Italy 3/19-4/3 2018
Mon, Apr 23 2018 07:52
It’s been a while since we posted anything in the blog and we just got back from a trip to Italy, so I thought we’d update everyone on the trip and post some photos in the photo gallery photo gallery. As we didn’t post anything on a daily basis, this is a fairly long post covering two weeks traveling through Italy. I apologize in advance for the length of the post.
The itinerary for the trip was to fly to Florence, spend a couple of days there, take a train to Venice, spend a few days there, then take a train to the Cinque Terre. Finally, rent a car in Cinque Terre, drive to Umbertide for a few more nights, then back to Florence, and then home.
Our good friend Jody joined us on this trip. We hadn’t traveled with her for a few years and it was great that she was able to join us again for this trip.
Florence 3/20 – 3/22
Our trip began with the three of us flying to Florence. Our flights took us through Frankfurt Germany, so for our trip to Italy, we all got a German passport stamp. I think Jody was a bit disappointed she didn’t get a stamp for Italy. We realized we weren’t in the desert anymore when it started snowing at the airport while we were waiting for our flight to Florence. When we arrived in Florence, we very quickly realized that we had underdressed for this trip. Temperatures were running in the mid 40s with winds of about 20 mph (which felt like they were coming off the polar ice cap). Personally, I was wearing about three shirts and two jackets plus long-johns, pants and gloves just to keep warm. In fact, we stopped at a local vendor and all bought scarves to help stay warm. They weren’t the highest of quality but they really helped us keep warm. Jody and Sheila eventually noticed that their scarves were shedding all over on their clothes. Being covered in fuzz was a small price to pay to stay warm.
|Dressed up to explore Florence|
We stayed in an Airbnb apartment during our time in Florence, (Florence Airbnb)
On our day in Florence we started out by visiting the famed Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore or Duomo. Sheila had made a reservation for 8:30 a.m. for us to climb the Duomo’s 460+ stairs to the top, which was the first group of the day to go up to the top. The view from the top was spectacular and a great opportunity to see the Florence skyline with all of its varied rooftops. Once we made it back down to the ground floor, Sheila and I decided to also climb up to the top of the bell tower at the Duomo. This was another 400+ stairs to reach the top. One of the coolest things on this bell tower is as you climb up the stairs you can look through the small openings and see the views of the Duomo and the Florence skyline.
After lunch we all took a bus to Fiesole, which is just outside of Florence. The town was really cool and a nice change from all the tourists in Florence. While there we checked out a nice Franciscan monastery.
|Courtyard in Franciscan Monastery|
After dinner, Sheila and I walked out to Ponte Vecchio to take some pictures of the famed bridge there. We got back late and were ready to go to bed. The next morning, we had to get ready for our train ride to Venice.
To quote Indiana Jones from the Last Crusades “Ahh Venice” but just as appropriately “Uh Venice.” Venice is a city that is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. The beauty of the old architecture and design of the city along with the history is amazing, but at the same time the hordes of tourist ruin the charm of the city they came to see. Seriously, when we got off the water bus (vaporetti) it was so crowded that you could hardly move through the narrow street, and it wasn’t even high season. To really see the beauty of Venice, you need to go out early in the morning or late at night when the crowds of tourist are not out. These are the times when you can walk through Saint Marks Square and only see one or two other people. Don’t get me wrong, Venice is beautiful and well worth visiting--just be ready to have lots of people around.
|Traffic jam in the canals|
|Saint Mark's Square|
|Canal at night|
We rented an apartment through Airbnb and it was great. I think the apartment was bigger than our condo at home and it was right over one of the canals. I would highly recommend it, Venice Airbnb.
|Airbnb in Venice|
During our time in Venice we visited all of the major sites and did the quintessential Venice thing--went for a gondola ride. It was pretty cool and the gondolier pointed out several of the historical sites including Marco Polo’s house.
|Grand Canal in Venice|
|Riding in a gondola|
In Venice we also crossed over to another island and visited the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore where we went up to the top of the bell tower. I was hoping we could climb the stairs to the top, but much to Sheila and Jody’s delight the only way to the top was via an elevator. While we were at the top, the bells started ring and they were really loud.
Cinque Terre 3/24 – 3/29
The Cinque Terre is one of the coolest places I have ever been. The area consists of five (Cinque) villages on the sea and is a national park and UNESCO world heritage site. There are no cars in most of the cities with the exception of Monterosso, which has some cars and scooters. To travel between the towns, you can either hike or take the 3-5 minute train ride. Unfortunately, the trail was closed while we were there. In fact, parts of the trail have been closed for years due to landslides, so we rode the train. I think Sheila and Jody where glad we weren’t walking between towns!
For our home base, we rented an apartment through VRBO in Riomaggiore (Riomaggiore Apartment). Riomaggiore is the first of the five towns you reach as you are traveling from Florence. Once again, this place worked out great. From our balcony we could see the whole town and watch the waves break over the sea wall in the harbor.
|Lunch in our apartment in Riomaggiore|
|The view from our balcony|
During our time in the Cinque Terre we visited all five towns and each one had a different feel to it. Another thing about this area is it is incredibly photogenic. I spent most of my time, especially around sunrise and sunset, running around taking photos. It’s hard to point out anything specific that we did. The whole vibe of the area takes over and life slows down and gets simpler. If you want to visit another town, you just hop on the train and you are there in about 5-15 minutes. All of the towns are so small, you can walk the entire main street in about five minutes. You think you have seen the whole town, but in reality it would take you days to explore all of the little walkways and passages within each town to really get to know them.
|Eating focaccia in Cornigila|
|Sheila trying to pet a goat|
The weather was still quite cold but a bit warmer than in Florence and Venice, although stormy weather did start to roll in on our last day in the Cinque Terre. This made for some rough seas, which in turn made for some really cool long-exposure photo opportunities.
|Long exposure photo of seawall in Riomaggiore|
If you are thinking of visiting the Cinque Terre I recommend viewing:
Brendan’s video has some really good information in it and if you’re into photography, I consider it to be essential viewing before visiting.
