We had always wanted to visit Bavaria, Switzerland and Austria. Dozens of movies, like “Heidi, “ “The Sound of Music,” and “The Eiger Sanction” had blossomed colorful images in our imaginations. The notions of towering granite mountains, lush, green, alpine meadows and smiling red cheeked children, playing in the fields, was nourished by many, many books that we had read.
In addition, we had flown over the dark, brooding mass of the Alps a few times and once visited Lake Lugano, in the far South of Switzerland. My Mother’s grandparents had come from Munich in the 1800’s, so there was an ancestry angle to explore as well. I had taken a few years of German in High School, and a refresher course a few years back, so I thought I could get by with the linguistic basics.
We did our research and decided that we would like to spend another five days in Amsterdam, to explore the area’s fine museums and visit the medieval city of Bruges. Then, we thought that we would fly on to Munich, for four days, to explore the region and perhaps unearth a few family connections.
We had already found a GLOBUS Alpine Tour that seemed like a good fit. Dutifully, we made all of our plane, hotel and tour reservations. It was to be a month-long odyssey that we thought might be our final visit to Europe. It had taken us almost a year to research and make all of the arrangements.
Two months before our departure date, GLOBUS dropped the bombshell. They were changing the “unalterable date” of the tour. Okay, we had a choice. Change our tour date or cancel our plans. The first thing you learn when you travel is that you have to make do with what you have, no matter what plans fall through. You have to rock and roll regardless of what happens. We shrugged our shoulders, said “Okay we are still on.” Cancelling the Amsterdam and Munich visits, with all attendant hotel and airline reservations, was problematic. We knew that we would end up eating several hundred dollars in lost payments there. American Airlines also wanted another $600 to change the flights that we had made into Frankfurt. Globus agreed to pick up those costs, so we weren’t going to get completely skinned.
As the July 14th departure date approached we made all our needed credit security preparations, ordered a few hundred Euros from AAA and tried to anticipate every other tactic that we could think of, to ward off the many hurdles that you face on one of these treks. We were finally ready to go.
Thursday. July 14th, 2016- Amherst, N.Y.
We were up early, made final preparations. Then, we took a cab to Buffalo International Airport at 9 A.M. We had applied and been accepted into the TSA pre-flight check in program. The cost of $85 each, for five years, was to prove well worth it. We checked our bags into American Airlines and then sailed through the TSA line with ease. The airport was crowded. It seemed that everyone was on vacation. Our 11:30 A.M. flight to Charlotte, N.C was on time. We boarded and made that leg easily enough. Charlotte is the AA hub and is usually crowded. A storm in the Midwest, two days before, had caused the usual wave of missed connections and rescheduled flights. The airport was like an anthill with passengers scurrying hither and yon. Each flight seemed to have a list of standby passengers trying to make up for the disruption. A bagel and coffee settled us down. We watched the many families struggling to drag huge piles of carry-on luggage and maintain control of what we would later call “Der Teufel’s Kinder.” (The Devil’s Children)
Finally, our 4:40 P.M. flight for Frankfurt, Germany was called. We boarded without incident and settled into something different. A large amount of accumulated air miles, and an extra ticket charge, had allowed us to fly in the business class section. What a difference from the usual cattle pen of economy class! We each had an individual cubicle, whose seat totally reclined for sleeping. Boze headsets are provided to watch the movies. Wonderful in-flight meals and anything you wanted or needed to drink made this a very pleasant and comfortable nine-hour flight into Frankfurt. So this is how the “other half” lives? Pretty nice! German customs were perfunctory and polite. We had arrived.
In the Frankfurt terminal, we had paid GLOBUS $80 for someone to meet us and take us to our nearby Hotel, The Sheraton Congress. Of course whoever that person was had either taken a powder or just not arrived. We collected our luggage (GePach) and found a cab. The ride to nearby Lyonner Strasser was brief and inexpensive, at 25 Euros. The hotel found room for us even at this early hour. The English-speaking receptionist was particularly friendly and helpful. It was 8:00 A.M. locally time (2:00 A.M. EST.)
While we were unpacking, the Globus driver showed up at the hotel and offered to reimburse us for our cab ride. No doubt Globus would fry his butt if we complained. We took him up on his offer. Who needs the hassle? Morpheus immediately claimed the first few hours of our visit.
It was Bastille Day in France. Terrorists had just killed 85 people at a Bastille Day rally in Nice. This trip was already getting interesting. An attempted military coup in Turkey the next day got our attention as well..
We were up and around by mid-afternoon. The hotel lies in a business suburb Niederrburo, close to the airport. There isn’t much else in the area except office buildings and car parks. A surface, light-rail looked promising for tomorrow’s exploration. For now, we returned to the hotel and had coffee in the bar. A very pleasant barman, with impeccable English, who had spent several years in the United States, gave us a whole array of tips for riding the light rail, where to get off and even a few suggested sights to visit.
Later, this same bar man was doubling as a waiter in the hotel’s restaurant. We sipped a decent Riesling. Mary enjoyed the Wienner Schnitzel (breaded veal cutlets) and I, the Forelle (Salmon.) It was a good culinary start to our excursion.
In our room, the T.V was an adventure. Besides the many channels in Deutch, they offered programs in Russian, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, English and French. We watched a BBC Opera in German and faded off into the twilight, happy that we were here.
Saturday, July 16th- Frankfurt Am Main, Germany
We were up early, eager to explore Frankfurt. Its history dates back to the time of the Romans. Charlemagne’s heirs had been crowned here, as Emperors of Feudal Germany. Fredrik Barberossa, one of the most famous of German rulers, had been crowned here.
The River Main (mine) divides the city. Unlike most old cities in Europe, Frankfurt’s downtown area now glistens with the shining glass of new office towers. The European Central bank and the German Federal bank are both headquartered here. Locals say with humor that the new name of the city is “Main Hattan.” The reason such glittering splendor now adorn the landscape is that during World War II, over eighty percent of Frankfurt had been leveled by allied bombers attempting to destroy the ball bearing factories that kept the Nazi war machine rolling. Little was left from the previous thousand years of its history. Now it has risen again as a shining, urban Phoenix.
Later, we were to come across a touching vignette involving these same bombers that had rained destruction on the city. In July of 1948, The Russians had shut off access to Berlin, to all of the allied powers, hoping to starve the city into submission. For fifteen months, of the Berlin Airlift, elements of the U.S. 8th Air Force and its allies flew millions of tons of coal, food and supplies, using converted bombers, into Berlin’s Templehof Airport. The Russians relented after fifteen months. During those weary months, allied planes landed every twenty minutes, disgorged their supplies and took off again in all types of weather, a relief effort perhaps unparalleled in modern history.
In the narrow confines of the approach to Berlin’s Templehof Airport, the pilots flew over what was left of many residential areas. The young children waved to them, curious at the distraction. One enterprising pilot, Col Chuck Halverston, started throwing chocolate bar from the side windows of the D.C. 3’s to the children below. That was all it took. There after there was always a crowd of squealing children chasing after the falling candy. They started calling the fliers “Der Candybombers” and “Der chocolate bombers.” One of the young ladies wrote a letter to the high command of the air force, praising the fliers for their generosity. The letter survived the war. Fifty years later, the now aging recipient of the “candy Bombers” met with several of the “Der Choicolate Bombers” at a happy reunion in Berlin. And now, just outside of Frankfurt, there are two D.C. 3’s parked as a memorial to these warm hearted “candy Bombers.”
We were off by 8 A.M.. We had help figuring out the ticket kiosk for the light rail from our friendly waiter. You touch an emblem of the British flag and the prompts come up in English.. For 7 Euros each, we had a pass for the day to the city’s entire rail system.
The light rail passed a large park area and then through a working-class section of Frankfort. The four and five story condos and apartment buildings are featureless and looked like they were built during the 1960’s era. They could well have been in Toronto, N.Y.C. or any other large city. We noticed a significant population of Middle Eastern people in the area. Germany had allowed over three million Turks to come and work here. They were becoming a significant political reality.
A twenty-five minute ride took us through the aldt stadt to Romer Plaz, the tourist mecca for the area. We got off into a parade the likes of which I had not seen before. Romerplaz is a large, circular courtyard with stone-flagged paving and dominated by St. Paul’s alt kirke. The remaining circle was made up of two and three story restaurants and gift shops, sculpted from that dusty red brick that ages so well. A large fountain stood at its center. We would eat at one of these places, “Der Schwarzen Stern” as a farewell dinner. The Nazi’s had held a huge book burning ceremony here. It is commemorated by a plaque. Today, you couldn’t see anything except several large floats and thousands of the city and area’s LGTB community. It was to be a grand parade of the city’s alternate life style community. Even in NYC, the costumes would have raised a few eyebrows. To each their own.
A hundred yards through the square brings you to the River Main and several sight-seeing boats that ply the river daily.
We had purchased two tickets for the city’s “hop on- hop off” bus for 12 Euros each. The bus circled the city, giving a narrated tour and identifying all of the city’s many highlights. The bank buildings were impressive. The Deutche Bank had two of these new, glass towers, which they tongue in cheek labeled "debit " and "credit." The old opera house is a Greek revival beauty, with a square full of people enjoying their day. Some of the finer homes, on the city’s west end, had survived the War. They are of a two-story, federal style that is more Italianate, than classic Greco Roman in style. Crossing the Main River shows the city off to its advantage.
After the tour, we walked for three miles up and back and across a pedestrian mall that was awash with breakfasters, shoppers and tourist of every stripe. Restaurants and gift shops, a mall or two and every other commercial activity lines this busy strip. There were a few panhandlers, several wandering musicians and other performers. It was like a summer street fair here almost every day during the warm summer months. The welcome visage of a green, Starbucks logo drew us in. I had enough words to order up two coffees. We sat, in the shade of a street side table, and watched the crowd swirl around us. I could hear the linguistic echoes of a dozen languages swirling around us. Some I recognized, some I had no clue. The clothing styles were eclectic. Berka-clad women mixed with the rough and ready cargo shorts and tee shirts of modern day. It was a visual and auditory banquet that was fun to see and experience.
The day was warm at 30 degrees Celsius (80 F) and we were still whipped from Jet lag, so we walked back down to Romerplaz for a final ice cream cone, before boarding the number twelve light rail bound for Burrostadt Niderrad. The welcome cool of the hotel was pleasant on such a hot day. We ordered up a cheese and fruit platter and retreated to our room to watch golf on the BBC and retire for the day, pleased that we had seen so much so early.
