Thursday, November 29, 2007

Olympic Park

No new snow overnight – bummer.

We decide to venture out during the daylight hours. Our destination today: Utah Olympic Park.

Olympic park is home of the ski jump, luge and bobsled tracks. We opt for the guided tour and it turns out to be a great decision. Our guide is a vivacious man who starts our tour by showing us the most dangerous conveyance: the luge. These sleds go about 90 mph and any mistake is quite significant – riders get burned by the ice (yep, at 90 mph, that's what happens))

Our first stop is the tippy top of the 120 m ski jump. You can see the jumps from the main highway but when you arrive at the facility, you are awed at the magnitude. However, nothing prepares you for the view from the starting gate. These guys MUST be crazy.

Our guide gives a detailed description of the how the track works: there are actually “slots” for the skis carved into the run. And there is a layer of plastic grass-like material (think of a fake hula skirt) that the snow sits on. The start gate is actually adjusted up or down the run based on the weather conditions. They use guinea pigs (14 year-old jumpers) to take the first runs and determine the necessary adjustment.

Our next stop is the luge track. This is one of those sports that looks so very easy. You lie on your back with your ankles on the front part of the blades. It is the most dangerous of Olympic sports. We are arrive in time to watch a slider about to take a training run on the luge track. His gloves have little grippy spikes on them – used to push off from the start gate. He looks cold in his skin tight suit. He's breathing deeply and going through the turns in his head - they have no time to "think" out there, it's all programmed into their heads and muscles.

Our guide takes us to one of the turns in the luge track and we are able to catch a fleeting glimpse of a couple women on the track. Their coach is watching and we find it uncanny that he can provide guidance to them (relax, drive your shoulder down to get into the turn). They flashed by so quickly, we couldn't even tell you what colors they were wearing.

From this point, we see the tourist start of the bobsled – for $200 you and two others can ride in a bobsled with a professional driver. You'll experience 4 Gs in the turns and 80+ mph of pure icy speed. The gold medalist in Nagano Japan won with 70+ mph time. This is the fastest track in existence. However, we are going to miss the opportunity – they don't open for tourist thrills until Dec 18!

The facility boasts a museum dedicated to the 2002 Olympics. It's small but packs in a lot of memorabilia from the event in the area. And did you know that Paul was one of the cauldron lighters? – here is a photo as proof. Oops, is that the hardwood floor of the museum at the base of this picture! Otherwise, it looks pretty convincing. NOT!

We take a friend's the suggestion to dine at Chez Betty tonight, located in the Cooperbottom Inn. It's pretty quiet, there are only three other tables occupied. After review of the menu, Annette orders the Tasting Menu with the wine pairings. Paul orders from the main menu: Shrimp and Lemongrass Dumplings and Grilled Hanger Steak. The 4 course tasting menu starts with Apple Walnut Risotto - a yummy, creamy, rich offering. The chablis accompaniment is perfect.
The Goat Cheese Ravioli is served in a puddle of Roast Shallot Broth, Sweet Onion Jam and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. It's a tiny little puff of a serving - I could have eaten a few more. For Paul, the flavors don't quite come together, but it doesn't stop him from cleaning the bowl. The entree, Pork Medallions, is exquisite. It's moist and flavorful - difficult to find in today's pork market. The dessert is beautifully presented and Annette finds the frozen banana nougat much more interesting than the chocolate cake (what's up with that?) The presentation highlight of the meal is the port - it's served in a small crystal bowl, with a sipping straw that comes from the bottom. It's delicate and terribly cute. And Annette actually slurps - not realizing she was near the bottom of the portion, she manages a noisy slurp of greed.

Paul's selections are wonderful as well. The dumplings are complex and have a hint of spice in the sauce. The hanger steak is rare, the way it should be. The brie and mushroom bruschetta is wonderful, but we are slightly confused by the toast on top of a small lump of mashed potatoes. Maybe the potatoes are to keep everything "attached" to the plate.

Our waiter, Ben, is wonderful and asks how we like each course and I do believe he may actually take our comments back to the chef.

A truly wonderful meal and evening.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Time to hit the slope (yes, singular)

It's time to strap on the sticks and hit the slopes – well, only one slope. PCMR still has only one run open. The snow accumulation is about 4 inches (he'd rather it be 4 FEET!) But fresh, nature made snow is WAY better than man made stuff. Annette decides to kick back and read, watch movies. At the end of the day, we do hit the fitness center for a quick turn on the treadmill and a mad dash for the hot tub. You can hardly see them for the steam hovering around them.

The evening's plans are for another movie and late dinner. We thoroughly enjoy The Gangster with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

Another recommended movie – see it the theater if you can – it's big and bold and suited to the big screen.

Since it's late, we mosey across the street to the Red Rock Junction and hope they are still serving. Our waitress, Pam, tells us about the recent awards won by the brewery: 2007 Great American Beer Festival Large Brewpub and Large Brewpub Brewer of the Year!

Of course, we have to try some of their offerings: Paul orders an Oatmeal Stout and Annette decides on a Honey Wheat beer. For eats, we start with the soup of the day, veggies, sausage and pasta. For entrees, we decide to have a salad and an entree:

Warm shrimp salad: Wattercress, baby spinach, roasted sweet potatoes, grapefruit, pistachios, gorgonzola with creamy lemon pepper dressing.

Salmon (special of the day) with a BBQ sauce and onion strings and their signature horseradish mashed potatoes.

The food is pretty interesting, but not nearly as interesting as Pam, who's confirming comment is “Let's get it goin'” We like her.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Let There Be SNOW!

Another lazy day with no new snow on the mountain. After a late brunch, surfing the web and a bit of work for Paul, we decide to get in a light workout at the fitness center.

We've planned to see “Into the Wild”, a wonderful movie directed by Sean Penn, based on an amazing book by John Krakauer. We have both read the book and talked about this story a lot at the time. I highly recommend both the movie and the book (in fact, I recommend all of Krakauer's books – he is a fabulous writer).

As we leave our resort, we notice little white flakes in the air – could it be the “S” word? Why, yes, it is. Crystal white SNOW. It was forecast for today. Before we enter the theater, we snap a quick pic on the camera phone to prove to all –

there really IS snow in Park City, Utah.

It continued to snow while the movie ran – there is an accumulation of about 3 inches on the ground.

