Paris Day 3

Our first two full days in Paris were very busy with a lot of walking in big museums. Today, in contrast, we decided to take things a little more slowly and see a few things we wanted to see but that might be out of the main tourist spots. We started by slowly waking up and making a big breakfast. Mike and Julia worked on bacon and eggs while I walked our neighborhood in search of pastries. I had done this every morning and had previously walked down near the Eifell to find croissants. Today, instead, I walked in the other direction and found a very busy patisserie called Lapelosa Felice. There was a line weaving out the door, and the smell coming from the bakery was amazing. I did my usual French tourist communication and just pointed at a few things and held up two fingers for each. I walked away with a beautiful bag of delicious chocolate and vanilla filled pastries as well as a loaf of bread. I wish I had found this place earlier in the week because it was definitely better than the chain store where I bought croissants the other two mornings.

Probably should have taken a picture before we ate most of the day’s pastries

We talked about our options for the day, and the girls and I decided to go to the Monmartre neighborhood where we could pick up a free walking tour at 11 am. Mike had been battling a cold for most of the week and decided to try and sleep some of it off, so he set his alarm so he could meet us later in the day and went back to bed. 
We Uber-ed our way to the Metro station in Monmarte. Our driver spoke wonderful English and was very friendly. He and Julia got into a big discussion about the United States police system because Europeans had been hearing a lot about the police shootings in Dallas and he had a lot of questions about violence and trust between citizens and police. He was very cautious in his questioning at first because it was obvious he didn’t want to offend us, but once he found Julia was very happy to talk, they chatted on for a long time before he dropped us at our destination.  We found it can’t be guaranteed our Uber driver will speak English, but when that happens, they can be a good source of local information. This particular driver was happy to share his favorite places in Paris and gave us a small list of things to see. 

?We were just in time for the Discover Walks Monmartre tour. There were three tour leaders, and they divided us into small groups before starting their tours. The Monmarte area sits on a hill just to the north of the Paris city but has its own history related to the military, religious figures, and the arts. One of the strongest stories involves Saint Denis, a bishop who got in trouble with the Romans for preaching Christianity. They planned to execute him but promised to first return him to his monastery at the top of the Monmartre hill. The story says that partway up the hill, the Romans decided it was too long of a walk and instead killed him straight away by cutting off his head. Saint Denis was upset about this and picked up his head and walked the rest of the way to the top, bringing special significance to the monastery. 

Saint Denis holds his head in the middle of a children’s playground

The neighborhood is also famous for the arts. Picasso and others lived and worked in the Le Bateau-Lavoir building in the early 1900’s while the likes of Renoir, Satie, Van Gogh, Matisse, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, as well as writers Victor Hugo and Langston Hughes called this neighborhood home at one time or another. 

Hanging in the doorway of Picasso

Pause on a typical hillside street

A tour through Monmartre means a lot of stairs

Pretty window display: France shares our colors

The movie Amelie was on my Netflix list before we left, but I never got around to it. This is the cafe where it was filmed, though, so we will still need to check it out.

Singer Dalida, one of the 6 most popular singers in the world, lived here, and our tour guide explained to her mostly English and American tour group just how popular this singer was before her death in 1987. Her home is still an important pilgrimage for her fans, and a bust in her likeness sits along one of the popular streets. You can touch it for good luck, and it is obvious many do. 

I suppose you could rub your hands over her hair for good luck, but it appears nobody does

Our favorite story of the region’s eccentric artists was about poet Gerard de Nerval, a 19th century writer who, according to legend, liked to take his pet lobster for walks — stopping at each fountain to splash him down. It seems unlikely, but he certainly had a lovely area to walk. The hilly pathways through the neighborhood and the vineyards set along the walk are still beautiful. 

Julia standing outside the gardens of the dude who used to walk his lobster

Pretty street on the last level up to Sacre-Couer

Last remaining Monmartre vineyard in full operation

We also walked past the Moulin de la Galette, a reminder of the many windmills that once dotted the Monmartre hillside beginning in the 1600’s. In 1814, during the Franco-Prussian war, the Debray family defended their mill from the Cassocks and lost. One of the men’s corpses was nailed to the windmill as a warning to others who might dare stand against invaders. When the war ended and the mass grave for those lost in the war was covered nearby, the Debray family decided the building and its windmill needed to be a place of humor and life. They opened a restaurant that one day became the inspiration for Renoir’s Val du moulin de la Galette (1876). Our tour guide showed us painting as we walked the area. 

Our tour ended at the highest point of the city, the Basilica of the Sacre-Coeur. The basilica was built beginning in 1875 as penance for the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian war. The defeat was interpreted as divine punishment for moral decline after the French Revolution. It is now seen as a place to pray for those lost in war. We were told you could even sleep overnight in the basilica if you promised to take on one of the prayer hours (someone has continuously been praying at the altar since 1885).  For many visitors, the big draw today is the view of Paris you get while sitting on the front steps. 

The area behind the basilica

Walking down from the highest point in Paris meant a lot of steps, but it was a quick walk straight back to the Metro stop. Before taking a ride across town, we got our photo op at the Moulin Rouge, once the site of one of the hill’s windmills and now a cabaret. As seen in the movie by the same name, the Moulin Rouge is the birthplace of the can-can dance and once held circus-themed extravagant shows. It still hosts cabaret performances for mostly tourists, but it is definitely in the red-light district, and based on the many sex shops along the street, it doesn’t look like a place we’d wander to after dark. It was still fun to see, though. 

Our next plan was to meet up with Mike on the other side of town near the Place de la Nation metro, so we took the plunge and had a friendly metro worker help us get the right tickets and get on the right train. The Nation station sits where guilloines were placed during the French Revolution and where possibly 40000 people lost their lives in the years 1793-1794. When those people died, they needed burial. At the height of the reign of terror, 1306 victims were executed between June 14 and July 27, 1794. Picpus Cemetery, a private cemetery associated with a small chapel, Notre Dame de la Paix, holds the mass graves required for those June/July deaths. After that time, the only people permitted burial in the cemetery were relatives of those buried in the mass graves. Today, the cemetery sees many American visitors because while the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution, lived until 1834, his wife lost her mother and sister to the guillotine in those June/July months, and he and his wife, Adrienne, are buried in the small cemetery. 

Picpus Cemetery: enter the gate, find the guy who takes your two Euro, grab a map, and enter the courtyard. It sounds easy, but it is relatively hidden in plain site along the main street.

Tree-lined green space behind the chapel; the cemetery is behind the wall on the right

Everybody give it up for America’s favorite fighting Frenchman: a quiet and well-kept area

Lafayette brought French forces to the aid of the colonists during the American Revolution and helped them defeat the British and win independence. His agreement was that the United States would then return the favor and come to France’s aid if they fought their own Revolution. The United States was not in a position to send aid, however, when France went to war with Britain in 1793, and issued a Proclamation of Neutrality instead of sending aid. This created a very poignant moment when, in 1917, the United States joined forces with France during WWI. U.S. Army Colonel Charles Stanton visited Lafayette’s grave and placed a flag, saying, “Lafayette, we are here.”  

To be honest, we may not have sought out this tiny cemetery if I weren’t so totally in love with Daveed Diggs’ performance as Lafayette in Broadway’s Hamilton, but I am thankful that performance led to my learning more about the real Lafayette and seeking his grave as one of those “as long as I’m in Paris” moments. I loved seeing how the Daughters of the American Revolution always keep an American flag flying over this grave in this small corner of Paris so far away from other tourist walks. It also meant we could look through the gate and see the mass grave of the many who died during the revolution. The gate through which the bodies were brought still stands, and the quiet, shaded back of the cemetery feels so separate from everything else happening in the city. Before leaving, we also visited the chapel where the names of those buried in the mass graves fill two entire walls.

Holding the camera through the gate: Here you can see two monuments marking the first and second mass graves from the summer of the Reign of Terror

Doorway marking the location of a small chapel that once was used as an office by the gravediggers who prepared the bodies for mass burial during the revolution

The back gate where the bodies of those killed on the guillotine were brought each day

Chapel Notre Dame de la Paix (Our Lady of Peace)

Reading one of the walls bearing the names of those buried in the mass graves

Our next stop was Museé Curie, a museum established in 1934 on the site where Marie Curie had her laboratory and research facility. This is where she performed the research that led to research into radioactivity and her eventual death from exposure to that research. The museum is only open a few hours every week, so we felt lucky we could work it in to our list of visits. Many of the exhibits were exclusively in French, but we had a chance to see her laboratory, her office, and then peruse exhibits of her writings and works. 

The street where we will find Marie Curie’s laboratory

Curie’s laboratory and workspace

To borrow a phrase, this is the room where it happened

Curie’s office

From the Curie Museum, we walked a few blocks to the Museé national du Moyen Age, or Museé Cluny, a wonderful small museum with a large medieval collection. It sits in a former town house used by the abbots of Cluny as far back as 1334. Part of the structure is now the museum, part is gardens, and part contain the Roman thermal baths (part of which can still be visited). I specifically wanted to see The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry, so the family agreed to follow me with the understanding that, while we were a little over-museum-ed lately, we would focus on the tapestry and walk through otherwise. Our museum pass made this easy to do because we didn’t feel obligated to spend a lot of time. It was a good stop, though, because the building itself was really interesting to walk through.

Medieval Museum with architecture of an appropriate age

Stained glass collection

Original saints from the Notre Dame facade: Destroyed in 1793 during the French Revolution

“Cooling Room” = one of the remains of the original Romnan bath

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestries are said to date from the 1500’s, and they were known and discussed back in that time. They were rediscovered in 1841 at Boussac Castle, but they had not been stored well and needed care. Museé Cluny took them at that point and keeps the six tapestry cycle on display. 

