Sunday, December 02, 2007

When Songs Won’t Fall From The Sky

I’ve forgotten how much work it is to write songs. It’s hard to believe that Backstage Pass arrived off the press a little over three years ago. Much has changed since then. Much. The prospect of composing a new project comes with it much soul searching and forces a lot questions such as “who is your audience?” and “what do you want to write about?” and “what do you have to say that people can connect with?” and “who are your key influences and what direction do you want to explore musically while staying relevant and unique?” Maybe some song writers just sit down and songs magically fall in their lap. For me, song composition is a holistic adventure. It requires deep emotional and spiritual inventory. I want to write music that is honest, yet along with this, I have to have a good handle on what I’m passionate about, and what's killing me inside.

I wouldn’t say writing Backstage Pass was easy. It was actually quite a grueling process. I was stretched to limits in many ways... musically, relationally, and financially. Yet, like the birth of a child, you somehow forget about the pain once you’re holding the new born in your arms. (Certainly, a baby has a little more value than a CD, but you get my point.) I still remember seeing the first UPS box of Backstage Pass CDs in the lobby of the tv station I work at, and I was about as giddy as a four year old anticipating a fire engine on Christmas morning. It’s hard to explain.

In a way, I feel like I’m starting all over. Certainly, I can build on the technical knowledge I acquired through the process of developing Backstage Pass, but musically speaking, creating new lyrics and melodies is like visiting an uncharted country, wonderful yet strangely foreign at the same time. After a year or so of hoping finished songs would fall from the sky, I’ve made a new commitment to spend one night a week in front of a piano, prayerfully jotting down and recording any thought which strikes my creative interest. For the last several weeks, I’ve been setting aside Tuesday evening as “song night.” Sometimes, I write from home, yet usually, I prefer to sit in front of a Yamaha grand piano in the beautiful sanctuary of a local church. For inspiration sakes, I find that it’s good to get away from the electronics and get back to the basics of piano, voice, and melody. I love keyboards and programming, but there are times when cool sounds can be a cover for a mediocre melody, a lazy chord progression, or a half hearted lyric. If the song works with a piano, it will go even further with a rhythm section and a clever string arrangement. Sometimes, I want so badly to pull out the sweet synth patch and build a song from that, but I have to force myself to keep to the basics, at least in the initial composition process.

Well, fortunately, this time around, I don’t have a break up to write about. Three tunes on Backstage Pass were in fact influenced by a relationship which didn’t turn out as expected. These days, I’m trying to broaden my focus past my own let downs, and instead of complaining about my own little world, I want to speak of bigger issues which are affecting people on a larger scale. And no, my next project is not going to be about global warming. I’m dealing with bigger questions involving eternity and why we’re here and who God is and how screwed up our perceptions are. Stuff like that.

I would really appreciate your prayers as I begin this journey. I just want to glorify God in what I create, and want to say what He wants me to say. Pray for me on Tuesday nights if you think about it.

The piano pictured above is the one I often write from.

Day 4 of "To Bavaria and Beyond" is coming soon...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oh, If The Pilgrims Could See Us Now

Unlike most of the country, my family celebrated Thanksgiving over the weekend. My brother and his family from Indiana arrived Friday evening, and we all enjoyed a turkey and dressing feast at my parent's house on Saturday. Unfortunately, my sister from Germany was unable to make it to the states this year. Joining us was my mom and dad's friend Marta along with her two boys, Sharon and Mike. Other activities of the day included some intense leaf raking, ladder repelling (into a large leaf pile), and bag pulling (we dragged the kids around at high speeds on tearing leaf bags). Saturday evening, my two nieces and my oldest nephew stopped over to my studio and we continued our yearly tradition of composing a strange but powerful song about nothing. This year's song was called "Randy" and told the story of a poor guy who's one dream in life was to buy a financial instructional book from fictional author Dr. Riley. You can listen to our extremely weird song here. We pray that it inspires you to follow your dreams, whatever they may be. You can thank my nephew for most of the lyrics.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

To Bavaria and Beyond: Day 3

The morning of day three (Tuesday, October 9th) started in a much similar way as day two. I again woke to the ringing of the clock tower across the street, as well as to the sounds of Beth wrestling catastrophes to the floor in her office room next door. She had already been awake for a couple hours, aligning both the details of her upcoming consulting trips as well researching travel possibilities for the bright new day which lay ahead of us. We had already made up our minds to spend our second full day away from Munich, and we were leaning towards visiting Austria, and more specifically, two famous castles in Austria, Linderhof and Neuschwanstein. (The picture above was taken in Austria.)

Are There Any More Options?
I will say that my sister is incredibly talented. Not only is she a platinum caliber athlete; she is likewise a detailed planner, organizer, and an all around multi-tasker who can run blurred circles around obsessive compulsive hyper analytical turtles like me who, with much emotion, adopt one goal, and focus nearly every resource towards accomplishing that one goal, even if that finish line is three lilly padded ponds and one hundred submerged stumps away. This isn’t to say I’m not a planner, or an organizer, or a multi tasker. I think I am all three. I would simply argue that, compared to my sister, I am generally more determined to pick a plan and stick with it. If we were American Gladiators (if you remember the tv show), I would be named “Rock” and my sister would be called “Impulse.” I will leave it at that.

