Have not had a chance to blog lately so I have a bit of catching up to do.
Frankly, there has not been much going on. We left Ascoli Piceno two days ago. Took the train to San Benedetto del Tronto on the Adriatic Coast where we bought a ticket for Bologna. In Bologna we purchased a ticket for the remaining leg of the trip to Innsbruck. The trips were, essentially, uninteresting save for the fact that I did not screw anything up. No lives were lost, no humans forgotten, no eyeglasses were broken. No, kids, it was a painless and boring trip.
I was captivated, though, by the lush appearance of the Italian countryside. I live in Oregon, which is green, green, green. But there’s something about the Italian countryside that grabs me. Maybe it’s the way Italians cultivate every square inch of ground, even up to the tops of high hillsides. Maybe it’s the lack of forests unlike Oregon. Maybe it’s the exotic nature of the crops—olive trees, artichokes, orange groves. I don’t know. It’s just beautiful.
As we continued north, clouds began to come in. I have to admit that I was glad to see them. The heat in southern Italy was beginning to get to me and to Barry. Italy is quite humid and that humidity was sucking the energy out of us. Every night we would plop into bed, exhausted, after a day of walking, walking, walking.
Entering northern Italy was a bit of a relief. Mountains surrounded us as we entered the Alps. We saw rain. We had had some rain during a violent thunderstorm in Florence one evening and it had felt wonderful lying in bed, listening to the pounding rain and the crashing thunder. But there was something reviving from the mountain rain that we saw. Sweeping through the Alps on the way to Innsbruck was like a breath of fresh air.
Upon arrival in Innsbruck it was somewhat surprising to find out how humid it was there, too. The rain did help, but it seemed to increase the humidity. It wasn’t nearly as warm as southern Italy, which was refreshing.
Innsbruck was frustrating because of the rain. The city is surrounded by mountains that seem to jut up straight from the valley floor. They are dramatic and most impressive. I had mistakenly thought that there would be some sun in July, but I was woefully mistaken.
We only had about a day and a half in Innsbruck. When we arrived at our hotel, it was nearing 9:00 p.m. so there was little to see. The city rolls up the sidewalks at night so there was even less to do. A few bars were open, but the cigarette smoke (remember that?) was thick and putrid. We asked our concierge for a place to eat and she pointed us to a quaint little Tyrolean restaurant about five minutes’ walk away.
Before you start thinking about how exotic our tastes are becoming, let me tell you that this Tyrolean restaurant was pretty much a restaurant with Germanic food. We had sliced pork with gravy and dumplings. Barry opted for some sauerkraut. We were also lured into ordering two beers.
Our hotel was a nice little place that I had found online after researching lodging options. Named Binders, the facility boasted an in-house bar and restaurant, a sauna and a Jacuzzi. The rooms were very modern. And, glory be to God, the beds were comfortable. Up to that point, the beds in Italy had the comfort of tissue-covered granite. The beds at Binders seemed to have memory foam and our tired bodies responded accordingly.
The next day we opted for a tram ride up one of the mountains. There were three stops each with a restaurant and observation point, with the third stop at the very top of the mountain. It is possible to purchase a ticket for as many stops as you want. Naturally, we wanted to take it to the limit (thank you, Eagles).
I should point out here that I had decided back in Oregon not to bring a jacket with me. Barry had convinced me to pack as lightly as possible. (Yes, Barry, I’m blaming YOU.) In southern Italy, this was not a problem. Upon arriving in Innsbruck, I began to have doubts. When we left Binders, it was warm and humid so I thought nothing of wearing shorts and a tank top. Arriving at the top of the mountain, I was seriously re-thinking my decision.
As our tram disgorged its passengers, I was disconcerted to find that clouds had enveloped the mountain and that, not only would we have no view, but I would have no sanctuary from the cold. Walking outside, I was pleasantly surprised to find no wind. It wasn’t warm, but it wasn’t freezing either. That changed within about five minutes as a breeze kicked up and rain started coming down.Walking about the site, which had a restaurant and a bar, I tried not to speak too loudly in English so that all the tourists wouldn’t wonder about this stupid American who was prancing about in shorts and a flimsy tank on an 8,000’ mountaintop. I was glad to get off that mountain.
