Wednesday, November 7, 2012

On to Munich – Oktoberfest or Bust!

Germany trip 537
Classic tourist entry shot.

The distraction in Romanshorn had us about three hours behind schedule. Still, we wanted to see the Schloss Neuschwanstein, which inspired Disney’s Cinderella castle and others. It was on the way to Munich, sort of.

We entered our destination in the navigation system, and followed the spoken directions. The skies were overcast; it was “trying to rain,” in the words of the German-Swiss writer, Hermann Hesse. We wondered how much we would be able to see, if we even made it to the castle.

We exited the main highway, winding through a couple of small villages. Then we were told, “Take the second exit at the roundabout.” But the roundabout was closed, under construction. Nothing to do but turn away. Looking at a map we could see that there was no other way to get there. We wouldn’t be seeing the castle, not this trip. Then it started to rain, hard.

As I drove through the late afternoon traffic, with Mark still recovering and dozing, I reflected on the trip so far. We had had our issues. Traveling is stressful and unpredictable; you can’t expect to keep a strict schedule. We were doing a lot of driving, and it wasn’t easy. It was OK to not see everything we wanted to see. But we had two more things that were must-do’s: Marienplatz in the heart of Munich was one. And Oktoberfest or Bust!

Germany trip 479
Sometimes a nice spacious room
is just what you need.

Mark had booked a room at Glasl’s Landhotel in Zorneding, a rural town nestled among cornfields about a 15 minute drive east of Munich. When we got there it was pouring rain. We were glad to see that the hotel was big, new and modern. We were ready to relax with a bottle of wine.

The woman at the desk recommended the Neuwirt Hotel across the street for dinner, telling us it was very good. I wondered about that because it also looked like the only place in town. But she was right – Mark says it was the best German food he has ever eaten. It was also very classy. I think that the very expensive watch worn by a guy sitting at the table across from us helped grow Mark’s appetite.
Thebucolic view from our room in Zorneding.
Cornfields and grass instead of sand.

Seeing the sunny fields through our window the next morning gladdened my heart, even though it made me a little homesick for the wide open pastures back home in Carson Valley, Nevada. But we had a sunny day for Munich and Oktoberfest!

Germany trip 493
Going to the office in business lederhosen.

Arriving in Munich, I was struck by the festival scene in the downtown area, miles away from Oktoberfest. At least half of the crowd were wearing lederhosen and dirndls, even those who were obviously locals on their way to the office.


Germany trip 531

And do the Germans know how to eat and drink! It was only 10 a.m. but people everywhere were drinking beer. I began to feel my German blood rising, craving a pretzel and a beer.

Germany trip 502 (3)

First we did some window shopping, then gathered with the rest of the crowd at  Marienplatz to watch the Glockenspiel, with its dancing figures in the upper section telling the story of the marriage of Duke Wilhelm to Renata of Lorraine, followed by the Cooper’s Dance in the lower section.
The whole spectacle was about 12 minutes long, but this video captures the highlights in less than 2 minutes.

Germany trip 518
I wanted to buy some mushrooms.

The large outdoor Viktualien Markt farmers’ market was the perfect place to grab our pretzel and beer lunch before heading to the Oktoberfest. What a feast for the eyes – stands with all variety of fresh mushrooms, cheeses, breads, meats, vegetables … and tourist trinkets, too.

Germany trip 526
Pretzels are boiled, not fried.
So they're good for you. Right?

… Not to mention the beer concessions where you just get in line and they hand over a mug – your choice of two sizes: Huge and Gigantic. The pretzels were all Huge.

Germany trip 535
We drove through Munich's Arab
 neighborhood to get to the Oktoberfest.

Finally, we found our way to the Oktoberfest. Mark’s plan was to hit the Hofbrau tent, one of the largest tents and the one most popular with foreigners. I wanted to visit the Schottenhammel tent, because my German friend Samina, who now lives in Abu Dhabi, has a cousin who is married to a member of that family. “You must go there,” Sam said in her classy European accent. She had filled me in on everything to see in Munich.

We only had a couple of hours to spend, since we needed to be near Frankfurt in the morning to catch our flight. So we only hit one tent – Hofbrau. Maybe it was better that way. Most tents require that you have a seat at a table to be served, and they fill up. Hofbrau allows you to stand around at high-top tables and be served.

Germany trip 538
These heart shaped confections are everywhere.

Oktoberfest is a combination carnival and huge drinking party. As we neared the festival grounds, we saw people walking toward it from every direction, wearing their lederhosen and dirndl costumes. It was an amazing sight.
We found the Hofbrau tent quickly, and wormed our way inside. Noisy and beery pretty much describes it. How to get a beer? We found ourselves standing around a table, and before long a server brought a fistfull of beers. And so it began.

We struck up a conversation with a really cute, petite woman from the U.S. named Meg. She was there by herself – her husband and kids were back in New York and her sister, who she was traveling with (I think I have this right) was in Belgium. Why did she stay in Belgium instead of coming to Oktoberfest with Meg? She is pregnant. Good reason! But that didn’t stop Meg, and I loved her independence and spunky spirit.

Germany trip 591
Mark was reading her name tag.
You believe?

The beer maids kept coming – I guess they work on commission. There was one that Mark thought was cute, so we got a picture of them together. You decide who is cuter – or maybe younger – her or me? And, how would I look in her dirndl? Just sayin’ …

Germany trip 611
I fell in love with Meg.
I already loved pickles.

After a while we saw huge platters of food coming out. You could buy hot dishes, sandwiches, pretzels, even pickles. I had to have a pickle. But I could see that for many others, the food was coming a bit too late. I do not envy the people who clean the place up.

I couldn’t stop thinking that it reminded me of some of the sailing regatta parties I’ve been to.

Two hours flew by, but we caught some of it on video – can’t you just smell the beer?

You might think the photos are even better. Some were taken by me and some by Mark. You can probably tell which is which.

Too soon, it was time to leave. I was the driver while Mark … took a nap.

Our destination for the night was Heidelberg. It was Friday night, so the traffic was stop and go. When we finally got away from the city, and the speed limit signs were turned off, Mark woke up. “You might want to slow down,” he said. “I think those are cameras.”

“It doesn’t matter,” I answered. “There is no speed limit.” How fast was I driving? About as fast as our VW 5-speed would go.

I love Germany!
Here is a map of our entire trip. We drove 865 miles. Next time, we will stay longer – rent a place for a month or two, shop and cook local food, and make side trips. And bicycle!

Thanks for reading. And cheers!
Germany Trip 3

Romanshorn, Switzerland–medical emergency

Germany trip 465
The allergist was at lunch,
but the orthopedic doctor was in.

Mein mann ist krank!”

Have you ever wondered what would happen if you were in a foreign country, had a medical emergency, and nobody spoke much English? What would you do? Go to a hospital? Find a doctor, or at least a pharmacy, right? Well, it isn't quite that easy, as we found out in Switzerland.

Germany trip 459
The calm little Romanshorn harbor.

Even though it always seemed to take longer than we thought to get from one place to another, we stuck with our original Plan A and drove toward the Alps and Lake Constance. We wanted to see the the lake and look at boats in the harbors. This route would take us from France into Switzerland and Austria, as well as back into Germany.

We had a delicious lunch here, but then bad things began to happen to Mark ...
We don't blame the restaurant;
the food was wonderful.

We stopped in a little town in Switzerland called Romanshorn. We found a cute little restaurant, and ordered lunch. I was impressed with the food – everything seemed locally grown and fresh, right down to the little sprig of herbs garnishing my plate.

Germany trip 457
A familiar sight: Volvo Ocean Race.

After lunch, we went for a stroll around the marina. Mark was very quiet. Eventually he turned to me and said, “I feel like shit. My throat and tongue are swelling. I feel like I’m going to throw up. I need to go to the bathroom.”

I waited outside, wondering what was going on. When he came out, he could barely talk but he managed to tell me that he couldn’t swallow.

“Can you breathe?” Yes. But, for how long, I wondered? Obviously, he was having an allergic reaction.

Germany trip 472
The town was out to lunch.

Where would the nearest hospital be, we wondered? Never mind, we would go to a pharmacy first, and at least get an antihistamine. They could tell us where the hospital is, if we needed it. We drove into town, and I ran to the pharmacy door – closed for lunch for two hours. A woman was crossing the street, and I ran to her. "I need a hospital. Doctor! Doctor!” I said. “Doctor?” She gestured up the street, and held up three fingers. Three blocks? Ok, I’ll try it.

Miraculously, I found it. And, believe it or not the name plate on the building said “Allergist.” But. Closed for lunch!

All this time, I was thinking that I needed to be able to communicate our problem in German. What the heck is the German word for sick? And husband? I should know the word for sick – my father used to say it, when we kids were sick. I could hear him in my mind, but what’s the word?  It’s a short word, one syllable. What is it???

Mark was so puffed up he could harldy talk.
Smile or grimace? You decide.

“I need to go back to that bathroom,” Mark gurgled. I drove him back to the marina.

While he went in, I checked my little German cheat sheet. Of course, when I saw the word I couldn’t believe I forgot it. Krank! After checking on Mark, I ran to the little marina cafe.

“I speak English,” I said to the woman at the counter. She began to shake her head. “But,” I said, “Mein mann ist krank!” Luckily, the word for allergy is the same as English. She called a doctor – first the one I had found, who didn’t answer, and then another one. “It’s ok,” she finally said. “Doctor is coming.”

Germany trip 468
The whole scene was surreal.

And that is how Mark ended up sitting on a park bench in the marina with a needle in his arm. The doctor brought his medical suitcase and hooked him up with IV steroids right there. Then he drove us in his car to his office right around the corner from the pharmacy, where we stayed for about two hours, getting more steroids and prescriptions.

Slowly, Mark got better. But, the doctor warned, he could get worse again.

Allergic reactions can be deadly, if the airway swells so much that it prevents breathing. Mark has been having increasing problems with sage allergies in Nevada, but never so dramatic as this. I was worried, and kind of in disbelief. How did this happen? From one bite of my food? Did his contain some of the same fresh herb? We’ll never know.

Germany trip 471
I wish we had more scenes like this
in the USA.

I made the ten-minute walk back to the marina to pick up our car,sightseeing along the way. Hundreds of bicycles – not cars – were parked at the railroad station.

The Swiss flag resembles the sign for "Hospital."
Swiss government buildings could be
mistaken for hospitals.

It occurred to me that the Swiss flag looks a lot like the red cross symbol for a hospital. I kept thinking, what would have happened if he had gotten so bad he couldn’t breathe? Or was having a heart attack? It would be a good idea to have basic emergency vocabulary when we travel. And to know the location of a hospital. It may seem like an overreaction, maybe overly cautious, but … you never know.

Germany trip 470
Swelling slowly receded.

I don’t want to go through that again, but I certainly don’t want to go through something worse.

It could have been worse, though. Mark got better quickly, and the doctor only charged us 136 francs, or about $145 US.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Yas Marina Circuit F1

F1 Grand Prix 001

Right off the bat, I admit it: I went for the party. I don’t follow motorsports. Being a mechanical engineer and a bit of a motor head, Mark is interested in cars. But when it came right down to it, he was there for the party, too.

We were not disappointed.

Because of my new association with Belevari Marine, we were able to secure a couple of tickets to the Belevari yacht, which included champagne, food, DJ, the works. I think our music was the loudest on the dock, thanks to Piers (what a great name for a captain.)

It was a party, and let’s just say that there were people from all walks of life there. I will let the video and pictures tell the stories, but notice the details – VERY pricy cars in the parking lots, some of the most expensive yachts on the planet, entertainers on board yachts, entertainers on the docks … and, of course, the race. It was so loud that we didn't even need to stay for the Eminem concert.

Colmar, France – Raindrops and Wine

We saw lots of dark clouds between the buildings.
The clouds added to the charm.

“It is not France.” We were told this by a Parisian the other day, who asked if we have ever been to France, and we said we've been to Colmar.

He has a point. Colmar is just across the French-German border in the Alsace region, and the town has retained its German essence. Alsace changed hands from Germany to France and back several times. Between WWI and WWII it belonged to France; then Hitler claimed it for the Nazis.   Now it’s French again, but it still feels very German except maybe for language. Just as I was starting to get used to German – voila! – it seemed nearly everyone around us was speaking French. In truth, there is a variety of languages spoken there. It isn’t hard to find someone who speaks enough English to communicate.

Our hotel is in the Venice district -- the most picturesque point of town.
Most photographed point, from what I saw.
Hotel St. Martin is on right.
When we arrived it was raining. Not a downpour; just enough to remind me about the umbrella and jackets back home. Oh, well! Colmar was so pretty that I soon forgot. We checked into the Hotel St. Martin, which is located on the most picturesque corner in the Little Venice area of town. Another good pick by Mark.

Whenever we arrive in a new place, we always walk around to get the “lay of the land,” but first we needed food. We hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and it was 3 p.m. The woman at the hotel desk shook her head when we asked if any place would still be serving lunch. The Europeans seem to keep a pretty strict schedule, and it was time for coffee and pastries. She suggested a café up the street, very good, the one with the teddy bears in the window.

