by Oldgybe & BunsAway
Departed Seattle Wed - 8 Sep on Air BC for Vancouver to make the connection with Lufthansa to Frankfurt. With all the code sharing now, it is really difficult to get to Europe on a good carrier. In the past we took a United Airlines code share and made the transfer to LH in Chicago or D.C., but I hate to pay for an international ticket and then have to buy adult beverages and headphones for the movie, when it comes with your ticket.
Anyway, arrival in Frankfurt and a surprise!! Sunshine, something not seen in recent years. Went to Europcar to pick up auto thru Auto Europe and walked into mass confusion. Had a free upgrade for an Audi 4, but they tried to give me an Opel Vectra cause they didn't have an Audi. No deal - give me something else. Ended up with a Mercedes 180 with auto/shift tranny and air with sunroof. Now we're talking.
We are off and heading for the autobahn. Our destination for our first night is Saverne, France. A nice small town on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin. We don't pick up our barge in Toul until Saturday so we have a few days to unwind. As everyone who has flown into Frankfurt-Main knows there has been a huge amount of construction and exiting the airport and going the right way has been a challenge. No problems and off we go to pick up the A5 and south towards the Strasbourg turnoff. Traffic flowing nicely and BunsAway curls up for a post flight nap. Just so happy to be in Germany that I blow by the turnoff, but all is well and I take the next turn and a back road into Strasbourg. First time here and it is quite a large industrial town, but route is well marked and we survive the surface streets and a quick trip on the expressway and Saverne. Last year, it was raining and the town was deserted, but this year in the sunshine, it is packed with tourists. We go to a hotel we found last year, Au Boeuf Noir, (the black cow) but they say they have no rooms. OK, off to the tourist office and they find us a room at - Au Boeuf Noir - so what gives??? In the French countryside, there is almost no English spoken, and our translation misfired. What they said was, no clean rooms, and we just muffed it. Went back to the hotel and now they know we are a little confused, but all works out. Double room w/o breakfast is FF 265, about $43. Hotel is nice and clean and very central to the city center and the pedestrian zone. The canal splits the town so we find a terrace cafe and watch barges lock up and down and it is a very enjoyable relaxing time, just sipping a beer. While this was once part of Germany and has many German sounding names, there is a giant difference in the beer. It only comes in a .25cl size and really isn't as good. We find a brand called Fischer and stick with it and order dinner. Jet lag has settled in and it is getting dark so off to the room and sleep time.
Don't want to get up the next morning, cause I'm on vacation, but must. Off to the bakery and some fresh croissants and some of that wonderful 50 weight coffee, that makes the German coffee kinda runny. Now our batteries are charged so we pack the car and head east to Toul. We take the back roads that follow the canal. Just outside the town of Lutzelbourg, there is a very interesting area
where barges get on an elevator and go 44m straight up the side of a mountain. This replaced 17 ancient locks and is a 20 minute journey instead of 4 hours. You go into the lock, which looks like a bathtub and goes up on two tracks to the top and unlocks and away you go. Very fascinating piece of engineering. Off again and arrive in the early afternoon in Toul. We are meeting another couple from Seattle, who will only be with us on the barge portion of our trip and will continue onto Paris. We had made a reservation with the Hotel La Villa Lorraine, because it was in the city center and popular. There is one of those great traffic roundabouts loaded with flowers and it is a kodak moment, but lo and behold we run right into our friends, who had parked their car and were searching on foot for the hotel. All settled in, we go off and have a pizza and lots of those wonderful little .25cl beers.
Taking breakfast in the hotel, we pack up and off to the barge base on the outskirts of town. A very nice Aussie couple named Dave and Maggie were running it this season, and although we didn't know them, they knew we were repeat customers and they were a hoot. Since it was early and the barges were being cleaned, we took off and made for the "Hyper Marche". Very large store selling everything from clothes to groceries. We planned to have breakfasts aboard and 50-50 on lunch and dinner aboard and ashore. After all, Lisa says she's on vacation. Back to the barge base and a quick checkout, since this is a different style boat. "Barge" is a misnomer today, as all the new boats are made of glassfibre and very modern.
The canal standard is that the vessels can be only so wide, tall and draw so much water for the smaller canals. The older style barges are hard to find and this is a very big business. Maggie and Dave proclaim we are fit to go so off we are. The first couple of locks are manned and all electric. We throw our fore and aft lines up around some cleats and they flood the locks.
The lines are to keep the barge from banging around when the water floods in. There is a lift bridge in the middle of town and it is also automatic, controlled by photo cells. As we depart Toul, the locks now are unattended but still automatic. After entering the lock, you reach up and pull on a pipe and the lock closes and floods. There is a ladder in the wall and a person has to climb up it to the top of the lock, so that the lines can be thrown and looped around the bollards. When downlocking, just throw your line around and the barge goes down, but uplocking you are in a chamber. Since we are repeating our journey of last year, we are going to spend the nite in Commercy. We go thru 13 locks and a tunnel on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, before we make our turn to the Canal de l'Est branche Nord. All the locks now are old and hand operated. Lock keepers drive up and down the banks keeping in contact by radio. All the gates are opened by an old fashioned crank and we assist them to speed things up. These lock keepers live in houses at the lock and some sell produce and bakery goods to earn extra income.
The barge we rented was from Connoisseur thru Le Boat in NJ. The length was 42 ft and beam was 12 ft. There are 3 double cabins, each with a toilet and shower. A small 4 ring propane stove and 2 propane refrigerators are in the galley. There are both lower and topsides steering stations for driving in all weather and a table and chairs for dining outside.
Power is by a 4 cylinder diesel engine and we have our rented bicycles lashed to the back. Weather still nice and warm and that big beautiful blue sky makes for a great afternoon cruise. Arriving Commercy, we pull to the bank and pound a couple of steel rods into the ground and tie our lines. Today we have traveled a total of 18 locks and a distance of 30km. We have dinner aboard and then head for town. Last year we found a great bar called the "Irishlander Bar" Nothing Irish about it, but the bartender, Stephan is a former member of the French special forces and really took a liking to us. His jaw hit the ground when we came thru the door unannounced and hollering "set em up". We met several of the regulars and closed the joint. Pretty crooked walk back in the dark using a flashlight, but we made anyway.
Up not too early in the morning and a breakfast of soft eggs and fresh croissants. Destination today is St. Mihiel 20km and 5 locks. The canal sometimes joins with the River Meuse. Cranes watch us go slowly by and give us dirty looks as we interrupt their fishing. Maximum boat speed is 8kph, so you can't get in a hurry, and we just relax and soak up that sunshine. We rented 2 bicycles, which we stowed on the stern, so in a moment of foolishness, I take off on a ride along the path adjoining the canal,
but after 7km, I feel cardiac arrest coming on. Back aboard we arrive in St. Mihiel. We were originally going to bypass this town, but is very pretty town and we can't resist an overnight visit. Several boats are at the marina right next to the "Patton Bridge" This was his headquarters and departure point for the dash to the Ardennes and the rescue at Bastogne. There is a lot of military history here, but we really planned to pursue it on the return trip. Tonite is dinner out and guess what??? They roll the sidewalks up here at dark and the only thing open is pizza, but surprisingly very good.
Up early and a gorgeous sunrise greets us as we go to the bakery for croissants. Just another kickback day in paradise. A midmorning departure for the walled city of Verdun, which is our turn-around point and we will spend 2 days here studying the history of WWI. Verdun has notoriety for a battle that claimed over 700,000 French and German soldiers. Todays trip will be 38km and 9 locks and some #15 sun block.
