In Loving Memory   6 comments

In Loving Memory to the Love of My Life


April 1940 – May 2016


Jim went to his heavenly home on May 9, 2016 when he was killed in an accident on our farm.  Jim & I had 51 wonderful years together.  We raised four children that we couldn’t be prouder of and we’ve had awesome family and friends all of those years.  We loved life together.  Praise God for all of our blessings!  We were not ready for Jim to make his heavenly journey just yet and we miss him so much, but as Christians we know that one day we will be together again. 

For our family from now to eternity every rainbow we see is Jim (Dad) smiling down from heaven.  The evening Jim died, Karree’s dear friend Holly sent us a picture of a beautiful double rainbow that she had just seen and said “that’s Dad, he is trying to tell you he’s okay.”  Also later that night while Karree was on the plane flying from Colorado to Kansas she saw a magnificent rainbow out the window.  During Jim’s visitation many people told us there was a beautiful double rainbow over the church and that it must be Jim smiling from heaven.

On the last morning Jim & I had together, we sat in the swing in the backyard drinking our coffee and Jim started tapping on my leg and pointing to the hummingbird feeder hanging on the barn.  It was the first Baltimore oriole we had ever seen drinking the hummer food.  We were so excited and laughed and enjoyed the precious moments together.  During the week as friends and family dropped by to extend sympathy we were usually sitting in the backyard and one couldn’t even begin to count the number of Baltimore Orioles that would descend giving us moments to enjoy their beauty.  I feel Jim’s spirit was right there with us. 

We are so thankful that Jim was a Christian and knew his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  With joy in our hears, we as Christians have the assurance that we will again be united with Jim and our loved ones gone before.  Everyone has an appointment with death, and Jim always said, ‘death is a part of living’.  He had received God’s offer of salvation and was saved, and it was always on his heart that everyone could experience salvation and receive Christ into their heart.  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”  Acts 16:31.  The Bible says there is only one way to Heaven.  “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.”  John 11:25.

I know that Jim would be very pleased that I want to share on behalf of him the plan of salvation. 

God loves you:  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  John 3: 16.

All are sinners:  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Romans 3:23.

All may be saved now:  “For whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  Romans 10:13. “Behold I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him.”  Revelation 3:20.

Are you ready to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior?:  Right now, you can pray to God to have the Spirit of His son, Jesus Christ, come dwell inside your heart.  And with that, you can receive the gift of God’s grace and a promise of life spent in heaven after your life here on earth. 

My decision to receive Christ as my Savior:  I need to confess to God that I am a sinner, and believe that the Lord Jesus Christ died for my sins on the cross and was raised for my justification.  I receive and confess Him as my personal Savior. 

After receiving Jesus Christ as your Savior, as a Christian you should:  Read your Bible, talk to God in prayer, be baptized, work & fellowship in church with other Christians and tell others about Christ. 

At the funeral Pastor Rick gave us such comfort when he said that where Jim had the accident is hollowed ground because that is where God received Jim into heaven.  We know where Jim is, he is with the Heavenly Father and he’s fine.  God please grant his family strength and give us peace knowing what a fine Christian man he was.

God rest his soul—-love of our life—-see you in eternity.

Marilyn, Eric, Kellee & Jim, Karree, Derick & Chelsea

Posted August 17, 2016 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise   Leave a comment

Eastern Europe to the Black Sea River Cruise

Mar. 29 – Apr. 9, 2016

Budapest, Hungary; Tvrdja, Osijek & Vukovar, Croatia; Novi Sad, Sremski, Karlovci & Belgrade, Serbia; Vidin, Ruse, Arbanassi, & Veliko Tarnovoi, Bulgaria; Constanta & Bucharest, Romania.


We booked “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea” with Grand Circle Travel.  This two week river boat cruise was our 35th trip with this company.  (The map of our itinerary is copied from the Grand Circle web site.)  We cruised 1,177 miles continuously along the Danube River, stepping ashore in five Eastern European nations.  Interestingly enough we also experienced five different currencies on our adventure.  Our wonderful tour director, Bojana is pictured below.  She was a joy to be around, very knowledgeable and loved sharing learning and discovery experiences.     

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The best part of this trip is the fact that our oldest son, Eric, decided he wanted to see this area of the world on a river boat, so we knew that was reason enough for us to do this trip.  It was so much fun!  In my previous blog I posted our pre-trip before we joined up with Grand Circle.  The three of us went to Vienna, Austria where our oldest daughter and son-in-law live and from there the five of us enjoyed the Easter weekend in the Wachau Valley of Austria.  So now, continuing on with our spring trip to Europe, here is my blog of “Eastern Europe to the Black Sea.” 

SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Grand Circle Travel or Overseas Adventure trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 per person off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer number #561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 each off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip. 


Budapest, Hungary:  Jim, Eric & I left Vienna by train early on a Tuesday morning in order to join up with the Grand Circle river boat in Budapest, Hungary.  


Our Grand Circle ship “The River Aria” was docked in a superb location near the ultra beautiful Parliament Building in the main area of Budapest. 


Marilyn waving from our upgraded balcony cabin. 


Budapest, Hungary:  It is situated on both sides of the Danube River, with Buda (on the right hilly bank) to the west and Pest (on the left flat bank) to the east.  Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary, with a population of 1.74 million.  It is the country’s principal political, commercial, cultural, industrial and transportation center. 

The lights of Budapest from our ship at night, with the Chain Bridge connecting the Buda and Pest sides of Budapest. 


The Chain Bridge:  It was the first permanent bridge across the Danube in Hungary, and was opened in 1849.  At the time of its construction, it was regarded as one of the modern world’s engineering wonders. 


Castle Hill:  This is the historic side of Budapest located on the hilly Buda side.  Matthias Church dates to the 13th century and was formerly used for the coronations of Hungarian kings. 


Holy Trinity Statue:  The tall white statue was built in 1713 to commemorate the victims of the 1691-1709 plague epidemic and to protect the city from future plight.   Fisherman’s Bastion:  The Bastion takes its name from the guild of fishermen who were responsible for defending this stretch of the city walls in the Middle Ages.  The Bastion has a great panoramic viewing terrace, with many stairs and walking paths and an amazing atmosphere.


Looking from the Fisherman’s Bastion to the Pest side of Budapest.


{All of the following sites are located on the Pest (flat side) of Budapest.}

Hungarian Parliament Building:  It is the seat of the National Assembly of Hungary, located on the Pest side.  This Gothic Revival style building is one of Europe’s oldest legislative buildings (1885) and a notable landmark of Hungary. 


Heroes’ Square:  This Millennial Column is set off by equestrian statues of the Magyar leaders who conquered this region during the 9th century. 


St. Stephen’s Basilica:  This Roman Catholic church is named after Stephen I, the first king of Hungary.  It was completed in 1905 after 54 years of construction. 


Outdoor food court in Budapest.  Particularly enjoyed the sign for the “Rooster Testicle Stew.” 


The Great Synagogue:  The largest in Europe, designed in a Moorish style and was built from 1854-1859.  The synagogue complex consists of the Great Synagogue, the Heroes’ Temple, the graveyard, the Memorial and the Jewish Museum.


It is estimated that Hungary’s pre-war Jewish population was 800,000.  The extermination phase of Jews in Hungary began after the Nazi invasion in March 1944.  In May 1944 the deportations to Auschwitz began. In just eight weeks, some 424,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. After October 1944, when the Arrow Cross  party came to power, thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube and tens of thousands were marched hundreds of miles towards the Austrian border. In all, some 565,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.

Holocaust Memorial at the Great Synagogue:  The weeping willow monument in Budapest to Hungarian victims of the Holocaust. Each leaf is inscribed with the family name of one of the victims. 


Holocaust Shoe Memorial:  Thousands of Jews from Budapest were murdered on the banks of the Danube.  The location of this memorial is close to the Parliament and beside the Danube River in Budapest. The shoes represent Hungarian Jews who lost their lives during the Holocaust.


And now our 1,177 mile cruise on the Danube River from Budapest, Hungary to Constanta, Romania began.

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In the night we cruised from Budapest to Batina, Croatia.  At Mohacs we arrived at the Hungarian border and the authorities required a face check of every passenger with our passports.  So about 4:30 in the morning we all marched to the lobby so they could see our sleepy faces.


Tvrđa (Citadel), Croatia:  We docked at Batina, Croatia and took a coach about 12 miles to Osijek.  We first stopped at Tvrda which is the old historical city of Osijek in Croatia. Tvrda has a Habsburg star fort built on the right bank of the River Drava.  All five planned bastions and two gates were complete by 1715.  Tvrđa was the largest fortress on the border with the Ottoman Empire.


This single-nave St. Michael’s Church with two towers (1725–1748) was built by the Jesuits on the foundations of the Kasim-pasha’s Mosque.  Tvrda It has the best-preserved and largest ensemble of Baroque buildings in Croatia.