Mark discovers galettes in the rainy streets of Colmar, France.
Tiny little creperies are are popular
with students, too.

We took a look. The place was jammed with people sipping double espressos and eating sweets. With our guts cramping from lack of food a meal of caffeine, butter and sugar didn’t appeal to us. I was really craving a bowl of soup. What to do? We went walking, and found a little hole-in-the-wall place where a young man was selling crepes and galettes. Galettes are very thin buckwheat pancakes with your choice of fillings: cheese, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, onions …

This will do! We love eating from roadside carts, anyway.

Menus that come in several languages are great learning tools.
This menu was in English and German.

Later, we went for a drink at the Schwendi restaurant right across the street from our hotel. They serve food throughout the day, including breakfast any time! The menu comes in several languages, and we could now recognize many German dishes. I could have had my soup. We were still full of gallettes, so  we ordered house red wine, which came in an earthenware pitcher. There is no bad wine here.

An evening stroll.
Colmar at dusk.

Historic old town Colmar is a window shopper’s paradise, with a maze of interconnected cobblestone streets and alleyways. It felt so cozy and welcoming that we decided to spend an extra night there in the charming Hotel St. Martin – Mark had left one night open in our itinerary. The St. Martin, like Colmar, is a bit of a maze – several old buildings laced together, with stairs and passageways connecting them.

Next time we come to Europe, we will have bicycles.
I longed to get on a bike. Next time!

Colmar is also a wonderful place to people watch. No, it isn’t Rome. But in early morning and mid afternoon, the streets are filled with noisy students on their way to and from school. In between times, tourists and locals are strolling and sitting in cafes, and peering through windows at store displays. We talked with an American woman about my age who was with two other couples on a week-long bicycle tour through Alsace. How I envied them! Next time …

Yes, by this time we were starting to talk about what we will do when we come back to Germany. Next time, we will stay not for a week, but for several weeks.

Our young sommeliere explains the nuances of the wine to Mark.
Our sommelier knew his business. 

That evening, we decided to do some wine tasting and found a little wine bar with two very young sommeliers. We were told that because they did not have a certain license, we would have to order a bite of food. So we ordered a bread and cheese appetizer, which was the perfect compliment to the selection of wines that our sommelier recommended. Needless to say, we didn’t make it out of there until dinnertime was over, but never mind. What a feast we had! It was a “splurge” dinner price-wise, but all we had was bread, cheese and wine. Lots of wine.

We actually found it the next morning...
The Wine Cave.

When we finally emerged, we were surprised to see the streets deserted. Next morning, we found our way back and took a few photos in the daylight.

Germany trip 408
Teddy bears are a very popular motif.

We went to the “terry bear” café for breakfast. It was then that we learned that the French do not get up early, and those that do only eat plain croissants in the morning. Gone was the wide selection of cakes, pastries and strudel. We are learning.

Germany trip 433
St. Martin Church is made of pink stone.

I was feeling like I needed a little lift, a little personal attention, so I had my hair trimmed and styled at a salon. One of Mark’s favorite things to shop for is hats, and so afterward we wandered into a hat shop where what usually happens, happened again – we each got a hat. Mine is really a man’s hat, but I don’t care. It’s more “me” than the women’s styles, and because it is wool, it was good in the light rain.

The roundabout features
the Statue of Liberty.

The one museum that we visited in Colmar was the Bartholdi Museum, in the home of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty.

By this time I felt that I really needed a salad for dinner. It was raining again, so we ducked into a little restaurant that had some salads on the menu. Within a few minutes, we were worried about whether we would be getting any food. A single waitress was managing the entire place and, while it wasn’t big, it filled completely up, including a large party of about ten or twelve who arrived just after us and sat at the next table. She brought us a jug of wine, so we were committed. As she took orders from everyone in the restaurant, we looked around and noticed that not even the people who where there before us had any food.

This may be the best salad I have ever eaten.
Local house wine is served in
green-stemmed glasses.

But wait, a miracle happened. Somehow, food began to appear with amazing speed and consistency, including the most beautiful and delicious salad I have had in recent memory – which by now is admittedly bad. I don’t even remember what Mark had, but I loved my salad.
Next morning, we went out for coffee and yes, a croissant before we hit the road. Next stop: Munich, and Oktoberfest!

But not before a little allergic adventure in Switzerland …