A Granddaughter Remembers — A Guest Post from My Daughter

Visiting the blog tonight is my middle child, Joy Trautwein Stenzel. Joy is exactly what her name says she is – a joy to us. She and her husband Marcus are raising three good young men in Monrovia CA and are both special education teachers, working with blind students across the age span from pre-school to 22. (Our eldest daughter also does this good work.) Our children grew up with their paternal grandparents less than five minutes away and were often in their home, as you will see. I love the way this piece celebrates what some might call the ‘old-fashioned’ virtues. To me, there is nothing old-fashioned about any of it — it’s a heritage we are humbled and pleased to call our own. Interspersed throughout her lovely words are photos scanned for us today by one of our grandsons, Joel Fischinger. Here’s Joy:

IMG_0022Joy, Mama, Lisa – on vacation at Mammoth Lakes, an annual excursion for many years.

Solid, dependable, disciplined, hospitable, thoughtful, committed, consistent. 

My grandmother embodied these qualities.  In an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable world, such characteristics are on the decline.   And for an overly anxious and easily overwhelmed child, the unwavering reliability of my grandmother was a source of familiarity and comfort on which I knew I could rely.

IMG_0104The first in her family to graduate from college, at UCLA in the mid-1930s.

Mama was very steady and measured emotionally—quite the contrast to me.  She rarely (if ever) raised her voice, and I only remember seeing her cry twice—when speaking of a beloved brother who had died too soon, and when her only daughter and her family were pulling out of the driveway to move across the country.   Her level mood created an atmosphere of comfortable predictability for an emotionally volatile child—I knew exactly what to expect when I walked through her door. 

So solid.

IMG_0703Enjoying Crater Lake with Jean and Richard, early 1950s

I knew when I went to Mama’s that there would be no surprises in either her temperament or the physical environment.  Almost all of the furniture, toys, games, dishes, and appliances (no new-fangled microwaves for Mama!) stayed the same in their Wagner Street house from the time I was born until they moved to Santa Barbara. I played with my dad’s old toys, as did my children after me.  I took great comfort in the familiarity of it all. 

So dependable.

IMG_0113One of the last pictures of both Mama and Papa with all of their grandchildren, late 1990s

If we ever spent the night at Mama and Papa’s, we knew what we would find when we walked into the kitchen in the morning:  the two of them seated at their little blue kitchen table, drinking coffee, reading the Bible and praying for family, friends, and missionaries.

So disciplined.


Same grandkids, several years earlier! On Kauai for M & P’s 50th Anniversary.
We hope to continue that tradition in the summer of 2015 – can you believe it?

We also knew that we would be well-fed when we entered their home.  Mama was a wonderful cook, and hosted frequent meals for family and friends.  She had a small but delicious repertoire of family favorites:  BBQ short ribs, lemon meringue pie, tapioca, homemade applesauce—terrific food served on the same dining room table with the same china, flatware and crystal goblets year after year.  To ensure that everyone would fit around the table, the piano bench served as a seat for the two smallest family members at one of the short ends of the table—no kids’ table at Mama Trautwein’s!  Every leaf of that table would emerge from the closet so that we could all be together.  That dining room set now resides in my own home, where I can only hope to entertain perhaps a quarter of the number of people she hosted so warmly over the years. 

So hospitable.

IMG_0556Gathering around that dining room table, about 1979 or 1980.

When birthdays rolled around, we knew there would be a dinner in our honor at Mama and Papa’s house.   Mama would let the birthday girl or boy set the menu.  We always picked our favorite dishes (which probably weren’t her favorites!):  orange jello packed with pieces of fruit, butter brickle cake topped with toffee pieces and hot fudge.   When we became teenagers, Mama made each of her grandchildren a treasured cookbook filled with handwritten recipes for the family favorites we all loved, complete with personal notes and anecdotes related to certain dishes—a gift we all cherish and use regularly.  My own children have even been fortunate enough to experience the anticipation of an unfailing Mama Trautwein birthday tradition—every year on their birthdays, she has sent them two dollar bills, the same number of bills as their age.  Needless to say, they have amassed an astounding number of two dollar bills! 

So thoughtful.

IMG_0174Not only did she host birthday dinners at her house, she also came to birthday dinners at our house.
We did birthdays up right in this family.
This picture cracks me up because the Birthday Boy almost got cut out of it.
And we just noticed tonight, he’s wearing doctor gear, of all things! And now he wears the real stuff. Go figure.

Mama established countless family traditions which were joyfully anticipated throughout the year.  Every Easter, we knew we would receive a heaping plate of bunny and lamb cookies decorated with pink icing with chocolate chips for eyes.  We dyed eggs every year at that little blue kitchen table, and Mama took us on annual Easter egg hunts at Descanso Gardens.  Mama decorated a Manzanita tree every Christmas with tiny ornaments, and she gave my sister and me our own manzanita branches when we were in college, with new ornaments for them every year.  Each member of our extended family had a stocking that had been lovingly decorated by Mama, unique to our interests.  Mama found a lot of joy in holiday traditions. 

So consistent.

IMG_0515This woman LOVED Christmas! 

IMG_0060And the Easter egg hunts at Descanso continued with the great-grands, too. The four oldest, about 15 years ago.

Mama and Papa also loved to travel.   They arranged annual extended family trips to Mammoth Lakes.  These vacations gave the cousins a chance to bond, and allowed Mama and Papa to share their love of fishing, jigsaw puzzles, and board games with their offspring.  Mama and Papa took exciting vacations without us as well, and invited us over for slideshows when they returned to share their adventures.  They always brought back trinkets and souvenirs for us and sent us postcards from around the world.  And Mama sent our own family off on road trips with boxes of cookies and wads of dollar bills to purchase souvenirs of our own.  She did these things every summer, without fail. 