We took the train from Riomaggiore to La Spezia where we picked up our rental car, a Fiat 500 (what else would we drive in Italy?), and drove to Umbertide. We stayed at Farmhouse Casale degli Olmi which is an Agriturismo owned by a friend of ours, Fabrizio Ramaccioni. We met Fabrizio and his girlfriend, Barbara, while scuba diving in Palau in 2014. His B&B is beautiful and very quiet. Fabrizio is an excellent host and I would highly recommend staying at the Casale degli Olmi. Being a bed and breakfast, Fabrizio would make breakfast every morning consisting of fresh bread, homemade pastries, various homemade jams and honey along with juices and coffee. Most everything was homemade and we never went hungry at breakfast.
|Farmhouse Casale degli Olmi|
|Breakfast in the farmhouse|
Our first night in Umbertide, at the recommendation of Fabrizio, we had dinner at a restaurant in Montone called Tipico. This place was really great and the food was spectacular. Dining in Italy is such a treat. First of all, the food and wine is amazing. When you visit these small family run restaurants, you can see the pride they put into everything they do. Secondly, you are never rushed. If you want to spend 3 hours at dinner, they are more than happy to accommodate you. At Tipico they are particularly proud of their collection of olive oils. They claim to have over 20 different types. They offered us a couple of different ones to try with our bread. They also boast that everything they sell/serve is from the Umbria region.
|Dinner at Tipico|
On our first full day in Umbria, we drove to Assisi and visited the Basilica di Santa Maria degli Angeli which is a large church that houses a small church from the 4thcentury that Saint Francis of Assisi restored in the 13thcentury (more details here). It is also where Saint Francis died in 1226. We visited on good Friday and there was a large group of young people visiting to receive a blessing in the little chapel.
For lunch we stop at a local sandwich shop that Fabrizio recommended and had another great meal. Just five euros for a large sandwich and a beer, not a bad deal.
From there we drove up the hill towards Assisi, which is quite a popular tourist destination, especially on Easter weekend. Once again, at the suggestion of Fabrizio, we drove past Assisi and up to the top of a hill via a dirt road. It was quite high up in the hills as there was still snow in areas and the views were awesome. From there we dropped down into the small town of Spello. Spello is a cool little hill top town that isn’t too touristy. We walked around town for about an hour and then headed back to the farmhouse as the clouds began to move in.
The next day the weather called for rain so we all decided to stay at the farmhouse and relax. I worked on pictures and Sheila and Jody got massages. I guess we all have our own way of relaxing.
|Our Fiat 500 on the dirt road|
|Jody trying to stay warm on the mountain|
|Talking cameras with Fabrizio|
|Ringing the church bells|
|Checking out an original Fiat 500|
|Hiking to the hilltop church|
|The gondola ride down|
|1000+ year old church|
In case you don’t know, a star trails shot is made by taking many photos over a series of time. The images are then layered to show the stars moving across the sky. It is a really cool effect but one of the most important tools is a very good, steady tripod. Unfortunately, the head on my tripod started dying on the trip and by this time it wouldn’t lock in position very well. As a result, the foreground of the image is a bit blurry due to the camera moving slightly. Anyway, the final image still looks good.
Florence and home 4/2-4/3
|Startrails at the farmhouse|
On Monday we drove back to Florence and returned the rental car. While we were in Florence at the beginning of the trip, Sheila and I had dinner at a nice restaurant called Coquinarius and had made a reservation for the three of us for our last dinner in Italy. Sheila and I had a pear and pecorino raviollini and Jody had a chestnut crepe pasta with spinach and ricotta. A great way to finish off a great trip.
Germany Days 8-13
Mon, Oct 16 2017 01:46
We woke up today around 7 a.m. It was another rather dreary, cloudy day, but there was no prediction for rain. Eric had his breakfast and headed off to the convention center and I lazed around for a while before getting moving.
I made my way down to the bakery near the hauptmarkt and bought some muffins for Eric for the next few days and again perused the stalls in the market. I then took my purchases back to the apartment, ate my breakfast, and then set out for my afternoon of wandering. I wanted to try and get some more of the old city covered, as so far I seem to keep wandering the same areas.
I discovered there was a gate that was accessible in the old wall right near the apartment. So I decided to go through there and see what I could discover. The wall is much larger and wider than it looks. There is actually a garden and park with a path atop the wall as well as a path which runs below in what would have been the moat that encircles the entire wall/city. This was like a hidden oasis away from all the crowds of tourists. I only ran into a few people as I got closer to the actual castle.
There were some really pretty sections of the garden with plantings of many beautiful flowers and of course all the trees around are changing color and dropping their fall leaves. I followed this path for quite a way until it reached the castle. I then hiked the steep cobblestone road up into the castle courtyard. You have to pay to enter the castle itself but it is free to wander around outside and take pictures from the wall which overlooks the city.
I then made my way around the back of the castle and down to Konigstrasse which is a pedestrian walkway (large cobblestone street) which bisects almost the entire old walled city from one side to the other. It is lined with shops (mostly high-end) and is pretty much a really large, long, open-air mall. I walked all the way to the other end to Frauentor, which is one of the four medieval entrances to Nuremberg’s old town. Just adjacent to this large tower is the handwerkerhof (craftsman’s courtyard) where I wandered through some of the shops.
After looking at all the neat stuff I didn’t need, I headed back down Konigstrasse for a way before cutting off on a side street. It is really hard to get lost in the old city. You just keep going until you hit the old wall and then follow that around or keep going until you hit the river which cuts the city in half. I kept going down the side street until I came to the wall and then followed it around until it took me back to the apartment. All in all, I did about 6 miles of walking.
At one point I had figured I would wind my way around the entire city by going up and down various streets, but being such an old medieval city layout, nothing runs in a straight line. It would be very hard to zigzag back and forth on the streets.
