Category: Welcome

Luther Tour – Salzburg Day 5 – June 8

We left the windows open overnight in our hotel room in Fussen, and it really helped cool things down. There did not appear to be much air-conditioning, if any, in the hotel.

Though American style breakfast options were available in Fussen, I decided to embrace the German way and had various cold cuts (I think they were all pork-based, but no description), cheese, and bread. Some of the cold cuts seemed like pancetta, capicola, and mortadella, and maybe they were. I had a couple wedges of cheese with herbs on it as well, and hausbrot.

We boarded the bus and headed out of Bavaria for Salzburg, Austria. I still found Bavaria the most appealing of the places we’ve been so far, and spent a lot of the bus ride thinking about how I would design a Bavaria-style house. Maybe someday if I have money, I’ll build one back in Missouri.

Our bus stopped one time for gas near Austria, but I did not get off. We passed right across the border without stopping for inspection, although Thomas told us that sometimes busses get stopped since migrants try to enter countries and claim asylum via bus.

We were fortunate to be able to ride our bus right up to the hotel in Salzburg, which we had originally thought would not be possible since the old city is closed to busses. The rooms were ready early fortunately, and we got checked in a decompressed for a couple minutes before reporting back to the lobby for a 1230 walking tour.

A local guide was required, Thomas said that the rules for tour guides are more strict than other positions, where people can work anywhere within the EU without much hassle. Our local tour guide was Igor, who lead us around Salzburg. We started walking through the Mirabell gardens surrounding the Mirabell palace. Many scenes of The Sound of Music were filmed in and around these gardens, and elsewhere in Salzburg.

We crossed a bridge covered in love locks, similar to the original love lock bridge in Paris. At this point, Shannon and I had learned enough about the Sound of Music and decided to go our own way. It was also quite hot and the tour was very much in the sun.

We walked along the river, which was fast-moving and tan in color. This is the Salz river, which, according to Igor, gets snow runoff making it too cold to swim in, even if you could deal with the fast current.

After going back across the river on another bridge, we passed by the only Lutheran church Igor said was in the area. I think this was the one he mentioned anyway, it said it was Evangelical. There appeared to be a wedding or other event happening there, people were coming in and out wearing traditional dress of lederhosen and dirndl. Other weddings were definitely happening around the Mirabell gardens also, we saw several groups getting pictures taken.

It was time for lunch, so we went to Cafe Konditorei Furst, which Igor had commented on when we went past earlier in his tour. This place was famous for a certain Mozartkugel, or Mozart Cake. We ordered a Berliner Kaffe, which was a frozen coffee dessert with whipped cream and cocoa powder on top, and a slice of the Mozart Cake. The inventor of this cake won an award in 1900 or thereabouts. The texture was quite smooth, and the bottom layer may have been somewhat like the ladyfingers of tiramisu. Then there was a layer of pistachio material, and more chocolate on top, with a final harder layer of chocolate icing on top. The cake was fine, but coffee drink was better. Apparently there is also a bite-sized candy version of Mozartkugel which may have been better than the cake version, but we didn’t get to try it.

Continuing down the street, we decided we needed an actual lunch, so we ordered a bacon double cheese burger and what turned out to be sweet potato fries at a second shop. We took this food back to our hotel room to eat while cooling off. This has definitely been the warmest day so far. The fries came with a sauce reminiscent of tziki sauce like you get with Greek food. I ate more sweet potato fries today than ever before in life, since normally I don’t care for them. But these were good, and so was the burger.

After relaxing for 45 minutes or so, we went down to the coffee shop that adjoins the hotel. We both got iced lattes, first time we have managed to find an iced coffee drink on a menu anywhere. This wasn’t exactly the street side cafe experience I’ve been looking for, but the coffee was good, and the venue was nice. At some point we moved to an upper floor near an open window and the cool breeze was nice.

Shannon worked on some of the paperwork she has to do for her colloquy before she can begin the program. It sounds like a lot of endorsements and back history are required. The program begins in July, so we need to get the ball rolling for her to get a scholarship as well, if possible.

At 6pm, the group set off for the Mozart concert and dinner that the Luther Tours had arranged for us. We ended up walking through a lot of the same areas covered in the portion of the walking tour we skipped, so I think the only thing we really missed was a bunch more Sound of Music references. It was definitely a full 15 minute walk to get over there. This restaurant and show occurs inside a building that I believe used to be a monastery or some other type of church building. The room the dinner was in was very ornate. Super high ceilings, with a light blue trim on top of white. I think there were some gold accents as well.

The performance did not begin until approximately 7:30pm. There were 4 separate Mozart works performed, and most of them were from Operas. I recognized some of the music, and the finale was from the Magic Flute. I’m glad we did this, because I never would have come up with it if planning this on my own.

The highlight of the meal was the extremely fresh bread with honeybutter. Shannon had a glass of prosecco and I ordered a water, which of course was not free! The first course was a bowl of chicken broth with a dumpling of ground up chicken and cheese curds with lemon. There were also tiny green onions in the broth. I ate the dumpling, and some of the soup. Then the main course was chicken on top of polenta, with some roasted squash and carrots. The chicken was good, seasoned with herbs de provence. The polenta was like a sweeter version of mashed potatoes, and could’ve used more of the chicken juice/gravy. It was a touch too sweet of an accompaniment for the savory chicken in my opinion. If there had been salt and pepper shakers on the table, I would have added some of each, and probably finished the polenta. Finally dessert was basically 3 puffs of meringue, and tasted like a high end s’more without the chocolate or graham crackers. There was a very small portion of raspberry jam at the bottom. More would have been better. Shannon did not like the dessert.

