Bacharach, Germany

Rhine-ValleyThe half-timbered buildings welcome all visitors.  In the distant background there are faint sounds of cheers as the German soccer team scores.  Sipping on the Riesling grown just yards away reminds you that you’re on the Rhine.

The streets lack the crowd of so many places, but the small clacking noise of the few walking around provide a sense of welcoming.  If you’re lucky enough, you’ll meet two of the most knowledgeable and kind people in the area.  Herr Jung is a former headmaster that has experienced the life and death the area has seen.  Thomas is another local that pulls you in like you’ve always had German blood running through your veins.  Bacharach is a town that has made a memorable impact, and it will beckon your return.

Beaune, France

Wine-Tasting-2Beaune is a great home base if you want to stay in the Burgundy region.  With a mixture of history, food, wine, and night art, you can keep yourself busy or relax.  Here are some things to do in Beaune.

Hotel Dieu

Not actually a hotel, but a former hospital.  Beaune was hit hard by the Hundred Years War and the plague.  Those that came through these doors most likely did not leave.  The hospice was funded by the chancellor as a form of redemption.

Notre Dame

The church is free to enter, and a quiet oasis for thought and prayer.  I love the gray scale stained glass.

Night Art

As the sun goes down, lights are displayed on the buildings of Beaune.  Some are elegant while others are playful.  One of my favorites was a cat climbing a tower.

Wine Tasting

Burgundy is famous for their wine, so visiting a cave is a must.  We sipped below ground at Bouchard Aine & Fils.  The cellar was an experience for the senses because each one was engaged.  The various rooms focus on the descriptions of wine.  Aromas, textures, and tastes are all elements of the wine, and learning more about how the wine is described is an educational experience.  Tasting the wine is also pretty fantastic.

Shopping

Beaune is a walkable city with cute shops and markets.

Explore by Bike or Foot

The city is surrounded by ramparts.  For an elevated view of the city, walk the wall.  There is also a ring road great for biking.  Perhaps you could even take a bike ride out to the vineyards.

Eating

There are many famous dishes attributed to Beaune.  Savor the escargot as you dip your bread in the garlic, buttery pockets.  If you are looking for a hearty meal, order the beouf bourguignon.  Don’t forget to end your main course with a cheese plate.  The French sure know how to live.

Monet’s Home in Giverny

Europe 2011 1433If you have any interest in Monet or his paintings, you should visit his home.  Walking through the gate is like walking into one of Monet’s paintings.  You see the green bridge in the distance with wisteria hanging.  The lilies float on the water and grab the light, just like in his paintings.  If you have any interest in flowers, this is probably one of the best kept gardens I have ever seen.

The only downside to visiting Giverny is all of the other people that want to see it also.  Luckily, the gardens expand over a decent-sized area, so you can find corners of the garden without people.  I think it is one of the most beautiful escapes from Paris.

To get to Giverny you can drive, take a train then bus/bike, or go on a tour.  We went on a tour because it was easy and efficient.  We didn’t have to wait in line, and we got a little background knowledge before arriving.  Walk in the footsteps of Monet as you hear the rooster crowing in the background.  If you have a half day available, I recommend a trip out to Giverny.  Especially if you can also see L’Orangerie.

L’Orangerie in Paris

Europe 2011 1154The former orange shelter located in the Tuilleries Gardens is an Impressionist treasure.  If hearing names like Monet, Renoir, or Picasso conjure interest, then this is a great museum for you.  The collection cannot compare in size to the collection at the Musee D’Orsay, but the works are well worth the visit.

The feature exhibit is Monet’s Water Lilies.  As you walk in, light grazes over the blurred scenery.  A calming sound plays as you walk through the appearance of the lilies throughout the day.  It is easy to imagine a blinding Monet working on this canvas, but as the light changes in the day, moving on to that canvas.

Beyond the lilies, you can also see other Impressionist works.  While in the museum on my last visit, there was a special exhibition on Gino Severini.  I was first introduced to Severini at the Peggy Guggenheim museum in Venice.  Since then, I have been a big fan.  Unfortunately, we could not take pictures in that exhibit, so I have no images to share.

If you want to enhance this experience even more, take a day trip out to Giverny to see where Monet worked and found inspiration.

Visiting Dachau

MemorialSometimes the sites we see while traveling do not have a positive memory.  Although it can be challenging to enter these places, it is important to go.  Visiting a place like a concentration camp brings knowledge that is crucial to pass down.  Dachau was my first concentration camp.  It may sound odd to say this, but I have been wanting to see a concentration camp for a long time.  This time period in history is intriguing to me, and I always want to know more.  Perhaps I feel that if I can dissect what happened, then I can pass that on to my students to help prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.

Dachau is not an extermination camp like Auschwitz.  It is more of a working/reformation camp.  Dachau began with the goal to reeducate those against the Nazi party.  Journalists, priests, and others were sent to be brainwashed of their own beliefs.  If they did not change, then they did not leave.  Many times they did not leave anyway.  Later, the other groups came.  Jews, homosexuals, and gypsies were a few that could be found in Dachau.  Each was given a symbol to represent who they were.  Most of us know the yellow star, but other symbols were used to show different groups.

A key component of genocide is dehumanizing.  As the prisoners entered they were told they were nothing and had no worth.  The verbal abuse along with the physical changes would tear down the people.  The gates state, “Arbeit Macht Frei” which means work will set you free.  For many, the only freedom that work provided was death, and the ability to leave this world.

If you want to visit a perfectly preserved concentration camp, then this is not the ideal one.  It remained a refugee camp after the war and was then torn down.  They have laid out concrete foundations to show the placement of the barracks. There is one set of barracks that have been recreated to show what it would have looked like.  The beds changed over the duration of the camp.  By the end it was like an endless row of bunk beds.  These beds were made to hold 50 people, but at times they held over 400.  I pictured all of the eighth graders in my school fitting, and it just didn’t seem plausible.  Prisoners would avoid getting up in the night because they would lose there spot and have to lie on someone.

The crematorium is a challenging area to get through.  As you walk in, you see the different sections.  There is a gas chamber located inside, but it was not used for mass killings like other camps.  It was eerie to see the gathering and disrobing room.  As the people would take off their clothes they would enter another room labeled, “Brausebad” which means shower in German.  I wonder how many knew about this deception at the time.  Beyond that you will come across a room used for disinfecting the articles of clothing after the prisoners had removed the items.  In the crematorium you also find the incinerators which seem to still have ashes clinging to the walls.  The final room you come into is where the dead bodies were housed before they were burned.  Our tour guide said that the room was full when the camp was liberated.

The museum really opens the window into what happened at Dachau.  There is a meaningful combination of text and images The medical experiments were horrendous.  Some were given embolisms while others were injected with malaria.  Some even had different air pressures tested on them with tragic results.  There are images from the museum that still flash in my memory as I remember my visit.  One of the most powerful sites at the camp is the memorial.  The sculpture depicts prisoners jumping into a hot fence to escape their suffering.  Some could not endure the pain any longer.

Have you ever visited an infamous place that has left you more informed and wanting to know more?

Kew Gardens

Curved EleganceIf you’re staying in London and you’d like a little nature getaway, you might want to consider Kew Gardens.  This UNESCO World Heritage site is just a Tube ride away.  In a few minutes you can be in a variety of regions.  Visit the woodlands, or find peace in the Japanese gardens.  The gardens expand over quite a bit of land so be prepared to do some walking.  If you are worried about overdoing it, take advantage of the tram.

Most likely you’ll be in the area long enough for lunch.  The gardens have cafes, but you can also explore the small town for a special treat.  We ate outside at a lovely cafe after working up an appetite.

Admission-Adults £16.00*, Concessions £14.00*, Children FREE

Find out more at the Kew Gardens website.

Rodin Museum

hands2The Musee Rodin is housed in the elegant Hotel Biron.  Rodin lived and worked in this mansion.  I love that so many Paris museums not only have masterpieces, but they are housed in historic masterpieces themselves.  The mansion shows its age and use as you hear the wood floors creaking under your feet.  It is like being in grandma’s house, only it has some of the most stunning sculpture that can be seen.

The museum is made of the mansion, garden, chapel, and cafe.  The building is under construction until 2014, but you can still get in and see exhibitions.  My favorite sculpture inside the museum is The Kiss.  If you are short on time or limited on budget, you can visit the gardens for only one euro.  The garden provides a natural blend between Rodin’s bronze statues and flowers.  Perhaps you’ve heard of The Thinker.  He thinks outside in the lightly scented, floral air.  The first time I went to the museum, my camera went crazy over the pristine flowers.  It is a beautiful, quiet area in Paris.  I know I’ll return this summer.

Doors in Photos

Europe-Through-the-Back-Doo
Bacharach, Germany

Yesterday I brought you windows.  Today we look at doors.  Some of these doors have seen their fair share of life and weathering.  If you are a fan of Rick Steves, you will appreciate the door on the left.  Herr Jung guided Rick Steves through this door decades ago, and told him that he was going to see Europe through the back door (which is the name of his company now).  Truth or myth?  Doesn’t matter because it is a pretty unique door.