Eric got done at the show around 6 and got back to the apartment around 6:30. We decided for dinner we would try the one restaurant near the Hauptmarkt that apparently had the best s spätzle in town—according to TripAdvisor. Spätzle is basically the German version of macaroni and cheese but with onions added.
It was very good spätzle and there was so much we ended up taking half of it back to the apartment. Luckily we had an oven to heat the leftovers up. The one thing our apartment doesn’t have is a microwave, so you have to go old school. You just have to make sure you have about 30 minutes to heat up your meal…
After dinner we wandered around a bit and then headed back to the apartment. Eric was obviously tired after working the show all day.
After Eric had left for the show and I had a bite to eat for breakfast, I headed out in search of a couple essentials. We needed more toilet paper (very important) and I wanted to buy a wash rag. I now understand why Rick Steves mentioned a wash cloth on his packing list. So far none of the places we have stayed has offered a wash cloth. You get bath towels and hand towels, but no wash cloth.
So I first checked the discount grocery store for toilet paper. They had a good price of 1,95 for 8 rolls of recycled toilet paper, but I didn’t need 8 rolls. I didn’t see any bath scrunchies or wash cloths either, so off I went to the next store. Next, I went into a small shop that had a little bit of everything and they had some wash mits for 1,99 (not bad). They are big on wash mits here instead of wash cloths. A wash mit is basically a washcloth that it stitched over so you just put your hand in one side.
I decided to explore a couple more stores before I made my final decision. I went in what ended up being a higher-end department store. They had a lot of nice stuff and had some wash mits on clearance for 1,99 but they were some really wild colors, so I decided to keep looking. The last store I went in was Muller’s and they had a two-pack of toilet paper (which was a much better size) and also had wash mits for 1,00. So I made my 1,99 purchase of a wash mit and toilet paper and headed back to the apartment.
I ended up heating up half of the leftover spätzle for lunch and by that time it was close to 1:30 p.m. Today was the final day of the convention. Eric had asked if I could come down to the convention center around 2 o’clock to help them tear down the booth and get everything packed back up for shipping. So he bought me a ticket for the U-bahn and I managed to make my way down to the convention center, walked over the pedestrian bridge and then caught the bus around to the hall where the European Microwave show was being held.
The convention center here is huge. It would be a loooong walk from the train, so thankfully they offer the bus to shuttle people around. I met Eric at the front of the convention hall and he took me to their booth. The show was supposed to be over at 4:30 today and he figured most of the booths would probably be packing up early (like the show in Hawaii). However, most actually waited to pack up until close to 4:30. So around 4:30 we finally started tearing down the booth. It didn’t take too long and we had everything put back into the large box on the shipping pallet.
We had made reservations for four at an Italian restaurant down by the Hauptmarkt for Tim (Radar Systems) who had let Eric (Signal Microwave) share his booth along with Greg (CMC) who was also sharing the booth. We were cutting it short on time by the time we got done packing up the booth, so we all caught a cab to the restaurant.
We had a very nice dinner and some good conversation. After dinner, we treated everyone to gelato at the gelateria near the restaurant. There are so many restaurants and cafes in the old town area that you could easily eat somewhere different for six months and probably still not have tried every place. There is no shortage of shopping in the old town either. Everywhere you look there are shops.
By the time we got done with our gelato it was nearing 10:30 and Eric needed to get back to the apartment to get ready for his trip to Stuttgart tomorrow. He had booked himself on the early train to Stuttgart to go visit a customer there for the day to see their plant and talk with their engineers, etc. So we got back to the apartment and he got all his stuff packed up for the next day.
Eric got up early, had a quick breakfast, and headed out to the train station. It was a beautiful sunny day today. I did not feel very good and could tell I had a headache coming on, so I had some breakfast and crawled back into bed for a while.
Later, I managed to get up and take a hot bath, but spent the entire day in the apartment. A pity too, as the weather was really nice. Oh well, my feet probably needed a rest. The day before the callus on the bottom of my right foot was getting really sore from all the walking. On most days I have probably easily done at least 10 miles of walking.
Eric made it back around 6:30 p.m. and picked us up falafel wraps for dinner and brought them back to the apartment. Needless to say, he was beat and we were both ready for bed.
It was a beautiful sunny day today. This was the first full free day Eric would have in Nuremberg, so we got up and headed out first thing to find breakfast. We went to the bakery down by the Hauptmarkt and Eric got to look around at the stalls in the market. There are obviously many more stalls set up on the weekend as they get a lot more business then. We bought a couple things at the Hauptmarkt as well as the bakery and then made our way back to the apartment to eat our breakfast.
After breakfast, we decided to do a little shopping. We had seen a leather store along the river that had some very nice belts. Eric decided he could use a new belt since he only has one belt that he has had for 15+ years. I had also scoped out another leather store in the craft market that had some nice belts.
On the way to the first leather store, we stopped into the health food store and I bought my souvenir, some German-made essential oils. It is apparently very hard to get this brand in the United States and they are supposed to be really good.
Then we made our way to the first leather store and looked at their belts. We then walked all the way to the other side of town to check out the belts at the craft market. Eric ended up liking one of the belts at the craft market, so he bought one there. Of course, he is so skinny they had to cut it down and add about three holes to make it fit him.
We trekked back across town, back to the Hauptmarkt and bought some flatbread and fresh cheese spreads to have for a late lunch back at the apartment. We had made reservations for a late dinner at 8:45 at one of the Italian restaurants we could not get into a couple nights ago, which is apparently very good. So we needed to have something for a couple snacks this afternoon.
After we made it back to the apartment and Eric had a breather, we packed up some of our stuff (in preparation for our early departure on the train tomorrow morning to Rothenberg). After we got some of our stuff packed, we ventured out again so I could show Eric the garden park that runs all along the old town wall just outside our apartment and all the way to the castle.
