Saturday, July 31, 2010

Getting to Hohensalzburg Fortress

Previous post: Getreidegasse

You can see Hohensalzburg Fortress from all over the city, so why am I having so much trouble finding the funicular that will take me there?

At last we find it!

We buy our tickets and up we go.

It is a short journey, but very cool.

Next post: Taking in the View

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Kindness of Strangers

Previous post: Lunch in Berchtesgaden

We are in Berchtesgaden today because the one thing my dad is a big World War II history buff and has always wanted to go to Berchtesgaden to see Hitler’s Eagles Nest. I have booked us on a half-day tour that will take us up the mountain to the Eagle’s Nest with a stop along the way to tour a portion of the extensive tunnel system the Nazis built into the mountain.

The temperature right now, in this valley, is probably in the low 60s and is likely to drop as we ascend the mountain. Past experience in various caves and the Maginot Line indicate the temperature inside the tunnel system will be about 50 degrees and damp. We are already wet from our dash through the rain – did I mention it was pouring? And, of course, Delta had not yet delivered our luggage by the time we had to leave Salzburg, meaning that we are still wearing the clothes we had on when we left Minneapolis. . . while neither of us are wearing shorts and tank tops, we aren’t exactly dressed for this outing.

I can tell the folks running Eagle’s Nest Historical Tours think we are morons (although they must see a lot of those, since the tour information specifically references “warm clothes” in several places) so I reiterate a number of times that we are victims of lost luggage. (Although I don’t admit that it never occurred to me to add an umbrella to my shopping list when I was out buying replacement items yesterday afternoon.) I even run back through the rain to the train station in search of sweatshirts and umbrellas, to no avail.

One of the women working for the tour company kindly loans us her very large umbrella. Still, I fear it is going to be a very miserable afternoon.

And then she returns with a bundle in her arms – a large heavy sweatshirt for me and a beautiful warm jacket for my father. She claims they have been lying in the back of her car for weeks, waiting to be delivered to the German equivalent of Goodwill. Her only request is that we do NOT return them at the end of the day.

I am so grateful for kind and generous people.

Next post: The Mountain

Lunch in Berchtesgaden

Previous post: View Through the Bus Window

I can see why my friends Shari and Dave loved it here. It’s a picture postcard lovely city with intricate buildings that step up the hillsides below dramatic mountains. It is really lovely.

I am, however, really glad I decided not to stay here. . . . There is nowhere one can go without climbing up or down a hill and, without a car, it would have been impossible for dad to negotiate. It is the sort of place one goes to spend time hiking in the mountains. Salzburg was a much better choice.

Today it is also cold and damp, with the feel of rain, so we don’t wander too far from where our tour will begin.

With no idea where to go for lunch, we sort of randomly pick a spot. The café has a cool and breezy covered patio with a good view of a major construction project along the river that runs through town.

The food is ok, but really basic.

Halfway through lunch it begins to pour.

After lunch we wait until the rain subsides a bit (did I mention it was absolutely pouring?) and make a dash down the block to a bakery.

We should have just gone here in the first place, as it is well-stocked with delicious things to eat.

It would have been a perfect place to wait out the rain.

View Through the Bus Window

Previous post: Waiting for a Bus in Mirabell Gardens

Scenes from the trip between Salzburg and Berchtesgaden:

Waiting for a Bus in Mirabell Gardens

Previous post: Settling In

It takes us awhile to find it, but Rick Steves is correct and there is a stop for bus 840 to Berchtesgaden. It looks as if we have about ½ hour before it arrives, so seems a perfect time to wander into the gardens at Mirabell Palace – conveniently located almost at the bus stop.

And what lovely gardens they are!

(And we don’t even get all the way to the fancy part!)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Settling In

Previous post: Troublesome Transfers

Despite the train’s relative comfort, we are both tired when we arrive in Salzburg. I can’t wait to get to the hotel!

Thus it is especially frustrating to find that the train station is being renovated (it should be wonderful when they are done), making it one big construction site. We follow the signs on a long trek through the station – walking on plywood – to the elevators, only to find the elevators are closed. My father doesn’t get around that well and, even without luggage, we still have heavy-enough carry-on bags to manage. (Perhaps I have over-estimated my abilities and this whole trip is going to be as difficult as my mother predicted.) At this point though, there is nothing left to do but forge ahead, or rather, retrace our steps back to where we first got off the train and wind our way through the steps and construction ramps to the temporary entrance. Of course, I am still harboring the fantasy that a cab awaiting me the moment we exit the station.

At least the signage for the cab stand is accurate and it is only a block or so away.

We choose a cab at random. The driver is chatty and friendly, maybe too friendly. I know about how much it should cost to get to the hotel and don’t ask how much it will cost – frankly at this point, I don’t really care. The driver gives us a tour of the city, providing cultural, geographic, and historic information while pointing out key sights (Mozart’s house is over there, the “old” city there, the “new” city here). He’s actually informative and helps clarify the things I’ve read. He also squeezes in a sales pitch about the tours he provides and the charity work he does.

My father clearly likes him at the same time he can’t stop muttering about taking the long way to the hotel (I can see the backtracking is due to one-way streets and suspect he actually has taken a reasonable route). Like my dad, even as I’m convince that I’m going to get ripped off, I can’t help but like the guy. I mean, how could anyone not like a guy who has you shout “open sesame!” at the approach to a barricaded street? We love the way the balustrade slips below the surface of the street as if by magic. (The city recently installed barricades in order to enforce restricted vehicle access in pedestrian areas and we will discover that the ability to trigger the disappearance of the barricades is still a bit of a kick for folks.)

At the hotel he basically said his fare goes to charity and to pay what we thought the trip was worth. I tip generously.

I have booked rooms at the Schwarzes Rossl, which serves as a hotel on a seasonal basis – the rest of the year it is used for student housing. I’m not sure what to expect (it was really inexpensive compared to anything else I could find in Salzburg and I found it by surfing the web), so am relieved to find myself in a simple but respectable building in a pleasant neighborhood. The rooms are very basic, but clean and with interesting views.

(Right beyond my window and then looking farther afield.)

A quick run through the neighboring blocks in search of sunglasses and a watch (both forgotten at home) and shampoo and conditioner (packed in my luggage and not included in the rather oddly provisioned kit provided by Delta), shows we are just off a small commercial area with shops that are both fun (cheap funky watches and baubles) and practical (convenience grocery store with at least 30 kinds of hair care products). There are clothing stores, restaurants, a pharmacy, and a bakery. Old Town is visible across the bridge at the end of the pedestrian plaza. It looks like a good spot to be staying.

There is a little restaurant just down from the hotel. Well, actually the hotel is surrounded by restaurants on both sides and across the street, but there is something appealing about this spot and a positive recommendation from the front desk staff means our first dinner here is at the Zum fidelen Affen (which translates to something like the Happy Monkey).

And a happy place it is! It is a beautiful evening to eat outside (despite a micro rain shower), the staff is efficient and friendly, and the food is delicious.

Welcome back to Europe, dad!

Troublesome Transfers

Previous post: We Arrive in Munich - Sans Luggage

My research indicated that there would be so many simple options to get from Munich to Salzburg that this is one of the few pieces of this trip I haven’t arranged in advance. (Along with train travel in Sweden, but that’s another story.)

When I ask at the info desk I am told that the bus to Salzburg doesn’t leave for many more hours and that the train doesn’t go there (which I should have questioned), but that there is a shuttle. The shuttle is considerably more expensive than the bus, but we also will get there four hours earlier and will save me the need to sort out a train transfer while suffering jet-lag.

At the shuttle desk they first say no, there are no shuttles this morning then – after an animated phone call in a language I do not speak (that did seem to be German either) – tell us yes, but we must hurry and direct us to the far end of the airport to a counter where basically no one speaks more than a few words of English. I figure out that yes, there will be a shuttle to Salzburg (there is another pair waiting for it) and the driver will collect my payment. It should be here any moment. (A mantra that is repeated every time I or one of the others asks.)

After more than an hour and half of waiting I decide to run to the restroom. . . when I return a few moments later Dad is sitting by himself - the other couple is nowhere to be seen.

Apparently the agent forgot to tell the driver that he had two more passengers and the other pair (already late for a meeting and irritated) must not have said anything either (I hope the show they were working on is a flop). When I asked the agent when the next shuttle would be, he shrugs: “no shuttle.”

Once I found him, the railroad ticket agent was charming, helpful, and spoke beautiful English. He booked us on the next train to Munich, from which we would transfer to a train for Salzburg.

The train arrived on schedule 20 minutes later and we were on our way.

However, the transfer at Munich isn’t as easy as I hoped. There are two different trains listed for Salzburg, neither of which have an arrival time that precisely matches my ticket. I can’t figure out which one is ours, so we ended up traipsing back and forth (up and down the stairs since the elevator is out) as I try to figure out which track we need. Finally an exasperated agent shows me how to read the ticket and directs me to the right track.

It is a relief to know that at the end of this ride all I need to do is find a taxi!

For his part, my father admits he was kind of relieved that Delta hadn’t made the luggage transfer because it would have been really exhausting dragging it through the airport and then back and forth through the train station.

As tour leader, I am NOT off to a great start.

Next post: Settling In

We Arrive in Munich - Sans Luggage

Previous post: Almost in the Air

I’m waiting at the luggage carousel, a little woozy after the flight, when I hear what could be my last name announced. While I’m usually ecstatic to hear my name called when I’m waiting to check into a flight (can you say “upgrade”?) I’m thinking it’s probably a bad sign when they call your name at baggage claim.

Which turns out to be correct. Delta has indeed neglected to transfer our luggage in Atlanta.

In all the flying I’ve done, this is the first time my bag hasn’t arrived with or ahead of me, so I was due.

They promise it will be delivered to the hotel in the morning and provide a couple of overnight kits. . . it could be worse.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Almost in the Air

We seem to be off to a good start (aside from the collection of dead pens I apparently brought with me): I got everything organized and packed (as far as I can tell), finished what HAD to be done at work (from home, via my personal computer), finally found a cart to whisk us to gate G22 (it took awhile), no problem with our first class seats (Dad is flying on my frequent flier miles and it seemed too good to be true), and we have a pilot who actually has a sense of humor (I was beginning to think TSA had banned that) and who has been roaming surveying the first-time first-class fliers and all the kids as to whether they would like to fly upside down or right-side up.

This seemed as if it would be a quick change, but we spend over an hour on the runway waiting for a rain shower at the end of the runway to clear. I know this is true because I noticed the poorly located and very isolated rainstorm through my window. But an hour seems like a long time to wait for a storm that is so localized that it is barely cloudy where we are waiting on the runway and there are only a few drops of rain.

It could be worse. When we fly out, I count 34 planes waiting to take off after us.

And now we really are on our way.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Add Wittenberg to the Itinerary

My friend from Berlin has been here on her almost annual visit to the states and we finally had a chance to get together and do a little planning for my visit.

Among her suggestions: a day trip to Wittenberg.

Growing up Lutheran with an academic and cultural interest in religion, Wittenberg – where the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door - is definitely a place I’m interested in visiting. Besides, religion aside, it is reported to be a lovely and well-preserved medieval Germany city.

And only a short train trip from Berlin!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Food and Wine Tasting Hell in Minneapolis

I've become a fan of Groupon, although I tend to use it only to get discounts at places I either already know I like or have been waiting try.

None-the-less, when discounted tickets for the Taste of the Twin Cities Originals came up, we decided to join friends for an evening of sampling wine and local delicacies.

The first bad sign was the line that snaked seemingly endless ahead, around the flag poles and back to the front door somewhere out of sight.


Of course, it didn't take long before the line behind us was just as bad, going to the end of the back and ending somewhere out of sight around the corner.

Amazingly enough, once the line finally started to move, it clipped right along and soon we were inside.

It was a solid mass of people. You couldn't tell where the lines were (and there were only sort of lines anyway) and you couldn't see what was being served until you had waited a very long time and actually reached the table. Irritating for us omnivores, but a real problem for our vegetarian friend, who found on a couple of occasions that he had waited a really long time for a nice piece of steak.


Luckily there was a mostly abandoned table with amazing deserts. We decided we could start with dessert. (Good thing we did too, as they were gone by the time would have actually liked dessert.)

It was nice to have had the solace of a few wonderful desserts from the Lake Elmo Inn right at the beginning because, when we finally reached a table with wine, the guy manning the table proceeded to poor the very last dregs out of three bottles of some Israeli syrah into my plastic cup. He wasn't pleased, but I did shame him into giving me a real pour from a fresh bottle.

Of course, super sweet desserts (Did I mention they were amazing? Did I mention we just kept going back for more since it was the only food we could actually get to?) and mediocre red wine on an empty stomach isn't a great combo. . . oh, and I have some minor claustrophobia issues too.

(This was taken from above after at least half the people had left. Every one I talked to was frustrated and irritated and I think some of them left pretty quickly. We would have, but we carpooled and were unsuccessful in our attempts to bribe our friends to leave early by offering margaritas and guacamole. )

It was really not a good time.

I've never been to anything that was as poorly planned. As someone joked, "gee, couldn't they find a smaller space?" The first 1000 people got free wine glasses - we got there 10 minutes after it was supposed to start and did not get free wine glasses. (Hence the nasty plastic cups.)

While the organizers of this fiasco completely screwed up, all the food we did get to try was really good and (eventually) we found the table for Barker's Bar and Grill, which had really delicious seared ahi tuna that was (apparently) too scary for most Minnesotans. (There was never a wait to get some, so we helped ourselves. Repeatedly. Sort of a feeding frenzy worthy of the tuna themselves.)

What a disappointment that what should have been a lovely event was so poorly planned. It really was dreadful. . . although, I probably did eat $25 worth of desserts and ahi tuna.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


So the web can only tell you so much.

The train from Helsinki will deposit us at the station in Kokkola (Karleby in Swedish) where my cousin Guy will pick us up.

Lonely Planet guidebook to Finland says that Kokkola’s biggest draw is its charming Old Town (Neristan or Lower Town) where the fisherman used to live. They discuss the historic houses of note that can be found here, however, Kokkola seems to barely exist on the internet. (Although I do learn through Wikipedia that there are a lot of chemical plants there. . . )

Ah, but if one is willing to leave behind the English language, there is information, including a lovely website just on Kokkola.

It includes a page on Neristan that explains:
Neristan i Karleby är en av vårt lands enhetligaste och största bevarade trästadsdelar. Under seklen har Neristan formats av såväl landhöjning och bränder som stadens utveckling och den byggande människans outtröttlighet.
A translation program (that is in Swedish, in case it wasn’t obvious) tells me that: Neristan in Kokkola is one of our country's single largest and most conserved trästadsdelar. Over the centuries has been shaped by Neristan both uplift and fire the city's development and the construction of man indefatigability.


(And note the translation program didn’t even tackle “trästadsdelar”, which I think is a plural compound word for some sort of city. . . ah, ha! It is some sort of “wood” city. I think that means it has a very large number of old wood buildings.)

Maybe the next paragraph will tell me more:
Vid övergången till 2000-talet har Neristan etablerat sin ställning som en levande stadsdel med traditioner och som ett betydande kulturhistoriskt område. Neristans trumfkort är den gamla stadens anda, fridfullheten och den oförfalskade atmosfären från hundratals år.
When released into the 2000s, Neristan established his status as a living community with traditions and as a significant cultural history. Neristan trump card is the old city's spirit, peacefulness and the genuine atmosphere of hundreds of years.
At least that makes it sound good – who wouldn’t want to visit a place that claims it’s spirit, peacefulness, and genuine atmosphere of hundreds of years as its trump card. (That sounds like the Queen of hearts to me.)

And the picture looks inviting.

I actually intended to spend at least three hours a week studying my Swedish this spring and summer. I have yet to start (sorry, Kerstin).

I’m regretting my laziness, although my father and I have confirmed that we can indeed play cribbage with the Swedish relatives – For whatever reason, we both know all our numbers.

Just don’t ask me to recite the alphabet – or speak at all.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Minneapolis: It's more like Paris Every Day!

Paris has Velib; now Minneapolis has Nice Ride.

Nice Ride is a nonprofit that has bikes available throughout the city on an hourly or subscription basis through November. (They can even be used for free for very short periods of time.)

Here’s hoping bikes continue to take over the city's streets!