Thursday, July 15, 2010

European Vacation

This is the first installment of our European Vacation blog. There will almost certainly be a tale or two of driving around in a roundabout for hours on end, like Chevy Chase and his misguided family.  But for now, I am happy to report we made it safely to Germany.  We left SLC around noon on Sunday. Flight to Houston was uneventful.  The flight from Houston to Frankfurt was one hour delayed, but we were not alarmed, as Drew figured they could make up the time during the 9 and a half hour flight. They mostly did, and we managed to retrieve our luggage and 67 pound bike boxes from the baggage claim.

We manuvered them to the train station, and then hopped on a 20 minute ride to Mainz, where we were supposed to have about 20 minutes to change trains.  The 20 minutes turned into 4.5 hours, as our train was at first 2 hours delayed, then 3, then 4, then 6.   At that point, we gave up on our nice air conditioned high speed train we had booked to Stuttgart and instead hopped a local train back to Frankfurt. After a brief freak-out about possibly not getting off at the right station (Frankfurt has 3), we arrived at Frankfurt.  From there, instead of getting on the next train from Frankfurt to Stuttgart, we took a later one that had room for bikes, since we got a lot of dirty looks on the train from Mainz to Frankfurt with the bikes in the entry/exit corridor.  The weather was unusually hot, and we were dripping with sweat.  Dead tired and dirty by this time, we both fell asleep as the train rocked our way to Stuttgart.

Drew's brother, Trey, had arranged for his friend Jeremy to pick us up at Stuttgart, thereby avoiding another train transfer.  Oh how happy we were to see Jeremy and Trey's truck!  Our shoulders are still sore from lugging our packs and bikes around for 30 HOURS of traveling, and Jeremy saved us from having to drag them through city streets at night!

It was like arriving at a relaxing vacation home when Jeremy dropped us off at Trey and Emily's flat in Esslingen.  Comfortable and quiet. We crashed out hard and slept for 10 hours.

Tuesday, we ventured onto the quaint city streets of Esslingen.  The town is everything I imagined a hip old German town to be.  Cobblestone streets, shops of every kind, a pastry and coffee shop on every corner.

 Very few cars enter the shopping district, where Trey and Emily's flat is located above a toy store.  Most people ride bike or walk.  After a delicious lunch of some sort of German gyro and vegetarian pizza with peas on top,

we were too pooped to continue exploring and went back to take a nap.  The heat subsided in the evening and we ventured out to find espresso, donuts, and a grocery store.  Grocery shopping was fun!  So many kinds of wieners and bologna.  Eggs not refrigerated.  Fruits and vegetables we don't see very often in the states.  Beer!  $7 for a 6 pack of Guiness! That is less than half price what we pay in Utah.  They have lots of pilsners here.  The 35-cents-a-can variety is still way better than Budweiser.

Later that night Drew put the bike together, only to discover one essential part of the crank arm was missing and the seal on his tubeless tire had let loose, so we needed a bike shop.  The next day walked 1.7 km to a shop, with advertised hours of 10 AM to 12:30 PM and 3 PM to 5 PM.  We arrived at 9:50 AM, but at 10:02 the owner, who had been inside a few minutes before, drove by and let us know (in Spanish) that on Wednesday mornings, he was closed! Argh!  We walked back to the shopping district, stopping for ice cream and to browse a farmers market.

For the most part, we get by not knowing much German, but it would be nice to be able to read what this window display at a drug store was all about.  What's with the mushrooms?

We had to hike back to the bike shop at 3 PM in the wickedly hot and muggy afternoon.  After all that, we got the bikes fully functioning and went out for an easy spin on the mostly paved trails along the river.
We got some strange looks dressed on our fancy riding gear, when everyone else on the trails was in tank tops and capri pants with a basket on the front of their bikes.

So Esslingen treated us well as an introduction to Germany.  The next day, we headed to Fussen, where the Bike TransALPs will begin.

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