Sept. 22 – Oct. 16, 2015
Ski's Tour – with Bob and Kay Kurczewski
Wed., Sept. 23 Thur., Sept. 24
Fri., Sept. 25 Sat., Sept. 26 Sun. Sept. 27 Mon., Sept. 28 Tues., Sept. 29 Wed., Sept. 30 Thur., Oct. 1 Fri., Oct. 2 Sat., Oct. 3 Sun., Oct. 4
Mon., Oct. 5 Tues., Oct. 6 Wed., Oct. 7 Thur., Oct. 8 Fri., Oct. 9 Sat., Oct. 10 Sun., Oct. 11 Mon., Oct. 12 Tues., Oct. 13 Wed., Oct. 14 Thur., Oct. 15 Fri., Oct. 16

Tuesday, Sept. 22 – Left the house at 8:04. Did restroom break in Clarksville and arrived at the Delta gate at 10:30. Got through the security check with no hitches (they checked my back, but that was because I had my blue shirt on as a jacket). So we are at Nashville International Airport, Gate B5 waiting for our Delta flight to Atlanta. Kenneth took the car back and will get it to the vocational school for them to fix the dent on the right side. He'll pick us up when we get back.

11:45 – boarded the plane, seats 18 D-E. 36 min. to Atlanta. 10-15 min. delay getting into Atlanta, so we are sitting here waiting for clearance – from Atlanta? Who knows! We are going to be taking off over I-40. Wonder if our delay has anything to do with Pope Francis coming to the US from Cuba? We saw his plane take off while we were in the airport waiting to board; figure that will affect flights along the eastern seaboard until he has landed. Landing in Atlanta – 2:18 p.m. Eastern time at Terminal T. - our connection to Germany was at Terminal E. Back in 1996 this was where we had to take a bus and we temporarily lost Daddy, but this time they have a train; so we walked to the OTHER end of Terminal T and got on the train which they proceeded to stop at Terminals A-D before getting to E. When we got to Gate 28 in Terminal E, we picked a row of seats and started setting our bags down; Tommy walked back up to Arby's to get us some lunch. As I was “organizing” our stuff, the lady down the row asked if I was Mary Ann! Cathy and Ernest, with whom we have danced, are also going on the tour, and it was Cathy who spoke to me! I had thought she looked familiar as I moved across the waiting area which was part of why I chose to sit where I did. As yet we've not seen Sandra and Bob who are also going to be on the flight and tour with us. So – 3:30 and we've had lunch and met two of our 4 fellow travelers. Not bad!
DUST on my camera sensor!! *@#%$!!!

5:13 and we are settled into seats 42 F & G – I have the window again. Been having slight vertigo since I got up this morning and forgot and packed the Meclizine in the checked bag. So it is helpful when I can look out of the window during sudden banking. Flight 14, 9 flight attendants, 8 hrs. 9 min. flying time.

Departure scheduled for 5:35 – at 5:30, they just announced there is a “small” maintenance problem they are taking care of. I am reminded of Amy's response: better now than too late. Electrical problem with the forward slide – 30 minutes! Flight time is 8 hours, so still should be on time. Wunnerful-a wunnerful-a. 6:10 we are now waiting on a part (where is NAPA when you need them?) - 30-40 minutes more and even when they get it, don't know if it will fix it. We have a very unhappy child two rows back – expressing what we are all feeling. 6:30 – announcement that it is fixed included a reference to a component similar to “something similar to your Commodore computer” - not a reassuring technological reference. I am playing Bejeweled which I've wanted to do for a good long time (lost the key to mine a couple of upgrades back). Tommy is trying with no success to sleep, trying to watch a movie which is too close for him to watch comfortably. I think he is silently voicing what the child behind us is saying quite audibly. 6:45 and we are getting ready to leave the terminal. 6:50 and we are leaving the terminal! Next stop Germany (we HOPE)!

Clouds! A little choppy getting up, but gorgeous looking down on them with the setting sun coloring their tips. The strata of colors is beautiful! There are still “layers” of clouds even with us and the sun on them is really pretty. Trip time 8 hrs. 4 min. (slight tailwind)

8:45 – Finally over water, and I can smell supper. Already had our peanuts and pretzels. . . . Supper was cheese tortellini for me and chicken for Tommy. I gave him my brownie and he gave me his cucumbers and cheese. Lights out – we'll see how the sleep thing goes.

Wednesday, Sept. 23 – Sunrise over Ireland and England. Clouds increasing over the Channel and the Netherlands so we can't see the ground. I could see a little of the coast at Dunkirk, but then nothing else. There is a little ring of frost outside my window – temperature was -66c at one point last night. Tommy didn't sleep, but I slept some; had 3 episodes with my legs so have some weird pictures of the airplane wing's lights: sometimes working with the camera gets my mind off my legs. Also played one speed game of Bejeweled which helped on the 3rd round. It is 2:45 back home and we are 20 minutes out of Frankfurt. Local time is 8:55. 9:10 touchdown!

We went through the passport check and got our bags with no problems at all; found Bob and Kay immediately after leaving baggage claim. They have a full size van that seats 8 and an SUV that seats 4. Most of the luggage fit behind the back seat of the van. I sat next to the door on the right middle because the window could open for me to take pictures (but it was too cool for me to do that!). So I took pictures . . . [this will turn out to be an understatement!]

We went to Hannau first. This is a market day and the square was FULL of vendors with food, fresh fruits and veggies (I bought some fresh raspberries which were delicious!) and flowers. There was even one place which had all kinds of mushrooms and another where a man was making cane bottom chairs.

Hannau is known for the Brothers Grimm who were from there. There is a statue of them which was erected in 1896 in front of the city hall. On the side of the city hall was a plaque with pictures showing the city before and after WWII – this was very enlightening. There was a lot of damage done and there has been a lot of restoration to bring the city to where it is now.

This was a walking tour – Ski's purpose for us was that we not go to our hotel and go to bed so that we would recover from the jet lag more quickly. But for Tommy and Cathy who had not slept at all and the rest of us who had slept a little, I was really tiring. (But it really did work, as we learned two days later when we were on a regular schedule of sleep.)

After that we went to the Bauhaus store which is the same as our Home Depot stores only has a lot more things in it. They had an iMower like a Rhumba but for mowing lawns – that was interesting. Again our purpose was to walk some more before going to our hotel.

Finally we are in the hotel, Hotel Mainperle which also has a restaurant! About 3:30 local time. We had 15 minutes to get our bags to the room and then were back down for MORE walking – down to the Maine River where I found a view of spires from the city and later ducks on an island. And blackberries!! Strange to see ripe blackberries, apples, pears, grapes and squash all at the same time! The houses here are “old world” style with steep roofs with tile on them; several of the houses have solar panels covering most of their area. [We would find that this was more the norm than you might think; and there were huge “solar arrays” in several places that we passed and I am sure many others that we never saw.  I asked a friend here who is from Germany and she said when Chernobyl exploded, Germany became leery of nuclear power plants. They decided to "go green" and look at alternate sources of energy. Solar was the obvious answer (which we have yet to learn here) and so the government made low-cost loans available for people to install solar panels. They have gradually reduced the number of nuclear power plants by moving to solar power at the individual household level. ]

We are on the THIRD FLOOR – NO ELEVATOR [this also was going to be the norm, not the exception]. (There is something going on in Frankfurt so the rooms Bob and Kay thought we might get in the new part were already booked. So two trips up and down the stairs BEFORE our scenic tour!)

After the tour we had figured on supper at 6:00, so had set our alarm for 5:30, but some of our people were hungry before then and knocked on our door about 5:00. So we went down and got an early supper. Tommy had pork Cordon Bleu and I had turkey fixed with a delicious gravy. Excellent restaurant – definitely worth the stop.

So back to our room to repack: needed to put pills in our dispenser and throw the bottles away and then move some things from the large red bag to our smaller bags. So about an hour on that during which we found that the little computer can't read my 64gb SD cards, so I'll just use them as storage which had been my plan anyway. [This would prove to be inconvenient as I could look at pictures using the USB cable for the camera, but the computer had to bring ALL the pictures into memory before I could look at any of them and when the card got 5000+ pictures on it, the little computer just quit and so I couldn't pull individual pictures off to post on Facebook as we went along.]

And – bad news of a sort – there seems to be dust on my camera sensor again. Discovered it in Atlanta yesterday; wish I could have taken it to Peachtree to clean while we were there. But that is going to have to be done – AGAIN. And if it continues, I'll be back with Nikon about it.

9:00 – time to go to bed – two single beds – just frames with soft mattresses. We'll see how my back is tomorrow. [This turned out to be the norm, also; a duvet cover with fitted sheet on the mattress. But there was only one time when I had trouble with my back and I don't think it was related to the mattress. Pillows were another matter: SOFT!!! and HUGE!!! You had to double them over to keep your head from being flat on the mattress and even then you sank so far into them that you could smother if you weren't careful!]

Thursday, Sept. 24 – 8:40 leaving the hotel. Breakfast was breads, cheese, deli meat, and boiled eggs, juice and water. [Continental, which we had known. This would be typical of all breakfasts, some would have more things than others, but the breads were good with the jams that they had: I loved the apricot jams.] We repacked the red bag and threw away the vitamin bottles. Put things in our blue bags that we might want more quickly. So now the two blue bags, our TETA backpack, and my camera bag will go to the rooms with us for a while.

Our first stop was a former crystal factory – now they just have European made glass, but all very beautiful. I got two Christmas ornaments – don't know where I will put them. [Ski wound up putting them in cubby holes in the car until our last night.] After we left there, our drive took us along the Neker River, into Baden-Wiesbaden – wine country. The scenery was beautiful – swans were on the river sometimes, churches with beautiful spires, and buildings with the old style timber frame construction. We saw a Roman aqueduct!!!  I knew they were still in various places over Europe, but hadn't expected to see one!  Just a short glimpse - it was very close to the road.  Our next stop was in Wimpfen where the old part of the town was narrow cobbled streets at odd angles with buildings set at odd angles and on top of the hill was a wonderful medieval tower, first erected in 1200! We walked through the town on our own and could climb to the top of the tower if we wanted. And I wanted – so I climbed; when I got nearly to the top I had to pay 1.5 Eu to go to the top – but the view was well worth it!! When I got down, we wanted to head back to our rendezvous point and took what we thought was another way down from the tower, but after a few minutes and several turns we found ourselves back at the tower! So we took the street we had come up and found our group outside a small cafe which had various sweets. I got a plum “cake” (pflaumenkuchen mit streusel I have now learned) which I had seen yesterday but didn't have time to sample. It is like a cake base with sliced plums covering the top and in the batter, set with the points of the slices sticking up and a sweet crumb topping (the streusel). It was delicious! My favorite dessert on the whole trip!

Back to the cars and on the road through more wine country – vineyards everywhere, even on hillsides that looked too steep to hold them up! Our destination – our hotel for the night which is located in the middle of a vineyard – literally. (Gastehaus Kraft)

We walked through a small section of the vineyard where they were picking the grapes. It was interesting to see the process which also pruned the plants because the pickers cut the limb holding the grapes and then cut the grapes off of that, putting them into a tub or bucket which was then emptied into a trailer pulled by a small tractor. When the trailer was full, the tractor took it to a larger trailer and dumped it, then back to be filled again. We also saw a tractor/mechanical picker, but it was moving to a field too far away for us to follow and get pictures. So we came back to the hotel and Tommy took a nap while I updated here. Now we are headed for supper at an Italian Restaurant.

Well, Bob was wrong – it wasn't Italian, it was Kundenbeleg Restaurant. The food was WONDERFUL!! I had Maultaschen which was a meat and (I think) spinach stuffed noodle in a yellow sauce that was almost sweet. Tommy had pork loin which was also good. Think I am going to forego water, though: 4.00Eu for a small carafe! [The price turned out to be somewhat variable: sometimes we got a large bottle which we shared and sometimes we got small ones; just depended on the price. ALWAYS "still" though, "no bubbles." The mineral wasser (water) reminded me of a slightly bitter Sprite and I knew I didn't want it from our experience on our last European trip.]

We met some of Bob and Kay's friends from years past and the group was noisy and happy all evening – had a really great time! Finished eating about 9:15, in bed by 10:15. Meeting at 8:00 in the morning for breakfast.

[PICTURE NOTE: Changed time zone on camera. Forgot to change it back until Oct. 20.]

