Saturday, November 10, 2007


...that was a long post. So long that i think i broke Blogger, it won't let me go back and edit it to fix some problems.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


October 5

Arrive in Frankfurt around 9 pm. Was nice that their customs goes a thousand times faster than at Heathrow, probably helped by the late hour.

The fun started immediately at the Alamo rental counter. The rental agent, upon pulling up my reservation apologized that they no longer had any midsized cars available with GPS. "No midsized," I though, "didn't I reserve a compact car?". As she is finishing the paperwork she notes my look of confusion and informs me that the car isn't that big. She assures me that the VW Touran is a nice car, and that it is nice and new. So through all this my apprehension was growing, I had never heard of a Touran and just pictured driving some giant SUV though narrow old town streets and not being able to park anywhere. So I was less than happy to put eyes on my rental minivan (I didn't even know Volkswagen made a minivan).

After finally getting in the car, I quickly realized that a European 6-speed is clutched completely differently than an American Toyota 5 speed. Not to mention the ridiculous push down and slide to the left reverse requirements.

I got on the road, and immediately realized that my ten minute perusal of the European road rules and street sign meanings was not nearly long enough. But i managed to get on the highway with only minimum confusion, and managed not to go the wrong way up any on-ramps or anything.

I, of course, had to live out the stereotypical Autobahn experience. So I scanned through the radio stations and found some good techno music to blast as I cruised along at 160 km/h (about 100 mph). Not quite the same as the sports cars you see in the movies, but I saw plenty of those blowing by me like I was going 40. My favorite part of driving in Germany has to be that it is illegal to pass on the right on the highway, can even loose your license for it. The drivers are very courteous and allow for you to merge and move over to let you pass, such a welcome change from Washington DC.

I traveled for three hours to get to Bad Neuenahr / Ahrweiler, where i was staying with Marcus, Megan, and his parents. It was about 1am when i finally got there, I was very lucky that the GPS navigation (navigation, but no maps, which kinda sucked) was able to get me there. Huge thanks to my parents for giving me a handful of Euros, and even some change for the trip. This was very important because I was staying in a timeshare type rental apartment, not a hotel. This place locks the front door at 10pm, so I didn't know how to get in. I began wondering around town looking for a phone booth, encountering many drunk teens on the way. I found out why there were so many drunks when I found the town festival was just wrapping up for the night, but there was a phone booth right next to the festival and near the train station. I had the phone number for Marcus's room so I gave him a wakeup call and got let into my room. The room was nice, with a bathroom easily as large as my London hotel room. The TV in the room was also about as old as I am.

October 6

The first full day in Germany. We started the day by walking around Ahrweiler, the next town over from Bad Neuenahr. The city still has its original encircling wall from the middle ages, even though it was somewhat reconstructed after World War II. It was a nice little town.

After Ahrweiler we left and drove through some wine country, mostly Rieslings apparently, on the way to Nurburg. Nurburg was a nice little town with both a ruined castle and a Formula 1 race track, an interesting dichotomy seeing the race track from the top of the castle tower. After wondering around the castle we went back down the hill to grab some lunch at the Schnitzelhaus, where they have a different Schnitzel for each letter of the alphabet. Nothing like delicious, extremely unhealthy German food. This was only the first of many greasy fatty meals, I still don't know how German people aren't all morbidly obese, probably because they eat a lot of foreign food and very little authentic German cuisine.

Spent the rest of the evening just wondering around the town festival. I had to quit calling it a carnival because in German carnival has a specific meaning of only The Carnival at the end of Lent. Had my first of many Kolsh beers back at the hotel that night.

October 7

Today we hit up the mineral springs that make Bad Neuenahr a popular tourist destination for the older types. Didn't taste as bad as Marcus's dad said it would, but at least now I'm ten years younger...

After that we took the train into Koln (Ameri
canized to Cologne). We hit up up the Dom cathedral. Took the 500 some stairs to the top and got to check out an amazing view. Got some nice pictures, even saw the finish line for a local marathon. We also took the tour of the lower levels of the cathedral, which was a museum full of religious relics.

