Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Sunday we got up bright and early and headed to the Munich airport. It was a fairly simple check-in process and we had breakfast and did some last minute shopping in the gift shop. Our flight to Atlanta was pretty uneventful; we each watched several movies.

If you have ever traveled outside the US, you know what a pain the US Customs/Immigration process is. I'm a citizen of this fair country, and they make you feel like a criminal for coming home! Our immigration officer was a real jerk too. Heaven forbid you are competent AND courteous. We made it through, got our luggage, rechecked our luggage and were going through reentry security when my darling niece looks at me and says, "Oh no! I left my purse on the plane." Quick recap... we had just gotten off an international flight, went through customs/immigration, claimed our bags, rechecked our bags and completed the final step for entering the country. You don't just go back and grab you purse off the plane! Then my mom pipes up, "I left my calendar in the seat pocket too." I love them; I wanted to strangle both of them. We found the Delta help desk, and she suggested we go to the gate where our plane was parked and ask one of the gate agents to help. Unfortunately, there were no gate agents at gate B10. At the neighboring gate, B12, there was a group of them, and they were able to radio to someone who found both the purse and the calendar, and were going to bring them to us. But remember... we just went through international security... so this nice Delta employee had to take our items through a special security area before she could bring them to us. The whole process took us an additional hour or so, but we made it on our plane back to Denver with no issues. Well, except that Sonja's bag didn't make it on the same flight we were on and was coming on a later flight. The airline dropped it off on Monday morning. If this final day were the only travel snafu's we had, I'd say we were pretty lucky. And, it's good to be home.


Rain, rain and more rain... We had breakfast at the hotel. It was a nice buffet, and gave us all more opportunities to try new foods. After breakfast, we started the relatively short journey south to visit the castle Neuschwanstein. It's probably the most famous castle in Germany. It took about two hours to get there... in the rain. We bought tickets to visit both Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. Hohenschwangau was the first castle we toured, built by Emperor Maximilian, and Neuschanstein was built by his son, Ludwig II.

The process for getting into the tour is interesting. When you purchase your tickets, you are assigned a group number and time for admission. So you hang out outside the entrance to the castle, then they display your tour number and you can scan the bar code on your ticket and go in. If you miss your group, you are not admitted and must go buy another ticket and time slot. We didn't have any problem getting in to Hohenschwangau, and it was a modest castle with fun things to see. But getting to Neuschwanstein is a real challenge. It's a 40 minute zig-zagging uphill walk. So we decided to take a horse drawn shuttle up the hill. Once they let you off, you still have another 5 minute walk uphill to the castle. We had our lunch at a local bier garten, then went to wait for the horse cart. We ended up waiting for a pretty long time for our ride up the hill. Once we got there, our number was next to be called. CRAP! So, Sonja and I each took turns hustling mom up the remaining walk, in the rain. We got to the entrance just before they called our tour number. But we made it and were happy. Unfortunately the first thing you do once you enter the castle is go up four flights of spiral staircases. My poor mother!

But seeing Neuschwanstein is an unforgetable experience. It was amazing and crazy all in one. The throne room, his bedroom... everything was only seen to be believed. Oh... and one more thing... Ludwig had one of the rooms of the castle decorated to look like a cave. Ya, a cave, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. You literally walk from his study into a cave. It really was weird. No wonder they arrested him for being insane. The views from the castle were really awesome, though. You can understand why Ludwig wanted his castle built here.

After the tour, it was still raining, so we decided we'd take the horse cart back down the hill. We waited in line for maybe 20 minutes, and no cart showed up. We finally gave up and started the long trek down the hill. There was a pedestrian short cut that we took, but it was steep and slippery. I was really glad to finally get off that hill! The rain finally stopped on the drive back to our hotel, and we ended the night with dinner at the hotel and a relaxing swim.

Friday, Vienna

We started off in the morning at our favorite bakery, Ankar, then hit the road again. Before hitting the road, we had to take another trip in the car elevator. It was a challenge and we were all in stitches laughing by the time it was all over. We stopped in the town of Melk to visit the Benedictine abbey there. We had a guided tour and were allowed to take pictures, just without using a flash. There were three rooms in the abbey that were really stunning: the Marble Hall, the Library and the Chapel. The Marble Hall was exactly that... floor to ceiling marble in every shade. It had carved columns and intricate detail, lots of gasps when we entered. The library was wonderful as well. Our tour guide said that they abbey owns over 1,000 books that are hand written. One monarch had all of the books rebound in the 18th century so they would all look uniform. Finally the chapel... I have never seen anything like this before in my life. I'm pretty sure every jaw drops at least an inch upon entry to the chapel. We got to the chapel about 5 minutes before noon. At noon the monks in the abbey practiced the midday blessings. So we sat though and followed along in our program. We did call and response and a couple of hyms... all in German. I think we did a respectable job. It was really a cool experience; one we'll not soon forget.

