While You Were Gone…

Did I mention my wife and I went on vacation in Europe for three weeks?  Ow, what a slouch it makes me!  Or…you could consider I was so busy living in the moment of being there, taking in the experience with all my senses, and capturing it in pictures, that I didn’t make time to blog about it.  I did, however, keep daily notes on my smartphone about where we traveled and what we did, in big brush strokes, so I have a record of all the nifty things we did.

I’m still undecided on whether or not to bore you to tears here with the adventure, because now it’s past history.  Then again, just about all the postings here will have a large measure of being in arrears.  Even journalists face the same dilemma: how quickly can they report what they’ve seen in a timely manner before the information is considered stale?

Oh, what the heck!  Let’s just do this.  How about we take a sample day right at the beginning?  I’ll paste more of them in here and you can tell me if it would be worthwhile for me to continue doing this, chronicling the whole trip.  Let me see…  iPhone on…  Notes…  Scroll down to the first entry…

“Captain’s Log, star-date 20170608.4:


Traveled 4,343 miles via airplane from Chicago to Frankfurt.  [ Airplane flights are airplane flights.  There were minimally interesting incidents, but they pale in comparison to the real adventure of the vacation.  So…Page Left Intentionally Blank. ]

Took taxi cab into center of city to pick up rental car.  Got flustered with GPS, standard transmission, and drivers behind me.  Sorted it out and drove to Wiesbaden directly to hotel by 0900.  Had to wait for room to come available, but got the choice of a river view.  Staff let us have a late breakfast, to include a slice of chocolate Tiramisu-style cake for Angela’s birthday.  Took time to walk around Biebrich Palace and park, nap under a tree from 1100-1200, watch workers dismantle temp structure, watch squirrel watch me, see a plane make a reverse contrail.  Walked around main street of shops for a while.  Picked up fruit and a jar of Wald honey.  Ate the best ice cream and drank the best coffee at Rialto.  Walked across the street to Via delle Rose where Angela tried on several clothing items and purchased 4 very nice pieces.  Checked in at 1400 and settled our gear in an immaculate room overlooking the Rhein River.  Noted the riverfront walkway and tour boats moored along the length.  We showered and got comfortable, then tried internet connection and mailed as many folks as possible to say we had arrived safely.  Unwound by watching TV and fell asleep early, about 1700.”

Yeah, so, you can tell I abbreviated quite a bit to capture the events, distilling the time into discreet chunks of memorable incidents.  If I reconstitute this first day, it looks more like this:

After picking up our luggage, we found our way out to the taxi corral.  We asked a couple of different drivers how much it would cost to get us to the EuropCar lot at Eckenheimer Landstraße 179-181.  We finally got a quote of about 35-45 Euros and took the drive.  I was surprised at how crowded and busy Frankfurt was, but then, it’s been over 30 years since I’d been anywhere near the city.  As I observed the surroundings and watched the ebb and flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic, I realized I would be challenged to use all my safe driving skills.  Not that any of the locals seemed unsafe; contrariwise, I knew I’d have to step up my game to match their organization and courtesy on the streets.

The staff at the rental car place were congenial and provided all the details we needed to finish the paperwork and lodge a credit card number to pay for it.  They told us the compact vehicle we’d requested was unavailable, but they had a comparable model.  In my mind I was quipping “Yeah, right!  Some subcompact with no AC and no trunk room.”  I was wrong.  They provided a Toyota Avensis, with more room than we actually needed (but appreciated), and it was equipped with a large-screen GPS and back-up camera.  (Both these features saved our lives and our ability to navigate appropriately to our various destinations across four countries.)

Toyota Avensis
Toyota Avensis

I expected to climb in and get going right away, but a certain amount of frustration set in almost immediately.  I had a fight with the GPS unit, while Angela acted as referee.  I also struggled for a few minutes, getting a feel for the clutch.  And there were several other drivers piling up behind me, waiting for me to merge with traffic.  All three taken together caused a minor meltdown and I had to pull over onto a sidewalk to work out the kinks and get oriented.  Once I let go the attitude, I figured out the European GPS addressing system and the differences from the American format.  Testing the break-over point for the clutch and where–specifically–to find first gear helped me build my confidence.  In the meantime, the other drivers had pulled around to clear out from behind the Noob.

