Tag: Germany

The Summer of Jon: Now Appearing on My Calendar

I had a panicky moment yesterday. I was checking to see if the two meetings I have to attend on the 20th overlapped and whether I was going to have to run from meeting like Greg Brady with two prom dates. I scanned the calendar quickly. (I can no longer remember anything and if it wasn’t for saved emails and my calendar reminders I would miss every single meeting I have to attend. Back in the olden days, I could remember things because I only had to remember about two things a year.)

May - Oct 2006 Calendar

As I glanced at the calendar, I saw the date of my departure for The Summer of Jon and my crusty, blackened heart jumped. It is getting closer each day. I know this is a fact most of us acknowledge, days pass moving us closer to death, but once I saw The Summer of Jon on the same calendar as my meetings I began to wonder if I am truly ready for my month-long journey.

I tend to travel with goals in mind, this is why I will be traveling by myself. I want to do this, and then that, and then this other thing today. Tomorrow I want to do X,Y,Z… this is great if you are attempting to spend your vacation driving your family members crazy, or conquering a continent,  but it is not the best way to relax. A few years back I hiked The Wonderland Trail, it’s a trail that goes around Mount Rainier and takes about 10 days. It is a challenging hike and not too many people finish it, but I did. Each day I would bust out about ten miles with a full pack and almost every day the trail climbed a few thousand feet and then dropped a few thousand feet, and each day I beat the other guys I was hiking with to the next campsite.

English: A panorama of the south face of Mount...

At one point the oldest member of our trio asked me why I was always in such a hurry, I hadn’t really thought I was in a hurry, but in reality I was. I wanted to get to the next place and beat everyone else. This hyper-competitive nature is part of who I am and I do my best to temper it, but it is a struggle for me to be gracious.

I have tried to relax and take my time, but I can’t and I think I have discovered the psychological reason behind this attempt to squeeze everything out of every moment: I am a frugal spender. To be totally honest would be to say that I want my money’s worth in everything I buy. I don’t save money, I just spend it with an eye on a bargain. (Guys who are truly frugal don’t spend money traveling to Europe, they invest the money in some pyramid scheme and then hope someday to go to Europe.)

Somewhere in my tiny mind I bought into the concept that time is money and therefore if I want to get the best deal out of my travel I must maximize my travel experiences by exhausting myself each day. I can rest when they run out of coffee.

So my panicky moment with my calendar the other day was not about being unprepared, it was about not being over-prepared.  I know where I am going! I know where I am staying! I have everything booked! I just don’t have my daily plan scheduled out for all 28 days! There are blank spots on my calendar! (Since I will be traveling through Germany I must begin using more exclamation points!) This over-planned attempt to wring the life out of my vacation time is odd to some people, but I have traveled with no plan at all many times. It is how I ended up sleeping on a pool table one night, and drinking water from a cistern with a dead bird in it. These are the mistakes of youth! In my aged state drinking water with microns of dead bird would probably kill me, and if I want to get my money’s worth on this journey dying is not an option.

A typical German sign.

A typical German sign!

My Favorite Places: Bacharach, Germany

Nestled along the Rhine River sits a little town named Bacharach. Bacharach is one of those towns that refuses to move into the 19th Century. Sure it has running water and toilets, but it is like a little town in a snow globe, it is as cute and unchanged as any place I have ever been. There is a fake almost Disneyland look to the town, but it is a real place.

Downtown Bacharach during rush hour.

The cobblestone streets, the leaning timbered buildings, and the lack of crowds makes a tourist feel like they have fallen off the world. How many times did I say, “I can’t believe this place still exists?” Probably too many, but I really couldn’t believe it.

What is there to do in Bacharach? Eat, sit around, drink cold sweet wine, walk, take short hikes up to the castle above the town, and relax. This is not a destination if you are 25 and looking for a party, but for families or finely aged members of the world this is a great destination.

Don’t miss the ice cream/gelato shop on the main street and don’t forget to head up into the hills away from the river.

Bacharach and the Rhine from the hillside above the town.

Above the town is a trail leading to a destroyed church and a castle that has been converted into a hostel. If you venture just beyond the castle there is another fantastic viewpoint.

The end of the trail above Bacharach.

The interior courtyard of the castle above Bacharach.

Most of the hillsides around Bacharach are lined with vineyards and dotted by castles. There are river boats that will drag you up and down the river if you want to feel like you’re on a Disney ride with 3,000 of your closest friends. (It is a crowded touristy activity, but I think it was worth it.) A few of the castles are in ruins but the majority of them have been pretty well preserved. The castle above St. Goar is stunning. I intended to visit the castle with my family but I ordered a large beer for lunch. After drinking the two liter beer, I didn’t really feel like doing much, other than taking a nap. These are the difficulties in traveling in Germany, you order a big beer and they bring you something that looks more like a pitcher of beer than a pint. I am not a wasteful person, so I had to drink all of it.

For some folks Bacharach is a good distance from other destinations, but the German rail system is so good it really isn’t too inconvenient to find your way there. So, if you are planning a visit to Germany and you want to see what life was like before television, head to one of my favorite places: Bacharach.

Angry German Bakers: Part 1

German Bakery

German Bakery (Photo credit: Alki1)

Where have I had my worst experiences as a monolingual person while traveling? This is an easy question to answer for me: German Bakeries. Now if you haven’t been to a German bakery or seen a German bakery you should visit one, but let me warn you right now that you better know exactly what you want and how to order because if you hesitate or do something wrong you will be in trouble. What kind of trouble? I’m not really sure because most of my German was learned by watching Hogan’s Heroes, but I will describe for you, dear reader, several of my experiences.

Hamburg Hauptbahnhof: The main train station in Hamburg. My family was grabbing a quick breakfast before hopping on a train to Berlin. It was earlyish and there was a German Bakery in the train station that we thought we would hit before jumping on board the ICE train and heading to Berlin. Now in the US (I realize we were in Germany, but in order to explain my plight I thought I would explain the cultural differences in ordering food in Germany verses the United States)  in the US a family orders one at a time. I might say what I want, then my wife and so on, but I don’t think that is the routine in German. I say I don’t think that is the routine because I am not sure about the routine. I just know that every time we ordered like this we got a scolding.

Another mistake I believe we made was not knowing exactly what we wanted before we stepped into the little shop. It seems to be the cultural norm in Germany that you must know what you are going to eat for breakfast a solid hour before you step into the bakery. This might be a bit of an exaggeration, but if you go into a German bakery know what you want before stepping into line and don’t start looking at the baked goods before you get in line or they will think you are an Italian trying to cut.

So, back to the train station, I step up to the counter and begin my ordering routine which has all kinds of problems: 1. I speak zero German and even a “Guten Morgen” doesn’t buy you too much sympathy. 2. Pointing at food in German has all kinds of problems. They really do use their thumbs like in Inglorious Bastards. 3. I am American. The bakery guy gave me about five seconds before he started scolding me. Believe it or not, I was scolded many times in Germany, most frequently in bakeries. I don’t blame the German bakers, it was my fault for not being fully prepared. After the scolding the bakery guy just walked away with his tongs. My family was confused. We really didn’t know what had happened, but the lady in line behind us apologized to us in English as if she were somehow responsible for the angry baker. She then stepped in and helped us get our order taken care of. Once we had our delicious baked goods my son conjectured that the reason the baker was mad was because he had to wear his sister’s pants to work. (The baker was wearing those Capri pants that German men wear.)

Tomorrow: The Lunch Bakery