Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Returning home from Germany

Frankfurt train station

We awoke at 6 am, drank a quick cup of tea, then checked out of the Concorde Hotel. We walked a couple of blocks to the train station, where we caught the light rail to the airport. The trip was less than 30 minutes, and the train was packed with standing room only. Cindy and I were able to get boarding passes online, but Mary and Jodie had to check in at the airport. Although the line was long, it moved quickly, and the ticket agent was very helpful. After showing our passports at the first checkpoint, we picked up sandwiches at the airport and ate them outside security. The line at security was also long, and the Italian couple in front of us had 10 trays full of items to check in. Many of the things they were carrying were confiscated including fruit, yogurt and other items that were clearly marked as not to be carried onboard the flight. Needless to say, that took a long time while we waited. Fortunately, they were not on our flight. For some reason, Mary’s tickets did not identify her as a “trusted traveler,” and she was selected for a secondary screening. She said that she would see a ticket agent in Charlotte to get that corrected.

The flight from Frankfurt to Charlotte, NC boarded on time and was as comfortable as an economy flight can be. One man who had terrible difficulty walking or even standing took forever to reach his seat toward the rear of the aircraft. He had a young woman with him as his assistant, but she didn’t seem to be very helpful. He had quite a struggle to move to his seat.

We were sitting in the middle section of the 777 that was four seats across. The lady next to Mary coughed up a lung for the entire flight. She saw us putting N95 masks on and explained that the cough isn’t a problem because she has had it for three months! The large man behind us sneezed hard enough to part our hair. We would have asked to be reseated, but the flight was nearly full. It will be a wonder if we don’t come home with COVID, flu, cold or TB. We will self sequester for a few days until we have indications if we have contracted something. There was an infant in the row in front of us, but we never heard a sound from the child. Cindy and Jodie were a few rows in front of us but on the other side of the plane. 

The in-flight meal was meatballs, mashed potatoes, salad, roll and lemon cake. Like other international flights, there were lots of drink options including red or white wine. There was a snack of ice cream about midflight, then a breakfast of a chicken or hummus wrap. We read and dozed for the nine-hour flight which was very smooth.

Upon landing in Charlotte, we headed toward customs. Thanks to the Global Entry cards, the process couldn’t have been easier. We went to a kiosk with no line where facial recognition software entered our travel information. An agent asked if we were bringing meat, fruit, vegetables or a quantity of alcohol into the country then gave us a priority card for bag check. We picked up our checked bags from the Frankfurt flight and put them in the bag drop for our flight to Lexington. Homeland security agents with dogs were around the bag check area for incoming international passengers. Mary saw a ticket agent who issued her a boarding pass identifying her as a “trusted traveler which sped our screening through the US security check.

We separated from Cindy and Jodie so Jodie could interview with Homeland Security for her Global Entry card. She had already completed the registration and background check and only needed to have a face-to-face interview to complete the process. Mary and I walked around Charlotte airport for about 30 minutes then it was time to board our flight to Lexington. Like every other flight that we have been on, this flight was mostly full for the short flight to Lexington.

We landed in Lexington earlier than scheduled and our bags were among the first on the carousel, so we were out of the airport in record time. Emily and Ian had parked our car at the airport for us, and we found it quickly. Since it was a little after 6 pm when we left the airport, we stopped at Grimes’s Chicken on the way home. We were back at the house about 7 pm and mostly unpacked by 8. We would do laundry on Wednesday and stock in groceries. We knew that, with a six hour time difference, it would take a little time to adjust being back in our home time zone.

Like our other adventures, the trip was a memorable one. Everyone had a great time, although each of us had varying favorite cities. We left hoping to return to Germany and Austria soon.

Monday, December 11, 2023


We were able to take advantage of the breakfast at the Hotel Hollendar Hof before checking out and boarding our taxi to the train station. The front desk had already called for the taxis before we checked out, so we were able to get on the way to the train station by 8 am.

Concorde Hotel in Frankfurt

Although the taxi ride wasn’t long, there was a good deal of traffic on this Monday morning. We were glad to have the taxi service. Once at the train station, we were able to find our train to Frankfurt easily. However, once we were at the train, we learned that there was a technical problem so we had to walk to another track in the station. The train was fairly crowded, but we were able to get seats for the short ride between Heidelburg and Frankfurt. The Concorde Hotel in Frankfurt was only a few blocks away from the train station and was easy to find. This hotel isn’t far from the hostel where we stayed in Frankfurt in 2010.

Frankfurt skyline

Although it was only 11 am when we arrived at the hotel, a room was ready for Mary and me. The four of us piled our luggage into the one room then went exploring in Frankfurt. This is the only hotel where we stayed without an in-room safe. Because of that, we carried our remaining cash with us when we went out. We were also interested that the bathroom in the hotel room had a circular window. The presumptions is that they appearance was to resemble a Concorde jet. We really had no idea, but the room was clean and quiet. 