Sitting patiently while I get some up-close time with the tapestry

Sad monkey is one of the rather odd pieces woven into the tapestry

We joked about where the tapestry may have been in its missing years, and the girls pointed out it is seen in the Hogwart’s Castle in the Harry Potter movies (fun crossover connection):

The tapestry in modern culture: Here it is depicted in a screenshot from Harry Potter

Our last stop for the day was the Paris Pantheon, a former church that operates as a mausoleum where the bodies of important French citizens are buried. We only had 45 minutes until the building closed, so we did a quick look around the central dome, including a stop at Foucault’s pendulum, now a copy of the original that first demonstrated the rotation of the earth. 

Foucault’s most famous pendulum was demonstrated here at the Pantheon; the one here now is an exact copy made after the original fell and caused serious damage to it and the flooring

This sculpture stands where the altar was placed (when the building was a church); the soldiers on the right represent France, and the men on the left represent the National Convention, the governing body that, among other things, ordered the executions of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

In the crypt, we were passing quickly through the burial places for Voltaire, Rousseau, Hugo, Moulin, Zola, and Curie when we had to stop. We were moving quickly, but a small collection of people had gathered at the grave in front of us. A little girl, maybe 8 years old, was hugging the bust statue in front of her. She was crying a little, and her family was taking pictures. We gave them their space and quiet time and then noticed she was hugging the bust of Louis Braille, the man who invented the alphabet and means of written communication for the blind. As the girl pulled away and we realized she was definitely sight-impaired, we also became very emotional. For some people, walking through the crypt was just a way to courteously pay respect to important French citizens. For others, it was an important thank you. I obliviously took a photo of the whole scene before realizing what I captured, but it was a very personal moment for this family and I won’t post that picture here. It was one of the most poignant scenes of the trip, though. 

Outside the Pantheon, we could see the Eiffel from the steps. We had already walked a good distance, though, so we voted to call an Uber and head home for a nap before dinner. 

Steps of the Pantheon

After a two hour nap/break, we had to come to terms with the fact that we had spent 4 days within two blocks of the Eiffel Tower and hadn’t yet really walked over to see it. As the sun set, we walked to the base of the tower and took a few pictures. 

Interestingly, the best pics of the tower are from a distance

But yeah, I’m going to try to get that up close shot anyway

The entire Champ de Mars, the long grassy park area in front of the tower, was closed off and staffed by security in preparation for the July 14th celebration. This gave us an excuse to search the neighborhood for a decent restaurant instead of picking up a picnic. That’s when I realized that while I slept, everyone else had already eaten leftovers. We compromised on Trattoria Dell’Angelo where I had a really good crispy pizza while everyone else indulged in dessert. 

Interesting note: the family next to us ended up in line with us at the airport two days later. Obviously, this restaurant is a favorite of tourists

The Eiffel is beautiful at night, so we walked to the river and did a big loop over the Passerelle Debilly bridge and then back to the Eiffel side by the the Pont d Lena bridge. The river and its sites were all lit up at night, and while it was not overcrowded (we expected that would happen for the fireworks tomorrow), the crowds ramped up a little as 11:00 approached and the Eiffel twinkled for 5 minutes. 

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Paris, Day 2

Today started with another quick and easy Uber ride — this time to the catacombs. We had purchased tickets in advance, but I’d read you still needed to be early because they only let 200 people into the catacombs system at a time. We were in line and waiting by 10:30 for our 11:00 tickets, and we still didn’t get down until 11:30.

The remains of over 6 million people were moved here in the late 1700’s in an effort to empty the cemeteries. Also, the year 1774 saw a series of cave-ins with the mine and tunnel system Paris had going, and creating the ossuary was part of an effort to reinforce and create structurally sound tunnels.

The black line on the ceiling once led the way through jumbled mine tunnels

Elizabeth points to one of the reinforced structures put in place to brace up the old mine walls and keep the catacombs from collapsing

Julia listening to the audio guide that gave a good history of each stop

For two years in the late 1700’s, Paris emptied its cemeteries and placed the remains in the catacombs

Many bones were stacked in artful formations as honorable tributes to the dead

Sometimes crosses or tombstones marked from which cemeteries collections originated

An old well

Mike near one of the stones marking the dead from one of the French Revolution battles

Looking up near one of the exits: vaulted ceiling with arched support for the previously collapsed tunnel

Mike was fighting a cold, so the miles we would be walking to our other destinations just felt like too much. He decided to work out the Paris bike sharing system. The girls and I started walking and found both an outdoor market and a grocery along our way to the Luxembourg Garden, a beautiful outdoor area originally created in 1612 by King Henry IV’s widow, Marie de’ Medici, who lived in Luxembourg Palace on the grounds. Today it was a nice place for a picnic and a break.

Looking for lunch

One of the smaller gardens just outside the Luxembourg Gardens

Picnic with the Luxembourg Palace in the background

Original model for the Statue of Liberty

Mike continued his bike ride and met us a mile away at Notre Dame Cathedral. He had downloaded Rick Steve’s walking tour of Notre Dame, so by the time I had decided to hop into an English tour, he was already inside and doing his own thing. This was a good thing because our tour guide, while very thorough, spent a lot of time outside discussing the exterior of the cathedral. To speed up our time inside, when she finally got us through the entrance, we joined up with Mike who gave us his own highlights tour of the building’s interior. Julia declared this her favorite cathedral so far because of the rose windows and the beauty of all of the smaller chapels. I thought it was quite dark and dreary compared to many we had previously seen. I was intrigued by the story that Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame included many sections about the gothic architecture of the building and ultimately may have renewed interest in the cathedral itself and saved it from demolition at a time when many were considering tearing it down and reusing the stone.

Mike with his Rick Steves audio tour points out some structures on the outside of the cathedral

At one time, distance in Europe was measured by how far it was from this spot in front of Notre Dame

One of the rose windows

Panel depicting the life of Jesus Christ

Moving back across town, Mike again used the bike rental system while the girls and I had a walk along the river. We met up at the Musee d’Orsay, a beautiful museum with collections of mostly 19th and 20th century art. Our museum passes again let us use the short entry line, and we soon found ourselves trying to decide what to see in the two hours the museum would be open. After visiting the Van Gogh room as a family, we decided to split up and meet at the Statue of Liberty in an hour. This was a great system for this museum because it let us explore on our own time. Also, the layout of the museum with its long central gallery made it nearly impossible to get lost.

Crossing the street and seeing Mike fly by us on a bike almost tempted us to try riding through the busy streets of Paris

Center gallery of the Musee d’Orsay

The Four Parts of the World Holding the Celestial Sphere, by Carpeaux: The piece holds the phrase, “Why Be Born a Slave?” and shows the figure for the Americas finally crushing the chain wrapped around Africa’s ankle

I love the simple layout of this museum

The Angelus, by Jean Francois Millet, is a familiar sight in our brother and sister-in-law’s home

Looking at this one closely because in an episode of Doctor Who, scary monsters were creeping around in this painting. We can give it the all-clear, though. No obvious monsters.

Van Gogh, Self Portrait

Noon Rest, by Van Gogh, hung over our fireplace for years

One depiction of the Paris Opera House

Starry Night, the more serene version painted before Van Gogh was placed in an asylum

Woman Bitten by a Snake, a very scandelous work of art in 1847

Painting depicting the excommunication of Robert the Pious after his marriage was not approved by the Pope

The center clock captures attention

This was a really long day, and we did a lot of walking, so we returned home, made our own dinner, and fell asleep early. A nice bonus, though, was planning out the next day while listening to the light rain outside. Just before sunset, we were treated to a beautiful rainbow over the rooftops. 

Rainbow outside our window

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Paris, Day 1

Today was our first full day in Paris, and I was working to balance everyone being rested and curious while still checking a few places off the sightseeing list every day. With a big list of things to see and do, I become energized and am ready to go. Mike does not like to adhere to a list, and the girls will generally do whatever as long as they’re not exhausted. The Euro16 crowd partied most of the night, so Mike didn’t sleep too hard. We got going by 10:00, though, and after a quick Uber to the Louvre, we started our Paris exploration.

We signed ourselves up for a “Highlights of the Louvre” English tour in the early afternoon, wandered around a little ourselves, and then joined an our official tour. This was a great system for us because it allowed us to see the museum’s favorites without wandering too much like we had done at the British Museum.

First things first: coffee and sandwiches at the Louvre snack shop

Elizabeth playing “Got Your Nose” with a sphinx

Greek Antiquities Gallery

Aphrodite (Venus de Milo) straight ahead

Sleeping Hermaphroditus with the mattress sculpted by Bernini

Winged Victory of Samothrace

Medieval Louvre Palace walls from appx 1202 unearthed/restored appx 1989

Crazy scene at the Mona Lisa: If you’re going in close, you have to commit to the struggle

Mike is pretty tall, so he had the best chance of seeing her up close

Of course, Julia is pretty small, so she could weasle her way up front, too

Liberty Leading the People, Delacroix, commemorating the July Revolution of 1830

The little boy in the painting was Victor Hugo’s inspiration for Gavroche

The Coronation of Napoleon, completed in 1807 by Jacques-Louis David

The Virgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci

End of our Louvre tour: the bottom of the pyramid

Leaving the Louvre, we took a path through the Place du Carrousel and into the Tuileries gardens. Along the way, we stopped to just relax and people watch. The whole area was being prepared for the July 14th military parades, so we walked around a lot of barricades and places already off-limits to pedestrians. It was still a nice walk, though.

