Notes from a drive through Istria and Friuli — Part 1

Zagreb Bench DudesBeen kinda quiet around here, hmm? We’ve been busy. After work on Tuesday last week, I scooped up a rental car from near the office — upgraded from the Ford Focus class to the Mazda 5 class, which was a very good idea, as it turns out, since we made use of the extra luggage room and the dual sliding passenger doors were handy for tight parking — dashed home to pick up Sarah, and bopped down to Munich to crash out at Chez zurika.com. Along the way, we discovered that a small van-like vehicle such as that Mazda 5 is NOT suitable for one of those stacked parking spaces. Fortunately we figured that out before causing any damage to the car or their stacky thing. We got up early the next morning and got the show on the road to Zagreb.


Größere Kartenansicht

The drive down was rather uneventful, apart from the rain. We each got a passport stamp at the crossing from Slovenia into Croatia, so that was cool and finally arrived outside of downtown Zagreb at the spiffy Hotel Jarun. The receptionist there was quite friendly and helpful and pointed us in the right direction to the tram to get downtown, where we quickly appreciated the city’s charm.

Here are some notes I jotted at the time:

  • Lights on in the rain, else potential 150€ fine (tip from border dude between SLO and HR).
  • Steel-faced border crossing between Slovenia and Croatia. Not very friendly. Does that matter? Another stamp in the passports, at long as they’re still a candidate country.
  • About 7.25 kuna to the Euro at time of writing. Food seems cheaper (restaurant pricing) but retail clothing doesn’t (much) – at least based on window shopping.
  • One-way tram ride costs about a € for one zone. It’s a good 15-20 minute tram ride into downtown Zagreb from Jarun.
  • If you have a one-way paper ticket, look for the ticket-stamper machine in the front car of the tram. Seems most people travel on passes or other magnetic-read tickets.
  • Hotel Jarun is clean and new and well-equiped. Nice techy stuff like big TV and free WLAN (not that we used either much due to being exhausted upon arrival last night after dinner and exploring). Generous shower, decent breakfast offerings.
  • Old town seems cute, mix of old and well-maintained and obviously new-but-made-to-look-old or newly-restored buildings.
  • Don’t like not having a book; our rentention of basic phrases from a podcast J+S brought was miserable.

Here’s the Zagreb slide show:

Dutch Adventure

It’s been quiet around here for over ten days, but we’ve been busy exploring new places. Namely, the Netherlands. I’d been there with my host family more than a few weekends during my exchange year 1992-93, but this was my first trip since then and Sarah’s very first.

The itinerary in brief:

  1. Depart Regensburg via rental car, arrive Heidelberg ≤ 3 hours later, eat and sleep there, pick up pals
  2. P4021031Stroll around the Heidelberg castle grounds in anticipation of a long car trip
  3. P4031052 SDC10229Take every opportunity to marvel at Dutch language starting around Venlo
  4. Arrive in the Hague, mistake a random Dutch pedestrian for our rental apartment contact person, check in
  5. Seek out exotic cuisine thanks to Dutch colonialism, then crash out
  6. P4031058 P4031096Delve into Delft, get a good look at Gouda
  7. P4041102 P4041190Do the spring ritual thing on Easter Sunday at the Keukenhof gardens, get Pannekoeken by the sea in Noordwijk, look a big pile of Balkan meats right in the eye
  8. Drive down to Antwerpen for a local’s tour and perspective (thanks Marie and Neil!) and scrounge at the apartment that evening for dinner
  9. P4061206 P4061233Last chance before departure day: Kinderdijk windmill site, Rotterdam for lunch, Zoutelande for the evening coffee break, drive back to Hague before the grocery stores all close to stock up on Stroopwafels
  10. SDC10230Head back to Heidelberg (down the other side of the Rhine this time) with a lunch stop in Maastricht (check out that weird red tower!), drop off the Heidelbergers in the town named for them, return home to Regensburg, unload, tank up, drop off, walk home

It was a great trip. Here’s the route we took, more or less.


View Larger Map

Here are the slideshows:
Gouda & Delft:

Keukenhof flower gardens:

Kinderdijk Windmills:

the small town weekend edition

receiving lineSome people might have trouble believing it gets smaller than Regensburg, but Sarah and I confirmed this weekend once again that it sure can.

