Saturday, July 31, 2010

Linda's Travel Journal: Part 6: Oberammergau, Germany

Submitted by Linda
So the final leg of our trip was in Oberammergau, Germany. Though it is mostly known for the Passion Play, it is one of my favorite European destinations. After being in the bigger cities throughout our trip, it was so nice to end up in such a charming, homespun village.

Most of the homes and business are elaborately painted with murals. This home depicts the story of Little Red Riding Hood. What's not to love about a house that promotes fairy tales?

Also, most of the homes and businesses have these amazing window boxes full of petunias and geraniums. The flowers must love the climate there, because my flower pots never cascade down quite like these.
We were blessed to be one of the few groups that stayed overnight in the village. So when the masses of people were gone (before and after the passion play), we had the town to ourselves, and captured a few moments with family.
One of my highlights in Oberammergau, is visiting the Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store. Since I had been in several of her stores on previous trips, I couldn't wait to get in there, and see all of her unique offerings! I was so excited about it, I think I probably embarrassed myself in front of all of our traveling companions. Here are Renee and I out in front:
Here is just one tiny section of the store! These are the glass ornaments, but you can find any other kind of ornament you could wish for.
Another reason I love the village of Oberammergau, is because of their commitment to history and their faith. Here is an excerpt from the Passion Play Textbook, which provides the script in English and German, as well as notes about the production:

The Oberammergau Passion Play dates back to a vow made in the year 1633. At that time the plague raged in the entire region, including Oberammergau. Many people died. It was then that the people of Oberammergau vowed to portray the "Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ" every ten years. From that moment on not one person succumbed to the Black Death....The play of redemption seeks to capture the fears and longings of the people of our times and give them the kind of hope offered by faith. Consequently, the play is not museum-like folk theater, it is a theater of the people for the people that reaches deep into life and seeks to convey hope.

Here is the view of the stage from my seat. By the luck of the draw, Craig and I were in the 2nd row!
I stood up to peek into the orchestra pit before the play began.
Here's a photo taken from 6th row of the play in progress. Keep in mind, that of the 2,500 folks who live there, over 700 are involved in the play. The acting was excellent, as was the choir and orchestra.
It was a very inspirational and hope-filled experience. And so interesting to start our trip at Dachau and end here, and to know that my faith helps me muddle through the challenges that life brings.

Though this was the last city of our journey, I have a few more fun pics to post tomorrow. Stay tuned.......

Friday, July 30, 2010

Linda's Travel Journal: Part 5: Salzburg, Austria

Submitted by Linda
Salzburg is a city with much history, in terms of mining and transporting salt, and being Mozart's birthplace. However, my favorite highlights are unrelated to Mozart or salt.

One of Craig's favorite things in Europe is eating all kinds of sausages. Here we are in Salzburg, having one with Jon and Gail, and our new friend Jeannie. It's important NOT to put it in the bread like a hot dog...the natives insist that you eat a bite of sausage, then a bite of bread.
Much to the Austrians' dismay, we Americans seem to be much more interested in the film "The Sound of Music" than the actual history of the Von Trapp family. Since I am a big fan of the movie, I did enjoy all the filming locales, but also appreciated hearing the music of the Von Trapps, and learning more about their actual lives. The next two pics are of the Mondsee Cathedral, where parts of the wedding scenes were filmed.
Part of our adventures included an evening outing to the Hellbrunn Palace. It was built in 1613 by a Bishop who had a keen sense of humor and a penchant for practical jokes, usually related to spraying people with water. I "borrowed" this picture, which shows an outdoor dining area, where, with the flip of a switch, water will shoot out of the seats onto the guests. His ideas were clever, and cutting edge for the 1600s.
Just outside the gates of Hellbrunn is the gazebo from the "I am 16 going on 17" song. It used to be unlocked for visitors, but the emergency teams of Salzburg put a halt to that after numerous calls came in for people who had broken arms or legs there. Apparently everyone wanted to take a turn skipping around those benches like Liesl did. Here I am with Gail:
This fountain can be seen in the "I Have Confidence in Me" part of the movie.
This picture shows a bit of the Mirabell Gardens, where portions were also filmed.
This beautiful cemetery was the inspiration for the scene where the Von Trapps are hiding among the tombs, though that part of the movie was filmed on a Hollywood set.
One special highlight was to visit the Eagle's Nest. After driving a narrow winding road up the mountain, we reached the Eagle's Nest, where the views were amazing. It was a gift from the Nazis to Hitler for his 50th birthday, and it remained unscathed during WWII. Then it was spared from being blown up after the war, and can now be enjoyed as a historical monument. My little paper friend, Flat Stanley, is posing at the base of a large memorial cross. (Yes, I enjoyed taking Flat Stanley on all of my adventures for a local 2nd grader- fun!)
I like this happy picture of Craig and me. Too bad we can't photoshop in our boys and call it a Christmas card pic!
Next up...Oberammergau, Germany and the Passion Play! Stay tuned....

