Hospital in the Rock, by Ana

The Underground Hospital


In Budapest, Hungary in the abundant caves underneath Buda castle is an emergency surgical hospital from World War II that eventually became a bomb shelter.  An international agreement made it under the protection of the Red Cross. 

When the atomic bomb was invented, the hospital developed into a bomb shelter.  About the time of the Cold War, Hungarians always feared that a bomb would be destructively dropped on their city.  Functioning  as a bomb shelter and a hospital, the Hospital in the Rock was ready if they needed it.

At first, seeing the tunnels, bored me.  Once I heard more about them, the history intrigued me. The tunnel was cool but I wasn’t cold. The first room had a dummy with fake blood and a bandage. 


Our tour guide explained that this was the surgery room. 


In the corner was a little EKG machine used on Madonna in the movie Evita. Jokingly our tour guide identified it as their movie star.  I had to ask Daddy who Madonna was.

Next we moved to the kitchens.  There were dummies slicing scarlet apples and other things like that.  There were also displays of tools and different medicines on the side of the tunnel.


Although we explored many rooms for patients I liked some better than others.  We moved to the living quarters for patients who were staying there. Wooden bunk beds were tightly squeezed together in the tiny room.  Would you want to stay there?


The next room was a brick room and there was a map of the underground hospital.  Our tour guide told us that on our way out we would not retrace our steps but follow a different way back.  Our tour group arrived at my favorite room where a giant helicopter sat on a bed of fake grass.  Helping hurt people, model nurses wearing military uniforms ran from the helicopter to field stretchers.  Of course, this was all fake.  The people were just dummies on display.

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Displaying in the next room was the Nazi soldier kidnapping of Miklos Horthy Jr. in a Persian- type carpet because his dad was Admiral Horthy who was negotiating with the Soviets.  So, Hungary was not in control of the Nazis.  Sadly, his son was flown to a concentration camp.  The Nazis said that unless he stopped negotiating with the Soviets his son would die.  Since Admiral Horthy reluctantly agreed to stop negotiating with the Soviets, the Nazis merely punished him by keeping him in prison with 100 guards until the war was over.  Until the war ended his son also stayed at a concentration camp.  They both survived World War II!  We exited  the tunnel and found daylight and that was my day at Hospital in the Rock.


(this is the hand-cranked siren we got to turn)



So, ever heard of Magyarország?

So, ever heard of Magyarország?


Well, we hadn’t either.  (“Mu-dge-ar-or-zaag”)  is what the Hungarians call Hungary — the land of the Magyars.  The Magyars roamed around raiding areas of Europe until they settled in the Carpathian basin in the 10th century.

Each European city  processes the remnants of war and communism in its unique way.  As you drive around Budapest you notice several damaged buildings.  Budapest has left intact some of the damage from WWII.  In front of our apartment hotel is a building that looks to be split in half and that someone has carted off one half for spare parts.  The tile walls and sinks of bathrooms left opened up to the elements stare at us through our living room windows.  

Vienna and Budapest have about the same sized population at 1.7 million.  But in Vienna, travelers mainly spend time in the old center inside the Ringstrasse (ringed street).  This limited tourist area results in a quite cozy and reachable feeling.  Budapest seems larger and less “packaged” for the Western traveller.  We welcome its cosmopolitan diversity and more affordable environment with delight. Although we had little difficulty, English was less prevalent in Budapest.  So far, we’ve spent time in and enjoyed the following countries.  Here’s a few facts for context.

                            Pop        Per capita GDP                Land area

Germany  80.8 mil     $43,332                        just < Montana

Austria      8.2 mil        $44,149                        just < Maine

Hungary   9.9 mil       $22,878                         just < Indiana

For reference, Germany’s population is equivalent to New York’s and Texas’ combined.  It’s no wonder Europeans are often amazed at the wide, open spaces of the USA. 

The lady who helped maintain our Viennese apartment made an interesting economic comment.  She’d lived in several countries in Europe and described the difference she’d seen in salaries for similar positions in disparate nations.  She remarked that occupations should be paid the same no matter where they reside.  As we checked into our Budapest apartment, the man behind the desk explained that to get to our third floor apartment involved having to go back out onto the street or take a serpentine route through the underground garage. He tells us the building was designed with minimal interior passages because the builder was “greedy.” 

Things are much cheaper here.  We bring home pizza for the family all for about $14–and have plenty of leftovers.

Here’s a dizzy panoramic shot of our apartment showing where school gets done. 


The Hungarian language has different roots than the slavic languages that border Hungary.  As we checked into our hotel, a Slovakian family (Slovakia borders Hungary) was also at the front desk.  They could not make themselves understood either and had to revert to broken English.

How do you go to church when you’re traveling all over?  This is a challenge we address in each place we visit.  In Mexico, while visiting Lisa’s family, we attended a service all in Spanish.  In small-town Bavaria, we knew no English-speaking churches were nearby so we had church in our lodge room, complete with singing a few songs and a Tim Keller sermon podcast.  No one banged loudly on our walls, so it must have been okay with the neighbors.  In Budapest we found a protestant church whose website had a lot of English.  The church was in an older theater and the sermon was in English with frequent breaks for the Hungarian translator to catch up.  The worship songs were mainly in English but a few were in Hungarian.  We were surprised to find many native Hungarians in the service, and had expected more ex-pats. 

I convinced myself to get up early enough to get out for a morning run before the family came to life for the day.  My sidewalk route took me down a busy city street full of morning commuters.  Some of them studied me curiously.  I climbed a bridge over the Danube and its morning nautical traffic.  Above the river, the bridge’s windy “peak” cooled my sweaty shirt.  A statue of a priest holding a cross over the city stood high above the bridge.  I ran through an underground tunnel to cross a busy street.  Seven or eight shapes in sleeping bags lay next to each other on the concrete.  I climbed up to the statue and gained a vantage point of the Danube, the Chain Bridge and the Parliament building.  



Budapest is known as the ‘Queen of the Danube” or the “Paris of the East.”  Budapest (“Boo-da-pesht”) straddles the Danube and is made of two cities—Buda and Pest.  Castle Hill is on the quieter, hillier side of Buda.  Pest is the busier, more commercial side that also holds Parliament.  Here we are enjoying the streets of Pest.  Note the Jeans Club sign in the background. 



