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Day 1 - Donnerstag, 28April2005
Flight Day. Our flight departed at 18:20 and was a nine hour flight. It wasn't a bad flight, decent movies playing and all. It was just a night flight. Which means that you feel like you should sleep. And I don't sleep on a plane. So it was a very long and tiring flight. The funny thing was that our seatmate has strong connections to Wedowee and they knew some of Randal's relatives. Funny, small world.
Day 2 - Freitag, 29April2005
We arrived in Frankfurt around 09:30. I received much gratification from seeing them stamp my passport. We were able to easily make our way through the airport and get our rental car, then we headed out of Frankfurt as quickly as we could figure out how. We took a westward direction, choosing to make our way toward the rivers and then hop into a few other countries. We stopped in Koblenz to try to find a bank at which to obtain some Euros. We drove around the town several times trying to figure our way around and find something bank-like that was accessible. We finally succeeded and were with the correct currency. Which was good because we needed that currency in order to park and walk around and view the meeting of the rivers. The point where the Rhine and Mosel meet was very nice. It was marked by a large monument with a very large statue of Kaiser Wilhelm I atop a very large horse. It was quite large indeed. We also drove up to get a look at Schloß Ehrenbreitstein, the first castle (or at least castle ruins) that we have stumbled upon. As we left Koblenz to drive along the Mosel, we saw a sign for Burg Elz, a castle that our row-mate on the plane had made mention of, so we decided to see what it was like. It took a short hike to get to it as it was really very isolated. But the walking was not only welcome after a very, very long day of working, flying, and driving, but it was also well worthwhile. Burg Elz is a beautiful castle. This was the first true, full-glory castle we've seen so far and it was gorgeous. We decided to take the tour even though it was in German (last tour of the day). The interior was impressive even if we couldn't understand all of the narration. We did get a little brochure in English that had some history and descriptions of furnishings in it. The castle has been in the same family for 800 years and is still decorated as it was 500 years ago. The current owner of it is the 33rd generation. The longevity and condition is impressive in a country that has been fraught with so much war. I suppose that's why they built it in such an isolated location. When we had finished gawking at the castle, we made our way back to the Mosel and then continued to drive along it. An extremely pretty drive. Beautiful river, lovely little towns, expansive vineyards. The vineyards were very pretty. They were not only vast, but quite a bit more vertical than I would have imagined. The vineyards, at least the ones in the Mosel valley, are planted on the mountain sides. They start at the bottom and go all the way to the top, filling in every meter of rocky soil. It was very interesting to see. I really wanted to stop and pick a grape, but alas, spring is only just beginning and there are no grapes to be thieved as of yet. Perhaps they'll hurry up and pop out before we go home. Around 19:00 we stopped in the wonderfully quaint little river town of Cochem. We obtained a zimmer frei and walked around and even ate dinner at a local restaurant. Unfortunately, the cardboard and horrid water was not a very comforting introduction to German cuisine. But the town is lovely and that's what counts. The room is lovely and interesting. We are overlooking the Mosel, which is very nice. The bed is two twins (if that) pushed together (someone's falling in the crack tonight). There is no top sheet, only two separate down comforters. Really just big enough for one, and not a tall or heavy one at that. The bathroom has a small, one person shower and a tiny sink. The small toilet is in a separate tiny room with its own tiny sink. The funny thing is that it's actually a decent sized room. In any case, while I was in the shower, the 33 hours of wakefulness must have caught up to my poor hubby. Not quite 21:30 and he's crashed, hanging half off his little twin bed. Time to join him.
