Monday, June 29, 2015

Munster the bike capital has a special addition

Münster, Germany
A bike capital where bikes may outnumber residents!

Martje Salje, also known as the tower keeper in Munster, click the link to learn about that story, was given a special bike this year from her mother.

This bike was designed by local Munster artist Stephan Quitmann, who according to Martje  is famous for his unique, fantastic bicycles.

"Each and every one of them is specially designed for their buyer/owner. You can choose every little detail yourself (e.g. the color - I like turquoise/cyan best!) and Stephan lets you sit on a machine that measures your body, like length of the legs and angles of the arms and upper body and so on." 

"The handlebars have leather and the ends and the lights are like parking lights that won’t go out when you’re like waiting at the red light in the darkness."

With this great endorsement, I decided to do a quick search for Mr. Quitmann.   Had I know about him while I was in Münster I would surely have dropped in to take a look at his shop.   His web site confirms he is a 'artist' with metal, leather and most important a fit for the rider of each individual bike.  

Martje goes a step further:

She decided to ask people she meets to sign her bike and give it a one of a kind feature. 

"It was the idea of Stephan Quitmann to let famous and special people sign their name on my bike, so it really is a project work-in-progress." 

But why me?
"I was so impressed that you came all the way to Münster to visit my beautiful city and write about it and even took the time to climb 300 steps with me, so your signature is something that reminds me of an amiable, wonderful and interesting person :-)"

"Then there are some fantastic highly remarkable musicians whom i asked to please sign on my project-bike and I told them how I loved and admired their music. 
One of them is Daniel Masuch, a Jazz pianist and composer, his works are on the Internet, e.g. on spotify as well."

While I was in Münster I learned a lot about bikes:   
  • there are more bikes than residents in Münster
  • there is a free air 'station' in the middle of town if you need to inflate a tire
  • there is a massive bike garage on the way to the train station, offering storage, rentals, washes and repairs
  • there are bike RULE, right of ways, penalties for riding in violation of the rules, no drinking and biking
  • Münster is the 'bike capital' of Germany....
  • Bikes are also called 'Leeze"
  • Münster has been awarded the Most bicycle friendly city in Germany, several times
I need to get back on a bike!

And here is my signature on this amazing bike, may it travel far and wide.

This reminds me of the mid 1950's practice of having an autograph book and having friends sign your book.    I suppose we lost the art of poems, drawings or sentiments when the year book replaced autograph books and then videos, FB and Twitter replaced all writing.  .    
At the same time did we also lose our imaginations?  Can you ask someone to put a twitter comment in a 'book'?  Would we receive a response?

Be sure to read more about Marje

Friday, June 26, 2015

Woman In the Tower, Münster, Germany: not Rapunzel

Münster, Germany continues the tradition of the Tower Keeper

The Keeper in the tower, is now a WOMAN 

This is not the story of Rapunzel from the Brothers Grimm, this is a tradition over the centuries that is still revered and practiced.   I had the opportunity to meet the only woman tower keeper (employed by the City).   

During my press trip with Munster Marketing, I was given the opportunity to meet The Tower Keeper Martje Salje.   

Spending six nights a week 'watching over the city of Münster'
from the tower of St Lamberti's church struck me as a very unique job, so I was very anxious to meet her.

These are the famous 3 cages, but ONLY 1/2 way to the tower top!
Look for the small, very small walk way above this area.

The solid wood door to the tower steps.

"Tower keepers in Munster: since 1383.  That’s the only right date - it’s written on an old document mentioning two men in the tower of St. Lambert's in association with a  fire in the inner city, only one year after another big catastrophe (pestilence)."   according to the current Tower Keeper  

Arriving via bike Martje meets us at the wooden door she has a key to open.   I didn't expect such a lovely, vibrant woman to meet us.    Martje was more Rapunzel and nothing like Quasimodo.

At twilight the tower is stunning.  I should have started a 1/2 hour earlier to capture all the great  views.

When I first heard I would be meeting the Tower Keepers and climbing the tower to view what a Tower Keeper does each evening, I started training for this event.   I calculated with 30 steps in my home that I often climbed several times a day, I would be in 'shape' for this event..............................

To try to give some perspective of the SIZE of this church and tower, we climbed above the clock!