So committed. 

D-68cMama, Papa & Jean visiting us in Africa, summer 1967.
I was 4 months pregnant with their first grandchild on this trip.

We will miss Mama, but many of the traditions she established continue in our own families, keeping her memory alive.  We have been blessed indeed to have such an amazing woman so actively involved in our lives, setting an example we all aspire to follow. 

Solid, dependable, disciplined, hospitable, thoughtful, committed, consistent. 

Old-fashioned qualities?  Perhaps.  But never out of style. 

Thanks so much, Joy. Beautifully said and right on target.

IMG_0103Kathryn Trautwein, in the early years at the Samarkand, before dementia.
A truly lovely lady in every way I can think of, a good, good woman.

31 Days of Giving Permission . . . TO CHANGE

31 days of giving permission 200x130

Everything changes.
We live in a world that is bound by time.
And time passes
and things (and people) change.

And we don’t like it very much, do we?
We label this process ‘aging,’
and I suppose that is true, as far as it goes.

But there is so much more to changing over time,
so much more.

Appearances definitely change over time, don’t they?
Last week, we had the joy of viewing this glory, up close and personal. 

Now, we are back at home, glad to be here, and we brought with us a few souvenirs.
This is all that remains of the outrageous conflagration of color
we gasped at all over the New England states.
These leaves, no longer connected to the tree,
still beautiful, but fading.

And eventually, disintegrating to dust. 

Today, I visited my mother and my mother-in-law.
70 years ago, my MIL looked like this –
young, enraptured with her firstborn,
dark-haired, smooth-skinned. 

And 66 years ago, this was my mother,
holding her nearly 2-year-old firstborn,
pregnant with number two,
joyful, loving life, energetic. 

Today, I found them both happily enjoying the beauty of cut flowers,
which they were helping to arrange themselves.
These vases go into their rooms,
to add color and life,
and will be replaced next Wednesday,
when the Garden Ladies come again to brighten their day.

Their skin is wrinkled, their hair is gray, their memories
are shrinking, narrowing. 

And of course, this aging process does not apply to our parents only;
Dick and I have seen our share of wrinkles and gray hairs, too.
Here we are in 1968, just after returning from two years in Africa. 

And here we are last week, sitting on a rock overlooking a New Hampshire hillside.

Yes, indeed, we have changed in appearance.
And we have changed on the inside, too.

We’ve grown up as well as grown old,
we’ve grown a family and careers,
we’ve been enriched by living, and loving, and losing.

Everyone changes.
And though it is sometimes hard,
it is always good.


Even when change brings the smart of tears to our eyes,
they are tears of joyful memory as well as sorrowful reality.

Because, you see, the past is always part of the present.
because we bring it with us.
We are who we’ve been becoming,
gray hair, expanding waistline, and all.

And you’ll get there, too.
So start now to give yourself permission to change,
to grow, to age – like a good cheese or a fine wine.

Every stage of life is a gift of God, even the hardest ones.
And change is something to be embraced,
and lived into gracefully.
Even though it’s sometimes scary and hard,
life is a gift.

First and foremost,
life is a gift. 

What I Did Yesterday: A Photo Essay

If you know me very well, you quickly become aware
that I am a mass of contradictions.
One minute, calm and self-confident,
the next minute, a mess of insecurities and fears

I’m working on it, but somehow perfection eludes me.

Case in point —
I live in fear that something I say or do
will embarrass my children.
Some days, this fear stays quiet
and seems to be fast asleep,
hiding comfortably under
a bushel basket of busyness.

Other days, however,
like these days — right now —
when I am living without a schedule,
without deadlines,
without commitments.
Well, on those days,
that fear gets loud and snarly.

We are vacationing at the same time as two of our three kids.
We’re not exactly vacationing together,
but we’re staying in close proximity and doing things
together from time to time.

Yesterday the whole kit and kaboodle of them
(one kid/wife/one of their two kids, one kid/husband/three kids,
one kid’s spouse’s parents (who NEVER embarrass their children),
one kid’s friend’s family of 5 . . .
if you’re counting, that makes a group of 15 so far)
decided to take a snorkel tour up the Napali Coast.

They invited me to go along,
and I said, YES, surprising us all.

Four hours long, beauty that stops the heart,
a chance to swim with tropical fish,
and a big old turkey sandwich and cold guava juice
to finish the day.
Oh, yes. And a one hour return ride
through the afternoon swells,
directly into the wind.

My husband gets seasick,
so he kept the 3-year-old and they had a ball.
I carefully sun-screened my entire body,
wore one of Dick’s t-shirts over my suit,
packed (as usual) more stuff than I’d need
and quietly clomped my way down the stairs
to join the crew.

So there’s this piece:
I have two bad knees
and a recently flaring achilles tendonitis.
Oh, and I’m old and a scaredy-cat.
So the opportunities for
being awkward, slow, and
so-much-less-than —
well, they abounded.
Yes, they did.

But, I went anyhow.

And I am so very glad I did.

Getting there required:
driving down the hill from our condo
to the town of Hanalei,
parking behind the garbage container of a seafood restaurant;
(not the ideal aroma before a sea voyage of any kind);
waiting to sign in and get a waterproof bag for our stuff;
waiting four times for a 12-passenger van to shuttle
50 people to two 25-passenger boats;
riding said van to the river that flows into the bay;
then walking through knee-deep water
to board a six-passenger dinghy

which would take us out to the boat.

I, of course, was in the very last dinghy.