Cathedral of St. Bartholomew

We took a subway from the nearby train station to Frankfurt’s old town, exiting the subway at the Imperial Cathedral of St. Bartholomew. The church suffered significant damage following bombing by the Royal Air Force in March 1944. The church and 312 foot spire were reconstructed in the 1950s. After touring the 1500 year old cathedral, we walked along the river crossing a couple of bridges and taking snapshots of the historic old buildings as well as Frankfurt’s modern economic center. We were amused by flocks of Egyptian geese, Greylag geese and Moorhens along the Main River.

Mary at La Casa del Gelato

When we arrived back in the old town, we walked through the Christmas markets picking up a few gifts for family back home. We ate kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), Frankfurt style bratwurt and other sandwiches for our late lunch. We had dessert at a sidewalk café, La Casa del Gelato. Cindy and I got Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Chocolate Cake), Jodie got a an ice cream parfait and Mary had spaghettieis, which is ice cream that has been extruded to look like spaghetti. Everyone enjoyed the dessert. The subway wasn’t far from us, so we went back to the Concorde Hotel by around 5 pm to pack up for our flight back to the US. 

Frankfurt Christmas Market

Mary and I walked back to the train station to confirm the quickest route that would take us to the light rail tomorrow. Our flight isn’t until 10 am, but we need to be there early to check in, drop baggage and get through security. Once back at the Concorde Hotel I read a book from the Lexington Public Library while Mary, Cindy and Jodie chatted until 7 or so. We turned in at 9 pm hoping to sleep well ahead of the long flight home tomorrow.

Sunday, December 10, 2023


Heidelberg's Old Bridge

Although alarms were set for 6 am, we awoke around 5:45 and completed packing, did our morning German lessons and prepared for our trip to Heidelberg. Checking out online was easy then we had a quick breakfast at the King’s Hotel before starting toward the train station at 7:15. The same route as last night through the subway access underground got us quickly to the train station. The temperature in Munich was in the upper 40s and snow on the streets was becoming slush. We were at the platform when our train to Heidelberg arrived, and were pleased to get seats with a table. On the nearly three-hour train ride Jodie slept, Mary and Cindy played cards, and I read a book that I had checked out of the Lexington Public Library. The train was less than a quarter full so we had plenty of room in the car.

Kartoffelpuffers in Heidelberg

After we had been on the train from Munich to Heidelberg for about two hours, the conductor announced in German that the train would not be stopping in Heidelberg but would, rather, stop in Friedrichsfeld. We exited the train there and caught a short regional train to Heidelberg. We waited outside at Friedrichsfeld for about 40 minutes for the train to arrive to take us for less than 30 minutes to Heidelburg’s main train station. On exiting the station, we found a Mercedes taxi to take us to our hotel in the Old Town area of Heidelberg. 

Hotel Hollander Hof in Heidelberg
We were pleased that the Hollander Hotel Hof was at the bridge crossing the Neckar River and near Heidelberg Castle and the Christmas markets. Although it was just noon when we arrived at the hotel, we were able to check in at our second-floor rooms. The hotel is very historic, dating back to 1787 but still has modern amenities in the rooms. We unpacked a little then walked to the nearby Christmas market for lunch. We had potato pancakes (kartoffelpuffers), Heidelberg style bratwursts on a roll with sauerkraut and Mary had a Feuerkuchen which is a thin flatbread with mild peppers and goat cheese. We had glühwein and hot chocolate as we walked. 
Heidelberg Castle

After lunch we took the funicular rail up to Heidelberg Castle. Construction on the castle began in 1214 and was completed by 1224. The castle is partly in ruins and partly intact since it sustained damage several times during the 30 Years War. The most significant damage was in 1622 during an attack by the Swedes. Of course, additional damage from weathering and age have taken a toll on the structure. Parts of the castle have been rebuilt, but current efforts appear to focus on stabilizing the palace as it exists today. We took some photos, but since we have been here two before (2010 and 2014) we didn’t take a lot of pictures. Unlike previous trips, we elected not to have a guided tour inside the castle. Probably the most popular feature of Heidelberg castle are the huge wine barrels in the lower level. The largest barrel has a capacity of 220,000 liters (58,124 gallons) and has a diameter of 8.5 meters (nearly 28 feet).

Jodie, Cindy & Mary with wine barrel

After leaving the castle we elected to walk down the steep road to the town rather than taking the incline rail. We walked across the bridge over the Neckar then came back across. Cindy and Jodie wanted to Christmas shop a bit more so they walked to the Kathe Wohlfahrt store in Heidelburg’s Old Town.

