Germany was really a pleasant surprise. We stayed in a RCI accommodation for a week in a rural town called Mitterfeld, which is about 125 km from Munich. We started and ended our visit in a nearby clean little city called Straubing. It hosts many festivals and markets throughout the year and we were fortunate to attend two of them. The weather was perfect and in the large town square, we enjoyed live entertainment, ice cream, pastry, pickles and beer. The people were really nice and welcomed us even though they did not speak English. The next day, we had some relaxing time riding bikes on the trails of the beautiful Bavarian forest. We then went to a town called Weinfurther known for glass manufacturing and it’s retail glass stores. In the glass blowing presentation, the glass blower chose Lyane to assist in the creation of a new glass kitty. He dipped a long rod into white-hot liquid glass and Lyane formed the glass cat with glass tools. It wasn’t the best piece produced that day, but it sure was entertaining as the whole audience laughed throughout. Day three we went to a town called Regensburg to visit one of the oldest German cities that was not bombed in the war, so the preservation of the culture and architecture was intact. One of the oldest bridges in Europe resides here and the historical buildings are unique from any other city. Then the big day came and we went to Munich to attend Oktoberfest. The kids dipped into their own money and felt the pinch of the Euro as they spent a load of them riding incredible fair rides. Then it was off to the tents to enjoy the giant German beers. All of us participated and the party was crazy. The Germans sure know how to party! Traditional costumes were worn by all ages and 6 million liters of beer were drank over the course of 3 weeks. Last but not least we drove three hours to see the famous Neuschwanstein castle. This is one of the most extravagant castles in the world and was the model used for the design of the Disney castle. It also has a great story of the crazy bachelor king named Ludwig the Second that built it. The story goes that he bankrupted the country building it, so his Germans trusties killed him by drowned him at age 41. Anyway, that’s my very short version of the story. We then left Germany and drove through beautiful Austria without stopping, but Lyane flashed pictures out the window of the car and pleaded me to stop for strudel. Her pleas we ignored and we pressed on to Italy. Oh, how can I conclude the Germany experience without commenting on driving in Germany’s Autobahn. It was extremely dangerous as most drivers’ drove between 150 to 160 KM, and a few passed us going approximately 200km! That is fricken fast. Lyane would make a terrifying gasp when they zinged by and the kids would laugh. I just hung on and pretended I was in a race all the time. If you didn’t pay attention, the really fast guys would tailgate you about two feet behind you and flash their lights, so it was like a race! We saw a few accidents that were pretty bad and it made me hang on to the steering wheel even tighter. It’s crazy especially at night.
Italy was interesting as we stayed in hotels and visited 5 cities in 5 days! Venice first. What can you say about Venice, it was everything you already know about it and we had a lot of fun visiting the water streets watching the Gondolas. The surprise was the history of masks in Venice. Jessica and Drew were intrigued by the masks and ended up buying one each in preparation for Halloween. Drew bought V for Vendetta mask and Jess bought a traditional looking mask with feathers and fancy paint. Then it was off to Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. Again, a great experience, but nothing you don’t already know. Very cool place that is surrounded by a fifty ft ancient wall all around. There are several buildings inside the area including the tower. They have done a massive amount of work to keep that baby leaning 14 feet over from plumb! Then the same day we drove to Florence for a short half-day visit. It was a nice city with traditional narrow streets and great food. The nightlife was really fun and felt very safe. Too short of a visit to say much more, but we all agreed we would go back. Next day we headed south and drove to Pompeii to visit the recovered lost city. This was my favorite site to date. It is truly amazing to see. The volcano erupted in 79 AD and ash and pumis covered the whole city until discovery of the forgotten city in the 1700’s. Everything is extremely well preserved due to the natural ash preserver. Even the paintings on the walls and art works throughout are still in tact and colorful. Amazing. The sight of the recovered bodies was a bit morbid but still incredible to see. The people were buried in the volcano’s pumis and ash as they slept leaving eerie air pocket impressions in the ground. Upon discovery of the bodies, they were able to create detailed molds of the people that were buried. You can actually see their face and expressions. Strange. Then it was off to Naples. Pretty. Pretty scary that is! There are lots of poor areas and our hotel was no exception. We drove through the narrow streets at night in search of our hotel room with street people all around. We found our hotel room and it turned out not too bad once we got the door locked! The next day we woke up alive and we drove and then walked the shoreline of Naples’ fishing port. The driving was the worst to date. Cars all over the road not respecting the traffic lanes and motorcycles and scooters cheating every inch they could get. Italy has the highest traffic fatality rate at 6,000 a year. Now I know why! Funny, almost all the vehicles had a swipe or a dent on them, but fortunately we escaped without either.
We then drove to the enormous city Rome for more driver training experience to take in all the major sites, such as The Colosseo, The Pantheon and Fountain Di Trevi, to make our two wishes. The last day we went to the Vatican and St Peters Basilica and much to our surprise, the Pope was giving a service in the Vatican square. It was an unexpected experience and we all felt fortunate to see and hear him speak accompanied by thousands of worshipers. He blessed us all (I think) and so we should be in the good books for a while. Well that’s the best I can do to critique our experience in Italy, but it was much more. Did I mention the thousands of Italian vineyards and the Italian mountains were spectacular? I won’t miss the driving though as they must have the most highway tunnels in the world.
Then it was off to our next destination, but not before spending a day in the French Rivera beaches. Fantastic weather and a great atmosphere along the coast and we all agreed this would be somewhere we would all like to spend more time in future. After that it was back in the car to drive to our next RCI accommodation in Denia, Alicante Spain. The kids were pretty excited to see the beach outside of our place and perfect weather at 28c. It was an uneventful week, but will be remembered as one of the best as we just kicked back and played on the beach everyday. We all got pretty good tans, including Drew. Upon departure, we all felt guilty that we had not seen Spain, as we should have, so we changed our travel plans and decided to go to Barcelona for two days. We all loved Barcelona! We first went to the world famous Sagrada Familia temple and got dazzled by the architecture and world renowned church spirals. We all learned much about the original Architect “Gaudi” and visited some of his other works with in the city as well. Next day we continued our Barcelona tour and went to the Barcelona Cathedral and then walked the famous street of La Rambia. The kids loved the action filled street because it was filled with top quality street performers (human statues)and lots of crap to purchase and eat. Drew bought this puppet thing that was supposed to dance to the gettoblaster music by itself, but it didn’t work when we got back to our place. Oh well, that’s part of the experience. Anyway, Barcelona is a very nice city with a wonderful mixture of old and new architecture. Next stop is Andorra, then off to Athens, stay tuned ! We will try and upload more pictures, but we are having an issue with the software.