Monastery and murals

Snowing outside our cabin at Edelweiss.

We woke up in the morning to a pleasant surprise.  My birthday wish came true and it was snowing outside.  The towering Bavarian peaks normally seen outside our cabin were masked in clouds and large fluffy snowflakes were falling to the ground.  We determined a little bit of snow wouldn’t stop our sight-seeing plans and we

View outside Ettal Monastery.

decided to visit the monastery that we had by-passed earlier in the week.  Before we left, I had an opportunity to cook and whip up some home-made omelets and coffee.  My mother-in-law enjoys my cooking too.

The snow was really pelting down and the higher in elevation we drove, the more snow we saw.  The Ettal monastery is

Fresco painting inside the dome of the Ettal monastery.

conveniently close to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen area.  The roads leading up to the basilica are rather curvy and like a meandering stream.  Despite growing up in Pennsylvania and accustomed to snowy roads, I took it rather slow so as not to get my mother-in-law excited.  She was rather quiet and seemed to trust my driving skills.

We arrived at the monastery in no time and there were no crowds and ample parking space.  The snow was accumulating much more in this higher elevation than at our cabin and was an enjoyable sight to see.  The surrounding pine trees were being lightly dusted by the snowflakes and the grass was slowly being covered by an inch of snow.  Some of the figurines on the outside of the baroque façade were also being blanketed in a layer of snow.  I was rather surprised at the size of the basilica, especially the large dome that off-set it from the adjoining complex of buildings.  Some of these buildings are being used as a hotel, school, gift shop, brewery, publishing house and workshops for the monks who still take care of the upkeep.

Inside Ettal monestary.

The Ettal Monastery has its origins dating back to 1330.  It has undergone many transformations to include being destroyed by a fire in 1744.    It’s obvious it has been influenced by a variety of different architectural methods forming the church throughout the centuries and the interior reflects various competing styles as well.  At the entrance of the

Madonna and Child at Ettal monastery.

church is a Gothic portal from around 1350.  The small marble statue of the Ettal Madonna on the high altar is the centerpiece of the church and dates back to 1330s, a gift from the Roman Emperor of the German Nation, Kaiser Louis the Fourth.  He was called the “Bavarian,” which originally was an abusive name the Pope gave him who was opposed to him.  The ceiling dome fresco is painted in brilliant colors and surrounded by large cathedral windows.  The pipe organ in the back of the church is baroque and adorned in gold and dates to mid-1700s.  There are also several confessionals on the sides of the church, side altars and marble statues depicting the various Benedictine Saints.  The Rococo patterns are present around the arches of the windows and the arched panels are ornamented in gold too.  It’s truly a sight to see!

Downtown Oberrammergau

We walked around the little retail shops outside the monastery and then drove north to the little German town of Oberammergau.  This town has grown notoriety for its world famous wood carvings along with the production of the Passion Play detailing the crucifixion of Christ.  Every ten years, the local villagers reenact this Biblical scene.  It also

Hansel and Gretel house.

had some unique wall murals painted on the exterior of private homes.  We were in search of the famous Hansel and Gretel house.  Initially we drove right past it and parked in the center of town.  The locals were busy setting up their wares and displays for the daily Weihnachtsdorf market (Christmas market).  Typically around 4:00 pm

Red Riding Hood mural on a local house.

the streets become alive and the vendors are selling all sorts of Christmas decorations and souvenirs.  We haven’t visited any of them yet, but it’s still on our list of things to do.

We drove back out of town and located the Hansel and Gretel house.  Across from this home was also a painted caricature of Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf.  “My what big eyes you have and what big teeth you have,” as I remembered the story from my childhood years.

It was another fun day of traveling, sight-seeing, and spending quality time with my wife and mother-in-law.  We returned to the cabin and I braved the cold temperatures to cook some marinated steaks over some charcoal briquettes.  Before starting the coals, I had to remove the snow that filled in the metal encasing and thaw out the ice that had formed on the grill.  The steaks were mouth-watering delicious and was garnished with some sweet potatoes topped with a drizzle of maple syrup.  I recalled they do not have sweet potatoes in Finland and I remembered how much my mother-in-law liked them the last time I cooked them for her back in sunny Florida.  She is not fond of the syrup and only likes butter on hers.  Oh well, whatever mother-in-law wants she gets…lol.

Rex cooking steaks.

Reunited in Germany

Rex and Liisa reunited in Garmisch, Germany.

