Category Archives: Travel

back in the saddle

Home. My little apartment. I got back last night after a day of travel: driving from Spokane to Seattle, to the hotel where I rented the car, then walking to the Transit Center to catch a bus to the airport ($2.75, a deal!), hurrying through checking my bag and through security to the gate where the plane was 30 minutes late. Then it was an hour, then another half hour. I got to SFO at nearly 7, twelve hours after I had left Spokane.

I makes me think I should just drive all the way next time.

Today I did laundry and caught up on the myriad things that the real world demands: bringing my checkbook up to date, paying bills. One bill was for car insurance. My traffic light indiscretion last year cost me nearly $500 at the time. Today I found out that it will cost me another $300 on my insurance. Grrr . . . . As far as I can tell, there is no mechanism for removing the one point I now have by any kind of traffic school so I guess I’ll have to eat the increase for the three years! the point is on my record.

There is a thing called Mature Driver Discount that AAA will give me if I complete an online class so I started that today. I thought about shopping other insurance companies but it makes me weak.

Then there is work. I called in and the Christmas crunch is getting rolling. We’re ok through next weekend but after that I may be working 5 or 6 long days each week. That’s 60 or more hours for those of you who haven’t been paying attention. Welcome, real world!

Museum of Flight

Or, as the sign in front say, ‘Museum of Fligh . . .’

Really, it was a nice museum. Yesterday was the day all four of us would have together and going to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle was the chosen activity. When we walked in to the main hall, we were greeted by the sight of dozens of aircraft, some on the floor and some hanging from the ceiling. An SR-71 Blackbird dominated the whole scene.

I thought it looked great, but at that moment realized we were there with a 4 year old. OK, almost 5 but still very young. But at that moment, we saw right in front of us a nice young man inviting us to the kid’s project table. They were going to demonstrate how to build a catapult in just a couple of minutes. Rosalie listened attentively to the presentation using a tablet and stood patiently in line to get her materials but was less interested in the details of actually building it. It was actually a simple little trebuchet built with popsicle sticks and rubber bands. Given the task of decorating the sticks, however, Rosalie came to life.

After it was built, she stood in line for some puff balls to launch and chose two small purple ones. Once explained the technique of launching, she took over and entertained us by launching her purple puff balls for us to try to catch.We walked around the hall. She sat in the SR-71 cockpit with Ashley:She found the kids play area and tested the wind tunnel machine:

Checked out the view from inside a light plane cockpit:

Tried the hurricane simulator with Mom:

Then we had lunch. After lunch was the Hall of Heroes, which is a review of the two World Wars with an emphasis on American planes and flyers. Then we walked across the skybridge to the pavilion which contained, among other things, an Air Force One, Boeing 727, 737, 747, 787, a Concorde, a B-29, a B-17, a B-47 and some others I don’t remember. In other words, lots of planes. We were able to go through most of the commercial airliners and AF One.

About 15 minutes into the ride home, this was the scene in the back seat.

Back at home she perked up. Momma made some chocolate chip cookies for an early birthday party with Gramps. I had found a nice jigsaw puzzle at the Museum store for her so we set to work on that after singing happy birthday.

Hmmm, can’t find the picture. Maybe tomorrow. I got up this morning and drove across the state to Spokane. I am now safely ensconced in a bedroom at Peter and Nanci’s. We took a nice drive this afternoon out Palouse HIghway. The fields, some of which were newly planted with winter wheat, were lit up nicely by the setting sun. About half the sky was clear, while the other half was turning all kinds of colors.

outside and inside

Yesterday was outside. After dropping Jeremy off in Preston, I decided to try a different way back home. I was also trying to find some large-ish stores on the way. After my success fixing Mom’s Town and Country last month, I wanted to fix Ashley’s Nissan SUV that had the same problem. The other issue was some blinds in the window next to Jeremy’s computer. He told me that they wouldn’t release and when the sun was out, as it was Monday morning, the computer screen was very hard to see. I took measurements but didn’t write them down.

Going through Issaquah, I spotted a Home Depot so I went in and looked at blinds. As soon as I was confronted with the enormous selection there, I forgot the dimensions that I had measured. What a yutz!

Next I stopped at a car parts store in Redmond. They tried to tell me the struts for that car were different on each side and $70 apiece. Umm, I had looked at them the night before and I was pretty sure they were essentially the same as the T&C. Pass.

OK, just go home. I measured the blinds again and this time wrote the numbers down. Duvall had a car parts store so I went there. They had the pair – each side the same – for around $60. They wouldn’t be in until the next day but that was ok since I didn’t have Ashley’s car anyway. The nearest Home Depot or other large hardware store was at least a half hour away so I decided to wait and went back home for lunch.

