Europe: Day 15

Milan, Italy

Milan was very quiet. I had a different picture of it in my head since it was one of the fashion capital of the world. I thought perhaps it would be a lot livelier than it was. My train arrived in Milan around 2:00PM. From the train station to my hotel was about a 30 minute walk. The streets were quiet and the roads were quiet. I’m slightly exaggerated here but it almost seemed as if Milan was a ghost town. I’ve heard of siestas before but since there weren’t many siestas in the previous Italian cities, I didn’t think Milan would be any different. Also, with the Milan Expo happening, I thought that the city would be swarming with people.

After checking into the hotel, I plotted my course for the day. The plan was to visit the cathdral, the galleria and the theatre, all of which was bout 45 minutes away. Since it was the middle of the afternoon, it was going to be a hot and sweaty walk.

As I roamed the streets, I only came across a handful of people. Certain restaurants had signs stating that they were closed from 2:00PM and will be opened again at 7:00 PM. But I could have sworn that I saw one resturant stating that it closes at 8:00PM. I’m not sure how much business that place would get if it’s closed after lunch, only to be opened again later for an hour.

After walking for 45 minutes, I finally found where all the people were. Across the street from the Teatro alla Scala is a little square called the Piazza della Scalla. At the center of the square is a momument of Leonardo da Vinci in the center. People, mainly tourists were sitting around and enjoying the day. I found a water fountain close by so I quickly filled up my water bottle. All that walking made me sweat a lot.

I guess the locals are all on siestas while the tourists were around the cathdral area. In order to get to the cathedral, you had to walk through the shopping mall. There were a lot of people just walking around in the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II. This mall had a lot of big brand name companies like Louis Vuitton, Guicci and Prada. I can’t afford anything from any of these stores so I didn’t bother going in. I was atempted to dine at one of the restaurants but decided not to.

The shopping mall is inside a four story arcade style building. I’m not sure what the upper floors are used for. It didn’t look like it was occupied. At the center, where the path ways intersect is a glass dome that lets in a lot of lights. Underneath the dome is a mosaic of a coat of arms. It almosted looked like a flag of England.

Once you go through the mall, you’re greeted by the Milan Cathedral. It looks almost like the cathedral in Cologne. I’m not sure which is bigger but I think the one in Cologne was higher. Tickets can be purchased on the right side of the cathedral and the entrance was on the left. The line up to get into the cathedral wasn’t busy at all. I think most of the people were walking around the rest of the mall, which was located behind the cathedral.

I do not recall doing much in Milan. I remember just walking around and then heading back to the hotel before evening. Milan could have been a city that I could have skipped but given my train schedule from Rome to Zurich, it made sense to stop by Milan.

Europe: Day 14

Rome, Italy

My second day in Rome wasn’t as eventful as yesterday. There were only two other sites that I wanted to hit before leaving the city. St. Peter’s Square and Castel Sant’Angelo. I was looking forward to seeing these two sites because of what I’ve read about them in Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.

As I walked closer to St. Peter’s square, I was approached by a guy trying to sell a tour of the basilica. From what he tells me, I can bypass the lineup and go straight into the basilica but I had to hurry because the next English tour started in 15 minutes. A part of me wanted to take the tour but the other part didn’t like the fact that I was being rushed. The tour group was able to bypass by the line because of their pre-authorized tour guides. They have the authorization to skip the lineups because the tour guide will keep an eye on everyone. I wasn’t sure exactly what he was talking about because the more he talked, the less interested I became. I didn’t say much when he was giving his spiel but he didn’t take the hint. By the end of it, I told him that I didn’t have €55 to spend on a tour. After that, we went our separate ways

St. Peter’s square was a large area with an obelisk in the middle and two fountains on either side. Beyond the fountains were countless columns. And what I’ve noticed about the columns was that on top of the columns were statues of saints. I tried counting them all but I kept losing track. Wikipedia says there are 140 saints in total. There was something to the symmetry of the place. Again, structures like this make me wonder how they were built given the tools of their time.

Not too far from St. Peter’s square was Castel Sant’Angelo. It was once a mausoleum but is now just a museum. I’ve heard that there’s a secret passage that goes from the Vatican to this castle. The castle was used as a fortress if the Vatican was ever attacked. There were a few tips on TripAdvisor that suggested taking the tour in the evening. I didn’t take the tour. I stayed on the outside looking in. The bridge that crosses the Tiber has a bunch of angels on them.

After taking a look at these two sites, I opted to head back towards the hotel and grab some food. I haven’t tried any of the local Italian food yet so I grabbed a pizza and an Italian beer, Nastro Azzurro. It was a nice way to end the day. I headed back to the hotel a tad early because I thought I had an early train to catch but after checking my schedule, I had plenty of time.

I think that if I had taken the tour and entered the castle, I could have spent a few hours just wandering around and taking in the history. But most of this trip is on a budget so I didn’t spend money when I didn’t have to. I just wanted to get a preview so that I know what to do the next time I come back. That is, if I come back. A lot of Rome is very touristy so there wasn’t much there to make me want to come back.

