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A Test Weekend

June 1 to 4
Written June 2 to 7

This is a very long diary.  You can jump ahead via these links:
Friday Saturday Sunday Monday

Dear Friends and Family,

This is a weekend to test our travel skills again, our two-people-for-a-long-time-in-a-little-car travel.   We plan to start traveling in July, but felt we needed to test the whole process.  At least that was our excuse for a  long weekend to Erfurt, north of us in the former East Germany.

FRIDAY, Pack and hit the road

The idea was to pretend we were going for several weeks.  We are each allotted one trunk, me in front and Marianne in the back.  The Boxster is really great for road trips because, for its size, it has lots of space.  Now, is it enough for months on end?

In any event, we did fill the trunks and decided that Marianne would be the day's driver. (A practice from the old days: one driver per day.)  Of course, we needed one last home tradition: breakfast at Burkhard's Bakery.

Our chosen route was not an autobahn, but just a series of state highways.  Things were still pretty busy, especially for our small car.  Our first goal was Kronach, a charming, walled village, mid-way to Erfurt.  The town itself is divided into lower and upper parts, both old but the upper square was the most thoroughly restored.  It was a quiet day, and we had time, so Marianne did a bit of window shopping.
Towering above the upper town is the Rosenberg citadel, started a thousand years ago and reaching its peak in the mid-17th Century. It is a spectacular site/sight and on this Friday, we were almost alone.  Walking through the massive entrance, we did feel the history of the place.
We saved the inside tour of the castle for another visit, but did go for the Franconian art museum.  The collection of mostly-religious art, ranged from this 14th Century coat-of-arms to a series of Nuremberg-origin paintings and carvings from"~1500".  I was particularly struck by the painted relief carving of two women.  Seeing the catch-lights in the eyes, I have to believe the painting is much more modern than 1500, but who knows, maybe those Nurembergers knew about reflected light 500 years ago.  Franconians are pretty smart, you know.
After our two-hour detour in Kronach, we hit the road, expecting a quick drive to Jena, before hitting Erfurt.  However, a series of road constructions delayed us so long that we gave up on any additional stops, except for lunch.  For that, we stopped at this garish red guest house, and ordered the lunch special: a full dinner, with soup, salad, excellent meat loaf, and top quality "klose", or potato dumplings.  All for under 7 euros.  What a deal.

Eventually, we did make it to Erfurt, found our hotel, found parking, checked-in, rested, and hit the streets.  It was still a gray day, so good pictures would have to wait, but we did manage a dinner of wine and snacks -- what passes for health food sometimes, mental health.

We will leave a full tour of Erfurt for tomorrow and Sunday.

SATURDAY, Not up early, but start eventually

In our European travels, we joke about seeing the same thing everywhere: squares, churches, castles, and museums.  Germans and Germany does this set as well as anyone, anywhere and Erfurt held up the tradition.  We didn't know too much about the capital of the state of Thuringen before our day started, but we learned as our Saturday went along.

We left the hotel early, and headed into the city.  We saw squares, churches, a fortress and, finally, a nice little Erfurt Municipal Museum.  We have gone overboard, again, on pictures, so I'll keep words to a minimum.

Town Scenes -- Squares

From hotel, through shopping squares and fountains, and being passed by a beer wagon.
Erfurt has a number of grand Art Nouveau buildings from before the change of the 19th to 20th Centuries.  Today, the streets sponsored a running race, a Cajun band, and people just enjoying the warm weather.
Parts of downtown have been rebuilt in the new united Germany, and parts not.  No, we are not tempted.  Never again.

Dom -- Church
Later in the day, we learned that Erfurt is a city of churches, with 26 still in active use.  The largest is the Dom, or Cathedral, and it sits on the edge of the old town, just below the Petersberg fortress.
The Dom is on the left and Saint Severi is the smaller church on the right.  Inside, the Dom is a fine example of European churches, places we've seen plenty of, but we still enjoy the feel of history.
The Erfurt Dom has history on every edge.  There's a new floor plaque from a visit by the (German) pope and there is a guarded niche holding relics of St. Boniface, the 8th Century founder of many German churches, including those of Erfurt.  In neighboring St. Severi, it's the organ that is the most famous attraction.
The Dom and St. Severi may be most dramatic from the fortress hill.
I experimented a bit with high-dynamic-range (HDR) pictures to capture the puffy clouds.  The technique can be subtle, or not so.  In my view, both can be fun.

Petersberg -- Castle (German website)

European cities often have many churches, but generally just a single, dominating castle and so it is with Erfurt.  The setting does dominate the city and we enjoyed the walk up, but there was little to see on top, except for a budget movie being shot.  We did manage to work in a very pleasant lunch from the patio of "The Glass Hut" , a small restaurant enjoying the best view in town.

City History -- Museum

History museums in small European cities and towns can be less than enthralling.  Our two-day tram pass allowed us free entrance to the Erfurt example and I kept expectations modest.  However, the Erfurt Municipal History Museum turned out to be a nice experience, not too big and containing real examples of history.
On the outside, the museum building was being restored in the colorful paint style that is apparently historically accurate.  Inside, the entrance room was dominated by blood red archer shields.  One display case had a bit of an odd assortment: engraved sword, leg irons, and bones of three severed hands.  I wonder what the story is.
The other displays were a wide assortment.  There was an old dentist's chair (Mamal-- this is for you). A model of the city itself. A stone from the old Jewish community in Erfurt, originally one of the largest Jewish communities in Germany.  The model of the city was several hundred years old, but this book was 8th Century, hundreds of years older than that.

