Rain, Rain Go Away - Come Again Another Day
August 20, 2005 through August 22, 2005
We have had no sunshine all weekend long. Just rain and more rain. Which means that there isn't much to write about for Saturday and Sunday, just the mundane every day details of going to the supermarket and recycling bottles, etc. Isn't our trip so exciting?!
Anyway, today (Monday), our cabin fever erupted, and despite the weather, we had to get out! We decided on a drive to Oberammergau. It is best known for its painted houses or luftlmalerei (trompe l'oeil style painting). It is also well known for its Passion Play every year at Easter. The play has been presented every year since 1633, when the plague passed. The production, which lasts 6 hours, uses 1400 amateur actors, who must be local residents or family members.
Here is an example of one of the homes in Oberammergau (sorry for the chopped off picture, there was a truck in my way). This house depicts the story of "Little Red Riding Hood". We have also included close-up crops of Grandma in bed and "Little Red" and the "Wolf".
We were probably lucky that the weather was so dreadful today, because the town and shops were still quite busy - can't imagine what it would be like on a sunny weekend day. We stopped into a few of the shops and admired the local craft works, which include beautiful woodcarving and jewelry made with local stones.
Since we don't have much to write about, we thought this might be a good place to share some of our "impressions" about Europe - some are little things that we had forgotten since we lived here and some are new impressions. So, in no particular order:
August 23, 2005
Well, if we didn't have much to write about the past few days, today certainly made up for it!! We set out this morning towards the laundromat, and found the main road to the south closed due to flooding (we told you it was raining non-stop!!)
(D&D - you will probably remember the road out towards the Zugspitze and the little stream and the bike path running alongside it. It is now a raging white water river, which is covering the road and is filled with trees and other miscellaneous debris, crashing through Garmisch). We worked our way around that road to the Laundromat As we were waiting for our laundry, we were talking to a couple of other Americans, who were on a "fly and ride" program with Harley Davidson (J&N, we'll tell you more about this off-line), who told us that all of the roads out of Garmisch-Partenkirchen (GAP) were closed.
Mark decided to take the car and go out exploring with his camera. He knew we were in for some serious stuff when he saw truckloads of rock and sandbags being unloaded. He returned on foot about an hour later - he had to abandon the car (safely parked) on the other side of the bridge on the road to Munich. Despite his pleading about "mein frau" at the hotel, the emergency workers wouldn't let him cross the bridge back to the city center with the car.
So, we got the laundry finished and walked back to the condo - I started to pack our bags while Mark took one of the bicycles and went out to assess the situation. He got back to the condo about an hour later with the news that the workers were allowing only single cars to pass along the road to Munich, but with no indication of how far along you might get. So, I called a taxi and the driver was able to get close enough to our car (which was on the other side of the bridge) that we could load our bags and get out of Dodge. The emergency personnel let us through another flooded area by directing us to drive on the sidewalk - after this it was very eerie to be on the road with absolutely no traffic. Once outside of GAP, the main Autobahn (95) to Munich was closed about 3-4 kilometers out of town because of concern over bridge supports. Traffic (all two cars!) was detoured past Oberammergau (flooded, where we had been just 24 hours earlier!) in the direction of Augsburg. Along the way, we passed numerous (we lost count) convoys of emergency vehicles, complete with everything from bulldozers to inflatable rescue boats, headed toward Bavaria. We eventually made our way back to 95 to Munich, and continued our journey without incident.
Less than 24 hours before we left GAP, we had been driving along the "little stream" commenting about how it would be a nice kayaking stream for beginners - moving along at a nice pace, but only knee deep. My, how things can change!!
We found a Marriott hotel on the north side of Munich (we stayed at this same hotel 4 years ago) and got checked in for the night. We are watching the news reports on German TV, and we are so very thankful that we got out when we did. By far, we didn't even experience anywhere near the worst of it (the mudslides, etc.). Thank You dear Lord for answered prayers.
(The only casualty of the experience was that I left my umbrella in the taxi! A lesson learned, though, is that we should have the TV on and pay more attention to the local news. Even if you don't understand the language, you get the message!)
August 24, 2005
We had a free morning in Munich today, so after breakfast at the hotel, we headed out toward the memorial site at the concentration camp at Dachau. Visiting a place such as this is hard to describe. I suppose we all hold an interest in this era of history and certainly, we are all respectful of the seriousness of the atrocities committed in the camps. With that said, we did take a few pictures to illustrate the conditions in which the prisoners were held. The site manages to combine the historical record of fact with the appropriate amount of respect to the memories of those who were held and died here.
The "history" as presented at the memorial site is that the camp came into use in 1933, the same year Hitler came to power. The camp was constructed to hold about 6,000 people, most of which were anti-nazis - at least in the pre-war years. From 1939 to 1945, the prison became increasingly overcrowded, "housing" a maximum of 32,000 people when it was liberated by American troops in April of 1945.
This sign depicts the line of cells (nearly 100) in the building known as the "bunker". Special prisoners, typically political, were held in the bunker, where the SS carried out interrogations and torture treatments. Johann Georg Elser, who attempted to assassinate Hitler in November of 1939 (by planting a bomb), was held in the bunker until his (presumed) murder in 1945.
