Saturday, September 10, 2011

April 22nd: If You Say "Gullible" Really Slowly It Sounds Like "Oranges"

So after just one night in Munich we were on the move again, this time heading for Liechtenstein and then into Switzerland.

We stopped for lunch in the capital city of Vaduz, where they have a model (above) of the castle (Liechtenstein is a principality) just in case you couldn't see the actual castle (below) perched high on the hill above you. (Really, you couldn't miss it.)

We were heading into Switzerland, where they use Swiss Francs, so after stopping at an ATM I now had four currencies on the go.

Canadian dollars, British pounds, euros...

And some very colourful Swiss Francs.

For some reason I found it amusing that a 50 cent franc is called a 1/2 franc....why I the fraction makes me grin, I have no idea....

My next stop was the tourist information booth, where for a couple francs they would stamp your passport for you. I will admit that not having to stop at every border throughout Europe makes for a much more time efficient way to travel, but I've always wanted the stamps in my passport. All those blank pages are just so boring! :)

We settled in for lunch on a restaurant patio. Very average food to tell you the truth...and very North American. Cheeseburger and fries anyone?

James ordered a very expensive hot chocolate, only to discover that it was delivered in a plastic package with a cup of not-quite-hot water. And it tasted like the very same cheap hot chocolate we had been getting (for free!) with most of our breakfasts....

Of course, comparing that to the prices on the watches in the fancy little boutique, the hot chocolate became quite reasonably priced after all! :)

Yep, 69000 francs for a watch. I unfortunately missed out on the 250,000 franc watch displayed elsewhere in the store. I could by a small house for that! Just imagine a small house hanging off your wrist....yikes. I was feeling pretty frugal at this point with my 6 euro Eiffel Tower watch that I bought in Paris so I wouldn't be late for the bus...

After having a chance to ogle the watches and check out the Swiss Army knives (with the hundreds of different gadgets attached in a multitude of combinations) we had a chance to wander through the town.

Lots and lots of public art scattered about...

It was a very clean place. And very quiet. Not sure if that was because it was Easter Friday, or if it is always like that, but it was nice to not be in the middle of a crowd of people for once.

After leaving Liechtenstein we headed into Switzerland itself and ended up in Lucerne for a quick break.

Lucerne is built around the end of a lake and the river that drains it, and is really quite lovely. 

There were people out on the lake in little paddle boats, and if we'd had more time I would have loved to have joined them. The sun was shining and there was a slight breeze so it would have been lovely out on the water. Not to mention what a nice view of the city you would have had. :)

Instead we stopped at the Lion of Lucerne monument which was really quite sad. You can just see the beginning of a spear sticking out of the lion's side in the picture below. It was carved to commemorate the loyalty of the Swiss Guards who were killed at the Tuileries Palace in Paris during the French Revolution while guarding the royal family. Over 600 were killed during the fighting or after their surrender, with an estimated 200 more dying from their injuries. Only about 100 survived.

The lion is protecting a shield with the fleur de lis....and the look on his face is so very human and heartbreaking. <sniffle>

We then walked back the river's edge...

And took a few quick minutes to explore the Chapel Bridge...

There are some really intricate paintings in the rafters depicting events from Lucerne's history. I don't have any good pictures of the paintings, so check here for an example. The tower at the far end of the bridge was once used as a prison and torture chamber, and more blandly, a municipal archive. The bridge almost burned down in 1993, destroying 2/3 of the interior paintings. You could still see some of the blackened wood inside even though the majority of the bridge has been reconstructed.

A random swan...

And a random Canadian flag...

And a not so random Canadian flag, because it was given to the bus driver by one of the guys on our trip...

And the message board on the other side of the dashboard. The message changed almost daily, except this one stuck around longer than most for some reason... :)

So back on the bus we went to drive through the countryside, up and down some very twisty roads, through a whole bunch of tunnels and through some pretty little valleys...

Our destination for the night was the teeny tiny town of Lauterbrunnen which was nestled in another pretty little valley with waterfalls cascading down the cliffs surrounding and huge snow-capped mountains in the distance.

 I'm sure I've mentioned that Jude, our tour manager, would give us a spiel about each town we went to and each place to stay, understandably in a town this small there wasn't much to say. Just a brief description for the plans for the next day and what time dinner would be ready.

That is, except, for this one particular waterfall. It was apparently set up so that at 9:00 pm each evening the waterfall was "shut off" (for lack of a better term) and rerouted for other uses in the town. (Really, more of a village I suppose, it was that small.)

