Saturday, September 28, 2013

Oktoberfest Trip Report Wrapup

Tuesday began with croissants and coffee in the hotel room. The hotel is right next to the central Munich train station and there are all kinds of shops in the train station including a Starbucks and a nice bakery, so I walked over and brought back breakfast. We really like the Sofitel hotel for its location. It is a short walk from there to the Oktoberfest grounds, and only a little farther in the other direction to get to the Munich city center which was our Tuesday destination.

We walked along Bayerstrasse to the Karlsplatz. From there it is a pedestrian only street leading to the Marienplatz. Along this street we passed many vendor carts selling fruit, flowers and crafts. At one, Janet found a potholder she really liked. She would liked to have had two matching, but the vendor lady said it was one of a kind (until tomorrow I suppose). The Marienplatz is full of shops, cafes, tourists, and an occasional street performer. It is the location of the New Town Hall, which contains a famous Glockenspiel. We've been to Munich a couple of times before and never been in the Marienplatz when the Glockenspiel performed. We missed it this time too. :(

We visited several churches in central Munich including St. Michael's, St. Peter's, the Theatinerkirche and the Frauenkirche, which is one of the defining icons of the Munich skyline. We walked through the beautiful Hofgarten which was still in full bloom even this late in September. From there we walked to the English Garden where we paused to watch river surfers on the Eisbach. We continued across the Isar to the Angel of Peace monument which at 4km was as far as we ventured from our hotel. We started back but included a stop at the famed Hofbrauhaus for beer and Bavarian food. We then headed back to our hotel, but not to stay. We continued over to the Theresienwiese to check out Oktoberfest after dark.

The atmosphere in the beer tents after dark is quite different from our daytime visit. The music was louder and more contemporary. The crowds were thicker and rowdier. The tents were all standing room only. You couldn't find a seat without a reservation. We walked through most of the big tents and in some you could barely find room to squeeze between the other patrons. Everyone was standing on their seat, dancing or singing along with the band. It was quite a party. We eventually made our way back to the hotel and ordered room service for dinner.

Wednesday we checked out of our hotel in downtown Munich and took the train to the airport where we checked in to a hotel that was just a few minutes walk from the terminal. It was a nice hotel, but the internet connection there was really bad which is why this post is so delayed. We had a very nice dinner at the hotel restaurant. Thursday we left the hotel and checked in for the flight home. That was the only day it rained on the entire trip. We have been truly fortunate. Now we have a only a few days at home to catch up on things before we head out on our road trip. Watch in the days ahead for the first report on that trip.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Oktoberfest Trip Report Day 5

Today we attended Oktoberfest. We had a beautiful sunny day with comfortable temperatures. It is wonderful how fortunate we have been with weather. We walked all over the Oktoberfest grounds which is a combination of amusement park, carnival, food fest and beer garden. We settled at the Hofbrau-Festhalle where we were able to find a seat at a table. I ordered some schweinhaxe and Janet got a big pretzel. We both had a stein of beer to go with it.There was oom-pah music playing and every 15 minutes or so the band plays "Ein Prosit" and the entire hall joins in the singing. The hall was quite noisy, especially in the center where there were standup tables only. Occasionally an overindulged patron would stand on a table and try to chug down an entire stein of beer before security arrived to convince him to get down.

I was surprised how many people show up in traditional Bavarian costumes. I expected mainly to see people working the fest to be dressed up, but I would say more than half of the attendees were in lederhosen and dirndls. I almost felt out of place in my jeans and shirt.

After we left the beer tent we bought tickets for the big Ferris wheel and finished up the day with a ride that provides a nice panoramic view of the entire festival. On the way out we bought some of the hot candied nuts that are on sale everywhere and smell so good you can't resist. We stopped at the St Paul Kirche on the way back but declined the opportunity to climb another bell tower.

Tomorrow I think we will do a walking self tour of Munich city center and perhaps return to Oktoberfest in the evening.

