Europe 1996

We began planning this trip in late 1995 and in late July, we were ready to go.  But circumstances changed and with a heavy heart after the loss of my future brother-in-law, Dirk, I flew off on a lousy charter flight to start my first European trip.  I was flying solo, as Heidi needed some more time with her family.  I flew into Frankfurt after an unexpected layover in Iceland.  Once I arrived, I grabbed a train and a bus ticket to Würzburg where my friend Crash (Mike Cole) was living.  He was stationed there during his stint in the Army and had graciously offered me a place to stay for the week.

Arriving at his apartment, I found that my communication had not been great- he wasn’t expecting me and happened to be in Berlin for the weekend.  So, dealing with the effects of about 20 hours of travel and very little food, I grabbed my backpack and wandered down the road to find a bus to take me to a youth hostel.  After a mile or so I came across a gasthaus, with high hopes that they would either have a hotel room or the restaurant would be open.  Unfortunately, neither of those were the case and I settled for sitting down with some locals for beer.  The owner, Walter, pictured here with me a few days later, was extremely friendly and generous.  He fed me three large beers and sent me down the street with one of the local drinkers to put me up for the night.  The local had a nice bed in his extremely clean garage and let me stay there.  The next morning, he pulled his motorcycle out of the garage, told me to keep sleeping and he headed off to work.  I never saw him again.  My first impression of Europe was sealed- fantastic.  The people were friendly, generous and treated me with respect- even though I didn’t speak the language.


That afternoon I met up with Crash and we had some great times.  By the way, the photo below was a meal we had at Walter’s gasthaus.  We went back to repay him for the generosity of the previous night.  To our surprise, he would not let us pay for dinner and gave us 4 bottles of local wine.  We were embarrassed and snuck back in to put some Deutschmarks on the table.  Europe1996-002

The town of Würzburg was exactly as I had pictured Germany, but even more beautiful and historic.Europe1996-003

This is part of the ancient walls around the Würzburg castle.Europe1996-004

At this point I must apologize for the quality of the photos.  As I write this in 2014, I can see that my super cheap point and shoot 35 mm in 1996 did not take good pictures.  We came back with 14 rolls of film, which cost hundreds of dollars to develop.  But at least we were able to capture some of the beauty and memories of the trip.  Here’s the Würzburg castle from across the river.Europe1996-005

Afternoon sun on the town of Würzburg.Europe1996-006 Europe1996-007

This is a picture of Crash’s apartment.  Definitely the nicest place any of my college friends were living at in 1996.  It was pretty sweet!Europe1996-008

A week later Heidi arrived.  I had taken the train back to the Frankfurt airport and waited in the terminal across from a middle aged German couple for about 4 hours.  Heidi’s plane was very late.  As it turns out, the couple was Heidi’s Aunt and Uncle, Siglinda and Franz.  They spoke basically zero english and my Deutsch was very poor, so I suppose that our lack of interaction was for the better.  But it sure was great to have Heidi with me.

Heidi got over her jet lag while we were staying at her relative’s house and one of our first jaunts was to Rüdesheim.  It is a tourist town right on the Rhine river.  Beautiful, even in the rain.

We took a Rhine river cruise with a bunch of elderly German tourists, but had a great time.  The ruined castles were incredible.

A couple of days later we took the train to Berlin.  We randomly stayed in Hotel California.  It was above our $50 a day budget, but it was really nice to finally be traveling and staying together.  You can see the remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in the photo below.

This is the Brandenburg Gate- very famous and beautiful after the reunification.

The wall had only come down 7 years earlier and the Germans were working hard to bring Berlin back to where it had been prior to the Soviet occupation and disunion.Europe1996-014

Alexanderplatz and the famous landmark TV Tower.

It was super cool to see the Reichstag, knowing the history behind it.  When coming to power, Hitler’s SA actually burned it and blamed it on the “communists.”  This helped to get public sentiment behind him.

As you can see from the next two photos, East Berlin was still in serious disrepair, only 7 years after reunification.  Europe1996-017

The subway (U-bahn) in east Berlin hadn’t changed much since 1945.

After a couple days in Berlin, we travelled to Dresden to visit our friend James Cooper from Seattle.Europe1996-019

James was teaching English and had settled in well.  Here he is with his old east German motorcycle, his new tattoo and Heidi’s backpack.Europe1996-020

This photo of me on the Dresden streetcar cracks me up.  Long hair, shaggy goatee.  Hilarious.

Dresden was even further behind than Berlin, as it had essentially been totally destroyed in 1945.  Below is the Frauenkirche being rebuilt from the originals stones.

The socialist architecture was evident everywhere.Europe1996-023

This is called the Procession of the Princes or Fürstenzug.Europe1996-024

After spending a couple of days in Dresden, James took us to Prague, Czech Republic.

The photo below shows the Old Clock Tower from behind.  Amazing!





This is from the viewing area atop the Clock Tower.


It started to rain, but it didn’t keep us from enjoying our ice cream!

James went home and we hopped on a train to Vienna!  I don’t remember the photo below, but it must have been a pension we rented??


I love Austria!  It was really great to be in Vienna!


Saint Stephen’s Cathedral.  Imposing.  Amazing.  Beautiful.



The next day we went out to Schonbrunn Palace.  It’s massive and perfectly manicured.  I’ve never seen anything like it.

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The next day we hopped on a different train and headed towards Budapest, Hungary.  We were definitely feeling like we were in eastern Europe.  The train wasn’t quite as smooth and pristine as in Germany and Austria.  People were on the train trying to rent us rooms.  It was interesting.  We ended up renting a university dorm room.  It was SUPER cheap, but not great.  We won’t do that again.

The next day we got up and did a bus tour.  It was great.  We drove by this special spot.  Apparently it’s the Cave Church.


This is a statue of St. George killing the dragon on Gellért Hill, the Buda side of Budapest.  I had to pretend I was St. George.


Since our accommodations were pretty terrible, we jumped on an overnight train to Venice!  It was fun having a sleeping coach, but having people we didn’t know in the coach was a bummer.  And then the conductor took our passports so he wouldn’t have to wake us multiple times when we crossed borders.  It felt weird, but we got them back once we crossed the last border into Italy.  Venice was SO COOL!

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We found a great place to stay, but it was odd.  The owner had a TON of birds.  It wasn’t clean, but it was airy.  And cheap.  And since we were limited to $50 a day for everything, we weren’t too picky.

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One night, we decided to take Rick Steve’s advice and went to a “real Venetian meal.”  This place didn’t even have a sign on the door and when we knocked at 8 pm, the owner stuck his head out of the window and said “Rick Steves?”  We said “uh…yes…” and he said “Come back in one hour.”  It ended up being the best meal of our trip.  Incredible.  Remind me to tell you the “How you say, bunny?” story.

Rialto Bridge

St. Mark’s Square


On top of St. Mark’s Basillica


The Grand Canal


The Doge’s Place


Venice was my favorite place so far.  I was so excited I actually called my parents for the first time this trip!  It had been at least 3 weeks.  But it was time to move on!  Onward to Florence!

By the time we got there, we had our system down.  We would arrive at the train station in early afternoon, get a pay phone and reserve a room for a few days.  Easy!

The Florence cathedral was spectacular!

David was much bigger than I had anticipated.  The line to get into the Uffizi Gallery was, too.  But it was totally worth it.



The photo below was a pretty common sight.  Us waiting at the train station.

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