Monday, May 31, 2010


The weather is changing and not for the better. It's been snowing, with accumulations at the higher elevations. Figuring to stay dry, we headed out for a drive to check out the surrounding area. From the valley below our B&B, you can drive up different valleys in all directions. On many of the roads that go nowhere except to some isolated spot, there is a toll, usually under 10 euros. I believe the toll helps pay for road maintenance and for upkeep of the many hiking trails. When they're not skiing, they're hiking. Everybody seems to do it, young and old, rain or shine or snow as the case may be. We drove up this narrow valley for about 15 miles and ogled at all the waterfalls cascading down both sides. At the end of the road, we came upon this little guesthouse with a small restaurant. We ventured in and took a seat in the corner. With cowbells hanging from the rafters, and musical instruments standing in the corner, we figured it wouldn't be long before a Tirolean mountain climber came down from the high country and began yodeling. Such was not the case.
The fair is simple, sausages and potatoes. Lots of cows in the neighborhood, so they have fresh buttermilk, which is kept cold in a water trouth outside. I found out about the buttermilk after ordering my wine, so I'll have to try it another time. I keep ordering the wrong sausage and ending up with something that looks suspiciously like a hot dog. Tastes like one too.

This is our B&B here in the Tirolean Alps, about 50 miles from Innsbruck. We have a small one bedroom apartment. It is located on the very steep side of a valley in a ski resort area. The road up to the house is very pretty. Pretty narrow, pretty steep and pretty scary. If you build a house on a slope this steep in California, it would soon be at the bottom of the hill. It's location affords some really great views from high above the town. The apartment has views on three sides of the house, with two balconies and a patio. Great digs, so we're staying for three nights.


Since we can't fight the weather and we are in a ski resort, why not take some ski lessons. After some urging, Cathie agreed and after meeting our ski instructor, Claus, she thought skiing was the best idea of the trip. We took the cable gondola to the ski area and it was like a winter wonderland. All our equipment and clothing were included in the instruction package, and with Claus in the lead, what could go wrong. I think from the attention Cathie was getting, she wouldn't care if she did break something. Anyway, on the bunny slope we went and after much falling down, we actually stood upright and skied, at least for a short distance. No photos, though, much too busy keeping an eye on Claus.

If you come to Europe to see art, and you're too cheap to pay the entrance fee for the art museum, then go to a church. The art work and decoration in just about every church in this part of the world is unbelievable. Some of it by famous artist, most all of it religious. From paintings, statues, wood carvings, murals and just about every other art form, is found in the churches. Even some of the smallest villages have great works in their churches. In an upcoming post, I'll submit some of the numerous photos I've taken of the subject.

This church is in Hall in Tirol, Austria. The alter is canted off the main part of the church for some unknown reason. The alter is covered in gold and the pipe organ stands out if you turn around and look toward the back of the church.

While taking these photos, a gentlemen asked first in German, then in English if I knew why the alter was positioned so. I didn't and neither did he. He did tell me that this church was for the people with money as evidenced by all the gold and silver. He said the church for the poor people was in Swartz, the next town down the road and not so lavishly decorated.

If you belive the part of this post about the sking, you'll beleive anything.

Saturday, May 29, 2010




This is really a beautiful part of the world, too bad it's raining. Seems like the theme of our trip is to see how many places we can go where it' raining. It's somewhat depressing as we change plans because of it. When we arrived in Berchtesgaden, the weather report said the next day would be the only day without rain this week. There were two places we wanted to see which are best without the rain, so we had to choose one. It was either Hitler's Eagles Nest, best seen when the mountain is not covered in clouds, and the Glossglockner Pass, also best in clear weather. Because bus loads of tourist crowd Eagles Nests, we opted for the Glossglockner.

The Glossglockner High Alpine Road ascends to an altitude of 8215 feet while covering 48 kilometers with 36 hairpin turns. The bends are number so the speeding motorcyclist can keep track of how much longer they have to hang on. It's is a really fun road to drive with spectacular views around every one of those scary hairpin turns. At times it can be crowed with motorcycles not to mention very large tour buses that manage to crawl their way up the mountain. At the end of the road you are greeted with a view of the Glossglockner Glacier. The drive's not free though, they charge you 28 euros ($34) for the privilege, but you can drive it as many times as you want in a day.