We were staying in another "campground" that was more like a collection of small cabins. There were three of us in a cabin that could have slept six, but thank goodness we didn't have the extra people as it was incredibly tiny and we wouldn't have had anywhere to put our bags with six of us squeezed in there. Oh, and then there was the no bathroom or sink situation. Which meant walking up the main bathroom in the middle of the night if you had to use it. Listening to every tiny sound and imagining what could be hiding behind that next cabin just waiting to jump out at you.... Creepy! (Yes, I supposed I have an over-active imagination. :)

It was Easter Friday, so there was fish for dinner. Ick. I skipped that part and just had the veggie side dishes and dessert, which I was just as happy with.

And now back to the waterfall...

Not ever having seen a waterfall shut off and since the waterfall seemed to have a spotlight shining on it and we could see it by just stepping outside the dinner hall, a group of us went outside right after we finished eating to watch the shut off.

This is where the title of this post comes into play (or, you know, for those I've already told this story) as the group of us are standing around waiting for 9:00 pm to hit. One of the girls has her camera out to record a video, and then the discussion starts.

Who has actually ever heard of a waterfall that shuts off? How does that work? And do they leave it "on" during the day for the tourists to look at? Hmmmmmm, wonder if Jude is playing another practical joke on us, she did play one on us in Paris..... No, Krysztof (the bus driver, who's name I'm sure I'm massacring the spelling of) is out here with us. If it's a joke, why is he waiting around with us... It must actually shut off. Yada yada yada....

Of course, right then, 9:00 pm hits, and Jude comes out of the dinner hall with this wierd look on her face. And we know she's got us again as we all start cracking up, laughing hysterically. It really was the funniest thing to be there, and I don't think I laughed as hard or for as long at any other part of the trip. (And that includes the bus ride where we wrote anonymous love letters to each other and then had Jude read them out to us. Some of them were sappy, others just funny and some made to be so downright creepy that they were funniest of all.)

It was especially funny afterwards to watch the video tape of it all and listen to us talk ourselves out of believing in the waterfall story, and then right back into believing it again, only to hear ten people start laughing so hard they're pretty much breathless and crying. :)

Seriously, who has ever heard of a waterfall that turns off at night?



Monday, September 5, 2011

April 21st: In Memoriam & In Munich

We left Austria bright and early the next morning. If there's one thing on this trip that I can't complain about, it would definitely be the weather. Other than a pretty cool day when I first got to London, and a sprinkle of rain in Florence, it was gorgeous the whole way through!

We stopped not long into our drive at this pretty, glassy lake just for the chance to take a few photos. The side we were on was still shady as the sun hadn't had a chance to rise over the mountain behind us.

After a little more driving, we stopped in a small town, near another glassy lake, for a chance to buy some snacks.

There were strict regulations on how many hours a driver could be driving the bus. And mandatory 45 minute stops after every few hours. Luckily this gave us lots of chances to get off the bus to stretch our legs. Below you can see people hanging around, enjoying every last second of that 45 minutes.

As we entered each new country, our tour manager Jude would give us a bit of a history lesson. Being German herself, she had lots to say about this particular country. Of course, we all know that Germany has some rather infamous historical events attached to was also curious to see what memories it brought back from my Social Studies classes in high school. We did a very in-depth study of the World Wars in Grade 10 (or maybe 11? it's all blurring together....) so it was territory that I was at least familiar with.
Our first destination of the day was the concentration camp memorial site in Dachau.

Arbeit Macht Frei......"Through work one will be free."

Considering the context, well, I think it says a lot.

One of the other Canadian girls on the bus took a few minutes as we were pulling into the parking lot to tell us about her grandmother and grandfather, both of whom had been in concentration camps during the war. Her grandfather had actually been in this particular camp, so this stop was understandably emotional for her.

What she said that stuck with me most, was how her grandfather rarely talked about his experience, but that at a family dinner he mentioned how he had never expected to live to see that moment. How he hadn't expected to be free, sitting once again at a dinner table surrounded by his children and grandchildren. And for how grateful he was to be alive to see it.

Thankful to be wearing sunglasses, for more reasons than because it was bright and sunny, I had to take a few minutes sitting on the grass to compose myself before I got up to have a look around.

There was a museum of set up in one of the remaining buildings with more information than you could fathom about this concentration camp as well as the others scattered across Europe. The model of the camp above was housed there. The museum is in the U-shaped building on the middle of the right hand side of the picture. The two rows of long buildings above it, in the top right corner of the picture, are the rows of prisoners barracks.

Below is an aerial shot of the barrack buildings.

Currently, the barracks are no longer standing, except for the two closest to the museum building which are kept as an example for tourists to walk through...

The rest only exist as gravel filled outlines.

I took lots of pictures of informational signs, especially helpful now, five months later.

(Seriously? Five months? It can't have been that long....)

It's hard to imagine these buildings ever holding up to 2000 people. Looking at them now, you can't even imagine where they would have physically kept that many people...

