Luggage Located

Fast food restaurants at Camp LSA, Kuwait.

Last night a flight came in from Frankfurt at 2330 hrs.  I couldn’t sleep, so around 2 am. I checked the on line tracing data base and my luggage was still listed in tracing status.  I’m starting to give up hope on Lufthansa finding my luggage.  I returned to my tent for the night.

Around 3:30 am, a group of boisterous Marines came in and settled in the vacant bunks.  But by the time they took their showers and got something to eat, it was about 5 am.  It was difficult to sleep with all the noise and interruptions.  I woke up around 8 am feeling still rather tired.

Ronald McDonald at Camp LSA.

Today a decision would have to be made about releasing me from here and flying back to Afghanistan in my civilian clothes.  But before I went to the LNO desk I decided to make one last call to the airlines.  Perhaps by a miracle or good luck they might have located my luggage.  I dialed the automated number and actually got a live person on the other end.  It was like music to my ears.  The lady said, “Your luggage is here and waiting for you to pick it up”.  I almost jumped with joy, but kept my composure.  The grin on my face stretching from ear to ear was a dead giveaway.  I returned to my tent and my tent mate knew by my expression they had found my luggage.

So now if my timing is right, I can board a shuttle to the airport and be back with 15 minutes of time to spare for the departure briefing.

Fast forward – 3 days later still in Kuwait for Christmas

It’s been 3 days now and my luggage still hasn’t arrived.  I bought some extra clothes and necessities at the PX to hold me over.  Last night was Christmas Eve and I entertained myself at the MWR center.  They had a special BINGO game and gave prizes out to the winners.  I still wasn’t having any luck or perhaps I just had terrible BINGO cards.  Despite some meager Christmas decorations and a small ornamented tree, it just didn’t feel like Christmas.  I had really hoped to be back at camp with my team for Christmas.

Today is Christmas and it feels like a ghost town here.  They brought in enough planes to get everyone out with the exception of a few stragglers or people who missed their roll call.  My tent is empty except for me and an Army Captain who is leaving tomorrow.  Maybe tonight I will get some quality sleep.  I never thought waiting and doing nothing could be so exhausting.

Stuck in Kuwait

Camp LSA in the middle of nowhere in Kuwait.

I got on the plane and hugged my wife goodbye.  My R&R leave had come to an end.  Now it was time to return to the combat zone.  It wasn’t easy saying goodbye to Liisa, but we both are looking on the bright side that I only have 4 ½ months to go.  My plane was delayed over an hour before finally boarding and taking off.  I landed in Frankfurt where they also delayed the plane.  The snowstorms in the Eastern part of the US along with the ones in Europe were causing massive delays and cancellations.  My next stop was in Kuwait.

It was a smooth flight and I went to the luggage carousel to pick up my military duffel bag.  I waited and waited and looked closely at every green military duffel bag and couldn’t locate mine.  Then I heard the conveyor belt stop running.  This wasn’t good.  My military uniforms, combat boots, underwear, T-shirts, etc. were inside this bag.  I made a smart decision not to pack my winter coat because the temperatures here were in the low 50’s.

I went to the Lufthansa baggage claim area and reported my missing bag.  They gave me a claim number and felt certain it would be on the next flight tomorrow night.  There is only one daily flight from Frankfurt to Kuwait.  One night wasn’t going to kill me, so I boarded the bus and we were driven back to the Logistic Staging Area (LSA).  Camp LSA is the main hub for everyone going on R&R from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Kuwait.  The place was extremely crowded.  Most of the crowd was hoping for an aircraft to the United States with stops at Dallas-Ft Worth or Atlanta for connection flights.  They had hopes of arriving home before Christmas.

Living quarters at Camp LSA, Kuwait.

