Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Upselling sucks

I hate being up-sold. I'm an educated consumer and I know what I want. In many cases, I know more than the person trying to sell me something so why should I believe you when you tell me I need this additional product or I should go for a bit more? If you're a bit confused, here's the upsell.

You go to buy something; goods or services, it takes both kinds. When checking out or discussing what you're purchasing, the person hawking the goods or services tries to get you buy additional items or have you change your initial order, like getting the same computer but adding more RAM or a faster processor.

I understand it's their job but do they have to be so GD persistent? Recently, I was victim to unwanted and annoying as hell upselling at the following 2 locations on the same day. Lovely.

1. The car wash
Car wash guy: How ya doing today?
Me: Great; nice day, need to wash the car
CWG: I hear ya, boss! What can we do for you today?
Me: Just need the standard wash, and that's all
CWG: Can I get you some wheel & tire dressing? Wax?
Me: No. Just the standard wash, and that's all
CWG: You sure? The wax will protect your paint and the tire/wheel dressing will really clean up these wheels; they're pretty dirty. I mean, you really should do it.
Me: No, thank you. I still just want the standard wash, like when I first got here (said with a little laugh that was condescending enough to make him put the pen behind his ear and begrudgingly accept defeat)
CWG: Well, it's your call, boss...
Me: I know. Thanks for trying

2. Dentist
I'll spare you the transcript for it wasn't nearly as exciting and would be much longer than I care to type. In a nutshell, the dentist is the undisputed king of the upsell. When I was a kid, you got your teeth cleaned with no hassel. Go in and get x-rays, if cavities show up they tell you and they fix them; no options, no upsell, nothing. Now, I go in and apparently have a cavity that requires work. She informs me that the dentist is recommending that I not go with a standard filling but instead go for a partial crown. Cost to me: $687 and that's after insurance; $850+ before insurance. I ask the woman why the dentist is not recommending a filling and she informs me that the crown is a better, safer, longer-lasting--and most importantly in her opinion--more attractive alternative. I told her the only reason she wants me to do it is because it's 5-times more expensive than the regular filling alternative that was on the comparison chart, probably because insurance companies require they place an alternative, and that there would never be a time that was right for a filling in their eyes.

I asked about a guarantee on this crown and future damage and such. Not surprising, but there is no guarantee; if it breaks a week later, guess who's back for another $687 procedure. But, such cases were "very rare" and fillings not only wear out after some time but don't look nearly as nice as the crown does and having beautiful teeth is very important in today's society.

Then, I tell her I'm getting rather frustrated and annoyed and that she's wasting her time by trying to sell a useless and frivolous treatment to me. She then gives me a "well, whatever; they're your teeth, not mine..." which went a long ways towards ensuring that I would not be going back to them. She also informs me that the dentist is recommending scaling (deep cleaning) on my teeth instead of a regular cleaning. This now means that the dentist appointment that was to be free, per the insurance I have, will now cost me $55; no negotiating. However, it only cost me $55 because I declined the $60 anti-bacterial rinse they recommend when doing this procedure. What a bunch of bullsh*t. I'm wondering if the cost of the procedures performed is in any way correlated to the overhead and staff they have on hand? In my 2 hour visit, I was attended to by no less than 5 people: receptionist, x-ray girl, hygenist, dentist and upsell girl.

I'm not joking: all that woman did was wear nice clothes and walk from room to room with a clipboard informing people of the treatments they required and upselling her way to a bonus. I'm doubting she had any knowledge of dentistry, whatsoever, and could rather easily transition from this job to one at a best buy, a landscaping company, auto repair facility or car wash.

So, to wrap it up, don't upsell me. I hate it.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Apple-ification of Bryan Mills

Well, as eluded to in a previous post, it's time for an upgrade on my computing technology. In a radical departure from the past 12+ years of my life, I won't be going with a Dell, In fact, I won't even be going with a Windows-based platform.