After our tour, we journeyed on to Germany and our last stop on our trip. Our hotel was in Freising, a north suburb of Munich. When I went to check in, they didn't have our reservation. I have to do a real song a dance to get us a room. It wasn't nearly as nice as the one in Vienna, but it had a pool! YEA! We settled into the room, then went for a stroll in the town to find some dinner. Again, we were impressed by the narrowness of the streets, and how quaint the town was. We had dinner at a Bier Garten. Back at the hotel, I went swimming while the other two travelers flaked out.

Thursday, Vienna

Thursday in Vienna was "Mom's Day". This was the day that she never thought she'd see in her lifetime, going to the Spanish Riding School to see the Lippizan stallions. We started the morning bright and early with a ride on the U-Bahn to Michaelerplatz. And, of course it was raining. It took some studying of the map and creative interpreting (in the rain) to find the building, but we finally did. We got there a bit before the morning exercises started, so when they opened the door for choosing seating, we got a PRIME spot in the center on the rail. It was the perfect location. We stayed for the full 2 hour exercises, and were just amazed at the skill and training of horses and riders. So much grace and rhythm, it was marvelous. We had a bit of a break before coming back to shop in the gift shop and then take a behind the scenes tour of the stables and the arena. They also showed us the summer riding ring and mechanical walking track. My mother was really happy!

We did make a quick detour after the horses to sip STARBUCKS!!! Mmmm... it tasted like home. Next we made a brief stop at the Vienna Opera and the Opera Museum. Mom and Sonja humored me, but I thought it was AWESOME! It was like a pilgrimage to opera Mecca. After a trip on the train to our hotel, we walked across the street and had dinner at a restaurant on the Schloss Schonbrunn grounds, then called it a day. A very good day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Wednesday, Vienna

We decided to spend the day at Schloss Schonbrunn. This was the summer residence of Empress Maria Teresa, and later Emperor Franz Josef and wife Elizabeth (Sisi). The grounds are enormous too. Big enough for a zoo and orangerie! We took the audio tour of the palace. We got the tour upgrade and saw 40 rooms versus the standard that was on 26 rooms. The price difference was totally worth it. It's so hard to comprehend the sheer opulence of the place. I had two favorite rooms: the first was pale yellow with blue and white sketches done by the royal family. The other one was pink with roses everywhere. I would totally have both of these rooms in MY palace. After the tour we went out to explore the gardens. Unfortunately, we started getting rained on and had to cut our exploration short. We walked back to our hotel and chilled (napped) for a little while. We took the train into the center of Vienna where we had dinner reservations at Figlmullers. Figlmullers is famous for Weinerschnitzel. It's bigger than the plate it comes on! Sonja and I had the schnitzel, and Mom had Goulash. The service was fantastic, the food was hot and delicious, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner there! After dinner we were prepared to do some walking around Stephensplatz. Five minutes into our walk, the clouds opened and it rained. And rained. And then rained some more. We were lucky to find a covered pedestrian area to wait out the downpour. I bet we waited 20 minutes! Finally it let up enough for us to hustle back to the train station and our hotel. We had a really great day despite the rain.


On the road... again. We got up early and hit the road. We programed the GPS for a more scenic route, and actually got to drive through some of the Black Forest. We had to stop at a gas station to purchase a special sticker for the car in order to legally enter Austria. We cruised right up to border patrol, got the nod from the dude with the AK-47, and cruised into Austria. We made it to Salzburg by early afternoon. This was just a stop and stretch your legs point for us. We walked over to the Schloss Mirabell and walked around the gardens. These are the gardens featured in "The Sound of Music" movie during the Doe-a-Deer song. They run around a big fancy fountain... that's in this Mirabell garden. We then took a buss/van tour of the city. It lasted about an hour. We left Salzburg at about 5pm and continued east to Vienna. Our hotel was right on the western edge of town, right across the street from Schloss Schonbrunn (palace). I parked under the hotel and had to take a car elevator to get to the garage. The elevator was a very tight fit for the car. The three of us started the giggles trying to get in and out of the elevator and get parked in a space. I think we were all glad to get to our room! Sonja and I went down to the hotel restaurant for a bite to eat, and Sonja experienced spatzle for the first time. Sonja likes spatzle! It's curled noodles in a stingy white cheese sauce. Really, it's about the most decadent bowl of mac and cheese you've ever tried. Two thumbs up!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Sunday and Monday

We got up on Sunday morning and went to base. We had breakfast at the officer's club then mass at the base church. Then it was time for SHOPPING at the Post Exchange. We bought lots of stuff to bring back for ourselves and friends and family. The PX was HUGE. It is offically one of the largest in Europe. It doesn't sound like we did much, but it took all day. Beth made us dinner and we all sort of vegged the rest of the night. It was good to have some down time, and of course there was shopping that had to be seen to.

