Weekend in the Alps

Yep, this weekend several of us headed out to Liechtenstein and nearby countries. It was a amazing. Orginally we planned to leave Friday, but that didn’t work out. So Saturday morning I picked up a rental car (being the only person here old enough to do so).

We scored! I had reserved a 4 door VolksWagon Golf, but the guy handed me keys to a nearly new BMW 320i ! No extra charge. It was a beautiful car with leather everything including dash. Very comfortable, powerful, and almost most importantly it has Navigation!

Our first view. It turned out to be a blast to drive, as you can imagine, but that wasn’t the end of our luck. Oh, no.

Well, we headed south towards Zurich first. Why not? It’s only about an hour out of the way and none of us had been there before. By us I mean, Thomas from Michigan, Eric from Minnisota, and Kasia from Poznan, Poland. Thomas and I were going anyway, but the two of them were great company.

Of course I had to take the AutoBahn to get there. Man, that’s nice… not worrying about speeding tickets! I’ve paid too many already in my short life. Plus at high speeds the car felt and sounded like we weren’t even moving. Now I know why they cost so much.

Here is the Swiss border.

The Swiss roads are smaller and curvier than our part of Southern Germany, so it was slower going. Finally we arrived in Zurich. We found the highest spot possible (downtown traffic was impossible) and had a picnic. Plus where we ended up there was a sort of garage sale for a church or something, and I bought a few books (my first purchase in Swiss Franks). One was Pinnochio in German, another was fairy tales, SCORE. That’s going to help me learn a lot of German reading those.

We didn’t see much of Zurich; actually while driving in the traffic I wasn’t able to take many pictures, but you can find some on Google or something. Here are a few

Anyway, after lunch we headed to LStein and finally arrived in the real Alps. They are beautiful, let me tell you. Only the Rockies in Colorado compare. Here you can see a little.

LStein was amazing but small. We could see the whole country in 2 days, and did. There are a couple churches, museums and castles. They were all great.

Anyway our luck wasn’t over. That night we looked for a hostel and pulled into a Holiday Inn parking lot. Asking a gentleman outside if a hostel was nearby he told us to come in and see what it cost inside. Well, any hotel in Germany isn’t cheap (We were actually in Austria by that time) but this was very expensive. 120 Euro per night! Well, the man talked to the clerk and after a few attempts finally made us a deal we couldn’t refuse! We ended up paying 1/2 of the employee price! Turns out this man was the regional manager, and I’m not sure why but he gave us a sweet deal. Not knowing that yet, we thanked him profusely. What a great experience. That’s not likely to happen again. In all we paid 20 Euros each for a fantastic hotel with pool, sauna, and much more.

Here’s the view from the window. That night we ate in an authentic Austrian Castle!
The next day we took the opportunity to see the muesum of LStein. What a great idea; everyone should do so.

Well, I’m out of time, but think about me, We’re leaving for Portugal in about 10 minutes.

Enjoy all the photos here

Travelling

Today I head out to Portugal.  Should be fun; I’ll be there 5 days with some friends from Chile and Argentina.  They are going to stay a full 7.
This group hasn’t travelled in the past, so it will be interesting to see how we meld.  Of course we hang out all the time.  Funny thing is just Sunday I got back from Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Austria.  We rented a car and drove down there for the weekend.  4 countries in a 3 hour drive.  Only in Europe!

I might try to post while I’m there and will have pictures up ASAP.

Have fun while I’m gone.

Thanksgiving in Germany

It turned out well. There were enough Americans here to have a big feast, and we did. Plus people from Australia, Sweden, and more. It turned into a potluck where nearly everyone brought something, and we had enough food.

Wednesday night Thomas one of the Michigan guys and I baked some pumpkin pies from a pumpkin I had stolen. It took about 4 hours, but as everyone knows it’s worth it! Man I really love pumpkin pie. I probably wouldn’t have been motivated except for the potluck and Thomas’ insisting. One thing though is bring pie pans with you to Europe if you ever want to bake while you’re here. Germans and I think most others don’t know what pies are.

YUMMY!

So, my neighbor, James, from Ohio invited everyone over. He made a turkey and the gravy. Myself and others brought potatoes, corn, salads and plenty of wine. I think there was more than 1 bottle per person, 16 of us in total, and we finished it all!