I run over to the grocery store and shop with the commuters on their way home.  They have plastic baskets that you can carry or roll behind you with a longer handle.  In the produce section, (I pick up a few “paprikas”(?)—peppers) I turn away from my basket on the floor to wrap up the colorful peppers.  When I turn around, my basket is gone.  I stand there looking around and wondering if I Ieft it somewhere else.  A tough-looking security guy with a shaved head had been eying me earlier since I didn’t really blend in and had to ask someone where I might find the coffee milk (“cream”).  Was someone messing with the foreigner?  I wait for a bit in the produce section figuring someone has just accidentally walked off with my bin.  After what felt like an hour, I decide to go get a new bin.  But the one-way turnstile to get in will not allow me back out into the foyer to get a new basket.  So I just pop under the barrier and grab a new one.  I’m sure that looked suspicious.  I grab the same items off the shelves.  A few minutes later I’m back in the produce department when a lady returns my basket and has several questions (?) for me in Hungarian.  I ask if she speaks English and she doesn’t but still proceeds with her questions.  I try to get across that it is my basket and I’ll take it.  I saw a basket left in the aisle but wasn’t about to grab it.  The thick, muscle-bound security guy in the police-style uniform is really watching me during this exchange.  She keeps looking at me and repeating a few phrases and in response I am using my Neanderthal gestures and a bit of English to very little effect.  Ever have that feeling that you must look like an idiot?  I succeed in getting my basket back and the lady walks off.  I now have two baskets with identical items so I retrace my steps and put things back.   

I search and search for oatmeal and manage to find several bags of things that look like “meal”.  Rather than just buy something not quite right, I split for home since I’ve already been a basket “thief” or whatever just happened in Hungarian.  I get home and look it up in Google Translate and get the “zabpehely” the next time.   Of course, everyone knows that oatmeal is “zabpehely” in Hungarian!

One late afternoon, the clan meanders towards Freedom Square near the Parliament building.  The fountain turns off in sections as you approach it.  The kids have a blast running around the fountain as it shrinks away from them.  



If you are still enough, the fountain will “regrow” around you.  Will gets soaked, just for kicks.




Within yards of the fountain we notice shoes and handwritten signs hanging in front of a statue.  A civil protest is held here and it’s been going on for months, every night.  People, especially older people, fill chairs and make comments behind a microphone.  When is the last time you saw a protest by elderly people?  The age of the protestors gets our attention.  The statue depicts an eagle swooping down on an unwitting, heroic statue.  The handwritten signs in English and other languages explain that the Hungarian government recently erected this statue to explain how the Nazis attacked and took advantage of the Hungarian nation.  The protesters make the case that this is disingenuous, that the Hungarian government was in cahoots with the Nazis (at least initially).  The statue was built with government funds for several million dollars and they want it removed.  Two police officers casually guard the statue and watch the protesters.  History is alive here.




While looking at these shots, Ana tells me, “Dad, I hope that monument gets taken down.  I liked those protesters.”

In Freedom Square, we were surprised to find a statue of a US Army soldier from WWI.  Harry Hill Bandholtz stands proudly on a base bearing his quote, “I simply carried out the instruction of my government, as I understood them, as an officer and a gentleman of the United States Army.”  Bandholtz is remembered for helping prevent the arrest of the Hungarian PM and the looting of the Hungarian National Museum by the Romanian army in 1919.  This statue was erected in 1936 but removed in 1949 by the new Communist government.  In 1985, the US ambassador requested it be moved from a statue boneyard to the Ambassador’s residence.   Instead, it was relocated to its original place, before the US Embassy, one day before the historic visit of President George H.W. Bush in 1989. 


The kids kicked our soccer ball as they dried off.  Lisa and I enjoyed a coffee at a table beside the park.  We were delighted by a few dogs running in the park next to us.  A small, brown pup kept returning a ball to its owner.  But whenever he didn’t throw the ball quickly enough, the dog returned to a grassless spot and rolled in the mud over and over again.  You could practically see the smile on his face.  We laughed as he showed us how to enjoy the day. 


Bratislava and a Moscow Watchdog

We press on further east along the Danube, out of Vienna towards Budapest.  Lisa and I decide to make a stop in Bratislava, Slovakia.


Driving into Bratislava on a day of grey misty skies, the city’s streets hold few pedestrians.  The outskirts of the city appear to display the workers’ apartment blocks of communist cities.  As you drive in closer to the city center, you find the older buildings that clearly predate the communist takeover of the country in 1948.  The Bridge of the Slovak nationalist uprising spans the Danube and holds a UFO-like restaurant at its top. 


We drive in to get as close as possible to the square that the guidebook mentions. 


We are in the hunt for a place to get out of the car and eat our sandwiches.  Perhaps even a place that would let us eat at their tables while we order some coffees.  As anyone with a “larger” family knows (I’m not sure where the threshold is to meet the larger family definition) we are no strangers to opening up the trunk and handcrafting some PB&J’s in the parking lot.  Our trip is meant to invest time with family, to further all of our educations and to somehow glorify God in time together.  We are attempting to keep the trip reasonably priced and eat out sparingly.  Somehow gelato places still manage to sneak under the radar, similar to how the broken cookie pieces left on the plate contain no calories.  Of course, we watch the monthly food budget and try to keep a decent average nightly lodging cost. 

I pull up to a parking lot with a ticket machine in use, likely to raise the lowered barrier.  I roll my window down and lean out to read the Slovak signage and see if I can park here.  A man steps up to my window from behind us, and says with passable English, “ What are you doing here?”  I briefly explain our hopes to park.  He tells me it’s for residents only, smiles and says, “You leave now.”  It is one of those interactions where you can tell the connotation is not quite conveyed from the translation of one language to another.  He doesn’t appear menacing.  We laugh and I tell him, “I leave now.”  Time to find another spot.

The main square is a short walk in the rain.  Playful sculptures carry the tongue-in-cheek humor of the Slovaks. 


We head down the side streets clamoring to get a ways from the main square and hoping to escape tourist prices and the rain.  We find a delightful side street and a small warren of still narrower streets in this pedestrian zone.  This little alley holds the tiny office of a national embassy and a cafe at the end among the cobblestones. 


We discover a warm oasis back here of espresso and wi-fi.  A couple is already enjoying the cave-like atmosphere of the ten-seat joint.  Our kids are entertained by a flat-screen TV with an American nature documentary and a huge coffee table book jaunts through the headlines of the last 150 years. 



The kids enjoy the ambiance and the break from the car but the break is over too soon.  In the passageway outside, we wait for the girls after the typical family pit stop.   A tall man in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots lopes towards us.  He looks to be accompanied by a small bear.  Of course, it’s not a bear but a huge dog—unleashed and slowly picking his way along.  The boys and I strike up a conversation with the man who turns out to be an American.  His name is Greg and it turns out the dog, Alex, is a Moscow Watchdog.  Bred by the Soviets, these dogs are roughly the size of a St Bernard but without the drool.  Alex is a gentle giant.  He is soon lying on his side and covered in our four kids petting him.  Hearing Greg’s English and his story was quite the serendipitous encounter!  He claims Texas, just like Lisa, and is married to a woman who hails from Slovakia.  His life has been a fascinating mix of military and political service and international business exploits.  Like me, Greg has also fought cancer.  Suddenly, Bratislava has come alive to us.  I don’t think we’d heard one native English speaker in Bratislava before Greg.  As we chat, a Slovak man comes up and is also arrested by the sight of Greg and Alex.  The man is eager to try out his English skills.  Greg obliges him and the man even asks if Greg is from Texas.  I continue to be surprised how everyone in Europe seems quite familiar with Texas.


