Friday, September 30, 2016

Travel Time; or, More for Less

I have friends who have asked (some in a round about way, others who have just come out and point-blank asked) how did you go to Europe for almost a month? Isn't it expensive?

Well, yes, And no.

Here's what I have always told my students for 20+ years: you will have dozens of friends and acquaintances once you graduate high school. Love or hate facebook and other social media today, it does make it easy to keep in touch. And also it's easier to meet friends of friends.

Chances are, you have friends, family members, or former colleagues who are living in a beautiful and interesting place in the US or overseas. They may be stationed somewhere with the military or there for a job or school.

You know when someone says, "Hey, I'm living in _________ now. You should come out and visit!"

Well, you should do that.


It is simple as that.

Loch Ness, Scotland, April 2002

Here's the other thing----
Most of my friends don't live in an isolated area where they literally have 2-3 choices for dining (and none are great---or expensive), where they can go 3-4 weeks on a tank of gas because the commute is so short, and where they drive a beater car because you would be foolish to drive a nice car in a place with very limited auto repair facilities. 

We also don't pay a mortgage or utilities here---it's provided free as part of the "perks" of living here. 

I bitch, moan, and complain about living here sometimes (many times), and island fever is a real thing and I sometimes worry about going all Jack Nicholson-The Shining on people, but life is cheap and entertainment is limited and sometimes (many times) life is boring here. Our survival tactic is to budget a little bit of civilization into our lives during the summer in the form of travel.  

Glasgow, Scotland 2002
Mission District, San Francisco. 2001
Chinatown, NYC. Dec. 2004
So back to travel and cheapness. Even if you have bills and you have limited vacation time (or unpaid vacation time), for a little more than the price of a plane ticket (or gas, if driving cross-country is your thing), you can have a fabulous vacation.

There are friends and friends of friends. You would be shocked once you start asking around at how many people are willing to take a total stranger in for a week (or longer). I've had friends and former students offer to contact relatives in far away countries to put me up for vacation. There are hostels and Couch Surfing and small, family run hotels. There is also Air BnB and people who know people who are looking for house sitters during the summer. It's not the Ritz, but you can either spend, spend, spend, and only go on vacation once in a blue moon, or you can do it on the cheap and learn about other cultures in the process. We are lucky and know people who live all over the country and the world, so we were able to visit Germany and Macedonia while staying with friends. I loved it because we don't see them often, and you get a unique perspective staying with someone from the community where you are visiting. 

Baden Baden Germany, 2012

There are also advantages and disadvantages to doing package deals or DIY travel. 

Last summer we found a great deal on a vacation to Mexico through Travelocity. My husband called a service rep to ask about arranging transportation from the airport to the hotel, and through that conversation, we ended up getting two weeks for a little more than the one week price, and two rooms for the price of one. We didn't have to figure out all the logistics of a hotel, flight, and other transportation because we did it as a one-stop shop. Sometimes this works best (especially if trying to coordinate all these things causes you major anxiety, like it does me). For a family with 2 kids, including one child under the age of 10, this was also the best trip option for us at the time. 

This year we went through the website SkyScanner and found great air deals with airlines not usually featured on the big travel websites. We flew Condor to Frankfurt. There are several no-frills airlines out there---Wow is another one---where you have to decide, do I want to carry a huge suitcase, or do I want to pay less than half price for a ticket that requires me to bring no more than 5 outfits? Movies, large suitcase check, meals, alcohol---these are all extra on no-frills airlines, but there is no way it adds up to what you pay for a ticket on major airlines. Our son traveled on another cheap airline from Germany---TAP, out of Portugal. 

My bright green carry-on got me through Europe for a month.
Through SkyScanner and Travelocity, Orbitz or Kayak, Travelwatchdog or any other travel site that sends you monthly (or weekly) travel deals, you can find great prices on tickets. We have airline miles and get emails from those companies, as well. It takes some time to go through and find the best price, but if you are paying outright for your tickets, sometimes you have to do a little work. 

