Experience Bavaria in Leavenworth Washington

If you’ve never traveled to Bavaria (a region in Germany in case you checked your map app and nothing showed up), you might not have to travel overseas to do it. There’s a quaint village in the Cascade Mountains called Leavenworth, WA, that promises you a sample.


I might have visited Leavenworth first, but I’ve also traveled to authentic Bavarian mountain villages. The similarity is striking. If you’re a resident of the Pacific Northwest and have never made the trip over the mountains to Leavenworth, please reconsider. It’s the closest thing to Germany on the West Coast.
It’s All About the Setting
Several mountain passes provide access to the Bavaria-of-the-Cascades (no idea if that’s a real moniker, but I like the sound of it). I drove through Blewetr Pass via I-90. Highway 2 takes you through the center of the village.
As you descend out of the mountains, the road flattens into a narrow valley. The Wenatchee River wends its way through, wide and sluggish from the spring rains. Fruit orchards and shuttered fruit stands pepper the sides of the road.
Then you drive around a curve and blue mountains rise up in front of you. My friend says they look that color because of the blue spruce trees. All I know is that the Cascades where I’m from are green or gray, never blue.


In the early spring, it’s a vista of blue with white peaks. My breath caught in my throat. I was here in the fall before and there hadn’t been snowy jags like this.
A grin tugs my lips and I forget the ache in my rear from sitting in the car for five hours. On the right, there’s a Safeway that looks nothing like any other Safeway in my experience. It’s painted with mountain scenes on its stucco-like sides. It’s roofline mimics the A-frame architecture of an Alpine village.
Every building that lines the highway takes its structural cue from the same guidebook.
I’m reminded how amazed I felt when we visited a mountain village in Bavaria and realized I’d seen buildings painted with murals and windows framed by dark wood shutters. Here. In Leavenworth.
And There’s Shopping
You could make the drive to Leavenworth just to appreciate the beauty. And it would be worth it. Because, believe me, it’s not on the way to anywhere. You’ll have to decide to visit.
However, if you’re there, you might as well park the car and stroll through the blocks of shops that nestle between the highway and the Wenatchee River.


The assortment is unique to this place with artisans alongside Cheesemongers and gift shops beside pubs and restaurants. Live music is featured in many of the eateries, and it’s supplied by a man in Swiss attire pressing out tunes on an accordion at King Ludwig’s.
I’ve never sampled Swiss chocolates (because I haven’t been to Switzerland), but the stuff handmade in the SChocolat shop in Leavenworth are melt-in-the-mouth delicacies. Without the waxy texture of most American-made chocolates, which is similar to the authentic Belgian chocolates I’ve eaten.
There’s a Danish bakery (the pralinas and cherry streusel are scrumptious) and a nutcracker shop. A photo gallery, metal artisan shop and a Christmas store called Kringle’s. On further exploration, you’ll discover a comic book shop, tea shop, smoke shop and a peddler of knives.
Perhaps it sounds like the same-old stuff to you.
The buildings painted to resemble a variety of Alpine structures and the cobbled streets beneath your feet might change your mind. If not, perhaps the horse-drawn carriage or the gazebo lit with a million white twinkling lights.
Still unconvinced? Turn your eyes upward and gasp at the blue and white mountains standing sentinel, close enough to touch it seems.
These Might not be The Alps
Okay, it’s an Alpine village look-alike. There’s a Bavarian feel to the majority of the commercial buildings in the shopping district.

Image from wildwater-river

But the elevation isn’t even a mile above sea level. Most of the spiking peaks rise a mere 2,000 feet more. In the shadow of the mighty Rockies, this is nothing.
                                            Take a hike, my friend.
Trails for inexperienced and advanced hikers surround and abound. Let the wind sing through the pines and the nip of winter tingle across your cheekbones. Inhale the freshness of the wilderness.
You need to spend at least five hours in nature per month to reap the mental health benefits it provides. Why not let the Wenatchee National Forest be your therapist?
Have you traveled to Leavenworth? An actual Alpine village? What was your reaction? What distinctive sights have I neglected to mention?
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Five things you learn to hate about international trave

Travel Meme

Everyone wants to be Marco Polo and discover the wider world around them. It’s a big place, this international playground. Travelling the world it real living.

Or not.

Like everything else in this life – travelling internationally is not all it’s touted to be.

Wi-Fi

We live in a digital world, don’t we? It’s a smaller place in light of the World Wide Web and the connectibility of computers, smart phones and tablets.

And then there’s Mexico.

“Si. We have Wi-Fi.”

For a price. But, hey, we can use four devices for $30 for three days. No limitations on time. We’ll get our money’s worth with the six of us swapping around to keep our Facebook friends in the loop.

Or not.

“That user ID is taken. Choose another.”

So I can pay the $30 again? What happened to this whole four devices promise? Apparently, something was lost in translation.

Or they just want to collect another fee.

Disclaimer: My iPad happily connected to WiFi in Amsterdam and Munich.

