Germany (and France and Italy)

September 15 - October 5, 2014
After two years without seeing Alan and Stefanie, we decided it was time to return to Germany for a visit. We coordinated our plans with their vacation time so we could spend as much time with them as possible (and as much time together as they could stand). We left Halifax in the evening of Sunday September 14. When we boarded the plane we were at first concerned because someone else was in our seats, but then delighted as we were bumped up to Business Class so we were able to have a bit more relaxing overnight trip. We arrived in Frankfurt on Monday morning and managed to find the bus that would carry us to Darmstadt to meet Alan and Stefanie. This posed no problems, but since my phone would not work in Europe, they had no idea we had arrived until a kind fellow bus traveler allowed us to use his cell phone to call them from the bus station in Darmstadt. They were a bit surprised that we had already arrived and they had to hustle to meet us. We got checked into our hotel and then went to lunch at a brewery. That day and the next two days were spent exploring Darmstadt. We all then took the train to Saarbrucken. Most of the exploring here we did on our own and joined up with Alan and Stefanie for dinner. We managed to see the castle museum that was closed when we were here before and take the Saar River cruise to explore Saarbrucken from another vantage point. On Saturday, September 20, the four of us took the train to Strasbourg. Although just a short distance away, Strasbourg is an older city. The centre-piece is the cathedral. The streets are so narrow and the cathedral so large it was impossible to get a picture that captured it all. The streets were entertaining and more for pedestrians than automobiles. We walked along the L’Ill River, enjoying the sunshine, the water and the architecture. We enjoyed lunch in the shadow of the cathedral. On Sunday, Donna and I traveled to Volklingen to see the Ironworks, a UNESCO world heritage site. The site was fascinating, although it can’t be described as “pretty”. It is an example of the heavy industrial work that shaped so much of the 19th and 20th centuries. On Monday, the four of us travelled, again by train, to Paris. We stayed at the Hotel de Prony, located on short (6 blocks or so) Rue de Prony at the end very close to the Metro stop. At the other end was a large park with fountains, status, food vendors, ponds and a lot of grass. On Tuesday, Donna and I travelled into central Paris and went to the Museé d’Orsay. This wonderful museum was just as delightful the second time as it was when we extended our time in Paris by a day way back in 1990. From there we went to the Tuileries Gardens and then the long walk back up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Even though such an itinerary seems light, we found the day full and we were tired when we arrived back at our room. We bought some wine and snacks to keep us until we joined Alan and Stefanie for dinner. On Wednesday all four of us took the train to Versailles. The opulence and grandeur are overwhelming. Although the disparity between rich and poor in Canada is of serious concern, the disparity represented by Versailles is staggering. It’s of little wonder that the French Revolution happened and it is a message for today that extensive poverty alongside unimaginable wealth is a recipe for disaster. Thursday Donna and I took the “hop on, hop off” boat on the Seine. It had eight stops and our first was the Eiffel Tower. The previous evening we had been there with Alan and Stefanie and took so pictures of the Tower bathed in golden light. While not “glowing”, the Eiffel Tower by day is equally imposing. Our next stop was Notre Dame. On our last visit to Paris, we were struck by how commercial and tourist-focused Notre Dame was and this time we had little inclination to go inside. We did, however, want to revisit Sainte Chappell so see the magnificent stained glass windows. We got back on the boat and our next stop was by the municipal government building. Although this was not much of a focus, we did head away from the river to find a nice café for a half litre of wine and more people-watching. On Friday, we headed back to Germany to Stefanie’s family home in Streichen. The train eventually deposited us in Belingen where we were picked up by her brother Sebastian. Saturday’s agenda included a leisurely walk around Streichen and family get-together. We were able to see Stefanie’s other brother, Philip, along with his wife Julia and their young son, Emanuel. On Sunday we went to a local fair (Oktoberfest time) and then took a drive to where we could look down on the upper Danube. Then it was time for us to leave. Sebastian drove us to Belingen where the four of us boarded the train for Stuttgart. We stayed the night in Stuttgart and Alan and Stefanie headed back to Darmstadt and Saarbrucken respectively since their vacation time was over. On Monday morning (early) we got the train to Munich and then the train from Munich to Bologna (and then Bologna to Florence). We arrived at our accommodation Florence shortly before dinner time. The trip by train was a delightful adventure. We had booked 1st class passage and while the link from Stuttgart to Munich was comfortable it was not particularly memorable. The next leg of the journey, from Munich to Bologna, was wonderful with views of the Alps and countryside. We really enjoyed our stay in Florence. Upon arriving at at our apartment, we were directed to a delightful bistro just around the corner - Gilda’s bistro. Excellent food with a warm and friendly atmosphere. On Wednesday we took a day trip to Sienna. One of the highlights was dinner the final night we were there. Our search for a restaurant eventually lead us to Restorante Buca Poldo. There we had what may be the best ravioli I have ever eaten. Finally, on Friday we flew back to Frankfurt and on Saturday, Alan and Stefanie joined us. We did a full day walking tour of Frankfurt. The city is not as architecturally interesting as some of the other cities and it is primarily a financial centre. However, there were many interesting sites and most importantly we enjoyed the company of Alan & Stefanie. We returned to Canada on Sunday and arrived home around 9:00 PM rather tired from both the immediate travel home and the full three weeks in Europe. It was a wonderful time. A selection of pictures from the trip are available here.