Europe: Day 13

Rome, Italy

I arrived in Rome a lot earlier than I arrived in most of the other cities. I tried to schedule my train reservations in line with hotel check-in times but for Roma, I was about an hour and half early. I ended up just sitting in Roma Termini until 12:00PM and then I left for the hotel. The nice thing about the hotel was that it was just across the street from the train station but it was a tad tricky to locate. The front of the hotel didn’t look exactly like a hotel. I found the address but there weren’t any directions on how to get to the hotel. In Florence, there were signs that pointed me in the direct of the hotel but in Rome, there was nothing except some labels in the elevator. But one I took the elevator to the floor that the hotel was located, there were just two doors. One had someone’s name on it and the hotel was blank. I had no choice but to call the hotel to get more information.

A Chinese guy picked up the phone so I was a little confused. I was expecting an Italian person. The person on the phone told me that there was a buzzer at the front of the hotel that I was supposed to press which will alert him and he would come down to get me. I told him that I was already standing inside the building but just didn’t know where the hotel was. Moments later, he came down and brought me up to the hotel room. It was the door that wasn’t labeled.

Once I was settled in my room, I started to plan out my day. I decided that I would stay on the east side of the Tiber river. I had a couple days in Rome so the other side would be for tomorrow.

The first attraction that I visited was the Colosseum. It was a 30 min walk from the hotel to the Colosseum. The area seems to be blocked off to prevent vehicular traffic. The Colosseum was a massive structure which has stood the test of times. Parts of it appear to be under restoration. There were tourists all around it. I didn’t see a line up to get inside. But then again, with so any people around, it was difficult to see a line at all.

Down the street from the Colosseum is the Roman Forum. Or what’s left of it. You had to pay if you wanted to see the ruins up close but in my opinion, the view of the ruins from far away was just fine. There were a few paths that you can take to get a closer view without having to pay an admission fee.

Not too far away from the Roman Forum was Piazza Venezia. It was a large building with lots of statues. Sitting on top were statues of angels on horse pulled chariots.

Entry into this area seemed restricted but I didn’t look further into it. All I know was that the entrance was guard by someone that looks like a Police Officer and they were stopping people from going in. But then other times, I saw that they were letting people in.

But if you continue down the side walk, there’s a free entrance into the building. There wasn’t much in the building, mostly statues. But at the top was a restaurant and a nice view of the streets.

While I was on the terrace, there was a wedding at the church next door. The bride and groom were just on their way out and were being showered with rice.

Once the wedding party left the premises, I walked into the church. Like most churches in Europe, it was like the TARDIS, larger on the inside. At the front of the church was the caretaker, vacuuming the carpet. Part of the carpet looked as if it was flipped over so I walked over and fixed it. As I was doing that, he yelled at me. Apparently, he was the one that flipped that part of the carpet over. Whoops!

A ten minute walk from Piazza Venezia was the Pantheon. I keep confusing this building with the Parthenon, so when I saw it I was like, that doesn’t look like the picture. Nonetheless, the area was busy. I took a few pictures and carried on. As I was leaving, there was a model with a photographer in the area to take pictures. I guess it was a little crowded so she seemed a little intimidate to be there to take pictures.

I slowly made my way to the Trevi fountain. My friend in Cologne warned me about this place because it was currently under construction. Surprisingly, with all the construction that was going on, people were still swarming the place.

After all the walking that I did today, I was getting hungry. There was a restaurant near the Spanish steps that I passed a few times. I told myself that once I was done, that I would stop by for pizza and beer. I saw by the open window and I could hear people eying my beer. It looked very appealing in this heat. As for the pizza, I was thinking that I wouldn’t be able to finish it but since it was so thin, I didn’t have any problems.

The nice thing about Rome is that a lot of the attractions are close by. If you don’t go inside, you can probably go to all of the major ones in a day. Starting from the Colosseum, hitting the major attractions and ending at the Spanish steps, is about a four kilometer walk. If you sit aside 30 minutes for picture taking or just taking in sights, you can probably visit all of those places in half the day, which is what I did, but that’s going at my pace. If I had someone with me, it may take longer.

Europe: Day 12

Florence, Italy

I had an early train to catch to Florence. The night before, I realized that the train will stop at Firenze Rifredi but my hotel was closer to Firenze Santa Maria Novella. It was at least 45 minute walk in the heat with my luggage. It was a small mistake but oh well. While on the train, I met up with a recently married couple from Hawaii. Jordan and Olivia were on their honeymoon doing the Europe trip as well. We started talking and I found out that they were from the island of Oahu. This was the island that I vacationed on a few years ago. My stories of Oahu made them a little home sick and they reminisced about the things that they missed most about the island. We exchanged stories of our trip so far and I was glad to hear that they were enjoying the first trip. I gave them some advice and recommended that they keep travelling while they came. They gave me some pointers for Paris. Before getting off the train, we exchange contact information. So if I am ever in Oahu again, they offered to show me around. I told them that if they were ever in my part of Ontario, I would have a place for them to stay.

The hotel that I stayed at was not too far from the main attractions. My room was on the fourth floor and the hotel did not have an elevator so it was a long climb up 5 flights of stairs. The view wasn’t too bad and it wasn’t too noisy. Unlike Venice, my room wasn’t beside a busy street so it was quiet during the night. The lady that ran the hotel was very nice. Before I went to my room, she gave me a map of Florence. I didn’t end up using it because I had my smart phone and an offline Google Maps.

