Tuesday, June 26, 2007

We interrupt this program...

Yeah, I know I haven't finished posting my Germany and Austria pics. but I thought I would break it up for now and let you all know how I have been spending my summer days. My next post will be the last ones of Europe.

First, let me say that even though I've had plenty of free time this summer, my funds for traveling are being used sparingly. Last week, Best Friend had a day off work and we were itching to do a great day trip. The problem? Neither of us have too much money to burn, so we did what we like to call our "Poor Girls Trip". Poor Girls Trips are not foreign to us, so we don't really mind. For example, we wanted to go to the Virgin Islands for spring break, but we decided the Bahamas would be cheaper. The Bahamas became our Virgin Islands. Even sadder, we decided to downgrade it even further to a Florida Keys trip. When we were 70 miles off the coast of Key West in the Dry Tortugas, I lied to myself that I was really in St. Johns. Another time, we were planning to live out our dream of going to Peru and hiking the Inca Trail past ancient Inca ruins to Machu Piccu, but decided we should put it off for another year and maybe make Mexico our Peru. After all, the Mayan Ruins at Chichen Itza are pretty cool... oh yeah and cheap!

So even though on this day we were wishing for a hike in the Alps, we settled for the Smokies and even though we wanted to go whitewater rafting, we settled for the $4 tubing down Deep Creek. Thus, Bryson City, NC came our Poor Girls Day Trip. It was awesome! We hiked to three waterfalls in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and then went tubing down the creek. It was the best tubing I've ever done! We actually hit a lot of whitewater and went over 3 ft.+ drops. It was way fun!
Best Friend and I were also missing taking pictures of the castles and ancient buildings, but we settled on hunting down a historic mill on the way home. I was actually very happy to find this one, just outside of Dillard, Ga., because I have tried to locate it three times already! Finally, my determination paid off and I was successful. It's not a castle, but for a Poor Girls Trip, it was just right.

So what else have I been doing this past week?
Planning a double birthday beach party for two of my friends! Here I am relaxing by the pool with a Pina Colada. The water balloons in the pool were for the war about to take place. And it did indeed turn out to be a war!
I'm glad that I didn't wear a solid white shirt!

Beer and insect repellant flowed freely.

...so I'm not sure if it was the bug spray or the beer taking effect in the picture! haha. Just kidding. They always look like this!

Ash, birthday girl #1 is on the right here with her sis Red.

At least one of them is happy to be here. That's because she's birthday girl #2!

Chillin' by the pool. In the background the very last of the water balloons has just been filled. We are on the brink of war here!

And by the look on my face, I think I had just been threatened.

The filthy aftermath of the fight.

The party moved indoors, mainly because everyone needed to change into dry clothes.
Isn't it funny when you click to enlarge photos such as this one and find that people in the background are making even funnier faces than the one in the foreground?
(Come on Red, couldn't you wait until you got home???)

Man, just looking at these photos make me glad that I'm not the drinker I once was!

Me to Red, "Here, taste how nasty this is!"
Red (through coughs and sputters), "Tastes like some feet or something!"

Ahhh yeah! Feeling good!


And yesterday, I took a trip with some friends, Ash and JM, in seach of a wedding destination to Amicalola Falls. This is the top of falls where it begins its 729 ft. drop the mountain.
I like this park a lot. Hiking the trails (especially the stairs) is a real butt kicker. But we all agreed that even though it's really nice, it's not a great place to have a wedding.
I saw a snake here on this day, too. I was told by JM that it was a Timber Rattlesnake, but I just took his word for it. I wasn't about to look close enough to see a rattle. The good news is I didn't burst into tears or vomit all over myself. Way better than some of my previous snake sightings, I'd say.
Soon after, a thunderstorm blew in and brought our day out and about in the mountians to an end. But before leaving the park, Ash and I made a quick stop in the visitor center to pick up some more information on the wedding facilities. When we came out, JM informed me that one of the park rangers--one that I would probably think was hot--was checking me out.
"Really?" I said excitedly. "One of the rangers? All I saw were those prisoners doing some clean up."
"No," he said. "It was one of the rangers. He was wearing the khaki suit."
I sighed, "But those were the prisoners!" Of course. Just my luck.
So this is what I have been up to. Next time I post, I'll get back with the program and post the last of my Germany and Austria pics.

Friday, June 15, 2007

German Castles

Of the many things I explored in Germany, the castles were, hands down, what I was most excited about seeing, in particular, King Ludwig II's Neuschwanstein Castle. So imagine my broken heart when I awoke in Munich to morning that looks like this photo to the left. It was 7 degrees celsius and pouring down rain. And I do mean pouring down rain. And it rained all day and non-stop. That would have been okay if we had booked the normal castle tour of Neuschwanstein where we stay nice and dry within the confines of the castle's roof. But not me, not the Outdoorsy Girl! We would take an adventure tour, not the normal.

The adventure included a bike ride around Swan Lake (yes, Peter Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake) and then a hike up a waterfall gorge to the castle. It would take more than heavy rainfall (and snowfall in the Alps) to keep me away from this dream of mine. Only six more people showed up for our tour and we all became good friends before the day was over. Best of all, less people meant that I could get a little closer to our super-duper hot (HAWT, I tell ya!) tour guide Brad, who spoke in the sexiest accent. (He was from South Africa).

Super-duper hawt Brad took this picture of Best Friend and me on our bike ride to Swan Lake. (*sigh* He touched my camera!) The castle is in the backround behind us. I had already ripped my stylish trashbag of a poncho and it would no longer stay upon my head, so I was completely soaked!

We made it to Swan Lake, where we could have taken a swim if we had wished. I didn't see the point in it being as I was as wet as could be already. I didn't see any swans either, but it was still pretty. I could only imagine how nice it tooked on a clear day when you could see the rows of Alpine peaks that the clouds were hiding from us on this day.

After bicycling Swan Lake and a bite of lunch in a warm, cozy restaurant, we began our cold and wet ascent up the waterfall gorge. The bridge clinging to the rock wall on the right hand side of this picture was part of hiking trail.

Our group heads up the trail. That's Brad in front with the yellow poncho. (As if he needed a special color to stand out! Did I mention how hot he was?)

We were getting close to castle level. There, you could walk up to the castle or take a side trail up, up , and up more to the Marienbruke (Mary's Bridge) where you have an excellent view of the castle and into the gorge we just hiked through.

Here's one of the photos I took of the castle from the Marienbruke.

See how happy I am to finally be with my castle?!

From within the castle, I had a view of the Marienbruke where I had just stood taking photos. It gave me some perspective on the hike I had just taken and why I was so tired. (Plus I didn't want to slow down on the hike or else Brad might think I was a wuss.)

We weren't allowed to take pics inside of the castle, but of course I sneaked a few anyway*. They aren't very good, though, so I will exclude them from the post.

After our day of adventuring in the rain and cold, those of us on the tour had become friends and we dined out at the Hofbrauhaus. It was so awesome to meet people from all over. The girl on the left end is from New Orleans, our cool guy friend is from Vancouver, Canada, the girl on the right side of him is from Australia, and then there's Best Friend. So where am I??

I'm right here with my new friend from New Orleans. (The two girls from New Orleans are sisters.)

And thanks to this beautiful photograph, I am reminded of how freakin' curly my hair gets when it's wet. This is my #1 reason for hating my southern United States humid climate. Every day is a bad hair day for me!

And thus ended our day of castle fun.

We began a new day of castle exploration the very next day with Harburg Castle. This is the oldest castle in Germany. It's between 900-1000 years old!

Here's looking up at the outside walls of the fortress. We went within the walls and climbed through a tower and walked along these fortress walls. Then we went inside the castle. It was very exciting for a history nerd like me to be within such an old, historic


Our tour guide told us that these spikes are the same ones that crushed down on the enemy as they tried to pass through the gates. She shared a lot of midieval war practices with us such as the slots in the wall where boiling water was poured upon the approaching enemy.

Yep, it was all very cool to me. I was very happy to be there. I am standing by the living quarters of the castle. I was beginning to wish that I had as castle, too.

You can see more of this part of the castle without me in front of it.

A view from the fortress wall.

I don't think that we were supposed to take pictures inside this castle, either but everybody else was doing it! So I did, too! This was in the main hall.

And this was the last of my castle visits in Germany. But we continued along the Romantic Road and made our way into the nearly perfectly preserved Midieval town of Rothenburg. It was awesome, but I have uploaded so many pictures to this post already. Rothenburg and Salzburg, Austria photos will have to wait to next post.

But seriously, don't you wish you had a castle?
*If you work for the State of Bavaria, Germany, then I was just kidding. I did not take any photos within the walls of the Neuschwanstein Castle, so don't even think about confiscating my camera.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pictures at last!

Finally, I am posting some of the photos from my trip! It took me forever to sort through them and when I was finally finished, I just didn't want to look at them any more! But I'm over that now, so here are some pics from my first two days...

Day One: Black Forest

Best Friend and I landed in Munich at 7:30 a.m. and immediately began exploring. (Even though we hardly slept at all on the plane. Who's got time for sleep?) We grabbed up our rental car, which happened to be a manual shift vehicle despite the fact that I had reserved an automatic. I still drove a few minutes on the autobahn despite being virginal to manual shift driving. Come on! It was the autobahn, wouldn't you? The only other gripe I have about the car and the ridiculous cost of gas is that we were given a Citroen, a tiny bubble of car. I mean, I am in Bavaria for petesake so where was my Bavaria Motor Works car or at least a Mercedes?!?

So we took our bubble car and headed down to the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) in a little town called Triberg. Triberg is not only home to the world's largest cuckoo clock but also Germany's highest waterfall.

This sign here to the left is welcoming us to Triberg and to this nature park in the southern Black Forest. (Or at least that is what I, who cannot speak or read any German thinks it says.)

I thought that the Black Forest was beautiful and not quite as Hansel and Gretel-ish as I had expected, though they did have some evil looking squirrels with very pointy ears. Actually, they were black or reddish colored and very cute.

See how pretty the hike through the forest was? It actually looked very much like the same forests in the Blue Ridge Mountians here at home. The biggest difference was that there were way more Spruce and evergreens than here. Not very scary at all...

Except for the evil tree stump that tried to eat me!

One of the cascades of the Triberg Falls.

And here's the big cuckoo clock. As you can see, we still had 10 minutes before the big cuckoo made his appearance and we just had too much to do to wait for him.

Day Two: Munich in the rain!

After a restful night in a hotel in Ulm, we got up early and headed back to the Munich airport to return our micro machine....I mean...car. We caught the train into Munich and checked into our hostel. Yes, I said hostel, not hotel. We really wanted to have a true European travel experience, despite the movie by the same title. In the end, it was cheaper, we made good friends, and no one chopped our fingers off. I was really glad that we chose this route. It was fun!

After checking in, we headed out to the Marienplatz downtown for some sight seeing. I was disappointed in the icky, cool drizzle we had for weather that day, but it didn't ruin our fun. (Bet you thought I was going to say, "It didn't rain on our parade", didn't you?)

Here's the gothic Rathaus (Old Town Hall), home of the famous Glockenspiel. As I stepped off the train, I could hear the bells ringing above as I ran up the stairs and out into the Marienplatz. I had perfect timing to to join the rest of the very large crowd to watch the Glockenspiel's display. Can you believe that they were actually doing construction on the tower that houses the glockenspiel? The wasn't good timing for my phototaking but at least I saw it!
Here's a shot I took while watching the show. It was actually very overrated but, as I said, at least I got to see it.

I loved the architecture of the old buildings. The dragon climbing the spire was just one of the millions of detail on the Rathaus. There were hundreds of statues of knights and important men and horses adorning the building. I liked the dragon the best, though. And let's just admit it...fire-breathing dragons climbing buildings are just way cooler than King Kong!

We also visited the cathedrals and other sites.

After climbing the steeple of Alter Peter, (Old Peter Cathedral), we had a good view of Munich.

If I look cold, it's because I am. In the background you can see the two-towered Frauenkirche. It was built in the 1400s and still stands despite the damage it suffered in WWII.

There are a couple of creepy, cool sites within this cathedral...like the "devil's footprint" at the entrance and the Emperor's Tomb (resting place of Ludwig the Bavarian, who died way back in the 1300's, I think!)

But I found the skeletal remains of St. Munditia in Alter Peter (Old St. Peter's Cathedral) to be the creepiest of all, so that's the pic I posted.

Perhaps the greatest discovery of the day was the world famous beer hall, the Hofbrauhaus. We loved this place so much that it became the new Vortex (as you all know, that's my favorite restaurant!). We ate here 3 nights in a row. It was such a fun atmosphere. You just walk right in and sit with people you don't even know and have a ball listening to the band and drinking beer.

These mugs were so huge, I could hardly hold mine up! I corrected this problem by drinking its contents. It was much lighter then.

It was here that I also enjoyed my first real German meal.

And finished it off with a pretzel. This is to scale. Keeping in mind the size of the mug, notice how the pretzel dwarfs the mug.

Germany made me very fat, by the way.

I still have many more tales and pics to share, so stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Back from Germany...

I've been back for 3 days now. The jet-lag has worn off. My feet are no longer swollen. I have stopped calculating "Munich time". But one thing that hasn't stopped yet...my mind is still spinning in the wonder of all the things I saw and experienced there.

This was my first trip to Europe and I don't think that I could've had a more near-perfect first-time European trip. The German people are very nice and welcoming. I made friends from every continent in the world (except Antarctica...and really, who lives there???). I learned a few more words in German. I explored all of Bavaria and spent a day in Austria. I saw the oldest castle in Germany. I saw the highest waterfall in Germany. I drove a stick shift for a few brief moments on the Autobahn (I have never driven a manual shift car, but they gave my automatic away and I couldn't resist a chance to try it out...Don't ask!) I ate a pretzel twice the size of my head and found a beer that actually didn't make me gag. (I'm not a beer drinker, so what can I say? I would be if I lived in Germany, though!) I visited the Neuschwanstein Castle, which has always been a dream of mine. I fell in love briefly with a beautiful German man at the Marienplatz in downtown Munich. I hiked in the Alps, rode a bike around Swan Lake, and drank from a spring in the Black Forest.

What could be better?

Maybe some pictures, you say?

I'm still sorting through the 900 or so of them. I'll be posting a few soon!

Now it's time for y'all to catch me up on what's been going on since I've been gone...
P.S. I was a good girl and didn't crack any of my poor-taste jokes about Nazis. This was a milestone for me as typically I will call anyone a Nazi who is bossy and rude. Once it almost slipped as the waiter we had at the Hofbrauhaus (on our third night out there) was not nice and told us we had to get a pretzel elsewhere. I covered nicely, though as I exclaimed, "Sheeeesh! He didn't have to be such a Pretzel Na....uhhh...Not-Giver-Outer!"

Bad, I know. Blame it on Seinfeld.