Oktoberfest Trip Report Day 4

Sunday was another travel day. We checked out of our hotel in Grindelwald and drove to Munich. Most of the drive was along the same route we came on with the same beautiful views. At Liechtenstein we headed north into Germany for Munich and left the Alps behind. When we arrived in Munich we first drove to the hotel to check in and deposit our bags. Then we drove to the airport to return the car and take the train back to the hotel unencumbered by luggage. We had a nice dinner with wine at a bistro in the hotel. Monday I think we will visit the Theresienwiese and get a taste of Oktoberfest.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Jungfrau Zipline

Jungfrau Zip Line from Daniel Hamilton on Vimeo.

Oktoberfest Trip Report Day 3

We had a great day today. We woke up to perfect weather for a trip to the Jungfraujoch. The sky was clear & blue with just a few white clouds to give it definition. After breakfast we walked 15 minutes to the train station in town and rode the train to the Kleine Scheidegg station where we changed to the Jungfraubahn and rode the rest of the way up to the Jungfraujoch station. The view of the valley below as you ascend is astounding. About 10 minutes into the ride the train enters a tunnel and doesn't emerge again. The Jungfraujoch station is completely underground. Along the ascent the train stops for 5 minutes where you can get out and view the lower valley from the Eiger wall.

At the top you follow the blue "Tour" signs that lead you sequentially to all the points of interest, and of course directly through the gift shops. :)  The most important point of interest is the view from the Sphinx observatory which is the highest point you can go to. It was spectacular. From there you can see the peaks of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau; the Aletsch glacier; and all the way down to the valley.

After visiting the Sphinx we went out to the snow fun area where for a small fee you can go sledding on the glacier or zip line over it. We started by trying out the sledding which was great fun and made easy by a conveyor belt you could ride back to the top of the hill. We debated the zip line and finally decided to go for it. I had zipped before in Hawaii, but this was quite a different experience. The line starts up the mountain wall, and descends gradually to the snow below. There is nobody at the end to stop you and no brake on the line. You just start dragging your feet in the snow until you slow to a stop.

After zip lining, we explored some of the indoor activities at the top including an ice palace carved right into the glacier ice, and a giant snow globe. The final stop on the tour is another visit outside to the plateau near the Jungfrau with more breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

We took time to stop at one of the food and drink areas and celebrated our adventure with a glass of champagne and a scotch on the rocks. Then we boarded the train back to Grindelwald. Our hotel hostess had suggested a hike we could do on the way back where you exit the train, hike downhill a ways, then get back on the train at another station. On the way up I was considering this, but on our way down we were exhausted from our advetures and the thin air, so we stayed on the train all the way down.

Our day finished up with another nice dinner and dessert at the hotel. Tomorrow we pack up again and drive back to Munich for Oktoberfest.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Oktoberfest Trip Report Day 2

Today was a car travel day. We had a nice buffet breakfast at our hotel in Innsbruck. The buffet included an egg cooker so Janet was able to have a hard boiled egg she likes for breakfast. After breakfast we packed up, checked out, and headed for Grindelwald. We drove around Innsbruck a little to see if we missed anything on our walking tour last night and stopped briefly at an interesting church near our hotel. It was a scenic 5 hour drive from Innsbruck to Grindelwald. We passed though beautiful valleys with majestic mountains on both sides and climbed over a few on winding switchbacks. We went through what seems like dozens of tunnels. We passed blue-green mountain lakes, and a huge waterfall. As we turned from Interlaken towards Grindelwald the snowy peaks of the Monch and Jungfrau loomed in front of us.

We arrived and checked in at our hotel and were delighted to find that we had a corner room with a balcony and amazing views of the mountains. The room itself is small but charming and the bed looks comfortable enough. We settled in and then went back outside for a walk in town. The main road through town is lined with shops and cafes and a few restaurant/bars. We window shopped some and then turned around to go back to the hotel. The walk into town is all downhill from the hotel. Thanks to our recent walking efforts both at home and on our travels, the return uphill trip was not too difficult.

