Herborn, By Day, By Night

The lovely Robin and I are enjoying the charming German town of Herborn, by day and by night.

In the center of town is the Ratthaus, a town hall of sorts. The fountain is a replica of an earlier fountain given to the city by the prince, Christian. This fountain has been here since 1914.

And the town is lovely also at night. Though there is nowhere to buy M&Ms after 5 pm.

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Wilhemsturm, Dillenburg

This morning I had the joy of accompanying my host, Lothar, to the publishers who publish several of my books here in Germany. The publisher and staff gave me a tour of their offices and bookstore in Dillenburg. I was also honored to visit Lothar's home, drive by his church, and visit his office as well.

Along the way, Lothar pointed out the Wilhelmsturm, or Dillenburg Castle, built atop the peak now called the Schlossberg (castle hill) in the 1870s to honor William of Orange (William the Silent), who was born in a previous castle on this site in 1533. He was the military and political genius who, with his brother Maurice, led the revolt of the Netherlands against Spain and Philip II and became the focal point of Dutch unity. He was also the great-grandfather of William III, King of England who, with his wife Mary Stuart, ushered in an epoch of immense achievement in the UK.

Speaking in Herborn, Germany tonight

I begin today a three-day speaking engagement in Herborn, Germany (northwest of Frankfurt):

It will be such a privilege to speak to nearly 500 children's and youth workers and pastors from all over Germany. I'll be speaking on the theme, "EDGES: Smoothing the Sharp Corners of Ministry" from October 29-31.

I wouldn't mind a bit if you prayed for me!

Burg Eltz

We started today, our second day in Germany, with a light breakfast at a Herborn bakery on a cobbled street just around the corner from our hotel (and if that's not enough prepositions for you...).

Then we jumped into the rental car and headed off on an adventure! With the aid of a TomTom GPS device on loan from our kind host, we drove through the Hessian countryside, and through one picturesque burg after another: Hohn, Rothenbach, Oberahr, Niederahr, the city of Koblenz, and Ruber, the hometown of Albert Schweitzer. Our object, though, was Burg Eltz, and its famous Castle Eltz:

Castle Eltz is the 850-year-old fortress on the River Eltz, which has been home to the same family--the Lords and Counts of Eltz--for 33 generations. The family first erected a structure on this site nearly a thousand years ago.

Trutz-Eltz, a medieval siege tower on the site, was built by Archbishop Balduin of Luxembourg in the mid-14th century. Despite many wars in the region, Castle Eltz has survived intact. In the courtyard remain 700-year-old stone balls Balduin's men lobbed at the castle in the 1330's:

Far below the castle flows River Eltz, surrounded by beautiful forest and hills:

We took a guided tour (in German, though the guide fluently answered questions in English when we asked) through the eight-story Rubenach house (over time, three separate branches of the family built homes in the castle complex--the Rubenach, Rodendorf, and Kempenich families).

Today the castle is owned by Count Karl, who was actually present today, with some sort of film crew (he lives most of the time in Frankfurt, though there are private living quarters at the castle). He spoke very kindly to me and the lovely Robin in English (guess we stick out like sore thumbs) as we exited.

We weren't permitted to take photos on the tour, so the only room we could photograph was the Eltz family chapel:

It was a beautiful Fall day...and a man couldn't ask for more beautiful company.

Not quite two hours later, we returned to Herborn, dined in the Hohe Schul restaurant nearby (below) and returned to our room for the night, tired and grateful.

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We arrived this morning (Wednesday) in Frankfurt, and were met by our kind host for the conference I'm speaking at this weekend. After claiming our luggage and picking up our rental car, our host--Lothar--led us to the town of Herborn, where the conference will be held.

Our first priority, after an overnight flight, was sleep, but we did take a quick stroll around this picturesque village.

We ate staying at the Schloss Hotel the next four nights:

Though weary from our travels, we enjoyed a lovely dinner (I had "wild boar" from the game menu; Robin--always more tame and less game--had pork tenderloins at the restaurant adjacent to (and affiliated with) the hotel.

Now, if we can snag a good night's sleep, we'll be ready for tomorrow.

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The Best Idea We've Ever Had

A couple years ago, the lovely Robin and I had a brainstorm (no smart remarks, please).

Our children were grown, married, parents, living on their own and buying their own homes. What little vacation time they got was often spent working around the house or something like that. It was starting to look like our treasured family vacations were all in the past. So we told them, "Every May, we will reserve a week at a cabin or condo within driving distance (5-6 hours) of home, and we'll have a bedroom for you. If you're able--and so inclined--to join us, all you have to do is get there, and pay for any eating out you want to do while you're there, but we'll pay for the place and for the groceries to eat in."

It was a no-lose proposition from our perspective. We would get to spend a vacation week with our most favorite people in the whole world--our kids and their spouses and our grandkids! There is nothing better.

And, from their perspective, it's not a bad deal either. They get a free room in a vacation spot, free groceries, and even free babysitting throughout the week!

