Oktoberfest and Spa-mania 2012
Two weeks abroad and we slept in 6 cities on a quest for R&R and the hype of Oktoberfest.
Saturday, September 15: In route to Iceland
Sunday, September 16: Good morning Iceland
Our first day in Iceland was spent living it up at this amazing spa called the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is a giant man-made pool that uses the outflow water from the geo-thermal power plant which is likely just a few degrees below boiling when it leaves the plant. There are steam rooms, saunas, waterfalls, silica mud masks and hot soaks to be had to leave you relaxed. We arrived in Reykjavik in the early morning; too early to check into our hotel which was a bit of a bummer since that meant postponing our naps but also forced us to try out "Plan B": a day at the spa. A day at the spa is really the proper cure for jet lag.
Monday, September 17: The Golden Circle/Green Triangle
One of the major tours marketed to tourist takes you a few hours further inland to see the site of the first parliament which is now in a national park, a geyser and a colossal waterfall. We decided to do this tour but on our own with a rental car.
The site of the first parliament was mostly an opportunity to get out and about in a national park and see the scenery. On the coasts and for several miles inland, Iceland looks like what I imagine the face of the moon looks like but with moss. It is rugged terrain from all of the volcanic rock everywhere but there are no trees of significance and the terrain is mostly flat. The national park, Thingvellir, has a little more altitude and a great vista of the inland mountains.
The geyser wasn't that spectacular, just a smaller version of Old Faithful. It did spout off about 5 times while we were there so that was kind of fun.
Our final stop on the tour was to the Gullfoss waterfall which is one of the largest waterfalls in Europe, although not the largest. Niagara Falls has this one beat too but it was nonetheless very impressive.
Tuesday, September 18: A history lesson
We spent the last day in Iceland walking about and visiting their National Museum where we learned about their savage beginnings and how Christianity made it's way to the island, once an island of pagans. Justin bought a wool sweater (with an unfortunate miscalculation of the exchange rate) and we lunched on some Icelandic cheeses.
Wednesday, September 19: Heidelberg Ho!
We made or first Germany destination Heidelberg because of the many recommendations to visit the castle there. We didn't arrive late afternoon so we poked around the Alstadt (old town) and made sure Justin got a good sampling of the local beer. Justin had already started chronicling each beer he drank so he was eager to add his first German beers which turned out to be the best of the trip in Heidelberg.
Thursday, September 20: Schloss
We had come to Heidelberg to see the castle and we woke early enough to get up to the site before the tour groups swamped the schloss. Still, there were plenty of people but I think our technique of getting to a site at opening hours has been pretty successful for avoiding the crowds; we often have the place to ourselves for a while. The castle was under some major repair with lots of scaffolding. it was a trick to take a photo and avoid capturing the scaffolds.
We packed up our bags after touring the castle and caught a train to Baden-Baden for an afternoon at the spa, our second in a week. The Caracalla spa in Baden-Baden plays second fiddle to the Friedrichsbad baths but I was too chicken to bare it all in a coed bath so we opted for the place next door that lets you keep your suit on. And it was just fine. The pools are all spring-fed and have a high mineral composition. There are all sorts of fancy jets to massage you as you move around. And they have all of these interesting steam rooms with special aromatherapy. I wish I had a picture to share because the facility was really beautiful, much like the city of Baden-Baden. After the spa, we went for dinner at the Löwen Brauhaus and ordered way too much food. Those Germans like big servings! This meal encouraged both Justin and I to split a single entree and nearly every meal thereafter.
I actually figured that the first week might be a little tedious from all of the travel from one place to the next but I was kind of enjoying the faster pace and getting to move onto the next exciting thing. We rented a car in Baden-Baden so we'd have the opportunity to get out and about in the Black Forest. On Friday, we left Baden-Baden and headed south to the University town of Freiburg. We spent the afternoon poking around in the little shops that dotted the cobblestone streets in the Alstadt. The weather was perfect and we were really enjoying the late afternoon walking about.
Saturday, September 22: In the crapper
We woke up to beating rain--the kind of weather that provides zero motivation for going out but we didn't want to lose a day to sitting inside. Instead, we decided to hike up to the viewing platform above the city in the pelting rain for a mediocre vista due to the cloudy/foggy weather. On the hike down we decided to do a little more poking around in the Alstadt because we spotted a farmer's market, but we only spent about an hour before our wet hair and clothes had us turning back to the hotel.
For the afternoon, we decided that we'd seen enough of the city in the rain so we hopped into our rental car and took a drive out to Triberg and Hornberg. The guidebook had a little side bar suggesting we stop to see the giant loo in Hornberg at the Duravit headquarters. We couldn't resist a tour of a fixture factory! They had lots of information on the history of their company and how their products are made so it was kind of fun to walk through their displays. On the top floor of the facility, they had about 5 demo bathrooms, complete with fancy bathtubs, showers, some with a sauna that you could actually try out if you were so inclined. They had a locker room, towels, hairdryers and everything. Justin wasn't interested but I did convince him to take a dip in the toilet:
Sunday, September 23: A hike in the hills en route to Konstanz
We left Freiberg pretty early on Sunday morning to start our journey to Konstanz. We planned to do a little hiking in the Black Forest and then continue onward to Konstanz. We didn't have much to go on so we just picked an exit on the autobahn and drove into a small town in search of a trailhead. Luckily, we found one pretty quickly--a whole trail system that starts in this park right outside of the town square. I have no idea what town we were in. We hiked around a bit, getting a little confused by the trail markings but eventually making our way back to the car. There were tons of mushrooms along the path; we probably spotted 8 different types.
The drive to Konstanz was pretty quick and uneventful. We stopped at the visitor center for the Bodensee area on the way in and got some tips on what to see and do in the area. We started out by walking around the harbor in Konstanz and getting familiar with the surroundings.
We walked up the length of the harbor and then crossed back into the cobblestone streets of the city where we stumbled upon a Suserfest celebrating the new wine of the season. There was a brass band playing festive music and rows of picnic tables for patrons to sit down with a glass of suser. Suser is a freshly pressed grape wine that is slightly effervescent and cloudy with yeast. It tastes more like a juice than a wine but there's alcohol in there. We met a woman and her mother at the event and they gave us tips on the highlights to check out in Konstanz and around.
Monday, September 24: The island of Mainau
The host at the visitor center and the women we met at the Suserfest both recommended a visit to the island of Mainau which is a beautiful botanical garden island. The island was about 5 miles from our hotel so we decided to rent bicycles for the day and bike out there. This would have been an awesome decision if it hadn't started raining about 1 mile into our ride. By the time we made it to the island, I was like a drowned rat! We hung out near the entrance for 20 minutes while we dried out and warmed up a bit. In the meantime, I scoped out the indoor activities that were available on the island (butterflies, chocolate tasting and palace). Luckily, the rain mostly subsided while we were on the island and the sun even peeked out later in the afternoon.
Tuesday, September 25: Meersburg
Again, we took the advice of the women we met at Suserfest and took a daytrip over to the city of Meersberg. We had originally planned on a daytrip to Friedrichshafen but we heard Meersburg was a better choice. The ferry across the lake was a quick trip and gave a great view of what we had in store in Meersburg. Once there, we hiked up the hill and took a tour of the big castle in the town center. We wandered around a bit a visited some of the souvenir shops in the area and then found a little restaurant for lunch. I had currywurst which had been talked up in something I had read but really wasn't much to get excited about: a chopped up hotdog with a cloyingly sweet barbeque sauce and a sprinkle of curry powder over the top. We spotted many of the waterfront cafes offering suser wine and onion cakes so we decided to top off our meal with a little snack and a beverage. It was a really nice afternoon. We got back to Konstanz in the mid-afternoon and packed up our swimsuits (at least I did--Justin forgot his and had to go back for it) for a visit to the Bodensee Therme, another spa that we had scoped out on our bike ride the day before. We spent the next 2 hours at the pool getting the last of our European water jet massages.
Friday, September 28: Oktoberfest
Disappointed from our visit to the 'fest on Wednesday night, Justin started looking for a way to get in on an existing reservation in one of the tents and Craigslist was the ticket. Apparently Germans aren't really big on using Craigslist but folks from the US use it. We connected with a group of ex-pats living in England who had extra seats at their table in one of the tents. The reservation was from 11:30-3:30 so we spent the bulk of the day at the festival. Justin really tied one on so we spent the late afternoon in the apartment with Justin sleeping off the damage he had done.