I looked at my watch and calculated I had at least an hour to kill before Liisa’s plane would land.  Standing around looking at the digital flight boards was making me antsy.  Originally we planned to meet at the airport terminal and if that didn’t happen, we would see each other at the rental car counter.  Our rental car reservation wasn’t until 2 pm, but maybe they would let me check out the car early.  I walked outside the Munich Airport and the air was cool and crisp.  The outside temperature was about 37 degrees and the only winter jacket I had to keep warm was the one the Army issued me.  Liisa was supposed to bring my winter ski jacket along with my other civilian attire.

I perused through the various car rental agencies and could not locate the one I made a reservation with.  I inquired at the Europcar rental car and the clerk informed me that he never heard of this company.  Unfortunately I couldn’t find a printer to print out my rental agreement and was basing it off of memory.  I asked Liisa to print it out and bring it along.  By now, I was feeling a bit stupid for not taking the time to print out the company agreement.  So I returned to the airport terminal and watched the digital boards.  Her flight information displayed descending, landing, arrived, and then at baggage.  It wouldn’t be long before my loving wife would be in my arms.

Liisa standing next to a Nutcracker.

I kept my eye on both exit doors and it seemed forever before we caught a glance of each other.  Fortunately she is quite tall and was easy to spot.  There was no need to hurry or push other passengers aside.  It had been seven months, so another minute was not going to make a difference.  It felt so good to hold my wife next to me!  The scent of her perfume and shampoo quickly brought back memories.  We were together again!  She looked rather tired from flying across the Atlantic Ocean and I was still in a zombie-type condition too.    But it was time to resolve the rental car dilemma.

I could only recall the name of the agency I made the reservation through, but Liisa had the paperwork and sure enough the company name was staring right at us in bright orange letters.  We signed the final agreement and were rather surprised they gave us a Mercedes brand for my intermediate car choice.  Liisa reminded me that we were in Germany and this brand along with BMW is quite popular.

Our next challenge was figuring out the GPS system, changing the language, and inputting our destination.  This took a little bit of time and patience, but before long we were driving through Munich like locals and the highway merged with the infamous Autobahn highway.  I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in Afghanistan anymore and to follow the road sign instructions, speed limits and fast approaching cars were not a danger to me.

It was about an hour and a half drive from Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  It was a clear day and the jagged peaks of the Alpspitze stood out in distance even before arriving in the small quaint town of Garmisch.  For me, it was refreshing to see trees, grass, and color wherever I looked.  In comparison it’s like watching a black and white television and then switching over to color.  My brainwashed images of Afghan mud-brick walls and houses were replaced with a kaleidoscope of vibrant hues.  The red roofs of the German structures accentuated the old village and structures.  As we drove past them I noticed some of the buildings had steeple-like structures and I wondered if this was some of the hidden Rococo architecture style I read about.  In the coming week, we plan to explore some of these villages.

As we got closer to Garmisch, Liisa spotted the man-made ski jump off in the distance.  This town has been made famous by the illustrious composer Richard Strauss along with the famed site of the 1936 Olympic ski jumping competition.  Despite being filmed in Austria, any one of these rolling hill villages could have served as a backdrop for Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.   It was beautiful to see, but more important, it was heartwarming because my wife was here to share it with me.

View of the surrounding mountains in Garmisch.

We finally made it to our destination and turned into the main lodge complex.  The German security guards were friendly but overzealous and made me feel like I was intruding.  I provided them 2 forms of picture IDs and then they used mirrors to search the undercarriage of my car.  I felt this was a bit much security to enter a glorified Armed Forces

Christmas tree inside Edelweiss Lodge.

Resort Center.    Even at my camp in Afghanistan we do not have this much scrutiny, but then again our vehicles are never left out of sight.

We opened up the large wood and glass framed door leading to the hotel lobby.  The room was decorated in a Christmas theme and the 16 foot towering ornamented Christmas tree next to the fireplace was eye-catching.  Next to the tree was an enlarged red-colored padded chair.  This looked like an optimum place for Santa Claus to sit with the children.  We tried to check in early but due to the cleaning schedule, we would have to wait several hours before our cabin was ready.

Our cabin at Edelweiss Resort.

After being issued the keys, we departed the resort and drove towards the Edelweiss Vacation Village.  We had to go through the German “Gestapo” again and this time they wanted to search my car thoroughly.  So we complied and opened up all of the compartments, doors, trunk, hood, etc., so they could conduct their inspection.  The resort had not added us to the guest list data base, so we each had to provide 2 more forms of picture identification.  I wasn’t in any mood to argue, so I complied.  The sooner we got through the checkpoint, the sooner we would get to our cabin.

We pulled into the small driveway in front of our wood cabin and offloaded our luggage.  The cabin is somewhat small, but large enough for a master bedroom, dining area, kitchenette and most importantly it had indoor plumbing.  I decided to spend a few extra dollars for this upgrade rather than have to trek to an outside bathhouse.  Upstairs was the loft and contained 4 mattresses on the floor.  Finally we are here!!

