Monday, January 19, 2009

Sisterhood of the Traveling Tights

On January 11, my dear sister Mandy came to visit me in Germany. As Jon was away at Jump School for three weeks and I had just said goodbye to our best friends in Germany, Dave and Michelle who were returning to Australia, it was perfect timing for a sisterly visit. I had warned Mandy that there would probably be some down time, and she'd have to try to become a lady of leisure during the visit. She passed the test with flying colors and not only did a great job relaxing and sticking to virtually no schedule, but she also actually slept in until 9:00 a.m. several days. For those of you who know Mandy, this is quite an accomplishment!

Three days after her arrival, we took off to Krakow, Poland, where we enjoyed four days in this beautiful city. Krakow is considered to be the next Prague and boasts the largest medievel square in Europe. Although we didn't get to experience all the many outdoor cafes that are hoppin' in summer, we did get to enjoy a winter wonderland complete with fresh fluffy snow.

Due to the cold temperatures and desire to spend as much time outside sight-seeing as possible, it was important to dress super warm. We both wore tights (or long johns) daily and after a while, got pretty sick of this necessary article of clothing. Much of the town wall surrounding the old town of Krakow still remains. In what used to be a moat on the outside of the wall, is now a beautiful park that circles the entire old town. It was a lovely sight to see the new fresh snow each morning in the park and resting along the wall and many spires throughout the city.

The market square is the largest in medievel Europe, and it is truly magnificent. The Cloth Hall (behind me) stands in the center of the square. We enjoyed trying out some of the decadent cafes along the square for our daily hot chocolate and seeing horse and buggies pass by the window.

Market stands line the inside of the Cloth Hall where sourveniers and hand-carved wood work can be bought. We were amazed to see that everywhere in Krakow, the Christmas decorations were still up and lighted even though it was three weeks later.

Also on the Market Square is the towering, St. Mary's Church with a neo-gothic interior.
Wawel Hill is Poland's most visited site, as it is a symbol of Polish royalty and independence. Wawel Cathedral (behind us) is Poland's national church and also on the hill are the castle grounds.

During the day we enjoyed meandering through the beautiful old town streets and at night, we ate delicious Italian dinners. Yes, I did say Italian. It was unbelievable how much Italian food was in this city, and although we did try our hand at some Polish food during the day, dinner was reserved for pasta and pizza.

An all-day excursion consisted of a trip to the infamous Auschwitz concetration camp. This was an incredible experience and although it's not something you think about doing on vacation, I'm so glad we had the opportunity to visit this important destination in history. By the time the camp was liberated in 1945, about 1.1 million people had been murdered here. This is the entrance to the Auschwitz I camp, where the entry gate has the famous line, "work sets you free."
Although crematoriums and torture chambers did exist, this was primarily a work camp for the most healthy, and the living conditions were slightly "better" than Auschwitz II.

When the orginal camp got to be too small for the capacity the Nazis envisioned, they began a second camp in some nearby farm fields. This is the camp that is displayed in the film, Schindler's List. Although most of the camp was destroyed, we were able to see what the latrine and barracks would have looked like.
It is incomprehensible to hear the stories of how these people were forced to live and know that this actually happened. And furthermore, that it occurred for three years before the rest of the world knew.

After our winter wonderland adventure in Poland, we returned to a snow-melted Germany and some gorgeous sunshine. However, despite the sun and clear skies, it was still necessary to travel in tights. For a day trip, we traveled to the university town along the Neckar River of Heidelberg where Mark Twain, and many other writers have spent much of their time. The ruins of the Heidelberg Schloss tower above the city.

Posing on the market bridge over the Neckar River with the Schloss in the background.

Heidelberg's market bridge.

Heidelberg's market bridge.

The following day, we enjoyed another afternoon trip to the nearby town of Limburg, known for it's many original half-timber biuldings.
On a hill above the old town sits this commanding large cathedral.

We enjoyed wandering through the narrow alleys and streets and were in awe of the many adorable and brightly colored half-timbered buildings. This is definitely typical Germany!

Limburg's Town Hall.
A view of the town of Limburg below and the cathedral in the distance.
It was a fun-filled week and a half with Mandy and I'm so glad we got to partake in this experience together. Although it was sad to see her go, we did not miss parting with and retiring our well-worn traveling tights.
Jon returned from the States on Jan. 29th. After Jump School ended the week before, he enjoyed a reunion with his family in Virgina. It's great having him back and we're looking forward to a busy couple months ahead before our return to Texas. YEEOOWW!