A middle-school girl walked into the building,
but she was late by two weeks. It was the end of the day, and her last class
would start in ten minutes. Creative writing was her favorite course. She
quietly went into the room past the teacher, Ms. Marvel, who waited a moment to
speak while maneuvering around the desk at the front of the room.
Shuffling through a clipboard of papers, she asked, “Mia? Aw, you’re not on my list.” Calling across the hall, she said, “Ms. Kraus, do you have Mia in your class?”
yes,” Ms. Kraus replied.
cringed, of the two teachers, Ms. Marvel was her favorite. Gossip about Ms.
Kraus wasn’t kind.
to Ms. Kraus. I’m sure you can write volumes after your summer travels.”
Mia went across the hall to sit in the only remaining seat in the front of the
room. Her classmates snickered.
class,” Ms. Kraus growled, “in the last class we started a composition on the
outdoors, I want you to continue writing.”
her eyes straight at Mia, she said, “Mia, there are no other guidelines for
this assignment, use your imagination, write what you want. Ask questions if
you need to, but we won’t be reading excerpts until the next class. The writing
has to be at least two hand-written pages. You may speak to your classmates
sitting to your right and left if you like, but only about your topics for
encouragement.” She opened a book and began to read to herself.
Ms. Kraus.” It didn’t take long for Mia to decide how to deal with the
‘outdoor’ assignment. She began frantically writing a rough-draft and decided
to worry over the details later. Here is what she wrote…
The four boys were dressed in disguise. They walked along the road with there green jackets and rucksacks. The travel was rough as it had rained the day before. The path was muddy, with deep divots from erosion. They were hungry. Tall wheat grass with tall heads surrounded them. They broke off some of the tops and chewed the tough, sweat pieces. Soon they heard marching behind them. Hiding in the grasses, they waited.
you there, come out. What are you doing here?”
boys emerged from the berm with their heads held down. “Nothing sirs, we are
just playing.” They thought they would be shot on the spot, but the soldiers
just told them to stay away from the road.
home. These times are not for play.”
scurried away, grabbing their rucksacks from behind a tree. Thankfully, the
soldiers did not see through their disguise; children they were not. Their
ancestors had not given them bears to show their actual age. When the road was
clear, they continued to walk but were more careful. They were lucky they were
not captured on their way to the church on the hill. Very few people knew of
this particular church. Their captain had told them to protect its inhabitants,
and that was what they intended to do.
down the road, they came to the edge of the woods, up ahead was a clearing. The
taller and more nibble of the three climbed up a tree to get a view of the
meadow. On the other side, he saw an arched stone bridge with an active stream
below that lead to another woods. If they could get there quickly, they could
fill their canteens.
came down the tree and reported to the others. “If we slow the pace down
through the meadow grasses, they should only move a little. We should able to
pass over with the breeze undetected.”
others nodded before they moved forward. The breeze cooperated with their
mission, but the ground was softer than the path they had left behind. After
about an hour, they got to the bridge and ducked underneath just before an
enemy brigade thundered overhead. This time they remained unnoticed. As soon as
the way was clear, they took a moment to pull out their map to check their
compass bearings. They had a few miles to go, but they would have to stay
hidden. Before they moved on, they filled their canines with the crystal-clear
water. They dropped iodine tables in to make sure they killed any invisible
bacteria. Each one then choked through an MRE without adding any water to the
freeze-dried food. They didn’t have an hour to wait for the iodine to do its
were soon on their way, and within two hours, they reached the church. Several
nuns greeted them at the stone entrance arches, followed by—much to their
surprise—a dozen children to protect. Their orders did not include children,
but the Mother Superior explained that the church was the only safe place for
them during the war. The men presented their written orders to the nun.
the next two days, the young men had plenty of time to rest and get to know
their surroundings as well as gain their host’s trust while they took turns
sleeping and guarding the grounds. This truth soon became false when a group of
seedy looking scraggly troops appeared over the horizon. The young soldiers hid
the children in the church’s barn loft, covered them with straw, told them to
be completely still and quiet.
bell rang. Mia extracted herself from the words on the page. She closed her
notebook before standing and leaving the room. Another day she might finish her
In 2016 I flew into Spain on my own from the USA and three years later in 2019 with my husband. On the first trip, I flew into Madrid and struggled through the metro system to my hotel. They kindly provided me with a room five hours before the normal check-in time. I went into the room and found a mirror. My face looked like a white sheet. The lack of sleep and the time-zone changed had taken their toll. I was quite woozy and crawled into bed for a two-hour nap. I wanted to explore Madrid when I awoke, but after fumbling about awkwardly trying to speak Spanish to acquire a meal, I had very little energy for site seeing.
The next morning, I had enough time to go to the Prado Museum in Madrid before making my way to Vigo, Spain, to meet-up with our daughter. The taxi driver wanted to talk, which I managed, but only in the present tense as I haven’t a clue how to speak Spanish in any other timeframe. I meant to discuss the pilgrimage walk to Santiago from a trip years before, but he thought I was talking about a current trip. On the bright side, he did understand me.
On another day, I was on a bus with strangers and sat next to a ten-year-old boy who was also traveling alone. When I had trouble with my pull-down tray, he helped and then offered me a juice box from his backpack. I showed him my water and he declined, but later, I passed him a pack of sealed crackers. He took the packet and smiled. We did not speak the same language–I don’t know what he spoke– but we managed with gestures. A great example of strangers helping each other feel less alone. His stop came before mine. We parted with a nod and a smile.