A great option for those people who do pay monthly bills, credit cards that have travel miles can get you tickets quickly. A few of my friends are very thrifty and can follow a budget, so they put all their monthly expenses on a credit card, pay them off immediately, and get enough miles for 2-3 trips a year. If we ever get back to the real world of making monthly payments for a mortgage or utilities, I will definitely consider doing this. 

Traveling via train and small airlines is a great deal in Europe. For $20, 30, or 40 you can fly round trip to another country, spend a couple of days in a hostel or cheaper hotel, and spend a few days for less than a single day in some of the big US travel destinations. Bus travel is another option---we've been all over Mexico in buses. Just make sure to learn about the different classes of buses and get one that is air-conditioned and has a bathroom. The price difference is usually only a few dollars. 

I have friends who love Disney and go every single year. This is great if it's your thing. Personally, I hate big crowds. The thought of standing in line for an hour makes my stomach churn.

As I told my parents once, why would someone want to spend thousands of dollars to see pretend countries at Epcot, when you can enjoy a real country (and for a longer period of time) for much, much  less?

And honestly, the best secret of cheap travel is knowing a teacher. Teachers get paid for the days we work (usually around 190 a year) and most have the option of getting those paychecks stretched out over the summer. We get anywhere from 6-8 weeks off in the summer for vacation (unpaid vacation---I mentioned that we don't get paid for that time off, right?!?!). Many teachers are great at budgeting to have extra money in the summer.  Many of us are also very good at scrimping and saving because, face it, we are getting paid a whole lot less than many of our non-teaching friends. But hey, we get the (unpaid) summer!!

Teachers for the most part also are curious about the world. Teachers are perpetual students. Depending on what we teach, we are always reading and learning about other cultures, other parts of the world.

So find a cheap, adventurous teacher friend, and I can promise you he or she will have great ideas on how to travel for little money. I was lucky and found a teacher friend who has been my travel buddy to New Orleans for Mardi Gras and San Francisco for a wedding. She has lived in Scotland and Germany and I've been to visit her at both locations. For 18 years now, she has helped me wrap my head around travel because I am awful at planning trips (thus the all-for-one stop vacation destinations when I plan a trip). 

The bottom line is whether it's a last minute deal on a travel site to a city in the US or a week-long trip to another country, you owe it to yourself to see how the rest of the world lives. Climbing pyramids in Mexico, driving through Monument Valley, searching for the Loch Ness monster, getting lost amongst the canals of Amsterdam, and watching my kids order pastries in Germany are memories I'll cherish forever. I've given up a life of a new (or even a nice) car, a big house, and a large wardrobe. I no longer spend lots of money on first edition books, my big, nerdy, expensive hobby. I love my mis-mash of old and new furniture and don't really care that it doesn't always match. I made a decision in my 40s to give up material things for a life of experiences.

It's difficult living far away from my US family here in Cuba, but it's also made these experiences possible. I know it's not for everyone---my friends who have made roots (especially my friends in my hometown of Monticello, MS) have something I wish I had---the desire to stay in one place. They have a present that is set in a history that is slowly fading from my memory, and I feel a lot of sadness when I go back and realize I don't recognize people anymore and don't know or remember most the people they are talking about. They have a life many of my own students, who have lived nothing but a peripatetic life, would love to have. And many of them also manage to have their own adventures---and have a home to return to.

Home for me is with my family, not a place. But for those of you who have a home that is a place---cherish it. Be proud that you know what you want and you know where you want to live. I may get there one day, who knows. In the meanwhile. . . hit me up and maybe we'll plan the next great adventure together.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Toe Magic, Those Aren't Chickens!, and More; or, A Spa Trip to Czech Republic

Františkovy Làzně, Czech Republic

July 25-26, 2016

Frantis. . . wha? That's basically what I said to my friend when she said we were going to the Czech Republic. 

I'll be the first to admit that all I know about the Czech Republic is that it was once part of Czechoslovakia, and Prague is somewhere in there. One day in this little town was not really enough to enjoy what it has to offer, but it is a great (and really cheap) destination for a spa get-away. 

almost all buildings are a buttery-yellow color, 
and the town is charming and easy to walk around

Why visit a small town with a big name?  