Doritos are not Doritos

I don’t even like Doritos. But my kids do. And something I like even less than flavored chips of any kind? Listening to my sons complain about the “spicy nacho-cheese Doritos.”

We bought them at Costco. They said “queso” flavored. Upon closer examination – outside the store and after the bag is torn asunder – there is a picture of a jalapeno beside the hunk of cheese.

And it’s not just the Doritos. The milk tastes funny. The margarine stinks. There’s no Mountain Dew to be had this far south (in restaurants). Life will never be the same now that all these foods have been defiled.

Un-Discover-able

VISA is where you want to be. Master Card makes its way. American Express defies the American borders. Discover? No, no Discover.

I thought Cortes discovered Mexico in the sixteenth century. In Cabo, I’ve found an Un-Discovered country.

And of course, that’s the only credit card I brought. That and my Visa-branded debit cards. Which work, but there’s only so much money in my checking account. And since I can’t access the Internet, there will be no online transfers to cover my fun and food while I’m vacationing in this no-man’s land.

Disclaimer: I had no troubles using Discover in Germany.

Make it All Inclusive

First, it’s the total coverage insurance for the rental car. We reserved with this particular company because their prices were so much less.

Because they conveniently didn’t mention that full coverage car insurance would be required to drive their vehicle off the lot. To the tune of half again the price to rent the ugly white minivan for a week.

At the resort, they offer a lovely bracelet. $90 per person per day and all meals and drinks are included in your stay. Yes, it’s all-inclusive. You can even visit restaurants at our sister resorts.

I’m pretty sure we can eat for less than $540 per day, don’t you? Do people really buy this thing? We saw the bracelets adorning people’s arms, so yes, they do.

On a smaller scale, let’s talk about a buffet. It sounds like a good deal. $29 per person for an all-you-can-eat buffet – prime rib, pasta, salads, fruits and desserts.

We arrive at the appointed time. The hostess says, “It’s an open bar. Do you wish to purchase all-you-can-drink for $14 per person?”

“No thank you.”

Another hostess leads our group to a table. Again, the all-you-can drink option is highly recommended. We don’t drink alcohol, so we pass. After all, how expensive can a few sodas and bottles of water be?

The server appears. “Amigos, I suggest you purchase the all-you-can-drink option. It will save you money. Only $14.”

No thank you.

And the sales pitch continues. Really? We’re being pressured to buy the all-you-can-drink add-on to our buffet?

We thought “no” meant the same thing in every language. My Spanish is rusty, but I’m positive that “no” means no as surely as “si” means yes. Why is this drink thing such an issue? (More on this in another post.)

Disclaimer: We never felt any all-you-can-drink pressure in Europe.

Traffic Laws (or Lack thereof)

In my world, a solid line should be treated as a wall. It’s a barrier. Don’t cross it unless you want to smash your fender (or worse).

A solid line to the right of the traveling lanes is supposed to be a shoulder. The only reason you drive onto that portion of the road is because your car is broke. Or there are flashing red and blue lights behind you. Or you need to stop and take that call.

In Mexico, I have no idea what a solid line to the right means. A solid line in the center of the highway appears to mean “don’t pass” (thus, my wall imagery still works).

What I consider the side of the road appeared to be a merge lane. Vehicles traveled in it as if it was just another part intended for vehicular travel.

No need to pull over there if your car broke. Just put on your hazards. Maybe stick a friend behind your heap of immobility to wave his hat so passing traffic would swerve around the hunk in the far left lane or even the right lane. The “merging” lane? No, that was no place to put an immovable object. It might get rammed by people trying to get up to speed from the strangely un-exit-like exits (and entrances).

Lack of signage is another issue which makes international driving problematic. The fact it’s in a foreign language would offer an opportunity to decipher the proper direction.

In fact, rules of any sort appear to be something akin to the Pirate Code. If they exist, they’re there as more of a guideline than anything multiple parties operating motor vehicles will adhere to all at once.

World traveling? Great, but it has a down side. This short list of five detestable things is obviously not exhaustive.

What is your experience? What other negatives have you experienced while traveling internationally?

The Book Thief

Sometimes friends urge you to read a book, extolling it as classic or calling it riveting. When you open the cover, your expectations soar. A few pages in, you begin to wonder if you have the right book. By the end of chapter three, you can barely keep your eyes open.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is not this sort of book.

Did my friends encourage me to read it? *nods head* Several teachers I deeply respect seemed amazed I hadn’t read it. Not amazed in a good way either.

The book has been on my “to be read” list for months. It has hardly been alone. At least 20 others books kept it company.

My sister received a Kindle for Christmas and the next week I benefitted. Imagine my surprise when I perused the email telling me she had loaned me an ebook. (“You can do that?”) After I figured out how to return the favor, I opened The Book Thief and began to read.

Why I hadn’t been eager to move the book to the top of my list

I like happy endings. What a Pollyanna, you say. *Shrugs* I can’t help it. Life is full of sad beginnings, middles and endings. When I open a book, I want to escape all that.

