Saturday, July 08, 2006

Day 9 - Wir Fahren Nach Berlin!

As our week progressed, our time was becoming more and more occupied with traveling. Thursday we drove to Bamberg (2.5 hours), Friday we drove to Munich and back (5 hours), and now Saturday was upon us. We had tossed around the idea of going to Stuttgart (about 3 hours) to watch the Third/Fourth Place game between Portugal and host Germany, but clearly a better option was to go to Berlin (four hours away) for the final, which took place Sunday. Alex and Stefan took the initiative to find a place for us to sleep on Saturday night while the rest of us were driving to Munich, booking a couple of rooms at a legitimate youth hostel just outside of Berlin in Potsdam for $25 a night. I thought for sure we’d have a harder time finding a place to stay than we did, but I’m not complaining!

So, we were grudgingly up and at it at 9:30am on Saturday morning with a busy day in mind. All of the traveling (especially since I was always driving) was starting to really take it’s toll on me, so I was pissed that I had to take the shower first that morning. But I did get the extra five minutes of sleep the day before, so I really had no case to make with Stefan that morning ;o). We threw our clothes together in our suitcases and rushed down to get our free breakfast and I admired and watched the cute hotel worker clean the dining room while we were waiting for Alex and Verena to come by again so that we could go explore some more of Bamberg.

We all piled into the Benz after they arrived and headed to the outskirts of town to check out a mansion of palatial size that we had seen in some postcards the day before. It had the rows of trees leading up to it, the Married-With-Children style fountain in the bike, and a beautiful hilltop view over the surrounding lakes and fields. How nice of the Catholic Church to build an estate like this for the local Bishop!

It was several hundred years old and was now an artifact of the old era, so I decided to take a tour of the inside, which required a tour guide. After I purchased my ticket, everyone else said they didn’t want to see the inside, so they all stayed outside while Kelly (the Brazilian who speaks no German and little English) and I took the tour, which was in German that I hardly understood. Kelly evidently got bored quick and started wandering around the inside by herself and started taking pictures of the intricately designed ceilings in one of the rooms. After the group went into the room she was in, we found out that we head to wear some felt-bottom shoes to protect the floors and no flash photography was allowed, so Kelly was pretty embarrassed about that.

After the tour, we met back up with the others and got a nice, cold drink down at the café before heading back downtown for lunch before our departure. There was a street festival of some sort taking place, so we figured we’d get a nice outdoor table and enjoy the weather, but it was packed at the time and when we ran into Soenke, there was nowhere close to eat. We ended up at another place and got the next best thing to outdoor seating – a classy table in the non-smoking area of a sweltering, humid greenhouse, right next to some chain-smoking high schoolers. Yuck! The Olive Garden-esque plastic menus threw up a red-flag for me, but I figured it wouldn’t be too bad since there were no Olive Gardens in Germany. I couldn’t complain too much about the jaeger-schnitzel that I ordered, but the food was just kind of bland and boring, which reaffirmed the fact that my menu-presentation foodar was still working :o) .

The fact that we had to suffer from second-hand smoke turned out to be a blessing because halfway through our meal, the heavens opened up and it started down pouring outside. What happened to the great weather that we’d had the whole week? Damn you Germany! Just when I thought that for once the weather would be kind to me, we get stuck downtown and have to walk home in the rain again! Well, it didn’t turn out to be too bad, really. The sun came out pretty soon after we left and started baking us again on our walk back to the hotel, which was fine by me.

The time had come for us to say goodbye to our wonderful escorts Alex and Verena and hit the road for our four-hour trip to Berlin. After three or four reorganizations of the trunk of our wagon, we finally fit our entire luggage and piled all five of us into the car. Despite the mental drain that I was suffering from the week, I was pumped to go and took the keys to get my driver’s seat. Besides the excitement of going to the final, it was also crucial not to get stuck in the back seat since space was tight with three 6’ tall people among the crowd.

As was the custom by this point, we decided to try to find the World Cup stadium in the former East Germany city of Leipzig, which we had to drive through about two hours into the trip. This time both the signs and the Navi let us down and we never did find it (it was a small one, from what I hear). But, despite insisting previously that he was disgusted by their food (except their breakfast), Roland quickly got a radar lock on McDonald’s and nominated their parking lot as a place to stop :o). It seems like every trip I take outside of the country ends up in a McDonald’s parking lot at one time or another, which is pretty sad. Trying to avoid any mutinous uprisings from the back seat, I conceded defeat and I pulled up so that everyone could stretch, use the bathrooms, eat their hamburgers, and drink their milkshakes. There were several people wearing German jerseys inside and I thought about asking them where the stadium was, but I decided on the lady with the euro-spiky silver hair behind the counter instead and she didn’t know where it was, so I gave up. We had to get to Berlin soon, anyway, since the Germany/Portugal game would be starting in a few hours and we wanted to watch it in Berlin.

I was exhausted at this point from driving and handed the keys over to the deputy driver Daniel and I squeezed into the back next to Stefan to get some shut-eye. I felt like I was on a plane, it was such a tight fit. With the Navi set, the iPod on, and my neck pillow inflated, I dozed off quickly while the others watched a movie on Stefan’s laptop. I woke up a few hours later as we were circling the block looking for our Youth Hostel. We found it quick enough and it even had a parking lot for us to park in! We checked in, unpacked, and then headed down the street to try to find somewhere to watch the Germany/Portugal game since it had started shortly after we arrived. Potsdam was a pretty sleep city at this time and the bar around the corner was full of people, so we headed across to the local Döner restaurant, which actually had a big screen TV setup and cold beers that they brought to our table. The game was pretty exciting for a normally lull toilet round and I was happy that Germany won so that they could leave the World Cup on a positive note and hold their heads up.

After walking down to the street in a vain attempt to find an interesting lounge or something, we headed back to the hostel to get our last poker game in – with real money. We were all dead tired and I got taken to town on a big hand that cleaned me out, making me the big loser on the night. Rather than cashing it in and heading up the ladder into my bunk, I stayed up for a while with the boyz and was designated dealer for a while until Roland got knocked out and got to take over designated dealer activities. I decided to hit the hay at the point because I knew that Sunday would be epic and Stefan and I had a loooong day/night watching the game and then making the six+-hour drive back to Frankfurt afterwards to catch our flights home.

They played poker into the wee hours of the night, but no liquid fuel was necessary.

Justinho, "Wir Fahren Nach Berlin" means "We're driving all the way to Berlin", which was a common chant for the German fans since that's where the final was going to take place. Until they lost.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Day 8 - And Then There Were Five

Friday was going to be a very busy day for us, so I was not pleased to hear my alarm screaming at me at 9:00am. In fact, I was so annoyed that I think I turned it off and went back to sleep without even realizing that I’d turned it out. A night of beers and rum & coke had taken it’s toll on me and when I got Alex’s phone call saying that it was almost 10:00 (when we were supposed to meet him) and could we wait until 10:30, I just about passed a kidney stone. My head throbbed, my eyes would hardly open, I had no appetite, etc. I told Stefan to take his shower first while I did all that I could not to move, even though I knew we’d be late for our free breakfast, which ended at 10:00.

To add misery to the pain, it was raining and cold outside – the first day that we’d had (or would have) with such terrible weather. Donning my rain gear, we rushed downstairs to get some free food before the kitchen closed. I hardly felt like eating anything, but I forced some bread and cheese down my throat because I knew it would help soak up last night’s suds.

Alex and Verena then met up with us and we headed out for our tour of Bamberg. We walked around the beautiful town again in the daylight getting wet and with me feeling like I wanted to jump off a bridge into the raging waters below. We headed through town and then up a hill to the magnificent four-point cathedral that was on top of the hill. Alex and Verena told us about the significance of this small town in history. At one point, it was the capitol of the Roman Catholic Empire in Europe and was also the single most important city outside of Rome for the Catholics. One of the popes was entombed in the cathedral and there were quite a few other famous religious relics inside, such as a famous statue of a teenage man on a horse. Nobody really knows anything about it, but it’s apparently stirred up a number of debates in Germany on what it signifies and who it is. There were a number of tour groups in the cathedral discussing the sculpture, which I found interesting.

After the cathedral, we headed over to a beautiful rose garden that overlooked the city. I was slowly (very slowly) emerging from my daze and livened up a bit by the time we started heading up to the monastery on the next hill over, the highest point in the city. The rain was slowing down a bit at this point as well and we decided to have something to drink inside the monastery café since it was warming up outside.

We continued the tour by heading down the hill and down to the river again to an area called Little Venice, which has several old fishing houses situated below the river line alongside the river. They had small fences that kept the water out of the house and we were amazed that these places hadn’t been flooded out a million times. I hope they have flood insurance in Germany!

It was then lunchtime, so we headed to the school cafeteria to have a super cheap lunch. Because students get a special fare at the school, we were instructed to tell the cashier that we were exchange students from England, Italy, and Portugal and that was why we didn’t have our student ID cards. It made sense to me, but it didn’t sink into Daniel apparently since he asked me later that day why they had to pretend to be Portuguese :o) . Luckily, the cashier just assumed that we were students and rang our $2 meals up like he did for the other students. I found it amusing that you could buy beer in the school cafeteria, but such is life in Germany!

After our tour was over, we slowly made our way back to the hotel, stopping at some stores on the way to buy some soccer gear and Stefan’s trinkets. The great thing about being at the World Cup is that by the semi-finals, most teams have been eliminated and soccer gear with their logo is instantly slashed 50% just to get rid of the inventory. So I scored on some nice items like a flashy red Czech Republic jersey and a sweet full England kit for my niece Ellie, including the jersey, logo’d shorts, and knee high socks (shin guards not included). I hadn’t seen such an awesome set anywhere in Germany, so I had to pick those up.

Nobody was feeling particular great from the greasy cafeteria meatballs, but we did have a major trip to make that afternoon to pick up the newest member of our traveling Footie Pack – Roland. Poor Roland lived a couple countries over in Slovakia and had not been able to join us earlier on the trip because of problems at the hotel he runs, despite his inclusion in all of our previous trips together. He was another vital element to a good trip, however, and I was anxious to pick him up. We had talked and planned back and forth for the past couple weeks, toiling with different stratagems on how he could meet up with us. Initially I had thought that he would drive out and meet us, hence the rental of the Golf wagon. It turned out to be a bonus because when he told me that he wasn’t driving, I went and upgraded our car to something bigger, which turned out to be crucial and convenient. In the end, we figured out that he could take a bus from nearby Vienna to Munich for like $50 since all of the cheap Euro flights were sold out or wouldn’t fly anyway near Bamberg. The day before I left, he’d finalized his tickets, but we couldn’t figure out where the Euroline bus actually dropped him off, which was a bit of a problem since Munich is not a small city. After spending a significant amount of time before I left googling “P&R Anlage Fröttmaning”, which is where the website said the drop off point was, I finally discovered the answer: Park and Ride! Munich was a toasty 2.5 hour drive from Bamberg, but I owed Vas that from the previous year’s trip to Eastern Europe, where he picked me up from Vienna and drove me everywhere.

So we decided that Stefan would stay in Bamberg with Alex and figure out where we could stay in Berlin the next night and also go with him to Hendrick’s birthday party/barbeque later in the evening. Daniel and Kelly wanted to go with me down to Munich, which was great because at this point I was hitting the post-hangover dazed and confused and tired stage and didn’t really feel like I was up for driving an expensive car at the speed-of-sound on the Autobahn for five+ hours. So I made the bold decision and let Daniel pry the keys out of my death-grip and have a trial run with the car. Up to this point, the most I’d let anyone else drive was to let him make the five minute drive into the town of Kahl to pick up supplies for the cabin. And since I knew that the last couple days of the trip would be a major endurance run to Berlin and back to Frankfurt (ten+ hours of driving), I figured I’d relax and let Daniel take over for a bit.

I ended up not sleeping the whole trip down to Munich (maybe I was nervous about Daniel driving after our experiences in Brazil ;o), but it was nice not to have to think for a few hours and relax a bit. On the way down, we stopped at the FanFest area in Nuremburg and thought we’d find the stadium as well, but it was nowhere to be found with out eyes. We did come across a coliseum that was used in the infamous Hitler Nuremburg rallies in the beginning of the dark Nazi era of German history. I would have liked to of checked out the coliseum and the other historical sites near the FanFest, but we were running late and had to find the stadium. And that’s when we perfected the Navi system in the car when we looked up sports stadiums and found it right there on our menu! This would’ve been nice to have in Frankfurt, that’s for sure. Sure enough, it led us right to the doors of the stadium, where we stopped for a few minutes and took pictures.

Back on the road, I was starting to feel better and was talking to Daniel about the previous night of liquid gluttony and over-indulgence. He starting telling me how I was really lit up and could hardly walk when we went out to find pizza. I had no idea what he was talking about. Pizza? We didn’t go out for pizza, did we? He was trying to describe all the things that led up to that I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about. I was totally laughing because I’ve never really blacked out from booze before in my life (except for some pieces in SLO last time I was there). Then he said something about us smelling the fresh bread at 3:00am while we were playing poker and the hamster in my brain finally kicked in gear and it started coming back to me. Apparently we had gone out to get pizza at this sketchy place around the corner. Daniel had gotten his piece and it had a nice long, black hair snaking around the greasy cheese on his slice. He tried to tell the guy that there was a hair and the guy just kept telling him that it was fine. They went back and forth a few times and then I blurted out the German word for hair and pointed and the guy finally figured it out and gave him a new one. It was pretty funny though that I didn’t have any idea what he was talking about and Kelly was laughing her ass off (while eating her golden puffs) in the back seat when Daniel explained what we were talking about.

As my extensive googling indicated, the Park and Ride facility that Roland was arriving at was directly next to the amazing new Munich soccer stadium, the Allianz Arena. We oooohed and ahhhhed over the stadium as we flew by and noticed that the traffic heading out of Munich (going the opposite direction) on Friday at rush hour was horrific. We kept that in mind as we pulled into the Park and Ride to find that the place was chalk full of probably 20 tour buses and hundreds of people all over the place. We were pretty sure that we wouldn’t be able to find Roland after all of the trips that we’d taken and all the time that we’d waited for him to show up, but this time wasn’t too bad. His bus was a few minutes late but after searching up and down through the tourists for him, we ran into each other and were stoked to have the final piece of our puzzle in our hands.

The first order of business was to check out the Allianz Arena stadium, which we could walk to. Unfortunately, we could only get to a stone’s throw distance as they had it all fenced off because they were making the necessary adjustments inside to get it ready for the start of the soccer season, which was just a few weeks away.

With the traffic going the other way in mind, we decided that we should just go into Munich for dinner and then head back to Bamberg for the party. We had no idea where to go in Munich, so we just punched in “Old Town” into the Navi and did whatever it told us to do. We came across a business / university area on a main road outside of old town and decided to explore the area for some local, suitable, and traditional Bavarian cooking. We got a nice parking spot and headed down a street that looked like it might have something. We found a nice little restaurant that had some blue color workers drinking beer and eating at, which was an instant thumbs up sign for me. Kelly still wasn’t feeling well and wanted something lighter on her stomach so Daniel took her down the street where they eventually found an Italian place to eat at. It can definitely take a while to adjust to completely different foods in new countries like this. Roland and I hung out at the Bavarian place and ate a nice, humongous German meal with sausages, potato salad, and beer – well, for Roland anyway. I just drank a monster Coke/Fanta mix (I think they call it a Spezi), which was my favorite Euro liquid sugar drink.
With out bellies full, we had a party to catch back in Bamberg, so the four of us met up again and Daniel drove back again. On the way out of town, we noticed an amusing demonstration of German engineering and planning on the sidewalk next to the street in front of the university. Being a school, there were of course a ton of bike riders and the bike riders themselves had little streetlights. It was kinda funny….

The ride home was quick for me because I passed out shortly after we got out of Munich and woke up when we were back in Bamberg. When we got back to the hotel, I had no key for my room so I hung out with Roland while Daniel and Kelly cleaned up for the party and Roland took his shower. I got ahold of Alex on the room phone and he tried to explain how to get to where he was but I was definitely not up for the challenge, so we decided we would take a taxi (since the taxis were all right outside of our hotel) down to the party and then call him and he’d meet us outside. Except that Roland, the only one with a Euro phone, had a phone with no battery left.

So we hit the taxi stand and jumped into an elusive full-size van taxi and headed to the party. We got to the party and there were thousands of people in the courtyard, which was several acres in size. Luckily they let us buy tickets without a student pass (maybe you didn’t need one, I have no idea). Well, we figured we might as well start walking around and see if we can actually find them at some point in the evening. And we did! We headed off to the right and within a minute we ran right into the group. Alex and Stefan were already enjoying their moment after Hendrick’s raging birthday party (during which apparently Stefan almost got stabbed by a guy). Beer and socializing were not a high priority on my list for the evening unfortunately, after the previous night. It was unfortunate because all of my German and international buddies were there, the beer was being served in giant one liter masses (pronounced “moss”) and it was dirt cheap as well. After some arm wrenching, Alex persuaded me to get one with Daniel and Roland and we all got the night started proper. We learned the proper German mass toast, which is when you really smack the mugs together. The things weigh like ten pounds each, so there’s no way you’re going to break them. There were some live bands that we checked out at the end of the night and of course we found the live Spanish band right as they were performing their last song, which was disappointed for our residence Latin dancer Kelly, who hung in there with us even though she wasn’t feeling well still.

Before we headed home, we had to eat some snacks. Stefan knew where the sausage stand was and kept taking someone there and then coming back with another new sausage and bread roll. He did it at least three times before we all eventually went over there. Then we got some awesome cheap crepes, which always hit the spot.

It was finally time to head back to the hotel and get the poker game going, so we all piled into a taxi and got a ride back. We played poker into the wee hours of the morning with Roland taking us to town. Daniel was the only one with rum and cokes by his side the whole time.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Day 7 - And On The Seventh Day There Was Rest

We had a lot to accomplish on Thursday. We had to pack up all of gear, bring in all of the lawn furniture, cook some food to eat, and scrub the floors and rooms to make it as clean as it was when we arrived. So we got up at the crack of dawn (10:00am) to get things going. We nibbled on breakfast and began to plan our massive feast that would involved all of the fruits and vegetables that wouldn’t last and all of the meat that was at least questionably editable still. We had a LOT to eat. About four pork chops, two or three coils and one full package of sausages, menudo, a pound or two of pasta, two or three sauce packets, grapes, onions, garlic, strawberries, etc.

Stefan assured as that “we” would be able to polish off the food, especially since we’d be barbequing and he was the self-described “BBQ Master”. I left the barbeque work to the master himself and Daniel while Kelly and I did domestic duties and made the pasta, sauce, and cleaned up around the inside.

Ten minutes later, I went out to check on the boys and the BBQ Master was still having trouble getting the coals hot. It took a few bottles of lighter fluid for the fire to finally get going, but eventually it got up to a maintainable temperature for the BBQ Master to work with.

While the food was cooking, everyone pitched in to mop, sweep, vacuum, and scrub the house down. We actually had our timing down pretty well as the last thing to do in the house was eat all of this food and then do the dishes from the meal. And boy, did we ever eat. Stefan of course put on a food clinic on how to eat half of your own body weight and make sure that it shows. Daniel and I egged him on by saying that there was no way that he would be able to eat all of the food that was left and he kept insisting that it could be done. But, alas, the pound of pasta did him in and that cavernous belly of his couldn’t finish the job. It was a noble effort, but the last thing that we needed on our road trip for the day was 30 pounds of food all over the floor of the car ;o) .

With our bellies full of food and our MB C200 Kompressor full of luggage, we headed to the town of Kahl to do our semi-weekly garbage drop in the Aldi parking lot’s trashcan and buy some more rum for our evening poker sessions. I gave Alex a call from the liquor store phone and let him know that we were off to his scenic city of Bamberg, where he studies and resides. It was going to be about a two and a half hour trip to Bamberg, so everyone got comfortable and I used my pork and sausage stuffed lead-foot as much as I could with our packed Benz. It was a pretty uneventful, sluggish trip except for the fact that we got to see a 911 flying down the Autobahn and pass us.

We got to town at around 7:00 and then had to try to find our cheap hotel that was booked thanks to some of Alex’s buddies who I’d met and hung out with in New York the previous year. The navigation system got to the right neck of the woods, but we still couldn’t find the place. Being a college town, there were some cute girls walking around that I could query with my sexy American-accented German. They didn’t think they knew where the hotel was, but they quickly pointed the opposite direction than the way they were going :o/. Sure enough, we found it after a few more minutes of walking and we headed up to check in while Daniel fetched the car from the parking lot.

After unpacking, the Jagermeister soccer ball was unleashed in the hallway for a quick football session much to the chagrin of our neighbors, I’m sure. We had a few minutes to rest up while Stefan “dropped bombs like Nagasaki” (no doubt to make room for the lunch that was digesting) in our community water-closet and I got on the horn with Alex to coordinate the evening’s activities.

