Monday, February 18, 2008

Travelogue continued

Leaving Paris in the dead dark of pre-dawn--

Previously, we’d validated our euro-rail passes, reserved space on the TGV (high-speed train), and paid the premiums charged for our routes. Fortunately the taxi drivers settled their strike after a few hours of protests and negotiations the evening before. Thus saving us from the trauma of hefting our luggage through the metro system to get to the train station. We arrived by cab with plenty of time to spare and waited for our votre (gate) to be announced. Once we knew where to go, we marched smartly through the milling crowd for our boarding locale. The train arrived on time and we struggled aboard.

If I had it to do over, I would ruthlessly pare the packing and arrive with one reasonably lightweight case. The days of helpful porters are long past and everyone boarding the train is weighed down with their own baggage. I was able to handle my own luggage--but just barely. Ascending and descending steep grated train steps, while weighed down with suitcases, quickly was scary. Once safely inside the proper car there were still narrow aisles and overhead shelves for storing one’s baggage to be negotiated.

The windows were large and the seats more spacious than the airplanes. It was still dark and there was little to see as we rumbled away from the station. Within an hour the winter sun rose sulkily over the eastern horizon, illuminating the frosty hills of farm country interspersed with warehouses and industrial sections as we approached each stop. The stops were announced in German. Three plus hours later, we arrived in Stuttgart with less than ten minutes to locate and board the next train.

The mad dash through the station succeeded and we arrived huffing but intact in our new seats. This train from Stuttgart to Munich was a slower moving local, which made many stops. However, it’s a lovely sunny crisp winter day and the scenery is endlessly engaging as I drank in architectural details of the busy industrial neighborhoods. Aside from the rural farm houses, the cities appeared to be denser and more centralized than in the Pacific Northwest--tall apartment houses, with smaller than common here abouts, edged the town centers. Motorcycles were much more prevalent in Paris and Munich as a primary means of transportation. Mass transit, in both cities, was also much easier to negotiate, even for green tourists. The local trams, and metro stations merged with the train’s station so locals moved smoothly from one rapid transport to the next.

There was a moment of oh-my-god-what-now? when we both caught the tail end of the conductor’s announcement and heard--Munich. Hastily, we removed our bags and hustled toward the exit but the doors slammed shut and the train accelerated past the stop, rapidly picking up speed for parts unknown.

Luckily, there were at least two stops for Munich. We departed at the next one, which turned out to be the correct one and rolled toward the waiting line of taxis loitering outside the station.

Sore and tired and, in my case, dizzy from the long train journey--we arrived in Munich. Daughter soon freshened and changed and left the hotel, which was in a residential district on the outskirts of the city, to explore the neighborhood. I propped my feet and called room service. They arrived ahead of the estimated time bearing a lovely sandwich and ice water. I sat by the window, read a good book and thoroughly enjoyed the hours respite.

The hotel room was much larger and sunnier than our Paris lodgings, sans Eiffel tower view, of course. But the big comfy queen-sized beds, one each, generous padded armchairs and luxurious bathroom were all very appreciated and went a long way toward compensating for the missing bustle of Paris.

The fashion show was over, the German women were attractive but dressed for comfort or business or pleasure with practicality--not with the sheer joy of style. The food was tasty, nourishing, and well-prepared but not an art form. Munich, tries but fails as a fashion or culinary or cultural mecca--they remained the beer capitol of the world.

After the generous late in the afternoon lunch, courtesy of the hotel’s efficient staff, I wasn't interested in dinner. Meanwhile, daughter had located a nearby café and was also full. So we postponed further adventures in favor of workout for mein kinder and a dip in the pool for me. We met later in the hot tub for a relaxing soak. The sports facilities were clean, attractive, supremely functional, and completely deserted. Except for very fit and enthusiastic attendants and us. Back in our room, we settled down to watch a spot of BBC and dozed off.

The next morning, room service arrived promptly with a linen covered table arrayed with our breakfast selections and a welcome pot of delicious coffee. Not French but close enough. I lingered over coffee while daughter ran off to workout. Sometime during the night, the room stopped moving with that disagreeable too-many-rides-at-the-amusement-park effect, which was a by-product of train travel. By late morning my lazy self was dressed and sensibly shod in a pair of daughter’s sneakers and as ready as I’d ever get to tour.


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