We walked back in the rain via a different route than how we had gotten there, but did make it to the hotel, perhaps more quickly than the trip out to the location.

Salzburg is an impressive city. The Salz of course means salt, and in times past salt was a source of the city’s riches, although apparently there was gold here too. There is a fortress/prison atop a hill, and many churches and monasteries around. The old city on the south side of the river has many little court yards and passage ways that connect different areas. Many of the roads are these narrow “gasse” passages that are more like alleys than streets.

Tomorrow there is an option to have a “leisure day” in Salzburg doing whatever you want, or a trip up the the Eagle’s Next and Obersalzberg, as well as the church where Silent Night was composed and first performed. I think we’re going to take that option, which means meeting in the lobby at 8:45.

Luther Tour – Oberammergau & Neuschwanstein Day 4 – June 7

We missed our alarms but fortunately woke up around 6:15 today. The bus had to be packed and ready to leave by 7:15, so this left us little time to wrap up our activities in the room, get down to breakfast, and then out the door. Fortunately we made it on time.

I think the hotel we stayed at in Würzburg was very nice. Very modern, which is normally not to my taste but it worked great for me this time. When Shannon went out to dinner, I took a shower that I didn’t have to climb into, it was a walk-in. The toilet was in a separate little room, and there was a sort of mini-kitchen/sink area. I turned on the German TV for the first time and watched half of a 2nd season episode of Star Trek The Next Generation. The Germans apparently prefer to dub all their shows, not using sub titles with the English voices remaining. I also saw a couple minutes of a cop show, and a game show, both of which were of native provenance.

After breakfast, we set off on a 4 hour bus ride into Bavaria and down to Obergammerau. As we went along, the topography gradually became more mountainous, and the trees started to mix in pine with the oak. When we got into Bavaria itself, it really was a beautiful place. If you’re an American, Bavaria is the Germany you see in your imagination, most likely due to Bavaria (and I think Hesse?) being the portions of the country controlled by the US after WW2 and before West Germany was incorporated as a counter to East Germany.

The houses here are white plaster, but often painted with scenes or other embellishments on the sides and around the windows. Everything has shutters as well, and theyr’e actually functional, not purely decorative. We saw more cows in this region, and lots of chopped wood piled up everywhere. Maybe these houses are largely heated by wood during the winter. At least one house I saw had smoke curling up out of the chimney as we went past. The roofs are mostly red-orange clay tiles. There are also many balconies.

The bus pulled into Obergammerau near the Passionspiele Theater. Passionspiele means Passion Play. Every 10 years a huge portion of the city of Obergammerau participates in an amateur production of the Passion Play. More on the Passionspiele later.

A few of us followed our guide Thomas who wanted to show us one of the most famous of the painted houses, which is called the house of Pontius Pilate. It was being renovated, so I couldn’t get a perfect picture, but you could see the intricate detail on the paint. At this time, the group was free to wander for a while, so Shannon and I went into a couple shops, one of which was a Christmas Store, similar to the one she had visited the day prior in Heidelberg. It also started to rain at this time, and I regretted not having my jacket.

After a bit of shopping, we went to the Wolf Hotel Restaurant for lunch. I had 2 pairs of wieners with house bread, which was basically some hotdogs and rolls. Pretty good though. Shannon had a pork cutlet that was not breaded and fried, but maybe pan-seared, with mushrooms, cranberries, and spatzle, which is small German shell noodles in a white/butter sauce. Several other members of the group ended up in the same hotel restaurant for lunch. Shannon and I tried two of the local liquers with lunch, Wildsau which was like a raspberry vodka or something, and Odl, an herb liquor. The Odl was syrupy and slightly tan in color. I liked it a lot. Shannon didn’t care much for either.

From there we rejoined the larger group to get a guided tour of the Passionspiele Theater. The lady who took us around had been a participant in a minor role back in 2010. The town was afflicted with plague in the 1600s and offered to God to perform a passion play every 10 years if he would relieve them of the plague. The plague stopped, and the citizens made good on their promise, nearly every decade other than a few times when the government forbade it for various reasons.

The town of Oberammergau has a population of roughly 5500, and approximately 2500 of them will take part in the Passion Play each time it is performed. The theater has a seating capacity of 4500. The play is performed numerous times during the appropriate season.

To participate in the Passionspiele in Oberammergau, you have to either be born in Oberammergau or live there for 20 years. This is due to the high demand people have to participate in the Passion Play from outside the area.

There are two different actors who play each of Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene. In addition to the roles you would expect, there are hundreds of crowd members and choir singers. There are also scenes from the Old Testament performed as “Living Pictures” where the actors stand motionless as a live painting. The tour guide also informed us that after receiving bad press a number of times in the latter half of the 20th century for the play being antisemitic, they with members of the Jewish community from New York who helped them rewrite the script.