With constant inquiries 'are you OK" from my companions, we climbed all 300 stairs.  When we arrived at the level with the 'cages' I was informed we were NOT at the top, but only 1/2 way!

Determined NOT to be the ONLY invited guest to abort this killer climb, we continued.   The stairs are very narrow and as you circle round and round the small stairway, it is easy to become dizzy and disoriented.   However Martje ascended the stairs like a 'gazelle'. And she does this 24 times a week!  

The tower keepers room is larger than I expected.   On the desk is the brass horn that has announce "all is well' over hundreds of years, next to a telephone that is used to call the fire department when the Tower Keeper arrives each night.   Such an anachronism, I had to smile.   There are also several clocks to remind the Keeper each 30 minutes during the 4 hour shift, when the horn must be blown.

I visited in early April and Northern Germany was just approaching spring so the nights can be cold.
The Tower Keeper has a warm cape with a hood to protect her during the winter and bad weather.

Starting at 8:30 pm The keeper reports to the fire station  that she has arrived safely and every half hour until midnight, the keeper sounds the all is well 'toot', no fires spotted, no invading army approaching.    At 12:30 am she will call the fire station to let them know she has made it back to firm land safely.  

Martje, is a part of many decades of history..

But what does the Keeper do when she is NOT watching for enemies or fire?    Martje, is an accomplished musician, writer and I would add 'historian'.     Drinking hot tea she brought with her (no Starbucks breaks when there are 600 steps to transverse in less than 25 minutes) she shows me her art work, some of the many books she reads and even gives me a sample of her musical work:

At the end of this post you can enjoy the translation to of a lovely song.

MARTJE shared a story with me that may be a legend or may  be true......

The Münster Tower Keeper sent me her understanding on the source of the horn blowing in the tower of St. lamberths;
The following story explains why the signal of the tower keeper rings out every half hour though it used to be heard every hour in former times. 
Attention! It might not be suitable for children ;-)
“Once upon a time a newlywed couple, young but poor, went on their honeymoon. They stayed at a rustic Westphalian farm just at the borders of the city of Münster.
The young woman asked at dinner: What are these sounds coming from the city every hour? What do they mean?
And the landlord told her it was the tower keeper of St. Lambert's, tooting his horn to remind the couples who were just married of their conjugal duties. And with these words he gave the young husband a wink.”
“The couple went off to bed early this night.
And the next morning, the husband wanted to know where to find this tower keeper and was sent to Stuhlmacher's (a traditional inn near St. Lambert's church). 
There he beseeched the tower keeper to please blow his horn every three or four hours only and promised him 20 thalers.  The tower keeper shook his head and said: Well, a young damsel already gave me 40 thalers and wanted me to toot every half hour, I'm sorry mate!”
The rest is up to you and your fantasy imagination!
But these facts are for real: The signal means 
a) the tower keeper is really up there in the tower and awake;
b) that there are nor fires, no foes;
c) or if there were: ALARM! (very rapid tooting sounds);
d) it tells the time (e.g. 3x3 at 9 p.m.)...

Q&A  An Interview with the Tower Keeper

I was very curious about how does one apply for or interview for such an unusual position and asked the following questions

1..  How did you hear about the Tower Keeper position?
Martje:  I read about the job offer online, as they were looking throughout Germany for a new tower keeper (for Munster)

2.  Why did you consider applying for this job?
Martje:   I had finished my studies (history and musicology) and wanted to work in a town like Munster, Westphalia,  (a town) steeped in history.

3.  What questions did the application ask?  Did the application ask if you were male or female?
Martje:  the most important question was whether I like being alone a few hours every evening and wouldn't mind climbing up the 300 steps even on weekends and official holiday(s).  And the new tower keeper would have to know all about the vivid ancient and recent time of the city.

4.  What was the interview like?
Martje:  There were two interviews, the people of Munster Marketing and the municipal leaders wanted to make sure the new tower keeper really was a trust-worthy individual and would stay for more than a few months.  I want to be tower keeper the next hundred years or so, and I really love this city.

5.    Was there a test to see if you could climb 300 steps and blow the horn?
Martje:  Climbing test- yes indeed!  But the horn is only to be played by the tower keeper on duty....

