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…..so 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 booking.com. 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.  www.metz-braubach.de


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.

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http://hisegalodge.net/ :  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 www.kentuckyderby.com}

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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

Tuscany & Umbria: Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland   4 comments

Tuscany & Umbria:  Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland

Lucca, Pisa, Carrara, Florence, San Galgano, Chiusdino, Collie de Val’Elsa, La Piazza, Monteriggioni, Siena, San Quirico d’Orcia, Val d’Orcia, Pienza, Abbadia, Montepulciano, Pitigliano, Sovana, Isola Maggiore, Assisi, Trevi, Norcia, Pettino, Bomarzo, Boccea

March 16 – 30, 2015


We booked “Tuscany & Umbria:  Rustic Beauty in the Italian Heartland” with Overseas Adventure Travel.  This two week adventure was our 34th trip with this company.  There was a very enjoyable group of fifteen travelers in our adventure through Tuscany & Umbria.  (This map of our itinerary is copied from the Overseas Adventure web site.)  Our wonderful tour director, Giovanna is pictured below.  She was a joy and made everyday of the trip a remarkable experience. 

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The more Jim & I travel, the less we like huge cities and the more we like small towns.  One of my favorite things in travel is seeing medieval hill top towns and cities and I’m always wishing I could see more.  This trip certainly fulfilled my wish list.  Among other things we visited lots and lots of hill town fortified towns.  Another highlight was the fact that we stayed in quaint little hotels in quaint little towns. 


Why do I love Tuscany?  I love experiencing the gently rolling stunningly beautiful hills, seeing the amazingly preserved medieval hill towns, and viewing the history of the medieval and Renaissance periods.  It is a joy to encounter the masterpieces of painters, sculptors and architects in the museums, galleries, churches and piazzas all across the region of Tuscany.  This is why I love Tuscany.  What is not to love about Umbria?  Nothing.  Umbria is second only to Tuscany in terms of historical hills towns and beautiful countryside.  The Umbria region is known for its landscapes, traditions, history and artistic legacy.  It is often called Italy’s green heart which is characterized by hills and historical towns.  The first part of our trip included the area of Tuscany with the latter part of the trip being in Umbria.  Loved all of it!  

SmileSave MoneyMoney:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Overseas Adventure or Grand Circle Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip. 


Lucca, Italy:  It was founded by the Etruscans and became a Roman colony in 180 BC.  Lucca’s medieval city walls are of the best preserved ramparts in Italy.   They were built between 1544 and 1650,  They were erected to defend against Pisa and then Florence.  After they lost their military importance they were used for racing cars in the 20th century.  The walls remain intact, they are about 40 ft. above ground, fairly wide and extend almost 3 miles.  Today, they are a pedestrian promenade and a popular place to ride bicycles.  That is exactly what we did, we completed a full loop around the old city on our rented bicycles.


San Michele in Foro Church:  It’s located in the large square that was originally the Roman Forum in the center of Lucca.  Construction began in 1063.  It’s Roman a Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin.  The columns of the façade are different.  The façade features busts of important men of the age rather than mythological or biblical people. 


Puccini House Museum & another pretty Piazza:  Puccini, the famous opera composer, was born in Lucca.  The second photo is one of Lucca’s many pretty piazzas. 


Lucca Cathedral:  It’s a Roman Catholic Cathedral dedicated to Saint Martin.  Construction was begun in 1063.


Piazza dell’Anfiteatro:  This oval shaped piazza, was the site of a Roman amphitheater.  Buildings and houses were built around the arena during the middle ages.  It was time for a coffee break in the cute piazza.


San Frediano Church:  The church was originally built in the 6th century, and remodeled in the 12th century.  The façade is decorated with 13th century Byzantine-style mosaic. 


Our quaint little hotel within the walls of Lucca, “San Luca Palace Hotel.”  We stayed here three nights.


Pisa, Italy:  Several in our group took a 40 minute local bus ride to Pisa to explore the town famous for what?  Yes, yes, the leaning Tower of Pisa.  It’s leaning 3.9 degrees off the vertical and was listing when it was unveiled in 1372.  The leaning tower is a USESCO World Heritage Site.  Let’s not forget to notice the Duomo with its striking tiered exterior which was consecrated in 1118.   In the foreground is The Baptistry of St. John.  Construction began in 1152.  It is the largest Baptistry in Italy and has amazing acoustics. 

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Carrara Marble Quarries:  We boarded 4-wheel-drive vehicles and headed up the slopes of the Apuan Alps for a visit to the famous Carrara marble quarries.  Our quarry tour included explanation of both ancient and modern excavation methods, riding on narrow trails & meeting work trucks, driving right through the mining areas and seeing where Michelangelo selected the block of white marble to sculpt his David.  


We drove through three quarries.  This is the quarry where Michelangelo selected the block of white marble to sculpt his famous David.


Florence:  The birthplace of the Renaissance!  The historic city center of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  On this particular tour we began with one of the city’s lesser known gems, San Minato al Monte, a basilica that tops one the the highest points in the city.


From San Minato al Monte, we had a good overlook of the city of Florence, then we walked down through the gardens to the city center. 


Ponte Vecchio:  Until 1218 this was the only bridge that crossed the Arno River.  The bridge was rebuilt in 1565 during the reign of the Medici family when they wanted a route which would connect them directly between Uffizi and the Palazzo Pitti on the other side of the River, without even stepping foot outside.  So the covered corridor across the bridge was constructed on top of the bridge stores.  The bridge survived WWII when the German’s destroyed all of the city’s bridges except this one. 


