Monday, July 18, 2011

Travelogue: Germany, June 2011

Wow, it's been a year since I blogged here. But it's hard to describe a week-long trip abroad in short snippets on facebook, so I thought I'd write it out.

I left on Saturday, June 25. John was nice enough to drive me to the airport for my 6am flight to Newark. (oy, I'm never doing that again!) Then I had five hours to sit around the airport to wait for my flight to Stuttgart. I watched a movie on Netflix (TiMER), watched some Wimbledon tennis in the Heineken bar, and even got a little work done.

The plane was mostly full of Germans. There was one poor German woman on the plane whose son didn’t board in Newark… she cried half way across the ocean. (But he’s 24… he can probably deal.) I didn’t sleep much at all on the plane. I watched Rango during/after dinner, and then tried to sleep but couldn’t… and then with two hours left (at 5am), the guy behind me decided to play some kind of game on the screen on the back of my seat. UGH. No matter how many times I turned around and either gave him the 'evil eye' or asked nicely for him to stop... he just poked harder at the screen.

The passport agent was scary, but maybe that’s because I was so damn tired. The luggage carousel was “smart” – bags that came up the ramp stopped until there was space on the carousel for them to drop. Really quite impressive. (very German) Had a bit of a time finding a money machine… and realized at that moment that I probably have Euros in a drawer at home. Sigh. (as it turns out, I didn't have Euros... Plenty GB pounds, and Costa Rican colones, but no Euros.)

Took a taxi to the hotel. (30 Euros!) Gray weather and very muggy. The taxi driver didn’t speak English, so I sat and read my phrase book and tried to figure out where we were. Then I was so tired when I checked in that I didn’t even give them a credit card. And of course my room was in the other building, so I have to go underground (to floor -2) and walk down a long hallway full of African art (for sale) to the Park building, where I go from floor -1 to my floor. That walk got very old.

Took a nap for an hour, and then a hot shower. I had to eat (breakfast on the plane was just a croissant with jam and OJ), so I had standard European breakfast of bread and cheese and ham and jam, and some coffee at the hotel. Whew, that was expensive! (and I had to pay cash because I hadn’t given them a credit card! Oops!)

I wandered down to the center of town, where the big old buildings and museums are, and the shopping streets. Unfortunately, everything except the cafés is closed on Sunday. So I meandered, and it was hot (they were having a heat wave, it was 85!). Had to stop at Starbucks and get some water – that’s the only place I could find where you could get a bottle of water to walk around with. Saw the Schlossplatz and such, took photos. (See my Stuttgart photos posted on Flickr) People were dipping their feet in the fountains! I was the only one not wearing shorts. Went back to the hotel and tried not to sleep too much…. Then my colleague called and asked if I wanted to go to dinner.

So the American group went to dinner – me, Suzy, Ashok, Steve, and eventually we were found by Merle. We wandered a bit, checking out the menus, and ended up at the Paulaner brewhouse, sitting in the sun. (Between that and the earlier part of the day, I got a sunburn on my chest!) I had a beer, two Weisswurst and a pretzel, and it was fantastic. The honey mustard was great too. I’m now a huge fan of Weisswurst – which are apparently only supposed to be eaten for breakfast. Oh well.

I slept really well on Sunday night. I think all the walking helped. We had a quick breakfast and then took the subway out to the University center. It was HOT! I had dressed up and I got seriously sweaty. The meeting room didn’t have A/C either, which meant that around 3:30, when we were all starting to doze anyway, it got really warm. Luckily, Dan and I had to give our presentation then. He was totally wiped- they flew in on Monday morning and drove from Frankfurt. But the presentation went well, and we were done around 5pm.

Maria came and picked us up – thank goodness I didn’t have to hike back to the subway! – and we got to rest for a bit before going to dinner. Unfortunately, the restaurant where we had dinner also wasn’t air-conditioned. But the dinner itself was AMAZING. The waiter offered us a special deal… lots of mixed appetizers and then a fish dinner and dessert. He spoke German, English, Spanish, Turkish, and Italian, if I counted correctly. The appetizers just kept coming – sliced veal, green salad, seafood salad (like ceviche), fresh baked pita bread, tomato-mozzarella caprese (very fresh), and Italian antipasto. Then there were two kinds of fish and a giant prawn on the dinner plate. Then the three desserts – a chocolate-covered profiterole, a lava cake, and tiramisu. Between that and the wine, and the heat in the restaurant, I was done.

Tuesday morning we had breakfast at the hotel (most of the American group left earlier because we had arrived late when we took the train on Monday!) and then Maria drove us to the meeting. After the meeting, the HLRS guy (whose name I don’t know!) showed us the Porsche driving simulator, made from an actual Porsche. Wow. I didn’t try driving it. (see photos on Flickr for that too.)

We left HLRS and drove south to Burg Hohenzollern. It's 2800 ft above sea level. We climbed about 700 of those feet, from the parking lot area. (or at least it felt like that!) The castle was closed when we got to the top, but it was so beautiful. We had ice cream snacks before the walk, and got some water. When we got back to town, Dan was wiped out, but Maria and I went to dinner at a pub just up the street from our hotel. Typical German brewhaus – dark wood walls and benches. They had pretzels and mustard on the table – yum! I had wienerschnitzel (about time!) and a side salad drowning in dressing. Maria had a steak and creamed spinach, which was pretty tasty. By the time I got back to my room it was after 10pm!

We met for breakfast and took off at 9 to go to Neuschwanstein Castle – the one Disney modeled his castles after. It was about 2 hours away, and we had to pick up our tickets at 12:30 for the 1:30 tour. We made it, and took the bus up the hill. Unfortunately, once you get off the bus there’s a hike – both up to the bridge, and then down and back up to the castle. Oy. At least I know my heart can take some serious stress after that! My legs and feet… not so much.

The castle was incredible. We climbed lots of circular stairs… it was gorgeous. Poor Ludwig only lived there for a few weeks before his "mysterious drowning," and most of the rooms were never finished. And you can’t take pictures inside, so the guidebook is 12 Euros. (I didn’t buy one.) The view was amazing. Then we hiked back to the bus stop and took the bus back down the hill to have lunch. More Weissbrat sausages for me! And fries! Then back in the car to go investigate the next thing. Unfortunately, by the time we found the recreation area that Maria found with the cable cars to the top of the mountain, the rain clouds were rolling in, and the mountaintop was obscured, so we didn’t go. (it was also $25 per person to go up and back!) So instead, we drove around Bavaria, and accidentally crossed the line in to Austria! We turned back after a mile or so. We drove through some cute little towns until we found a road that paralleled the highway, and eventually got back on the Autobahn going north. I'm pretty sure Maria was having fun driving at over 150 km per hour. :)

They dropped me off at the University train stop and I took the subway back into town. It’s really an honor system, like the Prague subway was – no turnstiles to check your ticket, you just have to make sure you have one, or it’s a 40 Euro fine. I made sure I had a ticket. I walked out the wrong exit from the train stop, but it got me to a little takeaway place where I bought dinner to bring back to the hotel. (a curry chicken wrap and dried apple slices.) Outside the movie theater down the block from the hotel, they had the ‘bumblebee’ Camaro from Transformers -- I forgot the movie was opening this weekend. I should've taken a picture. I was exhausted, but it took me a while to fall asleep.

Thursday, I got up and had breakfast in the hotel, and went back to my room to check in for my flight. [Paying for Internet access in the hotel was highway robbery!] Then I figured out where the Mercedes Benz museum was, took the S-bahn train north a few stops, and walked to the museum (feet hurting already!) with a gaggle of teenagers who were going to the same place. I’m suddenly very short on patience for groups of kids like that. Maybe it’s worse here because I couldn’t understand them if they were talking to/about me? Hmmm….

Anyway. The museum is beautiful. Starts from the top and comes down in a spiral. I was really impressed at their handling of WWII history. It was restrained, correct, and clear. They had Princess Diana’s MB coupe, which she had for about a year before the Windsors made her give it back. And the Pope-mobile, and some other well-known cars. The gift shop was ridiculous. I might have bought a magnet of just the MB logo, but they didn’t have one. So bleh.

Walked back to the S-bahn, eating the PB crackers that Maria gave me. Thank goodness for those, because I really think I would have passed out otherwise. Got off the train at a different stop – the main train station - and sat down at a café in Schlossplatz… I sat in the sun for a while but that was too hot and I was getting woozy. Bitter Lemon helped, and “meatballs” and potato salad. Still a little woozy, I got some ice cream and walked back to the hotel. Went by the Ulla Popken store – nice women’s plus-sized clothes! I took a nap and put my feet up, that felt SO good. Puttered around watching CNN until 5:30, when I went down to get dinner. I felt like I was finally figuring out the streets of Stuttgart, finding the back way to/from things. Shame, since I was leaving the next day.

For dinner I went back down by the Paulaner café, but I chose one of the Italian places instead. Had a big bowl of ziti with pesto and red sauce, and a homemade lemonade. Wandered around a bit more – it was a good thing I took a picture of Neues Schloss on Sunday, because by Thursday, it was all covered up for the start of Jazz Fest on July 1.

I was really getting a kick out of watching the CNN international coverage of Wills and Kate’s visit to Canada.

I had exactly enough Euros to take a cab back to the airport on Friday morning. It's a really small airport, so all I did was buy a bottle of water and a candy bar, and we boarded the plane. I hate how much longer it takes to fly west across the Atlantic... 10 hours later, we landed at Newark. I was so glad to be back!

I think I'd like to go back to Germany to visit Munich and maybe Berlin. Someday.