You can click on "photos"
directly to the photo page.
I love my mom. She's a great mom. That
said, it was a bit daunting to offer to take her on vacation with us
to Europe for 16 days. It meant travel by train
from Stuttgart to Paris, from Paris to Zurich and, finally, from Zurich
back to Stuttgart to fly back to Atlanta. It would involve two
sets of luggage with the possibility that half the contents of two
houses would be packed and 'you know who' to lug it on and off
trains. It meant traveling with TWO women, one a mom and
the other mother-in-law, as well as one a wife and the other a
daughter-in-law. What was I
thinking? Could such a trip really work without any major
hassles? Would this be like having two women in the
kitchen? Would any of us even be talking to each other by the end
of the trip? Or even after the first week. I guess we'll
have to wait and see.
The trip for Diane and I actually started three weeks before vacation started since I had to work in the London area prior to starting vacation. That meant mom would be making her very first trip out of the USA by herself. She does fly once in a while to Atlanta to visit us, or to NY to visit other grandkids and great grandkids but, other than a trip to Hawaii almost 30 years ago, she has never been on a long flight. Her trip was to start in Orlando and connect in Atlanta with a flight to Stuttgart. Although she is used to flying, she was very apprehensive about flying such a long ways over water and having to make the connection in Atlanta. I asked Delta to have a wheelchair available when she arrived from Orlando and take her to the business class lounge. As it turned out, they did have a wheelchair handy, but only took her from E-12, where she arrived, to E-11, where she was scheduled to leave for Stuttgart almost FOUR hours later. I had also asked my daughter, Jill, if she could go to the airport to visit with her grandmother for a while. Well, when Jill got there and didn't find her grandmother in the business class lounge, she started searching and found her sitting at the gate for the flight to Stuttgart. Jill isn't one to just let something like that go, so she told some Delta people they needed to get their act together since they should have known her grandmother had a business class ticket and they should have made sure she was taken to the lounge. Once that was resolved and Jill took her to the lounge, mom had a nice visit with her granddaughter and two great grandkids. Jill made sure she got on the plane OK.
The vacation was to include some of Germany, Paris, and a visit with our friends Peter and Yoko in Switzerland. I had hoped to actually start in Paris, but ended up starting in Stuttgart. The reason for this was that I planned to upgrade mom's coach ticket to business class as she had never flown first or business class. The trick was to find a city to which I could get the upgrade and, tougher yet, a city to return from where I could get TWO upgrades since I had already gotten Diane an upgrade to London. What a coup to be able to pull it off and Stuttgart was the city that offered both. I love to visit Germany, and have worked in the Stuttgart area three times, so it worked out great.
Diane and I planned to arrive in Stuttgart the night before mom arrived and be at the airport when she came through Customs. So we bought a round-trip ticket on British Midland from London to Stuttgart since it was cheaper to do that and throw away the return than to buy one-way tickets. It was an early morning flight, which gave us most of the day in Stuttgart. We met our German friends, Manfred and Brigitte, for dinner and it was nice to see them again. I met Manfred in 1995 at the end of an audit I worked there and found out he was going to Atlanta for the 96 Olympics. I told him to let me know where he will be staying and maybe we can get together. It turned out they stayed about 3-4 miles from our house and we saw them a few times during the Olympics. From that a friendship was born and we see them every time we go to Germany. It has become a sort of joke that each time we see them we say "good-bye, we don't know when we will see you again" and then we end up going back a short time later. Since 1996, we have been to Germany in May 1998, October 1998, and now.
Mom's plane arrived in Stuttgart on Sunday morning, August 22, about 15 minutes late, and then Delta had a problem getting the luggage unloaded. There were many planes arriving that morning and the arrivals area was very crowded. Finally, about an hour after the flight was posted as 'arrived', people from DL 116 started to come out and we looked for mom. More people came out, no mom. So I decided I better get inside the Customs area and see what was going on. I knocked on the Customs door and explained I was looking for my mother and the guy let me in. There she was pushing a luggage cart around looking for her suitcase. Luggage was all over the place. We found it and then exited into the arrivals area so she could exchange some dollars into marks. Then it was out to the car to go to the hotel. I asked her how the flight was and how she liked flying business class. Much to my chagrin, she wasn't all that impressed and thought the seats were too narrow. Delta has reconfigured their business class section and I have to agree that the seats are a bit narrow. But it beats coach. I joked with mom that next time she needs to fly coach so she will appreciate business class.
