Scotland

101_0366On the northern tip of the British Isle is the proud and beautiful land of the Scots

A land where bagpipes and golf go hand in hand.  A land with castles and lochs where ghosts and monsters live.  And even if the sky is gray with rain clouds most of the year, the ground is covered with purple flowering heather mile after
glorious mile.

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The capital city of Edinburgh lies on the east coast……

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and high atop its tallest hill is the castle101_0450  101_0415
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At this castle in the sky, the Scots have a Military Tattoo

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But not this kind of tattoo.  Actually the term tattoo is a practice of playing a type of signal by the military with musical instruments that told the local tavern owners to turn off the taps or tap toe (pronounced too and meaning to shut-down) so the soldiers partying would return to quarters once the flow of booze was no longer available.

The Tattoo in Edinburgh looks like this..

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but if you don’t like bagpipes and  crowds,
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101_0550  don’t go.
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Aberdeen

Continuing to travel north on the east coast and looking out over the North Sea, we come to the Granite City, Aberdeen.  Added to fishing as the major industry, oil was discovered and drilled in the 70′s. 

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In 1308 Robert the Bruce won Aberdeen’s independence from the English; with that victory this has been a harbor for over 850 years 
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Also known as the Gray City due to the color of the granite so abundant in the area and used as the primary building material.

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The old market square bears the Mercat (or market) Cross.

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In a small old Anglican church near downtown, St Andrews, we find a tie to the U.S.  Apparently the bishop of the Episcopal (the American version of Anglican) is from Aberdeen and St Andrews.  They are very proud of that affiliation and display it within the wall of their church.

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Just down the street from St Andrews is the Aberdeenshire Historical Society.  We paid them a visit to see if we could gain any more information on our Scottish family ties.  Several years ago, Ron had received an invitation to a family/clan reunion from the Leslie Clan as Lassley is another spelling of the name and therefore a branch of the clan.

We were able to find vital statistic records as well as verification of the location of the village of Leslie, not too many miles north of Aberdeen.  So off to the nearest train stop in the village of Insch.  Ron had arranged for the village’s taxi to meet us and give us a ride to Leslie.  Ian, the extremely gracious driver, knew exactly where to take us and we were able to visit the family home (castle – rather).

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There is no place like home…..

There is no place like home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

East of England

A land of legend and fairy tales; where the princess is rescued and lives happily ever-after with her knight in shining armor after she kisses the frog who pulls the sword from the stone and slays the dragon.  The country the U.S. fought to gain its independence but with whom strong bonds of blood and alliance overshadow any differences which may arise.  It is great to be in Great Britain.

We start with London.  We have actually been to London several times, but we had never taken a river cruise on the Thames.  Gotta love those night cruises.
   River1 

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London is so full of history and incredible sites that it is easy to get stuck there and never see any other part of the England.   But even though it comprises only a small fraction of the earth’s land mass, Great Britain oozes history.  Perhaps it is just because it is easy to relate to stories told in your native tongue or to be interested in the truth that conceived the tales read to us by our mothers when we are children, but at every turn this country has preserved the evidence of its past.  

The complexities of the human drama that has laid the foundation for what so many of us have turned out to be with our particular set of preferences and morés are here in abundance.  And within many of us lives the very DNA that composed and compelled Kings, Queens, traitors and peasants to weave the trail of events that has culminated in the world we know today.  All of this history is still very alive all over the British isles and it was almost like going home to visit the places that make up so much of our heritage and see with our own eyes the actual spots where all these stories happened.

101_0199In Cambridge the venerated halls of higher education line the streets and echo with the words that shaped generations of attitudes and understanding.

 

 

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King’s College

Visitors are warned to NOT walk on the grass, but senior members of the college and their guest ARE permitted to walk on the grass.  Ahh the privileges of the upper class.

 

101_0251 Corpus Christi College

There were no signs regarding the availability of promenading upon this checkerboard lawn.  However, who would dare trod this perfect pattern?

 

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And of course, college life cannot be entirely spent inside the classrooms or walking (or not) upon the lawns.  One may also enjoy the thrill of youth by punting upon the river Cam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then north to York we go.  