Security everywhere along the path

Finding the perfect chair to people watch and relax for a while

We stopped for what I had planned on being a short break at the Musee de l’Orangerie, a museum dedicated to impressionist paintings. Eight of Monet’s water lillies murals are on display here.

They’re being so patient indulging me in my water lillies

We eventually walked to the Arc de Triomphe, a deceptively large monument built to commemorate Napoleon’s victories. It had an observation deck, but we were totally worn out and decided it was meant for another day if we could squeeze it in.

Fountain on the way to the Arc

Taking the garden path because the main street is already blocked off and secure for the July 14th parade

Arc de Triomphe (as seen from the middle of the street when crossing to reach McDonalds)

A better and closer look

Walking back to our apartment, we paused while crossing the street and stumbled upon a space remembering Princess Diana. We were walking over the tunnel where her car crashed back in 1997. It is a nice tribute that people still leave remembrances here.

The walk along the river was a nice way to end the night.

Our neighborhood is far enough from the Eiffel that the walk along the river is quiet

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Wuppertal to Paris

This was our travel day to Paris, but before leaving Wuppertal, I just have to mention our hotel’s interesting setup. In the girls’ room, there was a glass mirror between the main room and the bathroom. From the bathroom, you could see into the main room, but from the main room, the glass was only a mirror that allowed someone in the bathroom to have privacy. Our room did not work this way. From inside the bathroom, it was kind of a mirrored glass that you could see through. From the main room, it was a puzzle. Someone sitting at the desk had a clear view directly into the bathroom.

The view when sitting at the desk in the hotel room. Why?

This made no sense to me. Why would you want to have eye contact with someone at the desk while you are using the toilet?  Had I not felt the need to be next door to the girls, I would have asked for a room switch. Improper installation? Just a weird option for guests? Not ok. You needed a certain amount of trust that your roommate would ignore you and wouldn’t let anyone else into the room while the bathroom was occupied.

Our hotel desk was not staffed for most of the day, and that meant that when I wanted to call a taxi and 6:30 am, I was on my own. The first place I called could not understand me and I could not understand them, so I had to hang up. The next place I called seemed to understand where I needed to be picked up, so I just had to hang up and cross my fingers. We got lucky and had a ride to the train station.

Fast train to Paris

The train to Paris took much of the day. On arriving, we were met by a sea of taxi drivers waving signs saying “$45 anywhere in city.” We instead walked a block away, ordered our first Uber ride, and got to our apartment for $14. This started my love for Uber in Paris. We had planned to meet our apartment owner at 1:00, and we arrived just a few minutes early. The apartment was perfect for our needs. Mike and I had the back bedroom, the girls had a fold out sofa in the living room, and we had both a bathroom and kitchen.

Happy with our Paris apt.

The girls and I set out to get groceries, and we ended up going for a long walk. The Euro16 Championship game was happening at a stadium nearby, and the FanZone was set up in the park at the Eiffel.

Ticket holders lining up for the FanZone events at Euro16

The nearby groceries were closed because of the FanZone traffic and security, so we had to explore before we found one. We did not find ready-made sandwiches like we’d hoped because the soccer fans were buying sandwiches and beer in massive quantities and had cleared most of the shelves. We instead bought pasta and drinks and breakfast food before going back to the apartment.

After a snack, my afternoon plan was to make it as far as the Rodin museum so I could buy museum passes for the next morning (I’d read online that the trick is to get them at a small museum where the lines are short so you don’t need to stand in line at a larger museum to buy your pass). The family was ready to walk, so we all visited the Rodin gardens for the last hour the museum was open. The super awesome ticket seller let me know we could visit the gardens for free and save a day of our four day museum pass for later. We only had time for the gardens anyway, so this was a huge savings. She also let us know that I didn’t need a ticket for Julia at all because anyone under 16 gets into museums for free. Julia was happily a child for the rest of the trip.

Invalides: The Museum of Contemporary History

Musee Rodin gardens

The Thinker

Rodin gardens: sculptures

Musee Rodin gardens: sometimes you take a picture and don’t quite realize what’s right behind you until later

The gardens were beautiful, and in the late afternoon heat, they were a good way to spend time outside

Walking home: Outside the Army Museum

We finished the day by making some pasta and sitting on their patio watching the sun go down while listening to the Euro16 fans.

This may have been close to 10:30 pm. The sun didn’t completely set until almost 11:00.

The Eiffel takes on France’s colors for the game

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Wuppertal, Day 2

Today we slept in long enough to completely miss the hotel’s breakfast. Around 11:00, I walked to the corner and grabbed a sack of McDonald’s breakfast sandwiches. The girls slept even longer, and we were lucky to be up and moving in time for Sophia and Meltam to pick the girls up for a shopping trip into the city. 

The girls spent most of the afternoon exploring Wuppertal with their expert guides. 

The elevated train follows the river for much of the length

Wuppertal’s city hall area along one of the pedestrian walks

Mike and I decided to spend the day riding the Schwebebahn. In doing so, we learned a bit about the city. Wuppertal is built down in a valley along the river Wupper. Its factories were an important part of the industrial revolution (aspirin was invented here, and Bayer still employs a lot of people). In 1901, the city decided the best way to unite its long, linear city was to make it easily accessible to everyone. A train through town was not practical because the solid rock in the area made that an impractical option. However, the river running through town meant that a suspended railway over the river was possible. The suspended train, or Schwebebahn, still runs along the river and on one end through town. Getting from one part of town to another is easy and fast. We started our trip just outside our hotel and rode Schwebebahn from one end to the other. 

There was a lot happening  at the Wuppertal Zoo stop, so we got out for a bit to look around. We didn’t visit the zoo, but we assume this is where the stop where, in 1950, someone decided a good promotion for the town would be to have a young elephant ride the Schwebebahn. I’m not sure how they got young Tuffi onto the train, but surprisingly the elephant did not like swinging around high above the ground. Tuffi the elephant broke free from the train car and crashed 40 feet down into the river. Tuffi survived, and we later found the elephant’s storybook in the children’s section of the local bookstore. I’m still puzzled about who might think elephants would enjoy riding in swinging trains, and I felt a sense of relief knowing Tuffi lived a long life at the Wuppertal Zoo. 

Soccer game at the zoo stop; fans were crowding the train cars, and the numerous team jerseys were a big clue

We stopped by Rewe to stock up on water and juice for the hotel rooms and spotted a Smurfs magazine in the checkout. I like reading the checkout magazine covers because the celebrity ones are all so similar I’m pretty sure I can figure out what they’re saying without understanding the words. The Smurfs was a fun change.

Grabbing a late lunch, Mike decided to try currywurst from one of the street vendors. It was good (I tried a little of his), but my bratwurst was just as good.

At 6:30, Sophia arrived and helped us navigate the bus to her neighborhood and home. Her family had invited us for a German cookout, and once again, we were overwhelmed with the friendliness of our students’ families. The Klinkau family served us a delicious meal of German meats, cheeses, and salads. For the second night in a row, we ate until we simply could not eat anymore. A favorite was the grilling cheese that was solid on the outside but soft and “melty” in the middle. Sophia’s parents were extremely nice, and we enjoyed talking to them for a few hours until we started to get anxious about our upcoming early morning travels. Sophia had clued us in that the local announcements were all about how train service to Cologne was suspended for the weekend while construction was being done on the rails. That meant we had to purchase tickets to Düsseldorf in order to get to Cologne to catch our train to Paris. We are so glad someone who knew German could give us a heads-up, or we might have missed our train to France. Anyway, the Klinkau family understood and gave us a ride back to our hotel. 

I forgot to take pics until right at the end, but this was a delicious meal!


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Wuppertal, Day 1

Wuppertal’s students were in school one last day before a six week break, and Elizabeth and Julia were invited to join Pinar for those last few hours. Sophia graduated a few weeks earlier, so she intended to join them later.  While Mike and I slept in, Elizabeth and Julia grabbed breakfast in the hotel and met Pinar outside at 7:30. We chose Hotel Zur Krone because it was near the school, so they had an easy walk that morning. 

Pinar wearing the Hard Rock Chicago shirt she bought when we all visited the Windy City last fall

Gymnasium Sedanstraße

After school, the girls tagged along as Pinar and her friends went to the Brauhaus to celebrate the end of a school year and then walk around town a bit. 

This place is packed during soccer games (when we original planned to go the previous evening), but it was quieter for the girls’ lunch

Shopping Wuppertal

Elizabeth, Julia, and Tuffi (more about him later)

Meanwhile, I hauled all of our dirty laundry to a launderette. The hotel gave me a map and marked where they thought the laundry should be, but they were 3 blocks off. Thus started 30 minutes of me wandering into different shops with my incorrect map asking, “Waschen und trocknen kleidung?” It took me a while to find someone who could point me in the right direction, but I eventually got there and our laundry got a much needed cleaning. We all met back at the hotel to rest. 

At 6:30, we met Meltam, Pinar’s cousin, outside our hotel. Meltam will be out guest student this coming October. She was younger and obviously nervous about meeting us, but she and her mother were very friendly completely wonderful as they walked us across town to the Sahbaz residence. While we waited for Pinar to return from practice, her family showed us the home and the backyard animals we had heard so much about. 

Elizabeth, Meltam, and Julia

After a few photos, Elizabeth and Julia rode with Pinar’s family while Mike and I rode to the restaurant with Meltam and her brother, who is now finishing college classes and still remembered quite a bit of English from his younger schooling years. The grandparents live in a separate part of the apartment complex and came out on the terrace to wave and say hello. As we all piled into the cars, they said something to the group which we were later told was, “Make sure you take them to a good restaurant!” 

