Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Home, Safe and Sound!

After 3 weeks on the road, Lowell, Mickey and I got home this evening. Dan is in Singapore for a couple more days and of course Laura and Tom are in Toulouse for a few more months!

This was our last European sunset - from the deck at Tom and Laura's flat.
We got up about 8 this morning, packed and walked to the bakery down the street for croissants. Then Laura gave us a ride to the airport. We left Toulouse at noon, flew to Amsterdam and caught a 3:20 PM flight to MSP. All of our connections went very well - including negotiating the huge Amsterdam airport. The plane taxied for 20 minutes before letting us off - at the cargo terminal! Then we took a bus to the main terminal, went through a passport check and another security check, and onto the plane. We landed in Minneapolis at 5:30 MN time (12:30 AM Toulouse time!) It's now about 4 AM in Touloluse - time for us to crash. Can't wait to look at pictures and share a few more adventures with you - but not tonight!!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's been a crazy week - we left Garmisch last Tuesday, spent 2 days in Munich, one day traveling to Luxembourg via Primstal, and one day traveling to Toulouse by train via Paris! Check Laura's blog for our Oktoberfest pictures.
Since we've been to Toulouse we have been walking around the city quite a lot - great open air markets and lots to see here. We also spent an afternoon in Lourdes. The churches and monuments there are wonderful - the town is another story! Yesterday we drove to the Mediterranian - Tom, Lowell and I braved the chilly water. After lunch at a little seaside cafe, we drove to the city of Carcassone - a fascinating medival castle.

I'll try to post more about those places after we get home - we are heading out to walk to Laura's favorite park in Toulouse and then this afternoon we'll drive somewhere. Tom went back to work today, so we'll meet him for Happy Hour this evening. Tomorrow we leave - first a flight from Toulouse to Amsterdam - then Amsterdam to MSP. We have so many great stories and memories, I could probably blog everyday for the next month! I won't do that, but I will try to fill in some of the pieces - food, transportation, etc.
It's been a wonderful 3 weeks - I can't thank Dan & Mickey and Laura & Tom enough for all their guiding and hospitality. See you all stateside soon!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Home Sweet Apartments!

Guten Tag! Well, get yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or a bottle of beer - I'm thinking this blog might be a long one! The slide show is a loooong one - I think 70+ pictures range!

The last couple of days here in Garmisch-Partenkirchen have been wonderful - we got here on Friday morning and Laura talked about our trips that day. On Saturday we headed to Bercthesgaden and the Eagle's Nest - check Laura's blog for a few more details about that day. On Sunday morning, we we headed to Schloss Neuschawnstein - a beautiful castle built by that Crazy Kind Ludwig II! (Before we got to the castle, we stopped at a beautiful lake called Plansee). The castle was only partially completed at the time of Ludwig's mysterious drowning in Lake Starnberg. This castle was Walt Disney's inspiration for the Disneyland castles. We walked up to the castle - despite the option of taking a horse cart or bus - and then walked to a bridge behind the castle to get a great view of the castle and a waterfall behind it. Dan, Lowell, Tom and Mickey hiked a little farther up the hill - Laura and I waited at the bridge and took pictures - the bridge was a little shakey!! The castle was beautiful - you can just imagine Cinderella dancing through the hallways. After the castle we went to see Weiskirche - a really beautiful little spot right in the middle of a farmer's field - another very beautiful church with wonderful pictures and big windows so that it was bright and beautiful inside! For dinner we headed out to a little restaurant here in Garmisch - Dan and Lowell feasted on Leberknoedelsuppe (liver ball soup!!!!) All of us had great German entree's and finished off the meal with apple strudel, vanilla ice cream & whipped cream - aahhhhhhhh!
Today is Monday - we went to the Zugsptize, the tallest mountain peak in Germany at 2962 meters. We took the gondola up and the cogwheel train back down. It was darn chilly up there at 19 degrees!!!! But the view was absolutely spectacular! Even with a bit of cloud cover you could see for miles and miles. We will all have many, many pictures to share when we get home. It was hard to choose just a few pictures to share with you.
This afternoon Laura and I walked in through Garmisch, window shopping and taking in the "local" culture. The rest of the crew headed out to Ettal for a "hike" into the mountains. Their afternoon was cut short by a rain/hail storm! After they all got back and warmed up, we went to the grocery store and bought some wine, chicken, bread and salad for dinner.