The first place I went in search of was Il Duomo di Firenze. It’s a fairly large cathedral. Much like other cathedrals that I’ve been too, the area was swarming with tourists. I was hoping that entrance was free but no, you had to pay. Line up to get inside went from the front of the cathedral to the left. I walked around the cathedral to see what it was like. Parts it was under construction. By this point, I was starting to get sick of seeing cathedrals. It’s as if once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I didn’t spend too much time in the area.

After walking around the area for a while, I just stopped by and bought gelato. That’s when I noticed that I was running out of Euros. I went to the foreign exchange place and bough another 100 Euros. It was an expensive transaction. The place said that they don’t charge a commission but they had a fairly hefty service charge. It was a bit mistake to exchange money that way. I found that it was cheaper just to go to the bank machine and make withdrawals from there.

Towards the end of the day, I headed up to Piazzale Michelangelo. There’s a bronze replica of the statue of David. It didn’t look that nice because there was bird poop all over the statue. And the bronze was rusted which didn’t look well for David because it made it appear as if he had an accident running down his leg.

To the left of the statue was a blocked off area that was filled with exercise bikes. There were people setting up for some group ride session. I estimated something along the lines of 300 exercise bikes. There were people at the front of the group. Two of them were the personal trainer type where they would motivate the group. Also, there was a DJ and a drummer that would get the group going with music. This session grow quite a crowd. I stuck around for an hour or two, mainly because the sun was going down and I wanted to catch a sunset.

On the way back to the hotel, I cross a bridge where a couple of musicians were playing. The bridge was slightly covered so it was a nice acoustic setting. These guys were pretty good. I stuck around for a couple of songs. But even when I got off the bridge I could still here them.

There was a lovely sunset during my walk back to the hotel. It’s always nice catching sunsets. It was a nice calm stroll along the river side.

I don’t have much of a lasting impression of Florence. I think the highlight was watching the people on the exercise bike. Well, there was that one time where I bought pizza and sat outside to eat but then some homeless lady came by and asked for change. I gave her some loose change and then she asked for the pizza. I could have told her to buy her own with the change that I gave her but I didn’t bother. I broke off a piece and gave it to her. She had the biggest smile on her face for that piece of pizza. There seems to bit quite a bit of homeless people in Europe. I feel sorry for them because they’re out in the heat. I have lots of loose change that I didn’t want to carry around much so I would give out some change when I can.

Florence is a city that you can see in one day but that depends on what you’re looking to get out of it. But even if you want more of an in depth history lession, perhaps you can spend one or two hours at the cathedrals and museums. For Florence, I spend most of my time at the hill top where I had a nice view of the city.

Europe: Day 11

Venice, Italy

If there is a city that you should get lost in, it’s Venice. Whether it’s on purpose or by accident, Venice will challenge your sense of direction. If you do not have a map or an up-to-date GPS, you’ll be wandering around for hours. So it’s a good thing that there’s a few piazza around for you to sit down and take a break.

There are two options when staying in Venice. You can stay on the mainland or on the island. I stayed on the mainland. If you decide to book a hotel on the island, be ready to follow a map. Depending on where you booked, you will be walking through a crowd of people to get to your hotel. As I was wandering around, I saw tourists hauling their luggage through the streets of Venice, over canals and up and down steps. Some of them looked lost because they had to find their current location on a map. Venice is like a labyrinth. And some of the streets are not roller wheel friend.

My little adventure started around 10AM. It was a 30 minute walk from my hotel to the Venezia Metre station and another 10 minutes to the island. Upon arrival at Venezia Santa Lucia, I attempted to get my bearings so I can figure out where to go. Right outside the terminal is the Grand Canal, teeming with water traffic. There were transport boat, ferries and gondolas moving left, right and center. I was going to cross the bridge over to the San Polo district but decided on checking out the Dorsoduro first before entering deeper into the maze.

Most of the streets were quiet, probably because everyone was in St. Marco’s square. I think it took me about 3 hours to get to there because there was only one bridge that connects the Dorsoduro to the San Marco district. So every time I could see water, I headed in that direction only to find that it’s a dead end and I had to turn around and try the next street. I got fed up at once point that I just stepped aside and got gelato. I have to say that my favourite gelato so far is Stracciatella. It’s similar to chocolate chip ice cream except the chips are not as chunky. It was a nice way to cool down but with the temperature being so hot, everything melted quickly and I ended up with gelato all over my hands. I couldn’t lick it quick enough. Since there were canals all over the place, I had no problem cleaning up.

Piazza San Marco was packed! Lots of people were sitting in the shade while others were sitting at the cafes. There were a lot of kids around, chasing after pigeons. There were even vendors around selling pieces of bread so you can have your picture taken of a pigeon eating out of your hands.

The line up to get into the cathedral went from one side of the cathedral and around the corner. Tour groups were gathered around, waiting for the guides to come back with entry tickets.

A co-worker of mine had a painting of this as his desktop wallpaper. He’s an older gentleman and would always tell me stories of his travels. It’s nice to hear about people’s travels and it gives you a glimpse of things from their perspective. I find that perspective is a big thing. They say that a shade of a particular colour is not seem the same by two people.

