I had wanted to return to Europe for many years, but just hadn’t had the right opportunity.  To see the pictures I took on this trip, go to the picture gallery labeled, European Trip Gallery.

In 2005, after moving back to K.C., I signed up for a “mileage” credit card.   I did everything possible in 2005 to earn frequent flyer miles.  I charged everything possible to the card, and my friends and family even charged furniture and remodeling projects to the card.   I also received thousands of points for dining at various restaurants.  As I think back about that year, it’s amazing how many people I talked into going out to eat at “bonus” restaurants.  The larger the group, the more points…

After about 14 months, I had enough points to get 2 free tickets to Europe.  I convinced my retired cousin, Shelly, to go with me.  I, of course, wanted to go in the summer months, but the only dates available were late April.  I booked the trip.

I wanted to experience Europe, as I had experienced it when living there – driving everywhere, so renting a car was our transportation.  I knew how to read the signs and Shelly could read maps.  A perfect match.

We landed in Munich, and spent our first night there.  I had booked all of the hotels on the Internet, but we had no GPS at that time.  The first hotel was a very pretty yellow and had the best breakfast buffet of the entire trip, but we had a difficult time finding it.  As soon as we checked in, we learned that if we wanted to visit the concentration camp museum in nearby Dachau, we had about 2 hours to get there.  I had visited there once before, when I lived in Germany, but Shelly had not.

We were pleasantly surprised to arrive at the museum and see hundreds of colorful floral wreaths displayed.   Countries from all over the world send these wreaths each year in commemoration of the day that all of the prisoners were freed (the end of April).  Other than that beauty, the rest of the museum was gruesome and sad.  I don’t have words to describe the deep feelings I have regarding the Holocaust.  I’m sure that most of you probably have similar feelings, but visiting a museum like this makes it so real.

The charming village of Dachau seems far removed from the unspeakable events that occurred down the road.  It is a typical, quaint, Bavarian town.

The next day we drove into the City of Munich and tried to stay out of the way of demonstrators.  We ate lunch in the City Square and admired the painted lions that decorated each corner (similar to the cows in Kansas City and many other cities that have done similar art projects/fundraisers).  It was in Munich that I realized why summer availability had been scarce – Germany was hosting the World Cup!   I took a picture of the huge soccer ball that had been created for the event.  We were able to benefit from the country’s “sprucing up” for the World Cup without the crowds.

After visiting Nymphenburg Palace, we headed to Stuttgart for the night.  This was the only city where I had not made an advance reservation, but we found a reasonable, comfortable hotel with no problem.

We then proceeded on to Heidelberg, one of my favorite German cities (out of many).  It’s a university town and quite beautiful.   Shelly and I got separated on the one, main shopping street.  No cell phones.  I sat at the sidewalk Hard Rock Cafe, knowing she’d find me eventually, if I stayed put.  Unbeknownst to me, Shelly was panicking and couldn’t imagine how we’d lost each other in such a small area.  When she found me, she was so relieved.  She never let me out of her sight the remainder of the trip.

Our Heidelberg hotel was our worst hotel experience, because it was very noisy with partying college kids.

I was excited about the next leg of the trip, because we were going to where I had actually lived.  I was so curious to see how much it had changed.   Bernkastel on the Mosel River was our first stop – a very old, quaint village, with narrow, leaning, aged buildings.  Shelly and I enjoyed a wonderful bed and breakfast at a winery.  That might have been our best beds.

Then we drove up the Mosel River, which was just as gorgeous as I remembered.  I eagerly pointed out everything, along the way.  Driving through the countryside to my former home in the village of Sohren, I was flooded with memories.  My former home was still there and easy to find.  We shopped at my favorite store, which had tripled in size.  That larger store was the only change I noticed.

I had been gone almost 30 years, and everything looked the same.  My favorite store even had the same owner and my landlord’s wife still lived in the town.

After a traditional German schnitzel lunch, on to the Rhine River Valley, with castle ruins perched high upon the cliffs, framing each side of the river.  Again, we had a challenge finding our hotel, which was off the beaten path (my kind of place!), but it was great once we located it.  The people were so friendly, and I was so happy that I remembered so many German words.

I had driven the Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road) several times before, but couldn’t wait to drive it again with Shelly.  We spent the night in Rothenburg, which is definitely a tourist favorite…picturesque and fascinating, nonetheless.

Nuremberg was next.  We toured the Holocaust Museum there.  It was interesting and informative.  Not quite as gruesome as Dachau, but still depressing.

So far, we had only gone to places where I had been before, when I lived in Germany.  Since I am all about new experiences, we added Prague and Vienna to the trip.  I had heard that Prague was as beautiful as Paris, but I didn’t agree.  It was very smoggy when we were there, which made it seem dirtier.  (Not like Germany where they wash the sidewalks every day.)  I was also extremely frustrated, because I couldn’t read the signs (not knowing the Czech language).  One of our funniest experiences was that we had learned to order “water without gas” at our meals.  “Water with gas” was carbonated mineral water that has always tasted odd to me.  In Prague, we decided to go to a supermarket and buy several bottles of water to take with us, to save money.  The market had an entire room filled with bottled water.  No one could speak English, so we studied labels, trying to figure out which ones had “gas.”  We finally made our choice, and tried a bottle when we got to our car.  We had gotten “water with gas,” but we tried to make the best of it.

Prague is actually a beautiful city, and has so much character and history.  I am very glad that we went there; it’s not always a bad thing to be forced out of my comfort zone.

Vienna was more familiar to me, because we were back to my practicing my German.  Vienna sort of reminded me of Paris, with all of the grandiose government buildings, large churches, palaces and gardens.  Our hotel was centrally located with an underground parking lot.  Thank goodness, we had a very small car!

While in Vienna, Shelly received a call that her father had died.  Although he had been in poor health for awhile, I had told her we could reschedule the trip.  But she had a long talk with her Dad, and he encouraged her to go.  We just both hoped he’d still be alive when we returned.

Gratefully, we only had a few days left, before coming home.  I could tell that she really wanted to be with her Mom.  Our last stop was Salzburg, Austria, and it is one of my very favorite places ever.  I’m not sure how many times I have been there, but I’ve never been bored.  Although the history and charm had not changed, there were some modernizations that I simply did not understand. Like an upside helicopter in the fountain of Mozart Square.  Ugly and inappropriate, in my opinion.

Back to Munich to fly home.  A nearly perfect trip…as you will see from the pictures, we had unbelievably terrific weather.   None of the pictures have been retouched (or I would have straightened some images.  Some of the buildings really were leaning, but some of them appear that way because of a crooked camera.)


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