Luther Tour Epilogue

It has been several weeks since we got back from Germany and Austria, and Shannon and I did a bit of reflection on what went well and not-so-well for our first European travel experience.

Right off the bat, taking the train from Kansas City to St. Louis was a good move. We had a great experience on the train, and I’d definitely take the train again to places like Chicago where you don’t absolutely need a car to get around, and don’t lose too much time going that way. It was nice not to have to pay to park for two weeks in St. Louis at the airport, or to bother relatives by asking them to park the car at their place.

Four-wheel suit cases were definitely a plus as well. We got new luggage at TJ Maxx for the trip. All I had ever had in the past was the 2 wheel variety of suit case, and the 4 wheel is definitely easier to get around, other than maybe on cobblestone. Two-wheel wouldn’t be much better on cobble though.

Shannon got some air tags and we put one in each of our big suit cases, and I kept one in my day bag. That helped us keep oriented, and to always know where the bus would be if we were ever to get separated from the group. That didn’t happen fortunately, but it was nice to have some extra insurance.

We took water bottles, and that was definitely necessary. If anything, we should’ve taken more and larger ones, as we also ended up keeping plastic bottles and filling them up to take around with us as well. We would’ve spent significantly more on water otherwise.

Electrolyte hydration packets definitely kept us going. There were several times on the trip, especially early on, where without those to replenish our salts and fluids, I definitely would’ve experienced leg cramps. I won’t make a big trip again without them. We got a big sack at CostCo.

Taking a group tour for our first European trip worked well for us. It was nice to get group rates, have other Americans to travel with, and all the arrangements made ahead of time. I’d feel confident going back to Germany again now and planning a trip of my own, and probably elsewhere in Europe too. It was also nice to only have to worry about paying for one meal or so per day, and souvenirs, rather than feeling like we were constantly shelling out dough the whole time.

On the tech front, I got the smallest profile power adapters I could find on Amazon. Lots of the ones available were large and awkward. None of our devices needed the power transformed, just the adapter portion. I found some that were very flat, and we each took two, which was sufficient. I also got us some PortaPow usb data blocking chargers which may have been overkill, but allowed for usb charging with peace of mind. We took portable power banks that let us keep our phones from dying during the day on our excursions. I found one that had enough capacity to charge my phone 3 times while still retaining a relatively small form factor, just a bit larger than a deck of cards.

I do wish I had taken a real computer with me. I had an android tablet with a detachable keyboard, and it definitely served me well. I took all my notes for the trip on it, and I was able to use it to study some materials I have for a certification test I’m hoping to take soon, and handle email. I was originally planning to take my Pine64 PineTab 2, but had a problem of some sort with Thunderbird after an update. I had to uninstall Thunderbird to get an update to run, and now it won’t let me reinstall it. I probably made that a bigger issue in my mind than it needed to be. It would’ve been nice to be able to do all the blog posts from the trip as events were unfolding rather than afterward.

One thing that was a double-edged sword for us was that most of our destinations were smaller cities and towns. We spent barely any time in Frankfurt or Berlin, and missed Munich entirely. It would’ve been nice to get some bigger city experience. Erfurt was the biggest city we spent any amount of time in, and the population there is only around 215,000 people. With all that being said, I loved the smaller towns, the beautiful countryside, and the friendly people.

One German gentleman who spoke with us at the Martin Luther wedding festival had been living in Berlin for several years after moving there from the countryside, and didn’t have many kind things to say about the big city. He said it didn’t even feel like a real place, unlike Wittenberg, which at least during the festival was quite alive and felt very German to him.

It would’ve been nice to be able to use the public transit more while we were in Germany. We were on the tour bus the entire time essentially, so we didn’t take any trains anywhere while in Germany. I’ve heard both good and bad things from other people’s experiences with that, and would’ve liked to try it myself.

We should’ve gotten more food from street vendors. We should’ve gotten less Italian food and more German. I didn’t end up trying any of the while while over there, and I wish I had. The German beer was definitely good though, and I’m glad I didn’t try too little of it.

Things we took that we didn’t end up using or needing would definitely include swim suits and water shoes. I don’t know if any of our hotels actually had pools or not, but we wouldn’t have had much time for it anyway, and could’ve saved a little space in our baggage leaving that stuff behind. We also took more first-aid type stuff than we ended up using, but maybe that was a situation where it was better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

We should’ve had compression socks for the plane rides. Upon arriving, I wish there had been more time to transition rather than immediately getting into a full day of activity that we were too exhausted to fully appreciate.

Overall, the trip was great. I am eager to go back. I’d definitely like to spend more time in Regensburg and Erfurt. Beyond the big cities we didn’t get to spend any time in, we didn’t get to see any of the north and central parts of the country. I’d imagine the next time we go to Europe, it will probably be to the UK or Italy, but if I get an opportunity to visit Germany and Austria again, I’ll take it.

