Surfing the Isar River – Munich

After a good breakfast, by mid-morning we made our by U-bahn again to the center of the city at Marienplatz.  We shopped around a lot of the stores in the pedestrian zone, and had lunch at a café.  I wanted to have lunch in the Victualmarkt, a market area of food stalls, but we got too hungry before we ever got there.  After relaxing in the café, we found the Victualmarkt.  It was very crowded for lunch.  There were many fruit and vegetable stands, and places where you could buy fish sandwiches, brats, breads and rolls, and of course, beer.  We then wandered back through the Marienplatz to visit Frauenkirche, the signature building of the Munich skyline.  It is a very old church with twin towers, that is on most postcards of Munich (wait for yours to come in the mail).  While Lisa and Allison rested, Peter and I went to the top of one of the towers to see the view.  I was a little disappointed to find that there was no open terrace at the top (like at the nearby Peter’s Church tower), but small windows.  It was still a nice view, but hard to say how well the photos will turn out through the glass.

The view from the tower

 At this point, Lisa and Allison both wanted to go back to the hotel for a nap, so we traveled back to the hotel.  Peter and I then went to the Deutsche Museum.  This is the main science and technology museum of Germany.  It is a huge complex on an island in the Isar River, which cuts through Munich.  We spent only about an hour there, looking at the things that most interested us, such as the airplanes, space gear, and sailing ships.

 Near the museum was a spot in the river where people were surfing.  Yes, that’s right, surfing the Isar River.  I had read about this in a guidebook, but didn’t know where the surfing spot was along the river.  We stumbled upon it near the science museum, and were amazed.  A guy in a wet suit would jump into the river with his surfboard.  If he pushed off just right, he could paddle into the middle of the river and push up onto his board before the current swept him down about 20 yards of rapids.  There must have been some boulders placed in the river at that spot to form the rapids.  The surfer could go back and forth across the river in this “groove” spot in front of the rapids.  If he was skilled, the surfer could stay there for a minute or two, not drifting down river at all, but staying somewhat stationary.  If he fell, the surfer would crash through the rapids and get sent by a cross current in the river back to the river bank nearby where he started.  There were about 10 guys doing this.  It was entertaining to watch them and the moves they could make before falling.

 I had arranged to meet a friend of mine, David, and his family for supper.  I worked with David, in Oregon, before he moved to Munich for a two year assignment.  We met them at a place called the “Chinese Tower” in the English Garden.  The English Garden is a large city park known for its nude sunbathers in the summer.  It was cool and rainy when we were there, so we didn’t see any of those, but we did have a nice long walk through the park to the Chinese Tower.  The Tower is a pagoda with many tables below it to form an outdoor beer garden.  There is no Chinese food there, just inexpensive grilled chicken and sausages and their somewhat famous fried potatoes.  By the time we got there, the outdoor restaurant had closed because of the weather (there weren’t many people there that night, unlike during the World Cup where I was told 100,000 people had gathered to watch the games).  We ended up eating at a fancy restaurant nearby (we were starving by this time), where we had good, but expensive, steaks and fish. 

 We had a nice visit with David and his family, and also with some friends of theirs who were visiting from Philadelphia.  David has two small boys, ages 5 and 4, and the older boy was very funny.  He was saying the funniest things.  After 18 months in Germany, is bilingual.  It’s easier to learn a language at that age, especially when he goes to a German school for kindergarten and plays with the neighborhood children.  David’s wife, Elizabeth, left after a while to go swimming.  I think she was an athlete in college and enjoys swimming in the Olympic pool, the same pool that Mark Spitz won 5 gold medals in swimming in the 1972 Olympics.

 After all of that walking, our legs were very tired.  It was a good time to go to bed early and rest for tomorrow’s touring of the Bavarian king’s palace and treasury.

Lost in Munich after an Ein Masse

Crossing Munich by car to find the hotel was a little tricky.  Lisa drove, and I navigated.  The traffic was thick, and the roads were complicated, but we made it to the right street, only to find that it was a one-way road, and we couldn’t turn it.  So around we went until we could get there from here.  Good to park the car for three days and not try to go around the city by car.  The subway system is excellent, so that is the way to go.

