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Nordic Adventure, Part 9: The Blue Lagoon

One of Iceland’s premiere tourist attactions is The Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa in a lava field.

It’s not far from the airport, and many people choose to stop there either on their way to or from the airport.  I chose to go there from the city, but I can see the appeal of combining this with your flight.   Once you arrive, there’s a small building where you can store your luggage if you’re in transit, then you walk through a path carved into the volcanic rock.

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Once you arrive, you pay your admission, then go change into a swimsuit.  If you didn’t bring one, don’t worry-  they’ll rent you one for a small fee.  Also on offer: Bathrobes, spa treatments, and massages.  The building in this photo is one of two or three places to get food and drink in the Blue Lagoon.

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The lagoon is man-made, and is fed from a nearby geothermal power plant.  The entire body of water is renewed roughly every two days.   The water is heated to around 98–102 °F, so there’s always steam coming off of the water.

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There’s a swim-up bar where you can get a beverage.  I had a rather tasty smoothie.

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The water is rich in minerals such as silica and sulfur, and has been shown to have positive effects for skin problems like psoriasis.  Lots of the people in the water had used the silica mud from special pots around the bathing area to make little clay masks.  It’s supposedly very good for your skin.

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Once you’re thoroughly prune-fingered, it’s time to get out and get something to eat.   I had a nice panini sandwich at the Blue Cafe.

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As you’re leaving, you have one last chance to look at the crystal blue waters of the Blue Lagoon.

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Have you ever been to a geothermal spa?

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Scheveningen, The Hague

When we went to Keukenhof for the tulip festival and flower parade, we stayed in Scheveningen, a district of the Hague which borders the North Sea.  It contains a nice seaside resort area.

Before we went, I was convinced that the name of the place sounded a little bit like a lawnmower starting up.  I was wrong, though.  Click play on the sound bar below to hear what it really sounds like.

 

The three of us stayed at a nice hotel called the Boulevard Hotel.  We wanted to stay near the ocean, and it was one of the few places in our price range that had a room with three beds.    My bed actually folded up into a console when not occupied.    Jenny said I looked a little bit like Harry Potter under the stairs when I was on this.

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As soon as we dropped our stuff off in the hotel room, we walked back out to check out the beach and boardwalk, and to find some dinner.  It was windy, but amazing.

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We stopped at ‘t Pannekoekenhuisje, a pancake house, for dinner.   When we were walking in, this adorable little moppet was playing in an alligator and I couldn’t resist taking pictures.  Cute, eh?

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Anyway, back to the pancake house.   In the Netherlands, pancake houses aren’t much like iHop or anything that most Americans are used to.  For one thing, the pancakes are served as one ENORMOUS pancake that tends to be larger than the plate it’s served on.  For another thing, not all pancakes are sweet; some are savory.  Mine had mushrooms, garlic, and bacon.

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After dinner, there was more walking around the boardwalk-  this far north, the sun doesn’t set until pretty late, so we had plenty of daylight.  I was tickled by some of the touristy stuff going on here.

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I also think it’s kind of brilliant that spaced along the beach at intervals were poles with cartoon animals, the better to help children remember where their family is set up.   The beach wasn’t very crowded when we were there, but I can imagine that on a warmer day it would be utterly slammed with people.

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There’s a seaside trampoline park here!  I was tempted to go for a bounce.

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Not far from our hotel is a pretty amazing sculpture garden.  We missed it on our first trip down the beach because it’s up on the sidewalk and we were down on the beach.   On the way back to the hotel, however, it was impossible to miss.  The first two visible statues are enormously tall.

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This was one of my favorites:  the traditional boy with his finger in a dike.

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Most of these were based in fairy tales.  In fact, the entire sculpture garden is called SprookjesBeelden aan Zee (Fairytale Sculptures by the Sea) and it contains 23 sculptures by American sculptor Tom Otterness.

The sculpture garden is part of the Museum Beelden aan Zee, which is dedicated to sculpture and contains roughly one thousand different sculptures.  This one is called Crying Giant.

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Some of them are tiny by comparison.  This one was just a few inches tall.

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The fable of the Lion and the Mouse.  The lion had previously allowed the mouse to go free, and the mouse returned the favor later, after the lion had been captured by hunters.

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The Herring Eater, a twelve meter tall statue.

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I think we all know what this one is.

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I’m not sure which fairy tale this represents.

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These two are looking up at the Herring Eater.  I love the tiny ones hanging out with the midsized ones.

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Hansel and Gretel, trapped in a cage.  The one in the background that I did not capture fully is also Hansel and Gretel, after they’ve been fattened up.

