Entries in Europe 2010 (22)



No. Not the movie. Though, the movie *does* look interesting ;)

We picked up some salt while we were at the Wieliczka Salt Mine. We have never had the need for a salt mill before, so we don't own one. Shortly after we returned home, we went into one of our local kitchen stores to see what was available. Since we already own a Peugeot pepper mill (http://www.swissmar.com/product_images/PM90401_large.jpg), we thought we should get a matching salt mill.

Who knew that getting a salt mill could be complicated? The staff at the store asked us if the salt was sea salt or rock salt. We were pretty sure it was rock salt. As it turns out, there are different mills for different types of salt. We were informed that for rock salt, we would need to get a mill with a ceramic grinding mechanism. Since we were not 100% certain what sort of salt we had at home, we decided to hold off on purchasing anything until we had all of our facts straight.

Stay tuned!


Day 20: Last minute details

We left Stuttgart and drove to Frankfurt. We had much less trouble getting out of the city than we had anticipated. We did, however, encounter quite a bit of road work on the autobahns. We arrived around noon and checked into our final hotel. Quite by happy coincidence, the hotel is located on a main street with a tram line directly to the main square at the city centre. We consulted the gentleman at the front desk of our hotel and he assured us it was far easier to take a tram to the city centre then to drive and park. Armed with his advice, we set off for the closest tram stop (which was right across the street). We had a bit of difficulty trying to figure out how the ticketing system worked at the ticket machine. Once we sorted that out, we purchased our tickets and hopped on the tram. Away we went!

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the downtown and doing some last minute shopping. We eventually returned to the main square and met up with a fellow World of Warcraft player from our guild, Elysian Conclave. We had no pre-knowledge of why Jaime (a.k.a. Gaudi) would also be in Frankfurt while we were there. As it turns out, he had just relocated to Frankfurt a few weeks ago and had simply kept quiet about it. We went for drinks (beer!) and then dinner (beer and sausages!). Ok, I'm the only one who had beer and sausages. =) Jaime had schnitzel and Matt had pork knuckle. Great company, conversation, and food. Thanks, Jaime! We'll be sure to let you know when we will be in your neck of the woods again!


Day 19: Auto museums, the final chapter

We had several things planned for Stuttgart.  However, only one of those was totally safe for the questionable weather we had today: the Mercedes-Benz museum.

Of the three automotive museums we've been to, this one was by far the most exhaustive when it came to the various vehicles on display.  I guess that makes sense given that this is the oldest of the three companies.  Of all the things at the museum, three things in particular stood out for me.

First was the world's first high-speed internal combusion engine developed by Daimler, dubbed the Grandfather Clock due to its shape.  It was fascinating to learn how many different applications were evaluated for this engine from the start.  Anything from a engine powered carriage, motorcycle, train car, and even air ship. 

The next exhibit that stood out was the museum's collection of 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs and 300 SLRs (aka Gullwing roadsters), arguably the most beautiful cars ever produced.  I've heard and read about these for many years, but this was my first chance to get up close to them.  Very impressive.

The last notable car for me was the 1955 Mercedes-Benz 180.  Many years ago, my Dad used to have the latter revision of this car from the late 50s.  Coincidentally, the car they had on display was also black, just like the one I remember from my childhood.  While at this display, I bored Cess with the various small differences I could identify between the original 1955 version of the car versus the one Dad had.

Our hotel was less than 10km away from the Mercedes-Benz museum but it took us about 30 minutes to get there.  Between tricky Stuttgart roads and Friday afternoon rush hour traffic, getting to the hotel was a challenge.  I'm glad to see that there are other cities with traffic just as bad as Toronto.

Mercedes-Benz "riding car" utilizing the Grandfather Clock engine:

Daimler Reitwagen

Interior of the Mercedes-Benz museum.  This exhibit shows the various 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs and 300 SLRs in addition to the 1955 180:

Mercedes-Benz museum

1955 Mercedes-Benz 180:

1955 Mercedes-Benz 180

1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL:




Day 18: Royal intrigue, Bavarian style

The plan today was to see the two most important sites in this part of Bavaria; King Ludwig II's two castles near Füssen.  We were up early as the research we'd done indicates that these two castles are fairly popular.  By 8:30am we had driven to the town of Hohenschwangau and purchased tickets for touring both of the castles.  As was the case with some of the other castles we've been too, these two can only be entered as part of a tour.  There is no option of doing a self-guided tour.

We spent the earlier portion of the morning at the Hohenschwangau castle.  The castle is perched on a hillside overlooking the town and has quite a varied history.  the 14th century castle was destroyed in the Napoleonic wars.  Eventually, it was acquired and rebuilt by King Maximillian II (Ludwig II's father) between 1832 and 1837.  We were quite surprised at how small this castle was; it seems to only have about a dozen rooms.

Next up was the most famous castle in Bavaria; Neuschwanstein.  If you've seen Bavarian postcards with a castle nestled in the mountains, this is probably what you saw.  To get to Neuschwanstein you've got to undertake a 40 minute hike, or a bus/horse carriage ride up the mountain.  We opted for the hike.  Neuschwanstein is significantly larger (and newer) as it was being built by King Ludwig II between 1868 and 1892.  Most interesting of all is the fact that the castle was never completely finished as King Ludwig II died at the age of 41, under fairly mysterious circumstances in 1886.  Just prior to his death, he was deemed to be insane and unfit to rule.  Within days, he was found dead in a shallow body of water along with his personal physician.

After visiting the two castles we were going to visit some other castle ruins at the foot of Tegelberg mountain, and possibly also take a cable car up the mountain.  Unfortunately, while hiking to the base of the mountain things got pretty dark and thunder started rumbling in the distance.  We turned around and about halfway through our hike back to the car the skies opened up.  Luckily, we were passing a small chalet when this happened so we were able to find some shelter and waited out the worst of the storm.

Hohenschwangau from afar:


Hohenschwangau inner courtyard, as seen from within the castle:

Hohenschwangau courtyard

Neuschwanstein up close:

Neuschwanstein gate

Neuschwanstein as seen from Marienbrücke bridge:


Waiting out a storm with hail:


Cess, clearly unimpressed by the sudden onset of stormy weather:

Cess unimpressed by the storm


Day 17: Audi revisited

We returned to Audi today to attend the plant tour that we had signed up for on Monday. We started with a little film before moving on to the tour itself. I learned that there are 2 plants in Germany, one in Hungary, and lastly, one in Brussels. The one in Hungary produces engines for all the cars. Unfortunately, we were unable to take any photos while we were inside the plant. We were able to see a small portion of the pressing plant where sheets of metal blanks were formed into various car components. Blanks went through 3 or 4 pressings before the desired component was completed. All scrap metal pieces are gathered and pressed into cubes. The cubes are returned to the supplier to be recycled into new metal blanks.

We watched as car frames moved slowly from one line to the next and robots assembled parts and attached them to the frames with spot welds or adhesives. We were able to see manned assembly stations with people at work as they attached components or performed quality assurance checks. Although we didn't get to witness the entire assembly process, we did get to see the final vehicles as they rolled off the end of the line and their engines were started for the first time. Each car is accompanied by a "black box" as it travels through the assembly lines that gives details of all the features ordered by the customer. Also, a binder for every car is produced; it gives detailed information of tests and checks done during the production process and kept for a 15 year period.

One of the things you can do is request to pickup your new vehicle at the Audi plant. In the lounge area, there are screens listing names of people picking up their new Audis and the time of their scheduled appointments. They offer free refreshments in the lounge to new Audi owners. An espresso and an R8, please! =)

After our plant tour, we took a very scenic drive to our next location, Hopfen. Hopfen is a very picturesque little town beside Hopfensee Lake at the base of the Bavarian Alps. The skies got darker and darker as we drove closer and closer to the Alps. Luckily, we managed to get to our hotel just before the downpour began. We stayed inside until the rain stopped. We ventured out for a short walk before returning to the hotel for dinner. Matt had a pork roast with red cabbage and I had a grilled lake trout with potatoes. We tried the local beer, Hefeweizen. Matt was shocked that I finished my 0.5 L of beer. ;) Once we finished dinner, we went for another stroll. All and all, a fairly relaxing day.

View from our hotel room's balcony:

View from our balcony

The town of Hopfen at dusk:


Post downpour Hopfensee, at dusk:

Hopfensee lake at dusk

Town of Hopfen and Lake Hopfensee in the background:

Cess @ Hopfensee lake


Day 16: Engines and sausages

Continuing with the automotive theme of this portion of our trip in Germany, we headed over to the BMW Museum.  To get there, we walked from our hotel through Olympic Park.  This park was the site of a large portion of the 1972 Summer Olympics.  It's a beautiful space and it's clear that Munich dedicates resources to maintain the park.

The architecture of the BMW Museum is extremely impressive as is the design of all the exhibits.  Similarly impressive is the selection of vehicles that are on display; they certainly show off BMW's rich automotive history.  We spent several hours at the museum and while we came away impressed, we also came away thinking that the whole experience was very cold and clinical.  We didn't really get the sense of emotion and passion that we got at the Audi museum.

After our stay at the BMW museum, we hopped on the subway and made our way to Munich's old town district.  We spent another several hours exploring the district, mostly wandering the streets and occasionally popping into a historic building.  We finished up our time there with dinner at the Bratswurstherlz restaurant.  The restaurant is known for its grilled Nuremberg Bratswurst sausages.  I had the Nuremberg Bratswurst with a potato salad while Cess had a lightly cured pork tongue with a wine sauerkraut.  The meal was phenomenal, just what we imagined a simple and tasty Bavarian meal would be.

This pretty much wraps up our time in Munich.  Tomorrow morning we are heading back north to Ingolstadt for our Audi factory tour and then heading southwest to Fussen.

BMW museum interior:

Museum interior

BMW's over the years:

BMW's over the years

Multimedia projection touch exhibit.  This exhibit provided as much information as you wished on most of the vehicles ever produced by BMW.  You interacted with the display by touching the projected images and text.  Very, very innovative and cool:

Multimedia touch exhibit

Cess' dinner of lightly cured pork tongue at Bratswurstherzl.  I of course had Bratwurst sausages from Nuremberg:

Cess' dinner


Day 15: Fun, Fun, Fun on the Autobahn

The last time we were in Munich, we were hurrying from one gate to another so that we could catch our plane from Kraków to Dresden. Matt had done a little bit of research into the Audi factory tour. As it turns out, they only do one English-speaking tour per day. We estimated that it would take about 3.5 hours to travel from Chemnitz to the Audi plant which is located 1 hour north of Munich. Since the tour was scheduled for 11:30am, we planned to leave at 8:00am to ensure that we would arrive before the tour started. Yes, you guessed it. We didn't arrive at Audi until 12:30pm and missed the tour.

Although we travelled along several Autobahn, the traffic slowdowns on the Bundesstraße (they were mostly single lane roads) cost us a lot of valuable time. Our GPS also took us unexpectedly into the Czech Republic! Luckily we were able to drive across the Germany/Czech border freely and without stopping. So now I can say that I have been to the Czech Republic. For about 20 minutes. =) We also managed to pass a transport truck that was emblazoned with the Yamaha Tech 3 team logo on it.

When we arrived at Audi, we were resigned to the fact that we would probably have to return the next day to attend the English-speaking tour. As it turns out, our race to Audi would have been in vain: today's tour had been completely booked full. In fact, they would not have room for us until Wednesday. After a quick consultation with our calendar, we signed up for the Wednesday tour. We would delay our travel to Füssen. Since we were already at Audi, we opted to tour the Audi Museum so that we would be able to continue our travel to Füssen right after the plant tour finished up on Wednesday.

We finished strolling around the 3 levels of the museum and had a very late lunch at the Audi complex. Then we headed back to the rental car and continued on to Munich. We had one more stop planned for today: Munich's Dainese D-Store. Dainese Heaven. We did a little bit of shopping. Good thing there are still a few more days before we head home. We will have to do a bit of rearranging of luggage to make sure everything will fit inside. =)

1938 Audi Wanderer:

1938 Wanderer

Audi motorcycle, Isle of Man TT winner:

Audi motorcycle?


Day 14: Race Day!

We woke up to some consistent rain this morning, which was a bit of a concern given that we would be spending the entire day at the Sachsenring race track.  Thankfully, by the time we were leaving for the track, the weather had cleared up and stayed rain free for the entire day.

By the time we got to the track, the 125cc race was underway, and nearly all the seats were completely filled (as were most of the decent standing spots!).  This was quite impressive as the Indianapolis race we went to last year got filled up much later in the day.  Obviously Europeans take their motorcycle racing far more seriously, just as we'd thought.  Despite each race lasting nearly an hour, the 125cc and the Moto2 races went by in the blink of an eye.  Before long, we were getting ready for the premier race:  the MotoGP class.

Our seats provided us with a view of approximately 3 different turns which was great for following the action.  Boy, there was a lot of action, too.  This was Valentino Rossi's first race back after a displaced tibia fracture less than 6 weeks ago.  It was unbelievable to see that while he still needs a cane to walk, he was still extremely competitive during the race.  He and Casey Stoner were having a battle for 3rd place for about 20 laps.  Finally, in the last turn, Casey Stoner made the final pass and finished in 3rd place.

Unfortunately, the race wasn't without incident as an accident involving 3 riders occurred right in front of us.  Most were uninjured, except for Randy DuPuniet who fractured his leg, and naturally, was unable to continue.  The crowd in the stands is definitely far more involved in the race than in North America.  There was much more applause and cheering as well as collective concern for any riders involved in a crash, big or small.

As was the case yesterday, leaving the track was a bit of a challenge.  Today we left the stands as soon as the race ended, and were probably one of the earlier folks to arrive at the parking lot.  However, we found that we still sat around in our car for about an hour before we even started moving to leave the parking lot itself.  2 hours later, we had made it back to the hotel!  Talking to one of the locals, he mentioned that the parking and traffic situation regarding leaving the track was the worst he had seen in 10 years.

All in all, this was a fantastic experience and we will certainly look to doing this again.  Perhaps next time in Spain or Italy, the meccas of motorcycle racing.

Entering the Sachsenring GP:

Sachsenring Gp

Us in our seats:

Sachsenring Gp

Start of the MotoGP race through the first 2 corners:

Sachsenring Gp

Re-start of the MotoGP race through the first 2 corners.  That is Mikka Kallio crashing in the back of the pack:

Sachsenring Gp


Day 13: Vroom vroom!

We woke up to the sound of a fierce rain storm beating against our hotel window. Would it continue? Would it end? It finally ended and we ventured outside. To our surprise, it was fairly cool outside. It was, in fact, extremely comfortable.

We opted not to have breakfast at our hotel this morning. Instead, we went to a local bakery located just down the street. We picked up some freshly baked goods and a coffee for Matt. Yum!

We also picked up our rental car this morning. It was really nice that the streets were practically empty. Matt was able to recall most of the basics of driving a manual transmission car by the time we got on the highway to Chemnitz. Drivers in Europe are so polite. They get into the passing lanes for passing only, and then return to the driving lane (the far right one) immediately. We arrived in Chemnitz and were able to check into our hotel early. Once again, our hotel room was a pleasant surprise. It is very spacious and has a very nice view. We unpacked a little and only took what we needed with us back to the car and headed out to Sachsenring.

We have only gone to one other MotoGP race before, but the experience today was completely different. Ridiculous numbers of motorcycle fans were everywhere. The task of finding parking was an interesting challenge. Parking lots 1,2, 3, and 5 were for buses. Parking lot 4 was for cars and motorcycles, but the entrance to it was very far from the track itself. Once we managed to park our rental car, we started walking to the track to find our seats. I think it took somewhere between 35 to 45 minutes to finally arrive at our seats. We walked passed thousands of cars, hundreds of camp sites, and many many food and drink (beer, beer, and more beer) stands. There were even carnival rides! It was quite surreal.

We arrived at our seats about halfway through the MotoGP qualifying session. The noise of the bikes racing around the circuit was fantastic. When the session ended, Valentino Rossi basically did a slow parade lap. The crowd went crazy: they were standing, jumping up and down, screaming, and clapping for him. Welcome back, Rossi!

We took our time getting back to our rental car in order to leave.  As we walked, we schemed about getting to the track earlier so that we could get a better parking spot. We got back to our parking spot easily enough, but actually leaving was a whole other adventure. The good news: parking was free. The bad news: everyone else was trying to leave at the same time. I think it may have taken 45 minutes to an hour to get out of our spot and leave from the parking lot. It took so long that I fell asleep in the car. 

Tomorrow will be another day full of driving challenges. Wish us luck!


Day 12: Guten Tag!

We were in the lobby of our hotel at 5:15am to catch our ride to the airport. By 10am, we had arrived safely in Dresden after a quick transfer in Munich. Goodbye, Poland. Hello, Germany.

We actually had absolutely nothing planned in terms of sightseeing when we arrived in Dresden. I had booked the hotel purely on the proximity to the car rental office that we will be picking up our rental car tomorrow morning. Not only did the hotel take us by surprise, but so did the city of Dresden. First off, the hotel is quite eclectic. All of the featured artwork was produced by a single artist, A.R. Penck. The other hotels in this unique hotel chain feature works by other artists. The funkiest feature in our room is the window between the bedroom and the bathroom. With a flip of a switch, it will change from opaque to transparent. Silly, but totally neat.

The Old City is quite picturesque. The entire city was rebuilt after it was destroyed by Allied bombings during WWII.  Some of the historical buildings that we looked at today included the Zwinger, Semper Opera House, and the Dresden Fortress Museum. We noticed a sign regarding UNESCO but we had no idea what it meant because it was in entirely in German. It turns out that Dresden had lost the World Heritage Site status in 2009 due to the construction of a highway bridge. Wow.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1156

Over the next two days, we will be attending the MotoGP at Sachsenring. The return of Valentino Rossi to the track after a 6 week absence! Oh, the drama!