Monday, January 04, 2010

Germany, Switzerland, Lictenstein, Austria - in 9 days

Whew, what a busy 9 days we just had. Our Christmas present from Alicia's parents was joining them on their bi-annual trip with Judy's German students for a week in Germany. We had a blast. There were a few sleep issues (kids not wanting to goto sleep) but overall it was great. Here's a rough map of our travels (note that A and G are in the same place).

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Today we traveled to the Little Rock airport. I dropped Alicia and the kids off at the door then went off to park. It was all she could do to get the 3 of them and all our stuff in the door.

Check-in was smooth as was security. Getting all our stuff through the machine was an exercise in patience but it all went.

So then we headed to the gate to wait and watch planes.

The kids had fun. Finally it was time to board the plane. Right after we got on the lady sitting behind us passed out. That delayed us a bit while they got an ambulance to come check her out. The pilot was ready to let her fly but MEMS (ambulance service) said no way. Finally we were on our way.

The kids were great on their first flight.

Emily likes to hold your hand when we land but that's fine. We successfully negotiated the Atlanta airport to get to our next gate. We actually beat the KC crew, they got stuck in a de-icing delay. After we boarded the plane it was announced that they had found a dent in the cargo door that they had to get checked out by the experts in France, three hours later we were cleared to go. Only problem, a plane with a medical emergency was parked behind us waiting for a gate (we would have been glad to give our up). We finally made it out of Atlanta.

We had decided early on that the kids could watch however movies they wanted to on the planes. Both kids started on Up. After dinner it was time for bed. Eli dozed off on Alicia's lap fairly soon but slept rather fitfully. Emily on the other hand tossed and turned until I gave her some benadryl, magic.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

We met our tour manager, Peter, and bus driver Jörg . We loaded up and headed for Heidelberg. We learned on the way that our tour manager is a history buff. In retrospect we wish we'd had a tape recorder to record his commentary. We checked into our hotel and learned a unique feature of European hotels, you drop off your key at the front desk when you leave. We went and toured the remains of Heidelberg castle. Trivia note - berg = hill/mountain, burg = castle. Inside the castle is the largest wine cask in Europe, the famed Heidelberg Tun. It holds 58,124 gallons of wine (it's construction in 1751 required 130 oak tree trunks). It's large enough that 12 couples can dance on it's top. This is the 4th barrel to be here. See here for more info.

For lunch we had brats from the remains of the Christmas market in town.

Alicia and the kids had a dinner of peanut butter crackers and dried fruit. I headed out to dinner with the group. We went to an Italian place for zetie in a meat sauce. Our room had a really cool looking fireplace in it, Eli got a picture of it, I apparently didn't.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday morning we loaded the bus and headed south for Lucern, Switzerland. Along the way we traveled through the Black Forest. So named because the fir trees grow so dense it is twilight all day. We stopped at a place that's famous for their Glockenspiels (cuckoo clocks). We watched a demonstration and then ate lunch. Everyone played in the snow (bus driver included) and had a brief snow ball fight. We made Emily a snow ball and told her to throw it. She immediately turned around and threw it at Eli. He returned the favor.

We drove through many, many tunnels as we passed through the Swiss Alps. It's easier to go through the mountains than over them. We stopped briefly at the Rine Falls, think small scale Niagra Falls.

When crossing into Switzerland we encountered bumps in the road. As a paranoid nation they are prepared to blow up key roads to cut themselves off from the outside world. We finally arrived in Lucerne. We went on a brief walk around town with Oma and Opa before dinner walking across the Chapel Bridge.

Then we had dinner at the hotel. They brought the kids a special menu, Disney placemats and silverware. They had snitzel, carrots, and noodles for dinner (with a side of chicken nuggets for backup), they liked the snitzel. We had pumpkin carrot soup, some pork thing, potatoes, steamed mixed vegetables, and some very rich desert. I put the kids to bed (well tried to anyway) and Alicia went on the evening walk to the Lion Memorial "the most moving rock in world".