On September 13th, 2015 the Tower Keeper will be called  to ring the church bell :"Rats- und Brandglocke“ (Rat = municipal affairs, Brand = fire and emergency - in medieval times, Glocke = bell).in the tower when the major of Munster is elected.

The contract for the tower keeper is for life or until the keeper can no longer climb the tower.  Martje jogs every morning and works to stay healthy,   She tells me she plans to be the keeper until she is '100' and it would not surprise me if she continues for many years.

Thank you to Munster Marketing and my patient host for showing me how wonderful secrets of  Munster.  My goal was to find solo friendly places to explore off the beaten path in Munster and I concluded this was a very solo friendly town that I plan to visit again.

And the 300 steps to the the Keeper's room was NOT the top:   you still had a staircase and a pull down ladder!  Of course I took the challenge,  Did I mention I don't like heights?

You can read The Tower Keepers blog and visit her website:

The tower is not open for tours.  Journalists, photographers and guests of the Mayor may apply for permission to visit with the Münster Marketing

The city offers tours with city guides K3, StattReisen or StadtLupe, to learn about the city and hear the Tower Keeper blowing her horn.   Looking up they will see the Keeper waving!

© lee laurino

Münster Marketing 

"Here are the lyrics to that song I sing every evening up here"...

Greetings from the Tower of St. Lambert’s! Martje

Tower keeper’s Evensong (or religious lullaby)
I departed the world        
 and am standing on the tower,
 I can reach the stars
 and talk to the storm.
 I ban all ghosts
 and live far from derision,
 the wind knocks on my window
and speaks of God the righteous.
 I see dusk is falling,
 the earth exhales,
the city drapes itself in silence,
 all people are going home.
 I hear silent lamentations
 down by the houses,
 prayers and curses
 from a dark mouth.

I was the guest of  Münster Marketing for my visit to the Tower.   I thank them for the opportunity to meet the Tower Keeper.  All my personal opinions and photos above are my own.  © lee laurino

Additional information from the Tower Keeper:

All the other tower keepers, whether they are female or male, are in another kind of employment.
Blanca Knodel (that’s my colleague in Bad Wimpfen, Baden-Wuerttemberg) lives on the tower and raised her children there.
She tells tourists all about the „blue tower“ and gets a percentage of the door money. She also owns some flats which she rents out.

I am the only female tower keeper in Europe that is working for the CITY - public/civil service and lives on the city government’s salary! The only others working for the city government too are 5 men in Bavaria (in a little town called Noerdlingen). But they have tourists on the tower, too, and they sell postcards and stuff, and the don’t blow a horn but they call „So, G’sell, so“ which has a long long long history and tradition of its own.

My blowing the horn (the art of tooting) is something special and only heard and seen in Muenster, Westphalia 

Different towers, different customs…
The tower keeper in Hamburg (northern Germany) is a Catholic, working for the Protestant church (St. Michaelis), he plays the trumpet (chorale/hymns),

And the tower keeper of Luebben (Lübben, Brandenburg, southern Germany) is female, too, but she’s actually a tourist guide showing her city to travelers and even taking them up a (or some?) tower(s?). 

The tower keeper of Krakau (Cracow, Poland) is a firefighter (!), also playing the trumpet.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Solo Cruise Prices online with Vacations to Go

Thank You to Vacations to Go 

Finally a web site that you can search solo prices on many sailings!

There are several other sites that allow you to search for solo prices but the process is time consuming.   When I search for a trip longer than 14 days I would check EVERY listing that 'might' be affordable at a 200% solo supplement

Even then some cruise lines charge even more for a solo cabin and a few charge less than 200%.
Unless you price every sailing that might interest you, prices are not available.

I have been told by one agent to search for what I wanted and she would book it for me!
Another told me there were too many sailings on my list, to let him know when I was closer to the sailing date!

I rant about the poor treatment solo travelers often receive.   What yearly travel budget qualifies a solo traveler for the same treatment as others?   

Now I can search many sailings for solo pricing on
Vacations to Go.   