Church of the Holy Cross & Monastery, Tvrdja:  The Franciscans spearheaded the renewal of Catholic life in Slavonia in the years following the Ottoman occupation, and built this monastery church to serve as their spiritual center.  The accompanying monastery was the site of a theology academy and in 1735, Slavonia’s first printing press.


Elementary School Visit In Osijek, Croatia:  We had a special treat when we visited the elementary school in Osijek.  This school in supported, in part, by the Grand Circle Foundation.  The students put on a wonderful musical performance for us. 


The Battle of Vukovar, Croatia:  Before the war of Independence Vukovar was a mixed community of Croats, Serbs and other ethnic groups.  Between August and November 1991, there was an 87-day siege of Vukovar & surrounding villages by the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA), and supported by various paramilitary forces from Serbia.  This area remained occupied by Serb hand until 1998, when it was reintegrated into Croatia.  The war ended with Croatian victory.  A total of 20,000 people were killed in the war, and refugees were displaced on both sides.

The Vukovar water tower:  Heavily damaged in the battle, the tower has been preserved as a symbol of the conflict.


Home Hosted Dinner with survivor of the Battle of Vukovar:  We joined a local family for lunch in their home.  It was indeed a learning experience.  The young man at the end of the table told us how one morning in 1991 they received a phone call from a friend at the other end of town telling them the Serbs were marching in and killing everyone in sight.  His family had a small farm so they quickly turned all their animals loose and escaped with the clothes on their back to a large town further inland.  He said that town was under constant seize but was never occupied.  The Serbs occupied their home in the countryside for 7 years.  When they returned in 1998 most of it was unrecognizable but they have worked and rebuilt everything. 


Vukovar, Croatia:  Serbia is located directly across the Danube River.   Our ship was docked in this area of Vukovar next to the memorial to the 20,000 people killed during the Battle of Vukovar.  Many of the building are still waiting for repairs from the battle, and many are renovated.     


Novi Sad, Serbia:  It’s the second largest city in Serbia with a population of about 250,000.  The city lies on the S-shaped meander of the river Danube.  It was a very pleasant town and Jim, Eric & I enjoyed strolling around the Old Town, shopping a bit, having a cup of coffee and eating ice cream, not once but twice. 


Sremski Karlovci:  It is a small town located about 8 miles from Novi Sad and has a population of approximately 9,000. It is renowned for its numerous and richly decorated baroque and neo-classical buildings.


Cathedral Church of Saint Nicholas:  It was erected in 1762. It is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Serbian baroque architecture. 


Jovan Zivanovic Apiculture (beekeeping) Museum and Winery:  We learned about beekeeping and also visited the 300 year old wine cellar.  We enjoyed samples of both the wine & honey.


Yes, this is April 2, and all day it was Jim’s birthday.  That evening it wasn’t the usual dinner at the ship, we were taken to the countryside in Serbia for dinner.  Talk about a fun birthday celebration.  He had local gypsies serenading him and then the lighted birthday cake!  A great evening. 


Belgrade, Serbia:  Belgrade is the capital of Serbia, and former capital of Yugoslavia.  It’s one of Europe’s oldest cities, and the center of political and cultural life in the country.  Belgrade and the rest of Serbia are still emerging from many years of repressive rule. 

Tito Memorial:  This memorial honors Josip Broz Tito, who held Yugoslavia together as an independent country in the turmoil that followed WWII and the Cold War. 


St. Sava orthodox Cathedral:  It’s one of the largest Orthodox cathedrals in the world. 


Belgrade Fortress:  This imposing fortress is on a rocky ridge at the confluence of the Danube and the Sava rivers.  At the end of the first century A.D. the Romans built a fortress here, since then it’s been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times.  The fortress is now the site of several museums and Kalemegdan, a vast park.


Exploring the busy downtown of Belgrade on a Sunday afternoon.


Day 8 was spent cruising on the Danube.  It was a delightfully sunny day and we enjoyed being on the top deck to watch the sites go by. 


The rock sculpture of Decebalus:  A carving in rock of the face of Decebalus, the last king of Dacia, who fought against the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan to preserve the independence of his country, which is now modern Romania. The sculpture was made between 1994 and 2004.


The Danube was once a raging river pounding through deep gorges.  In the 1960’s Yugoslavia & Romania cooperated on a joint venture that raised the level of the Danube with a series of hydroelectric dams called the Iron Gates


Vidin, Bulgaria:  It’s a city in the northwest of Bulgaria, on the banks of Danube River.  Vidin is a border town with Romania to the North and Serbia to the west.  Vidin is currently the poorest city in the EU, but it is a pretty town with many historic and cultural landmarks.  Tourism has experienced a decline except for groups that come along the Danube on cruises.

Baba Vida:  This is Vidin’s main landmark, built in the period from the 10th to the 14th century.   It is said to be the only entirely preserved medieval castle in the country. The castle has got a nearly square shape, its angles pointing at the four geographical directions.


The Vidin synagogue deserted after the Jews were forced to leave.  Next is the Mosque of Vidin. 


When Derick was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria he sent home his favorite baking dish–the Bulgarian traditional clay-pot covered baking dish.  It arrived home broken.  I purchased his replacement in this little shop. (first picture), and carefully carried it home.   

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Cruising from Vidin to Ruse, Bulgaria.


 Ruse, Bulgaria:  It’s located on the Danube and the Danube River forms a natural border between Bulgaria & Romania.  Ruse is known for its 19th and 20th century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture.  We docked in Ruse, but just saw an overview of the city since we chose to do an optional excursion to Arbanassi & Veliko Turnova.


 Arbanassi, Bulgaria:  It is located near Veliko Turnovo and is known for the rich history and 17th- and 18th-century churches.  The cute little town has 80 houses, five churches and two monasteries and they reflect the fortress-like architectural style of that time when the town flourished.  

The Holy Archangels Michael and Gabriel Church, Arbanassi:  This 300 year old church has a plain exterior with a flat roof.  Under Turkish rule, churches couldn’t be taller than a mosque and they couldn’t have domes. The architect created a dome (important to Orthodox Christians) on the inside by lowering the ceiling around it.  The walls are all covered with frescoes.  Inside the church a men’s cappella group sang for us.  It was beautiful. 


Konstantsaliev House:  This house is among the largest of the richly decorated houses that have been preserved in Arbanassi.  This 400-year old house has been turned into an interesting museum. It had an upstairs guesthouse with a carved ceiling, a family bedroom (where they all slept together), a nursery, kitchen and dining room.


Lunch at Mexaha Restaurant in Arbanassi:  We were greeted with the traditional hot bread fresh out of the oven, and then enjoyed a delicious lunch at this cute restaurant.


Veliko Turnovo, Bulgaria:  It was the capital of Bulgaria from 1186 to 1394.  The town is situated on 3 hills and presents a unique architecture with the houses seemingly stacked one above the other on the hills that slope downwards to the Yantra river. 


Tsarevets Fortress:  From 1185-1395, Bulgaria was the largest and most powerful state in Southeastern Europe, and Tsarevets Hill was the main fortress of the Medieval capital of Veliko Turnovo. 


The Bulgarian countryside as we traveled from Veliko Tarnovo to Ruse.  We saw lots of shepards out with their sheep and cattle. 


Back in Ruse, our ship was honored with a serenade by the Ruse Men’s Band. 


Danube-Black Sea Canal:  On our last day of cruising, the MS River Aria sailed the European canal system that links the North Sea to the Black Sea.  The Canal was notorious as the site of labor camps in the 1950s Communist Romania, when, at any given time, several tens of thousands political prisoners worked on its excavation.  More than 40,000 forced laborers died building this canal under Stalin from 1949-53.


The 40 mile canal was begun in 1949 and not fully completed until 1987.  We are passing through a lock.


Port of Constanta:  It was interesting to see the off-shore drilling as we passed by.  The port is the main container hub in the Black Sea, and all direct lines between Asia and Black Sea call in Constanța.


I found this article in the Constantza Port News:  Thursday, 07 April 2016
 River Aria opens the cruise season in Constanta Port.


“Today, April 7, at 13 o’clock, the river vessel River Aria will open the cruise season in Constanta Port.  The vessel comes from Ruse (Bulgaria) with 143 American tourists who will finish their cruise in Constanta. They will be disembarking tomorrow, April 8, and will be transported to the Otopeni Airport.”

(So I guess this is way there were TV reporters with cameras when we disembarked the ship.  They interviewed a couple of our passengers, but I didn’t  see that in the news article.)

Constanta, Romania:  This city is the country’s oldest continually inhabited city.  It dates back more than 2,300 years.  It has a population of approximately 285,000 and is the fifth most populated city in Romania.  The Port of Constanta is the largest port on the Black Sea and one of the largest in Europe.

We toured the historical area of Constanta, beginning with the The National Museum of History and Archaeology.  The Glykon Snake is considered a unique piece in the world, representing a deity of the Romanian mythology (2nd century BC).


Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul:  Built between 1883 and 1885 it was the first Orthodox settlement built in the area of Constanta after the release from Ottoman domination.  The inside of the Cathedral is remarkably beautiful. 


