Tuesday, February 22, 2011


The hills truly were alive with the sound of music.  Ok, I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself.  But out of the four places we went on our whirlwind tour of southern/central/eastern Europe (take your pick because if you called Hungary eastern Europe they would get their what ever their traditional undergarments are in a bunch), Salzburg was my favorite place. 

I’m not quite sure why it was so awesome, but it really was.  We got in around 11AM and were leaving the next evening so we had a lot of time to go around the city.  Instead, we decided to take some excursion trips out into the Alps.  Our hotel was located more toward the side of the town (Dad and I never could quite get the hang of directions in that city) but the good news is that we took city-rama tours so we didn’t have to worry about any transportation.

A note about the hotel though.  All of the hotels we stayed at were very nice.  Dad did a great job getting them all.  This one was a little odd because our room was actually in a building that was across the street from the lobby.  And it had no elevator.  And we were on the fourth floor.  Needless to say our legs were a little sore.

Ok, so the first tour we booked was at my request.  I convinced Dad to go on the Salzburg Salt Mine tour.  It was exactly what you expected.  We were driven up into the Alps (about a thirty minute drive back into Germany).  In our car was another American and an older Australian couple.  Fun fact about the Australian couple, the man was a Justice on their version of the Australian Supreme court.  He didn’t really speak much though.

The tour was in two parts, because the actual driver from City-Rama just took us to the mine, where the mine personnel would go through it all with us.  While we were on that tour (which took about two hours) the Australians went to the lakes.  I’m not going to lie, the reason why I wanted to go on the tour was because you got to slide down a slide that the miners use.  Now this is no kiddy style playground slide.  This is a legit hundred and fifty yard long slide ad probably a sixty-five degree angle.  And there were TWO of them.  But I am getting a head of myself.

When we got to the mine, they made us put on a jumpsuit.  I had no idea why they made us do that but it made sense after the first slide.  After we got suited up, we got to go on a ten minute train ride about a mile straight into the heart of the alp.  Dad and I were on the tour with some other Germans, a girls school group, and the other American from our  city-rama tour.  This train was one of those little miniature ones that you would see around a city park, except it went straight into a mountain.  And there was not a whole lot of headroom.  If I were a few inches taller I would have had to duck.  Once we were in the mountain, they describe the process of mining the salt.  Something about soaking the brine solution and using huge vacuums to suck it up.  But the way to continue from the main cavern to the smaller tunnels was the slide.

We had to go on it about four at a time.  You got quite intimate with your fellow tourmates.  I was up front and Dad was right behind me.  On the way down I was a little worried but it was a lot of fun.  Then I felt a warm sensation in the seat of my pants.  Then I understood why they made us wear the jumpsuits.  They had extra padding on the butt because the friction made your seat so warm it could have destroyed the fabric.  And I don’t think anyone really wanted to see my boxers through my jeans. 

So that was the salt mine tour.  Oh, but on the way out (we had to take the train) they had a mock explosion.  Or at least I think it was mock.  The last thing the audioguide said before it turned off was to expect a simulated dynamite blast, but what actually happened freaked me out.  With no warming you get the wind sucked out of your chest for a millisecond.  The dust in the air was swaying and the signs hanging by chains were also swinging.  About two hundred yards from the exit, the train had to stop because there were miners on the track.  All of the conversation was held in German, but they made it clear we had to wait.  It seemed like our tunnel out was caved in.  Dad kind of got a little freaked.   I thought it was pretty neat but then again I was still assuming it was a simulation. 
Eventually we got out and went on our way to Berchtesgarten (I have no idea how to spell the name of that place).  It is the nearest town to Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” camp.  We actually saw the Eagle’s Nest from the city.  We walked around a bit, but we were pretty hungry, so most of the group went to a café and got some food.  I had amazing hot chocolate and pretzels, and dad had some Strudel.  Then we got back into the van, crossed back over into Austria and kind of just hung out for the rest of that night. 

It was about six when we got home so we went back to the room and the decided to try to go out and find some food.  We tried going out to find this one restaurant the guy behind the front desk told us about, but we made the mistake of having me get told the directions.  In case future A.J. somehow develops that sense, 2011 AJ has the sense of directions of a blind mentally challenged chimpanzee.  So needless to say after wandering, we just found any place that would serve us.

We were pretty dead after dinner so we just kind of sacked out back at the hotel.  Plus we had to get up early for our Sound of Music tour!
The Sound of Music tour was incredible.  I hadn’t realized that all of the exterior shots in the movie were filmed actually in Salzburg.  So in addition to going around and seeing all of the outdoor locations, our tour guide, who was a spritely cheery woman from England, gave us some history on the real Von Trap family.  I prefer the Holly wood story.  But the funniest part of the tour was that no one in Germany or Austria has heard of that movie.  Apparently in the fifties, some Austrian film company made their own non musical version, which is what all of the Austrian and German youths watch. 

The tour took us back into the Alps, but that was after we say the Abbey where Maria actually was sent.  Also, we saw the Gazebo where “I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen” was sung.  Apparently when Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer were singing “Something Good” the lighting kept making strange noises, which gave the two actors a serious case of the giggles.  After trying to do the scene a ten times, the director just said to turn the lights off, so that way when they started to laugh or giggle, you couldn’t see. 

