Sunday, December 24, 2006

Hannover to Wurzburg via Kassel

(brief refresher: I took off with my friend Kevin to Sweden and Germany to pick-up and drive my new car (Saab 9-3 convertible) not just because it was likely to be (and was) a good time, but also because it's an amazing deal - the best way to get the car you want, pay an aggressive price, AND get a free* trip from Saab for good measure. You can find out more about this program here.)

Sunday was a high mileage day (230, per Gooogle), which wasn't so bad, as most everything in Germany is closed on Sunday.

One highly enjoyable exception was the Christmas Market in Kassel. Like all of the other Christmas Markets (and we hit a bunch: Luebeck, Hamburg, Kassel, Wurzburg, Rothenburg, Nuremberg, and Ansbach), the Kassel market was a mix of craft & Christmas vendors surrounded by food and drink vendors.

At this point, I was bratwurst fatigued, but got to sample kartoffelpuffer - a delicious fried potato pancake accompanied with applesauce.

Kev and I split the driving, with each of us keeping an average speed on the autobahn near 100mph.

We settled in Wurzburg, and arrived early enough to take in the last of their Christmas Market for the day. Young and old were out late Sunday night staying warm with copius amounts of gluhwein (and when in Rome....)

Wurzburg itself was a pleasant surprise - a scenic site on the Main river valley, with a castle and abundant wineries on the valley walls. Wurzburg also had a very neat walkable city center, and a few interesting stops, such as the Residenz of the Prince Bishop of Wurzburg.

What had attracted us to Wurzburg was the location - within striking distance of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Nuremburg, and Frankfurt - but there were enough things to see and do to keep us busy.

Wurzburg is technically in northern Bavaria, but the locals consider their land to be Franconia and most definitely NOT Bavaria. Funny thing then, that the poster I saw most frequently was a celebration of Wurzburg's 200 year anniversary of joining Bavaria. When I first saw these posters, I thought they were patriotic, but after learning about Franconia, they were more like propaganda.

As you'll see in subsequent posts, Franconia, Germany is a way better place to visit than Franconia, Virginia (USA.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Whoa - very cool reading

Moon-mined Helium-3 to provide abundant energy? This is an unheralded goal (purpose?) for a NASA moon base.

Wired magazine often writes about neat-0sounding far-off technology, but 2 quotes from competitors stood out:

From a Russian scientist, a Helium-3-focused US moonbase would "enable the U.S. to establish its control of the global energy market 20 years from now and put the rest of the world on its knees as hydrocarbons run out."

A leading scientist from the Chinese space program said about moon-mined Helium-3: "Whoever first conquers the moon will benefit first."

So this possible energy solution relies on a moonbase and economical fusion, which makes it speculative, at best, but I'm guessing that 20 years from now we'd be very happy to not rely on Oil from the Middle East of Venezuela.

Also cool and worth a visit:

1-Online, streaming versions of Milton Friedman's Free to Choose TV series. I wonder if I can strip this out into a podcast video version.....

2-See where you stack up financially version others in your age group.

3-22 Ways to overclock your brain. Use it, but also take a few specific steps.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

i'll post more....

From Lubeck, we stopped in Hamburg, Germany's 2nd largest city, followed by Hannover, a disaster that I'll describe later.

(Disaster only in that we took an hour to find the hotel.)

On the way, I had the car up to 130mph on the Autobahn, and could have easily gone faster.

Tomorrow we head south to Wurzberg, and I'll write more then.


Ferry to Kiel

The ferry left off in Kiel, which we skipped for Lubeck, a small but historic town on the Baltic Sea. Lubeck couldn't have been more intersting, between the Christmas Market, the old island city, and the church bombed in 1942, with the church bells left in the floor where they fell during the bombing. While touring we stopped to sample gluhwein - a German holiday staple. I don't think they drink it for taste, but it did fortify me for the rest of the cold afternoon. Cold, though, is relative, as at 50 degrees, warmer than back home in Charlottesville

greetings from Hanover, Germany

I missed a day of posting as we spent the night w/o net connectivity on the Gothenburg-Kiel ferry, so I'll try to catch up....

Friday started with another first-class experience courtesy of Saab. Breakfast at Ronnum's Manor was almost as good as the night before's dinner. Immediately following this and check-out, was the car pick-up.

Pick-up was a fantastic experience. Of course, pickup would still have been great if I'd had to dive for the keys in a pig trough.

Anyway, Monica of Saab was thorough, and the experience was awesome. Her two instructions were to not exceed 5000 rpm for the first 50 kilometers, and not to take the car to Iraq, as this was the one country not covered by the temporary insurance. I didn't argue either point, but instead caught a moment when she let her guard down when I said there were already too many Americans in Iraq.

With the new car, Kev and I zoomed thru the rain to Gothenburg, the 2nd city of Sweden, where we sampled the town, and caught the Christmas festivities.

That night we caught the ferry from Gothenburg to Kiel (Germany), and enjoyed yet another unbelievable Swedish buffet, though I went significantly lighter on the herring this time. (Herring marinated in grog was terrible.)

The ferry was the biggest, most active boat that I've ever been on, and I enjoyed it but I basically crashed at 11pm, while Kevin gambled in the ship's casino and won 500 kronor ($50 or so.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Day 1: Sweden

Happily uneventful trip over landed us in Gothenburg around 10:30. We were met by a very friendly driver and taken directly to the Saab factory in Trollhattan, a little more than an hour away, just in time for a factory tour....100% in Swedish!

Luckily, you don't need to know much Swedish to tour a car factory. I was surprised at how calm, clean, and quiet the plant was, even with production running. Most impressive were the stamping lines (ha, ha.) I was also surprised to see all Saab makes from the same assembly line (example: 9-3 sedan followed by 9-5 wagon), where I would have guessed that one line per product would facilitate specialized production.

Unfortunately, no cameras were permitted on the tour. I didn't see anything that could remotely be considered a secret, but rules are rules.

After the factory tour and checking in at the Ronnum's Manor hotel in Vargon, we had about an hour of daylight to grab some lunch and tour Trollhattan (Sun goes down just after 3pm.) We managed to find a grocery store nearby and grab lunch (1 donut and a bottle of Pucko brand chocolate milk (not good), and hopped a bus in the rain for Trollhattan.

Trollhattan was plain, perhaps because the rain discouraged us from seeing much of it. A mild bus misadventure later (we learned you really should, at a minimum, know the name of your hotel's town), and we returned to the hotel. Or, as locals like to say "Nicole Kidman's hotel."

(Kidman stayed at this hotel for 2 months while filming here a few years ago. At least 4 different people pointed that fact out to us today - even our bus driver. Trollhattan, capital of the Scandinavian film industry, is nicknamed "Trollywood.")

The hotel is VERY nice, though I'm spooked that I have yet to show any ID or sign anything to check in, or eat dinner, or anything else.

Saab treated us to dinner, and since it was Christmas season, we were given a choice of a 3 course meal (salmon appetizer, ox entree, parfait dessert) or the Christmas buffet. While the thought of trying ox was appealing, so was the opportunity to sample many Swedish dishes, which we definitely did.

The buffet (funny that the word smorgasbord wasn't used) was huge, covering at least 3 rooms (there might have been more.) The first room was filled with dishes, almost all very Swedish, and almost all unknown to anyone who didn't know Swedish. That didn't stop either Kevin or I. As is always the case, there were more times when I was happy that I tried something, than disappointed in a new dish.

I could even figure out what some of the ingredients were in a few dishes. In general, the dishes in this room were cold, meat heavy and vegetable light, and predominantly fish. I sampled at least 2 different forms of pickled herring (never had before), 2 different salmons, and more. I also tried sillsade which I thought was a dessert because it looked like cranberry jelly, but involved herring somehow. I also learned that the first rule of Swedish cooking is "if you can eat it, you should pickle it."

After a well-filled plate and a glass of wine, compliments of Saab, I wondered whether it was even acceptable to return to the buffet. That's when found the two other buffet rooms - one hot, and one dessert.

Only because I was on an international exploration mission did I force myself to try these buffets. (And perhaps too because I'm curious and a glutton, which is a very dangerous combination.)

I was slightly less experimental at this point, but enjoyed the Swedish meatballs (or, as they call them here, meatballs), as well as a number of other dishes.

I didn't have room for dessert, but that didn't stop me. Apple cake/pie, chocolate parfait/pudding (or something like that), and a little bit of local custard with some berry sauce poured over (not good) finished the night. Somehow, I managed to resist the table full of candies, which at least looked outrageous.

I waddled back to the room where I joined a BioCatalyst teleconference, then wrote this blog before going to bed. (The bed part comes next.)

Tomorrow we'll be picked up at the hotel at 10am (following a breakfast courtesy of Saab) to pick up the car, and I can't wait. (If you want to see what the car should look like, check the bottom of this page.)

After pick up, we'll tour Gothenburg, second city of Sweden and home of Ace of Base, then board the overnight ferry to Kiel.

More details later. In the meantime, let me know if you like these posts....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

ready for takeoff!

Sitting in my seat (39k) on this 747 waiting for takeoff. I'm at a window seat, with the seat next to me empty - I hope my luck holds and the seat stays unoccupied.

Flying time is very short (6.5 hrs) due to good tailwinds. We should arrive an hour early, reducing connection stress and allowing time to catch a pretzel in Frankfurt (where we connect.)

This will still get us to Gothenburg @ 10am. Amazing that with 2 flights, I can go from little Charlottesville all the way to Scandinavia.

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
Click to go to my online photography

World sun clock

Uncommon Man's Creed

"I do not choose to be a common man. It is my right to be uncommon -- if I can. I seek opportunity -- not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me. I wish to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed. I refuse to barter incentive for a dole, I prefer the challenges of life to the guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment to the stale calm of utopia. I will not trade freedom for beneficence, nor my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master, nor bend to any threat. It is my heritage to stand erect, proud, and unafraid, to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefit of my creations, and to face the world boldly and say, "this I have done." All this is what it means to be an American." -- Anonymous