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Contiki European Experience


Day 17 - May 15, 2005 - Hopfgarten, Austria to Munich, Germany


For an unprecedented second straight day, I slept fairly late; this time until 8:00 am.  I took a shower in what was one of the top three bathrooms of the entire tour and grabbed breakfast at 9:00.  We left the chateau at 10:00.

Our first stop, which was also our last stop in Austria, was the Swarovski Crystal Museum.  All of the girls were drooling at the notion of stopping and some of the guys, myself included, had no idea what in the world Swarovski was.  Rex warned the guys of the couples to avoid their girlfriends at all times in the gift shop.

Due to absolute lack of interest and the inability to afford anything, I chose not to go inside the museum.  Luckily, the group only had 45 minutes to browse, so I didn't have to waste too much time.  The building itself was unique and interesting.  The front was made up of a huge face that appeared to be shaped out of hedges.  There was a stream of water flowing out of the mouth into a pond in front of the building.  The eyes were made up of large objects that represented crystals.

The scenery from the museum was right on par with all of Austria that we had seen.  All of it was truly exceptional.  I don't know why, but there was a hedge maze behind the museum.  I made my way around back with Yoon and Letitia to check out the maze.  It seemed as if we were the only three people who didn't enter the museum.  I've always wanted to try a hedge maze, ever since I was a kid.  For some reason, I just never got around to it.  Probably a result of watching The Shining, I expected the hedge maze to be huge and elaborate.  My sub conscious might have even expected it to be scary.  However, it was made for little kids and it wasn't challenging at all.  You could even see through some of the inadequate walls.




We quickly exited the maze and made our way to the gift shop in the museum, since entrance to this part was free.  We were each given a card to swipe on the way in, I assume so Contiki would get credit for attracting customers.  I browsed the shop and was flabbergasted at the prices.  Some of the merchandise was completely ridiculous as it exceeded the €5000 mark.

I ended up in the cafe and had a stale pretzel.  I chatted with Rex and Chris for a bit.  I remember talking specifically about their personal travels and their families.  Hayley eventually sat and joined the conversation.  I then made my way outside, ran into James and he showed me a keychain that he bought for his girlfriend.  He informed me of the relatively low price, although it was still rather high.  I thought it would make a good gift for Meaghan, so I went back towards the gift shop.  However, on the way in, my card didn't swipe a second time.  I jumped over the turnstile and very quickly walked down the corridor and into the gift shop.  I found the keychains and bought the one with a fish inside.  It was a decision that I narrowed to either the fish or the letter M.

After everyone made it back to the coach, we hit the road once again and crossed into Germany.  Some of the interesting facts included in Rex' welcome speech were about the nation's automobile industry.  She also gave us the story ofhe origin of the word, "Okay."  OK were the initials of somebody who I think worked for Mercedes (you know it was either Mercedes, BMW or Volkswagen).  He initialed each car that was approved and the rest is history.  I later read contradicting information to this.  At this point, who knows what the origin really is?  Rex also gave a spiel about the autobahn which was fairly interesting.  By now, the details have escaped my memory though.  She concluded by informing us that we would be making a stop at Dacau, which was originally a work camp, but ended up evolving into the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

We walked as a group to the entrance of Dacau.  There was a very eerie aura surrounding the entire place.  It immediately forced a mood on the whole group that was completely different from the rest of the trip.  To merely imagine the history of the exact spot we were standing in was unreal.  It was probably the first time in my life that I felt embarrassed to be human.

There was a video presentation in English scheduled shortly after we arrived.  Until then, we slowly roamed around the premises.  It was difficult to stay with any group, because we all had interest in reading and observing different things.  I first made my way through a long corridor, which was comprised of cells and offices.  One thing that was particularly disturbing and something that I will probably never forget were "Vertical Torture Cells."  These cells were literally about one square foot.  Prisoners were held there for up to 72 hours, unable to sit, lay down, or put their weight on anything but their legs.  Again, I'm embarrassed to be human.

After viewing the cells extensively and exploring the grounds, I met the rest of the group at the cinema, as it was called.  The video was a documentary of the history of Dacau.  The footage was completely uncensored and it proved to be too much for several people to handle.  I had seen some graphic material in other documentaries and narratives prior to the trip, so I was able to stay for the duration of the film.

It was a silent walk back to the coach.  Some of my tour mates said the visit changed their lives.  While I'm not sure it did the same for me, it's definitely something I'll never forget.  Also, for me, it made my vacation seem completely insignificant and, in a sense, made me feel selfish for having such a great time.  It was, by far, the least fun part of the entire trip.  However, I'm glad I was there and glad I had the opportunity to see something like that first hand.





After departing Dacau for Munich, there was still a bit of silence for sometime.  It was clear our visit had an impact on each and every person there.  It took a notable amount of time for us to get back into our normal, "selfish" moods.

On our way into the city of Munich, we passed the olympic complex from 1972.  It seemed like a very interesting place and I wish I had the time to check it out. 

Before arriving at our hostel, we stopped in a busy area of town.  We then made our way on foot to a sqare called Marionplatz.  Munich's City Hall, located within Marionplatz, includes the Glockenspeil.  This enormous clock tower is perhaps the most well known spot in all of Munich.  It puts on a show everyday at 5:00 pm.  I was told not to expect anything exciting, and it still fell short of my expectations.  Don't structure you day around the Glockenspeil.


We had a half hour or so to kill, so I explored the area with James, Vince and Yoon.  James then told us that he would in fact be leaving the tour early to be with his family.  The whole situation was terrible to begin with.  Aside from the tragedy, I felt so bad for James that he wouldn't be able to finish the tour.  He had been expressing his excitement for Amsterdam the whole time and it was really a shame he didn't get the chance to see it.  He told us that the following night in Munich would be our last night with him.  He scheduled himself to take a train to Frankfurt the following morning and then fly home.

James went his own way to find an internet cafe to set up the details of his trip home.  We offered to help him out, but he insisted that we enjoy Munich while we were there.  We didn't really have time to do much before going back to the hostel, but Vince and I ordered a chocolate crepe.  It was good, but it didn't taste as good as it smelled.  As we were munching away, Neil and Matt came by.  They had gone to McDonalds again!  Those guys are the kings of McDonalds and it's a wonder they weren't at all fat.  I must admit that their burgers looked delicious and it was difficult to resist the urge to give in.  I stayed strong though.

We met back with the group and boarded the coach.  It was a short drive from Marionplatz to our hostel.  In Munich, I roomed with Yoon and Freddy.  For the first time of the entire tour, we each got our own room key!  I will forever acknowledge for myself the joy of having my own room key at any hotel I stay at for the rest of my life.

Our dinner that night was at an authentic Bavarian Beer Hall.  I was exceedingly excited.  However, it was a good while before we ate and I was hungry.  I walked across the street to a BP gas station, something I would never expect to see in Germany.  I bought the German equivalent to Doritos.  They were good, but I prefer Doritos.

After returning to the hostel, I was tempted to check my email, but for some reason, the notion of being online in Europe irked me.  I went back to my room and had a lenghty conversation with Yoon about English dialects.  Yoon's English was limited and it must have been frustrating at times for him.  We discussed the wide variety of dialects we had experienced on the tour.  He stated that the American accent was significantly less difficult to decifer than the Australian accent.  While my opinion was clearly biased, I agreed with him.  Even I had difficulty at times picking up all of the Aussie talk.

We all met in the hostel's lobby at 7:30 pm and boarded the coach for our night at the beer hall.  We were going to Konig Ludwig Dunkel, a new beer hall.  I was excited for the food and the beer.  Rex stated that beer brewed over there does not contain preservatives, and therefore, does not cause hangovers.  I wasn't sure if I believed that.  It didn't matter to me anyway, as I rarely get hungover from beer.

En route to the beer hall, we passed a huge Mercedes building.  The entire front of the building, which was four or five stories high, was all glass.  Inside, lining the walls were all different Mercedes models.  There must have been two dozen different ones.  It was a fascinating building, even while driving past at highway speed.

