Saturday, November 21, 2009

May 27, 2009 - Turin, Itally

The Villa Rey campsite - the only one in the vicinity of Turin - sits atop an impossibly steep hill behind the town and is accessed by a gear grinding switchback road devoid of passing places. The condition of the site was not for the faint of heart and it took all the courage we could muster to slurp the black tank into the insect smothered orifice provided for the purpose, let alone contemplate taking on fresh water. We were glad to be gone once our mission was completed
Turin is capital of the Piedmont region of Italy and is located between the Po River to the southeast and the arc of the
Alps separating Italy from Austria, Switzerland and France. With a population of around 900,000, Turin is the third largest metropolitan area in Italy, after Milan and Rome.
In the 18th century, Turin was the birthplace of efforts to unify Italy and actually became the capital city in 1861 before this responsibility was moved, first to Florence and then, finally, to Rome. To compensate for the economic and prestige loss caused by the transfer of government, Turin industrialized itself in the latter part of the 19th century with, among other things, the establishment of Fabrique Italian Automobile Torino better known as FIAT. Lancia and Alfa Romeo automobiles are also headquartered there.
Many of the city's public squares, castles, gardens and palazzi were built by Sicilian architect Filippo Juvarra in baroque, rococo and neo-classical styles modeled after the classical French architecture of Versailles. Turin is also famously known as the home of the contentious Shroud of Turin. See pictures about town here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

May 26, 2009 - Milan, Italy

We had not previously been to northern Italy and had been warned that, apart from the lake areas such as Maggiore, Como or Garda, the region is a none-too-exciting industrial landscape with few redeeming features. As is our wont, "Wet Paint" and similar cautionary labels always develop a fatal attraction in us and the advice simply made us the more determined to visit and check it out for ourselves.
As it turned out, the pundits were correct. Nothing worthwhile in the scenery department - just endless suburban wasteland and scads of traffic. We did accomplish our specific targets, the cities of Milan and Turin, and endured some unique camping experiences along the way.
The Citti di Milano campground, 5 miles west of downtown, was pleasant enough with flat open sites. An unusual feature however, was that it also seemed to serve as a petting zoo with small herds of goats, flocks of sheep, rabbits and tortoises roaming around, and, horror of horrors, about twenty peacocks. These latter creatures randomly emitted loud, piercing shreiks on a 24/7 basis while strutting around the sites like pompous policemen. Were we glad this was just a one night stay.

The weather remained hot and exhausting but the visit to Milan was worth the effort. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million and the urban area is the fifth largest in the EU at around 4.3 million. The entire metropolitan area, by far the largest in Italy, is estimated to be 7.4 million people.
The English word millinery, referring to women's hats, is derived from the name of the city and Milan is renowned as one of the world capitals of design and fashion vying with such places as New York, Paris, Rome and London. 
Gucci, Prada, Versace, Missoni, Dolce & Gabbana, Armani, Valentino, Trussardi, Luxottica and Moschino are some of the renowned companies headquartered in the city. To see some sights, click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

May 24, 2009 - Verona, northern Italy

The weather seemed determined to vex us. After an extended period of cool, wet weather, it had now turned hot and humid - 95F temperatures are quite trying in a van that has no air-conditioning. We drove down to the Verona area and ended up at a rustic campsite some 10 miles west of town with little pitches scattered among grape vines on a working farm. There was a bike ride of a couple of miles to reach the nearest bus stop from where we caught the downtown bus. We left the bikes chained to a lamppost near the bus stop and everything worked out fine.

The old town of Verona is contained in a loop of the river Adige as it snakes westward toward the Gulf of Venice - a great natural defense for three-quarters of the perimeter. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Verona is home to about a quarter million Italians and has worked hard over the centuries to protect its history. Sadly, many of the earliest structures were razed during a massive earthquake in 1117 following which a large rebuilding effort in the Romanesque style was undertaken. Enjoyable city to visit with much to see.

