Between August 1998 and March 2000, my parents and brother lived in Yanbu, a smallish town in Saudi Arabia. I was off at TAMS, although I did visit during the summer and at Christmas (Christmas in Saudi is a bit surreal, since such Christmas ornamentation as is not actually banned routinely disappears at Customs). During the summer of 1999, my family traveled to Germany. We wandered the country for a month, eating pork (everyone), drinking beer (my parents), and rejoicing at the existence of live plants (me). We had a fabulous time, despite the fact that none of us speak any German. This is my journal from that trip.
(If these three words all appear to be the same color, you may want the text version.)
Part One: Getting the Hell Out of Saudi Arabia
On June 15, 1999, we got up at the crack of dawn so as to be packed and ready to go by the time Dad got home at noon. There was much struggle about suitcase size, but we did eventually get everything packed and in the car. So we headed off for the four-hour drive to Jeddah. We ate lunch on the way. I slept. Eventually we arrived at M44, where we spent a few hours resting. Then we went to dinner at the Tumbleweed, probably the only Tex-Mex restaurant in the entire country. It wasn't bad. Then we got on a plane and flew for many hours until we arrived in Frankfurt. On the way, we slept. (Or at least Chris did. Quite loudly. Right in front of the poor stewardesses' resting-place.) When we arrived in Frankfurt, we proceeded to switch planes and fly to Berlin. On the way, we slept.
Part Two: Ich bin ein Jelly Doughnut
I like Berlin. It reminds me of somewhere, maybe London. Right now it's the continent's biggest construction zone. When we arrived, we collapsed in the hotel room for a few hours. Then we got up and had lunch at a really good restaurant (henceforth to be known as an RGR; so far I haven't met a restaurant I didn't like) and went on a walk.
We saw the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate) and the Reichstag (where the parliament meets). Also we checked out the train station. It was all very impressive. After our tour we went back to the hotel to take a nap for a few hours until dinner. We woke up at eleven. So we found a bar (hey, it was the only thing open) and had dinner. Then we went back to bed. The next day we took a hop-on-hop-off bus tour of the city (we like them). We stopped at the Egyptian Museum, which was great! I've never seen artifacts in better condition! My parents commented on the sheer audacity of colonial Europe. We considered stopping in at the China Museum (the dishes, not the country) nearby, but Chris was getting kind of tired and nobody was really that interested. So we got back on the bus for more tour.
We got off again at the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, which was pretty interesting and conveniently in English. Also equally conveniently in German, Russian, and French. The most interesting things, I think, were the stories they had collected about people who escaped over (or under, or through) the Wall. Then we had dinner at a small café. Eventually we ended up back at the hotel. The next morning we went to the Berlin Aquarium, since it was raining.
The aquarium was really nice -- and, to our surprise, also contained the reptile and amphibian house and an insect exhibition. Great stuff. They had the most active Komodo dragons I've ever seen, as well as lots of unusual fish and some really bright sea anemones. The main drawback was that all the labels were in German, so we're not really sure what we were looking at, as we don't know the scientific names of many fish. But we had fun; Mom and I taught ourselves a couple words of both Latin and German by associating species characteristics with scientific and common names, especially in the frogs. But eventually we had to leave so we could go catch our train to Furstenburg.
Part Three: Aye, Aye, Captain Bligh, Sir! Got any hatches you want battened?
(The Mecklenburg Lake Plateau)
The train ride was very nice and also pretty. I wish I'd been able to stay awake for more of it. When we got to Furstenburg we caught a taxi to the Locaboat office to collect our Pinochette. There we met our transportation for the next week. Its name was the Templin. It was a very nice houseboat, especially since my grandparents decided not to come so I didn't have to sleep with my brother or on the couch.
While Dad, Chris and I filled out the paperwork, checked out the boat and got the bicycles on board, Mom took the taxi to the grocery store and bought supplies all by herself. It was apparently a pretty harrowing experience. But she made it back all right, and we settled in and made friends with the boat. Also with the boat's owner, Thorsten. He was very friendly and spoke excellent English. I corrected the grammar in the town's English-language tourist guide for him. (Laura, Jessie, do not give me that look. He asked. I swear. I have witnesses.)