After we returned to Innsbruck, we found that the weather had taken a turn for the worse with rain and wind pounding. Barry and I considered a plan of action to find a laundromat for our dirty clothes that were starting to congeal into a rancid, cloth-like dough. My underwear was standing up by itself. We decided to wait until later in the day, after the sidewalks rolled up and we had nothing to do.
With both of us at loose ends, Barry graciously agreed to tag along with me as I searched for a store to purchase a jacket to protect me from the elements. Talking to a cabbie, we learned that a mall was not too far away.
Through diagonal rain and whipping wind, we trudged down a major thoroughfare, Barry pulling his jacket AND sweater tightly to protect himself from the elements. I, meanwhile was still in shorts and a tank top. As we lurched forward, Barry was positively gleeful, cackling as he did about my plight—until a car drove by and splashed him. I laughed my head off—until I plowed through three inches of water in a driveway.
Eventually, we found the mall and I purchased my jacket. The jokes from Barry stopped and our friendship once again found its footing. But I wondered how heavy the pillows in our room were.
From the mall we took a cab to the Olympic Stadium, also known as Tivoli Stadium. This facility was built for the Olympics. It was interesting in that the stadium was so small, dwarfed today even by college standards. Hell, Reser Stadium at Oregon State University in Corvallis is bigger. We saw other facilities, all of which were closed. On a hillside we saw the former ski jump that had been turned into an observatory. It was too far away to walk so we, instead visited Wilten Basilica, a magnificent church.
After a very full day, we went back to our room to relax for a bit. Barry pulled out his iPad to play Angry Birds (because that is what you do in Europe) and I took a snooze. After waking up, we decided that we needed to chip apart our articles of clothing and find a laundromat.
The cute little girl at the main desk had earlier given me the names of two laundromats. The problem was that they were both on the other side of town. I figured that these places had probably paid for a referral. Neither Barry nor I wanted to walk any more than necessary after a long day. I Googled “Innsbruck laundromats” pulling up several options, one a few blocks away on Amraser See Strasse. We packed our dirty clothes and set off for parts unknown.
I should insert right here that my sense of direction is unparalleled even in foreign cities. I can figure out where I am and where things are very quickly. But it can be frustrating at times.
We walked about a quarter mile, carrying our dirty clothes. Mine were in a shopping bag, Barry’s in his backpack. It was somewhat embarrassing walking down the street looking like a couple of vagrants.
At the end of a major thoroughfare, Amraser Strasse (Amraser Street), I was a bit perplexed. According to the Internet, the cleaners should have been right there. I looked up and down the street. Eventually, I went into a smoke-filled bar and asked the hardened barmaid for the laundromat I’d found online, Textilreinigung, which is as difficult to pronounce as it apparently is to find. She pointed in the opposite direction in which we had come, meaning we had to go back toward our hotel.
Coming out of the bar I looked at the address of the bar, 85. Textilreinigung’s address was 1. We were at the wrong end of the street. Google, with all its vaunted accolades, was wrong!
Frustrated, and beginning to sweat in the few clean clothes we had, Barry and I started walking back toward the hotel. We passed our hotel’s street; we monitored the addresses—69, 55, 37, 19. We were getting closer!! When we reached the location where 1 should have been we saw nothing except a river. Continuing on, we saw no addresses at all suggesting that we had entered some sort of third dimension Austrian Twilight Zone.
Becoming even more agitated, I walked into yet another toxic, smoke-filled bar where I asked another coarse-voiced, line-faced barmaid where Textilreinigung was located. She and an English-speaking patron were quite animated in pointing in the direction from which Barry and I had just walked. “Three intersections and turn left” they said in idiomatic German. Or at least that was what I gathered.
I came out of the bar and told Barry we had to backtrack again. Barry, optimistic soul that he is, laughed hysterically. So we walked back the same way we had just come.
Please allow me the luxury of revealing a bit more about Barry to you. He has a very even personality that doesn’t boil over into anger often. He sees everything as an adventure to tell his grandchildren about. I, however, see every roadblock as the world’s attempt to keep me from the good time that I am entitled to as an American, a citizen of the world’s greatest country. Perhaps that is the reason I have so many colorful stories to tell.
