Sunday, July 30, 2006

Another trip to Venice 7.15.06

We returned home to Verona from our trip to Germany to learn that friends we met in Perugia - actually Brits who live in London part of the time and part of the time in Perugia - we had expected to stop here for the weekend had to cancel and could not come. We were disappointed, as we had missed the opportunity to see them when we passed through Perugia and had been looking forward to seeing them here.

We remembered that we had read something about a festival in Venice and decided to look into it further. There was to be the Redentore festival that commemorates an event that happened in the middle ages, when the people realized that the plague had ended and they decided to build a church. A festival followed where they built a temporary bridge suspended on boats across the lagoon from Dorsoduro to Giudecca so that people could easily walk to the beautiful church of the Redentore (Church of the Redeemer) to celebrate Mass.

So the origins of this festival were religious. Which is not to say that this is really a religious festival as it seemed more like a party party party all night long, drink drink drink, eat eat eat and generally whoop it up and have a good time. The Giudecca Canal is across from St. Mark's and the shores were strung with yellow lanterns, the length of the canal! They had indeed built a temporary bridge as they have done every year for I don't know how many years, since the middle ages perhaps, but it was more of a pontoon type bridge and not really a bridge of boats as the literature indicated. I wasn't sure how that was really going to work but it was cool partly to be able to go from one point to another on something so temporary and partly because it was just cool to be out in the middle of the lagoon with all those lights around you. All the little boats were out in the lagoon strung with lanterns and lights and the atmosphere was just very festive and fun.

We only decided to go on Saturday morning and scrambled to find a hotel in Venice with availability. Finally I found one in a good location near where the action would take place we thought. A bit pricy but we decided to go for it and spend the night even though Venice is only about an hour's drive from here. There were to be fireworks at midnight and I had read that the boats would still be in the lagoon at sunrise and it seemed like a cool thing to see.

We stayed at a hotel called "Pensione Segusa" on the Zattere in the Dorsoduro neighborhood of Venice that was listed in the Eyewitness Guide, within sight of the Redentore Bridge. It was cool to lay in bed with the windows open and be able to see the lights strung across the bridge. The room was comfortable enough (OK, the bed was not all that comfortable) and for the price it was surprising that the toilet was down the hall. We had a shower and sink in the room but oddly, no toilet. It worked out fine though and we never had to wait for anyone else to get out to use it. The staff could have been more helpful and we were not impressed with how little they knew about the festival that everyone was coming to see. And especially since it was right outside their door practically. They even suggested we go to the far end of the island of Giudecca to view the fireworks, which would have meant a long walk back after midnight and we decided to take our chances just down the street from the hotel and had an incredible view. There were a lot of people there and it was crowded but the fireworks more than made up for it, they were spectacular!

We decided to take the half board meaning we had dinner in their restaurant. It seemed easier than trying to find one on our own and after just coming back from our trip to Germany; we simply wanted to make it easy. Dinner consisted of a little green salad, a primi - bow tie pasta with tuna and peas that was tasty and a fish dish that we think now were eels in tomato sauce. Good thing I didn't know that at the time. I told Bob you could put an old shoe in tomato sauce and it would taste good, so I guess it held true with eels, "Anguille in Umido" one of the Venetian specialties. A slice of watermelon was served for dessert and it was refreshing. No a/c but thankfully the weather was nice and the window provided a nice breeze.

It was really very cool as the sky darkened, to see all the boats out in the canal with all their lanterns and lights and we did walk across the bridge and back to the church on the island of Giudecca. We found an available spot that we hoped would be a good viewing place for the fireworks and staked our claim. People were sprawled out all along the sidewalks like they were at the beach and those walking past really had to climb over legs and bodies to make their way through the street. There were party boats with music blaring and people dancing and other places where people had set up picnic tables and were partying. All the little sparkly lights in the canal and all the music made it so festive, it was fun just to look around and take it all in, even if we did find ourselves getting annoyed from time to time with some of the obnoxious people who think there is no one else out there in world but them and so can stop short in front of you to take a photo or look at something. Or the groups of three or four people sauntering along the street oblivious to the fact that there are other people trying to pass. Tourists!

