Stuttgart to Paris

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Today, I’m on the TVG from Stuttgart, Germany to Paris, France. The TGV is France’s equivalent to the German ICE high-speed trains. On average, they are a bit older, but also a bit nicer. They have wider seats, better service, and generally free meals, at least in 1st class coaches, although even these are about equivalent to coach meals on international flights. Breakfast today included orange juice, tea, bread, yogurt, and a bit of cold egg and meat packed in plastic. Since I already ate in Stuttgart, I just picked through the items.


I learned from coworkers that this particular route is fairly new, as France has only laid the high-speed tracks between Paris and Strasbourg in the last few years. The new tracks decreased the travel time between the cities from around 5 hours to less than 3. The entire trip over land from Stuttgart today till be about 3 1/2 hours, which isn’t much more than the total trip time by air, without all the hassles and security. Add this full-sized table, and an onboard restaurant, and WiFi, and it hardly compares! I’ve seen some people seemly bring half their office, lay it out all over the table, and work for hours. In fact, one of our senior engineers from the Eningen office does this from his house in Hamburg nearly every week.
In most of the US, of course, we travel nearly exclusively by air, which means any work we do either happens at the gate, in the club lounge at the airport, or using the tiny fold-down tables on the plane…usually without Internet access. Not particularly conducive to getting work done. Over the years, I’ve basically given up trying. I’ll usually just watch recorded TV on my laptop, watch movies or read on my iPad, or just listen to audio books when traveling, and just factor that into my work travel schedule.
Today though, I’m just enjoying a peaceful and fairly relaxing travel experience, and trying not the think of the sardine-packed coach flight back to the US tomorrow.

German Rail Pass

This German Rail pass is awesome! Non-german citizens can buy a pass that allows unlimited train travel for a certain number of days. You can just get on any (DBbahn) train, at any time, going anywhere in Germany. No specific schedule, no racing to the train worried that the ticket you bought will be worthless because it was non-refundable and tied to a specific train. Being able to just grab any train, whenever you want is just freeing in a way that’s hard to describe when you are used to non-refundable, non-changeable plane tickets! 
Another cool thing about DBBahn is their iOS app. It allows you to look up train schedules and check real-time status of trains. If you have Internet access, either though the train WiFi, or 3G service, you can even track your progress and map the train routes as you go using your current GPS location. This latter feature is great when you’re on a trip, allowing you to see which trains are going to be available at the next city and if they are running on time. I used this today to determine the best train to catch when I arrived in Munich. I was also able to find a shortcut by getting off the IC train a couple stations early, and taking a quick regional train diagonally cutting off about 30 minutes of additional track through Stuttgart, like I would normally do.
As great as this weekend has been, it is Sunday night, and tomorrow, it’s back to work…

Zugspitze, Germany


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This was something I have been looking forward to for a while. Growing up in the northern US, I went skiing regularly. I even have a couple ski instructors in the family. However, since I moved to Texas about 12 years ago, I have only been skiing once. I won’t be skiing today either since I only have part of an afternoon for the adventure, though I still love mountains and snow…as long as I can just visit, and then go home to warmer weather and palm trees afterwords…


I arrived at the Cogwheel train station, right behind the DBBahn station in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, around 9:00 am for the 9:15 train to Eibsee. After a 30 minute scenic, but rickety, old-school, train ride along the valley floor I left the train and headed over to the cable car station which would take me to the top of the peak. That is an amazing and scary ride! Thousands of feet, nearly vertical, hanging from a seemingly thin cable, in a plastic-enclosed metal box. Even I, who loves heights and can’t get enough of things like this, was a little nervous for this ride, but we made it just fine.






The view is breathtaking! You can see seemingly 100s of miles into Austria, Switzerland, and Germany. The day was crystal clear, not a cloud in the sky, and a first for me at 10,000 feet…no wind! They say they have seen winds up to 200kph, and regularly see high winds at the peak, but today it was calm, sunny, and actually not all that cold considering. It was about 28’F around noon, but with the sun out, and heavy clothes on, it was nice. The bear garden  even has tables setting outside and people were sitting out there getting sun.
 


After taking a phone full of pictures, I went downstairs for some tea and to warm up, then to the restaurant for lunch. I had the spaghetti, since I had missed out on that last night, it was excellent! 


At that point it was time to start heading back. The first step was to get down from the summit to the cogwheel train station at the ski lodge Zugspitzplatz, a couple 1000 feet down below us. Unfortunately, I was just a few minutes too late for the next train down the mountain, so I had to wander around for another 50 minutes or so. No big deal since I didn’t really have a firm schedule, I just need to be back at the office by tomorrow…







The cogwheel train travels nearly the entire way back down to the valley floor inside a tunnel that was originally dug back in the 1920s, and then modified to its current configuration in 1987. It takes almost an hour in the tunnel to get back to Eibsee, where I got off before to take the cable car up, then about another 30 minutes back to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. I hurried back over to the hotel, which was holding my bag while I visited the summit, then back to the train station for the regional DBBahn train out of the valley and back to Munich.

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This was definitely a short and tiring trip two-day trip, but worth it. Add this to the list of places to come back and spend more time! Gotta go catch the train back to the office!



Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

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We arrived right on time as usual, and I walked across the street to my hotel for the night, Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten. It’s a nice little place, traditional German just like the hotel I usually stay at in Reutlingen, simple and older, but clean and friendly. I dropped off my bags and headed into town. I needed to buy a pair of gloves for the mountains tomorrow, and figured I’d grab an early dinner as well.


The Partenkirchen side of town has a very large tourist-oriented shopping area with lots of restaurants. I found a great deal on a decent pair of gloves for €3 at of all places, Woolworths!


For dinner I found a couple of Italian places, but it was too early, and most everything was closed until later at night. Not really into yet another traditional German meal (I’ve been eating mostly traditional German food for a week straight now), I opted to stop by Burger King for take-away (trying to explain mostly in English, that I wanted ketchup, not mayonnaise, with both the fries and the hamburger), and headed back to my room to eat, write, and nap. Tomorrow will be a long day!


On the Road Again…

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Ah, on the road, er tracks, again! It’s good to be moving again, after a week in the office. I like spending a week in an office sitting in front of a computer as much as the next person, but as exciting as that is, it pales in comparison to trekking all over Germany by high-speed train, taking in the sights!


Today I’m heading to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, by way of Munich. Tonight I’ll check out the old Olympic town and relax a bit, then tomorrow I hope to visit Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, to get a bird’s eye view of Germany, Austria, and maybe a little of the Czech Republic, and Switzerland.


So far the trip has been uneventful, just rolling hills of green, brown, and yellow fall colors. The best part is certainly the regional train from Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. First you pass along the western shore of Lake Starnberg, which is very scenic and home to various watersports. In November, however, all the boats are out of the water and wrapped in plastic for the winter. Then you begin to approach the mountains and enter a valley. The train travels along the valley floor with mountains rising on either side. It is quite beautiful.

11-11-11 Birthday!

Today is my birthday! …Er, yay? Well, I don’t seem to be nearly as excited as I was many years ago. Most of us look forward to each and every birthday until we’re in our 20s or so, then we gradually start looking backwards, wondering where all the time went, then start dreading every year as they seem to go by faster and faster. Spending it 1000s of miles away from family on a different continent doesn’t help either.
However, thanks to all our modern gadgets and the Internet, we can stay connected more than ever. Using Skype, my daughter got to wish me happy birthday today face-to-face before leaving for school. It’s not exactly like being there, but it’s great to have, and a far cry from the old days of post cards and even phone calls. Being able to see the people you are talking to makes all the difference.
I’ll be back home to Texas in a week, so we’ll have US Thanksgiving together as a family, and maybe we’ll celebrate my birthday a week later. But, being able to stay in touch while abroad, makes the time apart all the more bearable.
Until next year…
Venice last summer

Back to the Grind – German Office

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Today, I’m on my way from Dresden, Germany to our office near Reutlingen. I’m currently riding the 109 ICE train from Leipzig to Munich. Unfortunately, much of this route runs on older tracks, so it has been a rather slow and bouncy ride. Still, the trains handle it well and they are fairly comfortable. Power outlets, tables, large seats, AC, and food service don’t hurt either. 

Leipzig Main Station
The airlines could certainly learn something from the BDBahn…or just about any European train company for that matter. While they’re at it, they should check out the American TV show Pan Am. Quality of the show aside, those were certainly the Goode Olde days of air travel. I will concede though that the prices, relatively speaking, were higher then for most flights than we see now. You would not, for example, likely have gotten a $9 (plus baggage, tax, fees, etc.) flight from Orlando to Miami like you sometimes get now in the US.
Some views of the Southeastern Germany countryside
Tomorrow it’s back to work. Next weekend though, I’m off to the Top of Germany! I’m going to check out Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

Dresden, Germany

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I won’t go into much history or detail of the city, since plenty has been written on that subject. Instead, I’ll just post some of the pictures of the historic city that I took last night and this morning. It’s quite an amazing place, and I will definitely come back and spend some serious tourist time there someday.
Just standing there on the lawn of the far bank, looking across the Elbe river at the city skyline, I could barely imagine all the events that have taken place there. Not just in World War II, but over the last several thousand years. Learning my history in US schools, I never heard much of Dresden before 60-70 years ago (has it really been that long?), but it turns out the region has a rich history going back thousands of years, and we have detailed records from hundreds of years including the Kingdom of Saxony.
Here are some of the sights I found interesting:
 
 Awesome Sycamore Trees!

This park and all the trees were built on top of the old city wall and Brick Gate.
But they have excavated much of it in recent years.
 This fountain and park sits directly over the the ancient main city entrance, now underground.

 Many buildings were destroyed in World War II, but have since been rebuilt brick by brink and restored.

 
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Innside Dresden – Hotel Review

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I stayed at the Innside in Dresden, Germany for one night. This is an awesome Melia-branded hotel, right in the middle of the historical district and all the museums right on the Elbe river. It was a 5 minute and €6 taxi ride from the Dresden Hauptbahnhof (Hbf or main train station). It was recently completely renovated and looks very modern and Chic inside.
After checkin, I dropped my bags in the room and went down for dinner at the hotel restaurant. I had a €30 coupon for food with my €100 room rate. Though it was nearly empty for a Saturday evening, it turned out to be a great move since the meal, and the experience, was amazing! After ordering, I was invited by the chef (a 20-something, dressed up in formal Chef attire, hat and all!) into the kitchen to sample some Hors d’œuvre. One was a small piece of seasoned beef on top of a sort of mashed potato mixture. It was amazing, as was my main meal, which was a slipper lobster tail, split and served on a bed of some sort of steamed macro algae (I have this in my salt water fish tank, but have never considered cooking it before!), with some pasta and dried-veggie-artwork garnish. Both the presentation and the meal were great, and the whole thing with tip and my coupon came to €6!
It wasn’t too late yet, so I decided to have a look around and take some nighttime pictures. There were actually quite a few couples and families out and about, and with all the lights Dresden was quite beautiful even in the dark.
When I got back to the room, I unpacked a few things and hooked my laptop up to the huge flat-screen TV mounted on the wall and watched a little recorded TV and relaxed.
The next morning I got up fairly early and went out for a few hours to see what I could before catching my train at noon. I grabbed a quick breakfast at the bakery right around the corner, then made a fairly wide loop around the downtown historical district, the river Elbe, bridges, and the flood lawn parks. I snapped a whole phone-camera-full of pictures in just a couple hours. When I arrived back where I started, I took a tour of the old Brick Gate. Today it is completely underground, as a city park and lots of buildings are now standing over the gate, but it has recently been excavated and is open to the pubic for €4. It’s pretty amazing that it is all still intact under all that rock and dirt just off the banks of the Elbe.
With my time in Dresden running short, I grabbed my bags from the room, checked out, and headed for the train station and my next adventure: Leipzig, Nürnberg, and Reutlingen.

From West to East – Germany on ICE

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The flight from the US arrived right on time, EU immigration was simple as usual (they often don’t even ask any questions, just make sure your passport picture matches and stamp it!), my bag was 3rd to come out of the baggage claim ramp, the ATM worked on the first try, and the O2 store was able to put another 5GB of 3G data on my iPad SIM card, so things were going well so far! This luck, as it turns out, was going to continue. After a short walk across the airport to the train station, stopping by Starbucks for a Frappuccino and some free WiFi (somewhat rare in Germany as I’ve learned), I headed down to the tracks to catch the ICE to Dresden. The train, of course, arrived right on time, and I was on my way.


The Inter-City Express (ICE) trains, which run throughout Germany and a few major cities in surrounding countries, are some of the nicest and fastest trains in Europe. On specially-built tracks they can reach speeds of up to 300 KPH (about 186 MPH), though much of the time they have to use older tracks or pass through cities or stations and must slow down. Regardless, they are super quiet, usually making less noise than your modern home AC as heard from your living room couch. When running on high-speed tracks they are almost completely silent and smooth, you’d have to look out the window to be sure you’re even moving. Today’s trip is on a combination of tracks, so we keep speeding up, then slowing down, for the whole 5 hour trip through Leipzig to Dresden.


After an hour or so resting, I decided to go have lunch. Most ICE trains like this one have a Bordbistro, or basically a restaurant car near the center. They have a pretty decent menu and serve food on china with real silverware and glasses. I chose what turned out to be basically the filling from a pot pie with rice. It was great, like most food I’ve encountered in Germany.


The trip was otherwise uneventful. I watched some recorded TV I brought with me on my laptop (Windows Media Center is awesome!), wrote this blog post, took some pictures, and otherwise just watched out the window at things racing by. It’s just on the tail end of the fall color here, so the trees along the rolling hillsides are full of reds and yellows.


Next stop Dresden!



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