Verdun. As we approach the old walled city thru a small opening in the wall, we find that our dock is under major construction and we have to tie up on the opposite side at the commercial dock. Off to the tourist office and we learn there is a morning bus tour, as most of the monuments and battlefields are outside of town, so we will return tomorrow. Across the bridge and we find a cafe on the water overlooking the construction of the new moorage facility and order lunch and hoist a couple of the giant .25cl beers. A walk thru the shopping area and back to the barge for a nap. I'm on vacation and need my rest. We take dinner aboard under the stars and then an evening walk before nighty night.
Up to the tourist office and darn it, the tour has already sold out. We find we should have signed up the day before, but once again, something is lost during the translation. The largest American cemetery in Europe is here at Romagne-sous-Montfaucon and lie over 15,000 soldiers. There is an underground fort in the city, so off we go for a tour. It turns out to be self guided in a cart like Disneyland. It shows how the soldiers lived under siege and housed 10,000 men underground. It has facilities for producing 28,000 rations of bread per day, powder and ammunition bunker, an infirmary and a water treatment plant using chlorine to purify water one of the earliest used of that technique. Even though we are disappointed to not be able to make the bus tour, perhaps someday we can return again. Over 700,000 German and French soldiers died during the siege of Verdun, but the city never fell into enemy hands. The Americans arrived in 1918 and were given the area from Ardenne in the N to St. Mihiel in the S. and they liberated Verdun. Lots of American history in the area and warrants a visit by all. The weather clouds up and rain begins to fall in the late afternoon and we dig out the rain gear. Our final night is windy, wet and just plain crummy, so we close up and spend the evening aboard.
Up early for our morning trip to the bakery and then start our return trip and again overnight in St. Mihiel. After arrival, we head for the tourist office only to find that all the war history sites are outside of town and well beyond walking distances. St. Mihiel was occupied by the Germans in WWI and liberated by General Black Jack Pershing in Sept. 1918. As we ponder our fate at our favorite pizza house, the owners, a young couple ask us where we are from. They tell us about several things we should see, but one monument we should not miss. They tell us that we can arrange to rent a car and driver from the local ambulance company, that's right. They thank us for the American Armed Forces and all they have done for the French. This is most unusual, as we are used to being told to mind our own business. The next morning we are at the ambulance company and they make a call and in about 30 minutes a lady shows up and sardines us into her can and away we go. About 17 km we climb up a hill to the Memorial de Montsec.
It was built as a monument for the involvement in WWI, but was damaged during WWII and rebuilt as a memorial to both wars to the Americans. The canal traffic so far has been light. The Canal de l'Est branche Nord is a primary route between the North Sea and the Med, so it is not unusual to see private boats making the trip south for the warm winters. This is a small canal and the commercial traffic can only accommodate the small freight barges.
We pack up and now back to Commercy. The rain has stopped and the sun returns. All is well again. Arriving in Commercy, it is too early to hit the Irishlander Bar, so we scout out a dinner house and have Italian. For some reason, we have not yet had a traditional French cuisine, but that's OK by me and they do a superb job on Italian. Dinner done, it's time for our farewell visit to Stephan and his lively pub. Our favorite beer has been a Belgian Ale, but he is out so we have some Dutch beer from a small brewery on the Belgian border, but I can't remember the name, but what the heck, I couldn't even remember my own. Then he comes up with a concoction to end all. He takes 5 different liqours and blends them together with some fanfare. He lights it on fire and we must drink quickly thru a plastic straw before it melts.
Surprisingly it is quite cool and goes down smoothly. Too smoothly, so we must have another. Some of the locals we met previously come in and drag me into a craps game on the bar. Actually, I don't lose too much money, but the camaraderie is nice. We have a great time and Stephan tells us he might buy a bar in Nancy, because he can do much better financially. We wish him the best and give him our address, so he can let us know if he makes a move. Flashlight in hand, we wobble back to the barge.
Friday is our last day on the water and it breaks to bright sunshine again and we head back to our base in Toul. We take our time and arrive back in Toul in the late afternoon. Most of the barges have gone East towards Nancy, but we did see 2 others from this base on our route. Sadly our time runs out. BunsAway says barging is her most relaxing vacations that she can remember. Too often we hurry and go here, there and everywhere and get back from vacation exhausted, and have to go back to work to get rested. I agree, and heartily recommend this form of vacation to everyone.
