Day 1 - Thursday:
We went to the airport (not the one closest to us, but the one that's furthest away 70 miles to be exact), and we hit a bunch of traffic. The Friday and Monday after Easter are holidays here, so on Thursday afternoon, everyone and their dog was getting out of the city.
So we finally arrive at Munich airport about midnight, and we're hoping that we won't have any problems getting our rental car. See it's late, and there's no staff at Avis. After a long walk, we finally find the car rental place, and luckily, we got our car from the security guard. After the fact, I'm a bit disappointed that we didn't rent a Porsche or something cool like that (we got a VW Golf). Oh well. Now that we're mobile, it's time to find our hotel. The drive to Munich was very straight-forward, and after a few lefts and rights (with a couple of U turns thrown in) we find our way to the hotel (at this point it was close to 1:30am).
Problem: On the outside of the hotel, there's a computer lockbox affair where you're supposed to get your keys. Your supposed to key in a pre-arranged code, and it drops your keys. Supposed is the operative word! Our code was "0666" (I know, not the luckiest of numbers), and we entered it, and nothing. No key, zip, zilch, nada. So we're trying all these different combinations for about 20 minutes, and still getting nowhere (as if they would accidentally change the code to 1234 or something). Also, if you enter a bogus number, the lockbox waits a bit of time before you can try again. So the more mistakes you make, the longer you have to wait before you can try again. So short of me prying the door open, we are out of luck. Which really stinks too, because we had a sweet parking spot!
So at this point, we had two options:
1) Sleep in the car until reception opens at 8am (Boooooo)
2) Find another hotel.
Needless to say, we opted for 2. Easier said than done. We drove around for a bit, and we asked around (now 2:15am), but the hotels were too expensive. Finally we found a fleabag, uh, I mean "budget accommodation" for a few hours rest. A few groggy hours later, we jump back in the car, and go back to our original hotel. Heidi tells the guy what happened, and he apologizes and gives us to breakfast tokens. We head up to our room which was very cute, and sacked out on our feather beds for a few hours.
The room really was adorable it was in an aparthotel (apartment type rooms). It even had a kitchen. Well it had a closet with kitchen stuff in it. So picture the smallest closet (width wise) that you've ever seen. Is it about a foot and a half wide? If so, that was our kitchen! It had a mini-microwave, a mini-sink, a mini-stove top with 2 burners and a mini fridge (not too different from ours in London). There were a few basic cooking utensil hanging on the wall and enough basic dishes and flatware for 2 people. The room was fairly spacious with plenty of German TV and a nice big bed (not typical of Europe) Very quaint.
Day 2 - Friday
Once we woke up, we decided to go to the Olympic Park. As you may have guessed, it was where the Olympics were held in 1972, so you can imagine it was quite a spectacular sight. From an architectural standpoint, it's beautiful. The park was absolutely gorgeous, green rolling hills, spring flowers blooming everywhere and thousands upon thousands of trees. All of that combined with fantastic the weather a this place was heaven. Of course, our first stop was FOOD. We walked around, and finally found a little cafe. They had preztels as big as my head! No kidding! Very tasty. We walked around some more, and enjoyed watching the dogs run around, and seeing the kids riding bikes and rollerlblades. ROLLERBLADES! We didn't bring our blades. *@#! For my rollerblading friends (Donna & Mikey) the pavement was awesome! Plenty of room. Great hills too. Next time. They also had an indoor skating area with all kinds of ramps and things for trick blading.
We also visited the actual swimming pool where Mark Spitz won 7 gold medals. Just behind the building with the pool was an area with 10 trampolines and of course it was a must do, 5 minutes of jumping in Germany for 2 Deutsche Marks. We then visited the central tourist area in the park and hopped on a little train that drives you around and there is recorded commentary on the history of the park and its sights. It was a nice break in the day and we did learn a bit more history about the park. FYI the Olympic stadium seats 75,000 people and is 2/3 under ground.
After a few hours at the park we drove through Dachau (more about this later) on to Augsburg, Ulm, and then headed south to Füssen (at the foot of the Alps). The Alps were breathtaking. It's very humbling being next to something so immensely beautiful. The tops of the snow covered Alps disappeared into the sky. The cliffs and crevices were like sculpted artwork. Driving through the country-side was very enjoyable the air was fresh and everything looked pristine. The villages were adorable, just as you would picture out of an old movie. The houses were just so with the shutter windows and the fancy swirly wooden trim under the roof. Some of the locals were even dressed in their lederhosens (knickers), and suspenders drinking in the beer garden (bier garten). It was too cute. After walking around Füssen, we drove back to Munich via the Romantic Road.
This is for all of the driving aficionados our there. When you think of Germany, what's the first thing that pops into your head? Yep, AUTOBAHN! Well, I got to drive on it. It's a kick too. You're flying along doing 180 (that's kph not mph unfortunately - about 110mph), and all of a sudden, you look in your rear-view mirror, and there's a little tiny dot that's flashing it's lights at you. As you move over, moments later a (pick one: Porsche, Mercedes, Ferrari) blows by you doing 200+. ZOOOOM! Oh yeah, what a thrill! At the end of a long day, we decided to do lunch at a Thai restaurant that was connected to the hotel. The food was great.
Day 3 - Saturday
We decided to visit Austria. First stop Salzburg, about 1 1/2 hours out of Munich. A storybook looking city and Birthplace to Mozart (the baddest mamma-jamma of them all). The traffic getting into the city was a pain, but once you're in, it wasn't too bad. We drove through a passage way that had been made through about 30 meters of solid stone. We drove past Mozart's house. It doesn't belong to him anymore since he's dead, but he was born in it anyway. We got some food, and we were on to an excursion that Heidi was excited about. At first, it sounded a little weird, but her enthusiasm is catching, so we were off to The Salt Mines (Salzmuseum).
The Celts began mining Mt. Dürrnberg for it's "White Gold" as early as 600 B.C. Later on, salt gave its name to the City and Province of Salzburg as well as the river Salzbach. Salt was used not for seasoning, but for the curing of meat. It became such a valuable commodity that Archbishops were able to commission several sites, namely Hellbrunn and Mirabell Castles, the Residence Palace, and the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Over the many centuries, several miners have perished; only to be found hundreds of years later unchanged due to the preservative effect of the salt. In 1573 and 1616 miners in Dürrnberg discovered the bodies of two prehistoric miners. There were no signs of change other than that their skin had been colored brown by the effects of the salt. The mine was closed in 1989 for it was no longer economical to keep open.
We drove to a building that had small trams (similar to enclosed ski lifts) going up to the saltmines. We paid for the tram and salt mine package. As we're nearing the top, we notice that we were passing over the top of the salt mine. Basically, we got ripped off! We had an extremely steep 10 minute walk down part of the mountain to reach the mine and do the tour. Once down, we don these white pants/tops. We look ridiculous, but then, so does everyone else. We met this older couple from Washington D.C., they were staying in Salzburg and had no idea that Munich was so close. They had seen us at McDonalds earlier in Salzburg, and asked us where we were from, etc. After a little chit-chat, our tour began.
We were taken underground, and we got onto a small train. Once we were 40 meters inside the mountain our tour guide piped in. The first stop was a sign that said Glück Auf (glook owf). This was a saying that the miners would say to each other as they went into the mine. It means Good Luck.
As we walked, the guide took us down shafts that had been dug out with simple tools over hundreds of years. Pointing to a vein of salt, she explained its reddish color was due to the presence of iron. Further and deeper under ground, we actually crossed over the Austrian border and walked back into Germany, the guide jokingly said "okay, get out your passports." They had signs that showed the Austrian/German border. Cool, but spooky. At some point, we were actually 300 meters into the side of the mountain and about 140 meters down.
For a bit of fun, there are these wooden slides (chutes) that the miners actually used to slide down from one level to the next. It's hard to describe, but essentially there is a trough on each side of the slide where your feet go. Your butt doesn't rest on a flat surface like a normal slide, but each of your cheeks rests on a small hump with a small trough in the middle. The wood is very smooth, so you actually zip along pretty fast. We got to do two of the slides, the first was about 3 stories high and the second one was at least 5 stories high. The only downside was that our butts started to get a bit warm at the end of the ride.
We were shown a movie about the technology that's been used to extract the salt from the mountain. Someone had the idea to mimic Mother Nature and the Ocean. They filled the mine shafts with water, then drained the water. They would evaporate the water leaving...SALT!
We also rode on a wooden boat on an underground salt lake (that is 230 meters underground) . It was spooky since while you were sitting, you could reach up and touch the ceiling. I'm glad they don't have earthquakes. The temperature of the mine is supposed to stay a constant 10° C (50° F) all year round. In the summer, air circulation is supposed to occur from the top shaft down, and in winter, it's from the bottom shaft up.
Finally our 1 1/2 hour tour was over. We had a lot of fun, and I would highly recommend
it if you ever find yourself in Salzburg. So here's the sad part of the story. We had to
walk back up the hill! Ughh! Once we reached about 3/4 of the way up, we were both huffing
and puffing, legs burning the works. Both of us were trying to rationalize our being in
"It must be the elevation."
"I must have eaten something strange."
"Those sun spots sure interfere with my breathing."
If you find yourself in Salzburg, don't take the tram! Drive all the way up to the salt mine. Your heart will thank you.
We drove back to the hotel, and took a breather. For dinner we decided to go to a Beer Garden down the street. When we got there, everybody looked at us as if to say, "TOURIST!!!" OK, we were wearing shorts while everyone was wearing coats and long pants. Hey, I'm on vacation.Anyway, we get the menu, and guess what? We can't read anything. I can pick out Coke and Biere (beer), and some apfel (apple) something, but I'm not the adventuresome type when it comes to food (you already knew that), so we opted for something that's world-reknown. Something that's in the upper eschelon of fine cuisine. Yep. French Fries! Oh, that and a "White Beer". I forget the type, but it was basically a training beer. So once again, you could almost here the locals saying, "Wimpy TOURISTS!" You see in the spring it is strong beer season and the locals only drink STRONG beers, ya know the black syrup type. By the way, beer does not seem to go well with my uhh, digestion. It has some incredible air generating properties. Too bad for Heidi having to be stuck in the car with me all the next day. That's about as delicate as I can make it.
After those incredible German french fries, we decided to get some real sustenance by getting some real food. We walked down the street to an Italian restaurant. I didn't care much for the pizza, but the minestrone soup was good. I wound up hacking up my pizza with my knife and fork, and trying to hide one layer under another layer (they'll never know it wasn't eaten). I'm sure I fooled them. We also ordered some pretty good Chianti (and some nice fava (sp?) beans...Th th th th). After about four glasses, I was a happy guy.
Coming back to the hotel room, we got ready for a sauna. It felt great! I stayed in a bit too long however as I was fairly dizzy.
Day 3 - Sunday
After a couple of very nice days, the weather changed course on us, and turned over-cast. We visited Dachau. For those who don't know, Dachau was a concentration camp from 1933 - 1945 when the Allied forces liberated all of those prisoners kept there.
Some history about Dachau:
Initially, Dachau was designed as a place to hold political "detainees". The first people to be housed in Dachau were those individuals who were deemed a threat to the Fatherland. These included writers and those speaking against the Nazi party. Originally planned to accommodate 5000 political prisoners, the camp grew to house common criminals and other "anti-socials". In the course of time, Jews as well as prisoners of war were also interned. Most of the prisoners were used as slave labor for the German war effort. At the time of liberation, on April 29, 1945, the Allies found more than 30,000 survivors of 31 different nationalities.
During its 12 years of existence, 206,000 prisoners were registered in Dachau, and 31,951 "registered" deaths occurred. The number of "non-registered" arrivals/deaths can no longer be ascertained. Most of those killed were sent to the gas chambers, while others were subjects of SS doctors' pseudo-scientific experiments.
One of the plaques displayed says it succinctly, "Never Again". Given the current turmoil in Kosovo, our visit to such a place was poignant. more info for you on the following web site http://members.tripod.com/~dachauproject/
After our tour through Dachau, we were feeling cold and a bit subdued, so we drove into the center of Munich. Most of the city was closed down because it was Easter Sunday. We walked around for awhile and admired the buildings. In the center of the city and saw the Frauenkirche (Munich's trademark) the twin towers and stopped for lunch near by. Then we walked around the central pedestrian zone. There was the most magnificent church and clock tower with a carrillon (cute little wooden dolls that come out and dance around on the hour, kinda like a cuckoo clock that is 200 feet high). The chilling wind kicked in and it was time to head back to the car.
So we're walking back to our car, and I'm watching this BMW park right in front of us. I'm thinking to myself, "That guy doesn't look like he knows how to drive very well." I dismissed it, and when we were getting into the car, the guy says, "Hello again." It's the couple from D.C. that we met on the salt mine tour, in ANOTHER COUNTRY. What are the odds?! (For all those statistician types, I'd really like to know what the odds are. Really.) Funny side note: we were just looking at the pictures and noticed this couple made it into the train ride picture of ours as well. ENOUGH!
After a short but weary day, we had some dinner at the Thai restaurant again, and went back to the room for early retirement.
We'll be getting on a plane tomorrow, but 3 days and 1200 kilometers (750 miles) later, it's been a very nice weekend. Once again, pleasant travels for the Wagoners and many more to come.