After walking around for hours, I took a break. This guy was singing some nice tunes so I stuck around. The area was nice and shaded and it wasn’t too busy. He must have sung for about 10 minutes before packing up. Before he left, I walked over and gave my donation. I felt that it was worth it.

I thought these Borg-like Carnivàle masks were pretty cool. I think this store said that they were the ones that made the mask for the “Eyes Wide Shut” movie. I don’t recall that scene so I had nothing to compare. Some stores allow you to paint our own masks for €2. Someone told me that back in the day, theses masks were stronger but for tourist, they’re made out of papier mâché so it’s quicker and easier to mass produce.

The clouds darkened as I got closer to Venezia Metre. I was hoping that it was just dark clouds and not rain but then the window started getting hit with rain drops. If I didn’t leave when I did, I would have been caught in the rain on the island. And not just rain but hail as well. As we stopped at one station, I could hear people screen as they ran for the doors of the train. I was thinking to myself, “Have these people ever walked in the rain?” If I didn’t have any electronics on me, I would just stand in the rain. It’s an invigorating feeling. One of my fondest memories of Thailand was running around naked in the rain. That was how I showered over there when I was a kid.

The security guards of the train station recommended that everyone stay inside for a bit because it was hailing. The size of the hails ranges from small pellets to those the side of your thumb. It has been raining and hailing since mid-way from the island so it wouldn’t be long before everything subsided. Once I saw that it wasn’t hailing anymore, I left. It still rained but the cool rain was nice on the skin, especially after a long hot day. Plus it was just water. It’s no big deal. I would be taking a shower before I head to bed anyway.

On the way back to the hotel, I noticed some flowers in a yard that were wet from the rain. I snapped a few pictures here and there. When I was done, I looked up and saw an elderly Italian lady looking at me. I just smiled and waved and carried on.

Venice was nice to see in person. It can be quite the walk if you get lost. Even with a slightly up to date map, you still need to get your bearings or else you’re going in the wrong direction. The nice thing about the island was that there were little water fountains here and there. I’m not sure if it’s drinking water or just water used to wash yourself, but I drank from it. I have a Brita water bottle that has a filter on the lid so it’s fine for me. I think without those fountains, I would have been dehydrated during my walks.

Europe: Day 10

Venice, Italy

I almost missed my train to Venice. I left Mel’s place about 45 minutes before the train was scheduled to leave but I kept missing one train after another.

First the train to Sending Tor just left as I reached the bottom of the stairs. And then the train to Munich HBF just took off as I was rounding the corner. The next train to the main station wasn’t scheduled to arrive for another 10 min which meant that I would miss the train to Venice. But then I recognized that the next train arriving stops at the same stops as the train that I just missed. The only difference was that this train didn’t go all the way to the end of the line. I had no choice but to hop on and hope that it was the correct train. Luckily, it was!

I was supposed to stop by the postal office to mail out some postcards but since I was running late, I didn’t have time. Also, Mel advised that it is expensive to mail out postcards from Italy. So every postcard that I buy in Italy will have to wait until Paris to be sent out.

By the time the train reached Venice, it was just after 6pm. And by the time I checked in into the hotel it was almost 7pm. So today was a rest day. I basically just checked in and then went around looking for a restaurant to get food. There was a small pizzeria in the area so I went there and had a quick bite.

I noticed that this part of Venice had a lot of elderly people, as of this was where they retired. It made for a peaceful walk except when this little dog started barking at me for no reason.

I went back to the hotel, connected my laptop and recharged everything. Tomorrow, I start walking around and getting lost in the streets and canals of Venice.

Europe: Day 9

Hohenschwangau, Germany

It’s my last day in Germany before taking off to Italy. The last few days have been amazing and will be very memorable. I’m not sure what the days to come will be like but I don’t think it will be the days in Munich.

The last place to visit is Castle Neuschwanstein, the inspiration behind the Disney castle. It is located in Hohenschwangau, just south west of Munich, about an hour and half drive along the country side.

The Germany country side seems very peaceful. There’s a farm every some odd kilometers with a bunch of brown cows roaming around grazing on grass. The landscape is hardly ever flat. There are trees on hills and the mountain in the back. I also noticed that as we passed by each town, there’s also a church. Mel tells me that every town, no matter how small has a church of some sort.

Mel has been to Neuschwanstein before but I guess this time we’re taking a different route. One that Google told me to take. We came across Echelsbacher Brücke, a bridge that goes over the Ammer river. It’s 130m long and 76m high. Just looking down from the bridge gave me slight vertigo.

After taking a few pictures, we got back into the car and carried on. We turned onto what’s known as “Romantische Strasse” which translates into “romantic road.” From the looks of things, it didn’t look very romantic, and at some parts, it didn’t smell romantic. But perhaps it’s not romantic in the same sense that most of us know it as but more towards the idea that the road was used by the Romans back in the day. The road is 400km long which starts from Würzburg and ends in Füssen, just by Schloss Neuschwanstein. It’s a somewhat picturesque road, nonetheless, with wood farms, green pastures and poppy fields.

Today, the Alps were more prominent. Just before reaching the castle, we stop off to the side of the road to take some pictures. A few other drivers did so as well. The Alps may not look very interesting from far away but when you’re driving thought them, it’s another story.

