Sunday, August 20, 2017

Leipzig and Wittenberg, Germany

From the Kaiserslautern area, it’s a 5+ hour drive to Leipzig, depending on highway rest stops for meals, gas, and traffic. There are vegetarian restaurants in Leipzig, along with plenty of traditional places, and a nice cafeteria at the top of the Kaufhof department store.
There are a variety of hotels to select from, and many pedestrian areas in old town, featuring beautiful architecture, shops, and churches. The Bach museum is small, but a treasure trove of information and music.
Bach played the organ here!!!
We elected to stay 2 nights in Leipzig, with a day trip to Wittenberg in between. Since it was only a bit over an hour drive to Wittenberg, we drove, but would encourage others to consider taking the train. Public parking in Wittenberg is not great, although we lucked out by finding an on-street spot very close to the Lutherhaus.
We spent 2 hours in the museum and attached cafĂ©, learning about Luther’s work and family life. Next, we strolled through the streets to churches and parks. How nice it was to find a small meditation room, to sit in quietly for a few minutes. More lovely architecture, and shops galore. Also of note is a small history museum about life in East Germany. Felt like a step back in time to see older furniture, crowded conditions, and food rationing. Wittenberg got very quiet after 6pm on a weeknight, and we were ready to head back to Leipzig. There may well be many more evening events in the fall. We did not go to every museum in Wittenberg- if you would like to, then an overnight may be needed.
We could have stayed in Leipzig longer, and would recommend more than 2 nights if you have time to relax and enjoy the area.
The famous church where Luther's 95 Theses were posted on the door!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Luxembourg City

From the Kaiserslautern area, Luxembourg City is an easy day trip, though I wouldn’t mind staying overnight for a weekend/long weekend. We left late morning, and arrived in time for a nice lunch in one of the market squares filled with outdoor restaurant tables. There are a few parking garages, and there are also trains from K-town. As you approach the old town, there are well marked signs along the road indicating parking garages and how many spots are still available. We paid 12 Euro for nearly 6 hours.
We walked up and down the pedestrian shopping streets, complete with many familiar brands, and some unique finds. A stupendous chocolate shop on the “Market of Herbs” Square yielded many spoons to make hot chocolate at home (there is a chunk of chocolate like a popsicle, but not frozen, on a wooden stick that you stir around in hot water or milk). This place had many flavors! A British book shop was filled with English novels and non-fiction, then a unique ice cream store made flowers out of ice cream on a cone.
Speaking of flowers, amazing florists had gorgeous bouquets ready to go, and on my next trip to Luxembourg City, I will bring a bucket with some water in the car so I can bring some home. Another chocolate shop had Neuhaus, a fantastic brand indeed. Finally, a French book shop had the most adorable notebooks which came back with me, along with many other stationery and literary items that were not purchased this time.
We walked along the city walls, viewing preserved ruins, viaducts, and the lower city. Churches were lovely, and the weather was perfect. We saw some Segway riders going by on a tour, so we’ll do that next time! 
There is much more to see in the City and surrounding countryside. I’d like to check out some museums, parks, and historical sites next time. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Mykonos, Greece!

After another tender to shore, many day tours were available through local vendors and the cruise company. On other cruises, we’ve taken “hop on hop off” bus tours in ports, but we didn’t see too many of those (none) on this trip.
Many religious icons are packed into churches and monasteries. Along with their faith life, we were told that the mascot of Mykonos is a pelican, so some tourists set about to search for the pelican. After wandering around for a long time looking for a good lunch place, then finding one, who is hanging out in the doorway to the restaurant after the meal is ordered, but the pelican? Waiters walked around the pelican as they entered and exited the restaurant kitchen. In order to get to the customer restroom, you have to pass near the kitchen, and exactly past the pelican, who is apparently supervising the cooks!
I could have spent several days on Mykonos, finding it beautiful and more relaxing than Santorini. Maybe if I had traveled beyond the capital city of Fira on Santorini, I might feel differently (it could be more relaxing there, too). Gee whiz, maybe I’ll have to go back to both places for a few days each, to re-test which island I like better!

Friday, June 16, 2017

Santorini, Greece!

Arriving by cruise ship, you take a small “shuttle” boat, known as a “tender” from your floating hotel to the shore. If you look closely at the photo below, you can see a zig zag line up the cliff, just about in the middle of the picture. That is the walking path/staircase! There was such a long line for the cable car to the top, that it was not worth standing in line in the hot sun. So, grab a water bottle, hat, and sunscreen for the hike up!
The views were gorgeous, and the donkeys I didn't ride sure looked tired. No water in sight for them.
I know a tourist rip-off when I see one, but sometimes you pay too much for the best “tzaziki” on the planet (cucumber yogurt dip) with fresh pita bread, in exchange for a rooftop terrace table with free wifi and a rest room! I’m sure that outside of town, snacks would have been less than half the price, but it sure was a nice break in the heat of the day.
While other cruise passengers may have booked excursions or even taken the public bus to other places on the island, walking through narrow passages of Fira and admiring local arts, crafts, and cats, was an enjoyable way to spend the day (did go on excursions on 2 other islands).
My observation about this cruise was that the time in port seemed to short. Maybe I’m becoming more European after living here for 2+ years, but 6 hours on Santorini was not enough. The woman who sits next to me in my German choir went to Crete for a week! Now, I’m not sure about spending an entire week on the same small island, but I could probably figure something out if I had to (down time, day trips, etc.). We actually had less than 6 hours per port, once you figure out the time it takes to get from your ship to the destination, such as tenders, hiking up a cliff, or taking a 20 minute bus ride to old town (Dubrovnik, Croatia), plus getting back in time before sailing!
I’m still grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the sun, food, and local culture! Stay tuned for photos from Mykonos next.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Venice: only somewhat off the beaten path

