Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Europe Day 10 (Wednesday)

We didn’t wake up early. Oh well. The weather has made it so the Gondola ride is not a possibility. The ride is about a 5 hour experience and WOULD have been awesome but they do not open it if the weather is bad. We got up at 9 or so and went down and had our 9 (a piece) euro breakfast (satisfying-ish though). We checked out of the hotel only to find that the damn hostess last night didn’t return the extra key we gave her to a place where the morning hostess could find it. The morning hostess could not reach the evening hostess so we were screwed out of a 50 euro deposit fee on the key. Hopefully this will be refunded when the chick finds it. Damnit.

We headed onto the highway realizing that we didn’t get any good pictures of the enormous glacier that sits on the mountaintops above our heads. We spent a good amount of time driving around looking for a good vista point and eventually decided upon a driveway in someone’s back yard. Good view though! Driving out of Chamonix was gorgeous though. It’s like driving out of a much larger Yosemite Valley during the spring when everything is very green. Great waterfalls and all!

We finally arrive in Paris. Lots of terrible traffic going the opposite direction but the real fun didn’t begin until we got into the city. As you can expect, driving in this neck of the woods is bloody terrifying. I am of course not the person who is doing the driving but just being in the car is pretty insane. Motorcycles everywhere, traffic everywhere, streets that are not built for cars, no sense of parking, no sense of space, claustrophobics nightmare, and neat buildings. We are staying this night at the Westin in Paris. As I mentioned before, Dipper cashed in some of his rewards points for our first night’s stay in Paris. We get this room for free and its supposed to be 690 Euros a night. That’s about 1000 dollars for an evening here. Fisties.

Really nice here though. Not a big room, but elegant. I am paying 7 euros for 1 hour of Internet to post these blogs and make a few calls but I suppose its worth it J. We are going to go out with Ryan’s sister and her friend tonight as they are staying in Paris as well. Should be good jet lagged fun for them.

Everything in Paris is expensive. EVERYTHING. Internet expensive. Parking is 26 euros for 24 hours. I have yet to experience the food and I would normally write about it in this blog but I don’t think we are going to pay again for internet here unless we decide to be slightly masochistic. Maybe tomorrow at the slightly less baller hotel.

We are off. Hope all is well! J

Europe Day 9 (Tuesday)

This was a day that Ryan was looking forward to regardless of the fact that it was set to be one of the more intense (length wise) driving days. The plan for the day was to head out of Italy into Niece to have lunch and then drive to Chamonix, France. In general distances in this area are covered faster than you would think because the traffic moves much much faster. It’s pretty normal to hold speeds between 90 and 100 miles an hour unless there is roadwork which we have definitely run into our fair share of. We drove the 2 hours into Niece which was a pretty uneventful experience. Lots of boring roads and some through the mountains that were more interesting.

Niece itself turned out to be a disappointment. This is supposed to be a resort town with a bunch of busy beaches but the weather was absolutely shit. Overcast and lightly raining every 10 minutes doesn’t tend to bring the most active of beach crowds. Beaches in France are also supposed to be an experience because there are no rules about attire so there is a strong lack of clothing tendency. The US‘ rules are much more socially conservative than France’s. We ended up not having the opportunity to observe. Empty beaches J.

We had lunch at a tiny shop in the downtown area where a Parfaits and sandwiches were had by all. Once finished we headed out of Niece back into Italy en route to Chamonix, France. We actually had to drive a good ways back into Italy to hit the highway that headed into the Alps. I did discover something here on the road north in Italy. Italy may be the one of the few countries in the world that can compete with California in terms of diversity of Geography. Beaches, grasslands, what can be called desert-ish areas (or very arid areas for lack of a better term), and the very high mountains (the Alps). Its absolutely amazing how fast the scenery changes. The far northern parts of Italy are amazing and the drive into the alps is breathtaking.

In order to get to Chamonix we had to drive through the Mt. Blanc tunnel. This is an absolutely enormous tunnel spanning almost 12km in length. If memory serves they had a huge fire in the tunnel a few years ago that claimed many lives so they have viscous speed cameras and very strict rules about how automobiles pass through the tunnel. The speed limits in the tunnel are about 70km (about 44mph). It’s a crazy experience considering that the tunnel basically goes underneath an enormous mountain with a glacier on top. Other than that, it’s a slow and pretty boring drive through a very straight tunnel. Not to mention it costs almost 50 dollars US to drive through it!

Our arrival in Chamonix was bittersweet. The city is a huge resort town in a clearing between Mt. Blanc and the rest of the Alps. The weather however was absolute rubbish. Rainy, windy, and cold. Given that the one thing we wanted to do here was take the Gondola up over the glacier/mountain top, the outlook was not good. We decided to check into the Hotel and find something to eat. We decided to have Fondu which was ultimately the heaviest meal we had had so far. Yum though. Given the crummyness of the weather we also began to investigate the possibility of using some of Dipper’s points to stay in a nice Hotel in France one day early. This was disappointing because the Gondola ride is supposed to be amazing.

