Sunday, December 13, 2015

D.C. Getaway

December 7-11, 2015

Despite all of the exotic places we have traveled to around the world, Washington D.C. remains one of our favorite cities in the whole world.  It is a beautiful city with wonderful museums and a distinct vibe from being, politically, one of the most powerful cities in the world.  It has been 6 years since we have been to D.C. so decided it was time and thought Chirstmas would find the city in all of its glory.  Unfortunately, the Christmas decorations have been a disappointment.  The National Christmas tree along with the National Menorah (?) on the Ellipse were stunning, particularly with the White House in one direction and the Washington Monument in the other as background.  Otherwise, not much. Well...there was a lovely Christmas Tree in the lobby of the Library of Congress.

We are staying on the third floor of a very nice house a block off of Wisconsin Avenue in the
Friendship Heights area of Washington, just south of Chevy Chase and Bethesda. There is actually an elevator in the home which is a welcome sight for both of us after a long day of siteseeing.  The house is conveniently just a 2 or 3 minute walk from a Metro station that gets us to the heart of D.C. in about 20 minutes.

We arrived Monday evening/late afternoon and after meeting our hosts and bringing our luggage in from the car got back in the car and drove into D.C.  Our first stop was at the Ellipse to see the National Christmas Tree.  After dark, with the lights on, and with the way it is decorated, you could not tell there was actually a tree involved.  With careful observation we were finally able to detect a few branches sticking out of the decorations.  The area around the tree was surrounded with 50 normal sizes trees, one for each state, that had been decorated by a particular person or organization from that state.  Many were decorated by students.  We did not know that a huge Menorah is also erected near the Christmas Tree.  In this age of "political correctness" it makes perfect sense.  We thought it very impressive, but then, we are not experts when it comes to Menorahs.

From the Ellipse it was a short drive to the Tidal Basin where we saw the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial for the first time.  We have always maintained that Washington does an amazing job with memorials.  The MLK Memorial is no exception.  Tim, in particular, has always found the memorials to be more beautiful when viewed after dark.  We drove back to our apartment by way of some neighborhoods in the Georgetown area hoping to see some of the magnificent homes in their Christmas finery.  Although we found a few lights on homes we had expected more.

Tuesday morning we took the Metro, D.C.'s subway, into Washington, our destination being the Renwick Art Gallery, one of the many galleries and museums that are part of the Smithsonian. It is located on Pennsylvania Avenue, across the street from the Old Executive
Office building, right next door to Blair House and just a block down from the White House.  Nice neighborhood.  The Renwick has just recently re-opened after renovation celebrating its 150th anniversary. The art on display was all contemporary, but contemporary in an approachable way.  Later in the day we visited several modern art galleries where we just shook our heads looking at the art.  The art in the Renwick was not like this at all.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

Around the corner from the Renwick, facing Lafayette Park is Decatur House, home of the White House Historical Association.  When Jilayne was at American University in D.C. in the early 90's she evidently visited Decatur House because she gave Lynda a White House Christmas ornament for our tree that the Association puts out each year. Each years ornament is different and is in honor of one of our Presidents.  Lynda loved the ornament so much she started collecting them.  We must have close to 30 of them now.  They pretty much dominate our tree. We were here because the Association had a ginger bread White House on display that had been constructed by a former White House pastry chef.  A ginger bread replica of the White House is an ongoing tradition each Christmas at the White House. A video that was part of the display showed the construction of lots of these houses.  They seem to become more elaborate each year. Some years white chocolate was used to cover the ginger bread facade.  The white chocolate replicas are particularly life like. In another of the Association's buildings the former pastry chef was signing the book that he had written about his years as the pastry chef.

While looking on line for apartments to rent in Washington, Tim discovered a street near Logan Circle where there is a collection of small art galleries.  For those of you who know D.C. we went to 14th St. between O St. and U St. These 5 or 6 blocks that we toured had a real neighborhood feel to them.   There were lots of shops, restaurants, and bars buzzing with people who were obviously locals.  We loved it.  We spent 2 or 3 hours browsing in the stores and having lunch in a wonderful local restaurant.  After the long day of travel on Monday and all of the walking on Tuesday we went back to our apartment and collapsed for the rest of the day, napping and reading.  We didn't even go out for dinner!

