Trip Diary - April 11-23, 2011

Day 1: Monday-Tuesday (April 11-12)  The “Longest Day”

We left the lake at 7 am and drove to Herndon, visited the old house, talked to the new owners and old neighbors..  We ate in Burger King, dropped off the car and arrived at Dulles around 1:00. 

Trouble with the Auto Kiosk – It doesn’t work for Air France regardless of instructions on the boarding pass.  We checked our bags OK.  Security took my unopened bottle of water.  I got X-Rayed and patted down.  Joe didn’t.  I must have looked more suspicious.  Maybe because I had the water bottle?

We took off on time.  A bumpy ride, lots of turbulence all the way.  Good food though and free wine.  We landed in Paris and Joe drank the last of the wine.  We didn’t want to lose it to security.  It was a smooth connection to the next flight.  We landed in Prague before 10 AM.  Joe looked for our shuttle arranged for noon.  It turned out to be 2 PM.  So we browsed and ate in the Billa supermarket (good sandwiches and “dobra voda.”) and pastry too.  Backofen Schienkin” (oven baked ham) was being sold also.  We’re so famous!  There was a nice buffet restaurant, but we skipped it – too smoky!

At 2 pm we boarded the shuttle bus with other conference attendees.  All seats were full and the luggage is stuffed in too.  I’d been awake for 28 hrs and fell asleep on the bus. 

We checked in at the hotel and fell asleep for 2 more hours.  Dinner in the hotel with other conference attendees was very good.  I had stuffed chicken (kurece) and Joe had CARP – a specialty!  Strudel and ice cream (zmrzlina) Yum!  Nice conversation with the others and then back to the room to figure out my “Eurobuzz” phone after a call to customer support, I left a message for Jeannie.

Day 2: Wednesday

Joe got up early and went to the conference.  I slept until 8 and went to breakfast – a very nice buffet.  I ate sensibly, a little of everything.  I posted on Runango – the only site I could log into, given the European keyboard with multiple letters/symbols per key.

Then with a vague map in hand I took off walking to the university.  It was cold & rainy.  I took a few wrong turns.  I was able to ask directions using my basic Slovak.  I met Joe at the conference and talked with delegates from the UK.  Joe’s presentation went well and was very well received by the audience.

Dinner was at the hotel again with US and UK conference attendees.  My veal dinner was enormous.  The mashed potatoes were good, but looked like a mountain range on my plate.  I ate about half to leave room for a fancy ice cream dessert.

Now some observations about bathrooms.  At the hotel there are 2 separate “flush” buttons – one for ‘small’ amounts of water and one for ‘large.’  At the university each ‘stall’ is like a tiny soundproof room with its own light with tile walls floor to ceiling.

Note:  Some Turkish delegates asked me to explain the “special day” coming up in Prague – Easter (Velky Noč).  I did my best.

Day 3: Thursday

Finally I decided to go for a run.  After some coffee, juice and some kind of chocolate mousse covered waffle.  I set off with a map for the trail around the castle.  Somehow I missed a turn and ended up in an industrial area with groups of people going to work.  Finally in a church cemetery I found a woman who understood my Slovak and directed me back to town.  After my 2nd breakfast I walked to town and the shopping mall which could have been anywhere in the US.  The weather was cold and I spent time looking in the stores mainly to get warm.  Then I continued walking to the university.  Joe was nowhere to be found.  So I drank coffee and talked in Slovak with a young Czech woman whose project was a device to test for explosives residue.

When I finally found Joe, we decided not to have lunch since we both had a late breakfast.  So I walked back to the hotel and took a short nap while watching CNN.  My sleep patterns are still mixed up.

The evening official conference dinner was at the castle.  After touring the museum and taking pictures of the peacocks strolling the grounds, we went into dinner.  There were all kinds of foods set out.  Some looked like works of art.  The main courses were served buffet style and like last night, I was given a mountain of potatoes.  I must look like a potato eating woman.  Once again, I couldn’t eat them all.  I did eat every single type of dessert.  They were smallish portions, about a dozen different kinds.  There were also vanilla and chocolate fountains in which guests were dipping assorted fruit, bread and anything else that could be coated in chocolate.

Finally there was a fireworks display from very nearby – the moat, I think.  The noise annoyed the peacocks which by now were trying to sleep in the trees.  We could hear them squawking and shrieking.  One peacock was pure white.  I’ll have to look that up.

