Photos of our trip! “London”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594313249803/, “Berlin”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594329081504/, “Frankfurt Day Trips”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594322198201/, “Munich”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594329065327/, “Austrian Alps”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594329053756/, “Florence”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594346417126/, “Rome”:http://flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594346422642/, NEW: “Vernazza”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594371262145/, NEW:”Paris”:http://www.flickr.com/photos/kennsarah/sets/72157594370876680/. See also: “Europe – Week 1”:http://kennsarah.net/2006/10/15/europe-week-1-london-and-berlin/.
With only a few dollars left and our ATM card lost somewhere in London, we arrived in Frankfurt. We still had a couple of credit cards, and made sure to get the Eurail pass validated at the train station before we left. I had contacted the bank before leaving Berlin and was able to get them to overnight a new card, so it was just a matter of waiting a day or two.
We were also able to save some money by staying with friends. Sarah’s “adopted parents” out in Ohio were stationed with the U.S. Air Force base there in Frankfurt. Jeff and his kids met us at the station and brought us back to their home in a sleepy suburb. After traveling for a week, they were a really welcome sight, and it was great to speak English again! They were able to spot us some Euro until our ATM card arrived.
Barb and Jeff played tour guides as we explored the German Rhineland. As we cruised Germany’s thoughtfully-designed autobahn highway system, we enjoyed rolling green hills (with alternating views of wind turbines and farms). The Rhineland is home to castles and folksy little towns, most notably St. Goar’s Rheinfels Castle and the town of Bacharach. The Rheinfels Castle is a trip with kids around. While we spent our time admiring the massive ruins of the 13th century castle, the girls found ways to keep themselves entertained. We climbed the towers and descended into the tunnels, at one point, splitting up and getting completely lost. The castle, once much larger than it is now, is still a labyrinthine network of passages and tunnels that came in handy for soldiers holding off a siege.
We eventually found our way out of the castle to drive out to Bacharach for shopping, hiking through vineyards, wine tasting and looking at really, really old buildings. We ate inside of an 700-year-old building at a restaurant called Altes Haus (not recommended). After dinner, we headed back home to regroup and relax. I spent some time repairing their wi-fi connection, which had ceased working after they moved their computer. A couple of hours later, the DSL modem and router were talking to each other like old friends, and I documented the entire setup in case they ever needed to redo the whole thing again. I was glad, after all the kindness they had shown us, to at least help out somehow.
The next morning, we headed out to Worms (pronounced Voems), where Martin Luther was tried and declared a heretic. Today, there’s a monument to Luther, but when we went it was under construction. Continuing past the monument, we admired the stained-glass windows .and sculptures of the Worms Cathedral. Worms also was once a center of Jewish culture; we visited the thousand-year-old Jewish cemetery in town. Later that day, Sarah and I ducked to the Gutenberg Museum forty-five minutes before closing while Barb and Jeff spent some quality time at a nearby cafÃ©. The museum celebrates the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenburg — it’s like a shrine to typography. We sprinted through the exhibits with less than an hour to see everything, and really would have liked to linger. I was able to snap a quick photo before I was politely and forcefully informed that no photography was allowed in the museum.
Back at the Longs’, I got in touch with the credit union. We were set to leave for Munich the next day, and the ATM card, which should have shipped “overnight” on Saturday, still hadn’t arrived. The banker kindly informed me that my ATM card was in her hand, and she was ready to ship it today, just could we please confirm the PIN number we’d like to use. Panic quietly made its presence known somewhere at the edge of my cognitive space, and I realized that we had two options. We could play international mail whack-a-mole: give them our schedule and hope that they manage to get our card to the right hotel, while we were staying there. Or, we could get our money some other way. Not really excited about the prospect of the former, I told the banker that I wanted to explore some alternatives. We could get the money sent via Western Union (for a fee), or we could take a cash advance against the credit card and transfer the balance the same day for little or no interest. We opted for the cash advance option.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes, and hopped a train for Munich for lunch with Anika, an old coworker of Sarah’s. What was supposed to be an hour-long stopover while we had lunch turned into a full day of…waiting. Anika was crazy busy at the university vet clinic and couldn’t meet us at 12 PM, “so let’s try 1 PM.” One o’clock became four o’clock, and four o’clock became “after work.” We spent the afternoon sleeping and reading magazines in the university park which we had the totally unexpected surprise of sharing with nude sunbathers (only a few, mostly men, and all over 50). We finally did meet up with Anika, who took us to the nearby biergarten for pretzels and — what else? — beer. With only a few hours left in the day, we headed back to the train station for the last train to Innsbruck, Austria.
From Innsbruck, it was a 20-minute cab ride to the adorable Hotel BÃ¤r in Patsch. We had booked it online with no real recommendations, and were glad to see that it was a quaint hotel nestled into the mountains. We were greeted cheerily by the staff and headed up to the room. We were grateful to find it clean and inviting, and amazed when we peeked out the back door to find a stunning view of the Austrian Alps (it was even better in the morning). The next day, at Sarah’s prompting, the concierge gave us some tips on hiking and directed us to nearby Patscherkofel Mountain. She had just climbed it the day before and it took her about two hours to reach the top. “For you, maybe three or four hours,” she said. We gathered some cheese, bread, apples and Nutella from our breakfast buffet, and headed out.
There’s no other way to put it: the hike was long. We followed a road back and forth up the
face of the mountain on an incline that just didn’t quit. At the start, we thought we would only need to go about four or five kilometers to reach the top, but by the time we reached Patscher Alm, we realized we were only maybe halfway. We considered turning back, but, in the end, decided we didn’t come to the Alps to climb halfway up a mountain, now did we? A few hours later, we made it to the peak. At the top, we found a little bit of snow, a broadcast antenna, a cross, and a breathtaking view of Innsbruck, a city that had twice hosted the Olympic Winter Games during the 20th century. We spent some time talking with a local Austrian — we had been passing each other all morning on the way up — who pointed out some of the highlights of the city and mountain range around us. When he was younger and living in Innsbruck, he told us, he would bike across town and up the mountain once a week, which sounded painful and fun.
While Sarah was totally fine on the way back down, I was really starting to feel the stress of a day’s worth of climbing (we later realized that this was actually signs of dehydration). Walking further really became pain management for me, but we were racing against the clock as the sun set behind the mountains. We had to move quickly: there weren’t any streetlights on the road, and visibility was dropping quickly. It took a couple of hours, but we made it to the hotel, just in time for dinner. Not wanting to have to leave our room once we got there, we decided to drag our weary bodies to dinner first. We actually met a couple that spoke English — he was from the States and she was from Australia. I did my best to be sociable despite wanting to just collapse over my salad.
The dehydration didn’t get much better (and, um, the beer I had with dinner didn’t exactly help), so we considered staying an extra night at the hotel. We weren’t excited about the prospect of losing a day, though, so I just drank water like it was going out of style and sat in a warm bath until the pain went away. Thankfully, by morning I was able to function again as a human being. We booked a hotel over wi-fi that morning and headed out for our next destination in Florence, Italy.