Luther Tour – STL->KC Day 14 – June 17

It was another early day, and another travel day for us. I awoke before my 5:15 AM alarm and got my day started. Shannon also woke up before 6 AM, although she had planned to be up at 6:15. I went down to the hotel breakfast and had some eggs, biscuits, and sausage patties, as well as half a cup of coffee. I took back to the room for Shannon a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a strawberry yogurt cup, a couple sausage patties, and a small blueberry muffin. We filled our water bottles, checked out, and climbed into the Uber I had pre-reserved to pick us up at 7.

Our driver Stephen loaded our luggage into his Infiniti QX-80. I gave him a 5 star rating and a 20% tip, which may have been excessive, now that I’m back in a place of having to think of money as real and not as pretend like it was in Europe.

We met up with a friend from our trip group at the train station. She is taking the train also, but only as far as Warrensburg. She’s actually asleep laying down in her train seat right now.

The train departed on time, and we’re again enjoying our ride across the state. I’m grateful not to have to drive, and I’m glad we didn’t have to pay to park a car at the airport.

On the train, Shannon got me a jimmy dean sausage egg and cheese biscuit and a coffee. She had a hotdog, pretzels, and a coke.

When we arrive in KC, Shannon’s parents will pick us up, and we’ll go get some BBQ. I’ve been having a hankering for lemonade, so I’m going to have to get some before the day is over.


When we arrived at the station in Kansas City, the elevator was broken, so we had to lug our very heavy suitcases up long flights of stairs to get back to the level of the terminal from the tracks. Shannon’s parents had driven our Jeep down to pick us up, and with 4 people, 2 large suitcases, one small suitcase, 2 backpacks, and my day bag, we were barely able to get everything loaded into the car.

We had lunch at Smokehouse BBQ in Gladstone, and I was able to get the lemonade I had been wanting. Also had brisket and sausage with fries and ranch. First time I’d had ranch since leaving the country. We got started telling Shannon’s parents the tale of our trip, but there’s definitely more to cover. I’m glad I have notes to organize everything into these blog posts.

At home, we organized the souvenirs based on what we were giving to various family and friends for whom we had made purchases. The dogs were extremely happy to see us and Greta could barely stop licking. They re-adapted to their normal routine quite quickly. We later found out they immediately guilted the house/dog sitter into letting them sleep in the big bed every night, which was funny.

Luther Tour – Berlin->Newark->St. Louis Day 13 – June 16

Today was a long, hard day of travel. I woke up at 4:15 AM before my 4:30 alarm. I started rousting Shannon at 4:30. We were the last ones down to the lobby, as became our pattern as the trip wore on, but we were there before the 5 AM roll call.

The Germans had prepared sack breakfasts for us since the hotel breakfast would not be open before we had to leave. We each grabbed a sack and took a short walk out to the bus, where Sergei loaded our bags into the cargo space.

The sack breakfasts were humorous. What did Thomas and/or Luther Tours tell the hotel we needed, presuming the hotel prepared them? Each sack had 3 sandwiches. One that was a single slice of salami on a kaiser roll. One that was a seed bun with 2 slices of cheese. One that was chopped up carrots and maybe pesto? It was hard to tell. I ate my cheese sandwich and my salami sandwich. They also included a treat called a Knopper. Shannon and I split one and saved one to give to give as a present to our house/dog sitter. The sacks also contained at least one apple and one tomato each. Also a mineralwasser and an Apfelschorle. It was way too much to get through in the hour or so drive from Wittenberg to Berlin. The bus dumped us off at the bus parking at the Berlin airport, and we tried to enter the facility as a group, but once inside, chaos reigned.

We had to wait forever in the check-in line. Some people managed to check in online and got to jump in front of everyone, but also spent forever up at the counter, and annoyed everyone. On 4 separate occasions we were screened and scanned, as though they did not trust their own process. Finally nearly everyone made it over to the gate.

The flight from Berlin to Newark, NJ was supposed to take 8 hours 55 minutes, but ended up being more like 8:20. We took off at 9:50 and landed about 12:30, something like that. We time traveled for 6 hours heading West. As has become a tradition of mine when returning from international travel, Shannon and I said the Pledge of Allegiance as we were landing.

We arrived in Terminal B in Newark, had to pass through customs, and they barely cared. A couple simple questions about the value of souvenirs we brought back, and they waved us through. We had to pick up our checked bags, and then immediately re-check them, with no due diligence or scrutiny applied to them at all, just grab at point A, drop back off at point B. Then we had to go to Terminal C for our flight to St. Louis.

The boarding passes said gate 86, but it had changed to gate 74, and gate 109, at some point during the flight. Our gate actually changed numerous times and we ended up walking back and forth repeatedly. At some point we encountered a gentleman from our group and he stuck with us. Ultimately, we ended up leaving from Gate C 103. This all happened during a brutal 8 hour layover in Newark. All of the waiting areas were small, but they had tables with charging stations. Unfortunately, the chairs were bolted to the floor, and were an uncomfortable fit.

Our flight was delayed taking off nearly an hour, between all the gate changes, and sitting in line to take off. Shannon and I were both aisle seats on the last row, which is a terrible row to be in. Most of our group was in rows 32 and 34. Fortunately for me, many seats were open and the flight attendants moved me up to a row that only had one person, so I was able to spread out a bit. I wish they had let Shannon move up too, because there was definitely space for her to do so.

