Ravenwood Castle

Sometime in 1997, when our children Aubrey and Aaron were fifteen and fourteen, the lovely Robin and I took us all to Ravenwood Castle, a large bed-and-breakfast in Vinton County, Ohio.

Ravenwood is a faux mediieval castle, obviously much scaled down, but fun nonetheless. The "castle" offers an assortment of beautifully furnished guest rooms, and the grounds around the castle include various cottages, cabins, and even gypsy wagons.

First-class meals are served in the "Great Room." If I recall correctly, breakfast is served daily, and multi-course dinners by reservation. There is a well-stocked library in the castle, and a Tea Room and Gift Shop.

Robin and I stayed in the Empress Matilda room (above), and Aubrey and Aaron shared the Rapunzel room (below), up a narrow flight of stairs from our room (Ravenwood does not permit more than two guests in any room).

It was a fun stay for the four of us. Not cheap, but one of the more enchanting and memorable experiences in our travels.

Uncle Linny's

Always ask the hotel desk clerk for restaurant recommendations.

In Pontoon Beach, Illinois, tonight, just east of St. Louis. After checking into the Holiday Inn Express with my dad, it looked like our only choices for dinner were Denny's or McDonald's. Enter: desk clerk.

She recommended we drive just a couple blocks away to Uncle Linny's, a local eatery.

Man, am I glad we did. The place was packed--on a Tuesday evening! And the food was first rate (I had potato soup, grilled pork chops, baked potato and green beans--even the green beans were exceptional!).

So thank you, Uncle Linny. And Holiday Inn desk clerk.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Location:Pontoon Rd,Pontoon Beach,United States

11 Most Amazing Discoveries of 2010

I planned to write a quick post on the "10 Most Amazing Discoveries of 2010" in our travels, but just couldn't narrow it down to ten. It was hard enough to list just eleven. But eleven will have to do. Even so, it leaves out so many wonderful discoveries, like the Tomb of Hatshepsut in Egypt, the beautiful city of Strasbourg (especially Petit France) in France, and Heidelberg and Mount Nebo, and more! It's hard to believe all the wonderful experiences we had in 2010.

But here are eleven of the best:

11. Powell's Books in Portland, Oregon.

We couldn't make a visit to Portland without visiting one of the most famous and enjoyable bookstores in the world, now, could we? I only wish we had had a few more DAYS to spend there.

10. Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and Bridal Veil Falls. Among Others.

In the company of Don and Arvilla, we visited some of the most scenic places in the world, in this amazingly beautiful area. Bridal Veil Falls was one of numerous falls we gaped at that day.

9. Beautiful Charleston, South Carolina.

We performed the beautiful wedding of a beautiful bride last Summer, and squeezed in a little walking tour of Charleston's historic district. Wow.

8. The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

We love this resort in Gatlinburg, not only because it's beautiful and fun, but also because we spend time there with our children and grandchildren. Nothing better on God's green earth.

7. The giant sycamore leaves in Herborn, Germany.

We were astounded to see the size of the Fall leaves in this picturesque town in Germany. I thought they were maple leaves, but when I described them to a friend, he suggested they were probably sycamore leaves. Whatever. They were huge.

6. The village of St.-Marie-Aux-Mines in Alsace, France.

It was so cool to walk the streets and visit the shops of this town in the Alsatian valley, where we know my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather once lived, sometime before 1712.

5. Petra.

2010 was not quite a month old when the lovely Robin and I laid eyes on the ancient city of Petra for the first time. Mind boggling.

4. The pyramids at Giza.

We also visited Egypt for the first time in 2010, and of course got to visit the Great Pyramids at Giza, as well as others in the area. And the Sphinx. And Memphis. And Luxor. Oh my.

3. The Western Wall at night.

I've been to the Western Wall numerous times, but never at night. It was a brand new experience, and (as always) holy and moving.

2. Sunset on the Sea of Galilee.

I've also sailed the Sea of Galilee several times before, but always in the morning. This year, I was part of a group that set sail just before sunset. Three words: Wow. Just wow.