That brings us to the apartments!!! We have had 3 wonderful apartments to call "home" while we have been on this trip. In Rome, we had a nice 2 bedroom place in a courtyard. The kitchen was very small, but the living room/dining room area was spacious and the neighborhood was lovely! It was a tree lined street lined with little sidewalk cafes. We were able to make a few meals, wash clothes and still walk to Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the subway station! Rome has a very urban, busy feel to it and the apartment felt quite sophisticated.

When we got to Florence, Elise met us at the apartment and we walked into an Ikea advertisement! Everything from the refrigerator to the stove to the cabinets to the dishes, pots and pans and beds were from Ikea. The most unique part of that apartment was the second bathroom. There was a shower curtain just inside the door - when you need to use the shower in that room, a lever diverted the water from the sink to the shower head and the room turned into a shower stall - with a toilet and sink in it. Forence was more of an artsy town - much more relaxed than Rome and easy to get around. There was a cute little bar/deli across the street from us - it only got obnoxiously noisy one night!

Here in Garmisch we have 2 apartments that have a door between them. This is a relaxed little farm community. In fact they walk the cows through the city streets every morning and evening!! Seriously - and the cows all wear those big ol' cow bells!! The town is relaxed and VERY Bavarian. Our apartments are comfortable and spacious - from the deck we see the mountains and the cows walking through the streets! Two other bits of local information - homes and businesses often have beautiful paintings on the outside walls and in the country the barns are connected right to the houses! It's all very quaint! We have all decided that we love Bavaria!!
So, get yourself another beverage and watch this very long slide show - we have enjoyed seeing and doing so much and we want to share all the beautiful sites with all of you!!!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Giovedi en Italia/Freitag im Deustchland

What a crazy couple of days!! Yesterday (Thursday) we checked out of our flat on Via Toscanella in Florence. (One of these nights I'll need to write about all of our accomodations-we have stayed in apartments in Rome, Florence and now in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. All of them have been wonderful, all were booked online, so we have been pleasantly surprised each time we checked in.) At 10 AM we took the bus to the train station with our luggage and checked it into storage at the station. We checked a few schedules and decided to use our Eurail passes to take a train to Siena for a day trip!
Siena is a quaint little town with a very medieval look and history. There is a great central square called Piazza Del Campo, with tiny little streets radiating off the center. We went to The Cathedral, it was beautiful, but different than the churches and cathedrals in Florence - the inside was darker and seemed colder. Seina deserves a couple of days of exploring on it's own! We grabbed sandwiches at a little bakery, ate and took the train back to Florence. Then with a couple of hours to kill before our night train left for Munich, we walked around the city again and got our last taste of Italian gelati. At 9:30 we boarded our train to Germany. We had sleeper cars - they were really quite comfortable but it was a little difficult to sleep while bumping through the mountains, but we all got some sleep and we arrived in München Friday morning at 6:30 AM.

So today has been all about the culture change - danke not gazie; ya not si; castles instead of churches, beer and schwieneschnitzel instead of wine and pizza!!

We picked up a minivan, drove south to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and checked into the apartment by 9 AM. We drove to Schloss Linderhof - a hunting castle built by Crazy King Ludwig. The castle was smaller than we had imagined, but really ornate. Apparently Ludwig was kind of an odd duck - he didn't like to have anyone around when he ate, so his table was lowered into the kitchen one floor below his dinning room, the servants set the food out and sent it back up to him. The most unusual part was probably the Gotto - an artificial cave that Luwig had built into the mountain so that he could have Richard Wagner preform his operas privately. Ludwig had a throne as well as a shell shaped boat and artificial lake in the Grotto. Funny thing was - the acoustics were so bad in there that there was only one performance - ever!!

A quick trip down the highway brought us to Oberammergau and a great little restaurant called the Hasen-Bräu. Good beer & great meals all around! We did some window shopping and topped the day off with a visit to a monastery in Ettal -- another beautiful church built in the 1300's and this one has large windows so it was lighter inside. We had dinner here at the apartment tonight, there's a grocery store right across the street - you should see the 6 of us shopping without a list! Then we watched the broadcast of yesterdays Twins game on the internet.

A little hint for all of you - our brother Dan is a veritable font of historic knowledge! He's been a terrific guide, we usually know the best pieces of history about a particular place even before our guided tours begin. If you can't travel with Dan though, the Green Guides by Michelin are great!