After settling in, which mainly consisting of putting clothes on the shelves and trying to figure out what a duvet was, how to put it together, and why anyone would want to sleep under it (sort of a coverlet, you take the part that looks like a coverlet and stuff it into the part that looks like a sheet, and we're still not sure), we rode our nasty painful yellow rental bikes into town and had dinner at an RGR, where we met a forest ranger who spoke English. We had a long talk with him about the area, as well as the history and sociology of East Germany. Eventually we went back to the boat for the night.
This seems like a good place to describe the boat, so I will. It had three staterooms, two bathrooms, and a main living area. The main living area was on a level with the back deck, and contained a long bench, a table, the kitchen area (sink, stove, oven), and the captain's chair, wheel, and switches. Outside, the back deck abutted on walkways around the boat to the front, where there was a seating area and bicycle storage area. We also put some of the bicycles on the roof. There were sufficient ropes, cabinets, and odd sticky-out things for rope-tying to warm the cockles of several salty old sea-dogs. Canal-dogs. Whatever. (Pinochettes are not actually seaworthy.) It's been a while since we were actually on the boat (Chris has been hogging my computer. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it!) so I will summarize.
Swans are just like pigeons, only bigger and more vicious. Also their necks are longer, their feet are different, and they float. And if you're careful about how you throw it, you can get a piece of bread to land between their wings, where it will stay until the swan realizes that it's there and swings its snake-neck around to get at it. It's loads of fun. I'm glad Chris showed me. We spent a week on the boat watching swans, ducks, and white-faced barking grebes. The scenery was great. We met lots of people on other boats -- including one guy who, with his son, used to star in a cooking show on East German television. He fed us potato salad. We expected the whole process of going through locks to be much more complicated than it actually was, but we caught on fairly well fairly quickly. We had a great time popping about through the canals watching the shore and waving to people. At night we would either tie up on shore or anchor out in a lake. Occasionally we would visit towns for dinner, shopping, and looking at interesting buildings. Somewhere in there we crossed into the Mecklenburg lake plateau and bought some flags with our family coat of arms on them (I really love being descended from royalty. On some level, this entire wonderful, beautiful, glorious area is mine. Mine mine mine mine mine! Hee-hee! Ahem. Sorry about that. Delusions of grandeur for a minute there.) (If you're curious, it's a bull with its tongue sticking out.) (No, I don't know why.) Anyway, the country was beautiful, and the boating was wonderful. We'd just putt along, experiencing absolutely no motion in any seasickness-producing direction at all, waving, eating, playing cards, watching our waistlines get progressively bigger and bigger, listening to the radio, and just in general having an absolutely smashing time.
Except for the day the propeller fell off.
This is an objective description of what happened that morning. This is what I experienced. This is what I thought.
Mom and Dad got up early and de-anchored. The inside of my eyelids. Zzzzzz. They drove the boat (well, you can't say 'sailed,' and they sure didn't row) down a canal or two, and then it was time to enter a lock. Dad maneuvered the boat in behind the first boat, and then put it in reverse to slow down. The propeller fell off. CLONK!! Wha? Wha? Whuzzat? Did we hit something? We hit something! Any minute now water will start rushing into the room! Wait… it's not rushing. Maybe I'll go back to sleep… We hit the boat in front of us. Scra-ape. Much yelling in both English and German. I can make out "Boot kaput," and "Sorry! Sorry!" Extreme worry. Or maybe I won't. What just happened? So after a brief pause to let things settle down, I stuck my head into the hall and asked Chris what happened. He said the boat was broken. He thought the propeller had fallen off. Dad thought this was bunk. On the other hand, when he opened the hatch to check on it to see what had happened, there was no propeller. Somewhere in there Mom got out to tow us out of the lock and call for help. I got dressed. Mom fell in a hole and almost broke her leg. But we all survived and lurked about on board until the repair person (Manfred) arrived. We chatted with him ("Mein kinder: Theresa y -- I mean und -- Chris. Haben sie kinder?" "Ja, ja," plus signs by which we were informed that the eldest was thirty and the youngest was fourteen.) It was amusing. We fed him coffee. Understand that when I say "we" here, I mean Mom and Dad. Chris and I sat in my cabin and played cards so as not to be underfoot. Eventually Thorsten (Remember him? He was in charge.) showed up to drink coffee and commiserate. Manfred announced that, yep, the propeller had definitely fallen off. We recruited a diver, Frank (whom I never saw in person, but whose equipment was, in my mother's words, "something Jacques Cousteau might have used") from the local village to search the lock for the missing propeller. He couldn't find it. This puzzled us. But we rounded up a spare somehow and Frank (that wonderful person) put it on for us. Manfred and Thorsten were very happy that they did not have to jump into the extremely cold water, regardless of the fact that we'd been passing naked swimming people. (Sure, we were all wandering around in long pants and sweaters, but still.) So we got underway again and continued to have a wonderful time for the next few days.