Heidelberg Castle as seen from the Neckar River
Mary & I walked across the Neckar River to look at Heidelburg from that perspective. After meeting back up, Mary, Cindy and Jodie wanted a bite to eat, so they went to the coffee shop adjacent to the hotel and had hot soups (lentil or sweet potato) and a local dessert. I walked along the river while they ate. After dinner, Cindy and Jodie took a few photos then went up to their room. Mary and I took another walk around the old town. We didn’t go up the hill on Philosopher’s Walk but enjoyed the view of the beautiful and historic old city. We walked by the prestigious Heidelburg University which has been in the city since 1386 and has produced 57 Nobel Prize winners. After our walk, we came up to our room at 6 pm. We planned to meet for breakfast at the Hotel Hollander at 7 am then take a taxi to the train station for our 7:45 trip to Frankfurt, our final destination.

Saturday, December 9, 2023

Salzburg, Austria

Our hotel in Munich

Although the alarm was set for 6:30, we awoke at the King’s Hotel a little after 6 am to shower and do our daily German lessons. We met Cindy and Jodie at breakfast, which, as always, was excellent. At 9 am we left the hotel for the train station and found the train that would take us to Salzburg, Austria, where we would meet the Panorama Tours group for the “Sound of Music” tour. Because the rail strike had been resolved, there were many passengers on the train who, like us, had planned to take this train earlier in the week. We were fortunate to find four seats together for the 90 minute high speed rail trip to Salzburg. It appeared that nearly every seat in our car was taken.

Sacher Hotel in Salzburg

After arriving in Salzburg, we did our usual walk around the city from the train station until we got our bearings and headed for Mirabell Park in the old part of Salzburg. We walked by Mozart’s birthplace and the Sacher Hotel, famous for their Sacher Tort, a small cake selling for 50 euros. We could see St. Peter’s Archabbey that has been in Salzburg since 696 AD. It is still a Benedictine monastery, producing a popular local beer. Nonnberg Abbey across the river from the monastery is where Maria Von Trapp was training to be a nun and was later married to Col. Von Trapp. We walked through the Mirabell Christmas Market then through the nearby Mirabell Gardens where several scenes of “Sound of Music” were filmed. At 2 pm we met the Panorama Tours bus at Mirabell Plaza and boarded the bus taking us to sites from the Sound of Music movie as well as authentic places where the Von Trapp family lived.

Cindy, Mary & Jodie in Salzburg

On the tour, we learned that the movie crew was in Salzburg for 11 weeks for filming, using many homes, parks and street scenes. Most of the residents of Salzburg were unaware or apathetic of the movie filming. Our guide told us that the film crew decided to film a street scene early in the day since Nazi flags would be hung throughout the town. They wanted to have the flags removed before the town’s residents awoke and moved around town. However, light rain caused a delay in filming. The flags hung longer than expected, upsetting many since filming was done less than 20 years after the end of the war.

Castle Leopoldskron

The guide also told us that three houses were used to film the Von Trapp home. Scenes showing the grounds of the home were shot at a small man-made lake at Castle Leopoldskron, shots of the home’s exterior were filmed at Hellbrunn Castle and interior scenes were shot in a Hollywood studio. In reality, the marriage of Georg and Maria took place in Nonnberg Abbey, the only wedding ever to have taken place there in their 1300 year history. The film crew was not permitted to use the Abbey for filming, so a chapel in Mondsee was used.

The bus stopped for us to exit at the lake at Castle Leopoldskron, where the boat scene was filmed. We took a few snapshots and learned how the smallest child nearly drowned in the scene when the boat capsized.

Gazebo from The Sound of Music

We drove past Nonnberg Abbey then on to Hellbrunn Palace before we got out again. There was a bustling Christmas Market at Hellbrunn, but we just walked around to the park where the gazebo was relocated after the completion of filming. This is the smaller gazebo used for filming. A second, larger, gazebo is on a Hollywood backlot. We were only out of the bus for a few minutes, long enough to take a few pictures. We walked along a path was used in several scenes where Maria was walking with the children.

Mondsee, Austria

Our final stop was at Mondsee, where the wedding scenes were filmed. We had nearly an hour to visit the small Christmas market and see the chapel. We walked by the lake then on to the bus to return us to Salzburg. Our train from Salzburg to Munich was scheduled to depart Salzburg at 8 pm, arriving at Munich’s main station a little before 10 pm. Since we had already walked through the gardens at Mirabell, we skipped that part of the tour after leaving the bus. We hoped to catch an earlier train for Munich just after 6 pm, but once arriving at the train station, we learned that the earlier train had been cancelled. To use the 90 minutes or so until our scheduled departure, we walked around the small Salzburg train station. Cindy and Jodie had a hot chocolate from a McDonalds in the train station. We were glad to have a warm place to sit. The weather in and around Salzburg had actually been very good with temperatures in the mid 30s and little wind. The warm McDonalds still felt good to us.

