Two Guys in Europe

(An account of the travels of Jon and Jared Jacobsmeyer)

 

 

 

Friday, May 28, 1999

            I had purchased the airline tickets on the internet months in advance.  My first excursion into cyber buying and I probably spent much more than I had to but it was quick and the tickets arrived within a week giving me the peace of mind that I was really going to Europe with my son, Jared, to visit my adopted German daughter Andrea and my new baby God-grandson, Jon Cedrick Richter.

            We were booked on an afternoon flight the Friday of Memorial Day weekend so we were going to leave my classic old Cadillac at the flyaway in Van Nuys and Jonette, my eldest real daughter, would pick it up later that evening when she flew down from Salt Lake to spend the weekend at my house.  I forgot all about the fact that it was Memorial Day weekend and everyone else was traveling too so when we reached the Flyaway the parking lot was full and panic became an option since we had no way to contact Jonette about any other parking plans.  The security guard took pity on me and allowed us to park in the 30-minute zone until Jonette arrived several hours later.  So we locked it up and left the keys in the gas cap and hoped for the best.  It actually worked out fantastic because the Flyaway parking lot holds over a thousand cars and poor Jonette would have been searching for half the night just to find it in the dark.

            We reached the Los Angeles airport with plenty of time to kill so I purchased a calling card and used it to contact my daughter Wendy and ask her to get in touch with Jonette and explain the car situation.  So with that all taken care of we sat down on the floor against the wall and watched the gene-pool of humanity parade by in its many forms.  A truly fascinating thing to do at an airport since the possibilities are magnified by the worldwide sources.  This one little teenybopper next to us had so many extra holes pierced in her that she probably leaked when she drank.

            This was Jared’s first trip across the pond and we boarded the plane and found our seats – the bulkhead front row in the cheap section.  We had absolutely NO legroom to stretch out during the ten and a half hour flight to Frankfurt.  But the excitement of the trip overcame the hardship and we landed in Germany without incident.  In fact it was so routine that I can’t even remember the movie that was shown on the flight.

 

Saturday, May 29

            We unboarded at Frankfurt somewhere out on the tarmac and took buses to the terminal to retrieve our luggage.  The airport is in constant remodel mode and someday it will be fantastic but now it’s just constant confusion.  It is the main hub for most European flights to and from destinations overseas.  Eventually we made it to the Avis counter to pick up our rented car.  I had made arrangements before leaving the states to have a car waiting so it went smoothly.  We loaded our stuff into the Volkswagen Golf and took a few hot laps around the airport before we found the escape route and headed north toward Andrea’s house in Staufenberg. .  The German autobahns, for those who haven’t yet had the extreme pleasure, are beautiful, wide freeways with no speed limit so the trip to Staufenberg was short and fast.  That VW Golf could really get up and move.  Jared was reading the directions as we drove, unfortunately they were written in German, but we found the off ramp we were supposed to take and drove into town.  While wandering around in the general neighborhood this young girl came over to us and asked if we were looking for Andrea.  It turned out to be Andrea’s stepdaughter, “Juliska” or Julie to those who haven’t yet visited the continent.  She rode her bicycle ahead of us to the house to show us the way.  It was a good thing too because the so-called street was sort of just a driveway between houses.

            It was great to finally be where we started out to end up and we went inside and relaxed until Andrea finished feeding the baby and came downstairs to see us.  Hugs all around!  After the usual small talk subsided we took a walk with Stephan, Andrea’s husband, up the street to the old castle ruins where we could look over the beautiful countryside of rolling, tree covered hills dotted with small towns, like you see so often in those calendar pictures. It was a truly magnificent day, sunny, warm, with a gentle breeze bringing the fragrance of new mown hay.  It was good to be back in the Fatherland.

            My first impressions of Andrea and Stephan as parents was very reassuring and I could see that the children, Roman (18 years old) and Julie (12 years old) from Stephan’s first marriage were loved and well cared for and accepted Andrea into their lives after losing their own mother in a horrible fire.  The week old baby, John Cedrick Richter, was adorable, as expected of any Godchild of mine.  Andrea is an immaculate housekeeper and later that evening Stephan cooked us a dinner of Steak and three different sausages with all the trimmings.  I ate way past being stuffed, a character trait that I learned during my first visit to Germany, so I wouldn’t insult the host and settled in on the big leather couch for a great nights sleep.  Andrea offered me the master bedroom but with the baby and breastfeeding three or four times a night I opted for the couch in the downstairs living room.  A good choice it turns out.