At about 11:30 - right on schedule - the fireworks began! We moved up a bit for a better view and it was just perfect! And all around us you could hear people saying "bellissimi! "bravissimi" And "che bella!" with oohs and aahs and hands clapping as each consecutive volley concluded. It was like one giant final barrage after another. To see the sky above the Venetian canal filled with giant explosions of gold and silver twinkling, sparkling, glittering, with reflections in the water, and gondolas slowly passing, silhouetted against the lights, for almost an hour was absolutely amazing! By now, if you've been reading our blog you know that I am a sucker for a good fireworks show and this was among the best we have seen.

The party continued until morning for some people. Thankfully we remembered to bring our earplugs so we were mostly able to sleep. Although I lay awake a long time just watching the lights on the bridge in the distance with visions of fireworks dancing in my head!

In the morning I woke early to try to go out and see what was happening with those boats at sunrise, although from our window I did not see any activity. I tiptoed out leaving Bob snoozing away still. But when I went downstairs I found the doors were locked (with a big luggage lock type thing) and I didn't have a key. There was no one in the lobby and I could not go out! I wondered what I would have done if there had been a fire. I supposed that we would all jump out the windows into the canal! Not worrying about this situation too much, I went back up to our room and slept for a few more hours since I could do nothing else.

Breakfast was a bit disappointing - a couple of packages of those little toasts and one with fruit, with some stale slices of bread on the side and coffee. Italian breakfasts in hotels sometimes leave a lot to be desired (especially after eating at some in Germany - I'm sorry, Italy!) and we've come to expect a simple meal but this was less than stellar. Bob ordered an omelet (the price was extra) that he said was good.

For the rest of the day we took it easy. We bought an all day ticket and rode the vaporetto back and forth across the canal, visited the island of Giudecca and did some back-street exploring, stopped at San Giorgio Maggiore island which is tiny with a wonderful view across the canal to San Marco, and just includes the church of San Giorgio (who will always hold a special place in our hearts as he is the patron saint of Ragusa Ibla in Sicily where we lived) and a bar where we had lunch. It was a restful day with no hurries and no schedules or plans. Just moving along the Giudecca Canal, back and forth to San Marco, to Dorsoduro and to Giudecca enjoying the beautiful weather and the sights of the bell tower and Piazza San Marco from the boat and around 2:30 heading back to our car and home to Verona. We found another place to park nearer the train station, cheaper and larger than the one at Piazzale Roma so we'll probably use this from now on. It was very easy to pick up the vaporetto outside which goes into the Venice canals in a very short time. There is still so much to explore in Venice we hope to go back many more times and are certain we will never see it all, but we will try!

Buona giornata,
Rosemary e Roberto

Friday, July 28, 2006

A few of Rosemary's watercolors

The Pizzeria Scaligeri, Sirmione, Lago di Garda

The Basilica San Marco, Venezia

The Basilica di Sant' Antonio, Padova

Pretty Rooflines in Dinkelsbuhl, Germany

Cafe al Teatro, Verona

watercolors ©Rosemary Connelly 2006. All rights reserved.

A Brief Stop in Innsbruck on the way home

Sign for the Interberger company

Beautiful window details

The "Goldenes Dachl" a two-story balcony decorated with gold-plated copper shingles and a frieze with depictions of animals and other reliefs dating to the 15th century

Street scene in Innsbruck

The Clock Tower of the Altes Rathaus

Visiting Friends in Germany 7.10.06

Walking towards Regensburg

Ingrid & Helmut's window on the garden

Monument commemorating Germany's defeat of Napoleon to become a unified country

Ingrid & Helmut in their garden, with Caesar

Purple flower with yellow rose in their garden

A few days in Regensburg 7.10.05

On Monday we left Cologne headed for Regensburg. On our first trip to Germany, now 12 years ago, we met Helmut and Ingrid. Helmut, now retired, was then the Fire Chief in that city. Several years prior he and his wife Ingrid had visited Arizona and stayed at the home of one of the other Tempe firefighters. Terry had made them feel very comfortable while they were there but never visited Germany in return and in subsequent years they had not kept in close touch. When we were planning our first trip to Europe that included 10 days each in Ireland, England and Germany, we contacted the Sister Cities' organization for recommendations on places to stay in Regensburg, a sister city to Tempe, Arizona. They promised to find us a place and when we left the states we did not know where it would be!