I think Jim is walking with a bounce to his step today!


 Then a visit to Mamaia Beach on The Black Sea.


Our farewell dinner and our farewell to the Captain, hotel manager & tour directors on the awesome MS River Aria.


 We disembarked the River Aria one last time and went by coach to Bucharest, Romania.  I have to share this fascinating poster that I saw in a restroom at a truck stop on the highway as we en route to Bucharest.  Don’t know if it’s a left-over from Communist times or what. 


Bucharest, Romania:  It is the capital and largest city of Romania, as well as its cultural, industrial, and financial center.  It has a population of approximately 1,900,000 within its city limits.  The late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was all about fine architectural buildings and broad tree lined avenues, so we saw all of this in our bus tour of the city.


Palace of the Parliament:  It’s the seat of the Parliament of Romania and the it is the second largest administrative building in the world (after the Pentagon in the United States).   It was former dictator Ceausescu’s most infamous creation.  Ceausescu had between 20,000 and 100,000 workers on the project.  It is said that thousands of workers died here.  This 3,000 room palace was built in 1984 and is still unfinished.  A picture from the front and from the back shows how huge this building is. 


Revolution Square:  This is the building on what is now called Revolution Square where Dictator Ceausescu stood on the balcony in front of 100,000 people that had been forced to come listen to him.  He was overtaken by the crowd during the Romanian Revolution of 1989.


 The Romanian Revolution, Dec, 1989:  It started in the city of Timisoara and soon spread throughout the country, ending when Dictator Ceausescu was giving a speech in Bucharest to 100,000 people.  The crowd began chanting anti-government slogans & booing, and violence erupted on the streets with more than 1,100 people were killed. The Ceausescus escaped by helicopter, but were captured.  After a one-hour trail, the Ceausescus were found guilty of genocide and other crimes, and killed by a firing squad.  Thus ended 42 years of Communist rule in Romania with Ceausescu ruling Romania for the last 21 years of the 42 years.  He earned the reputation as being a brutal dictator. 

This man, 27 years ago, was one of the people that led the Romanian Revolution.  He is showing us the picture of him (front & center) on a captured military vehicle.  GCT arranged for this hero to tell us about communist times.  He told of the brutality the people of Bucharest endured; the freezing cold with no heat, no food, very little water, cruelty, and among other things you couldn’t even be in a group of over five people or you would be shot. 


I copied this photo from Wikipedia, and the caption reads, “Protesters rejoice after taking control of a military vehicle in Bucharest.”  Our guest speaker is front & center on this vehicle.


  On this trip we traveled in Eastern Europe, and in every area we learned of the atrocity and horror many and most of the people endured from the time of Hitler; to countries being occupied by tyrants; and through the time of Communist rule.  The Eastern European’s are a strong and resilient people to be admired.  Not only did we learn their history first hand from many remarkable people, we also saw and enjoyed the wonderful, beautiful area in which they live. 

Here in America twenty-seven years ago Jim & I were happily going about our daily life and raising our children in freedom, not giving much thought to the struggles of the Eastern European people.  People….stand tall for freedom and daily thank those that have protected, and those that continue to protect our freedom.  God bless freedom and God bless America!

Posted May 4, 2016 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Easter Weekend in Austria with Family   6 comments

Easter Weekend in Austria with Family

Vienna, Burg Liechtenstein, Burg Plankenstein, Schallaburg Castle, Burgruine Aggstein, Spitz and Durstein.

March 26 – 29, 2016


What could be more fun than visiting in Austria when your daughter and son-in-law live in Vienna?  This time we decided to pass through Vienna on our way to join a river cruise that began in Budapest, Hungary and went to Bucharest, Romania.  Our oldest son, Eric, and Jim & I arrived in Vienna on Saturday March 26, 2016, of Easter weekend.  The first order of business was to go to the Easter Markets in Vienna.  And we all know that with this family, it will involve eating!


Fun times!


Next Kellee needed to buy decorated Easter Eggs, there were so many beautiful eggs to select from.



The Vienna kids rented a car and we all loaded up and headed out of Vienna to enjoy some time in the countryside.  Our ultimate goal was the Wachau Valley and to stay two nights in a ancient restored castle.  So off we went!  Following the red arrows on the google map below it shows we left Vienna and drove to Burg Liechtenstein and then to Berg Plankenstein.  The next morning we went to Schallaburg Castle, Burgruine Aggstein and then back to Berg Plankenstein.  After a another delightful night staying at Berg Plankenstein, the next morning we drove to the Danube town of Spitz, then the Danube town of Durnstein, and late that afternoon drove back to Vienna. 

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Liechtenstein Castle:    Our first stop was before the Wachau at the Liechtenstein Castle.  It was less than an hours drive from Vienna.  The Castle is located at the edge of the Viennese Forest.  The original castle was built in 12th century, and was destroyed by the Ottomans in 1529 and 1683.  The Castle was the seat of the Liechtenstein dynasty until 1295, when it passed out of the family.  In 1807 Prince Johann Josef I of Liechtenstein reacquired control of the Castle for his family, and it has remained their possession since.  It was rebuilt in 1884, and this is the castle we see today.  (Pictures were not allowed inside the castle.)



The Wachau Valley: This is the name given to the 20 miles stretch of the Danube between the towns of Melk and Krems, Austria.  This is where the river cuts a narrow, rocky valley between the foothills of the Bohemian Forest and the Dunkelsteiner Wald.   This area is considered the most beautiful part of the Danube.  This valley is noted for its many ancient little towns nestling below historic old castles and castle ruins. At the time of the Renaissance, some 31 monasteries were known to have operated here.  (We didn’t tour Melk, because we had all been there previously.)

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So, this family toured this magnificent part of the Danube.  Jim and I have seen this area by boat and by train, but never in an automobile.  So thanks, to our son-in-law we’ve done that now.  It was a grand tour.  We started this adventure by staying in a castle.  So…in the Wachau Valley we stayed in a castle, visited a castle, explored a castle ruin, and wandered the streets of the ancient towns of Durnstein & Krems.  The drive along the little country roads also contained many fun discoveries.  And we managed to do all of this on Easter weekend from Friday evening to Monday evening. 


Berg Plankenstein:  We stayed two nights in this historic, 800 year old castle.  It was definitely off the beaten path on the top of a hill about a 30 minute drive from the village of Melk, Austria and the Danube River.  Burg Plankenstein offered individually furnished rooms with ensuite bathrooms, and heat registers in every room.  The rooms weren’t luxury but they were clean and comfortable.  How often does one have the opportunity to stay in a real castle?  I booked it on  I loved our stay in this centuries old castle! 


First we climbed the circular stairway up the castle turret two levels to our rooms.  Our rooms were grouped together in this part of the castle.  Somewhere along the way we found a big banquet room for dinners & receptions. 


The reception & tavern area were all very cozy.



We enjoyed dinner both evenings at the castle.  They served traditional Austrian and regional dishes at the castle tavern.  And there was ample time for a few hands of cards after dinner.


The breakfasts were very good and the castle cat enjoyed watching us eat. 



Schallaburg Castle:  Located about 3 miles south of Melk stands this 900 year old castle.  This castle is considered the most important piece of Renaissance architecture in Lower Austria due to the rich terracotta decoration on the two story arcaded courtyard. The castle dates back to the Middle Ages.  It is a combination of a Italian Renaissance residential castle and a Gothic chapel.  It was originally built as a defensive stronghold, then redesigned as a princely seat at the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era.



The castle features elegant staircases and numerous terracotta decorations depicting characters from mythology.



The Gothic Chapel.



Some of our group is listening to the auto guides and trying to learn some history, others are not.  


Another inner courtyard and a view of the countryside from the castle. 


The castle garden & a picture of us at the garden mirror. 




Berg Aggstein:  About 10 miles north along the Danube from Melk is the ruins of Aggstein Castle (Burgruine Aggstein).  It stands high above the shores of the Danube River on a steep cliff and it is built on a massive long rock.  The castle was founded in 1231, and was destroyed and rebuilt several times.  The surviving sections include parts of the dining hall, kitchen, chapel, towers and its mighty walls.  The castle is known as the place where the Kuenringer (robber barons) lived.  They are alleged to have captured ships traveling downriver with an iron chain stretched across the Danube.



And time for a little refreshment.


We all really enjoyed climbing around and looking at all of the castle ruins. 


The castle chapel and then a picture of the castle toilet. The contents would just drop down to the level below. 


Recent findings allow dating of the oldest remains of walls of the castle ruins Aggstein to the 
period around 1200.


One can see that below the castle is the Danube River and can imagine how the Kuenringer (robber barons) captured ships traveling downriver with an iron chain stretched across the Danube.


Our pleasant drove through the Wachau Valley.


Loved the frog crossing signs we saw along the way!