Camp puppies

Adorable white puppy.

Momma with her puppies.

From Liisa, SMSgt Temple’s wife: For some reason Rex had terrible Internet connectivity problems today and could not send his blog entry. But he did manage to send the photos of the new camp puppies. Apparently there are nine of them and they are way too cute.

Three puppies playing.

Captain Freeman’s Annapolis service

From SMSgt Temple’s wife: Rex is too tired to write tonight. So I am using the space instead.

Freeman memorial service Afghanistan Aug 2009As many of you know Captain Matthew Freeman’s Annapolis service is today. This is a link to photos from that service: Naval Academy says Goodbye to Capt. Matthew Freeman

Here is what the Academy wrote about him: Marine, Naval Academy Graduate Laid to Rest

If you are a Facebook user you can also view another 25 photos from the service by accessing the official Facebook site of United States Naval Academy and look for a photo album titled “Funeral services for Capt. Matthew Freeman.”

Here is what Washington Post wrote: A Heroic Death, Without the Headlines

Also, Capt. Freeman’s family has established a scholarship fund in his memory. If you would like to participate, please make checks payable to “Captain Matthew Freeman Memorial Scholarship” and send to:

Capt. Matthew Freeman Memorial Scholarship Fund

c/o Bryan Bank and Trust

P. O. Box 1299

Richmond Hill, GA 31324

US soldiers in Afghanistan | Photo slide show from AP

From SMSgt Temple’s wife Liisa: Rex and his team continue on their elections mission which means Rex can’t post new blog entries for a few days. Meanwhile, this caught my eye on a local news website. It’s an in-depth photo slide show of U.S. troops in Afghanistan compiled by the Associated Press.

US soldiers in Afghanistan | – St. Petersburg Times

Posted using ShareThis

MEDEVAC rescue photo slide show

Here are all the photos from the MEDEVAC rescue after a car went off a cliff at the J-Bad Pass and US troops happened to be in the area ready to render assistance.

Again, if you’d like to have the slide show move faster, click on the “+” sign in bottom left corner to reach desired speed. You can also click on “View all images” and look at the photos at your own pace.

Humanitarian mission to Afghan school

Afghan school missionThey start their classes at 0600 hrs in the morning.  Despite not having any electricity, running water, or windows, the students are very eager to learn.  They know that an education will give them an opportunity to pursuit a good paying job instead of toiling in the fields like their parents.  Today’s mission was a visit to an urban elementary/high school.  In conjunction with the ANA we loaded a pickup truck full with beanie babies, soccer balls, school supplies, etc.   The team leader would meet with the principal to discuss other humanitarian and infrastructure concerns.  School corridorThe school was built in 2003 as a joint project between the Islamic transitional government of Afghanistan and the coalition joint civil military task force.  It took three months to construct the school.  Since opening its doors, the school provides an education to more than 5,500 students daily.  They accommodate the children, by having 3 different rotational shifts.  Each shift lasts approximately 3-4 hours.
School principalThe principal stood out in his lavender suit, silk tie and his black plastic sandals.  His office was one of the few rooms that still had windows intact.  His chipped desk was made of cheap particle board and his room was adorned by several vases of bright red flowers.  Ironically he was a teacher at this school before recently being promoted to principal.  He holds one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in Afghanistan.  Afghan school childrenThe Taliban are fervently against education, especially for females and this past month destroyed several schools in the southern provinces.  Frequently the Taliban will kill the teachers and the principals who struggle to provide an education to thousands of enthusiastic children.
Initially the children peered from behind the broken panes of glass and watched our armed team with caution.  Inspecting the visitorsBut after pieces of candy were handed out, they saw we didn’t pose a threat and became quite friendly.  Several of the children were attracted to my Nikon camera and kept jumping up in front of the lens when I tried to take a picture.  Fortunately being 6’3” has some advantages and this was one of those times.  Everyone wanted their picture taken, except for a few shy girls who shunned my camera.
Touring the schoolThe principal gave us a grand tour of the school yard and the 3 classroom buildings used to educate the students.  They cram 50-60 students in each classroom and 97 teachers serve as their educators.  He said they are only supposed to put 30 students in each classroom, but due to lack of teachers, he has no choice but to double up.  We went to his office and drank a customary cup of chai and discussed some of his concerns.  School kids at playAfter being on the VMO mission I was able to identify several students who had the Leishmaniasis disease.  He said the disease is prevalent in the school and he would try to provide us a list of the students’ names who suffer from it so they could possibly receive medical treatment in the near future.

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