After another bus ride of 45 minutes or so, we were ready for the trip to Neuschwanstein Castle, which I anticipated to be one of the highlights of the trip. The bus dropped us off by where the tickets were purchased by Thomas. Visitors have the option to walk up the mountain to the castle, which the map says takes about 40 minutes, or ride up in a carriage. I foolishly thought we could walk it, but fortunately Shannon convinced me to ride up in the carriage, which cost 8 EUR per person for a round trip up and down the mountain. I never would have made it to the top walking.

Even after the carriage ride, there’s still a good 10 minute hill climb to get to the top. The views were incredible though, and the pictures I took of the outside from various angles cannot do the castle justice.

We got a 30 minute guided tour inside, which did not cover much of the actual castle itself, possibly because it has been undergoing renovation since 2016 which are expected to be complete this year. First thing you have to do is climb a spiral staircase to the 3rd floor. We saw the throne room, which is made to look like an Orthodox church. The king’s bedroom was also extremely ornate. There were wood carved features everywhere, including the canopy bed and a reading chair, both of which were meant to look like Gothic cathedrals. The king had running water fed from a spring up to his 3rd floor room, thanks to the pressure and elevation from a spring higher up the mountain. The king also had a chapel, which was dedicated to Ludwig IX, who is actually King Louis IX of France, or St. Louis, the namesake of St. Louis, MO.

There were many swan-themed decorations around the castle, which is the heraldic symbol of Ludwig II’s family. We then went up to the 4th floor which was a singing room, or something like that. A very ornate ballroom. Then we descended the servants stairs down to the 2nd floor to pass through a gift shop, then another staircase down to the bottom level where you’re greeted with another gift shop, then you exit.

Unfortunately, the last horse carriage leaves around 6pm as we came to find out, but at 5:50 when we got down to the horse carriage pickup area, there were no more carriages and we had to walk down the mountain. Though this was certainly easier than walking up would have been, it nearly wiped me out, and I was the last one down. However in-shape you think you are before going on a trip like this, more training is surely advisable. If Shannon had not brought us electrolyte packets to mix with water, I don’t think I’d be surviving this trip. They’re definitely the only thing keeping me from getting cramps every night.

20 minutes on the bus later and we arrived at the Hirsch hotel to check in. Shannon gave me water mixed with an electrolyte packet, then another. While I rested she went next door to a grocery store and picked up some snacks for us to enjoy. I had a banana, which should help my potassium levels, and also she got me some beef sticks, the name of which was translated as “cattleland hunter.” Rindlanderjager or something like that. Best beef sticks I ever had. She also bought a couple chocolate and waffle cookie type things, and a snack pack of various crispy bits of matter with savory powders on them.

A few more thoughts on the Germany we have seen so far. As far as fauna we have seen, mostly it has been birds that I’ve noticed at this point. In the Rhineland I saw herons in various places, also pigeons in the cities. I heard doves, but have not seen them. There have also been swans in the area around Heidelberg, including, I’m pretty sure, black swans. I haven’t seen any squirrels or chipmunks or deer or anything like that.

The hotel we’re staying in is called Hirsch, which means Deer. It is in the city of Füssen, which I wish I had more time to enjoy. I wish I had more time with Bavaria in general. This is probably the most “German” hotel we’ve been in so far. The shower drains into the wall/floor. There is a shelf toilet with 2 buttons as you expect. There’s a drying rack for the towels, and also the floor is heated, which is nice.

Luther Tour – Heidelberg Day 3 – June 6

This morning, Shannon and I both happened to wake up around 4:45 AM. Shannon had looked up the time of the sunrise, and it was to come at 5:19 AM. We decided to go down along the Rhine and watch the sunrise. We went out behind the hotel and enjoyed the sunrise. We then walked along the Rhine a bit, saw some bas-relief sculptures of knights with various flags/emblems, then went back inside to prepare for the day.

We joined the Hagens and another gentlemen from our group for breakfast at the hotel buffet. It was very good once again. Then we went back to the room, finished packing up our stuff, and left the hotel. When the whole group was loaded onto the bus with our luggage stored, it turned out that I had not properly settled our bill somehow. I was unaware that I would even have a bill. Apparently the sour lemonade that I got with dinner on the prior day was 17 euro. Our tour guide Thomas had paid it, and I paid him back with a 20 euro bill. Rather embarrassing, but a good lesson that apparently you can never have any liquid in this country for free, even when you’ve been told it is included with your meal.

One big mistake we made on this trip is not having enough water bottle capacity. We should’e gotten a large soft pack collapsible water bottle to fill up in the hotels to keep ourselves hydrated during the day. I think I’m probably dehydrated rather seriously. We were smart enough to bring electrolyte packets, and I think those have been a life saver. The lemon lime ones are quite good, the white peach not as much.

The bus left Mainz at 9 AM and took us to Heidelberg, which lies along the Neckar river. It was about a 90 minute ride away. We got off at a tourist information area, and some members of the group used the bathroom before we did an hour or so walking tour of the city. Heidelberg is an important university city. The university is still in operation today, and continues its legacy of being one of the more important universities in Germany.

We located the site of the Heidelberg Disputation, which at this point is just a marker on the road. The building where it occurred is no longer standing.