It was nice; I was able to to celebrate Thanksgiving with people I care about. Of course I wasn’t home, or at my grandmother’s rather. It was the first time in my life not there. She missed me as much as I her. We were able to talk however. Everything is fine and my family is well I am glad to say.

I picture of us before dinner and before everyone arrived. All of the Americans are there though.

Left to Right: Johann SW, Gerald Canada, Thomas Michigan, Eric Minnesota, Me, James Ohio at the head, a Swedish girl I don’t know, DJ and Daisy from Connecticut, Nick from St. Louis. Actually another girl from the US came later, and she’s not in this picture.
Here are all the photos It starts in the middle because my camera counter rolled over again.

Fun for all!

I wish I were superstitious

I wish I were superstitious because then I could live life without having to figure things out. I could follow ‘signs’ rather than make decisions. It would be beautiful; and when something went wrong I could blame fate rather than myself. Things would be a whole lot simplier.

Anyone around here superstitious or have some superstitions?

I have one actually. When I have a fortune cookie from a Chinese restaurant I always eat the cookie and wash it down with water before reading what was inside. Too late to change that now. Well, there’s another: if you are on an escalator with your significant other it is bad luck not to kiss. It must be done every time you get on and for extra good luck once more before you get off.

I’ve tried making up others, but it’s really just silliness that discracts me.

Exkursion in Heidelberg

Yesterday would have been amazing. Heidelberg is a wonderful place; quite beautiful and full of charm. Only a couple things would take away from that. Firstly I was going on about 4 hours sleep. We had stayed up dancing til about 4AM and the bus left at 8! The other thing, more trouble in truth was the barely above freezing rain and wind we had.

Other than that, I would go back anytime. Actually, from what I heard anyway, Heidelberg is more often the warmest town in Germany due to a break in the Alps that allows warm air to pass from the Mediterranean.

We spent most of the day in “Oldtown” where the historical places are. The main attraction is the 14th Century Castle there, now nearly all ruins. It is quite a cool sight set up there in the hills. The town started with the Romans who built roads there from Rome to northern Germany (remember the break in the mountains). And a crossroad from Paris to Prague. Commerce came there over 1200 years later when a stone bridge, still standing, was constructed. The tolls made the local prince rich.

Later, around the 17th century, if I recall correctly, a French king married to a princess from Heidelberg tried to take over the city (which is not far from the current French-German border) after her father and brother died just 5 years apart. She was the sole living heir to the throne. When the citizens fought back he burned the entire city with exception of one house. The castle was destroyed except for the facades. Since then the town has been rebuilt but mostly in the Baroque style of that time.

The streets are very narrow, one famous attribute of the city and are still paved with cobblestone. Around 1920 several famous Americans: 2 I can remember Rockefeller and Chrysler; donated money to have a university built there and make the city nicer. Of course a few years later war destroyed most of Germany, but those famous Americans had enough influence to keep Heidelberg from being destroyed. That reason alone was enough, but back then the city had no notable industry helping the war effort anyway.

So, It’s a really cool place. Let’s look at some pictures.

First thing you see are the hills and River

And then you see the small cobblestone streets and old buildings

And then the castle, in all it’s glory

We took a tram up the hill and walked with the tour guide to the castle.

The view from up there was amazing.

and more castle

It still had the Renaissance style from when it was built

Inside was the largest wine barrel in the world. It was never used for such, but several times the dance floor built on top was supplied with music from inside! Its capacity is over 200,000 liters

Then we went back down the hill to look over the river. Quite fun except for the cold, wet, wind.

One thing interesting on the way was a small apartment downtown. In that apartment was born a poor boy of 13 about the year 1900. His father was a laborer and could only afford this small 3 room place for his entire family. During that time Germany still had an “Emperor” or King. Well, after the 1st World War Germany changed to a democracy and this poor boy became the first President of Germany. It can happen!

And the bridge

And a great view of the castle.

Here’s one of me on the bridge and one of the guardian Baboon that dis swayed enemies from crossing

After that was lunch, a very well appreciated, warm, dry lunch. We then took a tour of a wonderful museum containing all things from Heidelberg. It went all the way back 600,000 years to the jawbone of the first prehistoric “man” found in Europe. We weren’t allowed to take photos in the museum.

I spent most of the afternoon with Aileen, I hope that’s how you spell her name, from Argentina. She’s learning English and I Spanish. Our conversations would be interesting for an outsider to listen to.

