Heidelberg and back to Frankfurt

Today I left Ulm to visit a little town called Heidelberg, which is famous for it’s quaint German setting underneath a great castle. After winding back through the old town from the hostel and saying goodbye to Anja, I got to the train station to get an earlier train to Heidelberg. Unfortunately there wasn’t anything nonstop, but I figured I could handle a transfer halfway through to arrive earlier. The train was late by about 5 minutes so it made me nervous about making the transfer, but I went ahead and gave it a shot anyhow. That’s part of the adventure, right?

After a train ride through the countryside, then to Stuttgart, I got a little nervous that somehow the train had changed without me knowing it. Now all the signs said Salzburg, and I definitely didn’t want to be heading for Austria. Alas, it was the correct train, and I saw my transfer point as the next stop. The train was still a little late, and once we arrived at the station, I literally had just enough time to step out the train, lug my luggage down the stairs on one platform, up the other to get on board as it pulled up. I’ve surprised myself this time with the amount of luggage, but it was an unusual trip as I needed to bring nicer clothes, so I brought 3-4 dress shirts just in case.. but of course, I didn’t use them, and they’ve added room to my already full luggage. I have ended up buying some clothes here too, along with the Milka chocolate, and still have to get my favorite Nivea products that I can’t get at home.

After arriving in Heidelberg, I headed for the luggage storage area. Of course, the machine I select ate the money and didn’t function, so I had to get someone to help. She overrided the system, and gave me a certificate for me to come back that evening—that worried me a bit since I just had to think, what if I can’t find HER, and what if no one can be FOUND in the station to help get my luggage out. They do often seem shorthanded in service.

I left the station and headed for the Hauptstrasse, or Main Street which is one of Germany’s longest pedestrian shopping areas. It was nice to see all the old buildings along the cobbledstone drive and everyone out and about. I wandered along the streets and alleys looking at things, and couldn’t help but feel that everywhere has become so ameicanized. All these brands that look like you’re shopping in an American mall, yet facades are simply ‘euro’. Of course the big castle peering down at the street along with plazas with everyone enjoying their meals and the church that dates back to so many centries ago make this environment very European. Nevertheless, shopping seemed less ‘market’ like and more stripmallish. I found a restaurant that had some Japanese menu items, so I had a great Katsudon meal that felt really filling.

I then made my way up to where the main street parts to go up to the castle, so I went along the VERY steep pathway that leads up to the castle gates. I wasn’t interested in going in, but I did want to see the view of Heidelberg from above. After about 20 minutes, I arrived at the top, pretty worn out from the hike with my backpack, and my non hiking shoes making my feet feel like they are completely flat. Looking out over the city, it was nice to treat myself to the last 2 pieces of chocolate Mathias had gotten us as a symbol of Switzerland.

After the castle, I went back down towards the river to cross the bridge over to the other side which has another mountain facing the city. It has a famous bridge which everyone was taking pictures in front of. I then headed for Philospher’s Way, which is a pathway up on the hill overlooking the city. Now this was a climb, and I had to stop a couple of times to let my feet rest. These shoes have seen some miles!

At the top, seeing the city from this side was even better because of the castle in the background. Heidelberg does seem like  the typical German city. I then made my way down through what seemed to be a ritzy part of town with large houses, all built Hansel Gretel style. It was nice to see everyone doing their daily lives and simply taking a peek of life here in Heidelberg.

I then headed back down to go once more a different way to the shopping area, to do some shopping before I head to Frankfurt for the evening. Unfortunately, it sounds like Judith is sick so I’m not sure if I’ll get to see her tomorrow or not before I head back home…

I got back to the station, and found the woman to retrieve my luggage. All went well with getting everything and now I’m on the train to Frankfurt to meet up with Volker, who is a good friend of Ulf’s. I’ll stay there tonight to then see ulf and hopefully Judith tomorrow for some sightseeing around Frankfurt before my journey back home!

Dachau + Most Annoying School Group Award Goes to…

Today I headed to Dachau to see the Concentration Camp that’s now a museum. It was a fairly easy ride on the train and everything was well marked. When I arrived at the station, there was a bus full of people so it was easy to find. It was odd because the residential area and I kept waiting for it to open up to a big space where it would be the whole camp area. But street after street, it felt like we were just going deeper into a neighborhood. Finally it had a little clearing, but not nearly enough, and what’s shocking is what I learned after being at the camp.

When I got in, I wanted to do the 2 hour tour, but it only started at 11am, and I got there around 9:30am, so I figured I’d just go ahead with an audio tour instead. There were tons of groups from schools, and I’ve decided that I’m going to give a personal award to a couple of generalized groups. The winner for the most annoying group of tourists this trip goes to the Italians, with the French and Koreans tying for 2nd place. The Italian kids were loud and obnoxious, and tried to play soccer with anything that rolled or was shaped like a circle. It was horrible. The French kids shoved and were just oblivious and loud, and the Korean groups were more vandals rather than audible. There was so much Korean scribbled on walls where exit signs were as in (acknowledge our language, please put it on the door).

Despite these groups, I plugged myself up to the audio tour which helped drown the nuisance and let me concentrate on the story of the camp. Entering into the camp, you see the railroad tracks that were used of bringing train loads of prisoners to the camp, and these tracks are still visible as well as part of the foundation of the ‘station’ deck. Walking into the camp, the gate has been reconstructed to its original form, and you emter through the famous iron gate that reads ‘Arbeiten Macht Frei’.

Inside the gate walls, see immediately see the large area, the main square, and the main building. The barracks have been reconstructed as well as the remainder of the foundations relief-ed to show their alignment and rows. They did an amazing job of the reconstruction resembling what I saw in the pictures on all the plaques that described things in more detail. Throughout the walk outside, the thoughts of what my grandfather saw and wondering what it was like for him to see what I was hearing simple words that effected such emotion from me, I immediately wanted to ask questions to him. It’s a shame that that generation endured what they did, but also that so many memories have gone untold.

Walking through the barracks (which were built for about 200 and by the end housed 2000 each), it was amazing to think what went on here. The sacred ashes of so many innocent lives that had been burned simply for no reason. There were a lot of commerative items throughout the park donated by specific groups. Catholics, Jews, etc.. any group that was deemed prison worthy — they all had a very structured symbol. The upside down triangle, obviously showing degradation, color-coded to the ‘offense’. I didn’t know this, but this is where the pink triangle representing Gay Rights came from–the pink triangle was used for imprisoning homosexuals, just as there were colors imprisoning Jahovah’s witnesses. Add being a jew to the mix, and you simply put a right side yellow triangle behind it, and you have the star of David–and yes, try putting the yellow triangle behind the Jahovah’s Witness upside down one. Crazy, right? The nonsensical nature of everything they did was simply appalling to think someone had the amount of power he had to coerce people to follow this evil regime into torture and terrorism. I also felt like the word terror was used consistently, that made me realize that our ‘terrorism’ today, while not even a fraction of what has happened then, but resembles the terror that Hitler brought to thousands upon thousands. We are in a new age of terrorism, one that luckily doesn’t create physical torture as this was, but one that still affects our daily living–think all the ridiculous security measures we have to endure now.

The Crematorium, gas chambers, fumigation rooms and such were unbelievable. It’s just eerie to even be where such things occurred, and I found myself wondering over and over again what my grandfather saw. I wanted to know so many details of his time there, and wonder what exactly he did. I kept finding myself looking at all the videos trying to see any images of the US troops and wonder, was he there, was he the one helping.

There was a film that showed about 35 minutes worth of a short story version of all film that was available. It was really interesting, and just showed amazing inhumane, non-shuttering actions of these men. I learned a lot today, and saw a lot that will be a reminder of how thankful I am to live in this time period and country where I don’t have to endure government torture and persecution simply because of who I am. There is still a fight for equality, but it’s not for mere survival.

I walked around Dachau and despite it being a quaint town, there really wasn’t anything much to do there. I found myself lunch and then headed back to the train to get back home. I got back to the hostel and relaxed a bit and caught up on some emails. Tomorrow I’ll head to Zurich, Switzerland!


On to the Castle Fantasy Land

The journey to see Ludwig’s fantasy like castles is about 2 hours from Munich. Germany seems to enjoy rubbing your singlehood into your face because for E24, 1 person can make the voyage and for just E34, 5 people can. I tried to find people in the hostel that would join to split the cost, but to no avail. Alas, I headed out in the morning to catch the 8:52 train. The pass I got of course doesn’t start until 9am, and the next train would be at 9:52. So I went and asked, surely this is ok to get on, and the ticket beeyotch said, “You can but you’ll have to pay for the 8 minutes of use before 9am.” HA. So I went ahead to the conductor, and shrugged my shoulders and in broken German asked if it was ok with the time. He laughed and said yah.

The train was a regional train, which was fitting since the terrain going away from Munich was very regional. Farm houses after farm houses we passed and then out of nowhere, a huge peak peeked over the hillside. It was snowcapped, rugged, and looked like a fake theatre backdrop. We continued chugging through the meadows of green green grass and after a while ended up at a town called Fussen. It’s funny, because when my brain hears a word, it seems like it goes through, is this English, next, logically is this German? If I don’t know the German word, which is MANY, it then goes to Japanese for some reason. Actually I guess they both fight for 2nd place. Fussen when I hear it sounds like the word for balloon in Japanese.

It was surprisingly not crowded. At the station, there were 2 buses waiting for us to take us to the castle ticket area. The guy at the hostel said it wasn’t worth the money to go inside, and I wrestled with what I should do. I opted to go into the Neuscwanstein one, but not the Hohenschwangau. I got my tickets after a short 5 minute wait in line (Note: Go here during spring! No lines!). I then made my way up to Hohenschwangau to see the amazing view of Neuschwanstein above. It really was a fantastic day, though the way the castle is facing, the sun seemed to always be in the way. Hopefully I’ve captured a fraction of what it felt to see it in real life.

I then made my hike up the hill to Neuschwanstein. Since I was a little ahead of schedule, I stopped and got a Bratwurst. Again, there was really no line, so as my time was called, I headed for the turnstyles and clinbed up the stairs. We climbed about 70 stairs to the main floor. Apparently, when Ludwig died, the castle hadn’t been completed and only about 33% had been outfitted with his royal décor, so in actuality, as grand as the castle is on the outside, there’s a lot left to be finished inside. It’s a shame because it would have been cool to see what other amazing rooms he would come up with.

The tour was ok, and I’m glad I did it just for the views out of the windows and knowing that I was inside this remarkable feat of architecture. It was a quick 35 minute tour and then we headed out. I started up the hike again to Marian’s Bridge to get a great view of the castle, but as seemingly everything in Munich is closed for renovation, so was the bridge! I was so disappointed because I really wanted a stellar photo of this marvel, but it’s etched in my mind.

I then headed back down after trying to see if there were any other hikes that may give me a nice view, but nothing looked very promising and I didn’t want to trespass and something happen.

I then did the hike back down to where the bus let me off, and headed to Fussen. Here I did a walking tour from my guidebook which was actually quite good. It took me through some cemeteries of this quaint town. I was starting to get hungry and wanted something other than a bratwurst or schnitzel, so I went to an Italian place. However, on my way to the Italian place, I passed a place that was called Snowballs. Inside they had traditional soft-ball sized desserts with a coating of various flavors and items. Honestly, it looked like a softball dipped in chocolate covered with nuts. I felt like a squirrel in the middle of the road, not sure which way to go. I did however opt for an actual meal, and think about the snowball afterwards, but unfortunately, I was too full and didn’t want to have it melt by me holding it on the way home.

After my afternoon in Fussen I headed back to the train for the 2 hour journey home. Once I got back from the trip, I got my tickets for my trip to Zurich. The computer touch screens are really good to get you where you want and let you search and reserve seats. I like the system, and was pleased to see it was just E49.