Several times Thomas has told us that buildings that no longer exist were destroyed by French troops either during the 30 Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, or at other times. Some things of course were also destroyed during WW2. A decent portion of Worms was apparently destroyed in WW2 for example. Heidelberg was left mostly intact physically during that conflict, allegedly because the Allies during WW2 (British and American, not Soviet) saw potential for a future military headquarters there, and NATO did later on operate in that area, evidently. Thomas said this was something he had heard. I suppose people may have been planning for the aftermath of WW2 by that point and anticipating that the Soviets would be opponents in the future.

We also saw a Studentenkarzer, or student jail. Apparently there were special jails for students of the university who got too rowdy back during the Middle Ages.

We next took a funicular up a steep hillside to get to the castle above Heidelberg. It is mostly in a ruined state, but some parts of the building are not ruins, and other parts are being restored in some form or fashion. The views from the castle on the hill were quite spectacular.

After wandering the castle grounds, we had some bratwurst (allegedly, it was some kind of sausage anyway) and fries for lunch. The folks operating the cafe the credit card was declined, but we have had no indication that there would be a problem, and they may have just preferred cash. After lunch we took the funicular back down the hillside. Shannon went to a souvenir shop and purchased a fine leather bag and a snowman.

After our bus driver, Sergei, picked us up, with impressive feats of maneuvering the bus, we drove for 2 hours or so to Würzburg. We checked into a modern sleek hotel operated by Mariott. The dinner for tonight included wine tasting, but was a far distance away, and the meal consisted almost entirely of asparagus-based dishes. I declined to attend, and stayed back at the hotel to shower, rest, and try to re-hydrate. I had a couple bites of the steak jerky we brought along, a bottle of water, another bottle of water with electrolytes, and I’ve got 2 more bottles of water on deck.

We have an early start tomorrow going to the Neuschwanstein castle. The bus leaves at 7:30. I’m going to have to make breakfast count.

Luther Tour – Speyer & Worms Day 2 – June 5

We started the day with hotel breakfast. I had scrambled eggs, a couple slices of bagon, a weisswurst, some hash rounds, and 2 little miniature pancakes with nothing on them. Also some sauteed mushrooms. I learned later you’re not supposed to eat the casing on the weisswurst, but it was good. They also had a cappuccino machine.

At 9 AM we were on the bus and headed to Speyer, which was not on the original itinerary, but was added after the Rhine river cruise in Mainz became impossible due to the flooding. The ride up to Speyer took probably a little over an hour.

This entire region is the Rhineland, and it looks exactly the Missouri Rhineland, which was named for the original Rhineland. Oak trees, rolling hills, bluffs, and vineyards all around. Verges and sidewalk areas, and the center strip splitting roads are not mowed. That may be due to wanting to leave those natural for pollinators like bees this time of year. We’ve seen a lot of un-mowed areas already.

In Speyer, we walked through the cathedral gardens to get up to the Speyer Dom cathedral. This cathedral, and apparently the other Doms in this region as well, were specifically “for the emperors” or something to that effect. The Speyer Dom had crypts with at least 4 emperors buried there, from the same family line. This cathedral was also beautiful.

After that, we walked past an area that was historically Jewish, then visited a Prussian Union church, which was much newer. The Union church had balconies all around, lots of wood, and is rather ornate for a protestant church. There was a German lady present who told us about how they were proud of the democratic decision where 99% of people (excluding women) voted to become a Union church. We were probably not the right group to tell that detail to! The origin of the LCMS is Lutherans leaving Germany to avoid being put into the Union.

From there we went up to the main market area over to a Biergarten for lunch. Apparently this wasn’t a “real” Biergarten per our guide because you weren’t allowed to bring your own food. Shannon and I split the Brewer’s Plate, which consisted of a small steak, 2 small pork chunks, fried potatoes, sauteed mushrooms, and green beans with a white sauce. I enjoyed everything but the green beans, which I declined to try. I got a small Radler and Shannon had an Apfelschorle, which is a German apple juice soda type drink. We liked the Radler so much we ordered a second larger one.

After lunch we walked back to the bus, and then rode down to Worms. Speyer is a city of approximately 50,000 people, Worms seemed much larger at 80,000 people. We de-boarded the bus and walked to a monument of Reformation figures, of whom Luther was at the Center. But Zwingli and Calvin were also represented among others. From there we went to the Worms Dom cathedral, rounding out the 3 Doms in the Rhineland region.

Luther also appeared in the stained glass at the Worms Dom, which was interesting. I think this is because in Germany, Luther is a national figure as much or even more so than a religious figure. We returned to the bus which took us back to our hotel in Mainz.

Shannon and I walked to a restaurant called Cubo Negro for dinner. We split a bruschetta, a cheddar burger, and some fries. For dessert Shannon had a Caramel Macchiato ice cream cone and I had a lemon ice cream. It may have been gelato. Shannon drank a Rose wine with dinner and I had an Old Fashioned. The Old Fashioned was quite good. The entire meal was somewhat expensive, over 50 EUR. Water is not included for free at restaurants. Other than at the trip-provided meals, we’re kind of taking half rations, which is probably good for us, and as much as we actually need anyway.

I called my mom to check in when we got back to the hotel, took a shower, and went to bed.