There are a few restaurants in the vicinity and we check the menus before deciding on Hapa Grill – an "Asian fusion" grill with some very unusual offerings. I reviewed the cocktail menu and ordered a Park City – a mojito style drink spiced with fresh ginger. Refreshing and delicious. Our starters were spicy calamari and (this one is hard to believe) Asian Fries! Imagine ginger mashed

potatoes surrounded by egg roll wrappers and of course fried, served with a spicy plum sauce. In the picture on the right, the Asian fries are the ones that look like bread sticks in a tall cup.

Another Park City cocktail and our entrees arrive: Crisped Pork Ramen -- crispy fried pork loin medallion served over imported Japanese ramen noodles with fresh vegetables -- and Seadiver Scallops and Shrimp – nicely spiced with a chili pepper sauce and accompanied by roasted bok choy and rice.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Lazy Daze, Sunday, Nov 25

It's a lazy, lazy day. Both of us are catching up on the sleep deprivation from the night before. We venture out for a mid morning Starbucks and stocking up at Albertsons.

The highlight of the day is “Death at a Funeral”, a movie presented by the Park City Film Series. The series is shown in the Park City library that boosts a real theater. A rousing comedy set on the day of a father's funeral. We won't spoil things for you, but this is definitely a movie to add to your Netflix queue.

We make our way to Main Street, the happenin' place in Park City. But on a Sunday night, it's not so happenin'. Shops were closed and very few restaurants appeared to be open. We happened on 350 Main . The facade is quite unassuming, but the interior is beautiful – stamped copper ceiling being the most notable feature.

We were impressed by the Menu de Santé (Vitamin and antioxidant rich items, low in saturated fats and calories, yet high in flavor and variety. ) Paul ordered the Grilled Vegetable and Lentil Griddle Cakes - With coconut-laced yogurt raita, fiery green bean salad, and peppered mango (having been warned of the heat level, he confirmed his choice). Annette opted for a house special starter: Tower of Ahi and Hamachi - With tobiko caviar, pineapple shoyu, and wasabi aïoli. For entrees, Paul ordered the Calypso Seafood Nage: Shrimp, warm water lobster, clams, and sliced fish slowly simmered in a coconut-lobster broth, with yams, julienne vegetables, and steamed rice. Annette was drawn to the Hapuapua (black sea bass) special – lemon, herb marinated, pan seared served atop a bed of yams with a saffron butter sauce. She was so impressed, she asked for the recipe. Our waiter tells us the chef is very open to sharing his “secrets”. We passed on dessert, determined to “just say no” to the additional calories, though the choices were very tempting.

Once we return to our “home away from home”, we settle in for a movie to end the day.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

To Snow or Not To Snow?

We've been looking forward to this voyage for many weeks. And watching the weather in the Park City area for the fluffy white stuff, since we are staying at the Marriott Mountainside resort. It's ski-in, ski-out at the base of the Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR). Many visits to told us that all of Utah was suffering from unseasonably warm weather. Which means no snow making either. Resort opening days had been pushed back and then back again. PCMR officially opened the day after Thanksgiving with one run and one ski lift. A huge disappointment for Paul and a "whatever" for Annette. Annette set out to find other activities: Pilates, indoor tennis, movies and tours of the 2002 Olympic Park. And maybe a run or two for Paul. We plan for ALL of it.

Our flight leaves SFO at the ungodly hour of 6:10am. When you back up and do a time line, it translates into a 4:45AM (gasp!) departure from home. Neither of us got much sleep, having left packing to the late hours of the evening. A quick drive to the airport, a smooth check-in at SFO, we even have time for a quick breakfast at Perry's. Annette doesn't even remember take off, she fell asleep immediately. Paul dozed as well after feigning interest in the book he took out of his carry on. Baggage pick up was quick, except for Paul's skis (they decided to stay at SFO). Rather than go directly to the resort and run the risk of our room not being available, we decide to take a quick tour of the Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Fodor's tells us it is a must see if you have a short time in SLC. The Nuvi is proficient at directing us to downtown SLC and Temple Square.

It's crispy cold and sunny, good weather for a short walk. A beautiful visitor's center depicts ancient Jerusalum and wonderful paintings of Jesus' life. The temple (pictured here) is magnificent and dominates the square. Nativity scenes from around the world are sprinkled throughout the square. A helpful docent suggests we head immediately to the Tabernacle (it's the background for another of our famous self portraits below) for an organ recital. A 30 minute performance that we enjoy, catching a little bit of shut eye as the music wafts over and around us.

For lunch, we decide to follow a recommendation of one of the Elders to eat at the Lion House Pantry. This house was were Brigham Young's home, built to accommodate his very large family. He died in this house in 1877. The Pantry offers a cafeteria style menu with a selection of 4 entrees. The rolls are the best (per the Elder). It's a nice lunch, just nice.

We make our way to Park City, and our resort. Oops, we don't have a reservation for you. Do you have a confirmation number? Very guiltily, Paul admits that he should have brought the confirmation for our time share trade. No problem, we'll call and confirm. Oops again, they are closed for the Thanksgiving weekend. Annette decides to "check out", Paul doesn't need any additional guilt, he's generating enough of his own. It does work out and we are given the keys to our suite. We then settle in for a much needed nap.

Our dinner plans are simple: take a quick walk around the resort complex and find a decent restaurant for dinner. The only restaurant open is the Baja Cantina. Reasonable Mexican fair with a few margaritas and a Modelo Negro beer. The dessert is killer: Grand Mulege: a baked banana with brandy, Grand Marnier, butter, and brown sugar topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, nutmeg and almonds. It put us both over the top and we waddled back to our room to crash after the sugar high.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day Nineteen – Monday, June 18 – Munich

Given our busy day yesterday, we decided to sleep in a bit and got up around 8:30. Our first order of business, after showering and dressing, was to take the car to the Munich Auto Drop-off Agency (MADA) of the shipping company, E.H. Harms. We set the address for the Nüvi for the last time on this trip, with a quick stop at, what else, a McDonalds (!) for breakfast. Once we found the parking area for MADA, which turned out to be not on the main road but up a ramp at the end of the road, the rest of the process for turning in the car was easy. We removed the front license plate and first aid kit from the trunk (as had been suggested on bimmerfest), took a picture of the windshield nick, and only had a short wait behind some other people dropping off their cars. While we were waiting, we chatted with an American couple who we had seen yesterday on the Linderhof tour, who were enjoying a short trip with their college age grandson and now shipping their car to Ohio. The guy at the Harms office was a tall German who looked like he belonged in Texas rather than Munich, with his expensive cowboy boots and boot-cut jeans, but he certainly had the full German efficiency going on. We were through the paperwork and out by noon.

