Three weeks in Europe: A holiday report

So, I’m back. I’ve had a wonderful time, doing most of the things we planned, and I took lots of photographs of which the best appear in this report.

The flight over on August 20/21 was with Malaysia Airlines, and we flew from Adelaide to Frankfurt via Malaysia. I watched this inflight movie. The return flight on September 9/10 was with Qantas, and we flew from London to Adelaide via Hong Kong and Melbourne. I watched this inflight movie.

Sunday August 21

As planned, Dad and I spent the first few days in Stuttgart, while Rebecca and Ellis did their own thing elsewhere in Germany. Neither Dad nor I speak any German, and it was often when catching trains that the language barrier made itself most felt.

Our itinery in Stuttgart was largely governed by the fact that most museums in the area are closed on Mondays, and small museums tend to be closed on both Mondays and Tuesdays. Sunday, our arrival day, was therefore destined to be busy, and we essentially hired a taxi driver as a chauffeur!

Thus we come to our first Stuttgart tourist destination, the Lapidarium: a garden containing miscellaneous statues and other relics — some dating to Roman times, others more recent. Essentially a collection of whatever survived the World War Two bombings more-or-less intact. The driver had never heard of it, and there’s only a tiny little sign to let you know it’s there, but we had the right address and we found it soon enough.

Here are some photographs from the lapidarium, which I recommend visiting if you’re ever in Stuttgart.

Here is the inscription for the statue in the last photograph above.

After that we visited the Playing Card Museum, which was even more difficult to find, being downstairs in a multifunctional building also serving as community sports centre and junior school. All signage was in German. If you’re interested in the history of playing cards you’ll find better pictures on websites like this than anything I could have photographed, but I did snap this image of an old machine for printing cards.

I wouldn’t list the Playing Card Museum as a Stuttgart highlight, but it was here that I obtained my first souvineer: a pack of Ganjifa (traditional Indian) cards. With rules in German, of course.

Next we travelled to Weil Der Stadt, a town west of Stuttgart best known as the birthplace of Johannes Kepler. There are two museums in the town, one dedicated to Kepler with signage in both German and English, and one about the town in general with signage in German only. They are both very good by the standards of small, local museums, but I don’t have any photographs. Partly because the rooms are very small and to take pictures would have been to risk getting in people’s way, and partly because the exhibits, while interesting, are not particularly photogenic.

The Kepler Museum contains copies of Kepler’s various publications among other things, though I was mildly disappointed that none of his poetry was on display. I can’t say I learned anything I didn’t already know, but with the jetlag and everything I was too tired to take in much. Regardless, I enjoyed the museum. Later I lent Dad my copy of The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler (a famous book with lots of information about Kepler) which I had brought with me.

Although I have no photographs from the museums, I do have some pictures of the town. First, some shots of the market square and its statue of Kepler. (The third photo is taken from an upstairs window of the town museum).

Next, a monument in the centre of town containing various metal sculptures around a water feature. The second photo is a close-up of one such sculpture, described as a Schellenteufel. This name intrigued me because our friends in Germany are the Schellenberger family and I wanted to know the difference between a schellenberger and a schellenteufel. (“There’s a very big difference!” Anna later told me in that tone of mock indignation she does so well.) Just so you know, schellen refers to a type of bell, and teufel means devil.

Finally from Weil Der Stadt, an outdoor cafe where we were pestered by wasps. The wasps didn’t do any harm, but they sure made me nervous. The food was good.

Overall, I would recommend Weil Der Stadt and its museums as a place to visit. After finishing there, we took the train back to Stuttgart.

Monday August 22

On Monday we hired a car capable of English language autonavigation and headed west for the Black Forest. Our first destination was Monbachtal, a valley reknowned for its fairytale scenery. I recommend a visit, but you do have to walk for a while to get away from civilisation because of the extensive camping facilities etc around the entrance. Pictures:

Our next stop on the southbound journey through the forest was the ruins of the Hirsau Monastery, once the biggest monastery in Germany. Here’s a photograph showing the ruins in the centre of town, followed by a close-up from the monastery.

