Blog #27 - I See Germany, I See France, I see London's Underpants!

Last we left you, we were on a train after we had sprung our bags from the Bus Terminal Jail in Vienna and we were happy to be back on track, rail that is, for our last week in Europe.  We had Munich, Strasbourg and London in our sights.

Our first stop, Munich, was a quick one. 

We rolled into Munich train station around noon and walked to our hotel from there as we booked one near the train station with the intent that we’d catch up on some much needed sleep, catch up on the blog, and ‘detox’ from the Prague and Vienna shenanigans.  Celebrating birthdays is hard work, and we’re not 21 anymore!  :)

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After lots of sleep and a strong shower, we were ready to explore Munich for a day and see what it had to offer.  Well it was truly beautiful, with many parks and people out and about.  We decided to spend a bunch of time in the English Garden. 

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We sought out the famous bier garden, had pork knuckle and sausage, and, oh yes, almost saw some naked people.

Now, aside from the fact one could unwittingly walk into the “naked” zone of this park, it was easy to see why Munich deserves its ranking as one of the most livable cities in the world.  It also ran like a fined tuned machine, and was impeccably clean -- German engineering at its best.

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One funny thing that we were not expecting was the number of traditional ‘costume’ (i.e. Liederhosen) shops, and the many people who actually wear it, even “off season”.  We understand that Munich is the home of Oktoberfest, but it was great to see people in traditional garb just because the sun was out. 

It was a pity we didn’t have more time to explore, however we had been invited to celebrate Bastille Day with Vince’s friends Yves and Natalie in Strasbourg, France.

It’s only about four hours from Munich to Strasbourg by train.  So we arrived early.  This gave us the chance to rent bikes (easy), and do our own tour of Strasbourg (no problem!).  It was clean, beautiful and filled with old worldly charm.  We took the bikes right back to the German border, and we crossed over twice -- no passports needed...hehe.

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After returning our bikes, we met our hosts at the train station, and grabbed our luggage.  

First on the agenda for that day was to catch up with Vince's old friend-in-law Yves.  Vince met Yves 20+ years ago in Toronto (well Richmond Hill, to be exact) while Yves was visiting their common friend Noble after his student exchange in France.  So we reminisced and had a lot of laughs, most of which related to Vince as a teenager!

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Later that night we had our first French meal, and despite the fact we thoroughly enjoyed Italy, we had never eaten like this.  French food is world famous for a reason, and Yves and Natalie were more than capable of showing us why.  Thank you!  Our Cordon Bleu that night was a work of art, as was every meal we had with them. 

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The next day we all took a trip to Guebwiller, Yves's small nearby hometown.  It was Bastille Day (like the fourth of July ;).   We drove along the wine road and marveled at the beauty of this region.  Along the way, we met the Alsatian mascot, the Stork.  These monster birds migrate between Alsace and Morocco every year, and in the summer in Alsace they are everywhere, usually nesting on top of peoples’ homes.  Some years ago a tax rebate was introduced to those who built a stork nest on top of their house – apparently the Stork lobby is strong in Alsace.  :) 

Later in the day we hit the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle ... our very first French castle.  It was incredible and huge and filled with much history.  Although now a big tourist site, you could really imagine what it would have meant in medieval times. 

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By the evening we had made our way to Yves mom's mountain house outside of Guebwiller, where, of course, we enjoyed more delicious French cooking.  What a fun meal, and great way to meet Yves’s mom.  Vince's French by this point had gotten much better, but Steph’s hadn’t.  Steph had resigned to the fact that the French she took in school was long gone, and the small amount of Italian she knows is now vexing her in picking up any other latin languages ... haha ... oh well, she definitely speaks wine!

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That night we took in the local Bastille Day celebrations with carnival rides, music, and fireworks in downtown Guebwiller.

So much fun, and when the time was right we even got to show off our Gangnam Style moves, to the delight of the younger locals.

On our very last day in Alsace we toured the nearby Ecomusuem, which is many, many hectares of recreated Alsacian ‘typical village’ configured to display how Alsatians lived hundreds of years ago.  Not surprisingly, this place had a blacksmith, a spinner, several stables, and a load of old quaint stuff.  However, Vince and Yves’s favourite was the “distiller”, who was actually serving! 

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Apparently the alcohol in times past was flavoured with holly, elderberry, anise, etc., and other herbal tones.  At one point the (old) man pouring the shots indicated that one of the herbs acts as an aphrodisiac.  So, after an awkward pause Vince asked (with Yves translating), if the man had tried any himself.  The old man replied, “when you’re young you don’t need it, and when you’re old it doesn’t work anymore”. 

Of course, smart-alec Vince then asked if there was a bottle that was “Viagra-flavoured”, to which the old man said, “Yeah, that stuff works, but I only take it so I don’t pee on my shoe!”  Oh the French, so comfortable about sex ;)

Special thanks to Yves and Natalie for all the laughs, and for going above and beyond all weekend and making our first Bastille Day one we will always remember.

Three more days left in Europe and we had London in our sights! 

We knew we would at some point-- and here it was, our Ryanair flight!  Herded like cattle we flew from Baden-Baden (closest airport we could find to Strasbourg with cheap flights) to Stanstead at the unworldly hour of 7 a.m. 

We arrived early in London and were greeted by Steph's friends Chris and Jo, who live in the lovely village of Wimbledon (you may have heard of it ;).

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After catching our first real cold/flu while in France (not bad for 6 months of travel), we didn’t do London as intensely as it deserves.  We took the opportunity relax and recover.  We had to be healthy for South America which was in only in a few days.  So that is mainly what we did with our time in London.   

We did however manage to squeeze in a day with our Toronto buddy Katie who was also finishing up her European vacation that week.  Good timing, as her and Steph share a crazy love for the Royals and they were determined that Princess Kate would go into labour while we were there.  In that single day we all managed to fit in a visit to Buckingham palace to see the changing of the guards, play with the royal (bomb sniffing) dogs, see Westminster Abbey, and tour the Royal Mews (which is really just their garage).

Oh well, even though we had spent the weekend with THE baby storks in Alsace, our labour inducing powers did not prevail and so we spent the night watching the musical We Will Rock You, a tribute to the REAL Queen... band that is.  ;)

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Special thanks to Chris and Jo for putting up with our sniffles and coughing as well as the fun curry conversation sessions and great catching up time.  Also thanks to Sara and Will, their kids, for letting us adopt their mom and dad for the days we were there.  Its not fun being sick without parents around.  ;)

Well that concludes our two months in Europe and we can not believe its all done and we are moving into the third phase of our around the world trip … the Americas!  This will be the last chapter of our grand journey, where we plan to conquer Argentina, Chile, Peru (more specifically Macchu Picchu) and end in the US.  We are excited about South America and meeting up with our T-dot gal Alex for the adventure.  Two more months left before heading home.  So until next time, adios amigos!