Our train to Munich was an ICE but still had a number of stops at towns between Salzburg and Munich. The train was fairly full, probably because of the cancellation of the 6 pm route as well as rail strikes earlier in the week. As we crossed from Austria into Germany, the police came through the train car checking for passports, which we had easily accessible in my backpack.

There was a light rain as we walked from the train station to the hotel so we stayed underground in the subway system until we were as close as possible to the King’s Hotel. Everyone went straight to the rooms and prepared for an early departure to Heidelberg on Sunday morning.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castles

Linderhof Castle

We had another nice breakfast at the King’s Hotel in Munich around 7 am then walked the short distance to meet the bus taking us to Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castles. After getting disoriented a time or two, we found the location of the meeting with the Mentor Reisen tour group for the day trip to the castles in the Bavarian Alps. We explained to the tour guides about having to take this tour on Friday since we were unable to take the train to Salzburg as planned because of the rail strike. The guide, Christine, welcomed us aboard and gave us the documents we would need for entry to the two castles. The coach was about half full, and we departed shortly after 9 am for the nearly two-hour drive to Linderhoff Castle.   

Neuschwanstein Castle

During the two hour bus ride, Christine told us some of the history of the Wittelsbach family, including Ludwig I and Ludwig II who ruled Bavaria from 1323 - 1777. Ludwig I (1786-1868) was the popular Bavarian king, whose marriage to Queen Theresa is celebrated at each year at Oktoberfest. His grandson, Ludwig II (aka Mad King Ludwig) built both Castle Linderhof and Neuschwanstein Castle in the late 1800s. Castle Linderhof was the only castle that was completed during Ludwig II’s lifetime. 

Hohenschwangau Castle

Ludwig II was infatuated with medieval castles and the opulence of Louis XIV. He grew up being cared for by nannies and tutors and seldom interacted with his parents or other children except at official events. He disliked being around people and wanted to spend most of his time in the seclusion of the Schwangau area of Bavaria. He spent a lot of time as a child at Hohenschwangau Castle and had Lindhoff Castle built as a home. This modest castle was built on the site of his father’s (Maximilian I) hunting cabin, which he had relocated a short distance away. 

Cindy & Jodie at Neuschwanstein

Later he started work on Neuschwanstein Castle, which was to be his masterpiece. Ludwig supervised all aspects of the construction of Neuschwanstein, wanting it to be a small version of the Palace of Versailles infused with aspects of Wagner operas. Many of the rooms contain gold gilded fixtures, fine imported porcelain, ivory and detailed scenes from Wagner. While the two castles had a large staff, Ludwig seldom interacted with the staff. He had a small dining table in his private quarters that could be lowered to the kitchen where servants would place the meal and raise it up to the king. After the meal, the table would be lowered to the kitchen. Even though he disliked guests and never planned to host anyone at the castles, Neuschwanstein had meeting rooms and guest chambers.

Steve & Mary at Neuschwanstein

He was briefly engaged to Duchess Sophie Charlotte but could not go through with the marriage. Ludwig was judged to be unfit for service due to insanity and was placed under guard in another Wittelsburg place even though he had never been evaluated by a psychiatrist. Afterwards, he was visited by a mental health professional, Bernard von Gudden. On one occasion, Ludwig and von Gudden took a walk around a nearby lake but failed to return. Their bodies were found in the lake, and their deaths were determined to be from drowning. The official report suggested that Ludwig had drowned the doctor then himself even though the lake was very shallow.

Fairy tale murals on a house in Oberammergau
After leaving Linderhof, the bus drove through the town of Oberammergau, where the passion play is held every ten years. The town was so ravaged by the Black Plague that nearly every household had lost family members. The residents of the town prayed for an end to the deaths and promised to hold a passion play in thanks. It is reputed that there were no further plague victims after the prayer, and the village has held the event every ten years since. Nearly a half million visitors are drawn to Oberammergau to see the six hour play every year ending with a zero. We noticed that many of the homes in the village had murals on the outside depicting Grimm’s fairy tales or other stories. Most of these murals were over 100 years old.
Carriage to Neuschwanstein

When we arrived at Neuschwanstein, we bought currywursts at a nearby stand. Afterwards we walked up the mountain for a little over a mile to the castle for our 3:15 tour time. It rained lightly, which started to melt the over foot of snow on the ground. At places the cold ground made the rain turn to ice. Christine told us that this year has had more snow than any year since 2010. Coincidentally, 2010 was the last time we were at Neuschwanstein, when Emily was in college in Germany The air temperature was in the mid-30s, which did not feel bad. We stopped at several points with was a good view of the castle for a photo. We arrived at the castle entrance in plenty of time for our tour.

Steve & Mary at Neuschwanstein

Like the guide at Linderhoff, our guide at Neuschwanstein was very good. She spoke excellent English, although we detected a good bit of Scottish in the voice. We confirmed with her that she did spend a good bit of time in Scotland. As we recalled, the décor at Neuschwanstein was over the top, especially for a castle that was never used, or even completed. However, photos of the interior of the two castles are not permitted.

