Europe

Interesting Signs photographed along the way

As we travel between Scotland and Argentina, we thought we’d take a break from chronicling our travels and do something a little different with the blog today. As you might expect, we’ve taken thousands of photos on our trip so far. Along the way, we’ve seen some hilarious, curious and confusing signs. We wanted to share ten amusing photos that we’ve seen from New Zealand to London.

Really, really a place that serves food

We saw this marquee in Kyoto, Japan and it has since become one of my favorite photos from the trip. Hey, if you don’t know what beef is, I’m probably not going to eat at your restaurant. Every time we look at this photo, we come up with more questions than answers.

THAT's a Camera?

This unmarked sign could be found everywhere on highways and major roads throughout Asia and in parts of Europe. It wasn’t until we arrived in Scotland did another adjoining sign give us a clue on its meaning “Cameras being used to check speed.” In what century is THAT the image you use to indicate camera? Should we be on the look out for a photographer on the side of the road with his head behind a hood and holding up an old-timey flash? If you’re speeding, will he chase you down in a horseless carriage? Good Goulash, that sign is outdated.

Don't go chasing after your hat!

This one can be found at Tokyo regional rail stations. I love it because it’s such a remarkably specific sign. Although I can’t read any of the Japanese, I’m going to go ahead and translate this as “If you’re a young girl who has dropped her cute hat on the subway track, please wait for the transit worker with the long stick clamp thing to retrieve it.”

This one is just so simple its genius. Several locations in Eastern Europe have a very simple designation to let you know when you’re entering or leaving a city, area or region. It’s actually one of those things that is so basic, it took us a while to figure it out. The first sign means that you’re entering this area and the second sign means you’re leaving this area. No knowledge of the local language needed!

Aye! Breakfast!

This package in a Highlands grocery store had me in stitches because I don’t think you could put a larger, more outlandish Scottish Stereotype on a box of Oatmeal. Its like having Uncle Same bursting out a box of Rice Krispies. The only thing that’s missing is the tagline: “Before you go shot putting in the Highlands with your kilt and chiseled, model good looks, make sure you down some Oats!”

Brooke has never been so confused

Every now and then, Brooke and I revisit this photo taken at Tokyo’s SkyTree Tower. We’re like scientists reworking an experimental theorem hoping to find something we missed the first time. To this day, we still don’t know what in Godzilla’s name is happening on the front of this package. Or even what is inside the package. Odder still? We found this in a toy store.

Old City, Bucharest

Clever bar owners know how to attract attention. And in Bucharest’s Old City you have tough competition with bars that have clever names like Beer O’Clock. But this entrance to a themed bar wins the award for best bar entrance we’ve seen. No, we didn’t go in. Yes, I went ahead and looked up here skirt. No, I’m not telling you what I saw.

Well, THAT'S not the tower

Fair enough: The Military Museum in Belgrade only has a bit English on the displays, but they really got this one wrong! Not many people mistake the Arc De Triumph for the Eifel Tower! You have to look closely at this one or click to blow it up, but the caption says “Victory Parade of the German Army at the Eifel Tower.” Man, The Eifel Tower sure looked different in 1939. You can see some visitor was kind enough to pencil in the correct building name.

I roared with laughter when I read the name of this Edinburgh furniture store aloud. Who doesn’t love a good pun? But judging by the “To Let” sign, I don’t think things were “so good” for very long.

Want to end this post by showing that the amazing stuff we’ve seen outweighs our snarky nitpicky take on signs. Here is a great image I just rediscovered from the early days of our trip on a New Zealand beach outside of Raglan. This trip has been made of amazing moments from the hilariously surreal to the sublimely beautiful. I can’t wait to see what’s waiting for us in Argentina!

-Phil

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Categories: City Visits, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, New Zealand, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Rabbie’s Tour of the Highlands–Day 1

Today began our adventure to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye with Rabbie’s Trail Burners. After loading up the van, 14 excited passengers led by our driver/guide Doug, left Edinburgh to explore the vast Highlands. Much of our day was dedicated to actually getting to the Isle of Skye, though we did stop several times along the way to appreciate the scenery and take in some local sights.

