29 May 2006

Act I, Scene VI

The next day we headed for The Black Forest, or, as the Germans know it, Schwarzwald. On the way, we stopped into Rottweil, supposedly the oldest city in Baden-Württemberg. Since it was kind of raining, we decided to stop into the city museum. For a mere Euro per person, we were given a wonderful tour by the curator, where we learned about such things as the still-standing mutual protection treaty between Rottweil and 13 Swiss towns, and the history and meaning of the various Fasnet (the local version of Fasching - something I have mentioned several times already) costumes and traditions. Plus there was a 15th century (or so) 2-meter diameter round map of the area that the wandering judges could roll with them to find their way to the local towns they needed to visit. The tour guide was so excited about everything... It was a great way to see the museum.

Afterwards, we did our tower of the day and climbed the Hochturm (that means "high tower"), and had a decent view of the edge of the Black Forest. I am sure if the weather was nicer, it would have been even better. Along with the key to the tower, the Tourist Office provided the history of this cool tower. We learned that a family lived there during the middle ages, the man's job was threefold:
1) Watch for approaching enemies
2) Watch for fires in the town
3) Take care of any prisoners locked in the tower.
It was a rather unique Tower in that the various living rooms and the jail cell were still intact. It probably was comfy for the standards of centuries past, too. Except for the jail cell. I don't think it was ever comfy. Well, maybe by caveman standards. (note: this may be foreshadowing)

Later we popped into a church that had some wonderful bumpy stained glass windows and twisty blue columns.

Finally, we popped in to a different museum, on the suggestion from the woman at the 1st museum. She told us that we could sneak a peek of the famous Roman Orpheus mosaic without paying admission to the museum. Not only did we do that, but we used their bathrooms as well! Ha ha!
The mosaic reminds me of that one Nick Cave song...

After leaving Rottweil, we asked Betty to take us into the Black Forest, and drove along twisty foresty roads for a while until we reached Freudenstadt, where our hotel for the night was located. Freudenstadt has the largest market square in Germany, and we spent a couple hours hiking around it and checking out the stores along its perimeter.

The next day, we continued our drive into the Black Forest, along the Schwarzwald Tälerstraße, or, for the German impaired, Black Forest Valley Road, which consisted of more beautiful scenery along small roads. Eventually we made our way back to Heilbronn to relax and recharge after a long week of exploring southern Germany.

Because next we are going to see the Romanic Rhein, and after we drop dad & steply ugmother off at the airport, Jeannette and I head to southern France.


26 May 2006

This Just In!

I'll take a quick break from our vacation coverage to bring you something great!

Jeannette's parents' German-American Restaurant, Martin's Brandenburg, was featured in a recent article in the Des Moines Register. The author had a couple of spelling errors with the German words, but otherwise was very good. And the pictures left me hungry & drooling.

Definitely, if you are in the neighborhood, you should go eat there. Heck, even if you aren't in the neighborhood, you should go out of your way and visit.

Congratulations Martin & Bev.

24 May 2006

Act I, Scene V

We spent most of the day on Mainau Island, a nice botanical garden. It had some nice botanical things, as it should since it is a botanical garden, like the gigantic flower person that greeted us near the entrance.

Here you can see the flower person just before he showed his evil side and ate Jeannette, Steply Ugmother and Dad. So I had to take the rest of the vacation by myself. Which was kind of lonely, but it was easier to decide where to eat.

The real treat on Mainau is the butterfly house. It was quite amazing, with so many wonderful butterflies. I have a bunch more pictures at flickr. OK, here are a couple more...

As I said, there were some botanical things there. Like flowers.

There was also this snail. He has a scraped up shell. I think he tried to take on a lawn mower at one time or another. I'm glad he didn't lose an eye stalk.

After looking at all this stuff, I got ready to leave and noticed that Dad, Jeannette and Jan really weren't eaten by the Ancient Evil Flower Person. *whew*

So, we headed back to Konstanz to climb the tower of the day and see a nice view of the city and the Bodensee.

I think that pretty much wraps up the day. Well, I guess we did eat at a nice Vietnamese restaurant, but really, other than that, I don't think there is anything else to say.



21 May 2006

Vacation: Act I, Scene IV

The next day we left Schwangau and headed down the Deutsche Alpenstraße, a scenic highway through the Alps between Füssen and Lake Constance. The weather wasn't bad, but it wasn't so good that we could see the Swiss or Austrian Alps. We eventually made it to Meersburg, a town on Lake Constance where Germany's oldest castle is located. It was very important that we go there, because Meersburg has no train station, thus it would be difficult for us to visit normally, since we are still carless.

Anyway, the Meersburg Castle wasn't all fancy-pants like Neuschwanstein or Hohenschwangau. It was old, dark, a little bit musty and chock full of armor and big, nasty, sharp & pointy weapons.

Even the dooknobs seem to say "don't mess with Meersburg".

In addition to the big, nasty & pointy weapons, there was a big bee (presumably with a nasty, pointy stinger) inside.

Dad & I took a quick tour of the Zeppelin Museum, a small but nice museum jammed full of all sorts of zeppelin-related things. Dad really got a kick out of the old radio gear, some of which was made by Telefunken, which I find interesting because whenever people ask me where I work, nobody has ever heard of the company I work for (despite the big blue sign that glows in the night...), but when I tell them "It was formerly Telefunken" (after my company bought the spin-off from Telefunken), they all say "oh, ok" and nod their heads like it makes sense. I think half of them just say it because they know they should know where it is, but don't really.

Anyway, after all that, we hopped onto the ferry that took us to Konstanz, where Hotel Gerda (our lodging for the next 2 nights) was located.

After a harrowing parking experience that required 2 drivers, 3 directors and at least one plasterer, we wandered Konstanz for a while, introduced Dad & Jan to Turkish food, saw some kid lure a swan out of the lake and feed it from his hand, and Jeannette got to ride a big metallic horse with an infinite number of feet.* See for yourself:

*I count 6 feet, maybe there are 8. Either way, 6 and 8 are even numbers, but that is an odd number of feet for a horse to have. And since the only number that is both even and odd is infinity, the horse must have an infinite number of feet. You just can't see all of them, for some reason.**

**I can't take credit for this logic. Unfortunately, I don't know who orginally proved a similar thing.***

***It had to do with Alexander the Great's infinite number of limbs and the color of his horse.****

****A few minutes with Google would probably lead you to the original source.


15 May 2006

Vacation - Act I, Scene III

The next day, we spent the day near Schwangau, a lovely town in the Allgäu region, right on the edge of the Alps. As you can see, it is a very beautiful area.

Most of the day was spent visiting the town's two castles: Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. Hohenschwangau is more or less a "real" castle. What do I mean by that? As opposed to its neighbor, Schloß Hohenschwangau had been lived-in by members of the Bavarian royal family. Neuschwanstein, on the other hand, is a relatively modern (late 1800s) fantasy-world dream of King Ludwig II, who only lived in the unfinished building for 173 days before he was deposed and, three days later, died under mysterious circumstances. Neuschwanstein is gorgeous and sits in a very dramatic location, but between the mass of tourists (we weren't even there in the "high" season, yet there was a pushing and shoving match amongst people trying to get onto the bus to take us to the castle) and knowing its history, it just seemed like some sort of Bavarian Disneyland Castle without those snaky rope thingies that allow a relatively large number of people to form a "line" in a fairly compact area. But don't get me wrong, we enjoyed the day a lot. The castles were wonderful on the inside and the tour guides were great, particularly in Hohenschwangau.

The Hohenschwangau castle's exterior was under renovation while we were there, so I don't have any real photos of the castle. It was covered with tarps that seemed to be just about the same color as the actual exterior, but it still didn't look very photogenic. There was this lovely swan fountain there, however.

We tried to be polite about getting on the Neuschwanstein shuttle bus, but when this gigantic group started to push ahead of everyone else that was there at least as long as they were, we decided that we weren't going to put up with all of them cutting in front of us (remember, I said above that there was nothing resembling a line at the bus stop) and we worked our way to the front. The apparent leader of the group tried to tell Jeannette she had to wait her turn, but the driver didn't care who got on his bus as long as they paid, so we squeezed past the obnoxious woman onto the crowded bus. We made it to the drop-off point with enough time to take a leisurely walk to the castle. If we would have missed the bus, I am sure that we would have had to run. And that wouldn't have been fun.

There was this nice bridge over a waterfall that has an excellent view of the castle. Normally when Jeannette and I travel alone, we don't get many pictures of the two of us together. I'm still a bit leery about handing over my baby - er, camera - to a complete stranger. But luckily (and if you have been paying attention, this will not be a big surprise), my Dad & Steply-Ugmother were with us, and I don't mind handing my camera over to one of them, since I know where they live.

Since our tour of Neuschwanstein was at 12:15, afterwards it was definitely lunchtime. And with the hiking through the mountains, it was completely appropriate for us to drink a maß.

Since my Mom and Step-Dad (sorry. We don't have a funny variant on that one... Yet.) are talking about visiting us around Oktoberfest time (or more likely, the Bad Cannstatter Volksfest), Jeannette decided she needed to get into shape for carrying massive quantities of beer.

For those of you paying attention, yes, I used that picture a week or so ago. But it fits into the story. Trust me.

Anyway, after lunch, we leisurely strolled down the mountain, found the car and drove through Wank (see, I told you it was appropriate. If I was just trying to throw something gratuitously into the story, I would have used this one.) to a store that Jeannette had spotted on the way into Schwangau. There was a huge sign that said "80% off on Lederhosen". Well, almost. In small print, there was an "up to" in front of it. But we still went in, Jeannette tried on a bunch of stuff and eventually got a nice pair of Leather Shorts. No pictures yet, but I am sure you'll get to see them next time we hit a Volksfest.

Well, that pretty much wraps it up. Until the next installment, that is.


14 May 2006

Vacation: Act I, Scene II - The Romantic Road

When we planned to give Dad & Jan their introductory tour of Germany, one of the things we all agreed on was that we wouldn't go places that Jeannette and I have already seen before. With the exception of Heilbronn, of course. Since we live there, it doesn't count. Just like broken cookies. Anyway, the first part of the trip took us along the Romantic Road, a strip of super-cute medieval German towns and castles. Since I was doing the planning, I skipped the common tourist stop Rothenburg ob der Tauber, because I have been there before, and instead started our romantic road tour at Dinkelsbühl, a miniature and less-tourist-crowded version of Rothenburg.

There just happened to be a market there that day, which made it even more interesting for everyone, though the market in Dinkelsbühl seemed overly sock-heavy to all of us. At one point I was ambushed by a young woman who was very interested in seeing my "equipment". I showed it to her, but she wanted to feel it and hold it. I didn't let her because I had no idea who she was and whether she would just run off with my brand new D200. From that point on, I was very self-conscious about leaving the strap hanging out of my camera bag, since it very brazenly announces to the world "Nikon D200".

Among other things in town, we saw this very sunny and cheerful sun dial, which doesn't seem to auto adjust for Daylight Savings Time (or simply "summer time" in Germany). Our last stop in town was the zany 3-D Museum, a collection of holographs, optical illusions and those wacky posters that you have to stare at for hours to eventually see a 3D image. ("There's a boat in that picture?") One of the things I realized after going to that museum is that apparently every new technology for visualizing anything will not really take off until people start using it to visualize topless women.

Our next stop on the Romantic Road was Nördlingen, a town that sits in the crater of a meteor that pelted the earth 15 million years ago. The town is almost perfectly circular, and is the only German town that has its medieval walls completely intact.

Unfortunately, we couldn't get a good vantage point to see the nearly perfect circle of the town, but I do have a post card that shows it. Or you could look at the town's web site. At lunch, I had a very nice Käsespätzle, where the cheese was more "saucy", like good ol' American Mac & Cheez. Not that I don't like "normal" Käsespätzle, because I do. But this was a unique twist on the whole cheezy noodles in Germany thing.

After walking a big chunk of the circular wall, we piled back into the big ol' boat and had Betty, our friendly but easily irritated navigational system, help us get to Schwangau and find our hotel. Betty did a pretty good job, and didn't complain too much when we took little side jaunts to satisfy my need to stop at random places to take pictures.

We would definitely recommend Haus Wiedemann, our comfy little hotel with excellent balcony views of Neuschwanstein. The hosts at the hotel were very attentive to our needs, and were quite shocked when we told them that Dad didn't want anything for breakfast except kawphy. Oops, I mean coffee. They were so surprised that they had to confirm and reconfirm several times to be sure that he really didn't want breakfast.

Well, that just about wraps up the 2nd day of vacation. One final photo for you:

No, I wasn't drunk. No, the castle wasn't sliding down the hill while I took the picture. This is a reminder to myself that when using a tripod and a lens with vibration reduction (VR), turn off the VR feature. It's weird that it does that.


11 May 2006

Vacation: Act I, Scene I

My boss let me take an extra day off work, so my vacation started a day early, with the stipulation that if there was an emergency at work I had to come in and take care of it. So, while Jeannette went to Frankfurt to pick up Dad and the Steply Ugmother at the airport, I got my hair cut and cleaned the house. At about 16:30, I did get a call from work. I could have explained how to fix the problem to another engineer over the phone, but being 16:30 on a friday meant that nobody was there. So I hopped on my bike and in a grand total of about 1/2 hour, production was running and I was back home again. Eventually, everyone arrived back home, and we headed to Leyner's for some good Schwäbisch food. We took a quick tour of Heilbronn's downtown and had a beer at the Dachpavilion - a bar with a 5th floor balcony with a great view of Killianskirche. By this time, jet lag was setting in for the half of us that had been on a plane that day, so we went back home and hit the sack.

The next day we continued the tour of Heilbronn, starting with climbing the Hafenmarkt Tower to get a good overview (literally) of town. Here you can see the Kilianskirche tower, without me having to angle my camera up to see it. I really love that staircase. Someday, I will climb it, too.

We eventually finished seeing what there was to see in Heilbronn and sped off to the nearby vineyards and climbed yet another tower, the Heuchelberg Warte. The setting was nice, so I took a picture of the family.

Eventually, we did the right thing and took our visiters to a Besen to sample local wine and food.

That pretty much wraps up day one. Stay tuned for the Romantic Road, coming up soon.


07 May 2006


We just got back from 2 weeks of vacation.
I have about 1500 pictures to sort through.
More soon...