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It was nice to stretch our legs after 5 hours in the car.

For the back story of Hadrian’s Wall we visited Vindolanda. (For some reason I’ve encountered the phrase “back story” several times in the last 24 hours so I feel compelled to use it.) Vindolanda was a Roman auxiliary fort (like an ancient military base) just south of the central portion of Hadrian’s Wall. Today it is a tourist attraction, historic site, and archaeological dig site.

In the foreground: the ancient Commissary. In the back: the bowling alley.

We’ve seen plenty of Roman ruins before – in Trier, Xanten, and of course in Rome itself. This site had some ruins, like Trier, and some reconstruction like Xanten. One of the things that made Vindolanda unique was that everything was in English.

Those are my kids up top.This is one of the reconstructions. It is a fortlet and watch tower, a defensive position probably like the ones located along the wall.

In 7th grade my dream job was archaeologist. Not any more - too dirty.

New treasures are always being found at Vindolanda.There were several dig sites on the grounds when we were there. That is messy and monotonous work.

Eat your heart out Imelda Marcos.

The museum had an excellent collection of the treasures that had been found at Vindolanda. There were many shoes and sandals, as shown here, and also a huge number of other artifacts. The most notable thing found is an assortment of papers – things like grocery lists, birthday invitations, dinner menus and military orders. Apparently these papers were in a large bundle and placed in a fire for disposal. Fortunately, only the outer layers of paper burned – the rest were preserved by layers of mud. The earliest record of a woman writing a letter to another woman was in this bundle. (How will future archaeologists find such artifacts hundreds of years from now? A text message can’t be found in an archaeological dig!) Much of what is known about life at Vindolanda came from these letters.

Always label your giant stonework.

Another treasure found at Vindolanda: this altar. The inscription on the altar confirms the name of the town.

Thank you, boys, for not fighting.

I will agree that the site and the museum were interesting, but I loved the beautiful landscape the most. The rolling green hills are gorgeous and the grazing sheep are a bonus.

I think those kids in blue are mine

I’m going to admit my cultural illiteracy here: When Jeremy told me he wanted to visit Hadrian’s Wall I had no idea what he was talking about. I’m not alone though – when telling friends about our trip to most people said, “What’s Hadrian’s Wall?” (The notable exception would be my mother. When I said “We’re going to see Hadrian’s Wall…it is a giant wall the Romans built in northern England…” she stopped me and said, “I know what Hadrian’s Wall is! I took Latin!” Obviously I did not.)

Yup, that is a wall.

For anyone else who has not taken Latin here is the scoop: Hadrian’s Wall was built as a fortification during the rule of emperor Hadrian, beginning in 122 AD. Most of the wall still exists today. It is 80 miles long and is located in northern England, close to the Scottish border.

I took this picture because that guy's hair is AWESOME

The present day condition of the wall varies, but there is a walking path along the length of the wall which is well traveled.

HEY, WAIT FOR ME! It is hard to hike and take photos at the same time.

The terrain has a bit of texture to it, but overall it is not too challenging.

 

They were kind of ignoring us. I feel snubbed.

We walked among grazing (or sitting) sheep who didn’t even seem to notice us.

Only a smart sheep can open the gate

Occasionally we’d come across gates like this. They keep the sheep in their places but allow humans through.

yes those dark clouds are headed our way. No, we don't have an umbrella.

The scenery was gorgeous.

Andrew insisted that I take a photo of the thistle

The little details were quite lovely as well.

Trees don't give autographs, FYI

Does this look familiar? This tree made a cameo in Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood movie. Now it is making an appearance as someone’s Facebook cover photo.

They LOVE posing for photos. LOVE IT.

Of course I periodically forced everyone to stop for a photo. They just love when I do that.

Doesn't it look like it could be a painting?? Except for that guy in the way.

I purposely included Jeremy in the photo here because the scenery is so beautiful it is almost surreal.

I do not know what Andrew is holding but it looks suspicious

Sometimes our path took us over a stone wall via ladder. There are actually a lot of stone walls in the area. When we were approaching the wall we kept saying, “Is that it?” every time we saw a wall. Hadrian’s Wall is pretty obvious because it is longer than most and has parking lots, access points, and many visitors.

This would be a pretty good assignment for a Roman soldier

Every step we took revealed breathtaking vistas. (Though that could have been the elevation.)

Kind of like a Stuckey's

The Romans also built a milecastle fortlet every mile along the wall, which are small outposts which housed soldiers. Some ruins of these buildings can still be seen.

His father took the picture, obviously.

Just seeing this photo makes my stomach hurt. (It’s that neurotic “You’re going to fall!” motherly anxiety kicking in.)

Please hum the Little House on the Prairie theme song while viewing this photo. Thank you.