When we arrived in Scotland, we knew that we wanted to see the Highlands. After all, we wouldn’t really be seeing the country without making this part of the journey. We briefly considered renting a car and driving ourselves. We did this in New Zealand, and while that was fun, it was also tiring and involved some harrowing driving in the rain (on the wrong side of the road). Worried we might be in for something similar here in Scotland, we decided to go with a guided tour instead, accepting that it would be a bit pricier. Within 30 minutes of beginning the tour, I knew we had made the right decision. Our guide, Doug, immediately started telling us stories about the history of Edinburgh as we pulled out of the city. One story I loved takes place at the Edinburgh Zoo. They have had a penguin colony since the early days of the zoo and once, over 50 years ago, the penguins accidentally got out of their enclosure. However, they didn’t run wild or get out of the park. Instead, they walked in a single file line around the park and then right back into their pen. The interesting part? They’ve been doing it every day since then. That’s right. Each day at 2:15 pm the zoo keepers open the door and the penguins commence their parade. Apparently it is quite the spectacle and an attraction for many tourists. It is these kinds of stories which Doug has been sharing with us all day. We are so filled with information and our tour has only just begun!

Aside from the fact that they are said to have awesome guides, one of the reasons we chose Rabbie’s tours is because it caps the number of participants at sixteen. This allows for more interaction among the people and also more flexibility. This flexibility proved useful when we drove past our first loch. The water looked like glass with the trees and mountains reflecting off it. Doug thought it was too beautiful to pass up, so we pulled over for a few minutes to take in the scenery and snap a few pictures. If we had been on a bus with 45 tourists, we probably wouldn’t have stopped and it certainly would have taken more than 5 minutes. We appreciate that Doug takes advantage of the small size of the group to take engage in these kinds of experiences.

As we made our way into the Highlands, Doug regaled us with stories of clans and chieftains, marriages and murders. One of the most gruesome occurred in Glen Coe when the Campbells took advantage of the kindness of the MacDonalds and killed them in cold blood while they were sleeping. Thirty-seven MacDonalds died including their chief. There are still pubs in Glen Coe today who will deny service to those with the name Campbell. Historical tales like these captivated us throughout the long drive. Doug has amassed an amazing wealth of knowledge and he is such a wonderful story teller, as so many Scots are. Not only did he entertaining us as we drove, he also played DJ by sharing music from Scottish artists both old and new. I think the more scenic the landscape, the more traditional the music became. This was fine by me. What could be more perfect than driving through the Highlands, gazing at the mountains, glens and lochs, and hearing the Scottish pipes playing on the radio? Absolutely wonderful.

We made several stops for photos, but the main attraction we visited before arriving in Portree, on the Isle of Skye, was Eilean Donan Castle. This much loved, photographed and filmed castle is set on the side of a Loch Duich at the base of a mountain. It couldn’t be more picturesque and it could have been really awesome. If it was the original castle. Which it isn’t. The original one was destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1745. The one which stands in its place is a recreation from the 1920’s. Still very cool. All based on the original plans. But honestly, seeing modern wedding photos and decorations was a bit of a letdown. In fact, part of the castle is still kept by the McRae family for private apartments where they take vacations. It’s no wonder this picturesque castle has been used in films such as Highlander, James Bond and Brave (in animated form). It is in such great shape because it isn’t actually very old!

After the castle, we drove toward Portree. With a population of 5,000, it is the largest town on the Isle of Skye whose total population is approximately 10,000. Still, this is by no means a large town. We managed to walk around and check it out in about 10 minutes. Of course our walk was made quicker because it was after 6pm therefore everything was closed. After all, it is Saturday night. God forbid something should be open until 8pm. We managed to scrounge up some fish and chips for dinner before heading back to our hostel for the night. We are exhausted. Even though we weren’t traipsing around all day, like we will be tomorrow, the drive was a bit mentally exhausting. Doug has shared so much history and many great stories. I’m grateful Phil and I have each other to help us remember it all…well, at least most of it!

–Brooke

In front of Eilean Donan Castle. See, we bought jackets!

The views are just stunning! We won’t be hurting for beautiful pictures over the next couple of days.

In front of the foothills near Glen Coe.

Our transportation for the next few days. Pretty stylish, right?