Day 3 - Samstag, 30April2005
This morning, we got an early start and left our quaint little Cochem by 07:00. We somehow got ourselves onto a nice country road and ate our breakfast on a ridge overlooking the Mosel. It was quite nice. We also took the opportunity to get our car organized and our bed put together. We then continued along the Mosel. We even found a Walmart Supercenter just outside of Trier. It was very different from our stores. For those who think that Walmarts here are sloppy stores, well, you certainly don't want to go there. Shortly after leaving the strange Walmart we crossed our first European border. We entered Luxembourg with no fanfare. There was no border station. There was no big, pretty "Welcome to Luxembourg" sign. There was no welcome center. We just happened to notice that the language had suddenly turned from German to French. One of the first strange things that we noticed was that every few miles they have a wooded overpass for deer crossings. It was strange to see overpasses that a) didn't have roads extended from them and b)had trees and shrubbery. We stopped in Luxembourg City to get out and walk around. The goal was to find a Luxembourg postcard. A few weeks ago, while pondering over having been to 49 of the 50 states and having not collected anything from each of them, I decided that postcards were the perfect collection (yep, now I need to go around to all the states again). So I figured I would begin this nice, simple collection on this trip. I found a Luxembourg card with little difficulty and we resumed our northward journey. Much like the first one, the border crossing into Belgium was barely perceptible. And there wasn't even a language change to signal our arrival. Luckily, I happened to catch out of the corner of my eye the very small sign on the side of the road that said Belgium. It was a very shy and unassuming sign. We stopped in the town of Visť to get a postcard. We walked around several streets of shops before we finally found any postcards. Not a one of them said Belgium. Only one of them said Visť (coincidently, it was the one with the picture of ducks). We decided that that was as close as we were going to get. It seems like finding postcards here might be a little more challenging than I would have thought. We bought the ducky Visť (sans Belgium) postcard and hit the road again. I'll have to admit, crossing into the Netherlands was really very noticeable. Mostly because, quite suddenly, I could not read the signs anymore. It was all Dutch to me. Confidence waned just a bit. We headed toward Amsterdam -- can't go to the Netherlands without seeing what all the hype is about right? First, if you're driving into Amsterdam, don't. Parking was a nightmare. We must have driven around the city a dozen times trying to find an open parking place. We finally found a space big enough to accommodate our station wagon in a line of cars parked up over a curb. We parked. As we walked into town, we noticed that everyone was wearing orange and there were decorations all over. We inquired later in the evening and discovered that we were fortunate enough to have made our visit on Queen's Day. There were tons of people there. Lots of loud bands. Many yard-sale-type setups. Several men urinating publicly on trees or buildings. Even saw one woman squatting in the grass near a dumpster. Clearly, they had to go. It was an interesting party. But all in all, Amsterdam was not what I expected. The stories make it seem as though it is an everyday thing to see people sitting outside or walking along the streets smoking cannabis. We walked around four or five hours on a Saturday night with a big party going on and I never saw the first person using cannabis. Never even smelled it. Don't get me wrong, it's not like we were looking for it or cared to be around it, that's just not my scene, but it was still surprising after the stories we hear back in the States. We did stumble upon one cannabis store, which was interesting. Who would have known that it even came in so many varieties? The other surprise was the red light district. Seems like the stories we hear in the States are a bit exaggerated. There were red lights. If one was turned on outside a door, there was a woman in the window. But the district itself was really nothing more than a couple of alleyways. And the women sat in their windows fully dressed, most of them smoking cigarettes and barely paying any attention to the passerby. It was interesting, but not nearly as outlandish as the stories that we hear about. Heck, I've seen more public debauchery on Bourbon Street and not even during Mardi Gras. Around 22:00, when the sun had finally set, we started to try to find our way back to the car. We found a place to camp in a little town outside of Amsterdam.