We made our way along the wall to the castle and then down to the Hauptmarkt and over to the other side of the old city and then back to the apartment. I think we have done about three laps of the old town today so far. Then, later for dinner we get to walk almost all the way across town again. We will easily probably have 15+ miles of walking in today. I think I have just about worn Eric out…
Around 7 p.m. we decided to head out to see what kind of night photos we could get from the few vantage points we had scoped out. We headed toward the castle and took a few photos there and then down toward the Hauptmarkt area. By that time it was getting close to our dinner reservation time of 8:45 so we high-tailed it to the restaurant. We tried a new Italian restaurant that was very popular and rated very highly on TripAdvisor. Since it was a rather late dinner, we split a pasta dish that was fabulous—the ratings were correct.
After dinner we made our way back to a couple other spots we had wanted to try taking some night photos. After we had exhausted about all the photo spots, we made our way back to the apartment. By that time I think it was close to 11 o’clock. We probably made it to bed around midnight.
We got up early, had a little breakfast, took the trash out and cleaned up the dishes in the apartment before trekking our way down the moat path with our luggage all the way to the main train station. We thought that taking the 9:05 a.m. train on a Sunday would be a good choice. We didn’t think it would be very busy. We were wrong—the train was packed. Luckily there was a very small first-class section which had space available. The people in coach were packed in and were standing in the aisles.
We had a very short time to change to our next train at the designated stop. Like the majority of the trains on our trip so far, our current train was running late. So we did not think we were going to make our next train which meant we would be sitting at the station for about an hour. So Eric looked up an alternate route on his phone. As it turned out, if we stayed on the train we were on and changed to a different train at another station further down the line, it would take a little longer to get there, but it would get us to Rothenburg. That train also had a first-class car, so we would have a better chance finding someplace to sit if it was busy. So that is what we did.
We finally arrived in Rothenberg around 12 p.m. and took a taxi to the hotel. Eric didn’t feel like hauling the 50-pound bag all the way through town, up and down hills over cobblestones. It was a good choice after we saw the route to our hotel. It was super busy in town as well. I’ve never seen so many tourists wandering everywhere. You would think it was Disneyland.
We got checked into our hotel and then went out in search of food as we hadn’t had anything of substance since breakfast. There was an Italian restaurant a very short walk from our hotel, so we decided to try that. It was very, very good. After filling our bellies, we decided to walk around town and see if we could get any good photos and scope out any possible night time photos spots. We had plans to attend the night watchman’s tour at 8 p.m. It is very well known and very popular.
It got dark around 7 p.m. so Eric got his camera ready and we headed out to see if we could get any good night shots around town before the night watchman’s tour. We found a few really good spots and managed to get some photos without people in them, which after seeing the crowds earlier, we thought would have been impossible.
At around 8 p.m. we made our way to the town hall to catch the tour which took about an hour. The guy who leads the tour has been doing it for 20 years and does a really good job and is both entertaining and educational.
After the tour, we took a few more photos before heading back to the hotel room to get to bed so we could get up early the next morning and attempt to get some morning photos before the crowds overtook the town.
We got up around 6:30 and decided we would walk the entire wall around the town. The majority of the wall is originally, but there are several sections that were rebuilt by donations from all over the world after parts of the wall were bombed in 1945.
It was a lovely morning walk. The sun was shining and there was a light fog hanging over the valley as the sun rose. We only ran into one other person on the wall for the entire 3-miles.
We made it back to our hotel room around 9 a.m. and got cleaned up and finished packing so we could get checked out by 11 a.m. We were told we could leave our bags at the front desk while we wandered around town until our 3 p.m. train.
By the time we got checked out, we were hungry, so we decided to go to the bakery then to Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum. It was very interesting seeing all of the way that they got confessions from accused people and what happened to you after you confessed to a crime. Many of the items on display like shame masks, thumb and leg screws, and documents were originals, several of which were from Rothenburg.
After the museum we decided to go back to the Italian restaurant we had eaten at yesterday as it was so good. The weather was beautiful, so we sat outside on the sidewalk as we watched all the other tourists walk by. There were much smaller crowds today than yesterday. Obviously, in addition to the usual tour groups, they must get a lot of locals doing daytrips on the weekend.
After having lunch and walking around town a bit and we made our way back to our hotel to catch the cab we had reserved for 2:30. We wanted to make sure we got to the train station in plenty of time. It is only a short ride to the train station, but if you miss the train you have to wait an hour for the next one.
When our train arrived, we climbed aboard to start the couple hour journey through various towns on our way to Frankfurt. We made all our transfers okay and arrived at the Frankfurt airport station around 6 p.m. We had a reservation for tonight at the Sheraton which is actually attached to the airport. Needless to say, we don’t have to worry about getting to the airport tomorrow, as we are already here.
Germany Days 6-7
Tue, Oct 10 2017 11:21
We woke up around 9 a.m., and after getting dressed, we headed around the corner to the local bakery (which had been closed on Sunday). We figured this would be a good place to get something for breakfast. However, as luck would have it, they were closed on Mondays. Eric needed to get going to head down to the convention center to help set up the booth, so we came back to the apartment and he grabbed something quick from my traveling food stash, and then headed on his way.
After he left, I set out to see what else I could find at the next closest bakery. There was another bakery not too far from the apartment, near the castle. There I bought some rolls and a Danish and headed back to the apartment with them. After I got back, I decided I had better attempt to do the laundry. Everything on the washing machine was obviously in German, but I figured how hard could it be. We had a Bosch washing machine for years. I made all my selections and hit start and every time it would just flash and then time out. I was getting really frustrated…
My next task was finding some butter or something to put on the rolls I had purchased. The weather was overcast today, but there wasn’t a prediction for rain until closer to evening, so I headed out with my camera as well in case I came across any fabulous picture opportunities.
I headed toward the Hauptmarkt (main market square), which I had not been to yet. They have an open air market here every day but Sunday, where vendors sell everything from cheese, fresh produce, fresh flowers, plants, cookies and cakes, etc. There was supposed to be a discount grocery store right next to it, so I figured that would be the place to go to find some butter. After going into the store and buying some butter, I perused the open air market to see if there was anything that looked good.