[sample shot of a Moscow Watchdog]

As we finish up the conversation, Greg is gracious to walk us down the road, make some recommendations on what to see in the area and even brave the rain alongside our family.  Alex the dog attracts a lot of attention, and so does the cowboy hat.  I start wishing I had one with me.  The kids are talking all about our dog Samwise and how much they miss him.  They can’t stop running their hands down Alex’s fur.  I regret that I was so surprised by this whole chat that I forgot to get a picture of Greg and Alex. 

–update– Greg was kind enough to send me a shot of him and Alex.


Greg told us about the Primate’s Palace, or “Pink Palace,”  that was right around the corner.  He informs us this was the place where the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II and Napoleon signed the peace treaty following the 1805 Russo-Austrian army’s defeat at Austerlitz that I mentioned in the last post.  We actually find the pink palace near the old square on our way back in the rain towards our car.    


[internet shot since we were running by in the rain…]

Greg had explained how to get out of town and his directions are dead-on to the Roman ruins that we find along the river on our way east.  For another welcome chance to stretch our legs, we climb all over the ancient, overgrown ruins of this Roman camp.  This was just a temporary Roman military camp along the river, and a part of their border defense system.  “Temporary” to the Romans meant this camp was in continual use for at least 200 years.  Some of the stone foundations remain as does the core hole of a well. 

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Arriving into Budapest, our hotel is right in the city again, and across the street from a nightclub.  The streets are so narrow here that everyone parks on the sidewalk.  I have to make an 87-point turn just to get the car down the ramp into the underground parking lot. We put down a deposit to get the remote control to open up the hotel parking lot barrier.  And a deposit for the internet access device.  And a deposit for the second key. I skip the deposit for the iron and ironing board.  The whole clan is thrilled to find two bathrooms in the apartment.  We even have a balcony and a washing machine.  There is a tree climbing up next to our balcony.  The tree holds what looks to be a swim cap and a discarded swim suit.  Our guess is they were blown off someone’s drying rack from the balcony upstairs.  Either that, or the Hungarians are quite interesting… 




Dryers seem optional over here and we are always provided a portable drying rack in our apartments.   Our room is on the third floor and with a real metal key for the lock.  I put the key in the keyhole and it goes all the way through and out the other side of the lock.  It gets stuck and I am unable to pull it back out.  After some shaking and jimmying and maybe a bit of dancing, I am able to persuade the key back out.  Turns out, you have to put the key in just the right amount—not too far and not too shallow.  The key fits the lock either way, but will not open the lock unless you have the key turned the right direction before you put it in the lock!  We cannot wait to explore the city!


Treasures of Vienna and of Learning

Treasures of Vienna and of Learning

The Smithsonian museum is said to be the attic of America.  Perhaps its Viennese elder brother would be the museums the Habsburgs displaying their diverse wealth.  Their Hofburg Palace in Vienna housed some of the most powerful people in European history—the Habsburg emperors—for over 600 years.  The Hofburg Palace was the winter residence of the House of Habsburg (Schönbrunn was the summer residence).  It is still the official residence of the President of Austria.



The world’s largest palace by floorspace,  grasping the size of the place or even finding what you are looking for stumps you because it is so large and convoluted.  It certainly eludes any tidy photo.  We walked around various parts of the extended and separated halls and museums to find where we were going.  One day we found the Spanish Riding School which is just one hall of the palace.  Another day we enjoyed a picnic on the grass of the Butterfly Garden.  The enormous Natural History Museum and Kunsthistoriches (“Art History”) Museums also belong to the palace.  The Albertina Art Museum displays Dürers and Klimts. 


We saw only a few of the pieces in the Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments.  Doesn’t everybody have one of those collections?  There are more ceremonial halls and wings than you can hit with a dead cat.  The royal family lived in the Imperial Apartments.  The oldest wing, the Swiss wing, dates from the 13th century and is named for the Swiss mercenary guards who maintained security.  I wonder if this is the same setup as what we still see of the Vatican’s Swiss guards.  The Vienna Boys’ Choir sings at High Mass here in the Chapel of the Imperial Palace.  The Hofburg covers 59 acres and constitutes 18 ranges of buildings, 54 major staircases, 2,600 rooms and still employs over 5,000 people. 



The Neue Berg (“New Palace”) portion was finished at the end of the 19th century.  Prince Eugene and Archduke Charles statues dominate the foci of the curved Neue Berg Palace .  They battled the Ottoman Turks and Napoleon, respectively.  In 1938, Hitler stood here before cheering crowds and announced the annexation of his home-country of Austria by the Third Reich.  How could the cheers happen?  A guidebook suggests that perhaps by imagining the great disappointment the Viennese might have felt as they lost their “empire” in 1918 we can begin to understand.  

Neuberg at night



Inside the Neue Berg are several museums and collections.  I’ve already shown pictures here on the blog of the Arms & Armor Museum and its extensive collections of suits of armor and weapons.  You have the impression that the museum curators are only displaying representative pieces and that there’s a whole lot more where that came from.  The suits of armor show the technical progression of armor as firearms came into being.  Some of the armor was mix and match for various tournament games and for attending ceremonies.  Much like the various golf clubs in your bag have different purposes.  Much of armor design was about impressing the ladies.  Sounds kinda familiar…


This wing of the palace holds the enormous collections but still manages to feel nearly empty.  You wander the halls getting from one place to another.  The Ephesus Museum makes you scratch your head, “what’s all this doing here?”  The items all come from the famous town of Ephesus in modern-day Turkey.  The actual Temple of Artemis is here.  By the mid-19th century the Austrians and Turks were getting along after years of terrible warfare.  Viennese archaeologists made several expeditions to Ephesus and shipped back these treasures.  Some of it was gifted by the Turks to the powerful Habsburgs.  Laws were finally changed in Turkey to stop this cultural transfer (or looting!).  The British Museum in London has some of this same feeling.  The statue of the athlete behind Ana was found in over 230 pieces and reconstructed over years.  The sculpture captures him cleaning his “stirgil”(?)—an instrument used to scrape off all the oil they’d put on their bodies for the athletic contests.  These days our athletes just rip off their jerseys…   The kids enjoyed the museum for about eight seconds, then talk turned to ice cream and if Mommy and Daddy had any immediate designs on any—right now. 



We loved the Kunsthistoriches Art History Museum. 


