Things to Remember about Germany

Just some notes of things that we want to remember about our trip to Germany:

1. Blackberry bushes were everywhere.

2. You could never get water (unless it was from a sink in the bathroom) but you can always get beer.

3. Everyone seems to walk everywhere.

4. It always seems busy (people everywhere you go).

5. Someone else has always been there (in the steps carved for paths, cultivated forest).

6. Everyone smokes (except the tourists).

7. There are plants in every window of every building (and most have window boxes of petunias or begonias).

8. The public transportation is wonderful!

9. Sandwiches on short buns taste better.

10. Everyone has time to just relax (share and ice cream at the cafe or walk down the street).

Posted by Laura @ 1:45 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

I just wanna go home...

Well at this point we were both exhausted, even after a good nights sleep. But we were up at 7 and headed down stairs to eat standard hostel breakfast cafeteria style in a quiet back room. After we had picked up our stuff, returned our locks and checked out, we were more than happy to get a taxi to the airport- it was only 25 euros and better than the hassle of the bus at this point.

While Mark got his ticket, and I watched from afar (some rules about passengers only which was probably in German somewhere). He got ready to go through the gate at 9:30am. Unfortunately, Air India doesn't even start boarding until noon. So I read my book (the one Mark finished by A.C. Clark), then moved closer to the Gate for Air India... and waited some more. A woman sat next to me with a large amount of luggage who was taking Air India as well and we chatted a bit. She travels to Europe to watch operas, she is a big Wagner fan and just bought a life-size plastic duplicate of Wagner’s hound- it looked like a black lab to me. I also learned that she attended the first opera at Madison's new Overture Center- they purchased a German organ built by organ makers just down the street from the Beethoven house in Bonn- we probably walked right by their shop. The amazing thing about this organ is that if folds up so that when plays or things that don't need the organ are going on, the organ won't take up as much room. Mark would be fascinated.

Just before noon, we both got into line where a curious Air India employee asked us the standard airport questions. Going through security was a bit more complicated, everyone gets the full pat down and then you have to get a stamp in your passport from customs (one line for euro and another for non euro passengers). Next I tackled the maze of terminals to get to mine. Now the trick was that I actually didn't know which terminal I was suppose to go to. When I got my ticket, the clerk said that the actual location was still unknown, but above him, the digital readout said C13, so that is where I headed.

Now by this time it was about one and I really had to use the restroom, I hadn't passed any along the way, or at least I didn't recognize them. So after I located C13 I kept walking and found a security guard who pointed to a restroom on the other side of the security point. Which meant that to use the restroom I would have to leave the airport and then check back in through security. Since it is an international flight, I can't check in just anywhere... grrr. He also mentioned that there was a restroom inside of C13- Now I couldn't get inside of C13 since there were glass doors- it was like another ticket desk. And when I tried to go past, the women there started talking very loudly in German... So I had to wait an hour. At this point I was really missing the American airports with water fountains and restrooms everywhere!

Sitting right outside of C13, I was watching the departure schedule that was only posted an hour in advance- but when my flight was posted, I was in the right spot. After waiting to be let into C13, I got through, did my business, and found a nice seat in the second row next to the door- now there were about 20 rows of seats total, which should have prepared me for what was next. Slowly every seat was filled. Then all the passengers who were on the plane (coming from India) had to deplane and half of those had kids that were tired and hungry at this point- needless to say there were not enough seats and it was very noisy...

Unfortunately there was a problem with the EU computers, so we waited an hour longer in that cramped little room before we could get on. On the plus side, the sky was perfect for flying and I got some good shots of little fluffy clouds before the batteries ran out on the camera. It was an excellent camera for the trip. With two batteries, we always had enough power and the 4 CD's could hold all of our 750+ pictures that we took this trip.

The food was again delicious, curry chicken with curried veggies inside of a pastry, yummy spinach balls, strawberry yogurt, a cup of mixed fruit, water (the best part!), roll slathered with butter, a little wrapped Swiss chocolate with almonds and honey (perfect), and a yellow cake with little red currents and light white icing topped with chocolate shavings. I ate every bite!!

So Mark mentioned that I should try and stay awake the entire trip- so I watched the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy- but the earphones were not meant for such complicated sound, and so I only caught about half of the movie. Then I watched Tool Time (fortunately an episode I haven't seen) and a very long and sad Indian movie with English subtitles- I think the jist of it was that the king wanted a son and so he went on a pilgrimage. As a result, he did get a son, but his son only liked women and drink. So he sent him off to war for 14 years and when the sad prince came back he fell in love with a dancer maid. Of course, the king forbade the prince from marrying her and put the girl in prison to be executed. Well the prince couldn't have that, so he decides to fight the king. In the end the prince is to be executed by a cannon which the girl saves him from. As her punishment, she walled into a tower of stone to die, but the girl's mother can ask one favor of the king (due to her bringing good news of his son in the past) and so the girl is saved, but everyone thinks her dead... such a sad story, but the plot was always in flux, so it kept my attention.

Throughout the whole trip it was perpetual sunlight. I was so happy to land in Chicago 8 hours later (it took a half hour longer to come back). While I had about another inch of legroom this trip, my whole body was knotted up. After going through customs- a lot less painless than I thought- and getting the stamps for refunds that I needed, I headed to the domestic flights where Mark will be. Unfortunately that meant I had to get to the other terminal. After a shuttle ride, I couldn't go through to the gate and meet Mark when he arrive like we planned (since I had to go back through security), so I talked with someone for his carrier- who directed me to talk to someone down in baggage claim. All I wanted to do was give Mark a page or message that I would not be able to meet him at the gate and he shouldn’t wait an hour for me. After I told the baggage attendant my story, was nice enough to give me a pass to get past security (I didn’t know you could do that)- with only 30minutes before Mark landed, I ran to get into line. There I met a nice man who told me about what he enjoyed in Germany- manly he likes France- lived there for 5 years- and so we ended up talking about that for 20 minutes or so till I could get through the gate- it helped me to stay awake.

On the up side, I arrived about 5 minutes before Mark’s plane arrived at the gate. Which was great, any more time and I probably would have fallen asleep- we had been up about 24 hours by now. Heading down to the Van Guilder, we purchased a small pizza and Sprite to split and found the right bus. After a nap that was way to short, we arrived in Madison and trucked to the bus stop on University Ave. and headed home!!! It was so nice to use our own shower and to sleep under our own sheets. Germany was nice, but it was great to be back home!

Posted by Laura @ 1:38 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Heading to Frankfurt

We got up early (6:30am) to walk the wall and to avoid the tourist traffic. Fortunately, we were able to walk the wall starting from the eastern edge (since our hotel was so close by). We were at roof top level with the houses, up about the third story of a typical house. The wall itself was not the smoothest surface, it felt like the creators had hurridly put everything together to get the structure up- level surfaces not a requirement. Needless to say we had to watch where we put our feet. Looking out away from the walled city, there were many holes for defense (arrow holes) pretty evenly spaced.

Overally I found the walk on the wall a wonderful experience, it really gave you a feel for the town. As a note, I am scared of heights, can't remember a time when I wasn't. But when I know about a task ahead of time- like walking along a 3 story tall wall- I can usually control my fear. Unfortunately there are two terrifying experiences that I won't forget. At one point, we scared two pigeons which about gave me a heart attack. The second point is where they didn't finish the wall (portions were destroyed during a devistating seige and WWII), For this section, they put in planks that creaked and shifted as you walked along them- about lost my nurve there. For Mark, he will probably never forge that he bumped his head at one of the intersections of the wall and a turret. In fact, all of the castles and ruins were built for much smaller individuals than Mark's 6'3".

We walked the wall one way, and since it is the long way around and we were getting hungry for breakfast, we headed strainght through town on our way back (after we purchased our German glass). Breakfast at the hotel was refreshing. We had our own table filled with fruity yogurt, a basket full of bread, a meat and cheese tray, apple juice, and slices of watermellon. (As a note I don't like mellons and neither does Mark, but that I ate half of that watermellon and enjoyed every bite- I seem to not be very picky about food when I am starving.) After gathering our things, we checked out and bought a turned wooden mushroom, the lady of the house gifted us another small matching mushroom too! What a wonderful hotel!

Heading back to the bus depot, we loaded up with other fellow tourists heading to the trainstation. After 2 trains and the amazing ICE (Germany's fastest train, with chairs of comfort, glass doors, digital displays of where you are headed and very little shaking as you move) we arrived in Frankfurt. After Mark talked with a train station attendant about how to get to the airport, we looked at a map in the train station and found our last German hostel. Before we headed out, we picked up lunch at the train station. Mark chose his trusty ham and cheese, but I was adventurous and selected a beautiful rasberry pastry with a creamy pudding in the center- it was gooy and wonderfully sweet!

Fortunately our hostel was really close to the train station and we made it there by 2pm. Unfortunately this was the first time that we would be in a room with roommates- we were a bit apprehensive. We put our stuff in two of the cabnet doors and rented locks from the front desk to keep everything safe. Then we were back on the street.

Our options for the day were either the Architectural museum next door or the botanical gardens. Well since we missed the gardens in Bonn (due to the short and odd times that they were open) and the gardens in Munich were mainly beer gardens, we headed down across the river to the gardens. Unfortuantely we couldn't figure out how to take the subway, so in condolences we purchased some grapes from a vender above the subway station and munched as we walked along a nice tree covered pedestrian walkway to the gardens- we arrived around 3pm.

Here again, our student IDs came in handy and we entered! Dead ahead was the palm house, all enclosed with beatiful orchids on display. I was facinated by the baby's tears that covered the ground- if only we could have a lawn full of lush baby's tears- wow. There was an impressive walkway across one of the ponds too, stepping on square pillars of roughened dark cement just an inch above the water, it made you feel like you were right on the surface. In a room next to the conservatory, there was a bright yellow banana exhibit- all in German, but it was a large show that seemed to talk about how bananas are grown, harvested and distributed around the world- we also happened across a game Junta about banana republics...

Heading outside, we walked through a happily blooming rose garden. After collecting some great pictures we headed back to the right and saw the oddest birds next to one of the garden's large ponds. They didn't even look like they could fly and they were definately not a species that I knew. Rather shy little things with black feathers flecked with white dots. Next we saw a school which has classes- could you imagine going to a school in a garden- I would never want to leave- a library and a garden- what more could you want?

We sat for a bit, encased in a juniper headge, to admire some malards and the pond before the school, then we headed to the cactus house which was actually two enclosed buildings in one. Each house had a climate slightly different. The first was very arid, hot and dry with hills of sand and rocks with many pointy species sprawling all over. Another was hot but steamy almost like a tropical greenhouse, but contained only wicked looking cacti. While I was excited to identify the species that I knew, I could not learn any new ones since all of the labels were in German and I am not familiar with many of the latin names.

Connected to the cactus house was the tropical house, where beautiful orchids hung and in one we heard a mima-bird calling soulfully. Stepping out from the humidity we encountered ponds of lotus and lilies. The lotus standing so tall were the perfect background to the flat lilies. Along with the typical tropical lilies, there were also some impressive giant water lilies- these had edges on the lily pads that stood above the water, like a lily pad boarder- although I couldn't think of a reason, perhaps some future frog family? On the oposite side of the pond were a row of colorful dalyas standing as tall as mark and in full bloom of rainbow colors.

Walking toward the sub antartic house, we past a prairie garden full of many familiar wildflowers and a happy peacock crying sadly- it reminded me of my gradma's house in south Texas when she kept peacocks- I would hear them cry so every morning. After sitting for a moment to contemplate a metal sculpture with white pebble like rocks all around it, we headed into the subantartic house. Unfortunately the subantartic house was not what we expected- just mainly lower growing veggitation, but the environment was rather like the tropical house, so we didn't hang out too long.

Past a large green lawn we saw a kiddy train stopping at its nearby station and the childrens playground hidden by tall bushes. But drawing our eyes were the beautiful dalyas of every color and spotted/stripped type imaginable. They were taller than Mark in some places and a really impressive sight- I wish I knew what they fed those monsters, mine only grow up to my knees at home.

As of now, we had just gone down one side of the Gardens and were now turning around to head back. This side of the garden was all outdoors with winding paths amongs the trees and plants. we headed into a small house full of blooming flowers- mainly begonias- and a loud waterfall. Back outside we admired the ferns under the trees and happened to notice an ice cream stand! I had a delicious peach and Mark a vanilla both in crunchy waffle cones. Sitting across from the rock garden we happily ate our treats.

Unfortunately the beauty of the garden was being dimmed at this point by our sore feet, so we headed back down the pedestrian walkway. On the way Mark noticed someone using a bong- out in broad daylight. I don't know the laws, but we had already assumed that bongs were accepted because every large trainstation that we went to had them for sale in pretty displays. Well now we saw one in action. Along the way, we stopped into a large game store and Mark picked up a little card game about trains while I sat and massaged my feet. Once back outside, we found a vendor selling gyros- he even had the big haunch of meat rotating behind him. While we were enjoying our meal, we watched a young girl feed the pegions- and then a toddling boy run through them. Fortunately city pegions just get out of your way when you stampeed through them, so the girl didn't loose many, but now the boy had other thoughts, mainly to catch a pigeon- which his coordination would not allow him to do at his young age, but it was rather comical for onlookers.

Heading back to our hostel we packed up for tomorrow's travels home and happily took some advil. Fortunately our roommates didn't arrive until rather late, so Mark and I were already ready for bed at that time. They were rather shocked that we weren't going to stay up all night with them- but then again they probably weren't up at 6:30am walking a wall in a town 3 train stops away. They were both very nice girls, one from Tiwan and the other, from a small town in Germany looking for an apprenticeship in town.

Posted by Laura @ 12:39 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Christmas in Rotenburg

After the standard breakfast at the hostel (I am still not use to the soured milk taste), we headed across from Obletter to a discount luggage store. Not seeing any times posted for the store, we got there when it was still closed. After waiting for 1/2 an hour and watching the foot traffic get wet, and some construction workers talk about the building-to-be next door, we headed indoors. Unfortunately the sales that we saw in the windows were "to good to be true" but we got a cute lime green and black rolling suitcase for all of our clothes for 20 euro.

On the way back to the hostel, Mark wanted to check out the Galaria, and what a good idea that was. Although most of the games he wanted, we already got at Obletter, we picked up Odins Ravin's for only 5 euros. At the hostel we checked out, which involved just giving them our key, and headed back to the train station. We went back to the help desk and were given a little pamphlet with all the train schedules for Rotenburg. Unfortunately, the lady told us to follow the schedule for Saturday (note this is Monday). After boarding what we thought was the right train- the trains don't have numbers, they just line up on the platforms- we sat by ourselves for a bit. Now the digital display in the train said that we would not be going to the right location, and that seemed odd. While pondering this, we were approached by two girls who were also interested in going to Rotenburg, and since they could read more German than us, they mentioned that it looked like this train only goes to Rotenburg on Saturdays. After they headed off, we pondered what to do for a bit when a ticket agent approached us talking in German. After a bit, we learned that this train would take us 1/2 a day to get to Rotenburg if we took this train, we were following the Saturday schedule and that this train doesn't leave for another hour.

Well enough was enough. We headed to the ticket window. The nice thing about the ticket agents at the ticket windows is that you can ask them to print you an itinerary for you, which is what we did. We got a printed schedule from the reservation desk and boarded the right train at 11:45. Three transfers later (three trains and a scary fast bus from Steinach to Rotenburg where someone’s pears kept rolling around on the floor with every quick turn) we got Rotenburg. Being good tourists by now, we headed straight for the information station, right next to the bus station. A very helpful lady helped direct us to our new abode for the night, which was a 1/2 hour walk from where we were currently.

So we headed up hill, around the outer wall of Rotenburg, over several apples dropped from apple trees and what appeared to be red plums dropped from their trees. As we were walking along, we couldn't help but notice how fast everyone was driving. I will admit that I enjoy the speedy drive, but I think some of the locals our crazy- in these little cars, about half the size of an American car and taking turns that seemed to break the laws of physics. It was a bit nerve racking to watch.

At 3pm we were ecstatic to arrive at our lovely hotel "Klingintor." This was another pick from our guidebook, and it was only 15 euro more than a hostel and worth every penny. We were on the second floor with a room to ourselves, a double bed with room to stretch and our own bathtub and shower. After refreshing ourselves we hit the road and walked into town. The roads were all cobblestone, which announced every approaching car clearly to us. Oddly the sidewalks had barely enough room for one person to stand, rather awkward. Following our map from the info station, we headed toward one of two city church's, Stadtpfarrkirche St. Jakob and used our student IDs to get in for 1/2 price. This particular church was rather cathedral-like with the tall arched ceiling with stone saints on each pillar. We weaved through the pews in the larger part of the church and headed toward the altar. The altar was recessed in a narrow section at the front of the church, lined on both sides with wooden chairs for the choir above which there are 14th and 15th century stained-glass windows. We sat for a bit in two of the many chairs in this smaller section, before the altar- it was so peaceful.

Getting up, we headed to the left side of the narrow alter alcove to see an older alter with its beautiful hand carvings. Heading toward the back of the church, we walked up behind the organ. There was the altar containing the Heiliges Blut (holy Blood). The carving was amazingly detailed and beautifully carved, it felt like the artist used the grain of the wood when creating his masterpiece- it was so seamless. Nestled in the upper center part of the altar was a crystal capsule which is suppose to contain drops of Christ's blood. After sitting and staring at the masterpiece, we headed back outside and toward the center of town to visit the Christmas museum. We had talked about visiting the Medieval Criminal Museum, but due to our timing, we only had time for one tour. So Christmas it was and we headed to Kathe Wohlfahrt. Just walking in the door was an experience. Walking in we took a right and walked past mechanical toys in a mechanical village getting ready for Christmas time (putting up decorations, slipping on the ice).

Purchasing two tokens, we headed upstairs for the museum. There we discovered the history of Christmas trees (originally one per immediate and extended family where today it is one per household) and learned that small trees were shipped to soldiers during WWI to brighten their spirits. We also learned about the history of Santa Claus which originally started with Saint Nickolas in Germany. I also found the development of ornaments very interesting- they were originally made at home, out of dough. With mechanization, more ornaments became possible including glass and molded shapes. Mark also learned about the German Christmas pickle, a tradition where the first child to find the pickle on the tree Christmas morning would receive a special gift. We also learned about cards and the addition of first candlelight and then strings of light bulbs.

After our tour, we were definitely thinking about Christmas and the store did not disappoint. We headed down stairs and into Christmas shopping land. There were bedecked Christmas trees everywhere we looked. Lining every corner of every wall were ornaments to buy. Well we just wandered around and eventually covered the whole store. With the help of sales ladies we picked up a Mushroom smoker (a wooden mushroom home to burn incense in, although I probably never will- I just loved the look), lovely ornaments of wood, wood shavings and straw, and lots of gifts for family and friends back home. We briefly looked at the glass ornaments (too breakable) and table toppings in the back and headed out happily with our purchases.

For dinner we ate at a hotel right next to the church we visited earlier. I was happy to see all the chanterelles on the menu. In the spirit of the season, I ordered a chunky chanterelle soup topped with lovely butter croutons followed by 3 sausages (brat, breakfast sausage and one that was hot dog like) on sauerkraut which was served on a heart shaped plate with some hearty dark german bread on the side. Mark started with a stayed Chanterelle mushroom salad followed by Weinersnitzel with those delicious french fries.

With our tummies full, we paid our bill just as it started to rain. When we got back to our hotel to put our purchases away, we were rather soaked. After a quick change, we headed back out to see the watchman at 8pm in the town square. Unfortunately, it rained the entire tour, but remarkably, our tour guide was really good spirited (we have discovered that it rains often in Germany) we haven't laughed so hard in days. Since it was hard to see most of the tour, as we were dodging the rain drops under one umbrella, we ended up purchasing his video tour to watch when we get back home. We did see the wealthiest house in Rotenburg which housed a king, a door within the gate to let in those who stayed out after the gates closed, that each house was responsible for keeping one years supply of flour in case of siege and the richer houses must also save salt in their attics (too bad they didn't save gunpowder, which would have come in handy- instead they kept all the barrels of gunpowder in one location- part of their downfall), we walked the oldest remaining cobblestone street from the 15th century, saw the oldest house (Hell's Kitchen) which still has its original basement, and learned about how the town survived the destruction of WWII. A great night and after the tour, it stopped raining :)

Walking around the town, there were still a large number of stores open, across from Kathe Wohlfahrt we found another ornament store and got a present for Irene, who is watching our garden. Heading down to the pub, we got some fruit desert with strawberry and chocolate ice cream. The waitress also gave us advice on where we could buy a nice pub glass and we found the store, closed now, but we will visit tomorrow. Heading back to the hotel I took a wonderful shower and Mark watched some Germany TV- mainly music videos- but impossible for us to understand.

Posted by Laura @ 10:20 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Fussen and King Ludwig's Newschwanstein Castle

Today our goal is to see the famous fairy-tale castles in Fussen. Fussen is a small city near the border of Germany and Austria, and lies in the foothills of the Alps, so we're hoping for some beautiful scenery surrounding our last day of touring Castles.

Laura and I woke up refreshed and ready to get out of Munich; we've discovered we like the smaller towns over big cities, so much less noise and hustle and bustle, especially when you're in a foreign country, slower is better. Breakfast was once again a traditional cheese and ham hard-roll sandwich for me, and some bread with jam and butter for Laura. As we were up early, it was relatively uncrowded, and we made a quick get-away back to the train station. Another quick stop at the reservation desk, and we had two tickets to Fussen and were ready to go. We picked up sandwiches at the train station baekeri and found our way to the right platform (with this being the biggest train station we'd seen yet, there were about 40 platforms, so this was a little more challenging than before). We were one of the first ones there, so we found a nice seat pointed the right direction, and read our books while the train slowly filled. Wave after wave of people showed up, until there were no seats left, and we were off. I wonder how they ever know if there will be seats for everyone on the train, since there's not much in the way of making a reservation.