F-L is part of the "Bohemian spa triangle" and is a candidate for inclusion as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (I didn't mention this in the last post, but Metz is also on the candidate list). 

Unlike my other adventures, this was a girls-only trip. My host Anna, another Lori (who also is an USM alum AND a Mississippian!) and I drove the couple of hours from her house in Vilseck to the Czech Republic. The drive through Bavaria is always beautiful, and going into the Czech Republic was not a major ordeal. Or even a minor one. 

The Czech Republic is part of the European Union, but unlike most EU countries, it does not use the Euro. Instead, it uses the Czech Koruna. 

That being said, many businesses and restaurants will take the euro (and probably American dollars, if you ask). What I did learn through various signs in the area (and the internet, of course) is this used to be part of the Bohemian province of Austria-Hungary until WWI, and after WWII, the Germans were expelled by the Allies as part of an effort to ethnically cleanse E Europe of Germans. Wow. When you visit today, many people speak fluent German, and many speak English. It is a spa town with a large influx of tourists yearly, although I did not see any other Americans while I was there. The mineral springs there are known for their healing properties, and people have come for hundreds of years to this area for spa treatments and "cures." 

What to do and see

While in Františkovy Láznē, we stayed at the Wellness Hotel Ida. This is a family run hotel and we met 2 Idas there--a mother and daughter. The hotel building is from the early 1800s. The rooms have been recently renovated and are modern and clean, yet with the tall, vaulted ceilings and lovely balcony, I was always aware that we were staying in a historical building. No air conditioning, but the evening breeze made it more than bearable. 

If you are been to a hotel/spa, this one is not fancy by any means, but it as much to offer as many high-dollar spas in the US. When you arrive, you have a "menu" of spa choices----everything from a traditional massage to stone massage to reflexology. I chose a head massage and reflexology. I hadn't had either before. 

The massage area is not like any other I've been to. The windows were wide open and a fresh breeze was blowing in. No whale sounds or sea gulls or any of that other cheesy music---just the sounds of the outdoors. No low lights, either---lots of natural sunlight. I knew this was going to be a little different experience. 

The head massage was. . . interesting. At one point, my masseuse was pulling my hair, which is odd but also oddly relaxing. He did some work on my head and face based on pressure points---at least I think that's what he was doing, because he didn't speak any English, and I don't speak German or Czech. 

I immediately thought, "wow, I should have just opted for a traditional massage." I had a pinched nerve under my shoulder blade that hurt so much, I hadn't been able to lift my arm for a few days. But with that whole language barrier, there was no way I could tell him that, and I didn't even think about it when I was setting up my appointments with one of the English speaking Idas. 

Then came the foot reflexology. I didn't know much about reflexology---I just knew that my tired feet hurt and thought a foot massage would be amazing.


Holy cow. I don't know what wizardry/voodoo/magic was involved, but I'm telling you---it was amazing. And I will definitely do that again. 

The masseuse worked on each toe and various parts of my feet doing different things, sometimes kneading them and sometimes rubbing his hands together and putting heat to them. Suddenly he stopped on one specific toe and worked a long time.  It was weird, but I knew he was doing it for some purpose. Once my time was up, he pantomimed to my hurt shoulder blade. Again, I had never told him that it hurt, but somehow by working on my feet, he a)knew I had a pinched nerve and b) knew how to make it stop hurting. 

Magic, I tell ya! 

Otherwise, I enjoyed walking around the cute little town. Goethe and Beethoven both came here for the healing waters. (Those waters, incidentally, smell a little too much of sulphur for me to drink them). 

The town has a cute little train that for a small price will take you around. The tour is in Czech (or maybe German---again, that whole language thing)---and it weaved through a pretty little park and by more 19th century beautiful yellow buildings, colonnades, and small fountains. 

Can you find us on the train? 
On the train, we passed a hotel with sculptures on the grounds. What are those? Chickens? They looked so interesting from afar. 

And then close-up, it was a whole other story. Those aren't chickens. . .  

Those aren't chickens. They are nekkid people. Oh my. . . 
Those are some freaky pieces of modern art. It's like everyone has their heads up their. . . posteriors. 

