Life is hard they say. And we have a tendency to make it even harder. There are just so many choices to make each day! However, many of those choices are actually pretty easy if we just choose what we already know is the right thing. What are your Easy Choices?
Enchanting, magical, tranquil, perfect, dreamy, romantic… Ballymaloe is tucked into rolling hills and lush farmland in Ireland’s County Cork. It is home to an inn, restaurant, shop, gardens and cooking school.
We got there just in time for our Sunday evening dinner buffet reservation. Friendly Seamus greeted us at check-in and told us to take our time in getting there, so we were able to freshen up in our beautiful room before dinner.
Multiple charming buildings lived on the property. Our room was upstairs in this ancient pink stuccoed house.
It had been mentioned to them that we were celebrating our 35th anniversary so this plate of cherries was waiting for us: how sweet!
So much beauty was visible within and without. We changed quickly with anticipation of what delicacies might be featured in their Sunday night buffet. But first, drinks on the patio…
We sat for a while with our traveling companions just drinking in the view, the peaceful surroundings– and our delicious beverages. It was one of those “it doesn’t get any better than this” kind of moments. Rural Ireland had exceeded every expectation.
“Follow me to your table…” Yes, please!
The picture below is from just one of various dining rooms located throughout the main wisteria-covered building.
The food, including the desserts was just extraordinary. This is where my fascination with a fluffy meringue dessert called pavlova began.
But, enough about the food, you’ve got to see the rest of the grounds. That’s where the true enchantment lives.
Well, it’s time to have breakfast, then say goodbye to our new friend, Chuff.
Farewell dear Ballymaloe! May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rain fall softly on your fields… always.
The day we drove from Munich out into the lovely Bavarian countryside was a stunningly beautiful one. The atmosphere was crisp and clear, the sky was bright blue, the leaves sported golden leaves– all was right with the world. Well, after we got started, that is. It didn’t start well at the rental car agency. They didn’t like the fact that we had made our reservation on Expedia rather than directly with them. They had no idea how to install a child seat in the van (and neither did we- it was a complicated affair none of us were familiar with). But after an hour or two of figurative blood and literal sweat and tears (mostly from the 18-month old) we were on our way and eager to experience another part of Germany. Andechs Monastery was in our sights.
Something that continually impressed us about the rural landscape in this area of Germany, is how much it resembles Pennsylvania, where we live. No wonder so many German settlers arriving in America in the 19th century chose to live in the rolling green hills of our fair state.
Andechs is a town in Upper Bavaria which is home to a Benedictine monastery. Andechs has been a place of pilgrimage since 955 A.D., and the original monastery buildings were constructed in the 15th century.
The monastery has also been brewing beer here since the 15th century. We decided to partake of their food and drink before exploring the Abbey itself. After some minutes of “D, what does this word mean? Where should we go? Do they have a high chair? Where is the restroom? Do you have coins with you for the restroom? Are we considering this our lunch or what? Should I get a pretzel?” Eventually we figured out the logistics and settled in.
According to the Andechs Brewery (Kloster Andechs) website, “the Andechs beer specialities provide a ‘taste’ of the successful meld of Benedictine hospitality, Baroque culture, and the Bavarian lifestyle.” The tagline on the glass is translated “A Delight for Body and Soul.” It was indeed rather delightful there. We joked about how they just called their German potato salad, Potato Salad, and left “German” out because– obviously… It’s also fun to have delicious soft pretzels available to go with every meal. And it’s vacation, so you don’t have to consider how many calories are in a meal of pork, potatoes, pretzels and beer.
Soon we were ready to explore. And the Abbey Church and surrounding area did not disappoint. The church was renovated in the 18th century to approximately how it looks today.
After a quick playground break for this little guy, we were ready to “ausfahrt” and head to our next destination, Linderhof Palace.
Our subject today is the U.S. Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington D.C. I shall take a short break from Germany and inform and delight you with a vastly under-appreciated treasure right here in the U.S.A.
The Library of Congress is located right across from the Capitol building. We looked to our right and saw this:
And to our left to see this:
And it’s next door to the Supreme Court building.