 

 

 

Sunday, May 30

            The morning dawned bright and sunny and after a good breakfast Stephan took Jared and me for a ride in his BMW to the nearby town of Marburg to visit the castle.  It was an imposing castle on a hill overlooking the town, with a view of the surrounding country.  It must have been a very strategic location to control traffic passing through during the golden days of knighthood.  Unfortunately the castle restoration people had modernized the interior into a community center and destroyed any semblance of antiquity.  A few rooms had been set aside as museums but the overall effect was,  yuck!  I have seen many castles in my travels including the totally destroyed palace of Catherine the Great of Russia in St. Petersburg, but I’ve never seen such deliberate alteration of a beautiful, old, stonewalled edifice as I did in Marburg.  After returning home Jared spent the afternoon playing cards with the kids while I held the baby and relaxed on the couch, giving Andrea time for a short nap.   That evening Stephan and I drove down to Giessen and the American army base to the PX to buy some American pizza at Pizza Hut.  The armed guard let me through and we had to pay in American money but the pizza was great.  We watched a little German handball match on the TV and finally drifted off to sleep.

 

 

 

Monday, May 31

            The morning dawned early in the living room with all the glass windows and doors so I struggled awake and lay on the couch until the rest of the house came to life.  Andrea fixed some breakfast and the kids left for school so I got to hold the baby for a while before Jared got up.  We loaded the car and pulled out of the driveway around noon to start our big adventure.  We hit the highway and headed south toward Switzerland.  I didn’t have any firm plans on where to go, just a general idea of things I wanted to see and a general direction of where to find them.  So, having lived in the table flat north of Germany, we headed south.

            Our first stop was the old city of Heidelberg, nestled on the hills overlooking the  Neckar river with its imposing old Castle ruins offering a panorama of the surrounding territory that literally takes one’s breath away.  We started the visit with a trip to the top of the mountain on the “seilbahn”, or cable trolley.  We had a little piece of pie and a drink overlooking the “Rhein” river valley just south of Mannheim.  Going back down the mountain we stopped at the Castle and spent over an hour just looking at the old walls and the spectacular view of the boats going up and down the river as they had done for hundreds of years.  Around 5:00pm we got back on the road and drove straight through to the Swiss border at Basel to get our passports stamped.  The first thing that the Swiss did was charge me 50 Swiss Francs, about $30, just to drive into their country.  It bought me a little sticker for the window.  Then we got the runaround because they couldn’t understand why we wanted our passports stamped when all of Europe now enjoys open borders, but finally one of the guards took pity on us and did it so we could continue on our way.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that unfriendly place but as we drove through Basel’s suburbs looking for a way to get back to Germany, we got lost and had to go through another checkpoint which was just as leery of our intentions and double checked our ID before letting us pass on.  You must realize that these border guards carry loaded submachine guns and don’t have much of a sense of humor so it wasn’t a very pleasant experience.

            Back on the road to Germany we stopped at the first small village we came across, a town about five miles from Basel called “Kleinkem” where we took a room for the night for 130DM with continental breakfast.  It was a brand new hotel with about six rooms and very nice.  The fresh rolls and real butter with a selection of cheeses and jams really tastes special when you’re over there.  A small problem arose when the hotel wouldn’t take VISA and I didn’t have enough German money to cover the bill.  After breakfast the lady suggested we go to the bank and get the money exchanged which we did and all was well.

 

Tuesday, June 1

            Leaving Kleinkem we took one of the prettiest routes through the Black Forest on our way to visit Andrea’s husband’s parents in Lake Constance or “Bodensee”.  We drove down small backcountry highways (Hwy 317) and stopped several places just to see the sights.  The road took us back into Switzerland at “Schafthausen” where we stopped for lunch.  It was a very boring city so we left and drove toward “Singen” and then on to “Ueberlingen am Bodensee” where we spent an hour looking for Stephan’s parents at 7A Croningenstrasse which didn’t exist.  Finally, as we were giving up our search Jared saw a new home at 8A, across the street, and we took a chance and found them.

            We had a wonderful visit with George and Helga Walters as well as their daughters, Connie and Andrea and Connie’s fiancé Stephan, the English soldier.  Helga is the German version of my sister Marlene in that she just couldn’t sit still without getting up to get something for someone.  We drank homemade currant juice till we floated but it was delicious.  Jared and I took a walk to the lakeshore which was flooded by the sudden melting of the snow pack caused by heavy rainstorms the previous week.  There had been severe flooding all along the foothills of the Alps.  The air was crisp and the lake had lots of swans swimming around and with the Alps in the background – refreshment for the soul.  It was my first trip to southern Germany and I liked what I saw.  Jared was having a good time so far with the exception that was to plague him the entire trip, he sleeps light and seems to think that I snore too loudly.  In the cramped space of a double bed guest room I guess he didn’t get much rest.

