a day with julie

after some excellent schnitzel, strudel and beer and a good nights sleep we awoke to the perfect day. clear blue skies with not a cloud in sight. the hotel breakfast was pretty decent but we had to pay 10 euro each for the pleasure, but after such a nice place we can’t complain. we had packed before breakfast so other than a last few minute details we checked out and took our luggage to the train station and stuck it in a locker for the day.

next stop the sound of music tour! known as the som in salzburg where it provides a living for a significant number of people, though none of them apparently like the movie because of its fabrications (i.e. hollywood), however it has been going strong for over 40 years and shows no signs of slowing down, particularly with american and japanese tourists and the odd canadian.

the bus was packed to the hilt with about 80 paying passengers at 37 euro a head. we had the typical jovial and corny guide, but he was funny at times and much more likable than the schultz, our tour guide in munich (so i lied – this was our last bus tour.) the tour covers lots of the sites from the movie including the houses, various settings and the glass gazebo. we were also taken to the lake district outside of salzburg where the opening scenes were shot and given a chance to walk around the small town where “maria and the captain” were married and the beautiful church used in the ceremony.

all in all quite a bit of fun and we didn’t have to sing along; they did however play the tunes from the movie. after returning to salzburg we did one last tour of sights we wanted to see including a couple of spots from the movie the bus didn’t go to.

we wish we had more time to visit as the town has too much history, museums, events (music concerts and plays everywhere every night it seems.)

back to the station and onto a train to innsbruck. We met an interesting older couple who lived in kitzbul and were taking advantage of the saturday senior discount which lets them travel around austria for only 7 euro. they knew canada, having been with a traveling group of performers doing traditional folk songs and dance and had toured north america. one of their sons was an olympic athlete who had been in three olympics and won a bronze and then a silver at the calgary olympics the worlds a year later in the nordic combined. They ran a ski school in kitzbul and had known steve podborski as a child having had him in one of ther classes.

Innsbruck was not what i had envisioned, a small and quaint ski town! wrong! it is a major city and getting there in the early evening was a mistake as all we saw were empty streets and no charm, something austria has in abundance and we’re sure was just around the next corner had we gone further. we stopped at a local eatery for our last delicious but artery- clogging meal before boarding the night train to rome. we hope the clackty clack and gentle rocking will do the trick and give us a good nights rest.

guten nacht.

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our first and last bus tour!

get up early for the morning necessities – have breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and head off to the pick-up point for our tour of southern bavaria and the castles of king ludwig ii (the so-called “mad one”) of bavaria and the inspiration of fairytale castles everywhere. we wonder if we’ve hit that age when bus tours are an option for travel … do read on!

the bus is ultra modern as are most modes of transport in europe… we’ll catch up someday i hope. it is a double decker with room service, and comfortable too. the rest of the passengers cover the world (but heavy on those from the excited states of… and spanish speakers from spain and south america.) our “guide” introduces himself as charles but shortly after we left i decided he was schultz as in the old sitcom hogans heroes. he was a sexist, obnoxious kinda guy who could come across as cutsie, but you knew it was a charade. he operated on the principle of military precision and you were not allowed to forget that such-and-such happens at 9:45 sharp and then the next thing at 9:52, etc.

the cost of all this discipline was high – 49 euro each before the cost of admission to the castles another 14 euro – special deal, a one euro discount as the season changed today. it took about an hour and a half to get to the first castle linderhof, a tiny but excessively baroque jewel high in the mountains near oberammergau and fussen. the tour took a half hour all guided and no time to dilly dally or schultzy would be annoyed. for the euro discount we also did not get to see one of the more interesting toys of ludwig, his man made cavern and theatre set where he indulged in his wagnerian fantasies. tour is over and back on the bus (i must say old schultze must have reminded us at least 10 times on the process, times and departures and damn, we left at precisely 11:00 a.m. – not 11:01!

our next destination was oberammergau and the “designated shopping” stop (do not eat, do not buy this, do not, do not – schultz’s stores are the only recommended places to shop – he must get a good kickback). thank god we were able to wander into the town and take a look around and take pictures. it is pretty but has only one purpose to sell cuckoo clocks, wood carvings and religous symbols. oberammergau has a religious festival every ten years called the passion play and its a huge event with lots of religious types coming to get the fix. back to the bus at prcisely 12 noon sharp. schultz has told us several times when and where we’ll be eating even though there is no meal included in the trip.