On board, I sat next to someone I did not know.
And out of all the towns, and all the rivers,
and all the boats in all the world,
I sat next to a woman who,
when I asked where she was from,

said to me: “Santa Barbara. Well, actually, Carpinteria.”
“Oh,” I said, “my kids are from there,”
pointing across the aisle,
“and my DIL practices medicine in Carp.”
“Omigosh,” she hollered.
“That’s my most excellent doctor right there.”

So SHE took that embarrassing moment I was so afraid of,
and captured it all for herself.

The trip up the coast was magical;
there is no other word for it.

The captain set a leisurely pace,
stopping to look at caves,

dolphins, hikers, kayakers
and green, green valleys.

At one time, about 3000 Hawaiians lived and fished
in these valleys, leaving only
when they needed medical attention
because of infections brought by explorers and traders.

When you look up these cliffs, you cannot imagine
how anyone ever lived here.
In the winter months,

40-foot waves hit these walls with such force,
they leave permanent scars of white calcium
and red-dirt run-off.

Parts of the Pali are open to campers,
with permits,
but the trail is rated a 9 out of 10 for difficulty,
and is often slick, muddy and very, very narrow.

If I were 40 years younger and a whole lot fitter,
kayaking to the first valley might be on my list.
(I say ‘might’.) But hiking it? Not a chance.
After we got to our snorkeling spot,
at the very end of the northern tip of the island,

I waited and was nearly the last person into the water.
Once all my children and their children
were safely looking down into the water through their masks,
I oh-so-gracefully,
slid myself over the side of the boat
and  plunged into the warm Pacific.

Maybe someday, I’ll have a photo from
my son-in-law’s underwater camera to
add to this story,
but for now, you’ll have to take my word for it:

God is a genius.
A GENIUS, I tell you.
Coral of all sizes, types and color,
tiny fish, mid-sized fish
and one midling sea turtle
yes, a real live sea turtle,
the sight of which made me say
through my snorkel,
“this is so cool, so cool, so cool.”
(So glad none of my kids can hear me through that snorkel.)

The trip home was. . .  how shall I say it?


But  you know what?

It was tremendous fun.
We got bounced and bumped and WET.
But we also saw a pod of about 30 spinner dolphins,
three of whom jumped the wake of our boat.

Sittin’ on the bay, waitin’ for the dinghy to go home.

And that night, we all ate together, saw the best sunset yet,
and enjoyed watching some neighbors
sail paper lanterns,
lit with specially coated, biodegradable wicks,
while all the children around sang
that song from “Tangled.”

That’s the word for the entire day.

And I didn’t embarrass my kids.

There was that one time I laughed a little too loudly, 

but they’re pretty much used to that.

And there was the fact that I cannot, in any way, shape or form,
manage to straddle a picnic table that’s low to the ground.
Other than that, I think I made it through
and lived to tell about it.
I’m glad I chose adventure
over my fears and insecurities.

And I loved every minute of it.
It was nearly completely dark, so this is very blurry, but I loved that lantern against the colors of the sunset.
It’s Monday, so I’m joining this one with Laura, Jennifer and Michelle, because even though it happened on Friday rather than Sunday, that snorkeling was the most wonderful worship experience in a long while.


The Gift of Travel — Part 10: Prague Views & Re-Entry — A Photo Essay

Before we left home, we purchased one optional tour
and it was scheduled for our last day in Prague.
With that tour, we had lunch, enjoyed a spectacular 25 minute concert,
and enjoyed the museum-quality collections of the
Lobkowicz family at their personal palace
located on the grounds of the large
castle on the hill.

We had gorgeous weather that day and this palace
provided views of the city that were breathtaking.

To re-trace our two-week trip, you can click through
to all parts of it here:

Part 1 is here,
part 2 here,
part 3 is right here, friends,
part 4, here,
part 5, here,
part 6, here,
part 7 is just a click away,
part 8, here,
and part 9, here. 

At the end of day 2, we walked down from the fortress/castle to the trolley,
and enjoyed the views from atop the hill and through
the trolley windows as we headed back to the hotel,
and then enjoyed a fine dinner at The Imperial Cafe,
with its glorious tile work on all surfaces.

On day 2, we also had lunch in this quiet cafe we found off to the side in the castle complex.
The food was so-so – but the views?

Trolley views!!

Loved the reflection of the sky on our hotel as we returned to it at the end of
exploring day 2.

Dinner that night and below, lunch the next day at the Lobkowicz palace.

This small room was where we ate ‘traditional Czech goulash & dumplings.’
You’ll see a photo of it below the ones of the view from the window of that room.

It almost looks like a different city from the hazy view of the day before.

The menu and the host – who grew up in Boston. When the wall came down,
his dad sent him to Europe with his savings – not enough – but a start.
They gradually have recovered many of their homes and possessions,
but live in a 1-bathroom rented apartment
and offer these special tours to try and make their treasures
available to the public. It was outstanding.
They own two original manuscript copies of Beethoven symphonies,
and a hand annotated script of Handel’s Messiah by Mozart
when he re-orchestrated it.
Also lovely artwork and a fascinating family story.

The best view of the Charles bridge that we had while there,
courtesy of our telephoto lens.

And the old Town Hall from miles away.

The dumplings look like plain old white bread to us.

On our way to the concert, admiring the ceilings and the view from
one floor further up.

Outstanding music – violin/cello/piano.

Private chapel.

I loved the concert room after it was all over – the light was just right.

Our last night we walked to a different MacDonald’s
and had TWO burgers and ice cream —
perfect way to end our time on the night we had to PACK.

Driving to the airport (courtesy of Viking),
we enjoyed one last view of the hill where we spent most of our time in Prague.

Leaving Prague, some reminders of the beauties we’d enjoyed the previous two weeks:
Yellow rape-seed fields, charming villages, shifting clouds and sun.