The cost of this barge was $2400 for 7days and 7 nights, including mandatory damage waiver. The only extra charges were fuel, bicycle rentals and car parking in a secured area. The barges come in several sizes and prices from $900 to ours. Up early on Sat. we clean up and give our groceries to the cleaning people. Saying goodbye to Dave and Maggie, we hope to see them again. We have a final goodbye breakfast with our friends and they head out for Paris and we begin our next adventure to Urach and the great unknown.
Urach, in the Black Forest. This town has been reported earlier by Tooooobah, and visited by BavariaBen and his family on their trip. Route taken was thru Strasbourg, Offenburg, Triberg, Furtwangen and then into Urach. Urach is only about 2 blocks long and parallels the highway on another small road. The first thing you see is Gasthaus Zum Sternen in large letters painted on a house, which belongs to Max Bärmann one of Fritz's sons and the actual restaurant is next door with even larger letters.
We arrived about 2pm after stopping in Triberg to get some Marks. Triberg is the cuckoo capital of the Black Forest and it was packed with tour buses and also, there was a large festival going on. We would return later. We were to meet with PStuyvsant around 5 pm so we looked for a zimmer recommended by Tooooobah, described as his favorite old lady of little old ladies. Frau Hedwig Wehrle greeted our knock with a request for the nite. No English spoken, but she showed us a nice upstairs room with shower and toilet in an alcove, so we actually had a private privy and shower.
Price was DM 28 each with breakfast for a large room. It appears that she has 3 rooms to let. Then, off to the Zum Sternen for our rendevous. We were still early so we ordered a bier. There was only 4 people in the room. One guy asked us where we were from and said he had been in Dallas 10 years ago for one year and then spent a year in San Diego. I was completey brain dead and couldn't get my German going after 10 days in France. My German is basic at best and only speaking once a year doesn't help. We were introduced to Rudy, who is the new owner of the Gasthaus buying it from his father Fritz, and Rudy's wife Martina. She is a doll, but speaks only German. In fact, Rudy is the only English speaker in the family. We told him we were meeting someone and he asked my name. After I told him, he brought over a note written on a beer coaster from Tooooobah, who had been there 2 weeks previous. Tooooobah bought the first beer with money he had left earlier. Now, this is a class act, I want to tell you. Now we were all friends, even though I really didn't have a clue on the language yet, the beer began to flow and my German got much better. Fritz's sister was in a bad auto accident and he and his wife Maria, were visiting her in the hospital. PStuyvsant came thru the door almost on schedule and introductions were made all around. He brought a photo album put together by Ben, showing all the Stammtisch members, to be left at Zum Sternen and reviewed by all our members when they visit.
Now the beer began to flow and it was dinner time. We had the kalbschnitzel recomended by Ben and it was delicious. It came with a salad and pommes frites. I don't remember the price, but PStuyvsant talked them out of the menu, less the very expensive leather cover, to bring back with him. At about 6:30 Fritz and Maria came in and introductions were made.
We all had our pictures taken at their Stammtisch and then a schnapps was toasted. PStuyvsant was staying at a bauernhof about 25 KM away and he departed, but we upheld the tradition of boosting the local economy by staying until about 10pm. Rudy told us that the next day there was a mountain bike championship for the state of Baden-Württemberg at the West side of Urach.
On Sunday morning, after a breakfast of rolls, ham, cheese, and a soft egg, we took off and went to the bicycle race. It was really a big deal and we ran into Fritz walking into the race paddock. He introduced us to a local lady who was the English teacher at a middle school in Donaueschingen, a town about 18KM away. Her husband was the race director and she intoduced us to just about everybody there. A most hospitable crowd and much fun for us. After a few races, we jumped in the car and went to Triberg to be tourists. Triberg was again packed and we visited the clock shops and had lunch.
