Uncategorized

Onward to Inverness! ScotRail’s first class comes with boogers…

We woke up Sunday, August fourth, to lots of rain. We weren’t in the mood to look for breakfast under those conditions. We also had a train to catch. Originally, we were going to leave Edinburgh at about 10:00am, but Bill was fretting that we’d have to switch trains in Stirling. With a tight connection and rain, he worried that we’d have trouble. On Saturday, before he picked up dinner, Bill stopped by the train station and spoke to a very helpful man who told him that if we took the 9:29am train, we wouldn’t have to switch trains. Unfortunately, since it was less than 24 hours before the train was due to run, we couldn’t reserve our seats. But, he said on a Sunday morning, we’d have no trouble getting seats… Yeah, right.

Bill and I decided to brave breakfast at the hotel. We took the elevator to the breakfast area. I immediately noticed that it had a smell reminiscent of French Residence Hall at Longwood College, circa 1991. Longwood is now Longwood University and French is no longer a dorm, but the smell of stale beer and puke tends to leave an indelible mark on the ol’ olfactory organ. To be fair, the elevator smelled more like stale beer than vomit, but I couldn’t be certain. I think someone might have spilled beer in the lift and neglected to tell someone. The floor was sticky and, yes, smelled a bit like a frat house after a raucous party. I wasn’t impressed.

Breakfast is not included in the room rate at the Kimpton Charlotte Square Hotel. However, in addition to the usual buffet offerings, they do have cooked breakfasts at the hotel. It looked like the main waiter was training someone new. Everyone wore jeans and t-shirts with aprons and, having once waited tables myself, I could tell the new girl was doing a “trail”. Unfortunately, as her trainer was teaching her, he failed to notice us sitting there neglected for several long minutes. I finally shot a cranky look at a busser, who kindly clued in his colleague.

I went with the Bacon Butty, which is aptly named. It was basically a soft bun with a bunch of back bacon in it. It tasted okay, but wasn’t the most imaginative dish. Bill had scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, which he seemed to enjoy.

After breakfast, we checked out. I probably sounded irritated as I told the receptionist about the condition of the elevator. She quickly made a note of it, and again, told Bill about their air conditioning woes. I suppose we could have made more of a stink than we did, but I think we were just ready to get on our way to Inverness. The staff called us a cab and we were soon whisked off to Edinburgh’s huge Waverly train station.

We got to the station at just the right time, as a huge flood of Asian tourists showed up minutes after we did. We were able to find benches to sit on, since there was no track assigned to the Inverness bound train. I passed the time by people watching and reading all of the stuff on the walls. I get a kick out of British nannyism signs, as well as the historic notes one finds everywhere in Scotland… even in the train station!

We finally hauled our bags to the correct track and waited for what seemed an eternity for the doors to open. In Germany, when the trains pull up, they let people get on and wait on the train. In Scotland, they don’t open the doors until just before the train leaves. Lots of folks were standing around, peering into the cars. It looked like many people had seat reservations. We did on our original train. At one point, as we waited impatiently for the go ahead to board the train, a recorded female announcer requested that everyone leave the station due to an emergency. It was a false alarm, but some people were noticeably confused and annoyed. I was among them.

The doors finally opened and everyone rushed for a seat. Fortunately, eagle eyed Bill spotted two seats facing the direction of travel that weren’t claimed. Bonus, they were right next to the WC and there was plenty of space for our bags. We were lucky, though. Not everyone managed to score a seat. One American couple got on the train and the wife peevishly said that she couldn’t sit backwards or she’d throw up. That turned out to be a prophetic statement.

I couldn’t help but wonder what second class was like on ScotRail, as the window had an enormous booger stuck on it. It was grossing me out, and I was reminded of the old school bus we rode on in Islay on a previous Hebridean cruise. There were boogers on that, too, but at least they had a good excuse. It was a school bus, after all, and there’s no class system on a school bus.

The loudspeaker on the train was also kind of messed up. It kept cutting in and out, making it sound like we’d landed somewhere in India or Pakistan instead of Scotland. I got a raw video with the sound in it. I’ll have to turn it into something shareable at some point. We had a good laugh about it, though. I posted on Facebook that as long as no one vomited, I’d be okay. Again… I tempted fate.

The first stop after Waverly Station was Haymarket. A young mom with three little girls took the two free seats facing Bill and me. I was immediately reminded of my good friend, Julie, whom I met at Longwood College in 1991, when she was a freshman and I was a sophomore. Julie is a very maternal person. She teaches school and has two sons and, I swear, the Scottish mom who joined us could have been her twin twenty five years ago.

The mom, whose name I later learned was Iona, was amazing. Her eldest daughter looked to be maybe eight or nine years old. She was pretty independent. The other two girls I would guess were about five and maybe two or three years old. The middle aged one sat opposite me. She had big brown eyes and long, luminescent red hair that gently curled down her back. I thought she was adorable, even though she was a little grumpy at first. Iona asked her what was wrong and the redheaded girl, I’ll call her “Em”, said she needed the toilet. Iona asked her why she wasn’t “using her words”.

Over the course of our three hour journey, I watched Iona lovingly tend to her little girls. Em, especially, needed help, since she suffered not one, but two bouts of motion sickness. Iona came equipped with food, games, and even a tiny portable fan that she directed on Em after one bout of vomiting. She never lost her temper and took every opportunity to correct her daughters’ behavior. I thought they were very well-behaved, for the most part. Iona told us they had another long journey once they got to Inverness. They were headed to a northern island to see relatives and would be traveling until at least 5:00pm.

I could not help but be reminded of an experience Bill and I had in France back in 2014. We were on a very full train going from Marseille to Nice. A mom on that train brought her two little girls with her. One girl was about eight and the other was a toddler. Mom basically sized up Bill and me, noted how kind and helpful Bill is, and just left her daughter with us while she took care of the little one in a different car. Iona was a refreshing change of pace. She never let the girls out of her sight and really impressed me with how good she was with them. We should all have a mom like Iona.

We were seated in first class, but ScotRail is decidedly low class regardless of where you sit. There was no dining car and though the WC functioned, we watched person after person fail to lock the door properly. Consequently, quite a few people got interrupted mid whiz, including Bill. Next time, instead of taking the train to Inverness, we’re renting a car. However, I am glad we took ScotRail this one time. The ride up to Inverness was pretty, if not a bit crowded. I also enjoyed meeting Iona and her adorable girls.

We arrived in Inverness in the early afternoon and found a taxi to take us to Rocpool Reserve, the best hotel in Inverness… or so we’ve heard. Stay tuned for the next post for my impressions.

Standard
Uncategorized

Entertained in Esslingen!

Special thanks to Ellen in the local Facebook group for cluing me in on this weekend’s Buerger Fest in Esslingen.  Bill and I decided to go today and had a fantastic time.  Esslingen is a great town!

At about 11:30am, Bill asked me what I wanted to do today.  I mentioned that I’d heard there was going to be a fest in Esslingen.  Esslingen is about 55 minutes away from us by train and probably about the same by car, depending on the staus and parking situation.  I thought it would be fun anyway, at least until we headed out to the car and I noticed the heavy clouds hanging overhead.  Bill was determined, though, so we hopped on the S1 in Herrenberg and traveled to Esslingen.

I took lots of photos today and I’ve had a few beers, so this will be a photo heavy post.  Before I get started, I need to say one more time that Esslingen is an awesome town.  Today’s visit was only my third time visiting and in August I’m coming up on having spent a total of four years living near Stuttgart.  Last time we visited was last year about this time.  It was broiling hot and we had my mom with us.  Mom isn’t able to walk as much as she used to.  The time before that, we only managed a very short visit.  I’m glad we got to hang out for awhile today and enjoy an Esslingen style celebration.

On the way to Esslingen, some guy on the train went around and dropped off these tissues with notes on them.  Basically, he’s poor and hoping someone will give him some euros for his wares.  I know this is one way some people make some money, but I find the practice kind of manipulative and annoying.  After a couple of minutes, if you don’t pick up the tissues and leave some euros, he comes around and picks them up again.

We arrived in Esslingen to big crowds and heavy clouds…  Just as we got off the train, we passed a minor spectacle near the train station.  Several guys who appeared to be bicyclists and may have drank too much alcohol were arguing with several cops.  One guy was wearing a matching t-shirt and shorts ensemble that was decorated with marijuana leaves.  We left the area just as they appeared to be getting belligerent.  I was impressed by how calm and professional the police officers were.  No one was getting tackled to the ground.  

Since this was the first time we took the train, it was the first time I had ever seen this cool looking Eis Cafe…  It had a line when we were coming and going.

Lots of people were enjoying the fest despite the clouds.  It didn’t rain at all while we were there.

There were many food stands from international vendors selling delicacies.  I saw everything from Greek food to culinary delights from Eritrea.  Alas, I was drawn in by the sound of a brass band and followed my ears to an adorable little courtyard where a band was playing.  We ended up drinking German beer and eating wurst.

We arrived just as this band was finishing their last number.  I got a short clip of it, which I hope to put into a video.

Bill strikes a pose over a nice fresh hell…

We enjoyed most of this concert by the Ostfildern Music Club.  They played everything from German classics that had everyone clapping to songs by ABBA and Tina Turner.  Some of the musicians in the band were clearly sparks in their fathers’ eyes when ABBA and Tina Turner were flavors of the week.

Bill enjoys his wurst… I probably looked inappropriate as I tried to eat mine.  It was very hot and I had to blow on it a lot.

I enjoyed watching the cool sax player in the shades.

And a lovely weizen… so nice to drink beer out of a proper glass instead of a plastic cup like you’d get in the USA…

Croatian beer!

They even had a climbing wall.

I love this building.  I always take pictures of it when I visit Esslingen.

This kid was doing pretty well on the wall.  Better him than me.

Yet another German music club.  I convinced Bill to stop for one more beer before we headed back.

And this was what we sipped as we listened to them play “Under the Sea”…

Nice anti police sentiment.

At this point, I was really glad we hadn’t driven.

The guy playing bongos was killing it.

On the way out…

The guy in the yellow tent was selling cocktails and wearing a big red sombrero as an Italian tenor sang “O Sole Mio.”  Impressive indeed!

One quick shot of the vineyards overlooking Esslingen.

One handy thing to note…  Esslingen’s train station is very well equipped.  They have a pissoir which is free for the guys who just need a urinal.  They also have a surprisingly clean public restroom that costs 50 cents.  The station has a handy bike storage room and lockers for your bags.

Until next time, Esslingen!  And we will have to visit there sooner, now that we’ve braved the train!  I have plans to go back and have dinner at an Italian restaurant suggested by a reader.  

 

On our way out of the Herrenberg station, some guy asked us in German if we’d give him our train pass.  That was annoying, since we paid almost 20 euros for it.  I mean, it would be one thing if we’d offered it, but to just come up and ask a stranger for it seems pretty ballsy.  But he must have had success in the past because he was completely unabashed about asking.  😉

 

We really had a good time today.  Bill was very happy that I suggested Esslingen.  Again, I must thank Esslingen’s American cheerleader, Ellen, who I understand will be PCSing soon.  I would not have known about this party had she not posted about it.  Esslingen is a great place and I wish we lived closer so I could see it more often.  We must definitely go back for the Christmas market this year!

Standard
Uncategorized

President’s Day weekend in Regensburg, BY, Germany… Part 1

After our trip to Hamburg in January, Bill and I went back to the champagne bucket for another draw.   Rothenburg ob der tauber ended up “winning”, but after asking around about that famously well preserved medieval town, we decided we’d rather go somewhere a little less touristy.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still intend to visit Rothenburg.  I just want to do it at a time other than February.

Someone on a local travel Facebook page mentioned Regensburg, which is a lovely city in Bavaria.  Bill and I had both visited Regensburg before on separate occasions.  Bill went during his first German assignment back in the late 80s/early 90s, long before we knew each other.  I went on my month long train trip after my stint in the Peace Corps.  I think Bill decided to visit because he was posted in Ansbach, which isn’t too far from Nuremberg or Regensburg.  I went because I was on a train with a Eurail pass and wanted to get off.  I knew nothing about Regensburg when I got there and, frankly, didn’t spend much time looking the place over.  If I recall correctly, I only spent a night there and then got on the train south to Passau.  I did, however, remember that it was a very beautiful city.