Indeed they did. The Sahbaz family treated us to a wonderful dinner. We all tried a variety of different kebobs, rice dishes, meats, drinks, and desserts. Pinar and Meltam’s brother sat in the middle of the group and worked as the main translators  for everyone. Despite not sharing a language with much of the family, we were able to share a great meal with them and learn more about the family and the town. As we walked back to the car, Meltam’s mother told me that she was a little unsure about Meltam going on the trip, but now that she had a chance to meet us, she felt good about her daughter staying with an American family for those weeks. That was a lovely compliment, and we will certainly do our best to make her daughter feel welcome this fall. 

Before going back to our hotel, we stopped by the Sahbaz home for Turkish coffee, treats, and more pictures. Pinar’s sister, who had visited Milan several years earlier, also come home in time to visit for a while. We didn’t stay too late because the whole family planned to leave early in the morning to visit grandparents living in Turkey. We were very appreciative of the family’s generous hospitality during our visit. 

Julia tries the Turkish Coffee


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Cologne and Wuppertal

We were excited about today because we knew we would be in Wuppertal in the afternoon! We wanted to stop in Cologne, however, to check out the cathedral before moving on to Wuppertal. That meant leaving Boppard before the DHL office opened. We had to buy our own tickets using the kiosks instead of getting at least a little help. We told the machine our destination, and it just spit out 4 tickets for us. It didn’t give us an itinerary or train number. Apparently, we were supposed to have looked that up before we bought the tickets?? I don’t know . . . We were winging this one. We got on the first train that said it was going to Koblenz, and we then reached the Koblenz station, asked at the terminal which platform we needed to be on to reach Cologne, and went where the person pointed. In a few minutes, we hopped on a train, sat down, glanced at our tickets, and only as the train started moving did we realize we had jumped on an Ice train when our tickets very clearly said “No Ice.” Oops. We didn’t know enough about the trains to know the difference, we were working off of a ticket that we now know was an open ticket that didn’t lock us in to one specific train but instead let us ride on any regional train. Ice trains are faster and meant for longer distances; therefore, they are more expensive. We basically bought a budget ticket and then got on a non-budget train. Of course, for the first time in weeks, this is the train where an attendant came down the car and asked for tickets. Not having any choice, I handed her the tickets hoping she wouldn’t notice. Nope. She noticed. We were politely told we needed to get off at the next stop and catch a different train. We used the opportunity to ask how we could figure out which train to take, and she actually gave us specific enough directions that we easily found the correct train and were on our way. The other difference between Ice and regional trains is apparently that the Ice trains don’t oversell but regional trains are a free for all. We had nowhere to sit, and everyone had so much stuff and luggage piled everywhere. We had bags . . . One guy got on with a guitar and two full sized music stands. We were super glad when we reached Cologne.

Even from inside the train station, the cathedral dominates the area

We used the storage lockers in the train station to stash our luggage for a few hours. The machine was cool. You put 4 euro into the machine, and a door opened with a bug metal tray. You fit as many bags as possible into the tray (it was huge — we could fit all of our big bags plus the food bag in there) and pushed the go button. A door closed and the machine spit out a ticket. All of the bags disappeared somewhere. Hours later, we just put the ticket back in the machine, and our bags came back. Cool. With our backpacks, we walked out the door with the intention of touring the cathedral. We arrived just as mass was starting, but we were told we could go around the side to do a tour tour. Excellent. That sounded like a great tour. We paid our money and walked through the doors. The rest of the family was in front of me, and only as they disappeared around the doorway did I see the translation of the sign at the ticket booth:  533 steps/no lift.

The hike up to the towers was not a good time, but the views at the top were worth it.


Cologne / North Rhine-Westphalia / Germany - 7/7/16

Family selfie as we walk to the cathedral

They are currently cleaning the cathedral. You can definitely tell which art pieces have been cleaned so far and which have not.


Looking down into the cathedral space below street level, you can see the renovations and cleaning process at work


One of the many doors. We didn’t get an official tour, which is a shame, because I would love to know the significance of what I think is a rooster on the right side of the entrance ?


Climbing the many stairs, we finally begin to see some of the spires just beyond the rail.


The 1875 date marks a new portion of the cathedral or a year of renovation.

Cologne / North Rhine-Westphalia / Germany - 7/7/16

Hoisting a cleaned piece of the spire


Some decorative details can really only be seen from above

Cologne / North Rhine-Westphalia / Germany - 7/7/16


Inside the stairwell, some climbers leave their mark

Cologne / North Rhine-Westphalia / Germany - 7/7/16

533 steps: very small and crowded when you meet a group going in the opposite direction

Apparently, sometimes somebody needs to climb that ladder to reach the actual top.


Beautiful view of Cologne, the Rhine River, the parks, and the locks of love bridge

Cologne / North Rhine-Westphalia / Germany - 7/7/16

Almost near the top: The bell tower

Looking up into the tallest part of the cathedral


After the climb, we rested for a few minutes before taking a quick look inside. I really liked the stained glass in this cathedral.


The huge pipe organ looks tiny compared to the tall cathedral.




A 30 minute train ride from Cologne is Wuppertal. For the past two Octobers, we have hosted two students, Sophia and Pinar, when their school group visited Milan for a month. I’d been keeping the secret that they were going to surprise Elizabeth and Julia by meeting them at the train station.


So happy to finally see these girls again!

It was wonderful to see them again! They helped us navigate the train station and then Wuppertal’s famous Schwebebahn to reach our hotel. We got our first walk through Wuppertal before Pinar had to head out to handball practice, and then we had some coffee with Sophia on one of the main shopping streets.


Getting our first look at Wuppertal


We haven’t seen a Woolworth since we were little kids!

From here we had a good look at the Schwebebahn


We went back to our hotel excited to spend a few days with our students.

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Boppard and Rhine Castle Tour

We chose Boppard for our nights on the Rhine because we thought it would be a good ending stop to a castle tour. We wanted to do a loop: ride the train south and take a boat back north. It did work out well. Train tickets could be purchased at the local DHL store near the station, and because I didn’t know exactly what kind of train ticket we needed for the day, I struggled to ask questions in German. Eventually, we walked away with tickets, and I still don’t know if they were the right ones for the day. Nobody ever checked. Trains only ran on the hour, so we had time to run down to the boat dock and buy boat tickets for later in the day.  Then we took the train south and stopped in St Goar to hike a castle ruin. Finally, we went a bit further south to Bingen where we hopped on an afternoon boat that slowly took us north again with some narration about the castles we could see along the way.

St Goar was a nice little town, so we walked around a little as we made our way toward the castle.

Easy to tell from the outside which store is selling the beer steins

This is supposedly the largest free hanging cuckoo clock in the world.

Rheinfels Castle saw beginning construction in 1245. It continued to expand to be one of the largest castles along the Rhine River Valley. The French destroyed it in the 1700’s, but some of the remains still stand. We explored the area for a couple of hours, and it was hard to imagine the structure was once five times the current size and three more stories high. We had great weather, and Rheinfels was a really fun castle ruin to explore.

Just inside the ticket area at Rheinfels Castle. Here you can start either the inside loop or outside loop for exploring the grounds.

When people lived in Rheinfels castle, the timber section of the fortress made it three stories higher than what you see here.

Mike standing where the keep once stood. This would have been a round fortified tower within the larger castle walls. It was the last line of defense if a castle was overpowered.

Looking down on St Goar and the Rhine River

Julia checks out the collection of medicines and herbs kept on hand throughout the years.

Elizabeth climbs into the tower and pulls out a little Lady Larken from the last school show.

Exploring one of the dungeons (this one would have been under the keep)

From where the girls are standing, you could easily look up and down the Rhine for a long distance.

One of the things we found different with this castle were the mines and “secret” passages you could still walk through if you dared (they were totally dark and freaked me out knowing we were under the castle, but the rest of the family loved it).

The castle’s largest storage chamber: Food would have been kept here (you can see the wind chambers providing air but keeping out rain).

Side view of an area leading to the mines and underground tunnels

I only went in because this didn’t look too bad or too dark

It still looks pretty light here, so I kept going

At the bottom of these stairs, we need to turn on the flashlights (no more natural light at all)

We hadn’t known much about any of the small towns along the river, but we definitely chose a great castle to explore. After seeing Rheinfels, I was totally okay with seeing the others from a boat.

In Bingen, we had to time our stop in order to catch the last boat going north at 4:30. We walked town a little and eventually ended up hanging out at the boat dock where we grabbed a snack. Here Julia accidentally ordered a favorite new drink. She asked for a glass of milk, but translation was rough, and she instead received something milky, frothy, and a little sweet. It wasn’t what she ordered, but she wasn’t unhappy.

Waiting for the train at St Goar to take us south to Bingen

Our boat took us past many castles. Some are now just ruins, some are hotels or restaurants, and at least one is now a youth hostel. We grabbed chairs at the front of the boat and had a nice couple of hours. Mike managed to download Rick Steve’s audio tour of the Rhine, so he actually had a nice narration to follow as we moved castle to castle. He and Elizabeth occasionally shared important info with us, so we did get to learn about what we were seeing.

From the boat, you get a good view of the vineyards lining the steep sides of the river.

It was warm when the sun was out, but Julia got a little cold when it ducked behind the clouds

A long time ago, this castle would stop boats and collect tolls along the Rhine

Bacharach castle (now a youth hostel)

Here you can see two castles with a large stone wall between them. Legend says they were built by two brothers in love with the same woman. The wall kept them from fighting with one another.