On the way back to Urach, there was a very large bicycle event going on and the going was slow around Furtwangen. We went directly to Zum Sternen for a beer and that turned into beers and once again dinner. Sunday evening was a busier time in the restaurant and Fritz introduced us to all the locals. Rudy was busy in the kitchen and Martina was busy at the tables. Fritz showed everybody who came in the Stammtisch book from Ben. He also spent time looking himself and chuckling. I want to tell you all that this is a hit. As I conclude this part of the report, I offer the following observations. Urach is certainly a place to visit for a few days and the the Family Bärmann have to be the nicest people on earth. We left our German phrase book with Martina and she was going to practice her English, but said we must also practice our German. This place has the cleanest toilets I have ever seen. Very modern with auto flush and all tiled. The food is fabulous and Fürstenberg Bier is one of the best I have ever had.
This is a must place to visit
for at least a nite and is really part of the Germany we all seek, but some have
reservations about stopping, cause it is very small, all German and not touristy. Perhaps
we can all keep it to ourselves and continue to enjoy this unique family and area.
It is Monday the 20th and the weather gods are still smiling. Except for 2 days of rain in France, we have enjoyed beautiful blue skies and mild temps. As we head to the Alps, we hope it continues. Leaving Urach and saying goodbye to Frau Wehrle, our route will be the back roads as we point towards the Deutsche Alpenstraße with a night stay in Bad Oberdorf. This is all new to us and we plunk along thru the towns of Donaueschingen and Tuttlingen. Here the we have a choice of turning south to the Bodensee or staying east. Since we have been to the lake before, we opt to take the B311 to the B32 and thru the town of Ravensburg. As usual, when driving in a larger town, I am in the wrong lane and miss a turn. No problem, I'll just go to the next intersection and make an adjustment. Wrong!!! Now I am all crossed up and trying to backtrack, I just get more lost. After a short while to let my blood pressure dissipate, I ask for some directions, and finally got straightened out. After passing thru Wangen we meet the junction of the B308. We are in familiar country now. High mountain farms and very smooth roads remind us of the "Sound of Music". Cows with bells around their necks, making music as they eat. We take the side road and go into Oberstaufen for lunch. Very crowded with hikers and tour buses as we tend to forget the mountains don't lose their crowds with the end of summer. A bit of window shopping and Italian sounds very tempting, so a pizza it is. Just as we get our food the skies open up with a big thunder boomer afternoon storm. We just move inside and have a very delightful lunch and a beer. (Small one darnit, but since I am driving, I'll wait till dinner.) Going past the Alpsee at Immenstadt, there are lots of windsurfers on the water and on into Hindelang. I'm sure some of you have passed thru here, as it is at the bottom of the very crooked climb into Austria. Across the road is the village of Bad Oberdorf and a slow drive shows that room pickings are not as plentiful as we expected. Just lots of people hiking in the mountains. We go to the center of the village and hoist a beer while discussing our options. The hotels are available, but really higher that we wanted to spend, but could fall back on if we needed to. So, we took another drive and spotted a zimmer frei sign on a porch at a farm house. While not one of those high alpine farms that BavariaBen, PStuyvsant, and Tooooobah stay at, this looks promising. At one time this farm probably had no neighbors, but now the village has surrounded it. The name is Landhaus "Scholl" and the room with breakfast is DM28 each. Now we're talking. A small room, but nice and clean. As we break open a few leftover beers from the barge, another giant thunderstorm opens up the heavens. Now dinner is calling and calling loudly. As the area was swamped with people earlier, at dark the villages are deserted. Where do they all go??? Not even the restaurants are crowded. I guess that people who walk all day long turn in early. We find a Greek restaurant in Hindelang and have a very good meal with a couple of beers. We know that the Germans tend to eat at a later hour than us. We do some window shopping and it is still very quiet. Very cool evening, so it's off to bed under those wonderful down comforters that every bed has.