Categories: Driving Abroad, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Meeting literary ghosts in Edinburgh Pubs

It is hard to believe that the calendar today reads October 20th. I’m somewhat amazed because that must mean that Brooke I have now been traveling from the middle of summer to the middle of fall and now we’re knee deep in Scotland. I’ve said it before, but it bares repeating – this has been one hell of a trip. The day often concludes with so many reflections, reactions and impressions that it usually ends up being way too much for a single blog post. I’m left instead with copious notes scribbled on pieces of paper stuffed in my pocket, and later, in my suitcase. However, as long as I continue to find myself in interesting places learning interesting things, I think there is room to share a bit of what I picked up. During an unintended wayward bus ride today we learned that the popular American clothing store TJ Maxx is called TK Maxx in the United Kingdom. We learned today that the Scottish menu items “Neeps” are turnips. While looking at old gramophones during a visit to the National Museum of Scotland we learned that the name of music provider “HMV”stands for “His Master’s Voice” – an allusion to the image of the loyal puppy with his head in the record player speaker. And we learned on an exceptional Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour, that the correct pronunciation of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic is “Jeek-yl” and Hyde.

Our time in Edinburgh continues to treat us well. We’re enjoying each day, despite the fact that we’ve still got gray skies as far as the eye can see. The sun glasses we packed are as useless as a coffee pot made of chocolate, but not much to do about that other than to resolve never to actually move here. Even the realistic locals won’t offer any encouragement about the forecast. (“But it’s really nice here in August, right?” “No, it still rains an ungodly amount.”) The real talk of the town isn’t the weather, but the upcoming 2014 referendum vote for true Scottish independence from the UK. That should make for a couple of interesting years. We love the walkability of Edinburgh and had a chance to stretch our legs all over town today. In preparation for the forthcoming cold of the Highlands and adding a whole new dimension to my wardrobe, we both bought used jackets and I purchased a pair of jeans from a used-clothing charity store. Jeans! Sweet Gravy on a platter, denim pants! I had packed none for the trip and now they feel…hmm…heavenly is not the right word, but it will do. A long journey like this has a way of making you feel a bit run down sometimes, but in the last three days I’ve gotten an overdue haircut, laundered all of my clothes and now some snazzy new (to me) wares. It really, really makes a difference in how you feel.

Check out stylish Brooke- new jacket and all!

After shopping, self-guided sight seeing and some delicious lunchtime pies (one with steak and gravy, the other with meat and onion), we took a quick spin through the National Museum of Scotland. We went partially because it looked interesting and partially because, well, it was free. The museum is giant and packed with well curated displays.  It also offers a surprising number of dining options. But at this point, with the sheer number of museums we’ve seen since New Zealand, our bar to be impressed has been raised quite high. We definitely liked what we saw especially concerning the Scottish history over the last 400 years. Although it is a bit embarrassing to visit the museum’s Scottish Sports Hall of Fame, celebrating 50 native athletes and their achievement in the fields of boxing, rowing, football, racing, golf and more, and find you’re familiar with approximately zero of the names. Not a one. After traipsing around the museum for a while, fatigue gave in and we headed back to the apartment. Well, that was the plan. Unfortunately, it was remarkably easy to confuse bus #49 with bus #42 and we received an unintended tour of greater Edinburgh. Not a bad thing, actually. It’s kind of fun getting safely lost when you’ve got no where to be and there is no additional cost (we were on a day-long bus pass). Plus, it is no where near the first time we’ve gotten on the wrong bus. With a little patience and time, two must-have qualities on a trip like this, Brooke and I always manage to end up where we need to be.

I would kill for this to be my nieghborhood barBut the peak of our day came just after 7:30 PM when we started our journey on the Edinburgh Literary Pub Tour. While we didn’t know exactly what to expect, what came next exceeded any possible expectations! Part historical tour, part pub crawl and part performance art, this was a lively, informative and colorful way to spend a few hours in Edinburgh. And this is the perfect city for such a tour – with so many bars that date back 300 and 400 years, there is bound to be some amazing stories just waiting to be told. We made stops all across town at the Beehive, The Jolly Judge, Ensign Ewart and Kennilworth. We were entertained by stories and history on Scottish greats such as Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Byrnes and more. We heard some sensational tales like the one of craftsman Deacon Brody who built the gallows that would later be used to hang him. Being sucked into the middle of all this history with a Guinness in my hand, there was no where else on Earth I wanted to be. We want to rave about this tour to the far corners of the globe. It’s a must for anyone who enjoys literature, compelling local history, bars and/or beer! If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with Simon and Dewi as your hosts and guides.

Tomorrow, we’re taking off on a three day tour with the much beloved Rabbie’s Trail Burners. One nice thing about having so much time in one country is that we can venture away from the big cities and into the countryside.  We are both looking forward to visiting the famed and romanticized Highlands and getting away from the hustle of city life for a while.