Luther Tour – STL->Frankfurt, Mainz Day 1 – June 3 & 4

I got up around 6:30 and went down to the Pear Tree’s continental breakfast. It was decent all things considered. I had a couple biscuits, some sausage patties, and scrambled eggs. I went back down later to get Shannon a cream cheese bagle and some sausage patties because she was busy preparing to leave.

We checked out around 10:50, then boarded the hotel’s airport shuttle at 11. Apparently the shuttle will be available to pick us back up from the airport when we return on 6/16. We checked in at the United counter and turned over our checked luggage, both of which were below the 50 pound weight limit.

Some other members of our Luther Tours group were checking in at the same time, and we ended up sitting by them over at the gate as well, and chatting a bit. Nice folks from St. Joseph.

Other tour members showed up bit by bit, including LCMS Missouri District President Pr. Lee Hagen and his wife, the tour’s hosts. The first flight from St. Louis to Chicago was quick and uneventful. The second flight from Chicago to Frankfurt was brutal. We were in a 787, and the seats are only 17.3 inches wide. Also, during an 8 hour flight, your legs fill up with blood. A tip we should remember is to take compression socks for a long flight. Halfway through it felt like pure torture.

When we got to Frankfurt, we were happy to deboard the plane. Then we had to walk for ages within the airport to get to the customs. They pretty much waived me right through, but Shannon got interrogated for a bit. After that we reclaimed our bags, then went out of the baggage area towards the exit and encountered the rest of our group that had gone on ahead in the airport, as well as our tour guide for the week, Thomas.

We then took another quite extensive walk out to the bus, loaded up our luggage, and made for Mainz. Our first destination in Mainz was St. Stephan’s church. It was smaller compared to the next few we viewed, but very nice. Still a basilica-style building. We had to walk to it from the bus for probably 8-10 minutes. This would become a theme for the rest of the trip. The bus can only get so close to the old centers of cities built long before the development of the automobile.

After returning to the bus, we drove down to the Mainz market place, which we had to walk to, and then went on a tour of the Gutenberg museum. We had an hour long tour given by one of the museum docents who is also apparently a police officer. This tour was interesting, but would’ve been much better if we had not been awake for 24 straight hours by the point.

After the Gutenberg Museum tour, Shannon bought some post cards in the gift shop, and then the group took a break in the market plaza for lunch. We were trend setters by going off this way on our own before anyone gave permission. Actually now that I think about it, lunch was before the museum trip. We got fried cod fish with potato salad. The potato salad had ham in it, but not much. The fish was good, the potato salad was OK. It cost us 15 EUR.

After the museum, we walked over to the Mainz Dom cathedral, which was probably the most impressive of the cathedrals we have seen so far on the trip. Both St. Stephan’s and The Mainz Dom are Catholic churches. Evidently they’re lucky to get 30-40 people in attendance for services on any given Sunday.

As I understood it from our tour guide, the churches here are supported by taxes, and anyone who is a member of a church has to pay an 8% income tax in support of the church. This is apparently part of the reason why people don’t attend church much, not wanting to pay the tax to support the church, which is required by law.

Finally we walked from the Mainz Dom to the hotel, passing along the Rhine river. The Rhine is flooded right now, which prevented us from taking the Rhine River Cruise on Day 2. After checking into the hotel around 4:30, I took a shower and we went down to the group dinner at 6 at the hotel restaurant. They had buffet style food for us. I had a sour lemonade to drink which was good. On the buffet, I had some stuffed beef, roasted potatoes, salmon, and shrimp. I also had some bread with pesto, and for dessert a piece of lemon pie and tiramisu. The potatoes were nothing special but the rest of it, especially the beef, was very good.

We retired to the room and were asleep by probably 8 PM, maybe earlier, after having been awake for 36 or so hours.

Luther Tour – KC->STL Day 0 – June 2

Shannon’s mom drove us down to the Union Station in Kansas City. Shannon got us lattes from Parisi and we waited for time to board the train. The lattes were very good. Nearly as good as Friendly Bean. When the time came to board the train, we walked out and there was a long walkway that lead to stairs, which most people took. We and some others took the elevator down to the platform because of our baggage.

We boarded the last car of the train. There was a luggage area to put the bags, and then we selected some seats. Shannon had been worried about the train trip since she had taken the train to Chicago a few years ago and had a poor experience. Thankfully the fears were quickly alleviated, because the train ride was great. The last car must have been fairly new. Everything was clean and well-put-together. There was free wifi on the train, and we were able to work on personal projects during the trip. I spent time reading the DAMA-DMBOK2 in preparation for the test I hope to take when I get back. Shannon also put together some good notes on how we might drive volunteerism at church.

The train ride takes nearly 6 hours compared to the 4 hours driving, because there are numerous stops where the train waits 5-10 minutes. There was a dining car available as well, and Shannon bought us some drinks. The biggest mistake we made for the train was not having our water bottles filled ahead of time, which made for a thirsty ride until she bought a diet Coke and a water bottle for us to share.

My sister picked us up at the Gateway Travel Center in St. Louis. I had designed the trip so we could have ridden the MetroLink from the train station to where our hotel was, the Pear Tree right across from the airport. However, with all our baggage, and bad experiences the last time we rode the MetroLink related to safety, we were glad to have her get us. She drove us to the hotel where we checked in, then we went over to her place.