Two things cut our visit to the wall short: hungry children (of course) and threatening rain clouds.

After this visit Jeremy knocked one thing off of his bucket list and I added one thing to mine. I would love to return and hike the length of the wall. Because there are lots of hostels and inns along the way we could hike during the day but enjoy a comfortable bed each night and a shower in the morning. (The lack of hotels is exactly why hiking the Appalachian Trail is unappealing to me.) I’m sure the rest of the Wall is just as spectacular as the small portion we saw – if not more so. Perhaps someday…

[Travel details: We flew Ryan Air to London Stansted airport. We rented a car and drove north until we got to the wall. It was about a 5 hour drive with a couple of stops.]

Ryanairplane

Hi, my name is Gretchen and I’m a late adopter. [Hi, Gretchen!]

This behavior quirk definitely applies to technology and fashion… and air travel.

When we moved to Germany we heard about this amazing airline called Ryan Air. It was SO cheap! they said. Tickets were 9.99€ per person!

But the rest of the story didn’t sound quite so amazing. There are tons of additional fees. Luggage is limited and strictly enforced. Seats aren’t assigned. There is no customer service. They travel to random airports miles away from the destination city. The flights only run on certain days. (Want to fly to Faro on a Monday? Too bad! That flight is only available Sundays and Thursdays!) The passengers push and shove and are rude.

Although that didn’t seem particularly appealing, we did attempt to make a reservation on Ryan Air early on. However, our credit card company apparently thought that someone trying to purchase 4 tickets from a computer in Germany to fly to England on an Irish airline seemed a little fishy so the transaction was cancelled. (Darn fraud algorithms!) Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that we hadn’t purchased tickets until it was too late, so that time we changed plans and opted for a road trip instead.

And for the next 3 years we avoided Ryan Air. It wasn’t entirely intentional. Most of the places we visited were within driving distance.  Sometimes we opted to take the train. The places we flew (like Norway) didn’t have a connection on Ryan Air. When we went on our Med Cruise I couldn’t possibly pack within the luggage restrictions since we’d be gone for 14 days, nor did I want to pay extra for more luggage. Ryan Air seemed perfect for a weekend getaway, but since my husband works on the weekends we rarely got that chance.

But finally, on our last trip from Germany we flew Ryan Air.

My official opinion: It wasn’t that bad!

We flew to England for around 60€ per person (that’s about $80 round trip) which was much cheaper than taking the Eurostar. We had no problem limiting our luggage – we each had just one backpack as a carry-on – since we were only gone for 3 days, and we didn’t need bulky sweaters and jackets.

Just like any airline, there was a lot of queueing and “hurry up and wait.” But we didn’t see any fist fights, pushing, or other ridiculous rudeness. The flights were on time and got us from point A to point B without any trouble.

Sure, the seats don’t recline. and there weren’t any tray tables, but overall it was a great trip. If only I’d tried it sooner!

and I'm embarrassed to say we had a difficult time finding it!

I was stumbling along the world wide web one night and came across an article on CNN.com entitled “World’s Coolest Bookstores.” Much to my surprise, one of the bookstores is located in Maastricht, Netherlands, just 30 minutes from our home in Germany! The same bookstore was featured in a Business Insider article, “18 Bookstores Every Book Lover Must Visit At Least Once” and also in a 2013 Flavorwire article, “The 20 Most Beautiful Bookstores in the World.”

How did I miss this?!? I don’t exactly live under a rock – I get out, I read, I talk to people, I’ve been to Maastricht before – but somehow I did not hear about this place for more than 3 years. I offer the following as excuses: 1) It definitely does not look like a bookstore from the exterior. 2) Even if it did look like a bookstore, I probably wouldn’t have wandered inside just for the books since most bookstores in Europe feature publications in languages which I do not read or speak.

Apparently everyone else knew about it

The happy ending is that we did get to visit the Boekhandel Dominicanen in Maastricht (we were on a date – celebrating our 19th anniversary!) It was quite impressive. It was built as a church in the 13th century but  has now been repurposed as a bookstore and cafe.

Creative architects at work

Many of the original architectural features are intact. Bookshelves are nestled between columns and below a frescoed ceiling. A two story modern addition allows for better use of space and increased inventory.

A fine selection of Tintin and Miffy books.

From atop the new part of the store there is a great view. This is the Children’s section. Here I could actually recognize familiar books, thanks to the illustrations. That hungry caterpillar sure gets around!

I touched it because I could

What struck me most is how we could get up close and personal with Gothic arches

Another idea for a quilt pattern

and stained glass windows

There's a dead person under here

and the final resting places of a few people.

I had a coffee frappe. Jeremy had cake.

