Saturday, October 16, 2010

September 26, 2010 - Sunday - Zwangau/Neuschwanstein

Adam and I left the group again so we could visit the Neuschwanstein Castle. We were glad to get time on our own again. Traveling on trains has become a highlight of our trip. Trains provide smooth and quiet transporation through interesting countryside. Plus, we have been able to participate in rewarding conversations with fellow passengers and train employees.

Neuschwanstein Castle proved to be something of a joke. While large and impressive, it is a symbol of the waste and eccentricity of an 1860s German king.

September 25, 2010 - Saturday - Munich

We had an early start so we could compete with the masses that would be attending the Oktoberfest. Although some charm exists in the lederhosen and dirndls worn by the natives, overall, the Wiesn was a mess. All of the tents were fully packed with patrons. The expectation is that people sit at their table all day drinking four to seven liters of beer and eating chicken and sausage. We were huddled together with hundreds of other people. It was sort of like being in line for an outdoor concert to an awful band, like Gwar... or ICP. The rain drenched us, and we considered abandoning our spot in line multiple times. Finally we did abandon our place in line so we could get something to eat. We walked around to the side of the tent where we happened to sneak inside through a side door that was left ajar.

Once we got inside, we were astonished by the amount of people, food, and noise. We wandered around inside the tent with our host and our fellow travelers before Adam and I could not handle it anymore. We ventured out of the tent and into the city for some exploration.

We found Munich to be an exciting city. It gets better as you distance yourself from the Oktoberfest people. We enjoyed the town hall area and the shops in the area. Later we met up with our host and he gave us a tour of Munich. We saw the Ludwig Maximilian University, where Sophie Scholl famously tossed anti-Nazi pamphlets into the main hall. Later, we saw the Olympic Village and athletic facilities where Munich hosted the 1972 Olympic Games. I was pleased to happen upon the fancy BMW building designed by Zaha Hadid. We explored the building and the cars inside. Very cool.

From a distance, we also caught a glimpse of the new football arena that is shaped like a big blowup raft and which is brilliantly illuminated at night.

September 24, 2010 - Friday - Mindelheim

We caught a train to Mindelheim via Munich. We found a host on CouchSurfing who lives in Mindelheim. He was hosting Adam and me, along with two other travelers from Texas.

Our host and his girlfriend cooked a delicious meal of kasespätzle for us. It was outstanding. We are hoping to learn how to reproduce it later.

We watched our host and men from his village compete in a table tennis tournament with men from a neighboring village. We enjoyed the community’s spirit.

We slept that night in our host’s parents’ house in their small village of Salgen.

Septemer 23, 2010 - Thursday - Rhine Valley

We borrowed the bicycles again in the morning so we could ride along the banks of the Rhine River. We enjoyed the ride, but we decided to use a train after a few hours and little progress.

We rode the train all the way up to Koblenz where we sampled some more bratwurst and schnitzel. The return back to Flörsheim was just as pleasant as the way up. There are dozens of castles that bestrew each side.

September 22, 2010 - Wednesday - Freiburg/Flörsheim

We made a stop in Freiburg so we could walk around and take some snapshots of the area. We enjoyed a walk along a river and found a local company where Adam bought some items for his grandparents. Some of his ancestors lived in that city.

We finally arrived in Flörsheim after changing trains in Frankfurt. We stayed in an excellent hostel that provided us with free bicycle rentals.

We rode the bikes up the hill to a small little restaurant a few kilometers from the hostel.

I had a thrilling experience as I rode the bike back down the hill. I listened to Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” as I coasted down the hill with my arms spread. The late-night weather was extremely pleasant and the surrounding vineyards and farmland were beautifully illuminated by an almost full moon.

September 21, 2010 - Tuesday - Milan

We enjoyed our hostel's complimentary breakfast and then walked around the city all day. We saw everything there is to see.

We found a restaurant that offered some fun pasta dishes before we caught the train for Switzerland.

The train traveled north through beautiful Italian countryside. We were impressed by a cool lake and the surrounding buildings all near communities called Meina and Stresa. The lakes mildly satisfied our interest in seeing Lake Como, which wasn't too far away.

We arrived in Biel later that night. We were very happy to be reunited with our friend and to take part in good conversation and to have a comfortable bed once again before going back up to Switzerland.

September 20, 2010 - Monday - Nice/Milan

We spent the morning investigating the waterfront. We couldn’t resist the urge to get some pastries, plus we were just plain hungry.

Our interest in Nice was quickly quenched. We jumped on board the train moving northeast to Monaco. There we found a galette shop and had a nice little lunch. Monaco is a very pricey place. We recognized the area from its representation in films and video games.

Monte Carlo's train station is buried deep into the mountain where the city is nestled. The engineering that creates these cities is marvelous.

We arrived in Milan that night and found our hostel after a half-hour walk. That night we ate some delicious Italian pizza. The crust was thin and the toppings were fresh and perfect. For relatively inexpensive prices, we each ate a whole pizza.

That night I chatted with some fellow hostel guests. I was fortunate to meet two Danish fellows who offered me accommodation when I pass through their city in November. The stars are aligning in my favor!