After lunch, I took down the blinds to see if I could figure out what was wrong with them. After a little bit of fiddling while watching the mechanism, I discovered that these blinds are very sensitive to their horizontal positioning. Once set flat, they go up and down as pretty as you please. That evening, I found out that the blinds in Ashley and Jeremy’s bedroom had the same problem and the same fix. No more worries about the neighbors bright light shining into their bedroom at night!

On the way back to pick up Jeremy in the evening, I left a little early and went to a music store – not Guitar Center! – in downtown Issaquah. It was nothing special, but the downtown was nice: newer but not mass-produced shops along a Main street. Too bad it was jammed with cars at this hour (6 pm).

Today was more inside, although Rosalie and I started outside after dropping Ashley off at work. We went down to Snoqualmie Falls. The big news there was not the amount of water going over the falls, but the wind blowing over the ridge. 40 or 50 mph gusts were pushing us down the path. We were well bundled up so not cold but not comfortable either. The temperature was in the high 40s.

Here’s Rosalie putting a brave face on it:

We came home via the car parts store and enjoyed the mild, non windy air at home. I put the new struts on Ahley’s car and Rosalie and I played around the house. We even raked some leaves!

For all that, it seemed like an inside day as we spent the afternoon in the house. Puzzles, dolls and drawing were the bulk of the activities. After Mommy and Daddy came home we all went out for pizza and a skillet cookie in Carnation.

Mt Rainier

Driving with Jeremy to his work yesterday – I did it so I could have a car during the day – he pointed out Mt Rainier ahead of us, looming on the horizon in the gray skies. He said it looks different every time he sees it. He told me of a place not far away where on a clear day, one can see Rainier to the south and Mt Baker to the north. He wanted mountains and he got them!

To the east are the Cascades. They’re not as dramatic as Rainier but they’re closer and at around 8 or 9,000 feet elevation, they’re pretty dramatic in their own way. We got a good look at them Monday afternoon.

Washington

<Edited Nov 7 to add pictures.> The end of day two of my trip to Washington. It’s been pretty eventful so far. Yesterday when I got to the luggage carrel at Sea-Tac and looked out the window, I saw fat flakes of snow gently falling down. Going through the door to the outside was a shock to this Bay Area boy. Cold, cold, cold!

But Ashley was right there within a couple of minutes and the car was nice and warm. I was in such a hurry to get in the car that I didn’t think of sitting in my usual spot next to Rosalie in the back. That meant I couldn’t really see her unless I twisted myself completely around. That’s not practical at my advanced age but we talked and had fun grabbing shoes. I commented that she can really reach the seat in front much more easily than before. She’s very tall for an almost 5 year old. Ashley said there were two things on Rosalie’s agenda for Grandpa: puzzles, and tickling. We can do that!

After lunch, we did puzzles for a while at first but tickling did ensue eventually.

About 5, we headed out for Jeremy’s Fire Academy graduation. It was held in a hotel in Issaquah. There were all the usual graduation accoutrements: bagpipers, a color guard, a chaplain and lengthy speeches. Various awards were given to high achievers. Each graduate had a family member come up to pin the badge on him or her. (There were two woman graduates out of 21 total.)

When Jeremy’s name was called, Ashley went up with Rosalie. Jeremy, who had been stern all evening, picked up Rosalie with a huge smile on his face and held her while Ashley pinned him. Then they all turned to the audience and got their picture taken. Rosalie was somewhat distracted in Daddy’s arms but the instant she realized her picture was being taken, she turned on a huge smile. That generated a laugh from the audience.

After the pinning was complete, three of the graduates made presentations. One was Jeremy, who spoke of his time in the Atlanta Fire Department and the illness of Atlanta firefighter Frank Martinez. Frank reached out to Jeremy in November 2015 when Jeremy needed people to cover shifts while he was with us all in Louisiana. Frank was very sick at that time and couldn’t do the work, but did it in a gesture of solidarity. Jeremy drew the comparison with that solidarity and the group he was graduating into. He also commented that Frank almost certainly got cancer from poisonous substance exposure on the job and his goal was to reduce those exposures among firefighters.

Rosalie was sitting in my lap at that point and tears rolled down my face during his talk. I wanted to just hug Rosalie instead of wiping my face.

Afterwards, many more pictures were taken and we met some of Jeremy’s academy colleagues before heading out for a late dinner.