Once we were up in the mountains, we ended in the town where they filmed the wedding of Maria and Captain Von Trap.  That church’s altar was beautiful!  But the best part of that city was the strudel.  It was literally the best strudel I have ever had in my life.  I can understand why a person’s favorite things could be Crisp Apple Strudel. 

After the tour, Dad and I walked around Salzburg a bit.  We walked by Mozart’s house.  We got these amazingly good chocolates that share his name.  And then we were off to Viena! 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


You’ll have to forgive me.  I kind of gave up on that whole New Years resolution thing while I was on vacation.  I am writing this blog on the Santa Barbara airbus on my way up to UCSB to spend this week.  I am going to try (much like Spain) to go by and relive the trip in chronological order.

I arrived in Munich from Paris after spending the previous night out with my friends.  I wasn’t going to see most of these people again since I wasn’t going to be in Paris again until February (minus the one night between Munich and the US).  So I didn’t get much sleep and I had an 11:00AM flight out of CDG.  Don’t worry, I made it and was fully packed and everything!

When I got to the Munich airport, I tried to call Dad, but my phone refused to make calls.  I was just going to hop into a Taxi and make my way to the hotel, after a quick stop to the ATM.  It is a good thing that I went ot the ATM though because the cab ride was over sixty-five Euros. 

My cab driver was really nice though.  She was from Budapest (the last city on our trip) so I asked her all these questions about the foods I should eat, the places I should go and not only in Budapest but Munich as well.  She was really nice and told me a lot about what I needed to do. 

I got to the hotel and met up with Dad.  Naturally, he had just woken up.  He flew into Munich that morning so he wasn’t quite adjusted.  Our hotel was right across the street from the main train station.   I, having gone out with my friends the night before, and Dad with his jetlag, were not really up for anything super touristy (a tour or anything like that) on that day, so instead we kind of wandered around the city on our own.  Dad kept commenting on how pristine the city was.   I didn’t notice until he said something, but there wasn’t a single building that had paint peeling or looked dilapidated.  It was actually really impressive.

After walking around, we decided to eat.  I hadn’t had much food (aside from the surprisingly good blueberry muffin I bought at CDG before my flight) that day so we wanted to find some traditional Bavarian food.  And find it we did!  I had my very first taste of schnitzel.   Oh my goodness.  I actually don’t think I had ever had schnitzel before.  The way it was served was a small cutlet of meat that had been breaded and fried.  It came with a side of potatoes and a lemon wedge.  I squeezed the lemon over the cutlet and dug in.  Needless to say I had schnitzel in almost every town I went to.

After that lunch, we went back to our hotel where we both napped.  I read on my kindle and dad snored.  Nothing too unusual.  That night, we went out again in search of more Bavarian food.  We found another restaurant close to the train station, but in the opposite direction of where we went earlier.  That night, I had bretzel.  Contrary to the NY Street Vendors, bretzels in Bavaria are hard.  I mean they are the same size as those soft pretzels they sell in NYC, but they are almost stale.  Don’t get me wrong.  They were still slated and delicious, but I was taken a back a little bit. 

After dinner, we decided to get an early night.  I came back and played Angry Birds on Dad’s iPad while he talked to JoAnn.  Then he wanted his iPad back, so I read more on my kindle.  I had just gotten it set up (Dad brought it with him from Houston for me) and I was downloading all these free books.  I decided I wanted to read Dracula.  It was a good choice.  A lot of the story took place in the part of Europe we were about to go to!  The bad news was I had night mares for the next week about chasing vampires.

One note about the hotels in central Europe.  They are strange in their bed arrangements.  We had two twin mattresses, but they were pushed together to form a double.  And instead of sheets, they just have a down comforter wrapped up and sitting on a bed, kind of resembling a white crêpe suzette.  And that was the style at every one of the hotels we stayed at.

The next morning, we got up and decided to take the bus tours of Munich.  We found the tour bus start location (right next to the train station) and hopped on the bus that was going to do the full tour of Munich.  This bus actually took us on two different routes.  The first one was just around the central city.  It was pretty neat.  We saw a lot of the main tourist sites and got their explanations.  Then it took us a little bit further out.  We went to the Olympic park, where they explained that all of the little hills there were actually recycled dirt from the excavation of their subway system.  I convinced Dad (after we got a nice hardy lunch of, what else, schnitzel) to go up to the top of the look out tower.  It had a phenomenal 360˚ view of Munich.  We saw the BMW head quarters and their plant, we saw the old part of the city.  We saw it all. 

After our bus tour, went back to our hotel and laid low for a little while.  That night we wanted to go out and find this beer hall they talked about on our tour.  We tried to find it the night before, but our hotel didn’t give us that great of directions (more like we couldn’t find it, but I’m going to go ahead and blame the hotel).  But I’m really glad that we did find it.  It was SO cool.  It was this massive hall with bench lined tables all around.  And when I say massive, I mean massive.  There had to be at least a thousand people in this restaurant.  Dad decided he wanted to try a different local beer at every place we went so he ordered one.  He said the best one he had though was from the restaurant we went the night before.  I think I got something other than schnitzel that time, but seeing as how it wasn’t as good I don’t remember what I had. 

Once we finished our meal, we headed back to the hotel.  We were off to Salzburg the next morning!