We visited with her, her husband, and our niece for a couple hours, and eventually walked down the street to a local pizza place. Shannon and I split a medium which had pepperoni, salami, capicola, and possibly other meats. It was salty, but good. A medium was definitely enough, especially with a walk on both ends of the experience.

After dinner, it was getting to be Sunday evening and they had to prepare for the week, so my sister took us back to the hotel, where we relaxed for the remainder of the evening.

From the Top of the Compton Hill Water Tower

(If you just want to see the pictures, skip down to the bottom)

When I was in 7th grade in St. Charles, in the gifted program in my school district we did a unit on architecture, which sparked my ongoing interest in the topic.  The unit culminated in building a house model, a task I very much enjoyed, even installing lighting in the form of Christmas lights, creating a stucco like finish, and using AstroTurf for the lawn, which put my house model well past the card stock construction that was the assigned building material.  The only part I didn’t love was the roof, which ended up being a hipped roof because the teachers restricted the amount of supplies I could use.

But the part of the project that had a more lasting impact on me was looking at slides (as in film slides from the 70s) of architecture around the St. Louis area.  Of all the fascinating architecture we saw, the examples I was most fascinated by were the two water intakes in the Mississippi River and the three standpipe water towers.  Visiting the water intakes would be impossible, but when I got home from class, I told my parents about them and how cool they were on the slides, and cajoled my dad into driving me into St. Louis from St. Charles.

All three towers are located on or close to Grand Blvd, two in the College Hills neighborhood up North, and the third in Compton Heights just south of Midtown.  The towers looked a bit more weathered in person in the late 90s when I first saw them compared to in the slides from the 70s we viewed in class.

We started up North in College Hills.  The Grand Avenue Water Tower, the oldest of the three, is designed to look like a massive Corinthian column.  The white paint was starting to chip off and show through the red bricks it was constructed with.  The Bissell Street Tower just a couple blocks away,  was also made of red brick construction but had not been painted over.  Then we drove down Grand to see the Compton Hill Tower, which has a nice park built around it now (probably did back then too, but I can’t remember.

Of the three, only the Compton Hill Tower actually still serves as a water tower, though a reservoir in the park actually supplies the water to the surrounding area.

My curiosity was satisfied, and we returned home to St. Charles.  I continued with the project as I described at the beginning of this post.  The water towers slowly receded into the back of my memory until I rediscovered them again during college on what was to become one of my favorite websites:  Built St. Louis.

In 2013, Shannon got us Rams tickets as a Christmas present, and we went on a little driving tour of the city since she had never been before.  In addition to going up in the Arch, watching the Rams unexpectedly stomp the Saints, and enjoying the Imo’s pizza and toasted ravioli, we checked out the towers that I had last seen more than 10 years prior.  I later looked online and found that a Water Tower and Park Preservation Society dedicated to restoring, preserving, and promoting the Compton Hill water tower, and tours were permitted a couple times per year.  I was determined to go up in the Tower.

I got my chance in October 2014.  I went to stay with my Grandma in St. Ann for the weekend, and she and I met up with my sister to check out the Jewel Box and Korean War Memorial in Forest Park, then headed down to Compton Heights.  We got there a little before the tower was open to the public, so we milled around the park for a bit, taking in the Naked Truth statue and the reservoir area, which had some interesting fountains.  There was a pretty decent view of Downtown from right near the reservoir, and we could also see Clayton off in the distance.

Finally the tower opened, and we climbed the 198 spiral stairs to the top.  The view from the top was amazing, and I was able to see many buildings and landmarks I’d been studying on Built St. Louis and elsewhere from up top.  It was definitely worth the climb, and I highly recommend any St. Louis lovers, architecture lovers, history lovers, or cardio lovers to check it out for themselves.  Pictures below.

Compton Tower from the West

Compton Tower from the West

Compton Tower from the South

Compton Tower from the South

Compton Tower from the South

Compton Tower from the South

Naked Truth Statue

Naked Truth Statue

The inscription reads in part:  “As German-Americans and leaders of their compatriots in public life it ever was their lofty aim and steady purpose to prove true to the land of their adoption and to serve it faithfully and well.  Independent characters striving with ardent zeal for everything that is great and beautiful in life, they brought with them the precious treasures of Germania’s culture and placed them a blessing for all coming generations, in Columbia’s keeping…”

View from the top of the Reservoir

View from the top of the Reservoir

Mustache Fountain

Mustache Fountain

198 Stairs

198 Stairs

Looking up from the entrance to the Tower

Looking up from the entrance to the Tower

STL 250 Cake at the Water Tower

STL 250 Cake at the Water Tower

View of Downtown from the Top of the Tower, and the Reservoir Below

View of Downtown from the Top of the Tower, and the Reservoir Below

Compton Heights Neighborhood

Compton Heights Neighborhood

Compton Heights Neighborhood

Compton Heights Neighborhood

South St. Louis, Annheuser-Bush and Lemp Breweries visible

South St. Louis, Annheuser-Bush and Lemp Breweries visible

Cahokia Powerplant

Cahokia Powerplant


Downtown Clayton in the Distance, looking West

Downtown Clayton in the Distance, looking West


The Bissell and Grand Avenue Towers tiny blips in the distance, looking North

The Bissell and Grand Avenue Towers tiny blips in the distance, looking North

The Top of the Tower

The Top of the Tower

For more and better pictures of all three water towers, check out the Water Towers section of Built St. Louis.