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I really enjoyed these whimsical statues.

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This one was my favorite.

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Gulliver. I didn’t even notice the Lilliputian by his feet until Jenny pointed it out to me later.

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I kept walking for a while after I finished looking at the sculpture garden.  I thought this was quite colorful.

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Further down the beach is a traditional lighthouse and a memorial statue.  I haven’t been able to learn exactly what this is for, but the text on it says November 1813.

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I’ll leave you with one last look out at the North Sea before I close up this post.

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Have you ever been to Scheveningen?

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Mini-Europe and the Atomium

One of the things I was most looking forward to in Brussels is Mini-Europe.  Mini-Europe is exactly what it sounds like-  a 24,000 square meter park next to the Atomium in Bruparck containing models of well known structures from throughout the European Union, built in a scale of 1:25.   It’s delightfully cheesy and wonderful.

Also, I made new friends there!  The couple who sat down next to me on the metro on the way there turned out to be a Canadian couple who were traveling Europe, and we wound up hanging out together for Mini-Europe and the Atomium.  Hi, Chelsea and Andrew!

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I was really curious after seeing this as to what the telescope looked at.  It turns out that it’s a slide-show about the history of the telescope.

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Throughout the park, there are boats, cars, trains, and various other things in motion.  This boat caught my attention because the dude in the front-left seat is wearing a Stormtrooper helmet.  Unfortunately, it was too fogged up for me to see who else might be hiding in there.

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This is the Grand Place in Brussels, depicted here with the carpet of flowers that is put down every second year.  It will happen this year around August 15th.

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The Belfry in Bruges.   The big metal structure behind it is the Atomium… I’ll get back to that.

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Random sailing ship!

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At various points around the park, there are local outfits you can “try on.”  Near London, there was this traditional uniform of the Queen’s Guard.  Naturally, I couldn’t resist.  (Special thanks to Andrew for snapping this shot of me.)

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London.  Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

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The Eiffel Tower.  Even at 1:25 scale, Eiffel’s Tower was enormous.

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The Arc de Triomphe, Parisian version.

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Sacre Coeur, also from Paris.  The Funicular was running, too!

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La Mancha!  Check out the tiny Don Quixote and Sancho Panza!

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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Scientific exploration?  This is part of the detail on the Leaning Tower.

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Venice.  The Doge’s Palace and the Campanile tower.

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I think this Gondolier needs a little help.

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A tiny recreation of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

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Prague‘s Old Town Hall, containing the Astronomical Clock.

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Athens, Greece.

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After we were finished with Mini Europe, we stopped briefly at the gift shop, where Chelsea spotted this happy little kitty hanging out on the roof near the exit.

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When these workers stepped into the pool in front of the 16th century Castle of Chenonceaux (France),  all I could think was, “Giants in the playground!

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…and then it was time to go to the Atomium!

The Atomium was  built for the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair. Its nine stainless steel wrapped spheres are connected to form the shape of an iron crystal magnified 165 billion times.  Four of the spheres contain exhibits, and the topmost sphere is a 360 degree observation deck and restaurant.  There’s a webcam on top, at a height of 102 meters, if you want to check it out.

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The Atomium has perhaps the best “You Are Here” maps I have ever seen.

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…and the views are unparalleled.  This is looking out from one of the spheres back toward Mini Europe.

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This is the view straight up from the base of the Atomium.

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And because I never get tired of the Atomium, here’s a shot from further afield that I took later in the day.

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…and a rare picture of me standing in front of a landmark.  I much prefer being on the other side of the camera.

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Have you ever been to Mini-Europe or the Atomium?

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Brussels, Belgium

My trip to Belgium included a bunch of time spent in Brussels, the de facto capital of the European Union.  It’s a fascinating city.  I arrived via high speed train to the city around 5:30 in the afternoon.   Walking to my hotel from the station, I found something interesting in less than ten minutes-  this building’s angel/demon stone-work was just fascinating to me.

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After I dropped my stuff off at the hotel, I went back out with my camera to see a bit of the city.  I also had a specific goal in mind, but I’ll get to that in a moment.  On the walk into the city, I found this Pop-Up Restaurant.  It was set up temporarily in front of the Le Monnaie De Munt, a rather nifty looking theater.  The Pop-Up Restaurant was set up so they could film a television show, according to the signage.  I briefly considered trying to get a table before moving on.

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Walking further toward the Grand Place, I spotted this rather amusingly named restaurant.  It had pretty typical food on the menu and I almost had dinner there one evening, but changed my mind at the last minute.  Also, I thought the eggs were regular decoration, but they were just there because it was Easter weekend.

