Thursday, February 23, 2012



Let me tell you about an amazing friend that I have.

Michelle came into my life ten years ago through her relationship with a childhood friend of mine, and stayed in my life when that relationship ended.  She has been a single mom since her two daughters, at that point about twelve and fourteen years old, were one and three.  She served in the Navy on active duty for one enlistment, then upon her discharge joined the Navy Reserves.
She has served our country for twenty-six years.  She was mobilized and has been on active duty for the past three years, serving in Germany, but she will be retiring as a Chief this coming spring.

Michelle is a strong, beautiful, and self-reliant woman.  She loves power tools and owns and knows how to operate at least fifteen different types of power saws!
She has taught her daughters how to use them, too.
Michelle builds, sews, embroiders, crochets, gardens.  She is a computer whiz and has worked quite a few years as a senior project manager, setting up computer networks for corporations all over the world from her home office.
She has raised two wonderful, strong, and capable daughters.
She is an inspiration.

Michelle is as formidable as she is loving, and she takes no hostages when she sees a need to be filled.
She called me a little less than a year ago.
"You need a break.  I have already talked to your husband and gotten his permission.  I have frequent flier miles and I am bringing you to Germany, and I will not take no for an answer."
Well. I wept.
I asked her to wait until this winter, as my work in a tourist town makes it difficult for me to be away for more than a few days.
In the next blog entries below this one, you'll see my magical trip to Germany.  I returned home last evening, and I still can barely believe it really, truly happened.

I went to Germany on February 8, and stayed with Michelle through February 22.
I flew on four different airplanes, rode two different train lines, traveled by taxi and subway in Paris and in Michelle's car on the autobahn to Bavaria and other parts of Germany.  I walked, and walked, and walked.
We visited Paris, drove through Austria, and spent time in Triers, Schwangau, and Munich, Germany.  We visited Dachau and toured two castles, saw the Ponte Nigra, walked through the Louvre, viewed Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, cruised the River Seine at night, hiked an icy mountain gorge, visited a yarn factory, saw the 1936 Olympic Winter Games skiing venue, took part in Fasching and walked in very old towns and cities, marveling and enjoying old and beautiful buildings.
We spent time in the Bavarian Alps. 
I tasted German beers and French and German wines, ate croissants and drank cappuchino in sidewalk cafes in Paris, had schnitzel and strudel and marvelous tomato soup, ate fresh rolls smeared with seasoned lard, visited Globus, drank Gluwein and Riesling and pear Schnapps (I still think that was really Sterno!). 

Michelle was patient and kind and generous throughout my visit.
She put up with my bad knees and swollen ankles (it always happens when I travel), occasional grumpiness, and generally poor physical condition, strolled when she could have strode, waited for me to catch up, and didn't complain about my slowness.
She may tell you that she heard me use some rather spectactularly bad language when confronted with the intimidating flights of stairs at the Schwangau castles (she would be correct), and would not take any refusal from me about hiking Partnachklamm.
She told me that I could do it, and indeed I did.

This trip would have been impossible, unthinkable, without Michelle.
I have no words to convey what is in my heart.
I only hope she knows how grateful I am.
Thank you, Shelly.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Neuschwanstein Castle

Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castles in Schwangau.
We ate breakfast at our little gasthof on Monday morning and drove toward the castles. 

The houses, restaurants, and hotels in this Bavarian town are so lovely, it is hard to know where to look first.

Schwangau, seen from the Hohenschwangau walls

Parking lot viewed from Hohenschwangau. The red X marks the place from which we started our walk up to visit the castle.

Hohenschwangau tower

Hohenschwangau viewed from the town streets below

An I Love You for Robby, as promised!

Michelle at Hohenschwangau

The walk back into town

Another view of the town from the castle

 We walked down a snowy lane from Hohenschwangau into the town, where we caught a horsedrawn wagon-ride up to Neuschwanstein Castle,
the home of "Mad King Ludwig"
Photography was prohibited within the castle, but there are many, many images available in books and on the Internet.
This castle is purported to be the one on which Walt Disney based the
Cinderella's Castles
for which his Magic Kingdoms are so famous. 

Becky and Michelle, with Neuschwanstein Castle in the background
From Neuschwanstein, it was a four-hour drive 'home' to Michelle's apartment in Landstuhl.  Tuesday will be laundry and packing-up day,
and Wednesday I will fly back to Michigan.
What a wonderful time I have had!
What a wonderful friend I am lucky to have!

More images of the castles and Schwangau can be seen here.

1936 Munich Winter Olympic Games Stadium

Getting ready to walk
  After our visit to Dachau on Sunday morning, Michelle drove us to the 1936 Winter Olympic Games Stadium, not far from Munich.  We bundled up, grabbed her walking sticks, and headed off to do some gorge-walking.

