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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Appreciation

Snow greeted us this morning.  The first snow of the year.  Just a dusting.  My brother got a nice pic of it from his office window.  He was kind enough to warn me this morning so I had time to mentally prepare myself for that first "Oh sh*t!" of the day and allowed enough time to warm up my car before departing. (Thanks for the remote starter, Marcie!)  He also sent me a link this morning that has some incredible closeups of snowflakes using a point and shoot and a lens from a discarded SLR!  I've never seen such detail!  We've all heard that no two snowflakes are alike.  These photos illustrate just how different and incredibly unique, detailed and beautiful snowflakes are.  Amazing stuff here:  http://www.webburgr.com/close-up-photography/


I'm also reminded of one of my favorite Demotivators from www.despair.com  We're all beautiful snowflakes, don't you forget it!

I haven't had the luxury of parking in a garage since I lived with my mom years ago. The upside of this is the strange exhilaration I feel when I'm driving down the highway and a white stream of snow whooshes off the hood of my car, leaving a frosty comet trail in my wake.  That and the sound of crushing dead, dried and crunchy fall leaves under my feet make the Kansas seasons worth it.

The snow is especially endearing today knowing that in a mere 47.5 hours I will be boarding a plane with 6 of my nearest and dearest friends bound for Belize for dear Stacy's birthday celebration.  She's always wanted a picnic on her birthday.  I am soooo looking forward to joining her in making that dream a reality that doesn't involve shivering our asses off in Kansas.



Sunday, October 6, 2013

Neuschwanstein & Linderhof Castle tours - too beautiful to be real!

Tuesday morning we felt that our heads had just touched the pillows before the alarm went off for our early morning meetup with Gray Line tours.  We picked up a butter croissant and cappucino in the central station.  The public transport here is extremely efficient, clean, convenient and pretty easy to figure out as well as many of the stations having cafes and shops.

A couple hours into the gently swaying, sleep inducing bus ride, Marcie tapped me and said, "You might want to see this."  I wiped the drool from my mouth and immediately dropped my jaw again.
 There on the horizon were the jagged blue and white silhouettes  of the alps and all around us down below were rustic, Chalet style buildings decked out in flowers dripping from every window box.  If a building wasn't picturesque enough on its own, then elaborate, fake shutters were painted around the windows and medieval style illustrations of daily life or angels were painted on the sides.  Not a single fast food chain in sight (Munich itself does a fair job of keeping these out as well), only small town flower shops, wood carving shops, ice cream vendors and the like.

Many tourists were wandering through these towns looking just as awed as we were.  As we came around a corner in the incredibly beautiful town of Oberammergau, a rough looking woman passed by, wearing a Penthouse t-shirt with the eye grabbing headline, "F*ck me!" complete with illustration of how....  Marcie said, "Wow, I wouldn't have expected crack was easy to find here."  Seeing a woman so seemingly out of place with the surroundings was a shock, but goes to show that no place is perfect.

Linderhof castle, inspired by Versailles, is nestled in a mountain valley. It was built for King Ludwg II in 1876 in French Baroque style.  Ludwig was fascinated by the French royalty of 150 years before who had absolute rule and could get away with doing whatever their whims desired without answering to parliament.  He became king at age 18 and tried to live like those kings.  Parliament and Bavarian politicians had something else to say about this so he used his own substantial family wealth to build his own fantasy land.  King Ludwig was such an introvert that he preferred to sleep the day away and come out at night when others had already turned in for the night.  His dining room in Linderhof castle was equipped with a sliding door in the floor so that his meal could be entirely prepared and placed on the table in the kitchen below then the door opened and the table was lifted back up to the dining room when complete.  He had an indoor grotto lake complete with artificial waves was where he was suspiciously found drowned along with his psychologist the day after parliament announced that he had been diagnosed as mad and not fit to rule.

We stopped for lunch in the town of Fussen at Hotel Muller.  Started out the meal with a delicious dessert of Bavarian cream and a view of Hohenschwangau Castle on one side of us and Neuschwanstein on the other and the "romantic" smell of horse dung from the horse drawn carriages.  We sadly didn't have time to tour Hohenschwangau.  Next time!

