Sunday, September 28, 2008

Day 12, Thursday 09.25.08


A 3:15am wakeup call results in a 4:15am cab pickup for our 45-minute drive to the airport for our 6:50am flight home. Did you know that 160km/h equates to 100mph? We thought our cabbie was going fast....

A flight to Amsterdam, a flight to Newark, and a flight to Greensboro. Layovers. Delays. When we finally arrived home at the Greensboro airport, we had been awake (aside from little uncomfortable cat naps on the plane) for 23 hours and 45 minutes. Almost a full day.

Our trip was loads of fun. It was an experience to remember. But it's good to be back home. Make sure you view all 424 photos here. Yes, we said 424.

Time to plan for our NEXT adventure...

Day 11, Wednesday 09.24.08

Today, our final day in Germany, was a leisurely one. We got off to another late start, but made it to Marienplatz to see the enormous glockenspiel chime at 11:00am. Moving parts, spritely bell music. Entertaining, yet mildly underwhelming. The books say to get a good spot before the 11:00 and 12:00 chiming. We literally got off the metro stop, up the escalator, and in front of the glockenspiel immediately at the stroke of 11:00....and failed to see the enormous draw. Sure it was neat, but in essence underwhelming.

Then it was an afternoon of window shopping and just generally wandering around the center of Munich. Our main goal of today: bubblewrap. Bottles of beer and wine aren't going to survive the trip home in luggage without it. Ever try explaining to a German the concept of "where can I buy bubblewrap?" It was fun.

Packing supplies in hand, we hit up a grandiose royal palace called The Residenz. A lavish series of palaces and courtyards to rival any other royal estate. Ancient royal artifacts from the 900's, 1000's, 1400's...incredible. Truly a delight to see. And to think this was an add-on spot to hit as we thought what to do to lollygag our final day away. Awesome.

After returning to the hotel and packing for home, we asked the front desk for a good local Italian restuarant. After giving us some substandard directions, we finally make it to Ristorante Acquarello, a posh restaurant for which we were TERRIBLY underdressed. Think tiny little portions on huge white plates and white gloves. Yikes. We scrambled out of there with the most delicious ricotta and walnut ravioli ever tasted, and chocolate ravioli and mint ice cream for dessert. We felt silly, but we'll never see these people again anyway....

Time for bed, our time here is nearly through.

Day 10, Tuesday 09.23.08

Our 13th wedding anniversary.

Today we hop on a train southward to Füssen and the glorious fairy tale castles of Mad King Ludwig. A two-hour train ride through the farmlands of Bavaria into the Alps. Gorgeous. It was an overcast foggy day, but the mists shrouding the mountains only added to the mystique.

First stop on our Bavarian Alps castle tour, a horse-drawn carriage ride up to:

The home of King Maximillian, father of King Ludwig. Our first stop in the Alps on a rainy day. Plenty of steps to climb. Some 200+ going up (and of course coming down too) in staggered stages. Opulent rooms, borderling gaudy. Hell, not borderline. These rooms WERE gaudy. Afterward Chris remarked, "And this was the castle of the SANE one." Only imagine the treats in store for the next stop. Oh dear. In any event, the following stop, and model for Disney's Cinderella castle, would be:

More opulent. Bankrupting the family fortune to build this thing. And sadly, only 13 rooms are completed. Ludwig dies in 1886 under quite mysterious circumstances leaving an enormous unfinished castle. Still, the two were gorgeous and took quite some time to get around. The tours themselves were only 35-40 minutes apiece. And yet when you booked them both at the bottom of the mountain, they give you 2 hours in between castles. Two hours? Yes, because it takes you that long to travel down one mountain, up the other, and trek up the steep trail to the entrance. Our legs were getting a workout to say the least.

Then it was the two hours by train back to Munich. As we exited the central train station, we decided to stop at the closest hotel we could find and ask for a good Italian restaurant for dinner. We stopped at a Le Meridien and got walking directions to a spot called La Vecchia Masseria. A walk at night through, ahem, some interesting streets. I mean, we walked right by "Sex World". Then for the street the restaurant is on. A dankly, dimly lit avenue that made us a tad uncomfortable. We persevered and made it. Fantastic food. Loud bustling Italian restaurant. A wonderful dinner for our anniversary. Well worth the nervous walk.

