Sunday, November 04, 2012

Our Europe Trip - 2012

I will post an account of our Europe trip in several installments.
We visited Germany, England, Switzerland, Italy, and finished back in Germany.

Friday, August 24th  
The model American tourist plans his trip abroad months in advance to a fixed schedule with all the hotels and planes, trains, and automobiles booked. We decided not to be model tourists. We enjoy flexibility and the thrill of quitting a country on a whim and booking a hotel and a flight in the evening and flying to that hotel in the morning to see what kind of place we booked. 
We left White Rock early in the morning, driving to Albuquerque and flying to Dallas. We had to change terminals in Dallas, so we rode the famously long DFW airport train, which took us to the International terminal – via Albuquerque.
We flew through the short night and landed in Frankfurt.

August 25th
Our son Alex is working in Hamburg this fall as part of a BYU deal where he gets college credit, a paying job at a software company, and the opportunity to travel quite a bit to train other technical people around Europe. He had served his church mission in Germany, so he is fluent in German and has many friends there.
One of Alex’s friends had invited us to stay at her home in the American Embassy neighborhood of Frankfurt. So we flew in, gathered our luggage, and tried to call the girl. But the girl had suddenly realized a few days earlier that she needed to be at BYU, so as we were landing, she was taking off. This put us in the interesting spot of going to stay a couple of nights with a family who we had never met. They were wonderful, and we were jet lagged.
Boat Races on the Mein
To deal best with jet lag, experts agree you need to stay up all day and go to bed at the normal bedtime where your jet has plopped you. But these experts are insane. We took short naps. Our hosts had suggested that we wake up in time to go to the Frankfurt Festival down by the Main River. So we did. There were booths and activities along the river and then there were free organ concerts. We walked from church to church and enjoyed three organ concerts, each about 40 minutes long. It was a wonderful beginning to a European vacation to be there in the land of Bach listening to organ music.
Frankfurt Organ Concert

Sunday, August 26th
We arose early and took the train to Hanau, which was the LDS ward Alex enjoyed the most on his mission.
Hanau Ward Building
When one sits through sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and priesthood/Relief Society meetings in German, one who is also jet lagged tends to drift off a few times. After our three meetings, we went to eat lunch with the bishop. He works for the church as head of public relations. He had served his mission in England, so he is a German with an English sense of humor, quite a rare find.  While Lisa slept after lunch, the bishop took us on a tour of his little town. I should have taken my camera. I enjoyed the tour as much as anything I did on our trip.
We walked into Windecken. The town center is a postcard village of timber and mortar shops and homes.
We walked through the old Jewish part of town. The bishop pointed out where there had been a gate that was closed on the Jewish Sabbath. He pointed out where the synagogue had been. It was destroyed on Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) during the Nazi terror. 
Windecken 1940's

Today there is a Methodist church on the site. I thought, “That’s not right. It would be nice if they had rebuilt the synagogue instead.” Then I realized, “For whom?” Only a few Jews from Windecken survived the war. The bishop pointed out some small brass plaques in the cobblestones near some of the homes. These are Stolpersteine, small, cobblestone-sized memorials for individual victims of Nazism. I have been to Dachau with a tour guide who helped us realize the horror of the place. Touring Windecken showed me another side of the story, a small town that had once been home to a productive and happy Jewish community. 
There was also a Witch Tower where they locked up and starved young girls with weird characteristics (redheads, girls with strange habits, etc.) after they were tried and found guilty.

So it wasn’t the cheeriest tour; it was very sobering and thought provoking. There’s a small castle in town that is used as a retreat for the town’s old people during the day. That’s a nice use for the castle. 

Monday, August 27th
We had wonderful hosts in Frankfurt, but we didn’t want to overstay our welcome. So we booked a hotel online in Bonn and took a pleasant train ride through the beautiful, castle infested Rhine valley.
Rhine Valley
We found our hotel and checked in, and later in the evening went to eat with a family Alex knew in Bonn. Alex has many friends in Germany both members of the Church he met and, like this family, not members. We ate what Germans eat: a lot of meat and cheese.

Tuesday, August 28th
We decided to visit Beethoven’s birthplace. It’s a peaceful and interesting place. We stood in the upstairs room where he was born. We saw sheets of his compositions. He had an interesting life.
Alex talking with the staff 
Afterward we took a walk to an organ factory, which was unfortunately closed, but on the way back we saw another of Alex’s friends. We were on the light rail, and suddenly Alex said, “We’re getting off!” We got off, hailed his friend, and went to talk to her. She was amazed to see Alex.  . Later in the evening we went to a nice restaurant. We didn’t eat at a lot of nice restaurants on our trip, but occasionally it’s nice to sit down, relax, and eat some bratwurst or other unique German food. Alex chose the restaurant because they served horse meat, which he wanted to try. Did I want to try it? Neigh! But I tried a little piece, glancing around to make sure John Wayne wasn’t lurking around. He would have shot me. Horse isn’t something I will be craving the rest of my life. I had bratwurst and beans. The bratwurst was great. Of course – we were in Germany. The beans were stewed in delicious sauce. The difficulty was the beans. They were lima beans. You can only eat so many lima beans regardless of the wonderful sauce. So I had to say, "Whoa" at some point. Lisa ate normal food.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course . . .  main course

We returned to our hotel and got online to book a hotel room in London.  

Wednesday, August 29th
The high-speed train to London leaves from Cologne (Köln). So we took a short train ride from Bonn to Köln. When you step out of the train station in Köln and walk outside into the square, you look up at the spectacular cathedral.
Koln Cathedral
We wanted to tour the cathedral, but it would be tough dragging our three suitcases all over the place. We eventually discovered that the train station has a luggage storage system where you put some money in a slot and open a little door and put your luggage into a bin and get an electronic receipt. The bin disappears into an underground mechanized storage array, and when you return, you slip the receipt into a slot and, if all things go well, up comes your luggage.
That allowed us to tour the cathedral unencumbered. Cologne’s cathedral is wonderful. In the high alter section we saw the tombs of the three wise men, which Germany stole from Milan’s cathedral back in the dark ages. Milan wants them back. We toured the treasury. Then we climbed the 525 steps to the top to see the spectacular view and watch the bells ring.
View from the top
We retrieved our luggage and boarded the high-speed train to London. 

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