We we arrived in Berchtesgaden, in the rain I might add, we stopped by the tourist office and got a list of potential B&B's. We ended up at Haus Michael in a nice size room with a great view from the balcony. Although is was cold, it was nice to sit on the balcony with our wine and beer and watch the clouds roll up the valley.
A word about food in Germany. There's lots of it and much of it consists of pork, potatoes, sour kraut, great soups, spatzle a potato base noodle and sausages. They've also got this dumpling that comes with some dishes that has the consistency of paste, so opt of the bread dumpling, it's much better. Good food and huge portions. For breakfast besides the usual juice and coffee, there's rolls, bread, yogurt, cereal, cheese, meat in the form of cold cuts, yes cold cuts for breakfast, and a soft or hard boiled egg. It's hard boiled if you arrive late. Anyway it's a whole lot of food.
Today we moved back to Austria and on the way we stopped for our main meal at a restaurant in Hall in Tirol. So here we are in Austria, eating at an Italian restaurant, having French onion soup, German spatzle with cheese and California wine. Go figure!

Friday, May 28, 2010


All over France and Germany are signs over the entrance of bossiness made out of wrought iron depicting in it's form the type of business. Some are pretty straight forward letting you know the type of business. Some are more difficult to understand. For instance, a sign with a stagecoach usually means it's a hotel. This one below has a stagecoach, but it's hard to figure out why the big fish is trying to eat someone. Some are comical, but they all have some meaning and are everywhere in the older parts of cities and towns. Enjoy the photos. See how many you can guess right.


Thursday, May 27, 2010



I had read on several occasions about taking a tour of either a Mercedes or BMW factory while in Germany. Months ago while checking out the possibility, I discovered a appointment was required for one of the limited spots available on an English speaking tour. So about 5 months ago I made an appointment for the tour of the BMW plant in Regensburg, Germany.

We arrived a the appointed hour and at the specified location and right on time we were met by Franz, our guide. There were only three other people on the tour with us, and after introductions we were given a short safety briefing and watched a short film on the history of the company.

I've been on the tour of the Ford truck factory in Detroit. This is nothing like the one there. Ford is so worried about liability, that you walk on catwalks above just one assembly line. At BMW, they give you safety glasses and you get right down on the assembly floor. I know it's a guy thing, but it's quite impressive. You are constantly dodging fork lifts, and automatically controlled vehicles shuttling parts. You see the giant presses, mostly operated by robots which stamp out the body parts. The metal comes into the factory in giant rolls and comes out of the presses as doors and fenders. You get showered by sparks as the robots weld the parts together. If a defect is noted in the body, a dent or bad weld, the vehicle is scrapped and steel is sent back to the foundry.

You get to see the vehicle being painted and then assembled, with the body and chassis coming together towards the end. We spent 2.5 hours walking 3.5 kilometers on the tour and I at least enjoyed it all. I would recommended this tour for all us guys. Now I want to buy a BMW. Anybody want to give me a loan?

After leaving Regensburg we drove on the autobahn (lookout for fast cars and stay in the right lane) to Mauthausen, Austria a small town near Linz. We found a B&B just outside of town for 36 euros, or cheapest room yet. Nice simple room on the ground floor (converted garage) with a big flat screen TV and satellite. Most of the all of the other guest were men who were in the area for work, so the TV schedule included lots of X-rated material. On the downside it also had CNN and BBC.

We spent the better part of a day at Mauthausen Concentration Camp, just outside of town. This started out as a German POW camp for Russian and Polish prisoners of war, but over time political prisoners, Jews and various others made up the camp population. Next to this camp was a granite quarry and many prisoners died carrying heavy block of granite on their backs up what became know as the "Stairway of Death". From 1938 until liberated by U.S. Forces in May of 1945, over 200,000 people were deported to Mauthausen. Around 100,000 inmates died, some 10,000 in the gas chamber, with the majority of inmates dying through mistreatment and by being ruthlessly worked to death.
This camp is one of the few that still has many of the original buildings.