 

Wednesday, June 2

            After a good breakfast we left the Walter’s home and headed east along the foothills of the Alps.  We drove through Ravensberg, Wangen, Kempton, and finally to Fuessen, the location of King Ludwig II of Bavaria's castle called, “Neuschwanstein”.  It’s the fairytale castle that is always pictured on calendars and Jared and I walked the mile or so up the trail to see the inside.  It was a real, honest to goodness castle that any princess would be proud to be raised in.  It overlooked a beautiful valley and picturesque town and had the steep, craggy Alps directly behind it gushing clear, clean water in feathery long waterfalls.  We stopped for a delicious dinner at the foot of the mountain and took lots of pictures of everything.  On the way out of town we found some good photo-ops and even an Alpine Bobsled ride which we rode several times.  We wanted to go fast but some little girl fell off right in front of us so we had to go slow most of the way down.  It had really been just a great day.  We even loved the moving water fountains that stood in the center of town.  Tall rock columns that moved back and forth from water being pumped underneath them.  Art that I could enjoy because of the fantastic engineering involved.

            The road out of town went toward “Reute” Austria and wound through canyons where the Alps had recently dumped more water than planned for and the traffic was detoured often because of washouts.  Just about dark we pulled off into a small village called “Lermoos” and found an Inn.  It was cloudy and just starting to rain as we tucked in for the night.  There must have been a wild accident down the road that we had just traveled because of all the emergency vehicles that went roaring down in that direction shortly after we stopped.  The room was about $60 for the night and included breakfast.  That seemed to be the price just about everyplace except near the Airports.  The room had a balcony looking into the pine covered mountains as thunderstorms with flashing lightning rolled through the area and Jared and I just sat outside watching the show and enjoying the cool, and exceptionally clean night air.  Absolutely gorgeous!

 

 

 

Thursday, June 3

            After rising and enjoying the Austrian version of the continental breakfast, (same as the German but the Alps made the cheeses taste better!), we headed down the road a few miles and came upon a cable tram to the top of the Alps, “The Zugspitze”, and decided to give it a try.  The tickets were 61 DM each (about $30) but as it turned out it was worth every penny.  The Tram took only a few minutes to climb to the top of the Alps and an altitude of  9737 feet above sea level.  The temperature was a gentle 60 degrees at the bottom of the mountain but on top it was dusted with an inch of new snow from the thunderstorm of the night before.  The view is almost impossible to describe.  The snow covered peaks of the Alps stretched as far as you could see to the south and west while to the north the green valleys of Bavaria were linked together like some huge charm bracelet.  There was a high alpine valley just below us with active ski lifts and snow boarders.  It gave one the feeling of being one of the Greek Gods looking down on the earth and its beauty but being somehow detached from life below.  The German-Austrian border ran right through the dining room of the lodge that was somehow anchored to the bare rocks and hung precariously over the edge.  I don’t know who built it or why but it sure was some kind of monstrous undertaking just to climb to the top, let alone carry all the equipment and building supplies for the lodge.  We spent about an hour just taking in the sights and enjoying the clean air pushed by a gentle wind that penetrated our jackets and reminded us why there was snow all around.  It somehow tastes different to breathe cold, clean air.  It’s cleansing to the soul and erases the fog that sometimes affects our thoughts and vision, making everything vibrant and sharp.  Jared took some panorama pictures with a cheap camera he had and they turned out spectacular.

            It was a real ”come down” to take the tram back to the valley but our adventure continued as we drove down into the green valley below to a town named, “Garmish-Partenkirchen”.  It was one of those cute little alpine towns that served as an R&R location for the American Soldiers stationed in Europe.  As we drove slowly into town I noticed people lining up for a parade so we parked to see what was happening.  It turned out to be a celebration of “Christi Himmelfahrt” or Christ’s ascension, a state holiday in southern Germany which is staunch Catholic.  The parade was religious and all the people were dressed in their “trachten” or village costumes.  The men were in their green hunter jackets and short leather pants, “lederhosen”, while the women and girls wore the cute “dirndl” dresses with the special village headdress.  The village priest preceded a statue of Mary carried aloft on the shoulders of the honor guard.  An oompa band provided the music as the seemingly entire village marched down to the church to celebrate mass.  Traffic had been halted during the parade and as we left we saw the miles of stopped cars and motorcycles waiting to pass through town.  We saw many people touring the area on motorcycles and it seemed to be a wonderful way to enjoy the sights that flooded the senses all around.

