Archive for the 'Travel – Europe' Category

He was only there for two weeks, and he’s already talking like a Brit.

My hubby:  “I can’t imagine trying to see The Crown Jewels in the summer.  The queue would be unbearable.”

Me:  “The queue would be unbearable?  Who are you?”

Claire:  “Momma, that’s Daddy!”

🙂

2:41 a.m.

So, we had an exciting weekend. We got to take Daddy to the airport twice on Sunday. Yes, twice. He forgot an integral piece of the puzzle required for his work trip, and thankfully remembered it right before we got to the airport as opposed to after we’d dropped him off and he’d gotten through Security.

So, we get off the main highway headed toward the airport and get back on the highway and head back home. “Yea! Daddy’s not going to London!” Claire shouts from the backseat. “Nope, sorry. Daddy’s still going to London. Hopefully he catches his plane in time,” I said.

Luckily, he did. That was a relief.

That evening, we’d already been invited to a Playdate/Dinner Party at a friends’ house. We opted to go sans Daddy. This was actually the perfect prescription for Claire. She missed Daddy, but she was thrilled to play with her friends.

This time, three families gathered for the evening festivities. There was a 5-½ year old boy, a 3 year old girl, a 2-½ year old boy and two 2 yr old girls (including Claire). There was also an 8-month old boy.

The old me would have been like, “Is that Dante over there? Wait…which Circle is this?” The new me was glad that Claire had other kids to play with. They weren’t all siblings to each other, so there was no fighting. It was awesome.

It was the perfect mix of ages, and the kids had a blast playing and eating and playing some more together. (The 8-month old spent a lot of time in the sling or being passed from adult to adult. He was in that perfect age where he was so smiley and easy-go-lucky.)

It was a nice, relaxing evening of food, fun and great conversation. It was just what we needed.

After the party, Claire and I came home and we got ready for bed. She went down with no troubles, even though she really missed Daddy.

Midnight rolled around, and I checked the online flight status page: Flight landed. I sighed a huge sigh of relief. I realize that me watching the status page has no bearing on whether or not the plane lands on time, but I like knowing. It’s harder for me to sleep if I don’t know.

It’s early Monday morning, and I’m finally in bed. Morning will be here soon. Must get to sleep…..

2:41 a.m. my cell phone rings. I jolt awake and scramble for the phone. I flip it open and see my hubby’s name. I press Talk.

“Hello?”

He’s all apologetic for waking me up. He asks if it’s like, what 4 or 5am there? “Nope,” I say. “It’s 2:41.  In the morning.” Then, he’s even more apologetic.

“No worries,” I reassure him. And, I mean it. I’d told him to never hesitate to call me if he needs something. He knows to call the cell phone rather than do the math in his head. If I’m asleep, my cell phone will wake me up, but Claire will not be disturbed by the house phone. If I’m out and about, he doesn’t have to waste time trying the home phone if he calls my cell. It works.

“What’s up? You made it!” I feel so relieved to hear his voice.

He explains that the flight was pleasantly uneventful and that he’d found the proper trains. He had a question for me, though…

“Have you done the shredding yet?”

I laughed to myself, picturing me in my robe shredding things while Claire slept in the next room.

“Uh, no…” I said. I usually do that on Mondays so that the pile doesn’t get out of control. Sometimes I do that on Saturday to get a jump on the week ahead, but he was in luck. I hadn’t had time this weekend.

“Good,” he said. “I need you to find something for me. For some reason my PIN is not working on my Corporate Card, so I’m afraid I have it wrong. Could you check the paper that the PIN came on? It’s in the To Be Shredded pile in your office.”

“Sure,” I said, as I stumbled around in the dark, the back-light from my phone on my cheek nearly blinding me in the dark.

In my office, I’m looking through one eye squinting at the pile of papers. He’s talking in my ear about the flight and trains and general stuff.

“You really sound awake,” I said, realizing that I didn’t.

“I feel a lot better this time than last time,” he said.

“That’s good. You know? I can’t find this paper anywhere. Are you sure you put it in my office?”

“Oh…I should have told you. It’s the size of a postage stamp!” he said.

“WHAT!?” That little piece of information would have been helpful at the beginning of this task.

“I kinda already tore that page up and put just the part with the PIN in your office. It should be near the top of the pile. It’s a teeny tiny piece of paper.”

Sure enough, there it was. I wasn’t looking for something so small! I read him the number.

“Hmmm, that’s the number I tried. Maybe there was something wrong with the ATM I was using. I’ll try it again later today. I have another favor to ask…”

“Sure. Whatever you need. I’m starting to feel a little more awake,” I said, fibbing but not wanting the conversation to end.

“Okay, well, for some reason, the network isn’t working with the address book on this phone, and all the numbers I programmed into it are not available. I need to you go downstairs and look at one of the notebooks on my desk.”

I know that my hubby carries a notebook with him for work. He keeps all his meeting notes and objectives and To Do’s in it. So, I know kinda of what he’s talking about. I go downstairs, and as I’m almost to his office, he says, “I’m going to apologize in advance…”

“Uh oh. What does that mean?” I ask. I mean, what could be worse than trying to find a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp in my shredding pile?

“Let’s just say that my coworkers tease me that my notebooks are encrypted…” he said.

“Oh no. Is this like the grocery list??” I ask, knowing that I often need to have help deciphering his scratches if I’m the one that goes to the store.

“Worse,” he said, laughing.

“Ooohhh noooooo… Fine. Tell me what I’m looking for.”

“A person’s name and their cell phone number…”

He proceeded to tell me where he thought it would be written and what it may look like. I found something that may fit the criteria and tried to read it to him. He wasn’t sure if that was right, because it sounded like an office number. So I flipped through even more pages in the book.

“You’re either insane…or a direct descendent of Leonardo Da Vinci…” I muttered under my breath, but actually amused at his scribbles.

“I said I was sorry before you even started looking…” He said. I could tell he was smiling.

“It’s okay. I’m just giving you a hard time. I think I found something that looks like that person’s name and another foreign phone number.”

And, with that, he went off on the next part of his adventure and I went back to bed. Morning was even closer now, and it was even harder to fall asleep, but I was glad to help and relieved to hear his voice.

As it turns out, the PIN worked just fine in a different machine, and I’d successfully deciphered the phone numbers….with squinty eyes…through a groggy haze…at 2:41 a.m.

