Sunday, June 30, 2013

Munich, Night One...The Hike

Munich was a big shifting of gears from Heidelberg was our first hit you in the face description. We hopped on our train with no problem and were able to navigate the system from Heidelberg with ease at this point. The ride was through some beautiful farmland and only took about three and a half hours or so. Pulling into the Munich Hauptbahnhof (Main Train Station) was utterly impressive, there are more than 30 different regional and long range train terminals, a station for an entire network of suburban servicing trains, and an underground subway system. Thankfully learning which tickets to buy didn't take us much time thanks to our day one adventures.

We then had to figure out some lodgings for the night (knew we overlooked something in the semi-ultimate plan), so we stopped by the Coffee Brothers where we had a raspberry smoothie which also got us 30 whole minutes of internet access. We found a room for 2 for a good price along one of the S-Bahn lines (suburban rail), little did we know that suburban stop was 45 minutes away, putting it about 50 miles outside of Munich. Then looking at the map it looked like a mile walk to the hotel, which we thought would be no problem...until we overshot our turn by about a mile. I would like to think that Google Maps failed us, because the map failed to let us know that the road was named one thing once you got to town, but was something different when we were supposed to turn onto it. Very sore, we eventually made it there after stopping for directions from a friendly firefighter and settled in for the night.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Itinerary & Solar Cells

Thanks for all your comments; we're really enjoying reading them!  First, solar paneling: we've definitely noticed more solar energy on homes here than in the US.  It's not everywhere, but I would say there's a strong minority of homes, particularly in the country between cities, where you do see them.

Here's our plan for the rest of the trip:
Now-June 30: Munich, Germany
June 30-July 1: Salzburg, Austria
July 1-2: Innsbruck, Austria
July 2-6: Venice, Italy
July 6-11: Florence, Italy
July 11-15: Rome, Italy
July 15-18: Interlaken, Switzerland
July 18-22: ???, Germany
July 22-23: Frankfurt, Germany
July 23: Home

Please note, I could have dates slightly off.  I'm doing this from memory.  We're traveling with our friends, Linda and Dennis, until July 5.  After that, we'll be back to doing a lot more Couch Surfing and traveling on our own.  We're not sure where we'll head July 18-22, but we'll update you when we know more!

Lots of love,

Last Day in Heidelberg

We popped up early and took a lovely morning stroll to pick up some bread and pastry from a bakery.  Bread is huge in Germany and if you think you've had some good German sausage - oh man, the breads!  I have always loved soft pretzels, but I'm pretty sure I have a newfound love for the ones in Germany.  We packed up and had a quick breakfast with Brent, then walked for maybe 10 minutes to his school.  We dumped our things, toured his classroom, took a peek at some student work, and met some of his students.  It was super interesting to see another country's model of education.

Brent teaches kindergarten.  He has 12 students.  They get to school between 7 and 9:30, with instruction formally beginning at 9:30.  They officially conclude school around 1, going home between 1 and 2:30.  He teaches in an international kindergarten, so he has student from around the world.  It is an English-only school and language ability runs the gamut from native speaker to no knowledge of English.  Already, most of his students are at least beginning readers.  (Some have been in school since they were 3, others started this year.)  Their writing is incredible - I saw spaces, periods, and reasonably neat handwriting.  While we were in town, he prepped and taught a lesson on conservation of matter.  It really highlighted for me the benefits of preschool and small class sizes.  Here's a little peek into his third-story world.

I am so grateful for our stay with Brent.  Not only was he an amazing host who made our experience both smoother and more enjoyable, but he granted me a peek into a world I never would have been able to see as a standard tourist!

For the rest of the day, we walked up and down the pedestrian area, looking at the Aldstat (Old Town) and doing a little shopping.  It was a great day to just relax a little bit and enjoy the culture of the area.  We couldn't resist taking a couple pictures of things that made us laugh.  Below, Pizza Hut: the American Way of Pizza.  (For those who are interested, we've seen Burger King, Subway, Starbucks, and McDonalds as well.  We poked our heads into a McDonald's for a peek at the menu.  It's pretty much the same thing with different names, except all burgers have a full compliment of vegetables with green leaf lettuce as opposed to the shredded junk.)

We've been into grocery stores several times.  They've made good meals on the go or cheap eats.  We've had an opportunity to sample items unavailable in the US, note differences in packaging and preparation, as well as examining prices.  (Most prices are comparable, but $5.99 is a deal on bell peppers - yikes!)  One of the items that my eyes widened at was Hobbits!  I'm thinking that's why we no longer see hobbits - they're harvested to be made into crackers!  If you have any other funny ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments.  I've definitely been laughing at chicken stories!

Next up, the adventure to Munich!
Throughout Heidelberg, there are stickers, shirts, bags, and sweaters making that declaration.  I could not agree more.  At this time, I don't have much interest in living internationally, but if I did, Heidelberg would be extremely high on the list!  It is a safe, clean city filled with friendly and helpful people.  It is extremely walkable and bikeable.  Finally, it is not a "party city" like Amsterdam.  The atmosphere is such a relaxed, down-to-earth experience.

We had a grand plan to avoid jetlag altogether by sleeping for the correct amount of time and just getting ourselves on a schedule.  Well, we both slept through our alarm and awoke at 11!  In retrospect, we should have asked Brent, our host, to bang on our door if we weren't up by the time he left for work.  However, we hopped out of bed and headed to the Kulturebrewerie in the Aldstadt (Old Town).  We ordered a couple of items pretty blindly off the menu and enjoyed them thoroughly - typical German fare heavy on meat and starch.  Kelly tried another beer and I got banana nectar.  Banana seems to be a fairly popular flavor here and I love it!

After this, we walked up many steps to the Schloss Heidelberg, or Heidelberg Castle.  We arrived with about an hour before the first tour, so we explored the outside.  It was really amazing to be able to see and touch something which was started in the 1300s!

From cooking to using the restroom, there were many interesting things to learn about the castle.  Toilets were installed, but there was not yet modern plumbing.  Castle denizens would use them, then the refuse would fall into the dry moat, creating a bit of a smelly situation!  We also stumbled across this - a huge medieval oven!  It was not part of the tour, but from what we would surmise a fire would be kindled in a depression about 10 feet across and various baked goods would be placed around the edge.  This is looking up into the very tall chamber.  I certainly would not have wanted to be a servant in charge of the baking!

The interior had quite a bit of spectacular stone carving, wood carving, and impressive paintings.  This was the castle chapel, one of the most grand rooms in the castle.  We feel lucky to have been allowed to take interior photos.  We would later learn that photo-taking is not allowed in all castles.

Once the guided tour was over (it felt like we rushed from one room to the next with a bit of information between), there were a few more areas to explore.  I'll close the description of our castle experiences with one of our favorites, punctuated by a funny story.  The photo below depicts a wine barrel.  It is not the best photo we got, but I liked this one because there is a person at the bottom to give you an idea of scale.  Residents around the castle paid part of their tax through part of their wine to the castle - the royalty had a next to unquenchable thirst.  This was a barrel that was piped up to the floor above to give continuous access to the castle denizens.  The caretaker of this barrel was Perkeo, the court jester.  He got his name due to the fact that when someone would offer him a glass of wine, his response was "Perche no?"  This is Italian for "Why not?"  According to legend, he sickened and died after accepting a bet to drink a glass of water instead of wine.

From the castle, we crossed the Old Bridge.  There were a lot of intricate statues as well as locks.  Lovers will affix a lock to the bridge as a symbol of sealing their love for eternity.  This is a common sight on bridges throughout Germany.  On the other side of the Neckar River, we took the Philosopher's Walk.  We ascended several steps (more steps, see a pattern?) and the walk culminated in the beautiful Philosopher's Garden.

We headed home to chat with Brent a little more.  He pointed us to an utterly delicious kebap shop and imparted the knowledge that Turks are the largest minority in Germany, comprising about 9% of the population. After that, we took a walk based on his recommendation through a nearby German graveyard.  I love their burial traditions - several people from one family are laid to rest in the same plot.  Family names will be inscribed on the headstone until there is no more room.  At that point, mini-headstones or nice rocks will be added with later family members.  Instead of merely having a headstone, each burial plot has a raised garden area.  From everything we saw, they are generally beautifully tended and often include objects or plants significant to the deceased.

After this, it was time to return to pack up and rest.  We planned to get up with Brent, stash our bags at his school, and explored Heidelberg until it was time to catch the train to Munich.

Posted from the Munich BMW museum where there is free WiFi, free bathrooms, and cozy chairs,

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Hanau, Heidelberg, and Trains, Oh My!

So yesterday was quite the little adventure. 14 hours and 40 minutes of actual flight with a 1.5 hour delay after leaving at 8:50am on Sunday from Portland got us here around 10:15am on Monday in Frankfurt. We checked in through customs which was a breeze and then we were off to the trains!

The little kiosk had an interface that allowed the user the pick between a ton of languages which was great, unfortunately the ticket is still printed in German. So this is about the point when Megan realizes that when I say I speak a little German, that it means a little and that the semi technical stuff on the ticket I have zero recollection of. Fortunately we are able to hop on the train to Hanau just in time and make our way out there.

"Why Hanau?" you might ask. Hanau was the birthplace of and the starting point for the Brothers Grimm as they set about their long journey to gather fairy tales from many places all over Germany. In the Marktplatz, right in front of the historic Rathaus is a national monument statue of the brothers.


After that we did a little walking around town, and then it was time to hit the train to our first overnight stop in Heidelberg. More fun ensues as we have a hard time figuring out how to even use our rail passes and where we can sit on the trains, but with the help of a couple friendly people we are able to get straightened out and manage to get our connecting train in Mannheim.
We then make it to Heidelberg and manage to navigate the bus system, with a little help from the information station nearby, and make our way to the Bismarckplatz to meet our first Couch Surfing host of the trip. After getting settled in we all go on a quick tour of Weststadt where we went by the building that the Nazis had their Heidelberg headquarters in. 

We then continued on to dinner at a traditional German food restaurant near the Alt Stadt called Essighaus.

Where we all had a great meal which Kelly had a dark beer so black it actually deserved the name schwarzbier, and Megan tried a local non alcoholic drink that was banana nectar mixed with cherry juice. Everything was really well cooked and tasted fantastic.

We then went back to our hosts home to get showers and to get some sleep because at this point we had been up for just about 30 hours with little or no sleep. Thinking we had  a pretty good leg up on the whole jet-lag thing we set the alarm and crashed out.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Here Safely!

Hi everyone!

We're here safely, being taken good care of by our CouchSurfing host, Brent.  We've had all kinds of snafus with communications, despite some very particular advanced planning.  We just want to let you know we're doing well and we'll give you more detail a little later!

Megan & Kelly

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Flight Delayed

We made it just fine from Portland to Dallas/Ft. Worth.  Our flight to Frankfurt has been delayed for a couple of hours, so you get a 2.5 hours of sleep waiting in an airport post!

Ever since a Popeye's opened in our area, I've been curious to try it.  As we were stuck with airport lunch, we decided to give it a go.  The food was decent, but it was really the art that intrigued me.

Chickens, naturally.  I first thought of the Coq au Vin tile from the amazingly fun board game, A La Carte.  I assumed the chickens were getting saucy and breathing fire.  Then I noticed they seemed to be dancing around a pot.  I became rather concerned for the chickens - are they making their own soup to lay in it?  I can't decide.  And what's with the firebreathing?  Tell me if you think the chickens have a good story!

Wishing you laughter and joy,

At the Airport

We are here awaiting our flight!  We had a wonderful send-off.  Our wonderful roommates, Erin and Matt, pulled themselves out of bed at 5:00am just to drive to the airport and see us off.  Many hugs were had.  We also happened to check in for our flight at the same time as the Portland Timbers soccer team, so it was like Portland said, "Bon voyage!"

Chicken Itza is excited for her first international trip.  I have a picture I'll add later, but my camera cable is in my checked baggage.

Love to all!
Megan & Kelly

Start of Summer

Happy third day of summer, everyone!

It's been a pretty eventful last couple of weeks.  I wrapped up the school year; it was my first year teaching first grade.  It was definitely a challenging year, but I'm proud of the growth I made!  I had a fabulous group of students - I'm also proud of their progress!

As soon as teacher work day wrapped up, Kelly and I went to donate blood.  It was my 37th pint.  It was nice to celebrate the end of the school year by doing something positive.  The next day, we also had burgers and milkshakes at Cruise In Country Diner, so there definitely was a little bit of a splurge celebration as well.

Since Monday, I've been spending all day with Rusty and Andrew working on finishing up the chicken coop.  They have both been so helpful and I cannot sing Rusty's praises enough.  I am humbled and appreciative of having a master carpenter's constant guidance in finishing this building.  We just have the trim and painting to go.  We moved the girls into their new home, though they were in lack of light induced chicken coma at the time.

We have finished the final touches for our trip.  We are super excited!  We've had a very aggressive debt paying/saving plan for about 5 years and this is our big reward.  Our only debt currently is our home.

Lots of love,