Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A veritable cornucopia

I haven't blogged for a few days. Not that I've been too busy, just that I haven't been able to figure out what I wanted to say. I guess I'll just give you a random assortment of thoughts.

1) Its been a good month for Discontinued Fast Food favorites as two items from the Hall of Fame have reappeared, the Monterrey Ranch Chicken sandwich at Wendy's and Onion Petals at Arby's. Also, looking over the list, I realize that some Wendy's do still serve Bacon and Cheddar Baked Potatoes. Last night I also was at a Wendy's that is now serving breakfast. The pictures look good, but I guess I won't know until I find one near me to try it.

2) With the start of the new semester I've been doing my best to get up at 7 every morning during the week, so that I can do my scripture study in the morning and also 3 days a week do some walking/jogging. So far (only 8 days in so far) I've gotten up before 7:20 every morning but 1, and am doing good with the exercise and the scriptures. So thats something I'm feeling good about. I'm a little worried about the pain I feel in my medial sesamoid on my right foot, thinking I may have a stress fracture since its been bothering me for well over a year now. Not real sure what to do about that, though. I'm not ready to start dealing with my crazy student insurance plan again, and a friend who had one had to wear a boot, and I'm not too excited about doing that either.

3) Went to my new Institute class last night, and the subject matter (Parables of Jesus) sounds interesting, but I'm not yet sold on the instructor. In my many years of Institute, I've found that the instructor makes a huge difference for me. For the last 3 years I've been going to a class taught by an instructor that I really liked, and now they've got someone else to teach the class. I always get a little nervous when the instructor starts talking like they know secrets about the gospel, or that the majority of the church doesn't understand the gospel, or that things that have been taught for a long time in the church are incorrect, or need improvement. I realize that obviously we all have a lot to learn, but something about the attitude that "most people in the church don't understand this" makes me nervous when its coming from someone who isn't a general authority of the church. I once heard an instructor describe another instructor by saying something like "He seems to know so much, that sometimes you wonder if he could really know some of it." Anyway, this new instructor has a hint of that, and I'm definitely going to go next week and see how it goes, but I'm a little bit skeptical.

4) Overall, I've been feeling kind of lonely and a bit down lately. There are a few possible explanations for this, but they aren't anything new, so I'm not really sure why I'm feeling it now. When I get like this, I just try to tell myself that it will pass, and eventually it does, and in the meantime I like to turn on some Counting Crows and let it wash over me.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Who knew?

I've been thinking about buying a new mattress lately and discovered that for some reason mattresses, box springs, and beds do not fall under the category of "bedding", but rather are "furniture". Also Bed Bath and Beyond has gone so far beyond that they don't even sell beds (not counting daybeds, which seems like an oxymoron to me), and I have a hunch you probably couldn't buy a bathtub there either. So shouldn't they just be called "Beyond"?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

My trip to Europe - Days 10 & 11

Well, patient reader, I'm finally getting around to wrapping up this travelogue. I hope you've enjoyed hearing about the trip, but I suspect that you, like I, are perhaps tired of hearing my ramble on. If so, you are in luck, as this will be the last installment.

Day 10 - Return to Bavaria

Day 10 was the final morning of the IPHIE conference, and the classroom time was dedicated to the four groups of students presenting their analyses of the assigned papers. Two of the papers were about studies questioning the safety of EMRs and specifically Computerized Provider Order Entry (CPOE) systems; one looking at the potential risks of EMRs and one describing a situation where a newly installed system resulted in increased mortality in one subpopulation of patients.

My group was assigned a paper describing a Randomized Clinical Trial (RCT) of a telemedicine system for diabetes patients in underserved areas. Essentially there were improved health outcomes, but the outcomes were not improved in a way that would make any real difference to the patients.

Group from Utah minus most of Laritza
The Utah group, minus most of Laritza

Anyway, after all the presentations were done, they had some sack lunches available, and people started taking off for train stations and airports to head home. John Hurdle took Spencer to the train station in Innsbruck, so Guilherme, Larizta and I ended up having ice cream with the Amsterdam group until he returned to pick us up.