Vigo, Spain…At my stop, I got off with only partial directions in hand. Nevertheless, I found the hotel. It turned out that my daughter had already checked-in and gone off shopping. So, I resolved to go to the room to settle in. Before I could progress in that direction, she popped into the lobby through the main door. By this time, the evening only allowed for a meal of Tapas (small plates), which I enjoyed thoroughly. I hardly remember the evening as jet-lag had officially set in. Thankfully, my daughter wasn’t in the same predicament.
We rented a manual car to go out to an archaeology site 60 kilometers away. If I recall correctly, it was called Castro de Santa Trega. The archaeology site had stairs taking us around the hills to see what remained of circular stone foundations for numerous buildings. The clouds rushed through the trees at high speed. Before dropping off the car, I needed to top-off the tank then leave the receipt with the key in the drop-box at the rental agency. When we returned the car, I had trouble dealing with a hill, tried to go in the wrong way to drop the car, didn’t put the receipt in the box. In order to get to the train on time, we had to grab a cab. Not allowing enough time for unexpected delays was a mistake. I learned that I should always factor in extra time so panic, anxiety, and mad dashes won’t ruin a good time.
PORTO, PORTUGAL2016 — I hopped off the metro train with my daughter and stepped out into the lowly lit sidewalks to find the stones tattered and turned over by a construction crew. This first impression of Porto made me hesitate. I wanted to get back onto the metro and flee to another country. To be fair, we followed our GPS and found our way through various piles of rubble on several streets to a hotel that was not ours. The man personally directed us to The Artist Porto Hotel & Bistrô (Rua da Firmeza No 49, Bonfirm 4000-228 Porto) without hesitation.
A hospitality school that is a hotel and a restaurant. The rooms were nicely decorated and clean. I could stay again or not; it depends on my budget. However, the restaurant is a must go back for a second or third visit. Two chefs were preparing our meals. One was young; the other was on his second career. They offered us 4, 6, or 9-course meal and asked if our meal was to be meat or vegetarian. The price was 20 euros each. We added several glasses of wine along with bottled water. The total was 60euros for two people.
Port wine tour (There are many such tours but this one I chose randomly and enjoyed. It is also possible to go to little shops along the river for tastings only of other distributors). We chose a Taylor Port wine tour, https://www.taylor.pt/en/visit-taylors/port-cellars
2019 — This time I went to Porto with my husband and we stayed in a lovely, updated apartment. Sadly, we started off poorly again. This ‘poorly’ took up three days. A stomach bug of some sort hit us both with a 24-hour gap in between us. The time we were going to spend in Paris was lost in the sick days in Porto. We got through and back on track. We spent time by the Douro River going to gilded churches, riding across the river on a water taxi, looking at shops, and tasting Port wine at various distributors; Dalva was among the group.
An excerpt from my husband —
We were feeling much better; now we don’t. We were eating a lovely snack, and it began to rain.
Normally, not a big deal but—our laundry was out on the line–and our apartment was at the top of town. Elsa made a break for it first while I chugged the port and paid the bill.
I took off running after Elsa up the hill to the apartment. I made it about halfway up the hill before I ran out of breath, even with Wyoming mountain blood. On my second wind, I caught up with Elsa, who had stopped racing when the rain stopped. We walked the rest of the way to the apartment to assess the damage.
The laundry damp again. Second time! We got caught by rain last night too. Clothesline nobs!
Back to Elsa —
Coimbra 2016 — We stayed at the Casas da Alegria through booking.com. The people who ran the mini-hotel were very helpful and drove us to the bus station with our luggage for no-charge; we gave them a tip instead. Once we were there, we had to wait 5 hours because the bus we wanted, sold out. We tried to phone the next hotel and told them we would be late, but the internet connection at the station would only let us email (no calls).
Coimbra itself felt like a good spot to relax. Yet, the streets are narrow and require some careful navigation among the cars. The university in town is a good place to visit to see the massive, old library. The entrance is at the top of the hill within a courtyard. A ticket is required, and the admittance is timed to avoid letting too many people in the building at once. DO NOT try and go in through the bookshop stairs, it’s the library’s exit.
2019 – Revisited the Coimbra library (referred to as the Academic Prison), but the entrance had changed to the side; maybe the bookstore entrance that was no longer a book store. I’ve learned a few new things this time. The place is more like a vault with walls almost two meters thick. The bookshelves are made of oak to deter bugs from eating the books. The bonus is the bats that live up by the ceilings to eat insects. Every night the staff covers the reading tables with leather cloths to protect them from bat droppings. Not sure who goes up to the extremely high ceilings to clean the bat mess; no one said.
Three other locations that were attached to our library ticket that were equally, if not more, fascinating than the books we were allowed to look at for ten minutes. The museums in other buildings contain natural history (taxidermied animals, bones, and such) as well as the evolution of electricity and the most extensive collection of scientific instruments I’d ever seen. Another housed laboratory instruments and chemicals. I was particularly interested in the components that made dyes and the numerous colorful birds. Overall there were simply too many things to mentions, although I’d like to describe them all.
Only 2016 – A train ride away we found the beach area of Piniche. We took a train and bus to get to Piniche. The bus dropped us off a block or so away from the required taxi stand. The stand was challenging to find. Once there, we waited about twenty minutes for a taxi to appear and drive us out to the beach house. The man who tended the place stayed in a converted tool shed with a bed. He only slept there when guests came to the house. After check-in, we only saw him again when he prepared breakfast. It was delicious.
