Thursday, May 26, 2016

Our vacation ends

May 25, 2016

Our vacation is winding down and so are we.  This vacation stuff is hard work.  The only thing on our schedulte today was meeting our friends, Clive and Angie Morris, for lunch.  We met the Morris' almost 30 years ago and every time we are in England we arrange to meet them, either here in London or at their home  outside of Eastbourne, a town situated on the English Channel coast.  We spent a lovely three hours with them, catching up on each others families, discussing our travels and theirs, and comparing notes on politics in our two countries.  The time flew by much too quickly.  After parting, we stopped at a grocery store and picked up snacks and a bottle of wine and spent the rest of the day in our apartment reading and relaxing.

On Thursday we took buses to Borough Market located on the south bank of the Thames River right next to London Bridge.  We had heard of this market and often planned to go there but this was our actual first visit.  The market was not a disappointment.  It is an open area market located below street level underneath the overpass of the street above it.  Hope that makes since.  At any rate, for several small blocks there were stalls selling all manner of food products: cheese, chocolates, meat and produce, and prepared food to eat. The food stalls were international in their presentations. There were middle eastern food stalls, a place selling German sausages, several selling Paella, a Spanish dish, lots of vegetarian options, Indian food, British food and Swiss food. We chose the Swiss with Lynda having a plate of Raclette and Tim a grilled cheese sandwich. Raclette is a type of Swiss cheese that is melted under a flame and then put on top of boiled potates in Lynda's dish today.  We have had it in restaurants in combination with bread and meat as well.  Tim's sandwich contained four different types of cheese with a leek and sweet pickle topping. Both were delicious. The market was a lot of fun and we are sure we will return to it on future trips.

From Borough Market we took the Tube to Notting Hill. We rented an apartment in Notting Hill five years ago and fell in love with the area. While there we discovered an art gallery that we really like and bought a painting that hangs at home.  Today we went back and the gallery was displaying new art by the same artist. When we travel we always carry of piece of paper with dimenions for various places in the house that need something. The pieces on display were all too big for the place we were looking to fill.  We were also shown pictures by the artist from an online catalogue but found nothing that we absolutely had to have.  The gallery took our contact information and assured us that they would contact us if they came across anything they thought we might like and we left. While waiting at a bus stop not far from the gallery, one of the representatives came running up to us and asked if we would be willing to look at a couple of more pieces.  We did and ended up buying new art work for our lower level. The Gallery poured each of us a glass of prosecco to celebrate our purchase.  It was a fitting way to end our trip.

Tonight we will probably go to a pub for dinner and pack.  Tomorrow we fly home.

Thanks to all of you who have followed along.  We hope you have enjoyed the trip as much as we have.  We look forward to talking to you in person about the trip in the near future.

Cheers!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

London

Petticoat Lane Market
Tim with Franklin and Winston on New Bond Street


Old Spitalfields Market

We can finally read the signs!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Last night we had a farwell dinner with the Dutkowskis and Dominguezes at a brasserie our Viking concierge recommended that was a short walk from our hotel. It was a lovely restaurant and a fitting way to end our time together with our friends.  We had a great time with them and thanked them for about the fourth or fifth time on the trip for including us.

We had a lousy Monday morning in Paris, or as lousy as it is possible to be in Paris. There was a steady rain as we set off in seach of kitchen supplies shoppe that Lynda's cousin, Beverly, recommended.  We took a bus to a stop that we thought was reasonably close to our destination.  We had a longer walk than it looked on the map (duh!) Through steady rain and the closer we got to the street we were looking for the more confused we became.  We're sure we were within a block or two, but, with Lynda's permission we gave up the search.  We returned to our hotel, packed our bags, and took a cab to the train station. Before leaving home we had booked tickets on the Eurostar train from Paris to London.  The Eurostar is the luxury train of the European rail system. The carriages are clean and comfortable, there is more leg room then on an airplane, and the train travels smoothly  at over 100 miles per hour.
Check in that included security screening and passport control for both France and Great Britian was handled smoothly and efficiently. (Later in the day our friends reported a horrid mess checking into their flight in Paris)  Within 10 minutes of arriving in London we were in a cab heading for our rental appartment.  When the cab pulled up to the address we had been given, the building looked nothing like the picture we had seen on the website.  Fortunately, we had a contact number and our cabbie was nice enough to let us use his phone to call.  He said he would wait until we had sorted out the situation.  Within 2 minutes our contact opened the door and led us through what was actually a wall where we found steps leading up to a small plaza with the building pictured on the website sitting right there.  The apartment is as advertised; cozy, but not too, and comfortable.  While Lynda unpacked, Tim went out to reconnoiter the area around our apartment. After fish and chips at a nearby pub we called it a night.