Upon arrival, we noticed that the parking lot wasn’t too busy yet. But then again, most of the visitors are arriving by bus, which are parked at another parking lot. I took the picture above from Schloss Schwangau, which is another castle in the area but not as popular as Schloss Neuschwanstein. This castle looks more like a castle for a Prince whereas Schloss Neuschwanstein is like a castle for a King.

There was a lake nearby that had a family of swans. I don’t recall the name of the lake so we’ll call it “Swan Lake” to keep with the theme. Of course, any time Mel is near water she needs to go for a swim. I didn’t plan on being so close to water as often as we were so I didn’t bother to bring any swimming shorts.

After Mel was done with swimming, we started our hike up the mountain towards the castle. It was a 40min hike to the top. I feel kind of bad because Mel was wearing slip on shoes, not ideal for hiking and we came across some terrains that were not idea for those shoes. But she managed to make it to the top without any problems.

Before heading to the castle, we visited a bridge known as Marienbrücke which gave us a nice profile view of the castle. The king sure knew how to pick the perfect spot. I mean, look at it. The castle is high enough that you get an unobstructed view of the countryside below and even the lake.

And on the other side is the view of the Alps. That’s prime real estate location in today’s world.

Looking down from the bridge is an aerial view of a waterfall. I wondered if there was a hiking trail that would take us to the waterfall but there wasn’t anything that we could see right away.

For some reason, the bridge was packed with tourist. There were no signs but I wondered what the capacity limit of the bridge was. Mel suggests that I not think about it, but I couldn’t help it because as we’re crossing the bridge, I could feel the wood floor bending. And the thing was, there were a lot of people at the one end of the bridge. It was as if they didn’t want to cross the bridge to the other side. The view from the other side was actually better because you go high up.

It would be at least another hour or so before my tour started. We just hung out on the grass for a while, in the shade where it was nice and cool… and damp apparently but it was one of those days where I could have closed my eyes and just passed out.

The tour was about an hour long, paced by the guide. At the entrance, I was given an English audio guide which would automatically activate as soon as it received a signal from the controller. The bad thing about it was that, by the time the audio guide got to a certain part, I wasn’t in the room yet because the group that I was in was a tad slow to move. The audio guide was pretty informative. I don’t have any pictures of the tour because we were not allowed to photograph anything, which sucks because some of the artwork in there was pretty amazing. A lot of the castle was very Romanesque.

Schloss Neuschwanstein was very great to see in person. You can probably spend the whole day in this area, just wondering around. A little tip, get ticket reservations. Since we didn’t read the website, we found out the hard way that tickets needs to be reserved two days in advanced. Ticket reservations allowed you to skip the long line ups. There was hardly anyone taking advantaged of reserved tickets we came. That line was completely empty. When you get closer to the front of the line, it isn’t so bad because you’re being shaded. But when you’re just joining the line, you’re out in the sun for a while. The castle is definitely worth a visit so make a day out of it if you plan on visiting.

Europe: Day 8

Salzburg, Austria

Today, we were off to Salzburg with a stop at Chiemsee, Bavaria’s largest lake. Salzburg is just under two hours away from Munich, with Chiemsee about half way in between. It was a nice drive along the country side. On a clear day, the Alps would be visible, but with the heat all you can just see the outline.

Before heading into the Chiemsee area, we stopped by a gas station to buy a pass for Austria. The pass is similar to a transponder. Once we cross the Germany-Austria border, cameras takes pictures of your car. If you do not have the pass, you get a fine in the mail. But I think the pass is just for using the highway. If we had taken a side road, the trip would be longer but we’d also save €8.

We arrived in Prien am Chiemsee and took a ferry over to Herreninsel. We had to buy tickets for the ferry so we purchased one that allowed us to go to Herreninsel and then Fraueninsel. It was about a 20min ferry ride over. The ferry was move fast enough that there was a slight breeze. The breeze was welcomed as the day was fairly hot.

On Herreninsel is Schloss Herrenchiemsee, a palace inspired by the styles of Versailles. The garden of the palace contains five fountains. The two fountains closest to the palace had statues of Fama and Fortuna. The center found is the Latona fountain, which tells the story of the childhood of Apollo, the sun god. The fountains were turned on every 30 minutes. They look rather plain without water shooting out of them.

The rear of the palace opens up to a long grassy field that leads to the lake. That’s all there was to it. We didn’t feel like taking a long stroll to the end so we just turned around.

Fraueninsel was a lot livelier. I guess with Herreninsel, it was just for sight-seeing whereas Fraueninsel was more of a relaxed environment where tourists would go into a restaurant to have something to eat or drink, or even take a swim in the lake. As you walk around, you come across houses where people actually live in. It seems like a lot of the inhabitants of Fraueninsel sell some form of art.

As we were walking, we could hear the sound of a helicopter. There must have been some sort of medical emergency on the island but maybe nothing urgent because the paramedics walked.

After having spent a couple of hours in Chiemsee, we took off to Salzburg. It wasn’t much further and felt like we got there in no time. It took a while to find parking as most of the streets in Salzburg seems to be one way. Eventually we found underground parking by old town Salzburg.

The parking lot was connected to a series of underground tunnels that leads from one part of Salzburg to another. Or so it seemed. We took the elevator up to, what we thought was the main floor but it was still contained tunnels. Eventually we found an exit that lead to St. Peter’s abbey. We didn’t go in, but rather took a left and walked around Domplatz and Mozartplatz and a bunch of other platz.

