Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Day 6 Riding the Rails to Munich

The awesomeness of the breakfast at the Hotel Garni Probst can not be overstated. Fueled up on that, we went off to see the Deutsche Bahn Museum.  The exhibits are really interesting, and they don't dance around DB's involvement in the holocaust.  The way that they handled the development of railway technology and the differences between that development between the old east and west were really fascinating.  And let's not forget the really big HO Scale railway they have.  Be sure to check the schedule for when the demonstrations are, because otherwise you'll miss out on a really cool show. After a lunch on the go in the Christmas Market (including more Feuerzangenbowle), we wandered off to Munich.  For a change we actually had something booked, our first experimental run with airbnb.com .  We stayed at a place rented out by a nice young doctor right downtown, near the hauptbahnhof and near the tollwood festival.  It's also in a little Turkey kind of neighborhood, so we ended up at a late night Kebob shop a couple of times.  We met up with some of W's co-workers and had some dinner at the Rathaus.  It wasn't quite as good as the first time we ate there, and the service we got was a little lackluster even by German standards. 

Day 5, The round about way to Bavaria

Due to scheduling restraints, and weirdness in the flights we could and could not take, the "simplest" way to get to where we were headed was to go to Nuremberg by way of Zurich.  So our friends were kind enough to drive us the hour or so to the Zurich Airport, so that we could grab a short flight over to Nuremberg. Since once again we were not sure exactly when we'd get there we had nothing booked.  We arrived and marched into the tourist office, and they were able to find us a really great room at the Hotel Garni Probst.  This was another great unexpected score for the trip.  The location is right down town, and didn't even require a long hike from the train station.  By this time we were already loaded down from a shopping trip we'd been on in the morning.  We walked down and managed to find an eirpunsch within moments.  To make matters even better, we managed to find a Feuerzangenbowle stand.  Of course, the whole point of our stop in Nuremberg was another shot at eating at the Nassauer Keller.  Our dinner was great, although a little less interesting than our last visit with Kathy and Dave.  We had a fun night out to dinner and at the market and made ourselves good and comfortable in our nice downtown location.

Day 4, My first foray into France

This day started again with an enormous spread for breakfast, and more apfelkuchen. Then we jumped in the car to go to country number three, a day trip over to Colmar France.  What should you know about Colmar.
1. It's Beautiful and well preserved, it is crawling with old Europe style.
2.  The Gluhwein (Vin Chaud if you're a local) is terrible, it's sickeningly sweet.
3.  They recover from that by being in capital of Alsace, and therefore have plenty of delicious wine to drink that has not been warmed and sweetened. 
4.  The food is delicious, we had this flat bread pizza kind of thing, that I would still go back to get tomorrow if I could. 
5. It's the orignal home of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi 
6. I desperately want to go back, do drink wine and eat.
We had a blast in Colmar, and then returned once more to Auggen where we went out for a delicious traditional meal  I had a wurst salat, which is basically an excuse to call a julienned bratwurst a salad.  It is as you can imagine not very healthy. We then headed back to our comfortable room for a good solid night's sleep to get ready to get back on the road the next day.

Day 3 On to Frieburg

The whole family joined us for breakfast the next morning, an impressive spread of fresh breads, delicious deli meats (well, except for the obligatory liverwurst), home made preserves, and strong coffee, topped off with the most amazing fresh apple cake,)apfelkuchen)  that looked like it had just leapt off the pages of a cookbook.  After breakfast we got dropped off at the DB station in order to go off to Freiburg.  Freiburg is an awesome city, although since we were there on a Saturday, it was absolutely swamped with people.  The Frieburg Munster is really impressive, and since we got to take the English language tour we got some insight into the intricate carvings on the walls.  We found a quiet little Franciskaner Keller Restaurant, that was quite nice and provided us a nice quiet place to sit and eat and stay warm.  We wandered around town a bit more, made our way up to the Schlossberg. After a bit of wandering through the Christmas Market and generally being overwhelmed by the crowd, and grabbed a train back to Auggen to meet our hosts.  They again provided a delicious dinner and great company for us, and then dropped us back off in Badenweiler.

Basel Day 2

W has always been a fan of Dollhouses, so because I'm so awesome, I recommended we visit the puppenhausmuseum as one of our few Basel must see items.  We wandered around for quite a bit nerding out about all the tiny little things.  They won't let you bring in any more than a pocket size camera, which makes it tough to get really good pictures.  But suffice it to say even with out visual proof from my camera, the little tiny things are presented with amazing detail, and the old teddy bears are often very cute, although sometimes creepy. Once the Christmas Market opened up, we had a delicious sit down fondue lunch, and then explored the river front and university area of Basel.  Late in the afternoon we hopped on a train to Auggen to meet some friends, for the next leg of our journey.  Many moons ago W went on a trip to Germany with a co-worker.  They went to stay with the son of a lady who had been the co-worker's au pair. Some time later,   that son had stayed at our house, on a trip through California.  He was nice enough to put us up at his parents place since we were on his side of the pond.  We sat for a fantastic meal of schnitzel, and then he dropped us off for our stay in Badenweiler.  We stayed at the Gastehaus Ursula in Badenweiler, likely the most wonderful family owned B&B style hotel in all of Germany. Yes, my opinion is biased on this, and I'm totally O.K. with that. The lady of the house greeted us with fresh baked Chritmas Cookies and some local beer.  We even took a walk up into Badenweiler where the shops were open late that night and everyone was serving a warm beverage and the whole town gathered.  Our bed was good and comfy, and we settled in from our full day for a good night's sleep.

A Mid-winter Border Crossing Bananza

It's been a busy couple of months, but I've been meaning to sit down and tell you about our little winter adventure for 2011. Last year was our slowest travel year on record, so we had to make the trip count. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving we hopped a swissair flight from SFO to Zurich.  Since at no point were we ever absolutely certain we'd get on a flight, we had only booked a place to stay for several days farther downstream in the trip.  That meant mission one on arrival was getting a place to stay.  We knew we were headed for Basel, so we ended up booking something on hotels.com, once we managed to get the pay buy the minute internet terminals to work in Zurich airport. We jumped on the train from Zurich to Basel,  and arrived quickly.  After a little aimless wandering, we found the check in desk for the Hotel City inn (turns out it shares a desk with the Hotel Euler which caused the wandering). It turns out that the city inn didn't actually have any rooms, so we were "forced" into a room at the nicer Hotel Euler (no charge of course).  We put on some warm gear and rushed right out to find the Christmas market, where we plunked down for the first Raclette over bread and potatoes that we encountered. Yes of course we had some gluhwein with that.  We went back to the hotel a little early, after wandering through the city for a bit we made our way back to the hotel to call it a night. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A rare school night out on the town

This week I managed to get out on Wednesday night and catch a really great band you've probably not yet heard of, The Coronas.  The operative word there is yet, because these guys are big in Ireland already and are likely to take the US by storm sooner rather than later.  Plus it didn't hurt that we are friends of friends, so despite my skepticism going in we saw them put on a really great show.    We Caught the San Francisco Leg of their current US tour where they played  the venerable Slim's, a San Francisco classic for live shows.  We also managed to find another SF staple, Crepes a Go Go, and then wandered our way across the street for one more at Bar Agricole, a place I'd be interested in going back to visit when it's nice in the city, since they have  a nice outdoor area.  We were the cool kids hanging out with the band, until I needed to catch the last train to the east bay and go to work in the morning.
The Rest of the Coronas' tour is here, when they're in your city, drop what you're doing and go see them.


17th - Doug Fir Lounge, Portland, OR
18th - The High Dive, Seattle, WA
19th - Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver B.C. Canada
22th - Blue Lamp, Sacramento, CA
23rd - Slim's, San Fransisco, CA
25th - Hotel Cafe, Los Angeles, CA
26th - The Casbah, San Diego, CA


1st - Larimer Lounge, Denver, CO
4th - Blueberry Hill, St. Louis, MO
5th - 3rd & Lindsey, Nashville, TN
6th - Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta, GA
8th - The Red Palace, Washington D.C.
10th - Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA
11th - The Craic @ Mercury Lounge, New York, NY
12th - North Star Bar, Philadelphia, PA
15th - Beachland Ballroom & Tavern, Cleveland, OH
17th - Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL

Monday, February 21, 2011

Whoa Double Post? Another Sad loss requires it

I know 2 posts in One day is insane production from me, but I am moved by the partial destruction of one of my favorite churches, the cathedral at Christchurch NZ .  The Wiki moves fast, it already has an updated pic.The Story is here, Via The Daily What 

A Cautionary Tale About Falling In Love With a Phone

On Friday, just when I was starting to lose all hope for humanity I found out about Tide for Toomer’s a site dedicated to rational thought and mutual disgust for the act that has the Toomer’s Oaks clinging to life.  Then I went to lunch, and accidentally left my phone sitting on my desk once again shattering my faith in society. Sometime during lunch I thought about my phone, and decided it would probably be fine sitting there, no big deal.  The trouble is it wasn’t there when I got back.  I figured I probably just left it someplace I’d been that morning, so I checked the only three places I’d been; the cafeteria, the bathroom, and a co workers office.  I then went to the mobile.me website to see where my phone was, good news, it was still on campus at work, and perhaps I’d left it someplace and someone picked it up.  Unfortunately it then sped up and got on the freeway.  I called my company’s security team and reported it stolen, and they seemed mostly uninterested; recommending I file a police report.  While waiting for the officer to arrive I took one more look at where the phone was.  It had stopped at a house. I snapped a screenshot and hoped for the best from the police.    It doesn’t appear that they’ll be much either, as a phone gps location is a long way from a search warrant, so I basically have nothing except the approximate location of where my phone last pinged the network Friday afternoon.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the cost of replacement were lower.  But 6 months ago when I got the phone I signed a new contract. I can pay early to “upgrade” (getting back the same phone) but it means renewing a contract with a phone company I hate, and basically locking my self out of the next upgrade when my phone undoubtedly goes through its next iteration this year. Or I can pay the no contract price, which approaches what I paid for a BCS Championship game ticket. So for now, I have no phone at all. Not cool random co-worker. Not cool at all.  Quoth the Great Philosopher Ceelo Green “I see you driving ‘round town with the phone I love and I’m like F**** you  ooo ooo ooo oooo.  I guess the phone in your pocket wasn’t enough”.  Aint that some Shhhh indeed!  Speaking of Ceelo Green; I was a fan way back in 1995 when I first heard the Goodie Mob’s Cell Therapy( I still have that CD somewhere I think).  The Hip hop station near Auburn played it all the time. If you had told me then that 15 years later one of those guys would be at the Grammys wearing a peacock suit singing a song with Gwyneth Paltrow and some muppets, I would have been very interested in what substance you’d gotten your hands on.  (Well, maybe I’d have started with who in the hell is Gwyneth Paltrow?) Back to the phone for a moment, How much cash would you leave on your desk at work?  Lesson Learned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Still playing catch up

I didn't get to tell you live about a little adventure I took because I was still working on all those Vietnam posts, but you should know about the little jaunt I took to Phoenix. My college roommate Dale and I had talked our respective significant others into letting us go to the national championship game if by some miracle Auburn managed to get in. We hashed out a plan so that as soon as the SEC championship game was in the bag Dale would get tickets. So while I was out at Rouge watching the game with a large boisterous crowd, dale was at home with 2 laptops, one for airfare, and one for tickets. We bought through stubhub.com which I was immediately a little skeptical of, but keep reading and you'll find out whether that skepticism was warranted. I flew into Phoenix in the early afternoon on Sunday about an hour before Dale got in, so I had some time to grab a beer at the
 Bar. When Dale arrived we met at the rental car counter, a long bus ride away from the terminal, but the way is well signed. I couldn't believe the amount of orange and blue at the airport. I Sat next to a few ducks on the plane, and they turned out to be some of the nicest football fans I'd encountered in life. That turned out to be story of almost all the Oregon fans I encountered. The airport started to make it feel like a home game, and you couldn't go anywhere in the greater phoenix area without finding someone who would say War Eagle to you. We checked in to the Hilton Garden Inn North Phoenix, that turned out to be a nice little place to stay, surrounded by restaurants including a red robin, and an ihop. What else could you need? I'll skip ahead to the important stuff; on Monday we arrived at the stadium pretty early, because we weren't sure where we were going to park, and we wanted to to get some food close by, and we wanted to be sure we got our stubhub pickup done without incident. So we get there and immediately find out we can just pay to park in a lot right next to all the restaurants. That was easy, no problem. Next we march up to the Moe's, where we are told we can pick up our tickets. Dale shows ID and we're instantly handed tickets. Parking and ticket pick up take exactly 15 minutes. So we decide to try to find some food next and we spend almost two hours just trying to get in the door at the Shane's Rib Shack. Filled up with food, we wanted to try to see the unofficial Tiger walk that would allegedly take place at gate 3. It didn't happen, and eventually we just tried to get in the gate. by this time you couldn't even get an AT&T signal, so checking twitter for an update on the tiger walk proved impossible. Each person got an upper body pat down and a bag check if necessary, which meant it took a long time to get into the gate. Someplace in the crush of humanity I even bumped into one of the other guys from the Northern California Auburn Alumni. When we got in, we go to get our ticket scanned only to get turned away at the door. The guy says he doesn't know why, but our tickets don't work. He gives us some Vague directions to the desk to get help and we start marching that way, kind of shell-shocked, but assuming someone there will just fix our problem and we'll go in. We come to a really long line that says it's the Auburn team will call booth, where I have dale stand, and i go look for the regular will call booth while he's waiting. That line was Really. Really Long. Eventually I find the regular will call both and find that the line is really short. The guy at the booth takes my ticket, and dissapers for a while, and when he comes back he sort of looks a little lost and has to find my ticket again, because he'd set it down. About this time he comes back and says I'm sorry sir your ticket was reported as stolen, we can't let you in and we're keeping that ticket. I didn't know whether to lay down on the ground and cry or to try to jump through the window. My worst fear had actually come true. Dale tried to call stub hub and spent about 10 minutes trying to get through their voice answering system. There was junk playing through outdoor speakers, so each time dale would try to give a voice command, it would get garbled by the stuff coming through the speakers. About the time we were resigning ourselves to go back to the hotel to watch the game so that we could actually see it, it finally dawned on me, let's go back out to the stub hub table at Moe's and see if we can plead our case. It's a pretty good sized hike back to the booth, but by the time we got there I was good and fired up. The guy takes a look at Dale's ticket that we're now fortunate we still have, and the looks on our faces and immediately goes about calming us down and ensuring us that we'll be taken care of. Of course the first thing I noticed that they had some rather imposing security packing heat, so there will be no scene created on this day. They check there computers and eventually give us tickets that were an upgrade from what we actually paid for. We were actually on the auburn side in a corner. A few rows closer than we were originally. The take home message, You should use stubhub.com because they stand by their guarantee. I promise to tell everyone I know about it. I don't have to tell you what happened at the game, but what I can tell you is that we had a perfect view of the big goal line stand, and the clinching field goal, as they both happened at our end. After the game we partied a little longer at west gate, and got back for early flights for both of us the next day. I still wake up some days and think guess what, we're still national champions. Since I'm posting this over a month late, it comes at the same time as the announcement that some jerk poisoned the old oaks in Toomer's corner. Those trees are estimated to be 130 years old, so they're part of a shared experience for all living Auburn Alumni. Apparently we had to come back down to earth sometime, it just came a lot sooner than anyone hoped. It just makes me sick to my stomach that someone thought it was ok, and called into the finebaum radio show to brag about it. Wow, this post today contains a double dose of shock and anger. Hopefully to happier things again soon.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

So Long Korea

Our last day in Korea we were catching a mid day flight, so we checked out as late as they'd let us and had them hold our bags while we went down to the underground connector to another shinsegae. There was a mall and food court leading there which made for a fun little shopping adventure. We managed to find some food at the shinsegae after much pointing and gesturing had a delicious lunch at the counter of one of the hundreds of little food seriving places. We found some of our favorite japanese cigar cookies to drag home, and continued to marvel at the awesomeness of the place. After lunch we made it back for one final G&T at the hotel bar then grabbed a taxi to the airport. The bus schedule would have put us at the airport way too early or way too close for departure, so we decided to spring for a cab. We bought lots of food thinking we might be stuck in coach, but got upgraded to first at the last possible moment. We had as good a flight as you can expect home, and I came home to a text message from my boss asking me to come in. It's a good thing I'd dressed well because I had to go straight to the office from the airport. So there you have the whole tale of our adventure. As usual, all the pictures are here.
Vietnam and Korea

Friday, February 04, 2011

Korea Day 2 a Temple and the most amazing store ever

On day 2 we were mostly exhausted from our run of super tourism, so when we eventually got out of bed and got moving we slowly made our way to the Changdeok Palace, our hearts weren't really in it. We looked around we saw the sites, but it didn't really matter. At this point we've seen a lot of asian temples and palaces and aren't easily impressed. It's not changdeok's fault, it's in a beautiful city, and it has great architecture, we're just kind of over it, or at least we were on the day that we were there. I can speak pretty highly of the takeout fare at the deli at the JW Marriott though. That was how we started with lunch, and the wine selection was really impressive. They even had some Clos Du Val, which is on the standard Napa tour that we give people who come to visit us here. We wandered about changdeok for a while, and then made our way over to the Namdaemun Market. We wandered it for quite a while eventually finding a cheap purveyor of prescription glasses where we bought me 2 new pairs, that were finished in the time it took us to shop and have a leisurely coffee. At some point we managed to aimlessly wander our way into a Shinsegea, which might be the coolest shopping experience ever. Down int the basement there's a grocery store that was at least as nice as having 2 whole foods in the basement of the building, bu they had far more interesting stuff than any store you've ever been in. It as a magical miracle wonderland of foods, prepared and raw, that just happens to be below a multi-story department store. We never even looked a the other stuff to buy, but went up to an upper floor where the restaurants were. There were so many, and they all have plastic model food, so you can see a scaled up model of what you'll eventually eat. We chose a Korean food restaurant and really, really enjoyed. Afterward we found the night market where we wandered for quite a while looking at the hundreds of makeup and skincare shops, and checking out the occasional bit of interesting street food. Late in the evening we found a little outside food place where they had a Korean pancake, so we stopped in to check it out. It was as if we were the first non Koreans to eat there, because our presence again created a little bit of a stir, but who are we not to try a pancake someplace. We made it back to the hotel once again for our customary sapphire and tonic. and crashed one more time.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Korea Day 1, Everything I know about Seoul I learned from M*A*S*H

First things first, a four hour redeye is far too short to get anywhere near enough sleep to survive on. But there we were at the Incheon airport feeling very shocked by how cold it suddenly was, and waiting for our bus. If you stay in a reasonably large hotel in Seoul, there's probably a bus that goes most of the way there, and if you stay in the JW Marriott Seoul it pulls up right out front. The bus system at the airport is really efficient with numbered buses going to many different hotels regularly, and helpful guys out front who can point you in the right direction and help load up your luggage. We got ourselves checked in and since it was still really early and our room was ready, we went down for a little nap. After waking up the Concierge was nice enough to point us to a really great restaurant walking distance from the hotel. I really wish I could tell you more about it, but it had no roman script at all in the name, and no employees that spoke English. Through a series of points and hand gestures we ended up with one of the lunch specials and only felt kind of awkward about looking kind of out of place and not knowing enough Korean to blend in a little. After lunch we went to a nearby Starbucks for some coffee and hopefully some internet, but couldn't actually get ourselves connected. We took a cab to Itaewon shopping street where we immediately worked on getting W some warmer gear to wear. At some point a guy peeks out from around a corner and says I have NFL and college stuff come look, Surprised that he had college stuff, I was at least willing to check it out and sure enough he has a replica Bo Jackson Auburn Jersey. He took us into the deep recesses to a place I'd never have gone into, and the jerseys were clearly not for everyone walking by to see. As an Alum I briefly considered that this guy was probably making a lot of green and Auburn was losing out on the revenue, but when I negotiated the price low enough, I knew the deal was too good to pass up. He was actually pretty agreeable to the price, which means I should have gone lower, but the final price for a replica jersey was a good $$30 less than a recent ebay listing. We then caught a ride on the Downtown Seoul City tour bus, and got off when it stopped at the NSeoul Tower. We hung out at the top for long enough to catch the sunset and get some great pictures, We caught what turned out to be one of the last buses of the night, because when it reached a spot downtown, it didn't continue on to the stops nearer to our hotel. There was a random Christian church service going on basically in a downtown park, and they were handing out hot coffee to people nearby, which was welcome on this cold strange night. We then decided to try to find something to eat. We found another little place you're not likely to ever see in a guidebook, up a set of stairs, where local businessmen were seated at a floor table shouting and partying. It looked like a good time. By this time we'd found the translation for what do you recommend in Korean, pointed to it and had the waitress bring us a meal of her choice, She picked extremely well. It was getting late after dinner, and we were cold and tired, but we were going to try to take a bus home. Unfortunately we couldn't figure out the bus signs at all, and wandered around for a while trying to figure out how the heck to get back to our hotel. Since I was cold and miserable, we finally decided to find some more cash, and grab a cab. The ride back to the hotel turned out to be reasonable, so we'd wandered around a lot for no reason. Oh well, we saw parts of Seoul we'd never have explored otherwise. We made it back to the hotel, and went to the bar, for a sapphire & tonic accompanied by live jazz. It was a nice way to end the evening.

Vietnam Day 11, A day to ourselves in Old Saigon

Our last day in Saigon was just a little bit of unplanned magic. We didn't have anything we needed to accomplish, so we decided to go check out the Vietnamese history museum. Here's a thing you really should know it's closed on Monday. But, if you show up at the front gate at certain times with money, you might find that a cruise ship has just dumped all its excursion passengers there. If that's the case, asking nicely will get you in the door, despite your not having looked at a calendar in the last 10 days. The museum covers early civilizations in Vietnam and has really cool stuff from the countries early history. Right next door is the zoo, and since it was less than $5/person, we decided to check it out. Cages with concrete floors are just not cool, but preservation and educating children is, so it's kind of a tough call on whether this was a good experience or not. We ended up having lunch (again) at the barbecue garden, since we'd had such a nice time the night before. We also had to make our way back to a place we'd had do a little laundry for us, since the hotel wanted some ridiculous amount per item. We thought for sure that the place we'd stayed in Danang was overcharging us, but it turns out they had the cheapest prices of the whole trip. Our flight out of Vietnam was scheduled for very late that night, so we mostly just hung out in the city for the rest of the afternoon and got ourselves ready for one more stop. Our flight to Seoul was pretty uneventful, although it was on a nicer plane than we'd come to Vietnam on.