1936 Munich Winter Olympic Games Stadium Gatehouse

Ski Jump and Downhill/Slalom Course
 It is astounding to stand at the bottom of the ski jump hill and see how very high the skiers must climb to compete in this event. 

Olympic Stadium Restaurant
After exploring the stadium for a bit, we stopped in the restaurant on the grounds for a gluwein (a hot mixture of red wine and spices) to fortify us for our adventure, and then set off into Partnach Gorge.  Michelle had walked it in the summer, and was eager to see how it was changed by winter.
Entering the Gorge

 There is no way to describe the beauty that is Partnach Gorge. It was developed for tourism beginning in 1912 and is a popular walking and photography spot year-round.
Pictures cannot begin to show the beauty of this region of Bavaria, but here are a few we took during our walk.  You can click on any of the pictures to see them larger and in greater detail.

There is a little cafe part way up the gorge, where we stopped for another Gluwein on the way up and for wonderful soups on the way back down.  There are all sorts of taxidermied animals decorating the restaurant, including this badger, wearing a lovely hand-knit sweater.
Dogs are welcomed anywhere in Germany, and the owners' German Shepherd visited our table for a nice scratch behind the ears.

At the end of our exploration, ready to turn around and retrace our steps back to the car
To see more pictures of our walk, go here.

From the gorge, we drove to Schwangau to spend the night.  We noticed as we entered the town that everyone seemed to be in costume! We had happened upon "Fasching" a German tradition similar to our American Mardi Gras.

Next: our visit to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castles, and our return to Landstuhl.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dachau and Munich
It is hard to find words to describe my impressions of Dachau.  I learned that it was not 'intended' to be an extermination camp. However, of 200,000 or more people imprisoned there, more than 40,000 died. 
Our German-born but English-speaking guide was eloquent and thorough.  He conveyed deep remorse over the fates of those imprisoned and murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
He told us that EVERY German student is required to visit Dachau, so that they will

Marker to show where ashes were buried

A crematorium

"Arbeit Macht Frei"
These words greeted prisoners as they entered the camp.
The translation is roughly, "Work Will Make You Free"

Sculpture commemorating those who committed suicide by throwing their bodies upon the electric fence that encircled the camp

The fence

And from this great sadness, we made our way to Munich.

Klezmer band in Marionplatz

Michelle and a guardian lion at the Residence

Beautiful old German buildings

Three distinct periods and architectural styles in close proximity

The grand Glockenspiel in Marionplatz

A very old church

A lovely domed building in the gardens

...and a beer at the Hofbrau House to finish the day!
Guten nacht, meine Friende...tomorrow I will take you for a walk in an ice palace and to the lovely Bavarian village of Schwangau.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wheel of Socks
 Socknitting Heaven, the Bavarian Alps, and A Beautiful Drive
We loaded Michelle's car early on Friday morning and headed south toward Hechingen and Bavaria.  Our first stop was in Hechingen.  We visited the Opal Sock Yarn factory and store, where we were treated to a tour of the steaming and balling room by our host, Felix. This picture shows the yarn just before it's rolled into balls and labeled.  The large cakes of yarn here are from the "Best of Opal" Lollipop collection.
Michelle at the Opal Factory Store

I bought a little yarn...

Of course we visited the Opal Factory Outlet Store...even Michelle bought sock yarn as well as some finished socks.

On the way out of the steaming and balling room, I pointed to a large garbage bag into which the workers were placing odds and ends of yarn from the various processes there, and said, "THAT is the bag I want!", and Felix went off into the depths of the factory and came back carrying a bag for me!  He said they give them away to schools, usually, but I could have one since I asked. : )  It's just a lot of very short bits and pieces, but I think there may be enough length to make some MonsterSocks.

Oh...I bought a few skeins of yarn, too...

Here are some views of the town of Hechingen :

Narrow street and walkway to lower level

Half-timbered building

Just outside of Hechingen, we saw a castle crowning a mountain in the distance.  We made a small detour, and discovered that Hechingen is the ancestral home of the Hohenzollern family of Europe, and this was their castle.
Tower near the Hohenzollern Castle

The Hohenzollern Castle on its hilltop

As we continued, I was treated to my first view of the Bavarian Alps.  I have seen mountains, the American Rockies, Great Smoky Mountains, the Ozarks, but the Alps are different from all of them. They were simply breathtaking.

We reached the town of Garmisch and the Edelweiss Hotel and Resort in early evening, and settled into our room for the night.  This was the view from our balcony on Saturday morning:

Saturday: Dachau and Munich

The Bavarian Alps