During our travels we were given a phone number for Helmut and Ingrid and told that they were expecting us to stay with them! We did not know that he was Fire Chief until we arrived and spoke with them. They were so delighted that someone from Arizona had made the trip to Germany and I suppose we reaped the benefits of the kindness shown to them on their trip to the States. We have kept in touch through the years with letters and Christmas cards and more recently through email. Their English is wonderful, thankfully, which made it so nice to catch up with their travels and what their families are doing and to discuss their plans and ours for the future.

Their beautiful garden was an inspiration to me when I planned mine in Phoenix as were Ingrid's delightful watercolors. They also enjoy traveling and visiting interesting places. Bob and Helmut had many things to discuss about firefighting and now as retired firefighters. It was lovely to spend time with them. They took us on a day long adventure that included a drive to a small city about 20 minutes drive from their house, a hike in the woods to a striking monument high on a cliff that commemorated Germany's separate states joining together to fight Napoleon and becoming a unified country in the early 1800s, then more hiking to a view over the Danube, following a trail down to the river where we got on a small boat that took us across the Danube to a former cloister, now a beer garden, where they still make this liquor that is supposed to be good for digestion (Ingrid and I both bought a bottle!) and then took a larger ferry back down the Danube to near the parking lot where we parked our car. A very interesting round trip!

We spent two nights in Regensburg, leaving on Wednesday morning for Verona. We were planning on going through Austria and learned from Helmut that there is something called a "vignette" that you must purchase before driving into Austria. It only cost about 7.5 euros but there is a fine if you don't get it. We did not know this on the way north and were fortunate not to have been stopped because the fines, he said, are steep - 120 euros. His directions were so clear, we had no trouble finding the place to buy this but the signs were not very obvious and we felt that this was a sneaky sort of "speed trap" way to make extra money for the Austrians. But then we are aware too that if you plan to drive through a foreign country you should be aware of the rules of the road and be prepared.

We stopped in Innsbruck, Austria, where the Olympics were held I believe in the 1960s and found it to be a very lovely city, along a river with a dramatic mountain backdrop. As we were tired and wanted to get home by this point, we only spent a short time walking through the center of the old city but hope to return again to explore further.

By dinnertime we were driving through our little Borgo Roma here, just outside Verona, just in time to have a pizza at our local restaurant "Ai Glicini" and a glass of wine. There is a lovely young woman from Croatia who greets us so warmly whenever we go there, so it was nice to be welcomed home!

For two days afterwards, we did nothing but laundry and rest. It was a great trip, now a happy memory. But there are more adventures to come so keep reading!

Con affetto,
Rosemary e Robert

Visiting Friends in Germany 7.10.06

After dropping Jessica and Nick off at the airport early Sunday morning we returned to our hotel room and went back to sleep for a few more hours. We had planned to meet Holger and his wife Katerina at their home in Bonn and so drove back to that city later in the day for brunch. Holger was our exchange student when Chris was in high school, like Andrea was a few years later with Jessica. We have also kept in touch with him and his family, mostly through Christmas cards and email and so it was nice to see him again after 12 years. It was almost 20 years ago that he came to the states as a young boy and now he is married, a teacher of mathematics and physics and a father of two young children, Paula is a sweet and intelligent 3 year old and Carla, just 7 months, a chubby, happy baby. We spent a lovely few hours with them and had the opportunity to play "grocery store" with Paula who is just one year older than our Kyla and I imagined that this might be the kind of play we will do when we return to the states and we can spend time like this with our granddaughter.

After a little walk in the park near their house, we drove back to Cologne for a visit with Holger's parents who welcomed us warmly and had prepared cake and coffee in our honor. Holger's mother is a glass artist and creates some very beautiful, modern stained glass pieces, exhibiting in a gallery in Cologne. She is very talented and we enjoyed seeing what she does.