We completed the tour a little before 4 pm then (of course) exited through the gift shop and walked down the mountain for just over a mile. Because of the rain and the warming temperatures (about 34 F), the snow continued to melt on the road down the mountain. Occasional horse-drawn carriages passed on the road along with a small pickup truck scooping the horse droppings from the road. We were down the mountain in less than 30 minutes and were pleased to be on the warm bus for the over two hour ride back to Munich.

Neuschwanstein at dusk

As we passed through the villages along the way to the autobahn, we noticed that very few homes along the way had Christmas decorations visible . Businesses catering to tourists tended to have Christmas lights hung outside. As the bus neared Munich, there was a good bit of traffic, not surprising for a Friday evening in a city the size of Munich. We were happy that we were not driving in the cold rain. Because it was early December at this northern latitude, it was completely dark by 5 pm. We were back at the King’s Hotel in Munich before 7 pm and went to our rooms to get rid of our damp outerwear. 

Mary wanted to relax in the room, but Jodie, Cindy and I went to the hotel bar. We received a 10 euro voucher for electing to not have housekeeping service our room. Cindy had an amaretto, I had raspberry schnapps and Jodie had hot tea. The bartender brought us complementary glühwein that was delicious along with a jar of peanuts. The hotel front desk clerk and the bartender joined us for our little picnic and conversation. Both she and he were very pleasant and chatted with us for a long time since we were the only ones in the lobby that evening. Our group went to our rooms around 9:30 and planned to meet for breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.

Thursday, December 7, 2023


Breakfast at the Hotel Victoria was very nice. As usual, the breads, cheeses and cereals were good, but we also had options for eggs or other hot items. Mary and Jodie opted for French toast but Cindy and I had the more continental breakfast.

One of Munich's many Christmas markets

We checked out of the hotel after giving the desk clerk some postcards to mail to family back in the US. Since the Nuremberg train station was such a short distance, it took only a few minutes to walk. This morning felt much warmer than previous mornings despite the light rain. After arriving at the station, we learned that our train to Munich was canceled. The cancellation was apparently due to the rail strike making travel less predictable. Mary and Cindy checked with the help desk and got our tickets moved to another train only a few minutes later. This train required a transfer to another train midway but that was fine with us.

The train was an express train (ICE) and took us through some beautiful country in Bavaria. There were lots of fields and woodlands with a blanket of snow covering everything, making postcard views from the train windows.

Our hotel in Munich

The King’s Hotel in Munich wasn’t far from the train station so we found it fairly quickly. Cindy and Jodie’s room was ready, but ours wasn’t available yet so we piled our things into Cindy and Jodie’s room while we walked to the subway to take us to Munich’s Old Town.

Munich's Imperial Palace

The first stop was at the Munich Imperial Palace built in the early 1500s. We checked our backpacks and got our tickets for the self-guided tour of the royal residence. The palace was huge with 130 ornately decorated and furnished rooms. The palace suffered some damage during WWII, but most of the restoration is now complete. We noticed that several features have been restored at the Imperial Palace since our visit in December 2010. We picked up voice guides in English, but the signage in the palace was good so that we didn’t really need the narration. One of the most spectacular rooms in the residence is the Antiquarium with ornately painted ceilings and walls covered with statues and statues. We left the palace around 2:30 and walked to the nearby site of the Beer Hall Putsch, the location of Hitler’s attempted takeover in 1923 that landed him in jail for treason for one year. During this time, he wrote Mein Kampf.

Mary & Cindy share a pretzel at Hofbrauhaus

The walk to Hofbräuhaus Munich was not long, and we were able to get a seat at the family style tables despite the beer garden being very crowded. A couple of journalists from Miami joined us at our table and had good conversation. Mary had the Vienna style schnitzel while I picked the Munich style schnitzel, which was prepared with a little sharp mustard. Cindy had the goulash, and Jodie had kasespatzel which is German noodles with cheese and fried onions. We shared a large pretzel as an appetizer and tastes of apple strudel for dessert. I had a half liter weiß bier and a half liter dunkel bier. Both were very good and refreshing. Cindy had a Rockler, which is comparable to a shandy. Everyone seemed pleased with their meal. We had been here with Emily while she was in college in Germany in 2010 and have since been to Hofbräuhaus restaurants in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and other US cities.

Subway station in Munich

We walked to the subway to return to the train station which was near our hotel. Upon returning to the hotel we learned that the train that we had planned to take to Salzburg, Austria on Friday was cancelled because of the rail strike. However the strike was to end on Friday afternoon so we could be rescheduled for Salzburg on Saturday. After Cindy spoke to representatives from to-europe.com we were scheduled to take a bus to southeastern Bavaria on Friday to visit Neuschwanstein and other sites in the Bavarian Alps. Basically, we flipped Friday and Saturday’s schedules. There is snow forecast for that area tomorrow, so we are hopeful that all continues to go well. Everyone is predicting that the rail strike will end on Friday.

