Stone Gargoyles: such wonderful faces

Gargoyles, original caricature art!

You can find these unusual stone portraits in many cities across Europe.   They have always fascinated me .

                        What is the stone carver telling the audience?  What is each face telling us?

                         As part of my walking tour in London, courtesy of Context Tours, I
                          visited a church with amazing carving……………the photos of the day

This one shows a little fear?
Let me whisper in your ear?
Photos were obtained during a complementary tour with Context Travel.

Germany: off the beaten path, a 2 week adventure, summary

April 2015

German Towns off the beaten track
that should NOT be missed:  
Munster, Koblenz, Oberwesel, Augsburg and more

Famous for bikes, great beer, churches and the woman in the tower, not the cheese.
A very friendly town with great walks and bike trails as well as a solar boat ride  Enjoy the lively farmers market in the church square, a cafe on the main pedestrian street or the great cakes in the oldest cafe in town.

A compact town along the Rhine river you have train or boat access to more towns  where you can hike, bike visit castles and sample wines.   Traveling solo in Koblenz, take the cable car to explore the fortress, stroll the river walks and stop at a cafe.  Part of a designated region by the World  Heritage site, Koblenz has an amazing interactive museum located at the tourist office in town,   A visit to the Romanticum  museum will give you a great understanding of the history of this are and you can leave with an embedded ‘card’ that allows you to read the information you downloaded from the many displays in the museum.

Oberwesel  home of the wine witch, the Lorelei,  a walled city with towers, the commanding castle overlooking the town.     Do not be fooled by the river view of Oberwesel.  There is much to do, see and learn.   The perfect part of the Rhine river to explore the other river front towns via bike, train or boat.   The interactive Stadtmuseum is a great place to start your tour of Oberwesel and learn about all there is to see and do.   There is a great tourist office just off the market square and close to the boat dock.  Hop a train and arrive across from another must see stop,  the Church of Our Lady.  

Augsburg:   A short stop in Augsburg showed me there was a great deal more to see!   Visit the City Hall to see the golden ceiling, the Fuggerei, relax in the center square, stop in a cafe and do not miss visiting some of the amazing churches.

Heidelberg:   In the old town, I learned about brezels, visited the oldest candy store and a visit to the castle.   Some towns you may want to spend more time exploring.  Heidelberg offered so much to see and do.   This University town seems to be busy all day but there are many quiet spots to stop and have a coffee or brezel.

Wiesbaden  An easy solo travel destination where you can walk to most of the city sites and enjoy the long pedestrian shopping lanes.   Enjoy the hot springs fed spas and the great cafes and cake.  Don’t miss visiting the Russian Church overlooking the city.

Regensburg   Many surprises and solo traveler tips.  Be sure to try the sausages, take a tour of St. Peters, cross the bridge, see one of the towers, take one of the tour boats and see the underground excavations.   A very easy solo city:  transportation, touring, eating and shopping.

Trier  The perfect size town, transportation, location, and  a wide range of great things to see and do. This University city has Roan ruins, UNESCO sites, the St Peter cathedral, river cruises, and lots of restaurants and shopping to keep you busy.   But don’t forget the great museums.  My last stop on this magical trip.

Other Off the Beaten Track Stories you might enjoy:
Stumble Stones
Billboard Artist
Munster:  The bike capital
Woman in the Tower
Castles, Cruises and Cake

Solo travel can teach you much.  Not just the history of a city but what makes a country original.
I learned about traveling via train in Germany
How to manage on Sunday when most businesses are closed

I shall return to Germany to finish research on river travel.   If you have traveled in Germany via river, share your experiences.

Thank you Historic Highlight of Germany for a well planned adventure and your hospitality.
The photos and opinions on each visit are my own opinions.

London Free Light Show in the Shoe Store

Next to the Apple store in Covent Gardens in London is an amazing light show

                                            Feels like a rock concert in a shoe store

           This is Galleria Melissa, a innovative shoe store. 
According to their web site:  founded in 1971 and has since collaborated with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood, Gareth Pugh, the Campana Brothers and Zaha Hadid


Thanks to Maggie Dobson Owner, At Home in London  for finding this store for me
a great booking agent for places to stay in London



MON – SAT: 10AM – 8PM


Trier Germany, last stop on Off the Beaten Path solo trip

Trier, Germany 
A university town that is easy to navigate with 
so much to see and do.

The ancient Roman gate to the city, the Constantine Basilica and the Roman baths are reminders to the far reaching Roman empire and how much history I have viewed during my 2 weeks in Germany.   

Trier sits on the Moselle river on the western side of Germany. According to Wikipedia, Trier may be the oldest city in German.

Porta Nigra
Renovation and preservation work allows visitors to walk in the interior rooms of the Roman Gate.   Patrolling soldiers had a view of all points.


You will find the tourist office just behind the Roman arch.   Here is your source for maps, tour information and souvenirs all in one place.  There is a WC in the courtyard in back of the TI, nominal fee.

My guide  Ms Berens started our adventure at the black gate, Porta Nigra,  the Roman entrance to the city.
Old and new is well mixed throughout the city.    Large avenues and many pedestrian friendly street take you to all the major sites in the city with open plaza, fountains and city benches.
The main pedestrian street begins at the Roman gate and will keep a traveler occupied.  My orientation tour began in the fortress and continued through the streets of Trier. The main pedestrian street is wide and lined with shops and restaurants. This is where you can catch the tourist train (bus) and meet for city and theme tours.   

Our first stop is the Cathedral of St Peter

There was a special event during my stay that brought hundreds of young people to the cathedral. As usual, I found something that I thought was unusual and stopped for a mini video.  Again I thank the patience guides during this adventure in Germany,  trying to understand some of the strange questions I asked as a solo traveler.

The colorful ribbons each held an intention or a wish or perhaps a thank full prayer.  Each ribbon was tied to the metal frame and the total impact was mesmerizing as the breeze made them flutter.

Trier Cathedral, Dom St Peter

The Cathedral complex includes the Gothic  Church of Our Lady to the right of the cathedral.
The cathedral is massive but when you enter the church your focus is on the elevated sanctuary that holds the Holy Robe.   It is only on display on rare occasions.

No photos were allowed and the robe said to be worn by Jesus, kept in this special room, was not on view.   There was a quiet reverence in this room.

The gates leading to the Jesuit church where priests were removed during the Nazi occupation.   You find ‘stumble stones‘ out front, listing the seven priests who were sent to the concentration camps.

This Moroccan style tower house has a second floor door that.  Originally a removal staircase was used for security.

The main market square, Hauptmarkt, on the pedestrian route had a market on two of the days I was in Trier.  Also, another public WC.

I have never seen Woolworth outside of the USA and took a quick look.    It was similar to a Euro store (our dollar stores).  Gone were the tables of everyday items I remember in our local Woolworth’s: cosmetics, toys, household supplies.

Everywhere you look in Trier there are great opportunities for a snack!

Dinner with my host Trier Marketing.

My Extra Day in Trier:
The tourist office brochure listed a wide assortment of things to do in  Trier.  Actually far more than I have ever seen at other tourist offices.   English language  tours are offered during the ‘high’ tourist season.    


Trier has a short river sightseeing cruise.  If you are visiting one of the other rivers with castles and medieval villages, I suggest you wait.   Today the small boat was full of school children who were bored for the short hour long trip.  
The river this day was ‘quiet’ and on the short trip I took there were no castles or ruins.
Another  Galeria Kaufhor (see post under Regensburg)  offers a large restaurant where you can choose a vegetarian meal, hot or cold dishes and an amazing desert selection.  Solo diners have no pressure to ‘turn a table’ and the sun filled room is most pleasant.
If you are not a shy solo traveler there are wonderful restaurants all over Trier.   
Of course you could select desert first!

Note:  my hotel tried hard to find me a laundromat within walking distance.  Only one near the University was  in business.   It was an easy walk just past the Karl Marx house however, my host offered to go with me  (when the wifi did not work, trains went on strike and I had no arrangements to leave town precipitated my first and only meltdown  after 25+ years of travel).

The hour spent doing laundry in a foreign country can be interesting.  First you must understand the instructions in a language you may not speak.    Manage the correct change and wait.  Often you can find someone for a pleasant chat.

Now I have a mini video for reference on how to do laundry in Trier.

Trier has a convenient train station within walking distance of the center of town.  There is a shopping center near the train station where you can stock up for travel supplies or snacks for the trip.
(facing the station the entrance the mall is to the right about  1/2 block)

I missed several other  parts of Trier when I spent too many hours trying to find the river boat:
The Constantine Basilica
The Elector’s Palace
The archaeological museum
Imperial baths
Karl-Marx museum

I did walk through the extensive Palace Garden, a perfect place for a picnic.

Trier has a young population due to the University and the plaza in front of the  Roman gate is a popular gather spot.   However, I have no idea what game they were playing, do you?

I was the guest of Trier marketing and appreciate their expert planning of my entire adventure as well as additional help during a train strike.   I had a lovely stay at Hotel Casa Chiara.
Photos are the property of

*The German Way & More:  Trier

Regensburg: a Unesco World Heritage Site seen on a solo trip

Regensburg, off the beaten track in Germany, traveling solo

A wonderful city to walk the lanes and avenues, even if the sky is overcast.   Arriving by train in the morning gave me almost an entire day to become oriented to the city.   Day two I would visit many of the locations my guide, Michaela Ederer from Regensburg Marketing, suggested to me.  

Leaving Hotel Central Regensburg my tour took us down cobbled streets of shops, restaurants and apartments.    You imedaitely notice how clean and well kept German towns are.  Regensburg is a Unesco World Heritage City with most of the  the old town within this designation   I found there is far more to see than you can do in two days, plan to stay longer.

This charming bakery is the only one to supply rolls for the famous sausage restaurant we visited.

 (see below).   A steady stream of local shoppers proved it was very popular.
The spire of St Peters can be seen over the roof tops
The Cathedral of St Peter, another amazing structure that always makes me pause to think ‘how was this done?”

                                                     The organ pipes are massive.

                       On a sunny day I am sure the colored glass windows are stunning.

Let them eat Cake:    I asked in each town I visited for the oldest or best known bakery or a cake that was considered ‘the signature cake’ for that town.   Prinzess Cafe, “Regensburg’s first address for chocolates, coffee and fine pastries” as per their web site, is considered the best.
The window display gave me a hint of the treasures inside.
There was a massive display inside on chocolates and candies.  These are chocolates you select individually and carry the in a box.    The cakes were just as impressive.    

The mad hatter:   Andreas Nuslan leads the 100+ year old family company Der Hatmacher.  As we passed the colorful windows I had to stop when I saw the hat created for Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland!     
I made a second visit the next day and toured the extensive displays on two floor.    The process of making hats by hand is very intensive, hand labor.   The company web site states they are still using the old traditional ‘englische Zuriche’.  “This rare technique is only possible with direct manual labour.  and only with this complicated process, which includes between 60 and 80 working steps, can the felt become strong and stable”.     It would be amazing to watch a hat being created.  You can see this on the web site video.

