Sunday, July 24, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

Of course, "home" these days is England instead of Texas.  After 10 days in Spain and on our cruise around the eastern Mediterranean that followed on the heels of a trip to Paris, I'm doing a one day turnaround.  Today I've washed umpteen loads of clothes and ironed so Annie and I can pack for two weeks in Texas.  Tomorrow morning at 7, we load up with the Huertas to hit the road to Heathrow where we'll wing our way to Texas.  

We've visited a lot of amazing places during the month of July.  We'll wrap up our summer travel seeing friends and family in the hill country.  I'll get back to more regular blogging once we return home.

Here we are with Annie's Boerne friend Claire and her mother Dana as we prepared for embarkation at the port of Barcelona on July 16.  By the end of the trip, the girls were desperately sleep deprived from all their socializing, Dana had acquired a whole host of blisters on her feet and I had earned the nickname Travel Nazi.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

File it under "Miscellaneous Munich"

A week from today I'll be in Paris.  And then the week after that I'll be on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean.  Therefore, I need to wrap up the last little bits of blogging about our Munich trip.

The above picture was taken in the shell grotto of the Residenz Palace.  This is an excerpt from Rick Steves' Germany book explaining it.

The "shell grotto" at Munich's Residenz palace is an inspirational story of reconstruction. This artificial grotto was an exercise in man controlling nature — a celebration of humanism, which was in vogue when it was built in the 1550s. This strange structure is made from Bavarian freshwater shells, with Mercury (the pre-Christian god of trade and business) overseeing the action, and red wine spurting from the mermaid's breasts and dripping from Medusa's head in the courtyard. The palace and the grotto were demolished by WWII bombs. After the war, people had no money to contribute to the reconstruction — but they could gather shells. All the shells in today's reconstructed grotto were donated by small-town Bavarians.

I'm just in awe, that Germans gathered all of the shells to have something this old and unique reconstructed.  The Residenz Palace was very interesting and I could have spent a lot longer strolling through the maze of rooms.  I didn't even bother with an audio guide because the youngest child has a tendency to race through it all.  There were many things I saw and wondered about, but I'm afraid I'll have to just return one day to fully appreciate it.

I had to include this picture because she looks like such a sweet and innocent teenager.  Uh, yeah... this was snapped after I told her to quit throwing gang signs here in the palace hall called the antiquarium that was filled with 16th and 17th century frescoes as well as statuary.  Her little sister was photographing said throwing of gang signs and I figured the CCTV folks watching on their monitors might not appreciate her humor.

Get a load of this doorway!  It was inside the palace and it really dwarfs all three of them.  I've discovered I'm a big fan of intricate plasterwork that has been gilded, handpainted ceiling frescoes and patterned marble floors with artistic inlays, so maybe I could get some of that included in my next house.

Aren't these just darling?  I found them in a Christmas shop in Salzburg.  They are handpainted eggs you hang on Christmas trees.  Some of them are even decorated with stitching.  Love 'em!

I don't have a picture for this last little bit of Munich blurb, but I wish I did.  It would have been a group shot, though these people weren't all traveling together.  I'm talking about all of the folks on the tours that got on my nerves.  Obviously I don't need to sign on for any of those package tours because I would probably be thrown into jail in a foreign country for doing something heinous like slapping the back of the guy's head that was wearing the Texas Tech shirt because he took off his shoes and propped his feet up HIGH on the front bar of the bus since he was in the first seat on the upper deck.  Every time I looked forward, I had a clear shot of his big ugly feet to mar my views of the Bavarian countryside.  Dude, it's not your recliner back in Texas so let's show a bit of decorum.

The older Filipino couple were working this whole tag team approach.  He was loudly jabbering on his phone while the tour guide was trying to give his little spiel, so the guide stopped and asked him to end the call so the rest of us could hear what we had paid for.  At first the tour guide tried the old teacher trick, the stop talking and stare so that everyone else in the class/on the bus also stares and thus shames you into shutting your mouth.  Good idea, but it didn't work on Filipino man and we all got to hear his conversation really well since he was clueless and had to be asked to cease and desist.  And of course the worst part was that he was talking in his native language so it's not like we were getting to hear something interesting.

After he knocked it off, his wife kicked in with her bag of candy.  I swear it took her 30 minutes to wrestle open a crinkly plastic bag full of candy.  Every time it would stop making all that racket and you would think wow, she finally got it open, she would crank up the bag wrestling again.  THEN the sucking commenced for the next 30 minutes.  That must have been some really tasty hard candy because she was making these sounds like her taste buds had been burned off her tongue or she had permanently clogged sinuses and couldn't seem to taste the flavor unless she made this sucking noise loud enough to rattle the bus windows.  I kept hoping thinking she might choke on it. 

Finally, there were the ladies from Missouri that all figured out they were from the same city and had to tell each other the story of their lives on the ride back from Dachau.  Geesh, the rest of us don't care about the drama of your sister kicking you out because you turned up your nose about living on the south side of town, which obviously wasn't the place to be.  And do you have to talk loud enough for all of us around you to be subjected to your ongoing prattle about life back home?  There was no need for me to worry about the manners or behavior of our daughters while traveling in Europe.  There seemed to be lots of other adult travelers taking up their slack.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

How do you say burrito in German?

