Sunday, January 29, 2017

Loving Southern Germany 5: Castle Ruins

Most tourists who come to Germany visit the well-known castles and palaces - Neuschwanstein, LinderhofNymphenburg in München, Charlottenburg in Berlin... Many visit castles along the Rhein as well. They are expensive to visit, but it's nice to see how the upper crust lived many years ago. I don't begrudge anyone wanting to see these castles and palaces, but I am glad I will not ever again need to visit the over-rated Neuschwanstein, having taken enough student groups there over the years.

Neuschwanstein, Bavaria
This palace isn't even very old - it was built after the American Civil War ended!

Nymphenburg, München, Bavaria

Pfalzgrafenstein, on the Rhein, Rheinland-Pfalz
Personally I prefer the castle and fortress ruins - the more rustic and ruined, the better. They each have a history, sometimes steeped in mystery, leaving visitors to use their imaginations.

Many ruins are free-of-charge, and others charge a nominal fee to help with upkeep and maintenance. And they're all over, at least in southern Germany.

Within walking distance of our home not long after I moved here, we found Ruine Eutingen. To learn about the more remote ruins, you need to know German because they are not tourist attractions and little or no information is available in English. This Burg (fortress) was built in the second half of the 13th century and was the seat of the Lords of Eutingen. It was destroyed by Graf von Hohenberg in 1350 but eventually rebuilt, changed hands a number of times over the centuries, and abandoned and sold off in 1818. Today one can find the remnants of a tower and wall, a cellar vault, rounded window arches, and Schießscharten (arrow slits).

This turned out to be a nice afternoon's walk and adventure on my birthday a few years ago, because although we knew about where it was, we had to search and backtrack a few times before we found it hidden on a hill among the trees.

When fellow blogger Adventures of La Mari and I decided to meet, we chose the ruins at Hohentwiel near Singen. Our husbands and their pug Abner joined us to explore the ruins. This one is well-enough known that info is available in English. The first castle on this site was built in 914 and first served as the seat of Swabian dukes.

My Schwiegermutter enjoys exploring ruins as much as I do, and we made an excursion together to Klosterruine Hirsau, near Calw. The origins of the monastery go back to 830, and in 1091 the large church was built. These ruins are an architect's delight, with clear and preserved examples of Romanesque and High Gothic windows and elements.

Just right of center are the rounded arches of Romanesque style windows.
Just left of center in reddish brick you see the pointy Gothic arches of the Kreuzgang (cloister).
Marienkapelle in the background.
Some might see all this as piles of rocks, but I see Germany's romantic and turbulent past. And part of the beauty of southwestern Germany for me is that whenever I have time, I can check out a new one or visit an old favorite. They are easily accessible by train and bus, and an extra bonus is often a lengthy walk or climb to get there from the station, which is about the only exercise I ever get.

Nagold is a beautiful little town not far from us, and the ruins on the hill above town are worth the forest climb.

watch tower and oven of Hohennagold

cemetery at the Remigiuskirche with fortress ruins in the background
Although I haven't visited them yet, we did pass below the ruins of Hohenurach on a walk to the Urach waterfall on a lovely autumn day. I'd rather wait until the renovations are finished anyway.

With the exception of Hohentwiel, none of the ruins I've mentioned charge an entrance fee. Even Hohentwiel costs only €4,50, while Neuschwanstein will set you back €13, which doesn't include all the tourist crap Gedöns bits and bobs you'll be tempted to buy in the shop.

Let that stand as the fifth thing I love about living here in southwestern Germany, though there are plenty of ruins in other parts of the country as well.

For more on this thread, see:
  Beautiful Towns

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Planning Scotland 2017

Half the fun of traveling is the planning!!!

view to the sea from Glengorm Castle

Shortly after New Year's my daughter, Steph, and I were chatting online (I still don't Skype), and she off-handedly mentioned that it would be fun to take another family trip to Scotland. Ha ha, ja, ja... dream on. I mentioned her comment to M, and within 30 minutes we were looking at which self-catering accommodations at Glengorm were available for five in June.

She was in Wisconsin for the holidays and playing cards with my son (Alex) and his girlfriend (Liv), and I told her to ask him at some point to see if Liv wanted to join us. She laughed and said that he had *literally* just asked her how to ask me if Liv could come along. She enthusiastically said "Yes!" So we were apparently all on the same page.

Over the next several days we booked a flat in the castle, a rental car, our flights coming from three different locations, a B&B near Tyndrum and the Real Food Café for our first night in Scotland on the way to Oban, and the same B&B for a night on our way back to Edinburgh because Al wanted to make a stop in Falkirk to see the wheel and the Kelpies. We also found an AirBnB flat in Edinburgh for our three nights there at the end of the trip before everyone flies back to their various homes.

We found flights all arriving in and departing from Edinburgh within 2 hours of each other (we're pressing our thumbs that no one has any delays and Lufthansa pilots & personnel don't go on strike)!

