Those seats on the airplane are WAAAAAYYY too close together.  The aisles are much too narrow. The food is pricy. The flight from Germany to the US is extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeemly long.  But, the hardest thing to deal with really is how can they put that many people into an airplane and it still takes off?!

We’re home, and no worse for the wear. The day of the trip back was quite painful. The flight seemed interminable, and the body was tired beyond previous experience. I calculated that we (Laura and I, who had to return to the West Coast) had been traveling for 21 hours by the time we got to our homes. Marilyn had it a little easier, with a nonstop to Dulles, while Laura and I had a layover in Chicago.

So, now that we’re home, maybe we should share a little of what we’ve learned about traveling to Europe on this trip. Here goes:

1) If you plan to drive in the country looking for addresses, download the foreign maps into your portable GPS system weeks before your trip.  That would have been a wonderful thing to have!

2) If your cell phone company tells you that your phone will work in Europe without a change in your plan and then tries to sell you a prepaid phone to reduce the costs, ask to speak to a supervisor because it’s NOT TRUE!

3) Don’t expect to continue your exercise routine when on vacation.

4) One museum is enough for one day. Two is pushing it. Three is too many. A royal palace counts as a museum.

5) Expect to pay too much for public transportation for the first day in each new city. Then, on the second day, you’ll probably still pay too much. I suspect it takes at least two days to make all the fare errors. By then, of course, you may have to move on.

6) Electricity accoutrements like power converters and plug adapters are critical items to buy in advance. Of course, you can’t test them here in the US, so it’s hard to be sure you’ve done it right. Best bet, I think, is to bring at least two adapters and consider buying a hair dryer that can take the extra current. Also, a hairstyle that doesn’t require a dryer would be a practical choice.

7) Underpack. Really. Nobody cares what you wear.

8 ) Wear closed shoes when rolling a big suitcase around.

9) Don’t lean your suitcase on the wall next to a stand displaying an objet d’art.

10) Travel whenever you get the chance, and if you can possibly arrange it, go with people you love and don’t see nearly enough of. It’s awesome!

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The Last Day:(

July 1, 2009

Sunday we had to leave the beautiful gallery and make our way, with luggage, to Cologne, Germany. It had seemed odd to live in an art gallery, and now it was hard to leave. We packed up, tidied up, and loaded up – the smallest taxi yet, but everything fit – snugly.

Marilyn’s plan had been to get us closer to Frankfurt’s airport, so that Monday would be easier. Still, we wanted Sunday to be a day to enjoy, so Cologne and the massive old cathedral were our goal.

In Cologne we checked into the first (and last) hotel of the trip. Marilyn chose well – a small but well-appointed place only a block from the train station. Funny, though, how awkward it can be taking all the luggage one block. It’s too close for a taxi and so one is stuck with schlepping the whole collection of bags the whole way.  Ok, no problem, right? In fact, no, it wasn’t a big problem but some of us were carrying a lot of gear (camera bag, laptop bag, files, books, C-pap machine) as well as clothes, so we hadn’t exactly traveled light.

Marilyn opted for the two rolling bags approach, which varied from the both pulled style to the push-one-pull-one style.  I also had two rolling bags, but decided through prior efforts that the shoulder strap on the smaller bag made for a less cumbersome total. Trouble is, though, that smaller bag gets mighty heavy after a short time.  Laura was the smart one – one big rolling bag. She looked graceful wherever we went, while Marilyn and I ranged from pitiful to comical as we negotiated our way onto and off of excalators, lifts, trains, and sidewalks.

The only odd thing at the hotel was the smallest elevator every seen. Two lovers might ride together, but anyone less intimately involved would want to take turns. Of course, with luggage there was no doubt, it was one-at-a-time. We were only up one flight, so it wasn’t too long before we’d made the journey.  It was clever that the stairs were right next to the elevator, so we could talk to one another from floor to floor while one of us was on the lift. Our room was only steps away from the left door, too, so it was all quite handy.

Cologne is most famous for its huge cathedral – St. John the Evangelist. When we had watched out the train window arriving in the city, we had seen this huge church and thought we knew what we were looking for. Then, when we got out of the train station and looked to the left WOW. Oh MY God that is a massive church. The one we had seen earlier was nothing in comparison.

Of course we had to see the cathedral, but first we needed to eat. Following a recommendation from our hotel desk clerk, we found a wonderful authentic German restaurant near the river – one of several in a row with large outdoor dining patios.  We’re getting almost blase about all these outdoor cafes!

Earlier in the day Ron had shared a memory of train trips in Germany – where the train wasn’t stopped long enough for passengers to get off and the vendors would sell sausages and pass them through the train windows.  When he’d asked, I had to admit I hadn’t had a sausage yet. So, after I passed this story along to Laura and Marilyn, we all ordered sausages. I had the bratwurst, Laura chose the weiner, and Marilyn braved the blutwurst. All very good, though I cannot testify regarding the blutwurst. I eat almost anything, but I couldn’t deal with that.

A picture doesn't do it justice

We spent a lot of time in and around the cathedral Sunday afternoon and evening. We arrived just in time for the 5:00 mass, which was in German of course, so we didn’t understand any of it.

That’s ok, actually, since we’ve all been to enough masses to get the gist of it. But the sermon was a bit painful. Actually, I dozed.

Afterward, having had such a great lunch, we decided that dessert for dinner was not too decadent. I had said the previous night that I would indulge in a sweet dessert on our last night, so we all did it.

The cafe, outdoor of course, was right across from the cathedral steps. So we watched the people looking at the cathedral, listened to the bells celebrate every hour, every quarter hour, and every half hour, and treated our taste buds to great mounds of sweet things.

The Hague – Den Haag

June 27, 2009

After a quiet Friday “at home” we were ready Saturday morning to travel again to see some sights, and we chose The Hague.  I always thought The Hague was a building, confusing the city’s name with one of the most talked-about institutions in the city – The International Court of Justice. Now I am no longer confused.

This was our first train trip that went wrong, a bit. We arrived – in Rotterdam! That’s not where we were headed, and yet there we were.  It didn’t take long to find a train headed for Den Haag Centraal, so we got to our destination after all.

As soon as we arrived (a little past noon) we were hungry and stopped to eat our bag lunch in a park not far from the station. Soon we realized that there was a major event taking place around us and overhead.  The helicopter was clearly not going away, and there were grandstands full of people visible through the trees. Then – BOOM!  What was that?  Just one canon explosion?  Why?

We headed toward the town and saw that the roads were blocked off and people were lining the street, clearly waiting for a parade. So we too waited for the parade.  In a few moments we discovered that it is Veterans’ Day in Holland.The people were waiting for the veterans’ parade.

We found the parade to be quite moving – with wave after wave o9f soldiers – young and old – in various styles of uniform, each preceded by a banner stating the war(s) they fought in. We were also treated to a showing of a variety of military vehicles. We heard from those standing near us that the Prince would be attending.  Not knowing the Prince’s name didn’t reduce our fascination much, so we watched the entire parade in hopes of seeing royalty.  We may have seen him, but we couldn’t be sure.

After the parade and a rejuvenating coffee, we spent a pleasant few hours viewing the buildings and shops of The Hague old town, the part of the city which was not destroyed in World War II.  Our waiter at the coffee shop, Michael, advised us of the efficient route through the streets – to see the Parliament building but not to try to get to the International Court of Justice – too far and not open to public tours.

Our walking tour took us past some amazing sidewalk cafes, larger than any such restaurants any of us had ever seen before. Later we returned to have our dinner at one of those restaurants. It turns out that many restaurants that front on the square share the large number of outdoor tables. What looks like one large seating area is actually a collection of restaurants. The menu available to you depends on which restaurant lays claim to the table where you sit down.

Outdoor cafes in The Hague

Outdoor cafes in The Hague

As we wandered through the shops, we were surprised by a “soldier’s show” – a performance of 1940’s music by four singers in uniforms from World War II.

I’d heard nearly all of the songs before, and the performance was great fun. We were smiling broadly to happen upon such a thing in the middle of a mall!

Soldier's entertainment fromt eh 40s'

Soldier's entertainment from the 40s'

Another find in The Hague that had us smiling was the herring.  Marilyn has been wanting some (Laura and I have no interest), and there it was.  They serve it raw!  When we react with some disdain to this, Marilyn asks what we think of sushi.  Well, that’s different, I reply.  There’s rice, little vegetables, not so much fish. Laura’s answer is that it’s different fish, some tuna, some shrimp, not herring.

When we were little, our father would eat pickled herring. This is not pickled. It’s just cleaned, sliced, and served on a bun with diced onion. Yummm!?

There were certainly a lot of people enjoying the fish, though some of them were choosing the cooked items on the menu.

Herring sandwich - yummm!

Herring sandwich - yummm!

We should also mention the sand sculpture – or was it sandstone. It certainly looked like sand but how could it be?

We end our day in The Hague with a fine meal – spaghetti with seafood for Marilyn and a nice spice salad with various meats and hot red peppers for JoAnn and Laura.

After dinner we headed back to the trains. This time we traveled back to Hilversum via Utrecht and had no problems, even with a 6-minute connection from platform 19 to 3.

“Lost” in the Park

June 26, 2009

Imagine how lost I might have been if I’d been on a bicycle, with the additional speed and range!.  As it is, I went out walking and returned after 90 minutes.  It was a good walk, but I was turned around (otherwise known as “lost”).  Everyone I encountered was a visitor, too. Finally found a couple on bicycles who had a map. Then we stopped two young who were locals.  With a local and a map, I was in business.  It turns out I wasn’t far from “home” and it took only a few minutes to find the sheep and the  cows.

After I returned, Marilyn and I spent the next few hours working with family tree information and sharing photographs. I got Marilyn’s laptop hooked up, used a couple of USB memory sticks, and transferred all my and Laura’s photos to her laptop. Now she’s happily viewing our trip in full living color, digitally.

We’re playing together on our little netbook computers.

Bicycle Culture

June 25, 2009

It is a continuing surprise to see the use of bicycles grow as we move from city to city. We noticed it in Germany, where we frequently saw people of all ages out riding all day and into the evening. Couples who appeared to be celebrating their 40th year of marriage out riding their bicycles together.  This is not seen in the US!

Now, as we move into the big cities of Holland, the sights relating to bicycles have become beyond charming. This is heavy duty bike culture. Bike paths here are separate from the road and separate from the pedestrian path and have their own traffic signal.  Bike parking at train stations and other public gathering places is massive, sometimes in double-decker lots. Some of the bicycle parking is covered with low roofs, and we’ve even seen some indoor bike parking garages.  Everywhere you go bicycles are parked along the road, often obstructing sidewalks completely.  Watch out if you walk across a bike path, because the bicycles are coming, seemingly from everywhere.

People on bicycles are dressed for everything, not just exercise. They are doing all kinds of things, too. Some are talking on cell phones; many are eating. It’s not necessary, apparently, to use both hands, so you can carry your purchases in one hand while riding. However, it’s not really necessary, as most people have a basket or “saddle bags” or some other carrying device mounted on the bicycle to make carrying easier.

I hope we get a chance to join in the fun tomorrow. We’re planning to take a day off from traveling, staying closer to “home” in S-Graveland, and maybe we’ll take our host up on his offer to lend us his bike.

Our second day in Amsterdam was much more successful, as we largely recovered from the shock of big city life. It was a day of museums, mostly. First the Van Gogh Museum, then the … the one with the Dutch masters, including Rembrandt.

Across from the museums is a lovely “pleine” or plaza. We used it well, first for a refreshing ice cream and then for a refreshing dip (feet only) in the pool.

Even after the pool, we were really tired.  What to do?  We’d spent so much money already (the museums, lunch, the tram) that we really didn’t want to do anything expensive.  We had a lot of time, but little energy.  We decided to use the Eurail passes and go to Utrecht for dinner.

That was brilliant!

Restaurants along the canal in Utrecht

Restaurants along the canal in Utrecht

Chez Willy turned out to be a fine dining experience and a great place to sit and watch the revelry.

All kinds of boats passed by – from canoes and kayaks to gondolas and powerboats. Some of the parties were quiet and some were raucous.  There were boats with barbecue grills and full dining tables.  It was clearly party night (Thursday?).

Party boats on the Utrecht canal.

Party boats on the Utrecht canal.

Are we in Holland or Italy?

Are we in Holland or Italy?

JoAnn without her camera?!

JoAnn without her camera?!

Uh oh! Big City!

June 24, 2009

Amsterdam was a shock to us after our rural experiences so far. The buses, trams, Metro, bicycles, bicycles, boats, trains, autos!  Everywhere the bicycles!

We did see some things today – the Royal Palace, the Flea Market – but today was largely about getting our bearings.  We took a boat tour of the canals to get off our feet and see the city at the same time. The weather was perfect, and when we got off the boat we sat again for a cappucino right next to the canal. In fact, the cafe was on a boat, too!

Transition Day

June 24, 2009

Yesterday was a moving day. We took the 9″53 train from Osnabruck to a suburb of Amsterdam called Hilversum.  Our host, Donald, picked us up with his friend Jim (so that we and our luggage could be accommodated). After settling our bags into the house, Jim drove us to a lovely restaurant so that we could have a long lunch, while Donald and Jim went about their business.

We are living in an art gallery, seriously.  Everywhere we look is another sculpture or painting or glass art!  When we returned from a trip to the grocery store last night, Donald put some classical music on the CD player and we spent the rest of the evening enjoying the ambiance.

Across from the house in front is a “nature park” with cows and sheep grazing all day. In back, there is a canal, which Donald says was built to bring supplies to the homes of those who had moved to the country to escape the smelly city. The smell at that time came from the hot weather warming the garbage-dump canals.

On the balcony overlooking the canal there are large planters. In one of them, a mama duck has been sitting on her nest of eggs, Donald says, for nearly a month. He’s concerned because 1) she is destroying his plant and 2) the eggs must be infertile because they should have hatched by now.  We hope that she will hatch them by the time we leave. Marilyn has named her – Mary Jane.  Donald mentioned that her choice is interesting, because that is a nickname for marijuana. That didn’t disssuade Marilyn, but it is certainly not the reason for the name. She says the name came to her because the duck is very clean, neat and ready to go.

Mary Jane on her nest

Mary Jane on her nest

The sun  doesn’t set here until 10:30 p.m.  It makes for a long lovely evening!

Farms in Haverbeck

June 22, 2009

Our last day in Germany (we’re heading to the Netherlands tomorrow) was spent searching for the actual family farmhouses.  Marilyn had some information from the internet indicating where there were farms that were owned by Frekings in the 1600s.  I was skeptical, I will admit, because it is hard to believe that a farm might stay in the family for, what, 400 years?  However, if farming is your life, you hand the farm down to your children (or, under old primogeniture rules, to your first-born son), and the next generation continues to farm that land. So, maybe.

First we tried on our own to find the farms, using the printouts. We had an appointment with Stephen Honcomp for 5:00 p.m. He’d promised to find more information for us by then.  We saw some farms, but couldn’t really determine which one(s) might have been in the Freking family. We knew that the records indicate that Haverbeck was likely to be the area where our grandfather, Ferdinand Freking, lived before he left for America at age 19.

We decided to take a side trip to Dummersee, a lake southeast of Haverbeck, because we had some time to kill.  The lake was beautiful and we took the opportunity to enjoy a cappucino.

When we connected with Stephen, we piled into a small coach and he took us back to the streets we’d just visited, but this time he had more information AND he speaks German.

