Day 19 – On Sunday Deutschland sleeps or Who said German trains are always on time?

We made it to Berlin. We’re sitting in the Sony Center in Berlin having Schofferhofer Weizen and waiting on a pizza. One can only have so much Local food before you want something familiar to munch on. We found a nice little Italian restaurant with covered outdoor eating just outside the train station about a mile from our hotel.

We spent the last six hours on two trains from Muninch, by way of Nuremburg. Layla watched three movies and Darcy and I caught up on pleasure reading with our Kindles. However, we’ve now taken four or five trains and two have been more than 15 minutes late causing people to miss their connections. Luckily this time we didn’t have connections to make, so a few minutes more wasn’t a big deal. This has me wondering about American perceptions of German things. I always heard that the German’s train system was one of the best in the world and ran like clock-work. I’ll certainly give them credit for a very nice system of trains, great stations and many travel options putting the US to shame. But, they don’t run on time.

It appears that Berlin is open for business, or at least this shopping area. Munich was closed, entirely. We came across two cafes in Munich in the old city that were open. All of the other 300 shops we walked by we’re closed. We did get to see the Glockenspiel play and watch the knights joust to some unknown Bavarian tune after sleeping in a little.

Day 18 – BMW, rain and lounging around in Munich

So far we’ve covered a fair bit of western and southern Germany.  Tomorrow night we leave Munich for Berlin on our way home this next week.

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One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was tour the BMW factory in Munich. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. I called to make reservation about two weeks before we left for Europe only to find out that you need to make reservations 2-3 months on advance. Crap… Instead we only got to visit the BMW Museum and the Welt, a building designed to showcase everything that is the BMW design aesthetic.



The Subway/Underground in Munich was incredibly clean and well organized. I’m not sure I can offer the same praise for their color scheme.


The BMW corporate offices, above.




The exhibit in the pictures below was absolutely amazing. The steel balls are suspended on thin wires and the entire exhibit moves like water. It was mesmerizing to watch.







You can watch the entire sequence here. It starts getting interested after about one minute. Someone else already videoed it and uploaded it to Youtube.



The famous James Bond Z8. A car that didn’t sell all that well, but is absolutely amazing.






A 1989 M3, arguably one of the five best driver cars in the world.





“Help me! Let me out!”

“Daddy, hang on…”





“You can’t give a ticket to someone as cute as me!”

As soon as we left the Welt the rain started coming down in buckets. We’re a bit tired so we headed back to the hotel lounge for some snacks and checkers.



I went out later to grab some food.  Along the way I saw a police officer with a folding yard stick (or a meter stick I guess).  I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on until I saw the paint damage on the front bumper.  I think they were trying to determine who had hit the parked car.  Best of luck to them.  It was still raining, so I hurried on.


Day 16 – Mad King Ludwig II might have just been “eccentric”

The following morning again we had a traditional breakfast complete with breads, hard boiled eggs, coffee, juice, and meats. Afterward we went into town to see Langenargen. Manfred is a member of the city council and provided us a great tour before seeing us off.  The town sits on the Bodensee which is also bordered by Switzerland and Austria.  It is a quaint town with a nice market on Thursday and a small castle that has been preserved by the town.20130629-134504.jpg




One of the boats had a floating nest attached with small chicks.


The drive to Fussen was very nice, but uneventful.  We stopped in Fussen to grab a bite to eat and then made our way to Hohenschwanhau and Schloss Neuschwanstein.  What we learned later is that the “royal” family still owns the castle to this day.  I suspect that the high entry price and very commercialized tour experience is necessary to keep up the castles, but it is still very odd to think about the reduction of a constitutional monarchy to nothing and privatizing the ownership of his castles.










“Layla, are you feeling grumpy?”



After visiting both castles we went to our hotel in Fussen and then out to dinner.  The Prickleberger (viking for deer) cheered Layla right up.


I went for the potato pasta with bacon, Layla had the schnitzel and Darcy went for the sampler.  The waiter told us that if we didn’t finish everything it would rain again tomorrow.  We had to inform him later that it was going to be raining, but we made a valiant effort.


Day 15 – Rothenburg on the Tauber River and new friends in Langenargen


We left Mainz in a rental car and headed to Rothenburg on the Tauber River.  Our car was an Opel Astra turbo diesel wagon.  Not a bad little car, but I had been hoping for a VW or BMW since we are in Germany.  Oh well, I put it through its paces.20130629-133951.jpg

Along the way we traveled mostly on the autobahn.  Comfortable cruising speed is 140-160km/hr or high 80s to 100mph.  We had one wide open stretch with no cars and no rain, so I decided to see how fast the car would comfortably go.  I decided to slowly apply the brakes at 200km/hr as the car just didn’t feel stable enough to comfortably travel any faster.

Upon arrival in Rothenburg we parked in a public lot.  Our guide book suggested that this particular lot allowed for free parking on the weekends, but no signs could legibly confirm this for us.  I watched tourists come and buy parking tickets from the kiosk and then I decided to check the cars with local license plates.  In Germany a license plate begins with the province that the car is registered in.  Doing this saved us 5 euros as none of them had parking tickets on their dashes.  Our guide book also advised against walking the city wall if you’re taller than 6 foot.  Again, Rick Steves was right, much to Layla’s disappointment.  We had to walk a few sections for her, but I couldn’t see myself walking the entire perimeter hunched over.





We stopped for Kaffee und Brotchen (coffee and rolls) and Darcy snapped this one picture before the girl behind the counter yelled at her for taking a picture.  This was our first encounter with a less than friendly German.  It was also about our 3,000th encounter with really good looking freshly baked bread.  Our selection back home pales in comparison to Germany.


After walking the city and listening to a concert band from Kansas play in the mainplatz (town square) we headed for the gardens where the old castle used to be.  Evidently it did not survive the invasion.  In the footprint of the old castle was a shrine built to remember Jews killed in the 1920s and 1940s.  I decided against taking pictures of the long list of names out of respect.






After leaving the gardens we made our way back to the car.  Along the way were a few Gausthaus (guest houses or hotels).  We both really liked the charm of the grape vines and other greenery set against the cobbles.



Here you can see one of the many sets of steps up to the wall.


“Come on mommy, hurry up!”



From Rothenburg we headed south to Langenargen.  Britta’s aunt Rosemarie and her husband Manfred hosted us for a night in their home.  We had the most delightful time there.  Both of them treated us far nicer than we could have ever imagined for being unknown guests.  Manfred gave us a tour of their home and brought us Bavarian white beers Weissbier (white/wheat beer).  Layla had her own room complete with Legos to play with.  Rosemarie cooked an excellent meal of pork, potatoes and carrots; the kind of meal you’d have at home, if your home was Bavaria.  It was just excellent.

Hopefully we can repay the favor one day.

Day 14 – The beautiful Rhine from Cologne to Mainz

We missed our first train out of Cologne because we we just a little too slow getting moving this morning. We missed our second train because it took longer then we had hoped to take the light rail train to the Haufbahnhaus (train station), but we finally got on a train headed in the right direction to St. Goar, a town along the Rhine. We had to cut out our river boat trip due to timing, so we spent a little more time at Reinfels Castle.20130626-084323.jpg










Later at dinner we found a nice German/World fusion restaurant.  The food was zer gut.20130626-085211.jpg20130626-085217.jpg20130626-085223.jpg20130626-085353.jpg

Day 13 – 533 steps to the top of the Kölner Dom, Kölsch and good company

20130626-074840.jpgJulia, Ellen’s cousin took us into Köln (Cologne for those of use who don’t know what an umlaut is). She described Cologne as a city that is very friendly, open-minded and happy. It seemed like a very nice place to us for the short time we where there. We planned to meet Julia’s husband, Jochen, for beer and dinner after we saw the Cathedral. We were just early enough to see the inside of the cathedral before they began to close it down. We then met Jochen and ascended the 533 steps to the very top of the Cathedral for spectacular views of the Cologne and Rhine skyline. Let me tell you that 533 steps winds you quite a bit, especially at the rate we were moving.



After the Dom we went for a few cold glasses of Kölsch. I should have remembered it by name, as our friend Kai who I studied with in graduate school is from Cologne and he brought us Kölsch glasses. Kölsch is a warm-fermented lager. It is drank is small thin glasses the accentuate the light and slightly sweet taste. I think they also help you forget how many you have had. When drinking Kölsch you must place your coaster over the top of your glass when you are finished or you will continue to get new glasses delivered. We had two different brands of Kölsch; I preffered the Cölner Hofbräu Früh to the Gaffel.

Outside the brewery Jochen told us the tale of the Heinzelmännchen of Cologne. Much like our cobbler elfs the Heinzelmännchen used to complete many of the craftsmanship for the lazy inhabitants of Cologne during the night. But one night a nosey woman came looking for the source of the great craftsmanship. She came to close to finding out the secret and the Heinzelmännchen disappeared, never to be seen again.


After drinks we went to a restaurant favorite of Jochen and Julia’s. We tried a Roastbeef and Cordon Blue. Both were excellent and Layla got to share our dinners by ordering a Räuberteller. It cost $0.00 and translates to a Robber Plate (so she could steal food from our plates).


After dinner we retired to Jochen and Julia’s beatiful home for another beer and then bed.



Day 13 – Sleeping, packing, driving and finally Cologne

The plan was to sleep in this morning after a night of dancing at the Abiball with Ellen and her family. I think we made it until 9:30am, which was probably just enough sleep. We needed to pack up to leave and the room we were staying in was a disaster. Something about living out of a suitcase tends to do that if you stay in one place for more than a day. I still hope that we didn’t leave anything behind.

When I came downstairs the second time Ellen was awake and talking with her parents. I later learned that she had come home and went to bed about 5am, about the time of sunrise here. I joked that she had probably gotten enough sleep, but as I write this in the car on the way to a Cologne she is sound asleep in the back seat behind me.

I booked our car from Mainz to Munich for later in the week via the Internet, but instead of confirmation of the reservation I got a confirmation of the request for a reservation (with a note that someone would contact me later). When I hadn’t heard anything in a few hours I called the rental company in Mainz. It must be very funny to hear me try to speak to a German whose English is only nominally better than my German. Eventually she got me to central reservations who confirmed that the reservation was all set. The whole time I was having this conversation Layla was showing off her doorframe climbing skills to Britta and Ralf.

We were going to take the train from Osnabruck to Cologne, but found out that train station in Osnabruck was too small to sell German Rail Passes (something a tourist would use to travel multiple days at a reduced rate), so Britta offered Ralf to drive us to Cologne. We said our goodbyes and we were all a little sad to be leaving. The Strakeljahn’s were such great hosts and good friends to us, but it was time to leave.

Along the way Ralf explained the speed limits and no speed limit signs on the Autobahn. In case you are a typical American and think that the Autobahn is a road in Germany with no speed limit you are only partially correct. The Autobahn is the German freeway system. Das autobahn ist the same as a freeway. He explained that it is important to keep a proper following distance when traveling very fast or else the police will ticket you. There are markings on the road near bridges to show you proper spacing. While a Passat is a nice car, I can say that 180km/hr in a Passat wagon with 5 people and a full load of luggage is not the most settling feeling in the passenger seat.

Another nice thing that the German VW navigation system does that mine does not is provide you with the current speed limit. This would have been an excellent feature in the UK where I don’t think we had a constant speed for more than 10 miles on most days.

A bit later the car made a noise and I noticed a coffee cup symbol in the binnacle in the info display. Ralf told me that the car told him, “you are tired, have a cup of coffee.”. He says he wasn’t tired and doesn’t know why the car thinks he is tired, but whenever it tells Britta she is tired it is right.

That’s all for now. I’m going to try to work on the posts from the last few days that I began but never finished.

Day 3 – Acclimating…

This morning came a bit to early I think.  Darcy and Layla were dead to the world and even the prospect of breakfast hardly woke them.  Our hotel stay included a nice full breakfast, not terribly different from food in the states, but with the addition of baked eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, various sausages, real Cheddar cheese and various other variations on what we’re used to.

I took a quick drive into town to get a SIM card for the iPad.  Must remember to look right before pulling out.  If you’ve driven on the wrong side of the road you’ll know what I mean.  I think I’m getting the hang of the road system here; I owe my time and the National Lab a thank you for acclimatizing me to roundabouts.

Today is going to be a high of 60 in Canterbury and Ramsgate.  We’re looking for a lunch spot called Peter’s that has the “best fish and chips.”  Judgement reserved.  Then after a leisurely day we head back to the far side of London for our hotel before heading to Hampton Court Palace tomorrow.

More to come from the road.

Day 2 – Driving on the wrong side of the road

Our touchdown in Gatwick (London) was uneventful. We headed out a Peter speed (I have long legs and like to walk fast) only to find that most of the disembarked passengers from our plan were keeping up with us. This never happens, anywhere, ever. It was somewhat akin to the experience we had at CPH where I was surrounded by tall, mostly blond, people such that I didn’t feel tall. Refreshing; change.

One other difference between the UK and the US. Their signs are horrible. Seriously, after the airport and the drive to Maidstone tonight I am convinced that these people just like messing with tourists. Such a signage fiasco took us on a tour of the airport in order to find the passport station for people not from the EU. We had to fill out forms and answer questions very unlike Denmark where they just let us in.

Once through all the mess we found ourselves at National picking up our brand new Vauxhall diesel. At that point it was starting to hit me that I was going to have to learn to drive on the wrong side of the road while navigating a foreign country, operating a stick shift left-handed, read crazy road signs and generally figure out what the heck I had gotten myself into. The gentleman at National was nice enough to give me a map to Tesco, where I would be able to get a SIM for me iPad, and then I’d be able to get data and navigation so we could find our way to Maidenstone before 10pm.

Wrong. I still don’t have working cellular data and it took us an extra 2 hours to find our hotel (remember when I said I hated the signs here?). Luckily, we found a couple of guys leaving a pub who were enthralled with us being Americans and seemingly unable to understand why we’d leave California to visit their “shit hole.” They let us follow them and we made it to the hotel in short order. Thus far, everyone has been very friendly and I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to visit.

Upon arrival at the Hilton Maidstone we were greeted with a nice note from the manager, two micro bottles of Australian Cabernet and Shiraz and some Pringles. How did they know I like Salt and Vinegar, but more importantly how did they choose the pairing of Salt and Vinegar crisps with a Cabernet and a Shiraz? I thought a Merlot might have been more up to the task, but oh well. Further, someone went above and beyond to make an origami elephant out of a towel just for Layla. All in all add in a hot shower and we had a nice ending to a long 2 days of travel.