Since that brainstorm, we've vacationed twice in Gatlinburg. And last year, we enjoyed our first week as owners at Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, a rustic mountain retreat on 70 acres in the heart of the beautiful Smoky Mountains. It is adjacent to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the largest national park East of the Rockies and the most-visited national park in the United States. It's also situated right between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, a short distance from attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and Dollywood theme park, as well as specialty shops, arts and crafts, family-friendly restaurants, championship golf, whitewater rafting and clubs and theaters like Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, Black Bear Jamboree, and Country Tonite Theatre.

Let me just say, we can't wait to go back. I love hiking in the Smokies (used to take Aubrey and Aaron backpacking there...these accommodations are a step or two up from sleeping in a tent). Our condo (in a rustic design I just love) sleeps six adults and features beautiful wooded views, fully equipped kitchen, whirlpool tub in the master bedroom, fireplace and washer/dryer. The onsite amenities include the 60,000-square-foot Wild Bear Falls water park, Smokehouse Grill, Mason Jar Lounge, Serenity Spa, two heated outdoor pools (seasonal), two hot tubs, 24-hour fitness center and 24-hour convenience store and gift shop.

Our plans are to return to Gatlinburg next May, but in the future, as the grandkids get older, we may exchange our week in the Smokies for Orlando or Branson or Myrtle Beach....not as close, but by then, maybe the kids will spring for my airfare.

If you haven't experienced a Westgate Resort vacation, you seriously won't believe it. So here's a special deal on me. You can enjoy four days and three nights at one of Westgate's five-star resorts for as low as $99 if you use the reference number in the brochure below (click to enlarge).

Part of the deal is a tour of the property and (of course) a sales presentation. But there is no obligation to buy anything. And, seriously, Orlando, Myrtle Beach, Gatlinburg, Williamsburg, Park City, Las Vegas or Branson. Call. Go. Enjoy. Thank me later.

Taken on Rt. 129 East of Hamilton, Ohio

So as of today (or yesterday, I forget), Ohio drivers can no longer text while driving. But on the way home from taking my granddaughter Calleigh to the doctor today, I spied something worse: note the warning just above the bumper.

On Indian Creek

Here was the view on Indian Creek near Oxford, Ohio, tonight around 6 pm:

We had a lovely, lovely dinner and bonfire and journey group meeting tonight at the home of Jamie and Jackie Roy on Indian Creek. We love them, their home, their hospitality, and ALL the people they hang with!

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Yesterday (Saturday) morning I joined my wife, daughter, and all three grandchildren for the 2010 5K NAMI Walk to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

We parked by the Butler County Soldiers, Sailors and Pioneer Memorial...

....walked past the 1804 log cabin that was moved to this site (the site of Fort Hamilton) in 1964....

...and gathered with the other walk participants at Fitton Center for the Creative Arts.

It was a beautiful day for a walk--and for the Miami University (I'm guessing) crew teams (men's and women's, apparently). We finished the walk around 11:30, and headed for home, glad to contribute to a worthy cause, and to support the lovely Robin, who was the coordinator for the event at her workplace.

Walking Tour of the Queen City, Pt. 4

(continued) Our Wednesday walking tour of Cincinnati reached its last leg with our visit to St. Peter in Chains Cathedral.

Saint Peter in Chains is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati. It is a Greek revival structure located at 8th and Plum Streets. Construction began with the laying of its cornerstone on 20 May 1841, under the direction of then-bishop—later archbishop—John Baptist Purcell, and formally dedicated on 2 November 1845. Its striking single spire, which soars to two-hundred and twenty feet above street level, was the tallest man-made structure in the city for many decades, and is constructed of pure white limestone.

The interior is striking and unique among Roman Catholic cathedrals in America, with its Greek-themed mosaics depicting the Stations of the Cross, its ornate Corinthian columns and its massive bronze doors.

I noticed as we left--and I hope it's intentional--that the glass in the front doors reflects the Plum Street Temple across the street. To me it seemed reflective (pun intended) of Christianity's roots in Judaism.

After leaving the cathedral, we went right next door to Cincinnati's City Hall, yet another registered historic building in Cincinnati, Ohio, listed in the National Register on December 11, 1972. The main building comprises four and a half stories with a nine story clock tower.

Marble stairways and wainscoting originated in Italy and Tennessee, and impressive beautiful stained-glass windows proliferate throughout.

After City Hall, we high-tailed it back to the car, passing the Emery Theater building on Central Parkway (where as a child I once attended Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra concerts for schoolchildren) and began the drive home, swinging by historic Music Hall on Elm Street.

Music Hall, completed in 1878, is the home of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Opera, May Festival Chorus, and the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. In January, 1975, it was recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

After all that, there was still much we DIDN'T see on our three-plus-hour walking tour. It would have been nice to walk across the Roebling Suspension Bridge, visit Piatt Park, Garfield Park, the downtown library, Contemporary Arts Center, and the Cincinnatian Hotel, among others.