The King’s Hotel is very nice and well positioned for our time in Munich. We will be spending three nights in Munich since we will leave for Schwangau and Salzburg from here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023


Craft guild just outside our Nuremburg hotel

We awoke at the Reichsküchenmeister Hotel around 6 am and relaxed until it was time to go to breakfast at 7:30. As with the morning in Würzburg, breakfast was very good with a selection of fresh breads, cheeses, cereals, fruits and juices. Sausage and eggs were also available. We enjoyed breakfast with Cindy and Jodie then gathered our bags for the walk to the train station about 20 minutes away. We were cautious because we had to make two transfers before arriving in Nuremberg, but we sat with two local ladies who were very helpful in guiding us to the correct track for the trains we needed. Since both of these ladies take these trains for their daily commute, we had confidence in their knowledge of the best route. One of the ladies had a bright orange umbrella making her easy to find in a busy train station. The trains went through mostly agricultural land and small villages between Rothenburg and Nuremberg. Corn and rapeseed are the dominant crops in the region. We even saw quite a few stands for deer hunting near the fields.

Our hotel in Nuremburg

Our hotel, The Victoria, was just inside the Nuremberg city gate and only short walk from the train station. Because we were at the hotel before 10 am, we couldn’t check in, but the clerk was happy to store our bags until we returned in the afternoon.

We walked through the Old Town market and the Christmas Market, stopping for a hot chocolate along the way. Like all other cities in Germany, hot drinks are sold in a porcelain cup with a deposit that can be redeemed by returning the cup to any drink vendor in the city. As we walked, Cindy spotted a young man with a WVU knit cap. His family of four was visiting Germany from Martinsburg, WV, so we had a nice visit before walking toward the Imperial Castle.

Outside Nuremburg's Imperial Residence

We walked up the hill to Imperial Castle which housed the region’s rulers as far back as the 1200’s. The structures have changed some over the 800 years but is mostly as it was when the area’s rulers resided here. There are displays of armor, swords, early firearms and other items of the day. There were gold items belonging to kings from hundreds of years ago. After spending about 90 minutes in the castle, we walked up the many steps in the tower to have a beautiful view of the city from the top. As we were trekking up the 113 steps to the top of the tower, we spoke with a family from Huntington, WV. Because there is a limit on the number of people who can be in the tower, we didn’t chat long. A gate at the bottom of the tower only allowed visitors to go up the tower as people came down.

Nuremburg's Christmas Market

It was nearly 2 pm by the time we left the castle, so we looked for a place to get lunch. We first found a stand selling kartoffelpuffer, or potato pancakes, which we enjoyed a lot. We split an order of three pieces among the four of us. Another stand had Nuremberg bratwurst which are three small sausages with sauerkraut on a hard roll. The sandwiches were very good because the kraut in Bavaria isn’t as sour as most kraut sold in the US. Dessert was a Nuremberg specialty, Lebkuchen, a special type of gingerbread.

Statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I

Jodie and Cindy returned to the Hotel Victoria, but Mary and I found a post office just inside a city gate where we bought stamps to mail our postcards. We got back to the hotel around 4 pm and stretched out for about an hour. Afterwards we went back to the Christmas market with Jodie. We all found a few gifts for kids in the family and had a snack while we walked. We got back to the hotel by 7:30 then laid out Thursday’s clothes and repacked for the train to Munich.

We had been in Nuremburg when we were visiting Emily in 2010 but seeing the city again was great. However, we tend to enjoy the small towns wherever we travel, and Nuremburg, Munich and Frankfurt are larger cities than we prefer.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

We didn’t awake until 7 am, which is the longest either of us can remember sleeping. I don’t think that either of us twitched in the night. Since we hadn’t slept much on the airplane, the nearly 12 hours of sleep was welcome. We awoke refreshed and ready for our visit to Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The city name means "Red castle over the Tauber River" to avoid confusion with another Rothenburg on the border with Poland in far eastern Germany. Breakfast at the Hotel Wurzburger Hof was very good with the homemade breads, cheeses and hot foods like eggs and sausages.

Our hotel in Rothenburg

We walked the short distance to the Wurzburg train station, where we took a regional train to Steinhof and then we transferred to another train to  Rothenburg. By 10 am, we had arrived at the Rothenburg train station. Because we were staying at the Reichsküchenmeister Hotel so early, we were unable to check in but the clerk stored our bags for us in the small library near the registration desk. The Christmas market started right outside the door to our hotel by St. Jacob’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Mary, Cindy and Jodie toured the church, while I walked around the Old Town to get a lay of the land. The church was built as a Catholic Church in 1311 but later became a Lutheran Church following the Protestant Reformation.