Spitz town on the Danube:  It’s located on the left bank of the Danube. This old market village, has been occupied since the time of the Celts and was first mentioned in 830 AD.  It’s known for the vineyards rising above it, and the Late Gothic church of St. Maurice.  In the church is a carved group of Apostles from 1380 and an altarpiece by Kremser Schmidt on the high altar. Sitting above the town is the ruins of the Hinterhaus Fortress.


The Late Gothic church of St. Maurice.


Inside St. Maurice we saw “The apostles” which date back to 1380.


This is the altarpiece by Kremser Schmidt on the high altar and another picture of the very pretty church. 


Spitz is famous for its production of apricots.  They even have an “Apricot Festival” in July.  The apricots are available as dumplings, cakes, strudels, marmalades, fruit stews or fruity and delicious brandies.  We tried out the liquid apricot.


Durstein:  This was our last stop on our Wachau Valley adventure.  Durnstein was first mentioned in 1019 and gained notoriety in 1192 when Richard the Lionheart was held captive in the castle by Duke Lepold V of Austria.  Durnstein is well-known for its wineries and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Wachau region. 


Durstein Castle ruin sits above the town.  We didn’t hike up to it. 


And you wonder….what could possibly be going on to have this group watching so intently?  Well, I guess we were all trying to figure out how a car was going to ever get out of a tiny area that it had been wedged into by numerous other cars.  And yes, after considerable maneuvering it went purring on down the by-way.  It doesn’t always take a lot to get the attention of this family!


The best and most memorable times in the world…..are with family!


Then the family happily loaded up into the car and Jim B drove us back to Vienna.  Jim, Eric & I spent the night with Jim & Kellee then early the next morning caught a train from Vienna to Budapest to begin our next adventure which was from Budapest, Hungary to Bucharest, Romania by river boat.  That blog will be my next post. 

Posted April 25, 2016 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Fall in Europe: Austria & Germany with Family & Friends (Part 2)   4 comments


Fall in Europe:  Austria & Germany with Family & Friends (Part 2)

Vienna, Austria; Fussen, Rothenburg, Braubach, Cochem & Frankfurt, Germany

Sept. 25 – Oct. 9, 2015

Part 2 begins with our good friends, Mark & Karen joining us in Vienna, Austria.  Very early that morning our first part of “Fall in Europe with Family” had come to a conclusion with Keith & Marilyn going to Italy by train, and Derick & Chelsea flying home after having already been in Europe for over two weeks.  Thus, it’s the beginning of more fun times.


St. Stephens Cathedral:  It was originally built between 1369 & 1433.  Today, it is one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria.  This is my favorite site in Vienna, so it was the first place that we took our friends. 


The Weiner Neustadt Altarpiece:  (1447) It’s considered one of the greatest treasures.  Richly gilded & painted, it depicts the Virgin Mary in the center between St. Catherine & St. Barbara. 


Vienna Wine Hiking Day:  Vienna’s wine mountains & vineyards can be discovered every year in the autumn on the wine hiking trail.  And….there was ample opportunity to sample wines.  Karen & I particularly enjoyed the Sturm (young wine) because it was very sweet.


A rather pretty stroll on a fall day outside of Vienna.  We started out with a quickness to our step.  But later some of us weren’t as “quick”. 


When you stop to sample the wine there is also the opportunity to buy a snack to go with the wine.  Karen may not be entirely thrilled with my selection of our snack.


This is the map of our wine tour hike.  Supposedly we did the one that had more downhill than uphill.  I wouldn’t bet on that!


Time for more refreshments!


  After all of our walking we were really hungry.  Time for a pig roast in Austria!


Hands down, this was the best Sturm of the day.  They had to pull Karen & I away… we could walk some more. 


Are we there yet?  Jim B is showing off.  Trying to impress us with the “quickness of his step”!


 Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial:  This is the central memorial for the Austrian victims of the Holocaust.  Thousands of inverted books, representing lives of the lost Austrian Jews, line the exterior.


The Wiener Staatsoper (opera house), dates from 1869.  This was rather a “bust”.  I thought I had cheap tickets to a matinee.  But it turned out to be a round-table discussion (in German) of the upcoming performances.  This is what happens when you book on line and you don’t bother to translate everything.  Well, we got to sit in the expensive seats for cheap, and we got to see the beautiful opera house.


The best part of the morning was the ice cream.


A delicious dinner compliments of my favorite son-in-law.


Augustinian Church:  Built into the Hofburg, this is the Gothic & Neo-Gothic church used by the Habsburgs as their court church and also for weddings.  This is where Emperor Franz Joseph I & Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) were married. 


Imperial Crypt:  It’s located in Neuer Markt square near the Hofburg Palace.  Since 1633 it’s been the principal place of entombment for members of the House of Habsburg.  The bones of 145 Habsburg royalty (including 12 emperors & 18 empresses) are in this crypt. 


The Imperial Treasury, Vienna:  It’s located in the Hofburg Palace and contains over a thousand years of European history.  The collection, housed in 21 rooms, contains rare treasures that were compiled by the Imperial House of Habsburg.  The collection includes the Imperial Crown, orb, and Sceptre of Austia and Imperial Regalia of the Emperors & Kings of the Holy Roman Empire. 


Agate Bowl:  This is my favorite item in the museum.  The Agate bowl dates from the 4th century & is believed to have been created at the court of Constantine.  The Agate Bowl is the largest carved stone bowl in the world, (it is 30 inches wide, including the handles) and for centuries has been regarded as the greatest masterpiece in the museum.  In 1564, Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II, declared it to be an inalienable heirloom. They saw the “natural miracle” in the stone with a mysterious inscription—the name XRISTO (Christ) at the bottom of the bowl within the grain.  It is now generally believed that the inscription inspired the legend that the bowl was the Holy Grail.  


It’s always time for ice cream.  We are enjoying our ice cream & my Radler Citrus in the courtyard of the Hapsburg Palace. 


Demel Eiscreme:  The famous bakery in Vienna that provided their specialties to the Habsburg Imperial & Royal Court.  Kellee bought a couple things & I didn’t think they were so great, but the shop was a beauty. 


Suddenly it is time to bid farewell to Vienna & Jim & Kellee.  Our last evening in Vienna is spent in an Italian restaurant.  Our next adventure is Germany by train. 


Germany by Train:  My handy google map shows the general route of our train adventure, which began in Vienna, Austria, to Munich, Germany, sight seeing in Germany & concluding in Frankfurt.   I will add right here & now that the German trains (DB Bahn) & we four Kansas people did very well & got along just fine.  In order to save money I had already purchased a few “saver fares” on line.  I was very proud of my early saver fare for first leg of our journey from Vienna to Munich on a direct four hour ride.

However, that didn’t come to pass.  Germany had closed its borders to more Syrian refugees and had also canceled that direct route between Vienna & Munich.  DB Bahn rerouted us indirectly with many train transfers.  As it turned out most of the train was full of Syrian refugees, and they all transferred trains with us until the transfer stop in Passau, Germany.  We Kansas people transferred to a train going to Munich, Germany, but security put the refugees behind a fence, I guess to be processed.  Still wonder where they all ended up.  The entire situation is very sad, and a challenge for all governments concerned. 

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Our Germany Itinerary of “Fairytale towns & Medieval Castles”:    We stayed two nights in (1)Fussen.  From there we went to (2)Rothenburg and also spent two nights.  After Rothenburg to the tiny Rhine town of (3)Braubach for one night.  Then to (4)Cochem where we spent four nights.  Our last stay was one night at an airport hotel in (5)Frankfurt.  My itinerary turned out to be pretty good.  At each town we stayed in a great location in the old town and ventured out from there. 

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We finally arrived in Munich, Germany and transferred to a train to Fussen, Germany.  With our changed train route we were finally in Fussen in the late afternoon, after having left Vienna at 8 that morning.  Now let the Germany fun begin!

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 Fussen, Germany:  The little medieval city in Bavaria is only a few miles from two famous castles, Neuschwanstein & Hohenschwangau.  We stayed right in this old market square and enjoyed the cute town.


Karen & I just had to try the Schneeballen (snowballs).  They were featured items in the bakery windows both here & in Rothenburg.  We weren’t too crazy about these fried balls of pie crust, because they were very dry & not very sweet.


We found a delightful place to eat, and the meal even came with bibs!  It was a bit cool in Fussen, so some of us ended up with new hats, gloves & jackets. 



Hohenschwangau Castle:  This was the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria & was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria.  The castle was built on a historic fortress site from 1832-1837.   After the death of King Maximilian in 1846, Ludwig lived in Hohenschwangau.  In 1869 he had his own castle, Neuschwanstein, built only a stone’s throw from his parental home. 


Fog had really set in and we could barely see Neuschwanstein Castle. 


No photos were allowed in the castle except in the first room & the last room.



  Neuschwanstein Castle:  It may be the most famous & most photographed castle in the world.  It was built from 1869-1892 & was financed from King Ludwig’s own funds.  The castle was dedicated to the life & work of Ludwig’s dear friend, Richard Wagner, who died in 1883 before he had set foot in the building.  Ludwig only lived in the palace a short time before he died in 1886.  Ludwig died under mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.  The castle had been built to be a private refuge, but seven weeks after the death of King Ludwig II, Neuschwanstein was opened to the public.  Every year 1.4 million people visit this castle.