I just had to take the following pic when we were in Germany last week.  Jason and Callie were checking out the menu.  You can't help but wonder how authentic the Mexican food would be in this Munich restaurant named "Taco Libre".

I thought it was a cute play on words with the accompanying artwork of a dog as a masked luchador, kinda like Jack Black on all fours in the movie "Nacho Libre".  Rather than run the risk of getting salmonella from some sizzling steak fajitas, we opted to have an early supper at the Augustiner Keller.

Since my husband believes travel guru Rick Steves can do no wrong, we headed to Rick's favored place that the local Munchners prefer instead of the crowded and touristy Hofbrauhaus.  There is a big biergarten underneath the trees out front and to the side of the restaurant.  The walls of the restaurant were covered with traditional Bavarian wood carvings as well as light fixtures and there were a lot of stag heads scattered around the room.  

Our waiter spoke no English, so we ordered with the tried and true point to what you want on the menu, smile and shake your head in the affirmative.  The husband had sausages, the teenager had sirloin steak smothered in onions, the younger one had schnitzel and I had spaetzle.  What we all found interesting at the tables surrounding us were adults decked out in lederhosen and dirndls enjoying a beer... at 2:00 in the afternoon on a workday.  I think Europeans have this whole work-life balance down pat.  Prost!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Munich, Day 6

We spent Friday morning, our last full day in Munich, touring the Dachau concentration camp.  I knew it would be a somber way to end our vacation, but I felt it was important to expose the girls to what happened here during World War II.  It also held special significance to me because of Russ Anderson.  He was the grandfather of a set of twins in my 5th grade reading classes several years ago.  Every year when I taught literature circles with the common setting of World War II, Mr. Anderson and his wife Betty would come in to share their footlocker program with the kids.

Mr. Anderson was a 16-year-old teen living in the Midwest when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941.  He always recounted hearing President Roosevelt's famous "day that will live in infamy" speech on the radio to my students.  He had all sorts of interesting hands-on artifacts from this era that the kids oohed and aahed over, including military jackets and hats from the war.  It was a real honor to the students who were selected to come up during his presentation to model them.

To make a long story short, Mr. Anderson enlisted a couple years into the war and served in Europe.  He was with the American military that liberated the Dachau concentration camp outside Munich.  He never shared this with the students because it's hard to condense such a horrific aspect of the war into a 45 minute presentation, trying to explain the inexplicable hatred that was heaped upon certain people to innocent 5th graders.  In talking with the Andersons while not in the presence of students, I remember Mr. Anderson telling me that it was the most pitiful sight he had ever seen.  He recalled giving a hideously thin survivor some food on liberation day, which he inhaled and then perished because his starved body was unable to handle it.

Here is the entrance gate to the concentration camp with the infamous phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei", which translates to work making you free.  This concentration camp was established in 1933 right after Hitler came to power and immediately became the site to house enemies of the Fuhrer, both religious and political.  It served as the model for the concentration camp system for the next dozen years. 

This is the famous remembrance sculpture that is on display at the camp.

This is a pic looking from the camp admissions and bunker area across the roll call area to the rows of barracks, over twenty in all.  These are replicas since the originals were torn down in the 60s.

This picture was taken behind the replica barracks.  You can see the foundations for the rest of the barracks all lined up in a row.  It was a beautiful day and very peaceful, considering the anguish and sorrow of its past.

The word "BRAUSEBAD" above the door translates to showers.  The "showers" at Dachau served as the model for extermination camps like Auschwitz, where the victims were herded into rooms on the pretext of getting clean.  In reality, deadly gases were released into the rooms to kill them.  In a strange twist, the camp that established this heinous system of killing never actually used gas chambers to kill its inhabitants.

You can see the person in the bottom right of my picture taking her own picture of the faux shower head in the gas chamber.  It's a sad reminder that the Nazi extermination camps ran like a well-oiled machine.  

Obviously this picture doesn't need any explanations.  I gave our youngest daughter the PG version of the concentration camps, but didn't gloss over the purpose for the ovens.  We recalled how my mother had her old pug Winston cremated and thus it softened the significance of what really happened here.

Scattered around the perimeter of the camp were a few existing guard towers.  And the barbed wire fence that was electrified, oftentimes serving as a means of suicide for the occupants that could no longer hold out under the numbing mental and physical tortures they suffered.

I found this American quote on a display board in the museum that talked about the liberation of the camp in April 1945.  Mr. Anderson was 20 when he witnessed man's inhumanity to man and it was something he was loathe to talk about 60+ years later.

During the course of the war, Mr. Anderson began smoking to calm his nerves.  Conveniently enough, the military provided cigarettes as part of their daily rations.  Mr. Anderson was suffering from emphysema when I met him and he always warned the students about the ill-effects of smoking.  Unfortunately, Mr. Anderson took a downturn due to surgical complications and passed away last summer.  This blog post is dedicated to him, may he rest in peace, and all of the other American troops that witnessed the barbarism and horrors of World War II to ensure our freedom.