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Linda's Travel Journal: Part 4: Vienna, Austria

Submitted by Linda
Well, this Vienna post may seem a bit atypical, in that I am not posting very many pics of local landmarks. While we were on our trip, you may have seen on the news that Central Europe was enduring a crazy heatwave. On the day we were in Vienna, we were told that it was 44 degrees Celsius, which translates into 111 degrees Fahrenheit! Holy Moly! No wonder we were all in a heat coma! So I usually like to photograph places that I resonate with, or at least will remember later. The picture below was taken while we were on a walking tour of the city, and due to my heat coma, I don't know what building is in the background. But it does make a pretty picture, right?
Another thing about this post that may seem unusual, it that I ended up taking a photo of the BACK of the St. Stephen's Cathedral.....
....and while inside I took a photo of the BACK of the cathedral, with the pipes from the pipe organ.
Then, despite all the beautiful altars and other elaborate decor, one of my favorite shots from the cathedral is this sculpture by the architect, depicting himself and the great burden of building such a church.
St. Stephen's ended up being one of my favorite stops in Vienna, because of our visit down below the cathedral to the catacombs. Even as we were getting in line to go down, I asked Craig, "Are you sure we want to do this?" Well, it was worth six Euros because I'm certain it was the coolest place in Vienna!

I'm not usually a fan of creepy stuff, or horror flicks, mostly because it doesn't usually align with my "spread joy and sunshine" mantra. However, it was fascinating, and really unbelievable. In addition to the caskets of generations of bishops (the most recent added 6 years ago), was the mass graves. As we walked through brick caves, we were able to see piles and piles of bones, some in the form of complete skeletons, where the caskets deteriorated and left the bones behind; some with all types of bones in random piles, where bodies were dumped; and in sections where all of the same types of bones were sorted, in order to save space. It was so unreal, it felt like a Disney set for Indiana Jones, or for the t.v. show "Bones". I wish I could have taken pictures, but we weren't allowed. If you ever get to Vienna, this is a "must do"!

Pictured below is the elegant staircase in the Le France Hotel where we stayed. I loved the decor, especially this staircase. I made an effort to climb the stairs to our 4th floor room as many times as I could, to try to compensate for all the bread and cheese I ate!
Speaking of cheese.....these Europeans have got it goin' on in the cheese department! I was in my happy place every day at breakfast, because in addition to my English Breakfast tea with hot milk, every breakfast buffet included a beautiful spread of cheeses. Even our 'not so elegant' hotels had nice cheese! They also had the most amazing breads, croissants, and sweets. (Any country who has cakes and sweets for breakfast is all right by me). On my plate below, you can see a super nutty seed roll, cheese, a crepe and some nuts (I'm sure the nuts were for the muesli and cereal, but for me, it rounded out the perfect breakfast). Craig was also happy with breakfasts, because they also offered sausage and eggs (man food).
Continuing on the food is my sis in law Gail, with bro in law Dave (though they aren't married to each other!) showing Gail's plate of Wienerschnitzel. Americans always assume it has something to do with a hot dog, but as you can see, it's a super thin piece of veal, breaded and fried. Much better than a hot dog, in my opinion!
After having my first taste of spaetzle (homemade noodles) at our Hungarian dinner in Budapest, I was happy to find it on the menu throughout the rest of my trip. My plate below shows spaetzle with a fabulous cheese sauce. (I've since found out that Michelle's chef husband Dave knows how to make spaetzle and is willing to give me a lesson!)
My bro in law Jon (who is married to Gail), is quite a foodie, especially in the bread department. I love this picture of him with Renee (his sister), watching chefs prepare a meal through the window, and discussing what they may be making.
One final highlight of our trip was a concert in the Konzerthaus Great Hall. They played selections of Mozart's most famous works, and presented the concert in period costumes. It was a wonderful concert, and another "must do" when you visit Vienna.
I must admit that I stole this photo from Dave D.'s Facebook.
Next up, Salzberg Austria, and "The Sound of Music" sights! Stay tuned......