A large selection of pins that can be added to your hat.  There were pins for almost any hobby or affiliation
My visit was just after Easter so there was a colorful array of headwear
One of the staff who kindly told me about some of the styles.    

Local Artisans:  Often a city or town will specialize in a craft or traditional arts.   Visiting artists shops often give a perspective that you won’t find in a large store.   Regensburg has Kunsthandwerk Orignial.  This small shop showcases hand crafts and art work by locals.   

 I was tempted by many of the fine pieces but limited suitcase space and another 8 weeks on the road encouraged me to select a hand made wooden pen.

 SAUSAGE with sweet mustard
Not much to look at from the exterior this small waterfront stand, the historic Wurst-kuchel, was packed earlier in the day.   When I returned to try one of the sausages late in the afternoon, I was the only person there.

A shortened summary from Wikipedia gives some of the history of this well known stop for sausage:  “The Historic Sausage Kitchen of Regensburg is perhaps the oldest continuously open public cookshop in the world.”  “First as a construction office for the building of the stone bridge you can view from the patio out front, it became a favorite over the centuries”.   .
In addition to the walk up stand with a few inside tables, there is a more formal restaurant across the patio.   Note:  perhaps because it was the end of another long day, don’t expect a chatty staff or any explanation on where your are allowed to sit.  My sausage was handed to me on a plate but I was told I could NOT take the plate to a table or to the outside stand up site.    I will need to research this before I return to try more.
The room to the left of the kitchen has tables and benches.  I did not see any wait staff.
In this tiny room two woman grill hundreds and hundreds of sausages
The secret is the sweet mustard.
I rarely eat sausage and never hot dogs so I was surprised at the first bite.
The sausage is served on a caraway flavored roll from the bakery mentioned earlier and sauerkraut.

At the end of day two I met my guide again for dinner at a traditional Germany restaurant: Weltenburger am Dom, in the center of town near the Cathedral.   This is a large restaurant and a solo diner will have no problem finding a table early in the evening.

                You can tell from our meals the portions are LARGE.   And so are the potatoes.

So Much More to See:
There are many other important sites to see  and you will find better details on any of these from tourist office in Regensburg.  The staff here were perhaps the most friendly and helpful group I have encountered in my last 2 trips to Europe.   
Some of the other places I visited:
The snuff museum:  What a fascinating history of snuff.   The original setting, tools and factory take you back in history.
World Heritage Visitor Center:  World Heritage sites are on the top of my travel list but this was the first visitors center I have seen.  It is located in the old salt warehouse at the foot of the old bridge and across from the sausage restaurant.   A large tour arrived when I did so I was unable to see much of the exhibits.  However the staff is very helpful, you will find maps of the city and other publications  NOTE:  on the first floor there are lockers you can rent and a free WC
The Palace Tour:   Thurn & Taxis Palace   I was the only English speaker on the tour but an audio tour that follows the guide is available for rent.  Yes, you miss a lot of additional information but the guide was open to any and all questions in both languages 
The church of St Emmerem next to the palace is a great photo opportunity 
St Peters Church:  If there is a tour available or if the choir is performing, try to schedule your visit to enjoy either or both.  NOTE:  the map in the church indicates a WC.  However, only the porter has access to open the door.
One of the first cities where I learned about Stumble Stones.
 Other things I would have enjoyed: 
  • crossing over the Stone Bridge to see another part of the city
  • taken any or all of the boat excursions to spots outside the city (at this time of year there were fewer available and the weather was very wet for a boat trip)  particularly to Walhalla
  • Visiting any of the countless museums
  • Visit the ‘oldest’ knife maker in the city
  • Tour/visit of the theater
  • The Scottish Church or Schottenkirche:  I do love those carvings
  • Visit the interior of any of the remaining towers
  • Seen by tour guide only is an underground exhibit, Document Neupgarrplatz.   Archaeological excavations from Roman times to a WWII air raid shelter
and much more
Solo dining:  In addition to the many cafes, market stands near the center square and restaurants, the large Galeria Kaufhof  department store has a top floor restaurant with an outdoor patio.  Even though the weather was not pleasant it was lovely to sit overlooking the rooftops.  (WC on this floor is free) 
The well stocked book store  Bucher Pustet  in the Old Town has a small café on the first floor where you can sit for awhile
Across from the entrance to the Palace is another museum with a lovely outdoor café.  Indoor seating also available.  WC to left of the courtyard.
EVERYTHING apparently closes on Sunday in Germany.   This requires some planning if you like to shop or need an item you did not bring with you.   I found the self service machines in one location very interesting.  In addition to coffee, drinks and some food items the machines sold toilet paper.
Juice and toilet paper
Soup as well as hot drinks 
something for a last minute meal?
My host laughed when I expressed such excitement about the policy in Regensburg to promote locations where the use of the WC is free.   No purchase is necessary to use a bar or restaurants facilities when this sign is displayed.  A donation is welcome to defray costs of added use.
This is an idea I hope will spread 
Note:  the train station is across from this massive mall, Regensburg Arcaden, if you need to replenish travel supplies.  The small information booth had a map of the city so I could find my hotel. There is also a free WC in the mall and lots of fast food outlets to pick up a sandwich for the train trip.  The mall closes earlier than USA malls, I believe 7 or 8 pm and it may also be closed on Sundays.
I want to thank Regensburg Marketing for hosting my trip and sharing their wonderful city with me.  my tour guide was kind and very accommodating to answer my countless questions about solo travel is this city.  
The opinions are my own and all the photos are the property of Mature Solo Travel.

Wiesbaden Germany: off the beaten track solo

Wiesbaden, Germany:   off the beaten track
 on a 14 day adventure for a solo traveler

The old building is reflected in the newer architecture

Arriving late in the day and taking a taxi to the boutique hotel Klemm a delightful oasis close to the center of town, I had to wait until the next day to take any photos of Wiesbaden. 

I had a lovely dinner with my hostess Ms Yvonne Skala in a typical (as I view it) German restaurant and tried a famous dish, which was potatoes!   Each town I visited on this epic journey was unique and I tried to experience whatever was ‘famous’ in each city.

Next day I had a fact filled adventure with my tour guide, Mr.Patrick Walz, a scholar with a staggering knowledge of history.  He also made the tour fun with antidotes and answers to my many questions on life in Wiesbaden.   Every professional I met on this trip had an endless knowledge of German history and today my guide was perhaps the most impressive.   Besides history, Patrick  ex-
plained major events that  impacted Europe as well as Germany.

First stop was the hot springs.   At night this park had a mist rising.

Marktkirche:   Market Church) is the main Protestant church in Wiesbaden.   The square in front of the cathedral holds a farmers market with local products.   Markets are always an easy place for solo travelers to meet locals and sample some of the local life.

Wiesbauden has a mini tourist train that takes you around the city.   I would not normally take this type of tour but our next stop was high over the city and on the way up there was a commentary. German since I was the only English speaker.   Winding through the residential area I had an opportunity to see the architecture for private homes.  We alighted the train at the Russian Orthodox church set in a wooded park.

                    The Russian Orthodox church on Neroberg with its five golden domes

No photos were allowed in the interior and I was surprised at the compact size.   Stone and wood carvings embellished the interior.  There were no tIt would be interesting to attend a service here if allowed.
There is an old cemetery behind the church that looked interesting.
As we left the church there was a sign explaining you could ask the caretaker, who was selling religious icons near the door, for the key.   This will be added to my list for a return visit.

Maps of the paths for hikes (not walks) through the park

There are many paths and lanes throughout the woods and we ascended the hill to the top of Mount Neroberg hill for lunch at Opelbad.   The terrace restaurant gave us a wonderful view of the city below.

          It was a long way down to the bus stop or a quick hop on the oldest water powered train,
 The Neroberg Mountain Railway.  Patrick arranged for us to ride in the front with the driver and although the process was explained to me twice, I had to look up the details!

                            Patrick told me the story of the street artist who wrote scripture on sign posts 
                         every day.  He had become something of a legend.

The Kurhaus is one of the cultural centers of Wiesbaden.   This large complex houses the state theater, a casino, restaurant and conference facilities.  The massive park and lake surrounding the building offers an oasis in the center of the city.

Wiesbaden is also a spa town although I did not ‘sample’ any of these services.

And a final treat for the day was a stop at a well know cake shop,Cafe Maldaner.  The traditional coffee shop is one  is very large.  The first room displays the endless cakes and individual pastries.   There are tables for 2 or 4 set close together.  A perfect place for a coffee and cake.  I could envision enjoying a pleasant hour enjoying a book while sipping your tea or coffee.

There is a second room that is more ornate with upolstered chairs and banquets.   This room is suitable for quiet meeting or perhaps a small celebratory cake and coffee event.

                                                             Let us eat cake!

The photos above are the property of Mature Solo Travel.  I am very thankful for  the wonderful two days Wiesbaden marketing arranged for me.

Heidelberg: off the beaten track, Brezeles to Chocolate

  home of the bretzle, castle, university, chocolate and  more

Heidelberg was a surprise.  The city bustles.  I spent only two days in the Old Town of Heidelberg and found so much to see and do.

There is endless history surrounding Heidelberg and my wonderful guide Charlotte Frey knew it all.
She wove German history into all the buildings we visited, told stories as we walked the cobbled streets and answered my endless questions about places a solo traveler could dine, shop and tour.
Thanks to Heidelberg Marketing for my wonderful visit. 

Reflection of the church in a window facing the square

Heidelberg is a lively town.   It is very easy to train into the city and to take a bus, tram or taxi into Old Town.      I stayed at the Hip-Hotel Heidelberg in the center of Old Town. Hauptstrasse 115, 69117 Heidelberg, Germany.   This theme hotel offers each room based on a country.  I stayed in the English room but was able to tour the unusual up-side down room.  The bed is attached to the ceiling, the lamps and photos are upside down
(a normal bed comes out of the wall for normal guests)

Without wasting any time we were off to see the most popular sites in Old town.
The student prison:     I would have missed all the background information without the help of my guide.  We saw the student prison, the Marketplatz filled with cafe tables and customers enjoying the sunshine, the town hall, the Church of the Holy Spirit, a beer hall, local crafts stores and the sweetest store in town.

Two of the rooms of the ‘student prison’.  The deeds that put a student in this lock up seem tame today.

Church of the Holy Spirit:  Heiliggeistkirche
Vendors have small booths around the church selling typical items a traveler may enjoy.
My guide showed me the amazing carvings in the walls of the church that mandated the size of brezels.   The story of brezels can be seen here. 

High on the church walls you also see carved gutter ‘critters’ that are always fun to photograph.

The size of the brezel was controlled and the outside of the church walls have different size carvings.