While driving between all these places we were treated to beautiful countryside and spectacular mountain scenery. From the deck of our apartment you can see Zugspitze - the highest mountain peak in Germany at 2962 metres, just under 10,000 feet! Take care all - we are having a wonderful time and will have many more stories to share when we get home.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We climbed to the top of the dome in the Duomo in Florence today! The climb was 464 steps from bottom to top. Along the way some of the passage got to be very narrow. Along one of the very narrow passages inside the church dome along the high wall of the church, where the curvature of the dome, meets the wall, a fairly large woman decided to go against traffic. We all had to squeeze tightly for her to get by. Tom took the brunt of the frontal attack, as he was leading our group. Lowell was unlucky to be on the corner and took a 270 degree swipe. Unfortunate, but neither was physically hurt in the awkward situation. Upon reaching the top, the views were spectacular.

With all the pictures taken, we headed back down and went into the church. The Duomo (St. Maria de Fioro) is a beautiful cathedral built in the 13 century.
We walked from there to the next church on the list of many to see. St. Maria Novella. A smaller church with a spectacular alter. The church was also built in the 13 century. The green and white marble alter is very high. Too bad we could not take pictures to include here. The churches, the designs, the architecture, the colors, the age, and the size of all of the churches have us all in awe.
The girls went shopping for a half hour today and came away with only some nice pictures of the goods for sale.

Florence is a walking town and we have done our share of walking. We have seen churches, panoramic views of the city, museums, sculptures, renaissance art, frescos, tombs and monuments. All within walking distance of our apartment. We stopped at our favorite bakery and made diner at the apartment again today and then went out for a gelati.

After dinner another night stroll around the town to see the night sights. Everything is picturesque and we all have our cameras working at night to search for the best shots. Most are erased, but every now and then we get one to keep.
Tomorrow is a travel day. We take a night train from Florence to Munich. It leaves at 10:00pm. We have to be out of the apartment by 10:00am, so it will be a busy morning, and by evening, the day will be dragging as we wait for the late train. But in between we will adventure into the city once again to enjoy the Tuscan day and find something new in the city.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Italian Nights

We arrived in Florence (Firenze in Italian!) this afternoon via train - another great day and another beautiful city. Each day we spend most of our time wandering/walking through the streets and looking at really, really big, beautiful churches and ancient buildings. There's is so much to see that I don't know what to write about in this blog - besides all of the spectacular sights, ther is the food, people, transportation, and on and on!
On Saturday evening we walked down to Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and Piazza Navona. The piazza was a really busy place - there were lots of vendors, street mimes and actors, musicians and some kind of Ballroom Dancing exhibition. On the way home we had some wonderful gelati and met a couple of young priests from the States at the gelati stand - they are both here working on the doctorate degrees. These wonderful buildings become even more spectacular with the night lighting. We took lots of pictures - some turned out better than others, but we haven't had time to sort through, straighten and make corrections. We became adept at using the bus/subway system in Rome - really very easy and certainly preferable to driving on these crazy streets!!
Sunday morning we went to the Vatican and attended the Latin High Mass at the Basillica of St. Peter's - a truly beautiful and amazing experience. From there we went to the Baths of Caracalla -- the ruins of the ancient Roman bath house. Gotta tell you, Lifetime has nothing on them!!! They could handle 1600 people at a time in pools (hot, cold and warm pools in succession) in addition to cafes, libraries, exercise rooms and sunbathing platforms. The floors were covered with mosaic tiles in geometric designs as well as a variety of pictures.
In the evening we went back to the Colosseum and St. Peter's to see them in the night lighting, before another dinner at an interesting little sidewalk cafe.
It's getting late - after midnight here - and everyone else is asleep, so I'm going to try to get this posted and get to sleep - tomorrow will be another big day - Ciao!

Friday, September 12, 2008

It's All in the Details!

Everyone who travels to Rome has told us - it's amazing, it's overwhelming, it's awesome. They are absolutely right! We spent today exploring the Vatican, including the museums, the Sistine Chapel, & St. Peter's Bascilia. Then we walked to Piazza Navona and the Pantheon and then walked home - and there is just WAYYYY too much to tell you about, so I'm going to highlight a few details that stand out after spending 2 days here in Rome.

The gazillion fountains here in Rome are fed through an extensive aquaduct system. The first Fountain in the series is at the Spanish Steps. Every fountain has several spigots where you can fill your water bottles - which we've done a lot! It's been HOT here -- we walk all day. If you aren't careful, you can fall in a fountain - the polizio don't care for that much!

There are marble sculptures absolutely everywhere! Many are from more than 2000 years ago - they are in various stages of disrepair, but even when they find a part of a sculpture it gets put on display somewhere.