After lounging, showering, and cleaning up, Alex and Verena came by to pick us up and take us out to find a classic German dinner. I had been to Bamberg a few years back when I was in Germany for Christmas and New Year’s Eve and I had already forgotten just how beautiful the old town was. I guess things seem slightly more attractive when you can wear shorts and a jersey outside than when you’re bundled up with a wool coat, hats, and scarves sipping glueh-wein and trying to stay somewhat warm.

About halfway to the restaurant, Daniel said that he and Kelly were already in love with the town. Kelly had dreamed about seeing a town like this with the old buildings, beautiful colors and architecture, narrow cobblestoned streets, and flowers blooming in windowsills. I couldn’t believe that I didn’t remember this city this beautiful, it was like visiting a completely new city to me as well.

We ended up at a small restaurant with bench seating outside where we could have some beers and eat a traditional “Frankish” meal. This particular region of Bavaria was known as Franken and is famous for the number of breweries in the area. There are several hundred in the region and the city itself, which has about 40,000 residents, has about 10 on it’s own. The breweries typically brew lighter “heller” beer as well as it’s specialty: Rauchbier, which literally means “smoke beer”. I am not sure how it’s brewed but it is quite dark and has a very distinctive taste like smoked bacon. It is definitely not something that everyone likes but I had to order it just because I was back in Bamberg.

Other than Alex and Verena, I knew quite a few other folks in Bamberg as well. NYC is a very popular place for people to go work at internships and so I got to know several of Alex’s friends there. In the summer of 2004, I met Hendrick, who I hung out with every once in a while and who I then ran into in Budapest, Hungary while on vacation in East Europe in the summer of 2005. In the summer of 2005, I met two more of his friends, Niko and Soenke. Niko was the one that helped us reserve the hotel room while Alex was studying and working in Spain. These guys are all several years younger than me and wore me out pretty well during their time in my city, so I looked forward to returning the favor in Bamberg :o) .

After dinner, we went to an outdoor beer garden that was situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city, which included an illuminated hilltop cathedral and monastery as well as the old town itself. Unfortunately it was way past dark by this point so we couldn’t see much in the overcast sky.

We met up with Hendrick, Niko, and their significant others as well as the GQ boy Soenke. We all sat up there rehashing our memories and drinking some local “Spezi” heller beer. Apparently this beer garden is only seasonal and wasn’t open the last time I was there, not that I would’ve wanted to sit outside and drink ice-cold beers in the middle of winter!

The garden closed at midnight unfortunately, so we said our goodbyes and promised to meet again the following night, which was when their university was going to have a huge party downtown that we would attend. The four of us (plus Niko and his Norwegian girlfriend) then crammed into Niko’s convertible Audi at the top of the hill and headed back to the hotel, with Niko narrowly avoiding a ticket from some cops at the bottom of the hill just after he dropped us off. Leave it to Niko to sweet-talk the cops ;o).

Back at Ground Zero (our hotel), we got our poker game going and nourished our buzzed bodies with some rum and cokes again. To make this game more interesting, we finally broke out the real money (like $5/Euros, nothing too extreme) and it was game on. Stangely enough, my memory from that night is quite hazy but I do believe that I took everyone to town and won all three games, bringing in a hefty 200% profit on my $5 while at the same time seriously agitating Stefan to the point of a conflict that Daniel settled down. To this day, I have no idea what I said that pissed him off, but it must have been good ;o) .


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Day 6 - Italia! Italia!

After Tuesday's escapades until the wee hours into the night, we decided that Wednesday would be our catchup day for sleep. There was one more semi-final game Wednesday evening at about 9:00 - France vs. Portugal - and most of us didn't have much riding on that game. In fact, I had nothing riding on that game or any of the procedding games now that all of my teams had been knocked out of the tournament. Typically I like rooting for teams who's country I've visited, which would make Portugal a logical team to root for. But, I just couldn't. Not after seeing them play such a dirty game against the Netherlands and seeing them win the game against England with their diving and cheating all of the time. And France? It's France. How could I like them all that much? They had some players that I am a fan of like Thierry Henry and of course Zizou (Zinedine Zidane) but I wouldn't classify myself as a fan of theirs once their Liverpool representative Djibril Cisse got knocked out of the tournament after breaking a leg in their last warm-up game before the World Cup. Daniel and Kelly of course were going for Portugal because of their Brazillian roots and Stefan didn't give a damn because Italy was in the finals.

In any case, we got caught up on our sleep by snoozing until about 2:00pm. There wasn't much on our plate for the day except the game that night, which we decided we would watch down at the Frankfurt FanFest, which was basically a huge area that they had setup for fans to watch games. Every host city (where the games were being played) had a FanFest and Frankfurt's was one of the best because they had a ginormous screen setup in the middle of the Main River with bleacher seating on either side.

But we still had some shopping to do! After snacking on some breakfast (I guess it could be called brunch), we loaded up the wagon and headed back to downtown Frankfurt. By the time we got down there, it was probably 4:00, so we had a little bit of time to roam around Konstablerwache and head back to some of the stores where we wanted to re-shop. I got a couple of cool retro soccer polo shirts and was disappointed when I went back to the Adidas store to find that they were all of that awesome Deutschland soccer jacket that I had wanted to snap up the day before. As I noted yesterday, I was able to find the jacket in NYC, so that crisis was averted.

In Stefan's endless search for the Holy Grail of soccer trinket shops (one that actually carried some Italian gear), we eventually headed down to the infamous Roemer square of Frankfurt, stopping at shops along the way so that Stefan could continue his mission of raising the German economy's Gross Domestic Product by at least 1%. Frustrated, he spotted a church towering overhead and took a quick trip over to light a candle for his Grandmother who passed away two years ago and, undoubtedly, a candle for Italia to win the World Cup.

Kelly, Daniel, and I continued wandering aimlessly around the Roemer waiting for his imminent return, which never really came. After waltzing around for about an hour, we headed in the direction of the church in hopes of finding him, stopping at some shops along the way to pick up some hydration and, of course, a beer. As the credit-card depositer on our rental car, I really didn't have the opportunity to enjoy the bierschens at night since I was the desingnated driver (or designated payer for accidents, depending on how you look at it :). Since it was early and we had several hours left before the game, I picked up an ice-cold Warsteiner at a store to sip on. There's something special about being able to walk around outside with a beer in your hand without being hassled by cops or worrying about covering it up with a paper-bag. As we headed to the FanFest area in a last-ditch attempt to find Stefan, I made a comment to Daniel about this feeling of freedom. It was nice not to have to worry about someone saying "you can't bring that beer in here" and smiled smuggly to myself.

Finally, we ran into Stefan somewhere near the entrance to the FanFest. Somehow we must have just missed each other in the Roemer square, he was standing near the poor soul wearing the giant Ronaldinho mascot costume trying to sell some natural soccer balls and what not. Whatever, we were finally reunited (unfortunately ;o) and could head into the FanZone and get the party started. We headed through the gates and what do I hear? “I’m sorry, you can’t bring that beer in here”. My jaw almost hit the floor when I heard that. Are you serious? Figures, Anheiser-Busch has exclusive beer rights for anything related to the World Cup, including the FanFest areas. Daniel was naturally laughing at me for opening my stupid mouth a few minutes prior and jinxing my comfort zone….

And then we were in the FanFest. There was an hour and a half or so before the game still remaining, so we picked some seats in the bleachers so we could enjoy the game in style and then wandered around the park seeing what was going on. There was a grassy park area with kids and adults wearing France, Germany, or Portugal jerseys juggling a ball together (some of these kids are insanely good considering they’re like 8 years old). There were refreshment tents selling ridiculously expensive beers and sausages that we indulged in, there was a radio station and stage having contest for the best-dressed fan (or, in one girl’s case, showing the most skin of a very fit body). There was music blasting through the speakers, there were Internet kiosks where you could take your picture and send it to an email address, and there were a couple thousand people to watch. At one point while we were all sitting in the bleachers, Daniel and Kelly spotted two comedians who were famous in Brazil. They were dressed in overalls, Mario/Luigi-style moustaches, and Portugal shirts and were walking around with their cameraman making fun of people, which is apparently what they are famous for in Brazil. It was kind of funny to see them dressed like that, essentially making fun of the Portuguese being farmers and backwoods-style people. Daniel and Kelly of course went down to get pictures with them…

While we were sitting in our seats waiting for the game to start, the beers were flowing between Daniel and Stefan like water in a spring. They were determined to get drunk for the game so that Stefan could be at his obnoxious best and Daniel…just because! By the end of the game (which was a pretty boring, to be honest), they had downed five gigantic brewskies each and were ready to celebrate. Daniel, coming from Italian heritage, threw down the gauntlet and said that he would be going for Italy if Portugal lost, which they did. And so the heckling began – Stefan and Daniel stood on their benches after the game screaming at the top of their lungs “Italia…Italia…Italia,” etc. for about thirty minutes as the French and Italian fans streamed out of the FanFest to start celebrating the game. The mood was so festive, some of the Portuguese fans would sing along to them and the French would start singing their songs back at them, it was great. Once most of the fans had left, and Stefan and Daniel’s voices were hoarse, we headed out ourselves to find the parties.

Somehow we met some Portugal fans who were actually Brazilians (and one Filipino) and we hung out with them for a while. They all lived in Frankfurt, working for the tourism service or in other civil positions and were just good, fun people to hang with. We joked and talked to them for about an hour, found shelter from the quick and heavy rain, exchanged contact information, and ended up going our separate ways (the poor people had to actually work the next day!).

Rather than going to downtown Frankfurt, our friends advised us to head across the river into the Sachsenhausen district of Frankfurt. I wish we’d found out about this before because apparently this is where the party was going on all night in the bars, clubs, and restaurants! But, we didn’t even get that far because on the opposite side of the river, there was a discotheque-type area setup for people to dance and party at, which we did. We heard our trips theme songs and of course tons of the Spanish/Latin music that is all of the craze around the world right now. Daniel and Stefan continued their screaming and singing “Italia, Italia” into the faces of some French fans, who did the same back in French and sometimes sang along while flapping their France flags around and sporting huge smiles on their faces.

After munching on some late-night Mediterranean food, we ran into some Americans who were celebrating there as well. They were consultants from the states on assignment for Accenture and were just living it up in Germany while the World Cup was on. Though they weren’t big soccer fans, they were stoked about the World Cup (and who wouldn’t be with an expense account ;o) and were having a grand old time. After chatting with them for a while, we exchanged contact information and then decided to call it an “early” evening and head back to the car before the rain came back.

Once we finally got home and Stefan and Daniel started to sober up, we cooked up some pasta to eat with packets of sauce that we had bought on our initial grocery trip. We had eaten so little of the food that we bought because we were only really there in the mornings and late at night. We decided that the next day we had to use up as much food as possible, since we were leaving for another town and were probably not going to be coming back. We had more or less come to the conclusion that one way or another, we were going to end up six hours away in Berlin for the final, come hell or highwater. We had no idea how we’d get there, how we’d get home in time for our flights, where we would stay, when we would travel, etc., but we were bound and determined.

We played Poker until the wee hours of the night.


The street "disco" after France vs. Portugal
The street "disco" stage after France vs. Portugal
France vs. Portugal game celebrations

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Day 5 - Day of the "J. Riley Moment"

Despite yet another late night of poker action, we were raring to go on Tuesday morning. We had plans, we had missions to accomplish, we had people to meet, and we had shopping to do! You can't fit everything into a day when you don't get out the door until 2:00pm, especially on a nice, hot day like Tuesday. On Sunday, we had heard an unconfirmed rumor that we could actually watch Tuesday's Quarter Final game (Germany vs. Italy) on the video screens at the stadium in Frankfurt. The game was being played a few hours north in Dortmund and we had tossed around the idea of driving three hours up there and going to the FanFest to celebrate after the game. We had no idea where we'd stay, when we'd drive, where'd we go, anything like that, but we really wanted to experience the atmosphere of the game starring the home nation against a top contender. Gott Sei Dank that we didn't!! It would have turned out to be something more like Berlin....but more on that later.

So, it was off to the Stadium we go. One small problem - we actually didn't know where the stadium was. Keep in mind that we were still Navi novices and didn't really know what the system was capable of. I had been to the stadium once before a few years back on bikes and I knew we had left from Sven's house. And I knew that on Saturday we were at the train station which was by Sven's house. Putting these facts together (I'm smart like that), I decided that we should go to the train station using the Navigation system. And it worked brilliantly - it took us right to the train station. Hmm, well that doesn't really help since we still didn't know where to go from there. But we were close! I pulled over and asked some cab drivers if they knew the way for our stadium day (poor rhyme, I know). The spouted out the directions - turn left somewhere, go around a roundabout and go straight, you'll see a sign somewhere, make either a left or right turn, etc. I nodded my head and realized that we'd probably never find it since I only vaguely understood his German - my fault, not his :). But, fearless, we headed off into the sunset (well, not really) trying to find it. Eventually, we started heading into downtown Frankfurt and I knew it wasn't there, so we pulled an illegal U-Turn and headed back into a tangled mess of lanes and Y-intersections into a gas station, since we needed to fill up our thirsty Benz (ouch!). If the cabbies were hard to understand, the gas station attendants were even worse. They said it was a piece of cake from that point and pointed us down the road a bit further.

After some last-minute, illegal lane changes we were rolling down the road and - - the Frankfurt Waldstadion / Commerzbank Arena appeared in our crosshairs. Eureka! Now, where did we need to go to buy tickets. We pulled into the stadium and the volunteers baking in the sun said we had to go across a bridge behind us and there was a ticket booth over there where we could get tickets. Sure thing, we flipped a (legal!) U-turn and headed over the bridge and followed the road through empty parking lots, along the main road, and drove, and drove, and drove until we were heading back into downtown Frankfurt again. This was not working for us! So, we pulled another illegal U-turn and headed back to the stadium, and this time we noticed a ticket booth - but we had just passed it. We went to what looked like a parking lot up the street and pulled in. It looked like there was another ticket booth there, but the parking attendant said that we had to walk way back to the first one that we saw, and so we did. Kelly wasn't feeling well and stayed in the car to sleep a bit more while we mosied down to the first ticket booth and got our tickets and public transportation directions for the evening game. Finally!! It only took us like 3 hours to figure it all out. And yes, we could have bought them at the ticket booth next to the parking lot :-/ ...