After walking around for a while, we decided to climb the hill to see Fortress Hohensalzburg. It was a tiring climb up. Story is, this fortress never taken by force except for one time when they decide to surrender to Napoleon Bonaparte without a fight. I’m not sure how that played out. It was as if Napoleon came by one day, knocked on their door and said, “Je suis Napoleon Bonaparte! Celui qui craint d’être conquis, est sûr de la défaite.” And the people in the fortress were like, “Okay, we give up!”

You can see the fortress in the picture above, behind St. Peter’s abbey.

The view of the city was spectacular. We took a tour of the castle so we were able to higher up and the view from there was even more spectacular. Salzburg looked very spaced out, with not crowded. The Salzach river divided old and new Salzburg, it seems.

We took the tram back down. The price was included in our admission fee, I guess. We probably wouldn’t have mind the walk down but we’ve done enough walk as it.

Once down the mountain, we went and found somewhere to get gelato. With the heat, it was so good! I forgot what favours I got. I think mango and vanilla.

As we crossed the bridge, again we see more love locks. Europe is filled with these things.

As the day came into an end, we just hung out by the river side on the grass and chatted. Salzburg seems like a nice quiet little town that you can spend the day in. The fortress was interesting to see, mainly because of the view it gave us towards the end of the tour. Before exiting the tour, I bought an Edelweiß. This plant came up from time to time. I’ve only heard about it from music class and then later on from “The Sound of Music.” Mel told me the story of why it’s so popular. The Edelweiß flower is a flower that grows high up in the Alps. It is symbolic with love and devotion because men have to risk their lives climbing the Alps to find and pick the flower for their significant other. As she was telling me the story, I asked, “Wouldn’t it be simpler to just get the seed and grow it at home?” At the time Mel wasn’t aware if you can buy seeds for the flower, but as we now know, yes you can. So I guess, if a guy wants to be sentimental about it, yes, he can climb the Swiss Alps in search of this delicate white flower. Otherwise, he can buy and grow one from Fortress Hohensalzburg’s gift shop.

And so we’re done with another city. What I’ve learned from Salzburg is that it’s the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The house that he was born in is still there. I’m not sure if anyone lives there right now but the building has been designated as “Mozarts Geburtshaus.” You can even buy chocolates called Mozart balls, which contains a center made out of something called “marzipan.” This marzipan is a confection made from sugar and almond meal. It’s probably only available in this part of the world as I do not know if they export.

It’s nice how the European countries are so close to each other. Back in Ontario, you can drive for just under 2 days and just make it to the border of Ontario and Manitoba. In Europe, with that amount of time, you can probably leave Germany for Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Portugal.

Europe: Day 7

Munich, Germany

Today was a bit of a catch up day. I had some time before Mel got back so I started some laundry. I thought that my clothes would dry by the time Mel returned but little did I know that her washing machine takes about an hour to do the wash. At first, I thought I pressed the wrong buttons or perhaps I had to manually stop it once the cycles were done. But no, that’s just how her washing machine works.

Once the wash was done, I laid out my clothes on the drying board. I thought that perhaps it will dry in a couple of hours but it didn’t. Mel came back home and my clothes were still slightly wet. The one thing that I was hoping to dry were my shorts. To save some time, I decided to wear them and hope that the outside heat will dry them throughout the day.

Walking around with wet shorts isn’t all that comfortable, especially if you have to sit down but it was temporary. The temperature outside was in the 30s so my shorts dried within the hour, only to get a little soaked again from sweating.

We took a bus to see Schloss Nymphenburg, since it was on the way to Olympic park. The one thing that I noticed most about this castle was there were a lot of geese around. They could have been Canadian geese but I didn’t know how to tell for sure. There were a few other water fowls as well, which I slowly chased into the water. I hoped I did them as a favour as it was pretty hot out. Who wouldn’t want to cool down in the moat? If I was a duck, that’s what I would do.

The back yard of the castle had lots of statues, mainly with a Greek mythology theme. I recognized Zeus and Poseidon but I had no idea who the rest were. We didn’t stick around long enough to try and figure out who’s who. There was a bus coming to take us to Olympic park so we left.

The bus that was scheduled to arrive at the stop never showed up. We have a few minutes left to get to BMW world before it closed. By the time the bus came and drove us to the area, it was something like five minutes to closing. But as we got closer to the door, we saw that it was opened till 9:00PM. I think it was the store that closed at 6pm. There was a staff member at the door that looked like he was getting ready to lock the doors.

BMW World is pretty awesome! It has a showcase of all of the latest models of BMW cars and motorcycle, including a fully electric BWM i8. You can walk around, find out more about the cars and even learn about the technology behind BMW vehicles. Unfortunately, all of the cars were locked. It would have been nice to sit in one.

There were some nice BMW models on the floor. The one that caught my eye was the M5. I think it had a price tag of £130,000 and a top speed of 250. This car would go to waste in Canada. The fastest we can go is 120km/h, 130km/h if you’re in the Calgary area.

The motorcycles weren’t that cheap either. I think they ran around £10,000, maybe even more. We got the chance to sit on some of them and they were pretty comfortable, especially the touring motorcycles. But these motorcycles were massive compared to my CBR125. Perhaps one day I will be able to get one.