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Lisa’s teacher heart beamed when the kids recognized several paintings they’d studied.  Um, yeah, I knew them too…      

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Brueghel’s “The Tower of Babel” and “The Hunters in the Snow” made us want to go Holland to see more.  In his “The Hunters in the Snow “you can see aspects of winter village life (ice skating, socializing, cooking) going on as the hunters return. 

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There are works by Raphael, Rembrandt, Velazquez and Vermeer.  We could have put in hours here but time and hunger would not allow.  It made me flash back to visiting the Louvre with our aircrew during a deployment to France (I know, I even had the nerve to write that out loud).  We had about ninety minutes in the Louvre and I have memories of nearly sprinting from room to room.  It sure is fortunate that I was such an art scholar then to be able to take it all in so quickly…  Anyone have a similar experience? 



Caravaggio painted his own face on the vanquished Goliath.  He hired a homeless youth to paint him as a young David.


Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting” shows him in his studio painting a model.  You can hardly take your eyes off this one as his details draw you in.  The curtain is drawn back, bringing the viewer into the scene.



Luke really  savoring the art.

The Imperial Treasury’s artifacts were beyond belief. 


A unicorn’s horn over seven foot long stands in one corner.  Now we know it as a narwhal’s tusk. 

This cabinet holds the keys to several centuries worth of Habsburg crypts. 


Ancient Mexican artwork made entirely of feathers.


This exquisite agate bowl is thirty inches in diameter and carved from one enormous agate in Constantinople in the fourth century.  For centuries it was thought to be the most valuable of the collection.  A natural miracle apparently reveals a mysterious inscription of KRISTO (“Christ”) and likely led to the legend that it was the Holy Grail.  It is said the writing is not carved but appears in the natural veining of the stone. 


Napoleon defeated the Austro-Hungarian empire and dictated terms.  After Josephine was unable to produce a male heir he divorced her and took a wife from the defeated royal family.  This cradle was for that son, the styled “King of Rome”. 


How’d you like to lose a war to Napoleon then have him marry into your family to increase his power?  The 1805 French defeat of the Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz ended the Holy Roman Empire.   Holy Roman Emperor Francis II abdicated the imperial throne, keeping only his official Austrian title.  This was the emperor who had to give his daughter, Marie Louise, to Napoleon for a marriage of state. 


The actual crown of Austria with impossibly fine goldsmithing detail.


The far earlier crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, from the 11th century.  IMG_6018


Charlemagne was crowned the first Holy Roman Emperor in 800.  This is (supposedly) his sabre, as the Habsburgs were eager to establish a link between their House and this esteemed leader.  



The coronation mantle for the Holy Roman Empire from the 12th century.  Made in Sicily by the finest Arabic masters of the day.  Notice the Arabic writing on the mantle.  Incredible to be looking at finely wrought, 900-year-old fabric.  There were so many other treasures and relics that one just runs out of time to see them, photograph them or write about them here. 



On the school front, Lisa has been hard at work teaching the kids for weeks now.  To prepare for Vienna, she had the great idea to study the composers so we’ve found a great app and are learning about their lives and music.  We plan to take in another concert soon. 

She is an amazing teacher and somehow manages to get it done.  The kids are studying math, grammar, writing, cursive, reading, history (which they “see” firsthand and incorporating a web-based timeline to promote context), German, Latin, geography, and Classical Conversations memorization.  They also absorb so much during our “field trips” and through osmosis over here.  The memory work they did from Classical Conversations history studies just seem to pop into their heads and out of their mouths as they see an important date in a museum and seek to place it in context.   (“In 800 Ad, Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne …”)


Note our mobile maps on the wall behind that beautiful teacher.


Ana, while in Bavaria, staying focused.



School assignments and chore lists on the wall behind Camille, the scholar

It is quite different to be enjoying the city life compared to sleepy Bavaria.  Each time we return to our 3rd floor apartment Lisa nearly pushes the kids off the street and into the safety of our locked apartment building door.  It makes sense.  Our place looks out onto a courtyard of seven story apartment buildings. The wi-fi is better.  One night late, a “boom” goes off in the courtyard.  With our open windows, we feel it.  Luke, still wake, runs into our room with wide eyes.  People peer out their windows all across the courtyard.  It is unclear if it was something heavy being dropped off a building, a gunshot, a car backfiring, who knows.  Luke is convinced it was a gunshot.  Ah, the city life. 

I’ve been so blessed to be able to spend time many mornings going through the book of Proverbs with the kids.  After breakfast and before their school day, we sit at the table and read and talk through the Proverbs.  Finally, even I’ve noticed that it is best to tackle no more than 7-9 verses in a morning.  We have wonderful, wide-ranging discussions and I think I may be learning more than they are.  Their minds seem so open to the contrasting paths of this challenging wisdom literature.  This is something I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and it is more rewarding than I’d imagined.  I am sure I am learning alongside them.  God is good! 

Don’t get me wrong, often times we are just trying to plan that day’s afternoon!

Sometimes, you just have to get in the bath and play with some animals!   Don’t worry, they’re not all mine.


Vienna’s Cathedral, House of Music, the Demel and Tom Cruise

Vienna, you are a walker-friendly city of delights.


Pronounced Wien (“Veen”) in German, this city has been considered the eastern frontier of “Western” Europe. Situated on the Danube, its prime location has brought it a lot of attention through its 2,500 year history.   The city was threatened during Roman times by Germanic invaders and by Magyars (Hungarians) in the 10th century.  Mongols in the 13th century.  Hungarians in 1485.  The Ottomans besieged and attacked in 1529, then again in 1683 after a two-month siege.   Nearly 200,000 Ottomans were repelled in those battles.  In the 19th century, the Hapsburgs ruled during Vienna’s glory days. The Soviets captured the city in 1945.  Somehow this city has remained intact and fascinating.   This grand city reigned 640 years as the head of the influential Austro-Hungarian empire.  Not accidentally, the most impressive buildings were constructed after the Ottoman threat had faded.

Classical music is still everywhere here.  You hear it on the streets and in coffee houses.  Salesmen in powdered-wigs pitch their respective concerts in front of every tourist site.  It is a city of culture.  Among other great artists and thinkers, Vienna was home to Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Haydn and to philosophers Freud and Gödel. 

We took the Rick Steves tram tour around the Ringstrasse around the old city.  The Ringstrasse is the old city wall that was torn down to make way for a wide thoroughfare.  A ruler created these wide streets as a way to prevent any potential revolutionaries from being able to barricade off city streets as they had in Paris during the French Revolution. At least we pedestrians can benefit from that royal paranoia.  The tram tour quickly introduces you to sights in the old center and the boys loved hearing about the sights from the guidebook then seeing them firsthand moments later.  The trams encircle the old city center that is free of skyscrapers and full of pedestrians and parks. 