1. The Nile.

On our early 2010 sojourn in Egypt, we had the thrill of enjoying a felucca ride on the Nile. It sounds so exotic just to say that, and it was.

I've had many amazing travel experiences in my life, but this past year HAS to rank as the most memorable year of travel.

Why I Won't Rent From Dollar Again

With the help of a wonderful travel agent (you should email me, I'll give you his info), I booked a rental car for my recent European speaking trip. With Dollar. Never again.

When I arrived at the Frankfurt, Germany, airport, my host met me (and the lovely Robin). We went to the rental counter in our arrival terminal. No Dollar counter there. Turned out the only Dollar rental counter was in another terminal (coulda rented from Hertz, Avis, Budget, you name it, from that terminal...but not Dollar).

So the three of us took a train to the next terminal, and found the Dollar car rental counter. I was greeted by a surly clerk, who clearly had better things to do than to spend his time talking to me. He looked up my reservation, and soon proved he was not always surly. He could also be condescending.

He asked me if I had read the terms on their website. I answered something like, "Sure, why not?" He wasn't amused.

He told me that unless I had a Gold Mastercard to pay for the rental, I would be required to pay $20 extra per day for insurance. I told him I was well insured as a driver, even for overseas rentals. Didn't matter. I told him I had an American Express, Visa, or Mastercard he could choose from. He said only a Gold Mastercard would work.

My host spoke up, in German, offering to place the charges on his credit card. Nothing doing.

I was tempted to go to another rental company and seek better terms. If it had been just me and Robin, I would have. But my host, who had left home at 5 a.m. that day, was very patiently waiting to lead us out of the airport and to our hotel, an hour away. So I agreed to the charges.

On my return, I contacted Dollar, and told them the story. They sent me a terse response, saying, basically, "Sucks to be you."

So I won't book another rental from Dollar. Ever. I'm sure it won't hurt their bottom line. But it won't hurt mine, either.

Mark Twain and Heidelberg

Because I traveled to and through Germany with an iPad, I was able, when the opportunity for an unplanned trip to Heidelberg (hosted by wonderful new friends we had made at the conference at which I spoke), I was able to download and read portions of Mark Twain's, A Tramp Abroad, in which he describes his 1878 visit to the venerable old city.

Twain marveled at the romantic ruins of the huge eight-hundred-year-old Gothic and Baroque Castle (above), which the lovely Robin and I visited the next day! He described the castle memorably (as he described nearly everything):
A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooded terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude.
Twain also mentioned "the great Heidelberg Tun...a wine-cask as big as a cottage" which, although empty, "holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles" or more than 58,000 gallons. I had no idea we would actually see this giant barrel, but we did. It is still on display in the castle:

Here is what he wrote about this marvel:
Everybody has heard of the great Heidelberg Tun, and most people have seen it, no doubt. It is a wine-cask as big as a cottage, and some traditions say it holds eighteen hundred thousand bottles, and other traditions say it holds eighteen hundred million barrels. I think it likely that one of these statements is a mistake, and the other is a lie. However, the mere matter of capacity is a thing of no sort of consequence, since the cask is empty, and indeed has always been empty, history says. An empty cask the size of a cathedral could excite but little emotion in me. I do not see any wisdom in building a monster cask to hoard up emptiness in, when you can get a better quality, outside, any day, free of expense.
He also described the River Nekar, by which he arrived in Heidelberg, and (of course) we saw that, too.

It added another layer of enjoyment to an already memorable visit, to be able to consciously walk in the footsteps of one of my favorite authors during our time in Heidelberg.

Six Surprises

My recent travels in Europe with the lovely Robin contained many wonderful sights and experiences. It was almost problem-free, and fairly affordable. But there were a few surprises. Here are the top six:

1. Most Germans speak really good English. Better than some Americans, in fact. German children are required to take six years of English in the normal course of study, so it's fairly easy for someone who speaks only English to function.

2. Germans refer to the first five books of the Bible not as "Genesis, Exodus," etc., but as "First Moses," "Second Moses," and so on.