Today (Monday) we had another homemade meal by Beth (breakfast). We got postage for postcards and gas then headed to Trier. Trier is the oldest inhabited city in Germany. It was a significant Roman outpost a long time ago... as in B.C. long time ago. There are some amazing Roman ruins and beautiful architecture in the town. We went to one gorgeous old cathedral, Trierer Dom, or the Cathedral of Saint Peter. We also saw the "pink palace," officially the Electoral Palace. Trier is only about 1.5 hours from Beth's house, so we had less time in the car today. There was also more shopping in town. Yea!

Tomorrow is our last day staying with Beth, Liza, Georga, Betsy and Jim at Beth's house. We will leave tomorrow morning at 8am or so and drive to Vienna with a stop for sight-seeing in Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is famous for the "Sound of Music" and as Mozart's birthplace. It's also about 1/2 way to Vienna from here.

I don't know how much I'll be able to blog once we leave here, but I'll do my best.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Day 3

Today we decided to let Sonja pick our adventures. Sonja really wanted to see a Shokolade museum, chocolate museum. Originally it was the Lindt museum, that that was simply too far away. Destination Stuttgart. I'm not going to lie, it was a pretty long drive. So our first stop was Ritter Sport chocolate factory, museum and store. They don't do factory tours anymore but we could see the factory from the outside. We walked around the visitor center, learned about the history of the company and watched an educational movie... in German. I got to use my new meager German speaking skills... "Spraken sei English?" There's a lot you can do with pointing and hand gestures. Also... at the store was an outlet section. We LOVE outlet. Sonja went a bit crazy in the store; she was so happy. Now we have to figure out how to get 20 pounds of chocolate back to the US.

Our second stop was the Porsche museum and factory. We chose not to do the factory tour (flippin expensive!) but did get the audio tour of the museum. It was really beautiful! So many pretty cars! We took a gazillion pictures. The museum was set up to follow the racing line of cars as well as the consumer driving cars. We all decided that we want a Porsche. They let us sit in one at the end. One of the most unique parts of the exhibit was the sound experience. You would stand on these big black discs, and surround sound would play one of the cars starting, engine revving and driving away. The black disc vibrated under your feet so you could feel it AND hear it. It was pretty cool.

We took a slightly more scenic route back to Beth's house. It was fun driving in the Germany countryside. We stopped in Ramstein at a Bier Garten for dinner. We made it home about 10pm and crashed. We did have a pretty good thunderstorm last night. But it was a GERMAN thunderstorm.

Sunday we plan to go over to the military base where Beth works.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Germany Days 1 and 2

We're here!!!

We made it to the Munich airport Thursday morning at about 7:30am. Customs was a breeze. Getting our rental car was fairly easy.

We rented a GPS with our car... can I say the best $100 I've ever spent?!? We plugged in, entered the address for Dachau Concentration Camp, and viola! We were parking the car at Dachau. Note to those driving in another country... go on the internet and figure out the road signs BEFORE you go.

Thanks to everyone's advice, we went to Dachau Concentration Camp. It was really moving. The site has been well preserved and maintained. All the signs were translated. We rented the audio tour, and that was definitely worth the $5. It's meaningful to see this place up close and personal. There is so much about this time period and the attrocities commited by Hitler. Bringing it to life was spooky.

After Dachau, we set the GPS to Beth's house and hit the road. I'm not gonna lie, it took a really long time. Seriously. Considering we had only slept in fits and starts on the plane, it was a bit of a challenge, at least for me. Sonja napped for a good portion of it. We stopped at a rest area for a little while and had a power nap. That helped. We pulled into Beth's drive just after 4pm. We talked and had dinner, and were able to stay up until 9-ish. It sure felt good to finally turn in.

Friday: We started out this morning at the castle ruins in Landstahl, the closest town to where we are staying. The castle is named Nanstein and we had a GREAT visit. The castle is built into the mountainous red sandstone. They let us explore all over. Very cool.

After the castle, we drove to Kaiserslatern to a regional carnival. Imagine a county fair in the US; that's about what this was. We had lunch there: rote wurst, brat wurst and kase wurst. Georga, Liza and Liza's dad were with us. Georga and Sonja rode some rides. Sonja convinced me to ride one with her, and I nearly lost lunch. It's one that swings, spins, and nearly goes upside down. She totally owes me for that one! We had some really yummy chocolates there too. We didn't stay there too long, and walked over to one of the old churches in the area. They had a special service going on, so we couldn't go in. We took a couple pictures of the outside. The handles on the front were shaped like fish. Pretty cool.

After we got back to Beth's, Liza, Georga, Sonja and I walked into the village. It is so cute! Sonja and I also walked to the Catholic church in the village, St. Elizabeth's. We were able to go in a look around.

We had dinner at a local restaurant that specializes in German and Italian food. Mom and I had schnitzel and Sonja had a baked fettucini dish. After dinner we went on base, Ramstein Air Force Base, but most of the shops of the Base Exchange were already closed. We're going to go back to do some shopping later.
I think we're going to Stuttgart tomorrow. More updates later.