Palazzo Vecchio & Piazza della Signoria:  The Romanesque fort-like palace was built in 1293.  In front of the building stands Michelangelo’s David together with Bandinelli’s Hercules and  Cacus.  The Piazza della Signoria is a beautiful square with lots and lots of fantastic artwork. 


Jim & I definitely had an Italian looking lunch at on outdoor café in Florence.  I would like to mention that this one dish was for both of us, a shared order dish. 


Villa Sabolini:  We packed up and left Lucca and our next hotel for three nights was in the Chianti countryside at the Villa Sabolini Hotel.  It was an enjoyable place.


Looking out our hotel window.


Chapel of Montesiepi:  On a hilltop overlooking a lovely valley sits the chapel of Montesiepi, which hosts the tomb of San Galgano.  In this chapel is the legendary sword of Saint Galgano embedded in a rock. According to tradition, in 1181 a man tried to remove the sword from the rock.  His arms were torn off by a wolf and put in this red box.



Abbey of San Galgano:  We left the chapel and hiked down the hillside and through Tuscan fields to find the Abbey of San Galgano.  Today the 13th-century Abbey church stands as majestic ruins in the countryside.  


The Abbey of San Galgano was built in the 13th century.  At the end of the 18th century the bell tower collapsed destroying a great part of the roof of the church.  The “ceiling” of sky makes the structure more striking.  While in the church our group sang “Amazing Grace.” 


Chiusdino:  A beautiful fortified hill town with the a population of approximately 1,900.


The restaurant where we had lunch.


Colle di Val D’Elsa:  The oldest part of the city is the “colle alta”, the higher part which has a well preserved medieval center.  We visited the old walled city.


We went for a fun hike through the Tuscan Hills.  It was part of the old Pilgrimage Road that eventually led to San Galgano (where we had visited earlier in the day).  We ended our little hike at our hotel, which used to be a hospital, and the pilgrims could seek sanctuary there.  Today it is a nice little hotel in the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.


In the first photo, our countryside tiny town with little hotel are visible in the distance.  On the right side of the same picture is our little “hiking” group.  Oops, I must have been behind!  The tiny town was as cute as it could be.  Last photo is the entrance gate to our hotel, “Villa Sabolini.” 


Pruneti Olive Oil Mill:  Have you ever done an olive oil tasting.  Now we have.  Much the same as wine tasting.  It was interesting seeing the process of producing extra virgin olive oil.  In the tasting, we went from the less expensive, less robust to the most expensive and perfect “everything” olive oil.  It is true the Italians used “extra virgin” olive oil in and on most everything. 

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Photos out the bus window of the pretty Chianti countryside.  We drove to a farm near La Piazza.  We had a most enjoyable afternoon at the “Masseto farmhouse”.  It is part of the Italian Agriturismo farmhouse of neat places one can book and stay in the Italian countryside. 

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Azienda Agricola Masseto, La Piazza:  Their website is (masseto.it) and I quote the following:  “They have maintained the traditions of these Chianti vineyards and olive groves for four centuries.  The buildings are the main house, and two farm houses which were formerly the homes of the share farmer families who lived in the land they cultivated.  Following the decline of share farming practices, the farmhouses fell into a period of disuse until the concept of agritourism was introduced and brought these beautiful buildings back to life. 

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We helped prepare a delicious lunch in the beautiful farmhouse.


Some people (won’t mention names) look like they are eating instead of helping cook.


One last look at the scenery and the dog wanting to play before we leave the farmhouse.


Monteriggioni:  It’s a small medieval walled town.  The town withstood conflicts between Siena and Florence in the Middle Ages.  The walls built between 1213 & 1219, total a length of about 2,000 ft. and follow the natural contours of the hill.  We walked along the top of the well preserved walls.  Loved the little town.


You couldn’t go all the way around on the walls.  First one end, then walk through the tiny town, then you can walk on the walls at the other end.


Siena:  Siena is said to be one of Italy’s loveliest medieval cities, and one of the most popular destinations for travelers to Tuscany.   The historic center of Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Siena is built on three hills, surrounded by well preserved walls, and is filled with Gothic architecture.

Siena has one of the world’s most unique piazzas….Piazza del Campo which is shaped like a shell with scalloped edges.  The twice a year horse race on July 2 & Aug. 16 takes place here.  It is called Palio de Siena.  During this special occasion, the main square in Siena, the Piazza del Campo, is prepared for the race as the ring around the square is covered with tuff clay.  It is a huge, popular event.  This is the piazza where the horse races are held.  Can you imagine the horses going ‘round & round’ the outer edges? 


Contrade:  Siena has a unique districting system.  Siena’s seventeen districts, or Contrade, were originally divided by the city’s buildings and their owners, rather than by roads or other geographical markers.  Each is named after an animal or symbol.  Every year each Contrade competes in the famous horse race, the Palio.  We met with members of the “Elephant Contrade.”  They have an awesome meeting hall, church and museum. 


Siena Cathedral:  A medieval church which was originally designed and completed between 1215 and 1263.  In my opinion it is a “must-see.”  The exterior and interiors are decorated in white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes.  You need to purchase tickets to get in. 


Siena Cathedral Interior:  It is an impressive and beautiful church.  You hardly know where to look first.  My eyes were first drawn to the white/black marble striped columns.  However, perhaps the most impressive and beautiful of the treasures the cathedral hold are on the floor,  the 56 etched and inlaid marble panels were designed by 40 leading artists between 1369 and 1547.


The Piccolomini Library:  Adjoining the cathedral is this beautiful library.  It contains very colorful and stunning frescoes which were painted by Pinturicchio between 1502 and 1507. 