After the Dom we went next door to the German-Roman
museum. This museum was built after digging for a subway line discovered a large Roman mosaic tile floor. So they decided to relocate the line and build a museum around the floor. It was pretty interesting.

We followed up the German-Roman museum by heading down the river to the Lindt chocolate museum. Nice to have some delicious chocolate that was manufactured that very day and at the height of freshness.

After the museums we went to the Sion Brewery. Had some of their deliciouss Kolsch beers and enjoyed one of the largest sausages I have ever seen. I still can't believe I ate the whole thing.

October 8

Started the morning by hitting the train to Koln once again. This time we just wandered around the shopping district watching Megan spend money. I bought a nice jacket there, but all of it's buttons fell out within a few weeks (I still haven't gotten around to getting them reattached). Koln has a wonderful pedestrian zone full of shops and department stores, apparently it is something to behold during the Christmas shopping season. Discovering that the latest trend is to use walking sticks (like ski poles) when just going around town. This evening we ate at the Fruh Kolsch brewery, and even bought a case of their glasses to give out as souvenirs (12 glasses were only 11 euros, cheapest souvenirs yet).

Of course the highlight of the day had to be the Spaghetti Eis (spaghetti ice cream). It is by far my favorite German speciality dessert, all the ice cream parlors here have it. They make it by having a pile of vanilla ice cream in tendrils that look like spaghetti, covered in a strawberry sauce that looks like tomato sauce and sprinkled with chunks of white chocolate that look like grated Parmesan cheese, all around a core of whipped cream. I like it, I like it a lot.

One thing I learned shopping in Koln was that German people have some sort of mental block when it comes to forming/standing in lines. At first Marcus thought it was funny, then it just became frustrating as more and more people kept cutting into the checkout line in front of me at the department store. I had thought his dad was joking when he made a comment about it, but turns out it is true.

On the way back to Bad Neuenahr we had an hour layover so we decided to check out a local bar in Remagen. It was an eclectic atmosphere. It was an old time type of bar that looked like it had been there for at least a hundred years, however they had a DJ playing techno music and flashing light strips. Still it was a nice place to have a few drinks and kill some time, we later went back to the town festival. Getting a few nights into the festival and the c
rowd is starting to have some fun, got to see a few teenagers falling down drunk and another getting put in an ambulance. Another enjoyable day in Germany comes to an end.

October 9

Today we went on a drive down the Rhine river. We first checked out the Marksburg Castle. Took a nice tour, couldn't understand the guide since all in German, but they gave out good fliers with an English tour. This is the only authentic Rhine castle remaining. Apparently all the others are reconstructed from ruins and tend to be heavily influenced by fairy tales and other fantasy stuff.

The highlight of the tour was the fa
ntastic river views up and down the Rhine. If only it hadn't been so foggy I'm sure the views would have been even more amazing. I also enjoyed the luxury bathroom just off of the main dining hall. The bathroom was built into an indoor balcony that hung over the outer wall of the castle and consisted of a bench with a toilet seat. The seat opening over a hole through the floor that would dump any refuse over the side of the castle. I just hope there weren't any paths that wandered under that balcony. There was a cool path that ran off into the woods near the castle. Apparently you can go on a hike through all the historic sites along the Rhine, that would be something fun to try on some future trip with nicer weather.

After this we decided we were going to go a little further down the river to the Lorelei and see where the mystical maidens lured ships to there doom. Unfortunately this side trip showed the limits of map free GPS navigation. We wound through many country roads on the way there, but the last road into the town nearest the Lorelei was closed. We later found out that the signs we saw were for a detour and to indicate local traffic only. We tried to be local traffic, but turned around once the road got narrow and we feared an inability to pull a U-turn with my minivan.

After abandoning the side trip we went back into Bad Neuenahr to catch the final night of the festival. This night we met up with Marcus's parents and had a few drinks. I even one some money in the slot machine (just about every bar I went to in europe had at least one slot machine, crazy). We ate our fill of crepes and potato pancakes, rode the rides and watched the finishing fireworks. The rides were all a lot of fun. We met some nice German kids that wouldn't believe we were Americans because Marcus could speak decent German. The only problem was that I lost my room key on one of the upside down flipping rides and had to spend my last night in Bad Neuenahr sleeping on the couch in Marcus and Megan's room.

October 10

Slept in a little late on the couch (drank way too much at the previous nights festival), and upon waking was able to get a replacement key from Marcus's dad to get in my room and pack up for my trip to Hann Munden.

The trip to Hann Munden took much longer than I thought it would, lots of construction traffic and stuff, so it was over 3 hours to get there. It was nice to see Torsten and his family, Leonard and Wibke. His son loved the Hot Wheels i bought him as a gift, and he and his wife enjoyed the Jelly Belly assorted set i got them as a random piece of Americana.

We walked all around town for a bit and had a nice dinner and a few beers at a local brewery in the basement of the old Rathause (town hall). Really wished i had planned for more than a day in Hann Munden. But now I have a reason to visit again.

My favorite, completely German, thing
in their house was the water carbonator (white appliance in the middle). When they want a drink of water they fill up a bottle from the tap and hook it into the machine which carbonates it so that it is suitable for consumption (for them at least).

October 11

Return trip time. This can be summed up with a big huge UGH! The day started out foggy, but the drive to Frankfurt airport was much faster than i thought it would be. Frankfurt airport itself was so time consuming. The long check-in line, followed by the security line, followed by a passport line, all to get into the terminal, then ANOTHER security line to get into the gate. Then waiting at the gate with no food and little drink/snack selections. I was still there two hours early and tried to get on an earlier flight to make sure I had plenty of time for my Heathrow connection (I must be psychic), but they said i would have to pay for an entire ticket to do so. So i settled in to wait the two hours for my flight, which would be come three and a half hours due to the heavy fog causing rippling delays all day. Finally I got on my flight for the quick trip over to Heathrow.

This is where the day turns downhill. Heathrow, how do I hate thee, let me count the ways. First there is the complete and utter zoo of insanity at the connections security line. Second was a half hour wait just to get into the area where the security line was. Thirdly was the 45 minute wait in the security line (only two of the four lines were open, WTF). The fourth hatred was the following 20 minute line to catch the shuttle to the terminal for my flight, followed by a fifth annoyance in the form of a 20 min wait at the airline checkin desk for Virgin Atlantic.

After all this it was already boarding time for my flight, and the desk staff informed me it was too lat to check in. They also said they can't put me on another flight for free since it was Lufthunsa's fault that I missed my connection. So I once again made my way through the connections security line, another hour, and at the checkin desk for Lufthunsa I am informed that there are too many people trying to reschedule so I had to go to the main ticketing desks at the main terminal. So now I get the pleasure of the 15 minute line for passport control followed by a 20 minute walk between terminals to find that all the Lufthansa ticketing people have gone home and only the customer service counter, with it's two employees, is still open.

This line is the best yet, an hour and a half wait. This wait is followed by the information that i will not be able to fly out that day, as I've now been in Heathrow airport for seven hours and
there are no openings left. The next Virgin Atlantic flight I can get on is two the next afternoon, but fortunatally there are European passenger rights, so the airline has to put me up in a hotel. So I get to spend one more night in London, at the Heathrow Park Inn, a nice four star hotel nearby with complimentary dinner and breakfast. (I lost count, but i think there are at least a dozen reasons why i hate Heathrow airport.

I met some nice people in the last line and we all had dinner together at the hotel. So i got to learn a lot from the search engine optimizer and electron beam venture capitalist from Boston, and the academic from Germany. In
addition I got to have one more good British beer to finish out my trip.

The hotel was nice. The late night TV even has the same "Sweep and Mop" informercial as in america, only dubbed in German. I still don't understand the infatuation with the late night call in word games. You rarely see anyone win, but they were available in three diffrent languages at the hotel, English, German, and I think Arabic (check it out yourself). I even got to amuse my self with the hotel's automatic window blinds and half dozen different lights to play with.

The following day was uneventful. Got up plenty early, which was good since i had some ticket confusion. Luckily the ticket confusion was fixed within half an hour or I just might have lost it, i was definately at the end of my patience. Finally, after only an hour and a half of ticket and security lines i was on my way home, where the passport line at Dulles was one of the shortest lines I had in my entire trip.

Overall Trip Locations (so much left to see)