I reserved rooms at the Marriott in Sindelfingen, which is not too far from Stuttgart and where our team always stayed when we worked in the area. We stayed there in 1995, as well as the two trips there in 1998. Until January 1999, this hotel used to be a Ramada. Initially, I planned to use Marriott points for the two rooms there, but then realized I didn't think it through enough. You see, one should use these points for rooms that cost a lot, like the $200 plus per night it would have cost us when we went to Hawaii, and to San Francisco, and to Desert Springs. It dawned on me that the hotel rates in Germany are rather reasonable and our rooms, at a full Marriott, cost around $70 per night. It would be a waste to use points for those rooms, so I decided we'd just pay for the rooms.
I asked mom how she felt and if she would like to take a nap. She was full of energy, even though she said she didn't sleep much on the plane. I couldn't believe she stayed awake so long. It was a very long trip for her since she left Ocala at 9 AM on Saturday and arrived here at 10:45 AM on Sunday, which would have been 4:45 AM. By the time we got to the hotel, she had been traveling for almost 22 hours. So off we went to give her a first view of Europe. We decided to take her to the Hohenzollern castle. Just about everything we planned to do over this vacation was to retrace routes that Diane and I took during our trips to Europe. These were sure things and we wanted to see them again anyway. (http://www.burg-hohenzollern.com).
When we got back to Sindelfingen, we went to Wolfi's for dinner. It was a place we'd been to a few times with good results. It took longer than we expected to get served and her rump steak wasn't so good. Beef isn't that great in Europe and when you order it well done, it's bound to come out tough. I liked my rump steak with onions quite well thank you.
On Monday, it was an early wake-up call at 6:30 so we could eat breakfast and head to Bavaria for two nights. It was a nice day and a pleasant drive. Diane and I love Bavaria and wanted mom to experience it, too. The plan was to spend the two nights at the Gasthof zur Poste in Ettal, home of Kloster Ettal, a Benedictine monastery. It would be lunch time by the time we reached Oberammergau, which was only a few miles from Ettal. Every 10 years, a famous passion play is put on in Oberammergau and people come from all over the world to see it. Diane and I walked through the town when we first visited in 1995 and had lunch at a place that had a nice outside patio. We figured we'd see if we could find it again. We did and had a nice lunch. After stopping for some picture taking in the town, we headed for Ettal. We checked into the hotel and drove to see Schloss Linderhof, which was a home of King Ludwig II. Although they advertised an English-speaking tour, none was available. However, the tour guide gave us a script to follow what she was saying in German. After the tour of the inside of the house, we went to see the grotto that Ludwig had created for his private viewing of Wagner operas. He was a big fan, and friend, of Richard Wagner.
We spent several hours at Linderhof and then went back to Ettal to visit the church at the monastery (http://www.kloster-ettal.de/index-uk.html). This was my first taste of Baroque style churches with all the gold and painted ceilings. The monastery dominates the town. You can drive through Ettal in less than two minutes from end to end. There are a few small hotels and one large one, lots of tour buses, and several shops. the church has a large dome on top that is very striking when entering the town. As we walked into the courtyard, the church's size became more obvious and I think mom was duly impressed. There was a monk talking to a couple who had a beautiful German Shepherd dog with them. Then all of a sudden, I heard my mom say "Father, can I take your picture please?". Good old mom. The monk said sure and the couple moved off to the side with their dog. But that wasn't what mom had in mind. She wanted him to pose with the dog, which he did for her. Good old mom.