A few photos as we strolled around Siena:


San Quirico d’Orcia:  We stopped at this cute hillside town for a coffee break.  Had to share a few pictures.


Val d’Orcia:  A region which extends from south of Siena to Pienza.  It is characterized by gentle hills, gullies and picturesque towns and villages.  This area is on the list of UNESCO world heritage sites.


Pienza: Our next three nights lodging was in the delightful little town of Pienza.  Pope Pius II was born here in 1405, and in 1458 he had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town.  It was intended as a retreat from Rome.  He renamed the village Pienza (Pius).  The old town is a UNESCO World Heritiage Site.  Loved this village!

These photos are taken of our hotel and from our terrace at the Piccolo Hotel La Valle.  The breakfast room and terrace of the little hotel all overlooked the beautiful valley of Val D’Orcia, as mentioned above.  


Jim & I walked along a terrace of the town and the views of Val D’Orcia were outstanding:


The Duomo:  Dominates the center of the main piazza has a façade that is one of the earliest designed in the Renaissance manner. 


Various photos around this fascinating village of Pienza: 


A fun evening of pizza in Pienza, Italy:


Villa Sant’ Anna Winery, Abbadia, Italy:  (villasantanna.it)  For about 200 years the family of Simona Ruggeri Fabroni has owned this property.  It is located on the hills around the town of Montepulciano and is renowned for its fine wines. We toured the wine cellars, learned the steps of producing wine, and then enjoyed lunch and wine tasting around dining tables in the beautifully decorated tasting room. 

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Montepulciano:  Standing high atop a hill in southern Tuscany is this medieval town of beauty and well worth visiting.  A walk through Montepulciano provides one stunning view after another, from beautiful landmarks to the outstanding views of the surrounding countryside.


Pitigliano:  Pitigliano and this area was inhabited in Etruscan times.  The first written mention of Pitigliano is in 1061.  Today,it is a well preserved old town perched high on a ledge overlooking two rivers.   It has a rich Jewish heritage.  Jews began settling in Pitigliano in the 15th century.    During WWII, the town’s few remaining Jews escaped the Nazis with the aid of their mostly Catholic neighbors. 


And the rains came to Pitigliano.


The parts of the ancient Jewish Quarter of Pitigliano open to visitors includes a small museum,  ritual baths, dye works, the Kosher butchering area, bread ovens, and the restored synagogue from 1598.


The Etruscan Necropolis of Sovana:  The Etruscan’s were ancient people of central Italy. whose civilizations flourished from about 700-400 B.C.  They were subsequently dominated and absorbed by the Romans.  This Etruscan necropolis is noteworthy for the many different types of tombs it contains. 


Ildebranda Tomb:  Discovered in 1924, most important tomb in the necropolis is the “Ildebranda Tomb” dating from the 3rd-2nd century BC.  The tomb, which has the form of a temple, is dug in the tufa and is finely decorated.


Vie Cave of Sovana:  This Etruscan cave road connects between Sorano and Pitigliano.  Origninally used as roads to reach areas of burial, but became the roads of communication.


We bid farewell to Tuscany and turned our eyes toward Umbria on this day.  Considered the green heart of Italy, Umbria is rich with agriculture, olive oil making and verdant forests.  We drove to Lake Trasimeno which is one of the biggest lakes of Italy at 50 square miles. 

Isola Maggiore:  We boarded a small boat to go to Isola Maggiore which is a tranquil island in the middle of the lake.  It used to be a bustling fishing village centuries, but is now home to just 17 permanent residents.  There is a church and cemetery on top of the hill.  There is a castle on the hillside but it has fallen into disrepair and it sealed off tight behind a gate.  

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We enjoyed a nature hike around and over the top of the island.  The statue is in honor of St. Francis of Assisi who lived 40 days on this island as a hermit during Lent in 1211.  Once you have hiked to the top of the island you see lots and lots of olive groves that belong to the church.   The church has no membership so the olives go unattended. 


Back to the tiny town and lunch at this restaurant.


Assisi:  The town is best known for the legacy of Saint Francis and his followers who practiced humility and compassion in the face of poverty.  We visited the 13th century Basilica.  No photos were allowed inside.  The church was begun immediately after St. Francis canonization in 1228, and completed in 1253. 

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Oh my, we experienced rain & hail we were leaving the Church.  We took shelter under these porticos.


Trevi:  We transferred from Pienza to Trevi to stay for the next three nights right in the heart of this charming little hillside town.    Most of the medieval town lies on sharply sloping terrain, with only the very center being more or less flat.  Again, I loved the hilltop village.


Antica Dimora alla Rocca:  Our hotel for three nights in Trevi.  The rooms and suites located in the 17th century palace are splendid.  The hotel was restored in 2003 to its previous splendor. 


Norcia:  Guess what?  Another town surrounded by defensive walls, but it’s not on a hilltop.  It a small town in the Nera Valley in Umbria and it’s renowned for its salami and prosciutto.  We sampled the various goodies.  


The main piazza of Norcia and the Church of St. Benedict was built in the 13th century.


Pianciano:  While in the rural Umbria area we went to a local farm located in the olive groves.  The estate was beautiful.  Some rode in style in the rain to the estate.  While there we saw their herd of Chianina cattle, toured the winery and enjoyed the wine they produce at the estate. 


Pettino:  Today we departed for a small mountain village nestled in a high plateau in the heart of the Appenines.  We met the members of a family in a small mountain community that have been living here for generations.  They grow crops, tend sheep, and gather truffles and mushrooms from the surrounding birch forests.  Upon arrival we were welcomed into their home for coffee and cake.