After a nap and some rest, we went by U-bahn to Marienplatz.  This is the main square; the heart of the city.  It is a huge pedestrian zone, many of the streets nearby were filled with tens of thousands of people.  The area has many department stores, specialty shops, and cafes intermixed with old churches and government buildings.  One store was a high end delicatessen; we walked through even though it was packed with people, to see the fancy cakes and desserts, chocolates, breads, and other foods for sale.  We wandered around this area for a long time, going in and out of stores.  Eventually we made our way to the world famous Hofbrauhaus.

Hofbrauhaus

 The Hofbrauhaus is a large beer hall and restaurant.  It has been open at this location for hundreds of years.  The patrons sit at large rough wooden tables on big benches.  There is a polka band playing and it is filled with hundreds of people.  The place is LOUD!  The signature drink here is a big glass mug that holds one liter of beer.  In a room on the second floor, some locals have their own beer mugs stored for them on shelves for when they are thirsty.  I had a traditional meal of sausages and potatoes, it was ok, but what the tourists come here for is the atmosphere.  There was plenty of it.  It was a fun place.

One liter beer mugs!

 When we walked to the subway stop from the hotel, I asked everyone to look around and remember how we got there.  Sure, they said…. When we got back to our subway stop, we happened to exit via a different stairway.  We arrived at street level in a dark place that look unfamiliar.  Unfortunately, I had not brought the right map with me, the one that had a very detailed view of the roads of this part of the city.  We guessed as to which way to go.

 And guessed wrong!  We proceeded to wander in the dark, going in circles for blocks on end, as I said to my party: “I think it is this way…”  I would have hailed a taxi, but couldn’t find one. Because the subway system is so good, I don’t think there are as many taxis as in other big cities.  We were tired and our feet hurt. 

 We came around one corner to see thousands of in-line skaters roll by.  It must has been some kind of fund raiser or rally.  Five to ten thousand young people rolled by in a buzz of excitement.  At one point, we found a map in a pizza parlor, and finally figured out where we were and which way to go.  Eventually we ended up back to where we had started our night’s excursion, the doorway of the Hotel Uhland, a tourist class hotel not far from the site of the Oktoberfest grounds.  Time to rest our aching feet….

Sleep Walking on the Night Watchman’s Tour – Rothenburg

My wife had her first experience driving the Autobahn.  It is a lot of fun.  When you are fully rested.  When you are tired, well….  I make her drive since I navigate, and she can’t navigate her way anywhere.  Just like the US interstate this time of year, there were a lot of campers on the road, who drive slow in the right lane.  When the autobahn is currently three lanes, it’s no problem.  Pass the campers in the middle lane, and stay out of the way of the speeders in the left-most, passing lane.  Because they are going 120mph, and they don’t want you in front of them.  When there are only two lanes, it gets tougher, because the chance to pass the campers and stay out of the way of the speeders is small.  But she managed.  Until she felt like falling asleep, which would be a bad thing to do when you are driving on the Autobahn.  Luckily, there are many turnouts on the Autobahn (perhaps every mile or so) to temporarily get off the road.  We switched and I drove.

 We got to our first stop, Rothenburg after about 1 ½ hours.  It is a walled town from the middle ages.  It was partly bombed during the war, but the oldest and prettiest part of town survived and has the original buildings from the 1400 and 1500s.  I took a wrong turn somewhere and couldn’t find the Burg Hotel.  I knew it was built into the town wall on one side of town, but once I got into the narrow windy streets of the town I was lost.  And my navigator didn’t know where on the map we were to start with, so she was no help.  But the town is rather small, so after minimal frustration we happened upon it.  The hotel advertised on-site parking on it’s web site, but since the hotel, as I have said, is built into the town wall next to a street about 10 feet wide, street parking is definitely limited.  Nonetheless, the kindly old gentleman manning the front desk had me park the car right out front in the street.  If I block traffic, oh well, he said I could park there, it’s his hotel.  After struggling to pull a U-turn on the very narrow, sloped road, with the reverse and the balky unfamiliar clutch, I managed to successfully sort of block the road.

