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Day 20 - May 18, 2005 - Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland to St. Goar, Germany

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Unfortunately, it was back to an early 7:00 am wake up.  I took a shower, enjoyed some breakfast, and we left our chalet in incredible Lauterbrunnen at 8:15.  It was a relatively lax day of traveling, followed by a very lax night in the Rhine Valley.  It would be our last night before Amsterdam, our final destination.  It was a strange blend of excitement for Amsterdam and disappointment for the end of the tour.
 
On the way, Vince, Matt, Neil, Joanne, Hayley and I killed some time by playing Animal Vegetable Mineral, a game I used to play as a child on road trips.  It is a game of 20 questions, more or less, and each item gets classified into one of three categories: animal, vegetable or mineral.  Apparently, it's easier to learn the game as a child, because my tour mates didn't seem to grasp the lack of literalness.  For instance, a tire would fall into the vegetable category because it is made from rubber and rubber is derived from trees.  They kept insisting that tires aren't vegetables.  I reminded them that it's not supposed to be straightforward, in a literal sense.  A friendly dispute ensued regarding the game's semantics.  Needless to say, it was fairly frustrating and we didn't play for too long.
 
While we never reached an agreement, an advantage of the dispute was that it got our minds going.  It motivated us for some logic related fun.  We spent the next few hours playing several games.  The objects of all the games were to figure out an answer or an explanation of a situation based on logic.  Nathan and Dawn, an Australian couple joined in.
 
I introduced the first logic game.  It was a game that is unofficially referred to as The Picnic Game.  I would explain it, but I don't want to give it away to anyone who hasn't played, who I might try it on in the future.  Following The Picnic Game was The One Two game and finally Who Did I Kill?, compliments of Nathan.
 
A memorable occurence on the way back into Germany was Joanne being duped by Neil.  Scattered across the German countryside were thousands of wind turbines.  Joanne asked what they were and, as if it were scripted, Neil quickly responded by telling her that they were wheat churners.  He then came up with details and even some statistics of how the German and Dutch economies rely heavily on wheat churning.  Joanne seemed both surprised and intrigued.  We all burst out in laughter and Joanne was a good sport about it.  Neil mentioned how he thought Americans "don't have the best bullshit detectors."  I then corrected him by specifying only a portion of Americans are guilty of this.
 
Our first stop into Germany was a town called Heidelberg.  Heidelberg is, surprising to me, better known than I thought.  I still haven't figured out why everyone has either been there or at least has heard about it, given its small size.  We didn't have much time there and it was really more of a lunch stop than anything else.  There was a huge castle overlooking the town and it seemed to be the sole site of the whole place.  I don't remember anything significant about the castle except it was built in the 15th century and it's been struck by lightning many times.  Okay, I don't remember anything significant about it at all.
 
We began to roam the main street of the town and search for a place to eat.  Again, we didn't have much time, so we were rushed.  I think I was walking with Vince, Yoon, Matt and Neil.  In their textbook fashion, Matt and Neil flocked to the McDonalds.  I was still, and am still to this day, blown away at their dedication to fast food. 
 
Vince, Yoon and I proceeded into a local food establishment similar to a pizzeria, but instead specializing in kebab, bratwurst, and things of that nature.  Everything was in German and none of the employees spoke English, so we really could only go by the pictures of a select few of the choices on the menu.  We had managed to tackle every language enough to order food except German.  German is, in my opinion, comparatively difficult to learn.  We left to go find a place with someone who spoke English.  However, we didn't make it very far and Vince and Yoon went across the street to a Subway. 
 
Needless to say, I refused to limit myself by eating at a Subway in Germany.  I told them I'd meet them back in the Subway and I went back over to the kebab shop.  I hesitantly asked a customer in line if he spoke English, intending to only ask him to order me the food in one of the pictures.  He did, in fact, speak English and he proceeded to translate virtually the entire menu for me.  I was so thankful that he went out of his way to the extent that he did.  I chose a kebab pizza, which, after my delicious kebab in Liechtenstein, seemed delightful.  I took my pizza to go, thanked the English speaking customer and the employees in probably a butchered attempt at German, and then went back across the street into the Subway.
 
Vince and Yoon weren't in the Subway but Steve was.  I sat down with Steve and asked if he had seen Vince and Yoon.  He hadn't.  He found it humorous that I walked into Subway with a pizza, sat down and ate it.  The pizza was amazing.  It was, by far, the most unique pizza I ever had.  It had slabs of beef, with I think lettuce, tomato and some kind of sauce on top.  I gave Steve a slice because I had the whole pie to myself.  It far surpassed his sandwich and I think he briefly considered ordering a pie for himself.
 
I ended up finishing the entire pie, minus the slice I gave to Steve.  I went to the back to use the bathroom, and there sat Vince and Yoon.  I told them about my pizza and, like Steve, they expressed their disappointment in their sandwich.  After using the bathroom, I went down to the Neckar River with Vince, Yoon and Steve.  I realized that, although small, Heidelberg was really a nice town.  Small towns included, every place Contiki took us was unique in their own ways and I didn't dislike a single destination.

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THE CASTLE IN HEIDELBURG

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ME ON THE NECKAR RIVER

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THE NECKAR

Before leaving Heidelberg, Kim, Yvonne, Freddy, Olivia and Kent came dangerously close to missing the bus.  We even started to pull away before they came looking for us.  Vince and I offered to quickly see if we could find them, but Rex insisted that we didn't, to avoid being left behind as well.  A couple of the tour mates were rather cruel and expressed their desire to leave them behind, even after only a few minutes past the scheduled departure time.  We were only ten minutes behind schedule in the end when they did finally board the coach.  I would have liked to think that they would wait a mere ten minutes for me if I needed it.
 