Sunday July 17. 2016- Frankfurt am Main, Germany
We were up early today at 5 A.M., our Circadian rhythms all askew. We watched the British Open on BBC before descending to the lobby for Fruhstuck (breakfast) at 7 A.M. At most of these hotels, they present an entire breakfast buffet that would satisfy the Chinese Army on maneuvers. We tried to be careful, mindful of the caloric onslaught to come. They had pretty good coffee, something that is hard to find.
Midmorning, we hooked up with the number twelve light rail for the ride into the Romerplaz. The train was sro. Mothers with strollers, kids with bikes and travelers of every stripe use the public transit here. At Der Romerplaz, we encountered virtual waves of tourists from everywhere. We bought tickets for the ninety-minute tour of the Main River and waded through the peopled throng to the tour boats a few hundred yards away. The boats too were sro. Everyone must be on vacation here in July. A working steam train was just chugging by, camera clicking tourists hanging from the old time windows.
It was 77 degrees, hot and sunny as we glided up and down the Main River. Several museums, a river walk and lots of green space had people spread out all over the place. The rivers are their beaches here. A few beer gartens, along the shore, draw them in thirsty throngs. The vista of downtown Frankfurt is magnificent. Several blue- glass towers glistened in the afternoon sun. Two medieval churches sprouted up amidst the glass as a temporal counterpoint. The Main River only runs a few miles in each direction before emptying into canals, which reach the Danube and the Rhine. For the nineteen-Euro price tag, it is a good ride. After the river tour, we again walked up the pedestrian walkway. Throngs of people were sitting, enjoying beer or coffee or other refreshments. It seems that one of the major past times here is to sit by and watch everyone else walk by.
It was hot and muggy. We were still jet lagged, so we set off back to pick up the light rail for the ride back to the hotel. The ride is a tour in and of its self. The Bahnhof (train station) had at least twelve buses parked out-front, waiting for cargos of camera clickers. People were sunning themselves in the Opera Plaz and every other available space. At the hotel, I wrote up my notes and we watched the British Open on the BBC. We were meeting our tour group for dinner at 6 P.M. in the hotel.
Our GLOBUS Guide introduced herself. Lucia (Lucy) Gelmi is a 5’2”, 90 lb. , fiftyish, fireball from Northern Italy, with all of the kinetic energy of a whirling dervish. This remarkable woman was to be our guide, mother hen and tour leader, for the 44 assembled souls, for the next thirteen days. She had a wry sense of humor and an encyclopedic memory for details. Her constant narration bespoke of a wonderful classical education that included an in-depth knowledge of European Art, History, Geography, Music and several other fields. Like most tours, a good leader makes or breaks the trip. It was to be the case with this interesting and remarkable woman. How she ever found time to sleep, after taking care of the many demands placed on her, was a mystery.
Our fellow travelers were an eclectic group. Thirteen Aussies had joined us. Some were from rural Perth. The rest came from the urban Sydney area. Like most Aussies, that we have ever run into, they were laid back, pleasant and easy to be around.
One couple from Saudi Arabia was adopted by all of us. The Berka-clad wife was beautiful and possessed of a handful of English. Her portly husband had virtually none. He communicated with gestures and smiles and had a wonderful sense of humor. Interacting with them was fun.
The American contingent was a good spread of geography. A couple with their adult (and costly) daughter from Northern California, another Mother and daughter from Phoenix, a couple and two women from the NYC area, a couple from Las Vegas, several couples from the mid west, four Chinese Americans from San Diego, and a couple from Charlotte and one from Atlanta rounded out the bill. Though as ethnically diverse as possible, we were to meld together remarkably well. Each proved to be mostly on time, considerate of each other and affable to socialize with. We tried to have breakfast, lunch or dinner with everyone on the tour over the next thirteen days. The interactions were as pleasant and as educational as they always are. Diverse cultures and backgrounds can make for fascinating conversations over meals or coffee. We were fortunate to have such fine people to travel with.
Lastly, our bus driver got an intro. He is a tall, good-natured Hungarian by the name of Tibor. Either he has nerves of steel or no nerves at all. This fantastic wheelman ( I had to explain to him what a mobster’s wheel man was) steered us in and out of major city traffic, up and down mountain roads that make you dizzy and calmly traversed the Alps with a huge bus, like he was driving a low-slung sports car. He made the ride a pleasure instead of a white-knuckle adventure.
Tomorrow, we would get a 6:00 A.M. wake up call, have our bags out in the hall for pickup and be ready on the bus for the eight A.M. start of the tours. It was to be a fun and educational experience.
Monday, July 18,2016- Rothenburg to Muenchen
We were all assembled and rolling by 8 A.M. We were travelling down the “Romantic Highway.” Created in the 1950’s, it is a route passing through a series of medieval villages and ethnic centers that runs some 350 KM from North to South in Germany.
Whatever the name, all highways in Deutschland are the “autobahn.” That means buses are restricted to 120 KPH. Cars can go any speed they can manage. It wasn’t unusual to see some high-powered Porsche roar by us like we were standing still. Of course, you would soon see their taillights flash, because it is only a two- lane road and not everyone wants to drive that fast. We were also to encounter what the Germans call “Die Stau.” It is a twenty-mile long traffic jam that moves very slowly.
The valleys here are green and rolling. Neatly ordered farms bespeckle the hillsides. It is a region for growing hops, corn and oats. It is also a region that produces beer and wine, which the Germans consume with great vigor. We crossed into the Tauber River Valley, headed to the medieval town of Rothenburg.
A huge fortress dominates the head of the valley here, with the village spread out behind it. From the fortress, we could look out over the vast Tauber River Valley and admire the countryside. A formal garden was growing next to it. As attractive as the village is, there is of course a dark side. 450 people of the Jewish Faith had been penned in a tower in 1215 and then burned to death after being accused of stealing communion wafers. It wasn’t an area that tolerated differences. In later city and town visits, in the entire mid European region, we were to learn that whatever the local baron, lord or King chose for a religion became the official religion of all the people of the area. Those not so inclined were encouraged and assisted in vacating the town, some times forcibly. This practice was the major cause of the Thirty years War that ravaged the area. An earthquake destroyed the castle in 1356. It had been rebuilt in its current form.
We walked through the cobbled stoned streets, admiring the half-timber houses so characteristic of the period. The village is a Christmas (Weinachten) center on steroids. The “Weinachsdorf” is a Christmas store with everything imaginable for sale to decorate homes, trees and persona. We admired the many glistening ornaments, woodcarvings and shiny baubles on sale. The village has an official Christmas season. People from all over the region come here to celebrate Weinachten.
It was hot and in the 80’s (F). We found a wonderful little bakery shop in the main town square (Markplaz.) “The Markplaz Eight” served us up some warm apfel strudel, with a heated vanilla sauce and cappuccino, that were exquisite.
At 1:00 P.M. we all gathered in the Markplaz. Two stories above us, at the crack of one P.M., carved wooden figures started emerging from the wall above, accompanied by music. The colorful musical diorama reenacted a local legend. In it, a conquering Swedish General offered the town a deal. If someone could drink four flagons of wine, the town would be spared. The locals apparently managed well enough. When I saw the size of the flagon, I thought “ Hell this would last the first hour in a South Buffalo tavern. “ Four of them wouldn’t last much longer.
This raised the topic of another odd practice, after drinking water and coffee all morning. It literally governed our movements. Most rest stops in this region, as well as Austria, Switzerland and Italy, charge a fee for using the restrooms. In years past, it used to be a little dish that you tossed a coin onto. Nowadays, it is a metal stile that issues you a ticket after you pay from 50 to 70 cents. There are no exceptions, unless you find the occasional rest stop with “frei washrooms.” So we all learned to carry one of two half-euro coins on us daily. Even at a McDonald’s, you need a code from your purchase to access the rest room. I muttered to the Aussies ruefully that we could be rich if we started this practice in an American gin mill, if they didn’t shoot you first that is.
We took a small back road, headed south. The “Castle Road” passed through a bucolic farmland of neatly ordered fields. We were headed towards Augsburg, passing through rustic villages like Dinkklesburg. Augsburg had first been founded by the Romans in 15 B.C. and named Augustus. It was then linked, directly to Rome, by the Via Claudia. The entire area is rich in underground salt deposits. This “white gold” was to fuel much of the Bavarian and early Austrian economies.
Near there, we passed through a geographical oddity at Reisbayern. Millions of years ago, a huge asteroid had struck the area, forming a bowl-shaped depression some 20 km across. Nordlingen village now sits in the center of the depression. That must have been some meteorite. As a parenthetical, we saw entire acres of solar energy hookups and many units attached to the roofs of homes in the valley. They are extremely eco-conscious when it comes to energy.
We rejoined the autobahn, headed for the Bavarian provincial capitol of Muenchen (Munich). It was of interest to be because my Mother’s grandparents had left here in the mid 1800’s to come to America. They were printers and carried the trade into Buffalo with them, as Kiesling Press.
Munich has many attributes but is most known for the ”Oktoberfest” Celebration. Started in 1810, to commemorate the marriage of Ludwig I and his wife Teresa, it is now an international beer drinking fest. Millions of visitors come to the city, in late September, wearing lederhosen and native garb to celebrate their heritage. Massive tents, that seat thousands, are set up on an established fairgrounds, with tables and chairs. Singing, dancing and the consumption of large quantities of beer mark the celebration. They even have a “trunken corpse “ tent where those too inebriated to move are left to sleep off the celebration.
We passed through the Marienplaz, the central square of Munich. Vendors of all types mingled with stroller, shoppers and sunbathers. Bicycles seemed to be everywhere. We passed by the old City Sendlinger gate and the Victualers Market that offers farm products, food, beer and everything else for sale. Near the Isar River, which flows through Munich, we settled into the Holiday Inn. The hotel sits right next to extensive urban parkland named the English Garden. We off loaded our gear, tired with the day’s travels.
Mary and I decided to try a nearby street-side café called the “Kirr Royal.” You never know when you try a new place. This one turned out to be a keeper. We had the "special," which consisted of a plate of grilled perch, giant grilled prawns, and scallops over a medley of grilled vegetables. It was wunderbar! It was one of the best dinners we were to have while traveling. It is here where we encountered the waitress who dreamed of coming to the America.
After dinner, we walked over to the bridge spanning the Isar River. Throngs of people were sitting in the cafes and restaurants. It was a warm, nice night to be out and about.