We took a shuttle bus up the mountain, but still had a pretty fair walk getting on up to the castle. 


It was a grey threatening day, but it never did rain.  It was a bit cool, but our extensive walking kept us warm. 


No photos were allowed inside the castle except in this room with the castle replica.  It really puts into prospective how massive the Neuschwanstein Castle is.  Then we walked all the way down to the town.  We had a nice lunch before going back to Fussen. 


 On DB Bahn: (German Train) One can purchase regional day tickets for a very reasonable price.  We bought Bavaria regional day tickets, boarded the train and away we went from Fussen to Rothenburg.  It was about 235 miles, took us 4.5 hours and we had 3 transfers to make. 

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany:   We absolutely loved this beautiful old medieval city.  Seeing the original buildings it was like a trip back in time to the Middle Ages.  It’s considered to be Germany’s best-preserved walled town and one of the most perfect walled cities in Europe.   It’s so perfect, so picturesque, so darling that it doesn’t seem possible.  It is a joy to stroll around Rothenburg, taking time to enjoy the the defensive towers, town gates, half-timbered medieval houses, the cobble stone streets, and the marketplace that seems to be right out of a fairy-tale.  


Our favorite little hotel on our trip was the Hotel Restaurant Alter Keller, which I booked from We loved the medieval building that came complete with creaking floors. 


Looking out our window to the charming street.


The Rothenburg Marktplatz:  This is where it all happens, both then and now. 


Ratstrinkstube Town Hall on Marktplatz:  According to the story, in 1631, the mayor saved the town from destruction at the hands of troops of General Tilly by winning a wager by drinking 3 1/4 liters of Franconian wine.  So…every hour on the hour, the clockwork figures on the clock above the Ratstrinkstube entertain the public with the key scene from the legend of the Master Draught. 


Town Hall & Tower:  At 200 feet it’s Rothenburg’s tallest spire.  The old town hall dates to the 13th-century. 


Gasthof Goldener Greifen:  A delicious meal & a cheerful waitress at a restaurant recommended in the Rick Steves Germany 2015 book. 


Tour with the Nightwatchman:  We followed the guy in the black cloak carrying a lantern.  The tour (7 Euro) started at 8 pm & it was informative & entertaining as we followed him through dark alleyways & across dimly lit squares.  We listened and found out how the people lived in the Middle Ages.  Highly recommend this tour. 


Walking the Wall:  This 1.5 mile walk on the centuries old town wall was splendid.  From the wooden walkway on the 14th century city walls, the red roofs of the picturesque town and the steeples of the 14th century St. Jakob’s Church stretch below.  Our walk on the wall began at the end of this street.


You can’t help but ask yourself if time has stood still, as you stroll past all of this beauty.  Wonderful, splendid Rothenburg, Germany!

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      Our next stop on our itinerary was Braubach, Germany.   From Rothenburg to Braubach, it was about 185 miles, 4.5 hours and we had to make three transfers.   We needed to leave our Alter Keller Hotel before breakfast was served, but the kind proprietor volunteered to pack us this huge breakfast to eat on the train. 

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We transferred at the big train station in Frankfurt, where we got on a train to Koblenz, then in Koblenz & transferred to a local train to Braubach.


Braubach, Germany:  It’s a small town along the Rhine River with a population of approximately 3,000.  It is a cute little town with medieval architecture intact, including half-timbered buildings, portions of the town wall and the Marksburg Castle on the hill above.  Braubach dates back to the early 1200’s.  During my research I discovered that Braubach would be celebrating “Winzerfest Braubach am Rhein” on the exact date that we would be along the Rhine.  With an open day/night, my love of small towns, a unique festival, and finding a zimmer with two available rooms….it was “let’s do it!” (This photo is compliments of Jurgen.)   


Privatzimmer Metz:  We have new German friends in Jurgen & Brigitte.  We stayed at their zimmer and they were a delight.  Through google translator I emailed Jergen to make the arrangements.  Nothing to do but they meet us at the train station to walk us to the zimmer. I told him to just watch for four old Americans, and he said “we are two old Germans”.  That was just the beginning of their sweet hospitality.  Late that night we even all got to watch the fireworks together on the upstairs balcony.


Loved the little town and all the merriment with the Winterzest.  From our zimmer it was literally out the door and you are in the town center.  Our first merriment was the oom-pah band that was playing in this tiny building.  Later that evening we joined the festivities with the locals & oom-pah.


Right around the corner & more fun.

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Braubach is located right beside the Rhine River.  We walked across the street & the parking lot to take a look at the river and also got some pictures of Marksburg Castle that sits above the town.  We visited the castle the next morning. 


Later that evening was a parade that made it’s way along the tiny medieval streets.  The last event of the night was a big fireworks display, which we watched with our friends, Jurgen & Brigitte.


Marksburg Castle:  It is one of the main sites that make up the UNESCO World Heritage Rhine Gorge.  This castle was built around 1117 to protect the town of Braubach & to reinforce the customs facilities on the Rhine.  This is the only castle on the Rhine that has never been destroyed.  We had planned to ride up to the castle on the little tourist train, but it didn’t seem to be in operation.  So, don’t tell anyone, but we took a taxi to the castle.  It actually turned out to be cheaper than the tourist train would have cost, and we felt we had been getting plenty of exercise.  


We entered Markburgs Castle through a covered entrance with roughed in steps carved right the slate floor. 


The Great Battery:  Houses the cannons that aim out over the lower Rhine protecting the castle & the town of Braubach. 


   This is looking from the castle down at Braubach & the Rhine River.


Giant wine barrels are located in the cellar. 


  The residential apartments included furniture of what it was like back in the day.  They also had indoor toilets.


Back to Braubach & one more eating opportunity at the festival.  We had so much fun in Braubach & Jurgen & Briditte are our new friends.


Here comes the train, let’s get on it & head to our next destination, Cochem.  Cochem was only about 35 miles away with one transfer in Koblenz, and we were there in about an hour. 

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 Cochem, Germany:  Located on the Moselle river in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany.  It has a population of about 5,000.  As early as Celtic & Roman times, Cochem was settled.  In 1232 it was granted town rights.  Shortly after that, the town fortifications were built and they still stand today.  Cochem sits on both side of the river.  This is the historical side & we stayed on this side. The Reichsburg Castle overlooks the town of Cochem. 


Market Square in Cochem.


 Reichsburg Castle:  The original castle from the 12th century was destroyed in 1689.  It remained a ruin until a wealthy Berlin businessman bought it and rebuild the castle in 1868.  He created a neo-Gothic castle that could serve as a summer residence for his family. (No photos were allowed inside.) 


Overlooking Cochem from Reichburg Castle.


Burg Eltz:  We used the home base of Cochem to explore areas along the Moselle.  In “Rick Steves, Germany 2015”, Steves declares that his favorite castle in all of Europe is Burg Eltz.  He also mentions that the scenic 1.5 hour walk up the Elz Valley to the castle makes a great half-day outing.  Burg Eltz is located outside the town of Moselkern and Moselkern is a short train ride from Cochem.  So off we went!   First we walked from the train station to the base of the mountain trail, stopped to eat delicious onion soup, then on up to the castle.  It may have taken us a little longer, but Rick Steves, we did it, we are quite the hikers you know!


Finally after what seemed to be much longer than Rick Steves mentioned, we caught a glimpse of the castle….and that gave us hope. 


Then down & back up again.


We are here!  And all in the same day!


Burg Eltz:  The first record of Burg Eltz is from 1157.  By about 1490, the castle looked like it does today.  It was the homes of three big landlord families gathered around a tiny courtyard and all within the fortification.  We did a 45-minute tour of the castle.  It has 80 rooms, 40 fireplaces, & 20 toilets flashed by a rain drain.  It was decorated & furnished much as it was 500 years ago.  (Photos were not allowed inside.) 



Now it’s time to head back down the mountain, so we can get there before dark. LOL


   As per “Rick Steves, Germany 2015” Beilstein is the quaintest of all Mosel towns.  So Beilstein here comes the four from Kansas.  We chose to cruise from Cochem to Beilstein and thoroughly enjoyed seeing all the vineyards located along the River Moselle. 


Going through the lock between Cochem & Beilstein.


Beilstein, Germany:    It is a beauty!  Beilstein was granted town privileges in 1309.  The town has approximately 180 residents, about 30 guesthouses & eateries, one bus stop and no train station.  Beilstein is so well-preserved because it was essentially inaccessible by road until about 1900.  It was absolutely delightful!


Lunch in a wine cellar.


More of the fairy-tale town. 


Metternich Castle:  The castle, now in ruins, is located above Beilstein.  The history of the castle goes back to 1268, and some historians think as early as 1129.  In the 1600’s, the Earl of Beilstein ruled from this castle above town.  He built the Altes Zollhaus in 1634 to levy tolls from river traffic.  In 1689, during the Nine Years War, the castle was destroyed by French troops. 


Great fun.  Great family.  Great friends.  Great everything!  Keep on traveling!

Posted November 2, 2015 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Fall in Europe: Austria with Family (Part 1)   2 comments

Fall in Europe:  Austria with Family (Part I)

Vienna, Hallstatt, Salzburg, Berchtesgaden & Melk, Austria

Sept. 18 – 28, 2015

It’s a grand time to vacation in Austria when our daughter & husband live in Vienna.  Since our last visit was Dec. 2014, we decided it was high time we go there again.  In Dec. we were in Vienna with three of our four children, and this time the youngest son & wife (Derick & Chelsea) and my brother & wife (Keith & Marilyn) got to participate in the joys of Austria.  So this is Part I of my Fall in Europe Blog.  The Part II of our Fall in Europe Blog will be “Austria & Germany with Family & Friends”.  Our good friends, Mark & Karen arrived to experience the fun times of Vienna & Germany. 


Saturday morning grocery shopping in Vienna with Kellee.


Celebrating Kellee’s birthday at a Heuriger. 


  Heuriger:  The name given to Austrian wine taverns in which specially licensed local winemakers serve their most recent year’s wines for short periods following the growing season.  However, the Heurigen has evolved into year-round ventures serving full meals, usually  accompanied by traditional Viennese music played on the accordion and violin. 


Dirndl & Lederhosen:  It’s the traditional dress found in Austria & the Alpine regions of Germany.  Originally, the dirndl was the working dress of female servants.  Around 1870-1880, the upper classes adopted the Dirndl as a modern dress and wore it on their summer holidays.  The lederhosen were the working trouser for the male peasantry.  Today the wearing of the dirndl & lederhosen is generally regarded as a sign of national pride & tradition. 

The evening was complete with the wearing of lederhosen & dirndl’s. 


  The Heurigensanger serenading the birthday girl.  


We moved inside, and then, the incident.  Well, you would have had to be there……  And yes, that’s my brother!


It was such a fun birthday celebration with friends & family.


The Hofburg Palace:  The former imperial palace in the center of Vienna.  It is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.  It was built in the 13th century and has expanded over the centuries.  It has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty. 


Augustinian Church:  Built into the Hofburg, this is the Gothic & Neo-Gothic church used by the Habsburgs as their court church and also for weddings.  This is where Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi) were married.   We attended Mass here Sunday morning and particularly enjoyed listening to the choir. 


Vienna is a beautiful city.


Lunch on a sunny day along the Danube Canal in Vienna.  Most canal restaurants are already closed for the winter.


St. Rupert’s in considered the oldest church in Vienna, it is first referenced in a document from 1200.  During the Middle Ages, the church was the seat of the Salt Office, which distributed salt to individual buyers & ensured its quality.  The huge St. Stephens Cathedral was built 1339-1365. 


So did my brother think he could find Captain Morgan here?



When in Vienna one can’t pass up the opportunity to go to The Wiener Staatsoper (opera house).    The beautiful opera house dates from 1869.  How about standing room tickets for 4 Euro?  We were on the front standing row, and one act was enough to “get the experience.” 


Train ride from Vienna to Hallstatt, Austria.  It took about 4 hours with transfers.  Below are photos out the train window.  The Austrian lake area scenery was beautiful.   Hallstatt is located in Upper Austria, on Hallstatter See (a lake), and has a population of less than 1,000. 


 The train arrives across the water from Hallstatt.  A ferry takes you to the beautiful town.


Hallstatt, Austria:   Hallstatt, Austria’s oldest village, is nestled between the edge of Hallstatter See & the towering Dachstein mountains.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Jim has declared it to be one of the prettiest places he has seen.  Hallstatt is known for its production of salt, dating back to prehistoric time.  Salt was a valuable resource, so the region was historically very wealthy. 


Of course our first order of business was to eat and to eat in a scenic place.


Catholic Church:  Overlooks the town from above.  The first pictures is looking up towards the Catholic Church on the side of the hill, and the next photos we are walking up to it.   


Info indicates that the Catholic Church dates back to about 1181.  By 1505 the church had been completed, despite difficulties in building such a stunning masterpiece on top of vertical rock. 


The church has twin altars. The one of the right dates to 1515 & is dedicated to Mary, who’s flanked by St. Barbara & St. Catherine.


Beinhaus:  …or “Bone House”.  Next to the Catholic Church stands the 12th century Chapel of St. Michael.  Its bone chapel contains more than 600 skulls.  With Hallstatt pinned between mountains & a lake, there was little room to bury people. After being in the ground 12 years, they were dug up to make room for new burials.  Each has been decorated and marked with the deceased’s name and date of death and stored in St. Michael’s Chapel. 


 As I mentioned, the Catholic Church overlooks the little town of Hallstatt.  It was beautiful site to behold.


The Protestant Church of Hallstatt:  In 1860, Emperor Franz Josef finally allowed non-Catholic Christians to build churches.  in 1863, Hallstatt’s miners pooled their resources and built this fine church.  It’s located right off Market Square. 


Market Square:  The market square of the UNESCO World Heritage town is definitely a picturesque area of Hallstatt. Each year guests from around the world meet at the historic square.  The square is surrounded by picturesque little houses.  In the center of the square stands the mighty Holy Trinity statue.

And here we are!


Looking off the balcony of our little hotel which was located right next to Market Square.


Salzwelten (Salt Mine) Hallstatt:  Hallstatt claims this to be the oldest salt mine in the world.  This underground world was first dug by hand more than 3,000 years ago. 


Hallstatt High Valley:  This was the working area and habitat of the salt miners & their families.  Graves were discovered by accident in 1846.  Detailed records of the excavations were kept.  These findings eventually gave its name to an entire era:  the early Iron Age (800-400 BC), now known as the “Hallstatt period”.  An interesting story:  Miners discovered the well-preserved corpse of a man.  This corpse led to the conclusion that the find was hundreds of years old and he was subsequently buried as a heathen outside the graveyard walls.  Today it is believed that the man was a victim of a mining accident as early as 1.000 BC. 

To get to the salt mine we first took a funicular, then walked some distance on up the mountain to the mine.


On the trail we passed a glass case with 2,500-year-old bones.


After dressing in our miner’s suits we went into the mine and through a long tunnel.  Here we have Keith & Marilyn in front of the ancient mine in their “miner’s suits”.  Our guide escorted us down a tunnel that was dug in 1719.  We saw mining techniques and a subterranean lake.  At the last we straddled a board which was called a train and rode it to the end of the exit tunnel.


Not once but twice we got to slide down banisters to a lower level of the mine.  Then at the end we had the opportunity to buy the photo, which also had also clocked our speed. 

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UNESCO World Heritage:  The Hallstatt-Dachstein alpine landscape, a part of the Eastern Alps, is one of visual drama with huge mountains rising abruptly from narrow valleys.  Its prosperity since medieval times has been based on salt mining, focused on the town of Hallstatt. 


Overlooking Hallstatt


Talk about a scenic place to have a bite to eat and the best Radler (Stiegl) in all of Austria & Germany….this is it!


 Waiting for the train to take us from Hallstatt to Salzburg.  Bye-bye Hallstatt, it was grand.  One of my favorite places in the world!



 Salzburg, Austria:  Standing beside the Salzach River, the Altstadt’s (old-town) domes & spires and the cliff-top fortress and mountains beyond make it a fairy-tale city.  The city is forever smiling to the tunes of Mozart and to the The Sound of Music.  During our time in Salzburg we didn’t enjoy the rain, but we still saw lots. 


One of the highlights of the rainy day was finally finding one of Rick Steve’s recommended restaurants, Gasthaus zum Wilden Mann.  Interestingly enough this is what it says in Rick’s book & I will quote, “this is the place if the weather’s bad and you’re in the mood for a hearty, cheap meal at a shared table in one well-antlered room.”  The meal was as good as promised. 


We even got a picture with Robert the owner, Derick & the Rick Steves book.  Rick also mentioned that he simply loves this place. 


So will Marilyn ever speak to me again?  Good to the last drop!


St. Peter’s Churchyard:  We found the grave of Major General Harry J. Collins.  My brother Glen, served under Collins in WWII, in the famed 42nd Rainbow Division.  The 42nd Division was credited with the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.  Glen never spoke of it, but he was my hero.   


    Berchtesgaden, Germany:  Adolf Hitler loved this corner of Bavaria.  It is here that in the 1920’s, just out of prision, Hitler finished his work on his memoir and Nazi primer, Mein Kampf.  In the 1930’s this is where Hitler had his mountain retreat, The Eagle’s Nest, built.  We were disappointed because of the rain, all excursions to the Eagle’s Nest were cancelled. 


Obersalzberg Documentation Center & Bunker:  This museum was opened in the 1990’s.  I thought the highlight was the bunker system, since the other rooms where all in German.  Construction on the bunker began in 1943.  It is an underground town, which held meeting rooms, offices, archives for the government, and lavish living quarter for Hitler, all connected by four miles of tunnels cut through solid rock by slave labor. 