The student Kiss
An amazing candy shop on a quiet street between the river and the main shopping street, Haspelgasse 16, is a chocolate paradise.  The Knosel family continues the tradition of the student kiss.

I was enchanted with the owner of this small shop and would enjoy learning how they make all the different chocolates sold in this wonderful shop.  Perhaps it is a long standing secret.

DAY TWO:  I was on my own and walked the side streets and lanes on my way to take the funicular
to the castle that overlooks the city, tickets complements of the tourist office.      I enjoy the vertical trains you find all over Europe.   Amazing engineering as you cling to a thin rail on the side of a mountain.

The view from the top shows the vast expanse of the city

Things to do on a return visit:
View a duel if possible.
Take the solar boat on the Neckar River.  My visit was on the day the boat did not run.
Explore the town on the other side of the river
Visit a brezel bakery
Visit during a market day
Visit the Old Lecture Hall at the University

Another few days in Heidelberg will be on my list.

The photos and opinions are the property of   I want to thank Heidelberg Marketing for my two day adventure.

Augsburg, Germany: much to see and do

 A Quick Stop in Augsburg, Germany

I only had a half day to explore Augsburg on my Off the Beaten Track tour, but thanks to my wonderful guide Ms. Regina Thieme with Augsburg Tourism, I was able to see a great deal in a few hours.
Arriving at the Augsburg train station, a quick stop at the information counter to pick up a map for the easy walk into the center of town.  There are taxis, buses and trams outside the station but the walk to Hotel Ticket was not far and I could see the wonderful architecture that makes Germany towns and cities so charming.  And without knowing how to ask what tram or where to get off, walking is quicker for me.

                                    View from the town hall of the roof tops of Augsburg.

City Hall:
With so much to learn and see I barley had time for the wonderful photos of rooftops, squares and churches.   Our first stop was  City Hall.  You will think you are in Italy when you enter the Golden Hall and try to admire the endless paintings, gold covered ornate ceiling and wall murals.   You could spend hours learning the history behind the building, how it was used when Maximilian von Hapsburg visited.

The main square on a Saturday was busy with shoppers and a gathering place for young people.
We took a quick stop across the square at a ‘secret’ place my guide suggested when I asked what her favorite places were.   The cafe in the gift shop was quiet and a good place to take a break from siteseeing,  The glass covered courtyard is used during the winter market each year.    A good place for a solo traveler.

Augsburg is a great waling city.   There are wide avenues lined with shops and serviced by the tram system.   After a quick stop to see a street market we were off to see a one of a kind housing project.

Fuggerei: The wealthy Fugger family established and built the oldest social welfare settlement in the world (Regio Augsburg Tourismus)  in 1521.   There is one 3 room apartment you can visit.  There are now modern updates in the other apartments but you can view this original apartment during visiting hours.     The rent is only 1 eruo.


There are 78 houses and a total of 142 apartments as well as a church in the 

Interested in places solo travelers might enjoy beyond the many museums and wonderful churches I asked about any craftsmen (or women) in town.  Regina immediately suggested we visit a bookbinder in a part of town near a canal.

A side street took us to a neighborhood where there had been factories years ago:   machines run by water power.

The bookbinder was closed on Saturday but we had the great fortune to find Mr. Klaus Wengenmayr in his cafe next door.      The cafe/bar is also a music venue and an art studio.

Klaus makes hand made paper with a water mark.   He was kind enough to give me a short interview on his ‘paper’ history.      Today he was drying paper that was infused with flower seeds, I believe they were daisy seeds.    After the paper is used and discarded it will bio degrade and the seeds can germinate.   He kindly gave me a sample and I shall try ‘planting’ my paper and look for the results.

                                                      Klaus and my tour guide Regina

Can you see the watermark?

                                                            The paper pulp resembled oatmeal

A finished page of hand made paper.

                                      For more information:

Augsburg has many places for a solo traveler to visit and enjoy.  Regina suggested a solo friendly restaurant in the large ‘department’ store in town.  A perfect solo friendly restaurant and also a fresh fish restaurant.

Before we left the department store I had to ask about the enormous display of jams and preserves.
I had never seen such a wide variety and some fruits I had never heard of.  
I was able to try German spatzle at Zeughausstuben as the guest of Augsburg Tourism.
This is an enormous restaurant with a lovely out door patio for warmer weather.  
During dinner Ms. Thieme was kind to answer all the questions you never find in a travel book!

On Sunday, before I left for the train station I stopped in at the Dom.      Most stores in Germany are closed on Sunday so the streets were quiet but I did notice several other international ‘travelers’.

Before I reached the church I found this humorous artwork
One of the rare times I have captured sun rays in a photo.

This is a beautiful, massive church.  However services were going on and they asked for no ‘visitors’.
I was only able to take a quick look at the older part of the building.

I want to thank Augsburg Touruism who hosted my visit.   The photos (except where noted) and the opinions are my own.

Oberwesel Germany: Home of the Wine Witch

Oberwesel, Germany and the Wine Witch

A short stop on my Off the Beaten Track tour 
in Germany, but one I am so glad I did

The trip from Koblez to Oberwesel went too quickly.  Although I love train travel in Europe, I would trade a train for a boat on a German river anytime!

photo from

The boat stopped at most of the towns we passed picking up local residents and at one stop a large group of tourists.   

I almost missed viewing the Lorelei since my stop was next and the boat does not linger.  

We had just passed the famous Lorelei and in a few minutes were docking at Oberwesel.  A hike and tour of the Lorelei, overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage designated part of the Rhine river, is on my list for another visit.  Our captain was not distracted by any ‘siren calls’  and we arrived safely.  

Disembarking from the White Boat I was only a few steps from the main square when I arrived.     The well kept half timbered houses tucked between larger stone or brick buildings were just as I imagined a German town should be, or an impression left over from a movie set.   I was completely charmed.

Every town I visited on my Off the Beaten Track adventure was steeped in history.   Far more events, invaders, treaties and wars than I could fit into my head on my short day trips.   But it was not difficult to absorb the feel of a town, meet some of the locals and understand a little of their traditions.
Oberwesel was a walled city in the middle ages with more than the surviving 16 watch towers that protected the town from all foes.    The renovated sections of the walls are a perfect vantage point to view the city and the surrounding vineyards or enjoy a ‘city’ hike.
If you look up you will see row upon row of grape vines ascending the hill to the imposing Schonburg Castle.  The original building dates from the 12th century.  Today the castle houses a luxury hotel as well as a youth hostel. 
The castle complex.  Photo from

A short walk from the central square where many festivals and events are celebrated each year, you pass shops, restaurants and private homes on your way to the Stadtmuseum, a perfect start to your understanding of Oberwesel and the surrounding area.
The Stadtmuseum is the first stop on my tour.   This interactive museum takes you through the history of the Upper Rhine river area via a ‘time machine’, large screens that react to a single touch.  Visitors and choose what interests them from a virtual tour of the town, use the
remote controlled camera on the river bank to see, even hear the river as well as have a radar view!
You could spend hours trying all the innovated systems within each section of the museum.  But do not miss the cinema in the vaulted cellar to see a film of the history of Rhine shipping, the old steamboats, toll booths and the need for icebreakers when the river sends ice.  

The Minorite Monastery is a former Franciscan monastery, church, garden, cloister and sacristy covers over 800 years of history.  The ruins are privately owned now.  After a fire destroyed the monastery in 1836 private homes were built in the area and it is still a residential area.
Contact the museum for details on how to arrange/book a tour.  em

 With only a short time remaining before my train leaves I took a fast paced tour of one of the highlights of Gothic architecture in Oberwesel:  Liebfrauen Church know for it’s golden alter.
The building was started in 1308.  
Entering from a side door it takes a few moments to appreciate the soaring ceilings and massive size of the church.    The gold altar is the most prominent part of the church but do not miss the larger than life painting on the walls that were intended to educated the masses who perhaps did not read and own books. 
                                                        Liebfrauen Church, Church of Our Lady
Gold Altar   from

The Wine Witch:   Each year the town celebrates Weinhexennacht,  the crowning of the new wine witch for the coming year.   Other wine areas may crown a wine queen but Oberwesel selects their wine witch.   And she is a good witch, representing and helping promote the area wines for the year following her election.

The townspeople vote for the next year’s witch and on the night of April 30th the former witch is burned in a straw effigy and the newly elected witch escapes from a wine keg in the middle of market square!   The festival continues!


Carl Haags Tower where the painter lived and worked.   Originally called the red tower, Mr Haag bought and rebuilt the tower.  It is privately owned and not open to tourists
A short walk to the train station for my journey to Wiesbaden and another adventure.
So much to see and only half a day!  I shall return for a river trip and stop overnight in Oberwesel.
Schonburg Castle/Hotel and youth hostel
Medieval City Walls
St. Martin Church
Biking along the river
Hiking above the town
and around Lorelei
Wine Experience & Wine tasting
are all on my list for another visit.

I was the guest of Oberwesel marketing who arranged my great tour of historic Oberwesel.

Germany: Cake, Castles and Cruises

Cake, Castles and Cruises was my theme for part of my Germany Off the Beaten Track tour

Photo from KD web site

Having a theme on my trips allows me a personal interest to search for in every town I visit.   

How wonderful to find cafes dating back 100+ years in most towns that featured a cake that was famous!  

Castles were everywhere on the banks of the Rhine river and I was a human pinball going side to side on the top deck to photograph everything!

River transportation is perfect:  board a boat and only worry about when to get off.   River cruises are notoriously expensive but the extensive ferry system on the Rhine river offers a solo traveler a simple option to driving or the train.  (later post on hop on hop off a river boat)

The rivers in Germany historically moved people and goods from town to town.   Castles and fortified homes dot both sides of the river and most passengers were on the top deck so they would not miss anything.   

Instead of a quick train ride, I took KD River cruises took me from Koblenz to Oberwesel my next stop on Off the Beaten Track.

Meals are available in the dining room.  Drinks can be served up on deck.
Every town seemed to have a castle to ‘protect them”
I wanted to get off at every town and explore…..
 Fairly tale villages at every curve in the river

Some towns were so close to the boat you could watch daily life in the streets.  The boats arrive frequently and it was not a special occasion to watch the ‘tourists’ go by.

The three house trip cam to an end all too soon.  On my return visit I will be taking the boat and the train to visit the Rhine river.

My complementary trip on the Rhine river was arranged by the Koblenz tourist office and the opinions are my own.© lee laurino

Koblenz, Germany Amazing Interactive Exhibiton

Romanticum Exhibit in Koblenz, Germany

photo credits below

At the end of my city tour of Koblenz I was scheduled for a visit to an  interactive exhibition: Romanticum. 

I expected a ‘collection of historic items’ or art but was surprised at what I discovered.     The entire exhibit is interactive from simple information screens to exhibits and displays that each viewer can select a topic of interest:  river, castles, wine.

There are exhibits and displays designed for both children and adults:  the history of the the romantic Middle Rhine Valley area.     

Most striking is the plastic card you are issued upon entry.   At many of the displays you can download the information you select to your ‘card’
You collect the information you have selected and you can “read the card” later on a device.

Visiting the museum  when you arrive in Koblenz will give you great background information for your days visiting historic sites and traveling the Rhine valley.

It is a fun way to learn about the founding and development of historic Koblenz.

Currently the exhibit is in Germany (some English explanations)  but there are plans for English descriptions to the many exhibits.    Thanks to the Koblenz Tourist office I was given a tour of the exhibit, explaining how to maximize your visit to the exhibit.  

Opening Hours:  (confirm with
Daily 10 am to 6 pm

Photos from:  

Koblentz, Germany: exploring solo

Koblenz,  Off the Beaten Track Tour Stop Two

Leaving Munster early on Sunday morning, the train south to Koblenz took less than 3 hours through villages and farmlands 
not yet showing results of spring planting.

The Mosselle and Rhine river meet 

Koblenz another UNESCO World Heritage city, may not be as well known as other towns in Germany but it should be on your list of river towns with a rich history to explore.

With less than two full days in each town you hit the ground running and thanks to the Koblenz Tourist office who had arranged a wonderful schedule for me.    

First, bus #650 across from the tourist office will take you a short distance out of town to the Stolzenfele Scholossweg.  My first German  castle.  

Watch for the sign on the right and take the road up, up and up the hill.  The paved road takes you the entrance at the back of the castle (the path took me to the dead end at the front of the castle)

Tours are offered, none in English but they kindly provided an abbreviated written outline of the information.   
Great river views from the castle

Back to to (bus stop is across from where you got off)  I visited the Tourist Office.   The lobby has a coffee cafe offering snacks, cake and WIFI.     Middle Rhine Museum, Romanticum interactive exhibit and the municipal library are also in the building but as most restaurants and all stores, it was closed on a Sunday.   A great collection of ‘things to do’ and I would keep this in mind for a winter traveler or perhaps a rainy day.


The narrow streets and squares throughout town take you from historic churches to former municipal building all with the charm I had always assigned to Germany.  Kolblenz’s  has many great places to explore:  take the ‘cable car’ across the river and up to Ehrenbreitstein Fortress.     

Not just an historic site, multi use complex  that hosts festivals and concerts.  It is a perfect vantage point to sit and view the hills and river for miles.  In 2020 Ehrenbreitsteint was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.   Far more can be told about the history of this fort.  Allow enough time to explore.   Remember the last cable car crossing or you will be hiking to a bridge down the river that crosses the Rhine.

You can spend the entire day exploring the site, the museum, enjoying lunch at the cafe or even stay at the hostel.  The buildings are used for conferences, events and perhaps weddings.
My patient guide Ms Wiebke Heitmann 

My guide suggested one of the older hotels in the Jesuitenplatz (square) as a perfect solo friendly lunch location.  The Altsadt Hotel had a friendly cafe and a large outside dining area.   I had a late lunch here to try there featured Bread and Spreads.   You select from a wide variety of German breads and pick three spreads.     It was delicious, comfortable seating and no rush to vacate your table.  

One of the staff members spoke English and I suspect the other young woman understood me.   
The coffee was excellent.     This would be my recommendation to a solo traveler who might not enjoy a more formal restaurant. Jesuitenpl, 1 Koblenz, Germany
The 14 room boutique hotel above the cafe (from the web site) would be a great location and easy walk to the riverside, train station or other sites in the city.  Not open for dinner.
I was the guest of the Koblenz Tourist office at the Winzerstube and Amalfi restaurant on the river front.   An unusual mix of two restaurants  side by side with one entrance:  Italian to the left and German to the right.   On Sunday night they were very busy but found me a table.   

Herr Meithoff owns the restaurant and has a fondness for Italian cinquecentos!  He has one parked IN the restaurant..

The German side 

I chose a potato soup that was excellent.

The massive chicken salad was amazing.  I never cook so I had to ask the waitress what they cooked the chicken in.  After sever attempts it was explained the flavoring was balsamic vinegar.

The owner showed me his signature pizza which smelled wonderful

My very patient waitress.  As the ONLY solo diner, I am not sure they knew what to do with me! 

A large patio spans the front of both restaurants and has a view of the river.

I wish to thank the Koblenz Tourist Office for hosting my stay in Koblenze.  The stay was complementary but the opinions are all my own.

Billboard messages: Another Great Find In Germany

Germany has a wonderful history in art, architecture, literature, music etc
The professional tour guides I worked with in all the cities Off the Beaten Track  that the tourist board arranged for me were amazing.  But my mission disappointed all of them.

My focus was to spend the limited time in each city discovering something new, something not in the tour books.  

At the same time I was experiencing the city as a mature solo traveler: looking for restaurants, tours and popular city activities where a mature solo traveler would feel welcome.    If you have ever traveled independently you know what I am searching for.

My guide in Wiesbaden, Patrick, had a very engaging method to share the vast history of his town.    Although he thought my topic was less important he indulged me at ever stop when I asked “can a solo traveler come to concerts here or eat at this cafe and feel comfortable?”

My guide for the day showed me Wiesbaden from a local prospective

But I may have tested his sense of humor when I stopped and asked about a ‘billboard’ filled with a hand written message.  Of course he could explain this as well.   
And he agreed to tell me the story in a video.

My tour of Wiesbaden was thanks to Wiesbaden Marketing and the opinions and comments are my own.  

Brezels: Germany off the Beaten Track

Brezels…….the snack food of Germany
In Heidelberg as a guest of Heidelberg Marketing,  I had the pleasure of spending a day with expat Charlotte Frey.  As we toured the old town to discover solo friendly activities and restaurants she shared many unique, historic facts about Heidelberg. 
Brezels are sold everywhere
Pretzels are a staple on air flights, pretzels are offered in bars and large, ‘soft’ pretzels are found in food courts and at festivals and fairs.   
Brezels in Germany have a long history and are ever present in daily life in Heidelberg.    As we walked around the Cathedral where vendors may have had the same stalls for hundreds of years, Ms Frey showed me carvings in the stone that resemble pretzels.
In Germany these are BREZELS and have an economic history as well as a gastronomic one.   
The carvings denoted the size standard of the brezel that was to be sold. 

Some of the carvings were much smaller than others.   When the harvest was poor the standardize brezel size was smaller!

Large quantities of brezels were in offered in every bake shop that we passed. Apparently brezels are never made at home but purchased daily.  They have no preservatives and become very hard overnight.  I sampled different styles on offer to determine if there was any difference in taste between the traditional pretzel style, long, ‘fat’ bezels or the thin variety.   I found no difference.

Photo from Wikipedia

Brezels are sold in every bakery in different sizes and shapes.  I wanted to taste several to see if they tasted different.  However, I think they are often sold in 3’s because as I tried to explain I wanted one of eat, the busy bakery sales clerk was very annoyed, but complied with my request.  They tasted the same.  
I did a computer search and even asked the helpful young woman at the tourist office if there were any breazel bakeries I could visit.   When I finally found one, the location was across the river and I had a visit to the castle planned.  Next time I will try to learn to make brezels. 
Bezels are German snack food.  You always have bread with beer.   There is no fat in a Brezel or preservatives.  Charlotte told me “I can’t imagine life without a bretzel“!
Thanks to the great resources online, you find a great history on pretzels!
Here are a few facts about German brezels:
There is a religious connection to the history of the bretze:
“Pretzels have long been integrated into the Christian faith. By the 16th century, it had become tradition to eat pretzels on Good Friday in Germany, and Catholics once considered them the “official food of lent.” Earlier laws of the Church stated that only one meal a day was to be eaten during lent and the food couldn’t come from an animal.”
Pretzels are put into a lye or baking powder solution!
“Before baking, the formed pretzel is dunked briefly in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and water. In German this mixture is called Natronlauge. This is what gives the pretzel its unique color and flavor. Because of this technique, this type of pretzel is also called a Laugenbrezel.”
“Pretzels today continue to be formed by hand as has been done throughout history. Bakers spend years perfecting the pretzel-forming technique. First, the dough needs to be rolled out. Both ends of the strand are held up, and through a quick swing, the center of the strand is twisted. The ends are then pressed onto the body of the pretzel”
250 year old Brezel found in in Regensburg
“Carbon dating showed the pastries were made between 1700 and 1800. Indeed, the archaeologists found written evidence that in 1753 a baker named Johann Georg Held was living at the site.”
The most popular pretzel is the so called Laugenbretzel. It consists out of flour, malt, salt, yeast and water.

Before baking, the formed pretzel is dunked briefly (just some seconds) in a mixture of sodium hydroxide and water (ph 13-14).  It helps to bring about the brown color that will occur during the baking process. In German this mixture is called Natronlauge

What other snack foods are popular in other countries?
Next we visited the oldest chocolate store!

Historic Highlights of Germany:off the beaten path, made my tour of 8 German cities possible.  The opinions are my own.

War Brides: The Queen Mary Transports WW II Brides

War Brides and Soldiers Transported via 
Cunard Queen Mary during WWII

Cunard is Celebrating 175 years of service
Crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary is a wonderful alternative to 10 hours in a plane and on some crossings, can be well priced even for a solo passenger.
On a crossing last fall I steeled myself to sit at a table with 9 strangers only to find this crossing offered several very interesting dinner companions.  
H. T. was quiet at first but later had amazing stories to tell about the QE
And you NEVER know how interesting a stranger may be unless you speak with them.  H. T. appeared quiet and one evening mentioned to the group that his mother had crossed the Atlantic with Cunard on a war brides ship!   I had not heard of this before and was fascinated.   

I found out later in a conversation with H. T. that he only sails on Cunard and I found he is a Cunard armature historian.  

There is a exhibit on deck 2 Forward, that describes how Cunard’s ships assisted during WWII and the story of transporting war brides and their children to the USA and Canada.

   After some additional  research I discovered a great deal has been written about the transportation of war Brides in 1946 to the USA and Canada and the role Cunard Ships played in the WWII.

I interviewed H. T. on the ship and later he shared more stories via email.  Stories he remembers about his mothers’ first crossing on the QM and also others he took with her.   I realized that story about Joan was far more interesting.

This is a lovey story that was shared with me:

My mom’s name was Kathleen Joan Horton, nee Hatherley.  She was always called Joan by the family.  I 

remember as a kid,  friends from (her) work called her Kathy,   I thought it so strange.   Dad was Carl R 

Horton.    He was a waist gunner on a B17 and  flew 50 missions.”   Stationed in the UK, “he saw her at a 

canteen for the GI’s, arranged an introduction and they were engaged 3 weeks later.   They were married in 

Halesworth (UK) on January 29th, 1944.”   It must have been love at first site since their union lasted 50 years

“When dating, my mother teased my father to take her to an eating place she liked very much, called Bobbie’s.  From then on, dad always called her “Bob.”  Cards, gifts were always addressed:  “To Bob,  From Carl.”  Years later, my cousin Lesley would always call her “Aunt Bob.”

Joan on her wedding day

First Night in a bomb shelter:  “Friends and neighbors pitched in to see that my parents had a real wedding cake.  There was strict rationing, for example, each person was allowed only one egg a month.  It was a small cake but it was very tasty.  
I did not recall where they were going for a honeymoon, but they spent their wedding night in a bomb shelter as German bombers were passing over on their way to bomb London.

The Best Man:   “Dad wanted his cousin, Harold Ballard, to be best man at the wedding but Harold, who was stationed in Northern Ireland, could not get leave.  Harold did visit later.  It took him almost 24 hours to get to Ispwich (near Halesworth)  because of all the train connections and also because the trains were so full,  
He had to stand all the way.  Right after he got to bed, another raid heading for  London appeared and he spent that night also in a bomb shelter. 

Harold did get to do  the toast at my parents 50th wedding anniversary party.  I remember the big laugh he got when he delivered  the line:  “You know, 50 years is a long, long time to be married to the same woman!”

H.T. told me her friends pooled their ration card to make a cake for her special day

Exact records of passengers on each ship may be traceable if family members have documentation on the date of departure and or arrival.   H. T. shared information from his file:  ‘Trip to America 1946’.

The exact departure date for Joan’s trip to her new home may not be documented but H. T. has a copy of ‘her orders to go to the ‘reception center’ on January 28th, 1946.   She was to depart her hometown, Halesworth at 9:54 am and arrive in London at 1:35pm- sailing date (was) was not included at that time”.    “Joan remembered the day the ship was to sail, the band on shore was playing “There Will Always Be An England”, so lots of tears and sad feelings and mixed emotions”  For some unknown reason the ship did not sail until the next day.

There is also a telegram sent to Mr. Horton in Rochester, NY informing him of the orders and a copy of the telegram Joan sent her sister is dated Feb 7th, 1946 from the Queen Mary.

In that letter Joan talks glowingly about “the wonderful food to include roast duckling, plum pudding, ice cream, coffee, chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, chocolate, an egg every morning and (Joan) think the Queen Mary must be a magical name to have all the good stuff on board”.  “The ship is traveling slower because there are lots of children on board.  Joan is somewhat seasick but not real bad”.

After years of rationing during the war, the variety and quantity of food on the ship must have been overwhelming.    From other documents ‘archived’ by Joan, H. T. knows what the on board daily program for the dates of  February 7, 8 and 9th (1946).

H.T. believes this sailing of the Queen Mary was the first to transport war brides.  The ship would have arrived on February 10,1946.  (passengers stayed overnight on the ship)  Cunard arranged for passengers to be met and assisted on their onward journey.  Sadly I read in other stories that some ‘brides’ were never met at the dock and were required to return to England.  Transportation was supplied by Cunard.

Joan departed NYC on February 11, 1946 for Rochester, NY where about 30 members of her new extended family awaited her arrival.    How strange it must have been to arrive in a ‘foreign’ country and begin a new life.   Even the language was different although still a version of English.

Even at the late arrival time in Rochester, Joan and Carl drove the 90 minutes to Penn Yan to see the new farm that would be their new home.    From city/village life in Halesworth to farming.   Another challenge for Joan.   H. T. tells me that “as a child Joan was afraid of everything:  trains, cars, strangers.  So for her to marry an American and leave home was really so out of character for her.”
Now she was living on a farm,” learning to tend berries, grapes, cows, chickens and grains.”

I am trying to recall what I have read about rural life in the USA during the 40’s.   The family farm was a way of life and livelihood outside the cities.

Joan did not know how to cook when she arrived to start her new life!    So the pie story that H. T. shared with me is poignant.   On the farm, she was cooking  for my father, and many times my grandfather
and uncle who owned the adjoining farm. My father was a tease,  One time she baked a pie and he (Dad) complained the crust was “too flaky” which sent her off to the bedroom in tears.  This story was often repeated through the years, my mother use to laugh at how innocent and naive she really was in the early days in this country”

Another story is about Aunt Norma::

.I would also like to mention my dad’s sister, my Aunt Norma.  The whole family did welcome my mother into the family (not all war brides were so lucky)  but Aunt Norma took a special interest and really looked out for my mother. 

Mom was soon pregnant with me after she arrived here and very sick,  Aunt Norma would take her to the doctor, whose office was up a flight of stairs.  One visit, at the sight of a blood pressure cuff coming her way, mom passed out.  Doctor says to Aunt Norma “Well, as long as she is going to be like that, I might as well do everything I have to do while she is out.” 

“Going back down the stairs to street, Aunt Norma asks mom if she is all right, the reply was yes, but 

out she went again at the bottom of the stairs.  Despite the constant morning sickness  and problems keeping 
food down, I was born a happy,healthy baby, pink and rosy at birth.”  

When farming no longer prosperous, Joan worked in a factory for 10 years,   She learned to drive.  She ran and completely manged a summer restaurant, Terry’s Drive In, on Keuka Lake for 17 years!

In August 1952 and again in the summer of 1962.   Joan and H.T. traveled again on the Queen Mary for a return visit to Joan’s family.  The 1952 sailing was only one way.  Joan went back to work at the Halesworth post office to earn the fare home, dad sent money too.  

“Mom (Joan) was feted and made a big fuss of by her friends and was really given the royal treatment, so much so, that she told her family she would stay in England.    Nana said ‘absolutly not’.  Mom was told by her mother that if she stayed, she would soon be one of the group again and the special treatment would go away, but more importantly:  HT was an American and deserved to be brought up in the Sates”

On their 50th anniversary………….and it all started at a GI canteen

“So we returned (to the USA).  Dad had a Christmas tree and gifts when we arrived back in February”  “My mom became a naturalized citizen in 1953.”

“Although my mother’s English accent faded thru the years, a stranger would always notice it and ask where she was from.   However, on the telephone, the accent came back in full force- in  a very formal, brisk,  proper ton.e.  That phone accent always took me by surprise.”   

All the photos of war brides were taken from the exhibit on QM II
and are the property of Cunard

Just as the ship I was on arrived in NYC harbor, in 1946 a newspaper article in the Times Union Albany NY announced “Queen Mary brings war brides into New York Harbor” with 1,719 war brides and 615 children on board.   click here for article

There are web sites, membership groups for wives and dependents as well as a number of books describing the voyages and the hardships many of the wives faced arriving in a new country, meeting a family she did not know and not having the means to return to her own family for a visit.

According to Lynda Bradford, a participant in the Cunard Forum dated August 15, 2014 there is a WWII War Brides Association.  “This group estimate that as many as 1 million women from 50 countries married Americans between 1942 and 1952.

“Transportation of the may war brides was not the only war service the Cunard ships participated in.
On the web site for World War II Troop Ships, details the first time the Queen Mary transported 8,398  American troops from Boston to Sydney, Australia.  On May 5-11, 1043 Winston Churchill traveled to NYC to meet with President Roosevelt.  Also aboard were 5,00 German prisoners of war.

Between February 3 and May 19, 1946 12,886 European brides and children were transported in six voyages.  May 23 to Sept 18, 1946 another seven voyages brought brides and children to Canada, along with 10 stowaways.”

Munster, “the bike capital” has a special addition

Münster, Germany
A bike capital where bikes may outnumber residents!

Martje Salje, also known as the tower keeper in Munster, click the link to learn about that story, was given a special bike this year from her mother.

This bike was designed by local Munster artist Stephan Quitmann, who according to Martje  is famous for his unique, fantastic bicycles.

“Each and every one of them is specially designed for their buyer/owner. You can choose every little detail yourself (e.g. the color – I like turquoise/cyan best!) and Stephan lets you sit on a machine that measures your body, like length of the legs and angles of the arms and upper body and so on.” 

“The handlebars have leather and the ends and the lights are like parking lights that won’t go out when you’re like waiting at the red light in the darkness.”

With this great endorsement, I decided to do a quick search for Mr. Quitmann.   Had I know about him while I was in Münster I would surely have dropped in to take a look at his shop.   His web site confirms he is a ‘artist’ with metal, leather and most important a fit for the rider of each individual bike.  

Martje goes a step further:

She decided to ask people she meets to sign her bike and give it a one of a kind feature. 

“It was the idea of Stephan Quitmann to let famous and special people sign their name on my bike, so it really is a project work-in-progress.” 

But why me?
“I was so impressed that you came all the way to Münster to visit my beautiful city and write about it and even took the time to climb 300 steps with me, so your signature is something that reminds me of an amiable, wonderful and interesting person :-)”

“Then there are some fantastic highly remarkable musicians whom i asked to please sign on my project-bike and I told them how I loved and admired their music. 
One of them is Daniel Masuch, a Jazz pianist and composer, his works are on the Internet, e.g. on spotify as well.”

While I was in Münster I learned a lot about bikes:   
  • there are more bikes than residents in Münster
  • there is a free air ‘station’ in the middle of town if you need to inflate a tire
  • there is a massive bike garage on the way to the train station, offering storage, rentals, washes and repairs
  • there are bike RULE, right of ways, penalties for riding in violation of the rules, no drinking and biking
  • Münster is the ‘bike capital’ of Germany….
  • Bikes are also called ‘Leeze”
  • Münster has been awarded the Most bicycle friendly city in Germany, several times
I need to get back on a bike!
And here is my signature on this amazing bike, may it travel far and wide.
This reminds me of the mid 1950’s practice of having an autograph book and having friends sign your book.    I suppose we lost the art of poems, drawings or sentiments when the year book replaced autograph books and then videos, FB and Twitter replaced all writing.  .    
At the same time did we also lose our imaginations?  Can you ask someone to put a twitter comment in a ‘book’?  Would we receive a response?
Be sure to read more about Marje

Woman In the Tower, Münster, Germany: not Rapunzel

Münster, Germany continues the tradition of the Tower Keeper

The Keeper in the tower, is now a WOMAN 

This is not the story of Rapunzel from the Brothers Grimm, this is a tradition over the centuries that is still revered and practiced.   I had the opportunity to meet the only woman tower keeper (employed by the City).   

During my press trip with Munster Marketing, I was given the opportunity to meet The Tower Keeper Martje Salje.   

Spending six nights a week ‘watching over the city of Münster
from the tower of St Lamberti’s church struck me as a very unique job, so I was very anxious to meet her.

These are the famous 3 cages, but ONLY 1/2 way to the tower top!
Look for the small, very small walk way above this area.

The solid wood door to the tower steps.
“Tower keepers in Munster: since 1383.  That’s the only right date – it’s written on an old document mentioning two men in the tower of St. Lambert’s in association with a  fire in the inner city, only one year after another big catastrophe (pestilence).”   according to the current Tower Keeper  
Arriving via bike Martje meets us at the wooden door she has a key to open.   I didn’t expect such a lovely, vibrant woman to meet us.    Martje was more Rapunzel and nothing like Quasimodo.