And landing in Zurich 90 minutes later, we saw similar views. . . through rain.

A two-hour layover, with only our backpacks to worry about. Going home, we checked those bags we’d carried with us from LA.

It was wet out!

Saying good-bye to Europe.

A glimpse of Greenland.

The TV screen that was in my lap for 12 hours while the guy in front of me kept
his seat fully reclined the entire trip. Ugh.

Coming into California.

And into Los Angeles.

These two books (gifts from our daughter) were terrific.
We highly recommend the Top Ten books for any travel.

 Here’s a postcard of that diamond I talked about in the post about Dresden.

And the downright gaudy toy-like setting August the Strong had in his collection.

And last, but not least, a 3 foot high carved piece of ivory, also in August’s collection.

Our son’s family came for a cook-out over the weekend of our return,
and the girls enjoyed the puppets we bought them in the Prague castle,
a charming toy shopped carved out of the rock.

Within 10 days, we were swept up into lovely family celebrations,
like Joel’s graduation from middle school and our son’s
and 2 grandsons’ birthdays.

Lisa, Joel and Karl prepared a gorgeous yard/house and table for
about 60 friends and family to enjoy as we celebrated everyone.

Traveling is truly a gift.
But home is an even greater one.
We are grateful for all of it!!

The Gift of Travel — Part 8: The Czech Republic — A Photo Essay

Somewhere soon after leaving Bad Spandau, we crossed the border to
The Czech Republic, heading for the small town of Litomerice.
This post will feature that town and our introduction to Prague,
after we left the ship.
We are so grateful that we opted for the 3-day extension,
because if our only impression of that great city had been based
on the one day connected to the cruise . . .
well, I’ll let you be the judge if that was the best impression
to be had from Prague!

You can find all the parts of this series
by clicking on the links below:

Part 1 is here,
part 2 here,
part 3 on this line,
part 4 will be found here,
part 5 clicks over from here,
part 6 from here,
and part 7 . . . well, it’s right here. 

It rained most of that morning, so we stayed in and watched the water sliding
down the window.
We also visited several locks for the first time on this river.
Those are interesting but sometimes tedious,
as you wait for the boat to rise or fall.

It is necessary to vacate your room sometime in the morning to
allow the housekeeping staff to come in and straighten
things, replace your towels as needed,
and leave you humorous small gifts on your bed.

Just as we arrived in Litomerice, the clouds parted,
and we were able to walk all around this interesting Czech town.
First up the hill to the church.

Another passenger told us that she had read that about 65% of the country is atheist.
That was a stunning number to hear!
But as I watched this tour guide, and the one in Prague,
treat the churches we visited with a certain amount of
dismissive disdain, I could believe it.
I wonder what the difference is between this land
and a place like Poland, where nearly 100% of the people coming
out from under the yoke of Communism are pretty devout Catholics.
I’m thinking it must have something to do with the
vibrancy of the church at the time of occupation,
but who knows?

You know, these fancy pulpits are beautiful to look at,
but I cannot imagine preaching from one!
So separated from the congregation, and usually high above them.
That says a lot of things I’m not very comfortable with.

These beautiful peonies graced a side altar.
I loved the way they caught the sunlight.

Next, the town square. When my son looked at these pictures,
he immediately said, “You can tell you’re in the Czech Republic, can’t you, Mom?
See how different the spires are? They have those fine, pointed edges.”

I hadn’t really noticed. But now I see it in all these pictures!

Tours are really helpful in lots of ways.
Except for this one: having to stay connected to a group of
people when you really want to duck down a side street on your own.
Most of the time, we were quite content,
because the guides were excellent and we wanted to
learn from them.
But once in a while, that old rebellious nature of mine shows up.

I appreciated the fact that the Czechs themselves
erected this monument to a poet they loved.
Not a military leader (as all the Communist statues note), but a poet.
I like that.

Paintings and small sculptures above the doors
were the original house addresses in about the 18th century.

The clouds really celebrated our view for us, didn’t they?

I loved this zigzag staircase.

And this silvery tree in the park with the view.

And this goofy granddad on the horsey, too.

Next stop — not  a favorite: beer-tasting.
The Czechs love their home-grown beer,
and this rustic restaurant housed a micro-brewery.

They provided a tray of condiments and snacks,
and samples of 3 kinds of beer.
I believe they’re called pilsners rather than ales.
I took a Coke light, Dick sampled (barely) and I tasted.
I never learned to like anything alcoholic,
though I’ve tasted a few wines that almost made me a believer.
But it was fun to see this cellar and the
equipment that produces the beverages.

Back to the ship to rest and change for our last dinner aboard.

The entire crew was out to meet us as we went down to the dining room.
They did such a superb job of caring for all 107 of us.

The place settings were even more elegant than usual,
and the menu?

Our table-mates were from the Coventry area of Britain —
almost half the passengers came from the British Isles.

The pastry chef was a red-headed German young man who was about 22.
And he just outdid himself every single day.
This platter was the post-dessert dessert.

The next morning, I said farewell to my lovely rose,
which had lasted beautifully all week long,
and we hopscotched our way around the luggage
outside the doors.
All of it was loaded onto the busses and unloaded
into the hotel rooms by others.
This is a very nice feature of tours.
Very nice, indeed.

And we boarded the busses for the 40 minute drive from the Elbe River to the Moldau (in German) and the Hilton Hotel just above it.

Czech completely defeats me!

Good-bye, boat. Good-bye, Elbe.

Hello, Hilton.

Our rooms would not be ready for several hours,
so we had a brief break and climbed back on the busses
for a tour of Prague.

Slight problem.
It was the hottest day of the year so far — mid-80’s —
and everyone in the entire city decided to be out and about
to enjoy the beauty of the day.
Yowza, it was crowded!!

We drove across the river and up the hill to the palace/castle
(pictures of that place to come in the final couple of posts).
They have guards at every gate of the palace area, and they change on the hour,
with a whole big changing of the guard ceremony at noon.

So, imagine you’re in a group of about 40 amidst this throng,
and you’re trying to keep up with your guide,
who is in a very big hurry to keep to a certain timetable,
and you’d like to try and take a few pictures along the way.
Well, it wasn’t easy.

I did manage to get a few exteriors of St. Vitus’s Cathedral — enough to know I wanted to come back to this place — but she literally led us in one door and out the other.
I was lucky to get even one inside shot this day.

The photo series above was taken from the ‘golden side’ of the church.
Perhaps you can see why.
And it was here that we saw the most interesting tour group of the entire trip so far,
these travelers from Bavaria.

Apparently they keep cameras in those lederhosen and dirndls.
Who knew??

Everywhere, PEOPLE.

Trying to see the noon changing of the guard. Not terribly successful.

But I did manage to get this wrought iron and gilt detail.

We found a vantage point and shot a few city views.
But the heat caused quite a significant haze and it was tough to see much.

Next stop, the river.
We walked along the side of it for awhile, and through a lovely park to
get to the most famous bridge of all, the Charles.

Unfortunately, that place was the most crowded yet!
We were set loose to find lunch and then meet at the gate to the bridge.
Unfortunately, we had no Czech money yet,
but were assured that most people would accept euros or dollars or
credit cards, so we chose a delightful garden restaurant,
sat down, ordered and then thought to ask —
no, actually, they did not take anything but Czech crowns.
So we went to McDonald’s and split a burger.
And it was quite good.

The beautiful manhole covers continued across the border.

I thought it was sweet that this real baby wanted to pat the sculpted one,
part of a larger exhibit making a statement about the
dangers of technology.
Not sure I buy that warning —
babies will always be babies.

Thank God.

We saw small numbers of these padlocks on fence rails in other cities,
but this place took the cake!
An engaged couple puts one on to mark their engagement
and secure their eternal connection.
Cities are learning that it is cheaper to replace the entire
section of wrought iron than to manually remove all those locks.

This troll figure picture was shot through the rails of the padlock fence.
Apparently, trolls are big in Czech fairy tales.

This is the Beatles’ wall, where young Czech dissidents would write out lyrics from Beatles’ songs as a means of protest against the Communists.
Just standing near this wall could get you arrested in the good old days.

The garden we almost ate lunch in.

The entrance to the Charles Bridge.

And the street just behind the entrance. The MacDonald’s was at the top of this street.

I lifted my camera above my head to try and get a couple of pictures of the bridge without
hordes of people in the shot.

Next we walked across to the old town where we waited
for a particular clock to chime — supposedly the 12 apostles come out on the hour.

It was a lovely clock, but the apostles?
They were tough to see in the side windows.
Not sure it was worth standing in the heat,
but what the heck?
I preferred this view of the town hall towers across from the clock. 

I have looked at this picture about 10 times since I took it,
and it wasn’t until I posted it here that I noticed that the brickwork
pattern is different in each tower.
Go figure. 

The last part of our walk took us by this street vendor.
People stood at nearby tall tables, wolfing down chunks of this stuff.

The synagogue in the Jewish quarter — still in use, I believe.

And more pictures of Prague and
a final post about leaving Europe and returning home still to come.

The Gift of Travel — Part 7: Cruising Saxon Switzerland — A Photo Essay

This just may have been my favorite day of the entire cruise,
and that is saying something, because I LOVED the whole experience.
This is our 4th outing with Viking River Cruises.
We combined the first two — one from Normandy to Paris,
followed by another from just outside Paris to Avignon  —
eight years ago. And we did a two-week cruise four years ago,
from Amsterdam to Budapest.
This one was the smallest river, the smallest boat,
and we think — our favorite.
This day is one reason why.

You can find Part 1 of this journey here,
Part 2 here,
Part 3 here,
Part 4 here,
Part 5 here,
and Part 6 here.

The day began early and the sun was shining in between the clouds.
We sailed by a lovely, long castle that is now open to the public,
the first one we’ve seen that wasn’t perched high on a hill.

Then we began to enjoy this brand-new geography —
high cliffs, rocky outcroppings, lots of trees.
This is Saxon Switzerland,
a national park that straddles the border between
Germany and The Czech Republic.
(It is NOT Switzerland — apparently, in German, the word
for that country also means ‘wilderness.’)

We cruised for several hours, docked for a while
and then boarded busses, which we took BACK
to the area where we had seen people peering down on us
as we rode the river.

Amazing country, amazing natural wonder, amazing day.

I think this was my favorite bridge picture of the trip.

We enjoyed more interesting traveling partners
during this stretch than anywhere else.
A nice variety from boats to rafts to trains nearby.

And of course, the ever-changing natural wonders all around us.

A little windblown, but having a grand time.

See that bridge up there? Yeah, well, we’ll be standing on it pretty soon.

I mean, really — can you imagine a better way to enjoy this part of the world?

Up on the hill is the largest fort we’ve seen yet —
not much castle, but one mile of wall.

And a turret or two, too.

 One of many trains – all kinds, freight, people, new cars.

Coming round the bend to our port – Bad Schandau, a spa resort town with access
to the national park.

Loved seeing these bikers lined up to ferry across the river.

So, it was a nice enough day to have lunch on the top deck.

Pretty dang nice.

A ‘caravan’ park on the river’s edge.

Waitin’ for the laundry to dry. . .

And we loaded onto the busses to head into the park.

What the tour guide called a ‘meza’ (I think it’s the same as mesa?).

Just a particularly lovely field of rape-seed.

The Germans love horse-drawn carriages.

You know, I’d been walking on cobblestone streets without incident for over a week,
but here, just down the road from these horses, on asphalt,
I failed to look down and tripped over a grate, landing flat.
Dick broke my fall enough so that I wasn’t injured, just embarrassed as heck.

 The rocks from above.

Spotting the climbers with my telephoto lens.

And enjoying the views of the river from high up.

After descending over 100 steps to get to the bridge, we opted not to follow
even more steps further out.

That big fort from straight on, courtesy of the telephoto.

Looking back at the bridge we’d been standing on.

Love that backpack. Love that guy, too.

Looking at some of those 100+ steps on the way back up.

And rewarding ourselves for all that effort!

 And my favorite yellow-field shot of the trip.

And then we were off again. . . and almost done with the cruise.

We are now moving into the Czech Republic.

Next installment – Litomerice and early Prague pictures.

The Gift of Travel — Part 6: Dresden — A Photo Essay

In this post, we will actually SEE Dresden —
the pictures will be here, not just the word in the title.
This is the 4th post about the cruising part of our trip
and there will be at least one more, possibly two.
And then Prague — 2 posts for sure. :>)

Part 1 can be found here.
Part 2, here,
part 3, here,
part 4, here,
and part 5, here. 

When we woke the next morning, this was the view out our cabin window.

 Not too shabby.
After breakfast, we loaded on those oh-so-familiar busses and these next few
were shot through the window as we traveled over to
the ‘old’ town — which has been completely rebuilt
since WWII.
That meant digging through complete rubble
after the massive air attacks,
re-using as many old stones as possible,
patching in much lighter colored sandstone where needed,
and re-learning a lot of very old craftwork.
They’ve done a magnificent job.

 Twice, we saw small groups of toddlers with a single adult female.
Hard to tell, but I’m guessing this is a way to do childcare,
and not many sets of multiples.

 We parked the busses near this lovely park and walked over to one of the rebuilt
city squares, this one involved re-construction of the many
super-extravagant buildings build by August the Strong in the 18th century.
Talk about opulence!


It was mid-morning and trying to shoot the government buildings
across the way from this square was difficult.
I tried, but they came out much better later in the day.

 School was still in session in most of Germany while we were there,
and this day, there were hordes of school kids swarming the place.

This is the opera house.

Lovely floral borders, much like what we’ve seen throughout our trip thus far.

This magnificent circled square of buildings was basically built
to impress European royalty.
“Come on over to MY place if you want to see how rich and powerful I am!!”

Most of these buildings now house various collections,
including another collection of Meissen chinaware, as ordered by
emperors past. All of this stuff,
paintings, china, statues,
were boxed up and salted away to the mountains near the end of
the war. The Communists refurbished many of the paintings,
and at the end of the Cold War, only returned a portion of them
to reunified Germany.

This tower was just chiming while we were there.
It only happens twice a day, and the tour guide made
sure we were there for one of them.
Those bells are made of — take a wild guess —
yes, you are SO right — Meissen china!
August the Strong loved the china being imported from China
during his lifetime and ordered his ‘scientists’ (read ‘alchemists’)
to devise a formula for making some of their own.
Meissen’s china manufaktur was the result.
And it is a great source of pride all throughout this province of Germany. 

A costumed docent taking some school kids on a tour.

They are almost finished with this huge square of buildings
and it was truly lovely to see. One gate to go.

See what I mean about the light being wrong to shoot this direction?

We walked back through the square where we began, crossed
the boulevard and headed for the castle/home of August.
It is now a museum (and we could not take pictures inside.)
Suffice it to say that there were more extraordinarily expensive
gewgaws in that place than is believable.
There was one 41.5 carat green diamond that cost the equivalent
of an entire new castle complex when it was purchased
for August to wear on his sash.

Radim, our program director came along on all tours, with one group
or another — checking on guides, carrying entrance tickets to
special exhibits, taking photos for the souvenir disc you could
purchase at the end of the trip.
As I’ve said before, he set the tone for everything,
and that tone was delightful.

August was a man of many appetites, women among them.
He had numerous mistresses – this one lived in the castle below,
which was connected to the one he shared with his wife by
the covered bridge in the picture above.
My, wives were accommodating in those days.

 Looking out the window and taking pictures was allowed — and this was
interesting. Plaster work done in two stages,
dark color first, then light.
Then the design is etched through, to let the dark color show.

The tower in the corner of this interesting small square.
Contemporary craftsmen doing very old-style work.

At the end of our tour, the guide pointed out this lovely relic from
the Communist era — complete with its mosaic of ‘comrades’ working together.
It reminded us vaguely of all the Home Savings buildings in southern CA.

 We took one last look at the square on this side of the boulevard,
noting the cathedral tower at the back,
and determined to come back there on our free time after lunch.

 Enjoyed our usual great meal (we opted for the lighter lunches in the lounge rather
than the 3-course meal in the dining room),
and we rested a bit before walking back to town.
We enjoyed watching these 150 year old steam-powered paddle-wheelers
that cruise between Dresden and Meissen several times a day.

You know, I never really thought about it,
but I suppose castle windows need washing sometimes, too, right?

So this is the inside of the newly rebuilt cathedral of Dresden – it’s lovely and light.

 . . . and the cupola is gorgeous.

These candles reminded me that every cathedral in the world,
even if its congregation has shrunk to almost nothing,
is still a house of prayer,
a place where the faithful gather.

Yeah, the manhole covers in Dresden are beautiful, too.

The cathedral tower from the outside.
We saw a sign that said, “Lift to the dome,” and got excited!
My knees keep me from climbing hundreds of stairs,
but an elevator? Yeah, I could do that.