Day 4 - Sonntag, 01Mai2005
This morning we slept in a little before circling back around Amsterdam toward the North Sea. We took a nice stroll along the beach at Egmond aan Zee. It wasn't as nice a beach as most of our Florida beaches. The sand was a dark brown sand. It was fairly fine though, not shelly or rocky. The water was very dark, brackish. The waves, while we were there at least, were small. They seemed to be working on some beach reclamation project. We enjoyed our windy walk on the beach. The beach does, after all, hold many significant memories for us. When we left, we headed north to drive along the long land barrier bridge that they created to keep Holland from flooding again. It was an impressive land barrier, indeed. Somewhere along the way, we experienced another kind of unusual overpass. We were driving along and noticed sailboats crossing over the autobahn up ahead. I really wish we had been going a little slower that I could have gotten a picture. The overpass was a canal, but of course, all you could see from our vantage point was that there were sailboats passing overhead. Quite a strange sight to partake of. Along the way, we thoroughly enjoyed the incredible displays of tulip fields all along the roads. Simply awesome. Huge fields planted solid with rows and rows of perfectly pristine tulips. Red, orange, yellow, pink, white, purple, blue, maroon, multi-colors... absolutely incredible! I've never really had a favorite flower, but I am now completely enamored with tulips. There were also plenty of the old windmills that are so symbolic of Holland. We stopped to take a tour of one of these impressive structures. It amazed me that 400 years ago they were building such complex wooden systems to pump water. The windmill itself I found creepy. It was about 4 stories and the steps were very short, steep steps. Because everything in the structure was made of wood, including all the gears and such, it was very creaky. By the time I had climbed all of the very, very steep steps to the top, it was very loud and gave me the creeps. I figured it would be a good setting for a B horror flick. It was very interesting though. And, as I said, very impressive. We left the windmill and continued along our way, stopping for our best meal in 3 days - yep, McDonalds! I can't begin to tell you how wonderful it was to drink some Fanta®. It was the next best thing to having water that tastes like nothing. I'll never understand how Europeans can drink that horrid tasting water. After our very satiating lunch, we made our way back into Germany, yet another unceremonious crossing, but it was very good to be back where I could read the signs again. Today was a long drive day. We ended up driving back across the country. But this was the first day that we really experienced the fast side of the autobahn. So far, I'd say that speeds have averaged about 85-90mph. Today was the first time that it got to what I considered blatant speeding. Randal fell into a fast crowd that was going 215kph, which is roughly 133mph. Cars there are just built for speed. Our little Ford station wagon was a 6 speed, straight shift, diesel and it didn't go into sixth gear until about 90 mph. Anyhow, it was a good day to have good traffic and high speeds since we were just driving across the country and our drive time to do so was significantly reduced. We are camping just outside of Dresden.
Day 5 - Montag, 02Mai2005
First thing this morning, we crossed the border into Poland. Now this was a border crossing. They had a toll-like station where they stopped each car, looked at our passports, and STAMPED them! I got a stamp for leaving Germany and a stamp for entering Poland. Yes, I do get excited over the simplest things. One of the first things that we did was to stop and top off with gas. This was our first non-Euro currency exchange. Turns out that polish money is kind of like the Chinese yen, it takes a lot of them to make a little. We topped off with gas for right around 65 zloty, which was roughly 16 Euro, which was roughly 20 dollars. We began our quest for a postcard at a very nice supercenter-type store. It was actually a surprise to find such a nice shopping center where we were as the surrounding neighborhoods were very poor looking. We were unable to find any postcards, even after grabbing a polish-English dictionary in order to make an attempt at questioning an employee on the matter. We did grab a small bottle of milk to have with our breakfast. Of course, since we couldn't read any of the bottles, we basically crossed our fingers and grabbed one - a strategy that proved unsuccessful when we opened it a short while later and discovered it was buttermilk (at least I hope it was buttermilk and not just horribly rancid milk for sale!). We stopped in a couple of other places looking for a simple Poland postcard. Finally, I settled on a postcard that for all practical purposes had nothing to do with Poland - a close-up pic of a dog - but it did at least have some polish writing on it, "cze??, daj pyska!" (which I've translated to either "worship, it give muzzle" or "hello, give mouth"). After finally finding some sort of postcard, we crossed into Czech Republic, another true border crossing. I received another stamp from Poland, marking my departure, but I was perturbed to find that Czech had not bothered to stamp me in. Big meanies. Both Poland and the Czech Republic had pretty countryside but poor housing until we got to Prague. At the border between the two countries, we had children rush our car with windshield cleaning supplies and though we repeatedly said no and shook our heads, they insisted on cleaning our windshields. Looking around at the poor surroundings, and because they did do a good job, we gave them what polish change we had. I had heard raving reviews about Prague, and for all I know they might be true, but we didn't care to stick around to find out. It was huge. It was a city. It was a huge city. And we just don't much like cities. Randal certainly did not like trying to drive around in it. The architecture was very pretty, but not any prettier than we had seen everywhere else. It did not seem worth sticking around so we hightailed it out of there. If it hadn't been so big and crowded, it probably would have been a good place to stop and find a postcard. But it was very big and crowded so we just went on, figuring that we'd stop at the next town. We stopped in Plezne at a large and modern mall. We walked around the whole mall and never found the first postcard. And before we knew it, we were back in Germany. So much for my simple postcard collection. Such is life. We got to the town of Regensburg, on the Danube river, and decided it looked like a good place to spend the night. I'm very pleased that we made that decision. We took a nap in the hotel room and when it was dark we woke up and went for a walk around the town. It was a terrific little European town! It was everything that comes to mind when you think of Europe. Small paved street-alleyways, lots of shops, cafes with people sitting outside socializing, massive and ancient cathedrals... it had it all. I thoroughly enjoyed our lengthy walk around town and across the river and such. It was a nice, relaxing, and yes, romantic evening. When we got back to the hotel, we attempted to watch a bit of TV. Only CNN in English. But the commercials on television at that hour of the night were far more lascivious than ours. We ended up watching a snooker tournament. After all, who needs to understand the words when there's so much strange billiard action going on? It's been a good night, indeed.
