Deutschland – The experience of a lifetime

In 1996, I was in the Army Band stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado. After ten years in the Army, I was planning on getting out when I suddenly found myself with orders for Heidelberg, Germany! It was so tempting to stay in so we could go. There were many reasons why I decided to turn down the orders, get out of the Army and stay in Colorado. However, the dream to visit Germany never died! This dream was finally fulfilled for me and my beautiful wife Susan in December 2017.

(you can tell this is before we leave because we look rested, cheerful and young)


(our plane on the tarmac at DIA…it’s big!)

Germany is magical in December. There are Christmas markets everywhere. We saw our first one after we recovered our luggage and exited the München airport, right there in the courtyard. This is what went through our heads…

Go to the Christmas market…

Must get to our hotel…

Go to the Christmas market…

Long train ride to our hotel…

Go to the Christmas market…

It’s getting late…

The need to find our way to our hotel won out over the desire to visit the market, but only because we knew there would be many more to see.

We got a little lost trying to find the trains, but so many locals were willing to help. The train was easy to find and board. We enjoyed watching the countryside slowly give way to the city until we reached our stop, Marienplatz, just two stops away from the main station in München (Munich to you Americans).

As we exited the station, THIS IS WHAT WE SAW!

(München’s famous Gothic cathedral)

A very impressive site. I don’t think I could ever tire of looking at it. It’s not just architecture, but a work of art (“art”-itecture maybe).

Our guide book said the hotel was just a 5 minute walk from the station. We got lost! I don’t know if it was the flood of people (a huge Christmas market was right there on the plaza), our tiredness, or the lack of signs, but we couldn’t seem to find our way. Even when we asked for help, nobody seemed to be able to help us. They were from out of town too! We finally found a nice policeman who pointed us in the right direction. We found Pension am Jakobsplatz, our hotel for three nights. Kristoff welcomed us, gave us our keys and offered many helpful tips and suggestions after he inquired as to what we would like to do. Our room was very small, but cozy, comfortable, just a 2 minute walk to major attractions and shopping and within a 30-45 minute walk of anything we would want to see or do in the city. We didn’t come to Germany to hang out in our room anyway.

(our cozy room at Pension am Jakobsplatz – a pension is sort of like a bed and breakfast)

(out exploring after we dumped our bags…Christmas market)

You may think I’m crazy, but I love to get out for an early morning jog wherever I am at. Big cities have a different atmosphere in the morning. Much quieter. Slower paced. And I love how the morning light makes the scenery and architecture different. Plus, even though I had been up for many hours traveling, my body still woke up at 2:00 am due to jet lag. I read a bit, snoozed some, but finally got out of bed and went for a run. I knew I would be eating a lot. I had a goal to lose weight on the trip (it didn’t happen, but I kept the weight gain to just four pounds).

Here are some of the scenes I saw.

(the cathedral in early morning light)

(the entrance to the courtyard of the cathedral)

(part of an old section of the palace…looks almost Roman to me)

(the English Gardens; love it when cities include natural beauty that has been set-aside for people to enjoy)

(the Palace)

You’ve heard the song, “I heard the bells on Christmas Day.”

I heard them on a Sunday in Münich, and they were loud! Maybe we can get more people to go to church in the US if we had bells like this.

After Susan woke up, we spent the rest of that day exploring the great city of Münich. We walked everywhere, probably walked 10 miles that day. Spent some time touring the Palace and also went to a couple of art museums. Admission on Sundays is only 1 Euro.



Susan took way more pictures than me. I’ll tell you a secret. We make a great team! This is just one example in our own life, but she takes a lot of pictures and misses the real thing happening sometimes. I take less pictures and capture the moment in my brain. But when we are reminiscing about past memories, she is able to whip out hundreds of beautiful pictures that jog my memory. We are a team. King Solomon said “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” God + Susan and James is our cord of three strands!

There were many street musicians throughout Münich, despite the temperature hovering slightly over freezing. I even saw a street pianist. He was smart enough to be under cover. It reminded me of my favorite pianist, who is kind to all she encounters.

The following day, we went south and toured Neuschwanstein Castle. It was beautiful! The views were tremendous. I think I prefer the indoor plumbing we have today, and also central heat and hot showers, but I would stay at the castle for a week if they let me.