The church is a bit incredible inside. It's round and the center is very high due to the dome. Mom took lots of pictures and lit a candle, which was to become a common theme as we visited the churches. I was tempted to buy stock in Kodak and candle companies for the short term because their third quarter revenues are surely going to go up. After visiting the church, it was time to visit the shops owned by the monks. Well, Diane and mom visited the shops. I found a place to park my butt and just view the sites. Although I did buy a
bottle of Kloster wine to take to Peter and Yoko, and bought a sampler of four little bottles of Kloster liqueur. They also had Kloster beer, but I just settled for having that with dinner. Shopping completed, it was now time for dinner. Diane and I knew that we would eat at the restaurant across the street from the hotel and directly outside the walls of the monastery. It was a nice warm evening, so we decided to eat outside. It was pleasant dinner, including a couple of great apfel streudel mit eis und vanillesahn as we discussed mom's
first impressions of Germany and Bavaria. So far, so good.
Day three was to be spent visiting Neuschwanstein, the so-called Sleeping Beauty Castle that Walt Disney used as his model for the Cinderella Castle at Disneyland and Disney World. What a beautiful castle. You can check it out at:
It's hard not to take pictures of it
from any angle you can see it way up on the hill. We were told to
get there as early as possible to avoid the long lines. We did
get there pretty early, but there was already a bit of a wait.
The day looked like it would be rainy, and we were very lucky to get
into the castle just before it started to rain. We did a loop
from Ettal based on a suggestion from the owner of the hotel. The
road to Neuschwanstein was along Plansee (Lake Plan) and the views were
breathtaking. We stopped to take some photos along the way.
It wasn't raining yet and the air was still. That allowed for a
true mirror affect of the mountains in the water. It's everything
you see in magazines. We parked and walked to the point at which
you can get on a horse drawn carriage to go most of the way up the hill
to the castle. These were very big, strong horses that pull the
wagon full of people (about a dozen at a time) up and down the hill all
day long. I told mom we should sit up front so she could get the
'full effect' of sitting behind two huge horses pulling the
wagon. I shot some video to record the movement and sound but,
unfortunately, there was no way to record the smells.
Most of the line is outside the castle, and then they let in groups to line up once again before a guide picks a group up to tour the castle. There were lines for tours in different languages: German, English, Japanese, Italian. The day we were there, the German and English lines were the longest. Mom was again doing the tourist thing and taking it all in. She seemed especially impressed with the size of the place and the beauty of the wood carvings in the furniture and all the gold and jewels in the chandeliers. By the time we exited the castle it was raining pretty steadily and we had to walk down the hill to board a wagon to take us back down to the town, Hohenschwangau. Mom forgot to pack an umbrella and I left mine in the hotel. So we all started down the hill. I got to the wagon station and looked for Diane and mom. They weren't behind me. Mom saw a shop that sold ponchos and stopped to buy one. So she bought this yellow poncho, put it on, and was ready to go for the rest of the day. Nothing, not even a little steady rain, was going to stop this lady from seeing the sites. She proved to be a real trooper.
It was lunch time when we got down to the town and decided to eat in one of the restaurants. So we picked one, ordered a light lunch, except for another apfel streudel (just one this time to share), and then headed off to our next stop, Wieskirche (Church of the Meadow), which is done in German Rococo architecture. It was still raining when we arrived at Wieskirche. The church is in a meadow near the town of Steingaden. There were a couple of horses in the meadow and one was obviously used to seeing people and came right up to the fence to be petted by the people, and maybe look for a handout. The church has yellow and white walls and is backdropped by the Trauchgauer Mountains. The church was built in 1745 on a site on which a local woman claimed to have seen tears running down the face of a picture of Christ. The exterior of the church is rather simple, but the inside is exquisite. This was the point that mom's mouth went open at what she was seeing, even more so than Neuschwanstein and Kloster Ettal. After a sweet snack from a stand outside the church, we headed back to Ettal for dinner. The town was rather empty, as opposed to the crowds from the nice day before. We walked about 100 yards up the street to a restaurant for dinner and then retired for the night.