When I got back to the hostel, I went out again for some dinner and had a great caprese sandwich with fresh mozzarella and ham. It then was getting late so I walked around a little and came home to crash.

Onward to München

Today I started my journey to Munich and had to say goodbye to Ulf and Judith. While Judith may come down to Frankfurt before I leave, I may not see Ulf for a while so we had our goodbye at the train station. I got everything packed up (including lots of Milka) and got on the train to start the 4-5 hour journey down to Munich.

The train was so nice—it was brand new, and had power outlets at the seats for laptops. That’s how I’m writing this now actually J The large windows are great to view the German countryside as we pass from one village to the other with ust a small cluster of houses with distinct gables poking through rows of trees. Every so often, you’ll see a church steeple towering above houses as well. In Frankfurt I’ll transfer to an ICE train down to Munich.

The ICE train was quite nice and I was able to eat my lunch and get to the train to find my seat. I got situated after eating standing up in the café car while watching the landscape pass by. After lunch I headed for my seat to get situated. It was pretty crowded. I was happy that I had booked my seat.

About halfway through the trip, it started to rain so I was worried about the weather in Munich. Luckily it was a beautiful day. I read my Bavaria book on the train as well as updated my blog and found a good hostel right next to the station that had been reviewed well. When I arrived at the station, I went across the street to the hostel. At check in, I got my room key which was cool—everything is RFID so the doors are very secure and they had lockers big enough for my luggage which was also tied to the RFID.

After putting my bags away, I got my stuff together and headed out to the city. I found the main pedestrian area that spans down through the old part of the city. Building after building was more impressive as the next. I made my way to Marianplatz where there’s a statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the Town Hall with a Glockenspiel. I’ll go there tomorrow to check it out. After there, I headed for another Victrolian Square where there were tons of market stands selling fresh produce, flowers, sausages etc. I then headed over to the Hofbrauhaus to check out this notable yet touristy attraction. Here I had a great dinner with two sausages on sauerkraut, with a baked potato. It was really good. I then headed back to the hostel to start researching what my plan will be for the next few days.

The Wedding comes to an end

Today was hard to wake up. After having been out on the dancefloor til about 4am (3am), we set the time forward today. There was a free breakfast available in the dining area so I headed down at 10am since checkout was at 11am. There were eggs, bacon, toast etc. I didn’t see anyone that I had been speaking with the previous night, so I wasn’t sure if anyone really spoke English well enough to have a breakfast conversation with, so I headed for a table that had the most people. There were Ulf’s friends from school and work there, and I made some new friends with interesting stories. A pair that had met online and been dating for the past 9 months were really fun to speak with. The guy was changing jobs into Logistics and the girl was a church counselor that organized youth trips.

We then spent some time getting the gifts from the gift table to a van of Judith’s cousin. They had a big utility van that made transporting everything back easily. I headed back to Marburg with them, and helped get everything into the house while Judith and Ulf stayed behind to tie up any other things at the castle.

The afternoon was quiet as we stayed around home to relax and clean up. People came over to say their goodbyes before heading back to Hamburg, Berlin, and other cities around Germany.

In the evening, we went out to the town to meet with Judith’s cousin and her husband and child. We went to a Swedish café called Edlund’s in the town center that was an ice cream shop as well. Of course, I ordered a huge sundae filled with coffee ice cream, actual chocolate pieces and chocolate syrup with about a pound of whipped cream. I didn’t think to not ask for that, as by the time I was finished, it was just a pile of whipped cream.

We then went across the street to the same restaurant we had been to before and I opted for the kid’s menu as I wasn’t very hungry. I got a Wiener Schnitzel and salad and it was plenty. We then bid farewell to the cousin and her family and headed back home for a quiet evening relaxing and talking about everyone and the events at the wedding. Judith and Ulf were going through some of the gifts that people had brought. It was interesting, because they had requested money, and apparently what’s customary is to create a creative way in presenting the money, and wrap it in clear cellophane to show your creation. There were Easter eggs hatched with money in them, a treasure chest on sand with money falling out, a painting of an ocean with an origami paper boat made from euro bills, a piggy bank full of coins. It was quite fun to see everyone’s creative creations.