I checked into billeting and they gave me a tent to stay in for the night.  The tents have bunk beds in them.  All of the bottom bunks were filled, so I had to climb to the top of the bunk for the night.  It was now 0330 hrs and I really didn’t care that my face was a foot from the top of the tent.  I just needed to get some sleep.  But that wasn’t going to happen.  The lights in the tents stay on 24/7 and people are constantly coming and going.  In addition, any time an important announcement is made, they broadcast it over the loudspeakers.  So getting a quality night of rest is quite futile.

Last day in Munich

16th century Gothic church near our hotel.

Liisa and I woke up early and had a good breakfast at the hotel.  The snow was really pelting down and accumulating on the roads.  We were afraid to drive anywhere and lose our parking spot, so we made a decision to tour the local area.

We started with a large Gothic church, St Paul’s, that was a block away from our hotel.  If memory serves me right,

Interior of St Paul's Church.

it was built in the 16th century.  Unlike many of the churches we toured, this one did not have the bright frescoes painted on the ceiling.  Instead, this church was distinguished

Brass figurine of Saint Chaddaus.

by the massive concrete pillars, marble floors and spire roof construction.  It also had brass figurines of the various saints mounted on pedestals.  I wonder what it’s like to attend a church service here or in any of the churches we toured.  Knowing that your ancestors might have worshipped here in these grand old structures is a reflection of the past and continues with its religious purpose into the future.   For these architectural beauties to survive war and the eroding effect of the natural elements is amazing.

After the church exhibit, Liisa and I ventured across the street to what appeared to be another Christmas Market.  At the entrance, an ice carver was chipping away at solid blocks of

Christmas market with St Paul's church in the background.

ice.   He was raising money for the poor children of Tibet by exhibiting his talent and ice sculptures.

The market was filled with people and vendors hawking their wares.  We were amused by the uniqueness of the wood carved wind chimes for sale.  One of them was a dragon-like character mounted on the top of the cylindrical post

Ice sculpture at entrance of Christmas Market.

fastened to the wind chimes.  Various parts of its body would move when you touched it.  But I just couldn’t see having that at my home in Tampa.

Wooden wind chimes.

Other vendors were selling clothing, jewelry, hot wine, and a variety of food.  Liisa and I opted to sample some Middle-Eastern food.  We were growing tired of the Bavarian menu and wanted something different.  The lamb was very good and tasted quite similar to the meat in the Middle East.  The lamb in the U.S. does not taste near as good as lamb prepared in the Middle East.

We also found merchant selling large blocks of cheese.  The cheese he was selling was very expensive.  We had hoped to visit a cheese factory during our vacation, but it never happened.  We were so occupied with the other sites, this one slipped through the cracks.  I could have easily spent 2 weeks in Munich exploring all of the

Vendor selling blocks of cheese.

historical sites.  Trying to see it all in 3 days was too hard.

Overall it has been a fabulous vacation and needed relief from the combat zone.  It was great seeing my wife and sharing this walk back into history tour and just spending quality time with her.  We also enjoyed being host for my Mother-in-Law along with sharing part of our journey with our friends from Tampa.  But tomorrow, I will pack my bags and say goodbye to my wife again as I must return to Afghanistan to finish out my last 4 ½ months of deployment.  I am hoping to be back with my team for Christmas.

Crown Jewels – Part Two

Entrance gate to city town center.

In the morning we were treated to a European-style breakfast.  We had the option of making sandwiches with sliced meats, cheeses and a large variety of fresh bread or the chef would prepare eggs cooked to our request.  The meal also had a variety of fresh fruit, home-made preserves, sausages, and vegetables.  Of

Ice skating rink in Munich.

course it would be incomplete without some dark German coffee.  German coffee is very strong but delicious tasting.  I prefer to dilute mine with the fresh cream that is supplied when you order their coffee.

After breakfast, we took our Tampa friends to the Munich Airport.  Their vacation had come to an end and they were more

Liisa with the frozen gargoyle fountain.

than ready to return to a warmer climate.  Liisa and I still had plans to see more of the historical sites in Munich.  We went back to our hotel and found a free parking spot along the street.  On Sunday they don’t charge for parking.  Then we bought another tram car pass and boarded the tram headed for the city center.  For a 9 Euro ticket we had unlimited stops until the next morning until 6 am and the ticket was good for 5 people.

