Nach Rom! Und dem Vaterland 2011

We decided to go see the Pope. I also wanted to spend some time bicycling in Germany, but that idea fizzled out. I still needed to spend some time working on my bicycle, and touching base with old friends, so a chaotic adventure was started.22SEPT2011 – Departure

The flight out to Düsseldorf began at 7 am from SeaTac, putting us through Newark, NJ. This wasn’t a bad option, though the Newark airport required one to depart one secure terminal and then re-check in to another terminal. It wasn’t easy, and the airport had minimal food options. We’ll try to go through Chicago or Frankfurt from now on.
23SEPT – Arrival in Düsseldorf
Customs was easy but in our tiredness we walked right out of the terminal looking for our baggage, only to realize that we might have taken the wrong turn, and could not get back into the baggage area. Fortunately, we were able to force our way back through a “Kein Eintritt” door (no entrance) and immediately located our bags. The smallest cash that I had on hand was 20 euro, and the machine would not take that large of bill, and would not take a credit card. This led to great consternation as to how to pay for the train ride. Eventually solved, we ended up in Krefeld Hbf, only to catch the wrong bus to Onkel Herbert. Arriving in Düsseldorf at 6 am, we finally got to Onkel Herbert at 10:30. Oh well. It was a nice day catching up on things, going shopping with Herbert, and going out to eat at Am Vreed, our currywurst restaurant.
24SEPT- Free day with Herbert
I spent time doing repairs on my bicycle, and actually got it working better than ever before. It was quite nice to have had the bicycle repair class. In the evening, Herbert made a barbeque of pork chops and a type of “bacon” that is well liked in Germany. Herbert introduced us to Federweisse and Zwiebelbrot. These are ususally consumed together, the Federweisse being a sweet wine made from young grapes, that is not available all the time. The Zwiebelbrot is onion bread, that Betsy and I did not really care for.
The bicycle now repaired and working better than ever!
At the Biergarten
Onkel Herbert with his new hat
A very rare plant in Herbert’s yard. Name????

25SEPT- Bicycle ride

Unfortunately, I was to spend only one day riding my bicycle. I programmed a route from the internet, and was able to put it on my Garmin. With that, off I went. Without hard maps or a guide book, the Garmin is a touch frustrating since it will not be able to five directions when you are not moving. Also, it can be difficult to read when it is sunny or with polarized sunglasses. I did multiple wrong turns, only to be told to make a U-turn and go back. All in all, it was a great experiment, which showed limited utility for serious route finding, but something nice to have available. I was able to ride a little more than 30 km in 2 hours. Hopefully, I can come back and do some lengthy rides.
Herbert introduced us to a German tradition of Federweisse and Zwiebelbrot (onion bread). The Federweisse is a very sweet wine made from young grapes, and I’ve never seen it available in the US.
A Schrebergarten close to Herberts Haus

26SEPT – Abschied von Herbert

we told Herbert goodbye and hopped on die Bahn to Leipzig, with two train changes.  We arrived in Leipzig and found our hotel without difficulty. Betsy and I were a little bit amazed that it was much nicer than I thought, in fact, probably one of the nicer and more modern hotels that I have ever stayed in. We took a walk through the city, observing the Alte Rathaus, Nicholai Kirche, and Thomas Kirche, the two churches where Bach performed and taught. It was here that I discovered that I had a portion of our journey off by exactly one day, so in a panic had to change plans that set everything right. It was decided that we would go straight from Leipzig to Würzburg. A few phone calls later, and all was in order.
Betsy at the Thomas Kirche
Old Building viewed from our hotel room

27SEPT2011 Würzburg

It was quite easy to catch the train to Würzburg, going through the town of Fulda. We were delayed a half hour in Fulda, but arrived nicely to Hannes and Katja’s house. After a bite to eat, they took us out to a portion of the Main (River) that I would have ridden by bicycle. It was also cruel it was so beautiful. We stopped in several small towns. The most fascinating was Miltenberg, where we walked through the town. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera. This means that we must return someday to photograph this area. It would be nice to do the entire Main Radweg from Frankfurt to Bayreuth. That will take about two weeks in order to properly enjoy it, but will be difficult to talk any of my friends into doing this with me, and I don’t think Betsy would bite at the opportunity. Hannes and Katja suggested that earlier summer would be a better time to do it.

28SEPT2011 Bamberg

The morning started with walking the dog. Hannes then drove us through back roads to Bamberg. It was a very nice sight. I was surprised to see most of the main roads had associated bicycle paths. Franken is truly a cyclist’s paradise. Bamberg was nice, and we went to see the Bamberger Dom, with the Bamberger Ritter statue. Pope Clement II was also buried there.  It was an absolutely gorgeous and fantastic day while we walked through the town, stopping to have Apfelstreudel at a small restaurant. Ausgezeichnet! Returning home, we stopped at a small restaurant to eat dinner. Betsy and I had the Bratkartoffeln, a regional specialty that was out of this world.
Hannes and Gustav
Wieder Nebel im Dorf
Hannes und Katja
In Bamberg
Senf (Mustard) field
Our room at the Wagners

29SEPT2011 Abschied von Hannes and Katja

We needed to make an early start to get to Rome. The train went through München and then Bologna. Everything went okay until we reached München. There, the train to Bologna was delayed by 45 minutes. This meant that we missed our planned train in Bologna to Rome, but was able to find another train quickly. The trains were packed with Americans, and not having seat reservations, Betsy and were occasionally left sitting a distance apart. That didn’t matter too much. The ride across western Austria and Northeast Italy (Dolomite region) was absolutely stupendous, especially Brenner Pass. We made it to Rome, and was able to quickly find our hotel and prepare for a busy day tomorrow.
30SEPT2011 The Vatican
Getting to the Vatican was easy on the Metro. We arrived a bit early and waited at the museum entrance to go in. The first part of the tour was the museums that historically were able to be accessed only by der Papst, until the Vatican needed money. Then they turned it into a tourist facility. The various museums consisted of either statues and artifacts from ancient Rome, tapestries,  and maps of Italy done up in elaborate fresco style. Following the Papal museums, we entered the Sistine Chapel. Its experience was diminished by the massive crowds. The paintings were truly impressive. We then went to St. Peter’s Basilica, the largest church building in the world, and, unstated by the tour guide, the indirect cause for the reformation. Peter’s bones are supposedly kept in the crypt here. The oddest display was the body of the recent pope John Paul, when it was noted that five years after his burial, the body had not yet shown signs of decay. This was interpreted as a miracle and thus beatified him.Fortress Vatican
The School of Athens – quite a large fresco painting
Inside the Vatican Museum
The Pieta in St. Peters
Papst John Paul failing to rot – too much liquor?
Central area of St. Peter’s – Peter’s bones are below
Looking backwards in St. Peter’s
St. Peter’s Square
After lunch, we went to see the other three basilicas in Rome. First was St. Pauls outside the gate, which reportedly held the bones of St. Paul.  It was rebuilt several times, but was the second largest church in Christendom. The third basilica was St Johns located in the Laterine palace complex, on the southeast side of then the old walls of Rome. This was where the Popes lived until 1377. Again, it was a truly impressive building. The authenticating relics were splinters from the birth crib of Christ. Across the street was a building that housed the steps which Christ had to climb up to the judgment hall of Pontius Pilate. Pilgrims now come from all over the world to go up these stairs, which is only allowed if you go up on your knees saying three prayers on each step. The stairs were packed. You could go up other stairs to the top to notice the “suffers” achieving the last steps, and thus receiving additional blessing from the church. The last basilica was the smallest, but still a grand structure, St. Maria Magiorre, close to our hotel, and built for the “virgin” Mary.  I don’t remember the relic. The interesting thing is that the bones of Benini the architect are buried here. Supposedly the location of the church was identified when snow was identified on this location on 05AUG. many moons ago. It is the only church that hadn’t undergone some sort of destruction over the years.
St. Paul’s Basilica
Chair where the Papst speaks ex cathedra in St. John’s
Climbing the stairs Jesus climbed – on knees ONLY!
Picture of Jesus painted by God himself!
Inside Maria Magiorre Basilica
This day gave much to reflect. I could imagine Luther and others coming to Rome to see practices which occurred. Recent conservative evangelicals have apparently gone to Rome and come back with enthusiasm about reuniting the branches of Christianity. I came back scared, wondering that I hadn’t seen yet another version of idolatry, and a complete misconception of the church regarding gaining merit. Their fixation on relics, “sainthood”, practices to gain additional merit, the attention to the Pope and pompous splendor all made me quite happy that I was not a Catholic. Perhaps the pope should spend more time reigning in the sex practices of priests, and perhaps they should identify that practices such as touching certain objects or performing certain rituals does absolutely nothing to ones salvation. We need to remind ourselves how correct the Reformers of the church were.
01OCT – Ancient Rome
Betsy and I did a tour of ancient Rome today. First, I’d like to say something about tours. They are a little bit corny, in that you really feel like a tourist. But, there is also a huge advantage. The blessings of tours are 1. You don’t have to wait in lines, 2. Somebody explains things to you so that you see the things that you would otherwise have missed, and 3. The tour is done is a very systematic fashion which most efficiently, yet slowly covers what you would wish to see. There is usually plenty of time for photos. We walked from our hotel to the coliseum, where we got a fairly good tour from top to bottom. We then went to the Roman forum, seeing the senate house, the various buildings (now in ruin) of the forum area, and ending on the Palatine Hill, the location of the former residences of the emperors. It was described the absolute former beauty of these places, including the coliseum, which had luscious marblework everywhere, the ceilings and walls were painted with beautiful designs, the floors were marble, and everything had a splendid sense to it. After the tour, Betsy and I walked back to the hotel a circumlocuitous route, including Gesu (first Jesuit church), The Pantheon, and the Trevi fountain. We were pooped and the weather was hot. We didn’t do much the rest of the day.
Roman gladiators
Inside the Colosseum
The Senate House of ancient Rome
Ruins in the Forum
Gesu – 1st Jesuit Church – for Dennis
Trevi Fountain