back on the bus and off to fantasy island. ludwig’s castle neuschwanstein is a truly magical sight perched on a crag facing his dad’s house (hohenshwangau castle) across the valley. we’re advised to eat at a specific hotel and that we must allow so much time to climb the hill to the castle. we start to follow orders, but once inside we quickly decide we’d like to eat at our own pace and alone, so we wander off in search of other eateries and find the perfect spot, warm and cozy inside the restaurant but refreshing, cool and dry on the patio (did i mention that it has rained all day?) while having a real hearty german meal, the heavens opened more and it came down in buckets! meanwhile i indulged in jagerschnitzel and spatzle and rick had pork and bread dumplings with saurkraut… and a beer of course. delicious!!

schultz has left us thinking that nothing exists beyond his recommendations and we have half bought in; however as we begin our 25 minute hike up to the castle (if you’re disabled, out of shape, or otherwise hindered in your movement – you’re not warned in advance, in fact you are reminded several times not to take the horse drawn carrages which go most of the way up.) we hike in the rain with plastic capes, bought at the restaurant, only to discover that there are other eateries near the castle and other venues for shopping which i think we’d have preferred to do had we known.

this castle is incredibly popular! considering we’re here in mid october there are tons of buses. they use a ticket system that designates your tour time, they leave every five minutes precisely. schultz has us sit in a very hot and steamy bus while he takes care of this – “do not leave your seats until i have given you your ticket” – it has an efficiency that leaves you a bit breathless or dumbstruck.

at last we enter, and our young tour guide is interesting to say the least, knowledgable about the history but very peculiar with his gestures and movements. we think he is on the edge of losing his cool as the groups have to move through each room before the next can begin. we had some cranky kids along, too young to be on such a trip. the poor guide used pregnant pauses and cutting glares to no avail, kids are kids. the tour lasts 45 minutes precisely. luddy was a pretty interesting guy, and lived a solitary life almost in total isolation from society and his servants to the point that his dining table sat over a retractable floor which allowed the table to be lowered to the kitchen where it was set, then raised up to the dining room again where ludwig dined alone. the castle was never completed and only 10 of the 100 rooms were finished. the king lived in the caste periodically. for only 170 days in total.

back to the bus as we leave at 4:30 precisely, everyone is damp and the bus is warm – can you say sauna! schultz says he will shut up so we can nap etc … it is the only factual information he gave all day. the castles and scenery were great, the crowds are unavoidable and though i whinge about them there is no way to avoid them. schultz was a pain but he became my personal joke and eased the tone he used. he chose places where i’m sure he got some sort of kickback and never informed us of options or what to expect in terms of the hike, alternate choices etc. i guess it’s part of the trade.

we’re back in munich and it’s dark and raining. we’re going to settle down for a lazy evening of reading and writing with maybe a light supper along the way.

guten nacht.

we should all cry a little

our second day in munich. we had a great breakfast (included) at the hotel, more choices than imaginable and all of them good. eating cold cuts however did not appeal, but the rest was too good and nothing like the standard “continental” breakfast hotels offer at home.

we headed to the hauptbanhof (rail station) to get organized for our day trip to dachau. we lucked out meeting a young romanian woman working for eurail in a special support office for english speaking travelers. she gave us every detail we needed to manage the tour on our own as well as getting tickets for our trip so saltzburg on friday and the trip to innsbruck the day after. so far, every person we have dealt with have been exceptional, all friendly and extremely helpful.

off to dachau; this is a trip i have wanted to do for far too long and at last i’ve made it. i expected it to be a sombre or even depressing trip, however it is was somewhat more. after touring most of the grounds and barracks where prisoner “slaves” were housed for want of a better word i ventured into the main administrative building which documents the rise of nazism and the systematic plan they developed for the persecution of jews, gypsies, homosexuals and many others.

the literature implies a certain sereendipity of events that allowed it all to happen, but somehow i think it was more a case of wilful ignorance and underlying prejudice that made it all the more easy for such horror to occur.

after watching a film that summarized this i took a break for lunch where we compared thoughts on what we’d seen. we were both of similar mind, and equally perturbed by the endless tour groups of young german students who have a mandatory requirement to visit a concentration camp during their senior years in school. it was hard not to feel that too many of them were unaffected by the history, we thought some came across as bored or even amused by the horror.