Day 6 - Dienstag, 03Mai2005
When we woke up this morning, we decided to walk the town of Regensburg one last time so that we could get some pictures since we failed to bring our cameras on last night's stroll. It was still lovely in the daylight. It was interesting to see how different it was though. Cars driving down the fun little alley ways that accommodated only foot traffic last night, people sitting inside the shops to eat by themselves instead of out on the sidewalks with large social groups, et cetera. We were unable to find any "Gute Mutters Tag" cards so we bought a few postcards and went back to the hotel to write mother's day messages and mail them from the desk after getting cleaned up and checking out. From Regensburg, we headed south toward Dachau. I must say, this was probably the single most sobering place I've ever visited. As I walked up the gravel path leading to the camp, I began getting goosebumps. By the time we got to the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate at the entrance to the Jourhaus and camp, I had a sinking pit in my stomach. That feeling remained the entire time we were in the camp, until we got back to the parking lot. There were several WWII vets walking around with their families and it was so sad overhearing them tell about the liberation and such. I assume that they were actually here because the 60th anniversary of the liberation was two days ago. Another thing that struck me about the experience was that this seemed to be the one place that we (America) were referred to in a heroic tone. Not that there has been any kind of a blatantly derogatory tone toward us, but it seemed like most of the places we've visited have said things about "this building was destroyed by the American bombing" or "this is the only town that didn't suffer from the American bombing" or something to the effect. It just seemed like this was the first place we've been where the sacrifices of our boys was truly appreciated. Perhaps I'm out of line there though. When we had walked around all of the visitable areas of the concentration camp and crematorium, we walked back out to the parking lot and felt like a weight was lifted. It was really just such a sorrowful experience. From there, we headed down toward Füßen to spend the night so that we could get a bright and early start at the Königschloßer.
Day 7 - Mittwoch, 04Mai2005
We woke up this morning with the Alps towering over us. And they were glorious. It was a little bit drizzly, but not too bad. We drove up to Schwangau to formulate our plan for tackling the castles. There are two very prominent castles in the Schwangau valley. There is the extremely large and fanciful castle Neuschwanstein that was built by "Mad" King Ludwig II and was later the inspiration for Walt Disney's® Cinderella's Castle. It perches up on the side of the alps and sets a majestic focal point for the valley. It also overlooks his daddy's castle, Hohenschwangau. By all standards, this is no small castle either, yet the entire thing would probably fit into the courtyard of Neuschwanstein. Daddy's castle was much more humble looking and older, having been originally built in the 12th century and later ruined by Napoleon and rebuilt by Ludwig's daddy, Maximillian II. We decided that we were only really interested in taking the inside tour of Neuschwanstein so we bought our tickets and started hiking up to it. When we got to the front gate, I was surprised to find it immensely larger than I had imagined or than it had seemed from the town. The sheer scale of it was quite impressive, even without the fanciful beauty. We took the 45 minute tour of the inside, which was spectacular. Everything was so opulent, but not to a sickening degree (at least not for an attraction, it would be way over the top to live in). The woodcarving. Oh my goodness, I cannot even begin to describe how incredible the carving was. The king's bedroom alone had a team of woodcarvers devoted to it for FOUR years! It was amazing. He also had hot and cold running water throughout. The rooms were immense, even though the inside of the castle was only about one third finished - the king having been declared mad, evicted from his luxurious castle, and found dead the next day after only 172 days of living in it. The shame about his premature and mysterious death was that not only Neuschwanstein never completed, but his next fantasy castle, Falkenstein, which appears that it would have been even more fantastic, was never begun. His bedroom also had a spectacular view of Mary's Bridge and a great waterfall. The whole tour was fascinating and I would heartily recommend it to anyone. Once we had finished the tour, we hiked up and then down to the base of the waterfall. Then we hiked back up to Mary's Bridge. Neither I nor Randal was entirely comfortable walking across this very high bridge. It was 200 years old, made of wood going long-ways, and the wood buckled as you walked on it. I know that I've become a skeardy-cat about heights, but I knew it was bad when Randal was gripping the hand rail all the way across. Once we had crossed it, we hiked another very vertical mile up the mountain above the castle so that we could get a picture of Neuschwanstein with Hohenschwangau below it. It was a very pretty hike, but also intimidating. The trail was small and often right along the steep edge, the wind was whipping at us, and the rain started muddying the ground. Finally, not far from the top of the mountain at all, I found the closeness to the sheer, steep edge a little too overwhelming and we turned around. It was just as well, Randal's camcorder had just run out of tape and it was starting to rain pretty good so the trail was going to get slicky fast. The downward hike didn't seem as bad, but crossing the bridge again seemed much worse with the wood wetted and, therefore, more bendy underfoot. We made our way back down to the car, loaded the camcorder with a fresh tape, and walked the short way up to Hohenschwangau. Even though we did not purchase tickets for the tour, we were free to walk around the grounds and take pictures of the castle and its surrounds. It was a very nice castle in its own right, although not nearly as aesthetically pleasing as Neuschwanstein, or even Burg Eltz. Once we were done ogling the two castles, we got back in our car and drove down into Austria. We wound up on a road that took us up and over a part of the Alps. The drive was gorgeous, even though the lack of guardrails made Randal uncomfortable. As we neared the top, there was snow all over the place. It was a wonderfully scenic ride. After making it down the other side of the mountain, we found a place to camp in Bludenz.
Day 8 - Donnerstag, 05Mai2005
This morning, we woke to rain. Lots of rain. Not long after waking up, we had already crossed the border into Switzerland. We then headed south and in no more than 20 minutes, we drove from the north border to the south border of Liechtenstein (such a tiny, tiny country) and crossed back into Switzerland again. We headed north and drove along the shore of Lake Constance, which sits on the border of Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. It was a very pretty lake but I was surprised by the lack of lake-attraction sort of stuff. Of course, that didn't stop me from finding a nice place to pull over and harass the pretty ducks. We followed the lake all the way up to the Germany border and then made our way into the Schwartzwald region. We went to Triberg because they boasted Germany's highest waterfall. However, when we arrived in the town, we were disturbed to find that it was extremely touristy and packed with people. When we got out to start the hike up toward the fall, we discovered that it wasn't really a waterfall so much as a series of cascades. Since the trail was so overburdened with people and we were upset to have been lured into a seemingly misrepresented tourist trap, we left Triberg in a hurry. From there, we drove west, crossed over the Rhine in to France, and drove south along the Rhine. Following the river took us back into Switzerland, once again, but we were back in Germany again in no time. We headed north into the Black Forest again and stopped in some town (wasn't on the map so I couldn't guess at a name) for a hotel.
Day 9 - Freitag, 06Mai2005
We decided to be daring and endure our first Zimmerfrei Frühstück. The buffet consisted of some mixed fruit, breads, odd spreads, a cereal, boiled eggs, lunch meats, cheeses, and the usual breakfast beverages. I took a big roll, some cereal with milk, a couple of the safer looking lunch meats/cheeses, a boiled egg, and both milk and orange juice to drink. The bread was delicious! The meats/cheeses were fine. The cereal was mostly good, it was a wheat flake cereal with dried strawberry slices, which was very good, but there were also some little soft pink things that frightened me and didn't taste good so I tried to avoid them. The milk and orange juice were warm which, while we have gotten used to warm soda, was not very tasty. The boiled egg, which I just assumed to be a good old hard-boiled egg like I make back home, was actually a soft-boiled egg that ran all over the place when I cracked it and made me feel sick to smell it. All in all it was a fine and filling breakfast. Randal and I both helped ourselves to seconds on the bread because it was so yummy. As we continued on our northward trek through the Black Forest, we went over a mountain with snow flurries coming down on us in the 3°C weather. The next town we stopped in was Ulm - birthplace of Albert Einstein and home to the world's tallest church steeple (528 feet). It was a nice little town to walk around. The Ulmer Münster (church with the record steeple) was absolutely gorgeous. The steeple work was so intricate that it looked like it was made of lace way up there. The doors were massive works of art. And the inside of the cathedral was just breathtaking. There was detail everywhere. Even the choir benches up beyond the alter were like statues. It was truly beautiful. And the choir singing in the back of the cathedral really set the mood. On the walk in the rain back to the car, we got lured by the sweet, sweet smells into a bakerie. Randal had an apple turnover thingie, I had a chocolate croissant which turned out to have amaretto in the chocolate. It was delicious. Just thinking of it is making my mouth water. We got back in the car and continued our drive up the Romantische Straße, turning at the end of it toward the upper part of the Rhine. We've set up camp just below Bingen.
Day 10 - Samstag, 07Mai2005
We drove along another section of the Rhine this morning and stopped at several Schloßhotels trying to find a room. I really wanted to spend at least one night in a castle while we're here but they were all booked up already. A shame, yes, but next time we'll know to prepare better. That's fine. It was still a nice drive and fun to look around the lobbies of the castles a bit. When we had come to Koblenz, where the Rhine meets the Mosel, where we had really started this trip, we decided to follow the Mosel again and spend another night in Cochem, the town that we stayed in our first night. The town doesn't seem the same as it was last week. The vacation season must have started because there are people everywhere, whereas last weekend we were just about it. This meant that most places were already booked up and we couldn't stay in the room we stayed in our first night here. However, we did find a nice little zimmer frei on the other side of the river and we have a nice cozy little room with a lovely view of the castle up above the vineyard across the river. After a short nap, we went out to walk about town and grab some dinner. We ate at a little Italian restaurant that was owned by the son of the innkeeper with whom we were staying. When we sat down, we were served rolls with a garlic spread on the side and a shot of sherry each. The rolls and spread were very yummy and the sherry was pretty good too. We both ordered pizza (hey, it's not McDonald's!). Randal got a #3, Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapples. They did not have a number for just a plane pepperoni pizza and since we were speaking fairly good English with the waiter, I chose to be daring and order a pizza with just pepperoni. Yes, I realize that wasn't smart. I made the mistake of assumption. I assumed that since he was speaking fairly good English, he would understand what I wanted. I am completely and totally aware that the fault was all my own. I was served a pizza with peppers only. Pepperoni = peppers only. I can completely understand the misunderstanding. No big deal though, I had a fork and was able to pull them all off - causing the poor guy to come over and asked if he had mixed up the order to which I responded that it was my mistake, not his. Once I got all of the spicy peppers off of my pizza, it was fabulous! The best pizza I've ever tasted. It was the best meal that we've had here yet. If I had a complaint, it would be all of the chimneys seated all around us. I don't understand how they even manage to eat when they never put their cigarettes down during the course of their meals. After our very satisfying meal, we crossed the river and continued to walk around the town. We observed the river, looked through the shop windows, and smiled at the passerby. We even saw a chocolate dalmation! I have never seen a dalmation with brown spots instead of black. I wonder how rare they are. [turns out they're actually called liver spot dalmations and they are fairly common. curious that I've never seen or even heard of such an anomaly.] And then we stopped fooling ourselves and stopped for a couple of ice cream cones. We meandered some more while we ate our eis and then we headed back to our room across the river. Back in our room, we were excited to find some English programming on MTV. Generally, I can't stand Jessica Simpson, but boy was I enthralled with her show when it was the only real English that I've heard in days. About half of the MTV programs have been in English. Time to veg out and get some rest.
Day 11 - Sonntag, 08Mai2005
We chanced another Frühstück this morning. Probably should've left well enough alone. Once again, the rolls were quite yummy. However, this time the lunchmeats were not as safe looking and the eggs were still runny and the beverages were still warm. It was okay. Nothing at all to write home about. I'll keep my good American Waffle House. After breakfast, we headed back to Frankfurt and got a hotel near the airport so that we could organize and rest up for our flight home. Once we got checked in, we obtained a city map from the front desk and drove to the down town area to walk around. This was going to be our shopping day. See, we have been looking at souvenirs all along, but most of them were breakable and we didn't want to take the chance of something getting broken while we were throwing stuff around in the car everyday so we figured that we'd wait until our last day to get all of our souvenirs and be able to pack them right for the trip home. It was a great plan. What we didn't anticipate is that Germany has some screwy business laws and, as such, all stores are closed on Sundays. Even grocery stores. Clearly, that would have been useful information to have, say yesterday, when stores were opened. I'm very upset that we won't have any souvenirs for any of our family. Heck, We don't even have any souvenirs for ourselves. We made the best of it and enjoyed our downtown wandering. When we got back to the hotel, we brought in all of our stuff from the car and spent the rest of the afternoon organizing, packing, and relaxing. We just got back from a sub-par dinner downstairs and now it's time for bed.
Day 12 - Montag, 09Mai2005
What a long day! We got up early this morning and took all of our luggage down to the car and checked out. We got to the airport about an hour and a half before our departure time, which was good since the lines for screening turned out to be very long. I was actually surprised because, for all of our security consciousness since 9-11, they have much more thorough security than we do. First, we went through a screening much like what we've got here. Then we went through Passport Control where they gave me another stamp to check me out of the country - I love having stamps in my passport! Next, as we approached our gate, there was another screening point. There was the standard x-ray belt for our carry-ons and all shoes, but there was also a man and a woman at each line. Every person going through the line got a full body wand and patdown, women by the woman and men by the man. And even if the wand made no alarm, if they found something on you during the patdown, you were to present it to them and explain it. I had to remove my wallet and chapstick from my pockets and open them up to prove that they were what they seemed. Next, the woman had me sit down and proceeded to patdown my feet too. I felt bad for her and voiced my apologies for what a crummy job this was for her (feet are so ewww!) but she seemed of the opinion that it was just a part of her job. She rubbed my feet thoroughly and even felt between all of the toes. To me, they'd be smarter to just ask me to remove my socks and make me spread my toes apart so that they could see that there were no nefarious objects hidden rather than have to touch my feet. I feel badly for them. And they repeated this same process for every single person in line. After we got our shoes back on and grabbed our bags, we continued to our gate. They checked our boarding passes and passports before allowing us into the seating area and once we were in there, we were locked in. The entire area was roped off with security personnel watching over the gate. I was just surprised at the level of security. It didn't bother me at all, I figure I have nothing to hide so why would I get bent all out of shape about some minor inconveniences that result in a higher level of safety for me? But that's just my opinion. The flight was fine. It was an hour longer than the flight over there but it didn't seem as bad since it was all daylight so there was no expectation of sleep. I can't sleep on a plane so night flights where I feel like I should be sleeping are a bit rougher. Our seatmate was nice but must have had on about three bottles of perfume which made me sick and headachy for the first few hours. I am a firm believer that perfumes and colognes should be outlawed. Most people who wear these odors have no consideration for others when applying them. And then she turned off my air vent because she was cold (I was window, she was aisle, Randal in the middle - what did my air vent have to do with her?). Most of the flight I spent reading the Dean Koontz novel that I brought with me. When we landed, we had to go to a baggage claim, pick up our luggage, and then recheck it to be scanned again while we went through Passport Control where I received a United States stamp in my passport. Finally, we went to another baggage claim, retrieved our bags, rode the MARTA train to the north-most stop and Beth picked us up from there and took us back to her house where our car was waiting for us. Now that we're home, the day is starting to catch up with me. It was a fun trip. It was the most cerebral trip I've ever taken. Just constantly trying to translate the language and figure out the signs and maps. It was much more different than I would have thought. The only negatives I can really report are the extensive smoking and rough toilet paper. Those two things aside, it was a wonderful place.