If there was a familiar catch phrase which accompanied my trip to Europe, it would be “Another option is...” For every great idea my sister had, there had to be at least eight or ten even greater ideas which would soon progressively shadow the release of the first great idea. After several days of latching onto the first great ideas, and then soon realizing that they weren’t really the best ideas after all, I resorted to keeping my mouth shut until all the ideas were on the table, the last being the idea my sister really wanted to implement (that was my interpretation at least).

So Many Castles, So Little Time
As I sleepily wandered into my sister’s office, she handed me a stack of freshly printed Austrian maps and castle fact sheets which she had gathered from the wonderful world wide web.

“Marc, can you call that number there and find out when they give tours at Neuschwanstein? Also, can you ask how they late they are open, how long their tours are, and how far they are from Linderhof?”

“Sure, I’d be glad to do that,” I replied, “Umm... what part of this number should I dial and what numbers should I leave out? Do you think they speak English?”

“Dial all the numbers. Yeah, I’m sure they speak English. Can you clean your stuff up in the living room? It’s really a mess in there.”

“Yeah, sure.” Ring-ring-ring. “Ah yes, hello... is this Neuschwanstein?” Lady on phone - “Yes.” Me - “Um yeah, what time do your tours start and how long do they last?” Lady on phone - “Ok, hold on.” 2nd lady on the phone- “Hello?” Me - “Hi, is this Neuschwanstein? 2nd lady on the phone- “Hello?” Me- “Ah, yes, hello?” 2nd lady on the phone- “Hello.” Me yelling across the room- “Beth, I’m thinking they don’t speak English!”

“Let me talk to her.” Beth on the phone (translated from German)- “Ok...yeah...ah huh...oh...sorry about that. Chow!! (in a high pitched voice)” “Marc, you dialed the wrong number.”


“Here, try again.”


“Hurry up, we should have left a long time ago.”


“Can you help clean up the dishes and can you vacuum the floor.”


At this point, I had started to make my mattress in the living room and was folding up the Leopard skin patterned quilt.

“Is this your used dental floss on the bathroom counter!?”


“Did you use the sink in the bathroom.”

“I think so.”

“I told you not to use the sink in the bathroom! It’s broken! Use the sink in the shower room.”

“Sorry about that.”

“Do you know you have to put a piece of paper towel down in this toilet before you go number two? Otherwise, you’ll leave a stain on the little shelf in the toilet. (it was a weird old toilet design, with yes, a raised flat waterless “shelf”)

“Oopps. I had no intention of leaving a stain.”

“Can you take the trash in the kitchen down to the dumpster outside.”


“Can you hurry up?! We really need to leave soon!”

“I’ll hurry.”

Eventually, we tidied up the apartment (all the while, I felt this guilt that I really should have helped out sooner after my sister had done so much in fixing me breakfast, and planning the details for the day... and in contrast to this, I was also developing an increasing fatigue towards the barrage of nagging.)

I was now standing at the door with my back pack, and was ready to walk down to the car.

“Did you leave this window open?” (Beth)

“Sorry, I didn’t know it was my responsibility to check all the windows. I’ll be careful about that in the future. Can I get a print out of all the things I’m doing wrong? That would really help.”

Click here to see a video of our drive to Linderhof.

If You (Fill In The Blank), You’re Probably A Ludwig II
I always get a mild kick out of red neck jokes. I mean, I usually don’t laugh out loud at red neck jokes, but the thought of missing front teeth, cars on blocks in uncut grass, and interfamily marriages always seems to bring a smile to my face. Not really. Anyways, if you think red necks make for great hoopla, take into consideration the self beloved King Ludwig II. What a strange man. He once declared, “I want to remain an eternal mystery to myself and others.” Now, that is something to live for! I’ve always wanted to be a mystery to myself. I want to keep myself in the dark about myself. That sounds like a good time.

King Ludwig II was apparently a constitutional monarch, a head of state with rights and duties, but little freedom. His life goal was to build a fantasy world in which He could be a real king (doesn’t everyone want to be a big fish in a small pond?). He was responsible for the construction of both castles Beth and I were planning to visit, the smaller more intimate Linderhof ( fashioned after Trianon at Versailles, Louis XIV's small retreat where he could escape the crowds at the large Palace) and the towering baroque styled Neuschwanstein, which was based on Christian kingship in the Middle Ages, and inspired by Wartburg Castle in Thuringia. Beth and I began by touring Linderhof. I had to put my camera away because no photography was allowed in the castle. An English speaking,heavy German accented tour guide (with a dry sense of humor) led us through the gold garnished, painting flourished rooms of the self indulgent castle where King Ludwig would sit alone for days on end and bask in his own solitude.

