Donars, pastries, and more burgers oh my

So our first day of taking it easy, ended up being a pretty full day even though we didn’t go into anywhere, we just wandered and saw the sites. We saw a lot and didn’t spend a penny. We discovered that the Donar was supposedly invented in Berlin as well as the Curry Wurst. So naturally we had to try them here. We grabbed some Donars and some pastries on the way to see the Berlin Wall Memorial. Our hostel is only about a 20 minutes away so we walked. After we grabbed the train back down to Brandenburg Gate and walked the 2 blocks down to the Holocaust Memorial, or The Memorial for Murdered Jews in Europe. This is a beautifully eyrie monument; a couple thousand concrete blocks on a sloping field in the center of the city.

At this point we were torn, explore the abandoned amusement park, or the abandoned spy station. 🙂 Hmm, decisions decisions. The amusement park is on the east side of the city and the spy station is on the west. The monument we were at was directly in the middle. Apparently there are a lot of things you can explore in Berlin that are abandoned 🙂 We chose the amusement park, but when we got there, it was all fenced off, there were dogs and a guard. So that was a fail. Either way, I would come back and explore Berlin again. There are too many things to do here.

After that we decided it was time for more burgers :). This time we went to a place called The Bird. When we got there, the entire place was completely full. On our way in Kristin overheard the hostess talking to someone about reservations. The earliest they had were over a month out! This was not something we expected from a burger joint. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, my recommendation would be to try the bar. Never apart of the reservations issue nor do you usually have to wait to be seated. It is usually first come first serve. In this case, nothing special, we elbowed past the indecisive couple in front of us and grabbled two seats at the bar before they were gone. Ok, Burgermeister was good, but greasy spoon, hole in the wall, made by a very large man on the verge of cardiac arrest sort of good. The bird was equally delicious, but on the completely other end of the spectrum. Gourmet hand formed beef imported from the states, and served with homemade fries. You could choose between a flat top grill or an open grill. And holy schnikey, I was in hot sauce heaven also. They carried a number of brands, but one line that I absolutely loved was called Suicide Sauces. The company that does the distribution of sauces for The Bird started making their own. If your a hot sauce nut, I believe you can buy them from their site. The company is called Pfeffer Haus. I particularly loved the Mango Fire and the Habanero BBQ.

After Dinner it was still a little early and on a friends recommendation we should go check out a bar called Salon Wilde Renate. It has its own labyrinth, need I say more. I thought it was a lot of fun and very fascinating. It forces you to explore with your ears and touch instead of sight. Kristin walked straight through and didn’t particularly care for it. They didn’t let us go in together, unfortunately, and we never found each other inside. I would recommend checking this out. The beers were cheap and the music was interesting too. This place is stuck somewhere between creepy and fascinating. They also have a large outdoor area, but that was closed when we were there. I bet the parties here would be absolutely amazing. Walking down the street you could see piles of confetti that built up from the wind blowing them together.

We walked back to the hostel in the rain and hung out for the evening. We planned to camp near some old spy satellites, but it was raining all night so we just hung out with some people in the commons area for the rest of the night. I am really sad I missed those. They are a cold war relic that were built on top of a nazi college that couldn’t be destroyed after WWII. Apparently the building was so strongly built it was impossible to destroy, so instead they buried it under the rubble of all the buildings that were destroyed during the war. After which during the cold war the US built a spy station on top of the rubble. It is abandoned now. Damn, that would have been cool to explore.

The hostel we stayed at was called The Heart of Gold Hostel, for the most part it was fine. The dorm was comfortable and quite, all the normal amenities were just fine, but it had one major downfall that would make me never stay here again. The entry to the hostel is down a long covered walkway to a courtyard. This is where all the smokers hung out. Every time you leave the building you have to walk through it. Every time you go to the dorms, you have to walk through it. It was a gauntlet of disgusting. I feel like everyone here smokes.

We didn’t need to catch our ride out of Berlin until 6 pm, so we spent the day exploring Sanssouci gardens in a neighboring town called Potsdam. This was the summer palace for Frederick the Great. It was disgustingly beautiful. I felt like I walked into the set of Pride and Prejudice. Unfortunately we only had about 1.5 hours to spend there, but it is definitely a place I would like to come back to. Seems like everywhere we have gone has something amazing we missed out on or need to come back and check out again. We caught the train back into Berlin to get our stuff from the hostel and headed down to meet our ride out of town.