Up with the sound of the cow bells, Family Scholl take their cows to a pasture adjoining the barn/house. A very good breakfast of meat, cheese, rolls and of course an egg gets us going on our way. Our destination is Kitzbühel or the nearby area. I first went to the Tirol in 1969 for skiing and returned in the early 70's, but had not been back since. Leaving Bad Oberdorf, we drive the winding road up on top and people are already heading for the lifts to take them to the high country for their walk. Some days I can hardly walk to the car, and here is some old duffer around 100 years old with his walking stick heading for the tram. The only thing I haven't heard is a yodel. Crossing into Austria, it is strange to me still to see the border post empty and just cruise thru. At Reutte, we stop and find a bank to get Austrian schillings. The first 2 auto tellers show "EC International", but only take Visa and MC, not the usual cards. The 3rd teller takes all the cards, so we get our money and now off to find the vignette sticker required for travel on Austrian roads. I am still a little confused about whether you need one on the back roads, but what the heck, I get one anyway. The Shell station at the South end of Reutte takes both DM and OS, so I get a 10 day sticker for DM10. Leaving Reutte we follow the signs for Innsbruck and bypass the autobahn by staying on the B314 to the 171, which is the old road and parallels the autobahn. We drive into Innsbruck and of course it is nothing like I remembered. Much larger and it seemed to be a very busy city. In my much earlier travels, I had stayed there a couple of times, but never really saw all of the city. Continuing along the 171, we stop in Wattens for lunch. I have a sausage platter with kartoffelsalat and Bunsaway opts for the gulaschsuppe. "The local beer is "Kaiser" from Salzburg. Very good I might add. %0)
At Wörgl, we make the turn and climb towards Kitzbühel and the Tyrolean Alps. It has been 25 years since I was last here. A nice pleasant drive thru many small villages and then into construction madness. As we drove into Kitzbühel, it appeared that every street was torn up to some degree. One way streets with those little battery powered traffic signals that we know and have come to love. I didn't remember the town, so our destination was the parking lot at the Hahnenkamm Bahn. Once again the area was crowded with hikers and large tour buses abounded the parking lot. There is no charge for summer parking, so off we went into the village center. As we ventured, we kept an eye out for a zimmer frei sign, but nothing caught our eye. Lots of window shoppers and quite crowded in the center. It appeared that banks outnumbered sidewalk cafes, so we withdrew some OS and had a beer while contemplating our lodging situation. Right across the square was the tourist office and in we go looking our best touristy selfs. Very nice and greeting us in a very friendly manner and they fixed us up with a very nice frühstückpension only 3 blocks from the center of the village. Rather than negotiate the construction, we walked to the pension and found it with little trouble. It was set back off the street a little and we walked past it 3 times before spotting it. The name was Pension Johanna, im Moserhäusl and the price was OS 560 per night, about $43 with breakfast of course.
Just as in the German Alps, the crowds disappeared after dark and we had the town to ourselves. Spotting a large sign "La Fonda" Mexican Food so, why not?? Inside and seated the server said to make a choice quick as there was a tour bus coming and it would take a while to get our food if we waited. Not much of a Mexican menu, but what the heck, it is a long ways from Mexico. We just got our order in and then the world came to a halt. The bus tour showed up and it was all Aussies, fresh from 2 days at Oktoberfest and they were still wound up. Actually we wolfed our food down and bailed outta there and found a nice quiet sidewalk cafe for a night cap. Then off to bed and under those great comforters.
Up at 8 and off to breakfast. The usual with no egg but the young girl who runs the place is very friendly and speaks great English. She asks if she can be of any assistance or answer any questions. I told her I used to ski there and she told me she hadn't even been born when I was there last. I didn't feel too old til then. Off to the Hahnenkammbahn and we go to the upper station for a look see.