Of all the oddities, I was particularly struck by the king’s dining habits, which involved him eating as he conversed with his own reflection in a mirror across the room. His marble lavished table was a peculiar invention which descended to the chef’s kitchen below, and after being loaded with glutton’s food, it was again raised to Ludwig’s lonely dining quarters above. The inner designs of Linderhof were a stark contrast to today’s minimalistic metal and glass and moderately colored decor. I think I would go crazy myself if I had to live in a place like Linderhof. One particularly interesting highlight of our castle visit was an insanity promoting room whose walls were covered with reflection echoing mirrors with fun house proportions. Why relish in a single reflection of yourself when you can admire yourself thousands of times over? Makes sense to me. If your bedroom has more mirrors than a carnival, you’re probably a Ludwig II.

After visiting the castle, we walked through Grotto, an artificial cave (which included a waterfall as well as convincing stalactites) created by Ludwig II for the purpose of hosting operas and plays. It is said that these productions were performed solely for Ludwig as he sat alone in a small boat which floated around in an artificial lake. Hopefully, he was accomplishing his goal of being a mystery to himself. The cave was inspired by composer Robert Wagner’s opera “Tannhäuser,” as Ludwig was an obsessive groupie of Wagner.

Wiener Schnitzel and Wood Planked Bridges
After visiting Linderhof, we drove toward East Allgäu which hosted Neuschwanstein, yet another castle of Ludwig. When we first arrived, we took a fifteen minute hike up a moderately inclined wooded path. Along the way, we passed a number of postcarded souvenir shops, Austrian restaurants, batter smelling food stands, not to mention crowds of photo happy Japanese tourists. According to custom, I purchased myself a sandwich (this time a traditional Wiener Schnitzel sandwich, made from thin slices of veal which are coated in breadcrums and then fried) and an Apfelsaftschorle (apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral water). Yes, even a fifteen minute hike required a sandwich. I think my sister had already had her apple for the day.

One of the coolest sights on our ascent upwards was the roped bridge (Marienbrücke) which overlooked Neuschwanstein, and I think the meadows of Schwangau. I’m not exactly sure how high the bridge hung above the rocks and small stream. I was just pretty sure that falling wasn’t a good option. Click here to see the video. The Bavarian, Lechtal and Allgäu Alps served as a breath taking backdrop to an already magnificent castle. Neuschwanstein was King Ludwig’s first castle and was incomplete at his death in 1886 (He was found mysteriously drowned in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had declared him insane). A simplified version of the "Kemenate" on the south side of the Upper Courtyard was completed in 1891. The castle included many modern commodities, including electric lights and indoor plumbing.

Unfortunately, Beth and I only had time to see Neuschwanstein from the bridge, as tours ended around 4:00 pm and we were still quite some distance from the castle itself. We descended the wooded path and headed back to the car to change in preparation for our next adventure, a narrow pathed run around Alpsee Lake, a tranquil body of water set in front of a now lighted Neuschwanstein.

What You Can’t See Can’t Hurt You (Unless You Trip On A Root And Fall Off A Cliff Into The Lake)
It really was a beautiful night to run. A bit brisk, but beautiful. We both changed into our athletic apparel in failing daylight beside the rental car, and after Beth had taken an unashamed pee behind a modest shrub lining the tourist trodden path leading up to the bridge overlooking Neuschwanstein, we set off on a mid paced jog which soon evolved into a competition against the now setting Austrian sun.

The fall atmosphere around Lake Alpsee was colorfully surreal (in a Lord of the Rings sort of way) and deathly quiet, accented only by the crackle of the leaves beneath our feet, the whisk of our polypropylene jackets, and the pulse of our own breathing. The trail around the lake varied with many crests and dips, one moment guiding us only feet away from the lake and in the next turn, leading us a good fifty frightening feet above grey sleeping waters. Below the glass of the lake lay white barked trees, so still and ghostly in appearance, they resembled bones paused in time.

For the sake of traveling lightly, I had left my camera back at the car, but fortunately, my sister was able to snap a few pics on her cell phone (sadly, I don’t have any of those to post). I would have to say the loop around Lake Alpsee was one of the most relaxing runs I’ve had in a long time, awakening many fond memories of high school cross country training (I was all the while suppressing the bad flashbacks of sore joints, aching muscles, and restrictive diet plans). What a beautiful area. God’s creation is just amazing.

Night was setting as we reached the car. We were in fact quite lucky to get back when we did. As we were running, I occasionally had unpleasant visions of Beth screaming as she snagged her foot on a root, her body flying head over heels into the foreign waters below. I’m thankful that didn’t happen.