We needed to catch a flight early on sunday morning out of Frankfurt, but we still had a few days before then so we chose to spend one of them in a Kassel, a city between Frankfurt and Berlin. We didn’t intend to go to the city, but just to the west of it is a park called Bergpark Wilhelmshoehe. It is the largest park in Europe and the second largest mountain park in the world. It is home to a palace, an aqueduct, a castle and and a cascading falls that runs the entire length of the park naturally powering a large fountain in the pond at the bottom near the palace. We got to the park around 10 pm and hiked to the north side where we set up tent and camped in a forested area. It was cold, but quiet and comfortable. We felt like we didn’t get enough time to explore Sanssouci, so we got up early that next morning to have more time. We didn’t have our a place to stash our packs and didn’t want to leave them where they were since we were so far north, so we decided to just haul them around with us the entire day. We spent the entire day hiking the grounds exploring. At 6pm we made our way back into town and met up with another person to get our ride down to Frankfurt. I learned something new about how you can offer a service on Blablacar. The person we met had a 5 person regional pass and had that for us to take. So instead of driving we took the train. I swear I love this site. And since we were traveling beyond Frankfurt on to Mainz we got to keep the pass afterwards and continue on with it. 

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Jagerschnitzel and Curry Wurst

I am a huge fan of Blablacar. We paid 16 euro to get from Sant Galen, Switzerland to Memmingen, Germany, a town about an hour outside of Munich by train. Seriously, I am back in Seattle now and have been procrastinating finishing this blog up, but since being back. I envy the driving of Germany; Europe for that matter. Something about people understanding the left lane of an autobahn/interstate is for passing, not for sightseeing, lolligagging, or day dreaming. It is a law you are not allowed to drive in the left lane in Germany unless you are passing. HEY! Guess what America, it is a law here too, oh but wait, that doesn’t matter here cause your stupid. Seattle you have a lot to learn. It is unbelievably frustrating driving with so many clueless jack asses. There are stupid people everywhere, I get that, but there just seems to be a much bigger concentration of them here. Ok, I digress. Enough Ranting, back to story time.

Our end goal was to get to Munich for Oktoberfest but we had 2 days until the first day of the 3 week event, so we decided to spend the first night near Fussen. The train heading south ran only every hour allowing us some to have our first meal in Germany so we grabbed dinner at a smaller shop next to the station. The place was covered in coo coo clocks, steins, trinkets and doodads. Most definitely a mom and pop kind of place. We loved the place, so weird and kitschy. We ordered two of my favorite dishes, Jagerschnitzel and Curry Wurst. They were both delicious. The lady that took our order also cooked our food. We could hear her pounding out the schnitzel after we ordered. It was a perfect way to start this part of our journey.

From there we headed south towards another smaller town called Fussen just north of the austrian border. We got about halfway there and stopped to camp for the night next to a very large, very loud rushing river. We woke up super early in the morning around 530 or so to catch the first train out to get to Fussen.

The town Fussen isnt particularly famous for anything, but just outside of it, is one of the most famous castles in the world. Neuschwanstein Castle. The Disney castle is designed after it. It is beautiful; built on the ruins of another castle of the past. It is built on top of a small hill nestled in front of a waterfall at the foothill of a mountainside on the northern edge of the austrian alps. Spread before it are wide meadows, forests lakes and the rest of Germany.

The place is beautiful, but the only way your able to go inside is via guided tour. They also don’t let you take pictures inside and if you try they yell at you. Too many people come and visit the every day. Thee guides are rushed through so quickly you can’t really stop and appreciate its true value. It really takes away from the experience. My recommendation is if you decide to take the tour try to get the last tour of the day. You may get lucky and get to take a little more time and I am sure sunset there would be amazing, as it faces northwest.

One of the entertainment halls is still used. Once a year a concert is held in the hall. I don’t know what it takes to go, or how much it would cost, but I am sure it would be breathtaking. The design of the hall was engineered to amplify acoustics. The hall was intended for opera and theatre. I couldn’t imagine experiencing that. I only know this because when our tour went through, the seating and instruments were still set up. The concert was the night before and our tour was one of the first to go through.