We found an old farmhouse, and the woman who answered introduced herself as Maria Freking nee Fusting. We knew right away that she was family, because we recognized her maiden name. She is very old, maybe as much as 90 (we didn’t ask). Her son, Werner, is still farming – he was out feeding the livestock. The main house is clearly one that does double duty – the first half we could see seems like a barn but then the windows in second half, past the front door, are hung with pretty white lace curtains.

Maria invited us in, but Stephen made our apologies as we needed to keep moving on our tour.

When we returned to the coach, we found Maria in our family tree. She married an eighth generation Raimond Freking, son of Joseph Ahrling Freking. Raimond’s great- grandfather Herman Heinrich was the brother of our great grandfather.

This was really success.  But we still wanted to get closer to our own grandfather’s home.

Two more properties on Stephen’s list yielded no more living relatives, but we may well have found the farmhouse where our grandfather lived before he emigrated to America.  The people living there now are from Poland, so the language barrier prevented us from speaking with them.  Also, Stephen says, they came to work the farm but are not the owners.

We also found a photograph of the farmhouse we think is where our grandfather would have lived. Comparing the two – the photo in the book with the real thing – we think it’s probably right.  The book is in German and the building seems changed.  Is it the same?  It’s hard to say.

What we do now have that we didn’t have before, for sure, is a photograph of our great-grandfather.  He seems stern, but that was also the fashion for photography, I think.

The farm where the Poles live now

The photo in the book, History of Haverbeck, is from another angle. Also, few trees and bushes obscure the older photo.

We are leaving tomorrow. We’d like to think we’ve found what we were seeking. Maybe we have. We’ll talk on the train.  We’ll need to translate the history in the books we bought.  There’s still work to do to be certain.  On the other hand, we now have a first hand look at the place where our ancestors were raised.

Maybe that’s enough.

Heinrich Arnold (Carl) Freking - Our Great Grandfather

Heinrich Arnold (Carl) Freking - Our Great Grandfather

Saturday on the Roads

June 22, 2009

On Saturday we had planned to meet with Peter Freking and his family.  We started out at 3 pm.  JoAnn had become an Autobahn expert during the week so we happily piled into the Peugeot to speed our way to Esterwegen.  It was going to take us a little over an hour to get there.  JoAnn was used to going 110 to 120 km/h comfortably and we traveled along like that for a very short time when suddenly the traffic came to a standstill.  We had not even reached the next exit.  We spent about 75 minutes on the Autobahn at one or two km/h and finally got off when we got to the next exit.  Now it was so late that if we could find our way on country roads, we would arrive at Peter’s right at dinner time.  So Marilyn called Peter and made arrangements to see him on Sunday instead.

Back-up on the Autobahn

Marilyn didn’t want to go back the the house and not accomplish anything so we went to Steinfield on surface roads and had dinner in the same restaurant we had been to on Wednesday.  After dinner it was 9 pm and Marilyn still wanted to find a couple of farms that used to be in the family.  JoAnn refused to drive out any farther – we could stop and see any farms  that were on the road home but she thought we should not head further away from our  home base.  I voted with JoAnn.  As the driver I believed she should have the right of way.  I didn’t want her to have to drive in the dark and it would be dark in about an hour.   Since there weren’t any farms on those roads, Marilyn agreed that we could do the farms another day.

So we started home on counry roads.Taking the Country Roads

And it started to rain. And it got dark.  And we  took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in Osnabruck – far east of our destination.  Looking for Directions Home We had been there before but we couldn’t seem to find our way out. We knew we needed to go west but we didn’t have a compass to tell us which way was west and German signage does not show directions.   Marilyn and I left JoAnn in  the car and went to the train station to ask for directions.  No one there spoke English.  The people were so nice trying to help but we just couldn’t understand.   Marilyn called Karl to get help but there was no answer at his cell phone.  After looking at a map we headed out again driving around Osnabruck looking for a familiar sign.  Finally I spotted a sign for Westerkapln!  We knew that was our way home.  By the time we got back to the house it was 11:30 pm. We had spent 8.5 hours driving to dinner and back!  We agreed that on Sunday we would start earlier.