Walking Tour of the Queen City, Pt. 3

(continued) I've already related on this blog some of the early highlights of my recent walking tour of Cincinnati, enjoyed with my cousin George and his wife Jeanne. The midway point on our journey (certainly the farthest east we traveled on our trek) may have been the Taft Museum.

The Taft Museum is officially (and exhaustively) the Baum-Longworth-Sinton-Taft House, a National Historic Landmark built about 1820 for Martin Baum. It is the oldest domestic wooden structure still standing in the area and is considered one of the finest examples of Federal architecture in the Palladian style in the country. Other residents of this striking home included prominent politician and Speaker of the House, Nicholas Longworth, who by marrying Alice Roosevelt became son-in-law to President Theodore Roosevelt. After Longworth's residency, the home was purchased by David Sinton, father of museum co-founder, Anna Sinton Taft. Anna Taft lived in the mansion with her husband Charles Phelps Taft from 1873 until their respective deaths in 1931 and 1929. In 1908, Charles Phelps Taft's half-brother, William Howard Taft accepted the nomination for U. S. president underneath the house's portico. The Tafts bequeathed their historic home and private collection of 690 works of art to the people of Cincinnati in 1927, and it opened as the Taft Museum in 1932.

From there, we walked westward through Lytle Park (and its oversized statue of Abraham Lincoln) to Great American Ballpark.

After viewing the art deco majesty of Union Terminal, Carew Tower, and Dixie Terminal, it was fitting to be greeted by the baseball-themed art deco relief at the entrance to the ballpark's plaza.

Built on land overlapping the site of Riverfront Stadium, the ballpark officially opened for the 2003 season, making 2010 its eighth big-league season. We happened to be there the morning after the Reds clinched the NL Central Division Championship.

Passing the long-awaited construction on the massive mixed use construction project called The Banks, we walked by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which opened in 2004, and is well worth a visit....though we didn't stop on this trip, the lovely Robin and I had visited previously.

On our way back past the Carew Tower, we ducked into the resplendent Hilton Netherland Plaza (formerly Omni Netherland, formerly Netherland Hilton) Hotel. This National Historic Landmark opened in 1931 and is another breathtaking example of art deco design. Rare Brazilian rosewood paneling, indirect German silver-nickel light fixture, soaring ceiling murals, and exquisite details make this a place worth visiting, which we did briefly.

A short walk from the Netherland took us to the Plum Street Temple. Constructed in 1866 in the Byzantine-Moorish style, Plum Street Temple is one of only two temples of this style in America and is the fountainhead of Reform Judaism in America (in the founding of which Cincinnati played a central role). It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.

(to be continued)

Walking Tour of the Queen City, Pt. 2


Last Wednesday's walking tour of Cincinnati continued with me, my cousin George, and his wife Jeanne walking past the Aronoff Center and on to Fountain Square, which was renovated just a few years ago, and the fountain moved a tad closer to the Fifth Third Bank building.

We bought some Skyline Chili and cheese coneys and found a table right next to the Tyler Davidson Fountain, which was dedicated in 1871. It was a beautiful, mild day, and Fountain Square was filled (but not too crowded) with people.

We crossed the street and entered the Carew Tower, which until recently was Cincinnati's tallest building at 49 stories (it is now surpassed by the Great American Insurance building).

Named for Joseph T. Carew, of the Mabley & Carew department store, which once occupied the site, the building is a National Historic Landmark and is considered one of the world's finest examples of French Art Deco architecture.

We rode the elegant elevator to the forty-fifth floor, then a tiny elevator (the three of us just fit) to the forty-eighth floor, and finally a flight of stairs to the observation deck on the forty-ninth floor...paid our two bucks apiece and went out onto the deck to enjoy the view. What a view it was (by the way, the Great American Tower, now the tallest building in Cincinnati at--counting the "tiara" at the top--54 stories and 665 feet tall--is the building at the far right of the photo above). As we arrived, a pair of window cleaners were just climbing onto the deck, finishing their work...having hung over the side of the building to clean windows on the east side of the building...from a little seat not much bigger than a child's swing. Not me, man.

We proceeded next down Fourth Street, where we stopped at Dixie Terminal....another art deco masterpiece. I never realized how many fine art deco buildings there are in Cincinnati (and we hadn't even seen the last of them here!).

Dixie Terminal is actually two buildings side by side, north and south. They were completed in 1921 and served as streetcar terminal, stock exchange, bus terminal, and office building over the years. The terminal was used for bus service after streetcar service stopped in the 1950s; buses arriving from northern Kentucky crossed the Roebling Suspension Bridge and took ramps from the bridge into the terminal. I seem to remember arriving there on a bus at least once in my childhood...but I can't imagine why. The bus service stopped using the terminal in 1998 (though the guard at the terminal said 1996).

It's a beautiful building, and well worth visiting.

(to be continued)