Our apartment is located in the eastend of London in an area called the Spitalfields. We had only visited this area once before so we are anxious to explore it in more depth. Frankly, the streets around our apartment are not paticularly attractive.  They feature mostly low end shops, particularly  textile shops and cell phone shops where you can buy just about any cell phone case imaginable. As we left our apartment this morning we discovered that two blocks of the street were closed to traffic for the Petticoat Lane Market.  Think supercheap clothing.  Just to the west of us is the business/finance center of London.  As a result there are few pubs or nice restaurants in the area.  Tim went out for coffee Tuesday morning and encountered an interesting ethnic mix of young people heading to work. You may be interested in the fact that Spitalfields is the area where Jack the Ripper gained fame.  There is a pub just a short walk away that claims to be where Jack had a pint before killing one of his victims.  We've passed two walking groups with guides pointing out varous sites we suspect are Jack's haunts.

Across from the aforementioned pub is the Old Spitalfields Market which has been in existence since 1736.  The market is a large open building where merchants set up stalls while the perimeter of the building has a number of different types of restaurants.  Most of the stalls contained souvenir tee shirts and sweat shirts, hats and clothing that was a step above that in the Petticoat Lane Market.  After exploring Old Spitalfields Market we took a bus, Lynda's favorite mode of transportation around major cities, to Oxford Street to shop at several major department stores.  Oxford Street contains the flagship stores for such chains as Selfridges, Marks and Spencer, and Debenhams.  After Lynda's shopping sojourn, Tim wanted to walk along New Bond Street which ran into Old Bond Street. Old Bond Street is where fine gentlemen use to go for bespoke tailoring.  Not anymore.  All of the high end retailors have taken over.  Lynda saw a purse in the window of Bally's that she liked.  We went in to look at it. The price was 1,250 pounds.  Unfortunately, they did not have the color Lynda wanted.  Tiffany's had exquisite window displays of very minimalist designed jewlery.  The diamond and emerald jewlery window display at Cartier looked downright gauche in comparison.  Lynda did not try on any Jimmy Choo's.  You get the picture.  After a much needed pint at a pub we returned to our apartment, by bus, where we have decided to stay in for the night.  What that means is that Tim will go back out and bring in a pizza.  Pizza delivery elf!

Cheers for now.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Pictures from Germany


Nuremburg, Germany
Bamberg, Germany 
The Residence Palace, Wurzburg, Germany

Chapel of St. Mary, Wurzburg

Largest wine barrel in Europe 
Lynda & Becky, our Heidelberg student 
Student Prison, University of Heidelberg
The Great Hall, Univ of Heidelberg 

Our Chef
Castle on the Rhine River

Nigra Porta, Trier, Germany

Luxembourg American Military Cemetery

View from our Paris hotel

Lynda printing a page of the Guttenberg Bible

Germany to Gay Paree

Friday, May 20, 2016

We awoke this morning docked in the city of  Bergkastel.  We had just a short stay here.  Three of us, Lynda, Kathi and Tim, took a 45 minute stroll with our chef which included stops at a butcher, bakery and chocolate shop.  We were able to sample foods from each shop while enjoying interesting conversation with our chef.  After the walk with him we had free time to enjoy another picture perfect German town.

After a short two hour ride on the ship we were transfered to buses and taken into the town of Trier.  Trier is the oldest city in Germany having been an outpost for the Roman Empire.  In fact, our first stop was Basillica Konstantin, built by the Romans in the 2nd century.  The building was a huge single room.  It was designed so that when the Caesar came to Trier and met with his subjects thay were intimidated by the size of the structure and the power the Caesar had to build such an edifice.  It remains unadorn except for a large cloud like structure that hangs over the alter area, a large organ attached to the back wall with a three story spiral staircase the organist must climb, and pews for the worshipers.  Basicalla Konstantin is now a Protestant church.  We next visited two side by side cathedrals that were actually attached and had a hallway connecting the two. The first cathedral was Romanesque in design while the second was Gothic because the Bishop at the time wanted a Gothic cathedral and he could have it built.  The second cathedral had some comtemporary elements as a result of reconstruction following the war. Finally, we saw a portion of the original Roman Gate that guarded one of the entrances into the city.  Over time rain has interacted with the stone to turn the stone black.  Hence this gate is now called the Porta Nigra.  None of us particularly liked Trier.  It did not have the charm of the other German towns we visited.  After our time in Trier, the buses took us back to the ship for our last night aboard the Viking Idun.  It was a bittersweet evening aboard ship as we had gotten to be on a first name basis with some of our servers.  All six of us enjoyed our cruise with Viking. The service from all the staff from the Captain of the ship right down to housekeeping was exemplary.

