Day 15 – Rothenburg on the Tauber River and new friends in Langenargen


We left Mainz in a rental car and headed to Rothenburg on the Tauber River.  Our car was an Opel Astra turbo diesel wagon.  Not a bad little car, but I had been hoping for a VW or BMW since we are in Germany.  Oh well, I put it through its paces.20130629-133951.jpg

Along the way we traveled mostly on the autobahn.  Comfortable cruising speed is 140-160km/hr or high 80s to 100mph.  We had one wide open stretch with no cars and no rain, so I decided to see how fast the car would comfortably go.  I decided to slowly apply the brakes at 200km/hr as the car just didn’t feel stable enough to comfortably travel any faster.

Upon arrival in Rothenburg we parked in a public lot.  Our guide book suggested that this particular lot allowed for free parking on the weekends, but no signs could legibly confirm this for us.  I watched tourists come and buy parking tickets from the kiosk and then I decided to check the cars with local license plates.  In Germany a license plate begins with the province that the car is registered in.  Doing this saved us 5 euros as none of them had parking tickets on their dashes.  Our guide book also advised against walking the city wall if you’re taller than 6 foot.  Again, Rick Steves was right, much to Layla’s disappointment.  We had to walk a few sections for her, but I couldn’t see myself walking the entire perimeter hunched over.





We stopped for Kaffee und Brotchen (coffee and rolls) and Darcy snapped this one picture before the girl behind the counter yelled at her for taking a picture.  This was our first encounter with a less than friendly German.  It was also about our 3,000th encounter with really good looking freshly baked bread.  Our selection back home pales in comparison to Germany.


After walking the city and listening to a concert band from Kansas play in the mainplatz (town square) we headed for the gardens where the old castle used to be.  Evidently it did not survive the invasion.  In the footprint of the old castle was a shrine built to remember Jews killed in the 1920s and 1940s.  I decided against taking pictures of the long list of names out of respect.






After leaving the gardens we made our way back to the car.  Along the way were a few Gausthaus (guest houses or hotels).  We both really liked the charm of the grape vines and other greenery set against the cobbles.



Here you can see one of the many sets of steps up to the wall.


“Come on mommy, hurry up!”



From Rothenburg we headed south to Langenargen.  Britta’s aunt Rosemarie and her husband Manfred hosted us for a night in their home.  We had the most delightful time there.  Both of them treated us far nicer than we could have ever imagined for being unknown guests.  Manfred gave us a tour of their home and brought us Bavarian white beers Weissbier (white/wheat beer).  Layla had her own room complete with Legos to play with.  Rosemarie cooked an excellent meal of pork, potatoes and carrots; the kind of meal you’d have at home, if your home was Bavaria.  It was just excellent.

Hopefully we can repay the favor one day.

Day 14 – The beautiful Rhine from Cologne to Mainz

We missed our first train out of Cologne because we we just a little too slow getting moving this morning. We missed our second train because it took longer then we had hoped to take the light rail train to the Haufbahnhaus (train station), but we finally got on a train headed in the right direction to St. Goar, a town along the Rhine. We had to cut out our river boat trip due to timing, so we spent a little more time at Reinfels Castle.20130626-084323.jpg










Later at dinner we found a nice German/World fusion restaurant.  The food was zer gut.20130626-085211.jpg20130626-085217.jpg20130626-085223.jpg20130626-085353.jpg

Day 13 – 533 steps to the top of the Kölner Dom, Kölsch and good company

20130626-074840.jpgJulia, Ellen’s cousin took us into Köln (Cologne for those of use who don’t know what an umlaut is). She described Cologne as a city that is very friendly, open-minded and happy. It seemed like a very nice place to us for the short time we where there. We planned to meet Julia’s husband, Jochen, for beer and dinner after we saw the Cathedral. We were just early enough to see the inside of the cathedral before they began to close it down. We then met Jochen and ascended the 533 steps to the very top of the Cathedral for spectacular views of the Cologne and Rhine skyline. Let me tell you that 533 steps winds you quite a bit, especially at the rate we were moving.



After the Dom we went for a few cold glasses of Kölsch. I should have remembered it by name, as our friend Kai who I studied with in graduate school is from Cologne and he brought us Kölsch glasses. Kölsch is a warm-fermented lager. It is drank is small thin glasses the accentuate the light and slightly sweet taste. I think they also help you forget how many you have had. When drinking Kölsch you must place your coaster over the top of your glass when you are finished or you will continue to get new glasses delivered. We had two different brands of Kölsch; I preffered the Cölner Hofbräu Früh to the Gaffel.