Today was very quiet. It was chilly and foggy early in the morning but by around 10 it was lifting and by lunchtime the sun was shining.These are out the back door window:

Jeremy slept in and Rosalie and I played with dolls, did puzzles, colored in her coloring book, read books . . . and tickled. After lunch, we went for a bike ride around the neighborhood. The temperature was around 45 but no wind. It was very pleasant in the sunshine. Several houses had the remains of snowmen still extant.

Rosalie experimented with the icy remains of the snow in the puddle in front of the house. Later we went to a local park where we walked across the Tolt River on a footbridge, admired the Cascades lit up by the setting sun, and played in the play area. Rosalie made ice cream from the bits of grass and wood chips there.

Tonight we all had dinner together and made our plans for the next three days. Ashley had a new living room light delivered today and it had a fantastic box for imaginative girls. Who could that be?

end of the trip

The trip was great but by the time we got home from the Sistergold concert and Heidelberg, we were toasted. We mostly laid low at Wilfried and Elisabeth’s house for a day and a half. Mary was interested in the casinos in Baden Baden but when we looked into the details it turned out they had a dress code and a high buy in and the games didn’t start until late in the day – or evening in one case.

No one else was as interested as Mary so that didn’t happen. We were getting ready to go over there Monday and at least walk around a bit but Wilfried and Elisabeth had an unexpected visitor, an elderly man with a shock of white hair. Naturally, beers were brought out and we Americans were amused at his torrent of conversation. I don’t remember what all he was talking about, but he was sure passionate. Wilfried explained later that he’s some kind of artist and collector.

Mercedes has a factory in Rastatt, so after our visitor left we went to take a tour there, then Wilfried took us around the Zentrum. Of course, there’s a schloss.We ate ice cream. Later, we walked over to Schloss Favorite, which is literally 5 minutes from Wilfried’s front door. This place has lovely grounds to go along with the structure.

 

Tuesday we had to leave at noon, but in the morning we went out for a walk through the neighborhood. The open field at the back of Wilfried and Elisabeth’s house has been set up for development: streets and utilities but no houses yet. In a half an hour leisurely walking, we walked around the whole village. The village is called Förch and one of several small villages tied administratively into the larger town of Rastatt.Perhaps I should mention that Elisabeth was unable to accompany us on most of our touring around because she had an operation on her foot and could not walk. She always had something good for us when we came back to her house. Danke schön, Elisabeth!

At noon, we loaded our bags into Wilfried’s car, hugged Elisabeth and headed north. Deutsche Bahn had a major problem in Rastatt where the ground below some train tracks sank on Sunday, stranding thousands of people. Wilfried wasn’t sure how possible it would be for us to get a train to Frankfurt from Rastatt so he drove us to the Karlsruhe Hbf.

There finally we had to say auf wiedersehen to our tour guide, cousin and friend Wilfried. Words can not express my gratitude for everything you did for Mary and me this past two weeks. His only request: that we come back and stay longer! Mit viel Vergnügen!

Heidelberg

On our way back to Rastatt on Sunday, we stopped at Heidelberg. It was another place I had been to in 1982 and also in 1976 with the Blue Saints.

The AltStadt along the Neckar River with the huge castle dominating above is a natural for tourists, and we did all the usual things. We parked, walked along the river to the Alte Brücke . . .

. . . and thence into the Old Town.

From there it was up more stairs – Mary never let us forget how many steps there were at the Cologne Cathedral: 533! – to the Schloss. We walked around the lovely gardens and toured the interior.

The interior featured a German Pharmacy museum and the world’s largest wine cask. After descending we had lunch at Vetter im Schoneck. Established 1987. Really. I checked the coaster twice. Vetter’s is the home of the world’s strongest beer: 33% alcohol! Actually, Wilfried told us that figure is from an intermediate stage. The finished brew is 10.5%, strong enough for me to take a miss. We had Bavarian meatloaf which was more like Spam than not.

On our way home, we passed the entrance to the tunnel Deutsche Bahn is building for the IC trains under Rastatt. More on that in my next post.

Sistergold

Very high on Mary’s list of things she wanted to do was to see the German saxophone group Sistergold. Wilfried had helped her to contact them and got tickets for thier concert in a little town called Homberg.

Homberg is about a three hour drive north of Baden Baden, where we were at about 3:30 Saturday afternoon. Wilfried had taken us to a tour of the Baden Baden Festspielhaus (Opera House). It was supposed to be only 75 minutes but it had dragged on and at the end there was a little scene with a man who had had to go to the rest room and lost track of the rest of the group. He was pissed that he’d gotten left and was having it out with the tour guide. The rest of us were left standing around in the lobby. Wilfried took action and started trying doors to get us out. This succeeded and we were off.