The beach itself was gorgeous. I made diagrams in the sand with a long stick to help me think out my first novel. Between drawing and walking, I must have been there at least two hours while my daughter took surfboard lessons.
That evening we listened to music at a restaurant along the water’s edge.
LISBON – This city is extensive and takes some time to get used to. We found that it is wise to make reservations for dinner in advance. There are places to eat everywhere but stay away from the high tourist area down by the river as the food tastes just like tourist food. I prefer eating in places above the central train station. We chose not to get the Vira Viagen travel card for the metro and spent a lot of time walking the city instead. This choice was tricky because the streets are slippery during the wet season.
Muse da Marioneta (small but informative; worth the time) — Being able to see marionettes, puppets, and some claymation/animation all in one place was enlightening. They bridge the imaginary world into the hands of real people. They covered Thailand, Indonesia, England (Punch & Judy), France, and more. I have some French hand puppets from my parent’s time in Paris. The museum gave me some ideas on how to display the six characters I possess. Some, I was unclear as to which, of the pupi (dolls) were recognized by UNESCO as ‘a masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity,’ according to page 11 of the pamphlet provided by the www.museumdamarioneta.pt
Museum do Teatro Romano – “located in Lisbon’s Alfama district, exemplifies Roman presence in the city. Combining a museum with the ruins of an ancient theatre, the Roman Theatre Museum works as a cultural space to promote the ruins, which date from 57 AD, as well as the finds excavated from the vicinity. The theater was built when Emperor Augustus wielded power, and Lisbon was known as Olissippo. Abandoned in the fourth century AD, the structure was completely buried after the great earthquake of 1755. It was rediscovered in the 1960s, and archaeologists began in earnest to reveal the theater’s broken foundation.” Information from USA Today. http://www.10best.com/destinations/portugal/lisbon/alfama-graca/attractions/museu-do-teatro-romano/
Padrão dos Descobrimentos –The monument is on the edge of the river. It is dedicated to the 15th to 16th century Age of Discovery when Portuguese explorers set out across the oceans to seek the New World. It was from this point where the ships would set sail to far off destinations like India and the Far East. The monument was designed by José Ângelo Cottinelli Telmo and created by Leopoldo de Almeida in 1939 as a temporary attraction for the Portuguese World Fair of 1940. The monument was dismantled after the exposition, but in 1960 was reconstructed, this time as a permanent feature on the water’s edge and under the direction of architect António Pardal Monteiro and engineer Edgar Cardoso. The rededication of the monument coincided with the anniversary of the death of Henry the Navigator. Information from https://www.visitacity.com/en/lisbon/attractions/padrao-dos-descobrimentos
As a side, but no less important comment, we visited the http://www.uc.pt/en/jardimbotanico Botanical Garden that was magically green even though it was winter. The spring must be magnificent.
SINTRA – We took a 45-minute train from Lisbon via the Rossio Station to Sintra.
Moors Castle and Quinta da Regaleira
National Park (Pena) and Chalet of the Countess of Edla
All of the noted places are quite inspiring, so much so that aspects of the town will be in my next novel. The magic in the garden’s sparked my, and many others’ imagination. The Quinta da Regaleira is a short, easy walk from the rail station, but the other locations require either long walks up narrow, steep roads, or some kind of vehicle. The options were your own car, a city tour bus, or an open-air motorized cart called a tuk-tuk (auto rickshaw). Before going anywhere, our go to eating spot is called Café Saudade with numerous nooks and crannies to settle down into that the servers have to maneuver through to even find you. If you are so inclined, you can get involved with horses in Sintra. There are several options, but this particular one looked quite appealing; https://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/recreation-and-leisure/horse-riding-tours/ They will take you through the woods and past the Chalet of the Countess of Edla
Sadie couldn’t quite decide who to invite to her party, but she wanted to fill her small Georgetown home to the brim. She wrote twenty names on a piece of paper and planned to ask each of them to bring a friend. After the hardships everyone had experienced, she wanted to do something festive. Perhaps some match-making to lighten up the mood. She picked up the telephone and called all her guests rather than sending them the usual formal written invitations.
They came to the door in groups of two or four at a time, climbing gingerly up the outer stairs as they talked among themselves. World War II had put deep wounds in their souls, whether they had been at home or overseas. The connection between them was there, even if they had just met.
The house was crowded, and the guests bumped into each other with their cigarettes perched in one hand and an alcoholic drink in the other. Some of the men wore tailored suits with ties, and others wore their military uniforms with medals and rank precisely placed. The women all in dresses, not a one in trousers, with their hair in large cascading curls, pulled back in various degrees with bobby pins and make-up concealing their true complexion.
It wasn’t long after the party started that Sadie decided to introduce her friend, Gwen, to one of the many interesting men. This one in particular seemed like a suitable gentleman. His black-rimmed glasses made him appear as intelligent as she knew he was from her professional encounters with him. His photographic memory and high IQ allowed him to pick up languages quickly, but his forte was French.
Sadie took her arm and guided her through the crowd. “Come with me, I want to
introduce you to someone.”
Nathan Schwartz, I’d like to introduce you to Miss Gwen Rhinehart. He was in
the Army during the war. Now, he’s with the State Department. Maybe you’ve seen
each other at some USO shows? Gwen organized the events and announced the
entertainers before they performed. She
worked in the Washington metropolitan area.”
nice to meet you, Miss Rhinehart, but I don’t think I have attended any of your
events. I was primarily assigned to North Africa during the war. I certainly
would remember such a beautiful lady.”
smiled, which accentuated her red lipstick, blue eyes, and flaxen blond hair.
