After an overnight stop in Amsterdam, Dawn and I flew back to the States on Monday. The flights out of Amsterdam were looking pretty nasty for this week - apparently many people returning from Lebanon and Isreal are buying up remaining seats - but we got two of the last few seats on Monday's AMS-SEA flight.
OK, want a laugh? Dawn and I nonrevved to Europe at the height of the tourist season fully expecting to get stuck at some point, and allowing time for that. But all our European flights worked out just fine - Portland-Atlanta-Zürich, Munich-Amsterdam, and Amsterdam-Seattle. So where do we finally get stuck? In Seattle, trying to get to Portland on my own airline! We got bumped off 5 flights, which is admittedly only 2.5 hours' worth.
Prior to coming back, the heat was starting to get to us and we were kinda looking forward to having an air conditioned house to come back to. Now that we're back, of course, the rose-coloured glasses have come on and we're wishing we were still traveling. Despite the heat and other minor inconveniences, we really did enjoy the trip, we packed a lot of great experiences & unforgetable sights into 2.5 weeks. In no particular order, some of my favorite memories were:
- Eating in Switzerland. We ate like kings on very little money in a country where dining out is famously expensive. We did quite a bit of our own cooking in hostel kitchens, shopping at local Migros and Coop grocery stores, which was a fun slice of local life. Another way of eating good on the cheap was by frequenting Manora Restaurants in the Manor Department stores. It's a self-service restaurant, but you can get a generous serving of delicious hot food for like 10 CHF ($8). It's where the locals go on lunch break. Oh, and the Manora in Luzern has a great rooftop terrace:
- Sitting on the sundeck at Mountain Hostel in Gimmelwald, talking politics and culture with our new friends over drinks as we watched the mountains across the valley turn crimson and then velvet in the fading light.
- Schönbielhütte was, I think, the single coolest place we visited this trip. The Alps aren't like the Cascades or Rockies in the US where you have sizable wilderness areas; the Alps have been thoroughly blasted, graded, tunneled through, overtrod, overgrazed, festooned with cable cars and ski lifts - they even have a train station that's inside a glacier (Jungfraujoch). There are relatively few hikable places in the Alps where you get a sense of the wildness that struck fear into early inhabitants of the area. At Schönbielhütte you get a glimpse into the untamed high country as it existed hundreds of years ago. From a sturdy stone lodge with electricity, heat, and running water that serves hot food and cold brews, that is.
- Floating the Eisbach in München with the locals. It was hot as blazes, so everyone flocked to Englischer Garten to cool off. I'd walk about 1km upstream from "our" spot, jump in the rapidly moving stream, float down to Dawn, then get out and walk upstream again. I'd be just about dry and getting hot by the time I got to the jumping in point again. Good refreshing fun! It was made more interesting by the Munich tradition of nude sunbathing in Englischer Garten. I saw more naked fat pasty German dudes than I really needed to. At one point like six old guys jumped in the river ahead of me, creating a seemingly unpenetrable wall of saggy clammy flesh. I swam for my life and somehow came through unscathed, at least physically. Good times, man. Good times.
- Bräustubls and Beer Gardens in Salzburg and Munich. Good food, awesome brew, reasonable prices. Particular rave reviews for Andechs Monastary south of Munich. Best. Beer. Ever. Beer like that could make the whole celibacy thing tolerable.
- Meeting an old Belgian couple on our hike from Männlichen to Wengen. He fought in WWII (I didn't ask for whom) and they'd been married for 60 years. She asked us where we were from, & when we said Portland Oregon, her eyes lit up and she grabbed Dawn and gave her a hug. Turns out their son married an American-Swiss girl and now lives in Portland. Of course we didn't know him, but she clearly missed her son and was delighted for any link to him. It was fairly amusing when she asked whether people from Portland were "more peaceful than most Americans" as "we don't like the war or Bush at all, we think he's a very bad man." I was groping for an answer when her husband broke in with a grin: "We don't talk about that with friends, it's a dangerous subject here!"
- Climbing Schilthorn. It's not a technical climb, just a long hard hike (with vertical that approximates climbing Oregon's Mt Hood from Timberline). I'd be hoping to do it this trip but was hesitant because my knee was giving me grief. I finally decided to compromise by climbing it and then taking a cable car back down, since that's where my knee had been having problems. Yes, there's a cable car to the top, which I guess makes climbing it somewhat pointless. I prefer to think that gaining the meters the hard way made the views more sublime. Plus I enjoyed some lovely pastoral scenery on the way up, and got to sample some alpine milk fresh from the cow.
- Showing Dawn Amsterdam. We didn't really do anything in our short time there, just enjoyed the laid-back atmosphere. We sat along one of the canals and watched all the canal boats out on their Sunday cruises.