Truffle Hunting:  Truffles are related to mushrooms and are known as hypogenous fungi.  They have a root-like structure but never emerge from the surface, but stay close to the tree’s root systems.  Pigs can be used to hunt truffles, but they also like to eat them.  So trained truffle hunting dogs are a key to successfully hunting the expensive truffles. 

  So along with a member of the family and his truffle hunting dogs, we set off on 4-wheel-drive vehicles to go higher up in the mountain to hunt for truffles.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the hike and truffle hunting was a fun experience.   And yes the dogs found truffles.

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A hunting we will go.


After finding just enough truffles they made fresh scrambled eggs with grated truffles over the top.  It was pretty tasty.  Oh, yes, and wine of course. 

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Then here came the sheep, the shepherd and the Great Pyrenees dogs.  While up in the mountains their sheep will have have a shepherd and the Great Pyrenees with them.


This family also also owns Chianina cattle.  Coming down the mountain from truffle hunting we could see the family farm compound where we’d spend the rest of the afternoon. 


Back to the farm.  Time for a little wine…again.


The grandmother of the family has been making pasta since she was five years old.  She showed us everything there is to know about making pasta.  Later we ate it for lunch. 


We bid farewell to Umbria and began our overland transfer to the Roman countryside.  We stopped at a little town and they were having a Sunday market. 


 Parco dei Mostri, Bomarzo:  Park of the Monsters was a fun place for a morning stroll.  Begun in 1552, the garden features a series of bizarre and fascinating stone sculptures meant to shock.


Boccea:  The last night of our trip was spent at the “Borgo di Tragliata”, an agriturismo lodging located outside of Rome.  We had another splendid meal, more great wine, and music and a djay.  It was the perfect ending of a fantastic trip with a group of tremendous travelers. 

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Thus ends another memorable meander of the Farmer’s.  Happy trails!

Posted April 22, 2015 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Christmas Markets Along the Danube & Christmas in Vienna with Family   6 comments

Christmas Markets Along the Danube & Christmas in Vienna with Family

Nuremberg, Regensburg, Passau, Linz, Melk, Vienna & Bratislava

Dec. 16 – 30, 2014


Our family Christmas adventure began with a delightful cruise with Grand Circle Cruise Line.  Jim & I along with our son Eric, and daughter Karree boarded the River Aria in Nuremberg, Germany on Dec. 16, 2014 to do the “Christmas Markets Along the Danube.”   This was the 33rd trip with Grand Circle/Overseas Adventure for Jim & I.  As per usual everything was spot-on:  Harold, our “above & beyond the call of duty tour-director”; Constantin, the hotel manager; Ambrose, the Captain; and the staff & crew on the River Aria.  (The map below is copied from www.gct.com).

Save Money:  If you decide you’d like to go on this or any Grand Circle Travel or Overseas Adventure Travel trip, and you are a first time traveler with them, they will give you $100 off any trip if you mention the name of my travel blog and my customer #000561413.  New travelers instantly receive $100 off the cost of the trip, and I will receive $100 when you depart on your trip. 


“Christmas Markets Along the Danube” ended in Vienna, Austria on Christmas Eve morning.  At that point Jim & I and Eric & Karree went to our daughter and son-in-laws home for a week.  Jim & Kellee live in Vienna Austria so we had our very own personal tour guides and a wonderful time celebrating Christmas at their home which is located right in the first district of Vienna.  We certainly missed our youngest son and his wife.  But they are looking forward to Vienna & etc. in Sept. and Dad & Mom might just make it back about that time also.  We don’t want Kellee & Jim to get lonely.


Nuremberg, Germany:  This medieval city surrounded by 13th-century walls is the second-largest city in Bavaria. 


Today the city’s name evokes the notorious post-World War II war trials, the Nazi Party Rally Grounds and the half finished gigantic Congress Hall where Hitler planned to hold party meetings. 


The Documentation Center:  Is a museum in Nuremberg, that is in the north wing of the unfinished remains of the Congress Hall of the former Nazi party rallies.  “Fascination and Terror” is concerned with the causes, connections, and consequences of Nazi Germany.  Excellent museum. 


Christkindlmarkt (Christmas Market) of Nuremberg:  Located in the Hauptmarkt square in the old quarter, this is Germany’s most famous traditional Christmas market.  It was alive with the aroma of gingerbread, Nuremberg bratwurst and gluhwein (hot mulled wine). 


The Christmas Markets in the various towns are always set in a scenic old town square.  Entertainment, singing and bands add to the festivities.  All kinds of things are available to buy in various booths throughout the market.  Lots of delicious food is being prepared.  It’s fun deciding what to buy to eat.  


When a hot gluhwein is purchased, for an extra 2 Euro you may keep the mug.  Of course the idea is to have it refilled many, many times.  I have a collection of Christmas Markets gluhwein mugs, and that is my excuse for buying gluhwein at every Christmas Market.  My first of many mugs. 


Concert:  We enjoyed an pipe-organ concert in one of the beautiful churches in Nuremberg.


Another Christmas Market in Nurrenburg:  So much merriment & fun.


Cruising from Nuremberg towards Regensburg:  We were invited to sit at the Captain’s table for dinner.  Later we enjoyed going outside and watching as we went through a lock on the Main-Danube Canal.  