The beer and wine flowed freely and after more drinking and conversation, we walked back to the hotel through the cobblestone streets of the old town.

Day 4: Friday

It was difficult to sleep since Joe was loudly snoring and I had nowhere to banish him to.  He left for the conference early and I slept til 9:45.  This was a problem since breakfast is only served until 10.  I threw on some clothes and ran to the dining room.  I was still able to get some food from the buffet – croissants, melon, turkey and cheese on roll, yogurt and coffee.

I then decided to take another walking tour of the old town and castle area taking photos along the way.  I really know my way around now.  I returned about 2 hours later to find Joe waiting for me in front of the hotel.  Off we went again together through the new and old town.  They were setting up for the half marathon race tomorrow.  I now have a small poster advertising the race.  The runners are now visible around the area and I’m sorry I won’t be joining them.

We ate lunch at an Italian restaurant in old town, chosen because it had the least smoke in the air.  Joe got a “small” pizza and I got a “small” calzone.  Both were huge as were our glasses of beer.  How do people stay so slim around here with these portion sizes?  We continued to sightsee until about 6 pm. 

Our huge lunch at 2 meant we didn’t want more food, but we did want dessert.  So we stopped in a small cucaren which had similar pastries to those at the castle last night.  We bought 4 and split them between us.  I asked for a knife (nož).  I knew practicing the similar words, night (noč), nose (nos) and knife would eventually come in handy. We also had hot chocolate – very, very, sweet & thick liquid with a mountain of whipped cream on top.  Again, how do the residents stay so slip?  Everyone is eating this stuff.

With all the walking, we napped til 8:30 PM. Dinner is out of the question.  We watched TV – CNN etc. and a very unusual Czech fantasy movie – a mixture of real actors and animation.  Then another Czech movie which was really an Agatha Christie story about passengers on a Nile River tour boat.

Day 5: Saturday

Today we left Pardubice for Dresden.  There are a lot of people here for the race and I’m disappointed that I’m not doing it.  It’s odd to me that it doesn’t start until noon.  Maybe that’s to give people from the surrounding areas time to get here and not have to stay overnight?

We had our regular buffet breakfast, packed up, checked out and began our walk to the train station dragging our luggage. It took about 40 minutes so probably about 2 miles.

In the terminal we bought our tickets.  Prosim, kolko kupiť dva listok na Dresden?  (approx $100)  We had about an hour to wait.  I discovered that it cost 8 kr to use the bathroom (from an attendant who only spoke Czech).  Since I only had 7 kr in coin and a 200 kr bill, back I went to find Joe.  Finally, after paying the fee, I got in line.  Again the “stalls” are like little rooms.  You can’t tell if they are occupied unless you try to open the door.  Then it’s either locked or you surprise somebody.  Also remember to take toilet paper in with you.  There’s a huge roll in the sink area.

The train was 10 min late and there were announcements of apology in Czech and English.  Joe hauled our huge suitcases aboard.  A strong young man helped him heave it into the overhead compartment.  It was about a 3 hr ride through the countryside.

As we got off the train, Joe noticed that the wheel of his new suitcase had broken.  Mine was fine.  We took a taxi to the hotel since we couldn’t drag the broken suitcase for approximately 2 miles.

We ate in the hotel restaurant for lots of Euros and not that much food.  It’s a lot cheaper in the Czech Republic.  Then we went out to find an ATM and more food.

The first ATM rejected our card and I was feeling dejected.  The next ATM with instructions in English gave us money and we stopped in a nice coffee shop for cakes and water.  We shared 3 desserts.  We walked around and by luck found the Catholic Church just as 6 pm Mass was starting.  The pews were very wide and hard.  My knees hurt from the kneelers.  The church was reconstructed in 1991-1997.  It had been in ruins since the war and the exterior still had the burn marks of the bombing firestorm.  We looked at the river, but returned to the hotel for needed sleep.

Day 6: Sunday

After about 12 hrs of sleep, I wanted coffee, lots of coffee and didn’t want to wait for Joe and his morning ritual.  So I walked ½ mile to McDonalds since I knew they would be open (23 hrs!)  I had a grande coffee in McCafe, still not as much as I was used to drinking at home.

Back at the hotel Joe was now ready and we walked to the old city and saw the palace, the cathedral, the Frauenkirche (the one that was rebuilt after the bombing using as many of the original stone as possible) and a film in the tourist office.  But first we both had a McDonald’s breakfast, just about the same menu as in the US, but with fancy desserts available.