The town is small but charming. There are a few little shops and our hotel had a nice restaurant. I enjoyed walking around and seeing the signs---I'm a little obsessed with signs in other languages. 

And then we sadly missed a local production of Romeo and Juliet: 

and even more sadly, we missed the local drag show: 

We did see this sweet little monument for the American troops who liberated Frantiskovy Lazne during WWII: 

The take away: 

If you are not living or staying in the Bavaria region of Germany (or anywhere else in Eastern Europe), you may not think of this as a destination. As I mentioned with our Macedonian trip, there are really, REALLY reasonable airfares from smaller airlines once you are in Europe. Depending on where you are, you can spend much MUCH less on a round trip ticket to the Czech Republic than on a full tank of gas (and yes, gas is very expensive in Europe). So if you are spending a week in London and get bored (I guess that can happen. . . ), consider taking a 2 day trip to Eastern Europe where hotels and food are SO much more reasonable, and you find unexpected adventures in places you never would have considered visiting. 

When most Americans think of visiting Europe, they first think of France, Germany, and Italy. Those seem to be at the top of people's wish lists. 

I found a rural area of the Czech Republic and the country of Macedonia as both wonderful surprises. The food is inexpensive and good. The accommodations are also inexpensive and modern. People are lovely and very accommodating. When you are one of a few Americans, you don't have to worry about other obnoxious Americans giving your country a horrible reputation (something we run into every time we visit Mexico). You will run into a slower pace of life in many ways, where you are encouraged to sit a while and enjoy a meal. Store clerks don't follow you around. Waiters don't hover over you. People may wait in line patiently like Americans, or may feel the need (as they did MANY times in Germany) to just cut line because they don't want to wait. And you can choose to get angry or realize it's a ridiculous thing to stress about. We'll all get through line eventually. 

I think with Europe I've come back a little more patient about some things, and quiet frankly, more pissed off about others. Getting my son from Europe to the US was easy; getting him from the US to GTMO was an utterly frustrating, exasperating, and expensive process. I miss the fresh and nutritious food we had in Europe. I miss the cost of things---groceries are a LOT more expensive at our commissary than the commissaries we visited in Germany. And it's our only choice. I miss driving in the countryside (and driving over 35 mph). Yes, it's a slower pace of life here, but in a frustrating, bureaucratic sort of way. I can still only dream of getting that magic ticket and FINALLY getting out of here after five years. 

But we'll always have Germany/France/Macedonia/Czech Republic, right?  


More on travel (as in, how to spend a month overseas for cheap) and "letting" my son spend a couple of months on his own traveling all over Europe (and a little of Africa). 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Grateful Dead, More Churchapalooza, and I *heart* Marc; or, Metz, France

Metz, France 
July 18-19, 2016

Our little family continued our mini-road trip across the western part of Germany and crossed through Luxembourg into France. This is my second time in Metz and I couldn't wait for my family to visit one of my favorite places (so far) in Europe. 

Why Metz? 

Um, why not? Metz is in the Lorraine region of France and is on the Moselle and Seille Rivers. It has a Gothic cathedral, museums, gardens, and beautiful views from all over the city.  There is an open air market that sells everything from cheese to meats to vegetables. When I was in Metz in 2012, it was on the Tour de France map. 

Our Day in Metz

For anyone who has done a road trip with multi-stops, you know how tourist fatigue sets in. We could have easily spent 2-3 days in Metz to do it justice. That would have included seeing museums and getting to walk around more of the city. 

Instead, we arrived in the afternoon and worked on seeing the St. Stephen cathedral, getting something to eat, and getting up the next morning to hit the patisseries and the market. 

Metz has these parking garages that are, well, incredible. There is a whole system of lights that tells you where there are available slots, and everything is much more organized---and compact---than in the U.S. It was a little challenging getting our rented Audi into the close spaces.

don't think we're fitting our car in this place. . . 
Both times I've visited Metz, it's only been to the Metz Centre. I definitely want to come back to see other parts of the city and spend more time here. 

beautiful waterways coming into the town center

Another thing to know about Metz---it's hot and humid in the summer. Like steamy, stifling heat. The two times I've been there in July have been quite miserable. Not much is air conditioned, so your cute little outfit for France is going to stick to you like Saran Wrap. You are going to sweat. Your hair will frizz or wilt. Forget being cute in France in the summer. Metz is NOT the place for that. 