However, given the quality of hotel Dipper was able to book for us, it is at least a minor silver lining. We are going to be staying at the Weston in Paris! We headed to bed early knowing that we had a ton of driving (a day early) to do in the AM!

Europe Day 8 (Monday)

This is our last full day in Cinque de Terra and we were determined to experience a bit more of the atmosphere around the area. We woke up at a slightly more reasonable hour and went down to purchase some goods for breakfast. We were able to scrounge up some nice looking fruit and chiabatta bread + pesto for a reasonable price so we felt like that was a good enough breakfast. Given the expense of some of the dinners, this was not too bad at all. I purchased some lemon juice that turned out to be just that… without sugar. Painful, absolutely painful to drink. I gave up several sips in knowing that I’d never make it through.

Given that there are 5 towns up and down the coast here we decided to make the hike up to Vernazza (the third town). We really had no idea what to expect so we went down to the information office and purchased our passes that allowed us to travel up and down between the towns on the trails. This was 5 euro apiece but given what we were about to experience it turned out to be a sweet deal.

Admittedly the trail up the coast was a bit hairy. It wasn’t to the point of ridiculousness but at times the trail was pretty skinny and there wasn’t much to our right hand side but cliff face. The views were absolutely gorgeous though. Nothing but crashing waves and epic ocean views. I would say that it took us about an hour and a half to complete the walk but we didn’t stop much and tried to keep the pace up. I think that most people probably take about 2 hours if they are committing to a leisurely pace.

When we got to Vernazza we dithered a bit as to what we should actually do but we agreed that food was probably going to be necessary. We decided upon a seafood restaurant that was also a pizzeria that was about as reasonably priced as the rest of the restaurants around. Food was good except for the fact that Dipper got nothing resembling his order and Ryan decided he was not a fan of the way that shrimp is served in Italy. I think he has a point given the rather ‘whole’ nature of the beast when it arrives on your plate. You have to do quite a bit of digging at the whole shrimp to get to the meat. Given that I am only marginally partial to seafood in the first place, having to wrestle the meat from the dead shrimp dude would probably put me off it pretty quick.

Our original plan for the day was to hike to the city beyond Vernazza but given that we were all feeling exhausted and sunburned we decided that we should probably head back. We ran to the train that takes you back to Monteroso and rushed to buy a ticket. The schedule for the trains really doesn’t make any sense and there is only really one constant. They are nearly always late. We were able to make the train that was supposed to arrive 20 minutes before we got there. The train had a few downsides. We were not able to sense a molecule of moving air through the cabin while the train was moving. This made for an extremely stuffy experience and we were lucky that the entire ride lasted less than 5 minutes. I was feeling very nauseous by the end and was glad to get off the train.

From here we decided to go up and shower because we were pretty gross after not doing so for 2 days and then going on the hike. Hot. After doing so we waited until dinner time and then ate at a restaurant referred to as Chiak. We had walked by it 7 or 8 times before and always thought that it looked pretty good. Ryan ordered Mussels which presented him with a HUGE bowl of Mussels that were cooked to perfection. I am really no judge but they were incredibly good. Overall its was probably up there with our best dinners had in Europe.

After dinner we were determined to find some Prosecco so we stopped by a few shops and landed in a place that gave free samples to nearly every guest that walked in. They handed us 5 or 6 half shots of random liquors. This was an interesting experience purely on account of the fact that you could probably go in there and 20 minutes later be tossed. Good times, for some! We ran into a couple of girls here that I spent 10 minutes convincing Dipper to go talk to with minor success ultimately. He decided to do so and Ryan and I went back up to the Place.

After about an hour and a half we decided to go down and check on him. We found him in the “Fast” bar which is supposedly the American bar in Monteroso. We had avoided this place since we got there because we had no interest in visiting an American bar while in Italy. Dipper found it to be momentarily worthwhile but opn learning that each of the girls possessed several veto-worthy qualities, wished that we had come and disturbed him sooner. Regardless, Ryan and I had packed for the next day and gone to bed by the time Dipper came home with the news of how lame the chickies were.

Until tomorrow!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Europe Day 7 (Sunday)

Slow day. U2 sucks. (that is for Dipper)

This is actually a holiday here in Monteroso al Marre. The Holiday is something like Corpus Domini. What it means for tourists is that the streets are littered with flowers and decorations. Its really neat but we didn’t have much time to check it out. We decided that we were going to spend the day relaxing, as the last days have been an absolute whirlwind. Not to mention far too much alcohol.