Next stop was the “new city.”  We walked across the Albert Bridge through a section of town with many schools.  Then back along the river to “high street” – the new market area – A wide park-like street lined with shops and restaurants.  We had sandwiches and desserts – shared 3 & Joe ate an additional one by himself.  This was the first place I found water in a plastic bottle.  Everywhere else, it’s been glass.

One observation: We haven’t heard a single word of English anywhere except for the young staff (waitresses etc. who are hired for their language skills.  Mostly we heard German and a bit of Russian and an Asian tour group – NO ENGLISH, not even on the signs.

After lunch we saw the sites on the new side of the river including the Japanese Palace which did not involve Asian Royalty, but was built to house the king’s porcelain collection.  We stopped into the Church of the Three Kings.

Once back across the bridge in the old city, Joe bought 2 prints from a local artist and we attended a concert in the Frauenkirche – orchestra, chorus and 4 soloists performing Handel’s “Te Deum.”  Beautiful surroundings, acoustics and performance.  One unusual thing – the alto soloist was male.  I never heard a man sing in that range.

Afterwards, the man next to me asked in English how we liked the concert.  He was German but had been living in Canada since 1981.  He was visiting here for 4 weeks.  Still he told us about the WWII bombing that he witnessed as a 10 year old boy and how unnecessary it was.  I agreed that it was a terrible war and explained how my family’s village in Slovakia was also destroyed as the Red Army attempted to liberate it from the Nazis.  We agreed this should never happen again.

After a short rest back at the hotel, we set out for dinner.  But first Joe wanted to detour to get more Euros and investigate the shopping center toward the train station.  Lots of people walking around, but all the stores were closed.  So we trekked back to the old city.  We decided on a restaurant and ordered 2 different dishes to share - bratwurst, mashed potatoes, roasted veggies, pork, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and beer. So here we were in the old city eating traditional German food and the music in the background??  Aura Lee (Love Me Tender), Polywaddle Doodle All the Day, Swannee River, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Finally – Havanagelah!

Day 7: Monday

We began the day with a ½ mile trek to McDonald’s for breakfast.  Two reasons:  It was quick and there was American style coffee, both in taste and size plus free refills.

Today was a museum day.  We walked past the shops including the “Euro Shop” Germany’s equivalent of the Dollar Store.  There really aren’t many souvenirs to buy.

We went to the ticket office and got tickets to the new Green vault and Turkish Museum.  The line was ½ hr long to get tickets to the historical green vault so we decided to wait on that.  The exhibits in the “new” vault were dated from 1300-1800, so the older “historical” stuff must have been really ancient.

Basically the royalty had lots of money and people to make loads of intricate stuff – clocks, goblets, chests (cabinets), home altars, jewelry and items that even the experts didn’t know the purpose of.

Most were beautiful but some were the equivalent of conspicuous consumption and some were downright ugly, even if they were made of gold and precious stones.

The Turkish exhibit was from the period when the Prussian King was allying himself with the Ottoman Empire against the Swedes.  So he introduced this Asian influence throughout his court including a lavish wedding ceremony. 

The museums were a wonderful experience.  The only problem (though understandable) was that no pictures were allowed, not even without flash.  So the only record of this day is a small brochure and our memories.

We then walked across the bridge to the new city and stopped for lunch in the same café as yesterday.  I got the tomato and mozzarella sandwich again, but it was much smaller.  I should have had more real food before eating my share (1/2) of 4 “kuchen.”  Too much sugar – even for me.

Then we set off on a long trek to see the “Military Museum” that Joe was looking forward to.  When we finally arrived, it was closed and under renovation.  Very disappointing to Joe.  Across the boulevard was a large church with plaques in memory of fallen soldiers from the Franco Prussian war (1870).  Until 1945 soldiers attended services here.  It was a “Garrison Church.”  Now it is a dual use building.  Part is a Catholic parish church (St Francis Xavier) and part Protestant, but used as a costume warehouse for the opera company.

Then we trekked back stopping at our favorite café where Joe continued his pastry march across Europe and I had water.  Once back in the old city we went through the High Church where we had attended mass, walked to the Opera House, ate Italian ice in the square and Joe had a bratwurst.  I’ve had my fill of wieners.  Then it was back to the hotel to rest and sleep.  I think we walked about 10 miles.