What it is for me is (what else?) a great place to visit yet another cathedral. Churchapalooza 2016 officially came to an end in Metz, but what a place---St. Stephen Cathedral is one of my favorite churches in the world. 

Walking around you see some of the same as the Dom: flying buttresses, stained glass, and gargoyles. The church (and many other buildings in Metz) are made from a yellow limestone unique to that area. 

The entrance way has beautiful rows of martyrs and saints: 

I know the Janus goddess has 2 faces, but I have no idea who these people are with 3 faces. 
Walking inside, you are greeted by walls of gorgeous stained glass. The church itself is not fancy in any way---there are chairs instead of pews, and lots of simple stone pillars and walls. There are no saints and martyrs in any form except stained glass. But boy---that's a reason in itself to see St. Stephen. 

Then there is the St. Stephen name itself---here's the quick (100th disclaimer---I'm not Catholic) version: he was the first Christian martyr and was stoned to death. 

And just as important to a Deadhead, it's the name of an amazing song that goes something like this: 
St. Stephen with a rose
In and out of the garden he goes
Country garland and the wind and the rain
Wherever he goes the people all complain. 
What does this have to do with a guy who was stoned to death? 

I don't know. 

Honestly, I don't really care. 

Because when in Ohrid or the Dom or Prüm or anywhere else where we saw Stephen, my youngest (who is oh-to-inquisitive about those saints) would ask, "What did he do?" and I'd sing a line or two of the song. And any day you get to sing a little Dead is a good day, right? 

You can go all over the internet and try to figure out the meaning of the song as it goes with Catholicism and the St. Stephen story, but really, it doesn't matter to me and it probably doesn't really connect. All that matters is I love the song and maybe Jerry Garcia's family did, too---his memorial service was held in a St. Stephen Episcopal Church. 

Here's the other random thing I love about the cathedral: it has amazing and beautiful windows by Marc Chagall. 

The construction of the church started in 1220 and it was completed in 1550, but in the 1950s, Chagall installed a series of colorful windows. 

So how did a Russian Jew with French citizenship end up with windows in a Catholic cathedral? 

A 1999 article in the New York Times tells of how Chagall installed similar windows in Germany as a "reconciliation" between Germany and France and between Christians and Jews. 

Next to the highly stylized, traditional windows are Chagall's, with their ethereal, colorful figures depicting stories of the Old and New Testaments. 

In addition to the church, there is a wonderful market across the center with the same yellow limestone. Built in the early 1800s,  it has a little bit of everything you'd ever want. 

There are also amazing patisseries near the center with every type of beautiful and tasty sweet you can imagine. Most charge one price for take out and another to eat in (more expensive to eat in), so the kids and I took a large box of pastries and wolfed them down sitting in the square outside our Novatel hotel. 

My take on Metz

I love it for the art (Chagall!!), the little tiny bit of French I know and can use, and the beautiful city center. I want to explore more. 

And I want more of France. 

I was amused how in the hotel, I completely understood everything the desk clerks said in heavily French accented English, but my husband didn't understand a single word---because this is how I felt for 99% of the time people spoke to us in German-accented English. For once, I didn't feel like an idiot. (Hell, I understand French accented English more than Glaswegian, or English in Glasgow, Scotland, but that's a whole other story).  

The first foreign language I was exposed to was French, at a rather early age. Maybe all those Babar books my mom read to me in French and songs she sang---"Sur le Pont D'avignon"---paid off a tiny bit. Or the hours I played with my Babar doll that spoke many phrases in French until I literally wore it out. Or that one semester of French I took in college. All I know is I could actually read and understand a whole lot more than I did in Germany, and that felt SO good. French is a language I feel very comfortable listening to and reading, and want to learn how to speak it fluently. 