-Phil

Hanging at Edinburgh Castle

A look at the stone streets of Edinburgh

Categories: Beer, Europe, Exploring, Reflections, Scotland, Self Guided Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Sun Shines on Edinburgh

After a rainy arrival in Edinburgh yesterday, we were happy to see the sun shining bright this morning.  Sure, there were clouds looming in the distance–this is Scotland in October, after all.  Now that we are seeing it by the light of day, it is clear how different Edinburgh is from Glasgow.  It immediately feels older, more preserved and more traditional.  It also has beautiful views at every turn.  One minute we find ourselves peering over a bridge down to a beautiful park, the next we are staring up to hills lined with Gothic style buildings.  Wanting to take full advantage of this sunny-ish day, we made a list full of possible things to do and decided to start where any visit to this city should:  Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle is impossible to miss.  It sits upon the highest point in the city, rising high for all to see.  Although we were told this is a “can’t miss” attraction, we were a bit turned off by the steep admission price of £14.50 per person.  That price makes it one of the most expensive attraction in town, and we questioned if this was the best use of our time and money.  After a little more research, we decided it was worth it and climbed the steep hill toward the entrance gate.  Visually striking, this castle is a labyrinth of twisting, turning cobblestone streets.  Upon entrance, we learned a short guided tour is included in the price of admission.  Already feeling the ticket was paying for itself, we stuck around to meet Gavin, an awesome and charismatic tour guide who gave us the basics of the castle grounds.  First covering the age of the castle, and the many different iterations it has gone through over the years, Gavin regaled us with stories of Scottish history as though he were performing a well-rehearsed play.  He took jabs at the British in all the appropriate places and spent a good five minutes railing Mel Gibson for his portrayal of William Wallace in Braveheart.  Actually, he landbasted almost every fact about this film including the title character.  Braveheart is actually the name given to Robert the Bruce, not William Wallace.  His passionate stance against the film is more a symptom of his love for Scottish history than his hatred of Mel Gibson (thought it’s a close call).  As we toured the castle grounds with Gavin, he explained that the castle is still used as a military base today.  Besides the few buildings still in use by the military, most of the remainder of the grounds have been turned into museum exhibits.  We visited the National War Museum, the Prisons of War exhibit, and the Honours of Scotland.  In this last exhibit, we viewed the history of the Scottish crown jewels–the sword, the scepter and the crown.  These are the oldest crown jewels in Europe and they sit beside the Stone of Destiny.  This stone has been used for centuries as the seat of the incoming king or queen at the moment of coronation.  It was stolen from Scotland over 700 years ago by the British and not returned until 1996.  Gavin is still a wee bit upset about this!

One of the highlights of the Edinburgh Castle was watching the One O’Clock Gun.  A tradition reaching back hundreds of years, the one o’clock time signal used to be done with a flag being hoisted in the air and then dropping exactly at one in the afternoon.  This helped railroad workers and ship’s captains to keep their times accurate before clocks were what they are today.  However, the weather in Edinburgh is not known for always being crystal clear and it wasn’t always possible for people to see the flag.  They incorporated the firing of a gun so the signal would be clear, even when the weather was bad.  Though no longer needed, the tradition continues every day at 1pm. Perched at the castle wall, a soldier comes out, loads the gun and fires off into the distance.  Surprisingly, there are a number of places around the world who still continue this tradition, including Ft. Henry in the United States.  One of the best parts of watching the gun fire is the gorgeous view from the spot where the gun sits.  We could see across the entire city, to the Firth of Forth and over to the island of Fife.  We were grateful it was a clear day.  Before we left the castle grounds, we made sure to head to St. Margaret’s Chapel, not only the oldest building on the grounds, but also the oldest in Edinburgh.  It was probably built around 1130 and it takes approximately 30 seconds to soak in the entire space.  Still, it was worth stopping in.  All in all, Edinburgh Castle was expensive, but worth the price of admission.  The guided tour was really wonderful, and we both feel like we have learned so much more about Scottish National History in this one visit than we did during our entire time in Glasgow.

It was a lot of this. Highland soldiers and royalty. Over and over again.

Continuing our bit of Scottish History, we visited the National Portrait Gallery.  This free museum is filled with portraits and sculptures of all the famous folks of Scotland, from Bonnie Prince Charlie to Sean Connery.  Unfortunately, the galleries holding portraits of modern members of Scottish culture were closed to prepare for an upcoming exhibit.  So, we walked around viewing portrait after portrait of James the VI, James the VII, James Edward Stuart–there were lots of James’.  We both enjoy portraits, but after a while they all started running together and we were just about done with visiting museums.

