The Magical, Mythical Land of California

I’m in the middle of a 5-day trip to California to attend a specialized technology conference in San Diego. I’ve visited the Bay Area several times, but never southern California, which has always been this mythical land that I see in movies and tv.

Thursday afternoon, we actually got out and drove around the San Diego area some. We drove around the bay (and stopped for a drink at the Bali Hai, so I could add a real humdinger to my collection of tiki mugs!), and we also drove inland some. It was strange, almost like being in a tv show or movie.

I’m sure there’s some sort of insight about memory and Hollywood and travel and a sense of place, but I’m entirely too tired to pull it together right now. Maybe tomorrow.

Germany 2008: Berlin, part the first

Berlin was cool. I was really expecting to totally fall in love with it and want to marry it. A couple of things conspired to head that off at the pass, but I did fall in serious like with it.

Thing one was a nasty sinus infection. I get them every now and then thanks to my horrible seasonal (four seasons) allergies. They get backed up, and I get all snotty and congested for ten days. This was no exception.

Thing two was having to herd cats (i.e., teenagers) around the city for three days. I’d pretty much gotten used to them by that point, but it was still a pain in the ass. Next time, I want to go back sans anyone under the age of 35.

That being said, I like Berlin. It’s a nice, clean, efficient big city. If I were going to live in a big city in Germany, Berlin is the one I’d choose out of the five-ish I visited.

We did touristy stuff (Reichstag, TV Tower, Museum Island, etc.) the first two days.

The two highlights of that sort of thing were the DDR Museum and the Stasi Museum. I’ve got a serious case of Cold War Nostalgitis, so these fed right into that.

The DDR Museum is a really cool, hands-on museum about life in the East, pre-wallfall. It’s a good place to spend a couple of hours. It’s right near Museum Island, and a good break from all that high-toned crap (Nefertiti? Feh. Give me a Trabbi any day).

The Stasi Museum was my most favoritest stop of the whole trip. It’s a museum dedicated to the East German secret Police, the Stasi, and is housed in their old headquarters. It’s full of exhibits on 80s spy gear (the east germans were pretty advanced), symbols of the love between the Stasi and the KGB (latch-hooked rug of the Kremlin, anyone?), and included a truck that was one of the Stasi’s snatch-n-grab wagons and an example of the sort of cell in which they kept political prisoners, which were, of course, the only kind housed in Stasi prisons. Our guide was a senior citizen who had lived through that era, and it was amazing to listen to her stories. Definitely a highlight.

More in the next post on trains, planes and hotels.

Germany 2008: Dresden

Dresden looks a little, um, run down on the way in on the train. Is this because it was in the East Germany? I don’t know. Maybe that’s just Dresden.

The Hotel Mercure was über-swanky. Upscale modern accomodations are always welcome. The teenagers were in awe. We were merely pleased.

Snow. Cold. Rain.

Bus tour of the city included a stop at the super cool Volkswagen facility where they put the glass on their high-dollar Phaeton sedan (which is no longer available in the US because no one here wanted to pay $70k for a VW, no matter how swank).

Also toured all the historical stuff. The Zwinger museum has a nice collection of arms and armor. Dresden’s old buildings are impressive, even the fake ones that aren’t really 500 years old (rather they are rebuilt versions that the Allies bombed the shit out of in WWII — sorry about that).

Germany 2008: München

München is more Euro-feeling than Heidelberg for some reason. Nice and clean for a big city. Lots of weird internets + phone booth joints for, I am assuming, the immigrant population.

München Hauptbahnhof is BIG and cool. Excellent wurst and pommes. Lots of Germans wear the Jack Wolfskin products. Sorta like the German The North Face (in ubiquity). Lots of Germans passing through on their way south to the Alps to go skiing.

I like traveling by train. It’s convenient and a good way to see the countryside.

Went on a private bus ride through the countryside to Neuschwanstein, largest castle built by the Mad King Ludwig. Really steep-ass hike up to the castle, which is gorgeous… from the outside. Inside is a whizzingly-short and lame welfare Disney-esque tour. My advice: make the trip, but skip the tour. Just use you imagination about what it’s like inside. You’ll have better memories.

The orginal Hoffbraü House. Beer is good. Hotel Apollo is older, but nice. BIG rooms for a German hotel. Bathrooms still very small.

German breakfasts are good: hard rolls with salami and cheese, yogurt, coffee, apfelsaft, fruit. More on German food in a standalone post, I suspect.

Germans who drive do so in small, often diesel-powered cars. Lots of VW Golfs, quite a few Opels, a number of BMWs (including MINIs) and Mercedeses. I’m loving the Mercedes A-Class, which we don’t have in the U.S. More on cars in a standalone post.

Germany 2008: day 1, Heidelberg

Generaly observation: Heidelberg is a tourist-y town. Hotel Ibis was nice. Euro-flavored, clean and comfortable. Bathrooms were quite small, but okay. Didn’t really see much of the town except for the area around the university. Photos to come.

Doesn’t yet feel very non-American yet (other than the speaking German all the time). I am haunted by American music of the 1980s.