We had dinner at the hotel, which consisted of a puff pastry leek tart starter followed by a self serve salad bar. The main course was a mixed grill of pork and beef with macaroni and brussell sprouts. We finished with mango ice cream.

The weather today was perfect. Mostly sunny with a few clouds and temperatures in the high 60's during most of our drive. Tomorrow is looking like a perfect day for going to the Jungfraujoch, so we have already bought our tickets and will definitely make the trip tomorrow.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Oktoberfest Trip Report Day 1

We arrived early to the airport and had time to relax before our 6:10 pm departure for Munich. We kept an eye on the departure screens and our flight stayed scheduled on time with boarding starting at 5:20pm.  Boarding began promptly and we were seated on the plane by 5:30. We had good economy-plus seats with lots of extra legroom right behind the bulkhead separating business class. Everything was looking good until the lightning started. We were delayed for takeoff, then delayed again, and then again. The whole time we were sitting on the plane at the gate. We didn't push back from the gate until about 8:30, and it was 8:50 before we were in the air. The delay was an annoyance, but didn't really impact our trip. At least we were not one of the many who missed connections in Munich Thursday morning.

We arrived in Munich about noon on Thursday where clearing passport control and customs (what customs?) was a breeze. Stopped at Starbucks for some coffee, tea, and an inferior croissant, then picked up the rental car.  After finding our car we struggled with the in-dash information system trying to figure out how to get it switched to English and program the GPS.  After a while of struggling on my own I found a Sixt agent in the garage and asked for help. She got the language switched for me, then told me the car did not have a navigation system, even though I had reserved and paid for one that did. She asked if I wanted a portable GPS and I accepted that.

When you get your car keys from the Sixt counter at Munich airport, they give you an exit ticket to get out of the parking garage. When I tried to leave I discovered we had delayed so long with the GPS issues that my exit ticket had expired and the gate would not open. I pressed the call button and was told I had to go back to my rental agent and get a new ticket. They couldn't (or wouldn't) just open the gate. Fortunately I was able to obtain one from the same helpful agent in the garage that assisted me with the GPS and didn't have to go all the way back to the rental counter.

We enjoyed the scenic drive from Munich to Innsbruck. At first we had some doubts that the GPS was working properly as its directions didn't seem to coincide with the road signs I was following to get to Innsbruck, but ultimately it seemed to sync up and work. However, it seems to go into some kind of sleep mode where the screen blanks out. I don't think it's supposed to do that.

After checking in here in Innsbruck we went for a walk through a nice nearby park and then over to the city center where we saw the famed Golden Roof. We window shopped along Herzog-Friedrich Strasse and had some wine and a bite to eat at an outdoor cafe on Maria-Theresien Strasse, where we were entertained by a singer/piano player. It was very pleasant although it got quite cool cold after sunset.

We went back to the hotel restaurant for dinner and more wine. Janet had some spinach dumplings that she said were very good and I had roast beef & vegetables.

Tomorrow we have a several hours drive to Grindelwald Switzerland.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Ein Prosit

Today we are taking off for Munich and Oktoberfest. This is the 3rd of three trips I referred to a while back and ties in with the Isar river reference. We expanded this trip to include a drive through Austria over to Grindelwald Switzerland at the base of the north face of the Eiger. I don't plan to do any mountain climbing while there but weather permitting I'm planning to ascend via the Jungfraubahn to the Jungfraujoch.

After Switzerland we return to Munich to experience Oktoberfest where it originated. Again I'm hoping for good weather. We've been very fortunate to have excellent weather on our previous trips this year. If we have time we'd like to do some Munich sightseeing as well. We've been there before but there are things we haven't seen and things we'd like to do again.