Sadie knew that the attention he gave her would feed Gwen’s delicate ego and
left them to get acquainted without further influence from her.
Gwen and Nathan stood side by side laughing about the large number of people packed together in Sadie’s house. They spoke about where they lived and why. Gwen continued to work for the USO, but she wanted to get back to New York to resume her classical acting career. Nathan, a lawyer in a private firm before the war, was captivated by his new legal advisor position with the government. Once their initial conversation lagged, they walked together among the guests and struck up other conversations observing each other as they ‘worked’ the crowd for a while before Gwen excused herself to find Sadie.
“He’s so handsome with his tanned skin and
slicked-back hair. And so strong and charming without an ounce of arrogance
about his accomplishments. I feel like a giddy school girl, I’m swooning. He
knows so much about so many different topics.”
“Good thing, he should always be
interesting. Go back and see what happens.”
Gwen walked back over to Nathan. She said,
“I’m feeling a little too warm and confined with all these people. Would you
mind walking me home? I only live a few blocks away.”
“Of course, I’d be delighted.”
They arrived in front of her building.
“Thank you for the company, I get nervous walking home in the dark. I enjoyed the
evening very much.” Gwen outstretched her hand, and he kissed the back with
such a light touch that it felt like a breeze.
“A marvelous evening. I’m glad to have met
you, Miss Rhinehart. Would you like to meet for coffee next Saturday?”
“Yes, we can meet at the Reeves shop at
noon. I like to sleep late whenever I can.”
Gwen thanked him and hurried to her apartment building. Before going
inside, she said, “Please, call me Gwen—all my friends do. Goodnight.”
Nathan waved ever slightly and tipped his
fedora hat in her direction.
put his hands in his pockets and sauntered down the sidewalk with as his shadow
following behind him. While thinking about his past, he wondered if anything
would become of this new connection. She was gorgeous and so petite with what
must be an 18-inch waist. This calculation was certainly very close to accurate
as he was rarely mistaken when it came to mathematics.
Their coffee date was brief the next
Saturday, but gratifying. Nathan invited Gwen to see a live theater production
of Joan of Arch featuring Ingrid Bergman for their next rendezvous.
Nathan felt that attending the theater together would be perfect. He picked her
up in a borrowed shiny Cadillac Coupe de Ville and headed to the performance.
He could tell by her admonishment that she was delighted and hoped to attend
many more events with her on his arm.
the show, they headed out for a late dinner. They sat at just the right table,
away from the busy waiters and noisy clientele. Tucked away in the corner, they
spoke of the war… how Gwen had come to Washington soon after it started and
tried to join the Army typing pool, but her fingers weren’t fast enough.
Instead, she hired on at a local bookstore. A few months later, her roommate
had to leave her position at the USO and suggested Gwen for the management
position. She explained how she loved helping the soldiers divert their minds
from their troubles. Most that she dealt with had sustained some kind of injury
during the war and were recuperating in the Washington area. Nathan listened
intently. When she was done with her meal, she dipped her napkin in her water
glass, wiped the corners of her mouth and fingertips before putting her
kid-gloves back on.
year that followed was filled with many hours together with friends. Often
Nathan would go away on business trips, but he always wrote Gwen letters to
keep her informed. The relationship moved more slowly than with other couples
after the war. They both had scars in their history from not only the war but
from their previous marriages. Talking
about their past relationships didn’t appeal to Nathan, so he made a concerted
effort to avoid such discussions and focused on non-emotional and intellectual
conversations. It wasn’t easy for either of them being from broken marriages,
especially not in the 1940s.
than Nathan’s travels and work commitments, they were inseparable and finally
became engaged. When they discussed dates for the nuptial, he delayed making a
decision, which became a sore spot between them.
are we going to have children if we don’t get married soon? Everyone we know
has already had babies—we aren’t getting any younger.”
wasn’t quite sure how to answer her plea. Gwen was in her late thirty’s. He was
a few months shy of forty. He couldn’t
agree on a date or feel more settled until he completed the psychiatric
treatment he was secretly undergoing. Not only the war but his past marriage
created a wall between him and their future. She agreed to wait but had a
rather low opinion of such medical professionals. She had had her own
experiences with such ‘doctors’ and found their Freudian ideas useless. The visits she did have with them only
aggravated her anxieties and made her feel more vulnerable.
Sleep-deprived from two flights to Germany. One from Denver; four hours. The second from Dulles Airport; 8 hours. During the overseas portion, I watched three films while sitting sandwiched between two tall men of markedly difference girths. I cried when I watched ‘Racing in the Rain,’ and neither of the men noticed my nose horn going off. The other films aren’t even worth noting. I was supposed to sleep, but the cramped quarters squelched my desires. However, I managed to pull out my laptop and type with my shoulders compressed. This task will likely produce some sore muscles in the future.
In München we went through security at eight in the morning with no one in line before us. The guard looked at my passport and asked me if I had a German one as well since he notices I was born in German. No one had ever asked that before. He didn’t inquire about why I was visiting his country.
The train ride into town from the airport was about eleven Euros, followed by a two Euro metro. Both had different size cards, but only the smaller appeared to require validation in the machine off to the side of the entrance. If I didn’t do this, I could receive a hefty fine from the train monitors. Once we carried our rolling suitcase and laptop bag through it all, we stepped out into Munich to find a holiday display. A small ice-skating rink, Christmas trees, and some temporary merchant booths were all decked out for the holidays. The weather felt cool and misty, but no snow or freezing winds like Wyoming.