Now we were ready to hit the town and go shopping. We made a quick phone call to downtown Frankfurt to get ahold of a cute girl (Martina) that we had met on Sunday who (foolishly) volunteered to be our tour guide for a few hours since I don't really know Frankfurt all that well. We decided that we'd do lunch once we got there, so we bought a group day-metro pass at the closest public transportation spot to the stadium and headed downtown to meet up with her at the Konstablerwache exit on the train.

Once we met up, we ended up going to a little Italian lunch place that makes freshly tossed pastas and pizzas in front of you. Kelly was still not feeling well and we decided to avoid the bratwursts for this meal (and this meal only, pretty much!). After lunch, we meandered down to one of the skyscrapers (Frankfurt being one of the only cities in mainland Europe to have such things) to get a complete 360 degree view of Hessen, the state to which Frankfurt belongs. It was a pretty impressive view, actually.

It was hot out again that day (like pretty much everyday that we were there. One of the things that I got annoyed at was not sweating like a pig, not that the waters were served at room temperature and had a funky taste sometimes, and not that I was bordering on sun strokes 90% of the time. No, I was annoyed because after spending all this time in the sun, my skin still glowed in the dark it was so white. I would occasionally put SPF 15 sunscreen on, but if I used nothing I would be just as white as when I left in the morning...err, afternoon. What's an albino gotta do to get some color?

But I digress. We were hot, so naturally we headed back to the main pedestrian street to get some ice cream from the omnipresent Haagen Daz (however the Dutch spell it) ice cream store. Kelly was getting on Daniel's nerves about having something to drink (just because she's sick and it's 100 degrees outside doesn't mean that you have to complain so much, does it? ;o) We got our ice cream and proceeded to further support the local economy by hitting up some stores to buy some clothing items and trinkets. Adidas did a fine job of supplying us with discounted gear from eliminated teams and Karstadt had some very nice vintage polo soccer shirts that I had to get my hands on. Kelly said that she thought they were something a gay guy would wear and I took that as a compliment on my trend-setting style. Thanks Carson Calandrino ;o) ! I did, however miss out on buying a fine Adidas "deutschland" jacket that Kelly and Daniel both bought. I waited a hair too long and before I knew it (well, really the next day), it was snapped up (Note: I purchased it two weeks later at the Adidas store in NYC). The Puma store, however, left much to be desired and we were thoroughly disappointed with their lack of discounts and their expensive space-age shoes.

But, it was time to go anyway. We'd wasted enough time shopping (for that day) and we had to head off to the Commerzbank Arena for the day's main event: Germany vs. Italy semi-final. We said our good-byes (or, in my case, "see you in New York!") to Martina and trying to be adventurous, I foolishly led us to a different train than we had taken from the stadium. This train dropped us off on the complete opposite side of the stadium as our car was on, so we had to suffer not just a 20 minute walk around the stadium, but also hearing the crowd inside roaring without us, even though the game hadn't started yet. I couldnt' hardly wait to get inside and see what the ruckus was all about and to join in the cheering myself, even if I had no clue what they were saying. Since the game was starting in less than an hour, I was a bit worried about how crowded it would be inside and what kind of seats would be available. It was general seating, so first come first served.

Eventually we made it to the car and dropped off all of our newly acquired football gear and what night and headed back to the stadium. The first order of business was hydration with some beer and provisions of giant German pretzels that were not as fresh as they appeared. I think Stefan had the right idea with cheese lathered thick on a slice of bread, I could practically see the oil from the cheese dripping off of it and nestling itself at home - in arteries. Ahhh...gluttony at its finest.

It was a beautiful sight, walking into the Commerzbank Arena with the crowd roaring and seeing the tens of thousands of fans inside ready for the game. We tried our luck at finding some seats, and there were plenty available still. We found a spot up towards the top of the stadium underneath the giant retractable roof amongst the thousands of throngs of Germans. There was a small patch of Italian fans who were at the game, but they were on the other side of the stadium. We briefly contemplated going to that side, but we decided to do it after halftime instead.

And then there was my moment. One of the more common decorations for fans was taking crayon-like face paint with your country's national colors and painting your face, arms, whatever with it. The girls in front of us took a brief break from blowing cigarette smoke up and into our face to paint each other with the little crayon. They put their tribal marks on their faces, their arms, and then one drew something that went straight up, then across at an angle, and then straight up again on the other girl's back. I thought it was interesting and could have used some more creativity because alone it wasn't enough and besides, I like things to be symmetrical. Tap-tap-tap on her back and I told her that she should draw the other side as well to make the lines symmetrical and kind of like an "X". I was thinking of "Triple X" with Vin Diesel and that cool logo that they had. The girl doing the painting looked at me and said no and then Stefan and Daniel were all over me. I was confused. I had no idea what they were so excited about and laughing at me. Swastika. They thought I was trying to tell the other girl to draw the second half of a swastika! Obviously, that proves to me that people still associate Germans with Nazis, when I clearly don't. As you can see from the picture, drawing the second half of the X would look nothing like a swastika, but I can appreciate their concern for my health and well-being considering there were thousands of Germans around who might have tried to kick my arse if they knew. I guess that when Daniel saw the girl draw the first part on her back, he gasped and was thinking that she was going to draw a swastika and he couldn't believe that I would say something like that. Ooops. Yea, maybe not the best place for me to interject my opinion on body art. Plus, that blew Daniel's chance to try to bum a cigarette from them ;o)

It was a pretty good game and at half-time we switched places so that Stefan, who had stood with his Italia hat off during the Italian national anthem with his mouth shut since he didn't know the words, could be among his nation. We sat next to some cute girls that didn't want to have anything to do with me (the story of my life) and watched as the game went into overtime. Then, two minutes before the end of the game, the Italians drove a stake through the heart of the German nation when they scored. And then scored again. Germany was devastated and the Italians were ecstatic. That was it, and the last team that I had been rooting for was out. I was now a spectator to the World Cup, not a true fan of any team left, which was disappointing but Stefan was insane with joy and showed it by blowing his whistle as loud as he could, possibly piercing my eardrum several times. The Italians celebrated in the stands and came up to Stefan to say things, but he had no idea what they were saying either because his Italian is so rudimentry or because the Italian fans were actually German-Italians. Mostly the former rather than the latter (I can get away with saying this since I know he doesn't read my blog :oP ).

One chant that the Italians started singing was pretty funny. The Germans had been singing about the Italians being pizza delivery boys and after the game the Italians took that and started singing that they would be delivering pizzas to Berlin, since they were going to the finals. Pretty funny stuff.

Once we finally got out of the stadium and found our way to our Benz, we headed downtown to Frankfurt to enjoy the celebrations. There were hundreds of cars in Frankfurt flying around honking their horns with people hanging out of the windows waving their Italy flags. Stefan joined a huge throng of Italians in the middle of the street singing and dancing and shooting fireworks while Daniel, Kelly, and I headed over to a snack shack where I formally introduced them to currywurst, a German delicacy. Well, not so much as a delicacy as a cheap item that is commonly sold at snack shacks on the side of the road as fast food. Essentially, it's a sausage that's covered with ketchup and curry powder. I love that stuff!

After we finally met up with Stefan again, we walked around and eventually found a part of the walking quarters where someone had pulled his lifted Jeep off to park. It was advertised with an Italian restaurant's name and had a huge sound system, smoke machines, and disco lights. They were pumping out Euro dance music with the occassional folksy dego music and the Italians were just dancing and singing. Cars were still driving around honking and at one point a huge group of Italians stopped traffic and we think there was a car stuck in the middle of the group. The police finally intervened and said that the people had to stop jumping on the car and get out of the road. This was seriously the only time on the trip that we had seen the police involved at all, which was pretty nice. They let the fans party as they wanted.

That night we got home excrutiatingly late with Stefan pretty quiet because his voice was torn up - which was pretty nice ;o). Nonetheless, we had poker to play. That night, we played poker until the week hours of the night with a bottle of Rum and Cokes and ended up seeing the sun rising.

Justinho, having connection problems, you'll have to wait for pictures!

Cheering at the game I
Cheering at the game II
Cheering at the game III
Cheering at the game IV
Italians cheering at the game
The Italian Jeep Celebration I
The Italian Jeep Celebration II

Monday, July 03, 2006

Day 4 - Drag Racing on the Autobahn

After our poker and Krombacher binge the previous night, we decided that we didn't need any alarm clocks and we could sleep as late as we wanted on Monday morning. On our schedule was a quick day trip down to the beautiful small town of Heidelberg. I had been to this town a few years back with Alex and knew it was a quaint little town full of students with a nice castle up on the hill overlooking the city. But let's not shy away from the truth - this is such a nice little city that it is jam-packed full of Americans (students and otherwise) as well. This little town is so Americanized that they have fireworks on the river for the 4th of July! But we didn't have much else to do that day and my memories were pretty fond of the place.

Before that, we had some errands to run in town, buying some cleaning supplies, milk, and a couple other small items at the local Aldi. We had lots of good stuff to eat, but were missing some of the important things needed to eat breakfast with - we had nutella, but not bread. We had cereal, but no milk. We had a voracious appetite and we had Daniel who kept saying to me "Kelly makes the best toast in the world. I sure would really really like to eat some of that toast right now" . But we had Kelly who kept saying "We don't have the right bread". Daniel kept pleading but in the end he was out of luck. Maybe next time, Daniel ;o).

Speaking of nutella, Stefan and I quickly learned that Kelly has a serious nutella addiction. There wasn't a day that went by without her taking a nice, sizeable spoon and taking out a nice chunk of nutella to eat. She was like a kid with a lolly-pop with her nutella :o). Daniel doesn't even like the stuff, but he says that they go through about one jar of the stuff a week! Other than nutella, her favorite thing to eat was the double-box of discounted no-name Honey Smacks-type cereal. I swear we didn't leave the house without that thing packed somewhere in the car. In fact I think we had to give away a bottle of rum to Alex because we didn't have room for both the cereal and the bottle :o/ . She would eat each puffed rice one by one and at one point asked Daniel if they could buy a few boxes to bring home with them....

This was the first time we got to really utilize the Navigation system and see what it could do. We plugged in Heidelberg, told it to go to the town center, and pressed go. It worked
amazingly, with a lovely voice telling me "Rechts, zweihundred, rechts" whenever it was appropriate. We made pretty good time getting down there around 3:00, just in time for lunch. We still hadn't had a real typical German meal altogether yet, so we set out down the main street in old town and checked out places until we found one with a typical German menu, typical German "bier banken" (benches) outside, and typical German customer service. We sat outside for a good five minutes, all of us starving and parched, before I finally went in to find the waitress sitting at the bar smoking a cigarette and talking to the bar-keeper. Ahh....the life in a non-service oriented country :o) . We finally got our sausage and spaetzle ordered up, along with some beer and a side of potato salad that I had to ask twice for, of course. The food was actually really good, although the beer could have been something a bit more authentic than Lowenbrau. When Daniel ordered his second glass of beer and said "regular" (you know you have to differentiate between the ten different kinds of Lowenbrau they have), the waitress apparently misunderstood him. She brought him his beer and he had a sour look on his face and said it didn't taste right. He had in fact got to experience the popular German drink called "radler", which is actually a mix of beer and Sprite. It's actually a pretty refreshing drink, but not what he was looking for...

The rest of the afternoon was spent waltzing down the street looking for World Cup
paraphanelia and trying to keep hydrated in the ninety degree weather. Unfortunately for the rest of us, Stefan found an Italian flag that goes on the window and hangs up above the car. They didn't have Czech flags :o/ . He and Daniel bought some more goodies that afternoon and I'm pretty sure that Stefan alone made a material difference in the German GDP this year with all his shopping for trinkets and souveniers ;o). At the other end of town we climbed up a massive hill to get to the castle that overlooked the city. It's an impressive view of the city from up there, even if we had to burn off sausages and gravy from lunch just to get there!

We took lots of pictures from the castle since it was the best view we'd had yet. At one point, there was a very nice image that I wanted to capture, so I asked a couple from Peru if they would take a group picture. They took a nice picture, but it didn't have the background that I
wanted. That's okay, I'd have Kelly take one with me and Daniel. move a little to the right. No, more to the left. OK, take it. Again, it didn't have the angle that I wanted. Kelly tried about three shots and none of them had the angle. I was cracking up by now because it was a pretty simple picture to take. OK, I let Daniel take it since he knew what I wanted. Or did he? No, he took our picture with a boring wall in the background. I was busting up at how pathetic we were! Finally I got Kelly and Daniel in the pic and took it myself. Here it is, on the right!

We walked around the grounds a bit before heading back into town and back towards the car. At some point, like many other times on the trip, two of us got seperated from the other two.
Despite my hard-nosed, annoying insistance that the soccer shop Daniel had gone to was up ahead of us when it was really ten minutes behind us, we eventually found him and Kelly after about a half hour of walking up and down the street. And buying more soccer trinkets!

Once we met up again, we decided to go the other direction in downtown and found ourselves outside a McDonalds, who had decently sanitary facilities for us to use. Being the anti-fast-food goon that I am, I represented it by waiting for the others outside and glaring
at people as they walked in and out of the evil empire's flagship Heidelberg franchise. We spotted a very relaxing-looking gravel patio area with lots of people chatting and having cocktails underneath some large, impressive trees and decided that we should check it out and have a bevvy and snack before our excursion ended. Plus, the waitresses were all young and cute and dressed up in white with black bow-ties on, so it was clearly a swanky place. I was personally pretty drained from being in the sun all day and sweating like a pig (speaking of that, do pigs actually sweat?). As the designated pilot for the trip, I needed a pick-me-up before we headed back so I wouldn't fall asleep behind the wheel while on the autobahn.

So we ordered some desserts like Apple Struedel and I got me a nice iced capuccino to wake
me up a bit. Daniel told us a story about an email he had written to Alex at some point during the planning stages of the trip (they hadn't met each other yet). He made some comment about how they would eat lots of apple struedel when they got to Germany and Alex made a typical one-line comment about how that was Austrian, not German. It wasn't a snide response, but his writing style could definitely be misconstued as such. No wonder he was worried about how rude the Germans would be on the trip ;o).

Intent on researching how to buy tickets for Tuesday's game that was being showed inside the Frankfurt stadium, we made a pit stop at an internet cafe on the way back to the car and, of course, found absolutely no information on it at all. We'd play it by ear, though, and see what we could find the next day at the stadium.

So it was back to the car in the parking garage. We walk over to the entrance and the driveway exit gate was closed and a sign said something about the hours and how it closed at 6:30. Uhhh...hmm. The garage is closed. The car is in the garage. My mind started racing and I started internally calculating the cost of splitting a hotel room and what the heck I would wear the next day and how much breakfast would be and....oh wait. The entry door was still open. Right. The gate shuts, but opens up when you put your paid parking stub in the machine. I knew that, of course :o| .

The ride home wasn't very interesting, just more of the same, stressful driving on the German autonahn. I swear, people are so stressed out, they'll ride your bumber and wave their hands, yell
at you, honk, flash their lights and blinkers, etc. to get you to move over a lane (it's illegal to pass on the right). Apparently they don't see the twenty cars that are in front of me. Take a chill pill man and relax before you have cardiac arrest on the highway. Good lord! In any case, we were driving along and I realized that we had a looooong straightaway that went on for quite a bit and there were very few cars around. The pedal went to the metal, we were gonna see what the Benz could do here. I pushed it and pushed it and it finally got up to about 235 km/h (146mph) before I had to slow down because of traffic. Wow, what a rush! You don't really realize how quick you are going until you see cars that are a tiny dot ahead of you suddenly growing in size a few seconds later. Crazy! So that set a new speed record for us and one that we wouldn't bypass at any point on the trip. We got home at around 11:00pm and had some snacks.

We played poker into the wee hours of the night with Rum and Cokes by our sides the whole time.


My pictures are posted and so are Stefan's.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Day 3 - Kahl-Bound

Sunday was going to be what all Sundays should be - a day of rest. In fact, it turns out that this was going to be pretty much our only day of rest on the whole trip! The only thing that we had scheduled for Sunday, in fact, was to move our stuff to our base camp outside of Kahl and then drink fresh Krombachers that we had purchased the day before. Joining us in Kahl would be Alex and some of his friends and his sister Rebecca and some of her friends.

So we got up at around ten o'clock and Alex and Verena had our Euro breakfast ready and waiting for us shortly thereafter. We kind of lounged around for a bit, waiting for some of Alex's friends to come by before we departed from the house. We quickly found out that the decision to upgrade the car to something a bit bigger than a Golf wagon was absolutely critical because we just barely had enough room to fit everyone's luggage in the back of the Benz. It was so tight that we couldn't even fit the sheets, the food, or the beverages that we were bringing in the back of the car.

So the caravan departed for Kahl and Alex, after reviewing what the Navigation system said about the route we should take, said he knew a better way to go that would allow us to stretch the legs on the Benz and see what we could do. I was still getting used to driving (since I don't drive on a regulat basis) and getting used to all the foreign signs, so we didn't do anything too crazy (yet).

The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing around and relaxing. There were quite a few people that showed up, including a large group of flight attendants who were friends of Rebecca's. Daniel and Kelly finally got the chance to sit around and talk to some real Germans and Daniel told me later that day that he was very happy that he got to talk to these people. He had met some Germans that were exchange students in high school and was less than impressed, to say the least. He found them to be very stereotypical, kept to themselves, always serious, never smiling, cold, not polite, not friendly, etc. He even admitted to me that he was worried about the trip because he figured the people would be like that. But now he'd had a chance to spend the day with 15 Germans and he couldn't believe how polite, how friendly, and how open the people were. I think this is a common misconception about the Germans. Like many other cultures, if you visit the country on the personal level, you get a completely different experience than you would if you just came as a tourist. Maybe that is one reason why I like Germany so much, all of my trips have been on a personal level, visiting people that I knew there. I was glad to see that Daniel appreciated this as well and realized that the Germans are very welcoming people who are interested in who you are and what your culture is like!

There was quite an interesting group of people who attended. There was Alex and Verena, more or less our hosts. There was their mega-tatoo'd friends (Steffi and Sven, who had tatoos of cartoon characters all over) and their stoner friend who liked to go out on the lake in the rowboat and smoke joints (he ended up being pretty good at ping pong and beat me easily ;o). Then there was Rebecca and her boyfriend. Then there was their friends, the flight crew composed of girls from Germany (hot!) and Argentina (hot!) and boys from Venezuela and Germany. Daniel had trouble with everyone's name until he met Veronica, which is his sister's name. He said "Finally I met someone who's name I can remember!". Turns out she was from Argentina, so that figures :o).

Part of the afternoon was spent bbqing some of our plethora of meat. Being a complete novice myself, I figured Jan (Becca's manly boyfriend) would be well experienced in the art of the bbq. He let me down. So I turned to our Brazilian churascarria representative Daniel, at who's house I've had several massive bbq meals. Yea, he didn't do so well either. So us three men stood around trying to get this fire going and were totally incompetent. Leave it to Becca to come over and get the fire stoking within a few minutes. Yea, our pride was mildly dented ;o)

In addition to ping-pong, there were many games being played over the course of the day, including water polo / alee-oop on the dock and in the lake, wind-surfing on the lake, and Tip-Kick, a German soccer board game that I was completely unsuccessful at. The Germans had experience in that game and beat everyone else. There was also a few rounds of football juggling with your feet. I represented America well by keeping the ball up like a total of three times and my final kick of the afternoon hit the end of my big toe and snapped a nice chunk of my toenail back, leaving it dangling, bleeding, and hurting like a beyatch! That's what I call coordination! It didn't really bother me for the rest of the trip after I cleaned it out by swimming in the cess-pool-like lake. Speaking of the lake, there were several eye-witnesses that saw "Jaws" struggling to survive in the lake - a ginormous fish that was flopping around the surface not far from our little dock. Yes, this was the water that I chose to clean my wound with. And, yes, the thing freaked me out when I could see it splashing from the porch. I was hoping it wouldn't pick up the scent of my bloody toe when I was swimming around...

Eventually, all of the guests had to depart for home. Apparently there's something called "w-o-r-k" and "s-c-h-o-o-l" that people had to attend the next day while we planned the next week out. Sven told us about a public viewing of the semi-final game on the giant monitors at the Frankfurt Commerzbank Arena stadium that we could check out on Tuesday and that plan was immediately ratified and added to our itinerary along with a day trip to Heidelberg the following day. We decided we would shop and go to the Frankfurt Fan Zone (the public area to watch the game) on Wednesday for the second semi-final before heading to Bamberg to meet up with Alex and Verena again on Thursday. And the idea of a massive road trip to Berlin for the Final, which I had discarded as an unrealistic goal prior to the trip, was slowly culminating into a feasible idea in our heads....

Sometime later in the day, the rack of Krombachers was delved into and out came a few beers for Daniel, Stefan, and I. And a few more. And a few more. Over the course of the evening, the whole case of 24 0.5 liter bottles were consumed, though I suspect our guests had probably had a few as well. We used this liquid fuel to ignite a night of cooking (pasta with garlic, onion, and tomato sauce), a night of discussions, and a night of poker.

We played poker into the wee hours of the night with Krombachers by our sides the whole time.