The produce was all so fresh and ripe—more than likely picked the day before at a farm down the road. I ended up buying some strawberries. We think we pay a lot for produce—I paid 6,50 euros for a small basket of strawberries (probably close to $10). I’m sure they were probably organic and they were perfectly red and ripe and more than likely just picked. They were very good—not like what we buy in the grocery store in the states.
After my purchases, a wandered around a bit and then headed back to the apartment again. On my way back I found a neat health food store that also had a café and bakery that served organic, vegan, and vegetarian food. I stepped in and checked it out—the food smelled fabulous.
After I got back to the apartment, I attempted to start the washing machine again to no avail. I finally broke down and texted the owner to see if she could come up and show me how to make it work. A short while later, she came up and showed me there was a valve on the sink that had to be turned so that the washing machine could draw water…So after all that, I finally got the laundry going. As there was no dryer, I wanted to make sure I could get the load done and hung up on the drying rack to hopefully be dry by tomorrow. I swear the washing machine ran for 2-3 hours before it was done and I could finally hang everything up.
By the time the laundry got done it was probably around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I may have gone out one more time to wander around town before Eric came back from the convention center. I went back and forth to the apartment so many times, I don’t even remember now.
Eric didn’t make it back until close to 6 o’clock. After he got back, we set out to find something for dinner. We had found a very quaint Italian restaurant not too far away that looked really good. I had looked it up online and it said you definitely needed reservations.
We stopped in and asked if they had a table for two (with no reservation). We were sat in the back corner of a table that was already made out for seven people. We had a very nice meal and about half-way through, a party of four that had made a reservation was sat at the table with us. It was a very small restaurant and they obviously utilize every bit of space.
After our dinner, I took Eric down to the Hauptmarkt to show him some of the sights and shops I had seen/found during my day’s wanderings. A lot of the churches and parts of the old wall, bridges and castle are lit up at night, which are very pretty. The nice thing about wandering around after dark is you kind of have the city to yourself as most of the tour groups are long gone by that time. We found several spots that Eric will definitely have to come back to get some night shots.
I showed Eric a short-cut I had found along the river that took us back to the apartment and not long after getting back, the rain began. It rained quite heavily and more than likely rained all night long.
We woke up close to 7 a.m. (that was after a couple phone calls in the middle of the night, one a solicitor and one work-related), so not sure how much sleep Eric actually got. For breakfast Eric ate the rolls I had bought for him at the bakery the day before and then he headed down to the convention center. It was a very dark and dreary day again today. It seems they have a lot of those around here.
After Eric left, I set out to try out another couple bakeries to see who had the best rolls. I bought a couple at the shop near the apartment and brought those back to the apartment and then headed down to the bakery near the Hauptmarkt to get a couple more. I then checked out the stalls in the market again and bought some French sheep cheese (yummmm). I figured I would have a cheese sandwich for lunch along with some of the strawberries I had left over as well.
I wandered around a bit and took a few photos on my phone and then it started to rain, so I figured I had better get back to the apartment. I got back just in time and then the rain really set in. It rained off and on all afternoon.
I piddled around on the computer (amazing how much time you can spend looking at stuff) and hung out at the apartment. The weather is supposed to get progressively better and warmer each day—and of course, I’m sure our last day in Germany will be perfect…
Eric got done at the show around 6 p.m. so I told him I would meet him at the Hauptmarkt. We saw a falafel stand their yesterday that looked really good, so we decided to do that for dinner. He decided to get off the subway at a different station and he called me from in front of one of the churches trying to figure out which direction to go. I told him to meet me at one of the bridges over the river and then we made our way back to the falafel stand in the market square.
We ordered our falafel wraps and took them back to the apartment for dinner. They were really good and more than likely the cheapest meal we have had so far at 3,50 euros a piece. We will probably do those again for sure.
It was a long, but productive day, for Eric so he was anxious to get his shoes off and relax a bit before heading to bed to do it all over again tomorrow.
Germany Days 4-5
Sun, Oct 8 2017 03:36
We got up around 7 a.m. this morning and got ready for the day. The weather was supposed to be better today with no prediction for rain. There were still a few clouds around when we got up, but as the day went on most of the clouds disappeared and the sun came out. It was still cool out but at least it wasn’t raining.
After breakfast we took a short hike to Lecht Falls, which was just a short ways outside of town. Eric got a few pictures and then we made a loop and came back into town. On our way into town we got a small snack and went back to our room to figure out the plan for the afternoon.
We finally decided we would attempt to take the bus to the Tegelberg lift, but instead of taking the lift to the top of the mountain, we would see if the summer luge ride was open. We caught the bus at the train station. (With the use of the Füssen card provided to us by our bed and breakfast, the buses are free.) We took the bus to the Castle ticket area, which was the end of the line for the bus we had boarded. We could have waited around for a while for another bus to come along that would go all the way to Tegelberg, but we decided to walk instead.
We found our way across the parking lot through the throngs of tourists to the road that led to Tegelberg. We walked along the road for a ways and then a trail cut off toward the mountain. We took the well maintained trail through the lush green pastures and forest and zigzagged our way over to the lift area. When we arrived at the lift area, we were in luck, the summer luge was open.
We bought a shared ticket for a total of six rides—so we each got to go down three times. It was really fun and you could go as fast or slow as you wanted. Obviously, each ride got progressively faster as we became more comfortable. Eric’s top speed was approximately 26 mph and mine was about 23 mph. We had our Strava app running the whole time so we could figure out how fast we went.
After our fill of bobsledding, we wandered over and waited for the next bus to take us back to Füssen. The buses to the lift obviously don’t run as often as the ones to the castles, but we only had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one. The bus ride back to town didn’t take long, but once we reached the outskirts of town we were just creeping along, so we went ahead and got off. We figured it would be faster to walk.