Yup, you read it right: I'm ditching Windows in favor of Mac. I saw this coming for a while now and the time is just right from an operating system, hardware and design point of view. I'm making the switch for 2 major reasons:

1. I'm not as much of a "power user" as I once was or think I currently am. Back 5 years ago I was stoked to rip open a case and replace HDD's or video cards or RAM or what not, like tinkering on a classic '67 Camaro or something; Fry's was a great place to go and look at all the fun new stuff for your computer. Then I got to wondering why my computer was like an '87 Honda Accord or Scion and I was constantly pimping my ride and having to change the components all the time to get the results I wanted.

I'd hack into the OS and make little changes so things would run smoother or more to my liking, install any # of utilities that would add functionality missing from Windows, update virus software and deal with isolated threats every few months and so forth. Now, I'm over it. Why mess around with it? Why not just have something that works without having to throw all the bells and whistles at it? Why not just use a machine that does everything you want and more without having to ala carte your way there and mess everything else up in the process?

2. I want something that plays nicely with others and just works. Period. I made excuses for why Macs sucked in the past and touted the benefits of PC's and Windows until I couldn't talk. Now, I've started to ask myself: why do I need to defend something so much and why don't you ever hear the Mac people quite as loudly as the PC guys? Well, I'm beginning to see the light and realizing that PC's just aren't all they're cracked up to be and the software I need to run is widely available and maybe even more impressive on Macs, especially since all new Macs are built on Intel architecture and chips.

PC's are fine machines but without constant monitoring, upgrading and general diligence about maintaining the status quo, you find yourself messing with viruses, software incompatibilities, driver updates, missing .dll's; the list goes on. At any given time I have about 50 processes running, maybe 10 of which I intend on running. You're probably asking "why not just find the processes and kill them or disable them through the Services application in the control panel?" YOU'RE PROVING MY POINT!! I don't want to dick around with all that crap anymore! It's onerous, at best, impossible at worst and I've done my time; it's time for a new change.

So, with all that said, in a few weeks time we will begin the "Apple-ification" of my stable of computers and technology. "What are you going to get" you ask? Good question! Let's go in chronological order...

MacBook Air
The laptop is the 1st to go. My Dell Inspiron 2600 has served me well for almost 3 years now and I have no hard feelings towards it; been to Indonesia, Europe and all points in between. It will go to a good home, no doubt, but it's being replaced with Apple's newest piece of technology the ridiculously small/thin and sexy MacBook Air. I don't do much on my laptop but browse the web, word processing, occasional spreadsheets and PDF stuff for work and chat. I don't need a massive screen, incredible processing power or optical drive and care more for portability, battery life and usability/compatibility with all the peripherals I use. The MBA seems to be the perfect fit and being the newest and most talked about laptop in a decade makes it right up my alley :)

Apple Time Capsule
This one is still up in the air. I am looking for a backup solution as well as a more powerful router and print server and this fits the bill on all accounts. At 500GB, it will also serve as not only backup but probably a NAS (network accessible storage) device for both myself and Katie who can both store music, movies, photos and other documents for immediate retrieval on any of the desktops or laptops in the house. I may opt for an external HDD and an Apple Airport Extreme base station instead if I can find a good deal but it's pretty hard to beat the Time Capsule since it does everything I need in 1 convenient device.

24" iMac
The new Mothership of my technology armada. I fell in love with the design of the new iMac the second I saw one in person and the display on the 24" is probably the most gorgeous display I've ever laid eyes on. The machine is powerful, sleek and capable of doing everything I could ever want and more. It's a pretty radical departure from the mini-tower desktops I've always used but since I've no desire to look under the hood and tinker with the guts of my computers anymore, the iMac will be great. Working with the MBA and the Time Capsule, this should be an awfully impressive team. But wait, there's more!!

iPhone 2.0
When the iPhone debuted almost a year ago, I knew this device would change the way people view mobile phones but I was disappointed that it lacked several key features someone like myself needs, namely operation on a 3G network and ability to play nicely with Microsoft Exchange Server, which I rely on heavily. Well, it's widely predicted that in a couple weeks Apple will be unveiling iPhone 2.0 with those 2 additions and more. I'm due for a new phone (BlackBerry Curve is approaching it's 1-year anniversary) and since I'm going all Apple, I figured the new iPhone would be the icing on the cake. Katie has her own iPhone and loves it. Going to Forever 21 isn't that bad when you can sit on her iPhone the whole time and browse sports scores or play games :)

This photo is ironic because the desktop I currently use is the same one shown above...