Outside the brewery Jochen told us the tale of the Heinzelmännchen of Cologne. Much like our cobbler elfs the Heinzelmännchen used to complete many of the craftsmanship for the lazy inhabitants of Cologne during the night. But one night a nosey woman came looking for the source of the great craftsmanship. She came to close to finding out the secret and the Heinzelmännchen disappeared, never to be seen again.


After drinks we went to a restaurant favorite of Jochen and Julia’s. We tried a Roastbeef and Cordon Blue. Both were excellent and Layla got to share our dinners by ordering a Räuberteller. It cost $0.00 and translates to a Robber Plate (so she could steal food from our plates).


After dinner we retired to Jochen and Julia’s beatiful home for another beer and then bed.



Day 13 – Sleeping, packing, driving and finally Cologne

The plan was to sleep in this morning after a night of dancing at the Abiball with Ellen and her family. I think we made it until 9:30am, which was probably just enough sleep. We needed to pack up to leave and the room we were staying in was a disaster. Something about living out of a suitcase tends to do that if you stay in one place for more than a day. I still hope that we didn’t leave anything behind.

When I came downstairs the second time Ellen was awake and talking with her parents. I later learned that she had come home and went to bed about 5am, about the time of sunrise here. I joked that she had probably gotten enough sleep, but as I write this in the car on the way to a Cologne she is sound asleep in the back seat behind me.

I booked our car from Mainz to Munich for later in the week via the Internet, but instead of confirmation of the reservation I got a confirmation of the request for a reservation (with a note that someone would contact me later). When I hadn’t heard anything in a few hours I called the rental company in Mainz. It must be very funny to hear me try to speak to a German whose English is only nominally better than my German. Eventually she got me to central reservations who confirmed that the reservation was all set. The whole time I was having this conversation Layla was showing off her doorframe climbing skills to Britta and Ralf.

We were going to take the train from Osnabruck to Cologne, but found out that train station in Osnabruck was too small to sell German Rail Passes (something a tourist would use to travel multiple days at a reduced rate), so Britta offered Ralf to drive us to Cologne. We said our goodbyes and we were all a little sad to be leaving. The Strakeljahn’s were such great hosts and good friends to us, but it was time to leave.

Along the way Ralf explained the speed limits and no speed limit signs on the Autobahn. In case you are a typical American and think that the Autobahn is a road in Germany with no speed limit you are only partially correct. The Autobahn is the German freeway system. Das autobahn ist the same as a freeway. He explained that it is important to keep a proper following distance when traveling very fast or else the police will ticket you. There are markings on the road near bridges to show you proper spacing. While a Passat is a nice car, I can say that 180km/hr in a Passat wagon with 5 people and a full load of luggage is not the most settling feeling in the passenger seat.

Another nice thing that the German VW navigation system does that mine does not is provide you with the current speed limit. This would have been an excellent feature in the UK where I don’t think we had a constant speed for more than 10 miles on most days.

A bit later the car made a noise and I noticed a coffee cup symbol in the binnacle in the info display. Ralf told me that the car told him, “you are tired, have a cup of coffee.”. He says he wasn’t tired and doesn’t know why the car thinks he is tired, but whenever it tells Britta she is tired it is right.

That’s all for now. I’m going to try to work on the posts from the last few days that I began but never finished.

Day 12 – Abiball

Tonight was Ellen’s Graduation Ball. Before the Ball, Darcy, Layla and Ellen went with Ellen’s friend Nick to see his horses.







While they were doing that I was still trying to resolve my challenges getting a German SIM card to work in my iPad. There were no technical issues, just issues getting the SIM fully activated. When I got back to the parking lot I saw this gentleman who had obviously had too much beer.


That night we went with Ellen and her family to a local DIsco for a very nice dinner followed by announcement of the graduates and then dancing to both a DJ and a live band.  Each of the student couples danced three dances that they had learned, the Waltz, Foxtrott and another I don’t remember off the top of my head.  After this there was a dance with their mothers and then fathers.  Ellen surprised me by asking for a dance with her second father.  I had to choke back the beginning of a tear so I could go and make a fool of myself on the dance floor.  I keep thinking I need to learn how to dance, but then I tell myself I’ve made it thing long without learning…






Day 11 – Ellen’s Graduation and BBQ


We love Ellen, but picture this, wake up to attend a one hour pre-graduation church service followed by a two hour graduation. Most people would be tempted to run the other way if they didn’t have to attend. Now imagine the whole thing in a language you don’t understand.  I’m sure it was a great set of speeches, although I hear from Ellen that a few of the speakers went on unnecessarily long.  I kept asking Layla if she needed to go outside to run around, but she wouldn’t save me and sat quietly for two hours.

The high point of the day was meeting many of Ellen’s family and friends that night at Ralf and Britta’s home for a very nice BBQ that went late into the night.  We especially had a great time talking with Michael and Petra, the parents of Laura, Ellen’s closest friend.


Day 10 – You have to wake up early to catch the plane

Today we had to wake up early in order to fly to Germany. Our flight was a 7am and our hotel was purposefully booked a short 10 minute walk from the terminal. We left the hotel at 5:50am missing any breakfast because we were too early. Upon arrival at the terminal we were greeted with the longest check-in line I’ve ever seen (and this is a small airport, like Sacramento). Mind you we had to check our baggage because of the way EasyJet handles carry-on bags. A sign said that baggage check for flight ends 40 minutes before departure, which meant we had 20 minutes to get through check-in and then 10 minutes to make security and run to the gate. At most small airports that would have been close, but doable.

After about ten minutes in a line that did not seem to be moving I was getting a little worried. Luckily, we found in both Copenhagen and London-Luton that when a flight is nearing departure if you’re at the back of the line you get to go to the front of the line. Little things like this are lessons I think we Americans could learn from the Europeans. Back home we would have likely missed the plane. Here our bags were checked and we then went past some great looking shops selling coffee and other breakfast foods we desperately wanted, but we needed to get to security.

At the top of the escalator I saw a line that made the check-in line look short. Imagine the largest high school gym you’ve been in, filled with a long snaking line of people splitting into about 10 security check points. Luckily it moved relatively quickly and after about 15 minutes we made it to a check point. Of course we did not make it smoothly through security. Darcy’s Kindle was chosen for bomb screening. It turns out there was a dime under the Kindle which creates a suspicious looking spot on the x-ray.

Up to this point most every airport worker we met was moving with purpose. The special bomb screeners had no such desire to move quickly. At one point I started stacking empty bins for the screener so that he spcould get on with screening our Kindle. Another 10 minutes and we made it through security and were off to our gate. At this point the true sprawling size of this tiny airport became known to us. Last call for our flight was announced over the loudspeaker as we rounded a corner where a sign came into view that told us our gate was 5-15 minutes away. Needless to say we went from walking at the speed of Peter (or too fast as Layla said) to running. We made the gate just a final boarding was announced again, proceeded out the gate and found ourselves boarding a shuttle bus that would take us to the plane. It waited a bout 5 minutes before it left to take us to the plane.

So maybe we hadn’t needed to run after all. Oh well, such is life. But after we boarded the plane and then proceeded to wait another ten minutes for another shuttle full of passengers I had really wished we had stopped for some coffee. The flight was only an hour and we had the price ledge of purchasing over-priced Starbucks VIA and muffins (which were actually tasty).

In Dortmund we were able to quickly collect our bags and proceed through both passport control and customs. When we left the terminal Ellen was waiting for us with a big welcome to Deutschland!  Ralf drove us to Osnabruck where Ellen took us for a tour of her school grounds and the downtown portion of the city.

Later that night Ralf and Britta took us out into the countryside for a traditional German dinner of schnitzel. Layla got to see some animals at the farm, including this pony I’ve named El Loco Ponyo.




We really enjoyed this and the evening spent with them at their home on the back deck talking and translating our horrible German and their very good English.

More to come as we have time.

Day 9 – London in a day


Wow, what a whirlwind. I think we’re all going to collapse when we check-in to our hotel, which is good because tomorrow’s flight to Dortmund, Germany departs at 7:00am. Luckily, we had some foresight and booked a hotel within an actual stone’s throw from the terminal. Today we saw London in a day. Since we technically started our London stay at 7:30pm yesterday we even made it in 24 hours. We’re sitting her at the children’s playground in Kensington Gardens. Layla is having a blast with the water features, sand and large pirate ship.

In (attempted) reverse chronological order our visit included:

  • Car park to Luton airport
  • Kensington Gardens
  • Underground from Millennium Docks to Queensway
  • Thames Clipper from Greenwich to Millennium Docks
  • Greenwich Royal Observatory, where we stood over the Prime Meridian
  • Greenwich Royal Naval Museum (ship in a bottle)
  • Thames Clipper from the Eye of London to Greenwich
  • Walked from Big Ben to the Eye of London
  • Bell chimes at Big Ben
  • Westminster Abbey
  • Walked around the mall, past the pond with Pelicans, past the military marching practice.
  • Buckingham Palace (we were to late for the changing of the guard)
  • Up the mall, from the Gate near the Cavalry Museum, past a side entrance with some really young guards who could not stand still.
  • Lunch at La Pret Manger (very nice fast, but fresh food)
  • Trafalger Square
  • Took the Number 15 double decker bus from the Tower of London to Trafalger Square
  • Walked over the Tower Bridge (took pictures of Layla straddling the draw bridge)
  • Walked along the pier from the London Bridge to the Tower bridge, past the London Dungeon experience.


  • Walked over the London Bridge in the rain.
  • Walked to the London Bridge from the Underground
  • Took the Underground from the British Museum to the London Bridge
  • Ate ice cream (soft-serve) with strawberries and chocolate on the front steps of the British Museum
  • Explored both Egyption exhibits, including the Rosetta Stone, at the British Musuem for a few hours (this was our only long stop all day) as Darcy loves everything related to ancient Egypt.



  • Took the tube from Queensway to the British Museum
  • Packed our bags in our car, at the car park for the day as we left the hotel.
  • Ate a nice English Breakfast for the last time on our trip.
  • Woke up nice and early.

In an attempt to get some information out about what we did, I’m going to end this post here and come back with more details and photos later.

Day 8 – Harry Potter and Harrods

One of things I find interesting about England are the automatic coffee machines. These are super high-tech machines that spit out freshly ground espresso and steamed milk based upon your computerized inputs. Even the Starbucks seem to have these instead of letting baristas craft your coffee for you.


Today is our scheduled trip to the Warner Brother’s Studio is Leavesdon, home to the Harry Potter movies for ten years of production. The sounds stages were converted into a tourist attraction that opened just a few years ago, after the last film was completed. We had a great time seeing the sets, videos by the cast and crew, the anamatronics and we even drank some butterbeer.



Posing with some Wizard Chess pieces.20130620-080546.jpg


A panorama of the Black family tapestry.20130620-080749.jpgStanding in Diagonalley.

After leaving Leavesdon we had about an hour drive to London. Our hotel is at the far end of Hyde Park, so we decided to drive in and park overnight. We were able to avoid the congestion charges by a few blocks. After parking the car and stowing bags we went for a walk through Hyde Park.  Along the way we came across the “Round Pond” which is not quite accurately named as it is actually more oblong.  But, there were some baby ducks we stopped to look at.


On the other side of Hyde Park is Harrods, a seven story department store.  We went in to check out the Egyptian Escalator at Harrods. There is nothing like being surrounded by million dollar cars to make you feel like you’re traveling on a budget.







On the way out we saw a bike cabby and a chauffeur get into a bit of a scuffle.  I’m not sure what the issue was, but the cabby was getting as close to the car as possible and the chauffeur wasn’t having it.20130620-081603.jpg


Day 7 – Nottingham and the Sherwood Car Park

Today was our last day in the English countryside. We went looking for the Sherwood Forest and all we found was a car park. Not really, but there is a funny story in there somewhere, Actually, we drove to Nottingham today to visit the home of Games Workshop Ltd. the makers of Warhammer and other miniatures games. I had high expectations and the visit did not disappoint.

We knew we had arrived when we came across this Rhino APC tank in the parking lot.



We started with a late lunch (or low tea) at Bugman’s the on premise pub. The foot was actually not bad and it looked like the company’s corporate employees also used Bugman’s for a lunch hangout and casual meeting spot too. After a pint we headed into the gaming room to look around. There were more tables here to play on than at the large Sacramento store, Great Escape Games. Even the most poorly decorated tables here would rival the best terrain back home, and the best tables here were masterpieces.


After a tour of the gaming space I made my way to the store to buy a few things for a friend back home. This is the only physical store that stocks some of the specialty items made by Forgeworld. They also stock just about every model the company makes, so you can see everything there in the store.

I was feeling a bit disappointed that the display cases didn’t have as many models as I had expected. We were getting ready to walk out when Layla came running up to me to tell me I had to come follow her. I headed up the stairs to the third floor and walked in on this view, the hall of miniatures.


Inside the glass cases on the three walls was every miniature made, painted at amazing levels. In the middle of the room is a display case housing a huge scene of the assault on a fortress. This made my day.

After leaving Games Workshop we went to do some laundry in Nottingham, downtown, and then went to the cinema to catch Man of Steel. Not only did Layla do okay, but she really seemed to like it. It thought it was a fantastic movie. Upon leaving the movie, about 9pm, we went looking for a coffee shop. Evidently, the Brits don’t drink coffee late, as none could be found still open. We had to settle for gas station coffee; still better than the garbage served at the Hampton Inn.

On the way back to the hotel we mused about a story my father had told us about the Sherwood forest being not more than a few trees and perhaps a parking lot, so we didn’t go looking for it. It turns out, as you can read here, that the Sherwood Forest is making a recovery. It currently has just over 1000 acres in the National Trust and has been gaining land over the past years. Oh well, perhaps we’ll see it next time.