Monday, November 16, 2009

May 23, 2009 - Bolzano, Italy

Until the end of World War I, Bolzano was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and 95% of the population were German speaking. It was annexed by Italy at the end of WWI and, in 1927, with a population of around 30,000, became a provincial capital.  
Benito Mussolini -  such a lovely man - subjected the city to intensive Italianization aiming to triple the population with immigrants from southern provinces to outnumber the indigenous German-speaking population. Fortunately for us, all street and road signs are still in both languages to this day, enabling us to expand our hard earned understanding of German signs with immediate translations to Italian. 
Bolzano is rated as one of the most desirable places to live in Italy. Parking in, or near town however, turned out to be difficult and we eventually found a spot close to a footpath along the River Isarco and were able to follow this into the city center. Enjoyed a pleasant and relaxing visit around the old town area. See sights here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

May 22, 2009 - Onward to Italy...

From Innsbruck, we headed south over the Brenner Pass into Italy. At 4,500 feet, the Brenner Pass is the lowest route across the Alps separating modern day Austria from northern Italy.
Reduced somewhat to a by-way, by the post WWII A13 Autobahn, the old pass is a fairly benign drive offering little excitement. We actually snuck over it illegally since Penny is tagged at 3850 Kg gross weight and the official limit currently is 3500.
The new highway, finished in the '60s, incorporates the Europabrücke, an impressive piece of engineering with one section spanning an amazing 650 feet and the highest spans soaring 620 feet into the air - half the height of the Sears Tower.This bridge carries nearly 20 million trucks each year and, believe it or not ;-), the entire project is of great concern to the environmentalists.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Off to Italy...

Today is the day to leave for Venice, Italy, followed by a boat ride around the Mediterranean to see some sights and then a languid cruise back to the USA calling in at Madeira, Saint Thomas and Puerto Rica.
As usual, the trip east is pretty brutal - pack bags in the morning, fly to Dallas, TX, in the afternoon, on to London, England in the evening and overnight and then connect to Venice early afternoon tomorrow, about 30 hours after we last got up.

Our intention then is to visit Venice on Friday evening to see the city all lit up and do it over on Saturday morning while they polish our boat. We shall see - we have high hopes as always.
Once we leave Dallas we do not expect to use the internet too much until we arrive back on these
shores next month - a miserably slow connection on the boat runs at around $20.00 per hour so we have our MP3 players loaded with plenty of books to fill those moments between eating and sleeping.
Being an Italian vessel, there is little more than CNN available in English language and, because of the mix of nationalities on board, all public address announcements are broadcast in five different tongues - Oh Joy.
More Anon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Grandbaby pictures

Occasionally, when prodded out of our lethargy, we break out the strobe lights, backdrops and related paraphernalia and play at Henri Cartier-Bresson wannabees for a while in the basement. This past Sunday was just such a day. Ready made models were on hand in the form of grandkids, the weather was icky and we needed the exercise so off we went. See pictures here.

And the band played on...

Marching Band season is in full swing. A few days ago, in frightfully frigid temperatures, the Leo High School Band, which includes grandchild #4, was performing at the local High School and we went along to check it out. This time the entire ensemble was sporting their full regalia of plumes, helmets and lots of flair. Check it out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

May 22, 2009 - Innsbruck, Austria

With its 120,000 inhabitants, Innsbruck is the capital of the Austrian federal state of Tyrol and the fifth largest city in Austria. The river Inn runs through town, hence the name Innsbruck, bruck being the German word for bridge. The city's seal and coat of arms show a bird's-eye view of the Inn bridge, a design used since 1267.
From 1420 to 1665, the town was the residence of the Tyrolean sovereigns who left the legacy of a well-preserved gothic Old Town, the Hofburg Palace and the Court Church with the grave monument of Emperor Maximilian I. The Innsbruck University was founded in 1669.
In 1938, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany in the Anschluss and, be
tween 1943 and April 1945, the city was the target of twenty-one bomb attacks and suffered heavy damage. During the war the Germans located the KZ Innsbruck-Reichenau concentration camp in the city.
More recently, Innsbruck hosted the Olympic Winter Games in both 1964 and again in 1976 - twice in an unprecedented twelve year period. This quirk occurred after the IOC, in 1970, selected Denver to host the 1976 Winter Games. The independent Colorado voters had other ideas however, and, in 1972, rejected a bond referendum to finance the Denver sports fest causing the committee to impose on Innsbruck a second time. To look around town, click here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

One Wedding and a Plethora of Pubs

Phew! Made it back from Olde England and the biggest pub crawl we have ever undertaken. Daughter #2 successfully married - lasted a month already so it looks like a good un - and a wonderful time was had by one and all. 

