June 29

Cruise on the Rhine River

Cruise on the Rhine River

Castle overlooking the Rhine

Castle overlooking the Rhine

Kölner Dom

Kölner Dom

Our hosts dropped us off at the Mainz train station, and a short train ride later we hopped on the Köln-Düsseldorfer boat and took a three hour cruise downstream on the Rhine River.  Nearly a dozen castles overlook the river valley, and normally this would be a very pleasnt and relaxing cruise.  Temperatures in the low 50s, a brisk wind, and a nearly constant drizzle made it a bit miserable.

We disembarked in Braubach and took the train the rest of the way to Köln (Cologne), where we looked around the Kölner Dom (cathedral), that boasts twin spires towering 500 feet over the sidewalk below.

We had to pick up our rental car at 4pm, so we didn’t have much more time to explore. It was then a two hour drive on the Autobahn system to Mengerenhausen for our night’s stay.  More on that in the next post.

 

June 28

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

Heidelberg Castle

German Apothecary Museum

German Apothecary Museum

German Apothecary Museum

German Apothecary Museum

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Last evening out host Steve Birky took us on a walking your of Saverne. Saverne is a pleasant city just west of Strasbourg a few miles. It is nestled against some of the foothills that start rising west of Strasbourg. Saverne has a beautiful mansion/castle that was built for Napoleon, as evidenced by the monogrammed letter “N” carved and painted on the walls and gate. After another load of laundry it was time for bed, as we had an early start again in the morning.
The 8:15am train this morning from Saverne to Strasbourg was delayed because of “an animal on the tracks.” Fortunately we had plenty of time to catch the next train to Heidelberg. Heidelberg Caste is perched on the side of a mountain overlooking the river valley in which Heidelberg sits. One takes a funicular railway up to the castle grounds. The castle was built by King Ludwig V, and parts of it were destroyed during subsequent wars.
We took the tour which takes a look at the inside of the castle. One interesting feature was “The Great Barrel”. The people living under the king were required to pay taxes, usually in the form of wine. The king also wanted to make sure that he would not run out of wine, thus the castle contained a 64,000 gallon wine barrel in the basement. You can imagine that it was immense…laying on its side, it was over ten feet tall and almost 30 feet long. The people didn’t like having to pay their taxes, and would water it down or add other juices to it. The guide told us you could probably have gone to Aldi’s (the same discount grocery store as in the States…it actually started in Germany) these days and have procured better wine!
The highlight of the castle was the German Apothecary (pharmacy) Museum, which is located inside the castle. They have many displays of apothecary bottles, flasks, vials, and an actual lab that was used by early German pharmacists. It was fascinating to see what components would have gone into the medicines that early pharmacists would have extracted, synthesized, and compounded for various ailments. Many herbs, spices, and extracts did have names that were recognizable (albeit in German).
Some early formulations of Bayer Aspirin were also on display. Bayer was a German company, and is now a multi-national pharmaceutical and chemical company.
After walking around the castle grounds some more, it was back on board the next train to Frankfurt and then Mainz, which will be our last home stay in Europe. Tomorrow night we will be in a hotel, and our last two nights in Europe will be just outside of Amsterdam at a guest room in a retirement community where the person hosting us lives.