Gasthof Marktplatz, Rothenburg, Germany

 It was only 11am, and I was unsure whether we could get early check-in.  When we went to England once upon a time, we got to our hotel in London after a night of sleepless travel only to have to wait on a couch in the hotel lobby for 4 hours.  The kids were small then, and having stayed up all night, couldn’t move at all.  But we had better luck here.  We got into our room right away, and the teenagers only had to wait ten minutes or so.  Lisa and I promptly fell asleep.

 The Burg Hotel is hundreds of years old, but the rooms are kept up very well.  Nice and cozy, with an old world feel.  We have a view out the window of the town wall, a garden, and the surrounding valley.

 At 1pm, our son burst into our room and announced that he was hungry.  So we got up and starting walking around the town.  We found a Chinese restaurant (!) and went in for some egg rolls and fried rice.  It is a little strange to be served Chinese food by a rough looking German man, but it wasn’t bad.  We then walked around most of Rothenburg.  It is filled with very old houses, shops, museums, hotels and restaurants.

 I had read about schneeballs and thought we should try one.  It is the signature desert of the town.  A schneeball is a baseball sized ball of pie dough, coated with sugar, chocolate, or other sweet things.  We bought one and munched as we walked.  It was OK, but I needed a glass of milk to go with it.

 We went in the Crime and Punishment museum.  It exhibited torture devices from the middle ages too gruesome to recount here.  Ok, I’ll describe just one.  A chair had spikes on the seat, the seat back, and on straps that held down the arms and feet of the victim.  Interesting in a twisted sort of way.  If a defendant pleaded “not guilty” to a crime, it was standard procedure to torture the person until they confessed.  I believe this resulted in a 100% conviction rate.  The museum also had many pictures and documents showing what life was like in the Middle Ages.

 After a few hours, we were tired again and went back to the hotel for another nap.  We had to have our energy for the Night Watchman tour.

 At 8pm we walked through a steady rain to the market square of the town for the tour.  About 15 years ago, a guy decided to give tours about the town.  This has spread by word of mouth and some guide books.  Some say it is now one of the best things about the town, so despite the rain, I knew we had to make the most of our only night in Rothenburg and take the tour. 

 The night watchman appeared from a doorway down a very narrow alley.  He was dressed in black, with a long black cape.  He carried a lantern, and a halberd.  A halberd is a long pole with sharp blades on one end.  A very effective weapon back in those days.  He lead about 30 of us on a walk around the town for an hour, telling stories about the town, what it was like to live in the Middle Ages including tales of the bubonic plague, and why people through their chamber pot contents into the mud street every morning.  It was very entertaining.  Definitely worth the money he collected from us at the end (6 euros for adults, 4 for students).  He said he had 200 people in the tour the night before.  That’s a lot of cash for one hour’s work.  But he was good.

 We were hungry again so we stopped in an Italian restaurant full of locals for pizza and a first taste of authentic German beer.  Two Italian guys ran this restaurant, telling us “Prego”! when we ordered.  The pizza was excellent.  We have made it through the first day here without eating any bratwurst and sauerkraut.

 The Burg Hotel was the quietest hotel I have ever stayed at.  Of course, it had interior walls two feet thick, and was built into the wall of the town.  It was exceptionally quiet.  That is, until the breakfast was laid out in the room next door.  We had breakfast in an adjoining room, like a covered terrace, overlooking the Tauber River valley.  It was a good way to start the day.

 We walked around a portion of the town wall.  The wall is about ten feet thick and twenty feet high.  At the top of the wall is a covered path.  From the top of the wall we could see out over the town on one side, and through arrow slits in the stone to the other.  We walked a few hundred yards of the wall, just for the experience.  The length of the wall overall was probably a couple of miles (the circumference of the town).

