Wrapping It Up

I loved Germany, the German countryside, the small, neat and clean villages, always with a tall steepled church in the middle. Although I liked everything we saw, the trip was physically difficult for me due to my back problems.

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Marienplatz in Munich

Cities developed around villages and have “old town” city centers. Everywhere you looked you find quaintness and charm. Castles and churches are everywhere like a fairytale. The way to tell the difference in a castle and a church is that churches usually have clocks on the tower, castles do not.

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Castle along the Danbue River

If I never see another cobblestone street in my entire life, that will be soon enough. They look charming, but trying to walk on them is very difficult, especially when you can’t walk well anyhow.

Europeans have very efficient public transportation with an efficient train and subway system. They refer to it as the underground.

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The people of Europe are more environmental conscious than we Americans. Glass cola bottles have a deposit that is refunded when it is returned, like in the U.S. when I was a kid. We saw numerous solar energy farms, especially in Germany. Roadsides are clean and billboard scarce, mostly seen in town. Sometimes, however, ads are found in strange places, like on historic buildings.

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Morris at Roland’s Fountain, Old Town, Bratislava

Some graffiti is seen on walls, or under bridges, but it is fairly minimal and often of the artistic type. Beggars and peddlers are few and not annoying. I was only approached once by a young man with a cup for coins. Street vendors do not get in your face to the point you can’t enjoy seeing things like they do in some countries.

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The Danbue River was very low causing steep gangplanks and deboarding difficulties. Steps on the riverbanks were minimal, though, and had bannisters which helped a lot. The city tours were either on a large new and comfortable motor coaches, where you see things the best you can out large windows, or were long, difficult walking tours.

Meals were mostly onboard with not much opportunity to sample local cuisine. The one meal we ate on our own after first arriving was delicious. There were two other meals off the ship, the one with the purple sauerkraut, and the one with the rubber dumplings. If there were others, I don’t recall them and it is probably just as well. Guides sometimes suggested cafes, but why pay out of your pocket for food when meals on the riverboat are included and you have just eaten onboard and are not hungry.

The Oktoberfest segment was false advertising as far as I am concerned and some other people were quite upset about it. The few hours we spent there were a major selling point of the tour. It was a total disaster. I was so dead from walking up the hill that I just sat and waited and didn’t get to do anything. Some people tried to go into the beer halls, but were rushed and by the time they found a spot at a table, they could only swig a quick beer.

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Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany

Germany and Austria were both picturequesque and quaint. Slovakia was a surprise to me. I had no expectations, but found it quite interesting. Budapest was fabulous. I had no idea how beautiful it would be. It is suppose to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and I must say it is truly the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I’ve heard that Paris is also beautiful, but have not been (yet).

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Budapest, Hungary

The water of the Danube was not polluted according to locals, but foam floating on the surface of the water, especially downriver, could only be cause by pollution. There are many large and modern suspension bridges, which are feats of engineering, as well as older ones across the river.  I was surprised by the number of locks we went through [16, more or less] an ugly little detail not mentioned by travel agents.

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I thought I would be able to view the Alps in the distance in Austria, but did not see them. That was disappointing as I’ve always wanted to see the Alps. I could swear I saw a picture of mountains in the travel brochures, but I can’t find it now. I either imagined it, or we passed this area at night or in the fog.

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Cruising to Vienna

As I have mentioned several times, the tour seemed loosely planned and was not efficient. On the riverboat, everything was perfect. The food was tasty, the entertainment good, the crew and staff spoke English and were friendly. The tours off the boat were a problem. We seemed to spend a lot of time just waiting and then zipping by things without time to fully appreciate what we were seeing. While it is not possible to control every detail, there were obvious problems. This was not a bargain or discounted tour.

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The Blue Danbue Cocktail – I had to try one.

The local currency was Euros, which I found user friendly. Euros are worth more than U.S. dollars, which you have to keep in mind when shopping. The bills were marked and different amounts were different colors and sizes. The smallest denomination was five Euros. Smaller amounts, such as one Euro and two Euros were coins. Most places prefer currency and some places will not accept a credit card. Thank goodness I planned ahead.

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Photo Public Domain

Language was not a problem. All staff on the ship spoke English, tour guides, of course, airport personnel, and shop keepers. Even the general public could switch easily to English. It seems English has become almost a universal language. Europeans are much more versatile with communication than we are. Americans tend to think our own ways of doing things are the best, but the rest of the world does not view  us as we view ourselves. Many brochures advise you to try not to act like an American in mannerism or dress.

I liked everything I saw. I would have liked it better from a tram or in a smaller tour group. Hopefully, I will eventually forget the pain I endured and mainly remember the things I saw. As an inexperienced traveler, I did not check out the travel agency carefully enough to be sure it had been in business a long time and had guides that were experienced with our agenda. There are many hidden expenses, such as extra tours and services and tips.

Traveling makes you want to travel more. It broadens your horizons and expands your knowledge and understanding of people different from you. You learn to appreciate how well off Americans are and to see our shortcomings in greater depth. Others do not view Americans as well as we view ourselves. I will not plan a long trip again until my back improves and I can walk without pain, but I hope at some point I can travel again. There is a whole world out there and what most of us have seen is only a fraction of the diverse cultures of the earth.

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Glokenspiel, New Town Hall, Munich

In spite of the inconveniences, some of which can be expected, and my petty complaints, I still am grateful to be able to take this trip and see how other parts of the world live.  What’s next? Well, I mentioned Paris and Switzerland. Thailand, China would be interesting, as well. I am open to suggestions if you have any.

Finding German Roots

Dachau entrance

My partner, Morris, was born in Germany, but came to the U.S. with his parents as an infant when they immigrated. Ever since I’ve known him, he has wanted to see where he was born (Föhrenwald, Wolfratshausen, Bavaria, Germany) now called “Waldram.” This is his story, not mine. He should be the one telling it, but I doubt he ever will, at least not on the Internet.

His parents were Jewish and fled all over Europe trying to escape the Nazis during World War II. They were successful in evading capture and were in a displaced persons camp near Munich when the war ended. When they had an opportunity to come to American and escape war-torn Europe, they took it and moved to Pittsburgh. There they raised Morris and his two younger brothers that were born after moving to the U.S.

His mother was Ukrainian, his father Polish. We were trying to figure out how many languages his father spoke and came up with 5-7. Morris speaks German and had been attending meetings with a German-speaking club prior to our trip to brush up on the language. He spoke Yiddish as a pre-school child, took German in high school and college, but has forgotten much of it.

When we first planned the tour, he had the idea that he could leave the tour long enough to see the city where he was born. That turned out not to be the case and the travel agent recommend he leave a day ahead, which he decided to do. Because of the different schedules, we had to travel separately. It was a lot of extra expense and trouble, but we both felt he needed to do it anyhow. He might never have an opportunity like this again.

Using the Internet, he was able to find a private guide to meet him at the airport and drive him around.  His guide first took him to the city where he was born, and he saw the hospital where he was born, which is now a bath house. They went to the Registry Office in Waldram where he obtained copies of his original birth certificate and his parent’s marriage license. His grandparents names were recorded in the documents. He didn’t know their names before as his parents would never talk about the past. As far as Morris knows, his father’s relatives all died in the war. He believes his mother may have family in Israel, but doesn’t know who or where they are.

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Former Hospital in Waldram

After seeing the village, which he said was a typical German village with narrow streets lined with houses and shops, he wanted to go to see Dachau Concentration Camp, now maintained as a memorial to those who died there during the Holocaust. Many of the cities we visited later on the tour still have low Jewish populations as so many died during the war. Our tour guide in Austria said there is deep regret for the atrocities of World War II. The Nazi party is now non-existent and even drawing a Nazi swastika as graffiti or giving a Nazi salute can cause you to be arrested. Morris said he looked at each room of the camp and that only two barracks were still standing. The site appears so peaceful now. It is hard to believe the atrocities that happened there.

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Site of former barracks

So, he was successful in finding his roots. I cannot image not having an extended family as I have so many relatives, down to second and third cousins even. But everyone needs to know where they came from in order to know who they are. It was a worthwhile endeavor.

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Guard Tower at Dachau