At twilight the tower is stunning.  I should have started a 1/2 hour earlier to capture all the great  views.

When I first heard I would be meeting the Tower Keepers and climbing the tower to view what a Tower Keeper does each evening, I started training for this event.   I calculated with 30 steps in my home that I often climbed several times a day, I would be in ‘shape’ for this event…………………………

To try to give some perspective of the SIZE of this church and tower, we climbed above the clock!

With constant inquiries ‘are you OK” from my companions, we climbed all 300 stairs.  When we arrived at the level with the ‘cages’ I was informed we were NOT at the top, but only 1/2 way!

Determined NOT to be the ONLY invited guest to abort this killer climb, we continued.   The stairs are very narrow and as you circle round and round the small stairway, it is easy to become dizzy and disoriented.   However Martje ascended the stairs like a ‘gazelle’. And she does this 24 times a week!  

The tower keepers room is larger than I expected.   On the desk is the brass horn that has announce “all is well’ over hundreds of years, next to a telephone that is used to call the fire department when the Tower Keeper arrives each night.   Such an anachronism, I had to smile.   There are also several clocks to remind the Keeper each 30 minutes during the 4 hour shift, when the horn must be blown.

I visited in early April and Northern Germany was just approaching spring so the nights can be cold.
The Tower Keeper has a warm cape with a hood to protect her during the winter and bad weather.

Starting at 8:30 pm The keeper reports to the fire station  that she has arrived safely and every half hour until midnight, the keeper sounds the all is well ‘toot’, no fires spotted, no invading army approaching.    At 12:30 am she will call the fire station to let them know she has made it back to firm land safely.  

Martje, is a part of many decades of history..

But what does the Keeper do when she is NOT watching for enemies or fire?    Martje, is an accomplished musician, writer and I would add ‘historian’.     Drinking hot tea she brought with her (no Starbucks breaks when there are 600 steps to transverse in less than 25 minutes) she shows me her art work, some of the many books she reads and even gives me a sample of her musical work:

At the end of this post you can enjoy the translation to of a lovely song.

MARTJE shared a story with me that may be a legend or may  be true……

The Münster Tower Keeper sent me her understanding on the source of the horn blowing in the tower of St. lamberths;
The following story explains why the signal of the tower keeper rings out every half hour though it used to be heard every hour in former times. 
Attention! It might not be suitable for children 😉
“Once upon a time a newlywed couple, young but poor, went on their honeymoon. They stayed at a rustic Westphalian farm just at the borders of the city of Münster.
The young woman asked at dinner: What are these sounds coming from the city every hour? What do they mean?
And the landlord told her it was the tower keeper of St. Lambert’s, tooting his horn to remind the couples who were just married of their conjugal duties. And with these words he gave the young husband a wink.”
“The couple went off to bed early this night.
And the next morning, the husband wanted to know where to find this tower keeper and was sent to Stuhlmacher’s (a traditional inn near St. Lambert’s church). 
There he beseeched the tower keeper to please blow his horn every three or four hours only and promised him 20 thalers.  The tower keeper shook his head and said: Well, a young damsel already gave me 40 thalers and wanted me to toot every half hour, I’m sorry mate!”
The rest is up to you and your fantasy imagination!
But these facts are for real: The signal means 
a) the tower keeper is really up there in the tower and awake;
b) that there are nor fires, no foes;
c) or if there were: ALARM! (very rapid tooting sounds);
d) it tells the time (e.g. 3×3 at 9 p.m.)…

Q&A  An Interview with the Tower Keeper

I was very curious about how does one apply for or interview for such an unusual position and asked the following questions

1..  How did you hear about the Tower Keeper position?
Martje:  I read about the job offer online, as they were looking throughout Germany for a new tower keeper (for Munster)

2.  Why did you consider applying for this job?
Martje:   I had finished my studies (history and musicology) and wanted to work in a town like Munster, Westphalia,  (a town) steeped in history.

3.  What questions did the application ask?  Did the application ask if you were male or female?
Martje:  the most important question was whether I like being alone a few hours every evening and wouldn’t mind climbing up the 300 steps even on weekends and official holiday(s).  And the new tower keeper would have to know all about the vivid ancient and recent time of the city.

4.  What was the interview like?
Martje:  There were two interviews, the people of Munster Marketing and the municipal leaders wanted to make sure the new tower keeper really was a trust-worthy individual and would stay for more than a few months.  I want to be tower keeper the next hundred years or so, and I really love this city.

5.    Was there a test to see if you could climb 300 steps and blow the horn?
Martje:  Climbing test- yes indeed!  But the horn is only to be played by the tower keeper on duty….

On September 13th, 2015 the Tower Keeper will be called  to ring the church bell :”Rats- und Brandglocke“ (Rat = municipal affairs, Brand = fire and emergency – in medieval times, Glocke = bell).in the tower when the major of Munster is elected.

The contract for the tower keeper is for life or until the keeper can no longer climb the tower.  Martje jogs every morning and works to stay healthy,   She tells me she plans to be the keeper until she is ‘100’ and it would not surprise me if she continues for many years.

Thank you to Munster Marketing and my patient host for showing me how wonderful secrets of  Munster.  My goal was to find solo friendly places to explore off the beaten path in Munster and I concluded this was a very solo friendly town that I plan to visit again.

And the 300 steps to the the Keeper’s room was NOT the top:   you still had a staircase and a pull down ladder!  Of course I took the challenge,  Did I mention I don’t like heights?

You can read The Tower Keepers blog and visit her website:

The tower is not open for tours.  Journalists, photographers and guests of the Mayor may apply for permission to visit with the Münster Marketing
The city offers tours with city guides K3, StattReisen or StadtLupe, to learn about the city and hear the Tower Keeper blowing her horn.   Looking up they will see the Keeper waving!

© lee laurino

Münster Marketing 

“Here are the lyrics to that song I sing every evening up here”…

Greetings from the Tower of St. Lambert’s! Martje
Tower keeper’s Evensong (or religious lullaby)
I departed the world        
 and am standing on the tower,
 I can reach the stars
 and talk to the storm.
 I ban all ghosts
 and live far from derision,
 the wind knocks on my window
and speaks of God the righteous.
 I see dusk is falling,
 the earth exhales,
the city drapes itself in silence,
 all people are going home.
 I hear silent lamentations
 down by the houses,
 prayers and curses
 from a dark mouth.

I was the guest of  Münster Marketing for my visit to the Tower.   I thank them for the opportunity to meet the Tower Keeper.  All my personal opinions and photos above are my own.  © lee laurino

Additional information from the Tower Keeper:

All the other tower keepers, whether they are female or male, are in another kind of employment.
Blanca Knodel (that’s my colleague in Bad Wimpfen, Baden-Wuerttemberg) lives on the tower and raised her children there.
She tells tourists all about the „blue tower“ and gets a percentage of the door money. She also owns some flats which she rents out.
I am the only female tower keeper in Europe that is working for the CITY – public/civil service and lives on the city government’s salary! The only others working for the city government too are 5 men in Bavaria (in a little town called Noerdlingen). But they have tourists on the tower, too, and they sell postcards and stuff, and the don’t blow a horn but they call „So, G’sell, so“ which has a long long long history and tradition of its own.

My blowing the horn (the art of tooting) is something special and only heard and seen in Muenster, Westphalia 

Different towers, different customs…
The tower keeper in Hamburg (northern Germany) is a Catholic, working for the Protestant church (St. Michaelis), he plays the trumpet (chorale/hymns),
And the tower keeper of Luebben (Lübben, Brandenburg, southern Germany) is female, too, but she’s actually a tourist guide showing her city to travelers and even taking them up a (or some?) tower(s?). 

The tower keeper of Krakau (Cracow, Poland) is a firefighter (!), also playing the trumpet.

What I learned about Solo Travel in Istanbul

Solo Travel Surprises after 25 years

I accepted an offer to participate in tours offered by Walks of Turkey when they launched their new tour company this year.

I have traveled solo for years but nothing prepared me for the challenges of Istanbul.
I read the entire Lonely Planet book on Istanbul, had a map of Istanbul, arranged for a car to pick me up at the airport and selected a hotel centrally located that had a restaurant.  Everything was planned.

First surprise was the size of the Istanbul airport.  It is massive but easy to negotiate.
Next the car service driver: no sign with my my name on it.  There were hundreds of drivers and people waiting outside the arrivals exit.   Had always wanted to have a driver waiting for me at the airport.  Alas, no driver.  
The helpful information point staff, called my hotel to find out ‘the driver is stuck in traffic’.  
So off to take a cab.

Negotiating the city:
The maps had NO street names other than the one or two main streets
The streets have no street signs and the one I did find did not match the map!

I was told later this is common in Istanbul.

Turkish is not a simple language and with only a few days before traveling to Istanbul I didn’t even try to learn the typical:  can you tell me how to find……….. or  which metro takes me to ……………where is the bathroom?……………….and many other simple comments.

I don’t expect the world to speak English but I have found in ‘tourist’ areas there are usually a few signs in English to point me in the right direction.

Shoe shine vendors with an elaborate brass stand that folds up.

Never found the tourist office:  I didn’t see a location at the airport so I thought I would start my quest when I arrived in town.   The one office I found was a kiosh that for 2 days pointed me to the river instead of the main square I was trying to find.   The last day I found the train station (which should have housed the tourist office) but it was too late to get detailed instructions on how to take the ferries.

So as I do in every city, I walked.  I walked across the bridge several times so I would not have to negotiate the subway.  Not the actual trains, but how to buy a ticket from a machine!   I walked up the vertical streets where the sidewalk was actually a staircase.  I walked. And the last afternoon I found the main street I had searched for!   Wow!  I think everyone under the age of 50 was walking this multi kilometer avenue:  shopping, eating, stopping to chat.   This is where I would have seen modern Istanbul

Safe:  For a few hours I wandered in the older parts of town nearer the monuments.  Again without a map I thought I would find the Bazaar again.   No luck but I did find streets where the locals shopped. I may have been starred at a few times (the only woman without a scarf) but NO one bothered me or even spoke to me.  Eventually I found the water front again.  My guide had told me all the roads go down hill, and this was a great tool for finding my way back to the bridge.

Cats:  There are many ‘independent’ cats in the city.   People leave food for them and they sit in the sun and nap.   While at the Blue Mosque my group commented on the large group of dogs that seemed to move as a family.  We were told they too were all over the city and usually caused no harm.

This trip was an excellent test for my fall adventure to China.    I was asked in Germany, if I had ever traveled alone before?  Guess I will have to sharpen my skills after all these years on the road solo.

Stumble Stones: Germany Off the Beaten Path

Stumble Stones 
On the cobbled stone streets in Europe, you often look down so you don’t trip on uneven stones.  This precaution has an added benefit that you may also spot stumble stones in quiet locations in towns you are visiting. 