We went down to the market and wanted to find some food on the cheap so we found some fruit, pesto, and chiabatta bread. This was an awesome lunch and it should last for tomorrow as well. We went back and ate it overlooking the ocean at our room and had a relaxing time. From here we had a chat amongst ourselves and then decided we wanted a nap. Shocking.

We actually slept from probably 3:00pm to about 7:00pm. From here we dragged ourselves from the bedroom and decided to find some dinner. We had dinner overlooking the ocean at probably the most reasonably priced restaurant in Monteroso. Probably spent about 40 euro for drinks/appetizers/main courses/dessert. Cheap day, which we needed after Venice (I hate Venice). ☺

We had another long walk around the city checking out the bars and then decided that Sunday is obviously not the night life evening of choice and then headed back to the guest house. Dipper and I are as we speak enjoying the bottle of Prosecco that we didn’t consume last night and taking it easy. We plan on making the hike to the other towns tomorrow so I should have more to share.

Miss you all ☺

Europe Day 6 (Saturday)

We were insanely glad to get off this bloody Island. Venice sucks. However, Dipper was very excited about the opportunity to visit Murano before we headed off so, what the hell? Murano is the place in Venice where they manufacture/create some very nice glass sculptures/art. Some of it really is very beautiful. I must admit that I was entering a state of extreme jadedness but I tried to grin and bear it (I probably failed).

The trip there was yet another long boat ride that didn’t help our spirits. The highlight of which was me getting lectured by several old Italian ladies who knew very well that I didn’t speak Italian yet still decided to lecture me on my pronunciation of the word Murano. BURRRRRRRRRRAAAANO. God damnit. I hate Venice.

We stayed at the glass factory for about 35 minutes before deciding we really had had enough. To make matters worse, we purchased some lemonade slushies from a stand near the Boat-Taxi area and then got bitched out by them because we considered sitting down at the tables outside. No NO. If you want to sit down it’s a 5 euro charge. Fucking hell, seriously? I mean really? There was noone there! I hate Venice.

We finally got back to the car and paid our 20 euro parking charge. Finally getting back on the road we had to get fuel. Italian petrol stations don’t make any sense at all and it took nearly 20 minutes for us to figure out how to pay them and place the petrol into the tank. There wasn’t just a language barrier here, it just doesn’t make any sense. I hate Venice.

From here we basically drove for 5 hours. Venice is on the extreme East side of the continent and Monteroso Al Marre is on the extreme West side. It took nearly 4 hours on the Autostrada (highway) to reach countryside in Italy that was actually worth looking at. Dipper drove some of the trip, which was… an experience in and of itself. Manual transmission is not his favorite, so to speak. Most of this countryside reminds me of the parts of the drive between Sacramento and LA that noone wants to look at it. There were 1 or 2 slightly bitter comments coming out of my mouth from the backseat here.

Once we reached Monterroso everything changed. This place is fantastic. Basically a small town nestled in a Italian hill/cliffside that is right on the ocean. Not a lot of parking but we got the last spot in the only parking structure. Awesome! The car will basically stay there for 3 days anyway. Cinque de Terra is a series of 5 towns that are very close together. You can hike or walk between them as the roads are not particularly wide or frequently used for automobile travel.

We had a bit of trouble finding the place we had reservations to stay at though. We were staying in Manuel’s guest house, which is a place that Rick Steves (traveling tool) recommended in his book on Italy. We walked up an amazingly steep flight of stairs that the directions told us to get to the top of looking for house # 39. We found 38 and 40/41 but 39 was nowhere to be found. We ran into a couple of girls who had just gotten to Monterroso as well but they were not able to find it either. We ended up having to call Manuel and go all the way back down the stairs (with all the luggage) and then going up a completely different set of stairs that were much more epic in height up to one of the higher points in Monterroso. It was painful with all the luggage but WOW what a view. I have pictures and will post them soon.

We decided to go ahead and get showered and then go grab some food. We wandered around the city for a while before actually deciding on a place though. The ocean is gorgeous and not too cold, the atmosphere is really neat, and the prices are nowhere near as outrageous as Venice (I hate Venice). We finally decided to go eat at a small place that wasn’t too expensive on one of the side Alley’s of the city. Dipper had a great plate of pasta/seafood and Ryan and I had Pizza for 7 Euros. Yum.

After dinner we spent an hour wandering and decided to purchase some champagne for 10 Euros a bottle. We also wanted to check out this bar that we read was nice down by the ocean. This turned out to be one of the more ridiculous alcohol infused nights. A liter of red wine at dinner (it was ass, but…whatever), 1 shot of some lemon liquor at the bar + more champagne, then we went and slayed one of the bottles of champagne that we purchased without pouring any into cups while watching the ocean in the dark near our place. Good times.

We also got to watch the Italian guys that worked at the bar kick the futbol around for about 30 minutes. Its awesome to watch these guys who have been playing all their lives juggle the ball. We played a bit with them but mostly acted as someone to kick the ball back.

Good night for now!

Europe Day 5 (Friday)

I am thinking that this is going to be a bit shorter entry because we spent the majority of the day driving but I told myself that I would continue to do this blogging thing if it killed me so here we go…

We left from Venice in the early AM (about 7:00) and headed out onto the highway. We wanted to make sure that we hit the Grossglockner at a reasonable time because there are only certain hours when it is open. This pass goes through the Alps and costs 25 euro to go through. It is also one of the most incredible roads in the world to drive on as it is very windy and has many switchbacks. On top of that, it is very well kept and smooth.

It goes from about 4000 feet up to about 12,000 feet and then comes back down to about 1000 feet. It is a very radical climate change that occurs going up and doing this pass. We started with cloudy weather at the bottom, merged into rain and then snow and then back to rain and then back into cloudy. This was probably the coolest thing I have ever done. Driving through mist crowned canyons and snow-covered mountains in the Alps was absolutely breathtaking. Ryan’s car handled like a dream and shot around the corners like… something that goes around corners really well. Again this is probably something better experienced in pictures but you get the idea.

Once we got out of the Alps, it was still raining (shocking) but barely. We noticed a fairly good sized waterfall off to the right side of the road so we got out and snapped pictures of it. Turned out that it was a national park but we didn’t have time to do the hike associated with it. Continuing to drive South, we eventually entered Italy.

The scenery essentially went from gorgeous to somewhat ordinary after we got out of the mountains. The roads to Venice were very southern California esque and the Italian drivers are definitely a smidge on the crazy side. Basic road etiquette is to tailgate someone if you want to pass them and to go as fast as humanly possible when there is not someone in front of you. If you don’t fit into either of those categories, stay in the right lane. Other than that, you’ll live if you avoid the city streets.

We had our first Italian dining experience in an extremely dodgy town that we stopped in for the sole purpose of putting something in our extremely famished stomachs. No one in the restaurant we chose spoke English but we were able to get by on the basis of pointing at things and repeating items that the waitress described. Excellent food overall but dipper somehow ended up with a slab of pork for his second entre. This has been becoming a habit.

When we finally got to Venice we had to park in a huge garage and then take a boat onto the island. The boat ride was long and rocky but we made due. We arrived at the hostel and checked in. This place struck us immediately as having a much younger crowd than any of our previous residences. We had to put sheets on our beds, lock our valuables and head out. Our beds most definitely left something to be desired but as this was the only youth hostel in Venice, we felt like we didn’t really have much of a choice so we complained semi extensively and then took off for the main sights.

If I were honest here, our opinions about Venice never really arrived at a state greater than luke-warm. We noticed immediately the huge crowds of tourists and large quantities of small tents selling cheesy Venice labeled items. Very soon after noticing this we simply started walking the back alleys and making a semi-conscious effort to avoid the huge crowds. This was impossible at two locations. St. Marks square, which incidentally took us nearly 2 hours to actually find given the confusing nature of every single sign in Venice. The architecture here is very impressive and probably would have been a more impressive place to visit if our spirits weren’t already down and we had more time. We also had a hard time avoiding crowds at the huge bridge crossing the Grand Canal. There were more random tourists here snapping pictures of themselves in front of the Venice boat traffic than I have ever seen at large New York monuments. Ew.

The highlight of the evening was after another hour and a half boat ride around the island. This was the dinner that we chose by finding a restaurant that was as off the beaten path as humanly possible. Our initial restaurant choice seemed to have been shut down on account of… some safety regulation (oops) and the place that we chose had absolutely marvelous prosciutto. We ended up drinking too much champagne but what the hell, it was cheap! Only 15 euro a bottle! I feel as if alcoholism may be swiftly entering this vacation. Oh well.

Off to sleep in the Toys R’ Us-creak-every-5-seconds-not even-when-you-move bed. Ugh. Get me off this island.

Europe Day 4 (Thursday)

Left a little late from the Hostel today as we were packing up after 3 days. Tried to take care of making sure that we got to Austria in one piece. We made it out of Munich unscathed and made our way through the German countryside out towards the Austrian countryside.
On the way to Salzburg we had heard that there was a very interesting castle built on an island in the middle of a lake. The place was called Castle Herreninsel in the Chimsee. This was a palace created by King Ludwig II. Reasonably impressive looking place that was lifted (copied) in style and grandeur from King Louis XIV. We had to take a 20 minute Ferry ride to the island and then we very much wanted to go inside the place so we were forced to take the guided tour.
I think that I would be remiss if I did not at least take a moment to mention the worst meal by far that any of us have had during the trip. Of course, eating in the location that we ultimately chose was the fault of Dipper. We were not expecting glorious food but what we actually had was a Snitzel Sammul, a Cheezburger, and a Salami Sammul ( we can only assume that Sammul is sandwhich). The cheezburger was nuked before it was given to me and it looked worse than any mcdonalds hamburger. The Snitzel was like a piece of fried pork between a sad looking bun. The salami sandwich.. was … just like it sounds. Of course this ended up costing us about 18 Euro. … 28 dollars. There are pictures that will be posted later (probably by Dip).
After we got up to the Castle from the boat dock (about a 10 minute walk), we made our way through multiple gardens and fountains to the massive stairwell into the castle. From here were guided by our tour guide (English speaking!) into the main entrance of the castle.
The experience was awe-inspiring. The room had a huge branching marble staircase and vast ceilings and walls covered with French (inspired) paintings. Most of these paintings were either of Louis the XIV himself or battles that he took part in. King Ludwig was absolutely enamored with Louis the XIV. From here, we were informed that we were not allowed to take pictures inside. Upset at this fact, I snapped a few quick shots of the ceiling and then placed the lens cap on. I would soon find out that it would have been nearly impossible to take pictures in the Castle anyway because of the lack of light but, still it was amazing.

Nearly every room full of gold, porcelain, and candles. There were entire statues and flower bouquets made out of porcelain. In King Ludwig’s dining quarters there was a table in the center of the room that was attached to an elevator that could be lowered into the servant’s area so that food could be placed upon it and then raised back up. The elevator took two people 10 minutes to raise and lower. This was all done because King Ludwig did not want to have to deal with the servants personally. While continuing to describe the place is probably difficult without pictures, it is worth while to mention that King Ludwig lived in this castle for 9 days before dying in bed. The place itself had something like 50 rooms. Only 24 of which were completed because he ran out of money. You can actually look many of the uncompleted areas though. Pretty cool stuff.

Ryan of course wants me to mention the fact that it is STILL raining/cloudy outside. Glorious.

We finally headed back to the car and made our way towards Salzburg. We had to stop at the Austrian border to pick up a neon green vest to wear in the event that we ever needed to exit the vehicle on the highway. This gave us the opportunity to pick up a few snacks that we could not eat in Ryan’s car due to the new nature of his vehicle. Regardless, it was almost enough to hold us over until we could have an actual meal. This was becoming more and more necessary as we realized that we didn’t have anything to eat for dinner the night before.

Austria is absolutely beautiful. Salzburg is by far my favorite city so far. It is very small. A bit more touristy than Munich but only to a microscopic degree. They have a small bit of publicity due to it being the birthplace of Mozart but other than that it is a small town nestled in the mountains with no less than several cathedrals and a castle on it’s horizon. We were staying in what can only be described as a Catholic school dorm room. This is also the nicest place we have stayed in thus far. We had our own room with three beds and our own shower/bathroom. Awesome. This was nice to have given that our previous evenings did not actually involve copious amounts of sleep.

In order to arrive at the hostel, we had to locate a position that the GPS that has been saving us all over Europe could not find and then once it was located we had to drive down a pedestrian pathway and get yelled at by an upset Austrian woman. While this was irritating, we were ale to be on our way in reasonably short order. We got in the Hostel and were very pleased with the luxuries we were presented with. Our own room AND bathroom. Magical. We had internet and showers so we could not have been happier. We had plans to go to dinner at a restaurant that was famous for giving a Mozart concert and a 3 course meal all in the style/genre of Mozart.
We got dressed and left significantly early for the restaurant so that we would have time to wander the streets. Salzburg is incredibly clean and very pretty. It is ever so slightly more touristy than Munich but not even so much that you notice it. Munich had the atmosphere that an 18 -22 year old would love but Salzburg is much more comfortable for a slightly older crowd. As you walk around the city your sights are filled with green hills, amazing architecture, and castles on the horizon. The city is separated down the center by a very quick flowing river and everything about it brings a smile to your face.

We tried to use the GPS to locate the restaurant but were unable to make it cooperate properly so we ended up having to ask someone in a hotel if they could help us find it. Apparently the place is reasonably famous so he knew where it was and quickly had us on our way. We reached a large open area where the restaurant was located in a corner. I noticed that right next to it there was a large door and we had some time so we went in. What lay inside is probably the most beautiful church I have ever seen. This is no easy feat due to the sheer number of churches I have visited and my propensity to be insanely cynical about religious landmarks. Regardless of religious leanings this place is amazing. I learned shortly that the church was St. Peter, Salzburg. It didn’t have any crazy remains or body parts of saints in it but it was dedicated to St. Peter and Paul. The ceiling is absolutely amazing and painted within ellipses at the highest points. It is filled with marble and the pews are carved out of very heavy wood. They aren’t comfortable to sit in (none are) but they are very nice to look at. I will have to post pictures of this place later. Utterly awe inspiring.

After leaving we went over to the restaurant and were sat in their concert haul. We were pretty densely packed in but I was not uncomfortable. The plan was to have a concert intermixed with our particular courses. Before we got started the group performed selections from Don Giovanni and then our first course was served. This was Lemon Cream Soup with cinnamon. Very very tasty. Something I have never had before but it was very satisfying. After that course the group played selections from Le Nozze de Figaro. Given how much I have been listening to this opera, everything was very familiar to me and quite well done. We were then served our main course which was Roasted Capon Breast with polenta and truffle-sage-cream sauce, potatoes and vegetables. This was also very good. We were then presented with selections from Die Zauberflot. Desert was a semi frozen parfat of honey. This was probably my favorite course as it was just the perfect amount of sweet and cold. Yum.

As I am slightly elitist about musicianship, I must point out that all of the pieces were preformed by a 6 piece string orchestra with harpsichord accompanying a baritone and a soprano. Both were very effective but the baritone’s voice was a bit darkly toned for my taste. The soprano was very pretty and looked like she could not have been more than 25. She had a very powerful voice but had a tendency to power her way through sections in Le Nozze that could have benefitted from a bit more finesse and subtlety. Other than that, a superb evening. After the concert/dinner we headed home feeling like we wished we could spend more time in Salzburg but knowing that we had to leave early for Venice in the morning as it was about a 6 hours drive.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Europe Day 3 (Wednesday)

Right. Well another long day. We took off at around 9:30 to head over to the BMW-Welt to pick up ryan's brand new Beemer. We were able to reasonably swiftly work the Munich Subway to get over there in a timely fashion and due to the early nature of our arrival, we were actually able to arrange for delivery of the car early.

There was an extensive presentation that came with picking up the car that involved a run-down of all the car's features in a really neat presentation area with touch-projection screens and displays. Ryan also took part in a virtual test drive of the car to experience all of the features first hand. This was done because people who buy vehicles in the US never get an adequate test-drive. It is normal in Europe for a person to take abmw out for 2-3 days before purchasing it, much less the 10 minutes we in the states normally get the vehicle for. This was impressive and after we were finished with the presentation, thebmw representative took the three of us down to view the brand new car (0 miles).

This was quite an experience. They had a spotlight on the car and it was on a turning platform. The full treatment. After once against explaining all the dials in the car, they took a picture:

And sent us on our way. Part of the experience is actually driving the car out of the Welt. Ryan did NOT stall the vehicle and we drove it out as intended. After having a snack at the (premium) lounge we headed back out to the car and decided to head out to Dachau for an uplifting (sarcasm) experience. This involved finding petrol for the vehicle and driving the streets of Munich for the first time. With the exception of driving down a two way street obviously intended for only 1 bicycle, the experience wasn't too bad. Gas is probably the equivalent of 8 dollars a gallon here. Probably cost us about 120 dollars to fill the tank from 1/3 full to full. Ouch. Good times though.

Dachau was probably the most sobering moment of the trip so far. The memorials are striking and touching. Although I spent quite a bit of time in school (during the course of the history minor) reading about the horrors and ill treatment of the jewish population during WWII, there is absolutely nothing like experiencing the location first hand. Once you walk in the gloomy looking gate you are blown away by the expanse and enormity of the compound. Most of the barracks were torn down when the camp was liberated in 1945 but several remain where the museum and several memorials are now located. The information areas and displays within the old barracks are very well done and leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. It is incredibly difficult to not at the very least be choked up at the site of the imagery presented and descriptions/captions. We were there for probably an hour and a half and it was very difficult to consider staying much longer.

Dachau was not an extermination camp but a camp where more than 250,000 people were housed and more than 40,000 killed/tortured/murdered. This was one of the earliest camps and when the SS took over in 1939 ( that may be slightly off ) became a model camp for the rest. Regardless, quite an experience.

When we finished here, we moved on to a monestary/brewery/beer garden that was many kilometers outside of Munich called Andech's Monestary/Brewery. I don't know if it was just luck but the three of us seem to have had a knack thus far for finding places that are the bare minimum of 'touristy'. However, this is the first place that we have went where I felt like I was being looked at purely on the basis of the fact that I was speaking english and carrying a camera. I normally don't mind but it made me feel a little awkward here. The monestary itself was actually quite gorgeous. A little too Jesus-Y for my taste but you know how it is. The monestary had a gift shop that sold 75% crucifixes. Seriously. More crucifixes than I have ever seen in my entire life on one wall. I took a picture of it but I actually needed my wide angle lens to get them all inside. Praise Jesus.

I took alot of pictures of the whole place but what was a little more impressive was the beer. Glorious. We also had a slab-o-pork and some potato salad whch was pretty glorious although i did feel my heart exploding inside my chest. Which was good. Right? We are talking one layer of dark meat. One layer of fat. And one layer of fried skin. This is like something Scott would love. Although I must admit it was tasy.

After the what turned out to be extremely strong beer ( I only discovered this during the drive home when I felt exceedingly sleepy), we headed back to the Hostel to relax a bit. My feelings of sleepyness were shared with the other two guys so the Hostel seemed like the best course. Here we hung out and had more beer (probably more beer than I drink in 3 months in 3 days here). Happy hour at the Hostel goes from 6-9pm and during this time beer can be had for 2 euros. Pretty nice. The Champions League cup final (futbol) was on so we decided to watch it there amongst the rest of the young people. We met a few interesting people and had many drinks with them and realized that we all felt a bit old here. I went to bed at around half time as I was bloody tired.

On a final note, Ryan would like me to point out the fact that the weather is crap here. I have not seen the sun since I flew into Heathrow and even there, it dissapered in the time I had there. There doesn't look to be much of a chance that we will see it untill we get to the US as the weather report remains rather grim. I normally enjoy the cloudy weather but it is kind of taking away from the overall incredibly green and fantastic scenery. The roads and scenary in Germany are pretty breathtaking.

Take care for now all.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Europe Day 2 (Tuesday)

The three of us probably slept a combined 4-5 hours Monday night so Tuesday started at a crisp 4:30am… at least for ryan and I. We tried to go back to sleep at around 5:00 just on account of our own self preservitory tendencies but snoring bitch was having none of it. Woke up around 7 and had our 3.90 (euro) breakfast that consisted of meat, foul coffee, lots of oj, swiss and cheddar cheese , lots of jams and chocolate sauces… you know … different sort of breakfast but… edible for the price. Note, dipper last to get up.

Although we knew from the start that getting through the day was going to be rough, we had no idea how bad it would actually be. We went to Viktualienmarkt which is a reasonable sized farmers market of sorts that is the absolute opposite of ‘touristy.’ Spent time wandering around and looking at wares. Lots of non English speaking germanish stuff going on. Very few of vendors spoke more than a dozen word English. Isn’t culture fun. We spent some time discovering how to ask questions that may, at least at a glance, make us look less like American dbags without a clue. I think we almost mastered how to ask if someone speaks English. Our pronunciation needs work. Note: Germans seem on the whole less overly poite than the English or our folk state side (even superficially)

They had huge numbers of very interesting looking spreads and meats here. Possibly will sample later. German food note: Raw fish and onion sandwich with skin on.
From here we decided to take a shot at getting our BMW tour early. As ryan is picking up his car on Wednesday, we initially thought we would do it then but why not give it a shot? The BMW factory is in across the street from Olympiapark the home of the 1972 olympic games. Huge building, very modern, have pictures. Tons of gorgeous cars. Spooge.
Highlight #1. Premium lounge. Lounge available to people doing Euro delivery on their BMWs. Pretty exclusive shit. Free food. Free all. Had two meals here. Tons of coffee. Countless sodas. Only possible improvement. Beer.

Had to wait for the 1:30 tour, Premium lounged it for nearly 2 hours. Ballin’ out of control.
Tour over two hours. We had several fade in and out moments due to extreme exhaustion. Overall, very impressive. Car building robots, bloody amazing. Car painting robots, impressive. Robots. Badass.

Note from Ryan: From a mechanical engineers perspective, these robots (specifically the assembly line ones) were a real thing of beauty. The speed, precision, and dexterity of these machines is something you can really only comprehend when you see it. Massive arms probably extending 20+ feet with several twisting and rotating joints in between made moving these giant steel car parts look like nothing. Now picture countless of these robots working in series perfectly choreographed like a dance. Amazing.

No pictures inside of factory but it was definitely something to behold. After tour, made an attempt to caffeine up a bit more at the ‘premium lounge.’ We were insanely insanely tired so this was the only means of survival at this point. Caught an early glimpse of ryan’s car that we are picking up tomorrow and got to watch an extremely excited azn pick up his white bmw. Red Leather. WTF.

Decided to take the subway back to Odeonsplatz to take a gander at some of the recommended sites in Munich. Really neat architecture. Tons of pictures. Also, lots of really expensive shops. Rolex, D&G, Prada, etc.. Win. Watches that cost more than ryan’s car. Good game. Ugly watch too. Sould have taken a picture of the 34k Euro watch. Wtf?

We walked back to the hostel knowing we were unlikely to make it much further. This was probably around 6:30 and we decided to chill in the Hostel lounge for a few hours to try and even out our schedules. Jet lag was in extreme need of being owned. Ryan made me stay up. Dick.

In his endeavor to this, he brought out beer after beer after beer. In his defense, they were only 2 euro. Happy hour! Spent nearly 2 hours attempting to talk dipper out of being a moron. Little success achieved. Lots of breath wasted. Work in progress… Same old story.
Went to bed at around 11:00. Ryan and Dipper decided to stay up a bit longer and chill w/ the Chicago croud. Loud bitches.

Europe Day 1 (Monday)

Europe Day 1
Arrived in Heathrow at 7am. Long taxi into Terminal 4 followed by a commute to the fated Terminal 5. This terminal is brand new (opened in February) and by now is almost infamous for an absolutely catastrophic opening few months. Tons of baggage lost and confused travelers. British Airways and Heathrow seem to have been making a conscientious effort to improve things and based upon my experience they have succeeded to at least a reasonable level.
Immediately off the plane I walked onto a bus that took me to Terminal 4 where I followed tons of signs to connections for Terminal 5. Once I got down to the lower portion of the terminal I was directed towards another bus driven by a very terse English woman that was destined towards Terminal 5. The ride took almost 20 minutes and went through long underground tunnels and other forgettable portions of the airport.

Terminal 5 from the outside is a dauntingly gorgeous piece of engineering. It looks almost like an enormous (like the size of a military hangar) glass and concrete wave. Once inside, I was pushed through security for the 5th time in 3 days by reasonably efficient English folk who at first glance didn’t seem to hate their jobs.

After I got through security I was blown away at the size of the inside of the Terminal. The ceiling was more than 100 feet above my head and the terminal itself is supposed to be more than a quarter mile long. The inside is densely packed with high class shops (prada, coach, etc…) all of which are crazy expensive. Its almost like a ritzy mall that planes just happen to take off from.

Reasonably comfortable though as there are copious amounts of chairs and lounges. There is also a ‘multi-faith’ room (wtf????)…. Where people can go to meditate and pray. I figure if there is one volatile area in the whole airport, that has got to be it. I went in for an obligatory “praise jesus” and then was on my way.

I had almost 5 hours to kill before my connection to Munich was schedule to depart so I made an attempt to sleep. I failed. I was pretty wrecked regardless of my inability to sleep. Attending Elizabeth’s wedding on two hours of sleep and then having to wake up at 8:30 to leave for the airport with the Woodruffs did not make for any more alert of a day.

Flight to Munich was pretty short. Tried to sleep. Failed.

Munich airport is brutally efficient and easy to get through. Customs basically looked at me, stamped my passport and then peaced me. Easy. My bag was essentially waiting for me when I walked out of customs. Unfortunately I had to wait almost an hour for Ryan and Dip to arrive from their terminal with the ride.

Our ride was a very nice gentleman by the name of Ralf. He works for BMW and gave us a ride into the Munich city center where our hostel is. He also sat down with us and gave us a rundown of many of the things to see and do in town.

Hostel is pretty good actually. Not in any way skeezy or dodgy. I was honestly expecting crap so this place is pretty good. Bathrooms are very clean, rooms are freshly painted and very clean. We have 3 beds in a 14 or so bed area. All of the people are nice and diverse in nationality. There are the obligatory college students from the states and some others.

Once we got settled we went out for some food/beer. On our way to finding food we walked into a group of incredible musicians doing a concert. They performed the overture from Rossini’s Barber of Seville on one violin, one bass, one cello, and an accordion. I was blown away how good they were. I could have probably stayed there and watched for a long time but hunger took over.

We visited a restaurant mildy off the main road in an effort to find something less touristy. Although we seemed to be frowned upon ever so slightly when entering the place due to our lack of ability to speak German, we quickly warmed up to the very good beer and food. I figure if the three of us have 1 goal for this trip, it should be to be able to order beer in all of the languages of the places we visit. Seriously.

After the food we walked down the road to the Hoffbrauhaus which is a huge touristy beer hall where they serve… beer. Shocking. Its very loud and reasonably atmospheric but the idea here is beer. When I say beer I mean big fuck-off liters of beer. The three of us all went in and did one. Given our lack of sleep and sub-par nutrition due to traveling we were all pretty wrecked at this point so we headed back to the hostel which has a bar that is open to 4am. We had waters here and then decided to go to bed. Tried to sleep well but it was hard once the buzz went away. Bitch ass dude kept snoring. Put iphone headphones on and listened to Mozart for an hour to try and make it to sleep.

- travel pussy – (condom brand in the beer halls… awesome.)
- t – Punkt (T-Mobile in Germany)
- Christ (some shop that is everywhere… everytime I see it… I think… oh nm)