However, they did not tell us that the lift stops about halfway up
Then you climb a steeply slanted ramp for a long while, climb about 50 steps and
arrive at. . . an open work, straight-up set of iron stairs.

I do not do open staircases.
Most especially open staircases that hover in midair.
So it was more than a little bit discouraging to climb all that way. . .
and not get to enjoy the view.

I was, however, able to get a good shot of ‘the lemon squeezer,’
an interesting newer tower in town.
Dick gamely carried the camera that last set of stairs and took some
lovely view pictures for us.
It’s a beautiful city.

 And it’s a long way up there.
Especially looking back down.

Okay, so those buildings in the shadows in the morning?
Yeah, they looked a whole lot better in the afternoon.

I highly recommend a trip to Dresden – it’s a city worth seeing.

And quite serendipitously — and unknown even to our crew — that night
we enjoyed a special parade of those paddle-wheelers,
each one with a Dixieland band playing away.
This unusual parade was capped off by about 20 minutes of glorious fireworks.
These shots were all shot out our bedroom window.
Not a bad way to end our time in this lovely place.

Next up: Cruising Saxon Switzerland, a national park that crosses the border between Germany and the Czech Republic.

The Gift of Travel – Part 5: Cruising to Dresden — A Photo Essay

So . . . already, I cannot keep it to the number I had hoped.
We saw so.much.goodness.
(More likely, I took too.many.pictures.)
So, this post will be about getting to and enjoying Meissen.
The next one will be about Dresden.
Then on to Saxon Switzerland (a national park, not a country),
and probably two posts on the Czech Republic, especially Prague.

You can find Part 1 here,
Part 2 here,
Part 3 here,
and Part 4 here. 

After our immersion in Reformation history, we cruised all morning the next day
to the city of Meissen, which houses the famous porcelain manufacturing company.
The first couple of dozen pictures were shot during that lovely,
relaxing time on the water — pictures of farmland,
changing topography, small villages,
animals, people on bicycles. . . just the ordinary stuff of daily life,
but somehow, as seen from the deck of a river boat,
things of extraordinary, often breath-taking beauty.
I think that — above and beyond the riches of history, the extravagance of
rulers past, the lure of museum treasures —
the richest kind of gift from this experience is this one:
the extraordinary ordinary,
the downright deliciousness of dailyness.

At last, a stork in the nest!
You have  undoubtedly noticed that the terrain is beginning to change:
sloping hillsides, rocky cliffs here and there,
vineyards and more villages.
This whole stretch was so very lovely.

 A bicycle and walking path paralleled the river for miles and miles.

Just before lunch, we drew near to Meissen, a city almost completely unharmed
in WWII. It’s majestic castle/fortress loomed over
the entire harbor area and seemed to beg for pictures
from every conceivable angle.

 The waterfront area was charming and we docked very near this row of houses.

Boarded our busses and proceeded first to the Meissen plant,
which is in the heart of the town and employs over 600 people.
Our guide was a remarkable woman of about 60.
She had grown up in Communist Eastern Europe
and her family was known to be Catholic.
She was humiliated in school, made to stand in front of the class,
and later, despite being an excellent student,
was denied access to the finer colleges.
She once held a ‘job’ at Meissen that had no function.
For eight hours a day for FOUR YEARS,
she went to work and had nothing to do.
That right there is its own kind of hell.

This is the Meissen insignia
and if you’re blessed to own any of their fine porcelain ware,
you’ll find it somewhere on each piece.

As we entered the ‘manufaktur,’ as the locals call it, these charming girls
were just getting out of school.
Loved the pink socks.

I have to tell  you that I could not afford anything from the seconds table,
much less something from this boutique.

 The tour did help me to understand what goes into making this lovely stuff,
and that helps me (a little) with the pricing.
We moved from room to room,
each artist had a box with audio tapes in various languages.
With a push of a button, music and narration began,
and each one did his or her part in the ‘assembly line.’

First the basic shapes are formed on a wheel.

Then the finer details are made by hand and prepared for the first firing.

 The first layer of paint goes on at this point.
And then I think they’re fired again.

This woman adds another layer of color and a finish and the pieces
are fired for the last time.

I would love to have seen one of those ovens, but that was not part of the tour. :>)

 There was a small museum, which contained
this organ, whose pipes are made of porcelain;

this gorgeous urn, which was about two feet tall;

these delicate figurines, which were my favorites;

and a special exhibit of a variety of flower arrangements. . .
made entirely from porcelain.
Loved looking at them — but would not care for the maintenance one bit.

We chose an optional walking tour up to the fortress complex and loved
the views and the general feel of this lovely small city.

Even the manhole covers are beautiful.

This right here? This is why my knees still ache!
(All the stairs everywhere plus the cobblestones make for one miserable
arthritic, I’ll tell you.)

We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of this town and came back to the
boat almost reluctantly.
But soon, the quietness of the river did its magic,
and we tucked in for our time in Dresden the next day.

Entering the city of Dresden, going under a low bridge just as a tram crossed over the top of it. Yes, we’re into a much bigger city now.
More adventures to come!

The Gift of Travel – Part 4 – Worlitz, Wittenberg & Torgau: A Photo Essay

Get ready to ‘set a spell,’ ’cause there are a whole lot of photos with this one.
You can find Part 1 here,
Part 2 here,
and Part 3 here. 

In the wee hours of the morning, we docked in a small town called Dessau, disembarked after breakfast and headed out to one of the most beautiful places we’ve seen in Europe.
It is the largest ‘English-style’ garden on the continent,
designed in the late 18th century to be more expansive and less formal
than earlier baroque gardens.
(We took a peek at the rooftop deck on the Schumann and were favorably impressed.
However, we had to wait until later in the week for the weather to warm up a bit
before enjoying its comforts.)