Day 8: Tuesday

Once again to get a BIG coffee we had breakfast in McDonalds.  We packed up and got a taxi to the train station.  Our big suitcases were hard to fit into the small car.  Joe gave the driver a big tip.  At the station Joe bought our tickets – (Take a number, just like our DMV) and we took an elevator to the platform.  We held up boarding a bit since our suitcases were so big they blocked most of the aisle.  We found a compartment with “unreserved” seats and Joe heaved those suitcases into the overhead shelf.  Note:  Next time smaller suitcases if we’ve traveling by train.

We were joined by 3 young people in the compartment dressed for business.  One had a job interview in Berlin.  They spoke excellent English.  The job seeker had lived 3 years in New York.  They pointed out some communist era apartments that looked OK to me, like Lefrak City.  We passed many small towns that reminded me of Slovakia.  The train was early and had to wait awhile before pulling into the station.

At the main Berlin terminal we got a taxi to the hotel and went for a walk to see the city and find the meeting point for the bike tours.  We passed churches, official and historical buildings and a lot of shops and restaurants.  We didn’t want a big dinner so we ate in a sandwich shop.  We were inside but some ambitious sparrows found their way in too and would swoop down when any crumbs hit the floor.

The main stop on our route was “Checkpoint Charlie” and the stories of the escape attempts over the Berlin Wall – some successful and some tragically unsuccessful.  The penalty for “deserting the republic” was death or prison.

We also stopped at a supermarket where I bought a zmrzlina (ice cream) and bags of cookies – all very inexpensive.  Unfortunately I ate a good amount of them all by myself.  Oh well, Joe outdoes me in the bakeries.  We watched 2 movies in English and some BBC and even Aljezeera before falling asleep.

Day 9: Wednesday

This hotel provides an electric pot for hot water so we could have our wake-up coffee.  Then we went out in search of breakfast.  The big 16 Euro breakfast at the hotel didn’t appeal to us and I nixed Joe’s choice of a bakery breakfast.  So we compromised on the supermarket bakery/café bar.  I got a sandwich of sliced hard boiled egg, tomato and lettuce on roll.  I really like the bread around here and Joe, of course, had 2 pastries.

Then we walked to the meeting point for the bike tour.  I kept checking the stores to buy a visor, but there were none to be had.  So both Joe and I bought hats at the bike tour place.  That’s OK.  Now we’re walking advertisements. 

There were about 80 people on the tour (4 guides) all in English.  In our group we were the only ones from the US.  The bikes were excellent and quite comfortable, but I found it a bit scary to travel with traffic even with bike lanes and then to avoid pedestrians in cross walks and on sidewalks.  We would stop at all important monuments, buildings and historical places including Hitler’s bunker which is now a parking lot.  Today is actually Hitler’s birthday.  We had lunch at a biergarten which was near the zoo - sausages, potato salad and green salad.  One unexpected sight as we rode through a park – a dog was chasing a rabbit around and around a tree.  My only mishap was hitting a curb at a funny angle and jarring my back so that it was beginning to stiffen up.  The tour was almost over so afterwards we stopped for ice cream so I could take some Advil

The Advil did its job, but the ice cream, mine at least, was an unfortunate choice.  It was HUGE and while the picture looked like chocolate, it was heidelbeeren (a small, extremely tart, even bitter, type of blueberry called bilberries).  There were tons of them frozen into a scoop of vanilla and chocolate ice cream.  I could hardly taste the ice cream through all those berries.

We walked around some more scoping out museums we will visit tomorrow.  Strolling by the river and through the parks was very pleasant.

Almost back at the hotel I was hungry for real food and stopped in to that handy supermarket for another sandwich which I ate while watching TV – news and a Star Trek movie in German.

Day 10:  Thursday

We began the day as usual with coffee in the room followed by breakfast at the supermarket.  We heard our first American accents at the next table.  When you order a large coffee, you get this huge, wide ceramic cup which is hard to hold and balance and a cookie too.

Today is another walking day – destination – museums.  First stop was the Berlin Dom which was a large Lutheran Church and museum.  We took pictures from all levels, but didn’t go all the way to the top of the Dome’s outside walkway.  Just too many narrow spiral steps to get there.  The church also contained the crypts of the Hohenzollern royal family.  You got quite a sendoff if you were king or family member.  Lots of tiny caskets with babies and children – a high mortality rate even for royalty.