We’ve noticed several Americans walking around clutching Rick Steves books and find ourselves among them.  While not covering every base, we’ve found his advice is often right-on.   We will go places we’ve seen in a Rick Steves show and the kids will say, “Imagine it, Rick Steves was right here!”

I’ve also been amazed at the prevalence of Trip Advisor in Europe.  In the States, I’ll look at hotel recommendations on the site but I don’t recall seeing “Trip Advisor recommended” stickers all over their front doors as we do here.  Businesses will urge you to review them on the website.  If you are looking at things to do in Europe, just look up a particular city in Trip Advisor—you’ll be amazed at the up-to-date “wikipedia” of travelers’ knowledge you find. 

The opera house was closed the day we tried to get in for a tour but no worries it just gave us more time to enjoy St Stephen’s cathedral (over 450 feet high). 




We climbed its South Tower’s 370 steps to get a view.  It’s an impossibly narrow climb at some points where you press yourself into the stone to allow people to pass.  But none of it stops the souvenir shop at the top!  The church here is the third one on this spot and this structure was constructed from 1300 to 1450.  Vienna was only 10,000 people then but the builders were competing with Prague’s St Vittus cathedral.  Such a large church (larger than Prague’s) qualifies as a cathedral which helped convince authorities that Vienna ranked a bishop.  This brought prestige to Vienna and enabled it to replace Prague as the seat of the Holy Roman Empire.  The cathedral was heavily damaged in 1945 as the Soviets wrested the city from the Nazis. A fire raged for two days.  But the citizens began a financial out-pouring and the roof was rebuilt by 1952. 

Views from the top



The House of Music gives you an interactive experience through the dynamic musical heritage of Vienna.  Visitors get the chance to conduct the virtual Vienna Symphony.  It is a lot harder than it looks.   

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Beethoven (1770-1827) moved over 40 times within Vienna because he was a terrible tenant.  Due to his declining hearing, he did end up sawing the legs of his pianos so he could put them on the floor to feel the music.  He dedicated a musical piece to Napoleon then tried to rescind the dedication after Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France.  Beethoven even penned the famous love letter to his now-unknown “immortal beloved”. 


Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was a friend of Mozart and a teacher of Beethoven’s.  He was a prolific court composer and elite customers paid him to write musical pieces on the side.  He would sell the same piece to different patrons or make very slight changes to their “original”, personalized musical pieces to increase his revenues. 

Franz Schubert (1797-1828) always wore glasses, even in bed.  His friends thought him funny-looking and quite portly.  He did not own a piano, so his friends held parlor parties to be able to hear his genius. 

Johann Strauss II (1825-1899), the Waltz King, has a golden statue just outside the Ringstrasse in Vienna.  He was a rock star in his day and once laid on the floor of a train before a performance and refused to move until securing thousands in fees.  


Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) was the conductor of the Vienna Opera for ten years then become so fed up with opera politics that he moved to New York to work there.   A Jew, he had endured open hostility and anti-Semitism from the press.  He enjoyed hiking and the outdoors among other hobbies.  Each of these famous musicians worked impressively long days teaching, writing, conducting and shoring up financial support.



The Graben has many of Vienna’s prime retailers and is near the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg Palace.  Attempting to follow our budget and do our normal picnic lunch, we grabbed lunch at a very upscale (oops) grocer on the Graben. Graben means “ditch” and it was the moat for the Roman military camp back in the day.  Later the moat transformed into a three-lane busy street then was torn out in the 1970s to make way for this pedestrian walkway.  We also picked up a few tasty treats from the Demel bakery.  People jostle for views of the delights in the bustling bakery window.   I attempted to order a few items and one of the busy ladies behind the counter asked me if it was for the children.  This surprised me.  Then she explained they were alcoholic—I adjusted my choices.



Just off the Graben, we took in a free organ concert at the striking St Peter’s baroque church.  We walked in as quietly as elementary-school possible but the wooden pews creaked as we eased into them.  The organist and trumpet player played from high and behind us in the organ loft as we faced the altar.  The stunning bronze sculpture below displays St John Nepomuk at the point of no return as he is thrown to his death from a bridge.  A Czech priest, St John had defied King Wenceslas so he was tossed from the Charles Bridge in Prague.  He had taken the confession of the queen and would not relent to the king’s demands that he reveal the sins she’d confessed.  If you look at the picture you can see the clubs of the men as they beat St John.  

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Another day we enjoyed a local festival full of food and a tasty beer.


Ana really getting into Viennese beer… 


Walking back to our tram one night, our route was blocked by this scene of streets blocked off and onlookers piled up against the barriers. 



The Mission Impossible 5 crew was filming in Vienna.  We could even see Tom Cruise and his costar up on the Vienna Opera House roof.


Of course, our kids would have been far more impressed had it been Rick Steves.  I’m not sure they’ve seen much of Tom Cruise on the screen.  We are really going to have to keep our travel plans under tighter wraps because we’ve read the MI5 crew is also going to London to film.  They must be following us. 

Vienna has also been great for us because we are working on our German skills.  I am better now at communicating to any deli lady which meats and cheeses I want.  That probably really means I point even more emphatically and grunt even louder.  Lisa found the Germanized series on YouTube and we are also podcasting “Coffee Break German”.  The Mesquits can often be found driving around Europe and practicing phrases like, “Wie geht es?” and “Ich heiße Camille”.  They make Coffee Break French and Spanish and who knows how many other languages.  We also love us some Adventures in Odyssey podcasts. 

Our entry in the contest for longest word in the German language!


Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs & how to order coffee in Vienna

If you were a Habsburg this was your vacation house.  Schönbrunn palace was originally a “hunting lodge”.  The family escaped the summer heat of Vienna by horse-drawn carriage and traveled the ten miles or so out to this estate.


First acquired in 1569 by the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II (a Habsburg), the family built upon the existing mansion already there.  By 1640, the palace was being referred to as Schönbrunn .  The young Marie Antionette (a Habsburg) spent time here in the mid-1700’s before marrying the future King of France.

Its apartments are exquisitely designed with interior courtyards to allow sunlight into the inner rooms where the royal family lived and worked.  Servants hustled about in narrow corridors between the walls to keep the fires stoked in the backside of ceramic fireplaces.  Nobility would arrive by carriage to the grand entrance and be whisked up the double staircases into the hall.  Here, dances and banquets were held and the empire’s elites were seen.