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I wandered from there into the Grand Place.  It’s pretty hard to miss this enormous square.  The Town Hall has an enormous pointy bit.  I did not climb the pointy bit, as you had to make a reservation in advance to do so.

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I mentioned above that I had a specific goal in mind for my walk through the city on the first evening.  Most everyone has heard of Manneken Pis, the famous statue of the little boy peeing.  That statue is widely associated with Brussels, and is one of the symbols of the city.   There are two more peeing statues, though:  Jeanneke Pis, a little girl peeing, was put up in 1987, and Zinneke Pis, a dog peeing, was put up in 1998.  I decided when I left the hotel that I wanted to find all three before sundown.

Zinneke Pis was the first one I found.    The tile Space Invaders art drew my attention to the corner before I spotted the dog on the corner.

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Someone asked me if it was a male or female dog.  I can say with authority that it is most decidedly a male dog.  You just can’t see it in this camera angle.

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Next up is the Manneken Pis.  This one is marked on sightseeing signs and tourist maps, because it’s the most famous of the three.  This fountain was erected in 1619, and they dress it up in various costumes several times per week.  There was no costume while I was there, which surprised me because it was Easter weekend.

This is not the only Manneken Pis; there are others in various cities in Belgium, and one in Tokushima, Japan which was a gift from the Belgian embassy.

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I saw so many replicas while I was in the city, including one made all of chocolate, and this one dressed up for the World Cup later this year.

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Moving on from the Manneken Pis, I found my way next to Jeanneke Pis, erected in 1987 very close to the Rue des Bouchers, which is a narrow street full of restaurants.   Jeanneke Pis is not far from the Grand Place, and it is regrettably behind locked iron bars which makes getting a good picture of her somewhat difficult.

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Jeanneke Pis is basically across the street from the Delirium Tremens Beer Bar and Cafe,  which made this a perfect time to stop for a nice Belgian beer before dinner.

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I tried the Delirium Nocturnum, a strong delicious dark beer with an 8.50% alcohol by volume.  Did I mention it was delicious?

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After leaving Delirium, I decided to look for some dinner before retiring for the night.  Passing by it, I saw the Beurs, the Brussels Stock Exchange, which is the location of the Art of the Brick Lego art exhibit.  I’ll come back to this in another post, because I checked out this exhibit right before I left Brussels two days later.

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The next day, it was time for my actual tour of Brussels, led by a professional tour guide.  It started in the Grand Place, so here’s another view of that large plaza.

While I was waiting for the tour to start, I had a Belgian waffle covered in powdered sugar.  The powdered sugar made me cough, which caused me to be completely enveloped in a cloud of white powder.

Delicious high comedy.

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Moving on, we walked past the Cathédrale des Saints Michel et Gudule (Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula,)  which was completed in 1519.

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This is a monument to King Leopold I, the first king of the Belgians.  He ruled from 1831 to 1865.

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This is at the base of a very tall monument, but none of my other pictures came out very well.  The structure is the Colonne des Congrés (the Congress Column.)  The four corners are statues representing the four freedoms of Belgium- Freedom of the press, of religion, of education, and of association.

The flame is atop a Belgian Tomb of the Unknown Soldier,  from World War I.

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Moving on, we visited the Parliamentarium’s visitor’s center, which is all about the European Union’s Parliament and how it governs.  It was pretty neat, actually.  This first section represents the main structures in the three governing cities of the EU-  Brussels, Luxembourg, and Strasbourg.

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How far is it to your home city? Vienna’s only 917 kilometers away…

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The exhibit had a detailed model of the European Parliament’s seating arrangement.  Interestingly, the seating is not by nation, it’s by political affiliation.

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I missed all but the last three minutes of this film about how the Parliament makes decisions because I was fascinated by shiny objects on the other side of the hall.  It looked interesting, though.

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On the way back from the Parliamentarium, we passed the Triumphal Arch in the Parc du Cinquantenaire, but alas, we didn’t actually go into the Jubilee Park, so this is the best photograph I took of the Arch.

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This… this is just an enormously large flower pot that amused me.

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I ate at two different restaurant chains that I quite enjoyed while I was in Brussels.  The first was called Quick.  The face of the restaurant was emblazoned with a giant lit up sign that said “Quality Burger Restaurant,” and the sign made me skeptical enough to try it.  (“Challenge accepted!“) It turns out that it’s got all the soul that McDonald’s has given up over the years,  and the burgers were delicious beyond all reason.  The other restaurant that I tried was a healthy chain called Exki.  This place was utterly delicious-  it was a little like the Pret a Manger and Eat chains that are all over London, but with more hot prepared foods and a few other interesting choices like the Ubuntu cola in the picture below.  (It was decent, but Coke is still better.)  They name their sandwiches with people names, so my lunch as pictured below was John.  The chocolate brownie in the background was so delicious.

