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

Friday, October 12, 2007

Hello From Malcesine

This morning, we traveled from Torbole to Malcesine (Italy). We are at a very cool hotel overlooking the lake. We also went hiking for about 4 hours in the mountains today (took the cable car up) and ran another hour when we got to the bottom. It's been a full but fun day. Thanks for your comments. I am working on a set of seriously long blogs with many stories (I may not be able to finish them completely until I am sitting on the plane back to Columbus, but I will try to at least give you some ideas what we're doing via. photos. Tomorrow, we'll stay in Malcesine until early evening and then drive back to Munich. Sunday, I will be going to Beth's church and will be having lunch with her and a bunch of her friends, which will be cool. Until next time, here are some pics from today... I still need to sort through some 1000+ photos (and some video footage), but I grabbed a few quickly to post. It's about 11:30 pm now and I'm sitting in the comfortable hotel lobby overlooking the lake while watching some Italian band on a flat screen tv. Beth is probably fast asleep upstairs dreaming of some sports activity which far exceeds the abilities of most human beings her age. Today she was trying to convince me to go paragliding. As long as we can wear clothes.

Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm Here

Well, I made it. We've had a full first two days. Working on the first blog. Stayed tuned.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

My Trip To Munich

Well, today I leave on a journey to Europe. I will be visiting my sister in Munich, Germany for about 11 days. We also plan to travel into Austria and Italy. I leave today (I am currently sitting at Port Columbus, waiting to board my first flight to Philidelphia, where I will take an overnight flight to Munich). I just bought a new camera so I plan to take lots of pictures, and hopefully, I'll be posting some of them to the blog.

I would appreciate all your prayers. This will be quite an adventure, I'm sure. And we're off...