We walked into town and got a gelato and then made our way back our room to have another afternoon nap—after all, we are on vacation!
After our nap we decided to go back to the café where we got the spaghetti the day before. The spaghetti was so good, we decided we would do that for dinner again. One order was the perfect size for two people. We ordered our spaghetti and took it back to our room to eat before packed up our stuff so we could get up early the next morning to head toward Munich.
We got up around 6 a.m., got cleaned up, and got the remainder of our stuff packed so we could pay the bill for our stay at the bed and breakfast and then make our way to the train station to catch the 8 a.m. train. It was a bit dreary again today with light rain and heavy dark clouds.
After we paid our bill and had a quick bite to eat, we grabbed our bags and wheeled them through the deserted cobblestone streets to the train station. The view from the train platform was beautiful of the snow covered peaks in the background. The day we arrived there was no snow anywhere and viola, the next day there was snow. It was actually very pretty.
Our train arrived and we boarded for the 2-hour trip to Munich. I think Eric and I both caught a couple Z’s on the train. There is something about riding on a train that just lulls one to sleep.
We arrived in Munich and decided to take a few hours to explore a little. After figuring out how to store our luggage in a locker at the train station, we set off to figure out where the starting point was for Rick Steves’ Munich city walk. We finally figured out how to buy a ticket on the local subway and headed for Marienplatz (Mary’s square).
For a thousand years, The New Town Hall has been the center of Munich. The building was built in the late 1800s and survived the bombs of World War II. Most of the other buildings around it were destroyed and had to be rebuilt after the war. The New Town hall was built in a Neo-Gothic style and is famous for its glockenspiel. Every day at 11:00 and 12:00, the tower chimes a tune and the colorful life-size figurines dance and spin for about 10 minutes, telling the story of a noble wedding that took place in 1568.
After watching the 11:00 glockenspiel show, we sat down at a café table in the square and had a light snack before continuing on with our walking tour. The next stop was St. Peter’s Church. We checked out the outside of the church and then decided to hike the 306 wooden steps to the top of the spire on the very narrow one-lane staircase for two-way traffic. Luckily when we got to the top it wasn’t raining, but it was very crowded because the 12:00 glockenspiel show had just started. We hung out for a while and took in the sights and snapped a few photos and then headed back down.
When we made it back down to the bottom, we decided to step inside the church. Sunday mass was going on, but we stood at the back and enjoyed the ornately decorated interior of the church.
The next stop on the walking tour was the Viktualienmarkt (closed on Sunday) with the landmark maypole in the middle. Too bad the market is closed on Sundays, it would have been a neat place to wander around. The market sits on some of the most expensive real estate in town, but locals love it, so the city protects the old-time shops. Apparently, Müchners consider the produce here to be top quality.
Then we walked past the Ohel Jakob Synagogue and made our way to the Asam Church. This is a tiny church (30 feet wide) built by the Asam brothers in 1740 and wedged between two houses. The Asam brothers were architects and originally built the chapel as kind of a showcase church to display what they could build for those looking to have a church designed and built. It was quite something to see.
We then made our way back down the Kaufingerstrasse. For the 1972 Olympics the street was turned into one of Europe’s first pedestrian only zones. We followed the street for a while and this led us back to Marienplatz. As we were running short on time and wanted to get back to the train station to catch our train to Nuremberg we decided to cut the city walk short. There is obviously a lot, lot more to see in Munich, but we just didn’t have that much time.
We got on the subway and made our way back to the train station to collect our bags and get on the high-speed train to Nuremberg. We had not reserved a seat on this train, but managed to find a couple unreserved seats. By the time the train left, though, first-class was packed. It was only an hour and 10-minute train ride from Munich to Nuremberg. I enjoyed watching the speed posted on the overhead sign board. We actually got up to 300 km/hr. That is obviously the fastest I have traveled in anything on land. The trains are so smooth and quiet, you don’t even feel like you are going that fast.
We made it to Nuremberg and then had to figure out how to get from the main train station to our VRBO apartment we had rented within the old walled city. We finally got our bearings and took the subway and then the tram to the stop just outside the old city wall where our apartment was located. Eric then had to haul our 50+ plus bag up four flights of stairs (it is an old building with no elevator—which I knew when I rented the apartment).
The owner greeted us at the door and handed over the keys and oriented us to the apartment. The owner actually lives in the apartment one floor below. It is an amazing apartment with two bedrooms, one with a king size bed and one with two twin beds, a large living and dining room, a kitchen, and a bathroom. As it is on the top floor of the building, we have amazing views from three sides. We look out one side just over the top of the adjacent old city wall—pretty cool.
As we were quite hungry when we arrived, we decided to go out exploring to see if we could find food. Most shops and a lot of the restaurants are closed on Sunday, so there weren’t a lot of options. We managed to find a small place where we could get some fries and I had a roll with sauerkraut. They are very big on meat such as sausages and brautwurst here, so sometimes it can be tough to find something vegetarian.
We sat in the small café and ate our food. Several other customers came in after us, one of which was an American grad student from Michigan who was also here for the European Microwave week. He was apparently here as a speaker at the show. He sat with us at our table and we had a nice chat with him.
After we finished eating, we decided to wander around the old city for a bit since it wasn’t terribly rainy (yet) and was still daylight. It looks like there will be a lot of shops and streets for me to explore.
As the sun was finally starting to set, we made our way back to our apartment to settle in for the week.
Germany Days 1-3
Fri, Oct 6 2017 12:07
For once we did not have to be at the airport at 4 a.m. to leave on vacation. Our flight wasn’t until 11 a.m., so we actually had time to get up and get some last minute packing taken care of before we had to leave for the airport.