Outside of BMW World was the Olympic stadium. It was built for the 1972 Olympic Games. Just like every other city that hosted an Olympic game, the structure that commemorates the Olympic has to look unique in some way. The Olympic stadium in Munich looks like a futuristic tent. I think I’ve seen it before on the work computers but I always thought that was an airport in Germany somewhere.

Nowadays, the Olympic stadium is used for swimming and perhaps outdoor concerts. Today, there was a basketball tournament going on.

There were a few 3-on-3 basketball games occurring. I kind of miss playing basketball. It’s been so long since I was on the court. Watching the games brought back memories.

The basketball games were taking place at the lower part of the park. If you continue to climb uphill, you get a spectacular view of Munich, only this time it’s at the other end of town. St. Peter’s church gave you a view from the center of Munich while Olympic park’s view gave you a view from the outskirts of Munich. St. Peter’s church was visible from here. We also saw that there was some sort of festival going on, on the other side of the hill.

It was something called “Tollwood.” It’s a festival that brings awareness to the treatments animals before they are slaughtered for food. They promoted buying from companies have the “BIO” approval labels on them.

We walked around and checked out what was going on. There were a few tents with bands in them, playing Latin and Indian music. The entertainment wasn’t too bad.

We were going to meet up with Mel’s brother later on so we just grab a small drink. Mel got water and she suggested I get something called, “Amsdulradler.” Whatever it was, I couldn’t exactly pronounce it so I can’t spell it either. All I know was that it tasted like ginger ale.

After walking around for a bit, we grabbed a bus to meet up with Mike at a nearby biergarten. Mike was meeting up with some friends from school, a yearly tradition that they keep, which I found to be a good idea. All of the friends are from different parts of Germany so it’s nice that they’ve found time to meet up. I have a hard enough time bringing my friends together and they’re all in the same city.

Mike’s friends gave us some recommendation for tomorrow, when we’re heading to Chiemsee and Salzburg, Austria. That was very helpful of them.

Before they left, Mel and I went and grabbed some food and beer. I tried Schweinshaxe, or pork knuckle and weißbier, or white beer. I wasn’t too hungry so I only grabbed 1/2 pork knuckle (I had hard time finishing half). It wasn’t too bad. Parts of it tasted like the skin of roast pork in Chinese cuisine. The white beer was average tasting, nothing of note.

Before heading home, we walked over to the place where Oktoberfest is held. To Mel’s surprised, they were already starting to set up for Oktoberfest. It’s not schedule to take place for at least another two months. The area where Oktoberfest takes place is huge! We must have been walking for over a kilometer and most of it was all fenced off. Since events like this doesn’t usually take place in Canada, I can’t imagine how busy it can get. Mel tells me that certain beer tents can be full by 10:00 AM or so and it will be difficult to get in after that. People can be in line by 9:00AM and be crazy drunk by 10:00AM. People come from all over the world, just to attend Oktoberfest. I wouldn’t mind checking it out once but for now, if there’s beer at home, I’ll stay home.

We had one final stop before heading home. This statue is known as Bavaria, a female personification of the Bavarian homeland. Mel didn’t know the story because the statue but she could have made anything up and I would have believed. I don’t know any better.

When we got to the statue, there was a crowded of people just sitting around the steps. I was a little surprised by their presence because I didn’t hear the sound of people talking. I guess these people were just sitting around in silence.

So, that sums up Munich. I think I’ve seen just about everything that a tourist would see. It was nice to do some of the local things. Having a personal tourist helps a lot!

Europe: Day 6

Bamberg, Germany

Today, Mel has her cousin’s birthday party to attend in the evening so we made the most of the morning and early afternoon. The plan for the day is to visit two of the lakes in Bavaria, a monastery and then off to Bamberg, where Mel is from.

I did not attend the birthday party because 1) I don’t know her cousin, and 2) I don’t know her cousin. Plus, it would be a little awkward being in company where everyone speaks German. I’m sure that they probably speak English as well, but I didn’t want them to change that on my account. So I opted out of the birthday party to wandering around Bamberg.

Our first stop was to Starnberger See, located southwest of Munich and is one of the many lakes in Bavaria. It was a small little lake town, but large enough that there plenty of activities occurring all around. People were going on walks, taking a little swim and sailing in boats. We just ended up walking around until we reached what looked like the end of the walkway and then we turned around. We were slightly on a timeline so we kept the visit short. Plus, parking was free for 30 minutes.

Up next was Kloster Andechs, or Andechs Monastery. It was nice and cool in the church. The walls and ceiling were covered in murals, depicting stories from the bible, I assume but I couldn’t make out any of the references. There seemed to be a lot of gold colour things every. I think that’s what caught me off guard at first.

They also brew beer at this monastery. It didn’t occur to me at the time that monasteries brewed beer but now that I think about it, I’ve heard that one of the oldest breweries is run by monks. I think even Friar Tuck from the Robin Hood stories brewed alcohol of some sort.

I got a regular size beer while Mel got her regular radler since she had to drive. The beer tasted light with a slight bitterness to it. Almost like a light Heineken. It was a refreshing drink as we sat outside and chatted.