Children and adults were ice skating at an outside rink and the over-sized bear mascots were providing assistance to anyone who needed help staying upright.  We passed under one of the several entrance gates that lead to the old town center.   We stopped at

View inside Frauenkirche.

frozen fountain for a picture.  The gargoyle normally spews water from its mouth, but today the water was frozen and it almost looks like the statue is throwing up … lol.

Stained glass windows inside Frauenkirche.

The first church we went into was the renowned Frauenkirche, known by its two twin clock towers.  The church was originally built between 1726 and 1743.  The interior was massive in size.  The stained glass windows towered about 50 feet into the air.  In the front of the church,

Gigantic pipe organ inside Frauenkirche.

they suspended a large crucifix with a life-sized representation of Christ nailed to it.  In the back of the church was the largest pipe organ I ever saw in my life.  The church is so large, I can’t do it proper justice with my point and shoot camera.  It’s something you just have to experience.

Our next stop was the St Cajetan’s church.  This 16th century Theatine Church is truly a magnificent piece of art work and place of worship.  Like other churches in the city, they have been restored, reformed and additions were constantly being adding that changed the outer and inner appearance of the holy sanctuaries throughout the 16th-18th centuries.  The

Cherub detail.

stucco reliefs are so delicate and the sculptures of the Saints are so life-like.  Look at the intricate detail surrounding an enlarged photo of the cherub and the dome.  Everything in the church to include the altars, tympanum, nave and side chapels are symbolic and intensely expressive.  There are a total of 46 pillars supporting the structure.

Outside the Residenz.

These ornate pillars symbolize the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem that took 46 years to build.  Parts of the church were destroyed during World War II and were not restored.

The last stop of the day was one of Munich’s crown jewels called the Residenz (Residence).  But this time, the structure really did

Gold glitters everywhere inside Residenz.

contain the crown jewels.  This monstrosity of a building is where the various Bavarian Dukes resided and maintained apartments for distinguished visitors, guests, etc.  Liisa

Painted ceilings inside Residenz.

and I didn’t realize how large the structure was until after 2 ½ hours of walking the various floors, steps, etc, our legs had become tired and we couldn’t find the exit.  Admittedly, it’s so large that after awhile we grew tired of seeing decorative rooms adorned with gold, tapestries, marble, and lavish furniture.  The ceilings are works of art and each room has a different theme or collection of paintings painted on the roof.  I could write several pages of what we saw, but instead, I will let the photographs tell the story.

Crown Jewels – Part One

It was a bitter sweet moment leaving Garmisch and driving to Munich.  We all had such a great time exploring the Bavarian Alps and touring numerous churches, museums, castles, etc.  Leaving here was an indicator that my vacation time was winding down.  But at the same time, I was excited about exploring the crown jewels of Munich.

Before leaving, we stopped at the Kaserne Artillery Post Office and mailed some surprise presents to my family in Pennsylvania.  The roads were still a bit snow covered, but once we merged with the Autobahn, they were clear and we could increase our speed.  Our first stop in Munich was Marienplatz.  We were hoping to see the animated figurines perform at 1100 hrs.  It was my day for parking karma, because just as we caught a glimpse of the Town Hall structure (Rathaus), someone pulled out of a parking spot next to the street.

Much of Marienplatz is restricted to pedestrian traffic.  This massive plaza center was filled with vendors selling Christmas ornaments, jewelry,

Our friend Elaine March holds up a beer at Hofbrauhaus.

clothing, food, toys, and Christmas trees and was crowded with thousands of people and tourists.  As luck may have it, by the time we walked to the Rathaus, the 43 bells were chiming and in the center of the clock tower, the 32 Glockenspiel life-sized figurines appeared on a carousel wheel.  The characters tell two stories from the 16th century including knights jousting and the epidemic plague.    Notice in the picture the two tall towers in the backdrop of the Rathaus.  These towers belong to the infamous Frauenkirche church and these 2 icons make up part of the crown jewels of Munich.  If you haven’t figured it out, the crown jewels of Munich are represented by the centuries old churches, museums, and royal

Hofbrauhaus beer hall.

residences that survived World War II.  The interior of these monolithic buildings are also awe-inspiring.