Part Four: Castles and Ruins and Wine, oh my!
(The Mosel and Rhine River Valleys)
We flew from Berlin back to Frankfurt to begin the non-water-based portion of our vacation. We rented a car and drove along the almost painfully scenic Mosel river valley. Vineyards as far as the eye could see -- straight up, that is, rising in breathtakingly gorgeous terraces up very steep and rocky hillsides. Barges toiling up and down the river. Half-timbered houses with rooms for rent. Ruins. Castles. Castles on top of very steep and rocky hillsides. Ruins in the middle of vineyards. Ruined castles with rooms for rent. It was great! (I like castles. And ruins. Especially the kind that have plants growing all over them. Great big rocks! Plants! Moss! Happy happy happy. Prrrr….) So that was the first day. We stopped for the night at the Gästhaus zum Anker, which was very nice except that my parents took all my clothes so they could be washed the next day and then couldn't find a laundromat, so there I was all morning in nothing but my underpants and a t-shirt. Grumble grumble. But they found one eventually, and we all set off for the Big Adventure, our Very First German Castle.
We chose Burg Eltz. It was a nice long scenic drive there, followed by a nice long scenic walk straight down a mountain, followed by a stop at an overlook where we took pictures of a castle but decided that it couldn't be Burg Eltz, there being no way mere tourists could be expected to walk that far, followed by more walk, followed the amazing discovery that by golly, that sure was Burg Eltz down there, way far away. It was really, really pretty, and I encourage all of you to sit very quietly and not resist while I show you my pictures. Okay? Okay. We had a guided tour, which was unfortunately in German but did come with a printed translation. It was a very nice castle. It was built on top of a hill, but since the particular hill it was located on was inside a valley, it was very well hidden. This, plus the family habit of having at least one son in every army in the area, helped protect it. It was conquered at some point by a bishop who built another castle for the express purpose of throwing rocks at it, but that was widely viewed as an aberration. The furnishings were nice, very medieval, as would be expected. The kitchen was interesting, and so were the wall and ceiling decorations. I decided that I want wall paintings too. They look much more elegant than wallpaper. There was also a museum in the basement, where there were absolutely exhaustive family trees of two of the castle's former residents, complete with coats-of-arms. We looked for ours, but couldn't find it anywhere. They also had some interesting silverware and table decorations, among other things. A working knowledge of the German language would have served us in good stead, but we enjoyed just looking at all the pretty sparklies and attempting to puzzle out occasional labels. When we got tired, we drove back through achingly pretty surroundings to spend the night at the gästhaus again.
Part Five: When in Rome, do as the Germans do
The next day we went to Trier, where we toured the Porta Nigra, a very large city gate from the time when the city was Roman and fully walled. It was very interesting. After the Romans left, the gate fell into some measure of disrepair until a hermit took to living in it. The hermit's friend, a bishop, turned the place into a church after the hermit died. Later, Napoleon removed the church pieces, leaving the original gate. So there was quite a mix of architectural styles, ranging from Roman arches to modern graffiti. After we'd wandered through the gate and taken in the view from the inside, we spent some more time in the street festival outside. Then we went to the Roman museum. Actually, we nearly didn't, because it was raining and Certain People did not want to get out of the car. However, Certain Other People forced a decision and we went to the Roman Museum until it closed. Which was only about an hour or two. I wish we'd had a lot more time, because it was really quite fascinating. They had a very nice collection of mosaics, as well as those ear-phone thingies you carry around that tell you about the stuff in the language of your choice. And an exhibit on wine-making. And a thing on the people that were there before the Romans. And some stuff that was under construction. If you're ever in Trier, hit the Roman Museum, ok? Good.
When the museum closed, we headed off to the other end of the city to check out the amphitheater. It formed a gate in the city wall, back when there was a city wall. One main entrance was inside the wall and one was outside. Unfortunately, the amphitheater was about to close when we got there, so we just had a quick look around. However, there was a stage set up at one end, where the singers for that evening's premier of Oedipus Rex were rehearsing. It made great background music for our exploration of the drainage system underneath the amphitheater.