So, everything should be coming together in the next couple months and once it does I will be 100% Apple technology. Every call I make, document I produce, email I send, MP3 I download, blog entry I post and spreadsheet I print will go through an Apple device. I never thought I'd do it, but I'm about to become a full-fledged Kool-Aid drinker.

But is that so bad? These devices are easily some of the best in their class or the gold standard and they work amazingly well and play extremely nicely with one another. In Apple's perfect world, everything is built to work with one another. Laptop, desktop, phone, storage, router; they build all of those devices and for them to work their best they're to be used in unison. Problem is, that rarely happens. Somewhere along the line the chain is broken and Apple has to work with a device that's not Apple and maybe in some way the perfect world isn't so perfect anymore; same could be said for any software/hardware manufacturer.

Apple is unique: it is both a software and hardware company. The bum steer for Microsoft is that no matter how good their product is, it has to work with a 3rd party and that's where the fun begins. If MSFT manufactured their own hardware, things would be a lot different and maybe the utopian world that Apple paints would be reality for Microsoft, too.

I'm pretty stoked that I won't have X devices from X different manufacturers all trying to work together and none of them doing it 100% right. Instead, I'm hoping that the "perfect world" that Apple wants each and every one of it's customers to operate in is indeed perfect I'd I'll look back at the mid-90's to present day and laugh at all the follies and frustrating days had on Windows-based PC's and sip my chai-tea macchiato and queue up some U2 on iTunes while researching alternative fuel sources for my Prius. OK, I won't go that far, people; you have my word...

The countdown has begun to Technology Life 2.0... I'll keep you updated.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bryan's history with computers

It's a slow Monday, so let me give you a brief history of my experience and ownership of computers.

Circa 1985: I begin using my first computer at Echo Park Elementary School in Burnsville, MN. I believe it was an Apple IIe, seen above. You know: black/green screen, Oregon Trail, etc.

Circa 1986: We buy a Commodore 128 for the house. Games like Jumpman, Zork and Where in the World is Carmen San Diego are played for hours. The color screen was ultra-pimp.

Circa 1987: My dad buys an Apple Macintosh and I begin playing around with it at his house on the weekends. Same sort of thing as the Apple IIe, but this one's screen was black/white...AND, it had a mouse. I played many a game that was so primitive, yet incredibly fun, with this new-fangled invention the mouse. However, I think ejecting disks automatically by dragging the disk icon to the trash can was more fun than anything else. The GUI was here to stay

Circa 1990: Mom buys a Macintosh Classic II for the house. Not a lot of advancement here unless you count the 80MB HD an advancement. This computer would last quite a while until I'd move to the Dark Side and to Windows-based PC's.

1995: I move to Kansas and need a computer for school, so at my dad's request and financial assistance I pick up a Dell laptop. I'm not sure which model it was, I just remember it being big, heavy and having a really shitty battery-life. I had moved to the brand-new Windows 95 and thought it was cooler than anything I'd seen. Apple/Mac was in a bit of a funk at this time and Windows was gaining momentum everywhere, including academia as almost all the computers at KU were PC's; a stark contrast from K-12 where it was rare to see a PC.

1996-present: I have purchased approximately 12 Dell computers during the past 12 years, both laptops and desktops. I am never without a laptop and a desktop machine in the house and seem to replace each machine every 2 years. Both laptop and desktop are nearing their short lifecycle and will be put to pasture fairly soon.

Present - future: Well, you just knew this post was leading somewhere. Stay tuned a bit later this week and I'll unveil to you what the near and dustant future holds for my stable of computers and electronic gizmos.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Europe Recap: Jerry Springer Final Thoughts

After spending 2 weeks abroad, you've got to change. There's no way around it, you just become a different person. OK, maybe not changed but...enlightened.