Our three busses (we were almost always on Bus “C”)
took us into the town and we briefly explored the
churchyard and small restaurant which border the garden.
Turns out we were waiting to board another boat,
but a very different kind.
Called gondolas, they seat about 15 people
and are rowed around the large lake that makes up most
of the Worlitz Garden area.
Our rower was maybe 15 years old,
wiry and small but very strong.
He spoke not one word of English,
so we smiled a lot.

English country gardens feature buildings, bridges and small structures and statues
rather than formal hedges and planted borders.

And this one was just glorious.
They had recently had a special fund-raiser of some kind
and several thousand people set out blankets all over the lawns
for a magnificent concert on the water
(the musicians were in the boats) and a fireworks show.
Must have been something!

It was an idyllic hour, very quiet . . . except for the occasional raucous
sounds coming from this guy, as he tried to woo the hen to the right.
Wow, those peacocks are gorgeous to look at,
but TERRIBLE to listen to.

We stopped for a cup of hot chocolate on our way back to the bus, enjoying
this clematis vine on the restaurant wall.

Time for lunch and setting sail once again.
We arrived in Wittenberg very late in the day,
and enjoyed an excellent lecture by our program director Radim
about the importance of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation
to the history of Europe, and indeed, the world.
This was the part of the trip we had both looked forward to the most!

We loved the town, but struggled with our guide’s poor command of English,
the first time that has ever happened on a Viking trip.
Fortunately, almost everything she tried to tell us,
our Director had already described!

Storks are a sign of spring and good luck in many parts of Europe.
This nest was empty.

It was a cold, damp morning and we were grateful that this was a walking tour —
it warmed us right up.
The town of Wittenberg is small and charming, even though chunks of it
are undergoing renovation and construction.

This is the monastery in which Luther lived and worked
before he tacked those 95 theses onto the church door.
It is also the house where he and his wife later raised their family.
It is now a museum.
2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of this major event,
and that is why the town is undergoing renovation and construction everywhere.

Katherine (Kate or Katje) Luther, a former nun whom Luther married, loved
and partnered with for over 20 years.

Luther’s primary preaching pulpit — even though he was short,
it was so small that he had to kneel to preach from it.

The back door to Luther’s primary lecture hall, shown below.
And yes, students stood for most lectures.

 An early edition of the Augsburg Confession.

A favorite Luther quote, one that I sent to The High Calling
because of how very well it fits their mission and ministry.

The sun began to shine through the clouds and we enjoyed walking down the main street of this lovely, small town. Both the preaching church at the top of the street
and the monastery church at the bottom were under renovation
and couldn’t really be seen very well.
The one at the bottom is where Luther (or a student of his)
tacked up those theses.

You can probably spot our tour guide with her ‘lollipop’ in the picture below.

The famous doors, snapped in a hurry
when the construction gate was momentarily opened.

And then we were sailing once again, as the sun began to set.
We pulled into the neighboring town of Torgau just before dinner
and took an evening walk-thru.
This is the town where Luther died and Katie had a restaurant for a while.
It was fun to see in the moonlight.

And then it was back to our moveable hotel for a delicious night’s rest on the water.

Next Installment — Meissen & Dresden. And I think there will be an extra cruise post, bringing the total to 8 (I hope!).

The Gift of Travel – Part 3 – Getting to the Boat

Sunday morning, May 12th, we boarded one of three buses to begin
the trip to the Clara Schumann — the river boat that would be our
home-away-from-home for the next week.
We stopped at this bridge, a meeting point during
the cold war, for spy exchanges.

 It was a beautiful location, there on the outskirts of Potsdam, a place
which has become a vacation spot for many Berliners.

Just outside the city is the home that Frederick the Great built for himself.
His wife lived elsewhere.
They had no children.
Are you surprised?

The palace is small as palaces go — 12 rooms — but the grounds are stunning.

He named it “Sans Souci,” ‘no worries’ – I think he and Bobby McFerrin
would have gotten along well, don’t you?

Next stop – lunch. Released from the bus for 75 minutes, we first explored
the church next to the bus parking lot and then we found our
way to a charming outdoor cafe in the Dutch quarter of town,
enjoying tuna salad and the view.


 Lovely shared gardens carved right out of the sidewalk on some streets,
and a delightful floral border at the city park,
which also housed a cemetery where all inscriptions were in Russian.

Next stop, the gorgeous Tudor styled ‘palace’ and grounds
where the Potsdam agreement was signed.
The guide was so intent on giving us as much info
as possible, that we stood in a driving rain
outside this place, listening hard.
Don’t think I can recall a single detail,
except that half of Europe ended up with Stalin.

Driving to our final destination — our ship! — we passed through
the first of many, MANY fields of this stuff.
It’s called rape seed and its ground up with a few other things
to produce canola oil and — get this — ethanol, at least in Europe.
Never noticed any vehicles reeking of veggie oil, however.

At last, the Elegant Elbe was in view — and the Schumann.

Our luggage had already been delivered to our room,
and we gathered for what would be a daily briefing
about the next day’s travels.
Then we had the most sumptuous welcome dinner,
complete with roses for Mother’s Day
and a 50th Anniversary celebration for our tablemates.
We began to move on the river just as dinner began,
and we remembered why we love this mode of travel so much.
These boats move slowly but steadily and
the landscape is always lovely to see —
even if it’s only the water, a bridge or two, and acres of flat farmland.

At the end of the day, we headed
to bed in our tiny, tiny, but oh-so-welcome room.

Next installment: Worlitz Garden and Wittenberg.