Day 9, Monday 09.22.08

Today's the day. The big day. The day we hit "Therese's Meadow" and see the sights of Oktoberfest.

And it rained.

And rained.

And rained.

Our pants were soaked. Our rain jackets were barely keeping the water out. And the umbrella just wasn't doing much good anymore.

6 million people come to Oktoberfest over its 16 days. 6 million. The one good thing about the rain is that the midway and the concourse was relatively spacious enough to move around. Pictures of previous years all you see is a wall of humanity shoulder-to-shoulder with no room to move. Plenty of room here.

Until you get inside the tents.

And when we say "tents" it's not carnival canvas tents. These are massive structures designed to hold thousands of people in one sitting. Thousands. Words cannot truly describe these tents and the work that goes into them. It's incredible. And they are constructed and taken down each and every year. Unreal. The sheer magnitude of it all is really overwhelming. No need to describe it, just look at the photos:


Afterward, we hit up a wine store so Kimberly can bring back some eiswein, "ice wine". A super sweet dessert wine where the grapes need to experience the first frost and be pressed while frozen. Makes for a teeth-hurting sweet wine that is consumed in small, small quantities. Our fantastic waiter at the hotel, Stefan, gave us tips on where to find it. He most assuredly did not steer us wrong.

Finally, dinner back at the hotel to show off our bounty to Stefan. Oktoberfest in Munich is truly something to behold, even if pictures and not words tell the story.


Day 8, Sunday 09.21.08

The plan today was to have breakfast at our hotel, then catch the train southward to see the "fairy tale castles" of the southern Bavaria Alps. Breakfast was tasty at the Angelo: eggs, bacon, veal meatballs, fruits, croissants, and fantastic preserves. As we finished our meal, we realized looking at the train timetables, that we missed a key train and would end up with a rather lengthy layover. So we scratched the castle gig and decided to hop on the metro a fair bit to the north edge of town to go to the BMW Welt and Museum. "Welt" meaning "world".

An enormous complex with their world headquarters, a manufacturing plant, the "welt" where people can pick up their newly purchased cars in a ceremony, and the museum. It was here in the welt that Chris has found his new car: the pictured BMW 120i. Sure it ain't $80,000 of pure luxury, but it's relatively fancy, and has fold-down backseats for luggage, Home Depot trips, and fat black Lhasa Apso's to travel around in. Loved it.

In order, the first BMW aircraft engine, the first BMW motorcycle, and the first BMW car all displayed with pride. Race cars, old cars, futuristic cars, and a hydrogen car. As it was a museum, and they had panels in English, we spent quite a bit of time here. Quite a fun complex to visit.

From here, we took the metro in to the Pinakothek der Moderne, the modern art museum. Four museums in one actually: art, design, architecture, and works on paper. Some pretty eclectic pieces here, but not filled with the real oddities and crazy stuff that really make us think. Some Warhols and Picassos adorn the walls, so it wasn't a failure by any stretch. And non-flash photos were allowed! Cool!

Afterward it was dinner at Weisses Brauhaus, the home of Schneider-Weisse and Aventinus beers. Another beer hall with old wooden bench seating. Dried hop vines, as seemingly in all of Bavaria, adorn the walls, windows, ceilings, bannisters, everything. Kimberly is almost at her wits end in finding anything edible in Germany besides Italian restaurants, hotel pizza, and wine. More interesting sausage dishes on the menu here. The pig is an animal that Germans love to butcher. Nothing goes to waste. Nothing. Observe:

Yum! Diaphragm!

Then it was off to the hotel. We had an internet connection in our room, so the 4:15pm Browns/Ravens game occurred at 10:15pm local time. We fired up ESPN Gamecast to follow along until it got out of hand and we shut it off. Damn Browns.

Day 7, Saturday 09.20.08

After a full day's train travel, we slept in quite late. So, after finally getting dressed, we headed out onto the metro into town to find the venerable Hofbräuhaus for lunch and liters of beer. Winding, twisting streets, plus the lack of a map that names all the tiny alleyways, led us to a confused walk through town. Finally, using our rusty skills of directional awareness, we find it.