(the main castle)

(we took a carriage ride DOWN; we would have taken it up but there was a long line)

(this item enrobed in red that I found was the most beautiful of anything at the site)

(a view of the castle from the “summer cottage” below)

After returning to our hotel late that night, we took the train the next day to Heidelberg! Can you believe I turned down orders to come here in 1996? God rarely speaks to people in a loud voice.


“Who’s there?”


“Who is that?”


No, it’s more like we know something only 80%, and God expects us to use our reasoning, and then the last 20% is on faith. I call it the 80/20 rule. And that’s how we felt about turning down Heidelberg. It sometimes seemed we had made the wrong decision, but when you look at it with 22 years hindsight, it was definitely the right decision.

We were so excited to see the room we got for just $125. It was an entire apartment with a bedroom, living room and kitchen. We wished we were staying for a few more days. Here are some pictures of the apartment and the view from the apartment.

A short, one hour walk and we made it to Heidelberg Castle

The hike up stole our breath, and then so did the view from the top.

And of course, I had to get out the next morning for a run while my wife caught up on her sleep. I sometimes wish I could sleep in, but my body always says “no.” Plus, I liked to visit the Bäckerein in Germany; I was determined not to gain weight. Here’s the castle shrouded in fog the next morning.

I also jogged by Heidelberg University, which is a hodgepodge of buildings situated on the hill overlooking the water. Did not get any good pictures as it was still dark. HU is the oldest university in Germany, established in 1386.

The river seems loud in the morning!

Back on the train, next stop Cologne.

This was our view when we stepped outside the train station!

Our first night we went out exploring…

Went to the Lindt Chocolate Factory

And saw even more street musicians…

Perhaps I could make a living as a musician if I lived in Germany, or maybe that would just be in December! I wouldn’t mind spending every December in Germany.

The next morning we toured the inside of the cathedral. It was cold. It was beautiful. Some 700+ years later it’s still not complete. The original architect left plenty of plans to keep adding to it. Talk about a vision for the future. Here are some pictures from inside.

Afterwards we went to the famous lover’s bridge, where couples pledge their undying love to each other by clasping a lock onto the bridge. They say the German government had to take some of the locks off due to the weight. Some looked like they had been there a long time. We considered adding our own lock, but the locks sold locally were about 50 euros so we decided our true heart-felt commitment was more important than any symbol that might represent it 🙂

We also visited my uncle Giorgio who is living there, my cousin Pepe and his beautiful wife Carla, who is from South America. We communicated with a combination of English, broken English, Italian, broken Italian, Spanish, broken Spanish and very limited German. It was so much fun. I wish I could see them all more often. For some reason I lost those photos.

We got to spend several days with Jill’s family, including Christmas day. Jill is a German exchange student who was with us the 2015-2016 school year. She became like our daughter. Her family was so nice to us! Jill, we love you and your family! And we miss you!

Jill and her family in front of their house in Ubach-Palenberg


Jill’s school


Another picture of Jill’s school


School again. I love visiting schools – especially old ones with cool architecture. Many US schools look like prisons!

The following day, Jill’s family took us to the town of Aachen, which is about 30-45 minutes from their home. The town is known for the university of the same name and also hot springs. Jill’s family hired an English speaking tour guide to take us around. It was fun and informative.

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were spent visiting with Jill’s family, including her sweet grandmother. Her grandmother made a ton of cookies, which I was really enjoying. At the end of Christmas dinner, there were still a lot of cookies left. Since her grandmother noticed how much I liked them, she bagged up ALL of them for me to take with me! Reminds me of my Italian mama.

After the holidays, we spent one more day touring a very quaint touristy, very old town. Susan was as tall as some of the doorways. And we got to meet Jill’s boyfriend Dean. He’s a very nice young man whose grandfather is American.

The next day it was back on the train to head to Münich, where we would be flying back home. It is hard to make out, but we passed so many castles while in the train and snapped some pictures. When we arrived in Münich it was the first time we had seen the sun in ten days! We spent a little more time exploring close to our hotel. The markets had closed, so there were a lot less of the crowds.

I had a super great time, but what made it fantastic is that I got to spend it with my best friend and soul mate, Susan Divine. We get to go to Germany again this summer to hopefully see our first grandson (already have three granddaughters) born to our daughter. Not sure if we will get to tour much, but it’s really about the people more than anything else. We met so many kind people in Germany and will carry those memories with us forever. It was so nice to see some members of my family and to get to spend Christmas with Jill and her family. We loved every minute of the experience!