The plan for Wednesday was to spend the day in Munich on the way back to Sindelfingen. However, it was always on our minds to take mom to see Salzburg, even if it would only be for a short time. I asked the lady who owned the hotel how long it took to drive to Salzburg and she said about 2 1/2 hours. She said going to Salzburg and then back to Sindelfingen would be a long day of driving. We thought about it and decided it was what we wanted to do. The cathedral in Salzburg had to be seen again by Diane and I, and shared with mom. We had been to Munich for a few hours in 1998. I'm sure it would be nice to spend more time there, but Salzburg is beautiful. So off we went after breakfast, a little late, but it's one of those times I just bit my lip and moved at the ladies' pace. All I knew, was that I had a time at which we would leave Salzburg for the drive back to Sindelfingen. The drive turned out to take about two hours. We stopped for a short time in Bad Reichenhall, which is where Diane and I spent the night before visiting Salzburg in 1998. There were two very long traffic jams in the opposite direction from which we were traveling and I dreaded the thought that they would still be there when we came through there on the way back.
We arrived in Salzburg and there was more traffic in the town than the day, a Sunday, that Diane and I were there. We stopped at the tourist center to get a map and off we went to find the old town. Incredibly, we were able to park right in front of the entrance to the cathedral just as we did the last time we were there. I think we were illegally parked both times, but didn't get a ticket. The day was absolutely gorgeous. We visited the cathedral, which mom thought was beautiful. Diane and I were lucky enough to attend a high mass
there and I'm sure mom would have loved it. We also checked out the plazas on both sides of the cathedral and had lunch at Cafe Edelweiss in the Mozart Plaza. While the ladies went to the shops, I sat on a bench and just took in the sites. Then we walked down the narrow street in the old town to see the Mozart birthplace. We didn't go in as it was getting close to the 3 PM departure to drive back to Sindelfingen. So we made our way back towards the car and visited one more church on the way there. I had asked a lady in the tourist office how long it would take to drive to Stuttgart and she said four hours - minimum. Well, it took me about 3 hours 45 minutes, and that was with THREE short stops. Needless to say there were no traffic jams and I was cruising at a good clip. I'm not sure mom really liked cruising at 100 mph. She had her prayer book with her and had it open every morning as we started out our day. At one point, Diane had her beads out and mom had her prayer book open. Maybe they both just wanted to be 'ready' just in case.
Mom has been pretty good about not getting herself into too much of a nostalgic state about making this trip without dad. It has been almost three years since he died and she still misses him. A lot of you know mom and know she had been dependent on dad all her life, including never driving a car. I was concerned that she may become depressed and not enjoy herself. Up to this point in the trip, she only mentioned it to Diane, at Wolfi's when I went to the rest room. But that was it. However, things got a bit touchier on the trip back from Salzburg. I love music and always try to find an oompah station when I'm in Germany. I found a station that had a nice mix of music. All of a sudden I heard a melody that I recognized instantly and did an 'uh oh' in my head and wondered for a second if I could switch the station before mom recognized it. Too late! I heard a soft 'Oh my Lord' from the back seat and wondered where this was going to go. You see, the melody was the love theme from Dr. Zhivago, one of my dad's favorite movies and songs. I knew instantly this may be a problem. Music has a profound affect on me, both good memories and bad memories, and it can make me emote. So I understood where this could have lead. But, other than some tears, she was fine. It was just one of those sad nostalgic moments.
Upon arriving back in Sindelfingen, we went to eat at the Hirsch. It was a nice evening, so we ate outside. By now, I figured mom was probably dying to have a Manhattan. She likes a cocktail before dinner, but I had told her she may have some difficulty finding Manhattans in Europe. This turned out to be the case. I went to check out the bar and saw they had sweet vermouth. We had asked the waiter, but he turned out to be less than cordial by the end of the evening. Our team had eaten there before when we were working in the area, and I recognized the lady who seems to manage the place (or owns it). I asked her about a Manhattan and she didn't know what it was, but was willing to make it if I told her how. Unfortunately, they didn't have any whiskey (Canadian Club or Seagram's 7). The closest they came was Jack Daniels, so I asked mom how she felt about that. Well, you know the old saying, "anything in a pinch". A JD Manhattan would do just fine. So I told the lady how to make it and they made it just fine. Mom was a happy camper.