In 1867, the Austro-Hungarian empire was formed when the Habsburg family successfully negotiated the addition of the Kingdom of Hungary to the Empire of Austria.  The empire was the second-largest country in Europe (after the Russian Empire) and the third-most populous (after Russia and the German Empire).  At its zenith, it controlled the countries that bear its name and much of Poland, Italy, Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, and on and on among smaller nations.  Its last significant Habsburg, Emperor Franz Jospeh I, ruled from 1850 to 1916—sixty-six years.  His wife, Elisabeth (known as “Sisi”), was beloved in the great capital of Vienna and the city still bears her image everywhere.  She is famous for carefully exercising and dieting to take care of herself and for her hair that reached well past her corseted, 16-inch waist.  She tried not to allow her image to be painted or captured after age 30 as she wanted to be remembered as always young.  Franz Joseph took his duties very seriously and worked 12-16 hours a day, with an eye for administrative minutiae.  He slept in a spare, “soldier’s bed” and considered himself, like a member of the Empire’s military, to be on duty at all times.

Franz Joseph lost his only son to a murder-suicide with a mistress in 1889.  Then he lost his wife Sisi to a political assassination in Geneva by an Italian anarchist in 1898.  His brother Karl Ludwig had died from drinking contaminated water.  His surviving brother, Maximilian, was executed in 1867 by a Mexican firing squad after unsuccessful three-year-stint as that nation’s emperor.  This left the Empire’s heir as Karl Ludwig’s son, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  It was Franz Ferdinand who was assassinated in June 1914 in Sarajevo by a Bosnian Serb nationalist.  Nationalists there protested the influence of the Empire over their nation.  Franz Jospeh followed the counsel of his advisers and took a hard-line approach toward Serbia, setting off the chain of events that led to WWI.

You can still see the desk where Franz Joseph was working in the evening trying to catch up on work he’d missed while ill with pneumonia.  He went to lay down on his cot and told his servant to get him up in a few hours to continue his work.  He did not make it back to his desk that night.  He was 86 years old.

Two years later, WWI ended.  Austria had been on the losing side of the Great War, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dissolved.  Franz Joseph’s successor, his great-grandnephew, resigned his constitutional powers at the Armistice in 1918.  He tried to regain his throne a few months later and was exiled.

The Austrians, unlike the English, do not seem to relish their royal family. The family was banished from Austria immediately after WWI.  The last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Otto von Habsburg, was nine years old in 1922 when his father passed away and young Otto became the head of the House of Habsburg.  Even though he was never a ruling monarch, he renounced any claim to the crown in 1961.  Only five years after that did the Austrians let him back into the country.  However, his passing in 2011 at age 98 prompted a state funeral in Vienna.

The Habsburg family traces its roots back to the 11th century.  One facet of their legacy is the enriching cultural legacy they’ve left Vienna.  A Habsburg held the position of Holy Roman Emperor nearly continuously from 1452 until the dissolution of the Empire due to its defeat by Napoleon in 1806. And we get riled up when nearly any administration overstays its welcome at eight years!  The Habsburgs were one of those influential houses whose descendants reached into the royal families of all Europe.

UNESCO placed the Schönbrunn palace on its World Heritage List in 1996, as a magnificent example of Baroque architecture and gardens.  Now, certain municipal officials are allowed to live in rent-controlled palace apartments here.





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The grounds were opened up to the public over two hundred years ago.  You could easily get lost amongst the geometric rows of sculpted trees and local runners bouncing past.  The grounds hold a zoo, private gardens and a children’s playground and hedge maze.  You can stomp out melodies, hurry past “surprise” water jets, shimmy up climbing poles and race your siblings through the maze.  A viewing platform up top holds parents and the birds-eye view of direction-givers.  We did a lot of playing and hiked up the hill to the Gloriette Arch with the view of the grounds.



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We have noticed a phenomenon of, “Dad, take a picture of this so we can build it in Minecraft!”

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We met the girls after they’d finished their time of joy with the Lippizaners at the Spanish Riding School.  By the way, the entire baroque hall where the horses perform is just one hall of many in the Habsburg’s other palace in the heart of Vienna.  We linked up at a classic Viennese cafe for coffee and cake.

Vienna is a city that takes its cafes very seriously.  Viennese coffeehouse culture goes back at least 300 years.  We enjoyed one of the traditional cafes—the Cafe Tirolerhof.  The newspapers lay on tables in their wooden holders for easy reading.  A glass display case presents tantalizing cakes and pastries.  The waiters wear long shirt sleeves and jackets.   Small pouches emerge at their waists for quickly making change.  Ours did not smile much and was all business.

The coffee menu is long, and strange.  Many of these drinks are found only in Vienna.  Coffee, here, is an art form.  Apparently, if you order just a “Latte”, you may be taken for an Italian and brought hot milk. A “Melange”, or Verlängerter, is made with hot and foamed milk and dusted with cinnamon or cocoa powder—similar to a cappuccino.  The “Kapuziner” is a small black coffee with a bit of Schlagobers (heavy whipped cream) so the coffee takes on the color of a monk’s hood.  A “Faiker” is a “Verlängerter with hot milk and served in a glass.  An “Einspänner” is a Faiker with lots of Schlagobers on top and extra sugar for sprinkling.  I could go on and on.  Apparently, coffee house waiters used to bring out a chart showing various hues of coffee colors—like a paint sample card—so a patron could select their precise shade.

Several patrons lingered at their tables over a small coffee and water, reading the newspapers.  It all worked together to make you feel underdressed coming from the kids’ playground.  But that never stopped us fellas, anyhow.  We’re Americans after all, so I ordered a “Big Gulp of Joe, leave room for the cream and look lively, man!  By the way, can you put the game on?”

The girls could hardly get the words out fast enough about the amazing Lippizaners.  I video’d the girls’ wide eyes and tumbling words and wished this site could hold a file that large.  The boys feigned interest then launched into their stories about all the digging they’d done and fun they’d had and the hedge maze and the fountains and the Hippocampi statues (from Percy Jackson books, of course) and the….  There may been an attempt to one-up the girls buried in there somewhere…

The apple strudel was delicious, of course.  I ordered something that sounded like a large latte, which the waiter brought in a tall glass without a handle.  It was burning-up hot and I couldn’t hoist the beauty for some time.  The tiny glass of water they bring with the coffee is a great finish to an afternoon coffee.  Everything tasted fabulous.  It seems we have a trend here of blog posts involving coffee and/or pastries.


When our young waiter brought Will’s hot chocolate, he let the angle of the saucer drop just a bit as he lowered it to the table.  Some of the cocoa crept over the edge of the mug and pooled in the saucer.  The corners of his mouth turned grim and he used a napkin to wipe out some of the cocoa from the saucer.  He couldn’t get it all right away and was likely left with the internal debate of removing the drink completely to reaccomplish or to leave it as is.  He left it with us but seemed disgusted about the appearance of the drink he’d failed to deliver adequately.

Somehow, Will ended up managing to survive this egregious error in beverage aesthetics.  He’s good like that!

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The Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School
by Camille

My sister, my Mom and I galloped to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.  After side saddling a subway train,  we arrived above ground surrounded by a huge church, horse drawn carriages, and ornate buildings.  It was like nothing I had ever seen before!  The gothic church of St Stephens towered over the neighboring buildings, with its carefully patterned tiled roof of green, black, aqua, yellow and white.