Danny owns a SPOT personal GPS device that tracks your location and displays it on a web page. He brought it with him to Ireland a couple of weeks ago and it was fun to follow his path around the country. He has lent it to me and I plan to carry it with me around Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and hopefully up to the Jungfraujoch.  If you're interested in following my progress, the web page is here:

Auf Wiedersehen

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sydney 2013 Day 4

Tuesday was our last day to spend in Sydney. We begin the long trip home on Wednesday. We drove to Manly and parked the car while we walked up the length of the beach and back. There were some surfers on the waves at Manly beach. From Manly we drove to the Sydney Harbor National Park on the North Head. We parked the car at the end of the road and then walked on the trail that follows the edge of the cliffs. We looked for whales but didn't see any.

Next we headed to Doyle's restaurant in Watson's bay for dinner, but discovered that Doyle's doesn't open for dinner until 5:30pm and we were there at 4 pm, so instead we drove back to downtown Sydney where we had dinner at Peter Doyle's (same family) on the Quay.  After dinner we returned to the hotel for nightcaps in the Horizon club.

Sydney 2013 Day 3

On Monday we made a trip to Hunter Valley to pick up some wine from Ernest Hill winery. We already knew we wanted to buy some of their Luna Spark and Luna Rouge wines, but we tasted a few of their other wines while we were there and decided to also bring home a bottle of their Gewurztraminer and one of their Rose. After buying our wine we went to nearby Lindeman's winery restaurant for lunch. We followed the scenic route back to the hotel and finished the day with drinks and snacks in the Horizon club.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sydney 2013 Day 2

Yesterday we had breakfast at the Horizon club then returned to the room to make plans for the day. We decided to see if we could attend a performance at the Opera House. We were able to get tickets to a production of South Pacific. We drove the car to the Opera House following directions given by the concierge, but missed a critical turn and ended up on the Harbor Bridge heading across the harbor. We exited as soon as possible on the other side, and were able to get ourselves turned around and headed back but by the time we finally got to the Opera House and parked the car we were late for the start of the performance. They seated us shortly after we arrived, but our seats were in the middle of a row and we had to squeeze our way to them in front of all the already seated people. The show was quite good though.

Following the show we had dinner and drinks at a restaurant near the Opera House. The weather was beautiful our first day here. Today was cooler and it rained a bit while we were in the theater. The ground was wet but the sky had cleared by the time we came out. Still, it was a little too cool for al fresco dining and we decided to eat inside.

 We returned to the hotel in time for evening drinks and desserts in the Horizon Club.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sydney 2013

It's Sunday morning Sept 8th, and we've been in Sydney one full day now. We haven't been back here in 2½ years and I'd forgotten how long the plane ride feels. We left home and flew to San Francisco where we camped out in the United Club where Janet managed to nap during the 3½ hour wait between planes. At 10 pm we began boarding for the flight to Sydney. Jan & I had exit row seats that at least allowed us to stretch our legs out during the long flight, but trying to sleep was more difficult than I remembered. I had stayed awake on the flight to San Francisco and during the layover in hopes of becoming tired enough to sleep easily on the flight to Sydney, but it didn't help much. Janet's plan to sleep whenever you can seems to be the better one.

We landed in Sydney about 6:30 am and cleared customs and border control. Australia has restrictions on bringing food into the country and we had packed some Isagenix bars and a few other snacks in our bags so we declared that we had food on the customs form. That meant we had to stand in a 2nd line after customs and wait while a dog sniffed our bags. We were cleared without a problem, but we did witness one passenger who was taken from the line for closer inspection of his bags.

At the car rental counter they offered us a free GPS since the car we were getting had a smaller trunk than the one I requested. I usually prefer not to use GPS if I already know the route I need to take, but we turned it on anyway. The GPS took us the long way to the hotel because the previous user had it set to avoid toll roads.

We checked in at the Shangri-la and they already had a room ready for us even though it was still early in the morning. They also had fulfilled our request for a room on the club floor. We love this place.

We had breakfast in the Horizon club. The weather was beautiful so after breakfast we went out for a walk around the Rocks area where a weekend market was going on. We continued around the Quay and over by the Opera House before returning to the hotel for a nap we both needed to help adjust to the time change.