We walked a short distance to the nearby bus, which took us to the U-Bahn station and swiftly to Marienplatz via the #6 line. We wanted to spend one last day of full-packed sightseeing, and followed one of the guidebook suggested walks around the Marianplatz area. We saw the Alte Rathaus and Neue Rathaus (which was partially covered with scaffold for some renovation work), and walked to the Frauenkirche.

I would imagine that Munchiners are proud of their cathedral, and the Frauenkirche is often pictured on posters and guidebooks about Munich, but in our eyes it’s got to be one of the uglier churches we’ve seen! Like people trying to find a kind adjective to describe an ugly baby, we found ourselves searching for words: “well, it’s certainly…monumental!” “yes, and very…brown!” After a fairly quick walk around the inside, we decided to go up the tower, bracing ourselves for what would probably be about 400+ steps. It turns out that there were only 92 steps and then – an elevator. That was unexpected! The views from the top were great, and we could use our Eyewitness guide and the labeled panoramic photos to identify some of our objectives for the afternoon.

After we descended, we embarked on an unsuccessful search for restaurant that was recommended in the Eyewitness book. Fortunately, the attempt to find the place revealed some other areas beyond the Karlstor Gate that we might not otherwise have seen. We finally gave up, and having almost walked a complete circle, settled for the outdoor seating area of the Augustiner Restaurant. In our usual way, Annette had a Radler and Paul had a helles (light) beer. As I write this, it’s been a couple of weeks since we were in Munich, and neither of us can remember exactly what we ate (thus the need to chronicle promptly!)…but think it was a goulash and dumpling and perhaps a cutlet of some sort with a mixed salad. One the other hand, we remember that the couple sitting NEXT to us were both eating Leberkäse mit Spiegelie with the fried egg on top, and we remember that our dumpling was doughy and pasty and got us talking about why, unlike pizza, sushi, burritos, hamburgers, Chinese food and other regional specialties that have become international favorites, the German/Czech style dumpling had never made it big outside of this area.

After lunch, we headed toward the Residenz by way of the marigold colored, baroque Theatinerkirsch (St. Cajetan) and the Feldherrnhalle, the Florentine-looking, tri-arched logia housing statues of Bavarian field marshals, which we had seen on our first evening in Munich as we walked to the Hofbrauhaus from the Odeonplatz U-bahn station. A trip to the Residenz was an opportunity to extend our picture of the living spaces of Ludwig II from yesterday, although as the primary urban residence of the Wittelsbach dynasty over many centuries, it was only his crib for a few decades at best. We wandered around several courtyards trying to find an entrance before heading back onto the street and eventually finding the proper entry. After hooking up with our audio guides, we toured around a fraction of the enormous palace complex. We mostly saw areas of the Alte Residenz built under Maximilian I and Ludwig I, including the Grottenhof courtyard with its odd grotto of seashells and volcanic crystals and the Persius fountain. We both loved the Antiquarium, the huge Renaissance hall built to house ancient busts and other artwork, which is the oldest surviving part of the Residenz. We were amazed to learn how much of the Residenz was destroyed during WWII bombing raids and has been restored to its former state.

After the Residenz, we re-fueled with a java chip frappacino and a mango passion frappacino at a Starbucks (!) off Max-Joseph Platz. Then we walked down Maximillianstrasse and took a detour to check out the Bavarian State Chancellery, with its mix of old and new architecture and walk through the Hofgarten (with a quick opportunity for a silly picture of Paul with the Temple of Diana centered on his head like a giant headdress a la Beach Blanket Babylon). We then headed toward the Isar River, following another of the DK Eyewitness walking-tours up Maximillianstrasse and along the Isar. When we found that it wanted us to cut through what appeared to be someone’s backyard, we veered back and made our own way to the Maximilianeum, which now houses the Bavarian parliament. Eventually, we caught the U-bahn for the short hop back to Odeonplatz station.

Book-ending our vacation with an encore trip to the HB haus had struck us as the right thing to do several days ago. Usually we’re anxious to try new things, but in this case, a return to the familiar was appropriate. This time, we sat outdoors in the central patio area, which lacked the proximity to the oompah band, but was significantly cooler on this warm evening. Our order was pre-destined: radler, helles, pretzel, schweinshaxe! Yum…

After chatting with a group of French guys who were in town for a convention (they were in precision laser cut manufacturing) and enjoying the evening, we headed back to our hotel for the last time on this trip – already getting nostalgic for the past few weeks of travel. We don’t want it over :-(.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Day Eighteen – Sunday, June 17 – Oberammergau to Munich via multi-castle tour

Today was mostly “King Ludwig II” day, and the weather cooperated to give us a perfect day for castling. We had been told that it was best to get to the Neuschwanstein Castle as close to opening as possible (9:00AM), so we’d set our sights on an early get-away. The Hotel Antonia didn’t start serving breakfast until 8:00AM, but we were all packed with car loaded and were in the breakfast room at 8:01. We had a good breakfast, and Paul packed a liverwurst sandwich for the road (liverwurst at breakfast?). We made pretty good time to the castles; getting there around 9:30.

As it turned out, the tours of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles both required guided tours – spaced a minimum of two hours apart, and we were booked onto a 10:15 tour of the older castle, Hohenschwangau. This gave us enough time for the short walk up to the castle, which is painted in a pale saffron color similar to the “Habsburg” color used at Vienna’s Schonbrun Palace and Salzburg’s Schloss Hellbrunn. We had been told that this was a color that was exclusively used in the Habsburg Empire for imperial residences, but clearly the color (or a similar shade) was popular with the Bavarian royalty as well.

