Monday, July 4, 2011

Eurotrip 2011 - Day 16 (7/2/2011) - Zürich

I got a decent amount of sleep despite the heavy snoring of one of the other two guests in our room.  And my cold had mostly cleared out, though I still had a lingering cough.  We didn't need to be anywhere at any certain time, so I slept until about 9.  After we got dressed and ready to go, we went looking for some cheap breakfast (Zürich is a very expensive city). We ended up getting some bread, fruit, and pastries at an outdoor market that we ran across.  Then we headed to the Grossmünster church, and climbed up the tower to get a look at the city.  I should add that Zürich is a beautiful city - the river (which leads to a huge lake) is clean, the buildings have a classic feel, and you can see the beginning of the Alps in the distance.  Too bad there is not that much to do there, especially if you're on a budget.

After the church tower we found a Starbucks so Galen and Matt could get a coffee (which Galen hated), and I got some mango and passion fruit frozen drink.  We then ran into a bike rental stand, and Galen and Matt rented a couple of bikes to ride down toward the end of the lake.  I bid them goodbye and headed toward the Landesmuseum (a.k.a. the Swiss National Museum).  On the way I stopped at a couple more churches - the Fraumünster and St. Peter Church (which has the largest church clock face in Europe).  I eventually made it to the museum and spent the rest of the afternoon there until it closed at 5.  I was actually not terribly impressed with the museum, though I wasn't terribly disappointed either - the permanent exhibits are dedicated to all of Swiss history, and some of it was interesting. My favorite part, though, was probably a temporary exhibit of the best Swiss press photos of 2010.  I also would have liked to check out the tower of arms, but the museum closed before I got a chance to do so.  On the walk back to the hostel I stopped at a grocery store to get a sandwich (I couldn't hold out until the 6:30 meet-up time) and some still water (I had earlier accidentally bought some carbonated water).  I was back at the hostel a little before 6.  I typed up some more of the travelogue on my phone while waiting for the other 2 to show up, which they did around 7.

We overhead some people in the hostel common area talking about a Latin festival, so we decided to go check it out.  It had overtaken several blocks in the western part of the city, and was pretty packed.  There was lots of music being played, many tents selling goods, and lots of food (both Latin and otherwise) being sold.  We walked around for a while before finally settling on a couple of tents to get food.  I got a decent beef empanada from one place and a so-called "fajita" from a tent entitled "Mexican Food" (it didn't taste very Mexican).  One of the nearby tents was bumping some decent club tunes, both Latin-inspired and otherwise, so we settled there for a bit.  We then left the festival briefly so Galen and Matt could each buy a couple of cans of cheap beer (instead of paying the exorbitant festival prices) before heading back in towards our previous spot.  After becoming sufficiently creeped out by how much younger than us most of the festival-goers were, we decided to walk back to the hostel.  As we approached the river we overhead an opera-like singer in another direction.  The others wanted to check it out, but I wanted to get some sleep before my early flight the next morning, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways. I returned to the hostel and went to bed a little after 11.

There's not much to the next day, so I'll just finish up here. I got up at 5:30, got ready, and headed out to the main train station by 6:15.  I caught the 6:39 train to the airport and checked in a couple of hours before my 9:05 flight to Düsseldorf. I had some issues boarding the plane, as my electronic ticket number had been messed up (I suspected this would happen when Orbitz/Continental/United changed my flight details, and screwed up my Newark-Amsterdam connection, a couple of months before), but the guys at the Swiss International Air Lines counter eventually resolved it (at least up to Toronto, they said) and I was able to board with a couple of late arrivers.  The flight lasted about an hour, then I had about 2 hours before my 8 hour flight to Toronto.  While going through document control I was told that I needed a new boarding pass with a proper ticket number.  The women at the Lufthansa counter printed me a new boarding pass for the trans-Atlantic flight, though one just signed the empty space where the ticket number would normally go, and they were also able to print me a Toronto boarding pass.  I was able to nap a bit on the flight to Toronto, though I spent most of the time watching a couple of movies and a soccer documentary - Lufthansa has a decent personal entertainment system on their A330s.  They also served lunch and a warm snack.  In Toronto, I had another couple of hours to go though US customs (you get to skip Canadian customs if you're connecting to the US) and then go though the security checkpoint (again).  I spent some more time at the Air Canada gate desk while they tried to resolve the ticket number issue - this caused the plane to board late, but I don't feel so bad because we had to wait for 8 missing passengers anyway (and only 2 showed up).  The flight to St. Louis took a couple of hours, and I sat next to a nice young lady named Cassandra who was from Toronto and went to SLU's medical school.  After making it back to St. Louis my wonderful mother welcomed me back at the airport.