Then goodbyes all around, promises to visit again and back to our hotel in the city to find a place for dinner and to watch the final match of the World Cup. We decided on a little Irish pub, I ordered a hamburger and fries which was really good. Bob had ordered a roasted chicken dinner only to be disappointed to learn they were out of chicken and ended up with a not so good fried fish dinner. We watched half of the game on their big screen TV outside and then returned to our room to watch the end, sprawled out on the sofa, more comfortably.

We were torn between wanting France to win so that Vincent would be happy and cheering for Italy, our temporary adopted home. Since we really never have followed the sport it's not fair to say we would have been happy or sad either way but you really get a sense of how important this is to these fans and how interesting it is that this competition, which happens only once in every 4 years, like the Olympics, is really a world competition. Unlike our baseball "World Series" erroneously named such. It brings home the fact that we think Americans tend to think they ARE the whole world, which, I'm sorry, we are not.

When the game ended we were happy to have Andrea & Vincent stop by once again to say goodbye to us and we promised to see each other again soon. We told them about Emily's invitation and they suggested perhaps they could meet us in France if we go and we said we would be in touch. Hugs and kisses all around.

(to be continued - A few days in Regensburg)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

More Wedding Photos

Andrea & Vincent drive away in a 1957 Pink Cadillac

Jessica and Andrea

Andrea & her father Andreas doing a Traditional Hungarian Wedding dance

Rosemary & Andreas spinning around

Bob says "See, I do dance!"

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Wedding at Basilika Sk. Aposteln in Koln

Waiting for Andrea to Arrive

Leaving the Altar

Rose Petals Shower

The Beautiful Bride

Vincent and Andrea

Aachen, Germany

Puppet Fountain in Aachen with movable joints

A street in Aachen

Pfalz, detail over the entrance to the Cathedral

Pfalz, a complex of buildings belonging to Charlemagne's former palace including the Cathedral

Another interesting detail on the cathedral in Aachen

Our two daughters.

Still friends after sixteen years.
The Banai and Arnaud families are united.
After cutting out the heart they stepped through the opening as husband and wife.
They are using tiny scissors to cut out the heart shape.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The civil ceremony with Vincent's sister Emelie and Andrea's cousin Fenec as their witnesses.

Andrea and Vincent

The New Mr. & Mrs.

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Wedding in Köln 7.5 and 7.7.06

On Wednesday, the 5th of July Andrea and Vincent were officially married in the eyes of the German government. They did this at a civil ceremony at the Rathaus, the town hall, which dates from the 1300s, near the Dom Cathedral in the center of Köln.

A small group of friends and family gathered outside the town hall awaiting the bride's arrival, along with Vincent looking so sweet holding her bouquet and looking around expectantly. Stepping out of her father's car, Andrea looked gorgeous in a crisp, deep red, silk blouse with her cream-colored full skirt embroidered with designs that matched the color of the blouse. With her dark hair and light complexion, she was stunning! We were then all asked to proceed into the chambers where the ceremony would take place.

The large room was set up with a desk in front, 4 chairs for Andrea and Vincent and their two witnesses - Andrea's cousin Fenec and Vincent's sister Emilie. On the other side of the desk was the person officiating the ceremony and asking all the "do you Andrea, etc" questions and giving what sounded like a very lovely and poetic talk about marriage and relationships. We did not understand a word besides their names and "liebe" (love) and "leben" (life) but did understand that this seemed to be the more official wedding, the first, that said that they were now married in the eyes of the law, husband and wife. It lasted about half and hour after which everyone hugged and kissed and we all proceeded outside where their friends had prepared a small white sheet by drawing on it the outline of a heart which the newly married couple had to cut out with tiny scissors, each starting from the opposite side and ending up in the middle, removing the heart and stepping through it to the cheers of the onlookers. A musician was playing a jazz saxophone and joy was in the air! The day was sunny and hot and after taking a bunch of photos we were asked to walk across the square, in front of the Dom and into the Dom Hotel for lunch. I know that everything was delicious and maybe it's the fault of the wine we drank but neither of us can remember what we ate! I know that we enjoyed it, that everyone was friendly to us, that Andrea and Vincent said thank you to all the people there in a special way (and in their particular language) and made each and every one of us feel special and appreciated.

Later that night we all met at a place called the Beach Club, on the other side of the Rhine River having taken a taxi there. The view across the river to Cologne was magical as the sun set behind the Dom and the bridges and the river reflected all the colors of the sky.

Friday, the 7th of July, was the day of the church wedding. The ceremony, at the 12th century Basilica St. Aposteln, was to begin at 11am and no one was surprised that Andrea did not arrive at 11! Vincent looked amused, friends and family, unfazed; only the priest kept looking at his watch! Finally, after around 20 minutes even Vincent started to look a bit concerned but before 11:30 the gorgeous bride and her beaming father were walking down the aisle. Later she told everyone there had been a little problem with the hoop for the dress, something about not being able to find the little hole to thread it through but we all knew that really, it didn't matter. She was there, she was stunning, she radiated joy and happiness and we were thrilled to share this day with her and her family, both old and new and proud to be considered a part of it.

When Andrea was 16 years old she came to Arizona and stayed with us for a month.
She loved the U.S.A. and rock and roll in particular. She wanted to go to every Hard Rock Café everywhere she found one. So it did not surprise us when a big pink 1957 Cadillac convertible pulled up in front of the church blaring rock and roll music and Andrea and Vincent climbed in, her veils and train, dripping with rose petals, flowing behind her, kissing and laughing and waving as a few raindrops fell unnoticed around them. A true Andrea moment! A perfect ending!

The ceremony over, the guests, who had put an overnight bag in a bus outside the church, were then taken on a ride to the city of Bonn, not far away for the reception. The bride and groom had arranged for their guests to stay at the 4 star Hotel Bristol in the heart of the city so that we could party until late in the night and not have to drive back to Cologne. The reception was held at the mansion "La Redoute," built in the 1700s. It is surrounded by a beautiful garden with lush lawns and stately old trees. Beethoven was said to have played here. The atmosphere was pure elegance. The food was a mixture of Hungarian dishes (Andrea's parents were born in Hungary and still have family there) and French cuisine. The speeches were multi-lingual, the guests international. With each course came a different kind of wine. We tasted them all.

When the many courses of dinner were over and the cake eaten and after dinner liquors served, the dancing began. Andrea changed into a scarlet red dress and danced traditional Hungarian wedding dances with her father, her mother, Vincent, Bob, Vincent's father. Each of those men danced with other women in the room and the band, a Hungarian folk band played on. Andreas, her father, insisted I go out on the dance floor with him and we spun around so fast I felt that the room was spinning and I would soon be on the floor! It was so much fun! We danced until 3, until our feet hurt and we couldn't dance anymore. We left Jessica and Nick and went up to our bed to sleep it off. I didn't think I was all that tired until I laid down. Bob says I fell asleep in mid-sentence. I believe it. It was a night we will remember for a long time to come.

The next morning there was a brunch at the hotel. Guests wandered in from 11am to 2pm all looking sleepy but happy. Jessica suggested we take the boat back to Cologne from Bonn, about a 1-1/2 hour ride. Andrea and Vincent and a few of their friends said they would like to join us. With a few hours to kill before it left Bonn, we toured the city, visiting Beethoven's house and the Bonn Cathedral, walking around the center. Before the re-unification of Germany, before Berlin became the capital, Bonn had been Germany's capital city so there are many fine buildings and stately mansions. It's a beautiful old city. The ride back to Cologne was relaxing and peaceful and gave us a chance to talk with our friends a bit more.

We then walked through Cologne with them, stopping for ice cream, watching Jessica and Andrea, walking arm in arm like two sisters, heads close together, sharing thoughts I suppose, like they did sixteen years ago. A nice moment.

That night, we met Andrea and Vincent and a group of her friends at a little bar. This was the night that Germany beat Portugal for third place. A funny thing happened! We were about 20 people and the man, the owner, refused to make any food for us because he hadn't expected such a large crowd! He would serve drinks but we would have to get food somewhere else - we could bring it back there, yes, no problem but he had planned to watch the game too and did not want to be in the kitchen cooking food for all of us! I suppose he didn't have enough food to feed so many people but I think mostly he just wanted to watch the game! Too funny!

Jessica and Nick went home early Sunday morning. We hope they had a good time and made happy memories and new friends.

Andrea and Vincent left on Monday for a week in the south of France, followed by two weeks in Hungary, with celebrations in both places waiting for them. Surely they will be exhausted at the end of it all but they should feel very proud of the beautiful event they planned so perfectly.

We wish them a lifetime of love and happiness.

Rosemary & Bob

(more on Germany: visiting friends in Germany)

Views of Koln (Cologne) Germany

View of Koln from the Beach Club across the river

The famous Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

German soccer fan. They don't all look like this but they are serious about soccer.

The centro of Lindburg looked like many buildings would fall down.

Scenes of Dinkelsbuhl

Jessica & Nick in Germany 7.2.06

Early Sunday morning, the 2nd of July we left Verona, packed to the gills with our stuff and Jessica & Nick's luggage, to spend our week in Cologne at our friend's wedding. Poor kids, they were crammed in the back seat with the things that didn't fit in the trunk while I sat with bags of stuff under my feet in the front seat. We own a small car, a Toyota Yaris and I do mean small. On purpose really, we did not want or need anything larger but it is a challenge when our guests and their luggage must be transported from one place to another. And especially so, when we also must bring some things for a few days on the road. The wedding made this even more complicated because we also had to bring the sorts of things we don't normally travel with like fancy dresses and suit jackets! We managed well enough and stopped several times along the route just to get out and stretch our legs. Nick, at around 6'3" had the hardest time I'm sure and did not complain about being folded up like a pretzel, although it was obvious he enjoyed the breaks.

Our plan was to spend the night along the Romantic Road in Bavaria that we remembered from our last visit to Germany, in a charming little town called Dinkelsbuhl. It was along the way to Köln, a little past the mid-point so it seemed a good place to pause for the night. Along the way we made a stop in Dacchau for Nick to see the former concentration camp and museum there, not exactly a cheerful way to introduce Germany but one of historic importance and significance. They have expanded the museum since we were there 12 years ago and there is much to read and listen to about this tragic and horrific time period and it makes quite an impression to see the photos and read the stories of the people who died there.

We all enjoyed Dinkelsbuhl and Jessica said she kept expecting to see the seven dwarfs and Sleeping Beauty's house any minute; it was all so cute and perfectly charming. The bed and breakfast we stayed in was great, affordable, very comfortable and right in the heart of town. It was called the Hotel Palmengarten Garni and we had found it on the Internet. Their breakfast was great, plentiful with fruit, yoghurt, cereal, an assortment of breads, cakes and rolls, meats and cheeses - Bob and I even had soft-boiled eggs - unheard of in an Italian B&B!

After walking around the town in the morning light, we continued on and stopped for a few hours in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, another charming, medieval, slightly larger walled city in Bavaria. Lovely, lovely, it was busier than we remembered but this is July and we were there in May, shoulder season in those days and less crowded. Still it retains its charm with all the gothic cathedrals and gabled houses, flowers and gardens blooming in profusion everywhere and spotlessly clean.

It had been our plan to drive along the Romantic Road (the Romantische Strasse) as I remembered how idyllic the views were on this charming stretch of road. It has either changed through the years, with more businesses and less bucolic countryside than I remembered or the better part of this road is further south, which I suspect to be partly the case.

Changes are everywhere noticeable throughout Europe I suspect and we noticed more and bigger supermarkets, more shopping malls, more commercialism than we remembered. But, there are still many lovely country roads in Germany where, I suspect, billboards and advertising are not allowed and farms large and small dominate the landscape, dotted now and then with country houses and little towns.

With the excitement of the World Cup, the German flag was flying everywhere and we heard and read in news reports that it once again seems OK for the German people to feel nationalistic pride without having to apologize for it. I found this to be the case also with some of the young Germans we spoke with who had no problem criticizing what the United States is doing and to condemn us for our behavior. Most were kind and friendly and we shared with them our distress at the direction our government is taking our country. We talked with a young couple, the husband German, the wife Iranian and heard the story of how humiliated she felt having to be fingerprinted when entering the United States and we apologized, despising the fact that our government is making our friends feel like criminals. Others said they loved America and enjoyed their visits to our cities. Another told me she could not come to America now because of George Bush and the activities of our government and that the people we elected must, she felt, reflect the American people. I defended the 50 or more percent of us who tried as hard as we could NOT to see this man re-elected for naught. I had to bite my tongue to not respond by reminding her of the not so glowing history of her own country but that seemed ancient history now while these are the events of today, shockingly and embarrassing so.

It was very thrilling to be in Germany with all the excitement of the World Cup. Everywhere people were wrapped in the flags of their countries - Italians were there as well and the French and Portuguese, as this was the last week of the games and there was a fever in the air that was palpable. Everywhere there were giant screen TVs, every bar and restaurant had one or more. The weather was warm, everyone was sitting at outdoor cafes until late in the night watching the games, drinking beer (the beer glasses are giant in Germany!) and cheering their teams.

We toured many of the beautiful old churches in Köln, including of course the famous Dom Cathedral, whose foundation stone was laid in the year 1248. It was then built and changed and added to throughout the next few hundred years and finally completed in the 1800s, according to the original gothic designs. It's a masterpiece of elaborately decorated pinnacles with buttresses, gothic figures and gargoyles and its stained glass windows and floor mosaics are among the most spectacular as we have seen anywhere. We climbed the over 500 steps to the top of the bell tower for a terrific bird's eye view of Köln, the Rhine River and its bridges.

We particularly enjoyed the church of St. Gereon, with sections of it that date from Roman times. The oldest part of it is oval in shape and was built in the 4th century over the graves of early martyrs, and legend has it that it was founded by St. Helen. It was close to our hotel and we had a perfect view of it from our 4th floor skylight windows and we found it to be impressively handsome. I read that its dome is one of the largest in the world. As with so many of these German churches, it was bombed and had to be rebuilt. They stayed meticulously close to the original designs with the exception of the stained glass windows and the contrast of the ancient stones and marble patterns to the more modern art adaptations of the windows, some quite abstract, is stunning and remarkable.

Köln (Cologne) has Roman origins and there are Roman ruins scattered throughout the city. The name of the emperor Charlemagne is attached to its history and they are proud to say that they have 12 Romanesque churches. From the year 1388 there has been a university here. Not wanting to "church-out" Nick we visited a few of the more ancient ones, most of which suffered damage during WWII and had to be rebuilt and restored after the war. There is still restoration work going in many places we visited in Germany, so it is not only Italy that is undergoing repair of its old buildings.

We also visited the city of Aachen by train from Cologne, and learned that when Charlemagne was crowned emperor in the year 800, Aachen became the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. It is here that his bones rest, in the center of the old town, in a complex of building called "Pfalz", some of which belonged to his former palace here, in a lavish shrine on display in the presbytery. The architecture and design of this cathedral is stunning. We especially enjoyed seeing the massive copper candelabra, a gift from Emperor Frederick I, the bronze doors, the marble details, stained glass windows and the pulpit made of gold-plated copper inlaid with precious stones, a gift of Heinrich II in the year 1014!

We found the old center (zentrum in German) of Aachen charming and we ate lunch at one of the outdoor cafés, just steps away from the cathedral and wandered around. Since we had taken the train, this also gave Bob a chance to take a break from his driving and relax during the ride back to Köln.

We met Vincent, Andrea's fiancé, for the first time when we arrived in Köln on Monday evening and he and Andrea turned over the key to our hotel rooms. More like an apartment, the Statt Hotel in Cologne is an interesting, narrow old building that has been recently restored as a hotel. One apartment wide, it unfortunately was a walk up the 4 (5?) flights of stairs (not to mention the spiral staircase from the bedroom and bathroom, where Jess & Nick slept, up to the living room where Bob and I slept on the sofa bed) and the kitchen. But the views were worth the climb and we had a pretty good although partially obstructed view of the Dom Cathedral out the huge gothic window and small balcony. It was a very convenient spot from which to explore Cologne, being right in the center and it was surrounded by many bars and cafes. We even found a little place that made bagels when Bob and I slipped out early one morning while Jess & Nick slept in. We haven't eaten a bagel in over a year and it was wonderful. As were all the baked goods everywhere we went in Germany. We ate breads and rolls and pretzels that made our mouths water just looking at them! (I'm sorry to say that so far we have not found really great bread in Verona but we will keep trying.) Fortunately (or unfortunately!) I was trying not to over do it so I would still fit in my dress come the wedding day on Friday!

It was quite a shock to arrive in Germany and realize that most Germans do not, contrary to what our Italian friends think, speak English fluently! Many do not speak any English at all. It was always an adventure going into a restaurant in some places (not so much in Cologne, as there were dual languages on the menus) and not understand a word and not know at all what to order!

The strangest experience was stopping in Limburg for dinner, just before we arrived in Cologne. We were getting tired and didn't want to wait until Cologne to eat and simply exited at the next city we came to. Bob described Limburg as a sort of Bavarian Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, because of the haphazard feeling of many of the original half-timbered houses that date from the end of the 13th century and look as if they might collapse on themselves at any minute. The narrow, zigzag layout of the streets added to the feeling of confusion but we wanted to see the cathedral, which dominates the city's skyline from the highway. It was closed when we arrived unfortunately and we went in search of a place to eat. We found a tiny restaurant with a small outdoor terrace that looked charming and cool, under a leafy canopy and decided to give it a try. The bad part of it was there seemed to be only 4 things on the menu, no one spoke English to help in translating and we had no idea what to order! It's our own fault, not theirs that we do not speak German. We felt bad about that. About not even studying some basic language beyond Guten Tag and counting to 3 but with our emphasis on learning Italian we just couldn't get our brains around German! And as much as the Italians have talked about how the Germans and other Europeans study English from an early age we just expected there would be more spoken which did not turn out to be our experience. Except for our friends, who speak several languages (Andrea speaks German, Hungarian, French, English, Italian and Spanish! Vincent, to my knowledge, speaks at least German and English besides his native French.)

At any rate, we decided to order one of each of the things on the menu and just sample what we expected to be some authentic German cooking. We would just pass the dishes around and sample a little of this and a little of that. How fun! The first dish that came out was a roasted Bratwurst with sauerkraut. Not so unusual. The bratwurst was very tasty even though I don't much like sauerkraut. Next came a meat dish, like Weiner schnitzel, not a weiner at all but a cutlet with some potatoes, also tasty. What came next surprised us all. It appeared to be some sort of mystery meat, pieces of it suspended in a sort of gelatin and served cold with pickled something or other on the side. No one wanted to eat this one! The last dish was some sort of fish, completely drowning in a white sauce with bits of other stuff thrown in for good measure! We were 2 for 2 we decided and Bob managed to eat the white dish while the rest of us settled for nibbling at the bratwurst and schnitzel. We left hungry, you can be sure and decided next time we had better ask if there is an English language menu before taking our seats!

The two wedding days were wonderful (I'm writing about those now), it was terrific seeing our friends and spending time with them, as difficult as it must have been for them with all the guests they had to entertain. We loved Vincent! He seems a perfect match for our "German daughter" and we immediately fell in love with him too. He is sweet, warm, friendly and intelligent. We had the opportunity to meet also his charming parents, his sister Emily and her partner David, who is from Ecuador and their friends who were traveling with them. A very international family! They live in the countryside in the south of France, and invited us to come visit some time which we hope to be able to do before we leave Verona, if possible.

(to be continued: A wedding in Köln)


Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Drive in the Dolomiti

Lago di Garda (Garda Lake) with Jess & Nick

A View of the Lake from the Sirmione Castle

Lakeside village of Riva di Garda

Streets of the village of Lazise on Lake Garda