We arrived after a mildly lenghty drive and I immediately noticed another Contiki coach in the parking lot.  I expected to have a great night.  I sat at a table with Vince, James, Yoon, Matt and Neil.  I ordered pork with sour kraut and of course, a one liter beer.

The food was disappointing.  I had longed to try sour kraut, in Germany, with some type of Bratwurst like meat.  I finally did, and it just didn't live up to the hype.  The beer, however, was outstanding.  There were several dancers entertaining us as we ate.  The most impressive part of their routine was a musical act with bells.  Each of the dancers had a table with about a dozen bells organized on top.  They created a rather interesting arrangment with the bells and it lasted for probably close to ten minutes.  I was impressed and I was already feeling the beer.






We started to mingle with the rest of our tour and eventually the other tour as well.  Siraj sang Happy Birthday Mr. President to Chris (our driver) to complete his dare.  I then realized I never got the chance to complete my dare in Italy.  In case you've forgotten, my dare was to ask a gypsy for money.  There were tons of gypsies in Rome, but I was by myself the whole day and I wouldn't have had any witnesses.  I was running out of time and fearing Rex' statement, "You will want to complete your dare before the farewell dinner in Amsterdam.  You will regret it if you don't."  I was starting to get concerned.

Anyway, back to the beer hall.  I met Eileen from the other Contiki tour.  Her accent led me to believe she was American.  She then told me she was from Scranton, Pennsylvania and attending Bloomsburg University, which is just over an hour from me.  After telling her I was from New Jersey, she informed me that her entire tour was from Bloomsburg.

Eileen introduced me to Katie, a friend of hers who was from New Jersey as well.  Katie specified that she was from Lawrenceville!  I can literally see Lawrenceville from my house.  It's less than a mile away from me.  I couldn't belive that, while in Munich, Germany, I manged to run into someone who essentially lives around the block from me.  It is indeed a small world.

I spent what was left of the night talking to Katie.  After more than two weeks away from home, it felt great to talk about home to that extent.  As we proceeded to mention different locations from our area (e.g. the mall, movie theaters, etc.), we were continually amazed at the chances of running into each other.  It came time for us to leave and we briefly tried to arrange getting together with the other tour at their hostel.  It was, however, too difficult to arrange in the little time we had.





Our ride back to our hostel was very lively.  It reminded me of the ride back to our campsite in Paris after the cabaret.  It also seemed like we had been in Paris months before Munich when, in actuality, it was only two weeks.  Time would often become so discombobulated during the tour.  It felt like day 17 was really day 117.  This was the inverse of what I expected.



After arriving, I first made some calls back home.  Having just come back from the beer hall, I was evidently intoxicated when I called.  Some of my people back home found it humorous that my night was only half over.

After my phone calls, I headed to the hostel's bar, which I believe was in the basement.  On my way down, James was heading in the opposite direction, towards his room.  Seeing as how it was his last night, I made him swear that he was coming back down.  I bought James a beer, as well as myself.

I chatted with various people and finished my beer.  James had not yet returned.  I then drank the beer I bought for him.  Almost on cue, he strolled into the bar the second I finished his beer.  I think I bought him another though.

I socialized with various people that night, including Aussie Justin, Vanessa, Kate, Hayley, Kerrie, Yoon, Vince and others.  Much like our previous night in Austria, Yoon wanted me to dance.  I again insisted that he would never in his life see me dance.  I admit that his determination was admirable.  A disturbing part of the night was seeing someone urinate in the sink in the bathroom.  I have an idea of who it was, but I'm not certain.  I'll remain silent about that detail.





The night was rounding out and James had enough.  He had a long day of traveling and he was heading up to bed.  We organized a human tunnel for him to run through, much like little girls do after a soccer game.  In hindsight, it was extremely cheesy.  However, in our current incapacitated state, it was a gem of an idea.

I followed him out and walked him up, fully intending on returning to the bar.  I wasn't sure if I would see him the next day, or ever again for that matter.  We chatted for a bit before he went to sleep.  I too went to bed at that point.  It was 1:00 am.