The deal with the waiter had to do with us asking for water. My colleagues and I drink a fair amount of water with dinner and we had trouble asking for tap water in Germany. Then, during the 1998 trip, I asked a German IBMer how to ask for it and he said tell them you want 'Leitungs vasse' (spelling may not be exact for you folks who speak German). Translated, it means 'line water'. Once we learned that, we had no trouble at all until, that is, this evening at the Hirsch. I guess we had a hint about this waiter when we first arrived and mom saw whiskey with soda (most likely the JD or Scotch) on the menu. She asked the waiter if that meant 7 UP of ginger ale and he made a face like what an ugly combination that would be. When we asked for lietungs vasse, he wouldn't hear of it and refused to bring it to us. He insisted that we order bottled water and then he said he wasn't allowed to bring tap water. Finally, he went to get tap water. A German couple at the table next to us spoke to him in German and that helped. They told us that it isn't usual for them to drink tap water, but they knew Americans did and the guy should have just brought us what we wanted. Just another interesting travel experience with different customs. But we did get our tap water.
On Wednesday, we went to see the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled city. Here's an excerpt from Fodor's (and lifted from the May 1998 travelogue when Diane and I spent an entire day in Rothenburg during a festival there):
"Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber (literally, 'the red castle on the Tauber') is the kind of gemlike medieval town that even Walt Disney might have thought too good to be true, with gingerbread architecture galore and a wealth of fountains and flowers against a backdrop of towers and turrets......And here it is, milking its'best-preserved-medieval-town-in-Europe' image to the full, undoubtedly something of a tourist trap, but genuine enough for all that. There really is no place else quite like it."
We parked in the same parking lot that we parked in when we were in Rothenburg in 1998 (I like to find the same places, especially if they were hassle free the first time). After we entered the city through one of the gates, we took mom up on the wall to see the town from above. The wall goes around the entire city and some of the views are very nice. One can see houses (this is a town in which people still live and work) and some of the beautifully kept yards and gardens. Churches and other public buildings can also be seen from different points along the wall. We had no plans to walk the entire wall, but wanted to walk to a spot at which we could descend into the town near the biggest church. Mom seemed to enjoy the views, but was anxious to get off the wall and into the town. She is a natural tourist and took lots of pictures. I noticed that she seemed to be keying off me. When I was taking video, she must have figured it was worth snapping a picture. Of course, one can take lots more video than what can be held on a roll of film. Had I anticipated the number of pictures she was taking, I would have bought some stock in Kodak before we left the states.
Once down into the town, it was the usual sightseeing and shopping routine. It was lunch time, so we picked a place to eat. The weather was kind of iffy, but the only rain we had that day was during the time we were in the restaurant eating lunch. Talk about good fortune. There are lots of shops in Rothenburg that are more than willing to part tourists from their money. The one that seemed to do the best for Diane and mom was the great Christmas shop in town. As for me, I just parked myself outside on a stoop and did some people watching.
We got back from Rothenburg early enough to call our German friends to join us for dinner. We wanted to take mom to Herrenberg to see the old town and to eat at the Schwanen (so I could get my favorite venison goulash with spatzle - YUMMY - plus a nice big glass of Oberndorfer beer). Mom talks fast and, with all her colloquialisms, I wasn't sure that Manfred and Brigitte would understand her. But they picked up enough words to get the gist of what she was saying. She decided they were nice people and she liked them, so she
invited them to come stay with her if they ever visited Florida. We had a good time with hugs all around when we said good-bye.
