Date: Wed, 6 Nov
1996 23:28:56 -0600
A seven hour flight from Houston to London via Continental's flight #4 began our trip. We were crammed into the tiny space alloted to coach class on this DC-10, and the ankle I had sprained a couple of days before added to the discomfort.
We were met at Gatwick Airport by representatives of our tour line and driven to our London hotel - the Novotel in Hammersmith, the same hotel we stayed in in 1992.
By the time we reached the hotel, checked in, and located our room, it was mid-afternoon. We didn't wait too long before we set out on foot to see what we could see. This trek took us as far as Kensington Palace.
The next morning we went on a sightseeing tour with a London guide - and saw the sights. A tour of Westminster Abbey was a repeat of the one we had taken in 1992, but was no less awe-inspiring. This time I was able to see the tomb of Geoffrey Chaucer - the crowds during the summer of 1992 had prevented my seeing it then. Goose bumps were as prevalent on this second visit as they had been on the first.
The gathering of all of the people who were on our particular tour and our trip to the European Continent took place Tuesday morning. This was also when we met the German woman who was to be our tour director for the duration of our vacation - Helga. There wre only twenty-two people on our tour bus this time, as opposed to the forty-four in 1992. Being able to tour during the autumn instead of during the peak tourist season was great.
Of our traveling companions, four were from Australia, two were from Canada, and the remainder were from the United States. Helga, our tour director, was originally from Germany, but lived many years in Ireland and now makes her home in London. Claudio, our driver is from northern Italy. Helga speaks English, Italia, French, Flemish, German, and probably other languages.
The twenty-two tourists, one bus driver and one tour director made the drive from London to Dover, passing Maidstone (home of some of my many English ancestors) and Ashford on the way. I had hoped that our route would include going through Canterbury since it was so close, but it didn't.
At Dover we boarded a Hovercraft - a cross between a boat, airplane, and innertube - for the rather rough thirty minute trip to Calais. Our first overnight stay on the continent was in Brussels. Among the sights we saw there was the Mannekin-Pis. Many times Mannekin-Pis is clothed in various attire, but this day he was quite naked.
The next day we journeyed to Amsterdam, where we visited a cheese farm and were instructed on how the various cheeses are made. The smell was not very appetizing, but I tasted samples provided anyway. We also went to Volendam and got to go in its windmill. The land reclamation project there is quite interesting - pumping seawater from land below sea level - and makes one wonder why other places (like Italy) don't use the same method. One of our stops was at a diamond factory, where we were able to see the cutting and polishing of stones. There were some really good buys there, although I didn't buy anything. A glass-topped boat ride through some of the canals was interesting.
This was also the night that Steph and I managed to visit for a while. I called her home when we got back from the windmill and cheese farm, but she wasn't in yet. I spoke with Pat briefly, and said I'd call again after dinner. Despite several missed connections, I was finally able to reach Steph by phone and we set up a meeting in the hotel at 9:00.
I was nervous about the meeting, not being good at "small talk" and worrying about my shoes, but as it turned out, there was no need to be, as Steph is easy to talk to. Even though we had not met before, we recognized each other right away. I had seen her picture in the Words-L Gallery, and I suppose she noticed that I kept staring at my shoes. We visited in one of the areas set aside for drinks, and it was a while before we noticed that no waiter had ever come to take our orders. I don't even remember what we drank - water, I think. I told her how surprised I was to find so many signs in English in Amsterdam, and to find so many people who spoke English. This was to surprise me in Germany, as well. Of course, we spoke of Words-L and its residents and discussion topics. We also voiced our disappointment that Roy had not been able to join us. As Steph was leaving about an hour and a half later, we had one of our tour members take our picture - I hope he managed to get my shoes in the shot. Steph, it was a good meeting, and I enjoyed it. Thank you for going to the trouble to make this ftf come off.
[to be continued]
Date: Thu, 7 Nov
1996 00:15:32 -0600
The next day we had a long drive from Amsterdam to Karlsruhe, Germany. Along the way we stopped for lunch in Cologne, where we were able to visit the Gothic Cathedral. This day was quite cold and rainy, especially in Heidleberg, whre we went into a castle. While the castle was interesting, I kept thinking how much more impressive the castles in Great Britain are.
Next on our route was Lucerne, Switzerland, where we spent two nights. The drive for the next several days was so beautiful I don't have words to describe it - I kept thinking that this must be what a story-book-land looks like. The trees were wearing their fall colors, and Valentino couldn't have come up with a more beautiful red. Yellows, greens of all shades and hues, oranges, reds, browns - a veritable artist's pallete. Stopping in the Black Forest town of Triberg, we visited shops carrying the famous cuckoo-clocks - totally fascinating. And noisy. Outside Willy Neef's store we were greeted with "Come in, come in! Use my restrooms, buy my clocks, give me your money, make me rich!"
It was on this drive that we saw the rise, or beginning, of the Danube and the Rhine. The Rhine begins as a Swiss mountain stream and forms a beautiful, powerful, thundering waterfall about 600 feet wide that plunges 75 feet. This waterfal is called the Rheinfall, or Rhine Falls.
Wet, cold weather contributed to my getting lost one morning in Lucerne. The entire group took a walking tour to the famous Lion monument. This monument is the "Lion of Lucerne," carved out of solid rock in 1821 by the Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. It is a monument to the Swiss Guard who died while defending the Tuileries during the French Revolution, and is a fascinating piece of art.