 Stolpersteine, the German word for stumbling stones, are in many cities in Europe.  I had never heard of stumble stones but discovered from my contacts in each of the Off the Beaten Track towns I was visiting as the guest of the German tourist office, where I might find them.   And I continued to look for them during my trip.     It is 70 years since the end of WWII but the memorials are a small reminder of the horror of the Nazi extermination program.

                                                 Gunter Demnig, the artist.  Photo from his web site

A little research opened a wealth of information on this quiet testament to men, women and children who were deported by the Nazi during WWII.      The artist responsible for the creation of the Stumble Stones, Gunter Demnig, born in 1947, started this project in 1995 and continues today.  1

The stolperstein project started in the 1990 as an exhibit commemorating the deportation of gypsies in Cologne  and has grown into a movement to memorialize the people who lived and worked at the locations where the stones are placed.  Thanks to Ms Ederer, in charming Regensburg, I found my first stumble stone.

Small, only 4 inches square, these small stones left a big impression on me.      Each stone is topped by a brass plaque engraved with the name, date of birth, date of deportation and if known the date and place of their death.    Stones are installed in the pavement in front of the buildings where the deported person lived or worked.

Everyone I met on this trip had an extensive knowledge of German history.  I was impressed with the endless details and facts each guide could share with me.   From the history of every church and monument to when the Roman Empire built the structures still standing today     I was concerned about any reaction I would receive if I spoke about WWII to the tour guides I met and the very helpful staff at the tourist offices in each city I visited.  WWII only came up when I was informed how the city was damaged or destroyed by the bombings during WWII.    Discovering the stumbling stones offered an opportunity to talk about WWII.    

The estimates are that more than 6 million Jews died from the Nazi insanity.  Dissidents, gypsies, homosexuals and ‘defectives’ were also targeted for elimination.   Of course every victim will not receive a stone.    Originally all the stones were created and placed at the designated location by the artist.  Now trained assistants help create the many stones requested each year.3    The artists’ web site lists the installations schedules for across Europe.  .   Each plaque costs about 120E and is paid for by a sponsor, relative or family member. 

According to the artist’s website, “As of August, 2014, there have been over 48,000 Stolpersteine (laid) in 18 countries in Europe, making the project the world’s largest memorial”.   Besides Germany, stones have been placed in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, France, Poland, Slovenia, Italy, Norway, Ukraine, Switzerland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.”  1

I have asked a number of well travels associates if they had heard of stumble stones and only one resident in Rome had read about them.      During my trip to Germany, I occasionally spotted one or more installed in front of a building.  They made me stop, read a few names but most important, think.       When you see crowds witness something ‘wrong’ and do nothing to stop it, there is a similarity to what might have happened in the 1930’s as neighbors watched the Gestapo and the SS systematically remove neighbors from their homes and send them ‘away’.   Fear is a powerful tool.  Fear that even a German gentile might also be selected for removal.   The stones bring the sheer massive numbers down to individual victims.

Jesuit church/monastery

                     Very faint and blending in with the pavement, but you can read each name and date of their deaths in the camps

                                         Memorial to the seven martyred priest in Trier

My last stop was Trier, Germany.  Here along with the impressive cathedral, Roman ruins, lively shopping streets my guide showed me the seven stumble stones in front of the Jesuit church.  These stones quietly memorialized seven priests who were sent to the camps and did not return.


Not every town or city is happy to have these memorials added to the public sidewalks.  Some towns have legislated to prevent installation, some stones have been removed or defaced and in some locations the local government has voted not to allow the installation of the stones on public walkways.   Lisa Lampert-Weissig gives an extensive account of the town of Villingen stalwart rejection of stumble stones.   4.     Two Villingen students with the help of their teacher, created virtual stolpersteine sites:  stickers with QR codes that can be read with a smart phone to obtain the same information that a stumble stone would offer.   According to Lampert-Weissig’s story, even these have been defaced.4

While in Lyon, France I found the Resistance and Deportation History Centre :   a museum devoted to the events in Lyon surrounding the occupation by the Nazis and the deportation of Jews and other groups.  This was an arresting exhibit of photos and videos.
 Centre d’Histoire de la Resistance et de la Deportation,Espace Berthelot
14 avenue Berthelot –
 69007 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 (0)4 78 72 23 –

I was the guest of Historic Highlights of Germany for my tour but the opinions and reviews are my own.


Ref:   a Wikipedia list of countries where stumble stones can been found.
1.  Main web site for the artist 

Istanbul Food Tour with Walks of Turkey

Explore The Food Market in Istanbul 

with Walks of Turkey 

On my second day in Istanbul I joined the Food walking tour that would take me across the  water to Kadikoya part of Istanbul that I would not have visited on my own.   

Our guide met us at the convenient location of Starbucks, next to the ferry port.    Without any maps available that indicate streets and important points of interest, I just walked to the water and went along the shore until I found Starbucks.  

I was told later that this is also a good WC stop.  No charge and clean facilities.  IMPORTANT TO NOTE!

I can fully recommend this tour for solo travelers.  Since the tour was a walking tour there was no question of finding an available seat that was not being ‘saved’ for someone.

The quick ferry rides in Istanbul give you a water view that on a sunny day is unsurpassed.

One of our cheerful guides for the day.

A pleasant way to spend day two with ‘new friends’ from Colorado

First stop:  CAKE!


Next we toured all the shops and stalls in the market area. 
 Each specialized in a product or a food.  Our guides explained what everything was, where it was grown and often there was a history story behind some of the food.

Are these dried eggplant?

Intense colors make you want to taste everything

I was fascinated that most of the shops were ONLY staffed by men 

Our group of about 10

This store sold pickles….and other items that were ‘pickeled’
The juice is also available as a beverage!

The meat vendor

The cheese store

Colors are everywhere

Our first stop for a tasting:   

Our talented guide enthusiastically explained what all the fruits and vegetable were.  Some were totally new to me.

My question was answered:  how do you make all this great skewered meats

                   We were encouraged to taste items in most of the shops and then it was on to LUNCH

Lunch gave us a sample of many foods.          Beware the green bean at the top, HOT< HOT HOT

                        I needed a list of what we were eating, but it all tasted great, except that green bean!
We has two sit-down sample meals.  One of the meals offered samples of ‘interesting’ items that two guests were to share a plate.   Other than a buffet or the ‘family style’ restaurants they offer in  southern USA, I have never seen Americans share a plate with a stranger…….
my concern was short lived.    There were two of everything and it was easy to ‘share’.

Not on our tour and but fascinated by this machine that automatically poured batter into metal molds, sent the tray into an oven and baked/cooked  small waffle type cakes.   You added berries and perhaps yogurt or cream to top them off!

We did not stop here, but strange to find Mckie D in the center of such a great assortment of restaurants

Our tour ended with REAL Turkish coffee and the best cake I had on my trip
There is a skill to making this coffee and I shall try to learn this skill next time.


Phone (US): 1-917-310-1554
Our office hours are
Monday through Sunday
from 11:00am to 7:00pm
(UTC +2, Istanbul time) Global

I was the guest of Walks of Turkey for this wonderful day and 
the opinions and photos are my own.

Istanbul, Turkey: the SPICE BAZAAR

            Shopping around the world may be the                        same but only Istanbul has the                                                 BAZAAR

A tour with Walks of Turkey included visiting several of the bazaars.  I could spend the day here learning about life in Istanbul

But first we had lunch.  As a solo traveler I know I could not have selected all these wonderful foods without any assistance.  With countless restaurants in this area it would have been hard to pick one.

                After lunch we visited the bazaar!

First there are several bazaars.  There are many entrances.  Some feature a particular series of products.  Some are very crowded while others have casual shoppers.

 The bazaar is a series of shopping arcades.  Some are more modern and well lite.   The shoppers were mostly locals, mostly women.    There were groups of tourists as well.   Most of the shops’ staff were men.

Our ‘walk’ allowed only moments to stop and browse but we did visit a well know Turkish candy store and sampled many of the different flavors offered:  Turkish Delight

Colored glass globes of different shapes and sizes glowed in several of the stalls.   The effect was similar to giant fire flyies and butterflies swarming over the tables.

Stacks of colorfull pottery bowls and plates.  An easy treasure to slip into your suitcase.

No square inch was spared!   But I expect the shop owner could put his hand on any item a buyer                                                                                 asked for.

Among all the shops and crowds there are small quiet places to sit and have tea.   I need to ask why the tables are short.     And do women also stop for tea?


                                                           An entire wall of gold

Trinkets for tourists

Spices, beans and more

Vendors were set up out in the street too

An entire store just for head scarves

                          Traditional Turkish Candy.   Each sample had a different flavor

I participated in this tour as a guest of Walks of Turkey.  The photos and the opinions are my own.

Istanbul: Walks of Turkey shows you the mystery, the splendor, the sites

Istanbul, Turkey
Is there any other country that evokes such mystery, history and assault to your  senses in color, sounds, smells and tastes?

Day ONE:  Mosques and More
When Walks of Turkey was launched earlier this year I KNEW this way the way I could travel solo and be confident I would see everything and learn more.   The exceptional reputation of Walks of Italy assured me I would have a similar experience in 
exotic Istanbul.

  It was a great pleasure to be invited on two of the tours Walks of Turkey offer and the photos only tell a portion of the wonderful two day events I experienced.   I also learned a great deal about solo travel to exotic locations.

From the roof terrace in my hotel I had a view of everything.  This day started hazy

 The covered colonnade surrounding the interior courtyard of the                                            Blue Mosque

Before 9 am this popular site is less crowded but within an hours hundreds and hundreds of visitors flooded the interior

 We were prepared with scarves to cover our hair (women) and plastic bags were handed out to put our shoes into.  The entire interior was carpeted.  Our guide told us that year ago fine carpets lined the floor, either from donations or gifts.

Our guide Duygu, on day one was amazing and made all the difference.
She knew more history than my brain could absorb but went beyond the Ottoman Empire and told us
about religious customs, beliefs and practices.

No question was off limits but the three (tourists) were respectful:

Why are there only men working in the shops?
How many times a day are the devout called to prayers?
Is there a separate place in the mosque for women?
and on and on…..but she NEVER tired nor did she ever say ‘I don’t know”.

Next stop:  Hagia Sofia:   Here it was not just the architecture but the history of the building that went back centuries.   

                     From the second floor of the Hagia Sofia there were great views of the Blue Mosque

The lighting is very dim but adds to the atmosphere 

There are GIANT fish (perhaps carp) swimming around in the dark

Part of a movie was filmed here and we debated if it was the Dan Brown adaption or a James Bond film.  Either way how they got a speed boat in here is the question.

There was one other couple on this part of the tour.
They were very friendly and did not mind a solo traveler at all.

At the end of the visit you can stop for a beverage at the underground cafe.   

