Mar and Gar's Adventures

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It’s A Wrap

I promised Garry I would wrap up our trip to Europe before too much time went by so I guess I had better get to it!

Our river cruise had many great stops, all of them really nice. Like all cruises you don’t get to do everything in a short time but with river cruises there is more time on shore, sometimes not leaving until late at night which means you can do meals on shore if you like. There were even two overnight stops. Our stops in this order were Basel, Switzerland (where we started), Breisach, Germany; Strasbourg, France; Mannheim, Germany; Rudesheim, Germany; Koblenz, Germany; Bonn and Cologne, Germany; and Amsterdam, Netherlands. At each town we had a choice of tours. We usually opted for the bus/walking tours and passed on the biking tours and hiking tours. Of course staying on the ship or walking around unguided was also an option.

The trip is pretty impossible to describe. There was no favorite part that we can pick. It was all so good. We met some of the best people in towns along the way and also on the cruise ship. We have cards we exchanged with people and now we need to share some pictures with them. We saw beautiful countries, each with their own personality and feel.

Would we change anything? The only thing we could think of was one place we stayed 3 nights and 2 would have given us more time in Austria, but we still enjoyed those 3 nights…. so maybe we would not change it.

In Amsterdam we missed meeting up with a friend from Des Moines… Lisa and her son. They arrived the afternoon the day before we were leaving and the timing and location where we were staying didn’t work out. And then we found out our friend from Seattle, Tanya, was going to be on a morning flight from Amsterdam to Seattle. She had been visiting family in Russia. We kept looking for her but we found out later she was one flight ahead of us. Wouldn’t that have been something if both of those meet-ups had happened!!??!!

Our flight home was uneventful and long but we arrived a little early, zoomed through customs and our travel agent had a driver and car waiting for us for our short ride home.

So, I guess it’s a wrap!!!!

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Odds and Ends

 

1. Many fuel/ rest stops on the main highways have cafes. Some of those are McDonalds and Burger King (I mentioned that before). McDonalds has the best free restrooms. Burger King was a pay restroom. Many public restrooms are pay. Usually 50 cents (euro). We did have a burger once at each. Burger King was best.

2. River cruising is great. Probably won’t ever go back to the floating hotel cruise ships again, but maybe another river cruise some time.

3. Packing light worked for the most part. I have bought a few clothes but mostly because I liked them, not because it was necessary.

4. 99% of the passengers on this cruise are Americans… from all over. There is a group of about 30 here from South Carolina all paid for by one of their local tv stations. All are advertisers on that station. They are really enjoying the cruise.

5. You rarely hear politics discussed on the ship.

6. There are interesting rivalries here between towns; sometimes between their soccer teams or their wine or their castles or their beer or their food. The tour guides give interesting and numerous insight on those topics.

7. There are an amazing amount of RV (caravan) parks over here. There are many right on banks of the Rhine River.

8. Cologne was the first town we were warned about pick pockets.

9. Have seen a total of 6 beggars the whole time we have traveled. And no homeless camps.

10. The 9 hour time difference is really frustrating. I keep forgetting what time it is at home, so forget to call people.

11. Sometimes river cruise boats raft to each other in port. You have to be careful at night about closing your curtain because you don’t know what or who might be staring into your stateroom when you wake up. If you walk on the top deck of your ship you can chat with people on the top deck of their ship. If you are rafted to the outside you walk through the other boat to get to shore.

12. Their were 5 cruise ships in one port but that is still only about 700 tourists.

13. The pilot house on the ship can go up and down if needed so we can clear bridges.

14. You are told not to touch the walls of the locks as you go through them. Most of the men touched the walls anyway. It figures.

15. Garry got to tour the engine room.

16. There are 800,000 people in Amsterdam, but 2.5 million bicycles. Bicycles have right of way over everything. Cars are lowest in priority.

17. It is legal to text and bike but not no texting and driving a car.

18. You don’t need to buy pot to get high in Amsterdam. Just inhale while you are walking around town.

19. Amsterdam is very confusing when walking. Thank goodness for google maps.

20. A huge marathon was in Amsterdam today. Someone said 40,000 runners. No wonder it is so crowded this weekend.

21. There was a marathon when we were in Salzburg, too, but only a half marathon.

22. Home tomorrow!!

 


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The Adventure Continues

We feel like we have been speeding through Europe. We spent so much time in Germany that we were almost rushed in Austria and Switzerland. We boarded the AMA Kristina river cruise ship yesterday in Basel, Switzerland so this is a good time for a quick catch up.

When we left Binz we made a meandering trip toward Austria . What could have been done in 1 or 2 days took us four, I think. Since we tried our best to stay off the autobahn everything took longer. The advantage is seeing more of the real towns and villages and meeting some great people.

We learned to stop driving by 4:00 p.m. if you want to try to find a hotel when you have no reservations. In one small town there was 1 hotel and it was full. They sent us 4 kilometers down the road to another one and it was full. They sent us another 4 kilometers down the road and we got a nice room overlooking a lake. They had a nice restaurant so dinner was great. I can’t remember the name of the town, but somewhere in my pile of receipts I have the name.

I had read a Rick Steves travel article about a town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber, so we headed there. It is possibly the largest medieval town in Europe. It is an old walled city, with some more modern city outside. Within the walls, though, the buildings go back hundreds and hundreds of years. There are many hotels within the city walls so we stayed in one for a couple nights. Even though it is a huge tourist stop, and souvenir stores are everywhere the buildings are amazing. There is an incredible four story crime museum that is all about how people were “disciplined” (tortured). Fascinating, creepy… I learned too much about the Iron Maiden. Also, if accused of a crime the only way to be found innocent was if you passed 3 levels of torture… not many passed.

We climbed the 200 foot tower to look over the city. That was an experience! It would not pass many safety tests but we made it. Garry also got a haircut in a salon in the city…. but it was done with modern instruments. One night we were having a beverage in a bar and met a nice young American couple. The guy was in the service, stationed in Kuwait. He had a couple days leave so his girlfriend flew over from New York. They were going to miss their haunted town tour waiting for their drink tab so we said we would take care of it, thanking the guy for his service.

Rothenburg was primarily spared from damage during WWII. There are varying stories of how this happened but one story is of an American commander who knew the importance of the city so sent 3 soldiers in with a white flag. They gave the town a choice – surrender within 3 hours or be bombed. The city chose surrender against their own orders and the damage to the city was minimal. Because of the history of the ancient city donations came from around the world to help with restoration.

After Rothenburg we headed toward Salzburg. I actually made a reservation on the way because it is such a busy city. It was a good thing. The town was packed but we had a pretty decent place not far from the old town. Just before we arrived there we got a call from an old business friend of Garry’s who lives in Linz…about 80 miles east. He had been on holiday in Italy so we didn’t think we would be able to see him but he got back and returned our call so we only spent one night in Salzburg, then headed to Linz.

Not knowing Linz at all I planned a day ahead and got a reservation at a very new very modern hotel adjacent to the New Cathedral. It is the largest church in Austria, but not the oldest. It was built starting in 1862 so it is just a baby compared to others. The contrast of our hotel and the cathedral was really something.

Back in the day, when Garry owned Insulate Industries the majority of their manufacturing equipment came from Austria. The man we visited in Linz (Walter) used to own a company called Actual where most of the equipment was from. Walter is retired and that part of the company was sold but his 3 sons run their window company. I had met Walter twice in the past on trips to Europe with Garry. Those two started talking and it was like they had seen each other last week not 25 years ago. Walter’s youngest son, Klaus, joined us for drinks and dinner. It was a great night and then the next morning we toured the window company before we left the area.

After Linz we started diving through the alps, staying in a variety of places. Our favorite was in a town called Worgl. We found an incredible 5 room bed and breakfast called Alexado Residenz Tirol. The room was fabulous, the food wonderful and the owner, Barbara, made us feel like we were home.

We had a very short drive through Lichtenstein and finally got to Switzerland. We spent a few days with Felix, a friend we had not seen in 25 years. We had met him and his then

cwife Linda on their honeymoon in about 1982 or 1983 on a Caribbean cruise, our first ever cruise.. we had seen him twice since then, but not since our last trip to Europe which is when we had also seen Walter.

You have to worry when you are going to stay in someone’s home and you have not seen that person in 25 years but thank goodness most of our changes were in looks, not senses of humor or philosophies on various topics.
Felix doesn’t like to be called a tour guide but he was a great one. One day we drove to Lucerne, a beautiful city, and it was having a its annual 2 week fair. It was packed with families enjoying the food, games, typical fair stuff. The next day we drove to Blausee (Blue Lake). The lake is so clear and even though we were at about 3000 ft elevation, it never freezes. It stays a constant 4 to 8 degrees centigrade year round. There are trout in the lake and we had a great lunch there. We had trout, of course. We drove from there to Interlaken. Now that is really a tourist place but for the really rich or the pretend to be really rich people. There must have been 30 watch stores if there was one.. many ranging in the $20,000 to $40,000 range. Yikes.

We got on the cruise ship yesterday. Our ship is the Kristina with AMA river cruises. She is only 6 months old and very modern. There are 150 passengers on board, so it is tons different than the other type of cruising we have done before. We have one of the four suites and our butler will bring us whatever we need. It seems to be mostly Americans on the cruise but we are just starting to meet people more today. We left Basel at 10:00 last night and I wrapped myself in the blanket provided and sat out on the balcony watching lights go by.

So now you are mostly up to date. Home next Monday.

Here are pictures in random order.


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The Best Random (so far)

OK, can anyone explain this to me?  I just don’t get it.  I have google maps and the maps app that comes  on the iPhone and iPad.  I have them on both devices.  On any given day they change from a male voice to a female.  And on any given day they switch from kilometers to miles.  Both apps.  And what is irritating at any given time they quit talking.  That is usually when you need to hear their voice!!!  The only way to get it back is to turnoff the device and turn it back on.  By that time you are almost missing important turns or towns.   I have googled my issues but come up with nothing like what I go through.  It is very frustrating for me, the navigator.

I keep both the iPhone and iPad programmed to our routes each day just as back-up but wish I didn’t have to.  Sometimes they disagree.

That is pretty much my only rant because I can’t imagine navigating without something like this.  I do have back up paper maps partly because I love maps and partly because I can envision the routes better.

 


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Random Things

 

1. Germany is amazingly clean! No litter anywhere!! Roads, towns, sidewalks..all beautiful and clean.

2. I mentioned in an earlier post, driving in Germany is great and logical and FAST! Have only been up to 105 mph on the autobahn so far. And fewer roundabouts than in Ireland! yay to that!

3. Germans are very friendly and helpful even if we can’t speak each other’s language.

4. Pay parking is everywhere. Keep lots of euros to pay and get your ticket to put on your dash.

5. Weird, but even when no one speaks English all the music in stores, restaurants, taxis, radio on tv… all popular songs in English with the popular singers and groups I am familiar with. . It makes you wonder if they know what the words are????

6. Waiters and waitresses are fabulous. A waiter in Rostock has a goal to move to Santa Barbara. A waitress in Melle did a year abroad in Boston and a quarter at Harvard. She is going to be a tax lawyer. A waitress in a little town introduced me to flammkuchen, also known as German pizza. I am very grateful! Yummm.

7. We have been able to buy ice in most places or get it from the bar at our hotel. We buy inexpensive prosecco or Sekt for our bubbly alcohol. I have had no problems getting grapefruit juice to go with vodka.

8. Thanks to the nice lady at the liquor warehouse near Melle. She gave us some great carry bags, 2 decks of cards and some dice game. Said she had lots as giveaways and would never see us again so take them.

9. McDonalds is found all over the place with Burger King and Dominos pizza close 2nd and 3rd.

10. Garry gave me his cold.

11. All beds have only a bottom sheet and a top comforter. No top sheet, so you are either hot or cold. But each person has their own comforter so you do your own hot/cold.

12. Having a great time. Still speaking to each other!!


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Week 2 – Germany part 1

 

Here are our stops so far in Germany:
Frankfurt, Dortmund, Melle, Rostock, Dranske, Binz.

It was a bit of a long day on Saturday getting from Ireland to Frankfurt. We got to the airport way too early, based on advice from a taxi driver earlier in the week. Then our flight was delayed for 2 hours. So we were at the Dublin airport for 5 hours for a 1 hr 45 minute flight. There was to be a driver waiting for us in Frankfurt to take us to our hotel and I was worried if he would still be there. We cleared immigrations and while Garry waited for the luggage I looked for our driver. I found him, thank goodness, but our English speaking requested driver spoke no English and he was kinda weird/creepy/disheveled. On the plus side the town car was really nice and with my translate app we got to our city center Hilton hotel. We were going to stay until Monday because the all businesses are closed on Sundays (except some restaurants) and so could not get our car until then.

The Hilton was great. We met a family in the elevator on Sunday and they told us about a huge car show at an event center. It is considered the largest new car show in the world – even bigger than Detroit- and with nothing better to do decided to go to it. We got a taxi and I made him give us driving lessons for Germany. I grilled him about street signs, driving does and dont’s and everything I could think of. He probably though I was crazy but I was really nervous about driving in Germany.

The car show was amazing. Eleven building of cars, car stuff, food, etc. It was packed on a Sunday but who cares. We saw the new models for just about any car you can think of but we concentrated on European cars and skipped the Ford, Hyundai, etc. The Porsche and Mercedes buildings were really cool. Bentleys are pretty boring cars. We saw the Smart Car hall so went there. One of their salesmen pointed out the head of Smart Car, a woman named Annette. She chatted with us a long time. They are going strictly to electric only and made Garry promise to test drive one when we get home.

So all my worries about driving in Germany have been totally unfounded. It took forever to get our car but once we did navigating out of Frankfurt was simple and it was nice driving on wider roads and on the side we are used to. The autobahn is great as are the lesser roads. Everyone drives an expected way following pretty strict rules so you totally understand where you should be and when. Our only real problems have been when we take back roads and into small towns and I get us a little lost in town. So then I just put another town on google maps and it gets us out of there.

Garry had come down with a cold so we found an apoteke (pharmacy) in a little town and stocked up on old medicine and extra Tylenol type products. And Kleenex!!!!

We have discovered the good and bad of not pre-booking a room anywhere. Basically, every night is an adventure. With Garry not feeling great I picked the town of Dortmund and figured the Best Western by the airport would be fine. Well, that is basically all it was.  We got almost the last room and it was not cheap!. And the room was so tiny we could not pass each other at the foot of the bed. But it was clean and that was the important thing.

The next day I navigated us to Bad Oeyenhausen, known as a spa town because of its waters, rivers and parks. It looked great when reading about it. It was great… just no rooms in town. It turns out there was a huge kitchen show/convention close by in an industrial area that had no hotels so every small town around was full. At our 3rd attempt at a room a very very nice man at the reception desk just started calling places for us. He got us a room about 15 miles away at the Van de Valk hotel in Melle. They had a cancellation so he grabbed it for us. It was a great 4 star hotel and beyond friendly.

We were fortunate that the hotel had a cancellation the next night too because we wanted to stay 2 nights. Again, a very nice guy at the reception desk was able to find an ophthalmologist in Melle and get an appointment that afternoon for Garry to have his eye pressure checked in his bad eye. Why, you ask? Well, Garry gets a steroid shot every 3 months in his eye for a swelling condition and all of a sudden after 2.5 years of the shots his eye pressure went up. Way up. So the day before we left on the trip we had to get 2 prescriptions filled for eye drops and promise his doctor at home to have the pressure checked after a couple weeks. If not better he had to start a 3rd eye drop.

The doctor in Melle was great! He spoke beautiful English and told us about when he hiked the John Muir trail in the Sierra Nevadas. For some reason he waived any fee for the exam (it was to be 50 euros). Garry’s eye pressure was way down into the really good range so we were super happy!!

While in Melle we went to a car museum. It was mostly European cars, but some American and there also lots of motorcycles. My translate app helped us a lot there. There are over 200 vehicles on exhibit and every one works. Google auto museum Melle Germany to learn more about it.

After Melle we headed to the tourist town of Rostock on the Baltic Sea. We figured there would be lots of rooms since it was a Thursday and late September. Wrong again! The tourist office got us literally the last room at a small B&B right in town. We found out later we could have been further out of town in a huge hotel but at 3 times the price and half the adventure. We had a really nice room

and the owners were great. There was no parking provided and the street parking was paid parking good for 2 hours from 9:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. 7 days a week. We spent 3 nights here so the first day every two hours we moved the car and paid our 2 euros. Then we found a short walk away a pay lot for $12 euros for 24 hours. Yay!!

We were total tourists in Rostock. It was packed! The beaches are beautiful, the food great and just a great feel to the town. Approximately 140 cruise ships come in during the summer on 9 or 11 day Baltic Sea cruises, including cruise lines Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America.  During peak times they may have 4 or 5 cruise ships in port at the same time. Probably because of this we had the best luck with English speaking locals. Some restaurants even had their menu also in English so I didn’t use my translate app as much.

After Rostock we headed to the island of Rugen, the largest island in area in Germany and also the northernmost part of Germany. The beaches are beautiful and there are many small resort communities on the island. We spent one night on Dranske and were able to watch the Seahawks on German tv with German announcers. It is pretty hard to stay awake when the game starts at 10:30 p.m. plus is not a great game. It was fun texting back and forth with good friend Robin back in Des Moines during the game.

We are now in Binz on the same island. It is a pretty large resort town and we are staying upscale here for sure!!! Binz is the largest seaside resort on the island and started becoming really popular in the late 1800s. People would come to swim in the water when that became “the thing to do”. Must be still the thing because I have seen several not so small people… mostly men in speedos…. swimming in the sea. It is not warm here at all and very windy and there they are….. A feast for our eyes! In 1937 near here the construction of a resort was started called KdF… Strength Through Joy., but it was not finished until 1950 when it was used for military barracks.

Lots of government changes also changed ownership of the villas and hotels, but after reunification of Germany (post 1990) some ownership was returned to the original owners. A new pier was built in 1994 and our hotel looks out on it.

We move on tomorrow heading toward Berlin but won’t be there in one day.  We pretty much dawdle along side roads and so our forward progress is limited.


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Week One-Ireland

We have been gone for 2 weeks now and I am finally finding time to do some writing for the blog. The occasional Facebook post doesn’t tell everything.

We were so glad we flew business class to Amsterdam.. it is a long flight but we had little areas each that were almost like sleep pods. After a 4 1/2 hour layover in Amsterdam we finally arrived in Dublin. It was quickly off to our hotel and bed!! The next morning we picked up our rental car and it was a re-learning experience driving on the left side and on very narrow roads. I don’t know if we ever got the knack of it the whole week we were there. Garry said it was easier 11 years ago. I white knuckled it most of the time as I navigated with iPad! But 11 years ago I didn’t have the iPad, so that was a great change.

We were in Ireland 11 years ago almost to the day but had not done Northern Ireland so spent most of the time there. To us, it seemed newer and more industrialized than the Republic of Ireland, but still beautiful and friendly. We always just wing it and hope that when we are ready to stop we will find a place that we like. Saturday we stayed in Drogheda which is on the river Boyne – famous for the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 between deposed King James II and his son-in-law Dutch Prince William of Orange. William won and that aided in ensuring Protestant rule Ireland. That also explains why Northern Ireland’s main color is orange.

Crossing the river Boyne we got into Northern Ireland. We stayed Sunday night in Strangford. I picked that place because you take a little ferry ride over to Portaferry as you drove along the coast. That sounded like fun, but little did I know Strangford  is known by Game of Thrones fans. I have never seen an episode but I guess I need to now. Parts of season one were filmed nearby at Castle Ward. There are 2 tour buses a day that bring people in to the town and to the castle. If you google it you will see pictures of the new castle but we walked the short distance to the old Castle Ward where filming was done. We were smart and got there in the morning before the tour buses.

Sunday night was the Seahawks game and there was one pub in town with the satellite sport channels and they turned one tv on our game. It was a very small pub… just us and about 6 other locals in a different side of the pub. The game started at 9:25 pm in Ireland. The pub closes at 11:00 but let us stay until midnight. We watched the Seahawks eeek out a win watching the last 5 minutes on our iPad in our room.

The 5 minute ferry ride was easy but it was super windy and rough so got some salt spray on our car. We parked at Portaferry to walk around and a couple parked behind us. They were from Arizona and thought we were locals. They wanted to catch the ferry but didn’t have enough pounds and didn’t want to use the ATM and get a bunch because they were heading to Dublin where you use euros. We had pounds, they had US dollars, so we did a banking exchange on the street. They had just come from a town called Bangor which was our destination. They really liked the Salty Dog Hotel so we took their advice and stayed there a couple nights. It was a great place. We decided to take the train from there to Belfast rather than driving in the city and that was the smartest decision ever!!! We took a city tour of Belfast plus walked a bunch. People were amazingly helpful as we constantly took wrong turns walking. We were trying to find a pub that had been recommended and could not find it. One really nice lady just walked us to it saying it wasn’t far out of her way.IMG_3812

Northern Ireland was interesting in that there is still a lot of talk and things you see that are about what they call The Troubles. The history of fighting between the Protestants and Catholics goes back years and years but it is also pretty darn recent… it seems hard to believe how recent until you hear them talk about it and you see the signs of it.  It was uncomfortable at times to see and hear some of the stories.  We were told some golfers from the Republic of Ireland won’t golf in Northern Ireland because they consider it an occupied country (by England). In Northern Ireland there was no news on tv about the Republic of Ireland. They didn’t even show the weather.

After Bangor we continued on the northern coast to a couple of big tourist attractions. The first one was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. This is a bridge used by salmon fisherman for over 350 years to reach an area that is best for catching salmon. It used to have only one rope hand rail but now there are two. Of course, once across you have to go back. It was another really windy day but I got it done!!

Just a ways down the road from the bridge was the Giant’s Causeway. It is a amazing area of 40,000 basalt columns and formations that according lore extend all the way to Scotland under the sea. There are many myths and legends about the causeway. It was rainy and windy when we were there but the weather cleared enough to enjoy it and get some good pictures. Lots and lots of tour buses were there. In fact there are a gazillion tour buses all over Ireland. It got interesting at times on the narrow roads!!!

We decided to turn our car in early and not drive it into Dublin our last 2 nights. A taxi was much easier!!! Dublin is so much fun. We did the Off and On tour bus that takes you to 33 stops and you can get off and on as many times as you want. Of course we had to go back to the Guinness place and the Jameson Whiskey place. We did window shopping on Grafton street and pub hopping in the Temple Bar area.

The week went by way too fast. I guess we will have to do it again some time. Stay tuned for week 2 and our adventures in Germany.