To be honest, I found the monastery a bit of a disappointment because of all the modern-day fences, ribbons, and other things that spoil the view of the medieval building. (Case in point, when I took the second photograph above I was actually standing between two small tin sheds, leaning outward.)

Here are some more pictures taken from Hirsau in order to show generic Black Forest scenery.

The southernmost point in our Black Forest excursion, prior to our return to Stuttgart, was the town of Calw. Herewith a couple of snaps of its market square.

Tuesday August 23

Thanks to a personal recommendation from Paul Willis, the well-known Australian palaeontologist and science communicator, our destination on Tuesday was the Urwelt-Museum Hauff, a fossil museum in Holzmaden, east of Stuttgart.

There were actually two fossil museums, at exactly the same location but opposite sides of the road. On one side is the larger Urwelt-Museum Hauff, and on the other the Urweltsteinbruch Fischer and its accompanying quarry. I couldn’t figure out the relationship between the two museums, whose subject matter and scope are indistinguishable, but they appear to be independent judging from the fact that you have to pay separately to enter each. (Also, one of them tried to deny the existence of the other.)

My photographs below come from both museums. I don’t see any value in recording which are from which, but I’ll tell you if you ask. First, my indoor photographs, mostly of fossils:

Next, my outdoor photographs, mostly of dinosaur models:

All signage is in German. A handheld audio device is available at the Urwelt-Museum that gives English-language descriptions of selected exhibits, but my advice is not to bother. It is very verbose, spending too much time introducing characters instead of getting to the point. You’re better off travelling with someone who knows something about fossils and can tell you what to be impressed by (Dad’s favourite exhibit was the giant crinoid colony, which I did not photograph).

After returning from Holzmaden, we considered visiting Stuttgart’s own natural history museum, but we couldn’t find it! After giving up on that, we returned the hired car, reunited with Rebecca and Ellis at the station and took the train to Salzburg, Austria.

While in Austria (both in Salzburg and later in Saalfelden), Dad and I shared our hotel rooms. I didn’t like this much, as I’m fond of my privacy at night time, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Except for the snoring.

Wednesday August 24

In Salzburg, our original plan had been to tour the region with Bob’s Special Tours, but we heard they were unavailable (I don’t think anyone told us why not), so we toured with Panorama Tours instead. Here’s an old blog post about something I did last time I was in Salzburg.

Our tour of choice took us to the Eagle’s Nest, which is most famous for its significance in World War Two, but I don’t care about that. I just care about the view. Watch:

Incidentally, travelling on the same bus tour were some people from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who were on tour professionally and doing some personal touring on the side.

Later in the day we went on a river cruise tour of the Salzach, and I took the following photographs before my camera batteries went flat.

In the evening we left Salzburg and took the train to Saalfelden, where old friends and new were waiting for us.

Thursday August 25

Here are pictures from the hotel in Saalfelden. The second is a balcony view from the room where I slept, and was taken early in the morning on the day we left. I would have liked to get a picture with more sunlight, but I ran out of time.

Near the hotel was a cable car going up a mountain. Here are some views from inside a pod, both up and down. The fifth picture below is a portrait of Rebecca, my sister, and Ellis, her husband.

Here are some photos showing what we found at the top of the mountain.

The reason we visited Europe in the first place was for the wedding of Anna Schellenberger to Axel Jakob. The Schellenberger family are old friends of ours; Rebecca first met them on an exchange program at school, and they came over here most recently for her and Ellis’s wedding (which I blogged about here and here). Their wedding would be in too parts: a civil ceremony in Austria, where Axel’s family comes from, and a church ceremony in Germany, where Anna’s family comes from. In this narrative we have now reached the point where the civil ceremony took place, in Saalfelden in the afternoon of Thursday August 25.

Here are a couple of photographs from the ceremony. (You can find a couple more by adjusting the number at the end of the .jpg file names.)

Following that, we went to Axel’s parents’ place for something to eat. As shown in the following photograph, a young woman played for us on a traditional Austrian instrument (I believe it’s a type of hammered dulcimer). She didn’t speak any English, or else I would have asked if I could have a go.

Here we are eating in the garden.

And here are pictures from our evening meal, back at the hotel.

Friday August 26

We left Austria early in the morning and travelled by train to western Thuringia where the Schellenbergers live, in the village of Neubrunn, near Meiningen, a small distance inside the old East Germany. Anna’s father, Martin, is the Burgomeister there, and here are some pictures from an evening party in the local Rathaus.

The third photo shows the aftermath of the traditional smashing of crockery, supposed to bring good luck for the bride and groom.

While in the area, we stayed in a converted castle in nearby Kühndorf.

Saturday August 27

This was the day of the second wedding ceremony, held in Neubrunn. Pictures follow. (As before, you can find a couple of additional ones by adjusting the index number at the end of the .jpg file names.)


Below on the left, decorations, and on the right, debris. No wedding album is complete without a picture of used confetti on the ground (compare this one I took at Rebecca’s wedding).

People lining up afterwards for a hug with the bride:

Post-wedding meals were held at the castle which was also our hotel. Pictures of the castle:

A very extensive afternoon tea:

Next up, photos of the main reception meal. On the left, Martin giving a speech. On the right, a harpist playing in the background. (I’m disappointed in the quality of the right-hand photo, but it was taken in dim light, and I couldn’t get a better angle without drawing undue attention.) As honoured guests from Australia, we were seated on the front table along with the families of the bride and groom.

One item from the meal that was new to me was basically a glass containing a couple of scoops of gelati with champagne poured in. Interesting. Tea was followed by supper, in another room, with dancing and all, but the lights there were far too dim for photography.

Sunday August 28

This was mostly a quiet day with the Schellenberger family. Here we are having coffee in their back yard. Later we ate leftover wedding cake at the same table.

Anna and Axel then opened their wedding presents from us. For my part, I gave them copies of Zazzle products featuring photographs my parents took last time they were in Germany. To be specific, two copies of my Neuschwanstein Castle Christmas ornament, and two copies of a coffee mug featuring the three Bavarian Alps photographs from here (no longer for sale).

Later in the day we went for a walk, during which my camera ran out of batteries for the second time, but I snapped a few pictures before it did. On the left, a view toward Neubrunn. On the right, one of the chairs, common in Germany, that hunters sit in while waiting for their prey. I remember these well from last time I was in the area, over ten years ago.

Monday August 29

This was our last full day in Germany. We did some shopping in Meiningen and among other things bought a new suitcase for me. The one I’d been using until then was almost as old as I am, and had no wheels. We decided I needed a suitcase with wheels, though at first I was reluctant because I feared that a differently shaped box would mean having to learn a different way of packing.

Here’s a photo of my old suitcase, which we deliberately left behind in the castle/hotel. It has sentimental value. On the side, not visible in the picture, are the words “Level One Dressing Up” written by me when I was five years old and using it to store fancy dress costumes (this seemed like a good idea at the time).

Later, we (the Australian crew plus Lukas) went for a walk in the hills above Kühndorf. Here’s a photograph from the walk.

After lunch, we waved goodbye to Anna and Axel as they drove away. Until next time…

In the afternoon, we visited the museum at Point Alpha on the former east/west border. I don’t have any photographs; in my opinion war history is not particularly photogenic.

Tuesday August 30

We took the train to Frankfurt and then flew to London, whereupon we had a late lunch in a restaurant and then went to visit a friend. I would have liked half an hour of recuperation time at the hotel, but my family outvoted me.

The friend we visited was Catherine Desson, who took us for a walk in London’s Bushy Park. I took this photograph of some deer, who were well accustomed to humans.

While in London, Rebecca and Ellis stayed with another friend, Suzanne Marlow, while Dad and I stayed in a hotel. This was simply a result of limited bedrooms, and my wish to sleep in a separate room whenever possible. I will gloss over the issues we had trying to get an Internet connection at the hotel, which were considerable but wouldn’t make for a particularly thrilling read.

Wednesday August 31

As was often the case, Rebecca and Ellis did one thing while Dad and I did another. In the morning we visited the Cartoon Museum, which I would not particularly recommend. Not my thing, really.

Then we visited the British Museum, which is a whole other story — there was enough time for a cursory glance at the ground floor only, but I could have spent all day there! I don’t have any photographs because it’s just impossible to capture the spirit of the place with a few snaps, but I did buy a souvineer: a coffee mug with characters from the Rosetta Stone.

In the afternoon, we went to a performance of Les Miserables at the Queen’s Theatre. This was on Dad’s London wishlist. It was enjoyable as musicals go, but not something I would have picked as a holiday activity.

Thursday September 1

The previous day we’d gone separate ways because Rebecca and Ellis had people to visit. On this day we went separate ways because of bad organisation, but perhaps that was for the best. They visited Greenwich today, which Dad and I would do on Friday.

Dad and I visited the British Library, which I would enthusiastically recommend. We started with the Out Of This World science fiction exhibition, which runs until 25 September, and followed it with the adjacent Sir John Ritblat Gallery of historically significant books. Photographs are prohibited in the library, so naturally I don’t have any.

The science fiction exhibition explores common themes in science fiction as well as its historical roots and other ties to wider literature. I bought a copy of the official exhibition book, as well as a translation of “Selected Dialogues” by Lucian, an Ancient Greek satirist cited in the exhibition as one of those historical roots.

Among the treasures of the Ritblat Gallery are the often fragmentary remains of significant editions of religious texts, some early publications in science (mostly of the “stamp-collecting” variety), original hand-written musical scores by famous composers, and a lot more besides.

After the Library we went back to the British Museum for about an hour and a half, where I explored some of the upstairs rooms. I have to say that the British Museum and the British Library were my two favourite places from this London visit, though of course one must also visit less cognitively-demanding locations to avoid overloading the brain.

In the evening we had tea at Suzanne’s place. Present were Dad and me, Rebecca and Ellis, Suzanne, and Christine Venning, another friend who we’d see more of in the week to come. There I received news about something that will be the subject of a separate announcement on this blog.

Friday September 2

Dad and I took the train to Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum and Royal Observatory. Here’s a picture of the grounds, taken from the stairs leading to the observatory.

I didn’t enjoy Greenwich as much as I thought I would. I’m not saying it isn’t good, but it doesn’t compare to the wow factor of, say, the British Museum. There’s a fair bit of trivia to be learnt there, for example I hadn’t previously known that whips during the era of the black slave trade were often made from hippopotamus hide.

At the souvineer shop, I bought a keyring which, when the button is pressed, projects the current time in a beam of red light (the time, in digital format, is cast as a shadow in the beam). [Update: Unfortunately this wasn’t well-made and didn’t last.]

Instead of taking the train back to central London, we took the ferry up the Thames. Here’s a scene from the boat:

Back in London, we went for a ride on the London Eye. Last time I was in London, the Eye had been built but had not yet opened to the public. Here are my pictures:

In the evening we went to one of the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall, namely Prom 63 with music by Liszt and Mahler. This was another thing on Dad’s wishlist. Summary: Mahler won, Liszt lost.

Meanwhile, Rebecca and Ellis prepared for their return to Australia. For the remainder of our holiday, it would just be Dad and me.

Saturday September 3

Didn’t do anything that would make for good reading. Took the train from London to Southampton. Explored Southampton streets. Poked our noses into archaeology museum. Not much else.

Sunday September 4

Our reason for going to Southampton was so that, over the following days, Dad could attend the 44th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists. Today the Association organised a geological tour of the Isle of Wight, which I joined.

The geologists watched the rocks, and I watched the geologists who were watching the rocks. Here they are on the beach, with weather that may look atmospheric in photographs but was really just wet.

We went to the Dinosaur Isle museum for a lecture and a look round. I bought a souvineer there: a small soapstone carving, with elephants and trees, made in India. Nothing to do with dinosaurs, but it’s nice. I think the reason they sell it is simply that the Isle of Wight has the same kind of soapstone. Here’s a scene from the museum:

We then visited another beach, during which time the weather changed, as you can see by comparing the following “before” and “after” photographs below. Also, in the right-hand picture, notice the ship on the horizon.

The next two pictures show, on the left, assembled geologists again with Isle of Wight scenery in the background, and on the right, the Isle of Wight harbour as we departed in the ferry.

During our return trip, a giant cruise ship came tantalisingly close to us and I snapped the following photographs.

Back on the mainland, Dad went on to do more activities with the other geologists, while I went back to the hotel and made my own arrangements for food. After a bit of a look around (during which I found, among other things, an Italian restaurant that we would eat at later in the week), I decided to keep it simple and went to Subway. The guy who served me turned out to be a collector of foreign money, and asked if I had some Australian cash!

Monday September 5

Dad would be with the geologists on this and the following day, so I spent time with Christine, the friend I mentioned earlier, who we picked up from the train station in the morning. Here’s what Christine and I did together.

First we took the train west to Bournemouth, hoping for a ride on the Bounemouth Balloon. But although the weather seemed perfect to us humans, the mild breeze was apparently too windy for balloons. So here’s a photograph of the balloon tethered to the ground.

We then travelled further west, partly by train and partly with the aid of a pirate-accented taxi driver (who, in curiously unpiratelike fashion, refused Christine’s tip). Our destination was Monkey World, wherein are housed monkeys and apes who have been rescued from the black market, etc.

I enjoyed Monkey World, and recommend it, but I wouldn’t suggest making it the climax of your day. Somehow the day felt incomplete. Maybe things would have been different if the balloon had flown.

Tuesday September 6

For our entire three-week holiday, this was the only day with horrible weather throughout (in fact, some earlier days, particularly in our first week, would not have been out of place in an Australian summer). Christine and I went on a bus tour of the New Forest, which was nothing special, but the point was to fill up a day wherein it was too wet to do anything else. The best part of it was a meal at the Snakecatcher in Brockenhurst; try the banana waffle if you’re ever there.

Had the weather been better, we would probably have visited Arundel Castle today (though without Dad, which would have been a loss), and explored England’s Jurassic Coast on Wednesday. In fact, we went to Arundel on Wednesday, so it’s fair to say that the Jurassic Coast, including such places as Lulworth Cove, is the main thing we missed out on because of the weather.

Wednesday September 7

I thought of this as our Grand Finale, the last day of tourism for its own sake before spending the remainder of our holiday with friends. Our destination was Arundel Castle, which all three of us — Dad, Christine and I — came along to.

If you visit just one British castle in your life, consider Arundel. It is prototypically medieval on the outside, exquisitely furnished on the inside, and probably a good match for the castles of your imagination. It also has extensive gardens, serves decent meals, and there’s a touch of humour in the story of Lord Thurlow’s egg.

Here are some photographs from the castle grounds.

Photography is prohibited inside, but here are some pictures from on top.

The following pictures show the most photogenic part of the gardens. The third one looks over to Arundel Cathedral, upon which there was some sort of construction/repair work going on.

Finally, herewith some pictures of the castle in the context of the town. That’s the cathedral again on the right hand side of the first photograph, which shares the same outer wall as the castle.

From the castle souvineer shop I bought a very nice ornamental dinner plate, although I don’t currently have anywhere to put it.

Back in Southampton, we said our goodbyes to Christine, who departed in the train.

Thursday September 8 and Friday September 9

Before leaving Southampton, we bought me a new jumper, my old one having got caught on something at Bournemouth and ruined. Then we took the train to Guildford to stay with the Desson family, parents of Catherine whom I mentioned earlier.

The Dessons took us for a walk in the nearby countryside. On the way up the hill they walked us too briskly for me to take any pictures, but here’s one I took on the way down.

Here’s Gregor in their back yard, preparing a barbecue tea which we shared.

We stayed with our friends overnight, and until early afternoon the next day. But the time came for us to leave, and we took the afternoon train to London. There, Dad had an informal meeting with a colleague over coffee, and after that we headed for the airport. So it was that three unforgettable weeks came to an end.

A footnote on souvineers

I’d like to end with some pictures of the souvineers I bought, which you can compare to the ones I bought last time.

On the left, the Rosetta Stone coffee mug from the British Museum, the soapstone carving from the Isle of Wight, and the keyring from Greenwich. On the right, the book from the British Library, the Ganjifa cards from the Playing Card Museum, and the ornamental dinner plate from Arundel (on which the gold catches the light in ways I’ve not been able to show here).

Last of all, the third picture below shows the keyring in operation, casting the time as a shadow in a beam of red light.

This is my longest blog post ever, with over a hundred photographs. Your comments may be whatever length you choose.


5 Responses to “Three weeks in Europe: A holiday report”

  1. April ElshaHawk Schoffstall Says:

    I think you have been to some of the most beautiful places in the world! My favorites are the castle and the forest, due to their inherent sense of whimsy.:)
    The wedding looked beautiful, but oh those broken dishes! That’s not something we do over here across the pond. I do recognize it as a tradition, though.
    I’m glad the weather cooperated, and it seems you had a rather decent time.

  2. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    I think the forest is definitely prime goblin territory, although I didn’t actually see any. Probably scared off by all the tourists. As for the castle, you would have seen the keychain I made on Zazzle, which amuses me because it’s like claiming that the castle is the place your keys fit. I haven’t been inspired to make anything else from my pictures. Suggestions?

    Crockery smashing isn’t done in any English-speaking country so far as I know. I’ve always thought of it as a Greek custom, and until now didn’t know it was practised in Germany. According to this page about German weddings, it was originally meant to scare away evil spirits. The idea of smashing crockery at festivities seems to be widespread through continental Europe, though with differences as to exactly which festivities you do it at.

    (Incidentally, the picture of the geologists walking into the mist makes me think of zombies…)

  3. April ElshaHawk Schoffstall Says:

    I am writing a novel that includes a greek-type wedding.. so I had to use it after some research. Wouldn’t do to write American traditions in my book set in the Mediterranean! i did see the keychain as zazzle informed me of your new product. I think you could do a collage of scenes, or something inspirational with a mountain picture about reaching your goals, or if you have a nice shot of a broken statue, something with an old age joke. I dunno. I’m sure if i were more awake I could come up with something… monkey around? throw some zombies in that forest and you have a halloween shirt…

  4. Stan Says:

    Welcome back. I’m glad to hear you had such a good time, and I enjoyed browsing these photos!

    The Lapidarium seems an intriguing place. Having so many statues placed around a garden lends a magical kind of atmosphere, I imagine. Weil Der Stadt looks lovely, and I like the fairytale Schellenteufel.

    It’s amusing that one fossil museum denied that the other existed! I wonder what acrimonious history they have. I especially liked the indoor photographs. It’s hard (and expensive) to make realistic dinosaurs.

    Those are beautiful views from Saalfelden. I love mountainous backgrounds (and bovine foregrounds).

    I also enjoyed seeing your souvenirs. Have you been using the Rosetta Stone mug?

  5. Flesh-eating Dragon Says:

    Haven’t used the mug yet. (Incidentally, my kettle is broken at the moment so I’ve been making all my coffee in the microwave. Could make some observations about relevant physics, but I digress.) Am reading Lucian, and have invented a simple game with Ganjifa cards but have no-one to play with.

    With regard to fossil museum, denial of existence of, I should put that into context. Essentially, we asked whether there was anything to see on the other side of the road (or words to that effect), and they said no. The question was prompted by the confusing way in which the signs outside pointed in both directions, which had made us pause for a while before choosing an entrance.

    I won’t argue with any of your comments about places that look beautiful, lovely, and/or intriguing.

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