We walked for about fifteen minutes to get to our hotel near the main park in the city. The staff was friendly and got our room ready by noon so we didn’t have to wait until the customary three in the afternoon. He suggested places for us to visit and held our luggage behind the counter for when we came back. Speaking of suggestions—I posted our whereabouts on Facebook, and a friend told us to go to a specific Indian restaurant Swagat. Finding the place was a little trickier than I thought. At first, on the GPS, it looked like the place was only 600 meters from our hotel but it was across the bridge further away. During our search, we stumbled across two things; both sad in different ways. A passageway took us under the road, and there we found an artistic street art but also a raised bed with blankets neatly placed. Under the platform sat orderly pairs of shoes and next to it a bicycle. The owner of this home was not there but likely on the streets panhandling. The second sculpture on the other side of the road was a tall memorial tower with an angel lit on top. Below her were gorgeous tiled pictorial walls. It is called the Angel of Peace (The Friedensengel) and was built to commemorate 25 years of peace after the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. This web link is helpful https://www.muenchen.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/orte/120451.html
By the time we arrived at the Indian restaurant we were hungry. It was delicious and we got in before the ‘reservation’ crowd appeared. After our saag paneer and curry dishes we heard music on another side of the dining area. It turned out to be a dancing demonstration given by a woman dressed in traditional garb from India. Such an added treat.
The city is quite magical in the early evening soon after the sun goes down. The Christmas markets are aglow, the glockenspiel is sounding off on the hour with the collection of figures going in a circle around the clock—but the clock is running all year. Communicating with people is sometimes easy since many people speak English, but the ones that don’t speak in spite of my lack of understanding which isn’t to terrible in daily required events. I give thanks to another friend who had me take a month of immersion German in Berlin a few years back. Except I can’t understand a thing out of context such as a discussion on philosophy or politics. Forgetting speaking anything beyond; please, thank you, and I’d like…. At one point, I was so terrified I couldn’t even do that. The more I travel and get acquainted with cultural customs and listening to other languages, the more comfortable I become.
Back to the market booths. They are all are made of a type of alpine wood and hold treasures of glistening ornaments, carved candles, and wood. Some nearby store windows display nutcrackers, ceramic beer steins, and cuckoo clocks that are larger than my head. Across the court, children gather around a window. Its contents took me straight back to my childhood, and emotions welled up in my heart. Moving stuffed bears and bunnies filled the landscape like the ones in Washington, D.C. in the Woodward & Lothrop windows that my parents took me to see every year. It is no longer there since the store was closed forever a few years back. But here, in Munich, the window is full, and I am too. I couldn’t stand there for hours, so I pulled myself away after taking a photograph with my phone.
Next, I found a bratwurst at a stand and bought it straight away without a care as the shopkeeper stops speaking German and switched to English. The meat was not like any American brand. It was tender and delicious with some sort of spice within the meat and cupped in a fresh bun. It was the best and first euros I spend after getting off the train.
Onto the church to find high vaulted ceilings and a deep colored variety of stained-glass windows that I drank into my soul. This should complete the day and some ways it did. We were so tired at noon that we went back to the hotel and fell asleep for a few hours. This time warp almost felt like it gave us two days in one.
Deeper into the English Garden, we went to the Christmas market within the beer garden next to the Chinesischer Turm Restaurant.
A familiar park is near our hotel. Coming back to the surfers felt like coming home. It’s been years since I last visited. Next to the bridge the water waved rapidly back and forth sweeping the riders clad in wet suits along the current over and over.
We woke up at 5:30 and fell back asleep until 11. Breakfast time was over at the hotel so we didn’t both to grab it elsewhere and went to the Deutches Museum. There we managed to get lost in the mines and sea fairing exhibits for ages before finding the hands-on exhibits. We had to go up an elevator to be able to go down into another section. We couldn’t find the nano-technology exhibit because we were overcome by hunger and thirst. I guess that part of the museum will have to be visited on our next trip to München.
We walked back to the Christmas market and samples a variety of foods, which turned out to be our only meal of the day. Currywurst, bratwurst, a thing that looked like a fluffy pancake with cinnamon and sugar, another item that was spaetzle with sauerkraut, and finally some spiced wine (called Gluehwein). All quite delicious and a warm drink in the chili afternoon. Moving around the market was trickier today because it’s Saturday, and the crowds multiplied in triplicate compared to yesterday. Nevertheless, the new discoveries were worth the bumper pool walking. New nativity scenes were found with do-it-yourself painting kits and completed kits. They appeared to be reasonably priced until we figured out the stable was priced separately from the figures.
DAY THREE – leaving München,going to Wien (Vienna)
Today I am in a silly state of mind after not sleeping through the night. Off and on, I woke thinking about every aspect of my life in spurts and flows. Then I went over what is to come. I blame it all on a chili chocolate bar with a fair amount of caffeine; I should have known better, but the bar was irresistible. The morning came too soon. We went to breakfast in the lower level of the hotel and found a marvelous selection. A rack of honey straight from the hive for breads, soft-boiled eggs from the coop, fresh vegetables, fruits, and cheeses. To top it all off—fresh orange juice and coffee mit Milch.
Away we went after breakfast to the metro through two stations to the main train line for a three-hour journey to Wien. We may be there before our friends since they missed the connecting train in Nuremberg. I wanted them to get their first since the directions to get into our apartment require having a conversation with a shop keeper and then putting a pass-code into a keypad at the door. My confidence in travel has much improved over the years so I am not worried.
