churches, customs

A visit to St. Elizabeth’s Church, the Russian Orthodox Church in Wiesbaden…

Although we will have lived in Wiesbaden for four years at the end of November, there are still a lot of places in Hesse we haven’t yet seen. A big reason for that is COVID-19. Things have really only been somewhat normal since April of this year. There are a few other reasons, too… one of them being sheer laziness and feeling slack because not that many people read my travel blog anymore. Nevertheless, I still enjoy writing it and taking photos, and I know there will come a day when I’ll look back on these memories with fondness. So, with that in mind, I let Bill talk me into another excursion today.

St. Elizabeth’s Church is also known as the Greek Chapel. It was built between 1847 and 1855 by Duke Adolf of Nassau, to pay respects to the death of his 19 year old wife, Grand Duchess Elizabeth Mikhailovna of Russia. The couple had only been married a year when the duchess died in childbirth, as did their baby daughter. The duke was so bereaved that he decided to build the church around the duchess’s grave in her honor, using money from the duchess’s dowry. It is now the site of the largest Russian Orthodox cemetery in Europe, outside of Russia itself.

I had long been wanting to visit St. Elizabeth’s Church, a beautiful golden domed Russian Orthodox church on Neroberg, a hill overlooking one of Wiesbaden’s most tony neighborhoods with very grand homes owned by wealthy people. This church is the only Russian Orthodox church in our fair city, and besides being lovely, it offers some beautiful views of the city. There are also other things on Neroberg, to include a vineyard, a couple of restaurants, a pool, a climbing forest, and lots of walking paths. To get up to the church, one can either drive and hope to find a parking spot, or hope to find a spot at the bottom of the hill and take the Nerobergbahn, which is a funicular that goes up and down the hill. It’s also possible to walk or bike up there, but that’s definitely not for people like me. 😉 Especially in August!

Bill had warned me that today there would also be a large climate change protest in Wiesbaden, with many people riding bikes to rally for Earth friendly policies. Remembering last week’s Stau on A3, I was hoping we wouldn’t be hindered by the crowd. Fortunately, as you will see in the photos at the end of this post, we were leaving Wiesbaden, as they were coming in. Based on what we saw in Wiesbaden itself, there’s going to be quite a party going on. I know there was a food truck festival going on, too, but after last week’s shenanigans at the wine fest, we decided the church was a better bet today.

It took us a few passes to score a parking spot near the Nerobergbahn, and when we did find one, Bill had to parallel park. That shouldn’t have been hard in a 2020 Volvo with parking assist, but I don’t think Bill trusts it. Fortunately, he was able to park the SUV, and we made our way to the funicular, where we purchased tickets going up and down the hill. It’s important to note that the current 9 euro train passes don’t work on this funicular. You have to buy tickets, which at this writing, cost 5 euros per adult. If you just want a one way ticket, it’s 4 euros. They also have special rates for groups, families, and kindergarten groups with children. The ticket can also be combined with tickets for the climbing forest, which appears to be an adventure/tree climbing/zip line park for people more fit than I am. 😉

The funicular runs until 7:00pm at this writing, and there are two wagons that continually go up and down. The car is enclosed, so face masks have to be worn. As much as I hate masks, it makes sense, since it gets kind of chummy in there. If you score a standing place on the caboose, you don’t have to wear a mask. The ride is about three minutes or so, and you don’t see much as you go up and come down. Still, it beats walking.

When we got to the top of the hill, we went to a nearby Biergarten and had a snack, since I was a bit hangry and needed a bathroom. There were lots of people there, and I heard several different languages. I felt a lot less grouchy after Bill and I shared a Flammkuechen (Alsatian pizza) and washed it down with beer. I don’t even like Flammkuechen much, but I didn’t want a Schnitzel or a piece of cake. It was just enough, and after we ate, we walked around and got photos. I really just wanted some pictures of the view of downtown Wiesbaden, and the beautiful Russian church.

I already had Russia kind of on my mind, thanks to an advice column I read yesterday in the Washington Post. A woman wrote about how she’d married someone from Eastern Europe, and his family shows love by pushing food on guests. She explained that she has a lot of food issues, and isn’t comfortable eating a lot. I noticed a lot of the comments from Americans, most of whom either have no experience with Eastern European cultures, or no appreciation for other cultures. I commented that I empathize with the letter writer, since I had been a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Republic of Armenia, which is a formerly Soviet country. Food is a big part of their culture, which is all about hospitality. One of the first phrases we learned as Peace Corps Trainees was how to say “I’m full.” in Armenian. We were also taught how to signify that we were appeased, so the host(s) didn’t feel the need to keep bringing out food. Leave a little food on the plate.

Someone else commented that they had also been an Peace Corps Armenia Volunteer, years after I was there, and was going to write the very same thing! And I had also mentioned that Armenians would always comment when I lost or gained weight, too. That was another aspect of that culture I remember with somewhat less fondness. Sigh…

Anyway, I thought of that exchange as we decided to visit the inside of the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s two euros per adult to go inside. One thing I had forgotten was that Orthodox churches don’t allow people to go inside with bare legs. Bill and I were both wearing shorts, so the lady behind the counter apologized and asked us both to put on wrap around skirts. It was a little embarrassing, but then I remembered the Armenians (and Greeks, now that I think about it) were the same. We had to cover our legs to enter the churches and not wear revealing clothes. I also told Bill to be careful not to cross his legs. That was another caveat we got in Armenia, lest some little old lady chastise us for being disrespectful. I smiled at Bill and said, “It’s taboo.” And now that I have looked it up, I see that my memory serves me correctly. Of course, it didn’t come up anyway, since the church doesn’t really have anywhere to sit. I mean, there aren’t any pews or anything. Maybe a couple of chairs.

Photography isn’t really allowed inside, but I snuck a few photos anyway, since I had to wear a skirt. No one noticed. I did appreciate the smell of incense and the beautiful Russian choral music. St. Elizabeth’s Church really is a very lovely church and well worth a visit. I’m glad we finally made the trip to see it.

After our visit to the church, we walked back up the hill to the overlook, where we saw a World War I memorial and gazes at Wiesbaden from the vantage point of the hill, in view of the vineyards. It was very beautiful. I might have liked a few fewer clouds, but given how dry it’s been here this summer, I’d say the clouds were probably Heaven sent.

Here are today’s photos…

Well, that about does it for today’s post. I’m glad we went out today and got to know our city better. It sure is POSH.

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Chasing lakes and waterfalls in Aus-cro-slo-aus… part six

Saturday, October 30, was the big day. It was also really cold and foggy that morning. Bill had purchased our tickets for the Plitvice Lakes National Park for 10:00am. We were allowed to enter the park only from 10:00 am until 11:00am. I think this system is to prevent huge crowds of people showing up at the same time. It’s probably better for the natural environment and everyone’s enjoyment if the crowds are staggered. Of course, COVID-19 also makes the crowd staggering important, as it prevents too many people mingling and creating a superspreader event.

The park’s Web site recommended dressing in layers. I was cold enough that I took that advice. I wore heavy wool socks, a hoodie jacket, and my big Irish wool coatigan (basically, a long cardigan that zips and stretches enough to cover my beer gut). After breakfast, we made our way to the park. I was a bit afraid that it would be foggy there, as it was at the house. But as we entered town, the fog lifted, and we had glorious sunshine. It was going to be a great day for a walk through the sixteen named lakes, several unnamed lakes, and waterfalls that make up Plitvice Lakes.

I took so many pictures over the six hours we were at the park. Bill and I ended up walking almost the entire park. We did Route C, which is the third longest. If we had done Route K, we would have been there until nightfall and I would have probably needed an intravenous line. As it was, I was exhausted by the end of our day, but I will never forget the incredible beauty of the lakes and falls, even if the crowds got a little bit annoying. Brace yourself for lots of photos!

After about a half hour of walking, I knew that I was going to get too hot before long. I had been cold at the beginning of the day… but walking makes body heat. Plus, the sun was out in full force. We were very lucky, weather wise. I also got some videos of the waterfalls, which I will eventually turn into a YouTube video. Maybe I’ll get to it today. Maybe not.

Edited to add… here’s the video!

Phew… this was a trial to make on many levels!

As we were walking, jaws dropping at each new sight and the huge panorama of so many brilliant colors, I couldn’t help but realize that summer and late spring are probably madness at this park! But I’ll bet it’s so beautiful, too, since everything’s blooming and green. I’m sure this park is beautiful no matter what time of year it is. I think they do close part of it in the winter, though, which is smart, since there are a lot of slippery areas and the paths don’t usually have guardrails. I wonder how many people have fallen into the lakes, even though swimming there has been forbidden since 2006.

It was at about this time that we found ourselves at one of the several rest stations. This was where toilets, souvenirs, and food were, as well as the boats to the other side of the park. I was ready for a rest, so we went into the restaurant, where sandwiches and french fries were available, as well as a dizzying and surprising array of drinks, many of which contained alcohol. We stuck with good old Croatian beer. It’s important to know that cash is not accepted at the park, so bring your credit card if you visit. Also, don’t buy anything at the souvenir shop if you’re just getting started, because you’ll have to cart it with you… I didn’t learn this the hard way, thank God.