Friday, Sept. 25 – Up at 7:00 and down to breakfast by 7:40. Great breakfast – all kinds of fruits in jams and fresh. Back in our room by 8:10 to pack and get down to the van. Left about 8:20 and got to Ludwigsburg about 9:40. Took a while to find parking places because there is a volleyball tournament in town and much of the parking was reserved for that. So once parked we headed for Ludwig's Hunting Lodge (not Mad Ludwig). You've seen pictures of this whether you knew it or not. It was designed to resemble Versailles with formal gardens in front and another garden area in back as well as an aviary and other landscaped areas in the “park” area. We didn't tour the castle, but got tickets for the gardens only – and Biltmore is tiny compared to this!!! Flowers in bloom everywhere. We were to walk and meet “at the pumpkins” at noon. So we started off and found "pumpkins" set around the main fountain area and thought maybe this was where we were to meet later – but Kay had said "you'll know when you see them" and this just didn't quite fit that description. So figured we'd find out later (an understatement as it turned out). We continued through the formal gardens – oh the flowers were SOOOO tempting; I managed to slip in a few pictures without losing Tommy from slight completely. Soon we came to an aviary but didn't see the entrance – but I could see flamingos, so knew I wanted to go in. So we walked around some more and found our way in – Flamingos, Ibis, Parakeets, Pheasants, and ducks among others that we didn't recognize! All in an enclosed area with a paved walk through it and pools and beautiful plants all around. From there I saw a gazebo in the distance with a horse in it – LOOKED like a carousel. HAD to check it out. It IS, it IS, it IS a carousel! And, of course, I HAD to ride it. So for 1.20Eu I got to ride by myself! Great ride! And all the antique animals were so beautiful! The carousel was reconstructed in 1998/99 and, as I understand it, the pieces came from other places and were not all from this location.

From there we headed back toward the castle and found – on the way – “the pumpkins”: the most awesome display of pumpkins/squash/gourds we've ever seen!!! All kinds of “sculptures” and “scenes” designed with pumpkins. A dragon, a butterfly, a space ship crash landed with aliens on board, the Apollo lunar rover and an astronaut, and more and more! And HUGE bins FULL of pumpkins, squash, and gourds that you could buy as well as craft pieces from those materials also for sale. [Found out after we got home that this is their annual pumpkin festival and each year it has a theme and there are contests of all kinds each week and it goes on for about a month. The crates of pumpkins that were being brought out for sale were the LARGE crates that have to be lifted with a fork lift – it was AMAZING to see the huge variety of colors and shapes available.]

W had lunch at the “cafeteria” in the pumpkin area and it was DELICIOUS!! Tommy had spaghetti with a tomato sauce made from tomatoes (not tomato sauce or pureee, but tomatoes) and I had a pumpkin quiche. We finally left the pumpkins and headed for a different path to the front gate as everyone else headed for the aviary (where we had already been).

We arrived at our hotel Domizil in Kornwestheim about 3:00; a really nice room with refrigerator and there is an ELEVATOR to get us upstairs (we seemed to be able to pull only 3rd floor keys, so this was important).

After we had gotten into the room, Bob wanted us downstairs about 3:20 to start out for the train station to head for Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart, a celebration second in size only to Munich's Oktoberfest. Tommy had decided not to go; he set up the computer and called Chris and Chris set up a Google Hangouts for him and he got to “text” to Chris and LouCindia. He went out to eat with Mike and Bonnie who also did not go (they had been on previous trips with Bob and Kay); they all went to the restaurant in the sister hotel to this one. [restaurant name??]

The rest of us headed out walking the few blocks to the train. Bob got our passes and we boarded the train, first taking the wrong one and so getting off and going back to start again. Finally got the right train going the right way and arrived without a hitch. The train was full of young people dressed in their lederhosen (boys) and dirndles (girls). They were definitely planning to party!

When we got to the festival, there were already crowds there. We made our way down one of the “midway” streets to the Hofbrau House – the only permanent structure in the whole place (which is incredible in itself!) which can hold 5000 people. Bob said that Volksfest can bring up to 500,000 people per DAY to the event. Beer was, of course, the main focus – and it came in one size only – huge mugs filled with a good inch + of foam on top. I did not get any nor did one of the men in the group. We then ordered food – I got a bowl of potato soup that was unlike anything I've ever had – absolutely delicious!! Could have eaten three bowls! There was NOISE – people having a good time, but not being ugly and really were very considerate when given the opportunity. We HAD to sing along when the band sang “Hello Mary Lou” - in English!! I rode the huge Ferris wheel (sky wheel with gondolas like we rode in Myrtle Beach) and David went with me. We got to see a beautiful sunset, a hot air balloon, and a small blimp which was advertising a company. It was a very smooth ride and gave a superb view of the festival midway. There were games and rides and games and rides on street after street after street – it just seemed to go on and on and on. We never did cover it all. It was just immense!

[So now having had a chance at home to look into the festival, I found that in 1817 King Wilhelm and wife Katharina had the idea of a festival to celebrate the harvest, the festival to take place annually on the king's birthday, Sept. 28 in the area of Cannstatter-Wassen. The inspiration for this festival was the successful 1817 harvest which followed the world-wide devastation of the "year without a summer" of 1815-16 caused by the eruption of Tambora volcano in Indonesia. The first festival in 1818 was one day and attracted 30,000 people! The king and queen donated cash prizes to honor agricultural accomplishments; the festival was designed to encourage the farmers. From the beginning there were food stalls and "side shows" and it has evolved over time from what we see in our local county fairs to the Volksfest or folk festival encompassing other activities besides agriculture. Click here for more history.]

As I said, people were considerate when given the opportunity. On the train back a young man referred to my sweat shirt which was from the International Peace Garden in North Dakota so he asked was I from there and the conversation went on from there – all the way to our stop. Many people we've met have had varying degrees of command of English. We got back a little before 8:00. Since Tommy had the computer hooked up, I checked e-mails and then wrote here. Time to sleep; we start out at 7:30 for breakfast tomorrow.

Saturday, Sept. 26 – Up at 6:15 and down to eat by 7:30. Breakfast was great! Boiled AND scrambled eggs, 3 kinds of juices and all kinds of breads and meats and cheeses. Awesome day! First we went to Schwarzwälder Freilichtmuseum Vogtsbauernhof (Black Forest Open Air Museum) a museum similar to what we'd call a living history exhibit except that there were not really interpreters as we have them. The museum has rescued buildings from various periods of German history, moved them to this location and put period furniture, tools,and equipment. [Click here for more information.] It was a VERY extensive display and had an area that really caught our interest: the buildings had thatched roofs and one building was in the process of being re-thatched, so we could see the stored bundles of thatch, the ladders with hooks that were used to stand on, and the bundles actually on the ladder waiting for workers to return. We were to meet back at the restaurant at 2:00, so we hurried hoping not to be late (we had eaten there earlier – Tommy and I both had pork – he had it with potatoes and I had it with kraut). We managed to get there a little early and everyone else was there and just finishing eating. This was a really great stop!

Next we went to Triberg – famous for clocks and for the highest waterfall in Germany. And it is HIGH!! You can't see all of it from any one place, but we paid our fee and started our hike up. Mike and Bonnie went also. We went as far as the third (last) bridge: there was still an overlook above us, but we had 15 minutes to get back to our group, so we started back down. We were supposed to be back at 4:00, and we were close: far enough down that we heard the clock in town strike 4:00! Another 5 minutes and we found the group. Back to the cars (with 129 more pictures!). Headed for our hotel.

Bob had put the address into the navigation system. “She” took us on a real adventure. When we came to the “Dead End” sign, Bob was worried, but “she” seemed sure (yeah, right; she also recommended U-turns on the autobahn when she was confused). When we got to the poorly kept gravel road Bob decided to turn around and ask for directions. A very nice young couple walking on the road helped us out and said we had some distance to go back where we'd come from and take another road. We followed their directions and FINALLY came to the hotel – about 5:15! The drive was incredibly scenic – and worthy of a designation similar to the Dragon's Tail over to NC at home! Lots of curves, over hills and with beautiful views down the valleys and of the Black Forest on the upper elevations of the surrounding hills.

So we finally found our hotel, the “Gasthaus Zum grunen Baum.” We got room 4 – on the "first" floor, so just one flight up. We had 20 minutes to get situated and then went to supper at 6:00 at the hotel. Tommy had a small schnitzel and I asked about an item on the menu – out of curiosity only – and was told it is liver! Well, I HAD to have that; both came with a delicious salad and Tommy had fries and I had potatoes cooked like stir fried. Everything was DELICIOUS! Absolutely a place we would highly recommend.

So back in our room and Tommy is TV “surfing” and did find a CNBC station that is in English! I am going to look at perhaps transferring some pictures to the computer so I can upload a couple . . . Well, 10:22 and I've given up. The computer just doesn't have the memory to do much with the pictures. Guess we'll have to wait till we get home.

Sunday, Sept. 27 – Up at 6:15 – ready by 7:10. Can't go to breakfast till 7:30, so going to take pictures. . . . .
Breakfast was excellent – several meats and a variety of breads and cheeses and they even offered to make scrambled eggs for us which 7 of us did. They were excellent also. Now packed and heading down the stairs – going to the Rhinefalls and ending, I think, near Zurich.

Well it was actually well past Zurich!! Our first stop this morning was in Schaffhausen, Switzerland at Rheinfall – a beautiful wide falls which eliminates transport above the falls on the Rhine River – so the falls is referred to as the beginning of the Rhine, though it actually runs from Rheinwaldhorn Glacier in Switzerland through Lake Constance (Bodensee in German) before getting to the falls. We stayed at the falls a little less than an hour (*sigh!* so little time, so much to see). There were fish and ducks and a swan that gathered at the bridge out to the observation deck, waiting to be fed. Bob threw some bread down and there was a FURIOUS splashing of fish – like the stripers used to do when they would school up after minnows – and it was a contest to see if the fish or the ducks got the most!

From the falls we headed along the river to the point where we turned to cross into Switzerland where Bob had to buy an autobahn pass. Once in Switzerland, we noticed a change in topography with more hills, much rural area (lots of sugar beets and some hay as well as the to-be-expected vineyards). We also began to see cows with cowbells around their necks. Bob was looking for a particular gas station he remembered which overlooked Boden Lake (Bodensee) and gave beautiful views of the rock walls on the other side. He finally found it: the rest stop on the autobahn at Bergsboden-Sud. And the view truly was spectacular. There were a couple of houses on the other side (must have been river access) and a train track on the side of the mountain!

We continued on to Vaduz – capital of Lichtenstein. Here we got to shop a little and saw the royal palace, though we could not tour it because the royal family was there (AND we didn't have time). It was an interesting town and the road from it was memorable for the curves and quick rise in altitude. We were not in Lichtenstein very long (which is to be expected since the whole country is only about 15 miles long with just under 62 square miles of territory!) and then went into Austria. Here we began to be into SERIOUS mountains! The views were awesome! Rock faces, tree-covered mountains but with slide areas scarring the rock faces. And HUGE waterfalls cascading down valleys from snow melt on top of the mountains. And the houses all along the valley floor. Everywhere we saw hay being cut – mostly for silage, but we saw some baled dry. The round bales that we saw were wrapped in plastic on just about the whole trip.

We arrived at our hotel (Neue Post) in Holtzgaw about 5:40. We quickly took luggage to our rooms and met downstairs at 6:00 for supper. Tommy had a rump steak and I had veal picatta Milanese – which was fried veal over spaghetti with tomato sauce – absolutely delicious! Back to our room about 8:00. Will be up early tomorrow.

Monday, Sept. 28 – Up at 5:50 so I could wash my hair. Ready by 7:15 and will eat at 7:30. A treat: croissants for breakfast!! Wonderful selection of food: eggs scrambled or you cold cook your own boiled egg plus the usual variety of meats, cheeses, yogurt, and juices. Today I take care of my "bucket list" item. Only had one on it – and today I get to cross it off.

Got to “the castle” at about 9:30. Our tour was at 11:25, so we had time to walk around the lower part of the castle before starting the tour. Inside was incredible! All the painted ceilings and arches and wall scenes from Wagner operas. It is really unbelievable how elaborate the art work is – the painting, the carving, the textiles. I had known that it was not finished: Ludwig died before it was finished and work stopped immediately because he had already drained the country's wealth with just what had been completed. I really did not know that the castle was actually built on the ruins of a much earlier castle, Schwanstein (thus the name Neu-Schwanstein).

I got to touch the stones at the base of the castle!!!!! Tommy took my picture, so I have proof. Inside they had a video which showed how the castle came to be like we see it – starting with the original Schwanstein base. I had hoped to get a CD of it, but they didn't have it. Then I had hoped for a book on it, but the books they had showed the rooms and the beautiful paintings and a LITTLE history, but not much. So I got a book, and cup and saucer, a couple of magnets (I resisted getting he music box and the decorated egg both of which were music boxes), and a t-shirt (first – and as it turned out, last – one of the trip). Later I got a fan and a cheap plastic ornament (which hopefully WON'T break) and a rock from the path going down from the castle. The castle was opened to the public just 6 weeks after Ludwig's death – charging people for entry to try to pay for the extravagant interior decorations; Ludwig only slept there 11 nights. At the time of his death, much of the castle's space had not actually been planned and much of what had been planned was never completed after his death. Ludwig's death was mysterious: he supposedly drowned – in about 3 feet of water, along with his doctor, even though Ludwig was an excellent swimmer. So there is no throne in the throne room – it was never built. But there is an elaborate chair in his bedroom – complete with ornate canopy. The name of the castle Neu-Schwanstein came from the name of the original castle which was Schwanstein in Allgaeu. This had been acquired by Ludwig's father Max II.