Then the "kids" (they're all over 20) started looking for "Things to see and do in Scotland". They're all Harry Potter fans, so I came up with the idea to head north after our week on Mull to Glenfinnan to see the viaduct. Liv mentioned Loch Lommond and the Trossachs as well as Glencoe, Al had already talked about Falkirk and wanting to see castles, and Steph focused on Edinburgh (the Elephant House Café, Arthur's Seat, Greyfriar's Churchyard...)

family trip, 2008
Our week on Mull will be similar to previous visits: Duart Castle, Tobermory, hikes around Glengorm, to the coast, up hills and around lochs, possible pony-trekking, and something new for us: a wildlife boat tour to the isles of Lunga and Staffa. M, Steph, and I have been to Staffa before where the gorgeous puffins are, but Lunga and the wildlife tour are new. For those of you who know Scotland, don't worry - we know the weather could be shitty, and we'll roll with it. Variable weather is part of Scotland, and we pack accordingly.

Puffins on Staffa, 2010

pony-trekking on Mull, 2010

my kids at Loch Na Keal, Mull, 2007
My son, who is now majoring in history, said he wanted to see castles. Off the top of my head based on where we'll be, I came up with eight possibilities:

  Duart               (on Mull)
  Glengorm        (though there's no tour, I can tell him about its history),
  Linlithgow             Mary, Queen of Scots was born here in 1542
  Callendar House   Mary, Queen of Scots' 1st marriage agreement was signed here
  Tantallon               Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in 1566
  Hailes                    Mary, Queen of Scots stayed here in 1567
  Holyrood               Mary, Queen of Scots lived here in 1561
  Edinburgh Castle  Mary, Queen of Scots had a baby here (the future King James VI and I)

Tantallon Castle ruins, with Bass Rock
Bass Rock is a bird colony. It looks white because it's covered in bird shit.
I'm not obsessed with Mary, Queen of Scots, but it seems she was everywhere in Scotland at one point or another. I think the only reason she wasn't at Glengorm was that it wasn't completed until 1863. Admittedly, I find her story fascinating, and I'm half-tempted to re-read Margaret George's novel about her.

It is so much fun to see the kids excited about the trip and getting involved in the planning. M and I loved our trip to Scotland in 2015 and really enjoyed the time for just the two of us, but it's also great fun to share the excitement and planning with others.

We will pay a visit to the Great Polish Map of Scotland during our days in Edinburgh and have a meal with our dear friends (and only wedding guests/witnesses), who live near Edinburgh.

I know it's not a common thing for bloggers to write about a trip before it happens, but I'm caught up in the excitement and the planning, and I couldn't help myself.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wishes and Goals for 2017

This is very unusual for me - a post like this. Even thinking about goals, much less writing them down and publishing them openly, is just not my style. I'm a realist, and I'd more likely think, "The first step in not reaching a goal is setting one." I let life come at me as it will and go with the flow.

To-do lists work well for me. I just wrote one for today, in fact, although "Write a blog post" is not on it.

Why not give this ol' setting goals thing a try, though? Funnily enough, I do like reading other bloggers' lists of goals and wishes for the year to come, which is why I decided to ponder mine. Here we go.


  • for the war in Syria to end.

  • that all 17 of my students achieve the B1 level on their German test in April.

  • that America's future P stops tweeting. Fremdschämen pur!

  • to see both of my kids during the year (I already know this will happen, as long as my son locates his passport)
    Update: The passort has been located!
This was a few years ago; they're 21 and 23 now.


  • get back to Scotland (this is cheating; we just booked a trip there for the summer!)
Glengorm, Isle of Mull

  • complete my interview and writing project

  • drink more tea (and less coffee)
  • live more healthily - snack less, walk more

  • read more, and actually finish the books I start before I start reading another! I'll set my goal at a measly 30 books, since in 2016 I only finished 21!

One wish and one goal are happening for sure: my daughter mentioned that it would be nice to go back to Scotland, and three days later the trip was booked! My kids and my son's girlfriend will fly over and meet us in Edinburgh, and then we'll spend a week on the Isle of Mull followed by a few days in the Edinburgh area. We've already had fun planning meals (we'll stay in a self-catering flat in Glengorm Castle while on Mull) and activities including hikes, a wildlife boat tour, time in beautiful Tobermory, climbing one of the hills in Edinburgh, The Real Mary King's Close or Greyfriar's Churchyard or the Writers' Museum or Holyrood Palace, the Great Polish Map of Scotland, several castle ruins...

I'll be seeing my parents this year as well because my dad is coming for several weeks to take a German course at the local language school, and my mom will follow later for the 50th anniversary of the Sheboygan-Esslingen sister city partnership in May. In July five middle school students from Sheboygan will be in Esslingen for their summer exchange program, and after that I have no plans at all. Maybe I'll teach again, maybe I'll focus one of my books. 

We'll just have to see what comes. 

What are your wishes and goals for 2017??