One of the greatest gifts I saw was a travel brochure that was created by one of her closest friends, Mark. He works at a travel agency in Germany and created this complete guide to Judith’s and their trips throughout their child hood together. It showed pictures from Judith’s youth that she hadn’t even seen before and had stories of their times spent together as a group of 5 close friends. I had gotten to meet everyone before in 2002 when we visited Saarburg in the winter. It was really cool to see everyone again.

I then started looking at planning my Munich trip. I had bought my train ticket before I arrived to leave tomorrow so wanted to see how many days I’d like to stay. I’m so glad I got a travel guide before coming because I can’t believe I hadn’t realized that Dachau was just a short trip from Munich. All together I’m planning about 4 days in Munich and the environs to see the Ludwig Castles, Dachau, and of course, tour the city before heading to Switzerland.

Wedding Bells

Today is the day of Judith’s wedding. The morning began quite smoothly–it was a little too calm for my expectation. We had a nice breakfast, and everyone was coming and going. I helped with some of the preparations moving stuff to one car to another, doing some errands with Ulf and Tobi, and then came back for a quick lunch before we all started getting dressed.

I brought my suit with a few different shirts to choose from and Judith selected the pair she liked best. I went with silver shirt, red tie, and my suit. After getting ready, I took Ulf’s camera to start taking some shots. We headed for the church to finish any other setup necessary for the ceremony. The organist was practicing, the flowers were being arranged on the pews, and the church was so quaint. It had great achitecture and was so typically a ‘village church’. Mandy was out front at the bottom of the hill watching for the ‘bridemobile’. As they pulled up, the bells on the church started ringing. Seeing Judith get out of the car was really emotional with everyone gathering around to watch her climb up to the church. It was truly fairy tale like.

Her dress was off white with diamond studs in the veil, and a diamond studded broach in the center of the bodice. When she reached the top, Ulf had arrived to take her arm as they stood to wait for their entrance to the church. Everyone got seated, and they played the wedding march as they entered the church to walk down the aisle to the two chairs at the center of the altar area.

They sat for a while as the music played and then the ceremony began with the pastor welcoming everyone and introducing various hymns. After about 20 minutes or so, the ceremony finished with everyone going outside to take pictures of the bride and groom. We then setup all the drinks and food inside the church for a light snack. People then funneled back in and we enjoyed some nice food and drink. People then started to leave and most headed for the castle about 30 minutes away.

As we weaved through this tiny village to all the signs pointing to ‘Schloss’ (Castle), it was literally a maze through these farmhouses left and right, curvy and straight, and then finally a parking area. The first building I saw was pretty big, so I thought this might be it, but they then said it was the guest quarters. Then as we walked over a blind hill, the castle stood just below with such grand towers, wooden beams diagonally cutting through the white plaster of the walls. It looked like a castle suited for Hansel & Gretel.

Judith and Ulf were having their photos taken around the grounds, so I met with Tobi and Annika to walk around. I then checked in with my backpack and was given a large key to room 302. She said just go upstairs. What she should have said was, go up the spiral staircase all the way to the top where you’ll find an unmarked door. Go through this door, and turn directly left to where you’ll find another unmarked door to lead you up to another floor. Take a right and wind through a small dwarf hallway with tiny windows looking out at the meadow. Keep going until you find a foyer type area with another staircase going up to the top. Here you’ll find two doors, one leading to 301 and one leading to 302. I guess it was just easier to say, Go upstairs :)

After leaving my stuff and trying to find my way back, I ended up going through an emergency exit that dropped me out in the back, so I had to walk around to the front to find my way back to Tobi and Anika.We all had another coffee and cake. We then went out front for a group photo which took a while for the photographer to line everyone up in the order of height and view to make sure everyone’s face was available in the picture.