After the castle, we headed for Oberammergau (home of the original passion play) and our hotel, Pension Dedlerhaus which had been in the family for several generations.

Tuesday, Sept. 29 – Up at 7:15 and down to breakfast by 8:15. EXCELLENT breakfast! Highly recommend Pension Dedlerhaus for accommodations. Left for the Edelweiss Military base in Garmish to do laundry at the campground facility. Bob and Kay had military passes and could each take 3 guests; I went and Tommy stayed here and napped and then went for a walk and was on the Internet when I got back. He had been told directions to the theater where the passion play is performed repeatedly over five months during years ending in 0. It was begun in 1634. In 1633 the residents of the town vowed that if they were spared from the Bubonic Plague then ravaging Europe, they would produce a play thereafter for all time telling the life of Jesus and his death. The death rate subsided so the people keep their vow by performing the play written in the 15th and 16th centuries (interesting that the music was composed by Rochus Dedler, ancestor of our hosts??). The play involves about 2000 people, all of whom are residents of the town and brings people from all over the world to see it. Bob and Kay had been to see it one time and said it was definitely something not to be missed.

Tommy and I walked some this afternoon, looking for the theater where the play was performed. We walked in the direction indicated by our host, but apparently didn't walk quite far enough. Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed the buildings on the street – all of which have paintings on the outside. These are called luftl fresco paintings and are characteristic of Alpine houses (we saw some on other houses in other places but not as many as here). In the 1700's wealthy people used the paintings to display their wealth. The most famous luftl painter was Franz Seraph Zwink who lived in Oberammergau for many years. There are many different themes of the paintings, but one of the most impressive ones is the "Hansel and Gretel" house which has a series of scenes starting at the top and coming down to the bottom which depicts the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. We also so some beautiful gardens and one in particular had a large variety of flowers beautifully arranged – hard to believe so much could be done in such a small space! We found a bench set a little way back from the sidewalk – only one we saw on the whole walk – and later, after our dinner, the bench proved to be useful when Sandra needed to stop on our way back to the hotel because she had turned her ankle. (Serendipity Shirley Newman would have called it.)

We went to supper tonight at Restaurant Zauberstubn where the restaurant owner performed “small magic” for his guests. He was really very good – and very busy! I got video of the magic that he did for us. But the food was even better! I had a deer steak which was superb – had basically the same kind of sauce as last night, but it was a STEAK: tender and cooked just right. Tommy wound up with veal schnitzel but we thought it was going to have capers and anchovies like his lunch dish had. The restaurant was here in Oberammagau, a little less than a mile up the street from our hotel so we walked there and back. Tomorrow we are going to Linderhof Castle. Tried to get a picture off the camera – Tommy is working with it now – may be auto sleep on the camera.

Wednesday, Sept. 30 – Up at 6:15 so we could be down to breakfast by 7:30 which we made. So 8:00 and we are packed and ready to pull out.

Went to Linderhof Castle. Ludwig II actually lived there a short time while building Neuschwanstein; it was the only one of his castles that he actually saw completed. It was FABULOUS!! Much of the carving inside was covered in 22 or 24 karat gold leaf. There was Micen porcelain everywhere including some around some mirrors that was incredible! They had to destroy all drawings and molds and everything for those so that it could not be reproduced. There were portraits of French kings whom Ludwig admired, as well as their mistresses. We got first tour at 9:00. We spent a good amount of time in the castle then toured the Venus Grotto there which Ludwig had built. The “cave” was heated as was the lake inside – Ludwig swam in the lake and rode in the “shell boat” on the lake, servants manning the oars. There is a huge fresco on the wall depicting the first act of Wagner's Tannehauser, but as Ludwig also wanted his own "blue grotto of Capri," 24 dynamos were installed to change the lighting to blue. Electricity was beginning to be used in Ludwig's time and he was always looking for ways to incorporate "technology" in his buildings.

Bob and Kay were hoping we would get to the castle in time to see “the fountain” turn on. When we got there, they were shocked to see that the basin around the fountain was EMPTY – had been cleaned!! BUT . . . guess what . . . they now had to FILL the basin, so . . . the fountain was turned on and ran for two HOURS filling the basin!! We got pictures from all angles. The water for all the fountains comes from a reservoir above through a 10 cm pipe and rises 82 feet into the air! An AWESOME amount of water! There was another fountain beyond the tall one – with steps going up to it and around to an area above it – like the one at Biltmore in Asheville, NC. Another fountain – of horses – was up the hill behind the castle; the water to it had been reduced in an effort to fill the main pool quickly.

We walked back to meet the rest of the group and then were on the road to our next stop, the Swarovski crystal factory. This place is HUGE – even by industrial standards – acres and acres of buildings joined together. There is a museum tour, but we just went to the store – where there was a 15,000Eu tiger that sparkled and was ready to leap out at you. There were jeweled clothes and crowns and necklaces, etc., etc. Beautiful art: sparkling and EXPENSIVE (you could buy a CAR for what some of that cost!). All in glass cases. I had wanted to get an ornament for the tree – I wanted a snowflake. They had a display: a large one and two small ones – EACH with a price marked under it. So I got one of the numerous sales people who roam around constantly – and showed her what I wanted. She opened a drawer below the display but it wasn't there; a check of another drawer inside the drawer proved no better; same process on a second drawer except she didn't open the interior drawer there – closed that drawer and looked in a door in the wall and found aha – the LARGE crystal and the SET of 3 crystals – neither of which I wanted (too pricey). She said they had apparently had that last year, but not this year. So I said they needed to take the price from below the small ones. She kept repeating her “last year but not this year” and I continued saying they needed to remove the price from the small one, sort of insisting that if it had a price, she needed to find out WHY. So then she “decided” to check with her supervisor. Showed him what I wanted and he quickly opened the second big drawer and then opened the interior drawer which she had not opened and he pulled out a box – there were many there – of the exact piece I wanted. I was NOTNOT!!! – impressed!!!!!! It was all obviously a ploy to get me to buy the more expensive piece(s). So yes, visit the factory – what they have is incredibly beautiful; but beware the sales tactics. Choose what you want and do not be conned into buying something else!

Next we went to Ski Walt – a gondola ski lift up the top of a mountain. We went up and Ernest and Cathy, but the others remained at the bottom. There was a place halfway up where you could get off (and presumably ski down from there when there was actually snow), and we had to get off and get on the other line that was going to the top of the mountain. So of course we had awesome views of the mountains across the valley AND of the cows in the field right below us! We were amazed at the number of obvious ski runs and the snow machines. When we reached the top, there was a huge variety of playground equipment and “alpine” relaxing chairs. We bypassed the tight-rope and climbing tree, but we did all four try out the large teeter totter and other things they had. Some of us just never grow up!

Back down the hill, everyone was ready to go. We were making good time until we hit construction. Traffic was down to one lane and we sat not moving for quite some time. When we finally did get moving, we turned to a parallel road (along with several cars) and moved down a longer distance. We were only six kilometers from our destination in St. Johann, but it took us over half an hour to get there

Se we are in the St. Johanner Hof. Supper and breakfast are included in our room price here. This is a very nice room – even had a personalized note on the door of our room with our names on it. The dinner at 6:00 was superb – a buffet with a variety of soups, main dishes, salad, and desserts to please anyone. We are STUFFED!! And we are really impressed with the accommodations and the food. All is excellent!

I had asked Kevin what to look for in Prague and he sent back suggesting several things: Wenceslaus Square – restaurant behind and to the right as you face the clock tower – used to be the old gasthaus. Hotel Vetnik hotel owner was world class chef (uphill from Prague Castle). See castle complex. Soviet architecture (outside city center). Karls Bruche – artists line the bridge. Crystal shops around Wenceslaus Square but better prices in Karlovy Vary. Brno – mummified Capuchin monks! Pizen – underground tunnels.

Thursday, Oct. 1 – Up at 6:30 and took our time getting ready as breakfast isn't until 8:00. Breakfast was unreal – waffles (European – flat) which I got and filled with fruit, strawberries, grapes, yogurt and breads of course – scrambled eggs, deli meats and sausage, bacon, etc., hot meats. It was a really HUGE buffet!

We are going with Bob and Kay to drive around – want to see more sights. Leaving at 9:15.

We went with Bob and Kay to Grossglockner – the highest peak in Austria. It cost about 50Eu to go to the top, so we had decided beforehand that we wouldn't go to the top; and, as it turned out, there was a snowstorm and fog at the top, so there would not have been much to see. On the way back down we stopped at a wood carver's shop and I got a magnet, two carved wooden ornaments (train and deer) and a carved Leprechaun. The drive was BEAUTIFUL!! Mountains on both sides as we drove through the valley and then an absolutely super super surprise for all of us: a narrow gauge train track runs through the valley AND I looked up and there was a STEAM ENGINE coming right at us, blowing his whistle for the crossing!!! AND . . . he had PASSENGER CARS behind him!!!! An excursion train!! So we pulled in later at a station and found that today was the last day for it, so we couldn't have ridden it, but I DID get a few pictures What a delightful surprise!!!!!

When we got back, we walked around the area near the hotel, hoping to find a duffel bag we can use to put clothes in and check at the plane so we can take all this stuff I've bought and put it in the carry-on. Didn't find anything but a luggage STORE and figured it would be too expensive, so came back so Tommy could take a nap – which he is doing now. At 3:30 we are going down to the restaurant area for self-made cakes – no idea what we will find, but will be a good snack.

Snack was a cheesecake with cherry on top, chocolate layer cake and a fruit cake of some kind and a roll with fruit filling. Tommy got Coke, but I checked out the coffee machine and Kay showed me where the hot chocolate button was. So we are snacked-up and in the room for a nap again.

Supper was at 6:00 and again was amazing: delicious calamari and cannelloni with a variety of vegetables and pork chops and other meats. All excellent! After supper, I got some pictures off the camera using Bob's computer which could read my SD cards and put them on a flash drive; I didn't take a lot of time with the computer as it was imposing on their rest time. Managed to get some posted to Facebook.

Friday, Oct. 2 – Alarm went off at 6:15, but we didn't get up till about 6:45. Now 7:45 and we are waiting for breakfast at 8:00. . . . Started out at 9:00. Stopped first at the salt mine, Salzbergwerk Berchtesgaden. Berchtesgaden has been noted for its salt deposits probably since man has passed through the area, but for recorded history the first mention is 1102. This mine was begun in the early 1500's and now has numerous levels and goes far back into the mountain. We rode a “train” - seats were a long bench down the middle and we sat straddle of it! We had to put on heavy jumpsuits over our clothes and I had to leave my camera with Bob and Kay. We were given handsets with pre-recorded narration which we used at the various stops. Once we had finished the train ride, we walked through some displays, listening to he audio in English. Then we came to “the slide.” This was the way down to the next level and you could tell at a glance that OSHA had never seen this object; City Museum in St. Louis really needs to get one! So Tommy said for me to get in front – SURE – the slide was two wooden rails, rounded off and very smooth. The instructions were: sit, lean back, pick up your feet. Nothing about the fact that is was going to feel like coming down from the top of a double Ferris wheel! They took our picture as we reached the bottom – I bought it because I didn't want it to wind up on a display somewhere: I looked like I was about to explode! More displays – including an original pump that had run for 110 years – first of its kind – without a breakdown! They had a room with hands-on displays about salt crystals. Seeing the process in another room was very interesting. Then we got on a boat and went across a lake while a light show played out on the wall using salt crystal shapes as the topic. Then another display and we were back on the trains for the surface. Not ever having seen how salt is mined, this was really very enlightening.

From the salt mine we went to the Eagle's Nest, Hitler's mountain retreat and target of Allied attempts to take it (in the movies, at least). It was HIGH!!!! The ride up was by bus – no private vehicle allowed. And it was exciting in its own way watching as the bus made its way quickly, but carefully, around hairpin curves. Once at the top, the view was INCREDIBLE!! Towns and cities spread out below us and other hilltop retreats nearby – all lower, of course – were like Monopoly houses! There was a restaurant with an outdoor dining area – which attracted some black birds (crows? but they were quiet, unlike our noisy birds at home). They would swoop and dive, doing some really spectacular aerial stunts to try to land where there was food. One man was trying to clean up where someone had been eating something like Cheetos: every time the man would bend over to pick one up from the ground, three birds would dive in and land and try to steal a chip! Usually knocking another one or two on the ground.