That's about $700 worth of Flake...no clue why I didn't grab one and run

We saw so many different cultures, different people and a world that had been around for thousands of years before we made the world's largest iced tea in Boston. And while the difference between our culture and those in Europe is nowhere near as different than ours and say rural Indonesia--as I experienced firsthand a couple years ago--it certainly catches you off-guard. I, however, appreciated most of that culture more than much of the culture here in the States.

Mona Lisa, shown actual size!

Don't read too much into that. I wouldn't go so far as saying that the sentiments are anti-American as much as they are pro-European. It's hard to not love Europe. Friendly people (for the most part), incredible history, art, architecture, the best cars, the best beer, pubs, efficient public transportation, I could go on forever. What makes it so great, though, is how it all blends together so perfectly.

Too bad I was looking for a Chicken McNuggets Restaurant

Sure, I was on vacation. I didn't get to see the problems and ugly sides of a culture; not many Europeans would experience the ugliness when visiting Disneyland. I'm not saying it's perfect by any means, but I would take the European culture any day of the week. The second I stepped off the plane at Heathrow I knew I was going to love Europe more than I had 3 years ago. It was fantastic to be there with Katie and experience all of this with her. I think her sentiments are the same as mine and she loved Europe just as much as I did.

I swear this looks like an Imperial Destroyer from Star Wars; fitting it was in France

I guess when you step out of your home or comfort zone you can really evaluate who you are and where you come from on a much more objective basis. Katie and I came across other Americans abroad everywhere we visited and sadly, we were ashamed how many of them acted. That's not to say everyone was a douche but if we came across 100 Americans, I'd say that probably at least half of them acted like...well, Americans. I can't stand when people travel and they expect the places they travel (domestic or abroad) to adapt to them, not the other way around. What ever happened to "when in Rome, do as the Romans do..." Instead, the overwhelming sentiment is "When in Rome, do as I do at home...and if you don't like it then you suck."

You've got to surrender yourself to the situation, people. Become a part of the places you travel and take them home with you. Learn from others instead of feeling that everywhere you go you have to be a missionary spreading your culture to others that are totally content doing what they do and could give a hoot about you in their country. Show a little eagerness to learn and willingness to be part of their culture for a few days and you'll be amazed what it gets you.

I heart BMW

On the flight home, I got to thinking: could I live in Europe? Yeah, I could. I don't know how or where or why I'd live there but I could get used to being a part of the European culture on a permanent basis. I'd like to at least figure out a way that I can work with Europeans and I have a couple ideas floating around but nothing worth sharing at this time. Stay tuned...

They do the pesky mixing of booze and cola so you don't have to!

I miss being in Europe. We've been back for 2 weeks now and I'd be lying if I said I wish I wasn't there right now. I will most certainly be visiting Europe for the rest of my life and bringing back the great things from the places we visited and incorporating them into my daily life. Things like proper driving etiquette, eating smaller/healthier portions of food, walking everywhere, Cadbury Flake, courtesy, ability to speak a 2nd language, you name it.

Herr Ben trinken drei biers

Let's wrap it up, Jerry Springer style. What did I learn from Europe? Well, I learned that giving yourself 2.5 hours for a layover in Boston isn't safe. Customs anywhere outside the US is quick and painless; individual LCD screens on each seat make transatlantic flights a breeze and British Airways puts mayonnaise on everything. But besides the things learned in transit, I learned that Europe is a wonderful place with culture oozing from every building, street and monument. My time abroad was made all the better because I made myself part of the cultures I was visiting, not the other way around. For 2 weeks I was happy to be just a tourist, not an American.

I know that my car will go at least 128mph and that BMW builds the finest production cars on the planet, bar none. Driving through Bavaria gives you a real sense of identity and understanding for why BMW builds their cars the way they do and why it's the right way to do it. If you ever consider buying a BMW I cannot recommend to you enough the European Delivery option; it will be the trip of a lifetime and since you save money on the car you basically get a free European vacation out of the deal.