Adventures in Linux – MacBook Pro

Several years ago I wrote a post called “Why I’m Buying a Mac.” I never ended up acting on that impulse, mainly because I was getting by just fine with my collection of aging Windows PCs on which I was dual booting with Linux, and mostly never even accessing Windows.

My wife had a Mid 2009 MacBook Pro that she had bought new many years ago. During her last semester of college, she frequently borrowed my Lenovo laptop to use MS Office 2013, which had programs she needed for both school and work that worked better for her purposes than Office for Mac 2008 was. I was glad to lend her the computer when she needed it since I could get by on my older computers for my needs during these short periods.

Eventually, her MacBook became essentially unusable. The 160 gb hard drive was full to the point only a couple hundred megabytes of space were unused and Google Chrome was unresponsive. Because of this, Shannon needed the Lenovo more and more to be able to get things done.

**Shannon (The Editor)’s Note: I did not like Window’s better than my MacBook! I worked as an admin and had to use windows so I got used to the Microsoft Office that windows supports. For those of you who don’t know, Microsoft Office SUCKS on Mac because the software is so out of date; it hasn’t been updated since 2011. I got spoiled on MS 2013/Office365

Hardware/Software Upgrade

We struck a deal, I’d trade her my Lenovo, probably the best computer I’d ever owned hardware wise, for the 5 year old (at the time) MacBook. In addition to the expansive 160 gb hard drive, the MacBook featured 2gb of RAM and a 2.26 ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I went down to Microcenter in Overland Park and bought a 1tb hard drive, two 4 gb sticks of RAM and an external hard drive enclosure.

There are little pegs sticking out of the original MacBook hard drive I haven’t been able to remove, and I don’t know what to search for to find more to buy some, so the 1tb hard drive is just kind of sitting in the bay unsecured. Not ideal. I’ve still got to find a solution for this. I attached the old hard drive to external enclosure, but couldn’t actually enclose it because of the pegs that won’t come off. The computer was able to boot into recovery from the old hard drive now in the external enclosure, and using the tools within I was able to install OS X on the new hard drive.

It booted up, and I upgraded from OS X 10.9 to 10.10, which took a little way to download on the free version of Google Internet we employ. Great, so now I’ve got a clean MacBook Pro with a huge hard drive, what to do with it?

What to Do?

Well, triple booting with Linux and Windows was clearly the answer. I did a bit of research and installed rEFInd boot manager to make life with multiple OSes easier. Then I repartitioned the hard drive into three partitions of equal size. I could’ve probably just had one big logical partition to share among all 3 OS installations, but didn’t end up doing it that way.

The next step was to install Linux. I wanted to use Fedora, which is my distro of choice for now. Unfortunately I couldn’t get the GNOME or Xfce version to boot on the MacBook at all. I tried Googling for a solution, but none presented itself. I’m sure there’s a way to make it work, but I didn’t find one or post on any forums or anything. I decided to see how Linux Mint would handle the MacBook, and it booted up and installed like a champ, even giving me a tool to install proprietary drivers for the wireless and graphics cards. I haven’t used Mint in a while because in my mind it’s too “easy” and I just really like Fedora, but I had used it quite extensively back in college. I ended up going with the default Mint 17.1 over LMDE since the Debian Edition didn’t include the tool to add the proprietary drivers. It was probably something I could’ve installed from the software manager, but I didn’t really look into it since Mint 17.1 will be supported until 2019. It’s pretty unlikely I’ll still be using this computer by 2019, and I’m sure I’ll do some distro hopping between now and then anyway, so the benefit of a rolling release like LMDE isn’t a huge loss for me in going with regular old Mint.

Linux Mint

Linux Mint

Mac OSX Screenshot

So far I’ve been too lazy to install Windows 7 on the third partition. I think I read somewhere that I’ll need a driver’s disk that would’ve come with the laptop when my wife originally bought it, so if I run across that, it should make things easier.


If I had to describe my experience with the MacBook Pro so far, I’d say “meh.” The hardware is nice enough. Figuring out the key sequence to take a screenshot on the Mac took some Googling, as well as to set the same key sequence under Linux.

Ultimately OS choice is up to the individual user. I don’t find myself enjoying the Mac experience. The way programs stay running even if you close the window instead of that exiting the whole program is kind of weird. All over Apple’s website they talk about how OS X is the most advanced operating system in the world. Well, the interface is probably the most tired. Sure, in 10.10 everything went to “flat” icons rather than 3D, but the basic look of the whole OS has been about the same since 2001.

I also found that I have no interest in using all the default Mac software such as iTunes, iCalendar, and iWhatever else. I found myself installing the same software on OS X that I have come to use on Linux, and also on Windows when rarely I use Windows. If others want to close themselves up within Apple’s “walled garden” they’re free to do so, but it’s not for me. Maybe if I had an iPhone, an iPod, an iPad, and/or an Apple TV, or had stayed within the Apple universe I grew up in back in the 90s longer, I’d be more inclined to get back into it now.