My daughter likes to take me on excursions for my birthday or Christmas gifts, and when she asked where I wanted to go this year, the Library of Congress popped into my head. Everyone to whom I mentioned this festive destination, seemed to scoff at my choice. The Library of Congress! Why are you going there? Well, first of all, it’s a library. So why wouldn’t you go? Plus it’s the WORLD’S LARGEST LIBRARY with more than 164 million items on 838 miles of bookshelves!
Even if you’re not fond of reading, the stunning Italian Renaissance architecture and design of this place is magnificent. Paintings, statuary, mosaics, stained glass… dating back to 1897 (prior to that time, the library had been located in the Capitol building across the street). It was also the first public building in D.C. with electricity installed at the time of construction. I bet when you see these pictures you’ll wonder why in the world you’ve never visited it!
It’s hard to believe that at some point in time all this grandeur was covered up to create office space. Mosaic floors were covered in linoleum, and the ornate walls were hidden as well as being blackened by coal soot and dinge from decades of cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke. In the 1990s, the building underwent a 91 million dollar renovation to restore it to its original glory. This building is now named for Thomas Jefferson since he sold a collection of 6,487 books to the Library of Congress in 1815 to replace the original 740 volume collection which was destroyed by fire in 1814 when the British set fire to Washington. Jefferson’s original collection is gathered in one room of the LOC now –although many of those original books were destroyed in yet another fire. Many of those destroyed volumes have since been replaced.
Another great treasure of the LOC is one of only three original and complete vellum copies of the Gutenberg Bible which was printed in Mainz, Germany in the 1450s: the first book printed using movable metal type (in the Western world) in a press invented by Johann Gutenberg. This kind of press revolutionized the ease of producing printed material, eventually making books, etc. accessible to the common person for the first time in history. The other two complete vellum Gutenberg Bibles are found at the British Library in London and Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. In a side note, “our” Bible was acquired by a German industrialist named Otto Vollbehr who bought it from an Austrian Benedictine monastery in 1925 (it had somehow made its way there from a monastery in the Black Forest in Germany). Apparently the monastery thought the Bible would end up with “an American church prince.” Vollbehr had hoped the Archbishop of Chicago would buy the Bible with the help of some wealthy patrons, but that didn’t happen. Although Herr Vollbehr was a world traveler, he quit working and devoted himself to his book collection after being seriously injured in a railway accident. His collection was amassed over the following 20 years. In the 1920s Vollbehr took much of his collection on tour in the U.S. for exhibition purposes and to look for buyers. It took an act of Congress to purchase the Gutenberg Bible and 3,000 other works from Vollbehr for $1.5 million (a bargain as that collection was thought to be worth $3 million at the time), but then it was found that though Vollbehr owned the Bible, he did not even have it in his possession. Herbert Putnam, the director of the Library of Congress, had to travel to Austria to negotiate the final acquisition of the Bible from the monastery. Vollbehr had such significant debts at the time that he didn’t have much left from the $1.5 million that he didn’t realize much net benefit from the sale. Though there was controversy over paying even $1.5 million for the Gutenberg Bible during the Great Depression, the Bible is now considered to be absolutely priceless. A complete Gutenberg Bible printed on paper is now worth $25 – $35 million, so the pricetag for one of only three vellum copies is unimaginable.
Our tour guide pointed out a lot of beautiful features of the building (when she wasn’t distracting us with personal stories). The amount of detail is almost overwhelming.
The carvings on this staircase are called “putti”, meaning “a representation of a naked child, especially a cherub or cupid in Renaissance art.” Each of these little guys represents a “work” or profession. The putto on the left is a warrior and the one in the middle is a fisherman. There are interactive screens placed unobtrusively around the room to help visitors figure out meanings of the art and sources for quotations.
This next photo shows a quote by Sir Philip Sidney, whoever he is, under a painting by Weston Benson representing Summer. “They are never alone that are accompanied with noble thoughts.”
My sweet and amazing daughter also took me to lunch nearby at a cafe called the Bistro Cacao. It was so charming!