Crappy picture, bad-ass car

I learned that Europe is a place I feel rather connected to on many levels; a place you're certain to hear of me traveling to many times, maybe even setting up shop there some day down the twisting road that is my life. Most importantly, I've realized that I'm very fortunate to have the opportunity to make this vacation a reality. It inspires me to do more with my life so I can repeat the process in another 3 years when the uber-wagon is off lease.

Until next time, take care of yourself, and each other.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Europe Recap Part 4: Germany (part 2)

The last couple days of our adventure were all about being tourists in touristy places. Following the Springfest excitement, the next day we walked around Munich and took in the sights. Last time I was here I was only in Germany for 4 total days, including travel time, so I never really looked around Munich. I knew Munich was a great city so I was stoked we spent the day sightseeing with a local, Sebastian.

Best view of Munich, from atop a church tower

Old architecture abounds in Munich and whatever is new or looks new was where a bomb landed during WWII. Good times! Munich is a very pedestrian city with many streets blocked off to auto access and public transportation everywhere; buses, trains, subway/underground, taxis, there's no need for a car here which is good cuz the parking sucks and is rather expensive! The shopping here is great, too, if you're into that sort of thing

One of 4 original entrances to Munich from around 1175 A.D

We stopped for a quick break at this permanent farmers market sort of thing right in the heart of the city called the Viktualienmarkt and ate the best brats, ever. These Germans really know how to make sausages. After our pit-stop it was up, up and away into this church tower that overlooks the Marienplatz. The view of Munich was wonderful, even though it was overcast and chilly.

Marienplatz from above

Our final stop in downtown was to this store that sells tracht; don't let the strange people and website scare you away, it's the real deal. Tracht is traditional Bavarian clothing like drindl dresses and lederhosen. Sebastian explained that this shop was the good stuff and the place that people from Munich go to buy their clothing, not tourists, and the quality showed; it was the best I'd seen. I tried the full get-up on (sorry, no photos were allowed in the shop) and ended up coming back the next day to buy the outfit! Yeah, it's crazy and I don't know how often I'll actually wear the stuff but I loved it and felt like it needed to be part of my wardrobe...for those special Bavarian occasions...I guess.

The best tracht in Munich, period!

A quick U-bahn train up to BMW Welt later and we were checking out the incredible BMW Welt facility near Olympiapark. They spent 500 million Euro on this facility and it shows; it's amazing. All they need to do is walk you through here once and you're a BMW customer for life.

I heart BMW

We walked through the Olympiapark on the way back where the '72 Olympics were held. It's a really nice park and facilities are everywhere. I guess you could call this Munich's Central Park and from what Sebastian told us it is used for all sorts of concerts, sporting events, festivals and so forth; it's a wonderful gem in this beautiful city. Bayern Munich used to play here until the Allianz Arena was built just a few miles from here, which is certainly a step-up for Germany's best football (soccer) club.

Katie attempting communication with swans @ Olympiapark

Hofbrau Haus for dinner that night. I wanted everyone to see HB cuz you kinda gotta see it but it's such a tourist trap and so isolated from the true Munich experience that you're cheating yourself by not going elsewhere (which we had). Everyone speaks English (hell, our waiter was Japanese), the menus are in English, it's just not "real" ya know? The traditional band was good but that's about all we enjoyed here; we'd take Lowenbrau any day of the week.

When you wish upon a star...

Our final full-day in Germany was spent near Fussen at Newschwanstein Castle. This is the castle that the Disney castles were modeled after, built by King Ludwig in the 1800's. It's about as fairytale place as you could ever imagine. The castle is nestled in the mountains with waterfalls around it, towering pine trees, a beautiful valley below and the most incredible views. The castle inside is pretty bland; I'm sure there are castles in Orange County that are more nicely appointed. But, you come here for the view and the surroundings and they were incredible. It was a damn shame that the weather was rainy and the roads were really wet because the drive down from Munich is on some killer winding roads through beautiful countryside. Next time I'm totally coming back to this stretch of pavement and having a little fun!

Not a bad view, eh?

Afterwards we drove to Oberammergau for a quick stop and shopping and then back to Munich in a big rainstorm. With the wipers going full speed and me keeping up with the traffic around me, I glanced down and we were going 100mph...might want to slow down :) I bought the lederhosen in Munich upon our return to the City, everyone did a bit of shopping and then it was back to the hotel to pack. Jen and Ben had a train to Stuttgart in the morning and we had to drop off the uber-wagon and catch a flight home at 11AM.

Location, location, location

So the following day we dropped the uber-wagon off at E.H.Harms for shipping back to the states, boarded our flight to Heathrow and 1/2 a day later we were back home. The trip was over and all that was left was some jet lag, great souvenirs, around 1000 photos combined and great memories.

Jery Springer-style final thoughts? I think so. We'll hit it tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Europe Recap Part 4: Germany (part 1)

We're breaking Germany into two parts; I cannot be expected to summarize this place in 1 post...if you were there, you'd understand...

I'd be lying to you if I told you this wasn't the most anticipated portion of the trip. Picking up the uber-wagon aside, I was really stoked to go back to Germany. I don't know what it is about this place but I just lvoe it. The people are super nice, the beer is outstanding, the culture in Bavaria rules, areas of roads with no speed limit, I could go on forever.

When we arrived back in Munich from our little getaway to Salzburg we checked into the hotel (another Priceline score) that was located in central Munich right near the central train station or hauptbahnhof if you're scoring at home. My sister and brother-in-law had just landed at MUC and were en route to meet up with us for a few days during their own European adventure. First night we walked down to Lowenbrau for some food and beer. The food here is probably the best we had in Munich and their bier is some of my favorite. The menus, however, were all in German so we just sort of guessed what everything was and we scored!

Next morning we packed up the car and made the quick drive to Dachau and the prison camp memorial. I did this last time I was in Germany but felt it important that the rest of the gang see this sobering place. The weather was gorgeous which felt strange while walking among buildings that were used to kill people for no good reason. Enough of the serious shit; let's get back to vacation.

Heavy stuff at Dachau

After Dachau, we drove to a little town about 35 miles away called Landshut. This was Ben & Jen's first taste of REAL German roads in the car as we cruised between 100-120 the entire way and tried catching up to a convertible filled with naked or half-naked guys...we weren't sure, nor were we sure how great it felt standing up in a convertible going 110mph. Those dudes had to be covered with bugs and cold as sin, but I'm sure the bier they were most certainly drinking made everything OK. I digress...

When I think of little European towns I think of Landshut. Cute and colorful buildings, big church, cafes lining the streets, ice cream cones, the river running through the town; perfect. The weather stayed gorgeous and we were treated to a relaxing day in this quaint German town that has the highest church tower in either the world or just in Europe...whatever it is, the thing is HUGE. We had issues with parking, however. I was sort of paranoid about the car--not quite sure where the corners were--and when you pair that with TIGHT parallel parking everywhere and narrow streets you get a real parking adventure. We drove down this dead-end street (didn't know that going into it) and had to back the car down the street with about a foot clearance on either side. 15 minutes later we were trying to parallel park in the smallest spot we could find but with the help of 3 spotters we made it work and looked like pros, jamming our car into a space with about 6" clearance front and back. Good times.

Landshut...isn't it quaint?

Driving home at 100+ mph, we arrived back in Munich around 6 and were to meet Katie's friend Sebastian at 7 for a night of fun. This is where our story gets awfully Bavarian, awfully fast...

Sebastian and Katie hoisting a litre of the good stuff

Sebastian took us to the fair grounds where they hold Oktoberfest in the fall. There was another festival (Bavarians LOVE festivals and tying them in with bier) called Springfest. This was described as a mini-Oktoberfest. There were carnival rides everywhere, food, music, you name it. Think of a county fair, but don't charge admission: vilkommen to Springfest. We ended up at the sole bier-tent and were met with a sea of Bavarians well on their way to inebriation. We sat down, Sebastian ordered the biers and we were on the same train as the rest of the Bavarians in the tent. Sidenote: during Oktoberfest there are around 12 major tents here with the largest holding 10,000 people, the smallest 2,000. Yeah, it's sort of a BIG thing.