Next Steps

The only thing I’ve noticed that doesn’t work on the MacBook under Linux Mint is the webcam. I’ve done research on how to get it working, but haven’t had any success. I would like to get Fedora to work on here because it’s really my preferred distro. At some point I also want to get Windows installed as well. Finally, the computer really needs a new battery as well. The old original battery lasts maybe an hour and a half.

**Shannon (The Editor)’s note: after conversing with Russell in regards to the webcam issue, it has became apparent that the webcam has been broke for a long time so the issue cannot be blamed solely on LM.


Have you used Linux on a MacBook? Were you able to make triple booting work? Do you have any advice?

Own Your Name

This concept didn’t originate with me, and I can’t find the site(s) where I originally read about the importance of owning your own name online.  I’m not trying to take someone else’s idea here, just emphasize the truth behind the idea.  You need to own your own name online.

I realized a long time ago that you need to own your name in the form of a website.  I own basically every variation of russellhollander I can get my hands on, .net, .biz, .us, .org, .whatever.  I bought these domains so I don’t have anybody else out there operating under my name.  Not that anybody would do so maliciously, but if they are also named Russell Hollander.  Well, I was here first, and that’s going to be me.  You can find a different name to operate under online.  Someone else before me got rhollander and hollander, so I took russellhollander.

I hadn’t considered how this same logic applies to social media though.  Honestly I find social media kind of tiring.  I maintain a Facebook and a Twitter, but I don’t particularly care for them.  I keep FB going because I’ve got a ton of friends on there from college, and don’t have another way of being in touch with them.  I guess I could get their phones and email addresses, but it’s easier to just let FB handle all that for me.  I keep it pretty locked down though.  I kind of view Twitter as my public face on social media, but I barely send out any tweets.  I mostly use it to just keep track of news.  I guess I have a Google+ as well, don’t do anything with that.  Oh yeah, and Linked in.  Guess I should make better use out of these things.

But the Instagram Imposter episode has taught me that you need to own your name on social media too, even when it is annoying.  I don’t know anything about Instagram other than Facebook owns it.  Yet some miscreant got on there, set up an account with basically my name, stole my photo from Twitter, and at least had the decency to also post this web address.  I can’t really see that the person did anything with the account.  No activity.  I would’ve never even known about it unless a couple friends of mine told me they were following me on there.  Well, you can’t follow me on Instagram as of this writing, because I don’t use an Instagram.  But maybe I should.  Someone else is out there pretending to be me.  I can’t have that.

In the end, Instagram removed that account, so for now the issue is resolved.  I’d still like to know if it was a person creating that, or if Instagram somehow scrubbed publicly available data and made that account to inflate their numbers, as was suggested by a friend of mine in the web design, SEO, and marketing business.

The whole point I’m rambling towards is that you probably should have an account for yourself with these services, if nothing else so your presence on the web is actually coming from you.  Most of us are insignificant enough no one would bother to take our names or try to pretend to be us, but I don’t know why you’d even give out the opportunity.  Maybe that’s a paranoid way of looking at things, but I’d look at is as proactive.

Someone Is Impersonating Me on Instagram

I don’t have an instagram account.  If you go to you will see an account using my image and listing my website address.  I did not set this account up, and this is not me.  I am not this person.  I found out about it when friends of mine in the real world told me they were following me on instagram.

Instagram’s “help center” or whatever is being anything but helpful.  In addition to having no phone number or email address or whatever, their annoying form to dispute this account isn’t working.  And they’re demanding that I send them color photos of government issued IDs.  Well, I don’t like that, but I’m trying to do it.  And they won’t let me.

The impersonator doesn’t appear to really be doing anything.  I’m wondering if Facebook just decided to create this account for me.  If that’s the case, they need to let people know they’re doing that.  Instagram needs to make their support and help pages actually useful.

I’ll post another update whenever this situation resolves itself, if ever.


Update 10:42

I think I finally got the form to submit on the official instagram help page, so hopefully the ball is rolling.  I also tweeted @Instagram and @Instagram help to try to move things along.  I have a feeling I’ll get faster action that way hopefully.  I’m sure the Instagram app and website are dandy, but I don’t use that service, and don’t want anyone using my image, likeness, and name out there.  People that do use Instagram love it, and I’m sure their support is good, and the problem I was having submitting the dispute form was on my end.  Further updates to come.


Update 10:51

Got an email from the Instagram support after submitting the form finally worked.  I emailed them back with the exact same info I had submitted, just to be sure.  I’m sure they’ve got the ball rolling now.  Hopefully this will be done quickly.  Below is a screenshot of the imposter account, just for fun.



Update 10:57

Just an observation, not really a development.  The Instagram dispute form wanted color copies of a government issued ID where they can clearly see my name and so forth.  Well, in addition to my driver’s license, I keep my passport in my work bag.  My girlfriend thought it was weird to have that on me.  Maybe that isn’t smart, but I always know where it is.  And it came in handy today.  I know I’m me, and I have two forms of gubmint ID to prove it, basically at all times.  I’ve got my social security card on me too, come to think of it.  Right behind my fishing license in my wallet.

Update 4:30 on 4/19
Overnight I got an email from Instagram saying the fallacious account was deleted. They didn’t elaborate on whether an individual was responsible, or if it was something created automatically, which is a theory that seems more and more likely. Also, I’m making this update from my phone. This is my first time using WordPress as an app on my phone. Seems pretty good so far.