June 27

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Dachau, Germany

Friday morning we got up and went to the Dachau concentration camp memorial. This we rescheduled from Wednesday afternoon. Dachau is about a 30-minute train ride and 10-minute bus ride outside of Munich. All of original buildings are still there, with the exception of the prisoner’s barracks. Only two of the 30 were restored…the rest were too dilapidated and were torn down, now just filled with rock beds where the foundations once stood. The inside of the main building serves as the museum, and tastefully tells the history behind the Nazi movement, and carefully portrays the horrendous things that happened here during the Holocaust.
This was a sobering experience, and it was painful to imagine a family arriving through the gates of the camp, being separated, and not knowing if they would see one another again.
The rest of Friday is a travel day by train to Saverne, France (just outside of Strasbourg) where will stay in a couple’s home; he was raised in the States and moved to France after he married. His father attends our church in Goshen, and helped us make the connection. I arranged for this home stay while Steve was visiting his father in Goshen back in April.
Most of the historic science sites have been checked off the list, so that part of the trip is feeling complete. The last two big items on the list were a meeting room in Karlsruhe, and the German Pharmacy Museum inside Heidelberg Castle. These are on the agenda for Saturday, before a cruise down the Rhine River on Sunday. The visit to Karlsruhe may get scratched; it is just a meeting room in a non-descript building with no plaque or commemoration. It is the site of the Karlsruhe Conference in 1927 that brought together some of the prominent chemists of the time. The business of the Karlsruhe Congress led to common terminology, symbols, and other standards in chemical nomenclature. It would eventually lead to the formation of the International Union of a pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the international authority on chemical nomenclature, structures, and symbols.
There may be one final science stop on Sunday or Monday, but we will have to see how the schedule holds up. We’re still trying to get back on our itinerary after the cascade of problems caused by train service in the Czech Republic earlier this week.

June 26

Castle Neuschwanstein

Castle Neuschwanstein

An early vacuum pump and bell jar

An early vacuum pump and bell jar

A very large photomultiplier tube from an astrophysics experiment

A very large photomultiplier tube from an astrophysics experiment

The original Magdeburg hemisphere to demonstrate atmospheric pressure

The original Magdeburg hemispheres to demonstrate atmospheric pressure

Equipment used by Laurie Meitner and Otto Hahn in their discovery of nuclear fission

Equipment used by Laurie Meitner and Otto Hahn in their discovery of nuclear fission

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Galileo’s physics lab reconstructed

Wednesday night we stayed at Ruchti’s Hotel and Restaurant in Füessen, Germany, which is only about a five minute bus ride from Neuschwanstein Castle. We had advanced tickets for the 9:20am tour, which meant that we had to be at the ticket center by 8:20. It was about a 20 minute walk to the train station where we stowed our bags, then the short bus ride to Hohenschwangau. From there, one can hike steeply uphill for 40 minutes, pay for a horse-drawn carriage ride up, or take the bus to the overlook for €2.40, and then the last 10 minutes on foot. We took the bus up, and then a leisurely carriage ride down. The view from the overlook was spectacular.
Schloss Neuschwanstein was built by Bavarian King Ludwig II starting in 1868 but was never fully completed due to the king’s mysterious death in 1886. The castle served as the inspiration for Walt Disney in designing the Magic Kingdom castle at the Disneyworld resort and theme park. Unfortunately, taking pictures and videos is not allowed inside the castle, but we took lots on the outside.
Instead of spending two nights just outside of Strasbourg, France, we booked a last-minute hotel room in Munich just across from the train station. Once we took the train back to Munich, we checked in at the hotel. The plan now is to explore Munich in the evening, go to Dachau Friday morning, and then go on to Strasbourg Friday afternoon.
With some extra time now, I set out for the Deutches Museum, which was originally on then itinerary. I’m glad I went. This is one of the largest science and technology museums in the world, and rivals any I have been to. They have many different areas, and one could spend several days there. For comparison, Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry has a lot of interactive displays, and the primary audience is families and schoolchildren. They don’t have many artifacts on display.
The Deutches Museum has all of that…some basic, fundamental and interactive displays on basic science concepts, but in many cases, they are reinforced with historical accounts and many, many, original artifacts. The Deutches Museum has a large number of artifacts that demonstrate the discoveries and inventions of many scientists. This will definitely be someplace I must return to in the future! As I said before, I could have spent a whole day there…I only had two hours, though! I got through most of the museum, and was delighted to see they had one wing devoted entirely to amateur radio (I’m a ham radio operator).
With the museum closing at 5pm, Karen and I headed out to explore the Marienplatz area of Munich, with the Rathaus and the famous Glockenspiel. We worked our way towards Höfbrauhaus, a restaurant (and beer house). While I’m told it is not “authentic,” it’s styled and operated like one. What better place to be during a World Cup soccer match between the United States and Germany, than in a German beer house! On big screen TVs, everyone was watching. As we went out and wandered the streets, in every store, there was a TV or iPhone tuned to the World Cup. This was the case in every city and country we have been in since the start of the Cup. It is a big deal here in Europe.
Friday the plan is to go to Dachau, and then to Strasbourg. We have less than a week left in Europe…I think we are ready to come home, but it has been an amazing trip!