Another day of sunshine and bright blue sky, and there are hang gliders and even a few parachutists in the sky. Up on top we hiked, puf, puf, puf, up to a small restaurant and of course had a beer. Spent a great deal of time just people watching and my goodness, lots of elder persons hiking about. I am very impressed with the fitness of the people and kinda disgusted with myself for not being in shape. So disgusted I had another beer and then walked down to the bahn station. After a few hours it was back down and a beer in the village. On the way back, we met our server from the Mexican resaurtant with a parachute bag. She speaks very good English, but says she is from Germany and spent 2 years in Australia. Off to the pension and a short power nap, then ready for dinner. We picked out a small restaurant for it's menu and had a very delightful meal with a night cap of Jägermeister. Tomorrow is a very big day. München and Oktoberfest and will reunite with PStuyvsant and meet Tooooobah for the first time.
We say goodbye to Pension Johanna and head out of town. We hit the autobahn at Kufstein and it is just a short distance to the A8 and towards München. As we near the city, BunsAway gets out the city map, which in previous years has only gotten us lost, and says, it is possible to go right to the hotel on a direct route. Yeah, right, sure. I'll be darned, as the A8 ends it turns into Rossenheimer Straße and that turns into Zweibrücken Straße. As we cross over the river, I'll be darned, I know where we are and we turn right at Pizza Hut and right to the hotel. Problem number one, there is no parking as all spots are taken. So, we unload and go upstairs and greet everybody. I have been staying at Hotel Beck for the past 9 years and we are warmly greeted by Frau Beck and off to the room. Problem number two is where to find a parking place. Only 4 blocks away I find one with a 2 hour limit and as I am fumbling with the blue parking clock from the map compartment, a nice man asks if he can be of help. I can't remember if you put the clock when you arrive or when you are supposed to depart. He tells me that the police now use computers so you can't return and change the time, but he has a spot with no time limit and will change places with me as he has a short business transaction and doesn't really need the curb spot. How nice of him and once again reaffirms my opinion of how friendly the Germans are, especially when you have that "I've just landed on Mars and don't know what to do" look. We are earlier than expected, as it is only 130KM from Kitzbühel to München. Back at the hotel, Frau Beck told us she, her sister, and brother-in-law went to Arizona and Utah in the past late winter. They rented a Mitzubishi Trooper and did a cross country off road tour of the parks and surrounding area in So. Utah. She comes to the U.S. every winter or spring and is evenly divided between Florida and the SW part of the country. Well, now off to Weis'n and the land of crazies and nuts. At 1pm it is not very crowded, and we are kinda surprised. Since we are here only for 2 days this year, we go and do our shopping for the mugs, shirts, pins, etc. I have bought from the same vendor since the first trip here and the family who owns the booth always gives me a cup or some souvenir when I purchase our stuff. He doesn't have to do this as this provides a goodly portion of their income for the year and I am touched once again by generosity. We go to our favorite festhalle, the Häckerbraü and we can't find our favorite waiter anywhere. We had made friends with "Frankie" and his wife "Angela" in previous years, but they are nowhere to be found. So, as it is early, we take a stroll thru the other halles and I guess they have retired. Now back to the Häckerbraü, and now it is packed. Thinking we might have made an error in waiting so long, a waiter came by and asked us if we needed a seat and voila, a seat and 2 maß krugs of Oktoberfest Bier are in our hands. We made friends with three people from the former East Germany, who were attending their first fest and found out that 2 of the 3 were recently married, so we bought them a round and now we're really good friends. Having a conversation with our waiter we asked if he know our friends or what happened to them, but alas, he didn't. He told us that they had cut the number of tables served in half to 4 so I would guess that it was not worthwhile for them to continue. Well, we put in a full shift and got really plowed but we left around 9:30 and back to the hotel. We must make a change from the u-bahn to the s-bahn to get to our stop at Isator Platz, and I manage to get us lost and going in the wrong direction. So much for the experienced Oktoberfest traveler.
Friday arrives too quickly and I must make a quick trip to the Harley shop for shirts. Been going to BoBo's for several years and his wife greets me with "I know it is Oktoberfest time when you walk thru the door" Only, NO SHIRTS, and she tells me that they got in 400 t-shirts on Thursday before the fest and one week later all were gone. "The Americans will buy anything and they cleaned us out" she says. I need 3 XL's and she comes out of the back room with shirts for me. They were something like on layaway for a customer, but he can wait until the next shipment come in from the U.S. Back to the hotel and BunsAway has done her shopping so now the big moment comes. We are to meet at 3 with the rest of the gang so back to the Häckerbraü. It is Friday and packed, so I find my newest best friend waiter and tell him we need a seat for 4 and he gets us 2. At the time, I go to the front door to meet PStuyvsant and Tooooobah. They are right on time and back to the table to squeeze together.
Now the beer is really flowing and we have a nice conversation about our travels. At 5 - I notice that they have locked the doors to our halle. The table behind us is getting rowdy and pushy and now the fest is really rockin out. There is a soccer match earlier today and FC Bayern shirts are all over the place after the game ends. PStuyvsant makes a departure after finding out he can't make a dent in the abundant supplies on hand and wanders off to his hotel, as he is leaving early for the Rhein and Mosel area. This table behind us is now getting me hot under the collar so I suggest to Tooooobah that we leave and go to town for dinner.
No problem, so off to the area of the Hofbräuhaus. We found a neat restaurant around the corner and a pleasant meal followed by a shot of Jäger makes for a memorable evening. Since tomorrow we fly out, it is now off to bed and an early packing and departure.
Morning comes way too early and we opt for breakfast at McDonalds on the way to the airport. This McDonalds is way too popular and now we must eat on the way to the airport. We must make a stop and top off the tank before turning the car in. As some of you know, the rental return area is a common one and it is packed. I first came to München when the new airport opened and it was a ghost town. Now, it is a hectic, busy, crowded mass and time is short. Back to Europcar and only 2 people working the counter and it takes a long time to get done with the paperwork. We have 15 minutes to get to the gate and the rush is on. Arriving at the gate, we are greeted with a mass of humanity and boarding has been delayed. It is a very slow process and I am most unimpressed with Lufthansa right now. Teutonic efficiency has disappeared and 5 lines are trying to press into 1. Finally, all aboard and we are airborne 40 minutes late for Frankfurt and have less than 1 hour to get off, thru the tunnel and checked in for our flight to Vancouver. They are just starting the boarding process and things are going smoothly as they should. Once again we have the exit seats, but it seems half of India is aboard this flight. Several times we had to ask people to move out of our way, as we had good films aboard and it seemed they couldn't understand why it was not OK to stand in front of us. However, it was a nice flight and the crew worked their buns off. On approach to Vancouver, it was announced that is was quite windy and out the window, we noticed white caps on the water and blowing dust on touchdown. Now the adventure begins. I travel into Canada several times a year to deliver our paint and the Canadian Customs are as big a pain as the U.S. Customs are. We have to fill out a card, just like when you return to the U.S. This is the first time at an airport, but I am surprised how quickly it goes. Immigration stamps our passport and customs doesn't even look too close at our declaration as we are continuing on to the U.S. We find out we will clear U.S. customs here and not in Seattle as we thought. I guess there are so many cross border travelers that this is how they work it. We drag our bags over and get grilled on where, when, how and I think a little bit over zealous in their manners regarding our departure to Seattle. I told the guy that I must be home as no one in our travels in 4 countries have given us as much trouble as they did. I thought he was going to do something, but 2 longhairs from our flight looked more promising, I guess. Anyway, we had a 2 hour wait for our wing flapper to depart for home. A nice Canadian lager and then time to leave. We arrive in Seattle and our bags are right on time. Off to Super Shuttle and home to jet lag and getting up at 2am to watch tv. Don't you just love it???
A summary of the trip. Urach and Family Bärmann are a must on any trip if possible. The Alps are always a good time. Oktoberfest has become a real zoo and hard to get excited about anymore, but a year makes memories go dim. A pleasure to meet fellow members of the Stammtisch. And it is only 48 weeks until I hope we can do it again.