Hohenschwangau was the castle of Crown Prince (later King) Maximillian II, and the summer childhood home of the future King Ludwig II. Hohenschwangau, like the later Neuschwanstein, is a relatively “new” castle, having been re-built by Crown Prince Max in 1832-1837 after the previous castle on the site was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars. The interior is troubadour style, with wall-paintings of Bavarian knights, folk heroes and other romantic figures. The rooms were surprisingly small, for a royal residence, but there were some stunning views of the surrounding lakes and Bavarian countryside (especially the guest bedroom which was occasionally occupied by the composer Richard Wagner, who Ludwig later patronized). Our guide gave us a quick primer on the family of Max and Queen Marie (a Prussian princess), and their sons Ludwig and Otto. After the mysterious drowning death of “crazy” King Ludwig II in 1886, younger brother Otto never was able to serve as King, since he had literally been declared insane and governance was turned over to their uncle, the Prince Regent Leutpold.

But before he was forced to step aside and met his tragic fate, Ludwig II commissioned the building of Neuschwanstein castle on the double crested hill about a kilometer from Hohenschwangau – a “true Medieval castle” as he put it. We decided to pass on the horse drawn carriages and walked up the path for our 12:15 tour – a nice walk slightly marred by slaloming through the fly-covered piles of horse poop. Only part of the castle was finished before his death, at which time all construction stopped, but what a wonderful and bizarre anachronism it is. It is really a giant fantasy structure, and was actually designed by a theatrical set designer. Too bad that it and Ludwig’s other palaces like Linderhof and Herrenchiemsee almost bankrupted the Bavarian state, leading to Ludwig’s ouster, or who knows what additional self-indulgent stuff he might have built! The floors that are finished include a throne room with an amazing mosaic floor, the “singers room” and royal bedroom.

After the castle tour, we headed up another path to the Marienbrücke bridge over the Pöllat gorge. The bridge was constructed at around the same time as the Neuschwanstein castle, but based on the number of tourists simultaneously on the bridge, I certainly hope it’s been updated and inspected over the years….it’s a long way to the bottom. After a “did that” trip to the center of the bridge for the scary look down and requisite photos of us with castle in background, we descended for some lunch (and the essential beer or radler) at the HB restaurant part way up the hill. We went for Nürnburg sausages –which turned out to be identical to Jones or Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages…but still delicious, of course, and spätzle with cheese and onion – an encore from last night’s dinner in Oberammergau.

After lunch we hiked down a steeper path to the parking lot – much quicker than the hike up and mercifully free of horse droppings and flies. And also better done on the descent than it would have been to climb. At around 2:30PM, we hopped into the car and headed off to Schloss Linderhof. The Nüvi initially told us that Linderhof was about 12 miles away, so we were surprised that it took us over an hour and after about a half hour of traveling, we still had 11.5 miles to go. Thus we learned the difference between the initial calculation (as the crow flies) and after “calculating” mode – as the BMW drives. Fortunately, it wasn’t a problem and we had plenty of time.

When we got to Linderhof, we were able to get onto a 3:50PM tour. In the same way as Neuschwanstein was Ludwig’s take on a romanticized medieval ideal, Linderhof was a petite homage to French royalty. From the architecture to the paintings and wall-hangings, it was all about emulating the Sun King. On the tour at Linderhof, there was more emphasis on how solitary Ludwig’s life had been, with little socializing and no lasting “love interest.” We had determined back at Hohenswangau that Ludwig was probably gay and unquestionably a private and shy person.

Although the “Moorish kiosk/pavilion” was quite wonderfully peculiar – a freestanding little structure that looked like a mini-Moroccan riad in the midst of the Bavarian alpine landscape—the “bizarro-world” highlight of the Linderhof estate is the Venus Grotto. The grotto was inspired by the Act I setting in Wagner’s Tannhäuser and features a shell-shaped boat in a man-made lake in a man-made cave where Ludwig would attend elaborate theatrical productions, often as the sole audience member. Makes Michael Jackson look down to earth!

When we’d finished the Linderhof tour, it was time to head back to Munich…but we were still hoping to squeeze in one more thing! Trusty Nüvi told us that it wasn’t that far out of the way to go via the Andechs monastery /brewery on the way. So we went for it, figuring that we didn’t have too much to lose if it was closed…a distinct possibility on a Sunday evening.

We got to Andechs at around 6:00PM, after almost settling for another nearby biergarten in the town. Not wanting to re-live the ‘almost, but not quite the real thing’ experience we’d had at the Café Central annex in Vienna, we consulted a picture and said “this can’t be it!”. We found the real place, hiked up the hill and found they were still open and serving until 7:00. However, they didn’t take credit cards and we were now woefully short of Euros, so with a quick run back into town by Paul to hit the ATM, we were up and running with a masse and a biggie dark Radler. This was GOOD (and strong!) beer! We got a pretzel to snack on, but since we were planning on eating in Munich, we passed on the great looking fresh radish bunches, sausages and other options. As we’d found in Oberammergau and other places, there were a lot of men who were dressing in their traditional “drinking clothes” – lederhosen (shorts or the mid-calf variety favored by some of the younger guys who might otherwise opt for capris!), Tyrolean sweaters or loden-wool blazers with bone buttons and green lapels. Paul fantasized about extending his hat purchase into a full-on Oktoberfest rig!

We bought a couple of souvenir mugs, and found ourselves getting sentimental, counting down the hours to the end of the Euro-vacation! After enjoying the sunset over the fields below the Andechs biergarten, we drove the last half hour into Munich and the Marriott. The Marriott was another Priceline auction booking, and we were willing to overlook its lack of charm or “local color” in favor of a wonderful King-size mattress and soft towels. It turned out that there was safe, on-street parking about a half a block away, so we went for that instead of the garage for the evening.

By the time we arrived and emptied out the trunk in preparation for tomorrow’s “turn-in,” we were too tired to head back out for dinner. The Champions sports bar on the ground floor of the Marriott offered a bit of the USA in Munich – complete with hamburger (good), chicken sandwich (not so good, dry) and the US Open golf finals on multiple TVs.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Day Seventeen – Saturday, June 16 – Salzburg, AT to Oberammergau, DE

Having enjoyed a fair amount of wine and beer at dinner and at Die Weisse, we decided to sleep in a bit and opted for the hotel’s breakfast buffet, even though it wasn’t included. Paul fetched the car from the underground garage (which remained dent free in spite of the close quarters). We loaded it up and headed out of town, stopping by the “Tiger Wash” at the Esso station to get some of the road grime off the 335. Unfortunately, it didn’t do too much to get rid of the large number of spattered bugs on the front, but a much needed washing and vacuuming made the baby shine again.

