Foggy Morning: Ruminations & Photographs

I spent Thursday morning at the Goleta Slough last week,
and I spoke into my phone as I sat there.
This is the transcript of that speaking. (Pretty much!)
I’m thinking this was an artist’s playdate of sorts. . . 

Cormorants, beautiful black and sleek, yet they wreak such havoc.
The trees above these birds are sticks now.
Ashen, dead.

I sit, staring.
The tide ebbs and flows, the horizon fades away.
An occasional gull, tern, cormorant, or duck flies by.
I can hear the chatter of children far down the beach.

And the, low  guttural tones of the men who drive these weary motorhomes.
What must it be like to live like this, day after day?
Chatting in the parking lot, slugging back a six pack.
Suddenly a dolphin surfaces very close by.
Oh, have I ever told you how these creatures speak to me of God?
I see he has a companion.
Somehow life is better with a swimming partner.

Summer must truly be here, a lifeguard walks by,
carrying his bright orange rescue pad.

Summer in Santa Barbara is often gray,
as the heat from the central valley of California rises,
it sucks the fog up to the beach along the central coast.
But today, instead of feeling suffocating, this cool, moist blanket is soothing.

My husband is flying to Chicago, once again attending meetings.
He gets so nervous before he travels, and so do I.
Neither one of us likes to travel alone anymore;
I’m not sure we ever did.
We have surely done it often enough,
and once we arrive at our destination, most worries dissipate.
But travel days are hard — and the days leading up to travel days.

47 years is a very long time.
We’ve had adventures, raised children, cared for grandchildren,
moved several times, each dealt with the stresses of our own individual careers.
And we’ve done all of it together, growing up together,
growing into marriage together.
So separation is both good and hard.
It’s good for us to remember that we are separate.
Each of us is an individual, with different gifts and interests,
and those gifts and interests need nourishment,
encouragement, outlet.

Yes, we still need
to do those things which nurture us as people as well as a couple.
But the other reality is this one: everything else in life is better together.

I just saw a plane take off in my rearview mirror, perhaps it was his.
He flies first to San Francisco, then on to Chicago.
Meetings all day tomorrow, half a day Saturday, then home again Saturday night.

I look forward to his return, but I also look forward to some space and time alone.
Taking an hour to sit and stare at the ocean is something
I find more difficult to do when I know my husband is at home.
Why is that, I wonder?

I think I still carry a lot of baggage from my early life.
I still hear the voice of my mother in my head,
the one reminding me to be ever present and careful,
to look out always for my husband’s interests above my own.

I have come around intellectually and on some emotional level to the belief that
each of our interests and gifts are important,
that decisions are made mutually,
that God’s call is unique to each one of us
as well as unique to our marriage relationship.

But I still hear my mother’s anxious questions.
“Does Dick think this is okay?”
“Are you keeping your husband happy?”
And I still remember, clear as a bell,
her words about one of her very best friends,
after her husband betrayed her with a member of his congregation
and left their marriage.
I still remember these words:
“If only she had taken better care of herself.
If only she weren’t so smart.
If only she had kept all that intelligence in check.”

It makes me physically sick to write those words.
Yet this is what my mother believed, and this is what she raised me to believe.
How sad is that?

The cars are starting to pull into the lot now –
it’s a summer day at the beach.
People will be here in droves.

My clue that time is up.
What will this day bring next?

It brought a lot of loveliness and a fair amount of pain, actually. Leisurely shopping for the first time in ages; lunch out, every bite delicious, while reading a favorite author on my Kindle; time at the beach at the other end of town as the sun was setting. Unfortunately, on my walk there, my ‘bad’ knee acted up fiercely, requiring a trip to urgent care the next day. Three x-rays and 1 shot of cortisone later, I am much better. Undoubtedly, this relaxing day helped to move that recovery along.

Joining this with Laura, Michelle, Jen and Ann:

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 9: Prague! A Photo Essay

You know what?
This will probably be the next to the last post in this series.
Amazing! I can imagine that you are relieved.

You will see a lot of church stuff in this post, especially
windows – both stained and painted glass —
from day 2 in Prague. Some pretty incredible whole-city views
will show up in the next one, those views from day 3.
SO glad we opted for that extension!!

If you really want to see the whole series,
here’s what you do:

Find Number 1 here,
number 2 here,
number 3 here,
number 4 here,
number 5 here,
number 6 here,
number 7 here,
and – whew!! – number 8 here. 

The heat broke with a rainstorm during the night
and our 2nd day in Prague dawned bright and cool.
We asked directions to the castle complex, high on the hill,
and after a bit of a struggle to get a day pass,
we successfully rode the trolley —
and made a transfer!! —
and e v e r y t h i n g looked completely different
up there on that hill.


Nobody hanging on the guard box.

Hardly anyone in the square!

Easy line of sight to the noon guard change.

And time and space to really explore this vast cathedral
with my camera.
It costs to tour this place.
And it costs extra to take photos.
Dick opted to sit outside and wait,
and I just took my time and slowly made the large circle
around, peeking into the chapels,
marveling at the gaudiness of a local saint’s coffin and surrounding
silver angels, admiring the open architecture of the Gothic period.

Just scroll through and imagine you, too, are walking the
big circle that is the Cathedral of St. Vitus.

This was my favorite non-window piece of art in the whole place.

And that last look at Prague will also contain leaving and re-entry photos.

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
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.

The Gift of Travel – Berlin, Part 2 – A Photo Essay

 This is the second in a series of what will be about 9-10 posts documenting and reflecting on our recent trip to eastern Europe. We spent 3 days each in Berlin and Prague and cruised the Elbe River between those two cities for 7 days.

You can read “Part One, Berlin Overview” here. . .

 We arrived in Berlin on a Thursday, slept for a few hours and then walked around the city on our own for several more. On Friday, we joined a bus tour provided by our tour company (Viking River Cruises) and scouted out areas we’d like to visit on Saturday. Our son and his wife had strongly recommended we visit Museum Island, especially the Pergamon Museum and we had spotted the Jewish Museum from our bus tour, so Saturday became. . . Museum Day.

We left the beauty of our local town square behind,

. . . said a fond farewell to those sweet lilac bushes, and walked the mile and a quarter to this imposing building.

The Jewish Museum of Berlin is one of the most intimidating and disorienting museums I have ever had the privilege to meander. It is intentionally so. Documenting the long history of Jews in Germany, the building is strange looking, both outside and inside. You enter through an old, traditionally styled building and then must traverse an underground tunnel to enter the museum proper, a building designed by architect Daniel Libeskind and opened in 2001.

The floors are strangely slanted, the windows are askew, there is even a ‘nothing’ space which cuts through all three floors.

 On the bottom floor, you walk into a room with nothing in it. Nothing. The walls rise three stories, the doors close and there is only the tiniest bit of light from the very top corner of the slanting space. It is deeply disturbing.

Outside, there is this collection of pillars, each built on cobblestones, leaning just slightly off center, with very limited space between them. They, too, rise high – at least two stories.

It is called the Garden of Exile. And it made me physically nauseous to explore.

To see the rest of the museum, you must climb three sets of stairs,
stairs that look like this . . .

. . . stairs that provide windows to the outside, but only in odd shapes and slits. From one of them, I looked down on the Garden of Exile and discovered the Russian silverberry bushes growing atop each pillar.

Trying to digest all the exhibits and simply experience the museum building itself requires enormous amounts of energy and concentration. We could have spent all day here, but knew we had more ground to cover.

One of the more interesting exhibits to me was the story of a 17th century woman who had a successful import/export business. Seeing the amount of traveling she did all over the continent of Europe and into parts of Russia was fascinating.

Something about this portrait captured the heartbreaking reality of so much of the story of Jewish people in Germany, and around the world. I found his expression haunting and moving. The one exhibit I regret not visiting (because we couldn’t find it!) was one called Fallen Leaves — 10,000 metal leaves strewn about the floor of the ‘voided space’ in the center of the museum, each with the names of victims of the holocaust. This exhibit is dedicated to all victims of war and violence and visitors are invited to walk on the leaves and listen to the sound of metal on metal as they do.

We walked out the back of the building to this interesting covered walkway, then enjoyed some of the architecture between the museum and the hotel, where we had a light lunch in our room of cheese/crackers/peanut butter/apples that we’d purchased at a local market.



 We were tired! So we took a cab over to Museum Island to visit the Pergamon. Even the cabdriver was unaware that they had closed the main entrance and that one of the MANY construction projects in the city was happening right there!

 We walked around to the back and entered through this lovely colonnade instead.

And this is what the museum is named for: the Pergamon Altar, dug up in Asia Minor in the 19th century and carted back to Germany, piece by piece. This humungous piece dates from about 200 years before Christ. The entire museum was literally built around it in the early 20th century.

 There are pieces missing, but overall, this exhibit is stunning. And sobering somehow. To build this required some pretty sophisticated engineering, don’t you think? We think we’re so smart – but wow, there’s been a lot of amazing stuff done over the centuries.

But here is the one that just got me! The Ishtar gate from the temple of Nebuchadnezzer in 575 BC. Made of glazed brick, with bas-relief pictures of royal and mythical animals, this thing was so big, I literally could not get an angle to shoot a picture. The gate itself is stunning, the side panels are gorgeous, and then there is the long hallway, marked by ‘the Processional Way’ — more of those cobalt glazed bricks and animals. Truly stunning.

 As an extra-added bonus, there was a temporary exhibit on the history of cities, with archeological finds from Uruk. This city of about 5000 souls dates from the mid 3000s BC. I mean, this is old stuff. And it comes from an ancient urban area.

A bill of lading – catch the date! And it is tiny – about 3 inches square. How did they ever get all that cunieform writing on there??

And, of course, there was jewelry. Lovely jewelry — gold and lapis lazuli. Women have loved wearing pretty stuff forever.
(And who knows, could have been some men wearing this, too, right?)

 Just as we walked out of the museum at 6:00 p.m., we heard the bells from the nearby cathedral, calling the faithful to evensong. Perfect timing.

 We arrived just as the service was beginning and photography was not encouraged, but I did get a shot of the cupola above the nave and of the front door after the service was over. It was about 45 minutes of scripture and music, almost all on the organ. And it was gorgeous. A gift, at the end of long, tiring and very good day.

We walked back to the hotel by Humboldt University. . .

 . . . and saw this stunning angelic figure as we did so.

 The photo below is the one that I put on the cover of Volume 1 (of 3)
of our picture books from this trip.

When I think of Berlin, I think of lots of things — activity, colorful architecture, museums and collections, new construction . . . and the river. The river is the heart of everything and wanders all around all things good to visit.
It’s a grand city and well worth any amount of time you can spend there;
we highly recommend it.

Next up – we begin our river cruise. I’l do that in about 5 posts, I think.
And then two posts on Prague.