“Hold your horses,” Mom should have joked as we stopped to examine the map.

We walked for a few minutes and gladly collected our tickets at Will Call.   Quickly climbing up two flights of stairs, our seats awaited us in the second gallery.  Statues of knights and kings gallantly posed with their swords on either end of the ring.  Sitting in our seats and leaning over the wide, chilly, and decorative stone railing, we observed as the enormous blue chandeliers rose up into the air and the first act began.







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Six young Lipizzaners pranced out of the gate, wearing fancy saddles and reigns.  The riders wore identical uniforms and each carried a birch wood crop.  The horses did circles and exquisite sidesteps.  Then, the second act opened and two horses came out.  They did a duet in perfect synchronization.  They danced pirouettes and a gait where they picked up their feet to a prance.

The next act was most exciting!  The regal stallions performed high jumps and reared up with their riders on their backs and bunny hopped on their back legs.  The crowd oohed and applauded as each horse took center ring.  It was amazing!  van Bakel Riegler Courbette emailer

Then the fourth act started.  It was solo.  Magnificently controlling the horse with only a switch of his hand, a man appeared with a horse, following behind it, directing with a pair of long reigns that were the length of the horse.  The horse cantered and side stepped, like a professional performer.

The fifth and last act began with eight Lipizzaners with riders prancing in tidy lines and patterns in unison.  As they crossed each new line , I knew it was a experience I would always remember.  Spanish Riding School in Vienna was amazing.  I had a blast.





How to spice up your next museum visit

1. Find the nearest informational plaque and stand right in front of it.  If your siblings can still almost read it, lean on the plaque.


2.   Step in front of the interactive touchscreen.  Instead of clicking on the “next” screen, drag your finger across the screen and enjoy the cloud that forms behind your finger.  Start doing faster and faster loops.  Keep doing this until the museum guard asks where your parents are.


3.  Sit on the low brick wall placed in front of the preserved section of the underground city wall with your coffee.  Let the same guard who spoke to your child come tell you that you cannot sit on the perfect-height-for-sitting wall.


4.  Bounce the coin in your hoodie pocket over and over and surprisingly violently, for fun.  Accidentally bounce it out of your pocket and let it roll across the suspended walkway you are standing on.  Watch as it rolls off the walkway and into the ancient city excavation below.  Try to help your dad apologize to the guard in a foreign language.  Don’t be surprised if the guard tells you that you are not going to get your coin back.


5.  When the museum seems to drag on FOREVER and ever and you are hungry for a snack just drape yourself across your parents.  Any bag or backpack they are carrying is actually designed to also be a handhold.   Transfer as much of your weight off of your feet and onto their bag.            Alternative method–Link your hands up around their arm or shoulder.  Hang like a sloth on a tree branch.


6.  Get really excited about the arms and armor exhibits.  Ignore any suspicious stares from museum guards.  Pick your weapons and suits of armor since you are actually living in a Ranger’s Apprentice book.  Try to figure out which one looks like a saxe knife.  Point at the suits of armor over the railing but neglect to notice the laser beam you are breaking.  Pretend you don’t notice the audio alarm that is going off (again).  Do this three times.  Try not to make eye contact with approaching museum guards.


7.  Max perform the audio guide.  Make sure you know how to turn it on and off, rapidly.  Then see if you can break your record.  Continue till it powers down and won’t come back on.  Then, give it to your parents.


8.  If any of the material seems a bit slow paced, get as far ahead of your family as you can.  Go several rooms ahead in the museum.  Consider it a challenge.


9.  As you tour the underground salt mine, really get into enjoying the salt.  Lick your hand, drag it along the mine wall for yards and yards then lick it again.  Any wooden beams that are painted white should be similarly enjoyed.  Do this as long as possible or until your parents notice.


10.  When the guided tour is in the relatively small confines of the king’s bedchamber, strike.  Employ a silent, but deadly, attack from your GI system.  Take note of others’ faces to see why anyone might be avoiding that area of the room.  Prepare your defense ahead of any possible recognition contingency–“whoever smelt it, dealt it.”




Luke’s birthday

My Birthday

First thought in the morning: Oh my gosh its my birthday! I immediately woke the nearest person which unfortunately happened to be the champion sleeper, Will. Will retaliated fiercely with a punch straight into my face. What a wonderful way to start my day. My next big mistake was to wake up both Cami and Ana which resulted in the dreadful 12 birthday spankings. I simply stood no chance against the three bloodthirsty vicious triplets. Will of course was whacking and kicking practically any part of my body (I think he did more than 12). Ana was whacking me over the head with her surprisingly hard stuffed animal, Lamby (Believe me that thing hurts). Camille was doing something to me but I was in so much pain already I didn’t feel it. After I had recovered from that deadly shock, Will would not leave me alone with excuses of “12 birthday kickings’’ and things like whackings and pretty much anything that resulted in me receiving pain.
Now the day started to get a bit better.  It was breakfast and we were settling down for my favorite rice, sugar, and butter.  A sweet breakfast that literally consists of rice, sugar, butter and milk if you want it.  Then Mom took a nap and Dad went to work on the blog.  That left the apartment pretty much our play room.  We did all sorts of things kids would call fun running around in me and Will’s case, wrestling, legos, video games.  It was, I have to say, very enjoyable.  Next thing we knew it was lunch.  We all sat down for my favorite dish:  Mac and cheese homemade.


MMMMmmmmmm my mouth still waters at the thought of it.  Now we moved on to the Baths.


You’d be surprised when you realize that the Baths are actually a large pool complex with maybe 25 pools and a few saunas.  That afternoon was one of the best in my life.  There where three large outdoor pools and many indoor small ones.  On the far right was a huge pool that was so warm you didn’t want to swim, just lay there forever.



Finally we got out because the water was getting pretty hot.  The middle pool was slightly smaller than the other two pools.  It was your average swimming laps pools.  We didn’t swim in it.  Then we entered the farther to the left pool.  The water was half hot and half cold.  In other words, just right.  There happened to be a whirlpool in it.  Boy, we rocked that whirlpool!


There were more people in the pool than I had ever seen in my life.  After a few hours or so we got out of the pool to see the indoor pools.  The pools came in many different colors, temperatures, and sizes.  Some were green, blue, red.  (The green one smelled terrible.)  In most areas, there was a hot pool and then a cold pool.  And then there were the saunas.  Aaahhhh!  I love those things!  My first encounter happened to be a wet sauna.  My first thought was, “Why can’t I see anything?”  The room was completely mist.  At first, it was hard to breathe.  But, I have to say, it was very relaxing.  Then after that we kids wanted to try out the dry sauna.  I felt like I was in the desert.  The back of the chair was so hot I couldn’t rest my back against it.  So overall the experience with the wet sauna: good, dry sauna:  bad.