Not only the paucity of Christmas decorations, but the weather is making it feel very un-Christmas like. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday were bright, sunny dates with temperatures approaching 60 degrees.  Unfortunately, Wednesday was a grey day with a chilly wind. The temperature stayed in the 40's.  We started the day at the Newseum.  This museum had just opened six years ago when we were in D.C. to start our "Around the World" adventure. At that time we were only able to spend about an hour in the museum. This time we bought two day tickets so that we could be sure to see all it has to offer.  As the name implies, the Newseum is all about news: print, radio, TV, and the internet.  The first display we saw featured the current front page from a newspaper in all 50 states.  Additionally, there were front pages from about 20 countries through out the world. This display changes daily. From there we went to an exhibit that reviewed the brief history of the reporting of the Vietnam War.  Of particular interest was a video showing how the media changed its reporting from straight forward reporting to openly opposing the war.  Most telling was a quote from Lyndon Johnson saying, "If I've lost Walter Cronkite, then I've lost the country"  referring to the country's waning support of the war.  The final exhibit we visited on Wednesday was the 9-11 exhibit. On display was the communication tower from one of the towers. There were two interesting videos.  The first was about a photographer who was the only media person to lose his life that day.  He was caught in the collapse of the second tower.  The other video featured different members of the TV media describing how they went about reporting the day's events.  As you can imagine, it was quite moving.

In all of our trips to Washington we have never been to the Library of Congresss.  That was our next stop.  The Library of Congress is actually spread among three buildings.  We started in the newer Madison Building.  Lynda had read that there is a cafeteria in this building, open to the public, quite good, and reasonably priced.  So we began there.  After lunch we started exploring this building. When we got off of the elevator on one of the floors, a couple of people asked if they could help us.  We asked where to go in the building to see things of interest.  It turns out the Madison Building is basically an administration building for the Library of Congress.  They directed us to the original building and told us that was where the interesting exhibits were located.  They were right.  The original building is absolutely gorgeous. The main lobby is two stories tall and featured a beautifully decorated Christmas Tree. (!)  The Congressional Reading Room is not open to the public but we were able to go to a balcony on the third floor overlooking that room.  It was also stunning.  Interestingly, the viewing area on the balcony was totally enclosed in plexiglass so that visitors could not disturb those doing research below.  In other areas of the building the exhibits included: the History of the Civil Rights movement, a display of one of the 5 remaining original Gutenburg Bibles and a new illuminated Bible done in honor of Pope Francis - the first caligraphy illuminated Bible since the printing press was invented, Thomas Jefferson's original personal library, a display featuring Bob Hope but also included other comedian/entertainers, an exhibit with all of Marvin Hamlisch's grammy's, oscars, and pulizer prizes, and, finally, an exhibit honoring George and Ira Gershwin. Needless to say, we, particularly Tim, enjoyed the Library of Congress.

Wednesday evening we made another attempt to find a neighborhood with the Christmas Spirit, this time we drove around a nice neighborhood south of the American University campus.  Again, no luck.  Maybe Congress has outlawed Christmas decorations in D.C. or maybe being that close to the capitol is so depressing that no one has the spirit.  We were near the National Cathedral and decided if anyone should have the Christmas Spirit, they should.  The Cathedral was locked up tighter then a drum.  There was no nativity scene outside. Nothing.  Bah Humbug!!!