After finishing our drinks, we took a quick drive to Ammersee. It was not far from Kloster Andechs so it only made sense to stop by. It’s similar to Starnberger See, only it seems livelier. It was a nice stroll along the lakeshore and it was too hot either.

Then we hit the road to Bamberg. Little did I know that every highway we travelled on is an “autobahn.” It occurred after being on the highway for a while that “autobahn” is German for highway. I felt a little stupid not being able to make the connection earlier. I always thought that the autobahn was a section of the highway where there were not speed limits. Speaking of which, that was kind of cool to see. The way it works is that, as you’re driving, the speed limits are posted on digital signs. From time to time, it goes from 80km/h to 100km/h to 130km/h to blank. But when it’s blank, you can go as fast as you want. We had cars whizzing by like they’re late they’ve committed a bank robbery or something. I think the fastest Mel drove was 140-160km/h. The autobahn can be scary if you’re not used to the rules. The thing is, there are cars from other countries on it and not all of them know the rules of the road. One car from the Netherlands would let us merge and there was no one to their left.

As we drove along, we saw a metallic red BMW M3 (I think). This happens to be my dream car. Wow, it looked nice. And it wasn’t a glossy metallic red either. It was more of a matte metallic red. Just the right shine. Guys and cars, what can I say?

We drove into Nürnberg quickly, just to look around. At the center of the city was a walled fortress. Initially, if I left Bamberg in time, I would have stopped by Nürnberg and checked it out, but I didn’t end up getting to do that.

Mel had to meet up with her brother Michael, close to an Ikea somewhere. We switched cars and Mike dropped me off somewhere in Bamberg. I didn’t have a map but was told that the cathedral was one way while the train station was the other way. Also, Mel recommended that I try a “rauchbier” called “Schenkerla.” Apparently, a lot of places in Bamberg served it. So if I had time, I was going to try that beer.

And so, my little adventure started. Usually, what I do first is search around for Wi-Fi, just in case there’s some opened one that I can use to gain access to Google Maps. Luckily, someone had their Wi-Fi open and it was located conveniently close to a sitting spot. I connected and quickly loaded up directions to the cathedral. I decided to leave the train stations for when I get back. I’m sure that the access point will still be on.

As I started walking around, I noticed a small little tour going on. I joined the tour quietly, to see what it was all about. It was just mainly history of the building that they were standing in front of. I didn’t have time for all the history so I just left.

Bamberg is to Germany what Venice is to Italy. There aren’t that many canals, but there are a few bridges that cross the river. So in that sense, it’s similar to Venice.

Getting to the cathedral meant walking uphill for thirty minutes or so. That’s all I’ve been doing since I got to Europe. I miss riding my motorcycle. There are lots of those around. Perhaps next time I’ll bring my motorcycle over.

The cathedral was located in Domplatz. This area was fairly busy with vehicle traffic. I thought there would be more foot traffic but no. Every two minutes or so, there was a car turning the corner to go somewhere.

As I finished taking pictures, I felt that I could go higher. The street that leads away from the cathedral was going in an upward direction so I followed it. As I was wondering around, I came across a bar that served Schenkerla but I thought that perhaps I’ll finishing my tour first and then reward myself with beer. There were signs by the bar that pointed to something called Michaelsberg so I followed it. Michaelsberg turned out to be the highest point so far. It had a nice view of Bamberg.

After walking around for a few hours, my legs were getting tired, so I decided to head on back. But before going down the hill, I swung by the bar again… only to find that they had closed. Oh well, next time, I guess.

Along the way, I did a little window shopping. I saw this in the window of one of the shops. Google translates it as “every day is your day.” Nice little motto to live by.

I headed back to my little Wi-Fi access point spot and loaded up the directions to the train station. It looked like I had two hours to catch the very last train to Nürnberg that connects to Munich. The train station was only a few minutes away so there was no rush. I managed to catch a bit of the sunset during my walk. It was quite nice over the river.

Just before the train station was a bar. I took a chance to see if perhaps they had Schenkerla. And they did! I almost didn’t get to drink this beer. I sat down at a table, ordered a beer and bruschetta. I don’t think I’ve ever had that combo before, but really, I just wanted the beer and something quick to eat before catching the train.

As I finished my “dinner” one of the waitresses came by and asked, “Can I do everything for you?” I just stared at her because i wasn’t sure what she meant. In my head, I was thinking, maybe she wants to finish my beer but then I thought maybe she meant, “May I get you anything else?” I shook my head and she took away my plate. So I guess correctly as to what she meant.

As I sat there finishing my beer, which by far, the best that I’ve had, I checked up the train schedule, only to realize that the last train wasn’t leaving in an hour. The last train from Bamberg to Nürnberg was leaving in 10 minutes and the last train from Nürnberg to Munich would leave as soon as the Bamberg train arrives there. I had to rush and get the bill and then ran to the train station. Luckily, I found the platform that the train was leaving from with 2 minutes to spear. But then I had to run to the other platform to ask if I could use my train ticket with this train. Luckily, I could.

So that was Bamberg. It looks just like it does in the postcard that Mel sent me. The atmosphere is fairly lively. There are lots of people walking around and also a lot of people sitting around as well. Although, I’m starting to think that the most popular thing to do in Germany is sit around drinking beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.