I wish I could share more about the castles history, but honestly, we were rushed through so quick we didn’t really get to ask too many questions or get too much information. We were in and out in about 30 minutes. It was built by King Ludwig II and wasn’t completed and costed too much to maintain. The family cut all funding to the construction after the king’s death. Which was and still is a mystery. The King was help captive against his will in another palace by his family for a short period. They say that he went mad and 2 days later was found dead. No one other than those that were there truly know how he died, but if you ask me, history has a way of repeating itself. Royalty are assholes and have to have things done their way. And if they aren’t, well, they shunt you from the world, even if you’re a king, and write history how they please. So in the end, this beautiful Castle was never completely finished and sold to the German government because the cost was too great to keep it maintained. I believe the guide had said its annual budget is greater than what it cost to build it in the first place.

After walking around the castle grounds and up to the waterfall we hiked back down the hill and grabbed the bus back to the station. Now that we knew what to look for we got another regional day pass for the two of us and took the next train to Munich. 

 

Wine, cheese and chocolate in motion

The next morning we checked out of the Matterhorn hostel, left a thank you gift for the unbelievable hospitality and headed out to explore Switzerland with the end goal to be in Chur by the 9pm or so. With no real itinerary other than our final destination we decided to play a little game stolen from Denise. Since we had all day, we rolled dice to determine which direction to take and another roll to determine which stop we should get off and explore. East or south, by odd or even, and how many stops before we get off, from the total number of dice. We ended up going south towards the center of the alps. We hopped off 3 times to explore smaller towns and change directions. Our last hop off  in a small town called Andermatt smack in the center of the Alps. With only one direction to take the game ended there, east, straight through the alps, towards Chur.

This last train was the coolest. The Matterhorn Gotthard Bahn, a 2 car slow train that cuts directly east/west through the alps. It is slow not because it is old and rickety, but because of all the sharp turns and steep grades. The views were non-stop amazing. The conductor was pretty chill and chatty and kept coming by to tell us about the area. The coolest part of the ride; the windows roll down completely allowing you to hang out of the side of the train!! Freaking cool.

From the attendant, we learned that hunting ram requires custom made bullets and being hunting season you could hear gun shots every now and then from the train. As long as your hanging out of the window 🙂 Also, there are little houses that are sprinkled all over the fields near the tracks and on the sides of the mountains, they are not all houses – they were camouflage for the flack cannons during WWII and would split open right down the middle to reveal the cannons when needed. We saw where streams collect from the alps become two rivers and where they come together to create the start of the Rhine. And if your wine key sucks and you find that half of your cork breaks in your bottle, the attendant is more than happy to help you open it for you 🙂

3 hours of steep grades, twisty turns, sharp cliffs, mountain villages, rivers, sky scraping peaks, 2 bottles of wine, and one of the coolest sunsets in motion ever we arrived in Chur. Epic! If you have the time, take it, and if you get a pass, well, thats a no brainer. There is another train called the Glacier Express that runs the entire length of the alps in about 5 hours or so. This has a glass roof to see the sights, and serves dinner fine-dining style. This one is much nicer and a lot more amenities. We didn’t take this one 🙂 And it isn’t included in the pass, but you do get it 1/2 price if you have one. So keep that in mind.

We got in to Chur (pronounced something like, phlegm-long U-rolling R, hard to say, but fun to try) right about when we planned and walked to Kristin’s friend’s, Rafie and Fabio’s, place. Pretty much de ja vu all over again…a short walk, great place, great people, great hospitality. One of the coolest apartments I have seen; they had a huge private roof deck with a great view of the entire city.

They had just eaten dinner and had plenty for us so we joined them for what felt like was going to be an easy night chatting, and drinking some good south african wine. I couldn’t be any more wrong. We quickly learned how to count in swiss german with a new drinking game using dice, lies and truths. I dont remember the name. After that it was, drink, shot, drink, shot…you know the drill. Fabio is a trooper, stayed out with us till 4 in the morning, then got up and went to work at 630.

At some point in the night we had gotten Donär somewhere near where we went. I have no idea what it was or what was in it, but all that I can say is that it was by far the best Donär we have had this entire trip. Hands down. Drool.