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Then the excitement happened!  On the second night aboard the ship, our daughter Karree suffered an acute appendicitis attack.  I went with her by ambulance to a little town called Neumarkt, Germany.  She had an emergency appendectomy shortly after arriving at the hospital.  It was done laparoscopically and she did well, and was released the next morning.  We took a train to Regensburg, where our wonderful tour director, Harold met us at the train station.  She was a trooper.  She didn’t miss a beat on the whole trip.  So, I have a rather cute picture of her in the surgery hose waiting on the train. 


Cruising the Main-Danube Canal: 


Regensburg, Germany:  The town suffered little damage during WWII, so it remains a hidden treasure dating back to medieval times.  The medieval center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


The Regensburg Cathedral:  An example of pure German Gothic architecture.  It was founded in 1275 and completed in 1634.  Lots of nice buildings in the medieval center of Regensburg. 


Concert:  Jim & Eric enjoyed a boys choral concert featuring festive holiday music.  Karree & I didn’t enjoy sitting at the hospital. 


Mom & Karree join back up with the trip:  Karree & I took the train from Neumarkt and arrived in Regensburg with enough time for me to go into the cute little town and visit the Christmas Market before we sailed away.  And, another Christmas Market mug for my collection. 


   Kienze’s Walhalla, built in 1842:  Sailing near Regensburg we saw an imposing Classical building erected by Ludwig I of Bavaria as national monuments to German patriotism and greatness.  It is a costly reproduction of the Parthenon. 


Cruising:  Perfect timing for a day of cruising.  Karree had the opportunity to just sit around the ship, recover, and enjoy the pretty sites as we cruised down the Danube. 


 Passau, Germany:  Situated at the confluence of the Danube, the Ilz, and the Inn rivers, Passau has been called the City on Three Rivers.  Below is the lovely Town Hall and a pretty advent wreath. 


It was a bit cool so time for a cappuccino and maybe something sweet.


St. Stephen’s Cathedral was built in the 17th century.  It has the world’s largest church organ, with 17,774 pipes.  We had the opportunity to listen to the organ…pretty grand.


Christmas Market in Passau in front of St. Stephens Cathedral.  Karree has a cute new hat that was made locally, and Marilyn has another gluhwein mug to add to her collection. 


We are at the “tip” of town where the confluence of the Danube, the Ilz,, and the Inn rivers meet.  Passau is surrounded on both sides with water. 


Back to our Riverboat, otherwise known as “ship.”  Karree is pointing out our cabin. 


  Linz, Austria:  It’s one of the largest ports on the Danube and the second-most populous city in Austria.  As we entered the city next to where our ship was docked we were at Hauptplatz.  We rode the little Christmas Market train and got a good over-view of the city.

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A fun visit to the Christmas Market in Linz.  Of course we needed to collect another mug. 


We visited the tourist office and discovered we could go on the city tram to the pretty church on top of the hill in the distance.  It was a nice ride on a steeply graded tramway which climbed the small mountain at the northwest edge of the town.  It has a viewing platform over the city, and is the site of the Poslingberg Pilgrimage Church. 


The Poslingberg Pilgrimage Church was built in 1748.  The church is popular for weddings because of the unique location


After stopping at a little restaurant for a cappuccino we rode back on the nice tram from Poslingbern to Linz city center.  Our River Aria was docked just next to the entrance into Linz. 


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. 


Within the Museum is a model of the Abbey complex.


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 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 high point of the baroque monastery is the awesomely beautiful church.


And the best part of the cruise was being with two of our kids.


Wachau Valley:  It was a delightful sunny and warm afternoon to cruise along one of the most beautiful parts of the Danube – the Wachau Valley.


  And suddenly it was the last day on the “MS Aria.”  Time certainly flies when you are having fun. Seems only fitting to capture the delightful time in the dining area ready for another delicious meal.   


Karree enjoying the little balcony off our cabin on the river ship.  Captain Ambrose waved us into the bridge for an up close and personal look.  I asked permission for a photo.


The parade of the baked Alaska.  And…the sun sets on our final evening of our cruise of the “Christmas Markets Along the Danube.” 


And the merriment continues on the second part of our Christmas Holiday.  Our daughter and husband live in Vienna, Austria so we met them and stayed on for another week.  We managed to find each other in the Christmas Market in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) in Vienna.  


Enjoying a good bratwurst in the pretty little square near Kellee & Jim’s apartment. 


Another Christmas Market in Vienna.


And another Christmas Market in Vienna.


Christmas Eve Dinner at a Serbian Restaurant with friends, Milcho & Jenn.  Milcho is Macedonian and this is his favorite restaurant, it puts him in mind of “home”.  A fun evening. 


Votivkirche: We attended Christmas Eve service at VotivKirche (Votive Church).  Following the attempted assassination of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853, the Emperor’s brother Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian inaugurated a campaign to create a church to thank God for saving the Emperor’s life. The church was dedicated in 1879.  It’s a lovely church. 


Since this is all in Jim & Kellee’s neighborhood we had a pleasing stroll from the 10:30 p.m. service at VotivKirche to Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Stephens Cathedral. 


We had the honor of attending Christmas Eve Midnight Mass in St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna.


A delightful Christmas night dinner at our kids home. 


Milcho, our favorite Macedonian, is all decked out to come to Kansas.  He can wear his overalls, the t-shirt from the Prairie Nut Hut and his Lenny’s Quality Oil, or his Carl’s Sales & Service cap.


Schönbrunn Palace:  A former imperial summer residence of the Habsburgs that is located in Vienna.  The 1,441-room Baroque palace is part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage due to its historic importance, its unique grounds and its splendid furnishings.   Emperor Franz Joseph, who later married the enchanting Sisi and reigned from 1848 to 1916, was born here in 1830. (No photos were allowed inside.)  And….there was a Christmas Market in front it the Palace. 