Zusak’s book is set in Nazi Germany. That was enough to help me pass it by on several occasions when my teacher friends handed it my direction.

If there is a more UNhappy time in history, I don’t know what it is. Please don’t tell me. The eradication of six million innocent people because some maniac didn’t like their ethnic background gags me just fine, thanks.

Incredible things about the writing

In Nazi Germany, there is only one person whose point of view we haven’t read a story from. No, not the Fuhrer. Death.

It is the irony of the narrator being Death that immediately drew me into the story. Seriously, if anyone can understand that time period, it would be him. Death reigned (not the Fuhrer, regardless of the man’s delusions of grandeur).

Reading the story from such a unique (and dare I say, hopeless) perspective compelled me to keep reading. By page ten, I was feeling a little sorry for Death. After all, he was overworked and saw no chance of a vacation in his future.

Blasphemous thought, isn’t it? That Death might need a vacation. Even on a regular day, thousands of people die. A day in Dachau in 1940? You get the picture.

Dachau Concentration Camp

The point of view aside, the voice is authentic. I could hear the tired sighs of Death. I could sense his amazement at the inhumanity of man to his own kind. Why should we be surprised when Death thinks murder and mayhem are socially unacceptable? After all, these things mean he has to work overtime. And he’s long overdue for a single day off.

Zusak uses unique turns of phrase in his description.  His writing has verve and pizzazz, but isn’t too sophisticated for young adult readers – his target audience.

Liesel and her supporting cast come alive. No cardboard caricatures here. Well, maybe the Hitler Youth bully and the spoiled rich criminal, but none of the major characters were anything other than round and relatable.

In the end, I cried. There’s no such thing as a happy ending from this setting. However, the overwhelming theme  and the takeaway feeling for the story pack a knockout punch. The last line of the book clues you in: “I am haunted by humans.”

Consider who tells this story and let that sink in for a few moments.

Wow.

Right?

My recommendations:

  • Every person between the ages of 12 and 120 should read this book.
  • There are German words and phrases. Don’t stumble over those.
  • Death narrates, so there is death and destruction galore. It’s gasp-worthy but won’t cause you to turn away like the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan.
  • You will cry. Okay, I cried. Maybe you don’t cry when you read books, but if this one doesn’t choke you up, there could be a deeper issue.

Reading this book will help you appreciate the life you live. How can Death tell a story and make you want to hug everyone you know and celebrate being alive? Read. The. Book. Then you’ll understand.

Have you already read The Book Thief? Share your observations and reactions below.

To Be a Princess

Amazing Ivy in a Courtyard at the Royal Residence
Amazing Ivy in a Courtyard at the Royal Residence

Sharon is a derivative of Sarah, which means princess. I know! Apparently, I’m a princess.

Recently, on a day when I wasn’t lost, I visited the Royal Residence in Munich, Germany. I’m happy to share a sneak peek with you here.

Once upon a time (so droll, isn’t it) Munchen (German spelling of Munich) was the capital of Bavaria. (Now Bavaria is just a province within the country of Germany.)

In fact, this building has been around –in part – since 1385 AD, but it didn’t become the royal palace until the reign of William IV around 1508 AD.

This building has so many wings and courtyards and levels that I could have easily wandered around forever. Fortunately, some sections were closed to the public and there were large arrows that pointed me in the correct direction.

Too much about this place was intriguing. I found the various styles of art in the Munich Residenz fascinating.

Mercury (messenger of the Gods) in Bronze
Mercury (messenger of the Gods) in Bronze
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The amazing frescos on the ceiling

One enormous room could have kept me ogling for hours. Apparently, the peasants were invited to stand on the lower level of this room and watch while the royalty ate on the dais. Call me crazy but I don’t fancy being in either of those parties.

I'm standing where royalty ate. Behind me: Peasantville
I’m standing where royalty ate. Behind me: Peasantville

You know how we call it a “king-sized bed.” It’s false advertising. The beds were dinky, but the bedrooms were enormous.

Princesses (not to mention kings) don’t dress in the same room where they sleep. There is no sleeping in the room where they read, and only certain rooms are fit for receiving guests  (go figure).

There were tons of stairs, which means the princess didn’t have to go outside and get her hair wet to engage in cardiovascular exercise. (Running stairs is so NOT my favorite cardio activity.)

A gold ceiling? Really?
A gold ceiling? Really?

This building, along with the castles I will give you a brief tour of later, defy my sense of logic. Why would anyone need all that space? What purpose does all the adornment serve?

If I were a poor commoner who was starving in the streets, I would certainly charge onto the dais and demand a portion from the royal table. Servants for those kings surely prepared too much food, and you can’t tell me there’s such a thing as “royal leftovers.”I am glad to visit these remnants of the past, but I feel fortunate to live in an age of democracy. As exorbitant as taxes are now, it’s mind-boggling to think what it would cost to support a gigantic palace like this one.