The Loreley curve in the Rhine is one of the most dangerous in history. The 90 degree turn crashed many ships on the rocks. Today, electronic signals tell boats if the route is clear.

The Loreley statue just past the curve in the river marks where many boats were lost.

We arrived back in Boppard hungry and tired from a long day. We found an Italian restaurant along the river and spent the time watching boats come and go while we kept an eye on the TV showing European track and field. We then took a few minutes to explore our own town before bed.

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Burg Eltz

We had an early start in Rothenburg because today was a travel day with a lot of driving.
Rothenburg to our next stop was a 3.5 hour drive. Once we were on the highway, the kids could obviously hear us debating the appropriate highway speeds. It was super cool that our car always had a digital display letting us know when the speed had changed and what our maximum speed should be. It was only when that maximum speed was a blank icon with an X through it that I got a little nervous.

Our first stop was Burg Eltz, is a favorite medieval castle because it has been owned by one branch of the same family since the 12th century. It sits just off the Mosel River. Unlike many of the castles we had seen previously and would see later, this one was never destroyed. Therefore, it is open to visitors, and you can walk through and see not only the castle walls, but furniture, paintings, weapons, decoration, and other things that would have been in the castle when it was lived in. Apparently, the family that owns the castle has several apartments somewhere in the castle, and I assume these are quite modern; however, it was fun to take the English tour and see part of the castle and its contents on display.

Burg Eltz from the shuttle bus road. We learned later we could have easily walked down and just taken the bus back up to our car. We didn’t expect to walk down to reach a castle.

We’re getting closer, and it still looks like a perfect fairytale castle!

I loved how it was easy to see with Burg Eltz that the castle was built into the side of a rocky mountainside. The rocks you can see on the right can also be seen inside the castle — they are just part of the wall.

One interesting note about this castle is that it has a central courtyard with entrances to what are essentially three different castles. Three brothers built the castle and wanted separate quarters for each of the families. While there is a common meeting room for decision making, there are not interior hallways to access each section. Instead, each family had to use the central courtyard and the door designating another family/part of the castle in order to visit other family members.

Door #1

Door #2

Door #3

One of the adorable gutters shaped like a dragon

Burg Eltz gives several English tours each day, and we were lucky enough to be on time to join this walk through the castle. Photos were not allowed on the tour itself, but we could later walk through some of the courtyards and the museum.

Central courtyard where you can access all three doors/castle sections

Museum: Here you can see on the left how the castle was built right into the rocky walls of the hillside

Looking down from a side courtyard, you can see the defensive walls that once protected the fortress from invaders.

The castle had a small cafe, and we bought some lunch and hung out on the terrace overlooking the small river (obviously a feeder — not the Mosel) before we caught the tram back to our car.

We drove another 40 minutes and dropped our car in Koblenz. After a taxi to the train station, we backtracked a little to Boppard, a small town along the Rhine. Our bed & breakfast, Mittelrhein Pension, was just a few blocks from the train station, so we had time to check in and run down to Rewe for groceries. We had sandwiches and fruit for dinner before calling it a night.


Typical dinner when we aren’t looking for a restaurant


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Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Today we were tourists of the highest level. We spent the whole day in Rothenberg ob der Tauber walking the streets, going in and out of little shops, and having no actual plan. We started by walking the walls of the city.

We all liked the cool snake hanging over the door on this home

Medieval watchmen were shorter than Mike; he did a lot of the walk kind of hunched over

A good example of the pulley hooks that could pull things up to the second story. Houses needed to have enough food stored to withstand a siege

When Rothenburg needed rebuilding after WWII, people or towns could contribute and have a plaque added to the outer walls; here we find our next stop — Wuppertal!

Mike and Julia found the Medieval Punishment Museum and spent some time in there.

Just looking at this chair would get some people to confess

Shame masks for people who talk to much

The Rack

The Iron Maiden with spikes inside

Shame masks for men who are pigs

They would lower this into the cold river to half drown someone into confessing

We all did some window shopping.

A lot of Lindor chocolate

It’s a Nimbus 2000

One of our former German students told us about her favorite German fast food, the Döner Kebab, so we tried those for dinner and gave them a thumbs-up. 

One of our former German students suggested we try a Döner Kebab; it was really good after a long day of walking!

We went back to the hotel for an early night.

Back at our guest house


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Today we were up early and decided to add an extra hour to our day’s travel to visit Auernheim, a small town where the Woelmers once lived before moving to America and settling in Michigan during the mid-1850’s. The original spelling of Woelmer was Wöllmer. It was changed when they immigrated to the U.S. We had left this day an open question because we did not know how much progress we would be making in our travels, and if we had to cut something out to keep on schedule, it would probably be the trip to Auernheim to see the little church where Wöllmers once worshipped. In the end, though, I am glad we took the time.

It was not an easy travel route, either, because we had to drive through several small towns in which the main roads were completely shut down for construction. Mike Google-d us around those stops, though, and while we sometimes questioned the status of the “road” we were on, we did eventually get where we were going.

Taking some back roads to get around construction in town; there was much debate in the car as to whether this was actually a road

We arrived in Auernheim around 10:00 am and found the church, St. Georg’s, just as services were letting out. This was good because it meant we might get to peek inside. The town is small, though, and the church’s congregation was smaller. We did not go unnoticed. Two very nice couples politely asked why we were there, and, in very poor German (using the Google Translate app that wasn’t working well) we tried to explain Mike’s connection to the church. We knew there were a couple of relatives who still lived in town. His aunt’s family, as well as our nephew, had even visited and kept in contact. We mentioned Wilhelm Neumeier, his mother was a Wöllmer, and somehow in a period of ten minutes, they were insisting on taking us to his house. 

I felt bad because we hadn’t been sure of our schedule and therefore didn’t want to bother Wilhelm and had not previously contacted him; now, here we were showing up on his doorstep on a Sunday morning. He looked sleepy, and I’m sure we were quite the surprise. Still, he was very polite, friendly, and gracious as he invited us into his garden and chatted with us about common family. He even found a photo album in which Mike found a picture of himself at a family gathering many years ago.

Population is 634

Looking at photos from Wilhelm Neumeier’s visit to Michigan many years ago, Mike recognizes himself in one picture

As we left, Wilhelm’s brother, Freddy, arrived next door where he owns a Christian book store. He told us more about the church and then helped us drive back and let us look around a bit. 

St Georg Church

The hooks on the pew were for hanging your hat

Freddy showing us some of the graves

Luise Neumeier’s maiden name was Wöllmer

We then drove out to the Wöllmer Sägewerk, a lumber yard owned by the Wöllmer family.

Town was very small, but as we were leaving, we made a last minute decision to stay a while longer and maybe walk around. Instead, we found a place to park just down the block from a small restaurant called the Gasthous, so we decided to have lunch. We ordered drinks and food without much trouble, but we don’t speak German and almost everyone in the restaurant didn’t speak English, so it was a gamble. We told the girls it didn’t matter what you thought you ordered . . . We were just going to eat whatever showed up. 

Hearing us talking, though, the waitress’s granddaughter came out to eat her lunch at our table. She said hello and talked to us a little in English and said she was studying it in school. Her father joined us and explained he knew Enlgish as well. He lived in Nurnberg but was in town visiting his mother. With the man and his daughter as translators, we could then explain why we were in town, where we were coming from, and where we were headed. Her son knew quite a bit about local history, so we had a very nice conversation with the family while we ate. As we said our good-byes, we complimented the daughter on her English speaking skills, and she complimented the girls telling them they were very pretty. It was a nice way to leave Auernheim having come in on an unplanned visit. 

By 3:00 we pulled up to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the cutest little German country town you’ll ever see. Rothenburg is, in fact, the most complete medieval walled city in Europe. As an uncomfortable side note, after the Nazis expelled Rothenburg’s Jewish citizens in 1938, they regularly brought tour groups through town in a propaganda move to show it off as an ideal German community. Today the town area is again diverse and thrives outside the city walls while the old city is essentially for tourists looking to see an old market town. Wanting to get our bearings, Mike took a nap while the girls and I explored a little bit. We hiked a part of the outer walls. 

We then met Mike in the town square for a tour. The evening Night Watchman Tour  gave us a good overview of the town and walked us to some of the important viewpoint points and good places for stories. On this tour, we learned that  while many other German towns of Rothenberg’s size were destroyed or severely damaged during WWII, Rothenberg still stands (and was only partly damaged) because the American Assistant Secretary of War John J McCloy, who had to give the call to destroy the city, only bombed one section before he held back and decided instead to give Rothenbeg three hours to surrender. He technically should not have given that opportunity, and the leader of the German city should not have surrendered. However, the war was nearly over and the man in charge of Rothenberg’s decisions, Major Thommes, was only filling in for someone else at the time, so he did indeed surrender.  The local story now says that McCloy, who gave them the option, only did so because — and I love this — his mother had visited Rothenberg as a tourist, and it was her favorite city. Basically, the adorable little town I was standing in was adorable and mostly authentic because a grown man didn’t want to get in trouble with his mom. Great story. 

Waiting for the evening tour outside City Hall

The Night Watchman

The Night Watchman English tour; we noticed the later German tour had about 9 people in comparison

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Elie Wiesel died today, and today we visited Dachau. I’ve taught Wiesel’s short novel Night to high school sophomores,and my own children read it during middle school. As complicated and controversial as Wiesel’s life became, my primary connection comes from seeing young people who did not see themselves as readers approach the Holocaust for the first time through his writing. It was powerful, and walking the steps prisoners took at Dachau (although it was not one of the camps in which he was imprisoned) seemed a fitting tribute to Wiesel and any survivor. In today’s world where we watch the news from back in the United States and just sit incredulous as how we treat one another (at the time we write to post this, it is a week where hate and death are at the forefront), it is important to remember humanity’s past mistakes and consider what people are capable of doing when they see others as less, or as something inherently dangerous or different, than themselves.

