Sunday, June 22, 2008

Saturday, June 14 Afterthoughts

Dixie and Dorothy’s flight left at mid morning, so they went to the airport at about 7 am. Carol’s didn’t leave until 1:30, but she went with them so she would not have to navigate a strange airport alone.

The remaining eight of us were on a 5 pm flight. Since check out time at the hotel was noon, we thought we might as well go to the airport then and hang out there. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but we did not realize that Frankfurt airport is designed to undermine the German reputation for efficiency.

In any other airport terminal I am familiar with, the chairs at the gates are open seating. Anyone can sit anywhere. But at Frankfurt, the seats at each gate are only available to passengers with boarding passes. And there are only a few chairs in the corridors. So hundreds of chairs sat empty behind locked gates while we wandered through the terminal with a few people seated, many of them with their carry on bags on adjacent chairs, others laying down taking up four or more chairs, and still others seated on the floor. We checked out a few stores, but mainly just wandered around waiting for our gate to open.

Finally, our gate opened and we got seats. Eventually, a young lady made the pre-boarding announcement, but she spoke so quickly and quietly and the acoustics were so bad, that you couldn't tell where the German ended and the English began. So, pretty much everybody jumped up and got into line when she asked for those requiring boarding assistance! Our rows were among the first ones she later called, but, by that time, there were only a couple of dozen people left seated, so we thought we might as well wait it out on chairs rather than standing up.

Our flight departed at 5:15 pm. We landed Toronto at 12:40 am Frankfurt time/6:40 pm Toronto time. Diane left us there to catch her Vancouver flight. The remaining seven of us bound for Regina departed at 9:30 (Toronto time, 3:30 am Frankfurt time, 7:30 Regina time) and arrived Regina at 10:30 Regina time. Here is the remaining group of seven after arrival in Regina.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Friday, June 13 Frankfurt

This was our coolest day yet as the temperature was only 10 degrees C with a low overcast sky and a cool breeze blowing when we left the hotel. It probably reached the low 20s by late afternoon when the sun came out.

We were on the road shortly after 8 for the two hour drive to our first stop, the Auto & Technik Museum Sinsheim. You need a day or two to cover this museum thoroughly, but we tried to capture the flavour in less than two hours. That is about all the ladies could take anyway.

From there we set out for Otterberg for a visit with Helmut K, who, with help from Peter N, compiled and continues to add to the Zichydorf Familienbuch. We underestimated the time to get there on the quiet country roads and driving through the small villages. Then, when we got there, we had trouble finding Helmut’s house due construction detours. We finally arrived half an hour late at 3 pm.

Helmut greeted us enthusiastically and we were soon eating cake and drinking coffee, followed by wine and schnapps, followed by sandwiches and more wine. The occasion was mostly joyful, but occasionally sad as Helmut recalled the aftermath of war, the loss of his father and grandfather, life and death in the Rudolfsgnad camp, loss of everything the family owned, and starting over with nothing in Germany.

Here are (l to r, please forgive any spelling mistakes) Helmut's wife Hannelore, their friend Giesbert, whose wife Renata had to leave earlier, Helmut, his younger brother Erhard, and Erhard's wife Leta).

We reluctantly wrapped up the festivities at about 6:30 as three of us have an early morning departure tomorrow and Johannes still has a 2.5 hour drive home after he drops us off in Frankfurt. We were checked into our hotel by 8:30, gathered in the restaurant for a goodbye meeting, then packed it in for the night at 10pm.

It is amazing how a group of virtual strangers can come together as friends in a short time in a common pursuit. Some of us found significant success in our genealogy. Others were thankful to merely experience walking where their ancestors walked, but we all enjoyed our time together. It seems like we only started yesterday as our days were so full that time flew by, but we are all eager to get home again and return to our normal lives.

Goodbye until next time.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thursday, June 12 Ulm

This morning we toured the Schoenbrunn Palace. Some of us had been before, but it is interesting enough to do twice. It is fascinating to speculate about all the labour that went into crating and maintaining such an opulent residence in more primitive times.

We left Vienna at about 11:30, through Salzburg to Munich, where we dropped off Frank and Nora Ann, who are visiting Erich and family for a few days. We hit Munich at evening rush hour and paid the price. A couple of times we were slowed to a crawl on the highway for extended periods of time.

