Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Vacation: Days 1-5

Day One
Leave Boston at 6:40 PM on 9/19, arrive at Charles DeGaulle Airport in Paris at 8:00ish on 9/20. Drive to Reims (in Champagne). See a cathedral, eat petite dejeuner (that's breakfast to the rest of us), and realize we both don't like champagne all that much and we move on. Drive, drive and drive through vineyards and industrial farm country. Not so much in Champagne. (Expensive gas, - $1.30 euro a liter - which is the equivalent of $7.70 a gallon in the U.S.) Gretchen sleeps. We must have enjoyed lunch, but no recollection of ANYTHING on vacation day one. Arrive in Strasbourg without a map or a hotel. Nice work. Wandering. Lost. Hungry. Overstimulated by the beauty. With the help of a very nice woman in an overbooked hotel we find a great room at Au Cerf de Or (The Stag of Gold). Eat sausage and gherkins and drink beer for dinner. At an "Irish" pub. Really. Learn that the Wifi at the hotel is iffy at best. Good enough to call our moms and tell them we made it.

Day Two
Sleep late. Too late for petite dejeuner (oh coffee, where are you?) and we wander into Petite France for Tyrolean beauty. Follow the natives to the ONE bakery open on a Sunday for sandwiches with pickles and eggs and salami, which we eat in Kleber Place (or Square). Take walking tour of Strasbourg that includes a church that is half Catholic and half Protestant. Tour also includes navigational arguments. Becoming one of our specialties. See a cathedral with an astronomical clock, visit an archeological and a home arts museum (FREE!), write postcards, drink some beer, eat eis (German) or glace (French) or ice cream (English). Eat dinner at a tourist joint in Gutenberg Place where Jeff discovers the joy of tarte flambee, which is a pizza with cream sauce, meunster cheese and bits of ham.

Day Three:
Wake up early to get outta Dodge, petite dejeuner is croissant and juice for Jeff, pain a beurre (bread with butter and jam) for Gretchen. And of course, coffee. Drive 60 minutes to a fully restored medieval castle in a beautiful quiet village. Castle is SPECTACULAR fun and inspiring; we think about visiting Montagne Singes (Monkey Mountain) just down the hill from the castle, and decide it probably isn't authentic so we continue on to Colmar (France) for lunch in the "picturesque" village which is also overrun with tourists and not all that and a bag of chips. Eat another tart flambee (Jeff) and enjoy a slice of the local specialty, quiche Lorraine (Gretchen). Flit through the Monoprix, eat candy, drink beer. Drive some more into Germany, and settle in the dorm-like BluHotel in Freiburg for the night. Jeff is GROUCHY because the free wifi (pronounced 'wee-fee') at the BluHotel is utterly useless. Drive into Freiburg center where there is a lot of shopping, tons of kids and some history which might have been interesting if we had known what we were seeing. Drink MORE beer, eat soup (Gretchen) and a sandwich (Jeff) at a student bar. Then, off to Burger King for free internet (gotta get our fix, and a room for the next night). Oh yeah, a double cheeseburger, fries and a Coke.

Day Four:
Wake up in time for our 8:30 breakfast appointment at BluHotel. TERRIBLE coffee, cold cuts and vending machine croissants. Cranky for kaffee (Gretchen) and sausage (Jeff). Drive into the Black Forest. Photograph vineyards and apple orchards, cows. Visit Burge Rollend, an unrestored medieval fortress on a small mountain which is AWESOME to see, especially after having seen a restored medieval castle the day before. Pay 1.5 euro for what we think is admission to the castle, only to learn it is admission to the museum, which is no bigger than our tiny bungalow, all in German and useless to us. Stop on Bad Sackingen (one of the many spa towns in the region with natural hot springs) and walk to Switzerland over a 400 year-old foot bridge and eat lunch (Bratwurst for Gretchen, and Bratwurst and a cheeseburger for Jeff). Landscape is beautiful. Continue driving to Lake Bodensee and the city of Konstanz. Sad because we can't enjoy Konstanz because we are HOPELESSLY lost and screaming at each other. (Jeff: "Which way do I go here?!" Gretchen: "I don't know! The sign says 'Meersburg or Schweiz.' I KNOW we don't want to go to Meersburg and I CAN'T FIND SCHWEIZ on the map! Where the heck is SCHWEIZ?!!???") A kindly woman explains using only hand gestures that Schweiz means the COUNTRY of Switzerland and we have to drive through it to get to our next destination. Which, we learn, is actually in Austria. That's three countries in one day, ka-ching. After a slow slog through Switzerland (Jeff was righteously afraid of a speeding ticket), we arrive in Bergenz, Austria and are directed to our hotel by a group of schoolboys who escort us part way on their bikes. When the boys leave us to continue without them we get lost again. A policeman gives us directions. And we get lost again. Finally a Croatian man who has been in Bergenz three hours more than we have been walks us to our hotel. Gretchen cries. Jeff has a beer. And then Jeff cries because WiFi sucks here too. and a sandwich at Cafe Wunderbar around the corner. Sit outside wrapped in the fleece throws they offer to motivate their guests to sit outside. Cozy.

Day Five:
Hotel Central in Bergenz is great. Breakfast is weird. Again, cold cuts, and cold bread with our choice of processed cheese, pate', or jam/nutella spreads. And yogurt and canned fruit. WTF. Kaffee is great. Directed to a laundromat which turned out to be a dry cleaner. Barely speak German, don't speak a word of Austrian, and Gretchen's confused brain - five countries in four days - is lapsing into Spanish with some Italian thrown in. Motor out of town back into Germany and on to the little town of Fussen to visit Neuschwanstein Castle, one of four castles commissioned by King Ludwig II of the Bavaria during his 23 year reign. Castles bankrupted the country and are now bankrupting tourists with their commercialization. Nevertheless the castle and its neighboring Hochenschwangau Castle are breathtaking and we have a hearty walk up the mountain to the courtyard chute where we wait for our turn to go inside. Lunch at a deli and then another beer while we plot our next move to the town of St. Heinrich (population 170 - really) where we stay at the wonderful lakeside Landgasthof Schontag (Hotel Nice Day) and drink more beer and eat at the Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon. (The hotel owners lived in Houston for five years and wanted to bring Texas and country music to Germany. Gretchen Kinder, Jeff's traveling companion of German ethnicity originally from Texas is tickled pink.) Church bells go off every 15 minutes, pealing through the open skylight in the bathroom.

Tomorrow we head to Munich to start the Oktoberfest leg of the trip. So far we've learned:
The "fly by the seat of your pants" vacation doesn't work for us so much.
The "visit pretty towns in Europe and go shopping in stores you have in America" also doesn't work for us so much.
People can be really nice if you are nice first.
Gretchen can't eat as much crappy food as she would like.
Jeff's tolerance for copious amounts of alcohol isn't as high as he would like.
Internet hotel reviews are hit or miss.
The Alps are gorgeous and we are both glad we didn't have to scale them on foot to flee the Nazis.
If we had even 1% of all the money in America we wouldn't be able to spend it, not even on our dream castle.
Spaetzl IS a noodle. Schnitzel IS NOT a noodle.

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