The two-hour train ride was a little rainy, but filled with some great scenery. The hills gradually became larger, more and more cows were spotted grazing, the houses took a turn for the classical look, and then we saw the Alps, slowly creeping up until you couldn't help but call them mountains. Even for the next half hour, they just slowly grew, and by the time we reached Fussen, we were at their base. Besides looking at the scenery, I finished "Rendevous with Rama" and Laura made more progress in her Cat adventure book.

We acted like tourists and followed everyone else off the train when it reached Fussen, and they thankfully led us to the tour buses, headed up the hill toward the castles. We couldn't see the castles yet, but we just knew we were at the right place. A cramed bus and 10 minutes later, we were at the base of another hill, and when we got off the bus, we spotted a fog-shrounded Castle Newschwanstein.
I've always wanted to see this castle, first because it is the castle you see everywhere, on jigsaw puzzles, posters, etc, and second, because when my grandparents visited Germany in their retirement, one of their travel pictures was a perfectly-framed Newschwanstein castle. The quality was good enough that they could blow it up to a 2 feet or so framed picture on their wall, which then hung in my room once they passed away and is now in our bedroom. My mission for today was to find the spot where they took their picture and see how well I can replicate it.

A short walk of following tourists took us to the ticket booth, where we picked up the Royal Tour tickets, first for Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig was born and grew up, and Newschwanstein, his fantastic unfinished castle just across the valley. As this was a main tourist spot, both of our tours would be in English, for better or for worse. The rain had picked up, so we donned our ponchos from previous castle explorations, and headed up a short walk to the waiting gate area. The system was very orderly, with numbers on your ticket telling you exactly when to head in, and as we had about half an hour before our tour, we hid under a tree and our umbrella to eat our lunch, a nice meal of breaded chicken sandwich for Laura and a ham and cheese sandwich for me. Try as it might, the rain could not dampen our spirits for castling today, and when our number was called, we shook off our rain and headed inside.

Our tour took us through the Queen's rooms on the 1st floor and the King's rooms on the 2nd floor. The third floor where the children lived (with almost no interaction from their parents it seemed, only caretakers and nannies) was not restored and could not be seen on the tour. The most memorable thing was the very detailed and colorful wall paintings. They had been painted directly on to the plaster, and detailed many historical knights of the family as well as local fairy tales involving swans, thus the Schwan name in the castle. There were many symbolic figures of swans, lions (for Bavaria) and eagles (for Prussia) also hidden among the paintings.

As with the other castles we saw, this had been destroyed by the French and been rebuilt within the last two hundred years, but with a mind to preserving the historical feel. Both floors had a very large dining room area with ornametal plates and table-settings, makes you wonder if they ever ate together as a family and played board games, probably not. Many of the ceilings were painted blue with white stars, and the ceiling in the King's bedroom had been altered to allow the simulation of stars, by drilling holes to the third floor, putting in colored glass pieces at the bottom, and having servents stand on the third floor with lights, waving them until the King went to sleep. We also noticed that one of the perks of being King is getting fantastic birthday presents, like an ivory carved chest, a gold goblet, engraved shields, and 100 year old bread and salt (well it wasn't 100 years old when he got it, only now, and it looks very well preserved..) The tour ended with a short walk outside to visit the gardens and view the valley down below, and we looked at our watches and started headed for the next castle, following some Italian smokers down the hill.

Now we had three options, either take a horse carrige up the hill, take the bus shuttle, or walk along the horse trail. We noticed the horses were going rather slow, and since the rain pretty much stopped and we were starting to get used to all this excersize, we choose to hoof it on our own. It turned out to be a pretty direct route, with only a couple of detours made to avoid the horse droppings on the way. We exited the tree-covered road to see the huge white walls of the castle with a large circular staircase on one side. There seemed to be a very long line to get in, but it was once again an orderly procession of people waiting to have their tour number called. Finally it was time for #475 at 2:15, and we headed in.

The castle was huge, probably the biggest one we'd seen all trip. And since it was never finished and never lived in, we were able to see more rooms than any other castle too. It's surprizing how much money was put in to this castle, and for someone to have that much money at their disposal, even at the time when it was built. There were many beautiful ceilings with their gothic arches all painted. We moved through a huge hallway with views on either side, one of the valley, the other of the servant's quarters, which looked bigger than our apartment. As in Hoenschwangau, the walls were all painted with huge plaster paintings, many of them featuring scenes from Wagner operas, as the castle was dedicated to Wagner since he and Ludwig were friends. I was particularly impressed with the size and brightness of the throne room (minus one throne-to be added later) with a huge mosaic under our feet and wall paintings of knight/saints in the place of the usual chappel/12 disciples spot. This was also the favorite spot for the other tourists in our group to take illegal pictures. The bedroom included some of the most intricate wood carvings we'd seen, it looked like a miniature copy of the Koln cathedral was made into his bed canopy and light fixtures for his sink, and everywhere we went there were large white swans. Laura's favorite room was the Music Hall, our last stop, where the ceiling was constructed for perfect acoustics, and the walls were painted green like we were in a forest, right up to the door we used to exit, which was perfectly hidden. We ended our tour by visiting Ludwig's childhood gift shop (obligatory Simpson's reference) and picking up some postcards.

But as yet, we had not found where my grandparent's took their picture, although we did see some very similar pictures in the gift shop, so we searched our map some more and found a pathway to Mary's Bridge, which looked like just the spot we needed. Turns out this was a very uphill hike, just what we needed, more hills. It was worth it, though, as we crested one hill, we found an opening to take pictures of Hoenschwangau down in the valley, Laura thinks it will be perfect for her Mom to remember the Alps. Another small hike upwards, and we found the famous bridge, rickety and metal, with very bouncy wooden planks under our feet. Laura was very brave and walked out on the bridge with me, and we turned to see Newschwanstein in perfect position for a picture, and I'd finally found the spot where my grandparents had walked in Germany. I snapped some large and small pictures, and we headed off (much to Laura's relief) to find a bus back to the train station. We squeezed our way onto the next bus and careened our way down the hillside, to another bus station, where we managed to catch the last bus back, and hopped on the last train back to Munich 4 minutes before it took off. Phew!

Laura found many opportunities for pictures on the way back, with the rolling hills and receeding mountains being the home to many cows and picturesque German houses. I slept what I could (I'm not a good train/bus/moving vehicle sleeper) and Laura read some more while the two hours back to Munich flew by. And by now, after a day of exercise, we were starving for dinner. We returned to the pedestrian mall we found yesterday and found the Spatenhauf for another good German meal, with the compelling reasons being that it had English translations of thier menu options, we could sit outside and avoid the smoke, and it was close. I tried out the Jagerschnitzle, which was Wienerschnitzle covered in a creamy mushroom and onion sauce, with some pan-fried spatzle on the side. Laura ordered the Oxenhau, a pot roast slicked and coated in a mustard sauce, with skillet-fried potatoes with bacon and oregano. We split a green salad, and amazingly (although not by now) we finished everything we ordered. Best meal yet! :)

Still in search of gardens in Munich, we wandered down to a green spot on the map marked Promenade, with 3 large statues (maybe Maximillian and other Bavarian kings?) amongst two rows of marigolds and tall white flowers. By now, our energy was exhausted, so we headed back to the hostel and fell into bed, with plans tomorrow to see the famous Deutches Museum.

Posted by Mark @ 11:26 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Time for Munich

After a quick breakfast at the hostel, Mark checked out and we made our way down to the Post. After purchasing a box that ended up being the perfect size for all of our stuff, we stared at the instructions- of course they were in German. Now usually we could puzzle out how this would work even without instructions, but this box was literally a piece of cardboard folded in half and glued together. So after watching our confused looks, the owner came around and read through the instructions and put most of the box together, with his wife helping along the way- it really was the most non-intuitive design for a shipping box that I have ever seen. We put in the two larger games- each stuffed with as many small games as would fit, added shorts and a laundry sack to protect the edges and paid our money. Overall we paid 30 euro to send 9 games via slow boat.

We continued down the path to the train station where we waited only a few minutes with about 10 other seriously outfitted backpackers and headed to Karlsruche. There we got sandwiches and a new book- 11 euro for an English book- but at least it was in English and sci fi. We never had our tickets checked in the black forest trains. We boarded our new train and headed through Stutgart to Munich- rather flat farmland the whole way. Throughout the countryside you see a huge mix of houses and large fields of wheat.

Then we stopped in the largest train station yet! There must have been 12 platforms, each serving a train on either side with the entire thing covered to protect the people from the elements. Inside there was every kind of food available in little stands- pizza, sandwiches, produce, ice cream- even souvenir shops and a flower market- and this just on the lower deck- the upper deck had restaurants that you could sit down at and shopping. Heading for an information office, we purchased a colorful map of the area for 50 cents and learned that there was a Hostel across the street. Lugging all of our stuff, we headed across the street and around a spooky corner to find the hostel. Fortunately we got a double bed (no more bunk beds!!) on the second floor (or two floors up from ground floor). After taking an ancient elevator up to our floor and dumping our stuff in the room, we headed out to see Munich. First we went to Obletter- a large toy store that sells Euro games in the basement- here we found some more large and small games and some more presents.

Two sacks full of games later, we headed back to our room to stow our finds. Next we were headed toward the Botanical gardens. Along the way we ate at a little tucked away café where Mark had a Pils that he really liked, we shared a green salad with red pepper, cucumber and tomatoes topped with an oil and balsamic vinegar. Next came our main course, a tasty mushroom and ham pizza- The German pizzas a really a treat- very light on the sauce with cheeses that will make your taste buds dance! Now I must say that I was a bit disappointed with the gardens. They were mainly green lawns with either flowers or trees around the edges, the most impressive parts were the entryway arch, the fountain and the busiest part was the beer garten. I missed the labels for the plants, although I could tell what most were.

Next we headed downtown and found the largest cathedral with a raised map of Munich outside. There was a large fountain right across from the church where some man was being bullied by his friends to walk across the stone lily pads to the other side. As we got closer to the Cathedral we heard beautiful organ music playing and in a side entrance to the church we rested our feet and listened to the beautiful music- unfortunately we wouldn’t be here for the upcoming concerts, but it was nice to get a preview.

Walking around the side of the church we saw imbedded tombstones right in the side of the church. As it was getting darker we walked past several outdoor restaurants and headed to the Rathaus. On the way there we saw a beautiful butterfly chalk work, not done on the sidewalk, for that was cobblestone, but instead on large boards that he put down. The Rathaus was an imposing structure surrounded with jutting gargoyles. In the courtyard was a rather expensive restaurant which looked menaced with these gargoyles. In one pathway to the courtyard, we saw the bulls eye glass filling the windows, just like in the medieval castles. Now it was about 8:30 and after seeing everyone walk around with ice cream cones, we decided to get some too. I got apricot and cherry yogurt while Mark got vanilla and an impressive strawberry (fortunately our dictionaries helped us make the right choices). Munching our sweet treats, we sat in the ‘swatch’ store steps and waited for the 9pm playing of the Rathaus cuckoo clock. It goes off several times a day, and each one must be a bit different. For us, there was a night watchman in the left tower and an angel in the right tower.

As we walked back, we heard a young girl play the accordion and window shopped like a native, looking at the wares in the lit displays. We found a local call shop and Mark go us a telephone and told me the digits to dial for the states- it was about 2:30pm at home. I got to talk to my Dad for a bit and Mark left a message on his folks answering machine. We will try to call again. Back to our hostel for a good nights sleep.

Posted by Laura @ 2:30 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Exploring Triberg

Getting up early, we had our breakfast at the hostel- the standard fair for all hostels and then we walked down the long hill into town. We started at the post office and sent off our postcards- we also found out that we could send our games home slow-boat for about 50 euro- much cheaper than our prior quote. Next we went into the "Lego" shop and found some uniquely European Lego sets including a large Viking ship that Jesse was looking for (not made in the states), but the small shop didn't have any of the games that Mark was looking for, so we kept moving.

Window shopping up the hill, we found a little tucked away shop, Bruno Roth's carving shop. Entering a tight walkway, there was a stack of planks on your left and then a small courtyard with a bird feeder. On the right was a covered wall with little shelves of Christmas ornaments. Walking through another door we found a hallway covered with cuckoo clocks all clicking loudly. The hallway split into stairs going up a level and a workroom to the left under the stairs. That is where we met Mr. Roth and his wife. They were both very friendly and as I looked around at all the wooden figures and ornaments displayed on the tables, Mr. Roth lent us his upstairs key. Heading up stairs we found a room full of wonderful wooden treats. There were Eastern German nativities that have a fan on top and candles around the bottom- they spin when the candles are lit- very clever! Hanging on the wall was an amazing assortment of cuckoo clocks all going off at random times and on one shelf we saw nativity music boxes.

Now I had plans to pick up a nativity and a music box while in Germany. My mom had a beautiful music box which she got from Germany, and now was the chance for us to find a perfect match. Our nativity music box plays Silent Night- now we just have to remember to get the stamp from customs so we don't have to pay the German tax. Before we left the shop, Mark asked Mr. Roth about the chalk markings above the entryway- most homes and business that we pass had the chalked writing "20-C+M+B-05" above their doors. Mr. Roth said that on January 6th (when the 3 Wiseman came), people who donate to charities get their houses marked to demonstrate their good deed. We also got to see some pictures from last winter- wow- they get an amazing amount of snow.

Continuing up the street, we entered the City Shop where tucked away in the back, we found a copy of Zicke Zacke Huhnerkacke- a chicken matching game with beautiful wooden chickens- and it was on sale! There were also really cute displays for "sheep", "pig" and "cow" life- rather like the frogs that were so popular in the Hallmark stores here- each animal with a different pose/saying. Tackling the steeper part of the hill, we entered the House of 1000 clocks- and it really was! In the entry way was a really large- Mark height cuckoo clock across from an odd manikin. After a quick tour of many cuckoo clocks and some more traditional grandfather clocks upstairs, we headed for the peaceful streets to the Bakerei by the Rathaus. I had a salami, cream cheese, carrot, and lettuce wrap while Mark tried a chicken sandwich. Note to self- we should make our sandwiches out of the long rolls when we get back home!

Across the street from the clock shop was a packed wood working shop with a beautiful wooden pferd (horse) that I fell in love with. I carried it around with me for a bit and even took a picture of it, but an unpainted wooden horse for 25 euros was a bit much. In the shop there were also very realistic 3-D scenes that Mark was captivated with- every little shop was replicated, including the bakerei’s that we ate at so often. There were also lovely wooden rose plates, but these were meant to be wall hangings, so no go.

Across from the waterfall was the Schwarzwald (black forest) museum with all the history of Triberg and the black forest area. Inside we took a pictorial tour of the settlement and development of the town. We saw hats with pompoms that were all the fashion long ago. There was also beautiful wheat plating which helped revitalize the town when they were strapped for cash- I hope some of my pictures come out- I would like to give it a try some time. There was also a room dedicated to a famous wood carver who also did the town's rathaus- a stairwell, doorframe, chest and many odds and ends. We played several of the player orchestras- one in the main room had manikins beating on drums while in the clock room there were slightly out of tune player pianos. Passing through a small dedication to winter sports in the area (toboggans and such) we walked into the cave-like geology exhibit- they even had black lights for the fluorite. Exiting the cave we saw a large train model of the area- and had a glimpse of how precarious the trains look riding along the side of the steep hills.

After the museum, we continued left down the street to the Master Cuckoo Carvers (MCC) guild. When we entered, the energetic owner told us all about the difference between the mass-produced clocks and their handmade clocks. Namely a good clock is deeply carved with wooden hands and face showing more realistic animals and wood life. All of his MCC clocks are handmade in Triberg and looking around we found our perfect clock. Ours does not have any animals, just beautiful Linden leaves- in some ways it almost looks like a road sign or a birdhouse. The store ships the clocks too- so we should get a wonderful surprise in 3-4 weeks.

On the happy high from purchasing the perfect cuckoo clock, we decided to tackle the waterfall. At the entryway you can purchase peanuts and we saw little kids throwing the legumes to very dark red and black squirrels- they were about the same size as the ones in the states, but much more apprehensive- kids must have gotten too close some times. As we walked up the path we also was some birds with white and black spots- Mark got a good picture of them- they reminded me of blackbirds from here- happily grabbing peanuts, but never getting too close or sitting still for very long. The path along the waterfall was very well maintained, it would stay close to the water for a bit and then wind away for a less steep path, then come in close for another good view. There were about three really nice spots to see the waterfall and we only went 1/3 of the way up- we were still horribly sore from yesterdays travels and the idea of 700+ steps was not appealing just to see the top… The hike itself was rather steep but cool and misty, with oodles of people speaking every language. There were also interesting little factoids about famous people who have visited the falls, and that this preserved location still keeps the original mixture of spruce, ash and beech trees where elsewhere logging had changed the black forest to contain mainly spruce trees.

After that nice bit of exercise, we walked past the entryway and straight to the Pfaff restaurant across the street (a great recommendation from our guide book). Mark got a pils (furltenberg) with 2 rolled spinach ravioli topped with diced bacon and onions with a side of german potato salad and a salad with creamy haus dressing. I got a sprite and Bratwarst with great smoky sauce and amazingly wonderful French fries, a matching salad and a spot of mustard. Our meals also came with a cute pile of matchstick carrots and what we think was a pickled radish- it was really good (and I got to eat Mark’s). Now for desert, when in the black forest… I got the black forest cake (a very light cake- soft on the chocolate layers and the frosting was almost like eating air- the cherries were really mild too- like cherries that were preserved, but put in a water mixture) and since Mark couldn’t get that since it has almond extract, he got warm apple strudel with ice cream and whipped cream- so good!!

With full tummies we headed down the main street to the City Store and hired a taxi to our hostel- the best 5 euro spent! Once in our humble abode, we finished washing and drying our dirty clothes- and while that was doing its thing, we took a quick hike across the street up a logging road. The method of logging was very interesting, the trees are thinned out and then lined up next too the road so that the roadside trees hold up the newly cut lumber. The undergrowth was trod rather badly, but the forest maintains a healthy look. We found a path going around our hostel and followed it around the backside to find a small sitting area and further up a seesaw. Everywhere you walk in Germany you get the feeling that someone else has walked there before you. As we walked up to the road the path got steeper and someone had put in convenient steps to reach the top.

As we waited for our laundry to dry, we pulled out Ziche Zacke and played two rounds- it is really a beautiful game fun for kids and adults! Once our clothes were done we packed up, leaving behind Mark’s “Game of Thrones” novel in hopes that someone else will enjoy.

Posted by Laura @ 2:11 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Heading to the Black forest

This morning we rolled out of bed and gathered up all of our linens- today we are leaving for the Black forest! We checked out and ate breakfast- this time I opted for soft slices of bread- enough with the hard rolls. We walked outside into very thick fog, fortunately we knew the way by now, because we couldn't see one side of the fortress to the other. After hiking down the pedestrian foot path, we caught the bus to town and tried to find Mailboxes, Etc.

We had passed the store on our first walk from the fortress to the Koblenz train station in the rain, we ended up a little higher than we thought and circled back a bit until we found it- Mark has such a good spatial map for places! When we got there, we had to wait a bit for the store to open at 9am and we were hopeful with the inexpensive prices listed in the windows. Unfortunately, when it opened, we unstacked all of our stuff and it weight about 7 kilos- the lady told us it would cost about 165 euros. After we picked up our chins off the floor (I could buy another bag for 165 euros and carry it myself) and we got over the shock, we repacked all of our stuff and headed to the train station. In hindsight, this might have been for speedy travel, but she never offered us any options.

We caught the 9:48am train to Triburg and got great views of the countryside. First we saw mainly farming communities, with small little houses scattered throughout the flat, green countryside. We also caught our first glimpses of people growing corn- just like back home (but I have heard that Europeans think corn is only for the animals- they don't grow sweet corn). As the hills crept in, the houses got larger and ended up changing slightly, they still had a large number of skylights and small windows tucked everywhere, but now the roofs look like the front and back peaks were collapsed in- so each roof had 4 flat sides. There were also nice balconies under the front roof peak with loads of the ever present flower boxes. As we entered the forest, we ended up passing through 16 tunnels and learned that the train stops on unmarked towns. There were many hills and all very steep! The forest itself looks very manicured- types of trees were grouped- as if the whole thing had been planed and planted again and again.

We got into Triburg at 1:40pm and took some steps down to hike along a river. Of course this hike was more energetic with it's steep incline. We passed the Post station with their bright yellow signs and little did we know, we passed the info station, which was just a posted map. As we continued up, we came to the main part of town, we found where the old info station was according to the map. In fact, Mark asked some locals and they told us that this closed building was the information station, and that it opened at 6??? We are suppose to be at our hostel at 5pm, so we headed back to the main part of town, toward the large wooden sign for the waterfall. Mark asked the lady at the waterfall ticket counter for directions to the station which lead us to a building across the street- YEAH!!

After getting a map and told that it is only a "short" hike with a "small" incline to our hostel, we headed out- there are no buses headed toward our hostel. That was one of the longest and steepest hikes of the trip- note that we still had all of our stuff on our backs and in our hands. We passed a swimming pool, another stream, and a little lady that told Mark we didn't have much further to go. We also kept pace with a delivery truck making his rounds. By 3:45 we had made it to our hostel and our feet/legs/backs were killing us. At 4:30 the desk clerk arrived and we paid for our rooms and the best Fanta of the trip! We also got free entrance cards for the waterfall.

After dumping our stuff, we walked down to the closest cafe- along a little footpath- we were walking in the cool dampness of the black forest! We got to the café to learn that it was closed for a party- so we walked back to our hostel and begged for dinner. You are suppose to give 24 hours notice, and we were so tired from arriving that day, that we couldn’t have hiked back down to the town for dinner. Fortunately there was enough, so we hung out until 6pm to get the most filling dinner we have had yet!

The first course came on this really heavy tray that Mark took to our table. There was vegetable soup- maybe split pea- so amazingly good we ate it all- which was 2 helpings each. A variety of rolls came in a basket with it and polished off those as well. Next was a delicious salad with a lovely balsamic vinaigrette, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber (Mark even ate his). Taking our dirty dishes back, we got our main course- chicken and mushroom stroganoff with rice and a weird rhubarb and vanilla tea (we do miss plain water). We were so full after our meal, we could barley eat our desert- lime jello cubes with a creamy custard on top.

Happily full we decided to try and tackle laundry. We purchased some tokens from the desk clerk and “followed the noise” to the laundry room- it was loud- I don’t know what the machine was making all of the noise, but on the plus side we didn’t have to worry about running the machines too late! While our laundry was started, Mark took out Ebb and Flow- we kind of invented our own rules since the English translation was difficult to understand. When we tried to put in our second load for wash, we somehow messed up putting in the token and didn’t get the wash- so the second load we did in our bedroom sink- using my bar of soap and my brush as a scrubber- the compact shower as the rinse. A while later and with red hands our whole room was covered in wet laundry, so we used our second dryer token and let it run until we went to sleep- the close didn’t get dry, but they were definitely less damp. A note on the drying, for this machine, there were 10 different settings. The first load that we picked, our clothes came out rather damp and we learned that the setting we chose was for clothes you want damp so you can iron them afterwards. Therefore, when we took the really wet clothes from our room down to the dryer, we also took our dictionary and found the setting for “desert dry” or something similar- the second load didn’t finish drying either, but it ran for 2 hours- I guess our clothes were just that wet.

We decided to go to sleep around 11, pulled out our wet laundry and rehung it around our room. As we both lay exhausted in our bunks we saw the full moon rising over the tree covered hill outside our window- it must have been a great night to see the stars- maybe tomorrow…

Posted by Laura @ 3:17 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Traveling the Mozel

As we rolled out of our bunk beds and got dressed. We headed down the long hallways for breakfast. By now I had come to enjoy my buttered rolls and jam on rolls with a glass of the oddly soured milk- Mark feasted on his meat and cheese sandwiches with some of our travel water. After putting our dishes away, following the pictorial diagrams, we headed for the path we saw the first day we arrived at the fortress. This winding path was one of the best ways that we have found down yet! It had long stretches and then sharp turns, at least 8, till you are walking along the road at the bottom. After a rocky stretch at the end, you pop out at the bus stop, where a short wait got us on the #9 bus to the train station in 10 minutes for only 3.90.

Looking at the listing, we found our train to Cochem and hopped aboard. After a short ride, we arrived in Cochem, a rather small town right on the Mozel. Walking down the streets, we got a feel for "crazy" european drivers who were taking the quick turns fast and barreling down the straight roads. After a short walk we found the visitor station and discovered that there is a bus that takes you up to the castle Reichsburg in the courtyard outside. For 4 euros we were headed to the top of another steep hill. As we drove through the town, we saw the tour guides that Rick Steves talks about in his videos, one was holding a paddle with a red dot and telling about the history of the town, while pointing out the local merchants to buy trinkets. On the drive up the narrow street, we were surrounded by grape vines, it is amazing how steep the locals will grow their vines.

After getting off of the bus, there was a cobblestone path to the top. From here you could get an impressive view of the grape vines and there were even some rows labeled. Along the walk up was a tall rock wall on our right with imbedded stone chairs for the more weary traveler. When we got past the first gate, we saw the display for the falconer- there are more times then just 11am (since we had missed that one)- we were ecstatic, both of us really wanted to see the falcon show and our guide book said 11am was it. After our tour we will be coming back down for this one! Heading up above the falconry, we got a wonderful view of the Mozel and a small town on the other side too. Through another smaller gate, and we were in the gift shop where we could get our tickets. While Mark got those, I looked around and fell in love with this cute little sheep on one of the back shelves- he has felt ears, a fuzzy wool-like body and cute little wooden legs with a little plaid collar and two bells. After getting the sheep we learned that the next tour would start in 7 minutes, so we hung out for a bit outside of the shops doorway.

Our tour guide was dressed up in German attire and gave us english copies of the tour- so this was another German tour. And most of the people on the tour spoke German, there were also some Italians, but no more Americans. It is rather odd to go on a tour with German's, they are very quiet, they don't ask any questions to the tour guide, and their children are very well behaved. After a bit, we figured out that the tour guide was telling the tour more than our little English version, so we started asking questions about the "oohs" and "ahhs" at the end of her German speeches. We learned that the lower part of the castle was built by Franconian Palatine counts around 1000 AD. As with most German castles, this one was destroyed by French soldiers in 1689. Then along came a rich Berlin merchant, Louis Ravene, who rebuilt the castle as a 19th century chateau. His decedents were forced to sell the castle in 1942 to the Reich and since I was born (1978) the town has owned the castle.

The rooms that we toured included the dining hall (beautiful wooden ceiling done in poker-work, which means that the patterns were burnt in and then painted- the room also contained a fake door for symmetry), the gothic room (with appropriate gothic arches and a beautiful secretaries desk with wood that seemed to ripple, accomplished by cutting the wood next to the roots), Romanesque room (which held a beautiful 16th century stove and two secret passageways, one was an escape for the doctor down to the town monastery and the other led up to the bedrooms), room above the last gate (contained a mermaid lamp- we rubbed her tummy for good luck), walked down a staircase the wrong way (for sword defense- assuming your aggressor was coming up the stairs) to the hunters' room (containing 5 liter tankards showing the amount of wine one monk was allowed to drink and yellow bulls-eye glass panes in the stained glass windows which look like the bottom of coke bottles), the Knights' Hall (the largest room in the castle with the heavy curved ceiling carved and stuccoed and supported by large oak pillars), the Weapons room (containing armor for a 7 foot tall Austrian), Balcony (which Mark got some great views from), the room connected to the Balcony (contained a silver lined drinking horn and a secret doorway under the stairs), the well (150 feet deep, fortunately the sun was out and we could watch her drop water to the bottom), and as we walked out we saw the witches' tower (the only original part of the castle) and a large mosaic of St. Christopher on the west side of the main tower.

Then we headed back down to the courtyard to eat our lunch (turkey sandwich from the train station for Mark and a left over Wienersnitzel and hard roll sandwich for Laura). We tried to help some italians, telling them that the tours were upstairs, but Italian is too far from Spanish- pointing helped the most I think. As a crowd gathered for the falconry, we shuffled through the gate and looked at her three owls, a buzzard eagle, hawks and falcons lined up aside one wall of the castle. Each bird had what appeared to be a large dog house (hip high) with a bar in the shade for them to roost on and a large rock placed about two foot in front for them to get a bit of sunlight. From the rock to the back of their house was a metal cable (like a dog run) that would let the birds fly out to the rock and back.

Initially the lady Falconer put all the birds in their houses and blocked the entrances with a plywood door. Then she took out a little owl who squawked over and over. Giving two gents leather gloves, she had the owl hop from one arm to the other squawking the entire time (getting treats from her leather satchel at each destination). After the older men had supported the little owl, some of the younger boys were eager to do the same. Next she took out the Harris hawk- called Harris. Grabbing the leathers on his feet, she threw the hawk to temporarily roost on parts of the nearby castle walls. Next she had him visit some of the observers- landing on a bald mans head, hopping from shoulder to shoulder along the guests- Mark had him sit on his shoulder for a bit! He said that the claws didn’t hurt, you just feel the weight of the bird. Next she took out the Maltese falcon. She launched him into the air and we all searched for his landing. After a bit he roosted on top of one of the turrets. Taking out a stuffed leather-like bird, the Falconer started swinging the bird-replica over her head, speeding up each time the falcon got close. It was amazing; the hawk would fly in between the crowd, the fence posts, over our heads, trying to catch that little leather bird. At the end she put the leather on the ground and the falcon happily attacked it- on one side was a pocket with some raw meat that the falcon devoured.

After the show, we had the opportunity to talk with the Falconer about the birds. The little owl she had at the beginning was a newer baby that they had gotten- I guess that was why he was complaining so much. We learned the names of the hawks and falcons along with seeing the large eagle buzzard Galadrial up close. It was an amazing show and encounter!

After refilling our water bottle, we headed back down the narrow street to the center of town and saw platform 9 3/4 right next to the train station (it was a bar, but don’t tell the Harry Potter fans that). Next we took a train down to Mozelkern. When we got there, the town looked deserted, we started following signs to information, but couldn’t find the information building, so we started following signs to Burg Eltz. Following alongside a little stream, we came to a pedestrian path in the woods. Continuing along, still next to the now wider stream, we came to a noisy metal bridge and continued on a dirt road. We walked past a nice inn, some tractors and a field, now with the stream on our right. Continuing on the path, we left the stream and hit the hiking path. Mostly the path was flat, but what our guidebook said was a 45 minute hike turned out to be an hour and 15 minutes. It seemed like we walked around a hill (thank goodness it wasn’t over the hill), with a rushing river getting farther and farther below us on the right. Turning a sharp corner we saw a large meadow and then the castle right before us. It looked amazing!

Walking over a narrow metal bridge and up several flights of stairs and we arrived just in time to purchase the tickets for an English tour in 7 minutes. You wait in the courtyard, the inner courtyard surrounded on all sides by the residential section of the castle. This was Rick Steve’s favorite castle, and I know why. This is one of only a few non-ruined castles in Germany, it is much lower to the ground and less visible than the other castles we had seen so far. Since it is original, it contained all the original tapestries to help insolate the walls. There were over 40 fireplaces (where most castles contained only 2 or so), and housed three families (originally from the same branch). The structure was built in the 11th century and is still privately owned (we saw a picture of the small family- who still come back to live there, so we couldn’t visit the entire castle). We were surprised at how small the rooms were because the structure looked so large when we first saw it, but the walls were very thick. Unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures inside, but before I knew that rule, I got a shot of some armor and weapons. In the main dining hall- the largest room in the castle, we also saw the “rose of silence”- to keep all that you heard to your self when you left- and the “jester”- to be able to talk freely. In one bedroom, the bed was up 2 feet from the ground and canopied to keep the heat. In that same room, the also took out the white washing to reveal the older Chinese-like flower paintings underneath. There was also a small sanctuary, jutting out from the walls so that no one was higher than God. We saw two women’s rooms (with clothes presses, spinning wheels and sewing odds and ends) and two men’s rooms (rather dark and lodge like with hunting prizes around it). There were also a large number of toilets, which you flushed by pouring a pitcher of water down afterwards. The last room was the kitchen, with its gigantic chopping block, amazingly large and scary wooden fireplace for cooking, a cold room just deep in the walls of the castle for storage and racks above our head to hang meats, pots and herbs.

After the hike and the tour we were looking forward to a nice meal in the café before we left, but since the café was closed, we got to try another traditional German meal- meat and cheese salad. Imagine square worms of ham and a light white cheese tossed in Italian dressing, and you have the meal. Mark really enjoyed it, but I enjoyed the sprite more. Feeling a bit refreshed, we walked quickly back (still took us an hour) trying to ignore our ever-present foot and leg pain to make it just in time for the train to Koblenz. Along the way, we saw a tall- almost spindly bridge with only 5 supports- and lots of pleasure boats along the Mozel. Once we arrived to Koblenz, we asked a ticket person at the train station about out how to get to Triberg tom. And then happily took a taxi back up to the fortress- best 13 euros yet!

Since we had already had dinner, we both got desert at sunset at the fortress restaurant of ice cream (vanilla and strawberry) and fruit (grapes, apples, cantelope, plum, raspberries). After we both took wonderful showers and 2 Advil each to dampen the pain, we slept blissfully!

Posted by Laura @ 11:39 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

A Day of Castling

It turned out we had the 6-person room all to ourselves for our stay in Koblenz, which was much less stressful as there was nowhere to lock up our luggage while at the hostel. We woke up and headed down to breakfast, which was the traditional meat and cheese plate, hard rolls, sesame seeded rolls, butter cubes, yogurt, and rasberry and apricot jam. We're slowly learning to take our bottles of water with us everywhere, because there was once again nothing to drink for breakfast, only coffee. It was a little confusing of how to place our dishes, and since we were the first ones there, we couldn't observe the locals, so we had to ask for help and finally figured it out.

Today was our first scheduled day of visiting castles along the Rhine and Mosel rivers, so our first mission was to return to the train station downtown and hop down to St Goar. It was lightly raining this morning, so we took our umbrella and headed to find the pedestrian path down of the hill. As we were searching, a car drove up next to us and a nice elderly gentleman offered us a ride down, which we took quickly to get out of the rain. He had lived in Koblenz since 1978 and enjoyed it very much. At the bottom, he pointed us in the direction of the ferry, and we were very thankful not to be in the rain longer than we needed. But as it turned out, the ferry was closed until 10am, and our grand plans of leaving early just didn't work out today. As we didn't see a bus stop nearby, it was time for a hike. We saw a bridge in the distance and headed towards it, using our Fodor's Germany guidebook map to point us toward the train station. The rain picked up a little, and we learned that cars like to speed on that bridge, but there was a nice pedestrian path, perfectly car-free, for us to walk. We got our bearings on the other side of the Rhine, and headed downtown, past a number of little shops, setting up flowers, food, clothing, and even passed a Mailboxes Etc. on our way, all just opening up for business.

Finally after about an hour in the rain (with our umbrella) we arrived at the train station, and went right to the Reservation desk to purchase our tickets for the day. It was best to get a day pass for the region, about 14 Euros each, as we would be getting on and off the train at two spots today. This turned out to be a better deal than using one of our Eurorail pass days. With tickets in hand, and the next train not leaving for 30 minutes, we picked up some local sandwiches for lunch, one turkey (or Putenwurst) for me, and a mystery fried chicken sandwich for Laura. We also headed to the local Information booth across the street to find an easy way to get back to the Hostel that night, and while we were there, picked up some information on the boat tour we planned to take this evening. As it turned out, the last boat back north was leaving Rudeshiem at 4:15, so some quick rescheduling in our heads worked out that this would be our second stop of the day, but first we would have to take a ferry across the river from Bingen. With all this in mind, it was back to the train station for an uneventful trip to St. Goar and the ruins of the Reinfels Fortress.

The rain seemed to have followed us down up the Rhine, so we quickly found the exit and followed the other passengers toward the information booth at the bottom of the hill. Inside, we found an English guide to the castles we would see later in the afternoon, and a historical book on the Reinfels Fortress (not as essential as we first thought), and picked these up to be our local tour guides. The helpful woman behind the desk pointed us outside to the "tschu tschu" tram which could get us up the hill in only 5 minutes, and luckly was just ready to leave, so we paid our 2 euros each and boarded. It felt similar to a train you'd find touring a park for kids or going around Disneyland, but it drove on the streets just like a regular car. When we reached the top, he gave us a slip for the return ticket, which would show up every half hour to take us back down.

Some quick wandering (there weren't too many tourists to follow up here) we arived at the ticket booth for the fortress. It was nice to start with a ruined fortress, so all the other castles we saw would be in much better shape. I liked how it exposed all the architecture, and Laura enjoyed the moss growing off all the walls with ferns tucked into every crevise. Along with our tickets, we picked up some cheap ponchos to avoid the rain, as well as an English tour map with some brief explanations of the sights to see. There were two circle tours that would lead us around the castle, first on the top level, to see where the living quarters were, and the ramparts where guards could be stationed. The way was sometimes marked with numbers to lead us along, but mostly we had to follow the map and trust our instincts. We found a couple of corners that probably wern't on the tour, along with a well, the top of a lookout tower, and some puddles of water from the rain. Our ponchos turned out to be more hassle than they were worth, with the wind blowing them up like big balloons, so they were quickly taken off and saved for a more rainy day. It was easy to see how good the location was for the castle, the cliff drop offs on two sides made it well fortified from attacks, but like most castles we would visit, it had been destroyed, most likely by Napoleon.

The second circuit took us to the insides and underground portions of the fortress, first to a large great hall where they now put on plays. A little bit of exploring and watching others led us to a secret passage way behind the staircase, where you almost needed a flashlight to navigate, and out to the outer walls of the fortress. Here there were a few more nooks to explore, and the tour lead us through a few walkways with regularly-spaced holes for arrow fire. My eyes had a hard time adjusting to the darkness, as I always wanted to look out the next window and thus dialated my eyes again with the blinding light. Soon, the tour became too dark for us, so we paitently waited for some other tourists to wander by, and the second group had a flashlight which we could follow. This lead us under the main parts of the castle, and we were able avoid a large flooded area and take the side exit to a main courtyard. There were curious arches with arches inside them, making a covered walkway on one side, and finally our tour lead back to the secret passage back through the great hall and we were back to the start.

We had luckily checked the times for the next train down to Bingen, our next stop, and were happy that the mini tram would get us back with about 15 minutes to spare. Unfortunately, the tram was not on the same exacting schedule as the German train system, and our time to catch the train was cutting very close. Finally he arrived and we boarded, but then he decides to take the scenic route back, through the back streets of St. Goar, and stops by a small shop to talk to a small girl (presumably his daughter?) and picks up a juice drink. But thankfully this indirect route back to the info booth ran directly past the train station, so when he stopped to let a car go by, Laura and I hopped off the tram, waved goodbye, and quickly ran to the platform 2 minutes before the train pulled up, this being the first of our close timings today, and we celebrated by eating our lunch on the train.

A mere 4 stops and 1 hour later, we were down in Bingen, and it was time to find a Ferry (or Fahre) across the Rhine. Stare as we might at the local map, we couldn't figure out how to get directly to the information booth, so we once again followed people, only this time, they were going the wrong direction. We looked around after a while, and saw that we had to cross a bridge to get back to where we started and then on down the street. After 20 minutes and no info booth, Laura had the great idea to just head towards the river and find signs for the Fahre there, and when we found it, it had just left. The next one would leave in about 20 minutes, so we headed to the local park to wait. Luckily the rain had stopped, but now the wind was really blowing. Pretty soon, the Fahre showed up, but it was headed the wrong way, until a last minute 180 turn and coming to settle right up against the dock. We boarded and quickly decided to take a seat in front out of the wind, and we were off to Rudeshiem.

On the hillside we could see a huge statue and the ever-present nearly vertical vineyards, along with a cable car system taking people to the top in large metal buckets, an attraction we decided to pass on this time around. Our boat landed at 3pm, and we headed down the docks to the Koln-Dusseldorf ticket booth to book our tickets back down the Rhine at 4:15. The deskman was very helpful, and was able to direct us to the local Mechanical Musical Instrument Museum, only a 10 minute walk from there. It looked like we'd finally found where some of the tourists were hiding out, the street was packed with elderly people speaking English, crowding into the souvineer shops and local pubs, but we squeezed our way through to the relatively uncrowded museum. The tour was in German, but our tourguide was kind enough to answer some of our questions in English. It was amazing to see what was all done with mechanics and engineering to make music; there was a classic player piano, player organ, player violin set, with rolls upon rolls of music in cabinets and even more we were told was in storage. One of the most facinating pieces we saw was a miniature bird in a snuff box, making tweets just like a real bird and shaking itself off as if in a bird bath. The tourguide said they were cheap if we wanted one, and the staff promised him a case of Newcastle Brown Ale if he sold one this afternoon, which made sense when we got to the gift shop and saw they were betwen 2,000 and 5,000 Euros. Instead, we picked up a postcard for 80 cents.

We squeezed our way back through the tourist alley just in time to make the boarding call for our castle tour boat, turns out this last boat of the day is a paddle-wheel boat with a large dinner area inside. But we'll eat dinner later, now's the time to look at castles, so we pull up a plastic chair to the uncovered bow and settle in for our tour. It was a little cold with the wind blowing directly on us, but it was beautiful to glide through the valley and see each castle as we approached, and as the weather had finally cleared up, the sun was shining on them (and us). Our guide book gave us the details on each one as we passed, some looked well kept and painted up in bright white or yellow, others were in ruins with towers and walls collapsing, and a few were converted into hotels and youth hostels and restaurants. They looked so close you could touch them. Eventually the cold overtook us and we calmed down our chattering teeth by heading inside to sit at the restaurant tables. We were planning on a big meal tonight, so we had some appetizers of chicken soup, very flavorful, and some tomato and mozzarella cheese with basil on french bread, while we took turns heading outside to take pictures of the next passing castles. Unfortunately, a band of the World Youth Day kids had also scheduled this boat tour and the huge group sat down just as we were finished. They were loud and obnoxious and made us a little embarrased to be from America. Maybe we're just getting old, but they were very rambuncious, the little whippersnappers.

And although the boat ride was four hours long, it seemed to be over too quickly, although we did see about 16 castles along the way. The final stop was in Koblenz, our local home base, and we headed out from the boat quickly, trying to avoid the WYD kids and hoping they wern't staying at our hostel that night. The boat dropped us off right next to the famous Deutches Eck, a huge metal monument commemorating the unification of Germany at the intersection of the Mosel and Rhine rivers. We had seen it from the hostel last night, but didn't realize how big it was in person. But with the sun setting, it was time to head back to our hostel, and as luck would have it today, the ferry across the Rhine had stopped running about 2 hours ago, so we shook out our feet in preparation for another long walk back. Down to the fast-speeding bridge, across the river, then back to the base of the hostel. It took us a while to find the walking path directly up to the hostel, and from there, it was hike hike hike, rest, hike hike hike until we reached the top around 9:45pm. It was exhausting but exhilarating to know we could get anywhere we wanted on foot, little did we know how much walking we would do on this trip.

On the crest of the hill inside the fortress sat the restaurant we tried to eat at last night, and I wanted to treat Laura to some Wienerschnitzel, she had said that was one of the few meals she knew she couldn't leave Germany without trying. So tonight, they were wide open, and we panted over to the tables, found a waiter and ordered two meals of the Wienerschnitzel then collapsed. I think they could tell we just walked up the hill because they were in a jolly mood as they brought us our sprites and a wonderful fresh salad with some local ranch-style dressing. And the Wienerschnitzel, wow, fried pork never tasted so good, with a large side of french fries, I finished everything on my plate, while Laura saved about half for a sandwich tomorrow. Food is the best when you're hungry, and this was wonderful, I don't know how we'll top it. It was hard to stand up again, but it was back to the hostel and a quick shower, then off to well-earned sleep.

Posted by Mark @ 3:46 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Quick trip to Koln, then down to Koblenz

Sunday morning we grabbed all of our packed bags (left an English book and ICML mug for the housekeeping- hope they like murder mysteries- some things just aren't worth their weight for two weeks) and headed downstairs for the monster breakfast. After we checked out, we stared into the raining streets for a bit and then headed fast to the train station huddled under our one umbrella. Since it was Sunday not many people were out (except for a few who had to much to drink), quite the contrast from the busy Saturday foot traffic. We got the ICE to Köln- a very nice fast train and arrived 45 minutes later at a very large train station.

If we hadn't just been in Bonn, we would have thought Sunday's were just like every other day, because Köln is the big city that was going full tilt. We looked around for some location to put our luggage (Rick Steve's always talks about taking advantage of train station lockers to store you luggage for safe keeping). Well, what we found were close to the exits, large grey metal boxes asking for our money. Looked rather shifty at first glance, and as I had learned from the laundry, we just sat back and watched for a bit. After a bit and staring at a little digital screen with pictures of luggage on the move, we figured out that you 1. put your money in 2. then a little door will open revealing a metal box behind 3. you put as much as you can stuff into the little metal box (which we could put both of our backpacks in) 4. you stand back and get the ticket. Then the little diagram showed our luggage being stored somewhere below our feet- rather an odd feeling- but we headed out the door and stopped.

Now you might wonder why we stopped, well we walked right out the doors and were floored to see the amazingly large Köln Dom right in front of us. Shocked. Amazed. Biggest church Mark or I have ever seen. Wow. Well I had to get a picture, and headed to the far edge of the train station for it- like I said, this was a large Dom (doesn't feel right to call it a church). Well we slowly walked up toward it, and around to the front. I saw the replica of the upper spire and got a picture of Mark next to it- it even made Mark look small. Then we turned toward the Dom. The closer we got, the more there was to see. Gargoyles were coming out of every surface. Carvings of Saints and angles covered the archways. Once inside we put in some money for a booklet about the church- amazing that it was the only thing left standing after the war- you could see the pitting on the outside which could have been blasts from the war and there was major reconstruction taking place (the new pope is visiting here in 2 days). Then we heard singing- the echo was amazing- so we moved closer, through the large grouping of people, and walked into mass. We got a copy of the songs and tried to follow along (although we could never find out where they were in the songs- in Latin and German). Mark took a movie getting in some of the architecture and to try and capture the amazing height of the building. The songs still give me goose bumps with the beauty of the harmonics in the building. Going to Mass here would be a truly moving experience.

Getting away from the crowd, we headed over to the edge and sat down on some cold outcropping of stone and listened. It was similar to the catholic masses I attended when I was a child- incense, the rising and falling of the priest. After we put in some money for an offering (the kind priest walked right up to all the tourists on the side), we headed up closer to the front of the service. The building was magnificent, the organ was broken up on several sides of the church, the lectern was immaculately carved, the sun was starting to come out and show off the amazing stain glass windows. This is when I had to take another movie, we were up near the intersection of the wings of the church and the choir and organist were playing in the background. Next, the procession left and the people wandered around. Ahead of us was an underground vault, perhaps with relics, and the raised stage was to our right, in the center of the intersecting wings.

After a bit we filled out still looking back over our shoulders. Once we were outside, we headed around the far side of the church and bumped into the Roman and German Museum. Here we were happy to get our student discounts again and headed first to the top floor (1 up) to start our tour. Mark got some great shots of the Dionysus mosaic, on the ground floor while I hung away from the edge (stupid fear of heights). The upper floor held Roman stone markers grouped on stages that you could circle. There were small statue carvings and even a roman arch- with the keystone. There were class works, jewelry, and another mosaic with three walls painted around it- although I couldn't believe that anyone could ever walk on top of a floor mosaic as large as our living room. There was even a replica wagon.

On the middle floor (the one that we entered on) everything was in German- which made our tour go a bit quicker :) There were some dinosaur bones- a fossilized fish then some replica housing of early settlers. Going through a tunnel, which sounded like you were in a cave with rushing water, there was some old armor, swords, and what looked like a pile of old buttons or punched coins.

There were some beautiful opaic wall hangings of what looked like vellum with German text on them (really wishing we could read German at this point) and then we were back where we started. Heading downstairs, we passed a large head of Medusa, stacks of large stone carvings that looked like they had been murals running on the side of Roman buildings and immensely heavy- thick. The Dionyses mosaic was just feet from us, it was actually in the original location that it was found, after the war and they built the museum around it. Then we saw another floor mosaic (with a version of the cross similar to the one that the Nazis used) in black and white. On top of this one, it was decorated with tables and chairs to look like a real dwelling. Then we saw a “typical” Roman work room with baskets and goods, some roman toys (I liked the chickens and horses) along with some more glass and tombs- a wee bit spooky- but there were large people sized tombs.

We headed to the gift shop and I got some Roman Coins (replicas of course) and a couple of postcards. They had the neatest panoramic postcards of the city and funny animals, folding them in threes and you had a sendable postcard for the post. After a quick trip to the bathroom, where I politely paid my .50 cents on the dish, grabbed our things out of the coat check and headed to a bakery (Mark was searching for the closest game store, but they would have been closed on Sunday anyways). Mark and I split cheese and salami sandwiches with odd sweet pickles inside and drooled over the beautiful cheese cakes lining the shelves. They also had a large amount of what looked like almond covered sweet pretzels which were very popular.

Taking a final look at the largest cathedral ever, we miraculously got our luggage from the mysterious luggage keeper (there were some tense moments at first), then found our train to Koblenz.

In no time we arrived at our destination, walked outside and just to the left was the tourist information office. They gave us a map and told us which bus goes to the fortress- the only day it will go all the way to the top. After a short wait, Mark took the lead and we paid 3.50 each to head to our new hostel. We were both rather exhausted with walking around the museum all morning and afternoon, but we enjoyed the sites and the smooth bus ride to the top of a very steep hill.

We were rather shocked with all the cars in the parking lot and the long line of people waiting to get into the fortress. So after waiting for a bit, with sore backs, in the rain, I was grumpy enough to step out of line and walk to the front, there were two people selling tickets and we went into a short line at a white van. “Spreckenze English” and we learned that the hostel was the farthest from where we were. So we started walking where all of the people were going- when in doubt, follow the group- through a tunnel and we came to a raised metal map on a rock podium. The hostel was still a long way in front of us, so we kept going and saw what everyone else was in line for- the Gummy Bear exhibit- sounds a bit odd, but it is true, Haribo was having a Gummy Bear exhibit with big inflated Crayon colored bears guarding the entrance and all.

Still aiming to the right and forward, we finally found our hostel at the bottom of a ramp and on the last stretch there we saw an amazing view of Koblenz over the Rhine and Mozel. Once inside, we waited for three Italians without reservations to be given rooms, and then we got our rooms at the very end of the hostel (having printouts of our reservations was very helpful). Giving into our exhaustion, we took brief naps and then headed out to find some dinner. On the way we passed the monolith gummy bears and headed past a wooden airplane for kids into the sale shop for Haribo. Here we found some interesting raspberry/blackberry gummys and a package of regular gummy bears for desert- Mark said that some of his conference friends had purchased the strong licorice gummy wheels, but he didn’t really like them.

Next we found the fortress museum and picked up a handy map of the fortress- it is really very large. Unfortunately the museum was in German, so after a quick tour, we headed back the way we came. On our way back, we learned that the only café in the fortress was closed for a party (on Sunday night- isn’t that odd), so we feasted on granola and gummys for dinner and watched a beautiful sunset over the hills. In the dark of our room, we played deFugger (similar to settlers I thought) and slept soundly.

Posted by Laura @ 3:46 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Discovering Bonn

I had a rather fitfull sleep, Mark says that happens when you try to handle the 7 hour time difference for the first couple of nights. Needless to say, I was a bit tired in the morning and happily tackled the long breakfast arrangement offered by the hotel. Walking down the line, there was two types of coffee, a whole table full of herbal and cafininated teas, a small round table of sweet breads and what looked like pound cakes. In the second room, the buffet continued with a tray of sliced meats and cheeses, tomatoes, plums, apples, bananas, 4 kinds of jellies, hard rolls, nutella (looks like chocolate peanut butter), cereal, milk, juices, ... Needless to say I was amazed. Mark happily made a ham and cheese sandwich with tomato slices with blueberry yogurt, and I tackled two hardrolls with jelly and butter, a banana and some milk. The odd thing about the butter and milk is that they both had a rather sour taste- like a light buttermilk. I also learned that hard rolls are aptly named- I hacked mine apart with a knife and chewed steadily to get it down- rather a workout for breakfast!

After breakfast, Mark went to conference and I headed out to the laundrymat. To get to the closest laundrymat, I just walked straight out of our hotel, across the street, past the butcher, a grocer and turned left at the recycling bins- large bins that locals put their recycling goods- plastic, paper and glass. Now past the Post, a bakery, corner store on my left and a line of straight trunks with a flattened canapy of green leaves just over my head- perhaps a mini sitting park. Across the street and I am there. There was a father with his two girls and a lady dressed rather riske talking with an older man all there doing their laundry. I took up an empty chair in the back corner and looked around. Unfortunately all of the instructions on the back wall were in German- but I can understand numbers- even if Celsius is a bit foreign- the higher the number the hotter right! Well being as old as I am, I understand the premise of a washing machine and started loading 2 nearby washers with my dirty clothes- they were side loaders and I packed them as full as possible. Then I added just a bit of concentrated detergent that Cookie sent us before we left and closed the doors. Now I waited. Everyone else was working on drying their clothes. After a bit I realized that you put your money in a back wall panel and press the button for your machine number to apply the credit. So for Wasche it is 2 euros, and press my number- not much happened at first- then slowly everything started getting wet- I figured these machines must be saving water with the way they work- no gushing streams of water to soak my clothes here. After 15 minutes, everything seemed to be going well and I watched two guys do their laundry- so I started my second load. The temp- I picked the average- around 40C, and all the clothes turned out okay, so it must have been fine. Well drying went much smoother, because I had watched the scantily dressed lady next to me do all of her drying first (the only real difference is that the driers are alphabetic where the washers are numericly labeled). In this case, actions speak louder than words, and the quiet watcher can easily glean what to do! Have no fear non-german speakers in Germany!

(Enter Mark)
While Laura was washing our clothes, the first of many times we'll be refreshing our clothes on this trip, I headed out for the last day of the ILP conference. There was a good talk by Ashwin about the future of Aleph development and his vision of a WEKA-like engine for ILP applications, as well as the best paper talks. Also, Hector gave his talk about databases and ILP inverse entailment operations that received a few interesting questions. Overall, I enjoy ILP, and hope to continue to attend this conference in the future, the people involved are tackling what I think are very interesting algorithmic problems as opposed to mathematical tweaks that I see in some other divisions of Machine Learning. When things wrapped up, I hiked back to the hotel to find Laura and head out for some sight-seeing.

First, we stopped by a Model Train Store on the way back into town. The detail of their models is extraordinary, they had bridges, tall and short buildings, houses on fire, churches, everything you could think of that you might want to put next to your miniature train. We thought they were amazing, and picked up a model of a small German house, which we'll attempt to glue together when we're back in the states. We didn't pick up any of the people to populate the house, there were so many versions displayed, from traditional german garb, to police, to tennis players, to average household, to radioactive suits, and so many sizes, we wern't sure which ones to get. I can't imagine a hobby better suited to being in Germany, as we plan to ride the train everywhere.

