Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hockey Boy in Ireland.

Hockey Boy left yesterday for a Scouting Jamboree in Ireland.

At DFW before departure. Hockey Boy is the fourth from the right

He is traveling with seven other boys from his Boy Scout troop and two leaders. Unfortunately they had a rough time getting to Ireland as their flight from Chicago to Dublin developed a leak of some sort of fluid from the left engine and the pilots had to shut it off and divert to JFK airport in New York. When they landed there was all sorts of fanfare with fire engines on the runway, and the plane had to be towed to a gate because it evidently could not taxi on one engine. Luckily they were able to change equipment and only spent a couple of hours at JFK before they were on their way again. His group arrived in Dublin this afternoon, about six hours behind schedule.

They were able to see one sight today: the Rock of Cashel, a medieval cathedral built into a rock in County Tipperary.



They are spending tonight in a hotel in County Cork. Even though they are four to a room, knowing Hockey Boy, I bet he is sleeping soundly.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Germany Trip Report, part V.

Thursday, 2 August, 2007

This morning we enjoyed a surprisingly decent breakfast at our hotel (perhaps it is difficult to mess up cold cuts and pastries) before heading over to the Konigsschlosser (King’s Castles).

There are two castles in this area that are situated on neighboring hills. Hohenschwangau is yellow and smaller and sits quietly below the grand Neuschwanstein, which was the inspiration for the Disneyland castle. Hohenschwangau served as a hunting lodge and summer vacation home for Ludwig II’s family when he was a boy in the mid 1800’s.

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We had reserved tickets in advance to tour both castles, so we picked up our tickets, bypassing an already lengthy line of people without reservations, and walked up to Hohenschwangau.

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Our tour there began at 10:15 and was quite good. We had an interesting guide who shared lots of good facts and stories about Ludwig and his family as we went from room to room. This tour lasted about a half an hour, and then we caught a bus up the hill to Neuschwanstein.

Our tour there wasn’t scheduled to start until 12:15 so we had time to walk up to the Marienbrucke (Mary’s Bridge) which spans a gorge above the castle and affords a gorgeous view.

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Looking back up at the Marienbruck where we were just a few minutes ago.

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Our guide for the Neuschwanstein was not very entertaining and shared very little information about the rooms we saw. Fortunately for us there was an American teenager in our group who lived in the area and had explored the castle several times with more effusive guides, and he supplemented our official tour. Ludwig spent most of his adult life constructing Neuschwanstein at great personal expense, and he died at age 41 with only a third of the interior complete after having spent only 172 days in the castle. There are some fascinating photos at the end of the tour that show phases of construction of the castle.

We exited Neuschwanstein to find heavy drizzle outside which quickly deteriorated into a steady shower.

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The rain made the steep road down the mountain somewhat slick so we elected to take a path through the woods instead.

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This was actually quite pretty and peaceful, and we had good protection from the rain until we emerged below into a heavy downpour and discovered we were quite far from where we had parked our car.

The rain negated our plans for an afternoon alpine luge adventure, so we set off for Munich around 2. The route from Schwangau to Munich is about half country road and half highway. Robert thinks that the autobahn is a marvelous and efficient system, and I have been impressed with how well he keeps up with the German drivers. It is a good thing he is driving instead of me.

We arrived at the Hotel Jedermann around 3:30, checked into our room, finding it clean and adequate with a nice, if small, modern bathroom, and then left to explore Munich.

I knew from my research that our hotel was located outside the city center (we needed a place that had accommodations for overnight parking), but I was disappointed at how far it really was. It took us a good 25 minutes walking through a somewhat seedy part of town near the train station to reach the pedestrian area that marks the historic part of Munich. The street by our hotel was very crowded, with a large population of Turkish immigrants (it felt a bit like a scene from Harry Potter with all the black robes), and the crowds became even thicker as we merged with all the tourists in the pedestrian zone. It seemed to me to be a combination of Naples, Italy and New York’s Canal Street, two of my least favorite places.

We trudged on, arriving at the Marienplatz, the historic town square, at 4:50. I remembered the Marienplatz and its glockenspiel show fondly from my visit with my family in 1980, and I looked forward to showing it to Dorothy. The glockenspiel in the tower of the Neues Rathaus (New Town Hall) is a cuckoo-clock like display of dancing figures that come to life three times a day (11:00, noon and 5:00). As we walked into the square, I was sorely disappointed to see the entire Neues Rathaus covered in scaffolding with only a small cut-out allowance for the Glockenspiel.

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When 5:00 rang, only the bottom row of figures turned around and a little owl hooted; the rest of the moving parts appeared to be “under construction.”

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We found the streets away from the Marienplatz to be more pleasant and less crowded so we wandered around them for a while. We stopped in a few shops and bought some souvenirs.

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We then went to the famous Hofbrauhaus, where I hoped that a large stein of beer would boost my faltering spirits.

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The Hofbrauhaus was lively and bustling with tourists. We located an empty table in the large main hall and sat down and ordered some beer and soft pretzels. I actually don’t even like beer, so I tried a Radler which is half Sprite and half beer, and I found it to be pretty decent.

