August 2005

New Photo Albums:

Three epic weekends in a row, that is. Or, at least, three adventuresome weekends in a row. When I left off last time, we had just finished a ride down to and around Tergensee lake (or more properly, that’s probably Tergen Lake, since see = lake) at the beginning of a 3-day weekend. We had train tickets booked for Salzburg for the next day, just over the Eastern border in Austria. We decided to try the whole “Europe by backpack” thing, so we packed up our backpacks so we could carry everything with us on our bike. Then we found a hostel online so we could see what communal-living hostel-style is like. After our 2 hour DSC02548.JPG Sunday morning train ride, we arrived in a dreary Salzburg and made our way a couple miles through town to the hostel. From the outside, it was not really unlike a normal, smallish hotel. We checked in and went to our room, and that’s where the differences pick up. We were in an 8-bed dorm room with four bunk beds, shared with 3 British guys. The average hostel seems to be about $20/night/bed, so for one or two people it is a good deal. Once you start getting to 3, 4 or more people, it might be getting more expensive than a cheap hotel. But the services there were very nice. There were several large groups of student-aged people and a few big families, so there were always lots of people coming and going and congregating and whatnot.

So we immediately got our cycling gear on and set out with a map of the area in search of some mountains to climb (that was the easy part – finding them). It was perfect weather – sunny, low 70’s, not a could in sight, so I didn’t bother to bring anything besides by light wind vest. Alisha always carries her rain jacket, which turned out to be a very wise decision. We got to our first climb pretty quickly. Salzburg is in kind of a flat valley, so once you get out of town you can find any number of small roads that put you straight up into the Alps. DSC02516.JPGOnce again, I ran out of gears very quickly, and grinded (ground?) my way up for a couple kilometers while Alisha sped on ahead, still using her straight (racing) cassette (i.e. her gears don’t go as low as mine). But once we got up to the top of the first climb and were officially into the mountains, the roads was very pleasant; winding around and through the mountains, running along the edges of vast ravines, through rock tunnels and around valley lakes. Following our topo map, we found our way onto some dirt and gravel trails that were much more fit for mountain bikes, but we continued on anyway for maybe 8 miles on the dirt tracks. That’s when the ride turned into an adventure though, along the likes of The Odyssey or Shakelton’s expedition into the Antarctic.

OK, maybe “epic” is a bit dramatic, but it certainly has been an full and eventful week, and yes, it did include some epic portions. First off, though, I would like to thank Anke, my German co-worker in Cary, once again for providing some very useful feedback to my “Dining in Deutschland” post a couple weeks ago. She wrote me and offered some insights and answered a couple lingering questions. Most importantly, as you all may have noticed, I’m making sweeping generalizations the way people eat and live here, while I’ve really only experienced a small percentage of a single town in a single state (well, a couple towns). I guess this would be akin to a visitor to the United States driving around and eating in Alabama for a week, then concluding that in Boston and San Francisco there is a Bojangles on every corner, fried chicken it the mainstay of American diets, and it is considered customary to wear NASCAR hats at dinner (sorry to my faithful Alabama readers, I could have just as easily used NC! 😉 ) For example, the bier Prost+THUD is generally reserved for bars and biergartens, and you give a much more civilized “cheers” in real restaraunts. And getting water, Anke’s reasoning is “I can go to the bathroom and get water out of the sink, why would I ask to pay for it!?”, and I can’t say I can argue with that one. But the heavy knife usage at the table stems from the cultural value that is taught to all German children that you are always to have both hands on top of the table while dining – it is rude to have hands under the dinner table. So as long as you have both hands on the table, you might as well give them something to do, like push food around and slop gravey on meat with your knife!

But onto the last week. I think I mentioned that Alisha arrived last Monday, and we’ve been busy busy busy since then. In addition, I started German lessons 3 times a week last week, so that takes up quite a bit of time in the evenings. But last Thursday we took the night out and went up to the Munich Olympic Park in the north of the city for a free rock concert and some fireworks. We took the U-Bahn up to Olympic Park, and as we got closer to the park and the train got more and more crowded, I realized this was going to be more than a small show and fireworks display. My suspisions were confirmed when we got off the U-Bahn and walked towards the parks and saw 10’s of thousands of people in the park with a full size carnival/fair going on, complete with a giant ferris wheel, rows of art and food vendors, and lots of lights and noise. We wondered through the park a bit, tried to see what band was playing on the main stage but couldn’t really see through the crowds, so just found an open spot on a hill to wait for the fireworks, which were spectacular when they came. More interestingly, I think, though is the several bits of history behind the construction of the Olympic Park. First, if you go there, you’ll notice that it is constructed on several quite large hills, whereas the surrounding areas of Munich are relatively flat. Turns out, after much of Munich was destroyed by the Allies in WWII (and over 200,000 citizens killed in this city alone, btw) they dumped all the rubble and debris into a big open area north of the city. There was so much debris it made several sizeable mountains, so at some point during reconstruction they decided to turn the mountains of rubble into a park, so they covered it with dirt and grass, planted trees and made several lakes. Then Munich was chosen for the 1972 Summer Olympics, so they made the entire Olympic Village on the site of the former WWII trash pile. I guess that’s called turning a negative into a positive, eh? Of course, unfortnately we all know what the 1972 Munich Games are most famous for now though….. Another interesting fact about the park, though, is that the suspended translucent tile roof that spans all the buildings through the park is (or was, I don’t know about now) a world record for largest roof. As you can tell from the picture it’s quite magnificent.

Well, technically a Sunday Morning Post, but I really meant to write this last night! Big news now is that I’m back online, so between that and Alisha arriving tomorrow morning (after having not seen her in over a month, despite what the Watauga Democrat says), I will once again be complete. I decided to move my computer into the bedroom closer to the main street to see if I could pick up any open hot-spots, and sure enough, as soon as I turned it on the little Mac asked me if I wanted to join the open WLAN network. Sure I do – free, high speed internet! I don’t know where it’s coming from, but I have two guesses, and with either one I should be safe at least until our DSL connection is installed. The name of the network is “WLAN” and it is open and unencrypted, so that means it’s either 1) a cafe or coffee shop across the street giving away access, or 2) a personal network that has not been protected, as it should be. But I’m not worried because if someone has set up a wireless network and has neglected to rename it from the default “WLAN” and has not encrypted it, I doubt he can tell I’m leeching off of him, so I don’t think I’ll end up like this guy.

Anyway, I’ll try to catch everybody up on the last week of events, as well as update the photogalleries. I’ll go backwards, starting with my excellent bike ride yesterday afternoon. I took my bike down the Isar River, the main river running from South to North out of the Alps though the city, to the suburb of Gr√∫nwald. All in all I rode about 3 hours, and for at least 2 of those hours I was on dedicated bike or bike/walking paths, with no cars in sight. The bike path network is really amazing here – it is very developed and you can ride for miles and miles, from town to town without ever riding on a main road. It’s even better for mountain bikers because for every mile of paved bike paths, there’s probably 2 more of cinder/dirt paths suitable for mountain or cyclo-cross bikes. I had to take a couple short stints on the cinder paths, and my road bike handles them fine for the most part. But I was abrubtly reminded that I was, in fact, riding on 3/4 inch wide tires inflated to 120psi when the bike completely washed out from under me going around a slight turn on the cinder path. But hey, I can’t complain about some small dirt scratches when Alisha finished a 7 day stage race with 7 stiches in her knee last week, and was caught in 2 crashes in a high-speed criterium in Charlotte last night.