September 15, 2011

roadtrip through europe

"i thought you'd never ask," said my friend maria when i asked if she'd like to do some international travel with me before starting our second year at stanford's graduate school of business.

not least among the reasons i like maria is that she and i share a former career: management consultant. years of slavish devotion to american airlines and starwood hotels has blessed us with enough airline miles and hotel points to execute a 10-day travel extravaganza on pitiful student budgets. we settled on western europe (specifically france, luxembourg, germany, and austria) for mostly practical reasons: maria speaks french and german, and we both like pretzels. we booked some flights, reserved a rental car, and prepared for adventure.

a week before we left, i was in new york for work and found myself hunkered down for hurricane irene with maria by my side. "what do you want to do on our trip?" she asked.

"eat my face off and take a million photos," i replied. she nodded quietly, her mouthful of cheese, as she intently changed a roll of film on her lomographic holga camera.

i knew this was going to be good.

day 1 - san francisco to paris
i took the RER from charles de gaulle and met maria at the apartment of 3 of our classmates who were working in paris. we were almost immediately won over by constance, a cafe around the corner whose delicious salads, sandwiches and desserts were all homemade (according to the franglish-speaking owner). we took our food to go and made our way over to the jardin des tuileries. this lunch was one of the best meals we had on the trip -- a must-not-miss in paris. our perfectly pressed panini housed cheese, ham, pesto, tomato, and arugula; our flavorful salad: a blend of arugula, broccoli, quinoa, and beets; and, most gloriously, our fresh fruit crumble was nothing short of heavenly.

we'd both seen the louvre in college, so we skipped the inside tour in favor of some external pictures in the lovely afternoon light.

our camera antics led to a recreation photo of a pose lovingly coined by our friend andrew as "glambert presents." in this pose, maria stands before a monument in an aggressive lunge, her arms outstretched like a maniacal circus promoter greeting you at the entrance to the elephant tent, her face simultaneously solemn and proud. in search of a dramatic camera angle, i eventually lowered myself all the way onto the ground of the louvre's courtyard, my little legs extended in front of me like a forgotten teddy bear.

"this is too good not to photograph," exclaimed maria, and a meme was born. throughout the rest of the trip, as we periodically stumbled upon the various sites of western europe, lambert would present, and jong would sit. the forthcoming flickr albums will be surprisingly hilarious.

we continued through the jardin des tuileries, past the luxor obelisk, and down to the arc de triomphe.

flowers at the tuileries
boat vendor at the tuileries
arc de triomphe (with the eiffel tower peeking through)
parisian coffee

on our return home, we walked along the seine river as rain clouds rolled in.

bridge over the seine
parisian skyline

the night finished with a late dinner with our hostesses. bon.

day 2 - paris
we again took to the streets, ready for some serious walking. en route to notre dame, we passed pompidou and some banksy-esque street art.

notre dame
place igor stavinsky

glambert in place igor stavinsky

we eventually went in search of "the crepe district" -- a mythical street lined with creperies on the south side of the seine. we eventually found something good enough and grubbed on savory and sweet crepes before booking it over to the musee d'orsay in time for discounted end-of-day tickets.

graffiti outside musee d'orsay

maria studied art history in college and gave me a caffeinated tour of the museum's permanent collection including monet, manet, and van gough. we ate dinner at a surprisingly delicious italian bistro called la bocca where we ordered arugula salad, a rustic bruschetta, and gnocchi gorgonzola. plates were cleaned. 

day 3 - paris to luxembourg city
we picked up our rental car and hit the french countryside. other than the ubiquitous road tolls, the drive was quite lovely -- pleasant landscapes of rolling hills, beautifully lit in the afternoon sun. the french oldies radio station ("nostalgi") played none of the hits but kept us entertained.

we stopped in reims for a quick tour at france's preeminent champagne pommery. our tour took us through cold, dark underground caves lined with dusty champagne bottles waiting to mature. each passageway and grotto is named for a foreign city; the aged signs contribute to the suspicion that you're visiting the set of an indiana jones movie. we learned that champagne pommery was so close to enemy lines in WWI that some of its caves were temporarily repurposed to store artilleries.

aging champagne bottles

caves at champagne pommery

brut royal

certainly the strangest artifact in the champagne pommery was a taxidermied elephant balancing on his trunk, pretentiously guarded by velvet rope in a glorified cubicle in the lobby. only his hind legs could be seen over the top of the awkwardly constructed walls that surrounded him, but i immediately identified an unmissable photographic opportunity. "there's an elephant doing a handstand behind that wall," i told maria. "we should take a picture."

elephant in the doorway

the champagne pommery lobby elephant

we pressed on to luxembourg city where we stayed at a hostel (my first), a pleasant dorm-like building tucked under one of the city's valley-crossing bridges. after watching some fireworks from beneath the bridge's arches, we hit the hay.

fireworks in luxembourg city

day 4 - luxembourg city to nuremberg
by the time we made it down to the lobby at 9:30AM, we'd already missed breakfast at the hostel, so we headed into the city center where we began to yearn for the american tradition of food-at-all-hours. in our fruitless search for food in luxembourg city at 10AM on a weekday, we were interviewed for luxembourgian radio about our opinions on the forthcoming 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

next stop: germany. our first gas station break introduced me to all manner of german oddities including pornographic videos in the mini-mart and impossibly high mirrors in the bathrooms. germany, as it turns out, was not designed for short people.

our destination was nuremberg, a last-minute itinerary addition, primarily because it had a starwood hotel we could stay at for free. we looked it up in our lonely planet guidebook and decided to visit its world-renowned nazi museum.

driving to the museum, we passed the grounds of the WWII nazi party rallies (now a park), and we began to see signs for the volksfest -- the people's festival. we pulled into the parking lot, and in front of the world's biggest nazi museum, we saw a towering ferris wheel. no joke. we vowed to investigate after our tour.

the museum was very interesting. although it certainly covered topics related to the holocaust, the main focus of the exhibits was to document and describe hitler's rise to power and the fascinating story behind the nazi party's cultural takeover of the country. one of the most memorable exhibits described the labor camps in which prisoners mined stone under barbaric conditions. the stone, we learned, was largely used to erect the grandiose facilities surrounding the museum, facilities that served as the backdrop for nazi propaganda and frenzied party rallies.

creepy hitler paraphernalia at the nuremberg nazi museum

when we emerged, we decided to investigate what business a ferris wheel had being outside a nazi museum. to our delight, we discovered that the volksfest is akin to an american county fair, replete with carnival rides, indulgent fried foods, and top-notch people watching. the frosting on our already delightful cake of german culture: it was ladies night. seriously. we enjoyed a discounted ride on the aforementioned ferris wheel and then dined on volksfest cuisines like a massive pretzel, a frosty beer, and a pickle stuffed with sauerkraut. it was a highlight of the trip, and thus, much photographed.

glambert is ready for ladies night
foreground: volksfest, background: nazi museum

glambert joy on the ferris wheel

game booth at volksfest

fish sandwich at volksfest

gerkins at volksfest

tiny haribo at volksfest

tiffany: a schmuck boutique (at volksfest)

coconut crunchies at volksfest

glambert's first german beer (at a volksfest biergarten)

sausage at volksfest

volksfest at night

volksfest at night

volksfest rollercoaster

we called it a night at the le meridian in nuremberg which was, as expected, lovely.

day 5 - nuremberg to munich
we ate a delicious breakfast at cafe am trödelmarkt, right on the water in downtown nuremberg, before heading over to the toy museum.

best breakfast of the trip: crushed

the toy museum housed four floors of playful exhibits from 19th century doll houses to malibu barbie.

OG scrabble at the nuremberg toy museum

noahs ark at the toy museum

hedgehog friend at the toy museum

19th century toys at the toy museum

proto yahtzee in a century-old doll house

peering into the depths of a pocket-sized diorama of a parisian street scene

although i enjoyed the museum very much, it did confirm my immense aversion to dolls.

this is what nightmares are made of

continuing to explore the theme of "juxtapositions in nuremberg" (remember the ferris wheel at the nazi museum?), we stumbled upon the red bull district ride, a bike stunt event, gearing up in front of st. sebaidus church and the frauenkirche in the town square.

we drove beneath the impossibly large-looking sky down to munich, where we met up with our airbnb hosts, a lovely young professional couple with an enchanting doberman named spike. rather than barking and jumping on us, spike periodically fell asleep sitting up as we drank coffee and chatted with our hosts in the living room.

spike, trying not to fall asleep

one of our hosts was interested in applying to business school in the states (particularly stanford), so we gladly offered our advice.

we took the s-bahn train into downtown munich and walked around the sunset-lit city.


sunset in munch

dusk in marienplatz

tantalized by the cover art of a children's book, i was drawn into a book store where i bought the book without even cracking the cover. when we finally got around to reading der kragenbär, a short biography of a (suspiciously gay?) bear who wears an elizabethan collar, it was determined to be one of the greatest purchases of our entire trip. great addition to my children's book collection.

after scarfing some surprisingly inexpensive raspberries and strawberries from a street vendor, we made our way to weisses brauhaus, a beer hall where we ate jagerschnitzel and spaetzel.

munich street food

we followed that up with ice cream, more beer, and a crepe, and returned to our airbnb apartment feeling almost a good way.

day 6 - munich to dachau to vienna
we went into town again in the morning and caught the end of the glockenspiel "show" at marienplatz. nothing to write home about. much more satisfying was our 14-floor climb to the top of a nearby church for 360 views of munich under a clear blue sky.

marienplatz from 14 stories up

at the viktualienmarkt, we washed down our bavarian pretzels and white sausages with fresh fruit juice and then headed back to the apartment to pack it up.

german pretzel and white sausage

fresh juice at the viktualienmarkt

hedgehog friends at the viktualienmarkt

since we had some extra time, we decided to stop in dachau at the former site of the WWII concentration camp. (quick aside: for those wondering, you can check in to the site on foursquare, and yes, there is a mayor: jessica from milwaukee). the eerie contrast between the warm, sunny day and the somber memorial museum made for an unsettling afternoon. the most disturbing exhibits included prisoner accounts of the brutality they experienced in the camps, including chilling descriptions of the very rooms we stood in.

gate at dachau concentration camp


we made great time to vienna, as we admired the gorgeous countryside bathed in warm light from the sunset. we arrived as our second airbnb booking of the trip -- a cute little private apartment at the south end of vienna. the apartment building had the smallest elevator i've ever been in, barely big enough for one person and a suitcase.

me in the impossibly small elevator

we went into the city to see the rathaus and burgtheater at night, and were pleasantly surprised to find a circus camped out in the plaza between then.

vienna rathaus, flanked by the roncalli circus trailers 

pedestrian in white hat in front of the burgtheater in vienna

dinner included beef goulash and wiener schnitzel, and we returned to our apartment on vienna's lovable subway system.

day 7 - vienna
we had breakfast at kleines cafe, and then walked to the museumsquartier by way of the burggarten and maria-theresien-platz.

breakfast at kleines cafe in vienna
kunsthistorisches museum in vienna

mumok museum in museumsquartier in vienna

our first museum of the day: the leopold museum which featured a captivating exhibit of works by egon schiele, an early 20th century painter who died at just 26. his tim burton-esque nudes were stunning (NSFW).

splitting up for one of the only times on the trip, maria hit up the modern art museum (mumok) and i went in search of what our viennese classmate called "the best ice cream ever" at tuchlauben.

the velvetiest ice cream i've ever had (mango)

we reconvened for coffee and a snack in the plaza of the museumsquartier before hoofing it over to the vienna opera to pick up cheap, last-minute standing room tickets.

fritz-kola: we are definitely in austria

afternoon treat in museumsquartier

upon arrival at the wiener staastoper opera house, we were told our skirts were too short to be allowed in the theater, so we padded off in search of other diversions. we took some photos at the karlskirche before winding up at vienna's famed music museum, the haus du musik (open late!).

karlskirche in vienna

reflection of karlskirche

musikverein at sunset

vienna street art. caption not pictured: "hilfe! kann nicht schwimmen!"

glambert at haus der musik

bumping the classical jams at the haus der musik

interactive exhibit: roll dice to make a waltz together

we powered through the floors dedicated to the vienna symphony and the great composers, favoring a leisurely examination of the 2nd floor sonosphere whose interactive exhibits explored the science of sound. very cool.

with few options late at night, we grabbed dinner across the street from the museum at an italian place whose arugula salad, mushroom pizza, and gnocchi gorgonzola treated us well.


day 8 - vienna to salzberg to spitzingsee
leaving our car parked at museumsquartier (supposedly the cheapest parking in the city), we walked over to the naschmarkt, stopping at cafe sperl along the way for coffee. the cafe is lonely planet's pick, but it was nothing special.

the naschmarkt was home to a repetitive pattern of stalls hawking spices, produce, doner kebabs, and cheese. we stumbled upon an asian market, where we picked up some sesame seed dumplings stuffed with coconut. crazy delicious.

coconut-filled jin doi from an asian market in vienna

en route to our next destination, we passed through salzburg and decided to check it out. the salzach river was undoubtedly beautiful, and the little castles on the hills were charming, but we weren't terribly impressed. notable about the city were its streets full of american tourists there to take the kitschy "sound of music" tour.

salzburg, austria

as we went through salzburg and beyond, we drove through stunningly beautiful mountains. when we finally pulled off the main highway to drive through pastoral german countryside, we couldn't fathom how much more beautiful the scenery would get.

stauden, germany

josefsthal, germany

40 minutes off the highway, we finally arrived at lake spitzingsee at what may be the most randomly located starwood hotel in europe. we were extremely lucky to be upgraded to a room with a lake view, and we spent the rest of the afternoon admiring our surroundings and counting our blessings.

view from our balcony at lake spitzingsee

on the lake!

glambert on a dock at lake spitzingsee

it appeared that commerce in this sleepy ski village grinds to a halt between tourist seasons, but, in the basement of a local inn, we finally found a little tavern-style restaurant that would serve dinner. as if jagerschnitzel, pork knuckles, spaetzel, and a knödel dumpling weren't enough, we also ordered two desserts: an apple and custard strudel. ready to soak our full tummies, we visited the pool at our hotel and were delighted to find a steam room and 4 types of saunas.

sheraton spitzingsee's pool in the afternoon

we were particularly enchanted by the heated beds -- tile-covered recliners warmed to body temperature, placed strategically beneath a mood light that rotated through the colors of the rainbow.

back in the room, we ventured onto our balcony and admired the stars.

day 9 - spitzingsee to paris
we rose early -- a long day of driving ahead of us. we ducked into the cafe next door for fresh pretzels and coffee, then hopped in the car, headed west.

pretzel mascot, later consumed

the drive back out to the highway was just as stunning as our drive to spitzingsee, and we were constantly torn between stopping to capture images of the breathtaking scenery and plowing ahead to paris.

german hillside

my favorite stop along the way was a rest station where the bathrooms were operated by a company whose "philosophy" graced a plaque outside. the toilets had self-cleaning seats that automatically rotated 360 degrees after flushing. fascinating.

with the help of several episodes of my favorite podcasts (this american life, radiolab, and the moth), we made it through munich, karlsruhe, and strassbourg, and into the french countryside just as the sun was setting.

sunset in the french countryside outside of paris

sunset in the french countryside outside of paris

we arrived in paris late, but returned our car and joined our friends for dinner.

day 10 - paris
a bit tired at the end of our trip, we took it easy, returning to constance for a repeat of the excellent lunch we had on day 2. we leisurely walked to pompidou, picking up coffee and crepes along the way. before entering the museum, we sat in the courtyard for nearly an hour, soaking up the sun and chatting.

from the top floor of pompidou, there are lovely views of paris, including the eiffel tower, norte dame, and sacré-cœur.

eiffel tower from pompidou

sacré-cœur from pompidou

the top floor of pompidou featured an exhibit called paris-delhi-bombay which explored the intersection between french and indian culture. it was a substantial exhibit (we spent nearly 2.5 hours there) with thought-provoking film, photography, sculpture, and paintings. we particularly liked the pieces that dealt with the role of gays and transgendered people in indian culture.

pompidou's permanent collection is also pretty robust and notable to me for its impressive array of what i call color porn. i already posted many photos from the collection to my new color blog, give me all the colors.

color porn at pompidou

we walked back to the apartment, grabbed drinks and appetizers (meats, cheeses, and frites) with classmates, and then returned to la bocca for a yummy last meal in europe.

day 11 - paris to san francisco
we rose pre-dawn to catch a train to charles de gaulle where we were thankful our frequent flier status gave us access to the american airlines admiral's club. while attempting to catch up on email, i put away at least 8 mini-croissants. "diet starts tomorrow," i thought. "i'd better enjoy europe while i still can."

travel day

as my plane took off, i looked down at the checkered french farmland outside my window and yearned to pull out my camera -- well, my iphone, which proved to be a reliable camera replacement on this trip. but i'd already taken 1400 photos (maria, many thousands more on her SLR), and i thought about all the beauty i'd already captured. feeling my tummy full of croissants, i was pleased to know i'd achieved my objectives for this trip, and i smiled.


kevandcan said...

GREAT photos and commentary. Glad you had a good, safe trip. Take care.

maria luisa lambert said...

thanks so much for taking the time to write this. <3 you