Despite the organized chaos all around me, I managed to focus on the navigation, getting the hang of traffic regulations once again (like back in ’82-’86).  It wasn’t long before we cleared Frankfurt proper and crossed the short gap of cityscape.  We negotiated the roads into a section of Wiesbaden situated on the Rhein River, called Biebrich.

TJW_1138By 0900 we passed by the front of the Hotel am Schloss Biebrich, then the palace for which it was named, then rerouted ourselves until I could find a spot to park.  It was up an alley beside the hotel, along a narrow back street with vehicles parked up against the buildings, and lots of signs stating “Ausfahrt Freihalten” (Keep the Exit Clear).  We came almost full circuit back down the other side of the block before we found a spot to wedge in the car.  Bags stayed in the trunk until after we checked in.

The young lady at the check-in desk (Katarina)  informed us our room would not be available until 1400, after the previous guests had cleared and the staff tidied up.  She did offer us the pick of the rooms and we agreed on a river-view overlook on the front of the hotel.  I mentioned we might like to get a nibble to eat, and that it was Angela’s birthday.  The staff got all chatty and pointed us to the coffee and tea bar, and moments later brought out a large slice of Tiramisu cake.  Angela was kind enough to share it with me, as we sipped good coffee and talked about what we’d do next.  I suggested we take a walk around the grounds of the palace right at the end of the block, so we paid for the tidbits and set out.

Schloss Biebrich - 3 Shots mergedThe palace is just as beautiful as the pictures on the internet depict it.  The red accents on the white walls, plus all the ornate sculptures set into and atop the structures make the place a landmark in its own right.  As we wandered the grounds behind the palace, we began to get a sense of the length and breadth of the park.  There’s a group walking trails that circumscribe a long oval of about half a kilometer, shadow by tall trees, and highlighted by a large fountain.  We also saw the rotunda was being cleared of the remnants of what appeared to have been a horse dressage show (posters still up in the bulletin board at the entrance).

Biebrich ParkAs we made our way around, the temperature was rising and the cool shade of the trees beckoned to us.  We ambled across the lush grass and stationed ourselves under the boughs of a tall tree, in the very center of the shadow it cast.  Instead of just sitting for a minute, Angela suggested we lay down and close our eyes, since we hadn’t gotten any real sleep on the flight over.  We got close together and within moments, her breathing fell into the low susurrations of a peaceful rest.  I was still wired for sound, excited to be back in my home country after far too many years away, so I kept watching the mini-dramas unfolding around me.

The fountain thirty paces away was spraying up into the pale blue morning air, adding its own splashy voice to the tableau.  Individuals and families came to listen to it, to dip tentative toes into its cool pool of shimmering water, to splash a handful at a good friend, and to see if the ducks would come closer if coaxed with the appropriate tidbit of food.

A group of workers arrived on the back of a flat trailer, with two more seated in a John Deere club car that pulled them to the work site, a prefab tent structure with doors and windows.  They all piled off and set to their respective tasks, unlocking and removing the large window, rolling back the panels of the tent, and preparing to take down the support framework.  At one point, I heard a clatter of metal on sod, and someone cursed; evidently a window had slipped out of their hands.  Several other workers tossed jibes and laughter at the faux pas, so I suppose nothing was broken.

Climb Animals Cute Nature Squirrel Tree

Shortly afterward, I noted a squirrel with a red-brown pelt bounding across the grass.  He drew up short at the base of the tree whose shade we were borrowing, and he cocked his head to look at me (well, at both of us, though Angela took no notice while asleep).  The squirrel spent several moments considering what he saw–two people lying in the grass near his favorite tree–and perhaps wondered if we intended to encroach on his territory.  He then jumped onto the trunk, scrambled around it, and disappeared behind it.  There was a moment’s silence, then he poked his head around the other side of the tree to see of we were still there.  Yup.  He disappeared and stuck his head out from the other side.  I waved at him.  Yup, still there.  He rounded and peeked several more times before finally scurrying back down and scampering away from the direction he’d originally come.  Funny squirrel!

Reverse Contrail.pngI was trying to put my mind on idle, letting my consciousness well over into the blue sky above me, attempting to relax enough to nod off for a few moments.  Then I noticed an airplane (probably heading from / to the Frankfurt airport) making its way across the sky from left to right.  It approached the solitary small white cloud in my line of sight.  As it entered the edges of the cloud, it began to erase it, leaving a clean streak of blue in its wake.  I’d never before seen a reverse con-trail, but there it was.  The heat from the engines must have pushed away or burnt off the water vapor in a straight line right through the cloud.  There’s an image to use in a story!