Gate through the wall surrounding the ancient city

Like other old German towns, Rothenburg has beautiful, well maintained cobblestone streets adding to the overall charm of the medieval city.

We met back up and started walking through the town when Cindy saw a Käthe Wohlfahrt store. Although I was unaware of her or her stores, we later learned that she is a major retailer of collectible Christmas items. Her Rothenburg store reports offering over 30,000 traditional German Christmas decorations. Cindy and Jodie bought several things to bring back as gifts or souvenirs. The store was surprisingly large despite the narrow storefront. The retail area was several floors and was very deep although not wide. The Christmas Museum is above the Käthe Wohlfahrt store. Mary, Cindy and Jodie went in while I walked through the Christmas market, which wasn’t a large square as in some cities but wound through the Old Town area of Rothenburg. They were in the Christmas museum for a little over 30 minutes and reported that the exhibits were very good and included many items from Kathe Wohlfahrt’s personal collection. We decided on the Goldenes Lamm for our late lunch because a warm place for a sit-down meal sounded good. Cindy had turkey, gravy and spatzel (noodles), Mary had leberkäse (meatloaf) with potatoes. Jodie and I had schnitzel with French fries. We chatted with two couples at the next table who were from Strasbourg, France.

Rothenburg's Christmas Market

After lunch, Mary, Cindy and Jodie checked into the hotel while I walked through the market and had a Festbier as I walked. The beverage was very refreshing.

At 8 pm we met at the old Rothenburg Rathaus (city hall) for an historic city tour by a reenactor of Rothenburg’s night watchman. This man’s job was to ensure that no one was on the street after dark within the walls of the city, as mandated by the city curfew. He told how the walls protected residents against attacks from Würzburg or Nuremberg or other threats to the safety of residents. The city became prosperous because it was the intersection of two major trade routes. The east/west route was from Asia to Paris while the north/south route was from Scandinavia to Rome. This positioned Rothenburg well to gain in wealth and importance. However, as trade routes moved, Rothenburg’s economy slowed. Despite the strong city walls completely surrounding it, the Protestant Rothenburg was overrun by Catholic troops in 1631 during the Thirty Years War. This left the previously prosperous city poor and nearly empty. In 1634, the bubonic plague swept through the city killing most of the remaining population. The city lived in poverty until the early 1800s, when city leaders realized that they could capitalize on their well-preserved medieval architecture. By advertising the city in Europe and America, Rothenburg started a comeback. By the late 1800s the city became known as a treasure of medieval architecture, and wealthy visitors were attracted to the city. 

Our group with the night watchman reenactor

In 1945, Rothenburg was bombed by British forces, but much of the Old Town was spared. A Nazi general brought troops to Rothenburg and put the city in the crosshairs to be bombed by US forces. Hitler had declared that Rothenburg was "the most German of German towns." Nazi officials frequently took day trips to Rothenburg to visualize epitome of the German 'Home Town'. Although planned for complete destruction by bombing, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy, had grown up in a home with a painting of Rothenburg that his mother had purchased when she was younger. He had always admired the beauty of the city. McCloy ordered the Army to not use artillery in taking Rothenburg. The battalion commander sent a group into Rothenburg to negotiate a surrender. The US offered to spare the city if the city from total destruction if they surrendered to the US. The Nazi general was out of the area so the second in command, Major Thömmes, met with the American officers and said that German troops would vacate the city the next morning. In doing so, Thömmes ignored Hitler’s orders to fight to the end. The city was saved from destruction by the Allied forces. McCloy was later honored as an honorary citizen of Rothenburg.

Rothenburg's Glockenspiel

The night watchman tour ended around 9 pm so we walked the short distance back to the Reichsküchenmeister Hotel and went to sleep quickly.

Like Wurzburg, we had never been to Rothenburg in any of our previous trips to Germany but the city could be one of my favorite places in Germany.

Monday, December 4, 2023

Würzburg, Germany

We left home at 7 am after turning off water heaters and unplugging computers, toaster, file server printer and anything we could think of. The security system and all cameras, both inside and out, were enabled. Timers were set for lights throughout the house to give an appearance of us being home and moving through the house as we normally would.

We put Christmas cards in Emily’s mailbox to be sent out on Monday. After dropping us off at Bluegrass Airport in Lexington, she brought our car back to her house and would take it to the airport parking before we returned on December 12. Since it was Sunday morning, we saw little traffic in Georgetown or Lexington. Since we had checked in on Saturday night, we dropped off Mary’s checked bag quickly and there was no line at security. Our Global Entry allowed us to avoid some of the hassles at security. 