We had the honor and pleasure of attending our pals Jentry and Markus’ wedding again this year. I say “again” because last year we attended their Standesamtliche ceremony. That was nice, but little did we know that was just a cursory wedding. The “real” one was last night and it was a humdinger.

This is what we’d thought out for ourselves, geography-wise for the weekend (below). Alas, it didn’t quite work out that way, but all was not lost.

We got up really early, got our nice duds on, picked up our rental car and headed north to Hirschau. We got there about 2 hours too early, planning to walk around the town’s Herbstmarkt. About five minutes later, we were looking for some other way to kill the rest of our time. We ducked (out of the cold and) into the church to catch the last few notes of the music group’s rehearsal. I could tell right away that this was going to be quite a musically diverse weekend: it was “My Guy” — or rather “My God” as made famous by Sister Act.

The wedding itself was pretty straightforward, except for selections from Godspell and other various pop love songs I’d never heard at weddings in the U.S. (and the priest was looking pretty bemused at times during the musical numbers), but upon exiting the mass, we got a very different musical flavor.



That’s Markus’ band. They march in parades all over Germany. They were great.

After the wedding, we drove to the Kuhdorf* where the reception was being held. We, along with the other guests, got treated to some of this:

We were really impressed with that band. They’re called Tequila Sunrise and they’re based in Neunburg vorm Wald. They played for something like 12 hours — and they were continuously excellent in everything they did. Wedding reception classics like “Proud Mary” or traditional Bavarian folk music — they played it all, with lots of interaction and enthusiasm, including an hour’s worth of party games at a “secret” nearby bar where all the guests snuck off to with the bride (the famous Brautentführung — bridal kidnapping) . Each band member played at least two instruments and they switched off on lead vocals. Here’s what parts they seemed to be playing the most:

Rock Bayerisch
Keyboards Akkordeon
Guitar Saxhorn?
Bass Guitar Trompete
Saxophone Klarinette
Drums Mobile percussion device of some sort — a tambourine (beaten with a drumstick), jingle bells and a washboard rolled into one

Later on in the evening, Markus’ family and friends put on a dance show for the rest of us to enjoy:

    

Mix all that up with great food and friendly fellow guests and a comfortable (and cheap!) night’s stay with breakfast at the inn (attached to the reception hall) and that yields one pleasant glimpse into small-town wedding celebrations we probably never would have experienced, otherwise.

The next morning after breakfast, we’d planned to check out Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is famous for being one of the most often photographed spots in Germany. I’d been there years ago with my parents and sister, but Sarah never had. Unfortunately, weather, traffic and an astoundingly difficult to use navigation device in our rented Fiat (must go well with the Italian highway system) all conspired against us, and we wound up spending a couple hours on the road for nought. But we still did get to visit Kallmünz on Christina G’s recommendation, especially with regard to the tiny little restaurant near the East bank of the Naab river: zum Bürstenbinder. She said they specialized in Schupfnudeln (a.k.a Fingernudeln — think German gnocchi if you’ve never had them before) . She wasn’t kidding. Variations on that theme were the only thing we could find on the menu. But they sure hit the spot with a nice tall, chilled sparkling apple juice. Before having our late lunch there, we walked around town on both sides of the river and despite the rain and cloudy conditions, managed to shoot these:


Kallmünz on the Naab p9214436 Kallmünz on the Naab

Straubinger Gäubodenfest and a weekend in der Schweiz

Matt came and picked us up; then we scooped up Alex, headed off to the Gäubodenfest, where it was mobbed. Some locals tell us that this is the “real” Oktoberfest because there are very few foreigners (only the die-hards, like us, I guess) who attend it — as opposed to the more famous beerfest in Munich at the end of September. We’re grateful to Matt for driving and for the suggestion, and I’m glad we did it, but man…there was a lot of noise and crowd going on there. And, surprisingly: the food was pretty darn good.

Kerstin picked us up the next day and we headed down to Zurich, Switzerland to stay with Simone. Sarah and I took advantage of the fabulous train system to visit my former boss Bernd and his family in their new home there. Details on the pictures will appear gradually as I find the time to insert descriptions and titles and stuff. The weather was kind of iffy in Zurich, but great on the day we hopped down to Zug / Root / Lucerne and back.

It’s nice to have friends in beautiful places and/or who don’t mind driving us to them.