This was about the time my wife woke up.  We gathered our few things, brushed ourselves down, and decided on our next course of action.  It was only Noon, and our room wouldn’t be available for another two hours.  Angela suggested we take a walk ‘downtown’ to see what the area had to offer.  We made our way back out to the main street paralleling the river and took the first left up into the shop district.  We passed quite a few storefronts, commenting to each other on how different and personal each one seemed.

Eiscafe RialtoWe found ourselves about halfway up the two-lane one-way street, when we ducked into a produce market.  We took a look at all the variety, noting the quality and freshness of all the fruits and vegetables.  We settled on purchasing some blueberries, some strawberries, and a thick jar of Wald Honig (forest honey).  Out the door,  a few more paces down the street, and we stepped into Eis Café Rialto.  The ice cream was marvelous!  The coffee was even better than in the hotel dining area!  And the furnishings perfectly expressed the eclectic idealism that brought it into being.  The owner of  was very kind, talked with us about the establishment and how she and her husband came to open the business, and we traded business cards.  As our conversation wound down, Angela pointed out a clothes shop across the street.  “I saw really cute top on the rack outside.  Can we go look?”  I told her, “Sure.  It’s your birthday.  Let’s see what you can find.”

via-delle-rose.pngThe place was called Via Delle Rose, which surprised me by the way it was rendered.  I asked the owner about the name and she told me all the styles came from Italy, where they were all the rage.  She complimented Angela and showed her around, recommending several fashionable items for her to try on.  We spent almost an hour after that while my wife tested almost two dozen pieces of clothing.  All the while we chatted about the store and the styles and the way the store blended into the community.  When it was all said and done, Angela walked out with four very nice pieces, dresses and tops.

It was close enough to 1400 we walked down to the riverfront and back to the Hotel am Schloss Biebrich.  We checked in, discussed the length of our stay, and filled out the requisite paperwork.  Katarina then showed us to our room.  We went past the front desk / dining areas and out into a small courtyard that held several closed shade umbrellas and a dozen or more chairs.  The back of the courtyard went up a half-dozen steps to a small parking area we’d noted on the drive up the back alley.

IMG_3449From the courtyard, we entered another wing of the building, went up a flight of stairs (up and back), then turned right to pass into a hallway separated from the stairwell by double doorways.  All the way at the far end (two rooms down), was our room.  The doorway was situated at a 45° angle from the hall, allowing a more open foyer entry past the bathroom and into the main room.

The first thing to impress us was the height of the ceilings and the neatness of the decor.  Everything was tidy, organized, clean, and modern.  The bed was situated against the right-hand wall, parallel to the window overlooking the street and the river.  Opposite the bed–at intervals that still allowed room to walk–were a storage table, a small refrigerator, a small table and two chairs, and a TV on the wall.  Back by the entry door, the bathroom was sparse, but not claustrophobic.  It was evident it had been renovated within the last few years to bring the fixtures and fittings up to current modern standards.  It was also our first encounter with a European dual-flush design toilet; left button for No. 1s (less water), and the right button for No. 2s (more water).

We stowed our suitcases and set out our personal hygiene items for easy access.  Typical tourist mentality, we took snapshots of the room and the view from the window.  Directly across the street was a tree-lined and paved walking boulevard that stretched as far as we could see in either direction.  We noted the river cruise boats moored at regular intervals beside the walkway.  I told Angela we ought to check out what kind of tours they provided, and we agreed to do so the next day, since we were so wiped out from the long journey without any real rest.

We showered and got into comfortable bedtime clothes.  Since the hotel offered free Wi-Fi, we logged in and tested the connection, emailing and texting folks that needed to know we had made it safely.  Once our family and close friends were apprised, we wound down by watching television.  We fell asleep exceedingly early in local time, though it was almost a day-and-a-half after we initially set out.  Whew!

Well, there’s that.  If you’re in the mood to see interesting landmarks, hear about tasty food and good drinks, sit through descriptions of people we met, and live vicariously through the experiences of my wife and I as we traversed Germany, Poland, Austria, and Switzerland on a 3-week leisurely tour…well, sit back and enjoy.  Trade stories with me, though, if you’ve ever done a vacation you just had to tell everybody about once you got back.  We did, and I could see it in the eyes of our several audiences, that yearning to have done something similar…if only…





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