Part Six: River Valley Redux
(The Mosel and Rhine River Valleys)
For the next few days, we drove down the Mosel River valley, then back up the Mosel so we could drive down the Rhine. It was all gorgeous and rocky and I really can't do it justice here, but take my word for it -- it's great. Vineyards, castles, trees! Rocks! Excuse me. I get a little carried away sometimes. But it was great. At some point, while we were tooling along one-or-the-other of the rivers (It's been a while. I get confused.) we decided to go visit a castle. So we picked the next castle we saw signs for, which happened to be Burg Maus. This is not its actual name, but a short way down the river the Barons of Katzenburg built another, larger castle, Burg Katz. So the small castle upriver became known as… Right! Burg Maus. We read about it in the guidebook while we followed signs UP and down and UP and down and UP and down through fields and little picturesque cobbled streets and things until we got to a place where there was a very big sign in front of a very small trail leading to Burg Maus. After some fiddling around trying to find a place to park, we headed up the trail to the castle.
It was quite a long trail, with many switchbacks. And really strange looking slugs! Nifty little suckers -- brown or black, great big, and with an interesting pattern on their rear halves. I have pictures! So we hiked up the trail, passing a gaggle of schoolchildren (or scouts of some sort, or a church group, or something) on our way up. I was quite energetic and skipped ahead enthusing. (Trees! Rocks! Moss! Little flowers!) I spent most of the hike a couple switchbacks ahead of the rest of the family. (See? Fencing's good for you.) When we got up to the castle, we discovered that they didn't give castle tours, but they did give falconry demonstrations. And one was about to start! So we watched the falconry demonstration, which was very nice, except that we didn't understand any of the words. But we had fun watching the birds, and we got to pet the owl. I have pictures. (Anybody sensing a theme?) They had two baby sea eagles in plastic tubs out front the whole time, getting used to the noise of the crowd. They were so cute! And there were wild falcons of some sort living on the cliff. They interfered with the show a bit -- they'd steal the lures (dead chicks) or chase the bigger tame birds away from their nest. We thought they were really neat. After the demonstration, we wandered back down the hill and continued our beautiful scenic drive through the beautiful scenic Rhine and/or Mosel river valley.
Part Seven: Students, Philosophers, and Open Air Cafés
At some point we ended up spending a few days in Heidelburg. It's a very pretty city, and we liked it a lot. We spent a lot of time sitting in open-air cafés eating ice cream and watching the scenery walk by.
We visited the Schloss (castle) there, which was very, very big. And highly impressive. I have pictures! The tour was in English, which was nice. They had some statues from the outside of one of the buildings inside where we could see them. They looked really fat because the perspective was off since they were supposed to be looked at from far below. Dad's favorite part was the wine cellar, where they had the largest wine cask in the world. I forget exact dimensions, but… it was a couple stories tall, okay? Pretty impressive. Let's see… they also had an exhibition of apothecaries' equipment, which was interesting. My favorite part, I think, was the ruined tower, which used to be where they stored the gunpowder. Until it exploded. You get a really nice view into the center of the round tower, with cross-sections of rooms and everything. And then the other half of the tower is a heap of bricks with trees growing out of it. Of course, I have pictures. :)
After we toured the castle, we headed across the river to the Philosophers' Walk, where luminaries such as Karl Marx theoretically strode through the lovely hills. We found a hike straight up a brick-lined six-foot ditch. Again, I ended up quite far ahead of everyone else. I'm so proud of myself! Anyway. At the top of the ditch there was a proper road running along the hill instead of up it. On both sides of the road were small plots of land rented to the citizens of Heidelburg so that they can garden. Some of the gardens were very attractive and we had fun walking along looking at them as soon as we regained the twin abilities to stand up straight and breathe.
Part Eight: Trees! Rocks! Ferns! Museums!
(The Black Forest)
Sadly, I don't remember what order any of this is in, so I apologize (as always) for any inaccuracies. This is what comes of not keeping up with the darn journal. Let that be a lesson to you all. Anyway. Moving on.
The Schwartzwald (Black Forest) is very attractive but much too small. This is one of the big problems with most of Europe -- they've been civilized so long the leftover patches of original woodland are about ten meters by ten meters. Very sad. But we had fun -- lots and lots of hiking, with picnics. (I like picnics.) On one of our first days there, we hiked down Feldberg, the highest mountain in the Black Forest. Notice we only hiked down the mountain -- there was a ski lift to the top. It was a nice hike, but the paths were gravel (yuck!) and it was a little too hot and crowded for our taste at the top. But a little further down the mountain (read: after lunch) it was shadier and much more pleasant. Lots of flowers, lots of little creeks… ah, bliss. (I like hiking.)