The well trained Swiss military hires themselves out as mercenaries since as a neutral country they don't have much to do. Some of them were slaughtered protecting the king and queen of France. So the people of Lucerne had a large memorial into the side of a mountain. It is an image of a lion as a sign of courage and bravery because they thought the soldiers were courageous and brave. It also sports the Swiss cross and the French fleur-de-lei.

I mentioned my attempt to put the kids to bed. We were all up until about 2:30 am as they fought sleep.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Today we had all morning to explore on our own. Part of the group took a side trip to Mt. Pilates. They took a gondola to the top and apparently got some wonderful pictures. We decided to not spend an extra $180 and just spent the morning walking around town. Alicia showed us the Lion memorial and we did some general exploring. After lunch we met up with the group and took a walking tour of town. Lucerne grew up as a trading town on Lake Lucerne nessled in a valley of the Alps. The town has 4 main squares that were trading squares. It also sports a fortification wall. We walked up the foot of the wall and got some amazing views of the snow covered Alps and of town.

We dined at the hotel again. The kids had snitzle and hotdogs. The rest of us had a yummy cauliflower soup, a salad, and some sort breaded pork with ham and mushroom sauce and creamy rice on the side. Desert was banana bread.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Today we traveled to Innsbruck, Austria. We made a brief (30 minute) stop in Lichtenstein. One thing we noticed in Lucerne was the generous use of granite for everything (including the street curbs). In Lichtenstein we discovered the sidewalks were even granite.

While there we all paid 2 euros to get our passports stamped. We unfortunately didn't get stamps in Switzerland or Austria. Next we stopped at King Ludwig II's castle of Neuschwanstein (it inspired Disney's Cinderella castle). It's quite a trek to get up the mountain. Emily tromped 1/3 of the way up then she went in the carrier for the rest of the climb. She ran down the mountain though. It's quite a castle (at least the parts of it that were completed). We finally made it to Innsbruk in time for dinner at the hotel. We had a lovely meal of salmon served on mashed potatoes and decorated with red caviar (salmon eggs). Emily has a taste for class, she liked them, the rest of us didn't. Alicia took the kids to bed while I headed off with the group to an Austrian folk singing/dancing show. It was quite entertaining.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Today we spent the morning exploring Innsbruck and doing a little shopping. We looked at Maximilian II's (King Ludwig II's father) mausoleum. Unfortunately he forgot to change his will so he's buried in Munich. We then headed out for Munich. On the way we stopped at the Wieskirche (literally church in a meadow). It was a very ornate church literally in the middle of a meadow. In 1732 a statue of the scourged savior was created for the Good Friday procession. It then sat out in the weather for 3 years which took it's tole. It was placed in the Monastery's attic. In 1738 the statue is moved to a local farmhouse. Tears are seen in the eyes of the statue by the farmer and his wife shortly thereafter. A small chapel was built in 1738 to accommodate the increasing number of visitors. In 1745 a much larger facility was built.

We then traveled to Oberammergau for Kaffe und Kuchen (coffee and cake, a German tradition). Oberammergau is famous for it's once a decade passion play. See here for a history of the play. In short the history of the Passion Play dates back to 1632, when a local woodcarver came back to Oberammergau after selling his wares around Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, and brought the plague home to Oberammergau. Within a year, the plague had taken nearly a quarter of Oberammergau's inhabitants. In a desperate plea to God, the town vowed to perform a Passion Play every ten years if God would spare them from the plague. The death rate among adults rose from one in October 1632 to twenty in the month of March 1633. The adult death rate slowly subsided to one in the month of July 1633. The villagers believed they were spared after they kept their part of the vow when the play was first performed in 1634 on a stage they put up in the cemetery above the fresh graves of the plague victims. The performance was first known as the "Play of the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ"

We then finished up our travels into Munich just in time for dinner. Not wanting to keep already exhausted kids out too late they and Alicia again dined on crackers and dried fruit. The rest of the group went to a local sausage house and had a sausage, sauerkraut, and potato salad. Peter then gave us a brief walking tour of old Munich. We saw among other things the newest Synagogue in town (Munich has a growing Jewish population so they were running out of room). We also saw a new display of relics from the war.