High voltage lab and electrical power transmission equipment

High voltage lab and electrical power transmission equipment

 

June 25

Schloss Frohnberg

Schloss Frohnburg

Gazebo from The Sound of Music

Gazebo from The Sound of Music

Schloss Leopoldskron

Schloss Leopoldskron

The sun was already shining brightly when we got up at 7:15 to be ready for a breakfast of bread, rolls, ham, and cheese; a traditional Austrian/Swiss breakfast. The three sites we wanted to visit were closer to our home stay than the train station, so we left our bags at the apartment and would stop by after we were done around noon to pick them up. The goal was to be on the train by 1:00, which would get us to Dachau several hours before it closed at 5:00.
We set out down a beautiful walking/biking path called the Hellbrunn Alle. Along the way, we came to Schloss (castle) Frohnburg. You will recall this from the Sound of Music movie as the villa that Maria arrives at for the first time, and peering through the gate, her jaw drops. This is also where the family pushes the car out of the driveway at night, only to be discovered by the Nazis.
Continuing down the Alle another kilometer or so, we arrived at Schloss Hellbrunn, and the magnificent gardens around them. Here is the gazebo famous for the “Sixteen going on Seventeen” scene, though it was relocated from its original location since they couldn’t handle the influx of tourists. The Schloss also his known for its trick water fountains. We debated if we had time to go on the tour, but it was only 30 minutes long so we went. It was pretty neat and a lot of fun, but our schedule was beginning to unravel again.
Our last stop on the Sound of Music tour was Schloss Leopoldskron, which is on a lake and is where many of the terrace scenes were shot (the family drinking pink lemonade, Max and the Baroness talking), as well as the children boating and falling in the lake. Very pretty here, and we came across a tour group where somebody was playing, “…high on the the hill was a lonely goat…” from the movie soundtrack.
Our bus connections were slowing us down…10 minutes here, 20 minutes there, but we got back to our host’s apartment shortly after noon, only to discover she was gone and our luggage was locked in her apartment!
After half an hour, she showed up, having taken her adult son out for lunch at McDonalds. The afternoon itinerary to Dachau now appeared to be in jeopardy, and that was confirmed when we finally made it to the train station and found that the next train would not get us to Dachau before 4:30, which is not enough time. So we went to Füssen, south of Munich, for our Wednesday night lodging to try and regroup and see if we might be able to squeeze in Dachau before heading off to Strasbourg, France, since we have some built-in makeup/down time there before our last push north towards Amsterdam.

June 24

Mirabell Gardens

Mirabell Gardens

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St. Peter’s Cemetary

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The Festival House (Rock Riding School)

Nonnberg Abbey

Nonnberg Abbey

I had mentioned in a previous post that our travel plans and itinerary were working smoothly. I must have jinxed us. The plan was to travel on Tuesday by train from Prague to Salzburg. This required a change of trains in Ceske Budejovice in the southern part of the Czech Republic. There was a 10 minute connection time. Shortly after boarding in Prague, the conductor came around to inform everyone that due to track work and a line closure up ahead, we would need get off at a stop, and they would detour us by bus around the track work and put us back on the train to continue to Ceske Budejovice. Right away I could tell that this would not bode well for our connections. Upon getting off the bus, we found that no trains actually went directly to our intended destination, and we ended up in Ceske Velenicia an hour after we should have been in Ceske Budejovice. Transferring there to another train to Ceske Budejovice required more layover time, but we made it there, only to find after a 30 minute layover that the train to Linz was 20 minutes late!
One silver lining on the cloud was a delightful older couple from California that we met while sitting on the train platform in Ceske Budojovice mulling thing over. They were here, just traveling around Europe freely, going where they wanted. For the older lady, this was her 33rd trip to Europe! She had noticed my New Balance tennis shoes, and she came over to tell us a story about how 25 years ago on one of her first trips to Europe her fancy New Balance shoes helped her get some badly needed train tickets she was having problems obtaining. The couple joined us in the coach and we talked the whole way to Linz.
The original plan was to arrive in Salzburg shortly after noon, spend the afternoon tracking down the Sound of Music filming sites, and then head out in the morning for Munich and the Dachau concentration camp. By the time we arrived in Salzburg, it was after 5 pm, so we figured we would do the first half in old town Salzburg in the evening, and do the rest in the morning. Something had to be dropped, so I begrudgingly crossed the Deutsches Museum off the list. This is a must-see museum, but not this time. The museum has some original scientific equipment, but it was not a critical stop on this trip as far as the grant was written. Karen and I both want to get to Dachau, so we will have to cut the museum.
We stashed our luggage in the lockers at the train station and set out on foot. We managed to find find Mirabell Gardens (the Do-Re-Me steps and fountain), the Horse Pond (Maria sings “I Have Confidence” here), the Rock Riding School, now The Festival House (where the family sings in the musical festival), Residenzplatz (Maria sings here on her way to the villa. You also see Nazi soldiers marching through here later in the movie), the Nonnberg Abbey (the children go to see Maria and ring the bell at the gate. Also where the nuns disable the Nazi cars at the end), and St. Peter’s Cemetery (flight scene where the family hides, only to be discovered by Rolf). Wednesday morning we will try to find three other filming sites and then head to Dachau.
We are staying in the home of a widow who was originally from Canada, so her English is nearly perfect, eh? She has a nice apartment that is about a 15-minute bus ride from the train station.

June 23

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

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The overnight trip from Belgrade, Serbia to Prague, Czech Republic was in a sleeper car on a Serbian Railways train. If you have ever been in a sleeper car on Amtrak, you may not consider it luxury. However, in comparison to a 1950’s Soviet-era, it was. The floors and walls showed many years of age, the sink in the corner dripped, and there were no toilet facilities in our compartment. Karen likened our train to a “circus train” similar to what you might see hauling around then Barnum & Bailey Circus. I never did find the elephants. But then again, Serbia only emerged from behind the Iron Curtain twenty-five or so years ago, and then endured dictatorship, followed by a decade of civil war.
Just about the time I dozed off around 1:30 am came the first “pasaport chek!” Back up in the loft, and just starting to nod off again, another “pasaport chek!” We arrived in Budapest at 6:00 am, and had a two-hour layover in the VIP lounge…benefits of a 1st class Eurail pass (probably wouldn’t have gone for 1st class due to $, but all Eurail Global passes are only 1st class, and we needed the Global).
Upon arriving in Budapest, we have been through eight countries. How many passport stamps do you think we picked up? Less than you would think. Most of the European Union is a member of the Schengen Treaty, which opened borders and eliminated passport checks and stamps. The United Kingdom is not E.U., nor is it a Schengen state. Switzerland is not E.U., but it is Schengen. Serbia is neither E.U. Nor Schengen.
So we got a stamp in Dublin from the U.K. pre-clearing us to enter England. Stamp two was in London from French customs pre-clearing us to enter the Schengen Area. Stamp three was an exit visa from the Schengen Area in the Rome airport on our way to Serbia. Stamp four was arriving in Serbia. The first “pasaport chek” didn’t yield any stamps…Serbia was just checking to see if we had arrived legally before we left. Stamp four was from Hungarian officials on the train, once again entering the Schengen Area, as Hungary is both E.U. and Schengen. We will probably get two more on our way home…far less stamps than countries we visited.
We checked into the hostel and set out around supper time. Our targets were the homes of Christian Doppler, famous for the Doppler Effect and the Doppler shift, and Johannesburg Kepler, who is known for his observations of stars and planets, and the laws named after him which describe orbital motion. After finding the homes and shooting some video and still pictures, we explored old-town Prague, including Charles Bridge. Prague is a charming city, and it was refreshingly clean, with a sense of culture and sophistication, mixed in with historical eastern-European charm. My paternal grandmother was born to Bohemian immigrants, so that would mean I’m one-fourth Bohemian. Perhaps my Slaby ancestors passed through these streets in Prague at some point.
Tuesday we leave Prague bright and early on the train for Salzburg, requiring several connections. Hopefully we arrive in Salzburg in time to do the Sound of Music tour, though not actually with a tour group…just on our own. Between Prague and Karlsruhe, Germany, there are no historical sites on our itinerary, so we will be more like tourists for the next several days.

 

June 22

Planning a month-long trip through Europe, sleeping in 20 different locations, and using public transportation for 99% of our travels was a tremendous undertaking. And so far, knock-on-wood, as we still have 11 days to go, it has been relatively uneventful with no surprises, missed connections, or lost reservations.

One leg in our travels is from Belgrade, Serbia to Prague, Czech Republic. Time didn’t permit stopping in other cities in-between. The cheap airlines didn’t have any good connections or fares, so I opted for an overnight train. Gets us there and saves having to get a place to sleep. Tickets had to be booked over the phone in advance (done, in March). I used a very reputable agency with lots of positive reviews. Agency says they will deliver to our hostel by time we get there.

Guess what…no tickets. Agency is closed for the day, and the next day is Sunday…will they be open? See the concern? Plan was to head to the agency and see if they were open and might have our tickets.  Otherwise, we would have to buy another set for the sleeper car ($$)…that is, providing there were any available.  We had originally planned to be in Belgrade yesterday instead of today, but unavailable sleeper coaches caused a domino-effect of changes to reservations before and after Serbia.  No sleeper, and we might be stranded in Serbia!

Just as I was getting ready to trek out to the agency, the owner of the agency shows up at our hostel with the tickets, apologizing profusely for likely causing any stress (um, yeah!).   Crisis averted!

The Nikola Tesla Museum is just around the corner from our hostel.  I went right at opening time.  It is very small, and I was through it in 20 minutes.  I waited around for the tour and demonstration. The displays were interesting.  They have many replicas of Tesla’s equipment on display, as well some of his original equipment, and his ashes are interred in a spherical urn.

There was a 20 minute video in English, followed by some demonstrations of AC induction motors, hydroelectric power generation and transmission, and of course, a large 10-foot Tesla coil.    Guests were invited to hold fluorescent tubes while the high-frequency electric field from the coil made them glow.  I’ve done this demonstration for my classes using a smaller coil, but seeing it with such a big coil was impressive, even though I’ve done it several dozen times myself.

Tesla had built a coil apparently large enough to light up tubes several miles away and had dreams of providing wireless lighting to the entire world for free, but that never happened.  Tesla did, however, make lasting contributions through his invention of the AC induction motor, electrical transformers, the adoption of alternating current to transmit electrical power, and the invention of radio transmitters (Marconi gets the credit, but it was really Tesla’s ideas…Tesla even sent Marconi designs for a transmitter, signing them with Marconi’s name).

With nine hours to kill, Karen and I headed out to sight-see in Belgrade.  Stops included St. Mark’s Church, the National Assembly Building, old-town Belgrade, Belgrade Fortress, shopping areas, the CityAssembly, the Presidential Palace, and the St. Sava Temple (Serbian Orthodox).  The pedometer said 6.58 miles, so we cooled our wheels back at the hostel until our train is scheduled to depart for Prague (via Budapest) at 9:45pm.

Serbian National Assembly

Serbian National Assembly

Typical street scene of apartments in Belgrade

Typical street scene of apartments in Belgrade

A long ways from Indiana

A long ways from Indiana

Belgrade Fortress that protected the city in earlier times

Belgrade Fortress that protected the city in earlier times

City Assembly Building behind Pionirski Park

City Assembly Building behind Pionirski Park

St. Sava Temple

St. Sava Temple

 

 

June 21

Bombed-out Yugoslav Defense Ministry building in Belgrade

Bombed-out Yugoslav Defense Ministry building in Belgrade

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Entrance to our hostel in Rome

The Italian Amalfi coast, as seen from our flight from Rome to Belgrade

The Italian Amalfi coast, as seen from our flight from Rome to Belgrade

Saturday is mostly a travel day from Rome to Belgrade, Serbia.   Attraction in Serbia is the Nikola Tesla museum.  A 30 minute train ride to the Rome airport on the Leonardo Express shuttle found us at the EasyJet bag drop desk.  We were about #10 in line.  No problem, right?  They only had one agent working, and she was very slow.  Then people ahead of us were being told that they were too early, their flight was not “open” yet, and they would have to wait to check their bags.

Now if you know anything about Italian temper and their fondness of waiting in line, you can probably guess what this turned into.  The line swelled to over 100, people were cutting in line, elbowing each other out of the way, and cursing.  There was still only one agent working (fault EasyJet…the customer service survey will be a delight to fill out!), and she clearly didn’t have a grasp on when luggage could be checked.  She got so exasperated at one point, she just got up and walked away for a few minutes.

Finally, a horde of agents poured in, took their stations, and the gears of low-budget airlines in Europe started to turn.  My observation is that they brought some of the problems on themselves.  All of the pre-trip emails and reminders say get to the airport early, really early!  So we all did, and they couldn’t handle us.

Uneventful hour-long flight to Belgrade.  From the air, the Soviet-bloc era high-rise apartments are easy to see.  It also becomes apparent on landing that one is behind the former Iron Curtain.  Signs are written in Cryllic and Latin words that resemble nothing like English.  Heading into the city, the old architecture was impressive; the buildings from the Warsaw Pact era are rather depressing.  Our hostel is about six blocks up the street from Slavijic Square.  We checked in and relaxed for a while before heading out to find some supper and the travel agency that supposedly has tomorrow’s train tickets (read the June 22 post).

Along the way, we came across the former Yugoslav Defense Ministry Building that was bombed by NATO forces back in 1999 during the Serbian War.  The building was never torn down, and remains today.  Rumor is it is being torn down to make room for a Trump property.  Tomorrow is the Nikola Tesla Museum, and some sightseeing around Belgrade until our train leaves.

June 20

Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

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St. Peter’s Square – Vatican City

Roman Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

No historical scientists on the agenda today, so when in Rome…do as the tourists do and go the Vatican and the Colosseum.  The Vatican was a must-see, and the lines to get in are notoriously long, so I had reserved tickets to the Museum and the Sistine Chapel nearly two months ago and got a 9:00 slot.  So glad we did that.  Our innkeeper advised us to get there early, even having tickets, as the advanced ticket-holder line can be long.  We arrived around 8:30, and found the non-ticket holder line to be already a block long.  We bypassed the queue, went straight to the turnstiles where we went right in, no fuss.

The tour groups are getting to be a bit annoying…a herd of 20-30 pick-your-country tourists wearing wireless narration receivers, following around a guide holding a slender metal stick with a flag, sign, or sometimes just a scrunched-up colored satin fabric.  They clog up the walking paths, block the photo opportunities, and generally make the experience less pleasant.  I am a tourist, I guess, but I try not be be so overt.  The trick is to “join” one of the English-speaking groups that paid lots of extra money for the guide.  If you stay close enough to the guide, you can hear their narration without needing their wireless receiver, and you get the narration for free.  They move pretty slow, though, so we skipped from one group to the next.  If I ever find a slender piece of aluminum tubing, I’m going to tie a piece if red silk to it and start parading around a tourist site and see what happens.

The Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel were amazing, though.  I won’t say a lot more here, other than to to say the rooms went on and on.  Each ceiling seemed to be even more ornately decorated than the other.  I will post a few pics here, but since this is a science history blog, I won’t add more detail.  We did also go into St. Peter’s Basilica, and it is breathtaking as well.  This past Christmas Eve, Karen and I were watching the midnight mass on TV, hoping to ourselves that we could see the Basilica in-person.  Our dream was realized!

Not knowing how long it would take at the Vatican, or if we would even be able to get to the Colosseum, I did not buy advance tickets.  We ended up waiting over an hour to get tickets, but finally made it in.  I’ll put one picture up here as well.  More pictures of the non-science stuff will be on my Facebook page.  Send me a friend request if you are not one of my Facebook friends.

Karen and I are both feeling the wear and tear from 20 days of walking anywhere from 6-11 miles per day.  Europe has had a warm spell the last two weeks as well, so it has been warm and somewhat sticky most days.  We are spending the remainder of the day resting, getting ready to fly from Rome to Belgrade, Serbia on Saturday.