We walked a couple of trails where we saw that the building was really incorporated into the rock of the mountain; it would definitely been the perfect place if you wanted something defensible. We then got back on the bus for the return trip. Since it is a one lane road, there is a spot where the downward buses pull off and let the upward buses pass, so we got to be the ones to stop this time. 4:00 leaving the Eagle's Nest parking area.

Once back down, we headed back to Ramsau and our hotel, Gasthaus Oberwirt, by way of the schnapps factory. This was quite fascinating as they make their schnapps from the roots of the Gentian plant; this is harvested carefully so as to leave some for next year. At the factory we saw a movie about the process which was most enlightening. Though there is some mechanization to the process, what they showed on the movie was a single individual going up on the mountain and digging the roots and then washing, cutting, and processing them all by hand. After the tour and movie, there was a tasting area where we could sample the various flavors that they make. Tommy and I didn't have any, but most of the others did.

Arrived at the hotel at 6:20. Once we got our room (ours is 4 – in the main building) we went down for supper. Tommy got goulash which had been a bowl of soup in previous restaurants, but here it was a large deep plate with some VERY VERY tender beef in a goulash sauce. I got a blut and leberwurst which were in “salami” skins and were actually very finely ground and very very soft. This was served with kraut which the combination was really quite good.

So now we are full! I tried getting some pictures onto the computer and it worked till I forgot to keep the camera awake. So now it is 9:50 and Tommy has a German voice-over of Star Wars on the TV; he is asleep and I am about to be; no Internet here, so I can't check what all I want to see. Oh, well – play it by ear. Tomorrow we see Salzburg.

Saturday, Oct. 3 – This is Unity Day in Germany – like our 4th of July because it celebrates the unification of East and West Germany after WWII. We are going to Salzburg, in Austria, though so shops will be open. Up at 7:30 – breakfast is at 8:00. The bath here used to be a traditional German bath where the room was the shower; controls are on the wall as you go in and these would have been for a bidet I think. It now has a tub – which may have been there all along – but it now has the shower head built into the faucet. We are here for 3 nights, so I will be washing my hair in this one – interesting.

Salzburg – WOW! Walked pretty much all day there. We left here about 9:30 after a nice breakfast at 8:00. Drove to a parking area outside of Salzburg and then rode the bus into downtown. We decided not to go through the castle; got a wagon ride: I sat up by the driver so I could take pictures (imagine that!); Ernest and Cathy rode with us. Our driver spoke good English – Bob had gone down the line of carriages waiting for customers, talking with the drivers to choose which would be best. He had decided on the one we should take, but he said there was a hierarchy – an order in which the carriages should be taken – and we needed to wait until the other English driver left before we got into the one he had chosen for us. The horses were Dora (on the left) and Paula (on the right). The driver joked that every day he says, “Hey, hey Paula” (that is a phrase from a 60's song by Paul and Paula for those of you too young to know that). Salzburg is the city of Mozart and of The Sound of Music. There were street musicians – a clarinetist, guitarist, violinist, and a couple who played accordion and a hammered stringed instrument (not a dulcimer shape but it may be called that). We went into several churches. St. Peter's Church (I think) had two commemorative stones in the floor for Pope John Paul II having held mass there. One of the churches had 3 dates on the front indicating times it had been destroyed and rebuilt; one of those was after WWII.

We walked up to the convent that Maria Von Trapp had been in (in the movie at least) and above it in the hill were catacombs where people worshiped secretly when Christianity was banned. I walked up into the catacombs and found an altar chamber with stone carved motifs. We then walked through the cemetery which inspired the scene in The Sound of Music where they hid behind the stones in the gated area. Here the stones were on the wall with only one statue out from it like in the movie.

The inside of two of the churches were decorated lavishly with paintings and carvings and gold leaf everywhere. The largest one – that was used in the movie as where Maria got married – had four small organs at the four corners of the central aisle and one huge one at the back (all up a level from the floor). The real Maria actually married in a small chapel over the hill from the big church.

I saw a camera shop advertising Nikon and went in to ask if he did sensor cleaning, knowing he probably didn't. But then I asked for a 77mm UV filter for my lens which he DID have (mine has developed spots in the coating). So got that and hopefully it will be better than the last two I got.

We wound up eating lunch at Nordsee, a chain seafood cafeteria located next to Mozart's house. They had scallops (3.95Eu EACH) – I got two and Tommy got three; I got a fish-mushroom-cheese mixture that had been grilled. The scallops were DELICIOUS and the fish dish was actually quite good as well. Definitely something we would like to do again.

Kay was looking for her “egg store” – a store selling eggs that had been hollowed out and then decorated. We finally found it on a side street and it really was unbelievable! They had every kind of theme you could imagine in eggs!!! Stacks and stacks and stacks of all kinds of eggs in “egg flats.” You just picked up an empty carton and that was your “shopping basket.” I decided this would be my major ornament purchase this trip: we may not even go in the Christmas Store in Rothenburg. I got five eggs (and could have chosen 5 DOZEN they were so beautiful).

So we got back here about 4:00 and are resting before making our way down for supper. Don't know if we will eat here or find another cafe in town.

Went out about 5:40. Walked out toward the other end of town. There is a beautiful stream through the town, so got some pictures of that. The first restaurant we came to had an interesting variety and had pictures of the dishes which helped. But we decided to try further on and come back if need be. So we wound up at the end of town, at the first hotel (restaurant, the Hochkalter). The menu was varied and they had shrimp, chicken, pork, venison, beef and pasta. So we decided to try it. Tommy got a “pork back steak” with onions and 'shrooms, veggies and French fries. I got a penne pasta with spicy tomato sauce with spinach and ricotta cheese. Both dishes were very very good – we made a really good choice! Only problem was we had to walk back “up the hill” to the hotel, but it was a very gradual, steady climb, barely noticeable till we reached the church when it was steep for a short distance and then back to gradual to the hotel. So 8:00 and we are back in our room, really satisfied and ready to rest.

Sunday, Oct. 4 – Up at 6:30 and ready to go down by 7:25. Breakfast will be at 8:00. . . . Breakfast was same as yesterday: cold cuts & cheese, breads and plenty of jams and honey; boiled eggs for each of us were a little on the soft side for some today; mine and Tommy's were firm inside, but some really did need the little egg spoon that came on the plate. Most every place we've been have had the little egg cup saucers that you can put the egg in, crack it, take the top off, and then eat the inside with the small spoon. We've preferred to peel ours. Another thing that is new to us is the “garbage” containers placed on the table: these will be quart-size containers placed along the table and are there for you to put anything like egg shells, banana peels, jam/jelly containers, napkins, etc.; any kind of garbage. That keeps the plates clean of that and makes cleaning them easier; often the “staff” consists of the couple who own the hotel and maybe one or two other people, if that – not a lot of manpower so the little garbage cans help.

Today we go to Lake Konigsee – which we saw from the Eagle's Nest Friday. Looks like it may be cloudy today with a slight chance of rain.

Started off in rain, so we put on our ponchos and got out an umbrella. I didn't have a shower cap for the camera, so kept it under the poncho or the umbrella. We were at Lake Konnigsee and got tickets to take a boat out to St. Bartoloma's Church about midway of the lake. The valley walls were very straight – old glacial valley – and the lake is 90 meters in the middle. On the sides there are shelves where glacial deposits from above have eroded and filled the sides. The bottom silt is the gray-green color of glacial silt like we saw in Alaska. There was only one waterfall today, but with a lot of rain there could have been several. The boat stopped at one point and the announcer played a trumpet – and got an echo back. It was really impressive – I got it on video.

The church was quite beautiful, though not as ornate as the ones in Salzburg – but beautiful anyway; you weren't overwhelmed by the carvings and gold and could sort of take it all in. The rain had stopped about halfway out on the boat, so we had a beautiful time there. There was a national park info office and we went in and it had displays explaining the formation of the lake and much about the wildlife there – only it was all in German; so we got a lot from the pictures. We did determine that there was a trail to an ice cave but we didn't think we had time to take it. When we got to the parking lot, though, found out there was no further plan for today. Well – we should have asked before we left.
We had lunch there – at the main boat dock area. Tommy had goulash soup and I had potato soup. Then we shared the delicious plum crumble dessert that I had gotten our first day here. It was all delicious!!

Back in the room, we did some rearranging of clothes for the next few days and will take our large bag down to the car at 4:30 so we won't have to deal with it tomorrow. Our plan for supper was to go back to where we were last night, but we'll have to get our umbrellas out as it is now raining.

We thought we were the only ones going out of the hotel for supper. We had decided to go back to the Hockhalter restaurant again, so knew we had a long walk. It started sprinkling rain as we left, so out came the umbrellas. As we approached the restaurant, two people came out; I thought, “That looks like Cathy.” And it WAS! But they had told us they weren't going to eat! Then Ernest came out and accused Tommy of lying last night - they had come down and ordered what Tommy had last night and said he had not explained how good it was! They had shared it and REALLY enjoyed it.

So then we went in and decided to order a soup and a main dish and split those and then each get a dessert. So we decided on a “shrimp skewer” and potato soup, and for dessert Tommy got the apple strudle and ice cream and I got ice cream with a berry ragout (sauce). This is possibly the best meal we had had while here; only thing that was better was the scallops we had for lunch yesterday. Tonight on the skewer was shrimp and pineapple and they were delicious – cooked just right and with excellent seasoning. DEFINITELY worth doing a second (or more) time!

On our way back, I tried a couple of night pictures of the water at the sluice gate and then Tommy suggested pictures of the church with the night lighting. These turned out pretty good for not having the tripod out to help. Now we are watching BR television which has some kind of German music festival on. Don't know where it is, but the musicians are great – trios, quartets, harps, clarinets, tubas, bases, hammered dulcimers, and of course accordions. One's mostly brass with trombones, trumpets, and tubas and two clarinets. Music and vocals are excellent! Would love to have a CD of this!

Monday, Oct. 5 – Up at 6:15 to wash my hair. Had to put the duvet folded over twice and the pillow folded once on the floor so I could lean over the tub to wash it. Breakfast at 8:00 and then on our way to Munich.

We stopped at the Chiemsee rest stop on the autobahn and I got some good bird pictures. The area was part of the American military presence in Germany back in the 70's – Bob and Kay and family came there to camp. The lake there has one of Ludwig's residences and has the dubious distinction of being the lake where Ludwig and his doctor mysteriously drowned.

From there it was to our hotel – over some VERY rural roads! Really an excellent view of the countryside on he way to Vierkirchen/Pasenbach where our Hotel Paso is located. The room is great and has Internet! We just had time to take our bags to the room before we needed to catch the train into Munich. A little delay in getting our tickets caused us to take the 12:37 train. But it was great to get to ride and not worry about traffic. And those trains DO MOVE: you'd better be holding on when they start and stop. But they are REALLY smooth – riding on ribbon rail and electric. Really nice.

Once in he city, Tommy and I headed for a department store on one corner of Marienplatz – the oldest part of the city and actually where the city started. We had to go up to the 5th floor of the store where there was a restaurant and WC's. After attending to the immediate necessities, we decided to eat there. They had a buffet and you paid according to the amount of food you got – 100g for 1.98Eu. The food was good and we were full. On our way to the escalators, we noticed backpacks and went looking to see if we could find a duffel bag – which we did; now we can pack clothes in that as a checked bag and put our purchases into our carry-on. We then headed back down to get our tickets for the walking tour of Munich. The tour started at 2:45 and kept us moving steadily until 5:00 when we had to be back in Marienplatz for the glockenspiel. We just made it and I got a video of it.

After the glockenspiel, we headed for the Hofbrau House – THE place to be for a festive evening in Munich. Some friends of Bob and Kay met us, so there were 16 of us. We sat toward the back of the main room which was good as the band was halfway back and was quite loud where we were – would have been hard to talk at all if we'd been closer.

Food was good, though not as great as last night. Tommy got a ½ chicken and I got a pork steak with scalloped potatoes. When we had finished we got a dessert of 3 scoops of ice cream with whipped cream and berry topping. Delicious! Best strawberry ice cream I've had in years! The music was really good – two trumpet players who also played flugelhorn, and two baritones and a tuba and drummer. They played waltzes and “marching” songs with a strong beat. They were very good and were “entertaining” to watch. I went over with my camera once and was trying to get a picture of the trumpet player but without just standing out in the main aisle and he kept leaning down to me – trying to give me a good picture but also needing to read his music. He would have been fun to talk to I think.

We left about 7:30 and made our way down to the train. We had some discussion about whether to board in the “C” area or the A & B areas. The sign board said we could board it at A, B, or C area, but we determined that we should board at B or C because the A section was going to separate and go another way – which it did at one of the stops.

We watched a Japanese group – adults and young people – get separated because they didn't realize their train would not come up to the C area where they were standing. When they ran for the train – WITH luggage - some got on, but the young people missed it. Hopefully they eventually got back together.