Saturday morning we left bright and early on buses for Paris with two stops in Luxembourg.  The first stop was an American Military Cemetery outside of Luxembourg City.  As always, American Military Cemeteries are very impressive.  This one was notable because it is the burial place for General George Patton.  As is custom, the dead are buried in no particular order with officers being buried among the men they commanded.  Unfortunately, the first year he was buried so many people visited Patton's grave that the grass was unable to grow around his marker so a special exception was made to move his grave.  We were also shown the gravesite of an unknown soldier whose remains had been exhumed just this week.  Because of the advances in DNA testing more and more unnown soldiers are being identified and returned to their families.

After a short drive into Luxembourg City we took another short walking tour.  Our guide was a Brit who has worked and lived in Luxembourg for the past 25 years.  He gave us an entertaining and fact filled run down of the history of Luxembourg.  We once again had free time to walk about the pedestrian areas.  This is the wonderful thing about so many European cities;  their design, mostly  by accident, lends itself to these central areas where motor vehicle can be restricted making for a lovely shopping and entertainment areas.

We left Luxembourg City after lunch and arrived, after a four and a half hour drive, at our hotel in Paris.  We have an up close view of the Eifel Tower from our room.  The other two couples are jealous.  After taking enough time to check in and refresh ourselves, we immediately left the hotel to experience Paris. The Dutkowskis have been to Paris several times but  this is the first visit for the Dominguezes. Tom and Kathi were anxious to see what all the fuss was about.  First we had dinner in a typical Parisean cafe near out hotel and then took the Metro(subway) and funicular to Sacre Couer Cathedral in  Montmartre.  Those of you who have traveled with us either in real life or vicariously will remember that Sacre Couer and Montmartre sit atop a hill overlooking the rest of Paris.  The view from the steps of the cathedral is spectacular.  You will also remember that Montmartre is the enclave of artists.  Both Pablo Picasso and Toulouse Letrec lived in Montmartre at some point in their lives.  Not far from the church is a lovely square that on our first trip here 30 years ago was an open square where, in the evening, artists set up booths where they painted and displayed their work.  Unfortunatey, now it is choc-a-bloc with restaurants.  But it is still a wonderful place to sit with a glass of wine or pastis and watch Paris wander by.  The plan had been to complete the evening with a river boat cruise down the Seine.  It was a beautiful evening for a cruise but fatigue overtook us and we dragged ourselves to the bar outside our hotel to watch the lights that twinkle for five minutes on the the Eifel Tower on the hour every night.

As beautiful a day as we had Friday we had a bad day weatherwise on Saturday.  It has rained all day. Without a doubt the worst day of the trip.  We feel badly for the Dutkowskis and Dominguezes, but "ce la vie".  Tom and Kathi took a cruise sponsored bus trip around Paris, Wally and Sheryl walked along the Champs Elysee and Tim found a laundromat and did the laundry.  Evidently he has added "Laundry Elf" to his job discription.  After doing the laundry we went to the Musee de O'rlangerie.  We had only heard about it over the last year or so.  It is part of the Musee d'Louvre but is in a seperate building.  An organerie is a large room building where orange trees in pots are brought in for the winter.  It is nothing more then a really fancy greenhouse with lots of elegant furniture.  The Musee de O'rlangerie is a super big one that was turned into an art gallery at the beginning of the 20th century.  At the end of Claude Monet's life he wanted to present France with a large scale work that would give the people of France a "haven of peace"  This work is actually eight large panels that we now know as "the Watelillies" and are on display in the Musee de O'rangerie.  The paintings range in size from 20 to 40 feet wide and 6 feet high. They are hung in two oval shaped rooms and are magnificent.  Of course, we are very partial to the works of Monet and have twice been to his home and garden in Giverney.  There is a second level in the gallery that contains  modern art by such artists as Picasso, Matisse and Chagall.  This gallery was a wonderful "find" for us and we highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Paris who enjoys late 19th and early 20th century art.