On to our dirty clothes. Barry and I started walking again. By this time, our determination had turned into an agenda. If it took all the power of Almighty God, we were going to find that damnable cleaners.
We were on a mission. A mission from God and we wouldn’t be sated until we once again had briefs that couldn’t be used as doorstops.
So we walked. We counted the intersections. After number three we were flummoxed. We stopped at another bar and I spoke to another gravel-voiced, deeply mascaraed barmaid (do they truck these broads in from a warehouse somewhere?). Animatedly, she pointed me in the same direction we were walking. Another patron quite vociferously stated that we were to follow this street we were on, Amraser Strasse, to the end. He pointed to the address I had shown him, Amraser See Strasse. It was a different street, he said. At the end of the street we were currently on, I would find the correct street if if I turned left.
So we walked. We reached the end of Amraser Strasse. We walked by the first bar, address 85, the location where my first treadmark-faced, phlegm-hacking barmaid had originally told us to turn back. By now we had walked back and forth three times.
Upon crossing a busy street, we felt confident that we were in the right direction. Something told me to turn around. I did so, and on a building side I saw, “Amraser See Strasse”. The Puritans, gazing upon the New World, wept less than I did at that moment.
We turned around and walked to Amraser See Strasse. We found Amraser See Strasse 1.
It was out of business.
We went back to our hotel, deposited our congealed clothes and went downstairs where German beer awaited us.
Now on to other things.
I cannot continue this blog without discussing something of a personal nature for all of us. If you ever travel to Europe, you will be faced with this issue, depending on what you eat, at least once a day. Yes, I’m talking about bathrooms.
In my eleven trips to Europe I’ve come across some less than appealing “call of nature” experiences. Please accept these comments as lessons on what to expect when you visit because the last thing you want is to be incontinent on this continent.
First off, European bathrooms are nothing like American bathrooms. In the hotels you won’t have a problem, although they do tend to have really skinny toilet seats that can be a problem for those of us who are amply bottomed. In many public restrooms you will find no toilet seat.
Have you ever gone ice-skating? Remember when you first tried to navigate a bike? Believe me, that is nothing compared to the balancing act on a toilet without a seat where you can literally bottom out.
And I won’t comment on the public bathrooms that don’t even have a toilet—just a hole in the floor with vertical rails strategically placed on either side of the alleged toilette. The message is clear.
In the Innsbruck train station the men’s room had locked toilets that required a euro to get in. Just plug in a coin and the joys of Mother Nature can be yours inside a stall the size of a test tube. For the frugally-minded among us, it is possible to wait outside a stall for an emerging occupant and then sprint inside without paying the requisite euro. Of course, one runs the risk of appearing to be a total perv for doing so—and the possible arrest that can result. Or worse yet, a solicitation from said occupant.
I always pay the toll.
This same bathroom offered men another option that required them to stand over what appeared to be nothing more than a glorified sewer grate. I will admit that its high tech appearance was more attractive than those found in the street.
You must also be prepared for the almost total lack of public toilets. The implication is that Europeans rarely need to use bathrooms. Or, if they do, they are able to schedule themselves appropriately. If the call of nature appears in an unscheduled manner, restaurants oftentimes are not a good bet. The mom-and-pop establishments especially frown on people coming in just to relieve themselves. They will require you to buy, at the very least, a Coke. Which will require you to use another restroom very soon, thereby requiring you to find another restaurant where you will be required to buy another Coke, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Do you see a trend emerging here?
Then there are the older areas of cities. Using a bathroom can resemble the pursuit of the fictional snipe. Trudging down stairs, trudging up stairs, turning corners, following hallways, you sometimes wonder if the whole thing is some proprietor’s sick joke. Many times the bathrooms are unisex, meaning both sexes can use them (one person at a time). This can actually benefit men because something tells me that women’s restrooms all have toilet seats so the unisex ones would follow that trend.
I guess my advice to all of you who plan to visit Europe is to use a restroom every time you see one. Either that, or plan on a diet of air and water during your stay.
More tomorrow as I describe our experiences in Munich.