We got back to the hotel a little after 8:00 and came right up to the room. REALLY tired! I worked on e-mail since we've been without it for 3 days – and pictures. Downloaded Picasa to do some editing that I couldn't do in the Microsoft picture editor. So now it is very late – time for me to be in bed!

Tuesday, Oct. 6 – Up at 6:15, breakfast is not till 8:00. Checking e-mail before we go down. --- Breakfast was great – good amounts of food so you felt like you could take as much as you wanted: scrambled and boiled eggs, fruit, yogurt, and the usual breads, meats, and cheeses as well as a variety of cereals. 8:30 heading downstairs.

Stopped at Dachau and toured the concentration camp. It was as depressing as I had expected but excellently laid out so as to preserve the memory of what happened there, that hopefully the world would not see anything like that again. But we have Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Somalia, etc. today so I am not sure we will ever learn.

After the camp, we went 5 minutes away to a Bahnhof so we could get a bite to eat and shop – to sort of put the camp behind us. Tommy got a sandwich which he said was really good because of the seasoning on the bread. I got an apricot filled donut and a kirschnudle which is the plum filling that I've been enjoying in the streusel but it was in a bread covered with sugar. Delicious!!

Arrived at our hotel in Prague at 4:45. So 5:10 heading out. Bob and Kay wanted to be sure we knew how to get around on our own, so we stayed together as a group tonight. They showed us where to catch the bus and how to get from there to the subway system. Once in the subway, we had to go to the main station and then go two stops beyond that to get to the main city square. Once in the square, we went to the astronomical clock first and they pointed out other features that we might want to visit. Once we had an idea of what to see and how to get around, we headed for supper a the Hotel Jzlatcho Stromer which has a restaurant in it – what was interesting is that the seating to eat was across the street from the hotel – essentially up on the sidewalk but the area was wide enough to seat 4 abreast with a serving walkway between. The kitchen was in the hotel across the street – so when our meals were served, they came across the street to us – and our table was on the street side, so the server never left the street! (I was on the outside and I was sitting literally on the curb!) The food was delicious! I had ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and mushrooms in the gravy. Tommy had spaghetti carbonara – one of his favorites. They had heaters suspended from the top of the tent supports so we were quite comfortable though it was a little cool outside.

We went from there to the Charles Bridge, oldest bridge in Prague. We went out on the bridge and I realized I had made a big mistake – didn't have my tripod and remote: the reflection of the city lights in the river was AMAZING!!! I will HAVE to go back tomorrow night!

After the bridge we went back on the subway and to the hotel. We were tired, but I needed to check weather for tomorrow to see if I can do my night shots then. Connecting to Internet proved to be difficult and SLOW once I was on, but got e-mail cleaned up and am ready for bed. Only 11:30 – EARLY!!

Wednesday, Oct. 7 – Started out BAD! Tommy let me sleep! Woke up at 8:50 – breakfast ends at 9:00. FAST dressing to make it in time to get scraps left. Then back to the room to actually get ready for the day – so didn't get away till 9:45. Weather was commensurate with my late start: rain – ALL DAY LONG!!! Went with Bob and Kay on “an adventure” - they wanted to try out the electric trains – the above ground electric units that run on tracks. Managed to get down to the old section using this means (with help from a nice young girl who advised us on which stop we needed).

We got to Charles Bridge and were accosted by “Peter” who had tickets for a boat ride, including the canal, an old part of the waterways that is too narrow for the larger boats. Since we were not sure about what we wanted to do – and Kay wanted to find some hand painted wooden eggs – we deferred on the boat ride. More on that later.

We had no luck finding Kay's eggs, and decided to separate as Bob wanted to go one way and we wanted to see the changing of the guard at the “the castle.” So we boarded an electric train (bus?) which seemed to go where we wanted and eventually followed the crowds and found ourselves at the beautiful St. Vitus cathedral which is inside the “castle” complex. The castle is the seat of government and is a “compound” of buildings on a high hill, next to the cathedral. The changing of the guard was long and involved a lot of standing on the part of most of the soldiers involved – in the rain – and consequently a lot of standing by the spectators. After the guard changing we headed into the cathedral, but they wanted money for a ticket for me to take pictures or go into areas other than the immediate area inside the doors. So I used my wide angle lens to get what I could from there and we went in to see what they could tell us to see, but they were busy with people booking tours and their brochures were mostly for tours. So we sat down with our map that Bob had given us and decided to head for a particular building on the map which looked interesting.

“Headed for” is the operative phrase, here. There didn't seem to be a street going the way we wanted. So we started out a gate and began trying to work our way in the direction of our building. Whether we ever got to the building we do not know – really don't think we did. But . . . we went along beside the government buildings in an area of trees and flowers with a wonderful view out over the rooftops of old town Prague – really interesting to see the angles of the streets and the rooftops set at odd angles to each other – red tile against the ivory color of the walls; all kinds of pictures to be taken. I picked up a buckeye on our walk from the castle through these gardens. So then we made our way along another street to one that looked like it might go our way.

As we moved down this street, we encountered two guards outside of two solid metal gates. Tommy remarked to the second guard that there was a lot of security – must be a special place. The guard said “President” - so we had tumbled upon the residence of the Czech President who was apparently in residence at the time. We headed on down the street. Then I noticed a snail on a piece of dry grass on the bank beside our sidewalk. This was NOT our typical snail from home – this snail was HUGE!! And had a beautiful shell and was all wrapped around the grass. So of course I HAD to take pictures! Tommy saw another one and another one and as we looked they were everywhere! Pictures just screaming to be taken!

Then a lady stopped to see what we were doing. She was from the Philippines, but worked in the embassy here – and lived in the embassy complex where we had seen the changing of the guard. We had a delightful conversation with her; she remarked that these snails were not as large as the ones she knew from her childhood – those they had eaten; she said she wouldn't eat these – wouldn't taste good.

But she was not the only one interested in my picture-taking: the GUARDS stepped out into the street to see what I was photographing so close to the president's residence! They didn't come to us, but they did check us out; could be that our talking with the embassy lady cleared us.

We had gotten tired and hungry and decided to find a place to eat. Looking on the street there were several places (Macky-D's was OUT!) and we settled on “Restaurant U Labute” which had indoor and outdoor dining. The food was very good: Tommy got goulash and I got potato gnocchi with mushrooms which also had some beef in it. We were FULL when we finished!

We finally made it down to the Charles Bridge (did we find the building? Don't think we did but found some others and another church and had an enjoyable walk through changing architecture). We had decided on our walk to look for Peter again and get tickets for the boat ride. But I wanted to climb the tower on the bridge. So Tommy went to find Peter while I climbed. But when I was close to the top, they wanted me to pay – and, unfortunately, I did not have any of our cash. So I headed back down and we got our tickets and settled down for a boat ride.

Met two ladies from California as we sat down. The tour took us around the city's river shores and was very very good – highly informative, including pictures of historic events like floods and building of the various bridges. The tour went up a canal that had been created hundreds of years earlier. At the end was a water wheel that we had seen from the bridge; there was a figure on the dock beside the wheel and the pilot said he was a reference to a fairy tale about the water-man – got to look that one up.

When we got back from the boat ride, the light was getting right for the picture I wanted to take, so we headed for the area beside Charles Bridge again and I set up to take the picture I had waited all day to take. So I got set up and took a couple of pictures. The process of waiting for my picture to “develop” (be settled from the sensor to the SD card) takes basically as long as my exposure, so for a four minute exposure I had to wait four minutes to see the picture. So while I was waiting for a picture, I got to talking with another photographer who was doing the same thing. Turned out he was from the Philippines also! But he lives there and is here visiting as we are. He had two companions with him who were patiently waiting – as Tommy was for me – for him to get done. So Tommy struck up a conversation with the women while I talked to the photographer. Turned out he is editor of a small photo magazine in Philippines and “wanted to see my work” – yeah, right – but I did tell him about my ice flower pictures which I thought might be interesting for his magazine. So we exchanged business cards and we'll see what comes of it. He is really nice.

I did have one more bit of bad luck to end the day: I went to show Tommy what I had gotten on the camera and I didn't set the tripod down securely enough (trying to manage umbrella, remote, and little camera bag) and one leg of the tripod didn't go out far enough and it fell, breaking another small piece off of the lens hood (which protected the lens, thank goodness) but then falling onto the left side of the camera – the side with that awful connection for my remote wire. Yep – bent the wire which broke, as have the two previous ones – so taking remote pictures was over till I get another wire (didn't bring another extra, but do have one at home – useful). So may try a photo store tomorrow but don't expect them to have a cord. We'll see.

To finish our adventure, we had to get back to our hotel. Tommy decided to do the subway as we knew how to get back with it. So we did our transfer and got to the stop at Pankrac where we moved to the bus stop and to catch a bus which we knew should be going our way. But the bus schedule had an X beside the stop we decided was ours. A question to a man looking at the schedule met with no result, but the same question posed to another young man standing there got us the information that our stop was not a scheduled stop – we would have to push a button to “flag” the bus to stop. And as we got on the bus, he pointed out the button (though we already knew where it was); a very courteous and helpful young man. We figured out on the digital display that we could wait until our stop was listed next and push the button then – which we did and the bus let us off within sight of our hotel!

So back inside, Bob and Kay wanted a report and after about five minutes Cathy and Ernest came in (we actually were NOT the last ones back for once!!!). We decided we'd do the walking tour together tomorrow. Also Bob tried to get our TV to pick up the satellite feed, but had no luck, so got the guy at the front desk to work on it – turned out it was a loose wire so we have ENGLISH programs tonight!!

Thursday, Oct. 8 – Better today – alarm went off at 6:15; too early but much better than too late! So we are at 7:00 and ready to go down for breakfast which probably won't be ready till 7:30 at the earliest.

Breakfast was good – not the best ever, but filling. So 8:05 and we are ready to go. Rain – wound up fighting it all day until shortly after I started working on the reflection pictures – but at least it had stopped by then.

Bob and Kay, Mike and Bonnie, and Ernest and Cathy went at the same time with us. Since I broke my remote cord in the camera fall last night, I wanted to try a camera store to see if they had one. I didn't expect them to, but you never know. I had checked on the Internet and found one close to the subway stop just before the one we get off on to go to the downtown area. So we all piled off the subway at Mustek station and set out to find the store. We passed a lot of small shops but when we found the photo store, it had TWO entrances and took up two floors! It had an information desk!! We have NEVER seen one this large (of course we've never been to B & H in New York). They had about every kind of camera you could think of (Including a drone!). The information lady told us to go upstairs. We found a desk there and showed the boy what we needed; he went back and brought out a bag of assorted remote trigger cables. He found two for me and we got them – I was back in the night time photo business!

Next we made our way to the astronomical clock to meet our walking tour at 10:00. Our guide turned out to be very, very knowledgeable about Prague history and had a great sense of humor which lightened his presentation. We got to see the Jewish Quarter and the history of that area is an early story of persecution of the Jews by segregating them in what was a low, swampy area prone to floods and disease. Their cemetery is small, but the wall around it is very high: they had filled the area early in the history of the city, but the city would not give them more area – but they would give them DIRT; so they added dirt and buried till that was full and then added dirt, etc. There are 12,000 stones currently visible, but there may be more than 90,000 buried there!!

After the walking tour (Ernest, Cathy, Tommy and I were the only ones from our group who went), we decided to get some food. We followed Kevin's advice, sort of: he said when we were facing the astronomical clock there was a small restaurant behind and to the right. There was a Mozart Cafe in the hotel there which may have been it, but we opted for the El Toro Negro which was larger and had seating inside and out. But the food was EXCELLENT!! Tommy got his spaghetti Carbonara and I got lasagna. When we finished eating, we headed back to a market area we had seen earlier. I've never seen so many magnets! But I already have mine, so didn't stop. Ernest and Cathy then headed back to the room and we headed for the photo store again.

The accident with the camera jammed the lens hard and today it was sticking and hard to turn. At one point it just did not want to go all the way in; we worked with it and eventually got it to move better, but it still has a spot where it wants to stick. So thought we'd ask the camera store if they had anyone to look at it. This time we were directed to the back, Nikon area and then to two doors – had to wait – where tech people were located. When a room came open, we went in and asked, but they'd have to send it off, so no deal there. We browsed the used lenses there, but they didn't have one like mine – only a new one for 29,000 Krona – about what I would pay in B & H; but I want to see about getting this one repaired first.

So next we headed for Charles Bridge again. I had wanted to go down to an area to the left of the bridge where I had seen people feeding the swans. We made our way down and when we got there, we saw that there was a muskrat there that people were feeding as well. Now the swans didn't like the muskrat and they hissed and brought their wings up in the typical pose you see in ceramic swans. I had never known that the wings up pose is one of anger and threat. The ducks REALLY didn't like the muskrat and they flew when he started out toward them.