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This ancient and beautiful little city has been the site of several millennia of political activities.  Once conquered by Constantine, it served as the capital of “Britannia Inferior” for the occupying Romans.  Later the Vikings came, left 101_0288 and so on and so forth.  Today the  almost 200,000 population lives a modern life in the midst of the reminders of its past.

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The old heart of the city hosts thousands of tourists in an area called The Shambles.  Narrow old streets house trendy boutiques,  cafes and the odd serf or two (perhaps the Dork(s) of York??).

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And what once had been a Catholic church, The York Minster is now the cathedral of the York Diocese of the Church of England.

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Just a touch north of York, one comes across Heddon on the Wall; a small community which runs along a portion of Hadrian’s Wall that is still intact.101_0344

We get only the most minimum of a taste of English history in our visit to the eastern part of the country.   Even at that, the amount of historically significant events that had occurred in this region is almost overwhelming and the brevity of own lives looms ever more poignant.

Connemara

I don’t know about you but in the past, whenever I have thought about Ireland, I pictured a small country with small things.  Things like villages with diminutive cottages, leprechauns and wee fairies.   However, after visiting Connemara in the west, my vision of a “small country” is changed.  For as you gaze out on the vast fields of peat and the rugged hills overlooking what seems like endless rivers, there is nothing small in what you see and   100_9958

the rush that comes with wide open spaces and the cool wind tickling your senses makes you feel big and wild; almost as wild as the countryside looks.

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                   below:  we pose on the bridge used in the film The Quiet Man 

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100_9969It is easy to understand how this land has evoked such pride and loyalty as well as the myriad of fanciful conjuring its people have created over the centuries to explain the wonders of nature and the mysteries of their own humanity.

We ride through breathtaking landscapes and see where the peat, once use almost solely as the heat 101_0011source in homes, is still being harvested.

We get out and walk a bit on this squishy surface and it feels very spongy and bouncy.   Looking at the cuts closely, what appears at first to be dirt is actually years’ of layers of composting vegetation.  When burnt, to me the peat smells like someone has poured strong green tea on the fire; sweet and acrid at the same time.

We move on and come across a beautiful lake with a story book castle.

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Now Kylemore Abbey, a private school, it was once upon a time Kylemore Castle.  Built by Mitchell Henry for his beloved wife Margaret.  Henry, a rich industrialist of the 1800′s,  honeymooned with Margaret in this lush area of Ireland.  She wanted to live and raise their family in this beautiful setting, so her new husband built her a castle.

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With its own chapel
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But sadly, several years later, one of their your children fell ill and died in their perfect home.  Margaret never recovered from her sorrow even though she had moved back into the city as she could no longer bear to live in the castle.  She died shortly afterwards, some forty years earlier than her husband.  He sold the estate to the church, needing to relocate a group of displaced nuns who, turned it into a boarding school as it is today.

After visiting this lovely place with its sad, sad, story, we head back to the train station.

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Feasting our eyes on the exquisite scenery.

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Happy to have enjoyed the expanse of beauty in this BIG country, we fall into conversation with several fellow travelers on the train and discover we

WA 

are all Washington State residents.  It would seem that it is the world that is small  – after all.

 

Aran Islands

I press my camera right up against the glass of the window so I won’t get glare in the photo.  The little twin engine, eight passenger aircraft lifts

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smoothly in spite of the buffeting the wind gives it.  We can see the rocky coast line shrink and the appearance of the tiny fishing boats gives

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perspective to the height the plane is gaining.  But we really haven’t gained

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much altitude when we begin to descend.  It has only taken us 6 minutes to make the short flight from Ireland to Enis Mor, the largest of the Aran Islands.   This small string of islands lies off the east coast of extremely rocky Ireland and is even rockier than the mainland.  In fact, Enis Mor originally was nothing but solid rock.  Over the centuries, its inhabitants have literally made top soil by hauling up kelp and sea bottom from the surrounding ocean.

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That is pretty tough when you have to make your own dirt and life on this island has always been hard.  The wind blows hard all the time.  The innumerable rock walls built to clear the areas for farming are purposely built with space between the rocks to let the wind blow through.  As the soil was formed, more crops were feasible, but there are no trees, so no wood.  In the old days, peat was shipped to the barren island, now they have electricity run through a cable undersea from the mainland.  But the elements have taken their toll on the people of the island; for many, many years.

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However, there is evidence that life has been on this island to tolerate and conquer the harsh environment for a very, VERY long of time.

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A hike up along the rock walls will lead you to the island’s edge and a precipice overlooking the ocean. 
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Off the edge, the ocean beats away at the tiny island unmercifully, but on the

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top the remains of an ancient semi-circular wall of a pre-Christian fort left by what  

people and how long ago; no one really knows for sure.

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What they call Dun Aonghasa only partially remains.  A large portion has been taken by the sea most probably by an abrupt cracking of the cliff allowing a large section, of the what was once believed to be a complete circle, to drop into the ocean below.

 
This unusual island with its mysterious past and its harsh yet beautiful 

present, is all at once gray and foreboding
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100_9907 and strong and colorful.

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If any place could evoke the dichotomy that is the Irish people; sensitive and boisterous, lively and somber, Inis Mor of the Aran Islands must be it.

 

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Bunratty & Mohr

The Irish seem to be as clever as their country is beautiful.  We had determined that independent travel, showing ourselves around as opposed to having a guide, was not an option in the U.K. as we would want to rent a car to conveniently get around.  However, since neither of us had ever attempted to drive “backwards” or on the left side of the road, we felt it to be too much of a risk and consequently an unsafe and unwise thing for us to do.  We needed to determine our best options for seeing the countries without driving ourselves (and everyone else crazy). 

There were many bus tours available, but the cost of these tours, especially in Ireland, were so high they were way out of our budget range.  Then Ron discovered  Railtours of Ireland on the internet.  Although, we found a lack of information regarding the actual format of these tours, (what actually would happen and how), we decided to chance it and booked a couple of tours that would take us to the places we wanted to see at a far more reasonable price.

So as instructed, we got ourselves to the train station in Dublin to meet the Railtours’ staff identified by their yellow jackets.   These people had tickets and vouchers for us in an envelope with our names on it and along with many other people, herded us all into a train car reserved for tour clients and off we went. 

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Across the gray but beautiful Irish countryside with its quaint villages, ancient churches and green, green fields, we chugged along until we reached our first

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stop where a tour bus waited to drive us the short distance to Bunratty Castle.  Charming cottages surround the castle giving us an idea of what life

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was like back when the castle was inhabited by lords and ladies.  Inside the castle, the treasures of the ruling class have been preserved.

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Then back on the bus, we head for the coast and the Cliffs of Moher.

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If we hadn’t been surrounded by tourists from all over the world, I could have bet we were on the Oregon coast looking at Three Capes.

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The fresh wind and smell of the sea, in this case the Atlantic, along with the breathtaking views of the wild coastline made us a little homesick.  But a stop at a lovely little village for lunch and further vistas of the lush Irish countryside made us feel glad we get to travel and reminded us of how lucky

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we truly are.

What Do You Get When You Kiss the Blarney Stone?

A traveler’s dream come true; the United Kingdom in August.  These were the plans and we started with Ireland.  We could only be there for a week, so we didn’t even try to get to Northern Ireland, but we were able to see some absolutely beautiful things in the southern regions as well as some very famous things.

101_0051What is a visit to Ireland without kissing the Blarney Stone?

But first you have to climb up Blarney Castle.

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Then stand in line…………………………………………………………………………..

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Bend over – backwards

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[above: a view UP into the kiss hole]

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Pucker up and KISS!101_0040

Mission accomplished; you can enjoy the view from Blarney Castle
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So what do you get when you kiss the Blarney Stone?  Well in August of 2009, if you are not careful, you just might get………………….

guardian.co.uk home

swineflu

 

 

What Else Rhymes with Rhine?

RhineRiver Back in Germany, we decide to end our central European adventures with a little time on the beautiful Rhine River.  The Rhine serves as a border for Germany, Belgium and parts of France and Switzerland. 

Our journey began near the northern German end of the river in a national Park named Eifel (just can’t seem to get past that French connection no matter where we go). 

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A beautiful reservoir in Eifel Park gives us a

There is plenty of pine on the Rhine

chance for a great little day-cruise.  [clik the pic to see it larger]

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river

On top of hills surrounding the reservoir, is an old Nazi training camp for the “New German Man”  Ordensburg Vogelsang.

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A little too soon after seeing Auschwitz, it was hard to really get into the new world order and nazi training campuses, but Vogelsang did have some interesting details; an obvious penchant for round windows.

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 It’s past time for the Rhine

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Known for its bounty of castles, we visited one of the more popular ones, Marksburg Castle

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It’s hard to whine when you are on the Rhine

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Sitting in a defensive position, there was the requisite cannons 
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100_9383 and equipment to be self-sufficient in case of a dreaded siege.
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Dine on swine on the Rhine

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Kind of reminds me of the Medieval Village People and the first rhinoplastie candidate 

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And the personnel adept at siege management.

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Further on down the road/river, one runs into the nice little village of Boppard (which is also pretty fun to say….’bOPpard’).  They run river cruises out of Boppard and for a very reasonable price you get a lovely boat ride with views like these:

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You will think it sublime
cruising the Rhine

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I left my heart in San Francisco, but I left my spine on the Rhine

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river

A twist on the lower-middle Rhine, where the it meets the Main River, you will find the touristy town of Rudesheim.  It is every oom-pah music lovers’ fantasy.  It is also the quintessential braid brandishin’, dirndls doffing, stein slurpin’, pretzel eating, polka dancing, schnitzel gobbling German town.  And if you aren’t in the mood when you show up at this center of folk culture and tacky souvenirs, you will be after strolling around the extremely picturesque town.

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The shine on the Rhine is in Rudesheim

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Or you can take a cable car up the hill, over the vineyards all the way to….

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The wine from the vine is on the Rhine 

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this REALLY HUGE monument!

 

 

 

 

 

Hey! a shrine on the Rhine

 

 

 

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For which we had no clue as to why it was there or how old it was or anything, until just now when trusty old Google found the Niederwald Monument Germania for me. 

It was one of the few places we have run into that had no information in English.  It was kind of refreshing actually.  We have been wandering around Europe for the better part of a year and everywhere we go, there is an English translation – exits, street signs, tourist information, restrooms, just about everything.  It has been great as an English speaker, but a little weird too as you sit down to a totally authentic meal to have the menu description written in English underneath the native language. 

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This place was great with a wonderful view of the river and we only heard German being spoken (and a little Japanese).
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Back down the hill, we checked into the Hotel Lindenwirt.   We had been playing it safe and cheap with our hotels and staying at your bland old Accors with reasoning that we wouldn’t get gypped and since we spent most of our time site seeing, we were not in the rooms that much anyway.  Rudesheim didn’t have any Accor hotels, so we went for rustic.  We got it! 

On the internet we found a hotel with the most charming pictures and it was about half of what we had been paying.  I wondered for a moment if I was spending more that I should on hotels, so we booked a double room.  This sprawling, right in the middle of town, ancient establishment has apparently grown into, and nailed together several buildings over the years; centuries perhaps.  So when we had requested an upper floor room on the internet site, to avoid some noise and they had an elevator, we had no idea the elevator would only take you part of the way.  Here’s the route.

Up to the second floor on the elevator (that is all the further this ride went).  Down the hall about 50 yards.  Through the doors outside along the balcony overlooking the beergarten.  Up 10 steps.  Into the door and down the hall another 25 yards.   Tight turn up the stairs, 20-25 or so steps, to the second and a half floor.  Tight turn down the hall, oh say 30 feet and AUCHTUNG, you are at your door!  But they do have an elevator.

The room was clean enough – geez we were just going to go right back outside and walk around the town anyway.  There was a nice little view of the hill and the quaint open air restaurant across the street.  You could also people-watch really well from the window and maybe dust off a hat or two of the throngs of tourists traipsing past just below.  The town is on a hill, so even though we were on the second and a half floor, the city rose up to meet us and almost look into our room.