There you have it! Get yourself to Washington D.C. asap. There are so many things to do and see in easy walking distance from one another and the metro. Thanks dear daughter for an amazing day!
We’d seen the modern yet steeped-in-painful-history Berlin for a few days, and it was time to travel south by train with Munich as our destination. The train station in Berlin was spacious, spotless and full of eateries and shops. After gobbling down some pastries accompanied by less satisfying coffee, we made our way to the platform to wait for our train to arrive. Of course, it arrived in a timely manner because we are in Germany and they have a well-deserved reputation for order and attention to scheduling details.
We kept busy amusing our little guy for the six hour trip.
In Munich, we just had a short walk to our hotel– where we were meeting some family members who had been unable to join us in Berlin. We were delighted to check into a beautiful, modern hotel and find our people before setting out to see the famous Glockenspiel in the Marianplatz just a few blocks away.
It was as impressive as we had expected it to be even though we didn’t get to see it in action. The fanciful clock with music and mechanical figures was added to the Rathaus (Town Hall) in 1907 when the building’s construction was completed. But these two aunties were in their glory– who needs a Glockenspiel when you have an adorable nephew for entertainment?
We sure were glad to add these two (below) to our group.
Another German must-see, must-taste experience was going to happen at the Hofbrauhaus. Beer, meat, potatoes, atmosphere.
We only had a few hours in Munich, but they were lovely and memorable ones. The next morning will find us driving out into the verdant Bavarian countryside!
Flora, fauna, food, festivities, and former days of glory (I couldn’t think of a synonym for history that starts with “f”) were hallmarks of our next two days in Berlin. Each day began with a search for coffee and pastries in the neighborhood around the Berlinerhof Hotel. Many coffee shops didn’t open until 9 and early birds seemed to open at 8. I stuck with cappuccino as I could order it and know what I was getting without figuring out what they meant by the various offerings on the menu. Germans didn’t seem to be familiar with iced coffee, as they thought we crazy Americans wanted ice cream first thing in the morning. The pastries were fantastic– I had no idea the Germans had serious pastry talents!
We wanted to take in more of the city, including some museums. The U-bahn whisked us off to the vicinity of Museum Island via the Bebelplatz. Bebelplatz is a plaza featuring grand and beautiful buildings such as St. Hedwigs Cathedral, the Humboldt University Library, and the Berlin State Opera House.
As with most of Berlin, there is a lot to the story of this location. Frederich II build St. Hedwig’s for the Catholic community as a sign of religious tolerance (in the 18th century).
It was here in Bebelplatz that on May 10, 1933, some 20,000 books from the University Library (pictured below) were burned by the Nazi regime. These books were said to be authored by degenerates and Nazi opponents. The University was then known as Frederick William University and it was closed in 1945.
During the Cold War, the University was located in communist East Berlin and was reopened and renamed Humboldt University while another University was established in West Berlin and named Free University (Freie Universitat) of Berlin, emphasizing that it was part of the “free world” as opposed to being under communist control. After the German reunification, Humboldt University was “decommunized” and both Humboldt and Freie Universities continue in operation to this day. As a matter of fact, the main reason for us traveling to Berlin was to attend a graduation event held by Freie University. We, the proud family members of one of the graduates, were able to attend an evening celebration which was held at a unique art deco restaurant in a renovated former train station in Berlin.
But I digress. Our explorations of Berlin continued.
There was construction everywhere. Has it been like this since the War? I’m sure it has. The above photo shows such a mix of ancient, modern and under construction. The pointy tower is Fernsehturm, the 365 meter-tall TV tower was erected in 1965-69 in East Berlin and was intended to be the tallest tower in Europe. I found a story online about the legend of “The Pope’s Revenge”: “although it was intended to demonstrate technological advance it was doomed to an ironic fate. To the embarrassment of GDR authorities – the steel sphere below the antenna produced the reflection of a giant cross. Hence the popular joke, not appreciated by the SED government, that this was the Popes’s revenge on the secular socialist State for having removed crucifixes from churches.” The awe-inspiring Berlin Cathedral peeks into the left side of the photo.
The Berliner Dom website merely points to the Cathedral as the “vital center for the Protestant church in Germany.” The parish was established in 1613, though several church edifices have occupied the site, with the most modern one (before the present one) was completed in 1905. The building suffered extreme damage and destruction in 1944 and the congregation and parish was split by the Berlin Wall. The Cathedral was situated in East Berlin, and a new West Berlin parish center was subsequently built to serve the West Berliners. Restoration and rebuilding work on the Cathedral from 1975 to 1980 at which time enough of the cathedral had been restored to hold services there. After reunification in 1989, the East and West parishes came together again and the building restoration was completed in 1993. We did not have time to tour the Cathedral, unfortunately.
We moved on to see more amazing architecture and tour some museums.
We even worked in a visit to the famous zoo while we were in Berlin.
Of course, while in Berlin, we sampled German fare and beer at a variety of biergartens: lots of pork and potatoes!
And who could resist one more stop at Rausch Schokoladenhaus? Not me!
We were treated to a special light show in the evenings during our stay.
But, eventually our stay in Berlin was up and it was time to load ’em up and move ’em out. To the train station!
Berlin was our first stop on a long-awaited trip to Germany (well, after a brief change of planes in Frankfurt where we observed an early morning crowd of well-dressed German business commuters in the very clean and orderly airport). The city greeted us with expected fog and drizzle, but soon cleared up to unexpectedly beautiful weather!
We dragged our jet-lagged, yet excited selves from plane to bus to hotel to subway (called the U-bahn) to astoundingly beautiful plazas and historic grandeur.
We were in awe of the architecture as we trundled along, wide-eyed, behind our grown children who were leading the way. Some of them were very familiar with the city and the language and we were only too happy to just play follow-the-leader. Our stomachs were not yet on Berlin time, so we needed some serious eats even though it was before 11 a.m. for the rest of the city. Our waitress at the Augustiner was happy to oblige us with sausages, potato soup and other delicacies washed down with some good German beer.
Right around the corner was a Berlin must-see/must-taste for us– Rausch Schokoladenhaus. Rausch has hot chocolate to eclipse all other hot chocolates! I decided on the mint version and it did not disappoint. Oh my goodness.
After being thus fortified (who needs sleep when you’ve had sausage, beer and chocolate??), we sallied forth to view the impressive Brandenburg Gate. This magnificent structure was completed in 1791 under the auspices of Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia and was designed to represent peace.
Unfortunately, peace has often been elusive in Berlin. Napoleon marched through the gate in a triumphal procession in 1806. The Nazis used it as one of their symbols of their party. Then it got heavily damaged the bombings of 1945. The Brandenburg Gate was closed in 1961 and the Berlin Wall was erected right in front of the Gate and maintained its dreadful presence there until 1989-90. Germany was reunified, the Gate was refurbished and “Pariser Platz” in front of the iconic Gate is a wonderful pedestrian area and is enjoyed by thousands of people.
Our family group of seven passed through Brandenburg Gate and continued around the corner for a sobering walk through the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” a startling series of 2,711 concrete stilae which comprise a Holocaust memorial just opened in 2005. The building formerly located on the site was Hitler’s administrative center. The same location was also part of the “Death Strip” of the Berlin Wall. The current memorial serves as an eerie but necessary presence in 2017 Berlin. The stilae are in rows, but vary in height, and they seem to undulate over sloping hills in the terrain. According to Wikipedia, the designer purposefully created a disconcerting atmosphere: “the stelae are designed to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.” We noticed a few people perched on the concrete slabs, but it seemed rather disrespectful to do so.
We took a deep breath and crossed the street. Everything we had seen that day seemed like too much history and heartbreak to absorb. Oddly (or maybe not), just in front of us was a large wooded park which contained a stone sculpture garden. Large rocks were etched with words like “love” and “forgiveness.” Not many people were around, but we were accosted by some folks who got a bit hostile when we refused to sign their petition or contribute money to a shady “organization” they were “helping.” So much for peace… moving on…
After spending the afternoon walking and sightseeing, we were ready for more food (and beer of course), before a quick return to our hotel to succumb to the ministrations of the Sandman at long last.