Sabine and I
Sabine and I

Ice Cream time

Our return trip to Munich was fairly uneventful. Our navigation system safely guided us to downtown Munich where John dropped us off and I got it set up to guide him back to the airport. After checking in once more to the same hotel we'd been in before (but with slightly larger rooms this time), we headed out to a nearby department store to pick up some souvenirs. Mainly I bought chocolate to share with the folks back home, but also picked up a Bayern Munich soccer jersey, and a British copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to read on the flight home the next day.

We took our stuff back to the hotel and then walked over to the Hofbrauhaus for one last dinner of sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut. I picked up a couple of their 1-liter mugs to take home with me, as I thought they'd make either a) a great-looking souvenir, or b) a great big mug for drinking out of. So far I haven't decided which I'd prefer, so its still wrapped in brown paper and sitting on my bedroom floor.

Cherub Warrior
I really liked these little cupid warrior guys on this monument. There were 4 different ones that all were fighting some kind of gargoyle or something.

Last visit to the Hofbrauhaus

Knowing that we'd need to leave fairly early in the morning for the airport, we retired fairly early for the evening and found the humidity to not be quite as oppressive as it had been during our previous stay in Munich.

More pictures from Day 10.

Day 11 - Mama, I'm coming home

Early on the morning of our final day in Europe, we got up and headed to the Hauptbahnhof to catch a train out to the airport. We'd heard that check-in sometimes got crazy at the Munich airport so we wanted to leave ourselves a good two and a half hours. The check-in line at the Delta area was pretty long, and eventually I took advantage of gate agents who were looking for people flying alone to move to the front of the line. I felt a little bad abandoning Laritza and Guilherme, but I would have encouraged them to do the same.

The nice thing about the long check-in line is that it was followed by practically no line at the security check. Once I got through, I bought a little bit of breakfast with the few Euros I had left and then bought a little bit more chocolate at the duty-free shop. Strangely though it wasn't any cheaper than it was at the department store we'd been at the day before. I guess I should just be glad it wasn't more expensive, right?

The 9 hour flight to Atlanta wasn't too painful, as I once again moved to the emergency exit row to get some more leg room, and I was able to get about 5/6 of the way through Harry Potter by the time we'd landed on American soil. After a brief adventure through immigrations (it was nice that Laritza is a citizen, and Guilherme has his green card), we rechecked our baggage and found some lunch. It was lunch time in Atlanta, so I'll call it lunch, even though it was my third meal of the day and I'd been up for about 16 hours at that point.

After one more crowded flight from Atlanta to Salt Lake, and a ride home from a gracious friend, I was finally back home. I'll say again that although I've enjoyed the 3 foreign countries I've been to visit or lived in, I haven't found one yet that made me wish I didn't live in America.

Much like Day 1, there are no pictures from Day 11.

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza
Day 4 - Stop looking at me, schwan
Day 5 - Austria, eh? Throw another shrimp on the barby!
Day 6- The depths of Hall
Day 7 - I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!
Day 8 - Monday Night Football
Day 9 - In with the Innsbruck Crowd

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My trip to Europe - Day 9

I know I've taken my sweet time wrapping up the travelogue of my trip to Europe. And for that I apologize.

Day 9 - Innsbruck

On Day 9, the next to last day of our time in Austria, we got up and had breakfast and then a bus came to pick us up to take down to Innsbruck.

We started out at the Innsbruck hospital where someone gave us a presentation describing the Electronic Medical Record (EMR) that they have there, and then after a short break, some more presenters talked to us about some of the specific modules and aspects of the system. It was kind of interesting to hear about someone else's EMR after hearing so much about IHC's, and be able to see the differences and benefits of each.

After these presentations, there was lunch at the hospital cafeteria and then we met back at the classroom to split up for tours of the hospital. I signed up for the tour of the lab facilities, along with a brief demo of the lab ordering system. It wasn't too informatics-y in the end, but it was okay.

After finally completing our tours of the hospital, we had a little bit of time before our scheduled guided tour of Innsbruck. In the meantime, it had really started to rain pretty heavily, and Spencer was trying to talk me into skipping out on the tour if it was going to take place in a downpour. I parted ways with him for a minute and bought a few postcards and an Austria T-shirt. Amazingly, right about the time that the tour was to start, the rain dried up. It was pretty uncanny, and very convenient.