We enjoyed a nosh in the cafe, in what was once the chancel. The atmosphere was so lovely.

I did not buy it. I only bought Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson

The book selection was primarily in Dutch of course, but there was a sizeable selection of used books, and many were in English. The most interesting find was this 1967 edition of the Rambler.

That is my dear husband's thumb.

It is the yearbook from Horton Watkins High School in Ladue, Missouri. Once upon a time we lived just a few miles from there in St. Louis. How funny that this yearbook ended up 4,000 miles from the school. Was it from a Dutch exchange student? An alumni backpacking across Europe after graduation? An expat? A U.S. military member stationed nearby?

Or maybe it was dropped off by a bibliophile who was on a mission to visit the 20 most beautiful bookstores in the world.  I can’t speak for the other 19 bookstores on the list, but this one is definitely worth a visit.

 

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While driving to Copenhagen we saw a sign for Gedenkstatte Bergen-Belsen. We decided that on our drive back we would stop and visit this notorious place.

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Bergen-Belsen epitomizes a very dark chapter in German history. We had briefly discussed the possibility of visiting a concentration camp when we first arrived in Germany but our children (then 5 and 8) seemed too young and most Holocaust museum and sites restrict access to children under the age of 10. Now, 3 years later, they were perhaps a little closer to being ready. I don’t think anyone is every truly prepared to deal with such horrors but since we would be leaving in a few months it seemed as good a time as any. Somehow leaving Europe without experiencing this chapter of history and paying our respects to those who had suffered seemed wrong.

Bergen-Belsen is probably best known as a concentration camp, and may be because one of the victims happened to be the writer of a very famous diary. However, she was only one of tens of thousands who suffered there. It was first a Prisoner of War camp; then it was converted to a concentration camp in 1943; after the war it served as a camp for displaced persons.

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When the camp was liberated many of the 60,000 prisoners were suffering horribly not just from hunger, inhumane conditions and overcrowding but also from vermin and disease. Most facilities were immediately destroyed to prevent further contamination or infection. As a result there aren’t any buildings to see. (This made the visit less difficult for all of us.) We were given a map and small markers indicated what various locations once were.

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The most shocking thing to see on the grounds were the mass graves. At the time of liberation there were 13,000 unburied corpses at the camp. Today there are memorial markers at the mass grave sites. This one reads, “Here lies 2500 dead. April 1945.”

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This memorial was dedicated in 1952. Every German student will visit a concentration camp before graduating from school. There was a group of students visiting when we were there.

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It wasn’t just Germans that were imprisoned here. The words on this memorial are written in many different languages recognizing all who suffered and died at Bergen-Belsen.

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It is a Jewish custom to place a stone atop a grave. These stones are said to show to others that a grave has been visited. The stones commemorate the deceased person and his burial.

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After seeing the grounds we walked through this corridor into the documentation center. Loudspeakers gave us an audible experience of the terrible suffering experienced by so many.

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The Documentation Center was our last stop. It contained artifacts, biographies, photographs and personal accounts of the Bergen-Belsen experience. This was the most interesting portion of the memorial but also the most graphic and difficult. We did not spend much time here because of the nature of the exhibit and the age of our children, but I could have spent hours.

There are many “Must-Sees” in Europe. As solemn as it is, I would put a visit to a concentration on the list. It is horrible and unforgettable…as it should be.

 

Before we travel I like to get out a map – a real map – and check out where we’re going (as opposed to just using a GPS.) When I realized just how close to Sweden we were going to be I thought “Why not!” I really wanted to go to Stockholm but it was a bit far so instead we went to Malmö.

We were going to Malmö basically blind. It wasn’t mentioned by Rick Steves, but I thought maybe an IKEA product was named Malmö. (Was it a desk? A vase? A Swedish grocery item? My search on IKEA.com turned up nothing.) I found very little on the major travel websites but since we got a decent price on a room at the Radisson Blu we decided we’d make the most of it. (Incidentally that was the last time that I would associate the term “decent price” with any consumer product in Sweden.)

I think the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain is longer.

We arrived in Malmo via a long (and expensive) bridge. I think the toll was around $50 which is about $10 per mile.

It is miraculous that we don't have more cavities.

Once we checked into our hotel we grabbed a map and began meandering around town. Our first stop was a candy store. We have some very sweet teeth in the family.

We could never do a year without sugar. We can't even do a day without sugar.

There were plenty of fruity chewy candies, but not one Swedish Fish! (Yes, that orangish thing in the front right of the bag is a fish, but it is not the Swedish Fish that are sold in the U.S.) I even asked the salesperson if she knew about Swedish Fish and she couldn’t help me. Shocking.

IKEA is cheaper. Much cheaper.

