Ich kann\’t Laufwerk 55

A-Class Baby!
A-Class Baby!

So, as mentioned previously, my rental car during my trip to Munich was more like a golf cart, despite it being a Mercedes. You can see a picture of it here. It doesn’t exactly scream “I’m a bad ass!” does it? Anyway, I wasn’t out looking to be a bad ass anyway. I was out to get a cheap rental car, since we do have budgets to follow at work. Now, as for the highways, I grew up always believing there was this single stretch of highway in Germany called “THE AUTOBAHN,” a road with no speed limit where dudes with black gloves with the fingers cut off drove 150mph, while white-knuckling the steering wheels of their exotic sports cars – Ferrari’s, etc etc. Of course, none of it is true. Autobahn’s are simply Germany’s highway system and there are many of them. There are certain stretches of autobahns where there is, in fact, no speed limit. In fact, on my drive down to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, the autobahn narrowed to two lanes each way, yet there were stretches that had no speed limit. But there are plenty of spaces where there are speed limits.

Given I was in a foreign country, for work, with a rental car that felt like a Dodge Colt, my inclination was to stay in the right lane and cruise along at 70-80 mph. That was the going rate for the right lane. The left lane, on average, saw drivers hitting 85-90, by my estimates. There were most certainly occasions where I became un-nerved as I saw a car absolutely fly by doing what had to be 120-130 mph. Those were almost always Audi’s, BMW’s and Mercedes.  I would say that happened once every 5-10 minutes. On more than one occasion, I would look in my rear view mirror and see nobody behind me and then it felt like five seconds later someone would blow by me – that was alarming. So there’s plenty of speed on the German autobahns, but it’s not as mythical and insane as I thought previously and I didn’t see a single exotic sports car.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but not totally out of control either. I did find myself imagining what an accident would result in at those crazy speeds……wouldn’t be pretty.

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Fremder In Einem Merkwürdigen Land

Those Mountains Look 10x Bigger When You're There
Those Mountains Look 10x Bigger When You're There

Settle in, peeps. This one is very long.

I am not, and have never been, one of those guys who desire great adventure in travel. It is not in my nature to go snorkeling in the coral reef, or backpacking and hiking for two weeks in some distant jungle or mountainous area. Sure, I am well-traveled – my Rewards Points/Travel Miles would make you spit out your soup – but most of the time it’s work travel within the U.S., where you don’t have much time to explore or discover. Over the last week, though, I went on a different kind of business trip, an international hop over to Munich, Germany, as a company whom we work with at Ask were holding a combined partner conference and “Oktoberfest Event.”

Oh, many of you smiled and chirped about a boondoggle. Partially true. Any corporate event involving Oktoberfest in Munich would hopelessly be declared as such. That said, one can’t just live it up 24 hours a day while traveling on a corporate jaunt. My job requires almost constant attention to my email and messages, as my wife will tell you, much to her chagrin.

However, a ride over to Munich offered a new opportunity, for I had never traveled internationally for the purpose of work. Given that Munich is six hours ahead of New York and nine hours ahead of most of the people I work with on a daily basis in the Bay Area, the daytime in Munich was the nighttime back home, which afforded me the option of doing some sightseeing in Germany while my co-workers slept in the States.

I’ve become much more of a sniveling emotional dude since the kids were born. Leaving them on Saturday didn’t produce a flowing river of tears, but I’m man enough to admit there was more water in the eyes than normal. I just hate leaving everybody, especially when Nathan says, “Bye Da Da, love you, thank you!” and waves his arm. A sweet moment, really. I’m not sure why he was thanking me and neither was he, but I got the point. As any parent knows, leaving your spouse alone with the kids also produces guilt. It’s hard work doing it together, forget about days at a time parenting solo. I also have to admit some anxiety – a super long set of flights and stranger-in-a-strange-land feeling started to creep in a few days before the trip. Luckily, it wasn’t that bad.

I left on Saturday night and landed in Munich (through London) at noon the next day. My first amusing moment as a foreigner came when I was at the Avis desk. I had, online, reserved the cheapest economy car, which was described as a “Volkswagen Golf or similar.” Ah, “or similar.” I always get the “or similar” car, don’t you? So I thought I was in for a streak of wonderous luck when the six-foot-five German girl (no lie) told me I was getting a Mercedes. Are you kidding me?! She wasn’t. I pictured myself on one of the German Autobahns, riding in style. Fast and smooth, baby! Alas, when I got to the car, I realized that the entire Avis fleet in the garage looked like Mercedes and this wasn’t the luxury version. It was a short, fat little thing that felt like a one-cylinder. I contemplated kicking my feet really fast like Fred Flintstone to give it more power. After wrestling with the GPS to speak English to me, I was on my way. More on the autobahns later, BTW.

My second laugh (and your first) came after I arrived at the hotel and discovered that I forgot to pack underwear.  Of course, these things are only funny in hindsight, but this story is made funnier because while in the department store around the corner from the hotel, I soon realized I had no idea whatsoever how underwear was sized in Europe/Germany. What resulted was an amusing conversation between me and a very nice lady who couldn’t speak one work of English. I was trying to ask her what size I should buy. She had no idea what the hell I was talking about. I used gestures, wrapping my hands around my waist and pointing to the underwear. She just looked at me and nodded. I took a shot in the dark and thankfully, got it right. Boxer briefs.

I then went back to the hotel and promptly fell asleep for a self-imposed limit of two hours. Upon waking up, I set off on my first adventure, to the Marienplatz, or the old city center. Old Munich. Old town. Whatever. It was stunning. Old, ornate buildings from the 1500’s and previous. This part of Munich was fairly untouched by the war, so this was Munich as people lived it before 1940 and it was beautiful. I walked around a bit, peeking at old churches and wandering down charming, narrow streets, until I got to…..Hofbrauhaus. For any of you not aware, Hofbrauhaus is quite possibly the world’s most famous pub. How could I not partake? So enter I did, into a loud, happy party of people singing, chanting and clanging liter sized mugs of beer. A five-piece group of older German men played loud oom-pah music.  It was infectious! All I can say is that I wanted to run around and laugh, hug and high-five EVERYBODY! The happiness in that room was spectacular, the drunkenness stupefying! After taking some pictures I settled in and ingested the local fare – bratwurst, sauerkraut and a liter. Satisfying.

The following day, Monday, was a work day. I worked at the hotel in the morning and headed over to our corporate partner’s presentation in the afternoon, did meet-and-greets, listened to presentations, talked some more……and then it was time for Oktoberfest. If you’ve been there, you understand. If you haven’t, you couldn’t possibly comprehend this thing. An orgy of carnival, drinking and people from all around the world dressed in the traditional fare – leiderhosen, Bavarian dresses….the works. Totally INSANE. They say that during the Oktoberfest, over three million liters of beer are sold (usually at $8 dollars a pop…..you do the math).

At night, the beer tents really go into overdrive. I hesitate to call them tents. All the major beer companies in Germany and elsewhere have their own “tents,” which are really huge wooden structures built months in advance for the event. The average capacity of these “tents” is 15,000 – an average sports arena here in the U.S. When you walk into one of these tents, this is what you see:

Everybody is drunk. I mean it. I saw 80 year olds bombed out of their mind. I saw people passed out on the floors. I saw paramedics dragging people around. A lot of people standing on tables. It was bohemian. Pure insanity. I suspect I will not see anything like it again and of course, I loved it.

Or how about this? Does this define fun and happy for you?

(both videos shot on my IPhone)

Other highlights:
Dachau – I feel bad calling this a “highlight.” Dachau was the first German concentration camp, erected in March of 1933 and only about a 30 minute drive northwest of Munich. Walking around the grounds is eerie and sobering. Hard to describe, really. Obviously it’s a horrible, terrible thing – 25,000 people died there. It’s hard to even picture it while walking around on the grounds, because it’s simply so unfathomable. Inside the main building is a museum, very tastefully done. It does not hold back anything, either. Educational, moving, sad. Well worth the trip.

Landsberg – a beautiful and picturesque little town about 45 minutes west of Munich. Much of the downtown area is cobblestone and its charm is in its architecture, which makes you feel like you’re walking around a German town in the 1800s or something. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Landsberg was where Hitler wrote Mein Kampf while imprisoned. It is also the site of another concentration camp, which I did not feel like seeing after walking Dachau. This particular camp, however, was liberated by the 101st Airborne (506th PIR), which means nothing to most of you, but if you watched all the “Band of Brothers” episodes on HBO, you know very well who that group of soldiers were. Anyway, downtrown Landsberg today sits on a beautiful river and is adorned with all kinds of small little indie shops, cafes and eateries – an awesome find.  Found two homemade wooden flutes for my boys at a toy shop there. Pictures here.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen – much like Landsberg, this is a small town with a vibrant and funky downtown, about an hour south of Munich, nestled up against the German-Austrian border and the Alps. It is stunning in its beauty and was the site of the 1936 Winter Olympics. Word is that they are pitching to host the 2016 Winter Olympics as well. A little further south was Lake Eibsee, which is about as close to the Austrian border as you can get – and was where I got some of the most breathtaking pictures of the lot. See all the pics I took here.

All in all, a busy, productive and fun trip. A big FAIL to American Airlines for putting people on a 7 hour Boston-to-London flight on a plane that must have been from the mid-1980s. It’s been a long time since I took a plane that still had cheap plastic dials to switch TV channels and volume. It’s been a longer time since I took a plane that had ashtrays – this one had ‘em. My overhead lights didn’t work. Has anyone from American corporate flown on other airlines? Goodness.

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Make That A Double

Drakkar Noir is Optional
Drakkar Noir is Optional

I will soon be taking my virgin voyage on what I am calling “the world’s first true metrosexual airline.” Virgin America just started flying out of Boston in February and is getting some nice reviews, both for its creature comforts and excessively friendly customer service. I’m looking forward to it! I am a bit obsessive about flying. Since I do it so much and the company I work for keeps a close eye on our travel costs (we have to submit our flights for approval and yes, they reject flights sometimes), my choices are relatively limited, but I do my best to make sure about certain things, such as doing everything in my power to be sitting in aisle (more leg room) AND have a middle seat open. I’ll change seats several times in the days leading up to the flight. It almost always works.Anyway, I’ll report back on the experience.

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…..And When You Touch Down

A couple of pieces picked up while traveling for work today:

  • As many of you know, I try my best in everyday life to do things that help the environment. But one thing I can’t bring myself to do is use the automatic hand-dryers in some bathrooms. Why? It’s simple – they don’t work. You typically have to stand there for five minutes and hit the big button repeatedly. So I will typically opt for the paper towel if the choice is there.  Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but in places like airports or movie theatres where these are typically located, you don’t have time. Well, today everything changed. Logan Airport in Boston (well, at least one bathroom in Terminal B) has some new-fangled hand dryers that kick so much ass that it’s not even funny.  You don’t even have to hit any buttons, either. Just put your hands in and they dry – completely dry – in like 10 seconds. Rock!
  • It goes without saying, but one of my biggest pet peeves are airports where you have to take a shuttle to get to the rental car place. Shit! That is always fifteen minutes of my life I will never have back. Oakland, California is the worst offender. Typically it’s a fairly short ride, but I swear that if you get on that shuttle in Oakland, they have to take you to Los Angeles to rent a car. Ugh! Today I was at Reagan Airport in DC and it wasn’t terrible, but it was the last thing I wanted to deal with.
  • Speaking of rental cars, is it just me or do you also NEVER get the car you sign up for? Today I signed up for a mid-size (“usually a Chevrolet Malibu,” it says). When I got there and found my car, I was staring at Mercury Grand Marquis.  Cripes. Are you even kidding me? What am I, 82 years old? Seriously, when you rent a car and the power seat buttons are in the same spot as the door locks because the typical Grand Marquis driver will injure themselves if they have to reach any further than that, you KNOW you’re in the wrong car. Come on! I’d be happy with a GM car and that’s saying a lot! I pretty much felt like Paulie Walnuts.
  • Here’s how numb I am to travel: taking off from Boston in swirling winds, sleet and freezing rain doesn’t even rattle me now. Not in the least. Sigh.
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Best. Trip. Ever.

We had a good plan. On Sunday, I was to fly down to NYC because I had two meetings down there, one Monday and one Tuesday. Steph was going to come down later on Monday and we were going to have – get this – two nights in NYC. Unheard of, really. Part of the trip was that some friends of ours just had a baby, so we were going to visit them as well. Seems so simple, right? Here’s what really happened:

  • The trip started out great! I got on the Delta Shuttle (general seating, much like Southwest) and it turns out they had a first class cabin – general seating! – so I grabbed a first class seat. Sweet. Eventless flight, land in NYC, get to hotel. Allergies rocking my sinuses in full force, just like they have been since August 24th.
  • Wake up the next morning and my head is pounding. Uh-oh. Sinus headache from allergies. And I forgot my Sudafed at home. Not just the normal Sudafed, either. I get the meth lab Sudafed where you have to bring the card up to the register and have them scan your license and sign stuff. The good stuff.  Anyway, I forgot it. Call Steph, have her bring it down. No problems!
  • Problems. Whenever I get out of a cab I scan the back seat to make sure I’ve left nothing in there. I do this ALL THE TIME. But my head is pounding, my stomach hurts a little (probably hungry) and this time I get out of the cab without looking. Five minutes later I’m setting up shop in the NY office and my Blackberry is gone, like a fart in the wind. Poof. Back of the cab. Shit!
  • Feeling progressively worse, but still thinking it’s allergies because I missed a day on Sudafed. Meeting number one cancels on me (I am somewhat relieved). Not hungry at all, so I skip lunch.
  • I get an email from Steph. An absolute SAINT named Julie has called her and tells her she found my Blackberry in the back of a cab. I am overjoyed and also now thinking this just might not be allergies, because I am really starting to feel craptastic. Advil has dulled the sinus headache a little, but my stomach is flaring, my throat hurts and the congestion is now more along the lines of head cold and not allergy.
  • Highlight of my day – I go over to the Credit Swisse offices at 24th and Madison and get my Blackberry back. I nearly bow and kiss Julie’s feet. She’s about 6 foot 7. 
  • Steph arrives in town at about 4pm. I finish work (somehow) and get back to the hotel at 6:30pm. We go out for dinner, but dinner for me is abbreviated. I’m surprised I was able to eat the amount I ate and I need to stay upright for a couple of hours after – unsettled stomach. Now it is obvious – this ain’t no allergies anymore, this is a bad head cold and possibly the flu.
  • Next morning confirms it – flu. Stomach bad. Horrific congestion. Headache. NO energy. I got nothing. Still, like an idiot, I go to the office. Like a aged prizefighter, I wobble around the ring and finally fall to the canvas at about 1pm. I cancel meeting #2 and go back to the hotel, where I stay, horizontal, until 9:30am yesterday. Train home yesterday.
Even worse, my dad had surgery on Tuesday and I wasn’t able to be there because of these meetings – neither of which actually happened. So I get to spend 3 days in NYC, lost my phone, pretty much in bed, two cancelled meetings and missed being with my family in the hospital, all the while in bed feeling like shit. Is there anything worse than being sick and NOT at home?

 

Today, I’m feeling a little better, but the congestion is still pronounced and the energy is lacking. 

 

I felt so bad for Steph, who wanted to have a nice getaway with me and visit her friends. Instead, she got to experience me waking up every 2-3 hours sounding like a tuba player in the high school band while emptying my sinuses. Both of us slept worse than we do at home with two babies. I, of course, didn’t get to visit my friends and their new baby – I couldn’t go over there in good conscience – I was too afraid I would infect the harmless infant. And we didn’t really get to enjoy food the way we normally do when we’re down there.

 

Let me also tell you something – despite needing the break, it sucked to be away from our little boys. Not sure we’ll try that again anytime soon. Today, I’m sitting here with a box of Puffs with Vicks! Hell to the yeah. I’m not sure if there’s actually any Vicks IN the tissues, but they SMELL like Vicks and I tell you what, I love the smell of Vicks.
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