The next day, we went to Triburg in search of the object of Mom's lifelong quest -- a cuckoo clock. We spent a couple of hours in a clock shop looking at the strangest, most convoluted, odd-looking, wood-based, multi-colored clocks with 7000 moving parts and dancing chipmunks. Eventually, while Mom and Dad were looking at the ones with millwheels and carvings of deer parts, Chris and I found one in the other end of the shop that we liked much better. Nice and simple, with leaves and a cuckoo. No paint, no mill wheels, no dancing chipmunks. We were much relieved; we'd started to have these visions of a "cuckoo room". After we bought the clock, we went to lunch.
After lunch, we climbed the highest waterfall in Germany. (Well, a trail next to it.) It was so much fun! Very green. Lots of moss. And trees! And rocks! (Moss! Ferns! Waterfalls!) If I'm within hearing distance of running water, I don't get worn out. So I was very happy, energetic, and enthusiastic. The moss helped, too. Eventually, though, Chris and Dad decided to be spoilsports so we didn't make it all the way to the top. But it was lots and lots of fun.
The other really memorable hike we took in the Black Forest was at Stag's Leap. Ostensibly, what happened was that a hunter was chasing a stag up on top of this really very impressive cliff, and the deer jumped across to the next cliff. It didn't look possible to us, but maybe they widened the gap to fit the road and the train tracks down there. Anyway, there's a statue of a stag on the cliff, and it looks very impressive.
The hike we took didn't go up the cliff. It wound along through holes blasted in the side of a cliff and along wooden ledges sticking out from the cliff along a river at the base. Sadly, the road also ran along the river, so it wasn't very relaxing. But it did look quite nice. (I have pictures.)
At some point, we spotted an Interesting Thing in some tourist guidebook-or-pamphlet-or-something -- a Bee Museum. So, after a diligent search, we found it. It would have been very interesting if we could have read any of the copious signs. As it was, we were limited to looking at pictures of bees and examples of more different kinds of beehives than you could shake a stick at. Not that you want to be shaking sticks around bees. They also had honey-processing equipment, some wild beehives of various kinds (including one that was half beehive and half wasp's-nest), protective equipment, and two working glass-faced hives, which are always fun. Lots of science museums and zoos have them; go see one. Bees are cool. Bees are fun. We are the hive. Join us. Bzzzz. Bzzzzzz….
The next museum we went to was a little unusual. It was a large sector of open ground with examples of various sorts of houses used in various regions of Germany during various historical periods. They had representative farm animals hanging around in some of the less squalid ones, and cardboard cows in the rest of them. The first three or four were interesting, but after that they all started to look the same. They also looked very much like the various American colonial villages we used to hang out in. Personally, I was amazed people would put up with that much dark. Especially in the winter, when you can't even really leave the house. My parents thought the idea of combining the barn and the house (which was universal) was strange, but it looked pretty sensible to me -- less construction work, easier access in winter, and the animals' body heat helped warm the house. There were also a few mills and a charcoal pit.
On our last day in the Black Forest area, we went to a lake. We originally intended to head to the largest lake in the region, but on the way we decided to head to one which was smaller, closer, and sounded just as interesting. So we went to the Titisee. Which, according to Dad, means exactly what it sounds like it means. Go figure. We rented paddleboats and circled the lake, which took almost exactly an hour. They were really great paddleboats. I want to study the gear system, because we weren't paddling very hard and we were getting some serious speed out of those suckers. It was really quite impressive. We couldn't go quite fast enough to actually run over any ducks, but we did put quite a scare into them. Hee hee.
After we finished our paddle, we went looking for the path around the lake that we'd seen from the surface. It took us a little while, but we eventually found it and walked around the lake and through the little town, where Mom popped in and out of tourist-based shops.
Part Nine: Pretzels, Lederhosen, and Beer
(Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria)
On our way to Bavaria, we went through Austria. And Switzerland. And Liechtenstein, which has great personal significance (I made a brochure for it in high school). Curiously, there were no signs saying "Welcome to Liechtenstein", or indeed any actual mention of the country's name at all (well… there was the national bank). So we found a flag and took pictures of it instead. We entered the Alps, and drove through lots of tunnels. Also we bought border stickers to put on the rental car. We don't know if we needed them, but we wanted to be sure. The Alps were very scenic. The tunnels were very long and dark. Switzerland looked exactly like Germany, but more industrial and not as clean. Austria looked exactly like Germany except for the money. Liechtenstein looked small. Thank you for taking the ten-cent tour of Europe. Watch your step; don't let the door hit you on the way out.