Heidelberg was also a place we wanted to take mom, so we planned to go there for a day. Diane decided to also add Mannheim to the day to go visit the large Jesuit church there. We got to Mannheim mid-morning and found the church, which was under major renovations and very noisy inside. We then went to the marketplatz and sat outside to have a late morning coffee (or tea or cappuccino). Then it was on to Heidelberg. We parked and took the funicular to the top to take in the view. There were two main stops on the route, the top (for the view) and the one to visit the castle ruins. We did both. The view from the top looks down on Heidelberg and the Neckar River. I hadn't had a good wurst since we arrived, so Diane and I got rindwurst sandwiches and mom just had a snack as she wasn't very hungry. After visiting the castle ruins, including taking a look at the 10,000 and 50,000 gallon kegs, we headed down to
the town. We visited the two large churches, and the ladies did more shopping. And all the time, mom was snapping lots of pictures.
This was our last night in Germany. We asked Christa, the front desk supervisor, if she knew a restaurant where they might serve cocktails. She suggested one of the hotel restaurants, so we decided to eat in the hotel. Mom did get her Manhattan and the food was very good.
Christa had been working at this hotel for some time, even when it was a Ramada. She remembered Diane and me from the two trips we made there in May and October 1998. She is very pleasant and customer oriented, so it was no surprise she was promoted to front desk supervisor when Marriott took over. I was getting a bit concerned that we did not have seat reservations for the trip to Paris, although the Eurail agent in Atlanta said none were necessary. That's probably true for one or two people traveling together, but I wasn't sure we'd get three seats together. So I asked Christa if she would call the train station and get us seat reservations. No problem. She got us the three seats together. Mom engaged her in conversation after dinner and, before long we were taking pictures together with Christa (she was a real good sport), and mom invited her to stay with her if she ever visited Florida. I was beginning to think that she may end up inviting half of Europe to visit her in Florida. Mom always did have an open house. As kids, my brother and I always had friends hanging around our house.
It was a good idea to eat in the hotel because it allowed us to have an early night and pack for the trip to Paris. Mom had one suitcase with her and planned to take it with her. Since Diane and I had been in London for three weeks prior to vacation, we had a lot of luggage with us, two hard shell suitcases and two roller boards. We figured we could repack only what we'd need for the trip to Paris and Peter's place and leave the two hard shell suitcases in storage at the Marriott until we returned on September 6.
Week #1 went very well and mom had a great time. She was fast becoming a real traveler and tourist. Everything went smoothly. Well, almost. Mom has FOUR different wallets or change purses in her purse which, like most women I know, seem to contain half the contents of the house (the other half is packed in the suitcases). We had to get up early and get out of the hotel to leave enough time for us to find the train station and the Hertz place (which ended up not being easy to find as it was in the bowels of a parking garage under the station). We had breakfast, went back to the room to finish up, luggage was closed and locked and I was starting to load it onto a luggage carrier (no bell hops on the weekend). We were on schedule when all of a sudden mom knocks on the door asking if she had given one of her wallets to us. It was the one with SS card and insurance information (Medicare, etc). After a few minutes, concern changed to fear and then to panic. Diane and I tried to assure her that it most likely wasn't lost, but packed away somewhere. But panic continued until she realized that there was no choice but to leave since trains don't wait for lost wallets. So, you ask, was this wallet found? And if so, where was it found? The answer is, yes, it was found. It was in the glove compartment of the car. Mom had given it to Diane to hold and both of them forgot where it was. All that panic and agita for naught. When it was found, it was like that good old sheep/shepherd story and then all was well.
It was a quiet ride to the train station as
took some time to gather themselves after the panic at the hotel.
We got to the station, checked in the car, and found a place to sit
down and get some coffee and tea. We also found a place to buy
snacks to take on the train for the six hour ride to Paris.
Everyone had recovered and now it was on to Paris, which is the main
reason mom wanted to visit Europe. She wanted to see if it was
everything she thought it was, and to see the Eiffel Tower in
person. We boarded the train, got settled in, and it was off to
Until next time.
Return to Roaming America Main Menu