3. Wiener Schnitzel has no wiener in it. The "wiener" refers to its Viennese origin (and it's not the only kind of schnitzel). It is a breaded pork (or veal) dish:

4. Germans don't wear white tennis shoes...or white socks. At least, white tennis shoes (like the kind I wore) are uncommon....and one of our new friends told me that white socks (e.g., tube socks) went out of fashion long ago.

5. Europeans actually walk. And ride bikes. I can't say this was really a surprise, but it was striking. Whereas Americans will drive their car if they have to go just a few blocks away, there is a lot more walking and bike-riding (and public transportation like cable cars, even buses that go from city-to-city) in the towns we visited. This also kinda explains why we didn't see many overweight people (the bikes below are parked by commuters at Heidelberg's central train station).

6. Churches--both Roman Catholic and Protestant--are state-sponsored in Germany. That is, the state collects taxes and distributes funds to officially-sanctioned Catholic and Protestant churches. Evangelical churches, however, do not receive any of these funds, which seems to be a very, very good thing.

Driving in Germany and France

The lovely Robin and I drove hundreds of miles during our recent ten-day sojourn in Germany and France. While didn't even scratch the surface of those two beautiful countries (our trip focused on southwest Germany and a tiny portion of Alsace-Lorraine in France), we did learn a few things about driving in Europe.

We rented a car, and while our experience at the Dollar rental counter in the Frankfurt airport was unpleasant (the clerk was extremely surly and impolite), our car (a brand new Chevrolet Nubira station wagon, a European-market model) was very pleasant to drive. Except for the radio faceplate, which kept popping off.

I thoroughly enjoyed driving on the highways, which are identified by letters and numbers (I think the letter indicates the size of a roadway, A5 for example being what we would call in the US "I-5"). As we expected, on the "autobahn," their divided highway, where there is no posted speed limit, drivers go as fast as they choose. This was not nearly as scary as you might think, as people generally drove more sanely than many American motorists (and you Massachusetts people know who I'm talking about).

We saw a lot of the countryside, which was tremendously enjoyable. Even when we got lost (which we did twice, but never hopelessly so), it was a pleasure because of the beauty of the area.

Perhaps the most important difference from driving in the US was the way the highway exits and interchanges are marked. In the US, signs almost always indicate a direction as well as a destination (such as, "I-75 North, Dayton"). Not so where we traveled. The signs indicated only the destinations, such as "Karlsruhe/Baden Baden/Strasbourg." Most of the time, this was all we needed. But a couple times, we took a wrong turn because while we knew, for example, we wanted to go to Frankfurt, we weren't so sure offhand if Baden Baden was north or south of where we were.

We also surprised ourselves with our ability to navigate just fine, using signs in French and German. We quickly deduced that ausfahrt meant "exit" and einfahrt meant "entrance" (or, off-ramp and on-ramp). It took a little longer (I had to ask) to learn that einbahnstraße meant one-way street (I shoulda been able to figure it out, as of course straße is "street"). But overall, the signage was surprisingly familiar.

One more surprise: I knew, of course, that the European Union has brought changes, but was nonetheless surprised that crossing the Rhine from Germany into France was like crossing the Ohio River from Ohio to Kentucky. No stop, no checkpoint, no problem.

Six Best Pix

I am no photographer, but every once in a while I stumble into a decent photo. On our recent trip in Germany and France, I took about 250 photos, all on my iPhone. Here are the six prettiest, in my opinion.

Of all the amazingly beautiful sights I saw during ten days in Europe, the most beautiful by far was my traveling companion, the lovely Robin. She never fails to amaze me. Here she is at Burg Eltz, which we visited on our second day in Germany.

This is a shot I took as we descending the "S" walk from the height opposite Heidelburg to the bridge spanning the Nekar River into the old city of Heidelberg.

The Holy Spirit Church in Heidelberg's old town.

Part of Heidelberg Castle, at dusk. Some of the lighting in this photo is artificial.

The marketplatz in Strasbourg, France.

A twisting staircase in the Sainte Marie Madeleine Church of St.-Marie-Aux-Mines, France. The only lighting was early evening light coming through the window.