After the picture, we all went back in to have a nice buffet dinner. We had Poudarde, Pork medallions, potatoes, mushrooms, and much much more. We all sat in our placemarked spots (Which I wrote for everyone!) and enjoyed a nice dinner with good company. As the evening went on, more food came with finally a beautiful wedding cake.

The first dance done by Judith and Ulf was a waltz they had practiced. It was great. Then others started dancing as well. It was a really cool atmosphere with everyone laughing and dancing, and I was impressed with how many people knew how to dance proper dances! It put my lame ‘Tush Push’ line dance to shame. (note to self, take dancing lessons sometime).

We then went to the main dining area for the cutting of the cake after a while. The cake was 4 tiers and 3 different flavors. It was delicious. Then they brought out bread and sausages. I felt like I ate the entire day. The food kept coming, as well as the drinks.

The night continued on as families started leaving or turning in and left the ‘wild’ ones still out on the dancefloor. I got to dance with Judith and by 4am, we had our Madonna ‘Music’ song played for old time’s sake. It was really fun to have caught up with her friends and family whom I’d also seen back in 2002. Everyone was so nice. The wedding was an awesome celebration of two amazing people that I’m so excited and thankful to have in my life.

Grayson Benjamin Trotter

During our coffee and cake time, I got an exciting text from Allan declaring that GBT had been born and was 9lbs 1oz. It was great news as I had waited all day to hear that everything was all ok. I’m very excited to not only have a nephew, but to share a name, as well as a birthday with him. I look forward to spoiling him just as rotten as little O :)

The Civil Ceremony

Today we woke to get ready for the Civil Ceremony of the wedding of Judith and Ulf. The morning was hopping with everyone getting ready, eating, and prepping. We drove to the town center where we found the other participants in the ceremony–except the Best man! As the time got closer, there was a little bit more anxiety around him being late. We went into the town’s ‘city hall’ and sat in the waiting room before we entered into the next chamber. Finally the Best man arrived, and there was a sigh of relief. In the next chamber sat a heavier woman who would officiate the ceremony. She went through some speeches and made sure everything was set up correctly before we held the ceremony.

The next chamber had a sitting area around the main desk that the woman was sitting at. She went through page after page saying things. Finally at the end, she declared them as married.  We then went out front and people were throwing some rice and had a big sign in congratulations.

We then drove back home and had all sorts of cakes and coffee and ‘Donatella’ :) Many of the people hadn’t seen Judith’s house yet so they got the full tour. In the evening we had a great soup that basically tasted like pizza!

Arrival in Germany

The flight was really quite easy. However on the last couple of hours I was getting restless with excitement and my uncomfortable seat. It’s amazing because I think if they just added a different way to recline in the seat, it could be a really comfortable trip. The girl who sat next to me, Chanel, was a really nice girl doing some award travel herself. However, she had already been on quite a journey by the time she came to Dallas. She had already flown from Chicago to Nashville, and Nashville to Dallas!

After we landed in Frankfurt, we headed to get luggage. My Tennessee Tag had been torn off :( It was its first trip too! After my luggage came out, I went to find a German SIM card so I could start texting Judith.  The lines for train tickets were insane so I went to the automatic ticket machines to get my ticket. After going through the process, it wouldn’t take a credit card. *lame*.

I finally got my tickets at the travel center and got the next train to the Frankfurt station and transferred to the IC train to Marburg. It was a painless journey. Judith was right at the station when I got out of the train and she looked the exact same as when I saw her last — 10 years ago!

We then drove to her new house, had some breakfast, and I got a good nap in while she had her nails done. In the afternoon we went to the center of town to do some shopping for errands for wedding type things, and had a nice brat with potatoes–it was half a meter long curled up on the plate!

When we got home, we started doing some nametags and ribbon cutting for various things. We’re hoping that the weather is good for Saturday’s wedding! Ulf came home finally after a long day of work, and it was so great to meet him! We all sat and chatted until it was time for bed.