We had some time before we boarded so we read as we waited. I had checked out three early Tony Hillerman books and started People of Darkness, which I believe to be one of his better mysteries that is underrated. Lexington airport is very small. We really didn’t have a great place to walk, but we walked around until our flight departed on time  just after 11 am. I gate checked my new Osprey backpack/duffel bag and picked it up when we landed. The bag was great for us since the backpack straps can be neatly tucked away if the bag is checked or stowed in an overhead bin. 

We arrived at Charlotte Douglas Airport around 12:15 and walked around several concourses of the airport. The gate for our flight to Frankfurt wasn’t posted until after 2 pm, so we walked around to get a lay of the land. We decided on Panda Express for lunch. Mary had the bowl portion of broccoli and beef with rice, while I had the regular portion of orange chicken and kung pao chicken with fried rice. The meal was surprisingly affordable and tasty for airport food. 

We met Cindy and Jodie when they arrived a little before 3 pm and had a chance to chat some before our flight boarded before 4 pm. We were only a couple of rows behind Cindy and Jodie, but the flight was completely full. Everyone had to gate check everything except small personal items, so I checked my Osprey, taking only the small backpack in the cabin with us. The flight departed on time, and we were seated near the rear of the aircraft. Because of turbulence, the in-flight meal wasn’t served until after 7 pm. We both had chicken and rice with a roll, crackers and cheese, salad, brownie and Sauvignon Blanc wine. As in-flight meals go, it was pretty good. I had finished People of Darkness and decided to try to nap. Frankfurt would be 6 hours ahead of Eastern Time and we would arrive at 6 am local time. We would need to be rested.

We arrived at Frankfurt by 6 am, which was well before our scheduled landing. It was a good thing that we were early because the line for immigration and customs was long and did not move quickly. After about 30 minutes, additional agents opened, and the line moved more quickly. While we were in line, the German National 17 and under soccer team was returning after having won the FIFA under 17 World Cup. As expected, that created a great deal of activity at the airport with the media and fans welcoming the team.

The deal that Mary and Cindy found through to-europe.com provided hotel accommodations, all ground transportation including high speed and regional trains, subway, light rail and taxi, breakfasts at each hotel and day passes to attractions at each city where we would be staying. The plan covered everything except evening meals and souvenirs. We were amazed that we were able to travel for that little money. Part of the reason for the cost was likely the strong dollar compare to the Euro at this time.

Frankfurt's main train station

From the regional train station at the airport, we took the short ride to the Frankfurt main train station where we caught the train to Würzburg. The ICE train went as fast as 170 miles per hour on the route to Würzburg. The Hotel Würzburger Hof was only a short walk from the train station. Jodie and Cindy’s room was ready, but ours was not, so we piled our bags in their room while we walked through the Würzburg Christmas market. The market was just outside our hotel and stretched to the center of Würzburg’s Old Town. We went to lunch at Schonborn Café, a short distance from our hotel. Because we were cold, we were looking for a sit-down restaurant where we could warm up. Everyone but me had potato soup which they reported was excellent. I had a baguette with ham and cheese which was also good.

Lunch at Schonbon Cafe

By the time we finished our lunch, we were able to check in to our rooms in the small but elegant hotel. The hotel was built in 1908 and had survived two world wars. While the building was old, it had been updated to modern conveniences and comforts.

Wurzburg Christmas Market

After relaxing a bit, we walked to the Würzburg Residence, the home of the Prince-Bishop, the highest ranking official in the city. Our tour with an English-speaking guide took us through the building’s official areas as well as living quarters. The residence was constructed in 1720 and has been restored after receiving major damage from allied bombing in 1945. The highlight of the tour in the residence was the ceiling in a main room with paintings throughout the ceiling showing the importance of Germany in Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. The Würzburg Residence is now a UNSECO World Heritage Site.

Wurzburg's Royal Residence

As we walked through Würzburg, I kept admiring the cobblestone streets.  It is just amazing that these streets have had these pavers for hundreds of years and we can get a paving job to last five years.  The cobblestones in the Old Town of Würzburg are beautiful and we expect to see the same thing in the old sections of other towns that we will be visiting on this trip.

After touring the residence, the guide took us to the Würzburg Cathedral. The cathedral was constructed in 1075 and sustained minimal damage in bombings during the Second World War. The US Monuments Men are credited with protecting much of the artwork in the residence and the cathedral.

Christmas Market at night

By the time we left, there was a brisk snowfall making the city even more beautiful. We bought some gingerbread to take to the room and called it a night. Because we hadn’t slept much on the airplane, we showered then went to sleep by 7:30.

We wished that we could have given Würzburg more of our attention, but we were so sleep deprived that we don’t think that we were able to take full advantage of what the city had to offer. I was especially interested that Würzburg was the home to theoretical physicist, Werner Heisenberg (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) and Wilhelm Rontgen (discoverer of X-rays). This is a place that we would like to visit again.