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Part 2: Operation Iraqi Freedom vacation - in Europe!

Author: Ben Shakman (More Trip Reviews by Ben Shakman)
Date of Trip: March 2006

  • Part 1: The Epic Travels Begin

  • Part 3: Poland and More

  • Part 4: The Adventure Ends

    March 25th (Day 8)
    I discovered on our skiing vacation (January 2006) that there is a real advantage to taking a day off after the first day of skiing. The fatigue level is better managed with the kids and especially with the grownups if there is a break after the first day -- altitude only increases the value of the day off. As a result, we decided to spend a day seeing the sights in Munich.

    The trip from Garmisch to Munich only takes about 45-minutes on a good day. Fortunately, this one was a good day and we arrived in plenty of time see the Glockenspeil before lunch. I thought that it was supposed to start on the hour, but it was about a quarter after when it finally began. The kids spent the extra time asking to pet every dog that happened by and managed to get their hands on quite a few. They are animal lovers and seemed amazed at all of the dog petting opportunities that they were able to take advantage of as we traveled around Europe.

    We decided on lunch at the Ratskeller after watching the Glockenspeil. I discovered that they had something like a lunch sampler and ordered that for myself. It was delicious -- miniature portions of a soup, two salads, an appetizer, an entrée, and dessert. The pretzels were fresh and hot and I decided to have a beer with my lunch. Allison took a liking to the beer and Charleen was mortified that I allowed her to try a sip.

    We went walking around the pedestrian mall that also holds the Kristkindelmarket (that I visited in 2001) and other events over the course of the year. A new addition in preparation for the World Cup Games are about 150 decorated lions scattered around the city -- an interesting contrast to the cows in Chicago and the crabs in Baltimore. The "Munchner Lowenparade" will eventually feature somewhere around 300 decorated lions and the story given is that they are being decorated by artists and groups of school children before being donated to the public and put on display. The net profits from the "lion parade" are being donated to help children in need.

    The kids wanted pictures with every one of them that they saw and we wound up on the lion tour of Munich's old town center. We spent several hours walking around, looking at shops, and taking pictures. At one point, we happened across a shoe store that was having some sort of sale such that they had a full-sized model of an elephant which appeared to be crashing through their window. Needless to say, the kids required some pictures of themselves standing under the elephant's butt.

    We stopped once for some fresh raspberries and another time for some cake at a bakery. We also found some mandel -- hot roasted almonds with a caramelized sugar coating -- to snack on and Charleen wound up eating almost all of them herself because they were so warm and tasty. They had an outdoor café area that was vacant (probably due to the weather) so we got our stuff "take-away" and occupied a table outside. A waitress came out once and told us that we would have to go back inside if we wanted anything. We agreed that there would be no table service and she left us alone. Much to her dismay, we started a small trend and the tables began filling up quickly. The Germans clearly expected to be served and she wound up having to open the patio. She flashed us a debilitating stare each time she walked past with stuff for someone so we made a quick exit.

    Charleen and I are quite fond of BMWs and one of the things on our list for this trip was to try to take a tour of the factory. Our guidebook indicated that one needed to make reservations at the museum so we headed out to the Olympic Park area to see if we could line something up for another day. We drove around the entire BMW plant until we found a sign that indicated that the museum had temporarily relocated to Olympic Park.

    We drove over to the area where they held the games years ago and our two girls (age 5&7) found two boys (age 5&7) playing soccer with their father. The four kids wound up playing together while Charleen and I chatted with their father. He told us all about the area and how wonderful it was to live in a city where the Olympic Park is somewhat of a center of activity for the local residents. I did not know this, but he said that most cities that host the games don't do much with the area afterwards. It sounded to me like the Olympic Park was a perfect place to take the kids for a few hours.

    We finished our conversation and stopped to take a picture of the girls together. At almost the same time, a group of Korean gentlemen came walking by and also took a picture of the girls. One of them asked (charades, as always) if he could have a picture with them and I agreed. He stood with them while a friend snapped a couple of photos. Lizzy (age 5) asked him to pick her up and I said that it was ok. That led to another few pictures and I decided to hoist Allison up and put her on his other arm. We wound up repeating this for about a half-dozen Koreans and also managed one or two pictures of the scene on our camera as well.

    After the photo shoot, we wandered over to the BMW museum and learned that there was a six-week advance required for a factory tour. Curiously enough, this is the same amount of advance notice required to tour the White House. Suffice to say, we decided that we would have to wait until our next trip to Germany to see our cars' birthplace. Another interesting fact: there are only 90 slots available each week for BMW factory tours, less on holiday weeks. The bottom line here is that I will have our dealer make our reservations several months ahead of time.

    The BMW museum was interesting, albeit small, and the highlights for the kids were being allowed to take pictures with my new digital camera and playing in the only car that you were actually allowed to touch&a BMW 3/20 two seat open roadster built in pre-war Germany. The car was neat and the kids loved climbing in it. Of note: the location that we visited was a temporary home while the so-called "mushroom" building is being remodeled. Renovation is simply one of the things that you must consign yourself to when travelling in Europe.

    We finished up at the museum and escaped yet another gift shop. We spoke with the young people working behind the counter for a few minutes and we were able to garner a recommendation for dinner: Kyoto Japanese Restaurant. It took some doing, but we actually managed to find the place. Something of a feat considering that it was in the portion of the map where they had thoughtfully chosen to print the legend. We managed a parking place right in front (probably illegal, but full of cars) and went inside to discover that no one spoke English at all. We also discovered something that was new to us called "running sushi." This is an all-you-can-eat system with a twist. There is a two-level conveyor belt that winds its way from the kitchen, through the restaurant, and back to the kitchen again. There, the chefs place one or two pieces on small plates and cover them with transparent plastic bowls before loading them back onto the belt. The dishes on the top were hot dishes like egg rolls, fried dumplings, etc. On the bottom were the nigiri and maki sushi along with several varieties of desserts, salads, and other cold appetizers. Each table has a small window and you simply reach through and grab whatever strikes your fancy -- weird, yet lots of fun! Charleen and I immediately went into a dim-sum-esque feeding frenzy and Charleen ate way too much as a result. We watched the other Europeans have leisurely dinners, taking plates on occasion, as we cleared plate after plate. They definitely lost money on us! The culminating event was dessert. Charleen got a candy coated fruit shish kebab earlier in the meal and absolutely insisted on having another one and having me try one. We asked a German woman that spoke English to describe to the waitress what we were looking for. A few minutes later, Charleen spotted one on the conveyor belt. Much to her dismay, the ladies at the table right before ours on the belt took it. She was mortified, until a pair of them showed up at our table via the waitress. I didn't care for them, so Charleen ate them both and we left.

    Following the "running sushi" experience, we headed back to Edelweiss. The kids were mad that they had missed the pool, but we promised them a dip after skiing the next day.

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