After leaving the gallery we had a nice lunch on the left bank and returned to the hotel where one of us napped and one of us blogged. All six of us will go out tonight for our final meal together before our friends head home to the States and we take the train to London from where we will next post.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Changing History

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Today our first port of call was Mainz, Germany.  Mainz is the home of Johann Gutenberg and the place where he invented moveable type.  Naturally, the first stop on our walk about tour of Mainz was the Gutenberg Museum.  Probably the most astonishing thing we learned about Gutenberg was that is was 200 years after his invention that Mainz actually honored him.  Gutenberg's problem was his invention was only available to the very rich.  In 5 years he was able to print 185 bibles, each over 1000 pages long.  Compared to one monk taking 3 years to copy one bible this was astounding.  But it would take one year's wages for a common craftsman to buy one of Gutenberg's Bibles.  It was 200 years later when Napolean was in Mainz that he wondered why there were no statues to Gutenberg. Napolean had sent several of his printers to Mainz to learn Gutenbergs printing process, realizing what a history making invention it was.  He actually commisioned the first statue of Gutenberg to be erected in Mainz. We won't bore you with the details, but he never realized financial gain from his invention. While the six of us discussed the incredible vision he had for an invention that brought the world out of the Dark Ages, we also thought he should have had the vision to invent the patent.  From the Gutenberg Museum we went to the Mainz Cathedral, which, unfortunately after our experience in Wurzburg, turned out to be just another old church.  The real disappointment was that our guide mentioned that another church in Mainz, St. Stephens, contained a number of stainglass windows designed by Marc Chagall.  When asked if we could leave the tour to go see St. Stephens, we were told there was not enough time as our ship was leaving port in 30 minutes. Once on board we made our disappointment known to the Program Director.

After our brief two hour stay in Mainz, the ship sailed on to Rudeshiem am Rhine.  There was an optional, meaning it cost money, tour that was a bus ride to a winery for wine tasting for which none of us signed up. We know.  Shocking.  The ship was overnighting in Rudeshiem so we were all discussing over drinks that going into Rudeshiem for dinner seemed like a good idea.  When pizza was mentioned our server immediately suggested a pizzeria in Rudeshiem that the staff of our ship always went to.  Her suggestion was excellent.  The pizza was a nice change of pace from the heavy German food we have been eating.

Tonight there was excellent entertainment in the ships lounge. A trio, piano, french horn and soprano, presented a  concert of opera, operetta and broadway showtunes.  It was very well done. It was a sublime end to another wonderful day.

Thursday morning the ship left Rudeshiem and we cruised for three hours on the Moselle River through some of the most beautiful scenery we have every experienced on all of our travels.  There were steep hills on both banks of the river featuring many vineyards as well as magnificent old castles atop the hills.  At rivers edge there was one picturesque village after another.  This afternoon there is a tour that buses us to a castle for a tour there and then continues on to Cochem.  We have opted to stay on the boat for a relaxing afternoon of reading and blogging.

Tomorrow is our last day aboard the Viking Idun.  Saturday we will leave the ship and take buses through Luxembourg to Paris. We can't promise when we will next blog but please keep checking back with us.  Hopefully our internet access will improve and we'll once again be able to upload a picture or two.
  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Wonderful Day in Wurzburg

May 15, 2016

Important business before getting to our outing in Wurzburg.  Last night, Sunday, there was a music quiz in the lounge after dinner.  The six of us, henceforth know as the Michigan Mitt, were the champions winning a bottle of Sparkling Wine.  The quiz was not a "name that tune" quiz but more of a trivia quiz.  For example, the first tune was "New York, New York" but the question we had to answer was "What was the city in the song title called originally?"  We also received a bonus point if at least one couple from our team went out on the dance floor and danced.  The only question we could not answer was "What is the first name of each of the four members of this band?" The music had been "Dancing Queen" by ABBA.  We received 18 out of 20 points.  None of us danced to Pink Panther.  We expect a much higher level of respect from our family, particularly our grandchildren!

What a fabulous time we had today in Wurzburg. Our tour started at the former residence of the Bishop-Prince of Wurzburg.  The first Bishop named himself Prince so that he had considerable power over both political and religous matters in Wurzburg. The Residence, capitalized because that is the official name, was built to rival the Palace of Versailles.  The ceiling over the grand staircase features the largest frescoed ceiling in all of Europe.  It is larger then the Sistine Chapel.  This ceiling as well as two additional rooms survived Allied bombing at the end of WW II. These two rooms were done in a roccoco style, a very ornate, almost frilly style. They were extraordinarily beautiful.  The rest of the rooms suffered smoke and fire damage and were restored, with many of the items copies of the originals.  The Bishop of the Cathedral of Wurzburg no longer lives in the Residence Palace, no longer has Prince as part of his title, and, as such, no longer has the political power earlier Prince-Bishops had.  We also had time to wander around the gardens that were equally as beautiful, although it was a cold day (50 degrees) and the flowers looked chilly.

From the Residence Palace we walked about the city center of Wurzburg.  We saw the same architecture that captivated us in Bamberg as well as two lovely town squares.  The Cathedral of Wurzburg has two sanctuaries. What we would call the Cathedral proper is the seat of the Bishop of Wurzburg, meaning this is where he conducts Mass, and was originally intended for the wealthy of Wurzburg.  The second sanctuary, St. Killians, also called the Lesser Cathedral was smaller and was for the lower classes of Wurzburg to worship.  Nearby was the Chapel of St. Mary.  St. Mary is particularly popular in this area of Bavaria and this Chapel was built by the residents of Wurzburg to honor her.  Our tour ended at a pedestrian bridge over the Main River that was reminicent of the Charles Bridge in Prague.

While on our tour we did not go into the three cathedrals mentioned above as there were services going on in each, Monday being a religious holiday in Germany.  After a traditional German lunch of sausages, sauerkraut, and rosti, we went back and visited each of these.  We have been in many of the great cathedrals in Europe and are always impressed with the opulance of these edifices but the three churches in Wurzburg blew us away.  Probably the biggest reason for this is that they were severely damaged during the war and in restoring them many contemporary elements were used, particularly art work.  All three were white on the inside rather then the natural stone color of other cathedrals.  Not only was there a lot of contemporary art work in  St. Killians and the Cathedral, but the various aspects of the main alter area, including the alter, lecturn, pulpit, and sacriment wall were also contemporary in design.  In addition to a Menorrah in the center of the apse, the Cathedral had an art gallery in a room in a lower level.  When we returned to the ship all six of us agreed it had been a special day.

Tuesday morning we were docked in Werthiem where we boarded buses for a two hour drive to Heidelberg.  The drive was scenic through farm land that changed to hilly forest.  Our first stop in Heidelberg was the Castle, sitting high on a hill overlooking the town. Sometime in the 1600's the French army attacked the castle causing considerable damage.  When a lightning strike ten years later caused a fire that burned for two weeks the castle was abandoned.  There is still enough of the castle ruins remaining to justify a 2 hour tour including the viewing of the largest wine barrel in the world.  Upon leaving the castle we were taken to a hotel in the city center for lunch. The highlight of lunch was the presence at each table of a University of Heidelberg student who ate lunch with us. Becky, from Manchester, England,  was the student at the table we chose.  She is finishing her masters thesis on environmental impact of garbage waste solids in the country of India.  Becky was a very poised young women and a joy to talk to.  After lunch we had two hours of free time.  The three couples decided to go their seperate ways.  We visited a building that housed what was called the University Prison. Up until the late 19th century, the University had total control over the punishment  of students for crimes such as  public drunkeness and other civil infractions.  The students would be sentenced to 2 days to 2 weeks in the jail.  In reality, students were able to continue attending lectures and other activities regarding their course work.  The walls and ceilings as well as the stairwells were covered in grafitti.  It was said that if a Heidelberg student did not spend time in the Prison he was not really a student.  When the city took over administering punishment the University Prison went out of use but is still maintained as a museum.  We also visited the Great Hall which is in the Old University Building. This building  was constructed between 1712 and 1728.  The Great Hall is on the 2nd floor, last remodeled in1886 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the University.  A very impressive room, it is still in use not only as a lecture hall but concerts and other events are held there as well.  There was a display of plaques in the stairway leading to the second floor commemorating the 14 University of Heidelberg Professors who have won Nobel Prizes.  We spent the rest of the day shopping.

Tomorrow we visit the village where Guttenberg invented moveable type.  Until next time...

Guten Tag