I asked Bill if maybe he’d like to visit Regensburg again.  He said that would be alright.  I booked us a room at the ACHAT Plaza Herzog am Dom Regensburg via Expedia.com.  Bill got us first class fare saver train tickets on Deutsche Bahn.  Away we went for our long weekend in Bavaria!

We were originally going to park our car at the Herrenberg train station, but it occurred to me that it might be more convenient to drive closer to Stuttgart.  A ride on the S1 to the Stuttgart Hauptbahnhof takes about 40 minutes and tends to be crowded and obnoxious.  We ended up parking at Osterfeld, which has a generous parking garage and is just a few stops from the main train station, which can be reached via S1, S2, or S3.

By the time we got the train station, it was early afternoon and I was getting very hungry and cranky. The main train station offers plenty of dining options.  We had a choice of everything from McDonald’s and Burger King to Thai food and seafood.  We ended up eating at a place called Sylt, which had really nice seafood dishes and plenty of beer and wine.  After almost getting run over by a janitor who wasn’t watching where he was going (and who got a death glare from yours truly), I was definitely ready for something to fuel me for the four hours we’d be traveling.

Beer makes everything better.

Zander filet at Sylt.  This was very good!

Bill had sort of a mixed grill pasta dish.  Nice to find good eats at the train station!

For some reason, there was no ICE train from Stuttgart to Regensburg.  We took an IC train– which is older and less plush– from Stuttgart to Nuremberg.  From Nuremberg, we enjoyed a 55 minute ICE train ride to Regensburg.  I think, from now on, I’m going to make a point of using ICE trains whenever possible.  They’re faster and somewhat more comfortable than the older IC trains are.

Bill settles in for the journey from Nuremberg to Regensburg.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Beer makes everything better… especially on the ICE train after a long ride on a less well-equipped IC train…

We probably pissed off at least one German dude on the IC train.  He and his daughter were in our compartment and was sitting in one of the seats I reserved.  He got up and it looked like he was moving, so I claimed it.  When he came back to the car, he tried to take it back… but then Bill showed him our seat reservation.  So he and his daughter split.  Sorry guy.  If we hadn’t reserved the seat, I wouldn’t have sat there.  Later, another guy joined us and rode with us to Nuremberg.  The guy who shared our compartment on the IC train came prepared with a can of beer and some chips.  Next time, I’m doing what he did.

The journey was pretty uneventful, though the weather in Regensburg was the kind of damp cold that seeps to your bones.  I had considered wearing my big down coat but ended up deciding against it.  That was a bad decision.  It was COLD in Bavaria.  Because it was so cold, we ended up doing a lot of beer drinking.  The good news is, if you’re going to drink beer, Bavaria is not a bad place to do it.

Standard
Uncategorized

Repost of my 2012 Space A trip report… Part four

Our very first military hop to Europe! Part 4… the ride home!

May 29, 2012 (Updated Jun 1, 2012)

The Bottom Line Space a is a nice military perk!

For part 3, click here.

Planes, trains, and automobiles…

Early Sunday morning, Bill and I made our way back to Ramstein Air Force Base via two trains. We went to the Trier station to catch the 6:20 train. Bill decided to buy some coffee and croissants and orange juice for me. The cashier couldn’t break Bill’s 50 euro note, so he went digging for change. He place a five euro note and a two euro coin on the counter and dug for more change. Unfortunately, he neglected to notice the bum standing too close to him who swiped the two euro coin. Bill was understandably upset. Thankfully, the cashier was cool about it. I told Bill he needed to perfect his “get the f away from me” look.

The first train took us to Saarbrucken and the second took us to Landshtul. From Landshtul, we got a cab to Ramstein, where the airport was packed with people hoping to get home on a space a flight. Bill had signed up for our return week immediately upon our arrival in Germany, which turned out to be a good thing. As it turned out, there were three flights going to the States that day, but only two of them offered any space A seats. The first flight, to Andrews Air Force Base, only had ten seats. The second, to Charleston Air Force Base, only had fifty seats. And there were a hell of a lot more than fifty people in the terminal that day!

I could see that a lot of the folks waiting around were either retirees or dependents. Again, the fact that Bill was a category three traveler worked in our favor. We didn’t make our preferred Andrews Air Force Base flight, but we did get on the Charleston flight, along with forty-eight others.

Military transport!

Unlike our first flight, the flight home was on a C-17, which is a military cargo flight. Adding to the excitement was the fact that the flight was carrying hazardous cargo. We paid $9.10 to get on this flight… for two boxed lunches. It turned out seven of the boxed lunches didn’t make the flight, so Bill gave up his and shared mine with me.

The plane had very few windows and there were two rows on either side of the aircraft with seats in them. The cargo was strapped down in the middle of the aircraft. Our luggage was wrapped up on a pallet in the back of the plane. An adorable young airman gave us a very laid back safety briefing and handed out ear plugs, since there’s no insulation on the C-17. While the seats weren’t especially luxurious, they were pretty comfortable with generous space between them. I laughed when the airman asked parents not to let their kids climb all over the explosives in the back of the plane.

There was one toilet and it didn’t have running water. The airmen had left us handiwipes instead. Next to my seat was an outlet. Bill plugged in my iPad so it could charge. There was free bottled water and cereal bars, too.

Once the plane was airborne, the more experienced folks spread out air mattresses, sleeping bags, and blankets. Quite a few people took naps fully reclined on the floor. Try doing that on a commercial flight! I watched a couple of movies on the way to Gander, Newfoundland in Canada. I had never been to Canada before and it was cold outside when we landed at the tiny airport. The staff opened up the restaurant and duty free shop just for us during our 30 minute pit stop. Once we had refueled, we were all called back to the plane for the rest of the ride to South Carolina. Once there, we’d have to figure out how to get to BWI to get my car.

We arrived in Charleston at about 7:00pm. I realized at that point that we were not going to be able to get out of Charleston that night. Bill and I were both exhausted and Bill was also suffering from a nasty bug he picked up. We decided to go to a local hotel to rest up for the next day, which we knew would be just as long. It turned out there weren’t many cabbies in Charleston that could get on the Air Force base, so we had to wait awhile to go the few miles to the hotel. Once we were there, Bill and I both collapsed after I booked an expensive one way flight to Reagan Airport in Washington, DC. I would have booked a flight to BWI, but it would have been more expensive and required a layover in Atlanta. Bill assured me there was ample public transportation to BWI from DC. In retrospect, I should have just booked the BWI flight. I won’t make that mistake next time.

Another flight…

The hotel shuttle got us to the airport in Charleston. We checked in at U.S. Airways; I paid to upgrade us to first class. The flight was expensive to start with, so I figured an extra hundred bucks for nicer seats was no big deal. It turned out the flight was full, so Bill and I didn’t get to sit together. I sat next to a guy who was dressed for business, but had neglected to zip up his fly. After seeing him blatantly picking his nose, I decided to focus my attention on the view and took some photos of the sky.

Trains and buses…

We landed in DC at about 9:00am, picked up our bags, and caught the yellow line metro to the hub where we could switch to the green line, which was supposed to take us to Greenbelt metro stop. As it turned out, there’s track work being done, so we had to get a free shuttle to the metro stop. I couldn’t help noticing that the German trains were way nicer.

Once we got to the Greenbelt station, Bill went looking for someone who could break his $20 bill. The bus to BWI only takes exact change. Luckily, one of the metro workers had small bills and helped Bill out. Then we were on our way to BWI at last. We got there at noon… the same time we would have gotten there had we just bitten the bullet and accepted the layover in Atlanta. Moreover, we only saved about $50, though in fairness, we would have saved more if I hadn’t upgraded us to first class. On the other hand, that first class flight was pretty awesome, except for my seatmate.

Automobile

We loaded up my Mini and headed back to North Carolina at a little after noon, stopping for lunch at Austin Grill in Springfield, Virginia, not too far from where we once lived. After lunch, we hit Whole Foods and picked up some Georgian wine. Then we started driving south. Our trip was mostly uneventful, except for Bill’s continual hacking and almost being proselytized by Baptists at a Virginia rest stop.

We got home at about 8:00pm and now I’m catching up on everything… It’s hard to believe just two days ago, we were in Europe!

Things I learned…

Being in Germany again after almost three years made me realize several things. For one thing, I still feel very comfortable in Europe, especially Germany. I totally wouldn’t mind moving back there.

For another thing, I understand a lot more German than I thought I did. Bill and I actually turned down an offer of a menu in English on our last night. I picked up a lot of words, though I still don’t speak the language.

When Bill and I went to Luxembourg in 2009, I assumed I would never have a need to go back. I did, and I’m glad I went. We had a great time there.

Every time Bill and I go on a trip, something weird happens and it’s usually funny.

Don’t let any creepy people get too close to you, especially early in the morning.

Military hops are worth the effort, as long as you have flexible plans. And military transport is more comfortable than commercial transport is. You get a larger luggage allowance and if you’re on a military cargo plane, you have a lot more room to move. I’m not sure I’d want to bother bringing a sleeping bag or an air mattress, but it’s good to know it’s an option.

Young Air Force airmen are adorable. And the ones on our flight seemed to be having a good time.

Now that I’m not a space a virgin anymore, you can bet we’ll be back for another trip! Maybe next time, we’ll get to Spain.

Standard
Uncategorized

France and Germany… a send off from the Army– Part 4

After our third night in Europe, we decided it was time to move on again.  I had been curious about Dijon, since I am a fan of Dijon mustard.  I posted on Facebook that we were headed there and one of my friends was all excited, since she had just bought some Grey Poupon.  In all honesty, I didn’t see anything in Dijon that suggested mustard is a big deal there.

We learned an important lesson the morning we left Reims.  American credit cards don’t work in French train stations.  Bill was a bit perturbed about that, since we had no problems using cards in Germany.  When he tried to buy tickets for our trip to Dijon, the cards were refused.  I realized it was because American credit cards have a magnetic strip instead of a computer chip used in European countries.  I read in an article that American cards will soon have the chip too, but for now, our cards are obsolete in some places in Europe.  We had to pay cash for all of our train tickets from that point on, at least while we were in France.

We had lunch at the Reims’ train station…

Bill had smoked salmon and toast.  I had a “mixed grill”, the special of the day.  We had a little communication gap with our non English speaking waiter, who was nonetheless very charming.  


There’s always room for chocolate mousse!

View of the restaurant from our table.

I booked us a room at Hotel Bonbonniere, which is an adorable little three star hotel in Talant, about three miles from the center of the city.  Although we weren’t in the thick of things, I was glad I booked this hotel for a night.  It’s located in a very charming little residential village, right next to a beautiful church.  We were given a room that offered a great view of the city.

The view from our window…

 

View from the ledge where those checkers are…

Cute church near the hotel.

Being a Dijon fan, I had to photograph this…

Super cute village!

After checking in, Bill and I decided to walk to the center.  It was a stout walk, though mostly downhill.  I enjoyed the sweet scent of lilacs as we walked to Dijon.  The downtown area is very cool, with plenty of cute shops and majestic cathedrals and other buildings.

These flowers smelled so nice…

Because I have a ribald sense of humor, I had to take a photo of this ad for hemorrhoid cream…  The credit mural was funny, too.

 

We ended up visiting the cathedral in the center of town, then wandered around for awhile until it was time for dinner.  I chose a place near the food hall, which wasn’t open when we visited.  What I liked best about Dijon was the city center, which was just so beautiful and quaint… and as we headed back to the train station to catch a taxi back to our hotel, we passed a French karaoke joint.  I was tempted to go in there and try my hand, but we’d already eaten; it was getting late; and we were tired.  Also, it sounded like all the songs were in French!

More cathedral pics…

Interesting sticker…

Scenes from the city!

I had risotto with shrimp for dinner…

Bill had beef…

Dessert–  strawberry tiramisu for Bill and cream brûlée for me…

Adorable breakfast at the hotel…

That dog is a sweetheart…

Bill checking out the train station in Dijon…

 

A young woman asked us in French if we minded if she shared our compartment in the train car.  Bill said he thought maybe it was because she was alone and didn’t want to be bothered/ hit on.  There was plenty of space on the train, but she apparently didn’t want to sit alone.  Can’t say I blame her, though I doubt any creepy men would have messed with little ol’ me.

I wish we could have spent another night in Dijon.  I really liked the city and would have liked to have done some shopping there.  We had to move on, though…  I like European Coke.  It’s made with sugar instead of corn syrup.

Standard