We headed to the German alpine town of Berchtesgaden, just across the boarder from Austria, and were disappointment to learn that seeing Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest requires catching a bus and waiting for scheduled tour – a minimum two hour time commitment. So we decided to head on to Oberammergau, since we had hoped to arrive in time to go a short hike or rent a bike for the afternoon. We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafeteria on the banks of the Chiemsee – an unexpectedly good lunch at an unexpectedly pretty spot for a thoroughfare rest stop. The trip to Oberammergau was a beautiful drive, but in and out of sprinkles, and shortly after we arrived, the skies really opened up, killing the hiking plan.

Oberammergau is a cute town, noted for the painted houses and the production of a Passion Play every 10 years – a tradition dating back to 1634. We stayed at the Hotel Antonia Garni and had a spacious room on the second floor with a small balcony in the back of the hotel. After a while, the weather let up and we ended up strolling through town, checking out the exterior of the theater where they produce the famous Passion Play every 10 years, looking at a lot of stores, etc. We also had the benefit of a crisp rainbow set against a deep grey sky. On the shopping front, after modeling numerous options and trying to justify the need for better Octoberfest wear, Paul bought tyrolian hat and feather pin. Look out, fashionistas!

We had dinner at the Alte Post Restaurant – venison goulash with dumpling and red cabbage (and peach w/ cranberries), pork loin and spaetzle with cheese and onions. Apple straddle with ice cream and whipped cream for desert (delayed gratification from Salzburg).

This was our first day that didn’t really come together as hoped or envisioned. But even as a “bust” it was still pretty nice!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Day Sixteen – Friday, June 15 – Salzburg

We needed to move the car by 9:00AM, before the daily enforcement started, so Paul drove to the nearby underground garage, where the spaces were REALLY tight, but the car is going to end up with door dings at some point, right? When arriving back at the hotel, Paul overheard someone asking about when the pick up for the Sound of Music bus tour was scheduled, and learned that it was due in about 5 minutes. A quick dash upstairs, where Annette was fortunately (almost) ready to go, so we bought tickets and jumped on the bus when it arrived. We had decided to opt for this tour, since we had recently watched S.o.M. on DVD as part of the “pre-trip film festival” and, hoaky as it sounds, we had heard that it actually covered some good territory.

Our tour guide, Peter, had been doing this for 15 years (ouch!), and considering that, his patter and corny jokes were well delivered. We saw several of key locations used in the movie: the lakefront Leopoldskron Palace which served as the front exteriors of the von Trapp house and the scenes with the kids in the boat and hanging from the trees in their curtain clothes; the glass pavilion which had now been moved to the Schloss Hellbrunn (which we unfortunately didn’t have time to go into), and the Nonnberg Abbey from a distance. We also drove out to the countryside and saw some beautiful scenery including St Gilgen and Lake Wolfgang.

The unexpected highlight of the tour might have been the sommerrodlebahn near the Fuschlsee. This is a summer time, modified luge that snakes down a ski hill on a metal track. You get hauled to the top on a modified Poma lift, and we chose the “double sledge”. Lots of fun, but only time for a single run.

Since we hadn’t had any breakfast, we opted for an early lunch when we got to Mondsee, where marriage scene was shot in the local Cathedral. The town was very cute – preciously so – and obviously oriented toward the tourist trade, so our expectations weren’t too high for lunch. We were very pleasantly surprised by our meal at the Vini & Panini Restaurant on the main square, sharing a “tunny” salad with capers and balsamic vinaigrette and a mozzarella and tomato Panini on baguette.

After returning to Salzburg at the tour’s conclusion, we walked through Mirabell Gardens, which was also used as a location for much of the “Do, Rae, Mi” song. We didn’t have a particular itinerary for the afternoon, so we headed across river along the Gefreidegasse shopping street and did a bit of exploring.

The heat and humidity of the day was taking it toll, so we decided to head to the Mozart Wohnhaus. This was the second home that the Mozart family moved to when Wolfgang was 17, and it now serves as a “Mozart museum” with a very informative audio wand tour. Everywhere one goes in Salzburg, there is Mozart: Mozart candies; Mozart CDs; and just about every imaginable Mozart souvenir. In spite of the tsochky overkill that somewhat spoils parts of Salzburg, the very informative Wohnhaus exhibit – along with the evening concert – were just the right kind of Mozart. (note to self: add another viewing of Amadeus to the “post-trip film festival.”)

After the Wohnhaus, we got ourselves ice cream cones, and did a bit more wandering around. At around 4:30, he headed back to hotel to change for our evening dinner/concert at the Hohensalzburg Fortress. In the afternoon, the humid heat had given way to some ominous clouds and wind. Since they had some umbrellas for hotels guests, we took one, which turned out to be a good move, as the sprinkles soon turned to full on rain. We took the very speedy funicular from the base of castle, and had a bit of time to tour the fortress prior to dinner at 6:00.

Paul had booked the evening dinner and concert online several weeks before the trip as one of the “cultural evenings” that we were interspersing during the trip. We were seated at a table with a fantastic view in two directions of a corner – one overlooking Salzburg and the other looking toward the Untersberg mountain (or something like that). We had a beef in aspic, potato soup, chicken and fish, and a beautifully presented selection of deserts with a treble clef dusted in powdered sugar on the plate. In addition to our usual swapping of main courses, we actually swapped seats a couple of times to share the different views. We briefly conversed with a Japanese couple who were sitting at the table next to us and learned about their travels.

The concert was held upstairs in the Fürstenzimmer stateroom in the castle, which was beautiful, but HOT! The program consisted of the very familiar “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” for string quartet, a piano and string “Klavierquartett g-moll KV 478, and after a much needed intermission to get some fresh air, Beethoven’s Streichquartett c-mol op. 18/4.

