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Europe in the spring

I’m starting to write this column on the train going from Strasbourg to Munich, and then on to Salzburg. We have been in Europe 5 days and by day’s end we will have been in Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany, and Austria.

We got into Amsterdam early Tuesday and immediately boarded a train for Brussels where we stayed in the Welcome Hotel, “The Smallest Hotel of Brussels.” It really was small but the proprietor was one of the friendliest people in all of Europe. Her name is Vanessa and she can converse comfortably in English, French, Spanish, Flemish and perhaps other languages. The hotel lobby doubled as a breakfast area where we were served a typical European breakfast of cold cuts, salami, souse, ham and bread. In Brussels, as in most other parts of Europe I have the visited, bread is substantial. It doesn’t submit to being eaten without a fight. You must tear, bite, and pull with considerable force, the bread fighting all the way.

About as soon as we got settled we called our newest friends, the Yeldezians, who--although they now live in Brussels--were formerly from The Woodlands which, as most of you know, is in Texas. Kathy (Mrs.Yeldezian) and eldest son Jeff (a student at the University of Texas) met us the next day and provided a guided tour of some really cool sights in Brussels, including the Grand Place, purported to be the most beautiful square in the world. The public buildings and old guild houses are truly spectacular. Kathy and Jeff then took us to their house and fed us supper. We met husband Glenn, second son Gregg and third son Eric. They were and are great folks.

The next day we were back on the train headed for Luxembourg. The most interesting thing that happened in Luxembourg was wife Lynn running into the back wall of the elevator in our hotel, twice. The elevator was pretty small and Lynn misjudged the distance from the door to the mirrored back wall. She just ran into it face first, whap. After the second time I got in first and protected the back wall from her onslaught.

The second most interesting thing about Luxembourg was the Casemates, a series of tunnels and caves hollowed out in the 11th century as hiding places, then as a defensive fortification from which cannon fire could be brought to bear on hostile forces coming up the Alzette River. During World War II the Casemates were used as bomb shelters. Pretty cool.

After Luxembourg, we went to Strasbourg in the northeast corner of France. This is the 4th day in a row that I’m forced to rely on my Auburn University sophomore level French. It turns out I remember more than I thought I would. For instance, one day we had looked for a restaurant for a long time. I was famished. When we found the restaurant, I told the waiter, “Je suis femme.” He smiled and said, “Fomidable.” Since I don’t look French, I believe many French folks are surprised when they find out I speak it so well. On another occasion I forcibly inquired “Ou est la gare?” I was on a roll. I hauled out my best text book line, “El burro es animal muy importante.” Lynn suggested that perhaps I was getting my sophomore languages confused. The French people seemed amused, not at all as cold and unfriendly a reception as certain Francophobes of my acquaintance would have you believe.

From Strasbourg we took a long train ride to Salzburg, Austria. We had to change trains in Munich. We got to the Strasbourg station exactly 4 minutes before departure, but that was enough time. We just stepped onto the train and it headed out. Unlike in an airport, you will notice that arriving 2 hours early to wait for a plane to leave late is totally unnecessary. In Munich we had a 12-minute time period to get off one train and on to another. Our train arrived exactly on time on track 20 and our next train departed (abfahrted) on track 11, a one and one-half minute walk. The train left exactly on time. We had our own private compartment with seats much more comfortable than airplane seats and no hassles at all. I like train travel in Europe much more the commercial air travel.

Lynn and I were enjoying the scenery out the big picture window of our train compartment when we came upon a beautiful grassy field on the outskirts of Munich. As it was a warm and beautiful day several people--maybe 50 or 60 of them--were lying on blankets taking the sun. All possible genders were represented. I could tell because they all were completely naked, which in French is sans clothes. I shouted, “DON’T LOOK, ETHEL!” but it was too late. Lynn really got an eyeful. I have noticed that the Germans will take off all their clothes in public at the drop of a hat, or a skirt, or whatever. I’ve seen it happen in saunas, in spas, on beaches and now in a grassy field. I try to not look, but I am frequently unsuccessful at things I try.

Salzburg is a beautiful, old and apparently very happy city. Its beauty derives from the marvelous castles, churches, and public buildings set among scenic natural beauty of the breathtaking kind. The “old” comes from the fact that the city was founded about 700 AD. The “happy” was obvious even from our hotel room. On our first night in town it was quite warm so we decided to sleep with our room windows open. We were on the 1st floor (that’s the second floor to you), and the old section of Salzburg was just across the river. People were happy until 5:00 in the morning. It’s really true. Beneath our open window they were singing, laughing, talking very loud and occasionally screaming just for the sheer joy of it. I didn’t get to sleep until nearly 5 AM. Lynn watched them from our window until 5:30.

After Salzburg we will be in Vienna for 5 days. Stay tuned for exciting Viennese adventures.