But, it had been a long day and we were tired. We returned to the hotel, where we enjoyed a decent glass of a German Merlot. I wrote up my notes and settled in, dreaming of cuckoo clocks and beer gardens in this most colorful of German cities.
Tuesday, July 19, 2016- Muenchen & Oberammergau
We were up and rolling by 8:30 A.M. A local guide, named Elizabeth, had joined us for a tour of Muenchen. The name Muenchen stems from a Latin term meaning home of the Monks, referring to a community of Monks who had lived here on the Isar in the 700’s. The city had prospered by charging the salt merchants a tax to use the bridge across the Isar. Corporate giants like Siemens Electric and BMW now drive the area’s economy. The Two BMW towers look like large circular batteries.
Bicycles seemed to come at us from every direction. 135,000 students attend the various Universities in Munich. They flood the cafes and parks at every chance. The guide said many of the idlers were “chicie mickies,” a derogatory term for wealthy kids with not much else to do. The name is based on the French name for fashionable (chic) and the local term for Muencheners. (mickies)
A brief stop at Nymphenburg, the Summer Palace of the ruling Von Willesback family, was interesting. A five-story central palace, of French Colonial design, was supported by two-story symmetrical wings of servant quarters and storage facilities. Several small, two-story chalets occupied the front park grounds around the duck ponds for guest’s usage. The whole layout reminded me of Churchill Downs in Kentucky, only much bigger! We walked about, admired the formal gardens in the rear. Beyond this had been laid out a hunting grounds for Royal amusement. The Saudi couple took a carriage ride through the attractive grounds.
From Nymphenburg, we drove by a central parkland with “rubble hills.” These are good-sized rubble fields from the WW II bombings. Difficult and expensive to move, Munich had covered them with soil and grass. They became sledding hills in the winter. How is that for making lemonade out of lemons?
Leopold Strasser is the main shopping street in town. All of the name brand stores and better hotels dwelt here beneath a street lined with Lindens. Far down the street, we could see the Victory Arch erected to commemorate a win over Napoleon. The guide also told us about Napoleon’s ruinous march to Moscow. He had been accompanied by 33,000 Bavarian recruits. Only 3,000 of them returned from that disastrous invasion in winter.
We got off the bus at Marienplaz, the central square of Munich, and followed the guide to the city's center. Throngs of tourists were already standing there looking up at the ornate bell tower of the Old City Hall. At 11:00 A.M. figures started emerging from the bell tower high above us. It was a reenactment of the marriage of Ludwig and Teresa, Heraldic dancers, two knights jousting and other colorful figures paraded by the admiring throng to the accompaniment of a glockenspiel bell Carillion.
After the performance, the crowds emptied out like the parting of the red sea. We walked over and through the nearby Victualer’s Mkt. It was crammed to the rafters with luncher’s, shoppers and tourists like us. We ate huge pretzels and drank icy bottled water in the 86-degree heat. Others had steins of beer and munched on the famous local sausages. It was a country fair every day here.
We walked over to Maximillian Square, in front of the old opera house. It is of Greco Roman design and attractive. I would love to see Wagner’s Ring Trilogy performed here. Faithful and able Tibor navigated our bus amidst the many bicycles and traffic jams, out into the rings roads headed South and West towards the Bavarian Alps. Police cars, with blaring sirens, seemed to be everywhere. We wondered what was up? Later, on the autobahn, we passed through a police check point. Every van was pulled over for inspection. The boys were looking for somebody. The night before a nut case had launched an axe attack on several people on a train near Rothenburg. Two days later, a maniac unleashed a hail of gunfire outside of a McDonald’s in central Munich, killing eight and wounding many. No wonder the cops were on edge.
The autobahn, into the Bavarian Alps, is pastoral in scenery. Large blocks of conifers, lindens and birch trees line the highways as we ascended into the hills towards the town of Garnisch, passing through the Ammer Valley. (Oberammergau means upper valley of the Ammer.)
Our first stop was Linderhof, one of the ornate castles of mad King Ludwig II. The grounds are magnificent parkland, with a large central fountain that erupts regularly with water pressure from the alpine run off. The formal gardens here, with a roman visage, look more Tuscan than Alpine. They are magnificent in the afternoon sun. The four-story Palace or mansion is Italianate in design, with ornate cornices and statues everywhere. It was faced in Carrara marble and gleamed in the afternoon sun. Out tour led us through the febrile creation of a gentle madman who spent a fortune to recreated a Versailles like interior, with sculpted borders, draped walls and as much gilt as the eye could stand. Family portraits smiled out at us from an age where Royalty did whatever they pleased. This was but one of crazy Ludwig’s palaces, the most famous of which if the Disney-like Castle of Neuschwanstein. Ludwig and his doctor were found floating in a pond there. Wags whispered that the family and subjects had had enough of his excesses and finally helped him enter into the ultimate fantasyland.
Nearby, we drove through the storied village of Oberammergau. I had heard of the famous passion plays all of my life. They are reenacted here every ten years, in a large community theater. The practice stems from a vow that villagers made while the bubonic plague raged through the region. The people vowed that if the Lord would spare the village any more deaths, they would carry out productions of the passion of Christ every ten years, forever. Curiously, the deaths had ended after that. The village production got bigger and bigger. Now, most of the village participates in the drama. Several productions every day are offered for the 100 days in every ten-year cycle. It is a matter of local distinction to perform in the various plays. Everyone takes part. The theater seats 4,700 and is sro for every performance.
We walked through the now placid village, enjoying the spectre of Alpine A-frames and Bavarian culture. We had a pretty good ice cream cone at a place named “Paradisio,” before boarding the bus for the run back to Muenchen. It had been a pleasant visit to a storied venue.
It was a 90-minute run back to Munich. We ran into the inevitable “Stau,” which slowed us down further. It was nearing 7:00 P.M as we rolled into central Munich. The banks of the Isar River were mobbed with sunbathers and revelers all along a several mile stretch. This is where the young recreate on a hot summer’s day.
A quick change of clothes, and a decent buffet at the hotel, were pleasant. We sat with two Aussie women and a couple from Chicago, exchanging our thoughts on what we had seen today. It was a pleasant ritual to wrap up the day. We also had to pack up or gear and get ready for an early start in the morning. I wrote up my notes, enjoyed a glass of German Merlot and drifted off to sleep, thinking of castles and Bavarian legends in the deep woods
Wed. July 20,2016- Salzburg, Austria
We were up and rolling by 7:30 A.M. It was to be a long day, headed south and east into Osterreich (Austria). We would first stop at the city of Salzburg on the Salz River. Salz means "salt" in German. It is the home of Mozart. His music is a source of great local pride. Some 500,00 souls call the city home. The area had been a source of the “white gold” (salt) since the Roman times. A huge fortress, with crenellated battlements, towers above the city. You can now reach the castle by a steep funicular. It dominates the landscape.
A local guide, by the name of Barbara, joined us for a brief walking tour of Salzburg. We walked through and admired the formal French Gardens at Mirabelle. The gardens are surrounded by Greek statuary and the buildings of the Vienna School of Music. University education in Austria is free to all of its citizens.
As we walked, Barbara pointed out several “stumbledy blocks.” These are copper plates imbedded in the cobblestones, each commemorating one of the 450 souls that Salzburg had been sent off to their demise in the Nazi concentration camp of Malthieseun. The large Cathedral here had suffered significant bomb damage during W.W.II
Our guide politely debunked the whole “Sound of Music” legend. The Von Trapp family had indeed left Austria for America, but they left by train to Genoa and then by boat to NYC to perform there. A lot of the remaining movie scenes had been dreamed up by imaginative screenwriters. Austria does not even border Switzerland. A hike over these Alps would have brought you into Germany.
We crossed over the scenic “love-lock” bridge, spanning the canal, a branch of the Salz River. Like Frankfurt and Paris, the custom had arisen for lovers to put their initials on a lock, bind it to the bridge and throw the keys into the river. From the bridge, we wandered into the large pedestrian mall of the central city. The shops here are expensive and hold good quality merchandize. Some of these shops had been continuously operated by the same families for 300 years. One shop listed 1368 on its corner stone. Coffee houses abounded here. The local custom is to dawdle, over one cup of coffee, while reading the paper and chatting with friends. The café Tomaselli has been open for business since 1753.We window-shopped, visited Mozart’s birthplace and then wandered over to the canal. On the third floor of the “Werfelluncheon,” over looking the canal, we enjoyed some apfel and plum strudel with cappuccino. It was wonderful.
After lunch, we rejoined our land cruiser. Lucy played a tape of The Sounds of Music” as we headed east to Wien (Vienna). There are nine federal states in Austria. The river Ein separates upper and lower Austria. Copper, Iron, salt, silver and magnerite have all been mined in this area. Austria’s eight million citizens live in an area about one fifth the size of California. We passed by the scenic Mondsee lake and village, The nearby village of Hallstadt dates to 1,500 B.C. We drove through the Stryia region. It is here, in the town of Graz, that Arnold Swarzenegger had emigrated from.
As we approached Wien, sitting on the Wien River in the Wacau region of Austria, Lucy explained the area’s prominence. Once, Vienna had been the capital of the Austro- Hungarian Empire, an expanse of eighteen current countries. This city of 1.8 million souls had been the seat of the Hapsburg Royal family. They had ruled here until after the end of W.W.I when the empire had been broken up. Its buildings and layout reflected its imperial heritage. Built in concentric circles, the city had 23 separate zones. Every building seemed larger than life. The Turks had besieged the Capital twice in 1529 and 1683. The architecture represented a variety of differing styles, ranging from Gothic, to Romanesque to Beau Arts, depending on what era the buildings had originated in. In great old cities like Wien, you got a sample of just about everything. I had the same impression of Wien, that I did on entering Washington D.C or any of several other Federal capitols. The place had been built to impress visitors.
We drove by the massive Schumbrun Palace, that we would visit tomorrow. And then, found our way through the crowded avenues to our Hotel, the Savoyen on 12 Schunbrunner Strasser. It was late at 6:45 P.M. We didn’t have time to wait for our luggage or a change of clothes. We had a 7:30 dinner date, at the "Schrieber Haus” in The Vienna Woods, North of the City. The experience (picnic dining in the woods) is what locals call a “Heurigen.”