And oh what a line to even get in!

When the herd of humanity that we were apart of was finally allowed to enter, it was a sea of beer drinkers on wooden benches for as far as the eye could see. Amazing. The noise level was intense. The throb of people and the clinking of heavy mugs all added to an auditory overload. We finally find an empty bench and pop a squat. Then the menu....all in German (well, duh!). Chris could make out what he wanted as he is a fan of the sausage and brat and weiner and such. Kimberly? Not so much. So it took a bit of confused looks and references to our travel guide to decipher some of the ingredients. Finally, an English menu is found and all is well. The darling pretzel girl pictured above sold us a delicious treat:

Three battery salesmen from South Africa sat across from us and proceeded to engage us in lively conversation: wine, politics, Germany, food, schnapps, beer. Funny to hear folks from a long long way aways from America discuss our presidential election.

The world is indeed watching. During our stay, we spoke with South Africans, Italians, and Scots about Obama/McCain..after THEY brought it up! Anyway, so we order up a few liters of beer and order our food. The liters are drained and the food still hasn't arrived. Just a huge ass pretzel. The food finally makes it (sausage plate for Chris and cheese spaetzl for Kimberly). Great, at least SOMETHING to absorb the massive amounts of alcohol in the belly. The jovial South Africans, not content to wait for a liter's worth of beer alcohol to take effect, promptly order shots of schnapps. "You are in Germany now, it must be done!" they exclaim. Oh boy, we're in for it. The "plan" was to go in, have some lunch, and have two liter mugs of beer. Then, on to the next place, say, the Ayinger spot across the street! Nope. Not happening. We spent a good portion of our afternoon here, experiencing all sorts of things, both good and bad: jolly South Africans who seemingly are immune to alcohol's treacherous effects, spontaneous shouts of what we assume to be drinking songs or chants, a creppy Italian who was enamored with Kimberly and asked Chris if it was OK to have sex with her, an assholish person playing grab-ass with Kimberly on the way out. And this was during the afternoon! Could only imagine the debauchery involved had it been the evening. The Hofbräuhaus experince, at least the bad ones, left Kimberly feeling what in the hell are we getting into??? Mostly, the atmosphere was one of fun and frivolity making new friends from far away lands, and hopefully over time this will drown out the creepiness that Kimberly sadly experienced firsthand.

After relieving our bodies of excessive alcohol (ahem, in more ways than one...schnapps AND beer? Whew, Chris felt so much better afterwards...), we staggered to the pedestrian area near Marienplatz to look around for a coat for Kimberly. The cold snap continued, and the jacket she brought just wasn't cutting it. So a new coat, scarf and gloves were acquired for her, and Chris fit the Oktoberfest bill by getting a green felt hat with a feather. Ahhh, warmth!

It's now dark and late (seriously, we spent virtually the entire day at Hofbräuhaus) and Chris's tummy, I mean, we feel well enough for some dinner. Another cobblestone street, another alley, and we make our way to Andechser am Dom for dinner. The Andechs monastery produces a fantastic beer called Andechser Doppelbock, a rich fruity beer that nourishes. Hey, when monks fast and all they drink is this? Almost makes you want to get fitted for a robe. The monastery is a ways out and a bit of trouble to get to, so they opened up a restaurant in town to make some cash, also limiting the number of beery tourists heading out to see them and generally harassing them about their beer.

So we find a table and order some dinner. There was an item that had the translation "meatloaf" in it, so Kimberly ordered up a plate to split (and Chris got some veal meatballs for splitting purposes).

Leberkäs is the name. Never order it.

It was a compact, dense, moist loaf of hot dog. Think an enormous hot dog, compressed into meatloaf size. Nasty. Not until a little later did we surmise that "leber" means "liver", and that we saw souvenir tins of leberkäs sold in shops. Tins. Of meat. It's freaking SPAM.


Our first full day in Germany is indeed an interesting one. One we may never forget.

Day 6, Friday 09.19.08

One final breakfast at the Queen Anne Hotel, then an early morning cab to the train station. All our luggage did not promote a metro ride to the station. A two hour train ride from Brussels to Cologne (or Köln as the locals say). Pile the luggage into the end of the train car, and stare out the windows at the Belgian and German countryside. Köln is the home of true Kölsch beer, so in the station, Chris just had to have one. Like Champagne is only Champagne in France, all others is "sparkling wine"; Kölsch beer is a Köln specialty. When in Rome....

Then, after a tiny "layover", it was a 6-hour train ride to Munich. Chaos on the train. We had reservations, meaning "seats". People will just hop on and hope they can sit down. It was a massive wave of humanity pouring into the train. Trains run on time, on the dot. So as we were trying to find a spot for our enormous bags (there wasn't any), the train moves. Gotta go! So people are falling over each other as the train lurches and winds its way. We managed one bag by Kimberly's feet, and one bag in the bins overhead, but the biggest one was by the door being used as a seat for one of the standing masses. Once that door opens, our bag is gone. So, at the first stop in Bonn, Chris gets up and manages to get the bag and lift in into the overhead bins, hoping it doesn't fall down and kill someone. Eventually the crowds dwindle, but the first 3 hours or so of the trip was chaotic and frenzied.

8 hours via train: Brussels - Köln - Bonn - Frankfurt - Mannheim - Stuttgart - Ulm - Augsburg - Munich.

Our second European home: the Angelo Designhotel. Ultra-modern. Super cool. A far cry from the simple Charlie Brown dorm room that was our previous home. A late dinner at the hotel restaurant of pizza and we settle our weary heads in Germany. More hijinks to follow tomorrow....

Day 5, Thursday 09.18.08

Morning hotel breakfast again before we head out on the 11:05am train to Brugge. About 60 minutes of train time to go northwest fairly close to the North Sea. From the train station in Brugge, we took a bus into the center of town. Gorgeous.

Brugge is called the "Venice of the North", so of course we took a canal tour of the town. Beautiful. An old medieval town. Stunning landscape.

After our canal tour, we took in the Groeninge Museum, a collection of Belgium's "Flemish Primitives" artwork. Odd. Violence and all things Catholic are big hits.

From here we hit up a fantastic beer store, De Bier Tempel, to peruse their wares. It was here that we found the heralded Westvleteren Abt 12 noted in the "Surprise Post from Germany" note below. If only we had 4 or 5 extra empty suitcases. The proprietor was enamored with our joy (well, at least just Chris's) that he gave us coupons for free beer at the restaurant Cambrinus down the street. Cool! He gives them out to the "big spenders" that come into his store. It wasn't THAT much....

With a heavy backpack full of beer, we made our way through busy streets and confusing alleys to De Halve Maan for a brewery tour. Kimberly stayed with the backpack in the pub with her Newsweeks and coffee while Chris squeezed up and down a multitude of steps to take the tour. Seriously? Who installs steps where you need to descend BACKWARDS like a ladder? But all the climbing was well worth it with the view from the brewery's roof:

We cashed in our free beer tickets at Cambrinus where it was rumored that Westvleteren was available for consumption. Giddy-up! Sadly, the free beer was for house beers only, so those had to be gulped down before the nectar of Westvleteren monks was consumed. Delicious.

Sadly, it was time for the bus, the train, and the metro back to our hotel in Brussels. But when we arrived at the train station in Brussels, before heading to the metro and our hotel? A WAFFLE!!!! Energized by delicious sugary carbs, we pack for Munich. Our train to Munich leaves tomorrow, so sadly we must bid Belgium adieu.

No more Belgian beer. No more Belgian chocolates. A new adventure awaits us....

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Day 4, Wednesday 09.17.08

We woke up early enough today to nab some breakfast at the Queen Anne. Simple, yet yummy. Some of the best tomatoes Chris has every tasted. Seriously. Eggs, bacon, cheese, tomatoes, cold cuts, bread. These tomatoes rock.

Then it was the metro over to Cantillon Brewery for a tour of their establishment. Cantillon makes traditional lambic beer; spontaneous fermentation. Yeast is not added directly by the brewer. Wild yeast in the air and building fall into the beer and fermentation begins this way. Consequently, so none of the ambient yeasts are destroyed, there isn't a whole lot of cleaning going on. Cobwebs galore! Dusty barrels everywhere! Samples after the tour, with REALLY stinky beers to try. A mere five employees work here. A family business. Five employees. Incredible.

From here, another metro ride into town for a tour of the European Union Parliament. But first, lunch. An Italian restaurant (the best in Brussels) called Il Pasticcio, a loud bustling spot with complimentary wine that will grow hair on your chest. A 3:00 tour of the EU Parliament calls, so we make our way over. Headphones for everybody, all EU countries represented if you'd like to hear a different language. The tour was rather boring and bland, but the photo op was nifty:

Another metro ride way, way, way out of town was next to the Atomium, a gigantic model of an iron crystal. Brussels hosted the 1958 World's Fair, and the 50th anniversary of this structure was marvelous. But before entering the Atomium, there was...


A building made up completely of plastic beer cases. An expo of the 1958 World's Fair and the vision of the future people had. An oddity to say the least, but a novel concept nonetheless.

From here, up into the Atomium for a nifty view of Brussels. All throughout the orbs of the stucture were panels and exhibits concerning the 1958 World's Fair, so of course we read them all. Escalators, stairs, and an elevator to take us throughout the Atomium. Pretty cool.

Back into town on the metro to a hotel down the street from ours, the Hotel Metropole, which was mentioned in the Belgian Beer Guide as a place to hit for elegance and decadence. We got another salami and cheese plate, along with a Belle-Vue Kriek Extra, another tart sour one. Then a quick walk to Grand Place for another waffle and more chocolate shopping. We ended the night with a nightcap kriek at Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place brewpub.

Day 3, Tuesday 09.16.08

We sleep in. We get a late start. The time difference is finally kicked, by noon we've walked to the Grand Place again for lunch. But first, a stop at Neuhaus for a supply of Belgian chocolates. Wow, such intricate and detailed little chocolates! We stopped here multiple times during our trip to pick up some souvenirs...and stuff for us too. Chocolate truffles, chocolate pralines (which in Belgium means chocolate with anything in it, not just pecans), chocolate bars, oh dear...

Chocolate fix complete, we grab lunch at Brussels's brewpub, Les Brasseurs de la Grand Place. Three beers on tap: blond, tripel, kriek. Kimberly sampled this kriek (many times) and found this kriek to be her favorite of the trip. She probably consumed an entire pint of it with all the sampling she did.

From here we hit up the Brewer's Museum, building #10 in the Grand Place guilds. Different professions have their "guild base" at Grand Place, and the brewers one is by far the most ornate and largest. Beer takes a prominent place in Belgian lifestyle. We took the self-guided tour in this building from 1698. 1698! The film was in French, but we muddled through. Remnants of the 17th century Hoegaarden brewery on display. 17th century! 1600's! And free beer samples afterward in a dark pub with old heavy wood everywhere. Plus you can't beat the dried hop vines all over the place for decoration!

On the opposite side of the Grand Place, we stopped into the Brussels City Museum for a tour. Now anyone who has been in a museum with the Gordons knows that we read e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g on the walls. We take forever. If the greeter says it should take two hours to go through a museum, count on 3 or 4 with the Gordons. Sadly, this museum was in just French and we couldn't read anything. We joked that this was a world record for us in museum visiting.

From here, Kimberly searched for warm socks in stores while Chris downed a couple at the Delirium Cafe, who owns the Guinness Book of World Records with over 2000 beers available at one time. Chris just had two.

We learned before we left on travel shows, in our travel books, and then in town in the city museum that one of the city's "mascots" is a statue of a naked boy urinating. This is no lie. It's entitled Manneken-Pis. You can't make this up. So we ventured out to find him, took a few photos, and giggled with the rest of the throng.

Back to the hotel for another nap, then it was a second walk over to Le Bier Circus for a late dinner. THIS time they'll be open! More kriek imbibed: Kriek Boon and Kriek Girardin. We're falling down the path of "stinky" beer for Kimberly. Her first krieks were sweet and candylike. Now we're getting into the more "traditional" krieks where sour and tart and stinky are involved. Kimberly's sips get smaller and smaller. The highlight though was chocolate mousse made with the Trappist beer Chimay. Creamy and delicious!