            It was still morning and we had experienced lots of wonderful sights but we continued on our journey and headed to “Muenchen” or Munich.  I had always heard of how great the city was and how friendly the people were, especially during Oktoberfest, but we found the place deserted and everything closed because of the holiday.  We parked and found a small restaurant to eat lunch.  I had been told to try the “Weisswursts” or white sausages, a specialty of Munich, which turned out to be very mild and delicious.  Jared had the “Wiener schnitzel” and even ate the vegetables.  After lunch we left town headed north and stopped briefly in Nuremberg to stretch our legs and take a look inside the cathedral which was built in the 13th century and rebuilt after the war because the Americans bombed the hell out of it.  We got on the infamous “Autobahn” and steered toward the former eastern side of Germany and the city of Leipzig. 

            Driving through the city of Leipzig gives one a flashback into the early part of the century because most of the standing buildings date from the 1800s and show remarkable craftsmanship with ornate facades and lots of gingerbread.  Unfortunately Leipzig was a major target during the war and so the once beautiful downtown area  is all new construction and very shoddy due to the lack of incentive of the east German workers.  We stopped at a nice hotel and then quickly turned around when the room rented for 249DM or $150.00 a night.  Five miles out of town we found a village named “Taucha” where we booked a room over the restaurant for 60 DM, with breakfast an additional 20 DM.  We ate dinner downstairs, a delicious ham and potatoes country style meal that was very filling.  After dinner we walked around town, one block in each direction and then retired to our room to listen to the radio and catch up on this travelogue.

 

Friday, June 4

            The drive from Leipzig into Berlin was pleasant since the VW Golf would cruise at about 100 mph very nicely and the only things passing us were Mercedes and BMWs.  We drove around Berlin trying to get downtown and finally found the right street that took us toward the Brandenburg Gate.  I found a parking place in front of the Technical University and we took a short walk to the center of Berlin, about 2 miles worth.  Along the way we passed dozens of parking places but hey, we were there and life was good.  The area around the Brandenburg Gate has changed dramatically since my visit there in 1964 when the wall and layers of barbed wire blocked access to it from the west.  There was new construction going on all around the area and we strolled down “Unter den Linden” until we found a campy little bistro where we grabbed a bite to eat.  Our waitress was a gorgeous redhead named “Francesca” and looked like the girl on That 70’s Show.

            We jumped on the subway, Jared’s first ride on one, and tried to find “Checkpoint Charlie”, the place that I crossed over into east Berlin back in 1964, but we got lost and took a taxi back to our car passing the American Embassy which was barricaded due to some kind of terrorist threats.  Checkpoint Charlie no longer exists except for a museum filled with relics of people’s attempts to escape from East Berlin.  We found it with the car and parked so we could visit the museum.  It was very moving to see how hard people tried to find freedom and the ingenuity used to escape detection of the border guards.  We headed out toward Hamburg hoping to find lodging along the way but didn’t really see anything worth stopping for so we continued on into the center of town arriving about 9:30pm and stopped at the “Hauptbahnhof” or main train station.  There was a hotel nearby so we checked in and then went across the street for Chinese food, (fried duck w/pineapple).  Jared had never been inside a large train depot like the one in Hamburg so we took a little stroll inside and the memories flooded back of many nights spent waiting for a train back to Brake, Germany where I lived for 13 months.  The only thing that disappointed me was that I couldn’t find any “Sahne yogurt” or cream yogurt.  It comes from Luneburg and the train depot was one of the few places that sold it – but, alas, no more.  And so passed our first week in Europe.

 

 

 

Saturday, June 5

            The room we rented in downtown Hamburg was small but had a washbasin and shower in one corner.  The toilet was down the hall.  If I raised my head up real fast I would smack the basin so getting up was a slow process.  After the usual breakfast, fresh rolls, cheese, sausages, and orange juice, we took a stroll through the downtown shopping area and stopped in the big stores, Karstadt and Brinkman, visited some music stores to buy German CD’s and gifts, ate a smoked sausage from one of the vendors on the street and watched the police, dressed in their green jumpsuits, stage some kind of anti-terrorist drill.  On the way back to the car Jared stopped in the train station to take some pictures of all the trains sitting side by side on the tracks with destinations all over Europe.  It was time to leave old Hamburg and head toward my former missionary area in the farm country to a small town called “Brake/Unterweser” to see if anyone remembered me.  Since I left in 1964 it seemed highly unlikely but worth a shot.  It was rainy and dreary, all in all a typical north German day.

            Brake had changed a lot since I left or at least my memory of the town had changed and the two main streets that filled my days back then were turned into shopping malls for pedestrians only.  The house I lived in at 126 Breitestrasse was still there and unchanged but the small rooms that we rented to hold our church meetings in was now filled by realtors.  We found the business of Manfred Brau, (a travel agency) one of the few people that I had maintained contact with over the years, but everything closed at noon on Saturdays.  I left a card in the mail slot just to show him that I had been there to surprise him.  We also found his apartment across the street but no one answered the bell so I figured they must be gone for the weekend.  We tried one last family name, Erwin and Herta Busing, and we hit pay dirt.  When Herta answered the door she didn’t have any idea who I was until I introduced myself and then her face lit up and she invited us in.  Erwin was sick in bed with strep throat but got up to visit us and fill us in on all the gossip from the past 35 years.  The scariest thing about being there was that Erwin and Herta looked old and when I was there in the early 60s they were a young married couple.  Most of the people I knew were dead or moved into the big city so it was easy to see that you can never go back.  We had a nice visit, drank some juice, ate some cookies and after taking a few pictures, excused ourselves to continue on our journey.  I enjoy my memories of Brake but I think I choose to remember it the way it was in 1964.

            We drove west toward Holland and ended up on some two-lane road beside a beautiful canal as the sun dipped low towards the USA.  Another Kodak moment presented itself about every block so we drove slowly and finally ended up in Groningen on the North Sea coast of the Netherlands.  Groningen is a college town and the narrow streets were lined with bicycles and disco bars.  We drove around for over an hour until finally asking for help to find a hotel.  It was 10:30pm before we checked in and went to our room.  At 168 Dutch Gilders a night it was a nice room and we, or at least I, slept good.  Breakfast was not included but we were just happy to be out of the car.

 

Sunday, June 6

            My father’s 89th birthday.   We slept good on the comfortable and firm mattresses and finally arose and left about 10:00am.  I wanted to show Jared the dike that holds back the North Sea so we drove a short distance to the beach and climbed the dike and took some pictures and with curiosity satisfied we left and headed south.  We didn’t take any major highways because we couldn’t find any to take so we just drove along in the general direction southward to see the countryside.  As we crossed over a bridge near a small town we noticed a Motocross course off to the side and people riding around and having a good time so we hung a quick u-turn and went to the races.  Jared and I walked the track before the first Moto began and marveled at the great dirt that the racers had to ride on.  It was a soft, silty loam that made for great handling over the jumps and into the turns.  We watched for about an hour and Jared struck up a conversation with the young man who sold us the tickets, who was just returned from being an exchange student in the U.S.  Jared wanted to join in and ride the track but we didn’t get any offers so we left and headed south again.  I hadn’t changed any money into Dutch Gilders so we didn’t have any way of buying breakfast even if we could figure out how to ask for it.  I finally stopped for gas and there was a mini-mart so we ate and paid with VISA.  Breakfast of potato chips and soda and beautiful countryside – man, we were living good!

            Well, good living gave way to hunger as we tried to find our way back into Germany where we knew we could spend some money on food.  We finally crossed the border again around 4:30pm and stopped at “Bad Bentheim” where we grabbed some food at a sidewalk café and then visited the castle of the Duke of Bentheim who controlled much of the surrounding area in the 1600-1700s. 

            Our next stop was Hannover and the home of Andrea’s parents.  They lived in an apartment that was formally the stables of the King of Hannover and dates back 400-500 years.  It’s right across the street from the former location of the Palace of the King which was leveled one night in WWII during a thousand bomber air raid.  Renate and Ottokar Holm were happy to see us and since they had often been to my house it was more like visiting family than strangers.  After the initial catching up on gossip we jumped on the streetcar, (another first for Jared) and went downtown to look around a bit.  There had been a large fair near the new city hall but it was over by the time we arrived, close to 9:00pm.  So, off we went on another streetcar to a Chinese restaurant for a delicious meal that lasted until nearly midnight.  Fortunately we ran to catch the last streetcar home and made it, otherwise it would have been a long and expensive taxi ride.