Vienna is a large city in area. Its north side encompasses grape arbors and a large wooded section called appropriately The Vienna Woods. Tibor piloted the huge land cruiser through the residential streets until we came upon a small restaurant with the name “Schrieberhaus” on its front. We filed into the very German looking restaurant. It opened up onto a large outdoor patio that sits on three levels of terraces, connected by stone-flagged steps and shaded by large Linden Trees. We sat at open picnic tables, on the upper tier, about ten feet from rows of grape vines. The waitresses brought pitchers of red and white wine, which we imbibed liberally. They brought out platters on appetizers and then entrees family style and in good quantity. An accordion player sang for his supper, with many Austrian melodies, while we enjoyed dinner al fresco. The wine flowed freely and so did our moods. We sang, laughed and enjoyed the customs of “Hurtigen” about as much as anyone could. We all tipped the accordion player as we left. It had been a fun night in the Vienna Woods. The ride back to the hotel was raucous. “In vino veritas” had opened up the aging cargo of the bus to all manner of humorous comments. Tibor got us back to the Savoyen, where we unpacked our gear, washed out some clothes, wrote up our notes and drifted off into the arms of Morpheus, tired with the long day.
Thursday July 21, 2016- Vienna, Austria
We were up early, had breakfast and boarded the bus for a brief City Tour. Gabby, our local guide introduced us to Vienna. The City is laid out in 23 concentric rings. The third ring, or district, had been built atop the ruins of the original city wall. Its center had no buildings higher than four stories in height. Emperor Franz Joseph, in 1860, had dictated this architectural restriction to preserve the medieval character of the city. It is the city of Beethoven, Strauss, Haydn, Mahler and other musical geniuses. The Viennese are acutely aware of and proud of their musical ancestry. It also the City of the mysterious Sigmund Freud and the then novel concept of Psychiatry as a cure for nervous maladies.
Four smaller streams of the Danube flow through the city. The larger portion of the Danube, its river port city, sits outside the central city rings. It is about a twenty-minute bus ride to the city center, for the many visiting cruise ship passengers. The city is heavily treed, with bike paths and pedestrian malls threading throughout its center. There seemed to be flowers gardens just about everywhere. The United Nations has a significant presence here as well, with some 4,500 employees working in Vienna. We skirted the famous Vienna Woods, where we had dined last evening. It is a mainly residential section of the city. Though populated by many expensive homes, Vienna also owns and leases some 220,000 low-income properties to those who qualify for assistance.
Along the opulent expanse of the Ringstrasser, we saw four and five-star hotels, several Foreign Embassies and many of the finer shops, all shaded by towering Lindens. It is a visually attractive boulevard. Near the Stadt Park we enjoyed seeing the Alte Opera House and the many Greco-Roman edifices of the Austrian parliament. An enormous statue of Athena. Greek Godess of wisdom, stands out-front. The admirable statue is capped off with a golden helmet, that sparkled in the noonday sun. The city had suffered some bomb damage during W.W.II but most of it had been quickly repaired. Vienna is formerly the seat of an empire and it needed to look the part.
We exited the bus here and walked through the downtown center. The enormous University of Vienna, founded in 1635, is centered here. There are also small patches of preserved Roman ruins, open to public inspection. They had been uncovered during various construction projects. Austria had once been the Roman Province of Panonia.
In St. Stephen’s Plaz, we admired the towering “Black Plague Monument,“ entitled “Deo Filio Redemptori.” It consists of an ascending mass of writing figures commemorating the swath of human destruction that malady had caused, the last episode ending only in 1679. It much reminded me of the work of Norwegian sculptor Gustav Viegling, whose Frogner Park statuary collection, in Oslo, is world famous. Finally, we came up to the darkened and aging structure of the alt Kirk “St. Stephens.” Construction for it had begun in 1137. Vienna is indeed an old city with temporal shadows everywhere around us. ! Throngs of tourists had gathered here in St. Stephen’s Plaz by 11:30 A.M.
The main body of our group was traveling on to Bratislava this afternoon. Mary and I decided to pass. It would be one to many countries for us. We left our companions and started walking the two-miles trek, along the Ringstrasser, to our hotel. We admired the opulent buildings and wealth on casual display. It was 85 degrees and hot out. We stopped in the nearby Botanical gardens of Prinz Eugen complex and enjoyed some coffee and sparkling water in the early afternoon. The formal gardens here stretch away from us, headed up to the magnificent formal reception Schloss of Prinz Eugen, high of the hill. We thought we would walk up there later. There was also a promising exhibit on display in the lower gardens by famed Austrian painter Gustaf Klimt. For 20 Euros each, we decided to pass on the pleasure.
We literally chilled out for an hour in the air-conditioned bubble of the Savoyen Hotel. Then, we set out to walk through the grounds of the Botanical gardens that lay right behind us. We were joined by another couple from the tour that had also remained behind. We read all of the botanical information on the small signs of the colorful and different flora that grew about us. Then, we sat for a time, in the shade, to enjoy the afternoon, as do many Viennese. A small group of Russian youth asked us if we knew where a certain castle lay in Vienna. I understood most of their request but had no idea where the castle in question lay.
A last spurt of energy drove us upward to the pebbled plaza surrounding Prinz Eugen’s main Reception Hall. The esteemed noblemen had been given the property, by a Thankful Hapsburg Family, after he had fought for the Viennese to drive off Turkish and Italian besiegers. It is a four-story, Greek revival beauty, with fanciful statues decorating the roofline. Swarms of tourist were flowing in and out of the Schloss.
It was hot and humid and we were fading in the afternoon heat. A glass of Chianti, with some fruit and cheese platters afforded us a welcome night to read our books and relax, after the long day. Some of our other intrepid passengers were going to take in a concert at the famed Vienna Philharmonic Center this evening. Bless them for their energy. We retired early and got ready for the next leg of our tour.
Fri. July 22, 2016- Vienna (Wien) Austria
We were up and rolling by 7:30 A.M. for our visit to the Hapsburg Summer Palace at Schonbroen. Gabby, a local tour guide accompanied us.
Set in a grand entry plaza, the three-story center building of the palace was daubed a pale yellow and looked somewhat Georgian in appearance. Symmetrical wings, for servants and guests, stretched out on either side of the grand dual staircase. The palace has over 1400 rooms, but only 40 are open for public viewing. W.W.II bomb damage had been slight and quickly repaired.
We lined up for the inside tour and were suitably impressed. This wasn’t one dreamer’s attempt to replicate Versailles. This was Versailles on steroids, the Imperial seat of the Hapsburgs Dynasty. Wooden parquet floors stretched throughout and were framed by the flocked and gilded wallpaper, accentuated by grand crystal chandeliers throughout. In nearly every room stood a seven-foot porcelain and hand painted furnace, though none were ever used here in summer. !8th century portraits of all the Hapsburgs smiled down on us in Reubenesque fashion. Marie Antoinette looked well dressed and fashionable, like her relatives. You couldn’t yet imagine her stretched out over the guillotine waiting to be beheaded.
Blue velvet drapes adorned the master bedroom. In spite of all the grandeur, the place looked comfortable to live in. Padded divans, sofas and chairs were set near card tables and fire places, like the residents would return soon to take up their lives. The grand ballroom was meant to impress. Vast ceiling murals, crystal chandeliers above a marble floor and bedecked with oil portraits of various royals, gave utterance to who lived here. Khrushchev and Kennedy had met here in the 1960’s discussing various international matters, as had other European leaders. The palace had been in the spotlight of history for generations. The Hapsburg dynasty is a complicated mishmash of Spanish, German, Austrian and other royal ties, all intermarried. World war I, as in most of Europe, was more of a family feud that sectarian warfare.
At the rear of the palace, vast formal gardens stretched several hundred yards to a hillside. At the center and crest of the hill is seated a victory arch celebrating a defeat over Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the many wars that raged here over the last few centuries. We enjoyed strolling through the grounds and admiring the castle in the brilliant sunshine of an 85 degrees Austrian day. By 10 A.M, the enormous forecourt, of the palace, was jammed with thousands of tourist waiting for their timed tours. Some three million souls per year visit here. Schonbroen, as a tourist venue, is like the Vatican. Get here early. After reveling in the imperial elegance of the palace, we drove out of Wien, headed south and west.
The scenery in SW Austria is gentle and bucolic. Rolling green hills, with patches of cultivated farmland, are crossed by small streams and dotted with Alpine A-Frames of very old farms. Off in the distance, the Alps always loomed in an ominous presence. We passed by the famous “Baden Spa” on the Schweikert (stinky) River. The area is laced with sulfur deposits that make the spa famous and the water malodorous. High on a far hillside, we saw the Lichtenstein castle, owned by the principality that lies some distance from here on the Swiss border. It reminds you always that the currents of history swirl around you in these regions.
We were headed to PIBER, home of an ancient monastery, a Schloss (castle) and most importantly, the home of the famed Lippanzer Horses. The actual Spanish Riding School is located in Vienna, but the stud farm is here in Piber. A local celebration had commandeered the castle, so we ambled around the horse farm. A young trainer, with perfect English, informed us of the school and the horses. Some 240 selected mares are bred to stallions here in a carefully monitored genetic program. Forty of the pure-bred Lippanzers are born yearly. Their coats are all coal black at birth. Their coats turn white after age three to four years. After a three year stay here, the horses are sent to the riding school for several years of training in dressage and wagon pulling. At about age twelve years, they start performing and do so for another 12 years before they are retired to the farm. Some horses live into their late thirties. The farm had originated in the 1800’s as a stud farm for the Austrian cavalry regiments.
Late afternoon founds us cruising through the Austrian countryside, towards the picturesque town of Villach, founded some 700 years ago. It was here that we started hearing about the mass shootings in Munich which we had just left two days before. I am always mindful, in situations like this, of the classic novel by Thornton Wilder, “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.” When your number is up, it's up! Fate plays no favorites.
We arrived in Villach and checked into the Holiday Inn on Europlaz. It was early yet, so I wrote up my notes, had a decent glass of cabernet and we readied for dinner. We were dining at the hotel tonight. It was a decent buffet and we continued to sit with differing people and enjoy the exchange.
After dinner, we walked through town to the river bridge and enjoyed the warm evening in the Austrian countryside. Later, we packed up our gear, finished reading our books and readied for an early departure the following morning.
Sat. July 23, 2016- Villach, Austria
It was muggy and in the 70’s (F) as we left Villach. We were driving west, along the scenic Drau River valley. The scenery was again bucolic. Lush Alpine meadows, dotted with ancient a-frame farmhouses and neatly ordered farms, lulled us into a narcoleptic trance. We were headed into the Dolomite Mountains of Northern Italy, using the Brenner pass, through the Alps. Wood products, corn for animal silage and polenta grow hereabouts. Lucy told an amusing story about Polenta and poor farmers. The gritty corn product is a staple of their diet. They would occasionally hang a string of bacon or pork that they would first touch and rub on their lips before eating the scratchy corn. This became known as “touching bacon polenta.” She also labeled the rolled hay bales wrapped in plastic as “cow toilet paper.” It got a laugh from the passengers.