Before heading home on the bus Aileen and I stopped at the Vetter bar in town famous for having the world’s strongest beer 33%. It wasn’t bad although a lot sweeter than I thought it would be.

link1 link2 for references

The day really was a great day even with the rain and all 😀

I almost forgot, most of the pictures are posted, but the link is here for all of them.

So there I was: at the Grand Canyon.

I’d only been there a few minutes when I met up with another biker Leon – like Leon Russell.  At that point I hadn’t even unpacked yet, nor seen any sights.  He was in a hurry to get up the road, but I’d had a long hot day of riding and needed some time to unpack and shake the dust off.

About halfway through the 40oz I bought earlier I was ready.  We rode up to Desert View overlook even though it turned out to be less than a mile.  The bike was light compared to earlier and I felt free.

My first view was amazing.  The shock of it all hit me pretty well too.  I had finally done it; I had arrived.  “Today is a turning point for me,” I thought.  I rode my motorcycle to the Grand Canyon.  My whole life had we, my family and I, talked about taking a trip there.  Well, it took some years, but I did make it.  Now it can’t be taken away.

With this confidence I really enjoyed the rest of the evening.  It was nearly sunset when I walked to the rim.  The sight was just amazing.  To the left was an amazing view straight down one of the widest parts of the canyon.  It was nearly due west and the sun hung just over the horizon.  It was actually so bright and in my face that it made seeing far off in that direction difficult.  Ahead, facing north I could see the other side, the Famous North Rim.  But even neater than that, nearly a mile below was the Colorado River.  From that height it looked only like a small stream; I learned later that it is wider than a football field is long.  And the water is green too, filtered by the dams upstream.  Beyond the North Rim and to my right I could see vast desert; hot dry expansive desert.  How did this thing get here?

Only earlier that day had I been at Meteor Crater and thought, “wow, this is big”.  Well, that was like the warm-up lab before a full sprint.  You could fit several Meteor Craters in what was in front of me.  They don’t call it Grand for nothing!

I made sure to buy some souvenirs before leaving the station that was settled into an old fire lookout tower.  A Ranger program was setup for that night.  It was to take place just up the hill still overlooking the canyon.  We sat facing the sunset as Ranger Tom told us of the history of the National Park and the first people to tame it.  As the sun went below the opposite rim I noticed for the first time smoke billowing up across and miles away.  It was a natural fire and allowed to burn unless threatening humans.

Leon and I headed back to the camp area.  There was one site between ours and it was a guy and girl from Dallas.  They were heading home from a Hot Rod show in California and couldn’t miss the opportunity to camp there.  I reopened my beer and started cooking.  Leon came over and I offered him some of my food in exchange for beer.  It was settled; we ate canned chili with crackers and cheese for dinner cooked over a sterno fire.  We shot the shit till late with the Hot Rod guy and I slept in my tent for the second time in all my travels.

When I woke it was early.  The camp ravens were about looking for food even before 6AM.  Those buggers can make some noise.  I packed a pretty good meal for lunch and heated up some oatmeal like I did the chili the night before.  I also made sure to bring my dirty clothes as it had been long enough and even the Ravens wouldn’t come near me.  Somewhere there had to be a laundromat.

Heading out, I learned I was in the far east side of the park and had to make my way west to see any more.  So, having the whole day to myself, I planned to stop at every overlook and see what there was to see.  And that’s what I did.  It’s really amazing what you can see from so high up.  Every bend showed the canyon from a different perspective and all were worth seeing.  It was neat also to just sit at an overlook and contemplate just how small we humans really are.

Finally I made it to a place were cars and bikes were not allowed.  The park is so heavily visited that parking was no longer possible and instead one must take shuttles that come ever 15 minutes or so.  That way you could just ride the busses from one stop to the next.  It was very well done although a little frustrating.

So I rode on in to the main headquarters to find some information and maybe wash my clothes.  They pointed me in several directions.  Being nearly lunchtime I decided to eat while the clothes were washing.

While I was there I met an interesting couple.  They were about my age and had been riding from New Jersey on the way to California.  The bike was a 600BMW and they packed it very tight.  I can barely fit my own things, much less another person and their belongings too.  Well, the bike was the girl’s, but she rode in the back.  Seems his legs were too long to be back there, besides they had to fold the luggage around themselves like they were packing to move.  Her name was Stephanie, and I remember that because as I explained to her, that’s the name of the bike I was riding.  We exchanged emails and discussed maybe riding together.  They’d be coming back through St. Louis maybe a short time after I went back.

So, I get the laundry and take the $2 minute long cold shower they give you.  I’d have been better with a garden hose sitting in the sun, but at least I was clean and so were my clothes.  While the clothes were drying I had an interesting conversation.

Something bird related was on the news and I remarked about how birds don’t have much going on upstairs if you know what I mean.  Well, the guy to my right took offense to that.  He at some point had rescued a broken sparrow from his yard and took it inside to live with him.  Well, according to him that bird would tell him, through song or dance, if it was hungry or wanted out of the cage.  He even proceeded to show me what he meant by all that.  The guy could do the bird whistles.  Well, if that wasn’t enough another man, on my left chimed in.  He was a bird enthusiast and had had at one point parrots.  My remark, having been about how parrots just repeat what they hear and don’t actually think about what they say upset him also.  So, being chastised from both sides I had to sit in that somber laundromat on those hospital green chairs listening to two men tell me just how wrong I was about birds.

During that little episode something struck my attention.  The guy on the left had a rather long nose and narrow head.  He was actually quite tall and his features made him look like a big bird.  I shook it off and concentrated on what the other on the right guy was saying.  Well I couldn’t help but notice his glasses, short nose and legs and belly.  So when he did that little sparrow dance it struck me that this man, if he had wings and feathers would look a lot like a little bird.  That was too much.  Here I am, between two bird men listening to how smart birds really are, and while getting visual demonstrations I started to laugh – one of those where you don’t want to laugh but it comes out anyway laughs.  First it starts as a smile but becomes uncontrollable.  Maybe I was just tired, but those guys might as well have been chirping at me because I didn’t get any more of that conversation.  That laundry didn’t dry fast enough.

So with that on my mind I packed up the bike and walked to the shuttle stations.

After seeing everything on one line I decided it was time to do a little hiking.  One ranger said “Ooh, Aah” trail was the best to visit and I should get down to the point.  Turns out that that trail is the best one for getting views as it doesn’t follow the walls but rather a rare point in the middle.  He was right.

I got off the bus and asked a volunteer where some potable water was I had been told about. The man lied and said no drinkable water was available and besides that I didn’t have enough with the one empty liter bottle I had anyway to go down into the canyon. I politely pointed out that I had no water at all and surely wouldn’t go down into the canyon without any. His job as a volunteer was to help people hiking; so I understand his concern, but he wasn’t pleasant. Finally he gave me an empty bottle of his own but begged me not to go down into the canyon as I didn’t have enough water. Of course I was standing there with two empties 😉

He left and the next person showed me the faucet with which to fill my now 2.5 liters of water bottles. Now I was ready. the hike down was pretty easy. I descended over 2000 feet with no problem and only consumed a small part of my water. It was hot and each step down was hotter than the previous. Someone told me that at the bottom it’s 20 degrees higher than at the already 100 degree top. I didn’t make it quite so far to see if he was right or not.

Finally I made it to my destination, Ooh Aah point.  It was right in the middle.  I had a great view both east and west.  The whole canyon was around me, above and below on all sides.  I could see for ever.  Well, during my break I found a shady spot on the side of the trail and talked to a couple guys from New Mexico also there.  They had already that day hiked nearly 25 miles across the canyon and were beaten, sore, and sun burnt.  Their group had been 5 or 6; some went ahead others fell back.  It is against park policies to do that, and they wouldn’t have been permitted had the told the truth earlier.

Well, those poor fellows hadn’t carried enough water and were just about to finish their last drops when I showed up.  So rather than carry 2 liters back up with me I shared it with them.  They would have made it without me, but it would have taken longer.  Their friends that had gone ahead went to get Gatorade and water to bring back down to them.  They had already finished the 27 mile day of one mile down and another back up.  So the three of us climbed back out swapping stories and generally having a good time.  Their friends arrived shortly before we were out and gave them much appreciated cold fruit punch Gatorade.

Well, it was getting late so I headed back to the bike and made the leisurely journey back across the park.  I arrived in time to see the sunset and make some dinner before stargazing and subsequently passing out from being tired.  I still had water left over!

Here are the pictures to go with the story.  Enjoy!  Flip through to see them all. Don’t forget to click the photos for larger images.