The best part of planning a vacation (for me) is researching the destination, and hoping that the decisions you make ahead of time are the right ones, leaving enough undecided for spontaneity. Maybe some of you can arrive in a city without hotel reservations, but I like reading reviews and looking at maps to find a good place to stay. It feels great knowing where to go when we arrive, and having some idea of what to expect.
Because the weekend before our cruise was a festival weekend in Venice, we elected to stay on the nearby island of Murano in a larger, quieter room, at a better rate, compared with Venetian hotel rooms. I would highly recommend staying on a nearby island unless you become seasick on water. We had clear directions on which water transportation to take from the airport to the island of Murano, and we wheeled our luggage to the B&B without climbing over canal bridges. Even if you don’t stay on Murano, go see it if you have time. The first evening, we just walked around Murano and had a terrific dinner of asparagus soup, pasta, and of course gelato!
The next morning, we took another ferry boat over to Venice, just a short distance. We walked 5 miles that day, through clean, narrow alleys, along the grand canal, and cut across lovely, sunny squares with restaurants and cafes. The prices of most meals and snacks were high, since we wanted to sit down for a few minutes and use the establishment’s restrooms, rather than grabbing a snack on the run. Portable sandwiches and ice cream cones are not too pricey.
Although I don’t mind bargaining, the gondola rides were a fixed price, and gave us a good view of every building’s back door. There were plenty of touristy shops with souvenirs made in China, but we were thrilled to discover some gems of truly local wares, such as a tiny place selling ONLY items with BLACK CATS on them. HELLO!!!! The artist who painted some of the items had a black cats in Venice calendar, which I will turn into framed prints after each month in 2018.
I wish we had longer in Venice, but it was a wonderful chance to add a few days to our cruise vacation. We didn’t mind at all that the boat from Murano to the cruise terminal took over an hour, stopping at many points of interest all around Venice. I wouldn’t consider staying anywhere else other than Murano in the future.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

London, not at all off the beaten path

I had such a wonderful weekend in London, and didn’t have the chance to write a post because I had a business trip the week afterwards. Then I hesitated to share because I felt badly about the incident in London, which took place long after I had left. But I refuse to stay put and not travel at all, so I’d like to share some photos and tips.
We stayed at a hotel in Trafalgar Square, which is a busy part of town. The benefits are that you can really walk to most of what you’d like to see in a weekend, and the trains run extensively (but we didn’t use them). The disadvantage of staying there is that there is quite a bit of city noise (no surprise there!), and it is more challenging with luggage from the airports late at night or very early in the morning.
The food in London was much better than I thought it would be, and I now regret my negative recollection of British food, from a trip there 19 years ago! We didn’t have any meal that was bad, but we did try some perhaps “non-traditional” places, such as an Italian restaurant, the Jaimee Oliver place in Covent Garden, outstanding salads at “Pret a Manger” and a great snack at “All Bar One” at Leicester Square.
We went up in the eye, and I marveled at the engineering (can’t help it, daughter of an engineer!). We walked all over the first day, and took the hop-on-hop-off bus the second day. We enjoyed a beautiful choir concert at St. Martin in the Fields church, and admired the carriages at the royal stables.
We saw a couple having their wedding photos taken outside Westminster Abbey, and were curious about the building we saw behind the couple. While we were disappointed that churches, including St. Paul’s Cathedral, charged admission to view the interior, we were pleased that the building behind the couple being photographed was a high court with lovely architecture, and they allowed us to take a self-guided tour for free! 
There are many other areas of the UK to explore, but London is especially worth a weekend trip on a discount European carrier from  within Europe. Having lived in Germany for more than 2 years now, I just loved walking into a book store where everything was in English!!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The 4th cat?

Last October, our cats shared their latest goings-on. That post included a photo of an outdoor cat who was hanging out on our back porch. 
He’s still here, and is hanging out quite a bit, much to the great annoyance of our cats (members of the “permanent party”). He is quite chatty, greeting us loudly in the morning, and yodeling some hellos in the evening. Here he is in March, along with the green crate from our weekly farm share.
What to do with a stray cat who makes googly-eyes through the glass door? One person here says, “feed him, he’s obviously hungry. Oh, and give him a bowl of water, too.” Another person here says, “three cats is enough!” The cats say, “get outta here!”
Your comments are welcome!