Some pictures from the whole trip:

Eurotrip 2011 - Day 15 (7/1/2011) - To Zürich

After getting ready we checked the train schedules online to see when the trains to Zürich were leaving.  We saw that one was leaving at 9:40, which was in 15 minutes, so we hustled down to check out and then over to the Hauptbahnhof.  We made it a couple of minutes before the train was supposed to leave, but couldn't find the train. A closer look at my phone revealed that the train was leaving from a different station in München.  Galen asked an attendant at an info desk and she gave us a timetable for a trip leaving at 9:43.  So we hustled over to catch that train.  The first leg was 80 minutes to Ulm.  After about an hour there, during which we finally got a late breakfast, we took the next train 134 minutes to Schaffhausen.  After disembarking we headed toward the stairs into the station, but we were stopped by a Swiss border patrolman who asked to see our passports.  He then took us into the office where we waited for him to do whatever it is they do in the back room.  He then came back out with our passports and sent us on our way.  At this point I realized that we weren't far from Rhine Falls, so we contemplated visiting there.  Galen asked at a nearby Best Western and they told him which bus to take.  Since we needed Swiss Franks to do this, we exchanged our remaining Euro cash at the ticket center.  After the exchange, though, Galen remembered that his friend Matt was to have arrived in Zürich at noon (3 hours earlier), and didn't want to keep him waiting at the hostel.  So we took our original 3:09 connecting train to Zürich (a 39 minute ride).

Once at the Zürich main station, our hostel (City Backpacker) was about a 15 minute walk (add 5 for doing it the first time).  Interestingly, the entrance was at the side of the building, and reception was 2 floors up (which I guess isn't as bad as Raise a Smile in Berlin, which was on the 5th floor).  Once we checked in, we left a note for Matt and then went wandering around on the off chance that we would find him.  And we the river not too far from the hostel.  After greetings and reintroductions (I apparently had met him before) we walked over to a park with Linden trees that Matt had wandered over to earlier and really liked (we later found out that the name is Lindenhof).  They have 3 garden-size chess sets there with large wooden pieces.  Galen and I were able to sneak a quick game in on one of the boards (he won, as usual in timed games) before we had to head off to meet Erin's friend Liz.

We caught up with Liz and her friend (whose name I don't recall) a couple of minutes after 6 at a beer garden that she had coordinated with Galen.  I was getting a bit hungry so I had an ice cream bar while the others each had a beer (though Matt also had a pretzel).  After the drinks we walked to a stand (it's normally a restaurant, but it was being renovated) that served Liz's favorite bratwurst in town.  I went with the "white" brat and a (hard) roll (served separately), and some of the horseradish mustard.  Next we hit up an ice cream place that supposedly is the best around (Mövenpick - I think it is a chain), and then a bar that featured an accordion player.  Liz's husband, Joe, joined us on the way to the bar.  The customers (read: mostly our group) were able to participate in the "music" making, as the bartender brought out a couple of percussive wooden instruments (spoons, some slinky slotted wood and leather thing, and something else nobody knew how to play).  Galen and Joe also joined a couple of young locals in a game that they used to determine who bought the round of drinks.  Basically, the bartender brings out the drinks, typically shots, and a nail for each player.  The players each give their nail a bit of a start into a wooden stump and then they take turns taking one strike at the nail with the sharp end of a hammer (where the hammer strike upswing must be started at the side of the stump).  The last player to hammer their nail all the way in pays for the drinks.  Galen started out slowly, but ended up finishing third (though he "cheated" a bit on the starting position of some of his good strikes).  It came down to Joe and the guy who won the first round before Galen and Joe joined in, but Joe ended up avoiding defeat.  A short while later we left the bar and said our goodbyes to the other group.  Then the 3 of us walked back to the hostel, which was pretty close by.

Some pictures from the whole trip:

Eurotrip 2011 - Day 14 (6/30/2011) - München

We were dressed and ready to head out around 9:15, and were planning to be in Marienplatz @ 10 for the Sandeman's New Munich "free" walking tour. We didn't remember seeing any cafes on the way there the night before (though we were wrong) so we reluctantly decided to pay the €4.80 for the hostel breakfast.  After eating we headed out in the rain.  We weren't sure if the walking tour would still happen due to the weather, but it did - though the guide made it clearly known that she would be screwed over if any of the 8 of us left early and didn't tip her (she actually wanted a minimum of 9 people).  The tour covered Marienplatz, the Neues Rathaus (this building is an interesting mixture of old gothic architecture with modern shops on the ground floor) glockenspiel (we saw the 11:00 "performance" - some say it's the most overrated attraction in Europe, but it wasn't to me since I didn't know anything about it in the first place; you shouldn't expect much from it, though), Frauenkirche (Cathedral of Our Dear Lady), St. Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church), Viktualienmakt (a big outdoor market), the Residenz (the former Bavarian royal residence), and Odeonsplatz, among other things.  She was probably the least good (I hesitate to say "worst" because she did an adequate job) tour guide that we've had, especially in terms of historical knowledge, but I gave her the biggest tip so far because I felt bad about the weather diminishing our group.

