(last update- 9/14)
|Aug 9- Our first day in Weiden, Germany. We rented a cute little European car and drove from Munich. It feels like early October here. The country is just beautiful. We passed one gorgeous village after another that we wanted to explore. Charming little groups of white walled, red roofed houses with onion domed steeples on the churches. We drove past hop fields. There were webs of strings and poles that trained the hop plants straight up.
We found the rink after a little accidental exploring and met our host Juergen. He's a nice guy who speaks perfect English. He was still working with a group on the ice, so we had a few hours to do as we pleased. We walked until we found the old center of town, the Golden Straße. We walked through an incredible old church with ornaments that looked halfway between pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau. There were vaulted ceilings and in the center was a mural of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. I love the lettering, I wonder how hard it would be to turn it into a true-type font. Hopefully, someone's already done it for me and I can just find it and download it. Anyway, I got video, but it doesn't do it justice. For the first time, I wish I'd brought my good camera.
Our hotel is in the next village over. Internet is hard to find here. (It will probably be worse in the Czech and Slovak republics. These blog entries will be sporadic.) What is NOT hard to find here is ICE CREAM! It's yummy and cheap, too. Ted is going to have to roll me home. There is a cafe right across the street from the hotel that serves nothing but ice cream and beer. We got Ferrero Rocher ice cream. Holy Cow, it was just incredible. The ice cream shops here offer a spagetti sundae. I did a double-take. Yep, there's the photo on the menu...a pile of spaghetti topped with strawberries and stuff. Yuck! Then, we were informed, it was ice cream run through a pasta maker. It just looks like spaghetti. OK, gimme some.
Aug ...what day is it? We've got one more day of camp. I've got a bit of free time while Ted is coaching, so I get lost all over Weiden. There are lots of Turkish restaraunts here. Oh boy, a captive audience to aggravate with my 'Tarzan Turkish'. It's a merry dance. They say hello in German. I say hello in Turkish. They start jabbering at me in Turkish; faster than I can understand. I say that I only speak a little Turkish, so they start jabbering at me in German. I don't speak German. But, I can often sort it out if it's written and I really enjoy trying to decipher menus here.
Finally got some video processed and uploaded. It shows the rink and the area near the rink in the old town. I walked through a gorgeous old church and got what video I could, but it does not do it justice.
(note: I uploaded all my video to Yahoo video, and then they discontinued the service. I will eventually get around to re-uploading)
The rules here are simple. Keep to the right on the sidewalk if you don't want to get hit by a bike. Dogs are welcome everywhere unless there's a sign. You don't have to eat your vegetables. In fact, good luck getting any. Most of the meals I've had here included NO vegetable of any kind. (unless you count french fries) I did stumble upon the farmer's market today, and can confirm that there are indeed vegetables to be had, mostly cabbages. Tho, I have not yet been served a cabbage.
|Aug 13- Ted's pretty worn out. He's been doing one camp after another all summer. We thought this one was going to be easier, but we're up early and Ted's in camp all day til we all pile on the bus to go to dinner with over 3 dozen screaming, bouncing kids. I don't know where they get the energy; it's boot camp all day. We try our best to wear them out. Still, they're running the halls til 11pm. Tomorow, after camp, they go home, and we go find another rental car to take us to Prague, where we'll spend the weekend. I doubt the weekend is enough time, but I'm delighted to have that long.
I spent the last day in Bavaria wandering through Neustadt. It's very charming, everyone has massive flower boxes in every window that overflows with petunias.
What an incredible day. We were headed for Prague, but we decided to stop in Pilsen for lunch. Of course, we had a Pilsner. It went well with the duck and cranberries I ordered.
It wasn't hard to find the old part of town, though Pilsen was a much bigger town than we expected. It really was beautiful, especially in the old town square. There, we saw a postcard for a town called Karlovy Vary. It featured a very pretty church and some nice houses. As we left town for Prague, we saw the exit for Karlovy Vary. We had just enough time to look at the map and say 'ya wanna?' We went down the ramp. It looked to be about an hour or less away, then another hour to Prague. Well, the road took us right back through Pilsen, with it's crawling traffic. It was all worth the trouble. The Czech country-side is just gorgeous, for starters. Turns out, we were already close to Karlovy Vary when we were in Weiden, but, we had an adventure.
Karlovy Vary is the most beautiful town I have ever seen.
All the houses are different, but all completely charming. And then, at one end, is a white Russian Orthodox church with blue and gold onion domes. It's just dazzling.
We ended up at a hotel nearby, ridiculously overpriced, and walked all around the area. Down the hill,
Ted noticed that everyone was walking around with these little cups which had a straw built into it which came out for a handle. Everyone had one but us. Soon, we noticed fountains under a grand stone columned pavilion where they were filling the cups. Mineral deposits were all around the bottom. This town is famous for it's waters. There are baths and spas everywhere.
Getting into Czech Republic was easy. You just pull off at the border and get a sticker for your car. No guards or gates. Driving is easier than in Germany. There was less traffic, and everyone was going a saner speed. On the autobaun, some cars were going so fast that you had to be careful about passing. They often flew past at 100 miles per hour and more.
|Aug 16- I've got more video than I can possibly post and seen more stuff than I can possibly talk about. We set out for Prague in the morning, but it was raining steadily and there was no parking ANYWHERE. We drove around the old city, slowly realizing that Prague was going to require it's own special trip. You need a few days to walk it.
We drove on to Brno (can I buy a vowel?), stopping at a castle we saw a sign for on the way. Out of Bohemia and into Moravia. We have little schedule or itinerary, and that's working out just fine for us. Brno was just beautiful. We walked up to St.s Peter and Paul Cathedral, an incredible place; and were lucky enough to catch the choir practicing. Walking around the grounds later, we kept hearing loud bangs. As we walked down the hill, they got louder and Ted exclaimed, "musket fire!" and ran off down the cobble-stone street. In the square was a re-enactment of a battle in the 30 years war, the Hapsburgs against the Swedes. Cool.
Later, they held a massive fireworks display right over our heads. It was a good day.
|Aug 17- We headed out for Trencin, which should have taken no more than a couple hours. We heard, though, that there was a famous battlefield just outside Brno, the site of a famous Napoleonic battle, Austerlitz. Ted's a big Napoleonic history buff, so we went looking for it, expecting to find no more than a stone marker on a hill. The signs pointing to the site were voided out, indicating that the road was closed. We'll see. Hey, it's Sunday, probably no construction. The road was torn up, but passable, so we passed. We drove through the country for a few miles. A pheasant ran across the road in front of us.
The site turned out to be worth the fuss. It's a beautiful monument, with a very nicely done little museum that tries it's best to help you understand the battle and what it must have been like.
We got back on the small highway to Trencin. Sometimes it was a 4 lane highway, sometimes, 2 lanes through little villages. We came to a detour where the road was torn up. This turned out to be the longest detour in history. It led us all through the little village and then down a country road. We saw other travelers pulled over looking at maps, but we kept going. Looking at our map,we decided that we could find our way back. Eventually, we saw some more detour signs, and, an hour later, came back out on the highway. We did see some pretty little villages along the way.
Soon, we were driving though some amazing mountains, and on the other side, came to the Slovenska border. No problem there, and soon we arrived in Trencin. We'll be here for four days. It's a fair sized town, and we are staying at Hotel Tatra, right at the base of a huge castle. Out the back window is the massive hill, and looking straight up, we can see 2 towers. Right next door is the old part of town that is mostly pedestrian, and has many cafes. It's a nice place to stroll, and after a beer and some really good pizza at a sidewalk cafe, we were feeling right at home. This is, after all, the (small) country that Ted's grandmother was from. Though, I have to say, I've been ordering spaghetti bolognese alot, because all over Germany and Czech Republic, they make it just like my Mom does. Yum!
Meetings tomorow with hockey people.
|Aug 18- Hockey ate our day, but that's why we came out this way. We met Ted's friend Marian and the head coach of Dukla Trencin for lunch, and talked hockey. Then we went to the rink and watched a youth practice. Afterwards, we met their coach to offer our services. After all that, a group of Slovak NHL players came out for an off-season scrimmage. We saw Gaborik, Hossa, Palfy, and others. Pretty cool. In the morning, we'll be working with the Dukla goalies.
So, as we were working with the goalies, we had to share the ice with the NHL players. They were curious about the performance analysis software that Ted was using, and came over for a demo. Turns out that Gaborik is part owner of the team, and we'd been working for him all along. I'll try to get Ted to blog about it. He's the one that actually met the guys, I lost track of who was there.
Every time they brought out the Zamboni to resurface the ice, the resident German Shepard would come out with the man that moved the nets. First, it would roll in the thin layer of snow on the ice, then, it would walk with the man to the far end where the other net was. If there were any pucks left in the net, the dog would carry them around til they left the ice. He looked happy to have a job.
|Aug 25- Since Ted finished up with the hockey, we've been going non-stop, and I've had no time to keep this journal. Now, I'm sitting at my gate waiting for our flight home. I've got a ton of video to process and upload, and I'm going to have to make some maps that track our route. We've just been wandering like children, going in which ever direction looked most interesting. I'll have to sit down with a map and trace those wanderings. We spotted things that took us off the main road so many times. I had no idea that there were so many castles, especially in Slovakia and Czech Republic. It became a sport, spotting them on their hills. Some were pristine story book palaces and some were grey ruins in the wood. I'm partial to grey ruins myself, but those were very hard to get to.
This trip has really been full of surprises. With so much going on leading up to it, we had little time for research. We knew we had to be in Bavaria for the first week, and get to Trencin, Slovakia by the 20th. Otherwise, we went where we pleased. I'll try to fill in the blanks now.
|Trencin, Slovakia- The time flew. We did manage to get up to the castle on the hill. That's quite a steep climb, but it was worth it. It's more of a fortress than a royal residence, just plain stone walls everywhere. Up in a tower, they have a small museum with mostly military artifacts. There was a raptor center where handlers in costume were flying an eagle. It was gorgeous. They had several other birds there, an owl, sparrowhawk, falcon, etc; and every time the eagle flew, some of the birds would start up a racket. They had them on perches right next to the path, so we got a good look. (and, some video)
Every town we have gone to, there have been signs pointing to "Centrum", the center of town. That was really handy. They would always direct us right to the old city. And there was always a charming cafe scene. In Trencin, we had a favorite cafe next to a fountain that came right up out of the cobblestone pavement. We'd sit and watch the kids playing in it. Sidewalk cafes are such a nice place to relax and feel like part of the town.
|Zvolen, Slovakia- Still lodging in Trencin, we took a 2 hour drive to meet with a pro team in Zvolen. Their rink was not as nice, but the coach spoke perfect English, having played in the NHL for several years. I have to complain about the lack of pro-shops, too. We only managed to find a few jerseys. European jerseys are so cool, colorful, with lots of logos.
Zvolen has a castle, of course. You can't turn around in Slovensko without bumping into one. But we didn't visit, as we were in a hurry to see the most visited in Slovakia, Bojnice Castle, which was on the way back. It was the best preserved that we saw, still furnished, though in a variety of styles representing it's long history. We especially liked the rooms that were painted with ornaments all over the walls, including portraits of people that lived there. Oddly enough, the principal owner was a Mr. Palfy.
Outside were cute shops and kiosks, where we hoped to find traditional arts for sale. It turned out to be the worst tourist crap. Back to Trencin.
Bratislava, Slovakia- The capital of Slovakia, this turned out to be one of our favorite towns. Ted found us a great hotel on the Danube. We figured we'd stay there two nights. The first day we'd walk around Bratislava and the second day, we'd make the intimidating drive into Vienna, Austria (Wien), forty miles away. After a great day in Bratislava, we started to think that we'd skip Wien and spend another day there. We knew it would be a nightmare drive and then there was...PARKING. Later in the day, tho, Ted spotted a sign advertising a ferryboat making trips to Vienna city center. Yay! We asked at the hotel. The boat made a few trips every day from RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. Bonus! We made reservations online, as the ticket kiosk had closed for the day.
But, oh, back to Bratislava! Our hotel was in the old city, right behind the heavily patroled American Embassy. In front of the Embassy was a nice square with fountains, sculpture, cafes, and grand old architecture. There was also another of these archeologic dig windows that we'd been seeing in other towns. We'd spot these glass windows, usually in the ground, and looking in, you'd see a portion of an old building that had been excavated. They were always fun to find.
Walking further into the old city, we found a church, or, more properly, an old gothic cathedral. Now, we'd already seen about a gazillion fantastic old churches. The doors were usually open, and we visited so many, I lost track of them. This one was charging an entrance fee. We debated. Noone had yet charged for a ticket. It wasn't much, tho, so we went in. They had an incredible collection of church artifacts. Especially beautiful were the chalices.
Finally, we found some traditional arts. There were two shops that had elaborate folk costumes and other crafts. We ended up buying four pieces, two of them gifts to take home.