Part Ten: "I'm an American; I Can Wear a Diaper Bag on my Head!"
Fun with Ludwig II
The day after we arrived at our holiday apartment, settled in, and explored Oberaudorf a bit, we went to see the very famous tourist attraction known 'round the world as Castle Neuschwanstein. This is Ludwig II's most famous castle, and despite a rocky start the tour was really quite a lot of fun.
When we got there, it was drizzling. The castle didn't look very impressive from the road, and we (well, I) considered chucking it all and finding lunch. Instead, we climbed a very steep hill to a courtyard, where we stood in line. Then we gave people some money, and went to another courtyard, where we stood in a longer line. We were behind a very, very American couple with a baby. While we were in line, the rain picked up. We hoisted our umbrellas. The wife ahead of us took the stroller and the baby and took shelter under a nearby arch. The husband pulled out the waterproof lining of the diaper bag and fashioned a crude hat. If I knew his name, I could attribute this section heading more appropriately, but as it is: thank you, Americans everywhere. I love you all.
Once we got inside the castle, we went up some stairs and… you guessed it! Waited in another line. But at least this one was dry and had seats available. The tour was very, very quick and not particularly comprehensive, but the castle was gorgeous. Sigh. Mere words cannot do justice to the overpowering grandeur (or kitsch, take your pick) of Castle Neuschwanstein. I was most impressed. I intend to incorporate several interesting architectural and decorative elements into my own castle, once I get that little project started (current projected date for completion of fund collection: 2573. Sigh.). They wouldn't let us take pictures inside, so I bought a postcard.
After the tour, we trotted along a path to a bridge. From there you can see a much more attractive side of the castle, as well as a tumbling river and a very long way straight down. The bridge is named after Ludwig's mother. Apparently they didn't get along very well. We think maybe he wanted to push her off, and that's why he named it after her. But, hey, we're just tourists. We could be wrong.
From some of the windows in Neuschwanstein, you can see the castle where Ludwig II grew up. It is Neuschwangau, and it is yellow. So after we finished the castle Ludwig II built, we went to see the castle his father, Maximilian II, built. (Side note: in case you've neglected your Bavarian history, it goes Maximilian I, Ludwig I, Maximilian II, Ludwig II. Ludwig II's younger brother was Otto.) Neuschwangau was my favorite Ludwig-based tour, I think. The line was entirely inside, and much shorter. Of course, it was also one of the last tours of the day, so that could have had something to do with it. While we were sitting in line (the English line was against the wall, so we had a bench), we met Derek and Mary Jones, who are from Kent. They were very interesting people, and knew entertaining bits of historical trivia. The tour guide was receptive to questions, so the tour was both more leisurely and more intriguing than the one in Neuschwanstein. Neuschwangau is decorated in the same manner as Neuschwanstein, so you can see where it came from, but in a much less ornate style. I liked it a lot better. Less gold. I don't like gold in large quantities. (More on this note later.) So we had fun talking to the tour guide and Derek, and eventually wandered on back to Oberaudorf.
The next day, we decided "What the heck, let's go see more Ludwig stuff!" so we went to see Hollencheimsee, one of Ludwig's other castles. Hollencheimsee is on an island in a lake, so we got a ticket for the big boat and hung around looking at grebes diving for seaweed (lakeweed?) until it was time to go. When we got on board, who did we spy but… Derek and Mary! And their next-door neighbors! Wow. So we talked some more until everybody got off at the island.
A castle on an island was, for certain members of our group, a very welcome change from a castle on a mountain. Some people have no sense of adventure. But it was something of a walk to the castle. Hollencheimsee is modeled on Versailles, but it was never completed (none of the castles were, actually). The gardens had some really fantastic fountains (pictures, anyone?) and a good view of the swimming complex being erected across the lake. Large portions of the outside of the building were covered by scaffolding, but it was still pretty impressive. The inside was also very impressive, but much too ornate for my taste. I mean, you can only take so much gold leaf in one room. But it was fun, and I filed away another couple ideas for my future castle, at least some of which can be scaled down and used as actual decorative elements in a building smaller than Rhode Island.
Part Eleven: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
(Dachau and München)
We were told to visit Dachau on a sunny day. We didn't. Somehow I don't think it would have helped. It was a very intense experience. I don't want to talk about it. Thank you.
Afterwards, we went to Munich. We were still depressed. Dad wanted to visit the Hofbrauhaus. So we did. It was loud, it was smoky, and the pretzels were stale. So we left. Nobody had any fun. Except Dad, who was mad at us because we weren't having any fun. On the whole, not a good day.
Part Twelve: Hey, You! In the Black Shirt! Back into the Language Ghetto!
(The Salt Mines)
One day we went to some salt mines. It was actually kind of fun. We had to wait around for a while before it was our group's turn. Then Mom and Chris had some trouble going through the turnstiles. (They had these nifty little electronic entrance cards, see, and M&C couldn't figure out how they worked.) But we got in, and Mom put the camera in storage and we went to get our Authentic Miner Clothing. This consisted of little jacket-shirts, black pants for the guys, white pants for the girls, and odd leather belt/apron type things. My pants were too big, my belt was too small, and the shirt wouldn't stay closed.
But it was okay, so we went on down and got on the little train for our Disney-like ride into the depths. It was very dark. When we arrived at the depths, the guide introduced the mine and gave some general guidelines for the journey. The Mecklenborgs listened to a speaker set in the wall. Then we went down this big slide-like device into the mine proper. Mom bought a picture. As the tour continued, we learned more than we ever wanted to know about how to mine salt. They dissolve it in water and then pump it out of the chamber to refineries. It was very interesting. They had a raft on a representative salt-dissolving chamber (Normally the water is up to the roof. This one was just for the tourists.), a video, and a diagonal elevator ride back up to the little train.
The only dark spot was that, since we were the only English speakers, the guide gave his little speech at each stop, the group headed off to the next spot, and then he turned on the speakers so we could hear the tour as the rest of the group filed past us. It was kind of embarrassing. But what the heck, we got free samples!
Part Thirteen: Cheese, Gromit, We'll Go Somewhere Where There's Cheese!
Mom and Dad bought this map, you see, with pictures of and paragraphs about various tourist attractions. They hoped to find some interesting things to do. The only drawback was that the guidemap (like guidebook, see, only a map, not a book) was in German. So they had to go by the pictures and whatever words they could find in our little dictionary. They spotted a picture showing many wheels of cheese, concluded that it was a cheese factory, and decided to go. So we piled in the car and headed off to the cheese factory.
We drove a long way through pretty surroundings, headed in the general direction of up. Eventually, on a little bitty road, we found the little booth where we paid our toll and headed in the very definite direction of up. On a one-lane road. A very twisty one-lane road. But it was very, very pretty. Ferns and trees and rocks and daffodills and things. (Ferns! Trees! Daffodils!) It was also very long. But eventually we made it the top of the mountain, which was also the end of the road. There was a small wooden building, and a slightly larger wooden barn. So we headed into the little building to see what was to be seen.
We did not get a tour of the factory, as it was (a) about the size of our living room and (b) being cleaned. But the nice lady that spoke English let us stick our heads in the door and explained what was going on. Then she sold us cheese.
Part Fourteen: Trees! Rocks! Moss!
(Assorted Outdoorsy Spots)
Yes, it's that time again. Time for Theresa to enthuse, frolic, and maybe even caper a bit. Indeed, it's time for… more hiking! Yay! Hooray! O frabjous day!
Our first big hike was up a river gorge. It started off great -- slightly misty, but since the trail wound up the side of a cliff, next to (occasionally over) the river, the mist only added to the effect of the waterfalls and the rapids (and the moss! ferns! rocks!), so everyone was very pleased with the whole thing. Sadly, whilst engaged in a minor frolic which occurred simultaneously with the ascension of some very wet and fairly steep stairs carved out of the living rock, I tripped and hurt my knee. :(
But I was still good to go, so we went. And we had lots of fun until it started raining in earnest, at which time our spirits got kind of waterlogged and started drooping. So we were very happy when we found a little shelter to stop and have a snack in, and proceeded on our way much buoyed. Sadly, the effect didn't last long. The absence of the river, which was in its underground phase (under-gravel, actually, the ground in question being an exceedingly large gravel wash), was most disheartening. To me, anyway. I think the others were just getting tired. But we pressed on until we found the restaurant at the end of the trail, where we had fruit tea that, like all fruit teas, smelled and looked much better than it tasted. And no matter what anyone tells you about exploding tea-bags, it's a lie. A lie, I tell you! A vile canard. Don't believe them. After our rest, we headed back down the trail, stopping for lunch at the little shelter.
Our second hike-like experience (not quite a hike; you'll see in a minute) was initially viewed with some trepidation by the junior members of our party. We don't like genocide. It makes us nervous. This is why we had a really bad time at Dachau. It's entirely too easy to imagine something similar happening again. Actually, that whole Bosnia thing -- not to mention some of the recent African disturbances -- bears quite a frightening resemblance to -- excuse me. Wars make me depressed. When I'm depressed, I get nervous. Then I get angry, and then I get cynical. And then I get depressed about that. It's a vicious cycle.
Anyway. The trepidation-inducing area in question was Hitler's birthday present, the Eagle's Nest. But the German government had most of the same trepidations Chris and I did, so they had restored it to its pre-Hitler function as a restaurant. It was up on top of a very pretty mountain. The scenic bus ride up was incredibly gorgeous, but populated almost entirely by Americans. You don't realize it until you haven't seen any in a while, but Americans are loud. I don't know; maybe it's just the tourists. But everyone enjoyed the switchback-filled ride up to the top (except the ones that screamed every time we turned). Unfortunately, it was another cloudy day, so the view wasn't all we could ask for. But between the clouds it was still very impressive. And up at the top of the mountain there was a trail through great big rocks (Rocks!) that was much enhanced by the mist. It was all very grand and majestic. The resident raven-like birds enhanced the atmosphere as well. Dad bought a book about the building's construction, which was a pretty impressive engineering feat -- especially the road.
Hike number three was another river gorge. This one didn't disappear. Instead, the highlight was the tunnels through the rock, while the river went through convulsions, waterfalls, and other fatal antics down below. It looked really great. (We have pictures.) Very wild, very scoured, very impressive. Very wet. I've never seen rock leak before. (Other than limestone, I mean.) But by the time it turned into a more normal hike, it had stopped raining, and we had a nice walk to the spot where we lunched on large hunks of bread, cheese, cold meats, and grapes. The grapes, of course, were in bunches, not hunks. It was all great. Tearing into things with one's teeth is a pleasure all too often denied the modern civilized human being.
Part Fifteen: Half-Timbered Criminals and Wrought Iron Signs.
Our last stop was a traditional tourist mecca, a walled village named Rothenburg. We stayed for two or three days, and did all sorts of fun things.
The city itself was really neat. All the buildings have the original architecture, even down to the original paint colors. The wall is in really good condition, and you can walk around most of it. The south side, which used to be the hospital district when it was outside the walls, is the best fortified. The wall is two or three stories high, with towers, arrow slits, cannons, and a surrounding moat. The bottom of the moat is a park these days, and it's really a good spot for one. The trees get lots of water, it's shady and comfortable, the kids can't wander off too far, and the walls look really cool.
The town proper also looks neat -- half-timbered houses, wrought iron signs (even the McDonald's!), fountains, and cobblestones galore. We took a tour the second day. There are lots of restaurants and shops, although the shops tend to be identical tourist-junk shops. Some of them are better, though. For instance, one main attraction of the city is the fact that it contains the largest Christmas store in the world. So we went. It was actually kind of interesting, but they didn't have anything terribly unique. The main draw was just that there was so much. It was pretty overwhelming.
The other cool thing in Rothenburg was the Kriminalmuseum. This is exactly what it sounds like -- a collection of all sorts of things relating to criminals, justice, and the law. The big tourist draw was the collection of torture implements, which was quite complete and very, very painful-looking. We liked the shame masks, which were big iron masks with exaggerated features of various sorts, used to embarrass minor transgressors. My personal favorite was the wolf's head, for "men who told smutty jokes." Chris liked the dunking cage outside. The museum also had a collection of seals and legal documents from various centuries, lots of iron engravings, and other minor articles. We spent quite a long time there.
Part Sixteen: The Return
Sadly, our time in the land of pork and beer was limited, and we had to return to the land of no pork and no beer. So, with tears in our eyes and sadness weighing heavy on our hearts, we drove to the airport, turned in the rental car, and had our last German meal. Then we got on a plane and flew for many hours. It was very unpleasant, and when we got off it was hot and miserable again. Ah, me.
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