Next stop was the DDR museum.  “See real life in East Germany  They even had a restaurant.  Since 20,000 people stormed into West Berlin in the 1st hour that the wall was opened, we figured that was a good enough window into life there, so we skipped the actual museum.

Then we walked to the “old” museum with its Romanesque colonnades.  But the architecture was the most interesting part so we skipped the exhibit and walked to the Pergamon Museum..  Here the line was over an hour long to get in, so we skipped it in favor of the “Bode” Museum which turned out to be a good choice.  It was Holy Thursday and it contained 1700 artifacts of Christianity from Roman times through the Renaissance.  We even used the audio guides for detailed explanations of the art and sculpture.

There was also an extensive coin collection for 600 years BDC to the present day.  The ancient counterfeiting tools were a surprise as was a Russian coin marked “Moneta” in the Cyrillic alphabet.

Time for lunch – in a healthy cuisine restaurant called “Super Good for Me.”  We had the special – a veggie burger plate.  No fries!  The side dishes were spring rolls and polenta sticks.  Then back to museums.  We spent a few very serious hours in the “Topography of Terror” Museum which described the Nazi years from 1933-1945 using text, original documents and photographs.  Even the seating areas lit up maps with interrogation stations, work, concentration and death camps.  There was a smaller exhibit outside just showing a timeline of the dark days.  It paralleled the section of the Berlin Wall which is still being preserved.  Most of the wall has been dismantled.  You can buy pieces of it in every souvenir shop.  There are double rows of bricks through the city tracing where the wall once stood.

Our last museum was the Stasi Museum (the East German secret police) which controlled all aspects of life in the old DDR.  We ate dinner in a very nice restaurant across from our hotel.  Then our nightly English movie – Robin Hood.

Day 11: Friday

Today is Good Friday and to our surprise our supermarket was closed.  Next door the bakery/café was doing a brisk business.  I got my mozzarella/tomato sandwich on foccia bread and took a 2nd one for our fridge to eat tomorrow morning.  There won’t be options tomorrow when we have an early flight home.

Then it was back to the “space needle” square for another bike tour – the Nazi/Third Reich tour.  We covered a lot of the same landscape as the last tour but from a different perspective.  Memorable was the site of the 1st successful demonstration against the Nazis by thousands of German women whose Jewish husbands had been rounded up to be sent to concentration camps.  Hitler actually relented and released the men.  The memorial included a figure seated on a bench a distance away.  This represented the apathy of the German people to the horrors going on around them.  Another series of memorials could easily be overlooked.  There are small bronze plaques in the sidewalks all over the city with the names of Jews who had been taken from their homes with the dates of their internment.

In the massive monument to the murdered Jews of Europe there’s an underground museum which includes a tape continuously playing the name and brief description of each victim.  It will take 6 years to read all 6 million names.  Although we saw this memorial on Wednesday’s tour, this guide explained its significance a bit more thoroughly.  When you walked through it, people would appear and disappear suddenly just like those sent to the camps.  Also the chemical used to graffiti-proof the stones was supplied free since the company that produces it was a branch of the company that supplied the poison gas during the war.  This is another example of Germany coming to terms with its past.

Lunch was at the same tiergarten (animal park) biergarten as on Wednesday, but this time we were earlier so they didn’t run out of food.  Since it was Good Friday, we had the meatless pasta.  I had to take an additional allergy pill since the pollen in the park was quite heavy.

We saw more monuments, statues etc. (Victory, Bismarck)  They liked to commemorate battles and generals.  The Red Army buried 2500 soldiers and constructed the monument within 6 weeks of taking Berlin. We also saw a bunker that would have housed thousands of people and the area of Hitler’s bunker which was below ground.  After he killed himself, his body was burned in an area which now is a children’s playground of an apartment building. 

We also passed the facade of what was once one of the largest train stations in the world, destroyed by the bombing.  The tour ended with a description of the topography of terror museum that we saw in detail yesterday.

After the tour we went back to the hotel and slept for almost 2 hours.  Dinner was in the Indian restaurant across from the hotel.  I never cared for Indian food, but this was excellent – eggplant and cottage cheese in a curry sauce.  I may even try to find “basmati” rice when I get home.

Back at the hotel they gave us chocolate eggs and bunnies for Easter.  We packed, relaxed and watched TV.

Day 12: Saturday

Up at 6 am.  Coffee and breakfast in the room - the stuff we bought yesterday for this purpose.  We checked out and got a taxi to the airport.  We had plenty of time for one last pastry and sat around people watching.  One young man was asleep across 2 chairs.  Finally 2 security guards woke him up.  Poor guy!  He had slept through and missed his flight.  He explained that he had drunk too much – lesson learned, I hope!