Our next stop was the infamous Hofbrauhaus beer hall.  It is known for its gigantic mugs of quality made beer, but the building housing this landmark holds equal significance.  Its existence dates back to 1589 when it was the

Leonardo da Vinci's, Madonna of Carnation c. 1470's.

royal brewery.  The current beer hall was erected in 1607 and destroyed during World War II and then rebuilt.  This beer hall is also the location where Hitler and the Nazi Party used to hold their meetings and festivities.  The beer hall can hold up to 1300 drinking customers.  While we were there, we listened to the band play “Oompah” songs and heard some of the locals crooning out their favorite drinking songs.  Some of the wooden tables date back to 1897 and several are reserved for local customers.  In addition, they have a stein vault to secure the local’s favorite drinking stein.

After a great meal and some even tastier beer, we drove off to find the Alte Pinakothek Museum.  The car GPS is worth every penny we paid for it and within minutes after driving through some side streets and tricky intersections, we parked near the museum.  Parking is at a premium in Munich, but the further you get away from the city center,

Peter Paul Reubens The Lion Hunt c. 1621.

the more abundant parking becomes.

The Alte Pinakothek Museum is one of the oldest museums in the world and contains a vast collection of old master paintings.  These paintings date from 13th -18th century.  This museum holds masterpieces painted by world greats including Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Francois Boucher, and Spanish artist Murillo.  In addition it also houses the world’s largest collection painted by the prolific Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. It’s a very large museum and we

Downtown Munich lit up with Christmas lights.

spent several hours viewing paintings and with the aid of an audio device, we listened to the history and meaning of the paintings.  It was like taking a walk back into medieval and renaissance history.  I was also riddled and puzzled at times by the allegorical paintings in trying to decipher the metaphor the artist was trying to depict.   Liisa

Christmas tree at Marienplatz at night.

and I visited one room that displayed the raw materials the artists used to create the colorful hues in their paintings.  Unfortunately it was all labeled in German, but we could recognize some of the more common items.

By the time we left the museum, the sun was setting and we hadn’t checked in our hotel yet.  We were staying at the Hahn Hotel.  This is a family run hotel and located just outside the city center.  It’s a great place to stay and the hospitality displayed the employees and managers are unsurpassed.  They went out of their way to be of assistance and even encouraged us to use their dining room to enjoy our bottle of wine.   They also gave us personal instructions how to use the tram and subway system.

After a local Bavarian meal, we returned to Marienplatz via tram.  It was all lit up.  Some of the structures had Christmas lights illuminating their outline.  An ice skating rink was open and people were skating to the sounds of popular American tunes.  In the middle of Marienplatz, the town hall was lit up along with a giant Christmas tree.  The vendors were still hawking their wares too.  After a cup of hot wine, we perused through some of the shops before returning back to the hotel and calling it a night.

Zugspitze Mountain

Looking up at Zugspitze Mountain.

Towering at 2,967 meters (over 9700 feet) above sea level, Zugspitze Mountain is Germany’s highest peak.  According to the weather forecast, it would be a sunny and clear day.  This was the prime opportunity we had been waiting for.  The temperature outside at the cabin was -10.5 degrees Celsius or about 13 degrees Fahrenheit.  It was cold and I knew at the higher elevation it would be even colder.  We purchased our tickets at the main Edelweiss Lodge.  There are several options available to a tourist to visit the summit of Zugspitze to include riding a train, cable car, or for the hardy enthusiasts hiking to the top.  We quickly ruled out the 8 hour hiking option and felt this would be more suited for the summer

Eibsee Lake from back of train.

than in the winter.  The locals recommended taking the train up and then descending in the cable car.  The ticket we purchased cost $110 for two and was good for all day.  It entitled us to unlimited trips up and down and any combination, i.e. train, cable car until 1645 hours when the last cable car leaves.