Until the wedding announcement was sprung on us in June, we had had neither the intention or inclination to troll around the UK again. Ever. One slightly guilty regret over this stance was not having many Public House (pubs) pictures in
an era when this singularly British institution is in seriously rapid decline. A serendipitous solution presented itself however, when Marian came across a list of about 200 pubs around the the British Isles that provided some level of camping facilities - what an opportunity! Thus it was that we spent the next month roaming the old country snapping pictures of hundreds of pubs while visiting numerous "must see" attractions that we never quite got around to in the near forty years that we lived there. Killing two birds with one stone is an apt aphorism for this episode, for kill us it nearly did! Net result? Another 20 or 30 blog posts behind, 3,000 more pictures to review and discard and, worst of all , heightened confusion precipitated by all that funny money and those multiple time changes.
A digression: When I started work in England in the '50s, I earned a whopping 1.75 GBP for my 44 hour week - that's 1.75 for the week not per hour. Today, that entire week's pay, before taxes, wouldn't come close to buying a cup of coffee.
With this realization, we decided some R&R was in order to get o
ur heads straight and start some catch-up with the backlog. Accordingly, its off to Venice next week for a boat ride around the Mediterranean followed by a relaxing slow boat to Fort Lauderdale to be back in the USA in time for Thanksgiving. More anon...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

May 21, 2009 - Lermoos, Tyrolean stopover

From Lindau, we quickly entered Austria and were soon lost in the craggy peaks of the Tyrols. There was no campsite in the vicinity of our next destination so that was going to have to be a hit and run and we needed somewhere to stay in the meantime. Campingplatz Lermoos Lärchenhof, a winter sports campsite, turned out to be it. A basic site in the yard behind the gas station in this tiny Tyrolean town of just over 1,000 inhabitants. Squeezed between the main route through town and the railroad track, it did have, electricity, water and, most crucially, Magnum ice cream bars. We were sold.
After setting camp, we went walkabout in the village in the valley. We decided against taking the bicycles since every road we had seen in the area was too steep for us wimps to even contemplate.
Tourism in Lermoos is a winter activity with numerous accommodations for skiers, ranging from grand lodges to hostels that seemed better suited to hamsters, and numerous restaurants catering to the same clientele. In mid-May, not too much was going on. I did keep an eye out for Heidi mit die lederhosen und die grosse Knockern but no luck there either. See views around town here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

May 20, 2009 - Lindau, Bavaria

Lindau, in Bavaria, had been on our do-if-convenient list but, following Marian's interrogation of our German neighbors in Buchs, it was promoted to a must-do visit. So, back to Germany. Thankfully, I'm just the driver.
Lindau is a German town and stands on the only island in Bavaria. The island, which
is just 0.26 square miles in size, is at the eastern end of Lake Constance, also known as the Bodensee. The earliest recorded mention of Lindau is 882 CE, although the remains of an early Roman settlement dating back to the 1st century have been found on the island. The town is close to the intersection of the Austrian, German and Swiss borders and Lake Constance is actually part of the Rhine at the northern foot of the Alps. The Rhine flows into the lake from the south and out again at the west end. The lake, Central Europe's third largest, is more than 1,300 feet above sea level, about 37 miles long and 8 miles wide at the widest point.
Lindau, the me
dieval city on the island, with its relaxing location on Lake Constance, is a popular tourist destination. St. Stephan's church was founded in 1180 and in 1224 the Franciscans founded a monastery on the island. In 1853 a causeway was built to carry the railroad onto the island and supplement the existing road bridge. Three years later, the city built a new harbor complete with a statue of the Bavarian Lion and Bavaria's only lighthouse. For a quick tour, click here.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

May 19, 2009 - Buchs and a whole Bonus Country

The Buchs that we visited - there are several in Switzerland - is on the left bank of the Rhine in eastern Switzerland where the river forms the eastern border of the country. With a population of around 10,000, Buchs is a comfortable little burg built along the Rhine and fading into the steepening foothills of the Alps to the west.
Language was quite trying, being about a fifty-fifty mix of German and French. This does not
mean that half the folk spoke French and the other half German, but that each sentence contained about 50% German nouns and adjectives and 50% French. We never comprehended enough to even begin to decode the syntax. However, the campsite had a nice atmosphere, was handy to the town and the Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus style of owners were very helpful. The biggest negative was the local church clock with its unattractive and very loud chimes that persisted 24/7. With a positive turn in the weather we stayed on for several days, this being the first real chance to get to know Penny and sort out her little peccadilloes.
Across the river Rhine from Buchs lies the Principality of Liechtenstein, a diminutive, 62 square mile, doubly landlocked Alpine micro-state with its roughly 35,000 population. Liechtenstein is a constitutional monarchy, its capital is Valduz while its biggest city, Schaan, lies directly across the river from Buchs. The country has a strong financial sector located in Vaduz, and has been identified as a tax haven although, of course, all that chicanery may soon end in tears - we wish. Check out the time warp here.