Dinner at the Augustiner Keller, near the Opera House in Vienna.  We had typical Austrian food. 


One of my highlights of Vienna was attending “The Nutcracker” performance at the awesome Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera House).  I bought the tickets on line as soon as they became available.  Now granted, they weren’t the best seats in the house, but I think those are sold out to season ticket holders.  It was spectacular to just be in the fantastic opera house.


Another fun meal at another keller in Vienna.  The “Sisis Keller Restaurant”.  It was located down a long stairway and in a cave. 


So, it was essential that we went to Bratislava, Slovakia.  By going to this country Jim & I celebrated the fact that we have been to 74 countries.  It is only a one-hour train ride from Vienna.  Bratislava is the capital and largest city in Slovakia and lies on both banks of the Danube River.  We walked to the Old Town from the train station. 

The fortification gate and tower were built in the 13th century. 


Shana, this is for you.  Karree, please get the fellow up and out of the man-hole. 


As usual we didn’t have any problem finding someplace to eat, and there was so much of it. 


There was an ice-skating rink in the Old Town.  I guess with the little cannon in front of the espresso shop, they can keep the riff raff out.


Time for a little shopping.


It’s snowing, must be time to walk back to the train station.


Our last night in Vienna and Karree made us delicious spaghetti & meatballs. 


Thus ends the Farmer’s Christmas Holiday with family. There is only one thing that would have made this the perfect Christmas Holiday.  And that is if all of our kids could have been with us.  Missed you Derick & Chelsea! 

Posted January 19, 2015 by marilynfarmer in Travel

Northern Italy & Cinque Terre Walking Tour, San Gimignano & Riomaggiore, Italy   13 comments

Northern Italy & Cinque Terre Walking Tour, San Gimignano & Riomaggiore, Italy

Sept. 16 – Oct. 2, 2014


Jim & I booked this walking tour with Go Ahead Tours.  This is our sixth trip with this company and as usual we were very pleased with the trip and itinerary.  I will admit that some of the walking and the mountain climbing was a bit too challenging for us.  However, a great itinerary for a little younger and more “fit” people.  For no additional charge Go Ahead booked our air and we arrived in Stresa two days before the other eighteen in our group, and we also stayed behind an additional 6 days so we could go to San Gimignano and Riomaggiore on our own. 

Quoting from Go Ahead Tours:  This is the different Italy—a region bursting with the happily unexpected. Go north and step into a land where rock spires rise above lush, green landscapes.  Tranquil lakes and perfumed vineyards spill across the horizon, stretching on for miles and miles. An epic coastline runs alongside towering cliffs and terraced vineyards. From Lake Maggiore and the staggering Dolomites to the “Five Worlds” tucked within the Riviera’s Cinque Terre, tread through Italian landscapes at their most surreal and surprising.

Oda, was our excellent tour director.  She was indeed a joy, making it obvious that she loves her job.  Her favorite expression was “yippee”  and she was always encouraging and helpful.


Lake Maggiore, Stresa, Italy:  Stresa is a town of about 5,000 on the shores of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy.  Since the early 20th century, the main source of income has been the tourist trade.  Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy and the largest in Southern Switzerland.  It extends for about 40 miles.  The climate is mild in both summer and winter, producing Mediterranean vegetation.  These pictures of the lake were taken from the balcony of our hotel (Grand Hotel Bristol) in Stresa. 


  The little town of Stresa is a cute little town.  Lots of good restaurants also.  The weather was still good to eat outdoors.


Borromean Islands:  While in Stresa, Jim & I took the local ferry and visited the three Borromean Islands that are located close to Stresa.  We bought our tickets at the Ferry Station. We purchased the Rover Tickets, which is unlimited travel for one day between the islands and included entrances to the Villas and Gardens on Isola Bella & Isola Madre. We qualify for Sr. Discount and the lady cheerfully gave us the discount. We paid 32.10 Euro each for the tickets.

Isola Bella:  This small island has a stunning Baroque palace and elaborate Italian gardens.  Isola Bella was originally just a rocky crag until in 1632 when Charles Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda.  Visiting the palace we saw sumptuous rooms filled with paintings and ornate furniture.  (No pictures were allowed).  The gardens were spectacular. 


The palace is at one end of the island, the gardens at the other end and a small fishing village in between. 


 Isola Madre:  It’s the largest island of the Borromean Islands.  The palace was built in the 16th century (pictures not allowed inside) and it is surrounded by spectacular gardens.  It is one of Italy’s oldest botanical gardens with rare sub-tropical plants, exotic flowers and many multi-colored birds & parrots. 


Isola dei Pescatori:  This island is a characteristic fishing village rather than a noble residence.  It is inhabited by fishermen and their families.  There are lanes lined with homes, and also some shops and seafood restaurants. 


 Sacro Monte:  From Stresa we drove by coach to Lake Orta & Sacro Monte.  Sacro Monte is a Roman Catholic devotional complex dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi.  The project began in 1583 and involves 20 chapels that are positioned on the slopes of the mountain along a trail.  It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.  The last picture of the island is San Guilio Island which we visited after the town of Orto San Guilio.   


Orta San Giulio:  We walked down the mountain from Sacro Monte to Orta San Giulio.  It’s a pretty little town of about 1,200 population. 


San Giulio Island:  A small island on Lake Orton located near Orta San Giulio.  We took a water taxi to get over to it.  The most famous building on the island is the Basilica of Saint Giulio.  Next to the Basilica is the old Seminary (1840s).  Since 1976 it has been a Benedictine monastery.  We exited the Basilica in a driving rain.  We sloshed around and tried to look at the island. 