I am excited beyond reason that they’re opening an Exki in New York City.  You have no idea.

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My next-door neighbor Lori sent me a link before I left for Brussels with a list of the top ten places to get a great view of Brussels.  One of those places was a parking garage called Park 58.    Entrance is free (because it’s a parking garage, not a tourist attraction,) and the elevator will take you right to the tenth floor.  From there, you have a fantastic view in almost all directions.  This is the view looking back toward the Grand Place.

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On the other side, you can see clearly all the way to the Atomium.  The Atomium is really cool, and I’ll talk about my visit there in another post.

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This statue is near Grasmarkt.  I didn’t remember to catch the plaque that explains it, but I quite dig the man’s mustache and his friendly dog.

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Don Quixote and Sancho Panza?  Yup!  I’m not sure why it’s in Brussels, but it’s in Place D’Espagne, and it’s a replica of the original statue in Madrid.

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Last, but certainly not least, Brussels is another city full of art.  I kept noticing that the exposed sides of buildings were painted all over the city.  I only snapped pictures of these four, and there was one more of a swashbuckler that I wanted to go back for, but I didn’t have time.   I love that the buildings have this much character.  These four are in different places all over the city:

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Have you ever been to Brussels?  What was your favorite thing about the city?

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Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Early in the morning on Saturday the 12th of April, I took a day trip to scenic Rothenburg ob der Tauber with Cliff and Sarah of Regensblog.   Cliff already posted his write-up of the trip, and he included a ton of great pictures.

Rothenburg is incredibly popular with tourists, and it’s often featured in package tours.  The town is compact, but we walked past an astonishing number of hotels on the outer edges of town.  We had good weather and a very light level of tourist crowding, but I shudder to think what this town would be like in June or July.

One of my favorite things about Rothenburg is the wall.  Many towns in Germany still have intact sections of their original outer walls, but this is the first time I’ve seen one with the entire wall up.  It’s been rebuilt over the years, so it’s not all original, but it’s still quite amazing.

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I mentioned it was scenic, right?  It gets used in film quite often.  In fact, sections of Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows were filmed here.  Not on this specific street, but here in town.

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There were a couple of great fountains around town, but none of them were actually moving water around.   There was a lot of construction, so perhaps they were turned down during the other work.

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This is the town hall.  The tallest point is the Rathausturm, a tower that you can climb for the low, low cost of €2.

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This elderly tourist couple was just really adorable.

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Naturally, we climbed the tower.  You can actually see the outer walls, and the towers at intervals along the wall.

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The wall is especially clear in this picture.

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While we were walking around, we were all kind of amazed at this tree-  it had clearly been encouraged to grow almost as part of the building.  It was fascinating.

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While walking around, we found a small cloister garden containing a very pretty green space.

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I’ve lost track of which tower was which.  This one was on the western side of the city.

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…but this one is the actual western town gate.

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This face is set into the tower on the western gate.  It’s kind of interesting.

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Did I mention how picturesque the city is?

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This street is the Plönlein.  The tower to the left is the Siebersturm, built in 1385.  This is one of those views that people take pictures of quite a lot.   Seriously, just put “plonlein” into a Google image search and you’ll immediately see what I’m talking about.

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It was just before Easter, so these wreathy crown things are starting to show up all over Bavaria.   I’m not sure what they’re called, but they’re always draped with colored eggs.

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The design on the eggs is quite intricate.

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This kind of archway appears all over town.

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It is possible to walk along the wall.  There are stairs at regular intervals to go up to the walkway.

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Wooden railings keep you from walking off the edge.

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This house caught our eye because the seal over the door looks a great deal like Trogdor.

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Seriously, it’s an ancestor of Trodgor.  Ready to burninate the countryside.

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I think the wall may have been my favorite part of the city.  Right behind Trogdor, that is.

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We had fairly spectacular weather for the day, also.  Blue skies, whispy clouds.   I secretly believe that the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber employs weather wizards to keep it pretty like this.

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To break up these pictures of scenic Rothenburg, here’s a teddy bear blowing bubbles.  This is at a shop in town-  it took me a minute to figure out where the bubbles were coming from because it’s in an upstairs window and it’s not constant.

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One last shot of the wall on our way out-  this was close to where we parked for the day.

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Have you ever been to Rothenburg ob der Tauber?