The weather was perfect.  The views amazing. We kept looking at each other and saying how unreal the whole thing seemed.  The place was immense and everywhere you looked, you saw another exquisite detail in the carvings, paintings, and mosaicked floors.  Here's a pic of King Ludwig's bedroom (Had to snag it from another site since we couldn't photograph inside).  It took 14 carpenters 4 years to finish these carvings which tell the tale of Tristan and Isolde.  The castle was inspired by and dedicated to  Wagner's operas.  It was never completed and the king only got to live in it for something like 126 days before his untimely death.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Europe is exhausting, eh?

Day 5 in Munich is getting off to a slow start. It's been a wonderful meandering experience with very few firm plans other than nightly drinking with a great group of folks of all ages and origins brought together under common love of travel, fun and our gracious host, Bill Laughlin.

I'm not as ambitious as Mark with his very enjoyable daily blog entries from our final destination, Dinan, France. I thought I would write a bit more, but as we overheard from a weary Canadian Tuesday morning (still dressed in leiderhosen from the night before), "Europe is exhausting, eh?!" 

We left home on Saturday afternoon and started off the trip with a delicious Boulevard Wheat beer and our traditionally shared meals in the airport restaurant in KC.  Figured we may as well start practicing for Okotberfest. We arrived in Munich early Sunday morning.  We were pleased at how easy it was to get from the airport to our rented apartment, just a block down from the UBahn train station.

The apartment is a little shabbier than we had hoped, but larger than expected, too, and with such a great location, we could hardly complain.  Just 5 minutes walk from the English Gardens, 15 minutes walk from Marienplatz city center (5 minutes by train), and 2 minutes from one of the best Italian restaurants I've ever been to.

We dropped off our bags, freshened up & headed out to the glockenspiel in Marienplatz to meet Bill
for the traditional D&P (drinking and pissing) welcome party at the Augustiner beer garden.  Everything about the rest of that day is embarrassingly blurry, but I'm fairly sure Bill tried to kill us with pear schnapps and beers bigger than our heads which seemed to get heavier with each sip.  Tiberius tried to warn us about his dad's lethal form of hospitality the following day, but it was too late.

Monday we did our best to come back from the dead and also searched for dirndls with limited success. I found a really cute one for 80 euro but Marcie couldn't find one she liked under 250euro.
 We had our first taste of Oktoberfest that evening.  Imagine the biggest carnival you've seen and take that times 50.  Carnival rides and games, vendors selling everything from stuffed animals, hats, steins, and roasted chickens, sausages of every size and flavor, dumplings, pastries, roasted nuts... and you really can't comprehend the massive, elaborate beer "tents" until  you've seen them.  These monstrosities can seat up to 10,000 people and take 2 months to set up each year.  They are complete with fully functioning kitchens and blissfully clean and efficient plumbing.

It seemed we had hardly closed our eyes Monday night when it was time to meet up with our tour group for Neuschwanstein & Linderhof castles.  These castles were built in the 1800's by "Mad King" Ludwig II.  It obvious  to see why Disney was inspired by these  castles.  The castles and the villages and lakes and mountains we saw were so amazingly perfect that they deserve their own blog entry.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Christina Rick Steves Howell

After many, many hours of  poring over library books, Rick Steves videos, public transport websites and traveller's forums, I have pinned down reservations for all major aspects of our upcoming trip and have been dubbed by Marcie as Christina Rick Steves Howell.


When I started looking at our transportation options, the Swiss pass looked pretty appealing with it's one price for all  public transport including trains, gondolas, cable cars, buses and even boats as well as free entry to something like 5 billion museums. A bit pricey at $252/person for 4 days, but the one price, low hassle aspect is certainly worth consideration.

Ok, but since we'd be going to three countries, there was more (so much more) to take into account. Should we get the Swiss pass plus the German pass?  Or the Swiss German combo? What about the French Swiss combo?  Or the Global pass, or the Flexi pass, or the Half fare pass....?  Of course there's always the more complicated option of buying point to point as we went.

I agonized over the options and tried in vain to find a site that would tell me definitively, "Yes, this is the solution for you." Add that I was working on an extremely complicated project at work, and I had serious concern that my head was going to explode.

Finally, I had to do what the people on the forums kept saying.  I had to sit down and map out what each individual leg of the journey would cost for each option.  I spent an entire day plugging in routes on Rail Europe and the German bahn.de and SNCF French rail and SBB Swiss rail.   Ok, to be fair,  there were substantial amounts of time when I got distracted by the beauty of all the places on our itinerary.  ...And... I may have discovered Pinterest! http://pinterest.com/rathbone6/

At the end of the day, I had an Excel spreadsheet full  of fares converted from Euros and Swiss francs that added up to tell me that my first instinct of going with the Swiss pass was the way to go.  The German & French combo passes didn't cover any of the city public transport, so they were quickly ruled out.  From my calculations, the Swiss pass would end up being very close to what we would pay point to point.  Figure in the ease of just buying the tickets once and the 15% discount on the hotel and it was the clear winner.

I found that with the Swiss Pass, our best bet is to go from Munich to the first town on the Swiss border, St. Margrethen's, on German Bahn train then switch to the "free" Swiss train system from there.   Same idea
applies for our trip from Switzerland to France.  Take Swiss trains to Basel on the border of France & take French SNCF trains to Paris.  We'll stay in Paris one night at a lovely hotel that Marcie found near the Eiffel tower.

Now if I can just get the pass in my grubby hands... UPS say they delivered it on Tuesday 6 days ago to my porch.  No sign of it yet, but Rail Europe was kind enough to reprint and send another on it's way to me.


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Europe Anticipation

It seems Mark & Nita have fallen in love with France.  After honeymooning there a few years ago and going back twice since, they decided to rent an apartment in Avignon for a month and invite friends to come visit.  Marcie, Beth & I were so glad that we took them up on the offer.  The apartment was beautiful, the food delicious, the vibe was perfect: quiet, laid back, cultured, beautiful, fun... kinda like Mark & Nita!  ;)  I always enjoy spending time with them, so when they invited me to Dinan, France this Fall, I could hardly say no.

Here's the website we put together for the Avignon trip: http://www.monavignonfrance.com/

Marcie & I had talked about how great it would be if we could go on a trip with our moms.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Our moms don't know each other, but we imagined them getting along great and entertaining each other when Marcie & I felt the urge to spend an evening sharing a bottle of wine and laughing uncontrollably about nothing. 

So the plan began.  When I got an email from +Bill Laughlin, father of good friend +Tiberius,  inviting me to join him at Oktoberfest in Munich the last week of September, (the week before our Dinan trip), I figured it was destiny.  How cool to be able to say, "Well, I'll be in the neighborhood... Why not!?" 

My mom is not a drinker.  When I told her that I planned on going to Oktoberfest before France, she asked, "Why would you want to just go and drink beer?  That sounds like a waste of time."  When I told Marcie about the invitation, she said something like, "OH MY GOD!  That sounds AMAZING!  Of course I want to go!"

So we looked at a map.  What's in between Germany & France?  Switzerland!  We had planned on going there a couple years ago to visit +Jenni, but she ended up not moving there so we scrapped plans to visit there and went to Amsterdam instead.  Now that Switzerland was on the path to France, it seemed destiny was crooking her finger at us once again, telling us this trip was meant to be.

We found a great apartment at a very reasonable price in the city center of Munich on www.airbnb.com - the same site we'd had luck with in Paris & Amsterdam.  It looks to be small but adequate for Marcie & me & not far from the Oktoberfest festivities.

The apartment Mark & Nita found in Dinan looks adorable.  Check out the website I did for that portion of the trip here:  http://www.mondinanfrance.com/

We haven't figured out the Switzerland portion of the trip yet, haven't figured out details on any portion really, but I'm sure it will be amazing no matter what happens. 

Valley of 72 waterfalls Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland