Germany/Austria 2019: Day 14

1,906. That’s the number of pictures I took while I was in Germany and Austria. It was a great vacation, but I’m very glad to be home now. The sun was shining in Munich this morning and it was a great day to fly. I woke up to the sound of planes taking off and even squeezed in a visit to the observation deck before I had to get to my own flight.

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This morning’s wake-up view!
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What I love about airports… you can (literally) go anywhere in the world!

Bag drop and passport control in Munich was very slow, but soon I was flying the skies to Dublin. I know it’s not quite like being in US soil, but the sight of all the American flags at the Dublin airport always makes me feel like I’m almost home. Fun fact: my plane home from Dublin is the same plane I flew home on four years ago (I recognized the name, “St. Aoife”).

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Dublin Airport
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My ride home from Dublin – St. Aoife

Since there’s not much to say about a boring day of flying, here are some fun observations from my two weeks in Germany and Austria.

Food Being the picky eater that I am, what I would eat for two weeks was high on my list of concerns before I left. But my worrying was for naught, since you can get schnitzel and pork roast pretty much everywhere in Bavaria. In varying forms, I had pork for most of my main meals accompanied either by potato dumplings or french fries. And apple strudel was on the menu almost everywhere with either vanilla sauce or vanilla ice cream or both. Hotel breakfast was a big spread at all of my hotels, consisting of cold cuts, eggs (scrambled, hard boiled, or soft boiled), various granola cereals, yogurt, and huge assortments of bread and pastries. 

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Pork Schnitzel
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Breakfast spread

One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is to visit a local grocery store. If you know me, you know I have a sweet tooth, so stocking up on European candy was a must before coming home. Edeka grocery stores are all over Bavaria, and they had plenty of yummy candies – Milka, Kinder, Ritter Sport, etc. I even found some treats that were different from home: Oreo Joy Fills (like pretzel nuggets, except they are Oreo shells filled with cream) and different flavors of Coke products. At the Dublin airport I even found Raspberry Coke Zero!

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Edeka, Garmisch
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Edeka, Garmisch

Driving I was nervous about driving in a non-English speaking country, but it wasn’t too difficult. I programmed the car and GPS to English, and the GPS was my best friend. Road signs are large and are pretty clear with route numbers and towns. Between the signs and the GPS, it wasn’t too hard to navigate. Speed limits are in km/hr and; in open areas, the speed limit is generally 100 km/hr (about 62 MPH) and slows to 50 km/hr in towns. Gas is ridiculously expensive, as it is everywhere in Europe. I paid €1,45 per liter yesterday, which is almost $6.20 per gallon. Austria was slightly cheaper but still way more expensive than US prices.

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My ride for the past two weeks
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German road sign

Driving into Austria requires a “vignette” sticker on your car (basically like a toll sticker) if you plan to drive on the autobahn. You can buy them at most gas stations once you get close to the border. Mine was a 10 day sticker and cost €9,20. Actually crossing the border is like driving between states in the US. Aside from different highway signs, everything is pretty much the same.

Sleeping I was spoiled by my Hilton hotel in Munich because it came with all the creature comforts we are used to in the US. Namely, it had air conditioning (though it wasn’t exactly powerful or overly cool like I prefer). It wasn’t until I got back to the Munich airport yesterday that I had a/c again. I hate being hot when I sleep, so it was not too fun for me. The beds all have a fitted sheet (or sheets; most were two twin beds pushed and locked together to make a king) and then a folded twin-size comforter laying on top for each person. The hotels were all immaculate and hospitality is definitely a thing of pride in Germany.  

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Hotel Edelweiss, Berchtesgaden

Overall, I loved this vacation – the mix of history, culture, nature, scenery, and food. I didn’t love the rain or the cold (it didn’t even get out of the 50s a couple of days!), but even with the clouds the scenery was breathtaking. If you ever get the chance to visit Bavaria, go for it!

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Scenic Bavaria (Ramsau, Germany)

Ireland 2015: Day 14 – Galway to Dublin

The “going home day”.  I’ll admit I’ve been thinking about home for several days now, wanting to be in familiar surroundings, but at the same time not wanting vacation to end.  I woke up this morning to sun in Ireland, and felt a little sad to be leaving.  It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for two weeks.  Things I did on my first couple of days feel like a distant memory already.  But I’m also very ready to be home.  I repacked my suitcase last night, which was no small feat.  Zipping it closed this morning was a small miracle!

Athenry Abbey
Athenry Abbey

I knew I had an extra hour or so built into my drive, so I made the detour off the motorway to Athenry.  If you’re familiar with the song, “The Fields of Athenry“, it was one of the things that drew me to the town.  My first stop was at the Athenry Castle.  It has been restored much more than many others I had visited, and it only took a few minutes to see the whole thing.  I indulged the nice woman at the desk by watching the 20 minute video, much of which was actually photos of other castles.  I walked around the town for a few minutes (including through one of the original medieval arches) and then got back on the motorway to Dublin Airport.  I have to say, after two weeks of driving in Ireland, I’ve gotten pretty used to it.

When I checked in for my flight, I asked if there were any seats available closer to the front.  Row 41 doesn’t sound very appealing!  She said the flight was actually oversold.  That’s all it took for my ears to perk up… I love playing the travel game!  “Any chance you’ll be looking for volunteers to give up their seats?” I asked.  She quickly made a phone call, I was directed to another desk to leave my suitcase, and then I was given a voucher for a snack and a request to return 1.5 hours later to see if they needed me.  €600, a free night in a hotel (with my luggage!), and a voucher for dinner was all it took to convince me to fly tomorrow morning instead!  I was in luck and was soon on my way to the Carlton hotel.  A quick minute to freshen up, and I hopped on a bus into the city!

Oliver St. John Gogarty, Temple Bar
Oliver St. John Gogarty, Temple Bar

Not being a lover of cities, I was primarily interested in a drink and some music.  I headed straight to Temple Bar and Oliver St. John Gogartys Pub.  Yes, it is touristy, but the music was awesome and the people were a lively bunch.  Two older gentlemen we’re playing a mix of Irish and contemporary “sing along” songs and the crowd was into it.  (Think “Brown-eyed Girl” type songs.)  Coincidentally, they also played “The Fields of Athenry” while I was there!

I walked around the city for a little while before coming back to the hotel.  Imagine my surprise when I asked what my dinner voucher entitled me to in the hotel restaurant and was told I would be enjoying a 3-course meal.  An enjoyable second last night in Ireland!

Ireland 2015: Day 2 – Scholars and Prisoners

After sleeping for almost 11 hours last night, I woke up to the sun reflecting directly into my face off the wall mirror in my hotel room this morning.  It was time to get up and explore Dublin some more!  My first stop of the day was Trinity College.  My walking tour was slightly delayed, as we had to wait for John Boehner’s entourage to clear out.  The tour

Long Room - Trinity College Library
Long Room – Trinity College Library

was fascinating.  Would you believe that for a €3,000 registration fee per year, a student from any country in the European Union can attend Trinity College?  Another interesting thing I learned was about the scholarship program.  At the end of their freshman year, students can choose to sit for an examination. Those who score first honors (70% or higher) become Trinity College Scholars.  This includes free tuition, room, board, etc. for the duration of their bachelor’s degrees, plus an additional 5 years to complete a Ph.D. if they choose.  Only about 65 to 70 scholarships are awarded per year (out of 17,000 students).  The library at Trinity College is most known for holding the Book of Kells.  While this was interesting to see, the mobs of people surrounding it made it nearly impossible to get a close look.  The library is also a legal deposit library for Ireland and the U.K., meaning that Trinity College has a copy of every book published in Britain, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland (a total of about 4.5 million books!).  My photos don’t do the Long Room justice, but this 360 degree panorama certainly gives an idea of the space.

Next on the agenda (after a stop at Starbucks!) was a visit to Dublin Castle.  While it doesn’t really resemble what you might imagine a castle in Ireland to look like, it has evolved over the years from the original Norman fortification to a royal residence to what is now a series of government offices.  The tour was not quite as interesting as Trinity College, but I’m glad I had the chance to visit.