Many of the local farmers offer a single room up as a “B&B” for wayfarers. The government doesn’t tax the income as an incentive to farmers. Several castles shone on the hillsides. The eroded peaks, of the Dolomites, sometimes show pink in the right light, reflecting their limestone and quartz makeup. Hard as it is to believe, the Alps had once been coral atolls in an ancient sea, before tectonic plates had shifted and an upwelling of molten liquid basalt has forced the granite cap rock high into the European sky.
We crossed the River Isel as it flows into the Drau River at Lienz. There, we stopped at the famous cookie maker Alfonz Loacker, buying up sweets and cookies with wild caloric abandon. All along the roadsides are biking and hiking paths through the lush mountains. It seems like everyone in central Europe hikes or bikes in the region during the warm summers. The whole Heidi-Mystique reverberated through the countryside with great effect. We were nearing Cortina in the Italian Alps, a large ski center that had hosted the 1956 Winter Olympics. Summer skiing on the glaciers also draws in a large number of visitors. The three eroded peaks of the “Chrystallos” rise up from the ground here. We could see patches of snow on their slopes so very far above. Their steep sides are covered with deciduous conifers, like the Tamarack and Larch Trees.
At the mountain resort lake of Misurina, we stopped to walk the lake and admire the scenery. It much reminded me of similar resort lakes in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. I even found and employed the services of a “pissoir,” something I hadn’t seen since Paris a generation before. From Misurina, we drove back up into the mountains and on into Ausrtria, again headed towards Innsbruck, the fabled home of the Winter Olympics. It had been both a monastery and a former Roman Army Camp. The name derives from the German words, Inn (the river it sits on) and the word for bridge (bruck).
Innsbruck is a good-sized town with a central pedestrian area called appropriately, “The Alt Stadt.” (old town)We checked into our hotel, “The Grauer Baer,” and walked off to explore the alt stadt. Crowds were even then assembling for the Saturday night revelry. We sat for a time in the courtyard. of the palace restaurant, and listened to an all brass band warming up for this evening’s concert. Then, we ambled through the pedestrian mall. It was already awash with visitors. We caught a market, just as it was closing, and bought a bottle of cabernet. We were tiring with the day’s travels and decided to find a berth for dinner. “Die Golden Rachl” (golden roof) seemed to fit the bill. German in style, with wooden benches and chairs, was already crowded with patrons. In my best German, I was able to order two bottles of sparkling water, Wiener schnitzel for Mary and Lake Trout for myself. It was very good. The waitress was kind. Her English was better than my German. She had also greeted us, upon entering the place, with the traditional German greeting “Grusgott.” (God greets you.)
After dinner, we again strolled through the pedestrian mall enjoying the hither and yon rush of the many visitors all around us. People watching, with visitors from just about everywhere, is as fascinating an activity on these excursions as any thing else. It was a warm Austrian night and we were together in the fabled Winter Olympic town of Innsbruck, Austria. How neat is that? We walked back to the room, wrote up my notes and settled in for a glass of cabernet, before surrendering to the sandman.
Sunday, July 24,2016- Innsbruck, Austria
An early morning start found us driving along the INN River Valley into Switzerland. The River Inn, like most of those fed from glacial run off, shown an opaque and milky jade color, due to the large amount of sediment from the eroding mountains. The valleys here are steep. They are formed in two characteristic types. A sharply etched and vee-shape resulted from a river carving the rock and soil for centuries. The broader and wider, “U shaped” valleys were carved out my massive sheets of ice, retreating up the Alps, after thousands of years of melting since the last ice age.
At Samnaun, we crossed into Switzerland. Made up of of 26 seperate cantons, and eight million people, it is only one tenth the size of California. Banking and tourism of course are the major industries here. We needed to convert our Euros to Swiss Francs. The Swiss Francs are roughly equivalent to the Euro. And though Switzerland is not a part of the European Economic Union, free passage through its borders is still allowed. The Red Cross had been founded here in 1863.
We stopped at the head of the Roseg Valley and glacier. There, we boarded several horse-drawn, leather carriages for the ride up the scenic, u-shaped valley. Larches and Tamaracks grow along the steeply eroded sides of the valley. Small piles of rocks dotted the landscape. They are the classic morain of a retreating glacier. Along side of us, hardy souls walked and biked up the rising trail.
At the trail-head, a barn and small restaurant were chock a block with visitors. We enjoyed some Apfel Kuchen and sparkling water in the brilliant sunshine of a warm Swiss afternoon. Four kilometers from here, arose the base of the Roseg glacier. The white, snow-crusted surface glistened in the afternoon sun, high above us. We walked a small path somewhat closer, but settled for an enjoyable afternoon in the Swiss sun. The restaurant displayed samples of Eidleweiss. It is a velvet-surfaced and grey flower that grows only on the high valleys of the alps. Because of its rare and delicate appearance, it is considered a good gift for lovers to each other. The horse drawn sleighs ferried us back to the base of the valley. A light rain speckled us on the way down. It was not unpleasant in the heat of a summer day. In winter, they equip these horse-drawn carriages with iron skis, for use on the frozen lakes and snowy trails of the alps.
Late afternoon, found us heading towards the fabled village of Saint Moritz. The Winter Olympics had been held there in 1926 and 1946. A benevolent climate allows some 322 days of sunshine every year. On the way into town, we passed our first golf course on the tour. It was filled with happy duffers. It appeared something of an anomaly in the high Swiss Alps.
The Palace Hotel, here in Saint Moritz, caters to the carriage trade. It has Rolls Royces available for use by guests. I don’t think we were staying there tonight. Instead, we pulled into the much more modest “Laudinello” (songbird) Hotel. We got our rooms, unpacked our gear and relaxed for a bit, enjoying the view, of the distant Alps, from our room window. We could also see a small lake, in the downtown area, and a large oval athletic track, now in use.
We walked over to the small lake and sat on its banks. Small sailboats were tacking back and forth across the surface in a timeless summer ritual. A young boy was fishing from the bank near us. We sat and enjoyed the clean air and warm sunshine. After a time, we retreated to our room. I wrote up my notes. We enjoyed a glass of cabernet and prepared for dinner in the hotel. The affair was pleasant enough, talking about our day’s adventures with fellow travelers. Thoughts of an early morning call drove us all to bed at a respectable hour.
Mon. July 25, 2016- St. Moritz, Switzerland.
A later start this morning allowed us to loll about until 8:30 A.M. The huge land cruiser slipped out of St. Moritz. We noticed another small lake and a soccer field in town. The hotel Kampinski here is another favorite of the moneyed crowd. Far along the skyline we could see the eroded eminence of Piz (peak) Badilla. It is shaped like a shovel. The carriages ride across these scenic lakes in the winter and the ski crowds are huge. We were heading up towards the Maloja Pass. The route had been first used by the Romans, as a path up from Italy, some 2,000 years before. They must have been some pretty plucky walkers up and down these hills.
Then of course we had to find a way down. Tibor piloted the bus down a virtual cliff side helix of descending circles some two thousand feet to the valley floor. I was glad I wasn’t sitting anywhere near the front of the bus as it swung through those tight circles with the yawning abyss just beyond. Here, along the Valchiavenna River Valley is the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. Most residents speak German and a native Swiss dialect. But, their principal language is Italian. The architecture was changing as well. The balconies were now made of wrought iron, instead of dark wood, fashioned in that classic Italian style that is so prominent in French and Italian architecture. We passed by old villages like Prisapla and Puria, founded in the mid 1600’s. The Roman had constructed a base camp here, probably to take advantage of the plentiful granite quarries in the area. A brief stop at the Morescai Café for cappuccino and we were ready for the Lake country, sitting astride the border of Switzerland and Italy. The Adda River feeds Alpine run off into Lakes Como (George Clooney fame) Lake Lugano, and lake Maggiore. They all attract summer vacationers in throngs. As a footnote, Mussolini and his Mistress, Clara Petacci, had been nabbed here on lake Como, by Italian partisans. They were attempting to escape into Switzerland. The pair had been summarily executed and their bodies shipped to nearby Milan, where they were hung upside down from lampposts.
The vegetation changed notably as we had descended. There are palm trees here and mulberry bushes that support a small silk making industry. There are also tunnels, miles of them along the lakes. And the hillsides of all three lakes are spotted with ever ascending rows of condominiums. We noticed that Lake Lugano had grown appreciably in the twenty years since we had last visited its sunny shores. Float planes glided in for water landings, small yachts cruised up and down the shoreline and every other activity of summer transformed the area into a busy playground. We debated driving by George Clooney’s Villa, on lake Como, but figured he probably wouldn’t invite us in for refreshments.
The bus deposited us on the waterfront promenade of Lake Lugano for an hour. This scenic lake is 50 km long and about 3km across. Italy occupies a portion of the southern side, Switzerland most of the Northern side. It was sunny, hot and in the mid 80’s out. Mary and I walked the promenade, as we had twenty years back. It was a little busier and a little bigger. A gelato vendor provided us with a welcome treat. We had to order in Italian and pay in Swiss Franks. No problems, just mime if you can’t find the right words. Vendors are used to dealing with visitors from across the world. Most are usually pleasant. Some are just plain porky, irritated that their livelihood depends on tourism.
We passed by the small bust of George Washington. Lucy explained that a local lad had made it big in mining in South America. Since, no one had a clue who South American liberator Simon Bolivar was, he chose a bust of the more easily recognizable George Washington to commemorate his American success. The Via Nassa, just opposite the promenade, is loaded with Rodeo Drive types of elegant shops. Most of us steered our wives in the opposite direction.
The nearby Novotel was our quarters for the evening. We got our room, settled in to unpack and chill out. We would be having dinner this evening, at a 120-year-old restaurant, called “Roccabella.” It sits across the lake, in Italy, in the 1,000-year-old town of Gandria. It gave me time to write up the day’s notes and ready for dinner.
At 5:30 Lucy led her 44 ducklings a few blocks over to the shores of Lake Lugano. A small private charter boat collected us for the slow and easy run across the lake. We passed by the St. Mary of Swallow’s church. It had occupied the site since the mind 700s. A new municipal gambling casino sits nearby. Mary and I noticed the Cap San Martino restaurant sitting on a slight promontory. We had dined there, with friends from New Jersey, some twenty years ago. Times sure does pass quickly when you are having a good time, doesn’t it?
The boat glided into the fist floor anchorage of the small and very old restaurant. The owner, a humorous Italian chef, was there to greet us. We were seated on the second floor balcony over looking the lake and all of the twinkling lights of the various condos and businesses. It was al fresco dining, with an awning above us and the occasional flash of heat lightning on the skyline. A salad calabrese was followed by Veg. lasagna and some wonderful cherry cheesecake, accompanied by a dry Italian red wine, perhaps a Multipulciano. During the meal, served by the establishment Mrs. and her daughter, the amusing proprietor and chef, appeared with several silly costumes, singing off key operas and amusing ditties. We all laughed dutifully and tried to cadge a second glass of wine. It was good food, on a gorgeous night on a beautiful resort lake in Northern Italy. How much better than this does it get?
The ride back across the lake was pleasant. Most of the group had gathered on the top deck of the boat and were laughing about running one of the assembled for President. He immediately asked for cash donations. The new casino was lit up like a Christmas tree. The hillside condo lights flickered like twinkling stars. We off loaded and walked up to the hotel. Mary and I had a nightcap glass of Merlot at the hotel bar and then retreated to our room. The early morning wake up call would come all too soon.
Tuesday, July 26, 2016- Lugano, Switzerland.
We were rolling early this morning at 7:45 A.M. driving south and west along the Alta Strada Hwy. towards the Sanger Torte Tunnel and then on to Stresa, on Lake Maggiore. On busy days, the tunnel here can have a twenty miles backup of cars. A newer tunnel, some 59 km in length would open up this December. They do like their tunnels here abouts.
The Ticino River runs high above us, draining down from the Alps into lake Maggiore and eventually into the Po River that runs all across Northern Italy. It was here that Lucy explained the formation of Switzerland as a modern state. Three of her Cantons, Uri, Intervilla and Schweitz, banded together in 1291 to fight the Hapsburg oppressors. Gradually they added territory in the shifting alliances of the time. The Italian ruling family, the Savoys, Napoleon from France and various Bavarian rulers had all warred back and forth across the intervening centuries until the modern state had fleshed out after W.W.I. There really are several Switzerlands. The western part speaks French, the southern Italian and the largest part, German. It is an interesting amalgam that works well for its inhabitants. I think the geographical obstacles of the Alps foster the separation of identities.
Lake Maggiore is beautiful. Slightly larger than Lakes Como and Lugano, it also seemed less populated. We bordered a small excursion ferry here for a ride out to the castle and villa of Isola Bella, one of three islands in near the North shore of Lake Maggiore. It was and is the ancestral home of the Borromeo family. Starting out as medieval, Milanese bankers, they are about as close to royalty as it gets in Italy. Linked in with the ancient Medici family and then through recent intermarriage with the Agnelli’s of Fiat fame in Milan, had made them a powerful economic power in the region. Construction had started on the Villa in 1632.
As we approached Isola Bella, the formal Italian Gardens rose up several stories above us. They are outlined with Greco Roman statuary and impressive on this sunny afternoon. A small concrete berth, near the base of the villa allowed us entry onto the Island. Several vendor stalls and small shops crowded the winding stairway up into the villa, like a medieval market. The four-story Palazzo reserves the upper two stories for use by the Borromeos. When they are in residence, the family ensign flies from a flagpole. In the vestry we were treated to several medieval suits of armor and the first of many carved wooden structures. A large formal fireplace filled out the entryway. We wandered up through the formal dining room. Opaque chandeliers of Morano glass framed the formal china and blue crystal goblets laid out in a formal service on the lengthy dining room table. High, vaulted ceilings, with molded cornices, were enhanced by a Tromp L’oeil effect that gave the room a three-dimensional feeling.
In the family portrait hall, the most prominent portrait is that of the family saint, St. Charles. He had given the family its motto, “Humility.” In the music room, Mussolini had held a conference in 1935 to avert W.W.II. Framed documents of that conference adorn the walls. The rooms were all open to the sea, via large French doors, giving light and delicious sea air to make the place comfortable. Napoleon had reportedly slept here one night in 1806 in the formal bedroom, with four French doors open to the sea. And no, there is no sign that reads “Napoleon slept here” on the walls. Several years later, Napoleon would level and destroy the family fortress at Verona, Italy, the ingrate. The house treasure is a small, glass-topped table, with a mosaic of 30 colors of glass, some 30,000 pieces in all. It had been given to the family by Pope Leo XII.
In the basement we were treated to a novelty. All of the several rooms, more like Blue tinted grottos, are lined with pebbled walls and slate flooring. They served as cooler quarters for the family during the hot months of summer. The walls here are four feet thick and insulate the Villa from the intense heat. The rooms are strangely appealing, if somewhat dark in appearance. The family had assembled several exhibits of its livery, horse tack and villa implements for casual view by visitors. Iron implements from 1,000 B.C were secured in a glass case. They are collectively casual about their antiquity here. Finally, we passed through the tapestry room. Five enormous arras, each woven with silken threads and taking over ten years to create, line the walls. They feature medieval village scenes and various animals in the region.
It was warm and we were tiring with the day. We descended the winding castle steps, past the vendor stalls and anchored ourselves in a small café on the island’s edge. We were joined by the California couple and their costly daughter. We enjoyed decent Panini sandwiches and sparkling water. We caught the 12:15 ferry back to Stresa. We had a great view of the shoreline here. The magnificent Palace and Bristol Hotels have housed the wealthy. Queen Victoria had favored the lake and visited often. A small statue of her stands on the grounds of the Bristol Hotel, to commemorate her visits.
After assembling our crew, we drove up through the Toce River Valley and up six thousand feet, through the Sempions pass of the Alps and the Gondo Canton gorges. There are several marble quarries here. At Isel village, we were eyeballed by a border guard, before we were allowed to cross back into Switzerland. At Monte Leone, we stopped for a break and a grand view of the glaciers all around us. From a small hillside, that we climbed, Mary and I enjoyed a visage that we would not soon forget. The hard, black granite and speckled, white icy patched of glaciers all around us. Nearby, a small Augustinian Convent still operates. It had been here since the time of Napoleon.
While driving through this magnificent scenery, Lucy told us the story of the Vatican Swiss guards who all emanated from the Brieg valley near here. French King Francis I had whipped the Swiss cantons in battle, circa 1515. He was much impressed with the ornate costumes and fighting ability of the “Swiss Guards.” He offered the Swiss favorable terms if they would send a detachment of their “Guards” for use as a personal bodyguard, at his court. Like most things, it became the fashionable thing to do in European courts. Soon, most had their own contingent of “Swiss Guards,” including the Pope in Rome. Over the ensuing centuries, the practice had died out literally. The Vatican “Swiss Guards,” in their ornate uniforms, are the last vestige of this mediaeval protection scheme.
Late afternoon found us approaching Zermatt, Switzerland. The Rhone River here has carved a 1,000-foot trench for itself as it moseys down into western France. The view along the mountainside road is daunting for acrophobias. There are 50 peaks in the area that reach over 13,000 feet into the Swiss sky.
The Houses had returned to the Heidi style, dark wooden, A-frames with wooden balconies and lush green grass all around their barns and fields. The scenery here is awesome. The small railhead of Tasch is where we got off the bus. Trucks, cars and buses are not allowed in Zermatt. To reach it, we had to board a small cogwheel train, for and twenty minute ride upwards into the mountains, to reach Zermatt. From the Bahnhof (train station) we walked down the town’s narrow and major street. People were scurrying hither and yon, day-trippers hiking here or taking the train further up the mountain. We found our small Inn, the Hotel Pollax, and got our room assignments. We were berthed in room # 300. It opens onto a small balcony overlooking a courtyard behind the hotel. Ewe could see the many condos lining the hills above us. And, we could even see the Matterhorn looming high above us, a spectral presence that commands the region.
Mary and I wandered the small medieval street, window-shopping and people watching like everyone else. A small parade of goat -like ibexes, tended by Swiss children in native costumes, was a photo-op and amusing distraction. We found a small co-op and bought a bottle of cabernet and a few sundries. We prepared our gear for tomorrow and settled in to write up my notes and enjoy a glass of wine, as we gazed upon the fabled Matterhorn high above us.
We were on our own for dinner, so we decided to try something Lucy had told us about. It a is a local custom called a "reclette.” Basically, you are served a block of melted local cheese, with small potatoes and a pickle. It is accompanied by a glass of “fendant," a local white vintage. It is a light meal that the Swiss have taken to. We sat on the small street balcony and enjoyed this tasty repast as people from everywhere strolled by. It was delicious. After dinner, we took a short walk through the scenic streets of an Alpine village and then returned to the room to turn in. After a long day like this, we were as tired as old logs in a swamp.
Wed. July 27, 2016- Zermatt, Switzerland
We were up early at 7:00 A.M., conditioned already to the early wake up call, rushed breakfast and quick boarding onto the bus. Today was something different. We had a free day in Zermatt. Some of our more intrepid colleagues were taking the cog railway up the Gornetgrat Mountain and then, via tram car, to the Kleiner Matterhorn (little Matterhorn) for a spectacular close-up of the east face of the famed peak. In that I was not overly fond of heights above the level of a stepladder, we elected to pass on the excursion.
A late and leisurely fruhstuck (breakfast) sent us out into the warm temperatures of an Alpine day. We walked through town, enjoying all of the sights and sounds of a busy resort village. Day hikers and visitors were scurrying hither and yon. We admired the lovely Swiss Alpine hotels like the Zernatterhof, Monte Cervin and Villa Margherita, trying to imagine them choc a bloc with skiers and snowboarders, in the deep winter.
Another parade, of the horned ibexes, passed by us. The child herders, clad in lederhosen, were poking the goats back into line as they sniffed and leaped up on everything trying to eat grass and anything their teeth could crunch. West of town, we came upon the hiker’s path. Just 6 km, up the rapidly ascending hill, would bring us to the base of the Matterhorn. Instead, we sat back on the lush grass and watched the clouds play across both the Kleiner Matterhorn and its bigger brother. The stark, granite peak is hook shaped, like a rhinoceros horn. It appeared splashed with white sheets of snow across its face. The dark, moisture-glazed surface glistened in the morning sun.