02OCT – Der Papst

Today we saw the Papst. We were picked up from our hotel at 08:15, and got on a bus. Originally they thought that the Pope was going to be in his summer villa outside the city and we stopped by St. Peter’s square to buy relics that could be blessed. We picked up several crosses, some rosary beads, and a calendar, that are now blessed. It was then that it was realized that the Pope would be right here in St. Peters. So, the tour bus changed plans, and took us first to Nuova Plaza, followed by a ride up in the hills west of Rome and overlooking the city. It was a gorgeous site, but the bus did not stop for photos. We finally got back to St. Peters at 11:00 and the Papst comes out right at noon. Next to where we were waiting, a German band group came that set up their music stands and started playing German marching music.  The entire St. Peter’s Square soon filled with thousands of people, many actually taking this serious, and  to a good many, this was the highlight or pinnacle of their entire life. To them, they saw a glimpse of God. Soon, the Papst came to the window, and actually spoke for 15 minutes, first in Latin, then French, English, German, Spanish and some other language that I didn’t catch. After we blessed, we walked back to the hotel, crossing the Tiber River, and walking through the small streets of Rome to get a flavor of Sunday Roman life.
Back to St. Peter’s to see der Papst
Der Papst giving us a blessing
Bridge across the Tivere (Tiber)

03OCT – Off to Firenze

This was an uneventful day, save for a few events. I was notified on the train that I MUST have reservations for that particular train Nothing said that the particular train that I was on demanded reservations. So, I had to pay up. Then, after recouping from a little GI upset, all went otherwise well. Firenze is a quaint little town, with lots of shops, and old sites. The Duomo is huge and gorgeous.  Tomorrow is the tour…
The Duomo

04OCT2011 Firenze tour

We met on the Vecchio Bridge, which goes across the Alto River. There are multiple shops on the bridge, at one time declared by the Medicis to be only jewelry shops. We walked by the Uffizi Museum, which used to house the Medici family, followed by the City Hall, where the Michelangelo statue of David used to stand. It was the courtyard in front of this building where Savaronola was burned at the stake. The tour continued to see the Mercantile Square, and the little Pig. We then walked through a number of quaint neighborhoods until we arrived at a small Gelato shop where the gelato is made fresh every day. It tasted awesome! The last stop was the Academia Museum, where we were able to see the statue of David by Michelangelo, a quite spectacular edifice of marble. After retreat to the hotel for a few hours we walked off to the Crucis Church, where Dante, Machiavelli and Michelangelo were buried. The guard would not let us in. We again had a late dinner, Betsy with spaghetti, and me with pizza.
Square outside “City Hall” where Savaronola was burned at the stake
Ponto Vecchi
River through Firenze
The killing of Medusa
Inside the Duomo
Crucis church holding Michaelangelo, Dante and Machiavelli

Thoughts on Italian food. It is far better than French food, but I prefer German food. The pizza is very thin crust, with very little topping. The spaghetti has almost no sauce on it. The flavors are great. Chicago remains my favorite place for pizza. Giordanos or Edwardos offers pizza that Italy cannot compete with. Even still, I could survive quite nicely off of Italian food. French food, I’d worry about what sort of slug or snail or animal head they may be serving me to eat.

Thoughts on the train. On this trip, we learned that the train service is not quite as reliable as we thought, and that if you have many connections, they are not to be counted on if the time between connections is tight. The lesson is to not travel so far in a single day and limit connections. The only difficulty would be in finding a hotel in connecting cities, unless you actually planned for it. This means that the idea of using a Eurail Pass and hopping on a train anywhere, going where you please, is not such a great idea. I’ll need to do a costing analysis, but with all the added fees for reservations, etc., it diminishes the value of the Eurail pass. Also, I haven’t seen extremely added value in first class over second class. It doesn’t make too much sense to me, in that the seats are nearly the same, and the first class cabins are usually a bit harder to find.

05OCT2011 Back to Krefeld

So, we had plans to go from Firenze to Krefeld. The plan was for 3 train transfers assuming everything went well. The first train went from Firenze to Milan okay. The next Italian train went from Milan to Zürich, a very beautiful ride, but for no good reason, the train was about a half hour late. We considered a number of choices, but noting a train leaving soon to Basel, we decided to take our chances and hop it. In Basel, we found a train soon after arrival to Frankfurt, and it was then easy to find a train to Düsseldorf. In Düsseldorf, the train transferred to Krefeld, and in Krefeld, we transferred to a bus to Engerstraße and a short walk to Herbert’s house. We arrived at about 10 pm, about an hour later than we had planned with the fewer transfers.

06OCT2011 Rest day in Krefeld
We were able to relax with Herbert, play with Arras, and pack. I was able to go to the store for Gummibåren, sauerkraut, and Düsseldorfer Senf. We were going to go to the Zoo, but the rains began and we decided to do nothing. We did go out to eat that evening, and I was able to spend the last chance with Herbert, talking politics, philosophy, etc.
07OCT2011 Home
What a long flight! Not much more to say. It feels good to have your feet back in familiar territory.