The dome of St. Peter's is spectacular - we hope to climb the 350 steps up into the cupola tomorrow!

The Swiss Guards at the Vatican are billed as the most freocious, well trained guards in the world -- you be the judge!

Apparently, even in ancient "Roma" young boys were known to terrorize chickens and geese - does anyone else remember the picture of Dan and the chicken???

A good gelati at the end of a long day walking through Roma is terrific!

Even apartments have painted ceilings - here is our living room!

We also followed up with a great dinner at a little place around the corner! Another great day - we've got many more stories - more will follow! Don't forget to check Laura's blog too - http://toulousetales.blogspot.com - we're trying to alternate days, we either don't have enough time or we're too tired to keep up 2 blogs!!


Jackie, Lowell, Laura, Tom, Dan and Mickey

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Today is Thursday - this must be Rome!

Wednesday we explored London via the trains/underground/open top bus and on foot.
We started the day in Slough. Took a train from Slough to Padington station and the underground to Victoria station. From there we got on the Big Bus and took the double decker bus tour of London. We saw all the major landmarks. Big Ben; Scotland yards; Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliment; the London Eye; the Tower Bridge. At about 2:00 in the afternoon, we met Dan at the Tower of London. We took a tour of the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels, the infamous torture chambers; White tower and all the other sights inside this massive medieval city. We took the underground from the Tower of London to Westminster and the walked through St. James Park to Buckingham Palace. From there we went to Harrods. We walked through many of the halls and took pictures of some of the outrageous things they sell like the Rib Eye Steaks for $150.00 per pound, the $3000.00 for couple ounces of Beluga caviar; $2500.00 for a piece of luggage; $20,000.00 (that’s not a mistake) bottle of Dom Perrignon champagne…. On and on…. Quite a store.

Tonight we are all together Rome – Laura and Tom arrived in Rome via train and Dan, Mickey, Lowell and I flew in from London early. Unbelievably we all met up at the train station at 11:15am and took a taxi to the apartment. We got settled into the apartment and took off to see Rome!
We started at the Spanish steps – walked to Trevi Fountain, and each made sure to throw 2 coins into the fountain, one to assure your return to Rome and the other for another wish. After a pizza and beer lunch, we walked to the Coliseum and the Forum. At the end of the day, we figured out the city bus system (sort of!) and headed back to the apartment. We bought some groceries and ate at the apartment. A big start to our Roman adventure and tomorrow we are starting out at 8:00am to go to the Vatican!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Windsor in the Rain

We arrived here in London this morning at about 11:35 AM, got to our Heathrow area hotel by about 2:30 and after checking in, promptly headed to Windsor Castle, the Royal Family's weekend retreat, the oldest and largest castle in Englnad. Despite the drizzle we were able to tour several places in the castle, including St. George's Chapel and Queen Mary's doll house and several of the state rooms. Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures inside.

St. George's Chapel, initiated in 1475 & completed in 1528.

We had a nice dinner at The Royal Oak, a little English Pub, English beer, beef & ale pies, and fishcakes. We walked around the village for a bit after dinner and headed back here - we are all trying to stay awake a little bit longer so we can sleep through the night. Tomorrow we head into London proper.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


We just returned from the cabin - we've spent so much time there this summer, it felt kind of strange to know that we won't be back there for a full month. It's been a great summer, but school is in session again and fall is in the air in Hackensack, so that means it's time for our next adventure -
On Monday evening we leave for London! We have our air and train tickets & hotel and apartment reservations. Now we need to get packed and get the last minute details ironed out. I hope to update this blog every couple of days in lieu of sending emails to everyone. We'll see how that goes. Please feel free to comment or email us while we are gone.
We will be traveling with my brother Dan and his wife Mickey. My sister Laura and her husband Tom will meet us in Rome for the rest of the trip, we'll return to their apartment in Toulouse for the last few days.
Here's our basic itinerary:
9/8 - evening flight from MSP direct to London, arriving in London 9/9 at about noon.
9/11 - fly from London to Rome
9/15 - Rome to Florence via the train
9/18 - Florence to Munich by overnight train
9/19 - Munich to Garmisch by car
9/23 - drive back to Munich (Oktoberfest!!)
9/25 - drive to Primstal to visit Ottmar, my grandfather's cousin (I think?!?) then to Luxembourg
9/26 - Luxembourg to Toulouse by train
9/30 - fly from Toulouse back to MSP via Amsterdam