There were people there feeding the swans and we got some good pictures of that and of the ones in the water. One man got a nip on his finger that caught his cuticle and caused it to bleed a lot. Tommy pulled a band-aid out of his billfold and gave it to him; he really appreciated that!

Once I had my pictures, we headed back up to Charles Bridge to wait for dark so I could get my reflection pictures. On the way we met Mike and Bonnie who were looking for a place to eat supper in the area where we had left the swans. We continued on to the Bridge and went across to the other side and went through the “Muzeum Karla Zemana (Karel Zeman Museum) of Special Effects.” This was a fascinating look at early special effects which relied heavily on perspective and models: placing the camera strategically to give the impression of size that was actually not real. At the end you could make one of your own, so Tommy "directed" me and we put an e-mail address down so it could be sent to us. So here is my film debut. No Oscars, obviously, but it was fun!

Once done with the museum, it was back across the bridge to set up for my reflection shots. The shots went well EXCEPT for the boats which kept creeping across my pictures (photo bombed by tour boats!). I finally got as much as I could because both of us were tired and it took so long to wait for the pictures to process.

We headed back by the subway again and at Pankrac station we went into the big shopping mall there – there was food on the 3rd level, a Nordsee cafe that we had seen this morning. We went there hoping for scallops like we had in the other Nordsee, but they didn't have them. So we went to a Samsonite store and got another luggage strap to put on our red bag. Then we went back to the food area and stopped at a cafe that had pizza and other things. I ordered first and got the gnocci with mushrooms. But when the girl heaped three huge spoons of it on the plate, we decided to split the food and so just got the one dish. It was filling and we were ready to leave when we were done. So we headed back to the hotel by bus as we had done last night.

Tomorrow we have to check out, but I think we are in Czech Republic for another night.

Friday Oct. 9 – Up at 6:15 – leaving Prague today so rearranging clothes ready to do laundry Saturday; using the new duffel bag for that – going to work out well. Breakfast was good – had scrambled eggs today which was good. Looked at Google this morning and they had put the Astronomical Clock in their O – don't know the significance, but there must have been something to it. Will have to check later and see what the significance was. [Yep, there was something to it: it was the 605th anniversary of the clock which was finished in 1410. Go to this link and see what the Prague newspaper had to say about it.] Great coincidence that we are in Prague when they did that. Gruesome story that our guide told us about the clock said that it was built by Master Hanus, that the town councilors didn't want him to build another somewhere else so they got him very drunk and blinded him and cut out his tongue. He got the best of them, though: when he came to the next day, he had a servant lead him up to the tower above the workings of the clock and he jumped into the workings of the clock; obviously he died and the clock supposedly sat useless for 150 years because no one knew how to fix it. HOWEVER . . . the truth (as reported at this link) is that it was built by Mikulas Kadan, a clock maker, and Jan Sindel, an astronomer. That link also gives an excellent explanation of how the clock works.

8:00 and we are ready to leave the room. Bob and Kay were the last to come down, so we obviously won't be leaving till they are ready.

12:15 – we have our room in Pilsen, CZ.

Really great day! Started out with a stop at Ruckl Bohemian crystal factory in Nizbor, Czech Republic. This factory has made some pretty important special pieces which you can see in their gallery at this link. Here we got to tour the factory and actually be right at the glass blowers as they were forming the glass: they would get their “gather” from the oven of molten glass and then bring it over and cut if off to the right size ball and then blow it just enough so it would fill out the mold; then he put it in the mold which was closed by an assistant sitting below the blower; then the blower continued blowing and shaping – constantly turning the hot glass inside the mold. This took years of practice; I think they said three years working the molds and three years learning to blow the glass. It is amazing how pliable the hot glass is and how quickly it becomes hard enough to break, yet not hard enough that it can't be worked more. Each blower's station had a gas burner going where he could heat the glass slightly if it got too cool too quickly. Speed was important, not just because of needing to work the glass before it cooled, but because they were paid by the number of pieces they made that day.

From the blowing room we went to the cutting building and saw them cutting the designs into the crystal. This was something we had always wanted to see. The glass was beautiful and it was fascinating watching them work. Each person was doing one particular part of the overall design on the piece: it might be two straight line cuts at angles or maybe just one long cut, but it would be the same cut over and over, piece after piece. Then the pieces would be moved to the next station and the next person would add the next part of the design. We didn't get to go into the polishing building because they use acid there and it was not safe to take tour groups through that area. In the store, I wanted to get a cup and saucer, but they would only sell them as a pair, so Kay was buying a bell and I said oh, yeah, I could get a bell, so I did – a very pretty one with a simple design with red centers on the flowers.

From there we made our way to Pilsen, CZ. Here there is a HUGE brewery – Pilsner Urquell – which was begun in 1842. We checked into our hotel – the rooms are made in what used to be a stable: there is a courtyard outside where the cars are parked, and there are A, B, and C rooms, A being best. We got the C room. It is VERY NICE – even has a small refrigerator! Second one we've had on the whole trip! And we are back to a shower in the bath, though, so that is good. The man who owns the hotel had done the renovation of the stable area into rooms himself and it was really beautifully done. Our room had two single beds set against two opposite walls, so we wound up sleeping on the opposite “side” of each other because we wanted to be getting out of the bed on the side we normally do (just think about it and it will make sense).

We got our bags from the car to the rooms, and then gathered to walk to the brewery for a tour there. The brewery has been in operation since the mid 1800's and uses locally grown barley and hops and water from their own deep well to make the beer. The amount produced per year is astounding and the huge copper cookers for making the malt hold tens of thousands of gallons each – monsters! To make the malt, the barley is moistened and then allowed to set for five days; then it is dried to stop the fermentation and then the water and hops are mixed in. The beer is then put into barrels to age 30 days, but – unlike whiskey – pitch is used to seal the wood so that the beer never comes in contact with the wood. The end of the tour was through the cooling cellars where the barrels of beer are left to age. One room, with a hole in the top, was where ice was put in (originally cut from the rivers or lakes in winter, it would last most of the year); the ice filled the room and kept the area where the beer was stored cool. This process was not replaced until the 1980's! In the tasting room we were allowed a small or large cup of beer straight from the barrel (we gave ours to Bob Jordan!) - it was very good color with a good head of foam – I assume as I've never tasted it; Bob said it was good anyway. But it was interesting to see how it was done.

After the tour we were to go out to eat. Bob and Kay had not gone on the tour so they could go and arrange for our supper: they had previously checked with the restaurant they usually go to and they had no openings until Monday! So they set out to find a place – all the ones they went to had no openings; so they got the hotel owners to try and THEY couldn't find one. SOMETHING was going on in town; we never really learned what, but it looked like stadium lights were lit that night, but also there was an "exhibition of homegrown fruits and vegetables" which started in the town that day as well; could have been either one, but the restaurants were all booked. FINALLY they found a Chinese restaurant that had menu or buffet. So they had come to the brewery in the cars to pick us up and go back to the hotel (a trip which took them about half an hour due to traffic) so we could then walk to the restaurant. The walk was not far, and the meal turned out to be a real adventure.

He restaurant was the Chopstix and had buffet on one side and menu ordering on the other side. We wanted buffet and they set us at 3 tables (there were MANY reserved tables when we got there, unlike when Bob and Kay had been there 45 minutes earlier). In the middle of the table was a glass lid – and it APPEARED that there was a grill setup under the cover. This was confirmed in a little while when a young man brought – with TONGS – an apparently warm “grill” – much like you would have in an oven at home, but raised in the center and with slits along the edges. Then a young lady brought a “drip pan” and put it under the grill. Tongs were brought . . . and we watched as a variety of raw meats were laid out on ice on the serving bar. So . . . yes . . . we were expected to COOK our own food!!!!! There were some other typical foods that you find on an oriental buffet, but the meats were an interesting element of surprise – even for Bob and Kay who had never eaten at a place like that either. But . . . the food was WONDERFUL!!!! Tommy tried a variety of things and did a good job with the 'shrooms. I tried the little shrimp that had already been shelled. But Tommy tried the “prawns” (yes, Kenneth, these would have qualified as PRAWNS!) and then I couldn't resist and had to try them. They were WHOLE shrimp – heads still on – and were really large! But we put them on the grill, cooked them till they turned pink and enjoyed what were undoubtedly the best shrimp we've ever had! I had 9 and could have eaten 9 more, but everyone was getting ready to leave. These were almost sweet shrimp and so large! This was definitely a fine adventure in eating!

After supper I planned to take some reflection pictures at the bridge over the river, but Tommy was tired and so were others, so only 3 of us wanted to go to the city square. So Bob and Kay, Ernest, Cathy and I headed for city center and the others went back to the hotel. The city center is quite beautiful – with a variety of styles of architecture in the buildings and a beautiful cathedral in the center. We walked around enjoying the views and then were ready to go back. I was going to need a key to get in the hotel gate, though, so I went back to get the key from Tommy. Kay didn't much like me going back to the bridge alone, so she went back with me. I got some reflection pictures, but there was really too much light to get the smooth water images I wanted. But I liked what I got.

So back to the room a little after 8:00. Tried to get Internet to work, but something isn't right as we are connected but can't get to any sites. So I'll give it another try before I turn in. Tommy is asleep (he found Aljazeera network which is in English and is usually interesting so that is what will run tonight I think.

Saturday, Oct. 10 – Up at 6:15 and ready to eat at 7:30 – breakfast is at 8:00. Looked around the hall outside our room and there are antiques there and in the wall are some bricks with names on them like the company that made them – they are apparently rare and from the original structure some way. The beams in the ceiling, and even the boards in the ceiling, are huge! Beautiful room! The bed was comfortable, but the pillow was so huge and soft that I had to finally put it aside and use the small decorative pillow that had been on the bed. Slept well, though.

Breakfast was great! Meats and cheeses, a variety of breads, yogurt, granola, bananas, and boiled eggs ! This is a great place to stay and price is VERY reasonable! Nearly 9:00 and we are ready to leave.

Our first stop was another Bohemian crystal factory. We did not tour this factory but went to the factory outlet store. I got three ornaments for the tree. They had some really beautiful pieces.

Our next stop was a shopping area where there was a Euro Store, like our “Dollar Tree” type store, and a cafe where we decided to eat lunch. Tommy had a sandwich (harder bread than he had hoped) and I got a rice and pork dish. Tommy's sandwich was good, just would be better on softer bread. When I ordered my rice dish I asked for ONE serving – so she dipped up three HUGE spoons of it! Bonnie had gotten the same thing, and we all agreed we could all four have eaten from one plate comfortably! But it was VERY good – just much too much of it.

We shopped a little and got some candy and Tommy got a couple of 1.25 ltr. Cokes.

Finally got to our hotel Russweiher in Eschenback about 1:15. We brought in all of our luggage because today was laundry day. So this will be our last set up of our large red bag and the new black duffel bag. We had a mad scramble at the last second trying to find our quarters that I'd saved from the last laundry day. When we got to the base, they were much more stringent than the previous base had been; they kept our passports at the gate, giving us temporary ID badges. When we were done, we gave them the ID's back, but the guard insisted on seeing each of us so he would know we had gotten the right passport back (apparently a mixup had occurred in the past and they now did a visual verification).

Bob drove us around the base where they had various big guns on display with signs telling when and where they were used. Back at the hotel we began our final packing, putting some things in the new duffel bag leaving room in the large red bag to pack the souvenirs we've picked up.

Supper tonight was at 6:00 in the hotel. It was amazingly good! Tommy got a steak – just steak, no “kind of cut” steak – and it was DELICIOUS!!! He asked for medium rare and that was what he got and it was tender and had a wonderful flavor. I got a pasta with shrimp and tomatoes and a delicious sauce! We will probably both get the steak tomorrow night – it was that good, but I am still tempted to get the pasta.

Tonight I am trying to copy my pictures – 100 at a time – from the camera to the computer. So far doing it in the small bunches works well.

Sunday, Oct. 11 – Alarm went off at 6:15, but we didn't get up till about 6:45. Did a little more repacking and then were down for a good breakfast at 8:00. We then had a little time before leaving at 10:00 to go to the Speinshart church and monastery. Now the monastery is no longer functioning as such. The church service was just ending as we got there and so there was still the aroma of incense as we entered. This was, again, an extraordinarily beautiful church. Each of the pews had a different figure carved on the aisle end and there wasn't an inch of space that didn't have a carving or painting on it. It was not the largest one we had been in, but could possibly have been the most beautiful. It had the gate at the back like we saw in the church in Sound of Music at the wedding. We also walked around the grounds of the monastery and found a barn with cows inside that had just been fed – they had ropes around their necks tied to the feeder dividers to keep them from moving around and gobbling someone else's feed. There were some beautiful flowers there and a cemetery with mostly recent burials. However, we saw something in this cemetery that we had not seen in other cemeteries: a small “box” with a lid on many of the stone borders around the graves. The boxes held water and a small brush – used to clean dirt off of the stones!! The little boxes were decorated with flowers or angels or some were just plain, but there were a lot of them. This is something I think we could use here. And while I am on the subject of cemeteries, I want to say that the cemeteries there are BEAUTIFUL!!! There are flowers PLANTED on the graves; many of the graves have the stone borders around the grave as well as the headstone and the flowers are planted inside the borders. No weeds, no grass, there was limestone on all the pathways between the graves. They were incredibly beautiful and well maintained – all of them that we visited.

