wasn't just any old castle. Ludwig, who had this thing for French king Louis XIV, built Herrenchiemsee as an (almost) exact replica of Versailles, down to the gardens and fountains. Technically, he both ran out of money and died before finishing it, so it's not an exact replica, but you can decide for yourself--

Trust me. It's close enough.

As a student of history, both the castle and the museum attached to it were fascinating. For instance, did you know the castle also served as the place where the West German constitution was drawn up in 1948?  I did not know that.  And as someone who dabbles (or tries to) in photography, the grounds sent me into a sensory overload. And that went double when the water show started. Every half an hour for five or ten minutes a series of six huge fountains would shoot water high into the sky and out of the mouths of every imaginable (and some quite unbelievable) pieces of sculpture. I swear that I could run around that place for three or four straight days and not take all the pictures I wanted to take.

So that's why I apologize in advance for subjecting you to too many fountain pictures. It's not my fault, though. It's his--

The way the castle grounds were designed, you could take a picture, move five feet, and see an entirely different aspect of the grounds and/or the fountains going off. The symmetry of the place was just incredible, which allowed you to line shots up just perfectly. Ludwig apparently had a dream when constructing this castle. It's just sad he never lived to see that dream actually completed.

Like I said, I apologize in advance for the torrent of fountain pictures you're going to see. I took (ahem) almost 160 just of them, and it was gosh darned hard trying to narrow it down to just five or six.

But here goes. I present to you the fabulousness (Jim's made up word of the day) of the Herrenchiemsee fountains--

The splendor--

The glory--

The Greek gods--

The panthers projectile vomiting a stream of water--

And the genius who thought of doing all of this--

Even when the water show wasn't going on, the statues themselves were very cool to look at, especially if you like angry turtles next to angry iguanas--

Snakes that will give you nightmares--

And Admiral Ackbar, standing in the middle of it all--

You just know he had to be seeing the people out to get Ludwig kicked off the throne and telling him “It's a trap”, right?


Okay. That's it with the fountains and the statues. I promise. The grounds did have other things that you could see, including the ferry boats that brought us over--

A wonderful line of trees that provided shade on this hot day, another example of the symmetry you see everywhere on the grounds--

Cows off in the distance--

And a robot lawn mower, as well--

Seriously. It's like one of those robot vacuum cleaners you see in people's homes, except it was rolling around the grounds cutting grass. Little kids were more interested in watching that then they were the castle. Heck; they were even more interested in the robot lawn mower that than they were looking at Admiral Ackbar, and that's saying something!

That trip to the island and back basically took up our whole day, but the genius behind our little tour had one more great idea up her sleeve. Remember a few days ago when we were driving through a small town and she saw a monument to her BFF? Well, it's only eight kilometers from here, so we took our dinner down there, and ate it in a park, with the Alps in the background--

After exploring that little town, we were quite impressed, especially by the nexus of biking & hiking trails that emanate from there. So don't be surprised if, some year in the future, a blog or two is written from the German town of Grassau--

Tomorrow we head back to Munich, look at few more Ludwig related sites (including a castle belonging to his family, set in a city instead of a forest), and start to think about heading home.

You guys DO think we should come back home, right?