(pictures of the cabins and changing rooms prior to getting in to the baths)

Then, we drove out of there and went to Burger King, got some burgers, and drove back to the apartment.  The triplets were very kind. They gave me a book, a song, and a pack of gummy worms.  Then, we broke out the lemonade, but the lemonade happened to be lemon juice.  Too bad we can’t speak Hungarian!  We ate our burgers, I passed out gummy worms and we were ready for the movie.  We watched Captain America Winter Soldier.  It is one of my favorite movies now.  During the movie, Dad gave everyone three small pieces of different cakes and one scoop of ice cream.  I will have a hard time having a better birthday in the future.

Overdosing on “Mad” King Ludwig’s castles (are pics visible now?)

You’ve likely heard of the famous Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria.  Lisa’s brother gave us a 37-million-piece  jigsaw puzzle of the castle that we throughly enjoyed.   You might have heard how this German castle inspired the Disney castle.  As an American, it makes perfect sense to me why someone in Germany would build their castle based on the greatest ‘Merican amusement park known to mankind.  Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?  No, sir.


Please forgive the completely unnecessary Animal House reference and my pointing out that Animal House was filmed at the University of Oregon.  Wish the Ducks  had a real statue with the phrase, “Knowledge is good.”  I will try to restrain myself from further ostentatious Oregon pride by skipping a lengthy explanation of the Oregon-classic movie “Goonies”. 

Now back to our regularly-scheduled Europe, I’d seen Neuschwanstein briefly on a NATO trip a few years back.  Reading the guide book now, I can see there were horse carts and trams to take you up to the high castle.  But when we visited, we were in a hurry, didn’t ask many questions and ended up trudging up the steep, 30-minute hike.  No worries, just a good workout.  I remembered how the interior had underwhelmed me compared to the jaw-dropping mountain setting and castle exterior. 


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Actually this aerial shot was not taken from any ultralight I brought on the trip–just available from Google Images but it shows the proximity of the two castles.

We want to show the kids some of the castles of Europe and what better way to start than with Ludwig II’s castles?  Crown Prince Ludwig II ascended the throne at age 18 (in 1864) after his father died from an illness.  Two years later, Prussia absorbed Bavaria and Ludwig’s power was nipped in the bud.  He retreated into his love of music, architecture and art.  Ludwig was a passionate patron of Richard Wagner.

Our first visit of the day was to Linderhof palace.  He inherited the castle from his father and completely renovated it in the over-the-top Rococo style. 


This is the only castle he finished during his lifetime.  His family had at least fifteen castles.  Ludgwig idolized the French Sun King Louis XIV as the embodiment of an absolute monarch that expressed his ideal of a God-given right to rule.  This was no longer possible in the Europe of Ludwig’s day so the themes selected seem a longing for days gone by.  The French palace of Versailles inspired the Linderhof renovation.  As you enter Linderhof, there is a statue of Louis XIV gloriously mounted on horseback beneath a sun emblazoned on the ceiling.  

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The banner entwined within that sun is “Nec Pluribus Impar”—roughly translated as “not unequal to many”.  This was Louis XIV’s, the French Sun King, personal motto.  Our guide offered an explanation as something along the lines of being capable above others or better than others. Nearly every portrait in the castle proudly displays a portrait of a French monarch, and his mistress.  A sculpture of a French king standing on the vanquished (or our guide told us, the people) flanked the marble fireplace.  Ludwig had a dining room table that rose into the room so he could dine alone.  Servants would prepare the meal and completely set the table downstairs.  The hall of mirrors where he liked to read at night presented images of the candles around him into infinity.  He would often read all night long and sleep during the day.  The rococo style includes “3D” cherubs reaching out of their frames and into the next.  His bedchamber contains tapestries of people offering their homage to the great French monarchs. 

The grounds are nearly as impressive as the palace interior. 




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Check out the clan in the lower right of this photo.

Ana says, “Linderhof was his most royal castle.”

You’ve gotta know you’re padding your resume for later being known as ”mad” when you build a grotto, complete with electrical waterfall, for your own private opera screenings.  Yes, that’s a miniature ship in the lagoon.  King Ludwig loved Wagner’s operas.  Powering this grotto’s lights (and heating the water) was the reason the first electricity was generated in Bavaria.  Sometimes he would have his servants paddle him around on that small boat in the lagoon.


It sure brings into focus what those crazy colonists (and later the Europeans themselves) were rebelling against.  It makes you wonder how we ended up with leaders like George Washington.  He stepped away from public life when others with his reputation, power and fame were doing all they could to keep a tight grip on it.

We drove over to visit the next Ludwig castle of Hohenshwangau.  This castle was first mentioned in letters in the 12th century.  It was a knights’ castle before the family bought it in the mid-1800s.  Ludwig’s father bought it and began to rebuild the dilapidated castle.  Its walls hold romantic murals of the deeds of the royal family and of leaders from the area. 

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Once his father passed away, Ludwig moved into the king’s bedroom.  His bedroom still has the telescope pointed toward Neuschwanstein as he observed the ongoing construction for 17 years.  There are nude, bathing beauties on his bedchamber walls (and his father’s secret door to the queen’s room).   Ludwig was engaged at one time but never married.  He even had stars in the ceiling that actually illuminated at night.  


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Tourists meander in the street amid a disorienting crush of fellow tourists, idling tour buses and horse drawn carriages at the visitor’scenter trying to get their tickets to Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.  It is big business.


The family still lived in the Hohenschwangau gift shop building till the 1970s and they still own the castle. The tour was fast and short on details but the queuing system and ticket distribution was state-of-the-art.   The tourist dollars are flowing in to visit these works of art.

Ludwig did not finish the interior of the Neuschwanstein, because he only lived in it for 170 days.  To design the castle, he had the rough plans drawn up by a theater set designer, then taken to an architect.  He designed the latest technology of the day into the castle—running water, flush toilets, and auto-rotating spits for cooking.  He put so much of his personal funds into his simultaneous castle projects that he was constantly having to take out new loans.  As he neared insolvency, his creditors considering seizing the castles and Ludwig threatened suicide. 

Neuschwanstein is one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Europe with 1.3 million visitors a year, often more than 6,000 visitors each summer day.  Access is limited to 35 minute guided tours.  His last year of life was consumed by imagining and working on an even greater castle, Falkenstein.

In 1886, he was removed from power and was found mysteriously drowned in a lake a few days afterward.  The people of Bavaria were furious with his fiscal irresponsibility.  But within six weeks of his death, tourists were paying to go through the castle.  Ludwig’s younger brother had been ruled mentally ill years prior so the art of ruling fell to an uncle as regent.  The people of Bavaria still benefit daily from the tourism produced by these magnificent structures.