After the concert we descended the funicular and walked on to the Weissbier Brauerei (AKA Die Weisse – , which was a few blocks away from the hotel at Rupertgasse 10. Die Weisse is a very cool restaurant/biergarten with many different rooms and an local microbrew that appeared to be mostly packed with locals. We gave a fat tip to our waitress, who was a phenomenon of efficiency with her high energy, wireless ordering pad and total awareness. After an evening brew/radler, it was back to hotel and bed around 11:30PM.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Day Fifteen – Thursday, June 14 – Bled, SLO to Salzburg, AT via Grossglockner Pass

As befits the style of the Grand Hotel Toplice, the breakfast buffet – a running theme of this vacation and this blog – was sumptuous. We ate on the terrace overlooking the lake and enjoyed watching crew teams practice on the still lake and observing the morning “training swim” of a mother duck and her ducklings that we had seen along the shore on last night’s lakeside walk.

There was a bit of time for morning journaling and posting to the blog, but we had a hard out at 11:00AM, since the hotel was full and they needed to turn the room. 11:00 is also when they started renting the row boats. The hotel has about a dozen boats available, and an hour rental is included for overnight guests, so Paul rowed out to the island while Annette “captained” from the stern. It was good morning exercise, and replaced the early morning running that Paul had thought about doing but was replaced with sitting at the computer and writing. Observations:
1) rowing a real boat (with two oars) is quite different from a gym rowing machine – especially since the seat doesn’t slide forward and back, so all the action happens in the arms and back instead of the powering from the legs – but it wasn’t particularly hard;
2) wedding rings cause blisters.

The island on Bled Lake (probably has a name, but we didn’t catch it) is certainly one of the primary photo ops at the resort. It is a small rocky mountain that juts out of the water and has just enough room for some trees and a quaint little church (and now a small restaurant/souvenir store, too). We didn’t stay long…just a quick walk around then back into the boat.

After our boating, we hit the road and headed for Austria and the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrass, an incredibly beautiful mountain road ( Grossglockner is the name of the 3,798 meter high mountain that tops the nearby range, which has a large glacier, the Pasterzengletscher, on its flank. There is a turn-off that takes you to a viewing complex with several restaurants, terraces and multi-story garage. We got there around 4:00PM, so not many people were eating lunch, but we found that we could still get a couple of sausages and a salad, but made the mistake of ordering before we asked if they took credit cards since we were very low on Euros. They did not. Fortunately, they were willing to take US dollars, so Annette dashed back to the car in the parking structure to grab some stashed $$.

The road itself is not inexpensive to drive (a 28 Euro toll road), but is an impressive feat of 1930’s engineering that is filled with jaw-dropping vistas and is a kick to drive in a new car that can handle the turns. It is a favorite with motorcycles, needless to say, but what surprised us was the number of intrepid bicyclist who were taking on the pass…not for the weak of thigh or lung! We also got to watch a helicopter move construction supplies from a steep hillside, where they had been building some avalanche abatement structures, down to the road below. The precision of the flight control was astounding, and traffic didn’t have to be stopped much more than 15 minutes for them to take about eight loads down.

After the Grossglockner road, we continued on to Salzburg, and passed through more spectacular Alpine scenery. The beauty of the mountains surrounding Salzburg is truly awesome. Our little friend the Nüvi, back in action now that we were again in Austria, guided us flawlessly to our hotel, fittingly named the Hotel Mozart. We arrived around 7:00PM, and since there was street parking right outside the hotel, we grabbed a spot that we were told by the hotel staff would be fine until 9:00AM the next day.

We didn’t waste too much time at the hotel, and headed off to explore a bit of evening Salzburg and check out the Augustiner Bräu beer garden. It was the perfect “picture taking” time of the day, with dramatic clouds and sunset over the cozy Salzburg valley, so we grabbed a few photos and did the reciprocal “I’ll take your picture if you take mine” routine with other tourists.

Travel writer Rick Steves describes the Augustiner Bräustübl this way: “on balmy evenings, it’s a Monet painting with beer breath under chestnut trees in the garden.” Couldn’t have said it better myself! The beer is served from wooden barrels that are tapped by slamming the spigot into the barrel with a huge wooden mallet (which we were lucky enough to see), and you pay for your beer and get a receipt, grab a mug and rinse it out, hand mug and receipt to the guy and he fills it up. We sat in the garden, enjoyed the beer, and pieced together a dinner from the multiple food vendors upstairs – potato salad from one shop, ribs and sausage from another, bread and pretzel from a third! Lots of fun.

Perhaps since the brewery is run by monks, they close at 11:00PM, which was just as well…so we walked back across the river to the Hotel Mozart and off to bed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Day Fourteen – Wed June 13 – Prvic, HR to Bled, Slovenia via Plitvice Park

We enjoyed another breakfast on the terrace, packed & awaited the 10:15 ferry back to Vodice. Everything had been perfect and relaxed, as hoped, on Prvic, and our only anxiety was what might await us with the car. Denver boot? Towed Away? Pile of tickets?

We bought our tickets from the woman in the little booth that opens about 10 minutes before the ferry pulls up to the pier. She bore an really unfortunate resemblance to Wavy Gravy, San Francisco’s legendary clown, DeadHead, activist, etc., but Paul tried to put that out of his head.

As the ferry pulled in toward the dock in Vodice at around 11:00AM, we were literally looking through the binoculars to see if the car was still in the lot (yes), did it have a “Vodice boot” (no) and did it have a ticket (yes, apparently). When we got off the boat and to the car, we learned that the paper stuck under the windshield wiper wasn’t actually a ticket, but a flyer to a girlie-nightclub, so with no further ado, we threw it away, jumped into the car and hit the road.

We were able to get onto the expressway without too much trouble, and decided to head toward the Plitvice Lakes National Park, since we had been unable to see it on the way south. We got to the park a bit before 1:00, and opted for the “E” tour, which was said to take between two and three hours, which was perfect. The drive to the park got us into some pretty and mountainous area. The coastal areas in northern Dalmatia were more arid and desert-like than I had imagined. It resembled the eastern part of the Sierra heading to Nevada or part of Arizona. But this area in central Croatia was lusher and had some dramatic topography.

The park itself is beautiful. In 1949 it was created as Croatia’s (or at the time, Yugoslavia’s) first National Park and contains dozens of lakes and hundreds of waterfalls that are actually creating travertine stone and constantly, subtly shifting as the calcium deposits build the rock. The area is very lush and moist and the cerulean blue water in the lake was beautiful. Our “E ticket”J, started with a tram ride up to a drop off point, where we hiked back down between lakes and past falls for about an hour and a half, and caught a mini-ferry boat that carried us across a small part of a lake. From there it was still another 15 minute walk to the park entrance, and by the time we got there, the grilled chickens we had smelled on the way-in were all gone. Luckily, they still had sausages, so we used literally all but one Kuna on a sausage, beer and roll which we shared as a late lunch around 4:00.