Our next train ride on OBB (the Austrian train) was from Salzburg to Melk, Austria.  It took about 2 1/2 hours. 


  Melk Abbey, Melk, Austria:  On my, the grandeur of the Baroque Melk Abbey! It is a massive Benedictine monastery, which was founded in 1089 in a medieval fortress belonging to the House of Babenberg. After 1,000 years it’s still functioning as an abbey and school today.  Our first stop on our tour of Melk Abbey was the Abbey Museum which is located in the imperial rooms. 


From the Museum we went into to the Marble Hall which was the imperial banqueting chamber in the high baroque style.  The walls and ceiling are magnificently decorated.  The ceiling fresco was painted in 1731.


The Abbey library rises two floors and also has a beautifully painted ceiling.  It contains approximately 80,000 volumes of priceless works, from the 9th through the 15th centuries.  (No photos were allowed in the library.  I copied this from Wikipedia where the holder of the photo has released it into the public domain).


Before entering the Church at Melk Abbey one can overlook the Danube and the pretty little town of Melk.


The highlight of the baroque monastery is the awesomely beautiful church.



A great lunch in the cute little town of Melk, then a direct one-hour train ride to Vienna. 


Back to Vienna and one last sit-down family visit.  The next morning we parted company.  Derick & Chelsea had already been to Prague & Bratislava so they flew home.  Keith & Marilyn went by train to Venice, Italy, & spent another week in Venice & in Tuscany.  Jim & I met Mark & Karen at the airport and yes, Jim & Kellee went to work.  An awesome “Fall in Europe:  Austria with Family”. 


Posted October 23, 2015 by marilynfarmer in Travel

WY & SD Road Trip with Friends   11 comments

WY & SD Road Trip with Friends

July 18 – 25, 2015

Initially this foursome of good friends decided that we have all wanted to see Mt. Rushmore and this summer was the time to do it.  And as usual one thing led to another.  We had some pretty good ideas of what all we wanted to do, but one day I realized that the Cheyenne WY Frontier Days & “Daddy of ‘em All” rodeo would be in full swing during that same time frame.  Well…we all agreed,  “heck, yes, let’s do that too.”  So off we went!


So about 2,200+ miles later we had gone from home to Ogallala, NE; Ogallala to Cheyenne Rodeo; Cheyenne Rodeo to Hisega Lodge, SD; traversed all around the Black Hills; from Hisega Lodge to Badlands Lodge;  traversed the Badlands; Badlands Lodge to Sioux Falls SD; Sioux Falls to Home.  Add the scenery and four bestest friends and that equals lots and lots of fun. 

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Cheyenne Frontier Days:  The Daddy of ‘em All has been happening since 1897.  It’s billed as the world’s largest outdoor rodeo and Western Celebration.  It started with a bunch of cowboys doing bronco busting and steer roping contests.  After the fun they’d stay around to sort cattle and brand calves.  Everyone liked it so much that it expanded into two days and a parade.  More than 100 years later, Cheyenne Frontier Days is a 10-day festival featuring the world’s best PRCA rodeo action, night shows, parades, food and family fun. 


A map of the Cheyenne Frontier Days area:  It’s a 100-acre park with barns, grandstands for 19,000 people, exhibit halls, food facilities and arenas.  The info indicates that they have a force of 2,500 volunteers that won’t let the event be anything but the best.  Our group of four agree whole-heartedly with that.  We all commented that we had never been around of group of more friendly and helpful individuals, from the time we purchased tickets on the phone until we drove away that evening. 

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 We arrived at Cheyenne on Sunday morning so we took advantage of the opportunity to go to Cowboy Church in the rodeo grandstand.  Susie McEntire was the featured singer.  She sounds much like her older sister, Reba.


To open the Rodeo festivities the U.S. Navy Seabees parachuted into the rodeo arena.  Spectacular!  The presentation of the American Flag was amazing!


We watched bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, steer wrestling, steer roping, team roping, tie down roping & barrel racing. 


Something we had never seen before was a Wild Horse Race.  Teams of three attempted to saddle an unbroken horse and ride it once around the track.  That was a lot of fun to watch. 


The Rodeo in Cheyenne had started around noon and was over at about 3:30.  We loaded up and headed out to the Black Hills of South Dakota.  It was a desolate journey of about 320 miles taking 5+ hours.  We arrived in Rapid City before dark, with only 12 more miles to go to get to our lodge and were glad of that.  We only saw a few towns and we were amused when on a town sign it would indicate a population of 12 and another of 17.  And by the way, the roads weren’t crowded.

Fullscreen capture 852015 123104 PM.bmpDSCN2313DSCN2314DSCN2315 :  We quickly discovered that we made the perfect selection when we decided to stay in the Black Hills at the Hisega Lodge for the next for nights.  It is centrally located, close to Rapid City, yet off the beaten path.  From the lodge it was an easy drive to all the destinations that we wanted to see in the area. 


Loved Hisega Lodge!  It’s a historic lodge from 1908 (actually billed as the oldest in the Black Hills).  It’s nestled in the beautiful scenic hills alongside a roaring mountain stream.  There are upper & lower lever wrap around porches with great seating and even a wool blanket if you get cold.  This was our perfect place for our morning cup of coffee (or two or three).  Drinking coffee in the cool of a mountain morning listening to the mountain stream roar by, how can it get better than that?  Oh yes, and the breakfasts….delicious!


Pactola Dam & Reservoir:  Flood control, irrigation & recreation. 

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1880 Train:  We rode the vintage steam train in the Black Hills.  It’s a two-hour narrated, 20-mile round trip ride from Hill City and Keystone.  Fun!


These early locomotives were steam powered.  Water tanks were placed along railroad lines to fill stream engines with water.  This water tank in Hill City has a capacity of 3,000 gallons and the engineer is filling the locomotive with water from it before we boarded the train.


An interesting fact about the Choo-choo:  The train has to constantly take on water because the water is constantly being lost through the steam exhaust.  Where does the Choo-choo sound come from?  When the valve opens the cylinder to release its steam exhaust, the steam escapes under a great deal of pressure and makes a “choo” sound as it exits.  When the train is first starting, the piston is moving very slowly, but then as the train starts rolling the piston gains speed.  There is one revolution of the driving wheels for every four exhausts.  The effect of this is the “choo….choo…choo….choo-choo….choo-choo” that we hear when it starts moving. 

{The above information compliments of the following sign that I read while we waited to board the train.}


Riding the Choo-choo.


Hill City:  Saw some interesting art in town.  The sign indicates that it is Dry Creek Design by Garry Underwood. 


We had a delicious meal at the Alpine Inn in Hill City.


Crazy Horse Memorial:  It’s a work in progress.  The mission of Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation is to protect and preserve the culture, tradition and living heritage of the North American Indians, by continuing the progress on the world’s largest sculptural undertaking by carving a memorial of Lakota leader Crazy Horse. 


Mount Rushmore:  Gitzon Borglum’s monument to America grouped four leaders who brought the nation from colonial times into the 1900s.  Most prominent is George Washington, commander of the Revolutionary army and first U.S. president.  Next is Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president, and mastermind of the Louisiana Purchase.  The far right is the 16th President Abraham Lincoln, whose leadership restored the Union and ended slavery on U.S. soil.  The 26th president Theodore Roosevelt promoted construction of the Panama canal and ignited progressive causes like conservation and economic reform.


Now that’s a sight!  The rock & those four people!


George Washington, as we drove away from the Mount Rushmore area.


We left Mount Rushmore and headed west & south towards the Sylvan Lake Area & Custer State Park. 


Custer State Park:  The park is South Dakota’s largest and first state park, named after Lt. Colonel George Armstrong Custer.  It covers an area of 71,000 acres of hilly terrain and is home to many wild animals.  Below is a copy of the Custer State Park Map that I copied from the state park website.  I highlighted in red all the routes that we traversed in the beautiful park. 


First & foremost is having some buffalo burgers at Custer State Park Snack Bar. Jim seems happier about it than Joyce.  haha


Needles Highway:  The road’s name comes from the needle-like granite formations which seem to pierce the horizon along the highway.  It’s a spectacular drive through pine, spruce, birch, & aspen forests and rugged granite mountains.   


The Needles Highway is a distance of 14 miles and has two tunnels.  It was planned by S.D. Govn. Peter Norbeck, and construction was completed in 1922. 


Wildlife Loop Road:    This road is 18 miles in length and twists and turns its way through the prairie and ponderosa pine-studded hills that contain many of the park’s wildlife species.


At the top of Lamar’s wish list was to see bison.  And bison we did see!  A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park.

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Iron Mountain Road:  This road connects Mount Rushmore and Custer State Park.  It is 17 miles in length through beautiful Black Hills scenery and includes three tunnels that frame Mount Rushmore in the distance.