Once through security one problem was evident – a shortage of seats and bathrooms.  One (1 stall) for all the women – same for the men, but they didn’t have a line.  No wonder this airport will be replaced next year.

We were switched to seats by the emergency exits at THEIR request since we are “English speakers.”  The extra leg room of these seats is an added benefit since it was an 8 hour flight.  Also, there was no one next to us – just the bathrooms.  So there were people standing around, but we also could tell when they were vacant.

This was a Delta flight so the food was OK, but not like Air France.  Snacks were always packets of peanuts.  I know that flight crews on overseas flights are assigned by seniority, but these were the oldest cabin attendants I’d ever seen.  I overheard one telling another that she graduated college in 1978.  She’s 55 years old!  I remember when stewardesses had to quit at age 28.  After a lawsuit, courts ruled that to be illegal.  Those were the days of women’s uniforms being mini skirts and “hotpants” – the ads being – “I’m Suzy…Fly me!”  It’s amazing what we used to tolerate.

The flight was smooth, but I couldn’t sleep so I watched the movies – all 4 of them.  “Little Fockers (OK), some Disney fantasy (lots of dragons), “Secretariat” (very good) and “Cyrus” (too much angst for me).

We landed at JFK on time (2:30) and raced to get through passport check, customs, luggage pickup and security and 23 gate areas for our flight to Dulles which was at 4 pm.  There were hoards of student groups returning from Europe.  Unfortunately our rush was not necessary since the departure was delayed to 5:406:056:35 while they found a replacement plane.  The original one had mechanical problems.  Many other flights were delayed also or cancelled since the weather to the north and west was bad.

Our replacement plane was ancient, but this time our crew was not.  The one very nice and friendly cabin attendant was making only his 3rd flight.  That’s why he was reading all instructions from the card, checked that everyone was belted in and had cell phones put away.  He also handed out snacks freely (cookies, pretzels, peanuts) with a smile and extras if you wanted. 

We took off at 6:45 and landed at 7:30.  Then another endless trek through the airport.  We could hardly recognize Dulles.  The construction of the last 3 years has it looking like a spaceport from the movies with glass enclosed trams and multi-levels.  We were being picked up by the Holiday Inn shuttle where we left our car.  It was full since flight crews were staying there.  Remember 2H for next time! 

After retrieving our car at Holiday Inn, we went off to find our hotel, Country Inn and Suites.  Herndon/Sterling has changed a lot too, but we finally found the place in the dark.  This hotel was wonderful.  I chose it since all we wanted was a cheap place to sleep ($55 total, $20 cheaper than Holiday Inn).  It’s new with a beautiful lobby, complimentary cookies & candies, a huge room with 2 queen size beds, loads of towels, coffee pot, fridge, microwave, 60 TV channels and complimentary breakfast.  This deserves a 5 star review on Trip Advisor.  There’s even a guest laundry and nice fitness room. 

Day 13:  Easter Sunday

The breakfast was very good – eggs, sausage, muffins, waffles, etc.- really everything you could want.  We made such good time driving home that we arrived in Lynchburg at 11:15 – way too early for the Golden Corral buffet we had planned for Easter.  So we drove on to Bedford arriving just as Mass was ending.  We stopped at Oakwood to water plants and check email.  Then we went over to church to see the family.  Easter brunch was still in progress and they had plenty of food for 2 extra travelers.  Our plan was Mass at 4 at Resurrection, but they had a special schedule for Easter and we had already missed all Masses.  This was our only mistake.


Day 1:  Monday-Tuesday

I learned from TV that TSA chooses people for additional searches at airports according to their apparent attitude and facial expression.  I must have had the telltale “expression of contempt” probably because they had just taken my unopened bottle of water only to sell one back to me on the other side at 4 times the price.

Note to self: Turbulence is worse when seated in the “swishy” tail of the plane.

Day 2:  Wednesday

The cold, rainy weather was unusual for this time of year.  The desk clerk was nice to lend me an umbrella which I didn’t actually use because of the wind.  Joe realized that it is much less expensive to buy new underwear and socks in Wal-Mart and throw them away than to have them washed.  For new shirts the cost is about equal.  This is true also in Germany.  I’ve been telling him this all along.  Of course, I throw away my old stuff.