When we landed in STL, we picked up our baggage at carousel 6, then left through door 18. I called for the shuttle over to the Pear Tree hotel, and we were picked up shortly. They had an entire bus for us, which was quite nice. We were the only ones on there. We checked in at the hotel, turned the air conditioner down to a reasonable human temperature, and both took showers.

I have an Uber scheduled to pick us up at 7 AM tomorrow out front to take us to the train station. I hope we’ll be up in time to eat the hotel breakfast.

For whatever her faults may be, it feels good to be back in America, and particularly back in STL, because we’re so close to being home. One hopefully relaxing train ride, and we’re there. Eager to see the dogs, dole out some souvenirs, and generally get back to normal life.

Luther Tour – Wittenberg Day 12 – June 15

Today is the Wedding Festival of Martin and Katie Luther, or Luther Hochzeit. We got down to the breakfast later than I would have liked and had to rush it to be done by 9, because Pr. Hagen was planning to take a group over to the city church that Luther preached from most often at that time. It was raining, and we all had our jackets. We walked quickly over and it turned out that the church was not open until 11 AM. If only we had seen the sign the day before!

Shannon and I went to the coffee house across the street from the hotel because it was one of the few places open. I had a large cappuccino and Shannon had a Chococcino. Both drinks came from the same machine that every hotel we have been to was using. No actual barista doing anything. Only one time in this entire trip did we interact with a barista, and Shannon had a challenging experience due to the language barrier. It’s been surprising to see that the coffee culture in the US may be far different from that of Germany, maybe we just haven’t encountered a real coffee shop. We might have to travel to Paris or Vienna for the coffee/cafe culture I was expecting to see.

We returned to the hotel to rest for a bit, then around 11 set off again. We encountered various members of our group out and about in the city. We went into a few more souvenir shops and got more decks of cards (which were cheaper here) and some magnets (expensive). The one item we haven’t been able to find is the Martin Luther rubber duck, which would’ve been a funny gift for my mom since people with jeeps give each other ducks now for some reason. Shockingly, several of these stores, even one run by a very nice old lady, also sold graphic pornography items.

After the souvenir shops, we returned to the city church and paid the 6 EUR to go in. It was nice, but maybe not worth that amount of money. Still, if you’re in Luther’s town, you probably don’t want to leave without going into his church.

As we saw several times, right next door to one church was another.

From there we went back to the main market place and bought some Knobibrot mit Kase, or garlic cheese bread, and another Kirschbier. Both items were excellent. Other members of our group had bought a big plate of mushrooms, and I tried one, also quite good.

We then walked all the way back down to the Augusteum in the hopes we would find another souvenir shop with the ducks, but did not encounter it, so we returned to the hotel to rest for a bit. Tomorrow at 5 AM we board the bus for the final time to head to the Berlin airport. The only souvenirs I got for myself are a commemorative coin from a machine (which sadly says 2019 on it instead of 2024) and several decks of the German playing cards.

I’m looking forward to being back home with my dogs, air conditioner, and ice maker. I basically didn’t make much progress reading my material for the test I’m hoping to take to get a data governance certification, the trip has been too busy. Other than on the train ride out here that is. So I have to catch up on that quickly.

After a bit more rest, I went down to the lobby, bought some stamps to mail some final post cards, and then settled our bill with the hotel. We had heard rumors of a parade for the Hochzeit, and it turned out the corner of the street our hotel was on was the end point, so we watched the parade ending for a bit. Then we went out to dinner at the Tuscan restaurant a few blocks away. I had a Diavola pizza, which I’d been considering at several prior pizza occasions, but had been nervous about the spice level. Turns out it was fairly tame. The pizza had pepperoni, red pepper, tomatoes, and garlic on it. Shannon had carbonara with ham and did not find it to be particularly impressive. I also had iced tea (it was Fuze from a bottle).

When we left dinner, we walked past a music act by the city church and watched it for a bit. The same band had been playing earlier around 11 AM. Then we went to get another Kirschbier and also a Honigbier, or honey bier. Shannon preferred the Kirschbier, and I think I did too, but both were good. We watched another band do a sound check on the main stage, then watched a different band perform on the front steps of the Ratthaus, or town hall. Many of the musical acts included bag pipes, which surprised me. I had always thought of them as more of a Scottish thing than German, but they were very popular at the wedding festival.

We got a final Eis on the way back to the hotel. Shannon got macchiato again, and I had banana. The banana tasted almost too realistic, but it was good. The best flavor I had the whole trip was probably the Melone. Now we’re back at the hotel packing up and preparing to rest before a long day of travel ahead.

Luther Tour – Wittenberg Day 11 – June 14

After another delightful German breakfast, today’s bus trip took us finally to Wittenberg, the cradle of the Reformation. Again I couldn’t stay awake on the bus unfortunately. As we arrived at the hotel, Shannon give Sergei his gratuity for being an excellent driver all week.