Soon, we were back on the road, and the navigation toward Slovenia wasn’t too challenging. There was some interesting driving on a section of twisties which presented a bit of a challenge to Annette as a driver however. There seemed to be a need on the part of many oncoming drivers to take up more than their “lane” on this narrow road as they took the corners. Whoa!...there’s another car coming toward us! But we made it safely and without too much stress to Lake Bled by around 7:15PM.

We lucked into a parking place about 200 meters down and across the street from our hotel, the Grand Hotel Toplice, so we didn’t even bother to ask about hotel parking since we were only there for one night. The hotel lives up to its name. Paul had decided to splurge for this one night, spring for the lakeside room at the fancy hotel and it lived up to expectations; with the oriental rugs, antiques, balcony and general “old, European, grand resort” ambiance.
We took a brief walk along the lake (shortened by some swarming bugs), and ate dinner at the Panorama restaurant outdoors overlooking the lake. We had a goulash soup, grilled shrimp on skewers, grilled “sea bass” which tasted more like a trout or other fresh water fish. All quite good, and enjoyed with a Union beer (one of the local Slovenian varieties) and a Slovenian pinot gaube…whatever that is! We were serenaded by a Slovenian version of Paul Shaefer with his synthesizer, who alternated between polkas and other folk favorites (much to the pleasure of one large table of Sixty-something Germans near us) and songs like “Spanish Eyes,” “Besa me Mucho” and “The Look of Love.” After a couple of beers, Paul experienced “beer headphones”, the auditory equivalent of “beer goggles,” and declared: “This guy rocks!”

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Day Thirteen – Tuesday, June 12 – Prvic Island, Croatia

Today was a day without alarm clock! Since we had no travel or major sightseeing plans, it was a chance to sleep in and enjoy a lazy morning of “island life” With the shutters closed, our room stayed nice and dark and we slept until 9:30, when we headed downstairs for breakfast on the outdoor patio – same table as last night’s dinner.

After enjoying a leisurely breakfast doing crossword puzzles and catching up on the New York Times digests left over from the Marriott Budapest, we took a walk to Sepurin, the “other village” on the island. We explored various paths out to almost the end of the island, and saw hundreds of meters of low stone walls that seemed to delineate plots (of what?) or be unfilled terraces. We were speculating about what the economic base of the island is –other than tourism. I speculated “software development,” but in fact we learned that most of the full time locals (about 120 people in Prvic Luka and 160 in Sepurin) are elderly people living on pensions, and the others are engaged in the trades – storekeeper, construction, etc. to support them, tourist trade and a bit of fishing.

The water was fabulously clear, but the best, shady spots at the beach area in Sepurin had been already taken by several families with their kids, and since neither of us had plastic “water shoes”, Paul gave up on the swimming idea after a wimpy attempt at wading out into the water and encountering a lot of sharp rocks and seeing a fair number of sea anemones (or sea urchins?... can’t remember which is the spiky one)

Instead of lunch, we went for ice cream and wafer cookies from local mini-mart instead.

The afternoon was equally laid back. We briefly explored the Prvic Luka side, and then retired to the Hotel Maestral’s deck for some afternoon beer and wine (Paul gave a try to the other major Croatian beer, Karlovacko, but decided he’s partial to Ozujsko) and catching up on the laptop journal.

After a short nap, we rallied to walk to the one of the other two restaurants in town, the Restoran “Punta.” We tried some of the “famous” cheese from the island of Pag – or at least it’s famous on the Dalmatian coast. Tasty, but a bit bland, to be honest. The grilled squid was delicious and Annette commented that this was the first time she’s actually had the squid served in its “whole body” presentation. Usually calamari comes cut up into rings and tentacles and sometimes those back fin things, but you don’t get a real sense of the “squidness” of it – especially if they’re breaded or battered. With this dish, we did! Just squid…grilled.

Paul had a mixed grill with sausage, beef, venison (?) and pork. Tasty and satisfying. Our desert was a tiny flask of liqueur – comped as part of the meal – which the owner described as “pear grappa.” Yes, I understand that’s an oxymoron. We’ll have to do some experimentation at home to see if we can figure out how to blend it ourselves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Day Twelve – Monday June 11 – Samobor, HR to Prvic Island, HR

It was an “up and at ‘em” morning, since we had one of the longer driving days of the trip ahead. We enjoyed another buffet breakfast (with custom cooked scrambled eggs and ham, and another “morning after” helping of kremsnite, too). Getting out of town was easy, but driving without the aid of the GPS proved more difficult. We got some directions from a helpful gas station mini-mart guy, but managed to miss the ill-marked turn-off toward Karlovac and had to back track on the freeway a couple of times. No big deal. But missing not just one, but two turn-offs toward the Plitvice National Park proved much more frustrating, and so we decided to blow off the park visit for the day (try to hit it on the way back) and headed on to the Dalmatian coast instead.

Arriving in the town of Sibenek continued the streak of aggravation with Croatian signage. Having been very frustrated driving in Boston, where the signage is notoriously inept; I decided that Bostonian highway signage designers must be of Croatian descent. We didn’t really like the look or feel of Sibonek much, and found the harbor area difficult to navigate and the schedule of ferries from there to our island destination lousy, so we jumped back in the car and headed to Vodice, the other town that offers ferry service to Prvic Island (which we learned is pronounced “per-vich”).

Fortunately, Vodice was much more charming and felt more like the Adriatic coastal town which we had imagined and looked forward to. We got our bearings, found the ferry terminal, had a couple of ice cream sundaes, and took the fifteen minute Jardrolinija ferry ride to Prvic. The car was left parked in the lot near the ferry terminal which was clearly marked as requiring payment (5 Kuna per hour from 7:00AM-10:00PM), but had no apparent place to pay. We had searched for either a machine or an attendant to pay, asked several people for assistance (including the ice cream waiter, the attendant at a currency exchange kiosk and a uniformed guy in an official looking van parked in the same lot) and still came up empty. We’re hoping for the best…hmmmm.