 

Monday, June 7

            Jared and I spent the morning walking around the King of Hannover’s garden, which is a beautiful and large water garden with many fountains shooting up into the sky.  Around noon Renate and her other daughter, Claudia, came home from work and we all went downtown shopping.  Renate had borrowed an employee discount card from a friend of hers and wanted to buy Jared and me a pair of sport shoes but we couldn’t find any that we liked so we settled for a shirt and Jimmy Hendrix CD for Jared and a book on German rocket testing for me.  We went to lunch at the “Marsche”, a trendy bistro that was severely overpriced.  We really didn’t have that much to eat but the bill came to 58DM or about $30.  After lunch we climbed to the top of the new “Rathaus” or city hall to get an overview of the city.  There was a diorama that showed where the city had been leveled by the bombs and rebuilt and how the bombs checker boarded the area leaving some buildings standing while destroying all around them.  It was very intriguing and enlightening.

            Another streetcar ride brought us home again and we were treated to a bar-b-que of select German sausages, including “Berliner Weisser”, and potato salad along with witty anecdotes by Grandma.  Jared’s allergies were really bothering him so he went to bed without dinner.  I gave Wendy a call at home and found out about her new job as an animation checker making lots of money.  The rest of us were tired from all the activities and retired around 10:00pm. 

 

 

 

Tuesday, June 8

            Slept in until 9:15am and then repacked my suitcases for the trip.  Ottokar had gotten possession of a box of books from the widow of a former Luftwaffe Pilot about WWII and had saved them for me so I borrowed an old suitcase and packed them for the trip home.  The suitcase must have weighed 60 pounds.  The books were about German rockets and airplanes and all the neat stuff that I love.  Renate came home from work so we could say good-bye and we left, jumped on the Autobahn and headed south toward Frankfurt.  We made a shopping stop in Kassel where I introduced Jared to “Currywurst” and he promptly ate two of them.  Jared found a pair of shoes that he liked and I bought a bunch of CDs for Wendy before we continued on to Andrea’s house.   Andrea fixed us a great hamburger dinner and then I took the kids into Giessen to shop for gummi bears, the good ones in “schwarzerjohannesbeeren” (black currant) flavor.  We visited and watched a little TV and I curled up on the couch and called it a day.

 

Wednesday, June 9

            After taking my time to get up, since Jared didn’t make it upstairs from his basement suite until after 10:00am, I visited with Andrea and held the baby for most of the morning.  Around noon we took the opportunity to do some last minute shopping in Giessen before we left Germany the next day.  Jared was trying to find a CD that is only available in Europe but was unsuccessful in his efforts.  That evening Andrea and I returned to the American Forces PX in Giessen for another Pizza and enjoyed the feast with cold Pepsi, a rarity in Europe where warm soda is the norm.  Jared played cards with the kids while I visited some more with Andrea and Stephan before retiring to my leather bed and resting in order to catch the early morning flight to England.  We managed to put 2,500 miles on the car in just ten days of fun.

 

Thursday, June 10

            We had to arise at 5:30am to catch our 7:00am flight from Frankfurt to London, landing in Gatwick (the other airport).  Avis again had our car ready for us, a brand new Fiat Brava right hand drive with 3 miles on it.  We loaded our now heavier suitcases and took off for Warwick to visit some old friends, the Graham-Dunns.  Warwick is the location of the Earl of Warwick’s beautifully restored castle.  The Earl was one of the major players in the War of the Roses that changed the leadership of the English monarchy.  Since Martin and Elaine were both at work when we arrived about noon, Jared and I went to visit the centuries old castle, which is just across the street from their home.  There were people dressed in period costumes and acting out medieval themes and skills, lots of school kids in their blazers and ties, unusually sunny skies and warm (60s) temperatures.  We spent hours going through the various rooms and looking at the displays and just taking pictures all around the beautiful old grounds.  Any trip to England should include Warwick Castle to be complete.

            Martin and Elaine live in a connected house/shop built in 1560 or thereabouts.  Martin runs his photo studio out of one room and the living room was used as a trendy little coffee shop for the past couple of years.  Both of them are excellent cooks and enjoy a menu that includes many exotic types of meat and foods as well as the usual English faire.  Elaine cooked us a fantastic Lasagna for supper and we sat around and visited until bedtime.  We got to sleep in Dominic’s room, Jared on the floor and me in the bed.  The door is original made up of three wood planks nailed together and about 6 foot tall.  The house originally had “Wattle & Dob” insulation in the walls (horse manure and straw) but on remodeling it was replaced with more modern insulation.  The outside of the house had to be maintained to look original by law so as to not change the feel of being in a quaint old English town since tourism is Warwick’s main business.

 

Friday, June 11

            Martin took some time off from his work and took us to Stratford upon Avon, the home of William Shakespeare, which is only 20 miles from Warwick.  We walked around and shopped, rented a rowboat and rowed on the Avon, and just had a great old time.  We then drove up to Coventry; the site of the bombed out cathedral that became a rallying point for the British since Coventry wasn’t any strategic city and was heavily bombed by the Germans in retaliation for the bombing of Dresden.  We also went and visited a car museum with lots of neat cars including one that broke the world’s record on dry land.  That afternoon Elaine took us to the spa so we could swim and take a steam bath.  The evening was spent at a birthday party for an old friend of theirs up on top of a hill overlooking the countryside.  Unfortunately it was an outside bar-b-que and I was freezing most of the time.  The English all seemed to take no notice of the weather as we ate steak and sausages cooked over the coals of the outdoor grill.  A few drinks into the dinner and the conversation became lively and we laughed till it hurt.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable time.

 

 

 

Saturday, June 12

            Jared, Elaine, Dominic and I drove down to London to see the sights.  Parking is a tremendous problem in London so we found an underground parking place in Hyde Park and jumped on a double-decker sightseeing bus for a look around.  Downtown London was packed with people going in and out of the thousands of stores packed together in the narrow streets.  Many people swear that London is the best place to shop in the whole world even though it is very expensive.  We got off at the Tower of London and spent some time hiding from the rain showers while visiting the Crown Jewels and armory at the place where many wives lost their heads to the axman.  The bus ticket included a boat ride up the Thames to Westminster Abbey but we were too late and it was closed so we got back on the bus and continued our tour around London until we got back to Hyde Park.  On the way home we stopped at a Thai restaurant for dinner.  It was on this trip that Elaine explained to me that it was illegal to “undertake” by passing someone going too slow in the fast lane.  It must be said that the English are good about pulling to the left and leaving the fast lane open to faster traffic so it never became a very big problem.

 

Sunday, June 13

            Around noon we loaded up into Martin’s BMW and went for a look-see at Cotswold, an old town that is sort of a tourist Mecca of small shops most of which were closed on Sunday.  Our next stop was Blenheim Palace where Winston Churchill was born and raised.  A beautiful stately building on huge grass covered grounds that covered miles of area.  Behind the palace on the lawn there was a cricket match in progress, which we sat on the edge of the field and watched while Martin explained the rules.  Jared was suffering from allergies and Elaine and Dominic were off visiting the zoo or something.  It actually made sense once you knew the way the game was played.  We watched for over an hour before leaving for home.  Dinner was fish and chips at a Pub on the way home.  We made it home in time to watch the World Championship of Cricket on TV with Australia playing South Africa.  The Aussies won 272 to 271 with 5 wickets and 49 overs.

 

Monday, June 14

            After a good nights rest and a full English breakfast cooked by Martin we left and drove north to Colne, a small textile town northeast of Manchester.  Dave Newman’s cousin John Hall and his wife Christine live there and have always been gracious hosts to Dave and me when we visited England.  John’s face looked shocked when I walked into his barbershop and said Hi, so we repeated the act and walked into the pharmacy where Christine works and said Hi.  One thing after another and we were invited to stay the night at their home, a nicely decorated row house apartment 15 feet wide and three stories high.  While we waited for them to get off work Jared and I went out to “Wycollar”, a small village that dates back a thousand years and is now a quiet park with stone ruins and a bridge over the small stream that shows a well worn path made by pack animals over hundreds of years.  It’s very peaceful and quiet, giving the senses a chance to reload and enjoy nature in its sweet softness.  We took some pictures and then sadly returned to civilization.  John and I went and retrieved Chinese Take-out for dinner and then Allen and Shiela Cox came over to visit.  They are the Hall’s best friends and Dave and I have been guests in their home many times for dinners prepared by Shiela rivaling anything that one could find at the finest restaurants.  We talked and visited until midnight when I excused myself and went up to bed.  Jared’s allergies were still bothering him and so he went to bed early in an effort to clear up his sinuses.