We were originally hoping to get to Homberg in time for dinner but that was going a-glimmering. Luckily, Wilfried had had the foresight to bring some rolls and sausages which we ate at a rest stop. In the end, we got to Homberg in time to get settled in our hotel and arrive at the Stadthalle by around 7:30. Dinner would have to wait.

We had a glass of wine while the audience filled in. The Stadthalle was small, like a jr high school MP room. There was a stage. We were seated on plastic chairs around tables with little decorations. Pretty small time, but everyone was nice. Beer and wine and snacks were for sale. Maybe 100 in attendance.

Here’s a view out back of the Stadthalle. The Ohm River is actually beneath the line of trees in the foreground.

Sistergold is 4 women playing soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. They started the concert by walking in from the back of the hall. They played jazz, funk, classical, and pop styles with little dance moves and good audience engagement. They were great! They did three encores and didn’t stop until a quarter to 11 (8 o’clock start).

Afterwards, they came out to talk and sign autographs (and sell CDs) and Mary jumped in. Three of the four spoke English pretty well. They chatted with us for a good half an hour. Towards the end, the people who ran the building were trying to close up. We took a picture and reluctantly said good night.

Then it was, what are we going to do for dinner? It was nearly 11:30. Wilfried asked some locals what was likely to be open for dinner that late in town and was met by blank looks. Hmmm.

We cruised the town. There was something like a night club open but no food. We stopped at a gas station. The attendant there was closing but suggested fast food at the autobahn about 5 miles away. Failing that (we all said no), perhaps Marburg. Thirty minutes away.

Wilfried set out following his GPS (I guess, I was in the back seat, resigned to my fate). Along country roads and through villages in the darkness we went. Suddenly there was a blast of light. An American ’50’s style diner in the middle of the German countryside! What? About 50 neon signs and the front end of a ’57 Buick with its headlights on adorned the front. Best of all, the kitchen was still open!

We had burgers and fries. I had a Corona (with lime). It was great! We got back to the hotel at 1:30. Wilfried’s key didn’t work and he had to break the door open. No one with the hotel was awake.

Mary is going to try to figure out how to bring Sistergold to the US. They are willing but won’t do it for free so she has some fundraising to do.

Friedrichshafen

Friedrichshafen is a city on the Bodensee, which English speakers call Lake Constance. Bodensee forms part of the border between Germany and Switzerland. I’ve always found it interesting how place names can change so much from one language to another. Paris is always Paris, but in France, London is Londrés.

Anyway, Bodensee sounds cooler to me so that’s what I’ll use.

Our original plans for sightseeing in the Munich (München) neighborhood included going to see Mad Ludwig’s castle at Neuschwanstein. At Marlies’ house, Mary Sullivan told us the story of her and Tom’s visit there the week before. It was a nightmare of trains, buses & walking that took up more than 12 hours. The tour of the interior of the castle was an hour. She didn’t think it was really worth it with so many other things to see.

While we were mulling that information, Marlies told us of a flight she took over the Bodensee in a Zeppelin and how awesome that was. It was expensive but seemed much more interesting to me. I had been harboring hopes of going back to Bodensee anyway. Mary Beth said she’s seen the world from 1000 feet but I said not Bodensee and the Alps.

So she signed on. We made the reservation for Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday afternoon as we were walking to the hotel in Muncih, Mary’s phone rang. It was the Zeppelin people. Thursday’s flight was cancelled due to bad weather. Would we like to reschedule for Friday morning? Yes!

OK, that’s fine. We can go to the Zeppelin Museum in the afternoon, take the flight in the morning, and get the train to Baden Baden in the afternoon. We’ll be at Wilfried’s before dinner time.

When we arrived in Friedrichshafen at about noon on Thursday, we could see why the flight had been cancelled. There was a heavy drizzle and the clouds were so low we could barely see the water of the lake from a block away. The Alps on the other side? Forget it! And the Zeppelin people called again. The Friday morning flight was cancelled. We were sad but not surprised. You wouldn’t have been able to see anything.

At the hotel, we got a map of the town and I noticed another air-related museum. Claude Dornier was a German aircraft designer of the middle 20th Century based near Friedrichshafen. His museum was near the airport, a short train ride away. We decided to go there first and go to the Zeppelin Museum the next morning. Actually, we looked in on the Zeppelin Museum after lunch. It’s right on the water in the Old Town area of Friedrichshafen. It was mobbed. It made sense. The weather was bad and everyone wanted to be inside. We took the train to the other museum.