The picture to the right depicts the row of barracks that were used to house the prisoners. There were 30 buildings, each designed to hold 200 people. When the camp was liberated, there were in excess of 1000 people in each barrack. A replica barrack was reconstructed in 1965, when the memorial was established.
This photo probably doesn't need an explanation - it is two of the crematoriums used at Dachau. We wrestled with 1) whether to take the picture; and 2) whether to include it here. But, we cannot change what happened in history, so here it is.
After Dachau, we set out for the airport. Our flight was delayed about 15 minutes and with air traffic in London, we were about 30 minutes late arriving. From Gatwick, we had to take the bus to Heathrow and then transfer to the "Hotel Hoppa" bus to get from the terminal to the Renaissance Heathrow Hotel. In all, it took nearly two hours to complete the transfer. We were exhausted by the time we got to our room.
August 25, 2005
The weather was lovely today in London - so nice that we went for a walk in the area near our hotel. It is mostly other hotels, offices with a few residential areas. We were lucky enough to stumble across a Hospice Thrift Shop that had a pretty good selection of paperback books at 50 pence each. Our supply of reading material has been completely diminished, but we limited ourselves to purchasing only three (we don't want to carry too much around!).
We came back to the hotel for lunch and I worked most of the afternoon. We are just finishing up a few things on the internet, and calling it a night.
August 26, 2005
Our flight was scheduled to leave London at 8:55 this morning, but we were about 40 minutes delayed. It was undoubtedly one of the worst first class experiences we have had. The legroom was far from generous and when the individuals seated in front of us reclined their seats, there was absolutely no room to maneuver. To top it off, British Airways has somehow managed to get involved in the labor dispute of one of its suppliers, Gate Gourmet, who supplies the catering service. When we checked in, we were told that there was no catering on the flight, and we were issued vouchers totaling GBP 20 each to cover the cost of purchasing food. Forty pounds sterling goes pretty far - we spent 18 on breakfast and a further 10 on sandwiches and fruit to take on the plane. What we didn't realize and were not fully informed of was that there was also very limited beverage service - only tea, coffee and water (not bottled, but from the aircraft tanks). Had we known that, we would have also purchased water and juice with our remaining vouchers.
The flight itself was uneventful - we safely arrived in Moscow at 4:00 PM, local time. It took quite some to get through immigration as we were sent back for not filling out the proper landing documentation. Arrival and departure cards were included in our passports with our visas and we incorrectly assumed that this was the complete documentation. We were required to complete an additional landing/departure form (which we completed in English), and the one in our passports (in Russian) appeared to be discarded - go figure! Anyway, there was also a bit of a delay with Mark, as I think the immigration officer was having difficulty in finding him on the passenger manifest. We eventually made our way to the customs area, retrieved our bags, had nothing to declare, and ultimately arrived at the Marriott transportation desk. We waited about 20 minutes for the representative to return. She was able to assist us with taxi service to the hotel. The journey took quite a while - it was after 6:00 PM by the time we arrived.
Except for the difference in the alphabet, Moscow could be any city in the world. It is very large, very sprawled and a mixture of pre-war construction and modern office buildings. The hotel is situated within a 5-minute walk to Red Square and the Kremlin, so after a short refreshment break, we set out to explore our surroundings. We walked down to Red Square first, and window-shopped in the infamous GUM department store (previously state owned). Today it is a very modern, very hip, very huge, very expensive mall, but it definitely has a humble history. We stopped to take a few pictures of St. Basil's Cathedral with its famous multi-colored onion domes. We also stopped for a couple of pictures of Lenin's mausoleum.
We continued around towards the Kremlin and stopped to share a beer in the large pedestrian area that parallels the Kremlin complex. We sat and enjoyed the sunset with the Kremlin on one side of us and the modern Moscow skyline on the other. The atmosphere along the walkway (for lack of a better word) was really quite festive. Especially today, as the weather was beautiful - low 70's at dusk. The area is really popular with the younger crowd. There were attractive people and couples everywhere.
Our first impressions are that there is a huge extreme here in Moscow - on one hand, there are very expensive boutiques including Louis Vuitton, Tiffany, Chanel, Dior etc. and expensive hotels (more about that later). On the other hand, there are little food/beverage "shops" - really more like kiosks with glass fronts and windows that you stick your head through to "order" where the most expensive beer is $1.60. And this right across the street from Escada and Bulgari!
Now about the hotel - we are staying at the Marriott Royal Aurora Moscow Hotel. The weekend rate (cheaper than the weekday rate) for a standard double room is U.S. $400 - $500 per night. We cashed in Marriott points for our 4-night stay. Everything here is over the top expensive. A coca cola from the minibar is $5.50 and to get a pair of socks laundered is about $4.50. There is a bottle of water in the room that is available for purchase for the small sum of $16.50. Fortunately, we are in a club level room and small bottles of water are supplied complimentary. This is the only hotel we have ever stayed in where we have personal butler service - our butler came by shortly after we checked in to introduce himself and to offer us a welcome glass of champagne (which we gladly accepted). It is also the only hotel we have ever stayed in that serves caviar at the hors d'oeuvres and cocktail hour.