 Centovalli Railway Round Trip:  While we were still in Stresa, Jim & I decided we wanted to ride the Swiss train through the mountains and see the views.   The scenic train (the Centovalli) goes between Locarno and Domosossola running through the magical “Hundred Valleys.”  There were lots of beautiful views. On the ride between Domodossola and Locarno we saw gushing waterfalls, vineyards, chestnut forests and quaint villages, roll right by our window.

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It wasn’t complicated and only costs 32 Euro each.  The package included taking a train from Stresa to Domodossola.  In Domodossola we followed the well marked signage to the Centovalli Railway platform and boarded that train.  We rode of the narrow gage railway about 2 hours seeing the lovely scenery.


  After our scenic 2 hour train ride we arrived in Locarno, Switzerland.  The train station is right in the center of the town.  We enjoyed the lakeside area the most.


The conclusion of our Centovalli Railway Round Trip was the return from Locarno, Switzerland to Stresa, Italy by ferry.  It was a lovely, sunny day and we really enjoyed the three hour voyage.


It was fun seeing the bride & groom and the little decorated wedding boat. 


The next morning we left the Stresa and the Lake Maggiore area and drove towards Bolzano and the Dolomites.  En route we stopped in Valpolicella, a countryside area known for its olive groves and superior wine vintages.

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San Giorgio di Valpolicella:  This little village is located on the top of a rocky outcrop, built around its church.  The church was built around the 8th century. 


Next on the agenda was a hike from the little town to the next town on the “health path” through the forest.  The funny part was the great debate on putting Jim’s walking stick together.  He finally had to come to his own rescue and assemble the stick. 


Masi Vineyards:  We arrived at the Masi Vineyards for a winetasting, lunch and tour.  The Boscaini family have been the owners of the Masi vineyards for six generations.  It was a lovely place and we had a delightful lunch. 


  Bolzano, Italy:  It is the capital city of the province of South Tyrol in northern Italy.  The town was German until after WWI, and it’s character remains distinctly Germanic.  The town is known for it’s apple strudel & it was delicious.  Bolzano was our hotel base while we discovered the Dolomites. 


 Earth Pyramids & Panoramic Landscapes of Ritten:  A favorite of mine.  We rode on a cable car, then a train, then walked to discover the Pyramids, lastly we had a delicious German dinner. 

First, we boarded a cable car and rode to the village of Soprabolzano, which is a provincial village set on a plateau. 


Next we rode the panoramic railway to Collalbo.  We saw views of rolling pastures and soaring limestone peaks along the way. 


From Collalbo we set out on foot to the towering Earth Pyramids.  First a walk through town.  We thought the town had a Swiss look about it. 


We walked towards the Earth Pyramids on the Ritten plateau.  This is the day that someone’s pedometer indicated that we walked 9 1/4 miles. 


Then we walked through another village and stopped to look at a cemetery.


The Earth Pyramids:   They are unique formations that were formed by moraine clays left by the glaciers of the last ice age.  We were overlooking the Earth Pyramids in a stunning valley, surrounded by mountains, with a beautiful little church situated perfectly.

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Then relaxing with a cold drink and later eating a delicious German meal.  A lovely day!



Dolomites from Alpe de Siusi:  Info indicates that the Alpe di Siusi is the undisputed queen of all high mountain plateaus in the world.  It is regarded as one of the most fabulous landscapes in the Dolomites.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  In the summertime, many trails are enjoyed by hikers, and in the wintertime, these same slopes are a paradise for skiers, snowboarders and snowshoe hikers.  Well, I must say that since Jim & I are none of the above, the hike up & down, (mostly up) was a bit of a challenge.  We didn’t go as far as the rest of the group, but we made it to a great restaurant that is on one of the many trails.  (Yay).

First we rode the big cable car.


Next, was the death march up the mountain.  I didn’t have strength enough left to click a proper photo.  (LOL)


Now on the rolling plateau.  Scenery was beautiful.


The high road or the low?  It was the high.


Almost to a rest stop & restaurant and a good German meal.  Wish I knew how many miles we’d walked. 


Jim & I decided not to go on with our group on another loop of the trail.  Instead we hiked for another half-zillion miles and found a small cable car down to another level, then walked back up to the big cable car to meet the group at the end of the day.  We were fascinated with the groups of fat, healthy cattle (including bulls) that were separated from us with a single electric wire.


On the closing laps of our zillion mile hike, Jim & I enjoyed stopping to watch some Italian farming in the high country. 



We said goodbye to the Dolomites and traveled south from Bolzano to the sunny shores of the Italian Riviera.  On the way we stopped for lunch and a delightful tour of Mantua, Italy.

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Mantua, Italy:  Mantua is a beautiful, historic city in northern Italy surrounded on three sides by lakes. It was one of the greatest Renaissance Courts in Europe and home of the wealthy Gonzaga family. The town’s center is three spacious and lively squares that join together.  Mantua’s historic power and influence under the Gonzaga family made it one of the main artistic, cultural, and especially musical hubs of Northern Italy.  Mantua’s old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


I enjoyed pumpkin ravioli, and Jim had yet another kind of pasta for lunch. 


Portovenere:  Our hotel for the Italian Riviera/Cinque Terra was in Portovenere.  The town is located right on the coast, with a beautiful old town right along the water.  Overlooking everything is a castle and the Gothic Church of St. Peter.  We walked past the little town that lined the water to the far end and visited the Gothic Church of St. Peter which dates from 1198.   


Beautiful sunset in Portovenere.