Golden Roof
The Goldener Drachl (Golden Roof) in the rain.

Rainy day in Innsbruck
More rainy Innsbruck

We met at a museum near old town Innsbruck to start our tour and meet our tour guide. She was an older lady, probably in her 70s, who was full of energy and pride for her town. Her family had lived in Innsbruck for hundreds of years and she took great pride in showing off the town to us and pointing out a lot of details that I would have missed otherwise.

Streets in Old Town Innsbruck
Narrow streets of Old Town Innsbruck

Bay Windows
People were taxed for the width of their homes in ancient Innsbruck, so most of the residences were very narrow, but deep. Also there was no tax for how many windows you could have, so windows were employed to help light the deep, narrow homes.

Tour Guide
Our tour guide. At one point she grabbed Spencer and I and physically pulled us to a spot to make sure we saw the ski jump off in the distance.

A look at the newer part of Innsbruck. In this case "newer" probably means its only 200 years old, instead of 500.

The Inn River
The Inn River

Innsbruck Cathedral
The front of the Innsbruck Cathedral

After our tour was done, we got back on our bus and headed back to Hall where there was a barbecue scheduled for the final night of the conference (the conference was the end the next day at lunch time) at the Leopoldinum. A few of the Austrian students took charge of grilling meat (bacon-wrapped sausage, chicken wings, steaks, and ribs) and vegetables (corn on the cob, squash, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers), and 4 decent-sized kegs of Austrian beer were available for those who wanted. Personally, I stuck to water and a soda that was somewhat similar to ginger ale.


It was this night that we also happened to find out that there was a foosball table in the Leopoldinum, along with a poorly-tuned piano. I played my fair share of foosball, although Guiherme and a couple of the Austrian students turned out to be the real foosball masters. I also took time to teach Mareike how to play Heart & Soul (everyone should know that song) on the piano. As the night wore on, a large group started playing a drinking game in the dining hall. I stuck around to watch for a while and take a few pictures before calling it a night.


Last night
Hanging out the last night

Drinking Game
Drinking Game

Kegs of Kaiser

More pictures from Day 9.

Coming next: IPHIEnd

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza
Day 4 - Stop looking at me, schwan
Day 5 - Austria, eh? Throw another shrimp on the barby!
Day 6- The depths of Hall
Day 7 - I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!
Day 8 - Monday Night Football

Random Thoughts on the English Language #12

Here's a little something to tide you over until I can get back on the horse and finish telling you about my trip to Europe:

If you are learning sign language as a second language, for example to be able to better communicate with someone you know, would the class be called ASLSL (American Sign Language as Second Language)? I think that would be a cool name.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My trip to Europe - Day 8

Day 8 - Goooooooooooooooal!!!!!!

The 8th day of my European adventure stared much the same as the rest, with some bread and ham and cheese.

After breakfast, we once again headed over to UMIT for some classroom time. We started the day with a presentation discussing what exactly is Informatics and what should be included in the curriculum of Informatics programs. After some class time, they split us up into our student work groups to discuss in our smaller groups what we thought. I won't bore you with the details here, but it was, for me, an interesting discussion.

Leading a Group Discussion
Leading our Group Discussion

I think we had another guest lecture either before or after lunch, this one I think looking at some imaging techniques. This was followed by more time for our group to work on our presentation for the last day. We finalized our powerpoint slides and kind of ran through things for Jon who was "coaching" our group.

Looking up at the Alps
Looking up at the Hinterhornalm. There's a clearing up on the mountain if you look closely.

After our group work was finished, there was some free time, and Lukas, one of the UMIT students had invited anyone who wanted to come play some football (soccer) at the field in back of the Leopoldinum. By the time I got dressed to play, there was one team of German speaking students (Germans and Austrians) and another of non-Germans. Somehow, I was put on the German team and for quite a while we dominated. We won the first game to 7 by a score of 7-1. Then in the next game, we lost a close one, after losing one of our star players, Thomas Wetter.

Finally, in the rubber match, there was some debate over what we were playing to. Originally it was agreed that we'd just play a quick game to 3, but after we quickly scored 3, the other team wanted to play to 5, and they were able to come back and get to 5 before us, although one of their goals was scored in the period in which we were assuming the game was already over. Either way, it was fun, and I was able to even score a couple goals.

Guilherme - Soccer
Guilherme warming up, while waiting for someone to let us into our room.

Thomas Wetter - Soccer
Thomas Wetter, perhaps the star of our team.

After the game, we headed down to Old Town in Hall and had a very nice dinner at a restaurant called the Goldener Lowe (Golden Lion), where I had kind of a bacon-wrapped steak, along with some potatoes. After we finished up our dinner, Spencer and I headed back to the ParkHotel for some end of the evening web browsing, and that was the end of the day.

Pictures from Day 8.

Coming next: A Rainy Day in Innsbruck

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza
Day 4 - Stop looking at me, schwan
Day 5 - Austria, eh? Throw another shrimp on the barby!
Day 6- The depths of Hall
Day 7 - I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Deny Yourself

Its kind of rare that I blog about things of a spiritual nature, but yesterday I was doing some scripture study and came across a phrase which occurs several times in the scriptures, that perhaps I haven't thought much about. The phrase is "deny yourself", and occasionally its given along with some further specification of what is meant, and generally it refers to denying ourselves of ungodliness and more specifically it tends to be mentioned along with lust, and often occurs in verses that make mention of "taking up your cross".

And as I was pondering this idea and what exactly its significance was, I had a couple thoughts. The first one was that just because a desire comes, apparently, from within us, that doesn't make it good. If we have to "deny ourselves" that seems to indicate that not everything we think we want is good for us. And yes, this makes sense, especially when you look at other people, kids especially, and see that not everything someone wants is for their good. But to make take one step further, sometimes when I sin, I tend to think, "Man, I wish I wasn't the kind of person who wants to do the wrong thing sometimes." And then I kind of give up control over my actions. As in, well if I were a better person I wouldn't want to do that, but thats not who I am right now, so I guess I'm stuck with these sins until my nature is changed.

This kind of dovetails into another thought that I had, one which I've had before, which is that temptation is not the same thing as sin. Sometimes I feel guilty for being tempted and think that if I were a better person I wouldn't be tempted by this or that. When really, temptation is our common lot in this life. Its not our fault that we face temptation, and if it wasn't tempting, would it really be called temptation? I mean, I suspect that if we resist certain temptations for a sufficient amount of time, we will perhaps not be tempted in that way. Or perhaps through covenants or the strength of personal experience and/or testimony we may not be tempted by certain things. But no matter our experience or our strength, we must be tempted to test whether we will do all that the Lord has commanded us.

So, because temptation is a given, we shouldn't allow temptation to make us feel guilty or feel bad about ourselves. Often I find that just being tempted makes me feel like I'm on an inevitable path to sin, when really I should just be aware that I'm being tempted and that I now have a choice, to either give in to that temptation, or to instead "deny myself". And while self-denial, at times, feels like pretending to be someone we aren't, in reality, who we are is, to steal a line from "Hitch", a very fluid concept right now. So in a way, to become the better person who doesn't give in to temptation, and who doesn't have worldly desires, we have to deny our current self. Which, I'll admit can be scary, but definitely is an inspiring idea.

Monday, August 06, 2007

My trip to Europe - Day 7

Day 7 - Alpsapalooza

On day 7, we got up, had breakfast and headed back over to UMIT for some more classroom time. We had some invited guest lectures, including one on an IT framework called ITIL, and another that was a little more technical looking at techniques and strategies for doing systematic reviews of literature and meta-analyses. In addition to lectures, we also had our first session of group work today. Each student was assigned to one of four groups that each had one student from each program. Our assignment for the week was to analyze and present an Informatics paper that was assigned to us. My group consisted of Sabine (from Amsterdam), Mathias (from Heidelberg/Heilbraun), Werner (from UMIT), Garland (from U of Washington), Dieter (from Vienna) and myself. Our paper was an RCT attempting to definitively make the case for telemedicine.

Paying attention?
Spencer in class

After getting a good start on our presentation on the paper, we had a bit of time to head back to the Leopoldinum to relax for a bit and prepare for our excursion up into the Alps. Hall (as you can tell from the pictures) is quite close to the Alps, so it wasn't a long drive. As part of the activity, there was an option to do some hiking or to just take the bus all the way to the Hinterhornalm, the place we'd be having our dinner that night and then take a short walk from there to see another farm. Given that I didn't know when I'd have my next chance to hike in the Alps I decided I better do the hiking, even though essentially we were just getting off the bus early and then hiking up to where the bus was headed.

The hike ended up being a bit steeper than I had expected, but I was pleased with myself for not falling behind. Unlike most hikes in Utah, where you have pretty good views of the valley as you hike, this hike was almost entirely under cover of the forest. And it was pretty much all uphill, without much in the way of level traverse sections. All in all it was a pretty sweaty hike, but I was glad to have done it. There really wasn't a great view until we arrived at our destination, at which point the whole valley was in view down below us and it was quite amazing.

Hiking in the Alpine Woods

Looking down
Looking down at the Valley

Butting goats
Goats butting at the Hinterhornalm

Looking down
Another look down at the valley

Hang gliding Ramp
One last shot, this one looking down a hang-gliding ramp

We had a little bit of time remaining so we were able to take the short walk over to the nearby farm which I found quite charming, given that it had an amazing backdrop of sharp crags and was populated by a herd of cows all wearing their cow bells. We had a drink there (apple juice for me) and then headed back to the Hinterhornalm for dinner.

The Alps
Alpine Meadow with the Cows

For dinner, I chose a Hungarian goulash soup, and followed it up with a main course of Weiner schnitzel that was quite good. As most of the group was content to stay and drink for quite some time, Spencer and I stepped outside to enjoy the view a bit and in the end were able to snag a ride back down to Hall with one of the guest lecturers who had driven his own car up, and was leaving before the bus.

Dinner at the Hinterhornalm
Dinner at the Hinterhornalm

While we waited to leave, Spencer entertained us with his stacking talents.

More pictures from Day 7.

Up next: IPHIE World Cup

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza
Day 4 - Stop looking at me, schwan
Day 5 - Austria, eh? Throw another shrimp on the barby!
Day 6- The depths of Hall

Saturday, August 04, 2007

My trip to Europe - Day 6

Sorry for not posting yesterday. I just wasn't in the mood I guess. Anyway, on to Day 6.

Day 6 - Welcome to Hall

After a typical breakfast, Elske, the chair of the Austrian program that participates in this conference, guided us over to UMIT, the university hosting the conference. We spend the day's class time with presentations from each school, first telling a bit about their program and then 1 or 2 students from each school presenting some of their research briefly. There was a computer lab available during breaks where I could check my email, and wireless internet.

View from just outside the University (UMIT)

Lunch was in the Cafeterium just down the road, and was pork fillets with rice and gravy. There was one last of these presentation sessions after lunch, and then we had an hour before our guided tour of Hall.

Spencer presenting
Spencer Presenting

Guilherme presenting
Guilherme Presenting

We met at the Rathaus (town hall) and had a welcome from the Burgermeister (mayor) himself.

The Rathaus
Outside the Rathaus

The Burgermeister
The Burgermeister

After that, a tour guide took us around to some of the super old churches and to the old mint here in Hall, we were each got to make a coin with the UMIT logo on one side and an Austrian symbol on the other. Then some of us climbed the tower (lots of steps) to get a nice view of Hall.

Hall Cathedral
The main cathedral in Hall.

Day of Resurrection
A cool mural titled "The Day of Resurrection" found on the wall of the smallest church in Hall.

From the Mint Tower
From the Mint Tower

From the Mint Tower
More from the Mint Tower

After the tour was done, they took us over to the Knodelfest where numerous different kinds of Knodels (~dumplings) were available. They gave us each 5 tickets for dumplings and 2 drink tickets. The first two dumplings I got were so filling I then used two more on some dessert ones and still had one left that I didn't end up using, nor could I find someone who wanted to take it off my hands. Spencer went to the Neu Delhi tent and managed to spend all 5 of his tickets plus 1 Euro on a plate of food and some bread. Sucker!

Waiting for the knodelfest
Waiting for the Knodelfest

My first two knodels. The closer one has bacon and forget what else. The other has tomato and mozzarella.

After Knodeling it up, Spencer and I decided to go check out Innsbruck, so we found a bus stop and got down to Innsbruck which is much larger than Hall, but certainly not what I would call a major city. It has some nice looking resort/hotels up on the hill, but we ended up at the main station and just walked around from there for a couple hours without having a decent map of the town to guide us to sites of interest. In the end, we walked back to the station, and when it looked like it would be almost an hour to wait for the next bus, we took a taxi back home.

We found this arch in Innsbruck, but didn't know what it was. I still don't really know. But certainly it merited a photo.

The Inn River
The Inn River. Innsbruck means "Bridge on the River Inn".

The Used (from Utah)
I thought it was kind of cool to see a poster for The Used there, seeing as how they are a band from Utah.

Upon leaving, we'd left our room key with Guilherme because he wasn't going into Innsbruck. However, at this point he was nowhere to be found and after finding someone to let us into the Leopoldinum, we ended up sitting in some chairs for about an hour until he and Laritza and Thomas Wetter showed up. They'd just been at the Knodelfest until it closed up shop for the night.

More pictures from Day 6.

Coming next: Day 7 - In which we hike the alps

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza
Day 4 - Stop looking at me, schwan
Day 5 - Austria, eh? Throw another shrimp on the barby!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

My trip to Europe - Day 5

Day 5 - We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us

Well, not really. We actually did cross the border.

We got up, fairly early as usual and showered and ate breakfast, and then got all packed and ready to head to the airport. Then we still had like 2 hours left before we had planned to go. Guilherme and I sat there trying to come up with things to talk about and watched TV and napped a bit. Finally we decided to leave about half an hour earlier than we had planned out of sheer boredom. We gathered up Laritza and checked out and headed to the Hauptbahnhof. From there it was a 40 minute ride to the airport where we hung out in air conditioned wonderfulness for an hour or so until Jon showed up.

We got in Jon's rental Audi A4 and I took shotgun and got to work on figuring out the navigation system.It took me a while to figure out that Hall wasn't showing up because it was set to Germany for the country. Once we found Osterrich then it was easy to find Hall in Tirol. We weren't sure how trustworthy the navigation system was but we decided to trust it after it seemed to jive pretty good with the printed Google Maps directions we had. It (the nav system) was also periodically checking for traffic updates, and at one point directed us to leave the main highway and take some side roads to get around what appeared to be a bit of a traffic jam. It had us going on gravel roads and short sections that only had room for one way at a time.

German countryside
Some of the countryside we saw on our detour off the main highway.

Anyway, about two hours later we made it to Hall without much trouble, and after a bit of driving around were able to locate the Leopoldinum where we'd be staying. It is a boarding school for what appear to be maybe middle school kids, who are gone for the summer right now. We got checked in, and found Spencer had beat us there. Our room was pretty big with 3 desks and cupboards and then the 3 beds up in a loft. Spencer started calling it the Leopold-i-drome which somehow made it seem a bit more exciting to be staying there. We were all a bit hungry at that point, having not eaten lunch, and we headed down to the Old Town part of Hall and wandered around for a while, before finding a Kebap shop that made us some excellent Kebap sandwiches.

Old Town section of Hall
Spencer in Old Town

Old Town Hall
Another shot of Old Town. If you look close you can see Ali Baba's kebabaria.

We then wandered around town a bit more and then came back to the Leopoldinum.
View from our window in the Leopoldinum
Picture looking out our window at the Leopoldinum

Later there was a opening reception where they gave us some information about the week's activities and fed us some dinner. After staying for a while, I went with Spencer over to the Kebap-shaped ParkHotel where he'd seen someone setting up a wireless router earlier in the day. We took some seats that were kind of out of the way and interneted it up for a good long while, before finally calling it a night.

More pictures from Day 5.

Coming tomorrow: Der Burgermeister

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza
Day 4 - Stop looking at me, schwan

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

My trip to Europe - Day 4

Day 4 - Riding the Rails

On Day, Laritza and I headed over to the Hauptbahnhof fairly early to catch a 7:50 train to Fussen, so as to see the famed Neuschwanstein castle, the castle Walt Disney patterned Sleeping Beauty's castle after, and then subsequently the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disneyland. Our train ride included one transfer that was supposed to be, and turned out to be, quite simple. Just get out of the train with a bunch of other tourists and walk across the platform to the other train.

Upon arriving in Fussen around 10 am, we realized that the castles (there's Neuschwanstein and another called Hohenschwangau) were not in Fussen, but located at some distance from where the train had deposited us. A hotel clerk directed us to the Tourist Information building, and a girl there explained to us that it would take between 45 minutes and an hour to walk to Schwangau, the town closest to the castles where tickets are sold for tours. Or, if we preferred, there was a bus that traveled the approximately 5 km, but the next one wasn't leaving for another hour or so. Given that we didn't really feel like just sitting there for an hour, we opted to walk the 5 km over to the castles. And it really was 5 km, and of course it was quite warm.

Aquamarine River
A river we crossed on our way to Schwangau

Our first glimpse of Neuschwanstein
Our first glimpse of Neuscwhanstein. You may need to look closely, but its there in the distance.

We arrived at Schwangau about 45 minutes later and bought tickets for the English-speaking tour of Neuschwanstein, which would be starting in a couple hours.

Looking up at Hohenschwangau
Hohenschwangau castle watches over the town of Schwangau

Then we took a shuttle bus up to a drop-off point a little ways above the castle, near Marienbrucke which is a bridge over a deep gorge that gives a spectacular view of the castle. After taking our fill of spectacular shots, we started off down the road to the castle.

Neuschwanstein Castle from Marienbrucke
From Marienbrucke

Neuschwanstein Castle from Marienbrucke
More from Marienbrucke

About halfway through the 15 minute walk, we stopped on a bench and ate the lunch we'd bought the day before at the grocery store.

Hohenschwangau Castle and its surroundings
Looking down at Schwangau and Hohenschwangau

We killed the rest of the time milling around a touristy shop and just taking pictures of the outside of the castle.

German Countryside
Looking down at the countryside

Framed Towers
Front view of Neuschwanstein

Looking back at Marienbrucke from Neuschwanstein

Inside the castle, picture taking is not allowed, except for pictures taken looking out of the castle are the surrounding countryside. A few people on our tour were taking pictures of everything and only once did I see someone actually tell them not to. The castle is decorated with lots of art work based on the operas of Richard Wagner who was good friends with King Ludwig II who commissioned the castle (and several others in Germany). I thought the most impressive part was the throne room, which sadly never got a throne. The King only lived in this castle for about 17 days before he was declared insane by the government and found dead a few days later, under suspicious circumstances.

Schwangau and Hohenschwangau Castle
Another look down at Schwangau and Hohenschwangau Castle

After completing our tour, we didn't have tons of time remaining to catch our train back to Munich, so we returned to the shuttle drop-off point, rode back down to Schwangau and happened to arrive just as a bus back to Fussen was arriving. Looking at the bus schedule there, I can't actually imagine that we'd have had to wait an hour in the morning. Maybe the tourist information center had faulty bus tables or maybe the girl helping just misread them.

Neuschwanstein Castle
Looking back on the walk back to the shuttle

Neuschwanstein Castle
One last look up from Schwangau

After another sticky two-hour train ride back to Munich, we met up with Guilherme at the hotel and went out for dinner at (yet) another beer garden, this time one near a botanical garden, not far from the Hauptbahnhof. I was savvy enough at this point to actually order a steak with french fries, and managed to not eat sausage and sauerkraut for a 3 consecutive night.

German Countryside
This is the kind of scenery we enjoyed during our train ride.

German Tricolor
More German countryside.

After dinner, we walked over to the Marienplatz to look for some gelato and from there we headed back to the hotel and got ready to head out to the airport the next morning where we'd meet up with one of our department faculty, Jon Hurdle, to drive down to Austria.

Guilherme and Laritza
Guilherme and Laritza

Nighttime on the Plaza
Night time by the Fountain

More pictures from Day 4.

Coming tomorrow: Day 5 - Cruising on the autobahn

So far:
Days 1 & 2 - Exploring Munich
Day 3 - Mass Transit Extravaganza