Day 3:  Thursday

Joe talked to the Czech woman about her detection device.  It’s used in the Czech airport.  During her demonstration with some attendees, explosives residue was found on their clothes.  This is to be expected given their line of work.  They make explosives!

At the castle reception I noted the irony of the buffet table being set up next to the crypt of the royal who once owned the place.  I wonder what he would have thought of this event.

Day 4:  Friday

We would have bought candy and a dish of Czech crystal from Joe’s favorite shop, but the owner was just closing up as we approached the store.  There weren’t any appropriate souvenirs for sale.

On my walk around the castle area, I finally located the 5 km “jogging trail” that I was seeking earlier in the week.  The signs, although all in Czech, provided interesting information including the wildlife that was destroying the trees.  I got great pictures of the castle peacocks which fluffed out their plumage for the camera.  I counted 16 at one time.

Day 5: Saturday

The lady bathroom sentry sat in a toll booth type room to monitor entry of both men and women.  No one could escape her notice or avoid her.

From Pardubice to Prague we sat facing forward on the train.  Them it reversed direction and we rode backwards to Dresden – a strange feeling.  We saw castles on various hills and cliffs, small churches, large farms and small garden plots with their garden sheds, some of which looked like tiny houses with heat.

At the hotel Joe went to the pool and spa.  The water was not warm and the whirlpool spa blew strong  bubbles in one corner of the pool.  It was not a pool to swim in.  There were “lay down” cushions with heat lamps above them.  There was a coed steam room where no clothes or bathing suits were permitted.  Joe did not use it.

The Catholic Church was the Cathedral or “High Church” which was built when the local ruler (Elector) became Catholic.  This conversion occurred so that he could become king of Poland – a very opportunistic reason to switch from being Lutheran.

Day 6: Sunday

As part of the round trip sweep through the new city we saw the “Block House,” the big statue by the bridge (guy on horse), the puppet theater which started out as a church.  In the old town we walked through the crown gate, the theater, the opera hose, the palace (Schloss) and both the High Church and Frauenkirche. 

In the tourist office where we saw the film on the history of Dresden, we also bought a tourist booklet on the city sites in English.  Even the lady in the tourist office didn’t speak English.  Part of this is the Russian cold war heritage, but part is also lingering resentment about the WWII bombing.  This is ironic since there wouldn’t have been bombing if not for the Nazis starting the war and their bombing of Britain.  Fittingly, Coventry England, a non strategic victim of German bombing is now a Sister City to Dresden, both united by a tragic past.

Day 7: Monday

The Garrison Church came to be used by the parish of St. Francis Xavier because their original parish church had been destroyed by bombing.

Day 8: Tuesday

The desk clerk began speaking to us in German since our name was Backofen.

The news has a different perspective than in the US and Aljeezera is definitely more graphic.  The situation in North Africa and across the Middle East is very unstable with many huge protests that they are calling the “Arab Awakening.”

Day 9: Wednesday

We were the last of the tour groups to arrive at the lunch stop so the food we had was limited (decided) by whatever they had left.

Day 10: Thursday

Especially depressing in the terror museum was the epilogue.  While some were tried and convicted of war crimes, comparatively few were executed or served lengthy sentences.  Some high level men were actually not prosecuted as being “unfit to stand trial” or released for “ill health.”  Contrast this with the death camps for those with physical or mental disabilities as being a burden to society.  The 1957 photograph of the smiling happy faces of an SS reunion was particularly disturbing.

Day 11: Friday

On the bike tour I was watching a street traffic light while in an “open” area not noticing the tram tracks partially obscured by high grass and almost got hit by 2 different trams going in opposite directions.  Realistically though, they proceed very slowly through intersections so the only real danger was making the drivers mad.

At the Indian restaurant a German couple was seated at the table next to us.  After the meal she pointed out that she and I had the same haircut.  We communicated in broken English and broken German.  She explained that they all learned Russian in school, not English.

Day 12: Saturday

We noticed sitting at JFK how much bigger the seats were than in Europe’s airports, obviously to accommodate the larger clientele.  The difference from Europe was striking.

 Final Thoughts:

I wish I had spent more time and effort learning languages.  I admire those who can switch and communicate with different nationalities.

I only gained 2 lbs. – great considering all the bread and pastry I consumed.  Joe gained 4 lbs. – not bad for him.  We estimated that we walked more than 50 miles.  That probably had something to do with it.