Work will set you free: twisted words in the context of camps where prisoners arrived, worked, and died

Dachau sits on the site of an old munitions factory. In 1933, Heinrich Himmler, then the Chief of Police in nearby Munich, opened it as a small space for political prisoners. Over the years, the camp grew to accommodate more prisoners. It remained a work camp until the end of WWII. It was never specifically a death camp, and women and children were never processed here. However, after the Nurenberg Laws in 1935, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, emigrants, and Jewish prisoners who were able to work were eventually processed along with those imprisoned for political reasons. Officially, 40,000 people died before Americans liberated the camp in 1945 (this includes 4,000 Soviet prisoners who were marched into camp and immediately killed). The actual number of deaths is assumed to be much higher. By the end of the war, starvation and disease killed so many people each day, the crematory could not keep up, and bodies were stacked in the nearby woods. When the camp was taken by American forces in 1945, the military was so horrified by what they found that they made the entire down of Dachau walk through and witness what was happening just beyond their doors. The memorial exists today because Dachau’s survivors insisted it needed to be preserved so others would not forget what happened here.

Prisoners would first walk into this building upon arrival to give up all of their belongings and receive a number and a badge

The main yard where prisoners reported daily for count

The Jewish prisoners were put in the back of the complex, which made for a long walk to get food or use a toilet. If you lived in the back, your lifespan was typically shorter than those near the front.

The original barracks were hastly built — only the foundations remain. In the distance is a replica of what they looked like

A dry moat and an electrified fence kept the prisoners inside

The barracks changed over time to house more and more prisoners. This is what the sleeping quarters looked like toward the end of the war

Identification badges categorizing all prisoners

One of the processing “disinfecting” rooms designed to humiliate prisoners as well as punish

Entrance to one of the gas chambers — Fortunately, this room was never used at Dachau, but no one is exactly sure why

The crematory, however, was used. More than 40,000 prisoners officially died at Dachau, but with more than 200,000 prisoners officially processed, the actual number of deaths at the camp is unknown.

One of the memorials marking a mass grave

Memorial sculpture from 1968. It is easy to see the figures are in agony and twisted with the barbed wire, but notice they are also holding hands

Touring Dachau was an important experience. We left feeling quiet and unsettled. Reviewing the photos, I even paused deciding which were appropriate for a public post. Dachau’s history includes the humiliating and inhumane deaths of so many. It felt potentially intrusive to take pictures and make public the places and means of their deaths. However, the memorial site exists to do just that: to make public the events that happened here. So many years later, I would hope this would not be necessary. However, when I read of Elie Wiesel’s death, I searched the Internet for his name to remind myself in which camps he was held. One of the links on the first page questioned him, his motives in writing about the Holocaust, and the validity of the Holocaust itself. Therefore, while it may first feel inappropriate posting public pictures of places where people suffered and died, I am posting them. Obviously, the world has not yet come to a full understanding and is not yet at peace with its history.

We had an hour and a half drive to our next stop, and it turned out to be a welcome rest for the night.

We rented a car in Dachau so we could access a few of Germany’s smaller towns. Our first overnight in rural Germany was at Burg Katzenstein, a castle that housed knights as early as 1095, was severely damaged in 1648 during the Thirty Years’ War, and was eventually purchased by private owners and renovated for vacationers.

Burg Katzenstein

The center courtyard

The owners were very friendly and gave us a quadruple room. It was so much space compared to what we have had so far.

We explored the castle on our own and had fun poking around the rooms and corridors.

Deep well to supply water during a long siege

The chapel

The gallows

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Munich, Day 2

We had been spoiled with breakfast at our guest houses so far, so seeking out our own probably got us up and going a little earlier than we normally would. We did go back to the Viktualmarkt where we could choose food from dozens of small stores and market stalls. Mike and Julia had breakfast sandwiches, and Elizabeth and I had fruit smoothies, fresh bread, and fish. It wasn’t yet 10 am, and we couldn’t quite wrap our head around the many, many people sitting down to a large pretzel and a half liter of beer.

Beer and pretzels for breakfast?

May pole at the Viktualmarkt

We returned to the main square to watch the Glockenspiel display. Three times each day, the clock pieces perform a dramatic visual. The Knights joust, and then the lower figures dance.

It was cute, but more importantly, it put us in the main square to hear two young men play the marimba and vibes. Julia plays those instruments at school, and she was more than impressed by their technique.

We wanted a walking tour that still left us the afternoon to explore the gardens, so we downloaded Rick Steve’s walking tour of Munich and, using the online map, plugged ourselves in and walked the city. We found the map hard to follow sometimes, but whenever we ran into an actual tour group, they seemed to be getting the same information we had, so I’m giving it positive reviews for what we needed that day. We certainly didn’t learn or see much of Munich, but we got a good taste.

Jewish Museum

St. Michael’s Church, holding the tomb of “Mad” King Ludwig II

Frauenkirche, much rebuilt after WWII

Frauenkirche, originally built between 1466-1488

Michael Jackson would stay in Munich on occasion. People would sit in this park, across from his hotel, to see if he would wave from the window. When he died, people took over a statue in the park, as a memorial.

Renaissance composer Ludwig di Lasso’s statue is now a Michael Jackson memorial

Marienhof: The buildings here were destroyed during WWII, and the city chose to keep it as a park space

Max-Joseph-Platz: You can see the reflection of the Residenz in Julia’s glasses

An art exibit that let people play with mirrors

Golden cobblestones on the Viscardigasse alley remember a time when this small alley was used to avoid having to give a Nazi salute. Following 1923’s abortive Beer Hall Putsch, and the subsequent rise of the Nazi party, the Feldherrnhalle (on the next street over) became a monument for Hitler’s movement, with pedestrians expected to salute when passing by, but the nearby Viscardigasse alley provided an alternate route for those that refused to show their support.

The shiny cobblestones commemorate the detour brave Hitler-era citizens took if they wanted to reach the Odeonsplatz without offering a Sieg-Heil-style salute

Odeonsplatz, holding Munich’s “Hall of Heroes”

We had heard the English gardens were beautiful, so we saved much of the afternoon for exploring them.

The Hofgarten, once built as the gardens for the noble families living in the Residenz palace

We knew there was a restaurant/beer garden about a third of the way through the park, so we picked a route and started walking. The park was large with lots of small trails.

As we arrived at a wide, open space, we discovered something unique about Munich’s parks.

Look at the picture just above this text . . . There are lots of people stretched out on the lawn enjoying a sunny day. Now, what if I told you 20 percent or so of those people were naked?  Yup. Munich has what are called “Urban Naked Zones.” I’d read the travel guides, and that this exists was not a surprise. I assumed that maybe . . . If we found ourselves on a remote back trail . . . We might stumble upon one or two nude sunbathers. But it was not just one or two people . . . and they were not anywhere remote. In fact, the path we were on followed a busy stream where families were swimming, and a playground was just on the other side. It was a hot day, about 85 F, and naked people seemed to be everywhere. We just keep walking. With my American sensibilities, I did not trust myself to not impulsively giggle at the site of a suit and tie neatly folded on the grass right next to a totally naked dude stretched out and throwing a tennis ball to his dog, so we just kept moving.

Loosely translated: Sunbathing area for bathing in the nude. . . this freedom is a special expression for a liberal and tolerant society

We had lunch at Chinesischer Turm, a pagoda-style open air restaurant. We again feasted on sausages, chicken, and spätzle and cheese. The traditional German band was fun to listen to, so we rested here for a long time before walking further north to a lake. From here, we took the subway back to our hotel.


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Munich, Day 1

Leaving Hallstatt was hard. We could have easily done another day here. It might just have been that our England segment of the trip was so busy, but finally slowing down was nice. We packed early and had breakfast (again, very good — I don’t think we have had a bad breakfast yet). Then we went to the dock to make sure we got on the boat to meet the train. We assumed there would be a lot of people leaving in the morning, but we were wrong. There were only a few other people on the boat, and we used the time to take pictures.

Elizabeth caught this great sunrise from outside our hotel

This cat seemed to follow us whever we walked through town

Waiting for the train and sad to say goodbye to Hollstatt

The day turned into a long travel day, and we’re honestly not adjusting well to train travel. I wish we were better at it, but when faced with five hours on a train, it sounds good until you realize it is broken down into small segments. We had two train transfers before reaching Munich, so instead of allowing ourselves to sleep or really rest during the trip, we had to be alert enough to pay attention. It was more like 45 minutes of riding, a 15 minute layover, another hour and a half of riding, then a 1 hour layover, then finally 2 hours of riding. We were ridiculously tired when we finally reached Munich. We saved navigating the trams/subway for another day and instead just took a taxi to our hotel.

We stayed at Motel One, a business hotel just around the corner from a pedestrian street leading to the Marketplatz. After resting for a good hour, we took a walk. Our first stop was Asam’s Church. It is a small place that nearly blends in with the other businesses on the street. It was built independently by two brothers who wanted to design their own church and crypt. The imagery was very dark, and the decoration was, I think, purposely overdone. It was definitely an interesting stop.

In the main square, we looked around long enough to check on times for the Glockenspiel’s morning performance. We walked through the Viktualmarkt long enough to know we wanted to come back for breakfast, and then we found our way to the Hofbrauhaus: the world’s largest beer garden. We found a table in one of the open gardens and had a good time sampling lots of food and beer. Mike decided the saurkraut was the best he had ever had because it had definite flavor without a strong vinegar smell.

Elizabeth trying a stout

Julia legally trying her first beer

Clever German engineering to make an automatic cleaning toilet seat.

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June 29th is Mike’s birthday, and he chose Hallstatt for “his” stop on the trip. Hallstatt is a tiny town (less than a thousand people), but it has been an inhabited site for salt mining for almost 7000 years. In more “recent” times, an early Iron Age settlement was on the site from 800 to 400 BC (known as the Hallstatt Era). By 1311, the site was a large market town, so it is assumed the town was prosperous much earlier. Salt mining still happens in the mountains over Hallstatt, but it also thrives on tourism. In fact, the town is so popular, a businessman in Asia built a complete replica of the city in Luoyang, China. Basically, with the hope of attracting tourists within China, he cloned an entire Austrian village. Weird — but that must mean it’s worth seeing, right? With promises of touring an ancient salt mine and sitting by a picturesque lake populated with swans, we left Salzburg for what would become a very long journey.

If we had a car, we could have made the trip in an hour and a half. However, we had been repeatedly told that trains were faster and more efficient in Europe. So . . . We paid for a taxi to get us to the train station. Then I tried to work out with the ticketing agent how to get the best deal to Hallstatt. We could travel for $40 as a group after 10:00. For anything earlier, it was $22 per person. We only had one day in the town, though, so we paid the higher ticket price, got on the 9:00 train, and waited. And waited. And checked the time again. Then checked to see if we might be sitting on the wrong train. Finally, it was announced that our train would be delayed due to an adjustment in the line. Our train was now scheduled to leave at 9:55 (just before that 10:00 cutoff for the cheaper ticket). Ultimately, it didn’t leave until 10:10. The late leave time meant couldn’t catch our connecting train on time, too, so we were set back another 40 minutes. By the time we finally reached the Hallstatt train station, a trip that could have taken us an hour and a half if we went directly by car had stretched into almost 5 hours. I’m sure (or I choose to believe) the ticketing office didn’t know our train would be delayed only 10 minutes after they sold me the more expensive tickets, but after being set back, I was in a bad mood. I’m sure we have just had extremely bad luck with the supposedly fantastic trains in Europe, but so far our experience has been two train trips that should have transported us to our destination in appx. 2 hours, and they both have had problems that stretched them into five or six hour trips.

It was hard to stay mad, though, as we boarded the ferry (if you arrive by train, you can only reach the town by a ferry scheduled to meet each train). The view of the little city set against the mountains was fairytale-esque, and it put everyone in a good mood again.

Wondering why all of our train trips are three times longer than they should be . . .

Exiting the Hallstatt train platform, a ferry is waiting

Hallstatt as seen from across the lake

Our guest house, Gasthof Simony, was near the boat dock, so we quickly checked in, dropped our bags, grabbed our jackets, and did a quick speed walk to the other side of town (a less than 10 minute walk) and out to the salt mines. Getting to the salt mine tour involves finding the ticket office (on the opposite side of town from the ferry), taking a lift part way up the mountain, walking up a steep path to the salt mine tour office, and then waiting for the next tour to begin. Because we were so late arriving, we were worried we would miss the last tour, but groups were still going in when we finished our climb.

From the ground, you can only see halfway up the mountain

The “other side” of Hallstatt with businesses and car access

Before going in to the mines, everyone had to put on overalls to cover and protect clothes (it is also very cold inside the mine).

Ready to enter the salt mines

The tour was great! Our guide gave the tour in both German and English (which was awesome because I had assumed we were taking a tour on which we would understand nothing, so it was a nice surprise). We accessed the mines by a series of slides and tunnels.

Using the old mine slides to reach different parts of the tour

We learned how ancient people would have worked as a community to carve out the salt by hand and water. We were taken to a subterranean salt lake  which was very cool. We also learned the story of the “Man in Salt” who was found when a partial cave collapse in the early 1700’s unearthed his preserved body. On the last part of the tour, we could view what is being called the “oldest wooden staircase in Europe.” It was found during an archaeological dig several years ago, and it is now part of the mine tour. We left the tour certain Walt Disney glamorized those seven dwarves drawing them mining diamonds; based on the age of the story and its location, we’re pretty sure they should have been mining salt.

On our walk down from the mines, we stopped at some memorials and viewpoints we had skipped on the way up. One of these was a viewing platform where you had sweeping views of the town, lake, and mountains.

Hallstatt is famous for being a day-trip town, so after the shops all close up, many tourists disappear. By the time we stopped at the grocery near the mine entrance (we needed travel snacks for tomorrow as well as beverages to keep us going) and walked back to our hotel, the roads were clearing out.

Mike is carrying his birthday beer and cake back to the hotel. We’re ready to celebrate!

St Michael’s Catholic Church, dating to the 12th Century, has an Ossuary, or Beinhaus (Bone House). More than 6000 skulls have been collected here and painted with beautiful designs to remember and name the dead.

After paying what we hope was a respectful visit to the Bone House (although there is a parish member there taking donations and passing out prayer cards, it still felt intrusive), we wandered town until we were hungry enough for dinner.

Had we planned ahead, our guest house rented traditional German clothing for a day out

The Lutheran Church had this awesome light up salt cross

We celebrated Mike’s birthday with dinner at our hotel’s restaurant. We sat by the lake, enjoyed our dinner and drinks, and watched for swans.

Mike and Elizabeth had Austrian goulash and declared it very good


After dinner, our balcony provided more great views, so we settled there to eat the birthday dessert we’d picked up at the grocery.

I made everybody pack a camping spork. They have been super useful!

Kind of bummed we didn’t know about the whole rent-a-swan thing

Hallstatt from the boat dock at night

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Salzburg, Day 2

Breakfast at Pension Ballwein was very different from the standard English breakfasts we’d had in the UK. Instead of fried up eggs, potatoes, bacon, sausage, and beans, here we ate lighter with breads, cheeses, sandwich meats, yogurt, granola, fruit, and olives. It was delicious, and we ate a lot.

Our morning activity was Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour. Our guide was from Romania but had been a student in the United States for a year. While in the states, she fell in love with The Sound of Music movie, and she now spends her summers guiding bicycle groups in and around Salzburg to see a mixture of historical sites as well as both movie locations for the Sound of Music and places with connections to the Von Trapp family. I adored the movie when I was little, and I even sneaked the wedding music from the movie into my own wedding as the recessional (Mike had no idea for years). I absolutely loved every minute of today’s tour. Today was my day where I got to choose a destination and activity. I loved seeing where the movie was filmed, I loved the cheesy photo shoots our guide set up, I thought it was awesome when she put a speaker into someone’s bike basket and blared the soundtrack as we rode through the countryside, and I loved singing along with everyone as we pedaled down tree-lined bike paths and across fields of flowers.  It was so much fun.

Felsenreitschule, the theater where the Von Trapp family performs in the movie

Probably the ugliest sculpture of Mozart ever

St. Peter’s Churchyard: the inspiration for those graves the movie family used as hiding places

Residenzplatz Fountain

Trying to still look cool while your wife drags you on a Sound of Music tour

View of the mountains from Nonnberg Abbey

The Nonnberg Abbey gate

The real Von Trapps were married here, at Nonnberg, while the movie couple “married” 15 miles away in Mondsee

The gate where Gretl shows the nuns her injured finger

Following along with our tour

Schloss Leopoldskron, the back side of the ” Von Trapp” mansion

Hellbrunner Allee, where everyone gets to take a turn singing, “I Have Confidence”

Schloss Frohnburg, now the Mozarteum Music Academy, was used as the front of movie Von Trapp mansion

The gazebo now sits in the Schloss Helbrunn gardens

In Do Re Mi, Maria dances with the children across the bridge and along the river

Racing through the covered path at Mirabell Gardens

Our tour group on the Do Re Mi steps (entrance to Mirabell Gardens)

After the bike tour, we went to Salzburg’s Old Town and found Mozart’s birthplace. We also did some window shopping. The Mozart ducks were cute, and the little bouncing Mozart figurine was adorable (although unlikely to survive the trip home in our packs).

Somehow I think Mozart would be okay with H&M next door

A small army of Mozart ducks

We love this little bouncing Mozart puppet, but we sadly can’t figure out how to get him home in one piece

We ended the day walking up the path to the castle. We didn’t have enough time to get much out of a museum visit, so we timed our walk for when our guidebook said we could walk the grounds without paying for museum admission. I think our guide was out of season, though, because. We were an hour off. Instead of doing the museum, we followed the walk down the fortress wall across town and got some great views.

Salzburg (from the path up to the castle)

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Salzburg, Day 1

This is a quick write-up because it was all travel and very little sightseeing. It’s also never a fun day when the alarm goes off at 3:15 am. We are not morning people in general, and that was just way too early. Our plane from London to Salzburg was scheduled to leave Gatwick at 8 am, so we wanted to be there by 6:00. That meant a 4:30 train from St Pancras. Most of us slept in our clothes, so when the alarm went off, we just got up, pulled ourselves together, and turned our towels and keys in to the front desk. 

The last we saw of London was riding over one of the bridges and watching the London Eye disappear in the distance. The Gatwick Express was a great way to get all of us to the airport without paying for an hour-long taxi or fumbling with multiple Tube stops. 

After Julia frantically ditched a pair of tweezers in the airport security line, we grabbed our final London breakfast. We ended last night with one of Julia’s favorite meals, and we started this morning with her other favorite.  Leaving London meant saying good-bye to Pret-a-Manger, a carry out food mart that was on nearly every corner and gave us the option of always grabbing quick sandwiches, carrots and hummus, fruit, boiled eggs, yogurt, and other healthy food (healthier than McDonald’s anyway). Ham & Gouda, Brie & Grapes, BLT’s, Curried Chicken Salad . . . This place had it going on. It was everywhere, and it was delicious. 

In Salzburg, Pension Ballwein was a cute little bed and breakfast just a 10 minute bus ride from town. It was almost noon, and we had already been up for 9 hours, so we were hoping to sleep most of the afternoon. We messed this one up, though, because we had arrived at our lodging with no Euros only to find out they didn’t take a credit card. We soon found out we should have come to Salzburg loaded down with cash because for the whole time we were in Austria, grocery stores were the only place we ever used a card . . . Everything else — including hotels — was cash only. I’m not sure why we hadn’t known this ahead of time, but it meant the girls went to their room to sleep while we caught a bus into town to load up our wallets. We stopped by a grocery on the way back to pick up dinner and drinks (keeping four people hydrated all day proved challenging). We bought pretzels, bread, meat, cheese, juice, fruit, and milk. Oddly, mustard was the item we had the hardest time identifying from the German labels. We tried to find one without horseradish but were ultimately unsuccessful. It was still easier than the crazy huge variety of mayonnaise, though. We didn’t even try with that. It made for a good picnic back at our B&B. Mike, Elizabeth, and I took our sandwiches and cranberry juice out on the balcony where we had the Salzburg castle in one direction and the mountains on the other. It was beautiful. Directly below us, though, was a small herd of goats, and while I didn’t mind it, Mike took every opportunity to complain about the smell coming in our open windows. When it got dark, we watched the news on BBC for a while before bed. Julia joined us around 8 pm for about half an hour and caught part of a Supernatural episode in German. Otherwise, she slept all afternoon and then all night. We were all over-tired. 

If you squint, you can see Salzburg Schloss (Fortress) behind us


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London: British Museum, St. Paul’s, & Churchill War Rooms

We got a late start again, but we made it to the British Museum by 1:00. We could easily have spent days in there, so we knew we’d have to pick and choose. We started with the Rosetta Stone, the artifact that made it possible to translate Egyptian hieroglyphs. 

We spent most of our time in the Greek and Egyptian collections.

We also sought out this Easter Island statue.

We spent a few more minutes wandering, and we really didn’t do this museum justice. A full day might now get half of it in. Wanting to squeeze a few more things in on this last day in town, we had to accept we just weren’t going to see much.

The British Museum was in the middle of what we still wanted to see, so we decided to split up. Mike and Julia hopped on the tube again to see the Churchill War Rooms (an underground bunker that was used during WWII) while Elizabeth and I headed the other direction and attended Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Churchill’s Cabinet room

The map room and hotlines to other nations

The Kitchen

The original 10 Downing Street door while Winston Churchill was Prime Minister

Elizabeth leaving Evensong (service of prayers and choral music)

The St Paul visit was only an hour, so with our extra time before joining the others, Elizabeth and I decided to be TV nerds  again and walked a few blocks down to St. Bart’s Pathology Museum to see the filming location where Sherlock jumps off the building in The Reichenbach Fall. We obviously weren’t the first to do so; we could see where fans had left graffiti on the walls (boo!). 

On the same building, we also found the plaque commemorating the death site of William Wallace (think Braveheart). 

After trying to navigate our way back across town without Mike’s Tube app, we struck out on a couple of stations that were closed, but we eventually hit one that was open. We joined Mike and Julia with enough time to catch a Thames sightseeing boat back across town to the Tower. I expected the view to be better, but it was rather underwhelming. I imagine it would be really good after dark when everything was lit up, but late afternoon was something I could have skipped. 

We ended our night back at King’s Cross where we did our only real “eating out” time while in London. We chose an Indian restaurant and shared a bit of everything. Julia declared it her favorite meal so far. 

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London: Tower of London & National Gallery

This morning’s breakfast was good ‘ole McDonald’s across from King’s Cross. We tried to go directly to the Tower of London, but we didn’t know to check the station construction maps. We were struggling with the Tube already, and the line that should have taken us was down for repairs for the whole weekend. Mike’s Tube map saved us again, and after a bit of rerouting and walking, we made it and caught the first guide given by a Yeoman Warder. These guides earned their positions by serving at least 22 years in the military and being invited to join the post. They agree to live in the tower and care for it as well as giving daily tours. It’s kind of cool to think that after the Tower closes to visitors, these 38 guys and their families have the place to themselves. 

Our tour group was mostly Americans, and our Yeoman Warder welcomed us by letting us know, “If you had only paid your taxes . . . All this could now be yours.” 

Legend says the kingdom will fall if the ravens leave the tower

Listening to our audio guide tours

The White Tower: everything is here to protect this building

King Henry VIII had his armor constructed to intimidate his enemies

Her dogs are barkin’

We left the Tower and walked across Tower Bridge and then along the river and up to Borrough Market, a giant, rather upscale outdoor market of food vendors. We had planned to split up and just eat our way through on our own, but the crowds were ridiculous on a Saturday afternoon, so we walked together and shared much of what we chose. We snacked on fish & chips, beef sandwiches, gyros, and giant donuts (again, Buzzfeed led us to one particular vendor, but we weren’t disappointed). 

After leaving the market, we decided to round out the afternoon at the National Gallery checking out some art. 

Reaching the Gallery, we remembered it was Pride Day. We had a bit of company out front. 

Inside, we learned that we are pretty much bad at art. It’s cool to look at, but we really don’t know what we’re doing or what to look for. We wandered around a while, saw some interesting stuff, asked directions to the Van Gogh pieces, and then crashed while Julia looked around.

We ended the night walking a half mile down to King’s Cross Theater to see In the Heights, the musical Lin Manuel Miranda wrote that earned him a Tony and the ability to write and fund Hamilton.  The theater is, I think, an old strain station, and the stage is where the tracks would be while seats sit on either side. It makes for a small crowd with the stage not far from any seat. I cry my way through most everything, and my family got to see me cry my way through the last third of Heights. It was cute, sad, hopeful, and just really fun.

Walking back to our hostel, we stopped by King’s Cross Station to pose in front of the Platform 9 3/4 photo-op. We’d seen the line as long as 50 people, so it was nice being able to stop by quickly without waiting. 

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London: Westminster & Buckingham Palace

After arriving around midnight, we only needed to walk across the street from St Pancras to our stay in London, the YHA hostel. I wanted to try a hostel, and the London location was a good place to try it out because I could sleep all four of us for under $100. We had a private room with a bathroom and two bunk beds. It wasn’t big, but it was enough room to spread out a little and get some decent sleep. By the time we checked in, unpacked, and crawled into bed, it was nearly 1:30 am. 

We slept until almost 11 am and then headed out to find food. We walked a quick 10 min down the street to eat at Speedy’s, a sandwich shop used as the exterior 221B Baker Street in the Sherlock tv series. There was an outside table right next to “Sherlock’s door,” so we grabbed it and spent the next hour going back and forth between eating and taking photos for the many, many tourists who just stopped by for a door shot and didn’t stay for lunch. Speedy’s got two thumbs up for being, well, “speedy,” and also for having something for everyone: breakfast for Mike, a burger for me, and made to order sandwiches for the girls. 

Our first crack at the subway wasn’t spectacular, but Mike quickly found an app that let us type in our location and destination to bring up the quickest and most direct routes. It was awesome. We didn’t really have to learn the map at all. We just needed to follow directions (which we can do). We stepped out of the Westminster station to look up at the tower housing “Big Ben.” It was a spectacular entry to London. 

The area around Parliament was buzzing. The results of the EU Referendum, in which they voted to leave the European Union, had just been made official in the last few hours, and news teams were everywhere. We scooted past those, though, and rushed to the cathedral where we took the last couple of spots on a Verger-led tour. Westminster’s vergers are trained men who assist with services and give very knowledgeable tours. Our guide, Benjamin, was both fun and efficient. He gave us a lot of backstory for the architecture, history, and decoration of the building. It was great to be able to ask questions as we went along. Verger tours have a few stops the audio-guided groups do not get, so that was also a bonus. 

After leaving Westminster, we checked out the scene down by the Parliament buildings. 

One interesting note was that we saw a press conference running inside one of the news vans. We then walked a few blocks to see what we could of 10 Downing Street and saw that same press conference still in progress. Prime Minister David Cameron had just resigned his post, and we could see him off in the distance. 

Detouring around 10 Downing, we cut through St James’ park to reach Buckingham Palace.

We ended the night in the theater district watching Wicked at the Victoria Apollo Theater. We had seen it years ago, but the girls claimed little or no memory of it, so although it made for another long night, it was worth it. 

As a final note for today’s pictures, I have to mention how the EU Referrendum, or Brexit, has been in the background the whole time we have been here. Today, with the votes in, the city is quietly buzzing. We have heard so many conversations about the vote in the days leading up to it, but now that the vote is in and the UK will leave, it is much quieter than I expected. The couple of people we’ve asked about it are polite but don’t want to share much. There were two older women in line for the bathroom at Wicked whose entire discussion was, “Well, I suppose we’ll be much more on our own now.” “Yes, I suppose that’s right. Very isolated. Hmmm.” I expected a more vocal response for some reason. We continued checking news all day because it seemed to be everywhere anyway. There has been much talk about how the vote differed in different areas of the country. We thought we noticed that a bit in that London and Oxford seemed to have a lot of “remain” signs posted while the more rural areas may have had more “leave” signs up, but that wasn’t the case for all.  

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