With a sprinkle beginning to fall, we decided it was time to head to the grocery store.  It was finally time to take advantage of our wonderful Air BnB home and cook dinner for ourselves.  I can’t express the comfort we both felt in cruising the aisles of the grocery store for ingredients.  Our hostess is away for the duration of our stay, so we have her apartment to ourselves.  I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it almost felt like being at home tonight.  A fire burning in the fireplace and rain falling outside, we warmed up by cooking a familiar dish, drinking a bottle of wine and watching my favorite Masterpiece Mystery series, Inspector Lewis. Neither of us has been homesick much on our trip, but this evening made us both long for the comforts of home.  We’ve already decided to cook tomorrow night, too, before heading out on a Literary Pub Tour.  We are really looking forward to it.  Cross your fingers that the rain stays at bay again tomorrow!

–Brooke

Yep, we’re in Scotland!

A view of Edinburgh and out to the Firth of Forth.

Phil meets a bagpiper.

Gorgeous views from the castle walls.

Categories: Budget, castles, City Visits, Destinations, Europe, Homesick, Landmarks, Museums, Relaxing, Scotland, Tours, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Glasgow, Scotland

GlasgowWhen we told people we would be heading to Glasgow, almost all of them asked, “Will you got to Edinburgh?”  Time after time people told us there isn’t much to do in Glasgow and we shouldn’t spend too much time here.  After spending the day exploring this city, we are so chock-full of things we want to do that we are considering extending our stay one more day.  Filled with great food and culture, Glasgow appears to be a wonderful city with tons for us to see and do.

We began our day the way anyone should while in Scotland–with a traditional breakfast. Pulled in by the sign that said “Scottish Breakfast £2.99”, we sat down in Wetherspoons.  I went for the breakfast wrap, but Phil is in full Scottish mode and ordered the Traditional Breakfast.  When his plate came, it was a feast of all things protein:  fried egg, fried sausage, bacon, and beans on toast.  Figuring this to be the perfect way to start our day in Scotland, we cleared our plates and then headed into the city.

As you have seen if you’ve read other blog posts, we really enjoy the Hop-on/Hop-off City Sightseeing bus tours.  Doing this upon arrival to a new city really helps to understand the layout and what it has to offer.  In the past, we have always had the pre-recorded tours.  This allows for greater flexibility as the tours can be given in several different languages.  This company also has that option, but the bus we got on had a live tour guide.  It didn’t take us long to realize how much better a live tour is than a pre-recorded one.  Having grown up in Glasgow, this gentleman could speak to the way things were when he was a boy compared to today.  He kept us updated on current events regarding construction projects and city news.  Most importantly, he was much more entertaining than a recording.  His dry sense of humor had us questioning a few times whether he was joking or not.  On the tour, we explored the city’s centre, west end and river front.  We were unaware of Glasgow’s rich ship building history and learned that the town still engages in this trade today.

After the tour, we stopped for a warm bowl of soup to warm us up because let me tell you–it is cold here.  Maybe 45 degrees today, everyone seemed cheered that at least the sun was shining.  Our tour guide joked that we were all baking in the hot sun at the top of the bus and added that maybe the sun would come out again in another 3 years.  In fact, all day we heard joke after joke about the gray, rainy, cold weather which is commonplace here.  We realize we might be very lucky to be graced by sunshine today and we should enjoy it while we can. (The weather for the rest of the week looks like a lot of rain.)  Once sufficiently warmed by some sweet corn chowder, we ventured back into the cold only briefly to head to the City Chambers, the headquarters of Glasgow’s City Council.  This beautiful old building is situated in the center of the city, just off George Square.  When we heard they offered free tours of the interior, we figured it would be a great way to learn a little bit more about the city’s history.  The building was completed in 1888 and is a display of decadence and wealth.  It has two staircases, the white and the black, so named for the material which was used in building them.  In days of old, only the wealthy nobility and royals were allowed to use the white marble staircase.  The other was reserved for servants and working class visitors. On our tour we visited the banquet hall, the council chamber and the art gallery, where each Lord Provost throughout history has a portrait hanging.  All in all, our tour was really interesting and a good start in helping us to understand the Scottish brogue (I swear, sometimes it sounds like a totally foreign language).