The next several photos are of plaques that were posted throughout the barrack building. I found the words in them gave me a clearer picture of what the reality of that time must have been like...

Of course, the most chilling part of the visit, as one could imagine, was seeing the crematorium.

It was so stark.....and clean....

It was (and still is) completely mind-boggling for me to stand in that place and try imagine the atrocities that occurred in these places.

The atmosphere here was...

(well, I was going to say hard to describe, and then do my best to describe it anyways...)

....sombre, I think is the best word. It's not like your usual tourist site with people talking and laughing and children running. It was hushed. Quiet. People wandered around alone, or in twos or threes. Picture taking was very limited and done unobtrusively.

I felt like you could feel the sadness of the place seeping up from the ground to sink into you. I haven't ever felt like that in any other place.

"May the example of those who were exterminated here between 1933-1945 because the resisted Nazism help to unite the living for the defence of peace and freedom and in respect for their fellow men."

It was not an easy morning, but it felt right for us to stop and spend time paying respect to those who were lost.

One morning doesn't seem like much to give in comparison.

So, after a quiet, introspective morning, we arrived in Munich for the afternoon.

This is the "new" town hall, which, visually, looks older than "old" town hall.

I didn't have any plans for Munich, so I just wandered up the busy shopping street from the Marienplatz, the square in the photo above where the town hall is located. It was incredibly busy, with throngs of people everywhere.

There were a few street performers out and about, which is always entertaining.

I went inside just one church, the Frauenkirche. It serves as the cathedral of the Archdiocese of Munich and is the seat of its Archbishop.

There is a legend associated with the church. Supposedly, the construction of the building was financed by the devil on the condition that the building not have any windows, but the devil was then tricked by the builder who positioned columns so that the windows were not visible from the spot where the devil stood in the foyer. When the devil discovered that he had been tricked, the church had already been consecrated, so he could not enter, but could only stand in the foyer and stomp his foot furiously, leaving a dark footprint in the floor of the church.

We had been told the legend prior to arrival in the city, which is why I chose this particular church to go into. And yes, there was a dark footprint in the floor in the foyer.

However, I hadn't pictured the devil wearing shoes.

I was expecting claws....or maybe a cloven hoof instead? :)

I had lots of time to wander. I snapped a photo of this cute little monk below.

The city's name is derived from the Benedictine monks who founded it, so this little guy is part of the city's coat of arms.

And of course there was always time for more ice cream....

Thank goodness for all the walking I was doing!

We ended the day by heading to a beer hall for dinner. And I wasn't the only one who had spent most of the afternoon wandering in and out of stores....

Some of the girls bought themselves dirndls specifically for this evening outing. And they sure look cute!

(Almost made me wish I had bought one....except I would never wear it again. Well, maybe at Halloween. :)

Yes, there was much beer involved in this beer hall, as one might assume. Can I just say that I'm not a beer drinker? Because I'm not. At all. But I was in Germany, in a beer hall. Thankfully we were given the "girly" option of drinking it with 1/3 Coke and 2/3 beer.

Sooooo much better!

Those mugs hold an entire litre.....they were huge!

We had some lovely entertainers singing and dancing for us, which was nice. I was especially impressed by the cowbell playing! Reminded me of playing handbells in elementary school, except this girl was much more talented.  At one point she knocked one of the bells completely off the table, one of the people at the front picked it up for her, she reorganized mid song and kept on going as if nothing happened!

And then there was the German drinking song. Oh the drinking song. We had to learn it on the bus before we got to the beer hall. And practice it. And then the musicians kept making us get up and sing it every five minutes. And you had to stand up, and swing your beer stein back and forth. And watch your food get cold while you did it.

The first couple of times were fun. We were singing a German drinking song in German in a German beer hall after all. But by the fifth or tenth time, if you hadn't had enough to drink by then (because to those who had drunk enough it was hilarious by this point), you were wanting to chuck something at them to make them stop! :) 

The night didn't end right after the beer hall, but we did all hop back on the bus to head back to our hotel before most of us explored other options. Either the hotel bar (where I was chatted up by a 16 year old fellow Canadian on some sort of school related tour) or elsewhere.

One of my favourite little memories from the trip is from the bus ride home in the dark. We always had music playing when we were on the bus, but tonight with everyone in a good mood and a little bit of alcohol in everyone's systems, people were more in the mood to sing along. When the first song came on everyone burst out singing along and it continued on with each song the whole way back to the hotel. It was this really warm feeling (not all blameable on the beer) of us being this strange sort of family. So now every time I hear Wonderwall by Oasis I think of this and it makes me smile. Sometimes it's the littlest things isn't it? :)

(And there may have been a few of the more intoxicated dancing in the aisle. I suppose I should feel bad for our bus driver having to put up with us. :)