Life or something like it: The travel bugs bites in Europe

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Column by Suzanne Darland

By Suzanne Darland

About 35 years ago, some friends of ours got bit by the travel bug.

They went on a summer missions trip to Scotland, and on the way home took a detour through London and Paris.

That did it. Over the years they’ve been to Europe about 15 times, at least 10 times to Germany. They’ve seen the Oberammergau Passion Play, staged every ten years in a village an hour south of Munich, four times. Half the town participates in some way, following a vow made in the 1630s that they would stage the play if God would spare their townspeople from the Black Plague.

Gene and Anne have been bugging us to go with them, too. And we almost did last year, even putting down a deposit for a May tour through Germany, Austria and Switzerland that would have included seeing the famous play. But then we realized we had three graduations that month among our sons and daughter-in-law and couldn’t swing it.

So this summer we had no more excuses for not accompanying them. Our friends made the plane reservations, and then we got together a couple of months ago to plan where we’d go. We felt very comfortable going overseas to someplace we’d never been because our friends had been so often and knew good places to stay and eat, sights worth seeing and the best methods to get there.

And as we look back on our nine days in southern Germany and Austria, we feel like we got a smattering of history, scenery, people and food — a “best of” tour of that part of Europe. We saw a lot — and ate a lot — but weren’t rushing from place to place. We had time to sit in outdoor cafes, drink in the atmosphere and the coffee and talk to locals and other tourists.

We flew into Munich and over two days visited a 1700s palace, the famous Hofbrauhaus with its oom-pah band, an art museum and Dachau, Germany’s first work camp and the one others were modeled after. We stood in Marienplatz with its Glockenspiel clock where Hitler tried to overthrow the German government and was jailed and wrote part of “Mein Kampf.”

We rented an Audi and drove the Autobahn to Saltzburg, Austria, where we stayed in the Altstadt, the Old Town. Our hotel was 600 years old and we ate at St. Peter Stiftskeller which claims to be the oldest restaurant in central Europe, dating to 803 (Charlemagne ate there). The next night we ate in the Hohensalzburg fortress built on a hill above the town; it celebrated its 900th anniversary in 1977. Talk about historic preservation. Our old buildings barely go back 150 years.

We made a side trip to Oberndorff, where “Silent Night” was written as a last-minute guitar accompaniment when the church organ was out of commission. We went to Hallstadt, a picturesque town nestled in the mountains above the Main River. And we visited crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria’s retreat palace, Linderhof. An admirer of French King Louis XV, he built a small palace modeled after Versailles, with inlaid wood floors and stylized blue and white porcelain chandeliers, candleholders and mirror frames, ornate with curlicues and flowers. But he was obsessed with composer Richard Wagner, creating outbuildings and a man-made cave complete with plaster stalactites, a heated pool and shell-shaped boat, all modeled after scenes from Wagner operas.

And we stopped at beautiful, ornate churches with lush paintings in domed ceilings, two-story stained glass windows, heavily carved wooden altarpieces and row upon row of organ pipes.

We stayed in Oberammergau, on an “off” year a quiet town filled with shops selling detailed carvings of nativity scenes and traditional German figures. Stucco buildings all over town were painted with scenes from German fairy tales or the life of Christ.

Our last stay was in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a preserved medieval town surrounded by a wall that visitors could climb up to and walk along. With exposed beam buildings, window boxes of geraniums and cobblestone streets, the town was charming, and we tried to imagine the marketplatz in the 1400s bustling with merchants and travelers from across Europe.

We also ate our way across southern Germany, sampling sausages, fried schnitzel, and spatzle noodles at different restaurants. In May, white asparagus, spargle, is in season, and we ate our share of soups, pasta and strudel that incorporated that German vegetable.

Breakfasts in Germany were appealing spreads of German hard rolls, cheeses, lunchmeats, sausages, eggs (scrambled, fried and soft-boiled), yogurt with dried fruit and granola toppings, jams and juices. We ate lunches and dinners outdoors most of the time in restaurants’ enclosed courtyards lined with flowers and trees or at sidewalk cafés along the street.

And we quickly learned the supersized paper cups of coffee Americans carry around are not to be found in Germany. Ordering coffee in a café there meant a small cup and saucer would be placed before you, three quarters full. And free refills were unheard of. So we sipped and savored the strong brew, fresh pressed so there was froth on top. And since cappuccinos piled high with whip tended to be priced about the same, we often ordered those.

We had a glorious time, our senses filled with new experiences, new vistas and new tastes.

After all these years, we just might have gotten bitten by that same bug, Europterida travelus.