An example:
cruise vacations

17 nights departing September 4, 2015 on

Brochure Inside$2,600
Our Inside$2,600
You Save0%
Brochure Balcony$9,454
Our Balcony$9,454
You Save0%
Brochure Suite$9,454
Our Suite$9,454
You Save0%

Click for additional rates: Singles Rates
The prices shown are US dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. They include port charges but do not include airfare or (where applicable) airport or government taxes or fees.
FriSep4Sydney, Australia4:00pm
SatSep5At Sea
SunSep6Brisbane, Australia8:00am6:00pm
MonSep7At Sea
TueSep8At Sea
WedSep9Port Douglas, Australia7:00am5:00pm
ThuSep10At Sea
FriSep11At Sea
SatSep12Darwin, Australia10:00am6:00pm
SunSep13Kimberley Coast, Australia (Cruising)2:00pm6:00pm
MonSep14Broome, AustraliaNoon11:59pm
TueSep15At Sea
WedSep16At Sea
ThuSep17Lombok, Indonesia7:00am5:00pm
FriSep18At Sea
SatSep19At Sea
SunSep20Geraldton, Australia10:00am5:00pm
MonSep21Perth (Fremantle), Australia6:00am


If the solo price is available online you will see the highlighted area above.
click on this link and obtain solo pricing.

cruise vacations


17 nights departing September 4, 2015 on

Brochure Balcony$9,454
Our Balcony$9,454
Single Balcony$18,908
Single Supplement100%
Brochure Suite$9,454
Our Suite$9,454
Single Suite$18,908
Single Supplement100%
Prices shown are US dollars per person, based on double occupancy, except for single-occupancy rates shown in yellow highlights. Prices include port charges but do not include airfare or (where applicable) airport or government taxes or fees. This sailing is not one of Vacations To Go's hosted singles sailings.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Eat with a Local when you Solo Travel

EatWith  another way to meet locals 
for a solo traveler

I heard about this company more than a year ago and since then their web site states they have expanded to more than 150 cities!  Wow.

For a recent trip I searched the site for an opportunity to meet locals in the cities I would be visiting and an alternative for a solo diner.

I could choose from a full meal to 'tea' at a greater London location.
My problem was scheduling and planning ahead so this adventure is still on my 'list'.

Today's search for London as an example gave me an opportunity to share a meal offering everything from British fare to Indonesian.   My own town, Atlanta, offered a chicken cooking class.    Great opportunities.

What a great way to learn about a city!

Have you tried Eat With?

What I learned about Solo Travel in Istanbul

Solo Travel Surprises after 25 years

I accepted an offer to participate in tours offered by Walks of Turkey when they launched their new tour company this year.

I have traveled solo for years but nothing prepared me for the challenges of Istanbul.
I read the entire Lonely Planet book on Istanbul, had a map of Istanbul, arranged for a car to pick me up at the airport and selected a hotel centrally located that had a restaurant.  Everything was planned.

First surprise was the size of the Istanbul airport.  It is massive but easy to negotiate.
Next the car service driver: no sign with my my name on it.  There were hundreds of drivers and people waiting outside the arrivals exit.   Had always wanted to have a driver waiting for me at the airport.  Alas, no driver.  
The helpful information point staff, called my hotel to find out 'the driver is stuck in traffic'.  
So off to take a cab.

Negotiating the city:
The maps had NO street names other than the one or two main streets
The streets have no street signs and the one I did find did not match the map!

I was told later this is common in Istanbul.

Turkish is not a simple language and with only a few days before traveling to Istanbul I didn't even try to learn the typical:  can you tell me how to find........... or  which metro takes me to ...............where is the bathroom?...................and many other simple comments.

I don't expect the world to speak English but I have found in 'tourist' areas there are usually a few signs in English to point me in the right direction.
Shoe shine vendors with an elaborate brass stand that folds up.

Never found the tourist office:  I didn't see a location at the airport so I thought I would start my quest when I arrived in town.   The one office I found was a kiosh that for 2 days pointed me to the river instead of the main square I was trying to find.   The last day I found the train station (which should have housed the tourist office) but it was too late to get detailed instructions on how to take the ferries.

So as I do in every city, I walked.  I walked across the bridge several times so I would not have to negotiate the subway.  Not the actual trains, but how to buy a ticket from a machine!   I walked up the vertical streets where the sidewalk was actually a staircase.  I walked. And the last afternoon I found the main street I had searched for!   Wow!  I think everyone under the age of 50 was walking this multi kilometer avenue:  shopping, eating, stopping to chat.   This is where I would have seen modern Istanbul

Safe:  For a few hours I wandered in the older parts of town nearer the monuments.  Again without a map I thought I would find the Bazaar again.   No luck but I did find streets where the locals shopped. I may have been starred at a few times (the only woman without a scarf) but NO one bothered me or even spoke to me.  Eventually I found the water front again.  My guide had told me all the roads go down hill, and this was a great tool for finding my way back to the bridge.

Cats:  There are many 'independent' cats in the city.   People leave food for them and they sit in the sun and nap.   While at the Blue Mosque my group commented on the large group of dogs that seemed to move as a family.  We were told they too were all over the city and usually caused no harm.

This trip was an excellent test for my fall adventure to China.    I was asked in Germany, if I had ever traveled alone before?  Guess I will have to sharpen my skills after all these years on the road solo.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Stumble Stones: Germany Off the Beaten Path

Stumble Stones 

On the cobbled stone streets in Europe, you often look down so you don’t trip on uneven stones.  This precaution has an added benefit that you may also spot stumble stones in quiet locations in towns you are visiting. 

 Stolpersteine, the German word for stumbling stones, are in many cities in Europe.  I had never heard of stumble stones but discovered from my contacts in each of the Off the Beaten Track towns I was visiting as the guest of the German tourist office, where I might find them.   And I continued to look for them during my trip.     It is 70 years since the end of WWII but the memorials are a small reminder of the horror of the Nazi extermination program.

                                                 Gunter Demnig, the artist.  Photo from his web site

A little research opened a wealth of information on this quiet testament to men, women and children who were deported by the Nazi during WWII.      The artist responsible for the creation of the Stumble Stones, Gunter Demnig, born in 1947, started this project in 1995 and continues today.  1

The stolperstein project started in the 1990 as an exhibit commemorating the deportation of gypsies in Cologne  and has grown into a movement to memorialize the people who lived and worked at the locations where the stones are placed.  Thanks to Ms Ederer, in charming Regensburg, I found my first stumble stone.

Small, only 4 inches square, these small stones left a big impression on me.      Each stone is topped by a brass plaque engraved with the name, date of birth, date of deportation and if known the date and place of their death.    Stones are installed in the pavement in front of the buildings where the deported person lived or worked.

Everyone I met on this trip had an extensive knowledge of German history.  I was impressed with the endless details and facts each guide could share with me.   From the history of every church and monument to when the Roman Empire built the structures still standing today     I was concerned about any reaction I would receive if I spoke about WWII to the tour guides I met and the very helpful staff at the tourist offices in each city I visited.  WWII only came up when I was informed how the city was damaged or destroyed by the bombings during WWII.    Discovering the stumbling stones offered an opportunity to talk about WWII.    

The estimates are that more than 6 million Jews died from the Nazi insanity.  Dissidents, gypsies, homosexuals and ‘defectives’ were also targeted for elimination.   Of course every victim will not receive a stone.    Originally all the stones were created and placed at the designated location by the artist.  Now trained assistants help create the many stones requested each year.3    The artists’ web site lists the installations schedules for across Europe.  .   Each plaque costs about 120E and is paid for by a sponsor, relative or family member. 

According to the artist’s website, “As of August, 2014, there have been over 48,000 Stolpersteine (laid) in 18 countries in Europe, making the project the world’s largest memorial”.   Besides Germany, stones have been placed in Austria, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Russia, Croatia, France, Poland, Slovenia, Italy, Norway, Ukraine, Switzerland, Slovakia and Luxembourg.”  1

I have asked a number of well travels associates if they had heard of stumble stones and only one resident in Rome had read about them.      During my trip to Germany, I occasionally spotted one or more installed in front of a building.  They made me stop, read a few names but most important, think.       When you see crowds witness something ‘wrong’ and do nothing to stop it, there is a similarity to what might have happened in the 1930’s as neighbors watched the Gestapo and the SS systematically remove neighbors from their homes and send them ‘away’.   Fear is a powerful tool.  Fear that even a German gentile might also be selected for removal.   The stones bring the sheer massive numbers down to individual victims.