Here's what Oktoberfest looks like...there's only 1 tent here during Springfest

There was a band playing a mix of German tunes and classic rock(?!) and everybody was dancing and singing and having a great time. THIS is why I will come back to Germany many times in my lifetime. The atmosphere was incredible. There was this buzz, this energy in the place and it just felt..GREAT! We fed off the energy and were Bavarian for a few hours. We ended up at the front of the tent right in front of the band and were dancing on the table for an hour before the party broke up and everyone had to head home. So sad.

This is early in the evening...we're about 1/2-way from the front...just as packed behind us

We stumbled our way out to the fairground and grabbed the last ride of the night on this thing called the "Frisbee" that I probably wouldn't do sober but figured with 4 litres of bier in my belly would be a great idea. For 3/4 of the ride I was having a blast but that last 1/4 I squeezed my eyes shut and focused on a happy place; a place that didn't involve me barfing and looking like a vomit-sprinkler in midair. Too much info? Sorry. We made it off the ride and safely back to the hotel (after I lost 50-Euro somehow) and passed out. Awesome night; no regrets and I'd do it again in a heartbeat...which in Munich could be arranged as Springfest goes for 3 weeks!! YES!!

What was I thinking??!!

We'll finish this story tomorrow...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Europe Recap Part 3: Austria

As a sort of last minute decision when planning the trip, we added Salzburg, Austria to the itinerary. Upon arriving back in Munich we took the train back to BMW and picked up the uber-wagon and drove to Salzburg about 70 miles away. We were only here for 2 nights and didn't really plan on doing much here other than relax.

Salzburg, Austria...that's pretty much everything right there, but it's great!

It turned out these 2 days were the perfect retreat from the go-go-go tourist-mode we had been in for 6 days prior. The hotel was great, weather was nice, people were nicer and the food was awesome. Tired of French food and looking for a little more meat and potatoes, we found Austria to be a wonderful change of pace. Katie had never tried wienerschnitzel and 30 minutes after we checked into the hotel 2 plates of wienerschnitzel and spatzel were in front of us and local Salzburg beer and wine complimented the meal perfectly. The hotel food was great and we found it tough to go out and eat elsewhere.

Hallein, Austria...beautiful country

Salzburg is about as sleepy as a big town can be. It's one of the largest cities in Austria but you'd never know it. Quiet, clean and uncrowded, Salzburg was great. We strolled down the narrowest shopping street in Europe and saw all sorts of high-end shops and fun little cafes. Like I said, not much to do here, but it was perfect.

Narrowest shopping street in Europe...seemed pretty normal to me

After a couple days we packed up the uber-wagon and drove a few miles outside Salzburg to a super fun salt mine tour. The whole thing was rather cheesy with a dramatization about the history of the mines shown at stops in the tour but past that the tour was fun and rather informative; we were both quite impressed. The best part had to be the old miner slides we were invited to slide down. They're made of wood and look like a bowling ball return and you just straddle the thing and lean back and you're off! We got up to 23km going down the larger slide (per the souvenir photo we bought that had our happy faces and speed to cherish forever) and could have done the slides all day if they would have let us. But, alas...

You cross from Austria into Germany whilst underground in the mines, which years ago was a nightmare as people had to have passports, visas, etc. just to take the tours

Pack up the uber-wagon, take the scenic route back to Munich, enjoy a nice lunch at some random cafe in an off-the-beaten-path German town and Salzburg was just a memory but a great one.

Salt mines with our flattering salt mine, oompah-loompah coveralls

Final part of the trip coming up: Germany...the Motherland.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Europe Recap Part 2: Paris

From London we flew to Munich to pick up the car (more on that later) and then immediately hopped a flight to Paris for a few days. Here's your Paris recap.

Good photo, Bryan!

Paris, the City of Lights. This should be one of the prettiest, most beautiful places on Earth with a moniker like that. Umm, not so much. Our first impression getting on the train from CDG into the City was "did they fly us to the wrong place?" The train ride was a little sketchy and both Katie and I hurried off the second we arrived at our stop, relived to be in a better, cleaner, safer place.

The Siene river and Pont Neuf

Umm, not so much. The train dropped us off in this mall that was closed (it was about 9PM or so) but still had sketchy people all around. Once we got outside it had to be better... Umm, not so much. The long and the short of it is that Paris at night is pretty F'n sketchy unless you're on Champs de Elysse or within a block of any major tourist attraction.

My favorite Spinal Tap album: Intravenous de Milo

Once morning came we left the hotel (another Priceline score) and began our walking tour of Paris, which was far more inviting and beautiful in daylight. All told we walked over 12 miles this first day from the hotel to the Louvre to Arc de Triumph to Eiffel Tower to Notre Dame and all sorts of stuff in between. We didn't realize how much we had walked until we stopped and every muscle just started waving the white flag.

Eiffel Tower view looking down

Notre Dame is one of the most fantastic things I have ever seen. The size of that church along with the amazing sculpture and stained glass are truly a sight to behold. It was a gorgeous day and the way the afternoon sun was shining through the stained glass was breathtaking. This is a must-see stop in Paris.

The Church, not the underachieving Big East school

The Louvre, too, is a sight to behold if for nothing else because of how freaking big it is. The building is shaped like a "U" and the 2 long sides are each approximately 1km long. On our second day we would go in around 7PM for the evening rate and walk it, which was not that fun as our bodies were beat from the marathon walk session the day before. The # of pieces in this museum is staggering. We walked about 75% of the museum, stopping at maybe 10% of the pieces on display for 20-30 seconds at a pop and it took us almost 3 hours. The highlights are obviously the Mona Lisa (which is really small and in a giant room with other paintings that are around 20' wide) and Venus de Milo. Venus was cool to see and the way they had it arranged was very cool. Lots of Greek antiquities and such here so if you're a fan of big name artists and paintings, you may be better served hitting up Musee de Orsay.

Does the pyramid look crooked? Don't hire me for photo editing work...

The Orsay was interesting, as well, but in a totally different way. Many big name artists here and several paintings everyone knows, but the place had a huge slant towards the French. French artists, French exhibits, stuff like that. I would have appreciated it more had it not been so overly French and full of itself. There, I said it.

The Eiffel tower is a no-brainer. The lines to get up the tower sucked, but it was no surprise. The structure itself is massive; way bigger than I thought it would be. The views of the city are spectacular and you really get a sense for how crowded Paris architecture is when viewing it from above. The city was built on top of itself several times over and there's not a meter of wasted space.

Eiffel Tower = BIG

The food in Paris was OK but expensive as sin. The food and drink here were actually more expensive than London, which was a real shocker as we had prepared ourselves that London would be the most expensive leg of the trip. We paid $19USD for a 1-litre glass of coke, which equates to about 3.5 small bottles of coke (what can I say: we were thirsty!). The last couple days we got in the habit of visiting our bakery just a couple blocks from the hotel and buying a baguette then grabbing some spreadable cheese and salami and making a lunch out of it and boy was it good. The breads in Paris are second to none and this little meal would feed both of us for about 6 Euro.

Paris from above, crammed for as far as the eye can see

After 3 days we were ready to leave Paris. We saw pretty much everything you could see and enjoyed everything here but we were ready to move on. Would I go back? Probably not. There's not enough here for me between being wicked expensive and too many big tourist trap things too see; I'd like to be somewhere I can explore a bit more and through all the exploring I did I realized that Paris was all pretty much the same. Maybe I'd try it in the summer months if I was in Europe and looking for a 2 day trip and I'd certainly love to visit other areas of France, but probably not Paris.

Next up: a little rest and relazation in Salzburg, Austria.