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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Country Recap: Ireland

Sunrise on the last day of our trip

We didn’t realize it when we booked our flight home, but we actually had a 14 hour layover in Dublin. We decided to take advantage of this and??stayed at a??hostel that was right in the Temple Bar area of town. Once we got checked in (which took forever because the hostel had messed up our booking), we went out looking for a pub. Many of them had already closed for the night, but we found a lively one with a band playing an eclectic mix of tunes. Since we didn’t feel like dancing, we went over to the quiet half of the pub and tried a pint of Guinness. It really does taste better??in Ireland, although I’m not exactly sure how to describe the difference. The flavor seemed richer and the texture was nice and velvety.

The next morning we had enough time for our second major objective: an Irish breakfast. We went to The Earl, a little place where everyone seemed to know each other. I asked Dennis, the owner, what a traditional Irish breakfast consists of, and he explained that it depends on who you talk to.??In his opinion, it’s an egg, beans, rashers, and pudding, both white and??black. I said that’s what I wanted and he even threw in sausage and toast for free. It didn’t look like a whole lot on the plate, but it was very filling and delicious.

After that we went on an hour walk through the city. We saw Grafton Street, Trinity College, St. Stephen’s Green, and Dublin Castle. I would have loved to see more, but by then it was time to head to the airport and bring our year-long trip to an end.

Top experience?

Nikki: Eating an Irish breakfast.

Brad: The Irish breakfast.

Bottom experience?

Nikki: Dealing with our stupid hostel. The staff seemed to have no idea what was going on and the place was really dirty.

Brad: Dealing with the hostel. They got our reservation wrong and it took a long time to sort out.

Favorite??person we met?

Nikki: Dennis, who gave us a great breakfast.

Brad: Dennis, the owner of the place we ate our traditional Irish breakfast. He was very nice and talkative.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: Going through US customs and immigration in the Dublin airport. My passport had somehow been marked as invalid, so we had to go to the “Admissions Review” room in the back and get grilled by an incredulous officer for five minutes. Luckily they decided we weren’t a national security threat.

Brad: The U.S. customs pre-clearance process. The line was long and slow and the personnel rude. Nikki went to the “extra questioning” area because the Bangkok embassy messed up when she got extra passport pages. Our flight was 30 minutes late because of how slow the overly-paranoid U.S. government bureaucracy was.

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Country Recap: Germany

We visited Germany twice on our quick spiral around Western Europe. We spent several quick days in the north of Germany and wrapped up our trip by celebrating Oktoberfest in Bavaria. There’s a lot left to see in this country, but it’ll have to wait for a future trip. Here’s what we thought about what we did see.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Oktoberfest!
  2. The English Garden in Munich. It was a little chilly out, but besides that, it was a great place to hang out and listen to music.
  3. The random pub we went to in Hamburg.

Brad:

  1. Oktoberfest. We had a lot of fun! The rotisserie chicken was really, really good.
  2. Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. Hanging out on a runway was pretty fun!
  3. Hamburg’s trendy HafenCity.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The snorer we had in our room in Berlin. I am not going to miss sleeping in dorms!
  2. Cold, rainy weather in all three cities.
  3. Visiting the Berlin wall.

Brad:

  1. The S- and U-Bahn route map in Berlin was impossible to read.
  2. The Berlin Wall. The cheesy graffiti just didn’t do it for me.
  3. We had a snorer in our room in Berlin.

Best meal?

Nikki: I think the currywurst at Oktoberfest was the best, but I also enjoyed all the pretzels, bratwurst, and chicken.

Brad: The rotisserie-grilled half-chickens at Oktoberfest. The meat just fell off the bone.

Worst meal?

Nikki: I can’t really think of anything bad…

Brad: The buffet breakfast we had at our hostel in Berlin sucked. It was expensive, but ended up being little more than toast.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Peter, the friend we made at Oktoberfest. He was a really funny, interesting guy.

Brad: Peter from Oktoberfest.

Worst disaster?

Nikki: We had a near-miss when Brad thought he had lost his wedding ring (turns out it was in his backpack), but I think the worst thing that happened was when we accidentally paid double for the Munich transportation system day pass.

Brad: Hamburg’s City Hall was closed to tours when we visited because Parliament was in session.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: The Superbude Hostel in Hamburg. It was a new hotel-hostel fusion and turned out to be a great place to stay.

Brad: Despite being in the middle of nowhere, our hostel room in Munich was pretty nice.

Worst place we stayed?

Nikki: The Meininger Hostel in Berlin. It was a new hotel-hostel fusion and turned out to be a bad place to stay.

Brad: The hostel in Berlin. The staff didn’t record that we paid our second night, and wanted us to pay twice. The staff weren’t friendly.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: I’d say the river surfers in Munich. Watching them was pretty fun.

Brad: All of the tourist industry street workers in Berlin were focused at the Brandenburg Gate. There was an incredible concentration of human statues, people dressed in old US or Soviet military uniforms, and pretzel vendors. There were also a fair number of people making a living by wearing gorilla or bear suits.

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Ending With a Bang: Oktoberfest

We’ve always been planning to begin our trip in New Zealand and end it in Oktoberfest. I don’t remember how we came up with this idea, but as soon as we did, I knew it was perfect. The world’s largest beer festival would be a fitting way to end our year-long escapades. That we actually stuck to our plan and made it here is pretty hard to believe.

We spent two days at Oktoberfest. The first time we went was on Friday night and it was wild. The grounds were so packed we could barely walk around. In our first ten minutes there, we saw dozens of people passed out or puking in the grass. After that, we saw a bouncer beat up some guy that was trying to sneak into a tent. You can only get beer if you’re sitting in a tent, and the tents were all packed. Instead of an orderly line waiting to get in, there were just masses of people crowding around the door, occasionally getting pushed back by the security guards. It was all a little too rough for our tastes.

Eventually we found a small, mellow beer garden with room for us, so we sat down and met a group of people from New York (one of them grew up with Wisconsin basketball player Trevon Hughes) and an older German guy named Peter. Peter teaches English in Germany and has traveled extensively, including hitchhiking through America in the 80′s. He went backpacking through ??Tahiti on his latest trip. He was a cool guy and we ended up hanging out with him the rest of the night. Later on we managed to get inside the??Schottenhamel tent, which is the oldest and largest one. It seats 10,000 people and is where the mayor taps the first keg each year. While we were there, we stood on a table with a group of young people from Munich. They explained to us that ten years ago, nobody wore the traditional??lederhosen or??dirndl, but in more recent years it’s become cool again and now everybody wears it.

We spent most of Saturday recovering and on Sunday we did some sightseeing in Munich. We watched the surfers in a man-made wave in the??Isar River, relaxed in the beer garden under the Chinese pagoda in the English Garden, and saw the central square and cathedral. Before we went back to the Oktoberfest grounds on Monday, Brad decided he wanted to get into the spirit of the party, so he bought his own lederhosen, checkered shirt, and wool socks.

Oktoberfest on Monday was much calmer than it had been on Friday night. We looked inside all the big tents and ate some incredible food. There are stands with rows and rows of rotisserie chicken. I had the best currywurst I’ve had yet. Then we checked out the massive carnival part of the grounds. It’s about the size of several football fields and includes some pretty intense rides. After spending the afternoon there, we went straight to the airport and boarded our plane. However, before we went home, we enjoyed a little bonus time in Dublin…

Country Recap: Switzerland

Switzerland is amazing! We have had so much fun in the little bit of time we’ve spent here.

Zurich is a nice city, but the real highlight of our time there was staying with Laura and Brad and their son, Nathan. Before moving to Switzerland, they lived in Waunakee and became friends with Brad’s Aunt Michelle. Now they’ve been in Zurich for four years, but luckily for us they still keep in touch with Michelle and invited us to stay with them. Besides giving us advice on our trip, keeping us entertained, and letting us play with Legos (Legos have come a long way these past twenty years!), they also introduced us to one of the best inventions of modern times: raclette. Forget Swiss Army Knives and velcro. Raclette is the best thing to come out of Switzerland. Basically, raclette is a type of cheese that everyone melts in small pans in a grill on the table and then eats with potatoes and vegetables. Laura and Brad add a Wisconsin touch and serve it with sausage, too. Amazing.

We also spent a couple of days in the Jungfrau Region of the Alps. I’m sure this won’t surprise any of you, but the Swiss Alps are stunning. Just look at the pictures. Our first day was overcast and drizzly, but luckily it was clear the next morning. We went hiking and saw incredible scenery. It reminded me of New Zealand. The crisp mountain air was invigorating and we only saw a few other people the whole morning. All we could hear were brooks, waterfalls, the wind, and chiming cow bells. This was definitely my favorite hike.

I could probably spend a long time in Switzerland. It’s beautiful, clean, organized, and hyper-efficient. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most expensive countries in the world. Everything is about double what it would be in America.??A hot dog will cost you $7, a burger is about $15, and a bunk in a large dorm will be at least $40. It’s a great place, but not if you’re on a tight budget.

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. Hiking in the Alps.
  2. Our day trip to Lucerne.
  3. Eating raclette with Laura and family.

Brad:

  1. Hiking the Alps. One of the highlights of the trip!
  2. Lucerne. It was our first trip to the mountains of Switzerland and the city was gorgeous.
  3. Staying with Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The cost of everything! So expensive.
  2. Bad weather our first day in the Alps.
  3. Not spending enough time here.

Brad: The expensiveness of the country! Take the price of things elsewhere in western Europe and double them and you have Swiss prices. (Otherwise, Switzerland is great, so I only have one.)

Best meal?

Nikki: The raclette!

Brad: Fajitas that Brad made one night. And they were made with Penzeys Spices from Madison, so we’ll have to get some when we get back.

Worst meal?

Nikki: I don’t think we ate anything bad.

Brad: Our $7 slice of pizza at Z??rich HB when we got in. It tasted OK, not $7 though.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Of course it’s Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Brad: Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Favorite place we stayed?

Nikki: With Laura, Brad, and Nathan.

Brad: With Laura and Brad. They were amazing hosts!

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: Our daytrip to Lucerne. Really cute city on a lake.

Brad: Lucerne! It’s a beautiful little town in the mountains.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: Apparently the Swiss all turn their cars off while they’re waiting for trains to pass.

Brad: The bomb shelters. It was once required that all households have them, and Laura and Brad’s place had one. And it actually gets inspected to make sure it works! I can’t believe 10 people and a chemical toilet could be expected to live in an area that small. It does make a nice storage area though.

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Country Recap: Austria

We stayed with an awesome group of people in Vienna. It was an Airbnb place, but it felt more like couchsurfing. Our host, Chris, and her flatmates welcomed us and kept us entertained the whole time we were there. They made us quality coffee each morning and baked a marble cake one night. Chris gave us two really good restaurant recommendations and some ideas for sightseeing. It was just fun to hang out with nice people again.

The highlight of our sightseeing in Austria was Sch??brunn Palace, former residence of the Habsburgs. The grounds outside included a hedge maze for us to wander through and perfectly manicured gardens. Inside, we took the grand tour and saw the Rococo??interior. Some of the rooms looked great, and some were hideous.

Salzburg is famous for two things: Mozart and the Sound of Music. All of the Sound of Music tour groups got especially annoying, as they would sing at every single film location they visited. But it was still a fun place, even with all the “Do-Re-Mi” choruses following us around. The town buildings and gardens are beautiful. We walked up to the??Festung Hohensalzburg and got a good view of the fields and mountains.

The best part was the party we found. We had no idea what was going on at the time, but we later found out it was the annual Harvest Festival. There was a huge tent decorated with red and white ribbons and??filled with crowded tables. There was a band playing festive marches and everyone was talking and laughing. Many of the locals were wearing traditional clothing, which seemed to be??lederhosen for men and??dirndl for women. The beer was good, but the grilled chicken was incredible!??We had such a fun afternoon there!??If Oktoberfest is anything like this, I’m sure we’ll love it!

Top three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. The beer tent in Salzburg!
  2. Staying with Chris and her friends in Vienna.
  3. The Sch??brunn Palace in Vienna.

Brad:

  1. Sch??brunn Palace and its huge gardens.
  2. The Salzburg Harvest Festival beer tent. I especially loved when the church bells started ringing at three o’clock. The band finished their song, and the bells’ ringing was a constant roar of sound. Very cool.
  3. Salzburg’s fortress.

Bottom three experiences?

Nikki:

  1. All of the Sound of Music stuff in Salzburg.
  2. The weather. We got rained on a couple of times.
  3. The museum in the castle in Salzburg was really boring.

Brad:

  1. The Esperanto museum. It’s really cool there’s a museum, and it had a few moments, like the Soviet and Nazi persecution of Esperanto speakers. But it’s missing key information about the creation of the language and an explanation of its grammatic advantages.
  2. The museum in Salzburg’s fortress was bad. It was also here that I realized how dull European history is compared to other places we visited.
  3. The Sound of Music tours in Salzburg and all the Mozart souvenirs everywhere. Kind of cheesy.

Best meal?

Nikki: Hard to choose. I think the turkey schnitzel in Salzburg was the best.

Brad: Fried chicken with fries at the beer tent in Salzburg.

Worst meal?

Nikki: Whatever pastry thing I got at a bakery in Vienna. I think it needed to be heated up, but the guy didn’t put it in the oven.

Brad: For breakfast in Vienna, we stopped at a bakery and got some pizza-like thing that looked good, but since it was cold it didn’t taste very good.

Favorite person we met?

Nikki: Chris, our airbnb host in Vienna.

Brad: Christine in Vienna. Her place was great and she was very nice. 

Best thing we didn’t blog about?

Nikki: We finally paid some money to visit a couple of museums: the Globe Museum and the Esperanto Museum. They were both tiny and quirky, but very well done and interesting.

Weirdest thing?

Nikki: We saw deer in farms. They must eat veal.

Brad: The outfits that people actually wear in Salzburg. Very Bavarian.

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