My oldest son was fascinated with France, too. It's more laid back---you wait even longer there than in Germany for the waiter to bring you your check, if at all. I think it's considered really rude in most of Europe for a waiter to hover over you or bring you your check right after you are done eating. You are supposed to take your time, savor each bite, enjoy the company of your fellow diners or perfect your solo people watching. France is more relaxed to me than Germany. It's hard to explain in words, but it's more of a vibe you get throughout the city. 

There is also the effortless style of French women, even in the town of Metz. Women wear simple colors, simple hair, little or no makeup. They are laid back and yet elegant. How did they do this when it's hotter than 7 hells outside and I'm sweating with frizzy hair and rumpled clothes? I wish I knew the secret. 

Can you tell I love France? And no, I didn't encounter any snobby French people. Maybe that's because I speak a teeny tiny bit of grammatically ambiguous French and just smile. A lot. People like when you try to speak their language and smile, even if it's when you are pointing and grunting, which I also did a lot of in France. In fact, I am fluent in grunting and pointing and smiling in all languages. 

H taking in the cathedral---his expression says it all
Of course, all of these generalizations of France are JUST based on Metz (and the little tiny time I've spent in a few other small villages in 2012). I could be completely off the mark about Paris or other larger cities. 

in my happy place
Whatever the truth is, this is for certain: I am happy that Churchapalooza 2016 ended in one of my favorite churches in the world, where a Jewish artist created beautiful art of Jesus, and where the name evokes my favorite Grateful Dead song. (And this: eventually, all roads lead to randomness when you travel with me). 

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Home Again, Home Again; or, Guten Morgen, Prüm

Prüm, Germany 
July 18, 2016

We bid Köln and its gorgeous Dom goodbye early in the morning, and by mid-day, we had made our way to Prüm, Germany, my husband's home for a few years in his early childhood.

Why Prüm? 
Prüm is where my husband spent a few years in the early to mid 1970s as an Air Force Brat. He has some great memories of his childhood there, but has never managed to make the trip back to Europe after leaving his 4th grade year, so while in Germany, why not visit, right?

When we first married, I was excited to be working on a military base where I taught students from all over the world. We had staff members and students who had lived in Germany. Many of my students were half-German, and this was a conversation I repeated several times those two years:

"Oh, you've lived [or were raised] in Germany! My husband has wonderful memories of his childhood from there."
"Where did he live?"
"In Prüm."
"Prüm." Then I'd spell it out, umlaut and all.

"Never heard of it."

Then I'd go into where it's located (in Western Germany, close to Luxembourg and Belgium), and again, "Never heard of it."
Then I'd talk about how it is close to Bitburg.
"Never heard of it."

I had the same with my next door neighbor, who was German.  And then the same with students in Washington and Texas. Also with my friends who spent semesters abroad in Germany, several foreign exchange students from Germany, and my friend's husband who is German.

Dear god, has ANYONE heard of Prüm? And this went on and on since 1993. I knew he hadn't made it up, but I couldn't believe that NOBODY German or who had spent years in Germany had heard of the town.

Then I found ONE person who knew exactly where I was talking about. A lady I worked with briefly in GTMO lived for a while on the Prüm river. She didn't actually live in the town of Prüm, but she had passed through it a few times.

It only took 20+ years and a move to Cuba, but I finally have found someone (an American, incidentally) who has heard of Prüm!

Showing the trip from Vilseck to Prüm.
Our morning trip from Cologne to Prüm was only 1 1/2 hours.
Getting there
Your best bet (at least from the Köln area) is the Autobahn. This section of the Autobahn was MUCH slower. Because of the cold and snowy winters, Germany does most of its road work in the summer, creating Staus, or traffic jams. So you think it's great driving on the Autobahn until you realize that you're going to go through 4-5 one-lane traffic construction areas. Once we got out of Bavaria, we didn't get to enjoy 220 kph (about 140 mph) speeds (while Porsches whizzed by like we were standing still).

The Air Station at Prüm closed in the 90s, and shortly after that, all train service to the area ceased. There are some buses that can travel from nearby towns to Prüm, but car travel is your best bet.