Prvic Island is only about a kilometer or two from the mainland, but feels as remote and peaceful as if it were in the middle of nowhere. There are some tractors and other small work vehicles on the island, but no cars and no real roads – just paved paths. The Hotel Maestral is a three story stone structure right on the water’s edge in the village of Prvic Luka. It has been carefully remodeled and has a very contemporary interior, with air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. We decided to eat dinner on the stone terrace overlooking the harbor, befitting the start of the “lazy, relaxing resort” part of the trip. The dinner was OK, but the several carafes of wine totally hit the spot. The homemade goat cheese appetizer was good, but a bit too mild for our tastes, grilled stuffed fish rolls (B+), chicken in pistachio sauce (B-…sounds better than it ate). It was about 30 seconds up to our room for fun and sleep.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Day Eleven – Sunday, June 10 – Budapest to Samobor, CR

In spite of good intentions, we got a late start, with a bit of extra sleep and a slow moving morning which involved some spot-drying of yesterday’s washed laundry (thank you, Marriott hotel hair dryer!), zapping off a few emails, grabbing online directions from (due to the lack of Nuvi guidance in Hungary and Croatia) and blah, blah, blah. We finally rolled out of the hotel at around 11:00AM for a bit more Budapest sightseeing.

But first, it was a return to our local, neighborhood McCafe, where we again partook of one of America’s greatest contributions to Hungarian culture. We walked to the Vörösmarty Tér (square) and took Metro Line 1 from to City Park. This turned out to be our only trip on the Budapest Metro, the subject of a very quirky and funny movie called Kontrol which we had rented on DVD as part of our pre-trip cinematic research (another bit of Paul’s obsession not detailed in the pre-trip posting). As it turns out, the Metro Line 1, which runs under Andrassy Boulevard is the oldest subway in continental Europe (I believe the London subway pre-dates it, however)…and it had that look, to be honest: low ceilings, tiny stations, short trains, etc.

At City Park, we witnessed a Hungarian version of an “art & wine festival” complete with wine tasting, booths of hand-made stuff (stained glass, leather goods, scented candles, wooden toys and burl wood furniture – all the usual) and musicians – in this case a medieval era trio with hurdy-gurdy, bagpipes, and a primitive cello/bass that was whacked with a stick. There were some great looking sausages and other meats being grilled but having just eaten, we had to pass.

After wandering in the park, we continued to walk back via Andrassy Ut, saw Hero’s Square and got caught in sudden rain storm. We ducked into the Metro for a one station trip and then went to the “House of Terror” museum at 60 Andrassy Ut. The House of Terror is so named because it was used as the headquarters of two different organizations that were responsible for inflicting terror on the citizenry on behalf of successive authoritarian regimes. During WWII, the building was the party headquarters of the Hungarian Arrow Cross Party, which was local Hungarian Nazi adjunct, and was called the “House of Loyalty.” The tests of loyalty could get very extreme.

After the war, Hungary fell into the Soviet sphere of influence, and 60 Andrassy became the headquarters of the AVO and its successor the AVH, the Hungarian equivalent of the KGB. As the USSR strengthened its domination of Hungary, the building, with its the underground prison cells was used for interrogations and executions.

Like our visit to Dachau, this exhibit was very emotional and thought provoking. It is amazing to realize the power of intimidation and political manipulation and the ability of people to be sucked into – or willing allow themselves to become part of – such a system. And although it’s a major stretch to compare Nazi Germany or Communist Hungary to the US in 2007, it still serves as a reminder of how important it is to be diligent in not allowing our government to exploit or manipulate crises or limit civil liberties in the name of “special circumstances.” The slippery slope, and all...

We took the Metro back to the hotel, bought a bit of the local peach brandy and a few munchies for the road, headed out of town. Not enough time in Budapest. We left a little after 3:00PM and drove to Samobor, making pretty good time. Our one stop along the way was at the last McDonald’s in Hungary to use up our remaining HUFs (Hungarian Florints) on a "McFarm," the local specialty (double pork patty burger). Pretty good! A bunch of Hungarians, with their kids on a Sunday at McDonald’s looks pretty much like a group of Americans at a McDonalds, except the design of this restaurant was nicer and most of the people were slimmer than the average Americans. One thing Annette and I had noticed in Hungary and Austria was that while there are plenty of mobile phones in use, they seem to be used for communication rather than a ubiquitous “lifestyle appliance” like we had seen in Spain and some other places where it seems that almost everyone is either talking or texting on their phone all the time!

We arrived at the Livadic Hotel at around 7:45PM. Samobor is a small town about 20 km out of Zagreb -- which we zipped by on the freeway without seeing. Our hotel was right on the town square, and our top (3rd) floor room complete with large wooden beams and a rather elaborate toilet, faced the square.
Samobor is largely a weekend or day-trip destination for Croatians from Zagreb or environs, and is famous for its local crème
pastry, kremsnite. As it turned out, when arrived, a Kremsnite Festival was underway in the square overlooked by our room, complete with a small stage (featuring a backdrop with a picture of the pastry) for singers and jugglers, and some stalls selling local wares. The open air restaurants were serving hundreds of people kremsnite, coffee, beer and ice cream, but as we walked around we didn’t see a single person eating anything that resembled dinner. Having done a quick walking tour of the central area of the town, without a single “non-desert” sighting, we went back to the hotel where they recommended a restaurant down the street.

The Samoborska Klet (Trg kralja Tomislava 7) was tucked back away from the square, and we were the ONLY people eating dinner at 8:15PM (though another couple did show up eventually). In Budapest, people had eaten on the late side (for example on the first night, we had been seated in a booth with the understanding that we needed to be done by 10:00PM because the table was needed for a dinner reservation). We speculated that perhaps on Sundays in Samobor, the tradition is for a late afternoon/early evening supper in order to allow plenty of time for pastry eating and hanging out.

We relished our semi-exclusive run of the outdoor seating area, and had some wonderful grilled meats (a flank steak stuffed with ham and cheese, and grilled veal scallops in a fabulous brown creamy sauce with garlic and herbs), gnocchi and grilled veggies. When we got back out to the square around 10:00, the crowd had thinned out and the entertainment was long gone, but we enjoyed a couple of pieces of the kremsnite and were not disappointed!

With a big day ahead of us, we headed directly to bed on full stomachs – not recommended by medical professionals, but quite satisfying nonetheless.