We then took our places in the Marienplatz to watch the new year celebration. Let's just say it's a wild time. Anyone and everyone that wants to setoff fireworks can. Attached is a video of some of the fireworks. We all survived no too worse for the ware. Peter took a stick from a rocket to the head so we had to get him back to the hotel so we could call an ambulance. A few fireworks went off a bit to close for comfort but everyone seems to have escaped unharmed.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Today we headed out on a city tour without our fearless leader. He understandably had a headache and needed to go back to the hospital to get his wound checked out. He left us in the capable hands of our local tour guide, Roland. Roland took us around, we hiked to the top of Olympic Hill. Basically it's a hill built from the debris of World War II that has been beautifully landscaped. It overlooks the Olympic facilities from when Munich hosted the 1972 summer games. He also showed us some of the old Nazi facilities and a canal through town where folks enjoy surfing, including in the middle of winter. Video below.

Can you tell that Emily loves her uncle?

This afternoon we took a trip to the Dachau concentration camp. We left the kids behind with Opa for a nap. We figured it wasn't appropriate for kids anyway. It was a very moving visit.

The students on the trip (all catholic) went to Mass at the Church that the current Pope was arch-bishop at. The rest of us met up with the group at Hard Rock Cafe for dinner. The kids split a mac-and-cheese with chicken. Alicia had 1/2 of a bacon cheese burger and I had 1/2 a rack of ribs and the other half of Alicia's burger. The kids and I then trekked back to the hotel while the rest of the group went on a brief walk through some additional parts of old Munich.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

We loaded up on the bus and headed for Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

Emily's packed and ready to go.

This is a quaint town a couple of hours from Frankfort. We had lunch and started our shopping. We puchased about 2.5 kg of chocolate for gifts and ourselves. We walked to our hotel and checked in then headed back out to view a wood carving used to teach parts of the bible to the local population. There was also a pretty neat nativity scene.

She's got her Opa and she's not letting go.

We visited one local store at which the proprieter, Anna Lise, gave our kids gifts (little matchbox cars). She wanted to give Emily a little bear but Emily preferred the car. Dinner was at the hotel. Since we'd saved some money earlier in the trip Peter bought everyone beverages. We had potatoes, beef in a sauce, cauliflower in a creamy sauce and apple strudel. We all turned in for a short night before our early wake up call.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Travel day. The alarm went off at 3 am (that's 8pm Saturday Little Rock time). We headed out at 4:15 for the airport arriving at about 6 for our 9:45 flight. We checked in (a process that takes a while for 26 people) and then proceeded to our gate. We bid Peter farewell right before immigration. We finally boarded our plane, got deiced, and headed out about 30 minutes late. It was snowing so hard it looked like it was foggy. The kids napped some on the plane (Emily more than Eli), watched some movies, ate lunch, etc. We got to atlanta at about 2 (9pm to our bodies). After getting through immigration (a process that the US could take from lessons from other countries). We got to our gate and discovered that our plane was running late so instead of leaving Atlanta at 4:45 we wouldn't leave until 7:10. After 3 gate changes and lots of waiting around we finally got on our plane.

Our flight attendant put as much humor into the safety speech as she could. The kids were asleep before we pushed back. Alicia and I were asleep before we took off. The kids had to be awakened at the gate in Little Rock, Alicia and I woke up about an hour into the flight.

While we made it to Little Rock our bags (along with most of the baggage for our plane, the plane right after ours, and one coming from somewhere else didn't get loaded on the plane) so we went home bagless. We put the kids in bed right after we got home. We took showers and were right behind them.

Monday, January 4, 2010

We awoke this morning to the phone ringing at 6:00 am telling us that school was closed for the day due to the weather. I crawled back in bed (since I had taken the day off) and awaited the kids arousal. They slept until about 7:30. So far today they have played in the snow and with toys they've missed for the past week.