What to do and see

Prüm is a small down---there are only about 5500 people living there---and you exit the Autobahn and go down a twisty road in the forest to get to the town. You go down what seems to be a mini-mountain to reach Prüm in a valley.

sign outside the church
The main attraction and landmark in the town is the beautiful church. You can't miss it, with its unusual salmon color and location right in the middle of town.  The Abbey was built in 720 in the time of Charlemagne, and the church was completed in 1721.

outside the church
In 1801, Prüm and the surrounding area become part of France and the Abbey was secularized and given to the town. Today, the Abbey serves as a school.

Parts of the building complex have been torn down and restored, renovated, and during WWII, destroyed and rebuilt. It is is beautiful condition. The grounds are small but immaculately manicured.
entrance to church
Once inside, you don't find the ornate wood and stone structures like the Medieval marvel of the Dom, or jaw dropping stained glass windows or religious artifacts (even though Jesus' supposed sandals are there somewhere----I read they were there, but we somehow missed them). Instead, you find simple, clean lines, with a small alter at the front, a gorgeous and immense pipe organ in the back, and a very inviting place to sit and rest your weary traveler's feet. 

You can also light a candle, go to confession, and do all those other Catholic things that really confuse me. There are saints, but not as prominent as the Köln Dom. For all that the Dom is in opulence and visual overload, the Prüm church was a nice diversion, with its simple elegance and quiet interior. 
the chapel, a beautiful tapestry in the alter area, and the massive pipe organ in the rear of the building

The other attraction we had to hit was Hotel Zum Goldenen Stern, my husband's family's temporary home for 2 months when they first moved to Germany. My military friends understand the whole "temporary housing" issue when you first PCS to a new location. They were lucky enough to stay in a hotel right in the middle of town with a bar and restaurant downstairs. We sat under an umbrella and ate spaghettieis (of course) while people watching, my all-time favorite European diversion. 

We did attempt to get more information from the Prüm tourism center, which was right across the street from the hotel. There were lots of nice brochures and booklets, but alas, the lady didn't speak a word of English and I've mentioned countless times now that I definitely don't speak German. We didn't get directions to the old base, but you cannot access it, anyway---it's been abandoned and sadly left with derelict buildings. 

Instead, we walked around and noticed that for a small town and for a Monday morning, there were quite a few tourists and people walking about. It was a beautiful day and some people come in the summer as part of a religious pilgrimage to visit the church.

I am sure there are probably other things to do in Prüm; I was just along for the ride while my husband took a walk down memory lane. It is a pretty little village and has been maintained beautifully---there were flowers and parks, with every store on the main drag open for business. If you speak German, I'm sure the tourist enter can tell you even more; otherwise, just a little drive through the town (and a stop at the Goldenen Stern for ice cream) isn't a bad way to spend an hour or so. 

We spent a few hours walking around and reminiscing, and then headed to Metz, France for the evening.

What I learned
I learned that you never forget places you consider home, no matter how small a part of your life you live there, and you never forget the things you love. My husband was telling the kids stories and showing them places he remembered---it's like stories were coming back to him as we were walking the streets. Over there is the park I lost a tooth (ironically, H lost a tooth in the car a few hours later). They found an unexploded WWII bomb under the road right here and had to dig it up and divert traffic for several weeks. 

But this was the best---and my favorite----story of Prüm. I came here in 2012 with my friends---we just drove up and down the main street and stopped to eat ice cream at the Goldenen Stern---and it just didn't feel right being in my husband's town without him. I wanted him there next to me telling me these sorts of stories, so I wasn't really up for walking around. It was just another anonymous village to me. With his narration, it came alive. The funniest thing he did when I returned from Europe in 2012 was ask if I saw his favorite toy store in Prüm. Seriously, dude, we just drove through town, ate ice cream, and spent less than an hour there. I didn't know where to look or to even look for it.

But walking down the streets again, he's telling our sons the story about his favorite toy store. We actually still have legos and little matchbox type cars from there. Our youngest spoke up and said, "Dad, can you show me where it used to be?" And that thing happened---you've probably had this experience before----where your internal radar turns on and you find yourself walking exactly to somewhere you haven't been in many years (40, in his case).

And guess what?

It was still there, although closed for the day, and looked exactly as he remembered it.