On our train, we reserved a seat in advance and are now sitting in window seats at a table next to another couple who are intermittently speaking German. Words here and there are familiar from my immersion course in Berlin several years ago. My friend, unlike me, has been studying the language for years. I should have since I was born here, but I don’t. Perhaps it’s stubbornness or lack of language discipline, or it might be because Spanish is more prevalent in the United States, so I am able to listen to it more often. If I am not in the culture, I tend not to commit to trying to learn. Immersion works better for me, I think. While I am here, I am regretting my choice, but I am listening, reading signs, using a translator on my phone. I hear people use short-cuts and abbreviations for phrases or words I have learned in Berlin. An attempt is better than doing nothing.
The countryside along the train route is covered with evergreen trees, lakes, short-term camping cabins in small clustered communities, and in the background high mountains bigger than Wyoming mountains.
DAY FOUR, FIVE, and SIX – Wien (Vienna)
The first evening arrived in Wien and acquired our accommodation’s key from a Chinese lady’s shop on the street level. She had three or four cats wandering around the coffee shop. Upstairs was our palatial AirBnB accommodation with three separate bedrooms, two full-baths, one half bath. An open kitchen/dining/living room area with honey and raspberry striped curtains. Replicas and prints of classic artists framed in gold or black all over the apartment. Ten-foot ceilings. We felt like royalty or rock stars or people with unlimited funds, which we do not have.
The Christmas Markets are all over town in various sizes, but they have basically the same type of food, drink and goods to sell. The items are too numerous to cover in detail. There are things like Christmas tree decorations, carved candles, bags, knitted items, chocolate formed into tools, wooden figurines (nativity sets painted and not), gingerbread items (as food or decoration), cuckoo clocks, beer mugs, etc. So many things to look at that they almost blur together in my mind—I took photographs to sort out the cobwebs in my mind. The biggest market of them all has an ice-skating area that weaves around an area through corridors, there are also live coral singers that entertain for a short time in the evenings, and lights are twinkling in the trees.
Small Christmas market (Gluwine – Red mulled wine)
Naschmarkt Christmas Market (a big one – south of the Ringstrasse)
Saint Stephen’s Cathedral – is as ornate as any al in Europe. In this one, I noticed an altar in a small chapel with a glass front. Behind it was a partially clothed skeleton reclining on his side. I wasn’t particularly shocked because I’ve seen collections of bones stacked in other places, but those were done to save space while creating an artistic display to honor the dead. This doesn’t seem like something I’d want for myself. After this wanted to go to the Nativity display behind the church to lighten my mood, except it wasn’t what I’d expected. I thought it would be one large manger scene with live animals and wooden statues of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Instead, there were a couple dozen small displays all created by different artists in various forms of wood, paint, and plaster — a miniature dollhouse concept.
We also found these places very much worth the time and highly recommend visiting them at least once.
Kuntshistorisches Museum (I love the golden ornate animated/music type boxes and dolls that were once table centerpieces on wealthy landowners’ homes. Specifically, the Hapsburg family. I put one in my first novel)
Opera House Tour (a walk through the place with a tour guide)
Vienna Hofburg Orchestra: Mozart and Strauss Concert (music along with a couple dancing)
Bowaki Restaurant (Romanian food. The dessert was fabulous. Make a reservation and spend a couple of hours dining there)
Spanish Riding School (no photographing permitted the training area). With some difficulty, I rooted out the various options at the facility. They escalate from simple to extravagant. The only event that I found with a free entry was the Advent-event, which begins on December first from 4 – 10pm daily through January 6th (except December 6th, 24th – 26th and January 1st). This can be accessed through the inner courtyard of the stable castle at Reitschulgasse 2, 1010 Vienna. At this address there are drinks and food to observe and purchase. As for the performances, I had only remembered one show from my visit over thirty years ago, but now there are many options at various prices. The least expensive of the group was the morning exercise program; I chose this option. My memory of that hadn’t changed. The horses, some fully and some partially trained, pranced around the arena guided by riders of various levels of experience. The brown coats being the ones with more than the grey coats. For me, the difference this time was that I had enough riding experience to almost move my hands, my seat, and my legs to send commands to the horse while I sat in my folding chair in the audience. I have never done dressage on that level, but having some understanding of what the riders were doing enriched the experience.
MAK museum was rather unusual from my perspective. A few rooms had traditional carpets, lace, and furniture on display. Others had modern gadgets like a ‘robot’ to dust, vacuum and scrub someone’s home. There was also a room with repurposed items and demonstrations of the latest collection methods for wasted water bottles floating in the oceans.
PARIS – December 5, 2019
Our intention was to leave for Paris on a flight with Austrian Airlines. This was also the intention of our four traveling companions. After assessing the up-coming labor strike over pension time-lines and benefits, we decided not to go to Paris (the strike is all over France; Marseille-Lyon-Rennes-Bayonne to name a couple others). The French public service community is unhappy with President Emmanuel Macron’s plans. There hasn’t been such a massive worker strike since 1995 when President Jacques Chirac tried the same thing. The news reports coming out of Paris say many private shops are closed because of the strike. The police ordered some restaurants and liquor establishments on several streets to close for safety reasons. They are on Boulevard de Denain, Boulevard de Magenta, Place de la Republique, Boulevard Voltaire and Place de la Nation. The businesses have boarded up their storefronts to keep the glass from being broken by demonstrators. The Eiffel Tower has been closed as well. Most of the trains and public transportation are not running. The yellow coats will be out protesting in force. Six thousand police are on duty during the strike. They were tested when violence broke out. People clad in black at Place de la Republique and Boulevard de Magenta. They set objects and trash cans on fire. Others threw bricks they’d ripped out of the sidewalks. Some overturned a shipping size container. Another climbed the side of a building’s iron bars and destroyed the security camera. Police responded with tear gas towards the demonstrators and blocked the streets with vans parked side by side.