We walked back through town, stopping for a visit at the Protestant Church. Then, we bought some cappuccino and pastries at a bakery and sat in the Bahnhof square, watching the ever-present activity of the day. Electric cabs and hotel conveyances came and went, loading and unloading passengers who came daily to do what we were doing. It was sunny and in the high seventies out. (f). We stopped at a small market and bought cheese, bread and wine for lunch and then wandered about town. A large Tennis court area, which I suspect they flood in winter for ice-skating, took up a few blocks. The Swiss put a lot of value on recreation for their people. The land that the tennis courts occupy must be worth a fortune.
The classic a-frame Alpine chalets are stacked up all around the hills of the village. It must cost a bundle to anchor them into the hillside, plus drag everything else needed for construction. Many had flower-laden balconies, signifying the owners presence. Many were empty, waiting for their ski-oriented owners.
After a picnic lunch, we walked again through town to the western trails, leading up to the Matterhorn. Many of the hikers were dressed in lederhosen, a type of leather shorts, and sporting the small, felt Swiss hat. A backpack and twin hiking poles filled out their gear. We were familiar with the balancing poles from cross-country skiing. Whether they were of real use in hiking or just looked good depended on the level of difficulty in hiking involved. We started calling them “Mountain yuppies.” It was relaxing to have a day free like this. We read our books, enjoyed a glass of Swiss Merlot and emulated my hero, Ozzie Nelson (napped)
Dinner that evening at 7 P.M was held in a basement, Rathskeller room of the hotel. It was of mediocre quality. We sat with friends and listened to their tales of the day’s excursions onto the glacier, before turning in for the night. Tomorrow it was back on the treadmill.
Wed. July 28, 2016- Zermatt, Switzerland
We got rolling even earlier this morning. We were scheduled to meet Lucy at the Bahnhof, by 7:45 A.M. Breakfast at the hotel, and a quick walk down the main street to the Bahnhof, found all of the pilgrims in their proper places. Everyone had even remembered to keep the return portion of his or her train ticket, for the ride down to Tasch. Lucy did have the troops well trained. It was 46 degrees out (F) and the coolest morning that we had yet experienced in the Alps. The journey down the mountain was uneventful. The Tram had been built in 1927. Before that, horses must have had the duty of ferrying guests and luggage up the mountain to Zermatt. Faithful Tibor waited for us in Tasch, with both the bus and our luggage. Bless the man for his diligence.
Lucy’s early morning narratives, about Switzerland, were a palliative. They allowed us to become more fully awake and ready to meet the day’s challenges. She advised us that Switzerland has universal conscription for men, starting at age 20. The 220,000- person army has the entire nation on reserve status until they are 35 years of age. And citizenship status here can be achieved only after twelve years of established residence, in country. As progressive as the Swiss are in most areas, they had only granted women the right to vote in the last generation. Some old fashioned values lingered here high in the mountains. The cavernous granite walls of the mountains are cathedral-like in their appearance, well featured for quiet contemplation on an early morning ride. The run off from these mountains found its way down to Lake Geneva and later the Rhone Valley as the river meandered into France. The hydro-power, from the running water, provides much of the electrical power needed in Switzerland. There are many vineyards in this part of Switzerland. We had tasted and enjoyed of one of their wines the other evening.
The Philosopher Jean Jacque Rosseau, and Later the poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron had found inspiration in these mountains. Byron’s “The Prisoner of Chillon” had been written with a local castle as a backdrop. Stravinsky had composed much of his opus, the “Rights of Spring” here in the Jura Mountains. It is a place where inspiring thoughts are writ large on the granite summits and amidst the lush green valleys.
In this gentler, western region of Switzerland, there are dairy farms in abundance. The local Gruyere cheese is world famous. Another type, Brienz (tasting like parmesan) is a local favorite. The brown, Holstein and Simeron cows are the producing agents of the fine cheeses.
We were approaching the Swiss Capital of Bern, located on the Aar River. The Aar River has that opaque, jade coloring characteristic of an Alpine River, laden with silt and rocks. Like most federal capitals, Bern is well ordered, with many impressive govt. buildings. The pale sheen, of a pastel green on some of them, indicated construction had occurred prior to 1505. Canton flags flew from many of the buildings, colorful and eye-catching like flags at a country fair. The Swiss Parliament meets four times yearly, for three weeks at a time. Initiative and referendum are important here. Just about every important issues is voted on by the Swiss electorate at one time or another. The smallish city of 130,000 souls is neat in appearance, with many sidewalk café’s for people enjoying this lovely summer’s day.
We were stopping for an hour rest, at something called the “Bear Center.” The animal representing the capital had been decided, in centuries past, by the Barons, who decided the first animal killed on a certain hunt would be the City’s emblem. The visitor center sits along the South bank of the Aar, some thirty to forty feet above the river. A fence separates visitors from the grassy hillside and the river. That is because two full-sized brown bears roamed beneath us. We watched them waddling along the trail and into the bushes, always in search of food. We enjoyed watching them and basking in the warm sun.
Our journey continued, as we drove north towards both Inter Lochen and our destination of for the day, the picturesque City of Lucerne. A brief stop at a “Migros” center allowed us an opportunity to look up at the Der Jungfrau Eiger, of movie fame. It loomed high above us. Ten hang gliders were circling the valley around us, riding the thermal currents. We had a wonderful cherry cheesecake and cappuccino while chatting with friends. I was beginning to feel a little rocky, so we purchased the Swiss version of Mucilex in a pharmacy, before leaving. We drove up through the Bruning pass, enjoying the spectacular views of the Alps all around us. The late afternoon provided the usual clogging of automobile traffic into Lucerne. Lake Lucerne is called “Brienz” by the locals. Besides tourism, the city is a center for learning the craft of woodcarving and construction of fine wooden musical instruments. The traffic slowed us to a crawl. We drove through the city center, noting the large oaken, Chapel Bridge that crosses the river and leads to the Jesuit church. It was 7 P.M and I was feeling like warmed over doo doo. We drove down the lakeside to our hotel, the Grand Hotel Europe, that sits along the lake’s bank. It was late and I was not feeling adventurous. Mary and I settled in for sparkling water, caesar salads and salmon wraps on the second floor balcony of the hotel. They were very good. We could observe sailboats and pleasure craft drifting by on the picturesque lake. We found our second-floor room, unpacked and wrote up my notes for the day. The combination of medications, and a glass of Multipulciano, made for a powerful sedative. I hit the hay like a felled ox.
The following day (Friday July 29th) is lost to me. A combination of upper respiratory distress and pertussive coughing, that I would later label “The Lucerne Plague,” knocked me out for the day. Fortunately, I still had the presence of mind to remember that I was carrying with me a “Z-pack,” a five-day treatment of penicillin. I began that aggressive cure hoping for the best
Our colleagues drove up to view nearby Mount Pilatus. They then took a brief walk through the alt stadt, to the Chapel Bridge, and finished the day with an hour-long cruise along the scenic banks of this beautiful resort lake. Mary later joined them for a dinner in the hotel, enjoying the company of couples from Las Vegas and Atlanta. As for me, I was just hoping to answer the bell tomorrow morning and claim a seat on the bus. Thoughts of being left behind in a strange city, and possessed of mediocre language skills, were not appealing.
Saturday, July 30, 2016- Lucerne, Switzerland
We were up early. I was able to pack up and get our bags out into the hall or pickup. Ready for the bus, we climbed aboard at 7:45 and claimed our seats, happy to have made the bus. I promptly feel asleep for the next two hours. We first stopped at Schaffhausen, Switzerland to view the Rheinfalls. The series of white-crested falling water drops some sixty feet into the calm waters of river below. Ancient castles, on either side of the Rhine here, made this a commanding control point for all river traffic northward. The Rhine itself only becomes navigable in Basel, Switzerland. It then flows North through Germany to the Baltic Sea. It is the main, north-south water highway of Germany. Our colleagues were framing pictures of the scenic falls. It felt wonderful for me to just sit in the sun. Small tour boats were launched from either side of the river, motoring up to the rapids and thrilling their passenger complements. It made me think then of the Maid of the Mist, and her sister ships, as they navigated the frothy waters beneath Niagara Falls and then braved the swirling matrix of the enormous amount of water falling over the two hundred and sixty foot drop, from Niagara Escarpment above them.
After Rheinfalls, we headed North and East through the northern tier of Switzerland and on into Bavaria and Germany. A perfunctory stop at the German border was necessary to pay a road fee for use of the highways. We motored by both Stuttgart and the famous spa of Baden Baden as we approached the mysterious environs of Die Scwartzwald (Black Forest.) The Romans had so named it (Sylvia Negra) when they first forayed into Germania. From a distance, the densely packed and lush conifers look almost black in appearance and ominous in feeling. It was also in the deep woods of Germania that the Romans had first lost two full legions of men, to ambush and slaughter by superior forces of native “German Barbarians,” as they then called them. After these defeats, the Romans were never again anxious to venture into the densely wooded and mysterious forests of Germania, preferring the gentler and more defensible regions of the Rhine River valley.
The Region is lush with grape vineyards first cultivated by the Romans. Farms along the valleys are neatly ordered, with precisely laid out fields and lush looking flora. Perhaps because of their woodland heritage, the area is famous for its woodcarvings. Elaborate koo koo clocks, with revolving figurines on their faces, became a trademark of the region. We passed through colorful tourist towns like Furtwagen and Treeberg, before stopping at The House of Black Forests Products, home of master carver Adolph Hesse. One whole wall of the two-story complex features two layers of carved figures, that cycle out from the wall on the hour, amusing all of us. Woodchoppers, chopping wood, and dancers moving up and down were finely carved and attractive figurines. Inside, we found every imaginable trinket and decorative piece that could be carved from wood. Ornaments, key chains, small figurines and bric a brac filled the many shelves. Carver Hesse was demonstrating his craft with a small carving knife. He said that he had learned his trade from his father who had learned it from his grandfather.
On the second floor of the facility, amidst more elaborate carvings, sits a small cafeteria that attracted us like flies to doo doo. I must have been rallying here. I remember eating some exquisite Black Forest Torte with good coffee. Great stuff. Outside, sitting in the sun, we sampled some pretty powerful schnapps and some locally famous cherry liquor. It wouldn’t take very long to get hammered drinking these powerful potions. After the shopping spree, we continued on through southern Bavaria. We were headed to our now familiar hotel in Franfurt Am Main. We were then passing by Heidlberg, that ancient seat of learning. The University here had been founded in 1386. We could see the red sandstone Hochberg Castle sitting high above the town on the banks of the Neccar River. Mary and I planned to visit here on Monday.
The inevitable “stau” (traffic jam) consumed us in its swarm. It is here where Nila, the “costly daughter” of the California couple, took charge. Using a “ways” traffic app on her I-phone, she was able, with great assuredness, to reroute the bus onto local roads and avert the largest part of Die Stau. I was amazed that two professional drivers and a tour guide listened and followed her lead, which was spot on. She must be a pretty good salesperson someplace.
The bus arrived at the Sheraton Hotel on Lyonner Strasser. Had it only been two weeks since we had left here? It seemed like a lifetime of experiences had elapsed since last we stayed here. Most of the tour was now over. We all us found time to slip Lucy and Tibor our gratuity envelopes and thank them for all of their many kindnesses during the tour. We then settled into our rooms and got ready for the farewell dinner that was to be held in downtown Frankfurt. Feeling a little peaked, I had enough energy left to want to be at the last shindig with people whom I had spent virtually every waking hour for the last two weeks.
Faithful Tibor picked us up at 6:45 P.M for one last ride into Town, parking along with seven other buses near the tourist maelstrom of Die Romerplaz. We walked through the very crowded plaz. In the far corner of the plaz, sits the two-story refectory of Die Schwartzen Stern (Black Star) restaurant. The night was warm and beautiful. Hundreds of diners sat underneath tents in front of all of the cafes and restaurants in the plaz, eating, drinking and enjoying a summer night. We were seated on the second story of this very old restaurant. The long hall had the windows open, but it was a little stuffy. I don’t think they do air conditioning in these parts, or even need to in summers. Efficient waiters dolled out salads, salmon with potatoes and then a wonderful ice cream treat for dessert, with a glass of red wine. It was both tasty and appreciated.
Lucy thanked all of us for our cooperation on the tour. We had been exemplary passengers in being where and when we had to be, on time. She also made a humorous presentation, passing out several gag gifts to passengers, all of whom took the teasing with good grace. I don’t think the Saudi gentleman understood the meaning of the potato peeler, that was a reminder for him to learn how to cook. Sometimes humor is untranslatable. The evening was warm and we were tiring with the day. We stood outside in the plaz and watched the ebb and flow of tourists on vacation on a warm summer night in Bavaria.
The ride back was nostalgic. On one last performance, on the microphone, Lucy sang mournful operatic tunes and offered her appreciation to all of us for our generosity and cooperation on the tour. She said that she would miss us. We certainly would miss her. At the hotel, there were parting handshakes and farewells in the lobby. Friendships had been forged in this brief sojourn. Most of the folks were headed out early in the morning, so no one stopped by the bar. We too headed for our room and the wonderful embrace of the sandman. It had been a longish few days since the onset of the Lucerne Plague. I still had some recovery to get through. We had two more days, here In Frankfurt Am Main. We would travel to see Heidelberg and experience one more fabled attraction in Bavaria. But, the tour was over and we were glad that we had come. It was an adventure, a learning experience and just plain fun to wander through the medieval Alpine precincts of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. ‘We would not this way come again, ‘ I thought.
Sunday, July 31, 2016 - Frankfurt Am main- Finis
We rose later this day, having caught a full nine hours of sleep and feeling a little better for it. After a leisurely frustuck, we chatted with the couple from Atlanta in the lobby. They were headed up to Nuremberg, before flying out on Monday. The Two Aussie women were getting ready to train down, through Deutschland and Switzerland, to Venice, extending their vacation by two weeks. The woman and her daughter from Phoenix were flying to Rome for a week’s cooking class. Most of the others had already flown out this morning. We saw Lucy Gelmi, our tour guide, and thanked her again for her guidance and courtesies of the last two weeks. She was a pleasure to listen to every day, as she narrated the geography, history and characteristics of the places that we had visited.
A visit with Ozzie Nelson was in order for an hour (nap) Then, we decided to ride the train into the Romerplaz for a brief visit to Town. I felt I could handle that. Outside the hotel, we ran into faithful Tibor, the fantastiche wheelman. We again thanked him for all of his patience and driving skills. The light rail downtown was chockablock with bike riders, mothers with children and people dressed in the native garb of many nations. The cars were always full to the rafters.
The Romerplaz, as usual, was teeming with summer visitors. It was warm and sunny out. We walked down to the river, sat in the shade and watched the tour boats come and go. There is something interesting about harbors. There is always a story unfolding, with a huge cast of characters. We crossed the “lock bridge” there, admiring the skyline of the city from the river. Bike riders, strollers and picnickers were everywhere along the River Main. We took it in for a time and then decided to return to the hotel for an afternoon nap. Yea Ozzie ! A glass of wine, with a large piece of chocolate, kept us calories. We watched TV, read our books and surrendered early to the sandman. I was on the mend, but still not doing that well.
Monday August 1,2016- Frankfurt Am Main.
We were up early this morning. It was a cool, 53 degrees out (F). We joined a full busload of Japanese tourists for breakfast. Their tour was just starting out today. We prepped for our run into Heidelberg. A car came for us and dropped us off downtown in front of a small office of the “Green line” tours. It was an English-speaking tour. Mostly Americans and a few Aussies filled out the small bus.
Heidelberg, a small city founded 1,000 years ago, lies 100 km. south of Frankfurt Am Main. On the way south, Adrian, our guide gave us a synopsis of the town and the area. In W.W. II at war’s end. Heidelberg had been surrounded by the American Third Army, under the command of General George Patton. Three members of Patton’s staff had graduated from Heidelberg University, as had the Nazi commander of the encircled town. Like amicable colleagues after a sporting match, they made a deal to surrender the town to Patton, avoiding any of the large-scale damage suffered by many other cities in Germany.
Heidelberg has 150,000 souls living here. 35, 000 of them are college students attending the University. It means that every coffee house and beer joint in the city is always filled with adventurous youngsters looking for companionship. The Neccar River bisects the town and is connected by a 500-year-old wooden bridge. There are many Victorian mansions sitting along the Neccar River. The attractive homes been built by the Kaiser’s many English cousins during the late 1800s.
We first stopped at the red sandstone expanse of the Hochberg Schloss (castle). Construction of the fortress had started in 1585. Sitting several hundred feet above the Neccar River, it has a commanding visage of the town and area. Its crenellated battlements were only slightly damaged. That ruin had occured during the “30 years war.” Armies of the Vatican and the French had come to convince Fredrick V that his choice of Protestantism was not acceptable. Local fathers had decided to keep the castle as it is today. It was deemed more romantic for the tourists to see the damage of war and hear the story of besieging armies.
A new visitors center and ticket kiosk first greets you. Then, across a green expanse of grass lies the small road that leads up to the castle gate. A sixty-foot deep moat protects the castle proper. A stone walkway now serves to cross the moat where an actual drawbridge had kept out marauding varmints. The huge wooden gate, with sally port, is attached to an imposing bell tower, whose clock still chimes on the hour. Both looked like they had taken a few hits from angry cannons. The blank space, atop the gate area, showed a bare spot where marauders had removed the family coat of arms for a souvenir. The sturdy metal grating, that drops down behind the gate, looked like it would still keep out a unit of attackers.
The whole floor of the central keep is layered with rounded paving stones that had been here forever. They are difficult to walk on. The main troop quarters building, the cookery and the administrative hall were all still functional. Weddings and official celebrations are still held in the main hall of the castle. One oddity of the place is a large two-story wine vat. The local barons at the time had decided to place a ten per cent tax on wine growers in the region. All of the collected tax, both red and white wines, were dumped into the huge vat. That didn’t work out too well. The vat was filled only twice and then left empty as an oddity.
We were glad that we had come here on a tour. Taking a train to Heidelberg is an option. But, then you have to cross the old bridge on the Neccar, walk about ¾ mile up the steep hill to the castle and then reverse the process to get back to the town center. I would never have made it. From the castle, the bus drove us into town. We got off a few blocks from the Markplaz and walked over to that busy square. Die Alt Kirke (St. Mark’s s) commands the square. During the strife, of the Thirty Year’s War, a room divider wall had been constructed down the middle of the church. One side was reserved for Catholics, one side for Protestants. This practice lasted until the early part of the twentieth century.
Surrounding the church is an array of expensive shops, cafes and restaurants, with tents in front, like the Romerplaz in Frankfurt. It may have been summer recess for college students but someone was occupying just about every seat in the large circular plaz. The tour had provided cheese sandwiches and water for us. We sat in the shade and watched the people from all over come and go. It was sunny, hot and in the mid 80’s out (F). We then walked across the square and down another Strasser, lined with open restaurants, to the 500 year old Alt Bruck (old Bridge). The red sandstone castle above us, and the many homes along the river, give the city a well-ordered and attractive appearance. We sat for a time here and enjoyed the view. I don’t think we will this way come again, so we appreciated the scenery.
The bus picked us up at 2 P.M and we drove back the 100 Km to Frankfurt Am Main. The bus let us off near our hotel. We picked up some sandwiches and other food and retreated to our room to catch a much-needed nap. We were leaving early the next morning, so we packed our gear and drifted off to sleep, thoughts of all we had seen, these last few weeks, drifting through our dreams.
Tuesday, Aug, 2, 2016- Frankfurt Am main
Five A.M saw us up and around. We lugged our gear to the quiet lobby and hailed a cab for the ride to the Frankfurt airport. Passengers were already standing in line, at the American Airlines Counter, waiting for the 6 A.M opening. A pleasant enough clerk put us through the whole “who are you” routine, before sending us our way through the security gates. We had no trouble, arriving at our gate for the nine-hour flight to Charlotte, N.C. A last visit to a gift shop gobbled up our remaining Euros. It was time to go home.
Riding in Business class was just as pleasant headed west as it was coming over. The stews treated us like visiting royalty. This is the only way to travel. At charlotte N.C. customs and security were a breeze. This is why we had chose Charlotte, N.C. to fly out of and into the USA. Philadelphia and Newark can be a nightmare if the crowds are big, and they always seem to be.
The-two hour run into Buffalo was a breeze. I enjoyed seeing the Lake Erie shoreline from the air. Canal-side and downtown Buffalo glistened in the afternoon sun. Mr. Dewars even helped make me feel more human, though the plague was still haunting me. A cab from Buffalo International delivered us to our castle in Amherst. We unpacked our gear and settled in to watch some American style television. It was an actual pleasure to watch all of the stations in English for a change. It was now almost 3 P.M in Frankfurt, (9 P.M. EST) but we were as tired as old logs in a swamp. It had been a wonderful adventure in the Alpine regions of Europe. The Terrorist schmucks had missed us twice and we were safe and home. God Bless America.