Augut 1-14, 2010

Day 1. The flights were a probem from the start. Although there were only 9 of us, we were on three separate planes due to arrive in Munich within 20 minutes. Weather caused several delays but somehow it all worked and we all arrived on time.

It was a bit drizzly but warm and we could see the Alps from the plane when we landed at Munich International. This is not so much an airport as an event. It not only contains the world’s only microbrewry at an airport, but has an outdoor market. It is basically a city in itself where planes just happen to land.

We drove right to Ruhpolding, arrived at the Fritz am Sand Hotel and I could feel myself relax immediately. The Fritz is in the heart of the German Alps. Directly outside the front door rises the Rauschberg, jutting several thousands of feet into the sky. The Fritz itself is an Alpine chalet with white and pine rooms, flower filled balconies and the best food in all Bavaria. Corinna and Georg, the owners and good friends of mine, are the wonderful hosts of the hotel.

I’ve been coming here fr over 20 years, first with my family and then with countless groups. It is always one of everyone’s favorites.

After we got our rooms we went into town for lunch and the to the hot springs spa neaby. The bubbly water, always about 98 degrees, was the perfect way to relax after a transatlantic flight. The hot pool is outside so you can lie on an underwater lounge chair and stare up at the Alps. It’s perfect.

Dinner was great. I know that most Americans envision German food as a heavy mix of sauerkraut and ham hocks. Yeah, you can get that if you want but that is a pretty narrow view of a vast culture. Corinna fixed a stew of sirloin tips in a red wine sauce, broiled vegetables and a light summer salad. Desert was iced mocha coffee. Now if that doesn’t dispell the myths nothing will. It was all excellent as every meal is here.

More to come……
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June 30. Arrived this morning into Glasgow, Scotland. The landscape was green and sparkling in the morning sun. The 7 of us drove to Stirling Castle, made famous in the film BRAVEHEART about the life of William Wallace.

In a beautiful setting on a hilltop, sits this monumental structure, central to all of Scotland's often difficult history. From here we drove into Edinbugh, often referred to as the Athens of the North.

Edinburgh is a beautiful town, dominated by gorgeous spires and domes, capped by the imposing Edinburgh Castle, the other "bookend" in Scottish history.

July 1. We visted St. Giles Cathedral, the Castle, then the Georgian House to see what life was like in Edinburgh in 1710, and explored the town by foot. It is a walkable delight, filled with shops, restaurants and boutiques of every sort.

July 2. Today we went southwest down the tortuously winding roads into the charming Lake District to Ambleside. A delightful seaside village, it was the perfect afternoon stop before continuing to Blackpool, the old Victorian era seaside resort. We stayed in the quaint north side, filled with neat brick homes, red telephone boxes…..and Mr. Warburton.

I was out running, as I do daily, and noticed up ahead of me an older gentleman ambling across the street. Only when I got closer did I realize he was only wearing shoes. Nothing else. Suddenly a neighbor lady leaned out the window and shouted to him, " MR. WARBURTON!! Go fetch your clothes!". The old guy just smiled and strolled slowly along, no one else paying him much mind. I had the feeling that the neigborhood was quite used to Mr. Warburton.

July 3. Into Wales today to the rugged Irish Sea coast to the medieval walled town of Conwy. The Conwy Fortress, one of Edward I's finest, is still relatively intact and looks like it is from a Hollywood film. We scrambled around and over this piece of 800 year old history and had a ball. Later we went in the Tudor House in Conwy Village, the best preserved house of its kind in the nation. Wonderful.

July 4. On the way into Stratford we stopped to visit Anne Hathaway's family cottage. It is a great example of a thatched roof period home and was the home of the woman who later married William Shakespeare. On into town, we went into Shakespeare's birthplace and several of the other properties associated with Shakespeare and his family. Stratford crawls with tourists by day, but at night it is charmingly quiet. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the 4th.

July 5. We arrived in Bath in mid morning and strolled to the center of this spectacular town, all built in Georgian style. It looks like something out of Mary Poppins. In the heart of the city is the Roman Bath, from the first century AD. It is a unique and wonderfully historic site and fun to explore.

Later in the afternoon we arrived at Stonehenge, that massive pile of mysterious monoliths. It is still unknown exactly how or why it was constructed nearly 5,000 years ago (at the time of the Great Pyramid in Egypt) but is exciting to visit each time I go.

At the end of the day we rolled into Salisbury, not too far from Stonehenge. Famous for its massive and beautiful cathedral, there is a serene "close" that surrounds it, like a huge lawn. Right off the close was the Sarum College B&B where we were fortunate to stay overnight. The views of the Cathedral from the bedrooms were worth twice the price.

July 6. LONDON! We left Salisbury early so we would have the whole day in the City. A few miles from town we stopped to fill the diesel van with fuel. One of my passengers very helpfully began the fueling for me, careful to grab the GREEN handle for diesel. At least it is green in America. After paying and starting off, the van began to buck and cough. We all noticed it but tried to ignore it. Only 2 miles from the drop off station, the van stalled in the middle of central London. That was the end of the line. My helpful passenger had filled the van with gas, not diesel.

A helpful representative of AA, the British AAA, came to our rescue. He and 3 of the passengers pushed the car out of the road onto a side alley. Kelley, brave and resourceful, waved her arms wildly, danced her very best and stopped the tsunami of oncoming traffic so I could steer the dead vehicle away.

3 hours and much cash later, the van was drained, refilled with the proper fuel and we were off… search of a Jamesons and a beer.

Nevertheless, we managed to see Sir Christoher Wren's masterpiece, St. Paul's Cathedral (where princess Di was married), and the centerpiece of English history, the Tower of London. Both fearsome and beloved, this structure dates back to 1078 and was begun by William the Conqueror. It is a wondrous adventure for people of all ages. And the crowning jewel? Well, how about the ROYAL CROWN JEWELS themselves. On full display, in all their regalia, they sit on red velvet, a testimony to royal heritage .

July 7. A whirlwind of a day in London. First we walked past Buckingham Palace (no Changing of the Guard today as it was the Queen's Birthday), through Green Park, subway to the British Museum (Rossetta Stone, Elgin Marbles from Ancient Greece), the National Gallery (Monet, Pisarro, Degas, Picasso, Renoir, Van Gogh), Trafalgar Square (Nelson's Column, the 4 huge bronze British lions), the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, and finally Westminster Abbey where every English monarch has been crowned since 1066. It was an amazing day, but not over yet.

About 5pm we left for dinner at Planet Hollywood. To my surprise, the food was really good and the restaurant was near the Piccadilly Theater where we went later for a performance of GREASE. 2 hours of great entertainment, memorable music and terrific dancing.

When we came out, Piccadilly Circus was swarming with fans of the Spanish soccer team, which had just qualified for the World Cup Finals against the Netherlands. It was a great evening.

July 8. We were picked up early this morning and all flew off in different directions. 4 went to the US, 1 to Germany and 1 back up to Edinburgh. I flew to Dublin to begin my IRELAND tour tomorrow. So stay tuned for the next chapter!

A special thanks to my wonderful group, Monica Rodman, Deb Chandler, Kelley Robbins, Christ Adams, and Jeannette and Gary Childs. What a great time we had!
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