When our group of three couples decided to cancel our trip to Paris, we each came across different challenges. The most positive of the challenges came when we contacted hotels and tour/class businesses asking for a refund on non-refundable slots. Most complied with apologies (ParisByMouth.com). We were impressed with The Hotel Galileo as they lost a large amount of money by refunding our stay. In the future, we will certainly stay there and recommend them to others. The Cordon Blu (Address; 13-15 Quai Andre Citroen. Phone; +33(0)1 85 65 150) was to provide some of us with a tour and others a lesson—they contacted us to reschedule before we had a chance to ask. Two exceptions; the Eiffel Tower, with its complex website of ascent options, declined our compensation request, and Moulin Rouge said we had two years to use a voucher for another performance, which was acceptable to the couples who had purchased those tickets. We were also sad to miss going to the unicorn tapestry exhibit at the Cluny Museum-our third attempt in as many visits to Paris; closed on the other two visits. We hadn’t planned to go to the Louvre this time, so that wasn’t an issue, but I fondly recall the goat tied in a ditch outside trimming the grass. Looking across the goat to the plaza, there was a man proposing marriage to his lady on one knee.
Four of us were on flights that were canceled and therefore, they could get a refund. The other couple—which included me—did not have a canceled flight; one of the only ones that wasn’t. Regardless, we took the small financial loss and scheduled a new flight from Vienna to Porto, Portugal. This appeared to be the best choice since we had planned to go there after Paris anyway.
My husband and I got to the airport and discovered our new flights with TAPortugal airline only had one of the two boarding passes we paid for. After negotiating with the window agent, making an attempt on-line, and on the phone, we failed to solve the issue. Another flight had to be booked, but the timing was quite taxing. We had arrived at the airport at ten in the morning and the flight we finally acquired left at 8:30 at night. It took us to the southern end of Portugal—Lisbon—and leaves us there for eight hours. In the morning, we boarded another plane to Porto and arrived at around seven in the morning. We could have stayed in Lisbon since we’d planned to go there a week later, but we’d already booked lodging and transportation from one end of the country to the other. MAYBE that was a mistake. The time to cancel out accommodations had passed, and the trains tickets were non-refundable. When I traveled in Portugal a couple of years ago, nothing beyond a day or two was booked in advance. This was our daughter’s idea. At the time, I was very uncomfortable with the idea, but it turned out to be precisely the right choice.
Time with the Rickel family (my mother Gretchen’s ancestry). This is an excerpt from a writing I stumbled across. It sounds very much like what I’ve heard about my Grandfather Armin’s father. I made a note or two in ( ) throughout. I am unclear as to who the author of this work is; might be Walter Pitkin-1940s.
The Rickels lived in a big brick house on
the northern side of Adelaide Street. To us, of Fourteenth Street, it was a
king’s palace. Yet, it was only a comfortable dwelling with high ceilings and
many rooms, all furnished well but plainly.
by one, the family appeared. First the mother, a sweet, simple woman who
reminded me in some ways of my own mother. Then the two oldest brothers, both
so much older than I that to them I was just a kid. They heeded me little. Then
Martha and Armin, the two youngest. Martha was a darling of eight or nine
years; I quite fell in love with her. Armin was a clever boy with a bright
smile. He won me, too, on the spot. All was well. Yes, but what was that noise
harsh noise. A loud noise. A noise from a human throat. A noise indicating
anger. And so, in came Mr. Rickel, lord of the manor. A small, slightly bent
man, with thin, tight lips, he was trying to shake off a bad tempter. Somebody
who had come up the walk with him had enraged him, and he did not try to
suppress his fury.
family hushed. Mr. Rickel rumbled and bumbled around, uttering something in
German. Then Mama Rickel said something to him in German. Then the older sons.
I fell out of the parade.
we sat down for supper, the old man had subsided. Then he said to me, in
excellent, crisp English: “If you want to be around here much, you must learn
he was sprightly, told stories, poked fun at the boys and girls, and was
study Greek, under Sherrard?” He lifted his brows. “Now, see here, you fool!—”
this to (his son) Harry. “You should learn Greek. But you are too lazy.” And
then into a rasping diatribe against the unambitious Rickel children.
victim sat must throughout it. That was the custom. How different from us
Yankees! We’d have talked back. And not too sweetly, under the criticism.
was this? A tall, slender bottle of Rhine wine being poured into glasses around
the table. Wine! None of that wicked stuff in our Prohibitionist home. When
Uncle Walter craved wine, he sneaked off with me to Put-In-Bay. Here the family
drank it unashamed. Yes, this was a new culture indeed.
wine! Put-In-Bay never grew its equal. Old man Rickel grinned, and poured me
another glass, and then another. Oh, yum! Incidentally, I ate like two pigs,
too. And such food! A potato salad the likes of which had never hypnotized my
tongue. Cold cuts of every sort, all the finest. Black rye bread. Heaps of
strong cheese…. But enough! I must get back to trivial matters.