When we got back to the hotel, we retrieved some souvenirs that we had stashed in a couple of hidey holes in the cars and then I headed for the walk beside the lake. There is a tunnel under the road for getting from this side to the paved walk around the lake. The lake had been drained this week and the fish removed and some were sold; the larger ones would be returned to the lake when it is filled in the spring (explained Raymond, our host). But there was a little water in the center so there were some reflections and then there were “button willows” with their little cones and I found one of the red berry bushes; also found a beautiful mushroom which will be open tomorrow, but was bullet-shaped today. I came on back and met a group going to lunch at a cafe down the street. We decided to snack in the room. And are now watching a HUGE parade which may be in Pilsen – where we just left; not sure, seems to be more German than Czech. Beautiful horses, though! Need to be ready to go to the museum at 1:45 – have 15 minutes to get ready.

The museum is AWESOME!! Bernd – the “artist” – had pulled up roots from the swamps in the area and pulled off of them trash or leaves, but each piece is actually the shape that he pulled out – and you can SEE the alligator, or swan or eagle or beaver in what he has mounted. He has labeled all the roots – many of birds and animals from other continents. It is truly amazing – he did NOT CARVE the roots, he saw the image in the root and cleaned it to reveal the animal inside. H said that at first he found one root and brought it home and then fixed it and put it on a table. Then – as a hobby – he found other roots and they spread to a table then a room and finally he had to build a building to hold them. The Smithsonian has done a film on his work and several articles have been written about his work. He is truly an artist (has stained glass in every window and door of his house) in being able to see the creatures in the roots and then bring them to life. He said that some of the roots took as much as 24 to 36 hours to pull out of the ground, and when you see the delicate “necks” and “wings,” you know that he had to be VERY careful in pulling them to be sure he didn't destroy these parts. This was truly a unique museum and not to be missed if you can put it on your tour. And we also got to go into their house to see his stained glass – he is truly an artist: he even does restorations on church and cathedral windows throughout Europe.

Supper – Tommy and I got the steak dinner as we had planned and they were PERFECT!!! They came with a huge baked potato which was also just right. Sandra got a fish – a WHOLE fish sitting upright on her plate!!! And they wanted me to take a picture of it sitting beautifully on her plate. Our host showed her how to cut it and get started eating it – which I was glad to see as I had always wanted to know that. So then I had to take a picture when she finished and it was just the fishy skeleton lying there on the plate.

Monday, Oct. 12 – Columbus Day! Up at 6:15 to wash my hair. Breakfast at 8:00 – very good, had provolone cheese today. Had a peach yogurt that I had yesterday: really tasted like fresh peaches instead of yogurt – delicious! And today I saw grape juice and got that – MUCH better than the orange; really quite good. So now 8:35 and we have our bags down and are ready to pay our bill and leave. We had frost today, so we were all getting luggage out the door and paying our bills, but I had done my part, so I went to the flower bed in front of he hotel looking for frost. Not a heavy frost – just enough to frost the edges of leaves and maybe a little on them. But, of course, I had to change to my macro lens (so had my camera bag, journal notebook, and my tele lens lying on the notebook just there on the sidewalk) and then there was no point in standing up trying to take pictures of things that were below my knee. So now you know kind of what position I was in on the ground – had to have been kind of strange/comical at least.

So there was a young man (Dominique Gross) and his wife (?) there also checking out. When I stood up to move on to the car, he asked if I spoke English then he pulled out a business card and handed it to me. Said he was “from the monastery” (where we had toured yesterday) and he was a photographer and for me to look at his website. So tonight wen I looked, he has a SHOW of his work running from yesterday through sometime in November. Unfortunately we didn't have time to go there again. I can't imagine what would have made him think I would appreciate photography! :(

Left about 8:45 and arrived in Rohenburg at 11:45. We had until 3:30 to look around – again I didn't get enough time here, but did get more than last time. Went to Kathe Wohlfahrt and prices were just too high. I bought three ornaments – another bell (green which wasn't there last time) and two others – and a magnet and that was all I felt comfortable getting. We went down the street and in another store we found painted clay buildings, replicas of those in Rothenburg. I found one I thought was reasonable and got it. Then we walked around and found the Baumeisterhaus restaurant where Tommy had the German ____ steak and I got the chicken cordon bleu. Mine was cooked a little too much but Tommy's was good. The restaurant had a bar area at the front – as most of the restaurants did – but toward the back there was an “atrium” type area that was open three floors up with a glass ceiling; really a pleasant place to dine, and that was where we sat. After that we had a little over an hour so we walked down to the gardens and got pictures from the upper end of the gardens along the city wall there. Rothenburg is an old and extremely beautiful city. With history going back to the 1100's some of the buildings date to the 1400's (an earthquake in 1326 damaged much of the city, destroying the original castle). In WWII, Allied bombs destroyed the eastern part of the city and fire destroyed much of the rest of the city.

We are in our hotel, the Schwarzes Ross in Steinsfeld. We have a really nice room, room 4 – all the rooms are a little different because it is an old building. There is a glassed in deck next to our room with a hot plate type of coffee pot on a table there. It would be a nice place to sit and relax. Cathy and Ernest wanted us to come see their room: they had a huge bath with a bidet as well as a toilet and the room was really large. And apparently they only JUST got it: a young couple came in just after we did and they had specifically asked for room 3 which is the one Cathy and Ernest have. How special!

We went to a brewery for supper tonight. Tommy got a maet__zel which was a noodle stuffed with ground pork and spinach etc. with grilled onions on top. I got pork steak – both were very good. I am too sleepy to work on pictures tonight. Heading for bed at 9:20!

Tuesday, Oct. 13 – Up at 6:25. Towels – VENUS – 100% Baumwollel cotton/Katoen Hotelwashe Erwin Mueller. Very good towels. Want to get some of these.

Breakfast at 8:00 – the usual continental but all very good – Swiss cheese was very good today. We had our bags down when we went to breakfast, so I am heading down to see if anyone else is ready. Tommy is paying the bill and then when the cars are packed we are off on our day's adventure. (We are the only non-coffee drinkers on the trip, by the way!) The house (hotel) was built in 1789!

Long day of riding but BEAUTIFUL countryside! Saw miles and miles of vineyards on hillsides that looked to be almost vertical; leaves on the plants were various colors making a beautiful patchwork design. Bob said the grapes were being left till January when the would be picked frozen to make eiswein (ice wine) which is apparently sweeter. Saw many tractors and fields in various stages of harvest/planting for winter crops. Stopped in two walled cities Michelstat and Erbach. I bought a Ratthaus (government building) in Michelstat – should go well with the Rothenburg house I got yesterday. Also got two rainbow balloon wind whirligigs similar to what we've got at home (one for Sandy Sturgis maybe) and a magnet. In another shop that Bob and Kay took us to there was ivory carving. I got a fan there – ivory. Beautiful buildings and cobbled streets. We had lunch with Ernest and Cathy at an Ialian place. They shared a pizza and I had rigatoni with marinara and black olives, capers, and onions (gave Tommy the onions). Tommy had spaghetti with Zucchini and broccoli in a tomato sauce; we are still full!

In Erbach, Bob and Kay had a couple of shops they wanted to go to : a woodcarver shop and a shop with dishes and other glass, maybe antiques. So in the first shop I got a magnet, a Christmas tree ornament (wood) and a small carved deer which would work in our village.

4:30 we arrived at our hotel (Garni Elsenztal) in Bammental. Our room is on the second floor, but FAR back in the hotel – in a new part of the building apparently (room 21). We are going to meet downstairs at 5:45 to go to a restaurant nearby for supper.

5:45 – Walked to the Friends of the Birds Restaurant (apparently a group that rescues birds: there are cages on the property, but only a few birds and not rare ones. The restaurant was not busy (we were the only ones there that we saw). Had a very limited menu – mostly schnitzel with different extras. But they had a “natural steak” which looked like it wasn't breaded. Tommy and I were not hungry after our pasta lunch, so we got one “natural steak” and split it between us. When the meals came, we were the smart ones: ALL of the plates had two large pieces of meat and most had salads – just TONS of food! Two couples had their leftovers wrapped in foil for tomorrow. We walked back toward the hotel and stopped in the Edeka supermarket at the hotel – got some more of the cookies I liked (Tatranky – Mleone Mliecng) and I got some ice cream.

When we got back to the hotel, Tommy used his phone to let Bonnie make a free call back to the states through our Google voip that Tommy set up. After that, we did our pre-packing: putting the most fragile souvenirs into a blue carryon bag and the rest into the red bag. The new black duffel has dirty clothes and any extras that we don't need before we get home. So now with a slight rearrange tomorrow night, we should only need to take one bag in Thursday night. We HOPE.

10:35 and I am ready to sleep. Not many choices on TV tonight – no English channels so we have some movie comedy with German voice-over.

Wednesday, Oct. 14 – Up at 6:45 to go to breakfast by 8:00. Made it 10 minutes early and had a good breakfast. We walked to the train to go into Heidelberg and made our way to the castle. We got the tram to the top (I think we drove up near the castle in 1996 when we brought Mother and Daddy.) I did not remember the approach to the castle gate, but as soon as we turned to cross the bridge and enter the castle grounds, I remembered pushing Mother's wheel chair across the bridge and I knew that when we got inside there would be a ramp down into the wine cellar where the large wine barrel was housed and where Daddy insisted he could walk. Today we had our tour guide – Gerhardt _____ who is a square dance caller, and with whom we will be dancing tonight at the Heidelberg Hoedowners. He gave us a running commentary on the castle, pointing out the destroyed powder storage tower which blew up in 1693 accidentally and was never repaired. He pointed out Elizabeth's gate which I think Kevin had point out to Mother. Supposedly it was built in one night to honor the 16 year old English bride of the ruling Prince Elector. Looking at the gate, it is hard to believe it was done in one night, even if the stones had been cut and fitted prior to construction. Tommy and I were the only ones who wanted to take the castle tour; so we all went down to the wine cellar where they were to wait for us to make our tour. Gerhardt told us about years ago when dances were held on top of the huge wine barrel (it holds 58,000 gallons and was built in 1750; a pump system allowed wine to be pumped from the barrel to the banquet hall above) – the platform had been put there long ago for dancers who danced the cotillion from which our Modern Western Square dance came. Then we took a square up and Gerhardt called a tip for us! So we are now official wine dancers or something like that. I didn't think of doing a video until after we were done when they wanted a picture; so I set up the camera to do a video and set it on a window ledge pointed at the dance platform and Gerhardt called a little more for us, so we have it on video. [Video will take a minute to download; patience is a virtue.]

We went to meet the tour at 11:15 and found that we were the only ones who had signed up for the English tour,so we got a private tour! The first rooms were not furnished much, but some of the later rooms were very ornately done – with period furniture which had come from other sites in Europe: everything wood had burned when the castle burned in 1764; all that remained was what was built out of stone. The castle has never been completely restored since then. But the restoration and furnishing they have done is quite impressive. Not on the scale of Ludwig's castles, but this was a few hundred years earlier – the days of knights and ladies and “chivalry” which was for the nobility, but not the peasants. One place we passed was the death tower. There were no stairs as it was a prison: people were thrown in there for things like not paying taxes or committing crimes. If they were lucky, they were lowered by ropes (food was thrown down to them), but many were just thrown in: if they survived the fall, they still had no hope of ever getting out; no one ever came out of it alive.

After the castle tour, we went to the Heiliggeist Kirche (Church of the Holy Ghost). This church once served both Catholic and Protestant religious: the people didn't have a choice about their religion – they were told how they would worship by the ruling Prince Elector (the Prince Electors were the leaders of each of the “state” and they elected the king wo was head of the Holy Roman Empire). So if the Prince Elector was Catholic, the people were Catholic; if he was Protestant, they were Protestant. In 1706 a wall was put down the middle and Catholics were on one side and Protestants on the other. The wall stayed in place for 230 years until it was removed in 1936 under the Third Reich. Today the church is Protestant.