And, when he called us 12-hours later, he was the one that sounded groggy. He’d successfully stayed up until a decent hour local time and was ready for bed.

Claire got on the phone and said, “I love you so much, Daddy. I’m sad. I miss you.”

Through the phone, I could hear his heart squeaking as it twisted in his chest. “I love you so much too, Claire. I’ll be home before you know it.”

Souvenir

I’ve been so busy…and sick…and busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to sort through my hubby’s pictures from his different business trips yet.

He asked me what I wanted him to bring back for me from his London trip, and I told him that I only wanted a few things:

1. Please look the wrong way first and the wrong way again before crossing the street. 😉

2. Please bring me a London Tube Map. Yes, I’m a dork, and I think those maps are so cool.

3. Please find and photograph a cute little red telephone booth.

Well, he said the first one was the hardest to remember, but they actually have “LOOK LEFT!” or “LOOK RIGHT!” painted on the ground.

He brought me not one, not two, but three different versions of the London Tube Map. A man after my own heart…

And, after a day of searching, he brought me this:

London Telephone Booth

Isn’t it cute?
And red?
And so cliché?
And, did I mention how cute it was?

My hubby was an overachiever and not only got a picture of the red telephone booth, but he got a castle (part of Windsor) in the background! And, if you look closely, you can see an airplane flying above! 🙂

(You can click on the photo to enlarge. Clicking a second time will make it even bigger…)

Bonus points for a really cool souvenir! I love it! 🙂

Things we learned by traveling through Europe

Things we learned by traveling through Europe &
Handy tips for when we go again (in no particular order):

  • It is possible to communicate with someone when you can’t understand a word they’re saying.
  • “WC” stands for “Water Closet,” and is a wacky way of saying “restroom.” Oddly (and luckily), WC is universal in all the European countries we visited.
  • When in a restaurant, just go in and sit down. Don’t wait to be seated. The waiters are very confused by that.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for an English Menu! “Zwei karten auf englisch, bitte” seems to work well in German.
  • Close your menu when you want to order. Your waiter will magically appear within moments.
  • You have to ask for the check. It won’t matter how long you sit there. “Die Rechnung, bitte” is the way to say that in German.
  • Buy small bottles of water and then refill them at the hotel. Carry those in your day-pack. The water is fine to drink in Europe, and it’s much cheaper to do it this way.
  • “Wassa mit gas” is mineral water in German.
  • Diet Coke is “Cola Light” or “Coke Light” in German.
  • Buy food and drinks at the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) before getting on the train.
  • Buy cheap razors and fingernail clippers there – since you can’t take them on the plane. Plus, it’s quite an experience in one of those stores.
  • A detailed city map that costs 2 Euro is worth $500 (especially in Amsterdam). Buy it!!
  • The Eurail Pass is the only way to see Europe! Riding the trains (especially the ICE) is the best!
  • Only one bag allowed! Pack light! Pack an empty day-pack in your bag. Bring it home full of water and treats for the plane.
  • Don’t forget your memory cards or the little adapter for your charger! Digi-cams are awesome!
  • Finally…even if you completely lose your sense of direction, don’t ever lose your sense of adventure or your sense of humor. Sometimes you find the best places and meet the nicest people when you are completely lost. 😉

You can read all about our trip to Europe, and about all our adventures in each city:

Munich, Germany
Salzburg, Austria
Vienna, Austria
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Brussels, Belgium

Our Trip to Europe – Sept. 2004 – Brussels, Belgium

Wednesday, September 29
Travel via train to Brussels
Check into Hotel Opera:Notes from the day:  This hotel has the “scary elevator”…NO DOOR!Brussels is amazing.  Our hotel is literally two minutes or less from the Grand Place.

Thursday, September 30
Explore Brussels
Notes from the day:  We took off on foot and got very, very lost.  🙂  After sitting in a nice little bar with a bartender who spoke French, Dutch and Italian, we finally found our way.  A little old man gave us directions.  🙂

There are over 2000 restaurants in Brussels.  Amazing!

We saw a statue of a naughty little boy.  He was actually naked for our visit.  Sometimes passing dignitaries clothe him.

Friday, October 1
Check out of Hotel Opera by 6:00 a.m.
(to reach train station and airport in time for our international flight)
Travel from Brussels to our local international airport, via Atlanta
Take a ride on the SuperShuttle!
Arrive at our house around 7:00 p.m.

The above excerpt is from the next portion of our Itinerary.  (Be sure to read about the time we spent in Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and Amsterdam.  You can also read about the overall trip, here.)

After our stay in Amsterdam, we were anxious to see what our hotel in Brussels would be like.  Technically, we’d already been in Brussels, as that was where our plane had landed at the beginning of our trip, but we went directly from our plane to the train to Munich, so we hadn’t had a chance to explore Brussels yet.  After stopping at the Tourist Information Booth at the train station and picking up a free city map, we were pretty sure we knew how to get to our hotel.  After second-guessing ourselves a couple of times, we made it!  Luckily, the hotel was awesome!  As you can see from the Itinerary above, it was literally two minutes from the Grand Place, and it was great being so close.

Brussels is a gorgeous city.  Like many of the other cities we’d seen, a lot of the buildings are lit up at night.  It was magical walking through the Grand Place at night with the glow of the lights enhancing the intricate stonework of the buildings.  The attention to detail in the buildings was amazing.

Stonework

So many restaurants, so little time!

There are over 2000 restaurants in Brussels, so finding a place to eat wasn’t a challenge.  Deciding where to eat was!  The food was amazing, and we felt pretty comfortable in such a metropolitan city.

On our full day of exploration, we set out on foot.  It was in Brussels that we got completely turned around and very lost.  We had a map of the city, and we’d marked different landmarks we’d wanted to see.  As we set out, we were having a great time seeing all the sights.  We went into a park, and wandered around before coming out a different entrance.  That’s where we got turned around.  I told my hubby that I felt as though we were walking in circles, but my hubby didn’t believe me.  He’s normally great at “knowing” which direction is which (and I’m not), so he was frustrated that we couldn’t figure out where we were on our map.

We’d decided to stop and look at the map again, when I saw the same little building we’d passed TWICE.  Not wanting to believe me, my hubby insisted that it couldn’t be the same place.  That’s when I grabbed the camera and started clicking back through the pictures.  There it was.  The same little building we were staring at again!  How did that happen??  Where were we??  How do we get to the next palace on our list??

Yep, we’re lost!

Here is that cute little building.

We weren’t angry with each other; we were just frustrated that we were so lost.  We found a cute little pub and decided to warm up, have some hot tea and look at the map after we’d calmed down.  It was about 2pm, and we were the only non-locals in this particular bar.  It was pretty obvious that we were lost and didn’t quite belong there.  We ordered our drinks and I spread the map on the table.  As we were trying to figure out what we’d done wrong, we decided to ask the bartender where we were.  (It’s really hard to figure out where you’re going if you don’t know where you are.  I’m sure there’s a philosophical message in there somewhere.)  😉

Unfortunately, the bartender didn’t speak English or Spanish (the two languages I actually know).  German had started to grow on me since our trip, but he didn’t even speak that!  He spoke French, Dutch and Italian.  My French and Italian are very rusty, and with a combination of hand gestures and pointing to the map, we were able to get him to understand that we were lost.  As we’re trying to figure out how to get to the next palace on our list, this little old man comes hobbling over to our table.  He said, “I speak a’little English.”

“Great!” I said.  “We’re lost, and we’re trying to find this palace,” and I pointed to the map.

“Oh, I know how to get there,” he said as pointed at the door with his cane.  “You go out door.  You turn right.  Taxi stand is on the left!”  You could tell he was pretty proud of himself for being so helpful.

As we sat there, we noticed a street sign on the side of a building across from the pub and that got us back on track.  (A lot of the street signs in Europe are on the sides of buildings and can be camouflaged at times, or missing altogether.)  It was quite a hike from where we were, but we finally made it to the next palace on our list.  I’d always wondered how we would react when faced with being totally lost.  I’m really glad that our first instinct wasn’t to panic.  For whatever reason, I knew we’d get to where we wanted to go, and I knew we’d find our way back to the hotel.  I am so glad we had snapped a picture of that cute little building, or my hubby would have never believed me!  😉

In closer inspection of the map, we saw something entitled “Manneken Pis.”  The drawing that accompanied the name was hilarious, so we had to see this statue for ourselves.  I remember seeing pictures of this statue in the past, but I had forgotten that it was in Brussels.  From the drawing on the map, and the fact that there are signs pointing you in the direction of this little guy, you’d think it would be a massive statue.  It’s not.  It’s rather small.  It is, however, right across the street from a wonderful chocolate store.  Then again, in Brussels, isn’t all the chocolate wonderful?   😉

Manneken Pis

Here is a picture of that naughty little boy.

As I said earlier, our hotel was two minutes from the Grand Place.  We generally took the same route to get there, and we would pass this store a couple times a day.  We never went in, but we would giggle every time we saw the neon sign.  Also, outside this store there was a homeless man dressed like Napoleon, and he had a parrot on his shoulder.  We saw this man at least twice a day, and he was a riot.  No, we didn’t get any photos of him, because we didn’t want to alarm him, and my French isn’t good enough to explain to the authorities how a man dressed like Napoleon, with a parrot on his shoulder, chased us outside the crack store.  😉

Cric Crac

We’d love to go back and see Brussels again, or even explore some of the other cities in Belgium.  But, by the time we got to the end of our stay in Brussels, we were ready to go home.  You know a trip is long enough when you are actually looking forward to getting back to your own bed.  Fifteen days is a long time to be away, and we’d loved almost every minute of it.  Even the parts that weren’t that enjoyable at the time make for wonderful memories.

Our trip back to the United States was relatively uneventful, unless you count all the extra security check-points we were required to do because we were Americans flying into the U.S.  I mentioned before about our run-in with the wonderful security agents at the Brussels airport and the look of disappointment on their faces when they opened our bags and dumped the contents on the floor.  They didn’t quite get the reaction they were wanting.  And, we had been careful to leave all our purchases from the Bipa in Vienna in our hotel room in Brussels, so we had no security delays.  Flying back over so many time zones was brutal, but it was well worth it.  We’d had the time of our lives and had created memories that we’ll never forget.

And, we can’t wait to go again!

Our Trip to Europe – Sept. 2004 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Monday, September 27
Check out of Top Hotel Goldenes Fass
Travel via train to AmsterdamCheck into City Hotel AmsterdamNotes from the day: Well, we found a great hotel to put on our HORRIBLE HOTELS list!! I didn’t want to stay, but I’d paid for the room up front. I should have looked at it first, but I’m not sure where else we would have stayed. The nicer hotels were 4 TIMES as expensive. It was a good excuse to explore the city. I wasn’t impressed with Amsterdam. Maybe the fact that the public transit and garbage collectors were on strike added to that?

Tuesday, September 28
Explore Amsterdam
Notes from the day: Amsterdam leaves a lot to be desired. The map is impossible to read; the canals are sometimes pretty, but mostly gross.

Vondelpark was amazing. (It is large park in the middle of Amsterdam. You actually forget that you’re in Amsterdam.) 🙂

Wednesday, September 29
Check out of City Hotel Amsterdam

The above excerpt is from the next portion of our Itinerary. (Be sure to read about our time in Munich, Salzburg, Vienna and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. You can also read about the overall trip, here.)

As you can see from the notes on the Itinerary, I wasn’t impressed with Amsterdam. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say we really didn’t like it. I know! I was shocked, too! So many people rave about the place, but I wasn’t impressed at all. It didn’t help that we’d left our hotel accommodations in a palace in Vienna just a few short days ago for barely adequate lodging in Amsterdam. If you look at the hotel website, things look reasonable. In person (at least when we were there three years ago), they were wretched. Maybe the hotel has improved? Maybe not. It really doesn’t matter.

I’m not an extremely picky person, but I nearly cried when I saw our room. It was horribly disgusting. I think the state of our room seeped out into the city, and the fact that both the garbage collectors and public transit were on strike just added to the already dismal situation. Or, maybe it was the outside seeping in? Who knows.

I remember feeling very trapped with no other options for lodging. I’d reserved the hotel online, and unless you cancel 48-hours in advance, you get charged for one night anyway. The hotel was was not cheap, and other hotels in the area were even more expensive. We decided to suck it up and use this as an excuse to explore the city.

This brings us to a point that I don’t think I’ve explained yet. In every city on our trip, we’d chosen lodging that was within walking distance to the main train station. Granted, “walking distance” for my hubby and I is probably a bit farther than some would like to go on foot, but we were up to the challenge. We knew that we were there to see the cities and the sights, and we weren’t there to lounge around in the room. If the rooms were comfortable and clean (and gorgeous), that was just an added bonus. We also opted for rooms with private facilities. By staying relatively close to the train station, we could get in and out of the city quickly and relatively easily and without relying on public transportation. That was our goal.

Up to our stay in Amsterdam, we’d been extremely lucky with our lodging, and we’d forgotten what it could be like. We’d been extremely lucky with public transportation and the little things like garbage pick-up. Reality smacked us in the face in Amsterdam, and it was a rude awakening.

When we arrived in Amsterdam, we’d stopped at the Tourist Information Booth and purchased a map of the city. This was the only city on our tour where the maps weren’t free, but once we saw the detail involved, we understood! The canals and streets that change names every block were so confusing. We joked that the 2-Euro map was really worth about $500. 😉

As much as I couldn’t stand the city, I refused to let it overshadow our whole trip. We’d had such a fabulous time up to that point that I refused to let a little thing like Amsterdam ruin our wonderful vacation. We got back to our hotel as late as we could, and we huddled together under the sheets, hoping that whatever was crawling on the floor didn’t join us in the middle of the night. We vowed to set out the next day and find good things we liked about the city. Our goal was to forget we were in Amsterdam.

Vondelpark to the rescue! This was a huge park, and it was amazing. It’s the largest city park in Amsterdam, actually. After wandering through the park, and seeing the vast green lawns, wildlife and over-sized chess game in action, we were able to think straight again, and we got back on track. We did some exploring of the city. The canals were interesting, but pretty stinky. We couldn’t decide if the canals were always gross or if it was the piles of garbage that hadn’t been picked up in days. 😉 Also, I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many bicycles in one place. Very cool!

Vondelpark wildlife Chess game in action Canals in Amsterdam Canals in Amsterdam Public Urinals

Here are some pictures of Vondelpark, the canals and the public urinals. Yes, it’s a public urinal. Men have it so easy in Amsterdam! 😉 (Oh, and I’m not a sanitation engineer, but I’ll give you three guesses as to where the drain from that urinal goes…and your first two guesses don’t count.)

We also wandered over into a certain popular district. We were curious, and to be honest, it was pretty interesting but not that shocking. Later that night, though, we got totally turned around while trying to get back to our hotel, and we ended up in a different part of that district. Needless to say, I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to get out of a place in my life! I felt like I was trapped in a Law & Order episode…you know that part right before someone screams and they start the theme music? I’ll let your imagination take you there…and, you probably wouldn’t be far off. 😉

So, I hate to give Amsterdam such a bad rap, but our experience was what it was. I’m not a pessimist and I hate to sound so negative, but I refuse to sugarcoat something that really wasn’t very sweet. 🙂 If the garbage collectors aren’t on strike, and if your hotel room has no unauthorized guests, maybe it would be a totally different situation. I don’t regret going there, because I appreciate seeing all different types of places. In a way, it made the rest of our trip seem just that much better. 😉 My hubby and I could see going back with a group of friends, maybe as a day-trip from another locale, but anything beyond that would be a stretch.

So, because I believe in ending things on a positive note, here is a picture from the train as we were arriving in Amsterdam, before we knew what kind of adventure we’d have.

From the train outside Amsterdam

Next stop, Brussels, Belgium!

Our Trip to Europe – Sept. 2004 – Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Saturday, September 25
Check out of Pension Pertschy
Travel via train to Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Notes from the day: Rothenburg ob der Tauber was wayyyyy out in the sticks! But, it was worth the trip! It took ALL DAY to get there, with numerous train changes. We went the wrong way from the Train Station, and I asked a nice woman with two children where to go. We found our hotel with her help. 🙂
Check into Top Hotel Goldenes Fass

Sunday, September 26
Explore Rothenburg
Notes from the day: The walled city is absolutely amazing. It was so cold and rainy that we bought a travel umbrella for my hubby and a beret for me!

We walked the entire length of the wall. Just amazing.

We took the tour with the Night Watchman. It starts at 8pm at City Hall and is in English!

Monday, September 27
Check out of Top Hotel Goldenes Fass
Notes from the day: The train actually stopped for us in Rothenburg! The Conductor saw us running and stopped it!

The above excerpt is from the next portion of our Itinerary. (You can read about the previous legs of the trip to Munich, Salzburg, and Vienna, and about the overall trip, here.)

When planning our trip, we did a lot of research in travel books, online and by talking to friends of ours that had traveled to Europe. We weren’t familiar with “The Walled City,” but more than one of our friends told us we *had* to visit if we could find the time. Rick Steves also did a travel show devoted to it. We took everyone’s advice and put it on the itinerary. I’m so glad we did!

Both my hubby and I love all things Medieval. I remember daydreaming as a girl about living in a castle and wondering what it would have been like. I checked out countless books from the library on castle life and as I grew older, I would gravitate toward books set in the Middle Ages. Thankfully, they’ve dealt with the modern issues of sanitation and running water, and have kept the Medieval charm.

Charming mixture of old and new Charming mixture of old and new

Rothenburg ob der Tauber (sometimes shortened to Rothenburg and pronounced Wrote-en-burg) certainly did not disappoint! It is one of the last walled cities left in Europe. As you can see in the notes on our Itinerary, it took us all day to get there from Vienna, and the trip included numerous train changes. Although complicated to reach, it was worth every transfer.

We had decided to travel to Europe at the end of September, knowing that the weather would be iffy, but that the majority of the tourists would be gone. A pessimist would have said the weather was too gloomy most of the trip, but my hubby and I are not pessimists, and we loved it! (We live in an area that is known for its 300+ days of sun a year, so we welcomed the change of pace.)

Charming mixture of old and new

The overcast day added to the old world charm of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We both felt like we’d stepped off the train and into the pages of a medieval novel or onto the set of a Robin Hood movie. Was this real? Surely places like this don’t exist anymore. But, they do!

Going in through the castle wall

The castle wall still surrounds the city, and the only way in and out is through this small passageway. On one of the days of our exploration, we hiked the entire castle wall. It’s amazing, and the pictures really don’t do it justice.

We walked the entire castle wall around the city. The view from the wall was amazing… The view from the wall was amazing…

We’d heard that the city of Rothenburg gives tours at night led by the Night Watchman. We made sure to be in the town square for that one of the evenings. He took us all through the village and gave us the town history and funny stories about the place. He also told us about a pub that we had our list to try. It is a pub called “Hell.” It was great, and now that we think about it, it was a little warm in there. 😉

Here is a view from the Criminal Museum.  There is no view from the Dungeon…

Another place we visited was the Torture Museum. It’s technically called the “Medieval Criminal Museum,” and it’s all about crime and punishment. After looking at the displays, it became pretty obvious that they weren’t really interested in guilt or innocence, but more in the variety of ways to torture prisoners.

Although we had the Eurail pass, we were still required to get boarding passes before taking the train from Rothenburg to our next destination. (There was no additional fee for these, but it was a matter of protocol.) The only place to do this in Rothenburg was at the travel agency at the train station, but our train had arrived after it was closed and it was closed all weekend. We made note of when it opened on Monday morning. We knew we’d have to be first in line to catch the first train out of Rothenburg. We were there bright and early, and the agent told us we’d have to hurry to get to the platform in time. (The train was scheduled to leave 4 minutes after the office opened, and we could see it from the office.) We hurried as quickly as we could through the transaction and ran out the door to the platform. If we missed this train, we’d have to wait for the next, which would delay us a couple of hours, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Just as we ran out of the door and down the platform, the train started to pull away. We were too late! It was leaving! But, wait! The train is stopping! The conductor had seen us running, and stopped the train!! We couldn’t believe it. In a larger station, we would have been completely out of luck.

We were a little rattled from running so fast to catch the train (See? It’s a good thing we’d packed light!), but it didn’t take us long to get settled in. As we pulled away from the station, the walled city got farther and farther behind us, but it had changed us forever. Every time we see a misty day or daydream of Medieval times, we’ll think of our time in Rothenburg and smile.

Next stop, Amsterdam, The Netherlands!

Our Trip to Europe – Sept. 2004 – Vienna, Austria

Thursday, September 23
Travel via train to Vienna
Check into Pension Pertschy
Directions: From Westbahnhof, take the underground line U3 5 stops to Stephansplatz (direction Simmering) and exit Graben. Habsburgergasse is the fifth street on the left side.

Friday, September 24
Explore Vienna
Notes from the day: Schonbrunn Palace – massive estate “summer home” of Franz Joseph and Maria Theresia (Maria Antoinette’s Mom).

We opted for the Classic Pass at the Palace, which includes the Palace tour, the Gloriette (tall monument from where we took some pics), the maze, and the bakery. The hike up to the Gloriette was a tiring one (for me, not my hubby), but it was worth it! The view is amazing. The bakery was extremely hard to find, but the Apple Strudel presentation was amazing! And, it was in German and English! Even better. 🙂

Internet Connection at the hotel was built into a piano.

We ate at the Grechen Biesel, a tiny old restaurant. Pumpkin is in season, and the pumpkin soup was incredible.

Saturday, September 25
Check out of Pension Pertschy

The above excerpt is from the next portion of our Itinerary. (You can read about the previous legs of the trip to Munich, here and Salzburg, here, and about the overall trip, here.) As you can see, the directions the hotel gave us make no sense until you see them in context. When you do exactly what they say, the right signs appear in front of you, and it’s quite simple. I’m not sure we would have been able to find the hotel without them. 🙂

Vienna is a beautiful city. It is the farthest east we went on the trip. Originally, we had wanted to go to Prague as well, but we couldn’t figure out how to get it into the trip without having to rush. We opted to see Prague another time.

Vienna is also one of the most expensive cities on our list. Beauty comes with a price, I guess. 🙂 Our hotel was actually in a renovated palace, and our room was about the same size as one of the apartments my hubby and I have shared in the past. It was amazing.

The lobby of the hotel housed a piano that had been converted into an Internet station!

The piano was converted into a computer station!

We weren’t sure if we’d be able to have email access on our trip, and we did! Here is some email correspondence with family back home. As with email threads, you start at the bottom and read up:

————– Original message ————–
on 9/24/04 9:05 AM, [we] wrote:
Guten tag! It’s 16:19 here (that’s 4:19 p.m.). It is a bit chilly in Vienna today. We toured a HUGE palace grounds today and had lots of adventures.

Tomorrow it is on to Rothenburg, the walled city. We will probably not be able to check email again until we are stateside.

Auf Wiedersehen!

Fraü und Herr [and with our last name, it sounds very formal.]

————– Original message ————–
From: Us
Date: Thu, 23 Sep 2004 19:27:35 +0000
To: My Mom
Subject: Re: Willkomen der Munich!
Mom, can zou please forward this to [my sister], [my other sister], and [my brother]? I am using a German kezboard again, and the y’s and z’s are switched! And, the @ szmbol is verz hard to tzpe!! Zou have to stand on zour head and tzpe it with zour toes, practicallz.

People are waiting, so please excuse these tzpos!!

We are in Vienna, and it is just amaying. Munich and Salyburg are incredible. We just arrived in Vienna tonight, so tomorrow we will explore more.

Not sure if I’ll be able to email again from Europe.

Thanks for passing along the email!

[me] & [my hubby]

21:42 – Donnerstag, 23 SEPT 2004

Vienna, Austria

————– Original message ————–
on 9/19/04 2:47 PM, [we] wrote:
HI! We made it to Munich! We haven’t slept yet, and the keyboard is in GERMAN! : )

We need to get to bed…but wanted to let you know we made it!

Auf Wiedersehen!
[me] & [my hubby]
22:47 Munich

We explored some of the city the night we arrived, and the next day was devoted to more adventure. We traveled by bus out to Schonbrunn, and it was amazing. As you can see from the notes on our Itinerary above, it is a massive palace and estate. You could spend days at that one location alone.

A view of Schonbrunn from the back A view of Schonbrunn from the back

[As you can see, the back of Schonbrunn was undergoing renovations. We took these pictures from the top of monument. It was quite a hike to the top, but the view was amazing! And, yes, we have a panoramic picture of this…]

One of the things I’ll never forget about Vienna is how there seems to be a palace and beautiful courtyard everywhere you look. When we first arrived, we were mesmerized. “Look! A palace! A courtyard and fountain! Look at the gorgeous flowers!” By the end of our stay in Vienna, we were saying, “Oh, look. Another palace and a courtyard and a fountain…oh, and flowers.” The scenery hadn’t changed, but being subjected to such continuous beauty was nearly overwhelming. I wonder if the people who live there realize just how magnificent their city really is?

Vienna was also the city where we ventured into the equivalent of a “drugstore.” (Not an “apothecary,” but more like a “Walgreen’s.”) We were in need of razors, fingernail clippers, and various sundry items that were not plane-worthy, so we asked the front desk clerk at the palace, I mean, our hotel, and she told us how to get to the nearby Bipa.

We’d never heard of Bipa, and it was quite an experience. I remember the sign and the lights outside the store being very neon pink. Inside, it reminded us of a Walgreen’s. Of course, everything was in German. We had fun looking at all the different items and trying to figure out their English equivalent. I had wanted to buy some cheap shaving cream, and that was a little harder to find than razors and nail clippers. I mean, you can see that the razors and nail clippers are what they are, regardless of what they’re called. Trying to make sure you’re buying shaving cream and not some weird potion was a little more challenging. 😉

The busy streets of Vienna

Overall, we loved Vienna. We would definitely like to return. We loved the mixture of the hustle and bustle of the modern world and old elegance of the palaces.

Next stop, Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany!

Our Trip to Europe – Sept. 2004 – Salzburg, Austria

 

Tuesday, September 21
Check out of Hotel Jedermann
Travel via train to Salzburg
Check into Hotel Pension Adlerhof
Directions: From the Hauptbahnhof, take the main exit and walk straight ahead.

Wednesday, September 22
Explore Salzburg
Notes from the day:
Hohensalzburg Fortress
Catacombs of St. Peter
Salzach Cruise
Hellbrunn – water gardens, Sneaky Archbishop has them designed to shoot water at people
Oldest Restaurant in Europe – Stiftskeller St. Peter – serving patrons since 803!!

Thursday, September 23
Check out of Hotel Pension Adlerhof
Notes from the day: Left bags at hotel and took the bus to the Monchsberglift (very hard to find – under construction), and the Stiegl Brewery.

The above excerpt is from the next portion of our Itinerary. (You can read about the previous leg in Munich, here, and about the overall trip, here.)

We boarded the train in Munich and set off for Salzburg, Austria! We loved riding the trains through Europe. The ride was so smooth, and the system is incredibly efficient. It was certainly a treat to be able to sit back, relax and watch the countryside fly by.

View from the train from Munich to Salzburg On the train from Munich to Salzburg

Salzburg was one of our favorite cities on our whole trip. We instantly fell in love with it. The Hohensalzburg Fortress dominates the city skyline, and personally, I couldn’t wait to see my husband experience his first castle.

I’ve been in love with all things Medieval, especially castles, for as long as I can remember. My husband and I share those feelings. In college, I visited my first “real” castle in Spain. I remember the magic of it, and I couldn’t wait to not only experience that again here in Austria but to share that with him as well.

As I mentioned in the post about Munich, each major city we went to has an elaborate mass transit system. Salzburg was great because it offered a Tourist Card that was valid for 48 hours and included free access to the bus system, in addition to other “touristy” deals at different shops, etc.

Our first stop after checking into the hotel was the Tourist Information Booth to get a free local map and purchase the Tourist Cards. Because we were traveling after 9/11, and because of the way some Americans are portrayed, some travelers choose to pretend they are from Canada. We had decided against such a tactic. We made sure we didn’t have any American flags prominently displayed, but we weren’t going to pretend to be from somewhere we weren’t. In front of us in line at the Tourist Information Booth was a couple that was obviously from the southern United States. I’m pretty good at judging accents, and by my calculations, they were probably from Kentucky. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) 😉 What made it comical was that they both wearing Canada Flag T-Shirts, Canada Flag Hats, and they had swatches on their backpacks depicting the Canadian flag.

I highly doubt they’d ever been to Canada, let alone were such ambassadors.

The woman was chatting with them, and we heard them say they were from Canada. She asked them if she could help them, and the man said, “Y’all gotta map of the city?”

My hubby and I grinned at each other. That was the funniest Canadian accent we’d ever heard.

The woman said, “Yes, I have a map for you,” and the man said, “Can I take a gander at it?”
She replied, “I’m sorry? A what?”

We could tell that the woman spoke pretty good English, but she was trying to figure out what a male goose had to do with this man’s request for a map. 😉

After getting our map and Tourist Card, we set out on our explorations. We had the rest of the day and a full day the next to see what we wanted to see of Salzburg. We were even able to do some sightseeing on the day we checked out of the hotel before catching our next train.

Salzburg’s mass transit is a system of busses. After becoming familiarized with a similar system in Munich, it was easy to figure out where we needed to go and how to read the schedule. Each stop included an automated voice announcing where we were. At first, it all just sounded like a melodic blur, but after a while, I was able to pick out that the woman’s voice was saying, “Next stop…and the street name.” It sounded so calming in German, “Nashta halt Keeezl….Nashta halt Mirabell platz.”

Hohensalzburg Fortress overlooking the gardens at Mirabell Palace

[Speaking of Mirabell Platz…here are the Gardens of Mirabell Palace. You can see the Hohensalzburg Fortress in the background.]

The Sound of Music was filmed in Salzburg. Does this look familiar?

Canopy

Also, by the time we got to Salzburg, we were comfortable with not being able to really understand most of the signs around us. When you’re submersed in your everyday life, you take such things for granted. I remember going to the grocery store after our trip and leaning over to my husband and saying, “I can read every single sign here, and those women over there? They’re not talking about us.” 🙂

Salzburg is known for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and we were able to tour his birthplace. As I mentioned before, there is a huge castle overlooking the city. The day we explored the castle was one I will never forget. It’s amazing how much history can be in one place.

Inside the castle walls View from the top Tree inside the castle Looking down on the different layers of the castle

[Photos of the first castle we explored as a couple!]

We also took the bus to the outskirts of town and toured Hellbrunn, a palace that was created by a sneaky Archbishop who liked to surprise his guests by dousing them with water at inopportune times via hidden fountains. On the day we toured the grounds, there was a school group in front of us. We were smart enough to not stand (or sit) where the ground was already wet, a sure sign that you’d get sprayed. The school kids were oblivious to the tell-tale signs and would screech when the fountains shot out of nowhere and splashed them with water.

Hellbrunn is also home to the famous gazebo where Liesl and Franz met and she sang, “I am sixteen going on seventeen.” My hubby isn’t a big Sound of Music fan, but that song was stuck in my head the whole day. Thankfully, I resisted the urge to dance around the gazebo leaping from bench to bench. 😉

A dog statue at Hellbrunn

[A dog statue that caught our eye.]

That night, we had the opportunity to eat at the oldest restaurant in Austria, the Stiftskeller St. Peter. It’s on record for serving meals in 803!! That still boggles my mind. It was a little challenging to find, because it was the only time that I thought my hubby had the map in his pocket, and he thought I had the map in my pocket, and in reality, the map was back at the hotel. (Believe me, that didn’t happen again…) We found a nice woman who was closing up her tourist shop and she gave us excellent directions. (I figured that her English would be sufficient if she dealt with tourists all day.) The winding streets and alley ways made it very confusing, but we were able to follow her, “Oh, you go left, left, left, right, left, right, and it’s just down there,” directions. The food was amazing, and the ambiance superb.

On the day we left Salzburg, we were able to check out of our hotel and leave our bags behind the front desk so that we could do a little more exploring before catching our next train. The trip to Vienna was going to be a much shorter train ride than the ones previously, so we had time to tour the Stiegl Brewery and a little more of the city before heading out!

The time we spent in Salzburg was absolutely magical, and we vowed to return someday.

Next stop, Vienna, Austria!

Our Trip to Europe – Sept. 2004 – Munich, Germany

Saturday, September 18
Leave our house at 5:30 a.m.
Take a ride to the airport on the shuttle
Travel from our local international airport to Brussels, via JFKSunday, September 19
Arrive Brussels
Travel via train to Munich
Check into Hotel Jedermann
Directions: From South exit of Hauptbahnhof, turn right onto Bayerstrasse and walk 8 minutes.

Monday, September 20
Explore Munich & Oktoberfest
Notes from the day:
BMW Museum
Olympic Stadium
Oktoberfest

Tuesday, September 21
Check out of Hotel Jedermann

The above excerpt is from the Itinerary we had for our trip.  I remember being so excited for the trip that I couldn’t sleep.  By the time I had calmed down enough to doze off, the alarm went off.  Normally, it would have been hard getting ready when it’s dark outside, but we were both so excited that we could hardly stand it.  We’d been waiting for this day, and it was finally here!

Of course, when you’re dealing with airports, you play the Hurry Up and Wait Game.  We were ready and waiting for the airport shuttle.  We’d arranged for someone to watch our kitties, and I was sad to leave them, but really excited for the trip.  (Looking back from where I am now, I’m not sure how I would handle being away from Claire for that long.  I’ve never been away from her…not even for a night.  But, I digress…this post is about the past, not the present or the future!)

I’m not sure if you’re familiar with Rick Steves, but one of our friends had given me a Rick Steves’ German/English Travel Dictionary.  It fit nicely in the pocket of my coat, and it was invaluable.  We’d also watched a lot of his shows and read some of his traveling tips.  One of his tips was how to pack.

I knew from my college traveling days (particularly in Spain) that if you can’t pick up whatever you’re carrying and run as fast as you can to catch a train, you’ve packed too much.  Rick Steves agreed.  So, my hubby and I packed all we needed into these two bags:

All packed and ready to go!

[All packed and ready to go!  No, Jasper and Merlin had to stay.]

That’s right.  We only allowed ourselves one bag each.  We packed an empty daypack, so that we could have a smaller bag for our daily adventures and use that same bag as an extra for the trip home.  This way, we didn’t have to check any luggage.  (Because I’m sure you’ve heard that there are two types of luggage – carry-ons and lost.)   😉   This gave us the freedom to change flights at the drop of a hat if we needed to.  (We didn’t need to, but it was nice having the option.)  It also made running to catch trains a lot easier.

This was post-9/11, so we weren’t allowed to bring nail clippers, etc., but this was pre-lotion sized weirdness.  Looking back, I don’t think we had anything with us that violated those rules, but I may have had some lip-gloss and mascara with me…so we’d have to re-adjust for today’s rules.  😉

We discovered these really cool packing folders for clothes (by Eagle Creek) that kept everything compact and wrinkle-free, and we packed all our unmentionables in mesh bags (just the cheapy mesh zippered laundry bags for “delicates” you see at Target).  We’d heard horror stories of airport security officials getting their kicks by dumping the bags of unsuspecting travelers just to watch them flail about trying to pick up all their underwear off the floor, and we wanted things to be as contained as possible if that happened to us.  Sure enough, on the way back to the U.S., we had a couple of officials that dumped our bags.  You could see the look of disappointment on their faces when we stood there calmly, looking at our neat little mesh bags on the floor of the security check-point.  😉

So, arriving in Brussels and traveling on to Munich was a blur.  Traveling over so many time zones does a number on your brain and your system, but we tried to adjust.  The train station to Munich is at the Brussels airport, so that was super-convenient.

It was on the train to Munich that we had a funny incident I don’t think I’ll ever forget.  My hubby had said he would go get us food, so he left our seats and headed back to the food car.  He was gone a *long* time, so long, in fact, that I started to get worried.  I had told him that I would like some soup (or whatever he could find), and we’d discussed the word for ‘soup’ in German. I had no idea what was taking him so long.  Just as I was about to get up and search for him, he came back to the seat.  He had two bottled waters in his hand, and he looked very flustered.

“What happened?  What took you so long?”  I asked, trying not to sound judgmental or too worried.

“The line was huge, so I had to wait, and then the guy couldn’t understand me!  I kept asking for soup, and he didn’t get it.  So, I finally gave up and got us water.  I at least know the word for water,” he said, referring to the fact that we’d also discussed the German equivalent of mineral water.

I could tell he was really frustrated (and hungry), so I said I’d go try.

I get back to the restaurant car, and I go up to the counter.  That’s when I notice that the guy is standing in front of the biggest lighted picture of soup I’ve ever seen.  I pointed to the picture and held up two fingers (being sure to use the European sign for ‘two’ – finger and thumb.)  “Suppe?  Zwei?” I asked.

“Uh, two chicken noodle?” the guy said in a really thick accent.

I nodded my head and said, “Ja,” grinning ear to ear.  It felt so good to be understood, even if I was using Neanderthal German.  (I think it’s Rick Steves that refers to using a “Neanderthal” version of languages by pointing and using key words rather than trying to conjugate verbs and construct complex sentences.)

The man punched something into the cash register and rattled off some amount.  I looked at the number on the register display and handed him some of the Euros I had, and he gave me change and our two bowls of soup.  (As detailed and controlling as I can be, I was pretty proud of myself for roughly figuring out the money and then not getting hung up on whether I was being given the correct change.  I wasn’t skilled enough to determine if it was correct or argue with him if it wasn’t, and I’d made a conscious effort to not worry about it.  I had learned pretty early on to be Zen when traveling…)

So, I headed back to our seats.  The hardest part about this was walking without spilling any soup.  I get back to our seats, and my hubby was thrilled to see food.

“How did you do that??” he asked, amazed at my talents.

I told him about the huge colorful picture of soup behind the guy.  I told him the man had said, “Cheeeken Noooodle?” and my hubby burst out laughing.

“THAT’S what he was saying??  He kept saying something to me over and over, and that’s what it was!?  Chicken noodle!!  Aahhhh, I just couldn’t understand him!!”

From that point on, we decided that he would get us to the right train platform, and I would order the food.  😉

While on the train to Munich, we tried to soak in as much of the countryside as we could.  It really reminded us of the Midwest, and I could see how my ancestors felt comfortable settling where they did.  We also used this time to review the “Munich” section we’d taken out of one of our travel books.  (Another travel tip we got from someone was to tear out the sections you’ll need from those huge travel books – like Fodor’s – and take those with you, leaving the rest of the big book at home.  Each section isn’t as cumbersome as taking the whole book, and you’ll only have what you need.  This idea was great and really helped us focus on each city at a time.  We’d also done some research online, so I had those pages to use as reference as well.  Because we were traveling by train, we knew we’d have hours to kill, and reading about each city and becoming familiar with it before we arrived was the perfect plan for us.)

We arrived in Munich that night and found our hotel with no problems.  (You can see the helpful instructions they gave me, above.)  We woke up the next morning and spent the day exploring Munich!

This little post on the blog will not do the city of Munich justice.  We had a great time exploring, and there is so much more to Munich than we could ever discover in the few days we were there or describe in a few sentences.  We made it out to the BMW museum, the Olympic Stadium, and the Frauenkirche.  We took it all in and then some.

The Frauenkirche in Munich  Munich Frauenkirche and flower boxes

[The Frauenkirche is a famous symbol of Munich.]

Munich was also the first city where we had our first experience with reading a train map and figuring out how to purchase the daily passes.  (The Eurail passes we had were for the main train lines from city to city.  Each city has its own form of mass transit, whether it be busses or trains.  Some cities require a daily pass and some cities offer a Tourist Card, which allows for free rides on the transit system with the purchase of a the card.)  At that time, Munich didn’t have a Tourist Card, so we knew we had to purchase a daily pass.  The automated machines were quite confusing, and we looked like total tourists standing there with our little pocket dictionary trying to figure out which pass we needed.

“See that?  I’m pretty sure that’s the word for daily.  But, kinder?  Isn’t that the word for children?  We don’t have any children, but it’s with the word for adult.  Oh, this is so confusing.  We look like total tourists.”

Just then, an elderly gentleman came up to us and asked us in broken English if we needed help.  Sadly, my first thought was this was a trick.  Who is watching us?  Is someone else going to take advantage of us while he distracts us?  Try not to look paranoid.  Maybe he’s just trying to be helpful.

I smiled at him and told him we were trying to figure out how to buy a daily train pass that would take us as far as the BMW museum and Olympic Stadium.  He looked at the machine and showed us where to insert our coins, and he pushed a big round button next to a very lengthy and completely German description.  Out popped our tickets.  He then asked us if we had a map for the trains, and we told him we didn’t.  He reached into his satchel and gave us one.  We thanked him.  He then nodded to us, turned and walked away.

That was our first lesson in how not everyone is out to get you, and there are still some nice people left in this world.  Or, we were just lucky.  😉

We boarded the train, and listened to the voice announcing different stops.  For some reason, I couldn’t find where we were on the train map the man had given to us.  That’s when I realized that we were going in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go.  We opted to get off at the next stop and look around before getting on the train on the opposite side of the platform.  After getting on the right track (literally), we made it to our destination.  You know you’re traveling with the right person when both of you can laugh at your mistakes, learn from them and make an adventure out of the day.

Munich is beautiful at night

[Munich is so beautiful at night.]

That night, after a full day of exploring, we wandered over to the Oktoberfest celebration.  I’d purposely reserved a hotel that was walking distance from the Oktoberfest grounds, so it was easy to find.  Plus, there were hoards of people going that way.  We just had to follow along.  It would have been really fun to go with a group of our friends, but everyone was so accommodating and friendly.  We had so much fun!!

Welcome to Oktoberfest!  Oktoberfest - inside one of the beer tents

Before checking out of our hotel the next morning, we decided to take advantage of the “free breakfast” that was being served downstairs.  We’d slept through breakfast the previous morning, so we thought we’d give it a try today.  If anything, we could grab a roll or something before heading to the train station.  The spread that awaited us was amazing and defies explanation.  There were little rolls of white asparagus wrapped in ham.  There were hard boiled eggs.  There were all kinds of pastries and cereals and yogurts and things we’ve only seen on the food channel.  We couldn’t believe it!  Who knew that a “free breakfast” would be so extravagant!?

When it comes to food, you don’t have to tell us twice.  We didn’t miss another “free breakfast” the whole trip.   😉   A huge breakfast, coupled with miles of walking every day and a light lunch, followed by a nice dinner was certainly the way to go.

We made it to the train station with plenty of time to spare, and my hubby found the right platform for our departure from Munich, and we were off!

Next stop, Salzburg, Austria!