          See part II for a review of the incredible food served during lunch!  Without a ‘tour’ I would never have found the restaurant nor been able to order such a wonderful assortment of great treats.

I was the guest of Walks of Turkey for the full day tour but the opinions and photos are my own.

Learn about yourself on a solo trip

So much to remember from the non stop events over the past 9 weeks.  

First thing I do when I return to the USA is obtain a new passport.
For the second time a customs official has questioned if I was the same person on the passport!

This week he broke out laughing!

I reminded him in 30 years he would be old too.  But he did not believe me.

Other travel surprises:

I do not like unplanned travel!
There were NO seats on the train I tried to reserve this week to take me from Lyon France to Torino, Italy and on to Florence where I left my luggage.

After 5 weeks of train travel this had never happened before

Reservations:  I do not like not knowing where I will sleep the next night.   Of course money solves all problems but when an entire town is booked because of a scout competition, I found I had to move on because ‘there were no rooms at the inn’.

WIFI:   When there was a short term train strike and the hotel had no wifi and there are NO LONGER internet cafes, I had a melt down.   Of course it was solved, but this caused my hosts to ask if ‘I had ever traveled before’?    And this prompted creating a list of what make my travel more difficult.
Now I search for a mobile wifi device that works in all countries.

Slow Travel:
Because of some commitments to do interviews or participate in events, I found myself traveling every 2 days.  That barely gives you time to unpack!  Finding a laundry on short notice is also more difficult.  Here again the problem was solved in Lyon via the internet.  Hotels need to install coin operated laundry facilities.

Down Time
A writing trip that gives you NO time to write is not productive.   Returning from a trip with more than 30 stories to remember and write will keep me chained to the computer for 2 months.  All worth it but reports from the road would make far more sense.

Some things I noticed on this trip:
Everything in Germany was a new experience since I had not been there since my ‘see Europe in 3 weeks trip’ after college.
Traveling in Italy is easier because I know what to expect and how to solve the strike problems or missed trains.
Large train stations are like mini cities and Germany has some wonderful stations.   They offer luggage storage, all kind of food (up until 9pm or even 8pm), clean bathrooms for 1 euro, one offered showers.  And two had shopping malls within 1 block of the station!
Germany has the BEST reservation staff.   Day one I asked for a day ticket to Cologne to ‘test’ my train skill and made reservations for seats on my next travel leg.  When the train was late and I missed the tight connection, the reservation office with BAHN simply found me a seat on the next train without any charge.   Wonderful.  Not so for the BAHN office in Bolzano…………….1 hr wait for a reservation.

Changes since last year:

Women here do not wear 4 inch heels.  Women are now wearing stylish flat shoes

And they walk and walk.  This must contribute to no weight gain.

No one tries to talk with ‘strangers’. Perhaps there are too many of us over the years and they get tired of us

In Italy and Germany most of the sandwiches are one type of pork or another.   If you do not prefer port, travel with the word for chicken or turkey     A very luck encounter with a young woman in Germany who spoke Italian as well as English.  Thanks to her I traveled with the word ‘turkey’ written on an index card.

The isolation of the ‘cell phone’ is getting worse.   No one looks up from that small screen.

This year fewer tourist were blocking the view by holding ipads in the air.

Far more real cameras were seen.   And yes the selfi stick is still out there.  Now they offer one with a 3 foot stand so you don’t have to tire your arm.    Ridiculous.


I sail transatlantic solo every year to work in Italy for and am accustomed to the ‘couple’ atmosphere aboard a ship.
But I was NOT prepared for the masses of bodies pushing and shoving at EVERY event.

With nearly 4,000+ passengers there are NOT enough tables to feed everyone in the food court, there are NOT enough chairs on the pool deck, there are NOT enough seats in the entertainment venues.

When people have to wait the group can become ugly.   An example was the stop in Palma.  Imagine 4,000 people exiting at the SAME time because NCL did not plan a longer stop in Palma.   It looked like a line of prisoners going to the exercise yard.  

When we arrived at the end of this maze the EXIT DOORS WERE LOCKED and the masses piled up pushing and complaining.   Every day aboard this ship feels like you are leaving a soccer stadium.

Promised shuttle buses:  NOTHING PROVIDED

So the solution is to go where the crowds don’t follow:  you are forced to eat early (as if you lived in Florida) or late.   Too late and they have already closed the buffet and you eat cold pizza or burgers.

You watch a movie out on the deck.  Too cold for many people to watch a NOT first run movie.

No one is in the library but it is a midget area next to a bar………only good early in the morning.

There is a quiet zone on the top deck and the ONLY place you don’t hear children having a meltdown.

And of course you can stay in your room

Why I took the trip?  The price was so low it was more cost efficient that staying in a hotel the last week of my trip…..of course I imagined I could work the entire trip, sure that didn’t happen

Off the Beaten Track in Germany

Munster:   Famous for Beer, Bikes, Churches NOT Cheese

There is so much to see on this whirlwind tour of Western Germany’s towns that may not be on the list of top tourist locations.      My visit started in Dusseldorf with a side trip to Cologne.  I wanted to test my solo skills of navigating the train system without any knowledge of German.  
Stories on the ‘woman in the tower’, the oldest cake store and the bike garage to follow!

Munster:   My first adventure was two filled days exploring this busy college town north of Dusseldorf.  There appears to be more bikes than cars and I found there are ‘bike rules’ that give bikers the right of way.    
I explored by foot and the helpful ‘hop on hop off bus’ that gave me a city overview on a rainy morning.  The tourist office in the center of town gives you great maps and information on what to do and what to see.   

The cloister at the Dom (cathedral) in Munster

Ms Brugete Nygkebgiff, a licensed tour guide in Munster agreed to forgo the ‘bike tour’ for a fast walk that showed me all of Munster and made many suggestions for food and activities that a solo traveler might enjoy.    The library in Munster is a perfect place to take a break from the weather and hours of walking.    There is a WC in the lower level, public computers on the second floor and a lovely café I tried on my second day in Munster.    A great spot for individual travelers or groups.

Juliane Unkelbach with Munster Marketing hosted my dinner at a wonderful beer hall!  This beer was GREAT and although I had to ask Juliane what each dish was called, it was all wonderful.

Who said German food was all sauerkraut and hot potato salad?  And please note the size of the water glass and beer glass

-I enjoyed  “Kalbsrückensteak westfälische Art”.

 large plate of vegetables was inluded

Westfälischer Pfefferpotthast  

The owner of Pinkus Muller

The entire staff was very welcoming and a solo traveler could easily enjoy a meal here.   Later in the evening (after 8pm) the restaurant did fill up.   They must come for the food or the beer?

Our beer named “Pinkus Spezial”.  This was a very smooth beer that is nothing like “beer’ at home.   It was easy to ask for another!

My visit to Munster was hosted by Munster Marketing but all opinions are my own.    I will surly return to Munster, perhaps for the Christmas market!

Off the Beaten Path in Germany

Going outside your comfort zone is difficult
 for many of us.

As a solo traveler I have challenges every day I am on the road exploring and experiencing new places.

My Italian blog, Home to Italy rewards me with several months each year in a country that has many secrets to share with this Italian American.  

In April I will return to Germany for the first time in  years.  My short previous visit was part of the college ’21 days’ to see all of Europe trip.  One quick stop and a great train ride south to Switzerland.

This adventure covers 8 cities considered off the beaten track:
Munster, Koblenz, Wiesbaden, Wurzburg, Regensburg, Augsburg, Heidelberg and Trier.     

If you know Germany and can suggest the oldest cake store in town, what hand made product the town is known for or even a tradition/festival I can experience, please share.

Watch for posts from Germany in April!   A new country, a new experience, a big step outside the comfort zone.  I do not speak German!

German Trains: So many rules!

The German Train System:   will I need a PHD to understand all this?

After I received the following instructions on HOW to use the train in German, I thought this may help other solo travelers.
Is this your first time on German trains? If yes, here are some useful instructions:

Duesseldorf train station is as busy as an airport terminal
1. The track, from which the train leaves is already known. Other than in the States, where you sometimes don’t know, from which track the train will leave. If there are track changes (happening very few times), just watch the crowds. If they are moving all of a sudden after someone announced something, just ask someone why!
2. I will also include an intermediate stop list, which you will receive in Muenster. This is important, so you know, when to get up and get ready to disembark the train. Trains in Germany usually don’t stop for more than 2-3 minutes at the train station.
3. If you really get lost and there is nobody who is able to help you, either walk to the German Rail Service Center, which is located in every train station, or call me.
4. You will travel 1st class. This is really convenient in German trains. Always watch for a yellow line above the windows. That indicates: Here is first class. 
5. You should always be at least 10 minutes earlier on the platform. As I said, the train won’t wait for more than 2-3 minutes. There are two ways, how to know, where the first class coaches will be: 1. There are digital information signs that give you information about the train. Sometimes they show you, where first and second class is. To understand it, you need to know, that platform in Germany are devided into sections: normally A to F.
2. There is also sign somewhere on the platform called “Wagenstandanzeiger” meaning “in which section stops my coach”
Then you also have to watch for the right coach. They have numbers. This is important for your reservation.
Thanks to
Historic Highlights of Germany  for this great information

Wait to see if I have 7 exciting train trip next week!

Diagram of cars for arriving trains: find your car and get on in minutes

River Cruise with solo cabins

New ship with SOLO cabins for a River Cruise!

Could this be the year for a SOLO
River Cruise???

LA Times article shared with me by John Lang

Travel Cruises

On this river cruise ship, solo travelers get their own rooms

The MS Birdsong river cruise ship features 18 cabins for single travelers — without an extra charge
Good news for single travelers who like to cruise but don’t like to pay a single supplement. The MS Birdsong, a river cruise ship set to debut March 2016, is to feature 18 cabins for solo passengers at no extra cost.

MS Birdsong staterooms for singles are on the middle and upper decks and have French balconies, according to a news release from Tom Harper River Journeys. Cabins cover 132 square feet and have pullout sofa beds.
The company’s new ship is to offer eight- to 13-day tours along Europe’s main rivers.
Other features include an expanded fitness and wellness center, a sauna, a wine bar, a two-story atrium lobby and free Wi-Fi on board.
Land excursions, walking tours, a cocktail reception, gratuities, port charges, wine and beer with meals and other extras are included on Tom Harper trips. (Note that prices for extensions before or after cruises do charge a single supplement.)

The company emphasizes small-group travel, with land tours limited to 24 passengers.
Cabins are now on sale for nine cruises aboard the MS Birdsong in 2016. Prices start at $1,799 per person for six-night cruises on the Main and Rhine rivers in Germany.
Info: Tom Harper River Journeys, (855) 464-2773

Thanks to John Lang for sharing this.  John can book sea or river cruises for you.
John Lang
The Cruise People at CruiseShipCenters North Durham
Toronto 416.900.0889
North America 800.961.5536
Cell 647.299.7447
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