After switching our luggage from our previous night’s hotel to our new Air BnB stay, we went looking for our first pint of the day.  We discovered The Grove, an old man bar if ever there was one.  With horse racing on the TV screen and talk of the Scotland v. Belgium football game tomorrow, it was a great place for a drink.  Phil opted for a Guinness while I tried a Belhaven, all for a mere £5.  At this price, I imagine we’ll be back here again tomorrow! From here, we went to a place called Neighborhood Bar to take advantage of their 2-for-1 deal on dinner.  Then, we headed to the famed King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut for some live music.  We haven’t really caught too many live shows on the trip yet, and King Tut’s is known for having all kinds of different bands each night of the week. (Their claim to fame is being the bar where Oasis was discovered.)  The lineup tonight consisted of bands we have never heard of, but that is half the fun of going to a show like this anyway.  The first act, Jonny Jack, was a young rock band.  Well rehearsed, they played together tightly, but their music wasn’t terribly original.  The lead singer’s voice reminded us of Rob Thomas from his Matchbox 20 days.  Next was a solo artist named Luke Sital-Singh, who played slow, sad songs on his guitar that would have been perfect if we were terribly depressed.  His voice was great, but the songs started to all sound the same after a while.  The headlining act, Fossil Collective, seems to have been around a while since they definitely had some regular fans there to catch the show.  Following the footsteps of many other modern bands, they have a multi-vocal, full harmonic sound along with their many guitars.  They sound a bit similar to Grizzly Bear with a voice like My Morning Jacket.

But the gem of the night was Cherry Grove.  We knew we were in for a treat when they began setting up their stage.  Instruments include your basic keyboard and guitar, but then they also had a violin, harp and accordion.  These incredibly talented musicians played a great set.  Sometimes with vocals, sometimes only instruments, they modernized traditional music and instruments in a creative and innovative way.  They seemed to genuinely have fun on stage, and you got the sense that they probably all met at a music conservatory because they have mastered their instruments.  They were releasing their first EP tonight, and it was clear to see that much of the audience came to see them.  The show would have been worth it even if Cherry Grove was the only band we saw.

King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut has a midnight curfew to respect their neighbors, so once the bands were done we walked home, huddled together to keep warm.  We are so pleased with our first day in Glasgow and we can’t wait for all that we have in store for tomorrow.  We will do a nice variety of museums, exploration, and sport.  As long as we don’t freeze first!

–Brooke

Beautiful view of the Clyde River.

Phil in the City Chambers.

Brooke always wants to be in charge.

One Lord Provost chose to have his portrait done by an artist with a very unique style. It is very intriguing.

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Eating, Europe, Exploring, Landmarks, Music, Scotland, Tours | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

In Munich, we Bought a BMW…

We wish!…tour. A BMW tour.  You thought we bought a car?  Not even close, but more about that later!  For now, here we are in Munich, Germany and in some ways it is exactly what we expected–stores filled with lederhosen, BMWs cruising the streets, beer and sausages everywhere you turn.  We even met some really cool guys from a German TV show.  Weird, but cool.  Really, what more could a girl ask for?  Sure, we are in Munich one week after the end of its famous Oktoberfest, but it doesn’t matter.  This is still a great city with lots for first time visitors like us to see and do.

These asked us questionsWe got here before dawn yesterday, tired but ready to explore this new city.  After storing our luggage (thank goodness for these services at every train station we’ve been to), we decided to walk toward the Deutches Museum.  We’ve met several people who highly recommended this science and technology museum, so it seemed like a great way to spend our time while we waited to check into our room.  This giant museum spans five floors and covers everything from microelectronics to aeronautics and the history of sailing in Germany.  We especially loved seeing the cross section of an airplane which shows us just how little space is taken up by passengers and how much room there is for cargo.  We also found the ethical questions regarding genetic testing really interesting–this was partly due to the creepy yet intriguing faces speaking to us from the wall.  After pressing a button, they told of their dilemmas regarding genetic testing and then we voted if we agreed or disagreed with the choice.  It was interesting to see how our opinion compared to others who had taken the survey before.  While there were many exhibits that were interactive and innovative, the longer we were there, the sleepier I got.  I found my eyelids getting very heavy as I read the information below each exhibit.  While Phil wandered around in fascination, I kept looking for benches where I could rest my very weary body.  At this point I realized I didn’t get quite as much sleep on the train as I imagined, and I needed to rest.  At my request, we left the museum earlier than planned and checked into our room.

We didn’t order this monstrosity! It belonged to the man next to us and he actually ate the entire thing (plus a salad beforehand).

After a lovely, and very much needed nap, we ventured out for a late dinner.  Excited that we are in Germany and it is finally acceptable to have a hamburger again, we chose Burger House based on the extremely positive reviews on TripAdvisor. This was our first foray onto the Munich public transportation system and after our ticket debacle in Budapest, we weren’t taking any chances.  Like good citizens, we bought out tickets and validated them.  We would not be burned again.  It is a good thing we did all this because as soon as we got on the train a group of ticket control agents boarded and started checking tickets.  Exhilaration rushed through us.  We were pretty sure we did all that we needed to do, but it was our first time and we couldn’t be positive.  When they checked our tickets, I wanted to shout, “Yeah, just try to say something to me!”  They nodded and moved on.  Never again will we be caught without the right ticket!

Our good mood continued when we finally found Burger House.  As soon as we walked in we were surrounded by the sights and sounds of an awesome restaurant.  Not too big, maybe 12 tables in all, people drank beer and ate their food looking truly happy to be there.  We were barely able to snag a seat at the bar, just eeking in before their 10pm closing time which seems early to us.  I’m so glad we made it because this was easily the best burger we’ve had since we left New York.  It is amazing what can happen when simple, fresh ingredients are prepared well.  The man next to us ordered the Triple Classic Burger and actually finished it.  Quite a feat.  The burger, coupled with our first taste of delicious German beer, made for the perfect first dinner in Munich.

Customers wait on the stairs to go down to their brand new BMW. What a thrill!

This morning we woke up refreshed and ready to tackle the city head on.  We tried to get tickets for a tour of the BMW plant, but they require 3 weeks notice.  We didn’t even know we would be in Munich as of 3 weeks ago, so we figured we would just check out the museum and the BMW Welt.  Phil has great nostalgia for BMW and today’s visit has only made it worse.  Now I’m worried he’s going to go back to the U.S. and buy and old 3-Series.  The BMW Welt is basically a giant showroom with current BMW and Rolls Royce (also part of BMW Motor Group) models.  Admittedly, it was fun walking around and dreaming about which car we would buy.  Even though they weren’t on display (and aren’t what most people think of when they think BMW), I think I’d go with a Mini-Cooper.  They are so cute.  I know I would look awesome cruising around in a red one.  Before heading to the museum, we checked to see if there were any last minute openings on the tour and lucky for us, there were!  We took a guided tour of the museum, the plant and the welt.  This tour is incredibly comprehensive and is something we would definitely recommend to anyone visiting Munich.  The museum is modern and shows the long history of BMW, from its days of making aircraft engines to making high performance cars and motorbikes.  It would have been a great visit all on its own, but in addition we visited the plant.  Here in Munich, they only make the 3-series and we got to see many steps of the process.  From welding the body parts together, placing the body on the drive shaft and the process of painting the body, we saw so much more than we did when we visited the Mazda plant in Japan.  In some ways, this was almost too much information and we were begging for a break or at least a stop at the restroom.  When we didn’t get that, we figured we’d hang in through the last part, which was the welt.  We weren’t expecting much, since we had already looked around earlier.  What we didn’t see before was the floor upstairs where customers come to pick up their brand new BMW.  Each day people come here and are greeted with the car they have been waiting for.  They come down a giant staircase and their car is spinning platform waiting for them.  After having their photo snapped by a professional, they jump inside and learn the ins and outs of their new vehicle.  It was really neat to watch.  One car was even waiting with a big red bow.  It took me a while to believe that this present wasn’t destined for me.  What a great surprise that would have been.

Upon leaving the BMW tour, the cold October rain began to settle in.  We decided to take a break from being tourists and head back to the apartment where we are staying.  We did manage to head back out for an awesome dinner at a local brewery, but we will tell you all about that tomorrow.  Until then, go out and have a delicious German beer and some knockwurst and think of us here in Munich.

–Brooke

A store selling primarily stylish lederhosen. Is this in fashion? We aren’t sure.

Excuse me, could we please have a bigger bottle of mayonnaise? This won’t be enough.

On the subway, the rider has to open the door using the handle or else it won’t open at all. Very old fashioned!

A clay model at the BMW museum. Designers still use this technique to create new cars.

Phil’s new best friend? A water spout statue at Marienplatz

Categories: Bars, Beer, City Visits, Destinations, Diversions, Driving, Europe, Trains, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Delightful Dubrovnik

Croatian BeautyHello from Dubrovnik, Croatia! Our traveling crew has temporarily expanded to four once again. Brooke and I were joined by our good friend Jack from NYC and his buddy Jon. Both have been traveling in Turkey for the last 10 days and we had planned in advance a rendezvous in Croatia. And now we find ourselves soaking up Dubrovnik. This seaside town is packed so full of amazing beauties that I’m really at a loss of where to begin today. From walking over the ancient city walls to enjoying beers at a bar directly on the Adriatic to watching the sunset from the top of Mt. Srd, this gem of a place is simply sensational. In the short time we’ve been here so far, we’ve chalked up a number of incredible experiences. I know that this may sound like I’m being glib or just plain lazy, but words and photos can’t really do this place justice. To say that we have been swept off our feet by this city is an understatement.

After visiting a variety of European capitals from Bucharest to Budapest over the last few weeks, Dubrovnik was a departure for the size and scene of the town alone. But we didn’t fully know what we were getting into before arriving. I’ve never quite seen a place like Dubrovnik before in the sense that you have a small range of tall mountains which just roll almost right down into the sea. Along the way, the sloping hills are dotted with houses and roads. And at the bottom of these hills, beaches and harbors spit out directly into a bay dotted with islands. This area has geography that is unique and striking.

Delightful DubrovnikBut the real highlight is the historic, walled old city that sits directly between the foot of the mountains and the coast of the sea. We’re not talking some random, partial ruins of walls from an era past. No, this is a compact city of hundreds of building surrounded by a massive intact wall. The impact of it all is amazing. The old city makes for the perfect setting for a slow amble through the pedestrian only, marble streets allowing us to gawk and stare at each new storefront, set of stairs or building entrance. It would also make the perfect setting for the ultimate game of hide and seek, capture the flag or even paintball (if you don’t mind ruining the beautiful, clean walls). More accurately, the low roofs, sloping tiles and endless stairs are the perfect playground for cats. Which neatly explains the number of stray cats at every turn. We’re pretty sure that one cat made its way to Zagreb years ago and started saying to other feline friends, “Dude, you have got to check out this place down the coast.” Hey, better stray cats than stray dogs.

Old City, and the rest of the area, is apparently an incredibly popular vacation destination although it seems to be off the radar for many Americans like Brooke and me. The town does tend to get swallowed by cruise ship passengers during the mid-morning and afternoons. A waiter told us that a couple of years ago, Dubrovnik had a day in which nine cruise ships were docked at once. Apparently, the increasing number of visitors has caused some issues, but there seems to be plenty of bars, restaurants,shops, museums and room enough for all. However, given the sometime geriatric nature of cruise passengers, the endless steps scattered throughout the city could pose a challenge for anyone who can’t hang with hiking up 100-200 steps in a given afternoon.

Walking along the best part of DubrovnikAmong the “can’t miss” activities is forking over a few Croatian kuna to walk the entire circumference of the outside city wall that towers above the rest of the city center. It took the four of us a couple of hours to walk all the way around as we made sure to check out every nook and cranny along the way. The one-way walk around the wall, turrets and towers easily makes our list of one of the most beautiful sights on the trip so far. Talk about meeting and exceeding all expectations. Each new turn or set of stairs gave us another view and another angle to snap some photos (our cameras have gotten a lot of work over the last couple of days). Parts of the walls were built as far back as the 15th century but more recently the walls took a pounding during the Croatian War for Independence in the early 90’s. What’s even more remarkable is that while the old city endured three months of bombing virtually all of the damage has been replaced or repaired. In fact, our visit coincided with Croatia’s Independence Day (the same day as America’s Columbus Day), but aside from the sound of a distant marching band and some closed shops, you really would not have known today was a national holiday.

Sign found in the Old City leading us to the perfect barI’m not one for hyperbole or exaggeration, and maybe it’s the insanely perfect weather or full days, but I’m pretty sure that Dubrovnik is a strong contender for  being the most scenic, beautiful and awe-inspiring place  I’ve ever visited. Brooke would agree. Today was an excellent reminder of why we took this trip in the first place. Sometimes it’s all about trying your best to do what you want to be doing with your life. Who knows? You might find yourself at the perfect back drinking on the Adriatic.

-Phil

This is Happiness

Sights like this are common! Easy to spend hours just meandering and getting lost in old city.

Phil hanging out in Old City

Hands down, a bar with one of the most beautiful views in the world

The narrow streets behind the walls of Old City

Categories: Bars, City Visits, Croatia, Europe, Friends, Self Guided Tours, Surprises, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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