My final stop today was Kilmainham Gaol (Jail).  Having long been a fan of Irish music, I am familiar with the song “Grace” (click on the link to hear Anthony Kearns’ version of the song) and the story of Grace Gifford and Joseph Plunkett, who were married on the eve of his execution after the Easter Uprising of 1916.  Sitting in the chapel where they were married, visiting his cell, and seeing the mural Grace had drawn in her own cell years later gave new meaning to the lyrics of the song.  The jail was designed to hold 140 prisoners, each in individual/separate cells.  During the period of the Irish famine, more than 9,000 were held prisoner there, some having committed crimes purposely to be put in jail so they could be guaranteed a basic diet.  The final stop on the tour was the execution yard where 14 of the 16 leaders of the Irish rebellion in 1916 were executed by firing squad.  Two small crosses mark the spots where the criminals stood.  One criminal in particular, James Connolly, is noted as inspiring a legacy of rebellion.  He was injured so badly in the Easter Rising that he was held in a hospital and was brought to the execution yard by stretcher.  People were so outraged by his treatment that it furthered the cause of the rebels fighting for Irish independence.  Overall, the jail was a very moving visit, and by far the highlight of the day today.

Kilmainham Gaol
Kilmainham Gaol

On that “happy” note, it’s time for me to rest up for tomorrow’s big day.  I’m heading back to the airport first thing to pick up a rental car for the remainder of my trip.  On tomorrow’s agenda is Powerscourt Gardens and Glendalough before heading to Kilkenny for the next two nights.

Ireland 2015: Day 1 – Jetlagged in Dublin

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Arriving in Dublin

This is going to be a short but sweet blog post because I am seriously ready to fall asleep (at 7:15PM!).  At 5:00 yesterday afternoon (east coast time), I indulged in a burrito from Chipotle.  I figured that would be my dinner before heading to the airport, and hopefully I could ignore the food on the plane and try to get some sleep.  If you know me, you know I’m generally in the “early to bed, early to rise” category.  So I figured by 9:30 or 10:00, I’d be dozing in my seat.  Nope.  The food cart came rolling by around 10:30 and I was ready to eat!  Turns out, I could have easily passed on the vegetarian pasta and Pepperidge Farm cookies, but once I had it, it would have been rude not to eat it, right?  Sleep came in the form of a 2 hour or so nap after “dinner”.

With only a couple of hours of sleep, I managed to make it through some sightseeing in Dublin and, more importantly, some genealogy research at the National Library today.  While we can’t be 100% sure , it appears my great-great-grandfather’s family was from a tiny village called Cahersherkin, near Ennistymon in County Clare.  Unfortunately, he was born just shortly before civil records began to be registered in Ireland.  I will be very close to that area the week after next, so I plan to at least drive through the village.  My great-great-grandmother’s family is much harder to trace, with very little showing up in online databases.  But it was not a wasted trip!  I then headed to the General Register Office and obtained copies of my great-great-great-uncles’ birth certificates (they were born just after the institution of civil records registries), which led me to the name of the village they were from.

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin
Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

After an exhausting walk around Dublin, I stopped by Christ Church Cathedral and St. Patrick’s Cathedral before heading back to check into my hotel (I had left my luggage here when I first arrived).  Unfortunately, the room was a sauna, and it quickly became apparent the a/c wasn’t working.  They sent someone up, who offered a fan to help cool down the room.  That wasn’t going to cut it, so I ended up being moved a couple of doors down to a room where I now have the air conditioning blasting.

Remember the random huge marshmallows I enjoyed in the executive lounge in London a few months ago?  I’m beginning to think huge marshmallows are a European “thing”.  They had huge chocolate covered ones here!  The hors d’oeuvres and appetizers in the lounge sufficed for dinner tonight, and I am ready to call it a day!  I don’t hate Dublin, but I am once again reminded that I am just not a city person.  I’m looking forward to seeing Dublin Castle and Trinity College tomorrow before picking up the rental car and heading out of the city on Saturday!