For dinner, we went back to the promenade along the lake and found a restaurant with 2nd floor tables overlooking the lake. The clouds had lifted somewhat and we could see the setting sun shining through the gaps lighting up the Alps. Sehr schön, as they say in Germany.

Sadly, I had left my camera in the hotel room. Mary got some pictures but I don’t have copies yet. Stay tuned!

In the morning we went to the much-less-crowded Zeppelin Museum. Zeppelin, of course, was the airship builder of the early 20th Century. We call them blimps but the craft Zeppelin built were much more than that. Zeppelins had regularly scheduled routes from Germany to the US, to South America and all over Europe in the 1920’s.

The best known example of a Zeppelin is the Hindenburg. The largest such craft ever built, it caught fire and burned in 1937 as it was docking in New Jersey. At the museum, they have a full sized replica of part of the Hindenburg. They also had a smaller display of the Hindenburg in comparison to other famous large aircraft. The Hindenburg dwarfed them all.

Sorry no photo of the smaller scale models. Maybe Mary has one . . .

When we got out of the museum about 11:30, practically the first thing we saw was the new, tourist, Zeppelin flying over Friedrichshafen. I guess the clouds lifted enough. Here’s Mary watching it fly away.

Oh well, maybe next time!

Perhaps I should have known. My other visit to Bodensee was in January 1982. We stayed in Lindau, just a little east of Friedrichshafen, which has a famously beautiful harbor. Visibility was poor that time too.

Munich

Wednesday we bid farewell to the Mosel River valley. Wilfried took us through the new tunnel under Burg Landshut and out into the Hunsrück en route to Mannheim and a train to Munich.

I sat in the back seat with Mary driving and Wilfried narrating history and tried to keep track of the towns and highways we went on. Morbach, Birkenfeld, and onto the autobahn east through Kaiserslautern. There was some confusion as to whether we should head for Karlsruhe or Mannheim. Mannheim won as the train there was a little later even though it was out of Wilfried’s way somewhat.

We noted the presence of the large US hospital at Landstuhl as well as the Ramstein air base. Somewhere around Neuleiningen the hills and forest of the Hunsrück opened up to the wide Rhine River valley.

At the Mannheim Hbf, we said our goodbyes and heartfelt thanks to Wilfried and committed ourselves to the German train system. The first train we didn’t do so well: all the seats were taken and we didn’t feel like hauling our large bags through the whole train to find a seat. We only had to get to Stuttgart, about 40 minutes, before we had a transfer, so we stood in the doorway at the end of the car.

After that it was much better. We had seats and I amused myself timing the kilometer posts and calculating our speed. 27 seconds per kilometer equals about 150 kph or about 95 mph. Pretty fast and very smooth.

In Munich, we got situated in our hotel then headed out to find the Marianplatz and the animated glockenspiel. It was due to ring at 5 pm and we had about 45 minutes. As it turned out, we needed every bit of that as I misread the map and took us down a street at right angles to the Platz. We saw the dancing figures, along with about 1000 other tourists, pretty much all of whom had their cell phones held out over their heads recording the event. People actually started leaving before it was over.

 

We didn’t, but felt the need for sustenance. We hadn’t really gotten lunch with all our train changing. On the other hand, Andreas had texted us inviting us for dinner at 6:30. Solution: ice cream!

Thus buoyed, we walked to our dinner rendezvous. We later figured it was just under 3 km from Marienplatz to the restaurant. Our hotel was about halfway in between so our days’ walking ended up being 6 or 7 km by the time we were done.

Andreas had told us Julia was under the weather, so when I first saw her, in her stroller with a pacifier in her mouth and a hood over her head, I thought this might be a bad idea. A few tickle overtures, however, opened the gates and before long she was walking along the street holding my hand.

At the restaurant, the food was slow in coming and Julia began exploring. There was no one seated near us, so she pulled silverware off adjacent tables, and messed with the decorations in the window alcoves.

I tried a distraction. I asked her if she wanted to come outside with me. She did! We went outside and walked down the street a ways. I pointed out things in my simple German: Bicycle! Motorcycle! At the corner drugstore (luckily closed) I lifted her up onto the window sill and helped her jump down to the sidewalk. Now her eyes were sparkling!

After dinner, Luisa had to leave as she was taking a 5 am train to Austria the next morning. The rest of us stopped down the street at a gelato place. Then it was time for all of us to say goodbye. Mary and I walked back to the hotel. We were in bed by 10.

Just for fun, here’s my photo of Marienplatz from my visit in January 1982: