Friday, January 22, 2010

The rest

Well, Munich was awesome.  The bad part was that I discovered that my camera was somehow broken, though I know not how.  That realization was capped off by a ripping of my pants during our much coveted free time.  Bad day, kind of.  After spending some time looking for a cheap pair of jeans (which are impossible to find in Munich, apparently), I ran into the some other members of the group and took the public transportation to the BMW world. This was very interesting, and being on the site of the Munich Olympics was very neat even if it was 5 euro to go to the top of the tower.  

If you're noticing holes in my story, it's because the internet access was shoddy!

On our way to Heidelberg, we visited some famous castles.  

With some very pretty views.

So after that gloriously cold adventure, we spent time in Heidelberg, which is a beautiful place.  Our hotel was pretty far from the center of town, so the first night was spent on sight.  In order to avoid the cramped quad to which I was assigned, Matt and his wonderful aunt Jennifer were gracious enough to allow me to shack up with them on their luxurious couch.  

The next day was sadly, our last of this wonderful trip.  We spent the day in Heidelberg, with a fantastic guide who showed us many of the sites.  Wyatt introduced the rest of the group to dönner, much to the delight of the shop owner.  I was able to pick up some gifts for people back home too.  We visited the University of Heidelberg, where, if the stars align, I might be able to do a summer program sooner rather than later.  I would really love to spend more time there.  We also had a tour of the ruins overlooking the city, with some very interesting stories.  

(Jürgen in front of one of the largest wine barrels in the world.  We all know how much Jügen loves wine.)

With our free time winding down, Matt, Tammi, and I threw down on a bottle of wine for Jürgen, to which we later added a note.  It was the absolute least we could do (and was also probably a bad bottle of wine) for doing so much for our group.  

The last night of the trip looked like it would be uneventful.  We had dinner at the hotel for the second night (cheeseburgers, actually.  And quite good).  Much of the group went out to a local bar, where we stumbled upon a rehearsing mens singing group, which was really fun.  Matt and I eventually left and grabbed our last two German beers from the hotel and went for a walk.  We ended up back outside the bar, and walked the last few stragglers back home.  When we finally got back, the night was not nearly over.  We spent a long time at the hotel bar with two guys named Daniel and Mike (my cousins have the same names, oddly enough).  Daniel spoke good English, but Mike did not speak a word.  Communicating with him was perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip for me, and cemented my desire to return.  

The next morning, we packed up and left. The trip was over in a flash, and will be one of my most fondly remembered times.  

If I can say one thing about this trip, I will be angry at myself if I have to call it my "trip to Germany" and not my "first trip to Germany".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

On to Muenchen!

After the wonderful night at the opera, about half of the group (myself not included, as I stayed in) found themselves with hangovers and the happy prospect of visiting a former concentration camp!  We loaded onto the bus and in a few hours found ourselves at Mauthausen.  I decided not to go in the camp.  I know what they were like as a history major, and I didn't want to be in that situation with this group (no offense to anybody).  About an hour on the bus later, the stoic group returned.  Then we made our way to Salzburg, which is a wonderful little town with beautiful views if you go up the mountain.  It was neat to see where Mozart was born, and where today fairly untalented musicians make money by taking advantage of every white tourist's innate desire to pretend to know a lot about classical music.  So, after an extremely expensive cup of coffee in a cafe that Mozart apparently frequented (citation needed), we got back on the bus to go back to Deutschland!  When we got to Muenchen, we dropped off our things at our hotel and walked to the beer hall where we had dinner and got our beer in liters.  The dinner was a bratwurst, followed by a thick vanilla mousse.  Followed by  beer.  The group left in phases, mine part being the last to do so.  When we got back to the hotel, I found sleeping to be no trouble at all.  If you're interested, I am actually feeling quite well this morning.  Breakfast was in a small cramped room, but delicious because of the nutella.  And the internet situation isn't as bleak as in other places.  There is WIFI in the lobby, allowing for me to make this update.  But now we have to leave, so, Auf wiedersehen.

(pictures on the way)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The rest of Vienna

Our first night in Vienna was fairly uneventful.  We're much further away from the actual city than we have been in the past, meaning the night life is pretty much non-existent.  In the morning we got up, ate our usual continental breakfast and headed out for our tour of Schoenbrunn Palace.

It was obviously really pretty inside, but truthfully, I was expecting more.  They only let you see one floor, and only a few rooms. I wanted to see the top floors.  Similarly with the gardens, they were nice, with long unbroken views, but I would rather have seen them green.  After that we got back on the bus and went for a tour of Vienna.  It's another absolutely beautiful city.  They don't call this the treasures of central europe for nothing.  We saw some cool architecture, from a guy whose name I've unfortunately already forgotten.

We wound our way back to the same area of Vienna that we were in yesterday and we had some free time.  Did I mention that I had lost one of my contacts in Budapest?  I'm too lazy to re-read.  At any rate, I did, but here in Vienna, and thanks to the help of my wonderful mother stateside, I was able to get my eyeball numbers and get some more lenses.  So no more pictures with glasses, haha!

But this was not before I got another helping of my new favorite food.

A few of us went to the Haus der Musik, which is a museum of World War I.  Just kidding.  It's about music.  There were some very interesting things in there, including a baton used by Furtwaengler.  I did some shopping with a few others, stopping for a coffee and to buy a book of the collected works of Janosh, the author of the books we read in our German class.  After some Asian chicken for dinner, we headed off to the Ballet!

It was really nice.  I'll try to write some more about it later, but I'm much too tired at the moment.  Goodnight world.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Horay for internet!  For the next night at least I have the magical thing called the web at my disposal.  It's fantastic.  I'm updating crap left and right.  Today was mostly the bus ride here to Austria.  We didn't do tooo much today, but it was still good.  We got off the bus and went strait into the city where we had a small tour and some free time.  A few of us got a doenner sandwich on Wyatt's suggestion.  I may never eat anything else again.  Well, that's not entirely true because after that we had dinner, which was like european meatloaf, and wasn't too bad.  After that we grabbed some beers from a local market.  But I've escaped from the group for the updatings of internets and the talking to of lovely girlfriends :)

catching up

We woke up the next morning and the whole day was a bus day.  Our route went through the rest of the Czech republic and then through Slovakia for about 50 miles or so, and finally into Hungaria.  We stopped in the Czech republic so people could try to spend the last of their crowns there.  

I got a candy bar and a ginormoius water bottle.  We stopped once more in Slovakia just for a rest stop and to let people touch the ground if they wanted to.  I didn’t get off the bus. But Jürgen got locked in the bathroom for about 20 minutes before Gracen remembered that he was there.  So at least something entertaining happened.  I tried to read, but didn’t get very much done.  Eventually we arrived in Budapest!  We had dinner, a turkey dish.  Then we went to our hotel (which was the same company, Ibis, as the one in Prague).  After a very short respite the majority of the group headed out to a local jazz bar called Fat Mo’s.  The local beer was called dreher, and was good, but not as good as the German beers have been.  The dark version of the dreher however, was amazing.  After a while there, a few of us headed out to a different bar with Chelsea and her boyfriend Abraham, who she had met up with here.  It was a small, cool place and we had a really good time.  The next morning was not quite as much fun for me.  However, some well timed ibuprofin helped me get along.  The tour of Budapest was absolutely beautiful.  

The city is nice in a different way than Prague is.  Prague is very touristy, and while the buildings are beautiful, it feels kind of like an amusement park.  Budapest feels like a real functioning city that happens to be very historical and beautiful.  We had free time in the afternoon after the bus tour. A group of us went to a market, that was kind of like the city’s worst kept secret.   It was a gigantic building that might have been a train station in a previous life.  The top floor was a tourist market with some food (I got a Hungarian brother of the kielbasa which was not exactly delicious).  The ground floor was a fresh food market, and beneath was a real supermarket.  This was the first time I was able to get some shopping done.  I got …..  waaaait a second.  I can’t tell you that.  But, I hope you all like them.  Much of the group met up again at 2:30 and went for a walking tour of the city.  It was a beautiful walk.  We had a little more free time after that, and a few of us went back to the market to get one more item after getting the advice of our guide.  We walked back and got back onto the bus to head off for our boat trip.  We just went up and down the Danube a few times, but it was absolutely beautiful.  

After that we headed off to dinner.  Hungarian food is extremely rich, from what I can tell, and very filling.  After heading back to the hotel for a few minutes, and a much needed change of socks, the same group from the night before went off to a, much bigger this time, bar.  It was an old storage building or something, and the story that they tell tourists is that it was bombed during WWII and never restored, but I have it on good authority that that is untrue.  Mike, Matt, and  I decided to make a night of it, and to try absinth.  I wasn’t expecting any psychedilic experience, nor did I want one.  It was really just about the same as any other drink, except they light  it on fire and stir in some sugar first.  We hung out there for a few hours and eventually found a cab to take us back to the hotel.  Right now I’m on the bus that’s taking us to Austria.  We have our driver Tibor back, too.  Yesterday was his day off.  Both he and Jürgen met up with their girlfriends in Budapest, so we’ll see if they aren’t happier for the next few days.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Early Days of the Trip

Prague!  I missed doing an entry now although I missed doing one yesterday.  So, starting with yesterday:  We woke up early and had breakfast, which was very good. The hard boiled eggs in particular were cooked exactly to my liking.  After that we finally got a good tour of Berlin seeing lots of the historical sites.  We stopped at a holocaust memorial where I was able to procure a cup of coffee before moving on.  Then we went by bus to the things you should see in Berlin, the Reichstag and the like. 

We ended at checkpoint Charlie, and went into the museum by the same name.  I grabbed some food nearby (a pastry and more coffee, of course), and we were soon on our way.  We had been given, as a group, the options of having free time or paying an additional 10 Euros to make an additional trip to Potsdam, and everyone in the group opted for the later.  After some public transportation, we found ourselves there.  We walked around the area, and took saw the very beautiful Palace sanssouci. 

Then we headed towards the Dutch quarter, where we went to a bar that served Cherry beer, which, I am told, is not actually beer in the strictest German sense of the word, but was delicious nonetheless. 

We then made our way back to Berlin where we had dinner at a Restaurant, which was apparently serving Russian food.  It was ham in gravy with potatoes.  Not bad either.  We all walked back to the hotel and then those that wanted to made an excursion to a bar which turned out to be toilet themed.  So, I had a beer served in a vessel which was originally intended for urine.  But the price for said novelty was atrocious, so a group of about 5 of us went off in search of another bar.  We searched in vain for quite a while, and then eventually had to stop back at the hotel for a pit stop (the urine beer was fulfilling its destiny).  Then we went back out and ran into Jürgen by chance on the street.  He directed us towards an area where bars might be open and reasonably priced on a Sunday night.  We found one but were told that it was closing in 20 minutes.  But our dreams were revived when the bartended told us that there was another bar just across the block that was open 24 hours a day! 

So, we went there, and had a beer.  But by the time we finished them it was closing in on midnight, and seeing as the wake up call was coming in at 6:30 local time the next morning, we headed back.  

In the morning, my body and the wake up call didn’t see eye to eye, and I slinked out of bed around 7:10.  I rushed downstairs for breakfast (the eggs were runnier this time, unfortunately) and then back up to pack up my things, and then back down with my suitcase.  We were shortly on our new bus (a Mercedes, mind you) and off towards the historic city of Dresden. 

The bus ride there passed in a flash for me, as I slept as soon as I saw what it was like to be on the autobahn, namely exactly like being on a US highway.  We stopped at an outrageously priced rest stop, and were soon at our destination.  We were fortunate enough to have part of the tour on the bus, because it was very cold outside.  But, ironically, it was the heat on the bus that put me to sleep.  So, I missed a portion of the views. But, It was bound to happen because the lack of sleep was catching up with me.  I woke up, we finished the bus part of the tour, and then we did the walking part, which took us through another Palace, and then to a church (Frauenkirche) which was destroyed almost entirely in WWII, but has very recently been restored.  We got some bratwurst nearby,

and sought out more food for a while.  Then we got back on the bus and went off to the Czech Republic, which we reached near nightfall.  We quickly unloaded and went off to dinner, which was chicken noodle soup, sautéed chicken and French fries, with a piece of cake for desert.  Very good.  Next we headed off to the castle for photo opps!

We then came back to the hotel, and some people headed out for a nearby bowling alley.  I opted to stay at the hotel to get a chance to write all of this down, as well as hopefully make some phone calls and use the internet for the first time since the trip began. 
I’m really enjoying the trip so far.  The long days have really messed with my conception of time, so it feels like we’ve been on the trip forever.  I’ve really loved the cities that we’ve been to, and I’m excited to see the rest.  I do wish that we had more access to internet, and hopefully we’ll see more of it soon.

Oh, and the camera won’t let me upload pictures onto my computer, so I’m hoping to get a driver or to borrow an SD card reader from somebody.  

Update: Got it to work once I got on the internet!  Pictures hopefully forthcoming.

Leaving, on a jet plane

So, that was a very long experience.  I woke up for my flight on the first of January around 8 or 9 am and by the time I fell asleep again about 30 or so hours later, I had been on a plane for the first time (indeed, two planes), and found myself on another continent.  The airport experience wasn’t awful.  I was expecting a lot of waiting and standing in line, which is exactly what I got.  The first flight was kind of cramped, but not terrible.  The food was decent (salmon with rice as the entrée) and they served us beer on the plane, raising my desire to fly Lufthansa again.  After the flight landed in Frankfurt there was a delay on our connection flight to Berlin of about an extra hour, which I spent with Matt exploring the cavernous airport in search of food, which we eventually found.  I enjoyed the second flight much more than the first.  Not only was it very short, but I had a window seat!  Pictures forthcoming.

Again we landed, and after some delays with our baggage, we were off with Jürgen to the Hotel. The room (which I’m in now) is a quad, but is acceptable.  The bed is comfortable enough, and the plumbing works, so for the amount of time we’re spending here it should serve us remarkably well.  After a short respite we went out for some food.  We strolled a short way through Berlin and suddenly Matt, Matt’s aunt, and myself realized that we had lost track of the group.  We searched nearby and eventually (after currywurst) made our way back to the hotel assuming that someone would look there, which they did.  It turns out we had missed the direction to “do whatever we’d like and meet back at 5:15.”  So we met up with Dr. Esa and took the metro to the restaurant where the rest of the group was eating.  The food was alright.  After that some few of us weary yet intrepid travelers decided to go out for a drink to unwind, which we did.  Fun was had by all, and thanks to our jetlag it seemed to us all to be later than it was, allowing us to get back to the hotel for sleep at a decent hour.