There was a service going on when we walked in, so Bob said if anyone wanted to climb the tower this was a good time. I was the only one who wanted to, so I paid my 2Eu and started up. The stairs were circular – of course – and I'd gone up about 97 steps when I came to the second floor balcony area – a wood area with benches overlooking the main hall of the church. I didn't see at first where I was to continue as the steps up from where I had come out were blocked off. But finally I followed signs across tot eh other tower where the climb continued. There was one more level where you could look into the church and after that it was a steady climb of 100 steps to the top. View was AWESOME!! Well worth the climb! Some of the classic photos that you see of Heidelberg are taken from this tower. I took pictures all the way around then headed back down. Two hundred steps in all.

After we left the church we were on our own till 3:00. We went into _____ which advertised pizza but had other things. I had pizza with ham and 'shrooms (funghi on the menu) and Tommy had what we would call a Philly steak and cheese sandwich – VERY GOOD!!! After our meal we went back to the meeting place and did some shopping (got ornaments for gifts) and then went into a store to get warm. I saw that it had kitchen things and went looking for something I had seen in another window – and found it: a SMALL pressure cooker, stainless steel and very well made. I had looked in the states, but they wanted to sell a set and were expensive or they were aluminum. This one was expensive, but heavier than others I'd seen. (Got back to the room and got it packed in the black duffel bag.)

It is now 7:00 and we are due to meet downstairs at 7:15 to go dance . . . . 11:48 and I am ready for bed. Dance was AWESOME!!! Super super caller and good dancers. Soooo friendly!! We had a wonderful time – no better way to spend the evening. And on the way back, Kay and Bob maneuvered the car so we could see the castle lit up and then parked so I could get out and take some pictures of the reflections in the river. I didn't do a good job, but we got some pictures. I have got to work more at knowing what settings produce what results regarding night reflection – I still don't get it right as quickly as I need to.

Thursday, Oct. 15 – Up at 6:30. We are pretty much packed. Tonight we will put the bags on Bob's scale and see if we have to make any adjustments. Breakfast is at 8:00 for our group, but it is laid out earlier so we will go down when we are ready. – 8:00 and we are ready to go. All of the group were down at breakfast early, so we will get an early start. Rhine River cruise today and then to our hotel west of Frankfort.

Our cruise started at 11:15 on the “Vater Rhein.” We wanted to sit at the front inside, but those tables were taken, so we sat at the second table from the front at the right side – hoping the castles would be on that side, but of course, they were more on the other side though some were on our side. Most were ruins, many destroyed during the 30 Years War between 1618 and 1648. But what was standing was impressive. At least one was from Roman time, one was a papal outpost for collecting tributes, and out in the river was one that was built by King Ludwig as a collection point for taxes. The towns along the river are very picturesque, nestled in the valleys, and right on the river – as the hillsides were all covered with grape vines – COVERED!!! There were rock walls creating terraces to keep the hillsides from washing away and to allow access to the vineyards, but every possible square inch of space had grape vines on it! Even the rolling hillside for miles before we ever reached the river were covered with grapes. This is truly the Rhine Valley noted for its vineyards and fine wines – it is easy to see why.

Our cruise was a little over an hour. It was trying to sprinkle rain as we started and picked up in intensity as we moved down the river. The front windows on our second level inside became streaked with rain and the camera wouldn't focus on the shore. So I decided to move outside. It was COLD! (When we got into the car it was 5 degrees Celsius and with the wind that was blowing PLUS the wind created by the boat if FELT like 0 degrees! But if I stayed on our level (it was REALLY COLD on top if you stepped out from behind the pilot house!), there was a covered area the width of the boat and I could move from one side to the other as needed (and avoiding the cigarette smoke in the process) and still be sheltered from the wind. So I spent most of the cruise outside – and I was VERY cold when we got back in to the car!

Our drive from there to the hotel took us back along the river route we had just covered in the boat, but it was easy to see why the castles are better viewed from the boat. One feature of the trip was the Lorely's Rock (from the tale of the Loreli and from which we get the song – and a favorite round dance – “Die Lorelie”). As we drove back, Bob pointed out a little stand where they usually walked to get food – but with the weather today that was not recommended. So they drove to the area of the Lorely and there was Lorely Cafe. They had a menu with soups (Cathy got the tomato soup) and full menu, but what caught our eye was the “flammenkuchen” which turned out to be sort of crepes made into a pizza shape and covered and baked like pizza, but with no sauce – just the ingredients. Tommy and Ernest got the Gorgonzola, chicken and spinach and I got the tomatoes and mozzarella which also had a thin meat on it. Everything was delicious! You can wreck my boat on this Lorely's restaurant any time!

We finished our lunch and then rode on into Frankfurt to our hotel – through some construction which caused us to take “the scenic route” – and a little more time – but we finally arrived at our hotel – Toskana – and we got room 103 (one flight of steps of course, BUT . . . an elevator this time!!) Bob did a weigh-in of our checked bags and both came in nicely under the limit, so we are now set to go tomorrow.

We decided to go down to the little bistro in the hotel and get a little something. Got some very good minestrone soup and two chicken sandwiches; only meant to order one and split it, but the man brought out 2, so we saved one half of mine and got 2 bananas from a complimentary bowl at the desk. So our plan is to try to be up at 4:55 and downstairs within an hour of that. We'll see how it goes. Bags are packed so should work smoothly. Tommy went on the Internet and got our boarding passes set up and went down to the desk and the lady printed them out, so we are ready to go.

Friday, Oct. 16 – LAST DAY! Up at 4:55 and downstairs with our bags at 5:40. We had my sandwich from last night and the two bananas for breakfast before we left the room. . . . All packed in the car to leave at 5:50 – ten minutes early. Got to the airport with NO delays (except Kay figuring out how to get her parking ticket to go in the machine to leave the first parking lot and leave for Terminal 2 which is where we check in). So we got here about 6:30 (the time that Bonnie and Mike needed to be at their terminal – and they were our first stop and already well on their way through the airport hurdles). So we are WAY early and have Tommy's knife and clippers stowed in the checked bag and are ready to check the bags; been watching the Delta employees setting up to receive check-ins.

There are three couples on our flight and one couple (Cindy and Dave) leaving an hour later (they go to Indiana). We are Tennessee, Cathy and Ernest are Alabama, and Bob and Sandra are Florida; Bob, Kay, Mike and Bonnie are from Texas.

9:00 and we are FINALLY at our gate (D8). Cathy and Ernest are here; waiting for Bob and Sandra. LINES!!!! Well, not lines so much as we were EVERYWHERE earlier than the employees. 7:00 at the baggage check-in if not later (and we were there at 6:30). But at least there were seats. When we got the bags checked, we moved on to security and were at the very front of the line – for about 45 minutes! STANDING!!!!!!! The people on the inside were there about 8:00 and were probably ready by 8:15, but security had to be there before they could let us start and they didn't arrive until about 8:40; and then it was a few minutes till they were ready to let us through. They didn't want us to take our shoes off and didn't do the body scan machine – just had us walk through. But Tommy's shoes apparently set off the alarm as he had to go into a cubicle and have the close check done. And of course it was unpack, unpack, unpack and then repack, repack, repack. I saw my camera bag come through and the guy took all kinds of pictures of it.

“And now we wait.”

10:00 they started boarding. 10:16 and we had already gone down a LONG flight of steps (escalator wasn't working, of course, as it was take a step and wait, take a step and wait) and then what appeared to be a mile long tunnel. So 10:30 and we are backing out of the parking area.

Now it is 2:00 German time, 7:00 a.m. at home and we are about 1/3 of the way there – out over the ocean though we can't see it for the sea of clouds. It hasn't been a turbulent ride, but it has been a little bumpy. We had a nice meal: Tommy got the chicken which I think was a rice kind of thing and I got the pasta which was noodles, cheese, spinach, and tomatoes. Both trays had salad, bread (I saved mine for later), cheese and crackers (Tommy gave me his cheese). So now we are kind of in between: not time to nap from either time period, but we'll be tired if we don't. I'm going back to my Bejeweled game: high score of 31,176 so far.

3:40 – German time – Got to level 8 again and increased the score to 32,326 (at one point I had the same as my previous high score. (4 hours 37 min. left – approaching Newfoundland). So six hours of Bejeweled (classic and puzzles) and some solitaire and I am tired of punching this little screen six times to get it to do what I want. We had a snack – cheese and HARD crackers and a candy – and have had a good bit of water. Did not expect to see clouds ALL THE WAY! Had broken clouds over Nova Scotia and saw spotty snow. Trip has moved a little apparently to avoid turbulence. We are now heading more over Knoxville area rather than east of the mountains as it showed on our initial flight screen. It is 6:30 German time and we are over Toronto – finally have broken clouds and can see the ground, but still have bumps in the road. One hour 45 min. to go.

Pic 8927 is Oshawa Canada, heading out over Lake Ontario – next two pics may be sky scrapers of Toronto. MIGHT have seen Niagara. Saw the mouth of the river for sure. An hour and 18 min. Finally – 2:27 into Atlanta (Eastern time; 8:25 German time).

We had 1 hour 47 min. LAYOVER in Atlanta. That was a JOKE!!! We had 3 lines to get through to exit customs. The first one took a picture of our passport and printed out a piece of paper with our flight information and passport picture on it which we had to take to the next line. In the next line there was a man who looked at our passport and compared it to our faces to see if we matched and he took our slip of paper; we stood in line for this. We were standing in the last line (the one that actually checked our luggage (and US) at 3:27 – our flight was due to board at 3:47! Do the math. Had no idea which gate. Finally got through customs (did the unpack, unpack, unpack, repack, repack, repack thing all over again and learned that the bottles of water we had been given on the plane could not be taken through TSA – but we COULD empty them – in the trash can as that was all that was available – and carry them on empty; thrilled over that). And FINALLY found a board that said we had to be at Gate B29 – we were at F. Do your alphabet – had to catch a train to catch our plane (I must say, though, the trains are a BIG improvement over the van where we almost lost Daddy!) So of course there were two stops before our gate and then we had to get to 29 (starting at 18!). So we were moving – BIG TIME!! Finally got to our gate – people standing around; weren't sure what was going on – should have been a fairly empty waiting area. So we got in the group, noted it was our flight number, and here it said “At the gate.” Now on the sign outside customs it had said “On time.” There is a WORLD of difference in “On time” and “At the gate.” As we stood there, people began coming OFF OF THE PLANE!!! So we were not only not late (though we technically had been about 5 minutes late), we were really EARLY. We had sat for 9 ½ hours from Germany and were now sanding (or walking at a FAST pace) for another 2 hours before we got to sit down again.

So now we've left the gate at 4:45 p.m. and 4:48 are finally moving toward the runway! Nashville here we come (we hope!). 4:38 touchdown in Nashville! I am reminded of the joke about the old man who was wanting to buy a plane ticket for a flight from New Orleans to Panama City. He asked what time it took off and landed and was told 8:45 a.m. and 8:55 a.m. respectively. He left the ticket counter and came back again when someone else was there, asked the same question and got the same answer. Asked if he wanted to buy a ticket he said, “No, but I sure want to be here to see that thing take off.”

5:00 p.m. – Kenneth met us at baggage claim and we are on the way home!!

8:11 p.m. our time – 3:11 a.m. German time – we are home!!! Been up 22 1/2 hours. Going to bed!!!

Some observations. European bed covering can be very different. Pillows are just too soft, but we never had a bad night's sleep (which could have been because we walked more than we've done in a very long time – which is a good thing).

Germany and Austria are extremely clean. Czech Republic is not. But people were nice everywhere we went. Many people spoke English and were most willing to help if we needed a translation or an explanation or directions. German people do not necessarily meet your eye and greet you when you pass on the street; they would find our Southern customs in that area to be very different.

Hunting blinds were EVERYWHERE at the edges of fields.  But Bob said that the hunter had to have the game warden WITH him when he hunted so the game warden could tell him what he could and could not kill!

And Germany takes the industry to the people:  many industrial sites are located in what we would consider rural areas.  But there are towns there and the people of the area have jobs in plants that are close to home.  The other side of the coin is that they also have the transportation network to support rural industries with an excellent rail system; much of it is electric - in the larger metro areas - but diesel in the rural areas; still, they are much quieter than the diesels we are used to here.  Oh, and that brings up another interesting item:  on Saturday and Sunday "big rigs" are banned from the highways unless they have a special permit.  So you will see them parked in rest areas or truck stop type places where they wound up on Friday night. 

I THOUGHT I recycled, but let me tell you: Germans RECYCLE!!! We are WAY behind them on this issue – and it is going to come back to haunt our grandchildren.

We are WAY BEHIND in solar power at the local level. There is no telling how many houses, barns, storage buildings, etc. that we saw with solar panels on them. And we saw numerous “solar farms;” I suspect there are a tremendous number in areas that we never saw.  These are a result of Germany moving away from nuclear power after the disaster at Chernobyl.

I appreciate the security at airports and I understand the need, but there need to be more people to man the stations: 300 people trying to get through two or three checkpoints does not make for very happy travelers and will definitely discourage anyone from flying frequently who does not have to. But maybe that is their point?