So, that was Saturday.  I hope Sunday is slower because otherwise I will run out of film.

SUNDAY  -- Driving excursion to Jena

We finished our leisure breakfast, a Trotter slow-start custom, and headed east to Jena.  Even staying off the autobahn, the trip was just a half-hour or so.   The town reminded us of Kiev, with the clear marks of Soviet utilitarian architecture mixed in with 19th and early 20th Century buildings.  Pre-Soviet is more interesting, especially now that the German government has sponsored reconstruction and restoration.

Still, Jena seemed like a plain town, albeit a university and science center.  In particular, it has been a center of research, development, and manufacture of optics.  It remains home to the famous Zeiss optics company and our one goal was the Optik Museum.  Unfortunately, our tourism research had not noticed that it was closed on Sunday.  Darn.

In fact, virtually nothing was open.  We walked through a very nice shopping center, the Goethe Galerie, but could only look in windows and walkway displays.  One display was of 2012 news photos and it was a sobering reminder of problems in the world, from tsunamis to human rights violations around the world.  At least, it is all classified as news, and not normal.

Our only other goal was lunch at Cafe Stilbruch Restauration.  We'd read good reviews and when we got there all three floors of the place were packed, a good sign.  We managed to snag a nice corner table as a family was leaving, another good sign.  That was the last good sign.  The food was ordinary, not bad, but not to write about.  Oh well, it gave Marianne a chance to sketch and me to try some indoor pictures.  I think her sketches worked better.

Architecture, good, bad and under development.  (Note bike.)
Goethe Galerie Shopping Center
Cafe Stilbruch and another slow meal.
We left Jena not impressed, but that may have had more to do with the gray, rainy weather than the town itself.  Maybe we will come back, when the town is more visitor-friendly.

d120603_20_Buchenwald.jpgOn the drive back, we came to a sign directing to the Buchenwald Memorial Village.  Our tour books had not even mentioned the memorial to the Nazi-era (& Soviet-era) concentration camp.  We turned off the main road, north of Weimar, and discovered a large park, with monuments and reconstructions of the sad era.  Unfortunately, the rain kept us from properly touring, so we resolved to make another trip.

From here, it was a short drive back to our hotel and an afternoon spent lounging around, just watching Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee.  Their weather was even worse than ours, but the crowds were British, immune to such problems.

d120604_91_dinner.jpg For dinner, we splurged with pasta, pizza and Italian wine.  Good comfort food on a rainy day.

And tomorrow?  A trip home, but what might we see on the way?

MONDAY, Home via a famous castle

On Monday, we had the whole day to make what should be a three-hour drive home.  What to do?  After investigating various local attractions (castles, churches, villages and car factories), we saw that Wartburg Castle, "the best preserved secular building north of the Alps", was on our way.

Despite the gray clouds and occasional drizzle, I ended up making an excess of photos - again.  Oh well, I'll let them tell our story.

The Wartburg castle sits atop a 4,000 foot (1250 m) mountain, dominating the region.
Inside, the small courtyard shows the results of continuous reconstruction for almost a thousand years.  The oldest place is the garden that now holds flowers and modern statues (Is that statue a tourist being dragged out?)
Inside, the tour starts with an explanation of changes in the building from the 11th Century through today.  Little remains that has not been rebuilt.  The knight's grave stone and the cute column-top decoration are close to original.  This wood chest is the oldest furniture, from the 13th Century.
Kitchens always gather crowds, but the most elaborate room may have been the St. Elizabeth Room.  The stone bird decorating the column is reputedly 900-years old but the colorful mosaics just one hundred.
The top level of the castle is devoted to the "Palas", the large meeting hall that was the model for the gathering hall in the more-famous Neuschwanstein Castle, "the Disneyland castle".  The Duke's bedroom was also on this high level, no doubt for the view.
Of course, the most famous resident of Wartburg was Martin Luther.  The castle museum still displays his little traveling chest and the room where he and his wife translated the bible is prominent on the guided tour.
All this history made us hungry, so we stopped at the Hotel Am Schloss Wartburg for a late lunch.  The setting was spectacular and the lunch was an interesting assortment of small dishes, local food, but with imagination.  If you want to stay overnight in one of the 38 rooms of the hotel, the price is 382 euros - per person.  That's about a thousand dollars per couple.
So, that was Wartburg Castle, a great stop.

Some websites, for further study.
Wartburg Website
Wartburg Castle (Wiki history)
UNESCO World Heritage

After leaving the castle, we headed home.  Our drive was extended a bit when trying to get through a village called Meiningen.  For unknown reasons, the autobahn had been closed and a zillion cars and trucks routed through town.  Germany does do traffic jams better than most places.

Eventually, we made it home, glad to be there after our "test trip", but did we learn anything?  Sure, we learned that we can still travel in our small car, that we enjoy being with each other, and that slow, unplanned travel suits us.  And we were reminded that Germany is filled with squares, churches and, especially, castles.

Next trip: France.  For a few weeks.  In July, when it will be warmer!

Stay tuned.

John and Marianne


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