I’m Not A Stuntman, But I Play One On TV
Well, I’m not a celebrity on television... and besides doing tricks on a skateboard back in middle school, I’ve lived a relatively stunt free life. However, Tuesday, October 9th changed everything. Ok, it really wasn’t that dramatic, but exaggeration always makes for a better story, right? Anyways, here’s the deal. After running, Beth and I arrived back at the car only to discover that the exit to the parking lot had been barricaded with a chain and lock. Our only option (besides spending the evening in a chilly car) was to drive Beth’s car between two parking blocks and off a relatively tall curb (about five-six inches high), a feat which would most likely damage the underbelly of an already low sitting vehicle. Beth was nervously worried of the possibilities after a long history of damaged rental cars, an expensive habit, to say the least. After a few attempts, she offered me the wheel. My male ego was now at home. After having her swear to a disclaimer which stated “I, Beth, hereby vow under court of law and under the applicable ordinances of the state of Alpsee the following. I concur that my dear heroic brother, namely Marc, will not be held responsible for any fees incurred by the harm potentially befalling this fateful rental vehicle during his attempt to launch the vehicle at high speeds off a large curb...” That’s sort of where I get a bit lost on the verbiage. I will confess...I’m not a lawyer and I don’t know a bit about writing disclaimers... but I can drive a car, and that’s all that really matters.

To finish the story in a timely manner, here is what happened. I pretty much gunned the car between the two blocks, launched the vehicle into the air (ok, maybe I was a couple inches off the ground) and landed safely on the pavement, skidding to a screeching halt, only inches from the front door of the restaurant across the street (well, if I’m honest, I was more like twenty five feet away from the restaurant). And that’s the story of how I rescued my sister from being frozen and stranded in a parking lot all night. In jaw dropped amazement, my sister jumped in the car and then... with one hand on the wheel, and the other hand suavely sipping a flat Apfelsaftschorle, a 002esque grin on my face, I hit the gas, peeling away in clouds of smoke, leaving the Austrian asphalt with a super hero sized steaming black rubber etched mark of my presence, a crowd roaring, final credit prepping “M.” Did I ever say anything about exaggeration?

In the next episode of “To Bavaria and Beyond,” tune in as Beth and I travel to Tobole, Italy, get stopped by the cops, experience some of the differences between Germans and Italians, and spend hours trying to find a room to sleep for the night.

Monday, October 22, 2007

To Bavaria and Beyond: Day 2

Monday found me struggling to peel my eyes open. I think I rolled out of the leopard skinned blanketed mattress on Beth’s living room floor around 9:30 am or so. I had definitely eaten up the sleep after approximately 48 hours void of shut eye. Although I was strangely managing, my body was still a little confused as to whether it should be working or charging. Those of you who have experienced jet lag know the disorientation I am describing. This picture is taken looking out Beth's apartment window.

The Sounds and Smells of Munich
The first morning in Germany met me with a number of peculiar sounds, the most prominent being the clock tower down the street which seemed to be stuck in loop mode. If I remember correctly, there are only 24 hours in the day, but I think this happy bell rang like 50 times. The second ambience I detected was the animated voice of the sister the next room over. She had already been awake for several hours, and was busy in her office catching up on piles of consulting work after a month or so of being away from home. Occasionally, I’d hear an agitated “why isn’t this working?” and an anxious “where did all my files go?” and a despairing “I didn’t mean to send that email!” Catastrophes were in the air, yet they were somehow muted by the wonderfully competing warm aromas of coffee beans and German bread.

Japanese Tourists and Drained Batteries
It was a beautiful day outside, and after a steamy cup of foamed cappucino and a textured bowl of granola, we loaded our hiking bags into the rental car and set out in layered clothing towards Tegernsee, a picturesque town set against the mountains approximately one hour south and slightly east of Munich. The leaves were just beginning to change color, and the combination of the fiery trees and the fog draped rock peaks were breath taking, and altogether a far cry from the relatively flat lands of Ohio. I was quite eager to use my new Sony digital camera (which I had only purchased about a week before my departure). In fact, I spent the majority of our one lane country road drive snapping landscape shots like an over zealous Japanese tourist in Central Park.

Now this is the part where I start to look retarded. Really retarded. I work in technology everyday and am acutely aware of the importance of power, yet on this particular occasion, I managed to forget the crucial aspect of charging my camera battery. Why would I do such a thing? Still not sure. I think the answer has the word “idiot” in it somewhere. Maybe it’s that I didn’t realize that three out of four lit bars of power on my camera doesn’t mean three out of four lit bars of power left. Three bars means your camera’s going to shut down at any moment, and four bars means your lens isn’t even going to retract, and you’re going to have to paste your face on a lot of postcards. I kept kicking myself for not picking up an extra battery in Columbus, but I had my reasons... namely that I was on an extremely tight budget after dropping nearly $2000 on plane tickets, rushed passport fees, hiking shoes, additional athletic apparel, new luggage, and a sweet new camera... not to mention another $1000 or so on sound paneling for my studio room at home (which I probably could have waited on). So, anyways, to make a really long and unnecessary tangent shorter, my sister and I eventually uncovered a small camera shop somewhere between Munich and Tegernsee which sold “universal” camera/video camera chargers, which could function using either a wall outlet or a car cigarette lighter. (The lady at the store counter didn’t understand English, but thankfully, my sister was there to interpret.) The charger wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but it would do. I walked back to the car with a dead lithium battery in one hand and a new $60 european charger in the other, still kicking myself for not spending that $60 on a new battery in Columbus, all the while reasoning that there would be many other opportunities to snap landscape photos during my ten day trip.

A Wuss With Overpriced Wool Socks
One of sister’s peculiarities is the fact that she doesn’t eat lunch. I, on the other hand, need my food or really bad stuff happens. Headaches and light headedness are the most common ripple, but even worse is the incessant whining. My sister, on the other hand, can eat an apple for breakfast, and spend the remainder of her day undertaking five hour bike rides up 90 degree mountain inclines, hour and a half runs through the afternoon woods, and multiple laps in the pool, all of which are topped off with a pulse raising aqua jog, which commences at the close of the pool. She often then finishes the day with a salad and a cup of tea. I don’t mean to sound like a total wuss here, but I can’t do that. So, with the knowledge that we’d soon would be hiking for hours up a mountain in Tegernsee, I unapologetically requested that we stop to obtain some grub for the ascent.

Any new cultural experience isn’t complete without a round sampling of that culture’s traditional cuisine. So, with that in mind, my sister and I stopped at a small Bavarian mom and pop shop along the road, where we purchased a traditional Tyroler Speck and Bergkaese (ham and cheese) sandwich and of course, an Apfelsaftschorle (apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral water), which slowly evolved into my new favorite drink during the course of the trip. My sister loaned me an extremely petite blue back pack for our climb (which was actually designed for cyclists), and I managed to stuff the white paper bag containing my lunch into one of the pockets, along side several other items, which included: a small black Mag Lite, an extra polypropylene t-shirt, and a pair of non-itch wool socks (costing an outrageous $18 a pair), which I eventually ended up using as make-shift gloves.

I’m Not Fluent, But I’m Fashionable
We arrived at Tegernsee towards mid afternoon, just as the sun was reaching its zenith in the sky, and just as most hikers were turning around to begin their descent back down the mountain path. There were a good ten or more cars parked on either side of the gravel parking lot, which led us to obviously believe that there were quite a few other climbers inhabiting the autumn woods above us. We definitely were getting a late start, but our intention was to hike as far as we could before dark. (Regardless, I packed the Mag Lite as a safe guard in such case that we found ourselves returning along a pitch black trail with stumbling feet.)

A number of the hikers were in fact walking down the mountain at this point in the day, and as we passed them, I was particularly surprised that the majority of them looked over the age of 60. Many of them were using hiking poles (similar to skiing poles), and they were strikingly friendly compared to the reserved and straight faced walkers I’ve encountered throughout Columbus’ recreational parks (in fact, you’ll find that as a guy, most women in Columbus’ parks flat out ignore your attempt to make eye contact or conversation, and I imagine this probably has something to do with the large number of freaks who like to wander the darkened woods of Ohio and beyond). At this point in our walk, my sister appropriately commented that a lot of people in this part of Germany (and for that matter, throughout Europe) are much healthier than the majority of Americans. Whether this is true or not I’m not sure (as it is probably relative to location), but regardless, I was quite impressed to see so many grandmas and grandpas summiting such an extended trail. My sister went on to educate me on several common greetings, one of which is “Servus” (which doubles as hi and good-bye, pronounced “zay vuse”), and the other being “Gruess Gott” (which means hello, pronounced “gute scott”). By the end of my travels, I was becoming quite rehearsed in exercising my handful of German phrases, but my first attempts were mediocre at best, and had me mumbling beneath my American breath in fear that I’d make a total idiot of myself in the presence of the German elderly. It is pretty sad that I spent the first several conscious years of my life in France (my parents were missionaries), yet I still only speak English (and a little bit of jive). But hey, at least I have cool hiking shoes with ventilation and drawstring laces.

The Hut People Must Be Crazy
I can’t tell you what the name of the mountain we were hiking was. It was somewhere in Tegernsee. That’s all I know. What I do know is this. We were headed for Tegernsee Huette (hut), a small building which acts as a refuge for wearied travelers seeking rest and whipped lattes. Many of these huts more closely resemble small coffee shops / restaurants, quite a contrast to the image which first passed my thoughts when my sister said she wanted to hike five hours to the top of a mountain and stay overnight in a hut. I was thinking dirt floors...drafty accomodations...sore backs...all this with the occasional curious coyote sticking his hungry snout through the camel skin doorway. Anyways, around 5:00 pm, we arrived at the hut, but unfortunately, it was closed. What are these hut people thinking!!!???

Well, being that it was already late in the day, and we were but a couple hours away from sunset, we opted to turn around and head back to the gravel parking lot below. I think the hike was a bit anti-climatic for my sister as she is used to conquering hikes of much steeper grades and greater distances. At this juncture, I was just thinking about the rest of my sandwich, which sat lonely in my back pack. Just as I was about to put my beloved sandwich to my mouth, my sister interjected, “Are you sure you want to eat that? We still need to run!” “Oh yeah,” I thought “I did agree to run, and I really should keep my lazy butt in shape, but eating sounds SO good right now.” Poor sandwich. Poor me. So close, yet so far away. Oh, to think of what we could have been, sandwich and I.

So, yeah, it was actually a very beautiful run along the lake. I am quite happy to say that all that tread milling at the health club over the last four months paid off. The more you run, the easier it gets. I struggle to confess it out loud, but sometimes, I actually like to run. Yeah, crazy, huh? But, I also like sandwiches. I’ve actually always liked sandwiches, and I’m not afraid to say that. Anyways, I think we ran about forty five minutes or an hour. Besides the fact that I didn’t have a watch, it was difficult to gauge the length of our work out as my sister had to stop and pee in the woods about every ten minutes. Click here to see the video.

After our run, we drove back to Munich and my sister composed a tasty salmon salad with a side of brussel sprouts (which I wasn’t terribly fond of) and I ate like a famished refugee who had scaled a mountain, all to discover that he was locked out of his hut.

You won’t want to miss day three as we travel to Austria to visit castles, do stunts in the car, and thoroughly embarrass ourselves at a nude spa. All in the next edition of “To Bavaria and Beyond.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

To Bavaria and Beyond: Day 1

“Boring” is not a word I generally associate with family vacations. The prospect of traveling to Munich, Germany to visit my sister historically carried with it an expectation of the unusual and the unknown. I had no idea what sort of stories we’d soon be making; I just knew they would be anything but dull, especially in the company of my adventure-hungry, risk-surfing Sister, Beth.

Pam Spray, Power Bars, and Uncomfortable Seating Arrangements
Saturday afternoon, my parents picked me up at my apartment. I was careful to make sure I had all the essentials - passport, driver’s license, ample cash, power bars for my sister, etc. Of all items, my sister wanted me to pack a couple aerosol containers of Pam Spray, and although applicable restrictions were written quite clearly on the TSA website, she assured me that they would be totally cool with me taking explosive materials on a large passenger aircraft. When I got to the airport, I found myself handing the Pam containers to my parents under the suspicious supervision of several TSA officers.

My flights were booked with US Airways, an airline which I swore I would never travel on again, namely after a terrible experience of being stuck in the Philadelphia airport earlier this year (With that trip, I finally decided to drive home, and made it the following day in the same time as other Columbus bound flying travelers). For my trip to Europe, I arrived at Port Columbus a good two hours in advance, and as I stepped up to the check-in counter, the lady told me it was unfortunate that I hadn’t been there twenty minutes sooner. Apparently, she could have booked me on a previous flight to Philadelphia (my only lay over before heading to Munich), a possibility which I was totally unaware of. It was going to be tight as I only had an hour in Phili before the next bird, an AirBus 330, would leave the ground for the seven and a half hour stretch across the North Atlantic, and above the picturesque landscape of western Europe. The lady at the desk continued by warning me how bad the Philadelphia airport was, and how I might miss my flight to Germany and how I might be stranded in that dreaded Cheese Steak city until the following day when I could catch another flight to Munich.

Around 5:30 pm, we boarded the economy jet for Phili. I was totally comfortable in my padded chair until a very large woman came and sat in the aisle seat right next to me. She was quit nice and was apparently headed to London to visit a friend. Her sides were literally hanging over the arm rest a good 5-6 inches. I’m not kidding. “It’s all good,” I thought, “She seems like a sweet lady and we only have an hour flight ahead of us. Let’s be respectful here.” A couple minutes later, the steward approached and asked if I could move to the empty exit row several chair lengths back. I agreed, with the random image of the escape hatch ripping off at 35,000 ft while my small body sucked through the whistling opening of the aircraft into the lonely blue atmosphere which hung above the North Atlantic. Then again, maybe I’d be perfectly safe strapped in my seat, oxygen mask on the face, cheeks flapping from the incoming air and the thrust of the jet engines. The weird things we think of. As we approached the runway, the captain mumbled over the tinty P.A. that there was a delay and we would need to hang out on the runway for a good twenty minutes or so. Two words came to my mind. US...Airways. Anyways, we finally got on our way after twenty minutes of shuffling around various runways and enjoyed a relatively smooth flight over the mid eastern states. And no, the exit door never came off.

Alas, The Cheese Steak City
We touched down in Phili around 7:20 pm or so, and I and a few other Munich passengers grabbed our bags from the overhead compartments and stood impatiently in stooped positions as others exited the plane like turtles. After exiting the plane, I zig zagged around a few time takers as I hurried down the winding hallway towards the open door leading to my favorite airport in the world. Our next flight left from Terminal A, which could only be reached via. a shuttle bus. We made it just as the bus was leaving. As I sat down in the poorly lit and nearly packed vehicle, several people starred at me as I adjusted my passport filled waist belt with such curiosity you would have thought I was wired with explosives. Had they not ever seen a waste belt? Were my Hanes showing? I hadn’t even left the US, and I was probably already striking the pose of “tourist.”

After exiting the bus, we had a long trek ahead of us as our gate was (as you would expect) at the very back of the airport. As I was running, I met a young police officer from London (also headed for the same gate), who had been in the US visiting his girlfriend. We were literally running with dragging luggage as we spoke. In a few minutes, we arrived winded at the gate, and boarded the monstrous Airbus 330. I hadn’t been in a big plane like this since I was a baby, when my missionary family and I flew back from France in 1980. This was actually my first time back to Europe after twenty seven long Americanized years. Maybe I need to get out more.

The flight was a smooth one, which included my very own “special” (this is the term they used) tv dinner of rice, chicken, packaged baby carrots, and air sealed peach slices. I was eating better than most astronauts. The flight was to take about seven and a half hours, and I could hardly pass the time with sleeping so I instead resorted to watching portions of Shrek the Third and an in-flight VH1 special with some cool new artists I hadn’t heard of, and various hip hop artists which inspired nothing more than the fast forward button. I was rather jealous as I panoramically observed all the other passengers who had somehow managed to squeeze their way into dreamland. Then, there was the one guy with the glazed over eyes in the left row right ahead of me. He spent the entire flight glued six inches away from the flickering 4x6” inch screen on the seat in front of him, watching everything from Pirates of the Caribbean to various B class action movies.

We Ain’t In Ford Country No More
We touched down in Munich safely, but a good forty five minutes late. As I was standing in the customs line ready to show my passport, a younger guy with a European accent of sorts asked me if I was an hurry. “Um... no...,” I answered, “Do I look like I’m in a hurry?” It didn’t occur to me that he wanted to go ahead of me. After he explained that his next flight was leaving shortly, I gladly let him go first. As I continued to stand there in line, I had visions of corny Kirk Cameron movies, the mark of the beast, and the end of the world. Not soon after, an officer was stamping my passport and I was on my way.

Nothing struck me as terribly different when I first stepped onto German soil. The Munich airport looks like most modern airports, except that the parking lots are almost exclusively filled with BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, and Smart cars. I think I saw only a few Fords and a single Chevy during my 10 day stay in Europe.

I began looking for my sister after I grabbed my bag from the luggage carousel, but she was nowhere to be found. “Ok,” I thought, “We went over this... you were supposed to pick me up... I don’t want to pay for a cab.” I tried to call her German mobile (cell phone) using a pay phone, but for some reason, it wouldn’t take my Mastercard. A cute young twenty something French girl stopped to help myself and another gentleman with our phone troubles. I was trying to figure out if I was dialing the German area code correctly. She assured me I was, so I tried the phone again, but my call still wouldn’t go through. I eventually stepped over to the bank terminal and exchanged some of the American cash I had brought for $45 in Euros and a $5 calling card. I then went back to the phone and finally reached my sister who was actually standing less than thirty meters away near the gate I had exited just ten minutes before. She had been waiting there for a long time (as my flight was forty five minutes late), and just happened to slip off to the WC/toilette moments before I debuted through the opaque entrance doors.

After a hug and hello, we continued through a large revolving door into a moderately busy square outside the airport terminal. Having dressed in shorts, I soon discovered that it was much colder than I had expected... and with this, I stood out like a pink peep in a yellow peep package as I was about the only person around with exposed knees. I later discovered that some Europeans carry a funny stereotype which says that any one wearing shorts in cold weather is probably an American. My sister and I continued walking through the square, into other building, and towards a rental car stand whose walls and desks glowed with muted orange light. (It is a long story, but in short, my sister had to rent a car as she had misplaced the key to her BMW.) We picked up the rental car, and after proposing a few questions about the GPS system, we were off to our next adventure.

Beer And Bavarian Revelry
Our first stop was Oktoberfest, a Munich based festival which, each year, draws millions of international seekers of intoxication. Apparently, the festival has its origins with Crown Prince Ludwig, who in 1810, threw a wedding party of such magnitude and success that it became an annual tradition. I was fortunate enough to arrive in Munich on the last day of the festival, which thankfully allowed me to partake of the festivities free of charge. Beth’s friend, Stephanie, would be joining us in our adventure and we were to meet her at all places, a German Starbucks (I still experience a sense of guilt whenever I drink Starbucks as I feel like I’m shafting the little guy, even more so in Europe where Western culture is eroding the distinctness of cultures abroad). We finally found a place to park and my sister a spend a good fifteen minutes trying to weasel her rental car into an oppositely angled spot as several irritated German drivers waited with furled brows of frustration. We eventually made it to Starbucks, met Stephanie, bought a couple cappucinos, and headed for the subway and towards our final destination of large pretzels and Bavarian beer.

The subway was crowded with a variety of people, many of which were party goers... guys flirting in tall hats and suspendered pants/shorts (Lederhosen) and girls giggling in colorful dresses (Dirndl) and push-up bras (even children were wearing costumes). I’m told these costumes are quite expensive, with people dropping $200 or more on a pair of overalls, and several hundred bucks or more on a nice dress.

Our subway experience was over quickly, and the next thing we knew, we were walking into the entrance of the cherished Oktoberfest (which ironically starts in September).
My first impression was that the atmosphere closely resembled an exaggerated twin of the Ohio State Fair... minus the red necks and the Metallica t-shirts.
There were a variety of fold-it-up-into-a-semi-bed rides, miles of souvenir shops, and a variety of over sized beer tents. While weaving through elbow to elbow crowds, we soaked in the merry sights, and eventually stumbled onto a decorative stand selling sauerkraut and sausage. Very tasty, I must say. After this, we passed through a number of souvenir shops where eventually I found a conservative Oktoberfest t-shirt. We had oodles of fun at Oktoberfest. I even had a chance to flaunt my upper body strength with the old sleg hammer and bell game.

Breath Mints, Afternoon Church, and Jet Lag
Of all places, our next stop was a nearby church (Munich International Community Church). As we entered the church, I met another one of Beth’s friends, Sandy, who happens to be an amazing professional opera singer, who originates from Dayton, OH. Ironically, I have professional opera belting cousin from Dayton who also now lives in Germany).

The church service was in English, and surprisely similar to many of the churches I’ve attended or visited in the US. I was slightly embarrassed as my jet lag began kicking in just about the time the pastor introduced his message.

After the service, we snapped a picture in front of the church (left to right: Sandy’s daughter, Sandy, Beth, Stephanie) and Beth continued our first day’s tour with a walk along the streets of downtown Munich. We scaled a good dozen calve-straining flights of stairs at St. Peter’s church (Munich's oldest parish church, almost totally destroyed during World War II and rebuilt in 1954), and then spent some moments savoring the 260-foot sunset view of the city. Click here to see the video.

After this, we continued walking around the city and stopped into the Frauenkirche Church (which means Woman’s church). Click here to see the video. Following some Munich window shopping, we visited Ratskeller (restaurant), where Beth treated me to a traditional Bavarian meal consisting of pig, potato balls, red Sauerkraut, and Apfelsaftschorle (apple juice mixed with sparkling mineral water). It was especially appetizing to see hair still sprouting from the skin of the pig.

We then traveled home for a well deserved night of slumber. Unfortunately, I didn’t fall asleep until 4:00 am. I guess it takes a while to adjust to the six hour time difference.

Stay tuned for day two.

Recounting The Memories

Well, I’m back in Columbus. What a change it is going from the glistening waters and snow capped mountains of Italy to the yuppie traffic of Powell, OH (even though it is nice to be back on my own turf). The last eleven days in Europe were a blur but as I reflect back, I’m reminded of the many wonderful adventures my sister and I had, and as I sit here in my favorite coffee shop, I smile and thank God for a trip which carries with it a boat load of fond memories.

I do apologize that I didn’t write much in the blog during my trip, but I as I mentioned before, there was hardly enough time to boot up my laptop, let alone spend 3-4 hours writing a well thought out detailed entry and editing pictures (I imagine I will need to spend a good 10 hours or more composing words to go with my entire eleven day trip). I plan to post a number of blogs in the coming days and weeks which will give you a play by play description of my life changing journey throughout Germany, Austria, and Italy. I say “life changing” because I’m convinced there were many lessons to be learned through my explorations of other cultures, and my interaction with my sister and her diverse friends. To some degree, I feel like I’ve been drinking from a fire hose as I’ve absorbed a lot of new information, and I believe it will probably take me a little while to process everything that God intended me to carry away from this trip.

I really intended to post an itinerary before I left on my journey, but being that many of our days revolved around the state of the weather, I was unable to predict the unfolding of our travels. However, I will now give you a summarized itinerary of our eleven days of European wanderings. The next post will cover at least the first couple days.

Oct 7th - Arrive in Munch
Oct 8th - Munich - Climbed mountain in Tegernsee
Oct 9th - Austria - Linderhof / Neuschwanstein / Ran at Alpsee Lake
Oct 10th - Tobole, Italy day 1 - Garda Lake
Oct 11th - Tobole, Italy day 2 - climbed Mount Altissimo
Oct 12th - Malcesine, Italy day 1 - climbed Mount Baldo
Oct 13th - Malcesine, Italy day 2 - Limone, Italy / Munich
Oct 14th - Munich - Visit Beth's church / Ran at Isar River / Dinner at Bavarian restaurant with Beth's friends
Oct 15th - Munich - Dinner with Beth's friends
Oct 16th - Salzburg, Austria - Mines in Bad Duernback / Climbed Mount Jenner in Koenigsee
Oct 17th - Travel home