Sunday, October 26, 2003

Austria and Germany, 2003.

Ettal, Bavaria
We left Franklin, NC, at 8:00 a.m. and drove to Dover, Delaware, It’s about 2 hours past Washington, about the same distance from here as New York City. We arrived there at 9:30 p.m., made an 11:30 p.m. showtime, took off on a C-5A two hours later, and 7 and a half hours after that were on the ground in Ramstein, Germany. It was about 24 hours since we had rolled down our driveway, but it was also 3 p.m. in the afternoon there, and time to see the sights.

The lady we had rented a car from before we left the states met us at the airport and took us to her office to complete the car rental, then set us up in a nice set of rooms for our first night in Ramstein. We went to a place called Maxi's to eat and even though it was a little Americanized, it still had great bread, good beer and outstanding bratwurst. It was obvious we were in Germany!

Next morning we were off to Speyer, and had a good time but never did find our hotel, or even the street it was on, and since the people we met there didn't speak English, that only compounded the problem. So we rented a "Zimmerfrei" and had a cheap night in a small room
The following day we went to Regensburg, which has a lot to offer tourists, but this day its specialty was cold winds. We did a little sightseeing, but were forced inside for most of the day.

Regensburg is famous for many things, one of which is what it calls the "Best Sausage in all of Germany." We went to a tiny place located on the cold Danube River and luxuriated in a great meal of incredible potato soup, sausages, sauerkraut and mustard - ALL of which were the very best I had ever tasted anywhere.
Next day we were off to Vienna, 6 hours across various autobahns and passing through the Austrian border (the old Iron Curtain) with even less fanfare than we find today crossing from North Carolina to Georgia.
The autobahn was crowded with trucks from all of Europe - Holland, Scotland, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Norway, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Romania,

Our little Mercedes in Austria with a truck from Turkey in background

France, Spain, Switzerland, Great Britain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and more. The European Union is already here in a great big way. As a new economic power begins to flex its muscles, America better get ready for the beginning of a different day!
Vienna was cold and with snow on the ground, yet their transit system is so good, that even we strangers could still get around. We drove our car into Vienna, parked it and three days later drove it out. It cost us 2 Euros to park it for four hours Friday night, Saturday and Sunday were free, and then it was one more Euro for two hours Monday morning.
Vienna was home to Schubert, Bach, Hyden, Mozart,

Entry into Vienna

Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss and Mahler, and others who are lesser to these giants but are still great music creators. JoAnn pointed out that Vienna is to musical arts as Florence is to visual arts. We took in a Schubert symphony and saw La Boheme in the State Opera House.

La Boheme, Act II

We spent three great days there (bought gloves and hats) and then took off for Melk, Austria, to visit its great Benedictine monastery. That night we had dinner, JoAnn with a fantastic Italian penné with a dark and spicy Gypsy sauce, and I with an amazing pizza. I had two pizzas during the trip (one in Germany and one in Austria) and have added it to the list of foods (beer, bread, pretzels, croissants (in America "cross-aints"), french fries and bratwurst) that Americans are completely unable to reproduce.

Next day we toured the ancient library of the monks and walked through their garden, then on to Salzburg, Austria. Salzburg is very different from Vienna. Vienna has buildings like North Carolina has mountains. Salzburg makes much of the fact that Mozart was born and grew up there, little of the fact that they practically drove him out of town when he was 16, already famous but impatient. He spent the rest of his short life, another 18 years, in Vienna.

But Salzburg is a very special place, cozier than Vienna, easy to get around, a pleasant place filled and overflowing with Zen glimpses. Photographers really need to go nowhere else in Europe; Salzburg will do it all for you. But take digital equipment, either that or carry about 50 rolls of film!

We took in a candle lit symphony in the upper rooms of the old fortress which towers over the city listening to Mozart and Dvorák melodies

Salzburg, Austria
After Salzburg we drove to Berchtesgaden, Germany, where we had lunch while gazing at nearby glaciers on the Tyrollean Alps,

and a quick detour through Ettal.
Then on to Munchen, to tour Nymphenburg Palace, where the leaders once spent their summers, or at least May, June, July and August of each year. A tiny place it was for such regal royalty- from the left most wing to the right most wing, the building stretches for little more than a measly one-half mile. Then there are the great windows which look out each way upon great gardens that seem to stretch over the horizon.

Apollo, the sun god, drives his horses out of the center
of the great hall ceiling dome in Nymphenburg Palace in Munich.

Many great palaces were built by European royalty, and some of those the people tore down, some were ripped apart by invading aliens, some by upset rivals, some by Christians, then Moslems, then Christians again, then Protestants then Catholics. Many more were destroyed in war after war after war. Those which remain have become valuable, and attract American tourists by the droves.
After Munich, it was on to Andechs, and another monastery. This one claims to brew the best beer in not only just the world, not even just the best in all of Germany, but even greater than that: The best in all of Bavaria! They also claim to have the best pretzels and cheese spread. Well, all of that is clearly true. Pretzels with great cheese spread, bratwurst with sauerkraut and German mustard, and the best beer in the entire universe - What more can mortal man desire? Was the beer really that good? Ja!

Andechs Beer Hall

After that it was back to Ramstein again. We spent a night on the great air base in a nice room, and drove back into town to have supper again in Maxi's. I ordered the same thing I had had the night we had arrived; or intended to do so. but somehow it was different now. The sauerkraut seemed not really quite so German, the beer was a little stale, and the bratwurst was - well, a little too American - that is, a little bit lardy and not with the zing of really fresh herbs and spices. But that was it. We left our little Mercedes in the parking lot, called our friend who had rented us our Avis car, and mounted into a C-141 for a 9 and a half hour ride back to Dover, Delaware.

Cockpit Time.
JoAnn and I toured the flight cabin and talked with the pilots and briefly enjoyed their fine view of the great ocean.

Next day we came down the coast in a thirteen hour drive, across the Piedmont and back into the Beautiful Mountains. Review of the trip from a photographic point of view: Tape - a little more than 4 hours; still pictures - almost 600. I also made about 2 and a half rolls of Fujichrome Provia 400F using my Nikon with a 24 - 50mm zoom lens. Those pictures have been mailed out and I will get them back sometime in the next two weeks.
Food? Well, I just found out on the internet that the Atkin's Diet has reduced America's consumption of bread by some 40% over the past 4 years! Not really that important, I guess, since real bread is so hard to find in America.
What's the difference between Vienna Sausage and other sausage? I was told, in Vienna, that Vienna Sausage is simply bratwurst (or other sausage) that has been boiled, not fried. It is not at all like the mistakes in a can we find marketed in the United States.
Am I in love with Europe? Well they are doing a lot of things right. Actually I would like to see some kind of a commission to tour Europe and the U.S. and compare notes (I would volunteer!) to see what we can learn from each other. But it is not total infatuation.
Things I don't like about Europe: 1) The constant and endless cigarette smoke, especially in restaurants. 2) the light switches outside of bathrooms instead of inside them. 3) The high cost of fuel can be breathtaking, especially when you pump about 10 gallons of diesel fuel into a little car and the bill is 42 Euros (about $50 to 60 US). 4) The plethora of traffic signs - we had a pamphlet showing "a representative sample" which had 125 of them. 5) American music played everywhere, jazz, disco, rap, rock, hip-hop and the like - doesn't go well with the European atmosphere. 6) Street names which change every three blocks or so, and there is not a single street in Europe that has been named "Elm," "Main," "Center," or so on, they all seem to be something like Wahrinkerstraßer or Schwarzenberggta, or Ziegehofanserstr, all of them with at least three too many syllables, and which could not be remembered by an American for as long as 10 seconds even if they could pronounce them. Imagine looking for a place at the corner of Zur Schönen Gelegenheit and Weißgerbergraben in the dark and in traffic and you can get the idea. 7) the maniacal speed of the left lane in the autobahns in which speeds of 180 - 200 kph (110 to 120 mph) are common.
All in all Germany is wonderful, a great place to visit, and Germans are remarkably kind, gentle, considerate, thoughtful and friendly people - unless they happen to be behind either a steering wheel or a cigarette.

© John Womack, 2006. All rights reserved.


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