Sunday, May 23, 2010



Shopping in Europe is an adventure all by its self. In France there are several large supermarket chains to choose from and they are somewhat different from those we have in the States. Carrefour and Intermarche are common as is, E.Leclerc, pronounced, la clair. They are pretty much the same and most have a department store section selling everything from clothes, to garden supplies. Most sell gas and diesel and have the cheapest price in France. Some other differences include, checkers who sit at the registers, bring your own shopping bag or buy one at the store, and bag your own groceries. Most will have an extensive and separate departments for meat, cheese and fish. There is a wide selection, which at times for us was daunting just trying to figure out what was in some of the different packaging.


When you arrive in the parking lot, pick up your cart by putting a .50 coin in the slot which releases it from the next cart. When you return it, you get your .50 back. You never see abandoned shopping carts in the neighborhoods as you do at home.



Some of the larger markets include other stores, restaurants and bars. In Germany, Wal Mart has a beer garden. We encountered several with large cafeterias. I was seated next to this large display of salads and desserts at one such cafeteria. I grabbed this picture during a lull of customers. While taking the photo I noticed one women customer giving me the evil eye. Several minutes later, I had been reported to the management and was contacted by one of the employees who wanted to know what I was doing photographing the food. The employee, a cook, perhaps thought I was stealing trade secrets for the competition. I tried to explain my purpose and thinking I was making headway I asked if I could photograph him cooking. At this point he must have thought I was completely crazy and told me "It is not permitted". He left at this point, but kept an wary eye on the strange American, while I finished my coffee.

When you buy fruit and vegetables at the grocery store, you bag them, place them on the scale in the produce department, push the appropriate pictured button and a sticker with the price and bar code is printed. This gets scanned at the cash register. At the cheese counter, the cheese is not only sold pre cut a packages, buy you can select an amount to be sliced from a large round of cheese.


The following photographs were taken at one of the many town square marketplaces. Most every town and small village in France have a weekly market, and in some larger towns these markets take place twice a week. Food is locally produced and of a wide variety. For the most part, the supermarket is cheaper.







There's another kind of shopping. It's the kind one does while on a trip because she realizes she doesn't have enough clothes. Without any consideration on how more items will fit in the carry on, one must shop. You manage to get a great selection in the tourist shops along side the plastic swords, miniature figurines, Christmas ornaments, T-shirts that say "all grandma got me was this lousily T-shirt", and Harley Davidson memorabilia. (The latter is quite popular here in Germany).
On a recent such outing, I was at my usual post outside of the store enjoying the scenery, and I made this observation. Of the four stores of similar type, one each corner, all four had a gentleman about my age, standing outside enjoying the scenery. Goes to show you things are pretty much the same everywhere.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


We are now in Germany and our first stop is Bacharach one of the many small towns along the middle section of the upper Rhine River. Beautiful little towns with timbered buildings and narrow streets. It also stopped raining and we're beside our selves with happiness. Actually some warm weather for a change. We are staying in this really nice pension a small family run hotel. Its a couple of blocks from the center of town, close enough to stroll down the street for refreshment, but far enough away that we don't hear any noise. We don't even hear anyone else in the hall, no doors slamming no nothing. We think we're the only ones here until breakfast where the other guests show up. The owners assign tables by room number and manage to seat table mates with you that you can converse with, mainly other Americans.
Our room is the one in the middle with the balcony and overlooks the garden. There is a small stream running by so we leave our window open at night, falling asleep to it's sound.



There is a castle on the hill above the town, but there is a castle on the hill above just about every town along this section of the Rhine River. That's a big reason why people come here. You can stay in Stahech Castle above the town if you're willing to stay in a youth hostel. Could be noisy. I hiked up the hill for a look, and their outdoor cafe with picnic tables has a terrific view of the river below.

One thing people do around here, besides drink beer, the local wine, or eat the vast amounts of food, is to take one of the boats that cruise the river. You head either up or down river, stopping to get off at one of the other little towns along the river. Because of the current, what takes 1 hour to go down river, requires 1-3/4 hours to come back up. Very relaxing with some of the greatest scenery anywhere. The boats are large and comfortable and serve, you guessed it, beer, the local wine and vast amounts of food.


A lot of freight is transported on the river by the ever present barge. They carry everything from shipping containers to gravel. Families live on the barges in many instances. You see children's playground equipment on the roof of the living cabin and of course the family car.
This is our fourth night here and we're heading out tomorrow for Regensburg in Bavaria only because we've got a reservation to tour the BMW factory there.