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At the table behind us were several older German men dressed in lederhosen (Bavarian leather shorts and embroidered suspenders) and feathered hats. On the other side of us was a large group of rowdy and somewhat obnoxious American college students, and across the aisle sat an enormous gathering of Japanese businessmen. A short distance away an oompah band entertained the crowd with its polka music. It was quite an eclectic scene!

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Dots loved every bit of it, so we ended up ordering dinner and staying for a while. The food and service were surprisingly good, though our standards may not have been too high after the previous evening’s meal.

The Hofbrauhaus experience somewhat salvaged our evening, but overall I was disappointed that I elected to spend a night in Munich.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


This will be a random post to wrap up a few loose ends and answer a couple of questions.

Several people have asked how Vivian is doing. Vivian started on a new medicine (Keppra) last Saturday (this was an addition to the medications she already takes). Right now Vivian is taking half of the recommended dose. In two weeks we will have blood work done and then return to the neurologist and see if he thinks we should increase the dose. I think Vivian may have had two seizures this week (I'm basing that on the nights she wet her bed - that typically only happens if she has a seizure). That's a big improvement over what we'd been seeing. But she is very irritable (see the Family Fun Day post below) and is sleeping entirely too much. I may call Dr. Riela tomorrow and make sure those side effects are expected as Vivian's body adjusts to the new medicine.

On another note, our day was salvaged yesterday because our favorite fellow movie-lovers, Donna and Reid, came over last night. They brought along several boxes of fabulous pizza, we opened a bottle of wine and we adjourned to our third floor to watch In Bruges. We all liked it a lot, though it is definitely not mainstream fare.

Today was spent shopping with Dots to get her ready to leave for camp next weekend. Dots loves to shop, so keeping her focused on the items on our list when there are all sorts of tempting fall clothes on display is not an easy task. I was also trying (largely unsuccessfully) to get Hockey Boy to think about packing for Ireland since he leaves for a Boy Scout Jamboree outside Dublin on Tuesday.

Erin asked about where Family Fun Day was yesterday. It was held in the exotic locale that serves as the parking lot of Robert's office building. Robert is presently working in Fort Worth - about 50 miles from our house - so we spent a lot of time in the car for all the *fun* we had.

More on Germany tomorrow. If any of my friends or family saved a copy of the last email I sent home from Germany a year ago, I would appreciate your forwarding it to me. The report on my computer abruptly stops after Munich.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Family fun day.

Robert's office hosted a 'Family Fun Day' today.

I had loaned Hockey Boy my camera because he was working on his Eagle project (yes, even that was preferable to 'Family Fun Day' in Hockey Boy's mind, believe it or not), thus I have no pictures from the big event. If I were talented like Bossy, I would include some cute computer drawings to illustrate our day, but I am not that clever and I am completely exhausted, so you'll have to use your imagination.

Picture a large expanse of unshaded concrete in the middle of nowhere with a smattering of games and an inflatable slide. Zero in on a thermometer reading 105ยบ (I am not sure what the temperature was in the shade; oh, that would be because there was no shade). Now envision Robert trying to coax Vivian out of the holly bushes where she has run and laid down and screamed for 30 minutes because she wants no part of family or fun today. Imagine Dots and me pleading with Robert to let us all go home now that Vivian has emerged from the bushes. Got the picture?

Hockey Boy is looking like a visionary.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Old friends, new friends.

Yesterday my dear friend Leigh called to say that her family would be in our area and asked if we could join them for dinner. I excitedly agreed.

We met at a Mexican restaurant near their resort and thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening together. Leigh's daughter Lucy and my daughter Dots are the same age, and the two of them hit it off like long-lost best friends.

Our families minus Leigh and me.

Leigh and I have known each other since we were freshmen in college. She and I took a lot of classes together as we were both seeking our teaching certification, and we double dated often with the guys who are now our husbands. Leigh and Jim were both in our wedding... you get the idea.

I spent this afternoon in the million-degree attic above our garage searching for my college 'party pics.' I finally located them, including this one of Leigh and me and our friend Elizabeth.

Hmmm... maybe I should have stored my pictures somewhere climate controlled... this photo looks way too vintage.

(Elizabeth came over for lunch on Wednesday with her girls and I somehow neglected to get out my camera then (dadgummit). I'll try to include a current picture of her another time.)

As fun as it is to find a new friend,

Dots and Lucy

there's nothing like the blessing of an old friend.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Germany Trip Report, part IV.

Wednesday, 1 August, 2007

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the lovely balcony before setting off on our own for Bavaria today.

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Our rental car was equipped with GPS which is a wonderful, wonderful thing when venturing off without your German hosts (once your friendly navigator here figured out how to make the GPS lady speak in English rather than German, that is).  

The drive from Bingen to Fussen took about four and a half hours and passed quickly as we listened to the 7th Harry Potter book piped through an iPod to the car’s radio.  The scenery became quite breath-taking and dramatic about an hour from Fussen as the Alps came into view.

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The town of Fussen was striking with its Swiss-chalet style architecture and quaint winding streets.  We drove through around 4:00, passing many buses teeming with tourists heading out of town.

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We stayed in the Hotel Ruebezahl in the neighboring town of Schwangau.  

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The hotel sits in a pretty little meadow, and our balcony had a direct view of the Neuchwanstein and Hohenschwangau Castles. 

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Special pillow, Webkinz and red velvet eye mask - what more does a girl need to get a good night's sleep?

Completing the bucolic atmosphere were the cows with bells around their necks grazing below our window.  

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After checking in and admiring the view from our pretty room, Robert and Dorothy set off on foot to explore as I sat down to type out the first few days of our German adventure on Robert’s computer (I hadn’t had time before this, can you believe it?).

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A “gourmet three-course dinner” was included in our room rate.  The fact that we weren’t paying extra for such a grand meal should have been my first clue that this was going to be less than a stellar culinary experience, but somehow my hopes were still high as we were shown to our corner table.   Doubts crept into my mind when I saw the “Disney Babies” plastic placemat at Dorothy’s seat, but our fate was sealed when I heard Tammy Wynette singing “Stand by your Man” on the restaurant stereo.  We should have gotten up right then and sought out alternative dining, but we didn’t, and we proceeded to suffer through the first bad meal of our trip.  Dorothy asked for the child’s pizza with cheese only (instead of cheese and prosciutto as the menu described) and the fraulein serving us told her that the pizza was “premade”  (read: frozen).  Robert’s main course looked like Filet-o-fish on a bed of bottled tartar sauce.  Even the lovely view from our table was marred by a plastic potted plant.


We left the restaurant disappointed but none the poorer and decided to drive across the border so that Dorothy could visit Austria.  The days are very long here, so even though it was 8:30, there was still sufficient daylight to enjoy the spectacular views as we meandered through the Alps and into Reutte, Austria.  We found an ice cream shop on the main street and had a nice stroll around the quiet and nearly deserted town.  

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Dots with her Austrian ice cream cone.

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We searched long and hard before finally finding any sort of sign that said "Austria."

We returned, satisfied, to our hotel.   I entertained no thoughts of getting up early for my free breakfast.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Germany Trip Report, part III.

Last summer Robert, Dots and I visited a former classmates of Dots's, Hanna, and her family in Germany.  

Tuesday, 31 July, 2007

This morning Rosie drove us to the river, and Dorothy, Hanna, Robert and I boarded a boat for a scenic trip up the Rhine.  

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We passed many castles, beginning with the Ehrenfels Castle directly opposite Bingen

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 and the cute little Mauseturm (“Mouse Tower”) on a tiny island just offshore,

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 as well as charming, picturesque villages.  

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After about an hour we came to the famous Lorelei bend where a beautiful siren legendarily lured sailors into the rocks to their deaths.  

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Just past the Lorelei we disembarked in St. Goar and were met by Rosie and Vicki.  

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We meandered through the little streets of St. Goar up to the Rheinfels Castle above the town.

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Burg Rheinfels was once the biggest castle on the Rhine (built in 1245).  After many wars and much pillaging for building materials, it is now only a fraction of its former size, but I found wandering its ruins to be quite fascinating.  

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There is a series of old mine tunnels that Robert, Hanna, Vicki and I ventured into.  The tunnels are unlit (we had brought flashlights), the way out is not marked, the paths are steep, narrow and muddy and never higher than a deep crouch,  and there are many opportunities for wrong turns and dead ends, but we had a wonderful time wandering around down there trying to find our way out.  It was very comical when we met up with another party coming the opposite way (reminded me of The Poseidon Adventure) and had to back into a side tunnel to let them pass.  

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Caves under Burg Rheinfels

After we finally returned to the light of day, we met Dorothy and Rosie in the castle’s museum where there is a very cool model of the original building.



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Leaving St. Goar we drove along the river back toward Bingen, stopping in the lovely town of Bacharach.  

I thought Bacharach was the most charming of all the little Rhine villages we saw.  A nice park fronts the river, and flowers abound throughout the town.  Bacharach’s half-timbered buildings are well maintained, its cobbled streets quaint and welcoming without being overly touristy. 

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We wandered around for a while, taking a break in the courtyard of the old Posthof (postal station – dating from 1724) for drinks and a bite to eat.

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I liked this billy goat grazing on the roof in the courtyard!

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Jogi has a high school friend in Bacharach who teaches wine-making at a local university and has his own boutique winery.  We met Jogi at Weingut Dr. Randolf Kauer's for another tasting session. 

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The ‘professor,’ as Jogi calls him, lives with his family on the upper story of a century-old house built into a slate bluff in Bacharach. 

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The ground floor serves as his winery with a large cellar below.  We sat on his back patio enjoying several varieties of his wines while being educated about the ins and outs of German wine-making and then took a tour of his winery.

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We left Randolf’s and returned to Bingen, stopping at a favorite local restaurant of Jogi and Rosie’s.  Called the Sonne, it is somewhat of a mix between a pub and a bistro.  Jogi ordered a sampling of dishes, all of which I thought were delicious.  

Quite possibly I had enjoyed too much wine at this point to remember to take any pictures;however I did abscond with a business card.


Once again it was almost midnight when we arrived back at their house after another full, delightful day of eating, drinking and sightseeing.