We never made it up to the castle. Another trip, perhaps. We liked Bratislava enough to visit again.
|Vienna, Austria- The catamaran ride up the Danube was beautiful and relaxing; certainly preferable to driving. It took about an hour and a half. On the way we saw Devin Castle on it's hill. (O.K. I'm resorting to image searches for my links now, because I'm too lazy and busy to take pics or process and upload video) The boat dropped us off in the old part of Vienna. What can I say about Vienna? Holy cow. Here... it's image search time again. You really just have to stand at street level and look up with your mouth hanging open. We did that til we arrived at the Habsburg Palace, really a collection of large buildings over a huge area. Ted wanted to see the armor collection, one of the best in the world. I was certainly impressed. (another image search if you're curious)
|Salzburg,Austria- Just the drive there was incredible. I didn't know we'd be seeing so much of the Alps. And I wasn't expecting to be so impressed by them. I figured, I've seen plenty of mountains; so these are taller. They were just incredibly beautiful. But, I was very frustrated. You know those big walls they put up along interstate highways to shield the local residents living close to it? Well, the highway between Vienna and Salzburg seemed like one continuous canyon of them. Kind of hard to hide THE ALPS, though. They weren't just taller, they were steeper, green with rocky peaks. I think we need to go back again and explore them more.
Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, and you see evidence of that fact everywhere. The old city is gorgeous,and of course, there's a castle. It has a funicular railroad that takes you to the top. We emerged from the station and walked out onto a terrace cafe. There were the Alps. We ordered ice coffees, which isn't just cold coffee and milk. It's cold coffee with a big spoonfull of ice cream, whipped cream and 2 cookies. Sweet. So, there was a great view of the Alps on one side, and a great view of the old city of Salzburg on the other.
We visited a few beautiful old churches in the old city center, as well as catacombs that were dug into the side of the mountain below the castle. It was part of an unusual old cemetery that had wrought iron markers. I think I left the video camera home that day. I had just taken so much video that I was getting tired of it.
We finally found some Christmas stuff there. Ted and I love Christmas and love to decorate our old Victorian house for the holiday. We were hoping to find some old world Christmas decorations. Finally, we found a shop and bought a few things. Most of what they had was painted eggs, which we didn't think we could get home intact.
We had a curry wurst for lunch from a cart in the square to save time. it was called 'bosna' there, but it was a bun with 2 thin brats, mustard, and sprinkled with curry. it was tastier than it sounds. Pigeons were running all around at my feet as I stood crumbling everywhere.
They offered bike tours of the old city. Not normal bikes, but these bizzare looking bikes that seat 7 people in a circle. Everyone pedals and 1 person steers. We watched a family hop on and go giggling away.
By the river, there were vendors in tents, mostly selling crafts. We found a pretzel seller who had these walnut roll things that Ted grew up with as a treat for Easter and Christmas.
|Freising Bavaria- A Belgian friend told us that when he had to fly out of Munich, he stayed the night before in a little town near the airport. We certainly didn't expect much. Freising turned out to be a very charming town, one of the oldest settlements in Bavaria. It was Sunday, and most shops were closed. We even had trouble finding dinner, but ended up at a little Greek place. Guess we should have looked it up online, the oldest brewery in the world is up on a nearby hill. But, we didn't have an internet connection in Salzburg. We had a terrible time trying to find the hotel, driving down streets in the old city that just got narrower and narrower as we went. At least we got to see some stuff. We didn't have the energy to walk too far. I had been walking so much that my ankles simply stopped functioning. I was hobbling around like I was 103.
Freising's symbol is a bear. We saw him everywhere. According to Wikipedia, that's because of a story about St Boniface, who ordered the bear to carry his luggage over the Alps after it had killed his packhorse. Where is that bear when you need him? We'll have to drag our own luggage, hockey bag and all through Munich airport in the morning. We're ready to be home.
|Random thoughts and observations...
Where can I get a drink of WATER?! If I order water, I get mineral water. Yuck! Tastes like Alka Seltzer. A German friend said to order 'stille wasser'. Sometimes it worked, but I bought an 8 pack of liter bottles for the drive that said 'stille' and it was stille fizzy! Yuck!
I've never much cared about cars, but I'm seeing so many Citroëns that I want to take home with me. Especially the vintage ones. But, if I got a new one, it would be the Piccasso. I even checked out their site. They list no dealers any closer than Puerto Rico.
Everywhere we went, it was all about Sisi; Elizabeth of Bavaria, empress and queen. Her pretty portrait was everywhere. She seemed to be a symbol of the grandness and charm of the old empire. You could buy any type of souvenir with her image.
Ya know...it's hard to blog about this trip. In Istanbul, we tend to experience. In Europe, we looked at stuff. It's easier to write about impressions of a culture than it is to describe beautiful sites.
One bad thing about the European Union...you get cheated out of stamps in your passport! There's no real borders, no sour faced guy in uniform stamping your passport.