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Monday, April 16, 2012

Second trip to Europe in a month

Tomorrow my friends and I head out for the European vacation that has been in planning for many, many months and has undergone a number of transformations.

It began when a couple of friends invited me to join them for part of their month long trip to Avignon in the South of France.  An excuse to go to Europe is hard to resist so I started thinking.  Then, when a British friend, Jenni, told me that she was getting relocated to Switzerland (just a train hop away from Avignon), the thinking became much more serious.  I sent out feelers to my traveling friends and got positive hell yes's from Beth & Marcie.  We started saving our money and dreaming up what we would do when we got there. 

I was going to school taking some web application classes and one of the assignments was to create a web page that involved a topic that we researched.  Since I had research to do on my trip and my Avignon trip friends were looking for a place to share information, was born.  :) 

As the weeks and months drew on, it ended up that my British friend would be staying in the UK after all.  We still thought Switzerland would be a nice place to visit, but then Stephanie came along and said that she wanted to join our trip and said, "We need to go to Amsterdam! Please, please, please!!"  We sent numerous emails and spent a number of evenings poring over dozens of travel books.  We even poured red wine all over Marcie's laptop!  Oops.  :/

At last it was decided we would spend 16 days between three cities Avignon, Amsterdam and Paris, 4 days in each city, 3 days spent traveling. 

There are so many things to see.  When people ask what I'm most excited for, it's really hard to say.  Today, I'm most looking forward to a day trip to Nimes where we'll see Roman ruins, aqueducts and an area and stop at the Jardins de la Fontaine. 

From there, we'll hop on the train again and head South to the sea.  It'll be too cold for a swim at Le Grau-du-Roi beach, but we'll still dip our toes in and I'll pick up some sand to add to Stacy's sands of the world collection.  (I think I am the largest contributor to the collection so far.)

We'll be going on a wine tour on Saturday which sounds wonderful by all accounts.  All too soon, we'll be hopping on the train for 6 hours to Amsterdam.

The place I'm most excited about in the Netherlands is the Keukenhof gardens - about 45 minutes from Amsterdam. Our timing should hopefully be perfect for tulip viewing.

Jenni will be coming in from the UK to join us.  Very much looking forward to seeing her!  May even have a chance to share a drink with another UK coworker who will be there for the weekend.  :)

In Paris, there are so many great things to see, it's hard to know where to start.  We're lucky enough to have my coworker Nicolas show us around the Palace of Versailles and then we get to show him around the Louvre.  Can you believe he's lived in or around Paris all his life and has never seen it???  We're only planning on a one day stop at the Louvre though I have heard that you can't see the whole thing in a week.  We'll have to choose wisely...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Hello Munich, you beautiful town, you!

Tuesday night, we arrived at the chic, clean, trendy, sleek, and minimalistic Motel One Munich too late to do much other than check in.  One thing that I found pretty amusing off the bat was that the hotel reception was an extension of the bar.  The hotel greeters/concierges or whatever you call them were also the bartenders.  There was a pretty decent sized crowd hanging out in the lounge area, animatedly into their soccer game on the many tv's hanging around the lounge.  Everything including the dress (and the eyes) of the staff was teal, black, and white.

Work meetings went swimmingly again.  We got a nice tour of the German office.  It's a brand new office for them with a nice view with the offices creating a U shape around a large, shared indoor courtyard with lots of light.  The kitchen/lounge area had a cappuccino maker. At the beginning of our tour, Olaf took a "forecast" of how many of us wanted cappuccino's.  By the end, he had delivered the best cappuccinos of the trip and brought a couple extra as "safety stock" for any drop in orders for those who saw how much the rest of us were enjoying ours. 