We used Lyft to get to the airport (only the second time we have used Lyft). It is pretty handy and much cheaper than a taxi. Thankfully we were traveling light (baggage wise) this trip as well. There is a lot less luggage with a non-dive trip. We only had one checked bag and after getting that checked in, we made our way to security. Luckily we both had TSA precheck, so the security line didn’t take long at all. However, they did pull my backpack aside and took the items out, as my nuts apparently looked suspicious. I had a bag of cashews, which are apparently too dense for them to see through. After my nuts got the all-clear, we headed to the United Club to hang out until it was time to board our flight.
Obviously, it wasn’t a full flight to LA and we got upgraded to first class. The flight to LA was smooth and once we arrived there we tested the information Eric had found on how to make it to the International Brady Terminal without leaving the secured area. It is quite a walk, depending on what terminal you arrive at, but it is possible to get to the International terminal without having to go back through security—a big plus!
We made it to the International terminal and made our way to the Star Alliance lounge. It is probably one of the nicest lounges we have been to in the U.S. We had a few snacks there, Eric took care of some work-related business, and then we headed to our gate. We were flying from LA to Frankfurt on Lufthansa. Eric had booked us seats in premium economy. They were very nice seats. We even managed to board early with Eric’s Star Gold, but by the time we got to our seats the overhead space was already taken. Luckily we managed to squeeze our stuff into the bin in the row in front of us.
We took off on time and the flight appeared to be going smoothly until part way through when the crew made an announcement that they had a passenger that was not feeling well and if there was a physician on board to please let one of the crew know. Apparently there was a physician on board and later on in the flight we were informed that we would be making an emergency landing in Manchester, England so that the passenger could receive urgent medical attention.
The crew hastily prepared for the landing in England. Immediately after landing, the plane was directed to an area just off the taxi-way and the steps were brought up to the door of the plane. The emergency crew was already on the ground waiting and quickly boarded the plane. Just before we had landed, we saw the crew racing around with the first-aid kit, oxygen, and what appeared to be an AED. The woman in front of us said she had seen them doing chest compressions. It took the EMTs a bit of time, but they finally removed the passenger, a woman who appeared to be in her 40s-50s. She was on oxygen and may have been unconscious. They rushed her off to the hospital—we are hoping she was okay.
It then took a little while longer before we could take off. They had to receive the new flight plan, refuel the plane, perform their inspections, etc. We finally took off again and headed for our original destination, Frankfurt, Germany. It was only about an hour and we were preparing to land in Frankfurt. Because it was such a short flight, we did not receive what would have been our second meal (breakfast), but I don’t think anyone was too upset.
After deplaning, we made our way through passport control and then collected up our bag. We stood at the baggage claim area for quite a while before our bag slid onto the carousel. We were beginning to wonder what had happened to it. Thankfully it did arrive and it was in one piece—always a bonus.
After retrieving our bag, we wandered around the airport a bit trying to find an information booth to ask what the best way was to get to our hotel we had booked. We finally found the information desk and of course the person working the desk had no idea where our hotel was—it is a brand new hotel near the city center area. We had the address, so he suggested a route via the train that would bring us near the hotel.
So we made our way to the train. We lined up at the ticket kiosk to buy our tickets. When it was our turn, Eric inserted his credit card and of course then it wanted a PIN—which we didn’t have. Europe uses a chip and PIN credit card system and the U.S. uses a chip and signature card system. Luckily we had some Euros on us so we used those to get our tickets.
The train arrived shortly after that and we boarded and rode it for about seven stops where the man at the information desk suggested we get off. We didn’t think it would be far to walk from there, but it ended up being a bit of a walk—especially when you are dragging a 50-pound bag. Good thing we had new bags with new wheels that were in good shape.
We finally made it to the hotel and got checked in around 1-2 in the afternoon. We had intentions of going out and wandering around a bit, but we were so tired all we could manage to do was go downstairs to the hotel bar and order something to eat. We then came back upstairs and had a “little nap” before we crawled into bed for good for the night.
We got up around 5:30 so we could get cleaned up and head out to look for some breakfast. We wandered down the street a ways and found a bakery and got something to eat and something to take with us for our train ride to Füssen. We made it back to the hotel and packed everything up and headed down the street a short bit to buy a tram ticket. We found out after we made it to the hotel that the tram that runs right in front of the hotel goes all the way to the train station (which if we had known that yesterday would have saved us a long walk)—oh well! We bought our tram tickets and made our way to the main train terminal in Frankfurt.
We had purchased rail passes before we left home, which we needed to get validated. We made it to the train station early just for this purpose. After our tickets were validated we bought a juice and waited near our track for our train to arrive. The trains don’t sit around long once they arrive. They arrive, you have maybe a few minutes, if you are lucky, to get on, and then it leaves. We had wanted to take a later train that only had one stop/transfer on the way to Füssen, but it was already booked up for reservations. So we took an earlier train which had about four transfers. We made to make all our transfers without incident and completed our approximately 5-hour journey and arrived in Füssen around 1:30 in the afternoon.
The countryside is so beautiful with lush rolling green pastures and a multitude of crops being grown or in the process of being harvested. Füssen is in the end of the train line and is right on the border with Austria.
We made our way off the train with everyone else and stopped just outside the front door of the train station to figure out where we needed to go to get to our bed and breakfast. It ended up being just a short walk from the train station. The owner was waiting for us and gave a quick orientation and handed over the keys to our room. The weather today was beautiful and was almost warm compared to Frankfurt (which seemed strange because Füssen is in the alps region with high mountains). She suggested if we wanted to see the castles we do it today because the storms were supposed to move in later in the day and begin raining.
We quickly got our stuff put into our backpacks to hike our way to the castles. It was supposed to be approximately a 1 hour and 20-minute hike to the castles from where we were staying. It was a beautiful hike, though a bit steep at times. We made our way through the woods and down a mountainside to a lake. We hiked around that lake, with views of the castles in the background, and then around another lake with more great views. We were making our way closer and closer to the castles—as the clouds overhead became thicker and thicker.