 Rothenburg is known for its Christmas stores.  Lisa went in to shop while the kids and I went to the top of the town hall tower to get some good bird’s eye photos of the town.  We never made it due to the large throng of Japanese tourists packing the attic of the town hall, waiting there turn to ascend the narrow stairway to the very top of the tower.  Only a few people at a time could be at the very top. After some time waiting, we gave up and went into the biggest Christmas shop.  It was a maze inside, many little rooms filled to the ceiling with every kind of ornament, decoration, doll, anyone could imagine.  And it was packed with Japanese tourists buying loads of things.  Which is kind of strange, because in Japan they don’t really celebrate Christmas like we do, so why buy all of the stuff?

 On the way to Munich, we stopped at a Burger King next to the Autobahn.  We were a little surprised to see Burger Kings at many of the stops on the Autobahn.  The menu has most of the items as in the US, but with a funny mixture of English names and German names.  So you can get a Whopper burger, but the fries are called “King Pommes”, and so on.  Pommes means “apple” in French, and pommes de terre means “potatoes”, so I don’t why they chose that name for German Burger Kings…  It was tough to order, since we spoke no German and the cashier spoke no English.  I know she asked me what kind of dressing I wanted for Lisa’s salad, but there was no way for me to tell her.  The food tasted the same; I’m not sure if that is good or bad.

 We also stopped at a truck stop to use the restroom.  There was a special kind of bathroom at this place where you had to pay to use the toilet.  But it was a fully automated, sanitary and clean place.  The toilet seat automatically rotated and was disinfected prior to use.  Haven’t seen that before!

Travelog Prolog

I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a travelogue.  I have three reasons.  First, when I get home from a trip, I know friends and family will ask me – “How was the trip?  What did you do?  What did you like the best? What went wrong?  Why did you eat that?”  And I will tell you some things (yes, we went here and there, and ate that, blah, blah, blah…), but of course, after that much time I will have forgotten some of the most important and/or interesting details, so any narrative will be somewhat limited.  So I in future I will try to write down some observations as I go along and, because of the wonders of modern technology, I will post them to my travel blog…

 Second, I thoughtlessly ramble on some days about how it is boring being stuck in a cube in front of a computer most of the time and I have no real passion for it, and how what I think I would really like to do is switch careers again and do…what exactly? It’s probably too late for me to go to film school and become a movie director.  No one will pay me to watch movies (sure I could be a film critic, but then I’d have to sit through and then describe all of those movies I don’t want to see at all, and that would be boring too.)  But I do like to travel (at least for pleasure, not business), and I like to research and plan the trip, and I like to read travel stories of others (what went right, what went wrong, how to avoid getting ripped off, why the Pacific islanders drink a juice made from the spit of adolescent boys chewing the root of the kava plant).  So maybe someday I will become a travel story writer, not the kind where the writer just goes somewhere and collects facts (e.g., the train leaves at 9am to Stuttgart!, the Louvre opens at 10am everyday but Monday…), because anybody can do that, they don’t even have to leave their home to do that because of all the information on the Internet these days, but the kind of writer who goes places and recounts their experiences in hopefully an interesting but informative manner, and who also writes run-on sentences like this one.  Sure, think of Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, J. Maarten Troost, Chuck Thompson, or Michael Palin and his around the world show on PBS, but without all of the gross parts.

 Third, I tend to wake up early when I am on vacation.  I get up and want to go do something.  I guess I am just excited about what the day holds, and am ready to go for it.  But the rest of my family still wants to sleep and I drive them nuts.  My wife can’t do anything until she gets her coffee, and the kids like to stay up late and then sleep in. So I if I am engaged in the computer in the morning recounting the previous day’s events while I wait for them, it will probably result in a more pleasant experience for all of us.  Plus, that is what I do at home every day, so I will still be stuck in my daily routine, which provides some small amount of comfort to me.

 So, here goes.  If it gets too detailed, long and boring, I apologize in advance.…

Welcome to my new travel blog

I started this travel blog to publish my stories and essays about my travels around the world.  It is meant to be entertaining and maybe a little informative, but it is not my goal to provide general travel tips and facts.  There are plenty of other travel websites and blogs for that.  Instead, I’ll present some interesting commentaries on my travels.  Enjoy!