We stored our luggage at the hotel and then walked over to the castle church, the same one where Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door in 1517. The original door is of course long gone. There is now a tower at the church with A Mighty Fortress Is Our God written in German near the top.

Luther and Melancthon are both entombed at this church.

There was a Wittenberg English Ministry church service conducted at the church.

From there we walked over to the Old Latin School where the leader there from SELK gave our group a short presentation. A lady from our group presented him with a cross carved from a hickory tree in Wittenberg, Missouri, which is in Perry County. It was a powerful moment.

After this we walked down to the Augusteum, which is the site of Martin Luther’s house. Unfortunately the house is not open due to renovations, but they did have a different museum exhibit going, which was like an ABCs of Martin Luther. We gave ourselves an accelerated tour because Thomas was going into great detail at each letter.

We had our final group dinner at the hotel tonight, buffet style. They had little pork medalions, caprese salad, and a bunch of German stuff that I skipped, like cabbage and au gratin potatoes. The desserts were a weird cup of chopped apples in syrup with white goop on top, or key lime pie. The key lime pie was pretty good. Shannon presented our gratuity to Thomas at the start of the meal.

After dinner Shannon and I walked back to the festival area, stopped at an ATM, checked out a few booths, and drank a Kirschbier, which is cherry beer. It was very good. We stuck around a bit to hear some Ska band do their sound check, then returned to the room.

Tomorrow we are free all day to attend the Wedding Festival, which Martin Luther would probably hate. The people in costumes are often times dressed quite anachronistically for a Reformation era event. Lots of them are dressed like vikings from the TV show. Many of the women have jingle bells on their feet. Pr. Hagen is going to take a group to the city church, St. Mary’s, where Luther did most of his preaching, at 9AM.

Sunday we board the bus at 5am to go to the Berlin airport, where we’ll fly to Newark NJ for an 8 hour layover before flying to St. Louis.

I forgot to mention the Eis after lunch. Shannon had cookie and macchiato. I went for zitrone (lemon) and watermelon. Both were delicious.

Luther Tour – Eisenach Day 10 – June 13

This morning we had our usual German breakfast, and sat with another couple, who made for pleasant company. At 8:45 we boarded the bus to head over to Eisenach. The group got off at the Bach house, which was to be the 11:30 AM event. We walked down to the market plaza and visited a Lutheran church, one where Luther had preached, and where Bach had been the organist. Shannon walked back to the Luther House museum and picked up some souvenirs.

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”

We decided to skip the Bach house and went on a brief walk in the city before stopping at a coffee house. Shannon had an Eischocolade and I had a double cappuccino. Shannon caught up on some email correspondence related to her colloquy, then we walked the city a bit. We stopped for lunch at a Doner/Pizza place. I got a Doner platter with no cabbage, so it consisted of Doner meat (which seemed like ham), fries, and lettuce and onion. Garlic sauce was dumped on it. Shannon got a pizza with pepperoni, mushrooms, and onions. The pizza seemed to be about the same quality as a Hunt Brothers from a gas station, but the Doner platter was great. I ended up finishing Shannon’s pizza and she finished the fries and Doner meat.

We walked the city a bit more, went in a couple shops, and stopped at an ATM, then returned to the bus drop off point around 1:30. I saw a computer store with some historical hardware, including from the GDR, on display. At 2pm, the bus drove us up the hill to the drop off point for the Wartburg Castle. We took a cab up the hill for 6 EUR, along with two other couples. The rest of the group walked up 244 along with a bunch of steep paths. The cab was definitely the right choice.

You had to pay 2 EUR for a photo pass inside the castle, so we only took exterior photos. This castle was quite impressive, though not as much as the Veste Coburg, I’d say. We went through an entry point that may have at one point been a carriage house. Most of the rooms it is a guess at this point what they functioned as. The castle also was notably not built for defensive/military purposes, but to show the wealth and power of the family that built it.

The next room up is called The Knights Hall. It is supposed the Knights may have stayed in the room. Not too many men would’ve been accommodated there, but it did have an impressive reconstructed fireplace. Up a floor was the Duke’s room and the Elizabeth Bower. The entire castle seemed to be devoted to the myth and legend of St. Elizabeth, and her works with the poor. The Elizabeth Bower was filled with mosaics depicting her life story, although they were later additions from the 19th century. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the German leader during WWI, had some of the work done in the castle. There was also a chapel and a massive upper hall which is now used in graduation ceremonies, among other purposes.

Finally, we viewed the donkey keeper’s room, which did not even have a bed. Nor did Martin Luther’s room when he spent some months here under the alias Knight George. It was at this castle that he translated the Bible into the German language, and actually by that act standardized what would become High German.

At some point Martin Luther said while at the Wartburg he fought the devil with ink, as in with his writings. Some people took that statement literally, including possibly castle guards, who played up the story. There is (or was) an ink stain on the wall, possibly from a bottle of ink having been thrown at it. In Luther’s room, large chunks of the plaster have been chipped away, including pieces of the ink stain, from people wanting a relic of Luther’s fight with the devil using ink.

When the tour was over, we walked back down the stairs. It was not nearly as bad as the walk down from Neuschwanstein.