Our home for the night was St. Goar, a very small town right on the Rhine River.  I don't think it was much more than an hour from Heidelberg.  After arriving, before even going to our hotel, which Rex called "Grandma's House," we stopped at a beer stein shop.  I had full intentions to purchase a beer stein for myself before the trip.  However, for some reason, I lost the urge once we got there.  It would be way too pretentious for me to actually utilize and I could envision it just sitting on a shelf for the rest of my life.  Most of them were very extravagant and extremely detail oriented.  There were a lot of really nice steins there but again, none of them were a must buy for me. 
 
We then went to an apparently famous cuckoo clock shop.  According to Guiness, the world's largest cuckoo clock was suspended in the front of the store.  I suppose it was large, but I was surprised to learn that it was the world's largest.  There were some very nice clocks in there and I wished my mother could've been there in my place, as I'm sure she would have appreciated it more than me.  The clocks were very expensive as well.  It was rare to find one less than a hundred Euros.

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THE WORLD'S LARGEST CUCKOO CLOCK

We then were led down a strange alley and into a basement of an old building for our wine tasting optional.  I was unsure of whether I would participate in this, seeing as how I hate wine.  However, I was inexplicably determined to acquire a liking for wine during the trip.  Also, it was only about 8 Euro or so, so I went through with it.
 
We were seated at a long table that was entirely covered in graffiti from past Contiki tours.  I think we all eventually added our names.  There was a short video explanation of how the local wines were produced.  It was fairly interesting and I think I got my 8 Euro worth.  There were four regular wines and then an ice wine, which is made from frozen grapes.  I was really looking forward to trying it.  It was definitely the least wince inducing of the five, but I still didn't like it at all.  Wine and I are just not meant to be.

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THE WINE TASTING OPTIONAL

We boarded the coach for the last time of the day and made the short drive to our hotel in St. Goar.  It immediately became clear to us why Rex referred to it as "Grandma's house."  It was more of a house than a hotel.  The rooms were straight from the 70's, coming from an American standpoint.  I would guess that no matter where you are from, the rooms were tacky.  I roomed with Vince and Yoon and our room had an obnoxious olive green and yellow motif.  It was at that time that Vince (yes, my roommate Vince) discovered he had somehow developed a case of conjunctivitis.  Great.
 
I ate dinner with Vince, Kim, Yvonne, Kent, Yoon, Freddie and Olivia.  Vince left before the food was served though, to catch up on some sleep and to nurse his eye.  Earlier in the trip, Kale had a case of conjunctivitis himself, and so he gave Vince what was left of some eye drops he bought.  Once again, the sour kraut during dinner was disappointing.  I would say that Germany's sour kraut proved to be the most disappointing food of the whole trip.

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ME, KIM, AND YVONNE EATING AT GRANDMA'S HOUSE

We had planned to play cards that night in my room since it seemed to be slightly larger.  Matt and Neil, for the second time in the trip, went to bed very early; right after dinner this time.  The sun was still up when they went to bed.  We went to my room to see if Vince was still sleeping.  He wasn't but for some reason, we weren't yet in the mood to play cards.  We all decided to go down to the river.  "We" included Vince, Yoon, Kim, Yvonne, Freddy, Olivia, Kent, and myself.
 
What was much similar to our time at the campsite in Venice, we proceeded to have a stone skipping competition; this time in the Rhine River.  I squeaked out a victory over Kent, who gave me some intense competition.  Throughout the duration of our time spent on the river bank, several enormous barges cruised past us.  I remember one that donned the Brazilian flag and was just monstrous; probably larger than the entire town of St. Goar.
 
Despite the immensity of the barges, the river really wasn't that wide.  We were tempted to attempt to skip a stone into the barge.  However, we had no idea what European shipping etiquette consisted of and we didn't want to be shot at or something of that nature.  Instead, we satisfied our defiant desires by skipping a stone over a herd of ducks.  However, Kent and I were the only ones who attempted.  We were both successful.

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THE RHINE RIVER

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ANOTHER RHINE SHOT

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THE STONE SKIPPING COMPETITION

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ONE OF THE MASSIVE BARGES

On the way back to Grandma's House, we stopped near the train tracks, where very high speed trains frequently traveled.  After one passed, fences, trees and even the ground shook.  We thought it would be fun to stand right up against the fence, a mere few feet from the tracks.  We did, and then the next train came.  The combination of the sound and the wind created an unbelievable effect.  We all were forced backwards, probably out of instinct.  Looking back, I imagine the gruesome picture of the train propelling a pebble into my skull.  I don't know why that didn't cross my mind as I leaned over the top of that fence like a toddler.

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THE HIGH SPEED TRACKS

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DOWNTOWN ST. GOAR

Back in Vince's, Yoon's and my room, we started off with a game of Asshole.  We then, to the delight of others, played German Bridge.  I was happy to be playing it, since I was addicted to that game, but the idea of playing German Bridge in Germany was significantly less interesting to me than others.  I thought it was a lame thing to get excited over.  To each his own.
 
Despite my love of German Bridge, I admit I'm terrible at it.  I suppose I must try too hard or something.  Anyway, I constantly found myself trying not to lose, as opposed to trying to win.  This was especially apparent during our game that day in Germany.  For some reason, the loser would be known as the German Bitch.  Luckily for me, I edged out Yoon by a mere 13 points for second to last place.  Freddy was incredible at the game and almost always won.  After yet another great night, I took what was apparently a rare hot shower in Grandma's House and went to bed at 1:00 am.

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GERMAN BRIDGE COMPETITORS