After viewing and hearing the story of the monument, I decided to go back to the hotel and get my umbrella. The rain was coming down quite steadily and sharing Jim's umbrella was getting both of us wet, so, telling him I'd meet him at 11:50 in front of Buvcherer's, I went back to the hotel, found my red umbrella (it matched the red hat I was wearing and which had kept my head dry in the meantime), and headed back to the shopping area.
Knowing that Jim and the others in the group were likely widely scattered doing their own things (shopping, visiting cathedrals, strolling along Lake Lucerne, etc.), I decided to do some window shopping myself, keeping in mind that we were all to meet Helga at Bucherer's at 11:50. (Bucherer, for those who don't know, is a huge jewelry store, founded in 1888. It has several branches, including at least one in New York. According to one of its brochures, "the Lucerne store is one of the five largest watch and jewelry stores in the western world" and is "the largest Rolex retailer in the world, with a variety of more than 1000 Rolex models.") It was about 10:15 at this time.
I must have walked up and down every street (some quite steep) at least three times. I knew the direction I needed to go in order to find Bucherer, but those streets were not "square" and I couldn't find the direction I knew I needed. Forming a new blister on my sprained foot didn't help my walking much, and I was so tempted to sit and rest a while, but knew that if I did I'd lose time. I thought that if I could find the Lion monument I could retrace my steps to the hotel and from there to the meeting place. Lowenstrauss (spelling is probably incorrect) was the street where the Lion was, and I found it. Thinking that I was home free, I eagerly hobbled past the monument onto a route that I thught would take me where I needed to be.
Recognizing that I was covering ground that I had already covered at least twice, I decided that it was time to ask for directions. The problem as that I couldn't speak the language and I couldn't remember "Bucherer" - only "Rolex" and "Piaget," names written on the building. Seeing an elderly couple walking up a hill toward me, I decided that I might as well test my communication skills. Since they were carrying bags filled with fruits and vegetables, I figured they had been to "town," so I approached them, asking if they spoke English. They didn't, but they could tell I was "in distres." I asked them if they knew where the tall building with "Rolex" on it was - using so many gestures I might have been playing charades on the streets of Lucerne. They shook their heads, but were obviously willing to help me further if they could. After a few more attempts at making up my own version of their language, I finally asked them where "the city" was - they understood that, and pointed in a direction in front of me, downhill. I felt really stupid when I walked downhill, looked to the right, and saw Bucherer! I had been circling the streets behind it all along! I made it there with six minutes to spare, which gave me enough time to walk through the first floor showroom, but not enought time to linger over the "pretties" in the locked cases.
Two of the highlights of our stay in Lucerne were our trip to the top of 7000 foot Mount Pilatus, one of the Swiss Alps, on our first day, ad the Swiss folklore party and lunch on our second day there. Cable cars took us to the top, and the steepest cog-wheel railway in the world took us down. It was very cold up there, and I shared my discovery of a steam-heated radiator with several of our group. Placing our hands on the radiator warmed them and made the frigid temperature more bearable. The Swiss folklore party included yodeling and blowing the gigantic alphorn. Cheese fondue as an appetizer was a hit with everyone. Jim and I ate dinner that night at the golden arches.
[to be continued another day]
Date: Mon, 11 Nov
1996 23:21:52 -0600
From Lucerne we went through Liechtenstein and on to Munich, crossing the Austrian/German border in the process. Liechtenstein was small. The drive through the Bavarian Alps was spectacular. Many beautiful Maypoles were in the various small towns, a tradition that dates from the Middle Ages when the majority of the people could not read. The intricate carvings on the Maypoles indicate the different craftsmen, or trades, that the town has to offer. For example, a carved blacksmith on the pole means that a blacksmith can be found in the town.
One of the sights in Bavaria that fascinated me was a particular kind of tree. I don't know the name of it, but it had a perfectly straight, thin trunk. The branches grew in an almost perfectly horizontal fashion, and even the ones that were slightly angled were straight, not curved. The leaves/needle/foliage hung down from the horizontal branches and reminded me of the sleeves in judicial robes. These trees were very tall and green and were mixed in with what looked like firs and pines. Unusual and beautiful...
The painted houses in Bavaria were also a pleasure to the eyes. Most had religious themes, but we saw two that were based on fairy tales - Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood. We also loved the colors the houses were painted - creams, peaches, blues, etc. "Mad" King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein Castle was only viewed from the small village below the mountain on which it stands, but we did get to go in the theater in Oberammergau where the Passion Play is put on every ten years. This was another cold and rainy day - and I couldn't find my gloves.
As we entered Munich we saw several plots of land on which veggies and/or flowers grew. Our tour director told us that people who live in apartments can rent a plot of land for plantings. Most of the small plots that we saw had very small buildings on them, reminiscent of the "temporary" or "utility" buildings one sees in the states.
As we made our way to the hotel in Munich (the K + K AM Harras) we passed the BMW headquarters, a cylinder shaped building vaguely resembling gears. We also passed many Mercedes-Benz showrooms and saw those cars. Either they are really inexpensive in Germany or there are a lot of people who make big money, for it seemed as if 3 out of 5 cars we saw were MB's. Even the taxis were MB's!
As we passed the Olympic Stadium, our attention was directed to the hilly areas around it. We were told that since Munich is flat land, the hills were made using rubbish left over from World War II.
On a personal note, my sprained ankle turned out to be a sprained foot - the top part right in front of the juncture of the foot and the ankle. It acted like a crick in the neck acts - a sudden movement could bring excruiciating pain. Keeping it wrapped in an Ace bandage allowed me to do the walking and climbing necessary, and my supply of moleskins came in handy for the blisters that formed.
[more to come]