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Linda's Travel Journal: Part 3 (Budapest, Hungary)

Submitted by Linda
So I have to agree with our new friend and tour guide Pieter, that Budapest is the best kept secret in Europe. Okay, he didn't really say that, but he did talk about how everyone has heard of Prague, and how the tourism industry promotes Prague. Yet, I found that Budapest is one of the most beautiful cities I've ever seen! If you don't believe me, see below:
This photo was taken during our "illumination tour" of the city.
Below, the building in the top left is the Matthias Church, known for it's thousands of diamond shaped tiles on the roof.
I love the craftsmanship of the rooftop tiles!
One thing that amazed me, throughout our trip, was the realization that as an American, my ancestors and I have faced very little political unrest, compared to many of these European countries. Here in Budapest, people have had to deal with all the issues related to the World Wars, Communism, and also, in many cases, were illiterate.

One clever strategy to compensate for the illiterate, was to tell stories and history in picture form. The photo below shows Hero's Square, which was started in 1896 and finished in 1929, and was built in honor of the 1,000 year anniversary of Budapest (1000 years-the USA is not even close to 1,000 years!). All the figures and reliefs tell the history of Budapest. We were so lucky to be here first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrived.
Another landmark in Budapest is the Freedom Statue, which is a prominent feature of Budapest's cityscape. It was first erected in 1947 in remembrance of the Soviet liberation of Hungary from Nazi forces during World War II.

At the time of the monument's construction, the repulsion of Nazi forces by the Soviets was considered a liberation -- leading to the original inscription upon the memorial, which can be translated to read "Erected by the grateful Hungarian Nation in memory of the liberating Russian heroes."

After the 1989 transition from Communist rule to a more democratic government, the inscription was modified to read (translated from Hungarian) "To the memory of all of those who sacrificed their lives for the independence, freedom, and success of Hungary."

My photo does not do it justice. The statue is a female figure holding a palm branch. The locals call it the worlds largest bottle opener.

No American travel journal would be complete without a McDonald's photo! This McDonald's is in a building designed by Gustave in the Eiffel tower in Paris. Here is the outside....
...and the inside. I'd like to report that since it was well over 100 degrees, I had to have the hot fudge sundae!
Our hotel there featured "modern rooms surrounded by historic design". I don't know when it was built, but the lobby featured a strategy to support the non-readers. Notice the huge diagram, showing which floors of the hotel provide parking, resaurants, and so on. Even the elevators had pictures by the floor numbers. As a kindergarten teacher, I love how the environment supports the non-reader!
We managed to squeeze in some shopping, and a "must-have" from Hungary is Hungarian Paprika. Here we are with the Bixbys, shopping for Paprika in the indoor covered market. So, it was over 100 degrees, and here we were, indoors, upstairs, no air conditioning!
As for shopping, my wish was to buy an embroidered tablecloth. Those of you who know me, know that I love love LOVE linens, and practically believe that it's sacrilegious to have a party (even an outdoor bar-b-que) and not use a cloth tablecloth. So despite the crazy heat, I did make a purchase at the booth shown in the picture below. I'll be sure to post a picture of the tablecloth later on (probably when the boys move into their college dorms, and there's no chance of them dumping ketchup or pizza sauce on it!)
Next up, Vienna, Austria. Stay tuned.......

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Linda's Travel Journal: Part 2 (Prague)

Submitted by Linda
We left Munich and went on to Prague (the Golden City), Czech Republic. It truly is a beautiful city. The picture below shows the Astronomical Clock, but possibly more interesting are the buildings just to the left of the clock (pink and white). The buildings are being restored, and what you can see is a facade of what it will look like when finished. We saw these types of facades throughout most of the cities we visited.
A close-up of the clock.....One of Prague's famous landmarks is the St. Charles bridge. Here is a self-portrait of Craig and me from the bridge. Did I mention that it was over 100 degrees while we were there? Pay attention to the tiny bit of yellow to the right of Craig's head.
Here's the bridge at sunset.... so pretty!
We beat the heat with a nice drink from Starbucks. That was one of the few places we could get an icy drink.
Here are several pics of Hradcany Castle and the St. Vitus cathedral. The buildings made such an interesting skyline!

Here is one of the windows in the cathedral. It shows Wenceslas as a little boy, before he was renamed "Charles".
Remember that teeny bit of yellow? It turns out that bit of yellow was this row of penguins at a restaurant, right on the Moldau River.
Here's the nighttime view, with the bridge in the background!
We had a great time in the Golden City. Stay tuned for Budapest............