When we turned off the highway we got a little bit lost and had to stop and wait for Erich to find us. While we were waiting, Dean and Frank took the opportunity to examine a field of wheat. Like a St. Bernard dog, Erich came to the rescue with a cooler of water, soft drinks, and beer. He also presented us each with a map he had made of Banat with our tour stops all highlighted. What a kind and thoughtful man.

Then it was on to Ulm for the night. Since the tour is winding down and we didn’t have any closely timed appointments to meet, we let the timetable go to hell. We were more than an hour behind leaving Vienna and arrived at our hotel near Ulm at 9 pm, about 4 hours behind the plan. We grabbed a bite to eat and retired at about 10:30.

Today was probably the coolest day yet. High temperature was probably in the low 20s. Still comfortable, but not what we have been used to.

Wednesday, June 11 Vienna

There is not too much excitement (?) remaining in our trip as we are now on the way home and everybody is eager to get there. Our only stops are to break up the day or catch the odd attraction. Today we drove to Budapest and toured around a bit. We went to the Statue Park (Szoborpark) where they have preserved many of the large statues that are relics of Communism. These guys are each 25-30 feet tall!
Then we went on to the Citadel with its view of the city and its souvenir merchants. Some of the ladies have been looking unsuccessfully for souvenirs, so they were glad to find this spot.

From there we drove to Vienna, passing hundreds of wind turbines as we entered Austria. Sorry, but the picture just doesn't do justice to the view of a forest of wind turbines.

Our hotel in Vienna was a bit of a challenge. It seemed to be a collection of different buildings that were all tied together into a pension hotel. It was nice and clean, but boy, did it have stairs. We all went up about 25 stairs, then some had to go up another dozen or so. Others had to go back down another 25 to the other side of the building. Not much fun while lugging suitcases.

We had a very enjoyable supper with Barbara H. who has been working with Ray B. on the Georgshausen book translation. Barbara is the author’s daughter. They have been working with Henry F. who does the first raw transaltio, then they pass it on to Barbara who reviews it to pick up and interpret the local idioms that do not translate literally. Then Ray and Henry work on the English readability. They seem to make a great team.

Anyway, meeting Barbara was a great experience. Her father shared a lot of his Banat memories with her and she had great insights. After supper she came back to the hotel and some of us talked with her until our heads began to nod.

Several of us had the Wiener Schnitzel, even though it was pork rather than the authentic veal. It was very good anyway. As usual, the portions were enough for two, but most of us managed to choke them all down. I know I will have a few pounds to drop when I get home, and I don’t think I will be alone.

Tuesday, June 10, Szeged

I had planned to tour some of the sites of Timisoara this morning, but because of our adjustments from yesterday, we headed out on the road first thing in the morning. This proved to be a good choice as we had a leisurely and productive day today.

We began with a stop in Sackelhausen for the twins. This was a huge cemetery as it was a large village and one of the earliest established in Banat.

We went on to the Stefan Jaeger museum in Hatzfeld. Jaeger was a famous Donauschwaben painter who captured many scenes of every day life in the Banat. The museum holds a few of his original paintings and many copies, artefacts, and an exhibit that tells his life story.

Next stop was the Ostern cemetery where we found what seemed like a dozen of Frank’s family and a few other people of interest as well. Sorin found the man with the church key and we were able to go inside there also. We then went back to the cemetery and had a picnic outside the entrance with the groceries I picked up the previous night.

We went on to Grabatz for a short stop and then on to Lenauheim for a tour of the Lenau museum. Sorin had not been here before, but had heard of it and thought it would be worth checking out. He was right. Lenau was a famous Donauschwaben poet of the early 1800s.

The museum told about his life and times, had a collection of dolls dressed in the Trachten (village costumes) of most of the Romanian Banat villages, and had several artifacts. Frank hit the jackpot when he noticed a display of an 1828 document with one of his ancestors’ names on it. This paid off for all of us when he bought champagne at supper!

Equally important, the museum had passable bathrooms. Finding suitable bathrooms and food in these small villages is a constant challenge.