The next day we woke up and made breakfast with Rafie. It was a beautiful day so we hung out on the roof deck or a bit and wandered around the city checking out the views. We stopped near his place and grabbed a cider and relaxed in the sun. About midday we headed off on the last train out of Switzerland to catch a blablacar from Sant Galen, a town on the Switzerland/Austria border. From there we planned to head to Fussen, a small town 2 hours or so outside of munich, to camp out for the night and visit the most famous castle in the world, Neuschwanstein castle.

Swiss burgers and beers

When we first arrived we went to the tourist center and grabbed a map and ask what there is to do. Right next to the city is a giant mountain called, Mt. Pilatus. It has the steepest incline railway in the world! A single car barreling up the mountain on a greased up rail. At its steepest point angled somewhere around 49 degrees. So naturally we had to go. Plus, an amazing 360 degree panoramic view and a sweet gondola ride down; the trifecta of mountain madness. On one side of the mountain, is the railway, and the other is the gondola. Also, another bonus for buying this pass, tickets for the mountain train up and the gondola ride down, usually costs about 70 francs each, but this pass gets us half off all non-included trains like this one. Win, win.

At the top, there is a a few short trails one can take around the peak for a variety of views. They are all fairly short, but each have great views. The one we chose to take felt like an old mining path that was converted into a walkway cut through the side of the peak. Half cave, half walking path complete with rails buried in dirt. Although it doesn’t make sense to me  since the mountain peak was only about 50 feet above the path, why would there be a mining path there :/

Either way, it was cool, there were some stalactites all over the ceiling of the walkway from a summer of melting snow. All along the cliff side were cut outs, peak holes and wide open areas that made for some pretty unique views. I love Europe, there was a huge opening with only a metal railing keeping you from plummeting a thousand feet down to mountain cows and death. Here in America, there would be a chain link fence, maybe some barbed wire, a standing guard or 2, warning signs and most likely a law suite currently in the works. Also at the top is a hotel and restaurant that had been there forever; since before the incline railway and the gondola. But now the area has been upgraded to accommodate tourists with a number of lookout points, walking trails, a picnic area, and a welcome center, complete with snack bar and gift shop.

By this time it was midday and we headed back down the mountain in the gondolas (turns our there are multiple sections). The first was packed with military trainees geared to the teeth, guns and all. Safest gondola ride ever. The second section reminded me of a typical ski resort gondola, it was just missing the snow and the skis and it was going the wrong direction 🙂

Once back in town we made our way to the station and had originally planned to head down to explore Geneva for a bit, but when we talked to a train attendant, it would take 3 hours to get there from Lucerne and three more to get back up to Olten, so instead we decided to go to a neighboring town called Thun. There was no particular reason why. We just had time to kill, wanted to explore somewhere else and they have a castle in the center of town and another cool looking covered wooden bridge. I think every town has one over a very large very fast river. Once there we strolled around for a bit checking out the sites and headed back to Olten to meet Michael, Denise and Denise’s sister for our last night out.

Amongst the many famous sites of Olten, is their one famous pub Rathskeller, but all the locals call it, ‘the pot’. I don’t know why or how, cause it isn’t correlated to the original name whatsoever. But they have delicious burgers and a good beer. Afterwards we visited a new pub that had only been open a few weeks. It was nice and they had a drink on their menu that Michael had made up! It was still mid-week and a school night for the kids, so we felt we had to be responsible and call it an early night.

 

Hot Wings!

Thursday was a long day. We woke up early to explore our travel options for leaving Paris. Jonny is and was a gracious host, but we don’t want to out welcome our stay. That and his brother was coming in the same time we were leaving and family trumps friends in the battle for free places to stay. After a bit of discussion and a few more delicious pastries we worked out a plan to leave around 6pm that evening.

Neither Jonny nor Erika had to work and we decided a fun and chill thing to do was check out the famous pet cemetery. Apparently this cemetery has all sorts of famous pets from all over the world buried here, but when we got there they wanted to charge entry so we decided to look through the fence, imagine the stories behind those amazing animals and walk through the park next to it. We met up with one of Jonny’s coworkers and went to his place to make hot wings for dinner. It was a delicious surprise to find out he had a deep fryer. So good.

6pm came around and we planned to leave Paris and head to a smaller town in eastern France called Colmar. Our earlier discussion was about two concerns, the first being the immediate cost of travel through the rest of France, Switzerland, Germany and so on…and the second, determining our travel plans later in the trip with ferries and such once back to the Mediterranean. We had to figure out an alternative economical means of transportation other than the trains and boats.

Our original tour goes as such: Me in Spain and Kristin in Portugal, meet up Barcelona and fly to France, visit friends in Switzerland, Oktoberfest in Germany, a day in Austria and Italy on the way to the beaches and parties in Croatia, ferry down to Greece see some ruins and more island fun, then lastly over to Turkey buy some spices, see another friend, and fly home from Istanbul. 7 weeks touring Europe, but we discovered that once we left Munich we would end up spending 4-5 days just traveling from one city to the next and lose too much time and money in transit instead of visiting and exploring places.

The costs for ferries from northern Italy throught to Greece would end up costing much more than a flight as well so we nixed Croatia completely and planned to visit Berlin then fly out of Frankfurt directly to Crete. This allowed us to visit more friends, see more of Germany and relax on the beaches of Greece like we intended.

After we figured out this plan we still needed to figure out how the hell we were going to get from Paris to Colmar. The prices of the trains ran from 80 euro and up and we needed to save money where ever we can.

Enter Blablacar. Yep, Blahblahcar.

Blablacar.com is a ride share website. You create an account, enter your information and verify who you are: phone number, email, etc. Once your account is set up your free to message or call drivers who are offering rides for all over Europe. Thats really pretty much all there is to it.

It’s simple, search your starting city and your targeting destination like you would any flight on any airlines website. It shows the current rides offered with departure times, seats available and how much per person. The cost from Paris to Colmar was between 25 to 40euro depending on the drivers. We messaged 3 drivers, 2 had full cars and the third came through. We had our ride. Now to figure out how/where to meet up with them and head out.

Wait. Let me step back a second. To set up an account with blablacar it states you need a phone number from the EU. This introduces the issue of setting up a phone in Europe. Which is a pain in the butt. Basically there are 3 options, buy a prepaid phone, buy a sim and put it in an unlocked phone, or use your existing cell service and get raped with ridiculous fees, charges, and other BS they come up with.

Getting my phone unlocked from the EU is next to impossible with ATT. How do I express my utmost hatred for them. Woooooosaaah. I canceled my service before leaving the states but somehow still have to pay another month of service. Also, I didnt know they offer an official unlock service for those outside of a contract nor did the service rep mention this when I called them and explained why the cancelation and how long I was planning on being abroad. I even asked for my options for christ’s sake, seriously!

My recommendation for you is this: unlock your phone through their service and buy a prepaid sim here, done. How do you do this? Submit your information at ATT.com/deviceunlock, wait 2-6 days for their computers to warm up and send a telegraph, then get your response. Official from Apple. But for me, some stupid reason ATT says my iPhone never existed on their service and they can not unlock it unless I call them. When I called from France, they stated they do not offer the service over the phone and direct me to the same site. And finally finding an email address and contacting them like any other company is next to impossible. ATT can suck it. I never liked them as a company in the first place.

Ok enough with the ranting…since we do not officially have a phone, we fudged that part and used a useless sim we purchased for 5eu and simply told the drivers our phones do not work in that country. No problem. Drivers message back, give us a location and we meet them there at a given point and time telling them to look for the two backpackers with huge packs on their backs looking desperate for a ride out of town. Done.

As our first time trying this, it did make me a bit nervous and I had kristin take a picture of the license plate just in case, and Jonny knew where we intended to go and where we were meeting. But the driver showed up as promised and next thing you know we are in a complete strangers car heading east at 130kph towards Colmar. Yep, no problem. This casual attitude to ride sharing here further reinforces my idea of the ridiculous paranoias of America for me. Knowing my luck I just introduced a new ‘based on a true story’ horrible horror movie idea into the universe. Anyways.

5 hours later, a whole lot of bla bla bla and we arrive in Colmar at 2am. We hiked to our camp grounds and were nestled in our sleeping bags by 330am.  Im glad I found a spot under a tree because it rained a bit that night and any deterrence from direct rain is good. Exhausted from a very long day and only getting about 3 hours sleep in the last 48 hours we slept in till noon again. This time, I don’t care. Enter disgusting cute towns galore in beautiful Alsace.