Monday, August 24, 2009

May 18, 2009 - Zurich and Beyond...

From Basel, the River Rhine heads east (assuming, of course, one is heading upstream as we were) across the top of Switzerland and then veers south again to form the eastern border of the country. We decided to cut a diagonal course overland to the eastern border and take in the sights of Zurich along the way. Zurich and Geneva, Switzerland's two biggest cities and also her commercial powerhouses, both consistently appear near the top of the numerous "Most Livable City" lists, so Zurich had to be worth a stop, right? Well, stop we did. Traffic lights, traffic jams, road works, massive reconstruction projects and even being backed into by a ditsy Swiss Miss at a grocery store. Zurich had it all. All, that is, except any parking accessible to Penny, any campsite within 30 miles of public transport or any weather conducive to leaving our little home on wheels. Score another bust for Switzerland. Road pictures here.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

May 17, 2009 - How did we end up here?

In common with many Europeans, numerous Americans and, come to think of it, most people we have ever met, we had no desire to go to Switzerland. Ever. Thus, it came as a bit of a shock when the Deutschland "D" on the rear ends of cars was replaced by "CH" plates. CH? Hmm. Oh, of course, Confoederatio Helvetica, why didn't I know that - we're in Switzerland, more specifically, Basel. The third most populous city in the country, at about 170,000, Basel is in the north west corner of Switzerland, on the river Rhine bordering France to the west, and Germany to the north.
So, what's not to love about a country that is always ranked in the top few on every list of richest countries, every list of most desirable country to live in, a country that hasn't seen international
combat since 1815, that cunningly stayed out of the EU, kept its own currency and speaks four different languages? It sure beats me, yet most respondants, when asked if they would like to visit there, produce an involuntary shudder and walk away.
The Basel Münster, originally a Catholic cathedral, reformed into a Protestant church along the way, is the major tourist attraction in town and, surprise, surprise, is currently undergoing yet another refurbishment. Most of the building dates back to the Romanesque structure of the late 12th century, completed around 1225. In 1356 an earthquake destroyed five of the church towers, various vaults and parts of the crypts.
Thus far however, Switzerland failed to ring our bell. See the sights here.

Henry's First

Officially, next Wednesday, Great-Grandson Henry will be one year old. Today was his birthday party. See pictures here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

May 16, 2009 - Freiburg, Germany

Approximately translated as Free Borough, Freiburg was founded in 1120 as a free market town, by Konrad and Duke Bertold III of Zähringen. Straddling the Dreisam river, Freiburg has access to the rivers Rhine and Danube as well as overland routes to the North Sea and the Mediterranean.
Silver mines in the area helped make Freiburg one of the richest cities in Europe, and in 1327 the city even minted its own coin, the Rappenpfennig.
Along the way, Freiburg evolved from a mining centric town into a cultural center for the arts and sciences through the development of its university.The city was bombed twice during WWII, first by friendly fire in May 1940, when the Luftwaffe mistakenly dropped 60 or so bombs near the train station and killed more than fifty people and later, by 300 bombers of RAF Bomber Command in November 1944. The second attack destroyed much of the city center although, after the war, the city was rebuilt along the lines of the original medieval layout. At the centre of the old city is the Münsterplatz, the largest square in town, where a farmers' market is held every day except Sundays. The city has an extensive pedestrian zone where automobiles are banned and also has an effective public transit system, operated by the city. Great place for a walkabout. See more pictures here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Whirlwind Weekend!

There are three kinds of people in the world - those that make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who wonder what the heck happened. Having three able daughters in the first category has both benefits and attendant liabilities. Let me explain...

