Tuesday, May 31, 2011

We're in Philly

I picked the wrong line to stand in for customs. Our guy was chatty and slow, and then he left to escort someone for further interrogation. THEN it took an HOUR to get through security. Never mind the fact that we were screened in Germany. We missed our 3:30 flight to Phx. This will end up being 24 hours of traveling. I'm never picking another line as long as I live.
Update: Well, the 6 pm flight to Phx they booked us on is delayed until 7. I can't stand it.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Trier to the Frankfurt Bates Hotel

The drive to Frankfurt was uneventful, except for putting the wrong street name in the GPS, a lot of it was on red roads over the Hunsruck, which was pretty darn scenic. Fortunately the error was not significant, and it took us to a Biergarten. It was not all bad.
I saw this magazine cover at one of the rest stops. Germany has had an outbreak of a very nasty E. coli strain, 10 people have died over the last 3 weeks. They think it's coming from Spanish cucumbers, the Spaniards are denying it.

Food at the autohofs is amazing. They actually cook. This stop had a guy doing pasta if you ordered it. The already cooked food was fried potatoes with bacon, schnitzel (which is a breaded fried pork), wurst and meatloaf. It's not meatloaf like in the US, it's more of a pressed and formed meat slurry. The lady in front of us had a slice of that, with an egg over easy on it, and the fried potatoes. I would like to know what Germany's cholesterol numbers are. If they aren't high, then I'm done with broccoli.

We checked in to the Comfort Inn Airport hotel. It's just gruesome. We left to figure out how to get to the airport. Not wanting to return to said hotel, we went back to the beer garden and had fries and a beer. It was just delightful. Those of you who know me in real time know that I am not a beer drinker, except for here. It's really good.

Calling this an airport hotel is just ridiculous. It's out in the toolies, the "shuttle" they advertise is them calling you a cab, and there is no air conditioning. Our bathroom faces west and I've McGyvered a curtain for the window to cut down on the heat. Today's key learning is to book the last hotel at home, where the force of the internet is strong and one is able to read the hotel reviews. Had we done that, we would be elsewhere.
My ear continues to be very painful. Hopefully my head will not explode on the plane.

Jim and I have been singing the chorus to the London Homesick Blues the last couple of days.

I wanna go home with the armadillo
Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene
The friendliest people and the prettiest women you've ever

We're ready.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bitburg and two cities in Luxembourg

Well, what would a vacation be without a trip to the hospital? I've already done 10 days of antibiotics for my right ear in Germany, but after 4 days off drugs it's thumping and hurting again. The original plan was for me to walk up to the ER that's a block from here while Jim returned to Bitburg. He wanted to look at a couple of things again, and I was not that excited about going. But, no. The convenient ER does not have anyone on staff who can look at an ear. One must go to the other hospital for an ear guy. It was really weird, the ENT was in his office. One by one they would drag the patients out of their rooms (these are surgical patients) and in to his office. One old gentleman had to be rescued mid-walk with a wheelchair. Sitting out in the hall waiting, we could plainly hear him moaning and retching. It had a bad movie feel to it. After two hours it was my turn in the office. There's no sink. I don't know how the doctor was washing his hands between patients; and no, he was not wearing gloves. There was blood on his pants and the floor. Some of doctor blogs I read are very high on the German system of medicine, for example, this one, but I am not convinced with my sample of one. I do have yet another ear infection, and was able to obtain augmentin and cipro ear drops. Drugs were 54 euro which is less than they would be in the US.

So, then it was on to Bitburg. This is the Zulu Alert shelter, during the Cold War there were 4 fighters that were always ready to take off within 5 minutes of being notified. Their mission was air defense, if there had been an incursion into Western airspace by Warsaw Pact aircraft the airplanes in here would have been launched to intercept the intruders. Like all buildings on abandoned military bases, it is very forlorn now, peeling paint and letters missing from the front.

It was still early so we headed into Luxembourg. We had to stop and buy a map. Something was going on downtown and they were closing streets for it. We walked around a bit and decided to get out of Dodge. This is the exterior of their Notre Dame.

Here is the inside.

We headed out to Echternach, Luxembourg. It was a very pretty drive along a river. During WWII, Jim's Dad came through here with Patton. It looks much better now than it did. Here is a really big building.

They were having some sort of festival. We could not detect a theme, other than mass eating, drinking and music. It was very crowded, lot's of people standing around chatting and enjoying the day. We should do things like this in the US. It was fun to watch.

Ecternach is right across a tiny river from Germany. It's pretty cool that it's possible to zip from country to country without stopping.
Well, this may be the last post from Germany. Tomorrow we drive to an airport hotel in Frankfurt. I don't know if we'll do anything scenic, or just crash and burn in the hotel. We're tired. Twenty four days of foraging for food, navigating, and sight seeing have pretty much worn us slick. It's been fun, but I need a nap.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Trier to Bernkastel-Kues

I've always been aware of the Moselle Valley and knew that it's a grower of grapes for wine. I had envisioned a wide valley with its sides gently sloping towards the river. Nah, they're farming 45 degree angled hill sides. It's unbelievable how steep the land there is. We drove about 20k up the river from B-K and it's all under cultivation for grapes.

This is B-K. It's just cuter than a bug. They have maxed out the cute-o-meter.

Old half timbered buildings.

We hiked up to the ruins of a 13th century castle.

The view from up there is phenomenal. See all that green stuff on the sides of the valley? Grape vines.

The geraniums add to the cute factor.

We first saw these little trains in Cinque Terra and now here. This is how they get up and down those steep hills.

The drive up the Moselle Valley and B-K and the other small towns just absolutely exceeded expectations. Yesterday's ROI on time spent in the car vs what was seen tilted towards the negative, but today was just spectacular. It you're in this part of the country, the valley and the towns are very much worth seeing. It should also be noted that there are bicycle paths everywhere.
Tomorrow we'll probably head out for Luxembourg. It's Sunday, so hopefully the traffic will be down. The autobahns are great for rapid transit, but once you're off into the cities, it's bad.

Trier on a Saturday Morning

OK, who says German TV is not way ahead of American TV in terms of sophistication and educational content? I took this picture of a German show last night, apparently the goal is to correctly guess the woman's bra size. They were really into it. The man in the segment we watched got 7 in a row.

11:45 am in Trier, the wine and beer tent is open for business.

Is this cute or what, it's about 10 inches in diameter. The lid has two latches so it stays attached. It's a charcoal grill.

I have not seen a Hari Krishna in years. But here they are in Trier.

It's been a slow morning, I think we're heading out to the Moselle river valley to look at a town known for its half timber architecture. Or not.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Trier to Aachen and Back

Today was the drive to Aachen to see the Dom where Charlemagne's remains are kept. Construction on the cathedral was completed in the early 800s. Aachen is old. This is where 30 some odd kings have been crowned.
Note the gargoyles in profile.

The first gold object is the altar. The second gold box farther back is the box with relics. The box is opened every 7 years and the contents displayed for the pilgrims. The next opening is in June 2014. There are more pictures but the force of the internet is weak and I've given up on loading them.

See the lumps out there in the cow pasture? Those are called Dragon's Teeth. The Germans put them out there to stop the tanks during WWII. It was part of the Seigfried line, just inside the German border. It was a defensive line put in place to try to stop the Allies as they came across Germany. It worked about as well as the Maginot Line worked for France.

Oy. Long day in the car. It's 96 miles, but it took 3 hours up and 4 hours back. Today we discovered that the Renault GPS only has maps for Germany, which is just incredibly stupid and annoying given that Germany is surrounded by 9 countries and has very irregular borders. We came back through Belgium today and the screen looked like we'd fallen off the edge of the world. We still want to go to Luxembourg, but will probably have to get a map with more detail since we'll be doing nav the old fashioned way.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bitburg and Trier

This morning we slept in, or rather I did and Jim waited patiently for me to wake up. Traveling is tiring, especially without the support of a tour. After foraging for breakfast, and witnessing a cloud burst of extraordinary proportions, we decided to drive up to Bitburg. It's on Jim's list of Cold War stuff to look at. The farther north we went, the nicer the weather was.
Germany is heavily invested in wind and solar power. However, we've noticed in the rural areas they heat with wood. These people have serious wood piles.

Bitburg was the home of the 36th Tactical Fighter Wing. It was one of several US fighter bases west of the Rhine. It was returned to the Germans in the early 90s.
Here is the control tower.

A hard shelter. They weren't camouflaged the way the Russian shelters were.

We think this might be an old Ryan drone.

One of the old buildings.

This guy is thinking about telecommunications.

There are a bunch of barracks that are identified by people's names. There is the Marilyn Monroe, the Chuck Yeager and the Bob White. Bob White went on to be a NASA pilot and flew the X-15.

Then it was back to Trier and sight seeing. The internet has crashed twice on me, so there's going to be brief text so I can get this up before it totally dies. This is the Liebfrauenkirche. It's old, there was a plaque listing all of the priests who had led the church, the first one died in 250.

Looking from the front to the back wall.

There is some sort of relic behind this wall. You can't go in. It's unfortunate because it looked pretty spectacular in there.

Carving. Lots and lots of carved stone.

The ceiling of the back wall. More carving.

This is the Basilica. It dates from Roman times. It was painstakingly restored in the 1800s and was quite the church (Protestant). Then there was firebombing in Trier in 1944 and it was completely destroyed. Most of the explanatory material was in German so I don't have a lot of detail.

We do have to wonder why a Baroque residence from the mid-1700s was glued to the back of the Basilica. No data.

Then it was off to see more Roman ruins. We walked out along an old Roman wall to the amphitheater.

The baths.

OK, I'm going to publish now while I can. Tomorrow we think we're going to Aachen. There is a really big church there.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Stuttgart to Trier

We're in Trier after a long, but uneventful drive. It seemed that the entire stretch of autobahn from Stuttgart to Karlsruhe was under construction. Trier is old, it was founded in 16 BC. The gate across the street from the hotel is from the 2nd century. In recent years the territory has been back and forth between French and German rule several times. We're actually very close to Luxembourg, which can be seen by the french fries being sold in paper cones on the street.

This is what we see across the street, the Porta-Nigra, or Black Gate.

We're here for 5 nights. Then we fly home from Frankfurt, unless the volcano in Iceland shuts down air traffic. We have internet here, which we have to pay for, but there should be pictures forth coming.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

GAP to Stuttgart

Today was from hell. No, make that the inner circle of hell right next to Satan's antechamber. Our key learning was: validate the route proposed by the GPS before leaving the parking lot. Due to the Alps, there are a limited number of roads in the GAP area, and once you're on one, it's difficult to change course. The nav system wanted us to go back to Munich, take the ring road around the east side of the city and then head west; which, while it was all autobahn added a good 60k. We wanted to take the B23 to the B17 up to A8. So we navigated with the map to a small town that took us to the B23. Gone. Maintenance crews had dug it up and had not bothered to mention it 18k back when we could have diverted to the B2. So back we went to the B2 and up to the B17 that way. On the B17 there was a foreign object on the road that was the same color as the road, which we hit, which cut the tire, which went flat. I will say Jim did an excellent job of getting it changed. So, then it was off to Avis to get a new car. That took place at the Stuttgart airport. We drove about 180k at 80k per hour due to the small spare. It was a very tedious day, spent driving in the far right lane with the trucks.
The new car is a Renault Laguna, the GPS system is non-intuitive. It's not touch screen, which I really prefer. But travel should be educational, eh?
We're at a Holiday Inn Express right off the A8. Tomorrow we're heading for Trier and hopefully a better day.

Monday, May 23, 2011

GAP - Pictures of the Alps

It occurred to me at dinner in the Thai restaurant where we've been eating, that I have posted no pictures of the Alps. Of course, it's very difficult to capture the majesty and the grandeur of the mountain range, but here are a couple of pictures for you.

GAP - Three Countries in One Day

Today we set forth to see Innsbruck, which is in Austria. To drive in Austria one must first pay 7.9 euro for a windshield sticker. OK, I can live with that. But no, that's not enough. When you depart Innsbruck on the way to Italy, there is an 8 euro toll for the mountain segment; and you pay it on the way back as well. So that was about $32 in tolls today, depending on the exchange rate. But hey, happy to help with the economy.
This was taken in the old town of Innsbruck. We didn't like it that much, the city has a frantic feel to it, and after about half an hour I was pretty jangly.

However, there was a lovely little church to be visited.

They had the inner gate closed and locked, so I had to take these with the camera stuck between the grates; so they're not as good as I would have liked. It's a pretty church, very small, but very pretty.

Detail of the far wall seen above.

The magnificent ceiling painting.

After a stroll through the market hall and lunch we hit the road. Jim wanted to see Brenner pass so we drove there. After the Rockies it was anticlimactic. We pressed on into Italy which was just on the other side of the pass. This is this little town of Colie Isarco. Everything is signed in Italian and German. I tried my horrific Italian on the tourist center lady, who did not understand me. There should be a universal phrase for where is the toilet.
Doesn't this look Swiss?

The road builders in the EU do not mess around when it comes to the building of tunnels and bridges. This is a big bridge and it's only one of many. About 2k from our hotel they are blasting to put in a 4.5k tunnel through an alp.

And look! Another church in the town.

This one had the glass doors closed and locked so I had to put the camera lens right up against the glass to try to escape the glare.
This is the far away wall.

A close up of Mary's statue.

The other side of the church.

I love the painted churches. They've been so pretty on this trip. I find the big cathedrals with the stained glass to not be nearly as fun to look at.
There is a memorial to their dead from WWI and WWII on the side of the church. They list the fallen mens' names and where they died. Sad, so many broken hearts.

Then it was time to return to GAP. We saw this while getting gas. Those are not live people in the windows.

We saw this somewhere along the highway. There was no signage to indicate who had built it.

The road about 5k out of Partenkirchen hits an astonishing 16% grade for a long time. They have run away truck turn outs about every 100 feet or so on the downhill side. The trucks do not let their speed pick up on the section. There were a few brave souls out riding it, mainly on mountain bikes. We saw one couple touring and towing a Bob trailer, unfortunately I did not get my camera out the window in time.
This is the hotel, the Grand Hotel Sonnenbichl. It's old. We've enjoyed our stay here, except for the occasional scalding in the shower. There is a herd of dairy cows right across the street, they all are wearing the cow bells people take to bicycle races. The cows come home every night about 5.

Tomorrow we head out for Stuttgart where we will overnight on the way to our ultimate destination which is Trier. We have an extended stay in Trier and hope to see many things from that vantage point.