We did, however, find Swedish Meatballs, which are pretty much just like the ones from IKEA. They even come with lingonberry sauce.

Cue the flashbacks to my childhood...

I’ll get the rest of the Swedish stereotypes out of the way: There were plenty of Saab and Volvo automobiles and a Marimekko store. We passed an IKEA but did not stop in. We did not see a bikini team (but we also did not go near the beach.)

It reminds me of a gingerbread house.

We pretty much just wandered around town and looked at the pretty buildings.

Just a building. No idea what is inside.

There is an interesting mix of old and new.

Where are we going? When are we going back to the hotel? My feet hurt. I 'm tired.

Somehow my children do not appreciate the joys of wandering without any real purpose or destination.

But they did not have the new style of Starbucks mug. Bummer.

This is the train station – and home to the local Starbucks. (Don’t judge – we were buying a Sweden mug for a friend. We actually got things to eat – but no photo – at the local coffee shop, Wayne’s Coffee.)

What is this? who knows.

More wandering.

See the Swedish flag? Same color scheme as IKEA.

This old building was in the center of town, near where we ate dinner.

Do Tell, how's the HoTell?

This was not our hotel but it is an interesting building.

Modern statues should show leaders in their cars.

Of course we saw more statues.

It was too far to walk there. I had a blister, remember?

The tall building in the distance is notable – it is called the Turning Torso and is an apartment building.

I'm cathedral-ed, castle-d, and fort-ed out.

We went to the fort in town and I was not disappointed that just like nearly every other business in town, it was closed after 6pm.

Torture or fun? You be the judge.

We looked for a playground but this is as close as we got.

At least he is smiling for the camera!

See how much fun they are having?

Interesting bike, eh?

After a sighting of this interesting bicycle we turned in for the night. Now we can say we’ve been to Sweden, but maybe not the best part.

Kastellet

The Danish Flag. Stylish yet understated.

There were many, many more things I would have liked to see in Copenhagen, but since we couldn’t stay another week we settled on just one more stop before departing: The Kastellet. I’ll admit, this was not my choice, but it was an interesting thing to see. I’m sure if I didn’t have a blister the size of a half-dollar on my heel (that was the result of our powerwalk through the city earlier) I would have enjoyed it even more.

that kid in front is dwarfed and camoflaged.

We also saw plenty of notable things on our walk from the Little Mermaid to the Kastellet entrance – like this statue/memorial/obelisk.

This king looks like a regular guy.

It seem to me that sculptors were quite busy once upon a time. There are so many sculptures in most European cities!

I really, really wanted to soak my aching feet in here.

This is the Gefion Fountain which depicts an interesting myth (read all about the iconography here.) It was a gift from the Carlsburg Foundation on the occasion of the brewery’s 50th anniversary in the early 20th century.

Nice hat. He's been working out. Crossfit maybe?

These guy were guarding the entrance to the Kastellet area. I thought they were Hermes and Neptune, but they could also be Mercury and Poseidon and probably have other names in Norse Mythology. Since one of the boys is a Percy Jackson fan and the other studied Greek mythology in school, they were all over these guys. (Not literally – the statues were about 20 feet in the air.)

I hope it is as pretty inside as outside

I thought this church was really beautiful. While I was admiring it and taking photos here is what the boys were doing:

They just LOVE climbing trees. Love it.

Thankfully no one fell in. That is always a fear of mine and thus far it has not come to fruition.

It is a pike, or whatever PIKE is in Danish.

Apparently up in that tree there is a better vantage point for looking for fish, another favorite pastime.

They were walking slowly because they were looking for fish.

This is a classic design for a fortress: surrounded by a moat!

Nice hat.

Kastellet actually means Citadel, not Castle. This memorial is a reminder that this is a military facility.

c'mon in! Everyone!

Unlike U.S. military installations, everyone is welcome here. There are no ID checks and no security guards.  Just walk in and check out the place!

Seriously. Where is the exchange??

This cool star-shape is what attracted us to the Kastellet. This map is a little vague though – where is the commissary? The bowling alley?

Modern yet classic.

There were a few more statues and memorials within the walls of the Kastellet.

How did we end up in Holland? we took a wrong turn at Albequerque.

There was a windmill in the middle of the Kastellet. I’m guessing it was so there was a source of food in the event of a siege, since it could be used as a flour mill. (I could be completely wrong though. It has happened before.)

Nice ship.We especially wanted to see the base chapel. This is the only photograph I took since right after taking it we saw a big sign that said, “No Photography.”

Nice boats

After our little tour of the Kastellet we walked along the harbor a bit more on our way to the car.

I am sure they are looking at a fish.

And once again, looked for fish. Plenty of fish – no fishing poles. Tragic.

 

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