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Deadwood:  One always hears of Deadwood, so since we were so close we thought we should take a look at it.  Many famous & infamous have called Deadwood & the Black Hills home over the centuries.  Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Poker Alice, Lewis & Clark, George Armstrong Custer, Sundance Kid & Calamity Jane are a few that were in search of adventure & fortune.  Today it’s lot of gambling casinos which didn’t interest us, but we were pleased ride the trolley for $1 and take in the local sites. 


The Saloon in Deadwood where Wild Bill was shot.


 Sturgis:  Couldn’t help but notice all the hundreds of motorcycles that were already arriving in the area for the big Sturgis hoopla.  Couldn’t really find anything of interest to take a picture of except this building & an interesting house & tree.



 Rapid City:  A fine meal at “Murphy’s Pub & Grill.”


Scenic:  Not far from the Badlands we stopped at a remote town called Scenic.  Not much was happening in Scenic, except I found Jim in the jail house.


  Badlands National Park, S.D.:  These striking geologic deposits contain one of the world’s richest fossil beds.  The majestic valleys, overlooks and colors are amazing!  The shapes were awesome, from sculpted spires, to toadstool rocks, to suspended silt.  The whole area was impressive.  We drove on all the roads and spent the night at the National Park in Cedar Pass Lodge.

{The following map is copied from the National Park Service website. I’ve highlighted the routes we took through the park.}


We drove from Rapid City to the Badlands on the southerly route (44) and entered the park at the Interior Entrance & went towards the Northeast Entrance. 


Wall Drug:  After the first leg of our Badlands drive we exited the park & went northwest to Wall.  Everyone has heard that one must stop at Wall Drug.  We decided it would be a good lunch time visit then we’d return to the Badlands to complete the rest of the driving route.  We had reservations to spend the night at the Cedar Pass Lodge in the National Park. 

Wall Drug is a mega shopping mall with hundreds of people but we had a nice lunch there.


 Badlands Continued:  This time we entered at Pinnacles entrance and drove down towards the  center of the park and branched out.  It was now afternoon and the temperature was 103 degrees.  But that didn’t keep us from enjoying the beautiful scenery.


We had a delightful stay at the Cedar Pass Lodge in the Badlands National Park.



Mitchell Corn Palace, S.D.:  The multi-purpose arena/facility in the Moorish Revival building is decorated with crop art.  The murals & designs covering the building are made from corn & other grains. 


 Sioux Falls, S.D.:  Glad we made this our overnite stop.    Lovely park & falls!  We were thrilled to find they have a trolley that you can ride for $2, so we hopped on in the park and did the downtown loop. 



Sioux Falls Park:  The area of the falls was inhabited by the Indians since forever.  Numerous falls cascade along the Big Sioux River.


 A wonderful trip with wonderful friends thus draws to a conclusion.  Keep on traveling!

Posted August 8, 2015 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Kentucky Derby with Friends   2 comments

Kentucky Derby with Friends

April 29 – May 4, 2015


Don’t let it ever be said that this Altoona bunch hasn’t made it to the Kentucky Derby, Louisville, Kentucky.  Not only were we there, but we were there in style.  Please note all the awesome hats!  (Hats by Cindy of Olathe.)  The race is known as one of the oldest sporting events in America and also as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” 


We decided to all board the coach and go to the Derby with “Village Tours & Travel, Wichita KS.”  It was a good stress-free way to go to the Derby, and great fun along the way with our friends!  As per my google map it was about 1,400 miles round-trip.  On the way to Louisville we stayed one night in Columbia MO.  We stayed outside of Louisville in Elizabethtown for three nights, and then one night in Springfield MO on our return home. 

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American Pharoah won the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.  We had the privilege of watching American Pharoah win the first race of his run for the triple crown.  He has become only the 12th horse in history to win the Triple Crown and the first in 37 years.  



 On the way to Louisville we stopped for a nice lunch.  It was family style all you could eat, until they said “okay, that’s all you can eat.”  Just kidding!


We stayed at Stone Creek Hotel in Columbia.  A very nice hotel. 


We boarded the Spirit of Jefferson for a sightseeing cruise on one of America’s last true Mississippi river steamboats still in operation.  Back in the day goods and passengers were ferried along the Ohio River.  Today, it’s tourist day. Sailing we did go, but the first order of business was lunch on the riverboat. 


After lunch we had our first experience at Churchill Downs.   Directly in front of Gate 1 at Churchill Downs is the grave and the life-sized statue of Barbaro with his rider, Edgar Prado.  He won the 2006 Derby and two weeks later was injured in the Preakness and died several months after that. 

May I please point out that it is suggested to wear PINK to this race.  The Altoona bunch was certainly all decked out in our pink!


We entered Churchill Downs and got to watch several races, but the race of the day was the “Kentucky Oaks” race. The Oaks is one of the biggest races for three year old fillies in this country.  We joined the thousands in the sea of pink. 


Churchill Downs & lots of pink & lots of people in hats.


Fun looking at all the pink hats.  It was the highest Oaks attendance in history…..123,763. 


Yep, we know those people.  Our seats were located on the third row from the racing track.  The official drink for the Oaks Race is the Grey Goose Oaks Lilly.  The $9 drink is appropriately done in pink so of course it was a must to have a pink blouse, pink hat and a pink drink.  Karen has a much larger lemonade! 


On the big screen….singing of “My Old Kentucky Home.”    And, the call to post by the bugler which has gone on for well over a century. 


The horses parading by on their way to the starting gates.   The race is on and we are watching the back side of the track on the big screen. 


And they race right by in front of us. Lovely Maria was the winner of the Kentucky Oaks Race!  The media reported that Lovely Maria netted herself a 2.5-length victory with a time of 1:50.45 and the lion’s share of the $1 million purse.  And lastly I have collected my winnings!


We started Kentucky Derby Day by driving from Elizabethtown to Lexington to visit the Kentucky Horse Park.  We saw beautiful farms along the way.


Kentucky Horse Park:  It’s a working horse farm and an educational theme park opened in 1978 in Lexington, Kentucky.  At the entrance of the park is a life size statue of the 1973 U.S. Triple Crown winner Secretariat with jockey Ron Turcotte aboard and being led by groom Eddie Sweat.   Secretariet is also buried at this spot. 


Lovely statues are located all around the park.


Inside the Farrier Shop.


Beautiful barns and grounds


The Kentucky Horse Park is home to some of the world’s greatest competition horses.  They brought these famous horses into a small area and at the same time showed video’s of their most famous race. 


We watched the “Horses of the World Show.”  It showcases both common and rare horses from around the globe.  The horses are ridden in authentic costume. 


After a delicious lunch at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, we boarded our coach and drove to Churchill Downs in Louisville to watch the Kentucky Derby.  We were about to experienced the sights, sounds and pageantry of the most prestigious event for thoroughbred racing—the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby has been held annually since 1875 on the first Saturday of May at Churchill Downs Racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky.    It’s the grade 1 stakes race for 3 year old thoroughbred horses.  The race distance is one and one-quarter miles long, and it is run on the dirt race track at Churchill Downs.  The colts and geldings in the race carry 126 pounds.  20 horses compete in the Kentucky Derby.  These 20 horses racing in the Kentucky Derby must first travel along the Road to the Kentucky Derby, which is a series of 35 races taking place at tracks across the country and the world.  Points are awarded to the top 4 horses that finish in each of those 35 races, and the 20 horses with the most points earn a spot in the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby race.  The winning purse is $2 Million.

The Altoona group is ready for the Kentucky Derby.  Is the Kentucky Derby ready for the Altoona group? 



Our seats for the Kentucky Derby, were higher up than the seats we had for Oaks Race the day before.  We arrived with plenty of time to see several races before the actual big highlight of the day…the run for the roses!


The Mint Julip has been the traditional beverage of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby for nearly a century.   Each year almost 120,000 bourdon based Mint Juleps are served over the two-day period of Kentucky Oaks & Kentucky Derby.  This feat requires more than 10,000 bottles of Old Forester Mint Julip Ready-to-Serve Cocktail, 1,000 pounds of freshly harvested mint and 60,000 pounds of ice. 


The 2015 Kentucky Derby posted a new attendance record of 170,513. 


The Bugler bugles, the Kentucky Derby post parade ensues, the band strikes up “My Old Kentucky Home” and 170,000 + people sing along!  A report indicates that 1930 may have been the first year the song was played as the horses were led in the post parade.


It was time for the Post Parade. One could see the big screen with a close-up and statistics on each horse.  Then looking carefully down at the track, and over all the people & hats one could see the parade to the post. 


And the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby was on!


And there they go!  Thus we witnessed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” 


Over $150 million is won by bettors wagering on the Kentucky Derby.  Of course there must be a final picture of this person in red after collecting her winnings.  Please note:  there was plenty of money left for all the other people who bet on the Derby!


American Pharoah was the winner of the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby.  After winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes he has become the 12th Triple Crown winner, and first in 37 years.

{I copied the following photo & stats from}

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Thus ends a fun trip for eight friends from Altoona, who each checked another exciting adventure from their bucket lists. 

Posted August 3, 2015 by marilynfarmer in Travel


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