The Waldheim, Frankfurt

After checking into the Frankfurt Airport Holiday Inn Express, we asked the desk clerk to recommend a restaurant nearby. He said we could walk across the street and just a few minutes to a nice German-Italian restaurant. We never made it.

Just before the German-Italian restaurant, we saw the Waldheim, which promised "German homecooking!"

I am so glad we chose this place. I had a mincemeat strudel dish, and Robin enjoyed a pork-cabbage-and potato plate, both of which were absolutely amazing! (can you tell I had some of her meal, too?)

I'm so glad we stopped in here. I don't know what the German-Italian place would have been like, but the Waldheim was wonderful.

Creperie La Bolee de Cider, Petite France, Strasbourg

Our last dining experiences in France were just okay.

Our last evening, we stopped in at Creperie La Bolee de Cider, practically across the street from Bistro Margot, where we'd eaten the night before, for some crepes. You know, cause we were in France.

I actually had a galette (called the Alsacienne Galette)...munster cheese, onions, caraway, cream. Eh. Robin ordered a crepe, but it sure looked like a galette she got, too.

After the galettes, we ordered a crepe with ice cream and chocolate, and that was pretty good. Coulda used more ice cream, but oh well.

I think I would have rather eaten whatever Bistro Margot was offering that night, but that's okay, it was France and we had crepes. Or galettes. Whatever.

Bistro Margot, Petite France, Strasbourg

I didn't record all our dining experiences in Germany and France. For example, I wish I had gotten pictures of me and the lovely Robin with the wonderful family (Daniel, Damaris, Nele, and Josiah) who showed us around and shared dinner with us in Heidelberg. I guess I was so enamored of the warm fellowship, I forgot to take pictures. But we had a lovely meal there.

Probably my favorite of all our meals in Europe, though, was the supper we had at this spot, Bistro Margot, in Petite France, in Strasbourg:

This restaurant had a large bar and just a handful of tables (though there may have been more upstairs). The waiter spoke very little English, and the menu was available only in French. But we managed to understand and communicate enough to have a wonderful meal.

I had meli-melo de choucroute, spaetzle au fumes du terroir, a spaetzle (noodle) dish, with cabbage and pork mixed in; it was incredible!

Robin enjoyed her steak hache pur boeuf, neuter maitre d'hôtel, frites et legumes--which she said was excellent, too.

And the dessert we shared, a creme caramel, oo la la! Actually, I ate most of both desserts (the other was an apple pie, basically, the tarte du jour maison. But the creme caramel was, as I said, oo with a lot of la thrown in.

Koch's Andechser, Mannheim

Just a few blocks from our Mannheim hotel on our recent visit to Germany, we found the Andechser restaurant, which had been recommended to us before we even left the states.

We were greeted by a hostess in Bavarian dress, and shown to our table right away. It was tough to choose from among rotisseries of chicken and pork knee, Nürnberger Bratwurst, and more.

But this, we'd been told, was the place to order beer. So I did. But, since neither the lovely Robin nor I are beer drinkers by any stretch of the imagination, I ordered "Radler," which is a kind of sissy beer....half beer and half Sprite. Robin had just a sip, didn't like it, and let me drink the rest.

I had a beautiful grilled half-chicken, and Robin had pork, red cabbage, and a potato dumpling, all of which she enjoyed. And we shared a side of fried potatoes.

Le Bistro and Hohe Schule, Herborn

Our first real dining experiences on our recent sojourn in Germany were very good.

We were hosted our first evening by our friends the Jung family at Le Bistro, Schloßstraße 6, in Herborn--just a step from our hotel. I had wild boar for the first time; tasted like pork, oddly enough. The food and company was outstanding. I wish I had taken pictures!

The next evening, after a full day driving to and from Burg Eltz, the lovely Robin accompanied me to the Hohe Schule (high school) restaurant.

The atmosphere was lovely, very tranquil, but the service was slow by American standards (probably just right by the standards of people who aren't always in a rush).

I had wiener schnitzel, and boy was it good. Robin had a filet, with grapes and potatoes and beans, also very good.

I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means

Some of the signs the lovely Robin and I saw on our recent journeys through Germany and France qualified for the category, "I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means."