There also didn’t seem to be any pillows.  Well I am a multiple pillow woman and NO pillows just wasn’t going to work, I don’t care how good of a deal I am getting.  So I called the front desk to inform them of the oversight and as promised, someone showed up shortly with a big fluffy pillow.  Only after scrunching and placing my new fat friend on the bed did I realize that I had been badly mistaken.  There was indeed a pillow already on the bed.  It was in a nice clean pillow case and everything.  But you can imagine how I might have made such as mistake as the pillowcase actually was thicker than the pillow itself.  It was the Twiggy of pillows.  I have seen razor blades fluffier than that pillow.  It actually came as close to being a 2 dimensional object as I have ever seen a supposed 3 dimensional object come.  Let’s face it, a photograph of the thing is thicker.

Moving on, we settle into our rustic little room.  We discover a brightly colored plastic case about the size of a silver dollar, but thicker (one helluva lot thicker than the pillow).  What is this, a special little treat?  Inside we find two brand new foam earplugs.  Hmmmm, that is nice??  Ah well, time to do some exploring.

Some Rhine wine tastes
like turpentine

We walk down the stairs, 20 feet down the hall, yadda, yadda, yadda …… you know the route, and we are outside.  This is just an adorable town.  Geegaw and cornishes and clocks and bells and cobblestone and flowers everywhere you look.  There was a souvenir shop about every 5 feet and they had all the things you can buy at Seaside Oregon plus cuckoo clocks.

We have a very tasty and reasonably priced dinner in a lovely outdoor restaurant with a pleasant and attentive staff.  We strolled down interesting streets with very old buildings that tell a story just by looking at them.  In short we have a wonderful evening.

On out way back to the Lindenwirt, we walk between the ‘Battle of the Beergartens’.  Things are starting to heat up, the beer is flowing, the accordions are blazing and the patrons are having a fine old time and getting finer by the moment.  However, to an on-looker it is a little disconcerting as these two establishments, facing each other on the same street seem to be having the biggest decibel contest by playing two different oom-pah songs at the same time, as loud as they can!  Oh no – one of the beergartens is attached to our hotel………….. the EARPLUGS!!!

So how do you sleep through “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree”  done in 3/4 time by an accordion and a tuba at 3 a.m?  Even my big fluffy pillow on top of my head and two ear plugs in each ear didn’t help.  Needless to say, we were not at the top of our game the next morning when it was time to check out.

So when the room bill came to exactly twice of what I expected, I really didn’t take it well.  Apparently the very good price on the internet is PER PERSON.  Like this was a tour or a cruise.   I asked them how I could book a double and not get the price of the room?  They told me it was a common practice in Europe (Accor hotels don’t do that).  I suggested that next time I came (like I would EVER stay there again), I would book two single rooms and therefore get closer to what I was paying for.  The deskclerk informed me that singles were more expensive than doubles.  She was insane.  We left.

Lesson learned:  Buyer Beware ~ even in the most charming of places ~    OR
           Don’t ever try to play Tie a Yellow Ribbon in 3/4 time                           OR
           Complimentary earplugs may not bode well

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Taking a lesson from the Rhine, we roll out of Rudeshiem and shortly we are in Heidelberg where we found an Accor hotel and a quiet night’s rest. 

When I was younger, I thought Heidelberg University was where you went to learn how to drink beer better.  Imagine my surprise to find the oldest university in Germany established in 1386.  And while I expect there was a certain amount of research into effects of brewed beverages upon the human body done even at that early date, this seat of higher education still thrives and enrolls over 26 thousand students today.

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As we walk through the old quarter of the university, we look up and what do we see, but a castle; Heidelberg Castle actually. 100_9460

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Ride a boat on the Rhine and you will serpentine

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Hmmm.. wonder what they brewed here? 

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Of course, the castle offered a nice view or two as well.

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Ron holds a postcard with a picture of the picture I was taking.

(We could have saved allot of money if we had had access to post cards of Europe and just taken pictures of the card!)

Nanny Fine would like the Rhine

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Keep driving south where the Rhine serves as a border with France and you will find yourself in the heart of the Black Forest.   So you ask, is the Black Forest really black?  Answer:  Yes, parts of it.