After the tour Galen and I went back to the Residenzmuseum and had a look around for a while.  The palace is so huge and has so many rooms (I think 90 of the 130+ were open for viewing) that we were "palaced out" after about 1.5 hours (even with the included audioguides helping).  The next stop was St. Peterskirche, where we climbed the 330 steps to the top of the tower (this was the first time in Germany that Galen was not given the student rate, €1 vs. €1.50, for not having his student ID).  Next we headed to the beer garden in Viktualienmakt to grab a late lunch - I had schnitzel (which was OK) and potato salad (it's kinda like American potato salad, but with only potatoes, and bigger chunks of them).  After eating we did a little shopping - I bought a Mesut Özil Germany away jersey and Galen exchanged some socks that were too small at H&M.  He also continued in his unsuccessful quest to find Adidas Sambas that are cheaper in Germany than in the USA (they are significantly more expensive in Germany, and that really ticks him off since he could have bought them back in the States but instead chose to wait, reasoning that they would be cheaper in the home of Adidas).  By the time we were done it was too late to go to the Deutsches Museum, so we instead walked to the Englisher Garten (English Garden), which is a *huge* park in the northeast section of the city. We walked through part of it, including a stop at the Chinese Tower, before cutting across and back toward the hostel.

We did not stay long at the hostel before heading out to grab a couple of döner at a nearby restaurant. There we met a Californian named Courtney. After eating with her, we all walked over to the Augustiner bar that we had stopped at the night before (Galen loves how they tap the wooden barrels right in front of you). And after a couple of drinks there we hopped over to the Hofbräuhaus (they had Galen's favorite beer in München, as well as a polka band), where we sat with a group of 4 from Seoul (South Korea). There was merrymaking until the place closed at midnight, at which point we parted ways. I walked Courtney back to her hostel, which was next door to ours, while Galen and one of the Koreans went in search of some more good times and liquid refreshment.

Surprising factoid about München - there is either a significant Muslim population residing there or a lot of Muslims love visiting there - I saw a lot walking around.

Some pictures from the whole trip:

Eurotrip 2011 - Day 13 (6/29/2011) - To München

For breakfast we had some of the remainder of the food we bought the day before.  I left the cheese in the hostel, though, as I didn't think that it would carry well in my bag.  I did take the remaining half of the dürüm from the night before, though. After checking out we took the S-Bahn from Neustadt to Dresden Hbf. There we caught the 11:01 regional express to Nürnberg (in first class, though it wasn't much of a difference). The ride lasted a little over 4 hours, and the first half of it was through some fairly winding track.  It also allowed for some nice countryside scenery.   I spent the time catching up on my travelogue, finishing up the dürüm, listening to some tunes, and catching a few winks.

In Nürnberg we had 9 minutes to transfer to our ICE to München (Munich).  We were among the last to board but we were able to snag a couple of first class seats. A few minutes into the trip an announcement was made and the train soon stopped.  After we sat at a station for a while another announcement was made.   A woman sitting across the table from us could see the puzzled looks on our faces and explained to us that there had been an accident further down the line near Ingolstadt, so the train would reverse back to Nürnberg and reroute to München via Augsburg.  Impressively, to me at least, the train was headed in the opposite direction within about 15 minutes.  Unfortunately, 90 minutes was added to our travel time, which was normally about 75 minutes.

We arrived in München a little after 6, and it didn't take us long to find our hostel (Jaeger's), which is only a 5 minute walk from the central station.  After checking in and stowing our gear I contacted Nathan, a buddy from work, to finalize our meet-up plans (that sim card came in handy after all - I was able to warn him of our late train while still on it).  Galen and I then walked over to the Hofbräuhaus, a popular beer hall, to meet up with him, his mother, and his aunt for dinner and beers (though I had the "lemonade", which was more like 7-up). We were late, though, as Galen had to make an H&M detour.  At the HBH, I had the pork steak with au-gratin potatoes, and it was pretty good - the caramelized onions were a nice touch.  I also may or may not have let Galen use my backpack to steal one of their giant beer mugs.  After dinner we said goodbye to Nathan and company, and headed down the street.  I decided to get a gelato cone while Galen started a beer at an Augustiner bar.  I later joined him in the bar, where he finished his drink off before we walked back to the hostel.  Back at the hostel, I tried to upload some photos from my camera, but the stupid computers were not set up to allow that - they had some kiosk software running on Ubuntu that neither I nor Galen could work around.  I was later able to use our kind roommate Steve's laptop to upload the pics, though. We didn't go out anymore the rest of the night.

Some pictures from the whole trip: