Here we go! Day 1 (or maybe more like Day 0). It's 9:30am and our plane flight is leaving around 1pm, so we'll be heading off to PDX in about 30 minutes. We're pretty much packed and ready to go, just checking off the lists and making sure my house is picked up since we will have a few friends and family coming over to house sit a few days/weeks and check on Misty once in a while.
I had to go plug in all of the Halloween lights this morning too. I had to decide whether to put them up before we left or when we got back, but I don't think I'll be interested in putting a bunch of lights up the week before Halloween (when we get back), so the decision wasn't too tough. My neighbors already think I'm a little crazy, so getting on the roof and putting lights up all-day Sunday two weeks early probably didn't help my case there. To be fair, I did keep them off until today. I just had to plug them in and set the timers.
I think both Megs and I are pretty excited at this point. We're feeling a lot less stressed now that just about everything has gotten done. We don't have hotel reservations until Tuesday night (Munich for Octoberfest), and don't have a definite plan for when we arrive in Frankfurt on Sunday morning (or US Pac timezone late tonight). We've been told there's not much to see in Frankfurt as its pretty industrial, but we'll probably be tired enough after the flight that finding some good places to eat and a place to stay might be enough adventure for the first day. If we can find a good internet cafe the first day I'll post an update then!
Our first day in Germany was pretty simple. We spent the morning and early afternoon just kind of wandering around Frankfurt following a self-guided walking tour on the map we received at the Tourist Info center. The tour included climbing to the top of a few buildings and getting a view of the city. We ate lunch at the Feuer and Flamme on Holzgraben. I had what was called a flamme cake, but was really just bad pizza with really thin crust. We noticed early on that almost all of the music that is played at different retail establishments is English, and in most cases the same songs we'd listen to back home. The only other interesting thing in Frankfurt was the Oldtimer City carshow where a lot of classics were being displayed on the streets.
In the late afternoon we decided to head out of Frankfurt to Rothenburg, one of the best medieval towns (according to our travel books) to visit. On the train ride it was interesting noticing how there were almost no one or even two story homes in the country-side. Three stories looked to be the standard, and four wasn't uncommon.
When we arrived in Rothenburg our first challenge was to figure out what direction to head from the train station to the town. The town itself is mostly contained within large fort walls. As we found our way and started walking down one of the main roads in town we were hailed by a large Turkish man with a deep voice that apparently owned a Bed and Breakfast and was looking for customers. I think the street quaked a bit everytime he said something. He offered a room for 45 Euro per night, or 40 Euro per night for two nights. The price seemed good so we climbed in and he taxi'ed us and our bags a few blocks to the Pension Birgit. It was a pretty cute place just off Wengasse and the town itself is so small that you can pretty much walk to everything from everywhere in 10-15 minutes max (except the train station which is outside town a bit). The only thing we didn't enjoy while staying there were the soft-boiled eggs that were served with breakfast (first time I had tried one). It was like snot in a shell that had to be spooned out.
Rothenburg was a beautiful but very touristy town. All of the roads were cobblestone and many of the buildings were as old as any I've ever seen. Supposedly it is one of the most well-preserved medieval towns in the world. The highlight of the day was the Night Watchman's Tour. It takes off at 8pm every day from the middle of town (Market Square) where the local 'night watchman' gathers a huge crowd (in this case we probably had 80 or more), charges six euro (four for students), and takes you around town for an hour cracking jokes all the way. You do learn quite a bit about how the town has gotten from where it started to where it is today, including how it was overtaken by an army due to some goofball lighting a match in the gunpowder storage room because he wanted to see how much gunpowder was left during the assault. Apparently there were only two casualties in the entire assault for the people guarding the town, and that was the guy that lit the match and another guy who was too close!
Outside of trying my first snot of egg (soft-broiled, yuck!) breakfast was pretty good prepared by the Turkish man's wife. We learned that they had been married for over 27 years! I hope he could enjoy soft-boiled eggs more than I could. After breakfast we decided to "Walk the Wall." At different points in the town you could take stairs to get onto the surrounding wall and walk along the top almost entirely around the town (supposedly a bit over a mile.) The weather was awesome but the wall was covered so it would make a good activity even if it were raining. There were a few long stretches where both Meg and I were glad not to be any taller or we would have come out with strained backs. The views we found of the town were excellent though.
The next stop was one of the many small streetside bakeries to try schneeballs. They appeared to be pretty large pastries (although you could purchase a different variety of sizes) with different glazes and coverings. We bought a small four variety pack and I tried the chocolate, butter-scotch-ish, and powered sugar ones. Unfortunately looks were deceiving. The centers of the balls were very hard and crispy, not soft as we had hoped. Overall the only tasty bit was the glaze on the outside, so that was the first and last of eating schneeballs for us.
In the early afternoon we made our way over to the Medieval Crime Museum to learn about medieval laws, punishment, and torture devices. One of the more interesting early punishments was called a neck violin for women who did not get along. Each woman stuck her neck through a hole in a piece of wood that connected them together, basically looking like two connected violins. There was no way to avoid your joined friend until you "agreed to get along" and were released. The shame masks were also really cool. Depending on your vice you may be made to wear a mask that intended to embarass the wearer. A long tongue sticking out meant you could not stop gossiping, pig nose meant you were acting like a pig (usually for men), and a moustache... well let's just say the 'stache had very sexual undertones. Maybe I should have grown out the beard before coming here? =)
The next stop was the horse carriage tour through the town. We already felt like we had walked around the entire town, but Megs liked the horses. I think it would have been more fun if we had known more German, but the driver was a pretty lively old man. We caught words here and there and there was another woman helping to translate to English-speaking tourists, but sometimes you have to be a little careful of English-sounding German words. For example, in Spanish if you were to say "Yo soy mucho embarrasado."
The last stop of the night was a great dinner at Zum Schwan. This place, like many of the others, served Bavarian food. Megs had Champignonschnitzel (scaloped pork with mushrooms) and croquets (soft potatoes) and I had Zigeunerschnitzel (scaloped pork with spicy gypsy sauce), mixed salad, and fries. We both tried radler (half-beer half-lemonade) but I think the lemon/lime taste was lost in the light beer. The highlight of the evening was the waiter. He knew German and English easy enough but we caught him effortlessly conversing in Italian with a couple near us. A few minutes later an asian couple flagged him down and asked for the bill in Japanese and he responded in kind without any hesitation. Now it is one thing to know a few germanic and romantic languages, but Japanese as well! When we asked about it he said he knew "six or seven" languages pretty well.
It was finally time to leave the city of Rothenburg en route to Munich on the Romantic Road. We had already stayed one more day in Rothenburg than we had orginally guessed we would because we liked the place so much. We spent most of the morning shopping for souvenirs and gifts. While looking for beer steins we happened to run across a 32 liter beer stein that was probably four feet tall!
The Romantic Road bus tour departed a little after noon. It wasn't really much of a tour however; there were a couple of recordings that were played in German, English, and Japanese as we entered cities. The stops along the way were usually just to pick up and drop off, not long enough to really see anything. The first major stop was in Dinkelsbuhl for about 30 minutes. We ate some surprisingly great spaghetti and sparkling apple drink for about seven euro. The longest stop was unexpected. We were supposed to spend 15 minutes in Nordlingen, but the bus driver told us we had 40. When we came back a half hour later he was changing one of the right rear inner and outer tires. It was almost an hour before we got out of there and he blew threw all of the rest of the stops. The tour ended in Munich around 9pm.
When we arrived in Munich we purchased the 3-day partner pass so we could ride the S-Bahn, U-bahn, busses, and trams at will since we would be in town for a couple of days. The first challenge was finding our hotel. We apparently had forgotten to get good directions from the main train station to the Princeregent hotel we had booked months ago. We prebooked two days in Munich since this was the last week of Oktoberfest. This was also to be our priciest hotel to stay at for 130 euros, or about $200 a night for the two nights.
We started day four of our trip a little late, not making it for breakfast until about 9:30am. It was an awesome breakfast though. Eggs, fruit, meats, breads, etc. and everything was very good. I don't know what they cooked into the scrambled eggs but they were probably the best I've had. Megs said she'd never be able to eat another croissant from anywhere else again, and we haven't made it to France yet! She nearly exploded when she noticed they had several varieties of cereal in addition to all of the great hot food. That may seem stange to you, but Megs likes to remind me that cereal is the only thing above me on the "what Megan likes" list.
After breakfast we visited the Residenz, which is where the Wittelsbachs royalty lived that ruled Bavaria for many centuries. The included audio tour of the palace was LONG! About halfway through we had to start skipping audio clips and by the very end we were simply walking through the rooms slowly. They didn't allow flash, but did allow pictures to be taken, which was a little surprising since most of these places don't.
That evening we took off to the Theresienwise fairgrounds in west Munich to experience Oktoberfest. Here's how it works... What seems like a hundred thousand people pack into a space that can only be filled by ten thousand; half of the people are already drunk, and the other half are on their way. There are huge beer halls in the back (literally huge, they take a few minutes just to walk around) packed with celebrators singing whatever is playing. And when I say packed I mean we could not initially find an open table to sit down at inside or outside the first few beer halls. Beer maidens are scrambling around with thier arm's full of large liter mugs. And Oktoberfest isn't just about the beer! The whole area has a big crazy carnival feel with tons of games, entertainment, foodstands selling undercooked bratwurst (more on this later), and extremely expensive rides. Megs and I rode the two biggest rollercoasters for six euro a piece! The lines were short though (probably due to the price) and we were able to ride in the front waiting only several minutes.
After eating some unsuspicious looking bratwurst (still more on this later) we happened to find an open table at one of the beer halls. Megs only wanted a half-pint of beer (neither of us are big fans of light beer but it is Oktoberfest after all!), but this only confused our beer maiden as she didn't know the English word "pint" and beer at Oktoberfest was only sold by the liter (quarter of a gallon) in standardized liter beer mugs anyway. Between the two of us in a few hours we had finished off four liters, had made some new friends (Andy from Switzerland and Rito from Austria), and had moved from just outside of the beer hall to inside where it was even more lively. There was a bit of group table dancing as no amount of rowdy was over-rowdy here, and Andy and Rito politely let me know they would be asking for Megan's hand in marriage if I didn't do so soon. That being said no proposals were made even though getting engaged during Oktoberfest is every girl's dream I'm sure. We had a great time with Andy and Rito and some of their friends and ended up exchanging emails with them as legibly as we could. I had to write mine down for Rito as his first attempt to write his own looked like 4 p's and a couple circles. If I didn't think I could read it with more than two liters in my system, then I stood no chance in the morning. The strangest thing we observed was that people started leaving as the evening got later such that probably only half remained at 9pm or so. It was a bit odd since I would have expected things to just be really getting started then. Most everybody that left had finished their beers but there were a few people that left without drinking everything. So we got to watching one of the beer maidens trying to covertly sneak drinks from these surviving beers as she went to pick up the large mugs and carry them away. Maybe she could argue she was just trying to lighten the load a bit =) Needless to say all had a good evening that night and we felt pretty good on the way back to the train station with our new Oktoberfest friends and then walking from the train station back to our hotel.
Remember the bratwurst? Ya, I didn't forget. Well apparently it had not forgotten me either and after sleeping peacefully for more than two hours I found out just how bad food poisoning and alcohol mix. As I couldn't keep anything down (I'll leave the details out) I felt cold, queasy, and drunk all at the same time. I think the alcohol in my system was really amplifying the sick feeling (or vice versa) and I didn't manage much sleep that night from that point on. The following morning was mostly recovery. I felt weak and still a little queasy (but much better than before now with an empty stomach) and the first priority was breakfast.
We made it to the Deutches Museum that aftenroon, which is normally something I thought I'd really enjoy... well, maybe any other day. I felt pretty poor for getting tired when just climbing a few flights of stairs... I mean come on, there's no way I'm in that bad of shape! Anyway, the cool thing about the museum is that it is focused on science and technology. It is supposed to be like the Smithsonian, kind of like a mega-OMSI. There are tons of displays in different sections, including very interactive displays. The problem we had was that only half of them seemed to work. We started expecting nothing to happen when we pressed the black and red buttons on the displays. We spent a few hours fruitlessly pressing buttons in sections like mining and tunnel construction (where we actually walked through very long staged tunnels, kind of like a Disneyland ride line except educational), marine navigation (they had a real submarine cut in half long-wise), and aeronautics (both flight and space including an original Wright brothers' plane).
Due to me not feeling my best during the day we didn't get to do some of the things we wanted to before our hotel reservations dried up for Munich. We decided we needed another day in town and were offered a room for 230 euros at Princeregent. Uh... no. We were able to book a Bed and Breakfast from the Tourist Information office that evening for about 80 instead. It wasn't great, but it was still in Munich, and actually closer than the Princeregent anyway. 80 euro to 230 euro alone is a compelling case, especially when our biggest complaint is a bit of noise and a sink that gurgled loudly for about five minutes after shutting it off at the cheaper B+B. This was also the first day I finally got on-line at an Internet Cafe to update this travel log (for Day 2 only I think :P ). Sorry I'e been slow, but it takes time to adjust to control and shift keys moving, punctuation swapped, and the Z and Y keys interchanged. If you run into any "zou" or "yoo"'s than just swap Y and Z mentally =) I've gotten pretty good now at just typing like crazy and then fixing things by going back through and re-reading. I can't wait to get back to work and have to learn to type all over again on Sun's keyboards :P Maybe I can dictate code the first couple days back :)
The day did not start out well. We had planned to catch a bus tour from Munich to Neushwanstein and Hohenshwangau castles near Fussen. Hohenshwangau was where King Ludwig II grew up, and he built about a third of Neushwanstein, the fairy tale castle, before his death. The Disney castle was based on Neushwanstein. The story of Ludwig is very popular here as you might expect and very intersting as well. You can read more about it here. When we got to the train station we found that the tour had been cancelled because the trains were not running in the morning. Apparently some of the train companies had gone on strike, something I'm told rarely to never ever happens. Go figure huh? We decided to go see Nymphenburg Palace while we hoped for the trains to come back around. The palace was a little disappointing after seeing the amazing Residenz earlier since it was basically the same decor but not as many nice rooms were shown. On the way to the palace we did have a pretty humorous incident on the subway train when about five gentlement packed in the middle and weren't holding on when the train jarred to a start. It was like watching human dominos!
When we got back from the palace the trains were now running out of Munich, but there were significant delays and cancellations. We finally caught a train to Fussen that night so we could visit the Ludwig castles the next morning we had hoped to do earlier in the day. We arrived very late and were looking at a cool hotel kiosk when a nearby Austrian couple doing the same thing offered us a ride to the hotel they were headed to (which was near the one we were looking at). They didn't know a lot of English but we expressed appreciation and then had to check into their hotel since the cheaper one we were looking at was all booked up for the night. The hotel we booked was actually some sort of relaxation or health resort. For us it was just a place to sleep and since we had to get up early we didn't get much of a chance to check out any of their services.
Day 7 was more or less a fitness day for us as hiking was the theme. We walked from the Aktiv Hotel Schweiger to the train station in Fussen about 1km away. We dropped off our stuff and chose to save some money by walking to the castles we wanted to see. It was about 3.5km to the castles and then after getting tickets we were told to allow 15 minutes to reach Hohenshangau and 40 minutes to Neushwanstein one-way. The hikes from the ticket office to each of the castles was upill, but we decided we were still young and shouldn't have any problem. Instead of 15 it took us less than 10 minutes to reach Hohenshangau and we enjoyed the view from the hill the castle was on before the tour started. The weather was overcast, a little wet, and very foggy. It added some atmosphere to the castles, but probably didn't help the lighting conditions for the pictures we took. We weren't allowed to take pictures at all inside the castles but we did take quite a few outside. After the 30 minute tour of Hohenshangau we started the climb to Neushwanstein, which took us about 25 minutes at a very healthy pace (I had obviously fully recovered from my previous bratwurst experience at this time).
Neushwanstein was by far the most impressive sight we had seen to this point. As amazing as the Residenz was this castle was just so intricate and completely designed. Everything was as over-extravagent as you would imagine, but it all fit together as well. It's hard to imagine what the other two-thirds would have looked like. In the King's room above his bed was a castle replica model made of wood that looked so detailed that real little people could have lived there. The King's bed chamber alone took 60 artisans and sculptors 3 years to complete. It's really a shame we could not take pictures.
After the final tour we decided to head back down to the ticket area where most of the shops were and look for souvenirs, gifts, and grab a bite to eat. There are a couple different ways to get up and down to and from the castles. You can walk, take a bus, or even take a horse carriage. As we were walking down I happened to notice a pair of couples several meters ahead of us walking far too close to a horse-drawn carriage. Unlike the horses in Rothenburg, these were not equipped with bags to their rears. I watched in great anticipation and even asked Megan to ready her camera for what I knew was going to be the funniest moment of our trip. Alas, the horses were not playing along or maybe they had already taken care of their business on the way up already, as nothing came to be. We made the 3.5km trek down to the train station on tired feet and now needed to get to Koln as soon as possible since we had planned to meet with Dietmar, a family friend of Megan's mother. We were able to catch a train to Augsburg, then to Munich, and finally to Frankfurt that night. We were still about 2 hours train ride from Koln and the next train wasn't leaving till after 3am. It was already past midnight and we were meeting Dietmar in the morning around 10am so we felt like we needed to get some sleep. We found Hotel Apadana for a decent price near the Frankfurt train station.
We got out of bed around 6am so that we could wash up and get to the train station to catch a 7:30am train to Koln. We got in around 8:40am to eat some pastries and tea before going just across the street to the huge Koln Cathedral to meet Dietmar. He was pretty easy to find once Megan noticed he was flashing a big "D" (as he had joked about doing over the phone) under his jacket. We chatted over breakfast and took a Rhine river boat cruise. Koln itself was pretty busy in the streets as a marathon was actually taking place that day. We noticed several serious runners and several not so serious runners because they were wearing costumes. How you can run 41km in a gorilla mask or clenching a sword in a knight mask is beyond me.
The next stop for Dietmar and us was the Chocolate Museum. I have to say this is probably the first museum where I looked more forward to the gift and souvenir shop than the actual museum. Now when we first got there I had no idea what a chocolate museum would look like. Embarrasingly I initially thought about chocolate sculptures or chocolate furniture or something like that. In reality the museum is more about how chocolate is created and processed from the cocoa plan, what kinds of forms it takes, and historical references to how chocolate was consumed and by who since it was brought to Europe. It actually became known to the European world for the first time when Christopher Columbus sailed to America by accident. There were also displays of very old chocolate candies and packaging from the early 1900s. The museum itself seemed to be owned by Lindt, so the biggest chocolate company in the world (I think, we read they bought Ghirardelli's in 1998) had some obvious marketing in employment with displays such as why chocolate is good for you. One of the cool things about the museum was that you could actually watch how chocolate was processed. You could see the different machines and what they did, and there were actual workers at the end of some of the lines doing packaging and such. By the time we made it through we were starving and still had to pick up some "souvenirs" from the gift shop. We tried our best to keep our minds of the fact we were so hungry and I managed to find some chocolate cat tongues (as they were called). When I saw them at first I literally thought they were chocolate flavored cat treats or something since I didn't know the word "tongue" in German. I'm glad I could give Deitmar a good laugh at my expense when he corrected me :)
The next scene for us was to walk to the top of the bell tower at the Koln Cathedral. We had missed the tour time and decided to do that the following day. We climbed over 500 spiraled stair steps to get up, but we got to see St. Peter's bell, nicknamed Fat Peter since it is the heaviest swinging bell in the world at 26 tons (if I remember correctly). Apparently they only ring it 6 times a year. The one worry we had while climbing was that the smaller bells had started going off as we climbed and the volume was steadily increasing intensity with each step. Luckily they stopped before we actually reached the bell platform.
The last stop of the night was at the Fruh pub and brewery where we had eaten breakfast with Dietmar earlier. He treated us each to a kolsch which is a locally brewed beer and we toasted with the word bost! (not sure of the spelling!) Dietmar was great! We invited him to stay at my house or with Megan and her parents hsould he ever wish to visit the States again. Unfortunately he had just returned from a three week vacation and had to meet with some Romanian students so we had to part ways. Hopefully we didn't hold him up too much and cause him to miss his train.
We had an extra day in Koln, and our last day in Germany to kind of tidy things up before moving on to Italy. The first thing we wanted to do was to take the Koln Cathedral tour. This lasted over an hour, and supposedly we saw the gold tomb relic containing the bodies of the three magi. The tour guide we had was definitely the most interesting we've had yet. He had many great stories of the history of the cathedral. The sheer size of the thing is extraordinary. Restoration is a season-long, never-ending activity and we were told half of one of the large glass windows takes 3 years to completely clean. Each piece of glass must be hand and laser cleaned in the stained glass windows.
Most of the rest of the day was boring housekeeping stuff. I got the travel journal mostly caught up with my notes and uploaded selected pictures while Megan found a place to do a little bit of laundry. She was very excited and wanted me to mentioned that she ate a brochen for her grandma.
We went to the Koln train station and caught a train to the airport in the evening to catch our 7pm flight to Venice. Megan left her "flying shirt" in the checked luggage and was spazzing a bit about an hour before the flight in the terminal since she had never flown without it and was sure the result would be disasterous if she did not have it. Luckily I was able to convince here that it still counted since it was going to actually be on the plane with us in the checked luggage and we would only die in a horrible plane crash if they misplaced our luggage. Based on her preconceptions of lost luggage probability by the airlines it didn't comfort her much. So plan B was to buy her a drink and that seemed to do the trick.
Welcome to Venice! Wow, I guess since I've never been here I didn't really know that "waterbus" really was a bus on the water (canals). We did what we needed to do in order to reach the canals but I'll save the impressions of the city until tomorrow's journal.
We spent our first morning in Venice just walking around and getting lost. It was actually a bit intentional as Megs heard some of the best things in Venice are found when you are lost (and it's really easy to get lost since few of the streets, or alleyways as they are more appropriately called, are unmarked). We were just trying to head in the general direction of the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilisk. The lines to the guided tours, or at least what we thought were lines for guided tours since they were also very poorly marked, were horrendously long. The line literally scaled around the building structure on two sides. We ended up getting in a shorter line to just walk through and see where the Doge and the aristrocratic congress ruled. We also got to see prisons and an old armory. We took some pictures outside but none were allowed inside again. Once inside we viewed the largest oil painting in the world, Tintoretto's Paradise, and we saw the original Adam and Eve sculptures by Rizzo.
As we walked through a popular allyway to enter the main plaza at Piazza San Marco we were waived over by a black guy with probably fifteen purses and belts wrapped around his arms. He looked kinda shady (probably on purpose) and since we weren't in Rome we decided we didn't have to do as the Romans do. We watched the guy barter with other tourists and Megan managed to get involved as well. He was looking around a lot and was really trying to push volume with deals like getting a third for only 20 more euro. I kinda pulled Meg aside afterward and asked whether she thought the name-brand purses (Prada, Louis Vitton, etc.) were fake and the shady street selling was just a ploy for tourists or whether they were really stolen goods. She kind of got flustered and questioned me whether they might be real and were stolen because it never occurred to her that they could be stolen. I guess she had just seen this guy as a standard street merchant and had assumed by the price that they were probably rip-offs. That probably was the case anyway, as we passed several more black guys (with radios if I remember correctly) with armfuls of the same wares speaking English and not Italian. But it was really funny that a little street naiveity would have prevented her from paying a big price if she really did want a name-brand purse at a shady discount rate.
Venice in general seemed extremely busy and full of tourists. In the Plaza there were uber expensive name-brand stores and ridiculously priced restaraunts (ala 50 euro a plate for just a main course). This all makes me wonder what this place looked like last month! As for the shopping, the prices get better as you moved away from the Plaza and towards the Rialto bridge where there was a bit of a Saturday market or flea market feel to the environment with tons of merchants setting up small shops next to one another down the alleyway (aka street). Popular items included strange masks and murano glass that was crafted into all sorts of different pieces of jewerly and small types of utensils. And of course this is Venice, so there were plenty of couples and groups taking the gondola rides through the canals.
That night we stopped to try the gelato at a local stand. We were told to look for grey banana instead of bright yellow, which supposedly indicates authenticity versus just simply coming from a mix. It was pretty good, and we're hoping to compare Venetian gelato to Roman gelato.
The final stop of the night was to try something Megs had seen in a book about Venice. Sarde en saor wasn't something either of us would normally try but it wasn't bad. We passed on eating the sardine tails as they were a bit bonier (or rather cartilidge'ier?) than the rest of the fish. It was a lot less fish-tasing than either of us expected, which may have something to do with the cooked onions it appeared to be cooked with. All in all I probably wouldn't pay to eat it again, but it wasn't too bad.
Today was a day to sleep in a bit (9am) and do some last minute gift shopping on our way to catch a train to Rome. Most of the day was spent on the train from Venice to Rome. Once we arrived at Roma termini we had a pretty easy time finding our hotel since streets were much better marked than in Venice. There seemed to be a lot of small, private internet and call shops along some of the streets and other than that Rome looked pretty close to any large American city except for all of the vespa scooters roaming through the streets. Not much else to write today as most of the time was spent in the train.
The goal for today was to see as many of the sights in Rome as possible. And I'm pretty sure we accomplished that. We got up and ate breakfast (because breakfast is important, but mostly because you don't want to see Megan when she hasn't had breakfast) at 7:30am, which is the earliest the hotel starts serving. We had a bit of a trek to walk through unfamiliar streets but we reached The Vatican a little after 9am on foot. We happened to step down The Spanish Steps on our way and didn't even realize it until later (they are that awesome). When we got to Vatican City there was a huge line snaking around the Vatican wall. Guess we weren't early enough! We waited in line for about 2 hours and after going through a security checkpoint we didn't have to wait any longer. The highlight of the Vatican museums is of course the Sistine Chapel for most. We were actually more impressed by the low wall painted draperies than the famous ceiling and high wall paintings. Since you are not allowed to take pictures in the chapel we looked for postcards showing the whole room or at least one of the drapery paintings but to no avail! Every postcard focused on the ceiling. But they looked so real! We kind of jumped around a bit (in the few places you even could) as we walked through but we did see and recognize Raphael's School of Athens.
We then stopped over at St. Peter's Basilisk and admired some of the sculptures and art there. Unfortunately Michelangelo's Pieta sculpture was surrounded by glass and you couldn't get very close.
We finally got to try gelato in Rome and I think we found "the" most authentic gelato you could buy, and you should believe me, because I have no clue what authentic gelato should taste like. This stuff was super smooth! Unfortunately we didn't know that when we bought it (other than noticing that the banana wasn't yellow at all) and didn't write down the name of the place. It was on the west side of Rome (at least several blocks away from Vatican City) and unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) our hotel is on the east side.
We next stopped over to the Pantheon, which was cool, but nothing really cool happened there so I don't really have anything to write about. Well... I guess there is a big hole at the top of the dome and because the floor gets wet when it rains there are 22 or so drains in the floor (or so Megan read). That is all.
The final sight we saw was the Trevi fountain. It was an absolute must see for Megan. I threw in 5 cents and she threw in 7 because it took two tries to get a good picture. We stuck around until it started getting dark so we could get a few pictures with the fountain lights on. It was pretty busy with other tourists so you had to pick your spots and wait a lot to get good pictures and such.
With our last day in Rome we hoped to take it kind of easy, especially after seeingmost everything in a very busy yesterday. At breakfast we decided to try our first Italian cappuccino before we left as is the morning Italian custom. I really don't think either of us will ever be big coffee drinkers.
In the morning we walked back to the Trevi fountain and caught it at a much less busy time than yesterday to snap a few more pictures. On the way to the Colosseum we ran into another large structure, a monument for Vittorio Emanual II, where Megan insisted I mentioned she petted a stone winged lion.
When we got to the Colosseum the weather was great considering it is October. We took a guided tour through the Colosseum that allowed us to pass through the security checkpoint more quickly and included two additional free tours for a very fair price. It was interesting to hear how much of the bronze and marble from this structure had been "borrowed" by the Vatican for its structures. Anyway, by the time we had finished the tour the clouds had started rolling in. When the rain came in it fell pretty hard. Megan and I resolved to avoid buying an umbrella since we are "full-blooded Oregonians." The little street peddlers were running around trying to sell umbrellas to all of the tourists. We got asked maybe a dozen times. We struggled through the first free tour as best we could, which started more than a half hour late. It was a tour of the Roman forum, or a bunch of pagan basilisks and monuments that were either converted to Christian churches and preserved or stripped of materials and now stand in ruins. Apparently Julius Caesar was cremated at this site. By the time the tour ended we were soaked! And we still had to get back to the hotel! Luckily we were in good humour about the whole thing (at least in the beginning). It was kind of funny seeing everybody retreat under cover while they were holding their umbrellas up. Were there holes allowing some of the water through the umbrellas they owned such that they needed a tree or archway to deflect the rain?
The most difficult part of it all was getting back to the hotel. I wasn't kidding when I said we were soaked! I had to dry out my wallet! Well when I pulled out our handy map from my back pocket I noticed the ink had begun to run. We quickly made our way back hoping the map would not completely dissolve before we ran into Via Settembre, which is the main street the hotel is near. Of course when we made it back the rain had completely stopped and the sun was trying to poke through again!
In the morning we tried to finish drying the clothes we were wearing during the wet tour from the day before. We used the hotel hair dryer, whch would shut off automatically when it got too hot.
We caught the train from Rome to La Spezia to start our three nights in Cinque Terre. This was the last place in Italy we were going to visit and the only stop on the rest of the trip we didn't already have hotel reservations for. As soon as we reached La Spezia in the afternoon we purchased the 3-day Cinque Terre card, which would let us walk the park trails and ride trains between the five towns (plus Levanto and La Spezia on either end) freely. We decided to look for rooms in Monterosso since that was supposed to be one of the bigger towns. After finding a couple hotels booked we were offered to stay in apartments owned by a friend of one of the hotel receptionists. It was pretty cool. The hotels seemed very expensive, but we got a full apartment (with kitchen, full bathroom, and balcony!) for 100 euro a night. We heard hotel rooms were going for around 140 a night.
We walked the town to get a feel for where things were and found the town to be very pretty. There were tourists and vacationing Italians, but it really wasn't super busy or packed. Even the beautiful little beach area that the town stretches around left plenty of room. We had dinner at a pretty cheap restaraunt that had seats on a balcony right over the beach looking out to the Mediterranean. Even with the cheap prices I think we paid for the view and not the food. It may have been our worst nght out food-wise, as I can't remember eating ravioli out of a can or box that tasted worse. And I don't think I've met anyone as introverted as our waiter. He was a bit on the elderly side and just kind of mumbled at a barely audible volume. It didn't help his case that he moved in slow motion too. But even with that it was still a very nice dinner overlooking the sea (which tells you how cool the view was).
We were a little worried about today because of how beautiful the weather had been in Monterosso the night before. But we couldn't be luckier... Is it supposed to be this nice in October here?! We started with breakfast out on the apartment balcony in the morning. We had picked up cereal, milk, and some other things the previous day since we were on our own for breakfast this time.
The plan for today was hiking, and the weather for it was perfect. We started from Monterosso and hiked (or climbed as it felt in some places) to Vernazza. The trail is very narrow with sheer cliffs in many spots as it follows the coastline between the two towns. The hike is about 3km and the time estimate for it was 2 hours. We were trotting and climbing right along and made it to Vernazza in a little over an hour. Pretty good time considering we were snapping pictures along the way! When we reached Vernazza we found Il Baretto to have some lunch. Il Baretto is owned by a family friend of Bill Townsley's (works at Sun for those that don't) and so we had to stop in! It was mostly seafood cuisine Italian-style but I found some pretty good spaghetti there too!
The next hike was to Corniglia, which was a 4km hike but not quite as challenging in terms of elevation change. When we reached town we tried some gellato and quickly decided Corniglia had a lot to learn from Venice and Rome about good gellato. But once again I am only so much of an expert because I have no clue what good gellato should taste like. The last hike for us was to Manarola and it was a bit disappointing after the previous two. It was only 1km and was very straight after you got down the steps to the train station. There was a good overall reduction in elevation between the two towns, so it would have been far more strenuous in reverse. From there we caught a train back to Monterosso since the final hike to Riomaggoire was only 1km and estimated to take only 20 minutes.
We considered checking out the beach that evening but at 5pm or so the sun is already behind the mountains and you can see everybody clearing out of the beach as the air cools down a bit without the direct sunlight. We decided to make a go at it the next morning.
At dinner we met a nice couple from San Diego that were planning to take the hike the following day. They had been through France before but were soon leaving for Rome. We shared some tips and conversation before they finally got their bill after waiting nearly 45 minutes. It made the long wait for our food go much more quickly though.
Today was a very lazy and relaxing day. It was really the first day to me that felt like the vacation was ending soon. We didn't fret about getting up early. Even after eating cereal and a banana for breakfast we just lounged around and read. I pretty much don't do much reading unless I'm travelling. I usually start and finish most books on air planes. Megan suggested I finally catch up with everyone else on this trip and read the Harry Potter books. I had finished a book called The Dante Club on the flight over from Portland to Frankfurt and got about an hour or so into the first Harry Potter book. Since these books are written at something like a fourth or fifth-grade reading level you can blast through them pretty quickly. Between the train flights and a chapter here or there when we had downtime some evenings I managed to finish the first two books rather early in our trip. Last week we had to purchase (at a premium "doubled" price of course) the third and fourth books as well from a train station. By now I've nearly completed the fourth book as well. This is a bit of a problem as we still have a bit of trip left, not to mention a 10+ hour flight home in a week. We've already sent one bundle of gifts home and it is very expensive to do, but there's not a lot of space left in our bags to be adding books and such at this point either. Oh well, I suppose we'll just make room as we've managed to do up to this point!
The only real highlight of the day was the few hours we spent on the beach. We were mostly just people watching (speedo's are apparently way more popular in Italy) and doing a little reading on a towel. The beach itself is not very easy to do anything on as it's very rocky. So there wasn't anyone playing beach volleyball (you don't know how disappointed Megs was) or anything that we could join in on. The water was not too cold and a few people were venturing out to swim. The beach really wasn't too crowded or anything so it was pretty nice.
We tried hawaiian pizza (my absolute favorite back home) near the train station that day too. It was okay, but it seems like all of the pizzas we have tried in Europe have usually had a lot less in toppings and sauce than the pizza we've generally found in the US. If that makes it more genuine than I'm happy with non-genuine. I miss my sauce and toppings! I think maybe hawaiian pizza may be on the menu pretty soon when I get home =)
Not a ton to write about for Day 17. We took a few trains to get from Monterosso (Cinque Terre), Italy to reach Nice to begin the last leg of the trip in France. We'll be staying three nights in Nice and four in Paris to finish things up. The train right was pretty long and I did finish the fourth Harry Potter book on the way :P
We got into Nice pretty late with just enough time to find our hotel (one of the cheapest yet at $60/night prebooked for 3 nights), check-in, walk around a few blocks to find internet access and laundromat, and then finally to grab some dinner.
The only interesting thing to happen all day was late on the train connecting La Spezia to Ventimiglia. An Italian man approached Megan and I sitting in our seats on the train and started speaking Italian. He figured out that we were not understanding (and we finally figured out he was talking to us) and he struggled to find the English words he wanted. He started by asking (by pointing) if Megan was my sister or a friend. I tried to be extremely clear but polite when I said girlfriend but that didn't send him away. With a combination of Italian and bad English he seemed very determined to get his point across about Megan being tall but tone (as to why it was so important to convey this message was unclear to me). It was really weird, especially how he was talking about her to me, as if she wasn't sitting right there beside me. She suggested just ignoring him but I didn't know how to say "please leave" in Italian yet and my English wasn't getting through. He got up and came over a couple times, each time we were thinking (or maybe hoping?) it was the last since it was rather awkward for everyone, and he was just repeating the same compliments that he knew in English anyway. He was even trying to get some help from neighboring passengers to translate his words but they seemed very uninterested, bordering on highly annoyed. The third or fourth time he came over he actually sang in English (which probably isn't a surprise as I mentioned earlier most of the music we heard in Europe was in English). Oh boy... The last time he came over he began a conversation with the woman ahead of us in the train. It sounded as though he wanted the woman to translate. They had a couple conversations (most of which we did not understand) which quickly escalated on his second visit to her. Megan thought she had picked out the Italian word for "dickhead" as the woman ahead of us rose to almost a scream at the man. He moved to another train and we promptly thanked the young woman with our best "grazie" we could muster for doing what neither of us could find the right words to do.
Funny thing when we got into Nice that evening... We had eaten dinner after checking into the hotel and headed back to the train station looking for an ATM. When we got there several uniformed men were preventing entry into the train station. Apparently they were on strike! Oh man, first Germany, and now France!
In our first full day in Nice we took a small "sea side promenade" boat tour in the Mediterranean. The guide pointed out seasonal homes for, among others, Elton John, Mick Jaggar, Bill Gates, Tina Turner, and the only other cool Sean I'm aware of, Sean Connery :) He also pointed out many buildings and monuments which had historical significance, and then some that did not whatsoever but still looked cool.
On one of the hills there was a "waterfall of love," but I don't remember the story behind it now. On the same hill stood a castle that was destroyed in 1706. So the hill itself was named Castle Hill. Our next stop was walking to the top of the hill to enjoy the view and lunch. At the very top is a big park with what looked like a thousand kids playing. Many of them were wearing colored plastic bags (like uniforms) but we didn't really get close enough to ask what the deal was. It looked like it might have been some sort of sports and recreation group activity, maybe like a summer camp or something (although I would have guessed all the kids to be back in school by now).
For the rest of the afternoon we walked through some of the major streets in Nice doing some window shopping here and there since Megan is looking for a dark dress for an upcoming cocktail party. We also ventured into a supermarket to compare to our own. The brands were different and some of the organization felt peculiar but for the most part we were able to find what we were looking for after searching long enough.
The plan for the rest of the evening (up to now anyways) is just getting some last laundry done (I've run out of socks!) and to get this journal up to date. Sorry for the lack of updates for the past several days, but the internet access rates in Cinque Terre were ridiculous. It was 6 to 8 euro per hour! They aren't too bad here in Nice, about 3 euro per hour, but Rome was only 1.5 per hour. I expect Paris to be more like Rome so I should be able to do daily or every other day updates while there and not feel like I'm throwing money away.
We wanted to start off our last day in Nice by making a quick stop back in Ventimiglia, Italy, to mail some postcards we had with Italian stamps. Then the plan was to spend most of the day in Monaco. We had hoped to use our second to last Eurail day to do this but we found that no trains were yet running due to the train strike. So we found a bus route which would take us as far as Menton, France, which was several kilometers from Italy. The bus was absolutely packed! Everyone travelling on the Nice to Monaco to Menton path was now taking the bus instead of the train just like us. When we got to Menton we found that a one-way taxi to Ventimiglia would be about 13 euro. That definitely made it not worth the trouble just to do some last minute Italy souvenir shopping and mail some postcards with Italian stamps. We found the Menton post office posted hours indicated it should have been open but everything was closed up tight. We saw a few locals walk up to the door, read the notice, and stomp away in disgust. I wonder if the French postal service is on strike too!?
So we found the bus again and rode off to Monaco for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We found the post office in town and everything was open for business (Monaco being a principality kind of separate from France). We also couldn't pass up spending some money at the Monte Carlo casino. They didn't have a lot going on there though. There were no poker games running in the public area and the minimum bet on most of the other table games (roulette and some weird version of roulette I'm not familiar with playing cards) was 20 euro, which is what we had to pay just to get in. Since we set our limit at 30 euro that wasn't going to work. We burned through the 30 euros playing one euro video poker and some really cheap nickel slots for a few hours. I had almost doubled my initial 10 euro investment playing video poker the first time and Megan begged me to cash out (she cashed out three euro after paying five at the slots), but I tried to explain that I wasn't playing to make money. Unless I hit the jackpot we play it through!
After our Monte Carlo casino experience we walked through Monaco a bit more. On our way we had a "near miss" of pigeon or seagull droppings (I'm not sure how to tell the difference) that literally made a "plop" noise right between us as we strolled down the sidewalk. On our walk we visited the Monaco Palace (just the outside) where I got to see the second Bentley that I had seen that day. The other one was parked in front of the casino and was a convertible. We got a good picture of it though I think.
That night we came back to Nice and ate dinner. We decided to try the cheese platter for dessert, which was three chesses with three pieces of bread. The first was brie, which had a similar taste and texture to butter or maybe "I can't believe it's not butter." The second cheese was a bit strong and was okay at first until the strong after taste kicked in. Much like gelatto, I can't pretend to be an expert on the taste of foot, but were I to try eating foot I think it would taste something like the after taste of this cheese. The third cheese was the worst; I didn't have to wait for the after taste to think I had just eaten foot again. We were smart on the third piece of bread and cheese though and had cut a small piece out of the bread and put brie on it to cleanse the palette with something we knew we liked so we weren't stuck with whatever the third cheese tasted like. Best idea of the day...
So if the title didn't give it away... I'm writing this because we're trying to figure out what to do with an extra day in Nice since we weren't able to get a train out of Nice to Paris until late tonight (after 8pm) due to the train strike yesterday. We got into the train station first thing this morning but it didn't make a difference. We ended up having to get a night train booked tonight that won't get into Paris until 7am tomorrow morning. The biggest loss is that we have hotel reservations for tonight in Paris that we won't be able to use. Megan called them up (while I was updating the travel journal from an internet call shop) to make sure they wouldn't cancel the remaining three days of our reservation in Paris due to us missing the first night.
The Chagall museum was pretty interesting. Megan isn't a big fan of modern art, she's more of a Renaissance girl, but even though I'm not an avid art fan I do usually find modern art fun to look at. And I think Megan had gotten a bad impression of one side of modern art by visiting the Portland Art Museum when she was younger. The morning started off with quite a bit of disappointment that it took some effort to get the engines going. We both enjoyed the museum more than expected with the circumstances around our attendance.
The rest of the day we just walked through some of the major streets and shopping areas in Nice. We walked a bit more of the beach front and started planning out tentatively how we wanted to go about Paris the next day.
When we finally boarded the sleeper train at almost 9pm we found that we were bunking just above (there are six beds per cabin, 3 stacked on each side) a couple of younger Korean girls we had seen that morning at breakfast, on the way back to our rooms, heading out for the day, at the train station trying to ge tickets to Paris like us, and then back at the hotel again! Looks like they had almost the same exact experience as us. They were pretty cool to talk to and helped liven up the cabin a bit as the gentleman sleeping above me was all business (he slept in his suit).
We got into Paris in the morning and found our hotel at around 10am. We had the whole day in front of us, but unfortunately neither of us had received a great night of sleep on the overnight train (and we were charged for the missed hotel reservation anyway). We spent most of the morning just getting something to eat, cleaning up a bit, and just relaxing for a little while. We had to avoid a number of attractions that afternoon since we were going to purchase only the 2-day museum pass, which allows free entry and the ability bypass long ticket lines at most of the major attractions and museums. We were going to save activating it for when we had two fulls days to work with, specifically Sunday and Monday. One of the sites that doesn't accept the pass is the Eiffel Tower, so we decided to tackle that today. We wanted to go late enough though so we could see it in daylight and at night when it is lit up. This also gave us the additional benefit of being able to catch sunset from the top.
To kill some time we went to see the Arc de Triomphe first, walking down the bustling Avenue de Champs Elysees. Not only did we get to see the busy Saturday shoppers, but there were also World Cup Rugby (apparently being held in Paris) fans hooting, hollering, and singing in a variety of costumes. In general we found that Paris was much more difficult to walk from sight to sight than Rome as sights and the city were much more spraweled out so we made much more liberal use of the metro and rail stops.
The Eiffel Tower was very impressive as we approached taking pictures. We had to stand in line freezing cold for an hour or so but areas of each of the three floors were heated. Paris in general was very cold and windy most of the time during our stay. We started off by going to the top floor (3), 800+ft I think, which requires two separate elevators to reach. From the top you could see almost all of sprawling Paris, including the rugby fields near us for the World Cup. We stuck around long enough to enjoy sunset before heading to floor 2 (400ft) to eat some food and take some dusk and night photos. Finally we headed down to floor 1 to check out the videos and displays set up there. One of the videos shown was a little musical montage showing some really old clips of the construction of the tower. It was a bit scarey to see just how little protection those workers had if they were to misstep or lose their balance. Another video showed the millenium fireworks display with dazzling lights and what seemed like every inch of the tower blasting fireworks from the sides. The tower is twice as cool at night when it is all lit up in green and yellow with additional sparkling light shows at the top of every hour.
We wanted to hit as many sights our first day in Paris as possible. We got up early and headed out the door with our Paris Museum passes filled out with today's date for our first stop: Versailles. Turns out the RER train was running for free due to the strike issues that were plaguing Europe (I guess this was somehow trying to make up for all of that to people?) and so we only had to use a metro ticket a piece to get to the appropriate RER stop to find this train, and not an additional railpass for the train. The chateau was pretty impressive, but once again at this point we had seen so many amazing castles and palaces that there wasn't much that could make us stand in awe at this point. The most impressive thing about the area was the gardens and the huge man-made lake. You could actually rent little paddle boats onto the lake which looked like they might have been fun if we had more time and it wasn't so cold. Unfortunately there are only very limited times of the year when the main fountain in the beginning of the gardens is running, but it looked like it would have been really impressive. We hurried through the chateau and gardens, spending probably over three hours there, and yet only saw probably a fraction of what we could have seen or walked to. But we wanted to make sure we had time to see other things today as well! Well when we got back to the train station a little after noon we found the next train wasn't leaving until just after 2pm!! What?! We had to just kind of stick around and wait for the train, and unfortunately lost a lot of time we had planned to spend visiting other sites in Paris.
When we did finally make it back to Paris we headed straight to the Louvre museum so that we could spend a little time there before it closed. We had hoped to make it to D'Orsey as well, but that one was lower on the priority list and both were closing in a couple hours. The Louvre is pretty huge, we didn't even get close to seeing everything. We saw the Mona Lisa, Madona in the Rocks, the Venus de Milo, among others, and then got lost trying to find the Sphinx which had apparently been moved. I'm pretty sure Mona did wink at me ;) Megs was really disappointed that the Madona in the Rocks was in such bad shape. It was so dark you could not really see anything that was painted in the foreground. As you move around some of the rooms just packed full of artwork you start to think "ok, I must be near the end now, there can't possibly be another room this size with more artwork," and then you move to the next room which is about 3 times the size and has that much more artwork. At first we were looking at each piece and the titles for several seconds, then a couple seconds, and then we just started walking down the halls flashing glances. There was only so much time to take it in, and I'm not sure how to really take it all in anyway. Anyway, one thing that was definitely not missing from our list of things we saw was Renaissance art :P
After the Louvre started closing on us we headed back over to the Arc de Triomphe and climbed to the top. From there we got a pretty good view of Paris that was better than from the Eiffel Tower most notably because you could see the Eiffel Tower very well. We waited until it got dark and the light show of the Eiffel Tower started and tried our best to get some pictures. I'm not sure the lighting was coming out so well though. It was really cool though, and I would recommend that the top of the Arc is a good place to watch the Eiffel Tower light show at the top of every hour for 10 minutes after dark.
Well tomorrow is our last day in Paris, and we felt like we saw everything we had to see in Paris. We still wanted to see Notre Dame but after seeing Koln Cathedral in Germany we are trying to keep our expectations low. We also hope to try some other sights that weren't on our must-see list with our museum passes.
Today was a difficult day :) I woke up with a bit of the flu, and I didn't even kiss any of the locals! It was a rough morning and afternoon as this was our last day in Paris and I wasn't really able to get out of the hotel as I couldn't keep anything down and was dealing with a pretty high fever and sporadic cold chills. These are the times when you really appreciate having someone with you and really realize how much they are willing to do to deal with you. Megan was a trooper; she gave up most of her day to take care of me. I want her to know that the help did not go unappreciated no matter how crappy I felt at the time.
We made an effort to visit Notre Dame in the afternoon and wanted to revisit the Eiffel Tower before the post office there closed. I made it most of the way through Notre Dame and then through a few shops and then decided I had to head back to the hotel because I wasn't going to make it much longer. So we split ways so Megan could get the Eiffel Tower and I got back to bed at the hotel.
The other major thing we had to do while in Paris for our last day was book transportation to the airport for the early morning. Our flight left at 7am from Paris De Gaulle so that we wanted to arrive no later than 5am. Unfortunately Paris public transport doesn't get started until 5:30am or 6:00am, and it's at least a half hour to the airport. So our only option (even the airport shuttles couldn't help us with that arrival time with the public strike going on causing problems) was to get an expensive taxi. We booked one and decided that would just have to do. If I were feeling a bit better and didn't need the sleep we probably would have tried checking out of the hotel early (hopefully saving from paying the night stay), and had gotten into the hotel the night before around midnight instead. But I needed to try to kick the flu before the flight (or else we could have a whole planefuls of sick passengers) so we just got as much sleep as we could get that night before getting up at 3:30am to catch our taxi at 4am the next day.
The flight back was very interesting! We spent a bit more time travelling than we expected we would. We left the hotel in a taxi at 4am and got to the Paris airport around 4:30am. The flight from Paris, France to Frankfurt, Germany only took an hour and a few minutes and left a little bit after 7:00am. Not much to talk about there. When we got into Frankfurt though we had a bit over 90 minutes to get to our next flight back to Portland. Unfortunately there was a security gate between us and our flight. This security gate didn't really have a "line" per se, it was more like a "mob." We just kind of placed ourselves at the back of the mob and inched forward every five minutes or so with about an hour to go before our flight departed. After about 40 minutes we had moved maybe a few feet, and were still somehow at the end of the line. Obviously the mob approach was not working so hot for us. I talked to the official at a nearby desk and she said they would be holding many of the flights because many passengers had yet to reach the flights from connecting flights. This was ridiculous, apparently these people have no idea how to line up. We finally had to get a bit pushier and made it through around 30 minutes after our flight was supposed to leave. They had held the plane as they said, and about an hour after the listed departure time we took off.
Well things got a bit more interesting on the plane. About 3 hours into the flight we heard the main stewardess call over the main speaker for a doctor on the plane. Five minutes later she asked whether anybody could translate Romanian to English. Yikes! About 4 hours into the flight we were over Greenland and we were told by the pilot that we would be turning around and making an medical emergency stop in Iceland. It was about an hour back, a half hour stop, and then another hour to make up the distance back to Greenland once back in the air. All in all we arrived in Portland at 3pm (midnight in Germany) instead of the scheduled 11:30am.
After the passport/customs line, getting our luggage, and then getting home (thanks Karli!) it made for about a 24 hour trip in total. But it was great to be home! Now how long can I put off unpacking?