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See, on the right side of this photo in the hilly part?  It is pretty black in there don’t you think?

 

 

Rather than seek out the mega-touristy as we often have, we pick a route of lesser roads and find ourselves in the beautiful little village of Oberharmersbach and then say “Auf Wiedersehen” to the Rhine.

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So do you like the Rhine?  Ja  or  Nein

Czech Out Prague!

As we visit the umpteenth major European city, the traditional market square with the breathtaking cathedral surrounded by quaint to totally decorated out ancient buildings starts to blend together in a swirl of gothirenainouveau  archisculpture.  You can rub your eyes and try to shake the equilibrium back into your head, but unless something strikes you as “different” your tromp though the city-du-jour will only be distinguished by the date on the photo files of your digital camera.

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If  you visit Prague 
Czech Republic, look at the details.  Look up and under and over and around because the  glory of many eras still survives in this wonderful city.  It is full of stately and interesting buildings featuring ornate details to feed the senses at every turn.

 

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below:  what do you think this sign might mean? 
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And these beautiful and charming what-nots are attached to the most

stunning buildings.
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There is also a river with beautiful bridges 100_8919

The renowned medieval St Charles Bridge serves as the center of the city as well as connecting the two sides of the city spanning the Vitava river. 

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Adjacent to this beautiful gothic bridge one will find Good King Wenceslas and his square.
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And what would any self respecting eastern European city be without its castle atop the highest vantage point?

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A view from Prague Castle explains why this is the City of a Hundred Spires.

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Down in amongst those spires is a World Heritage Site; the Old Town Square

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with its wonderful mix of architecture and fanciful astrological clock; apostles – dancing skeletons, a little something for everyone. 
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100_8911The square’s blend of styles is indicative of Prague’s ongoing participation in the development of design.  Prague also is home to the Mucha Museum; Czech native, Alphonse Mucha who is famed for “The Mucha Style” , later to be called Art Nouveau which all began with his theatrical posters in the late 1800′s.  His influence is poignant in Prague, but prominent  in Paris where he lived, studied and worked for many years.  

Even with all of its beauty and elegance, Prague is not without a bit of silliness.

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Here, Ron can be seen posing with Johnny Depp while just down the street there is a full sized bronze of Darth Vadar.   Oh those crazy Czechs!!

 

Wien – Vienna, Österreich – Austria

The waltz, coffee, boys choir, sausages; a few things that come to mind when I hear the word “Vienna“.  But when you actually visit Vienna, you are faced with a beauty and grace which more than makes up for this somewhat unsophisticated list of associations.

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This very important European city has spawned and mentored many, many of the greats such as Goethe and Mozart.

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and perhaps Vienna’s favorite son, Johann Strauss II, the Waltz King.

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And the Austrians still revere and enjoy his music in lovely, ornate palaces.  
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In the 17th and early 18th centuries, competition amongst the monarchs of Europe for the most opulent lifestyle produced amazing art, fashion, depravity and palaces.  France’s Louis had Versailles and the Austrian Hapsburs had Schönbrunn Palace

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Situated on the beautiful blue Danube and no matter what you call it, Vienna or Wien, wherever you may turn there are statues and gardens and elaborate buildings.  There is music and dancing, and and yes; even a 100_8726
sausage or two!

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Budapest Hungary

Central Europe is a land of extremes.  As we move on with the horror of Auschwitz still in our heads, we look out the window to see field after field of blooming sunflowers; incredibly beautiful to the point of being almost unreal.

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We are headed to Budapest Hungary.  We are eager to see for ourselves if the reports of this city’s beauty are accurate………………

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Divided by the Danube River, Budapest is actually two cities, Buda and Pest who grew together to share the river
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Buda Castle and Heroes’ Square displays exquisite statuary

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Perhaps only to be outdone by the architecture of the Parliament building

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or the Opera House 
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Even the subways are charming

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And a twilight cruise on the Danube is truly breathtaking

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[clik the pic to see it larger] 

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The reports were correct; Budapest is absolutely beautiful.