We finally made it to the parking area/tourist shop/visitor center for the castles. Then it was another steep hike up to Neuschwanstein castle (the castle that the Disney castle is modeled after). We made it to the castle and then made our way around to the back side where the trail to Mary’s bridge was to be found. The bridge has probably the best vantage point for castle photos. It was nearly 6 p.m. by the time we made it to the bridge. We got some photos and then decided to wait for it to get dark and try and get some night shots.
A few stragglers came hiking up after sunset but by the time it got dark we were the only ones around. It was VERY windy and getting colder and colder, but we persevered and braved the bridge in the dark to get a few good night photos of the castle. It then began to mist so we decided we had better start making our way down the mountain. We stopped along the way and took a few other photos before it began to really rain.
Luckily we had our large umbrella with us, so the two of us made the probably 4 mile walk back to our hotel huddled under our umbrella in the dark and the rain. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill there were obviously no buses running and pretty much no one around. It was kind of like a ghost town—very different from when we came through earlier. Luckily we had brought our headlamps so we trudged onward in the rain and finally made it back to our room around 10 pm at night. It was very quiet walking through town at that hour of the night as well. We had no trouble passing out and going to sleep after we got back. I would say we probably walked close to 10 miles yesterday, some of it was very steep.
This morning we slept in until around 7:30 and then got up to go across to the other building to get breakfast which was from 7:30-9:30. It had been raining off and on all night and was probably in the 30s-40s. After breakfast, we decided to wander around town a bit and take Rick Steve’s self-guided tour of some of the sights in town. While we were out, we noticed the peaks of the mountains all around town had accumulated quite a bit of snow buildup overnight. Yesterday there hadn’t been any snow on them whatsoever. Toward the end of our tour it began to drizzle again, so we decided to get something to eat at a bakery and take it back to our room to eat it.
Our room, by the way is very nice. It is basically half an old house. We have a bedroom, a sitting/dining room, and a very large bathroom—not bad for the price. It also includes breakfast every morning with a very nice spread of freshly baked breads, cereals, fruits, jams, cheeses, yogurt, juices, etc., etc.
This afternoon, after I typed up the blog, we had a nice long nap while it drizzled away outside and likely snowed some more on the mountain tops. We finally dredged ourselves out of the nice warm bed around 7 p.m. to see if we could go find some food in town. Most places were closed, but the little shop where we bought slices of pizza for lunch yesterday was still open. So we went in and ordered one serving of spaghetti Napoli to go.
We took our pasta back to our room to eat at our little table. Oh my gosh, was it some good pasta and for only 7 euros was a really good deal for two people. I had a piece of Mediterranean focaccia I bought at the bakery for lunch left over, so we split that as well. It made for the perfect dinner.
We are hoping for a bit of better weather tomorrow so maybe we can get out and do a little more hiking or exploring. We might try taking the Tegelberg gondola if the weather isn’t too bad.
Indonesia Days 12-13
Fri, Apr 14 2017 03:53
Indonesia Day 12
Today was our next to the last day of diving, so we decided to take full advantage and do three dives, two in the morning and one in the afternoon. Yesterday a new guest, Peter, arrived at the resort when Hinne left. Peter flew directly from Denmark so was a bit tired when he arrived yesterday afternoon and was not sure if he was going to feel like diving today. However, he said he slept very well and was ready to go out and do the first two dives of the morning.
After we all had breakfast together, we left around 8 a.m. for the first two dives of the day. The first dive was at Fukui. I am running out of words to describe the dive sites. They are all so beautiful with lots of colorful coral and tons of fish and turtles. We had a very relaxing dive gliding along.
The second dive site was at Likuan 2, which we have done before, but is very nice also. Of course we saw more turtles than you can count along with tons of fish. This dive site got a little busy after we jumped in, but I’m sure it can get much busier in high season. We have just been spoiled having most of the dive sites completely to ourselves.
After the second dive we made our way back to the resort and got cleaned up in time to have lunch at 1 o’clock. Peter decided he was going to take the afternoon off, but Eric and I were going to do the afternoon dive at 3 o’clock. Following a nice relaxing lunch and good conversation with Chi, Spencer, and Peter, we made our way back down to the dive shop to head out for our final dive of the day.
Our last dive of the day was at Muka Kampung. It was another very nice wall dive. At several points during the dive we had some pretty good current, so we were flying down the wall with turtles coming at us from above and below and head-on. I have so much turtle video by now we could probably make a couple hour documentary on turtles.
Eric had so many problems with his strobes on this trip he finally packed them up yesterday and called it quits on the photos. One strobe flooded and then the other one was having so many issues it only worked half the time, so he just decided to take the Go-Pro out today to get some boat shots and some shallow water shots when possible.
Today was our last full day in Indonesia. I woke up this morning feeling like I might be coming down with a bit of a head cold, so I decided to skip the diving and just rest. After breakfast, Eric and the other guest, Peter, set off to do the two morning dives.
They made the bit longer journey over to the other island, Manado Tua (the volcano-looking island) to dive two sites on the south side. Eric said the first dive site had a lot of current and the visibility was not great, but of course they still saw a ton of fish. The second dive site was a bit more relaxed with a lot less current and better visibility. At second dive site they saw two sea snakes hunting—which we had been wanting to see.
After the two morning dives, they made their way back to the resort and we began the process of attempting to get all our dive gear dried out and start packing everything up.
We will be taking a boat back to Manado, Indonesia tomorrow morning around 9 a.m. The boat ride can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how rough the ocean is, and then it is about a 30-minute to an hour car ride to the airport, again depending on traffic. Since it is Easter weekend, we aren’t sure if the traffic will be light or heavy. Our flight leaves Manado airport for Singapore around 2 p.m.
If everything is running on time, we should arrive in Singapore around 5:30 p.m. and we already have dinner reservations at the Italian restaurant we ate at and really liked, Rosso Vino. We will then be spending the night in Singapore and fly out the next morning for the 16-hour direct flight from Singapore to San Francisco.
This vacation has gone by way too fast.