While we were in Europe earlier in the year it was
leaked to us that August 16th was to be "Party Time" to celebrate the old fogies', us, 70th birthdays before the Gold for Grandpa program kicks in. Thus it was that last Sunday, relegated to the "wondering what the heck happened" category, we had a houseful of wonderful folk wishing us happy birthdays and attending to our every creature comfort.
But, that was only half the story.
As we were winding down this year's
European trip at the end of June, we were quietly camped in a Dutch campsite called Bovensluis near the tiny town of Willemstad. It was Friday evening, clean-up weekend before returning the van to storage in Numandorf, just across the river, and then flying home on Monday.Bovensluis has WiFi and it wasn't long 'til we received a cryptic email from #2 daughter, Michelle, currently living in London. "We need to see you. Will come to where you are." Intriguing. Following a flurry of emails and a few phone calls, Michelle and her Beau jumped on the Eurostar train in London on Saturday morning, and two hours later, arrived in Brussels, Belgium. There, they rented a car and were at the campground by early afternoon, having stopped in Willemstad to pick up a bevy of mysterious, but delicious Dutch thingies for lunch.
So, why the palaver? The bottle of Champagne was the first big giveaway and was immediately followed by their announcement of their pending marriage in September.
Needing no further excuse, we organized a fine celebratory dinner on the Willemstad Waterfront and, after breakfast on Sunday, the betrothed ones said "Goodbye" to Hubert, the camp rabbit, and returned to London.All of this brings us to how the weekend, just passed, came to do double duty. On Friday last, Michelle and Nick arrived in Fort Wayne and Nick met all the local family over the weekend, which included a pre-wedding dinner on Saturday. Sunday, they participated in goading the elderly in the birthday celebrations and on Monday, flew back to England. See pictures here.What a triumph! We had begun to believe that we would never get Michelle off our backs and here she is, almost married. Better yet, Nick, her intended, appears to be a useful kind of fellow who can lift heavy things and move furniture around - win-win as far as we can see!
Not ones to leave things to chance however, we intend to see that they stick to the program. At the end of August we are going back to Amsterdam to pick up Penny, take the ferry to England and stand watch over the proceedings in London until we are convinced the deed is done. After that, we are going enjoy the English countryside for a few weeks to get over the excitement!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Leo Highschool Marching Band

Today was family day at the Leo High School Marching Band practice. For the last month the students have been getting their act together for this, their first semi-public presentation. There was a good attendance of doting parents and grandparents along with a slew of less enthralled siblings.
Thankfully, the program started at 11:00am, well before the day hit its high of 89F, the kind of temperatures the band has struggled with for the last few weeks.

Good time had by all and, of course, Emily, one of our granddaughters pictured here, was the motivation for us to attend. For more pictures, click here.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

May 13, 2009 - Heidelberg, Germany

Once more we strayed from our Rhine mission. This time, 12 miles to the east, following the River Neckar - a Rhine tributary that connects at Mannheim - upstream to Heidelberg. The campsite was a further 5 miles to the east and, once more, was plumb on the river bank. Backstory of how we got here.
Heidelberg has a population of around 140,000 and, of the employed inhabitants, more than 88% work in service industries, quite unlike the mix in Mannheim a few miles to the west. The University of Heidelberg, founded in 1386 by Rupert I, Elector Palatine, has about 26,000 students on campus, bringing significant energy to the city.
See pictures around town.

11 & 12th May, 2009 - rainy Mainz...

Mainz is actually at the confluence of the rivers Main and Rhine and put us back on course for our meander up the Rhine. The campsite was on the right bank of the Rhine in Wiesbaden, right across from Mainz, and, like so many other riverside camps, was in the flood plain.
Johannes Gutenberg
, probable inventor of the moveable type printing press, was born in Mainz and also died there. For that reason alone, this mid sized town was on our radar, although it had much other promise as well.
We did not get to put this to the test however, for after sitting around for two days waiting for the rain to stop, during which time we had completed all outstanding chores, caught up on everything else we had access to and got on each others nerves a little, we decided to snap the accompanying picture out of the van window, pack up and move on. Maybe next time...

Saturday, August 08, 2009

May 10th, 2009 - Frankfurt am Main

We strayed away from the River Rhine briefly, heading east along one of its tributaries, the River Main, to Frankfurt am Main, the fifth-largest city in Germany. The city population is around 670,000 with the urban area coming in around 2-1/4 million. The river Main is shallow enough to ford in places and, since the Franks were early inhabitants of the town, the community became known as Franks furt (ford) and the rest is history. See Backstory.
Frankfurt is both the financial and transportation hub of Germany, the largest financial center in continental Europe, the seat of the European Central Bank, the German Federal Bank and the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. It is also one of just three cities in the entire EU with a significant number of skyscrapers (> than 500 fe
et high),being equal second with London at 10, and second only to Paris with 14. Frankfurt also has the highest concentration of lawyers in Germany, with one lawyer per 99 inhabitants, the Frankfurt International Airport is the single largest place of employment in the whole of Germany. The Zeil, a pedestrian only street, is Frankfurt's main shopping street and one of the most crowded in Germany. For fifty years following WWII the American Forces Network broadcast from Frankfurt, before being moved to Mannheim in 2004.
Sadly, WWII destroyed most of what had been, the largest medieval center in Europe, in addition to killing more than 5000 residents. See Slideshow. In general, post-war construction paid scant attention to restoration and much of the rich history has been lost forever.
The Go
thic Dom Sankt Bartholomäus - Saint Bartholomeus' Cathedral - was built during the 14th and 15th centuries where, from 1356 onwards, kings of the Holy Roman Empire were elected, and later roman-German emperors were crowned. The cathedral was destroyed by fire in 1867 and subsequently rebuilt in its present style. It too, suffered major damage during WWII. Originally formed from several of nine house purchased by the city in 1405, City Hall was partly destroyed in WWII and has since been restored. The complex includes the Kaisersaal - Emporers Hall - where freshly minted Emporers held their parties. St. Paul's Church, near the City Hall, is a revered national monument in Germany with great political symbolism. Begun in 1789, it was established as a Protestant church, although it was not completed until 1833. Its importance lies in the Frankfurt Parliament, which met in the church in 1848 to 49 during the foundling throes of the forging of Germany as we know it today. Afterwards, the building was used for church services again although it has long been deconsecrated and is now used for exhibitions and events.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

May 8th, 2009 - Sankt Goarshausen

In 1885, Sankt Goarshausen had a population just shy of 1500. A century and a quarter later, the population has expanded to almost 1600 and the town has become increasingly dependent on tourism and wine-making for its existence. Squeezed onto the eastern shore of the Rhine in the section known as the Rhine Gorge, and directly across the river from Sankt Goar, Sankt Goarshausen is about 18 miles south of Koblenz. Two worthy attractions in the area are the Lorelei Rock and Burg Neu-Katzenelnbogen, locally known as Burg Katz. The Lorelei rock, a 400' slab of rock, jutting upwards out of the river bank, is a natural phenomenon making for hazardous river navigation resulting from the narrowness of the remaining passage and extreme currents in the water. Burg Katz, built originally in 1370, has been wrecked several times over the centuries, most recently by the French in 1806. It has since been rebuilt and is now privately owned. Pictures about town. Competition for tourist dollars is intense, not the least from Sankt Goar located directly across the river. Occupying a couple of miles along the river bank, St. Goarshausen also has two 14th century watchtowers from earlier fortifications at its southern end. Militarily, the two villages occupied a commanding location and Rheinfels Castle, on the Sankt Goar side, was for centuries, the largest and most imposing castle on the Rhine. Built in 1245, this castle ruled the river traffic and, in 1692, withstood an attack by 28,000 French troops. Ultimately, in 1797, the French Revolutionary army had their way and destroyed the castle, from which time its extensive ruins have dominated the hill over St. Goar.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

May 8, 2009 - Oh No, not another bridge movie!

We had stayed in a campground some way from our intended target due to circumstances decribed in this Backstory. While Bonn may not have had too much to offer the casual tourist, it would have been of interest simply for its use as the German Capital during the forty years of German partition. The seat of government, of course, was moved back to Berlin following reunification.
While perusing various maps for some inspiration as to what to do the following day, it transpired that
Remagen was just a few miles down the road from the campsite. Remagen is on the River Rhine where, nowadays, there is a ferry that crosses the river every every 10-15 minutes in the summer. Views around Remagen.
Late in WWI, the Germans bui
lt the Ludendorff Bridge across the river here, as a means of supplying their Western Front. Designed by Karl Wiener, the bridge was over 1,000 feet in length and cleared the water by more than 45 feet. Following WWI, the bridge was little used until WWII, when it again provided Germany with a supply line, this time for Hitler's Western Front. As WWII ravaged on, Rhine bridges became increasingly scarce until, by early 1945, the Remagen bridge became the sole survivor. The U.S. 9th Armored Division captured the bridge on March 7, 1945 while pursuing the fleeing Wehrmacht army. In retrospect it seems, the capture of the bridge appears to have been limited to a huge PR and morale boosting coup, with few tangible tactical or strategic benefits. In fact, only a limited quantity of Allied materiel made the crossing before the bridge collapsed on 17 March 1945, with the death of 28 U.S. soldiers. Much has been written on the subject of the bridge with Ken Hechler's 1957 The Bridge at Remagen, being perhaps the most widely known. The 1968 David L. Wolper movie of the same name, did get some of the local history correct but the WWII action in the movie was entirely fictional.
The Romans are believed to have been the first to bridge the Rhine during the period that they had a fort in Remagen. They actually had two bridges in the area which, after spending three weeks on the east side of the river, they promptly dismantled again. Guess
they didn't care too much for Germany.
There has been no bridge at Remagen since WWII, but the bridge towers on the west bank have been developed into a Peace Memorial and museum, largely through the indefatigable energy of Hans Peter Kürten, long time former mayor of the city. Sadly, a shameful episode in political-military history followed on the heels of the wartime success at Remagen - the Rhine Meadow Camps. Also, checkout the Remagen Backstory.

Monday, August 03, 2009

An SWMCCC Weekend - Fabulous!

Each year, SWMCCC (South-West Michigan Council of Camera Clubs) holds a four day teach-in at Hope College, located in Holland, Michigan. The timing was great, fitting neatly into our nebulous schedule, and so we booked our places. Foolishly, as it turned out, we decided on dorm room accommodations and, to round out the college feel, opted for the cafeteria meal package - a second serious error!
In 1847, Dutch Calvinist separatists, escaping from persecution in the
Netherlands, founded the city of Holland. Like other Dutch centric cities in this area of Michigan, in Holland, if you ain't Dutch, you ain't much. Turns out however, that Holland is high in the national "place to retire to" rankings with pleasant summers, and winters somewhat eased by heated sidewalks downtown. Certainly, for the few days we were there, the weather was absolutely fabulous. The city population is about 40,000.
Hope College caters to about 3,300 students and, even though this is a small percentage of the overall population, their presence greatly influences the nature of the downtown area in the number and quality of restaurants, coffee shops and the like. The college itself extends into the downtown area and covers 120 acres overall starting one block from downtown. Hope is a private, liberal arts college, started by the (Dutch) city fathers in 1866 with a religious affiliation to The Reformed Church in America. Slideshow here.
As for the program, it was splendid. Megabytes, megapixels, software, hardware, models-a-plenty, nerds everywhere and even some great images from 8:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. Overall, tons of reasons to buy more stuff and stop worrying about ever understanding the last lot. Highly recommended. Read the Backstory here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