The hotel provided us with a buffet dinner in their restaurant tonight. One sausage I had for breakfast and again at dinner here was so good, I need to find out what it is called. It is perfectly tender salami style meat, even with a casing that had to be removed. There was some kind of chicken stew, mashed potatoes, some mildly spicy breaded fried salmon, and an assortment of other German dishes. Dessert was some weird dry nut cake with a fruitcake style topping. The later they replenished their supply of chocolate cake, which turned out to actually be white cheese cake with a crunchy bottom crust and a covering of cocoa powder. It was good.

After dinner we went to the “TV Room” which was actually just the hotel lobby, and played cards with several members of the group. They were playing a game called “Jump” which was a rummy style game. I ended up winning, although it seemed like the scorekeeper was having a bit of trouble keeping the count. Shannon was in 3rd place. They may not invite us to join them again due to our beginner’s luck! It turns out one of the ladies on the trip is also a Liverpool Rummy player, although she is used to doing it where low score wins, unlike how our family plays with the high score winning.

After the card game, we went to get an Eis. Shannon had a scoop of mint and a scoop of chocolate. I had melone, which turned out to be cantaloupe flavored, I think. It was good, probably the best Eis I had on the trip, and something I wouldn’t have normally gotten.

Luther Tour – Erfurt Day 9 – June 12

We made it downstairs for breakfast by about 8:15 AM. We had to eat quickly because the check-out and leave time was 8:45 AM. Unlike the rest of the group, we left our bags up in the room, so we had to get to the top of the fun-house hotel to drag our stuff down.

We made it downstairs by 8:43, and everyone else was already loaded, but our bags still fit, and we were in our seats at 8:45, so no harm done.

Sergei started us towards Erfurt, we had our brief devotion, and Thomas talked a bit about the city and its history. I was very tired and could not stay awake on the bus, so I did not see much of Thuringia after we entered. Sergei pulled us off the highway to a former GDR border checkpoint that is one of the few that was left in tact after the reunifiation of Germany. The guard tower was 3 stories high, and there were also some portions of the Berlin Wall present on site. We were now in the former East Germany.

The bus pulled up next to a large plaza below an 18th century citadel, and we walked across the plaza towards the Dom cathedral and its adjoining secondary church. The two buildings were built on and into a high hill. The Dom is St. Mary’s where Martin Luther was ordained as a priest. Below it is a very extensive crypt church. The church next door was St. Severus, and a funeral service was in progress there, so we could not tour it.

After viewing the cathedral, we went back down the 70 stairs carved into the hill, and back through the plaza. A festival of some sort was being set up, but we did not get to visit any of the vendors. We headed into the old city, and then encountered a bridge with buildings built on top of it. Not the most impressive bridge with buildings built on top of it, but certainly a neat thing. On the other side was a smaller market plaza, which was to be the group’s rally point later in the afternoon.

The next 2.5 hours were leisure time. Shannon and I went to a pizza place. I had a pizza with ham and artichoke. Shannon had spaghetti Bolognese. Both meals were very good. We then walked around the city a bit and Shannon did some shopping. We returned to the plaza a bit ahead of schedule and the rest of the group slowly appeared as well. Shannon got us a couple iced coffees to enjoy before our next event.

At 2:30 we walked over to the former Augustinian Monastery where Luther spent a number of years as a monk. As of 1529, the edifice no longer functions as a monastery. We toured the church, the cloister, a room where the monks would hold church and other functions in the winter, then an upper floor where the monks cells were located, and where they slept as a group. There was a reconstruction of the cell Luther would have used, as well as a number of other cells. There was also a very cool library/lecture/debate hall that could only be seen through a glass window.

The stained glass windows below were removed during WW2 and preserved safely elsewhere. They are 700 years old. Erfurt did suffer damage during the war, including at the monastery. Several of the pictures below may look familiar to anyone who saw the 2003 Luther movie.

Martin Luther’s monk cell below.

When the tour concluded, we took another of Thomas’s famous “short walks” over to our hotel, which appears to be in a Turkish section of the town. We got checked in, decompressed for a few minutes, then went down the road, back to the market area our group had met earlier at the end of that bridge. We had dinner next to the Italian place we had eaten earlier. I got a Thuringer Bratwurst, which was supposed to come with sauerkraut, and I asked them not to give me that, so they instead substituted some hot kohlsalat, or coleslaw. There were little bits of ham in it. I ate a few bites, just to be sure, but did not much care for it. I also ended up with a small salad and mashed potatoes. Shannon had linguini with salmon. Both meals were enjoyable. We walked over to the bridge hoping to get an ice cream, but the store was closed, so we went around the corner to a different ice cream store. There are Eiscafe locations all over every German city we have been to, the Germans really love their ice cream. I got one scoop of Heidelbeer which turned out to be blueberry, and Shannon got a scoop of Dunkel, which was Dutch chocolate.

We walked back towards our hotel and stopped out front to finish the ice cream. I think it is actually gelato, not actual ice cream. I realized that nearby the hotel was a Martin Luther monument, so we walked over to view it, then returned to the hotel.

Tomorrow at 8:45 we’re heading to the Wartburg castle, then some sort of Bach thing. We don’t care to go to the Bach thing, but we’re probably going to be stuck doing so, or we’ll miss the Wartburg.

Luther Tour – Coburg Day 8 – June 11

Today is June 11, which is Shannon’s birthday. Today was meant to be a leisure day in Coburg, but nearly the entire group decided to go up to the Veste Coburg castle, one of the largest in Germany. After breakfast at the hotel, the group got on the bus and at 9:30 we were on our way. Another gentleman on the tour has a birthday today as well, so everyone on the bus sang the Happy Birthday song to Shannon and him.

By land, the Veste is only a mile from the hotel, but there is a notable elevation stage as the castle is up on a hill. Sergei got us close with the bus, then we walked up to the entrance from there.

I enjoyed this castle much more than Neuschwanstein, probably because it was actually a functional castle at some point, and not merely a decorated palace. The appointments were not as rich and ornate as at Neuschwanstein, but still quite nice. The Duke and Duchess of Coburg lived in the residence here. Martin Luther was also in residence for a time in 1530 while the rest of the Lutheran princes and his colleagues such as Melanchthon were at Augsburg composing the Augsburg confession. This was apparently as far into Bavaria as Luther could safely travel during the Reformation, for fear of the Catholic princes of Bavaria. We were able to visit the room where Luther lived and worked, as well as a Luther Kapelle, or Chapel, at the castle. Also on display were weapons, torture devices, carriages, sleds, and all kinds of other interesting items.

Many beautiful works of art are in the castle museums, including some by Lucas Cranach.

Arms and armor were on display at the Veste as well.

Finally we reached Martin Luther’s rooms at the Castle.

The hourglass below is for timing sermons.

Some historical musical instruments.

Some torture and punishment devices, including a scold’s bridle.

Some additional arms, including dog armor.

There were numerous carriages and sleds in the castle’s garage.

After several hours at the castle, we rode the bus back to the hotel. Originally it was thought that some people might walk down, through the gardens, but we spent so much time at the castle, the consensus was to ride the bus back. The afternoon was a leisure period.

I went into the corner discount grocery store when we got back to the hotel and picked up some beef sticks (a pack of garlic and a pack of cheese) as well as a chocolate sampler for us to try, and a thing of wild berry tea bags to take to my Grandma as a souvenir. In Franconia, which I believe we are in that portion of Bavaria, tea is a much beloved drink.

We decompressed for a bit, then Shannon determined that she wanted to get some empanadas at an Argentine restaurant a couple minutes from the hotel. We ordered one each of a jamon y queso, carne, onion and cheese, and caprese empanada. They were all very good. They also came with little cups of what may have been pico de Gallo or something similar. It was all delicious. I had a sparkling water to drink and Shannon ordered a wheat beer, but I think ended up with just a lager of some sort. Another couple joined us for lunch, and we paid for theirs because they had covered our lunch previously up at Kehlsteinhaus.

After lunch we went into an Apotheke shop where a specific priest’s medicinal alcohol is available for sale, one of a very few places it is on offer in the country. We did not buy any yet, but we might pick some up.

We then visited a Lutheran church where Luther himself had preached in 1530. Someone was getting an organ lesson, and the tune was familiar, but I could not think of the song name.

On the way back, we went into a board game store and bought \a Star Wars matching game that is in German as a souvenir for some family members. Despite the language barrier, they should be able to figure it out. We stopped at an ice cream stand and Shannon got a scoop of coffee flavored in a cone and I got fig flavored. The fig was very good, and I’m glad I got something that isn’t readily available in the US.

Shannon went into a shoe store, but it was just like a Payless or similar store and she did not purchase anything. I perused books and we ended up getting one for our niece, “Komm Spiele, Kleiner Tiger” which means “Come Play, Little Tiger.” We then walked to another toy store, which Shannon went into while I went back to the hotel. Shannon just came in with a bunch of souvenir chocolate bars for our entire list of people back home.

Tonight the group is going to the Coburg copy of the Munich Hofbrauhaus, the famous beer hall, for dinner. John’s wife apparently bought a nice cake for the birthday celebrations.

At 5:45, the group proceeded to walk to the Munich Hofbrauhaus Coburg. It is a good thing we went with the group, because it was located in a totally different direction and location than Google Maps had indicated to me. Thomas was telling us a Bock beer that was “dark” and “more powerful” than their normal beer. It was a good Bock, but nothing crazy from what I could tell. I ordered the Bock, Shannon had the Lager. Later on we ordered another Bock to share.

I had the jaegerschnitzel for dinner, Shannon had the HB Spezial Schnitzel. Mine came with mushrooms and a thin white sauce, and fried potatoes. Shannon’s was smothered with onions, feta cheese, and bacon, as well as a side of fries. It was really too much food and we could’ve shared one plate. There was a salad too. I had it in my head that food was expensive in Germany, but by this point in the trip I think I finally decided that’s really not so true. This meal would’ve easily cost over $100 at the Austrian restaurant we’ve been to a couple times in Kansas City, but the whole spread was only 60 EUR.