From the museum, we went to the cemetery looking for some of Betty’s relatives, but without success. This was our last cemetery stop, although we might stop at some on the way back out of force of habit. We dropped Sorin off before the border, spent a half hour of expected bureaucratic waiting, and were back in Hungary. We were in Szeged a half hour later and went looking for a restaurant that Sorin had recommended. We think we found it. Szeged is renowned for its fish soup so Nora Ann and I tried it. Several others tried the goulash. Both were very good.
Today was as hot as any day so far. At one point the outside air sensor on the bus read 34 degrees C.

I can’t conclude this section without commenting about Sorin. Although an engineer by training, he is a historian by passion. He lectured us about Banat from Deutsch Stamora to Timisoara on our first day and from Timisoara to Bethausen and back on the second day. Then he answered questions thoughtfully and thoroughly the rest of the way. Although you might expect a negative connotation from the word “lecture,” nothing could be further from the truth. His comments were always interesting and backed up with facts from his research. I find his research to be of the highest standards of truthfulness and integrity.

Monday, June 9 Timisoara

Today started well, but descended into disaster in the afternoon. We left pretty much on time at 8, but getting through the city traffic was slow going and we were about 45 minutes late arriving in Bethausen. We blitzed the cemetery, but the twins, who were really looking forward to this one, didn’t find anybody. Meanwhile, Sorin had found the man who could open the church, so we stopped in there for a while. So, even though our cemetery investigation was not very successful, they still had the experience of walking in their ancestors’ shoes.

We got back to Timisoara about 12, two hours behind the plan, and decided that the hotel was as good a place as any for a bathroom break. I suggested to Sorin that we should grab a sandwich before going out again but, being European (they eat a late lunch if they eat any at all), he thought we could do that when we got back from our next stop. It took more than an hour to get across town to the hotel, have our break, and get across town en route to our next stop. By the time we reached Blumenthal, we were 1.5 hours behind the plan. We would have to go through Timisoara again to get to our next stop and, considering the time of day, would arrive too late to do anything worthwhile, so Sorin suggested that we adjust our schedule to go further north to the Maria Radna Cathedral in Lipova, then take better roads back to Timisoara to call it a day and add the rest of today’s stops to tomorrows itinerary. Theoretically this seemed like a good plan, but we ran into road construction and were stuck for half an hour while nothing moved in either direction.

We toured the impressive cathedral and returned to Timisoara, arriving at the hotel at 7 to spend another evening in the restaurant. We were all quite famished, having not eaten since 7 am!

I was quite impressed at the improvement in the road since our last visit two years ago. The road east from Timisoara has been completely rebuilt for most of its length. However, you still have to pass through many small towns and construction zones, there are many slow vehicles on the very busy road, and the country road that comprised the last third of our trip to Bethausen was still pretty bad in spots. The road to Blumenthal had not been upgraded yet and was narrow and very rough. Roads in the city have not kept pace with the growth and modernization of the city. They just don’t have the capacity for all the traffic. Sorin said that the city is growing explosively. They have a labour shortage even more severe than Saskatchewan’s.

Today was another beautiful day with a late afternoon shower, but we spent most of it on the bus.

Sunday, June 8 Timisoara

We left the hotel on time at 8 and stopped in Plandiste at 9 to see Mihajlo. He had three more copies of a newspaper article that had appeared in the Vrsac newspaper about our trip, complete with a couple of pictures from our 2006 trip. He also had all the pictures he took with us on Friday on a CD for us.

We reached Vrsac about 10 and stopped for a while to spend some of our Serbian Dinar at a bakery before leaving the country. We got past the border in about half an hour with no trouble and, including the one hour time change, arrived in Morawitza at about 12:30. We met Sorin, our guide, there and toured the cemetery before going on to Gresscham, where Frank had arranged to meet his cousin Erich. Frank and Nora Ann stayed behind with Erich and would catch up with us later, while we went on to Deutsch Stamora.

I knew that there were some connections between this village and Zichydorf, but it was still surprising to see all the Zichydorf names in the cemetery. Even more than expected. We finished up there about 4 pm as Frank and Nora Ann joined us and a rain shower threatened. It started to rain as we drove toward Timisoara. Sorin said it has rained late on every afternoon or evening for the last 10 days and they have accumulated 80 litres of rain per square metre in that time.

We reached Timisoara and a heavy downpour began when we stopped for gas. We eventually reached the hotel about 6 and settled in for a long evening in the restaurant. It seemed kind of small and quiet and I think thirteen people all at once was a challenge for them.