Jesuit church/monastery

                     Very faint and blending in with the pavement, but you can read each name and date of their deaths in the camps
                                         Memorial to the seven martyred priest in Trier

My last stop was Trier, Germany.  Here along with the impressive cathedral, Roman ruins, lively shopping streets my guide showed me the seven stumble stones in front of the Jesuit church.  These stones quietly memorialized seven priests who were sent to the camps and did not return.

Not every town or city is happy to have these memorials added to the public sidewalks.  Some towns have legislated to prevent installation, some stones have been removed or defaced and in some locations the local government has voted not to allow the installation of the stones on public walkways.   Lisa Lampert-Weissig gives an extensive account of the town of Villingen stalwart rejection of stumble stones.   4.     Two Villingen students with the help of their teacher, created virtual stolpersteine sites:  stickers with QR codes that can be read with a smart phone to obtain the same information that a stumble stone would offer.   According to Lampert-Weissig’s story, even these have been defaced.4

While in Lyon, France I found the Resistance and Deportation History Centre :   a museum devoted to the events in Lyon surrounding the occupation by the Nazis and the deportation of Jews and other groups.  This was an arresting exhibit of photos and videos.
 Centre d'Histoire de la Resistance et de la Deportation,Espace Berthelot
14 avenue Berthelot -
 69007 Lyon, France
Tel: +33 (0)4 78 72 23 -

I was the guest of Historic Highlights of Germany for my tour but the opinions and reviews are my own.

Ref:   a Wikipedia list of countries where stumble stones can been found.

1.  Main web site for the artist 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Istanbul Food Tour with Walks of Turkey

Explore The Food Market in Istanbul 

with Walks of Turkey 

On my second day in Istanbul I joined the Food walking tour that would take me across the  water to Kadikoya part of Istanbul that I would not have visited on my own.   

Our guide met us at the convenient location of Starbucks, next to the ferry port.    Without any maps available that indicate streets and important points of interest, I just walked to the water and went along the shore until I found Starbucks.  

I was told later that this is also a good WC stop.  No charge and clean facilities.  IMPORTANT TO NOTE!

I can fully recommend this tour for solo travelers.  Since the tour was a walking tour there was no question of finding an available seat that was not being 'saved' for someone.

The quick ferry rides in Istanbul give you a water view that on a sunny day is unsurpassed.

One of our cheerful guides for the day.

A pleasant way to spend day two with 'new friends' from Colorado

First stop:  CAKE!


Next we toured all the shops and stalls in the market area. 
 Each specialized in a product or a food.  Our guides explained what everything was, where it was grown and often there was a history story behind some of the food.

Are these dried eggplant?

Intense colors make you want to taste everything

I was fascinated that most of the shops were ONLY staffed by men 

Our group of about 10


This store sold pickles....and other items that were 'pickeled'
The juice is also available as a beverage!

The meat vendor

The cheese store

Colors are everywhere

Our first stop for a tasting:   

Our talented guide enthusiastically explained what all the fruits and vegetable were.  Some were totally new to me.

My question was answered:  how do you make all this great skewered meats

                   We were encouraged to taste items in most of the shops and then it was on to LUNCH

Lunch gave us a sample of many foods.          Beware the green bean at the top, HOT< HOT HOT

                        I needed a list of what we were eating, but it all tasted great, except that green bean!
We has two sit-down sample meals.  One of the meals offered samples of 'interesting' items that two guests were to share a plate.   Other than a buffet or the 'family style' restaurants they offer in  southern USA, I have never seen Americans share a plate with a stranger.......
my concern was short lived.    There were two of everything and it was easy to 'share'.

Not on our tour and but fascinated by this machine that automatically poured batter into metal molds, sent the tray into an oven and baked/cooked  small waffle type cakes.   You added berries and perhaps yogurt or cream to top them off!

We did not stop here, but strange to find Mckie D in the center of such a great assortment of restaurants

Our tour ended with REAL Turkish coffee and the best cake I had on my trip
There is a skill to making this coffee and I shall try to learn this skill next time.


Phone (US): 1-917-310-1554
Our office hours are
Monday through Sunday
from 11:00am to 7:00pm
(UTC +2, Istanbul time) Global

I was the guest of Walks of Turkey for this wonderful day and 
the opinions and photos are my own.