After dinner we walked back to the hotel and they let us into a wine tasting room that normally you’d have to pay to reserve. The cake John’s wife bought a had a bottom layer of crust, then a white cake that may have been extremely light cheese cake, then more crust, and on top of that was raspberry jam and gelatin, and some strawberries. The outer edge was flakes of white chocolate. Shannon and I shared a piece as we were already quite full.

When we got back up to the room, I transitioned my big suitcase into the new dirty clothes suitcase for both of us, and moved my clothing to Shannon’s smaller carry on. I think I’m still going to need to do laundry before the trip is over to make it, but maybe just one outfit. I’ve been making my pants go 2 days use, which hopefully isn’t a horrible mistake.

Tomorrow we set off for Erfurt, and deeper into the Martin Luther topics. We stay there two nights, then two nights in Wittenburg, before returning to the US. Apparently there is a horrible 8 hour layover in the Newark, NJ airport we’ll have to deal with upon returning to the US.

Luther Tour – Regensburg & Coburg Day 7 – June 10

As with every other day on the trip so far, we began with breakfast in the hotel after finishing our packing to leave Salzburg. I stuck with my German breakfast tendency, and in addition to the prosciutto, ham, and smoked salmon, I had some kipper and a couple soft cheeses. They may have just been cream cheese, but it could’ve been a different soft cheese. One had oregano and basil or something like that on it, the other had little sun dried tomato bits.

Before leaving, I mailed a couple post cards we filled out, both to my family. It cost 3.85 EUR to send a postcard to my grandma and my parents. We boarded the bus and prepared for a basically 3 hour drive up to Regensburg. There either was no Autobahn route to Regensburg, or I may have overheard Thomas saying something about a main route being closed, but it seemed like most of the journey was through back roads. It was great seeing more of the Bavarian countryside, and Sergei showed off his impressive skills maneuvering the bus around roads it shouldn’t have been able to navigate.

At some point the bus stopped to let everyone go to the bathroom at a gas station. Shannon got me a peach tea, which was good. First tea I’ve had in the country. The 0.75L bottle had less sugar in it than a 12 oz can of coca cola. She got a cookies and cream white chocolate ice cream bar for herself, but did not much care for it.

We finally arrived in Regensburg and immediately began a walking tour of the city. Regensburg is old enough there was a Roman presence here in ancient times, which is rare in Germany. It was the site of Casta Regina, I believe that was the name. Essentially a large Roman fortress. On top of that, a wooden Bavarian city, and eventually a stone Bavarian city was built over time.

The exposed stones shown in the image below are remnants of the Roman wall and/or citadel. This may have at one point been a gatehouse. You can see how successive buildings were just built into/on top of the Roman structures.

The large Catholic church was being renovated, as seems to be the case in many of the churches we’ve seen. The adjoining Bischoffshaus or Bishop’s House, was now a rather cool looking brewery.

We eventually arrived to a town square called Neupfarrplatz, or new church plaza. This area had been a Jewish quarter, but the residents were driven out in the 1500s, their buildings torn down, and a church and town square built on top of it. There was an underground excavation where you could see the layers of Roman castle, Jewish cellars, the Lutheran church, all surrounded by a WW2 era air raid shelter. A Canadian lady who has lived in Germany since 1986 was our guide at Document Neupfarrplatz, the museum/excavation site below the church. Prior to going down into the cellars, we were able to visit the interior of the Lutheran church above.

From there we were supposed to visit a brewery, and made our way over, but not enough time had been left for lunch, and the trip participants were becoming peckish. Rather than taking the brewery tour, the group decided to head over to the market street and get lunch. This abrupt change in the schedule was much more troublesome to the Germans than I think it would have been to Americans. Thomas had to call the home office and explain everything and get permission to deviate from the plan.

The simple solution would’ve been to order some pizzas from the place right across from the brewery, take the tour while they were being cooked, then eat them afterward in the biergarten. Thomas had expressed to the tour planners that the itinerary was too tight timing-wise, but they hadn’t listened.

We walked along the road after lunch to the bus, which took us to Coburg. This was another 2.5 hours or so further north. The hotel we are in is built like a fun house. We had to climb stairs to get to the reception, which was difficult with baggage. Then we had to go down different stairs to get the elevator to the 4th floor, then down some stairs and up a bunch more stairs to get to our room, which is at the top of the structure. There is definitely no air conditioner here. The mini fridge does not appear to be functional, but the contents are free, a gift of appreciation from the Mayor, according to the gentleman at the desk who checked us in.

The hotel provided dinner, buffet style. I had a couple bratwursts and some fruit. There was a bunch of other stuff available as well, but it was not to my liking. Shannon said the brat was the best item she got, and she does not much care for sausages, so this is high praise. The brats were grilled, and had a very smooth interior, which is not that similar to the brats I’m used to in the US which have a more coarse interior.

We took a brief walk to a nearby square after dinner. There is a statue of Prince Albert, the husband of Britain’s Queen Victoria. Nothing was going on in the square on Monday night around 9pm. The area was mostly deserted. One of the most picturesque squares we’ve been to so far.