Thursday morning Lynda decided to stay in bed so Tim ventured out on his own, returning to the Newseum.  There he saw a fascinating exhibit on the print news coverage of Abraham Lincoln's assasination.  The New York Herald was the leading newspaper of the day.  The paper published 7 editions in the 18 hours after Lincoln was shot. At that time newspapers were not as scrupulous about fact checking resulting in many rumors getting published.  For example, in an edition that came out at 3:00 a.m., about 6 hours after Lincoln was shot, the Herald reported the John Wilkes Booth had been captured in Maryland when, in fact, he was not captured for another 10 days.  Another exhibit of interest was about the 1st amendment.  A video presentation said that 20% of the people in our country know the names of the five members of the Simpsons TV family but only 2 % can identify the five freedoms protected by the 1st amendment.  We'll give you a moment to think.....
Freedom of speech, press, assembly, religion and petition.  Next Tim visited an exhibit about the history of news coverage, showing a time line include all forms of media. There was also a video about the career of Edward R. Murrow. Finally Tim visited a gallery of Pulizer Prize winning photographs.  Some of the more notable photos included a brief description of how the photographer shot the picture.  As in everything in life, the photographers mentioned that at times there was luck involved in getting such wonderful pictures.

During the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas there is a Downtown Holiday Market that takes place on F St. between 7th and 9th Sts.  We arranged to meet there at noon.  The Holiday Market was fun, reminding us a lot of the East Lansing and Ann Arbor Art Fairs in that there were similar type booths.  Fortunately, nothing screamed out to us, "buy me".  From the Market we went to a nearby restaurant that Lynda had found in her reading that was excellent. It was such a beautiful day that we sat outside to enjoy our lunch. The restaurant was mediterranean.  As a lunch special they served "small plates", small portions with the idea that we would order multiple plates and share.  Which we did. It was great fun and the only thing that would have made it better would have been having a view of the Mediterranean as we ate.

Pierre L'Enfant's grand plan for Washington D.C. included three markets situated in different parts of the city.  The Eastern Market, located just a few blocks from the Capitol Building was built in 1805. It remained in use providing the surrounding area with fresh vegatables, fruit and meat until the civil war, when supply lines for the goods sold at the market were disrupted. The market remained in disuse until 1871 when the city took steps to revitalize it.  In 1873 a new building on the same site as the original market was opened.
It was this building that we visited after our lunch on Thursday.  To the best of our knowledge, the Eastern Market is the only remaining market of the three conceived by L'Enfant. It anchors the Capitol Hill neighborhood, a vibrant neighborhood with many shops, restaurants and bars. It is not nearly as ostentatious as some of the neighborhoods we have visited in D.C.  The Eastern Market is not particularly large, but what it lacked in quantity it made up for in quality.  Given the time of year there was not a lot of fresh produce, but the meat and cheese stalls were excellent.  There was also an Italian shop that had a large variety of fresh ravioli and tortellini that had both of us drooling.

We left the market taking the Metro back to our apartment where we immediately got in the car and headed toward the Pentagon.  We have not seen the 9-11 Memorial there and that was our destination. We inadvertently ended up at the Air Force Memorial that sits on a hill overlooking the Pentagon.  This memorial is beautiful in its simplicity.  It consists of three tall curved columns made of stainless steel. After enjoying this memorial we figured out how to get to the Pentagon Memorial.  Unfortunately, we arrived at the Pentagon right at the shift change. It was chaos in the parking lot with personnel directing traffic everywhere we turned.  We found the pickup/dropoff point for the Memoral but never did find a visitors parking lot.  Greatly disappointed, we fought the outbound traffic to Alexandria, Virginia where we strolled King St. enjoying the lovely evening while we window shopped.  After dinner in Alexandria we drove back into D.C. by way of the Lincoln Memorial and one last view of the National Christmas Tree before returning to our apartment.

Friday morning we were on the road for home at 9:00 a.m. While the next two weeks preparing for Christmas will be hectic, boardering on panicky, we both agreed that it was a good trip and we were glad we went.  Tim will continue to remind Lynda of this during the lead up to Christmas.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Switzerland & Liechtenstein

Lynda at the Eagle's Nest overlooking the Alps

The Eagle's Nest

Gasthaus in Davos - those must have been some BIG cows!


The Alps addendum

Basel, August 5, 2015

We must be in a bit of a fog this morning. It is 3:00 a.m. in Mason.  We totally left Lichtenstein out of the last posting.  We left Davos and drove to Lichtenstein, the last monarcy in the Alps. Lichtenstein is one of the five smallest countries in the world along with Monacco, Andorra, San Marino, and Vatican City; all of which we have visited.  We stopped in Vaduz and walked around a bit.  We think Vaduz is the capital of Lichtenstein but don't know that for a fact.  What we do know is that Valduz is a beautiful town. There is a lovely pedestrian area with shops but most noteworthy is the art.  All along the street there were wonderful statues and objects d' art.  It was great to see a city so committed to art.  We left Lichtenstein and went on our merry way towards Basel.

The Alps

Basel, Switzerland, August 5, 2015

Monday morning we were up bright and early, bright and early being a relative term.  Actually, we were checked out of our hotel, and on the road back to Eagles Nest by 8:30 a.m.  Eagles Nest in Obersalzburg was where Hitler had all of his meetings and planning sessions when he was not in Berlin.  It sits atop an Alp at 2750 meters which in feet is.....
A lot. Visitors park at a bus station about half way up the mountain.  A bus takes you the rest of the way up the only  road the leads the rest of the way up to Eagles Nest.  At the end of WWII the British air force bombed Eagles Nest destroying all but one building.  That building is now a restaurant.  However, there were still vestiges of the oppulance that Hitler had created.  It was a sunny, spectacular day so we were rewarded with spectacular views of the Alps in all directions.  We could easly see Salzburg 30 miles away.  In addition to Eagles Nest, a series of bunkers were built into the mountain.  These bunkers were where many of the meetings took place and also provided Hitler with a haven in case of bombing.  (Historical note: Hitler was not at Ealges Nest when the British bombed it.)  The bunkers remain but are basically empty, concrete hallways and rooms.  We visited them but saw little of interest.

Upon leaving Obersalzburg, the plan was to spend Monday night in Davos, Switzerland.  Lynda mapped out our route that took us on small, two lane (most of the time) roads through the mountains towards Davos.  We drove through miles of spectacular scenery which Lynda thoroughly enjoyed.  It was very difficult driving for Tim.  But you all know the rule:  Happy Wife, Happy Life. We did arrive in Davos where we stayed in a typical Swiss Gasthaus, think Tyrolean B 'n B.  We picked Davos because it is in the news regularly for all sorts of important international meetings. There is a large, very contemporary Intercontinental Hotel in Davos as well as an impressive conference center.  Otherwise, Davos looks like any other Swiss town.

Tuesday morning we continued to drive through seemingly unending beauty before finally hitting a four lane divided highway.  After Tim's brief prayer of Thanksgiving for finally finding this highway we drove onto Basel, our destination for Tuesday night.  A former student of Tim's lives with his family in Basel and we joined them for an evening of good food and delightful conversation.

This will be our last blog posting on this trip as today, Wednesday, we will visit friends in Luzcern and tomorrow fly home.  As always, it has been a pleasure to report to you on our many adventures.  We have enjoyed and appreciated your comments both on the blog site and on facebook.  Until we see you back home.

Guten Tag

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sites of Salzburg

Easter eggs in Salzburg

Salzburg Dom Cemetery

Us at Mozart Dinner Concert Salzburg, Austria

Musicians at Mozart Dinner Concert

More Salzburg

Salzburg, Austria  August 1, 2015

There is a lovely pedestrian only street in the old town of Salzburg with lots of wonderful shops. This is where we started our Saturday.  We did some souvenier/gift shopping and lots of browsing as well as people watching.  We found one shop that was filled with nothing but eggs.  Real eggs that had been blown out.  We assume some ingenious Austrian came up with a way to do this with a machine.  Half of the shop contained eggs decorated in all manners for Easter and the other half for Christmas.  There were the old fashion heavy cardboard egg cartons all over the store so you could pick out your eggs, place them in the egg carton and be assured that the eggs would arrive home safely, in one piece. The salespeople were adamant that this really does happen.

Our first sightseeing stop was the Salzburg Dom (Cathedral).  This Cathedral was built in a baroque style as oppossed to the gothic style of the other great Cathedrals we have visited. It was refreshing for us to see a different style.  We made another great find outside of the Cathedral.  Regular readers of our blog are aware of Lynda's fascination with cemeteries.  Even Tim finds it interesting to see how different cemeteries are from one country to the next.  Well, the cemetery outside of the Salzburg Dom moved very quickly to the top of our list of favorite cemeteries. It really is beautiful and it is still a working cemetery.  We saw several grave sites where a dearly departed had been buried this year.  To add to the beauty, there were contempary wooden sculptures interspersed among the gravesites throughout. The sculptures were all done by the same artist and there was a small display of his work in the chapel on the grounds.  This was one of those lovely surprises we encounter while traveling that keeps us coming back for more.

Our next stop was the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  This was the first of two lhomes he and his family lived in in Salzburg.  Mozart was a true child protigy.  By the age of  5 he could play both the piano and violin and by 8 was already composing.  This first house had only five rooms with both of Mozarts parents and his sister sharing a bedroom along with young Wolfgang.  We experienced a new wrinkle in the travel industry at this site. Immediately after purchasing tickets, there were instructions for downloading a free app to your phone that was your guide through the house/museum.  The second Mozart house we visited also did this with an audio app.  Mozart's father took  young Amadeus on grand tours of Europe showing off his son to the royality of Europe. By all accounts Mozart was a happy child, albiet, an extremely precocious one.  As Mozart grew older, his father realized that Amadeus and his sister could not continue to sleep in the same room so the family moved across the river to a larger apartment.   We visited both houses and the second home was much grander then the first.  We heard no explanation that would indicate if the home had been significantly upgraded after the Mozarts left it or if, in fact, it was that much nicer then their first. While not wealthy, Mozart's father as well as Amadeus himself were well to do.  We won't bore you with further facts.  If any of you by chance have seen the movie, Amadeus, keep in mind that much of whats in the movie is not true to fact. Shocking, we know.

The Mozart theme for the day continued into the evening as we attended a Dinner/Concert of Mozart music. The dinner/concert took place in a beautiful second floor room of a local restaurant. The concert was presented by 5 string players and a soprano and a bass. They opened the evening with selected arias from Mozart's opera, "Don Giovanni". After our first course of a lemon chicken soup with a cheese curd dumpling, the musicians performed selections from Mozart's, "The Marriage of Figaro". The main course followed consisting of breast of Capon on a wine reductions sauce, potato gratin and carrots. The concert portion of the evening finished with selections from "The Magic Flute".  Dessert followed.  It was a fun evening. The musicians were top rate and entertaining and the food was excellent.

This morning, Sunday, we awoke to rain and fog.  The plan had been to drive south out of Salzburg to the Eagle's Nest, a home on top of a mountain that Hitler occupied during the war. This home is at 6000 feet and has spectacular views which we were sure would be hidden in the clouds. Instead, we visited the Salt Works at Brechtesgaden.  This is the oldest  salt mine in Europe if not the world. The mine was begun in 1220.  Sometime in the distant past this area south of Salzburg was flooded and contained a huge salt lake. Later, as the Alps were formed, the rising mountains covered the lake.  When it was finally discovered it was salt deposits. The tour took us by train deep into the mountain where the whole mining procedure was explained.  From the 1200's through to the 1900's miners used pick axes to extract the salt from the mine.  With the introduction of machinery a system of injecting spring water into the salt deposits is used now to bring the salt to the surface. A brine is formed with the introduction of water.  This brine is eventually pumped to the surface where the water is evaporated leaving the salt.  Visiting the salt mines was a good plan B for a rainy day.  After the tour we went into Brechtesgaden, another delightful Alpine village where we sat with a drink and watched the world go by.

Tomorrow's weather is suppose to be much nicer so we will head back to Eagles Nest first thing in the morning and then start winding our way back towards Switzerland.

Until the next posting, Guten Tag.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Hills are Alive and Look Beautiful!

The back of the Von Trapp's"house"
The wedding church

Interior of the wedding church