 

Tuesday, June 15

            Bidding a fond goodbye to John and Christine we headed north on the M6 motorway towards Scotland.  We stopped at one of the many rest stops along the Motorway and had breakfast before continuing on.  We took a detour onto the A7 to see some of the countryside as we entered Scotland and made a stop in a town called “Hawich” at an outlet store selling wool goods.  We bought some blankets and ties and stuff and then continued on.  A sign indicating a castle led us down a country lane to “Borthwick Castle” and old stone church.  The castle was built like a large stone block with few windows and had a history of being a refuge for Mary, Queen of Scots, during the wars with England.  It is now a bed and breakfast for tourists.  The countryside was green and lush with fields of green grass everywhere you looked.  The drive on into Edinburgh was pleasurable, even with the threatening, gray skies that hung over the area.  The castle in Edinburgh dominates the skyline by sitting up on a big rock and overlooking everything within 50 miles, including the great harbor in the Firth of Forth.  Jared and I found a parking place and walked up to the castle just in time to see the changing of the Scottish guard.  It was interesting and there were many exhibits from the military units that were stationed there over the years.  After leaving the castle we hunted for a place to sleep for over an hour until Jared finally just told me to stop and he went in to a hotel and found us a room at the “Osborne Hotel” for 50 pounds.  It was a nice room with comfortable beds but unfortunately on a busy and noisy street.  We settled in about 10:00pm with the sun still shining outside.  We walked around the corner to a small café and had pasta for dinner so we were set for the night except that Jared was still plagued by swollen sinuses and allergies.  I slept well but I vaguely remember Jared telling me that he couldn’t sleep so he was going for a walk.  It turned out to be 4:30am and he hooked up with some drunken students and took some fabulous pictures of the rising sun on the castle. He had an interesting tour of the city for two hours before anyone was awake.

 

Wednesday, June 16

            After the Scottish version of the English breakfast we mounted up and headed south back to England.  Along the way we visited “Hadrian’s Wall” near the city of Carlyle.  Hadrian was the roman commander in England and had his troops build a stone wall across northern England to protect the settlements from raids by the fierce Scots.  The wall was built around 122 AD and didn’t work.  Amazingly enough, sections of the wall survive after 2,000 years.  While we were visiting it and taking pictures a young Scotsman and his bride came to have their picture taken upon the wall, probably as some thumbing the Scottish nose at the English to the south.  We stopped at another of those rest stops on the Motorway and Jared bought the book on tape of “Hannibal”, the sequel to Silence of the Lambs.  It was very engrossing as we drove along, passing through “Lockerbie” where that 747 wreckage came down after Libyan terrorists bombed the plane.  It was so engrossing that I missed the turnoff for Warwick and the M6 and we had to take a 50-mile detour to get back.  It’s nice to have friends like the Graham-Dunns who opened their home for us to stay the night again.

 

Thursday, June 17

            Another morning in England.  Some young punks had jumped on the hood of the Fiat during the night, caving in a spot.  The policeman on the beat left me a note about the damage and how to file a report so Martin phoned it in and I kept a record of it to turn into Avis.  Jared and I punched out the big dent so it was hardly noticeable.  We were also losing transmission fluid at a rapid rate so we hunted until we found a broken clamp on the transmission cooler and fixed it.  We had put in 7 Liters all together and Avis gladly reimbursed me for the cost.  In the afternoon Jared and I went to Leamington to the movies to see “Matrix” in English!  That evening Elaine fixed another of her wonderful suppers and we visited until bedtime.

 

 

 

Friday, June 18

            We packed up the car, said our goodbyes and headed south for Stonehenge.  The day was absolutely gorgeous with blue skies and warm temperatures.  It was crowded at the rocks but there is still something mysterious and wonderful about viewing those huge monoliths sitting there hinting a history of bonfires and rituals and chanting in the dark by some primitive, visceral tribe of animal skin clothed earthlings.  Secret things, lives dedicated to building the site, oral histories and stories of courage and sacrifice, primordial existence long since extinct.  Re-catching our breath we went back to the car and drove down the coast to Brighton Beach for a walk on Paradise Pier.  Jared spent a couple of coins playing a Motocross video game in the arcade. 

            We drove on to Gatwick to get a room near the airport so we wouldn’t have a hassle the next morning before our early flight home.  I stopped at a petrol station and filled the rental car, bought Wendy 10 galaxy candy bars and checked into the Renaissance Hotel around the corner for 80 Pounds for the night.  One last dinner of fish and chips and a restful night finished out our trip to jolly old England.

 

Saturday, June 19

            Our last continental breakfast buffet and off to turn in the new Fiat which by now had 1,571 miles on it in only 8 days.  I told them at the counter about the dent and the police report, the transmission fluid, missing hubcap, etc. and they credited me 31 pounds and 57 pence for the oil I bought.  Jared and I checked our bags and went into the duty free lounge to await our flight call.  Some last minute shopping and we were off on our way home after an amazing three weeks of fun and travel.  We put 4,000 miles on the two cars we rented and visited six countries where five different languages were spoken.  We saw antiquities and slept in buildings older than the United States itself, ate indescribable foods and through it all we found out that people are pretty much the same everywhere.

 

 

Home_Page