Back in the room, I called my mom and filled her in on the last few days activities. Then I took a shower, and though I would have found it hard to believe, the shower here is even worse than the one we had in Salzburg. No room to maneuver at all, although it was less of a step up to get into it at least.

Luther Tour – Oberndorf & Kehlsteinhaus Day 6 – June 9

The shower in our Salzburg hotel room is the worst we’ve had on this trip. You have to step way up through a narrow gap to get in and there are no handles or anything to grip onto. It feels unsafe. This morning I did some laundry in the sink and shower in the bathroom and hung it to dry. Hopefully by tomorrow when we leave here, it will be sufficiently dry and fresh that I’ll be able to wear it again. The hotel offers laundry service but to do what we would need done would be quite expensive, several Euro per item.

Theoretically today was a free day, but most of the group chose to engage in the optional activities. Our first destination was the Stille-Nacht-Kapelle, or Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. This small space is where the song Silent Night was written. Our group barely fit inside the chapel. We had a guided tour from an 85 year old gentleman named Hermann, who has an English wife, and was a cake baker in London for many years, though he was from this part of Austria from childhood. He was old enough that he remembers being given food by American soldiers after WW2.

We had a church service inside the chapel, very briefly. Rev. Hagen and another gentleman who has also served as a pastor previously, cooperatively conducted the service. We sang 3 verses of “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and the first German verse of Silent Night as well as 3 English verses. We also sang Away in a Manger. Hermann and Thomas were surprised to hear us singing in German. This area also had a water fountain, the only one we’ve seen on the trip so far, and it was fed directly from springs up the mountains. I wish I had taken a picture. Rev. Hagen, Shannon, and I all drank from the fountain. The water tasted good. This is the only free water we’ve had this entire trip! The fountain was affixed to the wall on the tower in the picture below, but you can’t see it in the image.

Our next adventure was heading over to Berchtesgaden to ascend the mountains and visit The Eagle’s Next, one of the few Third Reich-era buildings left intact, evidently. It rained a bit on the way over to the location where you board the official bus up the mountain, and generally the day was cloudy and gray. We had lunch while waiting for the bus to take us up at 1:30. Shannon had a bowl of goulasch and I had a Radler beer.

The bus ride up the mountain takes 15 minutes, and apparently there is only one switchback the entire way. You pass through 5 tunnels of varying lengths. The first is the longest. When you reach the top, there are impressive views, and then you walk down a long tunnel, which today was very cold and drippy, to ride a golden elevator to the top of the peak. It is an additional 120 meters up the elevator. The top normally has great views, but today it was very cloudy and most of our three hours up there, you could barely see anything.

The building at the top, the Kehlsteinhaus, is now a privately owned restaurant. While waiting for the clouds to clear, Shannon and I joined another couple from our group at the restaurant. We had another Radler, which in this case we had to mix ourselves. The beer was Munich Hofbrau, and there was a lemon lime soda they sold us to pour with the beer. We also had Apfelkuchen, which is a word I learned on Duo Lingo. It seemed like apple pie, but very thick with appels, and not a lot of pie filling goo holding it together. The Apfelkuchen was good, as was the Radler. The other couple regaled us with stories of their prior mission trips to Russia and the Dominican Republic.

Eventually the clouds cleared up a bit and we were able to take a few decent photos before heading back down the mountain. 3 hours up there on a cloudy day was definitely too much. Our guide Thomas tried to get our return trip moved up, but all the busses were booked solid, so we had to wait the full span of time.

We then returned to Salzburg, and this is a free evening. Rather than waiting in line for the elevator, Shannon and I walked to the bakery across the street to have some dinner. Shannon got a crispy chicken sandwich that looked like a spicy McChicken with tomato and lettuce on it. I got a salami sandwich with 2 slices of salami and a bit of cheese on a kaiser roll. There was also a piece of lettuce, but I disregarded it. We also got a chocolate muffin. I don’t believe Shannon was satisfied with the meal, and she was expecting that the staff would have heated up her chicken sandwich, but they did not. We may go out again later on this evening for a more complete dining experience.

Upon returning to our room, I wrote out a post card to my grandma. The picture is of the Stille-Nacht-Kapelle in the winter time, covered in snow.


As it turned out, we did go out later after a brief rest at the hotel. A couple blocks away was what turned out to be an Irish pub called Celtic Spirit. We ducked in there just as it started raining, passing some other members of our group on their way back to the hotel from the dinners they had already taken.

I had a beer called “Elvis Juice” that was a grapefruit IPA from Scotland. Shannon had an Irish Mule and then a Whisky and Cola. We also shared a pizza that was half pepperoni, half ham, with banana peppers on the whole thing. It was good, and the banana peppers did not add much heat at all. The bartender was half Mexican, half Irish. He had lived in the US at some point, as well as in other places in Europe, before coming to Salzburg a couple years ago following a girl.

It dumped rain for a while as we sat at the bar, then when it stopped we left and visited an ATM on our way back to the hotel. The ATM fee was extravagant, as well as the transaction fee.