We found a small Bakerie for lunch (at first, I thought Bakerie was the brand name, but I quickly realized it stood for Bakery) and picked up some sandwiches. The owner was very helpful and since he was going to close soon, he gave us some free cream puffs for dessert; too bad we're not here any longer or we'd definitely be back for more. Walking back towards town, we passed once again Beethoven's house, a rather unassuming location, and the large farmer's market, where we could buy any kind of cheese imaginable, fruits and vegetables, fresh cuts of meat hacked right before your eyes, and the ever-present stinky olives. It was all very tempting, we hope we see more in the other big cities we visit. We ate our lunch at the Hofgarten, a huge open lawn behind the university building where the conference was held, and then hiked down the street to the Aritmeum, a museum all about math and calculation, a computer scientist's dream!

There were so many ancient machines to play with, and many you could touch and manipulate. We used Napier's Rods to multiply numbers and a few other to add and subtract, what a chore it used to be, but extreemely facinating to see it all being done with gears and wheels. Each floor led us through another layer of computing history, until we reached the calculators on the ground floor, and the first inklings of electronic computers. There was a microscope where you could look at the fine details of a microchip and a wall of adding machines from the early 20th century. It makes you wonder if there will be a museum 100 years from now with palm pilots and laptop computers with lcd screens, with kids saying "Wow, that's so complicated and archaic!" I'm sure there will be.

With our math appreciation rejuvinated, we headed to the town Munster Cathedral, adjacent to a downtown square which housed the two game stores I visited all week. The cathedral seemed much smaller inside than I'd expected, and it was even more cramped as people were setting up lights and stages for the upcoming visit from the Pope. We visited a very small crypt underground where we believe relics were kept, and then returned above to admire the painted ceilings and stained glass. Maybe the others will be bigger, the walls seemed very thick.

Our last tourist stop was the PuppenKoenig Toy and Game store. This was about like your "Toys 'R' Us" in the US, but the game section was drasticly different, with all the classic euro games of Settlers, Carcassonne, almost every recent Spiel des Jahre winner, and oodles of rare (to me) card games and board games. I'd already picked up a few small Adlung card games, and a copy of Arbos for half price, and as we were heading out, I couldn't pass up the chance to pick up Razzia! and 6 nimmt!, two games which have English rules posted at The third floor of the store also featured more trains and model houses, though not as extensive as the specialty store, and the first floor had a beautifully carved nativity and Noah's ark set of animals, all in a very fluid style. If only they wern't 15 euro's a piece, we would have brought a set home.

As it was now around 5pm, we settled on dinner at the Bonner Brasserie, a favorite of the conference attendees; I'd eaten here twice before and wanted Laura to have some of the same experience. We ordered a Pizza Funghi (with mushrooms) and an Ice Cream sunday smothered in raspberries. The ice cream came first, with a purple frilly toothpick, and really cooled us down, while the pizza really hit the spot of dinner after all our walking around town. Ordering food is much easier that I thought, most people speak English if you are polite about it, but we still ended up with fizzy water with bubbles. Our full day of touring Bonn was complete, so it was back to the hotel for packing all our clothes and finding a way to transport all of my newly purchased board games. We played a game of Arbos, building a wooden tree incrementally, with the boughs swinging as gravity took hold, and look forward to playing this one with more people as a Jenga substitute when we get home. Tomorrow, off to Koln for a quick tour of the Dom and a museum, then down to Koblenz for the evening.

Posted by Laura @ 3:11 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

In Bonn

After my shower and nap, I headed down the street to the University to wait for Mark. The University itself was a striking yellow color and really stood out. Fortunately, the map Mark gave me was just perfect and I got there just before 5:30. As he mentioned, there was a great sign outside telling me where ILP's sign-in room was. following the signs I went in, skirted the courtyard, up a flight of stairs wide enough for giants and straight into a large assembly hall with a beautiful organ in the back.

While reading my book, Sue Grafton's K is for Killers, I was entertained with background piano music- while the inital players were just playing around, a pianist quickly got on and I listened to quite a nice performance. Around 7, I finished my novel- one of her better ones, and Mark found me- he had just come from a fustrating discussion about where next year's conference should be held- the decision was Spain. That vote ended quite quickly, but the hold-up came when they discussed changing the name of the conference (ILP- Inductive Logic Programming to something else). People were still avidly talking about it in the gathering area.

After a quick trip to the toilet (not restrooms like the US), everyone headed out to the boat. Along the way we talked with Dr. Page, Hector and some other fellows that Mark met at the conference. We headed through the courtyard and out the back of the University- viewing the large hofgarden, over some coblestones and to the docks. With the nice weather (Mark said it had been raining all the prior days he was there), everyone headed to the top to talk out on the deck with their drinks. I got to meet Philip who created the Rapid Random Restart method within ILP that Mark is using in his research along with some other big-wigs of the business- this is the place to be if you are researching in ILP.

Next the buffet was set up with a selection of cold items including sliced meats, cheese platter, salad fixins, bread basket, and warm items of beef with gravy, scaloped potatoes, mix veggies. We headed down below to eat until the smoke got to us- then back on the cool deck to enjoy some of the scenery. The Rhine was traveling very fast, and we were slowly making our way up stream. The atmosphere after the buffet was rather party-like with loud Porto Rican music playing over the loud speakers and ropes of red lights outlining the deck. After a brief presentation of gifts downstairs by the organizer, we talked with Dr. Page about his life in Oxford and Chris who told us that in winter Scottland only gets daylight from 10-3 (2 hours less than Wisconsin- which I find rough).

In no time at all, we were back at the dock (going down the Rhine is very fast) and we walked back to the hotel. It felt very safe walking around at night in Bonn and I was ready for a good nights sleep!

Posted by Laura @ 3:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Getting to Germany

I left Madison in a nice soaking rain and took the comfortable Van Galder to Chicago. I had never been to Terminal 5, the international Terminal before, and it was gigantic. I never knew that there were so many different international planes. I headed down to Air India and was searched twice (just one of those unexpected things that you have to do if you take Air India).

While I ate my lunchable dinner I marvaled at the plane, 747-400 that I was about to take. People looked like ants next to it. It has 84 rows (I was in row 70k- by the window) and 9 people per row (3 isle 3 isle 3). The flight itself was delazed an hour due to an emergincz landing and waiting in line. While waiting I took some shots of the tails of the international planes- a shamrock for Ireland, a kangaroo for Australia, ...) During the flight there were postings on the television screens of the altitude, speed, distance traveled... we went 4333 mi in 7hrs and 15 minutes.

The flight was very nice. All announcements were made in English and Indian. We had snacks of Lays sour cream and onion chips followed bz a wonderful warm dinner around 9pm of either lamb curry or continental chicken (which is what I got- gravy, chicken breast, squash curry, lima beans, hard roll with butter a salad with cherry tomato and parts I didn´t eat, namely a carrot rice pudding and sour yogurt mark warned me about earlier). Everyone had to put their windows down once it got dark so we could sleep a couple of hours through the light of Friday morning. While trying to sleep, the kido next to me sqwermed often so around midnight I stayed up for a bit to watch an old episode of Frasier on the TV (the one where Lilith comes to visit during a conference and they have a hard time meeting up)- laughing silently to the silly jokes.

Next time I woke were were over England (according to the map on our screen) and didn´t have far to go. We skirted the bottom edge of England and I got some good shots of the edge with some pretty clouds. After a nice breakfast of crossont, OJ, and pineapple, we were flying just west of Bonn, where Mark was. The clouds reallz started to build-up with the mountains and I got some more good shots. I was impressed with the landscape, tightlz packed towns with radials of roads extending into long expanses of farmland. I liked the look of Western Germanz better than that of treeless southern England.

The Frankfurt airport is gigantic. There is an extensive mall in the middle as well. After getting mz passport stamped and bzpassing customs, I asked for directions to the train station. Did zou know a 2 hour train ride is considered long distance?- well it was outside of the citz. After a hike up a flight of stairs and 10 minutes walk from the airport, I came to Zug (train) station. The train station was a beautiful bubble of metal and glass which seemed to float above your head- it was also a bit warm =) with all of the sunlight.

The trains come in under the station and I plazed follow the leader as the train approached. Fortunatelz there is a nice sign posted that tells zou where 2nd class goes. I had a seat to mzself and enjozed a wonderful lunch of apple, granola bar and water from mz pack. Mark was right, the train ride was beautiful- I can´t wait to see all of the castles that I passed. I noticed that almost everz house had skzlights- not big ones, but scattered all over their roofs- it must be wonderful natural light.

After 2 hours and a couple of interesting hofbonhof (train station) stops along the way, I arrived in Bonn and happily met Mark at the train station. Mark had left a his conference to meet me and take me to the hotel we would be staying at while in Bonn. We walked through a pedestrian walkway over slippery wet cobblestones and Mark filled me in on all the sights quickly- we will revisit them after the conference. Once at the hotel I happily took a two hour nap- what a day!

Posted by Laura @ 12:23 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

ICML and ILP 2005

This zear I had a paper accepted at the Learning Language in Logic Workshop for ICML, which was co-locacted with ILP in Bonn, Germany. I'd been to ICML in 2003 and ILP in 2004 so I knew what to expect for each conference; ICML was a hodgepodge of current Machine Learning research, with more and more of what seemed to be Kernel Methods, Bayesian Statistics, Gausians and Dirschlets, but also a fair amount on structured data learning, while ILP was definitely focused on learning in relational domains, some people working with Prolog and others just with interesting domains. I headed out on August 4th, and met up with Jesse, David Page, Soumya, Jerry and Hector, quicklz forming the Wisconsin gang. I was suprized how easily I could adapt to the local way of doing things, such as always waiting for the light to turn green before crossing the street, and also by how many people spoke english if you asked them politely. Even without english I could get around and buy food and games just fine.

It was neat to see all the ILP celeberities I had met last year and hear them talk, some of them recognized me and at least one person was using our Prolog version of the biomedical information extraction dataset, so that was very encouraging. We found a fair number of places to eat, visiting sandwich shops and pizza places, and were treated to wonderful conference dinners both with an accompanying boat ride on the Rhine; it's an amazingly scenic area of Germany that we're visiting. I found some time to visit a few game stores, finding great deals on Goldland, Dshunke, and a few of the small Adlung card games. There were a number of good papers that I'll need to read from the conference, and I was able to influence a few people to start using recall_precision curves and our dataset, so our work might get some more exposure in the future. Everyone from our group gave an effective talk, something I think has a lot to do with the "practice talk" environment we have at Wisconsin, you give your talk and we simulate conference questions, as well as give advice on each slide. I'm not sure other universities have as close of a ML department as we do. On Friday afternoon, Laura arrived at the train station, which I'm sure she'll tell you more about in her entry. We're off to Köln and Koblenz tomorrow, so we'll try to update the blog more as we can, see you back in the states in about two weeks!

Posted by Mark @ 12:15 PM CDT [Permanent URL]