May 7, 2009 - Cologne, Germany

With a population just less than one million, Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city, after Berlin, Hamburg and Munich. Cologne lies on the River Rhine and is one of the oldest cities in Germany, having been founded by the Romans in the year 38 BC. The famous cathedral is the largest in Germany. Slideshow here.Cologne is also famous for Eau de Cologne, created by an Italian expatriate Johann Maria Farina early in the 18th century. As the fragrance gained popularity, a merchant named Wilhelm Mülhens negotiated the right to use the name Farina, and promptly opened a small factory in Glockengasse. Like other "hot item"agreements, this one ultimately ended up in court, at which time Wilhelm's grandson Ferdinand Mülhens renamed the product 4711, the house number of the factory in Glockengasse. Both products are still made in the city to this day.
cally, Cologne has 100 females for each 95 males and seems to revel in its renown as the "gay capital of the world". Perhaps there is a connection here...
Carnival season is another Cologne biggie, beginning each year on 11 November at 11
past 11 a.m. and continuing, for an entire 3 months or so, until Ash Wednesday. Things apparently really amp up during the last week, when the street carnival starts, it is claimed, with as many as a million people celebrating in the streets on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Backstory here.
The landmark cathedral was started in 1248, abandoned
around 1560 and finally, finished with a flourish in 1880, to become a German national monument celebrating the newly founded German empire. During the final throes of completion - after 600 plus years of foot-dragging - a large amount of historic heritage was simply torn down, including the city walls, to show the building at its best. During World War II, Cologne was a Military Area Command Headquarters and sustained 262 air raids by the Allies, causing almost 20,000 civilian casualties and effectively razing the city center. During the night of 31 May 1942, Cologne was visited by "Operation Millennium", the first 1,000 bomber raid by the Royal Air Force. 1,046 heavy bombers dropped 1,455 tons of bombs on the city in 75 minutes, killing nearly 500 civilians and rendering a further 59,000 homeless. In 1947, architect Rudolf Schwarz produced a reconstruction plan which took advantage of the sparse remnants of the city center by including several new thoroughfares designed for anticipated automobile traffic. The project also called for the eradication of more than a dozen historical churches and other architectural treasures, exacerbating the destruction of heritage begun in 1880. The reconstruction finally took almost 50 years.The cathedral, officially Hohe Domkirche St. Peter und Maria, is a World Heritage Site and one of the most recognized architectural monuments in Germany. At 478 feet long, 280 feet wide and with two towers, each 520 feet high, it is the largest Gothic church in northern Europe and has the largest facade of any church in the world. For a few years, it was also the tallest structure in the world until being bested by the Washington Memorial in 1884.

May 4, 2009 - A plan is forming...

Arnhem is on the Lower Rhine and, since our route into Germany more or less followed the river upstream, we decided that this was our plan and we would follow it further to see where it leads. The Rhineland is a pretty big chunk of western and north-western Germany and only fell into German hands in the early 19th century following one of the collapses of the French Empire, to which it belonged at the time. The southern part is Rhineland-Palatinate while Rhineland-Westphalia is to the north and is the part that borders on the Netherlands. Westphalia includes the Ruhr Valley, the highest population density area of Germany. By and large, this area is the epicenter of the German economic machine and not a particularly popular tourist region.
Our journey through
the area was somewhat skewed by poor weather but nonetheless, thoroughly enjoyed. We didn't do any walkabouts in the cities along the way mainly because those we looked at had been massively spoiled during WWII and were redolent of hasty, low-cost, post war construction. We did however, continue improving the creature comforts of Penny and generally settling in to our temporary lifestyle. Checkout the Backstories on the Essen and the Cologne campsites and how to pass an inclement climate day in Deutschland.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

May 3rd, 2009 - Arnhem, NL

The title of the 1977 WWII movie, A Bridge Too Far, actually refers to the bridge over the River Nederrijn (Lower Rhine) in Arnhem, Netherlands. Specifically, the name comes from a comment made by British Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning to Field Marshal Montgomery, the operation's architect, "I think we may be going a bridge too far."
The film approximates the story, and ultimate failure, of Operation Market-Garden, the Allied attempt to break through German lines in September 1944. Despite (or maybe because of) a stellar cast including Dirk Bogarde, James Ca
an, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Denholm Elliott, Elliott Gould, Edward Fox, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Kemp, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, Liv Ullmann, Maximilian Schell, Hardy Krüger and Ryan O'Neal the movie was a ho-hum performer at the box office.
An earlier (1946) movie, Theirs Is the Glory, covering
the same events, was cast mainly with people who had been involved in the operation and mixed newsreel footage from the actual battle with re-enactments shot on location in Arnhem. John Frost, the British airborne officer and first Allied combatant to arrive in Arnhem, was one of many who played himself in the earlier movie. A thoroughly despicable consequence of the operation's failure was the Hongerwinter (Hungerwinter). In retribution for Dutch railroad workers aiding the allies during the assault, Germany forbade food transportation into the region, utimately starving thousands of Dutch citizens to death.
Anyway, enough cheery banter; time
to winge on about Arnhem, 2009. At 114,000 population, one of the largest cities in the Netherlands, there did not appear to be a lot going on. Much history of course, was lost in WWII and, outside of a few run down churches and a collection of hideous sculptures, there is little to Ooh and Aah at. Slideshow here.
The post-war utilitarian bridge that replaced the one destroyed in the war, was renamed John Foster Bridge in 1978 although Foster modestly objected. Having seen the bridge he should perhaps, have been more assertive. Campsite Backstory, Arnhem Backstory.