Harry and I sit on the porch? Did we lie on the lawn? Did we go upstairs? Did
we fall asleep at the table? Who knows? Not I. All I recall is my wandering
home late that night, vowing that German pumpernickel was the best pumpernickel
to be had for a nickel, and that some day I must go to Germany where the wine
came from. Hooray!
took to dropping in once a week, then twice.
must take German lessons from Hermann,” Mr. Rickel insisted. “It is a shame you
do not understand us half the time. Yes, you go see Hermann, tomorrow.”
to Hermann I went. The teacher dwelt along the railroad tracks on the east
side. He was a hulk of beery fat through which two merry little eyes peered,
for all the world, like a little pig looking under a fence…or something.
begin now,” he said and set a stein of beer in front of me. He uttered sundry
short sentences having to do with beer and drinking in company. He began “Prosit”
and worked up. After an hour of this, he brought in a china coffee pot, which
drained while I babbled at my best.
best was bad. Sherrard was getting my best. I didn’t have genius enough for two
bests. So, I gave Hermann my second best and made a fair start. And before
winter set in, I had caught my stride. Hermann was pleased. But old man Rickel
was delighted, although he was stingy with compliments.
began taking me around to the Harmonie Verien, the best German club
within many hundred miles. There I met the grand of Germans, the Marxhausens,
the Carstens, the Muellers, the Breitmeyers and a score more. There too I began
to discover that my German was a wretched blend of the real stuff and
second-generation American German. The latter was what I heard and used with
boys and girls of my own age. It enraged old man Rickel. He used to berate
Harry by the hour for getting words out of order or using the wrong gender. But
little did that help anybody. The second generation was growing up American.
The larger background of culture that made German what it was no longer existed
in Detroit. But the German elders didn’t understand that one must have the total
situation in order to develop habits suited to it.
this was the first alien culture into which I moved, I observed it closely and
came to many conclusions about it. Some of these came much later, of course;
but they may be stated here, without ruining my story. I liked enormously the
willingness to work hard, the eagerness to learn everything about a subject,
the almost brutal frankness, the neatness and the marvelous plain food. I could
not understand the mania for singing and for games. And I powerfully disliked
the power of the elders over the young. This marked the widest breach between
our old Yankee world and the German.
The older men puzzled me for a long time. They worshiped Abe Lincoln (1809-1865). Old man Rickel would speak of Abe as if Abe were God. I never could do that, though I too admired Abe in my own way. Other men of the passing generation then would praise America and our democracy more fervently in private talks than any Fourth-of-July orator could. At length this grew clear.
man Rickel was a little boy back in Germany when in 1848 Carl Schurz (1829-1906)
and his band joined the revolution, to overthrow the old regime. Ailing, Schurz
and the others fled to America, where they received with hurrahs by our own
patriots. Many of them grew rich, famous and powerful here. Our people took
them in warmly. These revolutionists later joined the Union Army and fought to
preserve the Union. Abe was their Commander-in-Chief.
ambitious German boys followed the blazed trail. Between 1850 and 1880
thousands of the keenest, most democratic among the youth of the fatherland
came over here. And out of their number grew up the German community centering
around the Harmonie Verein…
manufacturers, chemists, engineers, physicians, professors—of such was the
group made up. No wonder that I came to dislike the French and Irish and Poles
and other groups out our way! I did not understand at the time that I was
making an unfair comparison. I was setting over against the cultured,
prosperous upper-class Germans our own rabble of poor, struggling toilers, not
one of whom had ever enjoyed what we today call a high school education.
are our prejudices formed.
man Rickel shaped my life as much as anybody else. He never knew it. I wish I
might have told him before he died. He would have been pleased.
had a fanatical love of German learning. Germans knew best, Germans studied
hardest. Germans made the greatest discoveries. The only thing wrong with
Germans in the old country was that they were political morons. They allowed
the Hohenzollerns (German noble family that ruled
Brandenburg and Prussia from 1871–1918) to kick them around.
and psychology?” said he, many a time. “If you ever wish to amount to anything
in those fields, you must study in Berlin.”
said he again. “If you don’t go to an Arab country to learn it, you must go to
this he was supported by his son-in-law, Dr. Osius, a keen physician (who had)
lately arrived from Germany. Osius was German of the Germans. In time I found
out how and why. He laughed softly when anyone mentioned Johns Hopkins Medical
or Harvard Medical.
time, I am sure,” he would say, “these will become great institutions. But as
yet—” And then a polite and devastating shrug…
Note; I have no knowledge about the families of Marxhausen, Carsten, Mueller or Breitmeyer, but I did know the Osius family.
Note; Harmonie Verien – referred to in the text.
Translates to harmonic society.
There is a site that sells a print with a description of what this might have stood for. See https://www.artbybryanhaynes.com/shop/augusta-harmonie-verein/ The site says – “The Harmonie-Verein (Harmonics Society) organized on January 13, 1856 would offer German immigrants festivals and events in the language and traditions of their homeland, strengthening the sense of community and easing the harshness of frontier life…”
My overall opinion – rate 4 out of 5 (I liked it, a lot).
This author, an American, went to Paris and never left. Why you might ask; she met a man and they married. This book discusses what she’s learned over thirty years. Her perspectives on food, fashion, and social behaviors clarified many of my misconceptions I had about the French. For example, restaurants don’t have take-away bags because they expect you to order only what you can eat and enjoy your meal with your companions. Private dinner parties may not start until eight in the evening and go on until at least midnight. The Parisians have a firm grasp on ‘the joy of life’ even though many people think they can be somewhat combative and unfriendly. They are actually quite the opposite and love to stir up things to make life more interesting. I understand Harriet has several other books and I look forward to reading them in the future. I think this is a non-fiction book worth checking out.