following lunch we continued our tour of the grounds including the crematoriums and memorials where the ashes of thousand are buried. we agreed we’d meet at the bunker as i had yet to finish the history tour in the main building. by the end i really could not take any more and felt that i might cry soon if i did not get away from the images, stories and tools of inhumanity. rick and i met in the the couryard that separates the administration building from the “bunker” a breath of fresh air and a friendly chat helped shake the feeling of tears… perhaps i should have let them flow. we entered the bunker as the last phase of our tour. for those unfamiliar with dachau, it was the first concentration camp and training ground for many of the atrocities that would be used at other camps. the bunker was used for a myriad of tortures including physical and emotional abuse, and was where too many met their end. feeling the claustriphobia of the small cells, low ceilings and the cold that permeated everything it was time to escape this hell hole.

i’m glad i made the trip and i think it did what i was expecting: provide not only a greater understanding of the evil that happend during the second world war, but also how close it is to today and the easy acceptance of intolerance that still fills the world, much of it uncomfortably near to home. in fact not many weeks back a national religious leader was able to suggest that people like me should be executed and he still has a job with the church. regrettably there are many like him in right wing politics and religious organizations that spout fear and hatred disguised as love and christianity.

back home for a bit of a fresh up before heading back into the old town to finish the tour we started when we arrived. there is a lot of history here which surprised, mostly because i did not think so much would have survived the war. wrong, many building date back to 1500’s and some a few centuries older. munich is a bit of a postcard; some buildings are what we’d consider a cliche, however they are the real thing with painted motifs, intricate facades and ever more ornate interiors. if you think of disney and the fairytales this is where the backgrounds came from… we saw the old city walls, churches and town halls and ended the day at the old hofbrauhaus for dinner and beer. the beer mugs are giamungous and hold a full litere of beer, not sure how the waiters and waitress are able to haul so many at a time as they weigh quite a bit. i ordered a dark beer which is the orginal hofbrau beer and a plate of assorted sausages, saurkraut and spuds acommpanied by a salad (balance). rick had white sausage, salad and giant pretzle all washed down by the beer and followed by the oh, so good apple strudle…..oh my god was that goood!

after a short walk we hopped the subway and made it back to the hotel by 9 for an early night.

guten nacht.

mein gott were not in kansas anymore!

here we are in beautiful munich after a rather uneventful train trip…a one hour stopover in stuttgart and a decent breakfast on the train. i don’t even want to talk about paris.

munich is interesting, what we’ve seen this afternoon, which is not a lot as we visited an exhibit of walt disney showing at a local museum, ironically an exhibit we missed in paris two years ago and well worth the wait. artists from albert durer to dali and several other notables in between. it was quite a good show with some great art, from the disney studios –original drawing and cellwork, backgrounds, etc. — and the artists who influenced them from many years back as well as some great childrens’ stories and fairytales in the first editions that uncle walt collected on a trip to europe back in the 30’s.

afterwards we took a stroll through the two main platz and saw some great architecture. we also stopped in for a quick beer in the one of the parks before heading off for supper at a very nice restaurant and my first taste of steak tartare (excellent) with some reisling for a chaser. the waiter, host and hostess were great and helped us with everything from how to eat the steak tartare to menu choices and sights to see in munich.

the next few messages will likely be short and have few if any pictures as i’m having to pay for my internet at this hotel… but breakfast is included!

guten nacht.

rive gauche

our last day in paris 😦 and laundry day :((

we both had places we wanted to visit and generally just stroll through the left bank. we had one definite destination which was saint severin church near the sorbonne. it is notable for its age and contrast of modern and ancienne. i went back to take some pictures and rick for his first visit.

rick started the day by taking a stroll down the tuileries and i a walk on the left bank of the seine including the outdoor museum and sculpture garden east of notre dame. of course i took tons of shots of the very modern art mostly from the 60’s and 70’s. i also tried to get a visit to the arab institute but was turned away as only vip’s were getting in at the time i was there! the building is quite unique as it is wired to control it’s environment, however my visit coincided with early morning so nothing too significant was visible.

before going to saint severin, we headed off for a restaurant that rick had tried before but, the street eluded us…until after we ate! we dined at a pleasant restaurant on a plaza in front of the sorbonne, surrounded by students, teachers accompanied by the play of fountains and falling autumn leaves (somehow apropos).

following lunch i headed home to do some packing and study before my last class. i need another suitcase – we both need another suitcase!

rick toured the quay of the left bank along with a final visit to notre dame.

we’re each on our own for supper as i have to dash to class.

bonsoir – au revoir from france – guten tag germany.