We parked our car at the

Dog at top of Zugspitze.

train station.  Just below the parking lot was the cable car entrance.  It seemed quite crowded with ardent skiers crowding into the gondola car.  Every 10 minutes a cable car was departing with 2 dozen people ascending to the top.  From ground level the mountain looked ominous and at the very top, wispy clouds could be seen swirling around the pinnacle.  We opted to take the advice of the locals and rode the train.  The train is cog wheel powered meaning a large cog wheel follows the spaced grooves in the track and as the cog turns, the teeth grips these slots and propels the train forward.

It took about 40 minutes of chugging along to reach the summit.  It wasn’t quite the summit because we had to

Skiing down Zugspitze.

ride another cable car to reach the peak.  The view from the train was spectacular.  We were fortunate to find seats rather than stand.  I was even luckier and sat on the right-hand side of the train in the back and was able to view the mountains and lake from behind and to my side.  It was so cold; the windows were still freezing from the inside.  I kept

We made it to the top and it's freezing!

scraping them off with my credit card so I could take pictures and enjoy the scenery.

We got off the train and waited in line for the short cable car ride to the top.  The wind was biting cold, but this didn’t deter the skiers who were racing down the face of the mountain.  While we waited for the cable car we were greeted by a friendly dog.  She had beautiful blue eyes and seemed to be posing for my camera.   Unlike the United States, dogs are welcomed in Germany and allowed into public buildings, restaurants, and just about anywhere.  Being a dog lover, this was a welcoming sight.

Liisa has a small fear of heights but she

Austrian mountains seen in the distance.

boarded the cable car with me and hung on to me tight.  I’m unsure if she ever looked out the gondola windows, but I took it all in and tried to take photographs of the skiers and the surrounding natural landscape.  You could see other mountains in the distance too.  But Zugspitze is the grand-daddy of them all and before long our view

Border line dividing Austria and Germany.

was blocked by a low flying cloud.  The temperature outside was a bone-chilling -19 degrees Celsius.  Our Tampa friends were freezing and despite the multi-layers of clothing, the wind was chilling our exposed skin.  The Zugspitze not only serves as an infamous tourist attraction, they also have an active meteorological weather station that has been in existence for 100 years.

We stayed for awhile and enjoyed a hot gluhwein in attempt to increase our internal temperature.  Truth be told, this hot wine really hits the spot and the cold weather is just an excuse to indulge.  Our friends were hoping the clouds would clear up, so they could see the peaks of other mountains in the

Eibsee Lake seen from gondola.

distance.  The cross in the picture marks the highest peak of Zugspitze.  I was shocked to see footprints in the snow leading to a metal chain ladder that scales the final peak to the cross.  Liisa didn’t want me to go there.  I guess the thousand foot drop off scared her.  Even if I wanted too, it was closed off to the public.

View from the bottom of Zugspitze after gondola ride.

After 2 hours at the summit, Liisa and I started our descent in the gondola car.  This time we wouldn’t stop until we reached the base of the mountain.  The 10 minute decline was breathtaking.  As soon as we dropped below the cloud level, it was crystal clear.  We could see the mountains in Austria and Germany.  In fact, the border line is evident and

Zugspitze as the sun sets.

splits the Zugspitze Mountain.  While touring through the facility and small museums, we accidentally walked over to the Austrian side.

We drove back to the cabin and later returned to pick up our friends.  The sun was setting and the mountain took on a menacing appearance.  It was already cold, but the temperature was noticeably dropping.  Our friends took the last train and we returned to the Edelweiss resort cabin to pack our suitcases.  Tomorrow we would drive to Munich and explore the city’s Crown Jewels.   Only a few more days and this winter wonderland vacation will be over and I will return to Afghanistan.  I try not to think about it too much and enjoy the time I have here.

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