July 15, 2018

Surf Munich!

by Rosemary West

Running through Munich's English Garden (a huge municipal park) is the Eisbach, a man-made branch of the Isar River. Just past one of the bridges is a standing wave that has become a surfing legend. The water is shallow, suitable only for experienced surfers (as noted by the stern warning sign nearby). Only one person at a time can ride the wave, so they line up on both sides of the bank and take turns. As soon as one surfer wipes out, the next one plunges in.

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The Eisbach is very fast, and it is dangerous (impossible, really) to swim there, not just because of the current but also because of submerged obstacles. Sadly, there have been drownings here. Nevertheless, on a hot day, many people jump in to be swept downstream. There are some ropes and ladders that can be used to get out, and we even saw one desperate guy grab the warning sign on the bank.

Munich's central square and center of tourism is Marienplatz, named for St. Mary, who is honored as the protector of Bavaria. A golden statue of Mary tops a tall column in the middle of the square.

On one side of the square is the new city hall (completed between 1874 and 1908), which is famous for the Glockenspiel in its tower. Two or three times a day (depending on the season), the Glockenspiel chimes a tune, and the sculptures move around, depicting 16th century celebrations. The performance lasts about 15 minutes, and is not as impressive as anticipated by the upward-gazing tourist crowds.

Atop the tower is a bronze statue of the M√ľnchner Kindl (Munich child), a symbol from the city's coat of arms.

Our walking tour took us to Munich's oldest church, St. Peters, built in 1368. It was severely damaged in World War II, and restored as accurately as possible in the following years.

Many Catholic churches in Europe contain relics of saints, typically small body parts or drops of blood, preserved and venerated in special containers called reliquaries. St. Peter's has a remarkable relic - the entire skeleton of St. Munditia, who was beheaded by the Romans, now decorated with jewels.

Not far from here is the Ohel Jakob Synagogue. In 1938, Hitler had Munich's synagogue destroyed. Under the Nazi regime, Jews fled, were deported, or were sent to death camps. Few returned after the war, but the Jewish community grew as refugees from came here from former Soviet states. The new synagogue was built in 2006. The architecture of the lower portion of the building represents the Western Wall in Jerusalem, and the upper portion represents the tent used during 40 years of wandering in the desert.

Steve stands by the front door, where the first ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet symbolize the Ten Commandments.

Just a couple of blocks away is the Asam Church. This was built in 1740 by the Asam brothers, architects who wanted to show off their skills. It functioned as a kind of sales catalog, filled with every feature a Rococo church could possibly have. Every inch of the interior is covered with something fancy.

The one simple feature is this niche, where Jesus seems to be reacting to the decor.

After seeing the work of the Asam brothers, a lovely Renaissance church like St. Michael's seems almost Puritan by comparison.

For a completely different kind of worship, this statue of Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso has been commandeered by fans of Michael Jackson, who have turned it into a memorial shrine, covered with photos, candles, and flowers.

The Alte Pinakothek (Old Art Gallery) has a wonderful collection of European masterpieces, from the Renaissance through the 19th century. Particularly impressive are the gigantic works by Peter Paul Rubens, including the 300-foot-square "Last Judgment".

Here is a detail from the lower right corner.

There is more art at the Residenz, the palace where the ruling Wittelsbach family lived for 500 years. It was severely bombed by Allied forces in 1944, so nearly everything we see today is partially or fully reconstructed. Amazingly, most of the Antiquarium, a huge Renaissance banquet hall, survived.

Like all the palaces of the old ruling families of Europe, this sprawling building is filled with luxurious, elaborately decorated apartments.

Down the street from the Residenz is Odeonsplatz, a huge square connecting different sections of the city. In the early 1930s, Hitler had a monument to dead Nazis placed in the square, and required everyone who passed by to give a Nazi salute. Dissenters could avoid the whole thing by turning down a narrow alley just before the square. Today, a line of golden cobblestones commemorates their courage.

From Munich, we went to Budapest.

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July 7, 2018

400 Days - Wow!

Nothing but blue skies.

We have been on the road for 400 days.

Spontaneity defined our travel style in the U.S. and Canada. Although we had some ideas about where we wanted to go, we rarely made plans more than a week in advance. We didn't have much trouble finding places to stay. Driving our own car gave us a lot of control over where we went and when we went there. In a "worst case" scenario, if nothing was available in a desired location, we could just drive a little farther (that happened only a couple of times).

Things have been a little different in Europe. Most people taking a summer vacation in Europe make their reservations well in advance. We weren't able to do that, because we had to take care of some personal business before we left the U.S., and we didn't know until a couple of weeks ahead of time what day that would be. So we arrived in Paris with a hotel reservation and no further plans. Since then, we've had to scramble a bit, because it has been difficult to find acceptable accommodations on short notice. It is tourist season, and all those people who made their plans months ago have already booked the rooms we want.

As a result, we have postponed some destinations. Chances are, things will get easier in the fall. In the meantime, we've enjoyed some places we might have missed if we'd stuck to our to-do list. Stay tuned.

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July 5, 2018

Beautiful Bruges

by Rosemary West

Bruges is the most picturesque city we have visited. A rich trading center from the 11th century until the harbor silted up in the 1500s, the city was once inhabited by the Dukes of Burgundy and hosted some major artists. When its prosperous commerce came to an end, it languished for generations. Today it is a walkable, well-preserved Gothic city that thrives on tourism.

The bell tower on Market Square has been there since around 1300 (and made taller in 1486). There are 366 narrow, winding steps to the top. We didn't climb them. The 47-bell carillon plays automatically each quarter hour, and can be heard at quite a distance.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood is famous for its relic, a crystal tube that supposedly contains the blood of Jesus, brought from Jerusalem after the Second Crusade. The day we visited, there was a special ceremony going on, and believers were allowed to make a donation and pray with the relic.

The gold-trimmed Renaissance Hall was once the courthouse and now holds the city archives. It dates to the early 1700s, and is topped by a statue of Justice.

City Hall was built around 1400. Its facade is decorated with statues of saints, knights, and local bigwigs.

Narrow, medieval streets lead to mysterious destinations.

A fancy bridge crosses the alley near the spot where the city's south gate and moat once were.

This statue depicts Jan Breidel and Pieter de Coninc, heroes of a 1302 uprising against the French king.

All over town, it is important to look up, look sideways, and look around, to spot decorative features on the old buildings.

This dark patch was left on the wall to show what things looked like before centuries of grime were scrubbed from the city in the 1960s.

Horse and buggy tours make their way through town. We could hear the clop-clop of horseshoes on cobblestones as they approached, giving us plenty of warning to get out of the way.

The horses have their own drinking fountain.

We enjoyed a relaxing boat ride on the canals.

There are over 50 bridges in Bruges, most of them old and made of stone or brick. This one is a contemporary art installation by Jaroslaw Kozakiewicz. Unlike the others, it leads to a dead end.

Another modern art installation is this whale sculpture by StudioKCA, made from plastic trash collected on beaches.

Most of the art we saw in Bruges was more traditional. This marble "Madonna and Child" by Michelangelo sits in the Church of Our Lady. After the artist's "Pieta" in St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, was attacked in 1972, this statue was placed behind bulletproof glass and a guard rail that keeps the public at a distance.

The former St. John's Hospital is now a museum with displays of medieval medicine, a shrine to St. Ursula, and a collection of paintings by Hans Memling, a German painter who became a leading artist in Bruges during the 1400s. His enormous altarpiece, a triptych called "The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine," was dedicated to the patients here.

At the Groeninge Museum we saw works by a number of Belgian, Dutch, and Flemish painters. In "Death and the Miser" (c. 1515) by Jan Provoost, we see a merchant making a bad deal, getting some extra cash from Death and handing over an IOU for a few years of his life.

James Ensor's series on the seven deadly sins (1904) includes this portrayal of Pride.

A stroll in Minnewater Park was a pleasant way to end the afternoon.

And, of course, waffles.

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