That night, we went to the city center near the Opera House.  I was charmed and dizzy with the sheer volume of beautiful architecture in Munich.  Miriam (my brilliant German coworker/guide) had made reservations for 12 of us at a place called the Spatenhaus. They had what I thought was an odd and profuse number of small, horned animal skulls on the walls, but this apparently is considered the standard in restaurant decor for Munich.  The menu was huge! It rivaled the Cheesecake Factory's menu, but instead of a huge section on
cheesecakes, half of this menu was devoted to booze. I'm ok with this.  I was pleased to see Franziskaner, a beer that Tiberius's father, Bill, stocks at his lavish Septemberfest party.   Here there were 5 different flavors of Franziskaner but the waitstaff assumes that Americans only want the blonde.  At Olaf's suggestion, I had the  crispy suckling pig with potato dumplings.  It was as delicious as the name sounds and the Bavarian creme for dessert was incredible.

My American and English coworkers all headed home that Friday night or Saturday. Miriam & I scooted out at 5:00 Friday to begin a wonderful weekend.  I must have easily said "Wow, that's beautiful!" 100 times.  The architecture, the people, the food are extraordinarily beautiful.  I was humbled and impressed with how many people could speak English and speak it well - even after an impressive amount of beer.  ;)

There was a beer festival going on.  I would never have imagined to see so many liderhosen or dirndels!  And the beer steins are as big as your head.  The only people present at the beer hall that night that seemed grouchy were the poor waitresses carrying 6 per hand while squeezing through the drunken masses.  The beer hall was huge inside and out with row after row of wooden tables; everyone standing on their benches while listening to the band play such songs as Dancing Queen, Sweet Caroline, and Ein Prosit. We found a couple open spots at the end of a table and climbed up on the benches with a fun, and friendly group.  Miriam is a big fan of toasting, we said Cheers many times that night.  Very cute.  I wondered if all Germans toast so much or if it was just her. 

The beer hall closed earlier than I would have expected.  11pm I think?  So our new friends suggested going to a place called Ruby's.  Munich already reminded of my favorite local band Alacartoona, who's female vocalist is the lovely and amazing, Ruby Falls.  How could I resist going to a place sharing her name?  What a great way to end the first evening in Munich!!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Goodbye Paris

Our meetings in Paris with our French office and our Belgian office went so much better than any of us expected or hoped for. With all of today's technologies at our fingertips, it's easy to think that we can accomplish anything through email,phone calls, web or video conferences. This week certainly proved that there is no replacement for good old fashioned face to face meetings. We had met as a large group of 30 or so a number of times, but even that didn't hold a candle to being able to sit, listen and understand one office at a time.

After a productive day of meetings, we took the subway to Chez Flottes for dinner. We were ushered into a basement room with one huge table surrounded by mirrors and curtains. We joked that if we were in the states this room would be reserved for the mob. Our American and UK contingent arrived promptly on time and waited for over30 minutes for the French and Belgians to navigate through the fierce Parisian traffic by car.

Ok, on to the good stuff... Food! I was surprised that most menus in Paris featured lots of steak, some seafood and very little or no chicken. Chicken being my favorite meat, I was excited to find a free range roasted chicken with potatoes. I know, doesn't sound very exotic or French, but it was delightful! I followed my French coworkers lead and ordered an Affligem Belgian beer or three. A great pairing. I told the Belgians that Belgian beers are my favorite beers to which they said, "I'm sure you'll tell the Germans the same next week!"

For dessert I figured it had to be done and ordered the creme brûlée. Omg was it good! I tapped the spoon on the crust a bit, enjoying the crackling noise, then dug in, pretty much inhaled it and decided it was the best creme brûlée I had ever had. It was all I could do to keep from licking the bowl.

Favorite quote of the night was from an English coworker,"they must have thought I was pissed but I was just extremely knackered!" Speaking of being knackered, we were pretty tired from a full day & jet lag,so we retired to bed straight from dinner.

We had another great day of meetings (I can't believe I just said "great" and "day of meetings" in the same sentence.) and then, after only two nights in Paris it was time to head to Munich.