 Cinque Terra, Italy:  Clinging to the cliffs is a group of five picturesque seaside villages perched atop the rocky Mediterranean coastline of the Ligurian Sea.   The villages abound with ancient churches, castles, and homes that line narrow streets and squares.  These coastal cliffs keep Cinque Terre in scenic isolation.  Most visitors arrive by boat or train because it is very difficult to reach the villages by road.  Most of the villages are linked by footpaths along craggy trails.  Cinque Terra is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Our group set out by boat to visit the Cinque Terra on a bright and sunny morning.  As you can see by the above map that our hotel town of Portovenere is just down the coast from the villages of Cinque Terre.  On the boat ride we enjoyed the water view of Portovenere’s and it’s Church of St. Peter.


Monterosso:  This is the first town of the Cinque Terre that we visited.  It is the largest of the five, and the most heavily visited.  It is the only village with a nice long span of beach right in town.   


All of our “fit” travel mates hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza.  Jim & I went by train and enjoyed it “just fine.”  And here they are!  We caught them having a bite to eat.  Yes, they not only hike…they eat.


Vernazza:  It has a charming central square located right by the water, and there’s a lovely church tower on one side.  The ruins of a castle is on one of the hills overlooking Vernazza. 


Manarola:  It is a little more rustic and less polished than its northern neighbors.  The tiny harbor features a boat ramp and picturesque multicolored houses facing the sea. 



Jim & I didn’t go to the town of Corniglia because it’s located on top of a cliff overlooking the sea.  We weren’t in the notion to hike up the 33 flights with 382 steps.  Since the two of us were coming back to Riomaggiore to stay for a couple of nights on our own, we decided to not walk into that town either and to just save it as a surprise for later in the week. 

We left the Cinque Terre area and drove towards Florence, stopping at Lucca on the way. 

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Lucca, Italy:  It’s historic center, with medieval towers and nearly 100 churches, is completely enclosed by its intact Renaissance-era city walls.  These walls are some of the best preserved ramparts in Italy and you can walk completely around Lucca on top of the wall.  It has a population of around 89,000.


Florence, Italy:  The last stop on our walking trip with Go Ahead was in Florence, the birthplace  of the Renaissance.  The historic center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982.  Since this was our fourth trip to Florence, we didn’t do the extension in the city with the group.  This time, Jim & I just barely touched on the highlights of the city.  


A trip highlight:  Our oldest daughter and son-in-law live in Vienna, Austria.  They came by night train into Florence to meet up with us.  We met them at the train station and later took a bus to San Gimignano to spend the weekend together. 

San Gimignano:  A medieval hill town in Tuscany, which is famous for its medieval architecture and towers.  At the height of its glory, San Gimignano’s patrician families had built around 72 tower-houses as symbols of their wealth and power.  They stood in defense of the walled city.  Only 14 have survived time, but San Gimignano has retained its feudal atmosphere and appearance.  It’s like walking back into time….a taste of what it must have been like more than 700 years ago.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990.  A delightful weekend!


We stayed “La Cisterna Hotel” which is located at the top of the village on the beautiful and famous Piazza della Cisterna in San Gimignano.  The hotel is the buildings covered with ivy.  I booked our hotels on Expedia, and everything turned out perfectly.


The views out of the windows of the kids hotel room.  The Tuscan Valley is beautiful. 


The Cistern of Piazza della Cisterna. 


  We decided that this was our favorite restaurant in San Gimignano..…Antica Macelleria Trattoria.


“Gelateria Dondoli”, world champion Gelato winners & a scale model of San Gimignano.


Street scenes.  Busy during the day, very pleasant in the evening without the crowds.


Directly in front of the Duomo (1st photo) is the Palazzo Vecchio dei Podesta, (2nd photo) imposing and topped with a tower.  The construction dates back to the 12th & 13th century. 


Guess what?  More eating!


The cisterns of San Gimignano, and us. 


Good-bye San Gimignano, it was grand!


The morning after the kids left, Jim & I took a bus to Poggibonsi (no train station in San Gimignano.)  At the little train station we bought tickets from a machine to Riomaggiore in Cinque Terrra.  The journey took about about 3 1/2 hours, with two connections and cost about 18 Euro each.


Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre:   The Cinque Terra is a stretch of five towns along the Italian Riviera.  Each town is perched on seaside cliffs along a ravine, with old colorful building leaning upon each other.  Riomaggiore is considered the most substantial non-resort of the five towns, (and I quote) “with a fascinating tangle of pastel homes that lean on each other like drunken sailors.”

I had booked a little apartment “Mar-Mar.”  It was the Punta A apartment.   It was up and up a zillion uneven steps, but had a view to die for.  Of which I thought I might (die) after about the tenth hike up the zillion uneven steps.  The arrow on the following photo indicates the location of our little apartment for two nights.  The small picture of steps is one tiny section of the approximately ten sections of steps that we went up to get to the Mar-Mar apartment. 


Looking off the balcony from our apartment.  A double door opened onto the balcony from both the living room and the bedroom. 


The main street (only street) in Riomaggiore.


Our favorite eating in Riomaggiore was buying the cone of mixed fresh seafood, or all calamari.  It was only 5 Euro, and was fresh & delicious. 


Close-up of viewing the fishermen from our balcony.


The harbor area of Riomaggiore.


Jim is in the height of his glory.  He’s getting to fix breakfast for us just like he does everyday at home. 


And thus the sun sets on another glorious, fantastic adventure!!


The next day we took the train back to Florence, stayed the night and were in flight back to Kansas the next morning. 

Posted October 18, 2014 by marilynfarmer in Travel


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